Sunday, October 30, 2011

Foot-plus in October?

Glad I snuck a ride in Saturday afternoon before the snow came. Not really supposed to be engaging in that kind of activity yet, but the way I see it, there is less force on my ankle and less flexion than walking, and I am allowed to walk around. I went over to the Nashua River Rail Trail, which was deserted. Nice quiet 25 mile ride at tempo pace.

Saturday night sucked for us. We live on a hill in wooded area. None of the oak trees have dropped their leaves yet. Wet snow clung to them like black flies to a sweaty body in May.  We have some big ones right above the house. By 6:30pm, our power went out. Later in the evening, the sky kept lighting up in brialliant blue flashes as power lines shorted and transformers blew up.

We normally sleep with a noise machine on in the room. With no power (I didn't want to lug generator out in the dark in a snow storm), it was dead quiet in the house. Every few minutes, we heard a tree come crashing down in the forest. Some hit the ground so hard it made the house shake. I thought surely we'd have an oak tree come through our roof. Not a good sleep night.

We got the generator going in the morning and got our food cold again. My neighbor's husband from across the street is in Germany on business right now. They have no generator and just stocked up $800 food in two deep freezers. Rumor is, some areas could go five days before lights come back on. They helped my wife Cathy out a few years ago during the ice storm when I was down south cycling. I took some heat for that one. Now it was my turn to return the favor by kluging a power cord to a 220V outlet in their garage. Got their freezers and water well going for a few hours. Might be time-sharing my cheap 5kW generator for a while.

Of course, we had little gas. I drove through four towns before I found any power. A little piece of downtown Nashua has power. Merrimack, most of Nashua, Hudson, Pelham, all out. I drove down to Starbucks in Chelmsford this afternoon to find Internet access. No power. Tyngsboro is all out too. Many, many wires are down or shorted out by fallen branches tangling up the wires. I saw zero utility crews in six towns. The Pheasant Lane Mall has power.  I think this is worse than the ice storm a few years ago. Crazy.

We completely lost 4 of 6 trees in our front yard. I've been tending these trees for up to 14 years. Now we have to start over. Makes me cry.

Here's a few pics from this morning around my house.

From front step of my house.

From road

12+" of snow over night.

Down street.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lights Revisited

My primary night riding light is an old NiteRider HID I bought about 12 years ago. The battery has long since died. A replacement NiMH battery costs almost as much as some new LED based light systems. Plus that battery weighed a ton.

Enter 2011.  LED technology has finally crossed the 100 lumens per Watt threshold. My HID was around 50 lumens per Watt and required heavy ballasting circuitry. Nobody uses NiMH batteries anymore either. They are lithium ion these days. NiMH batteries pack about 100 Watt-hours per kilogram density, while Li-ion pack more than twice that. So with the lights available today, I can get twice the lumens for twice the run time for less weight than my old system. That is a four-fold improvement just over 10 years.

I ordered a new XML-3 and updated 400L+ from DiNotte Lights this week. I was holding them my hands the day after I placed the order. Standard shipping, no charge. Benefit of buying local. Visually, the quality looks impressive. Reviews on the forums are quite positive on any DiNotte light. I spoke with Rob @ DiNotte when placing my order and he was happy to answer all my geeky technical questions.

The XML-3 and 400L+

I bought the XML-3 to go on the bar. It puts out 1200 lumens in high setting. My old HID did 500 lumens, and I thought that was way brighter than anybody needed. The new light weighs a fraction of my old light. The 400L+ will see dual use. Riding, it will go on my helmet. Rob threw in a headband mount so I could also use this light for XC skiing at night. I'd only need to run it on low in snow, so it would run several ski sessions on one charge. You don't want to look into these lights. You will see spots for a VERY long time afterwards.

I updated my metrics table from a prior post. A few other companies have updated their lights. Almost everybody uses Cree XPG or XML diodes. The XML's are newest with highest efficiencies. Performance metrics between lights vary widely. Many companies boast theoretical lumens, as in what some data sheet says is possible under some specific condition. Others will measure their lumens.

Lights to avoid are designs that push an extraordinary number of lumens per emitter. I believe anything over 500 lumens per XPG LED is asking for trouble, in terms of shortened diode life, overheating, and degraded efficiency.

You can see DiNotte compares favorably with the best. I highlighted in green the options I have to work with. I have one 2-cell and one 4-cell battery. You can see just by putting a bigger battery (2-cell to 4-cell on the 400L) on a light, you can improve the performance and cost metrics.

I would have liked the XML-1 instead of the 400L+. The problem is, the XML-1 wasn't designed for headband mount. It is tiny and very efficient. I could probably have cobbled something together, but Rob's headband for the 400L+ is one of the better headband light systems out there. I had to wear my bicycle helmet to use my HID light skiing. Goofy.

Exposure Lights boast some of the highest performance metrics in the industry. With batteries integrated right into light, they save on cable weight. Cost metrics are ok, but not best.

Generally, more LEDs used to generate the lumens raises the performance metric, but lowers cost metric. Lupine pushes this to the limit. They have the brightest, most efficient lights, but for almost $1000. The new DiNotte lights derive their high performance metric from the XML LEDs.

Could be a while before I get to use my lights. Need to let my leg get strong again. I'm walking pretty normally today on no pain meds, a vast improvement from yesterday.  My HR hasn't gone above 60bpm in three days. I was contemplating jumping on the trainer for a bit. But noooo. Apparently Dr Heaps recognized I would be Jones'n for fix before my first check-up next week. While I was in recovery Tuesday, he had a word with my wife. Cathy was instructed to block any attempt of mine to do something stupid. Bummer.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Done Deal

My hardware extraction went well this afternoon. I think I was heading back home within an hour of coming out of surgery. I was given general anesthesia, but very light dose. They gave me a nerve block behind the knee to kill any sensation from knee down. General anesthesia is risky, and deep general anesthesia takes a while to come out of. The after effects of the block suck though. Now seven hours later, I still have no sensation or movement in my lower leg. Touching my toes is the weirdest thing. It is like that limb doesn't even belong to me. Creeps me out. I have to wear my boot cast with crutches for now as a protective measure until I get my feeling back. The only pain I experienced so far in this process was finding the sciatic nerve behind the knee for the block. I laid on my stomach and they told me to hug the pillow. They couldv'e given me something to bite down on too...

Progression from fracture, to pins and plate, to no hardware.
Note large voids left in both tibia and fibula where screws came out.

In the middle x-ray image above, you can see how the two pins protrude from medial bump on my ankle. It was those that gave me the most grief. The right image suggest I may have a more normal looking medial bump when the swelling subsides. Hope this makes significant improvement in XC skiing comfort.

Titanium trophy collection. Scale in centimeters. Plate is shorter than
 I thought it would be. Pretty stuff. Shiny and very light weight. The
pins are hollow, and all screws look just like self-tapping sheet
metal screws.

I now realize there will be a little more down time than I first believed. I'm to do nothing until I see the orthopaedic surgeon in a week, when my stitches come out. Bummer. I was at least hoping to ride on the road this weekend. Oh well, I got in 13hrs of riding, rollerskiing, hiking and running last week, and I had a good 10k run this morning before surgery.

Wonder what I'll feel tomorrow when the block wears off? They gave me a 'script for percocet. Hope I don't have to use it. That is nasty stuff.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Long Live Long Rides

We had ourselves a nice little posse for riding the New Hampshire woods on Sunday. Dave, Rich, Isaac and I planned a loop around Massabesic Lake, hitting parts of FOMBA, then heading north along snowmobile corridor Trail 15 to Bear Brook State Park. A 50 mile loop though these areas only begins to tap the available number of trails. You will rarely see pavement too. No two rides I do here are the same.

Riding with a bunch of slow-twitch freaks is a sure way to get my hurt on. It didn't help matters that I did a fairly strenuous hike with my son the day before. Oh well, I needed to get my fill now, as after Tuesday, I won't be doing much of anything for a while.

The pace was lively around Massabesic. In no time, we were in FOMBA land. We opted to hit just Woodpecker and Hemlock, then check out a nearby clandestine trail. Turns out FOMBA & NEMBA have put the kibosh on illegal trails in the greater watershed area. Probably for the better good, lest we lose what we legitimately have.

We headed north along Trail 15 towards Bear Brook. Rich had a plane to catch that evening and split off. Dave, Isaac and I motored on. With the recent improvements in Trail 15, most of the easily inundated spots were high and dry. This was great after much recent rain.

Dave wanted to keep the ride under five hours, so once in Bear Brook, we had 1-1.5hrs to kill. Only the best of the best would do. Up and over Hall Mountain, then what was formerly known as the I-trail, Hedgehog Ledge (I even rode the steps this time, first time in years!), then over Bear Hill. Almost all superb singletrack.

Hill Junkie, Isaac and Dave on I-trail

Bombing down Hall Mountain at break-neck speed, my front wheel flipped up a grapefruit sized sharp rock. It nailed me square in the shin bone, "pinch-flatting" my skin. Instead of white Stan's oozing all over, red blood oozed out. F-bombs! It hurt so badly I could have hurled. Little did I know, another lone rider was sitting on a ledge overlooking Hall Mountain. He couldn't see us, but he could hear everything, including my tirade down the mountain. Moments later we came up by him. He said somebody must be having a bad day with a chuckle.

Pinch-flat in shin skin

I couldn't afford to get hurt and delay my surgery on Tuesday.  I was taking more risks than usual and hoped this was all I would escape with on this ride.  On the rock outcropping overlooking Hall Mtn, I sucked down a Clif gel with caffeine. About 25 minutes later climbing on Hedgehog, both inner thighs locked up on me. No warning. We weren't going race pace, but there was very little down time in this ride. This made me think back to Bob's comments on cramping and caffeine. This sucked, as we had another couple climbs to go and 20 miles of trail back to the car. And I didn't want to bog Dave and Isaac down. I bought a carton of these gels and they are almost gone. I will strictly stick with uncaffinated carbs in the future.

We backed down just a tad. I made it to the summit of Bear Hill without totally seizing up somehow. It would be downhill for a while from there. On Ferret, Dave nearly met with disaster. Putting bike sideways at 25mph in a rocky ATV trail will give you pause. Somebody was watching out for him. Not long after that, I got caught in a rut and nearly ate it too, going almost as fast. There was always somebody up front towing the line on this ride, and the other two were hanging on. Pace-lining on choppy, rutted ATV trails is a scary thing.

My cramping incident appeared to have been isolated. Maybe because I consumed no more caffeine, it subsided. I have significantly curtailed my coffee intake the last couple weeks, perhaps 30-50% reduction. I drink only two cups per day now, and at reduced strength (but still strong to most people). I was able to start towing the line more as we neared FOMBA land. The descent to Tower Hill Pond was a blast. I had about 45mi on the odometer at this point and felt like I could have ridden another 45. It was funny how we finessed around muddy bits heading out to Bear Brook, but on the way back, it was full-on speed fest, slowing down for nothing. We all had near biffs.

After a couple more miles of sweet singletrack by Rt 101, the ride was about over. We got back to the cars with 49mi on the wired computer. Not acceptable. I coerced the other two to spin a half mile up the rail trail and back to make it an even 50 miles. Finished with 50.2mi, about 3900ft of climbing, in 4.7hrs. One of my finest FOMBA/Bear Brook days.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

51F and Sunny...

The forecast looked highly favorable for a hike in the Whites on Saturday. My son Aaron is home on leave from the Navy and wanted to hike something he hasn't done yet, maybe 5hrs/10mi kind of deal.  I've been up the Benton Trail on the north side of Moosilauke, but never the south side. Aaron has never hike Moosilauke. It is relatively easy to get to. The old carriage road path seemed like a good choice. Not too technical, 3000ft+ net gain in about 5.1 miles.

All the high peaks in the Whites were socked in when we got there. Bummer. Seems every time I hike with Aaron, views are obscured. The lower carriage road was pretty muddy in spots. There was grumbling. It was nothing compared to what came later.

Aaron a couple miles in

I hiked a moderately aerobic pace, waiting a couple times for Aaron to catch up. I wore only a medium weight Casteli jersey. I threw a wind shell in the pack "just in case." No hat, no gloves, no extra thermal layers.

At about 4000ft elevation, it started snaining (snow and rain mixed). I thought it would blow through in a minute, as the forecast couldn't be that wrong, right? But the people coming down carried ominous signs: their hats and packs carried heavy tufts of wet snow.

When we reached the ridgeline above treeline, the snow was going sideways with about 100ft visibility. A slurry of slush was building up on my bare forehead. On the bike, I thought I experienced the most intense ice cream headaches possible, but this took top prize. I had nothing to put on my head. I stopped and questioned out loud to Aaron the wisdom of continuing. We were probably less than 500m from the summit based on Garmin readings. It was slick as snot. I decided to make a sprint for it.

Aaron was horrified. "What if you roll your ankle?" Um, then I freeze to death in less than an hour? At first I thought maybe he was concerned for my well being. But then a deeper realization dawned on me. I think my son realized I was Darwin Award material. The only problem, I wasn't taken out of the gene pool before reproducing. Ponder that from his perspective.


We reached the top in near blizzard conditions. Hard to believe how mellow it was just 3000ft below. I spent no more time at the summit than needed to take a picture. Then it was a race down to treeline without splitting our heads open on snow covered rocks. It is pretty easy for me to keep my core warm, but my hands and head were a different matter. Everybody else up there was in full winter gear, and still freezing. A woman even offered me a hat.

Coming back down, near tree line. 10sec shutter from cairn.

The snow let up momentarily when the sun tried to poke through, but then came back with a vengeance. As we descended, the snow turned to a steady rain, which sucked even more. I don't descend well, and there was no way for me to go down fast enough to generate any kind of body heat. As careful as I was, my feet still went out from under me. I was lucky to miss all the pointy rocks with my elbows and pelvis.

The hurried pace didn't help my IT band issue either. It flared up with about two miles to go. Not surprised really. I was just back up to 5mi/40min runs with no issues. This was 3+ hours into a rigorous hike.

It was nice back at the car just off the Sawyer Hwy.
Looking south, away from Moosilauke.

The total hike took about 3.7hrs moving time and covered 10.2 miles round trip. The descent took 6 minutes longer than the climb. This turned out to be an epic hike. I had hoped for a more leisurely pace and to hang around at the summit for a while. The view on a clear day is quite grand.

Carriage Rd path to summit

I would love to come back to this trail sometime when it is warmer and dry and run up this beast. The trail is pretty rocky in spots, especially above treeline, but good foot planting can be had in most places. The grade holds 20% or more for a couple miles in the middle.  80 minutes to the top maybe?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pulled the Trigger

I'm going under the knife again. This time voluntarily. I've decided to get my titanium hardware removed. My last bicycle race was a week ago. Normally I like to start getting on the rollerskis this time of year in preparation for the ski season. But I won't be doing much of anything for six weeks. My surgery is scheduled for next Tuesday.

Dr Heaps, who put the hardware in, will be taking it out. I like Dr Heaps. He understands the needs of an athletic person and appreciates my concerns and desires to get back into action.

After my first rollerski session late last week, I knew I would struggle all winter again with misfitting boots and pain. I called for a consultation with Dr Heaps. The medial screws are definitely contributing to the pronounced knob on that side of my ankle. There is reasonable probability that I will have much less discomfort in a skate ski boot after having the hardware taken out. Why struggle with this the rest of my life?

A few weeks ago, I had a chance encounter with another cyclist on the Kancamagus Hwy. He broke his ankle in an alpine skiing mishap. He had EXACTLY the same hardware put in, a plate with six screws in the fibula, and two pins in the tibia. The following winter, he had to deal with severe discomfort in a downhill ski boot. He had all the hardware removed and hadn't had any problems since. That was probably 20-30 years ago, since this happened to him when he was 29. Hearing this was kind of a deal clincher for me.

The deal with taking this stuff out is it leaves behind voids in bones. These voids create stress risers when the bone is put under force, and stress risers can lead to fractures if you are not careful. Dr Heaps does not want me doing any running for six weeks after surgery. No rollerskiing for at least four weeks, but prefers six weeks for that too. A fall on skis with a twist could set me back a year. Walking will be fine as soon as I'm comfortable with it. Same with cycling, I can get back on as soon as I'm ready, but probably not mountain biking. The screw voids need time to fill, which take about six weeks.

I was hoping to try a few winter triathlons, which start in January. I will still probably do these, but with a big lull in running and skiing, I have to adjust my expectations accordingly. I rollerskied again today, this time with some hill content. I must say, the combination of running this year and regular push-ups and sit-ups has put me in much better shape for skiing than just rollerskiing alone in the past has done.

Speaking of running, not all has been flawless on that front. I didn't say much about it here, as it gives the Buckley's out there "told you so" fodder. About four weeks ago I dabbled in trail running. I liked it. On my fourth trail run at lunch one day, I developed sudden outside the left knee pain. It nearly forced me to walk. I limped all the way back to work. The pain went away as soon as I stopped. I didn't think much of it until I ran again. I didn't get a mile until the same debilitating pain set in. I started with zero pain, than bang, just like a switch, it starts. Talking with runner colleagues and searching the web, it was classic IT Band syndrome. The trail running must have put me over the edge or tweaked something just enough.

I started icing, taking NSAIDs, and stretching. I bought a foam roller. What a torturous device! At first I couldn't do it at all. Maybe after I tore all the fibrous connective tissue loose that isn't supposed to be there, it got more confortable. I do other ITB stretches too. I was disheartened for a while. I couldn't run more than a mile or two before the pain set in. Eventually though, time and stretching worked things out. I ran 5.6mi at 7.4min pace yesterday with negligible pain. It is almost gone.

Maybe it is a good thing this happened, as I'm super tight in so many ways, and a warning volley like this forces me to deal with another aspect of tightness. Hamstrings are my historical problem area, and the IT band is closely related.

What else... Oh, I created a forum for the Six Gaps page on Hopefully Six Gaps enthusiasts will embrace this for sharing information and seeking out companions to do the ride with. I also created a mountain biking specific trail map for Bear Brook State Park. This is my favorite local place to ride, and the official state map has always been lacking.

That's all for now. Looking forward to holding some titanium trinkets in my hand. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Color Tour of the Whites

Saturday morning I got up early to check the weather. It looked like the last of the rain was clearing the state soon. I pulled out my old Topaz bike routes map for New Hampshire. It identifies which roads are gravel. The trails were going to be much too wet to ride, and I really wasn't in the mood for a road ride. Off the beaten path dirt roads with the cross bike sounded like a good compromise. I very quickly put together a loop in and loaded it into my Garmin GPS. My plan was to park in Campton, hit a few familiar climbs like Campton Mtn and Sandwich Notch, but then explore a bunch of other dirt roads I haven't been on.

It was brilliantly sunny at my house, but pretty gloomy in the mountains. Cool and gloomy was fine as long as it didn't rain. I did not bring knee wamers. It was colder than I thought at less than 50F. Oh well, I'd be climbing double-digit grades shortly anyway.

The climb up Campton Mtn from the west begins paved. About 70% of the way up, it turns to gravel and turns skyward. I saw grades of 22% on the Garmin. My less than fresh legs balked at the biggish gear I asked them to push on the cross bike. That hurt. After reaching the high point on Taylor Dr, it was pretty much all downhill to Rt 49. The few paved bits were treacherous. The road was plastered with wet leaves, which were like riding on ice without studs. There were a few switchbacks I didn't think I would make.

Climbing Sandwitch Notch Rd

Typical Algonquin Rd conditions. Gated. No Vehicles!

More Algonquin Rd

Sandwich Notch Rd was in good shape, escaping hurricane Irene pretty much unscathed. I hit this climb fairly hard too. Is there any other way? At the top I already had 2500ft of climbing logged. The descent was wet and juicy. I forgot how pathetic cantilever brakes are, especially when they get wet. Not a single car passed me while going over the notch.

There were a bunch of cars parked at the junction of gated Algonquin Rd. It is hunting season now. At least with the gates still closed, I would have the road to myself. Algonquin Rd runs along the Beebe River. Hurricane Irene was not nearly so kind to this double track road. The finer aggregate in many places washed away, leaving only larger, chunky rocks. There were washed out areas with water running across them too. This was marginally doable on a cross bike, and extreme risk of pinch flatting was continuously present. On a MTB, I've bombed this 20-25mph most of the way before. Today, I doubt I averaged over 10mph. Somebody else beat me to this road this morning though. There were freshly minted MTB tracks in the mud.

Bump Bridge

Perch Pond. I think those are Loons. Too bad the sun wasn't out
to light up the color.

Bombing back down to I-93 on Pulsifer Rd

Instead of continuing on to pavement and Rt 175, I turned left and headed south for more dirt road goodness. The sequence of roads I mapped out circumnavigates Mt Prospect, a highly scenic area of old farms, covered bridges, lakes and streams with mountains all around. The best part? I barely saw a car the whole time. This section, roughly miles 17-30 of my ride, took a toll on me though. There were many seriously steep but short climbs all the way around. You tend to push into these pretty hard, knowing the burn will stop in a couple minutes. All those deep digs added up, and I paid for it later in the ride.

A couple posts ago I commented about the need for Northern Pass,
a very high power line run from Quebec to southern New England.
This was the only pro-Northern Pass sign I saw out of many
hundreds of anti-signs. Sounds like a heated debate and it would
take some balls to put a sign like this in front of your house. Good
for them.

Crossing over I-93, I hit a dirt road climb I did once before from the other direction. It is Bog Rd. After bombing down the other side, the route passes through Rumney and begins climbing paved Stinson Lake Rd. It seemed no matter where I rode, I was always within earshot of rushing whitewater. Instead of wrapping around the west side of Stinson Lake like Dave and I did last time out here, I went around the east side, which was gravel and climbed a bunch more. I thought surely that would be it for climbing and it would be all downhill back to the car from here...

Brown Brook Falls near Stinson Lake

The descent on Ellsworth Hill Rd was anything but a descent. The two 200ft, 15% grade climbs before the real descent began about killed me. On the plummet back to Campton, a dark cloud moved overhead and it rained briefly. Timed that about right. I didn't get very wet. I could see more cells of rain to the north from the expansive views along Ellsworth Hill Rd.

Views along descent of Ellsworth Hill Rd

I got back to the car fully satiated. With over 6600ft of climbing in 62.4 miles and 4:28hrs, that was probably one of the hardest cross bike rides I've done locally. Spooky how close all three of these numbers are to my Ironcross race last weekend. Today's ride was more fun though. No stress, no flats and no cramping.

On the way back home on I-93, cars were suddenly slamming on their brakes, nearly stopping in the traffic lanes, before pulling over to the breakdown lane. WTF people. People were even getting out of their cars to stand in the highway and take pictures. Turns out there was a pretty spectacular rainbow directly behind us. I refuse to stop on an interstate unless it is an emergency. Where is Darwin when you need him?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pennsylvania is way too far to go to suck

I continued my love-hate relationship with endurance racing this past weekend with the Ironcross race in Pennsylvania.  The weather was expected to be absolutely gorgeous, perfect conditions for an over-heater like myself. I love epic rides this time of year in the woods. The trees are turning color, the bugs are gone, and the trails tend to be dry. The terrain in south-central PA is a blast to ride in too. Long ridge lines divide deep valleys. The forest is decidedly hardwood and much more open than evergreen dominant forests in the northeast. The race is held in Michaux State Forest, and the Appalachian trail runs through the middle of it.

I had high expectations this year. Andy Applegate, who always wins the master's field, and a couple other strongmen weren't signed up. That meant not only was a podium finish a strong possibility, but potentially a win. Over one hundred were pre-registered in the M40+ field. I figured the racing and training I've done over the last couple months should have set me up well. The Vermont 50 and Hampshire 100 events are longer and more brutal than Ironcross. Just only if I could tame the cramping demon...

I mixed the highest concentration of electrolytes ever in my drink mix. Since wearing a Camelbak worked so well at the VT50, I was going to do that again. Start with 70 ounces, then mid race, swapped for a second Camelbak with 70 ounces. Only one stop needed.  I had about 3000mg of sodium total in the two Camelbaks, more than twice what I've consumed during an endurance race before. This was 18 Tablytes tablets crushed plus what comes in Gatorade mix.  I was sure to take a flip-top vial with additional Tablytes too. If I still cramped with this much supplemental electrolytes in cool weather, my problem is not electrolyte or hydration related.

I had a second experiment going for this year's race. I wanted to try a mountain bike again. In 2003 I used a hardtail with great success, but the course was much more rugged than today's course. In 2008 and 2009, I used a cross bike, doing well both times. I never flatted in these three races. I was brought my Superfly with beefy 2.25" Schwalbe Racing Ralph tubeless ready tires. I pumped them up rock hard to 40/42psi F/R. I figured with such voluminous tires, I was flat proof and even contemplated not bringing a spare with inflator. Silly thought...

I grabbed a Starbucks grande dark roast on my way to the venue in the morning. It's nice this race starts at a reasonable 9am time. Somehow I still missed my exit of I-81. It was 8 friggin miles to the next one and there were cops hiding behind every overpass. You couldn't speed and you couldn't cut through an emergency cross over. That killed 20 minutes. I wasn't too flustered. I still had plenty of time.

After a minimal warmup, we staged in a field about 30 across. About 100ft ahead, the course necked down to 5 across. Hmmmm, this ought to be interesting. We got a late start and all of us were shivering in short sleeves. I think this is the first time I started Ironcross without at least arm warmers on. The temp was about 50, expecting to go above 80F.

No call-ups this year. We were lectured on how to self-seed. Only if you finish in about 4hrs should you be in the front row. I was 4:09 last time, so I took front row. I had no delusions of claiming the holeshot. I expected carnage. We go. I stayed in top 20 guys or so, but there was healthy does of contact. I almost locked bars with guy on my right. We circle through the freshly cut deep grass, which with the dew, stuck to body and bike. The start-finish was new this year, and there was a brief run-up right away. I could easily have ridden it on my MTB had everybody in front of me not dismounted.

Very shortly we were into the first climb. It starts paved, then gated, bony fire road. Knowing I was on a heavier bike with slightly higher rolling resistance, I let the lead guys go. In prior years, I stayed with them on this climb. I figured I'll easily regain the lead pack on the Lippencote singletrack descent, since half of them will be walking parts of it and the others dabbing everywhere.

With less than 20 guys ahead of me, I counted no less than 4 flats in the first mile of fire road. One was Gunnar Shogren, who flatted again later in the race.  I settled in with a pretty good group of 4-5 guys. We kept picking up others spewed out of the lead group. We had ourselves a nice chase group and everybody worked. Some rolling hills on pavement brought us to the base of the second climb, again, paved to start. A left onto another fire road continued the climbing. This road was chocked full of hazards too. The gravel here is more like broken glass than stones. It's all sharp, shaly stuff. Eventually we reached the Lippencote singletrack track. I've never cleaned this trail on a CX bike. Today I made sure I was first in my group and didn't back. Yeah, baby! A 29er made kid's play of this trail. I promptly dropped the gang I was riding with. I had fun! Before the bottom of this 2mi plummet, I caught riders from the lead group. This is exactly what I wanted to happen. Take it easier on the climbs, let the bike work for me on the technical bits, not worrying about finessing to avoid flats.

At the bottom, the SRAM neutral support vehicle was there swapping a broken wheel out for Derek Treadwell. He hopped back on just as I passed. We worked together on the pavement. Actually, it was mostly Derek working. He was on a cross bike and was wicked strong. I did not know it at the time, but he would be the eventual overall winner, even though he destroyed a wheel at the beginning of the Lippencote descent. We turned onto Rt 30, which is slightly down hill. Derek was drilling it at 35mph to catch the leaders just up the road. I turned myself inside out just to stay in his draft. He kept motioning for me to pull through, which I did a few times, but eventually threw in the towel. Bye-bye. Doing a little research on Derek shows he won the Mt Washington July 2011 race with a time of 57 minutes. Yep, he should be able to rip my legs off.

My legs suddenly weren't feeling so chipper anymore. I downed a bag of Gu Chomps. I still had a lot of fluids left in my Camelbak. I new the Wigwam "run-up" was coming soon. At the top, the mid point of the race, I'd swap out my Camelbak.

I never lose time on Wigwam. Maybe nobody does. There is about 20 minutes of suckfest hiking. The lower portion is so steep it borders on rock scrambling. Indeed, several times I put a hand out to catch myself. Trees are handy to help pull yourself up too. This is anything but a "run" up. I averaged about 1.5mph and it was by far my hardest effort of the race. I was seeing cross-eyed, I was breathing so hard. I also learned my 29er is not very shoulder friendly. The cables run underneath, and a big cable boss is in the worst possible place. It was tearing a hole into my shoulder.

There's a brief lull in the Wigwam climb where you can actually briefly get on your bike. When I did, both inner thighs seized on me. WTF! I wasn't even two hours into this race. Where did that come from? There was no warning. That was soul crushing. Once this happens, there is no way to stave off the inevitable. I was right back into bike-carry mode on 30% grade loose cantaloupes to the top and was ok on my feet.

Talk about service, by the time I reached Checkpoint #2, a volunteer was putting my Camelbak on as fast as I could take the first one off! I had my race number on it, and they must have had someone calling out numbers ahead. Impressive, and much appreciated. I left CP2 in around 10th place overall, about the same as in 2009. I was psyched, as this was surely a masters podium position, but I now realized major disappointment was heading my way. I had no idea how much...

On the ridgeline, my legs didn't feel right. How could I go from feeling perfect to all crampy in just minutes so early in a race. I had plenty of fluids, tons of electrolytes, and it was still cool out. I soft pedaled the ridge and started to hemorrhage places.

I knew a fast descent was coming right up. Perhaps I'll recover some. This is another shaly stone road with many embedded rocks sticking way up. I ripped it, 40+ mph. I was thinking weeeeeee all the way down, until pfffffttttt, thump, thump, thump. What the... Stan's sealant spewed all over me and the bike. I quickly tried to get what Stan's was left to seal the hole. It was big enough to put a pencil through, right in the tread! Stan's wasn't going to cover that. I didn't even feel what did this.  I started to go into hissy fit mode. I haven't fixed a flat on the trail in a long time, and during a race, even longer. Ironic, isn't it, that I bring burly MTB tires so I WOULDN'T FLAT?

Well, wouldn't you know it, as I'm contemplating throwing my bike over the edge, I notice a camera is in my face. Yeah, it was Thom Parsons with That's just great, now the whole world will see my hissy fit. Perhaps my initial "frustration" didn't get captured. I show up about 3:40 into the highlights video below. Nice work, Thom!

Watch more video of NoTubes Iron Cross 2011 on

Thirty riders must have flown past me by the time I was back on my bike. At this point, I went into get-this-suckfest-over-with mode. Another punchy climb ensued. I cramped spectacularly before reaching the top. Multiple times I had to jump off my bike and stand with both knees locked out. Even the slightest knee bend caused immediate inner thigh and quad seizure. F-bombs! Now even old guys packing girth and girls were passing me. I walked a while. From the top a long descent ensued. I was nervous, having used both CO2 cartridges and not having another spare tube. I feared the tube I put in could blow through the cut too.

The rest of the race became a blur to me. There seemed to be a lot more singletrack than I remember from prior years. This part of the course was pretty muddy too.  With my granny gear, I was able to ride most of it without cramping. There was still one more hike-a-bike section, but nothing like Wigwam Hill. From the top of it, it was pretty much all downhill on paved road to the finish. I had to straight-leg it over the barriers at the finish, a rather anti-climactic finish to such a brutal race.

I finished in 4:31, good for 8th out of 85 M40+, 22 minutes slower than 2009 on a course that was slightly shorter this year. There were only three people to finish in under 4hrs this year though. I think maybe the muddy singletrack towards the end slowed things down a bit. I was way off the podium and not even in the cash. That was so far from my expectations at the outset of this race. I dearly love a course like this and used to thrive in events like these.
So is a MTB faster than a CX bike on this course? No! That part of my experiment was an epic fail. I think a mountain bike is a lot more fun, but you will be less competitive on one. It is much harder to stay with a group on the fast road sections. If I come back, it will be on a cross bike with tubeless wheels. Many of the leaders were running these. I have brand new wheels, I just haven't moved quickly enough to get tires in time.

So what about the electrolytes experiment? I've convinced myself hydration and electrolyte problems are not the source of my cramping. It is probably much more structural than that. Is it age related? Do I need add strength training to my routine? Jon Speer said he conquered cramps only by building up to very long rides at continuous 70% max heartrate. Perhaps my running is a factor. Although my cramping problems started building long before I started running. I feel running has degrade the quality of my hardest workouts this summer because I'm not getting as much recovery. One thing is clear: even though I've backed off some at the start of these endurance races, I am cramping sooner each year.

Why is it other guys like DaveP or BrettR can ride for hours much closer to their VOmax than I can to my VOmax? It just doesn't scale. Brett told me today he's cramped only once in the last several years, and that was at the Everest Challenge race, two back to back 6+ hour days of stage racing. I DNF'd the first day there due to cramping. I rarely bonk and never feel fatigued when I cramp. I'm still ready to rip, it's just the legs want to fire on their own.

I learned today that caffeine can cause muscle spasms in athletes. The Starbucks coffee I chugged right before the race had a staggering 330mg of caffeine. Then the Chomps I ate just before Wigwam Hill had another 40mg, and the Clif Mocha gel I had after Wigwam contained another 50mg. Oh, the coffee at the hotel too. I might have had 500mg of caffeine before my cramping peaked. A connection? I don't know. I'm done grasping for magic bullets on this one. If there was an expert out there that could diagnose my source of cramping with remedial course of action with 90% success, I would pay big bucks for this guy. Thousands maybe. Dropping five grand on a tricked out carbon cross bike doesn't mean squat when you lose 20 minutes due to cramping.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

CX or 29er?

I'm on the fence here. I first raced Ironcross on a 26" hardtail MTB in 2003. I did well (5th overall), but it was a smaller field back then and the course was quite brutal for a CX bike. Numerous guys multiple flatted that year and complained about the quantity of terrain not compatible with a cross bike.

The last two times I raced Ironcross, I've used my Ridley CX bike with knobby 35mm tires pumped up super hard. The course has been tamed since the first couple years. There is less bony ATV track and more gravel road. An aero position with drop bars can be a real bonus on many sections of the course. I managed to podium the large masters field in 2009, the last time I raced here.

So why mess with success? The risk of pinch flatting on this course is very high. I run 60-70psi in my CX tires to help mitigate that risk. But that increases other risks, like losing control on a loose, washboardy turn at 40mph. There's also that two mile singletrack descent. I've never cleaned the bottom portion on a CX bike. I don't even try. It is all ledgy drops and loose rocks. With my skills, I'd go over the bars and need dental reconstruction. On a MTB however, I can fly through that section.

I now have a carbon 29er hardtail. It is a little lighter than my 26" titanium Dean that I raced in 2003, but much heavier than my cross bike. The tires are also about 60% wider and can only go half as high in pressure. So I'd increase the rolling resistance in most places, have no aero position, carry an extra five pounds around, for what? Minimal time is usually lost or gained on descents, about the only opportunities for a mountain bike to excel. The MTB comes with lower gears, which can be useful when cramping occurs in the 4th hour. Both bikes have Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires, my new favorite tire that I have on three bikes now.

I'm still curious though, curious enough to risk experimenting. The Ironcross organizers threaten to heckle anybody that brings a MTB. I saw lots of them last time. I don't think any of the podium finishers were on MTBs, unlike the first couple years. The race could certainly be more fun on a MTB. Winning once and a while is fun too. Help me out here. For once, I might get to race in my definition of IDEAL conditions!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Allen Clark TT

While most of New England fixated on Gloucester this weekend, I did a little time-trial in the northern Green Mountains of Vermont. It is the Allen Clark TT, which goes up the east side of Appalachian Gap. I fully depleted myself during the ride in the Whites on Friday, not caring about the impact it would have on Sunday. Sometimes I treat hillclimbs as A-events, like Greylock this year. That just sets you up for disappointment if you don't do well. A fail safe attitude is to not care about results. Let's face it, riding a bicycle really hard up a big hill is just plain fun. So what if you are a few seconds off some arbitrary goal.

The forecast for Sunday went from nice midweek to sucky. The weather had been quite nice in recent years for the Allen Clark event, so we were due for sucky weather. It rained almost the whole way there with a temp in the 40's. The rain stopped by the time we hit central Vermont and it stayed mostly dry for the event. The road was moist from misty air.

Folks are starting to take this TT seriously. Lots of TT gear there on Sunday. Some folks donned just the helmet. Others went further. The first three miles of the course climbs gradually. Stronger riders will average over 20mph on this part. I suppose TT gear and position could trim several seconds off your time if the bike was light so you wouldn't pay the savings back by having to carry extra weight to the top. I used my trusty Trek 5900 with semi-aero, not so light wheels. I do not own any aero equipment. Hope to change that some day.

Even the juniors take the TT seriously

My legs felt like poo warming up. I did the best I could with the warmup. Tired legs need longer warmup than fresh legs. I went off at 10:38:00 with Brett Rutledge 30sec behind me. Great. How do I always get staged as the 30sec guy for my riding buddies?

I was going to race in knee warmers and long sleeve jersey. Once warmed up, 48F didn't feel too cold. I ditched the extra layers and raced in shorts and short sleeves.

I caught my 30sec guy in 90sec. That's was a confidence booster. We were staged by age, not category. I passed many riders on the way up. I didn't have my usual top end that lets me go out too hard easily. Yet when I hit the 14% grade section near the top, I was already fading. More than 30 seconds slower than last year was the result. I felt neither good nor bad about that. Results were posted later that evening. I still managed to snag 2nd place in my age category, with former Olympian Duncan Douglas taking the win. Duncan overall won the BUMPS challenge this year.

I didn't stick around for awards or results to be posted. I had secondary agenda for heading north. I threw two mountain bikes in the back of the car. Brett carpooled up with me, and we planned to ride up Mt Ellen, the highest peak in the Sugarbush Ski Area at over 4000ft elevation. I had limited intelligence on bikeability of the service road to the summit. Mapping software suggested there would be some heinously steep, sustained grades on the way up. That's what granny gears are for, right?

Lots of fall-line climbing on Mt Ellen

Brett and I quickly swapped shoes, headed up German Flats Rd, then to Mt Ellen base area. From there, the service road starts. The grade quickly kicked up to 15% without relenting. We were near the cloud line, so the road just kind of disappeared into the clouds going right up the fall line under the lifts. Rather demoralizing. Too much so for Brett. The TT left his legs in shambles and he capitulated.

I soldiered on alone. Turns out the 15% grade at the bottom was just a teaser to draw freaks like me in. The grade soon went up to 20-25% and stayed there. With my GPS, I knew I still had to climb about 2000ft in the next two miles. Visibility was very poor, my glasses kept fogging up, and the road surface turned from gravel to broken, large rocks. Wet rocks on 25% grade can be tricky to not spin out on.

For a while, I entertained the idea of cleaning this climb, meaning not stopping or putting a foot down once. But shortly after passing the Glen House, the grade kicked up to 40%. That was completely undoable. I was forced to hoof it. My time was running out, as we had a hard cutoff for Brett to catch a plane in Boston that evening. Walking 1.8mph was never so hard.

30% grade of this was unsustainable

I was able to get back on my bike again after this fall line section (follows upper section of lift line two photos above). But still, the grade was over 20% and I was lucky to go 2.5mph on the bike. This was serious mashing. The 27 minute TT plus 40 minutes of seriously hard mashing were enough to push my quads into cramping. That had to be a new record in how quick I brought cramps on. I was just a few hundred feet from the summit, which was completely invisible. I had to claim it now even if I was a few minutes late getting back to the car. There was one more brief hike-a-bike section just before the summit. I suspect the view from there is spectacular on a clear day, but I was lucky to see the top of the chair lift 50ft away.

The descent was going to be treacherous. I had to get down fast too. No walking. I dropped pressure to 15psi (measured when I got home). Gotta love tubeless tires. I rode the steep, loose rocky bits with confidence, although I bet if it were nighttime, I could have seen my brake rotors glowing red hot. The water bars on such a steep grade nearly send you over the bars. It is like riding into the side of a building. They command big respect. I made it back to the car with 10 minutes to spare.

View of valley after dropping below cloud deck

During this climb, I needed only two saddle positions. Climbing, I had to keep my weight forward. My chest was over my bars, and the nose of the saddle violated my nether regions. Descending, the saddle was slapping me in the chest. I risked having the rear tire snag my chamois.

Grade peaks out at 40%. Speed bottoms out at barely measureable.

I'd say Mt Ellen was the toughest ski area road I've ever done. It gained over 3200ft from town, but 2000 of those feet are gained in just 2 miles on loose rocks. There's also a service road that goes to summit of adjacent Lincoln Peak that I'll have to try sometime. It might be slightly less strenuous. Overall, it was a successful day. The rain held off until we started heading back home.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fabulous Day in the Whites

I had hoped to do a 50 miler off-road somewhere on my off-Friday, but heavy rain over the previous couple days nixed those plans.  A CX loop in northwest Connecticut on dirt roads I've wanted to try for a long time looked good until I realized I'd have to fight Friday rush hour traffic there and back. Six hours of driving for 3-4hrs riding wasn't going to meet my efficiency criteria. So I settled on a safe standby, a ride in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. About 100 minute drive to Lincoln and no traffic to contend with.

Since the advent of GPS and topo mapping software, I occasionally apply an artistic filter to route planning. Sometimes the track on a map is visually stimulating. Sometimes the ride profile promotes goosebumps. I wanted climbing on Friday, as it would be my last big training day before the Ironcross race next weekend. So I started poking around in DeLorme Topo to see how I could populate the fewest miles with the mostest vertical.

I looked at all the climbs in the Lincoln area. Vertical gains vary by nearly 2:1. I also noticed that there was about 250ft difference between the climbs. Generally, in a workout, you are freshest at the beginning and and can hold the highest intensities for short efforts. I wondered what ordering the climbs from smallest to biggest would look like. This is what I got:

Kinsman Notch, Thornton Gap, Gonzo Pass, Kancamagus Pass.
Pretty, eh? Gives me goosebumps.

My plan was to ride these climbs as out and backs, coming back down to Lincoln each time.  I nearly left the house with my SPD shoes for the CX bike still in the bag. You have no idea how pissed I would have been to get up there without my Speedplay shoes for the road bike. Parking at the WMVC, there were several other cars in the lot with bike racks. The sky was clear, and it was uncharacteristically warm for the last day of September. How often can you go short sleeves this late in the season? I enquired about the condition of Tripoli Rd. It had been closed for two weeks after Irene but was repaired and open again. I was warned it would be choppy.

Just before 13% grade plummet on Kinsman, looking east,
sky still clear.

I hit Kinsman Notch pretty hard, especially that half mile of 13% near the top. I had a strong headwind coming back down and barely broke 50mph. During this short climb, the sky went from turquoise blue to heavy overcast. I panicked a little, fearing I would get robbed of a full ride if it poured out. I continued to Tripoli Rd next, which crests at Thornton Gap.  The gravel was in mint condition. Only a few cars passed me during my time on this dirt climb. I was able to bomb back down at speeds approaching 40mph. There was nothing choppy about it.

Tripoli Rd. Fall riding doesn't get any better than this!

[begin soapbox] I noticed these anti-powerline signs everywhere. So I checked out the website. Americans keep getting stupider and stupider. I can understand rallying against a gigawatt powerline being run through wildlands on aesthetic grounds, but to claim your health will be destroyed from radiation? Hypocrites and fear mongerers. A cell phone next to the head will give you 1,000,000 times the radiation living near power lines will. And besides, the proposed power line is DC - no alternating field whatsoever. This organization proposes that a 140 mile (225,000 meter) section should be run underground using superconductors cooled with liquid nitrogen. Oh yeah, that will definitely work, because a company has a 600 meter prototype working somewhere. Long-haul superconducting power transmission will eventually be reality, but not economically viable right now.  I made some YBCO superconductor samples in college and have an appreciation for how temperamental the stuff can be.  The technology is progressing, but slowly.  We have a failing grid system in this country, especially on the east coast. Being able to bring in excess power from Canada now sounds like a good idea to me. Americans are the biggest energy hogs on the planet, yet we continually protest energy development, be it new nuclear plants, wind farms, oil exploration or even grid infrastructure. [end soapbox]

The cloud deck had now dropped well below 4000ft, socking in Cannon Mtn to the north. I feared rain was imminent. Instead of refueling at the car, I headed straight into the third climb, Gonzo Pass, which is Rt 118 or "The Sawyer Hwy." This climb ups the ante by another couple hundred feet and gets much steeper. It took me around 33 minutes to reach the top. A couple warnings shots were fired across the bow on the cramping front. This was precisely the territory I wanted to visit during this ride. I rarely cramp in training rides and needed some HTFU conditioning. The NH-DOT had scraped some new asphalt on the rough bits, making the descent a little more enjoyable.

I swung by the car before my final climb. Still no rain. This last climb up the Kanc would be interesting, as it was nearly twice as big as my first and I was on verge of cramping. I had eaten next to nothing too and was starting to bonk. I pressed on, into a rare east headwind.

I got into a good tempo groove. I was surprised to see how high up the section that got washed away by Irene was. I thought it would have been by Loon Mtn. The bridge over the Pemi into Loon was being rebuilt. As I crested the top, a few other riders came over from the other side. One called out my name. I keep running into Bob Treadwell in random places. His group was heading back down into Lincoln too, just finishing up a 78 mile loop.  I stopped for a couple photos up top and then drilled the descent. I didn't want to leave anything in the tank.

Looking up the Kanc.

I got back to the car with 77.2 miles in 4.4 hours riding time on the computer. Topo says this ride should tally 8000ft of climbing. I felt almost as wrecked as after the Vermont 50 last weekend. Mission accomplished. DOMS should be peaking for the Allen Clark TT on Sunday morning. That ought to be interesting. I'll probably get girled.