Sunday, June 30, 2013


I pulled the plug on another planned MTB race this weekend and hit a hillclimb instead. Vermont has been getting slammed with rain. I don't like riding bikes in mud, and I hate racing bikes in mud even more. So I headed over to Ludlow, VT for the Okemo Mountain hillclimb race, part of the BUMPS series.

I was hoping it would actually be raining, or at least drizzling out for the late morning climb. The forecast called for an abysmal dew point, and regular readers know how well I tolerate heat. When I stopped in Windsor for gas and bio break, my glasses immediately fogged over upon exiting the convenience store. My car said the temperature was only 72F. It could not have been much colder than that in the store (they had great AC). Thus the dew point was very close to 72F, which meant the humidity was close to 100%. No rain in sight either.  Ugh.

Just like the last couple events I've done this season, Okemo was a no-stress event. No PR attempt, no taper, just a solid 30+ minute hammer.  Riding against the clock always maximizes training value. Folks that like to climb are a great group to mingle with too.

I recognized a number of seriously strong climbers warming up - McCarthy, Clapper, Vandendries, to name a few. The humidity at the base was oppressive. This climb was just long enough that I couldn't go race pace the whole way without thermally blowing up. I wondered if Brett R or Bill D were going to do more than just beat up on each other and both beat me this time. I felt a little fresher than for the Kanc TT last week. At least I didn't do a 50 mile MTB hammer ride on Wednesday and work on driveway all day the day before.

We staged in full sun for pre-race instruction. Everybody was dripping with sweat. The neutral start is sketchy. It is a series of chicanes down from the Jackson Gore base area to Rt 103. It is a mine field of wheel swallowing potholes. I lined up late and had no choice but to line up to the outside, which meant I was going to have to sprint across some grass and onto the pavement to not get relegated to the back of the field.

I fared ok at the start, as nobody was in a hurry to be up front. The first two miles is slightly downhill and was into a stiff headwind this time. Nobody wanted to drill it to the base of the climb. I stayed safely out of the wind. In 2009 when there were several young studs present, we averaged nearly 30mph in the first two miles. This time, just over 20mph I think. That will add at least a minute and a half to our time right there. The Okemo climb is great for benchmarking fitness, but not the race start-to-finish with two miles of non-climbing. Your time becomes depending on other factors, like wind and how hard others in the pack want to work, unless of course, you want to kill yourself into the wind for the benefit of everybody else.

We turned onto Okemo Mountain Rd, and the power went from 100W to 500W. I fully unzipped my jersey in anticipation of heat implosion 20 minutes later. About a dozen riders bolted on ahead of me. Happens at every climb. I knew full well I couldn't go that hard in that heat, so I exercised extreme restraint. I knew I would see most of them later anyway.

The first climbing mile was in full sun. It was just brutal. Erik Follen, Gerry Clapper and Charles McCarthy broke well clear of the rest of us. Another eight or so were ahead of me, including Erik Vandendries. Gerry is my age and I'll never beat him in a hillclimb. Erik is slightly younger and I haven't beat him in a while. What was disconcerting was how rapidly Erik was pulling away from me. I normally finish quite close to him.

Around the "Okemo State Forest" grade, as noted by the sign along the road on a sustained 15% grade section, I started reeling Erik in. Hmm, I'm burning up but hadn't really noticed myself slowing down yet. I figured Erik must be in a really tough spot. It took a while, but I passed Erik. There were only the three leaders ahead of me by that point, and I was three-quarters of the way up.

The temperature did drop some as we climbed, and that breeze could often be felt. I zig-zagged across the road to hit as many shady bits as possible. Strangely, I was past the 20 minute mark and didn't feel thermally overwhelmed. With less than a mile to go, I had maybe 30 seconds on Erik and nobody else in sight. Maybe I started to overheat, or maybe I knew my position was sealed and there was no need to continue killing myself, as I backed off some.

I was fourth to finish in 33:49, about 2.5 minutes back from Gerry and 15 seconds ahead of Erik. Relative to my peer group, this was a strong finish despite being a couple minutes off my best.

In 2009, Charles, Gerry and I were also at Okemo. Charles and Gerry were both more than two minutes slower this year than in 2009, when the first two miles was crazy fast. However, I was 1:41 slower this year than in 2009. I PR'd in 2009. Can't read too much into this as far as a benchmark goes. But what is striking is I didn't wilt as expected. Maybe some acclimation was gained from a warm Moab trip in early May and a couple recent weeks of nasty hot weather.

Hazy view to the north just down from the summit

As always, the Ludlow Rotary Club and Okemo Mountain run a flawless event. Feast and awards were promptly held after everybody got back to the bottom. If you haven't tried this BUMPS race yet, seriously consider it next year. After awards, Joey B, Isaac O and I went for a spin. I talked Joey into finally giving dirt Shrewsbury Rd a try, only to find it never re-opened after hurricane Irene damaged it. Bummer. So we did the Killington Stage Race circuit loop instead. Finished with 54 miles for the day.

Brett Rutledge (left) gloating that he medal'd and Bill did not. Bill Dunkerley
edged out Bret at the three previous events they did. The game is on!

I noticed some new signs driving to the race through Newport, NH. I thought wow, we need to get these up in many more places. Why are they only in an obscure place like Newport? They should be placed at both ends of the Kancamagus Highway, where a roofing crew deliberately buzzed us several weeks ago. Most drivers are unaware of this law that has been on the books for several years now in New Hampshire. I'd like to see these signs in the populated southern areas too, perhaps on each major state route that crosses over from Mass (since I live right on the state line). I may have to send a few emails to see if more of these can't be put up.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

KOM Fatigue

Have the Strava users out there, which are probably most of you, noticed the proliferation of segments lately? You can't ride around the block these days without three screens of segments appended to your ride results. A case in point from near work: a one mile section of Naticook Rd has no fewer than eight Strava segments defined on it. Both directions, whole thing, just steep bits, from or to a side street, it's crazy.

Everybody can be a winner on Strava. Make your driveway a segment, and you can be almost guaranteed nobody else will contest it. This isn't only happening on paved surfaces. The MTB gang has a penchant for creating as many segments per trail as possible. I'm pretty sure the mathematical expression for correct number of Stava segments per trail is N+1, where N is the current number of segments.

The Strava user community going crazy with segments is really no different than the Fed printing money. After a while, they both have no value.

Another thing I notice is how horrible phone apps are with GPS functions. I've lost several KOMs lately to riders going 50mph uphill at 1500 Watts estimated power. Yeah, they were really on a bicycle under their own power. It's just that phone apps seem to drop out all the time, and sometimes the way they connect the dots, it interpolates ridiculous speed where there might be a segment. I'll leave it to riders with obviously flaky track files to delete their own rides rather than flag them. They'll just look like idiots with 50mph uphill KOMs.  I don't care.  Treat KOMs lightly folks, as even good GPSs can be way off sometimes.

I've pretty much reached the point where I don't care what the leaderboard BS says below a posted ride. It all looks the same for no matter how hard or how easy I rode or anybody else rode. There's bound to be some KOMs in each ride, but they are "junk" KOMs. I do have a small number of local hills I like to track my fitness on, and Strava is a nice way to remember my bests. I wonder though, in a 15 mile radius from work, how many segments exist now. I bet it is in the thousands.

How does Strava combat this segment inflation? I think their user community will burn out on leaderboards if they don't find some clever way to allow the user community to self regulate what has value and what doesn't, what should be public and what should be your own personal segments. When I ride somewhere, I don't care about 95% of the content that Strava stirs up for me.

Will I abandon Strava? Probably not anytime soon. Maybe I'll even ante up and become a premium member, since Strava is cutting off third party apps at the end of the month. Yeah, they are going to severely restrict API access to their data base. I won't be able to mine other rider's GPS tracks from Strava anymore.  We'll see if some of the really cool third party apps out there become a premium member feature in the future, since they will cease to function on July 1. I wonder if Stava provided open access to see what they could mine from the user community, what the user community thought was cool. Kind of dirty if they did, but perhaps a shrewd business move.

There are two things I've come to like about Strava. First, it is kind of like Facebook, a social gathering place for athletes. You can see exactly what your friends are doing, how hard their are going, who they are riding with, etc. I wish the Activity Feed was a little more streamlined and customizable.  More support for photos would be nice too. The other reason I'll continue to use Strava is it is one place where I can store and easily retrieve workout data. I was saving all my GPS logs in Garmin Training Center. While I can retrieve a GPX track file from it, it is very hard to find, and displaying of route is useless. I still bulk upload many workouts to Training Center before clearing GPS memory periodically to make sure I have local, personal copy of them in case Strava goes bye-bye. This is important to me, as I may have done a ride, on or off road, a few years ago that I want to do again. I haven't devised a better way to catalog GPX track files yet.

When cycle computers first became popular, there was some counter-culture that shunned metrics. Purist in the community didn't like the fact some riders fretted over average speed and manipulated the  ride to make sure the average didn't suffer. Well, Strava with GPS technology pushes that to another whole level. Group riding dynamics have changed even more dramatically. Now there are leaderboards, imaginary races within the ride, that stir things up. I think the only way to break the Strava curse is to not instrument your ride.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

WMCC Kancamagus TT

The White Mountains Cycling Classic is a two-day event that has been going on a few years now. It consists of two independent races, a time-trial on Saturday and a circuit race on Sunday. I have no interest in the near-crit circuit race, but a TT that goes up is totally my gig.

Like Wachusett a month ago, I hoped to get some training value out of it and socialize with other like-minded folk. Achieving a new best was not an objective. I did one of my most punishing rides of the season on Wednesday, which I still felt, and I did back breaking driveway work most of the day Friday. I had to take Aleve for my back just to get out of bed Saturday morning. Hunched over in an aero position was going to feel great!

Some readers may say "what a minute Hill Junkie, you always say this BS, then you win!" The fact of the matter is, I used to treat most races as "A" races, tapering for them, doing my best, especially road races. My penchant for racing is slowly waning though. I have only a couple "A" races planned this year, Mt Washington in August and the Vermont 50 in September. Everything else is a fun or training race. Maybe most competitors treat all races this way, but I used to be more serious about it.

It was a tad on the warm side warming up. Slight headwind on the course. Got a good warmup in. Legs didn't feel too bad, but I didn't push any Watts warming up either.

Queuing up at the start. Photo by Heather Dunkerley

Brett and Eiric queued up 60 and 90 seconds ahead of me. Last year I beat them by 2 and 4 minutes respectively. The guy I was most worried about was Dave Kellogg. He was staged 60 seconds behind me. That was a rabbit I really wanted ahead of me. I've been in road race breaks with Dave and know how he can climb. My only hope was to put seconds on him on the lower, less steep part where wind resistance is greater than gravitational resistance. I'm bigger than Dave and presumably put out more raw Watts, which helps on the flats, but probably less Watts/kg, which will hurt me on the steep part.

I go off. My legs immediately rebelled. I was not surprised at that, but I was surprised how miserable I felt two minutes in. For the longest time, I did not even see Brett. I thought he was either doing really well or I was sucking big time. I gained nothing on him in the first five miles, which climbs at only a few percent. I kept looking over my shoulder for Dave.

When the gradient got steeper, I started seeing Brett. Very slowly, I reeled him in. When I passed, it must have given him extra motivation, as the gap behind me refused to grow. I'm now two-thirds of the way up and still no Eiric. Dang. I put four minutes on him last year, he started only 90 seconds up, so all things being equal, I should have passed him already. All things were not equal...

It wasn't until about 1km to go that I started to close in on Eiric. I struggled mightily to pass him on one of the steepest parts. And he claims to not be a climber. BS!

Approaching the finish. Photo by Heather Dunkerley

I crossed the line in about 37:22, almost a minute slower than last year. Eiric was two minutes faster than last year. Brett was a little faster too. So their increased speediness only compounded my mental anguish. I thought it was all me that sucked so bad, but no, I was chasing guys that got faster.  I got the workout I sought and managed to stay ahead of Dave, who was planning to do the circuit race the next day.

Dave, Bill and myself, 2nd, 3rd and 1st place finishers Masters 50+. Photo by Heather Dunkerley

The rain held off. Other than being a little muggy, it was a great day to climb the biggest paved pass in the White Mountains.

Myself, Brett and Eiric at awards.
Don't let Eiric tell you he's not a climber. Photo by Bill Dunkerley

Here's some non-related news that gets me really stoked. The National Forest Service is going to construct a new section of continental divide singletrack trail to replace valley roads the current CDT route follows. Their recommendation was to exclude mountain biking on this new 31.2 mile trail. When they opened the proposal up for public comment, 900 mountain bikers, myself included, responded. The forest service reversed their decision. In fact, they went further and said the trail could probably not be completed and maintained without mountain biker volunteer support. We've come a long way in the last 10 years. You can read IMBA's press release here. This trail, which hoovers around 10,000ft elevation, could rival the Monarch Crest Trail in beauty and be 3-4 times longer! A Colorado trip will definitely be scheduled when this trail is complete.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Other NEK

Currently in between projects at work, I decided to take Wednesday off. I've not had a proper trail ride in weeks, given all the rain we've been getting. Earlier this week has been no exception. Locally, surface water was topped off again on Tuesday. The north country seems to have dodged the last couple deluges. Would it be North Conway, with a couple passes over Black Cap Mountain, or the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) of Vermont?

I went to bed thinking North Conway but changed my mind when I got up. I didn't get any takers, and the descents off Black Cap entail risk. And besides, I like to ride stuff at NEK that make others ask WHY? I could get my climbing fix in at NEK and do a more traditional ride there next time when I head up with a posse.

NEK is gearing up for a big weekend, NEMBA Fest. Thousand of mountain bikers will descend on East Burke, VT this weekend. You'd never know it looking around Wednesday morning though. Ghost town. Don't think I've ever done a mid-week fling up to NEK. Off-Fridays, sure, but that's already the weekend for some. There was one other car in the mountain biker parking lot.

On the agenda where Burke and East mountain peaks. East Mountain (aka Radar Mtn) has a lot of history. It was a cold war Air Force radar installation, which was abandoned shortly after coming on line in the 60's. During it's brief operation, an unidentified object was tracked for 18 minutes. This was about the same time and place a New Hampshire couple was supposedly abducted by aliens in Franconia Notch for a brief period. I'm a skeptic when it comes to this kind of stuff.  The land was purchased by an individual after it shut down. Then in 2006, a power company lost approval to put a wind farm up top. Today, I believe the land is owned by a timber company and is part of the 132,000 acre Champion Lands. Much of this land is privately owned for timbering, but with perpetual public access agreement. The biggest use is snowmobiling.

It was a tad chilly heading out of East Burke. Perfect for me. Every time I hit NEK, there are new trails to try. On Burke Mtn, there is a new climbing-only trail! About time, with all the attention given to lift-served downhill. The new trail is called Shire. After riding Burnham Up, which is nearly 50% plank bridge now, I picked up Shire.  The folks at the office weren't 100% sure if it was all done yet. That's how new it was. Sure enough, I think I was laying third set of tire tracks on it. It was little more than a mow and ride or rake and ride trail. It was super soft and climbed steeply at times. I didn't want to bury myself 20 minutes into a long day of riding. I rode only the first section and then headed to my traditional uphill route.

I quickly realized why Shire was constructed. My traditional route now appeared to be a very large, fenced off dog park. I couldn't get through. So I could either climb hundreds more vertical feet on spongy forest floor or bomb back down to the road and climb it to the Campground Trail. I opted to save the legs even though it meant more net climbing.  I did catch the lower part of Roly Grail, a lift-served run. Those gravity junkies might be on to something...

Popping out on the Burke Toll Rd, I was in for the main course of the day, a quad searing jaunt to the summit. Camptown pops out right at the base of the 25% grade section. I had already climbed 1500ft at pretty high intensity. I brought my behemoth Tallboy, which weighs about 28 lbs, and I had a completely packed Camelbak that probably weighed another 15 lbs. This was going to hurt.

Burke never disappoints. You think after that 25% section, you can take it easy. Well, maybe you can, if you call 12% easy. There are many sections that break 15% after the initial wall. View from up top was nice on a low humidity day. It was cold up there. Being soaked from the climb, I froze on the fast descent. Zero cars on the mountain this day.

View from Burke Mtn summit looking north, elevation 3270ft

After dropping tire pressure, I hit all the Moose Alley trails. The Tallboy really gobbles that stuff up. Riding solo, I rode conservatively, but I found I could take lines I wouldn't think about taking on my 26" daulie. Other than the usual muddy spots on the Parrs Yard traverse, the trails were tacky, pretty near hero dirt.

After popping out on Rt 114, I thought hard about heading out to Radar Mtn. My legs were already a little noodly. But I came out for a proper NEK ride, and most others would not want to throw in 3000+ feet of climbing on roads abandoned 50 years ago when there is so much singletrack on Darling Hill. So I had to get this in on a solo trip.

Starting up Victory Rd, my bike still felt squishy even though I locked out the suspension. Oh, pressure was something like 15psi. I stopped to top off the tires again. Victory Rd turns to gravel and then gains about 1000ft before giving half of it back again. A left on Radar Rd in Gallup Mills climbs very gradually for four miles along a stream. Even though this sometimes gated forest road is narrow and not open to regular traffic, it is well maintained and perfectly suited for CX bikes. Radar Rd tee's up with... Radar Rd. Yeah, Google seems to call all the roads out here 'Radar Rd'. A right heads to the summit, a dead-end out and back. The road here is not nearly as nice. Often steep and intermittent asphalt that decayed decades ago. You could possible climb this on a cross bike, but descending it with any kind of speed would be treacherous. There are many zig-zagging ruts in the gravel and busted up asphalt.

After a brief lull in the climbing, a much newer looking asphalt is encountered. This is where the real climbing begins. The grade stays above 10% and breaks 15% many times. With 6000ft climbing in the legs, I was crawling up this one. I passed another guy on a hardtail, also heading up. All the gates were open, and there appeared to be fresh truck tracks. About 1000ft is gained in the last two miles on pavement good enough for road bikes. Kind of odd, being so far out and no pavement connecting it to the rest of the world.

Remnants of radar installation on summit of East (Radar) Mtn, elevation 3439ft

There was a car up top. Kids. I would never take a car there. SUV maybe. There used to be a view from the base of the radar pedestals, but now you have to climb one of the pedestals to get the 360 degree panoramic view. Looked way too risky to me. After eating the last of my food, it was plummet time. Bombing smooth pavement less than a lane wide miles from civilization is a unique experience. You wouldn't want to wreck up there. The hemlock along the road is so dense nobody would ever find you. Just like on Victory Rd, you have a big bump to go over to get back to the East Burke valley. My legs revolted. After that, it was all down the rest of the way on sketchy asphalt and tree debris.

Hemlock tunnel. Looking down sub-lane wide Radar Rd near summit.

I finished with 51.6mi, 7500ft in 4:44hrs on the Garmin. Felt like I'd done a VT50 race. Very satisfied with the ride. For once I hit NEK with reasonably fresh legs. The village grill has a Thanksgiving sandwich on the menu. It essentially is a whole Thanksgiving meal on a loaf of bread - carved turkey breast, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cheese and more. Everything a wrecked body needs - lean protein, anti-oxidants in the cranberries, carbs, even sodium in the salty stuffing, which really hit the spot.  Each half was bigger and heavier than a Chipotle burrito. Nearly ate all of it in one interval. It was 100% gone before I got home. Life is good.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Steady State

That was the nature of my ride Sunday, steady state, on the gas 99% of the time. A loop I do a couple times a year links up the Ashuelot, Fort Hill and Cheshire dirt rail trails with some hilly gravel roads into a 50 mile loop. In the first 90 minutes, there is about 50ft of climbing. The sometimes soft rail bed and self-created wind resistance are your motivators for power. With no descents, there are no let-ups, save for a few road crossings you'd best exercise caution at.

The 2200ft of climbing happens on 10 miles of mostly gravel roads between Brattleboro, VT and Keene, NH, late in the ride. I usually ensure my legs are wobbly by then for maximum effect. The route is perfect for a 'cross bike. Occasionally I bring a 29er hardtail though, as I can explore interesting side options. After a deluge over the weekend, I couldn't subject my almost new Trek Cronus to the mud I'd no doubt would encounter. My Superfly hardtail is way past due for drivetrain replacement, so why not get one more messy ride out of it? The cassette, rings and chain have been sitting on the bench for a while now awaiting swap-out.

This one's for Dave. Wolfing down PB sandwich 90min into ride.
No worries, no singletracks were harmed in the making of this photo.

I completed the loop in record time for any kind of bike I've taken there and in less than ideal conditions. I felt it too. Wrecked. I went into the Keene Shaw's supermarket to pick up a sandwich and maybe some chocolate milk. In the natural beverages cooler where the iced tea was, I noticed Mountain Dew. Huh? Closer inspection revealed glass bottles with retro labeling. That's odd, I thought. Then I read the ingredients label. No High Fructose Corn Syrup, only sugar! Sporadically, Pepsico has market a "Throwback" version of Mountain Dew made with sugar, not HFCS. I grew up on the stuff in the 1970's before HFCS found its way into everything. I'm not one of the subscribers that HFCS is inherently more evil than sugar. All simple sugar is evil except in limited situations. What I do like though, is sugar sweetened Mountain Dew. It tastes different, better. Cleaner finish to it, not as heavy of a syrupy feel to it. It was kind of expensive, and I certainly don't need a case of that around the house, so I bought only one bottle and savored it on my way home.  Nice treat to cap off a satisfying ride.

No HFCS, yet nothing to indicate it's special on bottle.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Kids, be careful of what you put into your body

Over the past few years, I've been getting recurring pain behind one or both kneecaps with increasing frequency.  It seems to be correlated with a few things. Foremost is excessive volume plus intensity without enough recovery. I think mostly the bike is responsible. Running doesn't seem to exacerbate the problem, it just delays it going away. I can run with zero pain when riding hurts.  Letting my knees get cold also aggravates the problem. Even when it is not cold out, sometimes if my knees are achy, I'll feel them, and they are cold. The other thing I noticed is there seems to be a direct correlation with dehydration and achy knees. Often, when I know I'm low on hydration, my knees will be tender going up or down stairs. This isn't all the time, just when two or three of the above are present simultaneously.

Back in March, I went down to North Carolina for an intensive week of mountains riding. On the first day, Arik and I went out for short, hard spin to Sassafras Mtn and back. It got wicked cold on the ride back as a winter weather front moved in late in the day. My knees got extremely cold. Whole body got cold in fact. Back at the house, I was pretty much an invalid when it came to the stairs. I needed to support most of my body weight with both hands on rails. The pain was excruciating. I was probably dehydrated, and we went awfully hard up Sassafras. I thought my trip was doomed, but a couple Aleve, rehydration, I was good to go the next day. I think I wore AmFib tights. Knees stayed warm. I did not have trouble with it the rest of the trip.

I was concerned though. Definitely as I get older, my body parts are breaking down.  I started searching for remedies. Several people I know, including my dad and long-time riding partner Steve G., swear by glucosamine. Steve has been taking various preparations of it for many years, my dad the last couple years. My dad has had both knees worked on years ago and was having a lot of trouble in his 70's. Since he started taking Osteo-Biflex, he claims his knees feel the best in 25 years. That is a pretty bold statement.

So I picked up a bottle of glucosamine with MSM at Sam's Club and started taking it right after I got back from my trip in March.  I took recommended dosage of 1500mg per day, a tablet in the morning and evening.

Fast forward to the week leading up to Memorial Day. I was increasingly feeling not well. It was a not quite put your finger on it, kind of a general malaise thing. My weight was mysteriously going up. I stayed below 160 lbs almost all winter, and my weight typically goes down in the spring when my total training volume goes up. Instead, my weight peaked above 165 lbs with a 10.5% body fat on the Tanita scale. I was even trimming calories as weight was going up.  WTF!

That wasn't all of it. I'd wake up with a headache every morning. I rarely get headaches, and now I seemed to have a low-grade headache most of the time. I could hear my heartbeat go whoosh, whoosh, whoosh in my ears too, kind of like I had pressure in my head. I would have thought maybe a sinus infection, but I never got sick and had zero sinus symptoms.  Then to top this all off, a couple times going out at lunch, I bonked immediately. One in particular was an easy run day. Two miles out I was in a hallucinogenic bonk state. I almost had to sit down, it was so bad. Something was very wrong. I started thinking Lyme disease? Pancreatitis? All kinds of scary things went through my mind.

Then on a whim, I Googled glucosamine and weight gain. I got 800,000 hits and started reading. Wow. Glucosamine, in dosages that people often take for osteoarthritis, can wreak havoc on your whole insulin response thing. Didn't understand the minutia of mechanisms behind it, but it appears that glucosamine causing Type 2 diabetes systems is far more supported in research than mending bad knees. In fact, the most thorough study concluded that glucosamine is statistically insignificant in helping joint pain.

So I checked the flip side, Googling glucosamine and weight loss. 2.5 Million hits! Oh man, it can't be both ways, can it? Well yeah, people have amazing ways to attribute effects to causes, aka placebo effect.  But then I started reading. Pretty much every correlation with glucosamine and weight loss were cessation of weight loss. That is, people that were in weight loss programs stopped losing weight when they started taking glucosamine.

That pretty much clinched it for me. I couldn't think of anything else that changed in my diet or lifestyle to be causing the changes I was experiencing. I stopped taking glucosamine.  That was about two weeks ago.

The first couple days, I didn't notice any change. But then on the third or fourth day, I woke up without feeling like I had pressure in my head and no nagging headache. Of course, my weight was still up.

Now, two weeks after stopping glucosamine, I feel 100% normal again, and a little weight has come off. Did glucosamine do this to me? I didn't have 100 of me to control this experiment. I'll never know. One thing is certain, I won't blindly jump into a supplement again.

So what about my knees? There's also chondroitin.  Seems much less risky from what I read. Strangely, I think the glucosamine was working. Maybe a much smaller dose is all I need. Steve takes a Hammer product with glucosamine, 250mg I think. I was taking 6x that amount. Maybe I need to adjust my bike(s) fit. I have Pruit's book on bike fit and common cycling maladies. Pain behind kneecap is often over-use/over-training related and extended rest period can make it go away. I'm not doing anything atypical from seasons past, other than I'm 50 now. I'd be interested in any experience readers have had with this.

Monday, June 3, 2013

There's not much to not like about this loop

One of the earliest regular rides I started doing after I moved to New England in 1997 linked Deer Jump, Wood Hill and Rafton reservations together from my workplace in Tewksbury. The distance varied, but sometimes I worked in up to 18 miles on a lunch ride. The area is densely built up with commercial and residential structures. You'd never know it most of the time, sufficiently buffered from the urban environment.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the route is the 6 miles of continuous singletrack along the Merrimack River. The eastern half is flat, the western half chocked full of punchy climbs. Sketchy bridges are sprinkled throughout.  Most of the terrain flows and begs for speed. My early "master's base" was built riding these trails from work.

These days, I get over there only a few times a year despite being only 25 minutes away by car. It's great for an easy-day ride, like I needed this past Sunday. I brought my "sofa bike," the Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc. Totally overkill for these trails, but bombing down Wood Hill was a blast, almost embarrassing how easily the bike mowed over all the rocks.

Handlebar deep wild flowers: check.

Sunny meadows: check.

Tunnel of blooming laurel: check.
What's not to like?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

4NaaP: Fun in the Sun or Beat by the Heat?

Boy, we go from one extreme to the other. On Memorial weekend, we cancelled a northern Vermont ride due to snow in the forecast. Minimal chances of precipitation were forecast for this past weekend, but it was going to be HOT.  Five hardy (or foolhardy?) souls thought a 4NaaP ride was the thing to do on Saturday. It got even hotter than forecasts predicted in the White Mountains...

The 4NaaP acronym stands for Four Notches and a Pass.  This classic loop can be ridden either CW or CCW. I typically like to ride it clockwise, as it makes three of the five climbs more challenging. The climbs are Kinsman, Franconia (via Rt 18), Crawford, Bear and Kancamagus.

Heading out just after 9am, it was already hot. I had sweat beading up on my arms within a mile of leaving the cars. Once we got through Woodstock on Rt 112, the climbing started and the talking stopped. It seemed our effort was in direct proportion to grade, in that we were in denial that we were actually climbing a 12% grade and refused to let our speed drop. Yet the group stayed together as we crested Kinsman Notch. Interestingly, this effort was good enough to claim 3rd through 6th place on Strava for the four of us running GPSs. That did some damage. We all knew it, but we kind of swept it under the rug.

After some rollers en route to Franconia via Rt 116, we hit the feared "Cannon Mountain" climb on Rt 18. Unfortunately, we took a little shortcut on Wells Rd, which cut off the beginning of any Strava segments that I'm sure are defined for this climb. Dave and Brett led out at a very stiff pace. I got scared. Do I try to stay with them and go thermonuclear later in the ride, or do I behave rationally and back down? Well, I think Dave and Brett came to their senses and backed off just a bit. Did I do the same? Noooooo! I maintained the same power up and over the top. I wanted snow to lay in when I reached I-93, I was so hot. Needless to say, the snow that fell here a week earlier was long gone.

When Keith reached the top, he was in a bit of a pickle. He had heat goosebumps. That can't be good. He clearly was overheating. It was still morning and it was going to get much hotter. We had three more climbs and 75% of the ride to go. Dave and I had somewhat of an advantage on the others in that we not too long ago spent a week riding in some hot weather in Utah. Keith had zero acclimatization.  He did the rational thing and bailed, heading back to Lincoln via the bike path through the notch.

Top of second climb at Cannon Mtn

The rest of us pressed on. We decided to add a second water stop on the planned 90+ mile ride by stopping in Twin Mountain. I had already gone through three large water bottles in about 100 minutes of riding. The other guys only took two bottles each.

We had slight tailwind on Rt 302. We took turns pulling. Mike probably felt he was being tag-teamed, as he was capping off a huge volume week with this ride and was not exactly fresh. Dropping down the steep side of Crawford Notch is always a blast, hitting 55mph on the 13% grade. We reached Bartlett in no time, claiming the Strava KOM from Rt 3 to the notch in the process (who defines these things?). Brett wanted to keep going, still having a little water in two bottles. I thought huh? We have the two biggest climbs of the ride to go in the hottest part of the day. I was stopping.

Mt Washington from Rt 302

My Garmin showed a 21.3mph avg when we stopped, clearly a PR pace for this loop. I really had doubts about maintaining that over the next two climbs in the heat.

Passing through Crawford Notch

Bear Notch was next. This one climbs at an almost perfect 6% grade for 1200ft.  Dave and I joked while driving up about slowly ramping the pace up on this one to see how long it takes others to crack. Evil, eh? Dave is riding exceptionally strong these days, and I thought I'd actually be one of the first to crack. However, Dave didn't seem to be interested in going any harder than I was going. We crested together less than a minute ahead of Mike and Brett.

Next up was the final climb, Kancamagus Pass. Surprisingly, I wasn't the first to suffer muscle spasms. That would be Brett, who I've never heard complain about cramping. Slow twitch guys seem to have much less problem with it for some reason. I was pretty amazed actually that I hadn't seized up yet in this heat, about 3.5hrs into a hard ride. I did add electrolytes to my first three bottles and I was consuming massive quantities of fluids. But it wasn't two miles later when one of my inner thighs fired a warning volley. Yep, getting over the Kanc was going to be interesting.

I waved goodbye to Dave with Brett and Mike behind me, all four of us spread out. I could do nothing more than soft pedal, else about every muscle in my legs would revolt with uncontrolled firings. I so badly wanted to be on the other side coasting 30 mph for 10 miles. I had to earn it first. Stupidly, I switched my Garmin screen to one that showed average speed for the ride. My 21.3mph average quickly dropped below 20mph. When I reached the top, 19.1mph. Losing over 2mph that many miles into a ride shows how pathetically slow I climbed the Kanc. Dave said he would wait for us but was nowhere to be found. He probably gloated all the way back to Lincoln knowing that I was getting no assistance into the wind. I had to earn the descent too.

I waited for Brett, but Brett doesn't descend like I do, so I was soon alone again. Part way down, on a particularly fast section, a truck pulling a large trailer slowly overtook me. While the trailer was next to me, the guy pinched me off. I'm going 30-40mph, about ready to shoulder-lean into the trailer, with my right calf about ready to rub the guardrail. WTF! I slammed on my brakes, shot out behind the asshole, then waved my arms in a "WTF was that!" manner. The guy then slammed on his brakes, nearly causing me to rear end him. He then took off. He was no more than 6" from me going upwards of 40mph squeezed up against guardrail with nowhere to go. This was the business logo on the trailer:

When I got back to the cars, I asked Dave if he was buzzed by this guy. Yep. Then when Brett and Mike rolled in, same thing. This asshole didn't pinch them off as badly as me. He's going to kill somebody. At 40mph, NH law requires minimum 4ft clearance, and bikes do have a right to use the traffic lane. There is a small shoulder on most of the Kanc, which with new chipseal, was rough. I was in the traffic lane within a foot of the white line, perfectly legit. There were no oncoming cars in all our cases. No excuses. I was going to call the state police on this guy but calmed down a little by the time I got home. Many drivers believe cyclists do not have a right to ride in the traffic lane will let you know you don't belong there. It was not taught when I took drivers ed, and it never shows up in those stupid tests you take when you renew. I thought maybe a call from the police could correct misinformed behavior. Or not.

Changing at the cars was an ordeal. Seems anyway I moved caused my legs to lock up. Then as soon as I dropped my bibs, a Lincoln cop slowly rolls through the parking lot. Shit! I couldn't find my boxers. He must have not seen me. Dave, being the good friend he is, capitalized on my panic by laying on his freaking horn! Yeah, I'll remember that one. I didn't get arrested, but Dave better hope I don't show up for one of his Tuesday night rides.

Anyway, the ride was quite successful despite the heat. I just barely eked out a 20.0mph avg for the 92mi, 6300ft ride, which is almost as fast as the last time I did this loop under less oppressive conditions. I drank about eight large bottles of fluids, probably over 200 ounces. Brett and Dave probably consumed a little more than half that much. Crazy, eh? Looking forward to more rides like 4NaaP this summer, including D2R2 in August.

Drive home in Nashua. 97F.