Saturday, June 28, 2008

Green Trolley

I did it! I participated in a race.

As mentioned in the previous post, the race was the Green Trolley. It's a 0.6 mile, four corner criterium, with a short hill right before the finish.

It was great to get back out there and race again. As much as I thought I'd be able to hang with these guys, I wasn't even close. The first time up the hill I dropped my chain. By the time I got it back on I was at the back of the field. Once things flattened out I was able to catch back on to the field. However each time we went up the hill I found myself about 15 feet off the back, trying to catch back up on the flat section. Needless to say, this sort of pattern can't continue for too long, at least if you want to stay in the race. Sure enough after 3 or 4 laps I was off the back to stay.

I then spent the rest of my time going as hard as I could, wanting to at least get something out of the race. At one point I slowed a bit and a couple guys who were behind me caught up. One of them ended up riding with me for the rest of my time in the race. We had a pretty good thing going, I'd pull up the hill and through the first half of the flat, he'd pull for the rest of the flat and down the hill. Thinking about it after words I realized that I was pulling into the wind and he was pulling with the wind at our backs. Probably not the squarest deal, but who cares. We got lapped twice, but still had a good time doing it.

By the time we got lapped the second time I was pretty much gassed. I shut 'er down and headed to the finish line to watch the last few laps. In the end, one of my teammates out sprinted the field for the win. I had hoped to be there to help him get the win. Obviously not to be, but in the end I can't complain. I came home safe, had a great time, and learned a lot about where I am with my recovery.

Check out the multimedia from the race (once again we thank my personal photographer, Carol, for the images (including the artistically blurred images of me on the course)):

Kely wins the race

Me warming up on the rollers

Images of me doing various things

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Race or no race?

Now that I'm feeling a lot stronger, I'm starting to weigh the pros and cons of going back to racing. I'm not considering going back to racing every weekend, or traveling to out of town events. What I am considering doing is the occasional local race that is relatively flat and reasonably safe.

One such race is occurring this weekend, the Green Trolley Criterium. I did a race on this same course last year (the Red Trolley Criterium). It's not the flattest course, but it is only a 10 minute drive from my place, is likely to be sparsely attended, and has a nice wide safe course.

Here's what I see as the pros and cons of taking part in this event:

1. Get dropped early on - It could be that I register for the race, do one lap with the field, get to the small hill right before the finishing straight, get dropped and my race ends right there.
2. Crash - I could be involved in a crash and somehow injure myself.
3. Pain - It could be that I've been away from racing for so long that I've forgotten just how much this might hurt (I'm talking from the fitness perspective, not hip/knee perspective).

1. Reward for training - I get to experience some tangible reward for all the training I've been doing. Regardless of how I finish, if I can go the entire distance, I'll feel like there's another good reason that I put all the effort in on my bike.
2. Redemption - It would be great to go do a race where I can prove to myself and others that my injury didn't get the best of me.
3. Measurement - Doing a race like this would instantly tell me where I really am with my fitness. If I can hang in a race like the Green Trolley, I know that I'm getting back to where I once was.

If anyone knows me at all, they know I'm a giant proponent of democracy. As such, I have added a new poll to the blog. Submit your vote and let me know your opinion on whether racing this weekend is a good idea or not.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mount Palamar

Now that I'm starting to do some F2 workouts (force 2 - long hills; up to 8% grades that take at least 6 minutes to climb), I've started heading back out to Mt. Palomar.

For those not familiar with this ride, it's about 3700 continuous vertical feet of climbing. Mt. Palomar is north east of San Diego. It's about a 40 minute drive from my place out there, but the drive is well worth it, as Palomar is one of the best road cycling mountains you're going to find around here. This thing is no minor hill, Floyd Landis includes it on his regular training ride from his home in Temecula. There's even been a lot of talk of having the Tour of California use it as the finish to a stage next year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

June 14th was the first time I'd been up the mountain since February of 2007. Prior to heading out there on Saturday, I was feeling pretty confident in my fitness. My left leg strength has been getting better and better. I've also seen my power numbers get a lot closer to some of my pre-injury levels of late, so I was thinking that I'd just head up the mountain at a good aggressive pace and see how things worked out. My goal being to keep my heart rate no higher than my lactate threshold (around 182 bpm). What I found was that I wasn't really physically ready or prepared for the sort of fitness and nutrition that this climb demands.

First off, about 3/4 of the way up the mountain I started running really low on blood sugar. This is the infamous bonk; not enough glycogen left in one's blood stream to keep things functioning at a high level. So, rather than the 60 rpm cadence I had going the first 3/4 of the climb, I was struggling to keep my cadence above 35 or 40. Regardless, I wasn't going to stop climbing. I didn't drive all the way up there to quit without getting to the top. By the time I got to the top of the mountain I was beat. I stopped to eat half a banana and honey sandwich and then headed back down.

What I discovered when I started to ride back down the mountain was that my hamstrings were so wasted that I couldn't even pedal. They hurt so much that I could barely sit on my saddle. Basically I coasted the entire way down the mountain, barely able to turn my pedals such that I could even take the corners safely. When I got back down to my car, I had to get off my bike and walk up the small hill to where my car was parked, my legs were that dead. It took a day or so of recovery for me to be able to walk properly after this experience.

The next Saturday, June 21, I headed back to Palomar determined to put some of the lessons learned from the previous week (more re-learned I guess, as I learned many of these lessons last year) into action. First off, I put some dextrose into my water bottles so that I'd have more sugar going into my system during the climb. Second, I got started much earlier in the morning so that I could avoid the 100 degree temperatures that are typical for inland San Diego county this time of year. Finally, I resolved to climb the mountain a little more smartly, namely go at my threshold for 10 to 20 minutes, then take it easy for 3 minutes to recover, then go back to threshold, etc. This approach has worked well for me in the past. I still worked my ass off getting to the top of the mountain, but at least I got there in one coherent, functioning piece.

For the purposes of comparison, here is my power output for a trip up Palomar in February 2007:

Here's the June 14, 2008 climb:

And here's my power output from last Saturday:

A few things are pretty obvious here:

1. The June 14th image shows how my power (the yellow line) was reasonably consistent for the first 60 to 75% of the climb. Then it slowly fades lower and lower.
2. If you compare the June 21, 2008 and 2007 output, you can see that back in 2007 I was able to keep my power closer to 300 watts on most of the hard efforts. In 2008, the harder efforts were closer to 250 to 275 watts. So, I'm definitely not as strong as I was back in 2007. No real news here; a guy with one leg that is only half as strong as what it used to be, and who can't really pull up on one of his legs when he pedals isn't going to be as strong as he once was.

I'm still really happy however. I can still remember when I was lying in a hospital bed thinking how great an accomplishment it would be if I could ever even ride a bike again. Being able to climb one of the highest mountains in Southern California wasn't something that even entered my thoughts at that time. Being able to climb a mountain like Palomar validates that all the hard work I've put in to my recovery over the past year or so has been well worth it.