Prior to this weekend I’d not yet attempted a RUSA ride in October to keep the P-12 streak alive.  This was due to a combination of our early-October one-week-long Katy Trail ride, my recovery from that, and my recent and by now well documented battling with malaise regarding basically all things fitness.

With the calendar quickly burning down October’s remaining embers, it was becoming important to schedule something.  This weekend was the last one of the month, so, unless I wanted a nighttime finish to a route (which I’ve done but prefer to minimize till I get better bike lighting) or wanted to take some vacation time from work, it HAD to be this weekend.

With my thanks as always to the flexibility of Sensei Ron A, the route owner for several local 100-km routes, late in the week I scheduled another jaunt on Wander to Welda for Saturday morning, with a 7 AM start.

It was with a fair amount of trepidation that I started the ride – my evening-before eager anticipation notwithstanding – precisely because I’d really ridden very little lately (well, since the 500+ Katy Trail ride that had quickly receded three weeks into the rearview mirror) and hadn’t gotten in a successful RUSA ride in the past five weeks. I wasn’t terribly confident of my fitness level with so much inactivity and poor eating lately. Regardless, as chronicled above, I had really four choices:  get a successful ride this weekend, get a nighttime finish route early next week, take some PTO from work, or, least palatably, see my five months of work toward the P-12 slip by the wayside.  So, we ride!!

This was my first ride this year (first since spring that is) wearing leggings.  Even during the Katy Trail ride, I braved some cold-start mornings without leggings, partially due to my assessment of the forecast, partially due to wanting to maximize packing space & weight on bike.  However, with a 42ish degree, pre-sunrise start to this ride, and a day that looked to be largely overcast for most of my ride (though it actually ended up being sunnier than that), I relented to the elements and rocked the leggings underneath the shorts.

Familiar enough preride routine for me – woke up, had my usual breakfast plus green drink, scurried around and got my bike and belt bag ready, showered and out the door by 6:50 for the short mile-ish ride to the starting control on Main Street.  Purchased a small bag of Cheez-Its (a recent substitute for my in-ride eating, replacing Chex Mix, which I am fond of but quickly got sick of on the Katy Trail) and got receipt and card signature right at 7.  Turn on bike lighting for the first several miles of the trail, and we’re off!

Pretty early on I could feel that the Katy Trail ride definitely added to my leg strength and stamina.  I’ve ridden this Welda route now several times and so have a storehouse of experience to compare/contrast each new ride with.  I felt stronger at essentially every single point in the ride than I believe I ever have on this route, which was EXTREMELY encouraging given my abysmal fitness habits lately.

My phone’s battery has been very unpredictable lately, and at a minimum runs down fast; so, I chose to run neither my standby Pandora nor ride-tracking app Endomondo on this ride.  For music, instead, I brought an iPod.  The upshot of this was that, unusual for my rides, I had no direct feedback on a mile-by-mile basis on my speed.  Since I could perceive I was riding pretty strong, I was ok with this, and I liked the freedom of just glancing at the phone’s clock at rest points.

Early on in the ride I could tell there was an organized run happening on the trail.  Just south of my Ottawa start was a drink/gatorade station set up in a familiar layout common to group runs/group races.  At first I assumed it was a standard “mere 5k” (says the guy who has run one 5k ever), but fairly soon I could tell the runners I was passing were a different breed.  For one, most carried small Camelbak-style backpacks.  For two, they had started pre-sunrise, which is unusual in itself, and most had small headlamps on their heads.  For three, just the build of these folks told you they weren’t your average 5k weekend warrior turnout.  Immediately I recalled that the evening before, shopping for groceries at Wally World, I’d seen a guy in the checkout lane wearing an “Epic Ultras” jacket, i.e. the ultramarathon group.  Remembering also that they had organized at least one run on the Prairie Sprit that I could recall, earlier this year, I quickly put two and two together and concluded that like myself, these folks were out for a big challenge today.

My suspicions were confirmed at Richmond, as I recall.  A couple volunteers there had some tents set up, a fire or some heating elements, and were getting stuff ready to receive the runners. I’d passed the lead guy just south of Princeton, about 5.5 miles back, so they would start rolling into Richmond fairly soon.  I think that I saw signage here to the effect that this was a 50-mile run (which would be Garnett & back to Ottawa).  I’d later learn that they actually had two groups this day, one running 50 miles, the other 50 km’s (31 miles), which was Richmond and back.  The latter group’s start time, I would learn, was 8 AM, so presumably I’d seen none of them on my way south.

I took my usual short break here in Richmond.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the restrooms were unlocked AND the water on – I expected neither.  I took a short break to rejigger fuel, water, and a short health break.  As mentioned above, I know how I typically feel when I roll into Richmond on this route; this time I felt a lot stronger, and it showed in my turnaround time.  I didn’t feel the need to take even my customarily short stop; instead I got in and out in several minutes, continuing to Garnett.

Again, my Katy Trail experience clearly built up some muscles and some resilience. I’d texted friends on day 2 or 3 of that ride that I was starting to develop “that steel trap feeling” in my legs, and it reprised here on this ride.  The climb into Garnett is not overly taxing, but it’s a climb, a longish upward grade, on a more-difficult-than-asphalt surface.  I completed the entire climb in a gear higher than I normally would, and generally just kept pressing forward.

The wind was strange today – ostensibly from the west and then later shifting to the northwest, at a respectable 12-15 mph, I nonetheless felt it pretty strongly on the open stretch north of Garnett. I experienced it similar to a direct headwind even though ostensibly it wasn’t.  I reached the Garnett station, taking another short break, mostly to refill water, assuming Welda’s water would be turned off.  A quick turnaround and I again got moving.

The climb to Welda was similar to the Garnett climb – routinely one of my least favorite stretches of this ride, today it was no picnic either but I just kept churning forward, in higher gearing than I typically would.  Nonetheless I was relieved when that short 7ish miles was done and I took a short break in Welda.  I arrived about 9:50 AM, which for me is a pretty solid pace on this route.  I had by this time ZERO concern about the return, as once again I arrived at Welda feeling much fresher than I normally do.  After my usual control/break routine, I turned southward for the return back to Ottawa.

Once again the wind actually felt like it was coming from the south, at least for half an hour or so, and I was making good time back to Garnett.  I stopped there again for a short water/fuel/health break.  About this time some of the runners were arriving in Garnett, with some others having made it through and turned back.  I stopped and chatted with one of the volunteers for a short period, but, while not wanting to be impolite, cut it somewhat short so that I could resume and finish. Given what was around the corner, I’m really glad I did that.

The next 10 miles to Richmond was nothing spectacular – passed many runners (some going each way) and once again generally felt stronger and fresher than I typically would at this point in the ride.  The few miles into Richmond, as return readers will know, are probably my least favorite on this route; and such was the case again today although I just worked my way through it and arrived a lot fresher than I usually do.  At Richmond, too, several runners were in the process of arriving or having just come through, so there were several more runners to pass.  As I had leaving Garnett, I high-fived several of them as I flew by 🙂  I had & have immense respect for these folks and their achievement on this day, whether this be their first ultra or their 20th.  Also I’ll note – with NO disrespect, quite the contrary, HUGE respect – that there were at least 2-3 runners I saw whose physical dimensions would totally belie the accompishment they were tackling.  Huge respect from me for taking on this challenge.

Anyway, my ride, which had so far been probably the least difficult of my Wander to Welda RUSA outings thus far, was about to take a major hit.  Roughly 2 miles outside of Princeton, my rear tire skipped over a rock or something and I IMMEDIATELY felt the sickening feeling of a flat tire.  I hopped off to feel it – yep, dead as three o’clock.  From fully pumped to dead flat, instantly.  For many if not most riders this would be less traumatic than it was for me – I’d only practiced changing a tire once or twice and had never had to do so mid-ride, alone (without a riding companion), and certainly not under RUSA timed conditions.  I felt terrible.  I pedaled on for a short while in basic denial, but at a short bridge, I pulled over.  There was no question of trying to push on to Ottawa without changing it – I was still a good 9ish miles out.  Resigning myself to the slowness I knew I’d essay in changing the thing, I more or less wrote off finishing timely and just started working on it, not in any particular hurry.

Making a long story short here, I did take a LONG time to finish it, working my way through my memory of how to do it.  My first in-ride flat, and what a time for it.  I triumphantly replaced the wheel on the bike, aired up the new tube with my air cartridge (which was also my last one, so if I got another flat I was done), and checked the time on the phone.  I expected to be essentially mathematically eliminated, but the time stood out to me as if in 3-D.  It was 1:05.  I had about 40 minutes to finish the remaining 9 miles.  For me, on this course, for the LAST 9 miles of the day (i.e. when I am already pretty tired), that was going to be a nailbiter, but it was doable. This again, incidentally, highlighted how much stronger I was on this ride.  Normally the last 12ish miles or so of this route I am DEAD and just counting down miles till I can get off the bike.  Instead, now, while I WAS tired and the legs weren’t as fresh as at the start, I could feel I had enough left to make it.  So I set off.

As a sidebar, the necessity of changing the tire in-ride without someone holding my hand was very valuable.  I now have total confidence in my ability to do so again as needed in the future so, while I don’t invite any more flats, I no longer fear them as I did prior to this weekend.  Just gotta make sure I carry a couple spares and a couple air cartridges.

I had to pace myself.  I could assess my energy reserves pretty accurately and knew that if I tried to sprint to the finish I might run out of gas.  So I rode with purpose but not at 100%, and allowed myself to coast a pedal stroke now and then to catch a breath.  Passing several more runners along the way, I was focused dead ahead and just focused on finishing my water bottles, on staying calm and just finishing.

Round the final curve in the gravel (well the penultimate curve), back on the highway for a short jog of some couple hundred feet, then back onto the FINAL curve in the gravel before it gives way to pavement.  I knew the by-now 14ish mph almost-direct headwind was waiting for me, and I cursed that.  I knew if I’d had a tailwind of the same speed the finish would be a slam dunk.  Instead, that last mile or so on pavement was a long slog on tired legs into the wind.  Passing the final group of Epic Ultra volunteers trailside, I asked as I passed, “what time do you have”?  The guy had 1:40.  I was only a very short halfish mile away from the control, although I had a couple turns (navigating traffic plus crossing the main road in town) to make and had 8 minutes to get my receipt and card signed.

Rolling into the parking lot, I parked the bike, took off the helmet & smoothed down my helmet hair, grabbed the card and dashed inside.  Heading back for my usual postride chocolate milk, I didn’t even have the nerve to waste the time to look at my phone.  I headed to the counter, paid, got the receipt and signature.  1:45 PM.  I had THREE minutes to go until the control closed.  Crazy.  I walked back out, breathed a LONG couple sighs of relief, packed up the chocolate milk and pedaled over to Subway for my normal post-RUSA-ride lunch.

Here’s hoping I don’t have this close a call, on a RUSA ride at all let alone one that endangers the P-12 streak, again.  This reinforced my commitment to getting in a ride very early in the month and at least getting the month checked off.  And, I’m happy to report that post-ride, I felt the same familiar feeling I do after virtually all RUSA rides:  “Man, I can’t WAIT to do this again.”  If I wanted to extend this already-long post further, I could expand on this further, but suffice it to say that I feel good that this ride went a LONG way toward breaking my recent self-imposed exile from healthy habits in general and riding the bike in particular.

Six months are under the belt for the P-12!  Six to go.  Lord willing, April will be the final month in the streak and I’ll qualify for the RUSA P-12 patch in May. Can’t wait.

Till next time…

RAGBRAI 2014 logo revealed!

October 25, 2013

Yesterday the good folks that run the annual RAGBRAI ride revealed the logo for the 2014 ride:

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I think it’s pretty sweet.  Simple, elegant, and clever.  I like it better than I did last year’s.  It’ll look fantastic on a jersey.

Registration for the 2014 ride starts in three weeks!  November 15th to be exact.  The route announcement is just over two months after that – January 25th.

Sure am looking forward to RAGBRAI 2014!

Yes, I am still alive

October 25, 2013

So I’ve not posted around here very much at all lately.  I’d be lying – to myself, my loyal readers and my self-accountability in the vehicle of this blog – if I said I haven’t been struggling mightily with fitness.

Fortunately there’s no disaster to report in terms of having put back on 20, 30, 50 pounds.  I’ve managed to stay within just a few pounds of my all-time (well, since I began losing weight in 2009) best.  But, as I told some friends recently, I’ve been basically breaking even – in terms of weight and in terms of fitness – for many, many weeks now.

My ambivalence on these matters and dissatisfaction at the lack of progress has translated both to not being as active as I have been and should be; as well as letting the blog wither a bit.  All of these things I regret, but I’d like to think I am emerging now from that funk and moving onward and upward once again.

RUSA ride is planned for tomorrow morning, and my heart stirred with excitement this evening as I scurried around the house engaging in my now-familiar night-before-RUSA-ride activities – washing bike clothes, getting the bike and other gear ready, prepping stuff for my morning breakfast routine…I read somewhere that routine has powerful effects on the psyche, and I certainly enjoyed a taste of that this evening.  After many weeks of essentially breaking even, drifting, and without a particular driving motivation, I felt the thrilling flash of excitement as I returned to a familiar routine, the rush of anticipation at an enjoyable long bike ride.  This is the kinda stuff that keeps me coming back for more.  This is the good stuff.

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So Mr. V and I a couple weeks ago reprised our thoroughly enjoyable Katy Trail ride of 2012 (days one, two, three and four here), but with an added twist.  While last year we rode from Clinton to Machens across 4 days, this year we rode Clinton to Machens, then back to the start at Clinton, across a 7 day period.

A much fuller ride report(s) is forthcoming as well as some (hopefully) entertaining and representative multimedia.  As with our previous ride, we took many pictures this year, and in addition, I had a small video camera mounted on the handlebars with which I shot a few hours of video across the full week.   The intention is to edit down all these pictures and video footage into one, or maybe a couple, short videos complete with soundtrack 🙂

As I did last year, I’ll give the “top line” report for this year – another epically fun ride.  No major mechanical issues, no major weather issues – we were very fortunate this year as last.  My preparation for such an event (primarily the weighted-touring aspect of it, wherein my bike was a solid 20-25 lbs or more heavier than I’m accustomed to) wasn’t nearly as extensive as last year, and I found the going a little tough at times as a result.  But in all, a great time was had, and our fondness for this wonderful treasure of a trail reinforced.

Stay tuned for more!