Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Year in Review

Time to pick out a few highlights from my 2011 rides and runs!

1. Snowball Run 5K

Surprised myself having such a great run, long after I figured the marathon training had left my legs.

2. Highlander Cycle Tour

Almost didn't happen after major flooding from hurricane Irene, but made it to the ride and enjoyed an epic day on the bike.

3. MBC Group Ride - Snake Hill and Stillwell
Can't remember feeling so strong on a ride! Nabbed the Yellow and Polka Dot virtual jerseys, although some regulars were missing. Could have gone even harder, wish I could have bottled this energy for a rainy day!

4. Wantagh Park Duathlon

My first ever 1st place (age group M45-49) in a race! Felt great!

5. Long Island Marathon

Fulfilled a childhood dream of running this marathon. Although I didn't achieve my 4 hour goal, it was so close (24 seconds!) and a 25 minute PR compared to the Wineglass marathon. Already started training for the 2012 edition, marathon number three!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cannondale Supersix 3: First Ride Report

Picked up the new bike from Mineola Bike yesterday afternoon in the middle of a freak October snow storm. In the shop, on the trainer during the BG Fit with Barry, watching the snow and rain pelting outside, I didn't expect to be out on the road with the bike for at least another week. This morning, woke up early to icy roads and high winds. MBC group ride cancelled. Went back for a few more minutes of sleep, then out for a 2.5 mile run with Linda. Sunny, clear blue skies, and the roads starting to clear, I decided to get kitted up for the inaugural ride on the Supersix. I was anxious to see how it handled, see how "smooth" a carbon ride really is, and especially to see how I would feel in a completely new riding position. Here are my impressions after one 40 mile ride.

Frame/Fork: 2012 Cannondale Supersix 3 Ultegra. 54 cm carbon versus my old 56 cm aluminum. Ride quality is superb! The carbon really does soak up the road vibrations. BB30 bottom bracket is really stiff. Very noticeable when standing to climb, no shimmy in the cranks or rear wheel.. Shaped tubes are bigger than steel and aluminum (especially the HUGE downtube) but overall I think the bike has good lines.

Groupset: Tried and true Shimano Ultegra 6700 10 speed. Full groupset (including chain) except for the crank. Shift levers and hoods are differently shaped than the 105 9 speed I am used to but still comfortable. Smooth operating and shifting as expected. Cassette is Ultegra 12-25. I may switch to a cassette with 11 for racing next spring since I am running a compact 50/34 crank. Need to work out the gear inches compared to what I could get on the triple to make sure I can get up big hills of the Highlander. Just need time in the saddle to get used to 2x10 gears instead of 3x9.

Crank/Pedals: FSA SL-K 50/34 compact carbon crank. Was concerned about possible flex in the carbon arms but sure felt stiff enough to me. BB30 system has many theoretical benefits: lighter (hollow spindle, no external cups), stiff 30 mm diameter hollow spindle, more widely spaced bearings, low Q factor. I had no problems so I guess it is doing its job! Bearings seem more exposed than on some other systems so will keep an eye on them. Should be easy to replace in a few years if needed. Went with Shimano R-540 pedals. These are the low end of Shimano's road race line but I've used them for years with ZERO problems. Also, same ones on the Specialized so no issues in switching bikes and using the same shoes. Not light but durable, dependable, and good value for the price.

Saddle: Fizik Arione with magnesium rails. Basically the same saddle I've used the last 3 years and have been happy with. Seems less padded than my old Arione and lacks the brushed leather center strip. Was fine after one ride. I think it should break in a little more after some more rides. Has the same integrated saddle bag clip system as my other Fizik, which is a plus.

Bars/Stem/Seatpost: Aluminum bars (44 cm) and stem (100 mm). As per my BG fit, recommendation was for 42 cm bars and 90 mm stem. I felt fine with the current setup and think I will keep it as is. Especially when riding in the drops, I don't want the bars any closer. Carbon seatpost, no issues. BG fit says I could be a little more forward in my saddle position but I am already as far forward as the seatpost allows and I'm happy where it is. Sometimes I feel like I would like the saddle further back but I think I need a few more rides to decide.

Wheels: Mavic Ksyrium Equipe came with the bike and seem to be a solid set of training wheels. Low end of the Ksyrium line, aluminum rims, bladed straight-pull spokes. The wheels are on the heavy side, but hopefully should be durable enough for LI roads. I might try switching in my Easton Circuits at some point if they are compatible with 10 speed cassette. Race wheels will have to wait a while, I've blown the bike budget for now.

Overall ride impression, very positive (of course). Very smooth ride. Like buttah! The bike feels light and launches when standing on the pedals. I could not discern any "bounce" in the carbon seat stays. I was warned about this possibility for heavier riders but I could not feel anything, maybe was an issue for pre-2012 models. Riding on the hoods, very comfortable in my new position. Not stretched out as much when reaching for the shift levers. Took longer to get used to lower position in the drops but by the end of the ride it was feeling very comfortable. Cleat position changed significantly. Finally, my feet are pointed straight and knees feel okay. Will take some miles for the muscles to acclimate, I didn't feel like I had 100% power but it may have been the wind on the ride today. Will be interesting to see how I feel on the next group ride. I SHOULD be in a more efficient pedaling stance so we will see how things feel after a few more rides. Plenty of gearing to get myself over the LI-style "hills".

Bike looks killer and the ride is great. Looking forward to putting the miles on!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Colorado Rider Compares The Highlander vs. The Triple Bypass

John Y. cresting Bopple Hill in the 2009 Highlander. Photo by Pyzahl.

From the Highlander facebook wall:

Looking Forward To It Yet?

This is something I was inspired to write about my favorite sufferfest. Enjoy, and I'd love to hear your stories too!

***(best read with a beer in hand)***

What’s it like to ride the Highlander vs. the Triple Bypass in Colorado? At first glance, they’re similar – about 120 miles (the Triple is 120, and the 2010 Highlander is 129 miles). Riders “enjoy” approximately 10,000’ of elevation gain on the Triple, 11K on the Highlander – also known as Death Before Dismount. Both rides are extremely well organized, the scenery is breathtaking, the camraderie strong... And that, my friends, is where the similarity ends.

The Triple Bypass has altitude and relentlessly long climbs over three mountain passes plus another “bump” just for fun. Basically, you start on one side of the Continental Divide, go up and over, and down the other side. Riders often experience frequent severe weather and sudden, dramatic changes in temperature (it’s not uncommon to see a forty degree change in the course of two hours).

The Highlander might seem mellower because the environment isn’t as extreme, but there’s a little extra kick in the Highlander that the Triple doesn’t have. Hills that go straight up. As in ‘rocket-launch’ straight up. Anyone expecting midwestern-style undulations is in for one hell of a rude surprise.

OK, who builds roads like this - roads that for no sane reason are completely vertical??? In Colorado we call them ski runs and we go down, as gravity intended!!

Look at Bristol Mountain from the parking lot, where the Highlander starts… and imagine pavement under the chairlift. That’s what they call roads in upstate NY!

Anybody from Colorado would tell you, you’re an idiot if you have a driveway that steep. For those who have gravity-defying driveways out here, a 4x4 truck with a permanently-attached snow plow is not a luxury, but the only way to get the groceries home. Driveways become bobsled runs in winter (and during mud season too, thanks to our baby-poo sticky clay soil), often negotiated sideways at awkward angles that cause flatlander visitors to gasp uncontrollably and grab their knees in white-knuckle terror.

But… even the most idiotic driveways in Colorado generally employ an obviously little-known-in-upstate-New-York engineering secret called “switchbacks”.

But noooooo, the Finger Lakes road builders figured the most efficient way to get from A to B was to draw a straight line from A to B. But there’s the issue of topography (well, I consider it an issue). Not these guys. 23% hill in the way? Bah, no problem! The fastest way to get from here to there is a straight line, duh.

So geniuses that they are, that’s what they did. Straight line from A to B. Obviously the best way.

Yes. In a car.

And that of course begs the question… who in their right minds would ride a bicycle up these roads??

Umm… I would. I, among many other “enthusiasts”. For reasons of our own, we are compelled to prove to ourselves and the world that because a hill is there, we can ride it. Not that that’s necessarily the “smart” thing to do. It’s just what we do. Again and again. We don’t cower and hide. We may whine and whimper, but we resolutely point our bikes at the hills and attack.

“As long as I live, I attack.” – Bernard Hinault

Background on me: I love climbing. Really, truly love to go higher and higher on a bike. It’s pure zen. I live in Colorado, at almost 7,000 feet above sea level and many of my training rides routinely take me from 6,000 to 11,000 feet (and back down). Altitude doesn’t begin to affect me at all until I get to treeline, locally around 12,000 feet. Climbing big mountain passes is a piece of cake. They’re long, but gradual. No big deal. They’re my backyard rides.

Yeah, and then I go ride the Highlander and I’m humbled, big time.

There is no county-maintained road in Colorado that exceeds 18% and those are exceptionally rare. Most of our climbs are in the 6% range – sure, they can go on for 16+ miles… but once you settle into your rhythm and learn to effectively utilize every available molecule of oxygen, you’re golden. It’s almost like riding on auto pilot when you get in the groove. But, no such luxury in the Highlander.

The Highlander can and should be considered an extreme ride. The Triple Bypass is tough. But the Highlander? Insane. Wonderfully insane.

When you break it down into its components, riding the Highlander is riding intervals all day long. Max effort, max recovery. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I’m an endurance rider. A diesel. Point me in a direction and say “go”, and I go. For me, the Highlander is a challenge of epic proportions – to keep on going despite rarely finding my groove because (like mountain biking) there is no groove. You just have to keep going. No matter what.

There is one hill I must mention, the infamous Bopple Hill. No matter where it comes in the ride, it’s going to hurt you, guaranteed. 12-22% for a mile. Conquer Bopple, and you’ve conquered yourself.

Here’s my experience:

One minute I’m cruising along a scenic lakefront… in the 53x11… not even breathing hard… Yes, I know “it” (Bopple Hill) is coming, but in my mind I have my eyes closed and hands firmly clasped over my ears, singing “lalala, I can’t see it, lalala, total denial, lalala, this ride is easy, lalala!”

And then the road warps into an insane Escher drawing. My mind can’t really wrap itself around this strange phenomenon. Why would somebody just fold one corner of the road up like that? Why?

Who folds roads into origami swans?

My first reaction is a very un-ladylike expletive pertaining to procreation. Then, a drastic and sudden downshift, chain skipping over teeth as I desperately make the switch to the 39T and hunt for the third-from smallest cog. Pride, people, pride… (goeth before the fall, yeah, I know, whatever).

I silently thank Our Lady of Shimano that my derailleur didn’t snap off and the chain is still in one piece. I guess thanks are relative at this point. The fact that I did not experience catastrophic equipment malfunction means I am now stuck riding this thing. Oh goody.

I hammer out the first couple feet of Bopple out of the saddle, aware of a rather alarming drop in velocity despite my best efforts to continue the 20+ mph pace I had been carrying at the lakefront.

Within seconds the remaining two gears are ejected in favor of the only slightly less painful granny. I feel the deceleration, but before I succumb to the black hole pull of the bottom of Bopple, I sit back down and power up the hill in the granny gear.

Ha ha, power up in the granny gear. I have to laugh. Stupid oxymoron.

(For what it’s worth, I like big gears. I don’t ride a triple. Don’t need one in Colorado. The Highlander is the one and only ride where I wish I had a third chainring. Really, really wish.)

But there’s no time for this kind of thinking. Fully in the moment, fully in the pain of this abrupt climbing experience. Not ‘climbing’ as in ‘ascending’, like I do at home (a 3,500’ climb at home is a 16-mile pleasant romp at 4% that generally takes about an hour-fifteen). Here, it’s medieval torture. This is climbing as in “trying to scale a wall while being pulled backwards by an angry mob.”

I crane my neck to impossible angles just to catch a glimpse of the top – depressingly not yet visible. I know better than to look! It’s smarter just to look down and keep pedaling. I push on. I think I smell something burning, accompanied by a dull realization that my legs seem to have caught fire. Hmmm. If they fry, I won’t have to do this. No such luck. Somebody’s having a barbecue, watching the carnage on the hill. That, or I’m hallucinating. Legs intact but screaming, I push on.

“Death….before….dismount….” I chant silently, each breath keeping in cadence with my pedal stroke. Cadence? That’s laughable. Cadence implies forward movement. I went from a nice, comfortable 98 rpm to… 30. 20 mph to… 2. When, when will my rhythm come??? It dawns on me, it won’t. There will be no rhythm. Nothing but the pain of keeping the bike upright and forcing it forward.

There is no “settling in” to a climb like this. It’s nothing but brute force all the way up. I’m a girl, dang it, I don’t have to do this! Oh yes I do. Dang it. Fight the tractor-beam pull of the bottom! Fight it! Go! Go! Go!

There’s a slight break as the road levels out to 12%. A slight giggle because I’m somewhat shocked that I consider 12% a relief.

And then the real fun begins, the real climb, where it kicks up a couple of notches to over 20%. The Escher drawing that is this road twists into yet another mutated shape where ‘up’ and ‘down’ are equally daunting. Those of us with a (healthy) deathly fear of heights do NOT look down.

It’s remarkably difficult to keep a bicycle upright at very slow speeds. I am amazed at the acrobat-like agility that allows me to balance on tires less than 1” wide for what feels like eternity. I try to keep my upper body relatively still, bobbing up and down rather than side-to-side to minimize the metronome-like pumping that threatens to tip bicycle and rider over.

At some point that extra movement became a necessity. I bob a little more, pumping unseen energy into my legs. It’s a miracle of physics that I do not stall! How the hell is it possible that I’m still moving forward (sort of) and still upright (barely)? I know the sight must be both comical and incredible at the same time…

Time loses all meaning on Bopple. There is only the NOW, the zen and the suffering of the moment.

Random thoughts. Why am I not going anywhere? Why is it that I’m able to read every single name painted on the road? Am I going that slow? I’m thirsty. I hate this. Why do my frickin’ triceps hurt? When do I ever use my triceps on a road ride? I think my handlebars are gonna snap if I pull any harder. I wonder if I can catch that guy? I can’t believe I just thought that!! Amazing how those miniature chain pins can support this kind of load. Oh, look, there’s my name! I love this! Oww, sweat in my eyes! Hey, I can hear the bagpiper! Wow, I can feel my heart beat in my hands! I want this to stop! But no! I can do it! This is so stupid. Grape. Pie. Grape. Pie. Really. Yummy. Grape. Pie. There is no room in my head for idle chitchat. This is serious stuff!

If nothing else, I’m too stubborn to stop.

Riders ahead of me zigzag in tandem, engaged in their own struggle to ascend the evil Bopple. There’s a grace in two cyclists undulating back and forth across the road, much like skiers whose tracks rhythmically cross each other’s as they silently glide (downhill, having fun) through the powder. Only there is no silence here, only creaking of components and gasping of breath…

Some riders sit or stand relatively quietly on their bike, pointing their bikes skyward with grim determination, legs pumping up-down-up-down. Others engage in an epic wrestling match with their machine, bodies and bikes rocking and jerking, simply willing themselves to continue. A few walk, for the moment defeated by the hill. I catch only glimpses of other riders’ ascents as I concentrate on the pavement in front of my wheel. Don’t wanna look at the top. Don’t wanna see how far I have to go. It never gets closer!

I imagine this is about the point where people either get religion or make a pact with the devil. Or, if you’re like me, Phil Liggett comes into the announcer’s booth in my head with commentary worthy of the best Tour de France mountain stages. “Oh, it’s all she can do to keep those legs ticking over!” or “He’s cracked! He’s going backwards and she passes him like a freight train headed for the station! There’s no stopping her now! She’s won the stage and possibly the maillot jaune!” and “What an incredible effort on this most difficult of the mountain stages!”

Seriously. What would I do without Phil?

I see the top, but it never gets closer (okay, this happens back home when I’m climbing Mt Evans, too). Must. Keep. Going. Oh. God. This. Hurts. (This puny little one-mile hill hurts so much more than the whole of Mt Evans, which summits at 14,200+ feet above sea level).

So why is it so much FUN???

Near the top, spectators cheer me on. Somehow it works. My ego kicks in when I see them. A smile/grimace and somehow, I find that last little bit of oomph and give them – not me – a little extra. It’s a miracle.

The chant comes into my head again – “Death. Before. Dismount.” Each word a sentence unto itself, each eloquently expressive of suffering and determination.

Phil Liggett is thankfully still there, too, urging me on, imploring me to reach deep into my suitcase of courage. Huh. Did I pack that?

Go. Go. Go. C’mon, legs. Go!

With a final lung-exploding burst of effort, I clear the top. Keep rolling. Keep the legs spinning or they’ll seize up… grab a drink. Breathe. Got lungs?

I slump a little on my bike and roll down the road, a sense of triumphant accomplishment mixing with agonized breaths. Recover quick! I am aware of my heart beating slower now, relaxing back into a sustainable, sub-911 level. Thanks, body, thanks, bike. You did it again.

I almost neglected to mention the inevitable question, during most of the climb up Bopple Hill: Why do I do this every year? Why?!?

Einstein said that insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. I must be a bottle or two short of a six-pack, a couple of tacos short of a combination plate. Do I really think this will ever be any easier? Why do I hate it so much? Why do I love it so much? Why do I keep coming back year after year for more torture – and more fun?

Because I can.

Because there is something about the Highlander. This ride, this challenge, is above and beyond anything. This ride truly has the ability to strip away everything but one’s essence. This is where you find out what you’re made of.

Legs of steel, baby!

Mind of pudding, but hey… damn determined pudding.

Stay in the moment, never mind what’s coming, I say to myself. But the internal chatter kicks in – “but wait, there’s more hills like Bopple, more insanely folded roads that you are going to ride! (Whine, whimper). Don’t you wanna go home?”

No. I want to ride. Up, down, up, down. Just because. The origami ride.

YES! Let’s ROLL!

***looking forward to seeing you all in September!

Jarmila Gorman

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Marathon Training Begins/New Cycling Team

Tomorrow will cap off week 3 of 18 for marathon training. I'm following Hal Higdon's Intermediate training plan with the goal of a sub-4 hour time for this year's Long Island Marathon. Training is going well so far, though these first few weeks have been on the light side in terms of total mileage. Just trying to stay patient and let the buildup happen slowly.

Been using my new Garmin Forerunner 410 to track my runs and rides since Christmas. Its fun to look at the stats generated and very useful to get the routes and mileage tracked.

On the bike front, had a nice ride with Dan A. and a few of the MBC group on route 9W this morning. Nice route and will be even better once the weather gets better...and I get into better fitness! Renewed my racing license last week and decided to race in the Mineola Bike Club colors this year. No problems with EECT but MBC is closer for me and I've ended up riding with them more often over the past 12 months. Picked up my jersey today, getting excited to do some racing again.