“THERE’S NO WALKING IN BICYCLE RACING!”

Last Sunday I raced the Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash, a bike race that follows the Los Angeles Marathon course hours before its start. It winds through the famous streets of LA while they’re dark and empty — Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Hollywood Boulevard. Thousands of cyclists participated in what was an unreal experience and exciting bike race.

The morning started at 2:40am. Ryan and I woke up, put our kits on, applied chamois butter, filled our water bottles, and loaded our bikes in my truck. We were staying at my parents’ house in Palos Verdes, which is roughly an hour drive from the race start in Silverlake. My mom graciously offered to give us a ride, and we departed at 3:00am. We got to the race at 4:00am and were greeted by thousands of cyclists completely congesting Sunset Boulevard.

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The scene was like nothing I’ve seen — blinking lights everywhere, music, and lots and lots of bikes. It felt like Critical Mass, but much, much larger. Like Critical Mass, the crowd was very diverse. People were on fixies, in kits, on time trial bikes, in jeans, on road bikes, in costumes, and sometimes on beach cruisers, too. Although the majority of participants were hipsters on fixies, some without brakes or helmets.

We stumbled through the crowd looking for our friends — Lukas and Brian, and Brian’s two friends Jon and Brett. We found them in time for the 4:30am race start.

“Race” is perhaps a bad description. Of all the cyclists lined up on Sunset Boulevard, the front of the group was composed of people intending to race. However, the back of the group was composed of people joy riding. Our original plan was to joy ride, but about five miles into the ride we started racing. It was too hard not too. We were riding down huge, open, famous streets, completely empty of cars and full of other cyclists we just couldn’t resist contesting.

At first the six of us stayed together, sometimes getting separated slightly by the ebb and flow of the disorganized pack. But at the second climb, about three miles in, Brian and Jon attacked and Ryan, Lukas and I didn’t chase — we weren’t “racing” yet. As Brian and Jon attacked, they passed a guy on a fixed gear walking his bike up the hill. As Brian passed him at 20mph, he turned to him and yelled, “THERE’S NO WALKING IN BICYCLE RACING!”

Each of the first two climbs fragmented the pack — faster riders got ahead of the slower riders. We climbed relatively quickly, so by the time we were over both hills, we were mostly among racers. And whether we knew it or not at the time, we were about to blow them up — cycling speak for go faster than them.

Lukas, Ryan and I got organized and started sharing pulls. For non-cyclists, “sharing pulls” means taking turns riding at the front, which is much more work than riding behind someone else. Before we realized it, we were averaging 24mph and passing everyone.

We got to a descent with a tight right turn at the bottom. As we made the turn, we noticed two riders had been in a crash. Then we noticed one of them was Jon. As we passed we considered stopping, but from the sidewalk I heard Brian yell, “Keep going!” We kept going.

We passed dudes on fixed gears. We passed girls on beach cruisers. We passed other kitted racers on fancy road bikes with big, dished, carbon wheels. I was only concentrating on two things: “BEAST MODE” and “Uhhhh, can I maintain this?” Numerous times, either after a pull or while trying to keep up with Ryan or Lukas, I thought I was at my limit, that I wouldn’t be able to maintain our pace. But we kept pushing each other, and we kept the pace fast. And we kept accelerating.

We were never passed by someone who we didn’t immediately catch up to. For example, one dude on a road bike wearing a high-vis jacket (newb) passed us twice. Each time we caught him moments later, after he hit his limit and couldn’t stay ahead of us. The second time he passed us, I screamed to Lukas, who was at the front, “GET ON THAT WHEEL, LUKAS!” I was pissed the guy had the nerve to try and pass us again!

At one point, eight or ten riders were riding behind Ryan, Lukas, and me. But they weren’t sharing pulls. The three of us were rotating in and out, and the rest of the pack was behind us, holding on for dear life. I considered turning around, staring at them, and yelling, “YOU GUYS EVER GONNA TAKE A PULL?!” But I decided against it — I figured it was better to keep quiet than yell at people. Plus, they’d probably slow us down if they got in the front.

On a flat, smooth road, we passed another peloton of about 15 riders. But we didn’t just pass them. We FLEW by them. I was on the front as we passed them. I had my elbows on my handlebars in a very aero posture, with my head down staring at my handlebars. I didn’t look at them as we blew by. All I thought was, “LATER MOTHA FUCKAS!!!!” We were flying.

With about three miles to go, we turned onto San Vicente Boulevard, a beautifully smooth, wide, dark road. About 20 riders had formed a peloton behind us, and the competition started heating up. Ryan, Lukas and I were still at the front of the peloton, rotating in and out, and speeding up. We were averaging 29mph, our headlights leading a path through the darkness..

When Ryan was in the front, a guy in a kit on a fixed gear passed us and got in front of Ryan. Almost immediately the guy hit a cadence he couldn’t maintain and started slowing down. At which point we were passed by eight or ten guys. UGH. Why did that dude on a fixed gear pass a bunch of geared riders hammering at 29mph?!?!

I knew we were nearing the sprint, so I sprinted up alongside the eight or ten guys who passed us, where I found a gap and entered it. I was the third wheel and in perfect position for the sprint. We turned the final corner onto Ocean Boulevard, and I sprinted up to 37.7mph and won the field sprint for our little group.

At the end of the race, Lukas, Ryan and I regrouped, shared a bunch of high fives and hugs, and reminisced about how EPIC the ride was. We were so stoked! We were never passed by anyone who stayed ahead of us. We did all the passing. We had pushed each other far out of our comfort zone and were stoked at the pace we were able to maintain for the 28 mile race.

Eventually Brian, Jon, and Brett found us. Jon shared his story about his crash. As he descended at 30mph and approached the tight right turn, a guy on a fixed gear with no brakes was trying desperately to slow himself down. He was moving all over the road and hit Jon just as they both entered the turn. Fortunately Jon and his bike only had minor scratches and bruises — he was able to finish the ride.

After sharing more stories, more high fives, and snapping a few photos, we decided we needed coffee and hot chocolate. We looked for a donut shop, couldn’t find one, and ended up at a 24-hour McDonald’s. We told more stories as we ate hash browns and sipped our warm drinks in the dark.

Rather than taking further advantage of my mom’s generosity, Ryan and I decided to ride along the beach from Santa Monica back to Palos Verdes. The 24-mile ride took us an hour and forty-five minutes. I was in survival mode the entire ride, struggling to turn my pedals over and keep up with Ryan.

We made it back to my parent’s house around 8:30am, four hours after the race had started, and nearly six hours after we woke up. We got out of our kits, showered, dressed, and drove to my favorite breakfast burrito spot, Phanny’s. We took the burritos back to my parents house, ate, then lied on the couch for a nap. Two and half hours later I woke up feeling great.

Ryan and I uploaded our rides to Strava and discovered that Lukas, Ryan, and I had the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd fastest times of the whole race. We averaged 22.5mph. We were STOKED. Those results are awesome, especially considering we weren’t racing for the first five miles, and when we were racing, we were only a group of three. Whereas the racers who started at the front probably had a larger group and hence could maintain a faster average mile-per-hour.

All in all, the ride was unbelievably awesome. We had tons of fun riding through the empty, dark streets of LA. But the best part of the ride was the camaraderie — we were pushing each other out of our comfort zones together, and were unbelievably proud to have hammered so hard.

I’m planning to do it again next year. And next time, I’ll start much further towards the front with the other racers. I should have known that I wouldn’t actually joy ride once my adrenaline kicked in :).

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Cycling Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii: 1 Climb, 10k Feet, 36 Miles

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On the day after New Years day, my Dad and I cycled up Haleakala, a dormant volcano in the Southeast of Maui, Hawaii.  The ride was 36 miles up and 36 miles down, starting at sea-level and peaking at 10,023 ft.  It’s the longest climb I’ve ever done by over 6,000 feet.

We rented bikes from the Maui Cyclery in Paia and picked them up that morning as soon as the store opened at 8am.  We were on the road by 9am and on our way up the volcano.

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The ride is uphill the entire way save for one 100ft section that is slightly downhill.  There are literally no flat sections.  On the flip side, there’s only one brief section that’s over a 10% grade.  Otherwise the grade is consistently between 4% and 6%.

Prior to leaving we researched water stops along the route.  There’s a town 6.5 miles out, then another at 13 miles (elevation: ~3,000).  Then there’s a visitors center at around 26 miles (elevation: ~7,000).  The two towns had stores that sold water and food, but the visitors center only had water, no food.  We packed all our food, only stopping for water at 13 miles and 26 miles.

IMG_1149The weather and temperature were perfect.  At sea level the temperature was in the high 70s.  At the top the temperature was in the low 50s.  We were shielded from the sun by a high layer of clouds, which was great considering we needed to ride several hours between water stops.  The bike shop employees warned us of two things: that we might run out of water, and that we’d be very, very cold on the way down.  We were lucky to have the high clouds to hide us from a dehydrating sun, and to have relatively moderate temperatures.  We rode through dense fog from 4,000 feet to 7,000 feet but fortunately we had prepared the right clothing and didn’t get very wet.

The ride was brutally difficult.  We climbed for 5.5 hours at a gradual pace, taking rests when we needed them and stopping for water twice.  I kept saying to myself, “Only X thousand more feet to go!”  Then, “Damn that’s a lot of feet.”  But we kept going and made it all the way to the summit.  The descent took about 75 minutes.

My dad said it was the most epic thing he’s ever cycled.  It was probably the third most epic thing I’ve ever cycled, third behind the Devil Mountain Double and Death Ride respectively.  But epic nonetheless.  I’d totally do it again, and I’d totally recommend others ride it, too.  The trick is to pack enough food and warm clothes.  Otherwise, climb, climb, climb!

Get more stats about the ride on Strava.

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San Francisco: Best City for Cyclists in the World?

The map you see below is a heat map of all the rides I’ve done in the last 2-3 years in and around San Francisco.  99% of these rides started at my house on my bike — no driving or car necessary.  This map illustrates how truly amazing San Francisco is for cyclists.  Without driving we have SO much access to amazing rides on the coast, over mountains, around lakes, through cities and by coffee shops and bakeries.  I claim that San Francisco is the best city for cyclists.

Here’s a view of just Marin, the county just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge (which has a bike path).  In Marin alone you can ride 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 80, 100, 125 miles starting at my front door and ending at my front door, how ever many hours later.

And here’s a view of all the rides you can do quickly in a morning or afternoon, if all you have is an hour of time:

Have I convinced you yet?  San Francisco is the best city for cyclists.  And San Francisco as far as pure city experiences go is pretty amazing, too :).  I love San Francisco!

Some Context

For the last 2-3 years I’ve used Strava and my GPS-enabled bike computer to track my rides.  Strava is great because it lets me compete against my friends and measure progress.  Recently Jonathan O’Keeffe built a tool that uses the Strava API to create a heat map with all of the rides one has done.  The maps you see above were generated from his tool.

The Cold Sprint

I’ve written previously about the morning ride I do and the legendary sprint at the end. Today I’m posting another email that I sent to the list, commentating this morning’s sprint. I have a good time writing these things up, and hopefully those cyclists out there get a kick out of them, too :)

The sprint started very mellow this morning. We had a large pack making its way through the beginning of the Presidio, two abreast into the cold morning. I started shit talking early. Chris graciously offered a hearty effort. I retorted saying it was every man for himself. Silly, I realize, and also ironic. Read on.

Up the first bump the pace was mild. I know this because my out-of-shape ass was able to keep up. And even slower we went as we crested the first little climb, each rider waiting to see who would lead us to the finish.

Then, out of nowhere, Brian K, who’s probably in worse shape than me, made a jump. A jump only rivaled by Mark Renshaw. What a heart that young man has! (He’s my age.) Immediately the pack went from mellow to chaos. Riders were unsure about where they were, whose wheel they were on, and how they would fair when the final turn came. The whole thing was crazy, really. Robert told me later that he forgot his name. You could see fear in some eyes, opportunity in others. Eventually, though, the peloton would find some order. Brian, giving everything he had, would stay on the front until the second-to-last turn, with Jared on his wheel, Chris on Jared’s, I on Chris’, and the rest of the pack behind me.

With just one turn to go, Jared, exerting himself so much that he wasn’t even able to see his power output on his bike computer, had gapped Chris and me. But I waited, patiently and selfishly hoping that Chris would close the gap.

Around the last turn we went, and out of the saddle I jumped. I was already spent, but I smelled blood. The blood of Jared, who at this point was at least 5 bike lengths in front of me. I was determined to catch him before the speed bump as if my life depended on it. According to Strava I peaked at 34mph. But despite Chris’ mighty effort, I would fall short. Jared, having been on the front since the second-to-last turn, would take this morning’s victory. I closed the gap, yes, but not enough.

Congratulations, Jared. You deserve your victory. But those of us in your wake long for our opportunity at the crown[1]. Now if only Strava would unflag the damn thing …

Alex

[1] For the last three years I’ve screamed to Jay, “I’m coming for you!” on each climb, and I’ve still never caught him. So I could be 100% full of shit.

Determination, Success, and the Tour de France

Every year at the beginning of July, France is host to the most legendary race of the year. Over 180 professional cyclists from around the world start a 21-day race that will cover more than 2,200 miles and climb over dozens of mountains.  The Tour de France tests these cyclists both physically and mentally, awarding the holy yellow jersey to the fastest overall rider.  This year’s tour, apart from being the most entertaining tour I’ve ever seen, showed me how dependent success is on determination.  I’ll give a quick recap below.

This year’s Tour de France ended yesterday on the Champs-Élysées, putting a close to the epic race which was determined the day before on the individual time trial.  Amongst the favored winners for this year were Cadel Evans of Australia and Andy Schleck of Luxemburg.

On Thursday, July 21, with four stages to go and Thomas Voeckler wearing yellow, Andy Schleck attacked in the mountains.  He would win the Queen stage that day, and only miss yellow by a few seconds.  The next day, again in the mountains, Andy would perform well and wear the yellow jersey, with a margin of almost a minute on Cadel Evans.

With Andy in yellow, the tour would enter the final determining stage on Saturday, the individual time trial (TT).  This stage is different than all other stages, because riders pedal solo against the clock, without team members to draft.  Cadel needed to make up one minute of time on Andy to win the tour, to be the first ever Australian to wear yellow on the podium in Paris.  All Andy needed to do was maintain his minute lead.  Andy, riding last, had a huge advantage, too, because he knew exactly how his time compared to Cadel.

Cadel would win Saturdays stage, beating Andy’s overall time by 94 seconds.  Cadel out raced Andy on the individual TT by over two minutes.  He rode like a champion.  He rode with determination.  You could see his passion and commitment to win in his face.  He wanted the yellow jersey more than anything.  He left everything on the road that day, determined to win, determined to bury his body and forget everything he’s ever done to focus solely on winning.  Meanwhile, Andy rode with excuses.  You could tell by looking at his face, at his pedal strokes.  Throughout the tour he complained about descents being too technical, ultimately upset that the tour wasn’t being determined in the mountains.  Though I haven’t heard what Andy had to say about Saturday’s individual TT, I could tell what he was thinking by his riding.  He was thinking about how lame the individual TT was, how a tour should never be determined by a TT.  He was making excuses to himself, reminding himself that he trained to his strengths in the mountains, instead of to his weakness on the TT bike.

Determination is all it takes to succeed.  Often we focus on what we’ve done instead of what we need to do.  We can’t make excuses.  Excuses haven’t gotten us to where we are today.  Whether you’re racing on the bike or trying to start your own company, you need to focus everything you have on what’s in front of you, on what you need to do to win.  Forget how you’ve trained or what jobs you’ve had previously — those don’t matter anymore.  All that matters is your determination to do whatever it takes to win.  Cadel is the first Australian to ever win the Tour de France because he was determined to win on Saturday.  Instead of making excuses and distracting himself from his goal, he focussed, performed, and won.  Congratulations, Cadel.  I was originally rooting for Andy, but you deserve the glory that will rest on your shoulders for the rest of your life.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a wonderful commencement speech from Bill Cosby.  I can’t tell you how much this speech has inspired me. I strongly recommend that you listen to the entire speech. It’s a beautiful story and analysis of you.

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Photo credit: here and here

The Headlands Raiders Take the Presidio

Two weeks ago my morning ride friends and I defeated a long standing king-of-the-mountain.  That morning I emailed the Mission Cycling list with the following email.  I thought I’d post it on the blog for archival purposes, and for anyone else that may be amused :).

The Mission Cycling morning raiders rode off into the Headlands, bypassing the Hawk Hill construction by riding through the tunnel and up McCullough Road, finally making their way to the top of Hawk Hill.  24 be the number of raiders on this day, some, such as the young Matt, slowed by wounds of recent battles.  Others making their first raid in years, Chris finally back from his time far East.  Many PR-ed the mighty hill.  But the Headlands would not be the setting for this morning’s victory, no.  The battle would be set in the Presidio.

Since the early ages, Silas, known in some parts as The Rocket, has owned the Presidio Sprint segment.  We morning raiders have tried time and time again to slay him off his mountain, but failed we have, over and over again, until now …  Whispers spoke of a Legend, who until recently lay quiet in his lair, distracted by the upbringing of his first son, that might slay the mighty Rocket.

The battle started with Jay leading out the raid well before the Presidio Sprint.  Many rode in his wake, sheltered from the fierce resistance created by the epic speed of Jay’s effort.  But Jay, like all warriors when they’ve done their duty for their fellow riders, had given everything.  So I, Alex, gave every ounce of effort I had to lead the remaining raiders as far down the Sprint as I could.  Kevin, leader of us all, attacked, eventually shattered with his valiant and mythical effort.  Finally, with only two turns to go, Matt attacked, hammering his way to the finish, The Legend, Ken, Yann, and Robert on his wheel.

This morning Silas’ reign ceased on the contested Presidio Sprint battle field, beaten by Joe, The Legend, father of one, husband to one.  Joe, The Legend, is now king of the mountain (sprint).  But the other raiders, friends of his perhaps, wait quietly in the shadows, scheming for the next morning of legends when the KOM will fall.

Well done, Joe.

Check out the ride on Strava.

DMD Ride Report: 207 miles, 20,656 feet of Climbing

Yesterday I cycled 207 miles, starting at 5am and ending at 11:30pm, climbing 20,656 vertical feet, over six substantial mountains and passes.  This is my story.

The Months Leading to the Ride

In late January, Vitaly emailed the Mission Cycling list about a ride called the Devil Mountain Double (or DMD for short), a ride with over 200 miles and 20,000 feet of climbing.  My original reply to the email was literally, “F that.”  Not even an hour later my good friend and coworker, Jay, pulled my leg and got me to commit to the ride.  Another friend, Keith, joined us, making for four riders in total representing Mission Cycling.

I more or less gave up my social life to train for this ride, trying to ride over 100 miles every Saturday leading up, with Sunday recovery rides and at least two days of riding during the week.  I also totally flaked on my good friend, Eric, and a community he’s built around his website, OneUpMe.

The Ride

Yesterday started with a 4am wakeup and a 5am departure from the San Ramon Marriott.  A little over 200 people did the ride, most leaving at 5am, and some leaving at 6am.  We rode in the dark for 10 miles, bringing us to the base of Mt. Diablo.  From there we climbed 11.2 miles for a total of 3,283 vertical feet to summit Diablo in the nearly freezing temperatures and brutal wind.  Jay and I descended quickly without regrouping with Vitaly and Keith at the summit rest stop, to avoid the brutal temperatures at the top.  I didn’t even bother noticing the amazing view of San Francisco.  As we were descending my hands and legs became completely numb.  I was shivering uncontrollably.  And I was worried I’d crash given my hands weren’t working well, I was shivering violently, and I was descending a technical, steep grade.  The thought crossed my mind to throw in the towel and go home.  However, eventually we made our way into the sun, warmed up, and kept going.

Jay and Vitaly are much stronger climbers than me, so on the Morgan Territory climb we separated and regrouped at the next rest stop.  And Keith was somewhere behind us.  I took off my bike lights and put them in a bag that the ride volunteers would take to a rest stop towards the end of the ride, when I’d need them in the dark of the evening.  By that time Jay had already had a flat tire and realized he needed a new tire.  Fortunately the rest stop had a new tire, so after a few minutes of changing we were off again heading east.  We saw Keith as we were leaving.  On our descent from Morgan Territory into the Central Valley, we saw fire trucks and ambulances tending to a fellow rider who had gone down because of a strong cross wind.  He seemed OK, but seeing him amidst the flashing lights was humbling and kept me cautious on the descent.

The Central Valley, along highway 580, was windy and occasionally miserable.  Sometimes we had tail winds, sometimes cross winds, and sometimes head winds.  I stayed with Vitaly and Jay and struggled to keep up.  I was worried I was putting too much effort in to stay with them, but I kept with it until Patterson Pass.  Most people on the ride were worried that Patterson Pass–surrounded by wind turbines–would be awfully windy, but fortunately it wasn’t.

Jay and Vitaly were waiting for me at the next rest stop, so I ate quickly and we kept going.  We started ascending Mines Road at mile 90ish, and this was the last time I would see Jay and Vitaly.  For the next 30 or so miles I rode by myself, eventually getting to lunch, where I ate quickly and reapplied chamois cream.  And at about this time my right knee started bothering me, I expect because I wasn’t wearing leg warmers and my knees were cold.  After lunch I got back on the horse with two guys I met along the way, Jules and Doug.  My front tire flatted shortly after lunch, but after a quick tube change I was off and back on the bike.

After some up and down Doug had ridden ahead and Jules and I started climbing Mt. Hamilton, a bear of a climb, with a gain of  1900 vertical feet over 4.4 miles.  The climb was beautiful but also challenging.  We started the climb at mile 130ish, and by this time I was tired, but I was also fired up.  I knew that after we finished Hamilton all we’d need to do is ride north and we’d be home free.  Physically I was pretty battered, but mentally I was fired up.  With only a few more minutes in the climb my front tire flatted again.  I discovered that I had missed a small splinter when I changed the tire after lunch.  So after removing the splinter, borrowing a tube and pump from Jules, and changing the tube, I was off again.

As we started the descent my rear tire blew out–or, flatted very abruptly–after I rode over a big bump in the road.  The tire had a small hole in the sidewall, which worried me but didn’t stop me.  I forget exactly why, but I ended up needing to wait for the sag wagon–one of the vehicles driving around helping cyclists in need.  I’m not sure if I needed a new tube or what, but after some waiting, a dollar bill in the hole, a new tube, and some air in the tube, I was back on the bike, descending Hamilton, overlooking the entire South Bay.  The view was gorgeous.  As I was descending I felt a small bump in my rear tire, which I was worried was due to the hole in the sidewall.

Eventually Jules and I made it to the rest stop at the bottom of Hamilton.  After a quick stop I looked at my rear tire and noticed that the dollar bill wasn’t doing its job, and I’d need a new rear tire.  Fortunately the rest stop had a spare tire, and the insanely helpful volunteers changed my rear tire for me.  The first tube they used popped when they put the tire on, so they had to take the tire off completely, change the tube, and refill the tire.  So what started as a quick stop become a long stop, with two tube changes and one tire change.  Just as I was ready to depart by myself I saw Keith rolling into the stop.  I waited a few minutes for Keith to rest and eat, and the two of us left together and would eventually finish together.

The research I had done on this ride beforehand lead me to believe that the next climb that awaited us, Sierra Road, was going to be the hardest.  The climb started at mile 155, elevating 1759 vertical feet over a short 3.5 miles.  This climb was brutally steep, and it never ended.  I could barely turn my pedals over, however I resisted from zig-zagging across the road.  I think Sierra Road was the hardest climb of the day, but at least at the rest stop at the top Keith and I could overlook the sun setting on the South Bay.  The sight was beautiful, and after our accomplishment Keith and I felt as if we were on the home stretch, with only 40 miles to go (ugh).

The rest stop at the top of Sierra Road is called Pet-a-goat, because there’s a goat at the top that you’re supposed to pet.  I pet the goat, ate and drank, and put my lights back on.  The sun had set, and it was getting dark and cold.  Just as we were leaving a woman, presumably with her husband, rolled in and had a mental breakdown.  She started hitting herself in the face, screaming and cursing about having so much left at a late, dark, and cold 8pm.  She was not happy, and her reaction troubled me.  It made me realize that Keith and I were physically and mentally exhausted, facing 40 miles to go, with two more climbs in the cold and dark.  We started on our way, and Keith would eventually see the woman and her presumed husband at the finish at 12:30am.

The rest of the ride was a mental battle against myself.  We were almost entirely on small, single-lane, backcountry roads, with no civilization in sight.  All we could see were silhouetted mountains that I was worried we’d need to climb and the lit road in front of us.  Keith and I hardly talked with one and other, but we road two abreast, our lights leading the way through the night.  Between the pet-a-goat stop and the finish, we’d do two more climbs, ride a little over 40 miles, and stop once for hot chocolate and more food.

Sierra road was definitely the hardest climb in my book, but this last 40-mile stretch was overall the hardest.  Physically I was toasted, but by this point I could continue to turn the pedals so long as I continued to eat and drink.  What was hardest was the mental acceptance of what was to come.  Every climb, every turn, I wished the hotel would be around the corner.  I wished I would at least see a human or a house or a restaurant, to remind myself of the reality that this is just a bike ride.  I wanted a shower, a warm meal, a break.  The last 10 miles were especially awful, because we weren’t sure exactly when we’d see the hotel, so every corner we’d turn we’d get our hopes up only to see another hill, or another corner.  A few times Keith or I would spout a curse in frustration, but we kept each other going and sane.

By the time we knew we were within a mile of the hotel, we were doing well over 20mph, giving the last stretch everything we had left, which wasn’t much.  My Garmin bike computer and headlight were almost out of batteries.  I screamed in joy when we saw the hotel, relishing my accomplishment.  I did it.  I completed California’s hardest double century, one of the hardest organized rides in all of California, exactly 12 months after doing my first century (100-mile ride).  I was physically and mentally toast, ready for a shower, ready for bed, ready to be off my bike.  I had started at 5am in the dark and finished at 11:30pm in the dark.  But I was ecstatic.  I had prepared for this ride for months, and I had finished it.  YES!

Eating and Drinking

For amusement’s sake, I thought I’d list an estimation of what I ate all of Saturday:

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal
  • Water
  • Multi-vitamin
  • 2 salt tablets
Rest stops in total
  • ~5 salted and herbed potatoes
  • ~6 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • ~6 bananas
  • Some trail mix
  • Some potato chips
  • ~14 salt tablets
  • ~10 ibuprofen
  • Chicken teriyaki sandwich
While riding
  • 6 Clif bars
  • ~12 gels
  • ~3 scoops of Accelerade
  • 1 granola bar
  • ~10 bottles of water (24oz each)
  • 1 root beer
Dinner
  • Vegetable lasagne

Summary

The Devil Mountain Double was my hardest day on the bike by far.  I’m glad I did it, and I’m super proud of my accomplishment.  But as I’m writing this I’m in pain, sore, and mentally and physically exhausted.  And I don’t think I’ll ever do something like this again.  Yesterday I was awake for 23 hours, physically sitting on the bike for 15 hours, and resting/changing tires/eating for 3.5 hours during the ride.  Right now the accomplishment doesn’t justify the mental and physical torment I put up with for 18.5 hours.  But then again, we’ll see how my attitude changes as I recover, and with better luck and fewer than four flat tires I could probably finish in much better time.  For now, I’m super stoked, super proud to have ridden with Jay, Vitaly, and Keith, and super ready to sleep and eat more.

Thank You

All of my friends and family have been insanely supportive throughout.  You’ve been understanding when I didn’t stay out late or when I flaked on a commitment.  You’ve been there to talk me through my worries and fears.  And you’ve been so congratulatory.  I thought of you endlessly on the ride, trying to find encouragement to turn the pedals.  Thank you so much for everything.  I couldn’t have done this ride without you.

The volunteers and organizers of the Devil Mountain Double did a fantastic job.  I’ve never been a part of such a well organized, well supported ride.  I can’t thank the volunteers enough for their kindness and willingness to help, no matter what.  So to the DMD volunteers and organizers, thank you.  You guys made the day as good as it could be.  Seriously, volunteers would fill my bottles for me, change my tires, take my bike to the bike rack.  You guys are so awesome.

Jay and Vitaly were waiting for me and Keith at the hotel, probably bored out of their minds being in the little conference room for several hours waiting.  You guys are awesome for waiting for me, even though you totally didn’t need to.  It was great riding with you both, even though it didn’t last very long.  Hopefully one day I’ll be able to catch you guys :).  But for now, thanks, and see you out there Tuesday, assuming I can sit on my bike by then.

Keith was my sanity for the last 40 miles.  I think without Keith I would have struggled to keep going, to stay sane in the wilderness, with no signs of civilization around me.  I know you didn’t need to say or do anything to keep me going, but your presence, relaxed manner, and company were stabilizing.  I’m glad we found each other at that rest stop.  Good luck with the rest of the California Triple Crown!

Update: read Vitaly’s report here.

The Personal and Social Challenge of Endurance Cycling

For those of you that don’t know me that well, I love to cycle.  My interest started shortly after I moved to San Francisco in the fall of 2008.  In 2010 I completed my first century (100 miles), my first double metric (200 km), and finished the season with Death Ride, a grueling 128 mile ride over five mountain passes, totaling 15,000 vertical feet of climbing.

I decided to up the challenge this year by signing up for a 200-mile ride with 20,000 vertical feet of climbing.  The Devil Mountain Double (DMD) is scheduled to take place on April 30th, and I’ve been training like a madman getting prepared.  This blog post is about the training leading up to the big ride, both how it’s impacted my life and how I’ve gone about preparing.

When I signed up for the DMD I assumed the toughest part would be preparing my body for the physical challenge of biking 200 miles in a single day, over long, steep, mountain climbs.  However, to my surprise, I’ve found the toughest part of the training to be the impact it makes on my social and personal life.

For the last two months, with the exception of only two weekends, I’ve spent every Saturday biking more than 80 miles, usually departing my house before 7am.  I’ve spent as many Sundays as possible biking between 40 and 60 miles, usually leaving my house before 10am.  And I’ve been very consistent riding Tuesday and Thursday mornings for 20ish miles, with several Monday and Wednesday bonus rides as well, leaving my house before 6:15am, often climbing up and down the same hill to get the most out of my morning.

Needless to say I’ve been quite a morning person the last several months, which isn’t too much different than my normal schedule.  However, I’ve made a huge effort to get plenty of sleep to aid my leg recovery and prevent me from being a total tired wreck at work.  I’ve had to say “no” to too many fun nights with friends or coworkers.  I’ve had to leave movies before they’ve ended.  I’ve had to say goodbye to a group of awesome friends staying out for an extra beer or two.  I’ve turned down several snowboard/snowmobile trips to keep my weekends open for cycling.  The list goes on.  I feel awful bailing on my friends, but I’m doing what I need to do to survive this ride.

So to all my friends, thanks for your patience while I devote myself to this challenge.  Every time I say goodbye early, or turn down an awesome opportunity to snowboard, drink, eat, run, or do anything else with you, I want you to know that I badly want to throw away my training and enjoy a weekend or night with you.  But I’m devoted to this ride, I’ve trained too hard to lose diligence.  You’ve all been amazingly supportive and understanding.  So, seriously, thanks.  My guilt often reminds me how great of friends you are, and that energy will be what motivates me to turn my pedals over and finish this bear of a ride.

Update: my Ironman friend, Andrew, wrote about this last October, six weeks before his race.  So it’s not just me :).

A Love for Cycling

Perfect circles in a steady cadence, shoulders bobbing calmly, the sun begging to see the day, our breath visibile in the morning cold, the sky orange and purple as my friends and I race the sun.  The Golden Gate Bridge dew breaks as our tires glide, leaving lines in the moisture reflecting the sky above, the lit red truss contrasting brilliantly with the violet sky, sidewalk lights guiding our path.