Wednesday, March 29, 2006

My Hero Jeremy

Good news! My man Jeremy from the customer support desk at Saris-PowerTap left me a phone message yesterday saying that the wheel is on the way back from Wisconsin to Central New York. They verified that the speed readings on the hub were all screwed up and replaced the "torque tube" and all the other fiddly-bits inside the hub. I should have it back on Thursday. I sent it out last Monday, so that's a darn good turnaround time. Let's hope the new guts in the hub last a nice long time.

It's racing season now, for sure. Not bike racing season quite yet for me, but racing to work early, so I can race home early, then racing around getting dressed then racing on the bike to beat the sunset and cold temperatures. Last night I crammed in 36 good tempo miles with plenty of rollers to make the legs and back know they did some work. My toes were little white icicles when I got done, but everything else stayed nice and toasty. I'm tired today, but my legs feel good and it's supposed to be a few degrees warmer today, so it looks like it'll be another race on the way home.

Turning to the particulars of training, for those of you interested, this time of year is a flux time for me. It's warm enough to finally get off the rollers and ride outside, but it's cold enough that my lungs get burned if I breathe too hard on the ride (darned asthma). Therefore, intervals with much intensity tend to go out the window. I'm doomed to tempo for the next couple weeks. A couple nights ago, I rode an hour outside until I got cold, then came home and sat on the rollers for another half-hour, warming back up with a 15-minute LT interval. That felt pretty good and I'll try and continue doing post-ride roller rides to keep some intensity going. I'll be stomping along in the Pisgah Mountain range in a couple weeks, and I want to be ready to go hard when the road turns up.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Yay! Monday!

I don't say that too often, but putting this past week and weekend behind me, and seeing the weather reports for the coming week have me pleased it's Monday. Cold temperatures kept me on the rollers last week, and my workouts suffered from very low motivation. Thursday night, I was getting excited because Friday's forecast was for reasonable weather, and I was planning on skipping out of work a little early to get in a nice long road ride to start the weekend off right.

Early, er, scratch that, *very* early Friday morning, my pager went off. A battery in one of the big UPSes in the computer room at work had split open, dumping acid onto the floor. Like a rip-off of Aliens, the acid was eating through the floor panels. Sparks were flying and electricity arching across metal bits. The operators shutdown the main power to the UPS, and it brought several of my servers down hard.

I checked the clock: 3:52 AM. Wow. That's early. It'd take a while for the UPS engineers to arrive to fix the batteries, so I had time for a quick shower and a real breakfast. This would turn out to be a blessing in disguise, because if I arrived at work around 5:00, I'd be able to get out early in the afternoon and do a very long ride. Sweet.

Fast forward to 7:15 AM. I was back in the office, after having rebooted and checked all the servers to find them coming up pretty well. Then, bang, the phone rang with word that the main web server was down. Corrupt data on the mirrored drives. A rebuild and restore from tape would be necessary. Then, the second part of the Perfect Storm. My cell phone rang with the phone number of my 93-year-old grandmother's house. My mom had found her in bed mostly unresponsive and apparently unable to speak. The medics who arrived guessed she'd had a stroke and they whisked her off to the hospital.

I hung around work long enough to get others involved in the server restoration, then hopped in the car to zoom through the nearly 1.5 hour trip to the hospital. I arrived there to find my grandmother sitting up and doing very well. All tests came back very well. Heart good. Lungs good. Brain good. Kidneys good. The worst part of the ordeal was her left hand where they'd stuck the IV in the ambulance. Her 93-year-old papery skin had bloated with blood upon removal of the needle at the hospital, and her hand looked like a big purple party balloon. The official diagnosis was just lack of oxygen. She'd must've slept wrong, heavily on her ribs or something, and her O2 level had gotten so low she had the symptoms of having had a stroke.

By 6:00 in the evening, we were all back to her house, with oxygen bottles to get her through these times in the future, and I was in the car speeding the 1.5 hour trip back to the office where my supervisor and co-worker were still toiling away on the problem. A disk had gone bad during the restore, and hell was breaking loose.

Fast forward three two-hour restores later, and at 2:30 AM Saturday, I was finally able to declare the server back up and running, and I went home to climb into bed around 3:00. Awake for twenty-three hours, including a trip to Binghamton and back. Welcome to the weekend.

Weather over the weekend was spotty at best, rainy and cold, and very windy when not raining. I got in a few hours out on the road, but after 14 years of bike racing, I have to admit that the novelty of training in nearly freezing weather has worn off. It's no longer fun to feel like the Michelin Man with so many layers of clothing on, to feel the sting of cold set in to my fingers and toes, to feel the bite of the frozen air inside my chest.

So, it's Monday and I'm excited about the week ahead. My grandmother is doing just fine taking a hit of oxygen every now and again to start the day off right, Mother Nature is promising us temps touching the 50s during the day, I'm promising myself some early departures from the office for some long rides, and I'll be happily busy at work trying to finish the web migration to new servers project that has just been bumped up several notches on my priority list.

See you on the road.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Cold and Alone

It's the first day of spring, and the temps are topping out at 25 degrees F today, with the wind chill 14. At least it's not snowing. Several inches of new powder fell on us over the weekend, and that was plenty. Good news, though. The daily high temperature is supposed to be around 40 starting on Thursday and extending through the weekend. Whew. How will we deal with such heat?

The cat 5 guys on my team are freezing their lycra off hitting every race they can, in hopes of getting in enough to upgrade before the bigger races start. Poor bastards.

In other news, my PowerTap SL has now left me and I'm all alone with only my old Polar HR monitor. The PT is now working its way through the US Postal system, heading towards Madison, Wisconsin and the labs of Saris Cycling Group. They will receive it on the 22nd. They promised a ten-day turnaround, so I'm hoping it will be back in my hands by April 5th, with two days to spare before the big trip to Asheville, NC. It'll be a close shave, I'm sure.

See you on the road. Watch out for that black ice.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Back to Heart Rate Training

Well everyone, I might be at the beginning of a tale of woe about how much PowerTap systems stink. After about 550 miles on the rollers and 100 miles outdoors of working properly, my new PowerTap SL has gone kablooey.

I hop on the rollers, and everything works fine for about five or ten minutes. Then the wattage starts jumping around briefly or for a couple minutes, then drops to zero, despite the transmission icon staying on solid. Cadence off the pedal and heart rate continue to register, but the clock and mileage stop, and wattage and speed show zero. Nadda. Nothing.

I have cleaned contacts, left the battery cover off for a day to "dry it out" despite there being no obvious moisture in the battery compartment, replaced all batteries, wiggled wires, reset torque, completed self-tests on the computer. It'd be easier to list the troubleshooting things I haven't done with this thing.

I have a second wiring harness and receiver for my TT bike. I will install that and run tests on that to rule out the wiring. Failing that, I'm trying to find someone locally with whom I can swap computers and hub long enough to see how they perform in an attempt to isolate the problem to one or the other. After that, it's very likely I'll have to send the entire thing back to Saris, and I'm not looking forward to that. There are many horror stories on the web about people who waited a very long time to get their fixed PowerTap back, despite the manufacturer claiming a ten-day turnaround.

I am not at all pleased that something that costs so much can go bad after a short time of mild use. I would expect this from a $20 cyclo-computer, not from something that costs a grand.

My short taste of training with power was enough to make me an addict. It's fantastic when it works. But now, I'm back to training with heart rate, and my motivation has taken a nose-dive.

Wish me luck, and buyers beware!

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Little Extra

March presented central New York with the lamb half of the proverbial lamb/lion March combination this weekend, and it was oh so good to get out and ride without freezing. The local club's first group ride was Saturday, in temps nearing 55, and under sunny skies. The ride departure spot was about seven miles from my house, so I decided to spin over to get in a little extra.

About sixty people pulled into the plaza parking lot. Some were chatting loudly about ski adventures over the winter. Others were talking loudly about how they meant to get on the trainer over the off-season but never did and were feeling out of shape. And then there was a group of us quietly greeting each other and wondering who would be driving the bus today. It reminded me of the pro riders described in Lance Armstrong's War evaluating each other's butts to see who was in shape and who had a few extra pounds. Nods, smiles, waves all around. How great it was to meet under sunny skies and declare the riding season started.

We rolled out of the parking lot, and I took up a position near the back, chatting along with one of the usual bus drivers. About a mile into the ride, we'd turned onto a quieter road, and we both looked up to see a gap in the group. Game on. We both rolled up to the lead group and sat on them for a while.

After a few more miles, and a few fewer people in the lead group, the pace was popping up now and and again as people started feeling frisky on the front. There was no tongue-dragging punishment going on here, just people upping the pace ever so slightly on the front. No one wanted to drop anyone hard on the first ride of the season. They just wanted to make some people uncomfortable enough that they'd wish they'd hit the trainers a little more over the winter.

As we rolled back into the parking lot, I was happy to have had a great ride getting reacquainted with friends, and especially happy to be feeling great. So great, in fact, when Sue and Jeff got back to the parking lot, we rolled out for a little extra.

We rolled along with a nice spin for several more miles. Around the half-century mark, we reached an intersection. The house to the right, more miles to the left. I chose left. "I'll just get in a little extra by going this way."

I then set off on the solo exploration part of the day's ride, and made good use of the power meter. I just set the legs to a nice tempo pace, and tapped out the miles and enjoyed the views. Sixty. Seventy five. Still feeling great.

It occurred to me that it wouldn't be too hard to nail down a century on this 11th of March. The legs didn't seem to want to stop. I climbed up winding route 13, and admired Chittenango Falls. The river was bloated with spring thaw, and the water was crashing down with a roar.

In the end, I thought that a little restraint on my second outdoor ride of the year was in order, bagged the century idea, and comfortably rolled into home with eighty five miles under my belt. My "little extra" had turned into forty nine miles extra. Sweet.

The power meter is paying off, the time on the rollers is paying off, I easily completed more one-day miles than I ever have before so early in the season, and my first test with some of the other big boys in the club found me with plenty of watts in the quads. I couldn't have asked for a better second ride of the season. I hope you all out there had a similarly great weekend.

See you on the road.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Horizons in the Mucklands

The temperatures were positively balmy last evening, all the way up into the high thirties (F). Like a summer's day.

Mounting the tank that is my bad-weather bike and feeling like the Michelin man because of all the clothing layers, I set out for a long spin that would see me getting home in darkness. I had the light batteries charged, the balaclava and lobster mitts on, and cross bike with fenders installed, and I was ready to go.

About five minutes into the ride, I attempted a shift from the big to little ring and remembered my promise to myself during my last ride on the tank many months ago to clean and lube the front derailleur. Downshifting required reaching down and pushing the derailleur cage in. I renewed my promise to lube it when I got home.

I headed north and east, into the seemingly endless wastelands of mucky flats south of Oneida Lake. Riding out there signals the official start of the racing season for me. The straight, flat, intensely boring roads there are perfect for those first few rides in the cold. One can maintain a nice steady tempo without getting too hot going uphill and getting too cold going downhill. At every intersection, I'd turn and face yet another flat road that disappeared onto the horizon. Surrounded by flat snow covered fields dotted with melted patches of brown muck, I spun on towards those horizons, wiggling my thumbs to try to keep the blood flowing in them.

I stepped up onto the porch in the dark, home safe and sound two hours after heading out. Only my nose, thumbs, sinuses, and lungs had felt the cold. My toe warmers and boots had done their job, and the balaclava had kept my head and ears toasty. I put the bike away, forgetting my promise to lube the front derailleur (which I'll probably remember about five minutes into my next ride), stretched, breathed warm wet air deeply in a long shower, and ate tasty leftovers.

The legs felt fine coming down the stairs this morning, but my eyes feel the general fatigue induced by a good early-season tempo spin over the nearly freezing mucklands.

It's unseasonably warm here over the next few days, and I hope to get in many more miles before Old Man Winter remembers it's only March and comes back in town to dump some serious ice on us.

See you on the road.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Pfffffft #2

I had my second flat of the year on Sunday, but this time it wasn't a tire. It was me.

Friday evening was a night off from training as usual, and my high school friend Maria and her new fiancee Adam came in town for a visit. We dined out and then stayed up until after midnight eating ice cream and catching up. Sue and I were nearly dead by lights out at 12:30, at least two and a half hours past our normal bed time.

My aching back woke me up a little after 7am (don't get me started about expensive mattresses that break down in a year and a half) and after another half day of visiting, I was toasted. I had also recently started The 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear, a book my mom had given me recently, and it was all too easy to nap and read the rest of the day away.

I was paged for work at 3:30am Sunday morning, got up and fixed the problem quickly, but upon returning to bed, found my back in knots again, and I sent the rest of the "night" tossing and turning and rarely sleeping. I have to figure this back problem out. I'm fine standing and sitting and deadlifting and squatting large heavy weights, but as soon as I lay down, the muscles in my back start to cramp up and often after about six hours, are nearly in full spasm.

So Sunday was another banner day for lack of motivation. I spent most of the morning nearly asleep, then dragged myself into the attic with a schedule for three hours on the rollers, to include 4x12min threshold intervals, and with the thoughts I should probably throw in some muscle tension intervals I skipped on Saturday.

Well, while stretching and putting on my shoes at a snail's pace, I finished off the movie Seven I had started a couple weeks ago. (Good movie. See it if you haven't.) I then put in Pirates of the Caribbean (mildly entertaining, but that's about it. Don't bother.) and finally got on the bike.

I warmed up for about twenty minutes, but my legs felt very sluggish. I pushed through one of the LT intervals, and it went fine, but was mentally draining. After that, I spent several minutes stopping, leaning on the chair next to me, pedalling again, stopping, starting, stopping, starting... stopping.

I went flat. I could feel future podium places slipping out of my grasp as I dismounted, but I didn't care. I stretched a little while watching the rest of the movie, ate dinner with friends, watched Little Bobbie Julich take the Paris-Nice prolouge by .71 seconds, sat to type this blog entry, and now I'm off to an early bedtime. Either I'm getting sick or else my friends brought their cats' hair into the house on their clothing (entirely possible) because now my head is blocked up solid and my throat is scratchy. I just have to make it through the next four days putting in some good spins on the rollers, because the Friday forecast calls for unseasonably warm and dry, with a 95% chance of skipping out of a half day of work for a remotivating ride outside in the fresh air.

Early to bed, early to back spasms, I always say. Maybe I'll check back in with you in the early morning hours if I find myself thrashing around in bed again.

Sleep well.

Friday, March 03, 2006


I got my first flat of the season last night, on the rollers no less. How does one go about getting a flat on the rollers? You're pretty much guaranteed that you won't be running through any piles of broken glass, or nails, or thorns, or whatever. It was a new tube too, but one of those stupid ultralight tubes. I usually steer clear of them, but I got this one free from a race sponsor, who shall remain nameless. I put it in when I mounted the beat-up trainer tire at the beginning of the winter. I can only assume that the tire, being old and full of cuts and whatnot, has some stiff kevlar fiber sticking out somewhere, and it gradually wore through the paper-thin tube. I'll give it the twice-over when I replace it tomorrow. It was a fairly slow leak, so I was able to get about half an hour on the rollers out of each pump, and I didn't bother to replace it last night.

Despite the ever softening tire, I got in a great ride last night. I completed my 3x8min threshold intervals, although it was a big effort to hold the power up where I wanted it in the last couple minutes of the final interval. After that, I rode out the rest of the 1.5 hours tempo, playing around and doing some low-cadence muscle tension work every other mile. The quads were complaining a lot by the end of the ride. So much so, in fact, that twice while standing to give my bum a rest, my tired legs lost a bit of smoothness in their spin and sent me off the rollers backwards. The worst that happened was two black streaks on the carpet, but it's still a bit shocking when you unexpectedly drop four or five inches and everything suddenly stops.

See you on the road.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Warming Up

Ouch. I was reminded of a couple "duh" lessons I should already know during the workout last night. I had scheduled myself for 3x4min "power" intervals, to be done in the wattage range just above my threshold range. This was to be my first foray into any real intensity this season. I did the intervals but I ended up cutting the ride's duration in half.

Last night's lessons:

1) Don't eat right before an intense workout (duh)
2) Warm up properly before doing an intense ride (duh)

I stayed a little late at work, hit the hardware store on the way home, then got caught in traffic behind an accident. Arriving at home late, my stomach was growling and my motivation to workout was dwindling. I threw down a quick mug of cereal and a salad. Sue left for folk group practice and I slowly pulled myself into the attic to ride.

I warmed up by spinning along for a while then hit the first of the three intervals. I was going along pretty well, but suffered quite a bit in the last minute of the first interval, and my wattage dropped off a bit. My stomach did a couple flip flops right after the interval letting me know it wasn't happy being stressed out while working on salad greens and garlic dressing.

I started the second interval and right after the second minute, I hit the wall and my wattage dropped through the floor. I could barely maintain threshold range, let alone getting above that. My lungs complained and my stomach threatened to show me what I had recently eaten. I made note of the location of the closest trash can just in case.

The third interval started off okay, within my target wattage range, then dropped in the third minute and I thought I was done for. But as the last minute approached, my legs suddenly picked up and I was able to spin back up to speed without too much trouble and finished the interval strong.

However, my motivation for completing my 1:30 ride time was shot from the queasy feeling in my gut, and it was getting pretty late into the evening, too close to bedtime for comfort. I dismounted at the halfway point.

I thought about the ride while stretching and gave myself a big dope slap. Don't eat right before a ride. No kidding. Also, before intense intervals, just like before races, especially criteriums and time trials, do a few short intervals of high power to get the lactic-acid-flushing systems going in the body. I had survived my first interval with flushing systems not on yet, but it had filled my legs with lactic acid. During the second interval, I ran smack dab into it all and my muscles just stopped working. By my third interval, the flushing systems were starting to crank up and by the last minute, my legs were back to working again. It was a very clear demonstration of the need to do intense efforts while warming up. It took me a few years of racing to realize that a proper warmup included intensity, and that although it seemed like I was burning matches I could use later in the race, it actually would enable me to work more easily at a higher intensity earlier in the race without building up lactic acid that would cause me to hit the wall and get dropped on the first couple race efforts.

Tonight I'll be on the bike enjoying some threshold intervals which will be longer, but much less likely to bring up my latest meal.

See you on the road.