Monday, April 28, 2014

I was asked why

During dinner with Scott Williams, a fellow TDR racer, he asked why.  Why will we attempt to ride our bikes in the shortest time possible from Banff Canada to the Mexican border at Antelope Wells NM?

My off the cuff answer was “I like to see what’s on the other side of the hill”.  Others have written their answers much more eloquently but my more complete answer would include things like:
Exactly what is on the other side? The modest pace of a bike truly allows one to see, smell and hear the country side one is passing thru.  But unlike walking or hiking, that same modest pace will get you across the valley in front of you and into that distant mountain range by the end of the day.
Independence and self-reliance:  I love the feeling of pedaling to some distant, unfamiliar location with a fully loaded bike.  Knowing I have all the gear and food needed to be able to stop and camp anywhere, anytime I decide to end my day.
Watch the sun come up and go down:  I like knowing that as I climb out of a warm sleeping bag to a lonely, chilly dark morning that soon I will see the sun rise and feel it warm my freezing face, hands and feet.  As the day progresses I might see a fellow racer and share some experiences.  Later in the day I could have a solitary snack, sitting on a rock with a view to forever. As the sun goes down and the temperatures fall my body will come alive and for a few brief hours I can hammer the pedals with the knowledge of coming respite. After the sun sets, following the pool of light from my headlight I will search for (and never truly find) that perfect camping spot.  Soon fatigue will force me to ‘just pick a spot’ and stop.
Solitude and Companionship:  I like the quite flow of a day spent entirely alone, self-contained within my own rhythm and thoughts. The TDR might give me day after day of this type solitude, yet also the random chance to spend time with fellow racers.  The possibly of shared experiences and a break from the loneliness that creeps in go hand in hand with the solitude.
Typical challenge & competitive drive stuff: I like the preparation and challenge of the TDR.  I am totally engaged, even obsessive about preparing for this race. And specifically I like to finish ahead of younger, faster, stronger riders by being more efficient.   I truly am a relatively slow/weak bike rider compared to 90+ percent of my fellow racers.  And in a long multi day race, being more efficient can add up to surprisingly results, surprising to me at least.
Riding a bike: Hey, I just like riding my bike, and to be able to do it all day long in combination with the above mentioned reasons adds up to true enlightenment.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

And the Winner IS………. (plus bonus training photo section)

The winner gets to go from Banff to AW, the loser(s) get to visit ebay…….
I had some minor saddle discomfort by the end of the Stagecoach 400.  Not too bad, but bad enough to convince me my current saddle would not be adequate for 20+ days of TDR mayhem. So I resumed some saddle research and test.

According to everything on saddle fitting I could find online my current saddle width (140mm) is simply too narrow for my sit bone width in a full upright position.  I used the SQLab’s home fit procedure to take sit bone width measurements.  Using SQ's procedure I determined that I would use a 140mm wide saddle for a race or aero position-- however I could use a 150mm width for a full upright position.
I tested three wide saddles:

150mm 611 Active Short

Testing consisted of several multi-hour rides each.  At the end of the day I found:

1.       Specialized Avatar was only comfortable in the full upright position.  Overall it was to ‘hard’, especially in the race and aero positions.  Basically this saddle just did not work for me except in one position

2.       SQLabs 611 Active was extremely comfortable in the full upright position, best of all three tested!  The elastomer shock absorber is a real winner!!  And the 611 is ‘ok to acceptable’ in the race and aero positions.  The nose is a bit narrow and hard for my taste.  Unfortunately the ‘middle’ position on the 611, sort of between race/aero and full upright is simply unacceptable.  I really wanted to make the 611 work but despite numerous micro adjustments I could never find a sweet spot in that middle position.  It was bad enough I felt I was bruising the area around my sit bones.  So unless I was fully upright or fully race/aero the 611 was noticeably uncomfortable.

3.       Selle Italia Turbomatic, ah yes an old school shape covered in classic leather.   The Turbo is ‘almost’ but not quite as plush as the 611 in the full upright position.  In the race/aero it’s quite good, the cut out area does concentrate pressure and this might eventually be a comfort problem. In the middle/transition position it’s flawless.  The smooth leather is also nice as it allows seamless micro positional adjustments.  Rather than the 611’s two distinct comfort zones the Selle Turbo feels infinitely adjustable.  I can simply slide forward or back just a smidgen to find the perfect spot.  Rather than be locked into distinct positions I will be able to move the pressure points around just a tiny bit. And as the hours and days add up this will become more and more important. 
Bonus Photo Section (my training over the last two weeks….)

On Route at Island Park Montana (as of last week, still lost of snow on route)

Robins Roost Store, on route in Island Park—in 2010 this was a key resupply point for me.  Store will be open till 9:00pm (maybe 10pm in summer) Small but full grocery store with more than just chips and candy.

Snake River Idaho, Massacre Rocks State Park (just a tad drier than Island Park to the north)

Caprock rails to trail, West Texas, perfect testing grounds for the Selle Trubo saddle!!  Selle Turbo saddle passed this bumpy rocky/gravel with flying colors!  I am happy camper--hope the Selle works as good as expected come a real multi-day test in May

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Perfect TDR Training Ride

  Scott Williams

I was home this weekend and had the chance to do a training ride with Scott Williams, a fellow 2014 TDR participant. 
Scott is preparing for the TDR, is the same age I am, lives fairly close by and offered to share a training ride.  We had a great ride up Mt Herman road and looped back down to Palmer. The sun was out,
I should have wore shorts as my legs have yet to see any sun, what with to cold or so hot in the SC 400 as to need coolers........
 As we climbed the long gravel road I told Scott that this particular climb/gravel road represented a significant portion of the TDR route. 
He likes this type riding so he will really enjoy the TDR!
We talked a lot of TDR strategies, navigation, hotels vs camping and gear choices. 

And for a few miles we even found a small bit of TDR type hike-a-bike snow. 
A great training ride!  Scott is a rookie to multi-day but has been training hard and has the legs for a fast finish.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Memory Lane

The 2014 TDR is getting close enough to begin to be real…………scary in many ways……this time I truly know what I am setting myself up for

And tonight, while looking at some current TDR blogs I ran across this old interview. 
Not sure how to link a video--just click the link--it should do the trick
And does it bring back some memories!  Derrek, the young man doing the interview caught me on the bike path thru Salida Colorado.  He surprised me right when I was chocking down a Aleve (my multi-day naproxen of choice).
Watching it sure brings back that saddle sore pain.  I can see I was slid way up on the seat to avoid pressure on my sit bones.  I had spent a wet, cold night before, learning that my superlight bivy bag was 100% worthless in real rain....
The “Mike” mentioned is Mike Prochaska.  He spent the night at the same spot (he had mistakenly thought I would lead us to a 'good' camp spot but we wound up near a busy, dusty  intersection just outside of Hartsel.  Mike & I crossed paths several more times and rode together a bit down in NM.
And by the end of this same day Mathew Arnold had caught me right at the top of Marshall Pass.  As mentioned in the interview, with a few short exceptions, I had ridden the entire race to that point in isolation, only seeing other racers during stops and such.  Anyway I was ready for some company and Mathew and I rode together till the final 24hr sprint into AW.

And I still think a lot about Dave Blumenthal.  Dave can be seen in the 2010 TDR start photo above.  The tall man in the green windbreaker with the huge smile, kneeling next to me (I am the one in the white windbreaker)

RIP Dave, I will be thinking of you again come Brush Mtn Lodge area……. memories...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Saddle Nirvana and Bike weight and Tires

Getting closer all the time to the final iteration.....
So I rode 6 hours yesterday on my new SQLab 611 Active/short saddle. 

I have to admit it’s looking good.  The ultimate test of any clothing or ‘body gear’ is if it disappears from notice.  The new saddle did not disappear from notice right away, but in a good/opposite way.  Basically every time I moved to a slightly different position, from fully upright - all the way back on the broad ‘sit bone’ area to slightly forward on the aero bars to anything in-between all I could think was wow that just feels so ‘right’.  The padding seems perfect, firm, not to thick yet exactly the right amount of ‘give’ at the pressure points.  The edge has a nice rounded transition, much more comfortable along the inner thigh than the sharper edge on a similar shaped Specialized BG saddle I am also testing. The cover is smooth where it counts and looks to be durable.  And the ‘step’ design, with sort of a depression in the center, does seem to be superior for relieving pressure on the sensitive parts to saddles with the now common channel type cut out

Well only time (and an overnight, 2-day run) will truly answer my questions.  But I am encouraged…….

My TDR tires will most likely be Specialized Fast Tracks. I tossed on a used pair and in the process dug out the scales to check them against their predecessors (Captain Controls).  The fast tracks are ½ pound lighter per tire. And yes I could really tell the difference during that 6 hour ride, about 1.2 mph faster difference….

Anyway while I was futzing with the scale for the tires I went ahead and weighed my bike for the 1st time in a couple of years.  Looks like I will be rocking about 39lbs of bike and gear (no food or water included in those 38.6 lbs) for the 2014 TDR.  Not the lightest by any means, but not bad……..

Yup, I can live with a TDR race bike, fully geared with a triple, tent, pad, 5L max & ton of food/room capacity that comes in at 38 to 40 lbs base weight.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Contact Points (sore butt) revisited

During the Stagecoach 400 I truly tested my choice of saddle, bib shorts, chamois, pain cream and medical recovery ointments.  Some passed the test others failed.

At 400 miles, cool to very hot temps and just shy of 4 full riding days I was able to truly ‘test’ my choices. 

The seat I was using seemed just about perfect in all my training rides up to this point.  Smooth with no seams or stitching to chaff.  Padding quite firm but still accommodating. But what I learned from SC 400 race experience (and since confirmed with some internet research) is it’s to narrow when I sit up in my relaxed TDR position. It’s perfect for an aggressive, forward race or aero bar position but simply to narrow when I sit up.  Much of the TDR will be spent in an upright relaxed position.

Turns out there is scientific evidence to support a wider saddle for upright positions and narrower saddles for classic race positions.  Of course everyone wants a cool looking, light, narrow ‘race’ saddle but apparently the same person might benefit from different width saddles for different uses.  IE: not just to accommodate different personal sit bone widths but also to best fit different riding positions.  I sort of knew this from experience but till I read and studied the following:
I never really put 2 and 2 together.  Turns out by sit bone measurement I do take a normal or slightly wider width saddle—but only when in a more aggressive race position on my bike.  When in the full upright position a wider saddle should better fit my sit bones. I think this is why I like the aero bars so much.  When I drop down to the aero position on my TDR bike it puts me not in a true aero position but basically a classic road race position.  My sit bones are then ‘matched’ to the normal width saddles I have always used and everything feels perfect.   Well we will see, I am going to test this concept with two wider-than-I-normally use saddles.

SQlab "active" saddle on order for testing......
Bib Shorts:
After my 2010 TDR bib short fiasco I thought I had my bibs nailed.  But after the SC 400 it turns out the chamois in the shorts I used started to pill up just a tiny bit.  This may have been caused by the extra friction developed on day 1, when I deliberately skipped adding chamois cream thru the long hot day.  But then again maybe not, maybe it was just normal wear & tear and if I extend the pilling out over 20days I am scared these shorts will not last the entire TDR.  It’s difficult to find bib shorts that fit my long torso, fat waist and skinny stick legs.  If the torso and waist fit inevitably the lower legs will be to loose.  And if the lower legs are too loose they ride up and pinch my –wait that’s probably to much detail….  Anyway I am trying out a pair of Pearl IzumiP.R.O. bib shorts. 
The fit is still loose on the legs but the chamois material looks like it will resist pilling –we will see. 

Plan B is to use/test some bib knickers.  Knickers solve the problem of riding up and pinching but sometimes my bad knee does not like constant pressure and I worry about the occasional ‘hot’ day on the TDR.  And I would most likely need to buy some regular bibs come NM.

Chamois and Pain creams:
I have used A&D as my go-to chamois cream during all my more recent multi-days and will probably continue to do so. However on the very strong recommendation of Michael Grosso I am going to retry ASSOS chamois cream. During the final ride to the finish on day 4 of the SC 400 Michael Grosso and I extensively compared saddle sore notes.  He 100% absolutely emphatically recommended Assos bibs and chamois cream.  Unfortunately the Assos bibs simply do not fit at my lower leg but I am going to re-experiment with the cream.  (And the Assos bib knickers do fit—so I may buy a pair and test them on an upcoming overnight in a desert area) 

During the SC 400, once I started to get sore I quickly reverted to A&D but it was too late to stop the damage from skipping the A&D.  (I wanted to see how far I could push before I ‘had’ to add chamois cream, turns out about 1 full day) So by day 4 I was moderately sore and irritated.  I used my GeronimoPain Cream each night and each morning was partially healed up.  And once by the end of day 3 and twice on day 4 I mixed some Num-Zit into my A&D.  Like always it does the trick—pain gone, at least for a few hours.  Not a solution but I will be surprised if I could ever go the whole TDR without resorting to Num-Zit. 

Personally I think a ‘mix’ of Geronimo Pain cream, Num-Zit and Aleve Naproxen is the best combination of pain medication for the TDR.  The key is to use Geronimo for recovery each night and so on till I really need both Num-Zit and Aleve—those to be used sparingly from that point forward.  And not to ever over do or rely 100% on any one pain killer.

I will let ya all know how the new saddles and bibs work out---------

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Stagecoach 400: It a wrap

Final day: Cool Historic church in Warm Springs 
Day 3 of my SC 400 was a enjoyable pleasant urban mountain bike foray thru the greater San Diego area.  The day wrapped up with a camp spot on a remote back country road far away from the city. 
To a large extent  my final day was a extension of day 3.  I got up early, but by my standards slept in an extra hour.  Thru the morning hours I knocked out steady but modest pace, not wanting to lose hold of my regained assurance that my body would hold up as the temps climbed.  

Just past Warm Springs, while climbing Lost Valley Road I had the chance to chat with the owner of Revcycling (George Red-Eyed VireoVargas).  George soft pedaled his nice road bike up the climb next to me and we chatted away.  We were behind some of his training camp riders.  He was riding for the 1st time post hip surgery and I was pushing 50lbs of bike & gear, dragging butt after 3 days of shock immersion back into multi-day.  Turns out George has done the Furnace Creek 508 numerous times and is a RAAM finisher.  
At the end of the pavement I stopped and George snapped this picture (say does my red jersey make me look fat—don’t answer that question)
While stopped some hikers passed by, they were coming down the dirt road I was about to head up.  They mentioned something about seeing other bikers, with their bikes all packed up like mine.  How long ago did you see them I asked, oh just a little while back…….Humm must be other Stagecoach 400 racers.  George handed back my camera,  chuckled at bit at my expression as I quickly jumped back on my bike and said something about ‘race on’……
I had no idea there were any SC 400 racers anywhere near me and while I sort of wanted to ‘race’ someone, what I really wanted was to catch up to someone to share the finish with.  My pace jumped up for a few hours to full multi-day effort.  Hard as I could go but yet sustain till the end of the race. This section of the route was rough up-and-down fire road with numerous false summits.  As I crested one false summit I finally saw what I had been hoping for, sight of a fellow SC 400 racer working his way up the next climb, still about 1-2 miles ahead.  I had hoped to catch up before reaching the last resupply point but could tell from the gap and my now rapidly fading adrenaline rush I was not quite going to do it.  I kicked my pace back a notch and settled for the chance to meet up with the mystery racer in front of my at RV Park convenience store.

As I pulled up to the RV store I saw a SC 400 bike out front and met Michael Grosso.  Michael was about ready to pull out but we talked for a bit before he left.  And met up again later on the trail. Turns out Michael was doing his first multi day and had all sorts of adventures and miss-adventures to share.  Michael and I chatted up a storm on our way all the way back to the finish at Idyllwild.  We continued out talk thru dinner and met again for breakfast. I suspect we will see 'Michael Grosso' on a TDR strat list soon--he is a true student of multi-day racing and now that he has his 1st one under the belt is truly ready for more........

So the SC 400 is a wrap.  Know I am getting my head back into the TDR.  With that in mind—SC 400 lessons as apply to the TDR:

  • During the SC 400 I deliberately pushed some limits with regards to chamois cream use. I had to resort to using some Num-Zit gel during the last 2 days, not a big deal for a 4 day event.  However I have decided my current saddle and bib shorts will not suffice for a 20+ day race.  So now I am testing new bib shorts, chamois cream durations and saddles.
testing new shorts & saddle during the weekend......(say does that red jersey make me look skinny---say yes----)
  • On the other hand I did not have any other contact point issues, hands and feet were good, tent/sleep system while over kill for the 400 were truly luxurious compared to past set ups.  Bike and drive train performed flawlessly.  The only ‘mechanical’ on day 2 when I inadvertently I knocked off the dynohub wire connection and was not charging my head lamp as thought.
  • I was carrying extra clothing and am still constantly thinking of new combinations for the TDR and new storage/packing schemes—I suspect this will continue right up till day 1 of the TDR.
  • All my small personal items were exactly what I needed/wanted.  And a few weeks after my weight is down another 3 lbs.  (now down 21 total with about 8-10 left to go)
  • Oh and I really like my new Boulder Bikepacking Tank and Seat-post bags (more about them in a later post....)

All in all the SC 400 was a good early shake down of body, mind and gear.
(oh & I think I finished 20th out of 38 starters)