A Century Ride – The magic trick revealed

A century bike ride is similar in many ways to a magic trick.  There is an expectation of amazement, some preliminary feats in the set up and a well rehearsed grand finale leaving everybody in awe and bewilderment…did it really happen!

Well, the expectation of amazement is there not just with my friends and family but certainly with me. The longest ride I had done about 3 months ago was 30 miles and that too was on a hybrid. Now I am planning on punishing my body for a grueling 5-8 hours in the heat, sweating out over 6,000 calories. While others in the zip code are sampling Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, I will be sucking on salt tablets and inhaling products called “gu” and “gel blasts”, not to mention eating my lunch while on top of a saddle that is about 130 mm at its widest point. The expectation of getting thru the day is certainly a questionable amazement to me.

The fun is all in the prep work and here is a sampling of the mini feats for me:

1. Recently acquired a decent ride for $2,500. Spanish made beauty. An all carbon black and white Orbea Onix that has Ultegra components. Like all Apple products, you pay for fewer moving parts,  lightness and sturdiness…and you can get a million apps for it.

2. Lost over 25 lbs in preparation. I know I probably had a lot of weight to loose, but still, a 25 lb drop is a notable feat

3. Getting to a point where a 25 mile ride is considered a good warm-up…yes it does happen

As for the specific training, I followed a 12-week program which involved one long ride (stating with 30 and building up to 80 miles) complemented with 2 short (15-25 mile) rides each week. On the long ride, I focused on keeping a consistent and low heart rate with an average between 140-145. Anything above a 160 on my HRM was considered a red card. On the short rides I tried to do hill training and all out speed, just to build the strength and the anaerobic capacity (hotly debated with endurance athletes, more on this later). I also kept up with my swimming and yoga each week to keep the balance and flexibility and to prevent injury. I have also become an avid spontaneous stretcher. Waiting for Bart, at a red light, in front of the microwave, in the elevator, sitting at a conference table I will bust out into some contorted pose worthy of “America’s got talent”. Quite embarrassing, but very rewarding. Finally a note on eating and drinking. Simply put, replace all the calories and elctrolytes you burn or you will DIE. Ok, perhaps you will not die, but your body is going thru some dramatic changes, so best to keep it fed and hydrated. During the last week of tapering, I have slowed down my exercises and have started loading up on carbs and drinking water so I have to go around the corner at least once an hour. You get the point.

As for the grand finale, I certainly hope I will get over the finish line.  I do not expect a standing ovation or a ticker tape parade of any kind although there is a much publicized BBQ lunch at the end of the Tour of Napa Valley. However, I will be able to check off another item on my bucket list.

Some fun with magic if you happened upon my blog looking for cycle magic

A healthier alternative to Hwy 101 – My 67 mile San Francisco to San Jose bike ride

Rather than attend the 40 person aunty party, I opted to ride from San Francisco to San Jose so that I could arrive fashionably late…really late so I could skip the gossip…but just in time for all the good eats. The resulting 67 mile ride with 2,228 feet of elevation gain was a great prep ride for my Tour of Napa Valley Century ride on Aug 22, 2010. This was also my second big ride on my shiny new Orbea Onix and I think the bike is finally accepting me as its rider (bike review to come).

When I finally arrived, having burned thru 4,200 calories, I had no guilt in my double servings of Chola Bhatura, Samosas, Papadi Chat and Cheesecake.

Mapmyride has a great app to track the route including speed and elevation in addition to specific route.  You can view my route with cue sheet notes.

After a late night on Saturday (thanks to Amit, Vrishtee and Meenal), I started in true Indian style…3 hours after I had planned. The craziest part of the trip was definitely hugging the absolute corner of Skyline with a very narrow shoulder as cars zoomed by at over 70 mph…a speed differential of 50 – 60 mph. It was then that I really valued all those silly driving rules like keeping both hands on the wheel, no texting while driving, no drinking and driving…etc. For those violators, please do think of idiots like me who are trying not to become roadkill.  I was lucky to meet other riders who helped me navigate my inaugural SF-SJ trip. Chuck helped me navigate Skyline to Daly City and Rich helped me avoid the I-280 stretch by taking San Andreas trail and a bit of the inner roads near Milbrae. There was even a 8 year-old girl who showed me how to use the water cooler on Ralston road. I think my favorite part was eating my lunch, an onion bagel with lots of cream cheese and a very mushy half PBJ sandwich while cruising down Canada road on my bike. The other half of the sandwich was a warm gooey consistency that had to be donated to the birds. As I got through Stanford, Los Altos and Cupertino I thought I was on my  flat home stretch through Saratoga, Lost Gatos and Campbell.  Unfortunately, my brain cells had melted away with my sweat in the high heat and I completely forgot about the massive 900  foot climb on Mt. Eden and Pierce up to Mountain Winery. My biggest challenge of the trip! An unexpected big climb at the tail end of a long ride in high heat is not a lot of fun. I dropped into my granny gear and was happy to chat with other riders as we all collectively groaned to the top. Flying down was a good release and I think I clocked my fastest speed at 33 mph.

Impeccable timing as I arrived just as everyone was leaving the party. Check out the video as the out of breath tribaby ask for a samosa at the end of the ride. To add to my memorable moments, one of the aunties looked at me in full biking gear: black bib shorts, bright yellow jersey, helmet, dehydrated and breathing heavily and commented “Beta, why are you dressed like an out-of-shape taxicab? here have a laddu.”

Ten easy steps to get your perfect bike

Titanium or Carbon, Shimano or SRAM, Compact or Standard and we have not started on color choices yet. So there are a billion bikes out there and in order to help you select your perfect ride I have outlined 10 easy steps.

1.  Go to Costco…get a case of Corona’s…do not consume

2.  Borrow a friend’s bike and ride it a few times. Repeat this step if you have willing friends. You want to get the feel for the frame, the responsiveness of components and your desired body position. Reward your mates with some Cervezas

3.  Figure out your size by using on-line tools (competitive cyclist) and getting measured at your LBS (local bike stores such as Pacific Bikes, Mike’s Bikes, Sports Basement). Key measurements are inseam (floor to crotch but not the standard slack size), torso and arm and key outputs are top tube length, center-to-center seat tube and reach. Evaluate bike geometries – comfort (tour, general road) vs. aggressive (tri, race)

4.  Rent at least 2 different bikes (Blazing saddles rents Kesrtels and Pacific Bikes rents Giants) and ride them for the day, preferably from the store that you may end up buying your bike from (most places will apply your rental fee toward your purchase)

5.  Narrow down your search to a handful of bikes and components. SRAM and Shimano shifters are very different. Where you are in the Gruppo (hierarchy of components within a brand) will significantly impact price. Shimano 105’s may suffice for you in which case you do not have to spend an extra $1,000+ just to look cool with a full Dura-Ace kit. On the other hand perhaps you only want SRAM red because you just love the way it feels

6.  Read forums (Harrisbikeforum, cyclingforums) and reviews (bikereviews, Bicyclying) on the short listed bikes and the different components but only to get a sense of what to test for. Almost all reviews are based on personal preference and will probably NOT apply to you. This is a very personal decision. For example (warning: lame vanity excuse coming up) I am unable to own a Giant or a Trek. I know, I know, most of the bikes in the world are Giants and a number of super cyclists ride them, but imagine this phone call. Tribaby calls his uncle in India

Tribaby: Hi Chacha (uncle in Hindi), how are you? I got a fancy new bike!

Chacha: Why beta (son in Hindi), can you not afford a car? You know your cousin is doing very well at Infosys and is about to be manager of 5,000 staff. He drives a Mercedes S class with built in nav and Bose speakers. Should I have him send you some money?

Tribaby: Ummm, no no, I am doing fine, I was only laid off for six months but I have a great job now…

Chacha (interrupting): you were fired! Oh my goodness, I knew you should have gone to Stanford and not that silly state school….

Tribaby (interrupting): Anyway, I have a car and a new iPhone 4 so I am doing ok, I bought a new bike for my triathlon race

Chacha: An iPhone 4 Oh, okay! What bike did you get?

Tribaby: I got a $3,300 Giant TCR2 Carbon frame with Shimano Ultegra…

Chacha (interrupting): Your cousin bought his Giant at a garage sale for $15 and my new Giant in India cost me Rs. 500 (about US$10), perhaps we can all ride our bikes together when I come visit. But why did you pay $3,000 for it, you should talk to your cousin about how to negotiate…

Tribaby: *click*

7. Go to your bike shop in full gear and test ride each of the bikes on your short list for no less than 10 minutes and make sure there is a climb. This step is an all day or multiple day event. Dispense a couple of beers to the shop staff to make sure they do not get annoyed at you taking up all their time

8.  Fine tune your selection and sizing and repeat step 7

9.  Come up with your final short list and research prices/components. On line stores (bikesdirect) may have better prices than shops but be careful of shipping, needing a fit ($150), tune-ups ($90), replacing minor things like stem ($100), warranty and repairs

10.  Haggle (c’mon, I am Indian afterall), then drink and haggle some more. When the beers are finished pay for the bike and go home with a big smile

Although not highlighted as a step, probably the most invaluable resource in your bike hunt is a solid group of advisors and a supportive family. Your family will put up with you as you obsess for weeks and months over a single purchase (little do they know that this is just the beginning). While your advisors will help you with each one of the ten steps above and also help you make sense of the jargon, for eg. “my crotch to floor is longer than yours but your top tube is bigger than mine but at the end of the day we both just need a good stiff ride.”

Napa century ride, coming right up!

As promised, yes I am only doing this for my fans, I have signed up for the 34th annual Napa Valley Tour for a 100 mile ride on August 22, 2010. The Eagle Cycling Club proudly puts on this tour each year with the highlights of a very scenic ride, home made cookies at each stop, delicious BBQ (with a promising vegetarian option), showers and bragging rights. I am thrilled and a bit terrified.

The longest ride I have logged is about 40 miles and that was just last week. I have no idea what is driving me to this level of punishment. Well at least I am taking my friends along. There looks to be the beginning of Team Tribaby which currently includes John, Dan, Craig?, Jody? and yours truly. We may actually have enough for a nice paceline to take advantage of some group aerodynamics and energy saving. Riding in a paceline essentially allows a group of riders (as small as two) to minimize the effect of wind resistance by drafting behind the lead cyclist who is “pulling” the group. Think of a school of fish or a flock of geese traveling in formation.

Although the lead should rotate I may end up being the wheel sucker by not taking my turn at pulling. I will be in the presence of ironmen and experienced riders but hope I will not be too much of a free rider. Either way, it will be a blast.

I have yet to get a decent road bike though and really need to dig into my training. More on that to come

The importance of goals!

Stating the obvious here but athletes, including me, need goals to stay on course. Lets look at the 2010 Football World Cup. Take the French football team for instance, an uninspired team embarrassing their country. I would argue that their lack of motivation comes from the inability to set and chase goals. Thierry Henry can score goals all day long and  has the potential to be a Maradona-like legend, but when it comes to setting a vision the French have severely disappointed. Everybody from the players, the coach and the managers had their own agenda with no common vision of playing well in the World Cup. The team had to be scolded by their sports minister Roselyne Bachelot before they made one decent appearance against South Africa. Think of the millions of football fans that would give anything to be in their place. I wonder how the Irish team feels as they were eliminated by the French with a handball goal. Probably elated that France will not be advancing, but also  demoralized as they would have played a much better game. I digress, so let me take a step back and define what I mean by goals.

My parents taught me to dream; dream big and dream often. Nothing wrong with having unrealistic dreams…you may actually realize one. Do you think 16 year old Zac Sunderland could have circumnavigated the globe by himself in a sail boat without dreaming big. Along with my fantasies of flying to Mars, I also set several mini milestones. I guess this is similar to a check list that contains the item “create a check list”. It feels great to start a list and already have one item checked. The point is to make some of the goals easy to realize. Build on these mini milestones to eventually conquer a “long shot” goal. Even if you do not get the long shot goal, you have achieved numerous other goals along the way. It is about the journey after all and not the destination. Another way to illustrate my point is to consider the lack of goals. After accomplishing my one big goal of finishing Olympic wildflower on May 2, 2010 I have completely neglected my passion for triathlons (and blogging). I have jumped in a pool only a handful of times and only gotten on a bike once in the past two months. Sure I have family stuff, work, summer plans, injuries and several other things that get in the way. But if I set a goal to compete in another event, I would be back on my 6-8 times a week training program tomorrow. So what should I do?

Well for starters I should pick an event and sign up. There are several events in the Bay Area around the end of summer and I will update my blog with the chosen event by Monday next week. Now, an experienced triathlete (not me) probably already has several events picked out throughout the year and they are probably building up toward a big event such as an Iron Man. For us tribabies it is probably sufficient to pick a handful of events (3-4) for the year and build our 12-16 week training programs around these events. This should keep us training year round and will ensure optimal fitness; preventing injuries from sudden starts and stops in training. This is an endurance sport after all.

One final aspect of goal setting is to make it iterative. Here is where mini milestones and being flexible comes in handy. After my first triathlon I learned how bad a swimmer I really am. To make me a better swimmer, my modified goal is to shave ~30 mins off my 1 mile swim time. I would like to swim a mile in ~35 mins. Yes, it took me just over an hour to finish my excruciating Wildflower olympic swim. As I start training toward this goal I can set additional goals or even change the goal based on my improvement and on being realistic. This is what I like to call Kaizen goal setting. The incremental nature of setting and improving goals, by revisiting them and frequently changing them.

Wildflower Olympic run – where it all falls apart!

The title should probably say “…where it all comes together”, sadly my case was a bit different. I should probably start with a general disclaimer that I am a horrible runner, or perhaps I should just call myself a jogger. On a good day I can probably keep a steady 10 min-mile pace, going down hill, with the wind in my favor. I also put minimal amount of training on my run as that seems like the least complicated part of a tri. I figured that if I can get to the run start I should be able to drag my but over the 10Km in just over an hour…boy was I wrong.

So what went wrong? well the route was a lot hillier than I expected. You exit the transition area on the southwest and take the steps up Beach City, then across the bridge and down to the trails along the shoreline. More trails thru Harris Creek campgrounds, past the launch ramp parking lot and onto Lake San Antonio Drive. After a few more trails the finish is just after you descend down Lynch Hill.  In addition to the difficulty with the heat, I was also not prepared for the dusty trails as I had primarily run on flat roads.  The short of it is that I had been “exercising” for over 3 hours in the heat, running up hilly trails when my quads were worn out and I had depleted my body of all the necessary carbs and more importantly electrolytes. As a result I had one of the worst cramps of my life with my quads fully seized up and I was sidelined for a good 12-15 minutes.

Fortunately, this happened near an aid station and the volunteers were very helpful. They were constantly bringing over Gatorade, Power Gel and Power Gel Blasts which eventually got my system going again. I was now exhausted, in pain and sore from the cramped up leg muscles…only 4 miles to go. Had it not been for the encouraging volunteers and friendly and supportive athletes I may have called opted out, but I stuck with it.  As per the advice I received, I was walking up hills and barely jogging on flats. It was when I saw Lynch Hill that adrenaline completely took over. I got to the bottom of the hill and started my victory screams.

I did not realize that I still had a couple hundred yards to go. From all my screaming I had churned up my stomach and I was doing everything in my power to hold back as I crossed over the finish line. With my family cheering me on, I was delighted to receive the “finisher” medal and a couple of wet towels to cool off. What a relief, what an amazing sensation of accomplishment, what a victory. And as I was looking for the medic tent for some ice and electrolytes, my only thoughts were what event should I sign up for next. This insane sport is certainly addictive.

Wildflower Olympic Bike – major equipment envy

As biking was the most familiar event for me, I chose to spend more time (and money) on preparing for the swim and run segments. As a result my sweet ride was a 2008 Diamondback insight hybrid. Lets just say that my 2 year old daughter can get about the same performance out of her tricycle. I do love my bike though. It is comfortable, sturdy but not very heavy, shifts and brakes just fine (after a good tune-up) and it has a super easy granny gear for all those hills. I can peddle up Lombard Street without breaking a sweat, but at a snail’s pace. On the Olympic bike course at Wildflower, to my pleasant surprise, I ended up somewhere in the middle of the pack on bike time.

The transition area seemed very calm and peaceful the day before the race…but was quite insane during the race. We had very little room on the racks and all my gear had to be stored underneath the bike. No matter though, since I took so long with the swim I think I was the only bike in my rack and I had all the space I needed to change. The 40Km (24.8m) course was hilly but all my San Francisco riding paid off. You start the segment with a massive 400 feet vertical climb with Lynch Hill which caused more than a handful of riders to dismount. My granny gear came in handy though and so did all the advice I had received about taking it easy on the first couple of miles. Following the advice, I only ate once I got to the top of the hill which prevented my stomach from going into overdrive. You proceed to Interlake Drive and head north on San Antonio Road over some nice rolling hills then turn around at 12.4m and backtrack. I did manage to nourish and hydrate a lot during the ride, however, I don’t think I got enough electrolytes in me (that cost me during the run). The route presents some truly amazing scenery. I guess I know where the name Wildflower comes from. As you huff and puff along, your breath is taken away by the beautiful and colorful flowers that are like plush carpets strewn about the hillside. As you clear the aid stations and the encouraging crowds, you can hear the stillness of the hills broken occasionally by birds and more often by your heavy breathing and peddling. Along with the noises of other bikes belonging to the 2,400 Olympic distance triathletes on the course.

I was doing a number of double takes on some fine bikes as they flew by me. Flashy bikes sporting arrow bars and various shaped handle bars all designed to custom fit your particular long distance and performance riding posture. Others had fancy zip wheels and some even had disc wheels with no spokes and made really loud sounds (like a skateboard). I was pleased to see other non-road bikers, but I was definitely in the minority. As you can tell, I am simply building up the justification to go out and drop some coin on a nice set of wheels. Well since I actually finished my first triathlon and I most definitely want to do it again, I think I will be shopping in the next couple of months. More on that to come, but feel free to send me your thoughts on good bike deals.

The pleasant conversations I struck up with a number of my fellow riders and the swift descent on Lynch Hill were among my most enjoyable moments on the ride. It was hard to finally hit the brakes and dismount before entering the transition area as my fingers were numb and my legs were gently complaining about the grueling 10K run up ahead.