Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bald Mountain

Our family spent last weekend relaxing in Park City. Except for some rain Friday night, the weather was absolutely perfect, making it a great opportunity to check out some new routes.

As I was falling asleep Friday night, I nudged my wife and said, "uh, by the way, I'm going to ride from Kamas to Bald Mountain in the morning." She was half asleep and I'm pretty sure she didn't know where Kamas nor Bald Mountain are located, but replied drowsily, "Okay, what time will you be back?" "Umm, not really sure....." "So, like 10AM? "Well, probably more like 10:30 or.....uhem (under my breath) 11:00. "Okay, good night." "Good night."

The next morning it was a chilly 45 degrees in Kamas at 7 AM as I started pedaling. It didn't take long though for the temp. to warm up as the sun made its way up into the clear blue sky.

The roughly 30 mile climb from Kamas to the top of Bald Mountain pass was long and mostly gradual. The last several miles before the summit ramp up to around 5-6%. I wasn't sure if it was the elevation that was getting to me or just that I was getting fatigued from the long climb, but I did notice those last few miles were difficult. I was glad to see this written on the road as I neared the summit.

The picture sort of got cut off on the left side, but it says "1 KM to KOM." This was still on the road as the previous weekend, they had the High Uintas Race Classic and this sign was to notify the riders that the check point to get the King of the Mountain or KOM time bonus was near.

Still a bit of snow on the side of the road....

At the top of the pass looking up at Bald Mountain

And here is a view of some of the High Uinta mountain peaks as seen from state route 150 at Bald Mountain Pass.

The ride back down to Kamas was pretty fun since it was mostly all downhill........except for the not so fun part when I ran out of water with about 13 miles to go (couldn't find one of my waterbottles while packing for the trip).

On the descent, I noticed the traffic was getting pretty heavy coming the opposite direction up the mountain. I didn't pass one rider the entire climb up, but probably passed 20-30 on the way down. I don't know why people start climbing so late in the morning. It gets hot, you take up the whole day, and then the traffic gets worse as the day progresses. With my early start, I had 30-40 cars pass me the whole climb, but I bet those coming up had 3-4X that many cars passing them.

Here's the route map in case you're interested. I highly recommend this ride.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why climb a mountain?

I've been pondering this question lately. Why is it that I pretty much only want to ride up mountain passes and canyons? I mean, why not instead find a flat road and just enjoy a nice and easy spin?

I mean especially since riding up a mountain can be a grueling and painful experience. Many times I've started a climb and thought to myself, "self, why are we doing this today?.....this hurts way too bad.....why don't we just turn around and go home?"

So, despite the hurt a good climb provides, I still much prefer riding uphill than on the flats and these are my top 5 reasons why:

1. There is a defined goal/destination. I find this to be a very powerful motivating factor. I know the distance, I know the elevation gain and I know how long it will take to reach the summit. Sure, you can establish a predefined route on a flat road when you ride a loop or out-n-back, but it's just not very motivating to ride say 20 miles to point "A," turn around and then ride back. Along with this comes the sense of accomplishment from reaching a given summit or multiple summits in a single ride. Nothing like finishing a ride where you climbed 5,000+ vertical feet.

2. Can't beat the scenery and natural beauty. The mountain passes and canyon climbs here in Utah along the Wasatch Front (e.g. Alpine Loop, Nebo Loop, Suncrest, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, Butterfield Canyon, Squaw Peak, etc.) are simply breathtaking. Flowers, lush aspen groves, wildlife, rivers, granite cliffs and views of the valleys below definitely add to the experience of climbing and help to distract the mind from the pain of the climb.

3. Generally fewer cars. I'll admit it......I HATE cars when I'm cycling. Even though most people are considerate and give you plenty of room when passing, it seems about 1 out of 10 drivers, often the white trash types in their big diesel-polluting-jacked-up trucks buzz you without slowing down or even making an attempt to move to the left. Even worse is when the same is pulling a giant trailer with their dirt bikes, ATVs or construction equipment. I've found that especially in the early morning the traffic is noticeably lighter up the canyons and mountain passes. Fewer cars means a much more enjoyable, less stressful ride.

4. The descent. When I first started riding, I hated riding faster than 25 mph. I was timid, riding the brakes the whole time, and stiff as a board. As my confidence and skills have improved, I now really enjoy the rush from a fast descent.

5. Training benefits. The nice thing about a challenging climb from a fitness perspective is you typically push your heart rate to the highest level that you can manage without "blowing up." So, the intensity is pretty high and you get a good workout in a short amount of time compared to a flat ride where you have to push a very fast pace in order to keep your heart rate at an equivalent level. The result is you become a stronger and faster climber and sooner or later you're dropping other riders on climbs. I also really enjoy keeping track of my fitness gains through doing time trials to the top of my favorite climbs. Nothing like pushing it hard to the top of the mountain and beating your personal best time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'm a missionary of cycling

About a year ago in June, I purchased my first road bike. Since then, I've lost about 40 lbs of fat and in reality, probably more like 50 lbs. of fat, since I've most certainly gained some muscle weight. 50 lbs. of fat is approximately the equivalent of 8 of these 6lb., Costco-sized Crisco containers. Glad to have that gone!! I truly feel like a different person now.

By the way, a few months ago we kicked off a competition with a few people at work to see who can lose the highest percentage of body fat by getting a "Bod Pod" test down at the "Y-Be-Fit" office at BYU. The "Bod Pod" tests your body fat % using air displacement. After paying the $15 fee, the technician has you hop into spandex, put on a little cap and then sit inside the Bod Pod capsule that's shaped like a giant egg with a window on it. It only takes about 60 seconds for the test, enough time for the air to pump inside the chamber a couple of times. You then get a printout of the test results. For most people, you'll be surprised at how high your body fat percentage is from this test. I don't remember exactly, but I was over 20% and that was one of the lowest in the group of coworkers that were tested that day. We are going to do the test again, probably next week, so I'm anxious to see how I've improved. You should try it! It's a great and accurate way to measure your fitness gains and a great way to have a weight loss contest.

Anyhow, since I've lost some weight over the last year, I'm frequently being asked "what is your secret?" Of course I tell them about how I started cycling and so on and so forth. I always put in a good plug for cycling and actually encourage them to think about purchasing a bike or if they already have a bike, suggest ways for them to ride more often.

For example, one of my coworkers has a quality mountain bike and I suggested he could easily ride to work on the canal bank road that goes all the way from his house in American Fork to right by our office in Orem. He's now riding to work a couple of times a week and is looking to purchase a road bike too.

My older brother also recently purchased a road bike after I had a chance to offer up my sermon to him on the benefits of riding a bike.

And just yesterday, one of our external financial auditors who hangs out at our offices about 6 months out of the year pulled me aside and asked for some advice on buying a road bike (I thought he was going to ask me a lame theoretical question about accounting fraud, so I was glad when he wanted to talk bikes). I took the next 15-20 minutes explaining to him the different options and proclaiming how great cycling is, including emphasizing how much better it is than running. I'm thinking within 2 weeks he'll be sportin' a new bike too.

There are more examples that I could provide of people I've "testified" to about cycling and later I hear of them buying a bike and riding, but you get the point.

I definitely don't take all the credit for these "conversion" stories, but I've enjoyed seeing people get excited about the sport like I have. Cycling, whether you ride a mountain bike or road bike really is a fantastic way get yourself in shape, lose some extra pounds and have fun while doing it. It's also a great way to cut down on driving your car everywhere. So, if you're sitting on the fence and aren't sure whether to start biking, just do it! I promise you won't regret it.

Oh, and here's a pretty sweet Trek Madone to help you get motivated even more.....

Friday, June 19, 2009

My Day Off - Little Cottonwood Canyon

At my work, we've been encouraged as a cost cutting measure to use 4 days of PTO in June. If you use 4 days, you get one additional day free....sort of like buy 4 get one free. So, I decided to use up one of my PTO days today. Not a bad day to miss work with the sun finally showing itself.....and not a bad day for a long ride up one of our beautiful, Wasatch Front canyons.

I started the ride in Lehi (northeast Lehi that is......), climbed over Suncrest and dropped down into Draper and up Wasatch Blvd. to the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, which by the way is a really nice route for a bike ride with its wide shoulders, bike lanes and plenty of climbing. On a tangent, I really hate those roads where the white line is two feet from the edge of the road. I wish Barrack Obama and the Democrats would make a new law that would require all roads to have a minimum 4 ft. shoulder, with no rumble strips please!!

For those of you who aren't familiar with this canyon, it's the one with the Snowbird and Alta ski resorts (best snow on Earth). It's been a while since I've been up Little Cottonwood Canyon and the first time on my road bike, so I felt like I was riding blind. What I mean is when you're climbing on a road bike, it's nice to know the route, so that you can pace yourself accordingly and also break the climb into smaller, less intimidating pieces. For example, if you know the road is a 6% grade for 3 miles, then flattens for 1/2 mile, then changes back to a 6% grade for the last 2 miles, you can break such a climb into two shorter climbs. It really makes a difference mentally, at least for me.

The climb up Little Cottonwood is actually pretty challenging at just over 8.57 miles and 3,225 vertical ft., which is about a 7.1% average grade. In comparison, the climb up American Fork Canyon (Alpine Loop) from the Alpine/Highland side is a little longer at 10.85 miles, but not as much elevation gain (2,861 vertical ft.) or an average grade of 5%.

Anyhow, I made it to the top of the canyon and here's a picture from the end of the road just above Alta. Still a decent amount of snow at this elevation (just below 9,000 ft.).

The descent down the canyon was pretty fun, except that the road has some potholes and rough spots that you have to watch for. I also enjoyed cruising on the mostly downhill ride on Wasatch Blvd. and into Draper and then finished finished it off with a painful climb (my legs were shot) up and over Suncrest.

Like I said, not a bad way to spend a Friday morning. So much better than sitting at my desk looking at spreadsheets.....

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tour de Cure Century - 2009

At 4:30 AM, I stumbled out of bed, downed some oatmeal and wholewheat bread with honey, hopped into my awesome Hyundai Accent GL and set off on my way to Brigham City. Note that unlike the week before I was very careful and remembered to bring my cycling shoes.

The start time for the 100 route was at 7:30 AM. I was wearing my new Omniture kit and looked around through the sea of other riders to find anyone else from Omniture. The Select Health riders (294 riders strong) were wearing a similar green jersey to Omniture's, making it difficult to tell the difference. I found a couple of Omniture Software Engineers and rode with them.

The route basically headed west out of Brigham City through flat country roads. I started out at a casual pace, with the intent of staying with the main pack of riders. After a few miles another larger pack developed ahead of where I was and they were cruising along at around 23mph. The people I was riding with were going slower than I wanted and the pack was fragmenting already, so I decided I should ride with the bigger, faster pack ahead. I went into the drops and started hammering the pedals in order to close the 200 meter gap. I used more energy than I wanted bridging to the other riders, but was able to kick back and rest once I got there. Riding in a large pack was fun and really was the first time I'd experienced it. There must have been 60+ riders, so I just hung out at the back and let them pull me along.

A few minutes later, the guys leading the pack missed a turn (don't know how as the signs were bright orange and big) and then people started putting on the brakes. Not a good idea when the guy behind you is 2 ft. from your wheel and going 20+ mph. A few guys went down. One in particular was on a nice Specialized carbon framed bike and you could see the black skid marks on the road where he locked up. Lot's of road rash..... Luckily I avoided the crashes and continued on.

The main pack started to thin out as people realized they couldn't maintain the pace. This was nice as it weeded out the people that were struggling with the concept of a pace line. We organized into a double pace line (2 parallel pace lines) and took turns pulling. This was a good plan because the wind was a factor and there was some light rain. I made the mistake of inserting all of my gels into a Ziploc bag in my jersey pocket, underneath my wind jacket, making them difficult to get to while we were going hard in the pace line. I'm not yet comfortable enough with my skills to be digging around in my jersey pocket with one hand on the bars in the middle of a pack going 20+ mph. So, this minor mistake (better now than in a real race) resulted in delaying when I would normally refuel. As a result, I started to fade and decided I'd better slow down and refuel with some gel. The only problem with my decision to back off was that the support station was only about 1/2 mile from where I got dropped by the main pack. I guess I should look at the map closer next time.

So, I pulled in to the support station about 30 seconds behind the lead pack to fill my water bottles after about 1 1/2 hours of riding and 35 miles (23.3 mph pace). I was feeling pretty tired at this point, so I was glad for the short rest. I took too long at the stop though and the main group left before I could finish in the porta pottie. I would have liked to continue riding with the lead group to see if I could hang with them, but that's okay. There will be other chances.... I really started feeling like a rookie when I noticed while at the feed zone that my Castelli wind breaker was no longer in my jersey pocket and had fallen out when I was digging for my gel. Arrghh! At least it wasn't raining.

I was about to pull out of the rest stop on my own when two of my Omniture coworkers pulled in. I agreed to wait for them while they fueled up and then we were on our way. We rode at a comfortable pace of around 19 mph. We then started up the one climb of the entire ride. It actually was a decent climb at an approx. 6% grade over 2 miles. I led out, never looked back and made it to the summit 4 minutes ahead of the other guys. On the way up the climb mosquitoes were swarming around the other riders. I probably passed 10-15 riders on the way up, all of them with dozens of mosquitoes on the back of their legs. I didn't see any on me though. I think it was due to the fact I was wearing my cycling tights. One guy I noticed had blood on his leg from road rash. The little buggers were having a feast on him...

At the summit, we regrouped and rode on to the next feed station at 43 miles. I wasn't tired and actually would have preferred to keep going, but since we were next to the Golden Spike National Historic Site (and I packed along my camera), I figured what the heck?

For the next 17 miles to mile 60 (to the next rest stop), the 3 of us rode together and took turns pulling. One of the guys who latched on to our train was this little Mexican guy, probably 5 ft. 6" with huge, bulging calves. He and I took turns at the front and we kicked up the speed to 23-24 mph. As I was following him, I commented on his huge calves. He said his neighbor told him he needs to use his quads more when cycling. Ha ha!

After the rest stop at mile 60, it started to rain a little bit. I settled into the drops with my head down, trying to avoid the rain on my glasses and keep in a somewhat aero position. I must have been going too fast though, cause I dropped my Omniture guys (sorry!).

I'm still learning the art of pulling. One of the things when you're pulling is you try to keep a steady pace. You want to go at a fast enough speed that the guys behind aren't thinking "speed it up bro" while at the same time you don't want to go too fast that you drop the guys behind. I've found that sometimes I'm not paying enough attention and next thing I know, I look back and there's no one behind me. Another newbie mistake......

I rode with a couple of other riders who wanted to go at a fast pace and we took turns leading. One of the guys was really good at all of the hand signals. Whenever we were coming up on a slow rider he'd do the little wave action behind his back to fall behind and pass. At every pothole, rock or wrinkle in the road, he'd quickly point to so that we'd know to avoid the obstacle. I tried doing the same when I led, but I certainly wasn't as smooth with my hand gestures. Maybe after a few more group rides and I'll have it down like him.

The route continued to Tremonton and then made this sort of detour mini loop through the tiny settlement of Garland (maybe one of the ride organizer's Grandma lived there? not sure..) and then headed south back to Brigham City. At mile 78 the two with whom I was riding stopped at one of the rest stops, and so I continued solo for another 10 miles or so. At this point I was starting to feel a little bit tired, so I pulled out my PowerBar Gel, tangerine flavored with the 2X caffeine. It was a good boost when I needed it, although probably won't go with the tangerine flavor again.

Also, about this time a train of riders caught up to me. I had passed these guys 1/2 hour before, but since I was solo, they worked together and caught me. I was pedaling along on this quiet country road when I heard behind my left shoulder an invitation to "hop on and take a break." I agreed and was about to peel right and fall in-line, when this yahoo in their group was right on my wheel and to my right. I almost took him out. This same guy for the next 5 miles was non-stop overlapping wheels with the guy in front of him. This is dangerous for him because if the guy in front of him moves his back wheel into his front wheel, he'll go down. I was glad when we made it to the final rest stop without incident.

I finished the last 12 miles feeling strong. I sprinted at one point for fun to try and catch a rider that was leading out and playfully "attacking". He was clearly faster than me, but I left the other riders behind that also tried to pursue him.

I finished in just under 5 hours of ride time (4:59). I'm happy to report that at the end of the ride, I was able to recover my Castelli jacket. Some nice old gentlemen who were working the radios put out an APB on it and I was sure glad someone was honest and turned it in.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A few essentials for a century ride

Tomorrow I'll be riding in my 2nd century ride since I started cycling last summer. It's the Tour de Cure in Brigham City. I'm still a rookie at cycling, but I've learned a few things from my limited experience with long rides.

1. Nutrition - I've tried almost every type of gel and have settled on PowerBar and Clif. To be honest none of the gels really taste that good but these 2 brands I've found aren't too bad. Gels I've found are awesome because they are very small and light (easy to stuff a handful in my jersey pockets), they're quick to down while still pedaling (don't have to chew like other foods) and they provide immediate semi-sustainable energy

I actually prefer the PowerBar over the Clif and other brands because it has 200 mg of sodium per gel, which is really helpful for me since I'm a "heavy sweater" (I know it sounds nasty) resulting in me losing lots of sodium. In fact, after a really long ride, I'll usually have sodium crusted on my face! The extra sodium ensures I'm keeping the electrolytes in my system that are essential to endurance performance. You'll notice in the picture that I have one gel that has 2X caffeine. I'm not a big fan of caffeine, but I've found that downing the caffeinated gel during the last 20 miles of a long ride gives you a needed boost when the tank is running low on fuel.

I've also included a Clif Bar, chocolate brownie flavor. I honestly don't know if I'll eat this during the ride because I'm sick of these things. I bought 2 boxes at Costco about a month ago ($0.79/bar) and I'm tired of them, just like I'm tired of eating PowerBars since I finished the two boxes I bought at Costco the month before. So, I'm tentatively thinking I'll rely on the food stations along the ride route for the rest of my food stuff calories.

2. Hydration - On long rides like a century where I'm on the bike for 5-6 hours I have to drink plenty of fluids. There are numerous types of sports drinks and endurance drinks on the market but I've found a couple that are really great. The picture below is CarboRocket, which has worked really good for me when I'm riding more than one hour. It has maltodextrin and fructose, plus it contains a healthy dose of sodium at 325 mg per serving. I'll probably alternate this drink with water during my century. I've also found Carbo Pro works really good too. It too is maltodextrin based and is flavorless, so I'll usually mix it with G2 or Vitamin Water for flavor. The only drawback with Carbo Pro is that it doesn't contain any electrolytes like sodium, so mixing it with G2 seems to work well.
2. GPS - One of my favorite post ride things to do is download the Garmin tracks from my ride and analyze my stats. I usually make notes and then compare my progress over time. This a must have during a century ride too as you can monitor your level of effort and pace yourself according to the distance. For the century I'll want to keep my heart rate around 140 -150. If I get above that every now and then, it's no big deal, but if I'm consistently above 150, I'm going to fatigue too quickly.
3. Chamois Creme (pronounced "shammy") - This is something I learned since I started cycling. The Chamois is the pad that's stitched into the bottom of cycling shorts and Chamois Creme is the wonderful stuff that you put on your arse to keep from chaffing. Believe me, you'll want to apply this stuff before you hop on the saddle for 6 hours straight. This brand made by Assos of Switzerland and I've found it to be pretty good "stuff".
There are of course many other essentials that you need to bring along on a century ride, but I've found these right up there at the top of the list.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

First Race - Draper Hill Climb

Saturday morning I was sitting in my car trying to stay warm at 7:45 AM, 15 minutes before the 8:00 AM start of my very first cycling race. I was anxious to start the race and had just finished pinning on my number when I realized that I forgot my shoes. I pannicked as I desparately searched the back of my car, knowing that I certainly had left them in the garage. I couldn't believe it. I'd been training hard for this day and now my shoes were not where I needed them to be. I quickly called Tiff and she agreed to bring them and meet me halfway at the top of Suncrest. I raced in my little gutless car to the top of Suncrest, grabbed my shoes and then raced back down the mountain. It was 8:05 and about a mile from the starting line when I passed the pack of riders. I was hoping they'd have a little delay in the start but that obviously didn't happen. Disappointed that I missed the start, but determined to race anyway, I hurried to the starting line, put on my shoes and started off.

I couldn't help think of "Chariot's of Fire" when the dude fell down at the start and then got up and even though way behind won the race. That wasn't going to happen on this day as I was a full 10 minutes behind. I had to fight off the thoughts of "this is rediculous......I just paid $35 to basically do a painful training ride." There was a decent headwind as I climbed the north side of Suncrest, which kept me thinking how if I were with the pack, I could at least have some sort of wind cover. I tried to block out those thoughts by focusing on my pedal strokes and making sure I kept my heart rate below 160. I passed one rider on the 1st climb that must have had a late start too. That felt good....

I finished the hardest part of the climb in as I reached the Suncrest summitt coming from the North. It was encouraging to see Tiff and my three boys at the top cheering me on. Here's a picture of me reaching the summitt all by my lonesome.

On the descent down the south side of Suncrest, about halfway down I passed the leader. He was quite a way out in front of the 2nd place rider then scattered all the way down to highway 92 were the rest of the riders. I later found out that the guy in front was a 15 year old teenager, which explains why I thought he looked so small and scrawny.

On the ascent up the south side, it didn't feel like I was going very fast but I ended up getting a personal best on the climb by more than 1 1/2 minutes at just over 22 minutes (from the corner of 11800N) and that was after climbing the more difficult north side.

I didn't finished last in the race even though I started 10 minutes late and I felt like my time (per my Garmin) was respectable at 1:10:43. I haven't seen any posted times, but from what I estimate, the winner came in at around 1:05.

Here's a video of me at the finish line. I love how my youngest son says he doesn't want to cheer for me....pretty funny.

And here are my Garmin stats from the race:


Friday, June 5, 2009

My new waterbottle

Can't wait to try out my new Camelbak waterbottle. I'm excited because it's insulated, which is really nice now with the warm weather and best of all, it has a drip proof spout so that you don't drizzle sports drink all over the bike frame.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Graduated from the "Granny Gear"

I bought my first road bike about a year ago, a Trek 1600 aluminum frame bike with carbon forks, Ultegra rear deraileur and Shimano 105 for the other components. A decent intermediate road bike. It has a triple crankset with a 50/39/30. These numbers in case you didn't know are the number of teeth on each of the 3 respective chainrings. The smallest of the three rings with the 30 teeth is called the "Granny Gear" because it allows you to spin at a high cadence even on the steepest of climbs.

Up until today, I've used the small ring very frequently because I like to climb steep roads and because it's a good crutch to lean on when you're tired, plus I just simply wasn't fit enough to use only the bigger rings on climbs.

Well, today I'm happy to announce that I have successfully graduated from the "Granny Gear." I climbed both sides of Suncrest tonight without once having to shift down to the small ring. I was tempted many times, but stayed strong.