The Porcelain Throne

4 Oct

About 4 months ago I chatted with Susan,

Labeja: I’m thinking of doing the Levi’s Gran Fondo this year

Susan: You have said that for the past 3 years

Labeja: That’s true.

Susan: So why don’t you just do it?

So after 3 years of considering it, I signed up for the fondo, checked with my riding buddies and Chef Steve responded with my favorite words, “I’m in!”

In mid August after our family vacation I started training for the fondo. I logged my regular rides with a few changes that included 3 weeks of hill repeats with my neighbor Wes – another crazy man who is always “in!”, 3 weeks of hard Saturdays (the pre-ride, A-ride routine) and I added a couple crazy rides that included a 111 mile 9,000 feet ride on my Mom’s birthday, a 70 miles 11,000 feet road and dirt day with the crazy folks at Celo Pacific, and of course the SwamDo 93-miler.

Of course the biggest part of my training was I measured my weight and body fat on a daily basis, tracked what I ate, and even used a graph to trace what caused fluctuations in my stats. For body fat I used a hand held sensor, which has a margin of error around 1%. Here are the results:
August 19 (day 1 of tracking): weight 173lbs; body fat 9.8%

October 1 (3 days before the Fondo): weight 173lbs; body fat 10.2%

Suffice to say all that tracking and noting was interesting but worthless.

What time is it? Taper Time, Huh!

Another key part of my training was my taper plan for the week ahead of the Fondo. I did a half ride on Saturday (just the pre-ride which is intense) that I rode well. On Sunday, I decided not to defend my taco title at the WolfPack BBQ and ate only 9 tacos, one less than this year’s champion.

On Tuesday I rode the Swamis Tuesday ride as hard as I could but everytime I rode the front I was not able to sustain my effort, which I chalked up to overall fatigue. On Wednesday I did my regular early morning ride with Susan but after about a mile I literally had to stop with nausea. I chased Susan and caught her near the end. When I told her how I felt she wisely told me I should have just gone home. I felt ok though and did a quick 2 mile run after the ride.

On Thursday I did an easy 40 miles ride with Wes and again I was pretty tired by the end.

Road Trip!

We hit the road to Monterey after a quick breakfast at home and I felt sluggish all day and basically slept a lot in the car while Susan drove. When we stopped for a bathroom break I discovered I had full on diarrhea for the first time in years! I was able to eat dinner but even though I wasn’t hungry. I was concerned enough that I texted Chef Steve to let him know that there was a chance I may not able to complete the ride. I slept 12 hours on Thursday night and had a running stomach all day on Friday in Monterey. We visited the Monterey Aquarium and unfortunately because I felt weak and tired I just sat down outside and waited for the family to complete the visit. It was hard to see how I would be able to spend 5.5 hours on a bike!

Susan had me drinking Gatorade on Friday and eating bananas to combat my loss of fluids and nutrients. She also drove us most of the way from Monterey to Santa Rosa on Friday and encouraged me to sleep in the car, which I did. After getting my registration stuff for the Fondo, we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. My appetite was completely gone at this point and I split a meal with Susan. My sleep was fitful and I woke up several times because my stomach hurt. I drank water when I woke up because I hadn’t peed in a long time, a sure symptom of dehydration.

A man without goals is like a ship without a rudder

The Fondo was scheduled to start at 8:00am in a mass start so Steve and I got there at about 6:30am with the plan being to get a good position in the starting chute. Our goal was originally to finish the ride under 6 hours. When we arrived we saw a section at the front of the chute, right behind the professionals and in front of the general population who were already filling up,  that said “LESS THAN 7.5 HOUR ENTER HERE” in bold letters.  We decided to take our time and return to the <7.5 Hour section just before the start. We went back to the coffee area where I ate my breakfast sandwich and we relaxed.

Relaxing and having coffee with an empty 7.5hour section behind us

Relaxing and having coffee with an empty <7.5hour section behind us

About 30 minutes later we ambled over to the 7.5 hour section where we were told no entry because there was some fine print at the bottom of the sign that we selectively had not read “LESS THAN 7.5 HOURS ENTER HERE…if you completed it in 2014“. The general population area was now pretty full so we went back there and ended up behind around 400 people.

Steve and I kicked ourselves mentally for maybe 10 minutes for this and I told Steve I thought the first 5 miles would be the most dangerous as we would be surrounded by all these “rookie” cyclists.

Behind 400 or was it 500 people

Behind 400 or was it 500 people

At 8:00am when the ride set off we surprisingly found that everyone rode relatively disciplined on the right side of the road. Steve set off passing people and I chased after him. After I caught up to him someone passed me on the left and I stayed on his wheel and we passed a lot of people. We caught up to Hartono, a Strava friend from Orange County. As we went up a brief climb I pulled away from Steve but then as we descended I felt my rear tire go soft and I knew I had a flat tire. Steve stopped and helped me change it. A Moto support guy also stopped and he helped me pump the tire and gave me a spare tube to replace the spare I had just used. We set off again and soon caught and passed a lot of people many of whom followed us until there were around 40 people behind a 3 man rotation of Steve, a guy in a Mellow Johnny’s kit, and me. Around this time I forced myself to eat a harmony bar even though I was not hungry.

The Fondo has 3 major climbs with the first one being around 3,500 feet followed by a  steep descent and then another 3,500 feet climb immediately followed by a long descending to flat section leading up to the final climb and then 20 or so flat miles to the finish. Our plan was to take the first climb at an easy pace and then go hard on the subsequent climbs.  We would stop at only one rest stop at mile 55 which was the “lunch stop” and it was after the 2nd climb.

We approached the first climb at mile 30 and after a course marshall told us the climb was 15 miles, we rode it at a steady pace as per our plan. A noteworthy sight just after the climb began was a man who made Steve’s day because he was standing on the side of the road in full kit holding an expensive Italian bike with one hand while smoking a cigarette with the other. The climb gave way to some rolling hills and Steve pulled away from me on the descents. Around mile 45 the climb was officially over and there was  a rest stop that I rode past while checking to ensure Steve hadn’t stopped.

Then the steep descent began with signs for “Dangerous descent”, “Slow down”, “18% gradient”, etc. I’m a good descender thanks to all the aggressive group rides I do but took it slow after seeing those signs. The most worrying sign was “Accident Ahead”,  and on the last corner of the descent I saw the emergency services vehicles which were there to treat someone who had lost control of their bicycle. I couldn’t see any sign of the cyclist although I saw this sad article later in Velonews.

As I completed the descent my front tire popped signalling my second flat. As I was stopping Steve appeared from behind me – he had stopped somewhere to pee. I ended up using Steve’s tube as the spare I had gotten from the Moto guy could not fit my aero wheels. I was just glad to get the tube in without any errors and I sang to Steve, “You’re so beautiful”

We set off up the extremely steep second climb. I was in my lowest gear when a girl in a Team Whistler kit went by us spinning at a high cadence. Steve said, “Oh it’s on now” and immediately jumped on her wheel. Steve and his new friend opened up a gap on me. I went into half marathon mode, found a pain level I could sustain and caught up and passed Team Whistler and a lot of other people. At the top of the climb I looked back and behind me was:

1) a skinny kid in a Norcal size extra small jersey that barely fit him – the arms were flapping,

2) Team Whistler

3) some random guy in survival mode.


I let them go by me and sat behind them letting them pull as I waited for Steve. As usual after a few rolling hills Steve reappeared.

We had a brief conversation with Norcal:

Norcal: Are you guys pros? (with amazement in his voice)

Labeja: No, we are just 40 year old guys riding bikes

Steve: I’m older than 40!

Labeja: How old are you?

Norcal: 17!

Then we got passed by the first pro on the Panzer Route whic was 116 miles, with a dirt section, and was limited to 250 riders. The pro had a moto following him who would blow the horn each time he came to a group. As the moto passed us Team Whistler got on his wheel and chased him until she couldn’t keep up anymore. The pro kept pulling away from us so I yelled at Steve to go, which he did and he got behind the moto until we came through a curve in the road where the moto took a bad line making Steve slow down and they were gone. It was amazing watching the pro just keep pedaling away from us like he had some sort of engine.

Our little group was now Steve, Team Whistler and me. At this point we caught up to my friend Hartono again around mile 53. As planned, Steve and I stopped at the lunch stop at mile 55 and Team Whistler spoke her first few words when she said she would stop with us. I used the stop to get a new tube, new C02 and a bit of food then we set off again. Team Whistler got her food and took off without waiting for us so that was the last we saw of her.

Now we began the big beautiful descent to the ocean. I was careful with my braking and tapped just gently on the brakes going downhill but despite that I heard my front tire pop once more. Steve who had been very supportive of my first 2 flat tires was visibly frustrated and stood to the side. I tried to take the front tire off but couldn’t and I saw red and experienced what I call a “pull out a shotgun moment”. I seriously considered just  putting my foot through the spokes and breaking the entire wheel apart. Despite Steve’s obvious frustration, I told him I needed a little help and graciously he took the tire iron and helped me get the tire off the rim and I took it from there. After getting it off Steve correctly diagnosed that I needed new rim tape which was causing the pinch flats – so in went a tire boot.

Starting again after this stop was difficult. We had about 40 miles to the finish and very low motivation levels. Fortunately a lot of it was downhill and flat and we passed a lot of people. Although I still had no appetite I forced myself to eat again at this point.

Around mile 70 we came to the final climb which I had expected to be a small pop-up. It was a narrow pretty road and you could tell it was going to be an epic climb. Steve said let’s keep it below 300Watts to which I responded lets keep it below puke! So off I went up the hill again trying to stay in my sustainable pain mode and pedaled out of sight of Steve. I left just a little bit in reserve and the climb was so steep at certain points that we must have passed at least 10 people painfully walking their bikes uphill.

Once I crested the climb, as usual Steve caught me and we were down to about 20 miles of beautiful countryside to ride. Around mile 85 we started a short climb and I had to tell Steve to slow down as I felt my body crack a little bit. We rode together slowly and a skinny guy in a yellow jacket we had passed on the prior climb passed us. As we crested the climb I started to feel better so I yelled at Steve to “Catch the fucker!” to which he obliged and a few seconds later we caught and passed him.

Then as I was pulling we passed a guy in a Chico championship jersey. As we passed him he asked if he could work with us and as part of the conversation we realized he was the 55+ Chico time trial champion. All of a sudden Steve and Chico were off to the races and they set a hard tempo. I pulled through once or twice and then after pulling through a third time Steve and Chico dropped me. Steve slowed to wait for me and fortunately they came to a red light which we crossed through together. Steve took off again and opened up a gap on us and then we all got passed by a fashion-code-breaking guy wearing worn out 2XU shorts with an exposed undershirt tucked into his shorts and worn out shoes.

Chico came up and told me to jump on his wheel and together we caught back on to Steve. Steve and Chico worked together and caught 2XU who I noticed had a panzer number so he was both hard and fast despite dresscode no-nos. Together Steve, Chico and 2XU rode hard while I was in total hang on for life mode. I may have taken 3 pulls the entire last 10 miles of the ride as these boys just went hard and harder and harder until Chico just dropped off and said “…that’s enough for me.” In the last 3 miles we caught and passed Hartono once more.

We finally got to the finish and we completed the ride in 5 hours 40 minutes of ride time, which was right on target.

Five hours and 40 minutes later

Five hours and 40 minutes later

A bowl of hills with a slice of heat

8 Sep

Indecision 2015:

The Sunday before Labor Day I had some great ride options to do on this day

– Palomar with Swamis. This was looking like a great chance for Rick and I to go kick some butt like we did on the SwamDo. I also try and get in a Palomar ride once a month and this was an opportunity to do it with a group and try to get a personal best. When I first heard about this ride 2 weeks ago it was top of my list.

– About mid week prior to Labor Day Celo Pacific invited me to join a select group doing their 80 mile 8,000 feet ride through East County that was described as “roads not often traveled”. The ride seemed like a great one to do until I saw these comments in the email traffic among the Celo guys,

“As for this route, definitely road bike but there is some dirt so make sure you’re not showing up with 23mm tires or a tri bike & are prepared. I highly recommend everyone DL’s the route and has it on their Garmin. After hitting Rainbow and heading East it could get weird … ”

So I looked closely at the map and saw some dirt sections that gave me a bit of pause.

– The Friday before the long weekend I heard that my club, WolfPack, had a 50 to 60 mile 5,000 feet ride through East County as well. This ride was slated to go up Circle R which I do on Thursdays.

Despite the dirt sections on the Celo ride I decided it will prepare me best for Levi’s Gran Fondo that I will be doing in October, which is 100 miles with 9,000 feet of climbing.

Gotta ride with the BFF:

I started my day with my regular 15.5 mile Monday ride with Susan. She knew I had to be back early to go on my ride with Celo so she started a bit earlier than normal and left 5 minutes before me. I followed her and used my power meter to keep myself at an easy pace and work on my cadence. Susan rode hard and I didn’t catch her until we were about 10 miles in. She set 4 PRs on the route trying to stay ahead of me!

Hello, it’s Celo Time!

After riding with her I downed some tea and had a peanut butter-banana-blue berry sandwich. Then I hit the road and went to meet Celo Pacific at Pizza Port in Bressi Ranch. The ride had some hard men:
Kevin who designed the course, likes to ride  his Mountain Bike HARD,
Brent bad ass professional cyclo-cross racer,
Dr. Juan who’s a strong climber,
Juan2 former triathlete who came back from knee surgery even stronger,
Chef Steve who rides with WolfPack and rode strong on my birthday ride with me,
David “Palomar” another WolfPacker who I know as the guy who used to do Palomar Mountain every weekend multiple times,
Phillip another cyclo-cross racer who is a great climber,
Josh “Breakaway” a strong road racer,
Big Mike who never leaves any man behind,
and other strong cyclists.

The first few miles were uneventful until we had our first flat tire (David Palomar) just before climbing Lilac. We climbed Lilac at a good pace, which split the group. I rode with the front group and after we reached the top we waited for the chasers at the entrance to the first dirt section which was a left. At this point we’d already ridden 20 miles and Steve had gotten a call from work and he sounded like he was losing his voice with a cold. So he made the wise decision to skip the dirt and go home-wards and still got in a 50 mile day. David Palomar who has been under the weather recently also decided to head home.

We descended a road with a bit of dirt and a bit of tar and ended up in a valley. We did a short climb and ended up in a little neighborhood. The last guys out of the dirt section were Josh who is no dirt fan and Big Mike who is well..big.

We rode on, up more hills with separations happening on every hill. We generally had Kevin and Brent and Phillip and Josh off the front and I rode at my own pace knowing I was mid-pack and since we were going to regroup at the top of the hill I did not go too hard to stay with the front fellows.

Just prior to the 2nd dirt section we had a long descent on a tarred road.

Contemplating the downhill into the 2nd dirt section

Contemplating the downhill into the 2nd dirt section

It was already extremely hot and we were all braking as we went down a steep hill. Jaime had a blow-out and safely came to a stop. We waited for him at the entrance to the dirt section as he fixed his flat. I made the mistake of waiting on the dirt climb so when Jaime was ready to go I couldn’t get going and had to walk a little bit to get on my bike. By that point the group had already gone ahead of me. I finally got going and pedaled at a steady pace keeping Big Mike in my sights. I caught him and passed him and then while riding at 4 to 5 mph on a 15% gradient in the dirt caught and passed Dr. Juan and Josh Breakaway who were both walking. I was able to keep going at 4 to 5mph because I do a lot of seated climbs on some of the local 15% gradients in Carlsbad. Unfortunately my wheels also slipped in the dirt and I eventually had to walk as well.

At the top I got back in the saddle and began the descent in the dirt. It was very difficult to get any traction so I tried to brake to slow down which caused my back wheel to slip. Instinctively I moved the bike to the left to correct for the slide – my instincts paid off and I stayed upright with a great “save”. I slowed down and got off my bike and walked it down the hill. I came around a turn and saw Jaime and Phillip ahead of me walking as well. Once the road was tarred again I got back on my bike and I passed Phillip and Jaime.

Hiking the bike down the dirt section

Hiking the bike down the dirt section

At the bottom of the hill I found Juan2, Kevin and Brent waiting for us. They had also walked down. When Jaime got to the bottom of the hill we discovered his front wheel had delaminated due to the heat from braking. I also found out that he had purchased the wheel as an eBay deal on a no-name carbon Chinese wheel. So, my friends, today’s lesson is stay away from those no-name carbon Chinese wheels. We called Jaime’s son to pick him up but he ended up hitch hiking to the casino nearby and getting home ok.

Coming up with a game-plan to address Jaime's f-ed up wheel

Coming up with a game-plan to address Jaime’s f-ed up wheel

Juan2 peeled off at this point as he had to get home to release his wife who was going to work. Josh Breakaway left as well – I’ll let how he titled his ride on Strava explain how he felt,

“Worst ride I have ever done. Thanks for the destroyed “roadshoes/cleats”. Say MTB trails next time so I don’t waste my time going.. What a fucking nightmare.”

So now we were down to a crew of about 7 men including Big Mike aka never say die, and Shane who was cramping but still riding ridiculously strong. We were about 50 miles in out of a ~80 mile ride at this point. We made a stop to get more water and Phillip uttered these glorious words that I did not have the courage to say, “Maybe we should just head towards home the easiest way?” Excitedly I looked around to see if any of these crazies would take the bait but to my chagrin THEY IGNORED HIM. As a guest to the ride and the sole WolfPack representative I had to keep my mouth shut.

Brent told us there was 1 more hard section – a 4 mile climb with about 2 miles of flat dirt preceding the climb. We turned off Pala Road onto Lilac which was the climb. I have to say this was probably one of the best stretches of road I have ever ridden. We started off with Brent taking off as always. Followed by Phillip and Kevin and Shane. Both Phillip and Kevin dropped their bottles about a mile in and I passed them. I caught Shane and passed him in an uphill dirt section. He was standing and I told him to stay seated for traction – he told me he couldn’t sit because he was cramping. Despite his cramps he passed me shortly afterward at about mile 1.5 and opened up a gap on me.

I continued to climb at a steady pace and kept Shane in sight. Looking back I could see Phillip for a bit and then he disappeared behind me. I caught Shane with my Garmin saying we were 4 miles into Brent’s 4 mile climb. Shane was struggling at this point and I yelled at him to dig deep and told him the climb was almost over. We reached the top of it shortly afterward and I waited for Shane who was right behind me and we started down some rollers together. As we rode through the rollers Kevin appeared from behind us and went by as we we started another slight climb. Then I saw Brent riding towards us which meant he had reached the end and turned around to come check on us which was good news – we were almost at the end of the section. So now in front of me was only Kevin and behind me I could see Dr. Juan (Shane had disappeared). I got to the end and found Kevin waiting in the shade.

Almost everyone finished the climb and we heard the story of Phillip who had apparently gotten off his bike because he was physically overheating and about to puke. About 2 minutes after we stopped Phillip came up and he was so hot he had taken off half his bib (it was probably 100 degrees out there at this point). Fortunately he was still able to ride and he had a pretty good title for his ride too,

“Barely made it home alive on this one”

The route had originally planned to go deeper into the unknown but given how hard and hot it already was route-master Kevin decided that we would head back west towards Circle R which we did until we stopped at a store at the bottom.

Dr. Juan decided to head home at this point and skip Kevin’s last planned climb and I decided to head home with Juan. We didn’t really get any benefit by heading home “early” as we had a hill ahead of us and we all ended up with about the same mileage and elevation gain.

Together Dr. J and I rode up Champagne which was about 600 feet of climbing in the heat with a headwind. Dr. Juan and I traded pulls and knowing Juan is 150lbs I tried to be macho and take long pulls to save him from the wind. After a long pull I sat behind Juan and I came very close to cracking. I thought about just stopping and calling someone, anyone to pick me up. I had 67 miles on my bike computer and I was just thinking, it’s so hot, how the heck am I going to get home. I’m supposed to be good at the 2nd half of long rides and what the is happening today???

Dr. Juan kept us going at a steady pace up that unrelenting hill and somehow I found reserves to keep me on his steady back wheel. At the top of the hill we turned right and headed down Deer Springs and rode home. I had a bit of fun on Deer Springs riding on a side bike path which made it a little more interesting than just suffering on the bike lane on the road. We looked at the Twin Oaks which would have been the quickest way home but would have cost us about 800 feet of climbing and both decided to take the easy but slightly longer way home on San Marcos Blvd.

We had a woman in a red Nissan Maxima join the road right in front us without looking – fortunately both Dr. J and I were paying attention and we slowed down and avoided her without incident. Her toddler daughter who was sitting in the back of the car saw us and it was amusing seeing her face as she obviously wanted to, but wasn’t able to, communicate to her mother that something was amiss and that her mom had nearly caused an accident.

Juan and I rode home together – I dropped him off near his place and then rode home with a total of 100 miles and 9100 feet of climbing on my legs for today.

Most of the crew and our families got back together at Juan’s house after the event for pizza, salad, beer, apple pie and stories. The kids had a great time in the pool playing with Kevin who somehow had the energy to play with our sons.

The best part of the day according to my family was:
Susan – hanging out with Dr J and family and friends
My daughter – playing in the pool
My son – playing in the pool with Dr. J’s son
Me – finishing the ride!

A SwamTastic SwamDo

30 Aug

Today was SwamDo which was Swami’s first fondo. It started from Karl Strauss in Carlsbad and was  93 miles or 149.6 kilometers.

Bike tuned and ready for the SwamDo

So fresh and so clean – ready for the SwamDo


The ride started at 8am and we rode up Palomar Airport road to Melrose. Melrose probably has about 20 traffic lights and I think about 3/4 of them were red. The only excitement we had on Melrose was when a guy on a TT bike went by us fast upon which we reacted by chasing him down to show him we were Men too! He turned right at some point where we went straight and that bit of fun was over.

We then turned onto the 76 bike path which we rode at a safe 20 to 22mph pace. The bike path is always a dangerous place to ride with a big group because we have to share a small space with runners, walkers, strollers, little kids riding with their families, etc. We slowed down when we saw them,  called  out, and rode through safely. I was relieved when we finished the bike path without incident.

Once we left the bike path we got onto the Camp Pendleton base. Given we were a group of about 50 and the terrain we were going to cover, my plan, in order to get a good workout in, was to put in a few hard efforts then come back to the draft of the group to recover. So as we were on the flat approaching the first hill on the base I rode the front of the group at about 22mph. I rode up the hill and kept my pace up so that we didn’t slow down going up the hill. I am sure the group behind me felt the speed as I worked hard to keep that pace up. At the top of the hill I came back into the group and rested.

It was announced that we would stop at the feed station at the base exit to get water, which was smart given the temperatures. We all stopped and filled up with water and I ate a half PB&J. A few people quickly rode off and I went after them. There were about 3 guys ahead of me and after some hard work I caught onto the back of them. I looked back and our group was only 5 or 6. The rest of the group was still at the feed station getting food and water. We had committed a “feed stop attack”!

We met a guy who rides for team Spy (a.k.a Spy Guy). Our group was now Spy Guy, David, Rick, Andy, Lee and me. With the exception of Spy Guy who I didn’t know I’d ridden with everyone else in our little group several times and I knew their strengths and weaknesses. David is a century king. He rides a lot of them and he does very well with long rides. Rick and I are very similar in terms of strength and output but I know I do better on the 2nd half of rides than him and he usually does better on the first half than I do. Lee who I hadn’t ridden with recently was looking very skinny which is a good thing for a cyclist. Andy rides a lot of long rides as well and I know he likes challenging rides.

Our group of 6 rode through the campground together with all of us taking pulls. Spy Guy probably did 33% of the work. You could tell he wanted to get a good workout in. After the Wednesday Ride sprint point we got off the campground and Rick pulled out a bar to eat. Spy Guy continued to push the pace and a gap formed ahead of Rick. All of a sudden Spy Guy and David were off ahead of us.

Rick realized he had been gapped and took a strong pull to bring us closer to Spy Guy and David. Lee then came through and took a strong pull as well and then we were within reach of Spy Guy and David. I then came through and on a slight hill rode a steady pace and caught Spy Guy and David. I looked back and only Rick was behind me, both Lee and Andy weren’t able to keep up with the chase.

Shortly afterward I looked back and Lee had managed to bridge up to us on his own and now we were a group of 5 riding through San Clemente. Spy Guy stayed on the front and because he realized we were the “breakaway” from the SwamDo he wanted to help us and he kept the pace high. San Clemente has a bike route that runs through it with lots of lefts, rights and stop signs and short rolling hills. We went through all those turns at speed which made for an exciting ride, in the way base-jumping is exciting if you survive it.

As we sped through San Clemente our group was now down to Spy Guy, followed by David, followed by Rick, followed by me. Lee either couldn’t keep up or decided all the quick turns were too dangerous.

We came down a slight hill to a Y junction at speed. At the last second Spy Guy decided to go left. David was right behind him and succesfully followed him. Rick looked left, realized he wouldn’t make the turn and tapped his back brakes which locked. He skidded to a stop, his bike hit the curb sideways and he gracefully dismounted from his bike and ended up planting his derriere on the ground.

As I had more reaction time, I could have made the turn but, I slowed down and stopped to check on my friend. Rick quickly bounced back onto his bike and started pedaling but he came to a stop shortly thereafter as his chain was off. I yelled RICK LETS CHECK YOUR BIKE!  We both quickly checked his bike – I looked at his handlebars and brakes and he put his chain back on – everything looked okay and we got going again.

Andy and Lee caught up to us as we were starting off. David also came back to check on us after he realized we had a crash. We rode a bit more slowly and we got caught by a few more guys who had been behind us. We stopped at a red light and even more people caught us. Together we rode tranquilo to the halfway point in Dana Point where we all refueled.

I filled my water bottles and had another half pb&j and a banana as planned. Then because I was still hungry I had a second half pb&j and banana. Being a calorie counting cyclist I felt a bit guilty at the extra 350 calories but I figured this would give me the ability to skip the third and final rest stop if I needed to.

This time around the group waited for everyone including Rick who was washing off fall related dirt from his arm. We took off in a group of around 20. We rode through the San Clemente lefts, rights, ups and downs and stop signs a bit more carefully with me riding at the front because I was feeling good.

Once we got onto the campground we slowed down to a tranquilo 20 mph or so. I was riding in the pack at this point about 10 wheels back when I looked up and saw a lone rider about 5 seconds ahead of us – it was Rick! Chris went to the front and slowly started to catch Rick. Lavery was next to me at this point and he said you should go up front and block for Rick. I said no because I knew that would piss people off, especially on this half-social, half competitive ride. Being the good citizen he is, Lavery rode to the front and told Chris to back off a little bit so Rick could have his moment of glory.

I know Rick very well and I knew he was using his power meter and just wanted to ride up front for a few minutes and get a good work out in. He probably expected the group to catch him and then he would come back into the draft and rest and recover.

Once I saw Lavery slow the group down I knew what I had to do – join Rick and then the 2 of us would try and stay away from the group. That would be fun for everyone – Swamis and our team WolfPack have a friendly rivalry so they would be motivated to catch us. In the same vein both Rick and I would be motivated to stay away.

I shifted 2 or 3 gears and jumped out of the saddle so I could accelerate to Rick at a speed which I knew would discourage anyone from going with me. As I went by Lavery at the front I said, “this is going to hurt!” because I knew this was going to be a do or die effort.

I generally don’t do breakaways because they hurt. There’s no rest and you have to keep up a high effort. This was true of my ride with Rick. We kept looking back and we could see the group was right behind us as we rode through the rest of the campground. I also know from experience that so long as the group could see us they could easily catch us so every time we went round a corner I accelerated to get us a little bit farther away from the group. Rick asked me to keep it steady but I knew I had to ride to my strengths so I kept pushing the pace when I was in front. I also knew we had to use any technical points to our advantage as the group would have to slow down. So I pushed the pace through every turn and pinch point.

We got to the water/food stop and went by quickly without stopping. I later found out that the group stopped at the rest stop for about a minute. I suspect that they thought they would easily catch us after the rest stop which is why they stopped. I also heard a few people attacked the group after the rest stop but the group brought those attacks back.

Meanwhile Rick and I got out of sight of the group. We kept going at a good pace. Now I ensured we rode to our strengths. I like to push the pace up short hills and Rick likes to keep the pace up on flats. So I pushed up the little hills and Rick kept up the tempo on the flats. We both kept looking back and we did not see the group. Every pedal stroke was hard but we worked together like yin and yang.

We then rode through Oceanside which is known for hidden police waiting to catch cyclists who blow through stop signs. So we stopped or slowed down significantly at every stop sign but then accelerated between stop signs.

I was now in half marathon mode which is a hard effort level that I can hold for a few minutes versus the crazy effort level that I was doing before which is a 30 second effort. I was now at full gluteal pain which in simple-glish means both of my buns hurt from the effort but I was going to do everything in my power to keep the group from reaching us. I told Rick I thought they would try and catch us on the final climb up Cannon. This time Rick took us up the climb. He said to me, any sign of them? I looked back and I said nope!

We rounded the finish and we rode home together on Armada drive to Karl Strauss. We finished the inaugral SwamDo FIRST!

First Finishers!

First Finishers!

the big 3-8

8 Jun

Back in April, I came across the Big Ring Century. It’s a 100 mile ride on June 6 (my birthday!) in Laguna Niguel that fundraises to fight hunger.  I checked with my cycling friends and one of them had done it the year before and he mentioned that it was well-organized and with a very good post ride BBQ. So ride for a good cause + 100 miles on my birthday + good food = I had to do it.

I checked with my regular riding friends and Chef Steve and Mark (whose birthday was on June 7) quickly said yes! Another cycling friend Ron, signed up shortly afterward.

I trained for this century by doing 20 mile time trial efforts on Sundays with my neighbor Wes who is a strong time trialist. Our rule was no drafting and we did them at 530am when it is unbelievably quiet. Wes can hold 25mph for a long time on flat roads and I knew it would be challenging for me to keep up with him. The first Sunday we rode a 17 mile loop where I rode at about 22MPH on the flats  and let Wes disappear from sight because I thought I would catch him on the hill at the end. Although I rode the hill about a minute faster than him (hill took about 6 minutes in total), Wes was so much faster than me on the rest of the loop that I wasn’t able to catch him and ultimately finished 30 seconds behind him.

The next weekend we were not able to ride at the same time but we both independently did a different flat 19 mile course. Wes beat me again by about a minute!

Weekend 3 we did the 17 mile course again and it was my last training session before the Century. I decided to ride as hard as I could during the first half of the ride and keep Wes within 4 to 6 bike lengths – close enough that he was right there but far enough that I didn’t have any drafting benefit. We rode down La Costa Avenue which is flat and Wes cranked it up to 25 MPH as usual. Accelerating to 25MPH hurt my legs but once I got there I felt ok. When we got to the slight rise up to the gas station, Wes slowed. I stood up on the pedals and went by him. The loop turns onto Vulcan which is flat. Since I knew that was Wes’ strength I decided to go as hard as I could on Vulcan which I did and was able to hold Wes off. I kept looking back and he was about 20 seconds behind me at least me. I had the same feeling on Manchester that he would catch me so I kept my pace up as long as I could. On the final climb over El Camino I pulled away from him and added a few more seconds to my lead on Wes. We had a big downhill into Encinitas after the El Camino Climb where I got lucky and had a green light and made it through the intersection at 30 to 35MPH as aero as I could be. I thought I would get Wes with that light but fortunately for Wes he got a green light too and he made it through at 40MPH! I got to the end of the course still ahead of Wes and beat him by 30 seconds or so. It was a great confidence builder for me beating Wes on that course knowing he is a strong time trialist.

My next bit of preparation for the Century was a pre-birthday dinner at the Brigantine Del Mar with Chef Steve, my family and a few friends, on the Thursday before the ride. Thanks to Chef Steve we tried a few unique things with a few memorable items including octopus, scallops and a lotta PORK. The food portions were just right and we left the dinner feeling indescribably happy and satisfied.  I highly recommend the Brig!

Brigantine Del Mar

On my birthday, 2 days later, Chef Steve and I car pooled to the Century together. We agreed that our target for the 100 miles was to do it between 4hrs30 and 5hrs. Based on the guidance provided by the organizers, the Century was flat for the first 60 miles and then there was about 3000 feet of climbing between mile 60 to 80 and then there was a big downhill to the finish at mile 100. I figured we would need to hold a 23MPH average during the first 60 miles of the ride to make up for the climbing between miles 60 to 80. We planned to hold our rest breaks to a minimum to achieve  our target time – we planned to stop only at mile 40 for a break and again at mile 80 if we needed to.

When the ride started, our little group got separated because there were so many people. I made my way to the front and found Steve there. I looked behind me both Ron and Mark were close by as well. Working together we kept the pace around 25 but we hit so many red lights that our average speed quickly dropped to around 21 to 22mph. The red lights also had the impact of halving the group to about 15. Around mile 20, about 5 people stopped at the rest stop and our little group of about 10 kept going with Steve, Mark and I rotating at the front and keeping the pace up. We rode on a bike path that was extremely windy and by the end of the bike path I was feeling a little fatigued from the ongoing rotations. When we got off the bike path a few of the guys helped as well including a guy on a TT bike who put in some long pulls. We had a guy in a pink jersey who had an odd pedaling style but gave us some strong pulls. There was also a guy I’ll call LT for loud talker. Every time we came to a red light LT told us about his exploits. Every time LT went to the front of the group he accelerated and gapped the group.

Around mile 40 as I was drinking some water LT accelerated through an orange light and our group of 8 was split into 2 with me being caught at the red light. Mark, Steve, LT and Pink Jersey were in the front group and they kept going. After my chase group of 4 got through the light we quickly realised that the lead group had missed a turn. I pulled out my phone and called Steve but he didn’t pick up the phone. Our chase group was now the lead group and we rode until the rest stop at mile 44 where I loaded up on water and filled my jersey pockets with PB&Js to last me the rest of the ride. As we were about to pull out of the rest stop the chase group (Mark, Steve and LT) previously known as the lead group rolled in breathing hard. They had waited for us and then realized they were headed in the wrong direction. They had ridden really hard to catch us at the rest stop and had dropped pink jersey. Since they had caught us along with a few other stragglers, a group of about 12 of us rolled out of the rest stop.

For the next 10 or so miles we rode through downtown Santa Ana and passed John Wayne airport. There were so many red-lights that our average was now a paltry 19 to 20 miles an hour which meant getting a 5 hour finish was going to be challenging. Steve continued to ride the front and kept the pace up. Remember LT or Loud Talker? Well he started to tell us how hard the upcoming climb at mile 60 was going to be. He asked us to ride slower and he encouraged us to pace ourselves on the climb. When someone made a comment that the climb was not that bad, LT reminded us that at around 200 to 210LBs he was carrying a lot more weight uphill than the rest of us. Given that most of  of LT’s weight was around his midsection, he was probably  right to be worried.

When we reached the climb at mile 60, I moved to the front and paced us up the climb. I rode at about a 80% effort since I knew this was going to be a long climb. When we reached the top of the first roller, I looked back and the group had been whittled down to Steve, Mark and I. Steve and Mark rotated through and we worked together on the downhills to keep the pace up. Every time the road pitched upward I went back to the front and kept a steady pace just below red that kept our group going. About 3/4 of the way through the climb we met 2 guys who looked fit but were riding casually. We passed them with as Steve and I were taking us up the climb. To my surprise they stayed with us and pulled through and started sharing the work. One of them chatted with Steve and once they realised we were off the front of a century ride they offered to help pace us up the hill and through the rollers. For the next 3 or so miles, our new friends kept our pace up and we benefited from drafting them. Around mile 80 our new friends turned off and it was back to the 3 of us and we started rotating to keep going.

Steve had run out of water and I gave him water from my bottle so we would not have to stop at the rest stop. Looking at my clock at mile 90, I realised we had to keep our pace around 26MPH+ to have any shot at coming in close to 5 hours which would have actually been possibly because of the downhills. We really pushed the pace as much as we could, so much so that I felt the beginnings of a cramp in my left gluteal muscle around mile 95. Unfortunately we hit more red lights and we ultimately finished the ride with 5 hours and 12 minutes of total time, and just under 5 hours of moving time (average of 20.1MPH). We knew we were the first finishers and Steve graciously let me finish first knowing that Susan and the kids were at the finish line waiting for us. After pulling in, we were very surprised to see Loud Talker had already finished even though we had left him behind us on the hill at mile 60. LT told us that after he got dropped on the hill he found a short-cut to get to the finish quicker. I was a mildly disgusted by that because I don’t know why anyone would sign up for a 100 mile ride and then cut it short to “finish” ahead of the people he couldn’t keep up with. Our friend Ron did the opposite – he got lost and rode an extra 10 miles retracing his steps (for a total of 110miles) because he knew that would better for him than cutting it short.

First finishers

After the ride, I sat down with the family and we ate the good food the folks had there. We chatted briefly with one of the organisers of the Big Ring Century, John who told us inspiring stories about some of the projects they sponsor which are in Africa and other countries.

It was a good day to be 3-8!

He's Fast

I Belgianed, Waffled and Rode

28 Apr

The ride started well. I felt amazingly good after a week of tapering and smart eating in the days before the race. My friend Steve and I had planned to ride together, stay near the front of the group and then ride the last 20 or so miles hard. The first 15 miles were neutral and I kept an eye on Steve as he rode ahead of me. When we got to the first dirt section there was a crash. I looked back and saw that my buddy Rick had gone down in what appeared to be a slow speed fall. Kelly, Steve’s friend, who was riding closer to Rick when he went down assured us that he was fine.
I wasn’t planning to go hard through the dirt sections. Steve, Kelly and I rode that first dirt section at a comfortable pace and ended up just behind the lead group.I saw Steve take a pull and I knew there were people behind us who would feel uncomfortable being outside the lead group. So I said to him, “don’t worry there are enough frisky people back there to bridge for us.” So we patiently waited for them to come to the front and drill it to bring us back to the lead group which they did.
I noticed Seth near the front. I decided to stay close to him because he has done this ride 4 years in a row and knows how to ride at a sustainable pace, for him, all day. We chatted briefly and I complimented him on his recent thoughtful blog on the Mediterranean crisis. I mentioned that those guys dying in boats look just like me and Seth correctly said that it’s all about the luck of the draw – some people are born in Kansas and some people are born in …. There was an acceleration that interrupted and ended our conversation.
As we got to the second dirt section I somehow got ahead of both Seth and Steve and was in the lead group with my friend Juan. We got stuck behind a cautious lady rider and passed a guy who had crashed and somehow ended up in a bush. It was funny because he had a soft landing and it seemed completely innocuous. As we completed the second dirt section I felt my back tire go soft and I pulled over to change the puncture. So the lead group pulled away from me as did Steve who didn’t see me as he passed me. When I got back on the road, I looked behind me and there was my man Rick with his red and black striped socks. After his crash he’d been unsuccessfully, thus far, trying to catch up to the main group on his cyclo-cross bike, which had put him in a bad mood. I traded pulls with him and another cyclist but when we got to a hill I rode away from him like my name was Chris Froome. It isn’t – Rick was on a bike that weighs 10 lbs more than mine!
After a few more miles I came across my buddies Lavery and Gys. Lavery was riding easy (his words) and I know Gys is in recovery from a crash a few months ago. lavery and I dropped Gys and when we got to the next and third dirt section I dropped Lavery as I was riding at a steady hard pace up the climb. 
In this dirt section I came across my man ATF MIKE! He was surprised to see me and I told him about my flat and kept going past him. Back on the road I passed some ladies and then rode solo until I met a group that joined me from my left – either they or I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. They included my fellow (South) African Mark who was in the red wave that had started 10 minutes after mine. I wasn’t surprised to see people from the red wave because I had lost between 5 and 10 minutes with my flat tire. Mark told me that his (red) wave had ridden really hard and caught up to our wave after about 15 miles! He also said that he was going to pay for the hard effort in the second part of the ride.
We got to the halfway point at The Lost Abbey and I was about an hour ahead of schedule which meant I needed to let Susan know that I would probably get to Double Peak earlier than anticipated. I forgot to text her and kept going after a brief rest-stop. As we rolled out of the halfway point, someone rolled by me that I recognized – it was METAL! METAL is an ultra rider (does 200 mile rides) and we are social media friends. For the first time ever we chatted and he was made me laugh with his commentary. He told me he was at the front of the red wave and pushed the pace for the first 15 miles to help a teammate. So he was the guy who got Mark and everyone else tired! As we rode on Del Dios, I heard someone shout “LABEJA!” It was my buddy Steve with a group ahead of me going in the opposite direction after the turn around on del dios. Steve was obviously shocked as he thought I was ahead of him after the third dirt section!
As we approached the fourth dirt section, I was still riding in the same group of around 20 folks with African Mark and METAL.  Mark and I stopped in the parking lot just before the dirt section as Mark wanted to drop something in his car which he had parked there. I stopped as well for a bathroom break. We then chased and got back to the 20 man group. When we got to a hill I passed most of them and got to the front of this group. At this point Mark paid for his earlier hard efforts because despite being a better rider in the dirt he couldn’t keep up with me. 
 We got back onto Del Dios and rode out to the next dirt section at Lake Hodges. At this fifth dirt section there were 2 valleys we had to ride through that I’ve ridden multiple times on my mountain bike. I know that you need momentum and need to go down them fast in order to be able to climb the other side. I told the guys around me about the momentum incase they weren’t familiar with the climb. On the second valley I hit a ridge and my saddle hit my perineum HARD. I had to pull over and just stand on the side of the trail as I recovered. I got back on the bike and pedaled gingerly. Then I heard another “LABEJA!” and it was my Wolf Pack teammate Eric. Eric is a very good dirt rider and has a number of dirt KOMs. He blew by me and I didn’t even have a chance to try and stay with him. I limped along and by the time I finished the dirt section I felt ok once more. By this point I was alone and went into marathon mode – I picked a pace of around 20 to 22 mph effort on the flats and held it. I passed a number of cyclists as I cruised on. And then we came to Lusardi – the sixth dirt section.
Lusardi is the one trail I had never ridden. It is mostly a fire road with steep pitches. We were supposed to have ridden it as part of the first lap but we did not because the steep pitches were unrideable after the prior night’s rainfall. Now we were going mostly downhill with a few climbs. I rode carefully and went through a water crossing where my front wheel hit something that nearly took me over my bars. Then I came to a bridge and at about 10 mph my front wheel hit the plank to get onto the bridge and stopped. I went over the bars and hit my helmet on the wooden plank, got a few nicks on my leg, knuckle, and right shoulder. Fortunately the only real injury was to my pride. My right shifter was bent so I pushed it back in. Two cyclists came by and like true roadies didn’t stop to help. One of them actually said, “Can I get by?” although he did tell me to pick up my phone, which fortunately landed on the bridge and not in the water.
I got back on the bike and being a roadie myself chased the two cyclists down with a vengeance and passed them. They both said “NICE JOB” when they saw me and I felt a little guilty at my anger toward them. Lusardi had a high pitched climb at the end and I angrily climbed it without getting out of the saddle.
Then I was back on the road. I stopped for a natural break once more and sent a garbled text to Susan telling her that I would be at Double Peak in about 30 minutes, even though I was around 15 miles of climbing away (around an hour away!). I definitely wasnt thinking at that time. This was around the point where my plan had been to go hard to the finish and pass a lot of people. Unfortunately, there was no one in sight to pass so I just kept riding at a good pace. When I got to the beginning of the Rancho Santa Fe climb – before the half dirt, half paved section – you can’t imagine my surprise when I caught up to someone with a familiar pedal stroke…it was STEVE riding with his friend Kelly. We chatted and I found out that they’d apparently made a wrong turn adding unnecessary miles to their rides. It was great to catch up to them and ride together. We went up the seventh dirt section with Kelly riding very strong – he could have ridden away from us if he wanted to. 
As we approached Double Peak I was hoping to see Susan and the kids so I went to the front and pulled Steve and Kelly. I went a bit harder than they were going and got about a 20 second gap as we went up Double Peak (DP). I saw Susan and both kids on DP and that was the best part of the ride! 

  Fortunately Susan was on my left side so she didn’t see the dirt on my right shoulder from my Lusardi crash which would have made her worry. Halfway down DP we turned into the eighth dirt section that took us back to Twin Oaks. This was a fast section – I rode it carefully, both Steve and Kelly caught up to me, and then Steve went by me. I saw skid marks where earlier riders had gone off the trail into the bushes! I followed the rules I had been taught by my MTB professor Bob 1) look where you want to go and the bike will follow you and 2) momentum is your friend; and MTB professor Steve 3) smooth pedal strokes. So of course when Kelly, who mountain bikes, told me that I looked really comfortable, I felt that my weekly dirt training on Sunday’s had paid off. 
As we rode the last few miles we did our best to try and break 8 hours – we came close and finished in 8 hours 9 minutes.
After the ride I found MMX, whose company, Spy, organizes the ride, and gave him a big hug.
Then I found Susan and the kids and we ate enough food to last me the next 3 days, at least.

Dirty Devil 2015

29 Mar

I got up at 430am as usual this morning, had my usual pre-BIG ride meal of almond butter, blueberries and bananas on naan bread and then got into the car and headed to Alpine CA where I was doing the Dirty Devil bike ride. It is a 130 mile 12,000 feet ride. When I got there everything worked like clockwork. I signed in, used the bathroom and then met up with my buddies who were doing the ride as well.


The ride rolled out at 7am with a couple guys I know riding the front of the ride at a good warm up pace. We were a group of around 75 to a 100. On a gear change I had a mechanical with a dropped chain which put me at the back of the group. I got the chain back on relatively easily and I bridged back to the group that was getting ready to climb the first dirt section.

Coming up to the first dirt climb Credit:

Coming up to the first dirt climb Credit:


My plan for the ride was to stick with my fast riding buddies (Jason and Josh) who I usually ride with on Saturdays. Just before the first dirt section I ended up next to Matt, also from my cycling club Wolfpack or WPC, who was telling someone that it’s going to be a long day so take it easy on the first climb. I thought, hmm…sounds wise maybe I should amend my original plan, take the climb easy and ride with Matt. When we hit the climb I decided to stick with my original plan and rode away from Matt to the front group of 20 or so who were climbing at a relatively fast pace. My body felt good and the pace felt fine.

Moving up the group on the first dirt climb Credit: Oleg Descenders

Moving up the group on the first dirt climb Credit: Oleg Descenders

The climb did go on for a long time (4 miles in 15 to 20 minutes). It was hard packed dirt and there weren’t any squishy sections. There were a couple of accelerations but I made sure to slowly catch back up to them with NO sudden accelerations in order to save energy for later.

First Dirt Climb Credit

First Dirt Climb Credit


At the top of the dirt climb we got back on the tarmac road and then cruised until the next dirt section. The second dirt section was longer at around 13 miles. It started with a climb where the lead group of 10 or so slipped away followed by my chase group of 10 or so. What was interesting was about 2 miles into the dirt section we hit a descent of around 1350 feet. This descent split our chase group as it included bumpy sections and soft dirt in the corners. Ultimately it split us into those who were either comfortable in the dirt or with more risk. Getting home safe with my shoulders intact was one of my objectives for the day so I was part of the crew that took the descents slower and got dropped by the quickly splintering chase group. For those of you non-cyclists – shoulders are what get hurt when you crash, particularly when cornering.


After a lot of dirt we got to our first rest stop at mile 30. My original plan was to skip this rest stop but I saw my fast-paced crew so I stopped and downed some sugary snacks and topped up my water bottles. Interestingly this was the chase group that had further splintered on the descent that was now back together.


Rest-stop food credit:

Rest-stop food credit:

We left the rest stop together and got some nice road riding in together. We pace-lined a little bit for the next few miles and it was a nice downhill from mile 30 to mile 40. The only issue with a pleasant down-hill is that what goes down must come back up! Mile 40 to 60 was mostly flat and we saw the famous Black Canyon dirt climb at mile 60. Fortunately there was a rest stop right before it. I’d originally planned to stop at this rest stop and we all did. They had pb&js here which I downed along with more sugary snacks. One of our group, Jake, had a flat tire right at the rest stop. Larry, another rider from our group told the crew that he’d start the hill and let us catch him. I decided to do the same thing as I knew that Josh and Jason who were helping Jake fix his flat tire are very good climbers.


I followed the guys who had already started the climb. They came to a fork in the road and took a right up a climb. After about a mile I met a guy in a truck who yelled at me, “This is private property!” I thought to myself well if the cyclists are going the wrong way they’ll turn back and well….after about 5 minutes I saw them coming back so  we rode back to the fork in the road and went the other way.


The infamous Black Canyon climb is about 11 miles of dirt and  has about 2000 feet of elevation gain. It starts with a flat section and a short climb. Then a descent which includes squishy dirt, and then the real climb with more squishy dirt. As I was going through the short climb I saw Josh, Jake and Jason behind me giving chase. I decided to keep going hard and try and stay away from them. I caught up to Matt from WPC on the descent. He was previously behind me but had passed me when I took the wrong turn. I passed him because he was descending cautiously and even slower than me because he crashed badly on a descent in 2014.


When the real climb started there was a sign, KOM Starts Here, meaning it was a measured King of the Mountain section. I decided there and then to give that KOM my all. I got into my half marathon mindset where I pick an effort level that I can hold and I then hold it all the way. I knew that I would pay for my hard efforts later but this is kind of like when you’re out drinking late at night and know there’s a hangover coming the next day but you think “whatever!”


Josh, Jake and Jason were still behind me but they caught up to me shortly after we started the KOM section. We rode together with Josh, Jason and I taking pulls. As I was targeting the KOM I pushed the pace a little harder than them and we dropped Jake on one of my pulls. The second time I was at the front I inadvertently pulled away and I decided to try and stay away because I knew that since they had started behind me, if we finished it together, they would get a better time for the KOM section than me. Josh told Jason to keep it steady and they slowly accelerated and caught back on to me. Josh, Jason and I caught up to and passed Larry and ultimately the 3 of us finished the KOM section together.


We then got to the next rest stop at mile 72 and waited for Larry and Jake. I downed more PB&Js and sugary snacks.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Credit:

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Credit:

I felt a little bloated and started to think maybe I’d had too much crap. We rolled out together and Larry said he felt terrible. He came off the group once and Jason slowed the rest of us down so that Larry could catch back on which he did. Jake sat in at the back while Jason, Josh and I traded pulls. We got to the base of the climb into Julian and started climbing up with me in third wheel. After a bit of climbing, I realized I was in a spot of bother and tried to just keep it steady. I couldn’t hold Josh’s wheel and Larry came around. Jake came around too and said some words of encouragement, which pushed me back onto the group’s wheels.

On Jake's wheel  Credit

On Jake’s wheel Credit

We made a left and I moved back to 4th wheel ahead of Jake.


I decided to down some more sugar – fig bars – from my emergency food stash and drank some water. We were riding steady uphill at a pace of around 8 to 10 mph which I should have been able to hold. My body was in full on rebellion unfortunately and I told Jake, “Go ahead of me man.” He responded and encouraged me again! I tried to keep up but the group pulled away from me.


When Josh and Jason realized they’d dropped me they rode a bit slower to let me catch back up. Matt, my WPC brother that I’d passed about 15 miles back, suddenly appeared  out of nowhere and as he passed me said, “You can’t give up now!” It took me about 5 minutes but I pedaled hard and got back on to the group. I then stuck with them for about 30 seconds at which point I cracked completely and my pace went from 10mph to 6 mph.


This was mile 85 and I went through the emotional rollercoaster that is cracking on a bicycle. I realized that I had about 45 miles to go which would be mostly solo. I wondered how the heck I was going to do it. Then I thought to myself – you ride solo all the time, just ride like you normally do. However, mostly when I’m riding solo I’m usually starting the ride not finishing one after riding HARD. As hard as I tried I couldn’t find any way to encourage myself and just tried to keep pedaling.


I caught up to a skinny guy in a Giant Kit who had been riding the dirt sections even harder than I was. I could tell that this dude was a very strong rider who had cracked as well. As slow as I was going he couldn’t keep up with me which told me that he was completely and utterly broken. I caught up to an old guy riding up one of the hills. As I caught him he accelerated and tried to stay away from me. Given my situation I wasn’t going to try and race him. I slowly caught him and passed him as he was panting heavily. Ahead of him was a lady who I slowly caught up to as well. She could have stayed away from me but as we started to descend she slowed and I passed her.


At this point I heard a voice behind me and it was Giant guy which I was happy for as it meant someone I could work with. We chatted a bit about our miserable states and rode together to the rest stop at mile 100 where we found all the PB&J’s were finished! Giant guy sat in the chair at the rest stop and sat down like he was done for the day. I knew I couldn’t sit down or else I wouldn’t get back up given that riding another 30 miles to the finish sounded very very difficult at this point. I told Giant I was going to keep rolling and grabbed some sugary snacks, filled my bottles with water and rolled out.


My stomach was feeling very weird at this point. I was feeling strange pains and I wasn’t sure if it was hunger or thirst. I wasn’t feeling very thirsty as I’d been drinking at the water stops and I’d been eating, albeit mostly sugar at the stops as well. I started to think how much stomach pain would justify me quitting the ride. I thought about Uber, the taxi-service, and thought how nice it would be to call one to pick me.


Then something clicked in me. Usually when I ride alone I carve up my ride into time segments. I try and drink water every 15 minutes and I try and change hand positions every few minutes as well. I hadn’t been following that because of all the water I’d been drinking at the rest stops and the generally hard pace we’d been riding as a group. As I thought about it I realized I hadn’t peed in a while and thought that might be part of why my stomach feels like crap. So I divided my ride into segments and sipped my water bottle every 15 minutes. I focused less on the mileage on my bike computer which honestly was not helping me because seeing 30 miles to go, then 29 miles to go, etc. was just depressing me and making me think about quitting. I also decided to get into really easy gears for the climbs.


At mile 115 I came to the final rest stop. I found the rest-stop guy chilling and I asked him if he could make me a pb&j because he surprisingly had an unopened loaf of of bread. He said most of the guys had just passed through and no one wanted any food. I thought to myself that’s because they finished all the pb&js at the prior rest-stop. He also told me I was doing well and I was in the top 50% of the riders. That was a little disappointing to me but after my hard KOM efforts it was to be expected. I did something at this point which taught me something. I had my first banana at a rest stop. I love bananas and eat a lot of fruit but I’d had cookies, and bars at all the prior rest-stops because they were there and easy to get and ignored the fruits. I then cut up a second banana and put it in the pb&j that rest stop guy made. A pb&j with a banana is one of my usual pre-ride snacks and I left the rest stop feeling mentally like I was actually beginning a ride. For my next ride long supported ride like this one, I’ll avoid the sugary bars and have fruit instead as my body processes it much better.


It also helped that rest stop guy told me there were 15 mostly downhill miles to go to the finish. I took off and rode for about 3 miles when I was caught by 4 guys including 2 guys from the cycling club Ranchos, a guy in a rapha kit riding a cyclocross bike (hmmm…I’m tempted to get one) and none other than GIANT GUY! Man, Giant Guy is relentless I thought. The lead Rancho guy said “Good job Wolfpack” when they caught me. All the Rancho guys I’ve met are nice people and this guy fit the mould.


So I thought to myself, usually when you are caught by people behind you, by default they are going faster and usually feeling better meaning the question was how long would I be able to stay with these guys. I ended up as third wheel and despite my fatigue I knew I’d have to pull through and take my share of turns at the front because a) I’m wearing a WPC kit and representing our team and b) I ain’t no punk. I took my pulls and Giant Guy took a couple too. We were mostly descending at this point at 20 to 30 mph. We got to a climb and the Rancho guys stood to climb which I knew was a sign of their fatigue. I immediately went into my half marathon mindset and went to the front and set the pace on the climb. We got to the top, descended with the Ranchos at the front and hit another climb. I went to the front again and set the pace. This time I decided to have some fun with them. I was going steadily at 10mph and accelerated just a little bit and took us to 11 mph then to 12 mph. I knew it would cause 1 or 2 people to crack behind me including possibly me – but I thought “whatever” this is why we ride. I was also feeling surprisingly rejuvenated after my pb& banana sandwich from the last rest stop. At the top of the climb I looked back and the group was still together except for Giant Guy who had cracked again.


And that my friends and family was the ride. There were about 3 more uneventful miles afterwhich we reached the finish together. I had a little food and drove home to my wonderful family and had a nice dinner at Urban Plates and then dessert at The Baked Bear, a new ice cream sandwich place. A little more sugar!


Some statistics:

  • Black Canyon Kom section – 5th out of 47 riders today and 11th out of 186 riders all time.
  • Total calories burnt 6220
  • Mostly sugary calories consumed in ride 3,000 to 5,000
  • Total miles ridden 128
  • Miles ridden solo after cracking 30



Palomar – felt just like a half marathon!

25 Feb

“So what is your objective for climbing up Palomar today?” Rick asked me.


“I’m going to try and improve my PR by 10 minutes,” I said jokingly, “Seriously all I am here is for the camaraderie. I’ll just stick with you and then if I feel good around halfway up I’ll go a bit harder”


Palomar mountain is our local hors de categorie climb, it is around 12 miles and takes around an hour to climb. In 2012, after I had been riding a road bike for a year I was invited by some of my friends from the local Tuesday/Thursday ride to go up Palomar mountain. I had come to riding from a running background where I enjoyed climbing. Going up Palomar with that group of around 15 I wasn’t able to keep up with them. It was a long lonely climb and as I approached the top I saw the group heading back to the bottom where they would wait for me.


After what seemed like forever I reached the peak and turned around to descend the mountain. Descending a mountain on a bicycle is an exciting experience particularly when you have the protective bubble around you that comes from inexperience. I descended quickly as I wanted to catch the group. I went around a right corner then a left corner and then rode straight into a guard rail at about 30MPH. My front wheel took most of the force and I instinctively put my helmet forward to stop my forward motion and cracked it on the guard rail. My first ride up Palomar ended with me being driven home in a good samaritan’s car.


I’ve ridden thousands of miles since 2012 and epic rides which are much harder than Palomar. I have improved my bike handling skills, my ascending and descending and gotten fitter and faster. Despite my improvement, every time  my friends suggested a trip up Palomar mountain, I had an excuse not to go. Finally in January 2015, my friend Juan wanted to go up Palomar mountain and I rode with him and a small group which thankfully ended my Palomar phobia.


I discovered that the Palomar ride is very scenic. The climb is tree-lined and it is a constant effort. The temperatures during the San Diego spring are perfect as it is in the 40s on the climb and in the 50s on the descents.


This particular Saturday in February, I invited my friends from my Wolfpack Cycling Club to join me for 3rd time up Palomar. We had 8 people show up. Dan who climbs around 1,000,000 feet a year and his wife Jackie, Eric and Renee, another climbing couple, Travis the mountain biker and his friend Rob. And then finally my main man Rick who I ride with at least once a week.


We started the ride from Wohlford Dog park and rode to Palomar at a mellow pace that kept everyone together.


On our last Palomar ride Rick dropped me halfway up and beat me by about 5 minutes. Today Rick’s plan was to try and improve his performance by around 5%. After about 5 minutes of climbing, we had DC up the road followed by Rick and I with Renee (Eric’s girlfriend) giving chase. The balance of the group was spread out behind us. Unbeknownst to us Travis had a flat tire and Eric stopped to help him out.


About 15 minutes in I decided to go at my own pace and slowly accelerated past Rick and 2 or 3 times Rick caught back up to me and then I would accelerate again. Rick didn’t bother to try and hold my wheel as he was riding at a constant effort as measured by his power meter. Just after the halfway point I pulled away from Rick then all of a sudden I looked back and couldn’t see him behind me.


I decided to try and catch Dan who was ahead of us. Since I don’t ride with a powermeter I tried to maintain the same level of discomfort. As soon as the gradient eased I would feel that I could spin easier and I would change up a gear and do the reverse when the gradient went higher.


After a few minutes I caught up to Dan. Dan’s climbing style is the complete opposite of Ricks. He spins at a high cadence and would ride hard for 3 to 5 minutes then back off for 30 seconds. Then ride hard again. Each time he did that he pulled away from me. And then when he backed off I would catch up to him again and actually pass him. Each time I passed Dan, he said, “Good job”. Once he tried to have a conversation about our families, and I said Dan, not now!


Riding with Dan was great as I ride much better when there is someone next to or around me. The miles ticked down and we approached the top of the climb. As we got down to 2 miles to go to the top I continued to push just a little harder. With the end in sight accelerated away from Dan ultimately beat him by about a bike length. I celebrated the “win” as that was my first time to ever be first up Palomar! Ultimately I improved my time up Palomar by almost 9 minutes! Dan also had a personal record (“PR”) with his effort.


Rick came through about 30 seconds later and congratulated me. He had improved his time by around 2 minutes! I rode back down to get the last cyclists up (Travis and Eric) and rode with them to the top. It was a great ride and I look forward to doing it again in March when Rick says we need to improve again!



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