Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 2011. . .gone!

I just returned home after another training weekend lost to other obligations. . .the second for me in January 2011 alone. So I came home and rode the trainer an hour, the fourth time this month (trainer riding is not something I do).

So I wanted to muse here about our planned training, how that plan looks when we reflect on how things have gone, and how to move forward along the way.

Many of us preparing for the Assaults begin to focus in December or January after some degree of rest in October and November. When January ends, we often see the Assaults much closer than it seemed way back last year. . .

The Assaults loom about three and a half months away, and for me, my miles and my riding failed to meet my plan. I missed two UWBLs, two Saturdays, and rode nearly no regularly planned week of riding due to conflicts and Mother Nature.

First, for me and everyone, I think, when looking back to adjust before moving forward, the key is being realistic. My knee-jerk reaction is to be concerned, but if I am honest, my failure to meet my goals for January is not a red flag. I had good miles, I had a few intense rides, and I managed conflicts and weather as best as possible considering that I, like most of the people preparing for the Assaults, am not a professional athlete. . .I have a job and life is complicated.

Next, I believe it is always a good idea to re-evaluate moving forward based on how close you came to your goals so far.

I am behind on miles and failed to ride in as many organized and intense rides as I wanted, but I need to turn to miles and climbing soon. Over February and March, I can patiently reclaim both the miles and intensity I need. In fact, it is possible that my previous intense Januaries have been too intense since I have completed all of the UWBLs the past few years.

As UWBL draws to an end and the racing season revs up, I usually (and likely will) begin to look for long climbing rides as soon as the weather/temps and road conditions allow (climbs and descents are tricky during winter because of sand and road decay associated with freezing precipitation and cold temps).

For me, I have more and more decided that when I do begin climbing, my focus is on climbing at a pace that matches what I hope to maintain during the serious climbs (Hwy 80, the parkway, the last grunts once you enter the park) after passing through Marion and heading to the top.

But, many riders mix in climbing intervals and even hill jams (for riding locally without mountains). . .maybe our friend Verdell will post soon about climbing intervals and hill jams since he is one of the best around at such suffering.

You need to decide for you, however, how to prepare for an intense climbing century. My tempo climbing has worked for me (I do "organic" intervals by doing high-intensity group rides during the week, but tend to avoid surge-climbing on my long weekend ride).

So I recommend everyone re-assess and progress. . .as the Assaults are approaching faster than you think. . .

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Let's Roll" Ride Recap (part I)

Today, a wonderful group of riders turned out for our first Official Assaults Training Ride!
Click Here for the details on Strava

Dave Proctor built a superb course that included many, many hills in the area, and the Great Escape provided excellent SAG support, rest stops, and a post-ride meal.  - all greatly appreciated!

The Assault on Marion is a difficult ride - not just because of the hills and mountains (which don't really appear until about half-way through), but because of the speed of ride.  Once the group turns onto Parris Bridge Rd, there is almost a 30 mile stretch with no major climbs at all (rollers, yes).  The pace tends to be blisteringly fast!  Many fight to hold on, smoking their legs in the process.

So today we started quickly, setting a quick but steady pace over rolling terrain.  This helps to simulate the Assaults experience.  Of course, we cannot simulate the ride exactly without doing the actual route - nor would we want to in January - but it was a great way for many to prepare for the events!

Remember, at this time of year, you want to be consistent and steady - getting in those base miles and time on the bike.  A few hard rides like today are good for the system as well as good for your mind (a change of pace).  But you do NOT want to be hammering all winter long or you will be over-trained in May.

Just like the Assaults, the beginning of today's ride was quite chilly, whereas the finish was considerably warmer.  True, the Assaults don't actually begin at 40° and end at 60°.  Still there's usually a 20 degree shift throughout the day.  Typically, the temperature at the start is a mild/cool 50-something, Marion is in the upper 70s, but the temperatures often drop back down near the top*.
*It is important that all riders pack a bag of clothing to be shipped to the top - with warm and cold weather clothing, a towel, shoes, etc.  Also - it's a great idea to put all of your belongings in a plastic trash bag inside of the bag in case of foul weather.  More about this later though...
 So, how DO you dress for such a wild swing in temperature and weather?


Think about flexibility and ease of access.  First, you will want to be able to peel off a layer (arm-warmers, knee warmers, gloves, or vest) while riding.  If you have a thick jacket or a long sleeve undershirt, it will be difficult to make small changes along the way.  It would be better to wear two pairs of arm-warmers, peeling them one at a time than to have a full coat that doesn't fit into your jersey pocket.

Whatever you think you might wear - practice it now!  Go out and experiment with different combinations of clothing, and work on taking off your arm-warmers,  vest, leg or knee warmers, etc while moving.  This is NOT recommended on a group ride - practice while you are alone until you are steady and completely comfortable with bike handling.

I am certain that the other bloggers will want to weigh in on the oft asked, "How do I dress for this?" question.  We will return to this topic a few more times this spring as conditions change.  But for now, practice making adjustments and fixes while moving, practicing this while riding alone.


Friday, January 28, 2011


The Assault on Mt. Mitchell®, celebrating its 36th year in 2011, is a remarkable and memorable event for all participants and finishers. The testimony of most contestants places this experience in the realm of a "personal epic" and the event always produces an intimate story which is full of chatter and personal recounting with friends and acquaintances.
The motivation for doing this ride could be your own, a commemoration of a family member who had this event as a life achievement, or celebration of a cancer victim who saw this event as a pinnacle accomplishment.
Stories we seek should involve other riders than yourself, but can include yourself.  Challenge our interests!  We can't wait to hear from you!
Please send your story to:
Dr. Houck M. Medford
Founder and CEO Emeritus, Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation
Documentary Photographer

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Not-so-good Ol' Days

I am sitting here 72 hours away from 50 years old—with an ice pack on the ITB of my left knee after a grueling 8 days of riding. I missed a Saturday in early January for rare weekend work (and am about to miss three days this coming weekend for a state conference) and suffered like the rest of the South through an unexpected and lingering snowstorm.

Don't know why my ITB is throbbing.. .unless you want to take a peak at the suffer-fest initiated by Bruce and Jae (and 9 more of my closest friends) on January 15. This was a serious flogging over the ugly and relentless rollers along HWY 176.

And then UWBL yesterday:


More and more, when I glance around during rides—especially the ones that turn me inside-out and render me nearly silent (I said "nearly")—I start identifying the riders around by age—Brian in his 20s, Wade and Peter about 30, Tim and Wayne nearly a decade younger than I am. . .Well, the lists gets pretty grim for me (thank goodness for Richard White, Paul LeFrancois, and Steve Wagoner).

Steve Verdell is a few years younger than I am, but even when we were young, I didn't really deserve to sit in his draft. So it isn't really about age; except for me, I am riding to the end of my 40s as the strongest cyclist I have ever been—with my three best Assault times (5:57, 6:09, 6:10) all since I turned 46—although that still leaves me out of my league when I ease to the front of UWBL or take all my pulls along the attack zones during the Cancun ride. . .

Which brings me to what old men do. . .tell stories about the good ol' days. But I am going to exercise poetic license here. . .this story, as you will see, is about the not-so-good ol' days.

I started riding about 27 or 28 years ago, and in those early days, I rode alone. My usual ride was a 15-mile out-and-back route from Fairforest to the end of Old Anderson Mill Road (for locals, I considered that road to have two "climbs"). If I rode the15 miles in an hour, I was elated.

Over the next 5 or 6 years, I eventually joined local rides, but as I look back today, I wonder why anyone in the area remained a cyclist after joining one of our organized rides.

Here's a snapshot:

Many years ago, The Great Escape sat on HWY 29, a little above where Taco Bell is now, in a renovated convenience store. Spartanburg had the Bicycle Gallery on the east side as well. The Great Escape ride fluctuated, but was usually on Thursdays once most of us went to the Donaldson Center practice races on Tuesdays.

The route back then went straight out from GE, crossing over I-85 and rolling straight to New Cut Road, where we turned left and headed north to HWY 357 before turning left and weaving in by the Hollywild Zoo and the landfill for a couple finishing climbs including goat hill.

For those accustomed to A, B, and C rides and an interesting concept called "regrouping," the late 1980s and early 1990s had none of that. And "gap" was a word I didn't hear on a ride until the twenty-first century.

The flogging in those days began once a tire rolled out of the parking lot. Riders were even dropped before the railroad tracks at the Hotspot (yes, less than two miles). And if those dropped riders had to stop for the red light, well, we wouldn't see them until the next ride.

My horror as a new and much weaker rider was when we turned onto New Cut Road. Just past the Adidas plant to our right, the road turned up for a gradual incline that appeared to be flat road for many on the ride, except me. Most rides, I watched Verdell, Proctor, Tim (who I started riding with when he was in high school), Art and Andrew, as well as an assortment of riders who have drifted into and out of our local riding core for the past two to three decades, ride away while I gasped for air and resigned myself to once again ride 30 of the 35-mile loop alone.

And the parking lot at GE was empty when I finally got there. No one was heading for Mexican food and beer. In fact, we may have not even spoken to each other during the ride. . .(I was swearing silently to myself, I know, but can't recall much talking otherwise.)

But there is one person I omitted above—Fred Gobillot. He was the primary engine in the flogging. Fred was apt to ride around the pack in someone's yard to our right as we headed out from GE. . .if we weren't up to maximum speed in a few hundred yards, Fred was going to make us or simply ride off alone.

I genuinely don't know why I kept going back for these rides, but I did. And one week when I made it a little farther than usual, after Fred hammered everyone off his wheel, he looped back and told me to sit on his wheel to pull me back to the group. It was much harder to hang on that I believe he understood, but I did it. . .with Fred chewing me out the whole way. Apparently, in order not to get dropped, all I had to do was speed up—this was Fred's blunt and clear message.

After we reached the group, Fred rolled effortlessly back to the front, tightened the screws and popped me off the back again. And this went on for weeks.

I can't recall exactly when it happened (remember I am getting old), but I do recall the week I made it to HWY 357 with the front group without Fred helping. I sucked wheel the whole way, but I was there when we turned left and headed in (with no concern about the riders littered along New Cut Road).

And this is how I learned to ride—partly as a maturing cyclist (getting stronger year after year) and partly psychologically. Not getting dropped is about attitude and fitness.

While Fred was flogging me and berating me on Thursdays, I was also going to Donaldson and making it a little farther each week until I knew when I went to Donaldson that I was never going to win (I finished in the break away once back in those days), but I was never going to get dropped either.

I sit here 72 hours away from 50 years old. I really appreciate the torture Fred and my other cycling friends heaped on me in those first 5 or 10 years.

But this is no reminiscing about the good ol' days. I am glad to be riding still with many of the same people from my first decade of cycling.

But I'll take now without hesitation, and I am hopeful for many more years just like now. . .despite the ice packs and the growing number of riders on local rides who are half my age. . .

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

What's the Point? (part 1)

  • Bikes don't have brake lights.
  • Pointing out a hole as you pass it means the rider behind you has already hit it.
  • It's not just Courtesy, it's Safety.
  • Give a Shout & Point it Out.
After a grueling Upstate Winter Bike League ride yesterday, I felt totally drained and exhausted.  The legs were feeling great at the start despite the chilly 28º temperatures and icy breeze, but as the day wore on... my body crumpled, and my motivation collapsed.  - nearly totally bonked by the end.

To view complete details of yesterday's ride with comparisons, click here.

Of course, this was no Assault on Mt. Mitchell, and it was slower and flatter than the Assault on Marion... but it was certainly a test of willpower.  After 2.5 hours, we stopped at a store for food/drink.  At that point, I ate what I could (some of my food was a little too frozen to chew), drank what I could (snagging a left-over Coca-Cola from a buddy of mine), and stretched as much as I could in the time given.  Yet when we started back, my muscles burned so deeply that I thought my femurs were on fire!

Two hours later when we finally rolled into the parking lot... I was defeated.  Everyone else seemed okay (or at least better off than myself) - a complete reversal from 2 weeks ago, but I wondered to myself... "Why?  Why do we do this to ourselves, and then return - again and again? Why do we slay ourselves in the name of fun?"  Of course, this is a difficult question to answer... and one which will hopefully be answered through all of these posts (and I will say a little bit about that in Part 2, for sure).

Thankfully, we didn't have to contend with blustery 30+mph winds this time.  Two weeks ago was dangerous and stressful due to conditions.  But this ride was also incredibly stressful!  Again: Why?

What made this ride any more stressful or difficult than any of my other group rides?

One of the primary issues that we had yesterday was a lack of communication.

Just like The Assaults®, there were cyclists at nearly every level of experience participating.  There were novices, mid-pack racers, weekend warriors, and at the front (or in the mix) were Cat1/Pro racers!  A wide range of abilities, mixing together, coursing down the road at high speeds... is a recipe for danger.

And just like The Assaults, the pace was fast - far faster than the usual Wednesday night jaunt through the county that many of us are used to.  Even drafting while sitting-in pushed riders to their limits.  It's good practice to push oneself beyond a comfortable level - that's how we learn and grow.  However, health and safety must always come first (whether you are on a group ride or in the gym, etc.).

With so many on the edge of their abilities, mistakes are bound to happen.  People lose focus, make mistakes, overreact, and bad things follow.

It is incredibly important to communicate completely with our fellow riders.  Yesterday was not a race.  The Assaults are not races.  There is no prize at the finish, and there is no corporate sponsorship deal for crossing the line in front of anyone else.  This sport is one of the few civil sports left!  Good sportsmanship is still highly valued - there is no pride in defeating someone because they had a flat tire, a mechanical, or even a crash.  We've all seen it in the Tour de France: the Best wait for each other and help each other out.  (The consensus is: the handful who act selfishly, do not deserve the prizes they claim to have won.)

After the snow storm that blanketed the southeast a few weeks ago, our local roads were in severe disrepair.  Debris, broken and shredded pavement littered the roads, and we could never be sure where the next hazard would pop up.  For this reason, the people at the front must always be alert, watching for these tire-biting, wheel-smashing, cavernous potholes.  And, rather than swerving around them at the last second - the leaders should glide around them, taking the line of a smooth arc such that the riders behind can follow, and may also see the debris or hole well in advance.

Still, the most important visual communication is The Point.  (I will discuss aural communication later.)  When approaching a hole ...or gravel ...or a turn ...or glass ...or anything that can cause danger and chaos in the peloton:

"give a shout and point it out"

People in the front need to carve a path around while pointing (clearly, and not just a small hand gesture from the bars).  Perhaps more importantly: people in the middle must pass that information along!  True, some of us find ourselves chatting while riding along.  But that does not mean that we can't pass along a Point.

Again, it's not just courtesy, it's safety.

How many text while driving? How hard would it be to point out a hole before riding over/by it? 

"Wag of the Finger:"  If you are an elite athlete or top racer, please don't act "too cool" to help those around you.  Even the top European Pros point out road hazards during the races.  Nothing is accomplished by this self-centered and elitist behavior - the sport of cycling is better than that, so should you be.

As I hop down off of my soapbox for a moment and massage my aching quads and stiff shoulders, I think back to the ride... I was almost hit by a car because nobody relayed an important message about an upcoming turn.  I was almost taken down in a crash because a rider hit a pile of gravel which was never pointed out.  I was almost hit by a car when making a turn and no one clearly relayed the message of oncoming traffic.  More than one of my friends related stories of being cut-off due to people dodging potholes and debris - again not having been pointed out by the riders up front.  And more than a few riders got flat tires (some double flats) due to glass, sand, or holes in the road - none of which was ever pointed out!

  •  Certainly, there is the argument that to avoid all of these incidents, one should ride closer to the front.  Pelotons often sort themselves out, with the strongest and most experiences riders on the front, so much of the antics described occur near the rear.  This is something of a myth: often, it is the case that avid cyclists fight for a higher position (which causes issues in and of itself) and place themselves farther up than their skill allows because they feel unsafe near the back - something that communication could help alleviate.  I spent an equal amount of time at the front as near the back yesterday, and the problems were uniformly distributed.  One vehicle incident happened while I was near the front, one while I was nearer the back.

It was a stressful ride, and I am happy that next week I will be at the Great Escape for our first Official Training Ride for the Assaults:  Let it Roll!



Quick Note about Stress:   Admittedly, I showed up to the ride with work and personal stuff on my mind.  I knew I hadn't hydrated or eaten very well this week, and my sleep patterns had been off kilter for while.  So, going into the ride, my body and mind were already stressed.  This undoubtedly played into it all - but the other factors mentioned above exacerbated the strain to the point of total mental and physical exhaustion.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Don't Blink

"But I don't have any anxietaaaaayyahhhhh...."  Drool.  Slobber.  At least I didn't think I had any anxiety.  The anesthesiologist had squeezed a syringe of drool inducing elixir into my IV and I remember being whisked down the hall on my speed racer gurney, feeling the G-forces as we screamed out of turn four and onto the homestretch... and really that's about it.  I never even saw my surgeon and I'm sure that's part of their plan.  I woke from a dreamless state to see people staring expectantly at me and I think I immediately tried to feed the elephants some fish and salsa.  I'm sure I still had drool and confusion all over me.

My doc was already in his next surgery so I didn't get an explanation from him on how it went but I was told what to do and when to do it by the capable staff right before they made a physical therapy appointment for me for the following day.  They wrote all the pertinent info down and stapled it to my hand so I wouldn't lose it and then I climbed stiffly and slowly onto my elephant's majestic howda, wrapped my shabby tattered cape of dignity around me, and lumbered home.

I was happy with how little pain I was feeling, especially since the pain med prescription they gave me turned out to be $330.  The pharmacist was sympathetic, I believe, because of the way she phrased her asking of me if I already had a second mortgage.  "Supposed to be some new formula that doesn't make you sleepy," she smiled, in a sad way, watching as I slid my pinched-in-half pennies off the counter and back into my change purse.  I remembered telling my doc in a pre-op consult that I had to work 3rd shift in a couple of days so he must have prescribed the new stuff thinking it would help me out.  Thanks Doc!  So instead of getting a silo full of generic Vicodin for $14, I didn't get anything.  Which turned out well since the pain associated with the surgery was virtually nil and entirely bearable without any meds at all!  That's what I shouted silently to myself for the first couple of days, anyway.
My leg was swelling nicely by the end of the day and I kept it elevated and covered with an ice pack as instructed.  This was to be my default position for the next week.  You can do a lot of things from this position but after the first day, none of them are comfortable.

The trips to the physical therapist were an adventure of trying to fold my leg into the car (it seems it would have been easier to just fold it forward instead of backward) and sitting on a pilates ball as I tried to balance on my damaged knee while throwing an 8 pound ball into a vertically mounted trampoline and catch it with one hand as it ricocheted back at me at (7 consecutive tour wins+{700c rims (x-56cm center to center)} where x is the speed of light) miles per hour.  My therapist watched closely and I made my first throw under pressure to prove I could hit the infinitesimally small square target in the center of the trampoline and thereby prove that yes, I was a graduate from man school.  I triangulated, guessed, and heaved.  Much to my surprise and to his, I'm sure, the ball began to boing deep into the fabric in the precise center of that tiny square, stretching it farther and farther while in a split second I thought a whole paragraph of something like "I knew I could do it and probably never will again but how do you like them apples!  Chest beating noise.  Tarzan howl.  Et cetera, et cetera."
Everything was in slow motion as the ball came to a stop at maximum fabric and spring tension and as it began to move back towards me out of the deep pocket it had created, I distinctly remember starting to blink.  Then something in my hindbrain screamed in a terrified manner "don't finish that blink!!!" and somehow, startled, I didn't, and I still thank myself for saving myself from the folly of blinking.  In the end I avoided the broken nose but not the scrambling, legs up, indignant tumble induced by trying to catch a rubber cannonball shot out of a nuclear particle accelerator.  I still say the high pitched squeaking noise was my shoes slipping on the rubber mat even though it might have resembled a bleating squeal as I tried to dodge the infernal projectile. 

I'll have more actually useful information later.

Steve Verdell 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beginning the Ride Back

The ride (click to view) was supposed to start at 10am but by 9:45 I knew that it wasn't going to go as advertised.  Due to ice on country roads there would be no big gathering in Greenville to keep this group thinned out and it seemed a week of being pent up in our houses brought out everyone who had a bike.  I didn't count, but we looked like a swarm of hornets as we pulled out of the YMCA parking lot.  I was hoping for a ride on the more leisurely end of the 17-18 mph advertised pace but with the brisk 32 degree air almost puffy with the aroma of liniments and oils that would normally be reserved for an early spring race - I knew I was in for it. 
Back in early October I torqued my right knee.  After a week of fretting I decided to go ahead and participate in a one day 240 mile ride to the beach.  The combination of the injury and the mileage on that day resulted in me having part of my meniscus and some cartilage removed in mid December and now I am on a plan of my own making to get over the surgery and back into the Upstate cycling scene. 
So, armed with a jersey pocket full of foolish optimism and a brick hard energy bar, here I was scrolling down the road with a lot of folks I pretty much hadn't seen on the road since October.  My goal for the day was to ride with the group for motivation and stay within the pain limits given to me by my surgeon.  My last training was three days ago on rollers with some pain in the 2 range while standing and no pain while spinning seated.  Total workout was 30 minutes and it gave me my first real confidence boost since the injury almost three months ago.

Spinning an easy gear as we negotiated down Pine Street in a big wad of colors and laughter brought back all the good feelings I associate with cycling, especially with all the "glad to have you back" comments and the "how's the knee" questions.  After 10 miles of verbally catching up with some of the guys the pace was faster and the group was split up and I was still having fun in the middle as I had barely encroached on the pain limit my doctor had set.  My plan was to just bail out and ride at my own pace if my knee hurt.
The reason I came out, even though the ride seemed a brutishly long 60 miles at this point in my recovery, was that I could stop at any time and meet up with the group on their way back to town as it was a straight out and back course on a wide highway due to the ice on all the secondary roads.  Perfect for me if the pace and the pain was right.
At the 30 mile turnaround the ride leader decided to split the group into A's and B's since there were a lot of guys struggling to hold back on the reins.  Feeling fairly confident with the lack of pain I decided on the A group.  Within about 30 feet I realized the maelstrom I was struggling to hang on to was going to be humbling.
Seriously, only about 30 feet.
A few of us chatted our way out of the parking lot and noticed the group was already lined out single file down the road.  They hadn't wasted a single second once let loose by the ride leader to go on about their merry warp speed way. 
During this section my pain went above the recommended limit by a hair.  I'm thinking a 4 or so and I had a limit of 3 - but who can say really.  It didn't last long and dropped off sharply even though I maintained my effort.  (By maintaining my effort I mean I was letting off the effort slightly to see how the pain responded and then increasing the effort slowly as I evaluated the pain.)  That seemed to work okay as I found a pace without increasing the pain that let me slowly catch the group with the help of a couple of other guys.
Once in the group, I was never comfortable with the high pace, and knew I would not stay with them long - but I decided to stay as long as I could if it wasn't a detriment to the knee.  I focused on maintaining a high cadence and taking deep breaths to try to keep relaxed but soon my shoulders were bunched up in a knot and my thighs followed right after. There's only so much you can do with virtually no miles in three months and soon I was idly discarded and blowing around on the road, off the back, like a losing lottery ticket. 
I was elated!  My limit wasn't knee pain but a lack of training miles.  I hope this pattern will continue until I don't get dropped any more.
I thanked Peter probably too many times for riding back in with me at a leisurely and then tough 16 miles an hour.  I was worn completely out with a couple of miles to go.  Once back at the car I strapped on an ice pack I had in the trunk.  I had taken two Aleve pills an hour before the start so I didn't take anything else after the ride.  I'll report back later with details on how my knee feels after this tough day!

Steve Verdell

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Mechanical!"—On the Road and at Home

Boyd's latest blog made me think about another kind of preparation that must happen well before the day of the Assaults—your own mechanical ability both at home and on the road.

Most of us will rightfully leave bicycle mechanical work to the professionals: your local bicycle shop. But a few mechanical skills need to be practiced at home and often because you may be confronted with them on the road. And on game day, a few mechanical skills can save your ride (FYI. . .My "best time" on the Assault from the early 1990s, that lasted until a few years ago, included TWO flats—one on Bill's hill and one at the base of Hwy 80).

First, everyone should know how to change tires, including using the typical equipment you'll use on the road (such as a CO2 cartridge instead of the floor pump). Installing a tire while making sure the tube isn't pinched or installed carelessly takes PRACTICE. Ideally, you should be able to remove and install a tire with NO tire tool—but you need to practice enough so that you can at least install the tire without a tire tool. The basic technique is using the palm of your GLOVED hands to roll the last 2-3 inches of bead into the proper seat beneath the rim lip. This takes installing many tires, and you should begin practicing well before any event.

Practicing tire installation means little, however, if you are not properly equipped on the road. Your saddle pack should have tubes (be sure to have the right length stem if you have a unique rim depth—best strategy is always buy 48 mm - 60 mm stem lengths). Have at least one, but usually two, tire levers that are solid, wide, and have a hook for the spoke to help remove tight tires. Have 1 or 2 CO2 cartridges that match your CO2 head (I recommend a screw-on head only with threaded cartridges for less space in the bag). And have boots for ripped sidewalls.

To make boots, the next time you remove an old tire, cut 5 or 6 sections of about 1-2 inches each; then, cut off the beads so that you can use these as sidewall boots in case of a tear. Emergency boots include a folded dollar bill, an empty gel pack, and duct tape (see below).

Next, know how your drivetrain works—chains (do you use a unidirectional chain?), front and rear derailleurs (including cables), and brakes (including cables). You should have a good multi-tool in the saddle pack that has all the tools YOUR bike needs (check allen wrench sizes needed, and try to find a tool with an 8 mm allen for the bottom bracket; check screws—phillips or flathead?).

Even if your local bike shop installs and adjusts your bicycle, know what the adjusting screws and barrels on your derailleurs do (what are the results of each direction of turning) and make sure they are all workable (adjustment barrels are notorious for seizing if you don't have them lubricated and fail to turn them from time to time).

Also carry a spoke wrench (again, that is specific to YOUR wheelset), and have some knowledge of using the wrench to make a wheel rideable if you break a spoke.

A couple neat tricks that can save you on a solo ride or on event day include duct-taping a shifter cable under your saddle (the duct tape can serve as a boot) and carrying a KMC (or appropriate brand and size) quicklink for broken chains. Of course this means, you need to be sure to carry a multi-tool with a chain tool (again that is the right size for the brand and speed chain you use).

Useful guides to learning basic repair/maintenance:

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Equipment Preparation (part I)

Chances are right now if you look outside your window you are seeing a bunch of snow, unless you live in Florida where you only deal with snowbirds (far more dangerous by the way). While some of us have been cooped up inside the house since the "great snowstorm of '11" hit, it seems like spring will not get here soon enough. Soon you'll be riding outside, training hard, and looking forward to that last 25 miles of Mt. Mitchell.

One of the things that you can do now is to start planning on equipment selection and what you are going to use on the day of the event. The first and most important things to remember is to have your bike thoroughly inspected and tuned up. This is not something that should be done a day or two before Mitchell. If your bike needs a new chain and you just throw it on right before the ride, it can be skipping around all day and mis-shifting. This can make for a very long 102 miles. Some of the most important things to check to make sure your bike is as prepared as your body are:
1. chain
2. cassette
3. derailleur cables
4. tires.

As for chain and cassette here's a tip. It's a lot easier to change a $35 chain every few thousand miles than to have to completely change the chain, cassette, and chainrings. If your chain completely wears out, it's going to also wear out the cassette and chainrings. Then when you put on that nice new chain, it will not mesh well with your old cassette and chainrings. Regularly changing the chain before it gets worn out can save you headache out having to completely change out the drivetrain. Plus, a new chain just feels so sweet!

As for tires, you are going to want fairly new tires for the ride. By new I do not mean that you should be mounting them on your wheels at 5:30am on the 16th. A good idea would be about a week before the ride to go to your local bike shop and have them do a complete overhaul, change out the chain and put new tires on. It may set you back a few bucks but you'll be able to ride in confidence knowing that your equipment won't fail you. . .hopefully your legs won't either.

Many of you are planning on upgrading wheels or even your bike before the Mitchell. If you are looking at possibly getting a set of event specific wheels and wondering what might be the best option. . .well you'll just have to stay tuned for my next entry. I figure if news stations can sensationalize a weather report, I might as well do the same thing for a cycling blog.

"Wondering about the best wheel selection for Mitchell? Tune in next week for a report that can save you hours. . .  even days!"

Boyd Johnson

Assault Training: Roadblocks and Decisions

So you made the decision to train for one of the 2011 Assaults, and even set a date for starting your committed training—maybe January 1.

And now you have found yourself under snow and ice (that's the case in SC and 48 other states) as you sit in front of your computer and read emails announcing the training series. This leads me to offer a few ideas about roadblocks to training and decisions about training schedules.

Today I will be mounting the trainer for an hour for the third day in a row—equaling the number of times I have ridden a trainer in total over the past three or four years (Tuesday I rode while watching STRIPES, and Wednesday was GOOD WILL HUNTING). As my cycling friends know, I detest trainers and working out inside. I ride during the day (fortunate to have a profession that allows for this) and even join the many night rides that are usually offered in the Spartanburg, SC, area during the months we are trapped waiting for daylight savings time.

As I have posted before, I believe a key to cycling training is a dedicated pattern to riding. Cycling is a cumulative sport; I am currently in a pattern of riding that has included riding 4-5 days a week year-around since December 2003. I have been riding for almost thirty years now, as well. I benefit from cumulative fitness, riding skills and knowledge, and routine.

One recent addition to my cycling commitment is a daily stretching routine, one I have learned from Dave Kingsbury in Greenville, SC. I visiting Dave every 3 weeks or some for therapy, and I stretch each day to support my cycling and overall health.

Many cyclists lift weights or run, especially throughout the winter—so everyone should seek some cycling-specific additions to their training as alternatives when roadblocks pop up.

But, as with nutrition, I can't tell anyone else a definite plan for training—or a strategy for overcoming roadblocks and barriers to training.

Except you need to make a plan, recognizing that the plan will have to be adjusted from time to time.

This is how I teach people to teach as well. To train for a cycling event OR teach well, you need a purposeful plan and you need the ability to adjust when necessary.

And that leads me to my final thought—what should you do about the organized training series (or any organized rides) during your training plan for one of the Assaults?

Consider the pros and cons.

You definitely need to do several group rides and regularly, both for fitness and for bicycle handling (increasing your comfort with intense pack riding). For me, riding intensely with other strong riders pushes me harder than I can push myself.

But as a frame of reference, I have chosen both to do and to skip the infamous Marquis de Sade ride that is a traditional part of the Assault training series. On more than one occasion, I have ridden really badly at the MdS—getting dropped from the group I usually stay with, even on climbing rides. The MdS route doesn't match my riding style (I climb OK, but am notoriously bad at grunt hills). I have had great climbing days up Hwy 215 on our Table Rock century loop and barely completed MdS.

So, what I want to emphasize is this: Just because somebody you know or respect says, "The MdS is the best training ride for the Assault," doesn't mean that it is for YOU. If you choose to do it (or any organized ride), fine. If you have a bad day, so what? Learn something from the bad day. If you do another ride that better suits your needs, also fine.

Beware peer-pressure!

Now, group rides are by their nature roadblocks themselves to individual needs and programs. To meet your own cycling needs, group rides often either force riders to set personal goals aside or individual riders find themselves disrupting the group rides by following their own needs instead of the announced guidelines from the ride leaders.

Before committing to any organized ride or series of rides, consider your goals (How are you building base miles? How well have you followed your plan? How are you targeting your climbing rides?) and how the organized rides fit your plans and needs.

I tend to sacrifice personal goals for group rides because I enjoy riding with groups and tend to avoid highly structured training (such as intervals). For me, riding with groups and allowing group dynamics to provide me base miles, climbing, and intensity works for me—but it may not for you.

A final thought about roadblocks and decisions: My cycling friends and I have noticed lately that the ideal compromise between riding alone and riding in large groups is a smaller group of about 6-10 riders with about the same ability and goals for riding.

When you make your decision about training, you may find support and structure from creating a small group of like-minded cyclists to guide your training.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Monday, January 10, 2011

White Knuckles and Hot Soup

After a brutish ride last weekend (click here to see the details), I am reminded of the difficulties when riding in a peloton of more than 100 people in conditions such as they were.  Many of us have read the "How To" guides, the tips and tricks of a pace-line, the group etiquette, and all the articles that surround group riding.  But when it comes to extreme elements (or extreme reactions to those elements), we all tend to lose our focus.  Last Saturday was a wonderfully grim example. 
Rag dolls strewn around the table, slowly warming ourselves with spicy tortilla soup, we ached and stretched our shoulders & necks.  This ride had been a test of will and of character. Nothing out there was impossible... but it had certainly seemed so at the time.

I looked around at my friends at the table.  Vacant stares and hollowed eyes, as though veterans of some great battle, they were defeated.

We sat quietly while the soup worked its magic.

The winds had blustered and blown, with gusts upwards of 30mph.  Temperatures had barely broken freezing (thankfully, there was no precipitation).  Still, crosswinds and headwinds (ne'er a tailwind!) battered us all day.  And yet, the leaders - the men up front - drove on and on with frightening speed.  Despite those great invisible gale forces constantly bearing down on us, we rode 82 miles at an incredible 20mph average!

This is the kind of ride one simply survives.

In these conditions, I had to keep reminding myself of some of "the rules" of riding.   For instance:
1.)  When the wind comes from the front left, go to the yellow line.  This enables the people behind you to form an echelon (diagonal draft).  In the same case, if you're drafting and find yourself on the white line, directly behind someone else... again, move into the wind.  Rotate, take turns, pull and share the workload.  Form multiple echelons so that everyone can draft, and gaps don't open up.  Be considerate, and work together - it's the only way to ensure your own safety and continued participation.

2.)  Cold weather and high winds tend to make people tense up.  The stiffer your arms and neck, the more likely that you will overreact - or be unable to react - when the situation suddenly changes (like a gust, a hole in the road, or a crash).  Besides, after 4 hours of a hunched shoulders and locked elbows, and you'll be so sore you won't want to ride the bike ever again!

During that hellish ride, my hands cramped. I was gripping the bars so tightly that they hurt - a white knuckled reaction to gusting wind and chaotic riders.  "Stop it," I kept telling myself over and over, shaking out my hands.  "Don't squeeze the bars - hold the bars!"

3.)  Eat.  Eat and Drink.  Keep fueling and refueling despite it all.  You sweat and you burn calories in cold weather just the same, so be certain to get it back in.

Thankfully, I did remember this important rule, and even though it was difficult to let go the handlebars while rolling, I managed to squeeze in a few gels and bars.  On a ride like this, the best time to eat is at stop signs or traffic lights.  Many experienced riders bonked that day.  They hit the wall because they simply didn't remember to eat!

That night, I was exhausted... and thankful for my warm bed.

-Peter Kay

The What and How of Event-Day Nutrition: The "B" Word

To follow up on Boyd's post and that I heard the "B" word  ("bonk") from several cycling friends after the January 8, 2011, UWBL, I wanted to offer a few suggestions about the what and how of nutrition when competing or participating in a targeted event.

The bonking at the UWBL can be traced to the intensity of the ride combined with the extreme conditions—cold and wind. Part of proper cycling nutrition is obviously choosing the right fuels—foods, gels, and liquids. I have stated over and over when offering advice that YOUR nutritional needs are YOURS; thus, there simply is no template anyone can offer a cyclist. What works for me may or may not work for you so the Golden Rule of "what" to use for nutrition is TO EXPERIMENT FOR MONTHS BEFORE THE EVENT and to do that experimentation under conditions similar to the targeted event.

For many years, my cycling circle has ridden a hellish century leaving from Table Rock State Park, winding up Hwy 215 (wicked climb), and then rolling along the Blue Ridge Parkway to descend into Brevard before climbing the backside of Caesar's Head and dropping back to Table Rock. This ride, since the pack is often only about a dozen riders, is much more demanding in some respects that the Assault on Mt. Mitchell; it provides the exact conditions under which a rider can address fitness along with what to eat and drink.

Something people tend to ignore, however, is the HOW of proper nutrition. At the windy and cold UWBL on January 8, many riders likely—since it is early season and many are not yet as fit as they want and not quite as sharp with their large-pack handling skills—failed to eat and drink often enough because so much of their focus was on not getting dropped, not crashing, and clinching every muscle of their body unnecessarily (wasting even more energy).

This leads to a second Golden Rule about nutrition: Practice how you eat and drink under intense riding conditions.

All cyclists must be able to eat, drink, and adjust clothing while in close conditions. . .and do so safely. Fishing out food and reaching for the water bottle with heavy gloves and negotiating a vest or jacket over your jersey are challenging maneuvers in a bicycle when you are in close quarters; when the event is intense of the weather conditions extreme, the challenge is magnified.

The only solution is practice. What hand is better for you to keep on the bars, where should you keep that hand, and what is required for you to take out food or grab a bottle without dropping something important?

First, hand position on a bicycle is HUGE. You should always keep your weight evenly distributed on a bicycle (most of the distribution is best central on the frame and NOT leaning into the bars). When you leave one hand on the bars and twist your body (to grab food or look back), you tend to weight the bars on the hand remaining on the bar—and weight is how bicycles are primarily steered. IF YOU DON'T MONITOR THE WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION, YOU ARE GUARANTEED TO SWERVE.

And you want always to maintain a straight line, always avoiding any sudden movement left, right, or lurching forward/suddenly slowing.

Eating is problematic for hand position. Leave your hand on the hood, and you risk the swerve, but maintain the ability to use your brake. Place your hand toward the stem, and you achieve the weight distribution to stay straight (if you are alone on the back of a group and need to look back for a car or dropped rider, dropping back and leaving a hand near the stem is a great technique for not swerving), but lose the ability to brake.

Thus, in a tight pack going at pace, you need to learn to stay straight, keeping a hand on the hood, and grabbing food at regular intervals. The same rule applies for drinking. You must learn to drink while maintaining pedaling, pace, and line.

You can and should practice all this alone if you are new to the sport, but as you improve, this must be a part of your training, especially on intense training rides.

Nutrition, then, is about what and how—and ultimately to have the event-day performance you want, you need to be prepared, you need to be able to everything as if it is second nature, and you need above all else to be relaxed.

Practice, practice, practice.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Weight update

As a follow up to my earlier post, here is a great discussion of diet, etc., as you seek your optimal riding weight:

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Going to the Bonk

What a bonk looks like!
We've all been there before. On a hard ride and then all of a sudden something happens. The lights go out, gas tank runs empty, Elvis leaves the building. On a ride like Mt. Mitchell bonking can become a very real possibility for everybody. For myself the past two years I have completely bonked at exactly the same spot (just before the right turn onto the road into the park). Last year was so bad that at a couple points I had no clue where I was and almost swerved off the road in a delirium.

The main thing you can do to prevent the bonk is to stay on top of the fuels. There are plenty of rest area along the course at Mitchell (10 to be exact). These are great places to refuel and keep calories coming into your body. For those of us trying to cross the line in less than 5 hours, we tend to skip all the rest stops. This means I carry about 2000 calories worth of food in my jersey pockets, the problem is during the event I'll burn close to 5000 calories! Somewhere in there, something has to give. Hopefully this next year I'll be able to prepare a little better, conserve some energy during the ride, and make it to the top without completely falling apart.

Now, as many of you know, bonking is a pretty awful feeling. Not being able to put any power to the pedals, feeling like you are outside your body looking in at someone else pedaling, it's something that most people hope to avoid. But you should all try to make it there at least once before Mt. Mitchell. For those who think I am crazy there's a purpose to this. There are many telltale signs that a bonk may be approaching. If you learn your body, you learn how far you can push. . .and how far you can't! If you have never bonked in training, you may not know during Mt. Mitchell that a bonk is on the verge of happening within the next half hour. The last 25 miles are pretty much all uphill, that is a long time to go when you are completely cracked.

If you bonk (or come very close to it) a couple times in training you'll start to learn when you'll need to stop and refuel. Sure you may only start to feel tired at the rest stop in Marion, but if you don't refuel there you may be completely gone by the time you reach the parkway.

Now, one of my favorite things to do is make people go hard. Whether they are riding with me, or when I was coaching them I loved to see the human element to suffering and pushing to a new level. Most of us can do way more than we ever thought possible, this May you'll have your opportunity to challenge that!


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Word about Individualized Training

So often, people ask me specific questions about their own training, and just as often I find myself giving the same generic answers.  The reason for this, I find, is that there is no one answer for how to train.  Every athlete is different, and every week presents its own challenges.  Circumstances change, goals change, and life sometimes "gets in the way" of our favorite rides.

It's important to be flexible when laying out a plan for yourself and to practice patience when executing it.  You cannot always get the time in when & where you like - so be sure to compensate for that somewhere along the way.  Be careful that you don't simply try to add miles/time to "make up" for a missed day.  This is the shortest path to dreaded Over-Training!

There are many 10 and 12 week training plans out there (books and online), and these are a great way to start your training.  You can learn a lot from these, but as I mentioned before - you must be careful to avoid over-training or even under-training.  You must be flexible, make physical and mental assessments ("Is this really working for me?"  "How do I feel today?" etc.), and do your research!  Look around - not for the "best deals," but for the best sources.

One answer, of course, is to find a good coach who will know you.  Someone with whom you can interact, give feedback, and who will create a fluid training plan, changing with you and motivating you along the way.

Ultimately however, it is you who is pedaling the bike and putting in the efforts.  Hold yourself accountable.  Give yourself a firm (but attainable) goal, keeping it in sight every day.  Ride regularly.  Get in the efforts, and above all else... remember to enjoy it!

Consistency is key.
-Peter Kay

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Resting and recording in 2011

The 2011 cycling year kicked off with the Terry'sTaproom Century, in a heavy fog and threatening rain. . .so we completed a metric century instead. We completed 64 miles with about a 19 mph average—not a bad day of training.

The beginning of a new year often inspires people to start, renew, or continue their exercise commitments, and for those preparing for the 2011 Assaults, it is likely we are all beginning to think seriously about our training.

A few more thoughts as we build past starting and get deeper into our training.

First, I try to find programs and tools to record and manage my data for riding. I use a Garmin 500 and the Garmin Connects provided—along with MapMyRide—to record data and courses, but I also found a detailed log that is designed for runners but has a cycling feature that allows you to record riding data and separate bicycle information:

You can probably already tell that I use and evaluate my data at a much more low key and intuitive level than Boyd, but I do think monitoring data is important to knowing yourself as a cyclist in order to improve, be healthy, and evolve.

Besides recording data, I want to emphasize something here that is one of my real weaknesses—resting.

I was tempted on 12/31/2010 to join my friends on a Friday ride designed in case the January 1 rain came early. I had ridden three days in a row with high miles for week-day rides (42, 64, 31) so I was simply tired, and I decided not to ride Friday.

In 2011, I plan to listen to my body and keep an eye on the data I record throughout the increased training for the season as I prepare for the Assault and make sure I rest. My time for 2010 was my third best ever, but I was clearly stronger than I have ever been in almost 30 years of riding. I think looking back I failed to monitor well my cumulative fatigue—something I could bull my way through on shorter, fast rides, but not something I could overcome in a 102-miles, 6-hour event with significant climbs.

I was very close to quitting the 2010 Assault. . .I was fatigued to the point that my brain couldn't recognize I was on track to finish, as I did, in 72nd place—my second best placing ever.

So in 2011, join me in monitoring your data, but also monitoring your rest. . .

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University,