Sunday, June 22, 2014

Eat, ride, sleep. Repeat.

Last weekend was spent exploring some of the issues we'll encounter on RAAM outside of our normal riding profile. In summary we've started to explore how a disrupted sleep pattern and riding multiple time trials with a break in between affects us. We've also had a lot of fun with tandems, had our behinds well and truly kicked by another tandem and put a little back into the sport of randonneuring by volunteering. As ever, we didn't really set out to do all that but it just sort of happened, and we need all the experience we can get! As the teams racing the 2014 edition of RAAM, including our teammate Lori, are coming to the finish line, it also marks a year to go for us. Gulp!
tandems everywhere on the Sunday ride!
Our weekend started with an early start on Saturday when we set off to ride in the final edition of the Beat the Clock time trial series, twice. Our race next year will involve us riding a series of (approximately) 30 minute efforts with (approximately) 30 minutes rest between them. One of the best ways to train for this is to have multiple entries to a time trial. We didn't know the other mixed tandem on the start list but hoped we could beat our previous two attempts and win the tandem category. It can be difficult to judge whether a bike starting a minute behind you are slower or faster. In this case there was no doubt at all as they flew past us just after the turn around on their way to breaking the course record. To compound things, we didn't manage to beat our previous best time over the course either. There were some positives to come out though, as there was only 9 seconds difference between our two runs and a very close power average. It has also given us a whole list of things we need to improve before this time next year.
Next on our agenda was a shower, snooze and brunch before doing our main home based tasks of the weekend including reconfiguring Roberta to be ready for the hilly tandem group ride on Sunday. By mid afternoon we were ready for some more food and another snooze. We had volunteered to spend between 1am and 5am that night manning the finish control for the Davis 600k. So after waking at about 9pm we set about packing the car with tasty snacks, a slow cooker containing vegetable soup and several warm blankets. We arrived in good time which was good as both the previous controllers had had a mix up with times and dates and were quite keen to get back home. We also found a friend who had returned from working at the Tobin control having a snooze on the ground in front of the tables. A true randonneur!
Sitting in a lonely car park in the early hours of the morning must be one of the least interesting or glamorous tasks associated with randonneuring. It is necessary however, and it seemed like a good way to pay some of debt to the organisation and organisers. After handing over to the next set of controllers, we got back in the car and headed back via Sunday breakfast (part 1). We had also gained another traveler in the form of John Guzik who had finished just before we left, and who we were giving a lift home. A quick shower and change later we were heading out to our meeting point for the tandem ride, in time for a hot drink and breakfast (part2).

There are few things as fine as riding in a group of similarly matched tandems, and we had a great day exploring new roads and catching up with people. It was interesting to us to be cycling when tired, but without having cycled 400km the previous day. The body may be physically capable, but getting warmed up and getting our heads in the right (mental) place is much harder than normal. It's something we will need to practice doing in the next year.

The boys let off some steam playing in the park while their stokers relax

After the ride we had lunch in Los Gatos and then back home for a well earned, but short, snooze. Then we set out on our bikes for our final engagement of the weekend - a steak dinner with friends. A great way to end a fantastic, and interesting, weekend.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Riding through the night: Santa Rosa 600km

Assorted notes from this weekend's 600km

Stuff that worked well

  • Hydration
    • According to the Garmin the temperature peaked at 113F, on the way out over Sulfur Banks road . In reality probably a little less, but still it was certainly hot. Lots of white clothing, having enough water with us to hydrate and also douse clothes, and keeping up with electrolytes right from the start all helped.
  • Food
    • No stomach troubles, ate regularly on the bike and at controls. Didn't have any of the low glucose grumps.
    • Wish there was a formula to explain what it specifically was we did right but can't say!
    • Particularly surprising as through a lot of Saturday we struggled to eat much of substance as it was so hot. Went back to getting more carbs we could from drinks.
    • Used a couple gels on the way out, and Clif Shot Blocks heading back at the end. These are not our normal feeding strategy but good to tied us over low patches in long stages. Again, easier going in the heat too.
    • From 4am onwards Sunday morning I had ongoing craving for hard boiled eggs!  Need more protein? (We did eat increasing amount of protein as it went on, but avoided Hammer Perpetuem after prior experiences.)
  • Riding right through without a sleep stop
    • We tried this a couple times before (2010, 2011) and both times came unstuck around 4-5am, and ended up stopping anyway (one time, lying down on the tarmac in a quiet lay-by, I was that pooched!). This time, we were much faster on the road so pulling through the small hours is much easier knowing you only have maybe 4 hours to go, rather than 10.
  • 2x Fenix torches mounted on the aerobars as headlights.
    • A new departure for us, having always ridden with a dynohub on prior bikes, I was in two minds how I'd get on with battery lights.
    • At first they rattled around and I couldn't get them angled right, adding extra cable ties fixed both these problems (although doesn't win any awards for looks)
    • Having one set to medium (quoted as 4 hour) and the other on high just used when needed worked great. Runtime on a pair of lithium cells each was enough to ride right through the night (8pm to 5am, minus 3 stops) just fine.
  • Aerobars
    • I switched from Profile Designs bars to USE Tula / Boost / Rock N Roll (I don't know why it has 3 names) clip ons, with Specialized extensions and the Shimano extension Di2 shifters. Compare to Profiles which are just "clip on and go", this setup is a lot more fiddly to get dialed in and comfortable on, I reckon I'm about 93% of the way there now with these. But the benefits are great: really low weight, and minimal design leaves the hoods and tops freely accessible so I have loads of different, useful, hand positions. Just what you need on long rides.

Stuff that didn't quite go as expected / hoped

  • It's always the same on a 600: it was tougher than we expected!
    • A ride report from several years back had referred to a tandem being first back, and (knowing the SRCC 200km is very tandem friendly) I'd sort of convinced myself this was a particularly tandem friendly route. It certainly has a couple stretches (first 70km, and up around Clear Lake) that I could hunker down on the aerobars and bash out miles, and I know about the "headline" big climbs, but overall there was just a lot more sections with sustained undulations than anticipated. Not that tough in the grand scheme of 600s, just a bit more than I'd mentally prepared for.
  • Heat + headwind
    • As mentioned above, pretty pleased with how we dealt with the heat, but it started to unravel when we left Lower Lake heading to Middletown. The wind seemed to cool us less than traveling through still air, and our speed dropped right away just as the remnants of the group we were riding with got ripped up by the wind.
  • Finding a small group to work with around the whole ride.
    • Normally we just go out and see what happens, but this time, as we were thinking to try and ride right through, we knew if we could get in a small but fast group it could be a big help.
    • So the plan (such as it was) to start out fast, see who stayed with us (usual tandem situation), try and take it in turns for a bit and see if we could team with anyone to ride right through.
    • As it turned out, we dragged about 20 bikes to the first control (right on its opening time) several of whom later packed as they'd spent too much too early on this hot day (sorry folks! That was not part of the plan). Then the big climb out of Hopland we were down to about 5; one of whom packed at the second control leaving us and 3 solos.
    • It was great company while it lasted - especially enjoyed the banter on that big climb. But it turned out we were not really that matched a group, especially as the heat got up it affected everyone differently. Also to work well in front of a tandem takes fairly reasonable level of "club riding" skills and experience (i.e. holding a steady pace, no sudden speed changes) otherwise it causes more effort that gain. Around 200km (when the headwind hit; ironically when a group can have most benefit!) we got split up by the differing speeds, and so rode the last 400km on our own.
  • Chain could do with a clean
    • While Di2 is magicness of gear shifting, on this ride it had an annoying hesitation shifting from 5 down to 4 that got worse as the ride went on. Turns out even with magic, it still needs regular cleaning. (Especially when new, getting that sticky factory wax off the chain).
  • Handlebar
    • A mistake in ordering means Roberta has "standard" rather than "compact" FSA bars. Not a great issue on shorter rides, but I didn't use the drops anywhere near as much on this ride.