Monday, March 12, 2018

70 and Done?

Log of my last seven months of cycling. I will comment on this record over the course of this post.

I confess I have a Facebook addiction. The silver lining is that my compulsive reading of Facebook helps me keep up with some of my friends. My high school friend Paul (previously referred to as Peter* on this blog) doesn't have a Facebook account, but his wife Susan does. Thus, it was on Facebook that I found out about Paul's bicycle accident. I also read Susan's comment: "I told Paul his road riding days are over. He agrees." Of course I telephoned Paul to offer him my condolences, and he told me that this was not such a big deal, since he had already had planned to retire from cycling at age 70. Since Paul and I are roughly the same age, this is less than two years away for both of us. Is that a thing, off the bike at 70?

Like Paul, I am also at a moment of truth, albeit a less acute one, and one based on physical fitness rather than safety. (I will return to the issue of safety at the end of the post.) As a result, I took Paul's remarks more seriously than I might have otherwise. My "moment" of truth (a moment that has lasted weeks) can be seen in the chart at the top of this post just by looking at the color of the "min/wk" column near the center of the chart. This color is based on the medical community's exercise recommendations. Weeks where I met the optimum recommendation of 300 minutes per week are are flagged in this column with a yellow background, those where I met the minimal recommendation of 150 minutes a week in green, and those where I didn't meet that minimum in white. My previous cycling routine had been devastated first by my wife's end of life care, then by her death, finally by the need to sell my house in Houston and move to California, with Hurricane Harvey making that difficult experience even worse. It was not until the week of 10/9/2017 that I was sufficiently moved into my new house in California that I could restart a cycling routine. For the next nine weeks, I managed to not only meet the optimal medical recommendation, but go well beyond them to a level of fitness that I hoped would easily prepare me for the Eroica California this spring and perhaps even riding with a local randonneuring club. And then, beginning the week of 12/11/2017, everything fell apart. What happened? In homage to the childrens' book series, I will describe it was A Series of Unfortunate Events.

The first series of events, not unfortunate overall but which had an unfortunate effect on my cycling, was an uptick in my social life, a combination of out of town trips and visitors. During the nine weeks I was riding regularly, I found that cycling plus routine chores (cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning) consumed 100% of my energy and time, leaving no time to take care of anything else. Thus, when I had to prepare for two weeks of somewhat challenging travel, the only way I could do that was to abandon my cycling.  During the following weeks, much welcomed house guests, babysitting, and dealing with my wife's estate kept me from reestablishing my routine. After four weeks of that, a truly unfortunate event occurred. My granddaughter developed a respiratory syncytial virus infection, and as sometimes happens, it was severe enough to send her to the hospital for a week. During that week, between running errands for her parents and visiting her in the hospital, I had little time and no energy left for cycling. And then, of course, I caught her virus and I was sick as a dog. As I write this six weeks later, I am still coughing.

When I first became ill, my symptoms were severe; I had a fever, muscle ache, and did nothing but rest in bed. After a few days, I got over the worst of my symptoms and felt like I had nothing worse than a bad cold. In response, I started riding again, albeit extremely easy 30 minute rides around my neighborhood. Despite being so easy, they turned out to be too much; the day after even those easy rides I found my symptoms reproducibly got worse. So, I stopped trying to ride altogether, and it was only two weeks later that I resumed easy rides. They seemed to go well, so I resumed my "medium" (Pace) rides, my standard 2 hour/23 mile ride. My son had been urging me to try yoga for some time, so I did yoga on one of my off days as well. This was a disaster! My illness got much worse, and I have completely stopped riding again until I am symptom free. This means I will have lost a great deal of fitness, and worse, gotten out of the routine that I had worked so hard to build, but I don't see that I have a choice.

So what about Eroica California and randonneuring? Eroica California is another unfortunate event. As it happens, I had drastically underestimated the difficulty of this ride, even in its shortest, 40 mile incarnation. What alerted me to my error was some posts on a bulletin board I follow, the Classic and Vintage (C&V) group of the Bike Forums site. Eroica California, which is modelled after the original Eroica held in Italy, is a ride to celebrate "classic" bikes, which is defined as bicycles built before 1988 which lack indexed shifters, clipless pedals, and other modern abominations. What I hadn't realized is that Eroica also features extremely difficult rides with unusually steep climbs on dirt roads; Eroica is derived from the same root as the word heroic. This Bike Forms member was posting to C&V to ask about options for putting sufficiently low gears on a classic bike to be able to make it up those climbs. "How bad can they be?" I asked myself as read his post, so I went to the Eroica California website and got my answer: up to 12% grades on rutted, muddy roads - and that's on the shortest, easiest ride! This is almost certainly more than I can manage on any bicycle (mountain bike included), and is out of the question on my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima with its very limited low gear options. So a few weeks ago, I notified my fellow Modesto Roadmen that I would not be joining them on this ride.

How about randonneuring? I think I understood randonneuring better than I did Eroica, and so to the extent randonneuring was an option in 2017, it remains one in 2018, which begs the question of how realistic an aspiration it was in 2017. I may be learning that there are limitations imposed by my age which might not present themselves immediately or in the most obvious ways. I love bicycling, but it does makes me tired. Some of that tiredness is immediate; once I do a bike ride, I find it difficult to do anything else for the rest of that day. Some of that tiredness reveals itself only over time. If I push my bike rides day after day, I am more likely to pick up a virus that can knock me out of cycling for weeks. It can also leave me so tired that I can't get anything else done even on those days I don't ride. So, we'll see. I am going to concentrate on finding a sustainable ride schedule that optimizes my ability to deal with my long, long ToDo list, and take it from there.

In summary, I am not setting my 70th birthday as any kind of deadline. I plan to ride as much as I can both before and after that date. I expect the amount of riding I will be able to do each year will be less than the year before, but I make no hard rule about that either; what I find I can do, I will do. There is one other concern; my friend Paul is not giving up cycling because he can no longer manage it physically, but because he no longer feels safe on the road, and safety is a separate, very important consideration. I already feel less safe on the road than I did in my prime, and in response, I am much more careful. Thus, I need to be willing  to face reality when the decline of my faculties make it unsafe to continue road cycling. To know when that is, I will both have to watch myself as well as solicit the advice of friends and family to tell me if they think the time has come. So, should I not die of something else before then, the day will come when it is time for me to hang up the bike. But rather than try to guess in advance when that will be, I will wait for the signs that tell me when I have gotten there, whether I it be at age 69 or 99.

* Originally, I used pseudonyms to refer to my friends on this blog, but as I had a chance to talk to them, I decided this was unnecessary and have switched to referring to them by their real names.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Berkeley Wheelmen Newsletters

The front page of one of the newsletters I edited. The newsletters varied between 8 and 12 pages. The pages were created by folding a standard 8½ x 11 sheet of paper in half. By photocopying on both sides, each sheet of paper yielded four pages. Photoreduction and other techniques were used to assemble each page. The photo the members received was of much lower quality than that above due to the primitive consumer-grade photocopying technology available at the time. I scanned the master page, used to create those photocopies, to create the image above. The artwork, some of it quite brilliant, was supplied by my roommate, Paul Rail, another UC Berkeley student who had no interest in bicycling or the Berkeley Wheelmen but provided the illustrations as a favor to me. Paul is a very gifted artist, I have some of his paintings hanging in my home.

While unpacking from my move from Texas to California, I uncovered another treasure trove of historical data relevant to my early biking history: 14 issues of the Berkeley Wheelmen Newsletter, dated between January, 1970 and March, 1971. I was the editor of the first 10 of these.

What is in these newsletters that makes them interesting to the reader(s) of this blog? One of the areas this blog covers is the history of cycling as I observed it, focusing on what was going on in the 1960s and 1970s. One set of posts on this topic were titled "Cycling in the 60s:..." and "Cycling in the 70s:...". These newsletters fill in a gap between those two series, detailing my cycling as a college undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, as a member of the Berkeley Wheelmen bicycle club.

So what did I learn? I learned that I did a lot more racing in college than I had remembered. I learned that, at the Senior level, many races had a Senior A race for the strongest riders and a Senior B race for riders like me, which may have been one reason I maintained an enthusiasm for racing. I learned something about the bicycle racing culture of the time; the number of riders in a race, the number of members in a club, the price of dues, entry fees, and the level of prizes offered. And finally, I learned something about the status of my high school bicycle club, the Modesto Roadmen, in 1970, a subject about which I previously knew nothing.

My Racing in College

The racing season ran from approximately April through October and these newly discovered newsletters reveal that I rode throughout most of the 1970 racing season. During that season, I rode in four road races and one time trial. There were about 14 road races in which I reasonably could have competed, so I was certainly did not race as much as I could have. The Berkeley Wheelmen had an annual competition for which of their riders did best in road racing. One acquired points for placing in races, 10 points for first, 9 for second, on down to 1 point for 10th. I never placed except in Senior B events, so comparing my points to those who won their points in Senior A events says nothing about who is the better cyclist, but it does represent some kind of measure of activity, and by that measure, I was about middle of the pack. Of the 30 or so members of the Berkeley Wheelmen, 21 accumulated points in road racing. Of those, 12 had more points than I did, and 8 had fewer.

How about before and after 1970? As documented in photographs, I raced extensively in 1967 as a member of the Modesto Roadmen, especially during the first half of the season. Although I have little data as to my level of participation during the 1968 and 1969 seasons, I do have pictures of me in a couple of races in 1968, so I think the most reasonable assumptions is that those seasons were similar to 1970. On the other hand, I didn't race at all in 1971, and in fact I didn't even renew my Berkeley Wheelmen membership. The reason was that I was increasingly focused on my future career in science to the exclusion of everything else, a fact that continued and resulted in a 30+ year neglect of cycling. In summary, the evidence indicates that I was a hard core bicycle racer 1965 through 1970, inclusive.

Bicycle Racing Culture of 1970

The bicycle racing scene, in Northern California at least, seems to have consisted of a bewildering array of small clubs whose names change and who appear and disappear rapidly. The Berkeley Wheelmen would appear to be one of the larger and more stable clubs, so in that context, the fact that we had about 30 to 35 members is perhaps interesting. Annual dues for our club was as follows: $10 for Seniors, $5 for Juniors, and $5 for Women. In addition, to race, one needed to be a member of the Amateur Bicycle League of America (ABLA) and dues for that were: $8 Seniors, $5 for Juniors, and $5 for Women. Entry fee for a race was $1 to $2. The total prizes for a high end race totaled a few hundred dollars in value. (For reference, First Class postage was 6¢ and a top of the line racing bike cost $200.) More popular races had between 50 and 100 Senior rides, with fewer number of Juniors and Veterans.

The Modesto Roadmen in 1970

By 1970, I had completely lost touch with the Modesto Roadmen. Everyone I rode with had graduated High School and moved on with their lives. According to former Modesto Roadmen member Roger Farschon, the club's center of gravity had moved from Thomas Downey High School, which I had attended, to Davis High School. Thus, it was of interest to see riders listed as members of the Modesto Roadmen showing up in race results printed in the newsletters. I counted six distinct Modesto Roadmen. (To be listed in the newsletters, they had to have finished in the top 10, so there have been more participants than that.) I was able to identify three as Juniors and one as a Senior B, the other two only show up in a handicap race so I was unable to determine their class. Of these, only one was someone I had ridden with "back in the day", the remaining five were riders I didn't know. I don't have the data to be certain, but based on these newsletters and my memories, I am pretty sure the 1970 Modesto Roadmen had a better racing record than we had when I was a member, during the 1965, 1966, and 1967 racing seasons.

Also of interest, in the list of races of 1970, I see no mention of the Tour de Graceada, or any race sponsored by the Modesto Roadmen. Was there a lapse in sponsorship of that race? I did note the mention of a "Modesto Criterium" in a tentative list for the 1971 season.

Who Cares?

I get that this is a lot of arcane history, and that some will find it of little interest. Hopefully those folks stopped reading a number of paragraphs ago. The reason I find it of interest is that it is a glimpse into the origins of bicycle racing in the United States, of the very active and successful bicycle racing teams and riders that we have the good fortune to have today.

Friday, January 5, 2018

King's Mountain

"Without a picture, it didn't happen." My faithful Bianchi Volpe at the top of the King's Mountain climb.

Last post, which was about my plan for my second six weeks of training, I said "If I get comfortable going up Old La Honda Road, then what?" but then concluded with "I am trying to ignore such questions for now". As it happens, I was unable to ignore that question; it is something my son and I ended up talking about. King's Mountain and Old La Honda Road are nearby roads over the same mountain range and he has ridden both. He concluded "King's Mountain is about 30% harder than Old La Honda. Let me know when you are ready to try that." Ready or not, here I come. In just my second week of including Old La Honda as part of my weekly workout, my son and I got to the base of that climb only to find it closed for road repairs. What to do? With an impish grin on his face, he casually mentioned "Well, we could try King's Mountain..." What kind of cyclist would I be if I ignored a challenge like that, even considering the bonus miles we rode by going out of our way to the base of Old La Honda? So ride it we did, and a delightful ride it was.

I have merged the Old La Honda and Kings Mountain rides onto a single map. Because they are so close to each other, much of their routes are in common. The common part of the ride is shown in yellow, the part of the ride unique to the Old La Honda route is in blue/purple and the part of the ride unique to the Kings Mountain route is in red. For the Kings Mountain route, the best ride is to ascend and descend on the same road. In contrast, although Old La Honda Road is a great ascent, it is not a good descent so that ride is a loop, up Old La Honda, down Highway 84.
The map above compares the Old La Honda ride (in purple, which we could not do) to the King's Mountain ride (in red, which we did instead.) This diagram does not show the ride we actually did, which included an extra and unnecessary extension to the base of the Old La Honda climb, it shows the King's Mountain ride as we would have done it were that the intention from the beginning.

It is not obvious from the map why the King's Mountain climb is an "upgrade" from the Old La Honda climb, but it is. The Old La Honda climb is 3.7 miles long and ascends 1420 feet from the base of the climb to the top. (The summit is at 1587 feet.) The King's Mountain climb is 4 miles long and ascends 1634 feet (with a summit at 1860 feet.) Because it is closer to where we start our rides, the total ride up King's Mountain is shorter, 18 miles for King's Mountain vs 23 miles for Old La Honda, but that has a relatively minor impact on the difficulty of the ride. (Because we rode the bonus miles, our ride was 24 miles.) Granting that it is an upgrade, objectively, it would seem like a small one, and that was my subjective opinion as well.

Overall, the ride was lovely. If anything, the scenery of King's Mountain is even better than that of Old La Honda, already one of the prettiest rides I know. Maybe it was just the day or my mood, but the forest through which we climbed seemed a little nicer, but more importantly, the King's Mountain climb includes views out over San Francisco Bay that Old La Honda doesn't. It is hard to accurately compare the difficulty of the rides. The week before, I had underestimated the difficulty of the climb and did not pace myself properly and think that was a big part of why I found that ride so draining. My goal for this week was to work on pacing, to complete the climb in as much comfort as possible, and I maintained that goal when we switched from the Old La Honda to the King's Mountain climb. I think that made a big difference. Make no mistake, it was still a very difficult ride. By the end, my legs were in a fair amount of pain, I had to go very slowly on the ride home, and my legs remained sore for days afterwards. That said, I did not experience the overall exhaustion of the week before, and this week's ride seemed more like a challenging training ride and less like a death march. In summary, I feel like the King's Mountain and Old La Honda climbs are sufficiently similar that I could freely interchange them in my training regimen, that how hard I push will have more impact on how tired I get than the difference in the climbs.

Total climbing for the day was 2808 feet for the King's Mountain ride (including the climbing included in the bonus miles) as compared to 2420 feet for the Old La Honda ride the week before. This is getting into the ballpark of the 4200 feet of climbing included in a 112K/70 mile populaire ride with the San Francisco Randonneurs bicycle club. The various training programs I have considered suggest that the longest training ride to prepare for a long, challenge ride is between ⅔ and ¾ the length of the challenge. Thus, to prepare for a Century ride (100 miles), the longest training ride should be between 67 and 75 miles. Using a value of 70%, my longest training ride to prepare for that 112K populaire should be 49 miles. But what about climbing? Interestingly, none of my training books talks quantitatively about how to prepare for the climbing of a Century ride. I think it is reasonable to say that ideally, the training rides used to prepare for a Century ride should be through the same kind of terrain as that century, so if the mileage of the longest training ride is 70% of the ride, then the climbing should be about 70% as well. That means my 49 mile training ride for the 112K populaire should include about 2940 feet of climbing, not much more than the 2808 feet I did during my first ride up King's Mountain. If I simply added more miles to that ride without adding any major climbs, I should easily meet that goal. I am starting to think that a populaire might not be beyond my abilities. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

California Update

(See the bottom of the post for definitions of some terms used herein.)

FIGURE 1: My cycling over the last 7 weeks. The number under each day is the minutes of riding I did that day. A blue background means it was ridden at a moderate speed. A green background means it was ridden at an easy speed. A red background means it was a fast or hard ride. Ignore the yellow shading under min/wk, it is not relevant to this post.

Last post, I enumerated two goals for my future cycling, and since that post, I have added a third. Here are my current cycling goals:
  1. Maintain my physical and mental health.
  2. Get in shape for the Eroica California next spring.
  3. Decide if I can reach a fitness level sufficient to complete a 100K populaire or a 200K brevet through the hills of California.
When I wrote my last post, I had just completed my first week of cycling in California (the week of 10/9/2017 in the figure at the top of this post). During this first week, I established a "go-to" ride and although I have continued to explore alternative routes now and then, this go-to ride has been the backbone of my training. In order to accomplish my first goal, I was shooting for 300 minutes of cycling a week, perhaps increasing that to 400 minutes to correct for the unevenness of my effort over that ride. For the next five weeks, rode 3 to 4 days per week, doing a pretty good job of meeting my "corrected" goal of 400 minutes of cycling a week, so Goal 1 Accomplished!

Starting the week of 11/13/2017, my son started joining me for most of my rides, and coincidentally, that was my sixth week of riding. I had read somewhere and have confirmed for myself that to maximize improvement one should change one's exercise plan every six weeks or so. With that in mind, week seven my son and I decided to kick it up a notch and revisit Old La Honda Road, a four mile long hill with an average grade of 8%. When my son and I rode Old La Honda a year ago, I wrote "By the time I got home [from riding Old La Honda Road] I was completely done in, I had nothing left to give." This year was no different, the Old La Honda climb is at the limit of my ability. 

So far, I have done nothing specific to accomplish goal 2, to get ready for the Eroica California, but I think that is appropriate. What I need to be doing right now towards meeting goal 2 is build a base of fitness on which I can later prepare specifically for that ride, probably starting in February. Has my last seven weeks of cycling been doing that? I felt like it had, but I wanted a sanity check so went back to a book that I have previously discussed on this blog, "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach. I picked this book because unlike many of the books I have read that seem to be targeted at young racers, this book seemed to be targeted at someone like me, someone who loves to ride and enjoys the occasional challenge but who has no competitive ambitions and wants to keep things simple and fun. Chapter 3 of that book outlines an easy to understand 8 week base training program consisting of a mix of aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training. This is where I should have started 7 weeks ago. Shame on me, I only did the aerobic part, and too much of that. To tell the truth, however, I am not too worried. I believe that the aerobic part is the most important. I keep hoping to introduce resistance and flexibility training into my routine, but best is the enemy of good and while maintaining that hope, I congratulate myself for avoiding the worst training plan of all, doing nothing. Between now and February, I think I should continue to build a base of aerobic endurance, and after that, if during February and March I continue training and ride my antique Bianchi Specialissima up and down the local hills every now and then, I will be as prepared as I can be for Eroica California 2018; so Goal 2 is On Track.

FIGURE 2: My Weights. Although I have not been doing the weight training that both the medical and training communities recommend, I did bring my weights with me from Texas, and they stare at me every time I go out to the garage. Hopefully, I will actually use them some day. As for flexibility training, my younger son's girlfriend has become obsessed with getting me to join their Sunday yoga class. As I told her, we shall see.

Just because I am continuing base training does not mean that my training shouldn't change. Every base training plan I have seen features progression over the base period, increasing volume and the slow introduction of some rides of higher intensity, and that is what I plan to do during the next 6 weeks. I do confess, however, that although I definitely kicked things up a notch for week 7, there was no plan involved, my riding was ad hoc, being driven mostly by my son's love of Old La Honda Road. I spent the following weekend thinking about what I really should be doing in in my second block of training. To that end,  I looked back at my old posts on training. When I did so, I was reminded that they were largely directed towards randonneuring, towards preparing for a 200K brevet. That caused me to wax nostalgic and add a third goal to the two I had enunciated in my last post, to decide if I can return to randonneuring. To that end, I looked for 200K brevets (120 mile rides) and randonneuring clubs in my area of which there are plenty. However, based on my past experience, I think there is a real possibility that a 200K brevet is beyond me, so looked at 100K populaires (60 mile rides) as well. Besides my past difficulties preparing for 200K brevets, there is also the issue of hills. The 200K brevets I did back in Texas were fairly flat. The 200K brevets I found in California typically include between 5,000 and 9,000 feet of climbing over their 120 miles, and the easiest 100K populaires included 4,000 feet of climbing. By way of comparison, the Old La Honda ride, which is 20 miles long and which leaves me exhausted, includes just over 2,000 feet of climbing. Clearly, there is a large fitness gap between where I am now and where I would have to be to participate in a California brevet or even a populaire.

Final point; I am so happy to be riding with my son! If at the end of everything, my fitness sucked and I was unable to participate in Eroica California but had a good time with him, I would count it as a huge success.

Putting this all together, what should I my second block of training look like? One day a week, I plan to ride up Old La Honda Road with my son. My reasons are two-fold. First, my son loves this ride (as do I) and I love riding with my son. Second, what I hope will happen is that with repetition, I will get better at it, preparing me for the hills that are a fact of life in California.  Do any of my training books suggest that is a good plan? To help answer the question, I diagrammed various training plans given in "Distance Cycling" and compared them to what I propose to do.

FIGURE 3: Training Plans. "Base", "Century Prep", and "Century/Month" are training plans from "Distance Cycling".  I exercised some creative license, especially for the "Base" plan where I converted all aerobic cross training ("Racquetball", "Basketball") into cycling minutes.  All of these plans also include resistance and flexibility exercises which I have yet to integrate into my training. "My Plan" is a slightly abstracted version of what I was riding at the end of my first 6 weeks (Block 1) and what I hope to do during my second 6 weeks (Block 2). Rides in blue are "pace" rides, ridden at a moderate speed that I can comfortably maintain for hours but that are fast enough to leave me tired by the end. Rides in red are "intense" rides where I ride as fast as I can for part of the ride. (Traditionally, this is accomplished with intervals. I accomplish this by climbing hills.) Rides in green are "recovery" rides where I keep the speed very slow to insure I do not tire my body, but just stretch out my muscles to facilitate the recovery process.

None of the training plans in "Distance Cycling" include anything like a 4 mile, 8% grade training ride, certainly not during base training. (That is pretty much true for any base training plans in any book I have ever read.) That said, "Distance Cycling" is very non-prescriptive, suggesting general concepts rather than detailed protocols, so I feel empowered to be creative. Also, my goals are different than the goals of any of the training plans in "Distance Cycling", so I think I need to create my own plan to match my goals. Looking at the "Distance Cycling" training plans above, they include four kinds of rides; recovery rides, pace rides, long rides, and intense rides. Intense rides are usually intervals, but Old La Honda is certainly intense, so I am going to count it as such. Even though this is a bit unconventional, I think if I am careful and listen to my body, I will be fine. Besides, if I can't get comfortable going up Old La Honda, then I have answered the question posed in my Goal 3, there would be no California randonneuring for me. Finally, I am hoping that all this climbing will build the leg strength I will need to complete Eroica California with the pathetic "low" gear on my Bianchi Specialissima.

Old La Honda is one ride, how would it fit into a training schedule and what should the rest of the schedule look like? I propose to make my second 6 weeks an evolution from my successful first 6 weeks. By the end of my first 6 weeks, I was riding my go-to ride four times a week. During my second 6 weeks, I propose to make the following changes:
  1. Replace one of those go-to rides with the intense ride up Old La Honda Road.
  2. Drop one of the go-to rides.
  3. Add two short, easy recovery rides.
Interestingly, this involves a decrease in the amount of riding I will be doing (measured as minutes per week.) However, intense rides "count" more than pace rides (and recovery rides count less) so if I apply reasonable corrections for that (1 minute of an intense ride = 2 minutes of a pace ride, 2 minutes of a recovery ride = 1 minute of a pace ride), the "corrected" minutes per week works out to 490, a reasonable increase.

As a sanity check, I compared my proposed schedule with training plans from "Distance Cycling". When I do that, here is what I notice:
  1. I jumped into riding much faster than "Distance Cycling" recommends; at the end of the 8 week base building period, "Distance Cycling" would have me riding 330 minutes a week. At the end of my first 6 week block, I was riding 440 minutes a week. Oh well, that is water under the bridge, and seems to have turned out fine, though I will stay alert for signs of overtraining.
  2. My second 6 week block looks much more reasonable compared to either the plan to prepare for a century ride or the maintenance plan to ride a century each month. This reassures me that the stress my second 6 weeks will put on my body is reasonable. That said, we are all different, I am an old man, so again, I will stay alert for signs of overtraining.
  3. There is less day to day and week to week variation in my first 6 weeks and even in my second 6 weeks than either of the century plans. When I think about what I am trying to accomplish, this makes sense to me. What I am trying to do is, in intent, more like a base training program than a specific program to prepare for century rides. Base programs have less variation (though, as I have noted, they do involve some progression.) As I listen to my body, I will be listening for a training schedule that is sustainable over the long haul and, to me, that means less variation.
  4. One important way that my plan lacks variation is that it lacks recovery weeks. Both of the century training plans have recovery weeks every three to four weeks. Part of what I am planning around is the inevitable "accidental" weeks off. For example, I have a lot of family travel scheduled in December and so will have some "recovery weeks" I cannot avoid. But again, I will stay alert for signs of overtraining, and take recovery weeks as needed.
Being the person I am, I cannot help but think ahead, sometimes too far ahead. What will I do starting in February to prepare for Eroica California? If I get comfortable going up Old La Honda Road, then what? When, if ever, should I start working on making my rides longer? If things go well, what are the next steps to try to prepare for a brevet? I am trying to ignore such questions for now, to enjoy cycling during my second six weeks as much as I did for my first, and to take it as it goes. Stay tuned to find out what I do.


A bike ride which is 100 miles long.
A training technique used to build speed consisting of interleaving brief stretches of riding very fast with stretches of riding slow to recover. An example would be sprinting for 1 minute, riding slow for 1 minute, repeated 10 times.
A traditional kind of cycling, dating back to the 1890s, which consists of groups of riders who ride together but do not compete against each other. Rather, each rider challenges themself to complete long rides.
Long bike rides, varying between 200K (124 miles) and 1200K (744 miles), which make up the sport of randonneuring. Randonneurs earn awards for completing brevets or groups of brevets.
In addition to completing challenges, randonneurs sometimes do easier rides to get in shape for future challenges, to have fun, or to introduce new riders to the sport. These shorter rides, varying in length between 100K (62 miles) and just under 200K (up to 100 miles or so) are called Populaires. There are no awards associated with populaires.

Friday, November 10, 2017

California vs Texas

In both Texas and California, automobile drivers need constant reminders as to how to coexist with cyclists. One piece of good news is that reminders such as this are often set up to block the very bike lane they claim to protect! Not so in this case, the sign is in the parking lane, the bike lane being to its left. (This is the exception rather than the rule, even in California.)

Last post, I noted "it turns out access to desirable cycling is significantly more difficult from my house than it was from [my son's, a few minutes away]." That was after only two real rides from my new house. With a few weeks cycling under my belt, that difference, though real, seems smaller than at first, and I feel reasonably comfortable heading out from my house for a bike ride. I think this is simply a matter of familiarity, and when I think back, I think I had similar discomfort both when I first started riding in Houston almost 10 years ago and when I first started staying with my son and riding from his house, about a year ago.

This is not to say that there are no differences between Texas*, where I cycled for the last ten years, and California*, where I am biking today. The traffic is heavier in California. (This actually impacts me even more as a driver than it does for me as a cyclist.) I feel like people in California are less patient. On the other hand, Californians seem a bit more accepting of cyclists and more savvy about how to deal with us. Quality and availability of bike lanes is mixed in both Texas and California, though the advantage clearly goes to California on this point. The bike lanes I am using today are much more similar to where Bike Houston hopes that the Houston Bike Plan will take them ten years from now than to where Houston is today. Still, the problems are similar. In both Texas and California some bike lanes are too narrow or poorly maintained. People park in them, set up signs in them, and on garbage day, put out their garbage cans in them. California has many more high quality bike lanes and fewer low quality ones, but other than that, the problems with bike lanes between the two locations is pretty similar. The biggest difference, however, is the hills. The roads I rode in Texas were flat, flat, flat and the roads I now ride in California are anything but. Last post, I blogged about the changes this promised to make in my "training" strategy; due to the hills, I am relying more on Relative Perceived Exertion (RPE) and less at riding at a controlled heart rate less, tracking the miles I ride less, and the minutes I ride more. Already, it is quite clear that I was right to make these changes. That said, I wondered how good I job I was doing with RPE. I knew just from the Perceived part that my riding was by necessity less steady, more variable than what I had been doing in Texas; there is simply no way to avoid extra Exertion going up some of the hills, gears can only do so much, and try as I might, going down the hills is, in some cases, so fast, I have no choice but to coast.

Although I do not plan to use a heart rate monitor to nearly as much as I did in Texas, I did want to compare what I thought I was doing by RPE to what an heart rate monitor measured, but I wanted to wait until I had found a "go-to" bike ride before doing that. At any given point in time, I have always had a go-to bike ride. In Texas, there were times when it was Terry Hershey and George Bush parks, there were times when it was Braes Bayou, and there were many times it was the Rice Track. Depending on time and context (Was I training for a brevet? Was I struggling with challenges in my life?) my go-to ride would change, but I always had one; the ride I would do when I didn't want to think about it, I just wanted a ride. For the moment, this is my go-to bike ride in California:

My go-to ride takes Alameda de las Pulgas south from Edgewood to its end at Stanford University, then Alpine Road to Portola Road to Mountain Home Road to CaƱada Road to Jefferson Avenue, and finally through a series of local streets in the neighborhood of Emerald Hills and then home.

I ended up with this as my go-to ride because it is less hilly than most of the alternatives (though it is far from flat), there is a good bike lane through most of it, and because it goes through some beautiful scenery (another metric where California easily beats Texas.) Once I had ridden it a few times and had a sense of how to moderate my RPE, I strapped on a heart rate monitor to get an objective look at how I was doing. Mostly, I tried to take it easy, but pushed on the last climb up Jefferson Avenue to give myself a benchmark for a high heart rate. I was not surprised by the result, I knew my effort was uneven, but I was disappointed. During a roughly two hour ride, about 30 minutes were ridden in heart rate zone 1, about 60 minutes were ridden in heart rate zone 2 (my target), about 20 minutes were ridden in heart rate zone 3 (the "grey" zone, too easy to build strength, to hard to build endurance), about four minutes were in heart rate zone 4, and about 30 seconds in the top heart rate zone, zone 5. All of the zone 5 and virtually all of the zone 4 were on that final climb where I deliberately pushed myself.

So what does it all mean? It depends on who you ask. I currently have two goals for my cycling. The first is to help maintain my physical and mental health, and for how I am doing at meeting that goal, I ask the Medical Establishment. My second goal is to get in shape for the Eroica California next spring. For the purposes of getting into shape, for maximizing my performance, I look to the Exercise Community, folks like Joe Friel and Philip Maffetone.

The Medical Establishment speaks of three or four levels of effort; mild, moderate, vigorous, and recently, high intensity. They claim that to maximize good health, one should spend 300 minutes a week doing moderate aerobic exercise, that mild aerobic exercise is of no value, that vigorous aerobic exercise is earns double minutes (e.g. 150 minutes of vigorous exercise is equal to 300 minutes of moderate exercise) and in some recent experiments, high intensity exercise is worth 45 times as much as moderate intensity exercise. I have tentatively concluded that zone 1 corresponds to mild aerobic exercise, zone 2 corresponds to moderate aerobic exercise, zone 4 corresponds to vigorous aerobic exercise, and that the high end of zone 5 (which I never reached on this ride) corresponds to high intensity aerobic exercise. How about zone 3? On that, I have no opinion. It should count at least as much as moderate exercise, but I wonder if it qualifies as vigorous exercise? To date, I have been counting all my riding as moderate (which is what the Medical Establishment suggests I do) and so have been shooting for at least 300 minutes of riding a week. But what if I subdivide those rides into different levels of exercise? If I lump the whole ride together as "moderate", I get credit for 111 minutes. If I subdivide and count zone 3 as vigorous and ignore zone 1, I get credit for 101 minutes. If I subdivide and count zone 3 as moderate and ignore zone 1, I get credit for 85 minutes. All that coasting is costing me! If I were to correct for this, then I should be shooting for more like 400 total ride minutes a week to make sure I get as much aerobic exercise as the Medical Establishment advises.

The Exercise Community is much more enthusiastic about cycling in zone 1 than the Medical Establishment, but much less enthusiastic about cycling in zone 3. They like zones 4 and 5, but only at the right time in a training program. Because I am restarting cycling after months off the bike, the Exercise Community would recommend I spend all my time in zones 1 and 2, and would advise me that any time in higher zones risk compromising the building of a base on which all future training relies; that the problem is not the 30 minutes in zone 1, but the 20 minutes in zone 3, and in fact there is no good way to correct for that. Joe Friel, in "The Cyclists Training Bible", says about his recommended ride during base building: "Stay primarily in zones 1 and 2 on a rolling course of up to 4 percent grade." Here is the grade of my go-to ride:

Unfortunately, Garmin Training Center does not have the best graphics capabilities, so what I did was use the route slider to find the steepest grade on the ride (9%) and a point at the recommended maximum grade (4%) and clearly, much of my ride violates Joe Friel's criteria for base building. This would appear to be reflected by both my RPE and my heart rate. At this point, I can imagine some of my readers rolling their eyes, thinking that I am seriously over-thinking this, and Joe Friel would agree. He notes that his advice is for the serious racer, and that for a casual rider like me, random riding is probably as good training as anything else. Nonetheless, all this reassures me that my instincts are right, that I should be trying to minimize hills and reigning back on my effort until I feel ready to go all out.

So what do I need to accomplish to be ready for Eroica California? There are two things:
1) Become sufficiently fit for a 40 mile ride over undulating terrain, 12 miles of which are dirt...
2) ...on my stock Bianchi Specialissima

The first accomplishment is fairly straightforward both to understand and to complete. I would definitely want to prepare for Eroica, but have little doubt I would succeed doing so; if I could ride it on my Volpe or my Crosscheck.

The second accomplisment is less obvious; why does the bicycle matter? There are a few reasons, but by far the most important is gears. My Bianchi Specialissima came with Campagnolo Gran Sport derailleurs, which have a maximum rear cog size of 26 teeth. That, along with its Campagnolo cranks with the old 151 BCD (Bolt Circle Diameter) and minimum front chainring size of 44 teeth, means that my Specialissima does not support very low gears. My Volpe has the lowest gears of any of my bikes, and if I were in the smallest front chainring, and the largest rear cog (the lowest gear, 24 inches), I would have to shift the rear derailleur to higher gears five times before I reached the same gear as the lowest gear on my Specialissima (47 inches). Thus, I have to acquire the strength and skill to navigate undulations and some on dirt using a relatively high low gear. As of this moment, I have no idea how I am going to do that. Stay tuned to see if I figure it out.

Future of This Blog

When I started this blog back in 2012, I promised a post a week, and for the first 100 posts, I did a pretty good job of maintaining that. Since then, my record has been dismal. I have some pretty good excuses, but honestly, I just don't think my current cycling warrants that many posts. As of this post, I am going to try to maintain a rate of one post a month. I hope by doing that I can keep them interesting.

* The city of Houston, Texas has about the same area as the San Francisco Bay Peninsula, the strip of land between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean stretching from the southern border of the city of San Francisco to the northern border of the city of San Jose. Both Texas and California are exceptionally large states (#2 and #3 in size among the 51 states, respectively) so the California vs Texas comparison of the title is meant to refer to the relatively small parts of each state in which I routinely bicycled. Houston represented a fairly good approximation for that. San Carlos, on the other hand, is a relatively small city, a small fraction of both the Peninsula and the area through which I cycle. To be accurate, I would have to refer to Houston vs the San Francisco Bay Peninsula, but to avoid the awkwardness of that, I will simply refer to California vs Texas.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


The seven bikes I moved, in Texas, just before the movers put them in their van. In the back, from left to right, is a small Diamondback bike that my granddaughter should be able to ride in a few years, my son's large Centurion, my late wife Agi's 1970's Gitane (almost completely hidden), and her Public bike she used as a commuter. In the front, left to right, are my trusty Surly Cross Check, my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima, and Agi's road bike, another Surly Cross Check. Two other bikes, my red three speed and my sons' black Giant, I considered not worth moving and donated to Ghost Bikes to be painted white and used as markers for cyclists who died in traffic accidents. See the bottom of this post for links to the posts where these bicycles are described.

The same seven bikes in their new home in California. It would be weeks before I rode any of them. So far, I have ridden Agi's commuter (which fits me fine) and my Surly.

My last post was almost two months ago. A week after that post, Hurricane Harvey hit, flooding the house I had just sold. Would the sale hold? (So far, it has, but it is still a few weeks to the closing.) So, there I was, preparing best I could for the hurricane, then cleaning up the mess from the hurricane, all on top of my already-ambitious moving schedule.

The good news is that the move happened and me and my bikes are now in residence in the fair city of San Carlos, CA. The bad news is that it took every bit of strength I had to accomplish that, and my cycling and blogging suffered. In that post of two months ago, I promised the following:
" current plan is to do one more post from Houston, tying up a few loose ends before leaving, and then the one after that to be the first of what I hope are a long series about cycling in California. Stay tuned to see if I follow that plan."
This did not, in fact, happen. So, this post will keep that promise in an abbreviated form.

Loose Ends from Houston

  • After a much longer struggle and with many more twists and turns than originally anticipated, the Houston Bike Plan passed. This now provides a framework to help the City of Houston continue building its cycling infrastructure.
  • Mysteriously one day, Bike Houston announced that their office was moving. Did they lose their lease on their old property? Fortunately, the disruption of that move seems to not have been too harmful, they seem to be chugging along as before.
  • I never got to know the people at Bike Houston all that well, but from the little I knew them, I liked them a lot! I particularly liked Mary Blitzer. Sadly, it was the point in Mary's career for her to move on and so she has left Bike Houston. Jessica Wiggins stepped up to fill her shoes, and I am sure everything will go on as before.
  • The Braes Bayou trail continues to grow on both ends. I had hoped to explore this trail and perhaps even take some pictures, but alas, that was not to be.

Cycling in California

It's too soon to say what my cycling in California will be like. So far, I have only done four rides, and the first two were shakedown rides of a few miles around my new neighborhood. I thought I had some idea what my riding might look like from the rides I did during my extended stay with my son, who lives just a few miles up the road. However, despite that proximity, it turns out access to desirable cycling is significantly more difficult from my house than it was from his. Perhaps I will just have to suck it up and learn to live with an unpleasant several minutes at the start of every ride, or perhaps I will find some side streets that are more pleasant than the main roads. How this will impact my cycling is the question.

As regular readers of this blog know, I love to track my riding. I have gotten some criticism in the past for being overly concerned with tracking, a criticism with which I disagree. I wonder if my critics understand why I track my rides? I do it because it's fun, it's motivating, and because it helps me avoid overdoing my riding, a real concern at my age. Because the kinds of rides I can do in California are very different than the kinds of rides I could do in Houston, I have already made some changes in my tracking, and expect that my tracking will continue to evolve as I gain more experience riding here in California. For example, because hills drastically affect the speed of a ride, and thus the number of miles that can be covered for a fixed effort, I am now tracking rides by minutes rather than miles. Once I have this all figured out, I may do a blog post on it.

One piece of good news is that I have a goal; to ride in the Eroica California next April. At least one of my Modesto Roadmen buddies plans to attend, which, along with my ownership of a 1960 Bianchi Specialissima, inspired my interest in this ride. (Eroica is a celebration of classic (pre-1988) bikes, and only these are permitted.) There are rides varying in length between 40 and 127 miles, all of which include at least some unpaved sections. The challenge of this ride consists in equal parts of getting in shape for even the shortest ride and restoring my bianchi to both rideable and original condition, somewhat conflicting requirements.

Blog Posts about the Bikes Pictured Above

1) My Bikes: In my fourth post on this blog, I discussed every bicycle I had owned. I have not purchased any additional bicycles for myself since then, so this remains a pretty comprehensive list.
2) Old Bikes, Part Deux: Early on, I did a post on some old bicycles I saw on Martha's Vineyard, while vacationing in Massachusetts. The post linked to here was an extension, looking at old bicycles that were in my garage. Between this and the previous post, only one of my bikes was missed..
3) An Unfortunate 3-Speed: The picture and history of this sad bicycle are stuck in the middle of an unrelated post.
4) Bianchi v. Surly: Another view of some of my bikes, focusing on my Bianchi Specialissima and my Surly Crosscheck.
5) Sad News: My late wife Agi commuted to work by bicycle, and for years, we had planned to buy her a dedicated commuter. When we finally did, I was so consumed with caring for her in her last months that I never blogged about it. Only in the blog post where I announced her death did I discuss that bike. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Stress and the Aging Cyclist

Two posts ago ("Sad News") I revealed that the "That Which Must Not Be Named", which had been interfering with my cycling, was my wife's fight against ovarian cancer, and that she had finally succumbed to that disease. By the end of December of 2016, we pretty much knew the fight was over except for the crying. In January, however, the brilliant doctors at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center came up with a treatment that did not affect the outcome, but did delay it by some months, and during those months my wife felt almost normal. Starting in mid-December, I was unable to ride. However, when that treatment kicked in in February, I was able to ride again, as shown on the above MAF test graph. By May, this treatment wore off (and could not be repeated) which meant I could not ride again. I restarted riding 10 days after my wife's death, but did so in California where I cannot ride MAF tests. By the time I returned to Texas in mid-July, I had regained a great deal of lost fitness, and since then have been more or less maintaining that level of fitness, at least as measured by a MAF test.

So here I am, living in limbo. Last post, I described how I expect my cycling to change once I move to California, but probably that is still a month away, and longer still before I am settled. What am I doing in the meantime? Contrary to the title of my last post, I am riding MAF tests. Why MAF tests? It is crushingly hot and humid in Houston in the summer, and the only time I can ride is right after sunrise. Trying to do more interesting rides (and there are rides I would love to do before leaving Houston forever) would expose me to rush hour traffic and, because such rides are usually longer, to more heat. So, the Rice Track it is. I don't always ride MAF tests at the track. One of my wife's former colleagues has become a riding buddy, and the days he shows up, I ignore heart rate and just ride and chat with him. However, on days I find myself alone, turning the ride into a MAF test reduces its tedium just a little. What has been apparent, not so much from the test results as from how I feel and what I can do, my ability to ride is at a low point, and the reason why is the topic of this post.

I am trained as a biochemist and I should know all about the various regulatory systems that govern my metabolism, but until recently, I didn't. The reason I didn't is that research scientists (including me) specialize by necessity, so what I learned about metabolic regulation in my introductory courses I largely forgot, and in addition, much of it was obsolete. It is only since I restarted cycling and tracking my training results I have revisited these issues in the hope of better understanding my experiences. What I learned is that my body has various processes that compete for resources; fighting infection, building fitness, and responding to stress being some of the important ones. What are those resources? I don't know for certain, but it could be as simple as food (glucose)! If so, that is pretty stupid on my body's part because I suffer from over-nutrition (I am fat) and so conserving glucose makes no sense for me. That is neither here nor there, because these systems evolved when starvation was an issue, and for better or for worse, I am stuck with them. So, if I am relaxed and not exercising, my body devotes more resources to fighting infection. If I exercise hard to build fitness, this takes resources away from fighting infection, and I have to be careful not to overdo it, or I will end up with a cold. (Similarly, if I have a cold, I will find it more difficult to build fitness.) However, if I am stressed, resources are taken from both fighting infection and building fitness to be used for "fight or flight."

What is stress? When my body's regulatory systems evolved, it was probably things like encountering a saber-toothed tiger. Today, it is being yelled at by my boss, or worrying because I don't know how to pay off my debts. When I retired in 2011, it was to a large extent because interactions at work were difficult, which resulted in stress, and I worried about the effect of that stress on my health. Neither of these sources of stress apply to me today, but others do:

  1. My wife died recently, I am still very sad about that, and that sadness is a form of stress.
  2. My life is undergoing major changes. I am moving away from Houston, a city where I have lived for 30 years, longer than any other place I have lived, a place I love, to live in California.
  3. Besides the stress that results from the unknown described above, there are the practical logistics of selling my house, going through 30 years of accumulated junk to decide what to get rid of and what to keep, figuring out how to get rid of the stuff I am getting rid of, executing my wife's estate in the face of bureaucratic lunacy, etc., etc. This is stressful.
  4. I caught a cold just before leaving California. Although this is not classical "fight or flight" stress, it does take resources away from building (or even maintaining) fitness.
What are the symptoms of stress and how do they impact my cycling? This question brings me to the point of this post. This is probably the most stress I have experienced since I restarted cycling, the symptoms of that stress have been clearer than I have ever witnessed, and I thought it was worth sharing this newfound clarity. What I have noticed is the following:
  1. I am tired all the time, really tired. Since I restarted cycling, I have never gone through a period where I enjoyed riding less. I have often found it hard to start a ride, but always before, I enjoyed my ride once I got out on the road. Now, it is a constant effort of will during the 45 minutes of a MAF test to not just exit the track and ride home.
  2. This high level of tiredness is despite a much lower volume of training than I am used to. Since my wife died, my schedule has been a pretty steady three rides a week, down from five to six rides of week that I manage when nothing interferes.
  3. My heart rate, the measurement that regulates my MAF Test Rides, behaves differently. One of the subjective factors I record from my MAF Test Rides is if legs are limiting or if heart rate is limiting. What I mean by this is do I feel like it is a strain to keep my heart rate above 130 bpm, or rather, when I ride comfortably, am I constantly slowing down because my heart rate drifts over 140. (On my best days, I record "balanced"; my legs and heart are in sync, a comfortable ride results in a heart rate between 130 and 140 bpm.) These days, I mostly record "legs limiting"; I find it hard work to keep my heart rate above 130 bpm. Somewhere I read that a symptom of not being fully recovered from previous workouts is a low heart rate; my heart is trying to take a break. I will try to track down the source of that idea in a future post, but I do think my "tired legs" is my body telling me to save my strength for fight or flight.
I strongly believe that exercise is important for both my physical and mental health. Although I generally believe in listening to my body, I think my body is giving me bad advice at the moment. It is my impression that the medical community believes that chronic stress is an unnatural, and thus harmful state; the tiger should either eat me or go away. My body is telling me not to exercise, but to save my strength for the crisis I am facing, having no idea that this "crisis" is going to persist for a long time, and that the consequences of not exercising for all that time would be vastly worse than the impact of exercising while stressed. That said, I am stressed, exercising while stressed is problematic (I cannot seem to shake my cold, for example), so I have been doing the smallest amount of exercise I feel like I can get away with, thus the three rides a week, and short, easy rides at that.

I usually plan my blog posts a couple of posts in advance, I have an idea of what my next two to three posts are going to be. As often as not, however, those plans change. With that in mind, my current plan is to do one more post from Houston, tying up a few loose ends before leaving, and then the one after that to be the first of what I hope are a long series about cycling in California. Stay tuned to see if I follow that plan.