Monday, November 3, 2014

Home Again

Continuing construction on the extension of the White Oak Bayou trail connecting it to the MKT trail.

I have been back home in Houston for two weeks, after three weeks in California taking care of Dad. He is doing much better now, so I was able to cancel my return trip to California scheduled for last Saturday. In theory, I could have attempted a 200K brevet on that Saturday, given that I was not out of town after all, but I didn't. The reason I didn't is because I am far from recovered from that trip. Interestingly, I firmly believe that the biggest impact to my form1 was not the interruption in training (though I was unable to do any cycling at all for the last 12 days of that trip) but from the stress of the trip, stress that has pretty much the same impact on me as overtraining. As regular readers know, I have been trying to do a version of Iron Rider's recovery based training. Unlike Iron Rider, I cannot use my resting heart rate as a guide to my state of recovery, so I have been detecting incomplete recovery by the subjective feeling in my legs, sleep disturbances, grumpiness, and susceptibility to minor illnesses. As always, I watch my MAF test scores as well. For the past two weeks, all of these indicators have been sending me exactly the same message; take it easy. So that is what I have been doing. It is not so much that I have not trained enough for a 200K brevet on Saturday, it is that a 200K brevet would not be taking it easy.

I am developing a long term fascination with the hows and whys of fatigue. When I first returned from California, subjectively, I felt pretty good. The day after my evening arrival, I went for a short, easy ride with my wife. The second day, I rode a MAF test. My score on that test (14.9 mph) was much below what I had been doing before the trip (16 mph) but I felt fine, "in need of speed" if anything. As a result, I rode intervals with my son and daughter-in-law on the third day. I then took a rest day, but after that I felt extremely tired, especially in my legs, a tiredness I have not been able to shake. If my exhaustion is due to my trip to California, why did it take a few days to manifest, at least subjectively? Perhaps relevant, my first MAF test was my worst. Although I continue to feel tired, my MAF test results have improved, almost back to where they were before my trip (15.5 mph). Maybe I was tired from the beginning, but the same stress-response that caused that tiredness was masking the symptoms; as the stress subsided, I both started to recover but also felt the effects. As of yet, I have no answer to these questions, but I am bowing to my feelings and taking things easy. As I have been cycling easily around my usual haunts, I have noticed some changes to the Houston cycling infrastructure, including progress on the extension of the White Oak Bayou trail, shown in the picture at the top of this post.

Rice Track

My daughter-in-law completed her first-ever triathlon while I was in California. Before I left, I rode with her on some of her training rides, including some intervals on the Rice Track. Just before I left, workmen moved the barriers around the track as we were riding, forcing us off the track. When I returned, I noticed the barriers were down. I asked one of the regulars if they knew why, and he told me that the workers had moved us off the track so that they could park equipment there, and when they did, they damaged the track. When I looked, sure enough there was a minor, dinner-plate sized indentation in the track, carefully marked (and obscured) by a traffic cone. The track was shut down as part of a dispute between Rice University and the construction company as to who was going to pay to repair the "damage." It was slightly scary using the track without the safety barriers, occasional Rice commuters would drive across the track on the way to their parking spot, but it was usable. That didn't last for long, however. First, Rice University upped the ante by placing barriers across the track to close it for good:

Then, the construction company repaired the dinner-plate-sized damage by replacing almost a quarter of the track:

However, all is well again, the Rice Track has now been returned to full functionality.

Braes Bayou

While waiting for Rice Track to be repaired, I took to riding Braes Bayou. I was most excited to see that the Do Not Enter sign had been removed from the new trail extension so I rode the extension to see what I could see. Unfortunately, at this point, the extension does not go far. Within 50 yards or so, I ran into a work crew completing the next stretch of trail. I will be curious to see how far this extension goes, once finished. This is what it looks like now:

The workmen are closing a short gap in the trail extension. I wonder what is on the other side?

Even more unfortunate than the short extension, at least for me personally, is that when I stopped to photograph the current status of the trail, I dropped my wallet. When I got home and found I was missing it, I was in total panic! I mentally went through the months required to cancel and replace all my credit cards, replace my drivers license, replace all my medical insurance cards, etc. Worse, at that point, I still thought I was going back to California; how would I board a plane without my drivers license? I rushed back to where I thought I had lost it and ask the work crew, who had not seen it. Fortunately, a wonderful (but anonymous) fellow cyclist found it, read my address off my license, and bicycled out of their way to my home to return it. And people say that the bicycle culture is dead!

In retrospect, I wonder if the trail was actually open for business, or if someone just turned the sign around? Look at these two pictures and decide what you think:

There used to be a sign here saying "SIDEWALK CLOSED". It is now gone.

Or is it gone? This is the same location from the other side. Do you think some enthusiastic user just turned the sign around?
I very much appreciate all the cycling infrastructure development going on in Houston, but I wish I better understood why certain projects are selected, and others ignored. Although I hope that the Buffalo Bayou extension shown above results in significant new riding opportunities, knowing what I do about the local geography, I worry that it won't. Towards the other end of Braes Bayou, there is an opportunity to significantly improve the riding experience, and for many riders, offer a much longer ride, at what I would have thought would be very low cost. (I have noted this opportunity before.) There are two dirt gaps in this trail as it passes by Texas Medical Center and Herman Park. One is a very short and very steep hill that might be difficult to fix economically. The other is longer and, to me, more problematic. This second stretch seems trivial to fix. While the Rice Track was being fixed, I decided to explore it, to monitor its status. When this stretch of trail was first opened, the dirt stretch was quite manageable. However, with use, it has become deeply rutted, make it difficult for me and impossible for my wife to navigate. In my most recent traversal, I noticed that someone had dumped gravel in the ruts, which helped a little. However, as the dirt transitions to a paved stretch, there is a major curb. I was approaching this curb riding into the rising sun, and noticed it only at the last second. Had I not noticed it, I could have had quite a spill. Why not just pave this stretch, I wonder? This is what the curb looks like:

1) Form results from the opposite effects of fitness (how well trained I am) and fatigue (how tired I am.) Form is defined as my actual ability to ride, all things considered, at that point in time.

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