Archive for September, 2013

On a Chilly Morning

222221175602_10202276582343131_404015694_nYesterday was the first chilly morning for a scheduled ride; when I awoke, the temperature was 50° Fahrenheit. The forecast was sunny with temps pushing well into the 60’s and close to 70°, so it made selecting a kit quite difficult. Generally, my rule of thumb is that I wear a summer kit anytime the starting temp is 55° and forecast is over 65° but I always have to remind myself of two conflicting facts about rides as the weather is shifting this time of year:

  1. My body isn’t yet used to cold starts
  2. The warming trend in the AM this time of year is more significant that late fall

So, that first point told me to dress warmly and the second said, don’t worry, it’ll warm up. Well, I went with Rule 5 (HTFU) and wore nothing but a summer kit. Did I make the right choice? Mostly.

1291864_10153275333600232_723813058_oMy ride begins with 30-minutes through Manhattan, over the GW Bridge, and out to Strictly Bicycles. I was pretty darn cold at this point, but with the sun blazing in the parking lot, I didn’t need to go inside to warm up. I did consider buying thin but full finger gloves since I don’t have any of those, but passed. When the ride began about 20-minutes later, I felt great!

But I should have noticed that everyone else in the group was wearing warmer gear. See the group photo on the right – I’m in the red jersey and pretty much the only one in a summer kit. This photo is about an hour into the ride and at this point I felt good. But the first 30-minutes were fast (read: wind) and shady (read: cold). I was pretty chilly – especially toes and fingers. The image on the left shows me with my game face fighting the chill earlier in the ride.

So what did I learn and what advise can I give based on this and winter rides last year?

  1. It’s not yet Fall, so don’t worry too much – the days do warm up rather quickly.
  2. Cover your digits! The only thing I wished I had early on were full finger gloves and, perhaps, lightweight shoe covers.
  3. Don’t add long sleeve base layers – yet. I wore a short sleeve base layer only and my core felt great the whole time.
  4. If you need arm or leg covers, wear something you can easily remove mid-ride. The guys with bulkier jackets were stuck being either too warm or too cold.
  5. HTFU! If you are cold, ride harder. Always!

Bottom line-  be comfortable and enjoy your ride. There’s nothing worse that going numb.


Why Everyone Should Ride the Gran Fondo NJ

GFNJI’m a Gran Fondo NY guy. It was my second century ride ever and offered so much more than the first one I had done. GFNY was the first time I rode organized training rides for weeks and weeks leading up to the event. I trained hard, got stronger, lost weight and made friends. And for that reason, the GFNY will always be my first love.

So why am I saying that everyone needs to ride the GFNJ?

Simple – it’s a completely different type of event. And, for the Medio Fondo route at least, among the most scenic in the country. I rode the GFNJ this year with the Gruppo Sportivo GFNY team and we places fourth on the two timed climbs – just 2-minutes shy of the podium. And while I’ll train hard to go faster and place higher next year, that’s wasn’t the best part of the ride. The best part was how incredibly beautiful and social the ride was. Whether you were hammering hard or spinning along casually, you couldn’t help be enjoy the views. There were rivers and lakes, farms and meadows, horses and cows. And even some alpacas. It didn’t hurt that it was an amazingly beautiful day of weather – partly cloudy and around 80-degrees. And everyone along the way wanted to share a story of the ride.

1175617_3385546253187_1350576743_nOn top of all that, the Medio Fondo route is no cakewalk. My Strava stats recorded over 4,300 feet of climbing in just over 61-miles. That’s about 70ft/mile. To compare, the GFNY which is known for its climbs comes in at about 72.7ft/mile – that’s not a whole lot more considering. Yet the NJ ride had two advantages in making the total elevation seem somehow easier. First, it has more rolling hills and very few long, hard climbs. Second, the beauty of the ride seems to make up for the pain; it’s almost as though the hill climbs are the price of admission to such a beautiful countryside.

Perhaps some of this is overstated. After all, I’m comparing a nearly perfect day of weather for riding with the 50-degrees and steady rain of the GFNY in May. But I’m also not making the point that one is better than the other; I’m simply saying – go do this beautiful ride and enjoy it for exactly what it is. A challenging, fun, beautiful ride. And separately, challenge yourself to conquer the full GFNY as well. Each will make you a better rider and will likely leave you with friends and memories that last a lifetime.

The Day Before

So today is the day before the Gran Fondo NJ (GFNJ). And while I’m riding the Medio Fondo metric century ride (62-miles) with the GFNY team rather than the full century, I’m still preparing for a hard ride. This distance may be among my typical Sunday rides, but riding with the team means I need to be in sync with the team, riding strong and, most of all, prepared to do the distance with minimal or, potentially, no stops.

So how do I prepare for a big ride? Well, I’m no expert, but I’ve also learned that preparation can be very personal, so the experts aren’t always right. Don’t get me wrong, the expert advice is invaluable, but it is how you, as an individual, put together your own program based on both feedback from others and your own personal experience. Here is mine.

  1. To ride or not to ride. For me, this is simple. I like to take a short, high cadence ride the morning before the big ride.  This is probably all psychological, but it makes me feel like I’m physically preparing and it makes me feel loose and limber. And don’t overlook the benefit of uncovering any maintenance issues before the morning of the ride!
  2. Food. Yes, I’m a fan of carb-loading, but this needs to be managed. I weigh about 175-pounds and I’ve found that a pound of ground turkey or chicken over a pound of pasta is perfect for me. I like to eat a yogurt in the morning to get my digestion going, cook up my meat/pasta dish, and then eat a bowl of that at a time throughout the day. The four portions I’ll spread out through the day prevent me from feeling bloated yet allows me to put the fuel on board that I’ll want tomorrow.
  3. Water. I drink a lot of water naturally, so hydration is rarely an issue for me. But I still go out of my way to drink more than usual the day before. I also make sure to visit the bathroom frequently and get rid of the excess. Especially before bed!
  4. Coffee. Morning before? Yes. Morning of? No way. Why not? Even though I do drink coffee on other ride days without issues, there are two reasons I skip it on the day of a big ride. First, I’m generally “revved up” enough without it on these days. Second, it’s the most likely think for my body to disagree with, so why risk it? Oh, and it also makes me pee, something I want to control better on the day of a big ride.
  5. Activity. I like to spend the day doing activities that engage my mind, not my body. (Other than the morning ride.) I read. I write. I watch more serious movies (especially documentaries about cycling, mountaineering, or similar.) I also like to take a few walks with my dog to avoid being too sedentary.
  6. Sleep. This one is tough. For most big rides, my alarm time is 3:00 – 4:00 AM based on the need to prepare and get to wherever that starting line may be. So while a good night’s sleep would be great, it’s rare. If I’m lucky I can wear myself out later in the day with an intellectual movie and actually fall asleep around 9:00 PM.  But even 9:00-3:00 is a barely reasonable 6-hours. So I don’t focus on amount, but I do try to be sure I actually fall asleep.
  7. Prepare. There’s always some preparation needed to be done for the big day. Download the route? Print a cue sheet? Now’s the time! Tomorrow’s too late.

That’s basically my ritual. Anything else you consider that I didn’t mention?

Citi Bike NYC – First Impressions

citibikeToday was my first day as a member of Citi Bike. I made three short rides on this first day and my overall impression is very positive. Beautiful these bikes are not, but functional and convenient they are for sure. And considering how they are meant to be used, the design is pretty impressive. Durable, functional and, relatively, comfortable.

I’ll leave the detailed analysis of the bikes and the system to others, there are no less than a few thousand posts about this already. What I will say is why I joined, how I intend to use Citi Bike and make a small plea to other members to wear a helmet.

My morning commute current consists of a 30-minute subway ride down the west side and then a 15-minute walk cross town along 34th Street. While I don’t typically mind a walk anyone who understands 34th Street knows how crowded it can be and how damn annoying the various tourist service hawkers can be; and that walk turns into a tricky obstacle course. I honestly feel safer navigating between cars on the street than the crowds on the sidewalk.

Since there are multiple Citi Bike stations in the general vicinity of my start and end points on 34th Street, I figured the membership was worth it even if I only ride to/from the subway and my office. And my first two of those rides today were so easy and so fast that I went almost a block too far on my first ride in the morning. And I was also able to use a bike for an appointment 20-blocks away at midday.

So, onto the helmet comment. I thought about this quite a bit as I waited for my membership to activate after signing up. The bikes are huge, heavy and slow, so the risk of crashing compared to my road bike are minuscule. And the upright positioning gives a good view to and for nearby cars. But even still, this is NYC and the streets are crowded and messy; and by messy I’m talking about the potholes and other road hazards. Falling off the bike (or with it) even without another vehicle in the mix, could still lead to serious injury. So I may be cutting my hair a little shorter now, but I am resigned to coping with a little helmet head. Which is undeniably better than dead head.

Labor Day Metric Century Ride

Riders on 9WYesterday I joined a group of eight for a 100km ride that was practically the GFNY Medio Fondo route (link to Strava record of full ride).  However, since the GFNY doesn’t have enough hills <SARCASM> we added one big one at the midpoint of the ride. And, in true GFNY13 fashion, rain with a drenching thunderstorm was included. While not nearly the epic ride that was the GFNY13, yesterday’s ride was pretty epic in its own right.

The most interesting and impressive part of the ride was the hill at High Tor (link to Strava segment). Our ride leader was the only one in the group to have done this hill before, and while he (sort of) warned us, we weren’t really prepared for the ascent ahead. It’s the better part of a mile in length with an average grade of 9.9%, so I’m calling it 10% for good measure. I don’t think I’d done anything previously over 1/4-mile that was double digit grade. The hill starts hard, with a straight slope that was around 14% up to the first bend. And while not obvious on the map, each bend was effectively a blind turn, so we never really knew where the top was going to be. I also don’t think the first half of the climb dropped below 12% grade.

This hill alone was sort of epic. Even more so was the fact that we all made it up the hill (some with a few short rests). And at least one of the riders had trouble completing a much smaller hill only a few months earlier. My own personal completion of this climb was an accomplishment since I was able to do it without a rest and it was clearly a greater challenge than most other hills I’ve faced. Perhaps any other hill I have faced. All of this is testimony to riding with groups and continually challenging yourself based on the stronger riders in the group. There’s no doubt that road cycling is ultimately a team sport. (Even if we only get scored on individual accomplishments.)

On the return trip the rain came and it was just as drenching as the GFNY13; but the warmer weather made it almost tolerable. Several of us got into a paceline for a stretch along 9W and we were driving that train pretty hard. We averaged 21.6mph for almost 5-miles and this was my second best time ever on that stretch (link to Strava segment). We regrouped briefly at the bike shop in Fort Lee before heading our separate ways to return home.

Once I dragged my waterlogged self over the GW Bridge and back home, I had my second best hot shower of my life. Understandably, the best one ever was also this year – right after the much colder conditions of the Gran Fondo NY in May.

Sunburn & Icy Hot Don’t Mix

About an hour after a hard ride today I suffered some muscle cramping in my leg. Once the cramps subsided, there was some residual discomfort, so I rubbed on a little Icy Hot balm. The initial icy feeling was quite a relief. However, about an hour later as the icy turned hot, I was reminded that I had sunburn in that area. The hot turned to the burn of a branding iron for a few hours. I will definitely not do that again.