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Training Rides with Dad

June 17, 2012

As I’ve written before, travel presents many challenges to training. I just finished a four-week trip for a combination of vacation, research, and a conference. It’s hard enough to pack for a trip that includes different cities, climates, and activities. Add in a large training packing list and it becomes very difficult. I might write about some of the training challenges later, but right now I want to write about one of the rewards of training on the road: an opportunity to spend a lot of quality time reconnecting with my dad while getting in solid training miles on the bike. I spent almost two weeks of my trip doing research in San Francisco and visiting with my parents who live in Sausalito.

My dad first got me in to cycling at a young age. So with me training for the Ironman, I have spent more time talking on the phone with him than I can remember for years. He was also a swimmer and cross-country runner in high school, so we can chat about all three areas of my training. When I was planning the trip to San Francisco, my dad asked if I was interested in doing a bike ride with him. Of course! I knew it would be a challenge to keep up my training on the road, so I jumped at the opportunity. After looking at various options, we agreed on the Sequoia Century Ride. 100 miles through the mountains from Palo Alto, out to the coast, and back to Palo Alto. The distance was a bit more than my dad would have signed up for on his own, but it was a chance to push himself.

The Sequoia Century was the day before I left San Francisco, so at least we had a little while to ride together before hand. My dad warned me that he had no idea how he would do. I had been training hard for a while already, prepping for the Ironman. Our rides were still much shorter than 100 miles, but I had the intensity down and knew that I could do the distance. A couple months ago my dad had been riding regularly, but work and personal commitments kept him from riding much over the past month.

We ended up renting a pair of Specialized Roubaix bikes (a high-end carbon fiber road bike) for a week. My dad had been thinking about a new bike already, so this was a perfect excuse to rent bikes for both of us so he could try one out. My mom drove us to the bike shop in Palo Alto and dropped us off (photo at left at the bike shop, about to leave). Our first training ride was 60 miles back from Palo Alto to their house in Sausalito. I was pleased with how well I did on the ascents. I had done simulated hills on the trainer, but living in Chicago there are no real hills to ride. Now we had mountains. We did a bit over 5000 feet of climbing in that first ride. My dad was thrilled when my gps watch clocked us at around 12 mph on one of the first ascents. Much faster than he normally climbed. He said a good part of that was because of the bike. The geometry was better for his body and the lighter frame was more suited to climbing.

Even riding with someone else, much of the time is spent silently moving along. But there was plenty of opportunity for talk. My dad shared with me technical pointers on downhill riding and bike mechanics. I shared with him nutrition strategies. It was his first time using Fizz or Nuun for electrolyte replacement, and probably not coincidentally also the first time he had no cramping in his calves. I tried to convince him to try compression socks as well for preventing cramping in the calves and for improved performance, but he didn’t like the feel of them. I think compression socks work great for long bike rides. Unfortunately the Golden Gate Bridge was closed to bike traffic because they were preparing for its 75th anniversary celebration. So we had to take a shuttle across the bridge instead of riding across. That was almost at the very end of our ride, and we didn’t mind cutting two miles off our ride distance at that point. Some construction earlier in the route had already forced us to add an extra 5 miles or so with an extra 1000 feet of unplanned climbing. But we would have both chosen a different two miles to cut given the option – not those two very scenic miles!

After the ride, I punched our route into a map program to look at our climbing data. Just over 5000 feet, more than I thought. And one short stretch got up to a 24% grade! (Click here to see an interactive route map and elevation profile!) When I saw that the Sequoia Century included a 19% grade, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to ride up that. Now I knew I could. After that first ride my dad was also much more confident that he could finish the century.

Mid week we did another training ride. This time 50 miles with another 5000 feet of climbing, up and over Mt. Tam in Marin county (see interactive map). The views were breathtaking: redwood forests, mountains, valleys, sparkling beaches, San Francisco in the distance. It’s amazing that a ride like that is so close to the city. On this ride we followed the pattern we had set before. I rode faster uphill and my dad rode faster downhill. I would wait at the top and he would wait at the bottom. He did change the route to take us down a more technical descent. Steep winding mountain road through redwood forest with lots of cutbacks. I was complaining about it at the time: No I do not want to do descents like that! When people hear how much climbing we did they think about how hard the ascent was. And that was hard. But that’s just a matter of leg strength and I’ve got plenty of that. They don’t think about how hard the descent was. Riding in Chicago, I just don’t develop the technical skill to drop mountains like that. My right hand and wrist literally were sore by the bottom from the combination of holding the handle bar and brakes. But on century ride that weekend, when there were more people around, I was glad to have gotten in that technical descent practice.

Finally we were at ride day: Sequoia Century, June 3rd, 2012. We decided not to rent a hotel room in Palo Alto, so we had to leave Sausalito around 4:30 AM. Riders could start anytime between 6 and 8 am, but we wanted to be on the early side of that window so we would have maximum ride time. We set out at what I thought was a slightly too aggressive pace, but fortunately the heaviest climbing was at the start of the ride, so we would get that over with. The ride had around 10,000 feet of climbing, but a lot of that was concentrated into three short stretches (see ride map here). The longest of those stretches was near the end of the ride; even though it had more total climbing than the other stretches, it was not as steep (“only” an average of around 6% grade, with maximum grade of up to 14%). In the first 1/3 of the ride, two stretches of 2-3 miles each had average grades of around 10% with maximum grades up to 19%.

This was a great day to test my climbing on the bike. Many of these cyclists regularly trained on the mountains we were riding; not the flats of Chicago. And yet I was definitely one of the fastest going uphill. The whole day maybe a couple dozen cyclists passed me going up hill, most going just barely faster than me. I passed many times that. Often on the climbs, I passed cyclists who had just recently passed me on the flats. I was probably a bit slower than average going downhill, but I was pretty close to average. Several riders could just fly down those mountains, but I was definitely not the only one taking them a bit slower. Even taking them slower I got up some considerable speed. And could really enjoy the descents when they were a little less technical. I was definitely glad for the descent practice earlier in the week with my dad.

My dad and I met up at the tops of climbs or at the rest stops. Fully supported rest stops are a definite advantage to big organized group rides, even if there were sometimes long lines for food and restrooms (those lines thinned out as we got later in the ride fortunately). I ate a little more than I would if I was maintaining a race pace, but I did confirm real food works well for me while I’m on the bike. As much as I enjoyed meeting up with my dad at rest stops, by the second half of the ride I was itching to just push myself to the finish. I got into the rest stop at mile 70 about 10 minutes before my dad and was debating leaving when he pulled in. He agreed it was fine if I just pushed through from there and we would just meet up at the finish. I took off while he went in to the rest stop.

Shortly after mile 70, the last major ascent started. About 8 miles of solid climbing, about 2000 feet. It took me around 45 minutes I think, but I pushed through that whole climb non-stop at an aggressive pace. In the last mile or two, the grade went down just a little — still at least a 4 or 5% grade, but not quite as steep as before. I remember shifting into a harder gear and pushing harder when the grade dropped. And then thinking “why do I do this to myself?” My legs were sore and my body was begging for a break. And when the grade got easier, instead of giving it that break, I pushed even harder. As much as my body wanted rest, my mind wanted to push. Maybe only an athlete would understand this, but it was a moment of riding that knife-edge of absolute pain and agony one side and absolute thrill and ecstasy on the other. They only come together and somehow you learn to enjoy the pain.

I finished the ride about 30 minutes before my dad. I was about ready to collapse. But by the time he got in, I had eaten and partially rehydrated and was feeling partially human again. I was glad we did the ride together. On the drive home my dad commented about our ride statistics over the past 8 days: 210 miles and about 20,000 feet of climbing. He said there was no way he could keep up that kind of average. Then he joked that even if I kept up that average mileage, there would be no way I could keep up that kind of climbing in Chicago. But that’s fine. I need to back off the miles a bit so I don’t overtrain for now. But this was a fun diversion to keep up my training while traveling. I could get used to training rides through those coastal redwood forests. Maybe sometime again in the future.

Happy Father’s Day dad!

154 days till Ironman Arizona!

  1. Beth Kozura permalink

    Jeff, I was really excited about your post because I am going to be in CA for 3 weeks in July. I found a local tri club to train with and I have heard Marin in the place to bike so I am going to take your route with me. Your century ride sounds awesome. If you or your dad have any other suggestions, please do share. I will be staying in Pleasanton during the first 2 weeks and exploring on the weekends. My husband will be working during the week and I will train on my own and then we will find some nice places to explore with our bikes. We may go watch Vineman as some of my teammates are doing that race. Thought about Humbolt Redwood State Park Ave of Giants. Congrats on finishing a very challenging century. Sounds like you are more than ready for AZ IM. The bike portion will be a piece of cake, but I know those climbing legs forget when you stop climbing. AZ course is a gradual incline, but no real climbing. It is pretty fast course but sometimes gets windy. Nothing a Chicagoean can’t handle. Happy Training!

    • Jeff Kosbie permalink

      Hi Beth, The Mt. Tam loop is pretty popular with local cyclists, and I think is definitely worth doing. I think most people follow the same basic route we did, but there are of course many variations. You can do just the outer loop portion of the ride, but I definitely recommend including the spur out to the top of Mt. Tam itself. Amazing views from up there, plus there’s a clean restroom and water supply! Very light traffic for most of the route and the traffic that is there is pretty respectful of cyclists, plus good bike routes in areas with higher traffic. Great terrain for training. And absolutely breathtaking views: beaches, mountains, valleys, redwood forest, an amazing view of San Francisco in the distance. I know you can add a little more distance to it by adding in a loop around Tiburon, which is a little peninsula that juts out into the bay. We talked about doing that, but decided against it. I don’t know the area enough to have other recommendations. I’m sure the local tri club could help you with that though. I know there are other great rides in Marin, and further North as well. It looks like Vineman is a bit further north — I hadn’t heard of it before, but it looks like a great race. It’s too bad my dad’s shoulder can’t take the swimming anymore, otherwise I might try to convince him to do that with me next year. I think there’s also good riding in the Pleasanton area, and you should be able to take your bike on BART / ferries / other transit if you need to get to Marin or other areas to ride. If you’re able to fit it in, riding over the Golden Gate bridge is a lot of fun, even though you have to go fairly slow. I did it once years ago. Enjoy your trip!

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