Sunday, February 20, 2011

Camino Real Double Century and Poker Run; Kayaks Optional!

I am a bit of a weather geek, so I pay attention to the forecast and fronts as a normal course of my day. When I have an event, I pay closer attention, especially in the winter.

For the past week, the forecast for the Camino Real Double had been pretty grim. Rain, and possibly a lot of it was heading to Southern California including Orange and San Diego Counties where the event would be held.

Since our deluge in December, we have had great weather. A La Nina weather pattern means a weak southern jet stream, which makes it hard for storms out of the Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Northwest to make it this far south. This one had enough punch and a strong cold low pressure system to overcome anything in its way.

When I went to bed Friday the forecast for the 12 hour period for Saturday from 6am to 6pm was for a 90 percent chance of rain. Precipitation totals were to be from one third to one half an inch. The forecast high was 56 degrees, with gusty winds to boot.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I woke up Saturday morning at 3:30 AM to see a drastic change. A 50 percent chance of rain with totals less than one quarter of an inch. Way to go La Nina!

I get my gear on, or “kit up” as we cyclists like to say. Load the van and begin the 76 mile journey to Irvine. I arrive at 5:20, watch the 5:30 group head out and check in. Get the bike ready under partly cloudy skies. It had rained heavily overnight so the roads were wet. It had also been quite windy so there was a tremendous amount of debris, including the usual branches, twigs, and road crud. I also had to avoid two downed trees, and a street sign. All was going well. Going out with the mass start at 6:15, I was able to sit in with the front group comfortably for about 12 miles. The road went up and the speedy lean guys were gone. Still, I felt pretty good, and felt like a good day was in the works. After a brief run down the coast, we ventured back toward inland Orange County. A right turn on El Toro road, and pffft. The dreaded flat tire. As I am removing it, SAG pulls up, so I had a floor pump which is always nice. Thanks SAG dude! Off I go. Back to the coast, and close to the first stop. A right turn on Green Lantern. If you are not familiar with Dana Point, several streets are named X Lantern, X being represented by a color. Somehow I missed Green, and doubled back. A bonus of four miles. What I didn’t realize was the first stop was not a check point, just a water stop. I could have skipped it. Oh well, I fueled up, and headed out, charging down the coast. The first real stop was at mile 54, or 58 for me. I caught a few riders which made me feel better. Topped the bottles and drilled it coming out. From here through mile 112 was the best part of the day. Intermittent clouds with sunshine, and occasional sprinkle, but nothing too bad, and I was making pretty good time. I was on pace to be right at 14 hours including stops. Mile 112 was flat number two. Again, I had assistance right of way, this time even with a tube, which was nice since I had one, but with the debris, you never know. Up and running. Turning to go south on I-5 we pick up a pretty good tailwind. I wish I had hit the lap counter on my Garmin for the I-5 run, but I bet I averaged 24 MPH for the 7 mile run, including a slow down for a car pulled over. Exit I-5, onto the old 101 path, under the tank tunnel, which, after a rain storm becomes a cyclocross pit, up through the campground to a control. Refuel time.

Pulling out of the control, I look over the ocean and north. The sky has become ominous. Rain is coming. Hopefully just some sprinkles or a light shower.

The better than expected weather ended abruptly and rudely in San Clemente. It started to pour, and then it started to hurt. I realized it was hailing! I see a gas station and pull in and under the canopy.

I seriously considered calling it a day. The rain was coming down so hard, my thoughts were the roads would be rivers, and too dangerous to continue. About that time, it eased off some, a couple of riders passed by, and we headed out and continued north.

We made the turn inland where we were treated to various methods of getting wet and cold. The wet from a sprinkle, a shower, a downpour, and by now, a constant flow coming up from underneath the bike. The cold from; a short downhill, a harsh gust of wind, or an inopportune stop light.

Notice I said a short downhill. There were a few of those, but we turned inland at mile 150, which meant the next 30 miles were mostly uphill. Rarely over 5 percent, but with tired legs 3 and 4 percent gradients ware you down.

Driving along, I feel like I fishtailed a bit. Wet road, yeah, that must be it. This is called denial. Because we all know why a bike goes into a fishtail. Yes, flat number three. While I was fixing this one, a very nice, very young person pops over and provides a floor pump. He also offered nutrition; he practically had a bike shop in his car. Based on his t-shirt, I assume he worked for Rock and Road cyclery. I wish I had gotten his name to thank him.

Finally we get to Trabuco Canyon, the final aid station. Hot soup, heaters, facilities; everything a cold, hungry cyclist needs.

I left with a bottle of water and a bottle of room temperature coke. Freezing on the downhill, then back up. Two riders ahead touch wheels and fall. I stop just in time. The riders are okay. Restarting was interesting. My bike immediately went left; I stopped and found myself facing the wrong way. Along with two others. The road must tilt that way as well as up. Finally, we go, another descent. Ordinarily I love a descent. Not tonight. It makes it cold, and with the wet gritty roads, bombing down them is not an option.

Onto Santiago Canyon road for the next 12 miles of torture. Going through an intersection I see a median, I go left, and has the median ends I go to merge back right, except the median hadn’t ended, I hit it and crashed. Hard. I bounced right back up, stood there for a while, then walked the bike. A nice couple on a tandem stopped to see if I was okay. Their friend came up also, and after talking to them for a couple of minutes, and looking at my bike, I decided to proceed. I took it easy for a bit, shifted through the gears, and seemed okay. Actually, suddenly I felt better than I had in a few hours. I’m guessing adrenaline kicked in. The last 15 miles was uneventful. More rain, more wind, more wet. Finally the finish line. 13 hours and 47 minutes of pedal time, 16 hours total time.

I crawled into my van, cranked the heat, got out of wet cycling clothes, into dry clothes and headed to Denny’s! It was time for a well earned meal.

So what kept me going on this ride? I mentioned one point where I thought about giving up. Honestly there were probably five such occasions. I felt like I was being tested. But then, was it a test of persaverence? Or a test of common sense? Every situation that really challenged me, something or someone was provided with what I needed to keep going. I had assistance of some kind on every flat. There was a canopy available when the hail started. Foster and Linda from the tandem where their to help me realize I was okay after my crash. This told me it was a test of perseverance. How can you give up with all that help? It would have been for nothing. For some reason the late Jim Valvano’s saying kept popping into my head as well. “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tour de Palm Springs and Palm Springs Half Marathon

Tour de Palm Springs, the Return

In 2007 the Tour de Palm Springs was my first ever cycling event. The 25 mile route. Angi and I decided to return this year. I signed up for the 102 mile route, and Angi the 55. We both signed up for the half marathon.

First the bike. The century kicked off at 7:00 AM. There were so many riders I didn’t start pedaling until about 7:30. The first several miles were very slow with way too many riders and frequent stop lights.

Once the road starting going up there was some separation. One of the big differences between a century with thousands of riders versus a double century? I was passing far more riders on the climb than riders passing me. The first aid station was at 15 miles, with another at mile 27 I didn’t plan on stopping at the first SAG. but I did stop; not for food, drink, or even a nature break. I stopped because the entire road was filled with stopped cyclists meandering through the aid station. This was really poorly designed. Too many cyclists with no clue, or so self absorbed not to think others might like to keep riding. Finally I get through and enjoy a nice long downhill. Not steep; the downhill was right on the boarder of tuck and go, or keep pedaling for maximum speed. But going 30 plus for seven or eight miles was fun! Between the second and third aid station I got into a couple of pace lines, but always had some squirrels, so I dropped back on one, then jumped out in front of the second, which wound up meaning I pulled the group for a bit. No worries, I didn’t blow myself up, I just held what I would have if I were going it alone. After the third stop I got into a good pace line. How do you make friends with people you don’t know? When a rider from a group looses contact, bridge the gap and bring her back! Then take a pull. After that I reaped the benefit and sat in at 21 MPH for several miles.

The fourth stop was at mile 71. Now we were in the desert cities, and lots of stop lights. This was a bit frustrating as every time we would get up to speed a light would change. I skipped the final rest stop at mile 91, I had enough fluid to go the final nine, and really didn’t want to stop.

I crossed the finish line, got my sticker and t-shirt, grabbed a water and some electrolytes and headed back to the motel where wifey was waiting for me. She did the 55 mile route and was already showered and recovering.

I checked my Garmin and downloaded the ride. I averaged 17.7 MPH. This is a PR for me over a century. Only 3,500 feet of elevation gain, so flat for a California century, but I was pleased since even with that little elevation gain I consider 16 a pretty good effort. Maybe this working on getting faster is paying off? Need to recover quickly because tomorrow is the Palm Springs half marathon, my longest ever run!

Sunday morning, 6:30 we parked the van and got out into the chill of the morning desert air. A short walk to Ruth Hardy Park where the race was to commence. It didn’t seem long before the announcer said GO! It was about a minute later when I passed through the starting gate. It was time to run. I hadn’t really made a plan since a strained hamstring had curtailed my training. I didn’t know if it would cooperate, I’ve run without it bothering me just the last week and a half, and four miles was the most I tested it. I settled in the first couple of miles about 20 strides behind a group dressed in costumes singing. One guy even had a guitar. I think they were San Diego area residents since most of them had Nytro hats on. (A local tri shop) Around mile three they stopped and set up at a corner to play. Ten miles to go.

There were several rolling hills on the course, and I was worried on the climbs that my hamstring would balk. Climbing puts more stress on it, and I strained it doing hill work in training. I shortened my stride and increased my turnover up the hills. It seemed to work.

The course looks like it was plotted out by someone who had a few too many, see my Garmin Connect map here. Up down, turn, turn, turn, eventually back the way we came.

Mile 10 and I’m feeling better than expected. I am not at the pace I had sort of wanted, pre hamstring, but I am not too far off, either. I’m guessing I’m going to finish around 2:40 at this point, and when my training had been going well and I had made some improvements I was thinking I could break 2:30.

Mile 11 and some folks on the side of the road were cheering us on. One says, “looking good!” To which I replied, “Thank you, you lie, but thank you.” Somewhere in the 11th mile I hit the wall. Hard. Mile 12 to 13 was beyond challenging. I gave it more effort than I had all day, and the legs just wouldn’t go. It was my slowest mile of the day.

Finally mile 13, just a bit to go, I decide whatever I had left, I was going to give it to at least look strong coming in. One final turn, and the finish line is in sight. The announcer calls my name, I give a fist pump with my right hand, cross the finishing mat, stop the Garmin, and for the first time in 13.1 miles, I walk. Actually stagger would be a better word, I stagger to the volunteers that remove the chip timer from my shoe and give me my finishers medal. My first running medal, my first half marathon. The official time posted was 2:40:24. I’ve got some work to do to get to where I want to be.

I found some water, then meandered back to the finish line to cheer wifey (Angi) on in. She did Carlsbad in 2:58, so I was thinking I'd see her soon. I chatted with a nice man who was waiting for his wife when I saw Angi make the turn, she was going to break 3:00 hours after riding 55 miles the day before. Way to go wifey!!

Finishers Medal, my first running medal.

A few notes on the weekend. I could not believe the number of residents that were on course for both events cheering the participants on, some even with cow bells. That was awesome. Thank you, greater Palm Springs. The cars were really courteous to cyclists, too. A real treat, again thank you. These events took a tremendous amount of volunteers, and I thank them all, also the police and civil air patrol that helped with traffic control.

I think the ride organizers may want to consider a limit on the number of entries. There were points on the course and at aid stations where it was really chaotic. Overall, though it was a fun ride and great scenary.

Ride – 102 miles at 17.7 MPH, top speed 39.1, 3,500 feet of gain.
Run – 13.18 miles in 2:40:24 bet mile at 11:34.
Ride: Bike, Specialized Roubaix Expert, full Ultegra compact crank, 11-28 cassette, Shimano RS 80 wheels, Continental 4000S tires, Specialized RBX bibs., Garmin Edge 500

Run: Shoes, Nike Vroomero 5, Skins compression shorts, Nike run top, Nike run hat, Garmin 305.

Upcoming events:

February 19 – El Camino Real Double Century
March 19 - San Diego Randos 400K
March 26 – Solvang Spring Double Century.