Wednesday
Jun282017

Catalonia - Part 2

I am back from my Europe travels, and I did have opportunity to ride in the Catalonia area.  The short summary is – it was great!  Everything was better than I imagined it would be:  the weather was great with not a cloud in the sky, and the riding was great with plenty of challenge, good roads and scenic views.  After riding I could relax on a Mediterranean beach (which was literally in front of the hotel), take a nap and then have a wonderful dinner at a beachfront restaurant.  I can hardly imagine a better extended weekend!   

The area I was in is known as Costa Brava (Brave Coast), and the first day riding revealed why the area would have such a name.  The riding was challenging with a lot more climbing that the typical rides at home, but the views of the rugged coastline were spectacular! 

The Costa Brava coastal road


Tossa de Mar - 1st day lunch destination along Costa Brava

 

Much of the other riding was through Las Gavarras Nature Reserve, which included the Gavarras Mountains and a cork oak forest that is the last remnant of forests that supported the cork industry that for centuries was the foundation of the local economy.  While the Gavarras mountains are considered to be just a minor coastal range, it was my first time riding in mountains and I got to climb my first mountain passes, doing Coll de la Ganga twice.  You have probably never heard of this climb; it is ranked on climbbybike.com as the 12,262nd most difficult climb in their global ranking of 13,464 climbs.  Nonetheless, it is considered to be a mountain pass and I am counting it as my first mountain climbs.

The road leading to the Gavarras mountains and Coll de la Ganga

A view of the cork forest from the top of the climb

 

I also got to ride through a series of medieval villages that were within view of the Pyrenees Mountains.  This was lovely riding, both for the scenic nature of the towns, and for being about the only flat riding area in the region.

The medieval village of Palau-Sator (still occupied)

Looking north to the Pyrenees (30 miles away and visible on the horizon if you look hard!)

 

And as I mentioned before, when the riding got hard I could always remind myself of the relaxation waiting for me at the end of the ride…

The Mediterranean beach – steps from the hotel door

 

I am home now and glad to be home, but I am already dreaming of an opportunity to go back!

 

Marty Score

Tuesday
Jun132017

Catalonia!

Sometimes things don’t work out like you plan – they work out better!

Some of you know that Michigan Mountain Mayhem is fast approaching on June 17th.  I know that some of you are planning to do this ride, and I was planning to be there as well.  However a couple of weeks ago I learned that I would need to travel for business from June 12 through June 22 - knocking MMM right off my schedule.

You can imagine my disappointment!  This is a ride that usually sells out in a few days in January so you must plan ahead to be in the ride, which leads to months of anticipating the ride and its challenges.  I did MMM for the first time last year, and I was looking forward to doing this ride again.  But before long my disappointment turned to a little bit of relief.  I am a bit behind in my training this spring, and as I reflected on not being able to ride MMM I realized that I probably would not really miss tackling The Wall along with all of the other hills.  However, a quirk in my travel schedule occurred that presented a new opportunity that could more than replace riding MMM.

My travel is to be first in the area of Barcelona Spain (I am actually posting this from a hotel room outside of Barcelona), followed by time in the area of Turin Italy.  It just happens that there is a holiday in parts of Europe this Thursday, which takes Thursday and Friday out of the structured business agenda for my trip.  It does not make sense for me to travel home from Spain on Thursday only to travel to Turin on Sunday, so I will end up staying in Europe with a fairly flexible schedule for Thursday through Monday.  I can of course still work from my hotel room, but with schedule flexibility I can do other things as well.  As I considered what I might do besides just working, it occurred to me:  Barcelona is in Catalonia - the foothills of the Pyrenees!  Turin is in the Piedmont - the foothills of the Alps!  Certainly there is a cycling opportunity to be had!

Some quick research confirmed my intuition, and my greatest challenge became deciding between riding in Catalonia and riding in the Piedmont.  In the end, Catalonia won out - at least this time.  I had no idea how great the cycling is said to be in the Girona area northeast of Barcelona - apparently this is a hotbed training area for many pro cyclists who choose to live in the area during the off season due the combination of good lightly traveled roads, great weather and all the climbing one could want in the Pyrenees.  I won't be venturing into anything as challenging as real mountains, but I expect I will get close enough to see them while I am riding some hills that will be mountain-like for me.  Combine this with staying in a small town on the Mediterranean (my hotel will be right on the beach), and it seemed to be too good a combination to let pass me by.  I may not be as trained and fit as I would like, but I will give it a go and see if I am up to the challenge - after all, I still have sunny days at the beach to mix in if I need a break from cycling (and from work).  

I will post again after some riding to let you know how this works out.

 

Marty Score

 

 

Wednesday
May242017

Northern Michigan Trail Tour

Click the link below to read John Fay's writeup of his recent self-contained ride from Alpena to Mackinaw City:

Read document

Thanks John, we're always looking for content like this describing your cycling adventures!

Monday
Aug082016

RAINSTORM - Part 2

It was now July and time for RAINSTORM.  My training had gone well; I had lost weight, I was riding faster, climbing stronger and had better endurance than ever before.  I thought I was ready and I was cautiously confident about the upcoming week.  This turned out to be a great week of riding – even better than I had expected.  I started to write a day-by-day description for this blog but I quickly realized this would be much too long, so instead I will outline some general notes.

RAINSTORM was very well organized, which made it a pleasure to ride.  We stayed at state park lodges and hotels, with a breakfast buffet every morning and a dinner buffet most evenings (or restaurants for dinner within a walkable distance from the hotel).  We had a ride briefing every morning during breakfast which highlighted where the most demanding hills were, where the best lunch and convenience stops were located and scenic things we would see on the day’s ride.  We had two SAG vehicles on the road with us to provide water and snacks in places between towns, or to provide a ride if needed (like I needed on a three flat tire day).  We were provided with printed route maps, turn-by turn directions, GPS maps were made available for the tour for download to bike computers and each turn on the road was marked with painted turn indicators (over 500 miles of road markings!)  Our gear was transported to the evening’s lodging for us and left for us in a hospitality room.  Most years there is also a bike mechanic who travels with the tour (although he was not available this year), and there were two masseuses who traveled with the tour to provide recovery massage (although at extra cost).  Every need we might have was anticipated and accounted for, which meant we only needed to eat breakfast, load our bag on the U-Haul truck, ride all day, have dinner in the evening and then relax before going to bed early for the next day’s ride.    

RAINSTORMers were a great group to ride with.  There was quite a variety of riders.  There were 40 of us in total, and some were very experienced and accomplished:  a Race Across America veteran, Ironman triathletes, a state time trial champion (who was also training for her first Ironman – she would finish our 100+ mile rides and then go for a 5+ mile run!), RAINSTORM veterans (about half of the group) and veterans of other demanding multi-day tours.  However there were also other riders like me:  touring riders who had experience with single day endurance events and were looking for a new challenge.  The riders were from across the eastern US – as far east as Baltimore, as far west as Iowa and as far south as Florida.  It was easy to find people to ride with – by the end of the first day I had been adopted by a group of three riders from Iowa as an unofficial Hawkeye and we rode together for the rest of the week, and by the third day our riding group had expanded up to seven or eight riders each day.

The riding terrain was scenic and pleasant.  There were some stretches that were flat fields of corn and soybeans, but most of the riding was through rolling hills on quiet country roads that occasionally went through small towns and villages and past small farms with an assortment of cows, horses and sheep.  A typical day might include a rural covered bridge, or a ride along a ridge overlooking the Ohio River, or 150 year old rural towns.  And there were always hills – sometimes all the hills you could possibly want.

Thinking of the hills, the riding was pretty demanding and challenging.  My riding for the week was 616 miles with 25,000+ feet of climbing, and I missed 55 miles of hilly terrain one day due to taking a SAG ride to the finish due to multiple flat tire issues.  Nearly every day had one or more challenging climb that was probably comparable to “The Wall” on Michigan Mountain Mayhem – sometimes it would be a moderate length (1 – 1.5 mile) gut-busting steep hill that included 15% - 20% gradients (the first two days had climbs like this at the finish!), and sometimes it would be a longer climb of 2-3 miles that required grinding our way up a long steady 4% - 7% grade.  In addition to the big hills, nearly every day had a healthy serving of shorter steep rollers that demanded work to get over and that would take their toll through the day.  It turned out that the longest ride (RAIN on Saturday) was the easiest day of the week.  It was long (160 miles) but the road was at most gentle rolling hills with none of the gut-busting, leg-numbing climbs of the first five days.  We actually joked that this was our 160 mile recovery ride to end the tour.  I do not have a lot to compare with RAINSTORM, but I thought it was more difficult than Michigan Mountain Mayhem due to the demanding climbs every day.  I talked to a rider who did DALMAC last year and he thought RAINSTORM was more demanding than DALMAC, and I also talked to another rider who has done Ride the Rockies multiple times and she thought that while the climbs in Ride the Rockies were much longer, RAINSTORM was more demanding due to the severity of the climbs.  RAINSTORM was certainly challenging for me, and it was satisfying to complete the tour.

As I indicated earlier, RAINSTORM turned out to be even better than I expected it to be.  It was more difficult than I expected it to be; if I had realized how difficult the climbing would be before deciding to do RAINSTORM I probably would not have done it.  However, I also turned out to be better prepared and more capable than I realized.  When I discussed RAINSTORM with Jeff last fall he told me that often riders seem to get stronger over the course of a multi-day tour, and I think this may have happened for me.  However, I also I became more confident in what I could do as the week went on:  in part because I came to realize that I had done similar things in training so I could have confidence I could do things that came up in the tour (thank you Fiona!), and in part because after a couple days of success in demanding riding I became more confident I could do what the next day presented.

I am already starting to consider what next year’s challenge might be.  I would love to RAINSTORM again but I do not think I will have the training time needed available next spring, so this may need to wait until 2018.  Maybe 2017 will be the year I do an unsupported tour, or maybe I will do a brevet series, or maybe I will find something else I can do in the fall that will be a suitable challenge.  Jim Owens has already suggested I consider the Columbus Fall Challenge – 2 days riding between Columbus and the Ohio River near West Virginia with 220 miles and 16,000 feet of climbing with gradients up to 25%.  This sounds pretty challenging, and is starting to sound intriguing…

Thursday
Aug042016

RAINSTORM 2016 - Part 1

Some of you know that I did Ride Across INdiana (RAIN – One way, One day, 160 miles) in 2014, and that this has been my most significant and most challenging ride to date.  While riding RAIN in 2014 I noticed some riders wearing RAINSTORM jerseys, and I could not resist asking what this was.  The answer was intriguing:  RAIN – Same Thing Only Ride More!  This was a tour that started in Richmond on the east side of Indiana, spent five days averaging 100 miles per day riding the hills of southern Indiana towards the Ohio River and then to Terre Haute on the west side of the state, and then joined RAIN to ride back to Richmond.  I filed this away in my memory as something that might be a good challenge in the future.

RAINSTORM emerged out of my memory banks in 2015 as I reached the end of a disappointing riding season.  I had no real goals in 2015 and my riding reflected this; I did not ride as much as previous years and the century rides I did were slow and tiring.  I decided I needed a challenging goal for 2016 and started to do some research on RAINSTORM.  This would be a real challenge for me – 670 miles and over 24,000 feet of climbing in six days.  I talked to Jeff about the possibility of doing this ride and while Jeff thought I was crazy for wanting to do this, he did not think it was crazy to think I could do it.  However, Jeff cautioned me about the hills in southern Indiana.  He used to send his race team there to train because it was more than just rolling hills, and I would need to be well prepared for this ride.

In September I decided to investigate more about RAINSTORM 2016.  My biggest question was:  how to prepare?  This would be bigger than anything I had done on a bike and I knew I needed a plan that was more structured than just riding more.  I talked to Jeff again, who recommended what you would probably expect:  ride a lot, find hills to ride, and in the spring make sure I did long hilly rides on back-to-back days – perhaps in northern Michigan where the hills are bigger than around Clarkston.  This was helpful but I was still concerned about my ability to prepare and be ready for RAINSTORM, so I decided to consider using a coach to prepare.  I had conflicting thoughts on this.  I was inclined to think that using a coach would be an indulgent extravagance.  However this would be bigger than anything I had ever done on a bike – could I prepare for this on my own?  If I used a coach, does online coaching really work?  I did some research on online coaching services, talked to a few coaches and came across Fiona Lockhart, a Carmichael Training Systems coach who had considerable experience coaching for ultra-endurance riding and who worked with a range of cyclist abilities that could include me.  I contacted Fiona, we talked about my riding, my goals and how she could help, and I decided that if I did this I would work with Fiona to prepare for RAINSTORM.  I had a discussion (negotiation?) with my wife to make sure she would tolerate the training time that would be needed and by the end of September I was committed, even though RAINSTORM registration would not open until January 1st.    

My training plan turned out to be more intense than I anticipated.  Fiona’s diagnosis of my 2015 difficulties was that my problem was not so much that I was not riding enough, but that my training (such as it was) lacked the intensity needed to be strong enough to ride hills.  To address this we started a plan that had a lot more interval work than I would have imagined doing.  I rode five days a week with a typical week having three intensity workouts (ranging from short, all-out intervals to 45 minutes at a consistent high effort level) to build strength and high effort level endurance, a high rpm - low effort interval workout to develop more efficient pedaling, and an endurance ride.  As we moved into spring we added longer endurance rides, back-to-back long endurance rides, harder intervals and hill repeats.  As we approached the end of June I had put in about 400 hours riding time since October (about double the time of the previous 12 months), and I was seeing real benefits in my riding.  I had lost 15 pounds, I was climbing more effectively, I got under 20 minutes for the first time in the club time trials, and I did Michigan Mountain Mayhem (which I would never would have imagined doing before) as one of my last training rides.  I was cautiously confident that I was ready for RAINSTORM, although I was still concerned about the hills over multiple days – especially the fourth day which was the hilliest day.

More to come in Part 2…