I’m about to head back to the Dolomites–what have I been doing with myself?!?

Here I am, like last year, cringing about my lack of preparedness for the Alps and Dolomites, when it’s way past too late being able to do anything about it. And I’m also setting some “above and beyond” goals for myself. Because that makes sense.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing, it’s just… I guess I have a hard time even envisioning the situation where I have trained enough to feel prepared. But I won’t let that stand in the way of enjoying myself!

But what have I been doing? This was one of the things that I really wanted to know from other people when I was preparing for my first trip.  What sort of benchmarks that I could relate to my own experience were people doing before they cycled these awe-inspiring (and somewhat terrifying) climbs? So maybe this post is useful for someone, or maybe it’s a chance for me to ramble and post more pictures.

TLDR: Wet winter, Zwift, Santa Monica Mountains, Mazama weekend, STP, RAMROD, Ride the Hurricane, Mt Rainier, hope I’m ready.

Long version:

You may or may not be aware that the Pacific Northwet lived up to its moniker this winter in a “one for the record books” kind of way. Between that and some stressful and exhausting work things, I was having a really hard time getting on the bike. It got so bad that I bought an indoor turbo trainer to put my bike on, and signed up for Zwift and a couple other similar services.

This had a twofold effect: one, I could do some hard riding with some structured training plans and not come home hypothermic and sodden. Two, if the weather was ok, I could have a pleasant ride outside and go as my whimsy took me, rather than having a voice in my head telling me I should make sure to get some training benefit out of the ride. With the way everything else was going, having outside rides as pure stress-relief enjoyment was golden.

Next up, in April we did Cycling Escapes’ Santa Monica Mountains Climbing Camp. Like two years ago, it was a week of excellent routes and ride support. I really like how Cycling Escapes puts together the week, and would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested. I will note that it’s probably a good idea to do a bit of training for the week.

Instead we used the week to kick off our training… Yeah, there was some sore and tiredness going on.

Unlike the last time I did this trip, this year I was the only woman (out of about 15 riders). Not only were the rest of the riders all men, there were a few of them who were super dude-bro’s. Amongst various dude-bro antics, the highlight was the ostentatiously loud conversation that took place on the first day’s lunch stop about how “compact cranksets are for amateur riders who don’t train a lot.” Yup, I totally agree. After all, I am an amateur rider who doesn’t train a lot. Love my compact. I know another person who rides a compact crankset who fits that description–as a *former* pro, Andy Hampsten is now an amateur rider. And though he rides a ton, I don’t think he really trains any more–he just goes out and has fun on his bike. Not sure that’s what dude-bro had in mind.

I did a shorter option for a couple of the rides, but over the 5 lovely days of riding, still managed to ride 250 miles with about 30,000 feet of elevation.

Thence, more Zwifting, commuting, and working too much.

Until the delights of Redmond Cycling Club’s Mazama Weekend.

The fun hairpin coming down from Washington Pass

Like last year, I was lucky enough to ride it with my dad. We had a blast, despite the record heat (which seemed especially unfair, given how the rest of the year to date had been unseasonably cold!) I had a good ride and felt strong on both days, though as I rode into the hair dryer-like headwind at the end of the second day, I will admit that there was a repetitive chorus of “you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me” going through my head.

We’re at 5400 feet, and it’s already toasty… At least I was still smiling at this point.

My dad also had a strong ride, though his first day was interrupted by a series of flats. Which then led to a series of the messiest, dirtiest flat changes known to man. Which then led to him being given the ironic nickname “Mr. Clean” by the very entertained people from the Redmond Cycling Club as they regarded his dirt and grease-covered person with awe and amazement.

Mr. Clean having an adventure in the snow

The astute observer might note that I am riding a different bike than my beloved Colnago…

Despite the heat, a great weekend!

A couple more training rides, and then it was time for STP! I could definitely tell that my next-longest ride of the year to date had been just half the miles, but it still went pretty well. We had mostly good weather, despite a cross wind that made us very nervous about whether the usual tailwind at the end would instead be a headwind. Thankfully, the tailwind on US 30 materialized, and we still had some pep in our legs as we rolled into Portland. It was neat to get my 7th patch–even neater for Ian as he collected his 10th!

As if to make up for the previous two years of torrid temperatures, this year’s RAMROD was delightful. The day started with heavy marine layer that was just on the edge of being rain, but it was also quite warm (for 6AM). Just as I was starting to worry that it could be a bit chilly on the descents if this kept up, the clouds parted, right on time for the peek-a-boo views of the summit that make the climb up to Inspiration Point such a delight. And going up Cayuse was a positively civilized experience–I summited with plenty of water left, and without any threat of heat rash.

I call this “I’m happy about a successful RAMROD, Ian’s worried I’ll make him do it again some day”

This year, the Ride the Hurricane event advertised that “it surely couldn’t be as cold and wet as last year!” which was correct. For next year they should advertise “surely this year there will be a view!” Though it was a warm sunny day, smoke from the BC wildfires was pretty thick, so for a second year in a row, there was no view from the top. But my dad and I had a good time anyway. I was really pleased, because for the first time ever, I felt quite good all they way up the climb, and never had to go to my dark place. My time was pretty consistent with previous years’ but it felt easier, more doable, less daunting.

Interesting… Still not on my Colnago…

The “view” from the top. At least it’s dry!

The horrible, wet winter has meant a spectacular summer of wildflowers in the mountains!

I still can’t even begin to express how amazing it is to do that climb without cars. I felt like a little kid on a playground as I descended, thinking “all this space, just for us to have fun in?!?!” So we took advantage of every car-free minute, and climbed halfway back up, to the point that the smoke started getting thicker. A fun chat with some ride volunteers, and then it was time to head down, and let the cars take over again. A huge thank you to the organizers and to the National Park for making this happen!

After Hurricane Ridge, I had a couple weeks with just commutes, errands by bike, and a couple indoor trainer workouts. Instead, I focused on cross-training via teaching and taking ballet and modern dance classes. In other words, work got busy. But seriously–you take a ballet class, and tell me how your legs feel after. It’s actually quite brilliant cross-training for cycling.

This last weekend, we did one of my favorite training rides. We parked at the turn off for Crystal Mountain, and rode up to Sunrise, back down, and then up Cayuse to Chinook Pass. Hurricane Ridge had been good, but the wildflowers on the way up to Sunrise were more profuse and more colorful than I have ever seen–between the grand vistas and the close up details of the flowers, there was impossibly much to gawk at. Naturally, I didn’t take any photos of this section.

Demonstrating questionable selfie skills atop Chinook Pass

This ride has made me feel cautiously optimistic about how I will fare on this year’s Cinghiale trip. I wasn’t really faster than I have been on this ride in the past, but at the end, I didn’t feel nearly as drained or beat up as I have in the past. (Well, I might have napped on the car ride home, but I think that had more to do with how little sleep I got during the week before…)

This has more and more been the theme of my riding this year. I am doing less than I did in 2014, but on a lot of the same rides, I feel much better, much more capable of carrying on, and not like it is taking every physical and mental resource I have to complete the ride.

Which is good, because the Cinghiale trip will be challenging enough in itself, and I have some goals of my own that aren’t going to make it any easier. And in the spirit of the original purpose of this blog–to keep me honest and accountable in my training for the Alps and Dolomites–I’m going to reluctantly commit to them publicly. Before I’ve done them. Meaning I might have to come back here and eat crow…

  1. I want to ride both sides of the Gavia this year. I made the right decision when I decided not to my first year, but I understand my limits and capabilities better now, and want to ride it the Giro ’88 direction!
  2. I want to ride up the 3rd side of the Stelvio, the Switzerland side. Again, it worked well for my goals not to do so in 2014, but now I want to do it.
  3. So, I’ve done one side of the Pordoi… Yup, now I’d like to do the other.

At any rate, that’s some of what I’ve been up to this year in preparation for the Alps and Dolomites. I wish it were more, but I’m also heartened that, especially as the summer has progressed, these rides have felt so… doable. It was not long ago that they were pretty intimidating. In fact, it was not long ago that some moderate 1 or 2 block rises were intimidating. Now, the question for me is not whether I can get up something, but how much I do or don’t want it to hurt. So, fingers crossed, Alps and Dolomites–here I come!

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STP #5

Five 1-day STP's in a row!

Five 1-day STP’s in a row!

Really, it is amazing that a person can get from Seattle to Portland completely under her own power in a single day. The bicycle is a marvel of mechanical efficiency. Which is to say that Saturday was my fifth STP ride in a row. Each year it gets easier in certain respects, yet each year I look back the next day and think “really?!?! I did that?!?! Wow!”

And even more impressive than the fact that I got to Portland under my own power, is that about 10,000 people did the same thing, spread between one and two-day riders. It’s pretty neat.

Anyway, the annual endurance tradition went well. You may recall that last year saw us dealing with temperatures well into the 90’s. With the heat wave that we’ve been having, I was worried about a repeat. But it was cloudy with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s–my power weather.

The flip side was that we did not have the usual tailwind (last year’s was especially impressive), but instead had a slight headwind. We grumbled quite a bit about it, but I’ll still take this year’s weather over last year’s. And despite the big difference in wind, we got to Portland at about the same time as last year–that’s how much extra time the heat took out of us in longer rest stops, and having to keep our effort level low while riding.

This year was an interesting experience for me in the differing fitnesses on the bike.

After doing this four times, I didn’t have any doubt about my ability to finish, barring freak accidents. But it is true that this year, I have fewer long (80 mile plus) rides under my belt that in previous years. But I’ve also been feeling really strong, and have smashed some personal best times on hills that I have ridden up dozens of times.

So STP turned out pretty much how one might expect. The things on the bike that are more durational fitness-related were barking at me a little–for me, my wrists and neck, mostly. Yet I was overall riding really strongly. For example, I went up “The Hill” in Puyallup about 15% faster than before, without feeling like I was working any harder. And 140 miles in, I felt like I was flying, and collected quite a paceline of people happy to draft me–but later on, I looked back and they were gone. I wasn’t trying to ride them off my wheel, I just felt good and was going.

There are a couple sections that tend to be lows for me, and they were again. But I overall felt better and stronger on the ride–enough so that I didn’t mind that my neck and wrists were a little annoyed with me.

A piece of information that I got at the finish line was that I was the 44th woman to cross the line. Now, mind you, I don’t know how many women do the ride in one day, so I don’t exactly know what that number means–but my hunch is that it’s something to feel good about!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

In other news, a cold derailed me from my plans to ride on Mt Rainier last weekend, which I’m still bummed about. I’m going to see if I can squeeze that in this week. And the tail end of the cold also interrupted my Tenth of the Tour run–I was doing ok, but woke up the day before STP feeling not so great again, and decided that I was better off getting as much rest as I could. Luckily I felt good again on Saturday for STP. I’m bummed about all of that, but I made the right decisions. I’m going to keep as much of the Tenth of the Tour going as I can, just as a way to keep me biking, even if I won’t get “credit” for having done the whole thing.

And I’m going to try to get rid of this lingering congestion and cough!

Accidental genius–goals for the week of 7/14

Because I’m sure that all my readers are astute, observant, and good-looking (right?!?!), you likely will have noticed that I am posting my goals for the week of 7/14 considerably after the 14th. That is my accidental genius. You see, by stating my goals for the week at the end of the week, I can be sure to have accomplished them! Genius!

So, without further ado, my goals for the week of 7/14:

Take a rest day on Tuesday: accomplished!

Recover from STP: accomplished!

Continue getting my Tenth of the Tour miles in: accomplished! (So far.)

Starting Saturday, add more climbing back in, both on general principles, and as part of the Rapha Rising challenge (basically, climb a lot between July 19 and 27): whoops, here’s where the accidental nature of my genius shows, as I am writing this too early to report that I accomplished that goal. (Or to have a completely different goal in its place… Like lie horizontal on the couch for at least an hour…)

Anyway, this week has been a series of pretty piddly rides–getting miles in, but without ambition or extra credit. But what a difference challenging riding followed by an off day can make–I have felt strong and energetic the last couple days, and it’s not just my imagination. On a number of in-city climbs that I do regularly, I have set some personal bests, or been very close to a personal best time, and it has felt easy!

So, it will probably be another piddly day tomorrow, and then pushing myself this weekend and through the week. I think Hurricane Ridge will make an appearance soon…

And because the friendship between Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen is about the awesomest thing ever–

Click to see more photos of them! (Scroll down)

Click to see more photos of them! (Scroll down)

STP

Another STP in the bag! Perhaps the best part was taking a shower at our Portland hotel… I mean, there was a lot of fabulous stuff on the ride and all, but that shower was amazing. (And my apologies to the two people in the elevator with me. I wasn’t enjoying being in the elevator with me either.)

This year was nowhere near as challenging as my first STP, when I didn’t even know if I could make it, but it was still plenty difficult. At the end, Ian overheard someone saying that as she was driving into Portland, her car thermometer read 100 degrees.

The heat was my big worry going in–my hope was to start with the first wave at 4:45AM, go hard and get as much as the ride done as possible before the heat really kicked in. It seemed we weren’t the only ones with this plan, as the starting crowd seemed to be larger than usual, and contained a number of two-day riders (who technically aren’t supposed to start until later). And astonishingly, everything went according to plan! (That anything goes right when you’ve set your alarm for 3:45AM is a miracle…)

The beginning of the ride is a little hairy. It’s crowded and there are always a few (usually young male) people trying to show off how macho they are or something, and who go too fast for the number of people and do stupid stuff, and other people not paying attention and doing other stupid stuff. There seemed a little more of that this year, but we made it through intact, and things eventually thin out and get safer.

We got to Centralia (halfway point) before 11, in temperatures that were pretty comfortable still. After some lunch, a re-up of the sunscreen, and an ice cube in my helmet, we set out again. It was starting to get hot.

But, it’s not a race (despite how some people ride it), and my job is not dependent on how quickly I can bike to Portland, so we didn’t push too hard, stopped to get more water when we needed to, and stayed at a couple of the rest stops a little longer than we otherwise would have.

One of my favorite parts of the ride is the stretch of Highway 30 in Oregon. A lot of people don’t really like this part, as it’s 40 miles or so of not-super-scenic, busy, noisy highway. But there’s usually a tailwind here, and I think (though I could be wrong) that the warmer it is, the more of a tailwind there is. So this year was pretty awesome.

At any rate, when I get to this part, I always feel like I’m flying. I’ve biked 150 miles, and all of a sudden it is so easy to pedal my bicycle! The psychological boost gives me a physical boost, and I always get a second wind through here. Usually I’m the one to ask Ian to slow down, or just watch him disappear into the distance–I think he has asked me to slow down twice in our four years of biking together, and they were both on 30 in STP… I just feel fabulous on that road!

And this year, after baking in the sun for the first part of 30, the second half of it or so is in the shade (and more so because we had stopped longer earlier, and were hitting 30 later in the day). Reaching that shade, with a tailwind, and Portland just a short bike ride away… That was bliss. For a moment. And then I noticed that it was still really hot even in the shade, I was getting hungry again, and was getting a bit of heat rash in some fun places. But it was a good moment while it lasted.

It’s nice to have a better result each year, and point to that as proof of improvement–this year, my on-bike time was the same as last, and the overall time was longer because we took more time at the stops. But I think that does represent improvement, given the difficulty that the heat presented. Rather than taking pride in being faster, this year I’m taking pride in the fact that I continued to sweat and pee throughout the ride. I was able to stay on top of my hydration, and though I was wishing it weren’t as hot out, I never felt in distress.

As a bonus, with all the hill work I’ve been doing, this ride has gotten flatter and flatter. The first year, I was not pleased with how many hills there were on this allegedly “flat” ride. This year, we overheard someone in St. Helens complaining about the hilly section coming up, and we exchanged puzzled glances–what hilly section?! It’s a flat ride!

A lot of people ask “why?!?!” And I’ll admit there were times on the ride I was asking myself the same thing. (Have I mentioned yet that the ride got really hot?) STP is nowhere near as scenic as other rides I do, there are rides that are more challenging, have less chaos and sketch group riding–in other words, there are a lot of rides that on paper have a lot more going for them than STP.

Yet it remains one of my must-do rides each year, and I really enjoy it. There’s just something special about STP. Part of it is the chaos–there is chaos because 10,000 people are getting on their bicycles together! It still boggles my mind! Part of it is the conceptual spiffiness of being able to hop on my bike and end up in Portland. And part of it… I don’t know. But it’s always one of the highlights of my biking year.

No pictures from the ride, because I'm smart like that. But here's my collection of 1-day rider badges! ("Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!")

No pictures from the ride, because I’m smart like that. But here’s my collection of 1 day rider badges! (“Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”)

Meanwhile, in other news, the Tenth of the Tour challenge continues. I got my miles in on Sunday and today, and I can’t even begin to describe how happy I am to have a rest day tomorrow.

Also, I need to figure out goals for the rest of the week, but I can’t think about that right now. I think I will see how I feel later in the week, because all I feel right now is tired. And like I don’t want to do anything challenging or useful training-wise, because even thinking about Zoo Hill or the like makes my legs protest.

And to finish, one more installment in the “what do I think about when riding” series:
There are things I don’t like about bicycling, such as riding over rough pavement when I really, really, really, really have to pee.

FYI

It turns out that there are things you can do on your bike to get in an approximately 20 mile ride that are not hill repeats of Squak Mountain. Wow. Who knew?

For instance, you could do:

–a meandering, easy ride to Sunday morning coffee and croissant
–over to a friend’s house
–to STP packet pick up and the grocery store
–back to STP packet pick up because they gave you the wrong stuff in your packet the first time, and thence to coffee with friends

etc.

It’s been a relaxing week of easy riding. I’m still on track with the Tenth of the Tour, and I’m definitely feeling a training boost from the Rainier ride. My legs feel good, so here’s hoping I can get a lot of miles covered tomorrow before it gets too hot, and then take it easy into Portland.

 

BTW, goals for the week of 7/7–TotT, STP

So the Tenth of the Tour challenge continues this week, with goal mileage each day of around 20 miles, give or take.

Now, 20 miles can mean a lot of things–hill repeats up Squak Mountain for instance, or a relaxed flat spin around Alki with a coffee break in the middle. I’m going to incline towards the latter this week, both as recovery from yesterday (though I felt surprisingly good on this morning’s 25-mile ride for morning coffee and croissant), and to make sure I’m rested and fresh on Saturday, because I intend to spend the evening relaxing over a cold beverage after a little jaunt on my bike down to Portland, aka STP.

The 204 miles for the day will definitely cover my TotT Saturday goal mileage, with a little to spare, even…

Yay! Saturday will be my 4th Seattle-To-Portland ride, and I have had a blast each year. Sure, there are rides that are more scenic, or that are on less trafficked roads, or whatever. But nothing can compare to the delightful craziness of thousands of people sharing your insanity.

It’s also been a fun barometer of my progress on the bike, as each STP marks one more year of cycling under my belt. The first year I was nervous for months in advance, and very carefully following a training schedule (hmmm, sounds like this year re: Italy). I made it to Portland in pretty good shape, but it was definitely A Big Challenge.

The second year, I knew I could do it, wasn’t as rigorous about training, but was just out on my bike a fair amount. I was faster and the ride was easier. (STP is described as a flat route. It definitely helped the second year to know that there are some rolling hills in the second half, and steep ramps up to bridges. They aren’t too bad by any means, but when your mindset is flat, they are a rude surprise…)

Last year, I didn’t specifically train for STP at all, just did a kept riding, and added some new challenges, like the Wenatchee Apple Century that I enjoy so much. Again, I was faster and the ride was easier. The difficulty of a ride like this is mental as well as physical, and though I was definitely in better physical shape, the confidence I had last year was a great help too.

This year? Well, a couple days ago, Ian looked up from what he was doing and asked “STP is next week, right?” I thought for a moment and said “oh, yeah, it is.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for the ride–it’s a blast!!–but I am not anxiously watching the calendar, worrying about my ability to complete it. I have to continue to avoid crashes or ride-ending mechanical problems, as it’s not a sure thing until the ride is over. But it’s a nifty feeling to think “ride to Portland in a day? Sure, I can do that!”

One more goal for the week: sit down with my calendar and figure out how many more times I can get myself to Mt Rainier this summer!