Preparing for RAAM - Weekend Training Ride 2

The weekend of April 21st, my team supported me cycling 515 miles in 60 hours ascending 40,000 feet in the Appalachian Mountains of Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That is the equivalent of 7.5 miles of uphill climbing. Imagine climbing the stairs of the newly constructed World Trade Center – 22 times.  The purpose of the 3 day weekend ride was simple: stress my body to the limit, with very little rest between each of the days.  I got the sensation of what it feels like riding back to back with minimal sleep.  I have to put this stress on my body and mind to have the confidence for the start of RAAM on June 13th.  Living in the Northern Virginia area I have a huge home court advantage, once I pedaled the 70 miles to Emmitsburg, MD I was on the actual RAAM race course. On Day 1 I cycled to McHenry MD passing through Rouzerville, Hancock and Cumberland MD, the most dreaded portion of RAAM.  We cycled it in reverse on day 1 and in the same direction as the race on day 3.   In 2012 we crushed the Appalachian Mountains. Hills are my strong point, and we succeeded in passing several younger competitors in RAAM 2012 in the mountains maintaining the same speed as the first day of the race!

Our crew of 3 veteran team members supporting me this weekend - Steve Gurney, Joe Knill, Brian Daum and our newest team member, Matt Hersh.  Matt is joining our official RAAM team in June, supporting us with his massage therapy skills. Through out the ride this weekend, Earth Networks was providing my crew and I, with real time weather data, as well we brought a GPS Locator called ‘Spot Connect’ that provided my location.

On Friday April 21st, at 4:30 am I left my home in Reston, VA heading to Deep Creek MD., leaving with just enough fuel to make it to Hancock MD, with one water stop in Frederick, MD. At lunchtime my team met me in Hancock, and my friend and crew mate Steve Gurney joined me for a 60 mile portion of the ride. The first day we covered 220 miles without any rest stops and climbed 17,000 vertical feet - my 3rd most challenging uphill day on a bike, EVER!  I did take an unplanned break as one of my bikes - the battery that operates that digital shifters broke. Thankfully a stop into the bike shop Cumberland Trail Connection in Cumberland, MD and a repair, we were back on our way as the sun set at 7:00 pm.  We dodged raindrops and surrounding storms all day feeling very fortunate with the weather on Friday.  Our team arrived in Deep Creek, MD around 12 am, and shuttled us over to Brian Daum’s family vacation home abutting the lake for the evening, where we ate some lasagna and a cold beer. Matt gave me an hour long massage at 1:00 am.  I slept through most of it.  I woke up at 3:30 am sleeping about 2 1/2 hours, got dressed, and jumped on my bike, which was carefully cleaned, batteries charged, tires inflated and thoroughly set up by my crew before they went to sleep around 2:30 am.

Saturday April 22nd, was a short day, pedaling only 90 miles - 7,000 ft vertical. The day started around 4 am, at that time there was only a light drizzle amongst the rolling hills. About 12 miles in, the rain started to pour, along with the huge descents - 3,000 ft drop to West Virginia and switchback hills. A lot of up and down climbing 3,000 feet up and then back down. The temperature was around 40 degrees but with the rain it felt like the 30s.  By 8 am I was completely soaked and at 10:00 am I arrived at a laundromat in Grafton VA to dry my gear. I understand how homeless people get their laundry done….in shifts.  First to enter the commercial dryer were the soaking wet rain pants, jacket, socks and gloves.  Once dry I changed clothes and dried my bike shorts and jersey, wearing my outer rain gear. My crew met up with me around 11 am. Handing over about 10 pounds of extra gear (batteries, lights, spare tubes, extra fuel & water needed to cycle solo) that I was carrying with me in the morning. I started back on Route 50 in West Virginia.  The rain increased in intensity and there was a lot of debris on the shoulder that I needed to dodge through rain soaked glasses. With the heavy rain and falling temperatures and foggy glasses, it was simply not worth the risk of continuing.  Since this was a “training ride” and not the race, the math is really simple:  Don’t risk a crash, or pneumonia in less than optimal conditions.  Besides, tomorrow (Sunday) was a long journey with the most challenging part of the ride yet to come.  The rain forced me to take a longer break than I wanted or needed, calling it quits at 2:00 pm.  We arrived home at 4:30pm and after a quick shower and some massage work by Matt on my quads and neck, we headed to an early dinner at the Mountain State Brewing Company adjacent to the WISP ski resort 15 minutes away. After dinner and a 3 hour nap I awoke at 11:00 pm and got dressed.

Most people’s version of a good time on a Saturday night in McHenry MD involved cold beer, country music and talks about fishing, trucks and sports.  My Saturday night fun started at 11:30 pm back on the road heading to Frostburg, then Cumberland, MD.  During training I rarely ride before 3:30 am avoiding the risks of encountering drivers heading home from the bars. Rural Maryland was very quiet, the skies were clear and filled with stars and I arrived in Cumberland around 5:30 am, where I stocked up with water at a Sheetz gas station before departing for Hancock where my crew would meet me at 9:00 am. I blew a tire at 6 am in Cumberland, which I quickly changed under a street light. That flat was the only mechanical issue for the day. The weather became increasingly pleasant once the sun rose. I cycled about 9 1/2 hours on the bike without support from my crew, as I wanted to ensure that my crew got some needed rest.  The good news is the crew got their rest, the bad news is that without a crew following me, I had to haul an additional 10 pounds on my bike - extra batteries, water bottles etc., as I need to be self sufficient.  For the first 100 miles I was traveling about 10-20% slower because of the extra weight.  This proves how important having a crew nearby is to support a cyclist. They “speed you up” since they minimize the weight you carry.   Having 10 lbs. of weight off your bike really makes a difference. When I left in the morning it was only 27 chilly degrees at Deep Creek Lake but the weather turned beautiful heating up to well over 75 degrees by late afternoon.  I wore these white arm bands that reflect the sun from a Boulder, CO based company called RecoFit.  Sunday’s ride became fun once I arrived in Emmitsburg, MD in mid afternoon.  The terrain was mostly flat or rolling hills, a welcome relief from the past 2 days, biking uphill or downhill from 8% to 16% grade. We called it quits at 5:00 pm at White’s Ferry, MD.  After catching the 5 min ferry across the Potomac river we packed up, quickly changed clothes and stopped in Leesburg for some cold beers and potato chips.  I discovered that my bike helmet, when properly lined with a thick layer of paper towels serves as a fine basket for chips on the 30 minute drive home.

A big thanks to my crew over the weekend (Steve, Joe, Brian and Matt), and to Brandon Snow for making enough feed zone rice cakes to last me 5 RAAM races, and to Earth Networks for providing weather data every few hours.  On May 18th I will start my last weekend practice ride in the Colorado Mountains, before the start of RAAM on June 13th.


Preparing for RAAM - Weekend Training Ride 1

On March 23rd, I started my first of three training rides leading up to my upcoming cross country bike race called “Race Across America” which starts at 12:00 pm on June 13th.  I cycled 220 miles from Reston VA to Lynchburg VA on the first day. I started my day at 430 am from my house in Vienna. VA and stopped for coffee and water in Middleburg VA, about 30 miles away. Great spot called the “Common Grounds” and with 27 degree temperatures at 6:30 it felt pretty good to warm up with a hot coffee.  About an hour before reaching Front Royal it started raining.  With below freezing temperatures, it was more like sleet. The waterproof jacket I brought worked but my pants and shoes were soaked.  I met up with my crew, Jim Strang and Tom Massie and we stopped at the Dickey Ridge ranger station on Skyline Drive to change into dry clothes. Leaving at 10:00 am with the sun up, clouds long gone and temperatures warming to 60 degrees. 

It was my biggest climbing day vertically EVER - ascending 20,000 feet - almost 4 miles in one day. The grade was steeper than Colorado which average 6% grade. Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway average 1,000 feet of uphill very 10 miles.  I took a few 10 minute naps around lunch and dinner also a 5 minute nap around 9 pm before ending the day at midnight and cycling 220 miles.  That evening we were graciously hosted by Stuart Massie in Lynchburg. Around 1 am my crew and I, ate homemade lasagna, which is the perfect food as it is full of carbs. I went to sleep around 1:30 am and woke up at 4:30. My amazing crew Jim and Tom stayed up till about 3 am cleaning up and setting up my bike for Saturday morning. 

The next day, I started at 5:30 am. I rode from our host’s home to the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway which is around 13 miles from Stuart’s house. Upon arriving I was greeted by “Thunder Ridge” a 12 mile climb up a 3,000 ft mountain.  My crew caught up with me at mile 50 around 11:00 am.  I packed enough food and water to make it alone for five hours.  I need to eat about every 15 minutes. During an 18 hour ride you have to force yourself with nutrition. After 8 hours, you don't really want to eat anything.  In fact, you get tired of eating after every 15 minutes but you HAVE to. This is because your stomach has been converted into a “blast furnace” and you can’t power your legs without fuel. 

To pass the time, I listened to the audio books. Like the recent book from Thomas Friedman entitled 'Thank You For Being Late'.   The weather was 60 degrees and overcast, great riding weather.  I wrapped up training ride day 2 at around 10pm, just a mile short of the NC border, then drove 75 miles to Boone, North Carolina.  I was disappointed that I could only cycle 160 miles - 16,000 vertical feet today. The hills were brutal and Friday’s ride was draining - but that's why we call this a training ride - so we can learn what is working and what isn't. My original goal was another 220 miles, but in hindsight that was unrealistic.  

On Sunday I started my day around 430am leaving Boone and heading south on the Blue Ridge Parkway with the hopes of riding to the VA border.  I pedaled about 60 miles and 6,000 feet of vertical under some extreme rain and foggy conditions. At one point I could only see about 100 feet in front of me. Jim and Tom caught up with me at 11:00 at the top of a ridge and I decided to call it quits.  As much as I was physically prepared to ride another 100 miles, the conditions were deteriorating.  Fog, rain and slick pavement in the mountains are simply a really poor trifecta. 

This was the most climbing I have ever completed (42,000 feet) over a 2 ½ day stretch. I was asked the question: "How does the ride you completed last weekend compare to riding throughout the Rockies?" It was more challenging because the Rockies are 30,000 feet of vertical over two days at max 6% grade with long climbs and long descents and some flat cycling in between. Last weekends training ride was all hills, all day and 42,000 feet of climbing over 2 1/2 days at 6-9% grade. The air is thinner in the Rockies and a much higher altitude which is a factor as well.

This training ride was a really good test for me mentally and physically. I had not cycled back to back to back - three days in a row with big mileage and very little sleep since 2012. I really felt it both mentally and physically. I underestimated how difficult it is to ride 3 consecutive days riding hills without ANY breaks. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive have almost no flat sections. You’re either climbing or descending - nothing else. It's mentally exhausting because if you don't pay attention on a downhill going 35 miles per hour - the consequences will be very stiff. The climbs are hard because they take up a lot of your physical energy. So you're teeter tottering between physical energy (climbing) and mental energy (descending) and there is little time at all to relax ! 

Our next test begins on April 21st when we ride from Reston to Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland and then on to West Virginia. Much of the route will be on the Race Across America course. Another 3 day event with RAAM crew team members Steve Gurney, Joe Knill and Brian Daum. 

Photo's Credit to Tom Massie

Metabolic Testing

On March 10th, I arrived in Boulder Colorado for a full day of testing and consultation on a bike fit for the new Specialized Roubaix that I'll ride during the Race Across America.

The Sports Medicine lab moved from the Boulder Hospital Center to the University Colorado Boulder campus about a year ago.  In fact Rob Pickels who was a leader in the lab, gave me a tour when I was in town for a road race in July 2015.  The facility is one of the finest labs in the world with state of the art equipment and a team of scientists that have more degrees than a thermometer.

At 7 am I arrived and met with the technician and former pro triathlete Jared Berg who would perform the metabolic stress test to better measure my output, efficiency and capacity converting fuel to power on the bike.  They hook you up to a machine that measures the amount of carbon dioxide that is expelled as you pedal on a bicycle with increasing resistance over a 60 minute time frame.  It's kind of like a mask with a plastic tube that sticks out and connects to a computer. You're also wearing a chest strap that measure your heart rate as the tension on the pedals increases.  Once you start pedaling the bike, they slowly increase the resistance which makes you work harder.  These increases are measured in watts.  Every 4 minutes they increase the workload by 50 watts.  The second test they perform during this test is called a "lactate threshold test".  To accurately measure the amount of lactic acid (LA) your body produces the technician pricks your ear lobe and places a drop of blood on a wireless sensor device that measures lactic acid in your blood at different watt outputs every four minutes.

The intent is to see at what rate of power output will your blood begins to accumulate excess LA.  Lactic acid makes your muscles cramp and if you can maintain a power output below the LA threshold you can pedal a bike all day and night without causing damage to your body.  When I performed the test in 2012, we discovered that if I could maintain 185 watts of power and a heart rate if 105 I could average 15 miles per hour and ride all day.

At the end of the test it was determined that I could generate 190 watts of power at the same heart rate level as in 2012.  This meant that over the five years of training I have become more efficient at burning fat and converting fuel to power.  The bad news is that I was not able to complete the test from fatigue after an hour on the bike.  This may have been influenced by being 5,000 feet above sea level.  It also could have been from a deficit in training due to cold weather in Virginia.  All things considered, I felt pretty good about the metabolic test and my fitness level and vowed to return in May and get re-tested prior to racing.

RAAM Winter Training

Originally Published March 14, 2017

With 14 weeks to go before the RAAM start time on June 13, I have been busy preparing with ongoing training amidst my speeches.  Although, my training has been interrupted by a lot of travel giving various leadership keynote talks across the country for Hopecam that I had committed to in 2016.  In the past few months I have raised over $30,000 giving speeches in Scottsdale Arizona, Melrose Minnesota, Atlanta Georgia, and Albany New York. All the talks are about the power of mission driven teams. Comparing where my fitness level was in January 2012 I'm feeling better about the training plan I have scheduled for 2017.  I also passed my "stressed" echo cardio test. Endurance athletes are high risk for heart failure - believe it or not from enlarged heart and thickening of the chamber walls. 

I started my winter training, in 90 degree temps in the Dominican Republic - cycled 200 miles in 48 hours - but also had some fun on the beaches and paddle boarding in the Caribbean.

In February I took a weekend vacation with my son Matt to Tulum, Mexico where we immersed in the Mayan culture, visited 4 different Mayan ruins, snorkeled and scuba dived in under water caves called "Cenotes" and generally hung out at the beach.

In February I joined five friends for three days of cycling in what is "normally" sunny and warm in Scottsdale Arizona.  I left Washington DC with a temperate 72° for a rainy and cold, 45° Arizona trip. What are the odds of 3 days of cold rain in Arizona in February? What are the odds of three 72° days  in Washington DC in February? I obviously need to spend more time in Las Vegas. Nevertheless I succeeded in cycling 300 miles in three days, making up for some much-needed mileage on the bike saddle. My bike behaved relatively well, with exception to my rear wheel on the last day. I descended 4000 feet from the "near peak" of Mount Lemmon, breaking a wheel spoke which made my rear wheel look like a taco. Thankfully Uber arrived in five minutes and drove me back for the last 30 miles.

It was terrific to ride with five friends for three days. It gets pretty lonely waking up at 4 AM and riding solo for eight hours on weekends.  So cycling with other folks really makes the day go by quick. The good news is when I'm riding by myself I'm listening to a lot of books on audible.  In fact I am absorbing a book a week. Ultra cycling has made me a terrific conversationalist, because I'm listening to books about leadership, fiction and historic biographies. There's no possible way I could read that many books in such a short time in my living room.

The next few months I will be ramping up my training with various 3 day training rides in North Carolina, West Virginia and Colorado. On March 24th I'll ride 700 miles in three days down Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.