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.