A Different Kind of Labor Day

Alternate Post Title: FRIKKIN’ FINALLY!!

Generally speaking, I don’t approve of failure through not trying. If I go out, give something my all, and then find out I can’t do it — fair enough. I need to train more/work harder/grow taller/read books/sleep less… whatever. Tried + fail = ok. Room to grow. Applies to all facets of life really. On the flip side, failing at something due to complete inaction? Problematic. I accept that I can’t be good at everything (or even, really, a lot of things), but I can’t accept that until I’ve at least tried it. Could I be a scuba diver? Maybe not… but until I take a course, strap on the gear, and hop in the water… how will I know?

This “guiding principle to life” is why the latest failure on Old La Honda really got in my head. I knew I could ride that hill. I’d dominated (or at least limped through) bigger and bad-assier hills than OLH. Multiple times. In sometimes ridiculous weather conditions. How is it possible that this one stupid road bump continued to elude me?! Often through no fault of my own! I steamed over it for about a week. Grumbled, bitched, kvetched… whatever you wanna go with. Until Julie (probably annoyed at said whining) says to me — “Do something about it. Let’s ride it.”

Like alone? Without SAG and team encouragement? Give up on my “doomed to fail at Old La Honda forever” posture and… just… ride it?! Well shit. Now there’s an idea! We could just pick a route. Map one out designed specifically to ensure OLH climbing success. Short warm up and then straight to the hill (no “extra” climbs to break down the legs early). Down 84 and then another short cooldown back to the start. This could work! I know how to make route sheets!!

And so I did. I hopped my tail over to MapMyRide, picked a known starting area and mapped out a ~30mile loop designed purely around climbing the “Bay Area Hill Standard.”  The following Monday was Labor Day, so Julie and I decided to make the most of a long holiday weekend and met up around 9am to get ‘er done. We rolled out pretty casually, and took our time warming up the legs through the back rounds of Menlo Park and into Woodside. The roads were surprisingly empty for a holiday weekend (maybe everyone else was at the beach? Or BBQ-ing?), and the weather was perfect — sunny with just a few puffy clouds; warm without being hot.

By the time we hit Portola Road, I was feeling pretty good. My chest was bothering me (yet), and you really couldn’t ask for a better day to be on the bike. By the time we hit the base of Old La Honda, I was raring to go. Julie and I stopped at the bottom, Gu’d up, and then agreed to meet at the top. I took a deep breath (or as close as I could come to it), clipped in and started spinning.

The climb was surprisingly easy… which I think makes sense compared to how much it had obviously been built up in my mind. Now, I’m not saying that it wasn’t work, because it was. There are bastardly punchy sections of that hill that exist solely to make you pop kidneys. There are unexpected switchbacks that make you wonder if there is, in fact, a top to this thing. There are, in some cases, couples riding side by side in matching rainbow jerseys just fast enough to stay ahead of you… but just slow enough to make you think you could get by if you tried. For the record, those suck. I spiked my heart rate at least three times trying to pass, or passing and then getting lapped by, a couple wearing rainbow argyle. I really hate climbing directly behind someone… but couldn’t quite seem to break the pace with these folks. Grrrr!

For extra bonus fun, sometimes there are fail route sheets. As it turns out, if someone were to accidentally include the west segment of Old La Honda in the route, it might make you think that the hill was 3 miles longer than it actually is. This in turn might make you aggressively start throwing down GU, spitting wrappers on passerbys… 1/8th of a mile before the summit. And by “might”, I mean “did.” I made the fail route sheet, thought I was 3-3.5 miles from the end and, feeling kinda tired, decided I should proactively take down some carbs. A couple passing me on the left (who, thankfully, didn’t actually get hit by my spit) chatted me up as they went by. On finding out this was my first time climbing OLH, they congratulated me on finishing the climb. I yell back (as they start to pull away) that they should hold their congrats until I actually finish… only to find them at the top, just around the next switchback. Who knew?!

I’d like to say my feeling of finally cresting Old La Honda was euphoric – I mean, I’d stressed about it enough that it should have been – but I was so dang surprised to actually have hit the summit that my first reaction was “Damnit! I could’ve had a better time if I’d know the top was that close!” About five minutes later, the joy-part set in and I stood around grinning at random people (and telling them all about my “first time”) while I waited for Julie to finish her climb. Thankfully, most cycling folks at least remember being noobs once upon a time — and they bore my enthusiasm graciously.

Julie hit the top maybe 10 minutes later. After a quick recovery and “wow, how awesome are we for doing this unsupported?” chat session, we rolled out again to enjoy our descent down 84 — which was surprisingly technical! Hwy 84 is supposed to be the “safe descent” compared to coming back down OLH… so apparently I’m never trying that idea!

The remaining cooldown miles flew by, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they were without looking at the route sheet. I’d done what I set out to do, and that was what frikkin’ mattered. I remember that we had a great rest of the ride and that the weather stayed gorgeous. And even if that wasn’t 100% true at the time, it’s definitely how I’ll remember it. I mean, my lung issues held themselves in check for a day, I finally conquered the Beast — and did the entire thing in the saddle; no stopping. Pretty damn good for a Monday.

Holiday OLH Ride

The Quest for Breath

You could almost make an entirely separate blog to chronicle the issues and idiocies that I endured trying to find out why I couldn’t breathe normally last summer. The lung fail was intermittent, never seemed to happen when I actually was at the doctors’, and, apparently, was considered to just be “weird.” My first visits weren’t very useful, and with work and training taking up so much time… I kinda got lazy about following up with the docs. After the OLH failure though, I got serious about finding out what the hell was going on with my chest, called the Kaiser urgent care line and gave the dude on the phone the rundown:

Randomly occurring chest tightness that kept me from being able to get “over the top” when trying to pull in a deep breath. Food, allergens, stress, work and exercise do not seem to have a direct correlation. Occurs at any time of the day without warning.

This description quickly spawned a battery of increasingly ridiculous (and ultimately useless) tests with freakishly normal results.

  • Assigned on a whim inhalers: Worthless. Given as a result of basically no testing, and, other than fueling one fairly awesome climb, had no impact on anything (other than a weird feeling on my teeth).
  • Chest xray: clear. No pneumonia or other terribleness.
  • Skin-stab allergy test: I am allergic to nothing.
  • Sub-cutaneous (stick shit UNDER your skin) allergy test: I am still allergic to nothing. Except histamine. But everyone’s allergic to that.
  • Pulmonary function test: I have “a really gorgeous set of lungs.” Yep. Someone actually said that to me, and it was exactly as creepy as it sounds. Lung tech may or may not have asked me to do extra breaths just so he could see results in the 90th-plus percentile again. Must be sad to only ever test old people.
  • Weird stretching exercises to expand my chest muscles: good for me (as I’m terribly inflexy), but offered no measurable result for breathing.

In the end, the doctors never figured anything out, and my issues eventually (weeks later) subsided. Personally, I think I strained my chest wall in a core class and noticed tightness issues whenever I really thought about taking in a deep breath.  My mom swears I was having panic attacks (a theory on which I still call bullshit! Other than the one day with ashes, I never even came close to hyperventilating!). I can say, for sure, that the breathing problems made most of last summer season’s rides challenging. Some were better than others, but none were great — which was a really tough pill to swallow in my first season as team support. I muddled through the best I could though, “taking one for the team” to hang back with anyone having a bad day — and did successfully complete most rides.

Speaking of, is anyone else ready to get back to the ride posts? Me too. On it!

Pulmonary Dysfunction

Do you ever wonder if you just weren’t meant to do something? Like you try and take a trip somewhere and always miss ticket sales or your dog gets sick or your car breaks down on the way to the airport… and you just wonder if maybe the universe is trying to tell you not to go? I’m pretty sure that’s me and climbing Old La Honda. Every time the OLH Odyssey ride rolls around I get excited. I’m finally going to be one of those cycling nerds who compares times up “the hill” (or who has the option to compare but decides not to for reasons of not bragging/being mocked) instead of just wondering what all the fuss is about. And then something happens. I break a bone and am not in good enough shape when it’s OLH ride time. The weather turns terrible and it’s not safe to climb. For whatever reason, I never manage to go up this stupid, supposedly mythical hill. Granted, I’ve actually only tried twice… but that’s not the point!

Last August’s Old la Honda ride was, sadly, no exception. I show up, ready and raring to “tame the beast” and get myself geared to head out in short order.  Snag a quick briefing on the ride, meet up with my team, and roll onto Foothill. I remember noticing that the world smelled faintly like barbecue… or campfires… but didn’t think much of it. We were going to tackle Old la Honda!! Finally! What did cookouts have to do with me?

In case you aren’t good at anticipating my heavy-handed foreshadowing, I’ll tell you now – the answer is: a lot. Less than two miles into the ride, I started having trouble. I was shouting “GAAAAP!!” and gasping like a fish out of water pretty much immediately. On Foothill! Possibly the flattest and fastest piece of pavement in a 20 mile radius! My coach dropped back to check on me.

“What’s going on there Jamie?”

“I dunno… can’t seem to breathe. I guess my lung issues are flaring up again.”

“Well, you did hear that Santa Cruz is on fire, right?”

*blankstareface*

“…yeeeaah. So there’s a giant wildire going on not that far from here. It won’t impact our route or anything, but there’s a lot of ash in the air. It might cause folks to need to work harder to breathe… didn’t you hear us cover this at pre-ride meeting?

Thinks to self: Of COURSE I heard it… I just didn’t anticipate it having an impact on ME! It’s OLD LA HONDA DAY!

*grumbles some reply that was likely both offensive and vaguely incoherent*

“So… uhhhh… maybe you should drop back to the Bs for today. We’ve got plenty of support, why don’t you take it easy?”

Had I been able to get a word out of my mouth, I probably would have declined. Or at least wanted to pretty badly. I’m your *ride support* for pete’s sake… not the noob who falls of the paceline!! But I was getting dropped on the easiest part of any ride ever and, after two minutes of standing still, could not breathe. My legs felt like jello at mile two. So I acceded. My group rolled off, and I continued my grind up Foothill — too stubborn to call it a day this early, breathing or not.

I was pretty quickly caught, and subsequently passed, by the Bs… and then the As. I slogged out the first ~15 miles to rest stop 1, on truly some of the easiest road in existence… in my little chain ring at about 10 mph. Apparently lungs are fairly essential tools in powering your body to ride (who knew?!), and my legs pretty much told my brain to shove it at the wussy levels of oxygen I was providing. At the first rest stop, I flagged down Charles (who was, once again, providing rock-star SAG) and pulled out the useless-to-date inhaler.

Side note: We missed a post on this. My vaguely fail doctor decided that I *obviously* had what I can only term “Random Onset with only Some Symptoms Adult Asthma” and prescribed two inhalers to help with my lung issues — one for every day and one for “attacks” — despite the fact that I never had an attack or …really… more than one  indicator off the laundry list signs of asthma. The daily one didn’t do crap other than to make my mouth taste bad twice a day, but I carried the emergency jobber around on the off chance that the doc’s predictions would prove correct (in which case having it would save my life… right?).

I figured that if I was ever having “an attack,” this must be what it felt like. I wasn’t quite wheezing, but I was light headed and couldn’t get enough air in to power my legs… or much of anything else. So I tried it. Two puffs of the emergency inhaler, a wave off of the “maybe you should just SAG this one” and I was off to climb Stevens Canyon Road. (Have you gotten the impression yet that I’m a teeeeeeensy bit stubborn?)

MAN! Does that lung stuff make a difference!! I can only assume “rescue inhaler” is another term for some combination of crack and steroids. By the time I left the parking lot of rest stop 1, I had gone from feeling just about as bad as I’d ever felt on a bike to… superwoman. Or my version thereof. I powered up that climb and even managed to catch back up to the groups that had dropped me (well, the A/B folks… my team still lapped me). I hit the end of the road and flipped around, ready for a typically awesome descent. When it’s not wet, that road is super fun to ride down!

Turns out, crack and steroid highs are short lived. About halfway down the hill, I started feeling kinda lame again. Bottom of the hill I seriously considered sagging out of the ride — before deciding that I could still bang this thing out. Back out on Foothill (this was an out and back piece of the route), I was worse than before. I was literally in my smallest ring, panting, alone, and pushing a whopping 7mph. And then, to make things just a bit worse, I spaced out and completely missed my turn… adding 6 miles to my route. Full of win!

I did eventually get back on route and made it all the way to Altamont. The very foot of Altamont, to be precise.(For those who don’t remember the reference, Altamont is a beastly little gut-popper that exists to make cyclists cry. It’s just long enough and just steep enough to suck lots.) I Gu’d up. Poured water on my head to cool down. Clipped in. Spun twice. Realized there really wasn’t another gear lying around, waiting to take me up the hill. Turned around and flung my bike in the truck. Yep… at this point, Charles had been assigned to be my personal SAG. I was THAT far behind. I had made it a full 36 miles, but I truly had nothing left in the tank. I couldn’t climb Old La Honda if I couldn’t breathe. Hell, I couldn’t ride the flats! I found the limit to my stubbornness, accepted that OLH wasn’t going to happen for me… again… and threw in towel.

To add insult to injury, I had to ride along as SAG for the rest of the team for the remainder of the day. Just because I failed didn’t mean Charles was off duty! On the one hand, I was happy to cheer folks on — especially those climbing “the beast” for the first time — but I’d be lying to say it wasn’t hard to watch, knowing I couldn’t pull it off myself. Again.

Believe it or not, I did live through it. The rest of the team rockstar-d up the climbs and, for the most part, had a nice, uneventful day. (Apparently ash doesn’t affect all equally!) As for me, the best I could do was resolve to get my lung issues nailed down sooner than ASAP – with Moab on the horizon, climb skipping just wouldn’t work!

TNT Ride #8 Old La Honda Odyssey

When you can’t do it right, go for quick

Has it really been almost seven months since I posted here?! Well… I don’t have to ask. I can look at the dates. The answer is yes, and that’s frikkin’ SAD! I’d give you a litany of reasons/excuses as to why, but I’ve done those posts before and they’re not nearly as fun as the ride detail posts. (Plus, I’d give away the ability to bomb-drop and buildup if I tell you now!) So, instead, I’m just gonna get to it. Short stories, bullet points, multi-ride posts… whatever it takes — we’re gonna get this puppy up to date this week. Probably. It’s a tall order (and I’m nothing if not long winded), but I promise to try. Starting… NOW!

Two’s company

I just didn’t have the energy to get up for the recovery ride after Tour de Montañas, so I voted to sleep in a bit and then hit the trail near my house for a quick loop. Sometime around 10am I actually managed to roll out of bed to try and get the deed done. Per usual routine, I invited the other half to ride as I suited up… and nearly fell over from shock when he agreed to accompany me! We checked his not-ridden-in-a-year tubes, replaced one, and then headed out to the Foster City trail.

There’s actually not a ton to say about the ride. I rolled without Garmin, so I don’t have any data and the +/-1 ft elevation gain doesn’t give a ton of challenge to walkthrough. The most interesting part of the whole event was really riding it with someone else, especially as that someone else was Charles – who I’ve been trying to get back into cycling on and off for two years! Riding is just more fun with other people (well, with cool other people anyway), and that’s doubly true on routes that suck. There’s nothing like chatting/singing/making fun of people to keep your mind off of terrible roads!

Anyway, we rode a 10 mile loop out to Seal Point dog park, back down passed our house, over to Chipotle for lunch and then home again. The trip was enjoyable despite the still-present evil headwinds, although I think we both learned a good “only after rides” lesson for the best burrito intake process. We did make it home (with food still in its proper location), and I think Charles enjoyed the run much more than the fail Los Gatos trail miles we used to ride in San Jose. In fact he ended up doing a couple solo rides on his own over the next week! Perhaps I’ll have a new ride partner sometime soon after all (…at least for the short rides!  …for now!).

Super (stalker) SAG

Still playing catchup on posts, but as it’s after 10pm on a ride night… I’m probably only going to get a short one in.

From a “how the ride went” perspective, the Tour de Montañas was pretty uneventful. Sure, it was hot — but we’ve done much hotter rides. It was long — but we’ve done longer. There was climbing but… well, you get the idea. On the whole, my team performed really well on their longest route up to that point. There were definitely things that could be improved upon (leaving a paceline out of a stoplight? not a race!), but most things that were “wrong” were really more like fine tuning of techniques than actual problems.

The real story of this week’s ride was having Charles as driving SAG for my team, complete with doggie sidekick! This was the first day in over a year that Charles has been able to sign up for SAG, and his first time as road support (rather than rest stop volunteer). I was a little worried that he’d be bored (hey… 65 miles worth of riding takes a frikkin’ long time!), but I’m pretty sure that he actually enjoyed it… once he recovered from the absolute horror of being out of bed before 7am, that is. The Dream Catchers rolled out of Foothill College a little after eight, with our trusty SAG support following by about 10 minutes. We quickly covered the first 10 miles (Foothill and over Mt. Eden? No problem!), and had a regroup before covering the next reverse downhill – Pierce. Side note: Big congrats to Chi Lam who made it down the backside of Eden on bike! Re-riding an accident scene is always tough, but he rocked it!

Pierce was a new and nasty hill for me… but, thanks to my ever-knowledgable teammates, one for which I was (at least mentally) prepared. After a little gut-punching action, we enjoyed a nice series of downhills to Rest Stop #1 at McClellan park – passing the time by hunting for my black truck SAG stalker. Charles wanted to execute his duties with “optimal response time” to any potential incident, so we saw him every mile or two as he pulled off to make sure we were ok (Sasyha helped… or… stood outside the truck looking official at random intervals… ). After a quick refuel break, we hit a good stretch of paceline practice roads back in the Alameda de Las Pulgas – Menlo Park area.

Of course, there’s only one way that we ever seem to come off of Alameda de Las Pulgas… and it’s one that made me glad for the group-ride energy conservation: Edgewood Road. We did part of this climb for Matt’s buddy route (right before turning off to hit “the wall”), and I’ve driven it about a billion times – but man did I underestimate what a pain it would be to ride! In all actuality, the hill itself isn’t too tough — just a little over 2 miles long at a reasonable grade. The problem lies in hitting that climb in 90 degree heat with 40 miles already under your belt. The road actually cuts through two larger hills on either side, which means that you get absolutely zero breeze going up. The sun pretty well baked me dry, but (thanks to an emergency Chocolate Outrage Gu!) I made the top without stopping.

I was in pretty dire need of rest come Rest Stop #2 at the summit. Thankfully, Charles was there to fill my “hug something warm and fuzzy” distraction needs, while Sashya filled my bottles and fed me fruit. Wait… hrmmm…. reverse that. I hugged the puppy, recouped (puppies really are the best medicine!) and headed for a nice downhill to the ol’ ride sheet standby – Cañada. Yes, again. Stop asking. We put our “you’re only as fast as your slowest person” gap calling paceline skills to work on this stretch – those headwinds really are a bitch, and people are tired by mile 45. We accidentally temporarily lost our super SAG  by pulling off for a potty break at the non-car-accessible water temple. Oopsie! We did manage to find him again in a couple miles (he rode all the way to the end and back looking for us), but we would have totally blown his self-imposed response time goals had anything actually gone wrong. Lucky for all involved, the worst thing anyone could complain of on that stretch of road was some tired legs.

The next miles were familiar and uneventful. We headed down Portola to Alpine and then climbed up the backside of Arastradero. With only 5 miles to go, everyone started to perk up a bit… only to get smacked in the face a bit with another climb over Purissima. The whole team made it up, but the “GAAAAAAP!” calls increased drastically — a sure sign that people were wearing down. And then… Elena. We’ve done this hill a bunch of times for repeats, but not typically this side, and never the whole way darn stretch! Grrrrrr. Our team split up pretty drastically on this climb (much to super-SAG’s chagrin — too much space to cover effectively!) as we spun out the last two miles. Yep… a two mile climb at the end of a 65 mile ride. At least Coach George didn’t try and call it “just a bump,” as I think someone (me) might have had to punch him. Or at least had to think about punching real hard while, in reality, being too tired to execute pretty much any nonessential movement.

I was dragging tail over the last stretch, but seeing Charles and Sashya every little while helped me a lot. Maybe it’s true that smiling while climbing relaxes you (seriously… Google it! That’s a documented cycling theory right there!), because I was actually able to make the summit without stopping. After a pretty nasty descent over some “road work in progress” pavement, the entire team regrouped back at Foothill College. I forced everyone to stand still long enough to snag a group picture:

before Charles and I headed out to lunch to review his premier SAG performance. Hey – if he’s going to make this a regular thing… we need talk strategy! The team is up for a 75 miler next weekend (well… the weekend after this ride… which was back on the 8th), so stay tuned for more super cycling stories soon.

Tour de Montanas

Super slacker

If you’re familiar at all with the rotation of posts in this blog, you’re probably wondering where all the hill repeats posts are… right? Well, there’s a quick answer: there aren’t any. Due to an amazingly lame combination of late work meetings, lung problems, wildfires and doctors appointments, I’ve only managed to do one hill repeats night in the past month! Try not to faint away in horror, please. Believe it or not, this is something that I’m extremely bummed about. Moab (crazy ride I’ve been training for … remember?) has over 9,000 feet of climbing – most of it frontloaded into that little gem called the Big Nasty. I’m positive that the end of this season is definitely not the time to be slacking on my hills training, but apparently my boss, my body and quite possibly the universe doesn’t agree.

Besides the need for more preparation, I actually (as we’ve noted before) really enjoy doing the climbing nights. The one time recently that I made it to hills and skills (8/4 – stats below), I had a killer time on the “hard loop.” I definitely didn’t rock as many repeats as the strongest riders, but I conquered the Concepcion->La Paloma->Evil Side of Westwind loop a full four times before degenerating into Al death threats. Surprisingly, given the number of skips I’ve had, I even still had energy for the “empty the tank” sprint on the way back. I’m sure the fast people in front of me were just worn down from their extra climbing loops, but I swear I almost caught one! More importantly, that endorphin high (oh-so useful after a stressy week at the office) lasted through the ride, through Chipotle and back to the house — where I promptly passed out by 9:45. Man, could I use some of that this week!

Point of the story? You’re not missing a bunch of posts — I’m missing rides. End of release cycle at work is always crazy, and leaving at 4:30 is tough. I’m still fighting with the docs over what could be wrong with my lungs, and can only cross my fingers, wait and hope that they’ll figure it out soon. I am definitely trying to make these last few repeats before our event day though (universe willing), so I’ll keep you posted. Ha, posted… terrible blog pun…

Hills and Skills 5


What do we have here?

An often sarcastic, occasionally humorous journal of my training adventures in preparation for the Livestrong century ride. I took up cycling back in '07 in hopes of meeting new people, and, with the help of Team in Training, making my small positive difference in the world -- and haven't stopped spinning since. Follow along as my Trek road bike and I try and hash out our differences, hopefully with me upright and in the saddle.

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