The need to breathe

Coach George’s 7/18 buddy ride was excellent for quite a lot of reasons. First off, a ride that starts with a well formatted route sheet on arrival just makes me happy.

Side bar: I’m not entirely sure how so many bike riders fail to realize the space limitations of handlebars. There’s totally no room in a tiny map clip for three-quarters of a normal page width! I typically end up folding the vast majority of my sheets at weird locations (cutting off the helpful “tip” text) to make everything fit without encumbering my bar access — so I really appreciate when people get the format right. For the record, I’m also totally OCD about random crap like formatting issues… so I acknowledge/accept that the rest of the universe probably had to tune out during that little praise/rant section!

Aaaaaaand we’re back. After picking up my lovely route sheet and signing in, I had a few minutes to socialize with the crew while waiting for our pre-ride pep talk/info meeting. I was excited to see that Hilton (from my first season) made it, along with one of our honorees (and former ride support / coaches), Ed. I managed to corral them for a quick reunion photo before we rolled out.

Team Tikitiki reunites (partially)

The other big reason to love this ride was really familiarity. While the total loop was over 50 miles long, it mostly included locations that we’ve ridden before – which is definitely a bonus when you’re riding without SAG support! Hilton, Julie and I set out from our Starbucks basecamp and, after a few less familiar roads, found ourselves climbing up behind Foothill college — our new hill repeats stomping ground. We tackled a couple mini-climbs and then hit our first descent just in time to see Jonathan, on the side of the road, packing up his bike to be sagged out. Apparently, he’d hit a sharp banked right turn going a bit too fast (I think) and ended up going right off the road. Thankfully he was fine other than some more road rash action, but he’s definitely having a rough season for crashes! In some ways though, there was good in his misfortune. By an odd quirk of timing, my group was coming up on that curve just as they were recovering… so we all got a natural slowdown (and therefore safe descent) as we called to offer help. Eep!

We quickly progressed from the hill repeats area over to another favored haunt: the Arastradero preserve from our recovery ride. Hilton, Julie and I took our first rest stop there, and had a grand old time discussing the Tour coverage while we food/water-ed up (sometimes it’s nice to have that “go at your own pace” leisure!). Somewhere along the way we picked up Mike as well, and the four of us made easy work of that “not a climb” climb. With a quick left turn, we found ourselves rolling through another Bay Area favorite: the Portola Loop.

Now, it’s right about at this point in the ride (just after the devil false flat of Alpine) that I start to struggle a bit. For one, the day was really starting to heat up. By the time we actually hit Portola, I was glad for shade and starting to reapply sunscreen. But that wasn’t the real issue. You see… I hadn’t really thought that it might be important to mention… but I kinda couldn’t breathe (and still can’t for that matter). Not in an asthmatic sort of way, and definitely not in an allergies kinda mode. Truth be told, I wasn’t (and still am not) sure what was going on. I woke up one morning with a weird but minor condition that can really only be described as an intermittent chest tightness that only shows up when I take big, deep breaths. It doesn’t hurt all the time, and it doesn’t seem to be induced by stress, exercise, or known allergens (as I actually don’t have any). The issue had been going on for a little over a week at this point, and cycling had never really set it off. Before today.

Some combo of the heat and the lack of normal breathing rhythm caught up to me around mile 15 or so. My body wanted to take a few big deep breaths… but my chest would tighten up every time I tried. I didn’t hyperventilate or anything, I just took about a bazillion extra shallow breaths and felt more tired than I expected to at that point in the ride. So goes life. I was pretty confident that continuing the ride wouldn’t kill me (or even likely cause me any permanent damage), so I sucked it up (sadly, not literally) and rolled on. I felt slow and …gaspy… but I could definitely still pedal!

The ride continued for a good 20 miles without incident. We finished off the lovely shady end of the Portola loop pretty easily and I had what I felt to be a monster climb up Sand Hill (~10mph in the middle ring! Woohoo!). From there the route sheet took us through another portion of our normal recovery loop, passed the Stanford preserve and down Foothill expressway. Our fantastic foursome (to steal a moderately lame phrase) pretty well flew through this area – despite being nearly killed by another enormous peloton of biker bees – and had a nice recovery at Shoup Park before tackling the next big section (awesome thing number 3 about this ride? Lots of places for water and potty breaks!).

Isn’t the Stanford preserve area pretty?

By mile 30, the heat plus lack of oxygen combo was really getting to me. I was rocking some lead-legs, and definitely feeling the effort to turn the cranks over – even on a relatively mild stretch of kickoff ride road. (Seriously, if it’s part of the loop we hit on the very first ride of the season… it can’t be that challenging — we’d scare everyone away!) I kept huffing and puffing (well… taking quick, shallow breaths) and tried to keep my frustration level low (surprisingly, anger doesn’t really increase one’s ability to breathe easily) down the whole stretch of Foothill. From there we headed out to our old hill repeats torture section: Stevens Canyon Road! Oh yes folks, you read that right. Our last 15-ish miles was basically an out-and-back loop up passed our reservoir “warm up” stretch, to our old Eden laps turnaround park, and down the hill repeats graduation road. Fun times!

I had to make with some hawt birdbath action at the turnaround park, literally splashing the fountain water over my head and down my jersey to bring my core temp down to something reasonable. We were over 3.5 moving hours in at this point (probably somewhere around 1-1:30), and the day had gone from warm to hot. Pro tip #38: Pour water under your wick-away base layer if you want any hope of that cool goodness actually touching your skin. Those netted bastages definitely do their “keep water off skin” job, whether you want them to or not! With a little time to cool down, catch our breaths (especially important for me!), and carb-up, we all decided to make the final push and do the “graduation road.”

The climb out was more of a struggle than it should have been, but (as I told Julie and wasn’t lying) the rest of the ride really was all downhill. I mean… there were a couple rollers, but nothing that a bit of pedaling action and natural downhill momentum couldn’t solve. We all made it back to the start point intact and together — only to find that everyone else had already finished, SAG’d or bailed early. Oh well. We managed to rally a small group for some Chipotle reward action, before I headed home for some recorded Tour coverage. Nothing like spending all day biking, then coming home and spending hours watching other people do the same, no? Overall, the ride was a great route – although I did discover a lack of oxygen intake makes even familiar, easy roads challenging. I promise… I’ll get to the doctor at some point. Probably.

George Buddy Ride


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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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