These clips weren’t made for walkin’

Coaches lie. Sometimes the do it intentionally. They’ll tell you you’re halfway up a 5 mile climb .75 miles in to try and keep you thinking positively (or to laugh in their own heads as you suffer… I’ve never really figured out which.). They’ll claim that something is “not a hill” based on asinine criteria that they can’t explicitly define and that changes depending on which non-hill they’re trying to downplay. (“You can see the top from here.” “The grade is less than X%”.  “There are only 12 switchbacks; real hills have at least 13.”) When they’re really feeling evil, coaches will tell you the ride is “all downhill from here” knowing full well that there are at least two climbs or 45 “rollers” to go. I expect (or hope) that there’s a method to their madness… but you can pretty much assume most non-safety related things they tell you are falsehoods.

The trickier scenarios though, are those when coaches lie unintentionally. They say things that seem reasonable and that don’t fall into the standard “coach-speak” repertoire. Take last Saturday’s buddy ride, for example. Coach Matt gives us a rundown of the ride before we roll out from the Menlo Park Safeway lot. He talks us through the 50 mile loop, which, other than a couple small climbs sounds pretty easy. He’s never ridden the whole route, only driven it… but we’ve done a couple 57-milers at this point – 50 should be cake! Matt does mention one road with a 100 yard or so steep climb, with an off-handed “remember you have feet if you need them” remark… but with my last couple weeks at hill repeats focused solely on short, out of the saddle climbs, I don’t think much of it. What’s 100 yards?! Have I foreshadowed enough here yet?

Roughly eight of us headed out together after our pep-talk (we had a really small turnout for this ride for some reason). We made quick work of Alameda de las Pulgas before turning onto our “warm-up” hill at mile five, Edgewood. Despite some pretty cold muscles (why oh why did I forget my armwarmers?!), I buzzed up this bad boy without too much of an issue. The group turned right onto Crestview at mile 7, where I dropped into my baby ring and prepared to stand… only to see my entire crew walking up the hill. As in… not on bikes. What the hell?? That’s not a good sign. I took a deep breath and resolved to sit and spin for as long as I could before standing (which always makes my heart rate explode instantaneously). I pushed into my lowest gear and got to work.

Wow. 100 yards was definitely a lie. As far as I can tell from the map data, the first “mini summit” was about .75mi up… and running about perpendicular to sea level. About halfway up to the false top, I could no longer hear people talking next to me over the sound of my own breath. I switched my hands to the top bars and got my whole upper body working to keep moving. My speed dropped to somewhere around zero (although I did manage to keep going just enough to prevent the Garmin from shutting itself off). That grade was ridiculous! I passed 4 or 5 people walking, as I got it into my head that I could at least make the first intersection before I had to dismount… which is exactly what I did. At the first side street, I hopped off the bike and started hoofing it toward the top.

Now, walking in clips is dumb. Really dumb. You can’t balance properly on your toes (because there’s a giant frikkin’ piece of plastic there), so you end up waddling like a duck back on your heels. Only… when you’re walking uphill at absurdly steep angles… waddling doesn’t really work. You need to push from the calves, which requires full-toe contact. EESH! After about 100 feet of awkward-walk, I gave up, pulled into someone’s driveway (to have a flat spot to clip in), and went back to gut-punch climbing. I huffed and puffed, gasped and wheezed the rest of the way to the stop sign… in the saddle. Woofreakinhoo! Once everyone reaches the “top,” Matt lets us know that we should have rollers the rest of the way up, and pedaling through the downhills should get us up the next climbs with ease.

…right. I’m not sure if Matt ever actually drove this road, or just has a really bad memory… but there were no “downhill” sections. We were treated to some “significantly less steep” uphill sections, but the next .75 miles to the actual summit were 100% climbs. The Garmin will verify!! (And in case you’ve been keeping track? The whole of Crestview was ~1.5 miles… not so much 100 yards. Average grade estimate is 9%… although I guarantee it was much higher along the way. Always lies.) In good news, I was bound, determined, and able to reach the actual crest of Crestview in the saddle, without stopping. I’m pretty sure that a few people walked it faster than I climbed… but no matter. I pulled that shit out on a bike! We took a few minutes for recovery at the top, and tried to put in a call to Don to give him fair warning on how terrible this climb would be. (I hope, for the sake of his ladies, that Don got that message. Owie!)

Luckily the descent off of Crestview and eventually down Ralston was pretty long and served for good recovery time. I kicked up some good speeds coming downhill, and pounded some food and drink at the bottom (no cramps for me today, please!). We watched a deer and its very tiny baby meander across the street (thankfully safely), before turning off the main drag and onto Crystal Springs road. I should have been able to make quick work of this “not a climb”… but I’m pretty sure that I’d blown all of my reserves back on that mile seven monster. My lead-legs and I did rock the entire stretch of road in the saddle, and not even in my smallest gear — it just took awhile.

Our crew headed next out Sawyer Camp Trail, a 6 mile multi-use trail that circles the Crystal Springs Reservoir. The loop reminded me a bit of riding back on the Los Gatos Creek trail. The surrounding scenery is gorgeous, and it was definitely an excellent place to continue recovering from climbs… but they constant people dodging inherent in “multi-use” public areas can be frustrating. If I hadn’t been so tired, I’m confident that I would have been more annoyed. Still… I could absolutely imagine taking people newer to bike riding around this trail, as it is very pretty and very manageable.

At the top of the Sawyer Camp Trail climb, our group decided to go “off sheet” and head out Skyline instead of coming back down and performing Dodge The People: Act Two. I’m pretty sure that we ended up with a few extra “rollers” (coach speak!) for our trouble, but we did get back down to Hwy 92 fairly quickstyle. Now, right about here is where our group broke apart.  I missed the light on 92 by about fifteen seconds, and then didn’t weigh enough to trip it for the next two cycles. By the time a non-human-motor vehicle showed up, the entire group had a 10 minute lead on me. I may be capable of a decent short sprint… but catching them at those distances just wasn’t gonna happen! Thankfully, Dan waited for me just passed the light, so he and I headed out together to finish the last twenty miles.

From this point on, the ride progressed into super familiar territory. We rolled down Canada Road (site of our pacelining clinic), and picked up Chi Lam’s buddy, Shawn, along the way. Apparently his energy was starting to flag and he’d dropped off the tail of the main group somewhere along the flats. The three of us meandered down parts of the Woodside-Portola Valley loop (Olive Hill wiggling to Woodside, to Portola to Apline style), consistently dropping pace along the way. You see, Shawn hadn’t ridden in awhile. A good long while apparently. (Don’t start your friends back to cycling on a 50 mile climb-heavy ride, people!) Somewhere in the vicinity of Portola Road, he came perilously close to a bonk without saying anything (sigh… boys). Dan and I noticed him falling off our backs, even with the pace around 10mph on flats and started to get worried. I declared the need for another rest stop, where we all but force fed him a Power bar and a Gu. With the number of times I’ve “hit the wall” or had someone in my ride group do so… I recognized the signs easily (and buddy rides don’t come with SAG!). For the record: if Chocolate Outrage Gu ever tastes like “the best thing you’ve ever tasted”… you are in dire need of carbs. 

Sugar consumed, we were ready to roll back out for the last 10 miles of the ride. I kept the pace low (near-bonk is not the time to be setting speed records), determined to make sure that we all finished together. We had a few minutes of worry on Willowbrook Drive, as there’s a tiny little gut-popper bump at the end — but managed to hit the “really downhill from here” stretch of Alpine after only one more small break.  The three of us rolled back into the Safeway parking lot intact, and acceded to a near-ravenous Shawn’s demands for a cheeseburger in short order. All told, it was a very pretty 50 milers – just a bit more challenging that coach-speak had led us to expect!

Coach Matts 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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