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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Round Valley Blues

Nobody is going to care about this post. Consider that fair warning.

I hit Round Valley today, Saturday, the end of my rest week with the intention of seeing how well I stood up against one of, if not THE, toughest mountain biking parks in all of New Jersey. This winter has been an incredibly productive one in terms of being on the bike and I wanted to see how it panned out. Let me tell you, it was awful. I felt like ass...wrapped in leathery...burnt...something. In all I guess I pulled a decent speed and time and all that crap. But my legs felt awful. All of the hills that normally give me problems gave me problems. I did not feel any better than anything I did last year. In fact, last year I did a much better job climbing some of the hills than I did today.

It started the night before, if I think about it. While getting the bike ready for the ride I took it for a spin down the driveway and in the street briefly. It felt heavy & lethargic. This should have been a red flag, since it's not like the bike gets fat during the holiday season. The last time I rode, it was like a rocket under me. No problems. Last night, it was heavy.

Things didn't get any better when I got on the bike. I was possibly going to meet Maurice, a guy I know who is going semi-pro this year. Thankfully he didn't show (which he said was possible) so I went at it alone. I had ridden to the front gate of the park to meet him and I didn't feel especially swift out there. I figured it would get better and I would spin out of it, shake it off, etc etc.

It didn't. The first climb is nothing special and I slogged up it with no problems. The rollers and another few climbs and then we go down the switchbacks, a nice zippy section that hurts going the other way but is fun going down. I felt good at this point. That dumped me into the grass and into the mouth of the first climb. Pulling up that I felt OK, not amazing. Still sluggish, I thought. But up I go. This is a long one, probably well over a mile and then it flattens out for, oh, maybe 50 feet at a trail sign. You can then go up the steep part of the climb or down to the camp road. Never camp road.

So up I go and in the back of my mind I expect to be able to climb this, even though last year it was sort of a pipe dream. I get up most of the way and then there's one little steep section that usually gets me and it got me again. I had been slogging up, so I wasn't surprised. But disappointed nonetheless. So I get off and walk the 5 feet, rest 30 seconds, then get back on. I clear the rest of it then get to a flat section that levels off before the downhill.

This is where Maurice catches me. "Hey, I have right of way," he yells. So we head down the hill and I fly down, pushing the flats and attacking the downs & rock gardens. Come to think of it, this is good that I'm writing this account because this might be the point I toasted myself. We buzz down the hill and at the bottom he says, "Nice pace! Good lines!" Now Maurice is naturally complimentary, but I did hit it hard with a max speed of 29.5 and I felt good. On the other hand, I felt the rock hit the rear tire a little too hard and by the bottom of the hill I was forced to swap the tire out. Flats suck.

So we climb out of it and I manage to make it up the hill, albeit really slowly. This one is burning me and again, this is a good perspective because a) I should not have been trying to keep up with Maurice at this point and b) I was actually doing quite well to this point. This climb was too much though. So no, there was not a single point of failure but a few. The third was the following rollers where I tried to keep pace and, for the most part, was able to. I missed 2 hills on the way, and the big one to get to the Cushetunk lot, but all in all I did well. Now I think about it though, he was probably pushing tempo pace while I was in LT pace, aka "blow it out." Not a good combination for a big Round Valley ride.

I walked up the steep one to get out of Round Valley proper and yes, I'm now certain I had been going way too fast because my attempt gave up the ghost far, far earlier than it should have. That's because I was cooked and I see that now. So anyway, down the super steep decline and loop around on the yellow technical trail, where I walk once and lean on a tree once. Then down to the lot where we pick up Woody and his brother Kevin. At this point we've been rolling for 1:05, which quite frankly is an astoundingly fast time for me. But again, what did I cook to do that?

Back up the hill is a joke. Reportedly only one person has ever been witnessed cleaning that hill and sure as shit wasn't me and to be honest I would have to see Ned Overend do it to believe anyone can. Maurice gets about 30 feet from the top. Why he's wasting his time with me is puzzling at this stage. Is this Active Recovery for him? I dunno. He said he's only doing an out and back which I know is less than his normal as he usually does an out and back and out then home. Since he lives local he can go in/out wherever he wants. Anyway, the rest of us walk up the hill. Rough.

The rollers back are more of the same for me. At this stage I've been cooked and I'm trying to keep it all in tempo, but I have no high-end. Screaming pain basically greets me with any hard effort to clear the steep stuff so I just clip out as opposed to push myself into the dark confines of the pain cave. It's as if my muscles have run out of glycogen, which is possible if I had ridden 4 hours but 1:20 in this shouldn't be the case. Somewhere in this area Maurice says he's off alone.

We catch back up to him and a guy Mike we know as they're talking in the trail. Mike's tire has come off the bead, which is scary. We depart and Maurice and I ride together a little more through the rock gardens and initial inclines of Puke Hill's far side. He's again off and the 3 of us trudge on, eventually walking it. When the tough part is over, I immediately lose Woody & Kevin for the next 10-15 minutes. What follows is a few rollers then some big downs. This is where I generally do my best stuff, on the rollers I can keep tempo and the downs I'm just much more practiced than the other guys right now. So I tear down the hill feeling fine.

Eventually they catch up to me waiting in the grassy knoll area and they turn back. Woody feels lousy and doesn't want to climb the switchbacks only to turn around and have to go up and over Puke Hill right off of that. Understandable. I go up the switchbacks, making the first half with a modicum of pain but then the second half necessitates me leaning on a tree twice for a count of 15. Not awful, but I should be able to make this. The rest of the ride is generally inane and not worth mentioning.

So what do we have here? This is my list of things that I imagine contribute to this being a disappointing ride:

1. Not keeping my own pace. As mentioned, trying to keep up with Maurice was a recipe for disaster and it caught up to me at the 0:45 through 1:05 stage. We met Woody and Kevin at the 1:05 mark on my computer. I hadn't felt like sunshine coming into it so this becomes even more important because I didn't ride my own ride.

2. This was my first big ride off a rest week. A lot of people say they feel sluggish coming off a rest week and this could have been the heavy/lethargic bike the night before. This usually doesn't happen to me so much. I usually shake it off pretty quickly but the balls-to-the-wall start of Round Valley might make that more pronounced. Something to keep an eye on, if nothing else.

3. My rest week wasn't exactly restful. I woke up at 5:00 5 times in the 8 days preceding for various reasons. Again, yet another minor detail that doesn't help the cause.

4. I've been in a calorie deficit mode for almost all of 2007 in an attempt to lose weight. I've been fine up to this point but this week I dropped another 2.5 pounds and you have to imagine going from 200+ to 183 is going to make a difference. In the long run nothing but good can come from it. But am I losing strength in the short term? I believe the idea you lose muscle when you drop weight is mostly a myth, especially when you ride through it. But then, maybe I'm wrong?

5. I tried the Monique Ryan eating plan for 2 hours before an event, which is basically 1 gram of carb for every pound of body weight. I couldn't do 180+ so I did a double pack of carnation instant breakfast (54g), a cup of rice milk (23g), 2/3 cup of a Cascadian Farms granola (42g) and 2/3 cup rice milk with that (16g) for a total of 135g. I also had a cup of coffee and 4 cups of water. Normally I would have 2 cups of water, a cup of coffee, a half cup of granola, and 1/2 cup of soy milk. The rice milk has more carbs than the soy milk so I went with that. While this is supposed to help, it may have had an adverse effect. I did not feel weighed down, however. I mention it for the sake of completeness.

6. My bike fit may not be as close to the trainer or road bike as it should be. At this stage when I'm improving, these details are going to start making a difference. I checked today and the seat is generally the same height, but with the rear shock you're going to lose some height as soon as you sit down. I recently tightened the seat post because I found it was sliding down. Need to make that a constant. You might chalk this up to a minor detail but it's actually a lot more pertinent than you think in terms of getting the most out of your pedal stroke. I ran the seat higher in the second half of Allamuchy last year and felt a big difference.

7. Shocks were set for a 200+ pound rider. Not a big deal but on a bad day every little thing is going to make a difference. I kept it stiff again today because I went to Lewis Morris (which is fast) and even there it felt too stiff through the rooty teal trail. Add that up for 2 hours and it makes a difference.

8. Too high expectations. Progress comes as it comes. You can't expect it to just be there.

I don't think there's 1 main culprit here, though I do think the combination of high expectations, a sluggish start, and pushing myself to keep pace with Maurice added up to a bad ride. I think everything played a role except the big breakfast thing. You throw that many things in a hopper and you never know what you're going to get out of it. Or maybe it was something different. That's one of the frustrating (yet cool and interesting) things about all of this. You never really know. There's no set course, no right way. If there were everyone would have it all figured out right now and it would be a matter of following steps A-B-C. Regardless, this is a good list of things to revisit from time to time in an effort to not have it happen again.

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