Sunday, September 18, 2011

Seventy-four miles, with 22 minutes to spare

Yesterday's ride was wonderful in that it re-enforced the conclusion that training actually makes you stronger -- even at my age.

Simply put, for the entire 74 miles, I was maintaining my speed -- or perhaps even increasing it -- despite increased fatigue. The second long loop was clearly faster than the first. (Look in the "stopwatch" and "computer" columns.) The third long loop was about as fast as the second (the elapsed time was less, but the distance was less, as well.) Even the short loops, begun after 60 miles of riding and six hours or more in the saddle, held up surprisingly: I rode the final 6.8 miles in 37.5 minutes, for an average speed of 10.88 mph. (That includes stops along the way, mainly traffic lights; the "rolling time" was -- according to the computer -- 35:48.) That's faster than the first 20.4 miles, which took 1 hr 55 minutes, for an average speed of 10.64.

I'm not going to take the time to calculate the speeds of each loop any more precisely, for a couple of reasons, the first being that my note-taking is less than impeccable. The (admittedly long-winded) explanation of why this is so follows:

--- I rode the first two-tenths of a mile without my computer registering it. I happened to look down to see it reading "00.0" when it should have read, "00.2." Likewise, the mph read-out was "00.0," even though I was moving. I stopped and discovered that the computer itself, a compact instrument about the size of a man's belt buckle, was not snapped firmly into place on its mount on the handlebars. I pushed it forward with my thumb, heard it snap, eased forward, saw numbers appear, and I was on my way. Butfor the rest of that loop, the odometer would register about .2 miles less than it should, and the computer's stopwatch a minute or two less than it should.

--- It started to mist about ten minutes later, and after another 15 minutes it was raining. I could no longer read the odometer, but I knew the route, so although I couldn't check my progress (5 miles, so my wristwatch stopwatch should read less than 30 minutes, etc.) and my speed (I try to avoid falling below 10 mph) I had a pretty good feel for how I was doing. But there was something goofy about my gear shifting. I couldn't sense any difference between 2nd gear and 3rd gear. And I seemed to be working a lot harder than I should have, in 1st. Except for not being able to read my odometer and speedometer, the rain was not a problem, especially since I'd started out in my rain jacket (although that was because of the cool temperature; it wasn't supposed to rain.)

I also knew I had to take into account Friday's recalibration of my computer, from 2045mm to 2184mm. That should make all my loops read out longer, so I had to figure out some shortcuts along the way, and then check when I came back for a pit stop to see how far I'd actually ridden. This was made more complicated by the fact that I'd ridden the first 2. miles without the computer making contact.

Nearing the end of the loop I was contemplating aborting because of the rain. I was becoming sodden, and I remembered how cold I'd gotten the last time I'd ridden wet for a long time. But, looking around the sky for something to be optimistic about, I saw to my surprise a lightening to the southeast ... and a few minutes later, a brightening of the lightening. Minutes after that, the rain had actually stopped. I was so delighted I stopped to take a picture.

I carry my camera in the left-hand cargo pocket of my pants. Ten miles into the ride, I had hauled it out to enclose it in a plastic bag (I try to always have two or three with me, for shopping) because it was raining so hard I was afraid the camera would get wet. Now, though, as I tried to haul it out by tugging on a handle of the plastic bag, it seemed to be stuck. I say "seemed to be," because my left hand was numb, as it often gets to be when I'm riding, and as I reached down into my pocket to explore the situation, I couldn't feel anything with my fingertips. And the camera wasn't coming out. So I twisted my torso until I could grab the outside of the pouch-like pocket with my right hand, and work a couple of fingers down into the opening to make it wider. Then I shoved my numb hand down into the pocket far enough to close my fingers around the camera, and hauled it out, clutched in the numb claw which was my left hand. And I discovered why it had been so reluctant to be disgorged: its snout was erect. It somehow had gotten turned on while in my pocket, and the telescoping lens barrel was fully extended. No wonder it had been hard to pull out.

So, mystery solved, I took the picture, hoping to record the glistening pavement and the lightening sky ... but it had cost me a few more minutes, minutes I could only estimate.

I got back at the end of the first loop at 9:56; just time enough to replenish my water, re-set my odometer and stopwatch, and enter the penciled notes on my log before it was time to go, and at 10:00 I was off on the second loop.

The second loop went much better, and I was back for my pit stop at 11:47, which meant I had 13 minutes before my scheduled departure at 12:00. That meant I had time to go to the bathroom. Which was more complicated than I had anticipated.

I wear two pairs of liners to ride in. They are stretchy things, form-fitting, with foam padding to help ease the discomfort of sitting on a narrow saddle for multiple hours. They really do decrease the discomfort, but they have no fly, which means they have to be dropped below the knee to ... well, to answer nature's calling. Now this means four waistbands have to be negotiated: trousers, both liners, and underpants. They have to be taken down one at a time, because the combined resistance of all three elastic waistbands is simply too great to be overcome with one pair of thumbs. And then they have to come up one at a time, too, with care that they are not bunched or rolled, because there will be no opportunity within the next few hours to make adjustments.

All of which I brought off with admirable alacrity -- so much so that it occurred to me I might actually leave for the third loop a few minutes early, therefore building up my safety margin for the long haul. All elastic waistbands in place, a glance at my watch as I pulled up my trousers told me this was indeed possible. In no time I was in the alley, and, having zeroed out my odometer and stopwatch, and having made a mental note of the time -- 11:57, which I planned to jot down later -- put my right foot on right pedal, pushed off, and, swinging my left foot up ...

... put it right back down again. My pants were falling down. I had neglected to fasten my belt, they were riding a couple of inches low, and although I could walk without noticing anything wrong, lifting one leg high enough to get on a bike was impossible. I was hobbled.

I was in the middle of the alley, with nowhere nearby to lean my bike. I tried to lean it against me, while I used both hands to fasten my belt. But the front wheel kept turning, and rolling away from me, and I'd have to drop my belt to grab it. Then I hooked a pedal against my calf, and trapped the bike long enough to get my pants hitched up and my belt fastened. Finally in the saddle, I saw from the stopwatch on my wrist that I'd lost over a minute to these shenanigans.

And so you see why I have trouble making precise notes of start times, end times, etc. That's the first reason I'm skipping a lot of calculations. No point in making precise calculations of imprecise data. But the second reason for not calculating is that the bottom line is already clear: the training is paying off, my endurance and my speed are increasing. As I approach my 80th birthday, I'm getting stronger. That's what counts. And it feels mighty good, believe me.

I've got ten days to go. In my next post I'll touch on how I plan to use the time.


  1. Here's the deal, you ride enough miles and you don't need layers and layers of padding. Your butt just gets tough. If you haven't been riding it takes a few weeks, but your ass will adjust. The pain stops and you can ride for hours without hardly any discomfort. You might need to ease into it. I can't tell by your description, but if you are not wearing padded bike shorts, I would get a good pair and wear them under your pants. And, you DO NOT wear underwear in those bike shorts. Your body is right next to that chamois pad. If you wear underwear you will get the worst butt pain ever.

  2. Oh, and congratulations on your fast ride! You are definitely getting stronger.

  3. Thanks for the tip on the butt, Leslie. I've been wearing them for the past few rides, and meanwhile my butt has been getting tougher. I'm going to try going without, tomorrow, because I'll be riding less than 40 miles.