There seems to be an unofficial Team Z policy where we have to ride as many miles as there are degrees of temperature on the day. How unfortunate for me, then, that the temperature up in Frederick when we finished yesterday’s ride reached 99 degrees.
I haven’t written a lot recently because training has settled into a predictable pattern. Pretty much unrelieved misery. That is mainly because the weather abruptly jumped into the territory of 90s and humid and, with the exception of a few precious days this week, stayed there. But even given those conditions yesterday’s ride was unusual.
We’re also starting to get into the territory of the really long workouts, the rides in particular. We knew it was going to be hot today and thought that by starting a little early and moving a bit further north we might beat the worst of the heat. I’d prepared well, taking plenty of fluids and keeping them in a cooler in the car (the ride was to be two loops) and I had a ton of endurolytes and some supplemental food for variety.
But the first big lesson I learned today is that you can think you are prepared for this kind of heat, but you never really are.
Ironically, the first part of this ride was one of the nicest I’ve had in a long time. The skies were perfectly clear, the air was still and, incredibly, cool (well, in the 60s and 70s). Almost everyone was doing one initial loop of 62 miles, but because this was one of two Team rides this weekend the roads were nicely populated but not crowded. As someone said during the ride, it is days like this that make you fall in love with cycling all over again. Birds were singing, my tires were humming along on the pavement, I felt great. I stayed strong and focused through the ride. One thing I’m trying to do on these longer rides is minimize the number of stops, so I get in the zone of the kind of continuous riding (managing the discomfort, keeping the focus) that will be necessary for the Ironman. The rest stop was at the Sheetz, a familiar place for those of us who have done variations on this route several times. This time, however, I was in and out only to pee and then back on the bike. Rode most of the way with a small group, lost touch with them briefly in the latter stages when I dropped a bottle during a transfer (and almost ran over it), but caught up again when we had to have an impromptu confab with Ed: a bridge on the route was under construction. Fortunately, the detour kept us with basically the same mileage.
100 is not ten more than 90
I felt pretty good after the first loop. When we got back to the cars I was all business: a quick change of the bottles, a quick slash, and then a quick consultation about any route changes. I had 90 miles on my schedule, but I figured that if I was out here for the 90 I might as well do the 100. What’s an extra 10 miles, eh?
I was only 5 miles into the 42 mile loop when I began to rethink my wisdom, or lack thereof. The temperature had not risen gradually, it had suddenly spiked. Everything that had made the ride so beautiful for the first part of the day–the cloudless skies, the sweeping views of open terrain–now combined to increase the discomfort level. I was hurting, feeling low on energy and starting to feel very hot. Suddenly, the negative thoughts began to pile in. If I can’t complete this ride how am I going to be able to complete an Ironman? I could maybe complete this but I’ll never be able to run after this? This is my strength, why do I suck at this? Where the fuck are the SAGs? Am I alone out here?
I took a short pause after making a turn and was hit by a wave of nausea, something I’ve never felt before. A couple of miles ahead and we reached the rest stop on the route, a Deli. I expected to see a SAG nearby, but there was no one in sight. I rode past the deli, and then stopped at a corner up the road and just stood there. Looking back on it, one thing that is hard to understand unless you have experienced it is how heat, and the first signs of heat exhaustion, affects your judgement. So I stood there for a couple of minutes making what to anyone on the outside should have been a blindingly obvious decision. You are dehydrated and overheated: get something to drink.
Finally, reality penetrated my internal heat haze, so I turned around and went back to the Deli. I saw a lone Z rider as I was pulling over. It was the first other rider I’d seen in the better part of ten miles. I stood in front of the drinks case again for a long while. I didn’t want something that was too heavy, or with too much sugar, or with too much caffeine. Well, I desperately wanted caffeine, but once you start taking it you have to keep taking it and I didn’t think I’d be able to get any more. So, no Coke.
I eventually opted for a huge think of Vitamin Water. Now, I consider Vitamin water to be basically a consumer scam, right up there with zero calorie sports drinks (what normal people would call. . .what’s the word. . .oh yes. . .water), Fit-Flops, and the Shake Weight. But it seemed like the lesser of the evils, and once it was in my hand, it was ice cold so at that point I didn’t give a shit. Tried to be moderately restrained and not drink the whole thing in one go. Failed. But it didn’t seem to have any ill effects, probably because most of it evaporated on the way down.
Maybe it was the drink, or maybe it was just spending a few precious minutes inside the wheezing air conditioning of the run-down Deli, but I felt a little better. Back on the bike, back on the road, back to the battle.
The route was the well-known Three Covered Bridges ride up in Montgomery, and ordinarily I would have been taking in the beautiful scenery. But I was head down, trying to keep focused on finding the right gear, keeping all the mechanics of cadence, position, etc. in place. The smallest rise was sending my HR up, but by this point I’d accepted that Zone 3 was the new Zone 2 and instead was just trying to ride to how I felt. Or rather, how I imagined I would be feeling if I didn’t feel like a squashed dog turd on a desert highway.
At one point, as I was approaching the last of the covered bridges, I thought I heard a bunch of women calling my name. Since I have that dream all the time I thought that I was probably hallucinating. Turns out, some of the Zers had pulled off by the side of the road and besat themselves in the nearby creek. When I found this out later I was mildly pissed. Joining a group of women in the middle of a rippling stream, apart from being another dream, had a lot to recommend it on such a day. But in all honesty, even if I had known that it was real and not a hallucination I don’t think I would have stopped. Every fiber of my being just wanted that ride to be over. And from the training point of view, I’m guessing that my chances of coming across a group of scantily clad naiads beckoning me from the seductive cool of a rippling stream during Ironman Wisconsin are about the same as me setting a new course record, so its probably better to prepare for the absence of such pleasures now.
There’s never a thunderstorm around when you need one
A little further up the road, and the road had become long, straight, and never-ending. I’d been biking through little dips which seemed to have developed their own micro-climates that were several degrees hotter than their surroundings. A gentle breeze had sprung up, but since it was a gentle hot breeze it basically served only to roast those parts of me that were inaccessible to the normal cycling-induced flow. Moreover, it was a gentler version of the wind that had almost made quit a similar ride in this area last year: incredibly, despite the twisty turny nature of the route it was always there and always in your face.
Then, like a mirage, in the distance there loomed the unmistakable shape of the Team Z Panzerwaggen. Ed pulled over the side of the road and I almost endoed coming to a screaming halt nearby. Ed hopped out and flipped up the back of the trick. The first thing I saw was Zoe’s head poking eagerly through the gap. The first thing I felt was a blast of cold air-conditioned interior comfort. I almost wept.
Ed handed me a Coke, and this time there was no decision process involved at all. I’m sure he was mightily impressed that I could still open it myself. I know I was. Then he poured a couple of bottles of ice-cold water over my neck and down the back of my jersey. It felt good, then a little weird (especially when it trickled into my shorts; Aha! I thought, This must be what it feels like to pee on the bike) and then it just felt blissfully awesome. I asked after other people, and Ed said that everyone was OK at the moment but people were really beginning to overheat. I finished about half the Coke, then, with 14 miles still to go, clipped in once again and pressed on.
My sopping wet Jersey was a godsend. . .until it dried about 10 minutes later. The hardest part of the ride was, in many ways, the loneliness. At one point I saw a group of riders in the distance. Finally, I thought. More team Zers. But then as I got closer I noticed that they were all riding mountain bikes. Then, to add insult to injury, they all turned off the road I was following. Still, it is probably good prep for the Ironman. It being a solo race and all. Still, it feels like a long while since I’ve been on a ride where the roads were that empty. Apart from the ever present shimmering heat haze, that is. I passed a few people near the end and they looked even worse than I felt, which was difficult to imagine. One team mate’s bottom bracket was making the same horrible grinding splintering noise that my brain had been making for the last ten miles.
I finally arrived back at the school parking lot. A few Zers had set up chairs in the shade of a lonely tree, and Kevin and Justin, two of the SAGs for the day, were sharing out the remaining food and cool drinks. I’ve never been on a Team Z ride where I’ve seen so many people so completely out of gas. The car was so hot that my sandals burned my feet when I put them on; thankfully my recovery drink and water was still cold. Although I guess it is all relative. For the last dozen miles I had been drinking Sustain that was the temperature of a cup of tea.
I hung around for a bit, while a couple more riders trickled in. But I needed some air conditioning, and I also needed to get home before I fell asleep. Just before I left, I checked my phone, and the real-feel temperature in the Frederick area was 99. As I left, someone was throwing up in the parking lot. When I got home and unpacked, I found an empty packet of potato chips and an empty Coke can in my gear. I must have grabbed them at the end of the ride, but for the life of me I don’t remember actually consuming them.
Total Distance: 105.2
Total Ride Time: 6:29
Total Time: Approx 7 hours.
Average Speed and HR for first 62 miles: 17.1, 123
Average Speed and HR for final 42 miles: 15.1, 132
I felt completely wiped after this ride; I still feel completely wiped as I’m writing this. But there were some useful things that I learned from a number of things that happened.
1) Rethink the electrolytes strategy. I didn’t end up cramping like some people, but given how salt encrusted I was at the end of the day I definitely could have used more. I still had a few e-caps left in my bento at the end also. However, as the ride went on, I was finding it increasingly difficult to swallow the pills, finding that they would stick in my throat. This is something I’ve noticed on other rides, but it was much worse today. While I have my watch set to beep every fifteen minutes to remind me to drink my Sustain (and that is working well), I lose track of whether we are in the hour (I plan to take an e-cap at the top and bottom of the hour). I prefer not to have my overall time showing on my computer, since that tends to not play well with my psyche in a race. Again, as the day went on, my ability to keep track of where I was with the e-cap intake diminished.
Solution: After Musselman I’m going to play around with adding Nuun to my Sustain. This should a) increase my overall electrolyte intake, and b) enable me to take them in as part of my regular drinking routine, meaning I have one less thing to think about.
2) The time has come for insulated water bottles. Why have I waited so long? Because I’m cheap. But something tells me this won’t be the last insufferably hot ride this year.
3) Plan for the distance, pace for the distance. I think the great conditions for the early loop faked me out a bit. Rather, I allowed myself to get faked out by them. I was thinking about the riding as a 60 plus a 40, when I really should have been thinking about it as a 100, and pacing the first loop accordingly.
4) Hydrate. Yes, I know this. And to some extent, when it gets this hot, it is impossible to really hydrate enough for that heat. For a 40 mile ride I would normally drink about two and a half bottles. Yesterday I went through the equivalent of five. But what I should have been doing was hydrating more on the 60 mile, again, in anticipation of the heat. But I also learned that all Sustain is not going to cut it. I felt my nutrition was good on this ride, but Sustain doesn’t quench a serious thirst. So that was a useful experiment, and now I’ll go back to the combination of some bottles filled with water and others with Sustain that I’ve been using before.
5) Bike issues. Bike isn’t shifting well. I’d been trimming it out, and then on rides it is clunky across some of the gears. I was mystified, until I looked back at my logs and realized I had over 1200 miles on this chain. Time for a new one. I’m also getting a strange kind of hot spot on my left shoe only that I need to get checked out.
6) The Mental Game. As always, I was happy to have completed the ride. And surprisingly the overall pace wasn’t that much slower than what I’ve been doing for zone 2 rides recently. But I was a little disappointed in my ability to stay positive when the going got tough. I also really wasn’t prepared for how the heat slowed down my decision-making process. Still, now I know, that is something I can anticipate and plan for.