Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Metabolic Rehab part 3 - The Vive! Protocol

***Disclaimer - I am not a medical professional, nor do I claim to give any medical advice. This blog entry is to discuss my personal understanding of how dieting impacts our metabolic process, and how my body has responded over the past 4 years to my fueling and exercise regime. Please consult a medical professional before making any changes to your fueling and exercise program.***

***Disclaimer 2 -  This blog revolves around my use of a product for fueling called Vive Shake.  There are no affiliate links to Vive, nor am I getting any sponsorship for the use of the product at this time.  This is my representation of the product, and is not affiliated with Vive Shake. ***

Note - this is part 3 of a blog series. In Part 1, I used my own personal way-back machine to evaluate how I got to the point where the desire to ride became overwhelmed by my body's demands to rest.  Part 2 is my personal explanation on what is happening inside of my body. 

The hardest part of dealing with issues is coming to terms with what the issues actually are.  Too often we trick ourselves into false beliefs on how things were, creating our own distorted view on history.  Things like this blog are important for me, as it gives me insight into what I was really dealing with over time, and a much clearer picture of how things were.   As an example, I didn't remember just how much I was dealing with knee issues in 2013, but reading back through my old blog posts helped me to not get as discouraged that it has progressed a bit further.  The worst part is that taking the nearly 2 year break on the blog, which coincides with when I've been dealing with this energy issue, gives me a grey area on what my weight and motivations were like.  

Almost exactly a month ago I posted up the first two parts to this series.  Since then I've been working on a new protocol for fitness and fueling that I'm loving calling "the Vive! protocol".  With a lot of awesome help from Wally Bishop of Vive Shake I've gotten a much clearer picture of what is happening, and how I can work to correct it.  This process is not an overnight fix, and I realize that.  Nothing in life that is worth doing is worth taking shortcuts on, my especially my health.  I realize that I have to play the long game, and not look for immediate solutions.  

Part 1 of this solution is to fix my nutrition, and make sure I'm fueling appropriately.  This means working towards eating right 90% of the time, and allowing for the "fun stuff" every so often.  Over the past month it's been a bit of a struggle to work through staying "on protocol", but the best part is that I'm never more than a couple hours from being back on track.  I understand that it's a process.  I'm basing my daily goals on "the Vive! Plan", available on the Vive Shake website.  The process is to eat whole foods every 2-3 hours.  My typical day has been as follows:

  • Morning - solid breakfast, typically high protein/fat and low carb.  
  • Mid-Morning - 1 scoop of Vive! Shake (half serving).
  • Lunch - real food lunch, often a half salad or similar.
  • Mid-Afternoon - 1 scoop of Vive! Shake (half serving).
  • Dinner - solid dinner portion.  Real foods
  • (optional) evening snack - 1 scoop of Vive! or similar
This is a modification of the actual "Vive! Plan" developed by Wally, adjusted to my typical work day.  For the first 2 or 3 weeks I was very diligent with it, and I saw a definite improvement in my overall energy levels.  Vacation, and it's disruption to my typical daily routine, put a bit of a damper on it, though, and I've seen the energy issues I've had previously creep back in.  

Part 2 of the solution revolves around exercise.  This part is the hardest for me, because I've always been a "full throttle" personality.  If I'm training for an event, I want to train hard and stay to a very aggressive training schedule.  Right now I just can't keep to it.  I've had to dial back my intensity and frequency, and start recognizing when I've done too much.  As an example, last Monday I went and swam for the first time in months first thing in the morning, then convinced myself to go out and ride tempo in the afternoon.  To get back to where I'm not completely drained is taking longer than a single "good night sleep".  I don't recover normally right now, and I have to take that into account.  

Right now my training load is low while I work out what I can and cannot recover from each day.  The real struggle is working out how to compensate for the extra calorie output so I can make sure that my body is prepared to recover as well.  2 hours on the bike is going to burn over 1,000 calories; making the banker uneasy about my spending.  I need to make sure that I fuel appropriately during and after each session to keep everything in balance.  It's something I'm not used to, and takes a fair amount of preparation that I'm not always in the mindset for.  

Part 3 is Rest.  I've been slowly working on trying to get more sleep each night to help recover.  I've noticed that getting to bed an hour earlier makes getting out of bed a bit easier each morning, and I'm not forcing myself to get moving quite as early each day right now as I work on healing.  Understanding that the feelings aren't just "in my head" makes a world of difference, too.  Forgiving myself for missing a workout (or two) because I feel miserable, especially when I recognize that I overdid it earlier in the week is critical.  

I am not claiming that I'm keeping to this protocol perfectly at this point, but I can say that when I keep aligned with it I feel a whole lot better than when I get off course.  A lot is going to have to come together this weekend as I do my first serious long-distance training ride for Ride to Remember.  We are going to be riding the Day 1 route, and it looks to be the hottest day of the year to date.  I'm not expecting to set any land-speed records, and I fear that I'm going to feel pretty miserable the following few days as I finish recovering.  I won't get that luxury next month, but this weekend isn't the event.  RTR will be a huge tax on my system.  I know I'll do well on it, so I don't need to go crazy with rides "preparing" at this point, but rather just keep my body healing and prepared.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Metabolic Rehab part 2 - the Metabolic Banker

***Disclaimer - I am not a medical professional, nor do I claim to give any medical advice.  This blog entry is to discuss my personal understanding of how dieting impacts our metabolic process, and how my body has responded over the past 4 years to my fueling and exercise regime.  Please consult a medical professional before making any changes to your fueling and exercise program.***

Note - this is part 2 of a blog series.  If you have missed Part 1, I used my own personal way-back machine to evaluate how I got to the point where the desire to ride became overwhelmed by my body's demands to rest.  

Before I got an understanding of why I was continuing to deal with anxiety attacks and gastric distress in regards to my fitness routines, I started to blame myself and my surroundings.  It had to be because of mental stress, I'd say.  I'm getting too busy at work, I'm getting too upset about the groups I was riding in, I'm getting too emotional.  I was continuing to blame myself, that I wasn't doing the things I knew I should do.  I was making excuses instead of just training.  It was my fault.

After speaking to Wally from Vive Shake, I got a totally different image of what I was facing.  With this imagery I can understand where I am now, and what I have to deal with as I work on healing my broken metabolism.  Imagine for a minute that your body is a bank, and you are given a credit limit each day.  The currency in this bank is calories, and the bank has a minimum payment that it expects each day (your Base Metabolic Rate).  It expects you to pay that each day, as it uses it to keep the bank working.  The electric bill, the tellers, keeping the grass taken care of.  You know, the usual.  Beyond that, any additional work you wish to have done at the bank needs to be paid for as well.  When you are paying more in than you need, the bank will gladly store it in a fund for "overdraft protection".  

After decades of over payment, the bank is bursting at the seams;  It's gone through several expansions, and the vault is definitely overfull.  You decide that you need to take care of it, and use your available savings.  You start giving the bank less funds than it needs for it's daily work.  You start writing checks for additional work, above and beyond the minimum.  This continues every day for weeks.  For a while, the banker was okay with it;  you've got plenty of spare funds available, and you've been a good credit risk.   He's sure this is only a temporary measure.  He starts sending you reminder letters.

After a while, the banker starts to get a little nervous.  He starts to talk to your financial adviser about how to handle the situation.  The account that has been holding onto your savings is shrinking.  After numerous payments have not reached the minimum,  the banker decides he needs  to cut back.  He starts by cutting back on the electrical bill, maybe lays a teller or two off.  You continue to send less money to the bank, thinking that you've got plenty in the saving's account to handle the need.  You increase the checks for additional funds.  Now you are spending well above the minimum every day.  The banker is losing confidence; the letters are now getting rather sternly worded, with a few thinly veiled threats put in for good measure.

Time goes on, and you continue to spend significantly more than you pay;  The banker has lost all confidence in you.  He's decided that you are a bad risk, and has lowered your credit limit; he's sending as much money to the reserves for your bad risk account as possible.  He isn't going to do anything that isn't required of him in order to make sure that the bank can keep operating for as long as possible.  He's now sent you to collections, demanding that you take immediate action.  He's not willing to discuss payment arrangements, either.  

At some point you realize  things aren't right, and you start trying to do better on payments.  In fact, you are paying back above the original requested amount that the banker asked for.  The banker is still in panic mode, and putting a large portion of the money you send into savings.  He's not turning back on the lights, nor hiring additional tellers.  He doesn't care that the savings account still has plenty of reserves, or that you have been great on payments.  He only knows that you have been a credit risk, and that the chances of you not paying the bills again in the near future are high.  He continues to keep saving.  

When faced with this scenario, most of us can understand the banker to a point, but the metaphor breaks down once you start going back into savings.  Most of us would think that your body (aka the banker) would respond to having enough calories immediately once the imbalance is corrected.  The reality is that your body is fearfully and wonderfully made, and it was designed for one purpose - to survive.  We are given an amazingly complex brain by God, but the body is still an organism that will adapt to situations.  If given a famine situation, the body was designed to adapt and make sure you could live until food was available.  Once food is available, your body is going to want to protect itself against future famine.  It doesn't care that we live in the modern world, where starvation is less common, and that you are getting "3 squares a day".  It only knows that it didn't have enough to survive and was relying on your fat stores for an extended period of time.  That famine could return, and it needs to be ready.

This is where the modern "weight loss" industry keeps us embedded.  They come up with some gimmick that traumatizes our bodies, and then once it adapts and we "fail", they come up with another one.  Diet drinks, Diet foods, Diet pills - they all force our bodies into an unhealthy status, disrupting the relationship between our Brains and our Bodies.  It's a merry-go-round intended for us to stay on in order to keep milking us for our money.  We are brainwashed into thinking it's the only way to get a "healthy looking body".  

What we need to do is "pay back the banker", and win back his trust.  This isn't done by extreme measures.  Just like any relationship, it takes time to cultivate and effort to do right.   Identifying that the relationship is broken was a huge step for me.  I knew my relationship with food was broken this winter.  I was becoming desperate to find a better answer.  

What I didn't realize is that the relationship that I needed to repair was the one between my body, my brain, and my soul.  My soul wanted to see my body optimized and able to do the physical activities that I enjoy.  My brain kept telling me that I was just doing it wrong.  I needed to be more analytical;  it couldn't understand why we weren't just doing what we agreed on was best for everyone.  If they body would just keep to the program that it knew worked, they'd get back to where the soul wanted to be and beyond.

My body, on the other hand, was getting battered.  It had been being demanded to both do it's primary function (survive) and become physically strong;  all of which while being given a less than optimal food supply.  It had been asked to work out daily, or multiple times a day, while not getting the nutrition it believed it needed to repair muscles and keep all of my vital systems working normally.   It doesn't matter that my brain thought it knew what it was doing, my body was panicking;  it was begging for the brain to recognize the situation and do something different.   Instead, the brain just kept blaming the body and soul for the reduction in performance.

This realization is what Wally helped me to recognize this past weekend.  The next step was to understand what I needed to do to start the healing process.  Part 3 of this series will discuss the healing protocol, and how I'm going to get my body, mind, and soul back in harmony.

Metabolic Rehab part 1 - recognizing there is a problem.

Last week the NY Times dropped a pretty big bombshell.  After a six year study, a new report showed that the contestants of the Biggest Loser had significant struggles keeping the weight off.  That wasn't really the bombshell for anyone that has struggled with numbers on the scale, though.  The bombshell was that these contestants experienced a dramatic drop in BMR (base metabolic rate) along with major hormonal imbalances that caused keeping the weight off to be near impossible.  The drop in average calories their bodies were using was more than most dietitians say is safe for dieters to be attempting (up to around 600 calories per day drop).  They also experienced exteme shifts in the hormones that control hunger, making "staying in moderation" that much harder.  Most of the contestants, in a vain attempt to stay in their "healthy lifestyle", went to additional extremes to not head back down the path towards obesity.  This article, and most of the other ones I've seen from "celeberties" like Dr. Oz, left off at the pit of despair for anyone with weight and body image issues.  Without directly saying it, they stated that we were stuck with a battle for our lives;  Our bodies are reacting to weight loss by shutting down.  They left little to no room for hope.

Sadly, this experience mirrors my journey a little too closely. During the next several blog posts, I'm going to go through my personal experiences with weight loss, then do my best to describe what I believe has happened to my body, and lastly look forward to what I intend to do in order to rehab myself back to a healthy lifestyle.  The short answer is that there IS hope, but what there isn't is any quick fixes.  People like Wally Bishop from Vive Shake have proven that there is a path out, and that you can experience freedom from these chains.  The journey isn't easy, especially if you've already fallen prey to the "weight loss" industry, but it's real and it works.

At the end of Rob's Big Losers in 2012, I was in better shape than I had been my entire adult life, and I felt empowered to take a hold of my fitness and nutrition and be different.  Throughout 2012 I continued to gain strength on the bike.  From conquering Paris Mountain in January I went on to climb Ceaser's Head, Green River Cove, and Skyuka Mountain.  It felt amazing to have no limits!  At that point I made the decision to participate in the 2013 Assault on Mt Mitchell.  I didn't have any excuse to not try, even though I had only been riding for a year at that point.

before and after RBL 2012

On top of Skyuka!

Looking back on the past 4 years, it was the holiday season of 2012 that was the first "warning sign" for me.  I took a week off the bike during Thanksgiving, and my weight ballooned up.  I gained 15-20 lbs in the course of that week, topping off at 228.  With my sights on Mitchell, and my energy levels still high, I redoubled my training efforts and immediately saw that weight drop back off.  Throughout the winter I kept hammering hard and topped off my training with a late April scouting trip to the top of Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River.  I felt amazing, but exhausted.  The next month I completed the Assault at a time a 8:38.

I blamed the 50 minute difference in moving time versus total time on my lack of execution on my fueling plan, and not stopping.  While this is true, this was likely my second "warning" that something was wrong.  Throughout the rest of 2013 I felt nearly unstoppable.  I was fast, strong, and able to conquer anything that I put my mind up against.  I was climbing like a billy goat, and enjoying life.

As 2014 started, a really good friend of mine started to train for AOMM.  Meanwhile, I had decided to give a try to a new ride starting that year, the Beech Mountain Metric.  Almost every weekend we were up in the mountains around Flat Rock, NC.  With the Assault on the Carolinas in April as a warm up, we both had our sights on big goals in 2014.  With about 3 weeks left to go before AOTC, we went on a scouting trip on the course.  We started near Table Rock, SC and completed all of the featured climbs of the Assault.  It was an amazing day, but it took it's toll on me.  By the time we got back I felt completely drained.  This was the first time where I really felt like something was wrong.

After that ride, I never quite recovered.  I took much of April off, and didn't have the Assault on the Carolinas that I had originally planned on.  I started doubting if I'd complete the Beech Mountain Metric, and ended up canceling my trip up to ride in the event.  I said it was purely about the costs of travel, but the reality was that I didn't feel like I had trained properly to be prepared for it, and my energy levels were low.

ATOC 2013 - photo credit Hank Birdsong

In late May I finally got some mojo back, and started to train in earnest for the 2014 Ride to Remember.  I doubled down on my efforts, starting to do 2-a-day training sessions (lunch and after work) to get myself back together.   I completed an 80-mile solo ride to complete a Strava time challenge.  While I felt like I was "getting back", I was also getting more tired.  By the time I completed the Ride to Remember, I was exhausted.   That didn't stop me from going out training while on vacation in Charleston, though.

It wasn't until October that I really started to feel the effects, though.  I had been given a free entry into the Hincapie Gran Fondo that year, and I really wanted to attempt the Gran (80 mile) route.  I had decided against it in 2012, knowing that I didn't have the training to complete the grueling challenge.  I completed the ride, minus Green River Cove, but it really did a number to me both physically and psychologically.  When I got to Howard Gap, I was broken.  If a SAG vehicle had come by, I am sure I would have climbed in.  I attempted to walk the climb, but after 15 minutes I hadn't managed to get a quarter mile.  I finally decided to "paper boy" my way up the climb (zig-zagging across the road).  It was a bad decision to attempt the course, and I knew it.

I ended up taking much of November and December off.  Between non-ideal weather days and lack of energy, I just didn't have the mental power to force myself onto the bike.  My 40th birthday came and went without a lot of fanfare, but I did manage to gift myself an extra 15 lbs of weight, along with a bunch of guilt.  By January I had decided I had to get back on the bike and get the weight off.  I started to ride again, as well as working on dieting and strength training.  By May I was back down to 215, but I was experiencing a lot of anguish trying to keep on my training schedule.  I'd wake up early on a Saturday morning to go train, and I'd have panic attacks and stomach issues.  Going out for rides during lunch (which I had previously done regularly without any reservation) became a chore.  Keeping to my training plan was a burden.  I attributed it to other personal issues, but the reality is that my body was begging me to pay attention to the stress I was putting on it.  Instead I kept to the mantra of "mind over matter", and kept pushing.

AOTC 2015 - photo credit Hank Birdsong

I completed the 2015 Ride to Remember with the "front group", but was completely taxed by the end.  I didn't end up doing any rides afterwards, and started to struggle to find the energy to go on rides.   The thing that had been my fitness vehicle and gives me great joy was now giving me extreme stress.  Compounding this was the fact that I was gaining weight fast, even when I was attempting to keep to a reasonable meal strategy.  I started blaming it on my relationship with food;  I believed the problem was my ability to do things.

By January I was up to a hefty 237, and I was desperate to find a new solution.  I had attempted to begin a new training plan on Zwift (bicycle training simulator) early in November.  My lack of energy along with my father-in-law getting gravely ill ment that it only lasted about 2 weeks.  Over the holidays my apparent IT Band issues got worse, culminating in discovering that I actually had a torn meniscus (knee cartilage) and I need to start a new round of rehab and find my "new normal".  I had not been riding consistently;  I had been working on rucking (brisk walking with a weighted pack) as a way to get some exercise into my life.  I was to a level of depression about not understanding what had happened to my body.  

By February my knee was feeling better, and I found riding helped it more than hurt it, so I started training again.  What I found was a continuation of the fact that I could "force" myself to ride in my old training regime for a week or two, but then the extreme fatigue would set in and I'd feel worse for several days afterward.  I was slowly losing weight, but I didn't feel energized.  Just day to day activities became a struggle.  

I decided well before the bad weather showed up that this year I'd rather do the short route for the Assault on the Carolinas.  I had attempted Caeaser's Head shortly beforehand and I was exhausted and in pain by the time I reached the top.  I hadn't completed a metric century since the end of RTR last year, and I wasn't ready to risk my knee.  I had a blast on the shorter route (I'd actually highly recommend it, honestly), it was another signal about what my body was telling me.  

At this point it takes me 2 or 3 days to start feeling motivated to ride again after a major effort.  Even events that I am over the moon excited about I can get terrified over the night before or day of.  The "I really regret that workout yesterday... said no one ever"?  Yeah, I guess I'm starting to be no one.  After bigger rides I regret it for not having the energy to spend time with the kids and be active.  At this point sometimes my wife has to give me a nudge to find the energy to go out.  This report was a shocking "wake up call" on what my body had been telling me.

Next - what my body was trying to tell me that I was doing (overdraft protection).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spinners new SCTAC Home

Last Tuesday, the Greenville Spinners started their Tuesday night country ride series from their new home at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC), now just off of Perimeter Road.  This new location is just down the street from where the rides used to start  prior to the start location moving to Augusta Arbor Way in 2013.  A lot of effort was put into working with the management of SCTAC to find a home that could house all of the riders that show up and enjoy riding in one of the biggest organized rides in the area.  The club provided facilities have been moved from the previous location to the parking are as well.

There are plenty of parking areas available in the new location.

The new parking area is much larger than the previous gravel lot off of Augusta Arbor Way, and should be able to accommodate the number of riders coming out to enjoy the activities.  Previously riders were parking in neighboring businesses, who were kind enough to allow it.  While this was extremely generous of the local private businesses, the sheer amount of traffic from the cyclists being in the area was a challenge.  

As a part of the festivities, Several tents were put up at the new location to help celebrate.  The Greenville Spinners had up a membership table, as well as information about the Greenville Spinners racing team.  Hincapie Sportswear and Lexus also had a table up offering up various refueling options for the riders before the ride started, including sports drinks and various energy bars.  Along with the refreshments, Rich Hincapie came out to help raffle off 10 entries into the Hincapie Gran Fondo to help celebrate.  

Overall, the new location is a huge boon to the Spinners, and to cycling in the area.  Being a member of the Spinners was recommended to me when I first moved to the area, and it's a group that I love to support each year.  Having parking areas like this available is just one of the great benefits of being a member, as well as access to the Summer Time Trial Series and a fantastic Fall Cycling Leaf Tour (and Milkshakes).  If you are in the Greenville area and like to ride in our infrastructure, I would urge you to spend the small amount of money to join the Greenville Spinners.  Local bicycle organizations help to further a safe cycling experience, and give back so much than they require to join.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014 Preservation Ride

For the 3rd year now, Upstate Forever hosted the annual Preservation Ride.  This is a major fundraiser for the organization, which uses the funds to "promote sensible growth and protect special places in the Upstate region of South Carolina." 

I've been blessed enough to be able to attend all of the events to date.  After riding both the (then) 75-mile route in 2012 and the 40-mile route last year, I already had an idea of the course and the challenges that I would face.  I have not attempted the major climb on the long route since the inaugural event in 2012, so I was anxious to see how I would fare versus my 2 year younger self.  What I couldn't anticipate were several factors that made this a year that testing myself against Skyuka was not going to be in the cards.

There were several factors that I could have controlled, and a few that I couldn't.  Weather was predicted to be wet by late morning, so I knew that it was going to be dicey trying to navigate the descent from the climb.  I also had started coming down with either allergies or a cold, which was limiting my ability to breathe.  As the ride started, I figured that I would just have to see how I felt when I got to the bypass, and see if it was worth attempting.  I told myself it would depend on the group, and I'd probably be swayed by the decision that was made when we got there.  

The group for the long route was smaller this year than it had been in 2012 (the long route starts an hour before the 20- and 40-mile route), and it quickly split into two different groups.  As it would have it, I found myself in the front group, and doing pretty well.  Unfortunately my heart rate monitor was not working properly (I'd get it fixed by about the halfway point - helps to have all the parts to the strap attached), so I didn't realize just how much effort I was putting into staying with this fast group.  The new Soma Smoothie was performing great, and I was happy to be hanging on (and even taking a turn or two pulling) as we moved along.  We skipped the first rest area, as most of us had plenty of fluids being so early in the ride (we got to the first rest area less than an hour after the start). 

The issue was that the effort was really more than I should have been putting out early, and I paid for it before getting to Tryon.  About 25mi into the route I knew I needed to back off, as I wasn't feeling very well.  I had figured that another group would be only a few minutes behind us, which had a few other folks that I'm used to riding with.  If I just backed off some I'd be picked up by them was my logic.  What it ended up is that we had put in at least 15 minutes (maybe close to 30) on the second group very quickly.  At this point I was pretty much riding on my own.  To compound issues, one of the hardest climbs in the ride was coming up - New Market Road.  This road is notoriously hard, to the point of having a message spray painted onto the tarmac stating to get into a low gear.  I downshifted, but not enough, and once you hit 20%+ grades I know better than to attempt to shift any further, so I was down to standing.  About 3/4 of the way up the grunt, I just couldn't turn the pedals, and that cold I was fighting started to win;  I had to get off the bike.  Walking the bike up a hill is not something that I'm accustomed to, but it was apparent that trying to start back up on that steep of a hill wasn't going to be practical.  It was only a short distance before the main grunt subsided, and I was able to get back on the bike and keep moving.  It did give me a good indication that trying to climb Skyuka would be challenging today.

Making my way to the second rest stop, I was still riding solo.  The main group wasn't too far ahead of me, from what I was told by the woman working the stop, but the weather was not looking all that inviting.  Looking down the road towards Skyuka, the mountain itself was covered by clouds.  I started to worry that the descent was going to be wet, and trying to navigate it by myself was going to be difficult at best.  I opted at that point to do the bypass, which cut about 6 miles off the route, but was still a very pretty travel route.  I don't fully regret not attempting Skyuka, as I wouldn't typically experience this road otherwise.

The third rest area was being staffed by my family, which I have to say is always an awesome experience.  It happened to be my youngest's birthday, and the fact that she was willing (and happy) to be helping the riders with water and snacks really made me proud.  I actually surprised them by being the first person to ride up to their stop, which surprised me as well.  I took the opportunity to take another long break, figuring that maybe I could meet back up with the front group and not have to ride solo the rest of the way.  After hanging around for about 15 minutes I had to move on or risk not having any real energy for the back half of the route.  I didn't hurry through the next section, as I kept hoping that the lead group would move through and I'd be able to latch on.  It also gave me the opportunity to take a few shots as I rode through the Greenspace of Fairview, a privately held property protected by Upstate Forever.  To me, this loop is the gem of the ride.  

The last of the rest stops is housed in one of the barns on the property, and I took another few minutes there to take a break, relax, and hope that one of the other groups would come through.  After spending time chatting with the folks working the aid station and taking a few more pictures, I started back on the road when I saw some folks ride through.  I was hopeful that maybe I could hang on with them for a while.

As it turns out, the group that came by was a couple of the really fast folks.  I hung with them for a little while, about 12 miles, but then ended up having to let them ride off as I knew that I couldn't hold with them all the way to the finish.  

The final leg of the trip was through more farmland, and outside of the need for a rest stop around mile 60-65 was fantastic.  The weather started to get warm, so I was glad I took the time at the final rest stop to make sure that I had plenty of fluids.  One of the folks from the front came past me close to the end and had missed the final rest stop, and thus was out of water.  I had extra that that point, knowing we only had a few more miles to go, so I gladly shared.  It wasn't long before the telltale climb to the red barn was in sight.  At the finish a meal was provided that included chicken, pasta, salad, and several desserts.  In keeping with the spirit of Upstate Forever, the meal was served on stoneware that can be washed and reused.  

While the 2014 running of the Preservation Ride didn't include Skyuka Mountain Road for me, it was still an extremely enjoyable experience.  The scenery showcases how beautiful upstate South Carolina is, and the ride is challenging and fun.  Each year they improve the route to accommodate the requests of the riders, and it's awesome to see how it has evolved from the inaugural edition.  If you are looking for a great ride, you will not go wrong with the Preservation Ride each year.  While it isn't a "Gran Fondo" and may not have past and current professional cyclists show up and party, it is a challenging course and supports a fantastic cause.  

Friday, September 12, 2014


For the past 3 years, all of my experiences on the bike have been while using my Scott S40.  From how I fit on the bike to how the road feels, it's all been through the lens of that machine.  I have done several upgrades, including saddle, wheels, and groupset during that time.  As a part of turning 40, I wanted to try something different;  Something more classic;  Steel.

One of the things that I end up doing way too much when I get an idea in my head is reading.  For several years now I've poured over various online sources talking about the theory behind each metal choice.  Ibis Bicycles even published a several part article about the Metallurgy for Cyclists from VeloNews online.  What I found was a fascination with Steel.  In doing more digging, the people still making modern steel bikes were reporting builds that were less than 20 lbs.   It may not be the mystical 15 lb UCI minimum weight, the durability and ride quality seemed to outweigh the concern.
My original plan was to get a used bike from a local bike shop here in town.  The choices were to have one with older technology (drop shifters, 7-speed, etc), or to try to find that special one that would be able to take a modern group set.  Since I already had all of the spare parts from the Scott, I figured that finding just a frame would be less expensive, and I'd have more room to grow with it.  It's not enough to know that you want steel, you really need to know what tier of steel you want to work with.  Each tier of steel alloy has a cost associated with it, along with a weight.  I quickly realized that I was looking for a vary narrow subset of potential frames.  The secondary issues of frame condition and a general lack of availability of those frames came to light quickly thereafter.  Even looking on eBay to get an idea of what was available, the reality of finding a quality frame that could take a modern group was getting narrow.  Enter Soma Fabrications.

Soma is a cottage brand out of San Francisco, specializing in steel bicycle frames.  They are manufactured in Taiwan using Tange Prestige steel.  While Tange is not quite the same caliber as Reynolds 853, it is a heat treated steel alloy that is known to be top tier. did a review of the Soma Smoothie, and put it in the "Road Plush" category.  Doing more searching, every post I could find on the frame was people raving about how nice it was.  The best part was that the frame was in the price range that I wanted to spend: about $400.

I found that a local bike shop here in town that I had done some business with in the past also is a local Soma Dealer.  I happened to stop by after watching the UCI Paracycling World Championship races here locally, and found that they were having a sale, so my timetable for purchasing the bike sped up a little bit.  After working out the labor and additional parts (Cockpit, new front derailluer, front fork), I decided that this build should have the upgraded parts from my Scott on it, moving that bike back to factory specs.  I stayed with a classic black&white overall look, going with classic Cinelli tape.  The end result was quite striking.

The final build components:

  • 46cm Soma Smoothie frame
  • Soma Tange Infinity steel fork
  • Ritchey Comp Cockpit (Seatpost, 110mm Stem, Bars, headset)
  • SRAM Force Shifters
  • SRAM Force Rear Derailleur
  • SRAM Apex Braze on Front Derailleur (soon to be upgraded to SRAM Rival)
  • SRAM Rival Semi-Compact Crank (36/52 chain rings)
  • Boyd Vittesse 24/28 Alloy Clinchers
  • Selle Italia Max SLR GelFlow saddle
  • MaxForce brakes

The final weight of the build came in at 20.74 lbs, which was a little heavier than I was expecting, but not entirely out of line from what I was reading of various builds online.  The steel fork really packs on the lbs, and may be upgraded to a Ritchey Carbon fork at a later date if I really want to drop the weight down.

After getting the bike together the big questions have to be answered:  "Is it as smooth as reported", and "Is it as responsive (Fast/Agile) as my old bike?"

"Is it Smooth?"  - the best way I could answer this one was to find rough roads.  The ultimate test locally for me to put it through would have been Perimeter Road around the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC), which has notoriously beat up sections on it.  The problem with this is that it just so happens that this road is being resurfaced, and the section that would have been the best test is actually closed.  No fear, though, I managed to find a tarmac that made that section of Perimeter Road look great.  While taking a detour, I found Hercules Way, which is an access road to some of the contractors around SCTAC.  This looks to be old airplane taxi tarmac that was paved over and then forgotten.  I would have been hard pressed to take that section of road with the scott and not have issues.  The Smoothie, while not a gentle ride, had no major issues going through the terrain.

After going through that detour, I started watching for more normal levels of rough road, and many of the road conditions that previously I would have been looking to avoid seemed inconsequential on the Smoothie.  

"Is it Fast?" - this is actually a harder question to answer, even with data.  Starting with a baseline of over 14,000 miles on the Scott on roads I know well, the worst thing I could do is compare my best ever times versus my initial rides on the Smoothie.  It would make the assumption that I am, at that very minute, at my peak fitness with all other conditions equal.  As a compromise what I did was picked the most popular speed zones from the past few tuesday night rides, and looked at the differences.

Ritchey Sprint
  • Aug 26, 2014 20.0mi/h   3:20
  • Sep 9, 2014 19.4mi/h   3:26
  • Sep 2, 2014 13.0mi/h   3:32

Old One Hundred
  • Aug 26, 2014 25.0mi/h   2:30
  • Sep 9, 2014 23.0mi/h   2:43
  • Sep 2, 2014 22.6mi/h   2:46

"Reverse Drill It"
  • Aug 26, 2014 22.1mi/h   5:04
  • Sep 9, 2014 20.6mi/h   5:26
  • Sep 2, 2014 19.2mi/h   5:50

The initial results are very compelling.  Taking into account differences in group dynamic, weather, etc, the Smoothie was right there on every segment.  The real test, though, would be climbing.  For this, the best test I could do would be Paris Mountain.  It's a climb I've done over 40 times;  I know it very well.

Just like with the Tuesday night group rides, comparing my initial time with the Smoothie against my best time on the Scott would be unfair.  What I did was did a climb late last week on the Scott to set a quasi-baseline number that would be my baseline.  I then looked at 2 popular segments to see where I stacked up.

"City Lights"

  • 1 Mar 10, 2014 5:07
  • 3 Sep 4, 2014 5:27
  • 5 Sep 10, 2014 5:34

"Paris Mountain Steep Side"

  • 1 Mar 10, 2014 15:54
  • 2 Jun 27, 2013 16:42
  • 6 Sep 4, 2014 17:04
  • 7 Oct 25, 2013 17:09
  • 10 Sep 10, 2014 17:13

After looking at the numbers, I am within 10s on each segment.   While I was over a minute behind my fastest time (+1:19), you can see that my fastest time from March is not in-line with other attempts.  Out of the 44 attempts on this climb, my first attempt with the Smoothie came in at #10.  It would seem that the initial outcome is that it climbs just fine.

Final Initial Thoughts - While it is difficult to make any definitive conclusions with only 57miles and 2 rides on the bike, I am definitely impressed with the bike.  It seems to respond extremely well, and keeps up to it's name in providing a smooth ride.  I intend to give a 1,000 mile update on what I think of the bike once I have a larger sampling of data.  At this point, though, I am becoming a firm believer in the power of Steel.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Autumn Focus

It's hard to believe that it's been 3 weeks since the start of the Ride to Remember.  After a big event I typically end up spending a couple of weeks trying to regain focus.  I don't find this to be a big negative, as it gives me time to reflect and determine what is important.  During the months leading up to events like RtR, AOTC and AOMM I find myself getting consumed in the preparation.  Training rides, ramping up efforts, making sure I am as ready as I can be to put out a good effort.  I can very easily get sucked in, and it consumes most of my energy and time.  The reality is that I cannot sustain the "ramped up" state for extended periods of time, as it just isn't healthy for myself or my family.  Having reset time always helps.

With Autumn quickly approaching, and most of the big events for the year now in the rear view mirror, it is a good time to look at where I am with my goals, and what I should be focused on.  Earlier in the year I wrote about my goals for 2014:

Events - I originally posted about 3 events:  The Assault on the CarolinasBeech Mountain Metric, and The Ride to Remember.  I did not complete Beech Mountain because of travel conflicts, which was rather disappointing.  The Assault on the Carolinas was as awesome as I had remembered, and the Ride to Remember was an incredible experience.  I plan on having both of those events return for 2015.  

Goals -

  • Complete a training plan - I completed the plan on Training Peaks earlier in the year, although I did not complete every workout.  This is going to be an ongoing goal, and working out how to mix trainer workouts with road workouts will be an important step.  The big improvement here has been learning how to utilize Training Peaks.  
  • Quality over Quantity - the original goal for 2014 was to spend less time on the bike, and to make every workout count.  So far I am actually above the pace I set last year, although I'm still working on keeping from riding on both Saturday and Sunday.  
  • Balancing Bike & Family Time - this is the area that I still feel is a work in progress.  Hopefully as the fall progresses I can make more of a habit on finding ways to mix my bike and family time, such that we can spend more time together on the bike.  
While I am not exactly on target for most of my major goals, I still do not consider them to have been poor choices.  Each of my non-event goals were specific, measurable, trackable and relevant.  They may have been a little bit off on "attainable", which leaves me room to grow in the process of setting bike-related goals.  It'll be interesting to see where I stand with in regards to these goals at the end of the year.