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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ride to Remember - Day 3

After the first two days of Ride to Remember, I was tired but feeling so pumped about riding with my team again.  My original plan was to see how I felt after Day 2, and from there decide if I was riding with a faster group, or staying back and relaxing.  With my legs sore and an early start time, I decided I would rather stay with my friends than try to race out with the fast packs.  Looking back on it, I can see that God had a big hand in this.

As the start time grew near, everyone was excited to start the final day.  The course had very little climbing, in fact the only real elevation of note was the final climb on the Ravenel Bridge at the end.  We expected smooth, quick riding as we went along.  You could feel the energy in the entire group as we headed out with yet another police escort.  Things were moving quickly, until the worst possible thing happened - we had a teammate go down.  Road conditions, as well as unfortunate circumstances came to the ultimate downside of a friend on the ground, hurting.  We all circled around and banded together to quickly check out her bike and give support.  The EMS was there in no time flat, and decided that it was best for take her to the hospital to check out her wounds.  While it was mostly scrapes and bruises, it meant that her day ended in Orangeburg.  We attempted to get her bike, along with her husband's, onto a teammate's car for transport with much difficulty.  Ultimately I ended up suggesting that we put the bikes on the sweep wagon until the 2nd rest stop, where my wife was volunteering and could take the bikes to the finish line.  

After she was on her way to the hospital, we started back out again.  At this point the weather had started to shift, and we had to ride through rain on and off.  The energy of the group had shifted from excitement to nervousness, and everyone seemed to have the safety of our fallen teammates on our minds.  The road conditions were not ideal, as there was a line of bad road right where the right side in a double pace line would have typically ridden.  We had to shift the group to the left, which wasn't ideal, but it kept the need to actively avoid road hazard to a minimum.  While the mood was rather serious after the crash, the EMTs behind us were actively working to cheer us up as we moved along.  When we were in rural areas, they would broadcast music through their PA system, giving us something to banter about.  Whether it was CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" or Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle", the fact that they were trying to cheer us on (and up) was heartwarming.  We slowly caught up with various slower moving riders, and picked up several folks on and off as we continued our trek.

In order to take the burden off of some of the others in the group, and to help keep our speed up some, I started taking extra long turns at the front of the pace line.  This was helpful, as we were able to keep the pace up a little bit higher, but also detrimental as my tired legs were going to feel the pressure.  Stopping at rest stops became a struggle, as they would start to stiffen up after just a couple of minutes of not pedaling.  Ultimately by the 40mi mark, a few of us decided to strike out on our own so we wouldn't have to stop as long at the rest stops.  While I hate that I ended up not riding with the folks I wanted to ride with so badly, I believe it helped both groups to be more effective.  I would have preferred to ride in with my friends, and if I had to do it over again I think that I would ride back up to the top of Ravenel to ride in with them.

From the 40mi mark until we entered Charleston, the new group was much smaller, and our focus was on keeping a consistent pace and effort and being efficient on our stops to keep our muscles from cooling off too much.  We started out as 3, and picked up folks on and off as we moved through the routes.  We quickly caught up to, and passed, another pack of riders, and ended up picking up a few folks from there.  By the time we got to the PB&J stop at mile 60, we had a handle on the efforts that we could put out.  We rolled into the mandatory stop at mile 80 with no incidents, and had a slightly extended stop while we waited for our final police escort to guide us through US-17 in Charleston.  After a few slices of watermelon, and a well received soda to fuel up the legs, the police arrived to lead us through US-17.

Unlike Day 2, the heaviest traffic section of the ride was guided by the local police.  Through a heavily traveled divided roadway, it must have been a sight to see the group of us pacing behind a police escort at 20mph.  The group had swollen to over 20, as multiple groups had come together at the mandatory stop.  As we were escorted through intersections, and brought through the outskirts of the city, we moved quickly and efficiently.  230 miles into the journey, the efforts seemed like nothing as we rode along, and my spirit soared.  We reached Ashley River Bridge and we were required to walk our bicycles across the drawbridge section.  This was difficult, as walking in my cycling shoes on normal roads is difficult.  Walking across the metal section of the bridge was slick, and it was easy for my cleats to get caught in the grooves.  Luckily the section that we had to walk across was short, and we were back on our bikes riding into downtown Charleston.  

While riding at sea level is nothing completely new to me, it was fun to ride through the historic downtown; waving at tourists and locals alike, passing horse drawn carriages, and seeing the bay just over our shoulder.  We made our way by Market Street, and worked our way closer to the bridge.  A quick lane shift into the bicycle lane, and we were on the Ravenel Bridge.  I have to say that this part of the trip was everything that it was made up to be.  The emotions of the journey we had just completed was overwhelming, but the ride wasn't over yet.  The climb was not difficult, but with runners to our right and oncoming cycling traffic to our left, the small lane that everyone shared meant that keeping your concentration was critical.  Having so many folks in a pack, climbing at different speeds, meant that it was even more important to keep our eyes open for potential hazards.  The group made it to the top, and the decent was relatively uneventful.  
Finally the emotions were just to much to take in, and I was able to just allow myself to be overwhelmed with everything.  I had heard about folks getting over emotional at the end of hard efforts, but with the amount of support and the love that was shown to us as we had spent the past 3 days traveling across South Carolina in support of the Alzheimer's Association was unbelievable.  Watching folks lining the road taking pictures and cheering us on was incredible.  While I have been on more challenging rides, I cannot imagine that I will experience one that will be more rewarding than what I had just gone through.  The best part was seeing our fallen teammates at the finish line, cheering us on and taking pictures!  They had been discharged earlier from the hospital, and made their way to the finish to see us get through.  I had to go give them hugs, as gently as possible, and get an update.   Afterwards I was able to cheer on the rest of the team come across the line as well.  

After getting to our hotel and getting a shower and changed, it was time for the celebration party.  Hosted at the Citadel Beach Club, we had a chance to experience low country life with time on the beach and a seafood boil.  It was a good time to just relax with our teammates again, and have a good time remembering the trip.


What an amazing journey.  Originally I was unsure of if I wanted to do this ride more than once, but at this point I feel like there is no doubt that I will be riding to Charleston next July.  It won't just be to ride with our teammates that couldn't make it this year, but to be a part of such a strong community that is making such a huge difference to families that are hurting.  As of this writing, we have raised over $175,000 to help the 79,000 Alzheimer's patients in South Carolina as well as fund research to end this disease.  It's unbelievable what this group was able to accomplish.  Just a pack of 220 cyclists, making it personal and putting themselves out there to make a difference.  Donations are still be accepted until the end of July, and you can help support us by donating via the Alzhiemer's Association's web site.  Together we can #EndALZ

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ride to Remember Day 2

Day 1 of Ride to Remember was amazing, but very tiring.  The pool felt great, and the time at the lakehouse was very relaxing after the amount of work.  As much as Day 1 was challenging, Day 2 would become a good test of mental and physical endurance.

Day 2 started early as we had to get up, pack the car, and head to the start point for a 7am leave time.  After a good breakfast at the hotel, we went to head out and were greeted with wet weather.  Apparently the storms we outran yesterday caught up with us overnight.  We made our way to the starting line and got the bike out, and I quickly got ready to leave.  With C and the girls heading out to a water station, they had to leave before the rest of the bicycles.  The good news was that the radar was optimistic on it drying out as the day went on.

The big concern for today was the climb that was marked at mile 51.  When talking to others, this was the point where the ride would get difficult today.  Rolling to the 51 mile mark was interesting as the landscape changed, and we saw the fields turn from corn to sugar cane and peanuts.  The scenery likewise shifted from mountains to midlands.  

We reached the climb point, and the group that we had been in was disrupted pretty heavily.  One set of folks skipped the water station right before the climb.  Those that stopped were gaped by the folks that went past.  Once we started climbing, the folks that stopped ended up getting separated, and by the time I got to the top of the climb I ended up being by myself.  Looking back I couldn't really see the folks I had been with, and looking forward I really couldn't see anyone ahead.  Knowing that the folks that skipped the water station couldn't be too far ahead of me, I attempted to bridge forward.  By the time that I caught up to them, they had stopped at the next water station.  I decided that by that point I would just keep going, and at some point they would catch up with me.  Instead of having them catch up with me, I ended up out pacing them.  

The last 20 miles I fought a some pretty strong winds, and the roads were not the most pleasant to be by myself on.  Rolling through Orangeburg may of the roads were 4 lanes wide, and the traffic was rather heavy.  In one section of the road a contractor had lost a bunch of materials, including a box of nails that were on the road (I later found out that several folks from the ride stopped and picked those nails up out of the road - so awesome!).  The last 5 miles or so were tough, but it felt good to get to the finish line and hear my girls cheering me on.  After a burger, a shower, and a much needed bike wipedown I felt a whole lot better.  I do have some soreness in my right leg, I sure hope it's not my IT band.  Blaine gave me some tips on stretches that I can do to relax it some, and I spent some time this afternoon icing it down and resting.  I plan to use some BioFreeze tonight to hopefully get it as good as I as possible tomorrow.  

In the afternoon, the local YMCA donated entry into the local waterpark to the riders and volunteers.  Thus we took the kids over and let them ride the slides and enjoy the water for a bit before dinner.  It was a welcome rest time after a long day out on the road.

Dinner was provided by the local Rotary Club at a nearby church.  Having everyone sitting around having a good time chatting was so awesome, everyone is in good spirits for tomorrow.  With over 150 miles completed at this point, we're down to the home stretch, with just the last century to Charleston to go.  Tomorrow should be a fast ride, and a lot of fun.

Group dinner hosted by the Orangeburg Rotary Club

Team Miss Mary posing for pictures

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ride to Remember - Day 1

After months of training rides and anticipation, it's time for the 2014 Ride to Remember.  The past week has been as much about forcing myself to not ride as the previous 4 months were about riding.  While I know that this ride is going to test my ability to manage efforts over multiple days, somehow it just didn't matter once we got to the start line.  Waking up early, packing up the van, getting everything together for a multiple-day ride.  Gathering at downtown Simpsonville, it was awesome seeing all of my team mates there and excited to ride.  While I've been on rides where the starting area was well over 1,000 riders, somehow this crew of 220 people that signed up to trek all the way to Charleston seemed special.  No professional riders to draw the crowds, no massive fanfare.  Just a couple hundred people uniting for a common cause - to help those that suffer from Alzheimer's.  

As we rolled out, the pace was fast, and we had a great lead out by the Simpsonville police.  Some of them were even on bicycles!  The weather wasn't ideal to head out, with rains coming through a few hours before the start.  Wet roads were going to have to be dealt with, and with a number of treacherous train tracks early in the day, it meant being extra careful.  Everyone in my group had no major issues getting past the tracks, and we had no major events up to the first rest stop.

One of the challenging things on a ride such as this seems to be keeping with specific people.  With the large group of folks at the start, our band of merry suffers ended up being split up.  Over the course of the 68 miles we gained and lost folks, and had a good time.  The PB&J sammiches at the 3rd rest stop were a real treat!  They definitely helped with energy levels as we continued to trek towards Newberry.

Once of the unfortunate incidents happened closer to the front of the pack.  As the story has been retold, one of the riders ended up going through some grass clippings and uncovered a stick that caused him to wipe out.  His day was done, as the bike was not rideable, but he was in good spirits.  In fact, he is intending on riding tomorrow on a spare bicycle that his girlfriend is bringing to him this evening!  

After the ride was over, one of the sponsors of the ride hosted a gathering at his lake house.  Good music, good food and good friends, all in a very relaxing environment.  Then it was back to the hotel to make sure that clothes for tomorrow is laid out, cycling clothes from today are washed, a quick shower, and wind down for sleep.  Tomorrow starts early, with another 80+ miles to go.  It also is reportedly the hardest day of the trip, as we go through the heartland of South Carolina heading to Orangeburg.   

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Spinners Time Trial Series

I had never gone to one of the Greenville Spinners Time Trial events, mostly because I always had other plans. I had heard that they were a good time, and it was something I was at least interested in checking out, but for whatever reason I just hadn't made the time to go. The July event this year was the "bike swap and BBQ" edition, meaning that folks would be selling spare gear, and there would be food provided. After speaking to the wife about the event, and the free BBQ this month, we decided that it would be a fun time for everyone. I was going to give a shot in the "Merckx" division (which is for people without aero equipment), and she and the girls were going to cheer and take pictures.

After arriving and getting signed up, I got in a quick warm up period prior to my 6:07 start time. I probably should have set up a later start time, to give myself a better warm up and time to prepare and watch the proceedings, but since 6:07 was available I just went for it. I personally had a goal of finishing in 30 minutes, which by my rough estimates would mean I averaged at least 20mph. After seeing the start list, I decided to add a secondary goal of not wanting to be passed by the team that was starting 4 minutes after me. I didn't have any aspirations (or delusions) of mediocrity, but I wanted to have a good showing at the very least.

The first thing I needed to learn was how to start out. I'm used to starting with my foot on the ground, which would seem pretty standard. The difference here is that you have a spotter that holds the bike so you can clip in, as to not waste any time. I had to be reminded that with my feet on the pedals I'd need to use my brakes in order to keep the bike from moving forward. I'd also need to figure out which way I wanted the spotter to lean my bike, so I wouldn't fall over once it was my time to leave.

The countdown started. When the second hand returned to zero I was off, feeling relatively strong. I quickly got up to speed, and got into a rhythm. My work on the trainer over the winter had taught me a little bit about what cadence I should attempt to keep in order to keep my power and heart rate in the threshold range, so I found a gear that would help me keep that pace and I just kept pedalling. The course was an out and back around perimeter road at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC). The road is not flat, nor is it smooth, so keeping a solid pace was going to be a bit tricky. I didn't want to work too hard on a section to not have energy at the end. I've ridden around this course on many a Tuesday evening as a warm up to the country rides that are hosted by the Greenville Spinners during the spring and summer.

Heading Out

What I realized about half way out on the course was that I really needed to take a nature break prior to starting the time trial. With a full bladder I had two very distinct issues. First was that I couldn't get comfortably into the drops, as it was putting a lot of pressure on my quite full bladder. I found that just having my hands on the hoods and keeping as low as I could tolerate was working reasonably well, so I just went with that for the majority of the ride. The downside was that in places where standing up to sprint would be beneficial I had to shift positions. The second issue was that having anything to drink was going to cause the condition to only get worse. It meant that I wasn't keeping myself as hydrated as I could have been through the time trial. This wasn't a major issue since getting water meant I had to reach down to my bottles anyway, so I had already figured hydration would be limited. Since my goal time was 30 minutes, I just had to power my way through it.

Most of the way out on the course, sometime unexpected happened: I passed someone! I knew the cyclist in question, and she's in general a very strong rider. Only having seen time trials on TV I did the best I could to move to the left, call out passing, and keep on rolling by without attempting to gain any drafting advantage or cause any other disruptions to myself of the other rider. With out any further incident, I made it to the turn. I was a little nervous about this portion, as tight turns are not my real forte. I will more often than not decide to clip out when making a U-turn in the road, as I am just not comfortable with the situation. To compound matters I wasn't 100% sure of where the turn around process would be like. With just a cone in the middle of the road to mark the spot, I had to do my best to not lose any unnecessary time while going back the other direction. Amazingly I made the turn without any real issues.

Making the turn without incident, I was feeling rather strong. I hadn't been overtaken by any of the folks behind me, so I felt like I was right where I needed to be. A quick look at my bike computer stated that my average speed was almost 22mph for the trip out. Definitely on target. I knew that the ride back to the start/finish was going to be a bit harder, as I was going to be facing two decent sections that were now uphill. While neither section was steep, they were enough of a grade to make you legs burn a bit harder than they were previously. To compound the issue, the first of the climbs is on one of the worst parts of the pavement. I lovingly like to think of this section as being like the cobbles in the Spring Classics. I have often imagined that riding on those streets in Europe would feel similar. Having a full bladder and legs that had been pushed hard for 5 miles already made the already rough road feel even worse. As much as I knew otherwise, much of the way back felt like I was climbing. My legs were getting more and more tired.

About halfway back to the start/finish line, I got passed by two people at about the same time. While I wasn't expecting to stay out by myself the entire time, I wasn't really expecting to see two folks come by. That means at best someone had gained over 2 minutes on me. At first I kept to my cadence, keeping myself in check. As we closed back in to the final turn to the finish, I was realizing that they really weren't picking up any further distance from me, and rather I was slowly reeling them back in. I had a thought for a few minutes that I could overtake at least one of them prior to making it to the end.

As we reached the final sprint, my lack of ability to reliably get into the drops was starting to take its toll. My legs were tired, and my bladder was getting rather uncomfortable. While having my hands on top of the drops was comfortable and moderately more aerodynamic than just keeping them in the normal hood position, it was keeping me from being able to stand up easily. While the will was there to dig down and give it everything to the end, the result was more of bearing down in the position I was in and just powering through on the hoods. The image of me sprinting the last distance with everything I had was just not going to happen. Riding through the finish line, I glanced down at my bike computer. 00:29:11 is the time, and 20.2mph was the average speed on the readout. While not the official time, it told me enough of the story to say that I had met my personal goals. Furthermore, the team that started 4 minutes behind me had not gone by me. Thus I met both of my goals.

oh to be in the drops...

After a nature break, and spending some time with the kids watching the rest of the riders on the course, we made our way to the bike swap and BBQ. The food was catered by a local shop, and was extremely delicious. There were several other riders that had put out items to sell, a few of them looking to raise money for the Ride to Remember that will start up next week. Overall everyone seemed to have a great time. The only regret that I have from the experience is not attending sooner. The Time Trial Series wraps up on August 14th, and I plan on being there to try my hand at it again.

Food, with an extra helping of Fellowship

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Merging Activities

It happens to the best of us; for whatever reason you have an issue with your ride data.  Whether you hit the reset button on your favorite bike computer at a bad time, or you end up running out of juice on your smartphone, there are times that you end up with multiple data files for a single event.  This can be immensely important if you are looking to track efforts, or have a data issue while completing an online Challenge.  For these types of scenarios, it is very easy to "stitch" two rides together.  For these examples I am going to reference a notepad utility and online activity site.  I personally use Notepad++ for Windows for editing, and Strava for my data management.

Obtaining the Data

The first thing you need is the GPS data to be merged.  While Strava has a built-in export command, the data that it will export will be in GPX (GPS Exchange) format.  While GPX is an open standard, it has been extended by several manufactures to include customized data.  Thus when exporting a ride using GPX some data, such as  Heart Rate information, can be lost.  The alternative is to export the data using the TCX (Garmin Training Center XML) file format.  In order to export the data using TCX format, you have to use a hidden feature on Strava.  Instead of using the export button, you add "/export_tcx" to the end of the URL string for your ride.  After you hit enter the ride data in TCX format will be saved to your local downloads directory.  As a general rule, you will need to download all activities in the same format.  

If you upload your rides to Garmin Connect, you can also easily export them in TCX format.  In both their Modern and Classic modes, there is an export button with multiple options available.  Once you select TCX the activity download will start.

Classic InterfaceModern Interface
Merging the Segments

Once you have downloaded the activities you wish to merge, you need a text editor. Because both GPX and TCX files are in a standardized text format (XML), it is relatively easy to find the sections that you are looking for. TCX files are a little easier to read than GPX files, but they both have a similar layout. For those that have done much HTML design, XML markings should look familiar. What you are looking for is the starting section for event. In TCX files this is the <Lap ...> tag. For GPX files you are looking for the <trkseg> tag. At the end of the file should be a corresponding closing tag ( </Lap> for TCX, </trkseg> for GPX) that marks the end of the event.  The information between the opening tag and closing tag is your actual activity data, so be careful to not delete or change the format of that section of the file.

To merge the two activities copy everything between the event segments, including the opening tag and closing tag, from the later of the two activities to the earlier of the two activities. You should be pasting the newer data at the bottom, in between the closing tag of the original activity (</Lap> for TCX, </trkseg> for GPX) and the closing of the activity itself ( </Activity> for TCX, < /trk> for GPX). After pasting the second activity into the first save the file as a new name (typically File, Save As), remembering the name and location.

Select everything between and
Save As a new filename, using the same .tcx extension

Uploading the Results

Once the new file is created, it is time to upload the combined data.  In Strava, there is an option to upload files as well as importing directly from your chosen fitness device.  Once you click the upload button, select File from the left menu.  From there you can choose the new combined file.

The new file will now upload.  If you are replacing a previously uploaded activity, you may get an error saying that your activity is a duplicate, specifically of the earlier of the two activities.  It should be best practice to delete the original activities, if previously uploaded, from your feed.   


Since the end result is two files that are merged together, there may be some errata.  This should be expected, as the data set is most likely not complete.  The most common issue is that you are going to have a straight line that connects the end of the first activity to the beginning of the second.  Currently Strava will also add this distance into your total as the crow flies, and take the timestamp difference between the two activities and use it for your average speeds.  If there is a large difference in location and/or time, it may create a rather large amount of data error.  

Data Errata
This seems to be the most common issue I've encountered in the rare occasion that I've had to stitch two activities together.  If you do not delete any previously uploaded data, you may also have data duplication.  Depending on the terms of use on the website, this can also be considered a breach of the Terms of Use, as you could be using this strategy to upload data that is not accurately depicting the efforts put out.  Be sure to know what the fitness site that you are using says about modification of data prior to using these methods.  Currently Strava does not explicitly state that this method is disallowed, but that could change over time depending on continual abuse.

For the rare time times that I have ended up with data issues that have resulted in multiple activity files, this method has shown to be useful.  For those that track data using device files and fitness sites, having a method to accurately display fitness data is helpful.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Cycling (or, dealing with the heat without getting burned.)

Disclaimer: I make no claims to expertise, nor make claims to safety, on these topics.  Exposure to the elements, hot or cold, can be harmful on their own, let alone when mixed with exercise.  If you have questions or medical concerns, your first stop should be your primary care physician and not Google (or this blog) for your answers.

The days are longer, and the temperatures are warmer, means that it's a time when people start looking to get in bigger rides.  It's also important to know about how to deal with the issues that the warmer temperatures bring.  I cannot think of a single person that wants to end their riding season because of injury - this should include issues such as dehydration and heat stress.   Since my background is not medical, my focus is not as much to inform you of the actions you should take, but rather to hopefully get you thinking about the various things that you need to do individual research on and make thoughtful decisions.   

Acclimation -

 Here in South Carolina, the temperatures can change rather rapidly during the early summer months.  It was just 2 weeks ago that I was participating in the Ride 4 Animal care, and my Garmin recorded a cool 70°F during the climb up Green River Cove.  Just last weekend on another training ride, that same device recorded a sweltering 100°F peak temperature.  That extreme of a difference in temperature in just a week is highly uncommon, but as the Summer months get into full swing, it takes our bodies time to acclimate to the new weather patterns.  According to the Encyclopedia of Sport Science, it can take up to 14 days for your body to acclimate to warmer temperatures.  Mackenzie Madision wrote for  US Triathlon with several suggestions and guidelines for heat acclimation.

Sun Exposure -

While Sun exposure is something to think about during all times of the year, the summer months is when the Sun hits folks in the Northern Hemisphere more directly.  Thus if you are planning big rides, taking care of your skin should be vitally important.  While crisp tan lines are often lauded, crisp burn lines are painful and hazardous.  Make sure to read the instructions on your sunscreen, and follow them correctly.  Just because the SPF rating is 35 doesn't mean you have all day protection if you put it on at 6 in the morning;  some sunscreens may not let your skin properly breathe, and may make your warmer during exercise. Many of the modern sunscreens soak in after just 2 hours, leaving the protection under your skin (instead of on it). If you are looking for resources on which sunscreens work the best,  there are plenty of websites that spend hours digesting all of the data out there.  The Environmental Working Group has plenty of resources on sunscreen and its effectiveness, for example.  Kitchen Stewardship even goes so far as to review various sunscreens and offer up home made alternatives to the chemical soups sold in stores.  

I have also increased my intake of Omega 3 fatty acids (Fish Oil) and Vitamin C during the Summer months to help stave off sunburns.  While no supplement regimen can claim medical advice, I've gone from perennially red to being able to handle long bike rides in the sun. 

Hydration -

I've saved the most talked about of the 3 until last.  From expensive sports drink commercials to every website dealing with exercise, hydration is almost always at the top of the list of things that folks concentrate on.  During the warm Summer months, the facts are that you are going to sweat more.  After you are acclimated to the heat your body is going to sweat sooner, and harder, although your sweat may have a lower electrolyte (salt) count.  Waiting until you are thirsty to try to fill back up your reserves is not going to be effective over any length of workout.  Getting (and staying) hydrated before and during an effort is critical not only for a good workout, but for staying out of trouble.  Losing just 2% of your body weight from sweat loss can greatly impact your results.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following guidelines for staying hydrated:

Before exercise
  • Goal: Start exercise properly hydrated
  • Drink 16-20 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage at least four hours before exercise
  • Drink another 8-12 fluid ounces of water 10-15 minutes before exercise
During exercise
  • Goal: Prevent a >2% loss in body weight
  • Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of a sports beverage (5-8 percent carbohydrate with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes when exercising greater than 60 mins
  • Do not drink more than one quart/hour during exercise (32 fluid ounces)
After exercise
  • Goal: Fully replace fluid and electrolyte deficits
  • Drink 20-24 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage for every one pound lost

While there is no guaranteed solution for how to handle being out in the elements, making wise informed decisions is the key to success.  Spend the time to inform yourself of the conditions that you are going to be exposed to during your event, and make sure to account for them in your plan.  Just like in fueling in general, waiting until you "need it" will put yourself into a hole that is nearly impossible to dig yourself out of.