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.