Monday, February 11, 2013

Coming Back From The Dead Is A Lot Of !@$!#%&! Work!!

The title says it all!  Yeah, I haven't posted anything since the start of the year - and you know why?  It's because I'm working so hard to get back into shape!  You know who says exercise is fun?  The ones that are already in shape - and have paid their dues a long, long time ago and forgot how much work it took for them to get into such good shape in the first place!  Yeah, you know who you are ...

Then there are the rest of us - maybe someone like myself, who *used* to be in great shape - especially when I was road racing just a few years ago, back in 2007/2008 - if you wanted to do a road race, you could not just be a "weekend warrior" type cyclist - you needed to *train* - a lot - as much as possible - including 2 or 3 days during the weekdays (somehow) ... and that means you had to get out there and ride in conditions that are not exactly "ideal", i.e., raining (and raining hard, not just sprinkles), fierce wind storms, super cold mornings (like temps down in the 30s type cold), blazing hot afternoons in the summer (if that is the only time slot you had open to get in your training ride), etc.

Yeah - those hours spent training for my road races were a lot of work - then I stopped cycling one day, back in 2008, when I burned out on a training ride (I was training for my 4th Death Ride in July of that year - it's a 130 mile "fun" ride, where you do more than 15,000 feet of climbing by riding up and over 5 different Sierra passes - all between 5500 and 9000 feet elevation - totally *cruel* - but still, "fun") ...

So here I am, post heart surgery - trying to desperately get back to some semblance of my old self - I don't expect to race again (at least, it's not showing up on my calendar right now) - but it would be nice to get back into decent cycling shape - like maybe 80% or 90% of my max fitness back in the 2007 timeframe (that's when I set most of my cycling records - best times up various climbs, etc.) ...

And there is no doubt about it - coming back is hard work - regardless of whether or not you've had heart surgery - just ask any cyclist that has been off their bike for a few years and then tries to get back into shape (especially after gaining the requisite 30 to 50 pounds, as I did) - it's a *lot* of work!  My only consolation is that one day (about 1 year from now, I am estimating), I will be able to look back at all the hard work I'm doing this year and say, "Yeah - it was hard, but worth it!" - I can't wait to say those magic words, for sure!

But right now, I cannot issue that statement - I can only marvel at how hard it is to ride my bike up a small (but tough) climb - like the end of Rodeo Gulch, for example - that is what I did yesterday.

One of my biking buddies, Mike, and I decided that we would try a classic ride that we used to do years ago (Mike was one of the guys I rode with on a regular basis - it was easy, since he lives right there in my neighborhood!) - the ride we chose for yesterday's adventure was the Rodeo Gulch - Granite Creek classic ride - we head out from Scotts Valley, bobble over the little rollers on Green Hills road, glide down Glen Canyon into Santa Cruz, then wind our way along the foothills until we get to Rodeo Gulch (just off of Soquel) - we turn onto Rodeo Gulch and then do the 4.2 mile climb up to the top of Rodeo Gulch, where you get a spectacular view of the entire world (well, Santa Cruz, at least) - and this was a beautiful morning - sunny - but really, really cold! - like high 30s, low 40s type cold ...

Now, the climb up Rodeo Gulch is 4.2 miles - and the average grade is just 3.5% - which sounds like a piece of cake - but it's deceptive because the road gradually gets steeper and steeper towards the end - and then you hit "the mailbox" - yeah, that nasty mailbox - the one where you make a small right turn - and then you get hit with the last 0.7 miles - but that last part of the climb averages about 10% - and that's a lot more work than doing a 3.5% grade type of climb - a *lot* more - in fact, it's so much more work, that I was riding just under 4 mph for that last part - 4 mph!  I mean, a lot of people can almost walk that fast - but I did not walk- I pedaled the whole time, stroke by stroke - until I hit the top of the climb - and then I met up with Mike (who had zoomed up ahead of me, since he's in much better climbing shape than me right now) - and we enjoyed a little break, munching on our gels (yum!) and drinking a lot of water - and enjoying the amazing views from our little perch on top of the world (or, so it seemed) ...

Then we ride along Rodeo Gulch at the top, where it just rolls gently - and finally descends a short distance to the end of the road, where it meets up with the intersection of Mtn View Rd and Laurel Rd - we hang a left (which is Mtn View Rd) - and do a fun drop down to Branciforte - then we saunter along Branciforte, which on average drops down some more (but ever so gently) until we get to Granite Creek - and then we do the Granite Creek climb back up into Scotts Valley.

The whole ride is only about 22+ miles - but it is also just about 2200 feet of climbing - in other words, it's a classic ride for us, where we do 1000 feet of climbing for every 10 miles we ride - that rule of thumb works out quite well for the vast majority of our rides, since from Scotts Valley, you either drop down into Santa Cruz for some ride - and have to ride back up to Scotts Valley - or you climb out of Scotts Valley and head up to the top of the Santa Cruz mountains, where you can then go either north or south and find some nice roads to get you back to Scotts Valley (and we have dozens of variations that we do for our various loops).

Well, I expected the Granite Creek climb to be tough - it is actually 2 climbs - one smaller one that is about 0.5 miles in length and then a bigger climb that is a bit longer - and definitely has a steeper average grade - but I had ridden Granite Creek a couple of times since my heart surgery - and had survived the climbs.  So I knew I could get up those 2 climbs - I simply expected that due to my butt getting kicked by the Rodeo Gulch climb (which would soften up my legs a lot), I was going to do that Granite Creek climb at an all-time slow speed.

But - good news! - and this is where I can (ever so slowly) see actual progress happening in my comeback - I did those 2 Granite Creek climbs faster than my 2 previous attempts - I took 20 seconds off that first climb and 40 seconds off the second climb - woohoo!!!!

So this demonstrates to me, quite clearly, that I am getting stronger - it's all relative, of course - and compared to a few years ago, my times still royally suck - but they aren't quite as sucky (is that a word?) as they were when I first started riding back in November of last year.

As such, although I still cannot issue those magic words ("Yeah - it was hard, but worth it!"), I can at least say, "Yeah - it was hard, but one day down the road, it will be worth it!" - and that's all I have to say today...  :)

Keep on cycling!  And a corollary - once you get back into good cycling shape, don't ever stop!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

There's Nothing Like Setting a New PB on New Year's Day - On A Recovery Ride, Nonetheless !

The title says it all!  One of my biking buddies, Mike, and I decided to ride for the 3rd day in a row - and it was the 1st day of the New Year, 2013 - we figured to do a nice little recovery ride.  That's where you just spin along in a comfortable gear, talking all the time - and never trying to work too hard - even on the climbs.

We thought we'd do 25 to 30 miles (it ended up smack in the middle - 27 miles for me, 28 miles for Mike, who rode down to my house to meet me - and then rode back after dropping me off at my house at the end of the ride).  And, we decided on doing the ride down to the harbor area of Santa Cruz (Crow's Nest Restaurant, to be exact) via Glen Canyon and then back the same route.  That would be a 21-mile round trip, so we thought we'd do a couple of loops around Scotts Valley (Scotts Valley Drive and Green Hills Road) to get those extra miles (and a little extra climbing feet) done.

And, we stuck to the plan - until we didn't.  Well, Mike stuck to the plan - but then, he's in a lot better shape than I am right now.  I'm the one that veered off the plan, but it was totally unintentional!  As planned, we did an easy spin down to the Crow's Nest Restaurant in Santa Cruz - and, as planned, we noodled our way back towards Scotts Valley at an easy, conversational pace.

But then, when we started the Glen Canyon climb (to get back up into Scotts Valley from Santa Cruz), I started out exactly as we had planned - spinning an easier gear on the climb - and we would have stuck to the plan - except I seemed to get into this total rhythm - the climb up Glen Canyon is uneven - it's not a very hard climb - the grade is fairly mild and it sort of rolls up and down, doing more rolling up than rolling down -  and there are a couple of spots where it pitches up a bit (but again, pitching up is not to suggest we hit these steep, 15% sections - it just pitches up from 2% or 3% to maybe 6% or 7% - and only for a very brief time).  When I hit those little parts where it pitches up, rather than drop down a gear (to keep the spinning on the lighter and easier side, as planned), I just kept it in the same gear and just pushed a bit harder on those sections where it steepened a bit - for whatever reason, it just wasn't all that hard - and the rhythm felt good - not changing gears on a climb can allow you to sometimes keep a nice rhythm going - assuming the changes in pitch are not too severe, of course - and this was the case with Glen Canyon - the "steep" parts are not really all that steep - just a little steeper than other parts.  Overall, it really is the easiest climb to get back up to Scotts Valley.

So here I was, motoring along in this nice rhythm - and breathing a little harder as a result - I had noticed our riding time (1:02:40) as we started the "official" climb of Glen Canyon - and at some point during the climb (like, after the last main part that pitches up briefly), I looked at the riding time and thought there was a reasonable chance I could do a new (relative) PB for that climb - and the funny part is that I had just done a new (relative) PB on that climb the day before, which was the LAST day of 2012!

My very best time (ever) on that climb was 14:19, done back in early 2007.  My very first time, post heart surgery, was 22:26.  My end of the year PB (relative) for 2012 was 21:12 - and according to what I saw on my cyclometer, it looked like I could possible hit about 20 minutes for the climb I was doing - on our recovery ride, nonetheless - and the first ride of 2013 - how cool!  Mike could tell that I had gone into a different mode - he sensed that I was going for a new PB, so he just motored along with me.

My breathing never got labored - just a nice steady rhythm - and pushing it a bit more than planned - and just as we hit the end of the climb, I realized I had done right around 20 minutes - in fact, it turns out that my actual time on that climb was just 19:24 - almost 2 minutes faster than my previous PB (from the day before) - and only 5 minutes slower than my all-time record time in early January, 2007 - wow!

I then did a simple calculation, using my famous ClimbCalculator - and put in the numbers for the Glen Canyon climb, to then determine how much time I gain for every 10 pounds I lose (I'm about 30 to 40 pounds overweight right now) - and it turns out I would get back 1 minute every time I lose another 10 pounds - and that is WITHOUT gaining any strength in my legs (which will also happen as I get in better shape).  So if I then assume I can lose 30 pounds over the next 5 months (very realistic and doable - that is about 1.5 pounds per week),  my time - today! - would be about 16:24 - just 2 minutes off my all-time PB!

Then, if you figure that I will, in fact, gain some more climbing strength in my legs over the next 5 months, it stands to reason that I should be able to come very close to my all-time PB of 14:19 for that climb by the time we hit the end of May, 2013 - woohoo! - wouldn't THAT be ever so cool?

So now I have some real strong incentive to get those extra pounds off - not only will the cycling be more fun and easier, but I will have a chance to get my fitness creeping back to where it was in 2007, when I was in my very best shape of all time (even better than when I was in my 20s!!).

So for all those old geezers out there (like me) that are trying to claw their way back into shape - even after heart surgery - anything is possible, I can guarantee you!

Keep on riding!

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 End with a Breakthrough Ride !

What a great way to end 2012 - one of my biking buddies, Mike, and I did what we call the "Easy Beach Ride" - it's just a simple ride of 26 miles that heads down to Capitola via Glen Canyon (from our start point in Scotts Valley).  We headed out from Scotts Valley by going over Green Hills Road, which adds about 200 feet of climbing to the ride (instead of just coasting down Scotts Valley Drive to get over to Glen Canyon).

It was great biking weather (well, great from my perspective!) - cool and sunny - it was around 50 degrees out, with just a slight wind blowing.  Mike and I just tooled along, heading down the familiar path through Santa Cruz to get over to Capitola Beach via East Cliff Drive - a wonderful scenic ride for cyclists!

When we were riding along East Cliff Drive, I happened to notice that our riding time was looking pretty good - in fact, I was a bit surprised, since we had just ridden a similar ride the day before - but that ride was what we call the "Classic Beach Ride" - it starts out the same way as the "Easy Beach Ride", but after leaving  Capitola Beach, instead of taking the "easy" way back up to Scotts Valley (which means up Glen Canyon, the same road we take down into Santa Cruz from Scotts Valley at the beginning of the ride), we head back the "hard" way, which means going up Old San Jose Road and then doing the Laurel Glen climb, down Mountain View Road, down Branciforte, then climbing back up into Scotts Valley via Granite Creek.  The "Classic Beach Ride" is close to 30 miles and does about 2000 feet of climbing.  The "Easy Beach Ride" is more like 26 miles and only 1600 feet of climbing (and those climbing miles are easier because they aren't as steep).

In any case, on yesterday's "Classic Beach Ride", we got down to Capitola Beach in just under one hour, which was a new post heart surgery record for me.  What surprised me about today's ride was that it looked like we were going to get to Capitola Beach even faster than yesterday's record ride!  In fact, that is exactly what we did - we got to Capitola Beach in just 55 minutes - woohoo!  That was an average speed of 15.6 mph for that leg of the ride - very cool!

Then we headed back home and bumped into another cycling friend of ours, Brett - he was returning to Scotts Valley and joined us for the return ride.  I felt pretty good - and ended up shaving 2 minutes off my time up Glen Canyon (from 23 minutes down to 21 minutes) - it's still a far cry from my record time of 14 minutes for that climb - but hey! - I have a good solid year to chip at that time and get it back down close to my record 14 minutes.

As we finished the climb up Glen Canyon and entered the outskirts of Scotts Valley, I looked at our riding time and saw that we had a chance to get back from the ride in under 2 hours, which would have been 12 minutes faster than my previous ride (from 3 weeks ago), when we did that ride in 2:12.   And, we easily broke 2 hours - we got back in just 1:58 - 14 minutes faster than 3 weeks ago - woohoo!!!

In any case, it was nice to end 2012 with such a positive ride!  I just know that 2013 is going to be a good year for me - I plan on riding consistently - and s-l-o-w-l-y grind my way back into decent cycling shape - that's the plan!

Hope everyone had a great 2012 - and let's keep riding as we slide into 2013, the New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking Forward to 2013 !!!

Well, it's been an interesting year, 2012 - got myself a fixed-up heart and I'm feeling pretty good these days - need to still lose a few pounds (well, maybe more than just a few) - but since I started riding again on November 3 (about 2 months after my heart surgery I had on September 10), I've done about 14 rides - only half the number I wanted to do - but hey! - it's a start, anyway...  :)

My most recent ride (today) was with a couple of my old riding buddies, Mike and Ed - it was fun doing the ride with them - and they very graciously stayed with me on those tortuously s-l-o-w climbs on today's ride (Laurel Glen and then Granite Creek).  I started to bonk a bit on those 2 climbs to get back up into Scotts Valley - but it was my longest ride since the heart surgery (29+ miles) and close to 2000 feet of climbing!  Nothing to write home about - but it was a good accomplishment for me - we basically did what we used to call the "Classic Beach Ride" - leaving Scotts Valley, getting down to Santa Cruz via Glen Canyon, then over to Capitola via East Cliff - and then returning the "hard way" - up Old San Jose Road, then up the Laurel Glen climb - down Mountain View to Branciforte - and finally, up the Granite Creek climb to get back into Scotts Valley - here's my Strava recording of the ride:

All in all, a nice way to finish off 2012 (even though I just might head out for a final New Year's Eve ride tomorrow - just for fun!) ... It's very, very slowly coming back - but my enthusiasm for riding is gradually returning - as I lose some more weight and get back into better cycling shape, I know the enthusiasm will return in full - and that is why I am SO looking forward to 2013 - it's going to be my "comeback year", in many more ways than one!

Keep on riding!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Where Have I Been The Last 23 Months?

Well, it's been awhile!  And I just looked at this blog, noticing that my last post was way back in early December, 2010.  But that is not the last time I rode my bike!  In fact, I did some on-and-off riding for a couple of months after that month - up to mid February, 2011.

And that is when something odd started happening.  I was attempting to get myself back into shape, but noticed that some fairly easy rides resulted in a lot of shortness of breath issues.  Not good!

So, I decided to go visit my regular doctor - and during my routine checkup, he said he detected a very faint, yet distinctive, heart murmur.

Heart murmur - yikes!  What does *that* mean?  My doctor said it could mean nothing - or, it could be something - and the only way to find out for sure would be to see a cardiologist and have a stress echocardiogram done.  And, he had a cardiologist to recommend, of course.

So I went to see the cardiologist, who then scheduled the stress echocardiogram - the date was March 18, 2011 - a date that will live in infamy - well, not really!  It wasn't exactly the same as Pearl Harbor - but, it *was*, in essence, my own Pearl Harbor - that is when I found out I had a defective heart issue - actually, there were 2 defects!  One was congenital - I had a bicuspid aortic valve - just like my younger had found out many years ago (when he was just 29) - they monitored his BAV (as we call it in the heart patient world) and 12 years later, at the age of 41, he had open heart surgery to replace his defective aortic valve.

Now it looked like it was my turn to monitor *my* BAV - and then replace it when it was starting to become too narrow (called "stenosis") - but I had an issue that my brother did NOT have - and that was an aortic aneurysm - my ascending aorta (just above my aortic valve) was TWICE as wide as normal - about 5.0 cm instead of 2.5 cm ... yikes!  The problem is that your aorta can dissect (split) or worse yet, rupture.  A rupture means you have 5 minutes to make your peace before you die.  An aortic dissection will let you live for anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days, depending on how much the aorta dissects.  Basically, you are a "ticking time bomb" ... not fun to contemplate!

Bottom line - I needed to contemplate having open heart surgery much earlier than my brother did - I would need it within a matter of months - certainly within a year or so.

And that is exactly what I did a several months ago - September 10, 2012 - the date of my "rebirth", so-to-speak.  The surgery went amazingly well - I had a great cardiac surgeon, Dr. Vincent Gaudiani - if you ever need any surgery related to your heart and live somewhere in the Bay Area, I can highly recommend him!  Here is just one of several YouTube videos that Dr. Gaudiani has published - what a great guy!

And, just 8 weeks after my surgery - on November 3, 2012 - I went on my very first bike ride in a very, very long time - and there was no shortness of breath - and the ride felt great!  Except, I didn't set any kind of records on that ride - pretty short - pretty flat - but, it was uneventful - beautiful!

I also discovered a very cool new website, Strava - here is where you can find me on Strava - what is cool is that after you upload one of your rides from your cyclometer (or, there is even a Strava phone app that can function as a cyclometer, but without the heart rate functionality), Strava will automatically break up your ride into different "segments" - sections of your ride that are ridden by lots of other people - and you can see where you "rank" amongst all those that have ridden that same segment - or, you can just use it to compare yourself to other times you've ridden that same segment - pretty cool!

Here is the link to my first ride after my heart surgery - as I said, nothing to write home about - just 8.2 miles and only 42 minutes on the bike - without any hills to speak of - but it was a ride, nonetheless!

And, here is the link to one of my tougher rides that I took, just 3 weeks later - I did 26+ miles, almost 1400 feet of climbing - and rode for 2 hours and 10 minutes - quite a bit more of a ride!  And with that harder ride, I even averaged a faster speed (12.1 mph versus 11.6 mph for that first ride) - and there was a lot more climbing involved in that harder ride.

My main problem has been consistency - I was hoping to ride 2 times during the weekdays and 2 times on the weekends (4 rides / week) - but it has only averaged about 2 rides per week since I started riding again - so I need to increase my riding time!  I only rode 8 times in November - and only 4 times for December (so far) - I really need to be doing about 16 rides each month - so I better pick it up in January of 2013!

So, this is why I've been away for quite awhile - but Musings of a Cyclotic will start seeing some regular activity, once again - stay tuned!

And keep riding...  :)

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Gotta Keep Breathing (And Riding)

So I rode with one of my favorite biking buddies today, Jeff - he's one of the first people I started to ride with on a regular basis many years ago - and is a constant source of support, always ready to go for a ride.

We used to ride all the time a few years ago - and today was a reminder of just how much fun it is to go for a ride with someone you connect with - we always tell fun stories, catch up on the latest gossip at our respective companies, chit-chat about life, etc.

Today's ride was not exactly one of our epic ones - just a short, simple ride - I did all of 7 miles today - and didn't feel quite as bad as I did on my first ride a couple of days ago - we rode for just over 1/2 hour (actual moving time, since I've setup my Garmin Edge 500 to auto-stop when my bike stops - cool feature!) - and I even "attacked" a few small hills. Well, perhaps "attack" is stretching the truth - a bit - but you get the idea - it felt like I was attacking those small hills. I'm sure an impartial observer would be asking why the old guy on the bike was moving so damn slow up that little itty-bitty bump in the road. But I was imagining it was more like climbing up Mt. Diablo or some other monster-sized mountain. Some day next year, I won't have to imagine anything - it'll be all too real!

When I talked to Jeff last night, he asked the usual - "Are you riding - or hiding?" - and for the last couple of years, it's been "I'm hiding!" - but this morning, he showed up promptly at 9:00 a.m. - and there I was, ready to ride! So we rode - and now I'm feeling better that I've done 2 rides in the last 3 days - exactly as planned.

Now I just gotta keep moving - or, to paraphrase the end of a great speech that Tom Hanks gave at the end of Castaway (one of my favorite movies):

"And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing (and riding). Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide (or bike ride) could bring?"


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Did I Just Do A Century Ride Today?

Nope. It just FELT like a century ride, unfortunately - my first ride in a long, long time. Too long, as it turns out. I thought that getting onto the Comeback Trail would be tough - but it's going to be even tougher, as I found out today.

The ACTUAL ride was only about 30 minutes long - and wasn't even 10 miles long (more like 6.5 miles) - and it wasn't even hilly - it was FLAT! And I still died... :(

I guess something happens once you get past 55 (the last time I did a real ride, I wasn't even a Senior Citizen) - I'm 56 now - so THIS is what's it's like to be an old-timer, I guess. Ugh! I have a feeling it's going to be a tad harder to pull off those extra pounds, too.

But here's the good news - my new Garmin Edge 500 worked really, really well - I love it - and will be posting all my rides up on the GarminConnect website, with my handle (polarlight) - so everyone can watch me go from "Mr. Slow" to "Mr. Go"... :)

But it's gonna take awhile - I figure about 6 months before I can point with any pride to any rides I do - but it looks like I'll get some help along the way - I've already heard from a bunch of my riding buddies - Chimene, Andy, Jeff, and Jason - and I'm sure they'll help drag my butt around, firmly attached to the saddle of my bike - and hopefully get strong enough to cause them some anxiety when we hit some hill (like I did at one time - a very long time ago!)...

So today's initial ride was nothing to write home about - but at least it's a start - and that's all it was meant to be. It would have been closer to an hour, but I got started late (work crap!) and then spent a bunch of time getting my new Garmin Edge 500 configured just right - I mean, they now give you 3 (count 'em!) different displays to toggle through - and you can even have the toggling through the different screens done automatically while you ride! - and each screen can have up to 8 programmable fields - and you can choose from about a zillion (well, maybe closer to 42) different fields - nice! It'll be fun to get home tonight and upload the data to my PC - or maybe I'll just upload to the GarminConnect website, since it has all my older rides (used to be called - I'll decide later...

So it wasn't a century ride - but in about 6 months, I plan on doing a *real* century ride - and hopefully, get in good enough shape to tackle the Santa Cruz Mtn Challenge next summer - but that's just dreaming right now...first you crawl, then you walk, then you run, then you get on your bike (and die) - and then repeat as needed... :)