March 30, 2008

The Double

I did a somewhat rare double this weekend by following up Saturday's bike race with a 5k run this morning at Crystal Lake Park. The Aid to Ecuador 5k was held to raise money to purchase medical supplies for UIUC med students to bring on an upcoming humanitarian trip to Ecuador. The event was pretty low key with a fairly small turnout. In fact there appeared to be maybe a dozen people there who weren't themselves medical students.

There were two badasses in the race who appear to be U of I runners. They, of course, blew everyone away. There were a handful of people (as there are at every 5k) who sprinted the first half mile and then slowed to a crawl. After I worked my way around these people I didn't really see anyone else the remaining 2.5 miles. The two leaders were literally out of sight by this point.

The mile markers were a little off, which caused some confusion, but I ran a decent time of 19:25 for third place, over three minutes behind the two leaders, and over two minutes ahead of the next runner. I would have liked to have run faster, but being completely alone made it a little more challenging. A little while after that next guy finished I looked up to see Melissa closing in on the finishing line. She finished fifth overall, and was the first woman to finish.

We stuck around after the race to pick up awards in the form of gift certificates to local restaurants. Then we ran the mile and a half back home. Melissa then went out and ran for another hour. That girl's a running fool.

The Cobbles

Saturday was my first bike race of the season. Melissa (the photographer) & I woke up early and drove down to Hillsboro, IL for the 2008 edition of the Hillsboro Roubaix bicycle race. The race actually has nothing to do with Roubaix, France. The name is just a play on the famous bike race Paris-Roubaix. Paris-Roubaix is known for horrible weather, poor roads, and, most of all, many sections of cobble-stones. In the spirit of the spring classics like Paris-Roubiax, the Hillsboro race threw in a half mile section of brick roads for every 22 mile lap.

Hillsboro Roubaix course map

Many members of my Wild Card Cycling team took part in this race. We had a particularly large group in the Category 5 (beginner) race, including me. Amateur bike racing events are generally split up into several different, non-competing, races. Much like running races and triathlons have age group competitions, bike races are split up by category, which is generally determined by the ability and experience of a rider.

Team Wild Card had six riders in the Cat 5 race, out of a field of 50 participants. Our six riders are pretty good, each of us simply lacks race experience. The Cat 5 race was only one lap--22 miles. This is pretty short for a bike race, so chances were good it would hard racing from the get-go. Knowing this, Larry (one of the most experienced racers on the team) came up with a team strategy for those of us in the Cat 5 race.

Mark, Tom, Dan, Stew, Karl, & Rob at the starting line

and they're off

As soon as the race started there was a long downhill section followed by a steep uphill. Dan (who has a tendency to go downhill faster than most) moved to the front of the group and really hammered down the hill. This strung the pack into one long thin line. It was to be my job to push the pace on the uphill section, but I was badly positioned. I was a little too far back after the downhill section, so Karl hit the front and kept the pace high up the hill. By the time we made a right turn at the top of the hill (less than two miles into the race) we had already cut the size of the field in half.

Hillsboro Roubaix course elevation profile

The pace remained high for the next few miles. At this point we hit another steep uphill section when something unfortunate happened. A car came from the opposite direction. This didn't endanger the safety of any of the riders. We all knew the roads were open to traffic and we all stayed safely on the right side of the road. The sight of the car did cause a few riders to panic. A lot of people had to slow down, and a couple of people swerved off into the grass. Again, everyone was safe, but this had consequences for the race. Due to all the commotion a gap opened up right in the middle of the remainder of the group. I was at the very front of the second half. I pushed the rest of the way up the hill and I chased the leaders for about a mile all by myself in order to catch up. Once I caught the leaders again I was able to slow down rest a little bit.

It was now only six miles into the race and we had a lead group of 13 riders, four of which (Tom, Mark, Stew, & me) were Wild Card people. Not bad. There wasn't much action for the next 14 miles or so. I stayed near the back most of the time. I tried on several occasions to move up through the pack, as I was willing to work harder at the front, but nobody really wanted to yield their position. So I basically rested for the majority of the race, my heart rate often in the 120's. As we came back into town we had two large uphill sections, followed by a long, fast downhill, a half mile of brick roads, then a mad dash to the finish. It was time to move on to phase two of the pre-race plan.

Hillsboro Roubaix course elevation gradient

On the first uphill section into town everyone stayed together. By this point we were starting to pass riders who had been dropped from other races that started before ours. Our pace car got stuck behind one of these riders and we got stuck behind the pace car (which we weren't allowed to pass). So we moseyed up the hill.

Stew & Tom drop the hammer

The road leveled, we passed the slower riders, then we hit the second hill. This is where Stew attacked. He was our strongest rider in the race and he hadn't been working very hard up until this point, so he was good and strong. Then disaster almost struck. The pace car got stuck behind another slow rider, and Stew got stuck behind the pace car, AGAIN! Fortunately, this was near the top of the hill and Stew still had a lead over the rest of the group when he was finally able to move forward. Crisis averted.

Team Wild Card took the bull by the horns on the last uphill

The group shattered going up the hill. Stew was out front. There was a chase group of four riders, including Tom. I had moved up from the back of the group and I was just behind the chase group with Mark and one or two others. We made a sharp left-hander then headed down the hill. The high speeds down the hill spread the group out even further. I looked up the road and saw Stew still had a pretty good lead with Tom nicely positioned in the second group. At the bottom of the hill we hit the brick road at around 35 mph. I was with one other rider at this point. We turned another corner, headed uphill, and I pulled away from him.

Every part of my bike rattled as the bricks attempted to tear it apart. At some point I heard a loud popping sound and almost immediately my back wheel started wiggling all over the place. I thought to myself, "Oh shit. I just got a flat tire a half mile from the finish." I looked down and my tire still held air. I didn't know what was going on, so I just kept peddling. As the brick road continued my rear wheel was still moving all over. I looked down at it three or four more times and it still had air each time.

The brick road ended and I turned the last corner with just a couple hundred meters remaining. I saw Stew had just crossed the line in first. The chase group of four people were sprinting to the line and I saw Tom win that sprint for second place. Next I finished sixth, then Mark came in behind me for seventh. Four places in the top seven was as good as we could have possibly hoped. A few minutes later Karl finished in 23rd, then after him Dan finished in 32nd. These two made big sacrifices to help their teammates then rode much of the race alone. It was really quite amazing.

On top of the tremendous success of team Wild Card in the Cat 5 men's race, the next race to finish was the Cat 4 women's race, where Wild Card member Severine won the sprint for first place.

Dan, Karl, Rob, Severine, Stew, Tom, Mark (photo by Luke)

I didn't see much of the action in the other races, but Larry finished fourth in the Masters 50+ race, but was possibly later disqualified for some reason. Luke, who was sick all week, DNF'd (did not finish) in the Cat 3 race. There were a few other people from Champaign-Urbana there, but I don't really know how their races went.

Team Wild Card's first event turned out to be pretty successful. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.

March 26, 2008

The Cattle Guard

I recently had a conversation with another cyclist about cattle guards. My only experience with them was on the climb up Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii. I was too afraid to ride over them so I got off and walked the bike across. Apparently, the trick is to hit them at full speed on your bike and everything will be fine.

Rob negotiating a cattle guard on Mauna Kea Observatory Road

March 23, 2008

The Natal Coat

As I was headed to Danville today to have Easter lunch with my family, Melissa made a special request. She asked if I could bring back from my parents' house a photo of myself when I was a small blond haired child. She wanted to include the photo in one of her upcoming lectures when she will be discussing the concept of a natal coat. Apparently, many primate species have lighter colored hair/fur when they are young than when they are adults. She can probably tell you more about it. Anyway, here's my natal coat.

March 19, 2008

The Camp, Sunday

Sunday was a still a little chilly, but it was sunny and dry so I didn't care. The plan for the morning was to ride to Makanda, a little town near Giant City park, to do repeats up and down a big hill that heads out of town. My legs were trashed from the previous two days, but given that we were planning to just ride back and forth on one section of the road it didn't really matter if we stayed together. Everyone could ride their own pace.

We started out with a warm up ride over to Little Grassy Lake (my friend Cara's favorite place). Then we headed back to Makanda where we met up with the riders who were staying at Lick Creek and we gathered for a team photo.

Wild Card Cycling team (photo courtesy of Karl)

Then came the hill. It was steep, but after the first repeat I actually began to feel better than before. After the second repeat I felt even better still. I was beginning to feel like Rob again for the first time all weekend. Our noon check out time was quickly approaching, so I was only able to do one more repeat. I really put a lot into the last climb. Phew. I hit my weekend high of 39.1 miles/hour on the way down. Not bad considering the road wasn't very straight, but still room for improvement. My fastest ever was 46 miles/hour on the descent of Clingman's Dome.

Distance: 30.06 miles
Duration: 1:55:00
Avg Heart Rate: 125
Max Heart Rate: 171
Calories: 1472
Total Ascent: 1262 feet
Weather: 48˚, sunny

Sunday's route

Sunday's elevation

After an easy ride back to the cabins we showered, packed up, and headed out. John A., Jay, and I had an excellent lunch at Moe's Southwest Grill in Carbondale. I had both the burrito meal and the quesadilla meal. I was sleepy on the way home but I managed to stay awake somehow. Melissa came out to the street to greet me when I returned home. Perhaps she missed me a little.

Don't have an emergency at the I-57 rest area just north of Effingham

The Camp, Saturday

Saturday was to be the big day of the camp. We planned to do 100 miles from Lick Creek to Golconda and back. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative. It was rainy and much colder (low 40s) than the day before. We delayed the ride, hoping the weather would improve, but after 30 impatient minutes we finally departed with no change in weather.

I was standing around talking to Jay, who was putting his shoes on, when the group decided to pull out. To our surprise they took off anyway. I waited a minute or so for him to get ready, but by this time the group was well up the road. We chased hard for about 4 miles to catch the group. It was right then we hit the first big hill of the day. My legs were really feeling the previous day's effort as I slowly made my way up the hill. We stopped to regroup at the top. I was already tired from Friday, I was tired from chasing, I was tired from the first big ass hill. This is not how I wanted to feel 5 miles into a 100 miler.

At this point we all agreed to keep the pace sane and stick together for the first 30 miles, at which point we would reassess the situation. This plan lasted all of 30 seconds. The group spread out again on the rolling hills, and the riders up front were not keen on waiting. I spent the next 15 miles yo-yoing off the back of the group, desperately trying to cling on. I was soaking wet at this point and the brutal North wind chilled me to the bone. We stopped after 20 miles and I knew something had to change. There was no way I could come anywhere close to doing 100 miles at this pace on this terrain in these conditions.

We decided to split up. Six of us would continue another five miles before turning around for a 50 mile ride. Others would continue another 10 miles before turning around for a 60 mile ride. The ride back to lick creek was a bit of a blur. The weather was so nasty and I all I wanted was to be warm and dry. I was not the worst off though, as Ethan was a little underdressed and was shaking and chattering his teeth.

Five miles from the finish Jeff got a flat tire. We stuck around and helped him change it, then headed towards the finish. 300 meters later his tire went flat again. This was at the top of the big hill I mentioned previously and he and I were at the back of the group. Nobody else noticed he had flatted and they continued on their merry way. So Jeff & I stopped to fix his tire. He didn't have a second spare with him so I gave him mine... except it didn't fit. Jeff's wheels have deep (aerodynamic) rims and the valve stem on my spare tire wasn't long enough to go all the way through. Crap. I called Karl to see if they had returned to Lick Creek yet, but he did not answer. So I left Jeff to go get somebody's car at the finish. I ran into Karl just past the bottom of the hill. He was waiting to make sure we knew which way to turn. We finished the last four miles together. Then I got into Jeff's room, found his keys, and drove his truck back to pick him up. Incidentally, this won me the Best Team Support award at our dinner Saturday night.

A Wild Card Cycling mug I won at dinner on Saturday

Since we finished at Lick Creek I didn't have any clothes or much food with me, and I didn't have the keys to the car I rode in anyway. Karl was kind enough to offer to let me shower in his room and he lent me a sweatshirt and some jeans to wear. I almost didn't take him up on the offer because I thought the lead group was only going 10 miles farther so they should have been back any time. I'm very glad I did take him up on the offer because the lead group decided to do the full 100, and they were gone for several more hours.

What an awful day.

Distance: 51.39 miles
Duration: 3:05:15
Avg Heart Rate: 142
Max Heart Rate: 179
Calories: 2819
Total Ascent: 1154 feet
Weather: 44˚, rainy

Saturday's route

Saturday's elevation

After the ride we headed back to Giant City, caught some Start Trek on TV, and caught a nap. All the Lick Creek people came to the Giant City Lodge for dinner. Saturday's special was all-you-can-eat fried chicken, which was quite popular. I stuck with my steamed vegetables, rice, mashed potatoes, and corn.

Martin, Dave, Tom, Ethan

Karl, Larry, Severine, Jeff

Jeff, Adam, Gene

Jay, Nick, Greg, Luke

Stewart, Don, John S.

John B., John A.

After dinner we quickly realized there was nothing on TV and went to bed even earlier than Friday. This was a tired bunch.

March 18, 2008

The Camp, Friday

Last weekend I travelled with several friends from my cycling team (Wild Card Cycling) to hilly southern Illinois for a training camp. We spent 3 days riding on terrain a little more challenging than that of Champaign county. There were 20 people total.

On Friday afternoon we did an out and back ride from Lick Creek to Bald Knob, one of the highest points in Illinois. The temperature was a little cool, but the sun was shining. The excitement of the group showed in the quick pace we set. I was assuming we would all stay together the whole way except for the big climb up Bald Knob. I was wrong. The groups frequently split up on the smaller hills and then those towards the back (often including me) had to chase hard to catch back up. We did all stop to regroup a few times.

On the way out it wasn't so bad because I was relatively fresh. This was a sensation I would not feel again for a few days. The first third of the ride I could keep up with the stronger riders on the uphill sections, but it took a lot of effort. Everyone rode Bald Knob at their own pace. On the way back I was getting tired, but the pace of the group actually seemed to increase. I spent quite a lot of time off the back of the group chasing to try to get back on. With about 10 miles left I unhitched for good and rode alone or with one or two other stragglers to the finish.

It was a hard ride, a lot harder than I expected.

Distance: 41.94 miles
Duration: 2:23:34
Avg Heart Rate: 147
Max Heart Rate: 182
Calories: 2466
Total Ascent: 1180 feet
Weather: 54˚, sunny

Friday's route

Friday's elevation

Wild Card Cycling team at the top of Bald Knob (photo courtesy of Karl)

After the ride, 8 of us travelled a short distance from Lick Creek to Giant City State Park, where we had cabins reserved. Giant City had a lookout tower which provided nice views.

Bald Knob was visible in the distance from Giant City State Park

8 of us stayed at the cabins at Giant City State Park

Martin, Rob, John S., John A., Don, Gene, John B., & Jay at Giant City

We ate dinner at the Giant City Lodge. The restaurant had 1 vegetarian option, steamed vegetables (and rice, and sides). Fortunately, it was absolutely delicious. Most of the other guys had the all-you-can-eat fried catfish dinner, for which the lodge is apparently famous. Needless to say, nobody left the lodge hungry, and some of us had a difficult time walking.

We got to bed relatively early in anticipation of a longer, harder ride on Saturday.

March 12, 2008

The Steamy Novel

I received an unexpected gift for Christmas in 2003. My brother Andy got me a steamy novel. Now, this wasn't the type of steamy novel you get at a grocery store. For, you see, this novel had been personalized. Medieval Passion starred Melissa & Rob.

He had found Romance by You, a site which prints these personalized novels after entering a little bit of personal information. In the story Rob is a knight. Melissa of the house of Raguet is his love interest and has brown eyes. Jolyne is Melissa's maidservant. Romeo is her pet.

After receiving the book, a conversation I had with Andy several weeks prior suddenly made sense. He had called me up and started asking questions about Melissa's friends, pets, eye color, etc... but he wouldn't tell me why he needed to know these things.

I actually read the book and it was fairly entertaining. It includes such passages as:

Rob remained speechless, caught up in the sight of his Lady spread forth upon his bed draped in nothing more than rose petals... just as he had imagined her a hundred times before.

Just like real life.

Mom & Dad receivied Pirates of Desire (I think, perhaps one of them can confirm or deny this). Travis & Blake received Tropical Treasure. Good stuff.

March 9, 2008

The Slog

I just finished reading Jill from Juneau's report of her adventures in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a 350 mile human powered (bike in her case) race across the interior of Alaska in February. She tells an amazing story.

Melissa was a little worried that reading this would inspire me to compete in this event next year... This is a little crazy even by my standards.

The Throb

I don't get headaches. Well, maybe once every 3 or 4 months I will have a mild headache. Yesterday, completely out of the blue, I had the worst headache I've had in years.

Yesterday while eating lunch with Melissa, my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousin it just hit me. I felt perfectly fine before going into the restaurant. As soon as I sat down at the table I started seeing spots. I just assumed it was the bright windows contrasting with the dark restaurant, so I didn't think too much of it. Be the time we finished eating I was no longer seeing spots but my head was absolutely throbbing. I went to the bathroom and saw in the mirror the veins in my forehead were bulging out. I had never experienced anything like this before.

After returning home I took some ibuprofin and went to bed. I ended up sleeping for 4 hours. I was pretty disoriented when I woke up around 7 p.m. thinking it was the middle of the night. But the good news was the throbbing headache was gone. I felt tired and weak, but this uncomfortable feeling was nothing compared to what I was feeling before the nap.

So in short, I felt terrible yesterday, but I'm much better now. No need for worries.

The Practice Start

Yesterday was the Earth, Wind, & Fire 5K run put on the by the Illinois State Geological Survey at the University of Illinois. The race started at 8 a.m. When I woke up at 6:20 a.m. the temperature was 13˚ F. This was going to be interesting.

The start was less than a mile from our house, so I ran over there to warm up. I registered for the race and waited around inside the Natural Resources Building until closer to race time. There was a Festival of Maps (I like maps) lining the hallway so I kept myself occupied. About 20 minutes before the start I ran another mile outside to warm up then I headed to the start line.

There were a surprising number of people there. I thought there would be maybe 20 of the most hardcore runners that braved the frigid weather and howling winds for this race, but I was mistaken. About 150 people showed up.

As everyone was mulling around near the starting line, trying not to freeze, the race directors decided to blow the air horn to test it out and make sure it was working. The thing is, they didn't tell anyone what they were doing. As soon as the horn blew a few people took off running. Seeing them, everyone else took off running. The race directors were standing right in front of the line and all of the sudden the entire field was running around them. They quickly got on the bullhorn to announce that this wasn't actually the start. The runners eventually stopped and headed back to the starting line. When it was time for the real start the directors were much more careful to explain exactly what was going to happen. Fair enough. They gave a 5 second count down then we were off.

The race went surprisingly well given the poor weather conditions. I was able to pull out a 19:20, which was good enough for 5th place overall and 2nd in my age group. I guess I'm not as out of shape as I thought I was.

Since the race was put on by geologists, the winners received some sort of special rock as an award.

Update: They posted race photos, including a couple of me.

Rob finishing the 5K (photo courtesy of Joel Dexter)

Rob receiving award (photo courtesy of Joel Dexter)

March 5, 2008

The 2 Mile Challenge

Save your money. Save your health. Save your planet.

Map your 2 mile radius by entering your address here:

March 2, 2008

The Bonk

Several of my regular bicycling partners have started a racing team this year called Wild Card Cycling. This weekend we planned a long (even by my standards) training ride together. The plan was to do a century (100 miles). My previous longest ride of the year was around 50 miles or so, so this was a big jump. After 75-80 miles I bonked (*).

Bonking is basically the same thing that marathon runners refer to has "hitting the wall." It is the point at which your muscles run out of glycogen and can no longer continue to function at their current capacity. In a matter of minutes you become incredibly tired and your heart rate skyrockets. You can keep going after you bonk, but your performance drops significantly. Your body has no stored carbohydrates so it has to burn only fat, which is a poor source of energy.

The only way to avoid bonking on really long workouts is to continue to eat during the workout. I was eating during the ride yesterday, but apparently it was not enough. After 4.5-5 hours or so my body stopped cooperating.

Fortunately, another guy bonked at roughly the same time and we were able to ride together the last 20 miles into town. It seemed to take forever. I ended up at home after 96.33 miles and decided not to do another 4 miles. I didn't have it in me. I was past the point of enjoying myself anyway. There will be other days.

No "peddlers" allowed in Cerro Gordo

The route from Urbana to Cerro Gordo

This morning I did another 35 miles with the group. It took 20 or so miles to work the lactic acid from yesterday's ride out of my legs, but I felt pretty good by the end. It was dark and rainy right until the end of the ride then the sun came out and it's now a beautiful day. If only we had waited an hour.

(*) Incidentally, we used to ride with an Australian woman who informed us that "bonk" had a totally different meaning in her country.