Saturday, April 11, 2009

Princeton 200k - A dose of humble pie!

April 11, 2009

My trip to the mid-west is over. I did not make it to the brevet in Ohio, which is probably a good thing. I took Mellow Yellow on the trip, but only found time for a 30 mile ride. My return came about sooner than expected due to a family issue at home. Departure would be on Thursday and I was needed home for Easter Sunday. A light bulb went off in my head. Suddenly, I was plotting an aggressive driving plan to cover the 1200 miles in about 30 hours. The purpose of the plan was to put me home on Friday afternoon in time to get ready for the Princeton 200k to be held on Saturday. I drove 900 miles on day one stopping at a hotel for a few hours sleep (kind of like a 600k). I had my lap top with me and signed up for the ride on one-half hour before the cut-off of registration. The weather report was somewhat concerning calling for periods of rain with temperatures in the fifties. On the positive side it was a ride I was used to. Of course not on a recumbent. The difference would prove to be staggering.

I covered the remaining 300 miles the next morning arriving home just after noon on Friday. Plenty of time to get my gear together for a potentially rainy ride the next morning. By dinner time I was all packed up with everything loaded in the van. It was only a twenty minute drive from my home to the start so a good nights sleep would fit nicely into the plan.

In the morning I noticed no rain had fallen overnight. The temperature in the high forties seemed quite manageable. Still no rain as I undertook the check-in and final preparation for the ride at the Princeton Forrestal Village parking lot. Just as all the riders lined up waiting for the go signal, from ride organizer Judd Hand, the rain drops started lightly falling. After some final instructions Judd started the ride in two groups to relieve the congestion on the tight roads leading out of the Village. Group one was designated the fast group; 10hrs or under predicted finish. I had done a sub 10hr 200k once, a couple of years back, but it was not going to happen today. Ten minutes later the rest of us were sent off headed for the center of Princeton and the first climb of the day up the Great Road. I was riding along with Todd, a fleche team mate and riding buddy. The first seven miles was moderate terrain which would include some city like riding through down town Princeton. We would then climb up out of the town on the famous Great Road headed for Hopewell and a more formidable climb up Rileyville Road. I was definitely riding a bit slower than if I was on my DF bike, but Todd didn't seem to mind hanging back with me and chatting as we rode. I remember this ride from last year as being quite hilly. There are a few formidable climbs, most notorious being Adamic Hill Road in Holland Township, interspersed with numerous lesser climbs. The effect of the continuous up and down is a slow steady pummeling akin to taking a rhythmic beating by a skilled boxer. I manage the Rileyville climb without using the small chain ring. However still slower than if I was on my Salsa upright. Todd was ahead of me on the climb by quite a bit, but there was a sizeable decent after the climb enabling me to catch up to him. The bent descends like a rocket. It would go like this to the control in Frenchtown which was at the American Legion Hall. The rain had really intensified, we arrived wet and cold. The hot soup and coffee provided by the volunteers helped knock off the chill, at least temporarily.

It was raining quite steadily as we mounted back up for the second leg of the ride. I was shivering as we pedaled back out to the route. To add to the misery the wind from the north was picking up and we were smack into it for much of this section. After a few flat miles we hit some rolling terrain which helped us warm up. This would be a prelude to the big climb of the day, Adamic Hill, which was just a few miles ahead.

Soon we made the turn onto Mount Joy road. I knew from memory the big climb was one turn away. Once the turn is made it quite quickly pitches up to about a 16% grade. I dropped into the granny gear and started up only to have the bike make an unintentional sharp left. I still was not proficient at managing steep climbs. The bike gets very squirmy and I have yet to figure out how to prevent it. More moderate climbs of say 10% grade work okay but the real steep pitches still give me problems. I almost fall over here but manage to get a foot down at the last second. Considering my options there is no way I can get started again on this steep section. Returning to the bottom, although not all that far, didn't seem appealing either. The rain momentarily had stopped so it would be a nice day for a walk. I manage about 2.5 mph pushing the bike up the hill. That's only about 1 mph slower than riding. During the walk up I'm longing for my Salsa or Felt. I've climbed this hill numerous times, although it's a tough climb I've never had to think about walking. As I near the top I see Todd and a couple of other riders returning to the route from a wrong turn at a fork off. The cue sheet lists a bear left at fork to remain on Adamic Hill Rd, but who can think about reading when your legs are screaming. Actually it worked out well since Todd arrived at the information control, an old windmill at the top off the hill, just moments before me. As we continue on the rain resumes having only given a brief respite during the climb. Twelve miles remain until the control at the Asbury Deli, the farthest point of the route and the half way mark. The rain and wind remain constant, again we arrive shivering. Judd is here to check us in. He tells us a number of riders have packed because of the conditions. If I don't find a way to warm up I could be joining them. I do an internal inventory on my condition and come to realize that my biggest misery is my hands. They are cold and wet to the point of being numb. Especially the right one. The recumbent uses grip shifters which are difficult to work with numb hands. The Seal Skinz gloves I had on were soaked through, not a great endoresement for water proof gloves. I had packed a spare pair of glove liners and medium duty winter gloves in my pack. The half-way point seemed like a good time to break them out. They would help immensely. I would count on the upcoming hills to warm the rest of me.

We reluctantly leave the warmth of the deli to undertake the next segment which will bring us back to the Legion Hall control in Frenchtown. A fairly large climb looms ahead in the first mile. It should warm us up. We hit the climb and I go for the granny gear starting the grind up. I make it about half way before I start feeling the warning signs of leg cramping. A few more turns of the cranks and now I'm in a full seizure on both legs. Again falling over is a distinct possibility. With the cranks so high off the ground it is not easily to get a foot down quickly, especially when the legs are locked up with cramping. Somehow I save myself additional pain and embarrasement by keeping the bike up. I've got both feet on the ground but am paralyzed by cramping. It takes me a minute to get to the point of getting a leg over the bike and start the long walk up the hill. Todd comes back down the hill a bit to look for me, I tell him he better move on alone. I am now worried that my hampered pace will prove inadequte. For the first time ever on a 200k I am in danger of running out of time. We left the last control just before the closing time. I'm giving some thought to abandoning here, but this would require a rescue from home to the very farthest point on the route. I decide to continue to the next control and evaluate things there. The walk up the rest of hill done I enjoy a fast down hill section, although cold. At the turn part way down the hill I come across a secret control. The volunteer marks my brevet card and wishes me luck. As I continue on I take heart in the fact that there were a number of riders still at the control when I departed. There is only one hill left that requires me to walk, a short steep kicker, the rest I am able to climb, albeit slowly. I'm not sure when it happened but the rain seems to have stopped. The temperature has climbed into the fifties and I begin drying out. Most of the riders from behind catch up to me. I leap frog a few of them passing them on down hills and being passed on up hills. With no more steep hills in front of me to the control I stay on the bike using easy gears to keep from cramping on the rollers. I ride into Milford which is just a couple of miles from the control. There are only three riders behind me, and not far behind at that. Taking a bathroom break at the Citgo relegates me to the final position. A couple of miles of flat riding and I am approaching the control. Todd is on his way out and asks how I'm doing. I decided then that I am going to continue on. I am into the control about twenty minutes before closing time. I'm planning a quick ten minute stop. With the continued absence of rain I am dry and warm. One less thing to worry about.

True to plan I am out of the control quickly. I have a bit more than four hours to finish 38 miles. If I don't stop at all a ten mile per hour rolling pace would get it done. This section is billed as the easiest although I can think of at least three pretty good climbs off the top of my head. The first of these, Ridge Road, presents itself almost immediately. I am determined to climb it. I've had a little rest and should be able manage in a light gear. I climb it slowly and am passed by most of the remaining riders. The terrain stays flat for about five miles and then comes a tough hill, Oak Grove Road, which I climb up part way and walk the rest. I notice that walking doesn't offer as much relief as before, my knees have tightened up causing some discomfort. While off the bike I put on night reflective gear and my helmet light. I'm not expecting to get in before dark. At the top of Oak Grove I then have a nice fast descent into the town of Flemington. I hit 48 mph on the down hill. All the roads are familiar to me here as I ride this area all the time. While waiting at the traffic light to cross Rt 31 I review the remaining route counting the hills in front of me. There is really only one significant climb left, Lindbergh Road, but even the less significant are challenging to me today. Manners Road comes to mind with four good size rollers within a two mile section. I'm vowing to stay on the bike the rest of the way. No walking, no breaks, just ride the remaing 23 miles to the finish.

Manners Road comes and goes with me riding the whole time. I'm adjusting my climbing technique a bit to use slightly larger gears with very slow cadence. The stress to my legs seems a bit less this way. The two mile climb up Linbergh to the top of The Sourland Mountain Ridge comes and goes and again I ride all of it. Just a couple of miles of rollers on the top of the ridge and then I'm descending Hollow Road. At the end of Hollow I now have twelve miles to go and about an hour left. With mostly flat terrain in front of me I should make it. Normally I would be extremely confident, but I am now feeling down right awful. All my muscles are as tight as piano wire. My glutes hurt so bad that every minor bump is excruicatinly painful and my knees are doing their share of complaining. On top of everything my stomach seems to think that throwing up would be a good idea. Well, it would just have to wait because at this point I did not want to spare the time. I'm riding at 20 - 21 mph for awhile on the flat section, but soon realize I can't sustain it. I settle for 15-17 for the remaing five flat miles. Then I try to maintain 8-10mph on the gradual climb into the little town of Kingston. From there it is only a couple of miles, mostly down hill to the finish at Forrestal Village. I'm in full darkness with all lights and reflective gear displayed. I get to the final traffic light at College Road and I hear someone excitedely yelling for me to keep coming. I couldn't see my watch, but I knew I was tight on time. I turned into the parking lot and headed for the small crowd (3 people) gathered there. Judd is there and tells me that I have finished with four minutes to spare.

With my brevet card signed and my finish offical I am now faced with the final task of packing up to go home. No easy proposition since I can barely move. I'm surprised I feel this bad. In fact, I never remember feeling this horrible on any other ride. The different use of muscles is much more impactful than I would have ever thought. I was told that the adaptation from uprights to bents could take up to a year. I am just now beginning to believe it. Finishing the ride barely under the limit, as the Lantern Rouge, is a humbling experience. While I was never a real fast rider I was considered by most to be fairly strong and competent. I never had to consider time limits before as I was always way under them at all the controls and the finish. During the short drive home I began to think that maybe I am being to ambitous. Making this change without modifying my goals for this season could be the wrong play. Perhaps a better plan is to respect the change and work toward gradual improvement. Basically, pushing my big plans off until next season rather than shredding myself and perhaps facing much disappointment in the process. A little soul searching seems in order here.

More to come stay tuned.

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