Thursday, April 30, 2015

public roads: payed for by cars?

Yesterday I read Dan Wuori's article on VeloNews, a partial response to Mike Rosen's opinion in the Denver Post: Bicyclists take backseat to vehicles.

There's an all-too-common argument made which is "car drivers pay for the road so have higher priority". This goes way back. It's simply incorrect: direct fees from car ownership don't cover the cost of the roadways, which are subsidized by the general fund. And in any case driving is externality-rich, so even if the fees covered the roads (which they don't) from an economics perspective they should additionally cover the externalities (pollution, congestion, road damage, CO2 emission, wildlife destruction; I could go on), and by any reasonable anslysis, especially in the United States with fuel taxes lower than they've been since at least before the 1970's in a percentage basis, they don't come close.

But it simply doesn't matter. It's all a red herring. Because we don't allocate space on public roads on a fee-for-access basis. Even defending yourself against that argument is a slippery slope.

Should a less fuel efficient vehicle, by virtue of paying more in gas tax, or a more expensive vehicle, by virtue of paying more in sales tax, or a higher-income driver, by virtue of paying more in income tax, automatically gain right of way at intersections, for example? Maybe landowners who pay more in property tax should be able to drive faster than those who rent. Maybe less affluent drivers should be forced to pull over and let those driving more expensive, less fuel-efficient cars pass at will.

If so, if the more you paid into the system the more priority you got on the roads, the world would be a more righteous place in some people's minds. Imagine vehicles approaching an intersections and bidding up the price of priority via a wireless link over the course of a microsecond or so ("12 cents from the silver Porsche, do I hear more? Yes -- 13 cents from that red Tesla... going once, going twice..."), the loser of the auction automatically activating its brakes, the winner speeding through without pause, money transferred from an account almost instantly. But that's not the system we have, so don't pull that argument against those who choose to use human-powered transport.

Every time I read "Dr. Fattymasters on his $15k Parlee with Lightweight wheels and Di2 spends more in support of the roads than Jimbob in his rusty pickup" I flinch. Don't even go there. It's implicitly accepting a form of elitism just as bad as the one you're fighting. We provide roads because transportation by all reasonable modes is necessary to a well-functioning society. That's been understood for millenia. I was recently in Pompeii. There's very nice roads in Pompeii. And they weren't designed for cars.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

baccarat, random walks, solving an old problem, and the central limit theorem

The baccarat problem got me thinking about the random walk problem, because each of the three times in my game I reached the $200 betting limit my revenue became a random walk. At this point the problem was: which was going to come first, was I going to get into the black on $200 bets or was I going to burn through all of my cash? This is a random walk: my revenue bounces back and forth, an approximate 50% chance of each, and the game ends when I reach either of two targets: $200 above where I started (between $5000 and $6000) or $0.

Many years ago, I can't remember when, I encountered a problem in random walk probabilities which was: suppose a robot, starting at x = 0, steps either in the +1 direction or the -1 direction, at random, for infinite time. What is the probability he never returns to 0 after his first step? Wow -- this is a heady problem. It always seemed to me the probability was zero: surely in infinite time he has to eventually reach all points of finite x. But I could never prove this. Maybe the random walker, if it got far enough from zero, could just wander off to +infinity, never to return...

But now I can prove it. The expectation value of the change in x with every step is zero. So the expectation value of x for all time must be zero.

Consider the first step. He's either at +1 or -1. I don't care which. They're obviously the same problem. So I'll pick +1. What's the chance he never again reaches zero from +1? Well, I can propose a game in which the game ends if the robot reaches 0 (-1 relative to his present position) or if the robot reaches +X, which is X - 1 relative to his present position.

In the baccarat problem, I noted that nothing is going to beat the fact that the expectation value of the game is to slowly lose money. In the case of the robot, you can't change the fact that the expectation value of the deviation from the present position is going to be always zero. So the probability that the robot will reach X before it reaches 0, starting from x = 1, is 1 / X, leaving the chance the robot reaches zero first is 1 - 1 / X. You can check the math: (X - 1) (1 / X) - 1 (1 - 1 /X) = 0. So the expectation value is correctly always at x = 1.

But this doesn't exactly answer the original question. Fine, so it returns to zero before wandering off to infinity. But what if the robot never reaches neither X or 0? What if it spends all eternity bouncing back and forth between 1 and X - 1, inclusive?

Well, I think it's clear this is zero, because starting from any point within finite bounds, there is a finite calculable chance the robot will take a series of step directly towards and crossing either of the two boundaries. So if it wanders within those boundaries long enough, it will do this: eventually it will hit one of the two boundaries, something which has finite probability, given infinite time.

So that's it: because the robot has a zero expectation value for its motion, it's probability of reaching any finite point is greater than the probability of reaching any point of much larger magnitude, and therefore the probability is 100% it will eventually return to 0 after taking a first step to +1. And of course the same argument applies for a first step to -1.

It's good to finally have a clear grasp of this. The answer in retrospect is obvious. But obvious isn't good enough. In math you've got to prove it. And in trying to do that my previous thing was in get-ugly-fast recursive arguments. This is much better.

Moving ahead, I've been discussing the expectation value of position. What about the expectation value of the square of the position? This is intrinsically non-negative, and therefore cannot average zero, since the robot cannot remain on x=0. Well, given the robot is at position x, then with the next step the expectation value of the change in x2 = 1/2 (x + 1)2 + 1/2 (x − 1)2 - x2 = 1. So with each step the expectation value in x2 increases by 1. It starts at zero at time 0, then obviously goes to 1 at step 1 (since x is either −1 or 1), then with step 2 it's now 2 (50% chance of 4 for x = 2 or x = −2, 50% chance of 0 for x = 0), etc. So by the central limit theorem the statistical distribution of the robot's position will converge onto a normal distribution (other than the fact it alternates between even and odd positions, which I can adjust for). So I calculate:

probability robot is on zero after N steps ≈
   0, N odd;
   2 / sqrt[ 2 π N ], N even.

So, for example, after one million steps, there's an approximate 1 in 1253 chance the robot will be on zero, with the rms (root-mean-squared) distance of the robot = 1000.

A quick test of this: I did a million random walks of 100 steps, so I'd expect a 1 in 125.3 chance of it ending on zero, or 79810 of the 1 million tries (σ= 790). So within 3 σ, I expect between 77130 and 82490 of the million results to finish at zero.

The result of my Perl simulation: 79417, so right on target.

Here's the statistical distribution of those million iterations of 100-step random walks. Note I'm plotting only even positions since odd positions are impossible after an even number of steps.

image

Even though 100 steps isn't many, on this scale the central limit theorem is working very nicely, and the normal distribution passes through all of the points.

I feel much better about random walks now. And when in Casino Royale (Fleming), when Bond took his initial 10 million francs and ran it up to 15 million francs before his encounter with Le Chiffre, he got lucky. He had an only 2/3 chance of doing this successfully.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

James Bond, Punto Banco Baccarat, and doubling betting strategy

I was reading the first pages of Casino Royale, not the Daniel Craig film, not the David Nival film, but the Ian Fleming novel. In the Daniel Craig movie, James Bond plays Le Chiffre in a high stakes poker game. The film is perhaps the most loyal of any Bond film, rivaled only by Her Majesty's Secret Service, in adherence to Ian Fleming's books, and not too surprising, these are thus two of the best bond films made. Craig is certainly a great Bond but neither of the films which followed, Quantum of Solace or Skyfall, was in the class of Casino Royale. Meanwhile On Her Majesty's Secret Service starred Roger Lazerby, the only one-timer (unless you count Niven). While he was young and energetic, a striking contrast to Roger Moore, there was still a reason Lazerby never returned. So the conclusion is clear: Fleming wrote some solid books. The earlier Casino Royale, the 1967 film starring David Nivan (who was actually a serious candidate to play Bond in Dr. No) was a comedy. I really don't recommend it. I got half-way through and had to stop. But it had one bit of loyalty to the novel that Daniel Craig's didn't have. The game with Le Chiffre wasn't poker. It was baccarat: Chemin de Fer.

image

I'd never played baccarat so I decided I wanted to try. A description is here. There's several variants: Chemin de Fer is one, where players choose whether to take a 3rd card or not. Another is Punto Banco, where the choice of a 3rd card is automated. I found an on-line game which played Punto Banco, so I tried.

Basically under the standard form (as opposed to the "EZ" form) baccarat is a high-stakes game where you can bet on the "player" or the "bank". If you bet on the player, the expectation value is you'll lose 1.24% of your bet (a 49.38% chance to win your bet) and if you bet on the banker you've got a 50.62% chance to win 95% of your bet (there's a commission), resulting in what Wikipedia says an expectation of losing 1.06% of your bet but I calculate 1.29% assuming the player side odds are correct. So while you can attempt to count cards to improve your odds any effect from this is truly marginal since typically 6 decks are used and, unlike Poker, you're not looking for specific cards. So it's basically pure luck.

There's a classic betting strategy which is to gamble a fixed amount (for example $25) on the first hand. If you lose, double the bet. If you win your second hand you're now up the amount of the first hand. If not, you're down 3 times that first hand. If you ever win, the next hand you go back to your original ($25) bet. If you lose again, double again. If you win this one you're again up the amount of your first bet, but if you lose you're now down 1 + 2 + 4 = 7 times the value of your first bet. You repeat the process until, assuming you eventually win, you're up the value of the first bet. So your total keeps creeping upward: each time you win you're up the original bet from the preceding time you win. It seems like a sure win.

The problem is if you start losing your total starts to plummet quickly. If you run out of money you're done: no more bets. So it's not a sure win after all. The longer you play, the more chance you have to hit a cold streak, and cold streaks can quickly burn through your winnings, cut into your original money, and have you hit rock bottom since your bets are exponentially increasing each time you lose a hand.

So you might try to finesse it. "I'm going to start with a small bet, and set a modest goal which if I hit it I'm out," you smugly conclude. The small bet is necessary because it gives you more chances to win, and go up that bet amount, before you hit the number of consecutive losses needed to bankrupt you. The firm end-goal is necessary because eventually you will hit a cold streak, and the firm end-point keeps the chance of doing so finite. Intuitively one might expect a sweet spot where you can expect to win.

image
Orson Wells as Le Chiffre, Peter Sellers imitating James Bond, Casino Royale (1967)

But there is no sweet spot. The specific details of he game are complicated, but the expectation value of playing is what it is. When you play the player side, the expectation value is that you will end up with 98.76% of your money you bet in total during the game. The longer you play, the more you bet, the more you're expected to lose.

I played an on-line version where I used this strategy. I started with $5000 in virtual money (this wasn't on-line betting, just a simulator). My goal was to get to $6000. I started with $25 bets. The maximum bet was $200. So if I lost the $25 bet I doubled to $50. If I lost that I doubled to $100. If I lost that I doubled to $200. If I lost that I stuck with $200 until my wins at $200 exceeded my losses, then I went back to $25. Eventually I did reach $6000 and I quit, happier by $1000 in fake money.

So what were my chances to hit my goal? Again the details were unimportant. I can estimate my chances by considering the possible end points and the expectation value of playing. The possible end-points were +$1000 or -$5000. But I know the expectation value each hand, and thus in the end, was no better than 0. So this means I had no better than a 5/6 chance to win $5000, and at least a 1/6 chance to lose all $5000. That totals an expectation value of 0.

On average, I'd win $25 every other hand, not counting the complexity introduced by the $200 maximum. So if I were to hit my goal it would require $1000 × 2 / $25 = 80 hands. Of these hands, approximately 40 would be $25 bets (they come after I win, which is about half the time), approximately 20 would be $50 (they come after I win then lose, which is 25% likely), approximately 10 would be $100 (coming after I win then lose twice), and the remaining 10 would be the $200 max.

If I wanted to be simple and naive about this calculations, neglecting again the maximum bet number, the expectation value of losses in a given round if I were to play infinitely long = sum from n = 0 to infinity of $25 × 2n × 2−(n + 1) × 1.24%. This is unfortunately divergent: an expectation of infinite losses. I need to truncate the series.

image
Hey! That is not baccarat!

Using instead the estimated number of each type of bet, I get $1000 worth of $25 bets, $1000 worth of $50 bets, $1000 worth of $100 bets, and $2000 worth of $200 bets. This is a total of $5000 worth of bets, which costs me approximately 1.24% of $5000 or $62. So the expectation value of my result shouldn't be $0, it should instead be around -$62. I can calculate my probability of winning assuming this expectation value with probability of winning p: $1000 p - $5000 (1 - p) = -$62. This simplifies to $6000 p = $4938. My chance of winning is reduced from 83.33% to 82.3%, with the chance of losing now 17.7%. This is a slight underestimate of the total number of bets since the $200 cap means I might have a few more $200 bets.

So the result of this is fairly simple, especially neglecting the house advantage. The factor-of-two betting strategy seems to be a sure thing, and indeed in my simulation game as I methodically worked my way from $5000 to $6000 it seemed too good to be true, but really it doesn't get around the fundamental limitation of expectation values. I have a high probability of winning a small amount versus a small probability of losing a large amount. The more I'm willing to lose the greater my probability of winning and the smaller the probability of losing but the greater the loss if you do lose.

Monday, April 27, 2015

cross-chaining on SRAM 1×11: another example

Last time I analyzed some data from DC Rainmaker, probably riding around Paris, where I was surprised to find that he would have experienced less lateral chain deflection on a 1×11 set-up with a 44-chainring and an 11-25 cassette than he did with a compact 2×11 setup with 34-50 in the front and 11-25 in the back. This is because the 34-50 is a relatively wide chainring range, and one ends up having to chose between cross-chained options on the front: big ring with large cog os small ring with small cog, neither of which is a good choice, just to hit the mid-range of gears. Meanwhile the 1×11 is optimized for the mid-range.

But what about rides with extreme terrain, climbing and descending? Here mid-range may be hardly used, spending most of the ride either in low climbing gears are large descending gears. Fortunately the second example I found, this time on the Di2Stats sample page, was highly representative. It's epic: a 60 mile ride with 9600 feet of climbing and descending. Here's those data:

image

This is an interesting data set and it's worth taking some time to look at it. Of course it's just one ride and hardly represents the full spectrum of rides from this rider. But taking it on its own it seemed this rider would have been much, much better off with a compact crank. Climbing in the 39/28, he averaged only 60 rpm, while in the huge top end gear of 53/11, he averaged only 70 rpm with a maximum cadence of only 111 rpm. That's not even close to spinning out. Riders should still be applying near peak power at 120 rpm, and if not peak certainly enough to accelerate out of corners on a descent. So a 50-11 top gear would have brought peak cadence up to 117 rpm, and even a 50-12 top gear would have brought top cadence up to only 128 rpm. That shouldn't have been any sort of serious handicap, remembering this is peak cadence, not sustained. Meanwhile on the bottom end, a 34/28 versus that 39/28 would have allowed average cadence to come up from 60 rpm to 69 rpm.

None of the other gears are really significant, as average time spent in a gear was no more than 5.8 seconds for any other.

But he had what he had. I can map his gears onto a 44 single ring with an 11-32 rear. Obviously 44/11 isn't as big as his 53/11 but with the 44/11 he'd need to spin up to 133 rpm on that descent for at least one second. That's still well within reasonable cadence range. If you want he can use a 10-32 cassette and then peak cadence would be only 121 rpm. Whichever is chosen the analysis stays the same.

I'm assuming a progression on the 11-32 cassette of 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-22-25-28-32, which is what SRAM uses. I generally like SRAM progressions. Shimano uses 11-12-13-14-16-18-20-22-25-28-32 which results in a much larger fractional 14-16 jump compared to the 20-22 jump. Of course if you spend more time in the 18-25 range this smaller jump there might be nice, but SRAM generally tries to even out the fractional jumps across the range. If you want you can swap that to a 10-32, swapping the 11 cog for a 10, which provides a big "descending gear" where fine tuning cadence 10 vs 11 probably isn't useful: you're not going to have much acceleration on either of them so being able to shift into the middle-cog range from the 10, skipping the 11, is probably an asset.

Here's the result:

image

Not surprising, with the 1×11 lateral chain deflection is larger, by 1.1 cog positions. With the rider tending to be in small-big or big-small and with each chainring assumed to be 1.2 cog positions off center it had to be close to 1.2. So using those FrictionFacts data this is going to come at a bit of a cost. On the high end range it will be a bit larger since the switch is from a 53 to a 44 ring in front, but then the important thing is the cog size since that's where most of the chain bending occurs, and if the switch was made from an 11 cog to a 10 cog that will be significant. On the low side, which is obviously more important from a power efficiency point of view, the increased drivetrain loss from cross-chaining of approximately 0.4 watts will be partially compensated by less chain tension and less chain bending going from a 39/28 low gear to 44/32.

So it may be a wash. But the key point is that when you're spending most of your time at one versus the other extreme of the shifing range the 1-by system is going to increase your lateral chain deflection by on order one cog spacing.

I have to say these Di2stats tables are fascinating and they alone would be motivation to go to an electronic system like the forthcoming SRAM electronic. You can get gear ratio by taking the ratio of cadence to speed (adjusting for wheel size) but this doesn't always tell you if you're on one versus the other similar gears, one for a big ring the other for little ring. For example, if I ran a 48-36, a nice chainring combination, a 48-20 would be the same as a 36-15.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

cross-chaining on SRAM 1×11

There's been an almost religious response to SRAM releasing 1×11 for the road. I find this puzzling, as to me it represents a valid choice for riding where super-wide range gearing isn't needed. And in the vast majority of the United States, the idea regularly riding extended steep climbs is at best a fantasy. It's restricted to European bike tours, etc.

1×11 provides basically the same gear spacing as 2×8, which honestly back in the day was fine, although also not for everyone, and those who wanted more went to triple chainrings. Today a lot of those who used triples back then are fine with wide-range 2×10 and 2×11 options. But if you want to avoid dealing with a front shifter, and maybe save a bit of weight, 1×11 can be an attractive choice. I was riding with an old colleague from Stanford Cycling, Mark, who's been riding SRAM 1×11 on hilly San Francisco Bay area rides and he loves it. But then he started racing with 2×6, and so learned to ride at a somewhat wider cadence range than riders starting today seem to require.

But one good argument against 1×11 is cross-chaining. We were all taught to not cross-chain. Riding in the big-big or small-small combination causes a lot of friction, it's always been said, and indeed when you spin your chainring backwards in a big-big combo there's a lot more resistance than when it's in a gear with less lateral chain deflection. But when applying power, how much difference is there?

My favorite source on such matters is FrictionFacts, and they did a study on drivetrain losses in various gears. It's reported by Bike Radar.

Here's a key plot from the report. It shows drivetrain losses in various gears on a 2×11 drivetrain:

image

In general, given the choice between two gear combinations at the same ratio, you take the big-big combination versus small-small. This is because the big-big combination will have the chain under lower tension and the chain will bend less each time it moves off the rear cog and when it moves onto the front chainring. The chain also bends on the pulleys and on the bottom of the chain run, but down there it's under lower tension. So what matters most is when it's under high tension, on the top.

But the big-big combinations tend to have inferior chainlines at the low end of the gear range. You can see it in the plot. Not this isn't an ultra-dramatic effect, and I used to vastly underestimate it based on backward-spinning experiments. The big-big combination is less than a watt higher than the alternative at the same ratio with the small ring. But still, I'll save a watt if I can.

With a 1×11 system the chainring sits aligned with the 6th cog in the back, counting the cogs 1-11. That's 5 cogs to the right, 5 cogs to the left, one perfectly aligned. With a 2-11 system, given my measurement of 9 mm of separation between the small and large chainrings, which is 2.4 cog spacings, that puts the chainrings in positions 4.8 and 6.2. If you always optimized your front chainring choice based on chain line it seems 2×11 should provide on average a better chainline than 1×11, by virtue providing more choice. And indeed if we ran, for example, a 44-44 front, that would obviously be true. I could pick my front ring based only on chain line.

But we don't run 44-44. Instead we pick the front ring based on whether we want a higher or lower gear range. Typically front shifts are a relatively last resort, if the present ring choice is running up against one or the other limit. So in real life, what gears to riders pick?

Now I don't claim to have nearly enough data to study this in depth. But I do have sample data from DC Rainmaker, who was testing the Garmin Edge series support for Di2 reporting via ANT+ Sport of gear choice. Here's a table from DC Rainmaker:

image

What I did here was to calculate the front chainring position (4.8 or 7.2) versus the rear cog position (1 to 11) and calculated from that the chain deflection in cog spacing equivalents. Weighting these by time spent in each gear I was able to calculate an average chain deflection of 2.6 cog spacings for this ride. I determined that he could have done the same ride with a 44 tooth chainring in the front using 1×11 with the same 11-25 range in the back. So I then repeated the calculation using the closest gear in that 1×11 system, assuming the front chainring as in position 6. Surprise, surprise, surprise: the average chain deflection was now 1.4.

image

How is this possible? The reason is that DC Rainmaker spent the vast majority of the ride in the ratios which would have been provided by the middle 5 cogs with the choice of a 44 tooth chainring. These have deflections of -2, -1, 0, 1, and 2. A time-weighted average of the absolute value of the chain deflection thus yields the remarkably small number of 1.4.

I'm sure if I were to look at another ride, for example one with super-steep climbs and extended fast descents where the rider spent a large fraction of the time at the absolute extremes of available gears, the chain line result would have been different. But for relatively flat rides the 1×11 system may actually provide superior chain lines, based on this N=1 example.

But keep in mind on all of this we're dealing with a fraction of a watt in drivetrain losses. I like obsessing over this sort of thing but if you're just going out for a training ride it's essentially irrelevant. You're better off worrying about keeping your zipper shut and wearing tight-fitting rather than loose-fitting clothing.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Liége-Bastogne-Liége picks

I strick out with Fléche-Wallone so I'm going to try again here with Liége-Bastogne-Liége. There's a lot of favorites so the best approach is to eliminate some then deal with the rest.

The new course doesn't favor Simon Gerrans and combine that with his inferior fitness so far this year due to his early season crash and despite winning last year he doesn't deserve to get on any top-5 lists.

Vincenzo Nibali is strong so far this year but he was no weaker last year since he won both the Italian national championship and the Tour de France. But in 2014 he finished 31st here and there's no reason to expect him to suddenly place top 5. He's going to try some sort of crazy attack but the race is so controlled recently that's only a long shot. So no to him.

Phillippe Gilbert was certainly strong at Amstel Gold but then he crashed hard enough to destroy his bike at Fléche Wallone. The older you get the harder it is to recover from crashes so while he says he's willing to start he's not going to win.

Joaquim Rodríguez last finished in 2013 when he was 2nd but he's also not at an age which is kind to annual improvement and I don't see him cracking the shell of favorites. He wasn't as strong as Valverde at Fléche, so I don't expect him to be as strong here.

Julian Alaphillipe isn't a favorite for some reason but he was in the lead group at Amstel and a remarkable 2nd at Fléche so how is it that everyone seems to be overlooking him for this race? He definitely to my view has a better chance than the above riders. He claims to train by doing 8 hour 300 km rides in the mountains: old school but well suited for the difficulty of this course. So he's on my list. The odds on him are around 50:1 and I think that's a very good bet.

Dan Martin has shown signs of strength this year but crashed at Fléche. He crashed out of a probable win last year and the year before he won. He's still not too old, certainly not by the standards of Valverde and company, so I like his chances tomorrow. Supposedly he wasn't bangled up too badly at Fléche so I'll go with him tomorrow, despite relatively weak team support from Garmin-Cannondale compared to some of the other teams.

I often overlook Valverde, perpetually thinking he's too old, but I'd have to be a fool to not recognize his strength at Fléche on Wednesday. His time up the Mur de Huy wasn't as good as the year before but the favorite had just put in what according to Strava data was a very hard effort on the new climb preceding it and then the group started the Mur relatively slowly in what was a tactical finish. For whatever reason the guy is crazy strong and he's already won this race twice.

Daniel Moreno is another Katuscha rider who shouldn't be overlooked. He was ninth last year and he was 5rd at Fléche on Wednesday, a race he won in 2013. I'm not going to put him quite in the top 5, though.

Michal Kwiatkowski was looking great after Amstel but something happened to him at Fléche and he finished well back. But he was a remarkable 3rd in 2014. The course is a bit tougher this year and perhaps the addition of the extra climb at Fléche softened him up. At Amstel he had a bit of recovery before that final assault on the Cauberg. But I can't dismiss his chances based only on Fléche. He cracks my top 5, despite the presence of his teammate, Alaphillippe.

I've got to pick a 5th. Tony Gallopin was strong at Amstel Gold. I'll go with him.

So I'm going with the following:

  1. Dan Martin
  2. Alejandro Valverde
  3. Julian Alaphillipe.
  4. Michal Kwiatkowski
  5. Tony Gallopin

Those are my picks.

added

Daniel Martin got whiplash from the crash on Wednesday, so it was a bit more serious than I'd understood. I'm not sure if this will affect his riding, though. Maybe not at all, maybe making it harder for him to get his head low, maybe he drops out. With this in mind he remains my pick but I'm not sure I'd recommend putting money on him.

I had a hard time picking between Gallopin and Bauke Mollema, who had been a pick for Wednesday. Bauke is more of a stage racer, while Gallopin seems more likely to pull out an excellent result in a one-day race.

Rui Costa has been mentioned as another threat. Maybe top ten, but not top 5, I think.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fleche-Wallone predictions

Fleche-Wallone used to be my favorite classic, despite the lack of distance. The finish made my legs hurt just watching: the cruelty of the finish being SO close yet almost unreachable. A war of attrition ending in a head-to-head test of suffering.

“Back in the day” it was essentially always a small group, for example 2, arriving at the base of the Huy the last time. And with the shift to pack finishes, you can see a jump, starting in 2004 when Rebellin won, in climbing speeds here. It used to be 3:10 was typical, now sub-2:50 is common and it’s never as slow as 3:00. You don’t see the agonizingly low cadence as riders fatigued from riding in a break push their oversized gears up the impossible slope, pushing threw the wall of pain to reach the top before the other guy, then collapsing just past the finish. Good stuff.

But now it’s become a virtual pack sprint. Basically the riders with sufficient near the position spin their little gears up the hill and someone wins. It’s still an exciting finish, but with the race coming down to the final kilometer every single time, it’s lost any notion of scope. As usual I’ll probably check steephill and download a video after the race. But really I've little incentive to watch more than 3 km.

A new climb was added this year, only 5.5 km from the finish: Côte de Cherave. It will be interesting to see if that changes the dynamic of the finale, or if the pack arrives together at the final climb anyway, as they did at Milan-San Remo and as they did at Amstel Gold?


It's a stiff one, maxing out as around 13%. This has got to affect the finish. If you're caught out here, it's going to be a hard time getting to the base of Huy at the front. This will favor strong teams who can survive this climb with decent numbers. It could well save the race from a decade of mediocrity.

In contrast, Mur de Huy is clearly tougher, as it should be being the finish:


For this race the key question is: did Kwiakowski ride a tactical finish on the Cauberg, exploiting Michael Matthews marking Gilbert? Or was he simply unable to follow? If the latter he’s not likely to win here. But if the former he’s an excellent pick. I think if he'd been able to follow Gilbert he would have, and so I think he's missing what it takes to win here. Indeed the only one legitimately able to follow Gilbert was Matthews, and he's not racing here. Valverde said he could have followed but got boxed it.

Last year it was Valverde over Martin followed by Kiwatkowski, then Bauke Mollema and Tom Jelte Slagter. All of the top three from last year have been strong this year. In 2013 it was Daniel Moreno over Sergio Henao and Carlos Betancur, with Martin fourth. Practice makes perfect, and I've got to believe Daniel Martin will only benefit from that extra climb, and will get his timing perfect on Huy this year. He's my pick.

Gilbert tends to be too impulsive. Last year he got boxed in on Huy, which is a major traffic jam. But his attack at Amstel this year was impressive. Since he pulled away from Kwiatkowski at Amstel, it's hard to put Kwiatkowski ahead of him here.

I'm going to go with the following. It gets a bit hard to pick an exact order from this crowd but I've got to do it.

  1. Daniel Martin
  2. Gilbert
  3. Kwiatkowski
  4. Valverde
  5. Mollema

The "candyass" rule says the pick needs to be perfect, starting from 1st, or you lose. So this is it: my top 5. I nail the stack or else.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Running progress via VeloViewer

I love VeloViewer, which does amazing things with the Strava API. In this case, it plots my accumulated over the course of each year in each of various activity categories, like cycling, running, walking, and hiking. I am interested most right now in running as I prepare for the Ohlone 50 km.

This first plot shows total distance (km) running per year since I started using Strava in late 2010:

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There's three periods where I've managed to sustain a relatively rapid rate of distance increase. The first was towards the end of 2012, when I'd decided I was going to run the California International Marathon. That didn't quite go as well as I'd hoped, with leg problems kicking in near mile 20. But from the plot it doesn't seem like there was a shortage of training: I ran close to 1100 km starting in September.

But the marathon caused damage. I tried to continue running after, but I just couldn't get rid of the nagging pains and stinging numbness I felt at the race. Every attempt at a long run caused a recurrence. What I really needed was a good rest. So starting in February I decided to focus more on cycling. And indeed that was going well. I built cycling fitness quickly, riding the Berkeley Hills Road Race in May, then the Memorial Day Ride 4-day tour to Santa Barbara, then the Devil Mountain Double where I did very well. It all came to a painful end, however, in June, when I crashed on a bike path avoiding 3-abreast walkers, one of whom had cut quickly into my path (since then I've installed bells on my bikes). This further set back my running. I didn't start again until after Low-Key Hillclimbs, in November.

That began my second strong period on Strava. My goal was the Woodside Ramble 50 km in April. Preparation for that was curtailed when I got sick in March, but I recovered in time for the race, where I ran very well. I finished the race, running the whole way, and finishing strongly. It was probably my best run performance, a nice contrast to CIM 16 months previous. Note though that eyeballing my running preparation before the 50k I did only 900 km total in contrast to the 1100 km total I'd done for CIM. But the nature of my preparation was clearly better, stacking up hard training days in up to four-day blocks, and doing more hilly trail runs to strengthen my legs. Of course you can't directly compare performances on a 50 km trail race and a 42 km paved road race, but I definitely felt better about my trail race effort.

But after that my running was again curtailed. I again switched to a cycling focus, doing the Memorial Day Tour in May again. But beyond that "real life" matters got in the way, and I was sort of treading water until a spending 6 weeks in Switzerland in the fall reignited my cycling in time for the Low-Key Hillclimbs.

This year, 2015, I got greedy and wanted too much. I did the San Francisco Randonneurs 200 km brevet at the end of January, then the 300 km brevet at the end of February. It's easy to see my running miles were lagging well behind what they were in 2014. However, after the 300 km brevet, I decided I needed to pick one or the other, and I went with running. I was really happy with the 50 km trail race in 2014, capping off a series of trail runs which had been my first trail races since early 2012. Even though I hadn't run much after April last year, I felt I could build upon that experience and do another strong 50 km this year, and maybe, just maybe keep up the momentum and try for a 50-miler. So I ramped up my running again.

This time by early April I wasn't ready for a 50 miler, though. This plot makes it quite clear why I felt this way. My total distance of concentrated running was only around 400 km. So I did the Woodside Crossover 35 km in the same time slot. That went very well, also. It gave me confidence that I would be able to step up to 50 km in May. A key difference from 2014, however, was that in 2013 I took a too-long break from running, from February all the way to late November, whereas my only really long break from any running in 2014 was the almost 2 months from April to June. From there my running was intermittent but there's a big difference between running occasionally and not at all.

It's interesting because as much as I love running, I probably love cycling even more, and since I like concentrating more on one versus the other at any given time, I've not been able to really focus on running to realize my full potential there. My cycling has also suffered, not riding as focused as I used to before running got as much attention as it does now. Certainly bike racing demands full focus: the best masters bike racers are at it 12 months a year. Similarly the best runners are at it year-round although you can get a lot more satisfaction out of doing running races at less than top fitness than you can out of doing bike races inadequately prepared. Bike races without proper preparation really are miserable.

Here's another plot, this time showing each day as a color-coded block.

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Of course the data and so the story is the same. But this plot focuses more on the consistency of the running as well as better highlighting the truly long days. You can see some pretty major holes in my early 2014 schedule, these most clearly due to the presence of races ramping me up to that 50 km goal: first a half marathon, then a 30 km. Racing is tough on consistency. Same deal in 2012, although there my races were on the road: a 10 km race, a half marathon, and running Highway 9 in the Low-Key Hillclimbs (which was surprisingly less stressful).

Anyway, hopefully Ohlone goes okay. I look forward to seeing what happens there.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

GT Grade: geometry compared to Trek

GT has come out with a really cool new bike, the Grade Carbon, which is designed to the "all-road" model for bikes able to handle paved roads, dirt, gravel, and trails. That starts with a bike designed with tire clearance first (35 mm), then with a frame design with compliance as a first priority. So GT builds into the frame exceptionally flexible seat stays to provide suspension for the rear wheel. It also has swept out handlebars, which I'm tempted to call novel. Tire clearance in the rear means long chainstays, and the Grade Carbon has by today's standards exceptionally long ones, at 430 mm. It also has a really slack head tube.

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One issue with "endurance" bikes is always geometry. Numbers are here:

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Here's a comparison of the GT Grade to the Trek geometries:

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The GT Grade is very close to the Domane 6, which is considerably more relaxed than the H2 (it's sort of an extrapolated H3). By the way, those diagonal lines show the effect of 1 cm changes in spacer stack height, or for changes in length of a zero-degee stem, both for a 73 deg head tube. So they'd be perpendicular if the axes had the same scale. Note changing a -17 deg stem (for a 73 deg head tube) would result in a pure change in reach, but changing the stack height of spacers increases stack but reduces effective reach.

I thing I find interesting is this bike has an awful lot in common with Tour de France bikes in the late 1920's, early 1930's. Here's Charles Pélissier, TdF 1931, from Goggles and Dust, which is a fantastic book:

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Interesting aspects:

  • bottles on handlebars, with small fender to keep mud off
  • pump mounted on frame + something else I am not sure of (spare pump?)
  • Wing nuts to remove wheels, not yet quick releases, which came in in the early 1930's.
  • extra sew-ups wrapped around torso: not so aero but pros did this for a half-century. They stopped when car support became reliable but amateurs without team car support also stopped at same time.
  • Single gear (two if you flip the wheel): this was the tail end of the "no derailleurs" era in the TdF. The tourists were using them but the TdF was retro. Sort of like this being the last year of no disc brakes, on a much lower level. Average speeds increased significantly when derailleurs became allowed. Riders would swap bikes to get lower gears for long climbs or to switch to the flats, however.
  • Super-skinny stays, long wheel-base, fat tires: a lot of dirt and cobbled roads and huge stage distance, plenty > 300 km, although the photo is of an "only" 211 km stage.
  • No elastomer seat stay shocks I can see :)
  • position isn't as relaxed as you often read, but negligible handlebar drop: bars were moved out, not down, then they'd ride in the drops.
  • Unzipped wool jersey: terrible aerdynamically but while guys obviously realized you needed to be low unzipped jerseys remained common until very recently. You still see it occasionally.
  • No helmet (obviously) and yet somehow they all survived, perhaps at an even greater rate than at present.
  • Goggles which are effective at keeping the dust out of the eyes.
  • Jersey shows colors of France because in 1931 the Tour was raced by national teams, not trade teams.

Stats on a 1927 Alcyon Tour de France bike from Jan Heine's book: 13.0 kg, 700x30 mm wheels, 66 deg HTA, 67.5 deg STA, 80 mm fork rake, 490 mm chain stays, 465 mm handlebar width (flared out), 165 mm crank length, 124 mm Q, 62 mm trail, gears (from 1926 Automoto Tour de France): 46/16 fixed and 46/20 freewheel.

So the bikes in the era were like the GT Grade on steroids: super-slack head tubes, extremely long chainstays, and you can see those chainstays and seat stays flexing, and it's hard to imagine those fork blades not doing so. Massive tire clearance provided mud clearance. And the handlebars are very similar. All the GT Grade is missing here is a single-speed drivetrain. Although it's easy to imagine one of these thing getting set up with SRAM's Force 1, which eliminates the front derailleur, at least. But the Grade isn't available as a frameset, from what I can tell.

I'm not a fan of that geometry, however.

By the way, GT has a certain brand image on those triangulated chainstays but they're not new, either. As I was reminded from a recent blog post by Jim Langley, they are called "Hellenic" stays, and here's an example from a 1948 Silverlight:

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Here's the Routens Jim photoed at the Eroica in Paso Robles:

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Here's a close-up of the Grade:

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Trail running race check list

It seems every time I do a trail race there's something I forget. So I'm making a list:

Clothing:

  1. trail shoes
  2. light socks
  3. compression calf sleeves (I don't know if these do anything, but maybe)
  4. underwear compatible with running (some, err, rub the wrong way)
  5. running shorts: super-short won't work well but extra-long shorts waste energy: you've got to lift that material every foot stride. I like pockets for stuffing gel wrappers.
  6. Body Glide on nipples and other bits which may abrade.
  7. technical running shirt (these do tend to abrade somewhat, hence the previous.
  8. sun screen everywhere which might get exposed
  9. something to wear over running clothes before or after race
  10. running cap
  11. contact lenses
  12. belt for holding water bottle.
  13. optional pouch for belt: good for storing Clif Bloks, Endurolytes.
  14. Possible light gloves and compression forearm sleeves if it's cold
  15. Make sure laces are tied well. I generally leave my laces knotted and slide shoes on off, tied. I like them loose and have never had foot problems like this other than toe nails getting too long and cutting skin on the adjacent toe.

Note I don't wear sunglasses: too heavy. Also I prefer contact lenses to eye glasses. Contacts are lighter. I do like the cycling cap, however. That's an indulgence.

Other stuff:

  1. Check toe nails.
  2. TomTom GPS watch, batteries charged.
  3. cell phone, batteries charged (I don't run with this, but for before and after it's good to have).
  4. bring a few safety pins (better to reuse these)
  5. Endurolytes: best to start with a few to save time looking for them at rest stops.
  6. some coconut juice would be nice for post-race.
  7. bike lock & key, if riding bike to start.
  8. house keys
  9. money
  10. something to store extra stuff during race if car not available for this purpose
  11. extra water bottle for pre-start if water won't be available near start line

other preparation:

  1. study the course: key navigation points, and major altitude features.
  2. know the start time: it's important to get there at least 30 minutes earlier, but 60 minutes isn't too early.
  3. know how to get there: road navigation.
  4. Breakfast: black tea with maple syrup or honey (caffeinated or decaf depending on how much caffeine I've been consuming), plus maybe a banana with some nut butter. Keep it fairly light.

Pre-start:

  1. First priority: check in.
  2. Next priority: pee. This saves weight and doing it during a race wastes time.
  3. figure out where to store clothes for race.
  4. start GPS, acquire signal.
  5. warm up a bit, but not too much: typically races are pushing my endurance limits and going out and running a few extra km before the start is going to do more harm than good. But if it's a short race I'll warm up more.
  6. Pee again if there's time.
  7. go to start line.

Rest stops: These are really key because being efficient here is easily worth one spot in the results.

  1. before the rest stop: decide what's wanted. Water? Sports drink? Coke? Fruit? Sports chews? Gels?
  2. Approaching rest stop: get bottle out of belt, take a drink if water's left, loosen cap a bit.
  3. Reaching the stop: kindly hand bottle to volunteer and ask for sports drink or water. Drink from paper cups filled with liquid of choice, if available. Take enduralytes or other electrolyte supplements if needed. Eat fruit slices at the stop, quickly, but sports gels or chews should be stuffed in pocket and eaten on the run.
  4. Pop a few Endurolytes: I forget to take these more often than not, but I really think they help, especially on hot days. If I have brought some with me I can just grab them from my pouch or pocket but otherwise I need to find where they are at the aid station table, which costs around 5 extra seconds.
  5. Save the caffeine for the last aid station stop. Coca Cola is a big boost but it's best reserved for the end game. Avoid caffeinated gels, etc, which are often not super clearly labeled.
  6. Thank volunteer for filling bottle and return it to belt.
  7. Any gel wrappers which need to be thrown away? I never remember to do this.
  8. Thank all volunteers and get out of there.

On the course:

  1. When passing other runners, make sure to not startle them. This is a run, not a bike race.
  2. When encountering hikers, be super-nice to them. They came out to enjoy the solitude of the trail, not to get passed by 100+ rampaging runners.
  3. When getting passed: can I stay with the passing runner? It's important to not dig too deep too early keeping an unsustainable pace. This isn't a bike race. But if it's end game things change.
  4. If I encounter a steep hill, can I walk it? If I can without losing speed, start walking immediately, but make every stride count.
  5. If I'm coming off a steep slope, start running at the first opportunity, even if it's just for a few strides.
  6. Drink when I'm thirsty, pop chews at appropriate intervals.

I don't think I've ever done everything on these lists but hopefully now that I've written this all out I'll avoid making these mistakes my next race, the Ohlone 50k.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Inside Trail Woodside Crossover 35 km trail race

Last year I did the Inside Trail Racing Woodside Ramble 50 km and it was for me a very successful race. That race was broken down into 6 segments: up Huddart Park, along Skyline Ridge, down into Wunderlich, back out of Wunderlich, back along Skyline Ridge, and down Huddart Park (with its infamous mini-climb just when you think you're close to the finish). That's two primarily-climbs, two primarily-descents, and two rolling sections. I'd trained hard for the ride, ramping up my distance as I should have done for my previous long races, both marathons, none of which went as well as I'd wanted. The key for me is to get solid blocks of consecutive long days, for example 10 miles or more four days in a row, to really build endurance for the longer distances. And for trail races it's important to train hilly trails, not just flat runs.

This year my running suffered from the distraction of the San Francisco Randonneurs brevet series, first the 200 km at the end of January, then the 300 km at the end of February. Each of these rides took its toll, costing me at around 3 weeks total of quality run training in addition to the days spent riding instead of running in preparation. With my ramp up last year a "just in time" for the 50 km at Woodside, as tempting as it was, I was going to have to forego the 50 km distance this time and pick instead the 35 km course. I used to think you could prepare for runs by riding, but at least for me, I've got to prepare for runs by running.

But Inside Trail Racing changed the course. At the Woodside Ramble, the previous course, 50 km was the obvious quality distance: it was the only route to include the excellent loop into and back out of Wunderlich Park. The half-marathon was also solid, running up out of Huddart a bit along Skyline Ridge, then back down Huddart. But the 35 km was a bit of a mutant with an out-and-back along Skyline Ridge appended to the half-marathon route. It's the sort of route you probably wouldn't have done on your own.

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Smokey Bear

This year was much different. The 35 km had all three of the major climbs of the 50 km route: up Huddart, then two climbs in Purissima Creek Redwoods. The 50 km added the Skyline Ridge out-and-back, which is extremely nice, but unlike last year there wasn't any feeling of missing out by doing the 35 km. And this made the 35 km this year a much harder course: 3 major climbs instead of one (a first climb of 460 meters, a two-part second climb of 400 meters followed by 125 meters, then a third climb of "only" 280 meters) plus a few shorter climbs and some rollers. Since last year's course was almost constantly up and down, even with the Ridge section, squeezing in more climbing meant only one thing: steep!

I'd initially assumed the change in course was due to conflicts with equestrians last year. But at the starting line someone said Pacific Coast Trails had a race this year which went through Wunderlich,. So it was still available, it seems. But another possibility presented itself: this is simply a better course. More climbing for the 35 km, less shared out-and-back between the 35 and 50 km (there's a section of out-and-back in Purissima Creek on the Crossover route, but it's shorter than the Skyline Ridge out-and-back), and the superior views provided by the western slope of the ridge (in addition to the superior "epic" factor of crossing the ridge). The course really is spectacular.

The only downer was instead of crossing relatively low-traffic King's Mountain Road (which the 50 km still had to cross), this year's 35 km route included two crossings of twisty Skyline Boulevard, Hwy 35, infamous for high speed car and motorcycle traffic and violent crashes. But this was dealt with nicely by the promoter with a combination of volunteers and a CHP officer to help make sure it was clear as runners approached. Note this is in striking contast to the incident at Paris-Roubaix, the same day, where runners were brought into "conflict" with a TGV at a level crossing (nobody was hurt). The ASO could take a hint from Inside Trail.

Inside Trail Racing is my trail race promoter of first choice right now: they really do a fantastic job. The most important is navigational: they use at least twice as many ribbons on the route as other local promoters from my experience. The usual practice is a few ribbons warning of turns, then a few after a corner confirming that you're on the right trail, then not much until the next point of navigational ambiguity. Inside takes it far further: in addition to the corner markings, at particularly tricky intersections augmented with signs and/or chalk or flour, they put blue "off-trail" ribbons along wrong directions, and then along straight sections of trail they place course markers every 200 meters or so. The result is that every time I find my navigational paranoia asking whether I'd missed a turn (almost impossible to do) I'd see a marker around the next corner. I've had several emotionally scarring wrong-turn incidents in my racing history with other promoters and none of them would have occurred with Inside Trail: I'd have seen a blue ribbon almost immediately. I've never taken a wrong turn, or even been confused by more than a few brief seconds, on one of their races.

Another win with Inside is their rest stops. Some trail runs focus on Costco crap like M&M's or pretzels. Some runners like this; that's fine. But with Inside I have no problem getting what I like to use on trails: food designed for the purpose: sports drink, water, Clif Bloks (cheweables), optionally uncaffeinated gels, and Coca Cola for the end game (okay -- Coke isn't "designed for the purpose" but it's effective). Additionally they always have volunteers to fill my bottle while I drink from cups or perhaps grab some fruit or cups of liquid. It's super-efficient and zero-worry.

But on top of these advantages they also have some of the best long courses. It's easy to take a few loops and create multiple lap options to extend race distances to 30 km and 50 km, but I find it far preferable that courses cover greater distances, avoiding retracing trail segments. The Woodside Crossover is a great example of this. They did a half-marathon course completely within Huddart: do two laps of that, add in a 4.5 km out-and-back, and call it 50 km? No -- they extended the course over the hill into Purissima Creek. Big win: more epicness.

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Go! (Cara Coburn photo)

Anyway, back to the race: the 35 km and 50 km started together. As I stood on the start line I looked around and noted everyone there looked fit: lean and ready to go. This was so much different than any recreational bike ride I've done where even on a double century you see guys who have a bit of a denominator problem (W/kg).

Along with the new course we had a new start location. The previous start included a sprint across the meadow to a hole shot to a single-track descent before the climbing began. This made positioning really important. In particular you didn't want to be too far back or you'd get caught in slow traffic on the descent but you also didn't want to be too far forward or you'd get swept away with the leaders, burning matches not wanting to slow down for fear of getting in the way. Fortunately this course lacked this sort of bottleneck so self-selected runner sorting was less critical. Nevertheless I placed myself with around 10 runners ahead of me and this worked out well.

Off we went and indeed the start was mellower than in years past. I let a group get away and filed myself in with some other runners well matched to my speed with minimal passing. My start position had been good.

The first climb up Huddart is really sublime: running up past switchbacks on the soft trail (optimized for the influential equestrian community) through the redwoods. The climbing goes on and on but with relatively gentle grades and cool temperatures I really was in no rush for it to stop. After around 8 km, however, it did: first I heard the car traffic on Skyline, then soon after I saw the tent marking Aid Station 1. As I approached, I took a drink from my bottle and then loosened the cap. One climb of 3 was in the bag.

Here I made a bit of a mistake. Instead of handing my bottle off to a volunteer to fill it while I drank from cups, I filled the bottle myself, using Tailwind, a maltodextrin-and-electrolyte drink sposoring Inside Trail events. I then grabbed a few Clif Bloks for my belt pouch and one vanilla gel for immediate consumption. Then I was off.

The issue here was that while I was now topped off on water it's hard to drink at replacement level while running the trail and in any case I lacked adequate carrying capacity to make it between aid stations this way. I really needed to drink at the rest stops in addition to filling my bottle. It was early, it was cool, and I felt under no distress despite the 460 meter opening climb, but there was still 27 km to go, still my longest run of the year remaining, and I really needed to think for the long-term. I wouldn't make this mistake again during the run, and I vowed to compensate by drinking extra next stop. The challenge was there was a long descent followed by a long climb before that stop.

The bottle I've been using is a prototype, a bit smaller than a standard bottle and that size was nice for running. I was carrying my water on my Nathan belt, and when the bottle was full it tended to bounce a bit, but once it was down to around 70% full it was more stable. Larger bottles get more cumbersome. The capacity was fine as long as I drank at the stops, something I'd neglected to do here.

Out of the rest stop I ate my gel (checking first it didn't have any caffeine: I save caffeine for end game). It was fine but gel requires some water and it didn't make sense to be drinking right out of the stop, but I took a small drink.

Crossing Skyline Boulevard went smoothly. There were several volunteers as well as a CHP. I'm not sure what they would have done had someone come whipping along the road on a Ninja making an attempt at qualification for the "100 club", but nothing in life is perfectly safe. I got across the road without issue.

The next course segment was the descent to within spitting distance of the trail head at Purrissima Creek Road. I've biked this in the opposite direction several times, always on a road bike. It's challenging on a road bike as there's some steep sections where traction is a bit dicey, especially recently as they laid rather coarse gravel near the top. Here I was running downhill, though. This isn't my sort of thing: power descents with gravel-covered hardpack. Several runners came pounding down the trail past me, gliding down the hill at impressive speed. I could only shake my head and focus on my own run: it was early in the race and what I absolutely didn't want to do was to trash my legs on the extended trajectories of downhill running. The key on downhills, in addition to throwing yourself at the mercy of your balance, is efficiency. I try to think about aborting my fall without braking my speed. But I'm not sure how successful I am at this. Here's the one point in the race where I regretted I hadn't replaced my vintage circa 2009 New Balance 790 trail shoes: I was feeling small rocks through my soles, and I lacked confidence in the traction of the well worn treads. I'd tried to get new shoes before the race but had had problems with brick-and-morter stores within my access radius, so had succumbed to the tempation of Amazon, but too late (in any case, Backcountry.com delivered the wrong shoes on my Amazon order, but that's a digression). I'd have new shoes for my next race.

There's not much I could do about time lost going down so I just focused on running a good race from the bottom onward. We didn't actually exit the trail to the road intersection but rather took a sharp right onto another trail. I'd not been here before and was immediately struck by how nice it was.

The most notable difference between the trails in Purrissima Creek and those in Huddart is the steepness: repeatedly I reached sections which were steep enough that I was better off walking than trying to run. People talk about whether a trail is "runnable": I think the opposite. Is is walkable? If I can walk it that's more efficient than if I can run it, even if walking is slightly slower (which it often isn't), since running takes so much more of a toll. The key is not to walk as if it's a fun day hike, but rather to maximize stride length and cadence while pushing on my thighs with my hands to aid in propulsion. If I'm walking and breathing hard it means my aerobic system is doing its job and if it feels like I should be working harder it's simply a testiment to the reduced impact of walking. As soon as the trail would level out below my walking threshild I'd switch to a running stride, even if it was for just a few steps: don't let walking-inertia kick in, even for a second. Looking back on my Strava data later this worked well, as I had a very good split time here.

Somewhere along here I saw a Clif Bloks wrapper on the ground. Without slowing much I reached down and grabbed it: I hate it when trail racers leave a trail of litter in their wake, so I try to "leave the trail cleaner than I found it". But to my pleasant surprise it was full of four Bloks. I stuffed it in my pocket. It was one less thing to worry about at the rest stop.

After considerable climbing I came to the turn-off for the out-and-back section This portion took us up to Skyline Boulevard where the 2nd rest stop was. My water was running low so I pulled my map out from my belt pouch and checked the apparent distance. As I'd recalled we still had quite a way to go before the stop. The water issue was enhanced by the fact that sections of the trail here were exposed to the sun, which would substantilly increase my rate of sweat.

Not long after starting this out-and-back section I encountered what appeared to be the leaders returning. Impressive. I was surprised to see the lead woman not too far behind the leaders. It was Caitlin Smith, who used to virtually dominate local trail races back around 2009 when I was just starting. She was obviously as fast as ever. She'd go on to finish a very close 2nd in the 35 km race.

As I ran up the wider, initial portion of this segment a runner behind me called for me to get to the side: a ranger vehicle was approaching from behind. Indeed it was huge: a full size pickup truck. I wondered why the rangers felt it necessary to drive such a large vehicle on the trail. The truck passed without incident but had additional runners been descending while it did so it could have created an issue.

The route funneled through an access-control gate (no equestians, no cyclists) onto a very nice single track section. There were a surprising number of hikers here, likely accessing the trail from the Skyline side. No surprise: the views were fantastic. I felt bad for them, though -- they had come out for hike in isolated redwood forests and instead were faced with a near-constant stream of bidirectional running traffic. It just occurred to me that one thing Coastal Trail Runs does, for example, is to put signs up notifying of an "ultra-marathin trail race" on the route. This can go both ways, however, as notifying equestrians, who may be hostile to running events, that there's a race there may lead to vandalism.

A ran out of water a few km short of the rest stop but since the climbing abated somewhat, and the sun exposure was reduced with the shift to singletrack, I was fine. I handed my bottle off for more Tailwind, drank 1, 2, then 3 cups of water (volunteer said it was Mountain Dew but it certainly didn't taste like it to me). Then my bottle was full and closed and I was ready to go.

Back down the trail, I faced the upward traffic of the majority of runners who were behind me. This was a bit of a hassle, and I don't like appearing rude expecting hikers to get out of my way (although I do expect them to get out of my way). So I tried to be almost over-the-top friendly to everyone I passed. To one hiker I said "a lot of people on the trail today!" "No kidding," he responded. I was relieved when I finally arrived back at the junction marking the end of this out-and-back section.

Next came perhaps the nicest trail running of the route: a gorgeous single-track spection with fantastic views. At one point I came upon a man sitting on a bench on the side of the trail, looking westward. I really wanted to stop and admire the view with him. Of course I didn't: this was a race. I was reminded of the speech at the beginning of an Envirosports Half Marathon I did in Huddart Park in 2009, my second trail race ever, where we were told if we stopped to admire the view we should report the time to have it deducted. No such policy with Inside Trail Racing, though!

The single track bliss came to an abrupt end when it dumped me out onto Purrisima Creek Trail again. This was the base of the third and final of the "major" climbs of the course: 290 vertical meters, much of it exposed, portions walkable.

At the beginning of this leg I'd actually anticipated I might be able to skip the final rest stop for the downhill run to the finish. But as I worked my way up this climb I realized I was going to be close to empty, and I certainly didn't want to run the final 8 km without water, even if it was mostly downhill (with the nice little bonus climb toward the finish). So I rehearsed what I would do at the rest stop: 1. water in the bottle, 2. electrolyte pills (3-4), a half a paper cup of Coke. Rehearsal is key. I absolutely cannot think on my feet at rest stops, especially this late in the game, and mistakes could be very costly.

I felt for sure I was going to get overtaken on Purrissima Creek trail. It was a slow grind. I felt like I was running out of gas quickly. Towards the top the surface became moderate-sized gravel, terrible for road bikes, but a challenge also for my worn-out shoes, which skidded way more than I liked (skidding comes directly from forward progress). But I knew this route from cycling, and knew when I was approaching the finish of the climb. Even if I was trudging the steep stuff, I was still running fine on the flattish portions, and I once again crossed Skyline without problem, aided by the excellent volunteers and CHP officer.

At the rest stop I handed over my now empty bottle (cap already partially unscrewed) asked for "electrolyte" and was pointed to cups of NUUN. "No -- pills!" I said in slight panic, my time-efficiency at the stop seriously dinged, and was pointed to cups filled with 2 capsules each. I dropped the contents of two of these into my hand so they could be reused and popped them into my mouth. I then asked for the Coke and was pointed to a large number of filled cups. I searched for a relatively lightly filled one and quickly drank it. My bottle was now full and I was gone, thanking the volunteers profusely in compensation for my brusquness.

This was it, the end gap. This is where I was supposed to sprint home.

Despite my enthusiam my departure from the rest stop was almost comical: no sprinting happening at first: my legs just weren't going to move that quickly. But second-by-second I felt a bit better, and within 30 seconds I was legitimately running down the trail. Huddart Park provides truly fantastic downhill running, cutting down the switchbacks on the soft trail. I was starting to enjoy myself despite the fatigue. It would have been tragic to miss out on running this fun descent.

Last year I wasn't passed on this section and I hoped to repeat that today. A runner was going slowly ahead of me, wearing a yellow number indicating the 50 km race. He obviously wasn't in that race. As I passed I asked him what field he was in and he said 30k. I think seeing my green number may have perked him up because soon he was back on my heels and blew right by. I decided I wasn't going to count that as being passed.

Further down I passed a small kid running with who must have been his father. I was able to get past them without much trouble.

On the "bonus climb" approaching the finish I passed a few half-marathoners, but that was it. On the climb I somehow got some rocks in my right shoe and the foot legitimately hurt every few strides when the rock happened to fall into a point of contact. I decided to ignore it: it was just pain and there was no reason it should slow me. The climb passed eventually and it was downhill again. I hit 35 km on my TomTom and there was no sign of the race finish, making me question my decision to not remove those troublesome rocks, but I was feeling okay so just kept on pushing. The finish appeared fairly suddenly and I was able to sprint across the line.

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Cara was there, cheering me on, which was very nice. Soon after finishing the adrenaline & caffeine mixture which had been fueling my descent vaporized, and I was left not wanting to do much more than sit on a log and stair at the space between my shoes. A few minutes after my finish I saw Bjorn, a runner I'd helped pace at the North Face Endurance Challenge a few years ago, finish. But I really needed to move. Cara perked me up, got me to drink and eat a bit, and gave me $10 for a quick session at the post-race massage table (always a good idea). I gradually transitioned from feeling as if I was going to completely shut down to feeling human again.

My finish: 3:45, 13th overall out of 56 and 2nd in my age group, 6:49 after the age group winner. For the 2nd race in a row I barely missed my top 20% goal (12th was 39 seconds ahead, which would have put me at 20% of the 55 other runners ahead) but I had to be pleased with this: harder courses tend to make for harder placings since the threshold level of fitness for finishing is higher. And while I wish I had been faster on that initial descent, my goal coming in was to run everything which should have been run and finish relatively strongly. That goal was accomplished. I felt much better about my race than I had about the Marin Ultra Challenge 25 km lst month.

So what's next? I'd decided if I felt good here I'd think about the Ohlone 50 km in May. That's a classic regional trail race, an epic point-to-point and deviation from my usual promoters (Coastal Trail Races, Pacific Coast Trail Races, and Inside Trail Racing). It's a lot of climbing in big extended doses. But I think if I recover reasonably quickly from Woodside I should be able to do it, so I signed up. This 35 km race was an excellent stepping stone to 50 km, a bit closer to target than a more typical 30 km race.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Liege-Bastogne-Liege historical distance, speed

Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the oldest of the professional bike racing "classics", the first of the hilly classics on well-paved roads which bring out a fresh set of specialists after Paris-Roubaix wraps up the cobbled classic season. CyclingNews reports that the 2015 race will be 10 km shorter than last year's edition. This made me wonder what the historical trend has been for this course. Has it experience a decline similar to what we've seen in Tour de France stage lengths, or an overall increase similar to that of Milan-San Remo?

The answer is the latter. Distances overall are at a relative historical high. Even the shorter 253 distance for 2015 is solid by race historical standards:

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But longer race distances don't mean slower speeds. Here's the trend in average kph of the winner. There was a big increase in the early 1930's with the introduction of derailleurs into pro racing, then in the 1990's with another sort of technological improvement. There's been no dramatic retreat of speeds since but you can perhaps perceive a gradual reduction since the glory days of chemical enhancement. I think in terms of speed the reduction in hematocrits has basically canceled the significant aerodynamic improvements primarily in wheels and clothing.

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One message I like from this plot is that despite all the marketing of how a bike even a few years old is terribly noncompetitive, once the derailleur was introduced bringing useful gears from one (or perhaps two if you allow for wheel flips) up to maybe six, those guys could really motor: 37 kph in 1936. How many cat 3 road races over hilly terrain match that today for even 100 km?

Speaking of 1936, here's a video from the 1937 Paris-Nice. You thought the level-crossing incident at Paris-Roubaix last Sunday was bad?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Paris-Roubaix picks

After predicting we'd see the only SRAM-using team in the World Tour, AG2R, on SRAM 1×11, I started to have my doubts as the days ticked by approaching tomorrow's Paris-Roubaix and I saw nothing. Well, I finally saw this photo from VeloNews of AG2R's star rider, Johann Vansummeren. Nobody seems to remember this guy won the race in 2011. Anyway, while I don't see his chainring, I clearly see shifting paddles on both brake levers. So it seems AG2R is going for a "little" ring, typically a 44, which they won't really use.

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My picks for tomorrow remain:

  1. Bradley Wiggins: He's taken a very analytic approach to preparation, including extended time riding at the front in the races leading up to Paris Roubaix to build form. His approach has been extremely successful in the past, as he's accomplished pretty much everything so far he's sought to accomplish. He needs to arrive in the velodrome solo and that requires some team support but he has Garaent Thomas to sit in the chase group and counterattack if he's caught.
  2. John Degenkolb: He's proven to be better than Kristoff in Paris Roubaix and is young enough that you can expect him to improve this year, so if Wiggins isn't able to pull it off, my money's on Degenkolb for the win or to finish second in a group sprint in the Velodrome as he did last year.
  3. Zdeněk Štybar: he was riding very well in 2013 but had a late crash which cost him the chances at the win. Then last year his teammate Terpstra broke away and Stybar had to stay with the chase group. He won Strada Bianca this year and I think this is the year for him at Paris-Roubaix. Arguably Quickstep is going to bet on Terpstra instead so a lot depends on timing, on which rider is in a better position when the time comes. But I think this is Stybar's turn.

Anyway, I'll be doing a trail race in Woodside California so will miss the action. Instead I'll try to find a video via Steephill.tv's excellent "no spoiler" page and watch the final 10 km at least virtual live after I get back.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Trek Emonda Aluminum geometry compared to Cannondale CAAD10

BikeRadar announced that Trek is releasing an aluminum version of their Emonda frame. The frame is listed as 1050 grams unpainted. This is curiously less than the Emonda S series carbon fiber frame, and comparable even to the Emonda SL frame. Here's a blog post where an Emonda SL was weighed at 1040 grams. So only the Emonda SLR is substantially lighter. Adding paint the the Emonda ALA aluminum model would likely increase it to closer to the Emonda S, but brushed Al frames look pretty good.

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Trek Emonda Al

Criterium racers get excited over Al frames because they can be made very stiff and yet there's less concern about crashing them than expensive carbon fiber. And with a bike like the Trek coming in within a pound of the lightest commercially available carbon fiber frames, the weight difference on anything other than extended climbs is almost trivial. Indeed the Cannondale CAAD-10 has such a dedicated following that Cannondale sells it with near-top-end components, including this nice SRAM Force version, and has sold it with Shimano Dura-Ace recently.

So is the Trek the CAAD10-beater? The weight numbers are certainly comparable.

The key is geometry. The Trek Al Emonda comes only in H2 geometry. The SLR Emonda comes in either H1 or H2. There's a substantial difference in reach versus stack, equivalent to around a 2 cm difference in stem length. Here I compare the Trek geometries to the Cannondale Evo and CAAD10, which are extremely similar.

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Geometry comparison

The Cannondales zig and zag on the plot between the aggressive H1 and much more relaxed H2 but are generally closer to the H1 (note if you're looking for a particularly low stack this chart suggests you should pick your frame carefully). Meanwhile the Treks are designed to a stack-reach curve, following the first example of Cérvelo. But crit bikes are generally designed to be aggressive and overall here I think for most racers the CAAD10 is going to be the better choice.

Now if they came out with an H1 version...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

SFR Hopland 400k non-ride report

The San Francisco Randonneurs main brevet series consists of 3 monthly rides: the 200 km at the end of January, the 300 km at the end of February, and the 400 km at the end of March. Each of the rides begins at the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge and extends northward into Marin. Each course effectively extends the preceding one further north, the primary exception being that the 200 km route includes an exceptionally scenic loop onto Point Reyes which the other two miss. But there's still substantial course overlap.

Since I did the 200km and 300km brevets and finished both many hours before the time cuts and without serious physical problems it would make sense I'd go on to do the 400km. I'd never ridden that far in a day before and this would have been a chance to extend my previous limits, always a satisfying accomplishment.

But the 200k and 300k didn't go as I'd hoped. In each, I became substantially fatigued half-way through, demoting my riding to something of a "running on fumes death march". When I get passed by a paceline and lack the strength to even hop on the wheel of the trailing rider, that's a problem. And I'm not talking a paceline in a USA Cycling sanctioned road road. I'm talking like 20 mph.

I read ride reports of randonneurs on brevets and they almost always feature two aspects:

  1. They have a good time throughout the ride.
  2. They finish feeling strong.

This is the sort of riding I like. And I've done this: I've done a lot of double centuries, and know the feeling well of riding strongly and finishing strongly. But what all of these double centuries have had in common is preparation. You don't just decide to pop out the door and ride 200 miles fast. You've got to train. That means multiple 200+ mile weeks, a good hard 200+ km ride before, and ideally a few weekends of back-to-back 100 milers. This sort of preparation gives some depth to your fitness. You can make a hard effort, get tired, but then recover and go hard again. It's still possible to dig yourself into the ground; pacing is required, but there's less the feeling of walking over thin ice where the smallest mis-step is going to cause you to sink.

This is how I felt in my two initial brevets. I felt like I had no depth. My legs would get tired and from there it was a death march the rest of the way.

In fact, it was worse than lack of preparation. Another problem is I'd been doing a significant amount of running. And when I run, I don't do 5 km jogs: I like running 15 km or more on a regular basis, preferably on hilly trails. These runs take a toll on the legs. It used to be if I did a run I was trashed for the next half-week: any cycling would be on dead legs. Now I've improved and I can ride the day after running. But it still leaves its mark. It's a lot to ask that legs tired from run-training are going to be up to the task of riding 300 km or more.

And similarly, the brevets weren't doing anything for my running. I look at my running log and I see gaping holes around the 200k and 300k brevets. As a result I ran a 25 km trail race two weeks after the 300k brevet and I cramped 20 km in, limping in to finish just out of the top 20%, perhaps my worst trail race result ever.

So I had to decide. Was I going to essentially give up running goals this year and focus on cycling, perhaps doing a short run once per week, or was I going to give up for now on the brevet progression?

Yeah, I probably could have finished the 400k. I have faith in my ability to push myself. But did I want to? Did I want to push myself through hours of slow-pedal pain? And the result would be at least a week of recovery, costing me valuable running fitness.

So it was no Hopland 400k for me. Does that mean no 400k this year? Maybe, but there's others on the local schedule. But my next goal is the 35 km Inside Trail Racing race starting in Huddart Park in Woodside. This is an alternate course to the 50 km race I ran last year, perhaps modified due to equestrian objections to the runners in Wunderlich Park. The brevets have been enough of a detour in my running fitness that I simply don't have the preparation I had last year to run 50 km, and even that had been a stretch. I finished that 50 km race strongly, a highlight if not the highlight of my running experience and my best athletic result for 2014. The last thing I'd want would be to run 30 km then limp the remaining 20 km. I go to trail runs to run. So I signed up for the 35 km distance, which is already a stretch.

So basically my view is I need to pick. Don't try to do too much, but what you do, do well. Obviously I'm not a prime candidate for triathlon, which is designed specifically to spread participants thin.

So then what's my goal? I want to run the 35 km race this weekend but I still want a 50k this year and I'll even let myself think about 50 miles. But if I do allow myself that goal then this will be a running-focused year and not just a running-focused winter-early-spring.

In seeming contradition with my claimed focus on running am at present signed up to ride the Wine Country 200 km on May 2. I'm going up with Cara, who's riding the 100 km course. Key here is the Wine Country century series is non-competitive: nobody except Strava records finishing times: if you want to blow through the gorgeous roads in minimal time, skipping the famous rest stop food in a quest to get back to Santa Rosa as early as possible, be my guest. My big goal will be to enjoy the ride, make a few good efforts on the hills, but to not dig myself into too deep a hole. Hopefully that works out and I'm back running by the next Tuesday.

If I had done the ride I'd be waxing nostalgic over watching Eric "CampyOnly" Norris' excellent video. Instead I watch it with a tinge of regret over not being able to "do it all". Ah, well.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

SFR Healdsburg / Russian River 300k ride report

The San Francisco Russian River 300 km brevet was on 28 Feb. It's taken me awhile to do the report, which is, I freely admit, on the long side. I just read another blog post on this same ride which was 6 or 7 sentences long, depending on how you count. For a great report (with photos) of the worker's ride two weeks earlier, see Platty Jo's blog. In any case, here's what I wrote.


I wavered going into the 300 km brevet. The theory is the progression of brevet distances is supposed to prepare you for the each one in turn, but ramping from 200 km to 300 km to 400 km to 600 km represents increases of 50%, 33%, and 50%, well in excess of any training plan I've seen. This sort of progression is good for behavioral adaptation more than physical, of boosting your confidence and teaching lessons in pacing, nutrition, hydration, and preparation. For physical adaptations more than this is needed. For example, after a week of recovery from the 200 km, you've got two weeks, three weekends, to ramp up the physical load before a relatively easy week before making the jump to the new distance.

Unfortunately, as I was mixing running and cycling, this didn't really happen for me. I got some solid short climbing rides in, but the focus on cycling endurance simply wasn't there. What was going to have to save me was my experience. I've ridden double centuries many times and in this case i was going to do that again: 10 km to the start, 300 km of brevet, and 10 km home totals 320 km or 200 miles.

I left home a bit later than I'd planned, having discovered that my tail light wasn't charged. As a result, I took my "emergency" tail light from my Ritchey Breakaway, mounting it on the Winter Allaban which is my preferred bike for the brevets. An additional delay was caused by not having been able to find the reflective vest Cara had offered to let me use. Fortunately I remembered at the last minute where it was. I thought this was strictly a back-up move in case I were to finish after dark, something I wasn't planning on doing. But it turnout out to be far more important, and not just because of my finishing time.

So what's wrong with the Ritchey Breakaway, or even better, the carbon fiber Fuji SL/1 I typically use for "races" and "race-like events" like double centuries? It's really a matter of philsophy. Brevets are about self-sufficiency and enjoying the ride, and the steep Winter Allaban, while a lot heavier than the Fuji and therefore typically slower, has a nice handlebar bag which makes it super-easy to store clothing and keep my pockets unencumbered. It's not perfect. For one thing, during this brevet is wasn't adequately secured laterally, and this created an added instability in cross-windy descents which I experienced most prominently at last year's Memorial Day tour and once again on this ride. After this ride I secured it with zip ties to the handlebars at the brake levers. But additionally it's not so easy to open when riding, because the bag closure is a loop over a hook between the bag and the head tube. It's a bit cumbersome to reach down there and unhook it. But I really like having all my stuff there in front of me: food, clothing, tools, and spare tube. Then I have a nice secure handlebar bag pocket to store my brevet card, rather than in my jersey pocket where it can be damaged with sweat or accidentally dropped onto the roadway. So while part of riding a brevet is about finishing sooner rather than later, I don't want to impede my enjoyment of the ride to do so. Being able to carry some extra clothes to be warm at the start or in the evening, being able to stow the clothing when it gets warm, and being able to carry extra food so I don't need to worry what I can find at the random stores we stop at are all worth a bit of time. Now if this was a double century, with well-stocked checkpoints and options to shuttle clothing back to the start from rest stops it would be a different matter.

Anyway, I was a bit late leaving, but I wasn't too worried about getting there before the 6 am start, and rode out at my planned relaxed pace. The issue was it wasn't just a matter of getting there before the start. I first checked in, then got directed to bike check, then was told I needed reflective leg bands. Honestly I'd not thought much about nighttime visibility. I was lucky I'd taken the time to put a working red flashing light on. But I had thought reflective leg bands were just for overnight brevets. With a start at near dawn at 6am (it was still standard time), then planning to finish before civil twilight at around 6 pm I thought I could squeeze by. But no go.

Fortunately instead of being rejected straight off I was directed to a box back at check-in where they had extra leg bands. So back I went. But all they had was a single band which was in the process of disassembling. I took it, wrapping it haphazardly about my left leg, hopeing it would stay in place. Then I went back to bike check.

This seemed good enough for the bike check people and I was then sent back to the check-in once again, this time with my bike check certification. There I got my brevet card and was signed in at the start.

With all this I basically used every minute of margin I'd had. The ride was starting...

With much less ceremony than prefaced our 200 km brevet the month before, organizer Rob Hawks made some brief announcements, basically of the "it's the usual" variety, then was ready to send us off. I raised my hand and asked him if the checkpoints, with the exception of the one he'd noted was going to be a stamp @ Marshall, were going to be check-in or receipts. Receipts, he said. The implication was "the usual receipt drill with which you should be very familiar."

Here again my lack of experience and preparation were going to be a problem. When he said "receipts" I thought it was a simple matter of collecting receipts from the stores at each of the checkpoints. The randonneuring guide, on the other hand, makes it clear the key bit of documentation is a signed and timed brevet card: the receipts are just proof of what's written there. I'm normally a big fan of following the rules: I should have read that before starting the brevet...

So off we went.

I had a better position nearer the front on this one than I'd had on the 200 km brevet. And position is surprisingly important on these rides, since they begin on the narrow path along the side of the Golden Gate Bridge. It seems strange, but if you're not near the front on the path, your chances of being in the front group without some serious match burning are essentially gone.

Any smugness I was feeling about this, however, was annihiliated when Carlin Eng, who was nearby, told me my reflective band was about to fall off. The thing was just in too great a state of decay. So I had to pull over, dozens of riders zipping past, to remove it and stuff it into my handlebar bag. So much for good position...

It was probably for the best, I decided, since the goal was to keep a nice and sustainable pace for the whole ride. So I chatted with the riders nearby as we crossed the bridge.

Immediately on the other side, some riders came blasting up the short rise out of the parking lot, a hard anaerobic effort. I couldn't believe it. Was this the way experienced randonneurs paced themselves for the distance? I let them do what they wanted to do.

Onward, along roads I could practically do in my sleep. We were soon at Camino Alto, and I rode it at a steady but moderate pace. Again I saw riders blasting out of the saddle as the climb began, but they had soon slowed I wondered what they'd had for breakfast and whether it was legal because they were certainly acting frisky at the very beginning of what was to be a long day.

The roads from here blur in my mind... Ross... Fairfax... White's Grade... past Nicasio Valley Road.... but this time instead of staying on Drake to Olema we turned on Platform Bridge Road to Petaluma - Point Reyes Road.

As I was approaching the Nicasio Valley Road intersection, the opposite end of the road we'd passed earlier, I heard that sound still burned into my memory from the last ride. "Ping!" I'd broken another spoke on the driveside of the rear wheel. There was clearly something wrong here. After the last time I'd increased the tension on all my spokes as a safety measure, and here I broke another spoke mid-spoke. As I noted in the 200 km report, I'd eventually show it to Box Dog Bikes (after the 300k) where the mechanic told me the spokes had signs of oxidation. Fortunately my 32 spoke wheels have enough spokes to function with one less, and I did the best I could to secure the broken spoke, and continued on.

Soon after I was hailed down by two guys at the side of the road. This was the secret checkpoint. It was well-located: it prevented the short-cut along Nicasio Valley Road. It was nice getting my brevet card stamped. I always appreciate volunteers. This marked the end of my wonderful streak of manned checkpoints on brevets.

Past the opposite side of Nicasio Valley Road, we continued up the steep "wall" I knew well from the Mt Tam Double, then down the opposite side. I ended up falling in here with a rider on an Alex Singer. He had a Paris-Brest-Paris jersey. I was super-impressed all around. I asked him about his bike, about the ride. 1200 km is beyond my capacity for simple comprehension.

But as I rode with him I felt the first signs of fatigue, as I commented to him. I was looking forward to the stop. This was very much not a good sign: we were less than 25% done with the ride. I hoped it was just a passing thing. Unfortunately it was not. I wasn't yet at the "running on fumes" level. That would come later. Rather this was the "I am feeling the miles and I'd better be careful" stage. When I'm fit, this usually kicks in at around mile 70 (km 110). My preparation for this ride, however, was not ideal.

Petaluma is always a shock to the system, palpably physical but not strictly physiological. The ride to this point had been wonderful: leaving San Francisco early enough that cars were a virtual non-factor, then riding through georgeous Marin County roads. But Petaluma is the ugly face of urban sprawl: it screams car addiction. The usual mix: overbuilt roads, a huge land volume squandered on car parking, pedestrian peril in what should be pedestrian paradise. You really need to ride in Europe to appreciate how different rural population centers can be.

To reinforce the point, the first checkpoint was in the middle of a Safeway parking lot the size of many Italian or French cities. Ironically, my one and only close call in this 300k was in this lot, as I had to emergency brake entering of the many uncontrolled intersections. A woman in her oversized vehicle was excited to get home with her new purchases. I was probably a bit too excited to reach the checkpoint.

The store itself was supernaturally large. Of course I was in a rush to get in and out. I grabbed a Tetra Pack (green point deduction) of coconut juice with a $2 coupon attached and a banana. But as I tried to make my rapid escape, all the manned check-out stations had long lines. I decided to go to a self-checkout machine. This has almost always been a mistake in my experience, and today was no different. Bzzt.... I should have gotten in one of the lines and used the time to drink the juice. First, I forgot to use my coupon (I was never asked to scan coupons, so probably had to look for how to do that). Then when I couldn't figure out how to deal with the banana. It was asking for my credit card, so I inserted that, and then I was checked out. I owe them for the banana.

As I was leaving, I realized I'd forgotten my gloves, which I'd taken off the operate the machine whose complexity had obviously exceeded my technical skill. So I went back to fetch them. Back outside, I poured coconut juice into my bottles, drank the rest, got on my bike, and carefully stored my receipt in my otherwise empty route sheet holder. Next up was the long grind north to Healdsburg, and I wasn't looking forward to that. But I set off anyway, because it's what had to be done.

The ride north was indeed something to be forgotten. We were on roads in the immediate fall-out zone of 101. Too many lanes, too much traffic, and way too many traffic lights made for frustrating going.

We passed through Santa Rosa, which to me always suggests Terrible Two, a fantastic ride. But Terrible Two rapidly leaves the sprawl zone, while we were embracing it. My mood continued to decline. It wasn't helped when another rider told me my rear wheel was horribly out of true. It's nice having brakes which allow for this and to continue riding, but I resolved to improve it at the next stop.

I asked a rider next to me at the time about the next checkpoint and was told it was indeed another cookie-cutter mega-Safeway. Joy joy. At least I had company to help with he navigation.

I'm not totally sure where Santa Rosa ended and Healdsburg began, but we eventually got to the Safeway. I just followed wheels through the maze of streets and across another huge parking lot. The irony is to avoid walking to the local store people instead drive to Safeway where they instead walk across the giant parking area.

At this Safeway, I filled my bottles with water left over from other riders, adding some Sustained Energy powder I'd packed in my bag in a zip-lock. Sustained energy is great but there's only so much of it I can consume on one ride before it becomes intolerable. That's typically 2 or 3 bottles depending on the day. This was to be my second bottle and that was enough. But even that is worthwhile. I further decided I was fine with the food in my handlebar bag, and really didn't want to deal again with another megastore. So I found a receipt on the ground and took that instead.

One thing on my to-do list was to improve my rear wheel. Having already increased the tension since the 200k, it was harder to compensate for the broken spoke. Instead of simply increasing the tension on the 2nd-adjacent spokes I had to further increase the tension (a bit less) on the 4th-adjacent and decrease the tension ont he adjacent and (less) on the 3rd-adjacent. This probably resulted in the wheel going slightly out of round but I had to deal with that. Nobody commented on my wheel again the rest of the ride and I had no further problems. Interestingly I wasn't the only one with spoke problems on the ride: another cyclist told me he'd broken a spoke also.

Navigating out was a bit tricky. I asked another rider about the route and was given verbal directions: "Go out and take Millwest" he said. I traversed the huge parking lot and went to the intersection I thought he meant. I saw Westside Road but no Millwest. So I pulled out my phone, brought up the email with the route sheet, downloaded the PDF, and viewed that. Ah! It was "Mill Street/Westside Road." Mill Street was what the road became in the opposite direction. Had I printed my route sheet as I was obviously intended to do this confusion would have been avoided.

My spirits quickly picked up as Westside Road was truly nice. I was riding solo here and really enjoying it even if my speed was on the wrong side of 30 kph. It's amazing how quickly you can escape the sprawl zone here if you try.

The fun was interrupted when I finally reached River Road. Mill ends with an intersection, to the left a T into River Road, but ahead merging into River Road as well. I was a bit confused by this, investigating the T, trying to reconcile that with the route sheet which had said to continue rather than turn, when a group of riders passed behind me. Being in a group is a good idea but I was so low on reserves at this point I lacked the power to go with even slight accelerations. Anyway I figured out what I was supposed to do so continued on River Road.

River wasn't much different than Westside except it carried enornously higher traffic, much of it "recreational" pick-up trucks, and similar. This wasn't the sort of road I'd seek out but it's somewhat unavoidable out here. It seems you're in pristine rural but the enormous car traffic reveals a higher than expected population density. And it's not just the density -- it's that seemingly everyone who lives here seems to want to get in their motor vehicles and drive to and fro with their weekends. I thought the point of being in such a beautiful place was to enjoy where you were.

One activity which helped keep my mind off the enormity of the suffering remaining on the ride was looking for a place to pee at the side of the road. For a place which has such a rural appearance this was remarkably difficult. Sometimes I'd spot a candidate only as I rode past it -- too late since I didn't want to backtrack.

River Road got better as I rode eastward. At some point here I was passed by Carlin Eng and one other rider. He wanted me to hop onto his train, and I very much wanted to do so, but it was simply not possible. I'd been chasing another rider who seemed to be in similar peril as I was and slowly, ever so slowly, closing that gap. He'd passed me when, after many kilometers of looking, I finally found my spot to pee. He couldn't join Carlin either.

River Road leads eventually to Hwy 1 and that was a big goal for me. I was really hurting by this point: nothing at all in the tank. I tried not to think about the fact that I was as far from San Francisco as I'd ever been on a ride leaving from home. Even when I reached Highway 1, I wasn't going to be anywhere remotely close to home.

I hit the intersection with Hwy 1 and the rider I was chasing continued on. But I couldn't; I had to stop. Highway 1 climbed to the south and I needed a few seconds of recovery before continuing. A few seconds of rest isn't going to make that big a difference physically but mentally I needed those few seconds to collect myself.

The hill to the south wasn't a big deal, like most climbs on Highway 1 which had, with the exception of rare flat segments like Stinson Beach, a seemingly endless supply of them. But when I reached the top I saw my "quarry" had pulled over. He and I were obviously in a similar state. I waved to him and pedaled on.

The next check point was Bodega Bay. I found the store and pulled in. Carlin was here, smiling and laughing and chatting with a group of riders. I couldn't understand how he always seemed to have so much fun. Indeed it made me very bitter to see people having such a good time. Okay, that's not really true. But I was retreating inwards to suppress the discomfort.

We had to get a receipt at this store but there was a long line... very long. It seemed a group of randonneurs had arrived not long before me. I didn't feel like waiting around while I searched the trash for a receipt I could take, As I did so it occurred to me pulling receipts from the trash is a risky proposition: what if the receipt is for a substantially different time? For example, checkpoints are only open during a finite window: you can't be either early or late. If the receipt was from before the checkpoint opened I'd be disqualified. I started worrying about that Safeway receipt I'd scavenged. "But Dan, this receipt is from 2003!"

Of course I was supposed to be signing my arrival times on my route card. But as I noted, I'd not read the instructions.

The group of riders had some extra water (water tends to cost the same independent of container size, so riders buy gallon jugs which they share). By the time I did this I decided to check on the store again: the line was gone. So I got a can of coconut juice. Now I had a legitimate receipt.

Overall this stop had failed to be the paradigm of time-efficiency.

It was a straight run down Highway 1 to the next and final checkpoint: a fish place in Marshall. The main feature of this run, which passes through the town of Tamales and along Tamales Bay, is the endless hills, some steep. Normally I love this sort of thing but in my present state I approached them with at best grim determination. The descents weren't great either: the road tends to follow the contours of the shore, descending going inland, then turning to climb seaward. At these turns the relative wind direction shifts and that would cause instabilities on my bike. Later I came to realize this was likely due to the loosness of my handlebar bag, as I noted earlier. Zip ties did a wonderful job helping secure the bag laterally, and I've not had the same stability problems since.

Despite the hills, it's really hard to be suffering too much riding south on Highway 1 with a prevailing wind out of the north and goergeous ocean and bay views to the right. We are so blessed to be able to live and ride here, I thought, this just hours after cursing the car-addicted suburban sprawl purgatory we'd ridden through earlier.

On the way to Marshall I passed Nick's Cove, which had been the final checkpoint in the 200 km the month before. This boosted my mood. I'd made it home from here then; I could make it from here now.

Marshall checkpoint wasn't far past the cove. Bikes were parked, people were chatting, eating clam chowder, generally having a good time once again. There was a stamp inside the store. I asked Carlin, who was standing nearby, if I was supposed to stamp my receipt card in the box to which I pointed. It seemed like I got confirmation so I stamped it. In retrospect I realized I'd stamped in in the wrong box: the box where I was supposed to put my arrival time. My card was turning into a rando disaster. I'm sure Jan Heine would have been appalled.

I set out while Carlin was still there having a good time. He later said he'd thought that would be the last he'd see me. I think he overestimated my fitness. "But you finished the Mt Tam Double in less time than this!" he said. "But that was August and this is February" I responded. I left out the part about being over two years older as well. But the truth is I couldn't ever remember ever before doing 200 miles this early in the year.

Unlike when I was on the 200k, here my Garmin navigation was working fine at this point, so I had accurate estimates of the distance to the turn onto Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, so I lacked the mental diversion of doing math to estimate this distance. As I approached it I was moderately alarmed by the falling sun. Did my light have enough capacity? I wasn't sure. And my mount of my headlight was far from ideal. With the handlebar bag blocking the usual mounting points on the stem or handlebar top, I'd mounted it on the downtube. This isn't great because the light is blocked to the opposite side by the front wheel. Ely Rodriguez, who'd built the bag for me, recommended using a piece of carbon fiber tubing to make a piece which could be zip-tied to the fork to hold the light. This was an excellent idea but I'd not done it yet. An alternative would be to mount the light on my helmet. This has the further advantage of being steerable. I will do that next brevet. Really I'd brought the light just for back-up. I expected to have shared light in the morning between dawn and sunrise, and I'd optimistically planned to be back to the GGB before twilight.

After Point Reyes Petaluma reaches Platform Bridge it's deja vu all over again because the route passed this same road in the same direction around 200 km earlier. I'd been wondering how it would handle this dose of complexity and not surprisingly the Garmin got confused, telling me it was 200 km to the next checkpoint. I ignored it, wondering if it would recover when I turned onto Nicasio Valley Road, firmly establishing my position as within the end game.

And it did. I had happy distances on my Edge 500 once again.

Unlike the 200k, on this ride I cruised right by the Nicasio store. It felt liberating to not feel compelled to stop -- was I feeling stronger? But any optimism from my willingness to continue was pummelled with the grim reality that I'd soon be riding in the dark. But I procrastinated stopping to put on my jacket and vest and to turn on my lights. I was worried about the capacity, as I noted, having ridden with it during some time in the morning. The light is old and I really wasn't sure how long it could go.

I followed another rider to the top of the main climb on Nicasio Valley Road. He pulled over to do what I probably should have done (vest & lights). But I continued.

Down the other side, I reached Francis Drake. I could stop here, but I decided I'd rather get to the top of White's Grade first... it was a bit of a grind to the top of White's, but not bad. Once there I didn't want to lose momentum, so continued straight to the decent.

At this point it was obvious I needed my light, as riding through the corners was slightly dicey. It's a short flat run from the bottom of the descent to Fairfax Coffee Grinders, a traditional cyclist stop. So I finally stopped there.

By now it was passing from twilight to true darkness, so the rest of the way there was no question about needing my headlights. Here my inferior light mounting scheme was to show its weakness. I had the light mounted on the right side of my downtube, so most of the light which would have reached the left was blocked by the front wheel and tire. Putting the light on my head next time would be a most excellent idea.

At the Roasters, I filled my bottle with water and chatted briefly with another rider. I really didn't need the water. It was end game and chilly. I wondered if I'd regret the loss of time from walking into the store, filling the bottle from the dispenser, then returning to my bike. But part of my true reason for doing it was to give myself a break.

Climbing Camino Alto in the dark wasn't great, the following descent even less great. I was forced to go much slower than otherwise, even with my fatigue. But this late in the game, fatigue takes a back seat anyway. I could have gone harder.

At the bottom I joined a few other riders at the interminable traffic light at Blythsdale. Tick, tock, tick, tock.... it soon became obvious I'd missed my light cycle because the sensor had failed to trigger. This light really is ridiculous. By the time the light changed to green there were several of us together. But in a way this was good because it allowed us to combine our illumination.

And so I soon found myself at the base of the climb to the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course I was thinking about the 200k where Sindy launched that amazing acceleration here reach the bridge first in our group. I hoped I wasn't going to break a spoke here again as I was already running one short.

Sindy wasn't here this time, though, so I was able to climb the hill faster than my companions. But as I rode towards the west side path I was overtaken by another rider.

It was Carlin, smiling as always. He said he was surprised to have caught me, and who told me that we'd have to take the east side path instead of the west. That was nice -- he saved me a nontrivial descent and reclimb which would have cost me around 5 minutes had I been alone.

Carlin managed to gap me crossing the 101 exit ramp ahead of a car, so I was alone again. But the bridge is lit well enough so even with my relatively modest lighting scheme (250 lumins mounted poorly) I was able to navigate without problem. Well, there was the small problem of figuring out how to open the unusual gate at the southern side of the path. But I managed that.

And then I was done. Carlin was there, of course, as was John "300 km is a short ride" Beckham, who cheerfully encouraged me to the Hopland 400k four weeks later. John is simply amazing: he rides his double-top-tube Rivendell at his pace all day and finishes with an excellent time. I had one instead of two of the Ensure-a-likes, made sure to get checked in with what was my arrival time rather than the time the line at check-in had cleared (Carlin I guess didn't do this, as he's listed as finishing after me), and after chatting a bit, began the 10 km ride back home.

This was remarkably fine. You'd think it would be a sufferfest, that I'd want to hitch a ride with someone who'd driven there. But I was fine. And San Francisco streets are sufficiently well lit that I didn't any longer feel compromised by my light.

And so it ended. I was feeling good enough for a frisky ride by Tuesday morning, 58 hours later. But then not too surprisingly allergies hit or maybe I got sick, which took me out of commission for a week, when I "recovered" just in time for my 25 km trail race, after which I was down for another week. But that's how things go: steps forward, steps backward.

Lessons learned?

  • I should have had my lights set up the night before, including battery check.
  • I should have read the randonneuring rules, which would have informed me about the need for a reflective leg band and to sign my brevet card in addition to collecting receipts. And it was only due to luck I had a reflective vest with me.
  • Put my light on my helmet. It can be removed and stored in the handlebar bag during the daylight hours. On longer events bring two so I have plenty of battery power.
  • I got seriously tired around 75 km into the 200k, and around 150 km into the 300k, so I was clearly making progress. Nevertheless... if that meant I was going to get tired 225 km into the 400k, then that makes for a very hard 175 km.
  • Mixing running and cycling doesn't work so well for 300 km and beyond. I need to focus on getting in long rides if I'm going to ride long. In particular I've had success in the past doing back-to-back long days, for example 100+ miles, as preparation for 200 milers. In addition to taking away opportunities for cycle-specific training running in the days before takes its toll on how my legs are going to feel for 11+ hours on the bike. Running used to give me dead legs for any sort of riding for several days after. I'm much better now but still 200 miles allows for no compromise.
  • John Beckham's suggestion: try bringing along a can or two of Ensure-a-like: the added fat makes it go down smoothly and it provides a much-needed quick calorie boost when fading. This is an excellent suggestion: the Sustained Energy is fine but mixing in something easier to stomach is a good idea.
  • Thanks to Cara for offering to let me take her vest, then reminding me the night before.

Thanks to CampyOnly, who's been around the internets for quite awhile, for posting this excellent video of the race. It's an excellent job of distilling the feel of this long ride down to just a few minutes:


Here's the results sorted by finish time. Note I'm listed ahead of Carlin although he actually finished ahead of me, a difference between arrival time and check-in time likely.

pl    Rusa                Last  First        Time
1   5941  Achilli      Andrea    11:15
1   6151  Andersen     Carl      11:15
1   2506  Poletto      Max       11:15
1   3659  Smith        Briant    11:15
5   none  Koss         Brian     11:36
6   9274  Hicks        Craig     11:48
7   10340 Chalfant     Michael   11:55
8   9133  Turnbow      Joe       12:06
9   7590  Taylor       Mark      12:15
10  4185  Mason        Aron      12:26
11  8978  Ross         Roy       12:44
12  8213  Kraai        Jesse     13:01
13  4357  Cardona      Kley      13:02
13  3523  Lynch        Theresa   13:02
15  2133  McCaw        Richard   13:07
16  7383  Uz           Metin     13:12
17  9364  Bouchard     Gilles    13:13
17  6763  Elgood       Mark      13:13
19  6987  Gernez       Raphael   13:15
20  2468  Buntrock     Robert    13:16
20  5803  Homrighausen Mark      13:16
22  8063  Beckham      Jon       13:20
22  9464  Haidinyak    Grant     13:20
22  10176 Kaemmer      Brian     13:20
22  5120  Merritt      Greg      13:20
26  10180 Estes        Ronald    13:25
26  9422  Johnson      Matt      13:25
28  5285  Berka        Becky     13:26
29  10353 Connelly     Daniel    13:28
30  7601  Eng          Carlin    13:29
30  8427  Namara       Yogy      13:29
32  9239  Beringhele   Dan       13:30
32  7245  Friedly      Gabrielle 13:30
32  5901  Schwartz     Barry     13:30
35  2777  Salyer       Kevin     13:42
35  10325 Vu           Tom       13:42
37  5318  Budvytis     Gintautas 13:45
37  5726  Fitzpatrick  Matthew   13:45
37  2879  Hastings     Geoffrey  13:45
37  9932  Laucys       Jonas     13:45
37  5343  Placiakis    Vidas     13:45
42  7789  Goodell      Andrew    13:51
43  8359  Bailey       Chris     13:53
44  9052  Funk         Tobias    13:58
45  7251  Burke        Michael   14:11
45  3502  Burke        Sarah     14:11
45  7247  Larsen       Eric      14:11
45  6130  Walker       David     14:11
49  6949  Carlson      Drew      14:20
49  9906  Wesley       Edward    14:20
51  9452  Nohlin       Erik      14:25
51  3971  Norris       Eric      14:25
53  4072  Bloomfield   Michael   14:29
54  4841  Duque        Carlos    14:30
54  913   Fritze       Christian 14:30
54  8254  Iwakami      Naoki     14:30
54  6727  Law          Todd      14:30
54  9218  Ogawa        Shumpei   14:30
54  6789  Russell      Nancy     14:30
54  1907  Shoemaker    Ken       14:30
54  8158  Tajima       Toshi     14:30
62  3321  Smith        Ron       14:34
63  5423  Chun         Brian     14:39
64  5844  Auriemma     Philip    14:42
64  6103  McCumber     Kaley     14:42
66  7588  Green        Bill      14:45
67  4318  Gilmore      John      14:54
68  9505  Cowan        Scott     14:59
69  10201 Morehouse    Ryan      15:09
70  4679  Ehlert       Gabe      15:11
70  6017  Kizu-Blair   Ian       15:11
70  8160  Walstad      Eric      15:11
73  1625  Holmgren     John      15:17
73  5640  Jordan       Mick      15:17
75  6435  Wenner       Brad      15:21
76  10249 Dodge        Renee     15:24
77  4006  Boutet       Jacques   15:29
77  9093  Johnston     Robert    15:29
79  1975  Moreels      Pierre    15:32
79  7050  Williams     Don       15:32
81  4269  Beato        Keith     15:36
81  6052  Clarkson     Bryan     15:36
81  5831  Haas         Stephen   15:36
81  3356  Haggerty     Tom       15:36
85  7679  Kaplan       Jonathan  15:50
86  9982  Au_Yeung     Tsun      15:51
87  8400  MacFarlane   Phil      15:52
88  8413  Lockwood     Robert    15:57
88  4640  Plumb        Alex      15:57
88  8324  Strickland   Andy      15:57
88  108   Vlasveld     Paul      15:57
92  345   Bradbury     Jim       16:08
93  9853  de_Andrade   Andrew    16:10
94  8431  Dietz        Joe       16:12
94  9205  Feinberg     Brian     16:12
94  7622  Sexton       Robert_B. 16:12
97  10081 Ching        Derek     16:34
98  9973  Brammer      Anton     16:36
99  2053  Cruz         Arturo    16:45
99  5784  Schroyer     Charles   16:45
101 8416  Fournier     Charles   16:46
102 9295  Goldenberg   Benjamin  16:48
102 9084  Kim          Ed        16:48
104 10237 Tam          Man-Fai   17:02
105 5186  Scott        Clayton   17:14
106 5464  Pierce       Jason     17:35
107 7319  Arnold       Megan     17:36
107 7241  Coleman      Juliayn   17:36
107 8283  Hatfield     Jenny_Oh  17:36
107 8930  Herlihy      Patrick   17:36
107 6380  Kilgore      Bryan     17:36
107 8074  Klein        Ann       17:36
107 6629  Primrose     Denise    17:36
107 7442  Prince       Steffan   17:36
115 9842  Mansfield    Frances   17:40
116 6500  Guzik        John      17:47
117 9391  Wilson       Adam      18:19
118 7102  Oei          Brian     18:23
118 7103  Pham         Irving    18:23
120 none  Crespo       Nelson    18:36
121 7596  Lloyd        Eileen    18:44
122 9839  Bowles       Shawn     19:19
122 10500 Smith        Preston   19:19
124 none  Zandi        Neda      19:34
125 none  Nichols      Nathaniel 19:35
126 2815  Gross        Joe       19:44