Friday, December 19, 2008

Wash the day away

Date: Dec. 18
Mileage: 82.7
December mileage: 553.3

I feel like I just went through the bike version of the Master Cleanse:

* I set my mind to completing something illogical and counterintuitive.
* It pretty much took over my life for a little over a week.
* It tested crucial aspects of my willpower.
* I started to suffer toward the end.
* I walked away with feelings of renewed vigor and control, a better understanding of my own body, and a reluctance to go back to solid food (or, in my case, free time that I don't spend riding my bike.)

And thus ended my eight-hour ride following a 30-hour week, for 38 hours of riding and hiking in eight days, always in temperatures below 25, with plenty of single-digit temps and windchills below zero. That's essentially a peak week for me. I don't plan to do any longer efforts in preparation for the Iditarod. This week just had a perfect storm of ideal conditions for enjoyable riding and race training, and I figured a "peak" week would fit in well to something new I am trying this year: Rather than just build, build, build, I am going to try to ride some hard weeks followed by "recovery" weeks, for an ebb and flow of effort that I hope will make me a healthier person come March 1.

Effort: Every time I stopped to eat (and yes, I do stop to eat. After all this time, I still haven't mastered the skill of ripping open wrappers and gnawing on frozen energy bars while wearing mittens and piloting a bicycle on ice), I checked my thermometer. So I know temperatures ranged between zero degrees (the icebox around Herbert River) and 15 degrees (roasting in the sun on the Mendenhall Lake ice.) The air was breezy, but I only felt a few really strong gusts of wind. Even without the "extreme" aspect of the cold that I admit I was somewhat hoping for, it's still hard for me to spend eight hours outside in those temperatures. It's hard when I'm riding. It's hard when I'm walking. It's hard when I'm standing still. Every second of the day feels like hard work, pumping out massive quantities of body heat and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy when one part of my body is roasting and another stings with cold in the frigid air. I woke up feeling pretty weak and still went out and tried to maintain my normal pace riding on roads, a few miles of hardpacked but bumpy trail and about 12 miles of loops around the (perfect and so much fun) lake ice. As always, parts of the ride were exhilarating (the lake ice). But I also hit a fair share of low points. Some were really low points, where I was angry at myself for riding out the road because I couldn't catch a bus out there. But I never got on a bus. I rode home, and toward the end, I felt happy again, awake and alive, even strong, for having tried it.

Eating: So, as expected, I never had an appetite, all day long. I wish I could change that part of my physiology. But I didn't do too bad with the force-feeding. I was able to stuff down three Power Bars and four "100-calorie" granola bars, for an average of 150 calories per hour. For me, that's a perfectly sustainable amount for an eight-hour ride, although it's not really sustainable for the long term, when I'm out riding hard in the cold and there's no big dinner waiting for me at the end of the day. I'd like to be able to put down twice that, about 300 calories, ideally, and am going to continue to work on it. Starting to use my pogies so I can stuff baggies of Goldfish crackers in my handlebars and eat them while I'm riding will, I think, help.

Clothing: I'm pretty happy with my "base" system. I wore a standard pair of bike shorts, two pairs of socks with a vapor barrier between them, winter boots, a thick pair of polyester leggings (to deal with the "cold butt" issue), a skin-tight polypro shirt, a vapor barrier vest, a fleece jacket, soft shell pants and coat, mittens and either just a headband or a balaclava. My insulation was on the "a lot" side for the conditions I ended up riding in. I did a lot of sweating in the sun, but I was glad to have it all on when I went through breezy, shaded areas. I find sweat pretty much balances itself out in the end, and is almost impossible to avoid anyway, so I like to lean on the side of overdressing.

I never had problems with "too cold" body parts. I did notice a problem area with the coat. The vapor barrier vest funnels nearly all of my body moisture through the arms. Back when I used a Gortex coat, I used to get ice rings around the bottom of my fleece jackets, and quite a bit of frost coating my arms. But the Gortex coat has pit zips, which I think helped funnel away a lot of the moisture. This new soft-shell coat expels moisture better than the Gortex, but it doesn't have pit zips, so I ended up with a lot of frost built up on the coat beneath my arms. I'm not sure if that's really even a problem, but I may stay in the market for a better fitted soft shell with pit zips.

Sleeping: I couldn't sleep last night. This is always a problem for me during hard, long efforts - rides that I can't recover from quickly enough - and I try to fall asleep while my heart is still beating at an abnormally high rate. I know now if I want to get any normal sleep during the race, I am going to have to experiment with sleeping meds. I've avoided drugs because frankly, I'm afraid of them. But I think I won't have a choice but to lean on sleeping aids, so I'd love to hear recommendations.

Right now I'm trying to take a day off. I admit it feels strange. Another beautiful, cold, bluebird day, and here I am at the computer. I'm tempted to drag my bike out to the Mendenhall Lake for one more gorgeous lap, because I feel pleasently tired, in control, and strong, like I could ride forever.