Saturday, March 05, 2005

Gator Ride

Finally-- my first outdoor ride of the season! When I was getting my gear together last night I realized that I hadn't taken my bike out on the road since the Iron Star Half-Ironman Tri last October. For shame! There's just no excuse for that here in Houston. Well, no excuse except rain, bronchitis, recovery and general laziness.

I almost didn't go this morning. 5:30 am is awfully early to be getting up voluntarily. I sort of wished I would accidentally oversleep, but of course I didn't. So, remembering that I've never regretted a bike ride, I pushed myself out the door, loaded up the car (amazing how much stuff an RX-7 can stash) and headed to Baytown.

I'd had a bit of trouble finding the ride start last year because the internet directions, while not technically incorrect were not really complete, either. So this year I was pleased to find myself behind a Mercedes with a bike strapped to the back (how odd-looking is that?) and so I just drafted the last few miles to the start. I've found I can usually do this for a bike ride-- just find someone else with a bike and tail them, hoping they know more than I do. They usually do.

I was happy to be directed to a parking spot on the main park grounds, unlike last year when I had to park a few blocks away. I was able to leave everything in the car, walk to the registration table and get signed up, use the restroom and grab a few sugar-coated cookies before going back to my car to get set up to ride. Almost immediately I ran into a problem-- the valve stem on my rear tire broke off while I was airing up my tires. Luckily there was a bike shop doing repairs on site, so I had them replace my tube, since they had better equipment and more experience. I can change a tube myself, but not quickly.

I was ready to go just as they were sending off the 62 mile group. This meant no standing around, but it also meant I was in the back of the pack and had to deal with the slow and stupid newbie riders for the first few miles. You know it's bad when you find yourself shouting at the people in front of you, "We need to go fast enough that we don't fall over!"

I was concerned that I'd have some trouble with slow people on the Fred Hartman Bridge, but that part turned out nice. It's a beautiful suspension bridge that from a distance looks like giant sails in the morning mist. And then it's a long steady climb to the top, where all the cables make you feel like you've somehow gotten yourself stuck inside one of those geometric things we used to make in grade school in the '70s with wood, nails and string. It's kind of cool. And the downhill is great, although once I got up to 30 mph I started hitting the brakes a bit so I wouldn't pick up any more speed. It was too early in the ride for riders to be spread out very much and I was worried I might have to react quickly to dumb moves by newbie riders.

After the bridge the ride winds through some refineries and chemical plants for a couple of miles. This is definitely one of the low parts of the course. Not to mention stinky. But the refineries are intriguing too, in a ghastly sort of way that's kind of hard to explain. They are beautiful in their ugliness and very, very disturbing, dotted all over with blinking lights as if in perparation for some perverse industrial holiday.

Soon after we're past the refineries we come to San Jacinto State Park. This is a good bit, where we go past the San Jacinto Monument, commemorating Texas' 1836 victory over Mexico to become an independent nation. Then we pass the Battleship Texas. Very nice. But those who have done this ride before also know that this is their last chance to pass a few more people before having to wait for the ferry. So I upped my speed a bit and passed a lot of people, including my husband's cousin Jerry, who must've started a lot further up in the pack because I'm a faster rider than he is.

And then it was time to wait for the Lynchburg ferry. We all hate the delay, and this is the only ride I do where we have to actually get on a boat. Compounding the problem, there was only one ferry running, so instead of a twenty minute wait like last year, I waited nearly an hour. If I do this ride again next year, I'll have to make sure I'm in the lead pack at the ride start. Waiting around is no fun at all.

Once we were off the ferry, the real ride began. It was a very nice route without a lot of long boring stretches that go on for miles. I hate those. A few wildflowers are beginning to pop up, which made a nice contrast to the overcast skies. And I liked the way the route wound around through various types of scenery-- farms, old neighborhoods, new construction, empty fields and scrubland, a bit of coast.

With about 20 miles to go, I came up on a guy riding a bike with a little trailer attached and a floppy-eared dog riding in it. What a cutie! The dog had a piece of carpet to rest on, and he would stand up for awhile, enjoying the wind in his ears, and then lie down and rest a bit. I'm always amused by people who take their pets on rides. One year at the Goliad ride, a woman was carrying a little dog in a basket on the front of her bike. I wonder if Tidbit would like to go for a bike ride? Somehow, I don't think she would.

With 15 miles to go, some old riding buddies caught up to me. We had just started exchanging pleasantries when Phil got a flat and had to pull over. Had I been riding with their group all along, I would've hung out and waited while he changed it. But I wasn't riding with them and the long ferry wait had put me behind schedule. If I was going to finish in time to go have Indian food with Dan, I needed to keep going. So after making sure Phil had what he needed to fix his tire and being assured by his buddies that all was well, I continued on.

By this point I could really feel the lack of recent road experience. My shoulders had been cramping for several miles and my lower back was hurting. You know, I work these areas in my weekday morning workouts, so what gives? Specificity is everything, I guess. By this point my hamstrings were hurting and my legs were tired, too. And I couldn't remember if this course was accurately measured in the past or not. I've ridden 62 mile courses that turned out to be as short as 59 or as long as 70. I really didn't know what I had left in my legs, but I knew I didn't have time to be a princess about it, so I abandoned all sense of caution and hammered the last 15 miles, passing people the whole way.

In all, I was really happy with how this ride went. For my first time back on the road in over four months, it was a very strong ride with a strong finish. I really need to get out on the road more and work on my mental game. There were so many times when I wanted to slow down or switch to a shorter course. There were a lot of times I thought about stopping. I found myself counting the tenths of miles on my bike computer as I rode, even though I had thirty or forty miles left to go. Not good. I've obviously been off the roads too long. There's no reason I should have to struggle mentally so much when I wasn't truly tired or in pain. Okay, I was tired and in pain, but only minimally so. Not enough to justify thinking about cutting the course or hitching a ride on the SAG wagon. I couldn't have done the last fifteen miles as fast as I did if I'd been truly depleted.

In short, my legs are in pretty good shape but I need to get my brain back in training.

I drove home from the ride feeling like I was still on the bike, wanting to make all kinds of aggressive sprints and passing maneuvers. I made it home safely anyway. And after a quick shower, I got to have my Indian food. So all is right with the world.

This Past Week's Workouts
Monday: 45 minutes core/strength training; evening massage-- no workout
Tuesday: 45 minutes core/strength training; 30 min elliptical, 2 miles treadmill
Wednesday: 45 minutes core/strength training; 45 min bike Spinervals 4.0 "Muscle Breakdown"
Thursday: 45 minutes core/strength training; 30 min elliptical, 3 miles treadmill
Friday: 45 minutes core/strength training; endurance laundry-- had to carry it all over the complex because the laundry rooms on my side are being renovated
Saturday: Gator Ride, 62 miles, 16.5 mph avg (those slow parts on turns and at lights and rest stops really eat into your average-- I was at 18 and above most of the time)

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