A Month of Biking

When I said the next race on my radar was Santa Cruz, that was a giant lie. That’s my next solo race. But there’s something fun before that, something that actually was one of the very first races to make my calendar this year. In just under three weeks, I’ll be biking along Lake Tahoe in an Olympic tri relay with two of my best friends.

I’m doing the bike leg as purely a matter of convenience: I’m the one of the three of us with a bike in the state of California. I know all I really have to do is survive it — we’re racing for fun, and for an excuse to travel somewhere fun and chill at a lake house, and for a way to do something physical together that I’m pretty sure none of us would have anticipated back in college. (I especially would not have.) But I also want to ride well and feel good about my effort on what promises to be a tough course.

How tough? Well, here’s Wildflower, definitely the toughest course I’ve done in a race, with just over 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 25 miles. Here’s Napa, the toughest course I’ve raced on this year, with just under 1,000 feet of climbing. And, uh, here’s Tahoe — 1,900 feet of elevation gain and six rated climbs, including a cat-3. Oh, and it’s at 6,300 feet.

I can’t say I’ve never done anything like that. I’ve at least climbed more. But the layout of the hills, and the fact that I have no idea how my sea-level lungs will react to elevation, is making me take it seriously.

So I’m taking this month to get cozy with my bike again — to ride more, and ride harder (though not necessarily longer), and to get back to hill repeats and computrainer classes, and to not take the easy (read: flat) way out.

My first week — and my first workout after Vineman — was a Paradise Loop ride with Courtney. We parked in the Golden Gate Bridge lot (because not taking the easy way out only goes so far; windy death-by-pylon is not something I relish nor require) and had a relaxed ride to Tiburon. The climb over Camino Alto was fine, but by the time we hit Alexander on the return, the wind was blowing so hard I swear I went backwards at some point. Ride totals: 32 miles, 1700′ gain.

The next weekend, I doubled up: a flatter, easier 22 miles with a friend new to San Francisco riding on Saturday, then 25 more on Sunday — 5 to a bike clinic with TAG, then another 20 including my second-ever climb up Twin Peaks. I was actually surprised to see the total elevation numbers, because the Twin Peaks climb felt fairly gentle this time around — save for one block of 15th Avenue where my choices were power up or fall over. Getting onto a calmer, residential road from the more heavily trafficked route I used on my first trip certainly helped. The trip down was another story, and with the wind banging around the street signs at the top of the hill, I think I descended almost as slowly as I’d climbed. ~2400 feet of climbing for Sunday’s ride.

Then, this past Sunday, Pete and I decided to ride down the Peninsula, eventually meeting up with the Sawyer Camp/Crystal Springs trails before taking Caltrain home. The route we picked promised a couple of good climbs, including one in the southwest part of San Francisco and another right after turning onto Skyline/Highway 35. I learned a valuable lesson on this ride, which is that if a route has Highway in any part of the name, it might end up feeling like riding on a highway. The wind (again…a theme of San Francisco “summer”) was pushing me around on descents, and I never settled into the climbs, what with being so afraid that I’d eventually have to go down. Skyline eventually plateaued and also stopped having 55-mph traffic, so I started breathing again and even threw in a ride up the Sawyer Camp hill just for kicks, though our route only required us to coast down it. We ended the ride with 34 miles and 2400′ gain, then capped off the day with another 5 miles and almost 400 feet of climbing home from Caltrain; that’s San Francisco living.

This week, I’m hoping to finally make my return to computrainer class; I went on a few Tuesdays during Vineman training, but I’ve been told the Thursday rides better simulate climbing, so I’ll be trying to hit those each week until Tahoe. And this weekend, I’m planning to ride some BART-accessible East Bay hills (to get a dose of real summer and not have to drive, as this is one of the weekends when parking in my neighborhood is at its most in-demand). I’m also sporadically riding to my office again and even trying to take some crazier routes home. If I’m going to roll through the city at 8 mph, I might as well get some hill work out of it.

I have no idea how well any of this will translate to 25 miles at 6,000 feet, but I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to show up on August 25 ready to find out.

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4 thoughts on “A Month of Biking

  1. Angela says:

    OK, so I may totally not have any idea what I’m talking about, but as a skier (and someone who often goes running while on ski trips), I have some thoughts about altitude. The main one is that I always worry about it when I go to Tahoe at ~6.5K ft, and I’m always surprised at how much it doesn’t really bother me. The Rockies at ~10K ft are another story — I can *definitely* feel the difference there (mainly going uphill). So maybe it won’t be so bad??? Good luck & have fun!!

  2. Diana says:

    I can’t wait to see you! My prep has been something like: 2 cold open water ocean races, bi-weekly pool workout. But it will be fine. My wet suit will be packed 🙂 We’re going to have a blast.

  3. Kristina says:

    So, this is just my experience, based on a week here and there in Colorado – of the three disciplines, biking seems to be the most manageable at altitude. Yes, the climbs will be hard, but you’ll be able to do it! Sounds like it’ll be an amazing experience too!
    Maybe next year you can tackle the Lake June Tri – I like how they say that it’s comparable to Wildflower, but at altitude.

  4. quix says:

    I suppose this is my turn to tell ya you’ll be fine on the bike hills. 🙂 Enjoy Tahoe, it’s gorgeous there (yeah, very hilly, but at least you’ll have great scenery while you’re huffing and puffing up the hills :D)! I’m also jealous of your motivation to get outside and ride – I’m just so content to bang out hours indoors on the trainer because of logistics/traffic/heat/etc, but I know riding outside more would be better for me!

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