Yesterday, we completed the 10th and final century ride in the Train for the Tours (TftT) series for 2016. This one was an out and back from Sly Park to Carson Pass and included more than 10,000' of climbing, riding at altitudes above 7,500’ for much of the ride and some tough climbs like Carson Pass and Mormon Emigrant. A tough ride by any measure.
I did this ride last year and I thought it would be interesting to compare my experiences since they were so different. Last year, I thought the ride was a brutal experience. I was totally exhausted and wiped out at the conclusion. This year I felt good the entire ride and had "gas in the tank" at the end.
Why the difference?
Thanks to the Garmin Edge and Strava, I can compare statistics.
The differences between the two rides are very minor. Moving time, average speed, cadence, and average heart rate are about the same.
The only significant differences are the ride temperature and overall ride elapsed time. The temperature was 7 degrees cooler and I finished the ride 20+ minutes faster.
It looks like statistics do not tell the full story. What about my ride game plan?
This ride I tried a few minor changes to my approach to a long endurance ride. I didn't want to make any big changes as I thought it was a little too close to the Death Ride to make any significant changes. But, I did have a few areas I thought warranted some "tweaks".
First, I had been having problems drinking fluids during the latter part of the ride. I have been using electrolyte tablets such as Nuun and Gu. However, I have been getting so absolutely sick of the taste, that I dreaded drinking. This was further exacerbated when the fluids got warm.
So, I decided to try using Endurolytes (electrolyte pills) and plain water when I was tired of the taste. This was an amazing improvement. I was drinking delicious cold water in the last half of the ride as if it were an ice cold beer at a baseball game. Swallowing a couple of pills was easy when chased by the ice cold water.
Secondly, I tried eating in a snack mode the whole ride. I added a small frame bag to my top tube where I had a mix of dried fruits, pistachios and seeds. This allowed for easy access where I could simply reach down and grab a small portion as I was riding. I also put some oranges with the SAG vehicle as I find oranges clear out that "dry mouth" feeling when breathing hard for long periods.
This approach also helped the 3rd of my ride tweaks - the minimal stop. I noticed more experienced riders skipping breaks or making very quick stops. I then looked at many of my rides and I noticed my break times seemed excessive. Last year's Death Ride, for example, I had nearly 3 hours in non-riding time. My TftT breaks were about an hour. I am all for breaks, but I don't seem to get much benefit after a few minutes. I focused on replenishing my water, eating a few orange slices and then getting back on the bike - less than 5 minutes. Since I was eating while riding, I didn't need to worry about eating during the breaks. On this ride I had about 20 minutes worth of breaks (4 minutes per break) - 20 minutes below last year's net break time.
Finally, I focused on a manageable and steady pace. I normally ride at a steady pace, but I made an extra effort to have gas at the end and thus be even more conservative in the beginning of the ride. As one of the heaviest riders in CF, hills are especially challenging and I have to be careful not to burn out on a big climb. I may be slow, but I figured I would be better off minimizing total time vs. reducing just the ride time. This also worked well. Last year, I felt very good on the early Mormon Emigrant climb, but the Carson and Silver Lake (Tragedy Spring Rd) climbs were miserable. Brutal even. I had to stop repeatedly to recover. This year, the climbs were hard, but I only stopped once when some other riders were stopped as well. Last year's "Tragedy Climb" was surprisingly easier. When I finished the ride, I felt good. Tired, but not wiped out or exhausted.
Overall, I was extremely happy with the ride. From a perceived difficulty perspective, I would rate the Iowa Hill, Loon Lake, and Rainbow and Roses rides as harder than this one.
I learned a few valuable lessons. First, always be open to improvement. While my changes were seemingly minor and the ride statistics were nearly identical, my perceived difficulty was dramatically improved. Second, stick with your plan. I could see riders not far ahead of me and I could have caught up. Instead I stuck to my planned pace and caught up due to my faster breaks and ended up finishing ahead of about a half dozen other riders who actually had faster average moving speeds, but used more and longer breaks.
The Death Ride is less than two weeks away and I have a plan I think will work well. I think I am ready!