Thursday, July 31, 2014

Consider upping the fitness ante with road biking; it's working for me, but it's still hard!

Here's Steve, circa Spring 1986, doing a citizen race in Boise.
Pleasant Valley Road. What a nerdy helmet, eh? 
Just a young lad at the time ... ha!  
I'm a happy camper at the 3rd summit, with just one more to go ...
Mack Lyons is on the left. 
These two 4 Summit riders are stoked! 
Hi all,

For this week's tip, I wanted to share my fitness training experience over the last few months in preparation for the 4 Summit Challenge, a 72-mile, super-challenging mountain road bike ride in Cascade. I hope that by sharing this information some folks might benefit or have more ideas or recommendations. The game-changer for me has been upping the ante on road-biking for my overall fitness regime. I've lost 20 pounds since March, and I'm riding stronger than I have been in more than 10 years.

I successfully completed the 4 Summit course on Saturday in about 6 hours, including rest and food stops. The best riders finished in 4.5 hours. But this wasn't a race. It's a recreation ride -- so I wanted to make sure I had fun. Getting into the best shape possible prior to the race was part of that strategy.

The ride is truly a mental and physical challenge. It involves more than 6,000 feet of vertical gain and loss, featuring tough climbs to the four summits and thrilling descents in the wooded and gnarly mountains east of Cascade in the Boise National Forest. The paved roads are pretty darn smooth on the course, with a few exceptions, so on the flats and downhills, you can really zoom.

My inspiration for doing the ride was that two of my friends wanted to do it -- Mack Lyons and Paul Hilding. Mack rode the 4 Summits last year. Mack and I ride mountain bikes on a regular basis with a bunch of guys from Boise. One of those guys, Steve Schneider, said the 4 Summits ride set Mack apart. "After he rode the 4 Summit Challenge last summer, no one has been able to stay with Mack on the hills."

Mack is a really strong climber. That motivates all of us to try to keep up: Plus, I used to love to ride long distances on my road bike when I was in my late teens and 20s. I used to ride Lolo Pass from Missoula at the drop of a hat. I rode the 230-mile Tour of the Swan River Valley (TOSRV West) in two days several years in a row. After college, I rode centuries in Oregon and Colorado. When I moved to Boise, I rode the Hays Century Ride and hammered up to Bogus on a weekly basis. But then I bought my first mountain bike in the fall of 1986, and that opened up a whole new world to me. The 4 Summits ride would be the longest road ride I've done in about 25 years.

Get yourself a nice road bike to get excited about road biking. This
model has an aluminum frame and carbon fiber fork. I had them put
three chain rings on the front crank and climbing gears in back.
Most road bikes only come with two chain rings in front and a
flatlander-style gear set in the back. That won't work very well
 for steep mountain roads.  
Another inspiration for me was the fact that I turned 55 last year. My resolution was to try to drop some pounds and get in better shape. Last spring, I kicked the training into high gear.  

MARCH - Wendy and I took a 10-day whale-watching and sea kayaking vacation in Mexico in late February. I got some kind of stomach bug that led to the loss of the first eight pounds. When we returned to Boise, spring riding was beginning in the Boise Foothills, and I hit the trails with gusto. I wanted to keep those pounds off! My pointer Huck runs like the wind out there in the footies when it's cool and breezy. So fun to watch! Love that time of year!
  • I alternated mountain bike rides with the Cartwright 3 Summits Ride ("the dump loop") on my road bike. 
  • I tried to go spinning at the Y several times a week at noon. Over a period of weeks, I found myself pushing higher gears on the spin bike.  
  • At the summit of mountain bike rides, I'd do 100 crunchers to strengthen my core. 
APRIL - Mack, Paul and his wife, Stephanie, and I made the commitment to ride the 4 Summit Challenge. Stef reserved a sweet RV campsite at Lake Cascade State Park. Now we had a goal to shoot for. I was (gulp!) puckered by the challenge that lay ahead.
  • I blogged about roadie events and clubs in April. I started to think about trying to do a Metric Century or full Century for the Bob LeBow Blue Cruise. 
  • I continued to mountain bike a ton in the foothills and tossed in some longer road rides in SW Boise, rides that I call City to Farm. If you need ideas on road biking routes in the valley, pick up my Boise Road Cycling Guide.  
  • At the summit of the mountain bike rides, I worked up to 200 crunchers. 
MAY - Mack, Paul and I did our first significant road ride of the year. We zipped out to Swan Falls Dam from Overland & 5-Mile via Cloverdale. We put in 50 miles on that one. We were all very spent afterwards. Stephanie came out to Kuna to pick us up at a Mexican Restaurant, where we were pounding food and beers. 
  • I started to ride to Bogus on my road bike every so often. That ride helps you get stronger as a climber, and it definitely works your lungs as well. 
  • I tried to ride steep mountain bike rides whenever possible, such as climbing Hard Guy, Stueby's Death March or Watchman. 
  • I cut out my favorite cocktail, Black Russians. Limited those to special occasions. 
JUNE - I rode the Metric Century in the Bob LeBow Blue Cruise. This ride was 64 miles, including riding into a headwind along the Snake River on the way to Marsing. Despite my training, that ride still totally kicked my butt. I felt that I needed to work harder to be ready for a longer ride with much more vertical than the Blue Cruise. 
  • Did a big hike in the Pioneer Mountains ... 12 miles and more than 3,000 feet of gain. 
  • The cool month extended the mountain biking season in the foothills in terms of after-work rides. 
  • I continued to alternate rides on the road bike. 
JULY - I worried about the impact of spending eight days floating and camping on the Salmon River in Central Idaho. I was gone on vacation July 9-16. I tried to lay off the beer on the raft in the afternoons or at least reduce the intake. 
  • On Saturday, July 19, Mack and I rode from Boise to Horseshoe Bend to Emmett, which involves two summits, Horseshoe Bend Hill and Big Freezeout. That was a 60-mile ride. We felt pretty worked after that one. It was my first big ride after being on the river trip. We had a week to go before the 4 Summit ride. 
  • On Wednesday, July 23, I rode the hardest part of the 4 Summit course, the Landmark grade and the backside of the Big Creek Summit grade. That's about a 40-mile ride. It was helpful to know what gears I would be riding in on those grades. I felt I was ready. 
So really, the big difference for me this year has been increasing the road-biking component of my training regimen. By doing gradually longer and longer rides, I increased the amount of calories burned and built endurance. I still enjoyed mountain biking several times a week to exercise my puppy and me. I hope to ride a century later this summer to keep the momentum going.   

I asked a few veteran road riders about their thoughts:

This is what Tom Platt of George's Cycles had to say: "I think road cycling is a better way to attain a base level of fitness and is also a better mode for weight management plans. The rider maintains a consistent (and slightly lower) heart rate versus mountain biking which keeps things more aerobic. This is important in building general fitness and for fat-burning plans.

"We generally start the year getting all of our base mileage on the road (which also corresponds with the weather and trails). Later I like to mix in mountain biking partly because it is fun but also acts like mini-intervals, accelerating the heart rate for short periods during climbs and allowing for recovery on the rollers and minor downhills.

"I think road riding helps your mountain biking by building endurance fitness, and the mountain biking makes you more powerful and helps in climbing ability on the road."

Kurt Holzer, Boise lawyer and active rider and racer: "Riding on the road is far more a Zen experience. It's more about the endorphins. Going long and deep into the endurance reserves like long-distance running. My adrenaline comes in the racing part of it, but that’s a small portion of my overall riding.  Many more miles of rolling along chatting with friends. My greatest pleasure is being part of St. Luke’s Sports Medicine cycling club rides. Over a 2- or 3-hour ride you can talk about families, vacations, books you’ve read, home projects, politics, cooking, whatever as the miles go by and the scenery changes.  

"From an older weekend warrior athlete perspective, there is no question that the way the body makes energy for those steady state road efforts has great health benefits. Obviously riding of any kind  is good for you, but those long days in the road saddle are generally the one that I feel translate more to skiing fitness etc."

A couple of concluding thoughts:
  • Pick up a nice road bike. It'll get you excited about riding on the road.  
  • Build your mileage slowly.
  • Sign up for an ambitious bike event(s) and make that your goal. 
So there you have it! In the blog comments or on Facebook, please share your opinions with me about road biking for fitness and training, or other things that you do that build endurance and burn off the fat. Thanks!
  • On Sunday, Tamarack Resort will run their chairlift to mid-mountain so people can enjoy the Super G Trail and other mountain bike trails in the area. Lift fees are $40. USA Cycling members get a $10 discount. 
  • There's a 12K trail run in the Boise Foothills on Saturday. Sponsored by Bandanna, St. Luke's and Idaho Nordic. 
  • Next big road biking event is the annual Bogus Basin Hill Climb on Saturday, Aug. 16. Sponsored by George's Cycles and Fitness.  
  • Check out the Idaho Statesman annual photo contest winners. Results were announced today.   
- SS 

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