Follow Ross To Work Day #4 – The Amtrak Leg

The Amtrak Bay Area Commuter Train (aka Amtrak Capitol Corridor) is actually a fairly comfortable service.  The run hourly or less between Sacramento and Oakland, with some of the trains heading east as far as Auburn, and south/west as far as San Jose.  Almost all of the cars have standard electric outlets to allow you to power your laptop and other electronics without fear of draining your battery.  That, coupled with the fairly spacious seats with either full tables or fold down trays makes working on the commute a very viable option.  In fact, the entire previous post was done in transit between Davis and Fairfield.

They also have a cafe car – or, more accurately, a snack bar.  Drinks and a couple of microwaved offerings make up the menu.  And yea – alchoholic beverages are available.  The prices are a little on the steep side, but nothing compared to, say, a hot dog at a sports arena.  You’re always able to bring your own food along as well.

On this morning, the train left right on time – 7:00am.  I often get a kick out of watching the auto driving commuters on I-80 coming out of Sac heading towards Davis and teh Bay Area.  Usually I get to be all smug about the fact that I’m, not stuck in that traffic.  Today, however, traffic seemed pretty light.  [video clip]

I was finally able to catch some video [video clip] of the delta between Fairfield and Suisuin Bay.  Everytime I go through here I always imagine Lord of the Rings, and Gollum leading the Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes.  OK – guess I’m a geek…

Across the bridge near the Suisun naval reserve fleet, past petro refineries, past C&H sugar, Richmond and Berkeley and finally Emeryville. From here, I transfer to a bus that takes me across the Bay Bridge [video clip] to the Caltrain station and 4th & King in San Francisco.  Time for another train.

Some mornings, however, I’ll traverse SF a little differently.  Depending on timing, weather and my general mood, I may actually take the bus and get off at either the Hyatt in the Financial District, or the Ferry Terminal.  From there, I’ll ride along the Embarcadero to Townsend street.  Makes for a nice, quick and generally enjoyable ride.

That’s it for Amtrak – and I board the Caltrain #236, leaving San Francisco heading south on the peninsula at 9:37am.  Last leg of public transit for the morning.

Follow Ross To Work Day #4 – Alarm Clock to Train

Those of you who have followed my twitter feed, Facebook, or read the (unfortunately now defunct) SacraFrisco Commuter blog will be familiar with Follow Ross to Work Days (FRTWD).  Here, I chronicle my normal commute from my home in Sacramento, CA to my place of employment in Palo Alto, CA.  For those of you already doing the jaw drop “oh my gawd” expression – hold on.  I don’t actually do this every single day.  It averages about 3 days a week.  I also don’t drive it – instead opting for a Bike-Train-Bus-Train-Bike combo.

Why is this FRTWD different or better than previous ones?

One word – technology.  A second word – Droid.  This time around, I’ll be including GPS maps and video along with the normal photo work.  As mentioned above, the most up-to-the-minute information and photos will be on my Twitter feed – which is also replicated to my Facebook status.  If you’re looking for more of a “digest” form than this blog is the place for you.  Here goes….

Alarm Clock sounds…

This morning was a 2-snooze-button morning, but I managed to make it out of the house even a little early. I knew the streets were wet from rains last night (but it wasn’t raining at the time) and that I’d loose some time as I juggled gadgets trying to capture as much content as possible for these posts.  The plan was to get a little video of the ride in, as well as map the route.

For the GPS stuff I’d actually decided to use two apps on the Droid.  One – CardioTrainer – is the one that I’ve been playing with to track my training rides.  I was planning to use this for the shorter segments (like the house to the train station).  It tracks cool information like calories burned, etc.  The second I’d just downloaded the night before – EveryTrail.  The plan was to use this to track the entire trip – from leaving my driveway to arriving at the office.

Well – I kinda blew it on the CardioTrainer portion.  I simply forgot to hit that uber-fancy “Start” button to make it actually record my trip.  Oh well.  EveryTrail is recording the overall trip, however.  It still remains to be seen if I’ll have an uploadable map to share when this is all done.

6:10am: So now we’re out the door and on the bike.  Things are going as normal for my commute.  The streets are pretty wet, but there is no rain falling.  I’ve got about 5 different variations on the trip to work, and I choose the easier one (as far as effort on the bike) to give myself ample time to play with the camera.  It also happens to pass through Land Park – which is where I plan my first video.  Unfortunately, before I get to the park the rain starts to fall.  In the interest preserving the Droid from electronics-unfriendly moisture – no video.

Not sure there is much else to really say about the ride in.  The rain got harder and I got wetter, but arrived at the train with ample time.  I skipped my normal Starbucks Espresso for the morning – more out of laziness than anything – and boarded the 7:00 am train at about 6:43.  Let the train ride begin!

Making Great Gains By Going Absolutely Nowhere

As we approach the winter months it can become harder and harder to get outside on the bike.  Not only can the weather be a challenge, but it gets darker earlier so you may be out of daylight by the time you get home from work.  All of these things can really hinder a training schedule.  I’ve got additional challenges I face – as a week out of every three or four I have work duties that demand my laptop always be with me.  Not only is it a hassle to carry it around while riding, getting stuck on the bike trail should I be called upon to actually use that laptop is not a happy proposition.  What is a cyclist to do?

Performance Bicycle RollersWell – my solution was to get a set of indoor rollers.  This solution was partially enacted when I found a used set on Craig’s list.  I think I paid the guy like $45 or something.  Not only was there a full set of rollers, but there was also a fork stand so that I could hard-mount the bike and just have the back wheel spinning.  Good thing too – the belt that is supposed to accompany a set of rollers had broken on the previous owner.  After a couple of sessions bracketed into the fork stand, I began my search for the replacement belt.  6 bucks a about 7 days later, the belt was in place, the fork stand was removed and I was ready to give the rollers a “whirl” for real.

I started out next to an object I could grab onto to – my “safety handle”.  I held on and started to pedal.  10 seconds later, my front wheel was off the rollers and I was clinging to my safety handle for dear life.  Wow…

So rollers are a little tricky to get used to to say the least.  I put about 20 minutes into that first session, and never managed to do much more than one hand on the safety grip, on hand on the handlebars, and a lot of starts and stops trying to keep in a straight line.  I’d read that riding rollers is not only good for basic strength/endurance workouts, but also greatly improves your bike handling skills as well.  Yea – I can see why.

After that first attempt, I moved the rollers into the door frame for my second attempt.  This is definitely the way to go.  What worked best for me was to position it so that my elbows were right where the door jam was.  This way, with both hands on the handle bars, I could gently stick out my elbow and put a little pressure against the door frame if I started to fall one way or the other.  The other thing I found was – just like on the road – for some reason looking down at the front wheel as it is spinning is not a good strategy for maintaining your straight line.  In fact, when I looked across the room at the TV and didn’t target my every thought on keeping my bike straight on the rollers, I actually found I could do it a lot easier.  It really is like riding on the road if you don’t get all hung up about it.  Only thing is, you’ve got to stay within about a 3 foot space (depending on the size of your rollers) or you’ll be in a world of hurt.

I thought a little bit about the nightmare scenario – namely falling off the rollers, hitting the floor at full speed and shooting across the living room.  However, in practice I found that if anything the front tire falling off seemed the most likely scenario.  And, if the front tire were to fall off but the back tire were still on there really is no forward momentum as far as the floor is concerned.  I don’t think the physics will allow the cartoon-inspired “hit the ground and ride straight through the opposite wall” possibility.

So currently I’ve got at most 20 miles on the rollers.  Not a lot of miles for sure, and I’m definitely no pro, but the clumsy feeling is starting to go away.  I imagine sometime within the next 100 miles done indoors it will become less painful that going out in the pouring rain.  Well, ok, the riding in the rain isn’t really all that painful.  But I absolutely hate needing to clean up the damn leaves and road gunk from my down tube … while it is still raining.

Apparently only women run

So I’m on the verge of getting my hands on a Droid and I was scoping out the applications I can use for tracking my cycling with that device.  One that comes up quite a bit is CardioTrainer from Work Smart Labs.  The reviews of the app seem good, but something stuck out when I looked at their website.  Specifically the picture there:

So what the hell – apparent 3 times the number of women run as compared to men?  And the men are always in the lead?  Oh yea, and 66% of the women run with strollers.  I’m generally not one to identify reasons to be offended by advertising, but this one seems kinda, well, too obvious to ignore to me.

Ross starts running? Is that possible?

Well, no.  It is actually not possible.  I’ll never be able to run distances.  I’m a pretty damn good sprinter – at least for someone who doesn’t try to be a sprinter.  I’ve always been pretty quick.  But I just can’t run distances.  As soon as I’m not going balls out, fast as I can, I just fall apart.  Running at a controlled pace just doesn’t work for me.  I feel all awkward and weird.  My legs feel like they are both in casts.  I feel like I’m going to fall over at any minute.  I’ve got no rhythm – no form.  I’ll just never be an endurance runner.

At least, that’s what I used to think.

3987144145_6676dbaa99Then a funny thing happened.  I know of this great place out in Ione, CA called Clark’s Corner (link here).  Kraig Clark, one of the folks responsible for Clark’s Corner, is a triathlete that can list the Paris Ironman in his list of accomplishments. Also among his list of accomplishments – dealing with me as a subordinate.  He was co-founder of the company I used to work for.  I’d always known Kraig as a runner and cyclist, so I wasn’t surprised when I got an email from Kraig regarding an event he was planning for Clark’s Corner.  Apparently, he was getting some guy called Barefoot Ted (Ted’s personal blog here) to come out and talk.

Did I mention that I am not a runner?  Well, needless to say I’d never heard of this Barefoot Ted guy.  Nor the book Born To Run (available from among others) that chronicled some of his adventures.  However, it was an excuse to get out for the night.  It was also intriguing that Kraig had arranged for a former executive Sally Edwards of Fleet Feet to interview Barefoot Ted.  If I understood correctly, a woman who listed one of the most successful athletic shoe sellers on her resume was going to interview a guy that – as far as I could tell – was totally against all shoes, and especially athletic shoes.   Besides, maybe I’d run into some folks that I used to work with and missed having contact with.  So, I moved some stuff around and headed out to the event in Ione.

The entire night was great.  The food was good.  The atmosphere was good.  I’m sure I’ll post in the future about Clark’s Corner (I’m planning a ride out there sometime in the next few weeks.)  But now is about running.  Now is about the fact that I can’t run.  I was listening to the dialog of a die-hard runner.  A guy that was beyond die hard.  This guy was a barefoot runner – someone the die-hard runners thought was nuts.  I was completely out of my element.

And yet somehow, I was enraptured.  Something about what this guy was saying just struck true.  I listened to how he talked about running barefoot, and I was reminded of being a child.  I grew up in a rural area, and I was surrounded by acres of crusher-rock gravel.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to walk across this type of surface, you’ll know it can hurt like hell.  Somehow, as a kid needing to get around on this surface on those summer days when I just didn’t have my shoes with me, I’d instinctively learned how to walk in a way that minimized the pain.  I’d point my toes towards the ground with each step, landing on the balls of my feet instead of the heel.  By doing this, I was able to quickly move across the sharp gravel without pain.  This wasn’t some “brainstorm” that I came up with on my own, it just seemed natural.

And this was exactly what it sounded like Barefoot Ted was describing.

I won’t dwell on that actual night too much.  Let’s just say I did in fact get to talk to folks I hadn’t talked to in a while.  And I was inspired to buy a copy of Born to Run before I left.  And – oh yeah – I was so bold as to have Barefoot Ted sign it.

Withing a few weeks after that, I’d started to read the book as I commuted on the train.  I also won’t talk to much about the details of what is in the book – just go read it.  It is a paradigm shifter.  By the time I was done reading it, I was actually entertaining the remote possibility that I may actually be able to run distances.  I actually considered the remote possibility of seeing myself running 5, 10, 20 miles – sans shoes.  All of these for a guy that couldn’t run one half of a mile without feeling completely clumsy and introducing pain into muscles that just seemed incapable of working properly.

These ideas stuck with me for a couple of days.  Finally, today, I decided to do something crazy.  I unfolded the treadmill we’ve got in the living room, kicked off my shoes, and started jogging.  This was sort of a trial by fire experiment – let’s see if I could go a mile.

I felt kinda funny at first.  It felt right, but completely new.  My wife Melissa popped out of the other room and watched what I was doing.  She’d been listening to me ramble on about the science of proper footfalls and proper (or should I say, natural) form since I started reading the book.  She got down and watched my feet striking the treadmill.  She commented on how good my form looked – upright, not my normal “man carrying 85 pounds in an invisible backpack” stance.  After chatting with Melissa for what felt like a few seconds, I looked at the display on the treadmill.  I’d run about a quarter of a mile at that point.

A QUARTER OF A MILE?!?!?!  Now I know, that doesn’t sound like much.  Hell, marathoners go over 100 times that far.  But I wasn’t a marathoner.  I was a guy that thought the 200 yard dash was “pushing it” – preferring to stick with the 100 yard or 100 meter sprints.  And that guy – Mr. Legs Everywhere When Not Sprinting – had just casually run through a quarter of a mile without even thinking about it.

In the end, I managed to easily coast through my mile in about 12:12.  Again, I know, nothing to get excited about.  Until you understand that I couldn’t even do that when I was running track in Jr. High School.  There were a couple of discomforts – a little bit of tightness in my calves, and a slight tingly/burning sensation on the heel of my foot in the arch.  But I’m pretty confident that these are just the result of stretching and/or using muscles that I haven’t used in a long long time.  Cycling tends to be very muscle specific, meaning cycling builds up cycling muscles, and consumes non-cycling muscles.  I ran a mile.  I ran a mile barefoot.  I ran a mile and it felt comfortable.

I’m definitely not jumping the gun, thinking this revelation means I’m suddenly a marathoner or ultra-marathoner.  But it is a damn site better than I thought I was capable of last week.  And I can’t wait to see what I can do next week.

Madness Manifestos Vol 1

Random thought of debatable worth:

  • You’ll never get a second chance to blow your second chance.
  • Pessimism is best.  You’ll either be proven right, or be pleasantly surprised. (nods to Curtis)
  • If given a choice, flooding is always preferable to burning.  When flooding, if you don’t drown, your injuries will be irrelevant.  Burns hurt like hell.
  • Competition is a team effort.
  • Throwing up from a hangover does not purge the Facebook and Twitter updates you posted while drunk.
  • If it seems too simple, remind yourself that you are not that smart.

Details on the Folsom Ride

The ride from south Sacramento to Folsom and back went great.  Not only did I have an extremely enjoyable ride, but I definitely got a little training stimulus (judging from the slight ache in my legs the next morning) and learned a thing or to as well.

in_flightI got a nice, ease in introduction to the ride.  After the 8 miles or so to get through down town and Old Sacramento to Discovery park, I initially settled into an easy 18mph pace.  I probably had a decent tail wind for some of that (based in a large part to the head wind I had coming back.  More on that in a minute) so that pace actually had me gliding on the slightest decline.  As I approached a family on the trail, I quickly glanced over my left shoulder preparing to go around them.  There was someone else right there, sitting on my wheel.  No idea how long they had been there, but as I became aware of them I knew they were keeping up with me.  I could hear the guy breathing.

Didn’t bother me any – I was riding at my pace anyhow.  But, on a whim and after about 1-2 miles of dragging this guy along I decided on an experiment.  I faded to the far right of the trail and slowed down.  Sure enough, he pulled right around me.  A couple of quick hard pushes and I was right off his wheel.  He was pulling a harder pace than I had been – 21-23 mpg – so things sped up a little.  This was the first time I’d really been on a wheel at any significant speed and it was great.  I was actually gliding a significant amount of the time.  We must have gone for another few miles at least with him in the front.  Finally, some rolling hills and turns brought our speed down under 19, so I made my way around the front for my pull.  Same thing again – couple of miles, started to feel heavy in the legs, faded back, he took the front again.

By this point we were traveling through a park.  There was a little traffic – kids swerving around on the trail, and I had to grab the brakes.  That, coupled with the fact that I was juggling my cell phone in one hand, lead to a pretty significant gap between myself and our mystery cyclist.  I dropped down a gear and accelerated to catch up.  I’d probably bridged about half of the gap when I started to feel it in the legs.   I’m pretty sure I could have caught him, but I was only 30 miles or so into my planned 75, and was still in conservation mode.  I had to back off and let him go.  Felt a little guilty for not taking my fair share of the pulls but hey – hope you enjoyed your ride.  I cruised the rest of the way to the Highway 50 / Folsom Blvd interchange solo.

windy_bike_trailFrom here things got a little more interesting for me.  I’ve never ridden the trails bast this point.  It gets really pretty along the river between highway 50 and Old Folsom.  The trail gets nice and curvy, with some great short hills in there.  Really pretty.  I have to admit, though, this is one of those places that makes me selfishly wish this wasn’t a mixed use trail.  Some of those descents down into sharp curves would be a blast down in the drops, but you never know what might be right around that sharp corner.  Had to keep the speed in check to keep things safe.

I finally found my self at a dead end – the trail just turned to a dirt path.  What the hell?  Where was I?  I looked around and noticed a large two story building that seemed somehow familiar.  Looking at the top floor balcony I noticed 20 or so bikes hanging from hooks.  Oh yea – this is Bicycles Plus.  Now I know where I am.

But I was quickly confused again – probably just because I’m an “out of towner.”  I knew where I wanted to go – Coffee Republic for lunch.  Trouble was, I wasn’t sure of the best way to get there from where I was.  I wandered around a bit and finally found myself on the newer bridge across the river.  From here, I just had to manage the traffic and get myself to a position where I could make a left hand turn across a busy 4 land road.  Done and done.

folsom_bridgeCoffee Republic is a great place to end (or in my case, take a short break from) a ride.  I’ve seen a lot of postings from clubs using that as their meeting point, so I had the general impression that is was very bike friendly.  Sure enough, as I pulled up there were at least 5 other cyclists already there.  They’ve got a great covered patio area with lots of floor space, so you can drag your bike in right next to your table and not have to stress through the whole meal trying to keep an eye on your faithful steed.

The ride back was pretty much the same thing in reverse except for a could of “minor” changes:

  • Strong headwind
  • Less energy
  • No one to share pulls with

Right around the 50 mile mark I seriously tanked.  I could barely keep the bike moving.  The wind was gusting against my chest, and with each gust I’d watch 5 mph fall from my speed.  My legs were burning, my chest was heaving.  This was my learning moment – I’d made a mistake.  I’d stopped taking on carbs before I got to Folsom as lunch was planned.  I also didn’t consume any more as I started riding out of Folsom.  I’d forgotten that things like wheat bread and potato salad – while delicious – take some time to digest.  I was seriously out of fuel.

Luckily this time I’d tried something different.  I normally fill my bottles with just plain water, but this time I’d stocked up on Gatorade.  I drank pretty much a full bottle between miles 50 and 55, and by mile 60 I was feeling strong and fit again.  Still had the head wind to battle from time to time, but now it wasn’t completely in charge.  I ended my ride on an up note, rolling into a friend’s house for dinner.

Mission accomplished!  What did I learn?  Well, consume enough carbs.  Aside from that – riding a century?  Totally within my range.  A metric century?  I’ll do those before breakfast.  Double century?  Well – ask me about that after next July!

P.S. I’ve added a map of this ride to the “Rides and Routes” page.  You can also find it under ‘Pages’ on the right hand panel.

Sunday Ride

Gearing up to head out to Folsom and back – along the American River Bike Trail.  Route is available on MapMyRide (link here) if you are interested.

The plan is to stop for food in Folsom somewhere – but where?    I’ll let you know how it goes after I get back.