Tag Archives: winter

My Festive 500

14 Jan
The goal is simple: ride 500km between December 24 and December 31.
I rode the Festive 500 the first year Rapha put it out there, back before Kid #3 and when I  was still racing on the road with any regularity.  It was tough but doable as I had a job where I could ride at lunch and group rides to jump on to burn up some of the miles.  It got tougher each year after that.  Travel days, work, riding less in general, another child, a move.  It all added up, but I used it almost every year to try to motivate a burst of riding.  I made it a shorter and shorter distance down the track each year, so to speak.  Last year we were away over Christmas and I didn’t even try.  I think the year before I made it to Dec. 26 before admitting defeat.
I hadn’t much thought about it this year, until something clicked in late November and I knew I had to try again, despite an inconsistent cyclocross-focused training schedule that rarely saw me riding more than 60 minutes at a shot.  I was suddenly determined this year would be different, this would be the year I pulled it off.  With a half-day of work scheduled for December 24 and Christmas Day falling on a Friday, I had a good chunk of time to knock out some miles at the start before my wife went back to work the following Monday and I would have to work things around hanging out with the kids, dinner and bath times, and the like.  I knew this would eventually involve some night riding.  OK, a lot of night riding.

December 24: not at all an auspicious start. The plan had been to get up early to tack some extra km on the ride in to work.  Did I mention I have largely lost the ability to wake up early?  The snooze button and I have a difficult relationship.  Half the time I don’t even remember the alarm going off.  So no pre-work ride apart from the commute.  Nonetheless rewarded for making the effort to ride in with a great sunrise, though. On the way home, I tacked on some extra, enjoying the daylight ride down Berlin’s Ku’damm, delighting in the Christmas lights and last minute shoppers.  Rolled up in time to make it to Christmas Eve mass and my kids in the pageant.  Well, one of them.  The oldest was too cool to be in the play and the youngest slept through the whole mass, missing his potential star turn as a sheep.  I got some miles on the board and felt pretty good for it, despite the worry that I was already behind schedule.  40 km done/ 460 remaining

IMG_5144December 25: Headed out after the Christmas morning bonanza into weak sunshine and a narrow window before guests started piling in for Christmas dinner.  Between the dark and the holidays and not having hooked up with a team here, I was expecting to be alone for most of this week.  This time I actually had some company, with a guy joining me for a loop around the Havel and Sacrow lakes. “You doing the Festive 500 too?” he asked, rolling up from behind.  He was clearly in much better shape than me as I was often just under or at threshold just sitting on. Got the ride done faster as a result but there was no way I was going to be able to keep that up every ride and survive this thing. The GPS battery helpfully died about 9km from home, which meant for the rest of the week I was also obsessing about getting in that “extra” nine kilometers to make sure I got proper credit. And I started getting “where are you?” calls and texts for the last half hour, meaning I had clearly started making people nervous about whether there would be anything on the table for Christmas dinner. 61/399

December 26: The anxiety grows.  Slept in too long, so another day of working the ride in between late breakfast and afternoon prep for a Boxing Day dinner (fewer guests, but still some cooking to be done.)  Also, another day well shorter than the 65km a day you need to average to stay on track. Starting to get nervous as I’m three days in, behind schedule, and patience at home is wearing thin. These are the days where there’s actually someone at home to watch the kids, too. What’s going to happen when I only have pre-dawn, twilight and after-dark hours to get this done?  A big day (or two?) looms in my future. Weather is still weirdly warm; was out in winter jersey (no jacket) and no gloves. 44/355

IMG_5163December 27: Brunch.  F’in brunch.  If there’s something that separates racers from non-racers, it’s brunch.  If training is key, you don’t spend your Sunday mornings sitting around burning up perfectly good daylight and hoping your kids aren’t trashing the upstairs bedrooms while trying to make polite conversation and not letting your anxiety show about how low the sun is sinking in the sky.  Instead, you’re out there training.  Don’t get me wrong, our neighbors are lovely, lovely people and very generous and it was a fun time.  But the other half of me was freaking out about how long we were there.  First night ride of the week, and the weather started to turn.  Hungry the whole ride, obsessing over the Boxing Day leftovers of spiral ham sitting in the fridge and the jalapeño cornbread on the counter.  Starting to get paranoid about my legs, too, setting the power meter as a restrictor plate so I don’t go too hard and trash myself before the end of the week.  Constantly hungry, paranoid, and anxious – I sound like a drug addict.  43/312

CXQFsZ1W8AA3b9pDecember 28: Rode in the dark and cold as long as I could manage, staring straight ahead and zeroing in on that focus point, that spot of perfect stillness within.  Turning the most perfect circles I could with my legs and thinking “action through non-action” again and again and again.  I was trying to run to myself by riding away, seeking to capture that stillness so I could hold on to it and produce it when I need it.  Like when after a great day checking out the new T-Rex skeleton and having a blast bopping around as a wolfpack of four, everything melts down over dinner and bath time and I’m left furious and loathing myself.  So I rode off into the dark and sought that focus point as long as I could until the phone rang with worry.  These are not normal times to be out riding a bike and I’m grateful for the holidays for the lack of cars and the way I can ride by the cozy houses with their twinkling lights out in the front yard and slip in and out of neighborhoods with no one even looking out their windows to see me pass by.  I want that lonely feeling because I want it to make me want to be home when I’m there, where I can find that focus point and that stillness in the middle of chaos.  And the worried phone call brings me home and I wonder if this was the part where Shackleton’s boat is frozen in place, where the whole goal comes splintering apart.  60/252

December 29: There’s always a moment that’s decisive in a big effort. Today was that one. After last night I thought it was over, that I wouldn’t ride at all today. Not even half done.  A few years of attempting the Festive 500 have taught me that you can’t register a zero km day. I didn’t have any extra child care coverage so it was going to have to be worked around spousal working hours, which meant riding in the dark. I had pretty much resigned myself to the quest being over, though I still had plans to go out for a long ride with Carl on the 30th. Why cancel perfectly good ride plans?

Then my wife shoved me out the door, pretty much, saying “aren’t you going to ride?”  So I kitted up after dinner and off I went into the night, cruising through Teltow in the dark with Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” ringing in my ears.  The cold was truly setting in and I was glad for shoe covers and real gloves and the spare glove liners in my pocket. Rolling past oddly whirring windmills in the dark, surprised and then inspired at one point by the rumbling sound of a freight train catching and passing me out by Sputendorf and I felt like I would just keep turning the pedals over and over and over, spinning on into myself in the dark.  My legs didn’t hurt and the cold made me feel alive and the shocked teenagers I rode by just made me laugh.  Maybe this might be possible?  45/207

December 30:  The one day I’d actually shown some foresight and planned in child care, with the babysitter showing up in the early afternoon and plans to meet up with Carl for a long road loop plus whatever I could fit in before dinner. I had hopes for 110km or so, which would mean another long day on the 31st (and a double workout at that). Running it closer than ideal, but I was still in it.

Nonetheless, at 1:00 the sun already looked like late afternoon and the wind was coming up. I was tired and so was grateful for the company as we rolled south out of town, or the temptation to just bag it and go home would have been strong. It was a cold, cold wind blowing out of the southeast. Carl and I chatted and occasionally traded off at the front to give the other a rest. As we ground through the dorfs and past farm fields and yet more windmills the sun flared ever more orange toward the horizon. We bounced over the cobbled stretch at Kietz and my legs went from sprightly to fried in the span of about eight minutes. A water refill at Carl’s place when he dropped off near dusk and I was back out on my own, and the wind now seemed to come from every direction. (I’d also screwed up the GPS tally again by forgetting to start the timer after leaving Carl’s place.)  As the sun set I foolishly added on an extra out and back climb, thinking that the standard Grünewald loop wouldn’t get me the klicks I needed. The wind and my failing legs meant I was crawling at this point, though, and I had to then turn the loop into another out and back to get home only an hour after dark. I dragged in at 110km on the day, obsessed with the notion of a beer and ham and a hot shower and trying not to think too much about the double stage I had just teed up for myself on New Year’s Eve. 113/94

December 31:  Part 1 — my alarm went off at 04:45, and motivated by fear of falling short because of something mundane like oversleeping, I made a beeline for the coffee machine.  The morning was cold and windy and clear, with a low moon casting shadows through the trees. The wind was blessedly at a different angle than the night before, so there were actually a few tailwind sections. All the same, it was a slog, the lowest point on the bike all week in physical terms. My knee ached. For the first time I feared I wouldn’t physically be able to do this or that I would destroy my chances of riding this spring. Dread flickered through my mind with each pedal stroke while paradoxically I’m thinking keep ticking over ticking over ticking over and then I’m rolling up the driveway and craving a nap. Just around 50km left to go, too close to give up now.  50/44

Sent the wife off to work with her coffee, and managed to get about an hour of sleep in.  This was disproportionately rejuvenating.  After a frantic run to the grocery store for supplies ahead of New Year’s and Sunday closures and the kids’ mega sleepover (five kids in one house for three days is almost a blog-worthy epic in itself), and resorting to giving myself a haircut when I couldn’t find anywhere open or available, I kitted up to roll out as soon as my wife returned from her own hair appointment.  We had formal New Year’s plans, you see.  If I was crawling like I had the night before or just this morning, this could get ugly.
Part 2 — I got out just before dusk and set out on the same lake loop as on Christmas Day.  The wind was gone, the clouds were holding in a little more heat, and my legs somehow felt better than either of the previous two days.  It was a lovely ride, remarkable only in its unremarkable…niceness.  I felt good, and watching the lights come on and the first fireworks from those too impatient to wait until midnight was as far away as possible from the willful sensory deprivation of earlier in the week.  In perfect symmetry, I ticked over 500km at the same spot where the GPS battery gave out on Day 2.  A light rain started, and I marveled at having been so lucky with the weather – only the second time I had been rained on all week.  I rolled home damp and ahead of schedule and did a meek little hop of joy once I got off the bike – I was so much more tired than I realized.  59/-15
The Festive 500 is of course trivial, arbitrary, and silly – it is, after all, a marketing gimmick by a cycling clothes company.  It’s also a real challenge.  Not so much for the distance, but for the time management, motivation, and relationship hurdles that come with putting in that many hours in the saddle in the season with the shortest days and most social obligations.  I like to pretend that the kids noticed that I was out riding in the dark and the cold to meet a goal.  I thanked my wife for indulging my pursuit of lines on a map and numbers on a computer screen.  How does that shake out in the end balance?  I’m not sure.  But I do think now about that freight train, a chain of black shapes and red lights against a dark sky, rolling on through the night, sure of its destination.
Totals:  515 km, 18 hours 47 minutes.

Rapha Festive 500: Rediscovering Winter Training

1 Feb

I mulled over what to post too long and Rapha has already announced their choices for best postings from the Festive 500.  (Though to be honest, their interim update post had a better texture to it.) I have well and truly missed the boat.  But this is something I want to write, so here it is.

Winter training for the road rider can be as much a psychological challenge as a physical one.  Rousting yourself to get out the door and into the cold becomes a barrier built up one excuse and one hesitation at a time. Too cold, too dark, too windy, too lonely, too boring. Except it’s not, and it’s never as hard as one imagines once you actually get dressed and swing a leg over the saddle.

So the challenge tossed out by the folks at Rapha — 500 km in the last eight days of the year — was a welcome excuse of a different sort.  A good reason to end the post-cyclocross layoff and head into a heavier winter base than I’ve done in my last few seasons. A good reason to kickstart the winter and fall in love with neoprene again.

I fell woefully short of 500km.  A day lost in the car either way en route to Christmas at grandma’s and the blizzard that set in moments after I rolled up the driveway one day just as snow started to stick guaranteed that I wouldn’t make up for my slow start.  In the end, that didn’t matter.  The Festive 500 worked. I got a rolling start on the season, leading to my best January training totals in years.  Better, I got a reminder that it’s fun to ride.  Putting in hours in the saddle on quiet winter roads is a joy to be treasured, not a penance to be endured.

Chapeau, Rapha.  I still can’t afford your clothes but I am in your debt for this one.

Gear Review: Specialized Sub Zero Gloves

30 Jan

I’ve been a Pearl Izumi fan for gloves since college when I dropped the then-princely sum of $45 on a pair of their AmFib gloves.  Wore the heck out of those things and replaced them with two more pairs of the same.

Our team shop doesn’t carry Pearl Izumi, so upon burning through the latest pair earlier this winter I went with Specialized’s cold-weather offering, the Sub Zero. Mostly a mitten, the Sub Zero takes the lobster claw split-finger style and converts it into a two-layer mitten with separate “trigger finger.” The outer cover is windproof and waterproof and has a large gauntlet cuff with a drawstring and cordlock for a tight seal.

To be honest, I’ve been a bigger fan of the inner liner than the glove as a whole. The liner is lightly fleeced softshell fabric with rubberized strips on the palm. It’s a great glove for 35-50 degrees and the softshell breathes beautifully while holding up to drizzle and road spray.  With a redesigned cuff to provide a better seal, Specialized could easily sell this glove on its own. It was ideal on a five-hour ride with the team a few weeks ago that began in sub-freezing temps but warmed up to the 40s after an hour or two, when the outer cover could be easily stowed in a jersey pocket.

With the outer cover, you’re set for anything above 20 and possibly a bit lower.  This glove has been great in dry and damp conditions, and even an hour in sleet and freezing rain. The only thing I haven’t tried so far is several hours in the wet, but it would be ungrateful to complain about not having that opportunity this winter.

What I haven’t worked out so far is how to be truly comfortable with the split-finger design. It lends warmth — these are truly toasty gloves — but it’s not a perfect solution to the tradeoff for dexterity. Unlike a lobster claw with the index and middle fingers together, the single finger allows for easier (but not perfect) shifting from the hoods. However, for my hands, at least, braking and shifting from the drops are a challenge, and not one for roads with any level of traffic or challenging curves.

Botom line: great cold-weather glove, if a bit awkward on the drops. If you can’t keep your hands warm in these, you should have your doctor check for circulatory problems. The liner is amazing and will be a mainstay of mine as soon as we emerge from the depths of winter.

Right now.

15 Jan


Teeth brushing.

Cool tingle of chamois balm.

Layering clothes on.  Embro starts to warm.

Buzz of the coffee grinder.  Trying to pull a decent shot while still groggy.

Jamming more oatmeal down than I truly want to eat.

Last sip of coffee as the embrocation blossoms into a full burn.  Time to saddle up.

Check tire pressure, brace for the first rush of cold air as I step out the door.

Breathe deep as legs move from turning clunky squares to spinning circles and icy wind squeezes water from my eyes.  Peculiar sort of freedom on a winter morning.

In case you’re wondering…

9 Jan

Three-and-a-half hours on the bike at 24 degrees plus 18-25 mph winds equals:

  • Voler team bib shorts
  • MadAlchemy Jeremy Powers embrocation (esp. on knees)
  • SmartWool calf-height ski socks
  • Sugoi MidZero knee warmers
  • Sugoi MidZero tight (key thing here is the fleece back on both the knee warmers and tights)
  • Craft Gore WS short sleeve baselayer (which they seem to have stopped making, but they’re still doing a long sleeve version)
  • Voler team long sleeve jersey (made from their GeoTherm fabric, which has a brushed fleece backing)
  • Giordana Winter Jacket from my Icelandic team
  • Sugoi team custom Windblock Jacket (for extra wind protection and so that I had something in team kit on top)
  • DMT Radial road shoes
  • Chemical air-activated toe warmers
  • Specialized Neoprene shoe covers
  • Specialized Sub-Zero gloves
  • Sugoi tuke under helmet

Result?  Maybe a tad overdressed, but actually pretty comfortable for the whole ride.  Nothing I couldn’t manage with temperature control via zippers.  Dressing for dry cold is fairly easy, though.  It’s cold and wet that always gives me trouble.  Any recommendations for a top-quality rain shell?

1/1/11 Ride in Photos

1 Jan

Gear Review: Specialized Neoprene Shoe Covers

10 Feb

I have an annual love affair with mudguards, neoprene, and other wet-weather bits that enable riding through winter and early spring.  My latest fling has been with Specialized’s Neoprene Shoe Cover.  These improve on the basic bootie in ways that make you wonder why no one thought of them earlier.

I’ve trained and commuted with these covers through Washington DC’s coldest and snowiest winter on record.  The neoprene is good and thick and works as expected.  The bonus in colder conditions, though, is the improved zipper and ankle closure.  Specialized moved the fully-separating zipper to the inside of the foot, and added a reflective hook-and-loop strap at the top of the bootie.  The result is a tight seal keeping heat in and wet out, and less work getting the covers on and off.  Apparel manufacturers: spare us our epic stories of mid-ride duct tape repairs and switch to this setup for less strain on those delicate zippers.

One quibble — despite scuff-resistant material reinforcing the toes, a hole is already starting in one cover from putting a foot down at traffic lights and my short post-lockup walk at work.  For $50, booties should last more than one season.