Michigan Mountain Mayhem – Boyne City, Michigan. Recap, Review and Rehash… And is it too early to sign up for next year? Part 1.
If you read my recap of Kentucky’s Horsey Hundred, you’ll know I did pretty well on it. In the end, I was tuckered out, but I did have a lot of fun, when it comes to the hills, I likes ’em. There aren’t near as many on Michigan Mountain Mayhem (this is the “Beat the Heat Edition”, the original MM goes off in June)…but we climbed about 600 more feet over the century. This means one thing: There aren’t as many hills, but they’re steeper and longer. In fact, a lot of that stuff that I write about momentum and carrying the speed from the downhill into the uphill seems like gibberish by the time you reach the 60 mile marker.
If you want a rewarding ride, if you want to climb some beautiful hills, see some absolutely stunning scenery, and ask yourself at mile 85 why you didn’t take turn for the metric century, this is the ride for you. It’s tough, challenging, rewarding and it will make you use your granny gear. A lot. It will test your fitness and resolve, and it is a very excellently stocked ride when it comes to cyclists’ nutrition (it’s sponsored by Hammer, at least this year appeared to be, they had Hammer Heed and Hammer Gels at every stop). I cannot possibly give this ride a glowing enough review. It was awesome.
Now, with that out of the way… On to the ride. Settle in with a cup of joe, ’cause this is going to take a minute… and at least stick around for the first 1,000 words or so – this one gets interesting.
We set off early, to miss the log-jam of 15 mph cyclists out for the shorter routes as all of the routes start at the same place, the same time and follow the same route. I always like starting out with a big group, but only if I can be out front so I don’t have to wade through the slower cyclists – that gets a little dangerous. The first mile was rather leisurely and caught me off guard. This was my first time at MMM, but Mike rode it last year and Chuck’s been doing it for years. They were taking it easy because they knew what was coming… I, on the other hand, had been to Georgia and North Carolina, to real mountains. I figured this should be a walk in the park, comparatively. Those scenarios never go well, do they? Cue the background mood music. I think Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” works, in a Miami Vice kinda way.
The first climb out of Boyne City started a mile and a half into the 104 mile ride. I don’t remember it as anything terrible, it certainly wasn’t noteworthy, and I was in a playful mood and we rose up out of town. It was going to be just like I thought, a few leg burners, sure, but I was going to come out the other side of this with a smile on my face, thinking, “now that wasn’t so bad”. The next fifteen miles fed that mental narrative and at mile 17, I couldn’t believe we were almost a fifth of the way done. I was feeling stellar and enjoying the hills immensely. At mile seventeen, we were coming down a fairly steep hill that led into a decent little climb so I was tucked to get maximum speed down the hill to carry that into the climb. As I slowed, coming up the hill, I shifted down into the little ring…. And ‘ping’, I looked down and stopped pedaling at the same time – and it’s a good thing I had, as my chain wrapped around my bottom bracket and crank arm. I’d broken my chain. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road to assess the situation. As I tried to fish my chain out from between the frame, front derailleur, crank and chain rings, one side of the chain’s Powerlink dropped to the ground. I knew what had happened. When I downshifted, I hit that Powerlink with the derailleur at just the right point and it popped – it was a one in a billion shift. The problem was first getting the chain out and it was wrapped around itself, but good. After accepting that I was going to get dirty, I just started pulling the thing away, taking care of the paint job. The metal band that is glued to the chain stay to protect the frame was hanging and fell to the ground. Once I got the chain off, I knew I was screwed. I only had one side of my Powerlink. My friends had waited for me but I knew I was getting a ride back to camp. My chain tool was in my tool bag, back at the car – not in my tool pouch that I carry with me every ride. My day was done. At seventeen-and-a-quarter frickin’ miles, my day was done. I called in the SAG wagon and the race director said they’d be there to get me in fifteen minutes.
I watched my friends crest the hill and they were gone. I walked my bike and carried the chain over to the proper side of the road and a two-track driveway. Draped the chain over a rusted metal pole in the ground and figured I’d look for that link. After all, I had fifteen minutes, why waste it? I looked, and looked, eyes peeled, trying to do the geometry in my head… “It broke, and I pulled over pretty fast, so it should be, lets see”… I said a prayer. “C’mon God, I really wanted this one. I’ve travelled a long way and I want to see if I have what it takes. Please help me with this one.”
I looked down, and there was the other side of my Powerlink. I kid you not.
I put my chain back together as quickly as I could, called off the chuck wagon, called my boys and left ’em a message to wait at the next rest stop, and rolled out. About seven minutes went by between the time they left and I stepped back on my bike. I knew how fast I’d have to go to catch up but was worried about what that would mean for later in the day. Well, better to struggle later with my friends than alone. I put the hammer down… One mile down, two… And I turned a corner and looked up. And Up. “Oh, no.”
I shifted to the baby ring immediately and started spinning. I looked straight ahead, rather than to the top of the hill. Out of the saddle, grinding. “Watch the breathing, not too fast or you’ll cook yourself… Okay, we’re doing it… Damn, when does this thing crest? [hazard a look] Crap, just keep grinding. Stay in the granny gear, you’ll get there”… And I did. Later I found out it was 17% and was easily a quarter-mile long. No curves, no switchbacks, just straight up.
I pedaled as hard as I could manage, trying to catch my breath at the same time and just as I was wondering if I’d have what it took to catch my friends, I turned a corner and started down a decent a hill, and I could see them up ahead, getting their snacks in order. I’d done it! I started hollering at them on the way down and it took them a minute for everything to register – I could see the looks on their faces when it clicked. I cleaned up with hand sanitizer as quickly as possible, grabbed a cup of Gatorade, slammed down a banana, hit the head and told my friends about finding the missing link… It was high-fives and we mounted up. I knew this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. This was going to be interesting…
Managing Cycling Fatigue and Dead Legs – Something I Rarely Write About but Adhere To Without Fail. The Key to Unlocking Your Top Speed
When I got home from the office yesterday I wanted a nap. I was tired, my legs a little sore and for the first time in a long, long time, I wanted to just take a day off. It had rained an hour before so not only was it quite hot (90 F), it was ridiculously muggy.
Last week was a 250 mile week. 235 the week before. July 11th was my last real day off the bike. I had 56 miles in as of Tuesday and I should end up with another 150 between Saturday and Sunday… Surely a day off wouldn’t hurt?! Now, for some folks 250 miles isn’t all that big a deal, but for me it is. Full time husband, full time dad, full time job… Pulling thirteen hours a week from that to ride a bike isn’t easy. On the other hand, a fella’s gotta stay fit somehow.
I suited up anyway. Pumped up the tires, ratcheted the shoes down and rode. Slow. I kept it around 16-17 mph and took almost a full hour to ride 16 miles. High cadence, easy gear, and I just rolled on down the road. There were several points along that ride that I hoped nobody saw me because I was going so slow. I had to constantly battle the thought that I should be pedaling just a little harder – surely 18 or 19 mph would be better, I was already feeling a lot better after all. I almost lost that battle in my melon when I dropped down to 15 mph on the way up a small roller.
I didn’t lose though. I kept it slow and steady, kept my cadence up and my speed down. My breathing was steady and easy and I barely needed my mouth open to draw enough air to maintain the pace. In fact, that’s often my test for whether or not I’m rolling out too fast… I’ll close my mouth and just breathe through my nose. If I can’t do that for a half-mile without coming up short of breath, I’m going too fast. On returning home I ate a great dinner and ended up falling asleep before 8 pm on the couch, watching a movie with my daughters. I slept till 3 this morning and woke up recharged and ready to tackle another day. My legs (and attitude) having completely turned around.
I don’t write in much depth about riding slow, other than to include it as something I do so I can ride daily without smoking my legs, because it’s really kind of boring. On the other hand, it’s an integral part of my being able to ride a lot and really fast when I want to. I’ve tried going all out too often and once I get to those spots like yesterday, where all of the miles finally catch up to me, my ability to maintain a decent speed slides drastically.
Starting at the beginning, two years ago I was pretty crazy with the notion of being fast. I thought taking a slow day, a really slow day (or three), in a week was wasting an opportunity to get faster. I thought that, because I could ride so much faster than the average person, my slow days should still be relatively fast. If I wasn’t breathing heavy, even on the slow days, then I was wasting my time. I tried to adhere to the “easy gear, fast cadence” ideal but my idea of slow was way too fast. To make it worse, this desire to always get a “workout” out of a bike ride made me insufferable to ride with for my wife. I was so concerned “getting my workout in” that when my wife couldn’t keep up with my easy pace of 18-19 mph I would become agitated, thinking I was squandering an opportunity to get faster. Eventually I’d come up on some dead legs syndrome and have to take a day or two off to reboot them. My best consecutive streak of cycling back then was thirteen days in a row before I had to rest. Now I’ve been over 22 and currently have an 18 day streak going.
Last year, I tried to do things a little differently. I kept my speeds the same but I took every Monday off, whether I needed it or not. I let a lot of nice days go by so I could “rest up”. I worked on lightening up on my wife a little bit but still harbored a bit of a resentment that she wouldn’t try a little harder – and I’m sure she could feel what I was feeling, even if I tried to hide it. I have no doubt that I was a pain in the ass, at least a little bit, to ride with. I did get faster though. My best Tuesday night average went from 21 mph to 22. A fair jump.
Over the winter I had a change of heart. Part of the blame went to Tour de France coverage from last year (a couple of blogging friends who cover the Tour [thanks Sheree] and backed what I’d heard up) when it was let out that a typical rest day included three hours on the turbo trainer to keep the legs spun up… This made a lot of problems I’d had on Tuesday nights the year before make sense. I was taking a day off at exactly the wrong time – Monday, the day before the club ride. Not only that, I figured if the pros can ride that hard every day, surely I could do the same at a much easier pace, no? The final straw came in the form of a tip from a pro cyclist. I read an article in which it was stated that the problem with most amateur cyclists is that their hard efforts aren’t hard enough and their easy efforts aren’t easy enough. I could completely relate this to the way I’d been cycling for three years. I would have argued that my hard efforts were hard enough back then but when I really looked at it without emotion, they couldn’t have been hard enough because my easy efforts were too hard and always pulling from the reservoir.
And that was the perspective I needed. All of a sudden, 16 mph rides could be enjoyed rather than viewed as time wasted and cycling hasn’t been the same since. My wife and I can enjoy slower rides together and because of those slower bike rides she’s gotten a lot faster, to a point where she can hang with the boys on all but our toughest, longest days. I keep my legs spun up, I have more in the tank when I need it and I’ve actually managed to surpass some of the guys who I used to rely on to pull me around a route. I am becoming the horse I always wanted to be, by riding slower – and I enjoy the sport a lot more for it.
Finally, there is a flip-side to that coin. This isn’t perfect or infallible… If I want to stay fast and continue to get faster, I still have to put in the work on the hard days – but that’s never been my problem.
My big ride for August is coming up in just a few days. Normally it’s the Assenmacher 100 but I’m heading up to Boyne City for the Mountain Mayhem 160 km. With 7,000 feet of climbing over the 104 miles, that’s going to be my big ride this year. The fun little fact here is that, if I’m lucky, in my neck of the woods we might top 3,000 feet on a century, though most gain only 1,000-1,500 feet in elevation. Take the Hoppe 100 we did last week, less than 1,200 feet and really there was only one decent hill the whole ride. In other words, we’ve got some work cut out for us. My friends Mike, Chuck and Phill will be going along as well and thankfully, we’re fairly equally matched when it comes to fitness (we ride together a lot).
So, I’ve been signed up for this ride for a few months now – I knew it was coming up, how tough it would be and I’m more ready for this ride than I’ve ever been for a ride since I began using clipless pedals. Here’s how I got there (and it’s not as tough as you might think):
First and foremost, this is not rocket science: The Number One, most important way for me to get ready for the big ride is lots of saddle time. This year has been especially awesome as my best cycling bud moved just two short miles from my house so we’re riding long miles every weekend – and really, other than my weekend rides being a lot longer (last year was 35-50 miles on Saturday and 16-20 on Sunday, this year is 50-100 miles each day) I’m not doing much more that I did last year.
Second, my overall speed fitness is about the same to slightly better than last year – and I achieved this by riding slower three or four days a week. Seriously. Slower. Monday is a slow day, Wednesday, Thursday and even Friday are slow. The short weekend day is a medium/hard effort and the long day is harder. My only all-out “I’m cooked” day is Tuesday evening. Last year was all hard miles all of the time. My “recovery rides” last year were often more than an 18 mph average and my hardest days were topping out around 22. This year, the recovery rides are more like 16 to 17 mph and the medium efforts are only 18-19… The end result is that I have a lot more gas in the tank when it counts.
Third, Hammer is my friend:
I use the Perpetuem for long ride fuel and Heed for shorter efforts and to go along with the Perpetuem on long rides. They are exceptional liquid fuel alternatives and I don’t leave home without them anymore. On a century, I’d rather have a full complement of Hammer products over an American Express card any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
There’s one other all-important cog that fits in here – and because I’ve done all of the above, because I’ve put in the miles and hammered some really hard rides (the Horsey Hundred to name just one which was almost an identical profile to MM Beat the Heat) and gotten my body in tip-top shape (at least for me, I’m not all that impressive), I’ve got the one thing that is the glue to stick all of these pieces together: I’ve got confidence.
Cycling is almost entirely mental until you get into the anaerobic zone. Once you hit that, you’re pretty much smoked, but leading up to it isn’t all fun and games either. I know exactly how hard I can push, when I can push, and when I have to back off a little bit – because I’ve done it over and over again. There’s a mountain of difference between going into a ride knowing I can do it and hoping I can. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t give it a whirl and challenge ourselves – this ride is going to be a challenge. The trick is, when it really starts to suck (I’d say between 46 and 86 miles looking at that profile), I know I can push through a lot to get to the finish line. I know I can climb, I know I can ride and I’m certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can do the distance. Confidence is everything.
If I don’t have that seemingly elusive confidence, it’s because I skimped on one of the items above – usually the first one. In that case, I deserve what’s coming…
The thermometer read an even 90 when Mrs. Bgddy and I pulled into the school parking lot. The wind was probably out of the northwest but at less than 3 mph it was hard to tell. We really don’t consider it a breeze if it’s below 7.892 mph.
One negative is usually good for us slower guys: Wind. If it’s windy, it’s going to be a relatively tame ride. Sure taking our flogs up front sucks at 23 mph into a 20 mph headwind, but once we drop back in the draft, it’s all good. Recovery is quick and relatively painless. However, no matter how hot it is, if there’s no wind, it’s going to be a fast night.
I started up front as usual, second bike. The second mile was mine and I took the tempo from an easy 19 to 23, and that’s the last time we saw 23. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em…
Mrs. Bgddy was riding with us tonight so I was worried for her as soon as we passed 25. I was feeling fantastic and took quite a few turns up front. Fortunately every time I dropped back from the front I could hear my wife talking a few bikes back (I rarely drop all the way to the back of the pack anymore – too many chances to get dropped back there).
We took every advantage of the lack of wind, hammering down the road at upwards of 28 mph. I managed a look back at 12 miles and heard her talking at 13… From there it got crazy though. We hit the hills at an easy 24 mph and though the speed fluctuated, we hit speeds above that on the way up the last one in the series. After we crested that last hill, we were too fast to risk a glance at the computer. We had to be faster than 28.
Then came the second set of hills and we slowed down considerably, just slowed… I’ve heard of this happening in races, where nobody wants to do the work so the pace momentarily lags, but I’d never seen it up close. So there we were, and I had a fantastic time resting up for the next surge. It was great. I was ready when the pace picked up but I was on my bcb’s wheel and he slipped off as they pulled away. I pulled up alongside and asked if we were done, and he nodded to the affirmative. I was okay with that as I’d noticed my wife had dropped and we’d completed 15-1/2 miles in under 40 minutes. Seriously, do the math… On open roads, a 20 mph average is 46-1/2 minutes (open roads means we respect traffic and traffic signs so we stop when traffic is present.
Mike and I decided to turn around and backtrack to pick up my wife and bring her in. A half mile later we passed Big Joe who said she’d turned back for a shortcut back a couple of miles earlier. That meant we were free to go.
We turned around and set to finishing our ride. I formed up behind Mike and Joe behind me. Mike set the pace at 19.5 but I noticed Phill off the back about 3/4’s of a mile up ahead so I said, “There’s Phill, go get him” but Mike was spent. I took the lead, Joe followed me and I upped the pace by 2 mph and we started reeling him in. We picked up Dave along the way but on the way up the third hill, and this one can actually called a real climb, I dropped everyone but Dave. I slowed down when I saw a full group waiting at the shortcut turn waiting for us. We formed up with a decent group of about 8 or 10 guys and set out to finish the last ten miles.
The heat had a pretty profound affect on a lot of the guys so we dropped a few along the way with our 22-23 mph pace and we ended up finishing strong, managing an overall average of 22 mph. This was far better than I’d expected with all of the turning around and stopping we did throughout the ride but when I think back on it, we really did hammer pretty good – even considering the heat. We were only off our best finishing time ever by less about 30 seconds.
Mrs. Bgddy met up with us on the last few miles and rode back with us for two of them before the pace ratcheted up to 26 again – she’s turning into quite the cyclist having stayed with us for more than 13 miles of the ride today – at speeds up to 28 mph. I was quite stoked for her. In fact, after riding solo for eight miles, then spinning easy back to us before catching on and picking up her speed again, she still managed almost a 20 mph average for her 29 miles (which is absolutely stellar and as good as I could do in my first year).
It was a great, if tough night and I can tell you, dinner tasted extra good last night.
As a side note, special kudos to four of our club members Dave and Greg and two others who finished the Black Bear Bicycle Tour 100 miler in 3h:59m, and to my friend Winston who finished in 4h:06m and his son who finished in 4 hours flat. Also, McMike finally wore his official jersey to the ride last night: