The Late Season Blues

It’s this time of year that I find it hard to get excited about five hour endurance rides, 6AM swim practices, and three-a-day workouts in general. The mental and emotional energy that it requires to continue the day-in day-out slog grows exponentially the closer you get to fall. Some days, no amount of coffee will summon the strength needed to just get through a workout, let alone make it a quality one.

It’s late August and the bike racing season is rapidly coming to an end. The same is not true for triathlon. I have another nine weeks to push through, and that’s after cutting off four weeks in November that I’d originally planned on doing, leading up to race Cozumel full.

I think a big part of my recently lost passion for training comes down to a few things:

1) I haven’t raced very much this year due to injuries. Injuries are part of the game, especially early on in a tri “career” because of the newfound demands on the body. I think I’ll  be much more structurally sound next season, which will hopefully result in missing fewer races than I sign up for (I’ve signed up for 10 halfs this year and have only raced two). Going for long spells without a race is hard for some, good for others. For me, I need the motivation of a race to get the most out of my body and mind during training. I know that others (freaks) are content racing only race a few times a year.

2) Progress is harder to see in triathlon than in cycling because the gains in each sport are smaller over a given period of time. In addition to that, the overall fatigue level is higher in triathlon due to not having to taper as often for races. As a cyclists, you get to test yourself every week or every other week in races, which keeps the motivation high and the need for having somewhat sharp legs necessary on a regular basis. As a triathlete you’re only racing once every five or eight weeks (or much less in my case). Because of the infrequency of needing to taper, you don’t see your true fitness reveal itself very often.

3) When expectations fall far short of reality, depression often ensues. I’m not downright depressed by any means, but I’m definitely in a bit of a slump due to the lack of racing, battling frequent injuries, and most of all not having the results I thought I was capable of at the beginning of the year. My only result of the season to speak of is 6th at Coeur d’Alene, and I didn’t even feel like that was a true showing of my fitness due to the injured hip. And a 6th surely won’t attract any sponsors. It’a all about getting free stuff, mind you.

Michael and I have decided for me to take an early taper for Santa Cruz, relocate some motivation while I rest, and start up again strong leading into the race, which is just 12 days away. My hip still hurts a tiny bit but doesn’t seem to slow me down or grow worse after runs, so I’m cautiously optimistic (on the outside) for a good result. On the inside I’m irrationally optimistic. Getting my hopes and dreams crushed in Santa Cruz will be just what the doctor ordered to get my motivation back for the last two months of racing. Nothing like a good ass kicking to want to train. Seriously. It’s strange that falling short of expectations can have two opposite affects depending on the time-frame. Season-long shitty performance is bad for the mind, yet having a shitty race is good for the mind in the weeks immediately following it. Science.

One of the important things to remember is that sometimes pushing through periods of lackluster motivation can take their toll later on. Often it’s wise to just take a few days, or weeks, to rest and let the motivation come back on its own. It’s amazing what a few days of being a normal human being will do to you. It makes you antsy.

IMG_1244

God my life sucks.

IMG_1245

Just kidding!

Riding Your Bike is 78 Times More Dangerous Than Driving Your Car

Sometimes (all the time) riding on the road feels incredibly sketchy, to put it lightly. I’d say that during a ride I feel threatened nine out of 10 times I get on my bike. I’ve often wondered if it’s more, equal, or less dangerous than other outdoor sports like whitewater kayaking, mountaineering, rock climbing, or surfing. Of course, it depends on the level or extremeness of the sport in which you’re partaking. Obviously class V kayaking is more dangerous than going out for an hour spin, while heading out in waist-high surf is probably quite a bit safer than riding your bike to the grocery store and back. So maybe this comparison of bike riding and other sports isn’t the best option. Also, the danger that comes with going out in big surf or that of attempting to summit a 25K foot mountain is self- or nature-inflicted. One in the same, really. The main danger that comes with riding is not. It is inflicted by other humans, which is incomprehensibly more offensive and maddening.

Since the majority of people in the U.S. (and the world) use bikes as transportation, not for sport, a better “danger comparison” is to driving. U.S. roads are continuing to get more dangerous, what with the country having bounced back from its 2007 recession. More people with jobs, plus cheaper gas, means more injuries and fatalities. Yay, economy! Also, cell phones.  Put it down and leave it down when you’re in the car god damn it. I don’t care if you “only” use it when stopped at red lights.

Now, onto the statistics:

According to the U.K.’s Department of Labor, a person riding a bike is 17 times more likely to die, per mile, than someone driving. It may not sound like it, but this is HUGE. To my knowledge the U.S. has never put together any data like this, so I will. I came up with a very similar number for us here in the U.S.

There are a lot of conflicting data from various sources in terms of number of injuries, fatalities, and miles travelled (for cars and for cyclists), so my numbers probably aren’t terrific. But, incorrect data is better than no data at all. Am I right or am I right, modelers?

Passenger vehicle miles driven, excluding motorcycles=2.857 trillion (2014) I used 2014 because there is currently a lot more data for that year than for 2015

Miles ridden by bike= 8.956 billion (This is for 2012–I couldn’t find 2014 data, and other sources suggested closer to 7 or 8 billion miles, but I’ll be optimistic here)

Passenger vehicle fatalities= 21,102 (not including commercial truck drivers or motorcyclist fatalities)

Fatalities for cyclists=720 (2014)

Maths:

Driving: (21,102 passenger vehicle fatalities / 2.857 trillion miles driven) x 200 million miles driven (so that we don’t end up with a tiny decimal)= 1.48 deaths per 200 million miles driven by car

Riding: (720 cyclists fatalities / 8.956 billion miles ridden) x 200 million miles ridden=16.08 deaths per 200 million miles ridden by bike

So that was 1.48 deaths per 200 million miles driven by passenger car versus 16.08 deaths per 200 million miles ridden by bike. Pretty close to the same ratio of 1 to 17 that the U.K. Department of Labor came up with.

There are discrepancies in the data for U.S. bicyclist fatalities. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there were over 900 bike fatalities in 2013 when other sources, such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, reported that there were just 747 in 2013. This may be due to inaccurate police reports and/or the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) inability to report on traffic collisions that occur on private property (like driveways and parking lots).

This poor record keeping goes even further with “serious injuries” sustained by bicyclists. I’ve seen the numbers vary widely, with just 50,000 cyclist injuries, reported by the NHTSA, to half a million injuries (according to the CDC), which is probably a more accurate number given that it is based on what is reported in hospitals, not what is written down in police reports. Again, 531,000 is reported by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, based on numbers of hospital visits, which is why I’ll be using a half million as my number, despite the much lower 50,000 of the NHTSA being quoted a lot more frequently.

Anyways, 2.34 million injuries in 2014 is a standard number, according to the NHTSA, for all traffic injuries combined (this does not take into account those 500,000 bike injuries). From this 2.34 million, 2.046 million are injuries sustained in passenger vehicles.

By the way, a “serious injury” means going to the hospital. Obviously some of these bike injuries are kids going off jumps, people sliding out on gravel or hitting a pothole wrong, and from other events. My point is that not all half a million of these hospitalized bike crashes even have a car involved. Though, the majority do.

More third-grade-level math that the NHTSA hasn’t tried to perform:

Driving: (2.046 million / 2.857 trillion) x 200 million = 143 injuries per 200 million miles driven by car

Riding: (500 thousand / 8.956 billion) x 200 million = 11,166 injuries per 200 million miles ridden by bike

Accordingly, you are 78 times more likely to be seriously injured by riding a bike than driving a car, with every mile you travel.

It would be great if we had better data to get more accurate numbers. But then again, as cyclists we all realize just how dangerous the roads are without that data. Maybe we don’t really want to see those numbers. As always, the only solution to this terrifying problem is to get more people out of their cars and on bikes. To do that we need to get kids riding to school at a young age, lower speed limits, reduce vehicles size, enforce rules that are already in place and create more strict rules to drastically reduce distracted, careless, reckless, and drunk driving. We need fewer parking places, fewer four-lane surface streets, and driving needs to be made less convenient overall. Oil needs to be heavily taxed, and 10,000 times more money needs to be spent on bike infrastructure than what is currently being spent. Our entire culture needs to transform from our current isolated, impatient, violent, self-centered, physically lazy, and consumeristic society, created in part by cars, to something entirely different. Sometimes when I’m really feeling optimistic I like to imagine a country, or at least a city, built for people, not motor-vehicles. A society in which community, human health, and the environment take priority over everything else. Unfortunately, imagining isn’t always easy if you try, because when you experience daily life-threatening encounters, you realize there is no brotherhood of man.

*Footnote: the chances of dying in an automobile crash are 1 in 113 or 0.88% in the US. The National Safety Council argues that you have a 1 in 4,337 chance of dying in a bike crash. But that’s for the average person, who rides 30 miles a year or less. If you rode as many miles as the average person drove in their lifetime, your chances of dying in a bike crash would be 15%, or 1 in 7. Few people would reach that many miles though, since the average person drives 13,746 miles per year.

A long one

A few weeks ago I missed a crucial turn on my bike as I flew down highway 88 in Northern California into the late afternoon sun. Not realizing my mistake for a mile or so, I continued hammering down the shallow grade, doing, most likely, completely incorrect ETA calculations in my head to figure out if I’d be back by dinner. When your ride time is over seven hours, a one or two mile detour doesn’t mean anything. I still cursed at myself pretty loudly as I realized my error and turned around, thinking of the extra 400 feet of climbing I’d have to do because of the screw up. I take it back. When your ride time is over seven hours, every second and every foot of elevation matters quite a bit.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 5.08.24 PM

Earlier that morning I’d set out on a monster of a ride from my family’s cabin, which is about a dozen or so miles from Lake Tahoe in the Sierras. Adelaide and I had spent the previous five days doing big hikes with my mom and cousin, swimming in lakes, and lounging on hot rocks by the river to soak up the heat after dipping in the frigid, clear water. I wouldn’t say that I was out of shape necessarily, but I hadn’t really been riding for over a week and my legs were tired from a 14 mile hike we’d done the day before. With that in mind, I decided that six hours would be the limit. Nothing more, and hopefully nothing less.

Pack Saddle Pass went by quickly. It’s a medium length, medium steep climb about a mile and a half from the cabin and tops out at a little over 7,000 feet (the average elevation of the ride was well over 7,000 feet). I descended, climbed, descended, and climbed some more for a long time on a single-lane, chip seal road with no traffic. The only worry in the back of my head being mountain lions, since my dad had a stand-off with a 200 pound cat in the middle of that exact road 10 years before and the story has always stuck with me.

I popped out on highway 88, which had cars and semis, so the peaceful part of my ride was over. The shoulder was good though, and the traffic wasn’t heavy. I passed lakes, campsites, ski areas, a few mountain passes, stopped for water once, and before I knew it I was three hours into the ride (my cue to turn around). But since my current elevation was quite a bit higher than the starting elevation at 5,600 feet, I knew that if I turned around at three hours I’d be home in less than three. I’d just summited the largest pass of the day and was descending pretty fast, so if I could hold off turning around for 10 minutes that would be a lot of climbing I’d force myself to do on the way back. I’m a fan of out and backs sometimes for that very reason.

My two main worries for the first half of the ride were that I’d turn around too soon and wouldn’t get in six hours, and that Maybellene would run off from the cabin and wander onto the busy road next to it since neither I nor Adelaide were there to watch her.

My first worry disappeared a few minutes into the descent. My goal of getting six hours now turned into getting over 12,000 feet of climbing. I continued the 15 mile descent, realizing that my third goal should be to get at least 120 miles also. I continued worrying about Maybellene running into the road, but there was nothing I could do at this point so I continued riding.

I finally turned around somewhere after Woodfords (near Markleeville if that means anything to you), two or three miles from the Nevada border. I looped around and stopped in at a country store and bought two Snickers ice cream bars and a large gatorade. Then I filled my bottles in the bathroom and took my feast out to the front porch to eat in the 90 degree afternoon sun.

Back on the bike, heading up the 15 mile climb to Kit Carson Pass, the heat picked up to 97 or 98, perfect Kennett temperature. Unfortunately, my damn mind was obsessed with thoughts of Maybellene running into the road back at the cabin and getting hit. I cursed myself for not brining a phone to check in with my mom and ask if she was still hanging around the cabin or not. Also, by that point I was four and a half hours into the ride, which would normally be nearing the end of most rides I do. I had another fifty miles and six thousand or more feet to climb.

I topped out at just under 8,500 feet on Kit Carson Pass and it was all downhill from there, for the most part. Just 4,000 feet more climbing to go! I took a detour up to a ski resort and spent the rest of my money on more food, this time opting for a rice crispy treat and a regular Snickers since they didn’t have ice cream. I continued worrying about Maybellene.

One of the worst things you can have going on during a long ride is a negative thought about something that you have no control over. It seems like most people treat training as a stress reliever or therapy of sorts, while for me it brings out all the bad emotions and thoughts I have going on and amplifies them until I get home. Typically, I have to be in a fairly good mood to get any training accomplished without just turning around early.

Turning around early wasn’t an option at this point in the ride. By now we’ve passed the point in the story where we began when I missed that turn. I climbed back up the highway, made the turn, and cruised downhill on Silver Fork–the chip seal, single-lane road near the beginning of the ride, and thought about food. Something other than sweet food, as my stomach was getting a bit turned off from sugar at that point.

The heat seemed to pick up again on the final climb of the day, heading back up the other side of Pack Saddle, which is longer and steeper than the front side and takes about 40 minutes. The bottom section hits the double digits in gradient, though my legs were still holding up decently well and handled it easily. I wasn’t so much as tired but just ready to be off the bike. I topped Pack Saddle Pass and descended, avoiding wheel-eating potholes throughout. I saw my dad’s car heading towards me at the bottom and smiled. I thought of all the long rides that I would do back home in Oregon where he’d worry that it was taking me too long and come looking for me. Even though I was only a mile and a half from the cabin, I was happy to throw the bike on the back and take the ride. I chugged two bottles of sour pink lemonade he’d made–finally something not sweet.

I got home and Maybellene was fine. I took a short shower, ate, and laid in my sleeping bag outside, feeling ill for an hour or so before eating more. It’s a good sign to feel somewhat sick after a big ride. It means you went hard enough. 125 miles and 13,600 feet of climbing in under seven and a half hours meant that I went long enough at least. The ride was just a prelude to the next few weeks of training back at home, which would each be over 30 hours.

While my running shape has gone to shit and I’ve had to cancel another race (Timberman) because of my hip injury, my swimming and riding are coming right along. And thankfully the season is still somewhat young in terms of triathlon. I hope to be racing through November if everything goes to plan, which is:

Santa Cruz 70.3
Cozumel 70.3
Los Cabos 70.3
Cozumel full (big question mark)

Nothing ever goes to plan though. I’m fine with that. As long as I get to go out on big training days, not get harassed by drivers too much, and eat a lot of food, I have no serious complaints.