Adapting to the Desert or who is Conrad Kreick.
For those of you who don't know about such foolishness, Strava is a "third-party" website for cyclists who use GPS for recording data. The data from your ride is downloaded to the Strava site where it is available in number and map form. In a few short years Strava has grown to an "organization" of thousands of cyclists who view their rides (and those of others) daily. Strava is best known for it's segments, short stretches of road designed by riders to test their skills, essentially to set a "personal record" time for that segment, ultimately for someone to have the best time, or KOM (King of the Mountain, though it does not have to be a mountain).-more on that later.
Another aspect of Strava is the monthly challenges for miles in a month, climbing in a month, and the monthly Gran Fondo Challenge. All you do is click a button, and you are a competitor. Yesterday I signed up for the GF challenge. All I have to do is ride a 100 kilometer ride in a 24 hour period, and I get a challenge symbol on my page. Well, I didn't say this was monumental in any way, nor are the KOM segments. They are simply a way of motivating yourself just that little bit more, at best. At the worst, segments can be not only overly competitive, but also dangerous as noted by the many accidents that have resulted from aggressive riding. However, it is not my intent in this article to discuss the pros and cons of Strava, but rather talk about adapting your riding to a new and very different location.
I grew up in the mid-west, and while there are no mountains, anyone who has ridden there knows there is elevation gain. Twenty some years ago I moved to Oregon, and discovered what I would call big hills. I have completed several rides in excess of 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Likewise, Oregon is often cooler, and has more rain than a lot of America. So when we moved to the Phoenix area this past June, you can imagine the shock to my cycling system. July of 2017 had been my biggest mileage month to date with over 1100 miles, five centuries and one ride of 110 miles and well over 10,000 feet, all in relatively cool temperatures, and glorious weather (this was before the fires smogged the entire central valley in August). This July I "managed" but 647 miles as I struggled to adapt to temperatures that often reached over 110 degrees in the afternoons. I found myself getting up earlier and earlier, finally climbing out of bed while it was still dark, starting rides before the sun was up, so that I could get in a good ride before it got too hot. As I began to adapt, I found that I could ride without real difficulty up to about 104. After that I suffered. My awareness was that you just can't go out in the heat of the afternoon, you drink as much as you can, and you avoid the desert proper. Now this means riding most of those miles on the quiet, but circular streets of Sun City West. Not exactly my idea of stimulating cycling. I should note that I have been here in the winter, and while it is raining and cold in Oregon, it is glorious here. Summer is just not cycling season in Phoenix.
So anyway, back to my Strava Gran Fondo Challenge. I knew that I signed up just to have a goal even if this is not the best time for cycling challenges in Arizona. I was up at 410 am, primed with a couple of cups of coffee, and on the road before the sun was fully up with a temp of 84 degrees. The plan was to do right around 70 miles before temps climbed into the low hundreds. I sampled a loop in the Sun City Grand area, on quiet roads through a number of golf courses. While the roads are quiet, they are also annoyingly cracked, with a "thump" of tires crossing a wide crack every 20-50 feet. After twenty miles of this, I suppose I was getting used to it, but also felt the need to move back to familiar, and less annoying roads in Sun City West. While this is not a ride review, I will say that I find it difficult to ride the same circle several times, but also necessary to complete the mileage. All in all, the ride was not difficult despite consuming four bottles of water, and eating five dates. The temperature hit 102 by 10 am, and I was happy to climb off with 72 miles, accomplishing my fondo challenge.
Here then are some thoughts on adapting to a geographical change as a cyclist: 1) be patient, this may take a year or more though there will be some adaptation along the way 2) be smart-don't venture out without plenty of water, or sure that you can find more, and don't stay out in extreme temps. 116 degrees will just suck it right out of you. 3) be satisfied with the efforts that you make, and continue to make those efforts even if the numbers seem small. Cycling, especially for senior riders is, out of necessity, a year round sport. 4) Use Strava segments to motivate yourself. While your mileage may be down, your intensity can be high, which brings me to the final part of this blog. Who is Conrad Kreick?
There is a Strava segment in Sun City West known as "Tom Ryan Drive downhill." It is 7 tenths of a mile. When you know there is a segment in the area, and you target it, it is known as "hunting" segments. I knew it was there. I also knew that it would have a strong tailwind. There is absolutely no reason to hunt a Strava segment without a tailwind. On the particular day I hit the start (Veteran's Drive) hard, went as hard as I could until about the last tenth when I could not quite sustain the effort. When I arrived home to check the data, I discovered several things: 1) my power output was at an average of 295 watts (measure of power, enough to light your house for several minutes, which does not compare to the output of a professional rider 2) that the output had dropped from above 300 watts in that last tenth 3) that I slotted in to second place 4 seconds behind the leader, Conrad Kreick. Now I don't know much about Conrad. He has a Strava page, and is a runner who occasionally does something pretty special on a bike. This is the closest I have come to taking a KOM. Not bad for 71 years old. And if there is a point to any of this, on a relative level, if we do anything we hope to do our best, and accomplish something. On an absolute level, nothing happened, and compared to war and the death of a child is meaningless.