Last year I planned my whole season for the D2R2, doing seven 80 to 120 mile rides out and around Harvard. I road the 180k with Bruce P. I’ll never forget the I am dissappoint look he gave me when I bailed out around mile 55 or so. My knees had blown up on me as they had done on all my previous rides to some degree.
This year I was back and more prepared. Physical therapy had strengthened my knees and given me knowledge to take better care of balancing out the quad-blasting cycling with strength building exercises for my hamstrings. No more knee problems.
Three friends flew in from out of town to test their metal, enticed by my description of last year’s ride as being both beautiful and extremely difficult. One of them had lost 50 lbs in preparation for the ride. Bruce was back as well.
Equipment wise, Bruce and I both used road bikes last year. I had 700x25c tires and got more flats than I had spare tubes and co2 cartridges, 4 total. This year we both had 4 tires each, actual pumps, and brand new tires. Also, we both had new-in-the-last-year aluminum disc cyclocross bikes. Bruce had his green with black highlights Kona Jake the Snake. I had my black with green highlights Cannondale CaadX, both from JRA Cycles in Medford. During the ride, I joked that the juxtaposition of colors on the two bikes caused disorientation in those we passed causing them to feel uncomfortable and accept their defeat. But of course, this wasn’t a race…
The whole group consisted of Mike and Caroline from San Diego, CA, on their his&hers 34 lbs light blue Salsa Vayas modded with MTB drivetrains. Eric from Charlotte, NC, on his amazingly colored tri-color-orange Focus Mares got the light bike award at 20 lbs. My wife Monica was there doing the 100k sweep with our dog Magnus.
We all got a late start for the 180k at 730 or so, enjoy each other’s company until the first water stop, then break into speed groups. Bruce and I would take off on the 180k, and the others would transfer to the 115k course for about 100k total. Consequently Bruce and I were off at speed about 3 hours into the ride. It took another 3 hours before we started working our way through those who had left on the 180k before 630am. Some were losing hope. Many were very determined and would finish in darkness.
For the most part, Bruce and I were paced together chatting the whole way, uphill and on the flats. We chatted about merits of various bike choices, what our next bikes should be, how many hills were left. D2R2 is a bromantic cycling date of the highest order.
I knew the struggle well. Last year Bruce dropped me like a sack of potatoes at every climb. I’d remarked, “You don’t pace yourself, you just climb as fast as you can!” His response was, “Isn’t that the point?” Bruce waited for me at the top of every climb and we rode together between climbs. Like I said, I eventually had to bail. That was last year.
The course was rough this year. The ride conditions were what I would call heavy gravel. Really bumpy. It was a stark contrast to some of the splendid groomed gravel roads of Vermont I’d been riding all summer at Rasputitsa, Raid Lamoille, the Irreverent Road Ride, and the like. There were those wavy sections of gravel road that feel like an earthquake when you hit them at speed. Lots of golf ball sized gravel. Conditions well suited for someone on a pig steel touring bike with 40c tires and low pressure. Hard on stiff aluminum cx frames. Riders were taking a beating for sure.
All season I’ve been plagued with flats on my CX. I was running what I consider pretty high pressure (front 62.5 psi, rear 70 psi) in my brand new 700×34 Clement XPLOR USH 120 tpi tires. This strategy took its toll on my nether region. It reminded me of the pro cyclist’s description of their crotch after the Paris Roubaix as “a war zone down there.” I’d used Chamois Glide, but I guess not enough. Or maybe enough was impossible. The last third of the ride felt like I had a goat head burr on my contact patch. I got zero flats, though, OUCH.
Additionally, with 40 miles to go, all the hammering on the bike though my hands, arms, and butt, meant there were no more comfortable positions left. My lower back was really sounding off. At the top of each climb I had to do a counter stretch. Bruce and I both looked like strange yoga artists trying to get various stretches in while still managing the difficult roads and keep a foot on the throats of those we’d passed.
In part, this could be a fit issue, and also that my lowest gear was 34×30. This with 4 less gear teeth than last year. ( Bruce’s was 34×28 I think.) We’d both picked up 34 tooth chainrings at Belmont Wheelworks the day before to drop us down from 36. I really couldn’t climb in a light spin, I had to lay down the power. My climbing position under the circumstances was bent over, sometimes in the drops, hammering it out. This was far beyond anything I’d experienced this season and I think changing bike setup could alleviate much of it.
Climb! Climb! Climb! This time around, climbs that seemed soul crushing before were just strenuous. Climbs that made me see stars and take rest stops just required more focus. I managed to pace myself very well, keeping my HR down from the 185-193 range that causes me to bonk. Much of my climbing was at my sweet spot of 175 bpm. With the added bonuses of my extremely short memory and wandering mind, I could just think about something else until the climbs were over. After that, it was like nothing ever happened! La-dee-da!
It wasn’t all dumb luck that I succeeded this time around, though. I worked on my pedaling technique for better climbing results. I don’t habitually use the upstroke on my spin actively. I’d talked to Sharon Lamb about working on my spin, and I reading the pedal technique chapter in my yellowed copy of Greg Lemond’s Complete Book of Bicycling ( page 160). I’d done a little practice with one legged cycling, and worked on getting better use of the upstroke while climbing on wednesday Ripper rides. And, I’d worked on better utilization in spin classes at The Handlebar in Southie over the winter. Using this technique caused my HR to go up to ~184 though, which was too high to really sustain for me. With practice, I hope that goes down. I’d never used it in the heat of the moment, though.
At some point about midway through the ride when the climbs started to get really steep, I remembered to try this technique. It requires more resistance for me, so really only works when it gets REALLY steep. (I could also upshift to create the resistance I needed.) I had an immediate gain in speed and decrease in knee pressure on the down stroke. My pace picked up, as well as my HR.
By the final climb, Patton Rd, I had a nice rhythm of 3 breaths in the saddle with the better spin technique raising my HR, and three breaths out of the saddle lowering my HR. This attack style worked wonders and I was able to sustain it up the steepest parts of the climb instead of slowing down. In Bruce’s words, “you dominated that.” It felt great, and that was the last major climb of the day.
We had a few more short climbs and some extremely fast descents with some hard braking for tight turns. At one point on a particularly fast run with a tight turn at the bottom, I could make out the thin black lines of a rider who hadn’t braked early enough and skidded over the hillside and down the grassy slope. It looked like a fine place to land compared to where Bruce almost went off a rocky hillside earlier.
In the people department, I ran into the same guy on his bought-new early 1980s Raleigh touring bike. He was under a tree at nearly the same spot I’d talked to him last year. He said he was fixing a squeaky link in his chain. No surprise his bike looked beautifully maintained.
Also, I ran into Hap ( with his red Salsa Warbird and Dia de los Muertos Socks) and Rob with his perfect mustache again. They are a pair of cool chaps. Also at the finish I caught up with Dan with his rad beard. We had all met at Raid Lamoille. I’ll see them all again at Dirty 40. Hope my legs are back by then!
At the finish line, My friends from out of town, my wife Monica and our labrachild Magnus were waiting for me and Bruce. They doused us with sprays of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’d neglected to explain a ‘hand up’ was GIVING me the beer, not spraying me with it. We hung around at what is now officially a tradition after a 2nd year running, Swinney’s D2R2 Happy Hour located 50 feet before the finish line offering free cans of beer until I’m good and tipsy. It is a great way to meet new people.
I had a fantastic time, just like last year. Yes it is a huge sufferfest and very rewarding. The people are fantastic, as is the Franklin Land Trust, and the custom bike show.