Monday, January 30, 2012

The publicity caravan

Of course the most exciting part of our TdF trip will be seeing our favorite cyclists.  Nathan is a big Andy Schleck fan and I've got a number of favorites including Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden.  It will be cool to catch a glimpse of them during the mountain stages, and hopefully we will see some of our favorites on the podium in Paris.

However, I've heard that one of the most interesting parts of le Tour is the publicity caravan that comes before the riders on each stage.  The publicity caravan is basically a parade that (from what I've heard) takes about 45 minutes to go by, is filled with crazy, decorated cars and trucks, and distributes huge amounts of swag on a daily basis.  Here is a video of publicity caravan to give you an idea:

One survey in France showed that almost 40% of the people who come to watch le Tour are actually more interested in the caravan than the actual race.  While I can assure you I'm not part of that 40%, I'm still looking forward to seeing it...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Skin in the game

Today I put down a deposit on an apartment in Bagneres-de-Luchon.  From this base of operations, Nathan and I will be able to watch stages 16 and 17 of the Tour.  Thanks to Flo (my secret French-speaking weapon), I found the web site  This is a site where people rent out their homes and apartments, and it had quite a few locations in Luchon.  I found a small apartment near the center of town, and although I have to rent it for a full week, it still will be less expensive than the hotel I'd originally (thought I'd) booked.

Here's a picture of the outside of the apartment:

And a picture of the inside:

It's not living in the lap of luxury, but we have a place that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and that was the real goal.

I guess we're really going to go to France for the TdF as I'm starting to put down deposits.  This is going to be pretty freaking awesome!  Or should I say, c'est magnifique?!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The moment of truth

Up to this point, I've really put no significant skin in the game regarding the TdF trip I've been planning.  I've reserved some hotel rooms using points, but I can cancel those at no cost.  Other than that, I've not invested anything.

Now, however, I've now found a room in France for the first few stages of the Tour we'd like to see, and that requires a $170 non-refundable deposit.  I'd prefer to not lose that money, so it's the moment of truth: are we really going to do this or not?

I think a conversation with my wife about how much this could cost is in order.  I think she's on board, but I don't want any surprises...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Likely rooms in Bagneres-de-Luchon

Well, my blast of requests has resulted in 3 people getting back to me.  I've reached out to two of them who are sending rental contracts.  I did have to rent these apartments for a full week rather than for a day, but because the hotel I originally had was so expensive, I will actually pay less.  This also gives us the ability to arrive a day or two earlier and use apartment as a base of operations from which to explore southern France and possibly even northern Spain.

I won't count on anything until the agreement is signed and the deposit made, but hopefully this room situation is taken care of.


Over the past few days, I've had a really painful toothache that has  kept me off my bike Friday and Saturday.  Most important is that I missed my long ride that was scheduled for yesterday.

I think I will be able to get back in the swing of things tomorrow, but this set back has been a bummer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Last night I was unable to get in a scheduled workout because I had to work very late.  Under normal circumstances, having to skip a ride would just be a bummer, but not a huge deal.  However, when I'm on a training plan with a ride upcoming, missing a ride makes me feel really guilty.

I guess this is a good situation to be in as it keeps me on track with my program, but it still feels like I'm taking things a bit too seriously.

By the way, I did get a 21 miles tempo ride in tonight, so I certainly don't feel guilty tonight!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Zone 4 intervals

Zone 4 intervals are something that I've recently started doing, based on Joe Freil's Heart Rate Training book.  I'm sure most of you are wondering what the big deal is, but I've got to admit this this is something new for me.

I can see how these are effective.  I just finished a 45 minute workout with 4 6 minute work intervals at my Zone 4 heart rate.  I don't know yet if these workouts are improving my fitness, but if the phrase "no pain, no gain" is even partially true, I'll be getting a lot stronger soon.

Rooms in Bagneres-de-Luchon, take 3

A while ago I found that I had no hotel reservation in Bagneres-de-Luchon which pretty much threw a monkey wrench into my TdF plans.  After a bit of panic, I reached out to my French-speaking niece-in-law-to-be (maybe!) and found a web site with a bunch of properties that I could rent in that town.  I requested information for a likely looking apartment, but unfortunately, I haven't heard from the proprietor yet.

Given that having a room in this location is a linchpin of the whole trip, I went back to my the website my French speaker recommended and found several other apartments that I could rent.  I have sent out at least 5 or 6 emails to the owners of these locations.  Hopefully, I'll hear back from one of these folks and I will be back in business.

I'm sure you're wondering what web site I'm using to find rooms.  I will be happy to tell you. . . after I get my room squared away!  Sorry, but it's a dog eat dog world out there, and I need to look out for Number 1 right now!

Century training week 1 complete

I finished my first week of training for my upcoming century.  The ride is on April 16th, so I have 14 weeks to train for it.  I rode 78 miles this week, including a 35 mile long ride on Saturday.  I also did another shorter ride at my planned century pace, a tempo ride, an interval ride, and a recovery ride on Sunday.

Things pick up a bit this week with longer mid-week rides and a long ride on Saturday running about 40 miles.  I feel pretty good that my training will help me finish a regular century, but this one has a LOT of climbing that have me a bit scared.  The good news is the ride is situated such that you can bail out on the climb any time and still complete the ride, so worst case is I fall short of the full distance but still finish.

Anyway, knowing that this ride is coming and is going to be hard is a great motivator to get on the bike and train hard.  That's exactly what I need to keep me pushing...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

14 weeks to my century

I just checked out the calendar, and I have 14 weeks to train for the Bike MS 150, which will include my first century ride (actually 105 miles) followed the next day by a 55 mile.  I have picked up a copy of Distance Cycling and am going to be using the 15 week training program from that book as best I can. The book recommends a combination of long rides, tempo rides, brisk (interval) rides, and recovery rides. Mixed in are sessions working on core strength, resistence training and stretching.

During my rides, I will be using heart rates to monitor my effort level and ensure that I'm working at the right intensity.  These heart rate zones are based on my tested lactate threshold as described in the Joe Friel book I mentioned in a previous post (Total Heart Rate Training). Hopefully, this will ensure that I'm not just getting in saddle time but that I'm improving my fitness in specific ways that will help me complete my century.

I'm a bit worried about this century as it is much hillier than the previous Bike MS 150 I rode in Seattle. Therefore, I feel I need to train with a lot more purpose than I did for that ride.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Resolution Run 5K

I ran the Phoenix Resolution Run 5K today.  This was the first run I've done in about 5 years.  I finished in 28:56 which is pretty reasonable considering I've only been running again for 9 weeks.
I don't plan to continue doing a significant amount of running after this as I will be in training for my century, but I might train for a longer run after the Bike MS is over.

Plan B

I have found a rental apartment in Bagneres-de-Luchon thanks to my nephew's girlfriend who speaks French fluently (thanks, Flo!).  I have emailed them and hope to hear back soon.  Perhaps I will have a room for those stages after all.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 5, 2012


I received this email today:

Dear William,

I hope this e-mail finds you well.

I am writing to you with regard to your booking at Hotel Acta Luchon. I am sorry to inform you that, for reasons outside of our control, this property no longer works with us and has now been removed from our website.

Consequently we have had little choice but to cancel your booking. We will of course refund your 10% payment. Please allow at least 5 working days for the funds to reach your account.

Again, I do sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused. I can assure you that this booking was taken in good faith as usual.

If there is anything else we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

We will be glad to assist you!

Kind regards

Now we have no room in Bagneres-de-Luchon for the first two days of our trip, and therefore no spot on the finish and start line for those two stages.  In addition, there does not appear to be any hotel rooms available within 10 miles or so.

I'm not going to let this stop me, but I guess we will have to get creative.  One option would be to see about renting some form of camper.  Another option would be to look for a person who is renting out a room for a couple days.  Finally, we could skip those stages, and focus on other stages (e.g., the time trial stage that ends in Chartres).

I won't let this derail the process, but this has certainly been a major setback.  I was always a little nervous about this reservation, and I guess my intuition was right.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Still no word from the hotel in Luchon

As mentioned, I pinged the hotel in Bagnères-de-Luchon to make sure my reservation was in place and squared away.  Unfortunately, I have not heard back yet from them.  I pinged them again and hope to hear from them soon.

In case you are interested, we are staying at the ACTA Luchon.  This hotel is part of a Spanish chain with a number of properties in the Pyrenees.  Here's a picture:

You can visit their web site here.  This hotel was not my first choice (it's a bit pricey), but as it was the only hotel I could find with an available room on the dates I need, we were kind of stuck...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Logging workouts

I have always logged my workouts from the first time I went out for a short run.  It's always cool to see that I can go faster or longer (or both), and without logging, that's impossible.  I started out with a package that ran on my PC for logging my workouts, but it eventually suffered from data corruption issues and since it is so old it was not worth trying to fix.  When I started riding, I found a web-based tool to track my rides which I really loved.  Unfortunately, I took an 8 month break from riding a few years back, and when I started riding again I'd forgotten the URL for the site!  To this day I cannot remember what site has a record of every ride I made for the first 3 years that I was riding. :-(

Recently, I've been using Map My Ride ( to track my workouts.  It is really great in a few aspects, most importantly in that I can track my run/ride on my iPhone and import it automatically into the tool.  On the other hand, this application lacks in a number of very important aspects, most importantly in that it doesn't have any real graphing capabilities and I can't export to Excel or some other software package to do analysis.

I'm looking for a better system, but until then I will continue with Map My Ride.  If you have any suggestions for a logging system (preferably one that won't go away and is easy to remember), I'd love to hear about it.  Please leave any suggestions in the comments.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Training with my heart rate monitor

As I get ready for the hardest ride I've ever done (the first day of the 2012 Arizona Bike MS 150 is 105 miles with significant climbing), I realized that just hopping on my bike and riding progressively longer distances might not be the best training regimen.  Therefore, I decided I needed to get smarter about training so I can complete my first century.

I've always used a heart rate monitor during training (I've got an ancient Polar S210), but never with any specific targets or anything.  Mostly I used to to get a feel for how many calories I burned.  However, doing a little research online it became clear that I was barely scratching the surface in how I can use my HRM to help me get stronger and more fit.  I kept hearing about Joe Friel and his approach to training with an HRM, so I bought his book, Total Heart Rate Training: Customize and Maximize Your Workout Using a Heart Rate Monitor.

I have learned a lot from reading this book.  Most importantly, I learned that a lot of my training was good for burning calories and taking off weight, but probably not the best for improving my performance or making me a better cyclist.  Now that's not to say there's no fitness benefit to just getting on your bike and riding, but if you only have a certain amount of time to ride and a certain amount of weeks to train for a specific event, you can tailor your workouts so they help get you better prepared.

With this book, I have found good estimate for my lactate threshhold (LT, which Joe maintains is the key measurement for training using an HRM) and can now use it to create workouts that improve my performance.  This is all stuff that I had heard of but didn't fully understand.  I'll give one example: in the book, Joe recommends doing cruise intervals (6 to 12 minutes with shorter recovery intervals) at just below your LT as a good way to improve your endurance.  He states that going harder than this does not significantly increase the fitness benefit, but does require significantly longer to recover after the workout.  I had never really thought about long intervals like these.  My concept of intervals was going really hard for 30 to 60 seconds or so.  While these are a type of interval that can be useful for some athletes, they really don't help someone just trying to ride long distances.

Anyway, this book is very in-depth, in some cases too in-depth (at least for me), and I am pretty sure it will pay off as I begin training in earnest for the Bike MS.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My cycling resolutions

My cycling resolutions for the year:
  • Ride a metric century by year end
  • Ride a real century by year end
  • Record 2,000 miles on my bike by year end
These seem like reasonable resolutions to be able to keep.  I am already signed up for a metric century (the Phoenix Tour de Cure).  This should not be too much of a challenge as I rode the 85 mile route of the Tour de Tucson a few months ago.  The century is going to be a bit more difficult (obviously), but my plan for this is to ride the Bike MS 150 in April in Sedona.  The full distance for the first day of this ride is 105 miles, and that is the version I plan to ride.  I have ridden 92 miles in a day (the Bike MS in Washington a few years ago) so I think I should be able to tackle this one, but it will obviously require some significant training.

Riding 2,000 miles should definitely also be doable, but will require a bit more commitment.  The good news is that the Tour de Cure and the Bike MS 150 will account for 10% of my miles in 3 days!  In addition, the training for those rides should cover a lot of miles as well, so I think I should be able to accomplish this goal as well.

By the way, if you have any interest in sponsoring my ride in the Tour de Cure, please visit this page:  Thanks!

A mini wrinkle...

One of the problems of trying to plan a trip to the TdF is that the organizers don't provide a huge amount of information about the route until not long before the tour actually begins. They have released the start and finish towns and a list of some of the mountain passes they will be going over, but the specifics aren't available. Compounding this is the fact that I don't know anything about these locations.  This makes planning a bit more difficult than a normal trip.

I was reading a bit more about the stage ending in Bagnères-de-Luchon. It turns out that this finish is NOT a mountain top finish as I'd hoped. Instead, this town is about 15km (9 miles) downhill from the last climb of the stage. Therefore, if we are going to try to see the tour summit one of the climbs, we are going to have to get ourselves up a mountain to do it.

I'm looking at the possibility of renting bikes in Bagnères. Unfortunately, the best price I've found so far on the Internet is 400 Euros! I'm sure we can do better, but I need to get these arrangements nailed down quickly as I expect bike rentals will be a pretty hot item. Worse case scenario is that we can walk up, and perhaps they have other methods for getting up there as well. I guess we'll see...