Zach’s Training Diary: The bike

It’s time for another update from our man with a plan, Zach, a web merchant here at our home office. As you’ll recall from his earlier entries, Zach has been trying hard to balance work, family life and time on the bike as he gets ready to take on one of the hardest gran fondos in the US, Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in September. Read on below to find out how he’s doing and what bikes he’s tested in an effort to find the perfect setup for the ride.

My overall training is going well. I’m still working hard, riding 4-5 times a week, and doing off-the-bike workouts. I do feel as though I’ve hit a plateau with my progress and weight loss, but this is to be expected after three months of training. I took a short rest period of about a week or so, and now the next month and a half will be full of weekend climbing trips.

One of these weekend training trips will actually be up to Harrisonburg, VA to ride with Jeremiah Bishop and his posse. I’m super excited to go up for a weekend and pick his brain about training, get a preview of the route, and enjoy the cool mountain air! If you’ve got any questions for him, post them on the comments here and we’ll be sure to ask him. 

The route for one of Zach’s training rides.

Also, I was inspired by the charitable mission of the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, and decided to raise money to support the fight against Prostate Cancer during my training. Prostate cancer is a growing health threat for men, and I want to do my part to raise awareness and help fight this disease. All funds I raise during the preparation of this ride will go to the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project. If you’re so inclined and are feeling generous, I’m taking donations on my personal fundraising page. Every dollar and penny will go a long way to help fight this disease, as well as push me a little harder towards the finish line!

So that’s my personal training update. Now let’s talk about bikes!

This ride has around a total of 11K + feet of climbing, so to say it’s hilly would be an understatement. It’s on pavement and dirt/gravel roads. It’s long, excruciating, and will be awesome. This unique ride definitely requires just the right bike with a unique setup.

Thanks to our friends at Fuji Bikes, I’ve been trying out a few bicycles during lunch rides and weekend training rides to see what feels like the right fit for the Gran Fondo. So far I’ve tested the Fuji SST 2.0 and the Fuji Altamira Di2 Limited Edition. I made some tweaks to the spec of each bike, such as changing out the wheelset to either a pair of Mavic Ksyrium SLs, which are one of the best all around wheelsets I’ve ever ridden, or a pair of Reynolds DV3K carbon clinchers, which are very aero, stiff, and fast, but don’t climb quite as well as the Ksyrium SLs. For each bike I also changed out the stem and handlebars to achieve the appropriate fit for me. Proper bicycle fit is the most important thing I’ve experienced in my four years as a cyclist. I’ve felt the difference in having a bicycle that has been professionally fit to my specific body needs, and I applied that fit to each of these bicycles.

First up was the Altamira Di2 LE, which may have spoiled the party for the rest of the candidates. The Shimano Dura Ace electronic shifting, the overall balance of compliance, comfort, sprinting and climbing capability, and the responsiveness of the bike make it a likely candidate right off the bat. It’s extremely comfortable on 100+ mile rides, yet with its carbon frame and oversized BB86 bottom bracket, it sprints and accelerates up the hills with quick precision and ease. It will be hard to pass this one up. The only problem could be the gearing setup. It has a standard double 53/39 crankset on the front, with a ten speed 11-25 cassette on the back. While the bike has been great around the rolling hills of the Piedmont of North Carolina, it’s definitely not set up to be a climbing bike. I took this bike to Western North Carolina and while I made it up some 14% pitches, I definitely needed lower gearing. Turning a low cadence/high power pedal stroke is doable for 50 miles or so, but wastes a lot of energy, and will not be suitable for the long steady climbs of a Gran Fondo. This will ultimately affect my decision and though the Fuji Altamira set the bar high, it may not be the best option.

My second ride was the Fuji SST 2.0. The SST is a lot different that the Altamira. Aside from the components, the biggest difference was the stiffness and the overall aggressive geometry of the frame. Once over 18 miles an hour the bike was extremely fast and required little effort to keep up its momentum. There was no problem sticking with the group on our weekly 40 at 20 rides (40 miles with a 20mph+ average speed). Sprinting on it was also fun. It was quick off the jump and I could feel every bit of power output being spit out the back wheel. Climbing was fairly sluggish, however. The bike seemed a bit unresponsive for me during long hills, and when stacked up against my other hill times, I was slower on the SST. The bike is also a little heavier than the Altamira. I’m sure there are other technical features I could talk about, but the overall difference was that it just didn’t feel right to me for a climbing machine. I love the fact that it’s super fast and sprints great. If I had room in the garage this would be a great addition to the stable of bikes at home, but as a climbing machine for the Gran Fondo, it’s not the one.

I’m still riding the Fuji SL1 Comp and the Gran Fondo, so I’ll write about those next, and make my decision after riding all four. I’m looking forward to getting out on those and finalizing my bike selection. Thanks for reading, and I’ll have another update soon!

Zach’s Training Diary: The Plan

We’ve decided to follow along this year as Zach, a web merchant here at our home office, works hard to get in shape for Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo this fall. Like many of you out there, Zach has been juggling work and family as he tries to make time to  meet his fitness and training goals. Read on below to see how his plan has been coming along, and let us know if you’ve got any tips in the comments below.

Wow, the last month has been so busy!  I’ll start with a quick update on everything. In the last month I turned 31, my wife and I had our one year anniversary, I’ve been setting personal records on my Strava hill climb segments just about every time I go out, I placed 7th in one of the local races I usually do terrible at, I dropped a pant size, and I’ve started the search for the perfect bicycle to ride for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo!

Unfortunately though, I’ve only lost one freaking pound! One pound over an entire month!  Totally frustrating when the goal is to lose another 20 lbs by September.  Fortunately my Strava segments have been keeping me motivated, so I’m feeling happy with my results so far. But I’ve got to find a way to drop that weight!

As I mentioned in my first post, riding bikes has helped me out quite a bit in the weight loss department over the last few years (76ish pounds dropped so far), but now I can’t seem to lose weight from riding bikes alone. I’m not very good at planning out training routines to provide structure on a daily and weekly basis, but my buddy Ken is a cyclist, crossfit coach, personal trainer, and an all around good guy.  He’s really good at working with people as a trainer, and a few months ago he decided to help me train for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo.  He‘s created a weekly plan for me that’s structured, but is still a bit flexible, and leaves some space for conflicts that arise throughout the week.

My training plan for the Gran Fondo is pretty straight forward – here’s a little insight into what I’ve been working on (this is just my plan – always consult a training pro for advice for you):

INTERVALS:

Intervals ramp up the metabolism like crazy, rapidly increase VO2 Max, help your heart rate drop faster after hard efforts, and increase lactic acid threshold. They also will help you develop endurance, a huge kick and do not have the muscle wasting effect of long slow distance riding. I do 2 hard intervals per week, mixing in Tabata sprints, hill repeats, ¼ mile x 10, 1 mile x 4, or other variations.

TIME TRIAL AND TEMPO RIDES:

I try to get in 2 tempo or time trial rides per week, more if time permits. Group rides serve well for this, as tempo rides should be your easiest pace rides.

WEIGHT LIFTING:

I’ve been doing 1 heavy weight training session per week, switching up weight and rep schemes. Some days I do high weight/low rep and other days I do low weight/high rep. Some folks stay away from weights, but I’ve found that it works for me.

TRY NEW SPORTS AND EXERCISES:

Again, some coaches will tell you to just ride, but I like to keep it fun and new. An occasional run, game of tennis, swimming, soccer or flag football helps shake things up for me.

DIET:

This is a tricky one for me, as I like to eat. Basically I’ve been trying to keep things fresh and simple, not drink any calories (just lots of water), and throw in a cheat meal once a week. If my weight’s not coming down, I change it up and try something new.

On top of my day-to-day plan, I’ve also scheduled some trips to the mountains of Western North Carolina this summer.  There are many routes out there that are similar to the Alpine Loop (well, at least I hope so), which will be great warm ups for my big ride.

I’ve been on my plan for several weeks now, and it’s been going pretty good for the most part.  I’m definitely getting faster on the hills and starting to hang with some of the faster group rides.  The riding part is easy – the hard part has been eating really well, and sticking to the intervals, hill repeats, and other hard workouts!  I’ve been doing exercises called “Bulgarian split squats,” and “Romanian dead lifts.”  Oh yeah running too! I hate running. 202 lbs is a lot to throw on your knees and ankles while trudging down the road in a half-hearted gallop/trot/jog excuse of a run!

The weight loss is the biggest issue and is directly related to my love of good food and drink. I’ve been doing a lot better with my caloric intake, but I’ll be honest, it’s hard to pass up delicious tasty chips dipped in ranch dressing and complimented with a chilly cold brew! My brother had the best quote ever. We went on a long hot mountain bike ride and after he bonked pretty hard, cramped up, walked it out, and got back to the house, he said “It’s just a man’s instinct to want to eat a delicious juicy burger after a long hard ride!” Agreed!

But at the end of the day, these structured workouts and diet restrictions are seriously paying off.  I am getting faster, I am dropping inches, and I am building muscle.  Of course the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo is going to be harder than anything I’ve ever done so far, and I’ve got to keep up the training plan, as this is just the beginning.

I was listening to an interview with Jeremiah Bishop the other day and he was talking about the Gran Fondo in his own words. From what he said, he got the idea for the ride in the middle of one of his training rides. At the top of one of the climbs in a remote area of the West Virginia wilderness, he was looking out and felt like he was in the Alps, hidden away from cell phone towers, power lines, and civilization as a whole.  But then he mentioned that the fastest he had ever done that climb was 45 minutes at full-on diesel race pace –  45 minutes for JB will probably be more like two hours for me! But what goes up also gets to bomb down, and the views from the top of the long climbs will be worth every burning pedal stroke!

So there are three months to go. Time to get serious and get this training dialed in. I’m excited to share my experiences about the bicycles I’ve been testing while in search of the perfect Grand Fondo bike, as well as the rest of journey along the way!

Zach’s Training Diary: The Beginning

We know that for many of you, cycling is about the journey and not the destination. It’s the same story for Zach, who works here at our home office in North Carolina. His passion for cycling has changed his life for the better and he’s graciously agreed to share his story right here on our blog, as he trains throughout the season to get ready for the epic Alpine Loop Grand Fondo this fall.

As a 30 year old, 5’ 11” father and husband, online calculators tell me I’m supposed to be around 180 pounds. My “ideal cycling weight”, according to Bicycling Magazine, is 172 pounds.

In September of 2012, I plan to do one of the hardest one-day rides in the US, the Alpine Loop Grand Fondo, hosted by world class mountain bike racer Jeremiah Bishop. The ride is over 100 miles long and climbs 11,000 feet on both pavement and gravel roads. It will be the hardest ride I’ve done in my four years as a cyclist, and this is my story.

I rode bicycles when I was younger. My father, aside from being my hero, was also a dedicated triathlete and road cyclist. As a kid it was my dream to be able to keep up with him on the road and if all went according to plan, eventually be faster than he was. Fast-forward just about ten years. I had gone to college, graduated and was out in the real world, working at a desk job. Before I knew it, I had gone from my high school weight of around 185 pounds, to an astonishing, and scary, 276 pounds.

I was sitting in my office one day when I received a call from my Dad. He and my brother had decided to do a sprint triathlon, and wanted me to join in. “It’ll be like old times.” Dad said. “It’ll be me and my boys.” I figured why not? I signed up for the triathlon, and decided to start “training.” Part of my training was commuting on my clapped-out mountain bike that was rusty and grimy from years of abuse and neglect. So, I started riding a bike regularly for the first time in almost ten years. I’ll be honest, it sucked.

I felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t know what to wear. It was kind of scary riding next to cars. It was really hot in the middle of the North Carolina summer where the humidity is something you can reach out and grab. Most of all, it was just really, really, hard. Even though the commute was only four miles, it had long and steep hills with a backpack slammed full of work attire, lunch, and various electronics. It took weeks to get into a routine. I would forget lunch frequently, or forget a shirt, or belt, or my phone. You get the idea.

I was ready to quit this commuting business several times, but the promise of doing the triathlon with my dad and brother kept me going. After about a month of commuting and training, I jumped on the scale and realized that I had lost weight for the first time in years. While what I was doing was tough, it seemed to be getting a little easier, was giving me numbers driven results, and was actually fun. I began to take my triathlon training a bit more seriously (the cycling aspect, that is). I started talking to some friends about cycling, and started visiting local bike shops. Soon thereafter, I realized that if I wanted to get to work faster and easier, and if I wanted to be a bit more competitive during my triathlon, I was going to need a road bike with those bigger wheels and skinnier tires.

I jumped for a $300 road bike off craigslist (lovingly named ‘ole blue). It was too small for me, but I didn’t know that at the time. Throughout the next year or so I did the triathlon, rode in regular weekly group rides, and got involved with a local team who raised money and rode bicycles to fight Multiple Sclerosis. I was riding almost every day, whether to work or on a group ride, or just out by myself. It was fun, a LOT of fun, and I was feeling great. Oh yeah, and I was losing a ton of weight as a byproduct.

Cycling was changing my life. I was getting more fit, was in a great mood, was productive at work, and was actually starting to get dates with hot women (one of which I tricked into marrying me). I got so into cycling that when a sales position opened at one of the local bike shops, I made a career change from a stable 8-5 to an hourly wage plus commission retail sales job. I joined a local race club and started trying my hand at criteriums and road races – where I continue to fail miserably, but have too much fun to quit. I became great friends with people of all ages and backgrounds all through the common bond of cycling. I was riding and I was hooked – the lifestyle had consumed me.

After a few years in the local retail shops, my wife and I had twins. Family life and a retail work schedule don’t mix very well, so I applied for a position here at Performance Bicycle’s home office and here I am, telling my story. I’m 203 pounds now, which is still a hefty load to carry. While I’ve gotten stronger on the bike since I first started riding my old mountain bike, I still get dropped on the hills at the local weekly world championships out of Wilson Park. Seriously, I am so slow on hills!

I have a burning desire to become a better climber, get faster on my bike, and reach my “ideal” weight of 180 pounds. To do this I know I have to put a lot of work in. I have to eat right, not drink too much beer, ride bikes and work out as much as time allows. I’ve got a job that takes a lot of time during the week, plus I love spending as much time with my wife and kids as possible, so time is limited when it comes to training for a ride such as the Alpine Loop Grand Fondo. But, it’s going to be worth it.

I do this for myself and my need to ride, but I also do it for my family. I want to be as healthy as possible so I can live a long and full life with my wife, and be there for my daughters as they grow old. Anytime I head out for a local group ride, or a race, or even just a solo ride, my wife tells me as I’m walking out the door, or lining up for the start, “Go get ‘em darlin’!” That’s what I’m going to do, and I’m going to share my journey with you.

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