Saturday, July 18, 2015

Triple Bypass - 2015

OK; first off, we're not talking about the cardiac type of triple bypass - well, maybe we are; but at least in a good way.

The Triple Bypass is a bike ride in the mountains of Colorado from Evergreen to Vail (actually now Avon) in it's 27th year. It consists of riding 120 miles over three (and a quarter) mountain passes for just under 11,000 ft of climbing. And it's all 'at altitude' - you start and never really dip below 7500ft; and if you don't think altitude plays a factor, especially when cresting Loveland Pass at just under 12,000 ft, then here - let me see how well you run around the block sucking through a straw.

A Bit 'O History:
I had actually ridden this ride 4 times prior. Originally the ride ended in Vail at an even century. But that was extended (I think around the second or third time I rode it) by 20 miles with a change in route, bumping over Swan Mountain Pass (not really a pass IMHO) and moving the finish line to Minturn (if I recall right) and then Avon. I have a ton of great memories and stories of that ride - but that's for another time.

I hadn't done this ride though in 12 years. In fact, come to think of it, I don't think I've ridden a hundred miles since then. This thought occurred to me when I signed up by the way. But I had wanted to ride 'The Triple' (as we call it here) for just about as long now, and with the digger my shoulder injury took on my triathlon season, this seemed like just the mid-season motivation I needed.

To be honest, I wasn't that worried about the distance for a number of reasons:

1. I've ridden lots of 60-70 mile rides over the last decade, and done lots and lots of climbing... lots of climbing. And I *like* climbing.

2. I've been riding something like 25 years now. That kind of history pays dividends and you can rest on those laurels a bit.

3. I've learned that 'The Triple' has a lot to do with *how* you ride it. You have to ride it smart and knowing the course, how to mentally break it up, and knowing how you should (and generally do) feel at each point goes a long way. Experience counts.

So after I clicked the registration submit button, I knew I had to just start logging some longish climbing rides under me and I'd be just fine.

Starting Out and Squaw Pass:
Yes, I'm aware I put it on upside down..
well... at least now I am.
As the morning approached I was pretty jazzed. I hadn't been able to convince Q-Man to join (who I've been riding with as long as I've been riding and has accompanied me on 3 of the 4 other Triples), and I hadn't really worked too hard to find another partner for the ride. To be honest, I was actually looking forward to spending some alone time in the saddle. There's a lot of cobwebs you can blow out over 120 miles and I've never had an issue riding solo.

So the morning of I loaded up and drove up to Evergreen all by myself. I knew quite a few folks I was hoping to see on the route, but not having a time I had to meet anyone was pretty chill.

I rolled away from the car around 5:40 AM or so (it's best to leave early to beat potential afternoon thunder showers) and spun a couple miles to the start of the ride. Got my wrist band checked and was on my way.

Heading up Squaw Pass. Beautiful, quiet morning.
The first climb is about 15 miles up Squaw Pass. It's a respectable climb and very scenic. And with a bit of taper you feel like a million dollars. I knew this and purposefully rode it conservatively, checking the power meeting every once in a while and reeling things back in when I got too spunky. Going too hard here will come back to haunt you later in the ride.

Saw some teammates and friends up the ride. Rode with them for a bit to chat. Then we'd wish each other luck and be on our separate ways. I'm not anti-social by any means (ask around), but I was really digging the quiet and riding in and out of stranger's conversations - hearing the excited chatter that comes with fresh legs.

Squaw is a great pass. It's a steady climb with a false summit; which if you know is there is a nice respite from the grind. If you don't know it's a false summit, then it can be a bit of a cruel joke to realize you still have quite a bit more to the top.

I've never stopped at the aid station at the top. You're only about 90 minutes into a long day at that point and it's also a bit of a melee. So as usual I cautiously rolled on by and started the chilly descent to Idaho Springs.

In retrospect I would have enjoyed the descent more if I had stopped to put on my wind jacket. I think I partly was just a bit nervous about that descent and wanted to get it behind me. It's pretty twisty with some whoop-dee-doos in the pavement here and there through some of the corners. But mostly it's just a bit crowded because the miles haven't yet strung the throngs out. And you get all sorts on that descent. Some can hold their line, others? Not so much.

But it all went fine. My shoulders were stiff as it flattened for the last miles into Idaho Springs and I was pretty chilled almost to shuddering, but a few out of the saddle stretch sprints combined with a sunny day that broke through the trees and I was fine.

Rolling through Idaho Springs was awesome. To my surprise the streets were packed with people that had come out to cheer the riders on. It was like I was in a race and the people were awesome. Stopped briefly at the 40 mile aid station and was quickly rolling again. Next stop, Loveland Basin Ski Area for lunch at mile 60 - the *halfway* point.

The Road to Loveland Basin and Feeling 'Good':
The climb from Georgetown to Loveland Basin is (from past experiences and this one) the *hardest* part of the ride. In 14 miles you climb about 2000 vertical feet. It's long and grueling and just wears on you. I don't know why and have never figured it out, but it's been that way every year I've ever ridden it, and this year was no exception.

The ride used to go onto the freeway from Silverplume to the basin for about 8 miles of harrowing, smog inhaling fun. Now there is a beautiful path through the forest that you take instead. But the constant rolling and twisting of the path had me wondering if maybe the steady climb up on the freeway shoulder wasn't better. But eventually the trees broke and I popped out on the final frontage road to the base of Loveland Pass - and lunch.

I'm happy.
Sun is just in my eyes.
Loveland Basin Ski Area is technically the 'halfway' point at 60 miles, but from an effort perspective, I know that 2/3 of the hard work is behind you. That's because there is actually only a 4 mile 'kicker' over the top of Loveland pass. It's a little steep in sections, but I know how fast it goes by if you just put your head down.

I also knew from experience how I generally feel at this point - crappy. And that helps you roll on. I texted Paige (who was trailing in the car with Luke, stopping at a bunch of fun adventures along the way to pass the time - on stand-by if I had a mechanical or my shoulder started really hurting). She asked if I was feeling 'good'. I texted back that I felt about how I expected I would feel, and while I wouldn't call it 'good', I felt strong about the rest of the ride going well.

I was also a bit bonky, but I knew some food would quickly fix that. Especially food of the simple carbs variety. I had planned on carb-ing my way through the ride. It works for me - although I do get a tad of a sugar hangover by the end of the day. No GI issues, but it's just not food I enjoy eating.

Rolling out for the last kick over the pass I felt happy with just a bit of cramping in my left calf that I knew would subside once it realized we had a ways to go still. "Shut up Legs".

Rolling up Loveland Pass - the 4 mile kick in the pants.

Top of Loveland Pass
12,000 feet. Time to put on the jacket.
Descent of Loveland Pass, Swan 'Mountain' and Frisco:
The descent down Loveland Pass to Dillon is actually very scenic and pleasant. They had shut down traffic for the most part and the pack had strung out enough that it took some nerves out of the equation. 

After about 12 miles of fast descent, you hang a hard left to bump over Swan Mountain (which is not really a mountain by any stretch of the imagination). It actually felt good to stretch the legs out on the climb and wind back up again. And the road down to Frisco was nicely paved and fast with little to no car traffic (and few bonehead riders). So I opened it up a bit through the corners.

The Frisco aid station is one I just usually want to get through. In the past we've actually just found a restaurant with a patio, sat down and had a nice lunch. But today it was just me and I wanted to get on with it.

The Road to Vail Pass and the Final Climb:
I'm not a huge fan of this part of the ride. It's scenic, but it's mostly bike path, and there is a lot of bike and pedestrian traffic. Not just Triple riders, but also tourists out having a nice day and wondering why there are so many bikes. Everyone is really nice, but it can get a bit congested with families walking bikes up little hills and people talking on cell phones wandering aimlessly on the path. Time to chill and enjoy the views. But not being able to zone out makes the ride to Copper a bit of a slog.

When you get to the base of Vail, you actually only have about 6 more miles of climbing to go to the summit. The westbound climb is gradual and really beautiful and scenic. And it's all on bike path far away from the freeway that winds on elevated posts far overhead. I always think it's futuristic looking, the freeway high above - I don't know why.

Last part of the Vail Pass climb.
Happy, happy, happy.
My power had dropped a bit at this point. Climbing muscles were saying they were done. C'mon legs, just a bit more and we can descend to Vail. Then it's the 40K 'time trial' to Avon. It's at this point that I know it's all going to be good and I'm going to be at the finish before I know it.

Tiki bar at Vail Summit.

Nobody to chat to - time to descend and wrap this up.
Vail Pass Descent and the Time Trial to the Finish:
The Descent down the east side of Vail pass is fast, fast, fast. They had paved the road that you pop out onto from the path that takes you to East Vail and it was awesome. Trees, no cars, no cross streets, just descending as fast as you want to go - and I wanted to go fast. I did scrub the brakes when I started seeing over 40 mph. I've descended at 50+ mph in my past, but I'm just past that point in my life. I'm not saying bad things can't happen if you go down at 40 mph, but it doesn't get better as you go faster - so there.

The final 40K or so is slightly downhill to flat from East Vail to Avon. The bike lane is wide and in good shape. The traffic is light. It's always been a favorite part of the ride for me:
1. At this point you know you're going to make it.
2. You start using different muscles so you feel fresher and your power comes back up.
3. It's fast, fast fast. I was soloing at 22 - 26 mph the whole way.

Which brings me the point that I solo'd the whole ride. No drafting. Drafting can make a big difference in time if you have the right crew, but there were two kinds of pace-lines I saw:

The first was the people that while well-intentioned, had no clue as to how to pace-line. I'm not being a snob, and I'm not going to get into specifics. But when folks can't keep an even 'effort' over small rollers and descents, it can be more distracting than it's worth to try and work with them. Shifting constantly, sitting up, pulling too hard when they roll to the front and then not being able to hold a wheel when they roll off, tapping brakes instead of wind braking..... OK, I guess I did get into specifics.

The second type of pace lines I saw were guys that were strong and seemed to know what they were doing. But they were being unsafe. In a ride (this isn't a race) the intent of a pace line is to shelter the wind and create a fast but flowing train. A well run pace line in a ride like this should pass you like a flock of silent birds. It should look effortless. Instead, these second groups looked like someone had injected a bunch of yahoos with meth and turned them loose on bikes. All brute force, no finesse. Choppy, cutting back over and fragmenting when they almost took out oncoming traffic on the path. Causing cars to slam the brakes in round-abouts (which tourists already have enough trouble navigating). No thanks. I want my last 40K to be a strong, but calming effort. For fun, I'd let these guys string out for a half mile or so, then work to bridge to just a couple bike lengths away. Could have easily jumped on and done my share there fella's. Satisfied that I still 'had it' - I let them go and went back to my steady effort.

The Finish and Recovery:

On the last corner of the finish I heard someone call out my name. A friend of ours had recognized me as I was rolling by her. That's pretty good, I don't know that I was paying much attention to anything than just rolling on through.

We stopped after the finish line and chatted for a bit. It was fortuitous because my phone had died, so she was able to text Paige to let her know that I was there.

Was pretty happy to see that I had actually PR'd both my ride time (7:54) and total time (9:05) from the last time I had done this ride - 12 years younger!

Luke actually spotted me first, recognizing the Kompetitive Edge kit. I joke that with the arm and leg warmers I look like a Smurf. But I really do like this year's team kit a lot. The Peal Izumi fits great, it's super functional and as a bonus - very visible to a 7 year old. Solid in my book.

It was so great to see Paige and Luke at the finish after being alone for the whole day. Yeah, alone with a few thousand other riders, but alone in my thoughts just the same. It's nice to accomplish something like that and have your loved ones there waiting for you. I continue to feel #sodamnlucky every day of my life.

Grabbed some real food and my free Colorado Native beer. I just sat on the grass and kind of zoned out while I ate. Felt good to get something substantive in my stomach.

The clouds were rolling in so I took off the shoes and we walked (me barefoot) back to the car. Threw on some dry warm clothes and we did the uneventful drive back home.

That evening I sat around having a well deserved adult beverage in my compression boots. I felt surprisingly good - probably better than in all past Triples. In the coming days I would continue feeling good and recover well.

At Nationals last year
I really am grateful for everyone and everything that makes rides like this so easy. Paige taking the day and shuttling a toolkit and tubes just in case I need support or a rescue, and then meeting me at the finish line like that to drive me home. She is the most awesome chick I know - which is cool - 'cuz we're hitched.

A week post Triple
All that work soaking in and paying off on the climbs.

And the support I get from Ryan and Drew at KE - getting my bike perfectly tuned up and helping me with my sports addiction overall is awesome. 

But also the support and friends on the Kompetitive Edge team. I've met so many great friends over the past couple of years with the team. It's always great to see a familiar KE kit and high five each other at race venues or hang out in a chair in the team tent after a race and just chat. And the group rides push me to work hard and be a little competitive than I would riding alone. #kompete #live2thrive

Monday, June 22, 2015

Updates on Healing

First ride outside in 3 months - yeah!
It’s been 14 weeks since The Accident. Healing has been slow, but continuous; and all the news has continued to be promising. X-Rays at 11 weeks showed all the bones well along on healing and a recent MRI showed a ‘little bit of everything’ with regard to strains and swelling in the shoulder capsule, but nothing major. No surgery (although it’s an option to speed things along), and although the daily PT work can wear on you – seeing progress on a weekly basis keeps me coming back at it.

I can do pretty much 100% of day to day activities and can run and bike without anything more than the occasional stiff shoulder after long rides or runs.

Long ride climbing up Squaw Pass with
one of my KE teammates.

Ok, it never got this bad.
Weight has been slowly coming off – I gained about 5lbs while I was laid up and that was when I was within 5lbs of ‘race weight’ – so it went the wrong direction after the accident obviously. I still have another 5-6 lbs before I feel ‘normal’ again and another 2-3 lbs after that to be at ‘race weight’. That may not sound like a lot – but those last few lbs are a bear to shed without compromising training (and also not living the life of a nutritional monk).

On the downside: I still can’t swim effectively yet due to range of motion issues; although I suspect I could start working in the water again sometime this week or next. Then we’ll see how far behind I am and how quickly that comes back.

Ride last weekend with a big crew (including the fetching
Paige Sheen - third from the left). Nice to ride in a pack again.
I also had to cancel out of my first 3 races of the season, and also have dropped out of USAT Nationals in early August because it’s a lot of money to go, and I just didn’t feel I’d be able to do compete at the level I’d want to be at there.

Be seeing this view in a few weeks on Evans!
On the upside: I’m still riding the Triple Bypass in a couple weeks (120 mi / 12,000 ft of climbing) and my last few longer / climbing rides make me feel like I’ll be ready for that in time. I also signed up for the Mt. Evans Hill Climb a couple weeks later. Looking forward to a race I’ve been wanting to do for quite a number of years now!

I rode so much on the trainer I started to see myself
inside... riding the trainer...
The intensity sessions on the trainer while I was cooped up inside really paid off on the bike fitness. So much that I’m sold on keeping one or two weekly ‘pain cave’ sessions as a regular staple of my year round training.

Overall I still realize that I was very, very lucky (on a number of counts). I also know that in another couple months I’ll be feeling pretty competitive again. There are plenty of racing opportunities in Colorado (as well as a potential destination 70.3 in September!

Got to cheer Luke on for his first tri of the season. He rocked it!!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The 'Accident'

"That sound means something really bad just happened"

That was the thought going through my head as I was being thrown around like a rag doll and heard the crunching sound in my upper body. A sound that I've come to know as the harbinger of something bad being done to my body.

I've taken my share of spills. Most all of them have been unpleasant. But the absence of any snap, crackle or pop usually means that after 5-10 days the bruising and road rash will heal. You lay there, sprawled out on the street or trail. After a few seconds the initial impact pain subsides and you start to move and assess. Yep, that still works. Bruise there, but the joint still functions. Another minute and your up and shaking it off.

I had actually had such a spill the Monday right before what I've come to refer to as 'The Accident". I was riding my commuter to the Dentist and the (cheap-ass) pedal backed itself out. The perfect storm was that I was out of the saddle, sprinting up a hill at the exact moment the pedal chose to detach from the crank arm. With nothing to support it, my right foot extended to the ground and out the front door I went. I bounced at least once and recall the pedal skittering out in front, leading the way as I rolled over on my back and swore at the mechanical gremlin that created a fall that 'wasn't my fault' (it actually was my fault because I put the 'cheap-ass' pedal on in the first place). Assessment; bruised elbow, road rash on the leg, hip and arm. I got up and finished my commute to the Dentist, sore but functional. Yes - I rode one footed with the little bastard pedal tucked into my backpack. Two days off from swimming (nobody wants to see blood in the water) and I was back at it.

Back at it at least until that Sunday afternoon.

'The Accident' happened at about 11:15am on Sunday, March 15th. My seven year old and I were headed to shop for a bathing suit for our upcoming trip to Orlando. Then we were going to head to the pool and swim some laps. I love swimming in the same lane as him. He doesn't always stick to his side, or swim in proper circles, but that let's me practice my sighting. I love rolling to my side, timing my stroke so I don't whack him and seeing his little, lean body slide past me. I watch to see his kick, sometimes I catch his breathing stroke and see the progress he's making at not rolling his body over to sneak a breath. Sometimes he sees me and smiles. 50 yards and we pass each other again.

I turned the key in the ignition and got a 'click' in return. What really ticked me off about the dead battery was that I had just had it replaced the previous Monday (car in the shop necessitated me commuting to the Dentist and the 'crap pedal' encounter described earlier).

Now, this was the first bad decision of the day (there would only be two). Undeterred (and a bit angry), I figured I would put a foot out of the car and push the car back. Roll it down the driveway and get my neighbor to jump start me. My seven year old later told me that his thought was we should just hop on our bikes and ride to the pool. One of the many times he's proven to be smarter than me.

As the car started to roll, I sat back down and was too late in pulling the car door closed. It wedged on the side of the garage door frame. No damage to the car, but it was interfering with my brilliant plan. On to bad decision numero dos. The decision that would change my day, week, month, season.

"Luke, I'm going to push the car forward. When I do, pull the car door shut"

Writing it out like that, the stupidity is astounding on a variety of levels. Part of me writing this blog entry is a cathartic confession of sorts. You don't have your child get out of his car seat and put himself in harms way like that. It was stupid and irresponsible. But at the time, it seemed reasonable and perfectly safe. What happened next proved it wasn't.

I pushed the car forward and Luke obediently pulled the car door shut. I thank god that he was taken out of harms way, safely surrounded by a 4000 lb cocoon of metal and plastic.

I was pushing this 2 ton cocoon slowly back into the garage. In my head I had resolved that I'd just leave it until my wife returned. Right at that moment, the rear tire reached the apex of the little bump in the pavement that separates the driveway from the garage floor. It paused, and then physics coldly acted on the fact that the force being applied by a scrawny 168 lb guy in flip flops was not sufficient to overcome the stored potential energy wanting the car to roll back down off that little pavement bump.

Our driveway isn't steep, but it proved enough. I started to lose the battle. Flip flops sliding on the driveway, the alarms started going off.

There was no thought process here to take credit, or discredit for. It was all instinctual. The first instinct probably saved my life. I let go of the car and spun out of it's path. Out of harms way, my brain shifted to the next imperative of stopping the car.

Now; if I could have paused the scene right there to think it through, I would have quickly realized that the driveway isn't steep enough to have the car roll any faster than 4-5 mph. I would have also assessed that the bounce from curb to street, coupled with a slightly uphill street crossing would have the car slow to a crawl before it got across the street and by the time it hit the curb on the opposite side, it would rock to a complete stop, probably barely mounting the sidewalk. Luke would be safe, and I would just feel stupid for kicking off this chain of events in the first place. I'd count myself lucky. Have some bad day dreams for the next few days of what could have happened, and learned a valuable lesson.

But there is no 'pause' button. Time didn't slow down. The car was rolling and my only imperative was to stop it. People have said afterwards that it was because Luke was in the car that my protective instincts took over. Maybe there was an underlying subconscious instinct that drove my next move, but I can't for sure claim credit for that. I had no thought other than, "I need to stop the car". And as I said, it wasn't so much a thought as an imperative.

I jogged along side the car, matching it's crawling speed. I popped the door open and jumped in, feet first into the drivers side, aiming to have my foot land on the brake pedal.

I missed, and fell out backwards onto the pavement. My feet were hooked under the dashboard and my upper body was being dragged along. Like a rag doll I was dragged up onto my right shoulder as I was rolled over. The passing open car door pocketed and trapped my left shoulder perfectly as I rolled up on my right side.

We'll be calling her 'Christine'
from here on out.
The distance across my shoulders is 19 inches. I've since measured the distance from the car door to the pavement as 12 inches. I can probably fold my shoulders in to about 16 or 17 inches. You do that math, it makes me cringe too much to calculate it these days.

That's when I heard the sound. That tell-tale of something bad being done to my body. I finished my roll and was spit out of the car and flopped onto my back. The car (as predicted by the after the fact analysis above) did exactly as calculated and came to an easy rolling stop. I highly doubt the crushing and tossing of my body took much energy out of it's equation. Then came the waves of pain that confirmed something was seriously wrong.

I take some solace in the fact that my first thought was of Luke, not myself. I wanted to make sure that he was safe and that he wasn't scared. He came running up and I could hear his scared little voice asking if I was OK. I assured him that I was hurt, but everything would be fine. I told him we were going to need to call an ambulance. I instructed him to walk  up to our neighbor's house that we were in front of and knock on the door. Not only did he do that, but once Chris was out, Luke ran inside to our house and made me a little ice pack. That melted my heart.

From there on out things played out in an orderly fashion. Ambulance and fire trucks came and more rational minds took over. I remember just bits and pieces of the next few hours. There were lots of questions, as you'd assume there would be when an EMT pulls up and sees a guy laying outside of a car on the street.

After we got to the hospital, there were visual inspections, more questions, multiple X-rays and a CAT scan. There was also, thankfully, a potpourri of narcotics. At one point the ER guys told me that I was on 2-3 times the dosage of Fentanyl. He honestly didn't know how I remained conscious.

Part of the damage.
That should be in one piece, not three.
The immediate damage assessment was a broken clavicle (collar-bone), 3 broken ribs (not the floating ones, the fully attached puppies under my upper arm), and a broken scapula. I was told multiple times that it's incredibly rare to break a scapula because it's surrounded by such thick muscle. Go big or go home I guess. But in the aftermath I became aware of just how serious this was. Besides the structural damage, they were worried about internal bleeding, punctured lungs and blood clotting. In the next couple of days in ICU, They were also worried about pneumonia and me just plain stopping breathing due to the narcotics. I was on anti-clotting agents, pneumatic boots, antacids and a constant flow of Oxygen. My blood oxygenation sensor would occasionally go off when I was sleeping and a nurse would come running in to bump up my O2 feed.

I look more normal than I feel - but still.
It's been nearly 5 weeks now since the accident. Things are coming along slowly but surely. On one hand, I'm amazed by the body's ability to heal itself from such trauma (right now they are saying no surgery is necessary. I guess all the swim, bike & run helped provide some decent musculature which they told me probably protected things from being worse and stabilized the bones). But on the other hand - there is a long way to go before I'm swimming IM sets in the pool again. I've been able to go on walks and can ride the bike trainer. Did some sit-ups yesterday, and of course there is a daily regimen of passive range of motion work. Next X-ray is in a week and hopefully can start some active movements. I can shower, shave and eat right handed (somewhat) again. I can type and therefore work. The day to day pain has been replaced by a background ache and the occasional, 'yeah - that's not working yet and you shouldn't try it - type pain'.

But most importantly, I've realized just how lucky I was. It could have been so much worse. I could have rolled under the wheel and had my legs, knees, ankles crushed. I could have rolled the wrong way and had my chest, neck or head crushed, or I could have fallen behind the car and been crushed all the way down the driveway. I'm pretty sure that death could have been a probably outcome in those latter two cases. And not a day goes by that I don't thank God that nothing happened to Luke.

In retrospect, it was so, SO stupid and irresponsible. I never claimed to not occasionally do stupid things and I've started looking at how I've been so lucky up to this point. Standing on the roof to put on Christmas lights, more than once jumping into a moving car in my lifetime - probably 5-6 times? Got away with it each time. Maybe someone was trying to make an impression before I did something that would get me killed. I've taken away that I need to incorporate taking a step back as part of my decision making process. Think of the things that could go wrong rather than just relying on my charmed existence and (obviously degrading with age) cat like reflexes.

I've spent a lot of the last weeks looking back. I replay the moment of the accident and I wince every time I hear the sound in my memory and envision myself being tossed around. I hug Luke and Paige a lot and thank God for being #sodamnlucky

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Pain Cave Setup with Wahoo Kickr and Trainer Road

In general, I'm an outdoor cat. I struggle with working out inside and will venture out even if the weather is marginal rather than roll along the miles on the treadmill or trainer.

But with all the indoor training technology that's available now, it almost becomes fun to work out indoors in what we call the 'Pain Cave'.

Two key technology upgrades are a powerful floor fan and a big screen TV in front of you. These alone can make the time on the trainer roll by a bit faster, and both are reasonably priced upgrades. Toss in an AppleTV (or FireTV) and you can now stream Netflix and other movies without having to route a cable to the room. If you're going to stream video, I highly recommend a decent wireless router (one that will push 5Ghz) and an upgrade to your Internet bandwidth.

But my latest upgrade this year is the addition of a Wahoo Kickr and an online subscription to Trainer Road.

If you're not familiar with the Wahoo Kickr, you need to check it out. It's a power based trainer that will transmit either Bluetooth or ANT+. It's got a substantive flywheel for that semi-road feel, and you pull your rear wheel to mount the bike - no more burning rubber smell in the house, plus you don't ruin tires. But it's real key feature is it's ability to operate in Erg mode. In short, Erg mode allows you (or another third party application) to tell the Kickr what power to operate at, and it will force you to remain at that power. Pedal faster, and there is less resistance, pedal slower - and pretty soon you'll be almost standing on the pedals to get them to turn (recall that power is a combination (specifically the 'dot product' if you want to get mathematical) of force and velocity. This means you can dial in say 175 Watts and then just pedal at a decent cadence. The Kickr does the work of keeping you honest - leaving you free to be distracted by the latest edition of Homeland, Cake Boss, or whatever keeps your mind occupied for the duration. If you're interested in a more detailed review of the Kickr, DC Rainmaker did a good one a while back.

Now, in and of itself, that's pretty cool. But it's only the start. The Kickr becomes the foundation for a whole high-tech training environment. My personal favorite addition is Trainer Road.

Trainer Road is a subscription based software that hosts a boatload of workouts to service just about every type of need you might have when you head into the pain cave. This includes workouts that are perfectly sync'd to The Sufferfest videos (one of my personal favorite cycling workout video libraries). This means you can open up Trainer Road (it runs as a small app on your desktop) and select one of the Sufferfest workouts ("A Very Dark Place" is one of my favorite videos to hate). You can run the workout as-is, or you can drag and drop the video (you have to purchase the video from The Sufferfest separately) into the Trainer Road app; and bazinga - you now are running a video that is perfectly sync'd to the workout with Trainer Road automatically adjusting the resistance of the Wahoo Kickr to keep you at the target power for each interval. If you don't think that's cool, then you haven't fully processed what I just said - or you're completely jaded on technology and you need to think back to a day when it took an hour to cook a baked potato.

Just a sampling of the Sufferfest library on Trainer Road

Workout opened and waiting for you to drop in the video.
Of course you're not just limited to Sufferfest videos. You could drop in any video to any workout to keep you mind off the suffering - or boredom (whatever the workout of the day calls for).

You can even stream video from something like Netflix and run Trainer Road as a simple dashboard to that video. Or you can use it as a stand-alone dashboard and just stare at that.

There's a bit of technology behind the scenes that's required to get this to all work seamlessly together. Here's the full configuration that supports what I've been talking about here so far:

A few notes on the above:
  • I use ANT+ because I had an ANT+ stick for my laptop and my cadence sensor only supports ANT+. However, the Kickr and Wahoo HR monitor (and others) support Bluetooth as well. You can also get cadence sensors (again from Wahoo or others) that support Bluetooth - so you could use all Bluetooth as an alternative. However, a specific version of Bluetooth is required and my laptop didn't support it native. So I would have had to get a special Bluetooth (BLED112) dongle - so I just went with what I have.
  • I keep my videos on a Networked Attached Storage (NAS) device to save space on the laptop, but you could run them directly on the laptop.
  • TrainerRoad automatically saves your workouts. But you can export them easily to GarminConnect or Golden Cheetah (which I use for post workout analysis). 
Here's the result. It's pretty exciting (to a geek) when you realize what's under the covers to make this happen and the fact that it all operates seamlessly once you've got it set up. (fyi - there's an AppleTV hanging on the wall vertically to the right and below the TV - but it's not used in this configuration).

Finally, note that this is just one of many possible configurations to use a Wahoo Kickr and even Trainer Road. When I'm just doing a simple ride, I might just fire up the Wahoo Fitness app on my phone, and manipulate the resistance manually. In that mode, I might just watch a movie via the AppleTV. The Wahoo Fitness App automatically syncs with GarminConnect when I'm done.

If you're using an iPhone or iPad (with either the Wahoo Fitness App or Trainer Road) you could Airplay it to the AppleTV instead of using a laptop and HDMI cable. 

And because Wahoo has an open API, there are a ton of other apps besides Trainer Road that you could integrate in a similar way. Strava Segments is one that lets you ride particular segments (that you or someone else created) and have the app auto adjust the resistance based on the segment profile. Want to ride a particular IM course? Well, if there's a Strava segment out there for it, you can train on it all winter long.

You can explore all the other apps and integrations out there. There are a lot of possibilities, including virtual training and racing apps and subscription videos.

I've been riding and experimenting with the Kickr and have been pretty pleased with how much more interesting it makes indoor training. It's worth it to get me through the winter - or at least to the next time I can head outside!

Side-bar: Training indoors is an excellent way to build cycling specific fitness. But in my experience, it's not cycling. I think of it as training the 'engine' - you still have to head outside to put it to use and integrate it into true cycling. It's not an either / or. You could certainly train exclusively indoors or outdoors all season, but IMHO, you'd be missing out on maximizing your potential if you ignored either part of the equation. So when it's nice - get outdoors, even if you have to bundle up a bit!