RAMROD 2017, Training and Ride report

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Ride Around Mount Rainier On a Day - RAMROD - a 152 mile ride with ~10,000 feet of elevation to climb. I heard about this ride from my cycling mentor Matt McTee 4 years ago. I never imagined I would ever be doing this brutal ride for what I was used to riding. But since last summer, after my renewed passion in cycling and also following Tim, who is also my cycling mentor, I made up my mind during the winter to do RAMROD this year. After climbing Haleakala , RAMROD was one of the 2017 fitness goals .  Tim, Dave and I applied for the lottery as a team - "Team Mountain Goats". On April 1st we received a note that I was not selected in the Lottery. But realized, there was a system glitch and that mail was sent to every one on April 1st (Hmm..what a April first joke). Luckily next week we received a mail that we are selected in the lottery.  Getting in the lottery is good, but now I should be fit enough to ride this brutal ride.

RAMROD Training : During winter I bought a Wahoo Kickr and signed up for Trainer road. The last winter was a severe and long winter for us, so I had to train most of the time indoors. But I tried to be as regular as possible with at least 2-3 spin session and definitely that improved my overall aerobic fitness. By March I had a decent fitness to do my first ride with lots of climbing. Tim & I did the Edge 42, with some steep hills around the east side. Definitely I got dropped by Tim in one of the hills. But I was improving. Along with Tim & Dave, we started doing some regular weekend ride picking up the Ramrod Training series routes. By April I bought my new bike - Trek Domane SL6. A nice endurance geometry with ultegra groupset, this was a beautiful bike to ride. I did my first century ride in April with good climbing in the first half and a mostly flat route in the second half.  By may with regular weekday and weekend rides I had put on some good mileage on the bike. Third week of May I had to travel to China and India and took a 10 day break in-between. Came back by end of May with few additional pounds, but still managed a Personal record in the 7 hills of Kirkland century . By the time I was doing flying wheels, I was in good run and even completed my fastest century ride ever at 17.9 mph.  At Tour de blast, I was definitely climbing St. Helens at a much easier heart rate and also was able to complete the ride with a personal record time and speed. By end of June I went to Lake Chelan for one of the toughest ride ever I have done. Dave and I with help from Tim went and rode at Mt Rainier couple of times. We did all the climbs in Rainier to get familiarized with the climb. Thanks to Tim who was our personal support during this ride. Unfortunately he had to drop from training because of injury. I definitely PRd on the sunrise, chinook climbs compared to last year. By July 2nd week, I had put good mileage on the bike with some serious climbing practice.
Nutrition : This was the biggest struggle because of family and my own self control. I was on and off with a good eating habits. My travel to India and China in May was a set back in my weight goals. I came back with additional pounds. One of the key in these extended climbing rides is body weight, since you are riding against gravity. By June I got into a serious diet rhythm, which partly helped in being at a decent weight for RAMROD, but definitely not the right time trying to cut down food intake, since I was also training hard. But the last two months before RAMROD, I was completely off sugar and any refined carbs. I mostly had good vegetables, fruits or eggs. I did take dairy since I need my yogurt . The day before hard rides, I did take rice and tried to cut back on other days. This helped in my overall performance and also my hear rate improved on the climbs.

On RAMROD Day : I carpooled with Subu to the start point, and had to wake up at 2.30 AM to be there at the start by 4.30. The day started with getting a speeding ticket on my way to the start point. But still was hoping for a good ride. I started at 5.00 AM and had to ride solo for the first 36 miles, since Dave was not there at the start at 5. It drizzled for the first 30 miles, since it was not pouring, a very pleasant weather.I averaged about 18mph till Ashford sticking to few pace lines which were at decent pace. I tried to avoid hard pacelines since there was some good climbing to do post the 65 miles. After the first rest stop Dave and I stuck to each other for the rest of the ride, and was at Wildwood food stop by 8.30 AM. We were going at some decent pace and I was not eating enough till this point. I was avoiding the bagels and did not like eating the bars, So mostly I was running low on nutrition and I could feel slowly in my legs. In the first climb to inspiration point, my legs were not at it best , and I was a bit slower but we managed to reach Inspiration point by 10.45 AM. I did some stretching with yogasanans and also tried eating some bars, but did not like the taste of it. After inspiration point , it was a long and fun downhill  to back bone ridge and I stopped at Box canyon food stop to eat some potatoes. They definitely tasted better and that is where I got some real nutrition. By the time I entered cayuse pass, it was 12 noon and we were super lucky to have the weather in the 70s and lots of shade in Cayuse. The potatoes and gu shot gave the energy to climb cayuse not at my PR but at a decent pase. The nine mile climb with the stop in between for water following another amazing downhill, took  about 1 hour and 50 minutes ,we were at the deli stop near crystal mountain before 2 pm.  The deli stop had some chips and fruits I gorged every bit of it, and they had a coke can. A coke tasted never better before, and the sugar and caffine helped me to push the next 36 miles of mostly flat to down hills but with heavy head wind. The head winds for the last segment were just too much and Dave did pull a good 19 miles in this part. For last the 10 miles, I found a good pace line and stuck to it in every section till the end which helped us to push really hard. By 4.15 PM we were at the finish line. I averaged a 15.8 mph for this 152 mile ride with some good climbing. When I finished I still had gas left in the tank and definitely was not feeling completely done ( I could barely move when I finished first STP or even this year Chelan century). A good weather and a great support helped in completing this ride which I never imagined I would be doing it.

Fundraising : Since 2014, I have been trying to support the cause to educate children. There are many other causes I support, but Educating the first generation of school goers is something I personally fundraise every year through the bike ride I do. Educating a kid who is in need is like teaching someone to fish. A good education could transform the life of not just the kid but also that of his/her family. The impact is amplified more so because most of the children we support are first-generation school goers. A learning from my own personal life and have seen many such stories among my friends. To continue with this effort, I raised funds to educate kids in need through Asha for Education initiative for RAMROD. A Million thanks to all the friends who supported me in reaching the fund raising goal to support the cause to educate children through Asha for Education - Seattle Chapter
Takeaways :
  • Winter base training is must base fitness. Improved base fitness with reducing my resting heart rate.
  • Focus on weight loss and get to goal weight before spring. Trying to lose weight during training was a struggle. 
  • Improve on the bike eating pattern and find the right nutrition balance
  • Work on core fitness, this would help me do better on these long climbs in holding a steady line.
  • Improving fat adaptation and reduce carb dependency and focus on high fat lower carbs by eating fresh and natural food more.
  • Avoid sugar and other packaged items all through winter before I start training hard in spring.
Here is the link to my RAMROD ride . Also some photos from the ride.

Artist Point, Mt. Baker ride report

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Writing after a long time. I have been doing some bike rides in the mountains since last seasons. During the ride, especially on those long climbs I go through a lot of emotions and always wanted to pen them down. For example my thoughts climbing Sunrise point in Mount rainier last year vs this season has been way different. Last year, it was the hardest climb I have done. But after doing many such climbs including Haleakala, this year, my goal was focused on climbing at a without spending much time in threshold heart rate. As some one said, cycling is all about progressive insanity, every year the goals move as I progress in my fitness to be a stronger in cycling.
Yesterday, I had an awesome ride to Artist Point in Mount Baker with High performance cycling group (HPC). We started the ride from Maple Falls in Whatacom county. It is a good 2 hour drive from my home, and for change I was driving the carpool with David from HPC.  We started to Pedal with couple more folks around 9.15 am. One other rider was supposed to join, but she started at 9.30 but caught us at the summit.
The ride to Artist point from Maple falls is 32 mile long, and the summit at ~5K feet elevation. So net you would have climbed about 4500 feet in total elevation. The main climb is from mile 22, and the road just goes up till the summit at an even grade of 5-6%. But as you start climbing, and go towards Mt. Baker Ski area, you get some stunning views of snow covered Mt. Shuksan. About 4 miles to the summit, you reach Heather meadows. This winter had snowed a lot so we could not see the meadows, it was covered by snow. There were folks still trying to ski around that area.   I was riding at a steady pace average 7-8 mph. Not the fastest climber in the pack, but steady pedaling took me to the top in about 15 minutes behind the fast guys. The last 2-3 miles had a quick switch backs and the grade went up to 8%, and the roads had snow walls on the side which made the ride spectacular. Artist point had snow depth ~8 inches and it is July.
We started the down hill, was being super cautious seeing the road condition. Unfortunately David hit a pot hole and went down pretty hard. I was behind them and I was cursing the pot hole as I crossed it and saw David was standing with other riders trying to figure out what has happened. Luckily he got away with some road rash, but the bike had some issues. We were able to ride back to Maple falls with the fast guys pulling us a descent but not at a super fast pace. We stopped for Ice cream at Glacier, I skipped the additional sugar load.  We finished the ride around 2.30 PM.  Looking at the final stats, even with a super cautious descent , I had a steady pace and completed the ride at 15mph. Lots to work on the climbing skills, need to work on improving core strength to hold the line on long climbs and also improve the power to weight ratio before next season.
If you plan to do this ride, definitely it is worth the effort  for its spectacular views. But be super careful on the descent, the road is nasty , it is not worth the risk to improve your average speed by descending fast.  Here are some photos from the ride. If you plan to do this ride sooner, you can get these amazing views. Strava ride stats : https://www.strava.com/activities/artist-point-ride-with-hpc-1076230924

2016 Looking back

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I called 2016 as "Year of intentional focus". Looking back , it was 365 days filled with lot of action , some inaction as well. I doubled my focus on some of my passions but also got distracted from a few areas I did want to put some focus.  On personal front, my little angel is more than a year old now , Sakthi & I complete two years of marriage. At work, I survived more than a year in tech product management. Similar to what I have written in the past, I will review my goals and progress on my various passionate areas.

Technology :
For 2016, my goals outside of work are : (1) Swift programming (2) Machine learning basics.
  • I attended a basic course on "Swift programming" and reviewed my programming basics in February.
  • Dirtied my hands along with few other developers in understanding the bot framework and we managed to build a basic bot called AskHR Bot and demoed in our Hackathon
  • I did sign up for couple of MOOCs on Data analysis and machine learning and never spent dedicated time to complete them. I wanted to read few technical books , but ended up learning only one on web designing.
  • I did plan to build a basic mobile app and also write a classifier or spam filter to deepen my learning  - but never managed to spend time in this area
For 2017 my 1 top goals for this area : Take up a coding project online and work on that regularly over the year

Plan : I would spend time dirtying my hand with coding and spend time writing code at least one hour a week.

Health & Fitness
2016, my top 3 goals for fitness are  : (1) Get body fat level to below 20% (2) One day finish at STP  (3) Swimming : 300 miles , cycling 1000 miles
2017 , my top 3 goals for fitness are  : (1) Get body fat level to below 20% (2) (Completing Ramrod (if I win the lottery))Complete Everesting (3) Swimming : 50 miles , cycling 3000 miles
Plan : I would stick to the same diet of eating real foods (Veggies, egg, meat , fruits, skip sugar and grains), with intermittent fasting. Good base training with cycling and swimming with added strength training twice a week. I would also do kriya yoga at least once a week.

Personal Finance
2016, my top 2 goals : (1) Increasing the saving rate to move towards financial freedom (2) Continue to stay away from debt
  • Continued to stay away from debt, and doubled the focus on saving rate with lower focus on investment returns.
  • Continued my retirement investing to US index funds completely with 401(k), Roth IRA, Health savings account.
  • Finally managed to build the 6 month emergency fund and that also helped on overall asset allocation of my portfolio which was heavily equity biased. This will be my risk cushion
  • Biggest goal achievement was finally closing and getting my house in India which was bought for India.
  • Managed to complete the Living will through a local attorney. Also continued to regularly update the master document and managed to close on all real estate documentation work.
2017 goals : I stay with past goals and last year plan of  (1) Increasing the saving rate to move towards financial freedom (2) Continue to stay away from debt

My goals for 2016, (1) Read 25 Books at an analytical level (2)  Write about 10 companies
  • Beginning of the year I started reading at a good pace, and after my India visit, I dropped my focus in reading big time. This is one of the areas where I did not hit my goal
  • I just read 8 books and had been on and off with reading. Facebook and other random web surfing had been a big time killer from reading books.
  • I did not write about even one of the company, I did start researching early in the year and that stopped mid-way.
For 2017, my top 2 goals : (1) Read 15 Books (2)  Write about 3 companies after deep research
Plan : Read 1 books a month, I already have a reading list for 2017 ready here. I will still  have the plan to read at least 25 days a day. Write a page every week and at least one post a month in the blog

2016 goals were  (1) Play Aadi Talam in Mridangam fairly well (2) Memorize Rudram, and sukthams
  • Had been regular to the mridangam classes till holidays, but definitely this was lower in priority with my biking schedule.
  • I did learn the basic Aadi talam in Mridangam , but far away from playing it in greater fluency.
  • I also ensured I attended most of the monthly Seattle Rudram chanting event based on availability. I am able to chant most of the Namakam without book, but yet to memorize completely. I am able to chant most of the Sukthams.
For 2017 I keep the same goals , as I am yet to hit completely: (1) Play Aadi Talam in Mridangam (2) Memorize Rudram, and sukthams
Plan :  Practice Mridangam at least 1 day a week and attend weekly classes regularly. Memorize one stanza of Rudram every two weeks

Movies , Travel & More
I did want to reduce my movie binge watching, but definitely the movie buff in me could not control last year as well. I did watch most of the Tamil / Malayalam movies last year. Since Sakthi & Swara were in India for a good 6 months of the year, I spent most of the leisure time outside work in biking and catching up movies. This is where I could have doubled my focus on reading. On travel, we visited India in March and visited our extended family in Coimbatore, Chennai & Salem. In the summer because of biking I travelled nearby to Vancouver & Whistler. During the holidays we had a short trip to Los Angeles and Leavenworth. The biggest travel we had this year was a 10 day vacation to Hawaii. We fell in love with Hawaii, and would love to visit the beaches again. We spent good time in the beaches and a good break from the weather.  For 2017, we hope to make a visit the east coast.  Outside of work, along with my past colleagues we did spend a good amount of time in floating a math coaching company. But by the end of year just before signing up, we had to drop the plan because one of the major partner bailed 
I have been pretty bad with posting in the blog last year. But one of the posts I made on OCI application process is the most read and commented post ever in my blog. Hope to post at least one post a month in 2017. 

For 2017, my theme would be - "Year of learning". I would like to focus my learning at work and outside work in the above areas. All my goals are around learning. Hope to post more of my learning in the coming months. Happy new year 2017 every one, There will never be a day when we won't need dedication, discipline, energy, and the feeling that we can change things for the better!