Rollin', rollin', rollin'...

I haven't been updating about my biking, either.  Since I figured out how to schedule it for minimal interference, I've mostly gone back to doing fifteen miles a day.  The difference is that I haven't been doing longer rides (aside from the occasional 18-miler).

And yesterday was worse.  I was concentrating on using my turn signal to signal a car ahead of me, and chose too tight a line around a corner, and wiped out when I tried to slow down and my rear wheel locked.  Ouch.

It wasn't as bad as the last time this happened.  It wasn't wet, so I probably slowed down more.  It was fresh pavement, so it was a bit smoother.  And maybe I wasn't going quite as fast to begin with.  Still, I scraped my right arm and hip pretty good (the latter having just about fully recovered from the last incident, finally), and had to bandage myself a bit last night.

Not fun.

Because of that, I only did around seven miles last night, so I was a bit off my pace (and sleeping was awful, last night).

That's the only big negative of late.  There are a couple of smaller ones.  I had no feedback the last two days, when the battery on my RFLKT+ died.  I replaced it, but put the cover on backwards (they should do something so this isn't possible), and it wasn't able to sync up with my phone.  The thing that pisses me off most about this is that it never stopped trying to find it.  I figured it would time out and stop searching after a few minutes, but I didn't notice until the next night that it never had stopped.  So this battery won't be lasting very long.  At least I know not to do that again, I guess.

The other little negative was that I did a hard ride a couple nights ago (the first one without the display), and I wasn't able to maintain that heart rate over 180bpm.  I could get it up there, but I couldn't maintain it for several minutes, as I've done a couple of times recently.  Because of that, my times weren't that great.  I just looked, and did manage a couple PRs that were top-10 finishes, so maybe it wasn't as terrible as it felt at the time, but it was frustrating not to be able to keep hammering all the way up the Walter Reed Dr hill by Shirlington.

Actually, now that I'm looking, there's some irony there.  I had my third-best (actually, tied for second) time on the steep part of that hill (better than I'd've guessed), but my best time on the long version of the segment (the long version includes some rollers at the top of the hill).  And I finished tied with a friend of mine for 11th overall.  Color me shocked: I guess having to reel it back in early had some benefit.  Anyway, it was a four-second gain on somewhat less than two minutes riding.  Not bad, actually.

That's got me looking at the 'Compare Efforts' page for the segment.  It seems that I outclimbed the KOM and several friends for at least the first two-thirds of the steep part.  Funny, since my time on the steep part was fourteen seconds off my record (hence my frustration; that's a hell of a lot).  But I guess I'm seventh overall on just the steep part, so maybe that makes some sense.

Anyway, outside of those annoyances, the riding has been going pretty well.  Two or three nights ago, the ride was just after some rain, and outside of the spots where there was enough water for the tires to kick it up onto me, it was just a glorious ride.  The temperature was absolutely perfect, and I was just in harmony with the night.  It was amazing; rides like that are why I get on the bike every day.  I believe that was also the day where I kept my heart rate at an average of 126bpm, and a max of 131bpm.  Perfect.

Otherwise, riding has been going well, but quite uneventfully.  Let's hope that continues.

Puzzle update

Yesterday was quite the mixed bag.  I found that Hawkeye (modern) and Magneto make for one hell of a team, using Maggie's purple power to make critical tiles out of blue ones.  They pretty much decimated the opposition, which was awesome.

In fact, I even managed to finish the final mission, facing the Hulk.  I was about to say at level 322, because that's where he was when I first looked.  But when I finally tried it (right before bed), he had increased to 330.  He had somewhere between 18-20k hit points, and it was a ridiculously close battle.  What saved me was that Magneto was doing most of the damage, but had the lowest tile-damage, so he hid in the back until the other two were both downed.

I got, I think, four 5-matches before Hawkeye went down, and those provided the bulk of the damage.  I also got off one of Magneto's red explosions before they went down.  Hulk was still ahead on hp when they were the only two left, but Magneto had a lot of blue AP and a little red.  He triggered his blue power a couple times (three, actually, although the third one was destroyed by the second before it went off), and finally finished it off with one more red blast.  I wasn't watching AP, but I think Hulk was only a couple turns from toasting Magneto when that happened.  Ugh.

It was ridiculous, though.  I pounded all the missions until the points were ridiculously small, even putting some time in to space things out a little, and I still was only able to squeeze into the top-50 (barely; I think 48th or 49th) for the day.  That doesn't bode well, although it's true that the last several events I've had my worst day on the first (so maybe there's some hope).

I'm kind of pissed that they limited available covers on Jean Grey, though.  The last several, top-150 was good enough for a single cover, now it's back down to top-100.  More annoyingly, I think every event I've been in has had top-50 be good enough for two covers, while this one requires top-20.  I suspect, as with Ant-Man, I'll have to be happy if I can get one (although that was actually two, since they had the separate Ant-Man event, from which I got a second.  Both of those were a lot of work, though).

Anyway, getting to Deadpool, a couple things.  One is that I was wrong that the prize cover is also the character leading the second wave in the two-wave mission.  That can be the case, but isn't necessarily true.

Two, yesterday was a bitch.  I was able to get through the first four missions with a minimum of hassle, but the fifth had an absolutely ridiculous first wave.  They had three Teisatsu, one kind of hand ninja that is normally only annoying, who were just pumped up to a ridiculous degree.  Starting on turn three, they were just pumping out an attack every round that did an insane amount of damage.  And when you finally killed them, they dropped two attack tiles that did over 100 damage per turn.

The first time I tried it, I eked out a win in the first round, but Storm and Black Widow were both below 300 hit points (remember, multiple 100+ pt attack tiles in play), Thor was down to half of his, and I had very few AP.  I managed to take out one second-rounder, but even that was a close call.

The second time, I prepared a little differently, waiting until attacks appeared to match red tiles.  Actually, I waited until they were about to explode.  In that way, I was able to defuse the first five or six attacks, but the next one got through and left Widow with less than 200 hit points.  Somehow, despite Storm and Widow both going down, I managed to squeak into the second round (yes, despite the apparently-better start, I still did worse overall) with Thor.  But it was with virtually no AP, and so, it was not at all surprising that he went down without even seriously challenging the second round heroes.

Basically, it was ridiculous.  I think, to win that one, you'd need a super-high level group (think three four-star heroes at level 200+), and you might still have trouble.  I wish today's, with Deadpool as the prize, was like that (since, not having Deadpool, I wouldn't see it).  Very annoying, since it was a cover I wanted and because I could seriously use the 2k Iso-8 prize for doing all five missions.

Today's Hulk missions are quite a mixed bag.  Most of them have been pretty easy, although the last one was absurd.  It had Yelena Belova with two snipers, which doesn't sound bad.  But the snipers do 4550 damage per shot.  That's enough to take down Magneto or Hawkeye with one shot.

And they did take Hawkeye down with one (the first one, actually).  I was unable to destroy it, and on the turn before it went off, I only had one move, which was moving yellow tiles, the only ones for which Hawkeye would have to move them.  I was able to win, eventually, but it was a close fight.  Two more of those shots, and I'd've been gone.

I haven't finished the day's missions, but I'm off to a good start.  I hope I can finish them, and finish the day at least as high as yesterday (although having depleted my health packs getting there, this morning, does not help.  Nor did that near-loss)


Deadpool update

One thing I forgot to mention about the Deadpool Daily challenges, yesterday.  Several of the missions have restrictions on characters.

Specifically, the first one only allows one-star characters.  The two-wave and 'third times the charm' missions only allow one- and two-stars.  You can't use characters who are being used against you in the one-wave misions (including alternate versions.  So if Black Widow (classic) is there, you can't play Black Widow (modern) or Black Widow (grey suit))

In the remaining two missions, though, you can use any characters you want (except, of course, that in the 'dat required character' mission, you do need to play that character).

Also, I didn't mention it, because it hadn't happened yet when I wrote that, I finished all five missions for the second time in two days (and second time ever) yesterday.  That felt good.

Today, I've already beaten the three-mission sequence, but I'm not sure about the other two.  She-Hulk is the required character (and prize), which is great, because I want to play her.  But the defenders in the required character mission include Black Widow (classic) and Thor (Marvel NOW!), my two standbys for playing that mission (Widow actually being the more important of the two).  Bullseye being the third is not a happy-making thing, either.  I'll probably try it, but I'm not optimistic.

Oh, and the latest even finished up this morning (for me, at least).  I finished 49th; was irritated that my last match did not finish before the deadline (especially since it was a tough one, and I killed it).  So I got two (more; I thought I'd sold her, and now am glad I didn't) Psylocke covers to make today's missions way easier.  Got diddly/squat for other covers, though.  I was really hoping for a third Scarlet Witch cover (but at least the purple cover for her, that came as a points-mandated prize, made her much more playable).

The PvE event starting today is somewhat interesting, though.  It's a seven-day one (only the second of those with which I've been involved), with a prize of a new four-star, Jean Grey.  I'm of mixed feelings about this.  Jean Grey was a favorite of mine, growing up, but the events with new characters are the toughest ones (presumably because people who don't play every day come out to play those events).  I got shut out in the event for The Thing, and just squeaked in to getting one cover for Ant-Man.  I'm going to be seriously bummed if I can't get at least one.

I hope they do a side event, similar to the Ant-Man one, so that I can be sure of getting at least one cover for her.  I suspect, though, that they won't, and that they only did the Ant-Man one as a tie-in to the movie that is coming (came?) out.


New threshold

No, not a biking post.

I was playing Puzzle Quest yesterday, and there's this thing called the Daily Deadpool.  It's a set of five missions that run every day.  They aren't identical every day, but they follow a pattern.

The first is taking on a two-star hero with two NPCs (for lack of a better term.  These might be robots, or soldiers, or ninjas, but things which don't get to move the tiles).  The hero is level fifteen, and the two sidekicks are level ten.  Win that one, and get 500 Iso-8.  Pretty easy (though I do remember when it was a challenge).

The second, which requires taking on the first, is two waves of foes.  The first wave is four NPCs of around fortieth level (there's some variation here).  When you defeat that wave, a second appears that is one three-star hero with three more NPC sidekicks.  Again, all around fortieth level.  Win that one, and you get a recruiting token for a two-star or better prize (though their definition of two-star leaves much to be desired.  It includes healing packs, for goodness' sake) plus 200 Iso-8.

This one has been routine for me for a while.

If you beat that one, you can continue on to the 'Third time's the charm' mission.  That one features three seventy-ish level heros (and you can't use those heroes to fight them, which can suck badly).  That one I've shied away from, but I took it on yesterday and beat it (with both of my games, even).  Win, and you get 1000 Iso-8.

Irrespective of the results of those three, there are two more missions.  The first requires you to have a particular three-star hero (it occurs to me now that this is also the hero that leads the second wave of the two-wave fight; never noticed that before), who you then use, along with two others, to fight three sixtieth-level heroes.  Since this is generally one for whom I have one cover (and is therefore only level forty), this one is quite a challenge for me still.  I've been winning it, but it's been nip-and-tuck every time.  If you win, you get another two-star token (again, for some weird definition of two-star).

If you win that mission, you get a final challenge, four waves of a mix of NPCs and heroes, each around level one hundred to one-thirty.  I've tried this a couple times before, and gotten my butt kicked each time.  But if you win, you get another cover for the three-star hero from the 'Dat Required Character' mission.  Only predictable way to get a three-star cover, although it's limited in a couple ways (first, it's a cover that you already have, and second, it can't be a four-star).  Still, it's pretty sweet.

So, yesterday was Spider-Man, and I was feeling optimistic, so I tried it again.  And this time, after a long and painful battle, I won.  It was kind of draining, as I was feeling like I was about to lose both times when the wave of heroes appeared.

And to add to that, I realized yesterday that, if you finish all five missions, you get a 2000 Iso-8 prize (that was part of why I wanted to try the four-wave mission yesterday).  It turns out that I was more excited about the Iso-8 than I was about the Spider-Man cover, yesterday, though I can think of a number of characters for whom that would not be the case.

Still, it felt really good, and makes me look forward to the day when even the four-wave battle is an easy one (that won't happen anytime soon).


Quick update on that last

Trying the current day's set of missions, and I'm just getting my butt kicked.  I was definitely wrong about what drives difficulty, because I'm running into easy missions that are against guys at level 117.  I guess that'd be fine if the heroes I have that are boosted were similarly high level, but the ones I have that are boosted that high have no useful powers (Ant-Man and Scarlet Witch.  Both can be very powerful, but I have a total of three covers between them, and it isn't nearly enough.  If my Scarlet Witch one were purple, that'd help a lot.  As it is, she's basically cannon fodder).

It doesn't help that this event has most characters locked.  Nor does it help that I jettisoned my two-star human torch the other day (I have the three-star with a number of covers, so I couldn't think of a reason to keep the two-star as well (they have identical powers)); that was definitely a mistake.

Meanwhile (and this is what makes it really stand out), my second game just tore through all of the missions without trouble.

I wonder... yesterday's missions went similarly at the end.  That is, I was able to win the third-to-last one a couple times with my secondary game, but got my butt handed to me twice when I tried it with my main game.  The levels faced were certainly different, which helped, but I mostly attributed it to a much stronger Ms Marvel (5 red covers vs three) who could dish out serious pain very quickly.  Now, however, I'm wondering.

Today's, though, I was seeing differences of 10-30 levels in the opposition (the 30s, not surprisingly, were the ones I noticed first).  Anyway, I'm not sure what to make of it, but it's interesting.


Puzzle Quest recap

As I've mentioned, I've been playing a ridiculous amount of Marvel Puzzle Quest.  Basically, I've been trying to collect high-rarity heroes for playing.

And I've mostly been doing that in the PvE (Player vs Environment) competitive matches.  In those, you can get a couple of two-star hero covers and one three-star for reaching point thresholds over the span of the whole competition.  You can also get up to three covers of a three-star hero for your placement in your group of 1000.

I haven't been tracking it closely, but I play two games, and have generally been getting top-100 finishes with both games.  In one of the games, I've gotten a number of top-50 as well, one or two top-20s, and a top-10.

I'm starting to find it harder, rather than easier, to get those finishes, however, despite leveling my heroes up when I can.  I'm not sure what's driving that; it might be the way the system does divisions into echelons of one thousand.

One thing that has worked well is that the levels haven't (mostly) gotten a lot more difficult.  So I think the difficulty scaling is done by what your highest-level character is.  Mine is, and has been, almost since the start, seventy-four, and I'm deliberately not increasing that.  The last several weeks has seen me pushing up the levels of my characters to get to about 70.  My plan is to get my most-played ten or fifteen all to that level, then save up 150k Iso-8 (or thereabouts) and bump at least four of them up to the two-star max of 94.

I imagine I'll probably stay at that level for a while as well, getting the rest of the good characters up to that range.  After that, who knows?  I'm already projecting further ahead than I should.

I'll get a good comparison of whether that strategy is a good one tomorrow, though.  A friend of mine, who's around the same level as me, got frustrated and bumped his two-star Thor up to 90th level (way ahead of the rest of his heroes).  The difficulty scaling didn't kick in immediately, but he still hasn't finished the most recent competition (he finishes tonight; I finished this morning with placings of 90 and 101).  If it kicks in tonight, with the next competition, I'll know that's how they're doing it.  If not, I'll have to re-evaluate my own strategy.

Quick recap

fI've been falling further behind, it seems, on talking about my biking progress.  The last week has been a very mixed bag, in terms of success and pleasure.

The first several days, I was riding at night and doing eleven miles or so, as I described previously.  That was almost all taking it easy, with a couple exceptions, and I'm just going to talk about the exceptions today.

Two of those days, I did that loop, but decided to attack a hill on Williamsburg Rd near my house (the last hill before I get home; the segment is called Wmsburg Riser).  The first of those times, I planned ahead, but forgot where the segment started, and started pushing a (short) block early.  I still got a PR of 36s, but definitely gave up something.  Two days later, I didn't plan ahead, but as I reached the correct starting point, decided to charge up it and set a new PR of 34s.  Both times I failed to keep pushing after cresting the hill; if I want to challenge for KOM, I need to do that.

Another exception was that I took Friday off, and did a ride of a little over an hour.  I decided to challenge the Arlington trail loop (Custis/W&OD/Mt Vernon trails) that I hadn't done since October 28th.  Call it a benchmark of progress since then (and while I knew it had been a while, I didn't realize it had been quite that long since I did that ride).  How did it go?  Swimmingly.

I did fall off considerably from the penultimate hill to the end, but still did get KOM.  In doing so, I beat my old record by just over two minutes; not bad for a sixteen-mile loop (fifty minutes down to forty-eight, roughly).

Oh, and at the end of my fifteen mile loop on Saturday, I finished with a slight variation on my normal route, coming back via Little Falls Rd/Yorktown Blvd instead of Williamsburg.  There's a stretch along there that I used to try to tackle vigorously, but which I hadn't done hard in quite a while (since March, I think, looking back at my times).

Well, I decided to go all-out along that stretch, and actually caught and passed a couple of cars that were probably doing the speed limit.  Man, did that feel good.  Actually, it felt remarkably good just pounding along there; I'm not sure what it was, but I found the perfect cadence or something, and it just felt like flying instead of riding.  I was working hard (420W avg), but somehow, it didn't feel like it.

The cars started with a lead of 1-200 yards, and I didn't think I'd ever catch them (especially since I stayed seated the whole time), but I did it with room to spare.  I kept hammering the pedals up the hill just after the end of the segment.  I was seriously beat by the time I got to the top, but it was a good feeling.

When I first started out, I was doing that segment in just about a minute, but this time was 36s.  Back then, I knew I'd be able to improve, but would not have guessed that I'd be able to do so by so much.  Now I wonder if there's any more room for improvement, although I doubt I'll try anytime soon.

Actually, I created the segment, and I think I did it after my first round of improvement, where I got 10-15s better, and wanted to see myself beating other people.  It was pretty eye-opening to see how much faster the other people were at the time.  Definitely motivation for me to improve.

Once thing that has come out of the last few days is that I've found that I really enjoy riding at night.  It was more of a scheduling thing that got me to be doing that (my wife needing to go to work early, mostly), but it works pretty well.  I play Puzzle Quest in the morning, finishing competitions (right at the end is a bad time to not be playing).  And in the evening, I play some more of that, but when I get to a point where I need an hour or so of healing, I take a break to ride the bike.  Works out pretty well.

And I'm surprised that I find the roads and trails less crowded at night.  I don't see the joggers running in the road, which is nice (that still bothers me quite a lot, especially the ones playing chicken), and there are actually fewer cars as well.  The latter shocked me, but I certainly enjoy it (other than the jerk who passed me at 75 in a 30mph zone, last night.  And who couldn't even be bothered to get all the way in the other lane.  Was seriously wishing a cop had been there).

So I might just keep riding at night, instead of switching back to the morning.  The one fly in the ointment is that I haven't been sleeping enough, and playing that game is the primarily culprit for that.  I might talk about that part some more, but suffice it to say that it's probably unsustainable for me to keep sleeping so little.  We'll see.


Night recovery

Tuesday, I got on the road a little late, and was going to have trouble even getting my fifteen mile loop in.  I did it anyway, and got back a little late, but it worked out ok.

How did the ride go?  It was ok.  I finished in sixty-three minutes, which works out to 14.3mph average.  Not too bad.  Power was 114W, which was ok, with heart rate of 126bpm.  I think, though, that I wasn't doing too well with regulating that.  I hit a max of 142bpm, but I'm pretty sure that had to do with a car.  Still, I went over too many times.

I was amused that I, for the second time, passed someone heading up the W&OD around Glencarlyn, got behind them when I took Wilson and Roosevelt back to the W&OD while they stayed on the trail, then caught them again going up the W&OD through Falls Church.  And this time it wasn't an elderly woman.  Not a big deal, but I was amused.

My wife had to go in early Wednesday, so I couldn't ride early.  And work completely hosed me during the day, so I couldn't squeeze one in, then.  So I had to do a night ride.

Mostly, that's fine; it was much like my rides over the winter, despite the change in time of day.  But it meant that I couldn't watch the meter for my heart rate, which had me a little worried.

I wanted to get done a little faster than usual, so I cut out the stretch along George Mason from Wilson to Shirlington, and just took Wilson all the way to Roosevelt.  That cut the ride down to eleven miles, which I finished in fifty-two minutes.  So, the good and the bad, there.  The good is that my max heart rate over the whole ride was 130bpm.  The bad was that I was only doing 12.6mph, although some of that could be route selection; I kept most of the hilly parts, and jettisoned relatively flat parts.

Regardless, it was a pleasant drive; far fewer cars around than I expected.  And I only saw two other bikers (one of whom was riding on the road with no light; not bright, literally or figuratively), and very few walkers/joggers, so that was nice.

Yesterday, same issue with early to work.  And work seriously hosed me during the day (mostly not their fault, this time, though; the army was having computer problems).  So again, I was out at night, and did the same route.

And the ride went fairly similarly, except that I finished much faster.  Not sure why.  Finished the 10.9 miles in 48 minutes, an average of 13.8mph, average heart rate of 115bpm (max 131 (!), sweet), power of 106W.  Much better, although I do have to wonder about why.  Still, I'm very happy now that I'm looking at that.

I do need to spend more time on the bike, though; I'm going to lose the conditioning if I keep cutting back to 45-50 minutes instead of 75-90 minutes.

In any event, I wasn't able to ride this morning either, so I'll have to talk about my ride later, after I do it.


Some improvement

One good thing did come out of Saturday (and it wasn't the July Fourth fireworks, which were almost entirely obscured by the smoke that was blown our way from the explosions); we had friends over, and I arranged a bike ride for Sunday with a couple of them.  One of whom was hopefully going to be able to keep up with me.

We did a big loop, taking the Capital Crescent trail up into Bethesday and coming back on Beach Dr.  And I added a bit over ten miles getting to/from the meet-up spot in Georgetown.

It was actually an easy ride, for the most part.  Two friends were with me, the slower of whom started a couple of sprints which did not go well for him.  And the other, and I, did push a bit for a mile or two around the beginning of Beach Dr.

Regardless of how hard we were (or weren't) pushing, it was a very nice, peaceful ride that went through a number of areas that you'd never guess would exist within DC.  Still no heart rate info, but I was amused to have the power data, as I was able to send it along to the friend who felt like starting the sprints.

The one bad thing is that my light fell off going down Beach Dr, and I didn't realize what had fallen until over an hour later.  So I need to replace my front light; extremely annoying.

Still, we had a good time; glad we got the chance to do it.

Monday, I wasn't able to get out in the morning, though some good did come out of that, as my heart rate meter was found (just after I'd ordered a replacement via Amazon, and was finally going to get to experience same-day delivery.  Was almost disappointed to cancel that order).

I finally got out in the early afternoon, and was working on doing my normal eighteen-mile loop when it started drizzling.  The skies looked threatening, and I hadn't taken ANY precautions (usually I at least put my phone in something waterproof, but I hadn't even done that), so I picked up the pace (a lot) and headed home.

Since it was convenient, I decided to try to break my record from the East Falls Church Metro station up to Williamsburg & Yorktown Blvd.  Despite losing 5-10 seconds to a traffic light, that worked out pretty well, as I was able to improve on my previous best by nearly a minute.  That moved my placement up from 32nd to 3rd, which was quite cool.  I'm mostly amused by the difference in time, because I used to push hard there regularly, but this is the first time I have in over six months.

In any event, from there, I kept hurrying home, just to get home, as the rain was picking up as I was going.  I made it home before it got too bad, and it was a good thing I cut the ride short, because it became a serious downpour within a minute of my arrival at home.  Very glad I wasn't caught out in that.  And things worked out ok, as my phone was fully function when I arrived, and my shoes were only a little wet.

Unfortunately, going hard for the last five minutes or so hoses my numbers for the ride, so analysis is kind of tough.  If I had thought about it, I could have set a lap when I started pushing, but it didn't occur to me until well after.  Next time, I suppose.


Not going well

Thursday I had to take my daughter to golf camp, and I had the day off.  So I went for a ride while she was learning to golf.  And that went... poorly.

It actually started even before we got to golf camp, when I couldn't find my heart rate meter.  I found both straps, but no meter.  So the ride had no heart rate data.

I was starting from Hilltop Golf course, which is on Telegraph Rd in Alexandria, and didn't start out with a destination.  I started going up Telegraph, towards Alexandria proper (Hilltop is almost to Beulah), and decided I'd head towards the bridge and turn around.

About three miles in, I noticed that I had no air in my back tire, and stopped to put some in.  I couldn't, so I decided to try to limp back to Hilltop.  After a quarter- to half-mile, I realized that was stupid, and stopped to change tubes.

Well, after putting the valve extender on, I couldn't even get the tube to hold air.  Not even a little bit.  So I tried to put the old one back on, and was only able to get that one to hold a small amount.  A woman walked up, and asked me if I wanted to try with a real pump, so I did.

With that pump, I was able to inflate the tube I'd started with up to full pressure, and I started on my way.  Within a quarter mile, I was flat again.  Fantastic.  Well, before she'd shown up, I'd spent forty-five minutes or more trying to get air in either tube.  I wasn't going to go through that again, so I just started walking the bike back.  It took a while (I showed up having entirely missed the pizza party, and was even a few minutes late for pick-up time), but I made it back with sore feet.

In all, I managed about four miles of easy riding and another three of walking/jogging.  Man, was I pissed about the whole situation.

Things did not improve, as far as fixing those tubes, when I got home.  I had trouble even getting the pump on the nozzle, and I decided that I must have over-torqued the valve extender or the valve core.  Either way, I wasn't getting anywhere.

I ordered a new extender, a couple extra tubes, and another core remover tool (keep the one I had in my bike bag, and get another to keep at home).

So Friday, I went back to my old wheels, which have never had these sorts of problems.

And I still hadn't found the heart rate meter.  And the power meter, for some reason, never started up.  I managed to get out with a little more time, so I did the eighteen mile loop.  Two and a half to three miles in, I noticed that my distance was showing four miles.  I still don't know why, but it never did correct.  And the GPS map from afterward shows me doing some weird stuff between George Mason/Rt 29 and George Mason/Wilson.

It corrected itself from there, but that still left my speed being off for the whole ride (my max shows as 52.3mph, which is absurd.

Which basically means there was no meaningful data for the entire ride.  No heart rate, no power, and the speed data was suspect.

Still, it was a nice day, so I'm glad I got out.

Saturday, despite still not having my heart rate meter, I knew I needed to do a hard ride, and went to my normal hill route.  I was disappointed not to set any records in the hills (I was particularly hoping for a record on the 4.2-mile loop segment that I created, but missed that by fourteen seconds.  Still forty seconds ahead of number two on that segment, though), but did set one a bit later.

I took the big hill on Williamsburg on, towards the end of the ride (I think I wasn't going to, but cut the ride short due to the threat of rain, for which I was unprepared).  And I just killed it.  I wish I had the heart rate data, but I pushed 791W for the twenty-eight seconds to get up that hill.  I'm surprised to see that that's still a fair bit off from my record for that time; still, it felt really good.

Even better when I got home, and saw that that time was good for a tie for KOM.  I did not expect, half a year ago, to ever even challenge for KOM there.  As I said, very gratifying (though a tiny bit less so, in that it's a four-way tie for the position).

Other power numbers?  Well, I did do about thirteen and a quarter minutes at/over threshold, which is pretty good.  And almost four and a half of that was in zone seven, which is awesome.

Other than that, a not terribly remarkable ride.  Fifteen point seven miles, 1440' elevation, done at 16.0mph.  Nice, but not remarkable.  And my power curve was well under my records.  I'm still really happy about that Williamsburg hill, though.

Exciting riding

Lots going on, no time to write, it seems.  But let's try to catch up.

Monday was hosed up from start to finish.  I played the game too long to get a ride in, in the morning, so I wasn't able to do anything until afternoon.  I took my daughter to her piano lesson via bike, with mixed results.  That is, we were able to get there, but we had a couple of really steep hills that forced my daughter to walk her bike.

While she was taking her lesson, I got out for a hard ride, which went decently.  Except for the fact that my tire flatted while I was out.  Check out this graph for the ride, though; I find it hilarious:
Not exactly challenging to figure out when I was by myself, and when I was with my daughter.

It was a bit interesting of a ride, though, as I was going on different roads than the ones I'm used to (since I was starting from a couple miles from home, and because I didn't have a lot of time).  I managed a top-ten finish right by her piano lesson, and wandered around some bucolic streets.  It was a fairly pleasant ride, despite the heat of the day.

I spent that part of the ride at a 173 average heart rate, with a max of 190bpm.  That was pretty good.  Overall, it was twenty-two minutes in zones four and five, which was great (almost five of it was in zone five, which was even better).  Power-wise, it was almost eleven minutes at/above threshold, which isn't too bad, either.

The next day, though, did not start out well.  I'd left the tube with the patch glue drying overnight (overkill, but I like to do it when I can).  I woke up, played puzzles for a bit, then went to get the bike.  After two tries, I couldn't get the tube to hold air (patch, remove, re-patch, remove), so I finally looked for, and found, a new tube I had sitting around.

I put it on, and got out on the road.  And man, was I mad, so I decided to make it a hard ride, even though I'd done somewhat of a hard ride the day before (that is to say, I went plenty hard, but not for quite as long as I would have liked).  I didn't have a lot of time, either, so I did my normal fifteen mile loop (how much time?  I would never have finished it at my normal speed).

And I did more than ok.  Only one top-ten finish (eighth overall on Grove Ave in Falls Church), but a bunch of PRs.  And I had a stretch of over a mile and a half (on the W&OD, heading north from Shirlington) where I averaged 187bpm heart rate.  I used to not be capable of getting close to that; hitting 187bpm used to get my body to tell me, almost instantly, "stop now".  So my threshold must have increased, which is awesome.

For the overall ride, I managed 19.2mph (seriously, I was killing it), with thirty-nine minutes in zones four and five.  Pretty obviously, my zone definitions are off.  Power-wise, we're looking at sixteen minutes at/over threshold.

I think the numbers I'd used to set the threshold (260W, which I got from 95% of my best twenty-minute stretch) were wrong to begin with.  The best-twenty numbers I was using are, I think, weighted average rather than strict average, which means they were (way too?) high.  Well, they might be getting closer, now.

Wednesday morning, I decided to use that improvement, and set my target heart rate for my easy rides up to 130bpm.  That helped a bit, with staying under target, but not as well as I'd hoped.

I mostly kept it under the target, though I did hit 137bpm at one point and 133bpm a couple of other times (briefly, though).  And raising the target didn't result in much improvement in power numbers.  I averaged 122W, which isn't bad, but it didn't result in any apparent improvement in speed; I still only managed 14.0mph over the eighteen miles.

The next day is when things really went to hell.


Marvel bejeweled?

As I alluded to previously, much of the cause behind my riding problems (and especially my sleeping problems) has to do with a new game to which a friend introduced me, called Marvel Puzzle Quest.  At first blush, it seems like a Bejeweled clone (and I've long played a fair bit of Bejeweled, mostly of the Blitz variant) with a Marvel Super Heroes theme.

The basic mechanics are identical to bejeweled (and Candy Crush, and umpteen others, I'm sure), but the addition of the characters adds a number of strategic elements.

Basically, it is set up as a series of matches, three heroes vs one to three villains.  And each one in the match has a certain number of hit points, and certain powers to directly do damage or affect the board layout.  Plus, each one does a set amount of damage for each color.

This means there's a couple levels of strategy involved.  First, there's the selection of characters to use, in that you want ones that complement each other in both powers and in doing max damage in each color.  Or you might want one to protect another by making sure the protector does more damage in one or more colors than the protectee (the one who does the damage in the first tile match is the one exposed to enemy counterattack on the other team's turn).

There's also the strategy during the bout for selecting the tile match to make; do you want to maximize damage?  Or maximize AP (energy for special powers)?  Or make multiple matches?  Or prevent the other team from making a certain match?  Lots of options.

One of the things that makes the game pretty evil is that you have limited options for which characters to use.  You start out with three, I think, and occasionally you get "cover"s.  These are pictures of comic book covers with a given character on the front.  If you don't have the character pictured, and you have room on your roster, you can recruit that character.  If you already have the character, you can use the cover to make your version of that character more powerful, by either adding a new power (they start with only one, and can have two or three, depending on the character.  For instance, modern Black Widow can only have two powers, while Iron Man can have three) or improving an existing one.

And powers can be raised until you reach the lesser of level five for that power or thirteen total levels in powers for that character.

Each character is also rated for a certain rarity, denoted by the number of stars, and a level (think D&D).  The base level of the character is based on those stars: 1 for 1 star, 15 for 2-star, 40 for 3-star, up to 70 for 4-star.  Character level affects hit points, how much damage is done with a match of each color, and has effects on certain powers (particularly damage-dealing ones).

When you initially find a character, the levels listed above are maxima, as well as minima.  If you want to raise their level, you need two things: Iso-8 and additional covers.  Each cover allows you to raise a character's level by a certain amount (how much depends on which total cover number it is and how many stars the character has).  Basically, each cover raises the maximum level you can achieve by a certain amount, and then you can pay the Iso-8 to actually raise the level towards that maximum.  And because there's a limit on covers, there's also a limit on overall character level (50 for one-star, 94 for two-star, 166 for three star, and 270 for four star).

So Iso-8 is a kind of in-game currency (one of two) which allows raising character level.  It's also a plot device, built around that idea (I'll come back to this).  It can be found by completing bouts or as bonuses for certain things (ditto).  It can also be found by selling covers (you will get extras, especially of the one stars, fairly quickly).

The other form of currency is hero points, which can be used to expand your roster or to acquire additional covers.  Strategically, you should only use them to expand your roster, because they're hard to find and are generally found in increments of twenty-five or fifty (and roster slots quickly reach several hundred points each).

But you can use them to purchase "cover packs" as well, where you get one, ten, or forty-two covers, perhaps within a subset of available heroes.  The advantage of the larger packs is not that they get cheaper on a per-cover basis, but that you get better odds of three- and four-star covers.  It's an interesting, and evil, system definitely informed by experience with collectible card-playing games.  And this is part of what makes the game evil for me; I was very seriously into Magic: The Gathering back in college, and for some years after.  It was quite the money-sink for me; if you want to buy a set of beta moxes/power blue (unlimited, signed lotus), I still have those (I sold the rest of my cards).

One thing to note, if you're thinking of buying a cover pack, check the odds and pricing, because it's all over the map from series to series, which is the best buy.  With the base set, the single is the best buy, because it's around one-third the price with two-thirds the odds of the best covers.  With some of the scenario-based ones, especially if you're just looking for the featured covers, you'll do better with the 10- or 42-packs.

Rounding out hero points, what I said about saving hero points for roster slots holds generally, but there is one exception.  If you're going to put some money into the game, and decided ahead of time to set some of the hero points you buy (with real money) into (a) cover pack(s), then go for it.  It isn't the most strategic use of your resources, but could work out well.  I've certainly been tempted, and might do it in the future.

I alluded to plot device, so let's get back to that.  There are three basic ways to play the game.  Two of them are plot-driven, where you have specific missions, and have to defeat specific threats.  One of them is completely single-player, with exactly-defined threats.  The other is competitive, in that everyone is going after the same type of threat (same opponents), but with varying levels of difficulty (higher level opposition for stronger players (still trying to determine how they figure out the exact meaning of stronger)).

In the former, the prizes are exhaustively determined at the beginning, and will run out.  In the latter, each run (and it goes in 3-4 day sequences, where each day is also a separate competition) has separate prizes, and they regenerate when the run starts over (I don't know how long the timeframe is on that; I haven't been playing long enough).

In those competitive runs, for the whole sequence, there are prizes defined by how many points you get.  That is, and point total X, you'll get prize Y.  Those points accumulate, too, and the winners come from the point totals.

It is run in groups of one thousand, and within that group, the top two get a really hard to find cover (and three of a slightly-easier-to-find one.  Generally one four-star and all three covers of a three star).  The next eight finishers get those same three covers of the three star.  The next ten get two covers of that same three star.  The next thirty get one cover.  Below that, there will be some lesser covers (probably one or more prominent characters from that run).

Everyone also gets increasing amounts of Iso-8, and the top fifty get increasing amounts of hero points.

Within each day, there's a similar breakdown, in terms of placing determining prize.  In that one, the top 100 or 200 get a (token for a) cover from the set for that run.  There are also increasing amounts of Iso-8 and Hero Points.  Some lower finishers get a token for a default set two-star (or better) cover or for a one-star (one-star tokens are all the same; there are no set-specific ones.  Something like 90% of them are one-star covers, and you'll quickly get all of those that you want.  The rest, you can sell for more Iso-8).  The point is, you do well and you'll be rewarded pretty handsomely.

The last way you can play is player-vs-player.  This is a kind-of weird dynamic, though, as it isn't a real-time game.  Essentially, you get pitted against someone, and you attack them.  Their team is played by the game's AI (which is not terribly good), while you play your team.  The attacker has a number of advantages.

Anyway, the point of this is not to get into the weeds of the mechanics.  Player vs player (PvP) is also done in events, and the winner of a match gets points (if the attacker wins, they also get a prize.  Usually Iso-8, but sometimes a one-star token).  At the end of the event, players are ranked by their points, and get prizes similarly with how it works in competitive single-player play.

This is a weird set-up, in that it isn't designed to reward newbies, it's designed to reward the players with ridiculously-powered characters (those people have an edge in the competitive stuff as well, but thanks to the dynamic scaling of opposition level, not as big an edge as here).

Anyway, I think all of that gives a feel for the game, with solid indications of why I like it.  It's one of the few games I've actually put more than a couple of dollars into in a long time.