Monday, September 25, 2006

More Race Pictures

Bryan Mitchell has a bunch of pictures from Sunday's races on his website now.

Some of my favorites:


They still haven't posted final results...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Springfield Oaks CX Race

This morning, I raced in my first cyclocross event of the year. It turned out to be a cool, wet morning. Between the rain we've been getting the past few days and the race yesterday, the course was very sloppy today. I ended up having to run up a lot of little hills that would be easily rideable if it were dry.

I had a decent race, I accomplished most of the things I set out to do. During the race, most of my dismounts and mounts were clean (there were just so many!). I also went out hard the first lap and was able to stay with the leaders for most of the lap. I thought I handled the more technical sections better than most of the guys riding around me. I finished somewhere around 10th out of 22 or so by my wife's count; final results will probably be up early this week.

But, like most of my races, I made a number of mistakes and I learned a lot. I've broken it down into categories:

Equipment - First, I liked racing on my 'cross bike rather than the mountain bike, but that's not really one of my lessons learned. Braking and shifting was OK despite all of the mud. The main thing I discovered was that my current pedals and shoes are really not up to the task of a muddy 'cross race. I want to look for a different shoe that has screw-in toe spikes; they would have definitely come in handy on run-ups like this.

I also want to try out some different pedals that might be a bit better at shedding mud. I had trouble quite a few times getting clipped back in. The cyclocross standards are Eggbeaters and Time ATAC's.

Warm-up - I kind of blew this today, and I know better. It took me longer than I expected to get registered and I only had time to do one recon lap of the course and that was about it. I didn't end up doing enough (any?) intense efforts in my warm-up, and I paid for it in the way I felt early in the race. Ideally, I'd like to show up a little earlier, pre-ride the course and then do some harder efforts off-course. The other option, especially if this happens again, is to do some hard efforts on the course.

Nutrition - Kind of related to the warm-up, but I wasn't really happy with how my pre-race snack worked out. I typically have one gel before the race, and this has never caused me any trouble. Well today, maybe because it was cool and wet, I didn't take enough water with the gel. I ended up with that gross sticky-sweet feeling in my mouth for the first two laps or so. I don't know that it's really a performance inhibitor, but it is distracting. Next time, more water!

Fitness - I felt like my fitness was a mixed bag today. On the one hand, I'm pretty sure I'm much faster this year than last year. I was also pretty happy with how I was able to recover on the bike a little after the fast first lap. On the other hand, I felt pretty terrible during most of the race. The mud had a lot to with it. Because so much of the course was muddy, there was almost no place to catch a little break and there was a lot of running. As I discussed in my post yesterday, I think better anaerobic fitness would have helped.

I'm sure I'll come up with more thoughts about the race in the next few days, but for now, on to the pictures!

Waiting for the race to start. I look bored... I mean, relaxed.

One of the sections that I ran due to the mud. (The mud that caused the problem isn't in this picture, it's in the corner at the bottom of this little hill.)

One of the few sections of the course where the grass was still basically intact.

They were doing some construction work in one area of the park. They stopped what they were doing when we were racing, which was nice. Going by these three guys standing around drinking coffee while you're out there suffering every lap was a little weird though.

The course took us through the park's horse barn (it was empty).

Yet another runup. Usually you end up passing some kids near the end of the race (I think they are started about 10 minutes after us). I usually try to gasp something encouraging to them.


This guy works at the skating rink with my wife. I don't know how old he is, but I think that it's safe to say most people his age aren't racing 'cross!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Anaerobic Conditioning

One of the things I did when I was in Oklahoma was a "minute drill" from one of Ross's books. The idea is to do as many 3 minute rounds of the following as possible:

- 30s of burpees
- 30s of jumping jacks
- 30s of grasshoppers

Normally, you're only supposed to give yourself one minute of rest between rounds, but since I wanted to try to do more rounds than normal, I gave myself 2 minutes. It didn't help, I still only managed 3 rounds. I'm really pretty disappointed by this. I'm supposed to be in shape and I can only manage 9 minutes of intense exercise? Granted, this is a tough workout that I don't do very often, but only completing three rounds is still indicative of pretty poor anaerobic conditioning.

I think doing this type of workout more frequently would actually help me on the bike, especially for cyclocross. On the other hand, I don't want to substitute this type of workout for a bike ride on a regular basis.

One of the websites that has intrigued me lately is CrossFit. The core of their program is the "workout of the day". I've looked around a little bit, and these workouts appear to split the difference between Ross's conditioning workouts and normal (slow) strength work. Based on the WOD's that are shown for the past week, I could probably still do these and put in quality rides. There is also an article on the CrossFit site entitled "What is Fitness?" that is definitely worth a read.

I may experiment a bit with all of this over the winter. I've sort of been looking for a "fitness project" for the winter anyway.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Trip Wrap-up

I got back from Oklahoma yesterday. The trip went well except I ran into a little snag on the way home. I flew into Memphis in the morning and was scheduled to fly from there to Detroit. I'd been sitting at the gate for a while when they announced that the plane had a "mechanical" and was delayed for about 4 hours. They rebooked everybody and so I ended up going to Detroit via Atlanta (my service agent had a nametag that read "Skeeter"... no kidding). The plane finally got into Detroit around 5pm, about 3 and a half hours late. Fortunately, my bags also showed up.

I did a pretty good job sticking to my training regimen during my trip. Since I was traveling alone, it wasn't so hard, but it meant that I didn't have time to do much else. I went down to the "fitness room" in the hotel on Wednesday night. It turned out that the fitness room was just a smallish room with mirrors on one wall and a row of vending machines on the other. At one time, there may have been fitness equipment in it, but not anymore. Fortunately, even though the hotel was packed, the pool was empty. I did maybe 7 laps at the most (it was a short pool) and was totally smoked.

First cyclocross race is this Sunday... I'm getting pretty fired up. Looks like it might be a little wet.

Monday, September 18, 2006

El Lorito

I'm down in Western Arkansas this week. The hotel has a wireless high-speed internet connection, which is cool, it gives me something to do.

I'm traveling by myself this week, which is a little unusual for these trips. On the one hand, it means I don't have to go to marathon dinners, but on the other hand, it's a little boring.

I walked from the hotel to a little Mexican restaraunt for dinner tonight, El Lorito. I decided that this would be a good spot, since little hole-in-the-wall places tend to have good food. This one didn't disappoint, but now I'm feeling pretty full and slow.

Today is an off day, but I'm going to do some workouts tomorrow and Wednesday. I'll be back home on Thursday; I may hit up the Rhinos "fast" dirt road Thursday night to get some intensity in. I signed up to do the Sunday UCI cyclocross race. It's not a high-priority race for me, so I'm basically going to train through it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Training Error

Well, I made a training error today. It's not so good, but at least I've recognized it and can adjust next time around.

Basically, what happened was that I overdid my off-bike activities today and am now likely too fatigued to do a good on-bike workout. I did a hard strength/core workout this morning and then mowed the lawn (about a 2 hour job) around noon. Normally, I would still feel OK riding after that, but not today, at the end of a training week. Next time I'm faced with this situation, I'll ride first and then if something needs to get skipped, it will be the off-bike workout.

I'm just hanging out this afternoon and trying to recover to see if I can get feeling good enough to ride tonight. I would really like to get a ride in, since I'll be in Oklahoma for work tomorrow through Thursday. If nothing else, I'll probably head out a little later tonight and work on my cyclocross mounts and dismounts.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I decided to take this past Thursday and Friday off. I was just feeling kind of burned out. Even though the weather has been pretty wet, I had a good couple days off.

I went out and did the Saturday morning road ride with the Flying Rhinos this morning. It was a little chilly, but once we got moving, it was pretty comfortable. We did about 40 miles and made a quick stop at Tim Hortons halfway through for a snack.

My first cyclocross race of the year is just around the corner. It's a UCI race, so it's cool to stick around and watch the really fast guys race later in the day. I haven't decided if I want to race on Saturday or Sunday; I have decided that I won't race both days. I'm pretty fired up about racing. Unfortunately, I'm going to be in Oklahoma this week, so I'll miss 'cross practice Tuesday night. I may try to hit the fast dirt road ride on Thursday night when I get back though.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Slow Weekend

It turned out to be a pretty slow weekend. On Saturday, I drove back to the Kalamazoo area to do a 60 mile tour with my parents on Sunday, but the weather turned out to be bad enough that we skipped it.

So we ended up just hanging out on Sunday and watching the Lions (who actually resembled a professional football team at times). It was nice to just sit around and not do too much for most of the day. I did put in about an hour on the trainer when I got home though.

If the weather is OK tonight, I'll head out to the track for cyclocross practice. Otherwise, it's an interval workout on the trainer. If I do get to go to the track tonight, I want to focus on riding with the lead group more. Even if I can only hang with them for a lap or two, I think ultimately it will be better for me.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

On The Edge

I think I set my workload just about perfectly for the Build phase that I just completed (actually, I'm still in the rest/recovery week). These Build phases seem to always push me right to the edge of overtraining. I was unusually fatigued yesterday after my 'cross ride Tuesday night; I felt bad enough that it made me a little nervous, but not nearly as bad as I felt before I got sick earlier this year. I pretty much just vegged out last night. I watched some movies, stayed off my feet and drank a bunch of orange juice.

Today I feel pretty decent; I can tell that my legs are still a little 'off', but it's not too bad. For tonight, I'm planning on doing a light workout off the bike and maybe just a little skill work on the bike. I'll put in a quality ride tomorrow night.

I'm debating about whether or not to race this weekend. There are a lot of things working against me wanting to do the race, and not much working for it. Thinking about it in terms of my recent goal review, I should probably skip this race and do a quality skill-focused trail ride instead. Besides, while the mountain bike race season may be wrapping up, there's still a lot of racing left to do. I'm tentatively planning on doing up to 6 cyclocross races this Fall!

I picked up my Flying Rhino jersey tonight. Lookin' pretty sharp...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More 'cross Practice

I did cyclocross practice again with the Flying Rhinos last night. I now understand why the club tends to do well during 'cross season. They start working on it well over a month beforehand and set up pretty realistic courses. Last night, we did 4 sets of 6 lap "mini-races". I didn't wear a watch (or have a computer), but I'm guessing the 6 laps takes about 15-20 minutes.

I felt much better this week than I did the last time I did this 'cross practice. Part of it was that I had some Clif Shot Electrolyte drink in my water bottle instead of straight water. I think this made a big difference as the night wore on. The other (not so good) side of it was that I probably didn't ride as hard as I did on my last outing. The group was quite a bit smaller last night and there weren't too many people who were riding at my pace. There was a decent-sized group that was quite a bit faster, and another big group that was quite a bit slower. So, I spent a lot of time with just one or two other guys riding alone in between them. (In fact, on our third "race", three of the fast guys put me down a lap... I couldn't believe it! Either they were really hammering, or I was going a lot slower than I thought... or both.)

The other thing that was very obvious to me last night was how much the cornering work I did on the trail Sunday helped me. I definitely cornered better last night than I did the time before, and I was usually able to recognize what I did wrong when I didn't hit a corner very well (usually it was not looking all the way to the exit). I'm also getting better about adjusting my front/back weight distribution. I like the phrase used in the Lopes/McCormack book about generally having your weight centered on the pedals. I think this is better than just talking about shifting your weight forward/back when climbing/descending. For me, that's not specific enough, but I can feel it when my weight is centered on the pedals.

My hands felt much better this week. I rotated my bars up a little bit, so the flat section going to the shifters was parallel to the ground (before, it pointed down slightly), and I think that helped. I also tried to get in the habit of moving my hands to different positions. I put them on the bar tops when I didn't need to corner or brake and in the drops for the paved sections. I still did most of my riding with my hands on the brake hoods.

Somebody in my office bought breakfast from the cafeteria this morning. I don't know what they got, but it smells fried and tasty. It's driving me nuts!

Trail Riding Improvement Plan

I've been putting a lot of thought in as to how to improve my trail riding speed. Here's my resulting action plan:

1. Work on low-speed technical drills. This would include trackstands, wheelies, rolling over objects, etc. I was doing this pretty consistently for a while, but I've gotten out of the habit. While I think this doesn't directly help me with my main riding problems, it does help develop basic balance skills.

2. Work on riding trails smoothly. This is what I did on Sunday, and I think it was effective. The idea is to go relatively slow and really nail the fundamentals on every corner.

3. Group rides on the trail. Pretty self-explanatory. I need to get riding with people that are faster than I am on the trail. The problem is that most of the group rides around here go at a social pace, which is fine, but it's really not what I'm looking for. I'll figure something out.

4. Increase trail riding frequency. Also pretty self-explanatory. Looking back at my training diary, it's pretty clear to me that I'm just not riding on the trails enough.

I had been contemplating getting a full-suspension bike over the winter, thinking that it would help with some of my riding issues. As I've begun to examine things more closely though, I'm not so sure it would make much of a difference. So, I think I'm going to hold off and keep riding the same equipment until it becomes obvious that it is holding me back (which may not happen) or until I wear it out.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Review: Disorder II

I rented Disorder II: Fat Tire Fury: White Knuckle Extreme from Netflix last week (could they have made the title any longer?). This was the first downhill / freeride movie I'd seen, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised.

The movie was almost all riding action, almost no dialog, which was OK with me. I enjoyed most of the soundtrack, and the editing / cinematography was well done. There's a pretty wide range of riding covered: dirt jumping, unicycle (!), downhill, urban trials, and, of course, some dudes hucking off cliffs. Fortunately, in my opinion, there isn't too much hucking or dirt jumping. The bulk of the movie is downhill footage, both in race and non-race settings.

What did I get out of it? Aside from realizing that I ride like a pansy? The thing that impressed me was watching how much the downhillers worked their bikes. These bikes have 6-8 inches of travel up front and the riders are still letting the bike come up almost right to their chins! The other thing that is obvious is that even though the bike is moving around like crazy, their chests and heads follow a pretty smooth path. Very impressive.

Back to Basics

After my poor ride at Stony on Saturday, I did a lot of reflection on what I was doing on the bike. In terms of fitness, I feel like I'm on a path of progression that will eventually lead me to where I want to go. In terms of my technical riding though, I realized that I really am not on any path to improvement, and that I am most likely just reinforcing bad habits with every ride.

So, I decided that I needed to start really working on fundamentals. With that in mind, I headed back out to Stony yesterday. My idea was to just drill the singletrack sections of trail with the focus on being smooth rather than trying to go fast. I believe that speed on the trail will ultimately arise from smoothness.

Stony is actually ideal for this sort of work because of the way it's layed out. There are several short singletrack sections, and it's pretty easy to ride a section and loop back to the beginning to do it again. The first section is known as "The Pines". It's pretty flat, not particularly technical, but the trail rarely goes straight, so its a good place to work on cornering. I went through it 5 times.

Here's what I found:
  • In general, I'm not leaning the bike enough when I corner. The bike can corner a lot tighter and faster than I think it can. Feeling the saddle touch my inside thigh is a good cue.
  • I have a twitchy brake finger. The only times I blew corners yesterday were when I decided to hit the brakes in the middle (why I did this, I have no idea, I know that this causes trouble).
  • I have a tendency to sit on the saddle too heavily. This makes it hard for the bike to move under me.
  • I'm doing a good job looking toward the apex at corner entry, but I'm not doing a good job looking at the corner exit as I approach the apex.
  • I'm not shifting my weight from side to side quickly enough when I encounter a quick series of corners. This may be related to one of the problems above, or it may be seperate, I don't know for sure yet.
  • My position on the bike is generally to high and too far back. Watching that freeride / downhill movie gave me a better sense of what good bike position really looks like. Riding in a better position makes everything else much easier.

The first two points I knew beforehand, but the rest were relatively new to me. By starting slow (much slower than I'd normally ride) and trying to really nail each corner, I quickly figured out the things I was doing wrong. I'd go a little quicker on each pass, and by the end I was really ripping. I'm not sure I should have let myself speed up so much, but as my cornering speeds went up, it got more tempting to really hammer on the pedaling sections.

It took me a little under an hour to go through The Pines that many times, and on the last run I started feeling a little tired and began to repeat mistakes that I had corrected, so I decided to call it a day. No sense in undoing the work I had done. I rode another hour on the road though before I left.

So, where to go from here? I think that this kind of "practice" riding will really work for me, but I think that for maximum effectiveness, this is all I should be doing on the trail for a while. This raises a question about whether I should do these last one or two MTB races this year. If I do, I'm concerned that I'll spend an hour and a half or so reinforcing bad habits, because I know that at this point, as I get tired, I will get sloppy. I'll have to think about that some more.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

2006 - Goal Review

I've been mentally reviewing my cycling goals for the year in the past week. The mountain bike race season is wrapping up around here. I'm doing a race next weekend, but that may be the last one for the year. Cyclocross season starts near the end of this month, and there is a conflict between the first cross race and the last XC race. Decisions, decisions...

Anyway, so what did I want to get accomplished this year?

1. Develop a strong aerobic base.
2. Improve technical MTB skills.
3. Build race experience.

So, how am I doing? Well, I'm feeling pretty good about my fitness. My trainer power numbers have improved steadily and I knocked a bunch of time off of my Stony Creek TT race over last year. So, I'd say I'm on the right track in regard to fitness.

How 'bout those MTB skills? What MTB skills? I had a pretty crappy ride out at Stony yesterday, which isn't even a particularly technical trail. Yes, I'm probably a better rider than I was last year at this time, but I feel like I lost track of this point this year. I did too much riding on the road and on the trainer. I need to make this more of a focus for the rest of this year and on into next year.

On to race experience. While I didn't race as much this year as I'd hoped, mostly due to "real life" getting in the way, I actually feel OK about this. The measureable for this goal was to feel comfortable racing in Sport class for next year. Since I did the Stony TT in Sport and did OK (and will probably race Sport next weekend), I think I'm basically there.

Random Updates

OK, it's been a while since I posted, so I'll do my updates bullet style:

  • Watching your 58 year old dad water ski (slalom ski no less!) = cool
  • Having said water skiing boat crap out on you and having to paddle back to shore = not so cool
  • I rode Bald Mtn - North this week. I had a great ride. I felt quick without pushing hard. I think that Bald Mtn is not a technical enough trail though, and I need to ride elsewhere to keep improving. It's close to my office though, so it's very convenient. = cool?
  • Working a lot this week = not cool!
  • Disorder 2: Fat Tire Fury: White Knuckle Extreme = way cool (more on this later)
  • Wife tentatively approving a pump track in the backyard = cool!
  • I rode Stony Creek yesterday morning. I had a bad ride. More on this later too. = not cool