Thursday, June 28, 2007

Stony Prep

I've been thinking about how I want to tackle the Stony Marathon XC race this weekend. The race is 40 miles, and will take 3-3.5 hours, so pacing will be key. The question is how do you ration out your energy? When to go hard, when to back off, do you even go hard at all? I feel like I might have an advantage for this race, since I think I have better endurance than most of the guys I race against. That being said, it won't help me if I use my energy at the wrong times, or don't take advantage of the "free speed" opportunities available.

The course is mapped out here. Roughly 40% of the course is singletrack, the rest is two-track. All of the more difficult climbs are on the two-track, although none of them are really that bad (easy to say sitting at my desk, I'm sure I won't be thinking that by the end of the race).

So my plan is basically this: ride at a "tempo" effort on the two-track, and back off and recover a little in the singletrack. The singletrack at Stony is, for the most part, well-suited for recovery. It flows pretty nicely, so you don't have to pedal too much if you stay off the brakes.

Update: I rode 2 laps of the course tonight. I didn't push much at all and was doing laps in the 55 minute range. This is a little slow compared to lap times from last year, but the course is slightly longer than last year, and my lap times include a couple short wrong turns and my crash. I expect to be able to pull my lap times down to about 50 minutes without too much trouble.

So, my crash... it was on a rough descent at the end of the Roller Coaster. Normally, you come off this descent, go across a "two-track" path and into the next singletrack section. No braking is necessary in that case. For the Marathon race, we have to make a hard right turn onto the two-track instead, so you need to do some pretty heavy braking to make the turn. On my first lap, I was on the brakes in the rough part and my front wheel stopped when it hit a rock. The results were predictable: I went flying over the bars. I landed pretty hard and my shoulder and hip, but it didn't do too much damage. I got some "gravel rash" on my hip and elbow and a little cut on my knee. Crashes like that are part of the reason I think it's important to exercise the entire body. Anyway, on my second lap, I braked before the rough section, rolled through it, and then braked again after... the results were much better.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More Bloomer Pictures

Farmer John just put up some more pictures from the Bloomer XC race. There's a good one of fellow Mountain Rhino Brien (I think I'd get that poster-sized if it were me!), and here's a non-poster-worthy one of me.

I decided to take the night mostly off. Even though I slept pretty well the past two nights, I've just been feeling a little run down since the race on Sunday. I worked on some trackstands in the backyard for a while tonight, but that was about it. Tomorrow night I'm heading out to Stony for a few laps of the Marathon course.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hines Park TT - 2007

I did a road time trial out at Hines Park this morning. This was the Michigan State Championship event, and it was a 40km TT rather than the 20km TT I did last year. I wasn't really expecting too much going into it, my plan was to treat it basically like a hard workout.

I started pretty well, maybe went out just a little too hard (the start was slightly downhill), but I settled into my pace pretty quickly . We had nice weather temperature-wise, but it was a little windy in spots. The wind was really getting to me for the last 15k or so. Since this race was longer, I had more trouble staying comfortable in the drops (I only have drop bars, no aero bars); I tried to only get out of the drops on the slight climbs, but I'm sure I still paid an aero penalty for this. I think for next year, I'll at least get some clip-on aero bars.

So, I finished just under 1:15 (about 19.9 mph). I was shooting for a 1:13, but, given the wind, I wasn't too disappointed. The preliminary results they had posted showed me beating at least 2 guys, although I don't know if everyone was in yet.

Cornering Focus

I rode several laps out at Stony on Saturday; I'm starting to think about the Stony Marathon XC race coming up next weekend. My laps went pretty well, although I'm still having a little trouble riding the uphill logpile in the new section. I'm now convinced that I can ride it, it's just a matter of commiting and doing it.

I had a thought on my way home from the ride about my bike handling. I've been trying to focus on staying off the brakes before corners, with the idea that this will improve my cornering speed. I think maybe this is the wrong approach (at least, for me). I think I need to focus on doing things right in the corner and building confidence in my cornering abilities first. Then, braking is just a matter of setting the speed I know I can handle for the corner. Essentially, I'm just looking at my problem in a different way.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Deck of Cards

On Tuesday I tried out Ross's "Deck of Cards" workout. It looked pretty simple, you take a deck of cards and turn over each card one by one. For a red card, you do burpees, for a black card you do pushups. The goal is to go through the whole deck as fast as possible. Turns out that this was a tough workout. I switched from full burpees to squat thrusts with a jump about a quarter of the way through, and then to just squat thrusts at about the halfway point. I finished in just under half an hour. (I counted afterward, I did 190 pushups and 190 burpees/squat thrusts.) My legs, arms, chest, you name it, have been sore since then. I don't remember the last time a workout has left me so sore. I suppose that's good though...

Last night I rode the mountain bike for about an hour and a half. I didn't have any issues with my saddle sore, and I managed to keep myself from hitting any trees, so it was a nice improvement over my last outing.

As an experiment, I bumped up my tire pressure from 30 to 35 psi yesterday. My impression was that my tires slid a little sooner, but that they were more predictable. I had the same experience when I raced my car. Increasing tire pressure is an interesting exercise in trade-offs. In terms of contact patch, the lower the pressure is, the larger your contact area is, which should translate into more grip. However, at low pressures, the tire carcass is easily deformed which can result in a "squirmy" unpredictable feeling, and therefore worse overall performance. So, what we're looking for is a sweet spot where the tire deforms enough to provide a large contact patch, but is stiff enough to provide predictable behavior. I think I'll stick with this slightly higher pressure for awhile and see how it works.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Looks like I may be heading back to Germany in the next couple weeks, we'll see. No doubt it will screw up some races I have planned. Cripe!

I'm still nursing my saddle sore, but it's just about gone now. I'm not riding today (I'll do a hard workout off the bike instead), but I'll give it a shot tomorrow. This little time off has also allowed most of my Bloomer race and Stony tree injuries to heal up.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Skidding and Sore

I found a cool set of "how-to" mountain bike videos here. Turns out that one of the best ones is the Skidding video. Most books tell you to find a dirt road to get a feel for your tires sliding. I haven't really had much success finding a suitable road out here though. This video provides a clever alternative: they practice skidding/sliding on wet pavement. This is pretty easy to find (or make)! So, next time it rains, I'll be out on a bike with slick tires (and platform pedals I think) sliding around!

On a different note, I've been staying off the bike this weekend while I'm battling a saddle sore. It's pretty amazing that something so small can be so painful. Still, I think this is the right approach, I don't need to be riding a lot this week, and I'd rather not risk this thing turning into something nastier.

I did get some running in both days this weekend and a strength workout this morning. I felt really good running this morning, which was a nice surprise.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Close Encounter

I had a close encounter of the tree kind last night at Stony. I drove over to Stony straight after work last night, parked at the trailhead and went for a short run. (I'd decided I need to get back to running a little bit.) I figured the run would serve as a short warm-up, then I could go ride.

Well, it ended up being pretty hot while I was out running. I'm definitely not used to running anymore, and I guess I'm used to the cooling effect of riding. By the time I was done, I was dripping sweat and a bit more tired than I expected. Still, it was a good run, and I didn't have any knee problems.

I took my time getting changed to ride, had a little snack and some water. I figured I wouldn't have much jump on the trail, but that I'd otherwise be OK. Once I started riding, I found that I was physically OK, but that I was in a mental fog.

I expected to be pretty sharp on the trail, since I ended up putting in a lot of time at the more technical Bloomer trails last week. Almost immediately, I realized that this wasn't the case. I didn't have any problems on the first few sections of Stony, but I didn't feel smooth either.

I struggled through the new trail in the Roller Coaster section. Back out on the old trail, I was descending through a rooty section that I've done many times before without a problem. For some reason, this time, I picked a line closer to some roots that run parallel to the trail (normally, I don't do this, and for good reason!). As I should have expected, the roots redirected my bike a bit, and sent me straight toward a tree. On a different day, I might have still saved it, but not yesterday. I ran the right side of my body into the tree (note that the tree was on the left side of the trail!). I ended up with cuts on my forearm, knuckles and ear (maybe from my helmet?) and a bruised shoulder.

I don't think I've ever hit a tree quite like that before. I've clipped them with the ends of the handlebars and gone down, but I've never run squarely into one. Turns out that it's not as bad as I expected it to be.

Anyway, after my crash, I decided I had better stop, even though I'd only been riding for about 30 minutes at that point. My focus just wasn't where it needed to be, and I thought I'd probably end up crashing more if I continued. So, I took the bailout trail and rode back to the parking lot.

Once I got back in the car to drive home I realized just how tired I was. Once I got home, I pretty much just ate a quick snack, showered, and went to bed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Upcoming Races

I had a pretty good outing at the track last night. We worked on being comfortable in pacelines and groups, as usual. We had enough people to do a little riding in 4 lines; this was pretty interesting when you were on an "inside" line since you were completely boxed in. We did some "fartlek" style intervals for the last hour or so; my legs didn't really want to go for the first couple efforts, but after that I felt pretty strong.

I'm not doing any racing this weekend, but next weekend I'm going to square off against the roadies. I'm doing the "State Championship" 40km time trial out at Hines Park. I did a 20km TT out there last year, and it's a good location for a TT; the road is almost completely flat with some gentle curves and they close it to traffic for the race. Going 40km will be tough, but it's the same course for everyone. My goal is to complete it in 1:13 (about 20.4mph). I won't exactly be torching the competition with a time like that, but it would be a good time for me I think. Last year I averaged about 20.5mph for the 20km TT.

The following weekend is the Stony Creek Marathon XC race. I had intended to do this long 40-miler last year, but I got sick a few days beforehand so I didn't race. This should be an interesting race for a few reasons.

One is that, at least in past years, it's been a big mass start race. Instead of breaking the categories down by age groups, they started all the Expert/Elites together, all the Sports together, all the Beginners together. Especially for Sport, that's a lot of riders starting at once. So, I'll have to make some decisions about how hard I want to go from at the start; the course takes quite a few miles to get into the tight singletrack, so it may not be too critical to get to the front early.

Two is that it will be a pretty good indicator for how I might respond for the 6-hour race in July (although I expect this race will take just over 3 hours).

Three is the possibility that I might actually get a good result in the race. I hadn't really considered this until Brad mentioned it yesterday. The course is mostly open two-track with some reasonable climbing, so my weakness in the tighter stuff won't hurt me too much; I ride at Stony enough to know the trail pretty well anyway. I think it may also be to my advantage that the race is a little longer; you can see from the lap times last year that guys were cracking after the halfway point. Who knows though, maybe I'll be cracking by then too?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bloomer XC

I raced the Bloomer Park XC this afternoon. The race went about how I expected, but I was a little surprised by my result. I ended up 6th out 12 (I thought I would do worse).

It's too soon (and too boring) to go through the blow-by-blow, but here's what worked and what didn't for me:

  • For finishing in the region of the field where I'm finishing (mid pack or lower), there's no reason for me to go out really hard at the start. What separates me from the fast Sport guys is, in large part, technical ability. What separates me from the slower guys is fitness. I can let the slower guys go out hard and come back to me later in the race.
  • I experimented with locking out my fork on the sledding hill climb. It seemed to work well, so I need to consider doing this more often.
  • Don't try to pass a little "off trail" unless you're sure you won't hit anything and absolutely can't wait. I attempted a pass like this early in my third lap, and I ended up hitting some more substantial brush than I expected, which effectively stopped me and also caused my chain to drop. Had I waited 20 seconds or so longer, the trail opened back up into a hard little climb, and I would have been easily able to pass there (I thought we were on a much longer section of singletrack). I did apologize to the guy when I finally did pass him; not that I screwed up his race, but I felt like a jerk for my earlier move.
  • I need to practice the big switchbacks at Bloomer if I'm going to race there again (I suppose it would be good for me to practice anyway). I never cleaned the first two corners in my pre-rides, so I ran them in the race. It wasn't a big deal to run, but I'm guessing I lost 30s or so each lap. That being said, running was the correct decision for today, it's much faster than crashing.
  • I felt reasonably good in the tight singletrack; I know I need to go faster, but I rode about as well as I ride today. Early in the race, I was keeping up with the faster guys, but you could see the gap open when we descended and on the flat twisty parts; I was only staying on their wheels by climbing faster. (Consider that as wasted energy, or at least mis-used energy; it's much more efficient to carry more speed into the hill.)
  • My strategy of going really hard on the flats worked, and probably salvaged my race result. I was able to pass a lot of guys on the flat sections, particularly those following climbs.

The luv2mtb guy has pictures up already... wow, that's quick!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bloomer Race Prep

I'm racing at Bloomer Park tomorrow. I went out there last night to check the course out. I'd never ridden out there before, but the course was (mostly) marked, so I figured I could find my way around.

The course was a pretty interesting mix of trail. There's a lot of very tight, twisty singletrack, but also a lot of wide-open two-track trail. I rode two laps, my first took about 55 minutes, but I was going pretty slow and got off-course twice (like I said, the course was mostly marked). I finished my second lap in about 43 minutes... turns out that knowing where you're going helps. Although I wasn't going anywhere near race pace, you can't help but compare: the guys in my class did laps in the low 30's last year, but the course wasn't exactly the same.

On both laps, I had some trouble on a big switchback descent. I'm not sure what my deal is, it's really no harder (in fact, maybe easier) than the "chute" at Pontiac Lake. I think part of the problem was that I was looking over the edge toward the outside of the switchback instead of where I wanted to go. I'm heading back out there again today for a little more practice; I expect it will go a little better. Right after the big switchbacks, there's a long sidehill trail with lots of exposure to one side; I didn't really have any trouble with it, but I'm not used to trails like that where it's a long way down on one side.

Thinking about goals for the race:

1. Hammer on the flats. There are several long wide-open sections on the course; this is going to be my best opportunity to make up time, because the guys that know the trail will drop me in the singletrack.

2. Stay smooth and relaxed on the singletrack. Stay off the brakes as much as my "inner mother" will allow.

In other news, Ned Overend crushed the Vail Hill Climb at age 51, beating, among others, Floyd Landis.


I had a good ride at the track with the Rhinos on Tuesday night. We worked on being comfortable riding in a paceline, then some fast cornering in the group, sprinting, and finally on echelons (circular paceline). The echelon work was pretty interesting. Once again I had little idea what I was doing, but the more experienced riders were happy to help.

Fitness-wise, I felt pretty good. I rode with the group right until the end, and by that time, the pace (or other obligations) had whittled the group from about 16 riders to about 8. I was pleasantly surprised to still feel pretty strong by the time we stopped.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Rainy Weekend

It's been a pretty rainy weekend. I still haven't been out today, but I did get out and ride for an hour or so yesterday.

My motivation has been a little low this week. There were a lot of other things going on: work was busy and my father-in-law got remarried. My real problem though is that I've lost focus since I'm not going to be able to race the Stony TT. To help combat that, I went ahead and signed up for all of the races I was planning on doing between now and the end of July.

My knee felt pretty good this week on and off the bike. The little bit of fatigue I was feeling on the bike initially has gone away, as I expected. I actually feel a little stronger climbing with the new position, I think I can apply force more smoothly through the pedal stroke.