Friday, September 28, 2007

Build 2 Phase

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
- Muhammad Ali

This week is a rest week for me, and I was definitely in need of one. It's been a long training block, but my training seemed inconsistent due to work interruptions and getting a little sick.

The week wraps up with a cyclocross race at Bloomer. I didn't do this race last year, but did it two years ago (my first 'cross race), and it is one of my favorite courses. It will be interesting to see how I feel fitness-wise for this race. In theory, it should be pretty good, given my limited riding this week, but I'm actually not that optimistic. I feel like my "high end" fitness is still not that good. Sure, I can ride at a moderately hard pace for a couple hours, but I don't feel like I can really go as hard as I need to for 30 minutes.

I'm trying to decide how I want to structure this next training block (Build 2 phase). When I originally planned it, I was going to treat the two races this month as B-priority. That means that I'd reduce my hours a bit in the week leading up to the race (from 7 to 4.5). I'm thinking now that, if I do this, it won't be enough training stress to build to a very good peak for the last 4 races. So, instead, I'm going to train through these two races so that I can build to a better peak for the last 4.

So, in the meantime, I want to work on the non-fitness aspects of 'cross. These are the little things that can move you up or down a few spots, but probably won't take you from the middle of the field to the front. For me, this means working on my remounts and being disciplined with my lines.

For the remounts, I'm guessing I lose as much as 2 seconds every time I get on the bike. On a typical 4-lap C race, with 2 running sections per lap, that means I lose 16 seconds over the entire race. 16 seconds doesn't seem like much, but it can easily cost you a few positions.

Being more precise with lines is another thing that can gain you a little time here and there. This was one of the things I was working on at practice Tuesday night. From watching the other races this weekend, it's obvious that the Elite guys pay attention to this. One thing that struck me this week was that there's a choice to be made between a line that preserves momentum but doesn't allow you to accelerate as early (geometric apex), and a line that doesn't preserve momentum as well but allows you to start your acceleration sooner (late apex). In car racing, you would almost always choose the latter, since it's a safer line and you don't care so much about burning a little extra fuel (except maybe in an endurance race). In a bike race though, I think that maybe preserving momentum is more important, since I only have so much fuel to burn (now that I think about it, this is also similar to racing low-powered karts). Regardless, after you've selected your line, it's important to hit your braking, turn-in and apex points as precisely as you can.

(Geometric Apex)

(Late Apex)

Before I forget, I timed a typical practice interval at the track this week. 4 laps on our course this week took me roughly 10 minutes (I forgot to stop my watch immediately when I finished, so I'm not exactly sure, but it's close enough). So, relative the UCI race this past weekend, that's equivalent to one lap; on a more typical course around here, it would be equivalent to about a lap and a half. Since we've mainly been doing 4 lap intervals at the track this year, it explains why I misjudged my pace on the first lap on Saturday.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blogger Play

This is pretty cool. It's a slideshow of images being uploaded to Blogger. (They use filtering algorithms to keep inappropriate material out... I've been watching for a few minutes and haven't seen anything objectionable.) A warning though, it's mesmerizing...

UCI Cross

This past weekend was our annual local UCI cyclocross race. For the first time, I raced back-to-back days, which turned out to not be a big deal.

My race on Saturday was pretty interesting. I got to the start line a little late, so I was in the third row, but I was at the outside. The field was big, maybe 35 people, so I knew I had to get to the front quickly. The guy in front of me was on a full-suspension mountain bike, and maybe had platform pedals (I don't remember now), so I figured I'd be able to get by him pretty quick. In spite of a delay in starting the race (where we were just held at the line), I stayed very calm, and just thought about what I had to do. I generally don't get really nervous at the start, but I'm usually more tense than I was Saturday. It was a good place to be.

(That's me on the far left.)

So, at the start, I immediately started passing people on the outside. By the time the course narrowed, I was in 6th or so. For most of the first lap, I felt pretty good. The pace was hard, but not too uncomfortable, and I thought I'd be able to stay with the lead group. It was at a long false flat at the end of the lap that I realized things weren't going as well as they seemed. I finished the lap still with the lead group, but my legs were tiring. The second lap was much worse. Several people got around me and I crashed on a slow off-camber section. My legs had no snap. I was able to pick it up again a little for the third lap, and I made up some spots on guys who really went out too hard. I finished 11th; about what I typically did last year. It would have been lower if a couple guys hadn't crashed and dropped their chains at the end. I was pretty disappointed.

Afterward, I went home and got cleaned up, then I came back for the Elite race. There were some big names there, Jonathon Page, a former Swiss nat'l champ, the Canadian nat'l champ, Adam Myerson, Steve Tilford, plus all of the local fast guys. The whole thing was really cool; the pro's are extremely fast.

Here's what I learned watching the Elite race:

- That my lines aren't too bad, but I need to be more precise.

- The fastest guys do everything just a little better everywhere (although, compared to me, a lot better everywhere!) and are more consistent.

- They look for spots where there's more traction in corners, even if it's a little off line.

- They pump the terrain.

On Sunday, I had a little more nervous energy for the race. They had changed the course a little which made it a bit faster. During the warm-up laps, I inadvertantly showed a few of my competitors how to get around the trickiest corner on the course. Anyway, I lined up in a slightly better spot at the start, 2nd row this time and still on the outside. I went out hard again, but backed off very early, basically as soon as we got through the first real corner. I just tried to keep a steady pace for the first lap and a half. It meant that my position wasn't so good (maybe about 16th), but I was feeling much better. About halfway through the second lap I started pushing a little. I was riding with a pretty big group; I think that I should have been faster than these guys, but I was losing bits of time here and there to them (and noticeably, a couple seconds on every remount). Halfway through the third lap, I really started cranking it up. I was making up time and spots on guys who weren't doing the basics (like pedaling down shallow hills). Unfortunately, disaster struck on the last steep little hill. The line I was riding up the hill took me right against the tape. The guy in front of me was essentially on the same line, but he didn't make the hill and stopped. This left me with my wheel between him and the tape... no where to go! So, I had to get off and run, and I got passed by a few people. I pushed really hard for the rest of the lap and made up a few of those spots, but getting cut off on the hill definitely cost me a few positions. I ended up 14th, roughly in the middle of a group of 7 that were covered by 6 seconds.

Even though I finished worse on Sunday, I felt like I raced much better. My lap times were much more consistent Sunday, the first two were the same down to the second, and my third was a couple seconds quicker. On Saturday, my laps varied by as much as 30 seconds!

I watched the Elite race again on Sunday, it was still cool. Page and Michael Mueller (the former Swiss champ) crushed everybody both days. Then I helped clean up the course. Despite my bad race on Saturday, I really enjoyed the race weekend.

So, here's my laundry list of what I need to work on:

- I don't have particularly good cyclocross race fitness right now. Part of it this weekend was that I was fatigued from a long training block, but the other part was that I haven't been doing muscular endurance - type intervals, which I think are key to going fast in 'cross.

- Getting on my bike! It's obvious that I lose a couple seconds every time I do this.

- Keeping my elbow next to my body when carrying the bike. (This keeps the saddle out of your armpit, so you can lift the bike higher if necessary.)

- More precise lines.

Hmm... that's a big list! I'm also going to make my tire change this week. I stopped by the shop earlier this week, and they're getting some new tires for me. I'm picking them up later this week, but I want to get at least one practice in with them before I race. This is what I'm getting:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Still Hopping

I've been checking out (and agonizing over) the list of registered racers in my class for the races this weekend. It looks like some of the faster guys in my class from last year moved up, and most of the guys who finished around me last year are still in the C's. So, hopefully I can do well against them this year and finish near the front. We'll find out tomorrow!

Training has gone well this week. I did a long road ride on Wednesday night. I felt pretty good (and I didn't flat!). Last night, I did an unexpectedly long cyclocross practice session in my backyard. I had planned to practice for about 30 minutes, then go do a "real" ride, but I ended up practicing for almost an hour and a half.

I think my practicing was time well-spent. I got to where I felt comfortable with the step-through dismount. I set up my practice barrier in a bumpy part of the yard, and I see why you want to move your hand to the top tube. If you leave both hands on the bars, the back of the bike really gets bouncing; putting the hand on the top tube stabilizes the bike a lot. I also got much more consistent about clipping the left foot out (an important step for not crashing into the barriers!). The trick is to unweight the pedal slightly as you twist out; the only time I had issues not clipping out was when I didn't unweight.

I also spent a lot of time working on the remounts. I found that I wasn't breaking down the process correctly. I had been thinking: put right leg on saddle, then jump/kick with left foot. This works at low speeds, but at higher speeds, you can't wait until your leg hits the saddle before jumping off of your left. Thinking about doing a "leprechaun kick" with my left foot does seem to help; I just need to do it earlier.

Landis Decision

The decision on the Floyd Landis case came out yesterday. The panel ruled against his appeal, and he's now been stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title.

The USADA stated, "Today's ruling is a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition." Funny, it doesn't feel like it...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tuesday 'cross

Last night was the usual 'cross practice at the track. We went a little shorter than normal, probably because of the UCI race coming up this weekend. It should be an interesting race weekend. I'll be racing both days, which is a first for me. We've also got some big guns coming in for the Elite race, including Jonathon Page (2007 World silver medalist). I'll stick around to watch the Elite race on at least one of the days.

Anyway, back to the practice. We practiced road starts last night for our two mini-races. I really got after it on the first one, and ended up just behind our "fast guys (and girl)" for the first lap. Eventually, "English Mark" came around me, but he didn't build much of a gap and may have been fading a bit by the end. Mark and I finished near each other a lot last year, so he's a good reference point for me.

On the second mini-race, I held back a little on the start and got stuck in the middle of the pack. Since we ride in more-or-less the same places every week, we have a narrow line that's packed down and fast. To pass someone, you have to go off-line, and it's a lot of work. Most of my peers got a faster start, so they stayed ahead of me. I wound up getting stuck behind Jan (I think) for most of the race. I think I was faster, but not enough to pull out and make the pass. Jan beat me pretty consistently last year.

We wrapped up by playing a little follow-the-leader through the course at a slow/moderate pace. It was interesting to see the different lines people took through the corners. I took the opportunity to ride some of these laps with my hands in the drops the whole time. It feels a little strange in some of the slower corners, but otherwise, I really like this position.

So, a few things to think about from last night:
1. Start fast to avoid traffic.
2. When I catch someone, I need to pass them immediately. Even if I have to put in a big effort to do it.
3. Work on mount/dismount technique. The barriers can be a good passing opportunity.
4. Use more rear brake for slow corners, especially if they're off-camber. Otherwise the front tire can slide if you're braking while initiating the turn.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Weekend Update

No posting for a while is sometimes a good sign. In this case, it means I've been busy after work, being more-or-less productive on the bike and doing other things.

I went for a pretty easy road ride on Thursday night, and then came home and worked on cyclocross skills in my backyard for a while. I didn't fix my hopping problem.

Friday night, I ended up doing a hard ride on the trainer. I mowed the lawn first, so I didn't have enough daylight left to do the ride outside. I was feeling quite a bit better on Friday, but I still had a little touch of a cold.

I went to the Flying Rhino cyclocross clinic on Saturday. They split it up into two parts, one on cornering and one on mounts/dismounts. The cornering section was interesting, but I was very inconsistent. When I relaxed, leaned the bike, and looked where I wanted to go, I could maintain a pretty good speed through the corners. When I wasn't confident enough to lean the bike, my cornering was much uglier (pretty much the same issue I have on the mountain bike).

The second part was on dismounts and mounts. I think there was a little instructional issue here, since our instructors were telling us something slightly different than they seemed to be actually doing. The dismount instruction went like this:

1. Unclip right foot
2. Swing right leg behind saddle
3. At the same time as (2), bring the right hand to the top tube
4. Step through (or behind) with the right leg)
5. Clip out left foot

My issue was with step 3. If you bring your right hand to the top tube at the same time your right leg is coming around, you've got (in my opinion) too much momentum moving left and it's very difficult to stay balanced. When the instructors actually demonstrated (at full speed; they could do what they described going slowly), they actually reversed steps 3 and 4, which makes much more sense to me. I've checked a few other sources, and this seems to be the more consistent method.

The thing that I did get out of this was that it is important to put your hand on the top tube before dismounting. Not only does this get you ready to carry the bike, but, more importantly, it takes weight off of your left foot, making it easier to clip out.

We also worked on mounting; the instructors verified, that yes, I do hop. Two things I picked up here: the first was to try to lean the bike toward you as you remount. The second was to run with the bike on the ground for a couple steps with your hand on the top tube to help stabilize it.

After the skill parts, we rode a couple laps of the course they set up. I rode my laps fairly hard, but most others didn't. After that, we called it a day. I was glad I went hard for a few laps, but I was also glad it was just a few laps, since I still wasn't feeling 100% after my cold.

For Sunday, I decided that if I was really feeling good in the morning, I'd go ride, otherwise, I'd just relax until hockey. My nose was still running a bit in the morning, so I skipped my ride. Hockey went OK. Even though I scored a couple goals, I felt like I actually played better last week. One odd thing I noticed: going over the boards (going off the ice) has very similar mechanics to jumping on your bike. It's just that the boards are much longer, and don't move... One thing is for sure, I'm much less tired today after only playing hockey yesterday than I was last week when I raced and played hockey.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Not Quite

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

- Vince Lombardi

(For Dad and his Michigan football rant.)

I didn't quite escape last weekend without getting sick. I haven't felt really bad, but bad enough that I didn't train for the past few days. I don't think it was the heavy workload that got me so much, but the lack of sleep on Sunday night. I've been going to bed early most nights this week (I was in bed by 7:45 last night!), but I'm still not quite back to normal.

At least I feel good enough today that I'm going to go ride a little. It's cool enough outside today that I haven't decided if I should ride inside or outside. I'll keep the intensity low and the duration low and see how things go. Maybe I'll work on my 'cross skills in the backyard for a while too. Like I mentioned before, this year I want to "stop the hop" (nip the skip, ditch the hitch, shutter the stutter...).

My copy of the Mountain Biker's Training Bible showed up yesterday. It is in extremely nice condition for a used book; in fact, I really wonder if it was used at all. I've only flipped through it a little, but there seem to be enough differences that I'm happy that I bought it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Being Smart

My throat's been sore all day today. The club is hosting a cyclocross training race tonight, and I was planning on going, but now I'm going to skip it. This is one of those times where you have to do the smart thing, and not what your ego wants you to do. It's the difference between being able to train tomorrow, and being sick for several days.

The Stony XC results are up. As I thought, I finished 7th out of 10 in my class (I left before the results were posted on Sunday to start resting). I spent a little time comparing lap times. I still have to knock of 1-2 minutes per lap (on a ~35 minute lap) to be among the top guys in my class. Significant, but certainly within my abilities; it also goes to prove my impression that I wasn't getting shelled in the singletrack. Also consider that Stony is a trail that I know very well.

I also checked the Expert class times. It was interesting to see that they weren't going that much faster, maybe another minute or so faster per lap than the Sport guys, but they have to do one more lap. So, another 2-3 minutes per lap faster, plus a lap longer, and I'd be hanging around the back of the Expert pack. The extra lap probably wouldn't be an issue, but, of course, doing them all faster is! Still, this also seems like it should be within my ability to do, eventually.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Stony XC

"The real battle for anybody during adversity is to pay attention to the things that you can control, focus on the things you want to do, and to hell with the rest of it."
- Lloyd Carr

The race at Stony yesterday went reasonably well for me. The weather was just about perfect. It stayed in the mid/low 70's and was a little overcast for the whole race, so I stayed nice and cool. The rain the night before also left the trail in good shape, it was just wet enough that the trail was tacky but not muddy.

From a fitness point of view, the race was just OK. I could tell that I hadn't raced for two months. The race went like mine usually do, I got gapped early on, but people started coming back to me late on the second lap.

The surprising thing about yesterday was that I was reasonably quick through the singletrack. Were people still pulling away from me here? Yes, but not like they did in the Marathon race. I'm definitely getting closer to where I need to be. One of the things I've really been working on is to try to stay relaxed, particularly with my upper body, and this really seems to be helping.

Just one race story to share. On the last lap, I caught and passed an RBS guy on the two-track just before the Pines. He really looked done for when I went by. After the last section of singletrack, I looked over my shoulder and saw that he had come back a little. I decided, whether he was in my class or not, that I wasn't going to let him go by me. So I put in a really hard effort for the last ~2 miles to try to drop him. About 40 yards from the finish, you had to take a long left hand turn on a paved road. I made it to the road, figured I'd dropped him, and backed off just a touch (without looking back). That's when I heard the whir of knobbies on pavement just to my right and saw that he was still there and trying to go around me! I punched it and outsprinted him to the finish. I talked to him for minute after the race, and found out that we were, in fact, in the same class.

After the race, the next priorities were sleeping and eating, to recover for the hockey game that night. I felt reasonably good by the time I left for the game, and, in fact, the game went pretty well. I think a big part of it was that most of the other guys were not in such good shape, since this was our first skate of the year, so my fatigue wasn't so obvious.

I'm really dragging today though. Today is an off day. I'm thinking I may go for a short recovery ride tonight, just to get the blood pumping and loosen up a bit, but we'll see how I feel.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Race Morning

My race doesn't start until 1pm today, so I'm having a pretty relaxing morning. It rained a bit last night, but it looks like the rest of today should be clear. The rain might actually do the trail some good, it was a little loose this week, so the rain should help firm it up and make it tacky.

I rode about a lap and a half of the course again yesterday. All was going well until I crashed. It was a relatively easy, but fast, section, and I got a little target fixation on a tree. I didn't actually hit the tree, but I sort of had to lay the bike down to miss it. The results was that I landed pretty hard on my right knee. It was really sore last night, but it seems to be better this morning.

Here are a couple pictures I took with my phone. I think the quality is pretty decent (except for my finger partially covering the lens), especially considering that the first one is through a screen door.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Stony Preride

"Train hard, rest harder."

I pre-rode the Stony racecourse last night. It was a typical Stony course, although some of the normal sections are out. It's a good "mountain bikers" course; the guys who are fast through the singletrack will do well... unfortunately, that's not me.

It was about 90F when I started my ride last night. I had planned to do 2.5 hours, but I cut it down to 1.5 hours. I was still feeling the effects of the 'cross workout the night before, and I usually don't do a very good job of "taking it easy" on the trail (that was my plan for last night). I get thinking about wanting to carry more speed through corners, and then I end up pedaling hard between the corners.

So, after an hour and a half, I was pretty fatigued and called it a night. I'm really dragging today, despite getting a full 8 hours of sleep. My plan calls for me to do another hard ride tonight, but I think I may bag it completely. I can tell that I'm right on the edge in terms of fatigue, and if I push a little harder, I'll go over and wind up sick. I don't need to be doing that. I think instead I will take a nap, maybe clean my bikes (they pretty much all need it!), and go to bed early.

I stumbled across a blog from another Michigan racer yesterday. He's a Sport racer in the next age group up from me, and he's also following the Friel plan. The difference is that he's actually using the "Mountain Biker's Training Bible" instead of the normal (road) book that I'm using. There's enough info on his blog that I can figure out a lot of the differences between the two plans. From what I can see, there are some different workouts, and, more significantly, more intensity included earlier in the year. There's enough here that I decided to go ahead and order a copy of the book (used copies on Amazon run about $9, including shipping!).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Running, Part 2

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.”
- Vince Lombardi

Went to the Rhino 'cross workout again last night. While it was definitely better than last week, there's still lots of room for improvement. Here's what I noticed:

1. Most of our races last night were two laps w/ no barriers, two laps w/ barriers, one lap w/ no barriers. Over the first two laps, I felt pretty strong, and I built up a gap on the guys I usually race near. Running through the barriers on laps 3 and 4 pushed me too far over the redline though, and I had to slow down on the bike, this allowed the same guys to come back on me. So, pretty much like I said yesterday, I need to work on running so I can recover a little faster.

2. Riding in the drops is awesome! I still have good control of the bike, I can brake really hard, I can still shift, and my hands don't get so beat up. I just need to work to continue to get more comfortable with it.

3. In general, my bike handling is improved, but I'm very inconsistent in high-speed corners (especially if they might be a little loose). Pretty much the same problem I have on the mountain bike.

4. We did a total of 4 races last night. In the first two races, the guys I usually race near had built decent gaps on me (see note 1). By races 3 and 4 though, I was able to stay even or build gaps on them. This is encouraging to me, since it means my aerobic base is solid, and I need to work the anaerobic engine. Considering where I am in my training plan (beginning of Build 1), that's really as it should be.

This promises to be a tough month of training. The 'cross workouts Tuesday night are hard. Then I'm up early on Wednesday morning for a Strength workout. Long ride is Wednesday night (on the mountain bike this week). Thursday is cruise intervals (generally also on the mountain bike, but I'll do them on the road tomorrow). Strength workout Friday. Sprint workout Saturday. Races on most Sundays this month, plus hockey every Sunday night. This is either going to make me very strong or sick.

Note: Ran Kenda Kross Supreme tires at 50psi, probably too high.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Running for 'Cross

“If you want to become the best runner you can be, start now. Don’t spend the rest of your life wondering if you can do it.”
- Priscilla Welch (won 1987 NYC marathon at age 42)

I've been running a little to get ready for 'cross. My right IT band is still bothering me after a while, but it seems to be improving. I've seen some discussion online about whether working on running is really helpful for 'cross. People who make the argument that it isn't cite that the total amount of running time per lap is usually really short, so improvements in running don't translate into noticeably faster lap times. My theory is that it does help; if you've been doing your (running) sprint training, when you have to run in a race, it doesn't push you as far over the red line. So ,you recover more quickly on the bike and can begin to pedal harder sooner. The ability to recover quickly and pedal hard should, I think, translate into noticeably faster lap times.

I'm now into the second half of my season, where the focus has shifted from mountain biking to cyclocross. I have a mountain bike race this weekend, then I'm switching to the skinny tires. I'm starting a new training block today, so I've been reviewing the notes I made about my goals, strengths and weaknesses from the beginning of the year.

My goal for 'cross season is to race well enough in the C category that I feel ready to move up to the B's for next season. That means being on or near the podium pretty consistently. Based on 'cross practice last week, that may be a tall order, but it's still too early to tell.

My perceived 'cross weaknesses from the beginning of the year were time trialing and technical riding. I'm not sure that "time trialing" is the best way to put it, but I'm talking about that more-or-less steady, but hard, pace where you spend most of a 'cross race. For me, working on time trialing still largely involves improving the force I can apply to the pedals. The technical riding point is interesting because, while I still need a lot of work on this for mountain biking, my technical riding seemed to be a strength compared to some of the other Rhinos at the 'cross workout last week. Most of the 'cross racers in the club come from a road background rather than a mountain bike background though.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

New Toy

The cell phone plan Sarah and I were on recently expired, so we took the opportunity to get new (free) phones when we signed up for the new plan. I decided that I wanted a camera phone this time around, hopefully to make it easier to add a few more pictures to the blog. So far, this is the best I've come up with...

I didn't want to sign up for a data plan for my phone, so I was originally a little worried about how I'd get pictures to my PC. The solution was to get a phone with a micro SD card, that way I can save pictures to the card, then read the card on the PC. No problem so far... except the card is a little hard to pull out of the phone.

I had an interesting ride experience this afternoon. I was ready to tackle a 3 hour ride at Stony Creek. I had just about finished my first lap (about 30 minutes) when I noticed my rear tire was feeling really soft. I stopped and gave it a squeeze... it had obviously lost most of its air. Fortunately, I was only about half a mile away from my car (I had decided not to bring my mini-pump with me, of course). Once I got back to the car and took the tire off, I found the culprit. The plastic rim strip had slid over, leaving the relatively sharp edge of the spoke hole exposed. The rim strip didn't want to be budged, so I called it a day rather than trying to fix it (and end up on the other side of the lake with a flat). Dirt Rag just ran an article about rim strips last month... I remember reading it thinking that I never had trouble with mine.