Sunday, December 28, 2008

Difficult-Difficult

I wanted to post a link to this article on Alwyn Cosgrove's blog before I forget it. It's about stretching yourself and comparing activities that are difficult-difficult with those that are difficult-easy. Good stuff.

I'm nearing the end of my "transition" period of the off-season. I've been staying pretty active, but not taking things too seriously. Training resumes in earnest tomorrow. I will be following the Morris plan for 2009. It will be interesting to see how it all goes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Confidence and Cleaning

I've been officially on vacation for the past few days. Unfortunately, I've still had to check work email a little and I had to call in to one meeting. Now I'm really on vacation until Jan 5th, as my customer's office is now closed. I've been spending most of my time cleaning up around the house. The family is all coming over for Christmas, so we needed to get the house in order. I can't say it's been fun, but it's nice to have a clean house.

My workouts have been pretty sporadic. We've been getting dumped on with snow, so I'm at least out shoveling, but I haven't done much else. That's OK though, I've only got another week or so of "transitioning" before I get going on the '09 training.

I had a decent hockey game on Sunday night. I ended up with two goals and a couple other good chances. I'm starting to play with more confidence, even though my skills (skating, puck handling, you name it...) are not where I'd like them to be. I think the confidence thing is key, even if you're just faking it. Fake it 'till you make it...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Suzie Q, Space Dog!


10,000 Hours

There's sort of a pop-pyschology theory floating around that says to become a world-class performer at any skill, you need roughly 10,000 hours of practice. Most recently, this theory has been publicized by Malcolm Gladwell, but it originated elsewhere. I'd heard about this before, but it came back to my attention due to this T-Nation article (note: T-Nation is not at all a work-friendly site... I'm almost embarassed to admit I read it, but they do post some very good articles).

The interesting bit in the T-Nation article (if I scared you off from reading it yourself) was that, in the original study, they didn't find exceptions. That is, there were no "naturals", people that were elite that put in significantly less than 10,000 hours, and there were no "grinders", people that put in 10,000 hours but were not elite.

Relative to cycling, there also seems to be anecdotal evidence to support this. There are plenty of stories about pro cyclists who rode many many hours in their youth. Interestingly enough, the pro cyclist stories usually are told with the idea that they probably rode too much. Maybe in hindsight they do feel like they rode too much, but I really wonder if they would have become pro's if they hadn't done it.

OK, so we're coming to my main question. If something like the 10,000 hour theory is correct, should we really be using low-volume, high-intensity training schedules? On the face of it, you'd have to say no. Low-volume means that you'd have to train much longer to hit your 10,000 hours.

Under further examination though, the answer isn't so easy, because I think not all training time is equal. To give a slightly absurd example, let's say I spent my 10,000 hours only riding on the trainer. Would I become an elite bike racer? Obviously not, I wouldn't have any handling skills. What about 10,000 hours doing LSD rides outdoors? Not as easy to answer, but probably still not. 10,000 hours racing or doing quality efforts? I think you'd have to answer yes there (although I don't know how long it would take to accumulate that time).

This suggests to me that there is some separation between the strength / conditioning aspect of racing and the skill of bike racing. (In fact, Jeff told me as much earlier this year, "You're finally starting to look like a bike racer..." What I didn't write in that post was his other comment, "Putting down power is easy.") So, the issue is the quantity of quality hours, not just the quantity of hours.

For the high-intensity plan, I see two ways this could benefit you: 1. You should spend more of your training hours training at race-like conditions. 2. The lower volume of hours spent working on the conditioning aspect of cycling could free up more time to work on other skill aspects.

Sorry for the long post, but there was a lot to cover...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Screw Shoes Update

I've gotten in a few runs now with the screw shoes. The first run was on very hard-packed snow and ice. These are probably ideal conditions for the screw shoes. You definitely still slip a little (and I was being careful), but the screws slow down the rate of slip considerably. Even though everyone says it's fine, I was worried about feeling the screws poking me through my shoes; everyone is right, you don't feel them. The shoe is not real comfortable running on bare pavement though, since your weight is entirely focused on the screw heads. Probably more screws would help with that I guess.


The run I did last night with the screw shoes was a little different. There was a lot more unpacked snow on the ground, and the shoes didn't work quite as well. It felt like the sole of the shoe would pack up with snow so the screws wouldn't bite and it got a little slippery. Still, most of the time, it was vastly better than running on unmodified shoes.

Win Every Shift

There were a lot of good quotes in the local papers when Steve Yzerman retired. I thought one of the best discussed his desire. It went something along the lines of "... he wanted to win every game, every period, every shift."


On Sunday night, I decided that I should use my hockey games as an opportunity to practice mental preparation techniques that I also use for cycling. I thought I'd keep it simple and just come up with a few goals for the game, just like I have goals for my races. With the basic goals in mind, then the technique is to come up with a short, powerful phrase to get your mind in the right state to achieve them. Then, I used what my Mental Edge book calls a "success history search" to associate some emotion to them.

My phrases for the skate were:

  1. Win every shift
  2. Own the corners
  3. Get open (I had a little trouble coming up with a good #3)


Doesn't sound like too much when you read it, but, when you've spent 30 minutes in the car attaching emotions and positive images to those phrases, it gets you pretty fired up. In the game, I found that my phrases worked really well. One surprising result was that my focus during the game was much better than it usually is. Since hockey isn't my "main" sport and it's a pretty informal group, sometimes on the bench near the end of the game, I'm getting tired and I'm watching the clock and I'm just ready to go home. This week though, even though I was getting tired near the end again, my focus was much better. I didn't have any thoughts about the clock running out and going home, and I actually felt stronger near the end of the game.

Assuming that my fitness this week wasn't noticeably better than last week, you have to put the difference down to my attitude. Interesting result.


After some reflection on the way home, I think for next week, goal #3 will be "move your feet".

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Nebraska

After watching the Lions get spanked at home on Thursday, the family headed out to Nebraska for a wedding on Friday. The trip down on Friday went very smoothly, my daughter was pretty calm for our first flight (Detroit to Chicago) and slept the entire second flight (Chicago to Omaha).

The time we spent in Nebraska was fairly relaxing, aside from keeping my daughter up past her bedtime every night. We stopped by the bike shop in Grand Island, NE. It was a pretty decent shop; they had a cool kids tricycle that caught my eye. Maybe a first birthday present for someone? (I think this photo doesn't do it justice. I will try to upload the picture I took with my phone at the bike shop.)

I was pretty happy to not be trying to stay in shape on the trip for the race next weekend. I managed to get some exercise in one day out of the three. I had planned to play hockey Sunday night also, but...

Our trip back Sunday was pretty brutal. We left at 8:30am, and didn't get home until about 10:00pm. Both of our flights were delayed, and we sat on the ground in planes for quite a while waiting for gates to open up. Our checked bag also didn't make it to Detroit on our flight. It arrived at our house at midnight (!) last night. My daughter did OK on the planes, but it was a long day of traveling for everyone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pain in the Neck

I was hauling around some 80lb bags of water softener salt Monday night, and today my neck and shoulders have just been killing me. I'm 99% sure it was the salt that did it...

Last night, I went for a run again. This time, I warmed up for 10 minutes on the trainer first. I was able to complete my run as-scheduled with no knee problems, so it looks like warming up properly is key. I was reminded of some facts regarding in the winter, in the dark, in a neighborhood that doesn't get plowed... it gets icy in spots that are driven over a lot. I didn't have any trouble, but I could feel the ice underfoot a few times. I figured that if I keep this up all winter, I'm sure to wipe out. So, I went in search of solutions...

There are a lot of add-on traction solutions available, but I'm going to try the DIY way, found here. The nice thing about this is that it's pretty cheap (I spent about $2 on sheet metal screws) and, if it doesn't work, I can take the screws back out . So, I took my old pair of running shoes and sunk a few screws in. I'm going to run tomorrow, but the roads may be clear enough that I'll use my normal shoes. Once I run on another icy day, I'll write about how it worked.


Also, for those in need of some "motivation", you might try, Nega-coach!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Done!

I decided on Wednesday night that I was done racing for the year. Just way too much stuff going on and my fitness had already slipped. It took me until Thursday before I felt recovered from the jet lag. I don't regret not racing this morning.

After I decided I was done, I actually had a pretty enjoyable week. I got a lot done at work, played with my daughter, and drank some beer... excellent!

Starting yesterday, I decided that I'd better not be a total slug, so I got out for a run in the morning. I had to cut it short when my knee started bothering me. I think part of the problem was that I wasn't warmed up enough. I think this isn't such a big deal in the summer, when just walking around outside will loosen you up a bit, but in the winter, just walking outside will probably tighten you up. I did some easy spinning on the bike after my run and everything loosened right up and I felt OK. So, for my next run, I'm going to spend 10-15 minutes pedaling the bike inside (or doing something else inside) before I go out.

This morning I got outside and finished raking the leaves in my yard. It was actually pretty comfortable, since it was sunny and I was working. I'm leaving for hockey in another hour or so. This will be the first time in quite a while that I've skated two weeks in a row... I'm expecting good things!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Struggling

This week has really been a struggle. I'm definitely having more trouble adjusting to the time change this week than I did going the other way last week. I only slept about 4 hours Sunday night, and then last night I was up for about 2 hours at 2am.


Work has been full throttle since I've been back. I haven't had any energy to train since I've been home (except for hockey Sunday night). I was pretty tired this morning, which may actually be a good sign, since I was very alert in the mornings earlier this week. I'm hoping to be able to get a trainer ride in tonight, we'll see.


I've pretty much decided that I'm not doing the Waterford 'cross race this year. I don't see me being able to stay in reasonable shape over the next few weeks. I'm also really questioning whether or not to race this weekend. I barely trained last week and I don't have much motivation right now. It will probably come down to a last minute decision.


So, that means that my cycling season will be over after this weekend, or, it's already over and I just don't know it yet. I've basically now recognized that it's difficult from a training standpoint and from a motivation standpoint for me to race in November and into December (I've had trouble with this in past years too). I'm taking this into account in next year's training plan. I'll try to be in good shape a little earlier in the 'cross season, and maybe not worry too much about the last couple races.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2008 Cycling Review

As the cycling season is winding down, I'm starting to reflect a bit on this year and what I want to do for next year. I didn't accomplish all of my goals for the year, but I also knew when I set them up that they'd be pretty ambitious, especially given the arrival of my daughter.


My goals for 2008 were:

  1. Race well enough that I felt comfortable moving up to the Expert category in MTB racing for next year.
  2. Finish top 5 in the USAC MTB series (Sport category).
  3. Finish top 10 in the B category of the cyclocross series.


Despite some good finishes in some mountain bike races this year, I didn't meet any of these goals.


There were a couple of general trends that caused me to miss some of these goals. One was that I wasn't sufficiently motivated to do some of the MTB races. In fact, had I just entered all of the MTB races I planned to, I would have finished 5th in the USAC series. The second trend was that I felt like I was out of "racing shape" for a number of the races I did this year: 3 of the 5 MTB races and 3 of the 7 'cross races I'll likely do. That's not such a good ratio.


In terms of 2008 training objectives, I had two. The first was to improve my strength; I planned to do this by working hard on my off-bike lifting and by making sure I completed all of my scheduled Force workouts. I actually did pretty well with this, particularly in the spring before my daughter was born. I definitely felt stronger on the bike this year and I think it resulted in an improvement in my racing.


My second training objective was to improve my technical riding skills to the point where I would no longer consider them a weakness. I improved a lot here too, but I still consider technical skills a weakness (at least, for MTB). An important thing I did over the winter was to spend time in the garage just working on basic balance stuff; I think this helped a lot. I also practiced some basic cornering on a dirt road / parking lot, which was also helpful. One of the things I didn't do much was mountain bike group rides. I always put this on my list of things to do (and I'm sure I will next year too), but I just don't do very many.


My goals for next year probably won't be too different; expectations will be higher though. What I probably will change is how I go about trying to achieve them. I'm pretty sure I will be changing my training plan for next year. My idea is that by going to a higher-intensity plan, I will be in race shape for more races. It should also help me use my training time more effectively.

Execution

(Sorry, this post was made out of sequence, I originally wrote it on Nov 6.)

A poor training plan well executed is better than a good training plan poorly executed.

Once again, a few things are converging for me. One, the early sunset (about 5:30pm) has driven me inside onto the trainer for my weekday rides. Two, the book I'm reading about training with power has me thinking about setting up power targets for my rides (which I can estimate on my trainer). Three, I've been having a suspicion that part of the reason my fitness hasn't been where I wanted it this year was that I didn't execute my training plan very well.

So, Tuesday night I set out to do a 90 minute endurance ride on the trainer. I followed the power recommendations in my power book, 69-75% of my functional threshold (the upper end of Zone 2). At this power range, I was definitely working a little harder than I normally do for my endurance rides; I was having to be a little concious about putting pressure on the pedals to keep my power up. However, based on my breathing, I don't think I was working too hard. Even though my legs were pushing a bit, my breathing stayed pretty relaxed.

Wednesday night, I did my favorite Spinervals anaerobic workout, "No Slackers". It was tough, as usual. It got me thinking about how infrequently I'd done really hard rides this year.

Anyway, my thinking is that maybe I've not been riding hard enough in my training sessions. Or, maybe a better way to think of it, I haven't been necessarily doing good "quality" training rides. Things to ponder as I set up my schedule for next year...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back from Asia

I made it back from China yesterday. I managed to stay awake until my daughter went to bed... about 7pm. Then I slept until about noon today. I'm still a little tired. So, I decided to skip the Munson race this morning, but I will go to hockey tonight.

I got a chance to do a little sightseeing before I left Korea on Thursday. I visited the Changgyeonggung Palace in Seoul. I also went to the cultural center on the same grounds. It was pretty interesting.


China was interesting. It is busy and crowded like a typical Asian city, and big like the US. Traffic was pretty crazy: cars, buses, pedestrians, bikes, and scooters everywhere. The air quality where I was, Shanghai, was not very good. I could always see smog, and my eyes and throat burned a little bit. Not good...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Korea Update

So, the past week has been pretty crazy. I made a quick trip to Mattawan at the end of last week. I stayed up a little late Friday night to get some time in on the bike (on my dad's bike), and then got up early to do the same Saturday morning.

Then, a quick drive back to Detroit on Saturday morning to catch a flight to Korea. Given the current economic situation, I had to fly coach. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. Fortunately, the other people in my row were nice... and skinny. So, a quick 13 hours later I was in Japan, then another couple hours and I was in Korea.

Korea has been good so far, but I'm not sleeping nearly enough. Probably too much of the day is wasted sitting in traffic... tomorrow I go to China, where I hear that I will come to understand a whole new level of traffic.

Most interesting foods this week have been "thousand year egg" and raw beef. Both were actually pretty good, but I'm not sure I'll be adding them to my regular diet.

I've only had the time to exercise a little. Some very quick bodyweight stuff on Tuesday morning, and some time on a treadmill this morning. The hotel has a very nice fitness center. I should have a little more time to exercise tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow I catch a flight to China. I'm there for only about two days, and then I come home on Saturday. Definitely looking forward to being home... not looking forward to how I'll feel once I hop on a bike again...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Vet's Park Follow Up

A quick follow up to the Veteran's Park race stuff. Andrea and Bruce have posted some nice photo galleries from the race. I think you can see in the pictures from Saturday that I wasn't feeling good... maybe it's just in my head...

I'm reading the book "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan. Even though I don't have a power meter, I'm finding this to be a really interesting book. OK, really interesting for a training geek. Lots of interesting ideas about how to interpret data, track progress, set up your training, etc.

I'm getting ready to head out for Korea this weekend. I should be able to keep the training up this week, and I'll do what I can next week. I'm thinking that I'll probably skip the Munson race (it's the day after I get back), and then I'll try to do the last two races. I can't imagine I'll be in very good shape for them, but we'll see what happens.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Vet's Park - Day 2

I ended up still feeling pretty decent last night, so I decided to go ahead and race this morning. Today was a little colder than yesterday, but still pretty decent weather for early November.


I could tell from my warmup laps that my legs were a little better today than yesterday. I spent a little time in the parking lot during the C race practicing my starts, basically just getting clipped in from a stop. I don't know why this has suddenly become a problem.


I got a decent start today... "decent" now being defined as not tipping over. Generally, the race wasn't too eventful. I rode most of it by myself, trying to catch up to a Giant rider and trying to hold off a Cycletherapy rider. All three of us put hard efforts in on the last lap, but we never got close enough for it to matter. It seemed like my advantage over these guys was that I was much quicker over the barriers; otherwise, we were very even (or maybe they were a little faster).


I ended up finishing slightly worse today, but it was also a bigger field. I got 24 out of 32. Looking at relative lap times, even though I felt better today than yesterday, I actually raced about the same. Neither performance was as good as Lower Huron.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Vet's Park CX - Day 1

It's been a weird week for me. I rode at the track on Tuesday night. I was one of four people out braving the cold weather and sleet / snow. Late Wednesday, I noticed my nose was getting a little stuffed. Same thing on Thursday, I wasn't really sick, but I wasn't really feeling right. This week was supposed to be a rest week anyway, so I decided not to ride at all until I got feeling better. I felt about the same Friday. I started taking some vitamin C and Zinc supplement, which actually seemed to work pretty well. This morning, I felt decent, and so I decided to go ahead and do the Vet's Park race today.

I didn't feel very good on my warmup laps, which I expected, I hadn't ridden since Tuesday! As for the race, I botched the start again! This time, I missed the pedal with my right foot and bogged down. I really need to practice that. In general, I had trouble missing my pedal today, I kept hitting the pedal with the (slippery) arch of my shoe. This cost me lots of little chuncks of time. I need to practice that too.

Anyway, I felt good for about one lap, and then I was pretty miserable. My legs were just totally dead, it seemed like any little effort made them burn. I don't know if I was actually much slower than I would have been otherwise, but I definitely felt bad. I ended up 20th out of 28 or so.

So, the plan for this afternoon is just to relax and see what happens. I figure I'll either really get sick, and then I won't race tomorrow, or, I'll end up feeling OK, and then maybe today's race will be a good warmup for tomorrow. We'll see what happens...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fried Legs

I do not like fried legs and ham...

I fried my legs pretty thoroughly yesterday. After it stopped raining in the morning, I did a short sprint power workout. It always surprises me that this drains the legs as much as it does. The work interval is just so short and the rest interval is so long, but, if you do them at the right intensity, your legs are tired by the end.

My legs were pretty fried for hockey last night too. I actually played reasonably well again, but I had a bunch of good chances that I didn't finish. It would be better if I'd play more than once every other week. We got 5 extra minutes from the Zamboni guy 3 times at the end, so everybody was pretty wiped out by the end.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Unglued

I ended up riding the trainer last night, it was cold and raining, so I stayed in. This morning, there was no rain, but it was a little cold and windy. Out I went...

The idea today was to thoroughly warm up (since I'd been off the bike for almost a week) and then do some "cruise" intervals. I rode over to Indian Springs (about 40 minutes away, using a winding route), and then got going on the intervals. With the wind, the intervals were pretty brutal. I really started coming unglued at the end of the second one; the third one was OK since I was in a more sheltered area.

I know it may not be physically ideal to do intervals on the road (or trail), but I think there are other benefits. You need to get used to pushing hard into the wind, up a hill, around a corner, whatever the road or trail throws at you. The conditions of my ride today felt very Munson-like. My theory is that you train in adverse conditions, then they're not such a shock when you encounter them in a race.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ohhhh-klahoma

I got back from my trip to Western Arkansas / Eastern Oklahoma yesterday. From a travel stanpoint, it was fine (except for the 6:30am flights), but from a work standpoint, it was brutal. I guess that's how trips go sometimes though.

I did find some time to get some exercise in though. Tuesday and Wednesday I got up early and ran. The weather down there was still quite a bit warmer than Michigan. I actually felt really good on my runs; it was a little surprising, since I'd run a bit a few days ago and my knee started bothering me.

Most days, I also swam in the evening. Swimming is a great workout for me. Since I hardly ever swim, I have absolutely no efficiency in the water. I can make it slowly down and back (remember, in a hotel-sized pool) and then I have to stop and suck wind for a while.

I didn't ride last night. I ended up working late last night and I wanted to spend some time with the family. I should be able to get in some good rides tonight and this weekend though.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lower Huron CX - 2008

I raced at Lower Huron Metropark this morning. This course is usually one of my favorites, and today it was also a good one. Last year, I got my first "podium" (5th place) at this race, but that was in the C race. I had a good week of training this week, so I was expecting to have a good day today...

Here were my goals for the race (if you read my last race report, you'll know where these came from):
1. Do a better job of inspecting the course. Have a plan for any tricky spots.
2. Use energy wisely.
3. Ride relaxed, but corner aggressively.

The course starts with a long, open stretch of paved road. I didn't get a great start position, but I wasn't too concerned given the long stretch of road. What I didn't expect was totally blowing the start. I usually start with my left foot clipped in. I did today also, but when I made my first downstroke, I started tipping left, and I didn't get my right foot in. Fortunately, one of my competitors stuck his arm out and probably stopped me from crashing. After that bit of artistry, I was off the back before I got started. Still, it was a long stretch of road, and I didn't panic. I worked my way by quite a few people before we hit the grass.

(Sarah actually captured this moment on the camera. Upon closer inspection of the picture, I saw that my left foot wasn't clipped in either. So, I don't know if I didn't actually have my foot clipped in when I though, or if I clipped out to avoid falling.)

So, back to the action... as soon as I hit the grass, I saw riders splitting around something. Someone had gone down and his bike was covering most of the course. I lost a few spots getting around the crash. Again, I just kept reminding myself to use my energy wisely. I passed people when I could but didn't force it. A minute later, I crashed on an off-camber corner. I'd been nailing it on my warmup laps, but I think I was going faster and probably just leaned too much. I managed to finish the lap without crashing.


Once again, I was noticeably quicker than the guys around me through the technical sections. I still really don't understand this, as it is not a strength of mine in mountain bike races.

I'd been gradually working by people in the early laps. I finally felt like my fitness was starting to get good today. I was able to keep my pace up the whole race and push hard a few times. More setbacks on the third lap, I tripped over one of the barriers, but I didn't fall. Immediately after I got back on the bike though, I overcooked the next corner and got tangled up in the tape. Three of the guys I'd just passed went by me.


At some point during the race, I managed to rip a big hole in my shorts. Nice...

So, over the last couple laps, I worked my way back by those same guys. At the start of my last lap, my bike started having trouble staying in gear. I thought maybe there was a stick in there or something and I thought I could ride through it. The guy chasing me commented that I was having terrible luck today. After I set my bike down after the sandpit, I got a big gear skip and heard the brakes rubbing. I had to stop to fix it then. It turned out that the quick release had loosened so my rear wheel was moving around. Amazingly, just the one guy that was right behind me passed me while I was fixing my bike. It did bring two more guys right up to me though.

On the rest of the last lap, I was just trying to make sure I beat the two guys behinds me. The riders in front of me were out of contact at that point. I tried to put in an attack on the runup and on the hills afterward, but I could still see a shadow behind me. I attempted to covertly shift to the big ring a few corners before the finish. I didn't hear any chainrings shifting behind me. I punched it on the last corner before the finish and kept it burried to the finish. Sarah said the guys behind me weren't too close to coming around.

So, I ended up finishing 13th out of about 25 today. Despite all of my mistakes and mishaps today, I felt really good about this race, mainly because my fitness seemed so much better. So, next up, in two weeks, the Veteran's Park doubleheader in Ann Arbor. In the meantime, I think I'll work on my starts...


(My daugter made the trip today too...)




Friday, October 17, 2008

Bike Racer At Last?

I had sort of forgotten that the title of my blog says "wannabe bike racer"... maybe those days are over?

I went to 'cross practice Tuesday night. A lot of the usual group raced at the BioWheels 'cross race in Ohio the weekend before, so they were just taking it easy on the track. I didn't race, so I felt like I needed to go hard. The result was that I was about the only one going hard (there were a few other people riding easy on the 'cross course). After one of my hard efforts, I stopped to talk to Jeff for a minute. He commented that I was "finally starting to look like a bike racer". From Jeff, that's a pretty big compliment; he usually spends most of his time complaining about how people ride. Anyway, it was kind of cool.

I've sort of been wondering when I'd finally feel like I was getting into racing shape. I think it may be starting to happen. I felt pretty decent on Tuesday night, but since I was the only one riding hard, I couldn't compare. Tonight, I did a hard trainer workout and I felt better than I expected. So, maybe I'm starting to come around. We'll see. I still expect to struggle a bit at the race this weekend, but maybe I'll be OK after that.

Having said that, I'm really not so sure my 'cross season will ever come together this year. I decided that I needed to go to Oklahoma for work next week. I would have really preferred not to go (since it screws up my training and my family "balance"), but I think I need to. Then, as I mentioned before, I'll be going to Korea and China for a week or so in early November. (Also, a quick trip to Nebraska in late November!) That's how it goes I guess. I'll just try to prepare the best I can for my races and not get stressed that I can't train how I'd like.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Base Mileage Thoughts

Maybe it really isn't appropriate to title this post "Base Mileage Thoughts", but it's close enough.

As has happened before, a lot of training ideas are starting to converge for me. It's funny how sometimes you really need to have a sufficient knowledge base to understand what someone is trying to explain. A lot of times, I feel like I need to take a piece from this and a piece from that before a bigger idea finally makes sense.

So, one of the pieces of this puzzle was an article that Ashwin had linked to. I think this article is, by the way, nearly impossible to understand without some significant understanding of cycling training principles.

Another piece of the puzzle was my frustration, or lack of understanding, about why long rides are necessary for mountain bike and cyclocross. In lots of books you read (and in my club), people are suggesting you do these 4-6 hour rides. For road racing, I can understand this, as the race distances are approaching this range. But, to ride 4-6 hours for a 2 hour mountain bike race, or a 1 hour cross race? I don't get it, it's always seemed like overkill to me.

The last piece is my reading of several different books and websites about higher intensity training.

I want to avoid turning this into a full program discussion, but the above sources have helped me answer the question I have. How long do my long rides have to be, and how many do I need to do? I think the answer is "not that long and not that many".

One of the key ideas from the Willet article was to match your "fill rides" (long rides) with the expected energy expended during the race (energy = power x time). Doing more than this is not really useful; it increases your fatigue level with little benefit. I made a little chart of energy burned as a function of intensity (% CP30) and time (hrs). Here's the key thing to notice: increasing time increases energy expended much faster than increasing intensity. (Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to make the image bigger in Blogger.)


Let's say you can do a 1hr 'cross race at 95% of your CP30 power (maybe this intensity is too high, I don't know). If you have a CP30 power of 268W (which I do), you burn 917kJ. So, if you want to do an endurance ride at 65% of CP30 (not working too hard), you'd only have to ride for 1.5 hours to roughly match the energy expended in the 'cross race.

You could do the same exercise for a mountain bike race. What it looks like to me though is that, as long as you're not racing for long periods of time (like in road races or marathon MTB races), you don't need to ride much longer than 2.5-3 hours. 4-6 hours puts you way over your energy expended in a MTB or 'cross race.

Of course, matching energy is only half the story. Training just to match energy will still get you smoked in a bike race. I don't want to delve into the other half of the story in this post, but I will say that I think I'm spending way too much time working on "fill rides" and not enough on the latter.

Bad Legs

My legs have been feeling bad on my rides this week. I'm not completely sure what's going on, I think it's a combination of doing more higher intensity work and inadequate recovery. I think, especially with the Paleo nutrition plan, you have to be a bit more careful about eating the right foods for recovery. I'm going to focus on that over the next few weeks and see how it goes.

I actually had some pretty fun rides this week, even though the legs didn't feel great. I did a hill sprint workout at Waterford Oaks Thursday night. Since there was a lot of recovery time in that workout, I played around with some different 'cross handling things on the trails. I did a road ride on Saturday, it was pretty windy... maybe that wasn't so fun. Sunday morning I rode my singlespeed at PLRA again. I didn't push very hard, and I had a good time. I definitely need to make some changes to that bike if I want to keep riding it so much. That (relatively) narrow front tire is killing me!

I had a much better hockey game last night. No goals, but I actually handled the puck reasonably well. So it was a big improvement over my last skate.

It looks like my rough cyclocross season will be getting rougher. It's not official yet, but I'm probably heading off to Korea and China early next month for work. It won't be a long trip, but the timing is pretty bad. A week of messed up sleep, food and exercise is not a recipe for good form for the last month or so of the season.

This is another reason that some of the higher intensity programs have some appeal to me. Yeah, maybe my peak won't be as good as it could be with a more progressive build, but I think I stand a better chance of being in better shape for more races.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Testing

This week didn't turn out like I'd planned. I had a customer visiting my office this week, so I was busy preparing for meetings and in meetings. I also didn't recover very quickly from the race on Sunday; I decided not to play hockey afterward on Sunday night.

I took Tuesday night off (so no 'cross workout). Then, on Wednesday, because it looked like I had to ride the trainer anyway, I decided to do a LT field test. I've really been feeling lost lately about where my fitness is, and I figured that the test was a good substitute for the Muscular Endurance workout I was planning to do.

The test didn't go great, which maybe isn't a big surprise, since I did it at about 8pm after a full day of work. Usually, I do these on Saturday mornings. That being said, my heart rate was right where it should be for a good test, so I know my effort was good. I also improved my average power by 12 Watts over my previous test (done back in March, end of Base 2).

So, I feel like I got some mixed results. On the one hand, I'm a little disappointed that I didn't improve more between March and now. On the other hand, I'm sure I could have eeked out a few more Watts if I'd have done the test under more ideal conditions. Also, I know that I've been improving on this test at a pretty good clip, and, at some point, the improvement will start slowing down. Maybe that's starting to happen?

For reference, and because it makes me feel good, here's my improvement. From the time I started seriously training and doing these tests, back in January of 2006, my average power has improved by 62W, or 30%. That's pretty dramatic! To put it in terms of speed (which is maybe more understandable), my average speed on the test has improved by 2.3mph.

(I've been playing around with some power and energy numbers lately... more on that later... but I read that in an international professional MTB race, the riders average about 88% of their threshold. With some other data, I worked out that their threshold power is about 400W! This is about 130W higher than me! Cripe! I can only hold 400W for a few minutes!)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Stony Creek CX - 2008

I had the realization last week that this would be the fourth year I've done the Stony Creek cyclocross race. It was one of the four races I did the very first year I raced.

Anyway, my plan for the race was to try to hang with English Mark and Irish Pete for as long as I could. I knew it would be a stretch, but I also knew it would force me to keep the pace up.

I got myself a fired up a bit on the starting line, and when the whistle blew, I went out hard. The guy in front of me didn't start quite as hard, so I lost a little momentum getting around him. At that point, English Mark went by me, so I latched on to his wheel and off we went. I think I was easily in the top 10 when we got off the pavement.

The first unpaved corner was fine, but I ran into trouble on the second. It was a hairpin left, with the course doubling back on itself. I was in a short line on the inside, and there was a long line on the outside. The outside line guys, of course, had the fast line through the corner, while us inside line guys had to crawl around. I probably lost 7 or 8 spots just getting around that corner, but at least I didn't fall.

I was still trying to push hard, which probably contributed to my next mistake. The next section was a log runup, some people were riding it, some were running. I elected to run, but I didn't shift down beforehand, so I was in too hard of a gear when I got back on. Another small group passed me.

The next section was a long section of relatively tight corners in the grass. I was actually pretty quick through here, but I continued to make bad decisions. I was still scrambling to move up, but I was forcing things too much and I was using up a lot of energy for very little return.




The signature feature of the Stony 'cross race is the beach section, and they made it as long as possible this year. It was a little trickier this year than it normally is, because there were sections down by the water that were firm and easily rideable, but there were also deeper sections in between that were much harder to ride. What seemed to work (later in the race) was to ride the first hard section, then ride the short deep section, ride the second firm section, and then run the last deep section. That's not what I did on the first lap though. On the first lap, I started running in the first deep section, and I think this cost me quite a bit of time.



Once I got off the beach on that first lap, I assessed my position a bit and realized I wasn't going to be able to catch Mark and Pete at that point. So, I backed off a touch and started in on my steady pace. For most of the rest of the race, I rode in a group of 3-4 guys. I crashed on the beach on my third lap when my handlebar hooked a sign right on the edge of the course. It was dramatic, but it didn't cost me a tremendous amount of time.

On the last lap, I made my move to break away from the group I was riding with. I thought I was faster through the "tape maze" section, and so, when there was a little lull in the pace in that section, I pushed hard for a little while and broke away. It's a good thing I got my gap at that point, because I was spent, and I couldn't have put in another hard effort.


I ended up rolling through 17th out of 25. I'm sort of disappointed with this race. I thought my effort was OK, but I ended up making a lot of mistakes. My fitness is still not where it needs to be to be really competitive. I'm hoping I'll start sharpening up later this month...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Singlespeed

Wow, it's been over a week since I last posted! Things have been very busy at work lately. I've also gotten a bit more efficient about how I'm structuring my evenings. I'm either riding immediately after work or after my daughter goes to bed. This way I can maximize the time I'm spending with her. It's been working well, but it means I don't have time for much else... like blogging.

I did a couple interesting things last week. One was a night ride on the road. I broke out my lights and actually ended up exploring some new roads (before it got dark). I found a hillier stretch of road by my house that I can incorporate into my typical rides out toward Pontiac Lake. I just need to remember to pop the clear lenses into my glasses if I'm going to be riding after dark. I ended up taking my glasses off and getting a little bug stuck in my eye!

I've been riding my singlespeed mountain bike a lot lately. Partly because I wanted to ride it, and partly because my geared mountain bike is still half-broken. It's been fun, but I learned an important lesson. It's critical to make sure the rear wheel is really locked down. I was climbing a steep hill at Bald Mountain last week, and I heard a loud pop from the rear wheel. Turns out that I didn't have the wheel tightened enough, and it slipped forward in the dropout. This made the wheel rub on the brakes and I lost my chain tension. Of course, I didn't have a tool to fix it with me. So I had to ride slowly out, with my chain falling off every minute or so. For the next ride, at Pontiac Lake, I really cranked the axle nuts down, and I didn't have any trouble (I also brought a wrench, just in case).

Hockey was a bit of a disaster on Sunday night. I actually skated pretty well, but I could do anything with the puck. I got lots of good opportunities, but I only made a few decent plays. Hopefully this weekend will be better.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Weekend Reflections

Some reflections after this weekend of racing...

1. Things like the duel with Mark at the end of Sunday's race is part of the reason cyclocross is so cool. Not only is it a very physical race, but it's also tactical. I think moreso than mountain bike racing (at least, at my level).

2. The big differences between my races Saturday and Sunday were my focus and my relaxation. I did a much better job of staying focused on what I was doing Sunday and "staying on the boil". I was also more relaxed on the bike Sunday. This is why I flowed really well in some of the corners.

3. What's so different between mountain biking and cyclocross? I looked at my lap times for this weekend compared to some of the guys I race mountain bikes against. On both days I was faster than my mountain biking peers. I use the term "peers" loosely, because most of these guys are consistently faster than me on a mountain bike. Certainly, some of them don't have as much 'cross experience as I do, but some of them do.

4. I'm thinking maybe it's time to do a little upgrading to the bike. Up until this weekend, I've been OK with my aluminum fork. Yes, it's harsh, but the C races were so short that it never bothered me. After this Sunday's race though, my arms definitely were feeling the effects. So, I'm thinking maybe a new carbon fork is in order. I'm also seriously considering making the switch to tubular tires.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Springfield Oaks CX - Sun

For the Sunday race, I got out of the house a little earlier. They didn't change the course too much between the two days, but I still did two warmup laps before the C race. My legs felt pretty tired during the warmup, especially any time there was a little rise.


Saturday night, I decided that I needed to be a little more confident about my racing. There were also a couple of spots on course that I decided I should ride in the drops if they were still there on Sunday.


I lined up near the back at the start again (I actually let fellow Rhinos English Mark and Irish Pete move ahead of me at the start, since they both easily beat me Saturday). The starting pace was definitely slower than Saturday, but I still wound up near the back early in the first lap. As with Saturday, I just tried to keep things steady and smooth. I actually felt stronger during the race on Sunday and my focus was much better.


On Sunday, there were a couple of corners that I really nailed. One in particular was just after the horse barn: I started the corner about 20 feet behind a guy and by the corner exit I was passing him. I just took a better line that allowed me to stay off my brakes and carry my momentum back up the hill. Unfortunately, there were also a couple corners out there that I never felt comfortable with.

Anyway, with about 3 laps to go, I could still see Pete and Mark ahead of me. I wasn't making up much ground, but they weren't totally burying me like the day before. Then with 2 laps to go, I saw I was definitely gaining on Mark (I found out later that he crashed).


I was very close with 1 lap to go; Mark must have decided I was too close, and he suddenly opened up a pretty big gap. I thought it was too soon to really chase, so I just kept my steady pace. I kept gradually gaining, and was getting very close again as we hit the run up. I was thinking I could take him in the next section before the "grunt" hill, but I totally biffed getting my feet into the pedals after the runup! I ended up going down the loose, steep hill that followed with my feet out of the pedals and my rear tire kicking all over the place! That caused me to blow the corner, and I figured that was it, but I caught back up quickly again. I started feeling pretty good about being able to beat Mark at that point.

I got past Mark on the "grunt" hill, and I pushed pretty hard on the rise after that. I'd been dropping people all day here, but Mark stayed with me, and we were pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder. I was on the inside, which was a bad spot for the hairpin into the off-camber section (in hindsight, I should have "drifted" right as we were approaching the corner, so I could take a decent line). Mark took the lead into the off-camber, but he gave me a little space, so we rode the off-camber section shoulder-to-shoulder, with me on the uphill side. (In my opinion, that whole sequence was really freakin' cool!) Mark was now to the inside for the last big right-hander. I'd been passing people all day here too. Mark's line sort of went inside-outside, my line went outside-inside (with less braking) and I carried more speed out of the corner. The corner emptied into the paved finish straight. We were even at the corner exit, but I had more momemtum. From there, I just buried it to the finish and Mark wasn't able to get by me.

So, I ended up 15th out of 27 starters on Saturday. I was really pretty happy with the way I raced, and I was reasonably happy with my placing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Springfield Oaks CX - Sat

This weekend marked the beginning of cyclocross racing season for me. My first race of the year was Saturday, the UCI Michigan Double Cross at Springfield Oaks. I made the move up to the "killer B's" this year, so I went into the weekend not really expecting great results...


I ended up getting a late start out of the house on Saturday morning... last minute baby and dog duties. The plan was to get there before the C race so I could do an early warmup, so I really had plenty of time. I only got one lap in before they started calling for people to clear the course. I felt OK about it, since I had ridden it a bit the night before too. I did warm-up on course again before my race. Just one note about the C race: I couldn't believe how short it seemed when I was watching it. It definitely felt longer when I was racing it!


I lined up for the start near the back (again, no expectations); there were about 30 people in our race. It was probably just as well I was at the back, since I couldn't get my right foot in the pedal and I bogged down at the start. The race was fairly uneventful. I just tried to pace myself and stay smooth. I was very near the back in the first few laps, but I gradually picked people off as the race went on. Still, I didn't feel particularly strong and my focus wasn't great.


I finished 21st out of 32 starters. It wasn't a great race, but, given that I wasn't sure I was even going to race this weekend, I was OK with it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Springfield Oaks Pre-Ride

I went out for a couple laps on the course tonight. There were a number of Rhinos there helping to set up the banner. I chatted for a minute, then got on my way. The course was great, Joe Brown did his usual good job setting it up. I just about went off twice, on my easy lap, where the course did something I didn't expect.

On my second lap, I pushed the pace a little bit. I started noticing I was slowly catching the only other two riders on the course. I didn't know who they were, but they didn't have local jerseys. In fact, the guy had on some kind of UCI rainbow jersey. Usually, I'd figure it was a replica and wouldn't think much about it, but, given the caliber of some of the riders in town this weekend, I wasn't sure.

I eventually caught the pair. I was going about 70-80%, they were definitely not working hard. Since it was near the end of the lap, I decided to just hang back a bit. It ticks me off on the trail when people go flying by me on a regular day like we're racing if I'm just putzing around (on the other hand, it also ticks me off when people just sit on my wheel). It just didn't seem right to pass some possible pro's on a pre-ride lap. I suppose they probably wouldn't have cared... unless maybe I passed them and then crashed (a classic move!). Anyway, they pulled off (to change tires?) and I stopped to talk to the Rhinos (who had finally finished hanging the banner). The pair of riders came back and stopped to talk to Jeff for a minute. I then discovered that the guy in the rainbow jersey was Steve Tilford, so I'm sure it was an earned jersey. I didn't catch the woman's name, but my assumption is that she's also a pro. Anyway, cool stuff... I'm getting fired up for tomorrow!

Leg Check

I'm progressing pretty nicely in getting rid of my cold. Still not 100%, but pretty close. Last night, I did a hard trainer ride (on the trainer because we had company over). I still think I'll get crushed this weekend, but I didn't feel totally weak on the bike. So, a big improvement over Tuesday.


I'm going to head out to the course tonight and do a few laps. Just to make sure the bike is ready and to check things out.


I signed up for the race yesterday afternoon. They had the registration set up so you could see the list of confirmed riders... I think this is a cool feature. There were only 5 B-racers signed up when I registered. By this morning, there were a bunch more. Most of my Rhino buddies that were on the fence decided to race the B's rather than the C's. They probably saw my name on there, remembered the way I rode Tuesday night, and thought, "At least I'll beat Keith." I may have to give John a hard time for racing in the C's this weekend...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Health Check

I think I'm finally getting over my cold; it took about a week. I was feeling slightly better Friday and Saturday; good enough that I did some easy riding on the trainer both days. I felt much worse on Sunday though, and I decided not to go to work on Monday. We had some water in the basement with all the rain over the weekend, and battling that probably didn't help my health. Anyway, yesterday, I finally started feeling much better.

So, I decided to go to the Tuesday night club ride at the track. A ton of people showed up; I don't know if it was because of the race this weekend or what, but it was kind of crazy. I actually felt really good on the bike from a technical perspective. I don't know if it was from laying on the couch and watching cycling videos all weekend or what, but I felt super relaxed and super smooth (at least, at low speeds... as the speed went up, I tightened up).

I pushed reasonably hard on the first "interval". It didn't go so well, I felt weak, and I got dropped by the group of my peers. For the other intervals, my plan was to just take it easy and keep working on technique. I definately did not want to take a step backward in terms of health by going too hard for too long. The plan worked OK, except that there were too many people on course. I figured I'd get dropped immediately and would have a clear course to work on. I discovered instead that my 60% effort pace was still faster than most of the beginners' pace. So, I did another 1.5 intervals and then called it a night.

I did the last little bit in the drops. When we were waiting to start the last one, a woman asked me to "feel her brakes". (My wife asked if that was a cycling pickup line? Alas, no, her rear brake was actually a little sticky.) Anyway, it led to a brief discussion on the merits of riding in the drops versus riding on the hoods. I actually like riding in the drops better... I think the bike handles better with the more forward weight distribution and you can get more leverage on the brakes. I just don't do it. The problem is that I'm not used to riding that low, so my back and arms get uncomfortable after a short time. Maybe part of the solution is to raise the bars a little?

Today I feel better still, which is definitely a good thing. I'm going to do some kind of easier ride tonight, try to go hard tomorrow, easy Friday, and then race this weekend. The Thursday ride should give me a pretty good indication of how things will go this weekend.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Long Week

I forgot to mention that I rode the Stony race with a broken shifter (stuck in the middle ring) and a bent front brake lever. I need to a little work on the bike now...

This week was rough. I played hockey Sunday night, which was probably a mistake. Playing after 'cross races isn't too bad, but it's too much after mountain bike races. I also had lots of stress at work this week which didn't help. So, by Tuesday afternoon, I started feeling sick. I didn't ride at all this week until last night. I did a relatively easy spin on the trainer for about 45 minutes. I'm still a little stuffed up today, but I'm getting better. I'll try another easy trainer ride this afternoon. None of this bodes well for the UCI 'cross race next weekend.

In light of my posts about high-intensity training, I'll just comment that I've noticed that pushing the limits on volume will consistently make me sick. Pushing the limits on intensity will burn me out and make me irritable, but I've never gotten sick (that I'm aware of) from too much intensity.

Stony Creek XC

Long time, no post... I'll explain later.

So, Sunday was my last mountain bike race of the season, a cross-country race at Stony Creek. I really only had one main goal for this race, to put in a hard effort. That was my main complaint about my previous race at Pontiac Lake. I got my hard effort in, but my placement was the same as PLRA, 7th place.


I did feel like I had a decent race. I pushed pretty hard in all the open spots, and I rode the singletrack reasonably well. I think my fitness is just not at the same level as the other guys right now. The break I took in the middle of the summer (and not racing too much) probably hurt me. Of course, improving my bike handling would also make an immediate impact...

I ended up 6th in my class for the USAC MTB series. Not really too bad, considering I only did 5 races, one of which I DNF'd.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Maximum Performance for Cyclists

I picked up a copy of "Maximum Performance for Cyclists" by Dr. Michael Ross the other day. It's an interesting book; it reminded me of the Dave Morris book. Despite the title, it doesn't actually hit the physiology material as hard as Morris, but it includes a lot of other stuff. There's an interesting section on bike fit (including measurement of Q-angle, which I hadn't seen before), and it does a better job of laying out what a training plan would look like.




In general, I think the book doesn't go into enough detail on most topics, and it skips some important things. Basically, I think this shouldn't be your only training book. On the other hand, if you're already somewhat knowledgeable about training, I think this book is enough.

So, Dr. Ross is essentially advocating a focus on high-intensity training after a relatively short low-intensity training period. It's been a long time since I've read the Morris book, but I think the approaches are very similar. Unlike some of the "crazy" Internet sites I read, it looks like rides would still be long enough that there should be no problems actually sitting on the bike for 2 hours if you needed to for a race. Longer than that, and maybe you'd want to rethink it.

One thing that Dr. Ross does very well in the book is focus on training goals for a given workout. If your goal is to build mitochondria, or strengthen certain muscle fibers, then you should do a workout optimized for that specific goal. This is something that I lose sight of sometimes. I think it's definitely important to know what you want to accomplish for a given workout.

Even though I'm currently following the more traditional Friel program, I keep looking at the higher intensity programs for a few reasons:

1. Especially now with the baby, my training time is very limited.

2. With the Friel program, I feel like I'm too far out of racing shape for most of the year. For example, I felt like I was only in good shape for 2 of the 5 mountain bike races I did this year (had I done the 7 races I originally planned, it would have been 2 out of 7). For 'cross this year, it will be about 5 of 9. Maybe this is a problem with my planning, but I think that I may be in better racing shape off-peak with a higher intensity program.

3. Intuitively, I question the value of long rides for the type of racing that I do. My mountain bike races are usually around 90 minutes, and 'cross races will be 45 minutes this year for me. So, is it really effective to frequently ride 2+ hours? On the other hand, I feel that my biggest year over year gains come from the Base phases, but maybe that's because I spend most of the year in them.

Anyway, so I'm going to mull this all over a bit. I'm not changing anything for this season, since I've only got 3 months left, but I'm going to consider making a change for next year. Whether it's this program, or Morris, I at least want to take a look again.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rubber Side Down

Well, since my last post, I've managed to keep the rubber side down on my rides. I didn't get in as much riding over the weekend as I'd hoped, but I am pretty much recovered from my crashes. My legs and arms are still scabbed and bruised, but I'm not sore anywhere anymore.

I rode out at Stony again on Saturday. I know what happened when I crashed on the bridge now. There's a tree just to the left side of the bridge. When I'm leaning a little bit to the left around the corner, I tend to drop my left shoulder a little more near the tree (to make sure I don't hit it, I guess). When the bridge is dry, it's no problem, when it's wet, it's probably enough to put me down.

Saturday, I was working on breaking my habit of braking too much, too early. Just telling myself not to brake doesn't seem to be very effective. Instead, when I felt the urge to brake, I tried telling myself to look up and stick my elbows out. This seemed to work OK, and it gave me something to do.

I made it out to the track last night for cyclocross practice. I'm still pretty rusty on the 'cross bike. There were a number of things that I remembered during the course of the practice. Riding relaxed and light is really important out at Waterford Hills, since the ground is so rough. It took me a while to get back in the habit of thinking ahead a bit with gear selection (ie- shift to an easier gear going downhill, so you can be in the correct gear when you have to pedal back uphill). I also worked on my cornering technique; it's really the same as on the mountain bike, but the narrower tire is a little less forgiving.

A lot of the stuff I need to work on for cyclocross is the same stuff I need to work on for mountain biking. I find it easier to do this work at the track though, maybe because the course is short, so I go through the same corners a bunch of times over a short period of time. There's also usually no consequence for blowing a corner.

I really didn't feel like I was in very good "racing" shape. Mark C and others gapped me pretty easily. On the other hand, by the end of the night, I was going just about as fast as I was at the beginning, but with less effort. I was just doing a better job of maintaining my momentum around the course.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Crashes in 3's?

Hopefully crashes go in threes... I've had three in the past 5 days.

Crash #1: I got started at the race at Pontiac Lake. I exited a sandy corner a little wide, clipped a tree with my handlebar, and down I went. Result: scraped up right knee, sore right shoulder. It may have also precipitated Crash #2.

Crash #2: Wednesday night at Waterford Oaks (no joke! I know it's not even a proper mountain bike trail. How embarrassing!) There's a steep hill that a couple of 'cross guys and I use to practice run-ups. It's steep enough that I don't think you could ride up even if you wanted to... at least, I'm pretty sure I couldn't ride up it. I do sometimes like riding down it though. Here's what the hill looks like from the bottom:

There's a tight left turn at the bottom. If you blow it, here's what awaits:


I went down it fine the first time. The second time, I didn't negotiate the roots very well, so I was late on my braking. I should also mention that I noticed my front brake wasn't working right, it was a little too weak, but I didn't bring any tools, so I didn't look at it in detail. So, between my mistake and having weak brakes, I blew the corner. I sort of bailed off the back of my bike, so I didn't hit anything hard, but I did scrape up the inside of both of my knees and my left shin. I also cut my lip, which swelled up a little the next day. Nice.


After the crash, I looked at my brakes. I noticed that the lock nut on the front brake lever was loose and the lever wasn't pulling nearly enough cable (I have mechanical discs). I fixed it, and the braking was fine after that. This brake lever would be punished for it's failure in Crash #3 though...


Crash #3: It rained off and on all day on Thursday, and I went out to Stony Creek (site of my final MTB race this year) for a ride after work. There's a long bridge in the middle of The Pines that is notoriously slippery when wet. On my first lap through, I remember thinking "I don't know why people have so much trouble on this bridge, I've never fallen on it."


On the second lap, I was pushing the pace harder, including while on the bridge. There's a left hand turn just beyond what you can see in the picture. I apparently had the bike leaned too far over, and my front wheel slid out in a big hurry, and I went down hard. I sat up and contemplated whether I had a broken collarbone or dislocated shoulder. It turns out neither, but it was a hard enough crash that I thought I was going to throw up. Anyway, the damage here was a bruised left knee and left shoulder, and a big cut on my left elbow. The crash also somehow bent my front brake lever (revenge for Crash #2!).

My shoulder feels better today than I expected, I sort of thought I wouldn't be able to move it today. I did ice it for quite a while last night. My knee feels worse than I expected though.

So, a tough few days. Hopefully I'm done crashing for a while. I took today off work (I was going to take it off anyway). I had planned to do a nice long ride, but I think I'm just going to chill out and try to heal. Maybe I'll do a short easy spin on the bike later just to stay loose.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pontiac Lake XC

"I'd always envisioned that Olympic athletes were these giant superheroes, and I knew I was just small and an average person."

- Sheila Taormina, 3-time Olympian (in 3 different sports)


The Pontiac Lake XC race was Sunday. I felt like I was well-prepared for this race. Even though I'm not in great racing form right now, I'm definitely recovered from my mid-summer break. I knew the trail very well. I was well-rested, my nutrition has been good, and I made sure I was well-hydrated. My bike was clean and working perfectly. With the trail being only 5 miles or so from my house, I didn't even have much of a drive. As a result of my preparation, I was really calm and relaxed before the race. Then I went out and tanked... I was dead last in my class after the first lap, and then I worked my way up to 7th (of 10 finishers) on the second lap.


There were lots of little details in the race that made some difference one way or another, and, certainly fitness and skill were factors, but I think my lackluster performance really came down to motivation. In all the bike races I've done well in, I've pushed hard enough so that I'm nearly always at the limit. I always say, "If I don't want to quit on the last lap, I didn't go hard enough." On Sunday, I think I just didn't work hard enough. I was at a "comfortable" pace for way too much of the race, and I had way too much energy left at the finish.


Part of the motivation / pacing problem was certainly that I've not really raced since the Stony Marathon. Yeah, I did the Hines TT a couple weeks ago, but a 30 minute road TT and a 90 minute MTB race are totally different (I guess a marathon race is a lot different too). The DNF at Brighton is also still kicking around in my mind. Really though, it comes down to the fact that I wasn't mentally prepared to race on Sunday.


The mental side was a big part of the reason I improved so much last year in cyclocross. I raced so often on the weekends, and I usually treated the Tuesday night practices as race efforts, that I got very good at knowing exactly how hard I could push myself. As soon as I got some good finishes, I started to expect good finishes every time. I started treating myself as a "fast guy".** I lined up at the front, I rode with the lead group (until they dropped me ;) ), I expected to beat anyone I was still riding with on the last lap. This kind of attitude makes a BIG difference.


Why this attitude hasn't transitioned over to mountain biking yet I don't know. I finished on the podium 2 of the 3 races (that I finished) this year... including a 3rd place, my best finish ever in a bike race. The results are there, but I still don't feel like a fast guy. Actually, I do know why, it's because I don't feel like my technical skills are on par with the other Sport racers. This is sort of a different topic, but it's more true on some trails than others.


Anyway, the good thing about having a bad race is that there's lots of stuff to think about and work on. Good races are so boring... ;)


** Little sidebar here... back when I was in to car and kart racing, I was talking to another guy I respected at the kart track (he was a full-blown (car) road racer). I mentioned something that the "fast guys" were doing, and he said, "Dude, you ARE one of the fast guys!". He was right, but it didn't sink in for me until he said it. In the series that was going on, it wasn't unusual for me to set the fastest or one of the fastest qualifying times, and I placed well in (and occasionally won) the A-race.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Riding Light

I did my "key" workout of the week last night, cruise intervals out at PLRA. I expected the trail to be crowded with the race coming up this weekend, but it wasn't bad at all. From a fitness perspective, doing intervals on the trail isn't ideal since intensity varies quite a bit depending on the terrain. But, for me, the big advantage is that I end up riding sections of trail above my race pace. From a technical perspective, it makes riding the trail at race pace a bit more comfortable.


Ever notice how the best mountain bikers seem to just skim over obstacles? I've finally got a good phrase to describe it, "riding light". I borrowed this from Jeff, who said something to the effect of: "If you don't ride light in a 'cross race, you're dead." This is something I've been working on when I ride the trails lately. Certainly, part of it is unweighting the bike a bit when you're about to come up to an obstacle. I think maybe the bigger part of it is staying relaxed on the bike and not sitting too heavily on the saddle. Because, a lot of times, it's the little unseen bumps that bounce you around, especially in 'cross. I'm getting better at this. Usually I can skim over the obvious bumps, roots, rocks, etc, but the little stuff will still get me, especially as I start to get tired near the end of a ride.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

PLRA and Running

We'll start out with a couple of links:

Article by Adam Hodges-Myerson about motivation.

Blog entry from Alwyn Cosgrove about the phenomenon of leveling / sharpening.

And then a quote from Shalane Flanagan about her 10km Olympic race: "The plan was to run as fast as possible as efficiently as possible for as long as possible."


I'm still keeping up with my running plan. Still just working on a slow, steady progression. I'm up to a whopping 13 minutes per run this week, but, the key is, I'm doing it pain-free. At first, I think the running had a negative impact on my cycling. My legs just didn't feel right on the bike, I think it hurt my efficiency. I haven't had the same feelings though over the past couple weeks, so maybe I've adapted.

I'm getting pretty fired up about the race at PLRA this weekend. I've been feeling pretty fit again lately, and I know the trail well. By far, I've ridden at PLRA more than anywhere else this year. I actually had a dream about winning the race last night. In it, I ran past John on the last climb. Probably a pretty tall order in the real world; from reading John's blog, he's been racing well lately.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pair O' Rides

I had a nice pair of rides over the weekend. I got up early Saturday morning and rode out at Stony Creek. The last USAC race is there in a few weeks, so I thought I'd check it out (not that I haven't ridden at Stony a time or two). I worked on climbing strength by riding the hills in too hard of a gear. There really aren't any long climbs at Stony, but it's pretty easy to string a bunch of shorter ones together.

On Sunday, I rode out to PLRA and did a couple of laps. I felt pretty decent; actually better than I have for quite a while. There are still a few descents out there where I need to let go of the brakes and let it rip, but I'm definitely getting better. It will be interesting to see how the race there goes this weekend. Based on last year's times, I should finish near the front, but you never know.

I'll be due for some new tires on the mountain bike at the end of the year. All of the riding on the road I've been doing to and from the trail is really wearing my tires out. I'm going to switch to a little bit faster tire for next year, maybe the Kenda Karma or Small Block 8.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

'Cross Practice

I made it to cyclocross practice at the track last night. It was one of the first of the year, and the first one I went to. I've sort of decided I can only do one club ride a week (they take a little too long), so I need to decide how I want to split the Tuesday night 'cross practice and the Thursday night dirt road ride. I think maybe the Thursday ride is more what I need right now.


Anyway, it was a little weird to get back on the 'cross bike on a (sort of) proper 'cross course. Things went pretty well, but I felt rusty.


The main thing I need to work on is barriers. I've practiced just a little in the backyard this summer, but I need to do more now. I wasn't particularly good over the barriers last night. I had trouble with my timing when I didn't have a clear line of sight to the barrier (because of people in front of me). I was also slow getting back on the bike and into the pedals.


I think my cornering was improved over last year, thanks to continued practice on the mountain bike. There was one off-camber corner after a little downhill. I was able to take it confidently without braking because I kept the outside pedal loaded and my weight forward a little.


My intention was to keep the ride focused on skills and not to go too hard. I have some other hard rides planned later this week, so I wanted to keep this one easy to moderate. I was mostly successful; I held back a bit even on the group's harder efforts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hines Park TT - 2008

The 2008 edition of the Hines Park TT is in the books for me now. The weather had some influence on my race. The temperature was only in the mid-60's; I did my whole warmup with a jacket on. The wind was the bigger factor, it was blowing along the course, so you had a decent tailwind on the way out, but you turned back into a headwind.

My strategy to deal with the wind was to take as much advantage of the tailwind as possible, and then just suffer through the ride back. I passed a few riders on the road on the way out, and got passed by just one (this may have been our class winner, he was flying!). When I'd remember, I tried to keep my upper body relaxed and I focused on a smooth pedal stroke. I made it to the turnaround in about 15 minutes, well under my target pace. The ride back was tough, but I passed a few more people, and no one went by me. I basically managed to keep a steady pace, but it was definitely slower going back into the wind. I had enough left in the tank to push a little harder over the last mile.

I ended up finishing with a 33:11.75. Good enough for 8th place in the Eddy Merckx category (would have been 7th in the Cat4's, assuming they had the same conditions). I was shooting for around 32:30, but, considering the wind, I was OK with my time.

This was the first year this event has done the Eddy Merckx category, and I really liked it. There were some fast guys out there who had definitely done some racing before (I recognized at least one other mountain biker), and also some people that looked like they were taking their first crack at racing. The mental benefit of having everyone on course with the same equipment was bigger than I expected. I really liked not having anyone blow by me on a tricked-out time trial bike; with everyone's equipment more-or-less even, it just comes down to fitness and technique.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Hines TT Preview

I had a choice about what I was going to do this weekend. I either wanted to do a LT field test or ride the Hines Park TT. It's been a while since I've done a field test (the last one was in March, before my daughter was born), and it certainly provides a good measure of fitness progression for me. On the other hand, it's a little more fun to crank for half an hour on the road than it is on the trainer, and I'd still get some indication on progression. I decided to do the race...


I did the 20km TT two years ago. I had to miss the 20km TT last year, but I did the 40km TT instead. So, I'll be able to directly compare my result to the TT two years ago. Based on the progression of my trainer testing, I'm shooting for a 23mph average speed, or about 32.5 minutes. Not blazing fast by any stretch, but it's about 8.5% faster than I went in 2006.


This year, they have an Eddy Merckx category, for people without aerobars, aero wheels, etc. I'll probably still get smoked, but at least I'll know the equipment was more-or-less equal.



Eddy Merckx, 1966

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Rest Week

I finished up the last hard week of my mid-season Base 2 phase. Not too soon either! I was really dragging on my rides over the weekend. It probably didn't help that I did a pretty hard run on Saturday morning.

My knee was a little sore last week and over the weekend. It didn't bother me on the bike or running, but I noticed it doing just normal things during the day. I'm pretty sure it's a result of my saddle height. I've been gradually letting it creep up again, and it seems to have caught up with me. I'll go back now and reset the heights on my bikes to what I found last year, and I bet the problem will go away. I just hate to give up that "free" power. On the other hand, I'd still like to be riding and running (on the knees my parents gave me!) in 20 years.

Speaking of positioning on the bike, I have a couple different ideas that I want to explore:

1. I'm curious about the effect of crankarm length on the whole saddle height issue. In some ways, the longer crankarm would act like a higher saddle height (more leg extension at the bottom of the stroke), but saddle height above the crank center would be the same. Maybe I'd still have the same problem, maybe not.

2. Moving away from under-cleat wedges. I have one right now on my left shoe. It does seem to position my foot better than with no wedge, but it also tends to cause my foot to rock on the pedal. I'm interested to try shoes (eg- Specialized Body Geometry) or insoles to make the correction inside the shoe rather than outside.

3. (Always three things!) Hamstring flexibility. I'm not sure that this is related to any issues I have or don't have, but I've got it in my head that my hamstring flexibility is poor. I've been working on it over the past few weeks with this active stretch, and my flexibility does seem to be improving. Whether or not it will have an impact on anything, I don't know.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Dropped!

I went to the club dirt road ride last night again. This week, we had a much better turnout, close to 15 people I think. There were quite a few people from other clubs / teams also.

Anyway, I made it to about the halfway point before things started getting difficult for me. The main group had already dropped 3 by that point. I didn't get dropped all at once; the group would sort of open a gap, then I'd catch back on, then a gap would open, and then I'd catch back on, until, finally, I didn't catch back on. I rode for quite a while with the main group in sight, I kept thinking if they got stopped at an intersection for a little while that I could catch up. But, in the middle of a hilly section, they finally pulled out of sight.

Since I wasn't too familiar with the route, I had to check my map at intersections once I couldn't see the main group anymore. This helped Joel to catch back up to me. He knows the route well, and he basically pulled me back into town. He was definitely stronger than I was at that point!

Anyway, it was a good ride. It is exactly what I need to work on from a fitness perspective: long, steady, fairly hard efforts. It also illustrated that I need to work harder at staying on the wheel in front of me. If I was better at that, I may still have gotten dropped, but I know I would have stayed with the main group longer. This is also a skill that's useful for cyclocross.

The only other weird thing that happened was that I got hit in the mouth with a rock that was kicked up off someone's tire. It got me in the lip and then one of my teeth. It didn't do any damage, but it sure got my attention!

Monday, July 28, 2008

More Running

I did a little more running Friday night. It worked out that running was about all I had time for. My wife wasn't feeling good, so I took care of the baby all evening. It was a little after 8pm when I got her to bed, so I didn't have much daylight left for riding. So, instead, I rode over to the middle school track and ran a timed mile (I was planning to do this Saturday anyway). Nights like this, by the way, are exactly why I want to be able to run.

My target for the mile was to run 6 minutes flat. My pace for the first half mile was perfect at 3:00. I started falling off a bit on the next lap, where I was at about 4:37. The last lap was all about holding on. I thought I might have a little left for a hard finish, but I didn't (which, I suppose, means I paced myself pretty well). I ended up running a 6:13. I can't be too disappointed, since I've only been back running for a few weeks, but I did hope to go quicker. My best mile time (in high school) was in the low 5 minute range.

In general, the running I've been doing hasn't had much impact on my cycling. This weekend was a little different though. My legs felt really drained for both of my rides this weekend. It looks like I'll have to be a little careful in the future about when I mix in harder runs.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thursday Ride

Lots of people associated with the club have been telling me I should do the Thursday night "fast" dirt road ride. So, last night, I finally made it out. What I neglected to consider was that there was a road race at Waterford Hills last night and that there's a big charity ride going on this weekend. When I got to the shop, there was only one other guy there waiting for the ride. Eventually, two more showed up, and that's all we had.

Only one of the four of us knew the route, but we were all at roughly the same fitness level. Anyway, so the "fast" drop ride turned into a not-quite-so-fast no-drop ride. I thought the pace ended up being pretty decent anyway, we just had to stop a few times and regroup.

I ran at a low tire pressure last night, about 30psi, thinking I'd like it for the dirt roads. I did like it for the dirt roads, but then I almost got dropped right at the end of the ride on the paved roads heading back to Clarkston. I'm sure it wasn't that I was tired, it was just the low tire pressure, right?

This is roughly the route that we followed:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Running, etc

"It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential."
- Bruce Lee

I've been running a bit over the past few weeks. My thought is, as my daughter gets older, that my training time will become increasingly limited. In these situations, I think running is a nice workout, since it requires very little total time. You don't have to check your tires, fill up water bottles, find your gloves, etc. Just put on a pair of shoes and go. It's also pretty easy to squeeze in a run before work or at lunch.

This time around, I'm taking my running progression very slowly. In the past, I've gone too far too soon, resulting in some nagging knee pains, which quickly end the whole running experiment. So far, I've still not run more than 9 minutes, but I have done 8 runs over the past 2.5 weeks. With my runs being so short, but consistent, I have avoided the knee problems that plagued me in the past.

I still haven't decided how far I'll build. I'm thinking 30 minutes as a nice round number. We'll see how it goes.

Tonight I'm planning on doing the "fast" club dirt road ride. I'm sort of expecting to get dropped. We'll see what happens... I suppose it will probably depend on who shows up.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Ride

So, I didn't do the "epic" ride that I had planned. It rained all last night and a good bit of this morning, so I figured the trails would be pretty wet. This is what the radar looked like when I woke up, so I knew I wouldn't escape the rain...


So, instead, I waited for the rain to pass, and then I went for a long paved/dirt road ride. I took my GPS along with me, so here's the data (short story: 3hours, 46miles). For not having ridden much lately, I thought the ride went pretty well. I was definitely bushed by the end, but I basically felt OK.

This weekend was Quake on the Lake over at PRLA. I stopped and watched the boats for a minute or two both ways. If you look carefully, you can see the rooster tails in my wonderful picture.


The dirt road portion of the ride was new to me. The roads were pretty decent for being dirt roads. A little wet and sloppy in spots, but mostly very good. I'm sure the trails would have been much worse. It looks like you could ride a long way on dirt roads out there in White Lake, Davisburg, etc.






Saturday, July 19, 2008

Negative Momentum

My mid-summer break was nice, and I'll definitely appreciate it in November, but with such a long break comes the possibility of accumulating some negative momentum. My training didn't go great this week and I didn't feel good about it.

I keep tabs a bit on what is happening at Ross's website and over at Crossfit. I happened to see that Crossfit has an add-on for endurance athletes, CFE. I've always been interested in the high-intensity approach to training, and this is exactly what goes on at CFE. Compared to more traditional programs, ride times are incredibly short (20 minutes or so). I could find plenty of success stories with people who had goals like: "just finishing", but I had trouble finding more than that. How did it work with competitive athletes? I finally found an answer that satisfied me here. Basically, the conclusion was that there are no free lunches. If you want to be a competitive endurance athlete, you'd better train endurance. (I still like this stuff for the off-season though!)

Anyway, questioning my training program did nothing for the momentum, although deciding that CFE probably wouldn't work for me helped.

I was supposed to race on Sunday at Ruby Campground. I've decided not to do it. I didn't feel good about my training this week, it's a long drive, and I've never ridden there before. Instead, I decided to skip today's workout and do what will likely be an "epic" ride tomorrow. I'll post the details after I do it. ;)

I feel much better this afternoon now that I decided to skip the race and got tomorrow planned out. I also stopped by the bike shop to pick up some stuff and had nice chats with a couple guys there. I also heard a rumor about a new 'cross race late this summer. It sounded cool, we'll see if it goes anywhere.