Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stony Creek Marathon XC - 2008

I almost decided not to do this race. We got quite a bit of rain Friday night, adding to the all the rain we've gotten for the past few weeks, so I knew the trails would be pretty muddy. Eventually, I decided that the race would go on with or without me, so I might as well go. I'll try to go to a trail work day when one is set up, because we definitely did some damage...

A lot happens of the course of a 40 mile mountain bike race, so here's what I remember:

- It was very humid. My glasses were fogging up in the singletrack for the first couple laps. Add that to the mud, and it was kind of hard to see. I think if I do a muddy race like that again, I'll have an extra pair of clean pair of glasses ready.

- A made a nice gap near the beginning of the race, but it was all for nothing, as the race stacked up once we got into The Pines. Basically, the whole first lap was just single file riding in the singletrack. There was no where to go if you wanted to pass.

- I nearly went down on one of the two-track descents. There was a fast right-hander followed by a gentle left-hander. The left-hander was muddy, and more slippery than I thought. My bike really started sliding when I hit the mud; I was fortunate to stay upright. I'll credit my recent cornering practice.

- Lots of riders were having trouble with their drivetrains. I saw several people pulled off working to clean things up. While the mud certainly made for some bad shifting at times (and bad noises), my bike basically worked well for most of the race.

- I actually dropped people on the singletrack this year. Maybe fitness had something to do with it, since the times I'm thinking of were on the later laps, but I must be getting better... I also got lapped by the Elite riders later in the race.

- Pretty much like last year, I started the 4th lap feeling really drained. I took an extra gel at the start of the lap, and, like last year, it seemed to help. At least I was sort of prepared for that to happen this year.

Anyway, I ended up finishing 3rd, my best ever finish so far in a bike race. It's nice to have that bad taste of the Brighton race(s) washed out of my mouth. I think the key was sticking to my plan:

1. Get into a steady pace early.
2. Focus on riding smooth, rather than fast.
3. Keep pedaling.

I was also fortunate to avoid crashes and mechanicals. With the tough conditions and the length of the race, there was a lot of potential for stuff to go wrong.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I had a nice ride last night. I rode to PLRA, then rode the whole trail at a pretty hard pace, and then rode home. My lap time was 0:49, which is definitely the fastest I've ridden out there. Usually, I end up around 0:55... of course, I usually don't ride the whole trail hard either.

I had a couple more thoughts on cornering. I've been thinking of it lately like skiing or skating. You need to set your inside edge, and then you hold it through the turn. So, the key I think is to really start the turn right, get that inside row of knobbies biting, then the rest of the turn should be easy... maybe... I've noticed that when I focus on doing this, my bike will turn a lot sharper than I'm expecting. Of course, since I do it inconsistently, that creates problems too...

The other thing I noticed was that I ride better with my knees bent more. I've been thinking about keeping my elbows out, but that also tends to cue me to bend my knees more. Lots of good things happen when the knees are bent more: lower CG, softer "human suspension", more negative bike travel available, head naturally looks up more, etc. I guess it should be obvious... I can't think of a sport I've tried where it's better to have straighter, stiffer legs.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I was able to do a few longish rides this weekend. I went out to Stony on Friday night after work and rode for about 2.5 hours. I felt pretty decent, I think my little practice session last week helped with my cornering. I wasn't suddenly quick or anything, but I felt smoother than normal.

I alternate between feeling faster than last year and feeling slower than last year. In general, I sort of feel slow, but then I hit certain sections of trail or do certain rides, and I realize that I am still getting better. I should probably do a test again and prove it to myself.

I bought a new mountain bike DVD last week: Fluidride: Like a Pro. It is definitely more downhill oriented, but when I watched the preview and I learned something from the 30 second snippet, I thought it would be worthwhile. I watched it Friday night, and there's great material. I thought the format was very good: a little lecture, followed by some demonstration. The main instructor covers the material really fast, which is sort of a double-edged sword. For the first time through, it was probably too fast, but I think it will be good for repeated viewings.

(I love pictures like this where the rider is leaning so far!)

Sunday was my opportunity to try some of this stuff out. I rode over to my home trail, PLRA for a couple laps. I wanted to do two things: work on staying in a neutral position and try the drop technique they showed in the DVD. When I remembered to do it, I definitely descended and cornered faster and more comfortably in the neutral position. It's something I'll just have to keep working on to make a habit.

As for the drops, I used to always either try to roll a drop by pulling mostly up on my bars (at low speed) or bunny hop a drop (at higher speeds). The DVD explains why bunny hopping off drops can be a bad idea. The main drop technique on the video emphasizes shifting your weight back to lift the front wheel. Nothing new really, but they explained it in a way that worked better for me. Anyway, I tried this on most of the drops at PLRA (none are very big, 2ft, at most) and it worked really well, fast or slow.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Dirt Trackin'

I took both Monday and Tuesday off this week. I was definitely still feeling tired on Tuesday from my workouts over the weekend and from not sleeping enough on Sunday night. Actually, on Tuesday, I was feeling like my legs were really strong, which usually happens right after I've been riding a lot and right before I get sick. That seemed to be another good reason to take Tuesday off.

After the extra rest, I felt much, much better on Wednesday. I had to ride the trainer though, since I had some childcare duties Wednesday night. I did the Spinervals "No Slackers" DVD. It's always a good ride...

So, Thursday, I was going to go easy again (trying to peak a little for the Marathon race next weekend). I grabbed my singlespeed and some cones and went out to a little gravel parking lot near my neighborhood. I set up the cones to make a corner, and started drilling the corner. Pretty interesting session... The gravel was so loose that I ended up "dirt tracking" most of the corners (my inside foot off the pedal). I learned (or experienced) a few interesting things:

1. The bike definitely corners better with the outside pedal weighted. I mean, really weighted.

2. I tend to keep my weight too far back, which tends to make the front end wash out.

I would have kept going, but I'd already spent almost an hour there, and I thought I should spend a little more time with the family.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pentwater Ride

I was in Pentwater over the weekend to visit the family. I brought my road bike and tried out a route I found on It ended up being a really nice route through farm country. Very little traffic and (mostly) smooth roads.

I went out to Stony Creek on Sunday to continue preparing for the Marathon race. I ended up not riding the Pines at all; I talked to another rider at the trail who said that part of the trail was in very bad shape from the rain. It was basically a good ride. I did notice that the bike handled much better with the trued up rear wheel. Who would have guessed? I suppose I'll have to keep an eye on that now to make sure it doesn't get too bad.

Friday, June 13, 2008


This week has been pretty good for training. I got out Tuesday night and did a little power workout at Waterford Oaks. I did a hard cruise interval workout on the road Wednesday night, and last night I did a fairly easy endurance ride at Stony. I am now "super uphill logpile man"... OK, maybe not, but after riding the (pretty easy) one at Brighton, I decided I needed to ride the (bigger) one at Stony. I cleared it both laps, no problem. I think being able to do this is a result of working on my balance over the winter; a lot of it is also mental, of course.

I did some work on my mountain bike last night after the ride. I got the wheel trued up. I took the tire off to do it, and I was pretty happy with how quickly I was able to seal the tire back up. Definitely easier than the first time. I got my new rear derailleur about half on (I bought this derailleur in May '06, when I thought I had damaged mine... it turned out to be a bent hanger instead). I noticed that the spring felt stronger than on the broken derailleur, maybe this will help with my chain falling off?

A couple of musings on bike handling:

1. I'm thinking that having a rear wheel noticeably out of true is a "bad thing" for bike handling. Imagine cornering near the limit with the bike leaned over. Your tire is happily holding the line, then it reaches the spot where the wheel is out of true, and the tire (and therefore, contact patch) moves over. I think you would at least feel this, and if you were truly at the limit, it might be enough to push you over. It will be interesting to see if I notice a difference now that my wheel is true again.

2. I think my priorities for picking lines on the trail are screwed up. I put too much weight on avoiding little obstacles and not enough on the geometrically better line. This is one of the things that makes me slow.

3. Another thing I need to focus on is keeping my weight balanced over my pedals. It's a little hard to explain (but easy to feel), but when your weight is really being directed through the pedals, control (and grip!) is so much better.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stage 3

"Race results live on Google forever."'

For as bad as my racing was on Saturday, Sunday was worse. To make a long story short, I DNF'd. It was the first time I've ever dropped out of any race. According to Weather Underground, the temperature at the race start was about 95F, with humidity about 50% (so, heat index 105F)!

I felt reasonably recovered after Saturday; I knew I wasn't fresh, but I certainly didn't feel bad. I drank plenty of water prior to the race, and I still went through a warmup (although I did cut it back a bit). I tried to hold back a little at the start. I put in one semi-hard effort at the beginning of the race. Basically the group split very early and I was in the wrong half of the split, so I bridged up to the front group. I didn't feel like that effort put me in too much difficulty.

About 2/3 of the way through the lap, I started feeling really bad. I couldn't develop much power and I wasn't able to focus. Shortly after that I felt a few chills. At that point, I rode at a fairly easy pace and called it quits once I got to the start/finish area. I was convinced (and still am) that I would have crashed badly (or worse) if I'd continued on. I'm disappointed that I DNF'd, but I still think it was probably the right decision.

So, what happened? Probably a combination of racing on Saturday and the heat. We haven't really had many hot days this Spring, so the heat and humidity were a bit of a shock this weekend. On the other hand, a bunch of other people raced both days in the same weather I did. In hindsight, I wonder if I would have been better off drinking some kind of sports drink during the race rather than plain water (or, maybe I should have taken my gel sooner?). I tried sports drink once before during a race and I didn't like it, it sort of congealed in my mouth and then I didn't have any plain water to rinse it out. Maybe I didn't really drink enough water prior to the race, but I think that I did.

Anyway, I'm glad that weekend is behind me. I've got to do a little work on the bike, thanks to the Saturday short track crash: my rear derailleur is broken and my rear wheel is out of true. The next race I'm doing is the Stony Creek Marathon, just three weeks away. Last year, this was a hot one too.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Brighton Stage Race: 1 & 2

I raced the first two stages of the Brighton Stage Race today, the time trial and the short track race. How can I best summarize my day? I crashed, and then I crashed some more.

Stage 1 was the TT. I made it through the 2-track / road start and just barely into the singletrack before I went down for the first time. I think the front end started to slide, and then bit, and somehow this caused me to go down. The killer was that I dropped my chain and it seemed to take forever to get it back on (it always does). I fell again about a minute or two later, just about the same way, but my chain stayed on. Then about 5-10 minutes later (with someone right behind me) my front tire slid on a root and I fell again! The second two falls didn't slow me down nearly as much as the first, but falling that much really screws up your focus. To top it off, my bike was ghost-shifting like crazy.

I didn't expect to set a great time in the TT, since the trail was pretty technical, but I thought I'd at least keep the bike rolling! I can't remember the last time I crashed so much in a race (actually, I can). Anyway, my effort earned me a last place finish in the class. I don't remember the exact time gaps now, but I was about 30s or so behind the next guy, and maybe 7 minutes behind the leader.

Between the stages, I at least was able to fix the ghost-shifting problem. It turned out that the low limit on the rear derailleur was way out. I'm thinking maybe the derailleur got bent (or somehow otherwise screwed up) on that first crash.

We had a decent turnout of Rhinos today, 6 in total I think. It was nice to hang out with them between stages: swapping race stories, contemplating tire pressures, etc.

The second stage was a short track XC race. Basically, cyclocross-style racing with no barriers; the course and the race were also very short. They lumped all of the Sport and Beginner riders into one mass start! There were maybe 50-60 people in the race! I lined up in about the 3rd row (if there really were rows). I started next to John, and it looked like most of the people immediately around me knew what they were doing...

At the whistle, everyone went pretty hard; my plan was to try to get to the front quickly to clear the traffic, but it didn't work out so well. The group made it through the first corner OK, but the second corner, a pretty wide off-camber right, was a problem. I thought I did OK holding my line, and someone to my right was bumping into me with their shoulder. I was actually expecting a little contact, so this was no big deal. But, at nearly the same time, someone sailed into my rear tire (after inspecting my bike afterward, I think it was actually my rear derailleur). Contact at two points was more than I could manage, and I went flying off the bike. It looked like 2 or 3 other guys also got collected in the crash. I know my bike was at the bottom of a pile of three bikes.

The other guys got their bikes and got going; meanwhile, I noticed my chain fell off (again!) and I had to get it back on while this huge field was streaming by. By the time I got going again I was dead last... just the old guys and kids in front of me (I'm not kidding! Like I said, they combined the Sport race with all the Beginners). So, I put the hammer down and started passing people. It actually went pretty well, but I had to get off the worn-in racing line a lot. Since most of the course was on a rough grass field, that felt like a lot of extra energy. About halfway through the third lap or so, I felt like I was back into the Sport field, and I backed the effort level down just a touch (I was definitely not riding at a sustainable pace up to that point). I was still able to make passes, just not quite as quickly. Near the start of the 5th and last lap, I started seeing Rhino jerseys. That spurred me on a bit and I buried it for the rest of lap.

I ended up finished 4th out of the 8 guys in my class in the short track race. I doubt I really gained much time advantage in the overall standings, but it was nice to finish with a decent placement. I had hoped to put a little more time into the other guys in my class, but there's only so much you can do in a 15 minute race anyway.

So, tomorrow is the cross country race: 18 miles or so. The trail is pretty fast and open, so it actually might suit me well. If I get a good finish, it might be enough to put me on the podium for the overall standings (since they go to 5 places). It depends on how much time I actually gained in the short track race and how much time I can gain tomorrow. Honestly though, I'll be pretty happy if I can just keep the rubber side down tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I've "discovered" a new way to read blogs and other frequently updated websites: RSS feeds. I set up the Google Reader with feeds to all of my favorite blogs; then I just go to the Google site and it automatically checks for updates and pulls them in. I'm always looking for little efficiencies now...

There's a new article on Ross's website that's worth checking out.

I had planned to ride before work this morning, but I opted for an extra hour of sleep instead. I probably could have done it if I hadn't decided to stay up and watch the first period of the Red Wings game (yes, "stay up" means 9:30pm). I'll ride tonight instead. Sarah and Cora are coming back from Boston today, so tonight will be a little busier than I've gotten used to over the past few days.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Weekend Rides

With Sarah and Cora being in Boston this weekend, I've had some good opportunities to ride. Yesterday afternoon, I went rode over to PLRA and did a lap. It went OK, I was trying to push the pace a bit on the trail, and I didn't feel so good doing that. I've been having some allergy issues this week; I'm generally feeling better, but my nose fills up pretty fast out on the trail.

Today, I drove over to Brighton State Park and rode the trails out there. The next race I'm planning to do is a stage race out at Brighton. I've never ridden there before, so I thought I'd check it out.

The first race will be a time trial on the Torn Shirt Trail. I rode that one first today. It had some nice technical climbs and some pretty fast descents. I'm not feeling too confident about setting a competitive time out there though. I was probably descending too slowly... which is my habit when I don't know where I'm going.

The second race is a short track race which will not be on the trails, as I understand it. The third race is a cross-country race on Sunday. This is on the Murray Lake Trail. I wasn't sure about exactly which trails would be used, so I rode everything out there. The Murray Lake Trail was fun, a lot of it was open and fast. Racing out there will be interesting. I didn't see many trail features that would tend to spread the pack out.