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


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!