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.