A few random pictures from my phone...
Bike-shaped bike racks outside a restaurant in Baltimore.
Cora and Sarah watching some ducks.
“It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.”
- Vince Lombardi
Probably the best thing about this race was that I hung in there and finished...
I woke up to a foggy morning on Sunday. When I looked outside, I was hoping that the fog meant it was a little warm, but it wasn't. It was cold enough that the fog made you even colder. Good 'cross weather I suppose.
My legs felt a little flat during my warmup, but not bad, so I figured I should be OK. The course was pretty fun again; a good mix of fast open corners and some tighter ones. We also went back through the woods for a while.
After questioning my effort just a bit last week, I planned to try for a faster start this week. Apparently, that was everyone else's plan too. So, even though I was going hard at the start, it felt like the whole field swarmed by me. Before the end of the first lap, I was well out of the top 10, and I felt like crap.
I continued to lose ground on the second and third laps, getting passed by people that I felt I "should" beat (didn't they know they were just supposed to follow me around?). After getting taken into the course tape, I was about ready to just stop. There were enough people cheering for me though that I felt like I had to keep going. I started trying to be a little more positive, "Hey, those guys started too fast, hang in there, they'll come back to you." Doing that, I suffered through the rest of the race. Finally, on the last lap, a few people did start coming back to me. I ended up passing maybe 3-4 guys on that last lap.
(Nice head position on this corner! Photo by Hans Nyberg.)
Still, I ended up finishing a disappointing 16th out of 25. For whatever reason, I was just physically way off the pace. Probably my attitude in the middle laps didn't help me either.
So what happened? I think that it was a combination of the following:
I think it helps to have a short memory and be a little bit delusional if you're a bike racer. You have to somehow really believe that next weekend you can line up against the same guys and perform better. So, that's what I'll try to do in two weeks for the last race. I think I've still got a bit of fitness, I just need to let it show.
I'm pretty sure I'd be faster if I could get just a little more sleep. Actually, I've been able to get a pretty decent amount lately, but just another hour or so a night would do wonders I think. Ah well, that's how it goes.
Not much to blog about lately. Our basement has been all torn up for the past month or so from water damage, so I've had to do my riding on the trainer in the garage. It's not been as bad as I thought, but it's still pretty bad (cold and dull). Training rides in the garage just don't provide much blog material...
It's hard to believe that there's just a little over two weeks left in my season. I'm still pretty motivated to race, but I'm also looking forward to being done and doing "normal" things at home for awhile.
I'm racing this Sunday at Bloomer. I've been having trouble remembering what that course is usually like; I went back through my race results and noticed that I've actually only done the CX race there twice! One of those times was back in 2005, my very first cyclocross race!
We had some uncharacteristically beautiful weather this weekend. Temps were in the high 50's / low 60's both days and the sky was clear. Pretty crazy for November in Michigan.
I went to the Michigan football game on Saturday, so I was relegated to the trainer when I got home on Saturday night.
On Sunday, I went to the group ride that Mark W organized. The plan was to ride the dirt roads around Clarkston (we used the normal Thursday night route); do a good warmup, get in some intensity, and then cool back down.
I didn't do any of the Thursday rides this year, but last year, I never made it through without getting dropped. So, my plan for Sunday was to ride smart, stay out of the wind, and keep my effort pretty steady (and try to stay with the group!).
Things ended up going pretty well for me, although I'm not sure that we went quite as fast as I've gone before on Thursdays. We stopped to regroup a few times, but the group didn't have to wait for me. I got through my usual breaking point, Horton Rd (about halfway through the ride), with no problem. I felt pretty good on the hills coming back toward Clarkston, which was a first. And when Mark (and someone else) turned the screws a bit on the last stretch of dirt road into town, I put in a good chase. Not enough to catch Mark and companion (until they sat up), but enough to gap the rest of the group.
Anyway, it was a good ride, and a nice change of pace from what I've been doing lately (short intervals on the trainer). I'm feeling like my fitness is pretty reasonable again after those couple weeks I was sick. We'll see on Sunday how much ground I've made up...
Wow, quite a weekend of racing!
It had rained pretty much all day on Friday, so Veteran's Park was still pretty wet on Saturday. Temperatures weren't too bad, mid 40's, but we had some serious winds to deal with. Vet's Park is always a hilly course, but usually you can recover a bit on the flatter sections. With the wind and the soft/muddy ground, there was no place to recover.
After two warmup laps, my legs were already hurting, so I wasn't too optimistic about how I'd feel in the race. Because of that and the tough conditions, I started a little more conservatively than I usually do. A lot of people passed me on the first lap, but the course started taking it's toll on some of them, and they came back to me in the later laps.
I felt pretty terrible the whole race, but I ended up riding around the same people I usually do. Most of the day, it seemed like the group ahead of me was just a few seconds ahead, but I just couldn't get up to them. I was noticeably faster than the other guys around me on some of the corners and on the hills, but, on the flat sections, they would take back whatever advantage I had gained.
One thing that I'll credit Gene for was my confidence on some of the faster slippery corners. There was one downhill, muddy, off-camber corner. On one lap, I had the bike leaned over and I was nicely balanced over the bottom bracket. Both tires were sliding, but I just stayed calm in my balanced position and rode it out... no big deal. It was pretty cool. Maybe not fast, but cool.
It's been a long time since I've done a bike race with mud, so I was curious about how my shoes and pedals would work. My Time ATAC pedals worked flawlessly the whole day, even though my shoes were caked in mud. There were a few times I wished that I'd put my toe spikes in though. My Challenge Fango tires also worked reasonably well in the short muddy stretches.
Anyway, I finished just a couple spots back from where I usually do, 13 out of 28. My pace was off though, about 37s per lap slower than the winner (7%).
The weather was much nicer on Sunday. Temperature was about the same, but there was no wind and the sun was out. The course had dried out a bit and I thought the layout was a little easier too.
Photo by Bruce LeBlanc
I was cautiously optimistic that I'd feel a bit better on Sunday. I did feel a little better, but it didn't really translate into an improved performance. Otherwise, the race went about like it did on Saturday. I ended up 14th out of 27 on Sunday, about 36s per lap slower than the winner (8%). Looking at my lap times, you can see that I was totally cooked by the end of the race; my last couple laps were about 30s slower than my first one. Usually I'm much more consistent than that. Although, I noticed that most of the guys that finished around me followed the same pattern.
In general, my fitness just wasn't there this weekend, but, with being sick, that's really no surprise. I've got two weeks to get ready for the next race at Stony Creek; I think that should be enough time to have rebuilt a bit. Hopefully I can at least get back to my baseline 4% at that race.
One more interesting thing: during my "rehearsal" on Friday for the race, I noticed that I pause a little after I jump back on the bike before I start trying to find the pedal with my right foot. There's really no reason to do it, and it costs me a little momentum. So, I made an effort all weekend to eliminate that pause and get my right foot in the pedal as quickly as possible. I thought it seemed to help; I felt like I was able to accelerate out of the barriers a little more quickly. So many little things...
I had a fun weekend of cyclocross racing, but it's too bad I didn't feel a little better for it. I'd been feeling a little sick since I got back from Richmond last week. I rode on Tuesday night, but then I decided not to ride at all after that until I got feeling better. I felt more-or-less decent on Friday, so I decided to go ahead and race on Saturday.
Saturday was the first ever Mad Anthony CX race. It was held at Fort Wayne in Detroit. Fort Wayne was a Civil War era fort that is now owned by the city of Detroit. Much of it seems to be in a pretty bad state of ruin, but the parts that have been restored look nice.
Anyway, I expected the course to be totally flat (I visited Fort Smith in Arkansas once, and I remember it being pretty flat, so I guess that was the basis for my assumption.), but it definitely wasn't. We had to climb and run a couple of steep hills, and there was one longer sidehill stretch. It turned out to be a pretty cool course. Some of the grass to pavement transitions were a little harsh, but if you unweighted or hopped them, it wasn't too bad.
The "B" field was decent. A lot of the usual B racers weren't there (saving it for Sunday I guess), but since there was no Masters 35+ race, a lot of those guys raced in the B's. Anyway, I got off to a decent start but the front group dropped me pretty quickly. I had a good early battle with Brad from TSB. Once I realized he was on a singlespeed, I picked a slow corner to try to gap him, and it seemed to work well. Still, I was impressed at how quick he was on that singlespeed!
In the middle laps, I'd put in a small gap over fellow Rhino Gary Olsen and a guy riding a mountain bike, but I couldn't extend it. They were right on me to start the last lap. I figured that if I could stay in front until the cobblestone climb near the end, I'd be OK. They must have had a similar thought, because they both came around me just before the tunnel (which was just before the cobblestone climb). I managed to get back around Gary on the runup, but I had no chance to get around the MTB guy. I put in a decent sprint at the end, but the MTB guy was too far ahead. I ended up 6th out 25. On that last lap, I just tried to go hard the whole time (I think our laps were around 5 minutes); in hindsight, I wonder if I should have tried one or two big attacks instead?
I took some pictures during the Elite race and tried to capture what the area and course looked like. Definitely a unique venue!
On Sunday, I raced at Lower Huron Metropark; it's always one of my favorite places to race (maybe because I usually do well there). The course was a little different this year; it seemed shorter and more open.
I got a great start and rode with the front group for the first lap and a bit into the second. Then, as Phil Ligget would say, the elastic snapped. For the next two laps I suffered pretty badly and hoped something would break on my bike so I could stop. (When I start thinking like that, I just remind myself that it means I'm doing it right. The pace should be so hard that you want to quit.) I lost quite a few spots in those laps. By the fourth lap though, I had recovered a bit and I started picking riders off.
The last rider I caught and passed was Tom Payn (who I also battled with at Munson), but Tom hung with me until the end. On the last lap, I attacked hard out of the barriers by the pavilion and briefly had a gap, but Tom had closed it up by the time we crested the paved hill. At that point, it was clear it was going to come down to a sprint. Usually, I feel pretty good about my chances in a sprint, but I didn't on Sunday... the attack out of the barriers had taken too much out of me. The sprint still ended up being pretty close, but Tom came around and beat me by a bike length or so.
(Photo by Hans Nyberg)
So, I ended up in 11th (out of 33). This was actually the first time I've finished out of the top 10 in a CX race this year.
Even though I'm a little bummed that I got nipped right at the end on both days, I felt like I had pretty decent races. In fact, I'm surprised that I rode as well as I did, considering that I'd been feeling sick and hardly rode last week (I guess I was well-rested).
My mental focus was pretty decent in both races... no flaking out at all. In particular, on Saturday, there were a few times when I noticed that my mind was starting to wander, and I brought it right back. OK, so maybe on Sunday trying to figure out the best way to quit the race doesn't demonstrate the great focus, but I got through it and finished the race strong.
Even though it's probably not the best strategy for getting my best placement, I was also happy with how I rode the first lap with the front group on Sunday. I do think that this is the way to get faster. The first step to riding consistent fast laps is to ride one fast lap; once you can do that, it's just a matter of building fitness.
It took a little more effort to implement this in a spreadsheet, but I did it. I made a plot that compares the two calculation methods. The trends are roughly the same, but the absolute values are noticeably different.
So far, I haven't found that either method has done a particularly good job of predicting when I'll feel good on the bike and when I won't. Maybe its because I'm estimating my training load instead of actually measuring it. Maybe I don't have enough "data" yet. It seems like other factors in my life (sleep, work stress, etc) have a bigger impact on my performance than fine-tuning training load and rest.
Speaking of, I've been feeling a little sick since I came home from camp. Reviewing my training log, I noticed that I've once again strung together too many days of not quite enough sleep. I've taken it pretty easy since Wednesday morning, and I don't seem to be getting worse. If I feel decent all day on Friday, I'll probably go ahead and race "Mad Anthony" on Saturday; otherwise, I think I'll hold off racing until Lower Huron on Sunday. One of the interesting things that you can see with my spreadsheet though is that missing a couple days has a relatively minor impact on the overall picture. Like I've written before, I think it's much better to be conservative and miss a couple days than try to push through and end up having to miss a week or more.
We had superhero soil conditions last night at 'cross practice. It had rained a bit, but things had mostly dried out, so the ground was soft and grippy. It felt like you could lean your bike as much as you wanted. At one point, on the off-camber turn around a big tree, I could feel clumps of dirt being thrown from the tire hitting my leg... pretty cool.
I'm still getting used to my new tires. I'm not sure if it was the tires, soil conditions, or what, but it seemed like I was starting to get the bike to rotate under me a little bit. When I was in to driving cars and karts, this feeling of rotation was one of my clues that I was starting to get the corners right. Not so much rotation that the rear tire breaks free (which usually slows you down), but enough that you can feel you're doing more than just tracking around an arc.
My legs felt pretty decent once I got going a bit (it was cold last night!). I felt like I mostly rode pretty well too, but I still am not riding quite as smoothly as I could. There were a few times on connected corners where I'd nail the first one, get the light moment in between the corners, but then decide I was going too fast for the second one and brake a little, which wrecked the smooth weight transfer. Intellectually, I'm sure that I could transition from that light moment into the next corner, really cram the tires into the ground and rip the second corner, but my body still isn't convinced yet. Just takes more practice I guess...
I've been running a bit for the past month or so. Just short easy runs to get the legs used to it a little. Except for the very first run, they've all gone fine, no pain or soreness later. So, with that preparation work done, this morning, I did my first session of hill sprints. It was cold enough that I was glad I was wearing a hat and wishing that I'd brought gloves too. The sprints didn't feel too hard while I was doing them (a benefit of the cold?), but I could feel it in my legs later this morning.
Yesterday I raced the Addison Oaks cross-country race for the first time. As I posted before, I was really motivated for the race and I thought I had a good chance to perform well. I did end up having a really good race, but I just didn't get the placement I was hoping for. So, here's how it went...
I changed my warmup routine a little bit for this race. Instead of doing several 30s intervals, I did a few slightly easier 2 minute intervals. I felt like this change worked well for me. I also spent about 10 minutes sitting under a tree going over my strategy and visualizing key sections of the race. This was also really nice.
At the starting line, I lined up on the front row of a pretty decent-sized field, 14 riders. My plan was to go as fast as possible on the grassy field and up the first, long climb. At the signal, the field took off, and things split up pretty quickly. I made the front group of four; the other guys here were the top guys in my class, so I tried to stay with them as long as I could. Once we hit the singletrack though, they slowly pulled away from me. That was the bad news; the good news was that I couldn't see or hear anyone behind me.
In a trend that would continue on every lap, I rode by myself for the next 40% of the course. And then, as happened on every lap, although I haven't figured out why, a small group caught me going into the last long section of singletrack. They caught me, but no one could make a pass that would stick. At the end of the first lap, an RBS rider did pass me on the singletrack, but I went right back around him in the grassy field by the start/finish area.
Basically, aside from having company on the singletrack at the end of every lap, it was a pretty uneventful race. I pushed hard on all the open sections and tried to ride smooth on the singletrack. Because of the nature of the trail, it seemed like I was going fast the whole time.
Near the end of the last lap, I had company again and was a little worried about who was behind me and how the finish would play out. As it turned out, we came up on a little slower traffic. I moved through it pretty quickly and pushed hard to build a gap. I had a decent gap by the time I exited the singletrack, so I just kept a moderately hard pace to the finish.
I ended up in 4th place, about 2 minutes back from the top 3 guys. The 5th place guy was in the group right behind me, he ended up finishing about 10s behind me. There was another big gap behind him though, about 4 minutes (!) back to 6th place.
Before the race, I was hoping for a top 3 finish, but it was clear that the top 3 guys were riding a step above me. I'm still really happy with my race though; I did everything I wanted to and I felt like I rode really well.
Since that was my last mountain bike race of the year ('cross starts this weekend!), I'm thinking about what I want to do for next year. At this point, I'm fairly sure that I'm going to move up to Expert. My lap times are at least now comparable to the lower half of the Expert field, so I shouldn't be totally getting crushed. I also don't know what I would have to gain by racing Sport again.
I had a pretty decent night at the track last night. Running my tires at 30psi instead of 25psi worked much better. I surprised myself a bit by being able to keep my pace up through all of our hard efforts. A lot of other people seemed to fade quite a bit as we went on. After our last effort, Jeff said that he thought I looked much improved over last year and asked me "What did you do this summer?" I didn't give him a great answer, since I was still breathing hard, but the question made me think. So, here's the long version about what I did:
1. Practiced cornering... a lot.
2. Practiced riding in a "neutral" position, with little weight on my hands. (I think a couple of the crashes I saw last night were due to people trying to steer their bike with their weight forward, resulting in the front wheel tucking under and them going down.)
3. Rode less, but made sure that my rides were high-quality.
4. Rested more. The result has been one of my most consistent years; I haven't been sick since Spring (knock on wood).
5. For the last month or so, I've been much more diligent about sticking to my Paleo nutrition plan. It's surprising what a difference this makes.
6. I've been working on not letting my bike bash into bumps or dips. So, lifting my front wheel over sharp bumps/dips and pumping the bigger ones.
It also helped that I'd just come off of a rest week and I worked a normal day yesterday. The week before, I'd just finished a hard block of training and had worked a longish day.
I've changed my setup on the mountain bike this week. Taking the advice of the skills gurus out there (Gene and Lee), I put a shorter stem on the bike and raised it. I already had a 75mm stem on my singlespeed, so I used that, replacing the 90mm stem that was on the bike. My estimate is that the changes moved my bars back and up about 1 inch each.
Lee mentioned a test to see if you have adequate skill to rip with a longer stem. He suggests dropping off a curb 100 times. To pass, you have to land with the rear wheel first every time. I didn't try to do it 100 times; I only did 10, and I landed correctly 8 times.
Last night, I got my first real ride in with the new setup (at Pontiac Lake, my "home" trail). I can say that it's definitely different; it took a little while to get used to. While pedaling, I felt much more upright; it felt a little odd on the road, but fine on the trail. My first impression is that I descend and corner a little better this way. For sure, it's easier to lift the front wheel. I didn't notice any real problems climbing, maybe the front end wanders just a little more, but it wasn't too bad. I did stall on the steep climb after "The Chute" on both laps, which is pretty unusual for me now. I attribute that to the rider rather than the bike though, my legs just felt dead for the whole ride.
I also had Sarah record me doing Figure-8 drills in the driveway earlier this week; it was really interesting to watch. I expected to see that I wasn't leaning the bike nearly as much as I thought (I wasn't), but I was pleasantly surprised to see that I looked reasonably smooth. What I didn't expect to see was how bad my upper body position was; I mean, I knew it probably wasn't great, but what I saw wasn't even close.
(Lee, demonstrating proper, although exaggerated, form.)
So, I've been working on getting myself into a good neutral "attack" position whenever I'm not pedaling. I figure, if the ground is flat and straight enough to pedal on, I should be in a pedaling position; otherwise, I should be in the attack position. I found that being in a good attack position also makes a big difference in my comfort level while descending and cornering. What I realized last night though is that I basically never corner like that; instead, I go to some position where my butt is hovering just off the saddle and my chest is still high. I expect that this position puts too much weight on the back of the bike, which is why I feel like the front of the bike doesn't want to turn. For sure, in that hovering position, I can't lean my bike very far without leaning with it, there's no place for the saddle to go!
Sunday, I raced the 2009 edition of the Stony Creek Time Trial. I didn't feel particularly well-prepared for the race, but I still had some reasonably high expectations.
The preparation problems revolved around just not riding enough after my trip to California, and that my legs were still very sore after what I thought would be a pretty easy workout Friday night.
In the past, I've gone with the strategy of holding back a little at the start of a time trial, and then (hopefully) speeding up as the race goes on. In the distant past, I've also gone out too hard and blown up in time trials. Anyway, what I've been finding more recently is that it works better for me to go a little harder at the start, to psychologically set the intensity level for the race. So, that's what I did.
The format of these MTB time trials is that pairs of riders go off every 30 seconds. So, I went out pretty hard, as planned; the guy that started with me seemed content to draft me on the grassy start. Maybe this should have bothered me, but I'm not sure there's a huge aero advantage to be had at the speeds we were going, particularly behind me ;) . Once we got to the gravel road, he dropped me pretty quickly. The good news was that I could see that I had nearly reeled in the guy that started 30 seconds ahead of me (there was just one, the other guy didn't show up at the starting line).
Everything went fine through the first water-crossing, and then I passed my 30s guy just before a short section of singletrack. He was still close when we hit the first big climb; I pushed hard over that climb and dropped him. Even though my legs felt bad, it seemed like I was doing OK. Just after that, the guy that ended up winning my class passed me.
I hit the first long section of singletrack, The Pines, and backed off just a bit. I rode it about how I usually do, which is probably not aggressive enough. I got passed by two guys.
Basically, that's how the race went. I pushed hard on the two-track, and backed off a little on the singletrack. The passing I mentioned above was the only passing that happened. Later on, I did run into the guy that started with me. He had some problem with his chain that he'd just fixed. Once he got going, I didn't stay with him for long.
Anyway, I finished in 1hr 1min. It's a little hard to compare this time to my 2006 time, since the trail is now a little longer, but in 2006 I did the race in 1hr 4min. I guess I'm a little disappointed that I didn't finish in less than an hour. Despite the sore legs and rustiness, I actually felt like I raced OK, so the time surprised me a bit. Maybe this is a case of letting a bad result ruin an otherwise good race, I don't know.
There really wasn't one area that I can say caused me to be slow. My fitness seemed OK (despite the sore legs), although it could always be better. My singletrack riding was OK for me; it's still a relatively weak point, but (at least at Stony) I don't feel totally outclassed like I used to. I did a pretty good job of staying focused mentally. I think it's a case of going just a little faster everywhere, which would add up to going a lot faster overall.