Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Skiing

I hadn't really planned to go skiing this morning, but, if you want to ski around here, you've got to go when you get the chance. It snowed most of yesterday and a little more overnight, so I got out first thing this morning.


I skied over at the nature center in my neighborhood. The trails aren't great, but it was fun to get out. It turned out that there was just barely enough snow to ski on.


A few random pictures from my phone...

Bike-shaped bike racks outside a restaurant in Baltimore.


Cora and Sarah watching some ducks.


Seoul, Korea.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Log Hopping

It's been a while since I've posted; I've been busy doing family Christmas stuff. Our last guests left this morning, so things should be getting back to normal.

I did manage to ride my bike a little yesterday. I rode on the trainer for about 45 minutes, mostly just easy spinning and working on pedaling technique. I also pulled my mountain bike out and practiced some stuff in the backyard, since our snow has melted.

I spent some time practicing the log-hopping technique that Gene taught us with a 4x4. This is sort of a low/medium speed technique where you set the front wheel on the obstacle and then lift the rear to land on or clear the obstacle. Setting the front wheel on the obstacle is important for progressing to bigger logs. Anyway, placing the front wheel properly usually isn't a big deal for me, so I was mostly thinking about lifting the rear.

Then, on one pass, I messed it up... I set the front wheel down in front of the 4x4, and then, because I was already into my "sequence", I lifted the rear anyway. Well, with all my weight on the front wheel in front of the 4x4, and the back of my bike already coming up, I did a beautiful low-speed endo over the 4x4! My bike landed right on top of me... nice. I was fine, but I'm a little sore today. I always wonder if the neighbors see me doing stuff like that... they probably already think I'm crazy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Resting

So far, I've been enjoying my off-season. I hadn't realized how much pressure I was putting myself under near the end of the season; that probably also contributed to my results. In general, I'm a little surprised at how I feel so far. Physically, I definitely needed a break, so that's been good. Based on my comment above, I suppose I needed a mental break too, but I'm still really fired up about racing and training. I feel like I could start tomorrow again if I had to. Kind of strange, usually, I don't want to have anything to do with the bike for a few weeks after the season's over.

Anyway, I spent most of my evenings last week doing battle with the cars in a cold garage. I put the snow tires on the cars and I had some stubborn lug nuts and flat tires to deal with. It took quite a bit longer than I would have liked.

Friday afternoon, I came down with a cold, probably thanks to my nights in the garage. I haven't really felt too bad, but my throat has been sore and my nose has been running like crazy. I felt good enough that I went on Saturday night and rode my bike with some other Rhinos in the Clarkston Christmas Parade. It was pretty fun, and not too cold...

The mountain bike racing schedule for next year is out. I'm not really thrilled with how the first half of the season lines up with my tentative training plan. All the races in June would require some travel, and I'm not sure that I see that happening. I'm also going to be out of town for the Pontiac Lake XC race, which is kind of a bummer.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009 Season Review

Now that the season's over, it's a good time to think about how the year went. I'll start forgetting stuff soon as I transition back to being a "normal" person for a while.

The mountain bike season got off to an unspectacular start. I managed to hurt my knee early this Spring, due to a position issue and probably doing too much too soon. That definitely set me back from a fitness perspective, but it did open the door for me to work on some riding skills.

My first couple of mountain bike races weren't so hot. It's hard to compete with the guys who have been training and doing the early season races when you effectively started training in May. As my fitness built up and my confidence in my skills improved, I started getting faster. By the end of the season, I had a nice 3rd place finish at the Pontiac Lake XC race and a 4th at Addison Oaks. I felt like I ended the mountain bike season in the best shape I've ever been in for mountain bike racing.

One of my goals for the year was to get good enough results and lap times to feel confident about moving up to Expert next year. With the exception of a couple early races this year, I feel like I accomplished that, so I'll be moving up for next year.

It was kind of an interesting year in terms of training. I rode less than I have in years past. The result was improved training consistency and better "balance" with the other things in my life. The balance thing is key, it's no good being out on a training ride feeling guilty because you're not spending enough time with your family. I also spent a lot more time working on my bike handling.

The cyclocross season seemed to be sort of the opposite of the mountain bike season. I got off to a fast start with top 10 finishes in each of my first 5 races. Then I got sick for a couple weeks in October and I never seemed to get back to the same level after that. The other interesting thing about this year's cyclocross season was that, even though I raced more than I have before (11 races), my motivation stayed pretty high the whole season. In past years, I've usually felt a bit burned out at some point. Maybe that's also attributable to training a bit less?

I had hoped to perform well enough at the 'cross races to also consider moving up for next year (admittedly, I hadn't looked at lap times before I had this idea), but I'm not really close right now. Even at the beginning of the season, I wasn't close. I would have had to improve from where I started (which I've done every year except this one!). So, it looks like another year of the B's for me.

So, there are a few key things that I learned this year that I'm going to try to carry over.

1. Even though I didn't like the cause, I sort of liked starting the season a little late. I think I'm going to start later next year too, maybe not worry too much about getting on the bike until the end of March / early April. It means that I have no chance to get ready for the early mountain bike races, but I'm OK with that. I figure that maybe I'll start racing in June again. It also sets me up nicely for cyclocross...

2. I really need to listen to myself! On the infamous ride where I got hurt this Spring, I knew that I should stop and go home, but I didn't. Before I got sick in October, I knew that I was pushing my limits in terms of training and sleep, but I just kept going. Training consistency is so much more important than trying to squeeze in that little bit extra.

3. I kind of hinted at it, but didn't come out and say it above. Especially during the mountain bike season, I think I was faster than in past years simply because I could handle my bike better. It's been a gradual process, but I think that, especially with what I learned at Gene's camp, I should continue to get better... and I still have a lot of room for improvement.

Cross Fall-off

So, in every year I've raced 'cross, up until this one, I've gotten faster as the season went on. This year, I started pretty fast, and then got slower. I can say that, for sure, it is more fun to get faster...

I've spent some time thinking about what happened, mostly so I can avoid doing the same thing next year. The key event was that I got sick just after I came back from Virginia and it took me a while to recover. I was sick from Oct 12 - 28. I definitely extended my illness by trying to resume training too quickly.

From October 28 until the end of the season was only about 5.5 weeks. Not much time to rebuild after being mostly down for over two weeks.

My illness was predictable though, and I could have taken some steps to prevent it. I think that a major contributor had to do with the way I structured my year. Due to my early-season knee problem, I sort of got off to a late start. But once I got going, I didn't stop. I trained with no significant break (Transition-type phase) from early May until October! About 22 weeks! I think I would have been better off taking a break at some point and re-loading a bit. I guess I was thinking I didn't need to since I started late. I also was treating my trip to Yosemite as a break, but, given all the hiking we did, it really wasn't. From May 11 until the end of cyclocross season would have been about 30 weeks... so, I think my illness was just a matter of time. Even if I hadn't gotten sick, it seems like I probably couldn't have held my fitness through the whole 'cross season.

I'll be keeping this in mind as I start to plan out my schedule for next year. For now though, I'll be taking a much-needed break!

Cora went to the race on Sunday with my parents. One of her new favorite phrases is, "Dad fall down in the mud." She seemed to think that was pretty funny...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Springfield Oaks CX - 2009

My last race of 2009 is now in the books. It was a tough day. The weather was pretty cold, around 30F, and there was a little wind. The course was fun, but the conditions changed quite a bit throughout the day. During my test laps before the C race, a lot of the course was frozen and there wasn't too much mud. I was able to ride everything without too much trouble. I went back out after the C race to see how things had changed. The little sidehill ride had gotten pretty chewed up and was now difficult to ride. I also fell hard on a downhill left-hander that had given me no trouble earlier. I had to twist one shifter back into position and tweak my derailleur hanger a bit after that crash. So, I started the race with my left side already covered in mud.

The race sort of went like Bloomer did, I just felt like I wasn't able to generate any power. I had recognized that this was a possibility beforehand, so I kept a better attitude about it this time and just kept riding. The other difference was that I crashed four or five times.

The course conditions continued to change during the race. It turned out that even running the sidehill section was tricky, I slipped and fell a couple times. That downhill left-hander also got muddier and continued to give me problems. I eventually just decided to take it with my inside foot unclipped every lap. That actually resulted in my most painful crash. On one lap, my bike started to slide, so I put my foot down, but the bike kept sliding, so I ended up kind of doing the splits and landing on my butt. I'm still feeling that one today!

I rode near fellow Rhinos Richard and Chris for the middle part of the race. I really thought I'd be able to hang on to them, but I just couldn't quite do it. (I also noticed that I didn't seem to have the motivation to suffer like I needed to for this race.)

I ended up riding the last couple laps with a guy from the Racing Greyhounds. I was just ahead of him going into the last stretch of grass. I took the corner entering the grass too hot and slid out; since he was right behind me, he ran into me and went down too. I figured that since I took him out, I'd wait up a bit so we could have a fair finish (if he'd have fallen on his own, I wouldn't have waited). Anyway, it took him a while, but he caught up and we had a good sprint. He ended up nipping me at the line, probably by just a couple inches. (This actually generated a little discussion on the MMBA forums...)

I ended up 15th out of 26. Again, not a particularly competitive race on my part, but I don't know that there was much I could've done differently. One thing I do want to take a look at for next year is how I warm up and do my pre-race routine on these colder days. I wasn't cold while racing (after the first lap anyway), but my muscles never really got feeling good and warm either.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

States Prep

So, the last race of the season this Sunday. I've been doing what I can do to prepare for it. I've mostly been resting a lot, but I've gotten in a couple short hard workouts to keep the body primed. I feel like my fitness is a question mark for this weekend, but 'cross isn't all about fitness. If I ride smart and corner aggressively, maybe I can still do pretty well.

I am looking forward to some time off the bike and I'm starting to think about next year. I've been working on a little post-mortem about what happened this 'cross season. It's been an interesting process, but I don't want to post it just yet. I'm trying to stay positive and focused on the Sunday race.


Couple of interesting random things. One is a link to "Iron and the Soul", by Henry Rollins (courtesy of Ross)... pretty cool.

The second is a comment that Sarah made the other day. I was half-watching Transition 2 while I was doing some work in the basement. She watched part of it and commented that the (Pro) racers in that movie were mostly all pretty muscular, whereas at our local races, the guys are "just skinny". In particular, I think she was referring to us "B" racers. It got me thinking a little bit; I remember when I first saw Jon Page at our UCI race, I was surprised that he has a fairly muscular build, for a cyclist anyway. I'm not exactly sure what my point is...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Field Test

I did a threshold power "field test" this afternoon. I've been pretty lax about testing this year. I'll blame dead computer batteries (that I didn't replace all year). The only other one I did was in the Spring, just before I got hurt.

I wasn't too sure what to expect. I know that my fitness has dropped off a bit from the late Summer / early Fall, but I didn't know how much. I also did the test on my 'cross bike, in the garage, with a not-so-true rear wheel, and not on a rest week. It all makes the test variation a bit higher... maybe a lot higher.

Anyway, despite not having tested for a while, I actually put in a nicely-measured effort. I held back a bit the first 10 minutes or so, then the next 10 were getting pretty hard, and then the last 10 minutes were miserable. So, just about right. My only complaint was that I needed a gear in between the two that I was riding in. In one, I was spinning just a little too fast, but the next one down was just a little too hard and was burning up my legs. By the end, I was switching between the two every couple minutes, just trying to hang on.

The good news was that I tied my second best ever threshold power number (set Spring 2008) and I beat my number from this Spring. The bad news, I guess, is that you'd always like to see a higher number!

I've actually only tested one other time at the end of the season (way back in 2006!). It is nice to have that number for the following Spring. Kind of gives you some idea what happened over the Winter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Blog

I ran across a new (to me) blog the other day. This one is written by Sam Krieg. A couple of good posts here and here.


The more I think about how I felt at Bloomer and during the days leading up to it, the more I'm convinced that I was just too tired. I still don't think that I was training too much, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't resting enough. I felt fatigued to start some of my workouts last week (and the previous week), but I just pushed through it. I think that you can do that for a while, but not too long before it catches up with you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bloomer CX - 2009

“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:

  • As I wrote last week, I haven't been sleeping quite enough. Friday night was actually pretty bad. I just woke up at 2am for no particular reason and never really got soundly back to sleep. I watched my daughter all day on Saturday, which was fun, but tiring. Anyway, by the end of the day Saturday, I was pretty wiped out.
  • I also wonder about my training. At this point in the year, the few training rides I'm doing are relatively short and intense. I think this is the right formula, but I wonder if I should have gone a bit harder? I also did some longer (15 minute) intervals on Wednesday night; maybe that left me a little flat?
  • I felt like I was starting to get a little sick this week. Nothing ever came of it, but maybe it did mess me up a little.


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.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sleep

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!


(Bloomer 2005!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stony Creek CX - 2009

Last Sunday was the Stony Creek cyclocross race. We had beautiful weather on Saturday (sunny and 70F); I was out raking leaves in a T-shirt and jeans. So, I was thinking that we wouldn't have "good" cyclocross weather for Sunday. As it turned out, Sunday was cooler (around 50F) and overcast, there was a cold wind blowing off the lake at the park and it was spitting rain. Good cyclocross weather after all!

I've had a couple good weeks of training and I'm totally over my cold, so, physically, I felt like I should do well. Mentally, for whatever reason, I just wasn't fired up for this race. It wasn't like I didn't want to race, but I just wasn't particularly excited about it.

After pre-riding the course, it looked like the start might be a little dicey. The course quickly funneled down onto a relatively narrow bike path with some curbs on the side at the transition. I wanted to make sure I got a clear shot at it. Otherwise, the course was pretty fun. It was a little more open and flowing than some of the other courses we've raced on this year. We also had the traditional long ride/run across the beach... good for getting the legs burning!

So, I ended up getting a spot on the front row and got off to a good start. I was probably in 6th or so heading on to the bike path, so that was no problem. I didn't try too hard to hang with the front group, since that usually leads to me massively blowing up. My legs felt pretty good for most of the race. It seemed like I could pedal pretty hard up the hills and I was looking for harder gears as soon as I got out of slow sections.

(Photo by Hans Nyberg)

After the first couple laps, things had pretty well thinned out and I found myself around the usual suspects. Fellow Rhino Gary Olson was right with me once again. On the second to last lap, I heard Gary slide out on a corner behind me. I didn't attack, but I didn't slow down either. It turned out to be too much of a gap for Gary to close though.

On the last lap, I saw a couple guys up ahead that were slowing, but I didn't have enough in the tank to catch and pass them. I ended up 11th out of 24. Again, about where I usually finish, although it's been a while since I've beaten Gary.

After the race, I locked my keys in the car. I had put my bike away, but I hadn't gotten dressed yet, so with the cold and wind, that was pretty sweet. Fortunately, Jan let me borrow some extra clothes until Sarah showed up with the extra keys. He definitely saved the day!

(Jan makes the blog for his generosity! Photo by Hans Nyberg.)

It's been a little hard for me to evaluate this race. I felt pretty good physically, but since I wasn't too fired up for the race, I wonder if I could have pushed a little harder. I had expected to get back into the top 10, so I was a little disappointed I didn't quite get there. That said, there were 3 guys that finished less than 20s ahead of me, so I wasn't that far off. My percentage calculation also didn't look so hot, 7.7% off the leader's pace; exactly what I did on Vets Park - Day 2, which was not a good race for me.

On the other hand, my initial reaction after I finished was that I'd had a pretty good race. So I want to make sure that this isn't a case where a less-than-ideal result wrecks an otherwise good race. That's part of the problem with my percentage evaluation scheme; if I improve and the race-winner also improves, it doesn't show up in the percentage.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sunday Ride

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...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Good Training

I've gotten in a pretty good week of training so far. I did some pretty hard intervals on the trainer on Tuesday night. Last night I went out to Waterford Oaks right after work and did a little 'cross ride.

I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to do a ride like last night. I left right after I got home from work, only rode an hour, and still was happy to have my lights as I rode home. I guess that's how it goes...

Anyway, I felt much better on the bike both days than I did over the weekend, so I'm optimistic that I'll be going pretty well by the next race at Stony.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Veterans Park CX - 2009

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.


Photo by Bruce LeBlanc

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...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Re-motivation

One of the problems with being sick for awhile is that I tend to lose some of my motivation. One of my overall goals for the year was to get consistent top-10 finishes in the B-races, which I've mostly done so far. So, that goal wasn't really doing much to motivate me anymore either.

So, I spent a little time this week setting a different goal and figuring out how to achieve it. The winner of the B race (whoever it is) typically rides about 4% faster than me (about 17s per lap on a 7 min lap). With the limited time left in the season, it seems pretty unlikely that I could close that gap, but I think that I should be able to get partway there.

My new goal is for a 2% improvement by my last race at Springfield Oaks; 2% would be about 8s per lap. 8s per lap is still a lot, but, frankly, I could probably make up that whole difference just in cornering and barriers. That's probably not how it will happen, but it illustrates the possibility.

So far, having a new goal has helped. This weekend will be a little rough, since I'm pretty sure my fitness won't be there, but there's not much I can do about that right now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Maybury CX... Not!

... the race that wasn't...

So, I felt pretty decent on Friday and decided to do a moderately hard ride on the trainer. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake. On Saturday, I felt so-so and rode over to Waterford Oaks to practice some 'cross skills. It was cool and rainy on Saturday morning... probably also not ideal.

We had a big Halloween party at our house on Saturday afternoon / evening. Something like 10 kids and 10 adults at our house. It was fun, but not so relaxing.

On Sunday, I didn't feel great in the morning, but I decided to head over to Maybury for the race anyway. I rode a couple laps of the course (I hadn't registered yet), and, on the second lap, I decided that I should probably not race. My nose was kind of runny and I started coughing a little. I really didn't want to get sick again this week. So, I packed up my stuff and went home.

It's too bad, because the course was pretty different from what we usually race on. More "jungle-cross" than grass-crit. The course was generally muddy and slippery from the rain we'd gotten, and there was a long section of singletrack. It would have been fun to race on I think. You can get some sense of the course from Andrea's pictures.


So, I'm just really being careful about resuming training. I'm hoping I can get back at it tomorrow, but we'll see. Probably doesn't bode well for my chances at Vet's Park this weekend, but there are still a few more races before the season's over.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not According to Plan

Well, things haven't exactly gone according to plan this week. It turned out that racing last weekend may not have been my best move in terms of getting over my cold. I felt a little sick on Monday, and then really sick on Tuesday. I felt reasonably good yesterday, so I spent a some time working on some bike handling skills and doing some easy spinning on the trainer. I feel almost back to normal today, so I'm going to try to do a little intensity tonight and see how it goes.

There is another low-key race this weekend at Maybury State Park. I doubt that I'll feel very good for it, so my plan is not to worry too much about it and just treat it as an opportunity to get in some hard riding.

I'm hoping I can get feeling decent (in terms of riding) for the back-to-back races next weekend at Veteran's Park in A^2.


As a follow up to my post about the Betterride camp... because I've been sick, I haven't spent as much time practicing the skills I learned as I would like. I did work on some of the drills in my practice time last night. The thing that was obvious last night was how important proper vision was. If I was looking at the right place, all of the drills I did worked better (my bike turned better, I could clear my 4x4 post perfectly, etc). When things weren't working as well, I noticed it was usually because I wasn't looking far enough ahead, or was looking down at the last second.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cyclocross Race Weekend

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.



Got the old "game squint" on... (Photo by Hans Nyberg)


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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

More Power Stuff

I wrote a while ago about how I was messing with some power meter concepts (with no power meter!). I've discovered that I didn't do the calculation quite right. I was doing a straight rolling average, but I should have been doing an exponentially weighted average. I found a pretty cool article that describes the background for this calculation.


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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Betterride Camp

I made the looong drive down to Richmond, VA this past weekend to participate in a Betterride mountain bike skills camp. The drive down was pretty uneventful, except that I got stuck in traffic around Washington DC. I was nearly parked on the expressway for about 2 hours... not so fun.

The next morning, I got completely turned around (not lost... no, no, not lost) on my way to camp and what should have been a 20 minute drive took me about an hour. Fortunately, I had left super early, so I was only a few minutes late. Still, it wasn't exactly the way I wanted to get things started.

It seemed like we didn't do too much the first day of camp, but it was probably the most useful day. We spent most of the morning working on vision and body position on the bike. I had a couple of "ah-ha" moments, where I learned some detail that I wasn't doing quite right and found that it made a big difference. Later we worked on wheelies and bike setup. Gene said I got points for my short stem, but lost points for my narrow bars. We rode the trails at the park a little in the afternoon. I'd thought that the riding might be quite a bit different than I was used to, but it really wasn't. The trail at Forest Park reminded me of Bloomer back home. The weather was also awesome that first day; it was in the mid-80's and sunny, a nice change from Michigan.

We got a little lucky with weather the second day. It was supposed to rain almost all day, but we only got sprinkled on a little. Temperatures were much cooler though. Anyway, we spent most of the second day working on cornering. Gene didn't teach us anything revolutionary, but having someone explain and demonstrate things in person made a big difference. I did pretty well in the parking lot drills, but I noticed that I was reverting back to my old habits on the trail. The good thing was that I recognized what I was doing wrong and I know how to fix it.

After camp on the second day, I went for a ride by myself on the trails at Pocohontas State Park. I noticed that I was flowing pretty well during my ride, which is a little unusual for me on my first ride on a new trail. At first, I thought it was the trail itself (which was a nice flowy trail), then I realized that I was looking much farther ahead than I normally do. I think what was happening was that I was looking far enough ahead to consistently link up the corners, and the result was a much smoother ride. Pretty cool...

For day 3, we were back at Forest Park, and the weather was nice again. We worked on switchbacks and lifting the rear wheel over obstacles. I don't really ride a whole lot of "real" switchbacks, so it was good for me. Gene didn't teach us real bunnyhopping, but I talked about it with him a little bit, and I realized that I'd been going about it wrong. He showed us how the wheelie you do for a bunnyhop is different than a pedal or coaster wheelie.

Afterward, I drove up to Kevin's house in Baltimore, and then came home the next day. Even though Baltimore isn't a whole lot closer than Richmond, I was still grateful for a slightly shorter drive on Monday.

On the whole, doing the camp was definitely worthwhile. I think that having some defined techniques and practice drills will help me a lot. Gene is also a very positive guy, and I noticed that I had a much more positive attitude about my riding by the end of the weekend.


Obviously, I haven't had a lot (or any) time to practice since I've been home, but I already noticed a difference at 'cross practice last night. In the past, I'd been a little tentative in the faster corners on our course, but last night I was much more confident and noticeably faster through these corners.

Speaking of 'cross practice, Jeff noticed (and I noticed... once he said it) that I come into the barriers pretty fast, but leave really slow. I think it's a combination of things. One is that I don't really run hard between the barriers. Since I come in fast, I just sort of let my momentum bleed off as I go. Second is that I'm not comfortable getting on my bike at higher speeds. If I'm honest with myself, I'd say that even though I do practice barriers (actually, just one barrier) in the backyard, I don't practice them very well anymore. I probably need to build a second one, and then I need to work on not ending the drill (not slowing down) until I'm back on the bike and my feet are in the pedals. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I go over the barriers exactly like I practice...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Munson Photos

I didn't think that the Munson race would be great for pictures (since it would be dark!), but it turns out that some of the photographers got great pictures.

Hans Nyberg's...



Andrea got some great shots as well (as usual).


After it quit raining on Sunday, I got out on the mountain bike for a while. It was the first time I'd been on that bike in about 3 weeks, but it went surprisingly well. I didn't feel as sharp as I did at the end of my mountain bike season, but I still rode reasonably well.

One thing that I did notice was that my fitness is obviously better now than it was a few weeks ago. I was less fatigued on the bigger climbs and, when I did my intervals, I felt like having to coast through the more technical sections of the trail was making the interval too easy.

How to split trail time and road time is something I need to think about again for next year. This year, I felt like I really needed to spend time on the trail, and it helped my riding a lot, but it looks like it really wasn't ideal for fitness (which is no surprise). Hopefully next year I can achieve a little better balance between the two.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Munson CX - 2009

I just got back from the Munson CX race. This year it was held on a Saturday night. I think Munson is probably one of most people's least favorite venues, so I thought it was a good idea to try something a little different.

The weather was cool (cold? around 55F at the start) and rainy. It was light for most of my race. It only started getting hard to see on the last lap. It was completely dark though for the Masters and Elite races.

Anyway, to make sure that the course was more-or-less lit and safe, they made it a little shorter and a little less technical than normal. It meant that we only went up the big hill twice (once riding and once running), and the rest was completely flat. Not so good for me...

I arrived a little late to the starting line again and lined up in the third row. From the start, we went almost immediately up the hill and through a couple of tighter corners. I was able to move up pretty quickly into the chase group for the first lap, and I could see that the leaders weren't too far ahead.

On the second lap, I made a tactical mistake. Once my little chase group hit the flat section (after the opening climb and first barriers), they slowed down, maybe to recover a little. I decided to stay with the group and draft (which is why I thought they were sticking together). What ended up happening was that the front group completely dropped us and a bunch of guys caught on to our group from behind (in fact, caught us and blew by). In hindsight, I should have attacked my group as soon as it slowed down. I don't know if I would have been successful, but I felt good enough at the time that it would have probably been worthwhile.

My race was otherwise pretty uneventful. I spent most of the time trying to hold off Tom Payn (a good bike racer name if there ever was one!) and trying to catch fellow Rhino Mark Caffyn. I did hold off Tom, but I couldn't reel Mark in. One thing that seemed to help me in the long flat sections was to think about a nice smooth pedal stroke. If nothing else, it gave me something productive to think about.

That leads me to my last point. I finally didn't make any big mental errors today. In the other three races I've done this year, I've flaked out at some point and made a mistake. Today, I stayed pretty focused the whole race. My mind did start to wander a bit near the end, but I brought it back. I ended up doing a couple rides on the trainer this week, and I used the time to also work on staying mentally focused (either by concentrating on something specific, or trying to clear my mind). Maybe it helped. (My tactical mistake doesn't count as "flaking out"; it was really a problem of me not reading the situation correctly.)


So... on to the next thing. I don't remember if I've posted this before, but next weekend I'm going to "bike camp." I decided a while ago to go ahead and sign up for a mountain bike skills clinic put on by Gene Hamilton. I'm going to the closest one, in Richmond, VA. I'm really excited about it! The only bad part is that I haven't touched my mountain bike since the Addison Oaks race last month. If the weather holds, I'll ride it tomorrow and this week before I leave. Hopefully it will be enough to get rid of a little rustiness.

A Few Ithaca Pictures







Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Superhero Dirt

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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ithaca GP CX - 2009

This weekend, I made the trip up to Ithaca (Michigan), for the Ithaca GP cyclocross race. This was, I think, the third year that they've held the race, but it was my first time doing it.

We brought the whole family: wife, kid, dog, so it was a full car. Everybody but me slept all the way up, so I had a nice quiet drive. It turned out that the park was really nice and had a huge play area; that made it much easier to have everybody there all day.

The course itself was pretty fun. It was a nice mix of rolling hills, flat open sections, and tight turns. I felt pretty bad on my warmup. Since this wasn't a high-priority race for me, I'd ridden kind of hard (maybe a bit too hard) the day before.

I got to the start line shortly after they blew the whistle and found that the bulk of the field was already there (we had 23 in my race). So, I lined up in the third row; somebody moved a bit in front of me, so then I squeezed into the second row. There was a holeshot prime, so I guess that's why everyone was there early. From the second row, I figured I didn't have much of a chance to contest for it.

I got a good start at the whistle and stayed right with the front group. The road was pretty narrow though, and I didn't see a good opportunity to get around anyone. In hindsight, maybe I should have been a bit more aggressive at the start and through the first couple corners, because I lost several spots and wound up getting slowed by some early crashes.

For whatever reason (riding the day before, or that this was a one-off race), I didn't ride the first couple laps with the intensity that I usually do. I noticed this and thought that it might end up working out for me if I didn't slow as much in the middle laps. We didn't have chip timing for this race, so I don't know for sure, but I felt like I slowed down in the middle anyway.

As it was, I had some good battles in the middle and near the end of the race and worked my way up several spots. I did completely flake out on one of the middle laps and rode straight off the course. Even though I was staring right at the course tape showing the turn, I just didn't turn. Fortunately, the tape was placed high, so I could duck under it, but still, it was a really dumb mistake. By the last lap, I had pretty well dropped the guy chasing me, but I couldn't get close to the guy ahead of me. Every time I started making up ground, he'd notice it and put in a hard effort to hold his advantage. I ended up finishing 6th out of 23.

The course was varied enough that it showed me what my strengths and weaknesses were pretty clearly. I was making up ground on the climbs, slower twisty sections, and whenever we had to get off the bike. But then I'd lose ground on the open flat sections where you just had to put down the power. I also need to fix this problem of losing focus during the race; it seems to be happening every race and probably costs me at least one position when it happens.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Waterford Pictures

Hans Nyberg pictures from Waterford last weekend.



(Looks like this is exactly where I dropped my chain.)



(Yikes! How not to do it!)




(Better...)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fangos

Last night, I got my first real chance to test out my new Challenge Fango tubulars. The conditions at the track were a little loose, but not as bad as they were over the weekend.

I ran my first bunch of laps at 25psi (measured on my pump). At this pressure, the tires were really soft and soaked up the bumps nicely. Grip was mostly good, but I occasionally had moments where the rear tire would suddenly break loose. I also think I bottomed it out once.

So, I added a little more air (with a different pump). It read 30psi, but my hunch is that it was closer to 35psi. At this pressure, the tires seemed too hard and the ride was pretty rough. Grip felt pretty good though.

Finally, I let a little air out by hand and turned a few more laps. Afterward, I checked pressure on my pump and measured it at roughly 30psi. At this pressure, the tires still seemed a bit stiffer than I'd like, but the grip was consistently good.

Next time out, I may try some pressures between 25 and 30psi.

So, in general, while my new tires are nice, they didn't provide the kind of step change that I was hoping for. I think that this speaks more to the quality of the clinchers that I was using rather than anything bad about the tubulars. That said, I think that my tubulars do provide better grip than my clinchers, in particular on off-camber corners.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Waterford CX - 2009

Cyclocross started for me this past weekend with two days of racing at Waterford Hills. Even though Waterford is my "home turf", it's really not one of my favorite venues... too flat and too bumpy.

Even though I had my new tubular tires glued up (I did end up getting some Challenge Fangos), I only had a total of about 20 minutes of easy riding time on them, so I decided not to use them for the race. I kept thinking how they might take the edge off of some of the bumps though.

My race on Saturday was good, but I made a lot of mistakes. I got a pretty decent start and was briefly in the top 5, but I really didn't have the pace to hang with the fastest guys. As I said, I made a number of physical and mental mistakes in the middle laps that probably cost me a spot or two. The most time-consuming one was dropping my chain after tapping my back wheel on a barrier. But the more interesting mistake was that I nearly went off-course! There was one section of the course that was a little chicane past a big tree; in our weekly 'cross practice at the track, we almost always go all the way around the tree. So, about 3-4 laps into the race when I wasn't thinking so clearly, I started going all the way around the tree instead of following the marked course... not good.

Still, I ended up in 9th place (out of 30), which is pretty easily my best finish in the "B" field.

On Sunday, I had a big crowd watching me (my parents plus my wife and daughter... hey, that's big for me!). I hadn't intended to do this, but I got a great start off the line and jumped into first place. At that point, I figured I might as well just let it rip and see what would happen. I led for maybe a quarter of a lap or so before I started getting passed. That's the problem with going to the front at the start... you can only go backward from there. As it turned out, only my Mom actually saw me leading the race.

My race on Sunday was generally much better. I stayed more focused and made fewer mistakes. Coming down to the last lap, I was in a tight battle with another guy. I was feeling good about dropping him or out-sprinting him on the last lap, but it never came to that. I overcooked the last corner before the start/finish straight to begin the last lap and got some course tape tangled up in my shoe. Seeing this, the guy behind me punched it (I would have done the same); he was almost halfway down the straightaway before I got clear of the tape. I chased hard and got close to him, but not close enough to really do anything. I ended up placing 8th on Sunday.


(Me, briefly leading the race on Sunday. Photo by Bruce LeBlanc.)

Anyway, despite that little disaster, it was a pretty good race. Actually, I'm really pretty happy about how the whole weekend went. I still have lots of ideas about things to work on to keep improving, and I'm looking forward to trying out the new tires this week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Power Meter Concepts

So, I ran across an interesting couple of blog posts by Joe Friel.

In "Projecting Race Readiness", he describes how you can use your power meter data and software to track your fitness, fatigue and form. From those numbers, you can get a pretty good idea about how physically prepared you are to race. Nice, if you have a power meter, which I don't, and won't for the forseeable future.

In "Estimating TSS", he talks about how you can estimate training stress from RPE or heart rate and volume. Now, it's getting interesting! His intent (I think) was to show this for the triathlon community, where you're competing in multiple disciplines and may not be able to gather data in all of them, like swimming.

For me though, it suggests a crude method of projecting fitness without a power meter. In fact, I tried to do something similar with my own formula a couple years ago, but I couldn't get the numbers to work out to anything useful.

As I read and re-read these posts, and started playing with their implementation in a spreadsheet, I realized that a big part of the value to doing this is in planning your training relative to your races. I guess that's clear enough from the title "Projecting Race Readiness", but for some reason I didn't get it at first.

Anyway, so I put in some rough estimates for my workouts for the rest of the year, and marked my races. What I found was that, according to these numbers anyway, I will only be marginally "peaked" for a couple random races (with my best peak happening at the new Maybury CX race, which I may decide not to even do!). The numbers also show that I will generally not have good form for a lot of the races I do care about. (This actually reflects pretty well how past seasons have gone for me.)

(After just a little work...)

Here's where it gets tricky though. If you decide that you want to change your workout plan so that you get better numbers prior to a race, how do you go about doing it? It's not straightforward, since you're trying to optimize a couple outputs, and the "rolling sum" nature of some of the equations makes them difficult to work with. Still, for an engineer, it's an interesting problem.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Addison Oaks XC - 2009

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.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bike Washing


Helping Dad wash the bikes... she had fun, but she was completely soaked by the end. She kept wanting to get between the hose and the bike.


I'm really fired up about the race at Addison this weekend. I feel like I'm more fit than I've ever been for a mountain bike race, and I think the course suits me well. We're going to find out...

Monday, September 07, 2009

Addison and 'Cross Tires

I went out to Addison Oaks both days this weekend to try to get ready for the race next Sunday. I definitely had more fun this weekend than I did last weekend, when the rain cut my ride short. I had good rides on both days, and I'm getting to know the trail well enough so that it's pretty fun to ride.

Even though I don't know the exact course (this will be the first time I've done this race), I've been timing my laps. Mostly, I haven't been pushing too hard, but I did do some harder efforts last weekend. Based on last year's results, it looks like I should be pretty competitive. Like I always say, "it all depends on who shows up." I feel prepared anyway.

It's September, and 'cross is definitely on my mind. Over last winter, I bought a set of used tubular wheels and tires from another racer. I was pretty sure the wheels were OK, but I wasn't so sure about the tires... now I think I have my answer... I need to find something else. I try to get out a couple times a week and practice basic 'cross skills in my backyard. Mostly I just work on barriers, but, depending on what I'm doing, I also corner moderately hard. Up until this week, I've never had a problem (using my Michelin Mud2 clinchers); I think traction in my yard is probably pretty good... better than most 'cross courses anyway. This week, on my Vittoria EVO XG tubulars, I heard my front wheel squeek in the corner, then it washed out and I fell... yes, in my backyard! (I'm almost too embarassed to admit it!)

Normally, I'm not one to blame my equipment for my problems, but I've done this turn countless times on my other tires with no problem. So, unless I totally blew the tire pressure, I don't think this tire and I are going to get along.

But, I think this was an instructive experience for me. I know a couple things that I'm looking for now. One is more (or better) side and intermediate knobs. I know that there are a lot of 'cross tires out there with minimalist tread patterns, and that people can ride them fast, but I'm not one of them. Two, I'd like to find a tire that has a little softer rubber. The rubber on these Vitorrias seems a little hard to me (maybe because they are older tires?). I know the rubber on my Mud2 clinchers is much softer, and those tires are a few years old.

I'm thinking about the Challenge Fango's. They're intended to be mud tires, but I've read several reviews where people have had good success using them as more aggressive all-purpose tires. Hopefully the weather will hold for 'cross practice at the track tomorrow night; I want to scope out some other people's tires. As for me, until further notice, I'll keep riding my clinchers.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What Did You Do?

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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cross Practice

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted. I've been really busy at work and at home the past couple weeks, and blogging falls pretty low on the list of priorities.

I had originally planned to race at Maybury or Fort Custer last weekend, but, after having raced the previous two weekends, I felt like I needed to get in a good week of training instead. (I also wasn't terribly excited about either race.) I did a couple hard rides during the week, and then again on Saturday. The Saturday ride was interesting, instead of riding out on White Lake road toward Indian Springs, I turned down the park road to the campground at Pontiac Lake. For all the times I've ridden by it, I've never actually ridden on it; it was much longer than I thought... definitely worth riding. The campground at Pontiac Lake also looked nicer than I expected.

On Sunday, I went out to Addison Oaks, not to go hard, mainly just to familiarize myself with the trail (I'm planning to race there next month... last MTB race already). I think I've only ridden there twice over the past 5 years or so. I checked the weather before I left (for Waterford, not for Leonard, where the park is), 10% chance of rain, sweet... no need to check the radar...

I parked at Bald Mountain and started getting ready... I noticed a few raindrops... then on my ride over to Addison, it really started raining. I thought, "just a 10% chance of rain, so it probably won't rain long." Partway through my first lap of the trail, it did mostly stop, so I did a second lap. The trails were just a little wet when I rode them, the trees seemed to keep them (and me) relatively dry. Near the end of the second lap, it started raining really hard again, so I started riding back to my car. It poured on me the whole way back to Bald Mountain, and I was soaked by the time I got to the car. Fortunately, it was warm enough that I wasn't completely miserable, and I had fun riding at a different trail.

Last night, I went to the track for my first cyclocross practice of the year. I thought my legs would be OK, but they really didn't feel that great for any kind of hard effort. So, it ended up not being so worthwhile from a fitness standpoint, but it was worthwhile to get out and ride my 'cross bike off road. My rear tire was really squirming and sliding all over the place though; I may have also bottomed out the rim (or came close) at least once. Same tires as I used last year, and I thought the same pressure. This morning I checked my setup notes from last year: I saw that I eventually settled on runnning my tires at 30psi; last night I had them at 25psi. So, I can probably safely say now that 25psi is too low for me on these tires. I also need to work on getting back on my bike and into the pedals quickly... I was fast getting off, but slow getting back on.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PLRA XC - 2009

On Sunday, I did the Pontiac Lake XC race. It was another very hot race (temps around 90F for my race). I was very conflicted going in. From a technical riding perspective, I feel like I've made some good progress again the past few weeks. But, my legs had also been feeling pretty bad for most of the week. I was a little concerned that racing would be counterproductive, maybe undoing some of my technical progress and possibly hurting my confidence. As it turned out, I'm glad that I raced.

First, I set up my goals for the race:
1. Start at a reasonably hard pace, to set the intensity level for the rest of the race.
2. Relax and maintain good body position in the technical sections.
3. Have fun!

I've started thinking about cyclocross season a little already (it's not too far away now), and I realized that I'm almost always more relaxed and have more fun at a 'cross race. Why? I'm not completely sure, but I think I get more tense about the technical features of a mountain bike race, even at a trail I've ridden many times. So, that was the reason for #3. Anyway, going in with the idea of relaxing and having fun at the race seemed to help.

I got a good warmup in, but I didn't get a great starting position at the line. There was enough space on the grass field before the singletrack for me to move up and get a decent spot in the train that quickly formed though. (I've been practicing clipping my race starts a little, just getting my foot clipped in and sprinting for a few seconds... it helped!) The pace was high, but not too bad... I think everyone was holding back just a little due to the heat. I finally got gapped after the first real swoopy section on the trail (I don't have a better description); it was a combination of the high pace and bike handling. By that point though, I'd also built a decent gap to the riders behind me.

I kept up a fairly high pace until the sandy stretch where the mountain bike and horse trails cross. I'd picked off a few of the slower people from the classes ahead of me, and just a couple people (from classes behind me I think) passed me. For sure, I got passed by a lot less people this year than last. Andrea was stationed at the little drop just before I slowed... looks like I'm desparate for some O2!

The rest of my first lap was pretty uneventful. I mostly rode by myself, trying to recover from my starting effort. I figured I was still doing OK in the race though, since most of the people that had passed me seemed to be flying, I figured they were the fast guys from the other classes.


Me on the last climb... (from Bruce LeBlanc)


End of lap 1 (Hans Nyberg)

On my second lap, it felt like I was mostly just riding to finish. I didn't really feel like I could push a little again until about halfway through the lap. I rode most of the lap with some guys from Cycletherapy that were in a later start wave. It seems like I always end up racing with these guys for a while. So, the three of us finished more-or-less together (although all in different classes), and that was it. I was glad to be done, and fairly pleased with my effort.

Last climb again (Hans Nyberg)

I was a little surprised to check the results and see that my effort netted me 3rd place (out of 8). I was about a minute out of 2nd place, and the 4th place guy was about 3 minutes behind me. So, it was a pretty good result for me, the first time I've made the podium this year (as always, placement is also dependent on who shows up!). In terms of lap times, my first lap was about a minute and half faster than last year, but my second lap was about a minute and a half slower.


Podium!(from Bruce LeBlanc)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Position

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!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hines Park TT - 2009

It looked for a while like this race wasn't going to happen. When I went to bed on Saturday night, the report was that there was 1-2 feet of water over the road. I woke up a couple times during the night and could hear it raining hard. So, I was a little surprised to check my email Sunday morning and find that the race was still on (although probably delayed a little).

So, I loaded up the car and drove down (through more rain) to the race, where I found out the race was delayed 30 minutes, then an hour. By the time I started, it was getting hot, humid, and windy... perfect weather for bike racing!

The race went OK for me. I felt like I settled into a good pace pretty quickly. There were still some big puddles on the road; some of them where I wanted to ride. I hadn't considered that there would be a difference in puddles in the road created by rain (which is what I usually see) and those created by a flooding river. Turns out that the flooding river kind are really muddy. So, just a few minutes into the race, my bike and I were covered in mud... I usually finish mountain bike races cleaner than I finished yesterday. I tried to avoid the puddles a little more after I got coated the first time.

When I've done this race in the past and it's been windy, it seems like I usually get a good tailwind on the way out. There may have been some of that yesterday, but at times, I got a pretty strong crosswind instead, so the going wasn't too easy. There were strong headwinds and crosswinds all the way back too. Add the heat and humidity, and conditions were pretty tough.

I passed a few people on the course, including my dad, and only one guy passed me. I ended up finishing nearly a minute slower than last year. I'd like to attribute it all to the conditions, but I'm not sure if that's really the case.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Pontiac Lake

This weekend is the Hines Park TT, a 20km road time trial. I enjoy doing this race quite a bit. It's short enough that it's not too hard (I did the 40km race one year, and that was not so fun), there's nothing about the course or race format to worry about, you basically just pedal as hard as you can for about half an hour. My dad is coming over for the race too this year, so that will be fun.

So, in an effort to not really prepare for the race, I've been splitting my riding time between two activities: mountain bike "skill" rides in my backyard and rides at Pontiac Lake. The skill rides have been interesting. I'm making progress on cornering, but not so much on hopping. The improvements in cornering have mainly been due to looking farther ahead and improving my upper body position.

I'm starting to see the influence of my skill work on the trail too. I had really good rides on the trail on Sunday and Wednesday. I've noticed that I have the most trouble on corners where I can't see the exit (due to trees, grass, whatever), even if I know what the rest of the corner looks like. In those situations, you're supposed to look "through" the obstacle at where the trail will go, but I seem to have trouble doing that in practice.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Maintaining

I realized that I hadn't posted in a while. Not too much has been going on lately. I've been spending some time working on my technical skills again. The things I'm working on (mostly cornering) are getting better.

I rode at Pontiac Lake on Saturday and Sunday. Particularly on Sunday, I thought that I rode really well; the time spent on the skills stuff seemed to pay off. My biggest issue seems to be just not looking ahead enough; at times, my vision gets "stuck" on certain parts of the trail and causes me problems.

Speaking of working on skills... I'm strongly considering heading down to Virginia this Fall to attend a skills camp by Gene Hamilton. Ashwin has done this twice and has found it very beneficial.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stony Creek TT - 2009

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.