Monday, April 27, 2009

Bunnyhops and Endo's

I rode again on Sunday; I basically did the same stuff that I did on Saturday, except for the crashing. It didn't go nearly as well as Saturday. Mainly, my bunnyhop practice wasn't so good.

On Saturday, I worked through the progression pretty thoroughly. I started with wheelies, then lifting the rear wheel, and then the bunnyhop. On Sunday, I sort of rushed through the first two steps and went straight to hopping. It didn't work so well. My timing was off, and maybe I was overemphasizing the rear wheel lift. Anyway, the result was that my front wheel wasn't really getting up enough... I nearly endo'd over the curb, twice. I definitely need more practice.

I think my knee is doing well. It's a little hard to tell now because it's sore from crashing on Saturday. But, it's a different kind of sore. I'm going to Korea next week for work; I'll do a few more easy rides before then and I'll start training in earnest when I get back. This hasn't been a fun process, but it does seem to be working. I really haven't had any major setbacks.

A couple of other random things:

- So, it turns out that my road frame got damaged in shipment on the way back from Georgia. The head tube is pretty badly dented. I did ensure it, and I'm going through the process of resolving it with UPS. They've been pretty good to deal with so far, but we're not finished yet. I haven't decided what I'll do yet, if I'll try to repair it (it's a steel frame) or do something else.

- I just won an Ebay auction for tubular wheels and tires for my 'cross bike. They should show up while I'm in Korea. The tires aren't my first choice, but I'm hoping I can get through this season on them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

First Crash of the Year

Well, I had my first crash of the year today... it was a beaut! I was doing my tight (slow) figure-8 drill in a parking lot, got too close to a curb, decided to grab a handful of front brake while leaned way over (oops!), which had the predictable result of tucking the front wheel under and putting me on the ground. It put a hole in my knee-warmer, scraped up my knee, got road rash on the elbow, and messed up my new pair of gloves. Quite a bit of bodily damage for such a low-speed fall.

Otherwise, I had a great ride. I'm still babying my knee, and it felt good... aside from falling on it. Cornering practice was good again. I also spent some time working on bunnyhopping. Just hopping over lines in the parking lot, curbs, little features on the trail, etc. I made some noticeable improvement, but I'm still inconsistent. I a few really nice hops over the curb though... totally smooth landings.

That is the plan for this year. Keep working on the basics. I can see where this focused practice on the basics will improve my riding. It should be fun to see how I progress.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Who Wins Races?

Before hockey last night, I was working on my bike and watching Battlestar Galactica. It was an episode where one of the pilots had to do some nearly impossible mission (which he accomplished, of course), and there was a big celebration when he got back.

So, on my drive down to hockey last night (my last skate of the year, by the way), I got to thinking about what makes something like that possible. How do you achieve a peak performance? How do you win a bike race? Assuming we don't consider cheating or luck, I think it comes down to preparation. Not just physical preparation, but mental, equipment, strategic/tactical... everything. You give yourself the best chance to win by being prepared in all facets.

I've been thinking lately about how I achieved my best race results. Certainly, I was usually reasonably fit, but there are other trends. One is that I have gotten all of my best results when I've gone out hard early and have been at or near the front for awhile. The second trend is that, in my better races, I'm usually focused outward, watching about how the race is unfolding, thinking about what my moves are going to be, etc, rather than focused inward, thinking about my pace or how much I'm hurting. Granted, there is some link between them, if you're not fit, you won't be able to get to the front (or stay there long). This may also lead to you riding by yourself, in which case it's hard to focus externally. Anyway...

I was thinking about one race in particular, Munson 2007. This was an interesting race for me, tactically. I got a good start and made a group of 4 that were well off the front. I got dropped by this group after one lap, and I ended up riding most of the second lap by myself. Eventually I got caught by Mark C, who I worked with for a little while. This gave me a chance to recover a little, and I eventually burned Mark off my wheel and rode in for 4th place.

In this race, it didn't turn out to matter, but here is the question: "When I got dropped by the front group, should I have sat up and waited to be caught by Mark (and maybe John O)?" I think, most of the time, the answer is "yes", especially if there had been more than one or two in the group behind me. Since it was a windy day, I burned a lot of energy on lap 2 riding by myself. It also happened early enough in the race that it would be tough to stay away. So, I would have been better off sharing the work in a group. Coincidently, I just read a race report from Mike Simonson where he was in a similar situation, and he did drop back.

I guess my point is that it's important to prepare for races in other ways besides just getting your fitness dialed. I think a big part of it needs to be planning what you will do in certain situations. As with the example above, your first instinct may be wrong, and it might pay off to have considered the situation beforehand.

More Cornering Thoughts

I rode outside again on Saturday, basically the same ride as Thursday. My knee still didn't feel perfect, but it was improved over Thursday, so I feel like I'm still on track. I'm still not planning to do anything hard on the bike for another week and a half.

Anyway, I spent more time working on my cornering. In the parking lot, I worked on initiating the turn by counter-directional steering. It seems to work pretty well, and I got pretty comfortable with it by the time I was done. I like that it forces the bike to lean, and that it doesn't put much weight on the handlebars. I think this parking lot cornering practice has been pretty effective.

The second thing I noticed was out on the trail. There's a slightly off-camber right hand corner that follows a little descent. Nothing too extreme, but I feel that I need to brake going down the hill. These are the kind of corners that I tend to have trouble with when I ride. Saturday, I discovered one reason why. I was going down the hill after having been brakes at the top, so my cranks were level (which, I think, is the proper position for braking and descending). When I got ready to turn, I felt that familiar bound up feeling that I sometimes do, and I ended up not taking the corner very well. What I realized later was that I'd never moved my feet to the 6-12 position, so my body wasn't in a comfortable cornering position. I repeated the hill a little later, got my feet in the correct position before I turned, and went though the corner much more smoothly.

What I'm working toward here is a little cornering sequence. Obviously, mountain biking is pretty variable, so you don't need to do everything for every corner. For example, there are times when I do prefer to corner with my cranks level, like during a quick sequence of open corners. In general though, my sequence might be something like:

1. Look at entry
2. Pedals to 6-12
3. Look at apex
4. Initiate turn (push inside hand forward)
5. Weight outside pedal, point hips into turn
6. Look at exit

Obviously, if you think about each steps while you're doing it, the corner will be over before you get through the list. But I think it's helpful for review and for practice. The way I see it, you need to have some idea what you're trying to get your body (and bike) to do before you can do it... with any consistency at least.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On the Trails Again

The weather was great last night, so I got outside for my ride. I've been a little hesitant to ride outside while my knee is recovering because I have a tendency to ride too hard. I do a much better job of controlling my effort on the trainer.

Anyway, I rode my 'cross bike over to Waterford Oaks (my mountain bike and road bike are still in pieces, and I won't be riding my singlespeed for a while). I rode on the trails a little bit. It was nice to get out on the dirt, even if the trails are pretty tame. I also practiced cornering for a while in one of the parking lots there.

My knee didn't feel perfect this time, but it wasn't painful either. I'm not going to ride today, but I'll ride Saturday again. Hopefully I can transition smoothly to riding longer (and outside) again.
A couple of observations from last night's ride:

1. I was trying to focus on staying relaxed. In particular, to keep my shoulders down (not hunched up) and arms loose. I noticed that keeping my shoulders down automatically puts my arms in a nice bent position. This feels good on the bike, but seems to have resulted in some weird chest/back soreness.

2. Looking ahead in corners: I need to remember to look ahead to the corner entry, apex and exit. I have a tendency to focus on whatever is to the outside of a corner, which is not helpful. Looking through the corner to the exit also seems to reduce perceived speed. I think that remembering to look at the sequence is more useful than just thinking about "looking ahead".

3. Turn initiation: I was playing around with a few different ways to initiate a turn. The one that felt the best was to initiate the turn by pressing down with the inside hand. I liked it because it easily leaned the bike and automatically put pressure on outside pedal. I think that this isn't a good technique though. I felt like I was putting too much pressure on the handlebars, and, if I'm going to put pressure on the bars, I want it on the outside, not the inside.

I also tried initiating the turn by sort of rolling my outside hand into the corner. This created a better condition at the handlebars, but I didn't feel like it was very purposeful motion. The last thing I tried was the countersteering method: pushing the inside hand forward to turn the front wheel out of the turn, which then causes the bike to lean into the turn. I was a little hesitant about this, it just doesn't feel like it's a good idea to turn the bars the opposite way that you want to go. I was more inconsistent with this method, but when I did get it right, the bike really turned for me.

I'm obviously overthinking this way too much right now, but that's how I am. Once I figure out what I really want to do and start drilling it, it will start to become automatic and I won't have to think about it so much.

A couple more pictures from my phone...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Knee Progress

My knee recovery is coming along nicely. It has felt perfect on my past 3 rides. Beginning with my next ride tomorrow, I'm going to start slowly ramping up the volume again. I'll still be keeping the intensity low for a couple more weeks.

I've been having a little trouble finding motivation to train lately. With my knee problem, I feel like I haven't been training enough to keep good "training inertia". I'm hoping that will get better as I start extending my rides and getting outside again.

Tonight was an off-night for riding. I ended up shooting baskets in the driveway for about 40 minutes. It was fun to get outside and do something different.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Use It!

One of the lines I really like in "Sport Psychology for Cyclists" is that when adversity pops up, you can let it use you, or you can use it. I've been thinking about how I can use my knee problem. (By the way, my knee has been feeling very good lately.)

First, I've been spending more time visualizing mountain bike situations. Two things have surprised me so far: one, my visualized pedal stroke on the mountain bike is much more choppy than when I visualize myself riding on the road. So, I need to work to clean that up. Two, I can't immediately bring up a clear mental image of how I want to go through corners on the trail. This probably explains why I'm inconsistent (at best) in reality. So, I'm working on my cornering when I visualize now.

Second, I've been reviewing my training plan, to make sure I understand how and why I got hurt, and to make sure it's really what I should be doing. As I've posted before, I'm pretty sure I know how I got hurt and how I can avoid it in the future. The question about the appropriateness of my training plan turned out to be more interesting.

I've written many times before about how much I think my race results would improve if I were a better bike handler. I've also written more recently about how I'm not in "race shape" for enough races. I took a look at my original Morris-based training plan relative to these two objectives. Judging from my own planning, and other people's experiences with the Morris plan, I realized that I'd be spending a lot of time on the trainer doing intervals. Is this really going to help me improve my bike handling? Will this get me into race shape?

For the bike handling thing: no, my original training plan would probably not have done much to improve my bike handling. For years, I've said that this is something I need to improve, and my training plan doesn't address it! That alone is probably reason to change.

As for the race shape thing: I'm sure my original plan would improved my fitness. I'm starting to think though, especially for someone with very limited time, that the intense training needs to be more race-specific. What if, instead of doing somewhat arbitrary intervals, I focused on the specific aspects of race fitness that I wanted to improve. For example, starts are critical in MTB and CX races, so how about working on specifically improving those (on the trail, grass, etc)? Fitness would still surely improve, and the training would apply directly to racing! There's a big psychological component here too; you would know what to expect out of your body in race situations, because you would have come close to replicating those situations in training.

This is getting to be a long post already, but the gist of my proposed training plan is this: One, spend a lot of time working on fundamentals (balance, cornering, riding in groups, etc), these are likely to be longer lower intensity rides. Maybe with the addition of a little extra riding, this would be sufficient to build aerobic capacity. Two, make the more intense rides race-specific. This would include working on starts, doing intervals on technical sections of trail, etc.

I know that this plan is not ideal for developing fitness, but, it does address my training objectives... and that's really the whole point of a training plan, isn't it?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Georgia Riding

I got back from Georgia on Tuesday this week. It was a shock to go from 70 degrees and sun to 30 degrees and snow!

The trip went well. My bike made it down without damage, although I need to learn to pack it better if I'm going to do this very often. I got in three rides; it was not as much riding as I'd hoped to do, but it was good recovery time for my knee. I wore shorts and a short-sleeved jersey only one day, but I had to wear knee warmers and sometimes arm warmers the other days. Still, the weather was very nice for riding, and the terrain was dead flat, which was good for my knee I think.

I kept my rides relatively short (about 1 hour) and easy. My knee is feeling pretty good. I'm not feeling any patella discomfort now, but my knees are feeling a little fatigued by the end of the rides. I think that this is a result of my body adapting to the corrected saddle height (I've experienced this before). I'm going to stick with the short easy rides for another week or so, and then I'll start building the volume back up a little. So, I'm hoping to resume normal training by the end of this month.

So, assuming all continues to go well, this injury will have set me back over two months. This is why it's important to train in such a way as to avoid injury! This means that my goals for the season really need to change, as I will be totally unprepared to race the Spring mountain bike races. There are a lot of races in August, so I think I will build toward those, and then focus on cyclocross.