Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Club TT

Last night was time trial night at the track. Even though I'm not in very good shape (the TT would be my longest hard effort of the year so far), I decided to go ahead and do it. My plan was to pace myself by only going as fast as nasal breathing would let me go.

Actually, the plan worked fine. One thing that I expected to happen did pan out, which was that I didn't go out too hard. I also turned very consistent laps, all within 1s or so of each other. I only had to open my mouth a few times, when I went a little too hard up the hill or into the wind. Really, the only problem I had was that I went too slow. Relative to a "normal" TT effort for me, I had too much energy left at the end; I probably could have ridden for quite some time at the pace I was going.

The only other club TT I've done was in May 2007. It's pretty hard to compare my time from 2007. By this time in 2007, I was reasonably fit and had already raced a few times. Still, the comparison was that my overall time yesterday was about 2min 20s slower than 2007, or about 12% slower, or almost 30s slower per lap! Probably I could have gone a bit faster if I'd been breathing through my mouth, but I don't know by how much. I doubt that I could have gotten down to my 2007 time.

Tuesday nights have turned into a nice benchmark for me on the nasal breathing thing. When I started with it two weeks ago, any time I had to pedal up a hill or into the wind (at maybe 13mph), I would struggle to breathe. Yesterday in the TT, I rode for 20+ minutes at nearly 20mph. Pretty big improvement in such a short time! I don't think my breathing has caught up to what the rest of my body can do yet. In Body, Mind, and Sport, Douillard said that the range for adaptation is 3-10 weeks, so I probably still have quite a bit of room for improvement.

Monday, May 25, 2009


I haven't posted about this yet, but I have a cool trip coming up this July. I'm heading out to California for a few days to visit with my old college roommates. While we're there, we're going to Yosemite National Park to do some hiking. I've not been there before, but Yosemite looks awesome from the pictures.

Unfortunately, the only weekend we could all get together conflicts with a mountain bike race I was planning to do; so I'll miss yet another one. We're planning to do enough hiking that I want to physically prepare for it. I'm not concerned about my fitness, but I am concerned about my knees and feet (blisters). So, to prepare, I want to start taking longer walks / hikes in the shoes and socks I plan to use. I will probably also resume running a little bit.

As the trip gets a little closer, this preparation will end up taking time away from riding my bike. I'm basically OK with that. I do want to enjoy my trip because these opportunities don't come up too often. The side benefit of the walking so far has been that the whole family can do it: my wife and I walk, and my daughter and my dog ride...

Busted Chains

I had a couple of nice rides over the weekend. Saturday morning, I went out on a club MTB ride that was intended for beginners. My plan was just to ride slow with the group and work on my skills. I was reminded of a few things that I don't like about group rides pretty early though: we started about 20 minutes late, and we stopped less than a mile into the trail when someone broke their chain (with the wet spring we've had, the mosquitos were brutal!).

Once we got going though, I really enjoyed the ride. I tried to go as fast as possible down the hills and slow everywhere else. I had some nice moments again. I felt like my cornering was improved over last weekend, and my hopping was definitely improved.

Yesterday morning, I rode by myself at Pontiac Lake. I had some really nice moments, particularly early in the ride. I absolutely ripped through some of the faster sections at the beginning; faster than I've ever gone before. What I noticed during these sections was that my body position was really good: I was relaxed, my chest was down, and my head was up. The only times I had problems were in a series of linked corners: if I'd take the first one much faster than I was used to, the second one would sometimes come up much faster than I was prepared for and I might botch it. Still, that's not such a bad problem. I think it's mostly a matter of re-learning the trail's rhythm at a higher speed.

As for the broken chain... I saw three guys by the side of the trail on the final steady climb after The Chute and the steep climbs. I asked if they could fix their problem (a broken chain); they said yes, but without much confidence. So I stopped and watched them work for a little bit (they would have been there for awhile), and then I took over and fixed the chain. A little trail karma never hurts...

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Seriously, why do I not wear pads?!?!? Did I not just write a post a few weeks ago saying that I needed to wear pads when I was practicing? Agghhh... here's the story:

I spent some time working on my bunnyhopping progression last night in the backyard. I was riding the bike with flat pedals. A few years ago, I bought shin pads specifically for working on stuff like this. My pads were safely tucked away in the garage, protecting nothing.

As I was working on lifting my rear wheel, I found that my feet would lift off the pedals a little. Fine. After one such incident, with my feet at 3 and 9, I started bouncing up and down. (Why was I doing this? I don't know. No good reason.) Fine... until my foot slipped. So, with all my weight on one pedal, and no weight on the other, the predictable thing happened... the free pedal swung around and smashed into my bare shin!

So, now I have a nice bloody shin. I thought, "Gee... maybe I should go put my pads on." I'm not kidding, my next thought was, "Nah, I've already bashed my shin once, it won't happen again." Finally, reason prevailed, "Seriously? Go put your pads on!" So I did. I didn't have another incident where a pedal hit my shin (pad), but I did slip off the pedals one more time before I was done.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I went out to the track to ride last night. There were a couple interesting things:

Nasal breathing - What a difference a week makes! Last week, I could hardly get through the warmup without breathing through my mouth. Last night, I only had to breathe through my mouth twice. The first time, I was riding by myself and went a little too hard into the wind. The second time was in a practice race, just before I got dropped.

The other thing I noticed was how much more I ended up paying attention to my gearing, position on the bike, etc while I was breathing through my nose. Since wasting energy makes breathing more difficult pretty quickly, I found myself trying to maximize my efficiency whenever possible.

Practice race - After doing some very good group riding drills (the drills were good... not necessarily the group!), we did a short practice race. Gearing was restricted for the race, meaning it was much more important to hold on to wheels.

Like I mentioned above, I was able to maintain my nasal breathing for the first two laps. We weren't going too hard, but it was hard enough that I was a little surprised that I could maintain my breathing. At one point, while we were in a double paceline, I could hear the person next to me breathing hard, while I was still breathing, more-or-less easily, through my nose.

For the first couple laps, I also felt like I did a good job of riding with the group. I seemed to do better than usual holding on to wheels, drafting, and moving up. In particular, there were a few times where I saw a gap opening a few riders ahead of me and I was able to move up into it. In the past, it seemed like I usually wasn't looking far enough ahead to notice this. I've found that not noticing a gap opening ahead is a good way to get dropped!

The pace kicked up a bit during the 3rd lap; this is when I needed to switch back to mouth breathing. I was still with the group, but I was working harder than I wanted to, so I pulled off. I waited for another rider that had already been dropped, and we worked together to finish the race.

In general, it was a good ride for me again. One of the things I'm noticing this year, since I've been focused about building skills rather than fitness, is that my rides are generally more fun and I finish them feeling good about what I've done.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Trail Ups and Downs

I got out yesterday morning for my first trail ride in a long time. I rode at my "home trail", Pontiac Lake. There were a few positive and a few negative things for the day:

+ My low-speed balance and low-speed handling skills seemed quite good. I've been keeping up with my trackstand and slow-riding practice, so this isn't too surprising.

+ Granted, there's nothing too big at PLRA, but my drops were all very smooth.

+ The Kenda Small Block 8 tire that I started using on the rear seems to be working OK. I dropped pressure from 28 to 25 psi for this ride, and it seemed to help the tire hook up better. I didn't feel any of the high-speed squirmy-ness that I noticed when I ran my Nevegal that low. I also felt like the SB8 rolled noticeably faster than the Nevegal.

+ I had some really nice cornering moments near the end of the ride. I need to keep working on doing the skill correctly; this should help me build confidence.

+ I'm not quite as out-of-shape as I thought, but I'm still not in racing shape. I didn't push hard at all, and my lap time was about 10 minutes slower than normal. This includes a few minutes spent crawling through and over a few downed trees on the trail. But I felt a little more fit than I expected.

- I was really rusty early in the ride which led to some bad moments and generally poor riding. This seemed to get better as the ride went on.

- Cornering on the dirt is not the same as cornering on pavement. While my (pavement) cornering practice has helped me, I think I need to start also practicing on the dirt to get used to the tires slipping a little more.

- I need to keep working on looking ahead. Things work so much better when I do that.

By the time it was over, I felt pretty good about my ride. As I ride the trails a little more now, I should get more comfortable and faster.

Also, I tried nasal breathing again on my way out to the trail. There was a pretty stiff headwind, and it was really hard to keep a reasonable pace while also only breathing through my nose. I eventually abandoned it again so I could ride more normally. Still, I think there may be something to this.

I have pretty much adjusted to only breathing through my nose throughout the day. At first, even doing that was a little challenging. Things would be going fine, then I'd suddenly feel like I needed to open my mouth to take in (or blow out?) a gulp of air. Now, I'm finding what I can only describe as a feeling of security when I'm aware of my breathing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Return to Training

I got going on my training again last night. I went out to the track with the club. It seemed like there were a lot more people there than I remember; I think the club has become much more popular the past couple years than it was when I joined. A lot of my cyclocross racing friends were there, so it was nice to see those people.

My plan was to take it pretty easy and mainly work on just being relaxed and riding smoothly with the group. It was basically a success, I kept myself to only two hard (but short) efforts.

I did a nice, easy, long warmup. I'd been breathing through my nose all day; it was kind of an interesting experience, a few times I felt like I just needed to open my mouth and take a big gulp of air. Breathing through the nose worked OK on the bike, until I tried to increase the intensity at all. Even climbing up the little hill at the track at a moderate pace was enough to put me into some breathing difficulty. I largely abandoned the nasal breathing after my warmup, but I want to keep experimenting with it.

I joined the second fastest group for the formal riding. We mainly practiced just keeping in line while the leaders accelerated and slowed a little. It was good for me to do this a little. Holding a wheel and keeping gaps from opening is something I need to work on.

I thought I could feel a difference from my work this Spring on riding relaxed and working on cornering. While in the group, my shoulders stayed relaxed and I kept a nice bend in my arms the whole time. I also felt more comfortable cornering in the group. We weren't going too fast, but, since I'd been working on tighter and faster corners in practice, I felt confident with what we were doing.

Anyway, it was a good ride. My knees felt fine during the ride and afterward. So, it looks like I'm off to a good start.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Running Followups

I found some follow up articles to the one I posted some time ago about barefoot running, nasal breathing, etc.

The original
Follow-up 1 (More on barefoot running, nasal breathing, aerobic training)
Follow-up 2 (running economy)
Follow-up 3 (illness and injury)

It's always interesting to go back and read something again after some time has passed. Originally, I was mostly interested in the barefoot running part. This time, the sections about nasal breathing and relaxation caught my attention more.

The new articles are good too. I particularly like the third one about injury. He makes the point that injuries don't happen randomly; if you're injured, there's a reason for it. You need to find the reason, and then make some change to fix it. This has been my experience with cycling too. If I get hurt (usually a knee thing), then there's usually some mechanical reason for it. Trying to work around it, or patch the symptoms, just usually doesn't work in the long-term.

Speaking of being out of whack... yesterday was brutal. I couldn't fall asleep until about 2:30am on Sunday night, so I was really dragging all day yesterday. Hopefully that will be the worst of my jet lag. Sleeping was no problem last night since I was so tired.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Korea and Tubulars

I got back from my trip to Korea yesterday. Everything went pretty well, but I've been pretty tired for most of the day. I got a little exercise in while I was gone, mostly on the step machine. It's always interesting to go to public gyms, and gyms in Korea are no different. I slept like a rock last night (for 12 hours), but I'm not optimistic about tonight, we'll see.

My E-bay tubular wheels and tires came in while I was gone. They look like they're in pretty good shape, but I'm not sure about the gluing job. There seems to be a lot of extra glue on the rims; it looks a little bad, but I'm not sure it's really a problem.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Greatest Mountain Biker Ever...

...or, Maybe I Should Start Wearing Pads.

So, I went out to ride the pump track at Stony Creek today. They opened a "skills park" last summer, with a pump track, wooden stunts, etc. I swung by once last year to check it out (right before the cross-country race), but I never got around to riding it. When I visited last Fall, there was nobody there.

I was a little surprised by what I saw today. Lots of families there with smallish kids (and some young teenagers). There was only one person on the pump track, a really little kid (5 or 6 years old maybe). After I started riding, one more kid joined, maybe he was 12 or 13. It was a big enough track that everything was OK, once I explained to the little kid that I would be careful and wouldn't run into him.

Riding the pump track was interesting. It was apparent after a few laps that keeping my saddle in the typical XC position just wasn't going to work for me. I dropped it as far as it would go, and that helped considerably. My only incident was early, I messed up one of the bermed turns (I think I was leaned over too far for where I was on the berm; had I been riding it higher, I probably would have been fine), my tires slid out and up the berm, and down I went. It seemed like the kids were right there, and they made sure I was OK. The 5-year old then showed me all of his safety equipment (knee, elbow, shoulder, chest pads). We agreed that he was obviously much safer than me. He said that he needed to be safer because "I need to live longer than you". Fair enough.

One thing that I always read about riding pump tracks was that it was surprisingly hard on the cardiovascular system. I can now say that this is true. I had to stop every once in a while and catch my breath and let my legs rest. One of the times I was resting, a woman stopped by with her family and said "it really doesn't look that difficult." (Maybe I forgot to mention that most of the families were by the bigger stunts. Not that they were really riding them, but that's where they were.) I tried to explain (with my leg bleeding) that the pump track really isn't difficult to ride, and that the point is to ride it without pedaling, and that makes it hard. I'm not sure she believed me.

So, near the end, the little kid told me I was "the best mountain biker ever." That's going up on the board! ;)

Anyway, I had a good time out there. The pump track was cool. I'm not sure exactly what I learned, but it does make you think about riding with your upper and lower body separated. I had some good moments where my timing was good and I was going fast, and then moments where I felt pretty uncoordinated. I'll try to go back again.

I had wanted to ride the XC trails a little bit more than I did after my pump track session, but my bike was ghost-shifting badly, so it would have been an exercise in frustration to continue. I'm trying out a new rear tire (Kenda Small Block 8) this year. It makes the bike noticeably looser, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing. I want to experiment with the tire pressure a bit more and ride it a bit more before I make a judgement about it.

About the pads... right now, both of my knees and both of my elbows are scraped up. Definitely the fall on the pavement did more damage than the fall on the dirt, but still. Both times I've crashed while "practicing", so maybe pads for practicing aren't a bad idea. It might help me feel OK about continuing to push, and keep me intact when I make the inevitable learning mistakes.

BMX Kids

I've been fighting off a cold this past week. Some of the days I felt good, but other days I had a sore throat and runny nose. I didn't feel great yesterday morning, but I did want to get out and ride. I decided just to do an easy spin; I headed over to Waterford Oaks, where, if nothing else, I usually have the park to myself.

Apparently, BMX season has just started, and there were a bunch of kids out at the track. I stopped and watched for a few minutes. They hadn't started racing yet; just warming up I think. There was a wide variety of skill level out there. I had a good view of the first two rollers; some kids just got over them however they could, others were pumping the rollers, and at least one kid manualed the rollers (which, as I understand it, is the correct technique). It was obvious that pumping was faster than just riding, and manualing was faster than pumping. It was pretty interesting and fun to watch.

After that, I spent some time working on my own riding skills. I did some cornering work again in the parking lot; I'm definitely getting better and more consistent. Then I decided to work on my bunnyhopping progression. The Lopes/McCormack book suggests that you learn to balance a sitting wheelie before moving on (I think, so you learn where the balance point is). I'll admit, I never got wheelies down as a kid. Sure I could pop my wheel up, but I couldn't keep it there. Yesterday, I made some pretty good progress. I got to where I could balance it for at least a few pedal strokes, but I think I still wasn't leaning as far back as I needed to. I practiced this on a grassy field, just in case I did lean back too far.

What's pumping you say? Watch the first half of this video...

While I'm posting videos, I might as well post this one. The recent time trial at Pontiac Lake, my "home" trail. Too bad I couldn't race it this year.

Good post on Joe Friel's blog about pacing for a time trial.