Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Minor Fall, Major Problem?

So, Sarah left this afternoon for a skating conference in Delaware, leaving just me and my daughter for the rest of the week. That part of it has actually gone fine so far. We went for a nice hike this evening and got a good look at a big deer. I also got her to bed with no crying... what a champion dad!

Anyway, before Sarah left, I wanted to do a quick loop at Stony, just to refresh a few things before the race on Saturday. I also wanted to ride the pump track a little. I wasn't pushing particularly hard, but I have been riding more agressively as I've been gaining confidence in my (somewhat) newfound cornering skills.

So, as I was exiting what should have been a pretty easy corner on a sidehill trail in the Roller Coaster section, my rear tire slid out a little in some sand. If the trail would have been a touch wider, I would have been able to save it, but I ended up going off on the uphill side. It was really a pretty minor fall. I wound up with just a some minor scratches on my leg, but I jammed my right thumb in a weird way (sort of between my shifter and the handlbars), and it was extremely painful to use the thumb shifter after that.

My thumb has mostly stayed sore as the day has gone on today, and its gotten just a little swollen. If it isn't noticeably better tomorrow, I'll have it checked out. Anyway, I'm concerned that it's not going to be feeling good enough for Saturday... we'll see.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Big Weekend

This past weekend turned out to be pretty big in terms of training. I ended up riding Friday night, which is unusual for me. I had some extended fatigue last week, a combination of the race on Sunday, the hard riding on Tuesday night and not getting quite enough sleep.

The Friday ride was pretty productive though. I had intended to work on finding my balance point for wheelies, manuals, etc by intentionally "looping out" (letting myself go off the back of the bike), but I ended up working on switchback-type corners on the hill in my yard. I struggled with the switchbacks at Ruby last weekend, and so I thought doing a little practice would be helpful. By the time I started working on the wheelies, a storm rolled in and drove me inside to the trainer.

Saturday morning, I took my daughter out hiking at Independence Oaks. I hiked about 2 hours, but she only caught the first half hour and the last 5 minutes. She slept the rest of the time!

Saturday night, I went over to Stony to ride the pump track. I definitely rode better this time than I did the time before. In particular, I improved my speed through the bermed corners. I was riding up higher on the berms and I shifted my weight forward a little. It was interesting that the things I noticed were very different this time. As I was adjusting my saddle back up to leave, a guy on a BMX bike zipped through half a lap on the track on his way to meet someone. Watching him, I realized that I still have plenty of room for improvement...

Sunday morning, I went back to Stony to turn some loops of the Marathon course. The conditions were very muddy in the Pines and in a couple other spots, so I didn't do complete laps, but I got most of it. Again, I feel like my riding has really improved, but it's still inconsistent. Some corners will be great and I'll really rip through them, but then I'll get all balled up and stall in others.

Hopefully outside events won't conspire against me for the race this weekend. My daughter has had a little cold this past week, and now Sarah thinks she's getting sick. I've also been nursing a saddle sore; so far, it's not very bad. I'm hoping I can make it through the race on Saturday, then I can take a little time off the bike to let it really heal.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ruby Photos

Photos from Sarah...

The guy in white wondering how to get around...

Across the river!

Outhouse Hill

The bike's looking good...
Don't smile!

Across the river! (Again, and again...)

Almost done...

Finished! Clearly didn't suffer enough...


I went to the club track night again last night, this time carrying a little leftover rage from the Ruby race.

Last night was a time trial night. I breathed through my nose for the whole thing, except for the last corner. I had a nice improvement over my last TT, almost 2 minutes faster (about 9%). I felt pretty good... the disappointing race at Ruby helped me keep pushing. Still, I expect that I could have gone a little faster breathing through my mouth, but it definitely limited me less this time than it did before.

My dad was in town last night, so he rode at the track with me. Because of that, we rode with the "slow" group during the first race. As it turned out, the slow group ended up riding tempo at about 25mph... so it wasn't so slow. I took a couple of pulls at the front, and I felt pretty good.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shelled at Ruby

Last weekend was my first race of the year, and it was pretty rough...

Sarah and I dropped off our daughter and dog at Grandma's on Saturday and drove out to Ruby Campground. We planned to ride Saturday, camp there Saturday night, and then at least I would race on Sunday.

Sarah and I were both pretty impressed with the campground itself. In particular, I thought the bathrooms and showers were some of the cleaner ones I've seen at a campground. There were lots of families (and bike racers) there, so things quieted down pretty quickly after dark. I would definitely go back. Anyway, on to the riding...

The Saturday ride with Sarah was OK, but she struggled on the trail. It was a bit more difficult than either of us expected. About halfway through the first lap, there was a narrow bit of sidehill (downhill) trail; at the end, you had to squeeze through a tight pair of trees, and then you dropped into a steep left hand turn. I went through and watched while Sarah came down. "Wow", I thought, "she's going really fast down that hill." Then I saw her go straight through the turn and go flying over the handlebars... uh oh. She wasn't hurt, just a few scrapes, but that was the end of her ride.

I finished that lap and did another one by myself. I mostly enjoyed the trails there, but I also recognized it wasn't the type of trail that suited me. It looked like if you knew the trail well, you could probably go pretty fast, and I definitely wasn't there. It would have been nice to get a ride in at Bloomer last week to help prepare, but I didn't manage to get out there.

Sunday was a beautiful day for the race. The details of my race weren't particularly interesting. I was basically slow everywhere except on the climbs and when we were running (the water crossings and some of the climbs). I didn't have any big problems, but I didn't feel very fit and I thought I rode below my technical ability. I ended up finishing 7th of 8, and not particularly competitive in terms of lap times either... ouch.

(Photo by Jeff Borisen)

After the race, Sarah commented that I didn't have the same intense look on my face that other racers did (I guess I shouldn't have smiled at her when I saw her at the side of the trail). It's hard to be really focused when you know you're getting crushed, but I think it's still a valid comment.

Two things I've noticed:

1. When I'm racing well, I'm able to keep riding at a very uncomfortable pace. I can push even harder when the trail allows, and recover a little when it gets tight. When I'm not racing well, I can't tolerate the discomfort for very long, and I don't feel like I can push when things open up. I'm not sure how much of this is physical (fitness) and how much is mental. Surely, it's some mix of the two.

2. I don't think I have the same sense of urgency in a mountain bike race that I do in a cyclocross race. Because a cyclocross race is short and, relatively speaking, there aren't too many corners and obstacles, I think it's much more obvious that you can't waste time. The same is really also true in a mountain bike race. It's not hard to imagine picking up a couple minutes over the course of a 1.5 hour race just by being a little more efficient.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Chasing Knee Perfection

"A living dog is better than a dead lion."

My left knee has been a little tweaky since my ride on Sunday. Not quite bad, but not quite perfect either. (At least my right knee, which is the one I had the big trouble with this Spring, has been OK.) I always tell Sarah though that I'm chasing "knee perfection", so, I'm going to pass on riding tonight. Another day of rest/light activity is probably smarter than going to the track, where I tend to have trouble taking it easy. In fact, I told her to hide my keys, bike shoes, whatever, so that I wouldn't be tempted to go once I got home from work.

I've been riding only 4 days a week this year: typically Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The nice thing about that schedule is that it's pretty easy to move the days around if I decide I need an extra day of rest. Being home 3 weeknights (really 4, since I ride after my daughter goes to bed on Wednesday) is working well to keep the family happy too. So maybe I'll ride on Thursday this week instead.

I've been trying to think of these things in terms of risk and reward. What's the risk of riding (hard) tonight? Hosing my knee for a few days, a week, more? What's the reward? I stay exactly on my training schedule. Assuming that I'll ride Thursday instead of tonight, there's almost no reward. Certainly, there is no significant reward compared to the risk.

So, instead of riding, I took my daughter out for a little hike (using the carrier). We had a good time, but I'm not sure how much longer we'll be able to go to the nature center; the mosquitoes there seem to be getting worse. Mom needed a little break tonight, so she liked us being gone for awhile.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Poto

I did some nice rides over the weekend:

Saturday, Sarah and I went to the club's beginner ride at Bald Mountain. It was the first time Sarah had ridden her mountain bike on a trail in a couple of years. It went pretty well, but she was pretty tired after we were done.

Yesterday, I went over to the Poto for a group ride. I've only been there twice before (over a period of about 5 years), and I made a spectacular wrong turn getting there, so I was late. No one else was in the lot when I arrived, so I figured the group had already left (actually, everyone else was even more late than me!). I ended up riding by myself, but I actually had a really nice ride. I did about 4 long, moderately hard efforts, and went pretty easy in between.

Once again, I felt like my riding was much better than last year, particularly when the trail was relatively open (so I could see where I was going).

I'm planning to do my first race of the year this weekend at Ruby Campground. I've never ridden there before, so I have no idea what to expect. I feel like my riding skills are higher than last year, but my fitness is lower. That's part of the reason I wanted to ride with the group yesterday, to gage my overall speed. Anyway, Sarah and I are going over to Ruby on Saturday to pre-ride the course, and then we'll camp there Saturday night. It should be a fun weekend.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Baby Carrier

So, I took my daughter out for a walk tonight in the baby carrier. It worked pretty well. I had to do a little adjusting to get the hip belt low enough, but that was about it. She stayed content and kept her hat on the whole time(!).

We went down to the nature center in our neighborhood and saw lots of ducks and a couple of "swamp cats". The ducks were a big hit, the swamp cats, not so much...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Cornering Confidence

I rode at the track again last night. I got off to a pretty slow start; my left knee felt pretty wonky during my warmup. It felt bad enough that I was considering stopping and going back home. I stopped to stretch for awhile, and that seemed to take care of the problem. I had no problems after that.

The main point of interest happened during our first little race. It was restricted gear, and we rode opposite the normal direction. The reversed direction meant that the downhill section had some relatively significant curves. Anyway, for the first two laps, I felt pretty good and really crushed the downhill section. I was noticeably faster carving the downhill corners than most everyone else. So, I was really happy about that; that's the sort of experience that will help me build bike-handling confidence.

Of course, on the third (and last) lap, the pace was pretty high; I started the lap near the front (thanks to my descending), but I blew up climbing the hill the last time. Still, I felt good. I told Sarah that I felt like a bike racer again for the first time this year.

In our second race, I stayed Mark Wolowiec's wheel for a while (as long as I could). It was pretty interesting to follow him and watch him work through the field. It seemed pretty clear that he reads the field and the race at a much deeper level than I do (which is no surprise, given that he's vastly more experienced). The one thing that struck me was that he seemed to take the individual rider's characteristics into account as he decided whether to follow them or not. For example, as we approached the climb, we were following a relatively weak climber, so he pulled out and positioned himself to go around just before the climb started, anticipating that a gap would open up (which it did). The result was that he smoothly caught on to the next wheel. Had I not been following Mark, I probably would have stayed with the slower climber until the gap had already started to open; then I would have had to work harder to go around and close it up.

Body, Mind and Sport

I decided to read the book that inspired some of the linked articles that I wrote about recently, John Douillard's Body, Mind, and Sport.

In general, I was actually a little disappointed with the book, but I can't exactly put my finger on why. Maybe my expectations were too high, or maybe it was my Western bias. Essentially, the main point of the book is that you should live and train in a way that is in accordance with Nature to maintain optimal health and fitness (which is not necessarily the same as performance). It's not that I really disagree with that idea, but some of the specifics are a little jarring.

There are some aspects of the book that I really liked. A key concept is that to achieve optimal athletic performance, you need to have inner calm. He describes it as "the eye of the hurricane". The more dynamic the activity is externally, the more internally calm you need to be. I get this, and I understand that this is part of my problem when it comes to riding my bike. I ride so much better when I can just switch off my brain and let my body do the work.

The training method used to achieve this state is interesting, and, again, a little jarring to Western sensibilities, but it does sort of make sense. The idea is to put yourself in a calm mental state during your warmup, and progress with your activity in such a way that you can maintain this state. One of the catches is, at least initially, to maintain this state, you will probably have to reduce your intensity... a lot.

The last thing that I appreciated was that Douillard didn't take the approach that his way was the only way. For each point, he mostly took the approach of, "This is what I think the best way is, but try it out. If it works for you, great. If not, or if you don't like it, do something else."

I'm still not sure what the endgame here is for me. Even though my performance while nasal breathing has improved a lot over the last few weeks, it's hard for me to imagine actually racing like that.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Mattawan Rides

We went to visit my parents this weekend. I brought the 'cross bike and rode with my dad both days.

I was pretty uncomfortable on the Saturday ride. I hadn't slept enough the night before, and my pre-ride nutrition probably wasn't the best. I was a little overdressed, so I was too warm almost the whole time. I stuck with my nasal breathing for the entire ride, but I seemed to be working too hard to match my dad's pace. I've been in the habit of using chamois cream for longish road rides, but I forgot to bring it, so I was chafing a bit by the end. My knees were also inexplicably achey. Just not a good time.

Everything that was bad on Saturday was good on Sunday. I got enough rest, ate a more normal meal, was dressed properly, etc. The ride went really well. I kept asking my dad if we were going slower than the day before (I haven't used a bike computer for a long time now); nope, it was about the same pace. By the end of the ride, I was feeling really good. My pedaling was super-smooth, and it seemed like I could go reasonably fast while still staying relaxed and breathing slowly through my nose.

This, I think, is the feeling that Douillard says we should be aiming for in Body, Mind and Sport. It did go away once I realized what was happening and started to push a little harder, but I still got a taste of it, even if it was only briefly.