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.

California Trip

"Bears are everywhere, but not all the time."

- Yosemite Park Ranger

So, the trip to California... The basic plan was this: me and one of my old roommates (Greg) that still lives in Michigan would fly to San Fransisco and hang out there on Thursday afternoon. We'd meet up with a third roommate (Jacob) who lives out there, and then drive to Yosemite National Park that night. Friday, we'd hang out at the park and do our "big" hike. Saturday morning, we'd hang out at the park, and then drive back to SF in the afternoon. Sunday, the Michigan guys would fly home.

San Fransisco was pretty cool. From the airport, Greg and I took the BART to Chinatown and had lunch there. Somehow, we managed to pick a Vietnamese restaraunt, but it was good. From there, we walked to Fisherman's Wharf. We saw Alcatraz (from a distance), the sea lions on the pier, and the different ships. We used a combination of mass transit and our feet to get to Fremont, where we got our food for the weekend and met up with Jacob.

The drive to Yosemite was pretty uneventful, although we did see a coyote on our way in. Unfortunately, we got a late enough start that it was dark by the time we got to the park. It's too bad, we could see that the views from the road were pretty awesome on our way out. That night, we got the bear lecture from the Curry Village staff. As if to emphasize the point, later that night, some people did see a bear in the camp area not too far from us. The park rangers set off a big noisemaker, and we saw them outside our cabin with radio equipment, big flashlights, etc.

The hike on Friday was awesome. We took the Mist Trail up to Vernal and Nevada Falls, and then we came back down on the John Muir trail. It took us about 6 hours at a pretty liesurely pace. The trails were a little more crowded than I would have preferred, but it wasn't bad.

Friday afternoon, we drove down to the south end of the park and saw the giant Sequoias. On our way back, we stopped at one of the picnic areas to cook some dinner; we were the only ones there. We'd been there about 15 minutes when we heard some crashing noises from across the road. We scanned the woods until we found the source, a bear had climbed a little way up a tree and was scoping us out. We could see his head peeking out around the tree trunk. We quickly packed up our stuff and got ready to leave. We must have made enough noise to discourage the bear, because he wandered off... but we did see him cross the road to our side. Needless to say, the rest of our meal was a little more tense.

On Saturday, we packed up and decided to drive around the valley and visit some of the points of interest that we couldn't see too well the day before. Because these areas were easily accessible, and it was now Saturday, the crowds got worse as the morning went on. We were happy to be leaving when we did. We did see one more bear, swimming in the river, on our way out of the park.

The trip home was fine, except I ended up seeing a lot of the San Fransisco airport, since my flight was delayed about an hour and a half.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Feeling Better

A post (with pictures!) about my trip to Yosemite is coming soon, I hope.

I've been focusing on getting more sleep the last few nights; I've been generally feeling better since then and it's helped my motivation. It also occured to me that I might have been suffering from a little jet lag... even though (as a super Europe/Asia traveler) I usually scoff at that idea of jet lag from a little 3 hour time change.

I got out to ride last night again. It took me a while to get warmed up, but I felt pretty good once I did. I did a few hard efforts, which also seemed OK.

I registered for the Stony Creek TT this weekend (on my birthday). It's been a few years since I've done it. My goal in 2007 (the last time I planned to do the race, but didn't) was to get down to 55 minutes. I'll probably stick with that again this year, although really not sure what to expect. I'm a very different rider now than I was the last time I did this race, in 2006.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stiff Legs

I got out on the bike for an easy spin last night. I didn't want to push too hard since I haven't ridden in nearly a week and haven't been sleeping enough. Sure enough, my legs felt like they hadn't seen a bike for a week... stiff and weak. Hopefully they'll come around quickly; I'm planning to race on Sunday.

Interesting interview with Jeremy Powers at Cyclocross Magazine. Part 1 and part 2. The comment that stuck out to me was: "Work on anything you possibly can. Because you are putting in 20 or 30 hours a week riding your bike and you’re not doing those things, then you’re not giving yourself a full chance. I think it’s important to just look at yourself from the outside in and say, “o.k. what can I do to make myself better, what do I know that I am not good enough at?” If that’s running, or if that’s riding in the mud, or if that’s just power, all of those things can be worked on. You can run more, you can train harder at intervals, you can go out and wet down your back yard and ride around in circles in the mud. You can make sure that you do all these things to at least give yourself an opportunity, and if you don’t give yourself that opportunity, then you have stumbled out of the start gate as if you never even tried. I would say breaking it down piece-by-piece and then taking your game to a different level is the hardest thing to do, but you have to look at each individual piece and then focus on one at a time and just knock them off. That can take years."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Riding at the Back

I went to the track again last night; it was the first time in a few weeks. Finally, the weather was nice on a night when I went.

Not too much to say, except that I still have some things to learn about road racing. I did OK in the first little race we did, except for right at the end. I ended up being near the back of the group near the end and got stuck in a position where I couldn't move up, even though I felt pretty good. Basically I was too far back at a critical point.

In the second little race, the pace picked up earlier than I expected, and I found myself near the back again. This time around, it was much worse. I kept following people, then they'd start to fall off, then I'd have to chase to close the gap. It seemed like every time I'd close a gap, another one would open up a few people up. If I could have stayed with the main group, I probably could have hung on longer, but since I kept having to chase, I ended up dropping off relatively early.

Anyway, it was a good ride...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Everybody Has a Plan...

"Everybody has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth."

- Mike Tyson

More goin' hard on Saturday. I had wanted to get my ride in on the trails, but it rained all morning, so I opted for the road instead. I rode out toward Indian Springs; I had a good headwind to do my intervals into. I basically felt pretty decent while riding, but I was a little cooked by the end.

I got my first look at the natural gas pipeline that they're running through the park (and, as I understand it, also through a bunch of private property). There's a huge swath cut through the park right now; it looks terrible. Hopefully they do a good job restoring as much as possible.

I had a disappointing ride on Sunday; I rode over at Pontiac Lake. My plan was to ride hard if the legs felt good. If they didn't feel good (which they didn't), my plan was to work on my riding technique. That really didn't work out so well either; I just didn't ride very well. I think there were two problems: one, I hadn't eaten in a while before I left, and two, I hadn't set out my goals for the ride very well (definitely not as clearly as I wrote above). Maybe three was that I was more fatigued than I expected after Saturday. Anyway, I ended up cutting my ride shorter than I had originally planned since I just wasn't accomplishing anything.

One of the things that I've really focused on this year is to have some goal or objective for each of my training rides, whether it's working on a particular skill, doing some intervals, or just getting time in the saddle. This is the first time in a long time that I haven't accomplished what I set out to do. I suppose that's going to happen sometimes, but it's not a good feeling.

Friday, July 10, 2009


So, the reason for the meager (and late) posting last week was that the family went camping at Sleeper State Park in Caseville. We had a good time, but we also had the bad weather that seems to be tradition. It rained on us all the way up and it was cold the rest of the week.

We didn't bring any bikes, but we did do some hiking at Sleeper and at Port Crescent State Parks. The trails at Sleeper were much longer, but the trails at Port Crescent were a little nicer.

We also stopped by the Point Aux Barques lighthouse. It was a cold day, so it was nice to be inside for a little while doing things. They also had a nice playground at the lighthouse park.

Time to Get Fast

So, I decided this week that it is about time I start work on getting fast (getting some high-end fitness). My knee seems completely healed after my injury this spring, and I've got a solid base of miles in now.

I missed the track night this week because my throat was a little sore in the afternoon on Tuesday and I just didn't "feel right".

I felt fine on Wednesday, and I spent about an hour in the backyard and driveway working on some skill things. I mostly did cornering drills, but I also worked on hopping a little. I think practicing cornering in a controlled setting like that is really helpful for me. If things aren't quite going right, it's relatively easy for me to diagnose my problem and fix it. On a trail, the corner goes by so fast, so you might never realize what you're doing wrong.

I'm still struggling with a proper (flat pedal) bunnyhop/J-hop. I think my problem has to do with timing and the amount that I'm loading the rear tire. To resolve that, I've mostly been working on lifting the rear tire alone. It's been kind of a slow process.

Last night, after a short hike (still getting ready for Yosemite!), I rode over to a quiet neighborhood and did some sprint intervals. For me, this kind of very short, max effort work is the first step in building high-end fitness (once the legs are ready for it anyway). Ideally, I will work from these shorter intervals to longer ones. In the past, I've tried it the other way around, sort of tried to build a foundation from intermediate/long intervals and then top it off with shorter ones, but it doesn't seem to work as well for me.

The other interesting thing about my interval work was that I did them all from a complete stop (one foot on the ground). I wanted to do this because I've had some pretty miserable race starts lately (especially in 'cross last year). I need to work on getting that second foot clipped in... I think even if I have to look down for a while.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Room for Improvement

After we got back from camping last week, I put in a few easy rides over the weekend. Friday I went over to Lakeshore Park to ride. I haven't ridden there in a few years. It's a nice trail, but very different than what I'm used to. It's more-or-less flat, but very tight and twisty. They've also built up a number of technical features (big rock gardens, log rides, etc) that you can ride if you choose. I mostly stuck with whatever seemed to flow best... sometimes it was over the technical feature, sometimes not. The ride went fine, but I could tell I hadn't been on a bike in nearly a week. I felt a little rusty at the start, but I rode better as the ride went on.

The main reason I went was to check out the pump track that they built. It was quite a bit different than the one at Stony, so it was interesting to ride. The soil type was about the same, kind of gravel over hardpack... I was really hoping for no gravel. Some features were nicer than Stony, others weren't. In general, I thought the berms were better (they were built higher and steeper), but one of the bermed corners wasn't a berm at all, it was more of a flat bank. Some of the bumps were also too tall for good pumping, it looked like they were built for jumping (which is OK I guess, but it wasn't what I was looking for).

Saturday, I just got in a very short skill-focused ride. I worked on my drop technique and also front/rear wheel lifts.

I went to a last-minute club ride at Pontiac Lake on Sunday. This was a beginner-focused, no drop ride. There was a pretty big turnout, maybe 10 people or so. The reason I've been doing these rides is to focus on descending and cornering. Typically, people will ride fast down the hills and then go slowly (sometimes very slowly) up the climbs and on the flats. I mostly followed a guy that was new to the club (and to the area), but he seemed to be a good rider. I was more tentative than I would have liked, and more tentative than I have been at other times this year... still lots of random braking. Anyway, following him around showed me (as if I needed reminding) that I still have lots of room to improve. (My drops were all very nice though, I could tell that I'd practiced.)

Some more pictures from the Stony Marathon race...

From Ten Mile Media (great pictures, thanks!):

From Jeff Borisen:
Photo 1 (not sure where this is and why I have my inside pedal down while turning, but I noticed that other people did too... must not have been a very sharp corner...)

Photo 3 (finish line... whew!)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Stony Marathon XC - 2009

It's always hard to figure out what to write about this race... it's so long and so much stuff happens. So, here we go, the 2009 edition Stony Marathon XC race:

My plan was to get up around 6am on Saturday to eat, finish packing, etc. My daughter decided that she had a better idea... how about wake Dad up at 4:15am, try to sleep in a chair for a while, and then finally give up and stay up around 5:45am? I ended up getting about 6.5 hours of sleep the night before the race... sweet.

I enlisted my dad to help me at the race, handing up water bottles every lap. This was the first time I'd done it (nothing like trying a new hydration strategy at a 40+ mile race), and it actually worked really well. I probably drank more water than I would have with the Camelbak. I'm not sure that I'm ready to switch to bottles for all races, but there are lots of open sections at Stony that make it easy to drink from a bottle.

My strategy for the race was to go out reasonably hard and try to build up a gap (and clear traffic) until we hit The Pines; then, just a steady pace after that. I also wanted to get myself a little more fired up before the race.

It worked pretty well, I think. At least, by the time I hit the long stretches of singletrack, there was plenty of space for me to pass and others to pass me. I ended up having a little crash right at the end of the Pines. It was a weird crash; I'd gotten through all of the slick spots, and my front tire slid out over a very small root in a nearly straight section of trail. The rest of the lap went OK; my improvement in riding was pretty obvious in the Roller Coaster section of trail. I still wasn't great everywhere, but I could open up gaps on people just by really nailing the corners. That's definitely a first.

The second lap was also pretty decent. The only problem I ran into was another crash; this time in the Roller Coaster. I had a couple guys behind me and I was pushing a little harder than normal. I've actually crashed in this exact same spot in the exact same way before... so much for learning from my mistakes. It seemed like the second crash took a little of my aggressiveness away.

No crashes on the third lap, but I was starting to get tired. I was also mostly riding by myself on this lap. At the top of the climb to Mt. Sheldon, I stopped for a few seconds to help a woman find a shortcut back to the start/finish area. At first, I didn't give a very clear answer when she asked; then I took a closer look at her and saw that her face was half-covered in blood. Then I really stopped to make sure I gave decent directions and that she felt OK to make it back.

The other thing that happened on the third lap was that my legs started to cramp on the long climb near the end. It's the first time that's ever happened to me during a bike race. Not a good feeling! There are a whole lot of possibilities for the cause, so I'm not really sure why it happened.

I was by myself for most of the fourth lap also. The Elite riders started lapping me once I got to the Pines. This is actually one of the ways I've been judging my performance at this race. How soon do the Elites start lapping me? Every year, I've pushed it back farther and farther. I managed to ride most of the lap at a level that kept me from cramping, but it seemed like I was close to it on every climb. I had a crash on this lap too... my front tire slipped on the edge of a rut climbing up Mt. Sheldon. When I fell, my calf hit a log, which immediately caused it to cramp. Anyway, I finished out the lap and the race OK after that.

Once I finished, I felt like I'd done pretty well, but I wasn't sure how I placed. It's so hard to keep track of who's who when you're passing, being passed, etc and there are so many classes racing at once. I stood near the finish line for quite a while and didn't see anyone from my class come through (other people in my wave though). I started thinking maybe I hadn't done so well.
As it turned out, I did do OK. I finished 6th out of 14 in my class, and I was only 30 seconds or so out of 5th place. The gap behind me was huge though, about 13 minutes back to 7th place, which is why I wasn't seeing anyone come through.

Even looking back on it, I'm pretty happy with my race. I felt like I worked really hard and executed the strategy that I planned. It was a hot day, and a long, hard race. About half the guys in my club DNF'd.

My only disappointment is that my lap times, in particular the first lap, weren't a little faster. I'd need to pick up another 2 minutes per lap (~4%) to be competitive with the top Sport guys in my age group, and another couple minutes to match my friends in the Expert class. The thing I did notice is that I generally slowed down less per lap than most of the other guys in my class. I'm not completely sure, but I'm going to put most of this down to fitness, although I know I could still go faster in parts the singletrack. Most of these guys have been training since late Winter / early Spring. With my knee injury this year, I've really only been at it since May, and I've hardly done any high-intensity work.

Last thing; here's a picture that Andrea took. Not the best picture of me (and you can see I have too much tension in my shoulders), but I like the look on my face. Compare that to some of the Ruby pictures, and it's obvious that I was pushing myself harder here.