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!)


Wednesday, September 23, 2009


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.