Thursday, October 29, 2009


One of the problems with being sick for awhile is that I tend to lose some of my motivation. One of my overall goals for the year was to get consistent top-10 finishes in the B-races, which I've mostly done so far. So, that goal wasn't really doing much to motivate me anymore either.

So, I spent a little time this week setting a different goal and figuring out how to achieve it. The winner of the B race (whoever it is) typically rides about 4% faster than me (about 17s per lap on a 7 min lap). With the limited time left in the season, it seems pretty unlikely that I could close that gap, but I think that I should be able to get partway there.

My new goal is for a 2% improvement by my last race at Springfield Oaks; 2% would be about 8s per lap. 8s per lap is still a lot, but, frankly, I could probably make up that whole difference just in cornering and barriers. That's probably not how it will happen, but it illustrates the possibility.

So far, having a new goal has helped. This weekend will be a little rough, since I'm pretty sure my fitness won't be there, but there's not much I can do about that right now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Maybury CX... Not!

... the race that wasn't...

So, I felt pretty decent on Friday and decided to do a moderately hard ride on the trainer. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake. On Saturday, I felt so-so and rode over to Waterford Oaks to practice some 'cross skills. It was cool and rainy on Saturday morning... probably also not ideal.

We had a big Halloween party at our house on Saturday afternoon / evening. Something like 10 kids and 10 adults at our house. It was fun, but not so relaxing.

On Sunday, I didn't feel great in the morning, but I decided to head over to Maybury for the race anyway. I rode a couple laps of the course (I hadn't registered yet), and, on the second lap, I decided that I should probably not race. My nose was kind of runny and I started coughing a little. I really didn't want to get sick again this week. So, I packed up my stuff and went home.

It's too bad, because the course was pretty different from what we usually race on. More "jungle-cross" than grass-crit. The course was generally muddy and slippery from the rain we'd gotten, and there was a long section of singletrack. It would have been fun to race on I think. You can get some sense of the course from Andrea's pictures.

So, I'm just really being careful about resuming training. I'm hoping I can get back at it tomorrow, but we'll see. Probably doesn't bode well for my chances at Vet's Park this weekend, but there are still a few more races before the season's over.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not According to Plan

Well, things haven't exactly gone according to plan this week. It turned out that racing last weekend may not have been my best move in terms of getting over my cold. I felt a little sick on Monday, and then really sick on Tuesday. I felt reasonably good yesterday, so I spent a some time working on some bike handling skills and doing some easy spinning on the trainer. I feel almost back to normal today, so I'm going to try to do a little intensity tonight and see how it goes.

There is another low-key race this weekend at Maybury State Park. I doubt that I'll feel very good for it, so my plan is not to worry too much about it and just treat it as an opportunity to get in some hard riding.

I'm hoping I can get feeling decent (in terms of riding) for the back-to-back races next weekend at Veteran's Park in A^2.

As a follow up to my post about the Betterride camp... because I've been sick, I haven't spent as much time practicing the skills I learned as I would like. I did work on some of the drills in my practice time last night. The thing that was obvious last night was how important proper vision was. If I was looking at the right place, all of the drills I did worked better (my bike turned better, I could clear my 4x4 post perfectly, etc). When things weren't working as well, I noticed it was usually because I wasn't looking far enough ahead, or was looking down at the last second.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cyclocross Race Weekend

I had a fun weekend of cyclocross racing, but it's too bad I didn't feel a little better for it. I'd been feeling a little sick since I got back from Richmond last week. I rode on Tuesday night, but then I decided not to ride at all after that until I got feeling better. I felt more-or-less decent on Friday, so I decided to go ahead and race on Saturday.

Saturday was the first ever Mad Anthony CX race. It was held at Fort Wayne in Detroit. Fort Wayne was a Civil War era fort that is now owned by the city of Detroit. Much of it seems to be in a pretty bad state of ruin, but the parts that have been restored look nice.

Anyway, I expected the course to be totally flat (I visited Fort Smith in Arkansas once, and I remember it being pretty flat, so I guess that was the basis for my assumption.), but it definitely wasn't. We had to climb and run a couple of steep hills, and there was one longer sidehill stretch. It turned out to be a pretty cool course. Some of the grass to pavement transitions were a little harsh, but if you unweighted or hopped them, it wasn't too bad.

The "B" field was decent. A lot of the usual B racers weren't there (saving it for Sunday I guess), but since there was no Masters 35+ race, a lot of those guys raced in the B's. Anyway, I got off to a decent start but the front group dropped me pretty quickly. I had a good early battle with Brad from TSB. Once I realized he was on a singlespeed, I picked a slow corner to try to gap him, and it seemed to work well. Still, I was impressed at how quick he was on that singlespeed!

In the middle laps, I'd put in a small gap over fellow Rhino Gary Olsen and a guy riding a mountain bike, but I couldn't extend it. They were right on me to start the last lap. I figured that if I could stay in front until the cobblestone climb near the end, I'd be OK. They must have had a similar thought, because they both came around me just before the tunnel (which was just before the cobblestone climb). I managed to get back around Gary on the runup, but I had no chance to get around the MTB guy. I put in a decent sprint at the end, but the MTB guy was too far ahead. I ended up 6th out 25. On that last lap, I just tried to go hard the whole time (I think our laps were around 5 minutes); in hindsight, I wonder if I should have tried one or two big attacks instead?

I took some pictures during the Elite race and tried to capture what the area and course looked like. Definitely a unique venue!

On Sunday, I raced at Lower Huron Metropark; it's always one of my favorite places to race (maybe because I usually do well there). The course was a little different this year; it seemed shorter and more open.

I got a great start and rode with the front group for the first lap and a bit into the second. Then, as Phil Ligget would say, the elastic snapped. For the next two laps I suffered pretty badly and hoped something would break on my bike so I could stop. (When I start thinking like that, I just remind myself that it means I'm doing it right. The pace should be so hard that you want to quit.) I lost quite a few spots in those laps. By the fourth lap though, I had recovered a bit and I started picking riders off.

Got the old "game squint" on... (Photo by Hans Nyberg)

The last rider I caught and passed was Tom Payn (who I also battled with at Munson), but Tom hung with me until the end. On the last lap, I attacked hard out of the barriers by the pavilion and briefly had a gap, but Tom had closed it up by the time we crested the paved hill. At that point, it was clear it was going to come down to a sprint. Usually, I feel pretty good about my chances in a sprint, but I didn't on Sunday... the attack out of the barriers had taken too much out of me. The sprint still ended up being pretty close, but Tom came around and beat me by a bike length or so.

(Photo by Hans Nyberg)

So, I ended up in 11th (out of 33). This was actually the first time I've finished out of the top 10 in a CX race this year.

Even though I'm a little bummed that I got nipped right at the end on both days, I felt like I had pretty decent races. In fact, I'm surprised that I rode as well as I did, considering that I'd been feeling sick and hardly rode last week (I guess I was well-rested).

My mental focus was pretty decent in both races... no flaking out at all. In particular, on Saturday, there were a few times when I noticed that my mind was starting to wander, and I brought it right back. OK, so maybe on Sunday trying to figure out the best way to quit the race doesn't demonstrate the great focus, but I got through it and finished the race strong.

Even though it's probably not the best strategy for getting my best placement, I was also happy with how I rode the first lap with the front group on Sunday. I do think that this is the way to get faster. The first step to riding consistent fast laps is to ride one fast lap; once you can do that, it's just a matter of building fitness.

Friday, October 16, 2009

More Power Stuff

I wrote a while ago about how I was messing with some power meter concepts (with no power meter!). I've discovered that I didn't do the calculation quite right. I was doing a straight rolling average, but I should have been doing an exponentially weighted average. I found a pretty cool article that describes the background for this calculation.

It took a little more effort to implement this in a spreadsheet, but I did it. I made a plot that compares the two calculation methods. The trends are roughly the same, but the absolute values are noticeably different.

So far, I haven't found that either method has done a particularly good job of predicting when I'll feel good on the bike and when I won't. Maybe its because I'm estimating my training load instead of actually measuring it. Maybe I don't have enough "data" yet. It seems like other factors in my life (sleep, work stress, etc) have a bigger impact on my performance than fine-tuning training load and rest.

Speaking of, I've been feeling a little sick since I came home from camp. Reviewing my training log, I noticed that I've once again strung together too many days of not quite enough sleep. I've taken it pretty easy since Wednesday morning, and I don't seem to be getting worse. If I feel decent all day on Friday, I'll probably go ahead and race "Mad Anthony" on Saturday; otherwise, I think I'll hold off racing until Lower Huron on Sunday. One of the interesting things that you can see with my spreadsheet though is that missing a couple days has a relatively minor impact on the overall picture. Like I've written before, I think it's much better to be conservative and miss a couple days than try to push through and end up having to miss a week or more.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Betterride Camp

I made the looong drive down to Richmond, VA this past weekend to participate in a Betterride mountain bike skills camp. The drive down was pretty uneventful, except that I got stuck in traffic around Washington DC. I was nearly parked on the expressway for about 2 hours... not so fun.

The next morning, I got completely turned around (not lost... no, no, not lost) on my way to camp and what should have been a 20 minute drive took me about an hour. Fortunately, I had left super early, so I was only a few minutes late. Still, it wasn't exactly the way I wanted to get things started.

It seemed like we didn't do too much the first day of camp, but it was probably the most useful day. We spent most of the morning working on vision and body position on the bike. I had a couple of "ah-ha" moments, where I learned some detail that I wasn't doing quite right and found that it made a big difference. Later we worked on wheelies and bike setup. Gene said I got points for my short stem, but lost points for my narrow bars. We rode the trails at the park a little in the afternoon. I'd thought that the riding might be quite a bit different than I was used to, but it really wasn't. The trail at Forest Park reminded me of Bloomer back home. The weather was also awesome that first day; it was in the mid-80's and sunny, a nice change from Michigan.

We got a little lucky with weather the second day. It was supposed to rain almost all day, but we only got sprinkled on a little. Temperatures were much cooler though. Anyway, we spent most of the second day working on cornering. Gene didn't teach us anything revolutionary, but having someone explain and demonstrate things in person made a big difference. I did pretty well in the parking lot drills, but I noticed that I was reverting back to my old habits on the trail. The good thing was that I recognized what I was doing wrong and I know how to fix it.

After camp on the second day, I went for a ride by myself on the trails at Pocohontas State Park. I noticed that I was flowing pretty well during my ride, which is a little unusual for me on my first ride on a new trail. At first, I thought it was the trail itself (which was a nice flowy trail), then I realized that I was looking much farther ahead than I normally do. I think what was happening was that I was looking far enough ahead to consistently link up the corners, and the result was a much smoother ride. Pretty cool...

For day 3, we were back at Forest Park, and the weather was nice again. We worked on switchbacks and lifting the rear wheel over obstacles. I don't really ride a whole lot of "real" switchbacks, so it was good for me. Gene didn't teach us real bunnyhopping, but I talked about it with him a little bit, and I realized that I'd been going about it wrong. He showed us how the wheelie you do for a bunnyhop is different than a pedal or coaster wheelie.

Afterward, I drove up to Kevin's house in Baltimore, and then came home the next day. Even though Baltimore isn't a whole lot closer than Richmond, I was still grateful for a slightly shorter drive on Monday.

On the whole, doing the camp was definitely worthwhile. I think that having some defined techniques and practice drills will help me a lot. Gene is also a very positive guy, and I noticed that I had a much more positive attitude about my riding by the end of the weekend.

Obviously, I haven't had a lot (or any) time to practice since I've been home, but I already noticed a difference at 'cross practice last night. In the past, I'd been a little tentative in the faster corners on our course, but last night I was much more confident and noticeably faster through these corners.

Speaking of 'cross practice, Jeff noticed (and I noticed... once he said it) that I come into the barriers pretty fast, but leave really slow. I think it's a combination of things. One is that I don't really run hard between the barriers. Since I come in fast, I just sort of let my momentum bleed off as I go. Second is that I'm not comfortable getting on my bike at higher speeds. If I'm honest with myself, I'd say that even though I do practice barriers (actually, just one barrier) in the backyard, I don't practice them very well anymore. I probably need to build a second one, and then I need to work on not ending the drill (not slowing down) until I'm back on the bike and my feet are in the pedals. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I go over the barriers exactly like I practice...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Munson Photos

I didn't think that the Munson race would be great for pictures (since it would be dark!), but it turns out that some of the photographers got great pictures.

Hans Nyberg's...

Andrea got some great shots as well (as usual).

After it quit raining on Sunday, I got out on the mountain bike for a while. It was the first time I'd been on that bike in about 3 weeks, but it went surprisingly well. I didn't feel as sharp as I did at the end of my mountain bike season, but I still rode reasonably well.

One thing that I did notice was that my fitness is obviously better now than it was a few weeks ago. I was less fatigued on the bigger climbs and, when I did my intervals, I felt like having to coast through the more technical sections of the trail was making the interval too easy.

How to split trail time and road time is something I need to think about again for next year. This year, I felt like I really needed to spend time on the trail, and it helped my riding a lot, but it looks like it really wasn't ideal for fitness (which is no surprise). Hopefully next year I can achieve a little better balance between the two.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Munson CX - 2009

I just got back from the Munson CX race. This year it was held on a Saturday night. I think Munson is probably one of most people's least favorite venues, so I thought it was a good idea to try something a little different.

The weather was cool (cold? around 55F at the start) and rainy. It was light for most of my race. It only started getting hard to see on the last lap. It was completely dark though for the Masters and Elite races.

Anyway, to make sure that the course was more-or-less lit and safe, they made it a little shorter and a little less technical than normal. It meant that we only went up the big hill twice (once riding and once running), and the rest was completely flat. Not so good for me...

I arrived a little late to the starting line again and lined up in the third row. From the start, we went almost immediately up the hill and through a couple of tighter corners. I was able to move up pretty quickly into the chase group for the first lap, and I could see that the leaders weren't too far ahead.

On the second lap, I made a tactical mistake. Once my little chase group hit the flat section (after the opening climb and first barriers), they slowed down, maybe to recover a little. I decided to stay with the group and draft (which is why I thought they were sticking together). What ended up happening was that the front group completely dropped us and a bunch of guys caught on to our group from behind (in fact, caught us and blew by). In hindsight, I should have attacked my group as soon as it slowed down. I don't know if I would have been successful, but I felt good enough at the time that it would have probably been worthwhile.

My race was otherwise pretty uneventful. I spent most of the time trying to hold off Tom Payn (a good bike racer name if there ever was one!) and trying to catch fellow Rhino Mark Caffyn. I did hold off Tom, but I couldn't reel Mark in. One thing that seemed to help me in the long flat sections was to think about a nice smooth pedal stroke. If nothing else, it gave me something productive to think about.

That leads me to my last point. I finally didn't make any big mental errors today. In the other three races I've done this year, I've flaked out at some point and made a mistake. Today, I stayed pretty focused the whole race. My mind did start to wander a bit near the end, but I brought it back. I ended up doing a couple rides on the trainer this week, and I used the time to also work on staying mentally focused (either by concentrating on something specific, or trying to clear my mind). Maybe it helped. (My tactical mistake doesn't count as "flaking out"; it was really a problem of me not reading the situation correctly.)

So... on to the next thing. I don't remember if I've posted this before, but next weekend I'm going to "bike camp." I decided a while ago to go ahead and sign up for a mountain bike skills clinic put on by Gene Hamilton. I'm going to the closest one, in Richmond, VA. I'm really excited about it! The only bad part is that I haven't touched my mountain bike since the Addison Oaks race last month. If the weather holds, I'll ride it tomorrow and this week before I leave. Hopefully it will be enough to get rid of a little rustiness.

A Few Ithaca Pictures