Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Field Test

I seemed to be mostly recovered from my "training camp" by Sunday. The Stony Creek XC race was also Sunday, but I decided that racing for 2+ hours probably wasn't the best idea; for whatever reason, I also just had no desire to race... maybe I've raced there too much over the past few years. I don't know.

Anyway, I decided to do a LT field test instead; still a hard effort, but much shorter. Even though the basement was a little hot, I still made a pretty good effort. I ended up producing my second best ever power number (my best ever at this point in a season), so I was very happy with that.

My heart rate was on the low side again though, and I'm really not sure what to make of it. Prior to this year, my average heart rate was consistently around 186bpm for these tests. This year, it's been noticeably lower, yesterday was 179bpm. I definitely pushed to my limit, so that wasn't the issue. I suppose I could put it down to the general variability of heart rate, fatigue from my riding earlier in the week, etc, but it seems like my previous tests were so consistent... I don't know. I'm not going to lose sleep over it, but I would like to find an explanation.

The other thing that cropped up again (which may be related to HR) was that I had trouble finding a good gear to ride in. The same thing happened last Fall. Seemed like I had to spin the gear that I used for most of the test a little too fast, but the next gear was a little too hard on my legs. I see now that there is a 2-tooth step between the gears I was using, so that partially explains it.

It seems to me like, if you're not in an optimal gear, you may not be able to hit your "correct" threshold heart rate because you're not really hitting your threshold power.

It's funny that I get all hung up on these numbers when I do the tests. Most of the time, my only "training tool" is a stopwatch (and a GPS if I'm on unfamiliar roads). As it is, my HRM is pretty low-end, and my "power meter" is a calibrated trainer... so, it's probably best not to get too carried away with this stuff...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Change Those Cables!

As a matter of course, I usually change the cables and housings on all of my bikes in the Spring. I did it on my mountain bike this year, but not my cross bike, since I was thinking about getting a new one.

So, everything was fine until a month or so ago, when I could no longer shift into the big ring. "No problem" I thought, probably just cable stretch or something a little out of adjustment. Once I got home I took a harder look. Hmm... seemed like the shifter wasn't pulling any cable... not good.

I didn't do anything with it for a couple weeks, hoping that I didn't need to replace the shifter itself ($$$). Finally, I got a chance to work on it again yesterday. Turns out that wires from the cable housing were getting sucked into the shifter (how that even happens, I have no idea), but once the wires got in there far enough, they jammed things up pretty good.

So, after a quick trip to the bike shop for new cables and housings, the bike is back to working normally. So, change those cables!

Summer Training Camp

I did a little "Summer training camp" last week. My family rented a cottage in Pentwater last week, and I took my bike and rode in the mornings.

Day 1 - A little over 3 hours in the saddle. I did some "cruise intervals" during the second hour of the ride. I ended up on some good roads that had lots of nice rolling hills. One thing that the map doesn't show is all of the wind! Inland, there was a pretty strong wind from the North, and then, as I got closer to the lake, the wind seemed like it was more from the West. Definitely some tough going in spots where I was out in farmland and had no protection. This ended up being my toughest ride.

Day 2 - Almost 4 hours in the saddle, although not by design. Much less windy than the day before and I took it a bit easier. The directions I was following, from MapMyRide, had some errors. They showed me going over some dirt roads and some places where there were no roads! I muddled my way through, but I did end up on some very sandy dirt roads. The sand was deep enough in places that I had to get off and walk. A narrow road tire at 80psi just sinks too deep in the sand to ride it! I saw lots of pumpkin fields while I was out there, which was kind of interesting. It was mostly a good ride, but I didn't particularly enjoy riding back down to Pentwater along the lake. The road was just too narrow and rough and there was a little too much traffic.

Day 3 - About 2.5 hours in the saddle, and Dad rode with me. This ended up being the hilliest ride I did; we also put in a 50 minute "tempo" effort in the middle. There was a tour in the area the weekend before, and there were a couple signs painted on the road. My favorite was "Climb Time" just before a tough little climbing section... hey, when you're tired, the little things are funny. The tempo effort was pretty good for me; I probably need to do that type of training on the road more. Dad did a good job hanging with me too!

In general, it was a good week of riding. The roads were good (and hilly), and most people around there seem to be used to people on bikes. I only had one incident where someone passed me too close, and then Dad and I had another when someone (who presumably misjudged our speed) pulled out in front of us and we had to brake hard. I was pretty tired by the end of the trip though. We also went to bed late most nights and the kids were up early, so that was kind of a tough combination. Still, I think I will appreciate that little training block when cyclocross season heats up.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I've been working a bit on my standing pedaling lately. It's kind of a long story, but I want to try standing more over short climbs and see if it doesn't help my overall speed.

Interestingly, almost as soon as I started working on this again, my left knee started feeling just a little off and my IT band has been tighter again. This is the same knee I injured this Spring. I had also been working on standing pedaling at that time. (On the other hand, I've also ridden 9.5 hours over the past 5 days, so that may have something to do with it.)

From a number of different articles and talking to different people, I understand that proper standing technique is to keep the back straight/arched (not rounded) and hips over the pedals. I doubt that I consistently do this, at least not the back straight part. The articles suggest that, if your back is rounded, you don't effectively use the muscles in the hips and glutes, and you end up recruiting other muscles, like the IT band. Which, in my case, I know can lead to the knee issue.

Monday, August 09, 2010

PLRA XC: Crashfest 2010

OK, so maybe "crashfest" is an overstatement, but I did have some of the biggest crashes I've had this year. I'm definitely feeling the effects today...

I didn't really have any expectations for the race. I was hoping my legs would feel halfway decent, and I was hoping I didn't have to go into "survival mode" too early. I also didn't want to finish last.

The pace was pretty high off the start, but not unmanageable. I was doing fine sticking with the back part of the field. I could immediately see how the Expert racers were different. Everyone basically rides well, and everyone knows how to pass and be passed. It's nice.

In the first part of the race, I was riding around a group of four. It looked like I was stronger on the climbs and flats, and they were stronger technical riders. On the first lap, I'd made a gap to some of them before the second half of the trail. Then, my first crash: a pretty easy sweeping left-hander and my bike just washed out. I'm pretty sure it was a case of leaning my body too much relative to my bike. I fell pretty hard on my left hip, but it didn't bother me right away. By the end of the first lap, our little group was back together. (Now that I look at the results, these guys must not have all been in my class.)

We eventually all split up again on the second lap. A couple guys went ahead, but I knew I still had one guy well behind me. I was still feeling more-or-less OK for most of the second lap, but I could feel my hip starting to get sore.

I was getting pretty tired early on the third lap and I was basically riding alone. The last time up "2-mile hill" put the hurt on me and I wasn't thinking very clearly coming down the descent. I got target fixation on a decent-sized rock on the trail (my brain was just going "rock, rock, rock")... with predictable results. I bashed into the rock; I must have also been on the brakes, because I went over the bars and off the trail. I sat there for a couple seconds trying to figure out if I was hurt. Eventually I realized that I wasn't, so I took off again.

The last crash took a lot of the fight out of me, and I was basically in survival mode for the rest of the lap. With about 3 miles to go, the guy who'd been behind me for so long finally caught and passed me. Pretty much nothing I could do about it at that point. So I ended up being the last finisher in our class.

Even with the crashes and bad result, I still felt pretty good about the race. I rode OK and my legs felt the best that they have in weeks. I think, as my fitness progresses, that I should be able move up a bit in the field. The main thing that I noticed was that, even though I'm riding better, there are still sections of the trail where I'm not as confident and slow down. It was clear to me that this is where huge gaps were opening up. I'm not fit enough right now to close those gaps down, at least not so many times per lap for three laps.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Mixed Progress

A lot of mountain bikers from the club met at Pontiac Lake to ride last night. My plan was to get there early and ride one lap alone, and then ride two with the group. As I mentioned in my last post, I also wanted to (gently) push against my boundaries a little.

I felt like I ended up doing a pretty decent job of staying relaxed and letting the bike roll through some of the faster parts. There are still a few sections / corners where I have mental hang-ups, but, in general, I rode better and still felt in control. I need to keep practicing my Gene drills though; the corners go so much better when you use the correct technique!

We split the group in two and I rode with the faster group. The pace was a little faster than I expected, but I was doing OK. It was interesting to follow. It seemed like any trouble I had keeping up was due to fitness. No offense to these guys, but they are not necessarily super-strong riders (of course, I'm not either), so I was a little surprised that they were pulling away on the flats. Of course, with my knee injury this Spring, my fitness is nowhere near where it should be. Last year, which also wasn't a particularly good year, I'd been riding for 17 weeks before the PLRA XC race; this year, it will only be 9 weeks!

One of the downsides to riding the technical parts faster is that you have to be a little bit more careful about what you ride over (or how you do it), since you tend to hit things harder. I was riding through a big dip when I felt (and heard) my rear wheel bottom out hard on a sharp rock on the way back up. Not good. A minute or so later, I could feel that the tire had gone soft. My first flat in 2.5 years with my Stan's setup. I put my spare tube in and tried to pump that up... but the tube was bad too. By this time, the "slow" group had caught me, and John let me borrow his tube. That one worked, but it ended up being a super slow tire change.

Everyone else was only riding one lap, and without an extra tube, I decided it probably wasn't the best idea to go out for a third lap. So, I'll have to re-seal my tire before the race on Sunday. I may decide to run with a little extra pressure; I was only at 28 psi or so. I'm sure I could bump it up a little without changing the handling too much.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Confidence Gap

"You may think you believe what you know, but you really only believe what you feel."
- Malcolm Gladwell

For whatever reason, I had the realization the other day that I'm probably riding noticeably below my skill level. I've worked on my riding skills a lot over the last year and a half, but my actual riding hasn't necessarily kept up. I'm not sure if it's due to riding alone, habit, not racing or what, but I've gotten to the point where I'm rarely stressed by the trails I ride. I know for sure that I often hit the brakes when I don't need to (I get through the corner and think "gee, I didn't need to slow down that much"). I'm much more comfortable on descents than I used to be. I can pretty comfortably ride over the trail obstacles around here.

Although I still have plenty of room for improvement skill-wise, I also believe, in my gut, that I'm much better than I'm showing.

So, for now, it seems like I'm bumping up against a confidence ceiling rather than a skill ceiling. I'm planning to get in several mountain bike rides this week (including my first Expert race at Pontiac Lake). I think the plan will be to try to relax, have a fun attitude, and let it rip.

I've been thinking back to my car racing / karting days recently. My mantra for squeezing out more speed was: "Relax, look ahead, be smooth."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Trip and Tubulars

The trip to Boston went much better than I expected. The kids did well as could be expected in the car and at night, so it was about as relaxing as it was going to get.

When I got back, I was suprised to see an email that we were starting cyclocross practice at the track this week! Cyclocross already? Really?

So, I packed up the new bike and took it to the track last night. I brought my tubular tires and wheels to try out with the new bike. I had a fleeting thought that I should really check the glue, but I'd already aired up the tires so I didn't.

Things went OK at the track. Between the heat and not having ridden in a week, I didn't feel so great, but I managed. The SRAM drivetrain worked OK with the Shimano cassette, maybe just a little noisier when shifting to the bigger cogs. I still need to get used to the shifting though. I found myself not shifting when I should have just because I wasn't confident with it. A few times I tried to shift to an easier gear when I was already in the biggest cog, which resulted in going to a harder one... not nice!

Otherwise, I really liked the bike. The handling seemed quicker than my old bike; this was one of the main reasons I chose the Salsa over the Bianchi that I tried. The carbon fork also seemed to help damp out some of the vibration from the always-bumpy surface at Waterford.

Right near the end of the night, I was trying to make a fast tight corner around a tree when my front wheel slid out. It was a small crash, so I hopped right back on the bike and got going again. Then I could hear something thumping on my bike. I got back off and spun the front wheel, it went halfway around and stopped. The tire had partially rolled off the rim and was hitting the brakes. I popped it back on and kept going. Knowing that the glue was suspect, I didn't push hard for the rest of the night. So, now I've rolled my first tubular. It really wasn't too big of a deal, but I'll get them re-glued before I use them again.