Saturday, November 19, 2011


For most of the summer I'd been thinking about a new mountain bike. After the Big-M race, I decided that I probably would have been faster on a 29er. Somewhere else, I read the comment that if you're still riding a 26" hardtail, you're probably at a disadvantage compared to a 29er or 26" full-suspension bike.

So, this Fall, I started shopping around, and I eventually decided to get a Specialized Epic 29er. I had Kinetic Systems build it from the frame up, so I could get what I wanted. I didn't really like the standard Specialized 29er builds. It took a little while, but I finally picked it up last Friday.

I've only ridden it once so far, but it's a really nice bike. I think I'm going to like it, and that it will eventually help go a little faster.

A few of impressions:
- I don't seem to have the suspension set up quite right. It seemed like the fork was diving too much. Maybe the fork is too soft, or maybe the rear is rebounding too fast? I think it will take some experimentation.

- The Brain seems to do what it's supposed to. When I was sitting and pedaling, I couldn't feel anything moving. But going downhills, off drops, etc, I could feel the suspension working.

- The rear suspension wasn't quite what I expected; granted, it may not be set up correctly yet. At times, it seemed more harsh than I expected. On the other hand, landing from drops was super soft, so that was cool. I also must have bottomed it out at least once, but I didn't feel it.

- This bike has XT hydraulic brakes (with heat sinks on the pads, hah!). They're really nice. Good power and good modulation.

- As for the 29er hype, I did feel like the bike kept its momentum over rough terrain faster. There's a little rock garden at Pontiac Lake, and this bike definitely rolled through it faster than my old one. For some reason, technical climbing also seemed better.

- More 29er stuff: the bike definitely handles differently than my 26" wheel bike. I'm going to have to relearn what steering / leaning inputs I need to make to get the bike to turn the way I want. I didn't feel confident turning at higher speeds. I think that's just going to be a matter of getting ride time on it though.

It will be fun to dial the bike in and get more confident on it!


Better late than never...

Pretty much ever since I started riding and racing mountain bikes, I've heard about Iceman. Over the years, people kept asking if I'd done it, and then were surprised that I hadn't. So, this year, I decided that I would give it a shot, if, for no other reason, than to say that I'd done it.
First challenge, get in to the race. So, back in March, I dutifully noted the registration opening time, refreshed my browser like crazy, dealt with the inevitable server crash, and eventually got in. Then, wait until November...

Sarah and I left for Traverse City on Friday, leaving the kids with Grandma. I did a little "opener" workout on the trainer Friday morning. It was kind of an experiment, after I noted how much better I raced Sunday than Saturday at Vet's Park.

I knew that the race was big, and that there would be a lot of racers, but it wasn't until we went to pick up the race packet that it really sunk in. We got to the hotel around 3pm (packet pickup was open from noon until 9pm), and I didn't expect that there would be too many people there. Wrong! The parking lot was packed; almost all the cars had bikes hanging off of them. We were lucky to get a spot.

At dinner that night, the restaurant was busy, full of bike-racer-looking types. Same story at breakfast the next morning. Cars driving around Traverse City had bikes, most with number plates for the race. Like some kind of parallel universe where everyone is a bike racer. Crazy...

Since I hadn't done the race before, I was seeded in Wave 21, starting almost an hour or so after many of my peers. I really had no expectations for the race; just try to have a good ride and pass as many people as I could. I decided that I should get a head start by lining up at the front of my wave. The guys at the line next to me were pretty nice. One told me not to get too carried away near the finish, when it seems like you're close but you still have another mile or two to go. The other guy next to me was from Tennessee; he was disappointed that it was colder and snowing. I told him that racing in the cold and snow wasn't as much fun as it sounded.

At the gun, a group of 5-10 of us went off the front. I tucked into the draft for a little while, but eventually the guy in front (one of the few I saw on a 'cross bike) didn't want to pull any more and started slowing down, so I led our wave onto the dirt. Having never raced or ridden the course, I was a little nervous about being first, but the course was well-marked. After a couple minutes of me on the front, a few other guys came around and took the lead. After a couple miles, we started running into the slower people from the wave in front of us, and then I sort of lost track of who started with me.

The first part of the race was pretty flat and fast. I was able to pass a lot of people on the two-track, and even some on the wider singletrack. I did get stuck behind people on most of the narrow singletrack, but I just viewed those as rest breaks. I was a little surprised at how relaxed everyone was about the whole passing thing. I don't usually find people to be rude in normal XC races, but there is definitely a little more tension / intensity that just wasn't there in this race. Maybe it had to do with starting so far back.

Anyway, I felt like I was flying through the first half to 2/3rds of the race. I thought I stood a good chance of breaking two hours (I had thought I might finish around 2:15). Then we started hitting the hills. The last bit of the race was quite hilly, and they eventually knocked some of the snap out of me. So, I lost some pace, and finished in 2:05. Still, quite a bit better than I thought I would do.

The finish line was pretty crazy. Again, I somehow underestimated the number of people that would be there. Sarah also underestimated how long it would take her to get there, so she missed my finish (of course, I also told her I'd be finishing about 10 minutes later than I did). It took us a while to find each other too.

Anyway, it turned out to be a pretty fun race and fun weekend, so I think I'll probably be back next year. It was also most likely my last race on my Yeti... more on that later...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fighting Off a Bug

I've been fighting off a bug since I've gotten back from Iceman. Sarah and the kids seem a little sick too. Hopefully I'll be feeling good enough to race this weekend, although I doubt I'll go well now.

I also had to "hide" our leftover Halloween candy in the freezer in the garage this week. That should keep me out of it until the season is over...

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Vet's Park 2011

So, Veteran's Park, 2011... I wasn't really sure what to expect for this race. In past years, I've liked the courses there and have done reasonably well. This year, I've gotten it in my head that I'm a bit better on courses where I can settle into a steady rhythm, but I know Vet's Park is usually not like that. I'm really trying to fight that type of thinking though, it can be self-defeating when you have to race at a course that you've decided doesn't suit you.

Anyway, so the course on Saturday was pretty tough. There was a lot of climbing and not too many places to get into a good rhythm or get a little rest. My legs never felt particularly good, but they didn't feel bad either.

I got to the line a little later than I would have liked and ended up starting in the 4th row. I didn't have a good start anyway; it just seemed like I couldn't get going relative to everyone else. I then compounded my bad start at the steep switchback climb. I knew I could climb it, but a lot of people were running it, and those that were riding were weaving everywhere. I got chopped and had to get off and run... more lost time. It seemed like I was also a little impatient, I kept getting too close to the guys in front of me and rubbing wheels. Usually, it wasn't a problem, but at least once, my wheel got turned when I did that and it cost me some time.

All in all on Saturday, it just seemed like I didn't have the legs and I made lots of little mistakes that cost me time. I wasn't too happy with my 13th place (out of about 40).

Sunday was a different story though. I don't know if it was because my family came to the race, or that I'd opened up my legs by riding on Saturday or what, but I knew I was going to ride well as soon as I started warming up. The course was a little faster, less climbing anyway, but most of the climbs and corners were muddy. I ended up switching from my Grifos to my Fangos during my warmup, thinking that the Fangos would give me better grip on some of the off-camber sections.

I lined up in the third row, but this time, I had a great start. The field sort of folded into the center of the course at the start, so I had a clear lane to go to the front. I was in the top 5-10 by the first corner and started working my up. I was aware that I was probably going too hard, but I felt so good that I thought I shouldn't slow down. When we hit the first long climb, some of the other guys bobbled in the mud; I didn't and I found myself in 2nd place. I knew the 1st place guy was probably going much too fast for me, so I didn't attempt to catch him.

I knew at least a few guys would be coming back around me, and they gradually did. Still, I rode a good chunk of the race in about 5th place. For the most part, I didn't have too much trouble with the mud, and I thought it made the course pretty fun to ride. I did make one consistent mistake though, I took much too long getting going again after the runup. It was mostly a technique problem where I wasn't getting on my bike high enough on the course; it cost me some time on every lap.

In the later laps, I started to fade a little, but so did some of the other guys. I'd just worked my way back up to the 8th place guy with two laps to go when I slid out on an off-camber corner and crashed. It really surprised me, since I hadn't had any indication of trouble on the corner the whole race. Anyway, it took me a while to get back on my pace after that and another rider went around me.

So, I ended up finishing 10th out of 45, but I was really happy with how I rode. My legs felt good and I made fewer mistakes. I feel like I can probably still sneak onto the podium (top 5) this year. To do it though, I will need to ride pretty flawlessly from a technical standpoint. I don't think I'm fit enough compared to the top guys to make up for very many mistakes. We'll see...

Monday, November 07, 2011

Falling Off Again?

I'm way behind on my blogging... I started this post a couple weeks ago. Then I'll write about Vet's Park, then Iceman...

I'm a little worried that I'm falling off again, like I did in 2009. Once again, my first couple 'cross races went well, but the last one didn't, and I really haven't felt good riding lately. I think maybe I've got it figured out this time...

First, I've definitely been under too much stress, both at work and home. I think I'm doing a good job trying to manage it, but it does have a big impact on training and recovery.

Second, I think I've kind of reached a point of "staleness" from too much anaerobic training. I've been reading some stuff about Arthur Lydiard lately. Really, his coaching philosophies aren't so different than others I've read, but he makes a point that you reach your max anaerobic potential after about 4 weeks of hard anaerobic training. If you continue to perform a high volume of anaerobic training beyond that time, you actually start to get worse (instead you should move into a lower-volume sharpening / peaking phase of training). He also comments that most athletes know when they've had enough heavy anaerobic training.

So, I think that's where I am. I probably should have backed off from the higher volume anaerobic stuff a couple weeks ago, particularly in light of my off-bike stress. I eventually recognized the need to rest in 2009 also, but it was way too late. I think I was also doing the wrong kind of workouts when I was riding in 2009. So, I'll try to rest a bit more and keep the workouts hard but brief, and see if I can regain some form for the end of the season.