Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The winning move from last week's race

Here's a photo of the winning move. I spent $60 on various sized print versions of this photo for scrap-booking purposes (my wife has a little scrapbook where she puts photos of my "athletic" successes and failures), so I feel justified in posting a digital picture here even though I don't own the copyright.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Out Like a Lion Cat5 35+ Race Report

Let me start by saying that this week was a really depressing training week so I had little hope of a good race today.

I did a time trial last weekend while suffering from a cold (I had committed to my neighbors that I would do the bike leg of a triathlon relay and really didn't want to let them down) and it sucked bigtime. By Tuesday my cold was gone but my sprint intervals hurt like getting stabbed; Wednesday my two measly FTP intervals were WAAYYY more miserable than they should have been; Thursday I was supposed to ride 2.5 hours easy but after only 1 hour I was wasted so I limped home feeling like total crap and very depressed about how bad I suck at high intensity stuff. To make matters worse, I got very little sleep and I had a boss in town to visit so I didn't get to do any sort of recovery (sleeping or riding easy) on Friday.

It should come as no surprise that my goal for the Saturday morning Cat5 35+ road race was simply to survive. I would sit in and do as little work as possible. If a break got away, someone else would have to pull me up to it or I would just let it go. When a group of guys at the front started a rotating paceline, I would hang back and refuse to take a turn. On rolling hills, rather than sprint to stay with the easily-agitated group I would try to steadily apply power even if it meant losing a few spots in line. I'm still learning how to figure out which way the wind is blowing, but where possible I would try to be smart about that as well. If I somehow ended up on the front I would softpedal and let someone come around.

With that strategy, the race itself was pretty boring. I just stayed near the front and sat in. The course was essentially rolling hills and turns so there were the inevitable anaerobic surges and since I'm still gun-shy after missing a corner in a crit last season and ending up in the hospital I tried to move up a few spots just before the corners to avoid trouble. With about 5 miles to go, the pace increased noticeably--especially on the hills--but the group stayed together.

With about a mile to go I found myself in about 15th place. I knew that the run-in to the finish was fairly technical for someone of my (lack of) skill, with a sharp left turn, up and and down a little rise, around a corner to the right and uphill to the line, so my feeling was that I would need to move up several spots before the left hand turn to be able to have any chance of finishing with the leaders. The last few miles had stretched things out single file along the left-hand side (i.e. the yellow line in the middle of the road), so I moved to the right shoulder and sped up.

My intention was to put in a quick burst or two and sneak into a spot where I could follow a wheel to the line but I instead found myself moving right up to the front much faster than I had expected. I hestitated for a split second and then decided that the best thing would be to try to get a gap on the field before the left hand turn and then hold it all the way to the line. Having the freedom to take the two last turns using my own line and without other cyclists was worth the risk of letting the train follow my wheel to the finishing straighaway.

I went with all I had, hit the left-hand turn as hard as I dared and glanced under my legs to see if anyone was behind me. Nope, I was on my own but the obvious question was wether or not I'd be able to hold the gap long enough to reach the finish. I went around the last turn thinking "just don't crash, just don't crash" and then tried to convince my legs to keep powering to the line. I glanced under once more and could tell I was going to make it across for the win. My breakaway effort lasted only two minutes at 460 watts but with a little luck and a conducive finishing run-in it was enough for the win.

After examining the ride file, I can see why there was an opportunity to get away. My normalized power over the last 15 minutes was about 325 watts even sitting in so the guys up front may have been somewhat gassed by the end. Or maybe I went early enough that nobody wanted to be the one to do the work of bringing be back in for fear of being too tired out of the sprint.

Or maybe it was simply that almost nobody saw me get away. After the results were posted I overheard a couple of guys arguing with the judges saying something like "but I thought I came in 4th?" and "yeah, I came in 5th, why do you have me listed as 6th!?" And the judges said "no, there was a Spin Cycle guy who got away from the field and was about 50 yards ahead of the pack at the finish line" and they said "no there wasn't, it was a field sprint" or something like that. I just hope the guy who came in 2nd didn't raise both arms at the line. That would have been so very Boonen of him.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sportsplex Supersprint Triathlon Relay

A few months ago I agreed to do the bike leg of a relay team for a local sprint triathlon (250-meter swim, 12-mile bike, 2-mile run). It sounded like fun and it seemed like a good chance to take my new time trial bike (the one I bought for Christmas) on its maiden race voyage. I have been spending about one day a week on the TT bike trying to get dialed into the much more aggressive aero position, but I'm still not entirely comfortable. Still, I had high hopes for the triathlon and set a goal to have the fastest bike time of anyone in the field.

I feel the need to qualify that last statement in two ways. First, other than the handful of other relay teams (there were 14 in this race), everyone else has to run and swim as well as bike so I have an unfair advantage right from the start. It's easy to be a one-trick pony; being good at all three disciplines is much harder. Second, of the 300 participants in this particular triathlon I would only consider about 15% of them to be "serious" triathletes. The essentially arbitrary and totally unfair litmus test I'm using to determine what constitutes a "serious" triathlete is the ability to complete the two mile run in under 14 minutes. Like I said, it's an unfair and and arbitrary categorization, but I make the distinction simply to make the point that when I say that my goal was to have the fastest bike time of anyone in the field I'm only talking about beating about 45 people, not 300 professional cyclists.

I had the chance to recon the course last Friday on my road bike and was able to finish the ride in about 34 minutes at a fairly easy tempo. It's a rolling course with lots of short ups and downs, about 15 turns, and very little flat terrain. Last year's best time was just over 31 minutes so I was pretty confident I would be able to beat that time and perhaps even go below 30 minutes. Unfortunately, as the week progressed I finally caught the cold that had kept my son out of school for three days and the day before the triathlon I could tell I would not be at my best. Still, my "day-before-the-race" ride went well and I was hopeful that I would be OK.

The morning of the race was cold and windy. By that I mean 35 degrees and 15 mile-per-hour winds, so nothing extreme but certainly worse-than-average for an early spring day in North Carolina. I warmed up on my road bike, struggled a bit to figure out how many layers to wear, and then headed down to the transition area in time to meet our swimmer. Our spot in the transition area was as far from the bike start as possible so I had to run quite a way in my cycling shoes and then fumbled around for what seemed like forever trying to clip into my pedals. As the seconds ticked away, I got more and more anxious and it got harder and harder to clip in. It was downright embarrassing.

Then I was off--out of the saddle, up the steep starting hill, and finally into the aero position. And then it hit me: I feel like crap. Seriously, I could not seem to catch my breath and my legs were worthless. My power dropped to a crawl so I got up out of the saddle again to try to kick start my effort but it seemed like I was dancing in jello and getting nowhere. Three minutes into the ride and I was already feeling tired. Fortunately the next five minutes were mostly downhill so I tucked in and tried to just keep the pedals turning even though I wasn't putting down very much power. Over that five minute stretch, I averaged 29 mph at an extremely meager 214 watts (to put this into perspective, on a good day I can average 250 watts for three hours). The only thing I could think of was that coming back up this hill would soon be a problem.

Because we had a late start time compared to the elite athletes, there were quite a few cyclists out on the road during my ride. Most of the time it was not a problem but on a couple of occasions I got trapped behind a car whose driver was afraid to pass slower cyclists. Although those incidents slowed me down, they probably allowed me to recover a bit as well and at about the 12 minute mark I was finally able to settle into a rythmn. I wasn't able to go quite as hard as I would have liked and my breathing was extremely labored, but I was able to sustain an output of about 300 watts.

The last half of the course was mostly uphill and mostly into the wind, so there were a couple of times when I was moving no faster than 10 miles an hour but I'm proud to say I only muttered one expletive--although lack of expendable oxygen has more to do with that than self control. I finally reached the end line, hopped off my bike, and had a whale of a time running to the back of the transition area so our runner could start. My bike computer showed a ride time of 30:56 but my official time was 31:33, meaning I spent nearly 40 seconds on the bike course with me not on the bike, and that doesn't even include the transition time! How crazy is that!?

Anyway, it turned out that I put in the second fastest time. The winner of the triathlon recorded a blistering 30:24 which is pretty impressive considering the cold and the wind, the fact that he had to save enough energy to be able to run 2 miles at a sub-6:00 pace, and that most of the guys in the top 20 were in the 35:00 to 38:00 range. In fact, the fifth fastest time was a full three minutes slower than my time. Here are the full individual male results and relay team results.

It's too bad I didn't feel well or I might have been able to take a minute off of my time, but who knows. I'll say this, though... Every time I do one of these relays it makes me want to take swim lessons and start running again. But then I think about how much I hate swimming and how unfun running is and I go back to thinking that one trick is plenty for this old pony.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Busted on Film!

I'll admit I have a juvenile love of seeing people caught on film or in photos doing something stupid. Kids cutting their own hair or drawing on themselves with marker, people falling asleep at the Super Bowl, accidentally knocking over the Christmas tree, etc. You know, your basic Funniest Home Videos stuff. Yes, I know I'm a little old for that type of humor.

Anyway, I mention this only because shortly after getting a new TT bike for Christmas I created a little video of myself in the aero position so that I could get feedback from several very serious time trialists on one of the forums I frequent. Some of these guys have years of experience in the wind tunnel so I was hoping to get some critique. Here's a link to the video I posted:

Instead of getting feedback on my TT position, everyone wanted to talk about something else in the video. Yes, that's right. What I'm saying is that you can (and should!) completely ignore the idiot on the bicycle and look for something extremely offensive that happens in the video starting about halfway through. The funny thing is that although this particular offense is way up there on my list of pet peeves I didn't notice it in the video until a bunch of guys pointed it out to me.

Can you figure it out? HINT: there is a reason I waited until St Patricks Day to post this.

Monday, March 05, 2007

My latest bike... (and last one for a while?)

Q: If I have n bikes, how many bikes do I need?

A: n + 1

I ride often enough that it's a real pain when a bike is down for maintenance--as in the case of my bent chainring after the crash in the first lap of my race a couple of weeks ago--so I decided to buy another bike so that I wouldn't have to be without. Plus, I'll be going to Utah this summer and it will be nice to have a backup bike I can send out there.

So here's the latest bike in my stable:

I already had the following stuff lying around: a fork/frame which a group of about 100 bike forum members ordered way back in October in bulk at the low low price of $550, a pair of wheels (American Classic 420s), a seatpost, stem, pedals, and a saddle so I basically just had to buy a Dura Ace gruppo and build up the bike. How cool is that?!

The frame is an 58cm Pedal Force RS with matching fork. It's a lightweight but stiff racing frame with a nude carbon finish that looks great. It makes for the ultimate stealth bike.

Today I put in about 35 minutes of spirited riding on rolling hills without computer, headphones, or any other electronic device. Just me and the bike. I did some high-intensity climbing both in and out of the saddle, road hard in the drops, spun out my 53-12 several times going down hills, tucked into a nose-to-the-stem aero position to get up above 40mph, and finished the ride by laying down a few quad-buster sprints. I really like the frame so far and find it to be stiff in a good way. I would not use the word "rattle" to describe it at all, especially compared to my Motobecane Le Champion SL aluminum bike. It's going to be a great race bike until the day I wreck it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Greenville Cat5 35+ RR report

Apparently yesterday's races (3/3) had much larger fields than today (3/4) and it was quite a bit warmer as well, but today was my only opportunity to race so I took what I could get. This was only my 4th real race (ok I've officially started 2 other races but didn't even finish one lap in either of those due to crashes) so I still have much to learn.

While warming up I found that my power meter batteries were shot (again! I just replaced them but used a set that must have been old) so I would have no indication whatsoever of speed, effort, time, or distance during the race. That was a bummer because I'm not to the point yet where I can trust perceived exertion. I'll be honest: I tend to wimp out prematurely on long hard efforts if I don't have a number to shoot for. Attention anti power meter people: now would be a great time to pile on and tell me how lame I am.

Anyway, I was planning on trying to stay in the pack for the first two of the three 7-mile laps and then see if I could incite some sort of breakaway (solo or otherwise) on the last lap. I took off a few times during rolling hill sections but simply was not strong enough or willing to commit to enough pain to put any lasting distance on the field and I couldn't get anyone else to go with me. There was a strong guy who got a bit of separation and when I bridged up to him and asked "do you wanna go for it?" he said "well, I'm a better sprinter so I don't think that would be good." He was right about being a good sprinter.

Anyway, I could tell there were several guys who were going to be able to outsprint me so with about 2 miles to go I went as hard as I thought I could hold for 5 minutes (i.e. VO2Max effort). After 2-3 minutes I was not making any headway and was nearly cooked. As I eased up, the train went hurtling past me and I soon found myself at the very back of what was left of the main field (maybe 15 guys). Fortunately, they soon bogged down at the very small hill shortly before the finish so I just stood up and went for it. I was able to pull all the way back up to the front but this time instead of going to the very front I pulled up next to the guy in front with my front wheel even with his back wheel, trying to pin in the guy who said he was going to wait for the sprint.

I was hoping the guy in front would cook himself close enough to the line that I could take the win but he cooked early and two good sprinter dudes (including the one I was trying to box in) were able to get around and take off with me chasing. Holy moly do I need to get better at sprinting! It seemed like it lasted forever and there was a guy in 4th who seemed to keep closing and closing and I kept grinding and grinding and just barely held him off at the line to take 3rd. When it was over my legs just kept hurting more and more for the next couple of minutes as I tried to keep riding to make the pain go away. I would have liked to know how fast (ie. slow) I was going there at the end. 18.2 miles per hour maybe? ;)

I got a cute little 3rd place trophy that my kids think is really cool. Really, I mean how cool is a little trophy compared to $15?! If I showed my kids $15 they would be seriously underwhelmed but because I had a little $1 trophy they were pretty excited.

I learned some good stuff, increased my resolve that being good at this sport is all about being willing to seriously suffer (but quickly recover), and I had a blast. I have to keep reminding myself that what makes racing both fun and frustrating is that there are a bunch of other guys who are trying to kick your arse and placing well in the standings is always at the expense of those other guys. Let's just say that it is a far different culture than the marathon running I used to do where I was essentially only competing against myself.

Totally off topic... The weirdest part about the race was the hotel where a couple of teammates and I stayed. It was a nice hotel but apparently there was some sort of convention for about 200 deaf athletes in the 16-22ish age range (actually I don't know their ages but I know they were old enough to--um--interact with their girlfriends, old enough to drink Colt 45 in large quantities, and old enough to smoke pot, but not old enough to do any of those things surreptitiously) . Anyway, you would be surprised at how loud deaf people can be. Perhaps the chaperones felt that because these kids were deaf they didn't need supervision. That would be incorrect.