Sunday, October 3, 2010

Always the Bridesmaid, but I'll Take It - CCCX Fall #3

Hard to believe the 2010 season is over, but this is it - the last race of the year for me has come and gone. Yesterday was the CCCX Fall Series Circuit Race #3.

This race is held at Fort Ord near Monterey, and I've done this particular circuit once already when I did the 2nd race in this series a month back and got a 2nd place for my efforts (ha cha cha).

The good thing about this course is that it only has one flat section - the rest is either uphill or downhill. The uphills are short enough that they favor a punchier rider though - not a pure climber, and the final sprint is uphill. I happen to be a punchy climber because I'm basically a small sprinter, and uphill sprints usually favor me. So I love this course.

Here's the profile from one lap of my data:

Since I got second place here last time, I'll admit I dared to think I might win this race, and I was definitely hoping to get some upgrade points.

Strategically, there are 4 CalGiant team members here, including the basically-stronger-than-everyone Jesse Moore who showed up to try clinch the P12 BAR competition. There are two Metromint guys, and a bunch of solo riders including myself, in a small (15 or so) field. This course and a small field reward breakaways, so I'm not going to let anything go without me, and I'm looking to have at least one CalGiant and one Metromint rider for the perfect move. I'm hoping for some reason Jesse Moore won't be in the move.

We start off, and the first time up the hill a CalGiant guy puts in an easy leg-testing attack. The whole pack essentially covers it and we're strung out but all together. Few are suffering yet. The second lap we head up the hill and it's on for real. The same CalGiant guy goes again but harder and sustained this time and pretty soon it's him, me, a second CalGiant guy, both Metromint riders, and a ClifBar rider. Unless something happens, this is the break, and we have 75 minutes to go.

We roll along steadily increasing our lead but the composition starts to shuffle out. One CalGiant guy falls off and Jesse Moore bridges up, which worries me. One Metromint guy falls off and the ClifBar rider starts to falter then falls off.

We hit the finish hill for the 3rd lap and there's a prime on. Jesse goes to lead out his teammate, the ClifBar guy is gone, the Metromint rider is gapped hard, and I'm just a small gap behind the two CalGiant riders. Jesse looks around, sees the chaos and decides to keep his foot on the gas. I see immediately from his body posture that he's not letting up so I sprint across the gap and jump on his wheel.

At this point, It's Jesse and I in the front, a second CalGiant and a Metromint together in 3rd and 4th, and shrapnel behind. We have around an hour to go. Being in a two-person time trial with Jesse Moore isn't exactly how I pictured the day going. Jesse Moore wins time trials and hill climbs, but loses sprints. I suck at time trials, do okay on hill climbs, but win sprints. I'm pretty sure how this will play out, and I'm just hoping to survive. Sure enough Jesse keeps the throttle on long enough that I'm just about to crack within 2 minutes, but I just manage to hang on.

For the next 38 minutes I do what I can to help Jesse ride, which amounted to pulling around 2 minutes total in a few short, weak efforts, while hanging on for dear life as he motored steadily up all the hills just a couple percent under my maximum. I've given myself tough grades for not being tenacious enough over the season and I'll admit to being close to blowing up several times and thinking about the pain and weakness. That doesn't help. I consciously made an effort to use all the physical tricks I could, and to mentally repeat to myself that this was the reason I train so hard. This was the reason I race. You don't get to be in the winning break very often, and I wasn't going to give it up until I was completely shelled.

With a lap and a half to go, and a 3-minute gap, Jesse figured I could make it in by myself, so he throttled up one last time on the rollers and I blew apart completely - total toddler on a tricycle action. Now I'm solo in no-man's land behind the leader but still in front of the pack. Despite being horrible at time trials I figure even I can't lose 3 minutes in a lap so I pull it together, put my head down, and power through the final lap to hold on for second place.

I have to say, this was something like thorough ass-whipping number 5 (that'd be Mount Tam, Henleyville, Everest Challenge and now CCCX), 3 weekends in a row, from Jesse Moore, but I wouldn't have taken 2nd without him being nice about this one, so chapeau, sir. Strong and nice, a rare combo, and much appreciated.

That's a pretty satisfying way to end the season, I have to say. The points earned were enough to get me second in the series (50 points, vs 51 for David Wyandt) but since the winner wasn't there and I was close they gave the series champ hoodie to me.

Take that David Wyandt, I'm going to be the CCCX Fall Series P12 poser all year, and there's nothing you can do about it. At least the one time David and I were both there, I edged him out, so I don't feel too badly about it.

And yes, I take all my loot pictures in front of miniature horses to make myself look taller.

I started the season with the goal to get a top-10 in the P12, then hopefully a top-5, to learn how to ride breakaways, and to give the Everest Challenge a good go. I ended the season with 4 2nd places, a 4th, 2 5ths, 2 6ths, and 5 other top-10s of various kinds (E2, P12 and M35-123). That's really way more than I could have hoped for. I had no goal in mind whatsoever of upgrading to Category 1 but here I sit with 21 upgrade points! I'm also going to end up somewhere in the top-40 of the NCNCA P12 BAR competition. Quite a year.

I looked up some yearlong stats for the curious:

* 10,041 miles ridden over the season (I think I only put 8,000 on my car!)
* a little over 600 hours on the bike
* 314,860 calories burned (that'd be 89.9 pounds of fat! don't picture it)
* 76,800 heart beats while riding

To anyone that's supported, encouraged, or just followed along this year - thanks. It's been a fun ride.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

2010 Everest Challenge, Day 2

How flattering, people are telling me the suspense is killing them and they can't stand that I haven't posted about the second Everest Challenge Day. Okay, one person has, but I can't disappoint my fan, so here it is, Everest Challenge Day 2.

For a little course knowledge, it's important to know that historically Day 1 is stupendously hard, and Day 2 is merely tremendously hard. There's a difference. Day 1 usually took nearly 6 hours and 45 minutes while Day 2 will only take 5 hours if I hit my plan. During a heat wave, where every minute into the afternoon is another minute roasting, that's a big deal - during Day 2 I should be up at high altitudes on the final climb before things get really oven hot - and since a heat symptom related to hydration/electrolyte balance is likely what cracked me and took me off plan yesterday, I'm looking forward to today.

Before describing the day I'll talk a little bit more about preparation, since "looking forward" to a hard 5 hour day, after a 6.75 hour day, doesn't just happen.

Sports science wise, I attempted to do five big things in parallel to prepare for this event. I discussed weight last time (I dropped a bunch myself, and switched to lighter equipment), and I also discussed gearing last time (I switched to much lower gears so I could maintain higher cadence, thereby decrease peak pedal force per pedal revolution, and hopefully avoid cramps).

The three things I'll mention this time are:

1) that I altered my training program to be less focused on long endurance training and more focused on short, hard intervals. I mostly did 30-second and 1-minute intervals in the months leading up to this (with good effect), and only did a couple long rides. I think that mostly worked, but I should have done a couple longer rides at threshold I think. There's only so much time though - and I may just need another year to slowly get stronger.

2) I did more altitude training this year to make sure I was acclimatized - I spent 5 days at 7800' 2.5 weeks before the event in the hopes of triggering some red blood cell production, and I spent 3 nights at 7800' prior to the event to normalize blood plasma volume. I'm not sure if this worked or not. I think it helped, possibly 5% or so. It definitely didn't hurt, and it provided for interesting observations on just how low-pressure the atmosphere really is at 7800'. This is your snack food at altitude, for instance:

3) Nutrition - I really focused on electrolyte replacement and nutrition strategies this year so that I wouldn't start cramping despite pushing for a PR at a distance I don't normally ride. Specifically I finally figured out how to take the pill-based electrolytes you really need (drinks just don't have enough), without fumbling around a lot. Behold the "pill the dog" method of electrolyte consumption, based on Clif Bloks:

This makes it really easy to get the stuff you need.

The only problem then is getting the stuff you need when you need it, since timing is important and working out really hard has a habit of making me a wee bit stupid. My strategy there is to map out a plan the night before that has course information and when to eat what, so even when I'm an idiot I get it right. I just tape it to my top tube:

From my perspective, all this came together perfectly. I rode a really strong race, set personal records for power produced and times on this course, finished strong on the second day, and generally didn't have a lot of problems given the extreme difficulty of this race - just a little cramping on day 1. Unfortunately, more strong dudes then ever showed up, so that even though I had a great race on an absolute scale, I did worse relatively - I ended up 14th in the P12 category, and came away with no upgrade points, and only $45 in prize money. I'll admit I was hoping for more and I have a little "woulda coulda" afterwards (for instance, if I hadn't cramped I would have been around 25 minute faster on day 1...that's maybe 9th place...), but I'll have to take what I can get.

As the hardest race I do all year, and a cap to the season, it's sort of like a final exam. In that respect I'll be a little tough on myself and give myself a B+. I did cramp on Day one and I think it was avoidable. Other than that though, I rocked it and a B+ isn't bad.

Thanks to everyone that supported me as I tilted at this windmill - lots of encouragement from my teammates and fellow racers, and tons of understanding from my wife. I'm not a complete lone wolf, I can't do it without you.

For the data junkies, here's what the data looked like. I put two lines in indicating my target, and what I calculated after-the-fact based on the winning time would have been the power I'd have needed to win. I'm a fair ways off - 20%, and that explains why I got 14th GC instead of 1st for sure. If I had 10% more power I'd have been 7th or so I think. Maybe next year...One fun note is the top speed - imagine doing that on your bike. Also, you can see on the first climb I was cranking out tons of power the first 10 minutes or so. I specifically stayed with the lead group in order to see exactly how hard they were riding even though I knew I wouldn't stay there all day. Turned out to be 280-300W to start the day - or 4.8W/Kg or so. They faded by the end, but that's a stout effort. If you can do that for a couple hours, you could win...

Here's some other pictures if you're curious - they really capture the desolation out there well - luckily there's a lot more camaraderie then you can see from this lens.

One more race this year - the CCCX Fall Series where I got 2nd last time, then the season's done.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

2010 Everest Challenge, Day 1

Wow, that was hard. That's banal, but pretty much what I think after the first day of the Everest Challenge every time. I don't even stop for food or water on training rides, but I had to stop twice today (for around 5 minutes total) to work a cramp out. Tough day.

Similar to the post describing the Everest Challenge though, I'm going to try to use pictures, because words don't really describe it. And today was hard enough I'm literally dyslexic right now anyway, and I don't want any accidental malaprops.

Herewith, the things that stood out to me most today:

The heat was the story today. I actually *over* drank to compensate (it is possible), which triggered a bit of cramping, but after not drinking most of the final climb (2 hours) I wasn't feeling so bad at the top. This is what it did to me though - same story on all parts of clothing:

So with the heat, the major salt accumulation (thank you s!caps) etc, I still did okay. Here's the data - I was on steady top-10 (*maybe* somewhere around 6th) pace, reeling people in, until I just cracked. Managed to hold the same power post-crack that I had in 2007, so I can't complain too much, but oh what could have been. If I'd stayed on pre-crack pace my math says I would have chopped 25 minutes off my time. Ouch! Look at that high temperature in the sun:

So, I'm all cracked up with just under an hour and a half to go. How did I survive? Well, I built a bike with ridiculously tiny gears. I was getting a little self-conscious while test riding it the last couple weeks as everyone was quick to poke fun at a 33x32 low gear, but I stuck with it and damn if it didn't allow me to get myself together from a major cramp and finish okay:

The other saving grace was that I worked on the denominator of "power to weight" and went on a major personal remodeling project this year. I lost just about every bit of body fat I could and lemme tell ya, *much* nicer not hauling that up these hills. I do miss pizza though:

After all the data and sweaty body parts, here's your unicorn chaser - the lake at the top of the first climb near Mosquito Flats. Check out the Aspens in blazing fall color:

There you go. 120+ miles, 15000' down. 14000' and change tomorrow, and at least with prizes going 20 deep I'm still in the money :-). Since it looks like I've got about 4.5 hours of power in the legs and that's how long the stage was today, hopefully tomorrow I can claw some time back on people.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Everest Challenge - what's it look like?

For most people when I describe the Everest Challenge it's like trying to explain a trillion. It's just too much, it's too far away from what they've experienced - both geographically and cycling-wise.

I think that's a shame though, because then how can I explain why I do it? I mean, it's a tough physical challenge, and no one cares how I do. I have to want to do it. Why?

One of the main reason I do it is for the geography, Inyo County and the Owens River Valley (where the EC is) is gorgeous people! You have to see it. One of these days I'm going to do a non-cycling trip this way that goes something like this: drive into Yosemite and stay in the lodge there. Hang out in the Owen's River Valley a couple days. Head to Death Valley to see the bloom and stay in the great hotel there.

Here's why that's a good thing - this is the big picture view of where this place is and generally what it looks like, relative to the Bay Area, with Bishop (the home base) and the 6 climb end points circled:

So, you go across Yosemite via Tioga Pass. You drop down the backside of the Sierras and you're in a valley (still at 7000' though!). You head South past Mono Lake, and pretty soon you pass Mammoth Lakes (where I'm staying for a couple nights, quite nice, 7800'). Keep heading south a bit more on 395 and you drop into the Owens River Valley at around 4000', nestled in between the Sierras on the West, and a ridge separating Owens River Valley from Death Valley. et voila.

Zooming in a bit, here's the 6 climbs we do. Physically each is epic, but if you look at the geography, that's the thing. Glaciers. High mountain lakes. Snowcaps. Massive ravines. Green valleys. The oldest tree in the world (no joke!). I can just about reach out and touch each one of these things on the climbs, depending on the climb.

Here's what they look like, in order:

This is a tough one. Highest point in the race, 10,100'. There's glaciers up there. Beautiful fishing lake.

Easy climb. I'd say this is filler to make sure we hit to the total climb number :-). Only a 3000' climb, to 7000+'

This is a killer - end of the day, 6000' climb that finishes just under 10,000'. Really pretty at the top though. Aspen trees all over the hillside on fire with golden leaves (I saw them today). Mountain lakes, snow packs, etc.

Starting the second day out right - climb up to just under 7800', the last climb into the Sierras, West of Owen's River Valley.

Now we're heading East - these are some moon-scape / desert conditions on the ridge in between Owen's River Valley and Death Valley. This climb is also a bit of filler really - same as the middle climb of Day 1. It's in a steep ravine though and is still pretty.

Final climb of the event - this climbs up to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest, which has the oldest living tree in it. They're scraggly little oxygen-starved, wind-blasted things, those bristlecones. Makes you think about what it takes to survive 10,000 years though, and what those years will do to you. The view all around from this point is amazing, as are the burritos cooked up by the event's support crew.

There you have it - a little bit of the visual of the event. I think that's important because it's a feast for the eyes, and makes it worthwhile.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Whole lotta racin' goin' on

I mentioned in the last post I had raced a bunch but hadn't posted anything.

Couple reasons for that - work has been pretty hectic (even had to travel a bit, a rarity), home has been a little hectic (we're remodeling the front-yard among other things), and cycling-wise I'm building up to the grandaddy of them all - the Everest Challenge. Updating the blog...not really a priority. I don't even make it on Facebook much.

Anyway, I have been feeling slightly guilty about it among lots of other things not getting done though, and I made a major error in a road race today so I thought I would really quickly set down all the missing races with a special focus on things attempted, and lessons learned.

Herewith - the missing races, oldest to newest

o Patterson Pass RR (8th in 35+123)

My goal here was to be active, break up the field, and finish in the front group. I think I can climb, and I'd like to test that.

Lesson learned is that I can climb (that wasn't the hard part for me, and the group did split down to 10 or so) but the rollers after the smaller climb were a killer for me. I cracked off the pack there and had to chase back on. Was blown then and didn't make it up the climb. Kept chasing though, and learned that you will keep catching people if you don't give up. I think I caught three more and finished *just* behind the main group. I need more raw power.

Not too bad. B for climbing, D for raw power, A for tenacity.

- Dunnigan Hills RR (10th in P12)

Goal here was to get a result. No wind so I bet on a sprint. It was a sprint.

Lesson learned: my read of the weather and associated strategy is pretty good, however, my selection of wheel to follow left something to be desired. I was in the wrong spot and the sprint was hellishly dangerous. Top 10 was luck, as was staying upright. So, need to get closer to the front prior to sprints and pick better wheels.

A for weather / course research, D for finishing tactics

- Suisun Harbor Crits (weak in both 35+123 and P12)

Goal was to be active and get a result. I was expecting breakaways on this course.

Lesson learned: if you half-ass breakaways you'll burn all your matches like I did in the M35+123, and suck at the sprint. And the P12 won't magically be better.

This was an F all around really. All it was good for was a workout.

- University RR (24th in P12 but got girled by Katherine Matthis - go Katherine...) and

This is a very very tough climbing race that National level pros frequently turn up for. Goal here was to finish in the first significant group.

I'm not sure what happened here. Mentally I blew up - the legs were sorta okay but at some point I just couldn't do it anymore and gave up. It was really hard at the moment, but guys I know I can outclimb stayed in when I let the group go. I was disappointed. I finished the race and kept riding really good laptimes, for what should have been 24th but they DNPd me anyway, which is frustrating.

Lesson Learned: I'm not sure here - it's a lingering problem. Mental blowup while legs still have some juice? Was I tired? I just dunno. More raw power will always solve the problem, for sure.

D for tenacity, B for endurance

- Vacaville Crit (18th in P12 but beat all the pros in the race, because...they probably weren't trying very hard on the last lap since a break was away)

Goal here was to try to get a result even though I knew it would be hard. I expected a breakaway.

There were breakaways, and I surged off the front with them. Nothing I went with was sticking though (and yes, I pulled a bit). In the end I was with the main group and I thought there was a huge group up the road so I didn't fight hard in the sprint. My mistake, there weren't that many up the road and a good sprint would have been a good result.

Lesson learned: If you're not tactically aware enough to know how many are up the road, at least ask! Duh.

F for tactical awareness, B for activity

- CCCX Circuit Race Fall #2 P123 (2nd in P123)

Goal here was to be really active/attacking and try to win the thing. This is a race that is rolling hills (which suits me), and doesn't usually draw a strong crowd (which of course suits me) - so this is actually plausible.

I figured this would be a course with a breakaway because of the hills. The Clif team and the Metromint team each had a lot of representation. So I wanted to attack and draw out 1 Clif and 1 Metromint and anyone else that wanted to play. Tried once and got a lone rider, a Clif representative but he was hurting, and no Metromint. Let it die. Tried again and got same lone rider, Clif, Metromint, and a few others. This could work. Drilled it a bunch and we broke the pack - this was the winning move. Played some games near the end, and hesitated in the last part of the sprint, so I got a strong second but didn't take it. I'm happy with that and a little frustrated at the same time - I had the chance to win but didn't capitalize. Still, great result.

A for strategy, A for tenacity, B for sprinting

- Folsom TT (almost dead last in the P12)

Goal here was to pace myself correctly, and actually post a TT where I rode my threshold power, to see how that stacks up.

What actually happened is I went out way too hard, blew up a lot, couldn't really recover, and sucked all the way back to the finish. It was horrible and I was frustrated with myself - I don't practice TTs though so I guess this is what I get. Grr!

Lesson learned: to pace TTs correctly you either need a discipline I don't have apparently or you have to practice them so it's automatic. Apparently all the people that do well at them actually practice. I'll have to practice.

- Folsom Crit (5th of a ton of P12 people, 50+)

Goal here was to be active to try to get in a move, and podium, why not? It was a course that suited me and I felt great.

I was active but the pack wasn't even letting serious gaps form. I pulled a couple times but there were literally so many strong folks from different teams that the pack never let anything gap at all, and the course was featureless. So I switched to field sprint mode. The sprint was pretty good, but right at the very very end I didn't give it full gas, and I got passed by two people. That's always upsetting.

Lesson learned: sprint right to the line every time, every muscle fiber

A for tactics, including the sprint, D for tenacity

- Folsom Circuit Race (17th out of 50+ P12)

Goal was to be active and get a result again (same goal but really this is most P12 racing for crits and circuit races). The course had two 180s and a short hill before the final 180, which then had a single-file corner followed by maybe 200m to the line, which meant the hill was the deciding moment.

I started to cramp near the end so I didn't have many bullets left and I decided to conserve up the final hill not realizing how important it was until *after* the race, so I came in a humdrum place instead of doing well. Got 15th in the full Folsom Omnium though which was good for $25.

Lesson Learned: Even if I don't pre-walk a course and really think about it, I really need to think about how the final lap will play out so I'm prepared.

D for tactics, C for endurance

- Mt Tam Hill climb (13th in the P12)

Goal: to pace myself correctly and climb quickly, duh

This is just starting at the bottom of Mt Tam and climbing to the top, with a bunch of the strongest cyclists in the state. Not much strategy to it except not to blow up at any point so you have to slow down to recover. I blew up a little at the start, but rode sensibly very quickly so it wasn't too bad. Right near the top of the hardest climbing section though I let a group I was in go because I didn't *know* we were nearly done climbing otherwise I would have held on. That was 5 places, easy.

Lesson Learned: no course knowledge usually means a bad result. Oh, and more raw power is always good. Or not weighing anything

I was frustrated with myself for not being tenacious and I needed a longer workout so I climbed it one more time even though it was blowing heavy drippy wet fog. I was nearly as fast the second time as the first time.

B for raw power-to-weight (hey, nearly top 10 in the P12...), F for course knowledge and tenacity

Finally, the race I just did this morning:

- Henleyville RR (6th out of 15? P12)

Goal: to get in the winning break, and hopefully sprint for a podium.

This was a flat 75-mile road race with no wind, but historically there is a breakaway here so I was counting on that and wanted to stay active. I do well in breaks with 5ish people though as longer rest intervals are more important to me (since I have less raw power than most). I got in the winning move and it had 9 folks for a while, so I was happy with that.

The breakaway kept whittling down but it never really eased up, which led to a problem - my food strategy was horrible. I haven't done a long race in so long I basically just blew it. I didn't have enough food I could eat while working hard and with 10 miles to go I started to bonk. No cramping at least, but this is where the real attacks were starting. With just a couple miles to go I finally bonked completely and just hung on to finish with the group shooting for 5th/6th/7th. I got 6th but maybe could have gotten 5th. Either way, my highest road race placing in the P12 ever despite a huge tactical error.

Lesson learned: food strategy, duh. And don't hesitate in the sprint.

There you have it. Lots of races, I accumulated a few more P12 points and earned some money. I had a bunch of fun, and learned quite a bit.

Recap on the lessons learned (primarily for me later):

- don't hesitate in sprints
- work on raw power
- food strategy!
- know your course
- really think how the last lap will play out, where do you need to be in front?
- sprint to the finish
- stay tactically aware or ask for help
- pick the right wheels in sprints

Seems like basic stuff, but it is hard to get right when you're at your limit. By writing them down here I'll hopefully remember it better and keep moving up the rankings


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Family Circus in SF

You remember those Family Circus maps? For some reason, I do - they always looked something like this, although this is a dystopic parody:

Anyway, sometimes I picture my bike rides in this format (though hopefully without psychotic children running around) and with the magic of the new google bike directions it is easy to plot rides similarly

Without further ado, here's the "long commute" version of my morning ride - stitching together most of the little routes I know in the city. Mostly doesn't suck, which is high praise for an urban ride:

The gist of it is:

- Civic Center BART
- Golden Gate Park Polo Fields to ride around in circles
- Lake Merced to throw a big loop in and break up the monotony
- St.Francis Wood/Foerster/Teresita/Twin Peaks to get my climb on
- Arguello/Presidio to stretch the ride out a bit more
- get thee to work...

Here's a link to the google maps version of the ride if you're interested in any of the parts of the loop

Also apparently people actually follow this blog (sweet! thanks), and I haven't posted a race report in a while. I've been racing though:

- Patterson Pass RR (8th in 35+123),
- Dunnigan Hills RR (10th in P12),
- Suisun Harbor Crits (weak in both 35+123 and P12),
- University RR (24th in P12 but got girled by Katherine Matthis - go Katherine...) and
- Vacaville Crit (18th in P12 but beat all the pros in the race, because...they probably weren't trying very hard on the last lap since a break was away)

So no more cat 1 points, but lots of post fodder, just no time to post yet. Sorry!

If you're voyueristic you can always see results on my USA Cycling results page, though they aren't 100% accurate (e.g. I finished University RR in 24th but they DNP'd me, the bastards!) and they don't contain the minute details of suffering and power meter data that I know you crave.

So I'll try to knock something together about those races, hopefully soon.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kicking Butt and Getting Butt Kicked

Today was an interesting day for me at the Copperopolis Circuit Race.

This event was too far from my house (105 miles or so) but it offered a separate Men's 2 category, which is something I almost never get - I almost always have to race with the Pros and Category 1 riders, and as mentioned previously, I typically get my butt kicked when I do that.

I'm not saying I don't like racing P12 races, I'm just saying that I don't think I am strong enough yet to be a protagonist in those races yet - I'm still just the chorus. I don't think that's surprising either - any of you 4s out there want to race a 234 race? How do you think you'll do? It'll probably hurt...

Contrariwise, oh I love the E2 field by itself. This is racing - I can try breakaways, I can do real tactics, and if it comes down to a sprint I can sprint with these guys. I'll skip to the punchline and say that I got 2nd today, and I'll mention that the guy who beat me also just got enough points that he's upgrading to 1. So I'm basically at the top end of the 2 range in crits at least. Doesn't mean much in P12 races but does make these E2 races fun.

The course was a Zamboni-smooth out-n-back essentially, with rolling hills. The race itself had one prominent strategic feature, that being a 15ish person field, with 4 folks on the same (Sierra Nevada) team, and they were dedicated to making it a field sprint. The other racers kept attacking, but there was always someone willing to chase, and there was always a Sierra Nevada rider marking the break by being in it but not working.

Near the end, I went off on a break attempt with two other folks and a Sierra Nevada rider, but true to form Mr Nevada didn't work. I proceeded to alternate pulling hard and then gapping him off the back of the break to make him work to close the gap. I tried to explain it to my breakmates but it's hard to talk in that situation so they didn't get it and he was basically getting a free ride. That doesn't make for a fast breakaway and sure enough we were pulled back (likely by Hendrik Pohl who apparently only knows one effort level - hard) and we were set up for an all-the-marbles sprint with 2 miles to go.

Sierra Nevada at least lined up a decent lead-out at this point, and I started touching the wind a bit to move on to 5th wheel. This was a downhill tailwind sprint, with a 75m rise at the end of it. I'd timed the sprint the last couple of times through and was set to jump around 225m to go. Unfortunately the Sierra Nevada rider doing the last leadout stint (36mph, nice) moved over when he was done instead of riding straight, sending me towards the cones and making me check up a bit when I should have been pedaling, but more importantly the guy that beat me jumped about 1 second before I did and held it. I rolled it up to 40mph and held my own against him but I never got that gap back.

I'll take 2nd though, my best placing since the Madera Stage Race road stage in the M35+123s. Here's the loot and dorky grin, including that t-shirt - ooo I'm rich

That gives me 3 more cat 1 upgrade points, for a 13 point total (out of 30 needed, in a 12-month window), so I'm still chipping away at the cat 1 upgrade and who knows, I might make it. I might even be ready for it when it happens at this rate!

I hung around for the second race of the day, my loved/hated P12 race, and this one was definitely a learning exercise. I was looking for the workout mostly, and I got that in spades, but what I learned is that a) Rand Miller has some sort of incredible anti-draft vortex immediately behind him, and b) I need to follow someone else's wheel if I'm looking to make it into moves, because Rand's a bit too much for me.

I learned all this in once of those decisive moments where you can either make or break a result - a possible result or no result. We were 10 minutes in, the race had already been pretty active, and after some reshuffling there were a few riders up the road. They were the right mix of teams and it looked set to go, with a 35 second gap already. After a U-turn, Rand accelerated and I thought "this is it - if I'm going to get there, now's the time". We were on a false flat up, into a headwind, and I'll let the annotated data tell the story:

That was a 20W/Kg jump! Then a full sprint, with 60ish minutes left. Damn. I blew up huge on the right side of that graph there - I had to sit up for 10-15 seconds, and after about a half minute when the pack finally came back up to me (yes, it took them twice as long to cover the same distance from the attack, shee-it) I was starting to feel a bit normal again, but ouch.

I'll mention for completeness that Rand made it to the break, then won the race. All I can say is dang.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Crit Century

You know what's awesome on a Saturday? Doing a whole pile of crits. Not one or two, three. Make sure it's hot too. That was the plan this Saturday in lovely (no lie) Novato for the NorCal Crits.

There was some crit action in Watsonville as well - with a really deep field, a tough course, and a 1.5 hour drive from my house. All of those things were not on my menu. What I'm looking for is races where I can be active so I can learn some racing-at-the-front tricks while I get stronger, but I'll be the first to admit it - my fitness isn't quite there enough to trade punches with the full Yahoo and CalGiant squads. I can ride with them, but I can't make them hurt. So off to Novato I go.

Nifty thing about this race, it has a 2/3 field. You know what it's like racing P12 fields all the time? Wake up in the morning, make some coffee but don't drink it. Then have someone you like kick you in the nuts for 60 minutes. It's fun though I swear. Just not as fun as racing 2s and 3s without the P1 folks ;-).

I have a silly quest to upgrade to Category 1 (as you can see in the sidebar), though I have no reason to or use for it, and a 2/3 race is a good place to pick up some points, so I was looking to do well in this race. The course reads like a sprinter's fantasy with a downhill headwind (which kills breaks) and no technical corners (which help breaks). So I sat in like the lousy wheel-suck I am. After a bunch of last-couple-of-laps efforts I won't bore you with, I rolled into the last corner 3rd wheel behind Rainier Schaeffer (I think) while Rainier's Godspeed courier teammate was absolutely drilling it with a fantastic leadout. I jumped after the corner thinking the downhill would make the 200m-to-the-line run doable but - no - I hit 40mph then the headwind sapped the speed and 4 dudes came around, 2 by inches. 5th place. Woe is me, but I have to tell you - it was fantastic to be in the sprint for real. It's been a while and it felt great.

Bonus - they pick the 2s separately, and I'm sure there were more than 11 of us, possibly more than 21, so I got at least 1 elite category 1 upgrade point, and maybe 2.

That was the biggest excitement of the day - the last two races were duds for me but I'm planning on doing The Everest Challenge (29,000' of climbing in two days - awesome) so I need some long, hard workouts and I'm doing the next two races to get them.

The M35-123 was a big fast roll-around with nothing much happening, which is great for me because it allows me to do a nearly Oscar-winning wheelsuck performance involving soft-pedaling, refusing to pull, stealthily taking positions when people aren't paying attention and just generally going fast for free whenever possible. I was lining up on lap 3 to hit the sprint again but fixing my 2/3 race error, when I get that squishy feeling in the rear. Shit! Yep. my rear wheel is going flat. Not all at once - a slow leak, but it's definitely low. No free laps inside 5 laps to go, so my race is done - the tire isn't totally flat but sprinting on 40psi isn't safe. I'm a 110psi dude, 40psi is low enough you can roll a tire if you're not careful, I won't do it. I rolled around and got placed so I didn't get a DNF, but I was disappointed. That's racing.

Next up was the P123. 90 minutes of hot fun. 2 Yahoo riders. A bunch of "other" (myself included there). This race was really active - always someone off the front but I wanted to sprint, not ride a breakaway. I worked to stitch it together a couple times but finally a move of 7 got away, the pack gave up, and now the pack's sprinting for 8th. That's still okay by me, I'm looking for the workout. This sprint I lined up half-assed though and wasn't far enough up in the pack in the last half of the first lap. Maybe 10 deep when I should have been 5th, and the inevitable happened there - two people nearly collided, one locked up his brakes, and I had to touch my brakes to avoid them. If you've never been in a sprint at the end of a bike race, know this: to touch your brakes during the sprint is to lose. It's like putting a parachute out - everyone else shoots ahead of you and you're done. This sounds scary but no fear, we're rank amateurs on bikes wearing nearly no protective equipment and going 32 miles per hour - everything's under control. So I just rolled this in at the end - also a little disappointing but I was in it for the workout, so it's okay.

Riiight at the end of the race, I started to get the starts of cramp twinges. Not full twinges, and definitely not cramps yet - I was still able to throw down huge power but the legs are screaming. That's the workout what I'm looking for.

Final stats - just a touch over 100 miles of crit, averaging around 26mph. Nice.

That's it. 1 for 3 on luck, but that first one was a lot of fun, and I got an upgrade point, maybe two. Plus I got to see that even though I'm not quite P1 caliber yet, I'm still pretty quick on a bike - I'm very strong in a 2/3 field. I'll keep training and learning, and see what I can do about the P1 status.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pacific Coast Ride to LA Day 4 - Santa Barbara to Altadena

Alright! This is it! One more massive ride living out of a suitcase and I'll be happily back to civilization. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed every day but when you know the end is coming, you fixate on the finish line, right?

So off we go - Santa Barbara to Altadena (a city outside of Los Angeles, near Pasadena, but you have to ride through LA to get there)

One note though - I will admit I felt pretty creaky this morning. Sore and stiff - by the end of yesterday I felt good, but my body's definitely letting me know it's taking a beating. I'm ignoring it.

People say Southern California is all about "car culture", but really all the way from Santa Barbara through Ventura and Oxnard etc, it's all about boats. There must be two boats for every person there were so many boats. And every single one has some sort of punny name or attempt at a joke for a name like "Hey Sailor". Does anyone actually call their boat by those names? "Hey honey, let's take Hey Sailor out for a cruise". Has no panache. You say you want to take the boat out for a cruise, don't you? So what's with the name? Humans are silly.

Gil, I know how important a perfect yard is to you, and I've apparently found the secret sod growing grounds. Oxnard - look 'em up

Amtrak gets a bad rap. Yes, they're late. Get over it. They have huge picture windows in the cars. They have wine and cheese tastings. And they run up and down the coast. Teresa and I have done Oakland to Seattle twice, it was wonderful. I want to do the Southern stretch at some point. This is the Surfliner rolling North, near Malibu.

Hey kids! Let's go the missile park! Yaaayyy! Dad Dad Dad! Can I play on the Bullpup II? Can I? This was a real "Missile Park" (you can play on them!) outside one of the 532 military installations between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

I'm trying not to whine about it, but if you haven't noticed in the rest of the pics, the sky is a bit...leaden. The first 86 miles of this ride it was so foggy it was basically light rain. Or heavy mist. I don't know but if you live on the coast you probably have 30 names for the fog-to-downpour spectrum, and on a 1 to 30 scale it was maybe 6. 6 means you are wet but you aren't soaked through, and you have water dripping off your helmet and can't wear your glasses. 5 hours of that. So that's lovely Malibu in the distance, mmm, Califonia dreamin' today

I couldn't take any more gray pictures after that so I put my mini-ipad away and put the hammer down to get 'er done. From mile 86 to 100 or so was still gray (but not wet anymore at least) then I crested the hill between LA and some other part of LA and holy crap it was sunny and gorgeous. Like two cups of coffee, a huge mood booster.

It was also LA rush hour and complete grid lock. Now it's "car culture" time. Poor car people, I passed and repassed the same Ferrari up a 10% grade for 10 minutes, and I was on a sidewalk. He probably wished he'd saved the money and gotten a segway instead, his commute would be quicker. I averaged .4 horsepower and beat him over the hill. Come on cyclists, you love that

One final picture - I don't go on crazy adventures without a stuffed toy I picked up on the first crazy adventure I had (camping trip) called "The Happy Dot". It reminds you to be less serious. It's about a foot wide though, so Teresa made me a mini-Happy Dot to keep the tradition alive, and he cleared the way for me on the ride. Sort of like the "evil eye" thing from Asia, but more positive. He did a good job, because I made it in just fine.

Thanks a bunch for all the comments and contact while I was trekking, I had lots of good mind-wandering time but I wasn't lonely with you guys in mind. Also there was always some point during each day where I'd run low on energy or water or a foot would hurt or something, but I could feel the support vibrating with texts in my pocket. That helped a lot - this was supposed to be fun and that helped keep it that way.

So there it is - I really needed an adventure and I got one. Now for a couple days of R-n-R then back to the real world.

Final stats:
4 days
543 miles
29,912 feet of climbing (yes! 1.03 Mt Everests)
31.5 hours riding
17.2mph average (thank god for tailwinds...)
1 ripped tire+tube, 1 punctured tube (not bad)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pacific Coast Ride to LA Day 3 - Cambria to Santa Barbara

Day 3 of the trek sees me up-and-at-em very early in lovely Cambria. I wasn't sure how fast I could go, so with a 150 or so miles in the plan for the day, I needed to start around 7am to make sure I got to Santa Barbara before the sun went down.

Anytime you're near the coast in California in the summer, you get this huge fog bank in the evening, settling in overnight. It's in full effect this morning - I couldn't even wear my glasses, and cars had their windshield wipers on. I refer to these mornings as "good complexion mornings".

I rolled through Cayucos and stopped to look at this curious carving of a fisherman carrying a mermaid (I mean, for a coffee shop? I don't get it - it's not a seafood restaurant). Turns out I made the trip! You always want to find an "est" - "The biggest ___" or "The tallest ___" on a road trip, right? This, ladies and gentleman, is the most unique picture ever taken. Or, a picture of it anyway. You're welcome

Quick breakfast in cute San Luis Obispo, then more rolling along - maybe half of the day was like this. I'm a Hudson River School fan - I love looking mountains, so this works for me.

Exactly halfway through the ride today, I got a nice reminder of where I was. I love maps, so I loved this wall

I had a tail wind pushing me along nicely on 80 miles of flat stuff until I came up to this

Top of the toughest climb of the day, great vista opens up on to Lompoc, which must have been the world capital of people-getting-around-on-rascals. I was amused

This is the world's crappiest photo of dolphins but come on people, I saw dolphins! In the wild! I don't do that every day.

Ok you Santa Barbara people with your "it's warm in the evening so often that we have permanent sand volleyball courts set up" lifestyle. I hate you! And it's not because I'm really jealous, no...

Would you believe with 15 miles to go, I get the first flat of the trip? And it's not just a flat, the whole tire was cut. Luckily I was a boy scout. This was bootable (cycling term, you non-geeks) but I had a whole spare tire. I was able to pick up a new spare just 5 miles later at a bike shop in Santa Barbara too, sweet.

Now, I'm not proud. As a cyclist I travel to small towns a lot and I've stayed in every dumpy hotel there is. I'll stay in a Motel 6. And the one I stayed at in Monterey was predictable - it worked, but it wasn't really appealing. But holy crap, look at the Santa Barbara Motel 6. I was shocked enough I took a photo. Very nice.

For those curious how the tan is coming along, I'd say it's progressed from "unfashionable" in the cycling sense almost all the way to "hot". If cycling tans made people fast...

A bit more nerdy chatter about how I'm getting through the ride. 150 miles was long, but honestly it felt okay. In fact, I rode steadily enough for the first 140 miles that by the time I got to that point and I was sure I could make it no matter what I started going full throttle just to see what my body could do after 8+ hours of riding. Surprisingly, quite a bit. Not sure what is actually doing it, but here's today:

2x small non-fat latte (gotta watch the girlish figure)
3x 24oz water
2x 20z gatorade
2x 20oz Dr.Pepper
3x clif bar
1x ham-n-cheese croissant (I have a mean addiction to these)
1x old fashioned salt-n-pepper potato chips
2x electrolyte cocktail (tums for calcium, magnesium pill, potassium pill)

2270 calories in all. My power meter says I burnt 4000. My basal metabolism is 1800. So I'm happily not guilty about polishing a whole pizza post-ride.

That's it. So it's a lot of stuff but not outrageous. Whatever worked, I was happy it worked.

One other note for people interested in something like this, here's the nitty-gritty of the routine:

- 7am wake up, snarf something, kit out, sunscreen, roll out
- surprise, you bike all day
- ok, you stop 3-4 times at convenience stores to buy fluids and snacks
- ride into town 6ish, check in
- immediately eat something
- plug in almost completely drained phone
- order food
- get out rest of chargers and laptop etc
- download power meter data, photos
- get food, start eating
- shower, wash kit, use towel trick (roll kit in towel, wring it) to speed dry, hang it
- eat more
- work remotely, believe it or not, livin' the life...
- organize photos and post em
- use google earth and google maps to write down turn-by-turns on post-it for next day
- fill bottles, tape post it with turns on stem, pack
- 11:30pm (it takes that long), zzzz

I thought there would be time to watch some movies I brought on my laptop or read or something, but not at all. Maybe if there were 80 miles or less a day, but not at 120-150/day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pacific Coast Ride to LA Day 2 - Marina to Cambria

Alright then, where were we?

I'm riding to LA, basically because I can. More explanation in a previous post.

This morning found me in partly foggy Marina (just North of Monterey), headed South for an "easy" 115 mile jaunt to Cambria. "Easy" because yesterday was 137 miles, and tomorrow is (gulp) 150 miles. So I'm trying to take it easy today and not push too hard so I've got the goods for tomorrow.

I promised a little bit of gear talk today. One of the things I did both for fun and because it gives a great deal of piece of mind to my lovely, very understanding wife, is that I'm carrying a "GPS beacon". The term "beacon" means "locates itself using GPS, then actively strobes its location out somewhere". Which means if you're watching, you can tell I'm still moving, and not 2-dimensional on the road somewhere.

Specifically, I'm using a Motorola i465 (built-in GPS, runs Java ME apps), and the Instamapper GPS tracker app, on a Boost mobile pre-paid SIM card. If you know me, you know I won't spend money if I a) don't have to or b) am not sure it's worth it. The phone is from Target with a 90-day return policy, the app transmits data in a way Boost mobile doesn't charge for, and Instamapper is free. So the GPS beacon is free for 90 days. Ha.

This is a screenshot from my tracking page, shows the track, pardoning lack of cellular signal on the rugged Hwy 1 route.

More tech stuff - Instamapper let's you export the track in KML, the format Google Earth accepts. So this is the same track, but laid out on the beautiful Google Earth canvas. I used to work in a Geology department and I just love Google Earth. Look at that! It's beautiful. All those tectonics, laid out to see. A California treat.

Alright, so let's hit the road!

The very start of my ride. Gorgeous, I'll take two please.

This was on the way out of town. 4 century plants blooming at once - must be some sort of record. Really I took this for Merritt (my late father in law). He had a few of these suckers, and this made me think of him.

First sight-seeing moment of the day was the famed Bixby Bridge. Isn't it beautiful! Ah, California fog. Next.

I tried not to take too many of these. Was like this all day.

People that drive on Hwy 1: newlyweds (I saw lots of "Just Married" on cars), sports cars (Porsche is winning vs Ferrari by numbers), Harleys (always with a girl on back taking photos except *one* where the girl drove and the guy was on back), cars with surfboards, and a caravan of 5 woodie wagons. The woodie wagons were my favorite.


Right about now, 90 miles into this ride, I was thinking, holy crap this is hilly. I've got 8000ft worth of climbing in, is this ever going to flatten out? Luckily I rolled into smooth ranchland right after that, hallelujah. Heck of a profile though.

On the right of the ranch land, the Elephant Seals frolic. Okay, they just lay there, and they smell a bit fishy, but still, very cool and fun to watch.

Just before my stop for the night in Cambria, I passed by Hearst Castle. Let me be clear, I thought it looked cool, and I'm coming back with a motor, but I was *not* tempted to ride up that hill to get a closer look. I was knackered.

That's it. Absolutely huge day tomorrow, bigger ride than I've ever done, so off to bed for me. Thanks for reading and following along! I've been enjoying the comments here and on Facebook. Encouraging to have some connection while solo on the road like this, and I hope you enjoy the photos.