Monday, October 27, 2008

Lots of mistakes, but a kickass race

Here's me, using my shiny new bike for its intended purpose.  I think that as of now, it has more racing miles than any other kind.

It wasn't my best race for a number of reasons.  I finished 79th out of 90 finishers.  However, I learn more every time I race, so I'm not too broken up about it.  I actually had a really good time.  Near the end of the last lap, some guy came up on my rear wheel and started yelling at me to regain contact with the dude in front.  So I did.  Before that happened, I thought I was going as hard as I could without standing and sprinting (and blowing myself out.)  But with him shouting at me, I was able to dig a little deeper, spin a little harder, and get back on that rear wheel.  At the time I thought, "He just wants me to pull him into position to take me and the three guys in front.  But you know...  I don't care."  And while I'm not sure who it was behind me and I don't know if he actually did pass us all or not, I raced a little better because of him.

Earlier in the race, something very similar happened to me.  I think I passed him first, but I'm not sure...  If my memory of the race numbers isn't mixed up, which is possible, it was the guy wearing '451.'  Anyway, after I passed him and rode for a while, he passed me.  I yelled at him, "Are you going to be my race today?"  He yelled back something that came down to "Yes, and I'm sure we'll both go faster." So we battled it out for a while, and then I lost track of him.  In looking at the results, he actually finished one second after I did.  If my memory serves, which, again, is questionable, my chain dropped some time after that interaction, so I must have dropped him and lost contact for a while.  I think it was on an ascent that I had more legs for, but, again, it was the middle of a race - I'm not really sure what happened.  Perhaps he was also the guy yelling at me in the last lap.

Anyway, there were a lot of mistakes I made that prevented me from doing my best race in terms of competing with the other racers.  My biggest was probably that I didn't get to the event in time to pre-ride before the first race.  That meant that I pre-rode after they finished, which took them a while - it was a tough course - and started at the back of the pack.  There had been some bad crashes during the starts when the 9:30 races went, so I didn't start too aggressively - there's always a risk, but it seemed like a bad day to put myself out there.  Luckily, none of those riders were badly injured - there were some broken helmets and some road rash, but nobody needed to go to their doctor.  Anyway, I also did a ride on Saturday that ended up being harder than I anticipated, and I went into the race with tired-feeling legs.  So when the first turns started happening, I was definitely maintaining contact with the guys in front of me, but that consisted of almost everyone who was at the race that day.  I know I got passed some, so I could certainly have put myself in a worse position following the sprint, but I feel like I spent more of the day following, passing and bridging than struggling to maintain contact or being dropped or passed.

I feel like everything I did following the first turn was good racing, although not as hard or fast as I'd have been able to go if I rode fewer miles last week or a more conservative ride on Saturday.  However, with the size of the men's category four field, starts are super-important and I think that my bad one was a bigger factor than anything else in where I finished.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Best race yet

I meant to write about last week's race, but I've got a full-time job and I'm doing some after-work riding, and I never quite got to it.  It was a fun race, and I improved on my performance in the previous race, but it was incremental - my placement in my field was about the same as it had been two weeks before, albeit in a smaller field, and it was generally just a race in a series of races.  It was nice to have my bike all dialed in after the previous week's issues, but still - just a race.  I finished 68th in a field of 86, three spots away from getting series points for my finish.

This week I saw some dividends from what I've been putting in.  I finished 57th in a field of 77.  That's my best place both in terms of the raw number and in terms of where I ended in the pack, and it was good enough to get more series points than the two I get just for showing up.  Last week I included a hills workout and a fast group ride along with commuting and a slower group ride, and while I think I did too many miles and had to skip my recovery day rather than going on an easy ride, I don't think it's really effected me.  I also did my pre-ride earlier, which I messed up last week, so I could spend the 9:30 race watching, having a cup of coffee, and then wandering over to the starting area before everyone else showed up so I could start near the front.

When the whistle blew, my row started a lot sooner than the row I ended up in the last time, and I went pretty hard to try to maintain my position during the initial sprint, although I didn't go as fast as I can because there was another half hour of racing to do.  While I was still far enough back to have to walk the first little ascent and get tangled in other people's mistakes on two others, I did experience anywhere near the traffic jam that I have the last few times.  I think I may go a little harder on the sprint next time to stay in the draft from the more competitive guys, but aside from that I think I made the right choices about my pre-ride and start.  Riding aggressively in a group is something I really need to get used to.

The race itself was pretty fun.  I was pushing myself more because I wanted to maintain my spot and I figured I probably could.  There was a little rain last night, so there were some mud patches - my bike definitely looks like it's been to an off-road race - and the ground was pretty well packed.  The sandy parts were more ridable and a climb with some roots in it that I dismissed as a run-up last week had good enough traction to do it mounted this time, which I did.  I also tried to stay on the bike more, even in areas where I might have gained some time by running, on the principle that the energy I'd save staying on the bike would probably be more valuable by the end of the race.  I think that was a good choice today.

I think the only thing I really did wrong was the way I rode my easy miles last night.  I did some pretty extensive reconstruction on my project bike recently and wasn't able to get the shifters placed on the down tube, as I'd hoped to.  Right now they're tied to the handlebars and almost unusable, so I did most of my evening ride last night in a gear that's good for going fast on flat roads but makes climbing a little difficult.  Rather than fighting with the shifters, I just pushed the gear I was in, and this morning I could feel some fatigue in my legs from the moment I got on my bike to pre-ride the new course.  I think that's part of why I drifted back a little bit during the sprint at the start of the race, although the other guys having stronger legs is a much bigger factor.

Anyway, by the end of the race I was only using my smallest chainring.  That's not a whole lot slower than what I was doing in the beginning, which was to ride in the middle chainring except on climbs and use fairly easy gears within that range, but it's not finishing strong either.  There was definitely a certain extent to which I was just trying to finish by the time I did, because I was looking at the counter to see how many laps I had left when I got through the line even though I knew the last time I crossed it that I was embarking on my last lap.  My lungs were still doing fine and I didn't feel sick or heavy or anything, so I think I just didn't have enough race in my legs that day and used up the last little bit on one of the run-ups.

I was pretty confident that I'd done well when I did get my head out of its fog at the end.  I wasn't exactly passing riders left and right, but the pace felt good and I didn't actually lose many places during the last lap.  So after the race I wandered around for a while and had another coffee and then went to see the score board and I was certainly pleased that I'd made it into the points, but I wasn't too surprised about it.  I was a little surprised at how much better I did than I have been doing - I thought I'd be clinging to the bottom of the list of guys earning more than two points, and I suppose I am but I was thinking "Come on, come on, three points" and eleven's certainly more than three.

In order to improve next week, I think I need to to keep following this training schedule, with a hills workout and a fast ride on Tuesday and Wednesday and more conservative riding tomorrow and on Thursday, and I need to do my easy ride on Saturday on a bike with a functioning shifting system so I don't end up stomping up any hills I should spin up - my easy ride needs to actually be easy.  It would also be good to do it earlier in the day, but whatever.  Doing some running would be good too.  I think if I keep doing some decent training during the week (but not too late) I should keep improving my race.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Crosstoberfest

Another weekend, another race.  I went out and bought a shiny new toy after last week's race.  It's lighter, faster and handles better.  It's also less stable, has less traction and won't take as much punishment.  However, that's the tradeoff going from a mountain bike to a cyclocross bike, and I'm glad I did.  I had a blast racing today.

This was a non-series race, which is fine because I didn't want a race to be the first time I took my new Kona off-road, and it was.  But it's not one that counts toward my standing in the series I'm doing.  I did pretty much the same thing this time as last time in terms of going to the race early to pre-ride, etc.  The course had some sections on real, honest-to-goodness singletrack, which made me happy, and it passed through a volleyball court at one point, which was a really sadistic choice.  Anyway, I did my usual thing - got there early, pre-rode, registered, watched the 9:30 race, etc.  It was raining, though, which added a little spice to the undertaking.  I tried to look at people actually doing sections of the track when I was watching and I learned some interesting things - for example the traction on the sand in the volleyball court was so bad that guys who got off their bikes and ran it actually passed the guys trying to ride it.  The organizers also decided to eliminate the barrier at the bottom of the run-up, such as it was, and replace it with two barriers in the middle.  I thought that was a good choice because when I pre-rode, I found that the barrier was in a place that made a dismount super-awkward and potentially dangerous (more than cyclocross already is.)

When my race got called up, I found myself a spot near the back of the pack at the starting line, on the idea that if I wasn't planning to explode out of the gate, try for the holeshot, and spend the whole course standing up and hammering, something I'm not really in good enough shape to do, it would be better not to spend the race getting passed either.  The men's category 4 field was 70 riders deep, so as soon as the course had its first turn there was a bottleneck and there were more bottlenecks at the following 180s and the volleyball court.  The race actually slowed down enough for me to dismount and smack-talk at these points.  The volleyball court slowed the field enough that when people got going again they were spread enough not to have another major traffic jam until the first singletrack section, a very short loop that entered and left the woods surrounding the race course.  The next singletrack was another bottleneck, and that problem cropped up pretty much every time the course ventured into mountain bike territory.  On the trails, I was passing riders from time to time, but there were some 180s in the infield that went under trees and had roots and loose soil complicating them and those gave me lots of trouble.

On the second and third laps I got to push my speed a little bit, although I never charged because I didn't want to blow myself out before the fourth lap.  I ended up falling a couple of times when my rear tire wiped out on the wet grass and almost fell once when I decided to do a powerslide.  Note to remember:  Regaining traction on 35mm tires is much harder than on 2.1" tires.

I banged my front left shifter a couple of times and during the fourth lap I got it so far off-angle that I couldn't operate the brake properly.  Since it's my front brake, I stopped at that point and shoved it back, more-or-less, into place before continuing.  That lost me a couple of places and since it was during the fourth lap I was never able to regain them.  I actually passed those guys running through the volleyball court, but I couldn't get back into my pedals fast enough when I remounted to maintain my advantage.

Ultimately I finished 62nd in a field of 70.  I'm not totally sure how to interpret that.  I finished 85th in the last race, but in a much larger field.  The most charitable view would be that the twenty guys I beat and sixteen guys I didn't decided not to come today, and I beat eight guys who beat me last week.  Or I could figure that the top guys didn't bother to come because this is a non-series race and so I did worse.  I guess I'll have to wait until the next SCX race and see how I do.

Things that worked for me in this race were that the course involved singletrack, my bike was better, and my legs were rested enough for me to race harder than last week.  I think that my idea about taking the day off two days before a race and doing an easier ride the day before was a good one, and I'm going to keep doing that.

Things that didn't work for me were that I may have sold myself a little short in my starting position and lost places because of that, that I had a really hard time keeping the rubber side down, that the bolts holding my shifters on weren't tight enough, and that I could  have done better if I had more aerobic capacity at really high effort.  Also that I frequently got stuck behind slower riders on the singletrack sections.  At the end of the race, my back hurt like crazy, so I think my handlebars are too low.

The biggest thing for me to ride better races through the season is probably to work on my aerobic capacity up at really high heart rates.  Tomorrow I'm going to do a chill-out ride, but that leaves me with Monday-Thursday to train, depending on work.  With Thursday as a recovery ride, I have three rides to play with.  I think a fast road ride, a fast off-road ride, and an intervals ride would be a good use of my time.  I also think that I need to work on keeping the rubber side down.  I don't know how many places I lost falling or how much energy I wasted getting started again, but I'm sure it was significant.  I need to start doing some off-roading on my cyclocross bike, and it occurs to me that I can do that on my chill days if I don't go too hard.  I think that to ride a better race next week I also need to keep tweaking my equipment - I'm going to try raising my bars a little and tipping them down a little more, since I found I rode the drops most of the time in the race and that would make them more comfortable, and I'm going to try running my tires at 35psi instead of 40, which should give me better traction.  I'm also going to make the bolts on my shifters a lot tighter.  Having to stop and fix a mechanical problem was really irritating, but nobody's lining up to sponsor me and have a duplicate bike waiting in the pits for me to trade to if I have an issue.

So another race where I finished all the laps, wasn't the last person to do that, and didn't kill myself.  I also had much more fun than last time.