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.

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