Sunday, November 30, 2008

Last Race of the Series

Today was the last race of the series I've been competing in.  It was a good day for me in a number of ways - while the course wasn't great for me, being mostly flat and on grass, with no trail sections, it required a lot of short, hard accelerations, which is something I've been practicing.  I'm also just getting to be in better shape and more capable of maintaining a higher level of intensity for the whole race - while I suppose I could have gone a little harder in the beginning (and blown myself out for the end) I was able to race a lot harder than I could in the beginning of the season.  I almost wish it would never end, so I could keep clawing my way up the standings.

I finished 33rd today.  Numerically that's my best finish so far, although the field was smaller - 47 instead of 67 finishers last week.  When the final scores come out, I'll know how many started.  Last week, I beat 17 other racers and this week I beat 14 others, but I think that proportionally I finished further up.  Improvement's really what I'm looking for.

Anyway, what everyone really wants is pictures and Zach was there playing "personal photographer" today.  So here's a selection of shots he took...

The course was mainly flat, but there was a grassy bump on it.  It was really only about 15' tall, but the course designers work with what they have.  The course approached it from one direction, did an off-camber hairpin, and went back the way it came, then had a runup up it, which is what's behind me in this picture, and finally approached the shoulder again for a sandy runup and an uphill remount.

Mostly I think this is a cool picture.  This is one of the many hairpin turns on the course.  Today's race really favored someone who could sprint out of them again and again and again.  I have a limit as to how much of a sprint I can still bring to one of these things by the fourth lap, but the guys who win on courses like this can do it again and again and again.

This is my "roadie face."  Sort of like a metal face or a war face, but for racing bikes.

Zach took the last shot from on top of a sand mound with some jumps built into it.  I'm going downhill after the last section on the side of the little grass hill thing.  He says it's his favorite picture from today.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Less Mud, Less Race

My race on the 9th was actually really bad.  I feel like my biggest problem was not being able to get any traction, but it was bad in a lot of ways, which was kind of wierd.  I got a decent start and I felt like I was doing okay for a while, but there was a marshy section of track in the infield that I just bogged down in, and lost a bunch of places.  The course deteriorated from lap to lap, and my next problem was that a turn across a paved section had a thin layer of mud on it that I had a really difficult time doing without falling.  I didn't fall, but I had to slow way down every time.  Another section of track was a slight downhill section on grass with another 180 degree turn.  I had lots of trouble with that every time, frequently skidding my rear wheel.  The turn itself pointed down hill, which made it really difficult.  I had to put my foot down to keep from falling a couple times, and once the guy behind me actually wiped out.  Passing through the marsh section during the last lap, I actually washed out my rear wheel badly enough to wipe out.  Since it was flat, that's pretty embarassing.

The other place that was a problem for me was the trail section.  I'm not always brilliant in those, but I'm usually pretty good - mountain biking means much rougher trails than what these races ever go through.  My cyclocross bike is less capable but I'm usually able to negotiate the trails well and frequently close on the next guy in front of me.  I also usually don't make mistakes that lose me places, while other guys do.  I didn't really have a problem with the trail sections during this race, but they didn't help me either, and I lost some places misreading the tape lines twice, which is really dumb.

I feel like what gave me the most trouble on this race were the muddy sections that forced me to slow down more than they slowed the other guys racing, although I did have to stop and fix a dropped chain at one point, which is really irritating.  I did a "no excuses" tune-up on my bike afterwards - I've been using an all-conditions tire with a moderate knob, and I stuck a more aggressive tire on the rear wheel, which should help some with all the skidding, I had a chain watcher installed to help prevent my chain from dropping, and I tipped up my handlebars some to offer me a wider variety of hand positions.  I hope that the bar position will make it easier for me to adjust my weight over the bicycle, which should help with both the handling and traction problems I was having.

I think that I didn't have these problems in earlier races because the ones before Donida Farms were all pretty dry and fast courses, and Donida's mud was mainly on a trail and wet enough to flow well.  I'm realizing that when the mud is working its way up from under grass, it functions like a lubricant between my tire and the grass, which is already slick, so traction is even worse than when what I'm finding under the mud is dirt.  Donida also tended to have steeper slopes when we were riding on grassy sections, so they drained better and there weren't any mud-over-grass bogs like what I had so much trouble getting through last Sunday.

There's no race this weekend, so I can't go back and try again yet.  I had my rest day today and I'm going to try to do some off-roading tomorrow and on Sunday, with a couple intervals mixed in on Sunday either on the mountain bike or later in the day on my road bike, and then I'll ride but take it easy all of next week.  I don't think that my poor performance last Sunday was due to taking it easy the week before - I feel like I actually had more race in my legs, but was too bogged down by my problems with the course to do well.  Anyway, it'll be nice to have my "no more excuses" bike for the last two races at the end of the month, and if I do better I'll do one more in December before putting some road slicks and fenders on the bike and riding it to work.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Muddy Day in Hell

Last Sunday's race was cold, wet and ridiculously fun.  I did all my pre-race stuff properly - I got there in time to pre-ride, warm up, etc., and I turned in a pretty decent race.  I was 52 out of 66 finishers, although there were another four guys who didn't finish.  As far as pack placement, that puts me about where I've been, which is fine, and I'm going to tell myself that last weekend's race had fewer of the slow guys and so I had to beat more fast guys.  Or something.  In any case, it was definitely a race to remember.

It'd been raining most of the week and continued to rain on the day of the race, so the mud was unbelievable.  The course varied from dryer, stickier mud that generated a ton of rolling resistance to wetter mud that my bike had to sink through before finding traction.  There were even a couple puddles deep enough for me to submerge my rims in.  Despite all that, I managed to keep the rubber side down for most of my race.  I went down once in the infield, descending a tricky series of off-camber turns on a hillside, and then again near the end of the race.

The trail section was so saturated that at times it seemed like I was riding my bike through a giant milk shake.  I had to be extremely conscious of keeping my weight back any time the course went even a little uphill during that portion or I spun my rear wheel, and the rolling resistance was so high that even though the trails were mostly level, I was all the way in my lowest gear.  At the end of the race, I'd find myself trying to downshift and then remembering that I didn't have any more down to shift.  My second fall of the race came during this portion.  Because of how slick the mud was, if I wasn't pedalling evenly, I fishtailed.  Since I was tired and out of gears, my pedalling was not the smoothest it's even been.  So I was going around a little bit of a bend and lost traction in my rear wheel and fell.  The fun part of that was that I found the one thorn bush on the course to fall into.  I wasn't badly hurt, but it was enough to bleed a little bit.

While I was trying to get out of the bush I got passed by another racer.  He asked if I was alright, which is a nice courtesy, and I yelled at him to go ahead.  He shouted back (he was opening a gap by this point) that I'd catch him soon - he only had one gear.  It looked like a multispeed bike and I'm not sure what he meant.  Maybe he broke some of his drivetrain?  After I got back under way, I tried to catch him but I couldn't close the gap.  When the trail opened up again and got to the final straight, some other guy blazed past me.  I'm not sure how he still had the energy to do that at that point in the race, but he certainly earned the spot he took from me.  I managed a little bit of a sprint myself once the course got onto concrete, and now that I have the results in front of me, I can see that it's a good thing I did - some other dude was just a second behind me when I crossed the line.  That's close enough that if I hadn't sprinted when I got onto the pavement, he would probably have caught me.  At the time, I thought I was just sprinting because it's good training to cap a race with one last effort.

Anyway, I'm not racing up front with the really fast guys yet, but I've had to fight for my final position in my last two races and it's getting to be really fun.  I feel like I'm starting to race at a level where I'm really racing, if only with the other guys at the back, and not just slogging around a course for four laps and getting a time.

This coming race should be fun too.  Since I don't have one on the 16th, I've been training lightly this week on the theory that it's really the race a week out that my training is for.  It'll be interesting to see if I do much differently with a softer week behind me.