Sunday, February 22, 2009

Arrr We Having Fun Yet?

From time to time, I ride with a cycling club called Point83.  To call them a "club" is almost too strong a word.  There's no process for joining - a person just shows up and rides if they want to.  Rides start at designated places on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and are typically slow, short, and involve a lot of drinking.  When I only had time to ride at night, it was nice to be out on bikes with a group, but since I've been able to go riding during the day more and I have some other demands on my time in the evenings, I haven't been bothering lately.

Every now and then, they put on a larger event.  The Fucking Hills Race is one of these.  It piggybacks on the back of the Chilly Hilly, a ride put on by the Cascade Cycling Club, which is the largest and most rules-oriented club in the region.  Of course it's irrestistable to poke fun at them from time to time.  Cascade calls the ride their season opener.  It's a 33-mile loop on Bainbridge Island, which is a relatively unpopulated island in Puget Sound, and it has 2675' of climbing.  Cascade's riders wear numbers (actually multiple numbers, in multiple places on their bikes and bodies) so Point83's riders wear pirate flags.  Sometimes multiple pirate flags, like as capes or on flag poles flown from their bike racks.  I wasn't planning to go, but a few of my friends were and they said, "Come on!  It's lots of fun."  I didn't have anything better to do with my Sunday and the timing of the race is about right for me to switch gears in my training, so I figured I'd go.

I'm not sure why it's organized as a race, but it's only a race in a very loose sense anyway - there are no course martials to prevent someone from taking a shortcut, and most of the pirates were riding their usual bikes, with racks, fenders, panniers, etc. etc., some even wearing messenger bags.  Since the roads are open, there's also a limit to how hard someone can ride the course.  In that group, a stripped-down bike like my LeMond is a definite rarity.  Anyway, I'm a competitive person, so if someone says "race," then, like Jean Girard in Talladega Nights, I'm in it to battle with the entirety of my heart.  And brain - more on that in a moment.

The course length is kind of wierd for me.  I never practice riding 33 miles fast - since my events last fall were half an hour, I did intervals on a route that took me a little more than that to complete.  I sometimes practice riding really hard for forty-five minutes or even an hour, but never for the amount of time it takes to ride 33 miles.  I also sometimes do some really long rides - my 100-miler a couple weeks ago, for example.  So I figured I'd do the first half at my long distance pace, maybe with a few "magic shifts" and quick accelerations when I crested hills, and then go hard for the second half.  I ended up having a really good time.

My endurance pace is already faster than the vast majority of the riders who were on the course, so I dropped most of the pirates pretty quickly.  I started from near the back of the pack, so I saw the occasional pirate for most of the first half of the race.  It was fun to call out "Arrr!" as I passed them and get an "Arrr!" or "A-hoy matee" in return.  Around mile 17, I fell in with a couple of other very fast-moving pirates, and then the course flattened out a bunch.  I figured it was as good a time as any to eat a power bar, so I did, and then I started going faster - getting out of the saddle for ascents I thought I could finish that way, sprinting up to speed at the tops, not downshifting on the little rollers that I could just charge, etc.

I started to regret the power bar a little bit, but I caught back on to the other pirates, who'd dropped me when I was eating it, and dropped them, and then encountered another pirate pushing his bike up one of the stiffer climbs.  He and I ended up trading places for most of the last ten miles.  I'd drop him on the longer climbs, but he set the pace on the longer flat sections.  He said he weighed 190 pounds, but he was pretty lean, so he had to have been pretty muscular.  I also started trading spots with a group of four roadies.  I think they must have arrived on the same ferry and been going just a tiny bit slower than I was, because they were riding at almost exactly the same pace.  I had a bit of the same thing with them - I tended to pass them on the climbs, but I'd have to grab a wheel and hang on in the flat sections.

One of the amusing things about the four roadies was that they thought the course was only 27 miles long, not the advertised 33.  So when I hopped on the back of their paceline the first time, around mile 25, and asked if it was cool if I sat in for a while, they said sure, but why?  When mile 27 came and went, and mile 28 came and went, and mile 29 came and went, I think they decided that actually the course was really 33 miles.  Sitting in for 9 miles makes much more sense than sitting in for 2, although ultimately I didn't.  The other two pirates who were going my pace showed up again, and I was much more interested in them.

I think I lost a couple places at the very end finding the finish line, which was sort of hidden, but I wouldn't have placed in the top five and they stopped counting after that, so it didn't really matter.  Still, it would have been fun to know specifically how I placed - I know I was near the top of the field, just not how near.  Because I was trying for my fastest possible time on the course, I had a lot of time to hang out and eat chili.  One of my friends actually did three laps of the course, but wasn't competing in the Point83 event, and my other two were mostly just trying to finish.  Paul engaged in a fair amount of drama concerning how hard it was, although he wasn't trying for a fastest possible time and his bike's got some really low gear ratios available.  I'm really proud of my friend Amanda, though.  The amount of climb by mile is slightly less than the climbing on the hills route that I showed her, which is still something of a project route for her, but this ride was almost five times as long.  It's one thing to do a long ride on a flat course.  This course was pretty brutal.

Derrick, who does a fair amount of the organization for Point83, called and e-mailed a ton of equipment manufacturers before the race to see if they wanted to provide prize items.  A lot of them came through.  The top five men and women each got first pick, and then all finishers names went into a hat and following picks were by random drawing.  I got a 90mm downhill/freeride stem that I put on my mountain bike, and a couple more items when they finished calling names and opened the remaining prizes to "grab anything you want."  I'd been meaning to go out and pay money (when I had some) for such a stem, but now I don't have to.  It does weigh 100g more, though...  I also scored some tire levers I don't need, a spare set of grips for my mountain bike, a hat, and a new size XL white T-shirt (it's not even gone in the wash yet and I'm using it as a rag to clean my chains.)

By far the most rewarding thing about this ride, though, was that since I've never tried to do 33 miles (or 32, since our finish line wasn't quite at the ferry terminal) fast before, I had no idea how quickly I could do it.  I ended up cranking it out in 1:46.  That works out to an average speed of 18.1mph.  Rolling hills are kind of my thing, so I expected to go pretty fast, but I tend to hover around 18.5mph when I'm riding my bike longish stretches in the flats; I can sprint to slightly higher speeds but I really can't maintain more than 19mph (without a tailwind) for any length of time.  Since hills slow me down and my averages on my long rides tend to be around 14-16mph, I figured two hours would be a good goal for the ride.  I guess I've underestimated the training I've been doing, and the degree to which my sprints, climbs and quick recoveries would still be there for me after not doing speed work since November.  Anyway, I'm pleasantly surprised.  Part of it was the lack of traffic - I could mostly focus on staying at the same level of intensity all the time in the first half of the route, and on going as fast as I can without blowing up on the second half.

Now I need to see if I can do a Century in 6 hours (17mph average.)  I'm not sure how likely that is, since my races are only an hour long this season, which means my "go fast" rides won't last longer than an hour and a half of really working hard and the training value to rides over about three hours is pretty questionable.  I figure if I just shrug and do a really long ride once a week, I can work on that goal without really impeding my progress toward racing fast.


Amanda said...

Maybe riding with me at my slow, consistant cadance *is* helping you out and increasing your aerobic base/fat burning tendencies. I really am super proud of you - that is an AMAZING feat, even if you don't think so! :)

tres_arboles said...

Great post. I rode Chilly Hilly but I'm not a CBC member. I've been intrigued by the supposed animus between the CBC "weekend warriors" and .83 "hipsters" ever since Eric Barnett blogged about the FHR on the SLOG. I had a feeling her take was a bit two-dimensional. Thanks for adding a little more perspective to the deal.