Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Nicest Hardrock in Seattle

When I bought my bike, I thought that if I ever started racing, I'd buy something fancier. Fate had other plans and I don't think that the difference between one 26"-wheeled aluminum hardtail frame and another is very significant. So I'm focusing on getting my current bike to work for me as well as possible. I think that the most important attributes of a bike when trying for maximum performance are fit and that everything works.

My teammate gave me a kickass deal on those shifters several weeks ago, and since my chain and cassette were both pretty dead anyway I figured I'd take the opportunity to upgrade. The stem is something I won at a race in February and it gives me a little more aggressive position. I'm planning to try an even longer stem when I get my current vehicular drama sorted out.

This crankset is the gift crank for my birthday. It's got a little larger big ring, a little narrower stance, and the middle ring is made out of steel and carbon fiber. Totally cool.

And this is the bike in its curent configuration. A new stem could be a near-future item, since they're available in a bin for $10 each at one of my local shops. I'd also like to put on new brakes, with larger brake pads and a choice of compound, because the current brakes don't always survive the whole length of a muddy race. Also, the brakes I'd like are self-adjusting. After that, a new wheelset would drop a ton of weight and help the rear tire sit a little better. Beyond that, I don't see the utility of putting on a nicer rear derailleur unless I wear out the current one so the bike would be maintenance-only.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Riding Bikes, Looking Hot.

Here's one from Sunday in which I'm actually on my bike.

Credit for the picture goes to Josh, who got lots of good pictures of the race. Check out his Picasa.

Monday, July 27, 2009

MTB Pics from Yesterday and Earlier

This is the only one from yesterday so far... I actually managed to ride up that hill once, and it's steeper than it looks, I swear.

This is from the Whidbey Island Mudder back in May.

And this is from a 'B' race in March, when I was thinking about not fixing my suspension fork.

All pictures were taken by Joe Martin. I found the older ones on his Picasa after he posted that he'd taken some of my class at Roslyn.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hot. Dry. Dusty. Steep. Really, really hard.

I thought Padden Mountain was a difficult race. The weather was actually really nice for racing, though - close to what I'd ask for if I could put in a request. Today was hot. Really hot.

According to the NWS, temperatures were around 82 when I started and 88 or so when I finished. Humidity was pretty low, so getting enough water into me was really hard. I was a bit dehydrated by the end.

The course started with a brutally steep climb. It kept going. For a really long time. I heard it was a mile and a half from guys who pre-rode with odometers. On the first lap, I did a fair amount of walking because it was really difficult to maintain balance if I got slowed down by someone in front of me, and hard to regain enough momentum to remount once I was off. Between the difficulty of the climb, especially since there was a lot of traffic around me, and the heat, I wanted to quit. But it flattened out eventually and the course followed the shoulder of a hill for a while, in some swoopy singletrack that was lots of fun. I didn't do it as fast as maybe I could have because I was a little dumb from the climb and the heat, and I didn't want to make a mistake and wipe out. Also, the trail was really, really dusty. There was some real depth to the dust, like sand at a beach. Then there was some more climbing.

At the top of the last climbing section, a couple guys had a water cooler set up and were handing out little Dixie cups with water. The first time I passed them, I slowed down a little and took a cup. I drank some and poured some over my head.

The descent was really difficult for me. I'm not a great technical rider and there were ruts across the trail that scared me a lot. I also didn't feel like I was getting very consistent traction. My whole bike was jackhammering a lot. I tried to be loose and soak up as much as I could with my arms and legs, but it was difficult. I also tried drifting some of the turns, but where Padden tended to have well-benched switchbacks with the occasional really technical section thrown in, this course tended to be constantly sketchy and off-camber, although without anything particularly technical in a rocks, roots or drops sense. Just dust, ruts, and erosion.

There was a brief flat section on fire roads and what looked like old mine tailings, and then the fun started again. I had a fleeting moment of thinking I could just stop right then, and not have to do it two more times. Then I continued past the finish area, climbed the first brutal climb, and took the hairpin onto more of the course instead of going past the gate onto the road and slinking home. I started feeling more positive after making that choice and generally did a bit better than on the first lap, although there were still a few sections I ran up and I still didn't descend very well. I also started riding past more guys who were walking and caught the back of the women's category.

The third lap was about like the first two in terms of difficulty for me. I had to run the first really steep climb, but it was short and at the borderline of where running, or climbing in a harness and hauling the bike up with a handline, is more efficient anyway. I allowed a pass in some singletrack by a guy who said I'd see him again on the next climb. He was right - I saw him walking up a climb, and didn't see him again until after the finish.

Out of 14 finishers in Sport Men 19-34, I was seventh. Unless there were some stragglers who finished after I looked, which is possible but somewhat unlikely. I'm a competitive person and would like to be getting better places, but I'm pretty proud of what I'm achieving with this series. Of course, it's not over yet. There's one more race in two weeks, with a less insane elevation profile - just as many feet of climb, but over several more miles. It's not enough time to increase my fitness level, but it is enough time to go mountain biking a couple of times and hopefully improve my skills and comfort on descents a little.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

About the Shot on my Masthead

I got a compliment on my new masthead recently. The picture is a cropped-down version of this one, which was taken at the Donida Farms race in the Seattle Cyclocross series. I don't have the information about who took this, so if it's yours, let me know and I'll give credit and a link or whatever.

Based on the angle and the file names, I think the below shot shot was taken immediately before the one above. It's funny how different the angle of the light can make the appearance of a picture.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Picture from Padden Mountain

All I'm saying about how I got this shot is that a web site can't give my computer permission to download a picture without giving my computer permission to download that picture.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Bar Has Been Raised

I went to a race near Bellingham yesterday. It was really hard. Bellingham is about 90 miles north of Seattle. I spent the night there the night before, so on race day all I had to do was drive a few miles to the race, which I ended up having some difficulty finding, check in, pre-ride and race.

Checking in was a little bit of a pain because there wasn’t a separate line for pre-registered riders. I love that line. Then I had some trouble figuring out where the course was, so I started my pre-ride several minutes after I’d planned to, and barely finished it in time to get to the staging area for my start. I’m still glad I did the pre-ride, though. I learned that the course was really, really difficult. A lap was 3.2 miles, according to the race promoter, with 650' feet of climbing and some really tricky descending. That makes it comparable to my "hills" route in terms of feet of climbing per miles, except off-road. There were a couple of spots that I didn’t think I could climb mounted, and ran instead, and there was one section I didn’t think I could descend, and ran instead.

“Running” is a very positive way to describe what it’s like to go down something on foot that’s too difficult to descend on a bike – usually it’s easier to get down something weird on the bike. This particular section had three lines, of which I spotted two. The straight one required getting over an off-camber thing that I thought would make me skid and hit a tree. The next line going to the left required turning on the off-camber thing immediately after dropping off a root, and I wasn’t confident that I could do that either.

During my pre-ride, I felt like my rear tire was a little too soft. When I got to the start area, it was 11:29 and my start was at 11:34 I saw that the women starting in the 11:30 start hadn’t gone yet, so I figured I had enough time to top it up before my wave. I was right, barely. I borrowed a floor pump and put a few extra pounds in my rear tire just in time to run back to the staging area, drop my bike in the pile of bikes belonging to 19-34 Sport Men, and join the other riders.

We did a LeMans start, which means all the bikes went in a staging area and we started about fifty yards away from them and had to run to them when the race started. Just getting through one lap on yesterday’s course was difficult for me, so I decided to do the race pretty conservatively, to make sure I could complete it. I didn’t run very hard during the start, and I allowed a ton of passes during the rolling section before the first steep climb. I passed a few people too, but anyone I pass during those initial miles really shouldn’t be in front of me in the first place, in my opinion.

Things started to stretch out a lot when we started climbing. I passed a fair number of people, and got passed by a few. Some of them gained their spots back when the course flattened out a little bit, briefly, and I allowed some more passes on the descent, where I’m really not that strong. One of the things that I enjoyed about this course was that I saw a lot of the people who passed me on the descents again as soon as the course turned upward. I didn’t necessarily pass them right away – that section of the course didn’t have long climbs, but they were super-steep, including two of the portions I ran instead of riding. I think it cost me less to get up that stuff than a lot of guys, and I did run past a few people, as well as maintaining my place running among riders who stayed mounted. I used to think I wanted the next cassette on my mountain bike to be geared the same, or even higher, but now I’m inclined to get something geared a little lower – the climbs were long, loose and steep, and I couldn't always maintain a fast cadence in the gear I had.

Around lap 2, some of the fast guys from the 35-44 and singlespeed classes passed me. Some time during lap 3, the faster part of the 35-44 field did, although I think I only saw one or two singlespeed riders. I also started passing women and Clydesdales during lap 3. The Clydesdales looked like they were really hurting – the total weight of me and my mountain bike is probably about 165 pounds, maybe a little less with some of the fancier bits I’ve put on mine since purchasing it. To race Clydesdale, the rider has to weigh 200 pounds before even adding the bike, water, and any gear. I don’t know if I could get that much weight up the climb, but they do have higher power outputs than me.

During the third lap, I allowed a pass before the downhill section I never figured out. Both riders hooked sharply to the left and dropped off a root onto the section I’d been running. That line never occurred to me, and I was mad at myself for not seeing it – I think it was a way to do the descent that I could have done safely and consistently. I resolved to do it that way on the fourth lap.

The race was four laps, so on an easier course I’d probably start thinking about where I wanted to start attacking some time during the third lap. I actually had that thought yesterday, but by the time I finished the climbing at the end of the lower portion of the course, I dismissed the idea. The fourth lap found me struggling in lower gears than I was using in the second and third laps. I made mistakes in some of the technical sections, and decided long before I saw the hard descending section that I wasn’t going to try to do it. Attempting something at the end of the race that I couldn’t do fresh is pretty egotistical even for me, and I didn’t want to get hurt.

Surprisingly, I found I still had some energy to burn when I got to the last climb, so I did it fairly quickly, and then shifted into my big chainring and started going as fast as I could on the last descent, which was gently rolling and had banked curves. I threw a little gravel around on the last chicane and then got into my best tuck and spun my way to the last corner, then sprinted the last forty yards to the finish. I hear there was nobody near me, but I can’t always tell when I’m racing and after almost losing a win to thinking I was alone, I try to sprint all my finishes.

I came in eleventh. I’m not sure how many people were in my field, so I’m not sure how good that is, but I think it puts me at least in the top half. I’ve been finishing most of my races this season in the top half or top third, so I’m pretty happy with that result, although it would have been cool to make the top ten.

I used to think that cyclocross races were the hardest thing I do on my bike on purpose. This race had moments as intense as racing cyclocross, but it lasted about two hours. It's now the single hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike on purpose, although I didn't feel quite as destroyed at the end as after my first cyclocross race back in college.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Running and I have an interesting relationship. I've done it on and off since I was fourteen or fifteen, but aside from when I ran track in high school, for a whole semester, I've never been particularly serious about it.

Now that I'm being kind of serious about riding my bike, I'm trying to be more serious about cross-training too. I think that if I only ride my bike, I will be a very fast cyclist but stand to get hurt more easily either through overtraining or when I fall off. One aspect of my more ambitious plan is running. I think that it will lead to improvements in my cyclocross race pretty directly, and I also think that it will help prevent overtraining injuries that I can be prone to on my bike.

Another reason to resume running is that to train on a bike, I need a bike. More than that, I need a bike that fits me. When I'm traveling, this can be a problem. In order to go for a run, I need to bring a pair of appropriate shoes and some suitable clothing. It's a lot easier to fit that in a carryon bag. ActionMom's bike is actually only a size too small for me, but I would still need to bring my own shoes, pedals and saddle. I also prefer my own helmet and she doesn't have a seat wedge or the necessary tools to fix a flat or a mechanical problem. I'm visiting San Francisco through the 11th and on this trip, I went with just running shoes.

After my last experience with running, I realize that this is something I need to be very careful with. I need to make sure that I'm really warmed up before I go, and I need to limit the amount of running I do until my body starts to adapt to it again. If I could run ten miles in high school, I see no reason I can't train to run ten miles now, but since I couldn't run three miles last August, clearly I've got some work to do. So my plan is to start by doing alphabets, then do some calf presses, and then go for a thirty minute running workout. I'm not going to say "thirty minute run" because the runs that screwed up my ankle in August were under twenty-five minutes, so I don't think I should actually run for thirty minutes. I'm going to be "that guy" who's wearing the expensive(ish) running shoes and powerwalking, glancing at his watch, running for a little bit, etc. It's going to frustrate me. I know that there are consequences to giving in to my urge to go fast, though, so I'm going to be disciplined, be "that guy" and work my way up to being able to go for a thirty minute run. My new place is less than a mile from Green Lake Park, so I can join all the other Seattleites dressed for running and doing anything else.

I had a big idea about how I was going to go running this morning. What I actually did, though, were some alphabets and some calf presses. The calf presses caused something in my ankle to start clicking and feeling a little swollen. My urge was to lace up my shoes and go anyway, but I'm trying to be disciplined. I did go for a walk later with some relatives who are on their way to the same wedding that's brought me to San Francisco, but it's a very small start compared to what I'd like to be able to do.