Friday, April 23, 2010

T-one month

I've had a pretty rocky start to my racing season this year. I've been to three 'B' races and finished two, and one 'C' race. I've already blogged about the two I finished - in one, I didn't ride hard enough in the first lap and it took me the entire race to catch up to the people in my class, and the second followed too intense a week and too little sleep, and I never found my rhythm. How well I did despite that in those races was encouraging, though.

Last weekend, I didn't even finish. I'd been having some trouble with my suspension fork and thought I might need to rebuild it. I let all the pressure out and ran it through its stroke a few times, and decided it was fine but that I'd pumped it up to too high a pressure. So I returned to my old pressures and went racing. Of course, I was no longer accustomed to some of the bad manners it sometimes exhibits at lower pressures - it lets the bike nosedive in dips, so riding braking bumps can be really difficult. I'm not that good at flat, technical terrain under the best of circumstances, so I had trouble keeping the rubber side down. About two thirds of the way through the first lap, I wiped out on a braking bump badly enough to wrench my handlebars around and pop my saddle off the rails. While people offered me the use of their saddle, it took a few minutes to fix my handlebars and would have taken some more time to swap saddles with someone else. I figured my race was already too far ahead of me to get back into it, and I wouldn't want to accept someone else's saddle and effectively end his. I finished the lap, and then walked off the course and cheered from the turn at the parking lot.

I'd been hoping to have one really good finish before the main part of my season, but it's a little late for that now. There are a few races between now and the Indie Series season opener, but one's in Eastern Washington, and another's on one of the islands in the sound and has a really high race fee, so I'm not going to do either. However, Wednesday Night Worlds started last week, so I have those to go to on Wednesdays, and not racing means I've got four weekends to use however I want to.

A bad carpenter blames his tools and there's no magic suspension fork that will make me a better rider. So I plan to keep going mountain biking on at least one of the weekend days, and I plan to put a little extra emphasis on flat, technical terrain, either by riding in flattish areas more, by revisiting Soaring Eagle, or by lapping the flat trails in areas with more pitch. I may even try to do some speed work on singletrack. Going to as many Wednesdays as I can should help a lot too.

I may also try to do one high intensity road ride each week. It can sometimes be hard to maintain a consistent, high level of intensity on a mountain bike, especially since I'm less motivated to do that to myself when I'm not racing.

If I'm riding a little more smoothly when the Indie Series starts up in a month and I've been doing some speed work, I should be ready to ride really hard, keep the rubber side down, and have some really awesome races. Now I just need for them to get the last couple venues they're promising and have a strong season...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Racing Plans for 2010

This year's plan, at least through the summer, is to go to the last BuDu Racing race, most or all of the Indie Series races, a lot of Wednesday Night Worlds races and the Ski to Sea in Bellingham. I might also try criterium racing if I have a week that I can't make it to a Wednesday but my Thursday night is free. I have a perfectly good road racing bike and I think it might be fun.

Last year, I planned to race Beginner and ended up racing Sport all season. I generally came in mid-pack, and I was pretty happy with that. This year is not last year. I'd like to get into the top 5 some time this season. I'm also doing a lot more with my life at the moment, so fitting in training time will be more challenging. I had a nagging cough mid-season that lost me a couple races last year, and I dropped down to 135 lbs for a while. This year, I want to keep my weight no lower than 140 lbs, which I think will be healthier for me.

I'm also going to be doing the Ski to Sea this year, racing the mountain bike leg. It's 14 miles and I don't have a great sense of what the terrain will be like. In years past, people have contested it on slick tires, and with aero bars on their bikes. The organizers are claiming that this year it'll be on much more rugged trails, so that a mountain bike will be the best way to do it, not just the equipment mandated by the rules.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Bad Day Racing beats a Good Day...

I never quite found my rhythm in Sunday's race. There were a lot of reasons for it not to be my day, but one of the things that I like about racing is that what counts is what happens in between when someone says "go" or blows a whistle and when I roll across the finish line.

On Sunday, I started somewhat tentatively again. I didn't have time for a warmup or pre-ride when I got to the venue, so I didn't fight for a holeshot. The course started by crossing some fields and entering a flat, forested area. I maintained contact for a while, but I wasn't feeling great and I got slowed down by riders ahead having trouble with obstacles a couple of times in the forest.

After passing through the flat part of the woods, there was a stiff fire road climb. Normally, climbs are my friend, but even my lowest gear felt too high, and I lost a couple places. I tried climbing out of the saddle, but found I couldn't keep my rear wheel hooked up.

I lost another on the next big climb, then finally came into territory familiar to me from cyclocross races.

During the second lap, the leading riders from some of the other starts started catching me, and I got passed quite a lot. I felt out of breathe and my legs felt slow and heavy. I finished the lap convinced I had to be at the back of the pack for my class. I also finished feeling a lot better than I often do after these races. I notice that when I'm in good form, I can push myself a lot harder and while I have more fun racing and get better finishes, I also feel a lot more destroyed afterwards.

My result was actually better than I thought. 8th place again, but in a field of 12, placing me in the middle third. I was 85 seconds behind the guy in front of me, and about three and a half minutes back of the 4th-6th place riders. In a race lasting a little under an hour, 85 seconds is not a lot of time.

In a sense, I haven't learned anything new from this race. That made it pretty frustrating. But when the results were posted, I was reminded of something I noticed last season - just because I'm not feeling that good subjectively or I didn't get to pre-ride and warm up doesn't mean that my performance will degrade as much as it feels like it should. If a bad day puts me in a bad mid-pack spot, a good day can probably put me in a good mid-pack spot, maybe a better one than what I was able to do last season. I was glancing over some old blog posts and saw that I finished the season wanting to crack the top 5 in an Indie Series race. I'd say that's a good goal to work on this season, since I never quite did it last season.

I get another chance this weekend. So I'll try to get a lot of sleep this week, race hard tonight, get to the venue with time to pre-ride and warm up, and then race at high intensity right from the start and keep it going until I cross the finish line. I'd like at least one good finish before the Indie Series races start up.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Back to School

I started taking classes at North Seattle Community College a few days into January this year. I took some classes when I was in New York, but they were more vocational; this time felt different. Anyway, I did pretty well throughout the quarter but finals still made me nervous. They were all more-or-less comprehensive, and I didn't realize quite how much material each of my classes covered until I started reviewing.

Physics I is part of a three-part series, but it's actually a logical selection of material. The focus is on Newtonian physics, and apart from a look at gravity, it all takes place in the inertial frame and deals with things sized somewhere in between a pea and an ocean liner. That made the final relatively easy to study for, since there was very little material that we studied early in the course and then stopped using. Of course, actually taking my physics final was a little but of a "worst case" experience for me - I forgot to take my book, and then brought out my old test notes page instead of the new one I made. It can't have been that bad, since I still got a 4.0 in that class.

Chemistry was a harder final to prepare for. That course covered a lot of material, and it didn't necessarily build in a logical way. So I had some reviewing to do. However, multiple-guess tests are never that difficult for me. I got a 4.0 in that class too.

My math class is my token sub-4.0 grade, a 3.6. I don't quite know what that means, but I'm satisfied with it. Differential Equations are very difficult. I think that calculus takes a much higher degree of problem solving ability than anything that comes before, and differential equations reincorporate a lot of more difficult parts of algebra too. I don't know how I did on the final itself, but I messed myself up a little in how I studied for it.

At the end of the course, we studied the Laplace Transform. It's difficult, but it's seductively close to being a "magic bullet" that solves all differential equations problems. A lot of the harder stuff from earlier in the course can't be solved with it, though, and a lot of that showed up on the final. Another problem I had was that my teacher said that all problem solving methods would be either our choice or sometimes required to be the Laplace Transform. However, there were a few that were written as requiring different techniques, from earlier in the course, that I hadn't used in weeks. I can't have done that badly, but it was a terrifying test.

So one quarter down, and I've got a pretty good GPA started. This quarter, I'm taking more chemistry and more physics and unfortunately couldn't fit in a third course - the only one at NSCC this spring that I need and have the prerequisites to take is linear algebra, and it conflicted with physics on Fridays. Of course, physics has a lab on Friday and linear algebra has a quiz, so I can't skip either course.