Monday, October 31, 2011

Record Slow Start

I got back from my run a few minutes ago. My ankle hurts a little, my shin hurts a little, my knee hurts a little. And I'm still doing the Couch to 5k Week 1 workout. This puts me square in the middle of my third week of week 1, and I decided that my standard to promote myself to the next week would be finishing two out of three runs without weird joint pain. Wow. I wonder if anyone else has done the first week this many times.

The crazy part is that this is actually progress. I had a run last week that didn't hurt. Tonight's hurt a lot less than it could. All of them have hurt less than the ones that prompted me to see my doctor back in 2008, or any of the ones that made me decide to stop running the last times I decided to pick it up again. This also puts me in the third week of running regularly. Even if it's the sort-of running workout that is week 1 of the Couch to 5k. (Look it up. It's kind of pathetic, if you're coming from my perspective.)

So I'm feeling pretty good about this, strange though that may seem. I don't think I've had a running stint this long since High School. What hurts is changing, and getting less painful. I was optimistic last week that this would be my last week of week 1. It won't, but I think there will be a week 2. Which is better than I've done in the past.

I like having goals. So I've chosen an event. I'm doing the Resolution Run on New Year's Day 2012, ready or not. If I'm not ready, I'll just do whatever workout I'm scheduled to do that day. I've always thought New Year's Resolutions were a stupid way to start new things. But as a goal, or at least a progress marker, for the new thing I've already started, maybe it's a little better. And crazy people will jump in the lake at the end, so it should be fun.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Revisiting Running

Every year or so, I decide to take up running again. I haven't turned into a very good runner, but I've been getting better at taking up running.

I ran track in high school, briefly, but with no ill consequences. I ran in college, sort of - I'd run to the gym with a friend of mine, lift weights, and walk back to the dorm. When I got more serious about dance, I mostly stopped. Not in a pointed way - I just didn't have a lot of desire for more aerobic exercise, after a full training load dancing. When I stopped dancing, I started riding my bike a lot again but didn't do anything with running for a while.

In August of 2008 (I know because the date's written on the side of my old shoes) I decided I was going to start running again. I was in Manhattan for another month or so before moving to Seattle full-time, and I'd already shipped my road bike. At that point, I'd been doing a slow, steady mileage build on the bike for months. My aerobic engine was pretty good. I was strong.

So I bought some new shoes and knocked out a couple of 3 mile runs at whatever pace. Whatever pace had me back at my apartment in well under a half hour. And, a few runs later, I was having bad enough ankle problems that I even had to skip a couple days of work. Some background here is important - I was working as a stagehand, and I'd done enough days on my feet on concrete that I was wearing work boots with fancy insoles. Basically, my ankles and arches were very well supported for almost every load-bearing minute of the day. This is not a great thing - in fact it's the basis of the whole minimalist running movement. And even for someone with strong ankles, going straight to relatively intense, relatively long runs like that is not indicated.

So aside from a few leg opener runs later in the fall, I gave it up.

I picked it up again in 2009 and 2010, with similar results. I went for a run with my brother in which he took me apart, all the while commenting that I was probably in better aerobic shape. I was making a lot of noise on the pavement, something neither of us thought could possibly be efficient. I tried to do some runs doing 5 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking, and shelved the project when pain and a change in my schedule interfered. I did a couple runs in the winter of this year, and then stopped again for similar reasons. At least I didn't hurt myself badly enough to miss work that time, though.

I'm doing some things differently this time. I'm trying to emphasize form. I actually considered getting some of those goofy barefoot shoes, but after talking to a few people and a shoe salesman, I decided that would be going too far for where I am right now. Of course he'd love to sell me a pair in about six months, but it's not like he was risking a sale putting me in something else for now.

My old shoes are Saucony Hurricane 10s. They're practically the definition of what the barefoot running movement is reacting against. They have a huge cushion. There's a fair amount of heel-toe drop. The medial side of the midsole under the heel and arch is denser, to correct overpronation. The upper is heavily reinforced for the same reasons. There's a stiffener in the sole somewhere. My form can go to hell and I can keep running, sort of, in these things. The next step is an air cast. Of course, I still weigh 153 lb, and 3/4" of foam isn't going to make that go away, even if it makes me think I can pound on my feet harder. In addition, I'd managed to wear out the gel, so they weren't absorbing all that shock I was delivering. No wonder I hurt myself! I'm a little surprised that I wore them out, but I guess I started and stopped enough times, over a long enough period, to add up to however many hundred miles it takes.

The new shoes are Brooks Launches.

They're a neutral shoe with very little architecture. No guidance this or anti-pronation that, and very flexible. They're even kind of close to my team colors! (Brooks, can you do me a pair with yellow laces, instead of fluorescent green? Thanks.) They also have a beveled heel, which is really cool - I'm trying not to heel strike anyway, but they at least don't generate a bunch of leverage to make me transition super-hard if I do. There's still a little arch support (really more that the shoe embraces my instep more than tries to make it do anything) and they're still shock absorbant shoes. They're also marketed as a competitive shoe.

So that's one thing I'm doing differently - shoes that don't hide my lack of form from me.

The other thing I'm doing differently is that I'm trying to be disciplined about following a conservative training plan. I'm doing the Couch to 5k. I'm not crazy about the name - I haven't been sitting on the couch, thank you. But whatever. I think if I can keep my form together, I can run without hurting myself. When I get tired, my form starts going to hell, and I get hurt. This plan starts with workouts alternating running and walking. I only run for one minute at a time, with eight intervals in the week one workouts. I feel a little self-conscious about "running" workouts that are less than 50% running, but I've been doing them in my street clothes, which is a little less bad - at least I look like a goober running in street clothes for eight minutes, instead of a goober walking in running clothes for the other twenty-two or so. I just completed week 1, and I'll actually be repeating it next week, but I can complete these workouts with no lasting ill effects, which is a big improvement over the previous attempts. It's a nine-week program that finishes with actually running for half an hour at a time. For my goals, I may not try to run any more than that.

I guess I can re-evaluate the minimalist shoes thing if I start over with someone else. My girlfriend is going on one run a week with me, and I think some will feature hers. Part of the goal here is to start doing the parcourse exercises around Greenlake; that might be another time to re-look at minimalist shoes, since I'll have built-in breaks to prevent me from getting too tired and running with the crappy form that can make these things counterproductive for some people. Of course, when I start getting more heavily engaged in the 2012 cycling season, I may peter out again. I'm okay with that, if I get stronger and better-rounded as an athlete this Fall and winter - I'm trying to cross-train, not switch sports.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Keyboard Hotkeys - Windows 7 Installation on Asus M61Sn (and others?)

The driver you need is ATK Hotkey. It's in the ATKHOTKEY directory on the driver/utility disk that shipped with your computer. My initial install failed, but Windows 7 magically fixed it with the compatibility assistant.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I'm not trying this cyclocross season, I swear!

Repost of the race report I put up on my team's email list.

Cyclocross is not my favorite kind of racing. I've been promising myself and anyone who'll listen that I'm not going to be serious about it this year.

So of course I've made more preseason races and workouts than ever before this season. My mother and her boyfriend wanted to see me race, so I told them to make it a 'cross race. I started this morning's race more prepared than ever. Which still means not very, compared to some. Regardless, big thanks to Pete, Reeve, Emily, everyone else who showed up to work out, and anyone I didn't know was
helping organize the workouts.

The staging area was getting pretty crowded when I got there, so I lined up relatively far back. I pushed through a lot of riders when we started, and then positioned myself for the right-hander with the bank. But it turned out that our field was going all the way out to the grass climb/asphalt descent at the West end of the course. Whatever - I did that. I kept catching people, which is an unusual sensation for me. I managed to get places on asphalt straightaways. I managed to get places on turns on grass. I started wondering if I'd
actually hamstrung myself a little by starting further back than I should.

Then people started catching me. Some days, you hunt the rabbit. Some days you are the rabbit. Although, I actually passed most of those people again later. For the latter half of the race, I was catching some spots and losing some spots, so I probably just stayed put.

There was a sharp right-hander after the announce truck onto grass. It was narrow and banked. That was really fun. The left-hander from the asphalt over a couple of rollers was fun too. Nice.

I always try to put in one last dig and finish at my real max. Not my maximum sustainable for xxx minutes or anything like that. Just max. I've had a number of people tell me after races that once they saw me
get out of the saddle, they just gave up. It gets me 14th out of 20 instead of 15th but hey - it's a race. I started to today, then thought it was a little soon. Some other guy tore by before I decided I was close enough. He pulled an "Andrew" on me.

So I was catching people in a lot of turns, and catching people on asphalt. The singletrack wasn't long enough for me to catch anyone, necessarily, but I was narrowing gaps or opening them, I think. I
don't know my final place, but I do know it was somewhere in the middle. Other people had to be faster than me on something. I think if there was one thing I had a hard time with, it was straightaways and climbs on grass.

Guess I know what to work on for next time...

So I got 31 out of 64 finishers in that race. Not bad for something I don't see as my stronger discipline, and certainly better than any of my outings last year.

Here's me on the course.

Action Mom has always been my biggest supporter, so I wore her company jersey.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

52 miles is a lot!

On race day, I drove down to Capitol Forest and got in line to get my number and goodie bag. I bumped into a couple of teammates, which was nice. I rode around on my bike a little, but I'd already decided not to have a real warmup. I knew the race was long enough that I'd warm up, have a couple hours of strong riding, and get tired within the span of the race. So warming up first would just be moving the race further back in that sequence, and there'd be more tired riding. Most of the following is from the post I made on my team email list, with some comments in italics.

I had a really great race! The start was rough, but whatever. I put my bike about a third of the way back in the bike pile. It was a Lemans start, so we ran around a cone, picked our bikes up, and started racing. I was mostly just trying to stay in the team kit crowd, vs. the baggy shorts crowd - I didn't want to start too hard and blow up on one of the big climbs. Then I couldn't find my bike! Whoops. I actually still got started ahead of a fair number of people, but there was a ton of traffic for the first hour and a half or so. I'm having fun with Strava, and aside from one fifteen-minute period, it doesn't look like it really slowed me down. But I hate being in that much traffic, and was composing the Litany of Excuses - I can't see, the sun's in my eyes, my sunglasses are too dark, it's dark in the forest, there's someone's rear wheel in the way of me seeing the trail, there's sweat in my eyes, there's a stick in my rear wheel...

The last one actually had me worried, but the mechanic at Aid #1 trued it enough for the remaining 38 miles, and I got started again. Only lost a couple minutes, I think, and I didn't stop to refill water bottles, which I hadn't touched because I was trying not to crash my bike and get run over. Lots of people were in line at Aid #1, or just hanging out, and I didn't experience very much traffic from there on.

I set a new record on the climb up to Aid #2! I took just over ten minutes off my previous time. Certainly there are people faster on climbs than me. But they're something I take special pride in, so that makes me happy. I also caught a fair number of people. There was an extra 200' of climbing after aid #2. Surprise! (I was. Totally thought it was downhill to the turnaround from there.) I climbed it, I think I caught one or two more people, and then it turned into a really beautiful rolling descent. So I rolled and descended. Or something. Some flat singletrack, a tough fire road climb for a few miles, an aid station, then more, easier fire road climbing. I climbed pretty hard on the tough part, didn't think there was anything left afterwards, and so I ended up in the Pain Cave Pete (my teammate) had predicted on our Facebook page. My butt was numb and hurt. (Isn't it supposed to be one or the other?) My knee felt funny. My handlebars felt like they were in the wrong place. It wasn't steep enough. It was too steep. Etc.

Finally the intersection where the GL6 Super-D (the local advocacy group, Friends of Capitol Forest, promotes a race here every year. Greenline 6 is a trail that descends about 1700' in about 6 miles in this particular section.) descent starts showed up. Yay! That was totally fun. I got a new tire the other day, and I think it was channeling Kim. (The teammate I prerode portions of the course with. She's really fast in technical singletrack and on descents.) I even passed someone on the more
open, dusty section. I contemplated visiting Aid #1, decided I didn't need to, and blew by. Of course I immediately started wondering how much trail was left (about ten miles,) and how long it would take me. I thought it couldn't be that much, got some semi-useful information from a rider who was together enough to have something counting miles in a visible spot, and kept going. I was starting to get excited. I'd been hoping to beat last year's median time for Open Men - 6:15. But I passed Aid #1 at less than five hours, and started thinking, "there's no way there's an hour's worth of riding left." (Maybe not an hour. But 55 minutes or so.) So I crossed the line at 5:47:55.3. I make a habit, lately, of sprinting finishes. The finish was too far away along a paved road for that to be practical, so I channeled my inner triathlete, got way out on my bar ends, and spun as hard as I thought I still could. I still got out of the saddle at the finish line, but there wasn't a lot left. Anyway, that was good for one position higher. My two teammates who were competing were already done, and greeted me when I found my way back to the finish line.

I had a couple strategy things in mind for this race. The biggest thing I wanted to do was eat enough. That didn't go as well as I'd have liked, but I managed to do a lot better than at Stottlemeyer. When I cleaned out my car and jersey pockets afterwards, I was able to figure out that during the race I consumed six power bar gels, one power bar, and three scoops of Gatorade. That comes to 1100 calories. I can probably tolerate a little more than that, but I think my planned rate was close - I just needed not to have missed the first hour and a half of eating. By the end, I was pretty hungry. So I may try for a power bar every two hours, instead of every three, in races this long. On this course, at least, I think there was an okay opportunity to eat a bar around two hours, and certainly I was in a place where I could eat at four hours.

The plan for the race was not to sweat the first section, from the start line to Aid #1. I thought traffic was likely, and I knew the toughest climb of the race was going to be the one from Aid #1 to Aid #2, which took Kim and me close to an hour when we pre-rode. Then, I'd get a chance to recover on the descent, and I'd hit the fire road climb hard. At that point, the hard part of the race would be over - I'd try to keep out of trouble on the GL6 descent, and do the last section of GL6, from Aid #1 back to the finish line, at whatever pace was left in me, anywhere from surviving to standard-length cross-country race pace, depending. In general, I think I did okay at following this - I just got more screwed up than I'd have liked by traffic from the start line to Aid #1, and the stick in the spokes messed with my head, although after the mechanic trued my wheel, I was pretty much over it. I set a new record on the big climb, so I was pretty happy about that.

In future, I think I need to be stronger on hour-long climbs. I'll have to find some close to me. I think I had two problems with the last sections of the two big climbs - I wasn't expecting them, and in training, my longest climbs typically run about a half hour. I do have a longer one, Tiger Mountain from the bottom of Preston Railroad to the peak, that I can do. So I may have to include that in more of my visits to Tiger.

Overall, I'm really happy. The ride was lots of fun, not all of it masochistic, my equipment all did its job, even when faced with extra challenges like a stick in the spokes, and I beat my goal time. I also learned some, so I think I can be stronger next year, and maybe also do something really obnoxious to my bike so I can find it when I start.

Finally, the GPS track. Note that the GPS track my phone records is a little jagged. I think the mileage is correct, but the elevation gives me a little more credit than I deserve.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting Ready to ride 52 Miles

The difficulty I had in finding traditional cross-country races this season created a vacuum I decided to fill with trying endurance racing instead. So back in May I competed in a 30-mile race. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot. Due to schedule conflicts, I didn't do the second 30-mile race in the series, and that brings me to Saturday, and the final, 50-mile race.

The median time for my class, Open Men, last year was 6:15. I wanted to be faster than that. So, over the summer, I tried to work my volume up. My plan was to train all the way up to a 6-hour ride two weeks before the race, take it easy the week before, and then ride my heart out. This month ended up being a little weird, for one reason and another, so the longest ride I did in training was 4.9 hours. Which isn't so bad. I also had some idea about doing speed work, but as in most seasons, that didn't quite happen. Finally, I learned that three hours at race pace is a long enough ride for a nutrition strategy to be a real thing that actually matters.

This is the nutrition strategy I had for my 30-mile race.

I staged another pair of water bottles in my aid bag at the lap line so I could swap without stopping. I expected to take a bit over three hours, and I've always done fine eating power bars every hour or so for rides of that length. This was a bit of a fail. I didn't eat anything during the first lap. During the second lap, I knew there was some fire road riding at the far end of the course, so I tried to choke down a power bar while on that, and also barreling ahead at a pretty high effort level. I managed to eat most of one, but still bonked pretty badly on the last climbs. By the finish, I was barely able to keep the pedals turning. Part of this was a pacing error too. But apparently, I need to eat. Go figure.

I read some forums and decided that my new strategy was going to have three points. First, I was going to keep the bars. I like to put something solid in my stomach from time to time on a long ride. It feels like eating. Second, I was going to figure out which gel things I like, and get some. And I was going to start sucking them down before I thought I needed to, and have one every half hour or so. Third, I was going to put an energy drink in my water bottle. I knew I'd be able to refill my bottles at the race, but I didn't know what energy drinks would be available, how supplies would last, or how well my stomach would tolerate them. As it happens, full-strength gatorade is a little much for me when I'm working hard. So I've been putting one scoop in a small bottle, and one and a half scoops in a large one. Here's what I took with me this time.

I planned to only stop twice, but I knew I'd have the opportunity to stop four times. I figured if I needed to do that, I may as well also be able to top up my gatorade - as a powder, it's very light, and the single servings just went in a zip-loc baggie. I've found I have some trouble fitting everything into my pockets for a long ride, and I also don't like having to reach behind me while riding off-road terrain. So I got top tube bag for my bike.

It's little, but it adds enough more capacity for the crowding problem. I found it was actually a little harder to use than my back pocket. The zipper has to be manipulated, and then I need to get something out through the slot it creates - it's not like a big, open top. I still think I chose the right back, though. It fits on my bike and it's secure. Bigger, more open bags may be okay on the road, but this is a bike that's going to spend several hours rattling around a lot and maybe even being crashed.

I pre-rode a lot of the course a couple of weeks ago with a teammate. I found some of the descending very sketchy. One particular corner was rutted out and the rut was filled in with loose rocks. Yikes! So I decided I needed more front tire. Ultimately I only cut off a few seconds from my descent on the day of the race, but that was about four hours in and I'd already made one visit to the pain cave. So I'd say that actually, the new tire was a win.

Everything was as ready as I could make it on Friday night. So I went to bed early, with my alarm set, my clothes laid out and my bag packed. Of course I slept really badly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Riding Makes Me Sick!

OK, I didn't toss my cookies on the top of the hill at Lake Padden. So if you were hoping to hear about that, sorry. But I sure thought it was a possibility.

I've been riding a lot since the Stottlemeyer 30. When I finished school, I hadn't lined up a job. So I went for a bunch of rides. I had a suspension-related freakout - I seem to have those every two years or so - and fixed it. I've been increasing the volume of my long ride, with my longest for the year being 4.7 hours, split between some riding with teammates and some riding on my own. In general, I'm feeling really strong.

I got a new job recently and had to find out my blood type. Weird, but whatever - I'm not going to tell my new boss how to run her business. I did that last Monday, the 18th, by donating a pint of blood. That may not have been very intelligent... I'd already planned last week to be a rest week, leading up to Sunday's race and to break up my build toward the Capitol Forest 50, so I only rode my commutes - about an hour a day - and didn't have a great idea of how I was feeling.

On Sunday morning, I felt pretty strong. I remembered getting tangled up in traffic during lap 1 in previous races at Padden, so I decided to be a little more competitive at the start, and try to avoid that. It's a Lemans start, which I think is just the organizers trying to make cyclists look silly. It works. I did that part okay, had a bit of a competence issue with my pedal that drifted me to mid-pack, and then discovered that actually, everyone's pace during the rollout was too high for me. So I drifted back more, and started to feel a little sick, and headachy, and my legs didn't feel good at all. D'oh! By the top of the climb, I felt really rotten. Luckily, it's way steep and I ran out of gears, so I only had one way to go, and only one way to do it, or I might have been even slower relative to my class.

I decided to keep out of trouble and finish the race.

By the time I was over the hump on lap 2, I was actually feeling pretty good. So I kicked myself a little for dogging it on the descent in lap 1, and started riding more like I meant it, and generally having more fun with the course. It's a really fun route.

I finished 9th out of 15 finishers. That's a little better than when I did that race in '09, and a lot better than last year. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but it does fit with my observation that I'm better when races are shorter. I think maybe I'd have felt better racing if I'd warmed up better, but there's this thing about wishes and horses - a lot of my teammates were there, and I was having way too much fun saying "hi" to people. I also did better on the climbs - I still wasn't cleaning the two steps that interrupt the descent, but I cleaned the main climb on three laps. I did find myself wishing for an even lower granny gear.

I recently learned about, and that my Droid phone has a GPS...

That's including my "warmup," such as it was.

My best race this season has been the Stottlemeyer 30. Hopefully that means good things for Capitol Forest.

Friday, June 10, 2011

School's Out for Summer!

I've been reinventing myself as an engineering student over the last couple years - I started taking classes at North Seattle Community College in January of 2010. I finished up my basic sciences and some lower-division engineering classes there, and at Seattle Central Community College, at the end of Winter Quarter this year. At the same time, I also applied to the graduate program at the University of Washington.

I wasn't exactly accepted, but I wasn't rejected in a final way either. I now have a really weird status at UW - I'm a Graduate Non-matriculated student. I think what it comes down to is that the designed the program I applied to, a Master's of Science in Engineering, for applicants with a BS in an engineering-related field who didn't want to do the extra requirements for the MS in Mechanical Engineering - a whole boatload of upper-division, industry-specific engineering classes. While I'm pretty close to being in technical compliance with the requirements for the MSE, I'm not the usual applicant either.

Which brings me to this quarter. I took four classes, for a 15-credit load. This isn't heavy by number of credits, but a little heavy because none of them were breadth requirements. Classes were Beginning Scientific Computing, Systems Dynamic Analysis and Design, CAD lab, and Fundamentals of Materials Science. My departmental adviser (kind of like a counselor) told me to be careful, and drop a class if I needed to.

It didn't take me long to decide that Systems was going to be my difficult class for the quarter. It has beginning scientific computing and a previous Systems class as prerequisites, but it's only offered once a year and my program coordinator said he thought I could just do it. It's actually a really cool class. I had an electrical circuits class about a year ago, that was concerned with the way that electrical circuits are mathematically modeled. This starts to get difficult when there are capacitors and inductors involved, especially if there's more than one, because these devices can store energy.

Electricity is one energy domain. The one that's most familiar to people is mechanical energy, in which energy is stored as kinetic energy, as in a moving mass, and in springs. It can also be stored as potential energy when something is higher in a gravity field, but Systems is concerned with systems that are in some sort of equilibrium state, or can achieve an equilibrium state, so that kind of potential energy is not addressed. Rotational energy is another energy domain, fairly equivalent to mechanical energy, and fluid systems are addressed too, with tanks acting as capacitors and long pipes acting as inductors. Resistors might model pipes or valves.

The thing that's cool about all of these systems is that they can all be described with a very similar set of mathematical techniques. Some specifics change, but not the approach. The next cool thing is that because the math is the same, in a system using multiple energy domains, the math can be linked up.

Once all the math is in place, a set of equations emerge that can predict the way a system responds to different inputs, based on the amplitude and frequency of the input. By the end of the quarter, we were also able to include some funky, but highly relevant inputs - impulses, like hitting something sharply with a hammer, and the Step function, which is a fair mathematical model of turning on a light switch.

What does all this have to do with real life? The one most people will have experienced is that driving on a rough road, like most of the freeways in Washington, there's a certain speed in many cars at which the car will start to shake and bounce in a really scary way. What's happening is that some regularly-spaced bump on the road, probably from successive trucks bouncing over bumps and crashing down into compressions, is hitting the suspension of the car at the suspension's resonant frequency. This causes the suspension system to amplify the input, instead of attenuating it. Uh-oh! There are similar problems with the engine mount and sometimes within the drivetrain of a car, and it applies to all kinds of other systems as well.

My favorite, of course, is bicycles. If one were to model the suspension of a bicycle as a system, it would want to do three things. First, it would need to sag appropriately under the weight of the rider. This is no big deal - most systems sooner or later respond to an input with zero frequency. If owners of fancy suspension components were wondering why the instructions for their forks and shocks say to sit on the bike for thirty seconds or so to measure sag, though, "sooner or later" is why. Next, the suspension needs to compress when something hits it hard. The math gets a little funky here, but as I understand it, a hard, fast hit, even if it's just one, can be described as having a certain period. The frequency is the inverse of the period, so for something hard and fast, it's quite high. So, the suspension has to pass high-frequency inputs without phase lag or attenuation. But here's the difficult part - people don't want their suspension to bounce under pedaling inputs or dive under braking. Pedaling is a relatively low-frequency input, probably 120-180 Hz for most people (remember, there are two pedals, and they alternate peak force.) Braking is usually done with less force, over longer, than a hit like a little rock or a root. So the ideal suspension for a mountain bike would be a high-pass filter with a range of attenuated inputs from 100-200 Hz. Lemme go out and invent that...

Systems was a class I did with my full "hard class" approach. I tried to start the homework about a week early, and finish it before section so I could ask questions. I freaked out about the tests, which was dumb - I was above average by less than a standard deviation on the first midterm, and right around average on the second. I felt really good about the final, though (knock on wood) and the professor says he has his thumb on the scale a little for score improvements at the end of the quarter. It's also an upper-division class, so I suspect that "merely average" actually is pretty good. It's just not what I'm used to.

The other classes were easier. Beginning Scientific Computing is required by a few classes, and offered as an alternative prerequisite to computer programming, linear algebra and differential equations for a few classes. I've already had a fair amount of programming and some linear algebra and differential equations classes, so I didn't miss a single point until the final. We had an electronic submission method for all tests and homework, and it's a poorly set up system. I went into the final with a 10% bonus for getting 100% on every homework, got a 90% on my first attempt, and then started having trouble with the submission system. While I'd like to know if I fixed the two problems that cost me those 10 points, I also realize I don't actually need them, so I didn't pursue the matter as much as I might have if they were going to affect my grade. I liked my teacher okay, but didn't like the class very much - I feel like it doesn't cover programming, differential equations or linear algebra particularly well, and because people don't necessarily come into the class knowing how to do any of those things, it doesn't address what's cool about MATLAB - the ability to solve nonlinear differential equations and calculus problems without analytical solutions - until the very end. I thought those were cool, and maybe we could have started them in the second or third week...

CAD lab was fun. It was concerned with learning to use SolidWorks, a solid modeling program, and also with a certain approach to modeling based on figuring out which pieces of information about an object are important, and basing everything else on that. For example, if I care about the inside width of something made out of sheet metal and also know how thick it is, I might draw it with the inside width and the thickness, and let the outside width be whatever it's going to be.

Fundamentals of Materials Science is actually a lot like chemistry, except that a few exponential formulae creep in and the strength of a material is one of the things that's discussed.

Anyway, I can't usefully take any classes for the summer, so now I'm trying to find a job, hopefully with some relevance to my new field, and hopefully I'll have time to ride my bike a lot and come into my 50-mile race in August in really good shape.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Longer Race, Higher Place

If I had to pick a couple of strengths I feel I have when I race my bike, they're endurance and good recovery. If I had to pick a couple of weaknesses, they'd be top-end power and handling. I've figured out some things to do with handling that are helping me to improve, but I'd say most sport-class men handle their bikes better than I do, for now. At least, when they're fresh - during the first hour of a race, I usually start drifting back through the pack as soon as the course enters some singletrack, and I lose another place every now and then for the rest of the hour. During the second hour, though, I often start catching people again. In the BuDu races, that wasn't very useful because the second hour was only fifteen minutes long, and in Indie races it tends to be 30-45 minutes.

I thought I'd try a race in which it's two hours long.

A local couple have really thrown themselves into promoting some endurance races, and have created the Northwest Epic Series. The first race was yesterday - the Stottlemeyer 30/60. It's on a trail network I've race on before, but wouldn't say I really know. It's on the Kitsap Peninsula and requires either an expensive ferry ride or a long and circuitous drive to ride there, so I've only gone for races.

I carpooled over with a teammate. Adella was unable to come, although this is probably the most boring kind of race to spectate in existence.

The race started with a climb up a couple of miles of fire road, and then dove into some singletrack. I've been having some knee pain lately. I think I've addressed the cause, but I spent some extra time warming up and didn't get a particularly good spot in the start, which was a single 129 rider wave. With 30 miles to go, I didn't want to be too aggressive, but I still worked my way up pretty far during the fire road portion. Of course when we hit singletrack, people were still close enough together that there was a lot of stopping and starting. I couldn't see any gaps ahead, really, so I just went with it. Nobody else got that I was playing "red light, green light," or maybe they just didn't think it was that funny.

Once we erupted into fire road, things sped up. So the first thing I did was drop my water bottle. There are worse things to drop, but I lost the group of riders I'd been following while I got that sorted out.

Once I got rolling again, the first lap was pretty good. I didn't make any really big mistakes, and started catching some of the 30-milers who went out too fast and even the tail of the 60-mile race by the end of the lap. After the fire roads and the second aid station, the course was on rolling, sandy singletrack for a while and then more heavily wooded, steeper singletrack. Another rider, a woman with Ragnarok Racing, who I'd passed on the fire roads caught up to me again in that area and I stayed on her wheel for a while - I think it's silly to pass someone who's managed to chase onto me, at least, in the terrain in which she's done it. We chased onto two riders, one in a "DFL or bust" T-shirt, and the really nasty climbing started. I like to think climbs are my office, and I wasn't going to climb at the pace of "DFL or bust," so I passed the rider I'd been following, maybe not as gracefully as I'd have liked, and then, of course, the trail widened briefly, giving me an easy line past the next two riders. After that, I was on my own for a while, and then I started trading places with an older guy on a bright green Specialized Epic. I think he and I were fairly parallel for the rest of the race.

Coming out of the last piece of singletrack, a fairly fast and bumpy descent, I passed a couple of Group Health riders stopped pretty close to the middle of the road. Then I got to the first aid station, stopped to swap my empty bottles for the two I staged in my bag, and got rolling again, but ended up right behind a group of four people going more slowly than I'd have liked. It was in a climbing singletrack section, and I didn't want to do the whole thing at their pace. When the one in back fell, I took the opportunity to run by, then did it again for the next couple and found myself behind a guy I recognized from racing at South Seatac and some dude in a red SRAM jersey.

The guy I recognized, I remembered as banging out corners in a way I still hope to emulate. The guy ahead of him was having a little more trouble, but they were close enough together that a pass would be really awkward, and they were at least going faster than the last group, although I think at least one of them chased back onto me - I heard someone crashing through the bushes for a while. The trail flattened out, and got a bit wetter - it was covered in absorbent, black soil, and took a ton of energy to pedal on. The other two guys started to open a gap on me. Then, the longish fire road portion started again. I hate to admit it, but after riding on wet organic soil for a while, I was happy to be back on a 10' wide strip of gravel. I chased back on and overtook those guys, and started opening up the throttle. Which was dumb...

I began to feel a little less brilliant coming into the third quarter of the course, with all the climbing and descending. The older gentleman on the Epic caught me again, somewhere in there, and some of the leading 60-milers passed me; maybe one other 30-miler did. I also managed to catch a few more 30-milers, and then gave up a spot to a guy on a singlespeed. I managed to pass him on the last fire road before the last singletrack, barely, so I tried to yield the trail to him but he turned me down. Which was nice. From there, there was a gentle descent, one last, less brutal climb, a quick descent, and then the fire road climb to the finish. By then, I was pretty destroyed - I was having huge trouble keeping a decent cadence. (Someone else, to whom I'd insisted on complaining about this, pointed out that I was still spinning.) I decided that, whatever, it was the finish line and I always sprint the finish line. So I stayed in a largish gear and fought my way up the last several yards of fire road standing.

At the end of all that, I finished 19th in Open Men, and 36th overall. With 53 finishers in my category, I'm pretty happy with that - I've beaten a lot fewer people to get to 19th. Final time was 3:12:42.6. The guy who won it did the whole course in 2:28:22.4 - pretty fast. The guy who won the 60-mile race had a little less than twice that time.

In general, this race was a big success for me - I'm happy with how I did, and I think the format is good for me. The major fail was in nutrition. I did not get enough calories. I bought a tub of Gatorade powder and some powerbar gels not too long after the race. A reduced-strength Gatorade mix seems to work well for me, and while the powerbar gels, at least the vanilla ones, taste pretty gnarly, they don't make me sick, I don't inhale them, I don't have to chew them, and the wrappers are easier to deal with - so several improvements over energy bars when I'm riding at really high effort for a long time.

I've got a normal-length XC race coming up in July and then I'll do a 50-mile race in August. It should be fun.

Monday, April 18, 2011

First Full Racing Series, Complete

For one reason and another, I've never actually gone to all the races in a series. The points are structured assuming this, so it's not that big a deal. But yesterday, I went to the 6th BuDu Racing race in their series. It's an early-season series, so now it's done. I'm not sure why, exactly - I think it was because of going to all six - but I got some swag. It's a Jansport hydration pack; I'd been thinking about replacing the bladder in mine for rides running over 3 hours. So I'll get a chance to try this over the next few weeks, and later in the summer. The pack is courtesy of Singletrack Cycles.

Adella went to most of my races with me. She's awesome for supporting me that way, and her observations on my races are always amusing.

If I've learned anything from this series, and from my finishes in it, it's that I need to ride my mountain bike more. I can hang with the faster riders for a while in the flats, although I think the faster guys in my class would beat me in a road race too, and I catch and pass people on climbs, but when the course goes into a singletrack section, I start drifting back.

Yesterday's course had such strongly demarcated different kinds of riding that it really brought this out. It started with a brief gravel road section, then a relatively non-technical climb up some flowing singletrack, with a final section up a narrow service road. I kept myself in mid-pack up to the entrance to the singletrack, in an effort not to get caught behind someone making a mistake, something that happens more the further back in the pack I am. I still ended up getting separated from the front runners there - it was the two riders right behind me who made the mistake. But after I got rolling again, I managed to hold my position and then pass a few people on the fire road section of the climb.

The course stayed on top of a hill in a lot of winding singletrack for a while after that. I didn't lose a ton of places, but I started losing places there and certainly letting the gap in front get bigger. It took people a while to catch me there, though - I definitely bought myself some time attacking the initial climb. When the course went into descending singletrack with a really loose surface, I was really in trouble. I managed not to get myself hurt, but I got passed a ton.

Following the loose descent was a flat, bumpy, windy section. On the first lap, I was still losing places, but I think on the second lap, I managed to keep my position through there. That area felt like it would never end, but eventually it did. There was another, short section of singletrack after that that was relatively flat, and then a last climb up a wide gravel road to the finish. Of course I tried to sprint the finish on the last lap, but I was having trouble shifting into my next chain ring, so I settled for shifting a couple gears on my cassette and rode across the line in the saddle.

I often pick off a few riders in the last lap of a race, and this one was no exception. But something that was interesting to me is that I even managed to drop a guy in the singletrack. I don't know if I passed him earlier in the race, or if he started in a later group and spent the whole race chasing up to my position, but I noticed him when he passed me in some of the flat, bumpy stuff. I figured I'd never see him again, but I managed to stay on his wheel for a while, and then he made a mistake and had to put a foot down. I wasn't able to ride past him, so I ran, and kept running for a little while until the trail got simpler. I was sure I'd see his rear wheel again, but I never did.

I hope that my ability to maintain a good pace at the end of these races is a good indicator of how I'll do in endurance races. I'm going to get called on it in about a month, so it'll be interesting one way or the other.

I'm planning one more traditional XC race this season. I'm planning to go to the Padden Mountain Pedal. This is a long race with a lot of climbing and descending. Honestly, I haven't done that well in it in the past. The climbing is on singletrack, and I don't climb as well when I have to think, or handle my bike. In a way, though, that's good - it'll give me an opportunity to see how I'm doing at what will be one of my two goals for the rest of the spring and the summer - to develop my bike handling skills, and to improve my stamina so I can be really competitive at the 50-mile race I'm planning in August.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Some Kind of Redemption

I raced at Ft. Steilacoom on Sunday. Between 'cross and last year's MTB race there, I've actually raced there a fair amount now. Last year's race was pretty stressful, and while I did okay, I didn't feel that good about it. I was late getting out of the house, got lost on the way, and barely registered in time to start, let alone warm up or pre-ride.

This time, I feel like I pretty much got it right. I got there in time to register, and while I didn't ride the whole course, I rode the more technical sections. The park is mostly flat, with three hills in it. One of them is wooded, and the riding there is fairly technical. The others are not, and the riding is mostly pretty simple.

One of the things I didn't pre-ride was the start. It went down a road, and then some doubletrack, and then took a sudden turn up a short boot pack through some grass. On the line up the middle, that was ridable, but it was a lot more difficult to either side. I'd decided I would just stay in contact with the pack and then try to do something with the race once there were some hills to work with. A couple of positions up, a guy didn't manage to keep his line on the boot pack, and put a foot down. I was thinking I'd go to his left, but he moved more to the left, and I ended up running the section. While that put me at the back of the pack, I was still in contact until I tried to remount, went too far, and ended up in the grass. Oops! Once I was sorted out, the pack had a gap on me. Including the guy who'd made the mistake in the first place.

I had a little schadenfreude when I caught up with him, bouncing up and down on his suspension and failing to climb a short, steep, loose pitch leading to the next part of the course. I cleaned that on all three laps. It didn't take me too long to chase back onto the tail end of my class, but by that time they'd already mixed in with the 19-29 men and the juniors, and the fastest couple of 40+ men were starting to show up. I never really know where I am in a XC race, and clearly this was to be no exception.

During lap 2, I ended up right behind one of the kids who was racing. I guess I was probably lapping him, but the organizers let the kids go in the first wave, so I'm not really sure. It was on a loose descent on the wooded hill and I wasn't about to start yelling at him to get out of the way, so I just hung out on his wheel until he pulled over on his own. By then, a couple of other guys were behind me. I think they knew what I was doing, because nobody asked for a pass.

That descent was the last part of the course on the little hill, and then there were about three quarters of a mile of riding through the grass. I was sure the guy behind me would pass as soon as we hit the flats, but he didn't. I figured he must be drafting off of me and not talking, because I couldn't hear him, but I decided I didn't care, chose a gear I thought I could sustain until it turned back into a mountain bike course, and channeled my inner time trialist. Strangely, I actually managed to drop him. I felt warm and fuzzy about that, because usually my strong suit on a MTB course is climbing, as long as it's not too complicated, and I can't do all that much when I'm mostly pushing air. Later, I drafted off of someone else who passed me - it was that simple, and that fast, on that part of the course.

During the last lap, my teammate Kim, who's very, very fast and in her first season of racing mountain bikes, and winning every time she starts, after her first season of 'cross last Fall, caught up to me. We rode some of the wooded hill together - I can stay with her on a climb - and then she disappeared into the woods once the descending started.

Once out of the trees, I time-trialed to the finish and did my usual sprint across the finish. I felt generally sore over my whole body, which I think is a good thing - having more specific soreness indicates an imbalance, I think.

Adella, who is awesome for coming to my races with me, did a faux-liveblog of the morning. It's much better than what I thought a liveblog of a MTB race would be.

So last year, I finished 8th, out of 12 finishers. This time, I finished 7th, out of 12 finishers again. Moving up! I feel like I'm better in longer races. The big problem I have with these short races is that as long as they don't need to do it too long, a lot of the other guys in Sport class can put out more power than I can. In 2009, I tended to go fast and then make mistakes and while I'm riding a lot cleaner now, I'm not spending as much time on my bike (funny how having school and a life will do that) and I'm heavier. So I know what I should be working on next winter, and even this summer, but with the last race of the series a week away, I'm not going to make any progress now. I'm planning to reincorporate intervals in my training next week. I have a XC race in late July that may tell me something about how that's working, if I actually do the intervals days.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hills Are My Office... aren't they?

I raced at Ft. Ebey State Park for the first time yesterday.

It was hard! The park only has a 200' maximum difference between its low and high points, but it's a pot-and-kettle landscape. In fact, part of it is called "Kyle's Kettles." The course, supposedly, has about 1000' of climbing on each seven-mile lap. That actually doesn't seem like it should be all that much, but keep in mind that it's a circuit. So if, by mile, climbing and descending are equal, the average grade is about 5%. Since it's a mountain bike course, the actual grade varies. A lot. This one had a few portions that let me catch my breathe, but I felt like I was either climbing a wall or dropping off one almost all the time. Any time the trail was steep, it also had a lot of exposed roots. Thinking about it, I realize that a lot of the steep spots weren't the IMBA-described cross-grade trails with benching, erosion control and switchbacks. They were pretty close to fall-line, and probably turn into streams when the rain is heavy.

When I heard about this course, I was thinking it would be a real "no excuses" course for me. I like to think I'm a pretty strong climber. The big problem I see in my riding, though, is that I'm not as good a technical rider as I'd like to be. I ended up pushing my bike a lot more than I'd like to. If the course were closer, I'd make some trips out there to practice, but being on Whidbey Island, it's a little far to go outside of events.

Anyway, I felt like I paced myself pretty well - sometimes my heart felt like it was going to explode, but I always managed to recover, more-or-less, and I didn't make a ton of mistakes. I got my numerically-best place of the season, 11th, but I've figured out how to turn my places into percentiles based on the field size, and I was only 27th percentile among finishers in my class. I'm never quite sure how to account for DNFs in tracking my scores.

By percentile, my best race was the Tapeworm Time Trial - 43rd percentile, in a completely mixed field. My best in a wave restricted to my age, sex and class was 37th at Soaring Eagle.

I think all this points to a real problem in my training, because I've been fast at other times. I "accidentally" won my age class my first time out, and tended to be right at the middle of the pack in my races in 2009. My high-water mark in a mainland, age-classed race was 4th of 10 finishers, on a disgusting, muddy day. I even stopped and considered quitting because I'd worn one set of brake pads down to the backing. I got the other set sort-of working, though, and using my current algorithm for assigning a percentile (100 * (1-place/finishers)) that was a 60th percentile finish. I guess if I start feeling too down, I can always look at my ski-to-sea results, but I typically race against sport men with no more than a five-year age difference from me.

Why have I been attacking off the back? Or, what was different about 2009? I'd say there are a couple key things. I wasn't mountain biking as much as I'd have liked to that year, but I was riding more, doing some speed work, and going to Wednesday Night Worlds. My BuDu Racing finishes have never been as good as my Indie Series finishes, so I think that's indicative of something too.

This season is by no means over. But I can still make some decisions about the tail end of the season and next season. The biggest is that I'm going to try to do everything a little earlier in the year. I'm going to try to do the full base training schedule with my team, starting before the New Year. So while I may cherrypick some 'cross races, I'm not going to mount a real campaign, and once base gets started, I'll do those rides instead. I think my 2012 can be like 2009, or better, if I come into it stronger. I'm also going to try to be more disciplined about speed work, especially since as early as the BuDu series is, I won't have been going to practice races when it starts. The Fall can be a beautiful time to ride mountain bikes, so skipping 'cross will likely let me have more fun with it anyway. Fat Cyclist talks about how wonderful the part of the season where everyone's in great shape from a summer of events, but not training for anything anymore, can be. I think that would be more fun than riding 'cross bikes on loose-over-hard, the typical start to that season.

Whining aside, one of the things I was happy about with the race yesterday was that I was picking people off from about halfway through the first lap to the end of the race. I think that's a good sign for the Epic Series races I'm planning later in the year.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Three Races In, Goals and Strategy for This Year

I never quite got around to writing about the race I did two weeks ago, on the trail network out by Black Diamond.

The course organizers had a separately marked warmup loop, which I took to mean that they didn't want people to warm up and pre-ride on the course. The loop turned out to be really difficult. Lots of turns around logs with off-camber sides, and some woodwork. I decided that I didn't want to get hurt that day, and raced accordingly. I didn't place very well, but I didn't finish DFL either and had a relatively clean race.

A week later, I went mountain biking at Soaring Eagle County Park with some of my teammates. We were pre-riding a course that was going to have a race on it later. On the first lap, we didn't work very hard, riding primarily to see the whole thing, and so people could practice obstacles. We stopped and regrouped at clearings. I felt pretty good - smooth handling, managed to negotiate a couple of hard obstacles, and I was tending to coast up toward the front of the group. The second lap was similar, and on the third, we started pushing more. My handling started to really fall apart during that lap, and I was back to making the mistakes that plagued me at Dash Point.

I had some other things to do that afternoon, so I didn't discuss it with my teammates right away and I went home. But I emailed the team later to see if anyone had any insight. I got a couple of good responses, but for once I was looking for a general answer, not a specific one, and I got that too. One of my teammates pointed out that we tend to make mistakes when we're in an oxygen debt. Riding really hard is a pretty effective way to end up in oxygen debt, and riding too hard means going fast, making a mistake, crashing, getting up and repeating. It's not a particularly efficient way to race, and I risk getting hurt or damaging my bike.

I'd noticed previously that if I'm riding too easy, my attention wanders and I make mistakes. I also don't carry enough momentum into obstacles, and have a much harder time flowing over them. So when I went out for my midweek ride a few days later, I decided to work on riding at an in-between speed, in which I'm focused and have some momentum to work with, but I'm not going anaerobic. I had a great workout, and decided that that's my new race pace. I think I should actually have a better average speed by riding just a bit slower, if it also means I'm riding cleanly.

I was back out at Soaring Eagle yesterday, and decided to try to race that strategy. I decided there's one circumstance I'll do at wide-open-throttle: a non-technical climb, followed by a chance to recover. Gravity is a conservative force, climbing is a strength of mine when I'm in shape, and a fire road doesn't give a lot of opportunities to make a mistake.

I'm racing with the 30+ Sport Men this year, which isn't as big a change as I'd feared. It seems like it's the 40+ guys that get into the Master's Sport World Championships mentality, and yesterday, the race organizers started them first so they could do all their elbowing and bickering away from everyone else. Of course that meant that my group chased into the back of their group relatively early, but everything has a cost. I started just maintaining my place in the group, and things started to shake out near the bottom of the first shallow descent. Throughout, I tried to maintain my flowy pace. I did make mistakes, but not as many as I have on that course in the past - it's often felt like all I do there is fall. I finished 19th out of 30 finishers, 32 starters, which is not a brilliant result, for me, but a lot better than the ones I got at the last two races. I've never done especially well at the BuDu Racing events, so I think this is a sign that I'm following a good direction.

I'm now about halfway through the BuDu series. I'm on the fence about next week's race, and plan to do the two following. One of them is at a trail network I've never ridden, the other is a course I've done before and that I think will play well to what I'm good at if I don't ride it like a moron.

My favorite series in 2009 was the Indie Series. I tried to do something with it in 2010, but that season went oddly throughout. This year, it's down to four races. Two of them are too far away for me to do without spending the night somewhere, I have a conflict with one of them, and that leaves one. It's on a course I really like, but that's hardly a season. Another race that I really like is most likely not going to be put on this year.

Amid all the gloom and doom, there's a new series starting up, the Northwest Epic Series. Following up on their success with the one race they promoted last year, the promoters are doing three endurance races this year. The races have longer laps and cover more ground. I'm planning to do a 30-mile race in May, and a 50-mile in August. At mountain bike speeds, those distances are pretty significant. It's also going to be a bit of a return to the kind of mountain biking I did in college - spending a whole day riding. If it goes well, I'm going to try upping the distance next year - 60 and 100 mile races. I may also skip 'cross this year and try to start doing base miles with my team at the tail end of the year, when they start and I was still taking a break from the wreckage of a 'cross season I had last year. Emphasizing a sustainable, flowy pace should transfer well to doing longer and longer distances, and I like the idea of working toward a distance that's a real challenge for me to complete.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First "Real" Race of the Season

I had my first massed start cross-country MTB race for the season on Sunday. It was put on by BuDu Racing. They do a series of six early-season races that a lot of people treat as part of their training for the Indie Series. When I first started racing cross country in 2009, the Indie Series had eight races, in a variety of venues, with some of them fairly close to Seattle and only one that I decided was too far to travel. Last year, it was down to four, and this year there are four again, but two of them are very far away and I don't think I can afford the travel, one of them conflicts with something else I'm doing, and that leaves one race. So I'm thinking of emphasizing something else for my racing season this year, but haven't decided what. Anyway, that leaves the BuDu races as likely the bulk of my season. I'm not crazy about that.

It usually takes me a couple of races to hit my stride. On Sunday, I was having a really hard time just keeping the rubber side down. I started from the second or third row, which is where I like to start - back of the guys who charge from the very beginning, possibly crashing or going faster than they, or I, can sustain, but close enough to stay within striking distance. I felt like I was hanging with the group pretty well, and then I made a mistake and crashed. I basically spent the whole race going hard and then wiping out, or at least getting hung up and dabbing. At one point, I knocked my saddle off the rails. It's the second time I've done that, so I knew how to get it back on and it didn't end my race this time. I've also decided that much as I like not having mud flung all over my butt, I'm not going to use my rear fender in races under three hours anymore.

I have, of course, the usual array of excuses - course was wet, technical isn't really my thing, etc. I'm confident that I could have ridden almost everything at the pace I tend to default to when I'm riding and not racing, though. I have a new kind of fall that has crept into my catalog - falling back and to the side when negotiating a log or other obstacle in a sharp uphill turn. I don't like to blame my equipment, but I'm trying a slightly longer stem to see if that helps with that, and also gives me a little more room on the bike.

Anyway, the good news was that when I was upright and not trying to get my saddle back on, I was going pretty fast, and riding at maximum effort. BuDu's races are short, so pacing is not really an issue, and I think that riding with my new team has been expanding my ability to ride at truly masochistic effort levels for longer.

The project, which is the same one I've been working on, is to keep trying to improve my bike handling skills. If I can ride as hard as I did on Sunday and ride clean, I think I'll improve my results. One of the problems I have with practicing handling is that unless I'm trying to keep up with someone faster, I tend to lose focus on riding fast when I have to make a decision, and I really only ride at tempo pace in bursts, when I remember that's what I'm trying to do that day. I think that if I do laps on loop trails, so I don't have to make any decisions, it'll be easier for me to keep riding at the effort level I want to practice, and where my handling starts to fall apart. As the season progresses, the courses should also get friendlier to me by virtue of the weather improving, although this doesn't always happen during BuDu's season.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Racing Tapeworms

I went to strange sort-of race on Sunday. It was the Tapeworm Time Trial. One of the few times I've managed to meet up with a group from the Evergreen Mountain Bike Club was the first time I rode Tapeworm. It's part of a network of trails shoehorned into a powerline right of way in Renton. It has a strange feel. Not quite post-apocalyptic, like South Seatac, but odd - it's really quite a large amount of land, and aside from a power station, there's nothing there, but it's right in the middle of some suburban housing.

The site is on a hill, and the trails themselves are very twisty. The people who originally built them were trying to stuff as many feet of trail as they could into the area. Between the pitch, the twistiness, and the usual Pacific Northwest vegetation, the trails are very technical. While part of what I like about mountain biking is the additional challenge of the terrain, last time I went to Tapeworm, it was a bit much for me.

When I'm in good racing shape, I often reel in the opposition on climbs, but lose places in technical sections. So when someone sent out an email about this race on my team's list, I thought it would be a good idea to enter. I've been talking about how I was going to start riding Tapeworm more for a while, but I don't like the atmosphere all that much - it doesn't exactly make the spirit soar to be there. Deciding to enter the time trial gave me a specific goal to train for by riding Tapeworm.

I managed to fit in two two-hour trips before the race. I did stop-and-repeats to varying degrees on both trips, and managed to ride up some things by the end that I couldn't when I first encountered them. Of course when it came time to race, I ended up doing my fair share of running anyway, but in general I felt pretty good on the trail I practiced a lot. The race course incorporated another one that I hadn't had time to work on as much, and in an uphill-trending direction, which is always harder on technical terrain. I got pretty bogged down in that section.

I think the takeaway is that I need to keep going out of my way to ride trails that are hard for me to ride cleanly, and repeat obstacles that stop me until I can pass them. None of this is really a surprise, but it feels good to have made some progress.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stinky Spoke Not A Race Report

Most of my friends and family already know I joined a new cycling team. If you didn't know... I joined a new cycling team.

I'm now a Blue Rooster. Internally, maybe, a Mud Rooster. The team is fairly large and has been around a long time and they have a regular training ride on Saturdays, strong participation in a lot of road, mountain, 'cross and track events, and some pretty nice sponsorships. Including from Blue Rooster, which is a marketing company. Sort of. It's some kind of internet/computer/tech business, and much as I hate to admit it (or not,) I don't really know what they do. My impression is that they're survivors of the dot-com boom and bust, implying that they do actually do something.

The Blue Rooster cycling team has some pretty active Google Groups email lists. So some chatter went out a week or two ago about the Stinky Spoke Poker Run. A poker run is a mountain biking event in which each participant follows a set course that passes card stations in which a playing card is given to him. At the end of the ride, participants each have five cards. High-scoring hands, in this case three-of-a-kind with face cards or better, win something. The rest of us still got a gift bag and a drink ticket. There's an entry fee, and proceeds went to a charity, the Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center. I thought it sounded like fun, and it followed a well-known training route, the Thrilla Route, in Woodinville that I'd never quite gotten around to figuring out, so I entered.

The route follows the Sammammish River Trail for a while. The section on the SRT is a little over three miles long, and since it's boring and I wasn't really with anyone, I put my head down and my hands on my bar ends and ground it out at high effort. I started chasing into the ride right away - no surprise there. Then it turns onto the Puget Power Trail; the first card station was at this intersection. The Puget Power Trail is a gravel-surfaced and generally well-maintained climb. By the time I got there, I was already, if not in race mode, in workout mode. I tried to be as nice as humanly possible about passing people, though. Even in a race, I'm generally somewhat polite, but everyone else signed up for a charity ride, and I was trying not to be "that guy." As well-maintained as it is, I think the route would be great practice on a 'cross bike, and I saw several riders on them yesterday. I also passed people on bikes with lots of travel - the monster trucks to my rally car - people on department store bikes, people pushing bikes, and people stopped with mechanical problems.

The second card station was at the point where the route split between the shorter, easier version and the longer, more difficult one. I knew the longer one was supposed to have more trail riding, so I went that way. Also, I'd passed enough people to be confident that even if I was somewhere near the back of the ride, I wasn't at risk of not finishing in time.

The long route followed some more powerline trail and then entered the Redmond Watershed. This is not a park, exactly, but it has trails, some of which are accessible to mountain bikers. They're narrower but still well-maintained. A little more berm at the corners, and it would have been even more fun. The third card station was pretty shortly after the routes rejoined each other and had a pretty long line. After that, I was more-or-less out of workout mode - too much standing around, and the route was a lot more crowded from that point on.

The fourth card station was right on top of a hill. I wish they'd put it just past the transition from climb to flat, because I like finishing climbs. As it was, I stopped and got in line before that quite happened. I guess it let people on the climb see the station, in theory, but I didn't figure out it was there until I was almost on top of it. From then on, there was nothing left but descending. I read about an idea for balancing well on the 'net recently that I wanted to try, once I was on the steeper stuff and it became relevant. Rather than pushing against the handlebars to stabilize myself when braking, I tried to push through the pedals, with my feet. It landed me a lot further back on the bike, and I felt a lot more relaxed. So I think it was a success, and I'll be trying to do it more in future. Interestingly, I think it made it easier for me to keep my front wheel hooked up too.

I got to the bottom of the descent, rode the SRT for a little while back to the Redhook Brewery, one of the event's sponsors, and picked up my last card. I had a pair of fours, at the end of all that - statistically, I think a worse-than-average hand.

The tent at the end was pretty crowded and I couldn't hear myself, and while I got a drink ticket, I don't drink often and don't have the tolerance to drive after even one, and there were lines for both food and beer. I couldn't see any friends or teammates. So I went to the bathroom, gave the drink ticket to someone else, and left.

The ride was fun and I'm glad I finally did that route - it's been eluding me for a while. I also got a pretty great workout - it's the right length for a race training ride, and it's easier to work hard on routes that are not too technically demanding and don't have a lot of options. Rather than stopping and starting and thinking, I just work hard. However, I didn't really like the poker run format. In a race, luck is still involved. I DNF once last season because of a flat, and there's a joke that winning or losing the beginners' class is a matter of who else shows up. But by maintaining my equipment well, preparing well, riding as hard as I can on the day of the race, and with a little luck, I can achieve a better result.

Yesterday, having a well-maintained bike, decent aerobic base, and some good recent preparation behind me were all meaningless. I knew it was a charity ride and I said that I'd do it slowly. I even meant it, and would probably have done it at a more measured pace if I was riding in a group. But when I'm on a relatively non-technical, relatively well-flagged course, that I know I can repeat, the challenge that's left is to try to do it fast. (Just over two hours, but it's not a clean time.) And when I work hard at something, I want to be rewarded for it. Obviously I go on a lot of training rides that aren't part of events and have no direct reward; the enjoyment of the ride and the greater enjoyment I'll gain from future rides and races as a result of fitness gains are the reward. But when there are concrete rewards being handed out, I want to be rewarded more for working harder! I think it would have bothered me less if it was a raffle, perhaps because I had to complete a task in order to get the cards themselves, while a raffle ticket would have been included in the event entry, or sold - no relation to cycling ability is implied.

Regardless, I think it's good to start a season with 'C' and 'B' events - sort of like rehearsals for the races I really care about. My next 'B' race is the Tapeworm Time Trial. It's in a tight little riding area that I'm not a huge fan of - it's very slow, not flowy for me, and very technical. So it's a ton of work to ride the course, but not the kind of work I'm good at. Hopefully I'll have time to practice on that course between now and then - I feel like I often lose positions in races because I don't carry speed through the technical sections as well as other riders.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Replacing the baskets on older Scott ski poles

I have a set of old Scott ski poles. These things probably have about two decades of skiing behind them.

There are a lot of things I like about them. They're not worth anything, so if I break one, it's not a big deal. The bright yellow grip and basket also make them very easy to pick out of a pile of poles. I think that the place where my parents got them for me sold them individually, and I think they were manufactured and marketed as a rental pole.

Unlike many ski poles, these came with a full-sized powder basket. One of them has had a crack in it for a long time, and two of the little tabs finally tore off last week. I can tell the difference in how the poles plant in soft snow, so it was time to replace it. It turns out to be very difficult to get the baskets off - I had to cut it off with a small wood blade.

The baskets slip on over this part of the tip. The two wedge-shaped rings act as barbs, and the larger one keeps the basket from sliding up the pole. This is probably why it's so difficult to remove the baskets. I have a nice set of Black Diamond collapsible poles around, and a set of near-unused powder baskets for them. So I put those baskets on these poles. In order to get it to sit correctly on the pole, I put the lanyard hole of an adjustable wrench over the tip of the pole and whacked it with a hammer a couple of times.

I'm going to miss my yellow powder baskets, but these ones aren't broken. Hopefully I don't immediately lose a pole, now that I've fixed them.