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.

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