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.