Sunday, December 23, 2012

Using Google Drive to Automatically Back Up "My Documents" in Windows 7

In the past, I've been pretty bad about backing up my files.  It's always been too much of a pain messing around with CDs or DVDs, and I'm too much of a cheapskate to get an external hard drive for the exclusive purpose of doing a backup.  It's also something that would still require intervention from me, meaning I'm not likely to do it regularly.

Since beginning to use Google Drive anyway, it occurred to me that perhaps I could start backing up my files without also having to screw around with it all the time.  It turns out not to be totally straightforward.

First, when installing Google Drive on your computer, make sure to put the Google Drive folder somewhere you actually want it to be.  The default location isn't necessarily bad, but it wasn't great for me.  While there are instructions for moving the Google Drive folder after the fact, they didn't work in my case - I had to delete it and have Google Drive create a new one in the correct location.

Second, navigate into your user account folder and right-click "My Documents."  Open up the Properties dialog box.  One of the tabs is "Location."  I used the "Move..." button to move "My Documents" to a new location within Google Drive.  While I did give that folder a name, it didn't get created that way - it was created as "My Documents," only within my Google Drive folder.  That's fine with me, so I just let it happen that way.

I did a little bit of testing and it does seem to have broken the recent documents links in Office.  So, be warned.  However, the libraries folders and start menu shortcuts work correctly and by default, things will save into the new location.  So all in all, I'm okay with how that turned out.  Google Drive is now syncing all of my stuff, which was the goal.  I think I now have my computer taking care of that important but annoying backup task for me.  Future migrations to new computers should also be more straightforward, using Google Drive to pull the contents I want on a new computer back down from the cloud.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Distributed Processing and Robot Taxis

I went to a seminar earlier today that was concerned with getting networked dynamic systems to pursue their own goals and then merge on a common state at the end of a certain time interval.  Pretty abstract, and I have to admit that the math was impenetrable to me.  But it got me thinking - what if the systems went to a distribution, rather than a single point?  And, what if the times were arbitrary and mismatched?

I really, really want my next car to be able to self-drive.  It seems feasible, too, if I can hold out for a few years.  One of the things that commentators bring up with self-driving cars is that the model of individual car ownership may lose a lot of its advantage.  If cars can drive themselves, why should a car have to wait for its owner to get back?

In New York, people take taxis under certain circumstances.  Taxi drivers know the times and places when people want taxis the most, and try to put themselves there.  This works well for knowledgeable taxi drivers because they can stay quite busy, and works relatively well for potential customers, as long as they follow a common pattern.  It's not so great for someone doing something a little unusual, though, the taxi fleet has a limited ability to scale, and the way that taxis are leased by drivers often means that the taxi fleet is operating well below the capacity of the equipment.  Drivers get tired, and don't use all 24 hours.  (Nor would I want them to!)

Imagine if a city had a fleet of self-driving taxis that networked with one another and reported their states to a central dispatcher.  Further, imagine that the dispatcher could receive calls via cell phone or app.  The communication was a key aspect of the seminar today.

The selfish vs. team aspect of the individual systems' behavior was a big part of the seminar's theme.  But instead of having synchronized behavior changes, the taxis would decide based on different weights assigned to their needs at different times of day.  During commute hours, all reliably operable taxis would stay available until they picked up fares.  During lower-traffic periods, fuel and maintenance needs would be assigned greater importance.

The team aspect of the taxis' behavior would be to try to maintain a certain geographic distribution, with varying densities based on frequency of calls.  A lot of taxis would attempt to travel to areas with historically greater call frequency when available, while fewer taxis would station-keep in areas with low demand.  By networking with nearby taxis, taxis could put themselves in the right places to maintain the right gradient in available taxi density.  Having all taxis maintain good records and download information to the same place would facilitate development of really good statistics about when and where the demand was.  Taxis would know to go to residential areas in the mornings, to bring people into commercial cores, they'd know to be around offices for evening rush hour, they'd know when the bars close.  Because the taxis would be trying to maintain a distribution as a team, this behavior wouldn't imply abandoning a neighborhood - a few taxis would still stay in areas with lower call frequency in order to maintain the right proportional distribution of taxis, so someone using a vehicle against the general pattern wouldn't have a taxi too far away.

Without human drivers, robo-taxis could be operative during almost all hours, with a greater proportion refueling and undergoing maintenance at off times.  They could potentially serve many more fares in a day, and without a human driver, they could be cheaper.  Maybe a fleet of robo-taxis would fit into the right need to take a few cars out of parking lots and spaces, maybe off the roads entirely - they'd reduce people's need to drive to work "just in case" or because they'd be carrying something heavy for a small part of their return trip.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

More on Gadgets

Over the last few weeks, I've tried a few different heart rate monitors.

The first was the Polar RS 300X.  I was given this by a teammate.  Depending on the accessories used, the RS300X can measure heart rate, speed, and speed by counting strides.  It's designed more-or-less assuming running.  The RS 300X can remember intervals workouts with up to three intervals and any number of repeats.  This means that it can remember a warmup, a work unit, and a cooldown, or intervals using two or three intervals, but not the warmup or cooldown.  I had the heart rate sensor only, no GPS sensor, and in that setup, the device can remember structures only by time - distance and location can't play into it.

In practice, this meant that I could program mine to follow my current running workout pretty well, as long as I guessed the amount of time taken by my warmup reasonably well.  But if I was doing something more complex than a warmup, run, and cooldown, I'd have had to change the program for different parts of the workout.

As far as recording, the Polar tracked elapsed time and time spent in each heart rate zone.  Heart rate zones are manually configurable, as percentage of max heart rate only.  I track my training volume and the Polar does a cool training load measurement, but it makes it difficult to figure out things like trends over the course of a race, or to do a Lactate Threshold measurement protocol easily.  The Polar does have a lap button, so all the same information can be broken out by laps.

I want to be able to see my heart rate on a time axis.  Being able to see my lap times this way in the past has told me a bit about how my speed at a race compares to how I feel at a race - they're not the same thing.  So if I can measure heart rate at all, I want to be able to measure it pinned to time and location in a way that lets me mix it into the same set of data.  I was also very curious about Garmin's Advanced Workout feature.

The next device that I tried was the Garmin ForeRunner 405CX.  This thing is big!  It's a GPS and Garmin's tcx format seems to be pretty dominant as a standard for a lot of the fitness software to use.  So uploading to Strava and Garmin's own site, Garmin Connect, is pretty easy.  The 405 also has the Advanced Workout feature I was so curious about.  It's quite straightforward to program a pretty involved workout protocol with this feature.  So far, I haven't done much with it, but I now have my run workout setup so that the warmup lasts until I press the lap button, then I do the work unit and it ends automatically at the preset time.  It can be set with alerts to help me maintain the same pace or effort level, something I find handy since sometimes my mind wanders and I slow down and sometimes I go out too fast, and I've been trying to limit speed so I don't hurt myself again.  The advanced workouts are quite straightforward and transparent.  I'm a fan.

As far as recording, being able to see pace and heart rate together has made it easy for me to set up pace guides for a run that I want to be in heart rate zone 2.  With the Polar, I could only set them up for the heart rate itself, and it turns out to take a couple minutes for my heart rate to reach its steady-state rate when I come up to speed, and about a minute for it to drop down to its steady-state walking rate when I stop running.  So using pace directly means that I don't have that delay.

I still haven't gotten to doing a LT test, but it was easy to set up the protocol as a workout.  Garmin Connect can show average heart rate broken up by lap, so it'll be easy to read threshold rate right off the main screen describing the workout.

Since the 405 was a loan, I still had the question of which device to talk my "sponsor" out of.  The current model is the 410, and another model, the 610, has a similar feature set but uses a touchscreen instead of the weird bezel used by the 405 and 410, and it adds a distinct cycling mode.  It's also smaller.  I decided to go for the 610.

I played with it some today and went for a run with it.  The separate running and cycling modes are pretty cool - the training screens are already set up according to the sport, and playing with one sport's screens won't mess up the other's.  So in running mode, it displays pace and there's no cadence screen while in cycling mode, the display shows speed and there's a cadence screen ready should I get the appropriate toy to be able to measure it.  Pretty cool.  An irritation I had with trying to load workouts onto the 405 has also been solved by the 610 - I can put several advanced workouts on it without having to do the little hack required to save more than one onto the 405.

I'll be curious to try to follow some more complex workouts with the 610 over the next season, but so far it's looking very promising for doing the two things I'm looking for - guiding me through a workout that I'd lose track of on my own and giving me more data about what actually happened during a race.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Some Thoughts on Busyness and Training, and Gadgets

2011 was my last year including classes at Seattle Central Community College, and I actually did a fair job following a relatively high volume plan to be a faster cyclist while I was there.  I did an entire series of short XC races that were at venues that tended to be pretty technical without a lot of vertical - sort of the opposite of what I see myself as good at - and some longer races with a bit more success.  Last year, I also started taking classes at UW.

I started this year planning to follow a more structured training plan and really make the most of the time I had.  Somewhat unrealistic expectations and a really hard class during the Winter quarter pretty much torpedoed that, and I didn't really replan when I could have.

This summer, I had my first regular schedule in a long time.  I went to the same place every day and finished at more-or-less the same time.  I planned my training around that, and I actually managed to follow my plan for more than a week - I followed it pretty well through the summer.

I think that a couple things were different about this summer.  First, I had a realistic plan for myself.  Second, I was specific about my plan.  I think both of those contributed to me actually doing what I set out to do with my fitness.  I've also figured out how to be a bit better about bills and my disaster of a room, along similar lines.  (And it's only taken me until I was 31!)

Part of the early part of this year's lack of realism was that I was on one bike or another for close to 450 hours in 2011.  I thought I could do that again.  Turns out engineering graduate school and my current frequency of travel are really more time consuming than that.

I've already sort-of started my 2013 plan, which is to say that while I haven't "officially" started or switched Excel files yet, I'm trying to take what I figured out this summer and apply it with more specific goals.  I'm trying to hit 7 hours/week, including my rides to and from school, and all my non-commute workouts are specifically endurance workouts.  I recently acquired a heart rate monitor, and have been starting to incorporate that in my training.  It's interesting.  So far, all the cliches about rec. cyclists seem to apply to me - I have a sense of what my effort levels are that's fairly realistic but am pretty variable about what I actually do and my endurance rides are too hard.  I'm not sure if my supposedly hard rides are too easy, and honestly I haven't been doing enough of those anyway.

For next year, the idea is to follow a training plan I built up using Joe Friel's The Mountain Biker's Training Bible, and put the workouts on my Google Calendar with some attention to realism.  That seems to help hugely in following the plan.  As in this year, I'm not starting Base until January, so the holidays will have been and gone, and won't be able to torpedo my plan in its first weeks, something that happened in 2010, and which I allowed to color my attitude about the whole thing.  I'll still use Excel to record what I've done; that seems to work well for me.

I'm going to try to do some specific workouts during the week.  If I can make it work with school, I'll try to fit in a longer mountain bike ride on Wednesday afternoons, but homework and my impending wedding may not mesh well with that.

All that leaves a really big question:  What races am I doing?  Dunno.  But I'm going to be in shape for them, this time!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

5k Fever!

Sorry.  Had to.

So I've been plugging away at trying to make running one of my sports again since 2008.  When I bought some shoes, ran three miles a few times, and messed up my ankles badly enough to miss work.  D'oh!

Last October, I decided I was going to try again, but do it really right.  Got a new pair of shoes, started the Couch to 5k training plan.  I promised myself and anyone who'd listen that I'd be super-conservative about progressing in it.  I was making very little progress, and back in April I got a referral to a physical therapist.  That's actually gone really well.  I started progressing through the plan, I've had some zero-pain runs, and I'm now actually finished with the training plan and doing regular 30-minute runs.  That's not including warm up and cool down - I do some balancing stuff, some calf presses, and some silly walks before I run, then run for a half hour, and then walk for however long it takes me to get the rest of the way home, usually about ten minutes.

One of the things I like about cycle racing is that I have goals for my training.  I thought I'd apply the same thing to running.  Adella and I tossed it back and forth a bit, and I decided that the Bellingham Bay Marathon 5k would be a good one to do.  It's in Bellingham, and it was on a good weekend.

Silly as it is, I had a plan for this event.  I was going to do the first half at my normal training pace.  If I was feeling okay, I'd open up the throttle a bit about halfway through.  Then again about three quarters of the way through.  Etc.  I find this to be a good way to handle longer intervals in cycle training, and figured it would generalize well, and also keep myself from repeating my pattern of running too fast and getting hurt.  Or at least mitigate it...

I really don't see myself as a runner.  Whatever that means.  I think running will be good cross-training for me, and it bothers me to be unable to do something so basic.  So lining up near the front for the start seemed unrealistic.  But Adella had planted us there.

The start of the race reminded me a lot of the start of a big mountain bike race.  It was crowded and there was a lot of shuffling, and I could tell that the group was starting to fan out a bit.  Adella suggested that maybe I should be pacing myself more - I think she caught me doing my start line SOP, which was really not part of the plan for the day.  The start also wound around the block once, including a run downhill and then back up.  Running up hills feels a lot like riding a bike up hills to me, and I tend to want to do it at my cycling up hills effort level.

After the expedition around the block, we headed out along the road that was going to be most of the first half of the course.  I don't typically run on the road, although I'd been running on pavement a little more in training, since I've heard it can be an issue for runners who usually run on softer surfaces.  There was some shuffling, mostly me shuffling a little bit back, during that section.

At the end of the road, the course makes a 180-degree turn onto a trail.  I thought I was probably further than half way, but since I couldn't read any of the kilometer flags, I wasn't really sure.  I started to accelerate, but the trail had a couple of steepish descents, so I went back to my previous speed for those.  Then it began a long, gradual climb and I picked it up a notch, and started catching people.  Kind of an unusual sensation for me running, and lately a little too rare for me in a bike race too.

I tried to manage my effort on that climb.  Before, I'd been sticking to what I could support breathing through my nose.  Now, I was trying to keep it to slow breaths through my mouth - a bit of an increase still.  Not too long after the climb ended, probably at around 1 km left in the race, not too much, I started decoupling.  I figured I'd just hold out and keep my pace up, so I did.  I was starting to wonder if that was a bad idea, when I rounded a couple corners and saw the finish line.  So I opened up the throttle the rest of the way, caught a few more people, and finished the race.  I knew I was somewhere around twenty-six and a half minutes from the clock.  I was (and am) fairly pleased with that.  I'd finished a 5k, running the whole time, and probably even had negative splits.  I also managed not to do it at self-destruction pace.  I'd been anticipating a little more than twenty-seven minutes, since I think I've been running about a nine-minute mile in training, and my plan was to be pretty conservative for most of it.  But, it was still a race.

The results for this are kind of funny.  119 men entered.  My time was good for 32nd place.  I'd have expected to be a lot further back.  While the Bellingham Bay Marathon made sure "fun run" appeared next to "5k" on a lot of the materials, it was still chip timed and sanctioned by some body or another.  I think that means that if serious runners need to get a 5k time for qualification for something, they can get it here.  Anyway, there were some serious-looking runners present, and the two fastest guys finished in under 17 minutes.

Adella did very well.  Her chip time was 25:22.  We were actually fairly close together for the first quarter or so, and then she took off.  I think she takes a little time to warm up and hit her pace, because I'm pretty sure I was speeding up over the course of the event too.  But I didn't see her until the finish line after she started motoring.  That put her 14th among the women, of whom there were 305.

Of course now that I've done one of these things, I want to see if I can do one fast.  I had fairly sore ankles and tired legs on Monday, so maybe it's a little too soon.

The real reasons to do this were that it frustrated me to find that I couldn't just go for a run and that I wanted to have an aerobic training thing I can do when I'm traveling, and a pair of running shoes are more practical than bringing an entire bike.  So I'm pleased to have achieved that.  I'll work up my volume on the running a bit more at least through the end of the year, and then probably just do whatever makes sense in the context of a cycling-focused plan.  But there are a few trail duathlons in the winter, so I may try to go to those, at least as a target for running.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

2012 Summer

This was kind of a weird season.  Last year, I managed to do all six of the BuDu Racing races.  This year, the monster that is Partial Differential Equations ate my time and some of my soul during the winter.  In the spring, I was feeling out of shape and not particularly motivated to go suck at the last few races.

I had some idea this might happen, and I decided that this year I would try track.  I took my class at the end of April and started going to races in May.  Track is a lot of fun, and shares a couple of the aspects of Wednesday Night Worlds that I really liked:  It's midweek, it's close, and the brevity of the races means I feel a lot more comfortable trying stuff.  Much as I hate to admit it, I also liked starting at the bottom, and getting to be strong and fit relative to a lot of the other people starting at the bottom.

Since the Indie Series is basically done and the Fat Tire Revolution series is too far away for me to want to compete, this was a very low-MTB racing season.  My two 'A' races were going to be the Padden Mountain Pedal and the Capitol Forest 50.

Since my lovely, beautiful fiancee had a conference to attend in Ocean Shores in June, I figured I'd preride for the Capitol Forest 50 on my home.  And maybe on the way over.  It turned out there was going to be a race there that weekend!  I decided to enter.  It was the Six Hours of Capitol Punishment, my first time doing an endurance race of the around and around and around format.  It ended up being a pretty difficult day on a bike.  Or, two bikes.

Not too long after that, I got promoted to Cat. 4 on the track, and did the Padden Mountain Pedal.  Padden went alright - I didn't feel like I had quite the legs to be as competitive as I was thinking I might, but I still did the race in a little less time than last year.

Then, lots of track racing.  I moved to a higher gear ratio.  I found I can often get away with solo attacks for long enough to get some points out of them.  I'm learning to locate myself well in a pack.  It's actually been very exciting, and left me curious about road racing too.  I wasn't ready for track to be over after the last race night on the 5th.

The Capitol Forest 50 went well too.  Like Padden, I managed to do it in a little less time than last year.  Although I'm even less sure how.

I find myself pretty unmotivated to do 'cross this season, but I'm going to be doing one on the 23rd because I'm volunteering for it and will be there anyway.  I had a bit of a bump of enthusiasm about doing 'cross, but I took an easy week before the Capitol Forest 50 and lost some of my momentum.  Simultaneously, I was starting to get more Omnium points on the track.  Now I'm done with that, and a good chunk of lots of races spaced a week apart.  We'll see if I get fired up about 'cross after the one on the 23rd.

Next year is a big question mark.  I'm tempted to get some more parts for the track bike, to be able to tune my gear ratio more and go a little higher again.  But I might not race track.  I've been telling myself for a couple years that I'd get a mountain bike that comes out of the box as a racer when I finish my degree and start making some money again.  But I might not be racing mountain bikes.  I've also been telling myself that I'd get a road bike that fits me.  But other things have always come up that seemed more important.  Hard to think of something more important than the wedding I have coming up...  but one way or another, I"ll ride bikes too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

50 Miles, But Not So Hard

I competed in the Capitol Forest 50 recently.  It was awesome.

OK, there's a little more to the story.  I've been working a pretty early schedule lately, which doesn't agree with me that well.  I didn't prep the night before, which I should have.  At least the bike itself didn't need attention.  I was a bit nervous getting myself together and out the door on Saturday morning and it took longer than I wanted it to.  However, I still reached the staging area with over an hour before the start time.

Last year, the race had a Lemans start.  People whined about it, but it wasn't that bad - maybe 300 yards of running.  The Lemans start at an endurance race can be a very funny thing.  The people who're hoping to win the race try to win the start too.  They run like they mean it and everybody else just phones it in.  It's a good opportunity to self-seed.  I run them fast enough to be among other people in team kits, usually a clue that I'm with the right group.

This year, there was no Lemans start.  There were 225 people crammed into a start ramp.  By the time I got myself over there, I was back with people wearing Camelbaks and baggy shorts.

Case in point:  This woman is riding a hardtail, yet wearing a Camelbak.  Picture taken by the organizers.

Oops.  The race has about a quarter mile of paved road before it gets onto fire road briefly and then singletrack, so I moved myself up as much as I could without riding at an effort I might regret.  I still was in a traffic jam at the entrance to the singletrack, but once in, it wasn't too bad.  In fact, I maintained an average over 10 mph - pretty brisk for me on a mountain bike on trails.

I make a habit of asking riders standing next to the trail, at least who don't look like they've got it in hand, if they're having a problem.  Usually they say they have everything they need and I don't need to decide if I would truly stop and help someone with a mechanical difficulty.  This time, the rider in question said she couldn't get her chain unstuck.  I had a brief moment of thinking I wanted to set a faster time on this race, then stopped to try to help her with it.  It was pretty badly stuck and I couldn't get it out nicely.  I was afraid to haul on it, so I told her that that's all that was left that I could think of but I was afraid to do it to her bike.  I saw her at the end of the race.  She'd yanked hard on the chain to get it out, and it turned out more than okay - she made podium in the Open Women's category.  Lots of people had offered to help me, and had helped me later, when I had my mechanical problem at the 6 Hours, so maybe I also needed to earn some karma back.

I lost maybe a minute stopping to look at the woman's chain, although two large groups of riders passed us, which bothered me a little more.  From last year's GPS track, I actually don't think I was particularly slowed down by being in traffic during the start of the race.  However, it feels good to set my own pace, even if it's the same as the pace of the train I could be stuck in.

This looks like somewhere near the Fall Creek campground.  From Steve Sanders Photography.

Since I wasn't worried about a possible damaged wheel this year, I blew right through the first aid station and started the big climb of the day, 1500' up the Mima Porter trail.  I passed a few people at first, and then a few people caught me.  One guy passed me and then either he slowed down or I surged.  For a while, I followed him on the theory that he must have been averaging higher than me to catch me.  Eventually I got tired of it and passed him again.

The guy who'd passed me caught me at the next aid station, where I did stop and refill my water.  Last year, on the advice of another rider, I tried taking little packets of pre-portioned Gatorade with me so I could have my energy drink throughout the race.  It worked well, so I did it again this year.

There's a little bit of climbing after the second aid station.  Last year, I hadn't expected it, so I remember it being pretty difficult.  This year, I didn't kill myself quite as much on the climb to the aid station, and I was in better shape to tackle the last section.  It turns out it's only about 150' of vertical, over about a mile, and not that big a deal.  Next year, maybe I'll go back to killing myself on Mima Porter.

I had a lot of fun descending to the far end of the course.  The trails were smooth, the traction was good, and I don't believe I go faster on a descent when I push it, so I just tried to relax and flow.  Definitely the best way to do that descent!  This was my one segment PR for the entire race.  I knocked a little less than two minutes off last year's time, over the course of forty-three minutes.

I had a power bar on the flat section of road before the big fire road climb back up to the third aid station, which is right next to the second.  I remembered the fire road climb being absolutely brutal, but it wasn't so bad this time.  The other thing I remembered was that there was more climbing after the aid station, when I thought it would be over.  In fact, there's almost 500' left to climb, although over about four miles.  Last time, I felt terrible on this section.  This time, it wasn't nearly as bad.  I tried to keep a good pace going and while I mostly rode it alone, I reeled in a few riders.

One of the banner routes in Capitol Forest is the descent on Greenline Six from the peak to the Fall Creek campground.  Once again, I tried to relax, flow and have fun.  This took me longer than last year, although not by very much.  I think I had more fun with it, though.

I blew through the aid station again.  I thought I could probably get back to the start in a little under an hour, and at this point, I was starting to taste the PR I knew I had a shot at.  I had about one and a half bottles of water.  I had gels.  No reason to slow down.

About a half hour after the aid station, I started hitting clearcut and I knew I was close to the finish.  I started pushing harder.  I had a lot more of that left in me than I realized.  After about twenty minutes, I wasn't done yet and started feeling less brilliant.  But I kept seeing landmarks I remembered being near the end, and I'd try to hang on for a little longer, then turn a corner and see more trail.  I realized I didn't really know where I was, except that I was somewhere near the end.  Finally, and somewhat anticlimactically, I burst out onto the last piece of service road in the course.  I got in my large chainring and started riding as fast as I could to the finish.  I shifted up a bit more after turning onto the asphalt.  One of the pitfalls of using Strava is that I can look at my track and know that my idea of "as hard as I can" at that point was only good for about 20 mph.  By the time I crossed the finish line, I was out of the saddle and hammering.  At least, I thought I was hammering.

My official time for the race was 5:35:50.2.  Twelve minutes faster than last year.  The funny part is that I'm not sure where I managed to get rid of those twelve minutes.  It wasn't the 300 yard run.  I only lost about four minutes to my wheel problem last year.  And almost every segment I rode this year was slower, although some didn't match correctly and I don't have segments on all of the course.  Very strange.

I'd been nervous that I hadn't prepared adequately for this race.  I still don't think I did, but I've been mountain biking some, and the Century and track racing must have counted for something too.  However, days later, my back still hurts and I'm still stiff.  Last year, recovery wasn't quite as bad.  So even if I prepared well enough to clock a good time this year, I didn't prepare well enough to recover well too.

I hope to be back next year.

The GPS track:

Thursday, August 09, 2012

20 Miles, the Other Hardest Way

My last post notwithstanding, this hasn't been a great season for me and mountain biking.  BuDu Racing's series fell victim to a Really Hard Math class.  The Indie Series has pretty much folded, although I did race Padden this year.  The Fat Tire Revolution series is on the wrong side of the Cascades.

Whine whine, moan moan.

When I first moved to Seattle in 2008, a friend of mine predicted that I'd either get a fixie within months or rebel against the whole fixie thing completely.  I'm not really sure where this fits...  I decided to try track racing.  Track racing is midweek and relatively close to home.  I often feel like I don't have enough top-end power, and my power output in general could stand to drift up.  It's an excuse to buy another bike.

I've been to a class and 10 races now.  I'd hardly call myself an expert.  In fact, I feel like I'm still just figuring out what I'm doing.  But it's been a lot of fun.

On any given night, there are three races.  In endurance track racing - anything that's massed start - there are a ton of different formats.  Most track races are points based, and those that aren't still award points in order to fit into a program with the others.  Most track races are also somewhat strategic.  Track racing is quite fast, with my races having average speeds in the mid-20s, even in second lowest category.  So drafting is very important.

Last night's program featured three races:  a Scratch race, a Snowball, and a Points race.

A Scratch race is the most obvious race, the one most people will think of as how bike races must be conducted.  Riders ride around the track for a specified number of laps, and the first one across the line wins.  Points go five riders deep.  There are some very powerful riders who come out for Cat. 4.  The excuse that people give themselves for not being those riders is that they're already in fast categories on the road - they'll breeze through Cat. 4 pretty quickly until they hit the level appropriate to their fitness.  The fastest guys last night never separated themselves from the pack, but they set a pretty fast pace.  It was challenging for me to stay near the front.  I hung on for dear life, and when the last lap came around and the acceleration happened, I kept hanging on and managed to finish fifth.  This was a big deal for me - the first time I've placed highly enough as a Cat. 4 rider to earn Omnium points.  Or, one point, anyway.

A Snowball is a race in which points are awarded every lap.  Only the first rider across the line gets points.  On the first lap it's one point, on the second it's two, and the number keeps increasing until the end of the race.  There were 24 riders in my group and I didn't start in a brilliant position.  The faster guys attacked off the front immediately.  I felt like everybody else wasn't working very hard to reel them back in, even though as a group of 20, we should have had a big advantage.  I tried to get to the front to set a little faster pace, but from the back of a group of 20, it was a lot of riders to pass.  So I'm making excuses too.  I, and a lot of other riders, was basically just shut out of this race.

The Points race is one of the staples of endurance track racing.  There are a certain number of sprints, say 5, separated by a certain number of laps each, say 4.  That's a 5x4 Points race, and what we did last night.  Sometimes riders get away with things on the track, like attacking in a small breakaway and managing to stay out front.

I started off doing about the same as in the Scratch race, just maintaining my position near the front.  Nobody was really breaking away.  I found I couldn't outsprint the other riders near the front when we came to the lap line the first two times.  The second time, I decided to see if I could get away with something.  So I kept riding hard after the sprint.  I looked around and nobody was with me.  I knew it was a little early to break away, but since the pack starts picking up speed pretty far in advance of a sprint, I also thought that to get away with something, I needed to do it early.

Something I find freeing about track racing is that there are three races each evening.  If I fail badly at one, I get a chance to redeem myself in about twenty minutes.  I didn't do much of anything with a race a few weeks ago because I thought that some of the other riders wouldn't let me get away with anything.  I realized later that nobody else was attacking and I couldn't contest the sprints with the more powerful riders.  I decided after that that I was giving myself permission to try attacking off the front, even if it meant I might blow up and be out of contention for the rest of the race.  After all, there'd be another one in twenty minutes.

So last night, when I looked behind me to see if anyone was going to help me and nobody was there, I just kept pedaling as fast as I could.  I managed to keep the gap open for all four laps to the next sprint, so I won it.  I didn't accomplish anything else in that race, but that was enough for another fifth place finish.  The second time I've placed highly enough to earn Omnium points, and basically because I was willing to risk the rest of my race on the chance that the pack might let me get away with taking the sprint that one time.  I'm still sore today.

My points haul, such as it was, put me in eighth place for the evening, and on the season rankings for the Velodrome.  I'll take that.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

40 miles, the hardest way

I had plans to pre-ride some of the Capitol Forest 50 course this weekend.  I was going to be in the area anyway, at least sort of, so I thought it would be a good opportunity.  Then I found out there was going to be a race going on on those trails, the 6 Hours of Capitol Punishment.  I figured, "what the hell," and signed up for it.  A few days earlier, I'd swapped the chain on my mountain bike, and hadn't ridden since then.  So I rode up and down my street and made sure the shifting was working fine, rode up the steeper street near my house to make sure the granny wasn't skipping, and figured I was okay.

During the drive down on Friday, it was raining heavily.  I actually decided to skip pre-ride because I thought the course would be destroyed and muddy and awful.  By Saturday morning, the morning of the race, it certainly was.  It was still drizzling when I parked.

I noticed a little slipping in my drivetrain riding into the start/finish area.  When I started doing the big climb up Mima Porter #8, I noticed even more.  I just shifted again in whichever direction if I found myself in a cog that was doing poorly.  Usually one shift was enough to get me onto a good one.  Still, not an auspicious beginning.

The course is laid out with a big climb, a rolling singletrack connecting two of the larger trails, and then a long descent.  The singletrack connector was nasty, gritty, pine needle-containing, soul-destroying mud.  At least the two main trails were steep enough to drain better, and trafficked enough not to have a lot of organic material on them.  I think wet pine needles are my Kryptonite.  Except, I know they're everyone else's kryptonite.  Anyway, I was riding along and talking to another racer who also was soloing and didn't want to kill himself yet when my pedaling resistance suddenly became much higher and I stopped.  He actually buzzed my tire, but I think that happened after.  My rear derailleur was all sorts of twisted and mangled.

I tried to make the bike a singlespeed, but the closest to a workable gear combination I found in terms of chain links matching up was 22/11.  I didn't have to ride for very long before that autoshifted to 22/13 and started binding like crazy.  Since I was at the top of the course, I rode the rest of the way to the start/finish line, including a little pushing, and went to the mechanic.  The best gear ratio he could find was also 22/11, so it's not just me not understanding chainline.  :D  I realized I'd forgotten to put up my parking pass, so I rode to my car to take care of that and the bike autoshifted to 22/13 again.  So I hadn't put it there in the first place, and it was clearly not going to work for riding another lap.

At this point, I was ready to give up.  At least, on getting my bike working.  So I went to find the organizer and let him know I was pulling out - good to let them know I'm not lying unconscious in the woods somewhere or something.  He asked if I'd keep going if I could, and I said, "I came here to race!"  Someone else who was there to cheer and drink beer had a singlespeed with a chain tensioner, so that was the next plan.  The mechanic started to install it and my derailleur hanger broke.  Darn!

SRAM had a van there with suspension forks to demo.  They also had some demo bikes.  So they lent me a Stumpjumper 29er Hardtail.  While it was a nice bike, it really made me miss mine!  Mine has fenders, a front tire I like better, a granny gear, a little bell, a suspension fork that's old but that I've got set up to the best compromise I can find, which is a bit plusher than the Reba on the SJ was, and, last but certainly not least, I have a lower, longer cockpit.  I felt like I was driving a truck on the SJ.  Wide bars, short stems, and sitting bolt upright aren't my thing, apparently.  I think if this was my only 29er hardtail demo, I might be in the chorus of people saying they suck.  But actually I think it was a stubby stem and me having the wrong riding position.  Still, SRAM saved my race, and I realize they're carrying bikes that they're supposed to be able to use to send people on short demos, not four and a half hours and a few thousand feet of climbing and mud.  I rode three laps on it.

All in all, this feels like the hardest I've ever worked to ride my bike 40 miles.  People took really good care of me, though, which was great - I was able to get myself safely off the mountain, but I wouldn't have been able to continue to race without everybody's help and SRAM's demo bike.  And there were definitely some moments when I wasn't slogging uphill through the mud and I could get in my (sort of, 'cuz of the high bars) attack position and carve through the linked turns and flowy bits.  Results aren't up yet, but while I think the fastest people may have managed seven laps, I think my four put me at least mid-pack.  Not bad for over an hour left on course and a borrowed bike!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oh, just a Century

About two weeks ago, I decided to do a Century.  I hadn't really been planning to do it, but it came up in conversation on the 5th, and then some friends and teammates were talking about it, and I figured, "What the hell."

So of course I hadn't been training for it.  I've been trying to hit about three hours on my long ride, as a distance that's pretty manageable in terms of planning ahead and keeps me in striking distance for something bigger.  Like, you know, build weeks leading to a 50-mile MTB race.  But last time I did a Century, it took me eleven and a half hours end-to-end, with a ton of time left on course, and about seven and a half hours of riding time.  I figured I could do better with one hand tied behind my back.  Or something like that.

Anyway, this was my first supported Century, and only my second supported road ride.  Normally, I just get on my bike, or get on my bike and meet some friends.  This was Cascade Bike Club's Flying Wheels Summer Century.

So I drove (to ride my bike!) to the park where the start/finish was, picked up my number, and got started.  I could tell pretty quickly that this was a different kind of ride from what I'm used to.  Tons of cyclists on the road, and most of them taking it pretty easy.  Or at least, my "taking it easy."  People walking on climbs.  I passed a lot of people having mechanical problems, although they all either appeared to or said they had what they needed.  I took a descent slowly due to some flaggers keeping an accident scene clear.  Wow.

I was opportunistically getting in pace groups some, although a lot of the time, I was just sucking wind on my own.  At some point, I passed a good friend of mine.  He chased on and we rode together for a while, which was fun.  I bumped into a couple teammates at the first aid station.  My friend and I weren't super-compatible on climbs though, and he sent me ahead.  I soft-pedaled for a while to see if he'd chase back on, but I later found out that he encountered yet another accident and stuck around to help.  Definitely more important.  Once the hills started again, I started riding a little harder again and also finding better groups to sit in with.

Here's something I hadn't seen before.  Maybe because TT bikes are illegal in massed start racing...  One of the groups I was riding with had a guy on a TT bike at the head, while the rest were on drop bar bikes.  They caught up to me, so clearly they were maintaining a higher average, but they tanked on every climb.  I managed to be organized enough to make pace for them up one climb, but that was shortly before the 50-mile aid station, where I'd promised myself a break.  I was starting to feel pretty worn at that point, and I was wondering how the next 50 would feel.

Aid accomplished, I got rolling again.  I passed a lot of individual riders going quite slowly, and wondered when they must have started to be that far out on the course.  Maybe they went fast for 50 miles and blew up.

My next weird group were a bunch of guys wearing matching green outfits.  I thought maybe they were on a team, except that they were mostly wearing mountain bike shoes and a lot of them didn't have the matching shorts.  Weird, for a team.  Again, they had to be averaging better than me because they caught me.  And again, they fell apart on climbs, and their paceline was very ragged.  Finally I asked if they were a club or a team.  One said they were a clan.  Regardless, not registered with USAC.  I dropped off the back to meet a teammate we passed.  He was accidentally doing the full route - he'd planned to do 45 or 65 that day.

We separated and a little later, I managed to get in with a fast-moving group of guys who were doing the 65.  Although they'd ridden to the ride, so probably close to 90 for the day.  I had a little trouble hanging on.  While not quite a first for the day, they were very consistent too - easily my most competent pace group.  I couldn't maintain their pace when it was my turn to pull.  I blame increasing head wind!

That brought me to mile 80 and the bottom of the toughest climb on the ride.  The two of them took a little while, but dropped me.  I fought my way up the climb and didn't bonk, which was good.  This is what I was most worried about, since I haven't done long rides in training and I figured if I had a problem, it would be a weird pain thing or it would be bonking about an hour after my usual training distance.  I was pretty fried after that climb, although still doing pretty well relative to a lot of the people on the route.  The way the timing and the routes worked out, I was with people who'd started later and were doing the 65 or 45 at this point, so a lot of different fitness levels or what Cascade diplomatically calls "Pace conflicts."

I did try to hop on with one more group at the very end, but they were booking it and I couldn't.  Oh well.

Then I finished.  I got up to sprint the finish line, but it was on a sidewalk, behind some bollards.  While I know I can't "win" a Century, I do like to finish things like I mean it, I think it's good practice for races where I sprint every finish just in case someone's about to snag 17th place from me.

From start to finish, it was 96.1 miles, so not a "real" century and it took me about 5:50, including about a half hour left on course at the two rest stops.

I hadn't been seeing this as a part of my larger season, particularly.  Just something to try because I haven't really done it before.  But this Saturday I'm going to do a 6-hour MTB race, the 6 Hours of Capitol Punishment, so it's nice to have this behind me and know that if I can't scare up a friend or a teammate, I'm in shape to do it solo.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It's Been Seven Months

And I'm actually doing less than week 1 of the Couch to 5k.  I'm not sure if that's why I lost momentum with blogging; actually I think it had more to do with math being hard.  I had a class with long reports and a class with a lot of math.

Winter had hard classes too.  The hardest math class I've ever taken, covering partial differential equations, a class with computer programming and reports, and another class with reports.

Which brings me to now.  Since I mentioned running...  I left a note in my calendar to tell me to buy new running shoes if I was still running in April - running shoes don't last forever, and I guesstimated that I'd be about due to start alternating, or I'd have given up entirely.  Instead, I was still plugging away at run/walk intervals.  So I've started seeing a physical therapist and doing all kinds of goofy exercises that are supposed to improve (and already have, I think) the stability in my ankles.  He told me today that I could start increasing my volume some, and I'm probably near the end of the protocol.

The most important thing in my life, though, is I'M ENGAGED!

I haven't gotten save-the-date cards out yet, and I don't think I've invited everyone I want to via Facebook.  So if you haven't been invited, it doesn't mean you haven't been invited, it means I'm a bit scattered.

I was admitted to UW as a real graduate student not too long after my last blog entry.  That meant writing a real study plan, and finding out when I'll finish my degree.  March 2013, unless something happens to change that.  After that...  I might move, and drag Adella with me.  Or, more preferably, I may catch up with her in Bellingham.  Since I want us to be together, I want us to get married, and I want my friends and family to be able to come, Adella and I realized we were just about out of lead time, and I figured I'd better propose before I lost my chance to do it and we were already planning the wedding.  So I did.  In the dining room, in the morning.  On April 1st, no less, but as Adella can attest, I don't necessarily know what I'm doing yet in the morning, so I didn't realize that it was perhaps an odd date for a proposal.  Regardless, today's not April 1st, and neither of us have backed out.  It's on.

Also: need a job for the summer.

No promises not to wait seven months to do this again.  But I don't think that effects whether or not my friends and family read it, and let's be real about who actually follows me.