Training, racing, gear, facial hair styles and thoughts from my push to become an elite cyclist.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Dual Edged Sword of Competition

For all of my talk about racing I didn't end up going last weekend. There was a laundry list of reasons- some excuses, rationalizations and justifications for a decision I ended up being mostly OK with.   

First was Saturday's unraveling.  I'd planned to drive to the airport to drop Carrie off, and assuming fairly normal conditions for traffic and the boarder crossing I figured on getting home around 9:30 PM.  That was manageable, and I was able to get the bike and the rest of my kit totally prepped before I left.

The monkey wrench was construction and the three additional hours it added to the trip.  After driving in that much gridlock I was worn out when I finally got home at 11:30.  That much sitting wasn't too bad,  and the back injury I sustained earlier in the week was relatively unobtrusive. 

How did I hurt my back?  Well first I thought it was from sleeping on it wrong, but I realized that I had been moving several 4' x 8' sheets of plywood from an overhead rack at Home Depot.  They weren't super heavy, but I do recall at one point thinking that a smarter person would have asked one of my orange aproned friends for assistance.  That thought ran through my head as held a piece directly overhead and was turning to put it down on my lumber cart. 

I was also feeling pretty smoked from the intense 4 week training block I'd just completed which added to the insult (traffic) and injury (plywood pirouette). 

It's been a few years since I've successfully completed and Olympic distance cross country race, but realistically I've been doing some shorter, harder efforts at Catamount and some endurance races so I should be able to handle.  Really the question would be pacing and how much it was going to hurt. 

Last year I didn't get a chance to take advantage of my form more often, and I wish I could have tested myself at some standard XC events.  I do really want to fit some of those in this season, just not when the cards are stacked against me. 

It's always a fine line between staying sharp and not wearing myself out with too much intensity.  After all you have to be fit to race, and there's no better way to build fitness than racing.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

One Down, Several To Go

I'm glad my first race of the year is out of the way.

This week was my first Wednesday Worlds, and my first race of the year.  Sure I'd been training pretty aggressively and had some new found trail skills to put to use, but a lot has happened since my last event on August 21, 2011.

I've deliberately avoided posts about training.  Some of that is probably because I can tell I'm improving but still don't have a good handle on where I am relative to last year, and some of it is because I'm a little self-conscious about it all.  Somewhere between the whining about hard efforts and existential crises taken out of context is the day-to-day of riding and training.  Keeping track of my performance has always been a challenge for me and I don't want to add pressure to myself or try to get too grandiose about how bad ass my training has been or how I'm going to take people apart on the race course.

Racing is hard, and although I remind myself of that regularly there's still no way to fully prepare for that all-out effort unless you're actually toeing the start line.  Physically and mentally there's no replacement for racing.

Leading up to Wednesday's race I was nervous.  I've been totally off the local cycling grid and have been riding almost exclusively by myself.  That suits my introverted style, and I push myself, but it makes it tough to benchmark relative to the competition.

So how'd the first Wednesday Worlds of 2012 go?  Overall pretty well, though I was ready to pull the plug halfway through the first lap.  This year's hill course is similar to years past, but somehow it manages to incorporate all of the sharp climbs at the expense of the long diesel ones.  I like the long diesel ones.  They suit my riding style and I know I can dig a little deep and reel people in towards the top.  I don't like the short, sharp ones.  It's tough for me to produce such short, sharp repeated efforts and I have to factor them into my pacing strategy.

I didn't do Flower Power, and I didn't get a full warm up.  The start of the course was similar to what we'd done before, so I anticipated where the hard efforts would be based on that.  I was planning on a handful of short, sharp efforts and was metering my effort accordingly.  My start was good, probably a little too good.  I was heading up the second steep climb with the group I want to ride with but can't quite yet.  I backed off a little and let a couple guys go who I knew I couldn't chase.  After that I got a little too aggressive punching it going over the wall and started to feel the effects of the start right when I needed to be maintaining my pace.  Ouch.

I started to slip a little, but recovered slightly for what I thought was the last steep pitch.  Previous loops had the gravelly slog up to the rockwall as the top of the course- but not this year.  After bouncing over the rockwall it was all new singletrack trough the woods- and a shit ton more climbing.  Barely halfway through the hard part, I was hurting pretty bad and going backwards fast.

From there to the top of the seemingly endless climbs I was essentially soft pedaling as racer after racer slipped past.  At some point Nemesis caught me and we started riding together.  Before long we were in a small group and were trading places with each other for the next few laps.

By that time I was starting to settle in a little, and knowing how much climbing lay ahead I backed off a little on the early steep sections.  That didn't really make it easier but it made the overall pace more sustainable.  Meanwhile my trail skills were totally gone.  I was riding like I'd just crashed (even though I hadn't) and was just losing time on every stupid turn.  Dammit.

On Lap 3 things improved a little.  I'd sorted out how I needed to attack the climbs, knew how long they were and was able to get a little smoother on the turns.  Simon's instructions about falling into my socks were starting to change my actions instead of just rattling around my head like some empty affirmation.  Looking back I think I've just done so many races there that my well-worn bad habits crept back when I was on the rivet.  I had to relax and back off a little so that I could let go of some tension and really feel the trail, and while I wasn't really smooth I was certainly smoother.

Nemesis and I had traded places many times through laps 2 and 3 with some other riders in our group trading pulls periodically.  Somewhere on lap 4 I got a gap and stretched it to 30 seconds by the finish.  Beating him is not why I get out of bed in the morning, but it's a very real performance benchmark.  Last year I had a couple of early season races where I was way ahead, and yet as I thought my fitness was improving he caught right up.  

Really I have no idea how I'm doing compared to last year.  Wednesday's race was a favorable indicator and I'm glad I finished when I really just wanted to quit.  I think my form is pretty good and if I can tweak my pre-race prep a little (by pre-riding the course and getting a decent warm up) with the right pacing I can improve on my performance.

Maybe I'll do Coyote Hill this weekend. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review- Rudy Project Hypermask Performance

This winter I got a pair of the Rudy Project Hypermask Performance.  They are an evolution of the Sportmask that I reviewed before and offer a similar wrap-around frameless style.  I opted for the very en vogue neon yellow frame color.

The Hypermask really takes what was right about the Sportmask (great peripheral vision, lightweight, fog resistance) and adds in some new features like a grippier nose piece and rubber lined temples to make the glasses really stay in place well. 

The nose piece is the same one found on the Zyon and Genetyk models and is both wide and adjustable.  The grippy temples also help to keep them in place and resist sweat much better than the all plastic temples of the Sportmask.  Without the added rigidity of a full frame the glasses have more flex and in order to stay in place they need to have a solid grip where they rest on your nose and over your ears. 

The lenses are also interchangeable and can be swapped out by simply pivoting the temples up and away from the nosepiece as shown here (the nosepiece stays attached to the lens).  This is a small thing, but it means that I'm more likely to wear these glasses because I can run different lenses relatively easily.  Most of the time I've been running the yellow lenses as shown here.

The Hypermask is equally at home on the road as it is in the woods.  I really came to enjoy the great peripheral vision in every riding situation and felt that I could see more of the terrain.  Coupled with their low weight it's easy to forget that you're wearing them.

Over the winter I also used these for skiing which means that the temples need to stick to a wool hat in order to stay on my head.  It's a good test to see how well glasses can stay in place, and the Hypermask held on flawlessly for several long ski outings. 

During spring road rides when I was wearing a cycling cap I ran the temples under the helmet straps and tucked under the hat to keep them in place.  That approach worked remarkably well even if it meant deviating from my usual glasses over the helmet approach. 

So what's the downside?  They do still slip around a little as the sweat rate goes up, but it's not terrible and can be minimized by properly setting up the nose piece. The lack of a frame also means that if you drop the Hypermask you are likely to damage the lens so be careful when removing them during rolling wardrobe changes or while removing your helmet to make trailside pit stops.

I'd definitely recommend the Rudy Project Hypermask.  With the improved temples and nose along with the interchangeable lenses these are a great option for on and offroad adventures (nordic skiing too, actually).

For more information visit www.rudyprojectusa.com

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bolton, New Shoes and Miscellany

This week I've been back to training even though the weather's been uncooperative.

Monday looked to be the warmest and driest day judging by the forecast, so I took the initiative to go for a short recovery ride.  Tuesday was cold and pouring so I rode for a little over an hour on the rollers before yoga class, then Wednesday was Bolton.

Ah, Bolton.  I posted on Facebook that I'd be climbing it, partially because I thought if I started talking about it to I'd actually do it.  My strategy worked, and I made my first trip to the top of the season. It started to rain about halfway up, and I ended up getting pretty soaked as I crept my way back down.  Amazingly enough it was still dry at the bottom and hadn't rained a drop.  

I felt pretty good and was able to stay smooth the whole way, but my time wasn't awesome.  Part of that was being tired from Tuesday's class and part of it is a result of some changes to my training this spring. 

In years past I've done a lot more road volume, but this year I'm really trying to spend more time offroad so that I can hone my skills.  It seems to be working, and I find myself riding faster, smoother, and braking less.  As a result I have a little less strength for very long, sustained climbs like Bolton, but when I consider the demands of my main events there really aren't many long climbs- they're short and punchy.

Thursday my new Pearl Izumi Octane MTB II's showed up, and I spent a few minutes at lunch getting the cleats setup.  I'll post some more thorough details on these after I have some more time on them, but so far I've been impressed.  They're light, stiff, and have a very good fit all while taking a unique approach to being a high end XC race shoe.

The less-than-stellar ascent of Bolton and new shoes were fuel enough for me to decide that I needed to do another hill climb so I made plans to do Cottonbrook and committed to doing it all in the big ring.

When I got to the trailhead I spent a couple minutes balancing like a one-legged scarecrow while adjusting my cleats on the new shoes, but overall my quick cleat setup method served as a great starting point (I'll post more on that later).  After that initial fiddling the shoes felt great and I made my way up the climb with relative ease.  I'd expected to be far more beat up from the previous day's ride, and although I wasn't setting the world on fire I did make it all the way to the top in the big ring.

My time was a little slower than my previous best this spring, and some of that was taking a deliberate pace but also I think struggling with such a tall gear on the steep sections is slower than turning a lower gear over.  I kinda knew that already, but it was interesting to see it first hand- the big ring is not always faster.

Also this week I made some strides on the next order of t-shirts.  Here's a draft version of the artwork.

The shirts are going to be dark gray heather- quite a bit darker than the background here, and the print will be a little lighter so there will be more contrast.  Cris at Factotum Design is printing them again and we should have them completed within the next couple weeks.  There will also be hoodies with the same art on a pre-order only basis.  If you are interested in either one let me know.

Also this week I've been wrestling with the intermittent performance of my aging heart rate monitor.  That may not seem like a big deal, but it means sometimes I'm flying blind without it and other times I'm just getting really frustrated that it's not working.  As soon as I can get the right battery I'm going to attempt this on an old chest strap.  It's not working now, so I really don't have anything to lose.


For now it's counting down to the end of the work day and getting ready for some more training this weekend.  There's still a slim chance that I might do Flower Power, but most likely I'll skip it and focus on getting some high quality riding done.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Baguette and a Coke

My favorite mid-ride fuel is undoubtedly a baguette and a Coke.

Coke has a long history with cycling, and it's one of those things that is such a part of the culture of the sport that it defies logic.  At one time it was considered a sports drink, but has fallen out of favor as more advanced electrolyte beverages have become available over the last twenty or so years.

I remember being on a long training ride with some college friends and we stopped about 65 miles in.  My friend Nate bought a Coke and poured it directly into his water bottle.  I was mortified.  Nate was (and still is) a guy I admire greatly- he's committed to the sport, has worked his way up to being a regional elite racer, trains hard, doesn't talk smack and has background in sports training and nutrition.  So what the hell was he doing with a Coke?

The answer is similar to the reason why cycling caps are always made from cotton.  Even though there are theoretically better options out there it's part of the culture of the sport.  You can buy Gatorade as newbies always do, but if you need a little extra in the last part of a ride you get a Coke.  It's definitely bad form to start a ride with Coke in your bottle, it's only mostly through or immediately after.

There's nothing wrong with Gatorade, but it's the beverage equivalent of the greatest hits album- it has what should be the right combination of all of the right elements, but somehow when taken out of its original context is just not the same.  You'd never admit that your favorite Pink Floyd album is Echoes, would you?

And then there's the baguette.  Every hard ride during last year's France trip (which was all of them since I was chasing Wayward) featured a stop at a Patisserie or Boulangerie.  Good bread was so abundant that it quickly became a standing assumption that in any small town we could stop at a bakery that would have a great selection of high quality baked goods for small dollars. 

Here in the US good bakeries are fewer and farther between, and those of quality usually charge top dollar.  Sometimes you can find a true baguette, and when you do it's a win.  Whether you split it with a friend or inhale half and stuff the other half in a jersey pocket doesn't matter.  Just enjoy it and make sure you make that your regular refueling stop every time you pass through.  

By necessity that baguette gets replaced by peanut butter crackers, or worse yet a dastardly Pop Tart.  It's all fine really, and certainly better than hitting the wall, but I'd prefer a baguette.

And always with a Coke to wash it down.

Friday, May 4, 2012

GU-Mas 2.0

My spring GU order arrived yesterday and I'm really psyched about it.  When my GU orders arrive it's always cause for celebration- GU-Mas, if you will.

In addition to my standard Lemon Sublime GU and Citrus Electrolyte Brew I got some new Roctane to try out.  I used some on my ride yesterday and was impressed.  After I get some more time to try it out I'll post up a more thorough review.

GU has been a great sponsor for the last three seasons, and I'm really psyched to be working with them again this year.  I burn through a lot of their stuff racing and even more when training so their support is a huge benefit for me.

And just for reference, this box will last me about 2-3 months.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Spooky, Again

Spooky.  I've posted about them before, and I still don't own one.  And I still find them very intriguing.  All of these pictures are from Spooky's website or Facebook page.

This 29er is built with a DT Swiss fork and some fast looking Continental tires.  It also appears that this owner was one of few to hop on the FSA 386 double crankset program. 

This is a classic 26" wheel World Cup-style build- flat bar, long & low cockpit, foam grips and a minimal saddle.  It's not often that you see a slammed stem run flipped down on a mountain bike.  The single ring is a new school touch for an otherwise traditional build.  I have no idea how much this bike weighs but I'm sure it's light.

This last one also features a single ring with a more aggressive AM guide and XTR build kit.  The cool thing here is the carbon tubulars which I never want to ride because I'm sure I wouldn't be able to live without them.  Total Euro-trash and race geeky. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Workshop, Summer Mode

It's spring, so usually this time of year there's a balance between cleaning, setting up for summer activities, putting away winter activities and general cleaning up.  This past week I put in a fair bit of time to get the basement switched over to summer mode- bike projects await.

Last fall when we remodeled we made some changes to the basement as well.  We added several more overhead lights, some outlets and another switch.  My workbench got cleaned up and the shelves got a fresh coat of paint. 

Here it is in summer mode with the bench vise in place and the ski tools put away.  It's amazing how much quicker I can get things done when I have a clean workspace. 

My tool cart, tool chest and workstand.  I keep them out of the way until I need them, but it's nice to be able to keep tools on the cart work surface and the project on the bench.  Somewhere I found that damper cartridge so it's hanging out while I figure out whether or it will be worth keeping as a backup for my SID.

The rollers and TV are there too in case I get rained out.  It's a small house so the space gets used for a lot of different things.  After I finish installing the slop sink I'll post that as well.  It'll be great to to be able to rinse out muddy gear right before I throw it in the washer.

Riveting stuff, I know.  But this is where all of my bikes get 97% of their attention.