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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Catamount Race Report, Hampshire 100 4.0

It's been a while since I put together a real, insightful post about what I've been doing.  Things have been up and down, and right now I'm looking down the barrel at my key race of the year, the Hampshire 100.

The last race I did was the Ryan Hawks Memorial 6 Hour Race at Catamount.  I decided to race on short notice because I'd been racing well midweek at Catamount but had been getting frustrated on the weekends with standard XC events.  Plan A was to do the Horror at Harding Hill XC as prep for the 70k Raid Jean D'Avignon the following weekend.  Considering that I had been racing well at Catamount, and the race was local, familiar terrain with a modest entry fee I decided to switch up and go for that.  It's also always good to fly the flag for the sponsors and a modest result is better than no result.

My Catamount race strategy was pretty simple- start it as a training ride, and if things were going well 4 hours in then keep going.  I needed to do a long MTB ride anyway so it wasn't really that different.  It ended up being a very hot day- over 90 in the sun, but with most of the course being fully shaded in the woods it wasn't too oppressive. 

I got a good start, then was autopilot for a different course and made a wrong turn.  As I cut back under the tape a pretty big group rolled by, and I fought my way through them on the first lap.  The moderate pace meant that it was still pretty stuck together so traffic was pretty thick on the mostly singletrack course. 

Further along the course went up through a new rock garden section I'd only previously ridden down, and although I could ride it smoothly on my own I hadn't seen it before and had a hard time with riders directly in front and behind me.  I ran most of it and maintained my spot, but knew I could ride it all clean. 

Then the climbing started. 

We went up toward the top of Indian lookout 3 times per lap.  I'm not sure what the vertical gain was, but we went up every frickin' hill on the woods side of the property.  As we worked our way through the course I realized I couldn’t maintain the pace of the other guys and had to let them go.  The downhills were chattery and fast but manageable and I was able to maintain my position and ride smoothly. 

My rear tire was getting soft at the end of lap 1 so I stopped at the car and refilled it with the floor pump rather than waste my CO2.  I got rolling again and started to settle in.  Some riders I'd passed were now ahead of me because of my pit stop and I slowly worked back up to where I was before.

From there I was able to ride the course pretty smoothly, and rode 6 of 8 laps completely clean.   People were actually getting out of my way on the downhills, which was pretty cool and definitely not something I'm used to. 

I ended up rolling in with 8 laps in 6 hours, good for 13th in a stacked field of 43 talented local races.  I beat a few people I'd been targeting and closed the gap on some others. 

The Monday after the race I was relaxing at home, enjoying a drink and relishing my accomplishment when a very intense rain storm rolled through.  It poured- approximately 3-4" of rain fell in less than 12 hours , and some water came into the basement.  In retrospect I overreacted, and I could trace back the reasons why it happened, but the ensuing panic and work to fix the drainage around the house and patch the leaks took most of my energy in the 2 weeks that followed. 

I'm oversimplifying it, but basically I felt like I was reliving the flood over again.  My reaction was way out of proportion to what really happened, but it was still tough, and it took a lot for me to calm down and relax again.  The good news is that we’ve made some great progress and have fixed some things that needed attention.  Just a few small tasks yet to go before I feel like I really have everything under control. 

Of course all of that effort meant that I had very little in the tank for anything else, and I had a very hard time recovering from the race.  In some ways I was probably past peak anyway, so this just reinforced that a little, but now I just feel flat and burned out when I really want to be chomping at the bit and ready to set a new PR. 

Looking back it was a good call to race Catamount.  I was able to take advantage of my fitness, and if Sunday doesn't go as well as I'd like then I still feel like this has been a strong season for me.  My Wednesday Worlds performances took a big step forward and I can tell what I need to do to keep moving the needle for next year. 

Last night I got the RSL completely dialed- new shift cables & housing and entirely new 2013 Avid XO brakes front and rear.  The setup took a couple hours, but now all I have ahead of me is a thorough cleaning and the all fastener check.  I'll get a couple miles on it tomorrow to make sure everything's smooth. 

So I'm going into the weekend with low expectations.  I love the race, and I know from past experience that even if I'm not on my A game I still have a decent showing in endurance events.  It's nice to not be stressed about it.   

And once again I'm feeling a bit like my fitness has been sitting, rusting at the side of the road.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review- Pearl Izumi Octane SL II Mountain Bike Shoe

Over the last five seasons I've had terrible luck with mountain bike shoes.  On the road I've worn the same pair of Northwave Aerlites, and in that time I've tried no fewer than 10 different pairs of mountain bike shoes from various manufacturers.

Earlier this spring I picked up a pair of Pearl Izumi Octane SL II mtb shoes and have worn them for every mountain bike adventure since.  My first impressions were positive: the shoe was light, the sole was appreciably stiff and the fit was good on my slightly narrower than average foot.  Overall  that the shoe seemed well constructed with its new school materials and laser cut seamless uppers.  

Pearl takes a different approach to building shoes- they're generally more glove-like and shapely than other companies.  They're also relatively new to the cycling shoe game having started about ten years ago, and I remember that their early offerings looked like a neoprene water shoe with a mountain bike sole.  Anecdotal reviews of those early models were that in spite of some cool features the fit was very odd and durability was questionable. 

Since then Shimano bought Pearl and along the way their shoes have steadily improved.  As a result the quality and construction are evident and the fit is consistent with other brands. 

So they look cool, but how do they fit and how do they wear?  I wear a size 44.5 in pretty much every shoe and these are no different.  The 45 I tried was way too big, and the 44 would likely be too small.  The velcro straps do a surprising job of cradling the foot and really allow for a wide range of adjustability.  The adjustability is a two edged sword, so to really get a sense of the right size I would suggest fully loosening and then individually tightening the straps when trying on different sizes.

The shoes feel square through the toe box and allow for plenty of wiggle room for the toes but are still snug enough around the ball of the foot that my foot doesn't slide around.  The insole of the shoe has a unique curvature both front-to-back (as shown below) and also side-to-side.  The front-to-back curve is fairly common, but the lateral curve under the ball of the foot allows the the foot to be more centered over the cleat pocket and theoretically provides a broader contact area to distribute pedaling forces.  The soles were stiff enough that I never got any hot spots and while I wasn't really aware of the insole when I wore these shoes I definitely noticed how flat my other cycling shoes felt by comparison.  And I should mention that I noticed it enough to consider getting the road going Octane SL III. 

The unique construction of the uppers has held up remarkably well with the only signs of wear being some rub marks from my driveside chainstay on the carbon heel counter.  The instep is also molded from carbon. 

This summer has been hotter than average, and even in the heat the small laser cut vents seem to do their job.  I'd say these are comparable to other mountain shoes I've had in the breathability department- no better and no worse.

After the hellacious Whiteface hike-a-bike section in the Wilmington Whiteface 100 the exposed carbon soles are pretty well scuffed but still structurally sound. 

During that stretch I definitely scraped, dinged and gouged the uppers as well, and remarkably they are none the worse for wear.  

The last key point with these shoes is the three strap velcro closure...meaning that there are no buckles.  Pearl's literature states that this is primarily so save weight, but after having trouble with buckles on other mountain bike shoes I think that there are performance benefits as well.  I have had buckles break in crashes and be twisted badly enough to end my ride.  I've also had them pop open when my foot brushes up against some passing trail debris.  Downhillers and Super D racers don't usually have ratchets on their shoes, and I think that's partly why. 

All in these are great shoes.  They offer a great fit with a stiff sole and a low overall weight.  They've held up great so far, and I like them enough I got myself a second pair.  The only thing I'd like to see on future models is a grippier cat's tonque fabric on the inside of the heel cup, but otherwise these shoes are awesome and look to be in service for a long time.  

For more information visit pearl izumi's website.