23 May, 2011

Feeling Better

It was nice to rest for a weekend.  Well, not rest completely, but not be running around racing.  I actually worked around the house a bit getting caught up on the items I have been neglecting for the last 5 weeks.

 I also got a chance to tear apart my bike after the muddy race at Brighton.  I guess some new brake pads are in order!

So, I have some new pads on order from Disco Brakes.  I am not sure how they will work out, but I figured it would be worth a shot.  I got the sintered, maybe they will last a bit longer! I am also soaking my chain, as there is a bit of surface rust. Apparently water based lube isn't the best for torrential rain races!

Sunday was 3 hours on the road, followed by visiting with my brother-in-law who drove in from Arizona, and finished with some mowing.  My string trimmer kept braking, so after chunking it across the yard, it went straight into the Curby.  Done!

The road ride was excellent.  Some back roads from my house to Vermontville, around to Charlotte and home.  The weather was awesome, although the tops of my knees got a little pink.  I wasn't chased by any dogs, and only had a minor amount of horse manure to ride around.  That is less manure than a typical lap at Custer.

This brings me to 2 final observations from the weekend:
1)  If the road is unpaved dirt, it should not be named "highway".  Maybe road, way, or perhaps path, but never highway.

2) Size 34 waist clothes should not be in the "small" section of the clothing rack.  28, 30, maybe 31 are all small.  32" and up should be medium at the very least.

18 May, 2011

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

This post will be short and sweat, as Wednesday is almost over, and another week of work has sucked the life out of me.

If you recall my last blog post, I was sick the previous weekend at Mud, Sweat, and Beers.  I was feeling so poor that I actually went to the doctor AND took a sick day.  There was only 45 minutes of riding on Thursday, just to make sure that my legs remembered what to do.

Last weekend was the Brighton Stage Race, the second of the Tailwind Series.  The organizers apparently abandoned the computer check-in system, and reverted back to the standard paper trail. [Note: Even if they return to the computerized system, you will still be required to fill out a waiver sheet for each and every race.]

The weather on Saturday wasn't looking great.  I think the temperatures were in the mid-50's, with a chance of rain.  Fortunately the rain held off until after the races, but the temperature remained "crisp."

I have never ridden any of the trails at the Brighton Recreation area, so I would be flying blind all weekend.  First up was the time trial race on Torn Shirt. I don't recall much of this race.  It was your standard TT.  I do recall not having my climbing legs, and a couple of the rooty climbs I could usually power up forced me to get off the bike.  The course was fun, very technical, as in no real opportunities to take a drink.  Fortunately is was only 1 lap and ~30 minutes of riding.  I ended up finishing third in this race.  That wasn't too bad based on the fact I was still somewhat sck (and on antibiotics) plus riding an unfamiliar course.  I was 2 minutes behind Gus (My teamate that beat me at the PLRA TT), and 30 seconds off second.  I was not real concerned at this point.

Second up was the Short Track race, which was 5 laps on a twisty grass course across the road.  During my down time between races I took the opportunity to swap cogs and add a tooth to the rear.  I thought since I felt lacking in power earlier, plus the slow and go nature of the course, it would be better.  We lined up and got the "go" and the race was on.  I stumbled on my clip-in and fell back quite a few places early on.  I pushed the pace and caught the group of 3 other SSers, and another way ahead.  However, only Gus and I were in the same category, so I sat on their wheels for a couple laps.  On lap 3 I got tired of following, so I mad the pass and actually pulled a slight gap.  I rode in front of the trio for laps 3 and 4, with the 2 non-category racers passing me early on lap 5.  I tried to hang with them when I could, but they pulled a slight gap (~1 second at the finsih) on my, but Gus remained behind.  I ended up first in this race, and made up about 15 seconds on Gus.  That really did not matter, since he was not returning for the second day.

Day 2, race 3.  I got up in the morning to 40 degree temps and rain.  This was not a good day to be racing sick.  Who am I kidding, this was not a good day to be racing, this was not a good day to be outside.  We got to the trail after the expert riders had already started.  Still raining, you could hear them come by with their drivetrains grinding and rubbing of brakes.  Many were dropping out due to mechanicals, or just had enough of the mud.  Their race was shortened from 5 to 4 laps, but at that point, it didn't matter too much.

As my start time approached, I decided I would rather be warm and dry instead of attempting a "Warm-up" that I know wouldn't work.  I headed to the cover of the pavilion to huddle with the other racers, and listen to race announcements.  Our race was scheduled for 3 laps (~20 miles) but there was a debate about making it 1 or 2.  It was decided to make it 2 laps, as the TT was already yesterday.  However those completing one lap would still be considered "finishing" and would not get a DNF.

We lined up in the rain, all 4 of the singlespeeders in the front.  We took off with me, 2 other SSers and a geared fellow in the lead pack.  Immediately after heading for the trail there was a giant puddle.  So the race lasted about 30 seconds before every rider was completely soaked.  I passed the gearie and dropped one other SSer, so it was my and the other guy in the lead.  However, his limitation would become apparent quickly.  He was running semi-slick tires on a muddy, water-logged course.  I stuck to his wheel until the first slick climb, he had to dismount, and I churned on.  I led most of the remainder of the lap.  Near the end a geared bike caught me, and I let him by, only finding out he was geared after the pass.  He was MUCH more aggressive on the course than I was.  Riding Racing Ralphs, my goal was to stay upright the entire course.  The trail was 80% riding in standing water, 15% riding in flowing water, and 5% riding in mud.

I finished my 2 laps, and felt like I could have gone another.  This is most likely due to the fact I was not riding hard.  I got back to the truck, stripped off my soaked and muddy clothes in the parking lot, and jumped inside to try to both dry off and warm up.  The awards were non-eventful.  There was no podium, those that hung around got handed their medals and got a hand shake.

Back at home I had to hose off all my clothes, gear and bike.  I still have not checked to see if I have any pads left.  I am just glad to have a couple weekends off from racing.  I will take this time to rest, recover, and repair.

Next up is Hanson Hills!

10 May, 2011

Don't Quit

I was thinking about what I was going to write in this weeks blog post around 3/4's of the way through Mud, Sweat and Beers on Saturday.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, for you, I have forgotten most of what was running through my head.

Thursday before I had plans for getting in a final ride to make sure I was in good form for the race.  However, work took over, I skipped lunch, then went home to do chores and pack.  Alas, no tune up ride.

Friday I woke with a slight scratch in my throat.  Something wasn't right, but I was hopeful it was something I ate.  I pounded the vitamin C just in case.  I did get out on the TART trail for about 30 minutes.  It was a little chilly, but it didn't feel like my legs were hurting.  If fact, it didn't feel much like anything.

Saturday morning arrived.  I awoke early, and arrived to Mt. Holiday around 7 am.  I had picked up my number the day before, but wanted to arrive early because I knew parking was an issue.  After sitting in the truck resting for about an hour, I knew it was time to start getting ready.

Around 20 after 8, I went out on my warm-up recon.  I headed up the hill through the starting chicane, back down and into the woods.  There was a bit of climbing, nothing terrible, and I continued the ~1 mile into the Holiday Hills subdivision, and saw "Heart Attack Hill".  I was not too worried about the climb itself, it did not appear too bad at first glance.  The issue seemed to be the amount of sand at the bottom, preventing a good run-up at the hill.  I hiked this part, saving my legs for the race.  A quick loop around the sub and I headed back to the start/finish line.

The staging area was filling up, and the line of riders was snaking up the hill to the lodge.  There was a LOT of people.  I had not problem finding my wave.  However, whilst waiting in queue, my Garmin shut off.  When I turned it back on, it "discovered" numerous heart rate sensors.  Apparently I wasn't the only one wearing one! [Note:  Check auto-off options on Garmin unit]

9:06 came quick enough, and we lined up at the start.  The group consisted of all singlespeeders, Expert women, and maybe another group or two.  The gun went off, and the top SSers were gone, but I was caught in a pack of people granny-gearing up the 20' of Mt. Holiday.  Once clear I made my move and took off into the woods.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan.  I was going pretty good through the area I had recently recon'd, but I was feeling a bit "off".  It felt as if I was working too hard.  I looked at my computer only to see " --" where my HR zone should be.  It just gave up looking at the start.  Damn.  I got back to Heart Attack Hill, no idea where I was in the group.  I didn't get passed yet, so that was OK.  I decided to hike up the hill again, just as I had "practiced" during my warm-up.  This wasn't a sprint up the hill, but the head-down trudging of a beaten man, and I was only 1 mile into the race.

Once onto the subdivision pavement, I powered off and on my Garmin, hoping to get some info back.  At this time I was passed by a group of 3 expert/Elite (?) women driving the geared train.  I tried to hang on when I could, but I was out geared.

Into the private land called "Joy Ride" which was pretty fun.  However, I caught the group of ladies again, behind a slower male rider.  The ladies were all spinning along patiently.  I think this was the leaders, and nobody wanted to make the first move, so the just went along marking one another.  However, this pace was not suitable to me, as the long VASA flats ahead aren't really in my favor.

We finally came out of the woods, and onto the first power line stretch.  I made my move around the ladies, but the course was rough and sandy.  I was unfamiliar with the "good" lines and made one aggressive move too many.

I think some sort of sand worm, like from Dune, reached out and threw me to the ground.  It was a spectacular crash.  One moment I was making a pass at ~18 MPH, the next I was on my back.  I did notice I only unclipped from one pedal.  As I tumbled down the hill I rolled over and catapulted my bike through the air using my other leg.  Apparently you can get both good height and distance flinging a ~18 pound carbon bike down a hill at speed!  I came to a stop and immediately jumped up, ran the 20 - 30 feet to my bike, grabbed my bottle which came to rest next to it, jumped on and was back racing.  What felt like a matter of seconds was probably 30-40 of them as I get recollected.  I hit the woods again, desperate to get back with the group that sped away.  In the distance behind me I heard "Wow man, that was an awesome crash!" but didn't hang around long enough to respond.

The next part I don't recall too vividly.  I did a brief assessment of my condition, nothing missing, or bleeding.  Other than some sand in my face I was fine..  Then my bike, wheels went around, brakes seemed to work, chain on, it all seemed good.  A short bit later another SSer caught me.  I don't know him, a blond fellow with a Specialized jersey.  His side was muddy, so it was a safe assumption the he also "touched the floor" not long ago.  I rode with him for a while, at least past the big climb around the 10 mile mark.  He must have had a decently large gear, as I would make the pass on every climb, and he would close the gap and pass back once it leveled back out.  We did this back and forth for a bit, then he pulled away.  Shortly after a single speed Surly caught me, rider wearing a Short's jersey I believe, and disappeared quickly.

This is the part where I was coming to the conclusion something wasn't right.  I wanted to give chase.  My brain said "Stick with him legs" but my legs weren't getting the message.  They kept going around, but there wasn't the fight, no sense of urgency.  I just kept spinning along, no idea where I was, race position or emotionally.  I have honestly not felt like this at all this season.  I thought about quitting, what was the point, right?  I was getting dropped left and right.  I thought I was strong, but these guys left me to flounder like a kid on training wheels.

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
Without ever having felt sorry for itself.

-- D.H. Lawrence

Then I though about a riding buddy, about the struggles I have been trying to help him with regarding his racing.  How could I tell him to stick it out, that it will get better, if I wasn't willing to do the same.  "I did my best to continue to push the pace.  I never had a sense of my performance, my HR never got too high, my legs never burned.  It was like cruise control.  From mile 12 on, I picked up almost 2 MPH on average over my point of self pity.  I don't know if I can attribute this to my resilience, or just a downward trend in the course.

Back to the subdivision, almost done.  I did what I could on the pavement, pedaling the flats, tucking on the descents.  On the trail leading back up to the Mt. Holiday, I caught a glimpse of orange ahead of me.  One final push to catch the Short's guy ahead.  As I closed the gap, I saw the tell-tale silver dangle of a rear derailleur, and realized it was not the guy.  At this point, I let up, and cruised the final chicanes down to the finish.

One last obstacle, the mud pit.  I saw this earlier and noticed the right side was shallower than the left.  I splashed through in an anti-climactic flourish.  This served as the bland cherry on top of what was a disappointing sundae of a race.

I got back to the truck to relax and change.  No idea of the results (I did not want to fight my way into the area with the displays).  I was able to summarize my race in a single word...pitiful.  That was how I felt, that was how I felt I raced, that was my performance analysis.

I did make it back to the party, and checked my results, I ended up in 5th.  That was ~1 minute behind what I assumed were the 2 guys that passed me during the race, and ~10 minutes behind the top 2 places, that I knew were fast.

In hindsight, I based my performance on last year's results, with the winners finishing in less than 1h10m.  My 1h26m was way behind the goal I had set for myself, and that was very disappointing.  However, seeing that the 2 winners (locals that were top 2 last year) were nearly 10 minutes slower than 2010 as well.

We hung out at the finish and cheered on the other riders trickling in, I had my Right Brain IPA in hand, although it wasn't what I was needing at that moment.  I didn't run into any familiar faces from that point.  I did see one rider come through the mud that some how managed to case the backside of the pit and to a total faceplant in the dirt on the other side.  He hopped back up to the cheers and jeers of those watching, and tried to ride to the finish.  However he had taco-ed his front wheel so severely, it would spin between his for legs.  He hoisted his bike above his head and dashed across the line.  It is this kind of performance that serves as a reminder as to why we all do this.

We did not stay and enjoy the duration of festivities, I needed to get back someplace warm(er) and rest.  It was to the hotel, then the hot tub, then the bed for me.  Later on that evening, the full results were posted, and I finished 36th of a total 447 in the Stout race.  Nothing to sneeze at, or in my case, cough at.

I would like to again thank my wonderful wife for the pictures, enduring the early mornings, my pissy attitude, and taking care of me when I am sick.  This trifecta of grumpiness must not have been a joy to deal with.

So this week, I am going to take it easy, and see how much I can recover in 5 days.  I have already paid for my Brighton Stage Race entry, so I hope to pull things together.

02 May, 2011

Ever Have One of Those Days....

when everything just feels right?

I wasn't sure if yesterday was going to be one of those days.  I had a busy week leading up to the Custer Stampede.  I didn't get a pre-ride in on the Thursday before because I didn't want to drive 2 hours to possibly ride some muddy singletrack in 40 degree rain.  So, the last time I was on the singlespeed was the Saturday of Pontiac Lake.

I slept poorly, having occasional MTB dreams, although I don't really recall any specifics.  Was it fear of losing, crashing, or just general single track thoughts?

Upon waking, the sky was grey, and I was just hoping for decent weather.  The sky did not change during the ride to Battle Creek, but began to lighten shortly after our arrival.

Registration went very smoothly, especially compared to the previous week's racing. After that, it was back to the truck to chill for a bit, and hang with fellow On 2 Wheels racer Dave Hendon.  After about an hour of relaxing and fluid intake, it was time to start getting ready for my 12:31 start.

I got a decent warm-up in, better than maybe the previous 2 races.  I was still a bit gun shy about getting too far from the starting line after what happened last week.  I timed things pretty good.  I got to the staging with about 5 minutes to go.  I handed my wife my jacket and iPod and took the outside position in my class.

This spot happened to be next to the Custer Cyclery tent, so while waiting for the clock to tick down, some race strategy was discussed.  Since this was the first non-TT event of the year, some tactics would be necessary.  The thought was to start easily, let one of the teams of multiple riders set the pace for the first lap, and move up on the second.  Seemed legitimate at the time.

Then we moved up to the starting line.  My heart began racing, and I was focused on  the funnel to the singletrack ahead.  We were given the "GO!" and I pushed off and clipped in.

Then for some reason, all strategy went out the door!  In the brief 2 seconds it took me to survey after the start, it seemed nobody was going.  So I took off.  The plan instantly became take the hole-shot, go all-out for the first mile, and see what happens.  I figured once we got off the grass, anybody that wanted to pass could take the poor line, and expend their energy.

But it was not necessary.  I apparently set a blistering pace for the first mile.  18.7 MPH, 105 RPM average with a 33:16 gear ratio, not too shabby.  By the time I looked back, I was alone.  I settled into a decent pace, still pushing a bit to make sure I wasn't caught.

There was probably only a couple memorable events the whole race.  The first was the "Pond" in front of what I believe was Cardiac Climb.  I anticipated a couple of inches of water to splash through before heading up the climb.  I was caught a bit off guard by what appeared to be the Mariana Trench through the middle of the puddle.  I was also a bit shocked to see about 4 of the Expert/Elite riders walking the climb.  I am not sure if there was a crash that stalled them, or if they were more geared for the flats.

A bit later I came around the Amusement Park, and fully aware the rock wall was approaching (or I that was approaching it), and I cut  right-hander a little short, and as I peered over the edge realized I was no longer on the trail, and quickly jumped off and ran down the hill before I had the chance to crash.

I finished my first lap in great shape.  I was shooting for a 40 minute lap, and came by in 38 minutes and change.  Thank goodness the organizers added a second lap, making my drive over and $25 worthwhile!  I came though the start finish area and started the second lap.

This time I was ready for the pond, and again cleared Cardiac.  A bit later on CPR, as I was preparing to dismount and run through the loose sand, I had a pedal strike at the worst possible time, and banged my...erm..."headset" on the stem.  No time to slow down now, better just "walk it off!"

As I was finishing the last lap, with maybe 1/2 mile to go, a rider started catching up to me.  I stood to not get passed when he called out "I have gears!" so I let him by.  I then jumped on his 6 and let him pull me towards the finish.  I guess he was not expecting a SS rider to hang with him because he kept yelling "What are you" to which I would respond "The singlespeed you just passed" and he would pedal a bit harder, so then I would too!

He missed the turn to the finish and shot off the course, so I was able to finish alone.  It is good to know where you are in the race, as opposed to waiting for the resultsin a TT.  I enjoyed it!

Then directly after the finish line there was a couple small boys playing a game of "Run back and forth between racers," and nearly lost.  I locked up my rear brake and all I could think to yell was "AAaaaaaaaah" as I just missed him.  I saw him back doing the same thing shortly after.  So as a note to some of those parents out there: THE FINISH AREA IS NOT A PLAYGROUND, PLEASE WATCH YOUR KIDS!

I had enough time after finishing to get a free beer (Thanks Team Active and Arcadia), got back to the truck to change, and return to see my friends from later groups finish before the awards.

It was a great day, with terrific weather, and for the second year in a row, I left the Stampede with a pint glass and a farmer's tan!

See you in Traverse City next week, for some Mud, Sweat, and Beers!