Saturday, May 29, 2004

Elma Road Race

6:15 am: My alarm goes up and I wake up to a typical wet Northwest morning. The morning was to be spent riding the Elma Road Race, a 42 mile road race set in (as I found out for the first time) scenic Elma, Washington.

I had packed the car the night before, so I threw on some of my riding gear, grabbed some food and coffee and hit the road. Elma is about 100 miles south of the Seattle area.

When I arrived at the area, I went through the usual pre-race motions. Register, warm up, etc. At 9:30 the race got going under a nice steady rain. I lead the pack out as the race started, but opted to slide back and hang on to someone's wheel to save energy. I knew there was a 1 kilometer climb on each lap (we did 3 laps), but had no idea what it would be like. I wasn't expecting anything as difficult as the Enumclaw race.

As the pack made its way through some flats and rollers I enjoyed a constant spray of water and dirt from the wheels in front of me. It didn't taste very good, but my face got a good exfoliation. Maybe I'll sell this as some kind of new age skin treatment.

Anyway, when we hit the hill I started to fall off the back of the pack. I was behind by just a bit so I wasn't that worried, but as the pack crested the steepest rise and started to gain speed again I simply couldn't catch up to them. They were literally just a few seconds in front of me but I couldn't close the distance. I was stunned. Dropped on the first hill? How the hell did that happen? Did I do something wrong?

I paired up with another guy and we proceeded to start hauling ass down the backside of the hill in hope of catching the pack. They were in sight, there was hope. We eventually picked up a third guy and all worked together as we crossed the flat section of the course. Once again, I eventually couldn't keep pace, fell off and found myself riding alone.

This was absolutely demoralizing. I actually thought about stopping. I couldn't believe I had trouble keeping up with everyone. I managed to rationalize away my anger and decided to just keep working hard, getting in some good training and learning as much as I could. I figured after a few more climbs, the pack would start to disintegrate and I'd be able to pull back a few positions.

After I finished the second climb, the situation got a worse. As I turned a corner to begin the downhill section, I felt something very unnerving. My rear tire slid out on me. Not by much, but enough to get my attention. A quick stop confirmed my fears, my rear tire was going flat. It seemed to be a slow leak, the tire was only squishy. I was about halfway around a 14 mile lap and the wheel car had passed me to stay with the pack. I was fucked.

Since the bike was still rideable, I eased up on the pace and kept making my way back, hoping I would make the parking lot before I was totally flat. No luck. Many miles from the lot, my rear tire was totally flat. I rode for a while on the flat rim (ouch) and then rode in the grass on the ride of the road to prevent (more) damage. Eventually I caught up with someone from the women's race that was in a similar situation. The two of us walked for a long time until one of the wheel cars from another race helped us out and we rode back to the starting area.

All in all, not a great day. However, after I got home and had some time to think I realized things aren't that bad. I need to keep reminding myself it is only my first season. I'm sure there are lots of hard lessons ahead.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Thanks to the USCF

I forgot to mention that I volunteered to help out with the Mutual of Enumclaw Race. My job was to drive the communication car for the category 3 road race.

Accompanying the pack of riders is a set of cars with different purposes. A lead car stays at the front of the pack to protect the riders from traffic, etc. At the back is the communications car as well as a support car. The support car is there for you in case of a flat or other mechanical problem. Riding along and get a flat? No problem, just raise your hand and the support car (which is basically filled with spare wheels) is at your service. They even change the wheel for you.

As I said, I had the job of driving the communication car behind the pack. My job was essentially to drive around a USCF race official and take orders, but it gave me a lot of insight into the support the officials give you. Just a few hours earlier when I was racing I had no idea what they were doing for me.

First, the race official makes sure the riders are safe. When there was a centerline rule in effect (meaning the racers can't cross the center of the road), he was hanging out the window yelling at people and frantically blowing his whistle to keep them on the right side. He was also in constant radio communication with the car at the front of the pack. If there was a breakaway, the lead car would go with the break and we would stay back with the pack. The lead car would call out markers so the official in my car could time the gap between the breakaway and the main field. Periodically we would drive along the riders (lots of driving on the wrong side of the road) and inform them of the time gap.

As in most races, the hills tore the field apart. As riders fell off the back of the pack, we would pass them and stay with the larger group. Every time we passed a rider, the race official would kept track of their number to make sure we didn't lose anyone.

As for my part, I just drove and took orders, but came away very impressed by the hard work of the race officials. That and I got a front row seat to a great race. I saw all of the breakaways, the catches and even a guy urinating as he rode (hey, what else are you going to do?). All in all, a great experience.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Nooksack Road Race... nahhh...

My original plan for today was to head up to the Bellingham area for the Nooksack Road Race. Last night, the thought of a 5am wakeup call to drive over 2 hours only to ride in the rain was enough to sway me. I opted out of this one. That's ok, there is a very full schedule of races for the remainder of the summer.

Instead, I decided to install a double front derailleur on my bike. For those of you not familiar with the term, when someone says a bike is a "double" they are referring to the fact that there are two gears at the front of the bikes. Most bikes are either doubles or triples. Virtually all racing is done on doubles. I had originally purchased a triple, but have been slowly converted all of the parts to their "double" equivalents. The last part was the front derailleur, a part with which I have had constant trouble. For some reason, I could never get my front shifting adjusted properly. I eventually just decided to replace the front derailleur. The work took maybe 15 minutes, then some more time to get it adjusted, and I was off. The new part works significantly better. I almost trust it to shift now.

So, when the rain let up for a bit I went out for a couple hours to get the blood flowing. While the weather wasn't that great, I didn't get rained on that much and had a nice peaceful ride.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Guilt Producingly Slow

Since I'm still recovering a bit from this weekend, I decided to go for a light recovery ride today. I aimed to keep my heart rate nice and low and not worry about how fast I went, etc. Riding without your heart in your throat and legs burning can actually be enjoyable. Who knew?

In the end, I did a nice 27 mile lap around Lake Sammamish. I ended up averaging 16.5 mph with an average heart rate of 122. Ahhhh.... bring on the weekend.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Mutual of Enumclaw Stage 3

The last stage of the Mutual of Enumclaw race was a 40 mile road race. The Cat 4/5 men did around 3 laps of a 14.5 mile loop. The loop included one significant climb, as you can see from the elevation profile:

We started in downtown Enumclaw and did a neutral ride out to the race course where they let us go. Through the flats the pack maintained a good pace, in the low to mid 20's with sprints closer to 30 coming out of corners. These sections were easy, just farm roads with some 90 degree and sweeping corners thrown in.

The fun began (not surprisingly) on the hill. I managed to stay with the pack for the first climb, but on the second time up I got dropped, as did many other people. I saw some smaller packs starting to form ahead of me after the second climb, but couldn't catch up with them. I was riding with one other guy and he didn't have the legs to work with me to get up to the chasing group.

After we descended the backside of the mountain following the second climb I found myself in a group of 3 people that I stayed with back into the flats. Unfortunately, one guy was setting a very good pace that I just couldn't keep up with. I managed to hang on to the back for a while, but was eventually left on my own. This is when the suffering really started. You're on your own, nobody to draft... just you, the wind and the fields. You have some good conversations with yourself when you're alone and hurting that much.

As I approached the bottom of the climb, I caught one of the guys from the 2 that dropped me earlier. I managed to pass him (finally!) and kept going up the climb. Out of nowwhere, the guy from the second climb that couldn't stay with me comes up and passes me! I couldn't believe it! I wasn't going to let this guy beat me so I gave it all I could, suffered up the rest of the hill and beat him. I also managed to catch a couple of people along the way.

All in all, I finished 61st out of starting field of 100. Nothing spectacular, but I'm quite satsified with it since this was only my third race. Coming in to this weekend I had just done two short criteriums and to be honest, I hadn't done any real structured training. There is a lot of room for improvement.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Mutual of Enumclaw Stage 2

The second race of the day was a criterium format. Criteriums are races run on small courses, usually having at least 4 corners and about 1 mile long. The small circuit size makes for fast, close racing and is great for spectators.

Today's event was a 30 minute race on a .9 mile figure 8 circuit in downtown Enumclaw (see course map below). As I sat at home killing time before the event, I noticed everything get darker. It looked like it was going to rain. Sure enough, I pull up, see and think, oh shit.

When it came time to race the situation hadn't changed much. A light drizzle and a soaking wet course. Criteriums are hairy to begin with. Throw a wet road that happens to have several metal plates and plenty of paint stripes and you've got a recipe for disaster. This didn't stop the pack from setting a furious pace. On the opening laps we were coming close to 30 mph on the straights and flying through the nice wide corners. I managed to hang on to the lead pack for a bit, but the field started to string out and I ultimately finished in the second group back. No crashes, I didn't get lapped and finished in a respectable position. All in all, a good day.

Course route:

Mutual of Enumclaw Stage 1

The first stage, an individual time trial, is history. How did I do? I have no idea. :)

I arrived in Enumclaw at about 7:15 am. The first rider was scheduled to go at 8:00, but there were 100 riders, leaving at 30 second intervals. When the start times were posted I found my name: 8:42:30. To kill time, I just hung out and warmed up on a stationary trainer.

When my number was approaching I went over to the starting area and lined up. When you're up, someone holds your bike for you so can can lock in both feet. They give you a nice 5,4,3,2,1 countdown and off you go. I have to say, the race was extremely well organized. Numbers were called in advance so you were in line at the right time and people went off every 30 seconds like clockwork.

Following various advice I heard I tried to not "blow up too early". At the same time, a time trial is an all out effort. I've also heard "leave it all on the course". I'm not sure any of this was particularly helpful and I'm still trying to figure out if those two statements are contradictory. As I got going I noticed my heart was running a bit higher than I was expecting. Maybe it was nerves, the cold, I'm not sure. I could not get my heart rate below 165 without significantly slowing down. I ultimately settled into a pace with my heart in the 168 - 171 range. Running at this pace does not feel good at all. On a training ride I usually stay in the 150's and only hit numbers like that on hills.

Judging your performance is difficult, but there are a couple good indicators. You can usually see the guy who started 30 seconds before you and see if he is pulling away. Also, there is someone 30 seconds behind. If you get passed, well, that tells you something. I got passed (by just 1 person). Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it is quite demoralizing. I guess I'll know for sure when I see the results sheet.

As I said going into this, it's really a learning experience. So what did I learn? First, trust your instinct on clothing. I took off my tights just before starting and my legs were freezing. Second, drive the course. The first time I saw the course was when I raced it. I'm sure I could pick up a bit of time if I knew what to expect. Finally, figure out why my heart rate was so high. It even seemed high when I was warming up beforehand. Maybe it has something to do with riding early in the morning. I've never done that before.

Anyway, this afternoon is the criterium. I need to go take the aero bars off my bike and get it reset to a normal riding position.

If you're curious, here is a map of the time trial course. I don't have an elevation profile, but it was quite flat.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Fun with paper sizes

An interesting article crossed /. today that discusses the reasoning behind metric paper sizes. Ever wondered why A4 paper is the size it is? Read on.

After reading this article I was refreshing my memory on geometric means and came across another interesting piece.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Boring Tivo

I love my Tivo, don't get me wrong. I even added a second hard drive to it. However, lately, I've just found it boring. Sure, it's filled with shows, but the same shows. There's only so many commercial-less sitcoms I can watch. Sometimes when I go back to regular TV I'm almost happy to see commercials because I get ideas for new shows to record.

Tivo has yet to recommend me something I actually want to watch, so today I went to their website and started cruising their TV listings. After all, I paid for the home media option, might as well use some of that nifty remote scheduling capability. Unfortunately their interface to TV listings is just terrible. You can search for a specific show or browse by a specific channel. There is no way to browse a particular category of shows (maybe I just want to see what movies are showing soon?). To make matters worse, when you are browsing a channel, you have to select the general time range to browse and keep changing that to see all the shows. Uggg.

Maybe all this would be easier if there was actually something good on TV.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Preparations continue

Next weekend is my first "real" bike race, the Mutual of Enumclaw stage race. I've done a few Thursday night criteriums at Seward park, but this weekend's activities include three road racing disciplines, not just crit racing.

So, I spent this weekend getting my time trial setup worked out. Having never ridden with aero bars it seemed like a good idea to spend some time on them. Getting the bike setup right took a while. It isn't as simple as bolting on the bars and riding off. Your seat position changes radically (moves very far forward) and if you want to be even more "aero" you'll probably want to lower your handlebars a bit.

Once I got a setup I was reasonably happy with I went off for a spin around Lake Sammamish. The first time I used the aero bars was a bit scary. Everything people said was true. Controlling the bike becomes much more difficult and you have a lot of weight on your front wheel. However, as time went on I got comfortable in them and was able to maneuver the bike just fine. I have to say, they are blast to ride. When you get into that tuck position and your speed starts to pick up it feels like flying.

So do they make a difference? Hell yes! I took a different route around the lake than usual, but at various time checks I was much farther along than normal rides. I'm guessing the bars shaved 10+ minutes off the ride. Now I just need to find a skinsuit to eliminate the remaining flapping on my already too tight riding outfit.