Monday, March 29, 2010

Kent Park race report

I wasn't going to race this weekend, I really wasn't. As of the Monday before the race, I hadn't sent in a registration form. Only the previous weekend had I even noted that things might align where I could go racing without a whole lot of jumping through various size hoops just to go to a race that wasn't really on my radar to begin with. I tend to identify myself first as a mountain bike racer and quite a bit further down the line I may mention I've done a few road races. If you count sanctioned races, I think this weekend puts me up to 4 total. Sure I train on the road, do some fun races like Race like a girl and some other training type races, but only a small handful of them have been pay my fees, present a license, and line up to see who's got the legs today. After my first foray into actual road racing at Big Creek last year, I really wasn't too hot about mixing it up with a huge class of guys again. But, something about working your butt off all winter bugged me enough to see where my fitness was starting the season.

Kent Park has a pretty good reputation of being a tough, but fun opener to the road race season every year. A number of friends have raced it and told me how good a time they've had. It seemed like a good idea so I sent in my registration and check and waited to find my name on the confirmed guest list. Yup, having done very few road races, I'm still a humble Cat 5 racer in that regards. Lou, Pete, and I met up at the buttcrack of dawn (4:45) to head to the race together along with some stops at Starbucks and nature breaks along the way. We rolled in just after the gates opened at 7:30 and grabbed our registration numbers. I still wasn't sure what my final kit would be for the day considering the temp was hovering at a balmy 38 degrees with a nice breeze at 15-20 from the north.

After rolling out our gear I followed Pete on a warm up/recon lap. Lou had said the course was all about momentum and it was a pretty spot on description. A few of the short ups could nearly be coasted up if you built your speed on the way down. However, there were plenty of climbs that needed leg work to get up as well. The laps were a shade under 4 miles with 250ish feet of climbing per lap. My legs felt pretty good and opened right up on a single warm up lap. I headed back to the car to finalize my gear and pin on a number. I had a bit of a hodge podge on with leg warmers, wool socks, bibs, winter base, short sleeve jersey, and a wind vest to top it off. Some long finger Deflect gloves from Specialized, a Rassy cycling cap, and my Oakley half jackets capped off the ensemble.

All geared up and feeling great:

The Cat 5 guys were lined up near the back of the starters with only the women and jr's behind us. In all, it looked like we had 17 starters in the class. A few guys looked like they might be packing some firepower from Twisted Spokes and Velosport Racing. My teammate Mike Reagan was keeping me company and we were hoping to hit it hard early and maybe work ourselves into the group of 4's or higher in front if we could get a break going. That was pretty much the extent of our pre-race strategizing other than some words of wisdom from Lou about covering any possible breaks and attacks.

We rolled off in roughly 1 minute intervals based on our categories. We swept across the dam and hit the finish hill climb for the first time. My legs were pretty cold at this point so I just kept things low key and made sure I wasn't headed towards the back. We had one guy roll off ever so slightly in the first lap, but he'd yo-yo back and forth a bit so I wasn't really worried as he never got more than about 20 yards on us. We kept a pretty chill pace through the first lap with some slightly harder efforts on the hills, but nothing concerning. We rolled down across the dam at the end of lap 1 and I hit my top speed for the day at just over 40 mph chasing the two lead bikes. As we climbed the hill to the finish line again, I kept the pressure steady, but not too hard and rolled up the hill leading the group. A few friends were standing near the top and cheering so I heard my name called out and felt great about it.

Leading the charge:

My legs were warmed up and it was time to see what would happen. We had a slight tailwind section right after the finish line as a lead in to a tight left hand turn. I kept the pace up over the hill climb and into this section. By the time we'd hit the top of the climb following the downhill, I had a 20 yard gap on the group and we'd pretty much selected our way down to a group of 6-8 of us still in the game. I didn't give much thought to rolling off the front figuring that many guys would pretty easily reel me in so I soft pedaled and waited for them to latch back on. I'd take my pull and drop to 2nd or 3rd wheel to draft through parts of the headwind section. This went on pretty much through all of the laps. Every once in a while, we'd swallow up some higher cat racers and they'd roll into our rotation. For the most part though only about 3 of us were doing the work up front. I'm not sure if that was an indicator of the strength of the group or that the 3 of us doing pulls were dumber than the rest sitting on.

The fast downhills would crank things up only to have us all stayed pretty well grouped up on the hills. For my part, I never really felt gassed on the hills and was content to let the other guys set the pace and I'd just match it. As the laps wore on, I still felt pretty fresh and really hadn't worked too hard in any area. I'd usually tail the top rider or two coming across the dam and then work my way to the front and open a small gap as we came through the finish area. By the time we hit the last lap, I hadn't been out of my zone 4 heart rate.

With lap 5 coming to a close, we hit the finish hill for the next to the last time. I put in just a little more effort even though I was all ready in the front on the way up. I stayed on the gas through the tailwind and hammered the subsequent downhill sweeper and climb. At the top of the climb I looked back anticipating my usual 20ish yard gap to be rewarded with the site of having broken away with what appeared to be well more than 100 yards. A quick calculation led me to believe that I was probably the strongest rider and just hadn't been working very hard yet while the other guys were running pretty close to flat out. I turned back and put the pressure on the pedals. I wasn't going to sit up and wait this time.

Not the final lap, but building a gap:

I ran through the headwind section ducking behind riders where I could and mostly kept my pace in check. I was running hard, but not all out by any means. I passed one DMOS rider than jumped on my wheel and kept pace on a headwind section. I asked him for a pull in return and he was kind enough to give me a brief respite. I kept looking back thinking the chase group might get together and pull me back in, but it would seem the gap kept increasing. I broke away from the DMOS rider on one of the hills and didn't look back. I asked a few other riders for pulls only to realize later that if I was all ready catching and passing them, there wasn't going to be much they could do for me. I never really laid it all out, but kept my pace steady and hard. As I hit the final downhill across the dam, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have any problems winning my class. Just to be sure I hit the last hill pretty hard through to the finish.

Final hill climb:

As I crossed the line, I still wasn't sure I'd won, but I sure couldn't think of anyone that was out in front of us. I stayed pretty low key about it, but once the final results were up, I was pretty ecstatic. A win in the cat 5's without really breaking a sweat was pretty sweet.

Number 1 with teammate Brad Bach taking the Cat 4 win as well:

Overall, I'm a bit unsure what to think about finishing how I did. I was pretty nervous with some of the downhills with sweeping turns on a rough surface, but the rest of the course seemed to play pretty well for me. I never gassed it on any of the hills, kept my heart rate down, and still soloed off the front on the last lap. I know my fitness is pretty good with the training I put in over the winter and a strong building season last year. I'm just not sure if it means that I need to move up right away or if being an early season race, there weren't too many guys in the same area of their training that I'm at. I'm leaning more towards I'm probably in the wrong category for the time being and need to move up. I'm thinking maybe one more/bigger race to see how I fair and then most likely, it'll be time for me to head on up to the 4's.

I definitely want to thank all of my team mates that trained over the winter with me and kept me motivated to keep pushing, Rasmussen bike shop for keeping me in great and functional gear, and Oakley Rob for some sweet shades to keep the dust and dirt that were whipping around out of my eyes.

Photo credits to Angy Snoop.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Weekend tune up

With spring in the air, the snow melting off quickly, and the first TNWC firing up this week, some hard efforts were in store for the weekend. My original plan was to get a 2-3 hour ride outside on both days. The lovely weather people screwed that call up though and I awoke to overcast, threatening skies, wet streets, and winds out of the NW at 17 mph. Yup, I wasn't headed out for a morning ride. Luckily teammate Steve D has been gracious enough over the winter to open his garage up as our training studio on the weekends. Most of the usual suspects gathered at 7:30 for a spin session. We ran the gammut from building interval on top of interval all the way to 5 minutes of puke threshold (zone 5), before backing off to a mix of Z2/Z3 intervals for the remaining hour. With some proper motivation I managed to up my highest indoor heart rate by another beat or two up to 194 during the last little bit of our Z5 joyride. 2 hours and 20 minutes banked and I was cooked.

Sunday had people itching to get outside. I wanted to get a long steady ride in and spent some time Saturday evening trying to get things ironed out. We finally decided on 11 AM leaving Grounds for Celebration and rolling the proposed reroute for the TNWC. I stayed committed to my ride to the ride plan and rolled from home around 10:15. A solid group of 10-15 riders from Rassy's, PRC, and a few others showed up to enjoy what would turn out to be a gorgeous ride in the sunshine. The new routing left a bit to be desired as we rolled through too many stoplights and residential sections before we hit roads where we could really open it up. The group stayed pretty tight until we made the turn north on east 29th. Then the hammers did what they do best and opened up the engines. 6 of us rolled slowly off the front and began a well oiled rotating paceline into the wind out of the NNW at 13+.

We rolled into the residential section and then found ourselves stuck at a gravel crossroads.

Looking north:

Looking east (with Pete flooding the ditch):

One person doubled back to the other group as gravel wasn't in his cards for the day while the rest of us pondered which direction to go. Squirrel pointed out that 1 mile east was a north/south pavement so we opted for that route. The gravel was in perfect condition for road bikes and we didn't have any troubles zipping through that section. Once back on the pavement, the wind reared its head again as we found our form back in the paceline. When we finally hit the west turn to Sheldahl, the crosswind showed us how much we'd been pushing against. We upped the pace now that we weren't fighting the headwind anymore and worked back towards the connection with the original TNWC route.

As soon as we hit familiar stomping grounds, it was game on. Lou, Squirrel, and I had been rotating while the others got their legs back under them for a bit. Lou announced it was time for fun with longer pulls. I made it through 1 rotation before firmly affixing myself to his wheel for the next few miles. We opted out of the north turn to Slater feeling that the extra routing had all ready taken plenty of extra time. From their, Lou laid it out and left us off the back until we regrouped on the south turn. Now it was time for the real fun. We got a small paceline rolling with easy pulls as the tailwind pushed us nearly effortlessly along in the mid to upper 20's. We hit Polk City and stopped for a quick water refill before rolling the last section.

At this point, Pete suggested we roll nice and easy all the way back. We kept that up on the hill out of town, but once again the pace got CRANKED by Lou as we hit the mile long bridge. He kept turning up the wick until I was in the bottom of zone 5 while still in the draft and doing everything I could to not lose it off the back. We shelled one of the guys at this point, but got him back on as we hit the stop sign on Beaver. The only real jerk in a motor vehicle gave us some exhaust action as he buzzed us on the right in a big diesel. Rolling south again, we kept the pace a little more friendly with Lou doing most of the long pulls as we were all pretty fried. I took the last pull as we hit Camp Dodge and the final sprint. I was cooked at this point and watched the guys walk away from me.

One final regroup as we rolled down Merle Hay and we banked 50 solid miles for the day on that loop. Squirrel and I opted for some liquid refreshment at AK's and were joined by the second group that had rolled backwards down through Ankeny.

Liquid refresher:

I got my legs slightly back under control and made the most of the tailwind headed back south to home. In all a really productive ride of just under 4 hours that left me with some very tired legs when topped off with Saturday's suffering. I can definitely tell I'm pretty far ahead of last year at this time. I'm not sure if I'm ahead of my high point of last season yet or not, but I feel like I'm at least pretty close which should mean I'm in for some good things as my fitness builds through the summer.

Monday, March 08, 2010


It's always a good feeling to get that first real ass kicking of the season out of the way. Judging by the upcoming weather forecast, Sunday looked to be the only day I could get out to ride this weekend. 10 AM wasn't exactly the optimal start time for me, but other responsibilities had to be maintained to 10 it was. I'm hoping to get a bit more of riding to the ride incorporated into my training plans this year so it seemed like an optimal time to exercise that option as well. I rolled out from home just after 9 and headed towards the meet up at the shop. Squirrel, Steve, and Brad were joining up for some good times riding outside.

It seems that this winter has kept a number of people inside this year. Judging by the number of posts I saw on facebook about yesterday being their first outside ride of the year, there were a number of people taking full advantage of some warmer temps. On the ride over to the shop, I noted my legs weren't feeling too keen after enjoying a few drinks with friends the night before and not rolling into bed until 1 in the morning. My initial plan was to roll easy out to the Walnut woods/Maffit area and then do some tempo and hill work staying in Z3 and Z4. I think Squirrel was out to blow me up though. He was rolling skinny tires and gears which is never a good thing whether he's been training or not.

As soon as we hit 63rd, all bets were off. We scooted down to the long grade up to Walnut Woods drive and then pushed the pace the entire length of the hill. I sat just back from his wheel and let him set the pace which luckily didn't pop me fully into the red. Luckily I'd ridden over so I was decently warm or I'd have probably been in a similar boat to Steve since it takes me a good bit to get warmed through as well. By the top of the climb, Steve had been gapped, but Brad was sticking on strong. We rolled through the loop and slowed a bit climbing over the bypass in hopes Steve might catch back on, but it ended up just turning into a slight breather before we'd hammer the next section.

The head wind out of the west kept the fires stoked as we burned some matches heading to Maffit. The big hill climb popped me into the 190 range for my heart rate and I knew I'd be pretty well cooked from there on out. We kept the group together and traded some pulls out to the little housing development west of Maffit. From there, the hill work continued with Squirrel showing us his prowess on the hills and Brad and I had our tongues hanging out and sliding backwards. A quick loop to the back of the development with one more hill climb thrown in for good measure and we headed back towards Walnut Woods.

With the wind at our backs, I upped the anty for my turn at the front. I put pretty much everything I had out there climbing back up to the south turn towards Walnut Woods. Squirrel just sat back there yelling encouragment at me... For my part, I couldn't do more than grunt since I was maxed out. We cleaned the hill still sitting around 20 mph with the nice tailwind and rolled back down over the bypass. I let up for a second or two and Squirrel said adios! Brad latched on and took a short pull trying to get me back over the gap and I tried on my own as well, but just couldn't bridge up. I got a little closer at the base of the soccer hill climb, but even hitting it hard, I couldn't get closer than about 100 yards. I was totally shot at this point, but knew I needed to get more time in.

I opted to head back for one more of the 7 mile loops while Squirrel called it good. I was thanful for that as he'd put me in the hurt locker pretty much the entire ride. Brad decided to ride the second loop with me and we made a pact to keep it out of Z4 for the duration. We did a pretty good job of that, even crawling up the big climb headed west in the single digits. We traded some pulls back to the soccer hill where I gave into temptation and went all out one more time. Brad managed to hold himself in check so off the front I went. After the loop was done, I rolled back up to him before we parted ways.

I had a few hills left to work me over on the way home, but luckily most had a nice tailwind to push me along. The gradual grade from 63rd up Army Post always seems magical to me. It almost never fails that no matter how tired I am, I can easily push up that hill and often gain speed near the top. A scant 20 minutes or so later and I was back home. I'd managed to bag 2.5 hour, 42.5 miles at 17.4avg, and kept the heart running strong at 160bpm for the duration which is the top of my Z3. This early on in the season I feel pretty good about that kind of speed/duration especially on a cross bike with some knobby 32C tires.

I have a feeling I'm stilling going to get spanked pretty hard on the Tuesday night rides, but my hope is that I can at least hang on for the full loops on a regular basis this year. I made it exactly twice with the lead pack last year at the end of the season. One could also argue that the times I made it seemed to be slower nights. All I know is that it's good to be getting more riding outside than in finally.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

What's missing?

Funny, it's the very beginning of the beginning of the season and I'm all ready making excuses. Actually, I prefer to think of them not so much as excuses, but more creative reasoning. I know it's going to be inevitable that I'll get my butt handed to me in many, many races this year. Its to be expected if not somewhat earned as your stripes from moving to the next level of competition. I'm down with that, but in the mean time, I know what I need to make that jump to the next level and I know for the most part, those expectations will probably be left unfulfilled.

Healthy Eating:
Of all the pieces that are missing from the puzzle, the one I have the power left to control easily is my diet. I love crappy food. I love wholesome food as well. I guess I just love food in general. In a sport where your finishing placement is generally predisposed based on how much power you can generate per pound of body mass, light weight is the key. We'll spend hundreds and thousands of dollars shaving grams off our race machines, yet we leave our bodies as a bastion of junk food. My wife has accused me of being a bit obsessive about my weight, but honestly, looking at a broad swath of typical Americans, I think obsession about keeping your weight in check is a virtue millions of people could stand to have. In any case, I just try to keep a good running tally of how the calories I put in are going to be burned off and keep whittling slowly away until I hit what I consider to be a good target race weight. Which in my case also happens to be almost smack dab in the middle of a healthy BMI as well.

My problem is that too large of a portion of my calories come from the un-basic food groups- beer, sweets, and fast-food. Luckily, I ride enough to burn off these calories on a pretty regular basis so they don't tend to stick around as giant fat deposits. However, they certainly don't lend themselves to creating a leaner, meaner version of myself. I really should try harder to adopt healthier eating habits rather than relying too much on my ability to burn the calories off through exercise.

Training time
Almost anyone that doesn't get paid to participate in their choice of sport will tell you that training time is a precious commodity. We have friends, families, careers, and a myriad of other time constraints outside of our athletic endeavors. Short of alienating my family completely or sacrificing the very rest I need to keep going at this level, making additional training time will be very tough. I figure roughly 10 hours per week of combined training/racing time is about where I'm at a stasis point of keeping things nicely balanced. I have a suspicion most other people I'm competing with are on similar schedules. It's those individuals with more natural talents to get better results in the same amount of time and/or those that can dedicate substantially more amounts of time (20+ hours per week) that will rise to the top of our fields.

The one area I can and hopefully will use to increase my training time is commuting by bike. I love to ride to work, but I still find too many excuses to not ride in. It takes too much time, I'll be hot and sweaty, I need to go somewhere other than home during/after work, and the list goes on. I'm sure most of you will find these excuses pretty commonplace. In reality though, they're mostly hinderances and not really stopping points. There are relatively easy work arounds for most if not all of these situations for me, but laziness sets in and it's easy to exercise my right foot on the throttle than to gear up for 35 minutes of riding to and from work.

Diversity in training
Its been preached from on high until they're blue in the face that cyclists need some type of diversity in their training. I don't disagree, but for the last year, pretty much all I've done is ride my bike. I think there is a benefit in skill building that will offset training diversity to a degree. That's especially true in mountain biking where your skill at negotiating obstacles and the trail in general will garner you as many seconds as be able to out power another rider will. However, there's also a diminishing return as your skill level increases. Your power and speed have to increase as well for you to have a need to continue raising your skill level.

I have a hard time considering exercise done off my bike as "training" time. I know it's a good thing for me to engage in activities like yoga, core strengthening, and other weight bearing exercise. I just have a hard time justifying taking them up when I feel like I should be on my bike instead. If extra hours were miraculously available to me, I think it would be easier to add them in and round out my complete training schedule in that manner. I may have to do some work on changing my mindset on that issue this year and trading some of my current bike time towards other forms of exercise.

Well, not quite all in a nutshell, but those are the 3 key areas I see mising in my cycling this year. Hopefully reading it helps you identify some of your missing areas as well and motivates you to find creative ways to fill in the blanks.