Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back in the (Cyclocross) Saddle Again

I'm like a born-again Christian, except mine is a religion of MUD and PAIN commonly known as cyclocross. All in all, Loon Mountain isn't a bad place to get re-initiated. This past weekend at the Nor'easter, the trees were dressed in their early-fall colors, the weather was a breezy 75 degrees and the course was a crazy mix of natural barriers, hills and... um... HILLS. The women's Cat 3/4 race had 22 starters, a perfect size for an anxious competitor on her mountain bike. Ahem -- a temporary solution, as the cyclocross bike of my dreams is in gestation, but it turned out not to be entirely a disadvantage.

I felt comfortable riding this challenging course on a bike I knew and I was actually catching and passing people through the tricky off-camber corners. I am happy to report that in my first off-road race in 6 years AND on a sub-par machine, I actually finished in the TOP TEN of the Cat 4 women. We won't mention that there were only fourteen Cat 4's in all, but STILL... just happy to finish. Speaking of finishing, major props to George H., coming across the line just outside of the top 10 in a field size of 33. He rocked it and looked good doing so!

In the end, though, I have a long way to go. It was the HILLS that rose up to defeat me. Or, more precisely, it was my lack of any sort of athletic training. If I can get in 5 hrs of saddle time, I'm having a great week. So let's call this an experiment in racing-into-shape, minus the (often touted, and note the quotations) "base miles." Right. So you mean the power of positive thinking isn't enough?

Thanks a lot to you all for getting me pumped up to race again. I am really happy to have met all of you and am proud to be a Flying Penguin!!!

Putney Mountain Bike Race - Two Wins is Double Fun

edit: blogger ate this post for ~3 months, and then it reappeared - go figure.


For at least a month, John was talking about possibly going down to the Putney mountain bike race on June . He kept using words like 'we' and 'us' when describing this event. Being one of the few races ~1 hour away this made some sense. Like most races far in the future that I'm considering, this seemed like a good idea at the time. So I agreed that if we didn't motivate for the Keith Berger crit, we'd go down and play in the dirt.

The weekend of the race, John was camping with the family with little-to-no cell service and made a few special trips to coverage areas to see what I was thinking. I kept telling him the forecast was terrible and the rain and humidity were making everything slick. I really wanted an out. Mentally, I told myself that if it was still raining at 9pm I'd bail on racing and do something else. Well, at home it stopped raining at 8:30p and John called around 9:30p to let me know he'd already come home (sans familia) to rest up and go race. I was hemming and hawing about not being so into it when my lovely wife said something along the lines of "you're going to race, go get your sh   stuff together". Since I wasn't really planning to race Sunday, I hadn't prepped my bike, packed anything, eaten much for lunch or dinner, or really prepared at all. Starting at 10p I scrambled around finding the things I needed and settled down to a nice bagel with cream cheese and chocolate milk dinner - at midnight.

Since we were racing the beginners class (Cat 3 now), John picked me up early so we could get down there and get some pre-ride in. It was hot and a bit muggy even at 8 am. Around 8:30a we're ready for a preride and headed out to check out the course. At race pace previous years, the lap times were just shy of a half hour. After a while of preriding we discussed the pressing need to get off the course and back to the start. We came to a section that doubled back a bit on an earlier part of the course and bailed out there, making it back to the start with about 5 minutes to spare. Checking the course map after the pre-ride we bailed at the half-way point, which also meant we got to ride most of the single track as well.

Due to small fields, they combined the start of the 20-29 cat 3s and the 30-39 cat 3s. Since I read Colin's blog too much I thought his patent-pending reverse hole shot might be the ticket to success in mountain bike racing. Unfortunately, I couldn't sit in quite enough and had to settle for 5 or 6th wheel back out of the ten of us. Down the 1.5 track section and then onto the first climbing hill I had to start passing people. Going into the first true singletrack section, there was only one guy ahead of me just out of sight. That would really be the last I saw of him. Roughly the next hour was spent riding by myself wondering if I was going fast enough and if I would be caught from behind. It turns out I didn't really need to worry, the next guy back was 12 minutes behind me. I finished with little fanfare and got ready to cheer John on. A few minutes later he comes into the feed area and takes a neutral support cup of water. I heckled him about drinking less than 100 yards from the finish and told him to hurry up and pedal.

It turns out that the guy out in front of me was a 20-29 year old and could be labeled even more of a sandbagger (really?) than I could. The only question in my mind is what happens when the course isn't nearly so roady-friendly. Almost the entire second half was double track climbing and descending. Both John and I ended up on the top step of the podium - I'm still on the fence, mountain biking has so many catagories it seemed like more than half the beginner participants were either winners or at least on the podium.

Swag for first place: West Hill Socks. Yay - socks with no holes.

when an endurance runner tries to bike

Had a fun weekend... I felt I was not going to be in good enough shape to run the VT50K this year so I decided to bike the VT50 instead.  Because in some warped way I thought biking 50 miles was easier than running 31 miles. (plus I had gone on a few mtb rides and felt really good).  Turns out it IS easier... maybe because you don't have to stand the entire time.  Or maybe because you don't have to work as hard on the downhills and flats.  Which leads to my gripe...

Maybe because I'm a runner I bike different...when you run you never get to coast.  If your legs stop moving you stop.  So that is how I bike... almost always pedaling.  Uphills, flats, downhills (except when negotiating single track).   I wasn't sure why I was passing so many people on the downhills and flats (and I'm not talking about single track here... I'm talking about road and double track sections).  Why were they going so slow?  Weren't we racing?  My heart rate/breathing was very comfortable and aerobic yet I was still passing people on the flats and downhills.  I'm not THAT heavy so I know that's not why I was faster downhill.   I can only assume the expert riders don't do this... they must keep up their level of effort on the flats and downhills... but since they started ahead of us, and were obviously faster, I didn't get to see how they ride so I guess I'll just have to wonder.

Still perplexing (but maybe less so than the downhill-coasting conundrum) is that all (ok... that's generalizing, but it seemed like too many) of the bikers attack every hill climb like they are sprinting for the polka dotted jersey and then they get to the top they virtually stop moving, pedaling slow or not at all.  Its amazing how many bikers passed me on the climbs and then within 30 seconds of cresting the hill they were panting for air barely moving and I was long gone, still pedaling away. 

Maybe many novice and sport riders don't spend much time thinking about physics or haven't researched the bodies energy systems and training zones etc.  When I endurance race I think of relatively consistent energy output to avoid excessive anaerobic efforts (obviously there will always be power demand fluctuations but you can control how extreme they are).  To put that in perspective... if you had constant energy output (lets say 100 watts) going 3 mph on a 10% grade hill takes the same power as going 14 mph on a flat.  Or another way of putting it... to maintain your speed of say 10mph going from flat to a 10% hill you would have to increase your power output by a factor of more than 6!  (You can play with the numbers at http://bikecalculator.com/veloUS.html since it obviously varies with rider weight, power output, and more)

So why were so many people coasting on the downhills, probably at low low heart rates and then killing themselves on the hills so they were nearly spitting up a lung?  When they could be flying on the downhills and setting a tolerable pace on the uphills and overall holding about the same total riding time with a lot less fatigue.  I could be wrong, but I think I felt better at the end of the race and had more fun than the hill-sprinting/downhill-coasting riders.

Again I didn't get to see how the experts ride so I can't comment on them... was it just inexperienced endurance racers that stood out in my mind? or is biking totally different than running? or is it a male/female things since the guys tend to have more strength/power and don't need to pace themselves as much?  Any expert riders out there I'd be curious to hear your endurance race approach... maybe your racing is more refined than what I saw in my first endurance mtb race.

Regardless I had fun race and would do it again.  :)  The 50 mile course is a lot more fun than the 50K course.  Much more fun single track.  Trail running is still my favorite... just not for this race.