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Over the Hump #11: 9th (Intermediate, 40-49)

Over the Hump #11: 9th (Intermediate, 40-49)

Life got in the way for a couple of weeks, and I missed races #9 and #10. So it was really fun to be back at the start line this week for #11.

Another flat course, another super-fast start. The start was hectic, and by the time the field settled I knew the leaders had gapped everyone else, and I wasn't sure where I was sitting. So I just tried to push and get clear. I've learned to just get away as fast as I can without burning out the legs immediately, and that worked out okay this week.

The flat along the lake was early in the lap, and a few riders came around me soon after that. (Either on the short, sharp climb that ends the flat, or on the CX-style section that followed.) But I was able to grab a wheel here and there and hold my pace, and managed to pull back a few places on the second lap.

By the time I hit the flat on the third lap, there was just one competitor near me. He tried to pass on the sharp climb after the flat, but I got ahead & built a lead on the CX section, and by the time I was headed for the finish, I could see I had a comfortable gap.

Just the same, I pushed hard through the last climbing S-turn to the finish, not wanting a replay of race #7.

There were lots of trains forming during this race for some reason. (I think the course brought the Sport/Elite classes together with the Beginner/Intermeditates more than usual.) I ended up pulling a few for a while before realizing they were behind me.

So, if I have a note from this week, it's to look for trains to jump onto on the flat. The two that I did manage to fall in wich picked up my speed by ~2mph, which is a huge energy advantage.

So, ultimately, I had an okay start, held my pace, managed to pick up a couple of spots on lap 2, and finished strong. Pretty good!

Over the Hump #8: 7th (Intermediate, 40-49)

Over the Hump #8: 7th (Intermediate, 40-49)

Up 5 places! Quite an improvement over last week!

Before the race, I scoped out the finish and made a mental note of the beats: climb, coast, flat, hard left, sprint. This really helped at the end of the race when I was just about cooked, but knew I had to make the most of that coasting section so I'd have something left to push across the flat & sprint for the finish.

The start was the usual drag race off the line, followed by a steep, narrow ramp about 200m from the start that created enough of a bottleneck that the first guys through basically got the hole shot. I didn't get held up too bad, but I didn't exactly roll through with any momentum.

On the fire road climb I just tried to hold an aggressive pace and stay with whomever I could, and I especially tried not to let myself get stuck behind slower riders. If I could pass without redlining, I did.

I think that helped my position going over the top, which ended up being pretty close to my finishing place, I think. I have a pet theory that if there's just one climb on a course, the order at the top is generally the finishing order. That seems to have held last night.

As we started the second lap, I caught up to a competitor in blue, and managed to grab onto his wheel.

We rode like that for a while, then, on the flats headed for the last climb, he let me pass and grabbed a wheel a couple of riders behind me. I tried to lose him in traffic, but he held on, and then made the decisive pass with about 20m left to go on the climb. I had no answer, and had to let him go.

As I was crossing the flat section leading to the finish line, I spotted another competitor trying to sneak past, and gave it a bit more gas. He was strong, but evidently not quite enough to pass, so I was able to hold on for 7th.

So what went well?

I was in the right gear & clipped in clean off the starting line.

I was more aggressive about passing slower riders, which I think both reduced drag and helped me keep a comfortable rhythm.

I managed to mostly avoid getting passed on the last lap. From what I can tell, I held my place from the top of the climb to the end.

I scoped out the finish, and executed my plan for the end of the race.

And what do I want to do better next week?

I don't think getting better results is all that complex. I need to keep training & get stronger, and I need to start quicker off the line. Being near the front after the first few minutes bodes really well for a good finish.

So I'll keep up the interval training, and the strength work I've been doing over the last few weeks.

Over the Hump 07/30/2019

Over the Hump #7: 12th (Intermediate, 40-49)

Over the Hump #7: 12th (Intermediate, 40-49)

My recent training is paying off huge. My average heart rate last night was 171bpm, which is nuts.

Temperatures were high, and with very little sustained climbing, the pace was murderous. My heart rate jumped straight up above 170 and stayed there for at least the first 15 minutes, and rarely dipped below that. (My average for the race was 171.)

I was sitting 10th until the very last half-mile or so, when I was caught by two guys. They both sprinted past me in the final seconds of the race to push me back to 12th. I was so cooked that even when I realized I was in a bunch headed for the finish line, it still didn't register that I should sprint out of the final corner to hold them off, and even when they passed me, my only thought was to check their leg markings to see if they were in my division. Whups...

I'm pleasantly surprised with how I feel today, after turning myself inside-out last night. I'm fatigued, certainly, but I'm not the kind of stiff & sore I expected. One more way my trainaing has paid off, I supposed.

I have thoughts about what went well, and what didn't. But ultimately, it's clear that if I want to move up in the field, I simply have to get stronger & leaner.

I was told recently that I'm too big (frame, not fatness) for cycling, but mountain biking is the realm of speedy gorillas. So many guys in the field are built like power lifters. So my near- to long-term training goals are to drop the rest of this excess fat I'm carrying around, and add some serious muscle.

But for now, the name of the game is to get out and do the rest of my training for this week, and then recover & prep for next week's race.

Over the Hump 07/23/2019

Training Update

I'm done numbering the weeks. Tahoe is off, and The Grizzly 100 is at the end of September. That's close enough that I need to start thinking about it, but today's not about that.

I just wrapped up the second block of Strava TCTP training, and the results have been great.

I used Coachwhip as my fitness test. I've been chasing a new PR there for a long time, and it's a sustained 10-minute dirt climb close to home. My litmus test for the Strava program was: Can this restore forward progress to my Coachwhip PRs?

Answer: Hell yes.

The first training block improved my time from 9:25 to 9:12, good enough for a new PR.

The second block got me down to 8:53, which I'm really pleased with. I've been trying to get under 9:00 for ages.

Two months of training took 32 seconds off a 9-minute climb. That's damn fine progress.

And across the board, I'm improving. My endurance is up, I'm holding my HR at 170BPM on my hill repeats (up from 165 or so) and I'm recovering from workouts really well.

Interesting sidenote: I've noticed in the past that I need to "wake up" my legs before I can perform at my best. I initially attempted a PR after a day of easy riding and a rest day, and was way, way off the pace.

I went back the very next day, and was 40 seconds faster to score that 8:53 PR.

I can't help thinking of the Limestone Canyon race, where I felt sluggish. It was the same pattern: a day of easy riding, a day of rest, then race. For my next race or PR attempt, I'll do some riding the day before and see how that feels.

Coachwhip PR: 8:53

Limestone Canyon Race

I lined up on Saturday morning for the Limestone Canyon race. I've resolved to race more often in 2019, and with Tahoe off the table, I've been looking for smaller, closer options. Limestone certainly fit the bill.

A peek at the course map and a bit of Google satellite imagery magic was nearly as good as a pre-ride. I printed out a little cheat sheet that combined course cues with a tactical plan:

START GO!
1.5 MOVE
1.9 CLIMB
4.0 RIDGE - 2 KICKERS
5.1 DESCEND
8.2 SHORT CLIMB
8.4 RIDGE
10.0 GO GO GO

I hoped I'd need the tactical info, but honestly I know where I stand in the Sport class pecking order. Just the same, it was really nice to have that on my top tube out on the course as a way to measure my efforts, and especially to know when to expect turns, climbs, etc.

It was clear from the map that there were basically two key points on the course. I figured that at mile 5.1, where the major climbing topped out, whoever was out front would probably stay there. And the best opportunity to be ahead at mile 5.1 would to go to the riders at the front when the fire road funneled onto singletrack at mile 2.

So the funnel onto singletrack would be the first selection, and the last two climbs on the ridge would be the second.

So I wasn't surprised when the race organizers told everyone at the start of the race: "Get your passing done by mile 2."

I mentally prepped for a lung-busting start, and hoped that the relatively flat singletrack to the first climb would provide a chance to breathe & find a sustainable rhythm.

Someone yelled, "GO!" and we were off.

I clipped in clean, and headed onto the fire road sitting top 10(-ish?), and tried to spin my way into solid position.

I don't think I was ruthless enough in passing. Several times, I let gaps form a wheel or two ahead of me, and had to catch the wheels of passing riders to get around, rather than pushing around myself. That might be smart racing (maybe?), but it felt like I was falling farther and farther back.

I'm reminded of a line from Sean Yates's book: "The field is going to split, and you're in the wrong half. MOVE UP."

By the time I hit the singletrack, I was sitting maybe top 15, felt, race stupid and my legs were toast. I figured the leaders were well up the trail and maybe I was hanging onto the back of the second group. I knew I'd have nothing left for the ridgeline if I didn't get my HR down, so I dropped a couple of gears, and tried to spin my way up the climb as easily as I could.

By the time I reached the ridgeline, I knew dialing back the intensity was a good call, but I also had no idea if there was anyone left behind me.

At that point, I got into the headspace that works for me in this situation: If there is anyone benind me, I want to hold them off. And if anyone ahead crumbles or has a mechanical, I want to be in position to capitalize. So I pushed on.

Right on cue at mile 5, the trail started down, and I let the bike run. It was really nice to be able to push over the top knowing I'd have a long descent to recover.

I passed a few riders on the way down through the canyon. One or two were completely shattered, granny-gearing it home, and most were coasting. In the past, the flats have been where I felt extremely weak, but I found that my recent training was doing me good. I didn't feel powerful, but I certainly had the gas to hold a fast pace down through the canyon, which was satisfying.

The final, short climb up to the ridgeline singletrack went easily enough. The trail was far more groomed than anything earlier in the course, which was nice, but I was well aware that I could push too hard, or I'd detonate.

The ridgeline singletrack was... not that much fun. It was loose and rocky, and several little downhills had become rutted, narrow funnels full of loose gravel. Throw in big prickly pear cacti here and there, and I found myself worrying far more about not getting hurt than about going fast.

Once I hit the fire road at mile 10, I just hit the gas and made sure to hold off anyone who might be close behind. I took a couple of looks behind me, didn't see anyone, and knew I'd probably be fine if I just held my pace.

The coast stayed clear all the way to the finish line. Final place: 9th out of 13 in Sport Men 36-49.

That's... pretty much what I expected. I was hoping for a solid mid-pack finish, but I felt like I rode better than I expected, and I see what I need to do to prep for future races.

First, I need to get leaner. I'm just carrying around way too much fat to be competitive. The single most obvious difference between the Beginners and the top of the Sport class is their body makup. Lots of bellies in the Beginners and slower Sport riders (myself included). Zero excess body weight on the podium.

Second, I need to continue the structured training I've been doing. I felt so much better after this race than any other race I've done, and I felt like I was much stronger later in the race than I would have been a few months ago.

And third, any prep for future races needs to simulate the classic local XC race start: 2 miles of fast fire road followed by steep singletrack climbing.

But I did a little number crunching, and I feel like moving up to a top-5 finish next year is doable. With a 1:05:00 finish, I was just 8 minutes off the podium, and just 10 minutes behind the winner. That's a big chunk of time, but getting 10 minutes faster on this course over the next year or so feels doable, and the math checks out.

Basically, extrapolating from my recent efforts on Coachwhip, I might be able to take a minute off my lap time each month. If I do that every month for a year, I'm on the podium. If I do any more than that, I win.

That definitely feels like something worth working for. I'd love to come back next year and post a top-5 finish or better.

So, today I did my endurance miles, and tomorrow it's intervals. The work continues...

Limestone Canyone 5/4/2019

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