Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Learning to train...

As with any new sport, part of learning to get good at it is teaching oneself how to train for it. In the case of skiing, I avoided that for many years - natural athleticism got me through. Until I was training for my PSIA Level III exam while teaching in Vail, I really didn't know how to isolate a movement and focus on it while turning.

In the case of biking, I've been racing for just over a year now, and I'm going to have to figure out how to turn training hours into going faster. So far, I've mostly figured that riding hard on my mountain bike and going to cyclocross practices in the fall is good enough. But now the pressure is on a bit... I upgraded to Sport in mountain biking with a 5 year plan of being competitive in Expert class. I have a sneaking suspicion if things go as well as Sunday's race that I may not get to spend as long at Sport as I might have imagined.

So it's time to learn to train properly. The fast guys on our team and everything I read says intervals are the way to do it. I half-heartedly have been putting in efforts on hills all summer - playing with my cadence and pedal stroke, standing on the steep sections, etc. Last night Shea and I went out for some proper intervals - this time it took the form of hill repeats at Patapsco - hills are a very natural way for me to get my heart rate up. The trails were wet, so we were limited in choices that were dry enough to ride responsibly and didn't get to enjoy any singletrack after the intervals. But I finished what I intended to do - 6 x 3-3.5 minute climbs with 3 minute recoveries. It was steamy enough that I had a pretty crappy fourth trip up the hill... I had forgotten to take my glasses off and they were so fogged I couldn't see the trail. But I was too stubborn to stop and take 'em off and they don't stay on my helmet. By the last repeat, I actually felt pretty good. I realized later how tired my legs were from this. I probably have another round of intervals due over the weekend - no race and Tuesday is the biweekly time trial that I've been doing.

Can I train myself to be disciplined enough to do intervals without a hill forcing me to do it?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

3 laps is better than 2...

Whew. I've been thinking about upgrading from beginner class to sport lately, and finally did it with the support/urging of some teammates. This was actually a season goal for me - I had mediocre success last year that led me to believe I could race the early season in beginner and feel comfortable upgrading by mid-June. That was a bit optimistic, but I've had success lately and definitely don't want to feel like a "sandbagger"... Today's Cranky Monkey Wakefield event was my first in the Sport class, and for the most part, the biggest difference is the riders are faster (and better) and there are more laps. In this case, 3 instead of 2. 18 miles.

I have to say, this was probably the most fun race I've done all year. I went out with the attitude that there were going to be chicks there who could pound me into the ground, so I hoped to (once again), get faster as the race went on and remember to eat and hydrate. Update: here's me in the professional race photos, looking dialed in.

At the start, for some reason they put the women and clydesdale classes together (I was warming up until after they started announcements, so I missed the logic), and the women had all lined up at the back. That's fine, I was out to have some fun, remember? But as we know, I like to start hard and fast and hit the singletrack first so that I can burn out too early and be grounchy with myself. So it was probably a blessing in disguise. I had a pretty decent start regardless - I was the third woman but we were still in a mix of men, so I couldn't tell for sure that was the case.

Within the first mile, I had an awesome "Superfly moment" (that's what I'm going to call it when I love the 29er wheels) - over a rooty whoopy up section, the guy in front of me took the good line/spun out/was soon to be walking. I powered up over the roots on the harder line, clipped out with one foot for a push, and was off again. What fun! I passed a few of the men in the first woods section - and was feeling pretty good. The roots and logs were a little slippery, but I was very relaxed, riding well, and quick to settle into my endurance pace. I expected that there were at least a female or two off the front (a suspicion that I continued to assert to the many a spectator later).

The first time we hit a bit of road, I caught one of the women who'd hit the singletrack first, and followed her for the next mile or so through a bit of climbing. Since it was clear she was holding me up going uphill, I powered through the next road section, passing her and (it turns out) another woman as well (a fact that I overlooked at the time). I was feeling really good - somehow in the last year I've gone from "droppee" to "dropper" on some of the hills.

About 2/3 through the first lap, I just had a moment where I realized how much fun I was having. Beautiful day, very courteous guys to pass, fun singletrack with berms and purpose-built mountain bike trails... and wow, it's so much more fun to race when you have little chance of winning... well, that's what I thought, anyway. And to top it off, my lap time was about where I thought I could manage for 3 laps. I struggled to get a ShotBlok out of my pocket and started the second lap with a very awkwardly hopped curb.

Midway through the second lap, someone I passed said I was leading, to which I asserted that was not possible - there were women off the front. Then some spectators told me the same thing - I told them the women off the front were so far ahead they hadn't seen 'em. Why, when Shea told me I was leading I didn't believe him, I don't know, but I continued to think I was at least several minutes off the leaders. This was actually good - I was relaxed and settled into my pace, enjoying the ride and staying well within my heart rate range. I think. I wouldn't actually know that because my heart rate moniter hasn't been working all season and I still haven't fixed it.

By the third lap, I was really happy - powering through things, still riding technically sound, and totally looking forward to the downhill bermed turns near the finish. Last year those terrified me. I knew when I finished I'd had one of my best races ever. And that I'd managed to eat and hydrate and get faster (lap times of 34:42, 34:28, and 34:12) as the race went on. Success to me. I still didn't believe Shea when he said I'd won. But then they posted results, and in fact, I had. All the evidence said that I'd upgraded and won my first race in sport by leading for most of the race. I guess it was good that I upgraded...
My rookie mistake of the day - the sunscreen never made it out of the car. I am just a bit pinker than I prefer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Michaux madness...

Michaux, ah Michaux. Curse of the Dark Hollow. Yup, that's right, another Michaux race. Only this time, it was put on by Jes and company of Gettysburg Bicycle - the guys who know the trails inside and out and how to best torture everyone racing on them. I was racing the 10miler (no beginner, sport, experts categories here - just distances... that are often off by 30% or more and never do they err on the side of too short)... turns out it was more like 13.

This was my first time out on rocky terrain on my new ride, so I figured racing would help me get over my fear of breaking my bike. When they were lining all the women, juniors and masters up together to start, I inched toward the front in order to hit the singletrack in a respectable position. What I didn't count on was getting the hole shot (really, I wasn't even starting that hard!) and gapping all but one or two riders by a couple hundred yards by the time we got to singletrack. Yummy, delightful, downhill singletrack. With some little drop-offs. Awesome good fun. I really enjoyed that section... until I had a little seatpost issue and it changed the angle of my saddle. Okay, no biggie on the downhill - I was off the back for much of it anyway.

At the first uphill, I stopped briefly to fix said seatpost and was passed by one woman and a few of the others then... bummer. Up next was a long section of rideable rocky climbing that I wound up walking parts of. The switchbacks were tough on my not-yet-used-to-turning-radius-of-new-bike self and we were catching groups of riders ahead who had started a few minutes earlier in other categories and were off and walking.

I had a pretty good ride from there until the next time we saw fire road - really fun single track. At one point I saw but did not manage to pass the chick in front of me. Lots of rocks and a bit of walking through them. On a section of singletrack near the reservoir, I heard my seatpost go again, and stopped and fixed it. But I was truly enjoying the ride - the trees were tight enough that I nearly took a swim at one point when I caught handlebars on a tree trunk.

I hit the fireroad again and realized that I was at the 8.5 mile aid station. Kool. Only 4+ miles to go, and I knew much of it must be gaining back the elevation we'd lost on the first descent. Thankfully, it was all on a fireroad, so I left my legs and lungs out there, spinning hard to make up time lost going slow in the tight sections and fixing seats. That was a significant climb for me - about a 11 minute effort. Onto a patch of singletrack under the powerline when I heard the dreaded seatpost noise again. By this time fixing it, my multitool had disintegrated (I knew the bolt was loose on it last week but failed to do anything about it). But I got it working again long enough to make it through the climb onto the next section of flat-ish singletrack.

And again it adjusted itself for me. How long could I make it standing... I was near the end... After a few hundred yards of standing all the way - legs on fire, I stopped and lowered the seat so at least I could relax a bit when I had momentum. I pushed hard to the finish for 2nd. Good thing I pushed, too, because third place was less than a minute behind.

All in all a very fun race. I love the new ride and will definitely race Michaux again. It's hard. Character building. But really really fun.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

29 and on a 29er...

I love my Cannondale. I love racing my Cannondale. really. but its little elastomer head shock is losing its cush, and in lieu of a new race wheelset and shock upgrade for it, we decided a new ride was in order. The Cannondale is destined for single speed conversion as a training bike.

After a _lot_ of deliberation and a husband-imposed deadline of my upcoming 3oth birthday I figured out that 29er is the way to go. I read, I contemplated, I even got to test rode some very nice bikes courtesy of race teammates (thanks Karl and Marc!). I love the Fisher 29er geometry, so I decided on a Fisher Paragon. The high end aluminum 29er. With upgraded wheels.

Well, that was until I called Jes at Gettysburg Bicycle and Fitness. I know Jes from teaching at Liberty - we trained together some last season and Jes is a phenomenal skier with super fast feet. I've actually never worked with him re: bikes before. But I'd rather give the business to a small shop that's in it for the right reasons. Jes and his buds do a lot of trail development and run an infamous local race series up there at Michaux. His shop has a ton of great bikes (though I had only eyes for one!) and long term employees. i.e. they know what they are doing and have been doing it for a long time.

Now, I should say that when I sat down and did the math on the weight upgrades, I had wanted the much nicer componentry on the Superfly. And it turns out, not only did Jes treat me better than fantastically (including show me how to put sealant in tubeless tires, hook me up with a jersey, etc), the Superfly was built, waiting for me, like it was meant to be... I was willing to give up the wheel upgrade for the dream bike. I couldn't help but go get it yesterday afternoon. And ride it last night....

It wants to go so much faster than I do. I was apparently going too fast for Shea to get our little camera to document it in the evening light next to the reservoir. So we only have static shots. I get to race it at Michaux on Sunday, so maybe someone will catch us in action then.

PS: I realized tonight on the drive home from my weekly chicks only mountain bike ride, that I think it's a little wierd that my new bike is a Superfly and what I do for a real job is dissect super fly's - Drosophila melanogaster if you must know. But who cares about a fruit fly, the carbon fiber kind is _much_ more fun in the dirt.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Friendly racing...

Today was one of my fav's on the MASS series - Fair Hill. Friendly because I know a lot of the competitors, we had a good team showing, and friends new to racing with us. Fun singletrack without too much sustained climbing. And no laps - the beginner race is 13 wonderful miles. This is made even sweeter by the fact that every time we go to just ride Fair Hill, we get hopelessly lost and cannot find the most awesome singletrack pieces. Racing there is great - the arrows tell me where to go! Next year, when I'm racing a different category, I'll get to enjoy even more of it.

At the start line, I reminded myself of my goals- finish in less than 1 1/2 hours and go out hard but not so hard that I had no juice left for miles 10-13. I felt pretty good on the start - got dropped by the eventual winner pretty early on and gapped all the other women that I started with at about the same time. I made my first mental mistake of tree + handlebar = wobble early about 2 miles in. I settled a bit and enjoyed the twistyness, trying to push myself to use bigger gears and go faster on the uphills. This was mostly working, as I was passing a lot of slower guys. Not sure if it felt like more than normal because I was riding stronger or there were more of them.

By the time I heard "one mile to go" about two miles from the finish, I started to hammer pretty hard and was able to finish strong, despite the inaccuracy in the "one mile to go" comment. My computer had stopped working at mile 2.5, after briefly flirting with wildly varying speeds - 0.0, 4.0, 12.5, 7.0 all within a few wheel turns... I think it knows when I'm racing and decides to die then. Looks like it's about to meet its own end.

All in all, a great race. I finished 2nd overall, out of all of the beginner women actually, and felt really good doing it. For my effort, I scored a 2010 MD state parks pass, which we usually buy anyway. Kool! When results are posted online, I'll probably spend a bit of time figuring out whether I should upgrade this year or finish the season in beginner class.

Good showing from the Kelly Benefits/LSV crew today - Shea, Karl, Phil, Sherri, Dave, and Chip were all out there. And, because of when they ran the races, the experts finished just after we beginners did, so the post race recovery was a bit more social than usual. In addition, Dirty Girl and Mike, both fellow ski instructors were hitting up the dirt as well. Congrats to everyone - Dirty Girl, Mike, Sherri and Phil for finishing. Dave was in the Elite $$, Chip and Shea in the top 10, and Karl took 2nd after a harried morning.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

So much zucchini...

The only thing to do with too much zucchini... is make zucchini bread. Here's my new, lower fat, recipe. This way, I won't feel totally guilty for eating it all:
1 1/2 c white flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger

2 eggs
1 egg white
1/3 c oil
2/3 c low fat greek yogurt
1 t vanilla
2 1/2 c grated zucchini

Mix dry ingredients. Beat eggs in a small bowl, add other wet ingredients and mix. Add wet ingredients to dry, mixing briefly until moistened. Bake in greased loaf pans ~50minutes at 350deg. Yum. Unfortunately, I didn't plan that it would be worth a blog post, so I didn't take a picture. Plus, it really just looks like zucchini bread.

The moral of this post - if you're local and want some zucchini, let me know!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Champagne bottles and water bottle cages...

I was going to call this "The elusive first win with an asterisk" but the best part of the day was figuring out that I could fit a champagne bottle in my waterbottle cage. Like this:

Today, I was racing the Long Pine Classic - a mountain bike race near Chambersburg, PA. 8.5 miles in the beginner race - in theory with a lot of technical Michaux riding. The fields were small in general - only about 40 beginners altogether I would guess. But for once, there were a bunch of women! 4 in my age range and 5 in the "more experienced" women category. Even one of our own! Sherri is the other mountain biking chick on our team. The Kelly beginner category riders before the race:

The start was sorta... eh. 2+ miles of dirt road, mostly uphill. A rolling start, and I hit it hard. Too hard. But, (finally!) got onto the single track about where I wanted to be. Most of the slow men were already behind me and I was the second woman onto the dirt. I passed newcomer to mountain biking Jessica - an experienced cross racer - on the first technical section. I then proceeded to blow up on the next dirt road and she dropped me, never to be seen again.

Altogether, not my favorite course. A lot of fire road with some very difficult singletrack thrown in. Including a gnarly loose rock-filled ditch that I trudged up and a scree covered downhill that I actually walked part of - normally I only hoof it on the uphills. After the sketchy downhill, I enjoyed some lovely rocky singletrack and a tough downhill in the trees before all of the sudden, I was climbing out of the trees to the finish on top of a hill, under a powerline. Somewhere in there I did a lot of cussing and negative thinking. Like I said, not my favorite. But, I won. My age category, anyway. Jessica, who rides for C3, had come in a few minutes earlier, so I won my group and took 2nd outta all the beginner women. Sweet!

But where's Shea? I made it back to the car, and he wasn't yet there. Odd. I knew he was ahead of me when we started and I never passed him... About 20 minutes later, he and all the rest of the guys in his category rolled in. They had (presumably all of them!) taken a wrong turn and gone 13 miles instead of about 9. Ah, well. Extra fun for the money.

No prizes today, but these guys managed to get EVERYONE to show up for their podiums by being prompt with the results and doing champagne for every one. We got a little competitive seeing who could shoot the cork the furthest and/or shoot the most of the bubbly around. Here's me, spraying the crowd:

Fun day. Shea's didn't get much better as we knicked a branch on the way out of the parking lot and it sorta knocked his bike off the car. Luckily, rack failed in a way that meant neither the rack or the bike are too much worse for the wear.

ps - Thanks to Phil for the podium pics.