Monday, August 24, 2009

A whole day of cross practice = sore and bruised

A few months ago, I bit the bullet and signed up for a cross skills clinic. Saturday, under imminent threat of thunderstorms, about 40 of us showed up at Lake Reston to generally confuse the birthday picnickers by riding in circles on the grass doing silly things.

The clinic, organized by a couple of Mid-Atlantic area coaches (Chris Mayhew and Dan Tille), featured American pro Jeremy Powers - well fueled with all the sugar he can handle by Jelly Belly sport beans. I want his bike. With the carbon zipp wheels. It would be a little big, but I think I could manage.

They asked us at the beginning - what is your goal for today? I said something about getting rid of my stutter step on a remount. I had signed up as a "beginner" despite the fact that I'm not nearly as green as some of the others there. This was because really I wanted someone to force me to do the technical work very slowly and perfectly. I'm hoping to perfect my mounts, dismounts, carries and barriers this year - I can learn off-side dismounts etc later.

At first, I was a bit anxious about whether I'd get enough good coaching. The beginners started with FatMarc Vettori - a guy I knew some from when he talked me through a pretty big bonk in the pit at my first MTB enduro race, but not one of the coaches named on the clinic announcement. Turns out, this was great. JPow, Chris, and Dan are great, but they clearly often work with more experienced racers. I think JPow is so good he forgets that we mere mortals have to run-up things he'd fly up without downshifting. FatMarc had the good sense to take us slowly through remounts - not getting close to a barrier for nearly 3 hours. Exactly what I was hoping for. And he yells louder encouraging things than anyone. When we got to "keep" Marc for the entire day, I was pretty happy to keep building on the rapport that we'd had going as a group.

A few notes:
-My friend Jess, who crashed a bit on a dismount slicing up her knee on her chainring (ouch!), managed to get a private lesson from JPow himself. Then had 3 good lookin' skinny men with doctoring experience surrounding her to patch up the knee. Her boyfriend Zeke, being the good man that he is, let her enjoy the moment.

-Funny kids there. A couple of guys I'd say were about 10... attention span for a whole day or even 10 minutes of talking is a lot, as are clipless pedals. The theme on the day was anytime someone talked too long, one or more of the younger folk would lean on the side of their bike they had clipped in and promptly fall over. No one was hurt and they had a ton of perserverence throughout the day. Best part for us - they begged JPow to bunny hop some barriers. First he said nah, he hadn't practiced yet. Then he looked at the line a little harder and saw an easier line and showed off a bit. Smooooth like butter. Did I mention the kids had an unlimited supply of caffeinated energy jelly beans all day?

-I got more mud on me than anyone. Maybe I did more circles through the muddy spots? And I've got hugely black and blue bruises on my elbow and shoulder from mistakes throwing the bike up there. I thought about posting pics of my elbow, but decided better of it.

-Not much work on cornering. I was okay with that - we do a lot at Nystrom's practice during the season and I'm a mountain biker at heart, so that's not my weakest technical area. I imagine a few of the roadies were disappointed.

-My right quad and calf are sorer than the left. Since I can't think of a way I generated this asymmetry at a mountain bike race where I barely rode a few miles, I attribute it to mounting and dismounting more times in a day than I probably will all year in all the races... combined.

-Good schwag for a clinic. JPow brought crank brothers hats (yay, I got one!), sport beans, t shirts, etc. I came home with a hat, stickers, a new pump (thanks Cannondale), and some sports balm samples. And a pair of highly coveted Tufo Tubular Clincher tires - FatMarc being the awesome guy he is brought all his old cross tires that he doesn't love for whomever to take. I snagged a new blue one and a slightly used red one. And I don't care if they don't match - those are the tires I'm planning to run this year on most dry races and they are way hard to find.

-I got a mention on FatMarc's blog even. Thanks. I definitely owe him a beer - tires and awesome coaching!

I definitely learned stuff I didn't know. Like what, you ask? There will probably be a specific post at some point soon. I've got to let a bit of it settle before the really important points become obvious.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

DNF or DFL... I chose DNF.

About 5 miles into the Quantico Cranky Monkey race today, I was presented with a situation - to DNF (did not finish) or work my bum off from DFL (dead frickin' last) to whereever I could get to. On a converted singlespeed. I chose DNF. It was my first DNF, actually, and I was pretty bummed, but there wasn't a good way around it.

Apparently when we put my chain back together this week, something was amiss, and this mean phantom shifting and chain dropping for the first few miles. After all the women had passed me while I was fixing said dropped chain (about 6 times - this should have been a clue), I thought I had the derailleur cables adjusted and went for it. Stood up a climb and boom - shattering noises from the back of the bike... uh oh. The inevitable chain break was here. Oh, except it took with it my Sram XO derailleur, which got pulled into the rear wheel. As they say, when carbon fails, it fails catastrophically.
IMG_1017 by VinylFox.

I successfully had my bike part way apart to convert it to single speed by the time the sweeps came through. With no quick link, it wasn't going to be fast to do this, and I was already far back from where I needed to be. Having won the previous two races in the series, I needed 3rd today to take the series and had little chance of dropping below 2nd in the series regardless of what I did. 15 miles of hilly-ness with a converted single speed (yeah, I've never done that before and it was an okay conversion, but not perfect - chain tension was a little loose). So I DNF'd - telling the sweeps with the radios to be sure that they knew it was a mechanical not an injury time out. Shea was sure to be confused and worried when I didn't come through on the first lap.

I finished the chain break/repair and went backwards on the course to get to the nearest fireroad outta there. Got a good clue who was doing well and saw the woman's leader (Simona) who would take the series with a strong finish. She was surprised and seemed genuinely disappointed about my bad luck.

Back to the car and no Shea to be found. I texted him - "At the car. Mechanical dnf" - not one I want to have to send often. Chatted with a few teammates on the way in, finding out that the only other LSVer in the sport race had crashed out with a bent front wheel (I had seen him fixing the flat).

It's too bad that I had to learn this one the hard way... when your bike isn't shifting right, it could be the derailleurs (checked those, a lot) or the chain (yeah, waited till it broke all the expensive parts to figure that one out). Weird to be at the race without having really raced - had my body and brain all set up for the pain and I'm still feeling a bit antsy. I'm also tired from yesterday's cyclocross clinic (watch for my thoughts on that this week), so recovering with beer and couch time instead of a good cyclocross-specific run sprints work out or something productive like that.

As for the series, Shea won today, taking the beginner under 34 series. I wound up 2nd overall and scored a nice gift certificate, then a consolation prize of winning an iPod in a raffle. Doesn't quite make up for the pricey bike parts...
IMG_1012 by VinylFox.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Leaving work early to ride in circles...

Today, I busted bum to be done in lab in time to leave by 4:45, drive 45 minutes in traffic, throw on somewhat clean spandex, and ride my bike in 4.58 miles worth of circles. I don't mean I rode a 4.57 mile lap at Patapsco and then crashed. Nope, I mean most of the circles were not much bigger than the circumference of my Baltimore rowhouse backyard.

That's right - you guessed it - cyclocross season is coming! Tonight was the first 'cross specific training I've done so far this year - a pick-up practice that I often go to during the season down at Rockburn. Considering last year I didn't even have a cross bike yet let alone know what a step-through dismount is, I'd say I'm way ahead of the game. But, my technical cross skills are rusty. I mean miserable can't do a dismount without wobbling, can't get clipped in without looking at my pedals rusty. Hopefully I'll get this whole jump_off_a_moving_bike-carry_it-get_back_on settled before my September 26th cross opener. For now, my fitness is way above my skills and I crashed in the grass once just to prove it.

The things I'll do for riding a bike in circles in the dirt. Only at the races, the circles are a little more convoluted and slightly larger.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Collecting pint glasses...

I love it when races give prizes that are useful - i.e. pint glasses instead of medals. Medals just do nothing for me - perhaps when I was 12 I would have felt differently. But our pint glass collection is getting a bit overgrown. Nevermind that we already had plenty before bike racing came into my life - we gave pint glasses as favors at our wedding 5 years ago and had more than a few extras. Despite my best attempts to break a few, we still haven't taken them all out of the box!

Yesterday was the Cranky Monkey Fountainhead race. I raced Sport class again, seeing as I'm not about to downgrade! But it was hot and the laps have a lot of rooty climbing on them. By hot, I mean 70% humid and above 90 by 10am race start. Shea took second after crashing in his race right at the end, and I knew a lot of people came in with dirt on them, so planned to get a good start and ride my own race from there.

Again, they started us with the clydesdales. This really worked pretty well for me - the start was about a mile and a half on the road. I stayed with the front group in the draft, so energy output was pretty manageable and attacked a few hundred yards before the singletrack, hitting the dirt 3rd wheel. Of course, many of them passed me in the next few miles, but I was thrilled - this is the first time in a long time I didn't have a single guy crash in front of me during the first half of my first lap!

I started a bit too hard - my excitement level was up and I was riding too fast for the first 20 minutes or so before I finally settled down and got to relaxing. I knew I was leading, I suspected that I knew who the chaser was and about where she was, so there was no letting off. That meant I rode everything technical except 2 super steep hills and nearly crashed at least 6 times - but managed not to lay my bike down on any of them.

The Fountainhead loop has a lot of roots, some significantly steep climbs, a few sustained climbs, and is generally medium-technical - nothing that you have to pay too much attention to, but lots of sections where a little extra power means it doesn't matter when the line wasn't perfect. My favorite part though is the spectators spot - 'Shock a billy' hill - a steep but short downhill with a few drops, some rubber waterbars that look intimidating, and lots of people watching for crashes. For this, I was way off the back of the bike with the saddle pretty much in my belly. Both laps I cleared it just fine only to find myself in the wrong gear at the bottom and have an awkward clip-out/waddle moment.

While I never saw another woman, a few times I passed men who then paced me for a while. John (whose name I know only because he talked to himself when he had trouble with one particular hill) claimed he was happy to be following me - he liked the lines I chose and pace I was riding. I enjoyed the company.

I finished first again! Another pint glass for the collection. My chaser was about a minute off - she rode a great race too. Now if we could just get some more ladies to ride for the competition... Only 4 sport female finishers yesterday.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fight like Susan...

I read a number of cyclists' blogs - in part for the race and ride reports from around the country, stories of success and bonks. But one of my favorites has been the Fat Cyclist, where Elden Nelson chronicles rides with his buddies in some of my old stomping grounds in Utah. By the time I'd found his blog, however, his wife Susan was deeply entrenched in a battle against metastatic breast cancer. Fatty blogged about her on a regular basis, more lately as they dealt with pain management and Susan's waning strength and lucidity. I think many cyclists can identify with a theme of dealing with anger and frustration by turning the cranks. Instead of being sad about Susan, though, he has motivated many to ride for LiveStrong and raise a ton of money for Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong foundation, much of which goes to care of cancer patients and, to some extent, for cancer research (a topic near and dear to my own heart).

If you're new to the FatCyclist blog, this is a good place to start. With tissues in hand. We now know how the battle ends, but Elden and Susan's challenge to "Fight Like Susan" is one I hope I can take seriously when adversity comes along.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Random collections

Random collection of friends. Really, that's what I want in life. People I've found along the way, those who found and adopted me, buds that I've shared a variety of life experiences with. Yesterday, we partied at my mom's for the (apparently annual) pool party at the farm (also known as - our summer house in the country). What was cool was that despite there being many people out of town/on vacation/otherwise engaged, people showed up and I think they even had fun. I did.

Work friends and a BFF from high school, ski instructor drinking buds and bike racing ex-teammates (apparently all the teammates were on vacation or had fussy children!). I shared a bottle of wine with the children's ski school supervisor (who hired me 13 or so years ago to teach), dipped my toes in the cool pool water with my pregnant British colleague from lab, and played with my high school friends' two year old twin boys. We set up a mountain biking trials course on the lawn to work on bridge riding skills with the ski race coaches from Liberty (who are moving to Utah soon) and picked crabs. As the night rolled on, Dirty Girl got into the vodka-soaked watermelon and pretty much everyone left wound up in the hot tub. Fireside chats in or around the hot tub capped the evening...

Eventually everyone except Dirty Girl sobered up and trundled homeward. She crashed in the other guest room and woke up this morning having enjoyed the late night fireworks/thunderstorm and hungry for French Toast and Canadian Bacon ala Mom.

What fun. Thanks everyone for bringing your random collections of life experiences to the table.

Word of the night: jalapeno. Ask Shea about it when you see him.