Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pretty pictures: Ed Sander CX at Lilypons

I've already written up the day's events, but here are some better pics of my shenanigans.  Thanks to the friends (Anne) and others (Tom B of NCVC) who took them!

Holding onto her wheel for a bit....

Still riding the hill on the last lap.

Looking very serious.

Tom B's perspective... I like it!  Lots of lily ponds at this one and a few people even got wet.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time on the trainer

Uh-oh, that time of year is coming - when the light wanes shortly after (or as it has tonight) before I leave lab for the day and I wind up half-heartedly spinning on the trainer in the basement instead of getting fresh air under my legs.  I'm hoping to keep these sessions to a minimum this fall - especially as I finally have a dedicated road bike built, so none of this switching wheels stuff to ride my cross race bike on the tarmac.  Shea just built up the road bike today - I'm wondering what color bar tape I've got...

As I find my way into trainer-land, I will note a few things:

1.  It's really windy out there tonight.  My lack of dedication for leaving lab early for a ride might be tied to that.

2.  One of my main goals for the next 6 months is to maintain some cycling fitness through until March.  I failed miserably at this last year, failing to ride a bike _at all_ from mid-December until the day before my first race at Rockburn in late March.  I hope to sneak in some mid-afternoon rides followed by evenings at work.  And, because I'm a bit of a wimp about the cold, it also means trainer time.  Weekends are out from December through March... gotta ski during ski season.  The possibility of night mountain bike rides is intriguing, but limited in terms of a true workout while taking up a lot of time, so I'm not sure that's going to be part of the plan.

3.  I have to figure out how to make trainer time more fun.  Options include bad beach books to read, girly movies, abysmal but addictive reality TV, and perhaps sports highlights or upbeat music.  As much as I would like to think that I can read science papers and spin at the same time, it's probably unrealistic to think I can be that productive.

4.  I have to be more effective/less lazy while on the trainer.  Not sure how to acheive this, but I think item 3 is probably important.  Can't make it too much fun, though. Last fall I found myself sitting there without spinning, watching terrible reality tv without realizing I'd stopped pedaling.  Oops.  That just doesn't happen when you're out on the road. 

Best trainer workout ever so far - reliving the steelers last minute superbowl victory while watching the highlights.  Too bad they don't play that well all the time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yes, Virginia, I am a mudder...

Can you imagine a more perfect muddy bike race?  Couple inches of rain overnight, misty morning, beautiful 70 degree sun by the afternoon for my cross season opener - the Ed Sander Memorial Cyclocross event at Lily Pons watergardens south of Frederick, MD.

This is the first year they've bumped the Cat 4 women (that's novice, for you non-cyclists) into our own class for the MABRA series.  I weaseled my way into a front row start (hey, if they'd actually done callups as advertised, I would've been front row by order of reg. AND last year's points) and had the hole shot onto the off camber turn onto the grass.  I did a great job of taking my brain out of this early success and quickly settled into a sustainable but strong pace - two women passed me early but I lost track of one and the other had a tough barrier and I didn't see her again.

In the pre-ride, I found that an acquaintance from the mountain bike circuit was racing her first cross race.  On her Superfly.  Now, with the quantity of mud there, this probably wasn't all bad for her.  I knew she'd be strong.  I didn't think she'd be hanging on my wheel for the first two laps and then finally pass me in the mud pits (which she was riding and I was running) for the eventual win.  I stayed on for a while, then got dropped but felt really good - she was still in sight and I caught a couple of women in the back of the Elite field (including one who I practice with and was SUPER encouraging - sometimes I love racing with women!).

The course was mostly the same as last year - flat for the first half with a couple hundred yards of mud pit - a few short hills and technical off camber stuff on the other half.  A mandatory run-up and slip-sliding short downhill in the back section make it interesting.  I rode really well - still not feeling great at race pace on my dismounts and remounts, despite all the practice.  But I rode all the rideable hills.  Pretty sure I half-heartedly pushed my bike up many of them last year.  Great cheering from friends and teammates pushed me to buckle down and pedal hard.  If you're reading this - I heard you all and THANKS!  And congrats to all the friends and teammates who raced today as well!

Honestly, it felt like I rode a great race and was 2nd (!!!!!) in the Cat 4's out of 20 starters (18 finished).  Pretty psyched about that - in this series last year when it was Cat 3/4 I occasionally broke the top 10 and finished in the bottom half most of the time.  My best ever finish by far in cross!  As for my prizes on the day - I scored a pair leg warmers and a pair of woolie socks which look fuzzy warm but are too big so Shea'll get them. Wonder how I'll handle next weekend's double?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What are the rules of accounting?

In bike racing, the easiest place to lose weight is to get nicer bike parts.  The cheapest is off your body.  A year ago, I decided I should "make race weight" - meaning lose a few pounds. Of course, then Ski Liberty introduced chicken cheese steaks, and a few of those every weekend with large quantities of beer and zero time on the bike and I was quickly back to my usual winter weight - not heavy, by any means, but not as healthy as I could be.

This spring, I focused on eating foods high in protein, keeping snack foods out of the house, and riding at higher intensities.  I'm at a lower 'race weight' now than a year ago.  But here's the thing - I can't tell you how much weight I've lost.  That's because I'm a scientist and can't decide how to measure and report it accurately.  Do I go from heaviest to lightest?  But that doesn't take into account the daily weight fluctuations we all know occur.  So do I guess the heaviest I was in the morning versus the heaviest I am now in the morning?

Wait, I know, I'll give a range with standard deviation - let's say 12 lbs +/- 2. I don't actually have the data to compute standard deviation properly here, but since it's approximately the range for which 95% of the datapoints fall within two standard deviations of the stated mean... uh-oh, that means 12lbs +/- 1.  Final answer.  The quantity of beer in my fridge suggests I won't be able to increase that number much even though it's cross season.

Did I mention I suspect random errors are introduced by my $12 scale?

Of course, I've also recently lightened my bike with some sweet new wheels to go with my $12 scale.  Priorities...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Joining the bloody knee club...

Turns out, its not safe for the skin on your knees to ride with me.  If you're female on a mountain bike (or singlespeed cross bike!), at least.  I'm the 5th person riding with me to skin a knee this summer.  I think it started with Dirty Girl, then a newbie, then Jess at cyclocross camp and finally another newbie (aka Box Chuckin' Sister) just last weekend.  4 of the 5 (counting me) were left knees.  I saved the least amount of blood for myself...  (most of that is mud!).

Shea and I were out for a fast ride after work, hoping to avoid the rain.  I was trying to keep up, even though he's pretty fast on the new 29er, and took a corner too hard, lost front traction and was suddenly on the ground.  Ah, well.  I did slow down a bit after that.  It was the "good" kind of wreck, though - riding to the limits of the bike, flowing well.  Much better riding than my rock garden escapade on Sunday.  I hope this flow thing translates to my cross bike Sunday even if I have to crash a few times to get there.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Funny math: 2 + 2 + 2 = 1

Yesterday - Terror of Teaberry at Michaux.  Series finale.  Although I prerode the course, felt pretty strong aerobically and wasn't one of the ~30% of riders that flatted (go tubeless and check your tire pressure, people!), I was a bit disappointed in my race.  Last week I ripped a ton of rock gardens in Frederick, the week before I rode a lot of yesterday's course, before that I was in West Virginia rolling over their rocks.  But yesterday, with just a little bit 'o slime on the buggers, I froze up.  By the last mile or so, I conceded, walking pretty much every rock garden stretch.  Oh well.

On a good note, the singletrack descent early in the race was sketchy.  Like - lock up your rear and glissade down it.  I was terrified but survived.  With limited front braking available (bubble in the hydraulic discovered 10 minutes before race start) - in retrospect that might've been a good thing right there.  Spent some time very close to trees and lots of time feeling my rear wheel slip sideways over rocks, logs and bumps, but no true crashes.

I wound up 2nd.  Rode for a while with Mindy, who was about the same as me technically but having more success in the rock gardens.  I couldn't seem to drop her, then she passed me and I hung on for quite a while, but got caught in the wrong gear and couldn't catch her after that.  As a show that I was in fact trying, I did catch a guy wearing the same shade of red, but realized as I was passing him that my brain must not be working so well - how does one mistake a 180lb male for a 125lb female even if they are wearing the same color?  I made it in under my goal time and even onto the first 'page' of 10 miler results - pleased with that.  Shea smoked everyone again with a strong ride on the new bike and was super-psyched.

Overall - yeah, I won.  That's where the 2 + 2 + 2 = 1 math comes in.  Three 2nd places, but I was the only one to finish the series.  Scored a jar of Heed and a new pair of gloves for my efforts yesterday.  Fun races - next time I resolve to bring my A-game for the rock gardens.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Not one of the cool kids...

I never was one of the cool kids. But this weekend, I'm still not. Over 600 (yes, 600!) people are racing cyclocross within 2 miles of my house, including some people who are sleeping here tonight, but I'm not one of them. I'm a bit sad - Charm City was my first cross race and I was immediately hooked. It's been a year - I know I'm still addicted but have to wait a week to join the 'in' crowd.

Tomorrow (Sunday), I'll be taking the Superfly out for a little spin that we'll call the Michaux Terror of Teaberry. I'm racing the 10 miler still - if I finish, I'll be the only female to do so for all three races and therefore will win the series. A bit of a hollow victory if it happens, but I'm hoping for a good race. And really, I'm the only one who came back for more after the mud and rain soaked fest that was Michaux Maximus this year - I probably deserve it just for finishing that one.

Anyway, we pre-rode there a couple weeks ago, so I have a good idea (barring mechanicals) of a goal time. No, I'm not telling. Sometimes, I just don't want to broadcast my failures. Or my own mental sandbagging by setting goals that are too easily achievable.

Speaking of goals - I'm having trouble setting some for cross. I know I'm a ton more fit than I was last year going into the season and my skills are way better. I've even mostly deleted the double-hop from my remounts - last year I barely even had a remount. But where to set my season goals?

I'm planning to race the local series, which has a Cat 4 only women's field. Can I make it consistently into the top 10?  Do I shoot for the earned upgrade to Cat 3? Then I'd have to race with the big girls next year... will I be ready for that if I do? Will I even want to? Does that mean I'll have to take this bike racing thing more seriously - like, get a proper training plan and such? Is it even realistic to think that I can podium in a reasonable field of Cat 4 women on a good day? I'd like to think so, and hot laps at practice the other night with some other Cat 4's were encouraging, but I tend to think they were not pushing as hard as I was. So in all this nebulousness, I'm forced to be patient. I won't know a reasonable goal until I go out and have a decent race. Or two. Or three. I'm not good at patience...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Time trialin' to a personal best... barely.

Tonight was the last evening informal time trial of the season, and, under perfect weather with just a light breeze, Shea and I were the only riders to show. Ah well... it's like everyone is getting ready for cyclocross already or something? Regardless, I needed a hard workout with hills and wanted to take advantage of the chance to gauge my fitness compared to earlier in the year. Thankfully, Mojo, who organizes these things, was willing to sit around and wait with his stopwatch.

I knew by looking at my watch that I was making pretty good time, and at some point knew that I was doing a good job on pushing the pain override button when I stopped being able to calculate my finish time if I rode the rest the way I'd ridden the first part. For example, given a 14 mile course, 3.67 = 1/4, so I was looking at my watch and multiplying by 4. Yeah, clearly too much oxygen on the right (or is it left?!) side of my brain. That didn't stick.

Shea passed me somewhere around mile 5 and I kept him in sight up the next hill before losing him again. He was riding comfortably, which was great to see.

By the end, my legs were cooked. I rode hard to the finish line and beat my previous best by a whole 8 seconds. Ah, well, that one was a good ride too.

My times over the summer:
6/23 - 53:40
7/7 - 52:46
7/21 - 52:17
8/4 - 54:16
9/15 - 52:09

Just barely missed the 52 minute mark tonight. arg. I can truly compare these times - I rode 'em all on my cross bike with cheap road wheels. The only change has been a new compact crankset with lower gearing for cross... not sure this helped me tonight, but expect that I'll be enjoying it on the grass at cross practice tomorrow.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Catching up, playing hard

Seems like it's been a while since I've blogged and I guess it has. I can't seem to keep up with writing about all the awesome end of summer riding that we've been doing. So this is going up with no pictures, links or anything useful. Briefly:

Terroring the Teaberry - last weekend - pre-ride of Michaux Terror of Teaberry course. This was a blast for me. The group was huge (think 50?!), split quickly and I eventually got dropped back to where I needed to be for the first ~12 miles. Great tight single track, rocky fireroad descents, reasonable climbs. Very fun. We regrouped in the parking area and went out with a smaller group to ride the next 12 or so miles. This time, it was mostly LSV guys led by Kent and Jes from Gettysburg Bikes. Last year, my first ride with LSV guys was about this time and I got dropped so far off the back that Bernie came back looking for me. This time, I got dropped, but never more than by a minute or two. Thankfully and unfortunately, a few of the guys flatted, so I even got a couple of chances to breathe. Fun. Quite a bit of hike-a-biking on the ridge trail, but fun. Afterwards, we bonded all campfire like over beers and zucchini muffins. I'll look forward to racing the 25 miler next year. For now, the last race of my mountain biking season is next weekend on the first 12 miles.

Singlespeeding it (intentionally) - when I got the Superfly, I planned to convert my Cannondale 26er with a headshock to a singlespeed for training (especially when riding with newbies) and mucky days. Last week we finally got it put together (Surly singleator, geared at 32x18) and took it out Monday night to our local haunt. Shea wanted to test ride my Superfly properly anyway... beautiful Loch Raven ride and I really think my Cannondale and Superfly handle pretty similarly, so I wasn't totally screwed by having smaller wheels. Except the part where I went to jump a curb on my way out of the parking area and had the timing a bit off for my rear wheel. Luckily, I was running pretty high pressure, so twas embarrassing but at least we didn't have to change a flat.

Crossing the red line - last week we dropped over to cross practice at Druid hill. Where the grass is tall and the acorns are aplenty. I properly crashed on a remount in front of Kris, who was leading practice. Mounting onto back wheel = bad. No double hop before doing so = progress. Hot laps were tough on me. The run-up was sapping all my limited strength and speed - I really need to start doing some consistent running or at least a few running hill intervals. The guys set it up so that the downhill off of the run-up/barriers had a nice wheel-sized hole in it. I nearly lost my late lunch a few times. We rode until it was nearly very dark - good workout, but I have a feeling that first cross race is going to kick my butt in a mere 13 days...

In lieu of an enduro race - I seriously considered heading down to Poor Farm to race a 5 hour lap race yesterday. But decided not to when some smart teammate pointed out that, in fact, I'll be racing almost every weekend between now and ski season. Instead, I assembled a small group of 6 crazy souls and headed out to Frederick for some rockin' and a rollin'. After about 8 miles on rocky, rolling doubletrack, we looped back toward the car and found some singletrack so sweet that several times it was noted, "I don't care how we have to get outta here, this is awesome". I rode some features I didn't think I had in me - and dabbed on a bunch more. Big ramped logs, big rocks, little logs, rock gardens galore. I did manage a header over a small log and a near face into stick/ditch event. Sense of direction was good, and we were generally heading toward the car, but after finally finding the road, talking to a stoned driver who said, yeah, 'that's a gravel road', we started a seemingly interminable climb on said gravel road. Mike, who was riding away on his Singlespeed Niner, claimed "it's a good way to spin out the legs"... I was thinking I was just throwing a bunch of lactic acid into them. And in fact, I was - I'm sore today despite some of the Luna recovery stuff, watermelon, and beer. So, I didn't do an enduro race of 5 hours on smooth trails - instead I rode 5 hours with friends on a gorgeous day, getting lost in the rock gardens. It was a near-epic ride and fabulous revitalization... gotta love it when I get to use the fitness I've got to enjoy the stuff I didn't think I could even ride let alone dig.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Happy trails near Deep Creek Lake, MD

Last weekend, we made it a long weekend, and we rode 5 days in a row in Western Maryland. Thus, this is also a long blog entry. The good, bad and ugly.

The great: Davis, WV race loop.

A mere hour from Deep Creek is the West Virginia State Championships race loop - 18 miles give or take of pristine single track on private land with a trail head pretty much in the town. We stopped by Blackwater Bikes and asked the skinny guy, Van, where his favorite riding is nearby. He sent us away with a free map, lots of notes about where the colored blazes change, and awesome beta about how to make it through the area they are currently logging. He also sent us to Hypno Coffee - we liked it enough to buy a freshly roasted pound of espresso blend. At the trailhead, we contemplated whether to take the dogs or leave 'em in the car - it was low 60s, but totally remote with the possibility of a shorter loop if they got tired, so we decided to bring 'em along.

Really great riding - true single track, seriously well built for bikes. With all the instruction about where to go, we only mis-navigated once, winding up traversing a quarter mile or so of bog cleared for pimpeline access. Like occasionally sink up to your rear hub bog. Yuck. It connected back to the main trail, though, so we were all good. From dry singletrack through grassy meadows to the 'famous' moon rock section (think large rock slabs with pits, pockets, and gorges the width of a tire - I walked a bit), switchbacked climbing on loam, and a kick your arms into submission rock garden laden downhill, this loop had it all. Loved it. We'll be back. I didn't have to holler "Honey, we dropped the dogs!" until about Mile 16. It was great to have the furry monsters along. Allie found the bogs much more fun than I did...

The pretty frickin' good: Margraff Plantation Trails, Accident, MD.

At Deep Creek, we visited the 'bike shop', which also sells kayaks, waterskis, snowboards and all things sport related for a recreational mountain lake. And a few bikes. The guys there sent us to Margraff, which I had read about online and wanted to try. "A bit overgrown" was the warning. Really, it was actually only overgrown if you go the wrong way into the bramble bushes, walking your bike ahead of you to stay skinny, emerging with itchy scratchies all over. This loop, which is only 7 miles, absolutely rocked. I noted to Shea that it really felt like we spent a lot of time going downhill but not much going uphill. That's a testament to how well laid out the uphills must be. I wish they ran a race there.

My notes on Margraff: directions online were a bit confusing. Turn left at the sign that says "Margraff Plantation" and park in the lot there. Directly behind the car is the easiest singletrack to find. Turn right the first intersection and ride the loop counter clockwise. There are a few places here where it's good to keep sharp eyes out for white blazes on the trees - for instance (in order as I remember them) climb a hill, come out in a meadow with a gas well, and grab the trail behind the gas well on the left. Get back to the main set of intersections where the trail forms a figure 8 and stay right. After climbing on singletrack, cross the gravel road and look left at the edge of where it (might be) mowed for the trail, which is an awesome loamy section with a pretty fun log pile that is bigger than I normally ride, but I got it. Fun! Shea even found some jumps.

Just after those, instead of dropping further down the hill to the right (into the brambles), stay left and emerge in a field. Cross the dirt road, stay left of that gas well and near the tree line to find the single track hidden in the weeds. Another fun downhill and a climb to the car for a refill of the water bottles and another lap. Unless you have the dogs with you - apparently fat city dogs do not become fast trail dogs overnight.

The not-as-good: Green Ridge Park, Flintstone, MD.

The MD state champs were held here many years ago and the guidebook suggested it was on the 12 mile loop that's 'impossible to get lost on'. That was mostly true except for one spot where local kids might've stolen the sign - we eventually figured out to cross the road and start up the road where I spotted a single mtn bike sign in the woods on the left less than a hundred or so yards from where we hit the road in the first place. Anyway, I wanted to like this place. It's like 3 miles off of Interstate 68 on the way home. But the uphills were aplenty and downhills mostly on doubletrack without much technical or twisty fun. A bit rocky, sure, and eventually we came upon a few really nicely built bridges that seemed a bit out of place - super well-maintained parts among a bunch of washed up old fire roads. Sort of unsatisfying.

The really so-not-worth it: Adventure Sports Center, McHenry, MD (above Wisp).

Newer trails - a hand-drawn map at the trailhead should've been our first clue. Mostly used as a place to teach climbing, there is one small singletrack loop (think 1-2 miles, max) with a fun little downhill, but not much else.

The also not-worth-it: New Germany State Park, Grantsville, MD.

Beautiful park for camping, hiking with family, and swimming/fishing in the reservoir. No dogs allowed. Only a few miles of narrow trail, probably lots of flat, untechnical double track based on the map.

Fun times in the mountains...

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Shea and I went to a favorite place of mine this past weekend - Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, for a much needed long weekend of R&R&R. That's not a typo - Rest, Relaxing, and Riding! As a kid, my family had a cottage and ski boats there (yes, I was a competitive waterskier long before I slid on frozen water) and my institute maintains a secluded lodge there for use of all of its employees and fellows (that's me!).

Riding - we went away for 5 days and rode 5 days of it. We hadn't exactly planned on a lot of trail time, but the weather was perfect, my bike has new pieces of drive train (thanks to Gettysburg Bikes, you guys continue to rock!), and Western Maryland is remote enough to bring the four-legged friends Allie and Gideon along for a few of the rides. As I'm currently in catching up at work and laundry^3 mode, the details and photo uploads will have to wait. But by the end of the weekend, I'll share my thoughts on the briar patches Garrett County, awesome riding in Davis, WV ("honey, wait up, we dropped the dogs!"), and a less than favorite loop a few miles off the path toward home. Look forward to a few trail reviews (if I put 'em here, I won't lose them myself!).

Rest - yes, now that I'm 30, I can in fact still sleep more than 10 hours a night several nights in a row.

Relaxing - I highly recommend the little fire starter logs that you can buy at Lowe's instead of paper if you're starting a wood fire on a warm evening in a finicky fireplace with wetter-than-it-should-be wood. By round 4 on the fires, we had this nugget figured out. I also recommend steering away from "The Silver Tree" restaurant - a place that holds fond childhood memories of lasagna, whipped butter in fancy dishes, and 15cent ice cream parfaits for dessert. They reopened under new ownership this week and it's the first time in a long time that I actually sent my food back. It was that bad. The ice cream, brownies, and other assorted goodies (gotta love Candyland in Oakland) and oh yeah, wine and beer that we devoured over the weekend somehow haven't yet made it to my waistline - perhaps it was all the riding?

Recovering from R^3 with science - eh, how about some margaritas instead?