Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bear Brook Blastoff Race Report

I've heard a fair amount of hype about this race, so with a yawning chasm of four non-Root 66 weekends to navigate, I decided to head up to Manchester and see what the fuss was all about.

In retrospect, the 1-hour drive explains the popularity -- people will give you all kinds of silly reasons for why some events are big basically it goes like this: turnout = proximity to major cities - competing events. Nothing else was going on and Concord, Manchester and Boston were all nearby. The place was packed. Word on the street was over 300 racers.

The trails ultimately failed to live up to the hype, at least for this technical specialist. It was basically the same type of course as the Fat Tire Classic, albeit with a bit more singletrack and a much longer loop, but still just zero-recovery big ring blasting for 90% of the lap. There was lots of fast and smooth singletrack, which looked pretty but wasn't any more technically demanding than the wide open doubletrack. Probably more fun to ride in a non-race situation, actually.

Still though, close to Boston, I'll do it next year. Can't beat the short drive.

I ended up racing the "Expert Senior II" category (yes, EFTA splits seniors into two categories for some silly reason) because they had been threatening a 39 mile Elite race and my knee has made it abundantly clear this week that 3 hours of race pace is still a bad idea. 'Twas a serious turnout with somewhere around 20 dudes taking the line, including Kevin who ended up in the same category as me for a change thanks to the different age group.

Predictably we went scorching off the line and my zero-warmup plan was immediately painful. Kevin and an NEBC guy went off the front and I was sucking dust and lactic acid back in sixth or so. In retrospect, some spinning on the road would have been smarter than wasting twenty minutes to put on some hot pink OURY grips:


On the plus side every time I looked down at my bars I was like, "awww, they look pretty!"

Kevin's domination came swiftly to an end when he separated his Eggbeater pedal body from the spindle and ended his day after only two miles (ASK ME HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE EGGBEATER'S DURABILITY, I DARE YOU). So that was a nice ill-deserved place. Unfortunately I was still redlined (hopefully just like the guys around me) so I could do nothing but progress steadily toward exploding, as recovery sections were nonexistant.

Eventually I caught the NEBC guy, who heckled me for not running the seat cam, and we picked up two more guys to become a sweet four-man, 20-mph, singletrack-smoking train. As you might imagine trying to stay a foot off someone's wheel in singletrack leads to some excitement, and it only got more "exciting" when the lead Vet racer caught us and started trying to get through the line. Somehow it all sorted out without a crash (although plenty of feet were put down) and I ended up on the front of the group after the Vet guy got away and used my race smarts to pull everyone as hard as I could for five minutes.

Then I got tired, another Vet racer came by, and the dude who had been on my wheel jumped across to him and was never seen again. Whoops.

At the end of the lap I finally found the one legitimate mountain biking section on the course and went careening from rock to tree to rock down it, getting repeatedly bailed out by my super-hot, brand new Trek 9.8 (available now at IBC! Yes, that was a sponsor plug! But the bike is awesome!).

At the bottom, back on the double track, I had a chat with Derek Brinkerhoff (sp?) about our ages, he was like "I'm 23, I'm not in your category," and I was like "oh yeah, my racing age is 27 now" and then John Mosher comes screaming by us and says "and I'm 48!"

That's when we realized we were not actually that good at racing bikes.

The second lap was actually where the course grew on me, because all I remembered was suffering on double track from lap one, so every singletrack section was like a Christmas present I forgot to open. On one of these sections I found Dylan M, who had gone over the bars and "hit a tree at 20mph" and "maybe bruised his heart." He went to hospital and was fine, so now I can say HAHA DYLAN CRASHED HIMSELF OUT, WHAT A ROADIE!

Right.

The other awesome thing about lap two is that EFTA runs the sport and novice riders behind the experts, so you lap the everloving crap out of them. It's impossible to be too down about how your race is going when you're literally passing people at double their speed, and they are cheering for you like you're Adam Craig and not just some moderately good local expert racer. At one point I was chasing after one of the Vets who passed me earlier and three novice riders stopped, got off the trail, and then cheered "yeah, get him!" as I roared past. I rewarded them by going totally anaerobic up the hill, closing the gap, and detonating once out of sight. It was glorious.

I spent the whole lap chasing the Vet (Brian Currier) and finally closed the gap coming down the legitimate mountain bike trail at the end of the lap. I got onto his wheel just in time for the stairs and I was giving him zero space, so when he endo'ed there was nothing I could do but grab a ton of front brake and endo as well. We picked ourselves up to the amusement of the crowd, ran down the stairs and then hammered stupid-fast for ten more minutes to the finish.

Brian started one minute behind me so there was no reason to sprint it out, which is the perfect scenario for me to win a sprint! Off the last turn he put in a cursory sprint effort, but I went for the full-blown "sprinting like my life depends upon it" approach and beat him to the line by a fair margin... for no good reason.

Finished up with 3rd in my category and some elusive bragging rights over Hill Junkie (who admittedly had done the Waterville Valley TT Saturday), so I was stoked to be that respectable on such a roadie-friendly course.

I did my best to get in Linnea's way but she still won the Elite Women's category.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Coyote Hill Race Report

It was pretty exciting to see how many people told me to take it easy on my knee in last week's comments. It's almost like quite a few people read this thing and most of them aren't trying to actively sabotage me. Meg excepted, of course.

Unfortunately for you guys, my knee was feeling super after a modest week of riding. There was even a doctor involved at one point, who jabbed my kneecap in various ways hoping to make me wince in pain, and he totally failed. So I was good to go for Coyote Hill, which is a good deal, because it's the best course on the Root 66 circuit.

Also contributing to my enthusiasm was the new bike. I finally gave up my dreams of getting a Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SSL when I realized that they made exactly one of those bikes this spring (and destroyed it after taking pictures), so if I wanted to get a proper race bike before September I'd have to "compromise" with the 9.8. Woe is me, with my 24 lb XT-equipped dualie. How can I possibly compete with this?? XT is for peons.

I broke the new bike in by throwing it on a trunk rack (the horror) on Kevin's car and watching it rock violently around as Kevin tried to find the secret parking lot at Coyote Hill, that was surely up this hill, behind this collection of massive water bars. Of course Kevin's bike was in the trunk so my wailing did not slow him down.

At some point we actually raced bikes, it was on the same old sweet Coyote Hill course, now made twice as sweet by a morning thunderstorm. The defining feature is the 4 or 5 miles of singletrack each lap, but the part that makes me really hurt is that you have to climb a couple hundred feet from the start line to the entrance of said singletrack -- so unless you like look at roadie butts on the downhill, you kinda have to sprint for four minutes when the race starts.

We had somewhere around 15 guys on the line, and I whimsically went with a near reverse-holeshot start. Then I remembered that I wanted to do well, so I needed to move up, at the exact time we went through some grassy switchback things on the climb. My brain was like "whoa this looks like a cross race" and then it was like "I can totally hurt more than this" so I locked the fork out and went cross-holeshot nuts on the field for a little bit, picking up around ten places, but then we got onto the dirt road and there was no twisty section to let me recover, just another two minutes of uphill hammer time. Oh, right. I knew that. I kept the HR and legs well past "sustainable" but still dropped several places on the rest of the climb to guys that really really really wanted the holeshot. I finally made it to the top in around seventh, on the verge of puking and hoping everyone else felt the same way.

The lead group of six was predictably slower descending wheel-to-wheel than I was in the open, so I gapped back to them pretty easily, easily enough I was like "what the hell was I sprinting up that hill back there for?" Unknown to me, the eventual winner Tom Sampson had already ridden away on the downhill so I was actually in the 2nd-place group.

Part of what makes Coyote Hill awesome is that the singletrack is hard, it's not fast and smooth, so you can make passes if you're patient, just sit on the wheel and wait for the bobble (unless you bobble first) and then make a questionable pass or get all "RIDER!! RIDER!!" angry at someone who has to get off and run. I think I got through most of the field without resorting to the "RIDER" call, either way I was up to a pretty respectable position near the end of the lap, highlighted by passing Greg Whitney when he either made a nice save, or just decided to ride into the woods for the challenge.

Climbing back up to the start/finish I noticed that my back hurt a lot, probably because my man-region was feeling a little cramped. This is not a joke about my giant descending balls, but rather an observation that the seat angle on my new bike was a bit too "relaxed," fine for casual riding and totally not-fine for racing. Let's pretend for the rest of this post that everything bad was due to a seat angle that was off by three (or even four!!) degrees.

So Greg was mean enough to come smoking past me on the dirt road climb on lap two, passing with enough authority to make me wonder "how was I ever in front of you??" I drowned my sorrows with a gel and watched him take a 15 second cushion into the singletrack.

Luckily he over-enthusiastically tailgaited a pro (omg, we're like, passing pros) and they both went down in a mudhole, which let me come through and concentrate on riding singletrack as hard as I possibly could (since I was obviously losing minutes against Greg on the climb). The gap opened up but I noticed I was starting to cramp, which is wicked lame since we were just hitting the 1 hour mark. Like I said, I'm blaming the seat angle.

Starting lap three I gave it everything I had on the dirt road (still not enough to stay ahead of Kevin "stars-and-stripes" Hines), pushing my legs 'til cramping, I was sure everything was gonna be fine until I checked behind me at the top and holy crap Greg is back. My legs weren't even having a bad day. Must be the seat angle eating up all my watts.

Well, all I needed was to hold it together for 5 more miles on singletrack, which seemed pretty doable, except that my left calf was threatening to cramp every time I torqued up a hill, aka "every five seconds" when you're climbing lumpy singletrack. I was getting pretty worried so I decided to skip riding one of the mud climbs, passed Cathy R, went to remount, and on the first pedal stroke my calf LOCKED UP.

Now I've heard people talk about "oh boohoo I had cramps and my leg like, totally locked up," and I thought that they meant that thing when your muscle freezes and you have to stretch it, or something, and it hurts a lot. Well, I was wrong, because my calf tried to turn into a pretzel when I got on my bike and the only thing I could do about it was topple over, half under my bike, while screaming as loud as I could like I was being murdered. I think half of the field heard me, and it wasn't even a conscious thing, the pain skipped right from my legs to my mouth and I ended up lying on the ground yelling.

Cathy gave me a little pep talk (probably because I was on the ground, in her way), I think she said "you can do it," but I was not convinced. I delicately walked the rest of the climbing section, eating a gel while I did it, and trying not to panic about losing places.

Turns out that your calves are pretty active descending, too, so the rest of the lap was spent fighting with my leg and wondering if I was going to end up screaming underneath my bike again. Ironically, if I'd actually gotten a Trek 9.9 (with its 2x9 drivetrain) I would have been totally screwed, because the only way I could go anywhere uphill was to spin the granny ring super fast. I made most of the climb back to the finish line in my easiest gear (22x32 baby!) doing the every-pedal-stroke-wheelie when it got steep. Greg was nowhere to be seen in the field at the end so I softpedaled in with Linnea screaming at me to try harder. She raced Tremblant the day before, which was nice for her, but based on the abuse I got for mailing in the last two minutes I'd prefer her to be on the course with me in the future.

Worst of all, turns out she was right to yell because effing Kevin ended up finishing 3:57 behind me, which beats my time by three seconds.

On the plus side I did pull off 2nd place and then go ride four hours at the Kingdom with Linnea and Alex the next day, on the down side all this racing and riding and bad seat angles put my knee back to "questionable" status when the weekend was over.

(Pokes at kneecap, sighs wistfully)

You don't want to know how many times it took to get a decent synchronized-log-ride picture.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Winsted Woods Race Report

After getting it handed to me at Sunapee on Saturday, the obvious next step was to take my trashed pride back to the dirt, a.k.a "the sport I actually try at." I've seen the road/mtb double done with much success by guys like Mike Rowell and Jonny Bold, and I've also seen Cary do it with... less success. Unfortunately my fitness is much closer to Cary's than Mike's and Jonny's, so I had an idea about how this might go.

My legs felt like crap in the morning, and 2.5 hours in a car did not miraculously jump start them. I decided that today would be best dealt with via the "complain loudly before the start about how you raced yesterday" approach. Then I got the reverse holeshot, for good measure.

The start gets narrow and technical fast, and the "luxury" of being DFL allowed me to back off from the main pack a bit on the first technical climb and wait for the predictable bottleneck when someone dabbed. Sure enough, no less than six guys were soon off and running on the steepest part as I pedaled merrily through them into the thick of the race. Unfortunately, it was the last awesome thing I was going to do all day.

I hammered down the opening descent and ended up climbing the next hill behind Eric and Keith. I was ahead of both of them at the Fat Tire Classic so I figured I would just hang out behind them until their legs felt as tired as mine did already, and then beat them with experience.

No, wait, that's not going to work at all. Crap.

Winsted is a technical course, but it's a lot of uphill technical, the kind of thing that requires serious legs in addition to bike handling. I kept entertaining the idea of closing the gap on the downhill until I made the mistake of doing a time check, and it turns out that when you're crawling up a rocky hill you can see people who are a solid 30 seconds ahead of you.

So that was the end of that. Greg (who has beaten me by one place in each race thus far...the bastard) came smoking past shortly thereafter along with Jeff in tow, and they also put a good 30 seconds into me by the top of the climb. It was here that I began the inevitable negative inner monologue, which I will spare you the details of.

Oddly enough Greg cracked soon after (although Jeff was never seen again) and I was riding with him near the end of lap one, thinking that maybe the day was salvageable, when my new teammate and apparent rock star Kevin Sweeney rolled up behind us and asked "what's going on??"

That's what I wanted to know, as he had just taken four minutes out of me in less than a lap. Either I was sucking or he was on fire. Turns out, it was both!

Kevin was kind enough to go running over the bars on the descent that ends the lap, so I got back ahead of him for the all-important face-saving trip through the finish line. Predictably he came flying past on the next climb -- but unpredictably I caught him soon after, when he flatted.

Despite a four minute handicap and a flat tire, he still caught me in less than two laps and completely slayed his category. Someone get this man an ebay auction.

Meanwhile, I was sucking big time on lap two, and noticing that my knee was hurting pretty solidly. With that added bit of self-doubt - "is the adrenaline covering up some serious damage?" the writing was on the wall. Dropping out started to seem like a great idea. Plus, I hadn't seen a heart rate over 174 all day (usually that would be my LT), so I figured any coach would advise you to pull the plug when you can't get above LT. Er, almost any coach.

I ended the lap by burping my stupid new Bontrager Mud X tire (loosest tubeless tire... evar) and getting passed by Cary (and passed by Kevin for the third time today). I decided to do the right thing and chase like hell, pass Cary on the downhill, and then drop out.

The plan worked out, Cary crashed, and I talked trash on the way past -- it was actually so much fun that I came within a few pedal strokes of heading back out for lap three. Oddly enough, the thought of riding two more laps fretting about a softening rear tire was what pushed me over the edge. I turned around and headed back to the car.

Even though I personally stunk the joint up, I realized it was still a good day, because I got to ride bikes downhill as fast as I could, I got to see Cary and Kevin crash, I got to make fun of Tim Johnson's broken shoes, and I got to hang out with everyone else whom I like from the mountain bike scene. I'd name more names, but 1) I'd inevitably leave someone out, and 2) that's too openly sentimental for this blog.

Anyway. Racing was still better than not racing - don't think I've learned my lesson. See you at Coyote Hill in five days, where I. will. suck. less!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lake Sunapee Race Report

Note: I can't believe how many words I just wrote about this stupid race.


I hadn't raced in three weeks and I had nearly crippled myself due to boredom. There was a mountain bike race on Sunday, but I just couldn't hold out another 24 hours, certainly not when my buddy Justin was going to make his road racing debut up at Sunapee. An easy decision! Throw the cross bike in the car and go beat on the cat 5 field for 46 miles, because I'm a cat 2 cross rider and 2 is a much smaller number than 5. I just had to bang my head against the wall for five minutes first, to forget how badly my last foray into road racing went.

Unlike Hilltowns, Sunapee doesn't have any field-shattering climbs, so I figured I would get to hang out in traffic for a solid two hours, which is the kind of experience that rates somewhere between "good for me" and "unnecessarily risky." Whatever, I like to keep my collarbone on its toes.

The day ended up being a lot windier than I expected, which really put a damper on my plan of attacking a bunch. I already was handicapped by weighing 145 lbs and having a 46x11, combine that with a headwind and I was going to get totally overrun by the field on basically any serious downhill. Crap.

I had the super-original plan of "hanging out" for a lap and then "doing stuff" on lap two. Amazingly ever other person in the race had the same plan so we rolled out S-L-O-W. One guy accidentally rode off the front, it was that slow.

Obviously my raging ADHD could not handle this. After four miles or so we hit the first actual climb and I decided to do some stuff. So I got on the front and hammered up this hill, which was enough to shell absolutely no one, but it did get my heart rate waaaay up. Perceived effort was high also. Watts were low. I didn't have a fun tap, but if I'd had one it would have been showing a giant thumbs-down about how my legs were feeling today. The fun was nowhere to be found.

I convinced myself that I was just trying to "open them up," oh yeah, they'll probably be feeling great in an hour. Totally.

Nothing happened for a while after that. We had a contest to see who could take the laziest turn on the front on most flats. Then we'd randomly drill it up the hills, but since everyone had been resting for the last five minutes this did absolutely nothing.

Somewhere on the backside of the lake we were going up this long false flat, and I was getting bored and also feeling kind of emo about my legs and their craptitude. I realized that my plan of attacking on lap two wasn't going to work, because by then everyone would be feeling jumpy, and each little acceleration over a climb made me less and less interested in riding in the wind. I figured I better attack before I lose my nerve, so I clicked down a few gears and jumped out of the field. Someone said "heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy-o" as I went shooting up the yellow line, a phrase which doesn't exactly convey panic. About ten seconds into it I confirmed that it was a bad idea, but hey, screw it, maybe some strong people will come after me and we can do some stuff for a bit.

Apparently Rob from Cambridge Bikes made an attempt, but I was too dumb to look back and figure out that I might've had some help if I waited, so I just kept riding stedily away... until we hit a long downhill and my fledgling gap got pretty much destroyed along with my morale. I had just enough time to decide to sit up and reintegrate with the field as we hit the steepest climb on the course... ooh, this hurts. Road racing hurts. I am not doing that again.

Everyone else learned from my example, so we went back to our softpedaling contest for the rest of the lap. We were rewarded for our efforts with being overtaken by the Cat 5 35+ field, which is when the sketchiness started. First their pace car went flying past us honking, which would have been a good time for our lead car to neutralize us, but instead it just fell in behind the 35+ pace car and kept going 20+ mph. The guys on the front were stupid-ass cat 5's (just like the rest of us in back) so they didn't figure out that we were getting passed, so they kept us all the way across the road, which led to the entire 35+ field yellow-line-violating while slowly riding past us and yelling at us to move over. Which we did not do. I have no idea why.

Our lead car continued to hang out in front of their field, and as the fields started separating a bunch of our guys decided to stay with them. The rest of us fell back, then we realized that at least five guys from our field were now up the road, so we started chasing down the 35+ field again (only 15 seconds ahead of us). At this point their follow truck tried to come through, except we closed the door on it, so it started screaming at us while nearly hitting a car head-on. I was super stoked on road racing at this point.

Finally our lead car filtered back through their field, and then they decided to stop everyone anyway and sort it out manually. So we stood around on the side of the road, the fields got sorted out, and then we restarted about a minute behind them. At this point it was safe to say that everyone from both fields had been un-shelled.

Now that we had been passed and taken a nature break, everyone seemed much more interested in racing bikes. Everyone except my legs, of course. Four guys got away over the first big climb, and we all panicked at the four fastest climbers going away, so the chase picked up. We caught them and then some UNH kid made a random counterattack from like 20 wheels back that went all of five seconds up the road by the time he ran outta burst.

The end result of this "racing" business was that we were now back in sight of the 5 35+ field and our pace car was being held up by their following traffic. So this half-neutralized us for the next few miles, until we turned off the main road and the traffic cleared up.

On the rollers on the backside of the lake everyone was tired enough, and excited enough, that there was lots of little gaps opening and closing over the tops of the hills. Twice I went after someone only to realize that I could only sit on when I got up there, which led to them sitting up and us getting reabsorbed quickly. Whoops. Er, I mean, I was totally covering those moves for my teammate.

On the last big climb one guy finally got a real gap and set off down the hill solo. The road was littered with Cat 5 35+ victims at this point, who were all convinced that they needed to come sit in the front of our pack. At one point the chase was being driven by a 35+ guy for several minutes. I do not know why.

The upside of all this was that we picked up our solo attacker near the turn onto 103, but the downside was that we were now 30 seconds behind the 35+ field, tops, with multiple 35+ guys chilling in the front half of our group and more of them dangling in no mans land. People were getting more and more chippy about it, and suddenly I realized I wanted nothing to do with the upcoming sprint.

So I attacked.

My quad cramped right away, confirming my suspicion that this was absolutely not going to work. Whatever, it gives me an excuse to not contest the sprint and avoid hitting the rotary with a bunch of aggro cat 5s. Once again the field mocked me as I left, not that I can blame them.

Sadly I didn't even count the number of climbs left correctly, so instead of dying a glorious death on the Sunapee access road I got caught right before the rotary and ended up exactly where I was trying to avoid. It actually wasn't that sketchy, save for Justin missing the first two traffic cones by an inch, I think I'll pretend that my attack stretched out the field and made it safe.

After sacrificing myself for their safety, I rolled casually up to the finish line like a proper roadie, where I alternated between being very annoyed at the whole experience and very interested in trying one of these again. Maybe next time I can make an attack stick... yeah. Next time!

Aw crap!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Inside the Mind of an Invalid Biker

"You're getting slower."

It started the third day after I wrecked my knee. It's still going strong today, and probably won't shut up until I lose my fear of pedaling more than twenty minutes at a time.

"You're getting slower."

The voice has no need to be reasonable. By the time you've reach this level of paranoia, quelling it with reality is utterly impossible. Who cares how many professional cyclists have managed to break collarbones, miss weeks of the season and come back to success -- the voice has me convinced that my mountain bike season is going up in flames, before my very eyes, as I sit here on my seventh straight day of doing nothing.

"You're getting slower."

My body is adjusting to the new, sedentary lifestyle of having a bad knee. I used to ride to work, now I take the subway. I used to need breakfast. Now I can eat nothing until 1 PM -- my metabolism's given up being ready to ride at a moment's notice. You don't burn many calories sitting at a desk, no matter how much coffee you drink or websites you program.

"You're getting slower."

The Gap Ride was this weekend. I drove the sag wagon. I watched other people train. It was great. The voice wouldn't shut up.

Tomorrow I'm gonna try riding again. Twenty minutes to work, twenty back. Easy as pie. Maybe if I focus on that, I can get the gnawing voice to JUST. SHUT. UP. for a bit.

Yeah.

24 hours to go. Just focus on that...

...

"What if it isn't better?"

Aw, fuck.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Wrecked My Knee/For The Dover TT

See, it's funny 'cuz it rhymes!

But it's not funny because it's true.

So last Thursday I had a little knee/handlebar incident. It was your typical knee-to-mtb-shifter impact, cause by dropping the chain under extreme torque and leaving me almost unable to stand for several minutes. But I was able to get back on the bike, suck it up, and eventually it "loosened up" enough to finish the ride. So I had a massive bruise/puncture wound on my kneecap, whatever.

Of course, the bruise hurt a bit whenever my knee moved, so all my epic weekend mileage had a bit of a dull pain to it. But it was dull, you see? I managed eight hours of moderate intensity with only minor discomfort. So we're good!

Then last night I headed down to the Dover TT because I need to get in some seriously non-fun above-LT work... and while the Dover TT doesn't involve a number on your back, there's still a third party with a stopwatch which is close enough to a race to get me AMPED. (WATTS!)

The ride down was kind of a drag because I forgot my food at home and was kind of bonking, plus my knee was feeling at least as bad as it had on the weekend despite 2 more days of rest. I was almost feeling bad enough to turn around and go home when I got to Dover, but then I ate a Clif Bar and saw some of the MRC dudes, and I realized I did want to throw down, after all.

The results of said throwing-down were not very good -- 17 seconds behind my best time from last year, which sounds good only if my goal was "be as fast as last year," which it definitely isn't. I was beaten by a new Goguen, though, which is exciting. The only aero thing he had was shoe covers... so I've got no excuses.

Post-race, I started a 20-mile trek back to Somerville, and as soon as the adrenaline wore off something was wrong with my knee. "Tempo" became "soft-pedaling" which became "standing and turning my hip to push my leg over the top" which finally turned into "one-legged drills." By the time I got home, I knew that my awesome weekend plans (Sterling 4/5 Race followed by THE GAP RIDE) were toast and if I wasn't patient I could be flushing much of the MTB season as well.

In retrospect, what the hell was I thinking?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Putting The Fun In Training

This has been a tough stretch. There were no mountain bike races this weekend, and none coming next weekend, plus some monstrously stupid mechanic'ing that has left my mountain bike unrideable anyway. You know what that means -- time to start road racing! Er, riding the road bike. Er... training.

My general M.O. is to ride a bit, race a lot, and get kinda fast. Thus far it's been totally effective, provided you call a career arc that falls far short of "professional" effective. But we've all got big dreams, and with two blank weekends and no mountain bike, it was a perfect time to do some big time training.

One problem, though, training sucks. Enduring extreme pain so you might be faster later? Come on. If there's no number on your back it doesn't count, no matter how much you write about it.

As a long time hater of training, I have been working hard on puttting the F-U-N back in training. This is not as easy as putting the FUN back in FUNdamental, or the FUN back in FUNky (or even the FUN back in FUNicular) -- most people's first attempt at putting the FUN in training end up with a big ole' F-U left over.

But, after a whole shit-ton of solo miles this weekend, I think I've figured it out. Here's how you make training FUN (fu-training?):

1) No loops. Ever. The second you start doing laps of something, a.k.a. "reps," aka "intervals," your body figures out that something totally sucky is going on and starts bargaining with your brain about quitting. It is not natural to ride your bike in circles (unless you have a number on). It might be "better training" to do the same hill/loop repeatedly, but if you were really about getting the best training wouldn't you just ride the trainer? No hills, no traffic, just a perfectly controlled workout of pure suck. You'd be the fastest sad person out there.

2) No VOMax intervals. Look, I realize that there's a training benefit to having your heart push your lungs out your throat, I really do. But you know what makes me not want to ride my bike? Hitting the top of Eastern Ave, nearly vomiting on my stem, and realizing that I have to endure that much pain four more times, for no obvious reason. I will happily go anaerobic when being chased by zombies or racing Cary, but those are the only two circumstances. Other than that, anaerobic is NO FUN.

3) Do LT/Cruise/Tempo intervals. So obviously you should be doing something out there on your single-loop ride, because you're a racer not a tourist, and it can't be some brutal VOMax shit, because that sucks. Step it down a notch to your lactate threshold or lower, and suddenly, training ROCKS. You still get a real benefit (any interval type that has a specific name in the Joe Friel-iverse is obviously UBER PRO) and unlike VOMax intervals it's a manageable sort of pain. You might stop after 10 minutes or whatever, but you know you coulda gone further, unlike a VOMax interval where you might actually combust if you don't let up when the clock hits 4:00. As an added bonus, you are f'in cookin' out on the road. Mr-Wobbly-Aero-Bars-triathlete is out there plunking away at 25 rpm and you smoke him, and depending on how easy the interval is you might even be able to nose-breathe on your way past to complete the humiliation. Damn! You rule! Training is fun!

I'm not even joking. Be careful not to do these with other people, though, because you might find out they can go a lot faster at LT than you can, which is NOT FUN. Hell, that's what races are for.

Alright, so now your training is totally fun, and as long as you race your face off on the weekends you can probably make up for the VOMax stuff you skipped. Nice.

But sometimes, you need a little extra motivation, like when it's raining and you can't be assured of smoking past lots of yellow windbreakers out there while you ride tempo. In this case, you might need to accept that training isn't going to be super-fun, and take the Nega-Coach approach: if you don't get out there and hammer, you are gonna get crushed (maggot!).

The actual Nega Coach site is too tongue in cheek to adequately terrify you into training, but luckily, other resources on the internet exist to fill that void.

If you've got a lot of time, I strongly recommend the Threshold Cycling Team Blog. Start clicking through random entries and you'll soon hit something that makes you realize how utterly screwed you are, like, say, Cat 4's doing harder weeks than you have ever done. In your life. In February.. Read further and you can probably find another post that details just how many kilojoules they make on a ride. I don't even have a kilojoule-ometer on my bike, and if I did, I bet I don't ride over 9000 kJ like those guys.

Seriously, next time you consider skipping a ride, go click around there. Or if you're really pressed for time, you can just hit up two adventures and realize that Cathy Rowell has ridden twice as far as you this year.

So there you have it -- everything you need for fear-driven, super-FUN training. Using these methods I was able to ride 135 miles this weekend, and put out WICKED HELLA joules -- and you can too!

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