Friday, September 26, 2008

The Rainy Season

I cherish my time that I get to train. I have a lot of demands on my time so the spots that are set aside for me to train are very important and I try to "honor" my committment to them. That means I sometimes get great days to ride my bike and other times, I get crap.

Today was a crap day.

I watched the Weather Channel to see if the rain was ever going to stop and as I drove home from work, I really dreaded riding and thought about maybe skipping it. Before I could talk myself out of it, I was on my bike and headed out of the neighborhood. I live in a new place now and the new neighbors still have a lot to learn about my strange obsessions. The old neighbors wouldn't think much about me riding down the street in the rain but a couple of looks I got from the new neighbors made me wonder if I was wearing shorts.

Ah, they'll learn in due time.

Riding in the rain isn't so bad. It's kind of liberating in a way. the hard part is that first blast of cold water up your formerly warm and dry asscrack. After that, It's really not that bad. Plus you get the satisfaction of knowing you are getting fitter while everyone else is sitting on the couch.
I am by no means perfect though. I'll probably have many moments of weakness as the weather gets more and more shitty and I am sure I'll bail or at least go to my indoor trainer to get my fitness fix but until then, I'll make the best of it.

I rode today until dark and although the rain wasn't too bad, it was steady the whole time. As I rode back into my neighborhood, one of my neighbors that I have known since I was a kid asked jokingly what the hell is wrong with me, are you on something? I pilfered an old Nike slogan I saw once and told him "I'm on my bike busting my ass!"

He just smiled and waved.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Benge's Revenge

I traded in my fat knobby tires for skinny, slick ones and my singlespeed for multiple gears for Benges Revenge. This is one race where I wouldn't attempt it on a singlespeed (in a race, training, maybe, but racing NO!)

Just like last weekend's race, I had no expectations in yesterday's race beyond the basic pain and suffering that I would normally expect from a race like this.

75 miles with a mountain top finish that not just steep but #$&%%@^ steep! I will be the first to tell you that this is not my ideal type of race. For those of you that know me or have read my stuff for awhile know that I have a love/hate thing with climbing. Yet I still challenge myself with lotsa climbing heavy events just 'coz.

I hate myself is one possible reason I torture myself like I do (The new NTMBA jerseys look cool huh?)

After registration, (did I mention it was cold?) I tooled around and chatted with friends and took pictures with adorable young fans.

My biggest fan. Too bad his hoodie was too small for me, I would have taken it!

The first 10 miles or so were mostly down to flat and slightly rolling. In short, I froze my ass off until we got to a climb big enough to get the blood flowing. My plan and the day's goals were to stay with the leaders to the base of Powell Valley Mtn (60-something miles into the race and the start of the real fireworks) and to stay near the front to be in a good position to react to any critical breaks. I wanted to finish in the top 20 and in less than 4 hours. It was working fine until about 1:20 into the race and a short steep climb made the first selection of the day. I got dropped but was able to bridge back up to what was now the chase group as a few riders slipped off the front. I didn't worry though. I was in good company with last years winner and a few heavy hitters in the pack. I felt like I was in the right place to be. We were flying, our pace was over 20mph and the small rollers were getting bigger and causing me trouble. I got dropped four more times in the next 15 miles and chased back on 3 times. In the process, buring fuel like a Saturn V rocket.

Where I got dropped for good was a 5ish mile long stairstep climb that is really tough because a group can maintain a lot of speed but if you are alone, you hate life. I caught one person but he was no help then I caught up with David Smith, a good friend and sometimes riding buddy. We were able to help each other to the penultimate climb at Powell Valley mtn. Even though we both were hurting pretty bad, we still managed to keep our average speed above 20mph all the way to the climb.

I lost touch with David when I had to stop to pee and rode the climb alone until the very top when the guy I passed earlier caught back up to me. That didn't figure into my plan at the moment but I didn't feel like a game of cat and mouse at the moment either. Two miles of flat led us to the final climb to Flag Rock (that verticle line at the end of the course profile above). My companion started the climb ahead of me but he didn't look too strong (come to think of it, neither did I) I passed him after about 3/4 mile and saw David ahead. I wanted to catch him but I didn't have anything left in my legs. After thinking about it, I wouldn't have passed him if I could because he did more work than I did down in the valley and I appreciated it.

I was really hurting and really happy when I saw the Flag Rock sign. There was finally some relief in the way of just a bit of flat before the finish line. I happened to look back and there was the guy that I dropped twice already and he was making a run to nip me at the line. After 75 miles and all that climbing, I had to sprint! Damn it hurt but I put in a few hard digs and finished him off.

I finished in 17th OA, 11th in age group and in 4:13, thirteen minutes shy of my pre-race goal. I was happy with that although I would have liked to have done better.

Gives me something to work on for next year.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fat Dogs Can't Climb

I have two dogs at home, Lucky and Porter. Lucky is slim, young, part Golden Retriever and part something else. Porter is old, big, a little on the chunky side but not really fat. We're not really sure what he is, he's just big. When they play, Lucky runs circles around him and there's little that he can do other than watch her run away a hope to catch her when she's not paying attention. He never gives up though.
I know how he feels. That's how I race bikes. I am not really fat, I'm just big. I have a body better suited to Prize Fighting (can't do that, I hate getting punched) than cycling but that hasn't stopped me from trying for 20 years now. I do have a few pounds I could lose - what 42 year old male doesn't? As a bike racer, I can make a lot of power and if I lived somwhere flat, I'd put a big-ass gear on my bike and do pretty well. Living in the mountains and racing in the mountains presents a whole list of difficulty for me though - well for everyone, I know. To quote R.E.M - Everybody Hurts.
I love climbing but climbing hates me. It is my biggest weakness and in every race I can remember, the climbs are where I could have done better and if only.......... sigh. It's frustrating.

In the race Saturday, I did ok on the climbs but ultimately if I had climbed just a small percent better, It would have made a difference in where I placed. Short, power climbs aren't a problem, long gradual climbs aren't too bad either. It's the long (1/2 mile+) steep ones that get me. It's the thorn in my side.
With that in mind, I will be doing Benge's Revenge Saturday ( a direct conflict with Bridge to Bridge - another evil climbfest that I'd love to do again) and I will be doing this one on the only remaining bike I have that has multiple gears. No, doing Benge's on a singlespeed and trying to be competitive would be tantamount to taking a slingshot to a gun fight. It just won't fly. There's everything from long flat to rolling sections where cruising speeds will reach 30mph+ to the final climb up to the finish at Flag Rock where the average grade is 11% and it gets STEEEEPER!

Sure, I'm not gonna scare anyone off with my entry into the race but I'll give it my best and it can only help me be better.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

There's Rocks In Them Thar Hills

I had no expectations for the Iron Mountain Bike Race held today in Damascus Va, I basically went for fun and to train for the upcoming Cyclocross series. I had heard stories of how fun this race is and how well racers are treated vis a vis food and tasty adult beverage after the race I was happy to be able to go. Plus it got my mind off all the batshit wild lunacy that was going on in the world today. I met up with Bob, Anet,Ian and Wes Lamberson and soon it was time to go.

We (all 35ish of us)were shuttled out of town to the start a few miles up in the Mount Rogers National Forest at Beartree Campground. The stats of the course included 3 miles of FLAT pavement to start, 1ish mile singletrack climb to the Iron Mountain trail that rolls over and through some nasty rock gardens for 5 or so miles and then another 5 miles that includes a 1200 foot descent of Mock Holler.
We went off hard thanks in part to Bob's son Wes and 3 miles of basically flat on a singlespeed really is tough. I tucked in behind Bob and we did our best attempt at a paceline until the dirt came. I was sooo happy when we hit the Lum Trail and some climbing. I didn't know who might be right behind us, I knew there was about 6 in front of us so I just tried to set a really hard pace to hopefully make it a race with just us and nobody else. The short answer is it worked, only one person caught me - Casey, (one of the locals and a co-promoter of the race) more on that later. Right now, I was really hurting but happy that we had a nice gap and I could try to recover some. The trail was really rocky and several people got nailed with flats. I passed at least two with flats and was feeling pretty good. I dinged my rear rim and was losing air but it never went totally flat. Did I mention it was rocky? It is every bit as tough as anything I have ridden in Pisgah and a long race up there would hurt.
But this wasn't a long race. About 2/3 of the way through, I thought I was all alone and suddenly Casey blew by me on a rocky descent like I was going backwards. It was a long time before I saw him again (only because he flatted) and shortly after I passed him, I began to have my own problems with my rear tire going down. I began to weigh the options - Stop and add air and maybe lose a place or two, ride it out and risk getting a full-on flat and lose lots of places. I rode on but eventually stopped to add air just before Mock Holler (Mock Holler is notoriously rocky).
As soon as I stopped, I got passed. GRRRRR!

I got back on and headed down Mock and tried to baby it (which is stupid, kinda like trying to spoon feed a shark). I did my best and felt my rim bottom out a few times but I popped out of the woods and finished with no more issues.
After changing and cleaning up, we had, prepared for us, a great BBQ lunch and some really good beer.
I ended up 8th OA and 2nd in age group, had loads of fun, and got my entry fee back in BBQ and beer consumed.
Bob ended up 5th OA and 1st in age group, Wes was 2nd OA and 1st in age group, Anet got 1st in her age group too. Monotanous huh?

I can't wait until next year. This one will be on my schedule for sure.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bloody Fingers and Wahoo Serious

The weekend did not begin like I had hoped, in fact, it was chaos. I had to work Saturday morning and in the afternoon do a bunch of stuff around the house (we are STILL not fully unpacked yet!) and by the time came to ride a little, I just could not get my head into it. Y'all ever have days like that? So in passing, I picked up my guitar, flicked on my amp and just started doodling. I played chords, ran through some scales three or four dozen times and started just doing something, I dunno what, just playing riffs and making noise - some of which sounded pretty good. I played and played and eventually picked out some music - For Those About To Rock by AC/DC, and gave that a stab. I have found that no matter how simple something looks on paper or sounds, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be easy to play.
I sat there and played until my fingers were numb and one of 'em was bleeding. How cool is that? Trust me, I will be on the cover of Rolling Stone, just give me 10 or 20 more years to practice.

Sunday my head was clear enough that I got on the bike for some old fashioned speedwork. I have found that I don't do real well with highly structured workouts so I have come up with a variation on that and my workouts are more intuitive. I begin the day with and idea of how much I need to suffer and then I fill that time with stuff like sprints to road signs or timed intervals with a twist (for the twisted). Like yesterday there's one road called Buttermilk Rd. Buttermilk Rd is a stairstep climb from beginning to end and it's almost 2 miles long. The interval was the entire road, the twist was I could not let my speed drop below 12 mph. If it did, I had to loop back around and do it again no matter what speed plus I had to go home via Wahoo Valley Rd (Wahoo Valley has a really steep climb out of it and it hurts). If I was successful, I got to go home via the much nicer Dunlap Rd. Sounds simple but you come out and ride it and you'll see that it's not as easy as it sounds.
I made it though it got pretty close on one of the steeper steps and after a few more hilltop sprints and short intervals, I cruised the last 45 minutes on home. Cross is coming and it really hurts in a much different way than the endurance stuff. I hope I will be ready.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


For the second year, September has become a transition month for me. The long races that I love are over and Cyclocross is still a few weeks away. In a way, it's good because it gives me time to transition my training from long rides to shorter and much more intense rides. I also toss in some trail running (I hate running but it's better to do some of it in training if you are gonna do Cross). I am torn because there are a few long races that I'd like to do still but I can't do them all.
The days are getting shorter and the temps (at night) are cooling off which also means winter is coming and that's always tough. I have a couple of training pals that I can count on to ride all winter and generally after the time changes, all my weekday rides are in the dark until it changes back. We usually ride all the way down into the teens (Ok all you Canadians can go ahead and laugh) and sometimes it's reeeeally tough to honor the commitment to ride. But we do. I hate cold too but I'll suck it up and just do it.
In the past few days, I have started to pick apart my season and see where I did stuff wrong, where I did stuff right and what can I do to make next year better. I tend to push myself a little harder each year than I did the year before and that will continue for next year as well. I am putting together my 2009 schedule and the races I will be doing aren't going to change a whole lot from this year with maybe one or two exceptions but I am going to expect more from myself in the way of results. I will work that out and make a plan. I generally start training for the next year on Dec 1.

Not much on the plate this weekend. I am doing some trailwork tomorrow and somewhere I have to fit in a 15 minute trail run and two 45 minute rides each with 3 five minute super-threshold (means I'm about to puke) intervals with 1 minute of rest in between.

Peace y'all

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Iron Mountain Bike Race

The Iron Mountain Bike Race is a grassroots race held in and around Damascus Virginia on Sept 13. Damascus is known for the Virginia Creeper Trail and famous for southern hospitality but what isn't as well known is the awesome singletrack that exists beyond the Creeper Trail in the Mount Rogers National Forest.
The race begins at 1:00 with a shuttle ride from downtown Damascus to the start. From there, I'll let what the promoters say about it take over:
The path the 3rd annual Iron Mountain Bike Course will take is just one way: FAST. Starting with a 3 mile uphill road ride to a 1 mile single track grunt true athletes will shine. The next five miles is the quintessential cross country semi-technical ride on the Iron Mountain Trail. The final five miles drops over 1200 vertical feet, giving the downhill enthusiast a chance to catch up. This course has over 2,000 feet of elevation gain and over 3,000 feet of elevation loss. The three distinct sections of this course will combine to make it one of the most exciting races around! Starting line shuttle will be provided as part of the entrance fee.
There's food and fun at the end.

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Yeah, I was listening to Green Day this morning........

I put the first 100 miles on Frankenbike this weekend, the majority of which came on Monday and a 3.5 hour ride in the mountains between TN and NC. There were two really nice climbs over Spivey Gap - 6 miles on the Tennessee side and 7 on the North Carolina side and a remarkable amount (considering we live in the mountains) of flat stuff in between. So far I have been happy with the way the bike has worked. There has been some learning with the ENO hub and the carbon frame. The bolts that hold the wheel on also maintain the tension in the chain once you get that set. Since they have to be really tight and the frame is carbon, I err'd on the side of caution and had to fiddle with them some until I found the right combo. The 48X18 gearing works good and is a decent balance between flatland utility and climbing prowess. Spivey Gap is probably one of the easiest climbs for the length in our area and I was able to maintain 10-15mph right at my threshold (of blowing up). Any steeper and I would have had to slow down and really push but since this bike is for training and the object of training is getting stronger, it's perfect.
Perhaps the hardest part of the day was beginning the climb with a full 10 minutes to warm-up. It was kinda painful and that was made worse by me and buddy Rob playing cat and mouse once we neared the top. Coming down the mountain was fun and kinda hairy in a couple of spots as we were still screwing with each other and (Rob weighs roughly as much as my left leg so he can climb like a monkey on crack but just hasn't got enough ballast on the descents) I was looking for a place to pass him. I picked the inside on a decreasing radius corner (only problem was I didn't know it was a decreasing radius corner) and I got pinched off (my fault) and almost shit myself. I don't even think Rob knew how close I was.

Disaster was avoided though and all was good. It was a great day.