I get to race a nice bike at cool places thanks to these guys:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Getting Fit, and Getting Fit

Two weeks ago, I took part in my first race back from the injury (if you don't count my false-start at the All-American RR), the Clarendon Cup Pro Race!  This was my first time taking part in the Men's Professional event.  As a teenager growing up in DC, I'd always follow the event, hoping that one day, I'd be in the pro peleton with the big boys.  As a bike shop employee, I LOVED Clarendon weekend, because you'd be casually visited by ProTour riders who are out-and-about on the bike, keeping their legs loose!

I've raced in a number of Pro-1 Criteriums before, so I generally knew what to expect, but the distance of the Clarendon race was really intimidating.  I was still sporting some sore hands and a banged up knee, and I was still early in the training build.  Sitting at the start line, I was thinking lots of negative thoughts, but a veteran and personal peptalk from +Joe Mazza got me out of the funk and took a lot of the jitters out of my stomach.

I started at the back, which if you have ever raced a criterium (specifically THIS criterium course), you will understand how big of a disadvantage that is.  I spent an honest amount of time early on in the race gauging how easily I could move up, trying to find a sweet spot in the peleton where the cornering and braking was a little bit smoother.  

For my non-bike-racer readers, there is a lot of technical skill disparity between riders, even at the pro level.  When a peleton approaches a tight corner as a pack, there are so many small movements which can ultimately prevent you from having maximum exit speed, which in turn will cause you to have to put in a hard effort to match the speed of the front of the race (which is now 10 seconds ahead of you, and flying down a straight-away).  

Eventually, I gave up on finding a smooth part of the pack where I could carry my inertia all the way through the corner without braking, so I tailgunned.  Tailgunning is when you hang out at the back of the back, let the pack roll away from you slightly on the straightaways, and then you corner faster than them and make up all lost ground exiting the turns.  You do have to pedal a little more in some sections, but you minimize the amount of sprinting you have to do coming out of corners.  

Once I was settled, it was a 2 hour and fifteen minute battle for draft, preferred cornering lines, and time to reach for an energy gel or grab a sip of water.  I wasn't having any physical issues in hanging on (besides putting in the HARD effort to stay in), but the MENTAL effort it took was surprising.  If you relax and stop paying CLOSE attention to every minute detail of your position, use of energy, and your prudent entry and exit lines in the corners, you notice the physical price you have to pay QUICKLY.  On two or three occasions I sort of fell asleep at the wheel, and by the time I realized it, my HR was going upwards of my own danger zone, and it would take 2 or 3 laps to settle back down.  

As I said, this went on for over 2 hours.  Eventually I came unglued off the back of the race when the rider in front of my blew a tire approaching a turn, and I had no safe and fast line to get around him.  After the corner, I had clear space to move past, but there was a 30 meter gap to the next rider (and the draft box behind him).  Those 30 meters might have been 30 miles.  I gave about 10 seconds of effort to try and close the gap, but the engine room was SPEWING steam...my legs were well beyond their limit.  I went into time-trial mode, hoping to keep riding quick enough to finish the distance without getting pulled by the officials.  I did entertain myself by trying to get as many kids to give me high-fives as I passed.  Don't worry, I was soft-hands-ing it.  No missle-five from me!  

I did, sort of.  On the final lap, I could see the leaders behind me, and United HealthCare was quite obviously shredding the field, so I COURTEOUSLY pulled to the side and let the leaders fly past me into the final two turns.  Clipping back in, I pedaled the rest of the way to the finish, crossing my fingers that I would be counted in the final results.  I was!  

Post race, I enjoyed a DELICIOUS HAMBURGER AND MILKSHAKE from a really cool crew of people at BGR on Wilson Blvd.  After over two hours of fast and furious racing, that brought me back to life like no endurance recovery product could.  It was a great day; I [barely] finished the Clarendon Pro Race, and my wife and parents had made the trip to watch the whole thing unfold!  The drive home, however, was less enjoyable.  MY F***ING BACK HURT LIKE IT WAS MY FIRST BIKE RACE EVER!  

In the weeks prior, I had been considering consulting the folks at Bike Doctor in Waldorf to take a look at my position on the bike.  The Clarendon race was a wake up call to go in and get it done, as I had never had a proper fit done.  

The fit is a topic all it's own.  Spoiler alert: I needed to change my position.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Where Was I This Spring and Other Facts

The 2012 season went incredibly well for me.  I had a head full of steam in the spring, qualified for the Nature Valley Pro Chase, and went absolutely bonkers preparing myself for the Nature Valley Grand Prix.  The story of how I disappeared this spring probably starts there...

NVGP is known for the Menomonie Road Race and the Stillwater Criterium.  Both courses have mondo-climbing.  Those who know me in real life will be aware that I climb as well as a rock dropped into the ocean.  Local Pro-Am racer Tim Rugg attended NVGP the year before me, and gave me as much advice as 'get ready for hills, dude!'  And so I did.

I went beyond monk-mode nutrition wise and was chronically underfed as I prepared for NVGP.  I went straight through my healthy racing weight of 180-185 (where no one calls me fat), and continued to plummet below 175.  I made it to 167 with many restless nights of trying to fall asleep before my hunger kept me awake.  All this weight loss was done while training very hard, racing our local Wednesday Night Training Race in Greenbelt most weeks, and putting in some 100+ mile megarides.

It was all too much, too quickly.

I was VERY flat at NVGP.  You can read about how the racing went down in my past posts, but I came home knowing that I had dug myself into a hole with my rapid weight loss and my ad-hoc self-training.  Going forward, I knew I had to be more honest with myself about my body, my abilities, and my knowledge.

The first step in recovering from my slightly heartbreaking performance at Nature Valley would be to allow some weight to come back, and feed myself after I trained.  I quickly came back up to high 170's and low 180's, and felt better, day-in-day-out.

The second step would be to recruit the help of a cycling coach, who turned out to be Ken Lundgren of Elite Endurance.  I knew a few riders who worked with him, and his philosophies and methodologies 'clicked' with me.  I can nerd out with the best of them when it comes to cycling equipment and wattage theory, but I prefer to have some 'old school' thrown in there.  We don't race by comparing w/kg figures from power files, after all...

The third step was to reload for a late season event.  I frequently participate in the Mayor's Cup in Boston, held in September.  I ALWAYS got popped in this race, and I wanted to see if I could get myself closer to the finish this year before getting pulled.  With a more reasonable approach to nutrition and coaching from someone who knew what they were doing, not only did I get further at the Mayor's Cup than I ever had, I finished the race!  Not only did I finish the race, but I landed myself in a few off-the front moves.  One of these moves in particular, I found myself HAMMERING on the wheel of a dude in a neon green Liquigas kit...Ted King.  Pretty cool.

With the pride I took in finally finishing the race, I was ready to go nuts in the offseason and put in some hard work.  Unfortunately, as I did in a similar fashion prepping for NVGP, I went a little TOO nuts and tore my left hip flexor and the accompanying tendon.  It took me 3 and a half months of couch potato training for the tear to properly heal.  Using the clutch in my car SUCKED, I couldn't walk up stairs very well, and I was all over the place in terms of daily pain.  As frustrating as it was, I FINALLY healed up enough to ride as the race season was well underway.

My first real ride back was the All American Road Race, which I won the previous year.  I weighed a noble 205 lbs and got dropped with some many miles to go.  I took no shame from this, and continued on a solid, healthy track of progress.  With Coach's guidance and no aspirations to starve, I've steadily seen my fitness rise as the spring rolled on and we arrive to summer.

Last weekend I raced at the Tour of Washington County.  I have NEVER finished that RR with the main field.  I still didn't, but I made it to the end of the main loops and cramped up BAD departing the race loop and rolling up the finishing straightaway.  This, on a course where, in the past, I'd have been so freaked out that I was over some number of pounds in bodymass, I finished without once having the thought of 'I wish I was sub 180' or 'going back on the lettuce and coffee diet'.  It feels FAR better to pedal with some drive behind it than to be starved and go about 200 yards further with the field because your watts per kilograms are technically better.  Also, who doesn't prefer seeing bigger numbers on the powermeter to smaller numbers on a scale?  Okay, there is definitely a limit to all this, but I think you get my drift...I wasn't taking care of myself before and I'm healthy now, blahblahblah...

With a shortened race calendar to go, I look forward to continued improvement, and a lot of fun on the way!