Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Grey County Road Race, May 24th 2015: Suffer Score Festival

This year's Grey County Road Race was a UCI amateur championship qualifier

...which was kinda cool, because it felt like a real pro race. And Collingwood is a beautiful area, so it's a great course. Actually there were a lot of great things about this race. First, it was an age-group race, which meant that my 50-54 cohort actually got to start at a civilized hour (1:30 pm) as opposed to the usual 8:30 AM for OCUP M3 races. That was downright luxurious.

The second great thing was the fact that the over-50s only has to race 86 kms instead of the 130 and 160 km races for the younger divisions. That was quite manageable.

Fanboy detour here
"One day I hope to race Bingham."
The third great thing is that my start wave include Steve Bauer, who was getting back into Masters racing and was looking to nail down a qualifier spot for the world amateur championships in Denmark this year (which he did handily, of course). Sure, he finished 25 minutes ahead of me or something, but I was in the same race as Steve Bauer. Like, easily the best Canadian cyclist of his (my) generation, and arguably the best Canadian cyclist ever. The guy rode with Lemond and Hinault for La Vie Claire, wore the yellow jersey for 5 days with Seven Eleven.
How cool is that? 

Back to the race
Having done a version of this race last year, I had a reasonable idea of what to expect, and it was also helpful to know that the soul-crushing Scenic Caves Road hill climb was not a part of it this time.

As ever, my goal was to stay in the peloton as long as possible; concentrate on moving up and not fading back; and to try be more aware of what was going on around me. Which was working pretty well for the first 15 kms or so. I was comfortably in the middle of the pack until, running up to a climb on Pretty River Road, I got an agonizing chain drop. I frantically spun the chainring trying to get it re-engaged as I ground to a near stop and the peloton flowed by me like a school of mackerel. I got the chain back on the ring just as the last few riders passed me, and though the group was maybe 30 or 40 metres ahead of me, I couldn't claw my way back on. It was looking like another Grey County Time Trial. However, one thing I've come to realize over the last few races is that it's worth hanging on, because eventually the race starts shedding other riders and before long you can end up in some sort of grupetto that can work together to make the end result a little less ignominious for all concerned.

RB + M Scher: Enjoying the aftermath
So I dropped my arms over the bar, put my head down and got on with it. At first I caught up with one or two other riders, and eventually this became a group of about 6 or 7 of us for the last 20 kms or so. I had noticed that I was doing well punching over the shorter hills, dropping a few guys and catching others. At the same time, as we came in to the last 5 or 6 kms, I was starting to feel some cramping and was a bit worried about stalling out on the rather steep uphill finish.

Anyway, about a kilometre from the finish I somehow ended up in the front of a group of five guys. Tactically, completely stupid. As far as I can make out, the combination of exhaustion, low blood sugar to the brain, and the prospect of it all being over really soon made believe that I could drop them on the last climbs. Of course, if I had just looked back for a second I would have seen that they were all happily sitting on my wheel, and they all blew by me on the final climb. Well, "blew by" is an overstatement – everybody was pretty shaky by then; but the bottom line was I was left unable to close about a 5 or 10 metre gap coming up the steep last hill into the finish. Which kinda sucked because it cost me 4 places in the standings. In the end I finished 35th of 46 in my age group.

The race was fun, but Strava says I should be dead
I'm not sure what to do with the Strava data. First, my Powertap crapped out about 2/3 of the way through, which was annoying at the time and skewed my overall average. Oh well. But what was interesting was the HR data. My average HR for the whole race was 175; max was 196. According the Strava that was 1:52 in Zone 4 (175-194) for an Extreme Suffer Score of 231.

I'm not sure if this was really good, really bad, or just a demonstration of the outside limits of my capabilities. I know from my work with the Cycling Gym that for me to stay out of the red (under lactate threshold, or OBLA, or however you want to define it) I need to stay below 163 BPM. If I were fitter, I would get the same results with a much lower average HR. More results on less work, basically. I think it means that I'm badly undertrained but with a considerable capacity for over-extending myself. And I wonder if I didn't actually do myself some damage, because my training thinned out a bit after that race; the last month has been pretty low mileage, and I'm only just feeling like I'm getting back on track.

Still. It was a great event to be a part of. And watching the podium ceremonies I especially loved seeing the 65+ guys, whose winning times were a damn sight better than mine. That's my long-term goal: to be one of those gnarly old leathery guys who keep on racing and can still come out and kick your ass.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Niagara Classic: OCUP #4, May 17th

I'm beginning to appreciate the value of a little experience

Not that I have much. But familiarity – returning to a race I've done before –  makes a huge difference. Just knowing where everything is (parking, registration, washrooms...) really takes a lot of the stress out of the equation.

The same can be said of knowing the course. You you what you're in for. Or up against, which in the case of Niagara is the famous Effingham Hill, a poisonously steep, short climb that pretty much ruins an otherwise pleasant ride out in the country. The M3 circuit was 5 laps, which meant five climbs of this delight. I managed only two circuits last year before I called it quits. This time I came in better prepared, and determined to at least finish the bastard.

Bottom right corner of the course: Effingham, you bastard.
Other valuable local knowledge was the that the "neutral" start was not particularly neutral, and that the field basically bombed off the line before hitting the left-hand turn that quickly runs up against the first Effingham climb. So I knew to be as far forward as I could get at the start, and to hammer hard to stay in the pack on that climb – two things I fatally failed to do last time.

So I stayed in the pack for the first two laps, but after the second climb started to slip back and lost contact. I had a few other guys with me but they were young E4s and they didn't seem to know what a rotating paceline was, and the middle of a race was not exactly where you want to run a seminar. So it ended up being awkward random pulls, which was too bad because we might have been able to get back on – for a lap or two the pack was tantalizingly in sight –  if they had known how to get it together. Anyway.

The numbers refusing to lie, as usual
The Strava data is very instructive here: every lap and every climb I got slower and slower. Looking at some of the top finishers' data the main difference was consistency. Some guys hit the same numbers for that climb every time. Mine went from a respectable 1:39 on the first round to a grinding 2:27 by the last. Lap one, the fastest (20:19 at 36.4 kph), was at 170 watts and average HR 160 bpm: perfect, right below threshold. Last lap: 168 watts, 179 bpm, 24:52 and 29.7 kph. Slower, and way deep in the red. The domino effect of not staying with the pack is the real killer.

In the end: 42nd place out of 57, 1:56:22, 15:24 off the winning time.

Solutions? Strategies?
Two things really:
1) get my fitness up so that I can hit more of my max wattage with less of my max heart rate. It's something we were working on pretty specifically at the Cycling Gym. It means training carefully to stay up near, but not over, my lactate threshold (or however you want to call being in the red) for extended periods.
2) improve my climbing. One thing I realized afterwards is I had become biased against standing up to climb, and had sat and ground it out every time when actually it would have helped on the very steepest parts to stand for a bit; if for no other reason than to change up which muscles were being taxed. I've since started to mix that in more on hills and it definitely helps, and there's a bit of a psychological boost to it as well.
3) Both of which are contributing factors in the need to stay with the pack. Every race I'm doing less and less shit-out-the-back time trialling, but I still haven't got all the way to the end of an OCUP race actually in the pack. 

Put those three things together and maybe then I can actually start racing.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

K-W Classic: A Classic Mistake

Now listed among the Top 10 Dumb Things I've Ever Done

is driving away to a race with my bike safely on the roof rack, and my front wheel sitting on the curb where I left it as I was loading up. Which is why I missed this year's OCUP #6, The K-W Classic*.

I have no idea why the light bulb suddenly goes on an hour after the fact and says: "Hey – did you put your front wheel in the car?",  or why it goes on 30 kms from the race, rather than 30 metres from the house. Doubtless neurological science is working on that tricky conundrum as we speak.
The painful irony is, I know I'm pretty foggy at 5 am, and my whole pre-race (or early club ride) routine is designed to get me on the road or on the bike properly geared up without having to be particularly sharp (or even fully awake) – i.e., all my stuff is laid out or pre-packed, with a pre-race checklist to minimize the need for any actual thinking.

Sure. Good luck with that.
That said, there's no prophylactic measure to prevent momentary distractions and/or stupidity.

And then there's that terrible moment of realization that one is pooched, because:
  • I'm 90 kms from home. No time to go back for it;
  • I had decided not to bring a spare this time (the race is too short to bother trying to get back into it if I flatted, goes my thinking);
  • my M3 race had the first start time of the day, and everybody I know was in later races & wouldn't be there early enough to lend me one;
  • and even if they were, I'd probably not get in a proper warm-up by the time I got that sorted;
  • and oh yeah: my wheel is lying on the sidewalk. In my neighbourhood, even at 5:45 am, it might last two minutes there before somebody scoops it up. Which was the case. So now I'm out one good front wheel.
I always want to learn something from every race. Definitely learned something this time:
Try Not to Be an Idiot, I think, was the lesson for today. And between the entry fee and the cost of (most likely) replacing my wheel (or paying its ransom/reward for return) it's a pricey one.

Live and, uh, learn, I guess. (I hope.)

*"K-W" is Kitchener-Waterloo, a Mennonite community about 130 kms from Toronto.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Race Day Kit Checklist

I can't think at 5 am

Especially if it's 5am on the morning of a race. I'll be too busy being stressed about the race and tired from being up later than I wanted. And The Curse of OCUP Masters 3 Races is that they are almost always the first or second race of the day, and an hour or two away from Toronto, so I have to be up at an ugly hour to get to the start on time.

Stress Removal Device: the Cat5 Case
I've discovered that the only way for me to cope is to remove the requirement for coherent thinking and get all my stuff organized and ready to go the night before. So I created a race-day checklist to simplify that. Even in my groggy morning state I can double-check it to alleviate my paranoia about forgetting something vital.

Crucial to this process is my Cat5 Cyclist Case kit bag. Highly recommended. Perfect for race day, but I actually use mine all the time to keep my gear organized. Very reasonable price, and snappy colours too.

RACE DAY CHECKLIST (download the photo for a printable version or copy & paste this to build your own)

KIT (working from the bottom up and the inside out)Shoes
Chamois cream
Heart rate monitor
Road ID
Contact lenses
Race dots (magnetic number holders. They're brilliant.)

So much better than those damned pins
Water (a couple of big bottles)
Biosteel (drink mix)
Post-race food (like, real food)

Spare tubes
Spare wheels
Hex wrench set
Trainer for warm-up

Printer friendly 4-up checklist.
Shoe covers
knee/leg warmers
Arm warmers
Rain jacket


Course map/technical guide
First aid kit
Gas in the car
UCI License
BIKE! (don't forget the bike!)

Hope this is useful to you. It certainly helps me sleep better.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Six Goals for Racing

The other day, one of my clubmates quoted some hammerhead dick as saying, "There's no point in racing if you don't intend to win."

Sure thing, Lance. You go.

I view bike racing as more like kung fu: no matter how good you are, there's always somebody, somewhere who can totally kick your ass. And the gap between normal amateur-racer humans – including the Hammerhead Dick – and even the lowest rung of professional or world-class riders is actually a giant chasm, so while winning an Cat 5-level amateur race in Ontario is kinda cool, it's also relatively meaningless.
Hammerhead Dickism can lead to this

Personally, I feel I need to approach the thing with a bit more humility. Not that I have much choice. Maybe some day I will be in a position to contend for a win in my M3 division, but that's fairly unlikely. I'm just in it for the fun of it (in which fun gets a broad definition that can include subjecting myself to the pain of exertion at pretty much the outside limit of my physical capabilities for extended periods of time). And what the hell, somebody has to fill out the field.

Here are my Six Goals for any race (in descending order of priority):
  1. Don't die.
  2. Don't crash.
  3. Finish the race.
  4. Don't finish last.
  5. Improve on time or placement if I've done the race before.
  6. Learn something about how to race better.
  7. Have fun. (Actually, so long as I get  to six, seven is guaranteed. )
That said, I do have one big hairy audacious goal* for this racing thing overall:
Just get one lousy OCUP point in M3.
That means a top 15 finish (or maybe top 20 in the races with a bigger field).

That's actually pretty ambitious for somebody with my limited talent, and probably can only happen with the happy convergence of a lot more work by me, and a lottery-load of luck on a particular day. But if I can manage it by the end of Season Five of Racing, I'll be pretty happy. (This is Season Three.)

(* à la Jim Collins, Good to Great)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

On Chamois Cream

Great Mother of God...

Why didn't anybody tell me about this before?

I mean, I knew about it; but I didn't, y'know, know about it.

The winter indoor training rides were putting a bit more stress than normal on the ass regions, so I decided to give this stuff a shot & see if it helped. (Filzer Happy Chamois Cream. Got it at Mountain Equipment Co-op.)

Holy crap. Wow.

Maybe it's the best chamois cream going, I dunno, it's the only one I've ever tried. All I know is, as far as my chamois is concerned, it's very well named.

The greatest thing since bib shorts.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

OCUP Race #1: Good Friday: 75% Gain, 25% pain

I had never ridden The Good Friday race before

so this was bound to be an adventure. The course is sorta undulating; no big hills to speak of. Four 16-km laps for about 63km total. The main challenges are the winds that can whip across the treeless farmers' fields, and one scrabbly section of road that is more suited to a cyclocross course that leads from the start line out of the Ancaster fairgrounds.
GFRR course: 3 good laps in a 4-lap race.

Generally the pack sticks together all the way and it ends with a bunch sprint. If there's a selection, it's usually decided by the strong winds that can be a feature of this race. So going in, my goal was to stick in the pack as long as possible, and if all went well, to finish there too. I didn't care about placing, but I really wanted to see a "00:00" time beside my name on the results sheet.

 That would be the best-case scenario.

It was a cold and foggy morning, and I didn't really get enough time to warm up properly even though I had arrived ridiculously early. It was nice to have my DHFlyers/Cycling Gym pal Kris Henrnandez on hand to introduce me to some of the riders in my new team, Morning Glory CC, and warm up under their tent; and I met another familiar face in Steve Hart of Lap Dogs, in the starting pen. Steve is a super strong rider and a very nice guy, and he had a plan to stay at the front and cover any breaks. Which he could actually do. Whereas "get to the front and cover the breaks", even once, ever, is more like a lifelong aspiration and bucket-list item for me.

The race went off at a pretty good pace, and I had a good starting place near the front so I was able to stay reasonably close to the front as we got going. I had been warned about the way the race accordions over the undulating roads, and that was a pretty accurate assessment. Surge, brake... surge, brake... and it was a pretty tightly-crowded pack, so there wasn't much room to manoeuvre. With the crappy end-of-winter weather, not many of the racers had actual ridden in a group yet (me, for example), and all around me regular choruses of "HO-HO-HO" "WHOA" "OH" were accompanying some sketchy move or other. (As far as I could make out, I was not responsible for any of them.)

If you're not moving up, you're moving back
Rush Hour at the GFFR. I'm the Mystery Rider the in no-name kit.
 At the Grey County RR last year I made the fatal error of fixating on holding the wheel ahead of me, and not paying attention to all the riders slipping past me.
Partly I wasn't confident about making any moves inside the peloton, but also I had more of a "just happy to be here, hope I survive" mentality. As a result I got strung out & dropped pretty quickly, and spent most of the race time trialling. This time I was determined to move up any time I had a chance, and fill in any space I saw. That strategy made a world of difference. Not only did it keep me up in the pack, it made me feel like I was actually racing.

Once we were into the second lap I started to relax a bit, as I was having no problem staying in the pack. The only thing I was looking at on my Garmin was my heart rate, and I knew that so long as I kept it under 163 bpm (around  80% max) I was fine. Where there were strong surges I was able to keep pace no problem. On lap three the pace heated up a bit as teams sent riders up the road; and on Book Road heading west there was a bit of a headwind that started to string the pack out a bit and I think that's where I blew it.

Racing with the brain. Or not.
I'm not sure if I got complacent, or just lost my focus, but I didn't notice a lot of riders slipping past me on Book Road. There's a sharp and narrow right turn on to Trinity Road, and immediately after that everybody opens it up to get a good spot going into the scrabbly fairgrounds. But the first couple of times around in a big pack it just meant another surge-and-brake. I think that's what I was expecting coming around that turn, but in fact most of the pack had slipped by me by this point and I couldn't hold the wheel of the guy in front of me, and suddenly I was off the back. I fought to get back in contact but slowly the peloton just rolled away. It's remarkable how a small gap very quickly looks like a gigantic chasm opening up in front of you. Throughout the race I hadn't ever looked back, so I assumed that once off the back I was dead last. As it turns out there were quite a few riders back, and I briefly hooked up with a trio that was working together, though I lost them too in the last couple of hundred metres, and the last lap ended up being mostly a time trial, with the emphasis on "trial".

In the end I finished 1:48:09, 5:33 off the winning pace, 55th of 84. Considering that last lap, not bad, and for the first race of the season, a decent result. In many ways, my best race ever.

That said: being happy with the race is not the same thing as being satisfied with the result.