Monday, October 31, 2011

Lion of the Den/ Storm the Greens

Warming up in the morning light
Light the prayer candle of Sven Nys
To keep the season's hope alive
Gotta replace BloomingCross with a top five

I don't wanna wait, for November to be over
I want to know right now what will it be
I don't wanna wait, for November to be over
Will I be OVCX champ or will I be...sorry?!!

This was what was running through my mind all last week and leading up to the Storm the Greens race. After a rapid fire campaign through the first seven races of the series, I was left with a two-week gap before race number eight. That's a lot of time to sit and home doing math and run through possible race scenarios. The worst part was knowing that after the two-week break was up, I would get one more small piece of the puzzle squared away, and then the last two races would be spread over a long five-week period. Luckily, I was able to increase my lead a little bit more yesterday which will probably help me make it through the next two weekends of third row starts behind higher category riders without going too crazy.

In addition to the Storm the Greens race, Adam and I also returned Yorktown, where we both rode bikes and went to bars a fair amount back in our Muncie days. My race was nothing to write home about. I basically tried to hang with Rebecca and Valerie, which only worked for a couple of minutes, and then basically settled in for 2.5 laps of time trial. I finished two minutes behind Rebecca and three minutes ahead of the fourth place rider, so it was kind of a long haul out there by myself.

You may notice from the picture below that I am wearing a Speedway Wheelmen kit. Adam's team director and teammates have been trying to get me to join their team all season because they want to have a real women's team. The plus side is that in addition to the one strong female rider they already had (Valerie from above paragraph), they got Jayne Prater and Janelle Renschler to join. So the part about having actual teammates that I'm already friends with is cool, but I'm really attached to my Velo Bella kit and I'm having a hard time giving it up. Seriously, the arrival of my new road bike marked the replacement of the one cycling related item I owned that was not some combination of black, white, pink, and blue. Now you're wanting me to throw orange in the mix? Now that I've seen the pictures, it looks better than I thought it would and I'm coming around to the idea of being a Speedway Wheel-woman. I'm going to need teammates if I want to race road in the spring, right?

Storm the Greens went about as well as I'd hoped. I got the hole shot and held through the long, long straightaway to the first turn. Then I got nipped on the inside of the turn when I swung wide, and then I lost a couple of places when I had to dismount on the first steep uphill. After I regained my composure, I made one spot back and was chasing down another girl with pretty spotty success. Then I came through the one mud hole on the course (it was obviously put there just for the sake of having a mud hole) and saw the girl I'd been chasing with her legs pedaling wildly while her bike slow coasted to stop. She dropped her chain, and I dropped the hammer. The next girl up was pretty fair ahead, but I tried to stay on the gas as much as possible. Then on the final time through the mud hole I saw her stopped in front of me trying to get her bike going again. It was the like the Christmas mud hole for me. I kicked into high gear to try and hold her off until the finish, and it worked. I ended up fifth overall and first in the Cat 4 Open. Most importantly I increased my series lead enough that my fears of having it all taken away from me in the last race are starting to calm down a little.

I picked a good race to win my category, because Storm the Greens gave out better prizes than the usual swag from the sponsoring bike shop's clearance bin. We got these cool Halloween shirts, a hooded sweatshirt for me and t-shirts for second and third place.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Raceless Weekend

The past weekend was the first break in the OVCX series this year, and although there was an ICX race at Major Taylor Velodrome on Sunday, I thought that a weekend off from racing would be good for me. Besides, my mom was coming to visit, so I just went ahead and chilled out with a couple of bike-free days.

I've not been on any sort of formal training plan since racing began, and I usually just evaluate a my level of fatigue on Tuesdays and Thursdays and decided whether I should ride hard, easy, or not at all. Very rarely has the answer come up as "hard", and it doesn't really seem to have hurt me. Racing doubles every weekend really fatigues the body and I'm not going to help myself by pushing further into fatigue that I won't be able to recover from before the next race. The only part of my training week between races that I don't compromise on is my one day of maintenance strength work on Wednesdays, because I feel like my gym time over the summer was the major contributor in my improvements this season, so I'm doing my best to maintain my strength and not have to go through any major soreness when I start to go heavier again in the off-season.

Anyway, with a weekend off from racing, I knew that I needed to get a couple of hard workouts before I raced again, even though I was out of practice in forcing myself to go hard without anyone to chase. A combination of the last days of sickness and then some days of crappy weather caused me to delay the first workout until Friday morning, which I had off from work in anticipation of my mom's arrival. I decided that a set of Jamie's "Intervals of Death" would be a good tune-up between races.

The workout consists of 6-12 rounds of 30 seconds as hard as you can go with 4:30 rest. Sounds like a lot of rest, huh? The key to the workout is that if you just go "hard" it isn't that hard, but if you can force yourself to go bleeding eyeballs hard on each rep it is hard and gives a big improvement in speed. I'm not even sure of the mechanism (maybe neurological?), but for my May training block I did two days a weeks of heavy weights and two days a week of these intervals and when it was over my legs were super snappy and I got my first XC win. They just work. Anyway, I went for eight rounds and had good numbers. Not only did I set a all-time best 30 seconds, there wasn't too huge of a drop-off between my best and worst. Normally when I set a short power PR a) I'm intentionally trying b) the rest of the workout is crap. Neither was the case this time.

Bhu Fan (went with my first instinct there) got her first hard workout, as well, and rode like a dream. Unlike her namesake, she definitely doesn't have a "tin can Oriental voice", just smooth and quiet with zoomy carbon fiber sounds here and there. (Bhu Fan the character is a Korat cat, so I don't think "Oriental" is racist in this case. Just as long as you stay PC and call her a "companion animal" instead of a pet.)

Fall foliage in Cascades Park

Saturday and Sunday were spent off the bike and with my mom. We did some fun stuff like shop for antiques, hit up the farmer's market, and took a tour of Marengo Cave. We saw this guy on the way out. It was the first woodchuck my mom had ever seen and only the third for me.

This week will start looking like a normal race week again, but I will be rested enough for one more hard workout on Tuesday. I'm going to try something a little different of my own devisement. With the current infrequency of hard workouts, I was trying to figure out what two workouts would give me the best tune-up during this mid-season mini-break. I thought the 30-seconders were a good choice, but I decided that rather than doing just a regular V02 max workout that I would go to the hill that I use for V02 max intervals in the 2-3 minute range. I think it might be 3.5 minutes to the actual peak of the hill, but less than 4, so I've never really ridden it out all the way in repeats. The last minute is tough, anyway, since it flattens out after a really steep section, and it gets hard to hold my power high. So for tomorrow, my goal is to ride to the peak regardless of time and not let my power drop during the last flatter section. This should be a good simulation for not letting myself slow down on the flatter, straighter sections during races where I tend to back off a bit and get passed.

Monday, October 17, 2011

OVCX #7: BloomingCross

I'm blaming the announcers at Gun Club. Some time in the afternoon, they were discussing "cross cough", and I thought, "Hmm, I haven't coughed after a race since AppleCross." I felt the tickle in my throat soon after, and it seemed that there was no turning back the tide.

I knew that three weekends in a row of double races, including some 4:30 a.m. wake up calls would drive my body to the edge of what it could handle, but I just wanted to make it through to BloomingCross. After that, I would have the minimum seven races down for the OVCX series, and then I would get a weekend off when my mom came to visit October 21-24. Unfortunately, a nasty cold set in before I could get to my "one more race".

I did what I could to try and get better by the weekend, and spent a lot of time fretting about how things would turn out. The winner of last week's race had catted up to a 3, so that really opened up the possibilities. When I scanned the entry list, I realized I'd beaten every girl entered at least twice, with the exception of one. The one left had only beaten me by one second at Gun Club, so I thought I might have a good chance at the overall win. The cold, however, would not go away.

So I showed up yesterday just hoping for the best, and trying to convince myself that I would feel good once I started racing, even though I felt like crap. I did get a good start, but halfway through the first lap, I heard the rattling that meant someone was trying to come around me. It turned out to be about five people, including a couple of girls that are usually way behind me. I think that kind blew whatever facade of toughness I had left. I know I should have fought harder, but the nerves and the cough and the pressure just got to me. I kind of just rode through the rest of the race for ninth place.

Despite feeling awful most of the afternoon, I still kitted back up for the Little 500 bike race at the end of the day. For my non-Bloomington readers, you've seen "Breaking Away", right? With so few feature films about cycling, I'm going to assume so. Anyway, the race that they ride is a real thing (and humongous deal) at IU. What you may not know is that each four-person team is given two standard official Little 500 bikes, which are very different from any other kind of race bike. They are sort of like really heavy track bikes, but with flat pedals and coaster brakes rather than being fixed geared. The single gear is a 46 x 18 and the tires are wider and more textured than road tires.

So for BloomingCross they had a special category at the end of the day where we had to ride stock Little 500 bikes. They even paid cash prizes three deep. I'd never ridden a Little 500 bike before, but racing CX on one seemed so ridiculous that I had to try it. It turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. The coaster brakes weren't so bad, because I normally hold my feet parallel going through turns anyway, so I just had to make sure they were set the way I wanted them and lean back on my rear foot a bit more than I normally would have. Conditions were dry, so the semi-slick tires weren't an issue, and while the gearing was something I would normally only use for paved starts, I was able to make it up all the hills without walking. I was going about 2 mph a few times, but I made it.

I ended up third out of five girls, which was okay considering that I was last when we hit the grass at the beginning. It took me a lap to figure out what I was doing and then I was able to pass a couple of girls. I also lost some time in the sand pit, because I took the time to grab every dollar that people had stuck in the sand. I heard that this was annoying the coach of some of the other girls in the race, because I wasn't leaving any for them, but after several weeks of watching hella focused elite men turn down dollar bill hand-ups when they were 35th place, I was determined to milk my one shot at the "money pit" for all it was worth. I ended the race with my sports bra stuffed with seven sweaty, crumpled dollar bills, and then I got a check for $20 more for my third place finish. Mostly it just gave me a chance to have fun and blow out some of the crud I'd been feeling.

Now I have a couple of weeks to rest, finish getting well, and maybe even train a little. A little part of me is afraid that I peaked at Gun Club, and that I might lose my form in the last half of the season. Hopefully, that will not be the case. It's funny, because I still have 12 races scheduled, but only three that I consider "important". I really only care about doing well in the last three OVCX and getting some better places so that I can drop the seventh, eighth, and ninth places that are currently dragging down my score. For now, I guess I just need to enjoy my break, and do my best when Adam and I return to our old home town of Muncie in a couple of weeks.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sun's Out/ Gun's Out

No, this isn't another post about my arm muscles. After a damp and frigid weekend in Dayton, Indian Summer returned to the Ohio Valley, and made for a somewhat toasty weekend of racing.

Saturday was an Indiana Cyclocross Cup series race near Indianapolis. Although it's a bit burdensome to be racing a whole other series on top of OVCX, Adam's team director has been the driving force trying to get this series going the last couple of years, and now it seems that it's actually coming to fruition. While Indiana is making headway in the regional cyclocross world, we are still kind of the awkward third wheel to the Cincinnati and Louisville epicenters. It seems that many Indianapolis folks are interested in trying 'cross, but don't want to commit to the 2-3 hour drives every weekend (sometimes twice). As a Bloomingtonian, I fully accept that racing equals driving (often on two lane roads). We are pretty darn lucky just to have BloomingCross and the DINO race at Brown County. However, if the ICX Cup is the free taste that gets more Indiana folks hooked on the 'cross crack, I'm willing to do a little bit more driving to help it along.

Anyway, it was a beautiful sunny day, and I'd hoped it would be warm enough to wear my new rhinestoned pink gloves before it got cold again. It definitely was. Temperatures were over 80 degrees by the time we took our 1:00 pm start. That's not that hot for racing mountain bikes in the middle of summer, but when you're racing full bore in an open field with no tree cover and you've lost your acclimation from the summer, it's HOT.

We actually had a decent-sized field, with seven Cat 3/4 Open women and one 35+. Although eliminating the term "women's 3/4" from the public cyclocross consciousness is my cause célèbre (we need wristbands), the ICX series isn't quite "there" yet. As of Saturday, determining where Cat 3 women should go was not a problem, as there were none. Just eight 4's and two 2's. Gotta fill out that elite class.

Anyway, despite being small, our field was definitely not weak. I knew that I would have my hands full trying to stay with Valerie and Rebecca, but 14-year-old Chloe, who had kicked some butt during the last half of the DINO series was a last minute entry, as well. As it turned out, I didn't get much of a chance to see how long I could hang with them. The starting area was very narrow, and I got caught by a domino-effect of bar-banging and had to dab, reset, and get going again while the rest of the field rode away. It took me over half a lap to make it up to fourth place, and by the time I did, the top three were out of sight. I had to turn myself inside out just to hold my position, but I was able to keep it together to the end. Since the overall winner was a 35+, I still made the podium and finished where I expected to, but the gap was much bigger than I had hoped.

Sunday was my first time at the Gun Club. I was looking forward to this race, because it is the favorite course of about every mountain bike-oriented 'crosser I know. The pre-registration list was a little intimidating, because it was essentially a confluence of every woman who had beaten me in an OVCX race this year all showing up on once, along with quite a few others, since there were 34 women in our field.

After pre-riding the course, and noticing quite a few slick and/or technical choke points, I knew I needed to ride like hell and not get caught up behind too many people. So I did. Rebecca and a junior rider took off fast, but I stayed close and only gave up one position on the long open stretch before the sandpit. That is pretty good for me on a long open stretch, but it was still one position too many. I had to be careful negotiating the sandpit and the tight turn up to the barriers behind the other rider, but no mistakes were made and by the next open section we'd caught the junior girl in second. I knew the most technical sections were coming up so I passed them both. The junior girl stayed on and passed me back for a while. We battled back and forth for the rest of the race. I tried attacking her a few times early in the third lap, but she matched me every time. I decided to sit on until the flat out-and-back before the finish, since I had been faster in that section on the previous two laps, but she got a little gap and I was not quite able to make it up by the finish. I did, however, reach my recently stated goal of getting a top three overall, and I was only 10 seconds out of first. I would call it a damn good good day of racing for me.

This picture is actually from last weekend at Gearfest, but I thought it was a good one.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hi! My Name Is...

Well, she doesn't have one yet. Nor has she yet been set up with all of the proper pink accoutrement's that come with being a member of my bike fleet. You see, all of my other bikes were planned, saved, and slaved for over the course of months. This girl was more of a surprise, albeit a happy one.

I've been in "a new road bike would be nice" mode for maybe a year or so, but wasn't anywhere close to actually saving more or doing anything about it. Then about a week ago I saw Adam flipping through the new Giant catalog, and he pointed to a bike and asked if I liked he color. He was planning on buying an inexpensive bike for the frame and then building it up with the Sram Rival parts left over after he upgraded his "A" 'cross bike to Red. After a bit more discussion, we decided that the Avail Composite 2 might be a good choice, because it was carbon fiber, a nice color, and wouldn't require any parts swapped except for the ones Adam already had. I went to the shop on Monday to try out sizes and last night, my early birthday present arrived.

I used to not be a bike naming person, but it seems that this will be the only bike I have without a name. As is well documented, my 'cross bike is New New, and my old 'cross bike, now commuter is Jake. Although it is embarrassing to admit this publicly, last summer I was contemplating how the plot line of True Blood had so greatly diverged from that of The Southern Vampire Mysteries while knocking out some speedy laps on my 29er at French Lick. During this time, I decided that my tall, sexy, efficient bike must be called Eric. Along that vein, the squishy Anthem at home must be Bill.

Anyway, the new road bike won't have a name from the Sookieverse and probably will not have one from an obscure hip hop roller skating movie, but I'm thinking about other characters from books or movies that might be appropriate. Despite my ultra-geeky admittance above, I am in no way interested in the full pantheon of vampire literature, so if Charlaine Harris is not churning out anything new, you can just as easily find me reading about mysteries solved by 19th century Turkish eunuchs or Maine Coon cats instead of telepathic barmaids. I am considering the name Bhu Fan from the latter series, as both the bike and the character are tiny Asian princesses.

Regardless of what I decide to call her, I'm excited that she is here. I've actually had the Ohio Spring Race Series on my mind a bit lately, after realizing it is how many of my cyclocross competitors occupy their time in the "off season". (Ha ha, CX is supposed to be the off season, but we know that's not true.) My spring/ early summer goals for next year will still revolve around the Ouachita Challenge and trying to *finally* finish my first 100 mile mountain bike race at the Mohican 100, but other than that I think I'm a little over cross country racing. It seems that women's road racing might actually be reaching a critical mass in the region where the race becomes a peloton instead of a mass start time trial. And while being able to beat certain girls in 'cross doesn't mean that I will necessarily beat them on the road, looking over my recent results compared those of last spring's series makes me at least want to give it a shot. Now having a pretty new bike just begging for a public debut, I might just find the motivation to try something a little different in 2012.

Monday, October 3, 2011

OVCX Dayton Weekend: Halfway There

She says we've got to hold on to what we've got
It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not
We got each other and that's a lot
For love we'll give it a shot!

Oh, we're half way there
Oh oh, trainin' on a prayer
Turn those cranks and we'll make it I swear
Oh oh, trainin' on a prayer

It's hard to believe that in the space of 22 days that I've raced six times and the 2011 OVCX series is already half over. The thought of doing another double CX weekend in a row was a little daunting, especially with both races being over three hours away. The complicating factor was that I was leading the series in the Cat 4 Open class and had worked my way up to number one on the call-up list. I just couldn't bear to skip a race and let myself slide back into obscurity.

Adam seemed less interested in beating himself up for call-up spots, so I made the journey to Dayton alone on Saturday morning. The temperatures were in the low fourties and it was windy and drizzling. I think I was still in weather denial since we were racing in hot dusty conditions this time last year, and it didn't really even occur to me to bring leg warmers. I didn't really want to wear them, anyway, because dressing for 'cross is much different that bundling up for winter riding. There is only so much bulk one can put on and when it's in the fourties, you've still got to keep an ace in the hole for when it's in the thirties or even the twenties.

Unfortunately, my attempt to prove my hard(wo)man status kind of failed, because I think I got chilled to the point that I couldn't race well. I got the hole shot, but was quickly passed by a couple of much faster riders and then even more when I went over the first set of barriers and discovered my numb feet weren't clipping back in too well. With three dismounts per lap, slow clip-ins were kind of a problem.

I ended up swapping around with a group of 4-6 girls throughout the race, including Collyn, who had won at AppleCross and had also beaten me at Brookside. We were back and forth, never more than a few bike lengths apart for most of the race. We were sent out for a fourth lap (the first race where I've not been lapped by a SS man and pulled after three) where I tried in vain to shake her from my wheel. With 200m to go she was still there, and while I did my best to sprint, she flew around me and easily made it to the line first. It turned out that we were sprinting for the last podium spot, so I was relegated to fourth and was eighth in the wave.

Sunday was a better day, being sunny and having a couple of key players missing from my category. The course had a couple of long slightly uphill slogs over ground that managed to be both rough and squishy at the same time. I didn't get the best start and I allowed myself to be passed by several people that I shouldn't have during the first quarter lap. After the first barriers, I got myself together and started making places back. By the time I made it through, I was feeling decent, but the leader was way off the front and there was a group of three girls, including my category leader, who still had a big gap on me. I tried hard to shut it down, but in the end they still had about 45 seconds and I ended up second in my category and fifth in my wave.

I was telling Adam that I think I may have already done more races by the beginning of October this season than I did over the entire season any previous year. That might not actually be true, since I was pretty gung-ho at the beginning of 2007 when I had what now seems to be the ridiculous goal of racing the elite category at the first-ever USGP Louisville and not finishing totally off the back. I actually did race the women's "A" category the first few races, but I was totally off the back even against the locals and had to reevaluate my goals. I soon found out that I had a pretty hard time just not getting last in B's.

It's kind of funny trying to imagine what the 2007 me would think of me now. I still have a big jump to make up to anything loosely resembling "elite", and I'm still haven't cracked a top three overall finish (my new goal for the last half of the season). However, I now get to take podium pictures on the reg, and if I just keep plugging away with decent-to-good races, maybe my luck will hold out and I squeak out a series title in December. The 2007 me was really jealous of all of the medium-fast chicks that got to stand on the Cat 3/4 podium. Now I'm one of them.