Doing it all the hard way...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

That didn’t work. My 2014 Training experience

 Let me be brief....
My experiment this season was using a coach and it did not produce the results I was hoping to see.  When I first got hooked up with my coach he asked what my goals were for the season.  I basically said I wanted to move the needle.  My results over the past three seasons had been remarkable only in their consistency of unremarkableness.  I wanted to know if I could improve those results as my previous variations had seemed to have no effect on my race placing.   As I measure my results against those I raced with over the last three years my results this season are pretty much identical to the previous three.

For all of my hard work, and there was a lot of very hard work, I didn’t see any improvements.  I followed the plan and while there was a short lull in the middle when I was sick, I expected to see something. In the end I am forced to conclude I saw nothing.  When diets fail it is generally because the person on the diet strays from the prescribed plan.  I stuck to the plan with OCD precision.

My training took a lot of time and it was high value prime time.  Instead of working my training into my bike commutes and YMCA workouts as I had in prior years I would come home from work at dinnertime, kiss Hottie, pet Tux and get on the bike.  As the days grew shorter, training meant getting on the trainer downstairs.  Riding on a trainer is not something you look forward to.  It is boring and your only distractions are listening to music and enduring pain.  It is so boring that you look forward to the pain.
When I finished my workouts I would shower, start the laundry and sit down for dinner somewhere between seven-thirty and eight.  After dinner I was typically pretty useless as far as getting stuff done at home.  Home projects were neglected.   Typically I’d surf for a few minutes and start thinking about bed. Two or three times a week I had morning workouts as well. Hottie ended up having a bunch of dinners alone and was commendably supportive of my folly.

If this effort had produced results I could weigh the value of improved performance against the sacrifice and determine where I wanted to be on that continuum. I expected to see something. I expected to see improvement.   To work that hard and sacrifice that much and see nothing was heartbreaking.  This is why I had no qualms about calling it a season following the MFG finale.
Just like this awesome pancake, I'm done !

The training I did this season was not all wasted. I did learn something important.

In high school and college I competed in track and cross country running.  I did very well and I won more races than I lost. The thinking back in the day was based on your mix of fast and slow twitch muscle you were destined for a certain distance.  All the training in the world couldn’t make a distance runner into a sprinter so the trick was finding an event that matched your physical make up. 

The distances I excelled at were the 400 and 800 meters.  I could compete in the 1,500m (actually the mile back in my time) but I would usually win the 400 and 800 races.  I was competitive in Cross Country (5,000 meters – a tad over three miles) but I didn’t win.  I also would tend to fade during the cross country season.

In hindsight and in light of my most recent training episode I think I finally figured it out.  I’m all about base and volume.   My body responds well to lots of miles and less so to short intervals.  In cross country (and Cyclocross) as the season progresses the mileage goes down and the speed and intensity of intervals goes up.  The hard intervals certainly hurt, but I don’t think they helped me much.  What my body noticed was the decline in long efforts and I would lose fitness.  It is hard to believe that my fitness was going down as my suffering during intense intervals was going up.  Looking back, peaking really never worked for me.  I needed the miles.  When I peaked in high school and college I actually started to feel out of shape and my results toward the conclusions of my seasons were consistent with that theory.
Grandpa planks
I recall competing in the 400m at an off season open track meet at a time when my training for the prior three months had been exclusively long distance.  I was less than two seconds off my PR at the time. I remember thinking at the time that it seemed like an awful lot of hard work to only gain between one and two seconds. 

My one success this season was my first race.  I was still logging big miles and the intervals were still long (twenty and thirty minute efforts as opposed to one to six minute intervals later in the season).  As the season progressed my long rides decreased and the intervals got shorter and harder.   My results returned to the middle of the pack and my befuddlement increased.

I think back to a mini gravel weekend with McWoodie and Einmoton.  We rode eleven hours in three days with thousands of meters of climbing.  Those guys are beasts and I struggled and still couldn’t keep up. Although my legs were quivering on the final day beginning the next week I felt invincible.  I think that is the kind of training that makes me faster.

To be clear I’m selfish and this blog is all about me.  Just because short intense intervals don’t work for me does not mean they won’t work for you.  I’m just happy that I figured it out.  For that clarity alone, the experiment was worth it.  Look for me in 2015 !!

Monday, November 10, 2014

MFG #6 2014 Woodland Park I am so done !

Photos of everyone else can be found here
After having my wish for true Cyclocross conditions more than granted last week, I was foolish enough to be back for more.  A rainy week had saturated the marvelous venue of Woodland Park and all it needed was riders doing warm up laps in order to transform into a slippery course worthy of a series finale.

My bike commute is now dark on both ends and my short sleeved jerseys won’t be used outside for several months.  Intervals are done on the trainer downstairs and the proof of a good trainer workout is condensation on the windows and soggy laundry. This boys and girls is Cyclocross season. 

Despite working harder this season than any of my previous seasons my results have been unaffected.  I’ll deal with that issue in another post.  For context, all you need to know is that my motivation to continue racing beyond the MFG finale is nonexistent.   I’m not saying I won’t race anymore this season.  I’m just saying that I’m not planning on it.

Injuries, age and apathy have combined to make 2014 an unusually sparse year for racers from our team.  This has resulted in a smaller and thus more intimate group of racers.  The dynamic of the same twelve racers coming and going during the day is much different than when we had thirty plus racers who stuck around for most of the day. It has been enjoyable seeing our small band of men, woman and girls persevere, but I do miss the days when our team was both large and loud.  Perhaps if those days did return I would pine for this small group of stalwarts.  I guess I’m just a whiner.  You’ve been warned.
I was looking forward to the return of Big John who had just worked himself back to racing fitness following a late summer wrist injury.  Everyone has more fun when John is around.  When I got a text Friday morning that he was in the hospital ER following a bike crash I was devastated on so many levels.  John is a good guy.  In a fair world something this bad would happen to a guy like, say, Scott.  Scott deserves something like that. John just doesn’t deserve this bad luck.
I was a little off in that I hadn’t felt warm for a couple days and my back was stiff. I’d also read two articles that contradicted my pre-race routine.  The upshot from that newfound knowledge was the static stretching I did just before the gun, as well as my hour long warm up, were outdated and were shown to hurt my race performance.   Oh well. 

Hottie and I arrived early and set up the tent during a perfectly timed break in the rain.  As soon as the tent was staked down the rain returned and the wind picked up. Perhaps I would be lucky this day.

Teammates trickled in and soon the tent was buzzing with brown awesomeness. The rain let off and then came back as a polite drizzle.  I kept my zipper pulled up to my chin and didn’t even wander around the venue talking to everyone as is my normal way. 
I quietly made my way to the car and put on my costume and additional layers to keep me warm until it was time to strip down and race.  I rode the course and the route was mostly the same as prior years with just a couple small but well designed tweaks that added some pain to a part of the course where there used to be a brief chance for recovery.  Though the majority of the route was the same, the rain and early racers had made the course a muddy slippery affair that was different than prior years.

I kept riding and solicited Mr. T to come and collect our clothes from our starting line striptease. He gladly agreed and met us in the starting area.

They staged the 35 plus, 45 plus and the greybeards.   I looked across the starting line at El Pirate and noted that he was not sporting his yellow Lion of Flanders wristband.  He had brought back the wristbands from the World Championships the year they were held in Louisville.  If Cyclocross has a Patron Saint it is the Lion of Flanders. When conditions are particularly Flemmish, we don these wristbands to shield us from the elements.  I pulled off my band and called to El Pirate and tossed him mine.  He shrugged and slipped it on.  His lead in the series was slim and today’s race was double points.   He needed a strong race to win the series. He needed the protection of the Lion. He spoke no words but his gaze told me he understood I was perhaps saving his racing life. 

The start was half a lap away from the finish and those were the only two paved sections of the entire course.  The balance was mud, gravel and some pulverized grass.

At the whistle we were off and I finally had a good start.  The start featured 150 yards of asphalt and I was about sixth wheel in a ball of riders.  El Pirate was in front and he got out of the saddle to accelerate and he went down on the slick glistening black pavement. He slid like he was on a greased skillet and we split and went around him. It seemed like forever before he came to a stop and picked up his bike which had accompanied him on his slide. He must have covered fifty feet. I shouted, “You’re okay, don’t panic.”  Three seconds later we hit the muddy grass at top speed I leaned left and felt my wheels fighting to maintain some traction on the slimy left hand sweeper.

I settled in with some fast guys and felt okay.  The run up was loud and I could hear someone shouting my name the same way Big John usually does but I knew he was home in bed.  My race focus didn’t allow time for speculation on who was yelling for me.   I tried to gain ground on the run up rather than just hold my position.  Other racers tried to ride another five feet up the incline and then bailed having lost all momentum.  I got off early and tried to keep my speed up the soft muddy climb. I passed a rider or two each lap.

I was dueling with Pete K. so I knew I was going fast and I tried to just hang on.  After the run up there is a brief bit of mud before anther soft run up preceded by a double set of barriers.  The course then takes you up a gradual uphill followed by a deceptive uphill on gravel that hurts more than it should. 

PLEASE note some muscle definition in my legs !!
Big John had asked me to channel him and suffer a bit extra on that hill and I thought of him and hurt for him each lap.  I found myself fading near the top but managed to punch it over the top and take back any ground I lost on the short downhill where I relied on my discs to save the day.
Go Matthew GO !
Finally El Pirate caught me and I let him through and followed him for a bit.  He was going well albeit muddied and bloodied.  I shouted to him not to try and get it all back at once.

The course variant they threw in this year removed the short generally flat section that preceded the final paved finishing straight and replaced it with more serious elevation drops and climbs that ensured you were gassed when you hit the pave’.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the course was the greasy uphill corner that followed the finishing straight.  Leaving the pavement you hit short uphill of soft mud that stole all of your speed and then you had to negotiate an uphill turn and accelerate from a near standstill on slickkery mud which just sprayed behind you as your mud caked rear wheel spun fruitlessly.

On one lap I was in the corner trying to pass a rider from the 45 plus cat and I was on his left shoulder and though I was pedaling for all I was worth I wasn’t gaining any ground.  It was like a dream where you’re running but barely moving.  By the time I had traction we were into the next corner and I had to wait and get him on the next corner.

Through the miracle of cellular communication Big John was able to watch our race live through the camera phone of one of our teammates.

My second favorite part of any cross race is seeing 1 TO GO on the lap board.  It means I haven’t been lapped and this is the final lap.  My smile was short lived as I was soon on the greasy corner and fighting just to get moving again.   I dug deep and nabbed a rider and looked ahead for the next one.  I was chasing Guy whom I had caught earlier but he had returned the favor in typical brown style.

I powered the paved section where we had started and took my momentum onto the mud.  Soon I was attacking the run up and then gasping on the dirt that followed.  On the long gravel climb I channeled my inner Belgian Thug and got out of the saddle fighting my way up.  To my horror I was passed approaching the top.  At the top the other racer let up and I charged past noting that he wasn’t running discs and figured chasing me might be a bad idea.  I kept it upright through the Hodala smoke bubbles and whatnot corner and took an excellent line entering the final drops before the climbs to the finishing straight.  I had a bit of a gap on the rider who jockeyed with me on the hill but somehow when we hit the final finishing straight he was right behind me.  Out of the saddle I dug for the line and had a good gap as I crossed.
 DONE   DONE   DONE    DONE    DONE !!!!
I was done.  I was so done.  I found El Pirate who despite the crash had done well enough to win the series.  I hugged him and congratulated him.

He had blood on his leg and knuckles. He then showed me the Lion of Flanders wristband.  It was perfectly yellow except for the side with the Lion. The Lion was covered in mud from his sliding fall.  The Lion had taken the brunt of the fall.  The Lion saved him.  It was a true Cyclocross miracle.

In stark contrast to last week it wasn’t raining and we didn’t have hypothermia looming over us.  I was able to cool down a bit and change into dry clothes.

Soon our young women were racing and when it was reported that Lily had left it all out on the course (including her lunch) I knew it was a great Cyclocross day. 

We took down the tent and listened to the Seahawk game on the way home.  I unpacked and staged the team stuff to dry.  I washed the bike and my clothes.  My sealing of the entry points with Silicone seemed to have kept everything dry.

I was tired from my race and was in bed early.  Although I wasn’t happy with my results this season Hottie did remind me that I wasn’t on crutches like I was this time last year.  Okay, ......not all bad.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

MFG # 5 2014 Race Report: Be careful what you wish for

Guns for a Gunfight.  Giros in Vampire mode.
At the last MFG race I was lamenting that maybe I had changed to mud tires too early. Tubeless is great but tire swaps are messy.  I was hoping for a wet course to justify the installation of the mud tires. This week I got my wish.  It is a cruel God that grants our wishes.

I am an almost religious follower of the NOAA website and the forecast graphs in particular.  The graph shows on an hour by hour basis; the temperature, cloud cover, wind velocity, chance of precipitation and amount of precipitation per hour for your selected location.  My race was looking to be a slippery event starting the Tuesday before the race.  As the week progressed the variations narrowed but the predicted deluge remained the prediction.

With my Stan’s Raven tires (gravel/dry cyclocross) resting on a hook in the garage I had my only other cross tires (Kenda Kommando X Pro’s) installed.  I had purchased them strictly for muddy cross races and although they had a much more aggressive tread than my Raven’s they sure didn’t look as mud hungry as say, Clement PDX’s or Challenge Limus’.  A last minute search for something with more bite did not yield any results so I tried to embrace the Kommando X’s.

My training included some skills practice the Thursday before the race. It was bombing rain and I welcomed the chance to get some time on the bike in muddy conditions.   I went out just before sunset Thursday evening with a light on my helmet and rain falling on my shoulders.   I was feeling pretty badass riding in the rain (Rule #9) until I made it to the school where I planned the majority of my practice and found a team of ten year old girls practicing soccer.  I concluded we were all badass.  I discretely kept my potty mouth perspective to myself.

One outcome of that practice was that my disc braking wasn’t as awesome as it had been in dry conditions.  I swapped out my pads and installed some sintered pads that I think are made from metal asbestos, cancer and kitten bones. I bought them on the black market. They came in an unmarked bag. If I recall correctly they are made in Poland and are shipped using Hazardous Materials protocol.  They do, however, stop me very well.

With the race schedule both shuffled and starting four hours later than normal I packed the war wagon the morning of the race. I got there early and set up anticipating wind and rain.  I had the team sprayer charged, full of water and ready to spew.

The ground was soaked from a week of rain and over the span of four hours the riders chewed up the course and it transitioned from bumpy grass to greasy peanut butter-like mud. I checked my phone for the radar image and saw a mass of green and yellow that stretched from Vancouver to Corvalis bearing down on Redmond, Washington.  It started raining lightly about seventy five minutes before my race. Later the rain changed from a soft rain you could see to rain you could hear and feel as the skies opened up completely about ten minutes before the whistle for my race. This was going to be epic.

My time on the course before my race had only served to confirm the race would feature a lot of improvisation.  There were stretches of off camber that I could not ride. There was a puddle the size of my car that could not be avoided.  Even when pre-riding there were riders going down like drunken toddlers. This was my kind of course. 

The beauty of Cyclocross is the application of a rider’s handling skills, raw strength, conditioning, prior race experience and judgment combined equipment selection and preparation on a course that can be different not only from prior years, but from prior laps.  You can’t practice riding in forty degree rain on a muddy course in July.  There is an odd fragility to such a rough sport. I’ve raced at Marymoor a half dozen times and never has it been anything remotely like this.
Scott bombing it !!
I accepted my call up with joy and reverence.  I stood on the line still in my plastic jacket and thirty year old (1984, really) Nike nylon pants. I peeled them off at the last minute and was at least for the moment warm in the falling rain. 

When the race started my mind was blank and my start reflected it.  I quickly drifted toward the back as we made our way under the finish banner and onto the slick straightaway by the team tents.  Willard was cheering and ringing his monster cowbell.  Thanks. I hear you and appreciate the cheers. At the first sharp corner I could see there were still a couple guys behind me.  I needed to move up.

Through a narrow gate and we were onto a greasy straight with a slight off camber where I slid downhill and to the right without wanting to do so.  There would be a lot of “hook and ladder” riding this day. I kept pedaling and finally hit some steerable slop and was back on solid-ish ground.  My rear wheel was spinning out as I ramped up my effort. I shifted my weight back to keep traction. This was the beginning of fifty minutes of bike wrangling this day. A slick S-curve downhill (evil) and then a wicked trio of uphill, traverse left, then down, greasy right, repeat - slaloms that required a ton of perfectly timed power or you would either slide out or stall.  I had to avoid riders who did both.

A single high line that could be ridden with a constant and controlled pedal stroke was the only way to avoid sliding down and ultimately under the course tape.  Then we zigged and zagged on the velodrome infield, jumping barriers before exiting and hitting the off camber of death.

The carnage was everywhere and even on the first lap we were working our way through the back of the Cat 3 45 race field.  On the off camber of death there were two lines of riders. On top there were riders gingerly walking their bikes trying not to shoot down the slippery slope and below were riders who had slid down and were clawing back onto the course.
Mud is a many spotted thing..
In anticipation of such conditions I had installed wickedly long toe cleats that made my shoes look like vampires.  Using the vampires I dismounted early then I shot in between the two lines and passed a handful of riders.  I remounted and headed for the final off camber of glory which came just before the log obstacle.
There was a low line on this off camber that could be ridden if you kept your pedal pressure constant and didn’t get greedy.  Then a rutted cream cheese downhill followed by a 180 degree turn before the uphill with the logs.  The beer garden was positioned here so my log leaping was cheered by soggy mildly inebriated Cyclocross fans.

Remounting on the slippery slope after the logs was tricky and I felt I had a good solution of remounting and clipping in my downhill foot while using my uphill foot as an outrigger for the off camber downhill. I could hear fans yelling from the beer garden but the slick slope demanded my full attention.  On later laps I would catch a glimpse of beer hand ups out of the corner of my eye.

More zigs and zags and a final power straight and it was onto lap two.  I was working my way through the 45ers and catching other old guys in my category.

On the second lap I hit the post-infield off camber of death in back of a group of seven riders and emerged in front of them all.  I heard swearing behind me not because I had cut anyone off, but because the mud was almost like quicksand in that the harder you tried to go fast, the more you slipped and went down. My vampires helped me pass slipping riders and they didn’t like it. Welcome to Cyclocross.

The course was described by another rider as a greasy nightmare.  Riders were down everywhere and avoiding them was just one of the course challenges this day.  I dabbed multiple times every lap but didn’t go completely down.  My brakes were working which enabled me to control my speed with some confidence.  Instead of braking at the top of a downhill and hoping the brakes would grab about the time I needed to slow, I could wait and squeeze the levers when I needed to slow.  Sweet !

I kept working up and cursed my slow start.  I had some traffic issues and getting around riders when long mud sections had only one viable line hurt my lap times.  I was chasing Scott and found myself close to him on some parts of the course and losing contact on other parts.
It was now past sunset and the stadium lights illuminated the bombing rain.  The charcoal colored mud and my wet glasses made the darker parts of the course an unexpected adventure.  My HR was maxed and I was warm despite being soaked to the bone and caked with mud.  The bike wasn’t feathery light as it was carrying eight pounds of mud. I felt like I was doing well and knew I was well ahead of the racer closest to me in series points.  I would keep my sixth place call up for the final race.  Nice.

Despite my crap start I managed a top ten finish and was glad to be done.  The rain was still pissing down as I went back to the start line and collected the rain jacket and pants I set aside just before the start. I saw Brad warming up for his race and felt sorry for him. It felt kind of like I was seeing someone waiting for their execution.  I wished him well and looked away. As I got back on my bike to ride to the tent I realized I was already in my second race of the day, the race with hypothermia.  I was losing that race.

I wrestled off my sticky wet and muddy clothes then rubbed off the mud off my legs using a brown towel (smart eh?) and pulled on some dry clothes. The sprayer got the chunks of mud off the B2 Bomber and I loaded it into the war wagon.  Despite breaking a spoke, El Pirate snagged 4th on the day and remains the point leader in the series.   That guy is my hero.

Adam came over and we compared war stories.  I was still freezing and wanted to get out of the rain so as soon as we broke down the tent I headed out wearing all the clothing I brought in an attempt to get warm.  I discovered my car heater was not working and I just gritted my teeth.  

Once home I attacked a hot meal Hottie had waiting.  Then I unpacked the war wagon and set up the tent, team flag, chairs, table and stools in the garage to dry off.  I hosed off the Bomber again with more water pressure and dripped some lube on the chain.  The bike would get more loving the next evening, but that was the triage for race day.  Then I pulled my muddy clothes out of my wet bag and hosed the mud off and dropped the soggy clothes into a bucket.  Then I dumped the bucket into the washing machine and put the shoes on the boot dryer.  Finally I got the hot shower I had been dreaming of for three hours.

My body ached everywhere.  My shoulders, neck and biceps were sore.  My feet and hands hurt. The mud wrestling had taken a toll. My legs weren’t too bad, but everything else was throbbing.  That was a race.  That was awesome.   This was a great feeling.  

I looked forward to looking back on this day.

As a footnote I started cleaning the Bomber Monday evening and found water and mud in places it didn’t belong.  Before I was done I ended up pouring water out of my frame, servicing my BB and replacing derailleur cables.  That was a race that will be spoken of for years to come.

Like it or not, I got my wish.