Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Race Report Woodland Park 2015

If you watch closely - you can see Coz putting a mouse down the shirt of a fellow racer

Like so many things in the life of a middle-aged man; my preparation for the final MFG race was a mixed bag.  I had a really good block of training followed by a week of business travel.  After that week of travel I felt pretty fresh so I opted to spend all of Saturday on a few home projects involving power tools just to ensure I would wake up on race day nearly crippled.

Fulfilling the prophecy, I woke up in pain. It took a mouthful of Aleve and a hot pack on my low back to convince myself I could stand upright. Before reality could overcome my powers of denial I got dressed and headed out for my third and final race of the season.  If I count the Fondos then my year had eight races, which goes at least a little way toward calling myself a bike racer. 

                                      The Silver Bullet earlier this season..
Rich had the tent up and he was ready race.  The sky was blue and in Seattle in the winter that means it was cold.  The race announcer summed it up well when he said over the loudspeaker he “would rather ride wearing a beanie than with fenders.”

I took a lap before the racing started and found some corners were slick.  I dropped some pressure in my non-UCI compliant 40mm wide tires.  As the course saw more and more action the slick spots dried out and when I took another lap just before my race the course was tacky and fast.

The course had some minor variations that I think resulted in the best race course flavor Woodland Park has ever seen.  The layout of the venue dictates that some of the classic features carry over from past years. Icons such as the run up, the gravel climb that is in fact neither steep nor long, the descent from the gravel hill that tests your brakes, and the slippery slightly downhill corner out past the tennis courts are the trademarks of this venue.

I cheered on Feral Dave and Richman Powerman in their race.  They were going fast.  Feral Dave was so strong he broke his chain.  What a stud! 

I maintained the theme of being semiserious and did a warm up focused more on increasing my body temperature than being race-ready.   When it was time I just rolled up and watched as Coz got his call up.  When the whistle blew Coz missed his clip-in and was slow to get going.  This was in contrast to last year where his start was superfast followed by an experiment to see how far you could slide on wet asphalt while wearing Lycra before slowing down.   The answer, if you fall going about twenty five miles an hour on wet, slick pavement, is pretty darn far.

Coz recovered but seemed in no hurry to start working his way up.  Before we even hit the first run up we were catching the stragglers from the group in front of us.  With the course spending so much time in the woods it would be hard to keep track of who was in my category and who wasn’t.    This course didn’t have the open cow pasture setting of some other venues.

I was moving okay, mixing it up with three Dyna guys whose bright pink kits made them easy to spot.  As we hit the finishing straight one of them slid out on the plywood ramp and I just managed to avoid riding over him.   On the next lap the plywood was gone and I didn’t see anyone else hit the pave’ there. 

                                           Richman Powerman pulling away !!
My fat tires were handling the corners well and my legs actually had some power on the rolling course.  I think my weekend of trail riding in the Methow a week prior was kicking in.  This was a power course and there were only a couple short spots where you could catch your breath, and even then, only for a micro-moment. 

As always, I did well on the run ups and longer climbs.  I would get passed in some of the tight turns and return the favor elsewhere on the course.  It was easy to get caught up in the turns and slow down. Catching and passing the riders at the back of the group ahead of us caused some mayhem.   You are riding twenty feet behind a guy in your group and he passes someone going into a corner and that person goes slowly through the corner so by the time you are clear to pass the gap to your guy has doubled.  This forces you to ride a tad more aggressively than you might prefer and to pass riders in less than ideal circumstances.

By the second lap I had found a good rhythm and our group was making our way well into the back of the racers who started a minute ahead of us.  These riders gave me targets to catch and pass.  It seemed that at some point on each lap one of the Dyna guys would pass me and I would keep him in my sights and pass him back.  Those guys were like a tag team.  I would pass one of them so they were all behind me only to have a different Dyna guy pass me the next time. 

As we were making our way past some riders from the race ahead of ours I called out, “passing on your left.”  The guy took it either as an insult, or an invitation to move left and cut me off.  I had speed and nowhere to go so I rode through a plastic pole leading with my left knee. In a second I was past him and I didn’t have course tape stuck to me so I just kept going.  I knew full well that when the day was done and the adrenaline had subsided that my knee would hurt but for now it was full speed ahead.

I kept plugging away and when I passed the ONE LAP to go sign I was once again behind one of those pesky pink-clad Dyna guys.   I tried to hang on his wheel with the intention of passing him later on the last lap.  I remembered that one of my lessons learned was to never delay passing on the last lap.  I was gassed so I chose to ignore that lesson. 

As we zigged and zagged through some spent racers from the group in front of us I got blocked a couple times and the gap grew.  Then when we were in the hundred acre wood in the heart of the course a second Dyna guy passed me.   Holy crap!

I stayed close to the second Dyna guy and as we approached the run up I made up a bit of ground and although I hoped to gain more on the run up and barrier plus run up - I only closed the gap a little.  After remounting I checked my heart rate and saw it was at 178.  I thought to myself, “178 is way less than 182, I’ve still got more!” 

I got on it and at the left turn that starts the gravel climb Dyna guy number two passed Dyna guy number one with some words of encouragement.  I was now only a couple bike lengths back and had enough in my legs to drill past them both on the climb.  I felt remarkably strong on the climbs this day.

Instead of easing up at the top of the hill I kept driving over and down and fought hard to stay off the brakes as long as I could while I picked up speed on the downhill.  I tried to take good lines through some tight turns and then let it fly on the loose downhill sweepers.   I got out of the saddle and drilled the final dirt section and when I spilled out onto the pavement for the final sprint I could sense someone was behind me and to my right.  I could hear them downshifting and digging hard.

I didn’t know if he was in my cat or not so I sprinted with everything I had left.  There wasn’t much left in my “everything” but it carried me to the line without getting passed.  Checking the results the next day it turns out it was some young feller from a different cat.  As I think about it, maybe it is even better to have out-sprinted a guy who doesn’t have grandkids.

                              Everything looks worse in black and white

                                                                                  -Paul Simon
Woodland Park is the race that brings out all the fast guys.  It also brings out the fast road guys who only do one or two cross races a year.  A good placing here has some meaning. I beat a handful of the guys who typically beat me so I was quite pleased with my result. 

Coz, on the other hand, WON the race!  By doing so he piped the guy in the series standings and finished second for 2015 after winning the series in 2014.   He didn’t want to show off, but he is all about the swag.

Although I sincerely enjoy all aspects and flavors of riding bikes, it is particularly satisfying to go into the dark of winter having pinned on a number and raced shoulder to shoulder with some similarly obsessed old guys. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Product Review Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor

Preamble Rant:
Like partners in crime along with the manufacturers of wiz bang technical gizmos we have set off down a path that has no return.  We now have the ability to track not only our distance and time, but our speed at every given point of the ride, the grade of the road, the elevation, our heart rate, power output and calories burned.  Not that long ago we didn’t have all of this available.  Now that we have become accustomed to having all of this data the accuracy of that data counts.  

When the technology was first available to the general public we could overlook the erroneous readings.  Riding at a steady pace and seeing your indicated speed jump up and down on your GPS device may have been okay five years ago but not today.  Seeing a false reading from a heart rate of two hundred and sixty beats per minute when you were going downhill was common.  You learned to apply a jaded eye so you could filter the data. This wasn’t a big deal because the data was data; we didn’t know how to use it yet.

Worse than the false high reading was wearing a HRM while doing zone five intervals and getting a bogus HR indication of one hundred eighteen beats per minute. You turn yourself inside out during a workout and your HRM lies to your Garmin head unit and it looks like you were licking stamps when your quads were on the verge of spontaneously combusting. What is the point of gathering all this data if the data is wrong? 

Early on the data was a novelty and provided more entertainment than true training information. With the explosion of data tracking technology we also got a wave of tools to analyze that data and turn it into real useful information. Our vocabulary grew to include Functional Threshold Power, Heart Rate Zones and Power Zones and Total Stress Scores and the like.  Once you start feeding your data to these monsters any false data is spit back in your face. 

Many of us had come to accept that the Garmin heart rate monitors (or at least the straps) would die well before the battery needed to be replaced.  These shortcomings were just what the landscape looked like and we accepted it because it seemed that such was the price we had to pay to get the “generally” accurate big data from our training.   “I buy a new strap every six months” a friend commented without a hint of dissatisfaction.

When my latest Garmin HRM went over to the dark side and followed the repeated pattern of going from 3% false readings to 80% false readings I wondered if there was a viable alternative.   I had tried the hack job suggested by Cycling Tech Zen-Master DC Rainmaker of modifying a Polar strap and using it with a Garmin chest unit.  That combo worked much longer than what I had come to think of as the disposable “premium” straps from Garmin. After a year of battle even this configuration had met its demise.

I heard about the Wahoo Fitness TICKR and it sounded promising.  I did some research and decided to give it a try.

This is where I would normally describe how it looks and feels and all that.  It is a HRM and if you have one this one will be pretty much just like it.  A few more bells and whistles but those aren’t what set this apart.

First off, at sixty bucks the TICKR is cheaper than the Garmin Premium HRM.  There are other models from Wahoo with more features that are more expensive, but this one does everything I need and more.

Second it works with ANT+ and Bluetooth. This seems like a nice to have until you realize not only could you record a ride on STRAVA using your smartphone even if you left your Garmin head unit at home.  This also means you can record your heart rate on a run using the strap and your smartphone.  

Anyone who has either fired up their Garmin only to find the battery is dead or who has discovered the low battery warning on their Garmin head unit really means “I’m shutting down in five more minutes – You’re screwed” will appreciate that with this HRM you can still record the rest of your ride using your smartphone.

The feature that seals the deal is that the HRM data is 100% accurate.  No more skewed graph because of a false high or fifteen minutes of zero reading.  If you’re going to bother to track your data you might as well use it and you can’t really use it when it is wrong.  Simply put if it isn’t accurate then it is bad data.  Bad data is worse than no data.

Matching the TICKR to your Garmin and various Smartphone Apps is as easy as pie. Once you’ve done this put it on and go.  In addition to my Garmin I’ve paired it to the STRAVA app on my phone as well as an app called MotionX-GPS.  If I am wearing the HRM and I turn on any of these apps they find the unit and record my heart rate with no recurring action required on my part. Slick!

The two compelling reasons to get this are if your current HRM dies or if you need something that is both ANT+ (like Garmin) and Bluetooth (like your phone) compatible.  If you can tick either of these boxes this is clearly your best option.

Five of five Evos