Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seward Park Race: Finally A Participant!

I finally made the leap, and signed & lined up for my very first mass-start bike race ever, the Seward Park Thursday night 4/5/unlicensed race. Not an official race, so I'm not quite a Cat 5 yet - but a lot closer now. I've been wondering for years how I'd do in a race like this, and today I found out!

View at Seward Park (from last week - I didn't get any pics today):
The course was a .8 mile tear-shaped loop with a 140-degree turn and a 125 foot climb each lap, for 15 laps or 25 minutes. I've done one TT previously but no other racing, so it was exciting to line up for the first time. and even more exciting to shoot downhill at about 40 mph with 50 other people around me.

The Pre-Race Clinic

This was an intro to the course, and mostly focused on the 140º turn. Though I was a bit late to this (hauled ass to the start from Capitol Hill, what else is new), I joined the group for their last lap before the turning work. It was great to be able to do the turn in a semi-controlled environment, since it was interesting twist in the race.

The clinic was led by local/national legend Kenny Williams, if I'm not mistaken. I've seen him kick some butt in the Boat Street Crit and a few others around here, and is a super strong cyclist and a really nice guy.

The Race

After the pre-race clinic I lined up in the 10th row or so, pretty far back, but not quite in the rear of the peloton. I've heard that you want to get up front early, but at the same time I didn't want to be "that guy" in everyone's way..

As soon as the race started 90% of the tips I'd read, heard, and imagined were lost in a sea of freewheels and the whir of high-PSI tires. Stay out of the gutters, don't do too much work by yourself, stay in the front 1/3 of the pack (to avoid crashes & the "accordian effect"), find a good wheel to follow, etc. All of these tips were temporarily forgotten, as the only thing I had time to think about was not hitting wheels or falling.

Speaking of falling, on the second or third lap I saw another unattached guy go down near the start of the climb, I think he hit some dust or something, but maybe it was a wheel. Ouch. They say it's just a matter of time until that happens to all racers, and so I wore my knickers today, just to save the knees some trouble. Luckily, it didn't end up mattering.

It was an exhilarating feeling to be finally rolling in a peloton, after watching so many local races, and of course races on TV. Being squished, surrounded, by at least five riders, with inches separatnig handlebars was an interesting feeling too.

For the first few laps it felt almost easier than I'd expected, though once there was a prime lap things sped up a bit. I think I was somewhere in the middle of the 50 or 60 that started the race, and was definitely having to catch up after the hard turn at the top of the hill. But it was fun to get to go fast around with a bunch of other people.

Then the last few laps was where it seemed like the heat was really turned on. By about lap 9 I was hurting more than expected, and near my general limit, or at least what I'm used to. So with one or two laps to go, the speed was increasing but I was hurting more and more. Looked down and saw my heartbeat at 194 bmp, when my max is about 199. (old max was about 193)

I didn't win, but finished maybe 25th out of 50 or so - actually I'm really not sure where I ended up, I was just happy not to crash or get lapped or dropped. I think the field was split in two, and that I was at the back of the lead pack. I had no chance of contesting anything at the end, but was at least glad to be rolling in near the pack.

Race stats:
Duration: 25:08
Work: 334 kJ
TSS: 34.7 (intensity factor 0.91)
Norm Power: 259
VI: 1.17
Pw:HR: -15.12%
Pa:HR: 0.88%
Distance: 16.123 km
Elevation Gain: 307 m
Elevation Loss: 309 m
Grade: -0.0 % (-2 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 978 221 watts
Heart Rate: 139 197 185 bpm
Cadence: 31 140 89 rpm
Speed: 4 59.6 38.3 kph (or 23.8 mph, my fastest average speed ever)
Altitude: 17 36 29 m
Crank Torque: 0 201.8 22.1 N-m

I didn't look at the power data at all during the race, but it's interesting to analyze it afterwards.

Overall graph of the race:
Peak 5 minutes - the last few laps:

Riding Unattached

When I saw my first Cat 5 race years ago, I was shocked that 95% of the riders were in team kits. Cat 5 was for beginners, so why were they already on a team? Now I know that it's just the way it is, although in 4/5 races team tactics seem to matter a little less so it's not that big of a deal. But at the same time, it's a bit daunting to know you're just out there on your own, fending for yourself.

I wasn't sure what jersey to wear, as I didn't want to embarrass Seattle Randonneurs or Velo Bike Shop if things didn't go well - so I went with a green Ibex jersey that I don't wear much for some reason. Saw a Rapha jersey and a few other unattached riders, so at least I wasn't the only one. Also some some other riders with leg hair, I kind of expected to be the only one sporting it.

Bike Racing Is A Blast

Overall it was a blast, and I wish I'd done it sooner. It helps that I'm probably at the best form I've ever been or damn close anyway. But there's always more room for improvement!

The only thing is that doing the brevets will take time away, and also change the types of training I'll be doing. Since I basically have to "pick one," I'm going with the rando stuff, as I enjoy the length of those rides. But this new high-intesity thingis pretty fun too.. I'll definitely try to make it out to more of these Seward Park races, as well as the Ballard Crit, Redmond Crit, the one in Bremerton, etc, etc.

I owe a huge thanks to everyone I've trained with, and everyone that gave me advice about racing for the first time. Joe P offered tons of advice on our recent 24-hour fleche ride, and Lloyd from Velo Bike Shop got me in touch with a local Cat 4 Kevin, who offered this advice about racing at Seward:

It's good to be taking the race clinic. Kenny has lots of good practical advice for the course and he can get a feel for it at a slower tempo. Here's my tips for the course:

• Stay out of the gutters. They are mossy and slick this time of year.
• If it's wet then the paint at the corner is going to be slick as well.
• Find a good wheel to follow in the corners to get an idea of how to take them.
• Shift down before the corner so it's easier to spin back up to speed once you're
• Don't overlap wheels.
• Close down the gap on the climb. If you get too far back you're going to be toast.
• Ride predictably.
• Hang on and have fun.

The Race Bike

Before I forget, I'd also like to thank my trusty steel Ciocc, which did perfectly. My Open Pro rims are light enough not to slow me down, and the wheels definitely felt fast with the light/thin Conti Supersonic tires on (they're only for racing).

Even though the Ciocc is about 21 lbs, which I would guess is on the heavier side of bikes out there, I don't think it was holding me back much, if at all. Not even the Brooks saddle held me back, it was somewhat of a renewal in my belief that I don't really need a lighter bike. At least not yet.

Mostly, it's the engine that needs more work.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

24 Hours Of Painted Flèche

Well we made it!! Roughly 380km and 24 hours after starting, the "Painted Flèche" team rolled triumphantly into the parking lot of the Red Lion in Olympia at 6 PM on Saturday 4/18. Starting on Bainbridge Island, we took a round-about route to Olympia. A very out of the way route indeed.

But let's back up a bit, and start from the beginning.

4:10 PM - Rollout from Capitol Hill towards the ferry

I made sure to leave with enough time to catch our 4:40 ferry to Bainbridge Island, especially given my reputation for missing those boats and their silly schedules. On the way down Madison from The Hill, I was worried I might not make it, since a ton of traffic was in my way.. I guess it was the usual rush hour congestion, but I had no time for that. After a few slick moves onto the sidewalk, I freed myself from the gridlock and kept on heading down the hill.

Made it with plenty of time - and I'd also like to point out I was the first in our group to show up at the dock! Soon after Robert showed up, followed by Dan. Our other two team members, Greg & Joe, were waiting for us over at a cafe in Bainbridge.

There were lots of other cyclists getting on the ferry, mostly commuters. I noticed more than one strange look at our matching SiR jerseys and bags of luggage strapped to our bikes. Surely they could probably tell we were up to something silly. And we were certainly up to something silly, but in a rando kind of way. What rando doesn't dream of doing a 24 hour ride with friends?

6:00 PM 4/17 - Start!
After getting our control cards from the team captain, Greg, we rolled off north towards the Hood Canal bridge. Starting a long ride in the late afternoon is not something I've done before, and it's a different experience for sure.

Our route would head up to Hadlock, down through Quilcene on Highway 101 to the Mason Lake area, then out west to Cosmopolis (near the coast), then back east to Olympia. The thing about the a flèche is that multiple teams start in different locations, but they all end at the same spot. (Flèche is French for dart or arrow, although our route was more of a broken arrow shape)

A map of our route:

~8:30 PM - On The Way to Hadlock

After a scenic but somewhat sketchey ride across the Hood Canal bridge (photo above), we got on some excellent back roads into Hadlock. Sunset was upon us:

We all knew that we would be riding through most of the night, and were hopefully prepared for it. While it had been pretty warm in Seattle, out on the Peninsula it was a bit colder, and being out in the cold so long it starts to wear on you. And that wearing on me started quick, I was chilly unless pedaling.

Upon stopping in our control in Hadlock (a grocery store), we put on extra layers
and headed off into the night.

When packing for this ride I ended up with less space than planned, since I'd decided to carry a change of clothes (minus shoes) to the finish in Olympia. (We could have mailed stuff down there, but I was too lazy)

So that was a few inches of space taken up in my Ostrich handlebar bag, and meant that I decided not to carry leg warmers. That was a little mistake, as I had on knickers that left part of my leg exposed. But it wasn't too bad, and since we kept moving I was fine. (But if I'd brought the leg warmers, I would've worn them!) I was really glad I hadn't gone with the shorts I was initially planning to wear for this ride.. in the PNW, you got to err on the side of coldness, even if it seems warm during the day.

This stretch of road towards Highway 101 was pretty rough, but we saw very little traffic and the stars were out in full view. One of the great things about riding in secluded places at night is actually seeing the Milky Way. It's a shame that humanity's light pollution is making that harder and harder to see... one day we'll have to just show the kids pictures of what it looked like.

My front Honjo fender was kind of rattling, but I didn't want to hold up the group to fix it, much less somehow make it worse. I'm very tentative to "fix" anything that isn't completely broken once we're out on the road. Plus, Robert's fender seemed to have a similar issue, so I figured it wasn't only me with annoying sounds emanating from the bike. There are worse things, such as a bike that won't roll, so I think both of us just hoped nobody complained about it.

Quilcene & Highway 101
We met up with Highway 101 in Quilcene, which was totally dark and closed up. It was probably 10 or 11 PM at this point. We all knew what was ahead: Walker "pass", an ~800 foot climb that isn't steep, but if you aren't feeling good it could be a real beast.

And as it turned out, one of our team mates was not feeling good at this point. Robert, normally a very strong rider, was having stomach issues and needed to slow down. The way I saw it, we had 24 hours to waste out here, and if we didn't make it in time then it'd still be a good story.

So I tried to wait for Robert as much as possible, although I did end up slipping away from him on this climb. Greg had attacked long ago, and left us in the dust. We all waited at the top, then enjoyed a nice descent to the rollers that are the rest of 101 between Quilcene and Skokomish. Robert was still not feeling very hot on this section still, and the lights of Joe & Greg faded into the distance.

I kept thinking that if I was feeling like shit on a ride like this, I'd hope someone would stick back with me as well. When you've got someone next to you, it makes it that much harder to take a break and lose more time. Even if we were rolling at 16-20 km/h (10-12 mph) we were at least rolling.

Robert eventually puked on the side of the road at one point, but being the rando soldier he is it didn't sideline him. Which says a lot about the tenacity of riders who have decided to try a ride like this. For most, puking would spell the end of any ride, long or not. But perhaps he figured that it wouldn't make much sense to stop, given we were in the middle of nowhere, and the only thing that could get him out of "nowhere" at that point was his bike. So we continued.

Around this point I was starting to have thoughts about DNFing, purely based on the possibility that if Robert did it too we could find our way back together. At a few points I think I was even trying to hint at this to Robert, talking about "how warm the cabin was going to be" and "what are we doing out here?"

Luckily his will was strong enough that I too lost any thoughts of DNFing. It was too nice of a night, not even raining - so we continued. Why stop? Maybe randos are "too dumb to quit," as they say.

2:00 AM - Hoodsport Control

This was rumored to be a 24 hour grocery store, but alas we rolled up to it in a shuttered state. Lucky for us, they had a pallet of bottled water out front; we took some and left a $5 bill. (Thanks to whoever left the dough, by the way)

I put on some 3/4 rain pants I had, as my legs were starting to get a little chilly. It was probably 36F or so at this point, and like I said before, being outside for that long just makes it wear on you that much more. Sometimes I (try to) imagine what it would be like to be homeless, and have the night air be a part of your life daily. And with nowhere to go for shelter, one could lose hope all too easily..

But our similarities with the homeless were few however, since we were headed to a warm cabin on Mason Lake. Knowing you have somewhere warm to go was enough to keep us trudging along through the cold night.

(Greg had generously offered his cabin for us to use as a control. This meant we didn't have to sleep in a post office or any other weird spot.)

3:55 AM - The Cabin!

After what seemed like a long rough stretch of rough road through the Skokomish Indian Reservation, we took a right turn towards the cabin. Greg had warned of an impending climb, and sure enough we hit a short grade of about 16%. It made getting there feel that much better.

He'd stocked up some PB&J sandwiches, which really hit the spot at this point, as I hadn't had any real food since starting, save for a sandwich. Before too long we all found somewhere to lay down, I chose the couch. After what felt like 15 minutes of sleep (it had really been about 1.5 hours), alarms were going off and it was time to roll again.

The sun was coming up, and the clock was still ticking. We were about half-way done.

6:22 AM - Leaving the Cabin

The morning air wasn't a whole lot warmer, but at least it was light out now. We all bundled up just as much as we had at night, and started rolling again. My sit-bones were a little tender for about five minutes, but I quickly forgot about that. It was time for some form of breakfast!

Near Matlock we crossed paths with another team, heading the opposite direction. Mark Thomas, Vincent M., and some other hardy rando souls were on a similarly crazy adventure as us. It made us feel a little less crazy I suppose, to actually see another team out riding in the middle of nowhere, in the early morning.

Another team:

8:47 AM - Matlock Control

We were hoping to find some form of breakfast here, but alas this was the best I could do: (fake latte, pop tarts, and a "breakfast sandwich" that featured glistening, yet oddly transluscent, bacon):

Soon we had dispensed with what little food that store had to offer us, and were of course on the road again, and of course on some great NW backroads. Greg really knows how to put a route together!

On the way to Montesano:

Low-profile view of the road - and this wasn't even the worst of the chipseal we saw:

We saw a nuclear power plant on the way to Montesano. It was kind of like a Rorschach test - some may see the promise of never ending, clean, energy. Others see a lot of risk (and radioactive waste) to contend with.. On the way back this difference of interpretation sparked a little debate between me and Greg:

10:50 AM - Rolling into Montesano

Here we were promised the luxury of a sit down breakfast at the "BeeHive Inn" diner. But we were a little behind schedule, so Subway would have to do. I had a mini-pizza that really hit the spot.

After leaving Montesano, we got on some more great roads. Here's Dan on Blue Slough Road, heading to Cosmopolis:

12:13 PM - Cosmopolis!

The Pacer (with Ostrich handlebar bag):

We rode into Cosmopolis, or "Cosi" as the locals apparently call it. Not much going on there, though granted we were only on the edge of town. I think we were all really excited to be "on the home stretch" at this point, with about only 60km left. Joe reminded us that this was just the distance of the Lake Wa loop (north half).. which was true, but if someone had asked me if I wanted to do that loop at that point, I probably would have said "no."

But given that we were very far from home, the only real option was again to pedal our asses back to civilization. It's really good we don't have support cars following us on these rides, becaus I'd probably never finish! It's not that I don't like riding, but sometimes you're just ready for the ride to be over. And I was there at this point.

But at least we were riding on a clear day, we had zero rain. It was a little colder than I might have liked, and I tried to sport the short sleeves but the arms weren't having it.

On the next stretch I made a huge mistake by changing socks, of all things. You'd think "how much can go wrong from that?!", and I did too. Basically as soon as I changed into (clean) socks, my right knee starting hurting on the downstrokes, hurting bad. I don't generally have to deal with joint pains, so I knew something wasn't right.

My theory as to what happend is that the socks I put on were much thinner than the thick wool socks I'd been wearing. And my seat must be positioned a tad too high, so the thinner sock (a 1-2mm of fit difference) really pointed this out.

It was scary, because generally I can "push through" any kind of muscle pain, but this was a needle-like sensation I couldn't ignore. For part of the stretch to Kamilche, I was going easy on my right leg, pedaling mosty with my left leg.

Eventually I lowered my seat a bit and the pain wore off. We had a nice downhill stretch and I decided to give it my all, for some reason. So I rode away from the group, knowing I'd see them at the control anyway.

Of course, they weren't going slow exactly, so they weren't far behind me, and eventually caught up. We rolled into our "22-hour" control, Kamilche, more or less on schedule.

3:52 PM - 22 Hour Control in Kamilche

This was a sprawling gas station/casino/mini mart. I got a slice of pizza (that tasted similar to wood), and before I knew it it was time to roll again. We were getting close to Olympia, the finish.

The next stretch put us on Highway 101 towards Olympia, which isn't winning any awards from Bicycling Mag any time soon, but it's good enough for us randos. We'll ride on anything!

Highway 101 - just don't ride on the rumble strips:

Getting closer and closer to Oly, I'm sure we were all itching to be done. On the way into town, on a little climb, we ended up behind two locals with Olympia Brewery (or something) jerseys on. It wasn't that I wanted to prove anything to them, but we (Dan & I) passed them on the climb, luggage and all.

Out of the two, the guy apparently jumped on our wheel and tried to pace. I wonder if he knew what kind of riding we'd been doing up to that point? From the wattage we were (somehow) putting out on that hill, 23 hours into the ride, I suppose it was hard to tell. We dropped him like a hot potato! And who says randos are slow?

Mud Bay:

5:17 PM - Taco Bell Control

Now in Oly proper, we had a control about 3 kms from the end, due to another crazy rule about the fleche. Worked for me, I had time (barely) to order a cheese quesadilla and stuff it in my Ostrich bag for later. At this point, I was delirious enough to take a photo of just about anything, including this poor soul stuck at Taco Bell on a sunny day:

Nasty Oly road:

6 PM - Roll Into The Red Lion!

We rolled up to the smiles & claps of Joe's family & Dan's girlfriend. What a (24-hour) "day" of cycling!

The "Painted Fleche" team, from left to right: Dan "climbs like the wind" Box, Robert "the navigator" Higdon, Greg "so I attacked" Cox, Matt "not ready yet" Mikul (that's me), and Joe "the firehose" Platzner. What a team!

At the finish I had a room reserved, and was planning to stay overnight for the banquet the next day (some teams were still out riding). But once I got there, I'd decided that 24 hours was a long enough event for me, and that I wanted Sunday back. So I called Kira, begged for an early ride home, and she obliged. (Thanks, baby!)

In the end I paid $93 to sit in the hotel room for a few hours, but the shower was worth it!!

Big thanks to SiR & the Nussbaum's for organizing this year's ride!

I put up a bunch of other photos on flickr, and Robert wrote an excellent report of the same ride here.

Found another ride report from the "Amy et Amis" team, on Geoff's blog.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Getting Ready For Something Different: A Flèche

In the last year or so I've done roughly twelve brevets, with distances between 200 and 600km and overall times ranging from about 9:35 to 39:59. It's a format that I've grown used to. On a brevets the organizer chooses the distance, and you get to choose the time it takes to complete it. Even with all the paperwork that is randonneuring, it's a pretty reasonable and straightforward setup.

But for a flèche things are a bit different: everyone is on the road for 24 hours, and each team chooses the starting location and length of the ride beforehand (it has to be at least 360km, or 224 miles in length). Each team starts in a different location, but ends in the same location. This year for the SiR 2009 Flèche the end location is in Olympia.

What makes the flèche really different is that you can't just blow through 359 km in say 19 hours, and then sleep for 4.75 hours and do the last kilometer at the 24-hour mark. Nope, the French creators of the flèche wanted to make sure you're not sticking around in one spot for too long. And thus, no team can spend more than two hours in one spot. Which means you really have to keep an eye on the time for this event; it sounds like almost moreso than on a brevet. Luckily our team captain, Greg Cox, has gone thorough these motions before and should be a great guide for the ride.

Our route is starting on Bainbridge Island, then going up north towards Hadlock, south towards Shelton, a little jog out to the Aberdeen area, and then a straight shot east to Olympia. I've done some but not all of these roads, and I don't think I've done any of them at night, so it will be interesting. Since we start at 6PM on Friday, we'll be finishing at 6 PM in Olympia on Saturday.

I read a funny quote from Kent Peterson a while back in relation to these rides. It goes something like this: "there are a lot of stupid rules in randonneuring, but the flèche takes the cake." (Mark Thomas mentions this quote, but the link is broken)

If you're dying to know all the dirty details of this ride format, see the RUSA flèche page.

Robert made some sweet graphics for us, and Joe P. made buttons and t-shirts! It's gonna be a ride to remember, for sure.

In other flèche news, I read on that an ACP team in the Flèche Velocio (in France) did a 630km route! That's 391 miles in 24 hours. Whoa.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hard But Good Commute Today

My commute is just 25.7 kms of rolling terrain between Capitol Hill & Redmond. On fast days I can cover it in about an hour, like today for instance:

Entire workout (215 watts):
Duration: 1:01:55
Work: 814 kJ
TSS: 91.4 (intensity factor 0.941) (IF=1.0 is the equivalent of a 1 hour time trial at your threshold)
Norm Power: 268
VI: 1.22
Distance: 25.492 km
Elevation Gain: 557 m
Elevation Loss: 553 m
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 992 219 watts
Cadence: 15 142 75 rpm
Speed: 0 72.9 26.3 kph
Altitude: 2 118 51 m
Crank Torque: 0 201.6 28.7 N-m

Interestingly, I did this commute faster yesterday (e.g. higher avg speed, less overall time) but with a lower average power. Just goes to show that average speed alone isn't the best indicator of a workout, even for the same ride. (The main difference between these two rides were timing of stoplights, rather, getting a lot of reds today)

Today I just tried to concentrate on keeping my power output near my threshold of 285 watts. The thing is, it's really easy to attack a climb at 400-500w (well, not easy, but doable anyway), but then I'm cooked on the downhill and can barely put out 100w.

But by pacing like this, I was able to hold 250+ watts on some of the downhills, which I normally can't/dont' do. (And for what it's worth, it's generally more challenging to hold your threshold power on downhills)

Here's the power distribution from the commute, with a few notes:

It's hard to gauge your FTP (Functional Threshold Power, the theorhetical amount of power you can sustain for one hour) doing mostly solo rides or the big endurance rides us randos do. Which is why it takes a hard ride like this to get a better idea of where your FTP is.

And here's the graph of the overall ride (yellow=power, orange=elevation):

When I get some time I'd like to post an analysis of the 300k from a few weeks ago. In a way, this power data is kind of a like a flight data recorder. Data is just plain fun, what can I say?

PS: for the power junkies out there, I know you're missing one piece of info you probably want in order to calculate my w/kg. That would be my weight, which is as of this week 68.4 kg (~151 lbs). That's down from 160 lbs a few months ago!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spectating at the Volunteer Park Criterium 2009

One of these days, I'm gonna bight the bullet and jump into one of these local races. In fact I found a NW race calendar I had back in 2004, and even back then I had the same thoughts. So it's been years that I've wanted to give it a shot..

But you see, years ago I started "training" to race by riding a fixed gear. That time period was a lot of fun, and I learned how to do backwards circles in the process. Then I got side-tracked a little, as my fixed-riding friend said "Hey let's do STP!" (on the fixed bikes)
We did the STP on fixed gears back in 2005 (two day option, mind you), and my knees never forgave me. Too much skidding kills the knees! If I do that again, I need to remember to actually use the front brake..

So that big "fixed gear training" diversion somehow led to me becoming a long-distance fanatic. Maybe it's the fact that on some level it's a little easier to slog through a long ride (at your own pace) than it is to hang onto the back of a 20+ mph peloton.. Or the fact that I'm a 1/2 pack day smoker, and that doesn't mix well with high-intensity riding like races.

Anyway, point is that really soon I'm gonna make the leap over the fence, and turn from a spectactor to a participator. In fact, I had such plans on Saturday, knowing the race was happening so close to home at Volunteer Park.
But jumping into to something like that course, in the rain (so that would be a winding downhill, in the rain), unattached, is quite daunting. So, I wussed out (again!) and didn't race, but I at least strolled down to the park and took some shots.

The Cat 4 Women's race was well under way when I got there:

Rachel, a friend of mine who rides for Group Health, was in the Women's Cat 4 race, putting on a strong show as usual. I think that's her on 2nd wheel going into this turn (there had just been a wreck seconds before this shot too):

After that race, I stuck around for a few more minutes to take in some more action. Got to see an interesting award ceremony for the Men's 4/5 race; only 2nd place showed up to claim his prize:

Then it was time for the Masters (35+) C/D race:

The pack was pretty big, but of course strung out. There were a lot of stragglers just struggling to hang on to something, or at least not be pulled from the race. You could just see the pain emanating from this guy, for instance, and there were many more like him:
(I'm having a flash-forward to me in a similar photo, suffering; so I shouldn't laugh too much at this poor soul!)

But the front of the pack doesn't concern themselves with what's going on behind! It's all about what's ahead of you.. and in this case it was a prime sprint for a water bottle and some Nuun tablets:

Coming from the rando-world of full Honjo fenders and luggage, this is a different sight indeed. I don't even think you're allowed to run RaceBlades for these races, so you have to just eat up the road grime like everyone else. That'll take some getting used to for sure..

You can find a couple more shots, and some vids, on my flickr page.

After Rachel's race I was telling her about how I might do the Brad Lewis Memorial Crit (aka Boat Street) the next day, but she advised me that it might not be a good idea to do my first crit on a technical three-turn course, in the rain no less...

I'm usually really bad about taking advice (read: I generally ignore it) but this was one time I figured she was right. So Volunteer Park didn't happen this year for me, nor Boat Street, but there's always the Seward Park Crits, which thankfully happen weekly. (And they have a 20-minute "first timer's" clinic, just for people like me)

Although this Friday is our 24-hour fleche, I might do the Seward Park race this Thursday. After all, it's only 25 minutes long, so how bad could it hurt me? Well, there is that crashing part of it (sounds like it's one of those "it's a matter of when, not if" things), so maybe this isn't the best week to take that dive. But soon, dammit! Soon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Didn't Get Into Ramrod, Yet

Got a notification from the folks at the Redmond Cycling Club that I'm #220-something on the waiting list. I suppose it makes up for my luck last year in getting in on the first try..

Although I do hear that the first 250 people (or so) on the wait list got in last year, so here's to optimism that I'll still get in. And this time I'd leave early enough to make it in time to Enumclaw to roll out with the main peloton.

Of course, there's always the option of doing the ride on a different day, possibly as the SIR permanent (e.g. totally unsupported). And starting in Seattle, it'd be a nice ~360km day..

Hell while I'm at it, maybe it's a sign I should give Jan Heine's Cyclos Montagnards group a shot instead? It's a little bit of a leap, but I did the 360k Ramrod (from Seattle) last year in about 19 hours, so that leaves 5 hours for another 140k... OK so I'd have to pick up the pace a bit a lot, but it just might be possible. I probably sat around in Enumclaw for an hour or so talking to Joe P. last year, and rode most of the route solo. Lots of room for more efficiency!

Then again, some of the grades going up FS26 to Windy Ridge were insane.. At worst, it would just turn into a really good story and a nice set of photos, so it can't be that bad of an idea.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

SIR 300k Brevet: Seattle-Clinton-Bellingham-Arlington-Mukilteo

It was another Big Day. In the days leading up to Saturday I'd been riding (or not riding), eating, and sleeping in preparation for the, just like 50+ other randos who were planning on the ride.

The Route

In the screenshot from Garmin Training Center you can see the exact route I took. Seattle to Mukilteo, ferry ride to Clinton, ride up Whidbey to Bellinham, and then follow Highway 9 down to Arlington. After that we took the Centennial Trail to Snohomish, and then took backroads to get to the finish back in Mukilteo.

The machine: Ciocc with dynohub/E6 light, 28c Grand Bois tires, frame pump (I made a pump peg out of a zip-tie & electric tape), and a brand-spanking new drivetrain.

The Ride To The Ride

I set off from the apartment in Seattle at 4:15 or so, already running 15 minutes behind schedule, but what else is new. As some of you know I have a knack for arriving really close to when the brevet starts, or when the ferry launches. Sometimes I make it, and sometimes I don't..

And with that in mind I set off at this crazy hour, headed for a crazy ride with a bunch of like-minded crazies. The forecast was looking to be clear but chilly, something anyone who's ridden in the cold rain can appreciate.

At that time of day, there's little traffic on the roads, and everything is quiet. It's one of my favorite times to ride. Here's the Ciocc at the University Bridge in the U-district, at about 4:30 in the morning:

After an hour or so of pedaling, I realized that I was cutting it close. I was averaging about 25 km/h, which was good, but even so it was 5:25 (ferry was at 6) and I still had 20k to go! OK, time to pick up the pace a bit.

As I turned off of 76th/Meridian onto Aurora, I made sure to keep the pace up and keep an eye on the time. The last thing I wanted to do after all the preparation that had gone into this was to miss the damn ferry!

After about 30 minute on Aurora, I found the turn for the "Mukilteo Speedway." Not exactly an enticing name for any cyclist, but this was the only way to the ferry dock. On Google Maps I'd found a little (Lake Rd) shortcut that would take me around the 88/525 interchange that looked scary even online.

After finally getting on the Speedway, I hauled ass with 15 minutes to go. I knew it was more or less downhill to the dock, but that didn't mean I could coast! With five minutes to go I was still hauling ass, with no water or ferry in sight. Damn was I happy when I came around a bend to finally see both, although I think it was 5:59 by that point. I bought a ticket and made my way to the ferry, once again the last person on the boat. Not the way I'd planned to get to the ride (the plan was to take it easy), but I was super happy to be on the boat.

Ciocc + other bikes riding the Mukilteo ferry in the early morning, heading to Clinton, Wa:

Looking back towards Mukilteo, you could see the changing color of the sky, as the sun was rising:

Now in Clinton, we had about 30 minutes to kill before the 7 AM start. So I snapped some postcard shots like this:

After signing in, chatting, and generally itching to get rolling, the pre-ride talk began. John Wagner was there, the original organizer of this brevet in 1994. He said a few words and we were off.

Like all ferry docks in the area, there was little climb to get away from it. And as any hills split up a pack, the peloton of 60+ was of course shattered by the incline. It seemed to be a gradual 2% grade for a few kms after that, which further splintered the field.

Here's the front half of the group spread out over a few hundred meters, in the first few k's of the ride.

Although I'd had a million thoughts of "pacing" on this ride, I couldn't help but just cruise at what felt comfortable, which seemed to be about 32 km/h at this point. So I passed some people, passed a few more, and then couldn't see anyone ahead of me. I knew there had to be at least 20 riders up there somewhere, but I wasn't planning on catching anyone.

But after a few minutes of riding alone, kind of wasting energy in the wind by myself, I saw a pack of 7 or 8 riders up ahead, offering the promise of a fast draft like an oasis in a desert. The only problem is that you have to go faster than them to catch up... so I decided I would "catch" them, and proceeded to go more or less all out. (By the way this was about 30 minutes into the ride, so much for pacing!)

I figured that on the downhills I couldn't push much faster than them, but perhaps I could make up some ground on the uphills. So I attacked as much as I could, and finally bridged the gap that had seemed like an eternity before.

Matt Newlin greeted me to the pack, and introduced himself. I was almost too winded to talk, but eventually recovered and enjoyed the next few hours of rolling in well-organized pack, a great tool on a long ride like this.

Bob Brudvik was leading the charge, keeping riders in check and making sure we stayed together. That's Bob on the right in the FC508 jersey - how's that for intimidation factor!

Bob & Mark are experienced randos, and a lot of fun to ride with. Also in the pack was Duane Wright Wayne Methner, Dan Boxer, and maybe one or two others. Thanks to all you guys for tugging me around the sound for a while!

Besides the draft effect of the pack, it also serves other purposes. Pacing is much easier if all of you are keeping an eye on the pace. When you're riding alone, it's easy to dig yourself into a (slow) hole, and end up spinning in your smallest gear when you could be more efficient. Navigation becomes easier in a group as well, since the chances of all eight of you being wrong about the route are low (although it's been known to happen). And instead of only taking in scenery, you have others to talk to. All of this means that sometimes it can be worth it to do a little bit of extra work to get into a group.

Riders in the fast pack - taking the lane over Deception Pass:

Matt N. taking in the scenery:

After this part we made into the flat area on the way to Chuckanut. After a brief stop at a gas station off of highway 20, the group started rolling as I was tying up my jacket. Of course when I needed it to happen quickly, one of the straps wouldn't cooperate.. Dan offered to wait but I declined, I didn't want to hold them up. After 30 seconds the jacket was tied up, if sloppily. But the group had crossed the highway already, and I was stuck at a red light.

I really wanted to get back into the group! Another rider must've had the same thought, and went through the same yellow-turning-red light to join up with me.

We eventually got a chance to go, after what seemed like ages at the light, the group a little dot in the distance it seemed, and I sprinted away as the beginning of my chase. It wasn't very windy, but I knew they were doing at least 32 km/h so I was pushing 35+, or whatever I could, just to catch them. Once again I was not pacing in order to get into a group so I could pace with them, if that makes sense.

As luck would have it, after a few minutes of pushing hard to make the catch I finally caught them - just as Duane's Wayne's saddle bag had fallen off.. You mean I could have taken it easy and caught them anyway?! No big deal, I was happy to pick up Duane's Wayne's bag and begin resting again. Before too long we were off again, the mini-mechanical fixed.

There were a number of other riders on this road just before Chuckanut, I think it was another organized ride. It was a great day for a spin, and the area was super scenic. Whether you were doing 20 or 200+ miles, it was a day to get out there no doubt.

I was feeling hungry by this point, and the few sips of Ensure I'd had so far along the ride were good, but not enough. So I broke out my bean/ride/etc burrito, which was a pain to unwrap on the go. I downed about half of it, didn't want to overdo it; the taste of real onions on a ride quite refreshing.

On Chuckanut we enjoyed the ups and downs, and got to see a few drivers risk theirs and others' lives by passing us on blind curves, etc. Hey, whatever floats your boat I guess... I mean if people are getting off by living on the edge and doing crap like that, then go for it. We were keeping a good pace, but before too long Bob was somehow gone from the group. Where was our leader? Dan wasn't sure either.

This shot was just before I decided to peel off from the group, after about four or five hours with them. Just as I'd entered their group silently, I made my exit without a word on the top of a hill on Chuckanut.

It wasn't that I was tired of riding with them, I was just tired of riding. Having started this whole adventure at 4 AM, now that it was 11ish I was feeling a little fatigued. While there are a million advantadges to riding in a well-organized group, the downside is that you have to pay attention, and lots of it. Following a wheel in front of you is easy, but you have to keep an eye on it. Taking pulls at the front is of course a part of the game, but requires you to keep the pace at what it was before (I tend to shoot off the front, need to work on that).

So anyway it was just time for me to close my eyes for a minute, take a deep breath, and relax. Sometimes the mind needs to go on standby for a little bit. And what better place to do that just off Chucknut, in the woods on a little trail?

After about five minutes of relaxin' in the woods, I rolled off again, this time alone and at my own pace. Entered Fairhaven before too long, some familiar roads from rides past. Somehow I ended up thinking I was lost along the way in Bellingham, and decided to turn around and "get back on the course."

This was off 11th st, which turned into State or something like that, but I ended up taking two rights and getting on Garden St, and heading south. Turns out I was already on course, but read the cue wrong and thought I was lost, which in turn almost got me lost (this is where a group helps..)

So after about 5 kms of "bonus" riding, I got back on 11th and started turning the pedals in confidence again. When I think I'm off course, or not sure, I usually end up kind of soft pedaling; which of course slows you down even more..

After a few blocks on a dicey road that reminded me of something out of Bellevue, I made it to the Bellingham control, a quaint little 76 on a five lane road. Apparently the clerk wouldn't cooperate with the ride organizers, so a volunteer was posted in front. I forget the guy's name, but he was really nice and is organizing a 300k later this year. Thanks guy for signing cards and sitting in a parking lot for hours!

The next stretch out of Bellingham heading east was quite nice, and mostly downhill. As in, 20km of more or less downhill it seemed, and although I was still alone here I made good time. Played leap-frog with a woman on a Softride, and generally just enjoyed the views.

Views like this:

From this point on it was essentially Highway 9 for 50 miles or so, so routing wasn't an issue. There was a control in Demming, where I had something called a "pizza stick" that was a sorry excuse for calories. There were some riders lookin pretty rough here, but I felt pretty good, if not fresh.

Highway 9 has a lot of different views, and is relatively flat the whole way down to Arlington. Views like this dotted this portion of the route:

Along this stretch I passed a few riders, trying to catch a paceline up ahead, but eventually settled in with a nice guy named Bob who I rode with just about the rest of the ride. We rode and chatted, and were luckily riding at about the same pace. Sometimes even a group of two is enough to keep the pace at a good level, and not slow down too much. We held a good 30-32 km/h pace on this stretch, and made great time.

Plus, having done this stretch alone at night, I swear during the day with someone to talk to it took half as long to get to Arlington! At the Haggins in Arlington I bought a mishmash of food: Clif Shot Blox, chow mein, and a Whatchamacallit.

Before too long we rolled out, with only about 40km to go. I wasn't looking forward to the boring Centennial trail, but it's not like it's a bad place to ride, just not as stimulating as a road. We were still holding a nice pace, I'm sure both ready to be done with this nutty ride.

Here's the empty Centennial Trail near Arlington:

And here's Bob:

After exiting the trail in Snohomish, we were truly on the home stretch, although Bob warned me that we had to climb "a little" to get back up to Everett and eventually Mukilteo. We were riding in a nice flat valley as the sun finally started to set:

We eventually caught up with Bob (I think) and got to climb a really short-but-steep hill together, with a local looking on in amusement. The hills leveled off, but the road was up and down as we made our way from Everett to Mukilteo via Mukilteo Blvd.

I could feel that I had a little left in the tank, and after accidentally dropping Bob on one of the little climbs along the way, I decided to go all out. Well, all out at that point isn't the same as when you're fresh, but after pushing about 150-200 watts all day, I was doing 250-300 on some parts here. Sure, my legs were burning, but the fact I could even attempt this effort was enough for me.

Of course in randonneuring there's no reason to finish any earlier than the official finishing time, as everyone gets the same credit and there is no winner (and of course about 20-30 people had already finished before me). No, at this point I wasn't competing against others, but against the clock and my own personal best time on a 300k (13:16 from last year*).

By the time I was back on the "Speedway" it was pretty much downhill and I could relax. No better feeling than those last few meters of the ride, seeing that last control sign! And one of the organizers (Ron?) also told me of warm pizza waiting inside. Just what I was hoping for! Pizza at the end of these rides has to be the second best feeling I can think of.

At 8:05 PM I was done, with a time of 13:05 overall (I think, as the results aren't up yet) - a new personal best!

Riders at the finish, telling stories of their day:

Full photo set on flickr. (took almost 100 shots on this ride, and a few videos too)

Ride Data

Entire workout (27.4 kph):
Duration: 11:53:35 (15:00:05)
Work: 6473 kJ
TSS: 490.9 (intensity factor 0.652)
Norm Power: 186
VI: 1.19
Pw:HR: 5.09%
Pa:HR: -5.65%
Distance: 361.3 km (223 mi)
Elevation Gain: 5018 m
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 837 156 watts
Heart Rate: 85 175 133 bpm
Cadence: 15 131 75 rpm
Speed: 0 75.8 27.4 kph
Crank Torque: 0 192.7 19.5 N-m

Official results: here

Huge thanks to Ron & Mark for organizing the ride, and of course all the volunteers along the way. These rides wouldn't be the same without the people that put on the rides and those that help out with them. Big thanks to all the people I rode with along the way, and met along the route.

And of course thanks to Kira, who picked my tired ass up from Mukilteo! I didn't end up riding home - the thought of chugging back up that huge hill up to Aurora, and getting home at 11 PM wasn't sounding good.. riding home from these things always sounds like more fun before I've done the ride.

Sunday Update: thighs are of course sore, but not too bad. Sit bones are a little tender as well, but hey it's all a part of conditioning. Went for a short 40km recovery ride today, and felt pretty good. Made an effort to stay in the small ring up front the whole time, so as to keep the workload light. Since it was almost 70F outside, I broke out (for the first time this year) shorts and just a short-sleeved jersey! There were about a million other riders out on Mercer Island. Not chasing other riders was hard, but I'm getting better at it. Like they say I'm trying to "make the hard rides harder, and the easy rides easier." Now it's time for at few days off the bike, to fully recover.