Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gig Harbor Circuit Race - Failing But Loving It

It was Saturday, finally time for the 2nd edition of the Lake Wa Velo circuit race series. Part of a three-race series, this was finally a chance to try something different than .08 mile lap Seward Park race or a 1 km-lap four corner criterium. This course was four-mile laps, five laps our Cat 4/5 group. Oh, and with a few inclines along the way too. Sounds like a good time to me.

Kira was her usual wonderful self and offered to give me a ride out to Gig Harbor, to come cheer me on and maybe get a few pictures of me suffering. Thanks, baby! It helps to have someone out there rooting for you.

Still having randonneur (read: crazy) blood in my veins from the recent brevet series I completed (200k-600k), initially I thought about pedaling to the start, at least from the Southworth ferry dock. The route was about 25 miles, not too much to add to a 20-mile race I figured. But in the end I decided to save any energy I had and hopped in the car at 7:15 AM for the drive down there.

Google directions led us into a dead-end driveway, and the race's directions didn't make sense either. (though they do now, I saw on the way back I was reading them wrong - but the Google directions were still off!) We asked for directions and eventually found our way, following a group of 10 or so riders training on the course.

The Race

The Masters C/D (30+ Cat 4/5) started five minutes before us, and the 4/5 70-man peloton rolled out at 9:05 AM. Since I started at the back of the pack more or less, and since the "center line rule" (can't cross the 2nd yellow line in the middle of the road, e.g. only take one lane), I had to somehow move up through 50 or so people if I wanted to do anything useful in the race.

I was happy to be in the whir/buzz of the peloton again, and this time it also counts towards the Cat 4 upgrade. We rolled out of the Kapuchuck Middle School's parking lot and took a left down the hill, then taking a quick right on a nice 8% downhill, now on the race course. We passed the official's stand and the ambulance, and zoomed downhill at a nice 45-50 km/h. The air was cool but dry, perfect racing temps.

The officials warned us before the race that there are bumps & reflectors in the center and you really don't want to be riding there. But sure enough, about two minutes into the race someone goes around another rider and into the center, and their bottle flies out. Nobody went down but a bottle is one of the last things you want to see in front of you when doing 46 km/h on rough chipseal is a water bottle.

And of course there was the ever-present possibility of someone randomly going down in front of you and taking you down with them. In fact I watched a few riders having speed-wobble issues - or was it just control issues? I suppose for some it's hard to ride in a straight line. So it's a mix of risk & trust in the peloton, a delicate balance.

The pack dynamics on this course were interesting, as even though space was limited, you could find space to move up now and then. Some were more daring than others, but nobody went down.

One thing that really sucked at the back (reason #501 you don't want to be there) was all the slowing - the "accordion effect" as it's known. People four rows up slow for whatever reason, and of course that sets of a chain reaction of yelling ("Slowing!") and squealing brakes. In fact I swear I could smell burned rubber at few points during the race..

I tried to move up a little here and there and made it about halfway up the pack. When the uphill sections came I listened to a fireworks show of grinding gears and popping derailleurs. I stayed in the big ring, afraid of dropping my chain if I tried to downshift - in the end this was a huge mistake, though at this point I felt fine and though this first 7% uphill (w/ 12% spike) was tough, it was doable. Or at least seemed that way on the first few laps.

After the first uphill section, there's a shorter 5% section, followed by a slow rise to the finish. One lap down, and I was about halfway up the pack. So far so good.

The second lap was straight-forward, and while I wasn't hurting too much and was still in the middle or so, I wasn't really moving up either. Just wanted to stick this position out until the end, and see what happens.

I think it was on the third lap where my legs seemed to fall apart, and I knew why - pushing the 53x25 up the 8-12% grade. Talk about wasting energy! I wasn't red-lining yet, but knew it was around the corner, and it became progressively harder to recover on each lap.

On the fourth lap I started to drift back a little. I usually don't look back but as I did I noticed there were only a handful of riders behind me. Damn, at the back. We slowed down a good deal on this lap (I'm sure most were tired), and this was a welcomed chance to rest. But when the uphill came it was all I could do just to hang on.

Then The Race Went South

On the final lap I was going backwards uphill with about 1k to go.. first time in my 15-race career that I watched the peloton pedal away from me, I was officially OTB ("Off The Back"). Damn. Legs on fire, lungs gasping, it was all I could do to at least keep the pedals turning to the finish.

I looked back and wasn't even sure anyone else was back there - I'd just been passed by the official's & wheel cars, and the peloton was up and over the last little peak, someone was probably already crossing the line. I wasn't even sure if I was supposed to dismount and walk in shame to the end, or what, but I just kept going.

Not a good feeling, coming in off the back - spectators giving you the "pity clap" or the "blank stare" - but at least the official was still recording finishing numbers so I was at least still a part of the race. Finishing upright and close to the pack is good enough for me at this point, though a little disappointing.

In the three other USAC-sanctioned races I've done I got 13th at Ballard, 11th at Joe Matava, and 15th at Derby Days. Not wins or even top 10's - but I was really happy to having showings like that in my first season. Those were all criteriums and about half the length of this ride, and flat - so maybe this just isn't my type of race at this point.

I wasn't DFL like I thought at first, or even worse DNF. The official result showed me at 49th out of 70 riders - but as a Cat 5 I guess all that matters is that I started. At this point it really is mostly about gaining fitness & experience. Now just six more (official) races and I'm a Cat 4.

That's Great, But Who Won?

Hopefully my tale of life in the day of Cat 4/5 pack fodder was at least entertaining. But in the end, any race is all about winning - and it turns out my friend Jordan took the win! He's a 5 as well, we've been racing at Seward Park a lot where he's taken a few podium spots. Though I didn't get to see the finish, here was his recount:

This was my 1st circuit race and It wasn't bad, the pace seemed a lot slower than I expected with a lot of yo-yo. The 12% climb and the slight grade at the finish made the difference!

Nothing eventful happened during the race until the last lap.. I made sure I was close to the front on the 12% climb so I still had about 15-20 guys ahead of me by the time I got to the top.. After I crested I punched it and leap-frogged wheels and quickly caught up to the 15 off the front and had shit-tons of momentum I decided to just go for and jumped all of them.. Unfortunately those 10-15 guys had the road blocked, I had no where to take all of this momentum I gained going off the backside of the climb into the last 300m.. So I had to think quick and well there was no choice except to go onto the shoulder into the loose gravel and grass and go around these guys and jump back in front of them.. It sure worked, but there was still 1 guy off the front another 20 ft. and I punched it again with 200m left and that was that! I won by a few bike lengths!! Fun times!!
Huge congrats to Jordan on the strong & creative win!

Race Data

This graph from WKO+ shows all five laps - red is heart rate (horizontal red line is 171 bpm for ref.), yellow is power (horiz. dashed yellow line is my estimated FTP 285 watts), and the orange-ish is the elevation.

Here is a zoom in on one lap. As you can see my HR (red line up top) went down as we descended the hill, then a big power spike (yellow vertical line) at the turn onto the uphill section. It doesn't tell you much by itself, but compared to other laps I can see how on the last lap my HR was not recovering like it was before - and that I wasn't putting out the power I was earlier in the race.

Splitting the race into halves, I obviously put out more power in the first half (and went faster) - but I found it interesting that the average bpm (heart rate) was a bit higher on the 2nd half.

1st half:
Duration: 28:00
Work: 354 kJ
TSS: 46.8 (intensity factor 1.002)
Norm Power: 285
Distance: 17.107 km
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 946 211 watts
Heart Rate: 82 185 162 bpm
Cadence: 22 129 83 rpm
Speed: 4.9 91.4 36.7 kph

2nd half:
Duration: 27:57
Work: 345 kJ
TSS: 44.1 (intensity factor 0.973)
Norm Power: 277
Distance: 15.425 km
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 935 206 watts
Heart Rate: 132 186 166 bpm
Cadence: 35 150 87 rpm
Speed: 2.7 79.5 33.1 kph

From the complete race data I can see that my HR didn't even get over 186 - whereas I usually top out at 195 each time at Seward - perhaps this points to my lack of a warm-up this time around, not sure. Seems like I basically wasn't firing on all cylinders..

Entire workout (210 watts):
Duration: 56:00
Work: 700 kJ
TSS: 90.8 (intensity factor 0.987)
Norm Power: 281
Distance: 32.546 km (~20 miles)
Elevation Gain: 648 m
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 946 208 watts
Heart Rate: 79 186 164 bpm
Cadence: 18 150 85 rpm
Speed: 2.7 91.4 34.9 kph (21.7 mph avg)
Crank Torque: 0 203.9 22.4 N-m

The third installment of this circuit-race series is on the 29th, in Carnation - and then the Seward Park "Season End" Classic (an official USAC race) is on the 30th. But before that, there's a Black Diamond-Sunrise permanent (~300k in total) on Monday, and the Baker Lake (Redmond-Baker Lake) 400km (249 mi) brevet on the 22nd.

The season's not over yet, folks!


Dan O said...

These race reports make for fun reading. Thanks.

christopher said...

Robert and I were wondering if you were gonna join us tomorrow. Glad to hear you are! I got cards and queues printed. The plan is to leave South Park at 4:30 am and Black Diamond by 7:am.

matt m said...

Thanks, Dan - I have a lot of fun recounting the details of these races.. but I hope to report a "W" one of these days!

Chris - sorry for bailing on you guys today! I'm just too worn out from the race to do a double-century today.. I'll be seeing you guys on the 600k for sure though!!

Btw Kira got some photos from this race, they're on flickr.

Robert H said...

Fun read! Keep it up. I know you'll nail it one of these days.

Ian Schmidt said...

good report & good pictures!
You got another start under your belt, and you learned from your less-than-optimal moves...

That makes it a great race in my opinion.
keep up the good work!