Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tuesday Night Ride

Yesterday I managed to survive my first outing with what is likely the fastest race/training group ride in the Lansing area: the Mason Tuesday Night Road Ride. I learned about the ride last year, and I have ridden with a few of the regulars there on other occasions, but this would be my first go at it.

At 40 miles with 6 sprint points, the ride is billed as a "disciplined and well choreographed race training ride that emphasizes high average speeds and race finishing skills." And so it was. As a first-timer, I had a sense of the route. I'd seen the map ahead of time, but I didn't know where the sprint points were. I also didn't know the ride dynamics. Would we see a break go off the front right away? Would they roll out easy and then at some spot in the road that the regulars sense, ramp it up? More the latter than the former, I can now report. As for me, I was left to hang on and try to learn at the same pace we were riding. Turns out that my brain - and my eyes - aren't as fast as my legs just yet. But that's to be expected. I set out to learn something, and those boys took me to school. Luckily the ride regroups after each sprint and the guys were generous and willing to help out a rookie with advice. So it wasn't just a beating, but a chance to really learn.

The Ride in Six Segments
I'll save you the suspense: I finished 2 of the 6 sprint segments with the group, and trailed the leaders (if not the whole ride) on 4 out of six including the first 2. Segment three and four were my best. I felt good, rode fast, stayed connected, and didn't get spit out the back. Each segment was a lesson. Usually it didn't hit home until after the fact just what I was supposed to learn. So here is my attempt to look back and take inventory.

Segment 1: Echelons are tricky
The first segment included our roll out, which proceeded at a conversational pace for a few miles. As we turned South, we had a tremendous cross-wind out of the East. Trying to be a good citizen, I pulled through on my first time in the double pace-line as the pace gradually ramped up. All the while I was getting advice from the ride leader and another racing veteran. Soon the pace was quite strong, and I would later understand that I spent too much time on the East side of the pack, in the crosswind. I'd never ridden in a true echelon before in race-like conditions. Our first acceleration point would be immediately following a left turn (East) into the wind and up a hill. Being new to the course, I didn't see any of these three things coming. Result: dropped. I failed to catch a wheel as we turned into the wind and found myself off the back. Luckily, a few others were caught out too due to the climb. I like to climb, so I dug deep and caught another rider. We worked together to get connected again, and the group didn't have to wait for us for more than a few seconds after the sprint.

Segment 2: So that's what an attack looks like...
What can I say? I let the train go by me as the attack started on segment two. Just watched as one wheel after the next came around. Did I grab one? No. In retrospect (like, 20 seconds after the fact), I saw that I didn't recognize that I was seeing an attack. What stands out in my mind is that a better way to recognize an attack is by sound. I heard the wheels and the derailleurs. Next time, I would be quicker to respond, I told myself. I dug in once more, got in the drops and came back to the group at the next rendezvous point.

Segment 3: A little better
The third leg was a bit odd as we rolled easily into the town of Leslie, MI in recovery mode. Good to know, I thought. Made the second segment's violent acceleration make much more sense. I was also starting to see that about 2-3k out from the sprint point is when I could expect the attacks to come. We had a relatively small group by this rides' standards (13 or 14), I am told, and I think this made it all the more imperative to go with the move when it came because there wouldn't be a second chance.

As we came through the town of Leslie, we made a left (North) and then a quick turn east to climb a twisting hill. I saw it a little sooner than before, but didn't know how deep to go (because it seemed early in the segment) and so I probably went a bit conservative. There was a short descent after, and I was able to use that to catch on to the group again without getting dropped. We were in the teeth of the East wind (unusual, btw, for our parts to have wind out of the East) when we hit another long but more gradual climb. The group got strung out and I once again got caught behind the move. But I wasn't alone this time. I worked with another rider and we managed to stay in contact.

Segment 4: I stay with the group
I was starting to get the hang of things. I was feeling humble, but not embarrassed, because up to that point I was feeling pretty strong physically. All my mistakes were made by my brain, and if anything I'd been bailed out a few times by my legs. The skies were beginning to get ominous, but the wind had subsided. Besides, we were on the backside of the forty mile loop and were making turns West. With the tailwind now. I put on my game face and resolved to pay attention to every move. I rode aggressively rather than reactively, trying to stay in the first 3-4 as the pace ramped up. We came through a tight and twisty wooded section, turned North, and were bombing along at a really fast pace. I had no idea where the sprint point was, but I was not focused on contesting the sprint. My goal was to keep a wheel in front of me until the group slowed down. Twice I found myself on the front pulling as a result of trying to give myself lots of chances to stay with the group. Short pulls. Everybody was going fast. As the sprint point approached, two riders came around and were quickly away. But I was in the next group. I even got to do the circle-back during the regroup. I ate a bit, drank a bit, and smiled a lot. I'd managed to see and cover all the accelerations this time.

Segment 5: Mechanical (Dis)advantage
I have a compact drivetrain on my bike. This would turn out to be a factor in the final fast segment of the ride. We were headed West into the town of Mason on what was for me a very familiar stretch of M-36. Two climbs on that route, one that I do pretty regularly myself. I rode it on Sunday, in fact. I knew the sprint point too - the Tasty Twist on the West side of Mason just over the town line. I figured the city limit sign would mark the finish. But I wouldn't get to find this out for sure.

As we climbed the first and steeper hill on M-36, I was mid-pack. But the leaders weren't coasting on the descent, which is fast even when you are freewheeling it. They all clicked into the biggest gears they had and spun down the hill. 40+ mph. I did the same, but topped out my compact gearing (50x13) and could only watch as the group pulled away on the downhill. I had hoped to catch them on the next climb, but there is nearly a mile of flat between the bottom of the first hill and the more gradual climb further West. Coming off the descent, it's possible to push a big gear all the way. I'd done it many times. I did it again last night, but so did the group. I wouldn't catch them until a couple miles later at the ice cream shop. Of all the puzzles to solve, this one will keep me guessing a bit for next time. I'm going to need some tactics to overcome my mechanical disadvantage on the downhill if I continue to ride the compact. I may need to break early up the hill...

Segment 6: Cooldown home
As we rode out of Mason, the ride turned conversational again. E-mails were exchanged. The guys congratulated me for having made the whole ride. I talked with a kid in MSU kit who was back after having graduated and moved to Detroit to work for Toyota. He let me know that my effort - making 2 out of the 6 sprints without getting dropped - wasn't bad for a first outing. I appreciated that. But I was even more happy to have learned so much so quickly. I know I have much, much more to learn. But I look forward to it. I know just a bit more about where to save and where to invest effort on this particular route. Let's hope I can remember it all next time!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tour de Cure 2011: Ride Report

grey skies at the starting line
As the day dawned with overcast skies, I was feeling absolutely elated about riding in the 2011 Michigan Tour de Cure. My plan was to ride the 100 mile route - what cyclists call a "century" - for the second year in a row, and I had nothing in front of me for 5-6 hours or so but riding my bike. That always makes me happy. But more than that, as I aired up my tires and packed my jersey pockets with spare tubes, C02 canister, a couple of PayDay bars for emergency fuel, and my rain jacket just in case, I was overwhelmed at the support my fundraising campaign had received this year.

We raised $2,274 dollars for the American Diabetes Foundation. That's a new record for me. And it is just flat out inspiring - I was filled with honor and pride to represent the 52 (!) people who donated to the ADA on behalf of my ride. I know that each of them did so because they or someone close to them has been touched by the disease we are trying to fight. For each mile I planned to ride, more than $20 was donated...and there was a new person at each two mile interval (I literally imagined them all riding with me, as corny as that might sound). I say "planned" to ride because, well, it turned out that I (and I should say "we" as I was in a group of folks) got a bit off course.

In the end, I logged 82.7 of the planned 100 miles yesterday. How? Well, I was off course at least three times. Two of those times added miles and one cut out a loop that distinguished the metric century (62.1 miles or 100,000 meters) from the 100 mile route. The route markings were a bit less clear this year, in part due to rain on the day before the event which likely caused some of the markings to be less clear (chalk, you see).

But apart from the random distance - it was a good ride. And one that I am proud of from a performance standpoint. I started at 7:00 a.m. and finished a bit after 11:30. I had an avg. speed of about 19.3mph, counting only the wheel-spinning time and not the additional minutes looking confused and/or filling bottles and grabbing food at rest stops. That's pretty good, I'd say, especially since I rode with restraint all day. That is, I tried to make sure I stayed in Zone 3 the whole time. At the beginning, a fast group bombed off the front and I resisted the temptation to go with them. I eventually would catch many of them who rode with more enthusiasm than they could perhaps sustain.

At the finish, I had lots left in the tank. Though I felt appropriate levels of leg load, I feel pretty confident that I had stayed well within my lactate threshold because I had plenty of jump when I needed it even after mile sixty. And while I had planned to go another 18 miles, I felt I could have easily done so. I think it is safe to say I've never felt better after such a long effort - and given my avg. speed I'd say that I was going well given my attempts to stay aerobic.

I wish I'd done the full 100, just for the sake of the round number. I was tempted to just ride my bike home. But then I'd have had to have Leslie drive me back to Brighton to get the car. So I decided that a slightly earlier lunch was not such a bad thing, and called it day at 82.7. After all, the real reason for all of that was another number: $2274! And for that, I can only say: Thank you.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In which I get older and appear to get faster (but don't)

Yesterday was the third annual (for me, at least) running of the Dexter-Ann Arbor run 5k race. The event seems to grow every year, and this year it featured just a bit more than 1,700 entrants. A 10k and Half-Marathon event coincide with the 5k race, and all finish on the same climb along Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

How did it go? Well the image to the right tells the tale. I finished 5th in my age group out of 84 other 40-44 year old Male runners. My time wasn't terribly fast - not far off the last two years really, so I can't say that I am improving at all - but this year I'm in a new age group! Last year, I was on the oldest rung of the 34-39 ladder. Now I'm a young whippersnapper in the 40-44. That helped me to a top-five finish where I had been top ten (8th) last year. I sense a strategy here...

The truth is that I haven't trained for running in some time. And the 5k is a short enough pace that I can't really do well unless I significantly increase my overall speed at VO2 max. A longer distance race would allow me to compete at LT - something I am much better at doing naturally. For instance, I am fairly certain I could come close to a 7:39 pace for a 10k and I am sure I could do a half marathon at 8:00/mi or a touch faster. I've done it before (on accident, granted). But that pace for a 5k is not going to put me on any podiums.

I'm just not going to get faster in the 5k without doing the dreaded speedwork. One mile repeats at the top of LT range; quarter mile intervals at V02 max. Bleh. I have no desire or intention to do any of those.

Sorry running. I'm all out of love for you.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Little Training Ride

This morning I was pleased to be able to ride with a great group that included some folks from Team Racing Greyhounds out of metro-Detroit, quite a few of whom race on a company team for Nissan engineering center. The ride was a promotional event sponsored by Nissan and the American Diabetes Association for their annual Tour de Cure fundraiser. I was there representing a group of TdC folks who've raised money for the event. We also had a few folks from Novo-Nordisk, a diabetes medical device manufacturer. Oh, and Chris Horner & Levi Leipheimer from Team RadioShack were there too.

If you are not a cycling fan, it might help you to know that Chris & Levi just finished first and second in the Amgen Tour of California, probably the biggest international cycling event in North America (in terms of drawing a world-class field). When the ADA first announced this ride back in April, they weren't sure yet who would be representing the team. I was excited, and figured we would get to ride with some of the young neo-pros or others on the team who would not be on the Tour de France Squad for RadioShack. That race starts on my birthday, July 2 - not too long from now in training & preparation terms.

So you can imagine my surprise when it was announced a couple of weeks ago that we would be riding with the top two GC contenders for the Tour podium just a few days before they would both leave for Europe and their last bit of pre-Tour training. I was skeptical until right before they showed up this morning, actually. But show up they did. And we went for a ride.

Our VIP riders had time to do 40 miles with a brief rest stop to fill bottles and a quick bite for lunch before both had to catch a flight back to their respective homes for the last bit of vacation, rest, and packing prior to leaving for Europe. We rode a steady pace to begin, with the Nissan team members creating an early, non-violent selection to keep the ProTour guys in a group with folks experienced riding in a group. We followed your typical group ride protocol, in fact, chatting and gradually coming up to speed. We did a loop out of Chelsea, MI through Grass Lake and into the Waterloo recreation area, a large state preserve with some beautiful scenery ranging from wetlands to rolling hills.

AP Newsphoto published in Hazelton Times 
I had a chance to talk with Chris Horner on the first half of the ride. We talked about how much damn fun riding a bike is, especially after work when you've had a stressful day (he used to work at a bike shop in Bend, OR). We talked a bit about the Tour of California and the heroic effort put in by Matt Busche on the stage to Mt. Baldy. Horner remarked that he had been impressed by Busche's talent during his win at the Tour of the Basque Country when the kid had done great work for him and the team. I mentioned that I was happy to see Matthew get a win last week at the U.S. Pro Championships in North Carolina: "he pipped Big George in a sprint to the line!" Horner shared my enthusiasm and said "What a great picture! Not only winning, but edging out George!" Indeed. Here's the one he means (right). Well done.

Casey Gibson's shot of Horner & Leipheimer on Sierra Rd.
Horner also told me another story about stage 4 of the ATOC when he won and took the leader's jersey.

"I climbed Sierra Rd. in the big ring!"

"What?!" I asked? I've been up Sierra Road. When I was in San Jose. It is steep. And the steep part goes on for what I recall as a very long time. By ProTour standards, it's short, but it is intense.

"Not on purpose..," Horner continued. "I looked down when I was about 200 meters from the top, the part where it flattens out a little and saw I was in the big ring the whole time. At that point I just decided to go the rest of the way. I figured it would look good in the picture." Ah yes, the picture. Casey Gibson got it. So maybe it wasn't the *whole* time, CH. :)

Nice win just the same. And who am I to nitpick? I stayed in my big ring all day today though, I can confirm. We didn't do anything close to an epic climb like Sierra Road on today's 40 miler. But after our rest stop, we re-mounted for the second half of our ride and from the jump our pace was just a bit faster. At one point, I looked at the computer of the guy next to me and we were bombing down the road at 30+ mph (couldn't make out the exact speed). My own computer is b0rked, still need to get that fixed. I am very pleased to say that throughout the ride, I felt good and the pace felt more than manageable all day. At one point, some folks peeled off who were doing a different loop. The pack split and as some folks turned, Horner & I were left to catch up to the group that had kept pace going straight ahead. We caught the group pretty easily - and again, for these guys it was a recovery day all the way - but it sure felt nice to have pro-tour guys alongside in the pack, wizzing along like it was a typical Tuesday night.

Chris Horner & I, post ride
All in all, I am happy to report that Horner is as friendly, generous, and down-to-Earth as you'd hope he would be. Levi was more reserved. Where Chris was chatty - guys talking on a group ride kind of chatty - Levi was quiet. He would answer questions and acknowledge you with a smile, so it wasn't as if he was being dismissive. I just think the guy is a bit on the shy side is all. Horner was nice enough to offer another bit of advice to me about pro-level gear after we finished the ride. I asked if he'd pose for a quick phonecam shot. I fished my phone out of my jersey pocked and fiddled with the snack-size ziplock bag I keep it in as a moisture barrier. He laughed. "See...I upgraded. I go with this size," pulling a quart size slide-loc model from his own jersey, packed with his phone, wallet, and the requisite $10 bill. Now I know what the pros use.

One final thing: the Pro guys told me to tell you to donate to my Tour de Cure Campaign. You can do that - one week to go until that event - and win some cool prizes too. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Let's do the numbers!

This week we got some crunched results from the coach after last week's field test. I was happy to see that my estimates after playing around with the HRM were very close to the zones that Coach Gaines came up with. She used a slightly modified version of the Coggan Power Level scale, assigning perceived exertion levels and qualitative labels to numbers corresponding with HR and Lactate Threshold. This helps riders to more finely calibrate how they feel with their effort level.

As for my numbers, here are what we are starting with:

Zone 1: Recovery (easy spinning)
AvgHR: 118
Perceived Exertion: Level 2

Zone 2: Endurance
AvgHR: 120-144
Perceived Exertion: Level 2-3

Zone 3: Tempo
AvgHR: 146-164
Perceived Exertion: Level 3-4

Zone 4: Lactate Threshold
AvgHR: 165-183
Perceived Exertion: Level 4-5

Zone 5: VO2 Max
AvgHR: 184+
Perceived Exertion: Level 6-7

After discussing our zones - which seem about right to me, from the limited amount of experience I've had training with the HRM - we did some riding in zones 3 & 4 for long intervals to begin the process of calibrating. It was easier than I expected to find and hold the middle of each zone, and to make fine adjustments to move up or down within a zone too. I was once again reminded of why I like riding better than running. I have no confidence that I can control my effort to stay in Zone 4, for instance, in a running race. And for a 5k, that's probably ok. But in a long race, that can turn out really badly.

This weekend is a big one, though, for riding and racing. On Saturday I'm riding with some VIPs as part of a Tour de Cure event. More on that in my next post. And on Sunday I'm once again racing in the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run 5k event. This will be the third time for that race, and each time I've finished in the top ten in my age group. This year, I've done zero run training. So my expectations are modest. I'll be happy if I can put together 3.2 miles at 8:05/mi or less. Check back for the results!