Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sharing my data - Using sound strategy...

I've done each of the Lancaster road races this spring. Previously, I did many Cat 1/2/3 races where I could get crushed by much younger and fitter guys. When the big guns showed up, it could be a struggle to outlast their attacks and finish among them at the end. A new category in the Lancaster series, 40+ Cat 3/4 Men, allows me to go in with some new confidence. I'm younger and more experienced than the majority of my competition.

The races have been so-so. Not much team representation. Mostly solo guys racing for themselves. That can make things boring as no one is willing to go too far beyond their comfort zone or take risks. Instead of working together, racers look at each other and say, "Screw you, I'm not going to exert myself in a way that others may benefit from." What often develops is what I refer to as "Negative Racing". Instead of racing aggressive to win, racers are trying to avoid losing.

As I was previously using these for training, I often showed up with tired legs. That caused me to race more conservatively than I would like. I also don't know anyone in the races as these are far from home. In my Salisbury Road Race, a team of two riders successfully dictated the entire race. A solo breakaway with a good blocker among the rest of the field. Basically, one strong guy and one smart guy. While frustrated, I was very impressed. I took note of who they were, the team they were on, and how others responded and behaved.

Last weekend, I showed up at the Farmerstown Road Race. Same series and race category but a course I was not familiar with. We began the 42-mile race in a stiff wind. Enough wind to dampen the enthusiasm of many racers. In the first third of the race, a solo rider attacked and got a gap ahead of the group. It was a rider on the same team that dictated the previous race but I did not recognize the rider. I noticed him earlier in the race and wasn't too impressed. The winner of the previous race was playing the role of "blocker". That got my full attention. I'm not going to get caught sleeping again.

At about the half-way point, the solo rider was hovering with a 30-40 second lead. Impressive but not beyond the reach of others. In this situation, I'm looking to "bridge" up to that leader while leaving everyone else behind. I was anxious to do something before allowing that rider to slowly increase his lead. Still a long way to go to the finish so I had some reservations.

I noticed a farm vehicle on the road ahead of us. There was a right turn ahead and I thought we would hit that turn at the same time as that vehicle. I hit the gas. Getting a small gap on everyone else and passing that vehicle before the turn. Actually, I cut him off as motorists often do to us on our road training rides. I don't know that vehicle impacted everyone else but I got the gap I wanted and my race got much more interesting.

Now, I can share my race data to help you to understand what was going on. I do not look at my data while racing and do not recommend it. It usually tells you you are suffering badly (of course) and becomes a distraction. I do my analysis after races to see how the data compared to what I was "feeling".

After leaving the field behind, it took exactly 8 minutes to catch the leader. A short max sprint and Zone 5-VO2 Max effort. Then I settled into the high end of Zone 4-Threshold and hoped to make progress. It was difficult enough that I didn't know if I'd make it to the leader. I did make it up to him eventually. After the race, I created a lap in the data called "Bridge". You can click on it to highlight that portion of the map and graph.

I pulled up next to him and immediately introduced myself, asked his name, and told him he had an awesome teammate blocking in the field. I showed I was friendly and provided encouragement to keep digging deep. We now needed to work together to remain ahead.

We did that for the next 45 minutes. Exchanging pulls and trying to compliment one another. As one slowed, the other came around to keep the pace high. The wind kicked our butts at times. Bringing us down to jogging speed. I'd look back as we went around turns to gauge where the rest of the racers were. At times, they were out of sight. That was encouraging.

We started the bell lap with about a 20-second advantage. Not very good, as road races tend to get faster towards the end. Others are willing to take greater risks with their energy as they know the end of the race is approaching. If caught, I wouldn't have the legs to contest a field sprint. No choice than to remain committed to what I started.

The gap got slowly smaller. The undulating terrain made it hard to tell but they were slowly getting closer. I was getting fatigued. Confident that I could beat my companion at the end but needed his help to get there ahead of others. We were caught with 3/4 of a mile left in the race. As the field swallowed us, we exchanged a sincere thanks and good luck.

Immediately, the blocking teammate and another strong rider counter-attacked and they finished ahead of the field. The blocker finished second. A strong showing for a guy who likely put in some big efforts to support his teammate in the breakaway. The winner got the golden opportunity and capitalized.

I reintegrated into the field with tired legs. As they ramped up towards the finish, I could only watch while in their draft. Not enough left in the tank to stand and sprint. 38 riders started. Many were dropped and abandoned due to the wind. I finished 14th of the 21 who finished. The winner put in a two minute effort, at the perfect moment, and won. I put in a 52 minute effort and got zilch.

That is road racing. Chess on wheels with lots of sweat and a little bit of NASCAR. I drove home imagining what I could have done differently to change the result. I also drove home feeling as if I had raced aggressively, dictated the race to others and left it all out on the road. For me, that is a success and keeps me going back for more.

I appreciate your attention. Now go make an impact in your next event or leave it all out there trying.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sharing my data - "Form = Fitness + Freshness"

Thanks for the well-wishes ahead of Battenkill. Many of you have asked how it went. Some of you were there. Unfortunately, I came away disappointed in my performance. I had numerous distractions in the month ahead of the race. I did my best to stay on target but fell short of my expectations.

The end result reminded me of a common quote, "Form = Fitness + Freshness". Good form is what you want to have when you toe the line of your big event. It is a complex combination of many things. We gain fitness as we pile on the miles, intervals, and sporadic races or big rides. We increase our endurance, our VO2 Max, maybe drop some weight, improve fundamentals and hone our form. Although we gain significant fitness, we can suffer from the accumulation of training demands.

As we approach our big day (or cluster of events), we incorporate additional rest. Workouts are shorter while maintaining the high intensity or our racing edge. We allow for more recovery. We spend the extra time to finalize our equipment choices, tuning bikes, putting on fresh tires, and generally get ready for battle. In general, we are resting, recovering and gaining freshness.

The end result is great form. We have done the work needed to improve fitness. We allowed for recovery and reached a state of confident calm for the big event(s). Our engine is tuned, cleaned, fueled, and waiting for the green light. We are fit and fresh.

In the month prior, I was forced to do some scrambling. The legs were good and fit but I was dodging obstacles. As I need to taper and gain freshness, I was feeling flat. Legs sore on most days. They did not respond to recovery days. Too late to change much. I reduced the volume and did the intervals and races that my legs would allow. The body continued to feel bad.

The Rhonde Van Mullica two weeks ago compounded the issue. It was the first race this year that my mind could not overcome my legs. "Shut up Legs!" was not good enough and I just rolled through that race. The next week didn't include many hard efforts. It was intended to top off my freshness. The flat legs, fatigue, and soreness continued.

I warmed up for Battenkill with a strange numbness. Too excited to feel what my legs were telling me. At the first big climb of the race...it became clear. This was not going to be a good day. It was arguably the first of four decisive points in the race. I made it through with the contenders but it was obvious to me that my time there would be limited.

I didn't back off and continued to race. At the next significant climb, I put myself in a good position at the front. Hoping that I would still be within the group at the top. That didn't happen. I finished the race playing leapfrog with a few people in my race. Even some from earlier races that were less fortunate than myself.

So I'll share my race data. Ignore the early spikes of heart rate. My Garmin sometimes does that in the early portions of workouts. I'm too lazy to edit the raw data this time. You can see the erratic power while I'm riding within the group. Alternating between pedaling and coasting. We hit that climb near the middle and all that changed. The rest was just me telling my legs to shut up.

I had the good fortune of being with friends and clients for the entire weekend. After racing, I was in the feed zones handing out bottles to others. Battenkill provides a very rare celebration of bike racing. I came home with souvenirs and good memories.

I have felt slightly better this week. I had a very good race out in Lancaster, PA today. Just short of a win. I'll have to settle for just a great day of racing instead. That's not bad. I'll share that experience and data in the next couple days.

As the days get longer and warmer, I'm out riding with all of you more often. I put my own race ambitions aside in order to provide a better coaching service to you. I'll continue to race as my schedule allows. I have a habit of pinning a number on while out there providing race support for all of you. (wink)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sharing my data - More race video

On March 31st, I made a return to the Salisbury Road Race. It was a race I did last year for the first time. I enjoyed the race last year, had a strong finish, and it is a good tune-up race leading up to Battenkill.

I hampered my chances slightly by dealing with a couple "distractions" and doing a hard workout just two days before. We always want to race well but we often have to sacrifice in order to remain focused on bigger goals. Nonetheless, I would line up hoping to do well.

Again, I was recording the race on video. You never know when you may capture something to share. I witnessed a couple incidents I'd like to share. Most road races in our area utilize what is called the "Yellow Line Rule".

Due to numerous factors in our geographic area, the roads need to remain open for travel while we race. The race only uses the right ride of the road. Allowing traffic to travel normally on the other side of the road in the other direction. Racers are not to cross the yellow line for any reason. Penalties for those that violate the rule can vary but may include disqualification.

There should not be any gray area here but there are many situations where riders cross the yellow line. Some get crowded and feel forced across the line. Maybe they are bumped or are forced to swerve around a hazard or crash. This can be extremely dangerous as there may be an oncoming vehicle.

These violations are often overlooked as they appear unavoidable. As long as the racer returns to his position within the group quickly, most will turn a blind eye. In some cases, racers will cross the line in order to pass riders that are obstructing them. That is when you will hear lots of grumbling from your competition and catch the attention of the officials.

During my race at Salisbury, this happened a couple times and the moto-ref was quick and assertive with his response. This race video shows a rider passing numerous other racers in order to launch an attack. The referee didn't hesitate to accelerate up next to that racer and tell him to sit up and return to the field. Big thanks to that ref for enforcing the rules.

The last segment of the video is the finish of the race. With about 1 mile to go, I was sitting in a good spot towards the front. As we approach the last turn, that changed quickly. In previous laps, I had set up a plan if I were involved in a field sprint.

We had a tailwind so there was less reason to hide in the draft of others. The entire width of the road could be used going up the hill towards the finish line. The referee pulled up along the racers in order to discourage them from crossing the yellow line too soon. Once he pulled back, we were free to use the entire road. I planned to set up along the yellow line and be prepared to finish the race on the left side of the road. Hoping to pass as many as possible before reaching the line.

There were two guys that had gotten away in a breakaway earlier in the race. Those of us in the field were racing for 3rd. In the last two minutes, I went from good, to bad, to good again. I finished 9th out of the 40 or so guys in the race. Not an awesome result but one I can be happy with.

Thanks for reading!