Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sharing My Data - Time to resurrect the Blog

I originally created this blog to share my personal training experiences leading up to my race goals. Training hard through the winter months towards a Spring peak coinciding with early season events. Then, I reduce my personal training ambitions as I tend to clients preparing for their goals.

So when I left you last, I was riding out my early season form. Battenkill, Lancaster road races, mid-Atlantic MTB races. By early summer my decline in fitness was noticeable. I still did occasional races though. I went to the mountain bike nationals at Bear Creek, PA just wanting to enjoy myself. I brought my daughter, Emily, so she could see what a big MTB race is like.

Good luck finding me. Look for the black helmet. ;-)

Throughout all of this racing, I was hosting skills clinics. Starting with road racing clinics in March. By May, I added mountain bike skills clinics. Clinics for my clients. Then adding numerous public clinics for anyone who was interested. That brought on interest from some teams and small groups for their own private clinics. All this filled in my available weekends.

Women's XC racing clinic.

In August, I switched gears and hosted a series of cyclocross clinics. A weekend clinic followed by weeknight mini-clinics. Those were a great success and got people really excited for the Fall cross season.
August cyclocross clinic

I followed that up with Halter's Cycles Beginner Cyclocross Clinic in September. Five coaches instructing more than 50 people eager to learn new skills. That was a huge success and my biggest clinic ever.
September Beginner cyclocross clinic.

I also took some time to advance my own skills. Gotta stay a few step ahead of everyone. In late August, I went to Steamboat, CO to attend the IMBA Summit. A gathering for the MTB community to discuss all things related to fat tires. I was there for some advanced training as part of the IMBA Instructor Certification Program (ICP). A program that not only teaches the skills, but how to teach the skills to others. Something I started in 2013.

In October, I was back in CO for more IMBA skills training. I spent the week with some great MTB skills ambassadors. I am now one of only a handful of IMBA Level 3 instructors in the US.
IMBA ICP Instructor Trainers in Boulder, CO.

And with that, I hosted a few more MTB clinics before things get too cold here. I had a good friend make a short promotional video. Check out what you may have missed.

Throughout the year, I've been advancing my MTB skills and pushing through previous limits. Going well beyond my cross country mountain bike skill-set. You can now find me dowhilling at Mountain Creek Bike Park. I'm not too impressive but that is not the point. Just proving to myself that I have plenty to learn and having a blast trying to figure it all out.

Launching into a new comfort zone.
Thanks to all of you who have supported me and my events throughout the year. I'm looking forward to bigger things in 2015. Before that, I'm still racing this month at the 6 Hours of Cathedral Pines.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

MTB Skills - Neutral vs Ready Position

All mountain bike skills have one thing in common. BALANCE! A simple change in terrain will cause the bike to tilt forward or back. As this happens, we shift our position fore/aft to remain in balance. When searching for the cause of difficulty performing skills on the mountain bike, we can often trace them back to an imbalance or an error in position over the bike.

Although we may spend the majority of our riding time seated on the bike, we need to rise and stand over the bike when performing even basic maneuvers. This allows us to maintain balance by moving the bike under us in response to the terrain. We utilize one of two riding positions on the bike depending on the challenges that lie ahead.

A Neutral Position on the bike allows us to ride confidently over gentle or relatively easy terrain. Maybe a gradual descent down a dirt road, fire road, or field. We could encounter something unexpected. When standing over the bike in the Neutral Position, we are balanced and prepared. Here are elements of a good Neutral Position:
  • Pedals level and equally weighted. One foot in front of the other creating a wide platform.
  • Hips high and centered over the bottom bracket of the bike.
  • Slight bend in knees to absorb bumps.
  • Elbows bent out slightly for stability. Not towards the ribcage.
  • Head up with eyes scanning the terrain.
  • Relaxed grip on handlebars with one finger on each brake lever.
Neutral Position
A Ready Position is used when encountering more challenging terrain. This position is used to withstand impacts of the terrain or when anticipating challenges ahead. It is also used during the set-up and follow-through of many skills and maneuvers. Although the Neutral and Ready position are similar, there are a few distinct difference:
  • Crouched with hips and shoulders low
  • Deep bend in knees and elbows without compromising strength.
  • Knees out slightly to allow for more movement of the bike between the legs.
  • Eyes committed to the riding line ahead.
  • Slight contraction or tensing of muscles in arms, legs, and torso.
  • Our mind is confident and attentive.
Ready Position

The Ready Position is a key skill that is often overlooked. Riders without instruction are simply unaware. Most riders wait too long and then rush into the position at the last moment. They end up in a position somewhere between Neutral and Ready. I call that the Lazy Position. They do not achieve balance as they begin a maneuver and tend to struggle later.

As I do instruction with more riders, I find that extra attention to the Ready Position makes a huge difference. Enough that I have made changes to my own riding behavior and see benefit. When faced with a significant challenge on the trail, I now get into a Ready Position earlier. Then have an extra moment to focus on the next skill I need to execute. It is easier to remain balanced. Therefore, I am able to ride more challenging terrain faster and with less wasted energy.

Thanks for reading!

Descending with balance, confidence, and control.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sharing My Data - The Climb Crusher Workout...

Many of you have seen the Climb Crusher appear on your training calendar. A workout consisting of intervals done when you encounter climbs. Here is the description:
Main Set: Find a MTB course with moderate elevation change. Throughout the ride do various intervals when you get to climbs. The length of the interval will be determined by the terrain.

The shorter the climb, the harder you go.
8min or more = Zone 4-Threshold
3-8min = Zone 5-VO2 Max
1-5min = Zone 6-Anaerobic Capacity
1min or less = Max Effort

Between climbs, take is easy at nothing more than Zone 2-Endurance. Focus on recovering quickly and be ready when the trail goes up again.

I'm a big fan of this workout. I often train this way just to entertain myself. It helps to break up what may be an otherwise routine ride. There are numerous reasons why you should get excited when this workout appears.

It is less rigid. Many people grow tired of structured intervals done endlessly throughout their rides, day after day. They enjoy a day when they don't have to stare at the computer on their handlebars. Checking the elapsed time and confirming heart rate and power numbers. Having to bring a cheat sheet of notes to remind them of what their workout should consist of.

This workout can be done at various locations, on MTB or road bikes. Most of my MTBers are seeing this workout appear on weekends. Most of our nearby parks provide some amount of climbing. When you are not able to get to the trails, you can do it on your road bike. Just go find some hills or rolling terrain. For those of you stuck in the flatlands, use your MTB on the road and find some headwinds on open roads. Choose a bigger gear and push. It will feel like a climb. Just imagine yourself going up.

The Climb Crusher is also the "excuse buster". This workout can be done alone or in a group. Most spirited group rides will follow a similar pattern. Go fast on the climbs and then chill. Allowing people to catch back up. Then the group blows up again on the next climb. If you do a regular group ride that behaves this way, move your workout to that day and add purpose to the ride. I give you plenty of flexibility. Now, go motivate yourself and do it. No excuses!

I did a dual-purpose workout the other day. The Lewis Morris MTB race is scheduled for June 21st. This course has historically been the same for years. I first raced here in '96. Recently, the race has been done in reverse on alternating years to renew interest. For this year, the promoter has made some mild changes to the course. Utilizing a couple trails not often used and a brand new singletrack trail.

I went up there with my course map found here. I would ride at Endurance intensity while stopping often to navigate. Making mental notes of things I encountered along the way. Maybe kick a few sticks off of the trail. I've broken enough derailleurs to recognize those dangerous sticks and twigs on the trail.

After that first lap, I would return to the race start area and prepare to repeat the course. This time, I would be crushing climbs. You will see a noticeable change in my data. Little to no stopping. Heart and power are significantly higher.

Notice the big changes or spikes in my heart rate? While I was drilling it on the climbs, I went into full recovery mode elsewhere. I used the flatter or downhill portions of the course to focus on my bike handling skills. Trying to be smooth and efficient.

I did a progression in this workout by adding cadence drills to my climb crushing efforts. As the workout describes, the length of the climb determined my intensity. Additionally, the steepness determined my cadence. The steeper the climb, the lower my cadence. How did I manage that? Think to yourself, "Don't shift to an easier gear!" Dig deeper and push harder while using the upper body and core to remain stable and efficient.

This ended up being a relatively short workout at 90 minutes. I did a preview of a course so I am prepared to help all of you and answer any questions you may have. I also did a specific workout that would trigger some fitness adaptations. It was a successful day on the bike.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sharing my Data - I am qualified.

This past weekend, I decided to travel to the western portion of Maryland to race the Greenbrier MTB cross country race. I had never done this event before and had never visited the venue. My 2pm start time was unusually late. I didn't mind as I had three hours of driving to get there.

I did some minimal recon earlier in the week. Searching the web for a little insight about the course and terrain. A race consisting of 4 short laps just over 5 miles each. I would do 4 laps in the Cat 1 race.

I arrived about two hours ahead of my race start. Allowing for enough time for me to do a pre-race lap of the course. Some earlier races were still underway. I got my race number, got dressed in an extra race kit and scoped out the staging area and course.

We go to the race start to get an idea of what to expect when it is our time to race. This helps to reduce anxiety when it is time to go to staging. This race was extremely organized at the race start. A corral for each age group. Each one labeled with a small sign. I made a note of the position of a nearby tent. An easy way to identify my corral when I returned for my race.

I set out on the course. Aware of those racing around me. I don't want to get in the way of those who are racing. I didn't put my number on my bike yet. I didn't want to cause any confusion for marshals or scorekeepers.

I went over the first climb and down a long descent. Then I came up to a stream crossing that was high and flowing. Damn, I don't want to get drenched or muddy. I stopped to watch a few racers go through and create a plan of where to ride during my race later. Water sprays upwards as each rider goes through. Damn! I considered turning around but I was already pretty far out on course. Riding backwards on course is a bad idea. I had to go forward. I went through slowly and ratcheted my cranks. I got across with just a small splash on my shoes. I had brought extra race clothing but only had one pair of bike shoes. I wanted to keep them dry.

I continued on. I found more deep water or mud but was able to go around it. I finished my lap with dry feet and a clean butt. Nothing worse than getting soiled and wet before your race even begins. Note to self: Bring extra pair of shoes regardless of what trail conditions you expect.

I spent some time here talking about my pre-ride because this is how we all did it 15-20 years ago. There was no internet, GPS enabled devices, or pre-race course maps. The promoter showed up the afternoon before to mark the course. If you wanted a preview, you showed up early to ride the course before racing later that day. I'm old school. It is also good as the course is always subject to change and conditions vary from day to day.

I got back to the car, changed, and relaxed before starting my final warm-up. Nothing major here. I was just relaxed and riding up and down a shallow grade around the parking area. Then went to the start.

The corral system used at the start worked awesome. I wish more promoters used this method. Each wave started one minute after each other. I didn't rush to the start. I found myself at the back in the corral. Not ideal. Eh, I was just chillin. As we waited, a volunteer came around writing a number on our leg. We could use this to identify others in our race out on the course.

Before the start, guys moved around leaving an open space in the corral. I picked up my bike on the back wheel and moved into the spot. In front of others. I employed one of my old cliches. "When someone leaves a bike-length gap, put your bike in it."

I spoke to others briefly in the corral. A few guys were counting the number of racers. This race was the first Nationals qualifier in our area. The top 15 racers in each age group of a qualifier get an invite to nationals. There were fifteen in my group. Everyone was relaxed. There would only be one winner but we all earned something for showing up.

The race started and I found myself near the front. I often get good starts as I am all business. Know the gear you want to start in. Lock out the suspension for the initial sprint. Get clipped in and punch the accelerator. "Elbows out" when in a crowd. Find a good wheel to follow and stick to it like glue.

Once settled, I bleed a few spots on the first climb. That is fine. I often start slow and find myself able to hold my pace longer than others. It makes my races interesting as I pick off riders later. Not always a good strategy but that is just how my races unfold. I have learned to expect it and remain calm and within myself.

The course had three significant climbs. The first is gradual, short, and smooth. We ride side by side. The second is the largest. A long gear grinder with waterbars that put you right on the edge of traction. I stay in the saddle but really low and close to my handlebars. Keep both wheels firmly planted on the ground. Front for directional control. Rear to keep your effort propelling you forward. The last climb was steep with many rocks scattered about. We bounced around all over the trail in search of a smooth path.

The descents were fast and relatively smooth. Lower portions of the course contained standing water and then mud to follow. Racer drag water out of the crossings or puddles and make everything else muddy. I was loving my new bike at times. Just felt a fun groove as I weaved my way down swooping trails.

Not much else to report. I raced well without mistakes. I passed and was passed by racers in other age groups. I figured I was mid-pack but had no way of knowing. I didn't give away much time and felt good about my effort.

Four laps later, I was passed near the end. I missed the number on his leg as he was covered in mud and had a tattoo on one leg. He rode away pretty briskly. I caught him towards the end as we came out into a field towards the finish. Again, I looked at his leg. Starred at it trying to see the number. I couldn't see it. I often find it silly when racers in obviously different groups try to outsprint one another to the finish line. In this case, I couldn't tell what class this guy was in. "Screw it, I'm racing to beat this guy!"

I sat on his wheel as he was chugging to the line. Around one last wide sweeping turn in grass. I lean towards the inside. Taking a shorter path and remaining in his draft as the wind was coming from the other side. He heard me coming and stood to sprint. I had just a bit more and beat him by a bike length. We roll ahead and come to a stop. Hanging over our handlebars, we glance at one another. I ask, "What age group are you in?" He replies, "Yours! I was hoping to hold you off!" We exchanged pleasantries and I patted him on the back as I rode away. "Great race my friend!"

Looking at my data from the race, I paced myself pretty well. After a fast first lap filled with adrenaline produced my fastest lap time, the remaining laps were all within three seconds of one another. Doing that and finishing with an empty tank is near perfect pacing.

The results showed that I finished fourth. Ahead of what I expected. I enjoy surprises. No podium picture or prize but I earned my spot at Nationals in July. Not certain that I will go just yet but I certainly won't wait until race day to pre-ride that course.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sharing My Data - The Exit Strategy

During my road racing clinic in early April, I explained how we are often forced to ride in close proximity to other racers. We position ourselves in the draft or slipstream of those around us. The closer the better. For new racers, being surrounded by other racers is unnerving. Claustrophobia maybe. For the anxious racer, I suggested riding along the perimeter of the group. You may not get the most benefit from the draft but it is likely better than nothing. You may feel much less anxiety with riders only to one side of you. Then, you can focus on things that matter in the race.

We have to put a lot of faith in the rider(s) around us. We may not always feel confident in those around us. Maybe a rider is looking around, weaving around, seems distracted, or just makes you feel uneasy. The easiest way to avoid them is to stop pedaling and slow down. Racers will go around you and you can change your position.

I prefer to move ahead of a racer that makes me uneasy. When ahead, anything that rider does will have no impact on you. If someone is riding poorly, get them behind you.

During my lecture in the clinic, I added something that I normally don't mention. If you feel anxiety, have an exit strategy. An open area around you that you can move to in case of an emergency. When riding on the perimeter, you can simply move away from other riders.

I made use of this recently during the Turkey Hill Classic road race on May 3rd. A fast run in to the finish. Everyone is still together. Everyone has an equal opportunity to win. That means racers are excited and ready to take risks.

I positioned myself along the perimeter of the group. On the left. Opposite the cross wind we were facing from the right. I had the full benefit of the draft. The road was along a farm and an open field of grass/weeds. I was right along the edge of a road with no curb.

As we neared the finish line. Riders tangled and crashed on the other side of the road. Just ahead of my position. The mayhem began cascading towards me. I felt a bump on my right side. A tire exploded, emitting a cloud of tire sealant. The rider closest to me was getting tangled up with another rider hitting the ground.

What did I do? I made a brief attempt to hit the brakes. Honestly, the exploding tire is what spooked me most. You can't ride a flat at those speeds and it was really close. I consciously executed my Exit Strategy. I leaned to my left, pushed the bike forward, and pointed myself into the grass.

I held the bike out ahead of me and just waited to slow down. All my fingers on the handlebars to get the best grip possible. The grass would slow me down. I just hoped to avoid a hole or depression in the deep grass.

I slowed to a crawl and attempted to shift down. The grass was disrupting my shifting. I came to a stop and walked back to the road. I was recording the entire race on video. This is how it all went down at the finish.
So, when you feel uneasy about those around you, develop an exit strategy. My strategy on this day was very unorthodox but it was far better then hitting the pavement.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sharing My Data - Where did I leave off...

It has been far too long since I last provided a blog post. Let's see if I can get you caught up without writing War and Peace.

In my last post, I eluded to my slumping motivation. My legs have followed a similar pattern. I haven't been feeling fresh. This Spring, my legs just haven't come around the way I hoped. That is likely the biggest reason why I've been quite. I haven't been excited to share my personal results.

I enjoyed the Lancaster series of races last year. I looked forward to going back. Race courses and fields of competition I feel confident in. I went back to the Salisbury Road Race on March 29th. My third visit there. This time it was 45F and raining. A small breakaway formed. As they remained within sight, I figured their efforts would not be a winning move. I also didn't have the legs to confidently bridge across to them. I had a solid plan for the finish sprint based on previous visits. I gambled and waited.

That turned out to be a bad bet. A group of four battled for the win as I sprint among the field for the remaining spots. I was out-sprinted by only one from my group and finished 7th. I have the finish sprint dialed on this course. I just need to get myself in a position to sprint for the WIN.

April 5th was Battenkill. I've struggled previously at Battenkill in the Category 3 field. Racing against people half my age, on their way up through the ranks. My experience and confidence on dirt roads is my advantage. Not enough to overcome the superior abilities of others.This year, I entered the 40+ race. This is an open category race. I'm racing against some really strong guys, who just happen to be over 40 years old. My advantage? I'm only 42 years old.

Warming up in the rain.
Prepared to get wet and muddy.

The winter was not kind to the dirt roads up in NY. It rained heavily the week prior and showers passed through the night before. It was raining lightly as I arrived. I knew to expect soft conditions on the dirt roads. Those in my race did not come to make friends. It was brutally fast almost immediately. During a pivotal climb, only 11 miles into the race, things unraveled for me. Here is video of the scene.

I rode the rest of the race among other racers. I pushed hard but knew I was just racing for my own pride. I finished 46th of the 70+ in my race. This really is a difficult race. People travel from around the country to participate. In its 10th year, the events continues to grow each year. Although it has only been kind to me one year, I look forward to it each year.

The following weekend was my Safe-Racer clinic. Everything went great but I was hoping for a much bigger turnout. I devoted a lot of energy to the event and was hoping to see a better return on that investment. I had hopes of repeating the clinic this year. Instead, I'll look forward to doing it again next Spring.

Next up was a return to the Lancaster series with the Farmersville Road Race on April 19th. I had a great race here in 2013 and looked forward to returning. This turned out to be a strange race as it was interrupted by a crash in another field. There were three races on the course at the same time and the incident involved the field ahead of mine. Here is video of what I saw when we arrived. Because of what happened, I will be stressing the "yellow line rule" with my road-racing clients. It is very easy. Stay on the right side of the road.

All racing was halted and we returned to the start area. We resumed racing when the course was clear. Before the stoppage, my legs didn't want to cooperate. The stoppage didn't help. The race exploded in the last couple miles. I turned myself inside-out to finish 10th.

So, my legs have not been feeling good but I continue to push forward. I adjust my expectations and focus on the challenge, competition, and fun I'm having. In the mean time, I'm doing a lot of instruction. I'm preparing for future mountain bike and cyclocross instructional clinics although I haven't set dates. A couple new clients are helping to fill in my days. It is a busy time of year. Sorry to take so long between blog posts. I'll be back soon to write more.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sharing My Data - Tuning the bike and body

It has been a tough winter. I wish I could say I've nailed my training and am getting ready to fire on all cylinders. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

What am I struggling with the most? Remaining motivated to do the really difficult workouts. The North Carolina week was good but should have been done at a different time of the year. Returning home to more winter weather took some wind from my sails.

Early Spring racing has begun. I did three races in two days last weekend. Two at Branchbrook Park, Newark and another in the South Jersey Spring Series. Branchbrook doesn't suit me at all but I go for the proximity skills and race miles. At the S.Jersey race, a 1/2 mile lap with lots of turns works much better for me. I scored a 7th place finish there.

These races allow me to fine tune my legs. There is no substitute for racing. You can't mimic everything in training. Hard intervals during a solo workout? Spirited group rides?  It is close but not the same. While racing, your mind can easily get overloaded. One eye on those around you, one eye on those ahead, another eye on the road. You need many eyes to keep track of everything. You forget to do simple things. I often start a race with a water bottle only to finish without having taken a sip. There are many other examples. You simply have to immerse yourself in the environment in order to get used to it.

The road races I'm hoping to do well at this Spring are mostly 90 minutes to 2 hours. Battenkill is an exception at 3+ hours. These 45-minute Spring race only provide part of what I need. I need to push my endurance and ability to dig deep after many miles. To do this, I add monster workouts combining endurance and intense intervals.

This past weekend, I chose not to race. I needed a couple of those longer rides to really top off my endurance. Friday, I did 60 miles of rolling terrain. I loaded the later portion of the ride with climbing. The terrain provides the intervals. I don't have a choice. It was a good ride.

Saturday, I went out for a monster ride with Battenkill on my mind. I pre-rode the Hell of Hunterdon course that will be used in next Saturday's event. I will be there next week too but don't plan to do the entire ride. I hope to explain in a blog next week.

It was windy, hilly, with numerous rough unpaved roads. Just like what I should expect at Battenkill. 75 miles or ten miles longer than Battenkill. A perfect training environment. It was hard and I left all remaining energy on the road. The power meter indicates that this ride was more difficult than my previous visits to Battenkill. Overloading to stimulate an adaptation. Fine tuning the body.

Additionally, I'm tuning my equipment or bike. In the Fall, I acquired a new set of carbon tubular wheels and tires. These are too delicate for the unpaved roads but are great for the other races I will be doing. This is the fourth time I've owned a set of tubular wheels. Each time swearing I won't own them again. I have another set of wheels I plan to borrow just for a week or two for Battenkill. I guess I should tell that person who owns them. HaHa! Don't worry, it's not you

With these wheels, my road bike is in race-ready mode. Strange that I used to be a weight-weenie a decade ago. Trying to make my bike as light as possible. I got over that a long time ago. Preferring to have durable and more wallet-friendly parts I can trust to last. Now, without really trying, I find myself with the lightest bike I have ever owned. Go figure!

Glamor Shot!
Wrestling tubular tires onto the rims.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sharing My Data - Wrapping up the Winter Base Camp.

When I posted last week, I was laying in bed with my legs up on pillows. Trying to recover from the first three days of riding. Let me try to remember where I left off.

We got rain Tuesday night so we delayed our start on Wednesday. There were some tired legs in the bunch so this was designated as a recovery day. A 40-mile recovery day. Ouch! We did some pacelining over varied terrain early in the ride. Then we started taking pictures and chilling. Two guys continued on to extend their ride. The rest of us rode back at a crawl.

We found ourselves on some dirt roads on the way back.

Thursday, we were back in the hills. A little shorter ride as some guys were crying, "Mercy!". I may or may not have been one of them. This would be my last planned hard ride. We started from the house towards a big climb. One we had come down two days earlier. That preview didn't help much as we were now going in the other direction. 

We rolled along the lower slopes of the first climb, trying to remember where it kicks up and really begins. Of course we found it and the games began. Throughout the week, we had gotten to know one another and some friendly competitiveness rose to the surface. Since we were all present on this day, the fireworks were lit up on that first climb. As my legs don't agree with prolonged stopping during rides, I often made a habit of turning around when I crested a climb. Once at my pace, then I'd go down to the slowest rider and chill with them at their pace. That is why you may notice a double peak in my graph data. No pictures from this ride. I did get some cool video though.

Friday would be my last day of riding in NC. The group was undecided about riding. Most of us went our separate ways although we had the same target in mind. The town of Highlands, NC sits atop a mountain range. Some rode form the house to get there. I decided to drive there and begin a ride from Highlands. The road I took snaked up through a gorge carved by a raging stream. Lots of exposure over the guardrails that lined the road. The uphill side of the road was often just a wall of rock. The road had been carved into the mountain. The stream had many rapids and waterfalls. I realized I had made a mistake. I should have ridden up this road.

I parked and did a small loop. Then returned to town to see many of my week-long companions resting at a grocery. They were preparing to ride back to the house and end another 80-mile day. I decided I would join them down that scenic road. Then climb back up to my car to finish the day.

Here is some video from just a portion of that 9 mile descent.  

I enjoyed one last dinner and stayed up late in bed. I packed on Saturday morning and headed out. Next stop? Richmond, Virginia for Monster Cross. A client turned me on to this event last year. I decided to join him this time around. First race of the 2014 season. My new Cognition Canopy made its debut with the bike that inspired my logo color change.

50 miles of paved roads, dirt/gravel double-track throughout Pocahontas State Park. I raced in the 40+ Cyclocross division. There were divisions for those using MTBs as well. While the terrain was not very exciting, the speed was awesome. Mostly smooth surfaces with an occasional root, loose soil, and embedded rocks to keep you honest. 

The Elite men and women went off first. After a small gap, 700 more people were started at once. Quickly funneling into a one lane road through picnic groves and parking areas. Wow, was I glad to find a spot near the front.

As soon as we hit the trails, I found myself in a group of about 20 riders. While we had no interest in making friends, we worked loosely together towards a common goal, Keep riding as fast as possible for as long as possible. I rode in someone's draft for nearly all of the first 30 miles. Occasionally, I'd be at the front. Much more often, I was tucked in behind someone that I was confident in. I say that because the speeds on this constantly changing surface made things questionable. Rocks, twigs, roots, mud and water all came up by surprise. Some high anxiety riding as your view was often obscured.

The group got smaller and smaller as the miles past. I rode mostly alone in the last ten miles. Occasionally passing riders who had overextended themselves early. Also many riders changing flat tires.

I managed to continue riding strong throughout the entire race. Pacing myself extremely well. With so many riders starting at once in many different race categories, I had no idea what place I was in. Someone I passed mentioned that I may be in 3rd or 4th place. That was a surprise and encouraged me to continue pushing the pace. With just a couple miles left, I was able to back off as I had not seen anyone ahead or behind me for some time. Whatever my position, it wasn't going to change.

I ended up with 3rd place. Considering the 20+ hours of riding I had done in North Carolina, I was very happy. So here is the first podium shot of the year. I don't get many of them these days. I look forward to seeing many of you up there as well in 2014.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sharing My Data - Winter Base Camp

An old racing friend of mine, Juan Aracena, has hosted a North Carolina training camp for a few years. He goes down each Winter at about this time with teammates and friends. While I was at the TrainingPeaks seminar in Colorado, he announced a spot had become available in his camp. 

My trip to CO was a bit frustrating. Boulder is a cycling hotbed. When planning that trip, I considered going out for a few extra days. Making it a winter camp of my own. Unfortunately, winters in Boulder are more inviting for snow sports. Instead, I planned to make the trip a rest period.

Our winter weather has challenged all of us. With fewer opportunities to train hard, I ended up in Boulder without the need to rest. I was hanging out with 30 people who are truly passionate about cycling. I returned home eager to get back on my bike.

First day back in Jersey, 17 degrees, slush on the roads, and I have some work to do on the bike. I'm on my cyclocross bike with CX tires and grumpy. My ride was not good. I called Juan immediately after. I got the go-ahead from my wife. I'm going to NC for a week. Boom!

So here I am. Franklin North Carolina with ten other guys. Ages ranging from 23 to 47. Country of origin ranges from Russia to the Dominican Republic. Juan has a small team of Masters road racers. He invited a small group of younger guys from another team to share the house.
Within the group, we have one bike shop owner, three full-time mechanics, and two coaches. All but one of us is a regular racer. The young guys are Category 1 and 2 road racers. The rest of us race mostly in the Masters 35+ or 1/2/3 Categories.
The arrangement here is very relaxed. We are scattered throughout a four bedroom house. We share most meals. Everyone does something to pull their weight. Much like bike racing, Everyone is expected to work. No one gets a free ride.
Juan designs a route through the surrounding mountains. He has an interesting criteria or formula that he uses. 1,000 feet of climbing per 10 miles of distance is what Juan considers a respectable ride. So, "1k per 10" is what he goes for when creating a route. I too am very familiar with this formula although I call it something else. I refer to a ride that has 1k of climbing per 10 miles to be a Death March. This has been a challenging week of riding. 
Sunday's ride, was a brutal start and a shock for many. 88 miles with climbs bigger than what is even possible in New Jersey. True to his formula, Juan's route included 8,800' of climbing. We followed that up on Monday with another 77 miles. We fell short of "1k per 10" due to a climb being impassible due to snow. Regardless, by the end of the second day of riding, I felt like I was on a death march.
Juan continued with Tuesday's route. With some sore muscles and a slight pain in one knee, I decided to shorten it for myself. While others rode from the house, I drove out to where they would begin a loop. When they showed up, I rode with them until returning to my car. I did 50+ miles while most others did 80+. Interestingly, I did have two people join me in the car on the way home.
I'm down here getting in some mega-miles. I leave here on Saturday to head to the MonsterCross Endurance Race near Richmond, Virginia. That will cap off my week. I will race with very tired legs. I was planning to use it as nothing more than training anyway.
Once I return home, I'll share more about my week. I've got a few good stories, more routes, and hopefully some instructional video to share. Sorry to leave you all in the cold and snowy northeast. I'll be back there suffering in the cold soon enough. I hear that the weekend may provide some relief. Get out there and take advantage.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sharing My Data - Winter has not cooperated.

As each of you has noticed, Mother Nature has been pretty mean to us this winter. Honestly? I'm struggling too. Struggling to motivate myself to go outside. Struggling to do actual workouts.

It can be difficult or even unsafe to do some intervals with the weather and road conditions we are witnessing. The roads have been perpetually wet. Snow melt refreezes on the edges of the roads where we ride.

I have managed to keep my training hours up but most workouts have become less structured. Just getting out and dealing with the challenges is an accomplishment.

I've been on my cyclocross bike almost exclusively for what seems like months. Last weekend, it was warm enough that I wasn't forced to use winter bike shoes. I took out my road bike. I was more interested in enjoying a long ride than doing strict intervals. I went out on some of my favorite roads and enjoyed the tropical temps around 40F. I hit the climbs briskly and added a long, steady effort at the end.

Sometimes we have to get creative in order to find ways to train. I took that to the extreme when I bought a Fat Bike a couple weeks ago. It should be more of a toy than a training bike but it has allowed me to ride in conditions that no other bike could.
Sandy Ridge Rd covered in snow.

I took it out during the heavy snow last Monday. The roads were empty. The plows had not gotten to the secondary roads at all. The Fatty allowed me to enjoy myself. Tuesday's ride turned out to be a failure as the snow was too deep and heavy on the trails for even the fat bike. An ice storm came in that night.

Deep snow provides a bike stand.
I went out late on Wednesday night in an attempt to get a longer ride in. I figured waiting would allow the salt to do its job and allow traffic to subside. Well, the slush and ice was refreezing as I was out and conditions got a little dangerous. I was thankful to end that ride.

This weekend called for some scheduled time off the bike. I'm currently in Boulder, CO attending a seminar at TrainingPeaks headquarters. The seminar is for coaches looking to improve their workflow and better use the features in TrainingPeaks.

I'm hanging out with the company founders and picking up some new tricks. I got an opportunity to share a car-pool and dinner with Hunter Allen, co-author of Training and Racing with a Power Meter. Although I have met him before this chance to speak candidly was pretty cool. Would you believe he also coaches professional race car drivers? Helping them to train for the physical demands of their races. We shared some great conversation.

Winter has turned into a real bear but I'm getting by. Not thriving but getting by. The Rocky Moutnains are just a four-mile warm up from me this weekend but I didn't bring my bike. The current Boulder climate is nearly identical to NJ. The views of big mountains in the distance remind me that I'm not in Jersey any more.
Snowy mountains in the distance.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

MTB Skills - Bike / Body Seperation

We are connected to our bike with our hands and feet. Although we sit on the saddle and can move our hips to aid in control of the bike, we often have to rise out of the saddle into the Ready Position to prepare for more challenging terrain. When in the Ready Position, our arms and legs act as our suspension. We may brag about the couple inches of travel that the bike suspension provides. We can get 6 or more inches of free suspension from our arms and legs. 

When traveling in our vehicles, the wheels move up and down with the imperfections in the road surface as we sit comfortably behind the wheel. Similarly, we want our torso to remain relaxed while riding our bike. The bike will be moving around beneath us on the terrain. The difference in motion between the bike and body is called Bike / Body Separation.

Bike / Body separation is a fundamental skill in allowing us to navigate challenging terrain such as climbs, descents, high speed corners, and rock, root, or log obstacles. The relationship between bike and body can change in three dimensions; forward and back, side to side, and up and down.

We move our body weight forward or back to remain in balance over undulating terrain, climbs, and descents. As we roll up a climb, we have to shift our body weight forward to keep the front wheel form rising off the ground. Conversely, we shift our body weight back when on a descent to avoid tipping over the handlebars.

Forward position while climbing.

Lean back while descending.

Forward on the front slope of an undulation or "whoop".
Side to side Bike / Body Separation is primarily used to control your path or direction. When cornering at high speed, we lean the bike in the direction we want to turn. The more we lean or separate from the bike, the faster we can go. Conversely, when we want/need the wheels to track through a specific path, we lean from side to side with our body to maintain balance over the tires.

Basic side to side motion.
Leaning the body to keep the bike on a specific path.

Leaning the bike during a high-speed corner.

The last dimension of Bike / Body Separation is up and down. We often apply up and down forces on the bike to control our traction. Compress your body and weight down during a corner to increase traction. Extend up or lift body weight to lighten the bike over obstacles. We will talk about this later when we discuss Pressure Control. An extreme example of up and down Bike / Body Separation can be seen when performing a "Bunny Hop" or when you lift the bike off the ground. This is extremely useful to clear obstacles while maintaining speed.

The phases of a "Bunny Hop".
In the photo above, the rider compressed down as you would do to a spring. Then explodes upward. As he passes over the object, he pulls the bike up closely under him. Then extends down and lands. Upon landing, he again compresses to soften the landing and maintain control.

There you have it. Bike / Body Separation is absolutely critical to most of what we do on our bikes. Mountain bikes using these principles will feel a special bond between the bike and the flow of the trails. Even cyclocross and even roadies can benefit from a solid understanding of these movements.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Advanced features of Garmin Edge devices.

Garmin Connect is an online workout library. It offers training diary features similar to TrainingPeaks. It also has features similar to Strava, allowing you to share your training with friends. Garmin Connect falls short of the competition on most things but they got something really right. They offer great tools to get the most out of training with your Garmin device.

Some of my interval workouts can be a challenge to manage, or even remember, while riding. I smile as some of you bring cheat sheets along with you for your rides. Some intervals may require you to keep close eye on the clock. I'd much rather see you with your eyes up the road. You can create Garmin Workouts to help you manage intervals during your training rides. (That link may not work if you do not have a Garmin Connect account.)

A Garmin Workout can be used to make your Garmin device beep as your intervals begin and end. Instead of staring at the small screen, you get a series of chimes indicating that it is time to begin or end an interval. This is a huge benefit when doing a series of short intervals or when I ask that you repeatedly change what you are doing in the workout.

Garmin has changed and improved this feature over the years. It has always been possible to create the workout on the Garmin devices but is painfully tedious. Garmin used to provide a stand-alone software allowing you to create workouts and then upload to the device. It was full of bugs and I gave up on it. They eventually added it to Garmin Connect although it had early limitation. Finally, they have progressed to a point that this is now a powerful feature AND relatively user-friendly to create.

Here is the description of a MicroBurst workout that I often prescribe:
Warm Up: 15 minutes within Zone 2-Endurance. Include 2 Spin-Ups of one minute each with one minute of rest between.

Main Set: MicroBursts help build leg strength and boost your FTP! Complete 3 x 10 Min SEATED MicroBurst intervals with 5 minutes of rest between sets. A 'Burst' is 15 seconds ON followed by 15 seconds OFF. During the ON segment, pedal seated as hard as you can. Aim for 150% of FTP. The OFF segment is 15 seconds of easy pedaling. Repeat continuously for 10 minutes.

Cool Down: 10 minutes of easy pedaling before getting off the bike.
A continuous 10-minute interval of 15-second segments can make your head spin. I understand as I find this one challenging myself. Here is the same workout as it will look on Garmin Connect:

You can upload this Workout to your Garmin and then select it form the menu as you begin your ride. As you begin, you will notice nothing at first. In the image above, the Warm Up will continue until you hit the Lap button. This allows you to vary your warm up length or get to an area that is suitable to begin your intervals.

As you are ready to begin the first MicroBurst interval, hit the Lap button and the device will provide a series of chimes as you approach the end of each 15-second segment. You will also see a message on your screen indicating the new segment. After 10 minutes, the device will stop and rest until you hit the Lap button again. That will start the next MicroBurst interval.

As you create these Workouts, the Garmin Connect interface is very intuitive. It may be confusing at first but once you create a couple steps and see the result, it begins to make sense. We were once limited to 20 steps and you couldn't repeat steps. With the addition of the Repeat step, I can now create very intricate workouts. The 20-step limit may still exist but I haven't gotten to it.

There are a few things that may trip you up along the way. Creating a Workout may not be intuitive to everyone. Finding the Workout on your device and getting started may be strange at first. I could see it causing frustration. Be patient. Reach out to me for help. As you can see in the image above. I have created only a few Workouts. I can send these to you as files that you can copy to your Garmin device.

Here are a couple advanced tips:
  • You will see a couple extra screen pages on your Garmin while doing a Workout. Some fields may indicate what segment you are in. Others show your progress in the current segment or provide a countdown to the start of the next segment. Don't get caught up in these additional fields. The most important thing is the beeps. Use the beeps to guild you through the intervals.
  • Do NOT provide a "Target" for each step of the Workout.  A Target is a range that you can set for HR or power. Although it sounds like a great idea, the Garmin will beep if you are above or below the target. I used Targets once and was ready to shoot myself within minutes of beginning. Imagine a nag beep and screen message constantly reminding you that you are at the wrong power. In the image above, all of the Targets are set to None. Trust me, keep it simple and let the timer and beeps guide you.
  • Lastly, most of us have our Garmins set to Auto-Pause. As we stop on the road, the timer Pauses on the Garmin. As we continue, the timer Resumes. When doing a Garmin Workout, the Auto-Pause feature is disabled. The clock does not stop. If you are doing a timed interval, look for a route where you can ride without interruption.
I suspect I will hear from a few of you. "Wow, this is awesome thanks!" Then a few days later, "Dude! This is really confusing!!! Be patient. I've been dealing with this stuff for years and have gotten used to it. As always, I'm here to help.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sharing My Data - Standing vs Seated-Climbing

In a previous blog post, I wrote about climbing. That prompted a couple questions from you about climbing while seated vs climbing while standing. They were great questions and I've been thinking about them since. I went out on a climbing mission to demonstrate the pros and cons of seated and standing climbing styles.

I started from Lambertville and did my warm-up towards one of the larger continuous climbs in that area. I've done this climb many times but not repeated with the focus I would be applying during this ride. The climb is 9/10ths of a mile long. Climbing 180 feet at an average grade of 3.8%. Not impressive numbers but certainly enough to provide plenty of discomfort. As I often say, "Relative bumps in the road can do significant damage when ridden at race-pace!"

Interestingly, this climb is steepest at the bottom. This causes riders to dig deep early while being cautious not to get exhausted before the top. As I began, I did not know how many times I would repeat the climb. I planned to do it both seated and standing. Then a mix of both. Here is the portion of the graph containing all off the intervals.

Allow me to explain a few known climbing principles. Climbing while remaining seated is known to be more efficient. While seated, the saddle and bike support your body weight. With more points of contact with the bike, it is easier to balance and maintain a straighter path. When sitting up, you can see the road ahead more comfortably. 

When climbing out of the saddle, you have to support all of your body weight on only your hands and feet. The bike becomes less stable as it can now rock side to side between your legs. This rocking motion can influence steering dramatically. 

When standing, more muscles are needed to support the increased body weight and maintain balance and control. Those muscles will be calling for oxygen, increasing the demands on your heart. As a result, heart rate increases to provide oxygen to more muscles.

People often argue that your power increases when you stand. That is true BUT...that increase is primarily due to the body mass that is no longer supported by the saddle. Standing alone does not produce greater power. There is simply more of your body mass acting on the power meter.

With that said, you can produce greater power output while standing. As we pedal out of the saddle, we rock the bike from side to side. We counter this motion by pulling on the handlebars with our arms. This motion and the use of our arms provides a greater output. As these additional muscles are relatively small, the increased power output is very short-lived. When we look at power output while standing, we will often see a burst and then a slow decline to nearly the same level as if you were seated. Conversely, heart rate will continue to rise.

Last but not least, there is a time when standing is a good idea regardless of power output. When seated, certain muscles are doing the bulk of the work. Although seated climbing is most efficient, the continuous use of the same muscles will cause fatigue. Different muscles become active when climbing out of the saddle. It is a good idea to get out of the saddle for short periods of time at regular intervals. The muscles used while seated will appreciate the rest. Then return to the saddle and continue.

With all that explanation out of the way, let's return to my intervals. My first attempt (1) was seated and more of a continuation of my warm-up and a recon mission. I picked an exact start point that I would use for each. I got a closer look at the grade changes and to see what my average power would be and how long it would take. I also chose an exact point to finish each interval (a utility pole). I returned to the bottom and noticed my resting heart rate. I wanted to begin each interval at relatively the same HR to allow for a better comparison.

The second attempt (2) was entirely OUT of the saddle. I was thoroughly warmed and just targeted to get to the top briskly. I made a mental note of my average power again. (279 Watts) Here is a little extra that you do not see in the data. My back was screaming at me. Ouch!

For the third attempt (3), I returned to riding entirely seated. I attempted to hit the exact same average power as in the previous standing interval. I went too hard early and was forced to back off as I neared the top to reduce the average power. The result was 282 Watts and some questionable pacing of exertion. "Nah, that isn't good enough!"

I started the fourth (4) with the same plan. Match the average power from the Standing interval. I improved my pacing and hit the exact number as in the Standing interval. Perfect! That is what I wanted to record and review later.

Let's compare intervals (2) and (4) in greater detail. Although very delayed and subjective, heart rate in the graph provides a good indication of my perceived exertion. Notice in (2) how quickly my HR rises. Then, it remains high while showing a slow decline until the final burst at the top. The decline in the middle was necessitated by the early burst. I had to back off a little. As I approach the top, I have only enough for a short burst. If I had not reduced my effort in the middle, there would not have been a burst at the top at all.

In (4), my HR rises much more slowly. Allowing for a continuous increase in exertion. Additionally, I have extra in the tank to put in a longer effort towards the top. Although the line displaying power is erratic, you can see that power is continuously increasing in the second half of the climb. The data does not reveal everything though. I was struggling at a low cadence during the early steeper section. Once beyond that, I was able to settle at a more comfortable cadence and reduce my loses.

After the fourth interval, I was happy that I had created a good comparison between climbing seated vs. standing. For the remaining intervals, I used a mixed strategy to see how I could get to the top quickest. The goal was to stand for the early steeper section. Then, "churn and burn" while seated through the middle of the climb. I would stand towards the end to deplete whatever I had remaining at the top.

For the fifth interval (5), I was too aggressive out of the saddle early. Similar to the earlier interval, I was forced to back off through the middle portion of the climb. Then only had enough left for a short burst at the top. I didn't feel good about that effort and went back down for another.

The last attempt (6) is where I got things right. A less aggressive approach early while standing. Although my HR rises quickly, it does not go as high as the previous attempt. It also does not drop nearly as much in the middle of the climb. The drop in heart during the middle is simple because I sat down. Remember, less muscles are calling for oxygen while seated and HR lessens. Then I have plenty in reserve for a blast towards the top. The time is slightly improved although the power is slightly less. "Power alone does not win races. The result is determined by how we apply our available power." I paced myself better and achieved the best time of the day.

As you approach any climb, consider how you want to apply your available power. Seated climbing is most efficient. There are times when we may be forced to stand. Such as when we run out of gears on a steep grade, when responding to accelerations and attacks in a race, or simply to give muscles a rest. Developing your personal climbing habits can take years. I have seen my own habits change numerous times as I learned and observed others. Never stop looking for ways to improve!