|Race start, I'm on the far right in the Tire Rack jersey. Photo by Petr Masny.|
(Don't forget to help me raise money for First Descents as I train for the Leadville Trail 100. Donate today!)
My day didn't start so well. I woke up at about 3:45am with a normal middle-of-the-night bathroom requirement and got back in bed. I was dozing off again around 4:10 (yes, it takes me that long) when our dogs started barking. And barking. And barking. What the heck? We live so far out in the country that it's not uncommon for a raccoon or possum or even a skunk to send them into an uproar, so since my alarm was set for 4:45 anyway and now I wasn't likely to get back to sleep for enough time to matter, I went ahead and got up. I went out and yelled at the dogs to hush, and they did. Briefly. I got myself dressed and ready for the race day ahead and went outside to see why they were STILL barking at 4:45am. Turns out a couple of the neighbor's dogs had gotten out and came over to play. When this happens, we grab the dogs and put them in one of our empty horse stalls and let them know where to find them, so that's what I did. So my early day got an hour earlier start than usual. Great.
So I finish getting ready, have my breakfast smoothie, and load up and head to Alan's house to meet him and Michael. We load their gear and bikes and head toward Hanging Rock, which is about two full hours away. About half way there Alan exclaims "oh shit, I forgot my helmet…and my shoes…and I'm really not kidding." Oh wow. I'm driving and sort of half-panic, but it quickly occurs to me that there's no time to be going back to get them. I do realize somewhat quickly that I did have a spare pair of shoes with me. Unfortunately for Alan, my shoes are a size 14 and he's a size 11, but that can be made to work. We quickly also realize that we're near probably the last Walmart that we'd be near on this trip and they probably have a bike helmet that will work. So we get off the interstate and hit the Walmart and score a helmet. Another quick Chick-fil-A stop and we're back in business (I needed some solid food for my stomach, and Michael needed some coffee so he could spill most of it on my van seat!). Fortunately we had a little time padding and we arrived at the race site in plenty of time to get our gear and ourselves ready.
The main thing I wanted to work on was my race start. I've had this habit of starting too hard. And what that does is cause my heart rate to spike, and when I do it at the start like that, it seems to "stick." By that I mean there's just about no amount of "slowing down" that will get it back in check. So I needed to work on starting out easier and paying better attention to my heart rate so that I didn't go red too early. Having a Le Mans start wasn't the best scenario since I seem to be much more likely to spike my heart rate when I run than when I bike.
So my plan was to take it very easy and just jog the start, which was as much a safety thing as a heart rate thing since we were running in bicycle shoes (which are very rigid) across very rocky and uneven terrain. Then I'd make sure and watch my heart rate closely on the bike and take it very easy, particularly on the very early hills, even short ones, that I'd encounter. So that's what I did. I made sure and downshifted a gear or two more than I really wanted so I kept my cadence nice and high but my effort low. And it worked! It wasn't long before I felt warmed up and had covered a couple miles and my heart rate was still doing very good things.
|Photo by Ross Gobble.|
So I was stuck in a few conga lines while I fought to pass where I could, all while keeping a close watch on the heart rate. But I was able to both move through the pack and keep myself in check. After about three miles, I stopped watching it very close and just kept an eye on climbs to make sure I wasn't expending too much energy as I was really worried about the road portion of the race.
But what I ended up doing was saving a little too much, ultimately. I really could have had a little higher average power output on the mountain bike portion. But the first thing you see on the road is a long grinder of a hill, and that worried me. But you live and learn, and I learned a lot about what I need in that situation.
Oh, in the later stages of working through traffic, I had an interesting situation occur. I was stuck behind four other riders, and stuck for a while. When I finally got a peak of what looked like a reasonable place to pass, I took it. But in looking for the spot, I really just looked at the ground for something resembling a place where the "trail" was wide enough. As I got fully beside the fourth guy in line, I noticed I was heading right for a large tree that was sticking out from the side of the trail. There was room on the ground, just not at head-height. So I squeezed the dude a little and ducked. I cleared him and the tree, but he was pissed enough that he exclaimed "that was a really stupid place to pass with that tree being there!!" I thought "well duh! I wouldn't have done it if I had seen the tree!" But I didn't bother saying anything, because it just didn't matter. And I didn't have time…apparently the fact that someone was passing scared the heck out of the guy in third in this line, because he pulled off and slammed on his brakes to let me go by.
And on top of that action, the front two guys were just running up on some other incident on a small wet climb where a rider or two had gone down and were trying to get up and out of the way. They both moved to each side of the trail and stopped and everything just sort of opened up right down the middle of the trail for me. So I passed about five more people all at once right there without ever slowing down. I don't know what happened there, but apparently it stacked everyone else up, because I got several switchbacks ahead and couldn't see any riders for a long ways back. From there it was pretty smooth sailing through the rest of the eight miles or so of singletrack with only a few polite occasional passes here and there.
I zoomed into transition, grabbed my GPS off my mountain bike, stuck the bike on the rack, and grabbed the road bike. I popped the GPS on while I hurdled the ditch to the road, jumped on, and took off. Well, I shouldn't really say "took off" since what I did was more of a "okay, how do I do this again?" I got clipped in (I had put a set of Eggbeater pedals on my road bike so I wouldn't have to change shoes, which was a good idea) and pretty immediately was rolling across a bridge. Which made me think "Oh God, my bike is broken…what is that wobble?!?" Only to go "wait, I'll bet it's the bridge…just keep going and …. ahhhh, yes, it was the bridge." Okay, now to grind up that huge hill. (Apparently there was smooth and pretty pavement over some layer of very uneven bridge surface…everyone I mentioned that to went "oh yeah, I thought the same thing!")
|Photo by Ross Gobble.|
The real problem here is that I don't know yet how to find the sweet spot for me in terms of power output and endurance on the road. I don't road ride a lot, and when I do it's always been just training where I have fairly specific goals. I've never raced on the road before today. So it was here that I really wasn't working as hard as I could have been. And that went on for five miles of the ten mile loop. And then….
BLAM. As I neared the crest of a pretty large hill, I decided to downshift one more gear. And in doing so, all the sudden I was in my HARDEST gear on the rear. As I struggled to maintain a pedaling motion at all, I fumbled with my shifter to try to make it go back to an easier gear. Nothing doing, it wasn't moving. So I pulled off the road quickly and flipped the bike over to find my shifter cable had some off the rear derailleur, which means it defaults back to the hardest gear. Okay, no problem, I'll just dig my multi-tool out of my saddle bag that I carry for just such emergencies and put it back. Only, oops, no multi-tool. I had removed it weeks before to put on a different bicycle and never put it back. Wow, that was a fit of stupid…particularly in the fact that I didn't check that bag for completeness before a RACE.
One thing I'm particularly proud of is my ability to cope. See, those of you reading this who know me know that I can have a bit of a temper at times (and shut up every single one of you that's mouthing "that's an understatement!" right now…just shut up!). But honestly, I never got mad for more than a single "crap, this sucks" and then I started worrying about how to fix it. My first thought was I just need another rider to come along who is nice enough to hook me up with a multi-tool. So I look back down the hill to see nobody for a LONG ways. So I start walking forward on the course pushing my bike with the thought that there's no reason to STAND when I can be moving the right direction, at least, even if it means getting the tool a little bit later. And after not very long I start to see riders approaching….
Only the first five or six claim to have no multi-tool (possible, but I'm guessing most just didn't want to have to stop, and this is a race, so I get that). Then one does, and he stops. But I honestly and truly felt bad stopping someone and because of that, I really hurried to get done what I needed to do and give him back his tool so he could be on his way. And in doing so, I screwed up the repair. I forgot to shift it back to the hard end of the range, so I simply ended up with a tightened cable that couldn't tighten any further via the shifter. And I gave him back his tool and sent him along.
So when I jumped on to go, well, it wasn't very easy to go and it wouldn't shift to an easier gear. But thanks to the walking, I was in a fairly flat spot, so I could get it going. And get it going I did. I concocted a new plan. This plan was born of two things. One, I wanted to pedal for a while and not repair. Two, when I had to repair again, I did not want to be near the guy who had loaned me the tool and ask him yet again for the same thing. I felt pretty stupid for botching the repair the first time. Yay for egos! Why yay? Because in my desire to just get moving for a while, I learned something. I have pretty powerful legs, especially when I stand up and mash.
So? Well, I decided to try that mashing thing in the hard gear up the next hill. And it worked! I was a little flabbergasted. I mean I had to go a lot faster to do it than I had been taking similar hills, but I made it, and my heart wasn't about to jump out of my chest. It wasn't easy, but it was reasonably possible. Well then, let's make it as easy as we can, and REALLY bomb down the hills. I realized I could upshift my front chainring on the downhills, so I did and I went as fast as I could go down the hills. I rode with my hands on the "drops" (the lower part of a road handlebar) so that my body was more "aero" (almost laying down and out of the wind as much as possible). And I kept spinning that big gear as long as I could. Then I'd immediately downshift the front to the little ring and push that as long as I could. Then when I couldn't keep it going any more, I'd stand up and mash the hell out of it. And somehow I would do that all the way up every single hill for the next five miles.
|Bike service! Photo by Steve Orthel.|
Until it turned into hell.
I had no idea what I was in for, but what I was in for was 800 feet of elevation gain over 2.1 miles of distance. There's one silly little break in the action where it flattens out in what amounts to a teaser before one last little vertical jaunt to the finish line. So I put it in low gear and started grinding. Before long I realized that while I wasn't catching people quickly, I was catching people. And there were a lot of them in sight, too. I passed two or three folks fairly uneventfully before the most interesting pass of the day. Some poor guy was completely blown out. He was wobbling all over the place and taking an entire car lane. As I approached, the last thing I could afford to do was slow down, but I couldn't figure out which way to go around him. Finally I settled on the left and ended up completely on the yellow line and he still almost hit my back wheel as he turned almost completely sideways in the road, unable to grind any more.
I can only assume he stopped after a little more of that and had to walk (or rest) for a while. But I motored on catching and passing more and more riders. The race organizers had marked the pavement with 3k, then 2k, then 1k markers. After passing the 1k marker, I saw two more riders a little bit ahead and they had been together for a while. I was catching them, and then I saw the front rider break away. I thought that seemed kind of interesting, but we were still far enough away from the finish and he was far enough ahead of me that I thought he was on his own and maybe I'd at least catch the other guy. But the other guy apparently gave in at the sight of the breakaway, so I caught him very quickly. And then I realized now I was catching the front guy, too. He had attempted a breakaway and it had worked enough that he had left his partner, but it apparently hurt him pretty bad. I was reeling him in. When I saw him look back I figured he'd take off again, but he dropped his head.
HE DROPPED HIS HEAD! I may not be a road racer, but I've been involved in enough sports to read that language loud and clear. He was cooked up. I had a chance. Through all this, I never really sped up very much. I just kept grinding. And that's all I did here, and I motored right by. And pulled away a bit. But then his break came…there's one last small flat area as you go by a lake! I felt like that might breathe some life back into him, so I made sure I kept my power output pretty consistent which meant I could click up a few gears and get some speed going again through here. I did NOT want to look back and let him know I was thinking about him, so I just listened well. Yep, I could hear him coming. But not too fast. And guess what? The road was turning vertical again. I've never been happy to see a hill before on a bike, but I was happy for this one. I knew there couldn't be much distance left, so even though I had to downshift back to low gear, I kept hammering. I could hear him right behind me, but he was no longer closing. As we approached the final bend I heard him put the hammer down. So I stood up and started hammering, too. He pulled as close as his front wheel being even with my back wheel, but that was it…when I got my power going I pulled back away right at the finish line to stay a full bike ahead of him across the line.
That felt good. And my power data looked good. Either the Powertap maxes out at exactly 1000W, or I maxed out at exactly 1000W. My guess is I went over 1000W but that's all the meter will register. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it, anyway (at least until I see data above that!).
Hanging Rock Climb Summary:
15:46 minutes to cover 2.08 miles and 774 feet of elevation gain. That works out to an average speed of 7.9 MPH with an average power of 281 watts and a peak of over 1000 watts. The take-away from all that? I still had too much energy left at the finish. I really wasn't suffering very badly, and that's a brutal climb.
Alan and Michael beat me pretty handily in the race, even if you take out the two times I was stopped completely by the cable problem. But I can say that I beat each of them by a little over two minutes on that final climb, which is kind of cool, anyway. It's hard to compare the road loop section due to the couple stops I had to make, though I'm sure they had me by a little bit even if you take those out. They also had me by about a minute on the second loop of singletrack, and probably three minutes on the first loop (thanks to me being so far behind on the start). There were 57 riders in our class, and Michael finished 27th, Alan was 28th, and I finished 34th. Taking out the 5-6 minutes for the repair, I still probably only move up to 30th or so, so it really wasn't that big of a deal. I am still glad it happened, though, because I learned a lot from it (including valuable lessons like CHECK YOUR SADDLEBAG TO MAKE SURE EVERYTHING YOU MIGHT NEED IS IN IT!). For anyone curious, here is my race data on Garmin Connect.
I think a better warm-up (at events that allow it…this event start might have killed that anyway) will help me not have to start quite so easily. I may have started a hair too easily even at this one, too. And the other big thing I learned is I can get my output a lot higher on these road hills without it killing me, too. I think doing these things alone will get me a lot closer to Alan and Michael. It'll be pretty fun the first time we're all in sight of one another at a finish, that much I know!
After the race, I went back and gave the bike mechanic a tip for helping me out. He didn't want it, but I insisted so he said he'd pass it along as a donation to help out with more trail building at that site, which was plenty fine with me! The trails were really great. The road loop was really great, too. I can't wait until the next Doubleshot!