Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kisscross cyclocross race at Markin Glen Park (part 2)

For part 1 of this report, go here!

It was just about race time. Kendal went to scope out some good places to take photos. She took great care to find spots where we were most likely to flirt with disaster. Dan and I headed to the start line. Our race, the men's C class, was 30 minutes of racing. The C class is for first timers or slower racers . Perfect, since I am both of those things! The race director said something that I didn't pay attention to, as is my usual behavior. The first wave included the men and women C. I figured I'd be slow even among the slow, so I put myself near the back just behind Dan.

And we were off! Sadly, there was no canon or gun shot or even a loud "Go!". The only reason I knew the race started was because people started moving in front of me. So I followed the herd!

Unlike Lowell, the pace picked up immediately. Dan was just in front of me. Once we started rolling, Dan started to take off. Not surprising. During Lowell, I gave chase. But this time,  I decided to not follow. I just didn't know what to expect from myself on such a short, high intensity race. I hadn't done enough training to know what my body was capable of. How fast can I go without running out of gas? No clue. But my guess was, "Not very fast."

So during the beginning, I settled myself in to a little group of guys and girls on mountain bikes near the back. The race started on a straight section of paved path but it wasn't long before we took a left on to grass and hit the big hill. Even on the hill, I didn't attack on this first lap. I just sat back and followed the guy in front of me. Through the whole first lap, Dan was in visual sight. There were probably around 8 to 10 riders between us. It looked like he was riding strong. In fact, his lead was growing!! I guessed he was a full 40 seconds ahead of me at one point, which is a ton! I started to wonder if all of his commuting to work had put him in a position to beat me in this race. That would have been terrible. I would never hear the end of it. Even if he never beat me again, he would remind me of this loss forever! Unless I could come up with a good excuse! Maybe I could crash and break an arm? That would be plan B. But I wasn't giving in just yet.

As I approached the first obstacle, I thought it a perfect place to throw the race in the event I decide I couldn't beat Dan. But now wasn't the time. I approached sorta slowly and very deliberately. I didn't stumble much at all! Dismounted pretty smoothly! Hopped all three barriers! I probably looked like a total dork though. I was so paranoid about catching by foot on the barrier,  so I jumped extra high. Like, I had to grunt to achieve the height I wanted to in order to feel safe. Overkill. It's like pulling out a calculator to do simple arithmetic (which I also do). After the final barrier, I hopped back on the bike. Sorta. I was NOT very graceful or fast at getting back on the bike. And I couldn't clip back into my pedals to save my life! The pedal thing would plague me all race long. I need to practice clipping in quickly. But...I didn't fall or crash. That's the most important part! The scariest element in this race had been conquered...for at least this lap!

Then came some tight turns. Going through the tight, technical sections I noticed that I had a bit of trouble compared to some of the other riders at carving up corners. On the tighter turns, no matter how slow I went, it seemed like I could BARELY make it without going off course. I have to work on bike handling skills!

Dan, carving up corners.

Me, delicately navigating my way to the next straight section of the course.

Once at the beach section, pretty much everyone was carrying their bike back up beach. Otherwise, they found themselves falling down trying to ride it. Good thing Dan and I scouted the course! I still can't fathom how that girl made it through on her road bike! Lies! They were lies! Because that makes me feel better!

I actually had a bit of trouble on my first pass through the beach. I waited too long to dismount and started getting stuck in the sand. So my dismount was hasty and panicked, which resulted in me getting off on the opposite side of the bike than usual. So once I got to the top of the beach, I didn't really know how to remount from that side of the bike! But I managed to fumble my way back on the seat, and wobble off again.

I'm cracking up after the most pathetic remount ever! But I didn't fall!!!

After lap 1, I didn't really speed up. I felt comfortable and wasn't sure I could go much faster without a fair amount of discomfort.

[Discomfort is the ultimate limiting factor for me in cyclocross. I don't like to really dig down deep and kill myself. More than any road race or triathlon I have done, I saw plenty of guys and girls riding so hard I literally thought they were going to have a heart attack! They were struggling with their breathing so badly, they sounded like a overweight, chain-smoking James Gandolfini sprinting after his next plate of capocolla. I have nothing but respect for these people that push so hard in a race. I can't do it!]

I didn't feel like speeding up. But LOTS of people started slowing down. Since this was the 'C' race, there were probably lots of beginners and first timers like myself. Many of them probably let adrenaline dictate their first lap pace. That usually ends poorly. I started passing people when I could. And that's the thing. I learned that on a cross course, you can't just pass people when you want. It's crowded. Narrow. Full of trees and bushes and tall tall grass. The only places I felt really comfortable passing people were on a long straight paved section or on the big hill, both at the beginning of each lap. But during the second lap, I passed a lot of people. And on the hill, I finally caught Dan.

"This is intense!", I said.

"I'm done!", replied Dan.

Dan looked tired. But he always looks tired going up hills. I slowly crawled ahead of him and continued on my way.

You can see Dan in the blue jersey still ahead of me in the red jersey at the end of the first lap.

Shortly after the hill on lap 2, I'm starting to slowly crawl away from Dan.

I kept picking people off here and there, whenever I thought I had the energy and room to do so. And soon, the second lap was done. Some time around the third lap, I settled into a small group, two riders in front of me and two riders behind. I tried to drop them once, but they caught back up pretty quick. So I settled in and just  rode with them, flip flopping who was ahead a couple times.

The four guys in front of me I was chasing. Got two of them. Should have caught the other two.

Chasing down riders!

The second half of the race was mostly uneventful aside from avoiding small, crying children on the course. So yeah, they released the kids on the course for their one lap race before the adults were done. Now, I enjoy watching children get injured just as much as the next guy. But they were affecting the adults race! Near the beach, in a very criss-cross section, I had to slow down to not annihilate a small child (you're welcome!). That allowed a couple people to catch up to me for a bit...and allowed others to get further ahead of me. Found out after the race that Dan fell while trying to avoid a kid.

The other odd thing that happened near the end of lap three was a very odd exchange among spectators. As I was passing by a couple guys, one says to the other,

"I like this guy on the Motobecane."

I'm still curious as to the context of this comment! lol

Despite and because of the child I had to avoid, our group of 5 riders reformed by the 4th lap. Shortly into the 4th lap, I looked down at my Garmin and we were at around 28-ish minutes. But there was no indication that this was our last lap. I figured they'd signal final lap after this lap. And I'd use that 5th lap to get away from my group. Perfect!!!  Because I was feeling fantastic. I paced myself very well and I had a lot left in the fuel tank. We came up to the start/finish line to begin the 5th lap when...

"Pull off into the parking lot!"

What?!?!? The race was over?!?! Nooooo!!!!!! I really had a lot left for a very very fast 5th lap! How come there was no warning that this was the last lap? I was later told by another racer that there was a little sign by the start/finish line that indicated how many laps to go. Apparently, the race director announced this at the beginning of the race. I NEED to start paying attention to what they say...

I was BUMMED! Not only was I prevented from attempting my final lap strategy, but I was also not mentally ready for the race to be over. It's like telling Usain Bolt to stop in the middle of his 100m run. Just like Usain would have been, I was upset and confused! (Yup, I compared myself to Usain Bolt. I feel it's apropo.) But...there was nothing I could do. I'll just have to chalk this up to a lesson: listen to the race director, make sure to find out how many laps there will be or how they will communicate it to riders during the race.

I went to look for Kendal. I couldn't find where she was. But I had a very nice chat with some of the other racers. One of the guys I was fighting for position with, Ben Gross, came to say I rode a good race. I said likewise. It was his first cyclocross race as well. Everyone was so pleasant and cordial and just very cool!

I then went to a section of the course to wait for Dan. As he was coming around into earshot, he asked if it was the last a lap. Dan obviously was not aware of the little sign either. I told him that he's done once he reaches the finish line. "Thank goodness!!!!" And he dialed up a few extra watts to end his suffering as quickly as possible. After he crossed the line, we all regrouped in the parking lot. Dan and I traded our race stories. And Kendal told us how awesome or silly we looked at different parts of the race. We packed up and made our way home to get some much needed food!

All in all, it was a success! I finished 11th out of 21 but felt I could do much better (which I could not say about Lowell). And it was a blast! There's something very urgent and intense and gratifying in participating in a 30 minute event as opposed to a long event like a triathlon or marathon. There are very few lulls...every second is exhilarating! Plus...unlike long events, you still have the afternoon to do whatever you want!  I'm just bummed I waited so long to give cyclocross a shot! There's a learning curve, for sure. But if you spend time in another bike discipline (road, track, time trial, mountain, whatever) I would strongly encourage you to try cyclocross for a bit of cross training. Of even if you don't bike, get a cyclocross bike and give it a shot! You won't regret it!

Thanks go out to my wife Kendal for all the pictures and the cheers on every lap!

Results: http://michianatiming.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/crace-results-markin.txt

Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/27606618

Fourth lap! I still having a blast!

Eat my dust!

Dan is sprinting up that beach!!

He's feeling the suffering...

"If you try to pass, I'll KNOCK YOU OVER!"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kisscross cyclocross race at Markin Glen Park (part 1)

Yesterday, I participated in my first cyclocross race. It was part of the Kisscross series and took place at Markin Glen Park in Kalamazoo. As always, preparation is key. I left nothing to chance!


  • The days leading up the race, I prepared my body by fueling it with McDonalds, Red Lobster, Nick's Original House of Pancakes, and assorted candy from every single place I stopped at for whatever reason (gas stations, pharmacy's, etc).
  • On race day, Dan made us some homemade breakfast sandwiches! Absolutely amazing! All sorts of meats, egg, cheese, and these crazy potatoes roasted in rosemary or some such nonsense! Fanciest breakfast sandwich ever. Later, I would learn that even one breakfast sandwich constricts blood vessels and essentially tries to kill you dead: Killer Breakfast Sandwiches! Luckily, I had been eating well prior to race day. Phew!
Cyclocross technique:

  • I attended one of three CXpreX cyclocross clinics in September, where I failed so miserably that the instructor would shake his head and groan, "Motobecane..." every time I fell.
  • I never attempted cyclocross techniques again until this past Saturday.
  • Less than 24 hours before the race, I began to panic at the thought of face planting all over the park. So I followed Kendal on my bike while she went on a 6 mile run and practiced getting on and off the bike. It's like cramming for an exam! That always works, right?

  • After having not prepared for Lowell and racing in said unprepared state at Lowell, I did nothing for a week except sit in bed and watch Family Guy on Netflix. Went on a 30 mile social ride with Dan on 11/2. Then another 20 mile social ride with Dan and Joe on 11/3. Averaged a blistering 11mph!
  • Then, four days before the race, I started panicking. So I got on the trainer for 20 minutes on Thursday. And 40 minutes on Friday. Anything above 5 minutes on the trainer is a lot for me. Just sitting on the trainer and not pedaling is far more than I usually do. Oh, and did laundry on Saturday (it was a LOT of laundry so it counts as a workout).
Bike maintenance:

  • My rear tire had some sort of blow out. So I had to repair it. Didn't do so until 3 days before the race. And only tested it on my panicked technique ride where I followed Kendal on her 6 mile run the day before the race.
  • Completely cleaned my bike. That included removing the crank and bottom bracket to get all the sand and grit off of everything. And applying fresh grease where needed. In the process of putting the bottom bracket back in, the bottom bracket wrench slipped and deformed the normally round bottom bracket cup into a oval. Smooth, freely moving cranks are overrated anyway. I like the resistance. Yeah...
  • Ignore the entire decision making process involved in choosing a tire pressure and just use max pressure.
This is how champions are made, people. Take note.

Shortly after arrival, and before nerves kicked in.

The race started at 11am. So Kendal and I got up around 7:00am. Packed up the car and headed over to Dan's. We picked up Dan at around 7:50am. And off we went, enjoying Dan's death inducing breakfast sandwiches (but they were awesome)!

We arrived at the park very early, around 9:30am. We were so early, in fact, that when we approached the registration table a guy started talking to us about where to put the barriers! If Dan and I had been a bit more agile of mind, we would have ran with it and made sure the barriers were placed off of the course! But we are fragile of mind, so we just looked at him with blank stares which clued him into the possibility that we might be racers instead of volunteers.

After getting registered, I did what I had to do in the Porta Potty. Success. A sure sign that my body was getting ready to race!

As you can see from the above pic, the mind was NOT ready to race. Sheer terror.

Once back at the car, we still had an hour or more left. Dan and I unloaded the bikes and got ready to ride. It was a shockingly warm and sunny day, I was wearing all my summer riding gear plus arm warmers. Dan thought it would be a good idea to take a lap of the course. I thought it would be a good idea to sit in the car and ignore the race for as long as possible. But I ended up riding the course with him. We started out at a random spot because the volunteers were still putting the start/finish area together. But we found out we were going the wrong way when we ran into another group of 4 riders scouting the course. So, we turned around!

The first thing I noticed was how bumpy and jarring the grass is. I had forgotten about that as I hadn't ridden grass since the CXpreX clinic. It also appeared that the course was cut through the grass and thicket very recently. The cut stalks were crunching underneath our tires as we rode. The course was also very technical. Bike handling is not a forte of mine. I could barely make the turns at very slow speeds. The course was pretty rolling...lots of small up and down hills...a couple ditches...one big hill...a triple barrier. And then the beach. After coming down a very technical section, you turn left onto a beach. It was a bit slippery but the sand wasn't very deep. I actually think the slight dampness of the sand helped bouy us on top of it. But then you turn left again to go back up and off the beach. A few feet after making the turn up the beach, Dan came to a complete stop after his wheels sank into the sand.

"Dan's going down!"

Then I made the turn, determined to not make the same mistake.

"Juho's going down!"

Dan, though, was even more determined than I. So he picked himself up and said he wanted to try again and chose a different line. Nope! Down goes Dan. We both felt that riding through this was impossible. We just planned to dismount and carry the bike up the beach. But oddly...there was a set of tire tracks without any footprints next to them.

When we got back to the parking lot, we spotted one of the riders that scouted the course before us. I asked her if she was able to ride through the sand. She was. On a Pinarello FP road bike. With 28mm slicks. We had no idea how she did it. But...I saw other riders also fall and was satisfied with my decision to carry the bike up the beach. We also discovered that Dan's left shifter got sand in it and had seized. It was stuck in the small chainring, which actually suited Dan just fine.

We still had a bit before the race started so Dan decided to change out his file tread tires for his Michelin Mud2 knobby tires for more traction. And he decided to lower his tire pressure. I decided to use the same knobby's I used in Lowell and keep my pressure at max. Since I have no clue what I'm doing, I thought it best to do nothing at all!

Race and results and pics to follow!!! Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Humiliation on the horizon

Hello readers!

It is November 8th, 2012. Barack Obama is our president again for the next 4 years. Is that good or bad? Time will tell. I'm just glad I won't have to deal with the incessant political ads again for a while! Not to mention everyone's politically charged Facebook posts (guilty at times). Anyway...

The last time I wrote in this blog, I had just completed my first ever bike race! I finished it, so it was a resounding success! And I had thought that would be all for me this year. I thought I'd have all winter and spring to prepare for whatever my second race would be. That way, I might have a chance at improving my standing!

Alas, that is not to be. Instead, I'm going to experience nothing but misery and humiliation this Sunday at my first ever cyclocross race. My buddy Dan wants me to do it. And even my wife wants me to do it. I think they just want to see me suffer for their amusement.

What is cyclocross? It's sorta like those steeplechase races at the Olympics...except on a bike. Cyclocross courses are usually short, usually very technical, over varied surfaces. And like steeplechase, there are obstacles.

After obtaining my cyclocross bike this summer, I wanted to eventually try out cylcocross racing. To that end, I attended a clinic that helped teach beginners about how to race cyclocross: CXpreX

Why would one need to be taught how to race? You just ride your bike, right? Well...it's those pesky obstacles that bugger up everything. There's a technique to getting off the bike, getting over the obstacle, and getting back on without losing much speed or time:

From what I have gathered, there are actually a few different ways to accomplish the whole mounting and dismounting. At CXpreX, they taught it a bit different than the guy above. But it's all frigging difficult! At the CXpreX clinic, they first showed us how to mount quickly and smoothly. I had trouble mimicking the technique. I would either slow down too much to carefully mount the bike, or if I tried to do it quickly, I'd wind up in great discomfort and put any future children of mine in great jeopardy.

Dismounting was no easier. The idea is to have both feet unclipped form your pedals before dismounting. Then you swing your leg up over the bike, while your other foot supports you on the other pedal which is already unclipped. Then you simply step off the bike. But I had great difficulty unclipping my left foot and placing the foot back on the pedal so that it won't accidentally clip back in! My other big problem was the whole stepping off the bike step. While balanced on that one pedal, I had a tendency to hold my bike away from my body because it felt more stable and balanced to me. But the problem is, once you step off the bike like that, the bike is very far away from you. And the bike would sorta get loose of my grip and go rolling off by itself, and eventually crash to the ground.

I was a total wreck. I was EASILY the most incompetent person at the clinic which included other beginners of all sexes and ages, on all manner of bikes. My ineptitude was mighty impressive. Then, after the teaching portion, they staged a practice race. It was supposed to be four laps. I did two laps and quit because I just could NOT go on. Cyclocross is INTENSE! I'm just not used to or trained for that high an exertion level for any amount of time!

I have yet to try practicing how to mount and dismount since that disastrous clinic back in September. And I have done zero workouts to improve my anaerobic threshold, steady-state level, or really anything. Soooo....yeah....well prepared for a race, as usual!

The race is part of the Kisscross series of cylcocross races. It's this coming Sunday in Kalamzoo, MI. It'll be me, Dan, and Charles. My wife Kendal is coming for documentary photography purposes. You know, for laughs later on. She's going to do the Turkey Trot 5K the day before instead. Smart girl!

Here's someones race footage of the course from last year:

The course looks like it's over grass, single track, blacktop, and sand. For obstacles, there's a triple barrier and a set of stairs to run up. Ample opportunity for me to fall or look silly in some manner. The Adult-C (beginner race) is 30 minutes.

I got on the trainer yesterday for about 20 minutes. I'll probably workout today. That leaves me two days to get fit!

I'll tell you how it all goes!