Monthly Archives: June 2009

The perfect taper?

I’ve tried a number of different approaches to tapering for a big event. Take days off completely. Lower the volume but keep some intensity. Don’t do anything different at all.

What I really like to do is to throw a race in between some easy days. Just enough to keep race-sharp, but not so hard that the legs feel destroyed. That can be difficult to do, because once in the race you often can’t help yourself from racing full-throttle.

I think I found the perfect way:

Decide to do 48 mile road race that is 2.5 hrs away
Get up at 5am (good practice for early race start)
Wait for teammate who is late because his coffee pot overflowed on the kitchen floor
Drive 76mph for 2 hrs
Ride quietly in the field for first 10 miles, dodging potholes
Follow attacks on 2nd climb; attack over the top (race effort #1)
Flat on the downhill after hitting rock:
– feel lucky for not crashing
– feel lucky for having decided not to bring good tubulars
– feel lucky for having stuck a tube, levers, & “pump” (quotes necessary) in pocket
Fix flat, ride to parking lot to use a real pump
See Masters field go by
Make threshold+ effort to close 30 second gap and catch on (race effort #2)
Chat with Masters while riding up first climb
After first climb, “motorpace” (more necessary quotes) dropped rider back to field (race effort #3)
On final climb, follow attacks of lead group (race effort #4)
After descent, alert lead riders that marshal has left corner and they are about to get hit by oncoming cars (adrenaline spike #1)
Sort-of sprint at the end, behind the lead masters (race effort #5)
Drive back home at a reasonable speed
Think, hmm, legs are a little tired but not destroyed. Mission accomplished.

But did it really require an 11 hour trip?

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You say Ver-sales

Before leaving for the Ohio time trial championship in Versailles, my son informed me of the correct way to pronounce where I would be going.

“It’s Ver-sales”, he said. “They don’t like it when you say it like the French city.” As a college student at a small Ohio liberal arts school, he now apparently knows these things.

I added it to the list of other Ohio cities and towns named after foreign ones, but that somewhere along the way forgot how they are supposed to be pronounced.

Milan is “MY-lan”.
Berlin is “BER-lun”.
Genoa is “Ge-NO-a”.
Toledo is “Tuh-LEE-doh”.
Lima is like the bean.

And I think the residents all get mad when you say the name “properly” — like the more famous counterpart, even though that is in fact the origin of their names. Somewhere along the way, someone must have declared, “I ain’t gonna live nowhere that sounds like some Frenchy place.”

Maybe this is the answer to Ohio’s declining economy. Make Ohio sound more cosmopolitan, and we can fool businesses into moving here. When they hear “Ver-sigh”, they might think of wine, bakeries, and street cafes rather than egg farms and chicken poop.

That is perhaps unfair to Ver-sales. Driving around Ohio to go to races, you pass through some pretty dismal looking places. Ver-sales wasn’t one of them. The main street (called Main Street of course) and the surrounding area was striking with its neat little well-kept houses, all with sidewalks, nice paint, and trimmed lawns.

It seemed as though people actually cared about where they live. And more of that would likely do more to revive Ohio than anything.

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Chasing myself

I can understand how some pro riders feel pressure to dope.  I don’t agree with it, but I can understand it.

After a bad race, and then another, you start to have doubts.  When you’re doing this “just for fun”, it’s not such a big deal (though it doesn’t feel that way).But if you’re a professional, and your livelihood depends on your performance, the stakes are higher. How do you handle that pressure?

I had a (relatively) bad race at the Groveport Time Trial.  Then my legs felt tired and heavy at the Thursday night Leroy TT. At that point I was about ready to just stay off the time trial bike for a while.

So I waited until the last minute, literally, to sign up for the State Championship time trial.  That put me on the receiving end of a cosmic joke: starting 1 minute in front of Paul Martin, multi-time national champion. Great.  Being passed in the TT would send my confidence even lower.

We pre-rode the course the day before the race.  After a hard week of training my legs felt bad.  So while others were doing their pre-race “openers”,  I rode slow.  Really slow.  So slow it was tedious riding the entire 19 or so (no one seems to know the exact distance) mile course.  I even stopped for a pee break. Not a good sign.

But maybe the easy ride was exactly what was needed, because I woke up with legs that felt fresh.

Standing in the start house, I was not happy knowing that Paul would be chasing me.  It was going to be a tailwind on the way out — Paul would be flying.  And a headwind, with more uphill, on the way back — Paul would be hammering.  The challenge for me was to ride my own race, and not spend energy worrying about getting caught.  Yeah, I kept repeating that over and over.

It worked, until the turnaround, at which point I could not ignore the sight of Paul chasing.  I started to push harder — harder than I should have, but I just couldn’t help it.  As I started to fade, I could almost feel Paul closing in on me.  With every whoosh of air from a passing car, I fully expected Paul to be flying by me.  But I didn’t dare look back.

Somehow, with 2.5 miles to go, I found the strength to push to the finish.  Only then did I look back and see … that I couldn’t see Paul. At that point, I didn’t care what my time was.   I wasn’t close to having been caught.

The bonus was finding that my time was good enough for the podium — 3rd in the 1-2 field and 3rd overall.

And just as quickly as the doubts can enter, they can exit after a good ride. I think it’s similar to what golfers say: that one good shot on the 18th hole will make you forget about all the triple bogeys on the first 17 holes.

***

Results here

Excellent photo set here. (kudos to Robert)

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More Mind Games

Someone recently told me that riding a time trial is like riding a knife’s edge.  Just a little too much in either direction and you fall off.

This is one of the aspects that attracts me.  The time  trial is known as the ‘race of truth’: there is no drafting, no wheels to follow, nobody to hide behind.  But it’s not pure strength.  The guy with the most watts doesn’t necessarily win. You have to optimize the watts that you do have, with your pacing with with how aerodynamic you can make yourself.

A common mistake is starting out too fast.  You’re on the start line with someone holding your bike by the saddle, the clock is ticking down, and your heart rate is already spiking from the adrenaline.  You blast off from the line like it’s an 8km prologue.  Only you have 40km to go.

You feel strong those first 5 minutes …   and then you hit the point where your legs feel like tree trunks, your pedaling goes square, your arms start to tingle, and you know you have gone out too fast.

I know all this. Yet I still do it.  It happened to me recently at the Groveport TT.

I left the start, into a headwind, and felt good.  In the first few miles I was already catching rides in front of me.  That should have been a clue. With about 10 miles to go, I suddenly became aware of the feeling: I need back off and recover.  From that point to the finish it was a matter of damage control.

Riding to limit the damage is not the optimal way to finish.  Nor is it enjoyable. You’re dying horribly, but you still have to ride yourself to the finish without totally giving up.

The worst thing is that it plants a seed of doubt.  You line up for the next TT, and now you have to deal with the memory of that experience. You know you can’t go out too fast.  But now do you overshoot to the other side and ride off the knife’s edge?

And how will you manage it when you know that starting 1 minute behind you is the winner of multiple national championships?  Yes, that will be the situation at the state TT.  Mind games.

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TT Training Tricks

Yogi Berra said, “90% of baseball is mental; the other half is physical”.  Like many other “Yogiisms”, though logically incorrect, this one has an odd, zen-like quality.

He could easily be talking about riding time trials.  You might have a good engine but if you don’t master the mental aspect, then it’s just …  suffering.    Actually it’s suffering in any case, but the ideal is to optimize it: just the right amount of discomfort over the given distance.  Go out too fast and you die a horrible death.  Go out too slow and you kick yourself for having “too much in the tank” at the end.

Learning how to do that takes some practice.  The problem is:  who wants to practice suffering?  Bike riding is supposed to be fun.  Why would you want to get on a bike just to ride until you feel like crap?

Fortunately (I suppose) the human mind is sometimes able to fool itself.  There are a few tricks that, if nothing else, make the TT training doable.  Thinking about this, here are the top tricks that seem to work for me.

First is to find a good stretch of road.  Some roads just seem better for TT training.  If I’m going hard and am constantly being buzzed by cars, or have to dodge bad pavement, then I get annoyed, get distracted, and then just think about how much I want to stop.  Once I find a good route, then it just feels like a TT route. It feels right to go fast.

Everyone I know who TT’s has some kind of data that they look at.  Ideally that’s a power meter.  But a heart rate monitor, or even watching speed over a known course seems to work. Besides being an essential training tool, it’s an additional point of attention away from the discomfort.

Maybe the best trick — for me anyway — is to do some training TT’s.  Like the Thursday night TT in Leroy Township. Once you know that someone is recording your time, and know you’re in competition with other riders, a switch goes on and the suffering is in a completely different context.

Now the fear is that having thought about and exposed the tricks, will they still continue to work?

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