Monday, April 25, 2016

Race Report: Tour of Page County

Why am I always making that face when I ride my bike?
Here's another race where I'm not very excited to write a report. The weekend as a whole was so tiring, I don't want to re-live it. But I will re-live it. For you. My adoring fans.

Twilight Street Sprints
I went to the Shenandoah Twilight Sprints on Friday night. It wasn't a scored part of the stage race, but it sounded fun and I'd never done anything like that before. It gave me a chance to meet and talk with several of my fellow competitors, which made the whole weekend that much more enjoyable. I only did two sprints (won the first, lost the second, lessons learned about proper gearing for the start) and spent the rest of the time hanging out with the other women. Attending earned me a call-up and a front-row starting place for the road race the next day, though.

Hooray for Luray Road Race
Our race started cool and muggy with lots of cloud cover, no wind, and a sprinkle of rain in the air. All races were run with combined women's fields. I'm pretty sure we had a full complement of 60 women racing, about half of whom were cat 4. The race was very slow--basically 45 miles of zone 2 riding with a few hard efforts out of corners sprinkled in. I had no problem staying with the pack, although several women dropped off the pace. I think our main pack had 20-30 women, but I can't be sure.

Someone told me to hold my line, but not in an unhelpful way. I think the way I learned to ride in a pack is wrong, but no one has pointed it out to me up until this point. I've always worried that I'm one of the "new wheels" in the cat 4 field that we all dread, but now I know that I have been. Something to work on. One of my teammates also told me to work on it. It wasn't mean or nasty either time (and there are women in the field who are mean and nasty about it); it was genuinely helpful. So . . . something to work on.

Focusing so hard on holding my line, combined with the brake-y nature of the race, was mentally taxing. I woke up the next day with sore forearms from braking so much. By the time we came to the last 1k, all I felt was relief. I stayed in the pack and didn't try to sprint. I was worried that I would lack the stability to control a hard effort, at that point. Finished 14 out of 32 cat 4 women, not sure in the overall race. I was just happy to have stayed with the pack through the punchy rollers on the backside of the course.

Luray Caverns Time Trial
After my performance in the road race, I was looking forward to the mental break of grinding out my own race, suffering on my own terms, and taking my own line through all the corners. I got a great warm-up in on the trainer. Rolled to the line and got a strong start. A mile in, I was already within sight of my 30-second gap girl, and was closing time. Then the road started to feel unusually bumpy. Looked down. Flat tire. Pulled over at the next corner marshal. Waited for the moto official to come by. He said he'd make sure that I got a time so that I could start the criterium in the afternoon, and to go ahead and start riding back. I rode for a little ways, but the downhills were too fast on a flat tire, and I didn't want to damage my expensive racing tires (or my rims, for that matter). So I got off my bike and walked the last mile in. It wasn't so bad; lots of the women who were coming back on their TTs asked if I was okay, and everyone was very sympathetic. The officials gave me a time of 37:00, which may have been my actual chip time, come to think of it. That was about 10 minutes off the slowest cat 4 TT of the day, so I was definitely out of contention for the GC. I was just grateful to get to race the criterium in the afternoon.

Downtown Luray Criterium
The women's open field had been so overwhelming on Saturday that I was sort of dreading the criterium. It was a technical course with one steep, sustained climb of 30-45 seconds and 8 ninety-degree turns. I really didn't want to have to fight for corners with 30 other women, and I didn't want to have to ride my brakes down every hill and into every corner. I lined up in the second row, but let a few women in front of me. Plan was to hang in the back and see how things looked after a few laps.

I missed my pedal on my first attempt to clip in. Once I got clipped in, the girl in front of me was still struggling to find her pedals. And there went my race, right there. By the time I got on top of my pedals, the lead group was two corners away.

I figured it was an opportunity to make up for the time trial I missed earlier in the day. Started looking up the road to find someone to work with. Caught several women and a few little groups, but no one going fast enough that I wanted to work with them. Took the first 6-7 laps really easy on the hill (on the advice of one of my teammates) and spun up it in a small gear. I was picking up momentum on the backside and got the hang of the corners quickly. I had teammates on the hill cheering me on and telling me I was making up 5-10 seconds per lap on the main group. On lap 7 or 8, I started hammering the hill instead of soft pedaling. It didn't feel too bad. I felt like I could sustain that effort for another 20 minutes.

A lap or two after I started pounding the hill, I saw a group of maybe 8 women ahead of me. I was closing time on them. I was going to catch them. They were coming back to me on the hill. With one more lap, I would be in the shelter of that pack, and could catch my breath while I decided what to do next.

The group of 8 crested the hill and passed the finish line. The officials whistled me over and my race was done. The end.

The officiating at this race was really poor. Women that I had passed a few laps before were allowed to continue on racing for 2 more laps after I was pulled. The results were all kinds of messed up, with women who had been blown off the back of the pack even farther than I had been placed above me and another teammate who was pulled. The officials' lap counting was really screwed up. I should not have been pulled. I was frustrated. My teammates were frustrated for me. But oh well. That's bike racing.

In summary, it was not a great weekend of racing. It was a pretty good weekend, everything else considered, but I'm disappointed with my performance. It was a good learning experience. Lessons learned:

  • The way I've been riding in a pack is a little off, and I need to practice holding my line in tight quarters
  • Relax and shut up, even if the group is shaky. Control what you can control, which is your line and your stress level. Mostly just relax. Shake out the shoulders, loosen up your hold on the brakes, and relax
  • Keep your head up (already knew this, but can't say this one enough)
  • Stay near the front of the pack if you don't want to be accordioned all over the place (already knew this one, too, but can't say it enough)
  • Leave a bigger buffer for braking on a wet road with wet brakes
  • I'm stronger than I think on hills
  • Double- and triple-check your gear before the race (I did pump up my tires right before my TT)
  • Criteriums are probably going to be my strength
  • Good starts are critical for success in crits
  • Don't give up, even if you think you're out of the running.
And probably some other lessons that aren't occurring to me right now.

I'm at this point in cycling, and I have this experience in everything I do, where I have surpassed the quick, easy learning curve. The easy gains have been made, and subsequent gains come only with effort and experience. I'm speaking specifically of skills and tactics, here, not so much in fitness. I can still make big gains in my fitness. But the skills, technique, tactics, and savvy to race really well come only by racing and failing and screwing up and getting back in the next weekend to race again. Playing musical instruments, teaching yoga, kinesiology, visual art, and rugby all came really naturally to me at first. And then, pretty suddenly, they didn't. Because there's only so much you can learn by reading books and watching videos and listening to friends share their experiences. At some point, the only way you get really good at something (even if you're naturally talented at it) is with time and experience and hours of practice.

The best part about the weekend was spending it with my team. We rented a house together and stayed there for the whole weekend. Two teammates came and served as our soigneurs, cooking for us and cleaning up after us. It was very pro. I'm still new to Veloworks-Spokes, Etc. This weekend gave me a chance to get to know everyone a little better, especially after all the racing was done and we could relax. My teammate, Kim, got top ten results in the road race and the time trial; another teammate, Robin, got a top ten in the crit; a third teammate, Kaitlyn, took fifth in the GC for the 1/2/3 women; and Clay, our brilliant chef for the weekend, took fourth in the open time trial. So a good time was had by all, and many a lesson learned.

Also, Kim and I hit a black bear on the way home. In a car, not on a bike. Bear and car were both fine. "Hit the bear" may be our new team slogan, though.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Race Report: Farmersville Road Race (Women 3/4)

Brownstown, Pennsylvania, is a two-and-a-half hour drive from me. I headed up the morning of with three teammates, two cat 5s and my fellow 4, Tina. We got a late start, so we were running around like headless chickens trying to get numbers and pin them and get dressed and go to the bathroom (sorry if I flashed anyone during that bit). Ran out of time for a warm-up, so came to the staging area cold. The start was delayed by 15 minutes. That, combined with long lines at check-in, did not bode well for the organizational component of the race.

Rolled out neutral for about 200 yards, then it was 50 women on narrow country roads with center-line rule in effect. I was able to weave to the front just a few miles into the first 6.6-mile lap. Lost Tina off of my wheel, though. I need to work on getting through traffic with a teammate tagged on to my wheel.

The pace stayed moderate for most of the first few laps. I stayed near or even on the front and was able to stay with every little attack that went. Nothing split the group, though, and we still had most of the field going into the third lap. There was a group of U17 boys who were sitting on the front of our field and keeping everything slow, which was annoying. When we complained, one of them (douchebag in training) said, "I don't see you up here pulling!" But then when women tried to get on the front and pull, they ended up accelerating and planting themselves back on the front anyway.

The boys attacked and got a gap about halfway through the third lap. Someone behind me said, "There's a girl in that group!" There wasn't, by the way. But we tracked them down anyway. I sat second wheel as another woman took a strong pull. I told her to take a break and dragged the U17s the rest of the way back. The bunch came together again as we came up on the last little hill (all the hills on this course were little) of the lap, and I could sense an attack coming. I shifted back into my small chainring, and heard my chain drop. Someone to my left said, "Uh oh!" Fortunately, I was on the far right side of the pack, and was able to pull safely off the road without taking anyone else down. I got off and looked at my chain and knew that my race was over.

I wish I would have had my phone so I could have taken a picture of my chain. It simultaneously fell off the outside and inside of the chainring, and somehow wrapped twice around the axle. It took me a good 10 minutes to sort it out. And at that point, my race was over. At least I good still get a good workout.

So I hopped back on the course and started time trialing, just trying to keep my heartrate at or above threshold. I started sweeping up the stragglers. Course marshaling was not very good. I turned the wrong way twice while the course marshals stood there staring at me. At one corner, I actually shouted at the course marshals to ask which way and they still pointed me in the wrong direction. I also passed a tractor. So that was fun.

I finished the last lap and a half solo, passing about 10 people along the way. I was happy that I got to finish the race, and wasn't pulled off the course. But when the women's results were finally posted, I was placed 38 out of 39. I knew that there were names ahead of mine that I had passed. And the cat 5 men were all in by the time I finished, but never passed me. I couldn't figure out what had happened, until I got home and uploaded my Strava data. Turns out I took a wrong turn and did an extra half lap. Again, the course marshaling wasn't great. Course marking was also not adequate. I know it's my own fault for not knowing the course better, but c'mon. We're out here at our limit. It's hard to remember directions when you're trying to keep pedaling without puking.

I enjoyed the race course and didn't have any problem with the race while I was doing it, but now that I look back, it wasn't very well run. Hopefully the race directors gained some valuable experience, and the course will be better next year.

I was also really frustrated that I was taken out by a mechanical problem. I felt strong and I was in a good position near the front of the race. I felt in control. I felt like I could compete. But it doesn't matter, because I dropped my chain. And it's easy to say that I could have had a good result (or at least helped Tina to a better result) when I didn't have to stay with the group for the last 10 miles. Sigh. Maybe this weekend.

But my training is working, apparently! I am definitely stronger. And my handling is better, and my tactics are . . . well, they're coming along. And I did get a very good training ride on Saturday. And I did get to pick my line through all the corners. And I got some bonus training from the wrong turn. And I didn't crash or (more importantly) take out a bunch of people when I couldn't pedal. So . . . Yay?

Meh. I'm going to go work on my bike. Maybe change the chain. This weekend, Tour of Page County!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Race Report: 23rd Annual Carl Dolan Memorial Spring Classic (Cat 4 women)

Sigh . . .

I've been putting off this race report because I'm not very happy with how I did. It took me a while to get over my frustration about the race, how it went down, and how I performed. I finally got over myself, though, once I stopped my navel-gazing long enough to realize that nothing was that bad: I didn't crash, I didn't cause anyone else to crash (I don't think), I got some experience racing in big, sketchy fields . . . It wasn't all terrible.

I got to the race site in plenty of time to warm-up, riding the course in reverse. There were 5 of us in the Cat 4 field. Our team captain is a Cat 2, racing in the field just before ours. We all warmed up together. I kept going too hard in the warm-up, dropping everyone else. My legs felt really good (maybe a little bit too good).

The Cat 1/2/3 field staged directly in front of us; they departed a minute ahead of us. Our plan was to take the pace off fast, try to establish a breakaway, and lead out our A rider if the field stayed together. I don't remember much about the early laps; the field stayed bunchy, everyone seemed a little jumpy, and there were a few really sketchy wheels. We couldn't get a break off the front, but the pace in the pack wasn't difficult at all. The field got especially slow on the one tiny little hill. My job was to sit in the back and protect our A rider, though, which went okay for the first lap or two. I remember trying to move the two of us up in the field over and over, but everyone wanted to be near the front, and we kept ending up near the back again.

It wasn't far into the race--maybe second lap?--when we got within sight of the Cat 1/2/3s. Our Cat 2 Captain told us later that the moto officials told them that the Cat 4s were only 10-15 seconds back from them. Then the pace picked up with a few attacks. But it only took another lap or two for the Cat 4 fields to completely overtake them.

Standard rules for races like this are a little like triathlon rules in that you can't work with the riders from the other field. The officials went over that rule in detail before the race started. We also had a centerline rule in effect, which meant we could be instantly disqualified for riding on the wrong side of the center yellow line. We started to overtake the Cat 1/2/3 field just as the road narrowed a little. I think our whole group was unsure of what to do. We knew that we needed to get past the field as quickly as possible, but we also couldn't go past them on the left because of the centerline rule. Adding to the confusion, all of our numbers started with 5; the 1/2/3s had numbers 500-520, the cat 4s had numbers higher in the 500s. That made it really difficult to tell the fields apart. Apparently, the moto officials made some effort to separate us ("Sort yourselves out, ladies!"), but it was too late. The fields were together, and they stayed together for the rest of the race.

From that point on, our team plan was out the window. I tried to hold our A rider on my wheel, and tried to find one of my other teammates to lead the two of us out in the last 2 laps. About the time I found my teammate, who was in the center near the front of the pack, the rider on my left bumped in to me and I leaned into my teammate. I don't know how the heck we stayed up, but we didn't crash. From there, I tried to get us to the outside of the pack, but lost my two teammates in the process. I was in good position all on my own.

I accelerated out of the last hard right turn (which was a shit-show, pardon my language, for the entire race, with inexperienced riders cutting the turn and causing chaos with a complete inability to hold their lines) and passed a bunch of riders on the left. I was in the gutter on the left side, on the front with no one to work for. Things slowed down a little coming up the last hill. Team captain was on my wheel, noticed me slowing and told me to pedal. I thought it was my A rider telling me to start the lead-out, so I hammered for a hundred yards, blew myself up, watched the whole field pass me, and ended up 28 out of 33 finishers. I felt like a big pile of dog doodoo. By the time I came across the finish line, I was totally recovered. I didn't feel tired at all. I still had a full tank of gas. I had wasted a great position going into the finish. In short, I sucked.

I spent the rest of the day cranky and stewing. Same thing for Monday morning. I was stuck in a spiral of "I suck"-ness, and I couldn't get out of it.

Then our Cat 4 captain sent out her race report, and I remembered that she got third place! Here I was, feeling so sorry for myself, completely discounting the fact that she had pulled a really great result out of a really bad situation. Instead of navel-gazing and feeling sorry for myself, I should be celebrating our team accomplishment!

Part of what was so frustrating about the whole race was trying to figure out what I could have done better. What were lessons that I could take from this race where I did such a poor job, both for my team and for myself? Here's what I've come up:

  1. Don't take yourself so seriously, Jamie. You're a cat 4 amateur racer. This isn't your job, it isn't life or death. Sometimes things don't go well at races, just like you occasionally get a bad official in a rugby match (I have also been that bad official). You can't make the official better, or interpret the laws the way you do. Maybe it loses you a match, even, but you still can't control it! So relax and enjoy the ride, because it's really not that big a deal.
  2. The other side of the team coin: you want to do a good job for your team, but you can also rely on your team to do a good job for you. Sometimes you knock the ball on at the base of a ruck, and the team doesn't (or shouldn't) berate you for making a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes! Instead, the team gets ready to scrum down to support you after the mistake. You give the best that you can for your team, but some days your best sucks, and the team doesn't immediately kick you off; instead, you get to participate in their success!
  3. I'm not sure how to phrase this last one. I'm still working it out in my head. Something along the lines of drifting to the back with my team and regrouping; being willing to chuck out the pre-race plan and figure out a new plan on the fly; and keeping my mouth shut and taking the lead from my teammates. Our Cat 4 captain came from near the back of the field to take third place, while I blew up from the front of the field to take last place. There's a pretty obvious lesson for me in all of that.
So that was Carl Dolan for me. Crappy factors outside of my control, exacerbated by me taking myself too seriously and trying to hold on to a race plan that was (or should have been) obviously out the window. This weekend is another chance to do better. Farmersville Road Race, here I come!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Race Report: Jefferson Cup (Women Cat 4)


Emily and I took the weekend to get away. We stayed at a KOA campground about a mile down the road from the race staging area, which was at a middle school near Charlottesville. It rained both nights we were there. Not the best camping weather. But we brought an air mattress this time, so at least we were able to sleep (or I was, anyway).

We went into Charlottesville to check out the town, since neither of us had been there before, on Saturday. Had a nice brunch at a very college-town type bar/restaurant. Happened to pass a women's rugby team warming up on the way to lunch, so after eating we found the game and watched UNC play JMU. We caught part of two games; I guess UVA women's rugby was hosting a round robin or something for the weekend. But holy cow! the UVA women are terrific! I was pretty sure we were about to be overrun by a tribe of Amazons when they came out to warm up on the pitch. They decimated the Virginia Tech team. It was a real romper. The weather was sunny, pretty, warm, and windy--a beautiful day to catch a game, but an unexpected detour that led to a mild sunburn for me (because I didn't think ahead enough to put on sunscreen).

After the rugby game, we headed back to our campsite. Emily napped while I headed out from our campsite (so convenient) to ride the course. The course was about a 10-mile loop with one significant hill (took about 1:30 to climb), some sweet descents, and lots of spaced-out rollers. I was a little concerned about my ability to hang with the group on the big hill (which I shall hereafter refer to as the Trump Hill, because there was a Trump Winery at the peak). I practiced a few ramp-ups and sprints in the finishing stretch, which was helpfully marked at 1km, 500m, 400m, 300m, 200m, and 100m to go.

Saturday night was very rainy and windy; Sunday morning was uncomfortably chilly. I had teammates in the women's 1/2/3 and men's 4 fields, which started at 9. I headed over early to watch them race. I caught the first 3 of their 5 loops before heading back the middle school to find my fellow cat 4s, warm up, and get ready for staging. The race was supposed to start at 12:30, but the start was delayed; high winds had taken out some power lines, and Dominion Power had to block the road with their utility trucks. As a result, our race was shortened from 3 laps/30 miles to 2 laps/20 miles. Crap. I could see, in my mind, the intensity ratcheting up significantly. Neutral roll out from the middle school to the start line, where we re-staged as we waited for the cat 5 men and the juniors to roll out in front of us.

The race started fast, but quickly settled. I needn't have worried about the Trump Hill, because the pack doodled up the hill like we were out for a charity ride. My teammate, Kim, was firmly near the front of the race, covering any attacks that might try to go, but nobody put in any significant digs. There were some sketchy wheels in that pack, too; 30 cat 4 women, and I know of at least 3 that were in their first race. I had to lean into other racers on a couple of occasions when somebody else did something unpredictable. Fortunately, all the people with whom I brushed elbows were solid enough that I didn't take the pack down as a result.

There was a second mini-hill on the backside of the course, before the rollers started. Something in my brain told me to put in an attack there, so I did, with Kim still sitting on the front of the pack. I got maybe 10 seconds max before the pack shut me down, but I think I shook some weak wheels off of the back. Going into the second loop, our numbers were down by a little bit. Pace stayed fairly low until the next time up the Trump Hill, where somebody put in a serious dig. I sprinted out of the saddle to cover, but did too much too soon and dropped the pack behind me. I pulled through, expecting the pack to come through and take over, but they were a good 10m behind me. So I was hanging out there in no-man's-land, waiting for them to come through so I could tag onto the back. I almost got dropped there, but managed to stay within reach through the descent. It was an attack after the next corner where I lost touch and got blown off the back.

I was still within reach to chase back on, though, so chase I did. I picked up another woman who had fallen off the back, and we started rotating through. Then another two women came blowing by us and the four of us worked together . . . kind of. It wasn't very organized. There were two girls who were doing too much of the work, rather than doing short pulls. Another woman and I kept shouting "SHORT PULLS!" But we were all red-lining and it was hard to hear. Once we got within touch of the main pack, we all sprinted separately and clung on to the back of the lead group, which was sitting up and spinning again.

I tried to ramp up the pace at the front to string out the pack a little more, but no one else was willing to work at it. There was one woman who was strong, but got caught on the front doing all the work as everyone else sat in. I drifted back into the pack again, and tried to talk to my remaining teammates, Robin and Tina (Kim had cramped and dropped off the back, I think at the same attack where I got dropped). Our race plan was that Tina would be our A rider and Robin would be her lieutenant; since I was still in the pack and had the legs, I wanted to try to tow them close to the line for the sprint. I don't think I communicated that well, though. And I didn't want to blab out our strategy in front of the women who were strong enough to compete. By this point, there were about a dozen left in the pack.

I positioned myself well coming through the last hard right turn into the finishing straight. The line was about 1.5 miles away, at that point. I knew what to expect, what to look for, because I'd done it a few times the night before. We passed the 1km marker, and everyone was still sitting up and taking it easy. I waited until 500m to go before I started ramping it up and shouted to Robin to get on my wheel. I was just hoping that Tina would see and follow. I was hoping to drop them off at the 200m mark, but only made it to 300m before pulling off to the left. Some girl almost bowled me over trying to come around on that side. Tina put in a great sprint, but started it too early. She got nipped at the line for 4th place. Robin came in at 8th, I dragged in at 10th, and Kim made it in at 12th.

Lessons learned: I'm getting stronger on the hills. I could have picked up that attack on my own, I think, if I had accelerated a little more slowly. I need to remember that I can pull someone back gradually, and don't have to burn a match every time a gap opens up. I also need to be more proactive about communicating with teammates. I feel like we could have had a better result if I had recruited Tina and Robin more proactively. I'm still new to the team, though, and I don't want to be the punk who comes in and thinks she knows more than everyone else, ordering people around.

If I had waited until 400m to go, we might have won; if I had communicated better, we might have won; if I had been able to hang on and tow until 200m, we might have won. I feel like I have the strength and savvy to get a better result, but it didn't work out that way this time. That said, we got a lot of compliments from other racers on our teamwork. I think we are on the right track, and have a good start to serious dominance of some cat 4 fields this season.

This weekend, we head to the Carl Dolan Memorial. This weekend, we get the podium.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Race Report: Morgantown Road Race

First off, the course profile looked like this:
Like shark's teeth!
I don't have body image issues or anything, but for a cyclist, I am fat. Fat cyclists don't do well at races like that. My team captain said, "Given your strengths and the course profile, treat this as a training race." Which I took to mean, "Do your best, fatty!"

Hill climbing isn't my strong suit, so I've been focusing on it in my build this cycling season. I did that last year, too, preparing for the 10k, 600m climb at Ironman Mallorca. I've gotten better at climbing because of the work that I've done, and I expected this race to challenge me and make me stronger. But I did not expect to do particularly well.

The women's cat 4 field (9-10 women, maybe) and men's cat 5 field started together, along with all the juniors and the tandem field (comprised of a single tandem bike). Roll out pace was easy, with a neutral start, but the field was sketchy for the first few miles as people settled in. I surfed to the front of the field by the time the first significant climb began, before mile 5, so that I could drift to the back of the pack instead of getting blown off the back on the climb. I never managed to ride back to the front, and got dropped on the second big climb.

I spent the next few miles trying to chase back to the group with a few cat 5 men. At that point, I knew there were at least 2 women behind me, so at least I wasn't DFL. We had a group of 3 rolling turns when the tandem guys came blowing past us at 600 MILES PER HOUR. It was actually about 28 MPH, but the three of us hopped on and rode the bus back up to the main group.

We caught on to the peloton just as the road started to head up again. I managed to hang for a mile or two, suffering the whole way, then I pulled the plug and let them go. We hadn't even hit mile 20 yet, and I was burying myself. Plus, I knew what was coming from mile 20 to mile 27, thanks to this guy:
Obsessive triathlete preparation FTW!
I knew I needed to leave something in the tank for the next two climbs (not to mention the next 30-some miles).

And those two big climbs in the middle were brutal. I really wanted to get off the bike and walk. But I knew how much I had left to the top, thanks to my notes, and I could see a group of 3 cyclists up ahead around the bend--one of whom I recognized as another cat 4 woman from her bright blue jersey. If I could bridge up to that little group and outlast the blue jersey girl . . . I guess I would just be one more spot up from DFL, but at least it would give me something to think about other than the pain in my whole body.

I was also starting to cramp at that point. My back hurt, my hips were cramping, my calves were cramping, even my stomach was tightening into knots. I think this was a combination of improper fueling, it being the first warm (and sunny and LONG) race of my season, and the intensity from the first 20 miles. My body was telling me to slow down and try to climb out of the hole that I'd dug in the first hour of racing.

I made it over the two big, brutal hills, and enjoyed the descent. My teammates all disagreed with me on this point, but the descents were totally worth the work to get there. I was reeling in the blue jersey woman, too. I was catching up to her more on the climbs, so I knew that she was hurting more than I was.

I think I finally latched onto her around mile 30, and we started working together. We picked up another cat 5 guy (who looked like he was really suffering), and he started rolling through, too. Our little pace group only lasted a few miles, though, because I accidentally blew them both off of my wheel on a pull. By that point I was starting to feel human again, but I think they had already done too much to come back from the dark place. I sat up and waited for them, but the guy we picked up fell off again quickly. Blue jersey girl hung on until the next climb, when I gradually put time into her. Then we came over the hill into a long descent then a rolling (mostly flat) section, and I didn't look back.

I finished the race pretty much solo. I passed a few stragglers on climbs who had blown themselves up. I realized that I'd gained a place in the women's field. I wanted to hang onto it, so I kept looking back over my shoulder, afraid that the woman in the blue jersey would have recovered; I thought for sure I'd see her pursuing me over a hill. But I never saw her again. I was in the clear. It was just a matter of holding on for the last big climb, and then the uphill finish.

I finished alone, glad to be done, fellow competitors laying out on both sides of the road past the finish line. I rolled from the finish line back to the start area and started pounding food and drink. And that was my race.

For some reason, I stuck around to see the women's results posted. I wanted to see how many of my fellow women I had outlasted. By the time they posted the women's top 5, all my male teammates had rolled out. I checked out the top 5, just to see, and--lo and behold!--my name was fifth down! My first reaction, which I blurted out, was, "That can't be right." I was sure that the results were wrong, and someone was going to contest them. There was no way that I got on the podium in this race!

I'm the one all the way on the right. The dorky one.
But I did get on the podium (well, beside the podium)! I got 5th place! What's more, I didn't finish that far behind a few of the other women. If I had known that, I probably would have dug deeper in the last 5-10 miles.

It was really cool, and I'm really proud. That was a tough race. I totally exceeded my expectations and goals. And I feel like I'm a stronger person, mentally and physically, for having done it.

Still, some lessons learned: I need to revise my fueling strategy. What worked for Ironman isn't working for cycling, so far. I definitely need to use more electrolyte mix, probably cut out the water altogether. I bought a bag of Skratch Labs mix to try in my training. Other drink mixes have never agreed with me, which is why I've used Nuun exclusively for the past few years. I think I need to find something with calories, though, and I definitely need more salt--seriously, everything was cramping on Saturday. Also, Pop-tarts are too inconvenient for eating in these races. It was okay during this race, because I had plenty of time at my own pace. But I can't fumble around with wrappers if I have to cover surges up hills or around corners. I'm going to have to figure out something else.

I think I need to be more aggressive about moving to the front at the beginnings of climbs. If I could have started the second climb at the front of the pack, I may have been able to hang in the group instead of having to chase back on. I also need to maintain more awareness of who I'm riding against, and keep track of where I am relative to all the rest of them. The blue jersey woman knew that she was the 5th woman back, so she knew when I passed her that I had ridden onto the podium. She wasn't able to hold my wheel anyway, but I bet she tried much harder knowing that I was taking her podium spot.

That was the longest road race I've ever done. It's definitely the hilliest road race I've ever done. I'm really proud of how I did.

This weekend is Veloworks-Spokes Etc.'s first big target race: Jefferson Cup in Charlottesville. After having such a great race without the support of teammates in Morgantown, I'm excited to show up in force at Jeff Cup and see what the VWS ladies can do!

Friday, March 25, 2016

BB30 Problems


My bike is creaking.

It has been creaking for the past several months. It started shortly after I got back from Spain. I thought it was my rear wheel, or possibly related to the rear derailleur.

Take the bike in for examination. Wheel fairly true, rear derailleur jockey cage bent. Replace the rear derailleur. Still creaking. But it's the winter and I'm not riding that much or that hard, so I don't notice.

Then I start riding with my team. It becomes an issue. It becomes embarrassing. "Jamie, I thought you got that fixed!" I'm getting concerned that it's the frame itself, and make an emergency stop at a sponsor shop at a race. They take a look at the frame, specifically a spot on the seat tube where a paint chip came off in the first week I had the bike. They say it's probably just cosmetic, but take it to my LBS just to be sure. Also, I have a bolt missing on my derailleur hanger, which is probably why the jockey cage bent in the first place. They replace the bolt, true my wheel slightly, and send me on my way free of charge. If you are ever in Hyattsville, Maryland, stop into Arrow Bicycle and spend some money with them!

Take the bike to my LBS (the one that deals Felt). They say the paint chip is no big deal; it's just paint. Advise cleaning out the seat tube/seat post area and applying more carbon assembly paste to fix the creaking. We do that. Still creaks.

Take my bike to a teammate who used to be a mechanic for a second opinion. His girlfriend had the same problem with her cross bike. Apparently, this is a common thing for BB30s. Everyone knows this. Apparently the manufacturers don't really care. We add some loctight compound and lots of grease to the BB bearing cartridges to try to keep them from wiggling. Cross fingers.

Still creaking!

Take my bike to my LBS (the one that sponsors the team), desperately hoping that something can be done before I do this race this weekend. We take out and rebuild the bottom bracket. Bearings don't feel as smooth as they should. Apparently, BB30 bearings tend to degrade faster, because they get dirt, water, grit, etc. inside them. Manufacturers apparently know, but (again) don't really care. We order this, and rebuild the bearings in the hopes that it will tide me over for this weekend.

Bike still creaks.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Jamie's Diet Food: Fun with Cauliflower


You guys. Cauliflower is amazing.

If I had to choose between giving up cheese or giving up cauliflower, I might actually choose cauliflower over cheese (but I would still eat this).

If you are eating for weight loss or paleo or low-carb, you should already know about cauliflower rice and mashed cauliflower. You should also have a kick-ass roasted cauliflower recipe (or seven). But you may not ever have made cauliflower tater tots.

Notice that these are cheesy cauliflower tots, so you can tell that I didn't trade cauliflower for cheese. I didn't have to. You can't make me.

Cheesy Baked Cauliflower Tots

Ingredients: 1 large head cauliflower
1 cup cheese (I like cheddar, use low-fat if you must)
2 tbsp almond flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika to taste
1 egg (beaten)


Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400 F.  Spray a mini muffin pan with non-stick spray.

Boil cauliflower until tender or zap in the microwave (takes about 2 minutes, covered). Drain.

Use a food processor (I have this one) to coarsely chop the cauliflower. It should look like big crumbs. If you go too far with it, you end up with mashed cauliflower. Which isn't the end of the world, but you're not going to be eating cheesy tots tonight. Put in a fine sieve or a colander lined with cheese cloth and press out some more water.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. No spoon needed. Just use your hands.

Use a tablespoon measuring spoon to scoop the mixture and into the muffin tin. If you don't have a mini muffin tin, just make tot-shaped lumps with your hands and put them on a normal baking sheet.

Bake 15 minutes, or until the tots start to brown. Carefully turn each cauliflower tot over bake 15 minutes more, until tots are browned on both sides. Serve hot; these are best right out of the oven.

Thanks to Kalyn's Kitchen for the idea. Her recipe is lower-calorie, so you might want to check it out, as well.