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)

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.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Race Report: Route 1 Rampage

For this race, the Veloworks-Spokes Etc. women had 4 racers and a plan: Beth and Robin cover breakaways and attacks; Kim and Jamie sit in and shoot for a mini lead-out on the last 3 laps; Jamie stay safe on Kim's wheel and sprint like the dickens at the end. We met around 7:00 in Hyattsville and waited together for check-in/registration to open for the women's cat 4 field. We rode together for a little bit to warm up.

The course was about a mile long with 4 right turns. The start was slightly downhill, with a fairly narrow turn at the end. After the turn, the road slanted up slightly. Another turn, and a full-blown hill (according to Strava, the gradient is an average of 3.8%, although the race flyer claimed 14%) to break up the field, then around another corner into a fast downhill (with speedbumps), another right turn, then the finish line.

We lined up in the front and to the left, to get the best line into the first corner. Beth and Robin helped to take the race out hard through the first 2 or 3 laps. I didn't look back much, because I was holding on for dear life, but apparently we broke the field! We took a group of about 10 off the front with the fast start, and all 4 of us were in that group. Beth and Robin did a great job of setting the pace early, but no one else stepped up to help keep the pace high after those first few laps, so the field came back together.

I almost got dropped on the hill during those first few laps, but always had the speed to catch up on the downhill. Robin got cooked after the hard start, and settled back in the pack for a while. The pace slowed down--especially on the hill--for the middle of the race. I was grateful for that, but it allowed the field to come back together. Or so I was told. Again, I didn't look back much.

The few times I did look back were to check to see if a group was getting away. There were a few times where a small group got a break. One time in particular, a woman tried to go off the front, with another tailing her. I went with them because I didn't see Beth or Robin nearby, and we got maybe a 30 meter gap. I think we could have gotten away. I was trying to communicate that to the other two girls, but by the time they heard me or understood me, the pack was already coming back up to us. That was a match I could have used later.

We had a prime lap with 4 to go. The pace picked up a little bit, but no big break. Beth covered that attack nicely. I was more interested in the win than the prime, so I mostly ignored it. And the pack came back together after that.

With 2 laps to go, a woman (I think from NCVC) launched an attack coming around the second corner (I think?) into the hill. She got a good gap on the bunch, and I encouraged Beth to try to cover that attack. By that time, Robin was suffering from the work she'd done earlier, and Kim and I were trying to sit in and save up for the sprint. Beth got up the road with a group of 3 or 4 other women, but they never caught the woman who launched the initial attack. She went on to win. On that last lap, another NCVC woman put in a little surge on the hill, probably trying to bridge up to the breakaway. But by that point, there wasn't enough road to catch them. I launched around Kim on the downhill going into the turn to try to catch her, but she was too far ahead. I sprinted to the finish for practice, but I was alone in it. Kim came in right behind me. There was one other woman, then Robin.

Beth ended up getting 4th place, good for one upgrade point! She had a great ride, very strong, and was really good at covering breaks. I got 6th, Kim got 7th, and Robin got 9th. I think we did a great job of working as a team; we even got compliments on it from other racers! And it's still early in the season, so we'll all get stronger. The VWS women are well-positioned for an outstanding season.

Personally, I need to work on trusting my team more. I lost Kim's wheel for about half of the race. I went with that potential breakaway instead of trusting Beth and Robin to bring it back while we sat in. I'd like to do better next time on sticking to my role and trusting my team. We communicated pretty well, and we're going to continue to work on that. We have a few ideas about how to improve on it, but I'm not going to tell you about them. They're secret.

It was a fun race! I'm glad we were able to get such a good group of women together for this one, especially on short notice. Big thanks to Kaitlynn for keeping an eye on the registration, and encouraging us to do this race as a team.

Thanks also to Veloworks Cycling Development, Spokes, Etc. Bicycles, and our other great sponsors for supporting us!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Jamie's Diet Food: Sweet Potato . . . Noodles?

What is this dish, anyway? Is it noodles? Is it like a noodle soup? Is it just sauteed, julienne vegetables? I'm not sure what to call it, but it's delicious.
I don't do pretty Instagram food pictures. Just trust me. It's tasty.
1-2 tbsp of your favorite fat (I used butter, but you can use some other kind of oil)
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 sweet potatoes, julienned (I use this to julienne my veggies)
2 cups chicken stock (or water with bullion, if you're lazy like me)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 2 tbsp sliced jalapenos and 2 tbsp tandoori spice mix

1. Slice the onions. Julienne the sweet potatoes.
2. Heat your fat in a big pan (ideally, a pan that you can cover later) over medium heat.
3. Add your onions and let them caramelize. You can do as little as 10 minutes, but the longer you let them caramelize, the tastier they get.
4. If you're using the jalapenos, add them now. I used the kind that come in the jar, and used some of the juice to deglaze the pan.
5. Add the chicken stock. If you didn't deglaze the pan with the jalapeno juice, do it with the chicken stock. To deglaze the pan, use a spatula or spoon to scrape up anything that's browned and stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pouring the chicken stock in should loosen it up.
6. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Add the sweet potatoes. Lower the heat to medium-low, keeping the stock at a strong simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until the sweet potatoes change color a little bit (they'll go from orange to yellow-ish). Stir a few times during the 5 minutes.
8. Uncover and add salt, pepper, and tandoori spice mix, if you're using it. You can also use garam masala, or any other spice mix you like. I really liked the Indian spice, but you could try it with something Greek or Mexican or whatever. It's your lunch. Or skip the spices entirely!
9. Cook, covered, for another 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. Remove from heat.

I ate a big bowl of this with a generous scoop of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt on top. Very tasty, fairly healthy. Goes well with a side salad.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Eating a $180 Entry Fee Because I Hate Running

This is how we look when we enter races together. You can tell this is pre-race, because we're still smiling and Emily isn't soaked through with sweat.
Emily and I signed up for the Rock 'n' Roll DC Half Marathon back in December. It was mostly to keep her accountable to work out through the winter (which she hasn't), but I signed up as moral support.

But I haven't run since October, and Emily hasn't exactly followed my prescribed training plan either. At all.

Also, I don't miss run training (or swim training) at all. I enjoy riding my bike so much, but I have no interest in running or swimming anytime soon.

There's also the matter of the stress on my body. I don't think of a half marathon as a very long event; I'm positive I could suffer through it, although I wouldn't be getting a PR or anything. But running is much more stressful on the body than cycling, especially in terms of impact. I might (MIGHT) have retained enough fitness from Ironman training to make it through unscathed, but Emily doesn't have that fitness. I'm concerned we might suffer more adverse effects than being winded and miserable. Specifically, I'm worried about stress fractures or soft tissue pathologies that might arise from taking so much impact without proper training.

So I'm pretty sure we're bailing out on the race. I would much rather spend the weekend riding my bike with Veloworks-Spokes Etc, and Emily would much rather spend the weekend sleeping in. Even though $180 is a lot of money to throw down the drain . . . actually, there's no good justification. But we're going to do it anyway.