Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Sunday Edition (Boonsboro Time Trial and Williamsport Criterium)

Picture courtesy of Vladimir Sarkisov, a.k.a. first place's dad. That's her behind me!
I did not sleep well on Saturday night. I had trouble getting to sleep, and once I finally fell asleep (well after midnight), I woke up every hour or two throughout the night. I got up for the final time at 6-ish, packed up, and drove to Boonsboro.

My stomach was not happy. By the time I got to Boonsboro, I had to use the port-a-loos in an emergency kind of way. Not sure if it was something I ate; I think it's more likely that my body doesn't like hot, hilly road races and was rebelling against the previous day's effort. I started warming up on the trainer but had to take another couple of nature breaks. My legs felt heavy and unresponsive.

I used Best Bike Split to estimate the time I could do on the time trial. I had a pacing strategy that involved going hard on the uphills and recovering on the downhills. I don't have a power meter to monitor my effort level; I was going strictly based on feel. I definitely went hard on the uphills, and recovered on the downhills, but I don't think it helped. It took me to the halfway point to catch my 30 second (ahead) person, and as I made the turn-around I could see my 30 second and 1 minute (behind) person close behind me. They passed me shortly thereafter. The wheels started to fall off. I kept an eye on my computer, just to know how much suffering I had left to go. My 30 second person re-passed me right before the finish line. I stopped my computer and let out a sigh. My time was about 3 minutes slower than last year, and I felt like I'd given absolutely everything I had. I was gutted. Last year, I'd been able to do the time trial in around 28 minutes, and it was good enough for third place. This year, that time would have gotten me first, but I couldn't manage anything close to it. Last year I only did half of the road race, though, and I certainly didn't end up third in it! The increased stress of the previous day was enough (I assume) to ensure that I couldn't hold anywhere near my FTP for the time trial.

And I'm not trained for time trials, anymore. I've been training to my strengths over the past several weeks, which I now think are short, hard efforts--in other words, criteriums! But last year I had 10 years of steady-state training in the bank from triathlon, which gave me an edge in the time trials but I was at a disadvantage in everything else. This year, my time trialing prowess is considerably less, but I've gotten better at the other things. It all balanced out, at least in this race.

After the time trial, I headed back to my car to warm down on the trainer and eat my snacks. My teammates tried to encourage me, but I was feeling low. I stopped spinning after about 10 minutes, stomach still churning, and packed up the car. Back at the hotel, I took a shower and ate some more food, both of which helped me feel better. I packed up the last of my stuff and loaded up the car for one more race.

I set up the team tent (I had custody of it for the weekend) and all my stuff and started spinning right away to warm up. The race was running behind schedule, though, so I got off and walked around. I made a visit to look at the TT results and noticed that I'd fallen to fourth in the GC behind a friend who had taken first in the TT. Grr . . . I needed to gain 20 seconds on her in the criterium in order to keep my podium spot (but also, good for her for kicking butt in the time trial)! I still felt nauseous as I finished my warm-up. A teammate brought me a nylon stocking full of ice to stick down my back, and I can't believe how much it helped!

I got a call-up and started on the front row of the criterium! My start was textbook, too; I got myself clipped in on the first try without even looking. I went into the first few laps sitting third or fourth wheel and stayed there for a while. As the swarm came up around me, I let myself be washed back until I started seeing cat. 4/5 bibs. Some of the surges were hard, but I felt surprisingly awesome! Gone were the waves of nausea; gone was the feeling of deadness in my legs. Every time I demanded a surge in power from my body, it responded, and I was able to stay with the lead group as more and more riders got shelled off the back.

The course was fast with two punchy hills and one sharp right corner. It took me some time to get the hand of the hard right, but I finally found the right line and was able to carry speed through it eventually. The field felt safe and confident. It was some of the most fun I've ever had racing. I even kind of felt like I belonged with the cat. 1/2/3s!

First and second place in the cat. 4/5 GC were still in the lead group with me, but when I looked behind me I realized that everyone else had been dropped and pulled. Going into the final prime lap, an intermediate sprint for bonus seconds, I lost touch with the back of the pack. I surged to catch back on, and spent a few laps chasing. There was one other woman behind me, and we tried to work together to catch back on. But my ice had melted by that point, I was overheating, I had the chills, and I had what I wanted--third place in the GC was in the bag. I pedaled just hard enough to stay within sight of the main pack, and managed to finish as the very last rider on the lead lap.

So I got third last year and third again this year in the Tour of Washington County, but it took a lot more work this year! This was my goal race, and as much as I would have liked to have won it, first and second place were stronger and deserved their spots. I feel like I've grown a lot as a racer in the last year. My legs have gotten stronger, sure; but I've also learned a lot about the tactics of the sport, how to ride in a pack, how to conserve my energy, how to move up or drift back as needed. I've learned some of my strengths and weaknesses as a rider, both in terms of natural and learned ability. Those were big goals that I had for myself going into this season.

But my biggest goal of the season was to move from cat. 4 to cat. 3. Tour of Washington County was my last race as a cat. 4. I submitted my upgrade request and it was confirmed this morning. I'm officially a cat. 3 racer now!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Saturday Edition (Smithsburg Road Race)

Since the women's road race didn't start until 10:30, I had the chance to sleep in a little on Saturday morning. My body woke up at 6:30 anyway, though, after a restless night of sleep. I took advantage of the hotel breakfast before packing up and heading to the Smithsburg High School for staging. I warmed up very briefly by riding around the parking lot a few times before lining up with one teammate for the start. The cat 4/5 men went off 5 minutes ahead of us, a decision that several of us women questioned; we were pretty sure that our race would be neutralized when the men inevitably caught and passed us. Somebody said something to the effect of, "You're the 1/2/3 women! Surely you can hold off the 4/5 men!" Uh, yeah. Sure.

This road race course is moderately rolling throughout, with three short but steep kickers at the end of each lap. Those three hills are probably the deciding factor of this race. The rest of the course is a cinch, comparatively, although the pace picked up on the first, third, and fifth laps for the sprint points competition. A series of attacks strung out the group going into the first intermediate sprint. My legs were already a little tired going into the finishing hills for the first time. I got dropped and figured that was all I would see of the pack for the rest of the race. I was very overheated, to the point of wanting to pull over and vomit. I unzipped my jersey all the way and tried to settle into a hard but manageable pace.

Then, naturally, our race had to be neutralized so the 4/5 men's race could come past us. I'd worked myself back within sight of the neutral support vehicle, but the neutralization is what allowed me to catch back on (I probably would have stayed off the back if not for that). It took a surprisingly long time for the men to get past us. I stayed way in the back of the group, following the lead of some more experienced women. I had no problem staying with that group until the second time up the finishing hills, when I got dropped again.

I worked hard to try to catch back on, though, and was able to tag on with a group of stronger, more experienced riders. A pair of women from Haymarket and one from Vanderkitten and I worked together (although it was mostly one rider from Haymarket) to get all the way back to the pack. I stayed in the lead group again until the third time through the hills, when I fell off for the final time.

Fortunately, I found a few other riders to work with, and a group of 2 to 6 of us worked together for the final 2 laps. We took turns pulling, although we never established much of a rhythm. I was half-hoping that we would get pulled after 4 laps, but instead we got the bell. We stayed together for the final lap, sweeping up a few more riders along the way, until the last time up the hill. On the final climbs, my right quad cramped so much that I couldn't pedal with my right leg at all. So I pedaled one-legged up the hill, shook out my right leg on the downhill, and that gave me enough relief to make it up the final two hills. The group I had been with rode away from me, including one other woman in the cat. 4/5 race. Since I couldn't pedal hard, I took the opportunity to eat the rest of my food and drink the rest of my water to start the recovery process for the next day's races. I made it up the final hill in a little over 2 hours, a few minutes back in the GC from first place and just seconds behind second place.

I'm proud of myself for doing well in this race. I don't think this course suits me; it's too hot and too hilly. In retrospect, I wish I would have used different gearing, too. I had a wheel with an 11-28 cassette on it in my car, but used the wheels with the 12-25 instead because they're a little lighter. I think having the bigger cassette would have been more helpful than a slightly lighter wheelset. Still, I managed a respectable third place in the 4/5 field, and gave myself a good start in the GC competition going into the weekend.

One of my goals for this year was to get better acquainted with my strengths and weaknesses. I trained steady-state for so long as a triathlete that it was the only real strength I had coming into bike racing. Now I'm starting to develop more of a sense of what I'm good at, as a cyclist. Hot and hilly road races ain't it, though! Criteriums, on the other hand . . . well, that's what I'll talk about in tomorrow's installment.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Friday Edition (ToWC Kick-off Criterium)

I just got back from a long weekend of racing. It'll make for a long read if I write it up all at once, so I'm submitting it to you in chunks. Chunk #1 is for Friday night, the kick-off crit in Hagerstown, MD.

I'm fortunate to have a job where I can take off at noon on a Friday to go race, so I left mid-afternoon to get on the road to Hagerstown before the traffic apocalypse that is Friday night in the suburbs of D.C. Even so, the drive took twice as long as usual. I was grumpy and out-of-sorts by the time I got to the cheap hotel I'd booked for the weekend. Also, one of the cats peed on my duffel bag, so I had that pleasing aroma to keep me company on the drive up. Add to that the fact that Emily had to stay home because of an appointment she had on Saturday, and I was having a day.

There was rain in the forecast. The sky was gray as I parked in downtown Hagerstown and got my numbers from registration. By the time I kitted up and started riding the course to warm up, it was sprinkling.

This was a women's open field and their regional championship crit, so I felt in over my head. I was there mostly to support a teammate, and I needed to keep my powder dry for the weekend and not crash. Tour of Washington County was my A race for the season, but the kick-off crit didn't contribute to the GC; it was just for fun. I told my teammate, who wouldn't mind having the championship jersey, that I would be there for her in the end if I could. We made tentative plans, then lined up for the start.

It was legit raining by then. The oil and grime was welling up on the roads. The corners were slick. I stayed near the back of the bunch, which was fast in the straights and ginger in the corners. Five corners, one more of a chicane, with a short, punchy hill on the back side made up the course. There were zebra crossings (stripes of white paint) and bricks on the corners. It only took one lap for someone's rear wheel to slide out on the chicane. Three or four women went down. I barely avoided a downed bike and hopped onto the sidewalk to get around the crash. It took a lap or two to chase back on, but I made it after 2 laps.

The pace was manageable for me, so I moved up into the top 10 wheels after getting settled. I followed an attack by a Charlottesville rider, then took the inside line on the chicane (which no one else took for the whole race, for some reason) to go off on my own. I didn't have any ambitions of staying away, but I wanted to get one tough effort into my legs for the next day's road race. I stayed away for about a lap, then tagged on to the back of the group as they caught me.

It was raining steadily, and the corners were treacherous. About halfway through the race, a rider from Baltimore Bicycling Club went down in front of me and I slid out trying to avoid her. One other woman went down and another dropped her chain trying to avoid us. No one was hurt, and no bikes were hurt. I'd torn my skinsuit, though, and all I could think to say was, "Aw man! This thing was $180!" In retrospect, I wish I would have said, "You guys okay? Let's go to the pits for our free lap!" The other three took off and I followed at a much slower pace. My brake levers were twisted in so much that I couldn't prop myself up on them. I stopped in the pit to have my brake levers fixed and because I could, but the other three were trying to chase back on. I assumed they didn't want to take the risk of being in the pack, but one of the women later told me she didn't realize she could go to the pit for a free lap. So again, I wish I would have said something about it instead of complaining about skinsuit damage.

I got a push from the mechanic and got back in with the main pack, now down to 10 riders. I had no trouble matching their pace, but I was skittish in the corners and kept getting gapped. The bell rung, the race announcer shouted, "$10 prime!" and I though, "I don't want to crash and die for $10!" The pace hotted up a little, I was still getting gapped in every corner and surging to catch back on, and eventually I said, "Screw this, I have to race hard all weekend" and dropped myself off the back. After two or three laps on my own, I got the hang of the corners and was able to take them at speed, but I don't regret dropping out of the group. One of the more experienced racers, a woman I respect very much, pulled off to the side and DNFed after the first crash. She has little kids. She didn't want to risk a dangerous crash like what had just happened. I respect that very much. It was safer for me and for everyone else around me to drop back and finish the race on my own terms.

I did several more laps on my own. Eventually, on the finishing stretch, I looked around to see the pace car turning the final corner just as I went through the start/finish line. I knew that would probably be my last lap. I got pulled on the next lap; I think there were 2 or 3 to go at that point. Two women got a gap in the final prime lap, probably just before I got pulled, and held it to take first and second. My teammate attacked into the final corner and held her sprint all the way for third place.

There was one woman from NCVC who was taken out on a stretcher after that first crash. Fortunately, she was discharged from the hospital that evening and went on to win second in the women's open GC for the weekend. All of the women made it out of that race safely, but there were a few of us who left with a little less skin!

Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment in my Tour of Washington County weekend!

Monday, June 12, 2017

When Cycling Makes Me Grouchy

Emily never takes me seriously when I get grumpy because she says I look like this.

This year, I've developed a new warning sign for overtraining: when I'm under a lot of training stress, I get really grouchy.

I've noticed a greater tendency to react negatively and aggressively to motorists (and other cyclists) late in a long bike ride, when I'm tired and hot and hungry. Sometimes I make stupid mistakes. Sometimes I'm rude. Sometimes I grouse in my head and complain to myself for half an hour. Sometimes I have enough presence of mind to short-circuit my responses before they get out of hand, but other times it's not until I'm home, showered, and fed that I realize, "Oh right, that guy did have the right of way!"

This problem is similar to one that a continental pro cyclist addressed in a recent article in Peloton magazine: she was tired on the second day of a tough stage race. Her fatigue led to a poor handling mistake, and she went down with a broken collarbone and concussion. I've had that experience of feeling my handling and decision-making skills disappear over the course of a hard workout, to where I'm scared to ride in a pack by the end of a tough race.

This article is less instructional than observational, but I do have some suggestions for how to cope with this phenomenon. First off, be aware that your mood and reactions can be an indication of fatigue and hunger, and use them as an excuse to take it easier through the end of a ride or stop and have some extra food and drink.

Second, in race or group ride situations, be aware of how your fatigue level may affect your responses. Be slow to swear or yell at other riders or motorists, especially in race situations. If you feel that fatigue is affecting your ability to handle your bike or respond quickly enough to the moves of other riders, move towards the back of the pack to put yourself and others out of danger. Perhaps you can even recover and eat back there, so that you can eventually move back up and into contention. But even if you can't get back into contention, better to finish at the back (or off the back) of the pack rather than risk bodily harm to yourself or others.

You can also practice developing mental acuity when you're already fatigued. I listened to an interview with Ryan Aitcheson where he talked about practicing math problems and critical thinking late in difficult trainer workouts. Choose a venue where you'll be safe, wear yourself down for a bit, then force yourself to think and make decisions.

Finally, be aware of changes in your overall mental and physical state. Have you been extra snarky to your spouse over the past few days? Maybe it's time to take a recovery week and let the stress clear from your system. Be familiar with your base state, and be prepared to skip workouts if needed to avoid making your friends and family members hate you.

That's my spiel for this week. I'm coming off of a week of recovery and going into a taper week for the Tour of Washington County next weekend, which is my A race for this season. It will also likely be my final race as a cat. 4! I'll tell you all about it when I get back next weekend!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Race Report: Clear Spring Road Race W1/2/3/4

This was my longest race of the year so far at 50+ miles. And it was on hilly roads. And it was in a women's open field. My main goal for the race was to flog myself as training for the Tour of Washington County, which is my A race for the year and comes up in three weeks. I wanted to hang with the main group for as long as possible, over all of the hills if possible. To that end, I made a RideWithGPS route based on the course map and race e-mails to review the night before. I even wrote down key features of the course and taped them to my top tube (with the words "GO FLOG YOURSELF! TOWC" at the bottom). One teammate also raced, but we decided in the pre-race to hang out and take the race as it came with no specific team plan.

The course was a preview of the USA Nationals course for 2018-2019. It runs over a loop of about 13 miles, repeated in our case 4 times (with the first one slightly different to avoid the "big" climb). The first half of the loop has some rolling hills, including one that steadily gains over about 1.5 miles, then a long stretch where the roads are mostly flat or downhill, with a short, steep climb towards the end of each loop. The finish line was . . . well, I'll save that for later.

The race started with about 25 women and stayed mostly together for the opening lap. There were a few women who took the pace hard on the hills, but most of the group was able to stay on. Going over the climb that had looked so big on the elevation map didn't feel that bad, either! I turned and asked another racer, "Was that the big hill?" The second lap was more of the same, but with a little more attrition through the hills and also some rain. I responded to an attack with a counter on one of the early downhills and covered a few more. My teammate floated off the front at one point and stayed away for a mile or two. A woman from Sweetspot-Cutaway stayed away for I think most of a lap. There were a flurry of attacks to bridge up to her, but enough of us covered those bridge attempts to bring the whole pack back together eventually.

In the penultimate lap, I was sitting second wheel to a woman I've seen (from the sidelines of the 1/2/3 races) to be strong. She took a short roller pretty hard, and I was able to match her pedalstroke for pedalstroke. So I figured, why not? And took the next roller as hard as I could. I went clear of the group and stayed away for I think 5 or 6 miles. I came around and got the bell for the final lap solo, which was pretty sweet; but I didn't really think I would be able to stay away for the 10+ remaining miles on my own. I had time gaps ranging from 20-30 seconds, and my goal was to make it over the "big" hill and into the descent before the group caught me. I figured I would be toast if the group caught me in the hills.

I finally came back to the group just before a sharp left turn, and I was surprised to get kudos from other riders! One of my buddies said she would give me the Most Courageous Rider jersey, if there were one for this race. I felt a little bit like I'd proved my mettle in terms of ability to hang with the 1/2/3 racers. I drifted to the back to recover, but didn't stay there for long. My legs still felt good, and I go downhill so fast that I naturally drifted back into the front 10 wheels.

My teammate and I found each other and discussed the finale. I said my legs were still feeling okay, so we agreed that she would do her best to lead me out. Around the peloton, other teams had similar ideas, and riders were showing up in pairs and trios of matching kit at the front. It was really cool to see! That almost never happens in a 4/5 race, where multiple teams coordinate their individual lead-outs!

Sweetspot-Cutaway and Haymarket were mostly patrolling the front with a pace that was not too high but certainly not soft. Somehow, my VWS teammate and I ended up driving the pace the final time up the short, steep hill, and boy was it hard! I barely hung on to my teammate's wheel for the climb! Neither of us was sure how far away the finish was; I was just going off of my bike computer and the improvised cue sheet I had taped to my top tube. I felt like it was too early to ramp up the effort, but I didn't say anything (why didn't I say anything? Lesson learned: if you're going to be the protected rider, SAY SOMETHING!) . . . I tried to communicate periodically to Robin that I was still on her wheel as she drove the pace forward, the lead-out for ABRT on her right side.

Turns out . . . it was too early. My teammate popped, and I had probably already done too much early in the race. My legs were toast and I plummeted backwards through the field as ABRT's sprinter went for the line and the swarm came around me. My teammate encouraged me to keep going for a good result, but I could not.

Except that we passed the red tent with the lap markers where the officials had been and there were no officials. And there was no camera. A few of us looked at each other quizzically. Then I remembered that the pre-race e-mail mentioned that the finish line would be up by the school, and we hadn't passed the school yet. About that time, the moto official came alongside us and told us that the line we sprinted to wasn't the finish line. I started accelerating, yelling that the finish line was still ahead. No one else responded in time, though, and I got way out front and crossed the finish line alone. Whee!

That was the end of the fun part, for a while. The women who had won the sprint to the first line were understandably upset at the confusion. The finish wasn't marked with signs (1k to go, 500m to go, 200m to go) and the fact that there were two lines with the finish beyond the bells-and-laps line wasn't adequately communicated. The officials asked me if I knew that the first line wasn't the finish line and I said, honestly, no. I'd sprinted with everyone else and (as I said before) did not do well. I was just the one who figured out what had happened first and responded to it before anyone else could. Actually, the fact that I'd done so poorly in the first sprint probably allowed me to do that; if I'd been more of a contender at the first line, I wouldn't have had the legs to go for the second.

It was a contentious half hour or so of back and forth between judges and racers, with the race director and a few neutral observers weighing in as well. In the end, the officials decided to take the results from the second finish line, and I got the win. It felt pretty rotten at first, and I'm sure there are still plenty of women who are angry about how it ended. But I'm proud of myself for meeting my goal of staying with the 1/2/3 women for a hilly 50+ miles and for keeping my head up and responding to the situation as I saw it. I won't be relying on that as a tactic to win races, but I will remember the importance of always maintaining that awareness.

Also, my action camera was an unfortunate casualty of this race. The case broke sometime during my breakaway. I remember hearing some flapping and feeling like something had dropped or flown behind me, but I thought it was the tape from my cue sheet blowing off. It wasn't until I was back in the group and someone asked if I'd gotten my breakaway on my GoPro that I realized it was gone. Fortunately, it wasn't an actual GoPro or a Garmin Virb or something else very expensive; it was a $50 knock-off from China (via Amazon). And by the time the thing with the finish line was sorted out, I was too tired to drive around looking for a tiny grey box in the grass on the side of the road. So if you see a camera out near Clear Spring, Maryland, please contact me. I hope a cow didn't eat it.

I have a break from racing for the next few weeks, then the Tour of Washington County (which I'm pretty sure will be my last race as a cat. 4)!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Race Report: 2017 BikeJam Kelly Cup W4/5

Spoiler photo! Now you know how the story ends!
A Veloworks-Spokes Etc. teammate and I carpooled to the race and chatted on the way about how we planned to approach it. We decided to ride mostly defense, with her softening the field with attacks in the early stages then tucking in to protect me and lead me out to a glorious sprint victory. I called it a no-turn crit course as we pre-rode the course, because there were no turns except for a gentle chicane just past the finish line. The pavement was rough with a few major holes (one of which, I swear, I ran over on every single lap). The hazards were all well-marked, though, and nothing presented itself as particularly dangerous or crash-inducing. The final drag to the finish line was slightly uphill, but at a gradient so gentle I could take it easily in my big chainring. And the stretch just past the finish line had that right-left-right chicane around a park shelter then a downhill just steep enough you could really gather some speed.

Twenty-two women lined up at the start. We made note of the wheels we needed to mark--a rider from Blue Ridge Cyclery in Charlottesville who won the sprint at Jeff Cup and another from New York who took second at Carl Dolan. My teammate took off from the gun with just enough vigor to string the field out. They gave her space and she got a small gap right away. There weren't many individuals willing to put their noses in the wind to chase, and only a few teams showed up with more than one rider. My VWS comrade wasn't the only one who tried a solo attack, either; there were multiple women who casually floated off the front in the first half of the race.

In between attacks, the pack ran mostly at tea party pace. Digs from a few key players were enough to stretch the field but not break it. The woman from Blue Ridge that we'd marked at the beginning made a comment about how easy it felt--sort of boring! Hmm . . . Maybe the two of us can make things more interesting? With 7 laps to go, my teammate put in a genuine attack up the left side of the climb. I saw the woman from New York and the woman from Blue Ridge start to bridge up together. I knew I needed to mark that move, so I accelerated to get on their wheels. As I did, I looked back and saw that I had also gapped the field--this was it! This was the move! I shouted up the road that we had a gap and to go! go! go! The Blue Ridge rider heard me and dug in, and we both blew right by the other two. I caught her wheel and we accelerated down the back stretch. I heard "15 seconds!" on the next lap, and it grew from there. My breakaway companion asked if my teammate in the pack would disrupt the chase. "Oh yeah," I replied. VWS ladies have become pros at that this season!

As we took turns in the break, I was realizing that my companion was stronger than me. Her pulls were much harder than mine. Trying to match the speed she carried on her pulls was pushing me dangerously into the red. I started calculating my approach to the finish of the race. It was clear by 3 laps to go that first and second place were in our group; it was just a question of who could outwit and outride the other person. I started to ease off my pulls a little bit, trying to conserve some energy for the end. I allowed my struggle to show; I wanted to telegraph that she was stronger than me and I was doing my best. We took turns pulling the hill to the finish line, and I exaggerated my suffering on each subsequent round to project some weakness.

She took my bait and attacked me on the hill coming into the bell lap. I knew I needed to get back to her ASAP, because I didn't want a repeat of Bunny Hop where my breakaway companion completely rode me off her wheel. So I put in what was probably my biggest effort of the day and caught back on just as we started the downhill on the backside. She flicked her elbow for me to come around and take my turn. Haha! No. Don't think so. I just got the lead-out I was looking for.

I knew she was going to have to jump from the front, and she knew it too. It was my race to lose. She started her sprint near the barriers, but I was ready to accelerate with her. I followed her wheel and kept driving around her. I realized at that moment that I'd left it too late, stayed in her draft too long, and wasn't going to get all the way around her. I threw my bike at the line in a desperate (and kind of silly) attempt to get the win, but I did not. The race was already hers at that point and I came away second-best.

I played the game right, just left the sprint a little too late. Ah well. At least I got second in a different way this time! I think this was the first time I've been in a situation where I needed to time my sprint just right to win. I know if I had started my sprint just a little bit sooner, I would have come around her and won. I'm not sure where I should have started it, though, and how I'll know next time. Fortunately, I have this race video that I can review endlessly to obsess over how I could have done better!

I don't think the speed data from my Garmin is accurate. It seems a little high. It's based on the GPS file, not my speed/cadence sensor, because the wheels I was using don't have a magnet on them yet. This is my first try with using the fancy overlays for the data!

My VWS teammate won the field sprint to take third place and grab another double podium for the VWS ladies!

I'm grateful to be on a team where we can have fun with tactics and race plans in the women's 4/5 field--it makes the racing so interesting and fun!

As an aside, if you are reading this race report to decide whether or not you should race this course, I recommend it, especially if you are a beginner. The course isn't technical, the climb isn't steep, the roads are wide enough to move around through a pack, and the vibe is great. The only downside is the rough pavement, but it's not so rough that you need to worry about it; just stay relaxed and keep your head up and you'll be fine. The race (Kelly Cup) is part of a cycling festival (BikeJam) so it has a festival atmosphere with food trucks and an outdoor cafe and crafts and races for kids. Not many road races have an environment that encourages people to hang out and watch after their own race is done, but this one did. I stayed well after my race (the first of the day) to watch teammates race and to enjoy the vibe.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Race Report: Poolesville Road Race

Dirt don't hurt!
Poolesville is one of the longest-running (I think only Jeff Cup has been running longer) races in the MABRA region. It's notorious for a mile-long stretch of gravel repeated on each lap. As you can see from the photo, it was a little muddy out there on Saturday. Muddy, wet, and cold--perfect weather for a spring classic, but a month too late; my brain has already moved on (with the pro peloton) from Belgian weather to California sunshine! I think many MABRA women were in a similar mental space, because only 15 of us lined up to contest the 4/5 race (21 were pre-registered), including myself and 5 VWS teammates. And in spite of the fact that it's May and I expect a little sunshine and a little warmth, I Belgianed up, put embro on my legs, and went with bare arms.

We started neutral until the first turn, at which point two of my teammates regulated the pace at the front. We took turns attacking and countering, while Bike Rack and NCVC chased us back. The RCV racer picked up the pace going into the gravel turn, but everyone took it easy and kept it upright through the turn itself. The gravel had two decent lines, one on the left and one on the right. One of my teammates had done recon earlier in the week and said the left line was better. I followed an NCVC racer up that left line. She drilled the pace and we left the pack behind. Before we lost touch with the peloton, I heard a teammate call out "Flat!" So I knew that VWS was down to 5.

My NCVC companion kept the pace high through the gravel, and we briefly traded turns on the front once we were back on pavement. The pack quickly reeled us in. I looked around and realized that our A rider was missing, so we were down to 4 VWS riders in the pack. My memory gets a little fuzzy around this point, in terms of sequence of events. I know I attacked again at some point and was pulled back. I remember the racing felt hard, and I spent a good amount of time recovering in the back. I remember covering at least one attack.

The critical move came when one of my teammates attacked and got a good gap. A woman from the Bike Rack followed her. Nobody else did, though, and two of my other teammates went to the front of the pack and rode tempo. The peloton let them sit on the front; I think everyone was happy to ride an easy pace for a while. Off in the distance, I could see the Bike Rack rider with a gap on my teammate. When we came through the start/finish line at the beginning of our second lap of three, one of our male teammates mentioned that she had almost bridged up to the break. I was nervous about that; was she struggling? Did she have the legs to stay with the Bike Rack rider? Should we try to bring the break back and try to attack again later?

My teammates started to accelerate the pace on the front at the beginning of the second lap. They weren't chasing the break back; they were trying to shake a few more riders out of our group. It certainly worked! Our group went down to about 8 riders, and some of them were just barely hanging on. The pace picked up again on the gravel thanks to the same NCVC rider, and I stayed with her. Everything came back together on the pavement, and shortly thereafter I felt my handling get squirrely. I had a flat tire. I kept the bike upright and sashayed along as best I could on my rear rim until the sweep vehicle came along to give me a ride back to the start. I cleaned up a little, put on warm, dry clothes, and then headed back to the finish line . . .

In time to see my teammate win! She had stayed off the front for most of the race and dropped the Bike Rack rider on the last corner. A second teammate came out best in the field sprint to take third place. Another multi-podium for the VWS Ladies! Tactically, the real stars of the show were my two teammates who controlled the pace in the pack from the time the break went until the end. Without them keeping the pace slow, our winner probably couldn't have stayed away for over 20 miles with only one other rider.

I was disappointed to flat out and DNF, especially since I felt more than able to hang with that second group for the rest of the race (one teammate described the pace they were setting as "tea party pace"). But I was able to do my job in the first lap and a half, and the result came out exceptionally well for our team. It was a fun day on a challenging course, made more challenging by cold, wind, and wet. Out of 15 starters, only 11 finished--two flats, one broken spoke, and one broken rear derailleur hanger. Pretty epic race, if you ask me!

Next weekend, I'll be heading to BikeJam in Baltimore to race the Kelly Cup. It's a criterium, and I'll be bringing pit wheels so I don't have two DNFs in a row!
Trusty steed after the race. Notice the squishy rear tire.
Trusty steed after a bath. Much better!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Race Reports: Bunny Hop & Ride Sally Ride

I'll try to keep these brief, because there are three!

Of our cat. 4 group, I was the only woman registered for Bunny Hop on Saturday. Ride Sally Ride (Sunday) was the big team-focused race. My plan was to go to Bunny Hop and get as many upgrade points as I could. I want to be able to upgrade to cat. 3 with the rest of my team, because many of them are close! I'd never done Bunny Hop before (it was cancelled last year) but it was on a new course this year anyway. The race organizers had posted a video of the course, which made it look very technical with rough pavement. Many of us were nervous about how the course would play out, especially in a beginners' field with rain in the forecast.

We needn't have worried! The course was fun and safe (or as safe as bike racing can ever be) and it stayed dry in spite of occasional cold, spitting rain. It was in a derelict office park that's now used for autonomous vehicle testing. The pavement was fine, smooth through most of the course with only a few well-marked potholes and seams. The finish line was on a long, curving, exposed stretch that started out head-crosswind and ended with a tailwind past the line. Then there was a hard right turn with a tailwind and a slight downhill, a few sweeping curves into a short uphill, a right-left chicane and a hard right turn, then another gentle turn to the left about 300 m from the finish line. A somewhat technical course, and I wouldn't want to take some of those corners more than three abreast (almost never a concern in the fields in which I race), but it felt safe to me throughout my races.

Bunny Hop Criterium Women's 4/5
Scoping out the competition before the race, I had my eye on a fellow racer from Sticky Fingers. I knew her wheel would be trustworthy where many of the women were of unknown reliability. And I was pretty sure that if we teamed up we could get a gap on the field and stay away.

With so many unknowns in the field, I started the pace off hard to set an expectation for a fast pace. I settled in after the first turn and let the field come back together a little. I looked back to see if everyone was still there. I tried to keep the tempo high and encouraged the front 5 or 6 women to work together to force a selection. That continued until the first preme lap, which I used for it's intended purpose--to create a break! I took that lap hard and won the preme, then kept going at slightly higher than tempo pace to see how long I could stay away. Five or six women came back to me, and we started working together to keep the pace high and make that selection stick. When the pace slowed down significantly on the climb, I attacked across the road and got a gap. Stayed away long enough to get another preme, looked back and Sticky Fingers was on my wheel. Yay! This was what I wanted to happen!

We worked together for the rest of the race. I told her to take the third preme, and we kept our rhythm going until the last lap. I heard after the race that one of the chasing pack tried to bridge up to us and almost made it but blew up and drifted back. My Sticky Fingers compatriot took the front on the last lap, which ended up well for her because she was strong enough to ride me right off her wheel! She gapped me on the last climb and I couldn't claw back before the end. She took the win and I took second place a handful of seconds later.

Bunny Hop Criterium Women's 3/4
There aren't many 3/4 races now that there's a women's 5 field. I took the opportunity to double up and try to pip another upgrade point or two. The 3/4 race had only 6 women, with a few apparently scared off by the wind and the rain. My plan was to sit in and do as little work as possible, since I already had one race in my legs. Sticky Fingers had two racers, but everyone else was there as a single; no teammates to work for us!

As a result, the pace was really slow. No one wanted to burn matches on the front to keep it high. On the first preme lap, no one even bothered sprinting; the woman on the front of the bunch accelerated slightly and no one tried to come around her. She took the preme comfortably.

I didn't have high hopes for winning the race, so I took a gamble on the next preme lap and sprinted from the 200 m mark. No one else came with me, so instead of sitting up after the line I followed the advice of the crowd to "Keep! Going!" I had a massive gap! I drilled it for another lap then tried to settle into threshold. I don't think I'm very good at judging what that is, yet; I think I end up going too hard and running out of steam.

I stayed away for a few laps before an RCV rider bridged up to me from a gap of 7-ish seconds. I slowed down a little until she caught my wheel, then drilled it to pull away from the chase group again. Unfortunately, I drilled too hard, and couldn't catch her wheel when she pulled through. We both drifted back into the pack. I sat on the very back of the bunch and waited for a good opportunity.

The pace was still pretty slow on the last lap. I'd planned to attack after the chicane, where no one was pedaling because they were preparing for the next turn. There wasn't really room, though, because we were so spread out. So I stayed in the back and waited for someone else to jump. I'm not sure who jumped first, but I held back for a few extra seconds and then stood and accelerated, surfing wheels to come from 6th to 2nd. Podium number two for the day--a double double!

I enjoyed this race so much; I can't say enough good things about what a terrific crit Artemis Racing put on. I recommend it to everyone for next year!

Ride Sally Ride Women's 4/5
This was our big team race. We had 5 cat. 4s in the field and a solid race plan. The course is an office-park crit with three right-hand turns and two little stretches of elevation gain. It was cold and windy on Sunday, with a strong headwind after the first turn, a cross-headwind after the second turn, and a powerful headwind with a slight downhill on the finishing stretch.

We began attacking from the beginning, opening up gaps and forcing everyone else to chase. Every time they brought one of us back, another would attack. Meanwhile, our A rider was staying sheltered in the pack. I got in two good attacks, one of which prompted a bridge from a Rock Creek Velo rider. We traded turns for a long time before the pack brought us back.

On my second break, I was afraid I might actually stay away! As I came around with 10 to go and then 9 to go, spectators were shouting that my gap was growing and the pack wasn't working to bring me back! Besides the fact that it hurt a lot, it wasn't the plan for me to stay away! I was glad to see a teammate blow past me with 8 to go. I heard people shouting for me to grab her wheel, but I didn't have the strength and drifted back to the peloton.

Another teammate bridged up to the first, so we had two working together off the front. The three of us that remained stayed positioned to disrupt any chasing efforts, then came together with 4 laps to go. I confess I got a little excited and started ramping the pace up too soon, with 3 to go. Patience, Jamie! With 2 to go, our A rider was on my wheel, and I was on another teammate's wheel. She drilled the pace for a whole lap and started a second before pulling off. Our A rider shouted to me "GO! GO!" "Wait, what? Don't GO?!" I replied, because my ears had stopped working and my brain had turned to jelly. "GO! GO!" she said again, and so I did. I buried myself right up until the final turn, going as hard as I possibly could and shouting my body down when it asked to stop. I pulled wide out of the final turn and our A rider came past me with open road in front of her. She took the bunch sprint to complete a clean sweep of the podium for Veloworks-Spokes Etc.

As fun as it was to stand on the podium and win some premes, I had an even better time working together with my team. We executed our race plan to the tee and brought home a great result. I ended up in 7th, and my other teammate in 11th, but really we won the race. It was a marvelous team victory, some of the most fun I've ever had on the bike. I'm so grateful to be part of an awesome team!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kit Review: Pactimo rain jacket and changing kilt

Today I'm introducing another kit review (you can find my previous kit review of the SheBeest Petunia bibs and Divine jersey here), this time of the Pactimo Ultra-Lite Women's Rain Jacket and their Quick-Release Changing Kilt. I bought both of these items with my own money; this isn't a sponsored review (although if anyone from Pactimo is reading this and wants to send me stuff to try, I will not turn you down!). I purchased these items from Pactimo about 2 months ago. Since then, I've had the chance to use the rain jacket twice, once in heavy rain, once in light rain, and the changing kilt half a dozen times.

Pactimo Ultra-Lite Rain Jacket (Women's)

This rain jacket keeps water out, which is its primary function. It breathes better than most of the rain jackets I've used in the past, but it still gets very sweaty inside. That wasn't so bad in cooler weather, when I had a layer of warm fabric between the jacket and my skin. But now it's warmer, and the material clings to my arms and exacerbates the sensations of heat and sweat. A few weeks ago, when our team ride ended up feeling more like a team swim, I ended up taking the jacket off because I got so hot; I wasn't sure if I would get wetter riding with it or without it. I got much wetter riding with it, to the point that my jersey was flapping at my armpits, it was so saturated from rain. So I regretted taking the jacket off. I didn't realize how much it was contributing to my comfort until it was gone.

The fabric of the jacket is thin and crepe-y, almost crinkly. The fit is very flattering for me. I didn't notice the jacket flapping down hills or at high speeds. The tail of the jacket is long enough to reach halfway down my hips, and has a silicone gripper to keep it in place. That keeps the jacket from riding up, but it also makes it difficult to access pockets when riding. I got the clear model so that I can use it for racing (that way you can pull the jacket on and officials can still see your number through it), but I think I would only use it in very heavy rain, or if the rain is cold enough that I'll be uncomfortable if I get wet. For light summer rains, it will probably be easier to suffer through the wet, especially since my races aren't very long in duration.

Pactimo Quick-Release Changing Kilt
I feel ever-so-slightly silly for spending $30 on what amounts to a very nice towel (or one of these), but I really like my changing kilt. The material is light and airy. It feels high-quality. The hook-and-loop (that's the generic term for Velcro, if you didn't know) makes it adjustable. It has a silicone gripper along with the elastic waistband for comfort and so it doesn't fall down and embarrass you. On that note, be careful on windy days with this product. Learn from my mistakes.

The silicone gripper may be gimmicky, or overkill, or the kind of thing that a brand puts into a product to make it appeal to cyclists who could easily wrap a towel around their waists and change that way. Maybe I'm a sucker for buying one. But I love mine and use it at every single race and would walk around in this and nothing else post-race if I thought I could get away with it.

Overall, I'm impressed with the quality of Pactimo's products. I like the fabrics they use; I like their attention to detail; I like the teams that they sponsor; I like that they offer so many products that are cut for women (most companies just have a unisex rain jacket, which will inevitably flap around my narrow shoulders and ribs); and I like that they've structured their minimums for custom orders to be especially favorable for mixed-gender teams. They seem committed to quality, with a manufacturing defect rate well below the industry average. They also have 5-piece minimums for custom orders, so if you want to get your own fancy skinsuits or jerseys with a custom design, or if you have a particularly small team, that's a low barrier to entry for customized kit.

Two other things they do that I appreciate are a loyalty program and custom content. Their Pactimo Rewards gives you points for purchases, for referrals, for liking them on Facebook and following them on Twitter, for writing reviews of their products, and as a little gift for your birthday. Those rewards add up pretty quickly, to the point that I was able to get $20 off on my first purchase just for committing to follow them through social media and e-mail. Without that discount, I may have been less inclined to give their products a chance. They also have  a library of articles, videos, and podcasts related to cycling and triathlon. It includes coaching and training tips, beginners' guides, and interest pieces. I appreciate that they're creating content to help people learn and improve, as well as high-quality products for sale.

I like this brand. I support it. Pactimo comes off as serious and committed without taking itself too seriously. I appreciate that they are going out of their way to have a two-way relationship with their customers; they don't just make and sell quality merchandise (lots of companies do that), but also seem genuinely committed to creating value within the cycling community. I like that. I'm looking forward to purchasing and reviewing some of their shorts and jerseys in the future.

Monday, April 24, 2017

General update (because no races this weekend)

In MABRA land, this weekend is normally reserved for the Tour of Page County. It was one of my favorite races last season! Unfortunately, the race organizer had some personal issues arise earlier this year and wasn't able to put on the race the way he would want it. It will be back next year, but in the meantime there was no road racing for Veloworks-Spokes, Etc. this weekend (although a contingent did the Leesburg Baker's Dozen mountain bike race).

Since I have no race report for you, here's a few notables from this week:

The Whole 30 thing is going well, or at least pretty well. My cravings have come and gone in waves: day 3 I madly wanted bread; day 5 I longed for cheese; over the weekend I wanted a cold beer. I've probably been eating much more fruit than the program intends, but I'm also doing more and more intense exercise than the program prescribes. January would have been a better time to do this. I didn't feel I needed it back in January, though; I was moderate in my consumption over the winter holidays.

Anyway, I eat lots of fruit and lots of dried fruit and lots of bananas and lots of potatoes. I also found that some of the Clif energy food packets are okay for me to eat (no added sugar, no grains). They're effective and tasty, but have the consistency of baby food--it's a little weird. And they don't pack very many calories for the amount of space they take up in my jersey pockets. They provided a nice break from dried fruit, though.

Since I was traveling last weekend and I didn't feel like doing an 8-minute FTP test early in the week, I took an extra recovery week last week (the week before Easter, that is). I picked up where I left off this week, starting with the FTP test on Tuesday. I thought my FTP wouldn't increase by very much, since I'd had two weeks off, and the structure of my training had been spotty for a week or so before that. I surprised myself with an increase of 23 watts, though, which is a little over 10% of my previous FTP!

I could feel my new strength on this weekend's team rides, too. There were hills that we've climbed many times together as a team where I was able to hang and couldn't have before. I'm holding wheels that I couldn't have held this time last year, or even two months ago. My training is working, it seems! On Saturday's ride, I felt particularly strong. During Sunday's ride, my legs were a little overcooked, and I faded towards the end of the ride. The first half of the ride was ideal tempo training, though. I have one teammate who rides so steady, it's almost like motorpacing!

I also broke down and bought a Gatorade on Sunday. My legs were starting to cramp. It seems like the dried fruit wasn't quite enough for both hard rides on back-to-back days. And I'm not sure I'm going to make a whole 30 days (heh, whole 30 days) of this. I'm getting really tired of potatoes and bananas! But don't worry, Mom, I'm eating a lot (really, a lot); just not eating certain things, or drinking any alcohol.

From Carl Dolan (April 9) to Bunny Hop (May 6), there's no racing for me. There is a road race next weekend (American Velo Club's Road Race), but I have to go to a chemistry lab instead. That's a whole month with no racing! I'm getting antsy!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Jamie's Diet

You guys. I'm trying Whole 30.

You guys.

Why am I trying Whole 30? Is it because it's a trendy thing that's popular on Pinterest right now? Because I'm a very trendy person. I'm hip to all the latest things.
I'm doing Whole 30 because I haven't felt entirely well for the past few months. I haven't felt bad, or sick. But I haven't felt my best, either. I've had too many moments where I finish eating (or drinking) something and I feel . . . icky. I was much more in tune with how I felt and my body's response to food, exercise, and my environment a few years ago. Partly it's because I don't do as much (or any) yoga and meditation, so I'm less in tune with my body in general. But I've also gotten to a point where I pay less attention to what I eat (and probably too much attention to how much of it I eat). And I drink too much. Whole 30 is my attempt to redirect some of those patterns.

What is Whole 30? If you haven't read or heard about it already, it's a pretty strict clean-eating regimen that lasts for only 30 days. It's also a registered trademark (except they spell it Whole30), so hopefully I don't get in trouble for this post. Like most trendy diets, it was "founded" by an attractive health/fitness professional (Certified Sports Nutritionist, probably also a registered trademark) who's good at self-promotion but whose qualifications seem to consist primarily of being certified, having written a book, and being a keynote speaker about some things.*

In general I'm skeptical about such eating plans (diets, that's what they are; let's call them diets). They are featured in the New York Times or whatever and everyone and their cousin does them for a few years, then they fade into obscurity. Remember South Beach Diet? Or Beach Body? Or Weight Watchers? Testimonials aside, there's little evidence that these diets do anything long-term, and they tend to rely heavily on pseudo-scientific concepts like "detoxification." In short, I think things like Whole 30‒ways of eating that have their own websites, apparel, and affiliate programs‒are silly.

So it's hilarious to me that I am trying it.

Silliness aside (or rather, my perception aside), it's not like these diets have nothing of value to contribute. They work for people, although maybe not the majority. Whole 30 focuses on eating moderate portions of real foods: meat, seafood, eggs, lots of veggies, some fruits, and lots of natural fats. During the 30 days, you eschew grains, legumes, dairy, all added sweeteners (no artificial sweeteners, no honey, no maple syrup), food additives and preservatives, junk foods, and (most importantly for me) alcohol. No cheat days allowed.

Except that I'm going to give myself the option to cheat on race days. In fact, I'm making a few modifications. I imagine (some people will say) this makes it not Whole 30 and I'm not truly committing to the plan and that makes me a weak-willed person. Whatever. This is my body and my lifestyle and I need to modify the plan so that it fits for me.

In addition to eating what I want on race days (only if I have the chance to go hang out with teammates and friends after the race), I will also continue to use Skratch hydration mix, which has added sugar, during races. I won't be using gels, though; instead, I'll be using dried dates and prunes for ride fuel. And I'll probably be eating a lot of potatoes and sweet potatoes over the next 30 days; without them, I don't think I'll take in enough carbohydrate to fuel my cycling training.

That's my plan. Whole 30 for the next 30 days, with a few modifications for the amount of exercise that I do. Training and racing will proceed as normal. I'll track the effects of the diet in my training log, including my reactions to foods as I get more sensitive to them. And I'll share my progress and results with you.

*I realize this is the pot calling the kettle black, since I make my living as a certified fitness professional of questionable qualifications. Headmistress Hartwig, I'm just joking. Please don't sue me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Race Report: Carl Dolan Memorial/Howard County Library Spring Classic W4/5

These are the best "podium girls."
I got to be on the podium! Whee!

Carl Dolan was a nervous race, last year. There had been crashes the year before (lots of them, with many injuries). The women's fields, which started out separated by a minute, ended up coming together into one big pack when the women's 3/4 field caught the 1/2/3 field. Rather than neutralizing the fields to keep us separate ("Sort yourselves out, ladies!"), the officials allowed us to race together. It was messy, and stressful, and didn't end well. I think everyone managed to stay upright, but it wasn't one of my favorite experiences ever. And I was taking things way too seriously, so much so that it wasn't fun for me (or anyone else). As a result, I was nervous about Carl Dolan.

But I needn't have been! DC Velo, the club that puts on Carl Dolan, went the extra mile to mark road hazards and fill in pot holes. The officials gave us 90 seconds between fields instead of 60 seconds. And when the 1/2/3 field threatened to lap us, the moto officials stopped us and let them go by, rather than allowing us to all come together.

Perhaps more importantly, the positive racing environment that I felt at Jeff Cup continued for this race! Maybe it's because there's a critical mass of us that know each other well this year; maybe we're all more experienced; maybe it's down to smaller field sizes than what we had last year; I'm not sure why it feels so much better, but I think it's bigger than my own attitude and experience. I hope everyone feels as welcomed and supported in our 4/5 races as I feel.

Anyway, the race.

VWS had two women in the 4/5 field and two in the 1/2/3 field. The fields were separate, though, so we wouldn't be working together. That left the two of us vs. the peloton. We made a tentative plan as we warmed up, but mostly agreed that our goals were to ride safe, ride smart, and enjoy the racing. Carl Dolan features a two-mile circuit with one big climb going up to the finish line and one fast-ish descent going into a hard right turn.

Our VWS plan was to stay near the front and ride heads-up. There were attacks from the beginning of the first lap, which we took turns covering without needing to communicate very much. I looked around periodically to check and make sure my teammate was nearby; I knew if I didn't see her, I might need to cover the next surge. We tried an attack at the bottom of the sharp right-hander, riding off of our awesome cornering skills (I don't think they're that much better than anyone else's, just to be clear). But everyone attacks there, and nothing was going to stay away from that point.

There were a few surges up the hill where I had to dig deep to stay in touch with the peloton. I felt myself sliding to the very back of the pack multiple times! I attacked over the crest of the hill at one point, and stayed away for . . . not very far. Maybe the first quarter of the lap? That was the third or fourth or fifth lap; I'm not sure. I have footage from my GoPro, which I will consult (and post!). I don't remember the details of the race very well; it's all foggy in my brain.

On our eighth lap of ten, the moto officials warned us that we might be lapped and that he would keep us to the right so the 1/2/3 field could pass us. We waited and waited for them to ride by, but they slowed down just enough that they weren't coming by us. Finally, the moto pulled us over into a driveway to let them pass; his concern was that they would finally come past us right at the finish line, making a huge mess as two fields tried to finish uphill with riders attacking too soon and dying and other riders coming past them . . . It was a good choice, and I'm glad they made it. I know there were people in my field who didn't like the choice, but I was very grateful for it.

As a result of the neutralization and because we'd been lapped, the moto told us that we would come around and get the bell. In other words, we would be on our last lap after we crossed the line again. I expected very hard riding as soon as we got going again. And, just to make sure the riding was hard, I put in a hard dig at the sharp right hander (yes, where everyone attacks and no one stays away). I got caught on the climb, and managed to cling on to the pack as they came by. Then I re-positioned towards the front (but not on the front) of the pack and determined to sit in until the last possible moment.

On the back stretch of the final lap, an NCVC rider attacked. It was a good place to attack, too! She got a sizable gap on everyone, and no one seemed very motivated to chase; NCVC certainly wasn't going to chase down their own rider, and my teammate and I were both content to let the other, larger teams do most of the work to bring it back. I sort of expected her to blow up on the final climb, anyway. A Sticky Fingers rider and a Bike Lane rider did most of the work to keep her within reach.

Then we came around the last corner, and I can't remember much. I think I tried to stay out of the wind. A Phase Cycling rider attacked way too early, but I think that was part of their team plan. I remember coming around her as she faded. The pace was hard up the hill. I was barely hanging on, but I knew the pain would be over soon. I found my teammate's wheel and thought, "Oh! This is perfect! This is what we're supposed to do at the end of races!" I was hoping I could find an extra gear at the top of the hill and pick up places, but it was clear by the time we came in sight of the finish line that the only person I would be able to pass with my deteriorating legs was my own teammate. I counted the people in front of me, and estimated that we'd finished fourth and fifth. And that was a good result.

Turns out that one of the riders I counted was a leftover from the 1/2/3 field, though, and the two of us got third and fourth! We both got to stand on the podium together and represent our team. That was a really great, exciting result. We rode smart, we made good choices, we worked together without even having to talk to each other, and we both ended up on the podium. And we had fun!

I wish I could have had more left after that final climb, but I considered it a victory to make it up the hill in touch with the group I was in. Even without a final kick to the finish, I felt like I gave 100% in the finale. I'm very happy with my personal results and our team results on the day. We also had a fourth place in the men's masters 35+ and a fifth place in the women's 1/2/3!

And we had fun!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Jamie's Training Food: Man Bars

I made these for last weekend's Jefferson Cup, and they were a big hit with the whole women's peloton! They're also easy to pack for long days in the saddle:

Adapted from South Your Mouth's Man Bars

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or nuts of your choice)
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened, condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
About 1 cup powdered sugar (optional)

Dump. Mix. Line a square (I used an 8 inch) baking tin with parchment paper or foil. Use non-stick foil or grease it up really well; these are going to be sticky! Smooth batter evenly in tin. Bake at 350* for 30 minutes or so. Let the pan cool completely before doing anything else.

Two options here: Cut the sheet into bars, like granola bars; or cut into squares and toss in the powdered sugar. I tried both, and both are good. I liked the unsugared ones more myself, but everyone who tried them was a big fan of the powdered sugar version. I think the sugarless version is easier to eat while riding, though. After all, VWS team kit is mostly black!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Race Report: Jefferson Cup 2017 (W4/5)

Jeff Cup was one of my first big races last season, and I have good memories of it. It's a circuit race, 3 laps of 10 miles each for the 4/5 women. Our race ran concurrent with the 5 men and the 1/2/3 women, each starting a few minutes in front of us. The course is beautiful and rolling, with one sustained climb (there's a Trump Winery at the top, so everyone calls it Trump) that takes an eternity to climb (not really, it's like a 90-second hill w/ average grade of 5%). The rest of the course is rolling, twisting roads, with punchy climbs and some fast turns. The last turn is deceptively far from the finish line, and slightly uphill. It's a great course in a beautiful part of the country, and the race has been run for 27 years--it is dialed in! 

Before the race, I got to catch up with a lot of familiar faces. One of the best parts about being part of a local cycling scene is getting familiar with enough of the women that every weekend is a reunion. It's fun to chat before the race, and helps to calm the nerves. One of my goals for this season is to stay zen and relaxed in all races, with a special focus on not taking it too seriously. After all, we're out there to have fun!

On the neutral roll-out, all three of my VWS teammates came to the front with me. We didn't plan it that way, and we didn't mean to send a message of controlling the race (that wasn't our plan). It was cool that we moved in a unified way without talking to each other about it. And it said to me that the field respects and trusts our team, which is cool.

After the neutral roll-out, we re-staged for the W 4/5 start. I tried to start second row on a teammate's wheel, but got a poor start and had to make up places right from the beginning. I was boxed in on all sides with no teammates nearby--a situation that I wanted to rectify ASAP! Jeff Cup had a rolling closure system this year, which meant we had the whole road to race on. I can't tell you how nice it is not to have to worry about a center-line rule! But we are all so used to racing with the center-line rule, all of the women seemed to forget that we could take the whole road. And so I got boxed in, and stuck behind a woman who was kind of slow up the first few climbs. It took me a while to come around her, but eventually I did and tucked in on a teammate's wheel. I was the B rider for the day, so I tried to stay out of the wind as much as possible.

The first lap wasn't easy, but there weren't any significant attacks. A few women set a moderately hard tempo up front. One in particular, an unattached rider in Specialized kit, was doing tons of work! I kept wondering who she was doing work for. Turns out herself, because she made all the selections of the day and finished in the top group. Kudos to her!

My legs were hurting by the end of the first lap from hard pacing up the hills, so I moved myself as close to the front as I could before the second trip up Trump Hill. I was hoping that would give me room to slide back in the pack without losing touch. As we swooped around the corner before the hill, one of the riders that we'd specifically marked (she won Black Hill last weekend) attacked, and without thinking I followed her. I sat up quickly, remembering that it wasn't my job to chase her down (good thing, because I couldn't have stayed with that surge anyway). I called out to my A teammate to see if she could cover the attack, but she didn't have the legs to go with it, either. Fortunately, we saw a third teammate come by in hot pursuit, and I thought, "Thank god she has it!"

I definitely didn't have it. I don't know if it was the initial surge to cover the attack that blew me out (I don't think so, because I didn't stick with it for that long), or if the pace was just that high going up Trump Hill, but I slid further and further back, away from the lead group, away from the chase group, out of touch with almost everyone else. I suffered going up that hill; I suffered with the pain of a thousand stubbed toes!

I did make it to the top of Trump Hill without puking or dying, and looked around to see what help I could get in chasing back on. There was another woman a little bit ahead of me, and a woman I knew from NCVC a bit ahead of her. I was able to catch on to the closest wheel, then we worked together to pull up to the NCVC rider. A Charlottesville Racing rider (who'd dropped her chain on Trump Hill, major bummer) caught us, and we had four people rolling turns. Then I saw a teammate in the distance, and the four of us were able to take turns pulling up to her. We had a good group of 5, and we were coordinating well, but I was just dying. I had to skip several turns, and I almost lost touch with the group. Eventually I recovered, and we picked up a sixth rider, the youngest in our field--a rider from Rock Creek Velo who's only 13!

We were all suffering to get back onto the chase group (except for my teammate and the woman from C'ville, who were holding the chase together and keeping it organized). I had recovered enough by then to slot in and take extra pulls as gaps opened. After chasing for three quarters of a lap, we got back on to the main chase group near the start of the third lap. Their pace was not easy, though, and rest in the group was a relative thing. As soon as we got up to them, my VWS teammate and the chick from C'ville told the group that we would help contribute to the chase right after we rested up.

Our pace was steady but manageable going into the pre-Trump-Hill rollers, and then I dropped my chain on the first one. I tried to shift it back, but my front derailleur is a big issue for me and it wouldn't hop back on (I have a K-edge chain catcher, too, mind you). I stopped and pulled it back on to the little chain ring, and a bystander offered me a push to get me going again (which made me feel so pro). Unfortunately, my calf muscle cramped when I tried to clip my foot in, and I almost fell over (thank you, innocent bystander, for catching me twice). I was eventually able to clip back in, but the commissaire's moto sped past me, and I figured I was off the back for good. I was so disappointed, after working so hard to get back into the group, to be derailed by my front derailleur.

The women's 1/2/3 field had been neutralized for our race to pass theirs in the second lap (because we are a bad-ass bunch), and now they were getting ready to re-pass me. Their lead moto came up alongside me to let me know they were about to pass, and to stay to the right. They went past, and as they did I saw my chase group up ahead! They had also been neutralized for the 1/2/3 field. I was able to stop with them and get back in the bunch! Best of all, everyone seemed happy to see me, and glad that my dropped chain hadn't ended my race. The NCVC woman who'd started chasing back on with me way back after Trump Hill v. 2 was also able to catch the group while we were stopped. We all had an extra drink and a few deep breaths before they let us go again.

At that point, we weren't sure whether or not the lead group had been neutralized too, but we figured chasing them down wasn't going to happen. Our group committed to riding well and riding safe, but not necessarily easy for the rest of the race. We had a great time, the peloton communicating well and keeping things fast but safe. Coming around the final corner, I found my VWS teammate's wheel; we were both on the same page, I could tell without having to talk to her, that she would lead me out to hopefully place well in the inevitable group sprint that was coming.

The two of us stayed steady and tight, pretty far back in the pack, but with room to move outside to the left when the time came. With around 500 m to go, I told her to start moving me up, and she accelerated around the left side of the pack. Unfortunately, we came around a curve and saw there, in the left lane, two riders down and an ambulance behind them. The pack slowed, unsure what to do, and we eased back in to the right lane, our rhythm disrupted. She was able to regain some speed after passing the ambulance, and I came around her to put in a semi-sprint, but it was only good enough for fourth place out of the chasing group and 10th overall.

Still, it was a very successful day for us! Our VWS teammate who covered the big break was able to sprint in safely for third, so we had a rider on the podium (and none of us got caught in the crash, which was a blessing)! I've never been in such a positive and encouraging race before, either! The chase group communicated and moved together like we were one team. We were still racing each other, but we all respected each other and were committed to having a great, safe race. It was a really cool thing to be a part of! More importantly, I think that our team, the VWS ladies, were a not-insignificant part of that positive racing environment. I look forward to making our team mark on the women's fields not only with wins and podium placings, but by helping to foster a racing culture that is safe and welcoming while still competitive and challenging.

I do feel like I didn't live up to my personal potential in this race, but that just fires me up for next weekend's races! Thanks to all my teammates and fellow competitors for making such a fun and memorable race! And thanks to our team sponsors, who make our racing possible, and the race sponsors and organizers, who make the races possible!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Race Report: Black Hill Circuit Race

In which I get one of the bad races out of the way for the season.

This one didn't go how I wanted.

My training has been going fantastic so far this season. I've felt strong and getting stronger. My FTP is increasing and my weight is decreasing. I felt like I was bringing really good fitness into this race. But I was also using it as a training race, so I didn't even rest the day before; I did about an hour of pre-race openers with an hour of endurance before and another hour after. I had a good dinner last night, a little heavier than normal, and two beers--I hadn't had beer in about a month!

The women's races weren't until 12:30, which meant I got to sleep in a little later than normal. I had toast and peanut butter with honey for breakfast, two cups of coffee, and water in the morning. I did 20 minutes of easy spinning around the course with teammates and then another 20 minutes or so on the trainer to warm up. I had about 20 minutes of sitting around before the race started.

The course was rolling with smooth, flowing turns; it had one long-ish hill and one fast descent, with gentle undulations through the rest of the course. Our team (four of us, today) started together and rolled out near the front of the bunch. We controlled the group up the hill the first time, and the pack held together. The pace was fast but not unbearable. The second time up the hill, my quads started burning, but I figured they were tired from my ride the day before and it would pass. I was falling off the pace a little, but didn't lose touch with the pack. Legs still hurting, I lost contact the third time up the hill. I didn't worry though; I figured I could make up ground on the descents.

I never did. My quads felt tighter, and then my shin muscles started to cramp. I tried to breathe deeply and relax as many muscles as possible. There were 3 or 4 of us off the back, not out of sight of the peloton. I managed to come around one of the other women (a lady from Baltimore Bicycle Club) on the uphill; she said she'd like to work together to try to catch the group, but wasn't sure how. I told her how to trade turns (in between gasps for air), and flicked my elbow for her to come through in the transition from fast descent to long uphill (I figured it would be better for her to try her first turn at an uphill pace, without having to worry so much about getting blown off my wheel on a descent). As we passed my team cheering from the sidelines, they told us we were gaining on the group and could probably catch them!

But close to the top of the hill, the cramps moved from my quads and shins up into my psoas and abdominals. I've had my psoas go into spasm before, and it's nearly the worst pain I can remember feeling (anaphylaxis is slightly worse). In my mind, that's what passing a kidney stone must feel like. I told the woman from BBC to go ahead, because I wasn't going to be able to hold any kind of pace any more (and I felt bummed, because I wanted to help her work on those chasing skills!). Catching the field was out of the question for me; finishing the race was the best I could hope for.

I had the same kind of pain at Rockburn CX last fall. I thought hard about pulling out of that race, but ended up finishing the last lap when I got the bell. The spasm passed, and I was able to start riding hard again towards the end. Ended up coming back from about 20th to finish around 15th. I figured I would try to ride easy for a bit and see if the pain passed. Optimistically, I might still be able to pick off a few riders for better placement.

But at the end of that lap (5 of 10, I think), the writing was on the wall. I pulled myself, rode over to my car, unclipped, and flopped down on the ground. My hips and abs still hurt really bad. Lamaze breathing helped, a little, to make the pain go down, and I did some stretching. After 10 or 15 minutes, the pain had passed. I got my recovery apple and drink mix and went over to finish watching the race with my team.

Even so, Black Hill was a successful day for us! Two of my teammates finished 3rd and 4th (the other had similar problems to me, and pulled herself shortly after I did)! It may have been an inauspicious beginning to the season for me personally, but it was a strong start for the VWS ladies!

In terms of lessons learned from this race, I'm not sure what caused the cramping. It wasn't just muscle fatigue, because the problem was systemic--at one point, even my cheeks were cramping! I'm not sure if it's something I ate (or didn't eat), something I drank (or didn't drink), if I trained too hard the day before, didn't warm up well enough the morning of, or if it was too cold for my body. I'm not sure how to address this problem so that it doesn't happen again. Or maybe it was just a fluke, and I shouldn't worry about it too much. I think I need to do some research on systemic cramping.

The psoas thing is something I've felt before, too. When I was in college (and not in great shape) I seemed to get that consistently when running. I've had it multiple times when running and cycling, including last CX season at Luray and (like I mentioned) Rockburn. I'm not sure what causes it, but I think it's more than just cramping. Maybe it has to do with how far my hips tip forward. I hope that's the last I see of it this season!

Congratulations to my VWS teammates who raced today! Next week is Jeff Cup, and I'm already excited to race again!