Friday, August 24, 2018

Race Report: San Ardo

In which I get heatstroke.

The forecast for Saturday's San Ardo Road Race called for highs in the low 100s and winds increasing in speed throughout the day. I know from previous races that I don't handle heat well, but I figured I would go down and give it a shot anyway.

About 10 of us cat. 3s rolled out at 8:30 AM for 63 miles through central valley farmland. I had a teammate in the pack who was interested in doing well. My target for the race was to work for her. I helped set pace early in, tried to keep the speed up to discourage attacks, tried a few escapes on downhills to warm everyone's legs up. Everyone must have been feeling good early on, because the response to my pace increases was for the whole group to keep things hot through the first 10 miles.

At about that time, a rider who had come from Florida to collect some upgrade points countered a little attack I'd made and got a gap. At that point we'd already dropped a couple of riders. The lead group was only three strong, but that was enough that every team except ours was represented. I got to work trying either to chase the group back or get it close enough that my teammate could bridge across. Then there was a hill--the last short kicker before a long, straight, flat stretch. I got caught out there and dropped. That was around mile 12, and that was the last I saw of the main group.

I knew at that point it was nothing but a training race for me, and settled in for the long haul. I realized I'd forgotten to start my Garmin so I didn't even have training data for the hardest part of the race. The two groups ahead of me kept getting farther and farther away. The scenery was boring. The pavement was awful, possibly the worst I've ever had in a race. I've ridden gravel roads that are less obnoxiously bumpy. I was pretty salty about the whole thing and planned to throw in the towel after one lap (about 21 miles in, or 9 miles on my Garmin).

Then I had a snack and some water at the end of the first lap and figured I could soldier on at least until I got 30 miles in. That would be a good training ride. I planned to turn around when my Garmin reached 15 miles and head back to the start. I was passing plenty of traffic doing the same thing, mostly coming back after flatting (San Ardo is notorious for goatheads). I passed Tobin Ortenblad going back towards the finish after flatting. I was still feeling good when my Garmin hit 15, and about that time a group of masters came past me. I sped up a little to tag onto the back of their group and figured I'd go until they dropped me, then head back home.

FYI, it's against the rules to hop onto the back of a pack like that and draft. But I figured as long as I stayed out of their way, didn't interfere with their race, and withdrew at the end of the second lap, it wasn't going to do anyone any harm. And I felt much safer in the pack than I'd felt solo; I could follow them through better lines instead of staying on the rough part of the road close to the shoulder. I stayed with them through most of that second lap, but dropped off when they started attacking each other. A chase group from the same race (Masters 4/5, I think) came by me eventually, and I hopped on that train as well. They caught up to the first group I'd been with and I rode them until we passed the 1 km to go sign. I figured they'd sprint it out, and I didn't want to be in the way. I still wasn't feeling too awful, although I was annoyed at the terrible pavement (and glad that I didn't have to jockey for position leading into a sprint on those roads). I felt hot, but not overheated. I was starting to get chills, though, and that's never a good sign.

I rolled over the stop line and told the officials I was withdrawing. They didn't seem too interested. Started heading back to my car and felt worse and worse. By the time I got back to where I'd parked, I was so out of it that I got off my bike and stood there for several minutes, unable to motivated myself to take the next step. I finally managed to prop my bike somewhere and sat down in a camp chair for what felt like 20 minutes, with waves of nausea and dizziness washing over me. It took me that long before I could start getting changed, and even then I had to do it in short bursts--a little bit of activity, then a pause to let the nausea go away, then a little more activity. I changed into fresh clothes and went to a nearby bathroom (good thing it was there) to run cold water from the sink over the back of my neck. That helped, but I had to keep going back over there for more, and it was getting hotter and hotter. I'd ridden with teammates and had to wait for them to finish, but I was in no condition to drive away at that point anyway. Finally, the ambient temperature got so bad that even sitting in the shade with a cool breeze was too much for me. I hopped in my car and ran the AC. Then I remembered riding past a little gas/liquor store in San Ardo (pretty much the only thing there). I went over there and bought a bag of ice, then drove around the block with the ice in my lap and the AC blasting. I finally started to feel back to normal. That ice worked magic.

Lessons learned: don't do races in the central valley in August. Always bring a cooler with ice. Don't attack 10 miles into a 63-mile race, even just to test out the legs. Don't get dropped. But mostly don't do long, hilly road races in the central valley in August. Did I mention that I shouldn't race in the central valley in August?

The rest of the race turned out okay. The two groups came back together, and my teammate was one of only 5 women to finish the race. She got on the podium. And we had really tasty burritos on the way back.

But the consequences of that race have been with me all week. My lymph glands in my neck were swollen on Monday evening, and by Wednesday I felt so run-down that I could barely get out of bed. I think the combination of heatstroke and the gross, smoky air that I've had to breathe for the past several weeks (wildfires on the West Coast) have weakened my immune system to the point of almost but not quite getting sick. I failed a workout on Tuesday, left work early on Wednesday, and have made a point of not exercising at all since Monday. I'm feeling a little better today, so I plan to attend a CX clinic tomorrow and see how it goes.

That was my San Ardo. Reminder to self: don't race in August in the central valley!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

On Bibshorts -or- Equipping Your Undercarriage

I had a conversation with a coworker recently about shorts. Specifically, she never wears bibs and I wear nothing but. She asked me why I prefer bib shorts. And I realized that I have a few reasons, but a major one is that it's what cyclists do. There's a little communal snobbery over bib shorts as opposed to regular shorts; those in the know are aware that bib shorts are better. So it's at least partly a tribal identifier to show that you're an in the know cyclist (similar thing goes for skinsuits in crit/TT/CX racing).

There are some non-snobbery reasons to wear bib shorts, too. The chamois tends to stay put better, especially if you have narrow hips. I don't have narrow hips, but I do have a narrow waist. In my case, wearing bibs instead of shorts removes the elastic waistband that never seems to hit me in the right spot. When I wear normal shorts, I find that my hip flexors start to get sore and my low back gets achy, I think from the pressure of the waistband. And I feel like my breathing is restricted if I try to relax and breathe into my belly. Getting back to the shorts staying in place, a moving chamois is a chafing chamois, so bibs help reduce chafing by reducing movement of the shorts against your tender bits.

Bibs also eliminate the potential for a dumb-ass burn/tan. You know the dumb-ass tan, a.k.a. triathlete tramp stamp; it's the strip of skin between a short jersey and low-cut shorts that gets burned or really darkly tans because who would ever think to apply sunscreen there? Probably less common now that triathletes wear more skinsuit type things, but I remember seeing it on everyone at Wildflower in 2008. Bibs come much higher up the back, high enough that no jersey is going to be fulled up that far, unless you accidentally tucked your jersey into the back of your shorts when using a port-a-john. Also important for modesty--no plumber's crack showing to those behind you!

So that's why you should choose bibs over regular shorts. You'll notice that they're usually more expensive, but now you have some reasons why they're worth it. Next time, I'll talk a little about why you should spend more on shorts in general, and I'll begin a series of kit reviews based on my own experience.

If you have a favorite pair of shorts that you'd like to review, or if you bought a pricey pair and regretted it later, I'd love to feature your experience. Get in touch if you'd like to help me out with my series of kit reviews! I'm particularly interested in hearing from other women on their experiences, since it seems there are always many more resources of that type for male cyclists than us ladies.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Race Report: San Rafael Sunset Criterium (W 3/4/5)

In which I get dropped, lapped, and pull myself.

This was a cool race in which to participate. It's on the USA Crits calendar and draws a lot of big-name talent from around the country. I love to watch the USA Crits streams (An aside: buy a membership if you can! It's $55 for the year, gives you access to a bunch of older streams, allows you to watch all of the races live or on-demand, and part of the proceeds go to supporting the teams! If you like to watch live cycling, this is a project worth supporting!). I was very excited to get to see a major race in person, and to be part of the racing on the day.

However, I was coming off of a six- or seven-week block of training. Why such a long training block? Wouldn't my body disintegrate with such a long block? It was supposed to be a five-week block of sweet spot with a recovery week, buuuuuuut I had two weeks of travel coming up where I knew I wouldn't be able to do much, if any, riding. So I doubled up on a week of TrainerRoad workouts (repeated week 4 of Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume 2, if you're interested) with the intention of taking two weeks pretty much completely off following for recuperation and adaptation.

If you were wondering, planning big races at the end of six hard weeks of training isn't a recipe for success.

The race was hard from the beginning. The field was relatively big for a 3/4/5 race, with riders at all ability levels. My body felt tired and worked, and I was having difficulty railing the corners as much as I needed to. Add in a few sketchy moves by women who didn't know any better, and I decided I'd rather be at the back of the field than on the ground. There was plenty of room to move up--a long straight on the backside of the course that was into a headwind and a long straight coming into the finish line that was slightly uphill. Any time I lost contact, I could lay down some power on the finish straight and re-establish contact, but I was getting gapped in the turns. I actually almost washed on the final turn, which was wide but downhill, on one lap. At one point I looked down at my power meter and realized that pushing 175 watts was destroying me.

I hung in for about 30 minutes, but I'd been gapped and chased back on several times at that point. A selection was made at the front. I was not anywhere near it. I started riding through other dropped riders. When the lead moto came around me, I knew I was close to getting lapped by the front group. After they went by me I took the next opportunity to pull over after the finish line next to the officials. I don't need points to upgrade from cat. 5, and I know from friends who officiate how difficult it is to keep results straight when lapped traffic stays on the course.

The officials wanted to leave everybody out there so that they can get the experience and the potential upgrade points, but I suspect that the results were a bit of a mess afterward. When I got pulled, there was a group of 10-15 riders in the lead group. At the end of the race, there were more like 20 women in that group. I think some of the lapped riders hopped back in with that group when they came around them.

If you're reading this and you ever have the opportunity to do that, resist the temptation. When you get lapped in a road race, just stay to the side until the group goes past and then resume whatever pace you were setting before. It's a little different in CX racing; you don't need to get off your bike and stop, or do anything unsafe to let someone lap you. Sometimes the course will be narrow enough that it's not safe to pass. When you have the opportunity (when it's safe, the course is wide enough, you're not going through tight corners or tricky single-track), you can move to the side so the other person can get around. And keep in mind that person might be trying to win the race and riding so hard at the moment that she's about to throw up, so cut her some slack if she's being rude or impatient. Probably she'll buy you a beer or something after the race.

Anyway, I feel good about the San Rafael Crit. It was still a fun scene in a cool town. And any road racing I do at this point in the season is all about fun and supporting my teammates. My training and performance is all building up to the CX season, which starts in just about a month! It's officially #CXisComing season!