Saturday, August 25, 2007

some thoughts on HT vs FS on poor mountain test run

Hamilton had asked me about he weight difference between the HT and the FS in the poor mountain test runs. There are a bunch more variables than just weight/bike comparisons going on but here is some info:

The FS is built up pretty darn light, with the Stan's/WTB Laser disc lites and several other Weight weenie bits. it weights 25.52 with no bottles, tubes or CO2.

The HT has a heavier wheelset and a front disc. It weighed in at 24.71 with a C02 and no bottles. With a front V and using the stans front wheel it should be under 24. With some more WW parts on it the weight differences could be more than 1.5lbs.

IMHO, the Azure is a kick butt XC racer. It can no doubt climb pretty well especially in technical climbing. With a supple rear suspension setup (DW link!!) I was able to break my PR on a technical single track climb. However, I think one of the keys to unlocking it's secrets lies in the wheelset choice.

In the past I'd been running a heavy beater wheelset for training. I found that there wasn't any profound training affect gained by using a heavy wheelset. In fact it seemed to prove detrimental. The handling changes between wheelsets was noticeable which always required a ride or two to readjust to timing difference. And the training rides on the heavy wheelset felt real slow, which made me feel slow, which in turn create more of a negative feedback loop. When going to the light wheelset for races there really wasn't this WOW I'm so fast kind of feeling.

From what I've read training with a heavier wheelset is the equivalant of just riding in a harder gear.

The heavier wheelset changed the snappiness of the FS which started to create some negative feelings towards the FS sometimes. So I decided to just keep the light wheelset on there full time and overall I'm happier with it.

So all that was just to say that the Azure is a good climber and still a good choice for a hillclimb.

When climbing this Poor Mountain Fire road there are several issues to consider. Even though they filled in some of the rocky places it is still rough. With the HT (and a slightly higher tire pressure) I did notice many more instances of slipping out in the rear. So the FS does have an advantage in keeping power going down to the tires.

I need to do some more experimental runs with the HT with the light front wheelset, lower rear tire pressure and running it at a true time trial pace before I can draw some firmer conclusions in comparing the two bikes. In the last HT run I did over do it at the beginning and had someone to chase/ride with on the faster paved section at the bottom.

But one area that is noticeable is the bikes' reactions to changes in quick changes in pedaling cadence. The HT just reacts faster to quick increases in pedaling cadence which make it snappier. There is a lag type of feeling in the FS. The FS seems to ride faster overal with a slightly higher gearing/lower cadence ala Ullrich. The HT seems to ride faster with a lower gearing/higher cadence and snappier accelerating style ala Lance.

So what does this all mean. I don't know. The fact is this is a 1hr+ hillclimb for most of us. At that distance and that steepness and being climbing almost all the way, weight does start to play an issue. However the terrain of this road makes tire pressure, tire selection and suspension (Fork, and/or rear) way more of an issue than most hillclimbs.

Plus the ride down is way more fun on an FS than compared to a rigid HT. Going down on the HT with a front fork was pretty fun though and just reminded me of my early days riding out in CA on the fire roads.

Mountain biking is such a great sport, no doubt about that. Personally it has taken me places and built up my soul/spirit more than anything in this world with the exception of my wife and kids.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

hardtail compared to FS on poor mountain

Ran poor mountain with Chris. Tried the hardtail out. Much faster on the road sections but this was most probably due to drafting and going over my limit to stay with Chris.

Definitely blew up a little. Tried to go over the limit several other times for training purposes but they were weak efforts. I just don't have that mental toughness to walk into the path of a bus like that. I'd make some accelerations then settle back into steady state. I am pretty pleased that I can recover back to a good solid pace.

Tire pressure was too high. (35 Stans. try 30 next time) I take back what I said about the road not being rough. It is rough. Not as rough as last year but it's not smooth.

Overall time was just about 3 minutes faster today. It wasn't as hot as before.
Here are some split time comparisons:
See this map for where the splits were taken

Start to beginning of the dirt
HT:13:58 FS: 14:58

Start of dirt to right hand turn onto Gravel road
HT: 35:30 FS:36:37

Last gravel road section to finish
HT: 11:03 FS:11:15

HT:1:00:30 FS:1:02:51

Results from last year: (on rigid hardtail and different course)

The time comparison on the last section really surprises me. Because I 'thought' that I was going much better on the hardtail today than with the FS. But reality shows just a 12 second advantage. This section is so steep that there is just one speed I think I'm capable of on it.

I'm thinking that in the race situation riding with a group is good for at least another minute or two off the first section.

Changed set back to -60mm. It had been -50mm. This worked ok on the steep sections. But didn't feel as good elswhere. Going to split the difference and go to -55mm.

Used heavy front wheel on HT run. Next run will use race front wheel.

Rough ride down. Much funner on the FS going down. Lost my tube that was under my saddle.

Still think the track is slower than last year with the new crushed asphalt.

Haven't used sport legs on either run. I will test it out soon and will take 5 pills at -30minutes. This will kick in at +30 into the ride and stay with me through the finish.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Climbing secrets revealed

I've been climbing real well lately, especially on steeper hills. It's seemed like an all of a sudden type of thing which usually isn't explainable by striclty fitness improvements.

I realized that I'd messed with my saddle/seatpost the other day trying to get a creak out. I ended up putting the clamp system back together wrong and it never really got tight. My saddle had ended up moving farther back on the rails. See this picture

That cylinder piece was placed backwards allowing it to move forward, but also didn't secure the clamping as well which allowed the saddle to move back on the rails. Those red dots were from before taking the thing apart and should line up with the bracket. The net effct was that the setback was farther back.

This is really interesting, because typically when I've installed the saddle with too much setback the result has been very poor climbing with the exact opposite effect has what has been happening recently. The typical effect of high saddle setback with me has been a mashing type of pedal stroke w/o any sort of good spin. However my recent climbing sucess has come from having a great pedal stroke and sustainable cadence.

My only theory is that I've been trying to bend at the hips more to weight the front wheel and use a smoother pedal stroke as opposed to pulling back with the bars so much (the row-row-row your bike technique). When you bend at the hips your but naturally has to go farther back. So I'm, wondering if the farther back setback is now putting me in a better position when combine with bending more at the hips.

It could also be just having a good day. Who knows. But at least I'm, aware of it now.

I took the saddle apart and put it together properly. Though I've bent the heck out of that cylinder piece. The perils of weight weenieing. Stick with a Thomson if you're concerned about crap like this. I should have.

I used the following contraption to measure the setup again and also transfer the same setback to my hardtail.

In a nutshell, I drilled a hole at the center line of this angle iron big enough for a crank bolt. Take off the crankarm and install this into the BB using a crank bolt. Tape a level vertical onto the angle arm. This allows you to place it in a vertical position.

Then using a t-square I can measure from the edge of the angle iron to the tip of the saddle. Since I know the measurement from the edge to the centerline of the angle iron, I can calculat the distance from the tip of the saddle to the centerline of the BB. This method seems a lot more accurate than the plumb bomb method as the string always seems to catch on the frame and not give a repeatable result.

Also there were some climbing tips posted at Pez cyling news. They seemt to apply more to road riding but there is some good stuff there.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The bible is back on the shelves

The book is for sale again. It was out of print for a little bit with the used ones priced at $60-$100+

Said it before, say it again. It's a good read. The book does NOT present a cookie cutter training plan that you can just plug/play. But it does introduce the concepts that have helped me a lot in training on limited time. It does take effort to take the book and develop a training plan. Some people want a book to present them with a packaged training program so be aware this aint it.

The general concepts of block training and the periodized approach that Dave presents are fairly unique among what else is out there. See my primer on how I've applied his philosophies here. This also includes a cut/paste archive from the MTBDOC at MTBR who introduced a lot of us to Morris concepts several years ago. There is a lot of info on how he applied the methods specifically to mountain bike racing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New PR on Old Farm

(*from the wood kiosk to the Jeep road (taking the left fork at the very top)
Sometimes fitness just totally sneaks up and surprises you. Today was one of those days, just out of the blue and on fire. Even more surprising was that it came just a few days after some difficult efforts from a recent race and a hard interval workout in the basement.

I've actually been struggling with my riding the last few 3-4 months. Riding has just felt slow for several months. There has been a lot on my mind with work and family and all so the focus for riding hard has been real low. Though through it all though I've been getting in a few trainer rides here/there and a good outdoor ride here/there. There have been a some flashes of good legs but nothing consistent.

The last 2 weeks I'd gotten in a time trial up Mountain lake, a tough climb up Poor Mountain and an low intensity road ride that included some 20min and 50 mins climbs. Just this past Sunday was a short high intensity race and yesterday was a tough interval session in the basement that I didn't even finish. Today called for 1hr on the mountain bike with high intensity on the climbs, easy elsewhere. It's surprising looking at my workout schedule sometimes, because it seems so easy when you compare it to what others are doing. But I guess the key is quality riding and lots of rest so that when you do ride it can be hard.

Went to Pandapas Pond and climbed out of the parking lot. Feeling decent just trying to burn it and go redline. Then headed out to Old Farm and rode down to the very bottom then started to come up it.

Sometimes, some days I can tell when it's going to be a good Old Farm Climb. I call it the Tick. When the legs are ticking over in a high gear at the very bottom on the way to where I start the clock it is usually a sign that the legs are good. Each pedal stroke feeds in to the next and forward momentum is conserved and I just can maintain a solid average speed with little additional effort. Sort of like being in a draft. You are going fast but it isn't taking a lot of energy. Get outside the draft and your energy expenditure surges while still going the same speed or even slower.

This the essence of breaking speed barriers in mountain biking. When you break a speed barrier you can maintain an average speed that is significantly faster but with only a small additional energy expenditure.

Today was that day. Instead of going for the all out blow up like I should when training, I opted for timing the run. From the very beginning I stayed in the middle ring. Usually this feels really hard and it's a grind. But today the legs were ticking over well. The slower cadence required for middle ring had a positive affect on heart rate: it kept it from skyrocketing. And the new found power in the legs allowed me to tick over the pedals rather than grinding them.

This combination makes for a higher average speed that is the key to a good timetrial. I just couldn't believe it, middle ring all the way up. The drive train felt smooth, like it feels after totally soaking the chain in degreaser and putting back on with fresh lube.

The course was very very dry and loose and I slid out at the one really hard long switchback. Had the rear not slipped it might have even been a full clean. Only towards the very end when I was saw that a PR was in sight did I start to really go over the edge. I tried, I really did to not think about a PR as that usually leads to washing out the front on a dumb root or something. But even with visions of glory there were no dumb mistakes at the end.

When I'd set the last PR in June (16:02) I'd thought it was going to take another year to get even close. And the sub 16 mark was a top goal. Races are fun and all but results are poor indicators of how you are doing. You just never know who is going to show up. Timed runs are much better as they don't lie and are not skewed by things out of your control.

Still having a hard time digesting a PR run completely in the middle ring. I've done middle the whole way before but that has always been grinding for strength building purposes, which is never the fastest way.

I think the key has been getting my ass handed to me at Poor Mountain the other day and climbing the front side of mountain lake a few times. These hard extended climbs seems to really be getting the climbing legs into shape.

They are changing the trail a little so I'll need to benchmark some new times I guess. But I guess I'll be coming back for more. This is the ticket. Just a little second faster...keeps you coming back for more.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Poor Moutain Hillclimb recon

Last week I hit the Poor Mountain Hill climb to check out the course.

The only other time I've ridden this climb was in the race last year. That ride was one of my finest races ever.

Last time I did it on a rigid hardtail. The course was pretty darn rough for a fire road and my thinking was that the dually would be an even better choice for powering through the rough sections. So this time I took the dually to the climb.

It was hot. 90s hot and humid. The road start felt as slow as usual. But the really rough sections never materialized. They had filled in the rocky sections with pea gravel and rolled it firm. There might have been some rougher sections but the dually probably smoothed them out to me.

I actually was looking forward to these rocky sections. I think they actually helped me to go faster in the race. Now going through this crushed gravelly stuff I feel slower. In addition, those sections gave a little advantage to mountain bikes. Now the advantage may go to cross bikes (if they have the gearing)

By the time the final turn came around I was cooked. The final section is the worst by far. Deeper gravel with braking bumps it just slowed to me to an utter crawl. The sun was beating down and the goal was to just ride from tree shade to tree shade.

In the end I was 7 or 8 minutes slower than last year. Many factors at play here. Nutrition, hydration, different bike, different course and the heat for sure. I'm going to try again with the hardtail next week and see how much of difference that makes.

Ironically I wish the course was harder in terms of technical features but regardless of rough sections or not this is one tough nut.

You have no idea how steep the road sections actually are until you come down them. One area where the dually did shine was the way down. Much more fun than it was coming down on the rigid fork last year.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Franklin County Race + Instructions for fermenting energy drink

Today was the Franklin County MW Windows Race at Waid Park. This is Race 1 of the VA Derailler Series

We've been coming to this for the past few years and it's a great family affair. Well run kids race, good food, live music, good racing. Just a great event. Loaded all the bikes on the Swagman rack and got the kids packed up.

The kids races was first. My oldest was a little nervous and the youngest was excited.
IMG_0424 IMG_0423
*notice the look on the little's one face. Already at Defcon 2 on the meltdown meter and it wasn't even 10am yet.

The kids did one lap in the 5-9 year old class on a pretty decent track which included some roots, rocks, and a sketchy bridge where some kids stacked it. At the end of the race I took my older son back to the car real quick and when we got back they'd started the 10-12 year old race and my wife was screaming at me that she couldn't find Lucas our youngest.

We weren't sure if he took a different way to the parking lot or had gone back to the registration tent so we started riding all around. Then a few minutes later he comes riding across the bridge finishing up a lap of the kids race. He'd gotten confused and had taken off with the big kids and did another lap. I guess he wanted some more training as 1 lap wasn't enough.

With that excitement past it was time for my race. 3 laps in the expert class. I'd been waffling on what the strageny was going to be for this race. One option was to treat it like a training event and just go for the blow up for training purposes. However last year this was my first expert race. I'd made myself sick to my stomach be combining too much energy drink and gels and ended up finish pretty well back. So on the other hand I wanted to ride it well and see where I'd end up if raced smart.

In the end I opted to race it like a real race for time. The start is on a pretty steep grassy/dirt climb. I'm realizing that it is just too easy for me to over cook it on the starts and that once blown it takes an incredibly long time to recover if ever. Therefore, I opted for the sloooow start. Tucked in behind the big guns and drafted till the hill started then faded back to practically the end of the combined expert start.

The legs felt very stiff and just didn't want to turn. I'd taken my -1hr sport legs dose and one dose right on the start line. I'm thinking that for these short races the -1hr does really isn't that helpful and the end result is slow legs off the start.

On this start hill I also took a swig of my energy drink in my camel bak. First sip of the day as it is bad news for me to intake any carbs within the hr before the race. Umm. this tastes interesting...a little funky. It was the Ice Tea flavor of Power bar energy drink which is a very acquired taste to begin with. And today it tasted more like creme soda root beer with a kick.

OOoh no. Big mistake. I'd filled up my camel bak the night before and put it in the car so I wouldn't make the mistake of forgetting it the next day. However it's been in the 90s all week and the garage stays in the 90s-80s almost all the time. So I basically created a bacteria playground in my camel bak and then placed it in the equivalent of an open bar for bacteria.

Now I've got myself into a Catch 22. My only source of carbs is this go-juice. Risk intestinal distress by drinking it, or risk the bonk by not. I decided to tempt potential la-guardia and drink it rather than risk bonking. Thankfully I'd had a very carb loaded pre race breakfast and hardly swigged more than 20oz and took rest of the camel back for a ride.

My wife was pretty upset when I told her. She's got a thing about food safety but it takes things like this to teach me proper like.

As everyone and their mom passed me I was resigning myself to repeating last year's performance and thinking that I should give up racing. Oh NO! I'm starting to sound like Warren (just kidding Warren!!)Buck up man this is a race and I paid to be here and dragged my family out here and it's time to get on it. So about 2/3rds into the lap I started to come around and start catching back up.

By the end of the second lap I realized that I was right about where I should be, around a lot of the guys I am competitive with. Kenny, Charles, Robbie.. So this validated my strategy of just going off the start conservatively.

I tried to then just keep it steady and make some controlled efforts into the red zone on the climbs and then try to recover back to steady state. At one point I was drafting off Robbie and he rode over a stick that kicked back into my front wheel and then thankfully disintegrated into twigs. Nice try. However, at the huge river fording he gapped and I was never able to get back on.

Speaking of huge river fording. This thing was up to my hips, at least it wasn't flowing fast like in years past. I dislike this feature of the race. It takes about 2 months to get rid of the fine silt like mud from the shoes and the bike.

I'm realizing that regardless of the length of a race be it 1hr or 3hrs. My steady state speed is pretty similar. To race my strengths is to start out under the blow-up redline and then just ride this steady state speed and burn a few matches here/there as needed. This also hits home that my training needs to be harder and more focused on riding beyond this area in order to bump up the steady state.

In the end I finished around 1:20-1:21. This was 7-8 minutes faster than last year (though the course slightly different than last year). 5/9 for Vet Ex. 1st and 2nd in Vet Ex were in the 1:15-1:16 range and were Ron and CP who are in the top 4 over all for experts. 3rd was 3mins up and 4th was 1min up. So overall I'm really happy with that.

This has been my first full year as a vet expert. It's an excercise in just plugging away. Similar to the move to sport from beginner there is a large range of riders and just getting into the top half is a worthy goal.

I finished feeling totally fine. It wasn't until about 1/2hr later that I started to get queasy. This delayed onset of queasiness is usually the sign of a good race but it could have been the camel back funk-a-ramo reaping it's magic on me. We had to leave post haste as the 6year old had reached DefCon for signalling imminent meltdown. Meltdown was reached on the way home and we had to detour in the parking lot of the Wal mart for a timeout.

It's amazing how much a 1.5 hr effort can drain you.

I bottled the rest of the Camelbak as barley wine which will be finished aging in a few weeks.

PS Kenny I hope your leg gets better.
Notes to self
-used bottle of ice/water to pour on my head. Not too hot at all on the course today but it still seemed helpful at the top of the climbs

-It always seemed better to stay in the big ring and 2 cogs down as opposed to using the equivalent gear in the middle ring, regardless of the additional drag on the drivetrain.

-Need to get better mental strength for keeping someone's wheel

-steep climbing went well but the power sections after the climbs weren't as strong. Cleaned every climb. and the first creek crossing this year.