Sunday, March 30, 2008

Perfect Bike-Ski Weekend

Saturday, March 29
Otis Singlespeed Trail Ride
30.8mi, 3:11hrs, 4600ft vert

Rather than ranting about about the fresh snow dump in southern NH on Friday, I took it as a suggestion I should do something other than another long road ride with hill intervals. The Cape escaped precip pretty much altogether. It was supposed to be windy too, which would further make a messy road slog even more miserable. It was a no brainer. Take the singlespeed trail bike to Otis.

Using Colin R's suggested route, I had no traffic fiascos this time. It isn't too often I go mountain biking with fresh legs, so this was going to be a real treat. No big hills here though, just lots of short to medium punchy climbs. With a singlespeed, this means a low cadence, high muscular force workout. I don't do any weight or strength training off the bike, so this is how I get it.

I hit numerous new trails. Having a map started by another rider with a GPS didn't really help me find some of the areas I was looking for. The network is so dense and completely unmarked. I rode three hours and probably only covered a third of rideable trails. Conditions were so dry that some areas were getting loose and sandy. Some recent motorized dirt bike traffic was partly behind this. I did snag sticks into the rear wheel multiple times, but unlike last time at Trail of Tears, I had no derailleur to suck into the spokes. I was completely cooked finishing the ride, hammering most of the time.

Sunday, March 30
Waterville Valley Skate Ski
38.0km, 2:43hrs, 1062m vert

So how do you top a perfect trail ride? Go skiing the next day. Temps were forecast to be mild, and the grooming report said conditions were as good as they can get. Today was probably my last chance to ski this season. I was not disappointed. Immediately after setting off, I knew it was going to be a great ski despite sore legs from yesterday's 1x1 frenzy. I ranked the conditions as such: Control-10, Speed-7, and Weather-10. This was my best overall skiing conditons this season.

With a big trip coming up in a couple days, I didn't not need an injury or overdo any muscles such that I would feel them on my big ride planned Wednesday. I also told myself I would not ski up Beanbender, as that always kills my back. Yet the hills came pretty easily. From the Nordic Center, I went out Swan's and right up Tripoli, nearly 1000ft net gain. Upper Osceola was the next major peak, then the Livermore/Cascade combo. I thought that would have killed me, as I hadn't skied in two weeks, and before that I was only skiing once per week. But I was still good. Stellar conditions have that kind of psychological impact I suppose. From summit of Cascade, I bombed down Lower Snow's, knowing that the only escape route I'd end up taking would be going up Beanbender. There just ain't no way to "soft-pedal" that puppy. As I rounded the last bend and strained my neck to look up at the summit, I see another skier up there standing, watching my struggling progress. It was none other than Brad Ek (NHCC rider). After commenting that I took the hard way up, he confirmed that today was the best ski day of the year. Brilliant cloudless skies, zero wind, temp just above freezing at that point, and meticulously groomed corduroy. Another skier came up while we were talking and marveled at the conditions. Brad said he'd take skiing on a day like today over the Marblehead bike race any day. I agreed.

GPS track from top of Tripoli (Thornon Gap) looking across valley to Cascade Brook, Snows, and Beanbender. Photo above is looking opposite way across at Thornton Gap

I took the long way back to wrap up the day. By 1pm, the lower open areas were getting softened by the high sun, making the going just a little slower and more challenging. Alternating between fast shaded areas and slow sunny areas can cause endo's. This was one of my easiest ski sessions ever, averaging only 132bpm (72% max HR). There were very few people out today, which is a shame given the conditions.

Next up are a couple recovery days. Flight to Phoenix leaves Tuesday evening. Bike should be waiting for me when I get to hotel in Tucson. Forecast shows 10% chance of rain Wednesday, high around 80F in Tucson, about 60F at 9100ft Mt Lemmon Summit. Planned ride will be twice as long as anything I've done so far this year.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spring Training Camp (Sort Of)

Tuesday I head out to Arizona. Tucson forecast is looking favorable at the moment. Mountain bike is on a FedEx truck. New England weather is looking yucky into the foreseeable future. It will be a real shock to the system to jump from 20's and 30's riding to 80's without a cloud in sight. I'll be packing the Endurolytes.

This will be my sixth trip to Tucson. Business trips have brought me here the first few times when I worked with Raytheon. This time, the trip will be all pleasure. My wife and mother are coming, Mom flying in from Michigan and meeting us at the Phoenix airport. It is a win-win situation. Cathy and Mom get along well and can find tons of things to do while I ride, guilt-free.

Climbing Mt Lemmon on dirt from Oracle.

Over the last several years, the Mt Lemmon Highway has been under re-construction, and bicycles were not permitted on it for the most part. Even cars did not have free travel of the highway. The Mt Lemmon Highway rises from Tucson, roughly at 2500ft, to the mountain village of Summerhaven, roughly at 7700ft. The summit rises an additional 1500ft on a service road above the ski area (southern most in USA) to communication towers. All of this is paved (I think).

Descending Mt Lemmon on pavement back to Tucson

For years I have wanted to climb to the summit of Mt Lemmon. Last year at the end of March, Dave Penney and I set out to do the "Squeeze the Lemmon" ride. This 107 mile ride starts in Tucson, heads north via highways to Oracle, then back south over the Catalina Mountain Range on a dirt fire road. But foul weather moved in, dumping snow to fairly low elevations in the mountains with thunderstorms in the forecast. You don't want to get stuck in the desert in thunderstorms. We had to bail on the planned ride and had no choice but to ride pavement as far up the Tucson side as possible and then come back down. We made it to the base of the ski area, as the highway had been plowed, but not the service road to the summit. So we came up short, not only missing the summit, but the epic loop with thousands of feet of climbing on dirt.

Profile of "Squeeze the Lemmon" ride

So Wednesday, April 2 will be my next chance. I plan to put 1.6" slick tires on my MTB. I have never ridden the fire road, so I have no idea how rough it will be. Forecast is calling for around 80 that day in the city, low 60's at the summit. The snow should be gone by now. The best part of the ride will be the return to Tucson. The views are killer the whole way down. You rip 40+mph without pedaling for 40 minutes. The pavement is buttery smooth. Only a few switchbacks are hairy tight. Our hotel will be right at the base of the mountain, so the ride will truly finish all down hill. This ride could take over 7 hours in the saddle.

The Mt Hopkins climb

I have one other climbing ride planned while in Tucson, but it may be harder to squeeze in depending on what the women want to do that day. This one is an hour's drive south of Tucson, climbing Mt Hopkins. Mt Hopkins Road is nearly all dirt, gains a vertical mile to cluster of observatories at the summit. You can see the Tucson basin and well into Mexico, as it is very close to the Mexican border. I climbed this once in 2004, heading up essentially in summer gear, but there was rime ice covering everything at the summit. I froze severely coming down. I also saw huge, freshly minted black bear tracks in the snow on the edge of the road. Who would think bear can live on a little mountain oasis in the middle of the desert?

Mt Hopkins profile

I hope to squeeze in one honest trail ride too, before heading up to Sedona Thursday evening. The Fantasy Island trails are a must for any mountain biker visiting the area. It is an amusement park for the knobbie two-wheeled set. No stunts really, just wicked cool terrain to rip around on with severe penalties for miscalculation. Cholla and other nasties abound here.

In Sedona, the riding will be much more singly-tracked. Sedona features some of the best trail riding in the world in a red sandstone wonderland. One more major climbing ride there is planned, a loop over Mingus Mountain in nearby Cottonwood. Not sure if I climb pavement, descend dirt, or vice-versa. Depends what wheels I feel like putting on that day. I read the dirt descent is a real hoot and worthy of body armor.

None of us have seen the Grand Canyon, so a full day will be reserved for that (my only rest day of the trip). Mom isn't up for major hikes anymore, but we hope to make it about half-way out on the South Kaibab Trail with its spectacular views. I hope to post updates from the road, as I picked up a cheap laptop recently.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Numbers in Power

I've been skiing and riding pretty hard all winter. Lots of hard days, lots of long endurance days. But when I give up half my riding hours to skiing some weeks, I pause to wonder how much cycling fitness I give up. I'm quite confident the skiing keeps the core cardio engine in peak shape. Skiing 50k in three hours in the mountains is harder than any hilly 5 hour training ride I do. But skiing is a lot about upper body, something I utterly lack going into winter and barely begin to build by the time snow melts in spring. Upper body is of dubious value to a cycling climbing specialist. It might be lean muscle mass, but not in the places you want. Ever see pictures of elite cyclists with their jerseys off? They don't carry any excess baggage up top. I might gain only a pound or two of muscle over the 4-5 months I roller ski and skate ski, but I also may lose a little leg muscle mass. Skiing is so much less leg specific. It does not tax your quads nearly as much as cycling does.

So I've been getting some good training rides in lately. I feel good on the bike, seem to be riding strong relative to my peer group. I've done a couple benchmark intervals recently, and results were mixed. One was up Pead Hill in Wilton, the other Chestnut Hill in Amherst. Now this time of year, I tend to not ride a good bike, and it still remains cold, necessitating bulky clothing layers. Cold air is more dense too, creating additional resistance to forward motion. So it is really hard to quantitatively judge fitness based on these efforts, as I don't have an established bench mark like 23 lb bike, 32F temp, three layers of clothing on, etc. So how does one go about establishing a fitness benchmark?

With a power meter of course. I finally broke down and put the Power Tap wheel back in my Dean El Diente road bike. I use this bike for most of my road racing. I wasn't particularly recovered from my big volume/intensity weekend, but today was a good one for a long, hard training ride. Tomorrow looks like snow, yet again. So on my lunch break I planned to hit Chestnut Hill and Mt Uncanoonuc, a 35 mile loop with 2500-3000ft of climbing.

Triathlete Dan started with me, although I rode him off my wheel at one point trying to get my legs going. It takes about 30 minutes of hard paced riding to get to Chestnut Hill from work. I was well warmed up when Dan split off to continue his flat "tri friendly" route. After soft pedaling two more miles to base of climb, I started the interval.

Chestnut Hill gains most of its nearly 600ft vertical in the first mile. Then there is a long, gradual grade section very exposed to any wind that turns into a steep-ish punch to the townline sign at the summit. I held good power on the steep part, and as usual, struggled to maintain power on the flat part. Then while already on the verge of puking, I big ringed it up the finishing pitch. Extremely unpleasant, but very effective psychological training. I tell myself I can always hurl AFTER I hit the lap button at the top.

So my time was a so-so 9:05 minutes. That is actually quite good for March, but well off my PR of 8:14. So if I simply used my stopwatch to gauge my fitness, I'd say I lost much since last August when I did 8:14, maybe as much as 10%. But the PT tells a different story. You see, I was bundled up in full winter gear today (+32F at ride start), had modest headwind on the exposed part, and took two large water bottles along for the long ride. My power was 5.2W/kg for over 9 minutes. That is not a PR either, but it is within 2% of PR power for this climb, and almost certainly the highest power I've pushed in March. I can climb this hill much faster in better conditions at lower power. It is hard to sort out all the variables to arrive at a true fitness number.

Typically, my weight drops over the next few weeks, and my power goes up. This puts my W/kg at threshold in a very good pre-season position. I will continue to train with the Power Tap, but my main reason will be to re-align perceived effort with what I am actually doing. On a hill like Chestnut, it is so easy to go into it too hard. Any measly seconds you picked up at the bottom are paid back with big interest payments later in the climb. It is very well established that optimal time trail efforts are steady power. In practice, you almost need to shoot for negative time splits, and you'll still find you went out too hard. This can apply to non-TT scenarios too, such as in road races. Occasionally, I find myself "out there." How do you pace yourself? You go don't go any harder up the hills than you do going down them. That is the best way to put minutes on the field.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Six Miles Out, and...

After great training ride with the IBC team on Saturday, I was psyched to get away late afternoon for some trail riding goodness on Sunday. I've heard stories about how summer weekend traffic down to the Cape can be, but I didn't expect the traffic I encountered Easter Sunday. Miles and miles of parking lot down Rt 3. The drive down took 50% longer than normal, and I regretted not heading north to ski instead.

I brought geared bike, as legs were feeling Saturday's fun-filled hillfest ride, where we hit the likes of Justice Hill (both ways) and Princeton Center at well above threshold pace. A singlespeed would have multiplied the suffer factor, and I was really looking for 3hrs of endurance pace riding, not mashing 40rpm up steep climbs.

Conditions were fabulous. The ground doesn't freeze on the Cape, and the coarse sandy mix drains extremely well. Not a hint of mud, cloudless skies, and mild temps. I hit the Trail of Tears system in West Barnstable, eventually heading out across Great Hill Rd into the Maple Swamp Conservation Area. These trails are less manicured and frequented by dirt bikes. The 50mph winds we had a couple days earlier brought down much debris. I kept having close calls with sticks in spokes and thought to myself "I shouldn't be riding in this area today." You see, the next morning I had to drop that bike off at FedEx for shipment to Arizona. I fly out there April 1. This thought no more than crossed my mind, and it happened. Those dreadful sounds of metal into metal, grinding, snapping, and clamorings of component death. After the bike skidded to a stop, I freaked at the sight. First thought was my AZ trip, second was the two hour walk back to my car.

The chain, cable, cable housing where FUBAR. The derailleur was sheared clean in half. All said components were wedge tightly into spaces they didn't belong. The worst damage was derailleur hanger. It is not replaceable and was curled over into the cogs. It is thick titanium and would be a chore to bend back without suitable tools on the trail.

I worked on the bike for 30 minutes, setting the chainline up straight in something like a 32t by 17t to singlespeed back to car. It failed imediately. Chain would drop to smaller cogs and then just hop over teeth with slightest pedal pressure. I tried a tighter ratio with 22t ring. No deal. Broke chain (with tool) a third time, now out of master pins, and set up 22t ring by 11t cog. There were no smaller rings or cogs for the chain to jump to. Do you know what the stupid chain did next? It jumped UP to the 12t cog, when clearly the chain wasn't long enough for that many teeth. It was so tight I could not turn the crank by hand. Imagine the forces on bearings, cassette body, etc. I struggled to get it back down to 11t cog, and it barely had any slack there. But again, as soon as I pedaled, it jump back up. The huge chain line offset and ramped cog teeth were behind this. Well, if the chain wanted to be there, then there it was going to stay.

Even though the bike was hard to pedal (way harder than my singlespeed due to binding chain), it was functional. I decided to ride back through woods. Riding was real work now, and with all the angst built up from long drive and damaged bike, I found my legs. I ended up hammering for two more hours on that kluge fix. After a while, my thoughts drifted away from what I was actually riding and how many hours I would have to work on the bike when I got home. I enjoyed what I salvaged from that ride, finding more trails I hadn't ridden on two prior visits there. I went in with gears to pamper my legs and ended up hammering a singlespeed. I started to run out of daylight and stopped riding with 2.5hrs on the computer.

On the way there, I thought no way could the commute back be any worse. I was wrong. Way wrong. At one point on Rt 3, it took me nearly an hour to go from exit 12 to exit 14. The drive back took almost 2x longer than normal. So I spent >4.5hrs in the car to ride 2.5hrs that did hundreds of dollars damage to a bike I had to ship in 12 hours. The next time I get on that bike, I'll be doing a 107 mile loop in remote desert. I'll dwell on that until the ride is over.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Addition to Quiver

I left IBC this morning after forfeiting a sizable portion of my checking account. After a nearly three year building/buying hiatus, there will soon be a new addition to Hill Junkie's quiver of bikes. Don't want to say too much about it yet, as the bike will be a full custom build. Don't know what it will weigh, but weight was of secondary importance. I need a racing platform that is more aero and can serve double duty as a TT machine. All I'll say now is this bike will feature more carbon than my hillclimb bike. I should have it in a couple weeks, then photos and complete spec's breakdown will be posted.

Made one other purchase today. After receiving email notification that Excel Sports received a shipment of Garmin 705 GPS's, I immediately put one on order. Should have it Tuesday. This unit will consolidate all of my workout data, whether HR based on skis or power based on the bike. Now only if SRM or Quarq can release their new Ant+ compatible power meters...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Where do you fit in?

I've gotten to know a couple of unique individuals well over the last few years. Interestingly, they are at opposite ends of a spectrum. So they don't get too upset with me, let's call them Mr X and Mr Z.

Mr X has a lot of bikes. Nobody knows for sure how many bikes Mr X has. I don't think Mr X even knows how many bikes he has, and several of them are very nice. His quiver of bikes include multiple mountain bikes, fixed gear bikes, and road bikes. There is one thing you will not find on any of Mr X's bikes, and that is electronics of any sort. Mr X does not give a hoot about how many miles or hours he rides. In fact, it annoys Mr X when other riders in the group start comparing ride metrics.

Now some of you may already know who I'm talking about here. But do you know that Mr X even placed tape over the clock in his vehicle? He doesn't want the pressure of time dictating his life. Working for "The Man" already interferes enough with our lives, and we don't need to compound that with self induced stress by the need to hurry against the clock. Now I can respect that in some ways, but there are times when knowing the time has value. Apparently tape over the clock bugs Mr X's significant other too.

Now consider Mr Z. Mr Z is just the opposite of Mr X in every regard, except Mr Z also likes to ride and ski. Electronics and metrics are a very important part of Mr Z's athletic experience. A bike ride cannot begin until all the electronic bits are fully operational. Yes, many a ride has come to a screeching halt due to a misbehaving cycle computer or HRM. Skiing is even worse, as you have HRM and ornery GPS gizmos to deal with. GPS's love to cut out or become temperamental in mountainous tree covered areas. You simply can't continue the ride or ski until the electronics is working properly. The activity simply won't count if you don't have metrics to substantiate it, or so Mr Z believes. Mr Z has been recording metrics for decades.

Now here is some irony. Mr X, with tape over the clock in his car, is nearly always punctual when meeting to go ski or ride. Mr Z on the other hand, is frequently late. I think Mr X might be on to something here. There must be some deeper thing going on.

I ride with quite a variety of other individuals, and all them fall well between Mr X and Mr Z. One rider gets bent out of shape whenever his PowerTap cuts out on a cold, wet ride. I'll tell him to put the silly CPU in his pocket so he'll stop bitching about it. I think he mainly wants to know how many kJ were produced to determine how many slices of pizza he can eat after the big ride. Other riders only care about how many hours they go out, and miles or average speed are irrelevant. Still others focus more on hill repeats or VOmax intervals with a watch.

Myself, I used to be a lot like Mr X when I was a pure mountain biker dude. Then I migrated over the evil roadie side and started to worry about grams, Watts, LT, vertical and such. When I met Mr Z, he convinced me I needed to keep all these metrics in an Excel spreadsheet. I've maintained a log for several years now. In 30 seconds, I can see what I did on March 17, 2003. Does this make me a stronger rider? Does it take away from the joy of cycling? It all depends on how you use the data. My training is free form. It has structure, but not a written plan, and certainly not mundane MxN interval sets on a trainer. I ride for what I need that day. Recovered? Do hilly loop with multiple 3-6 minute climbs at hard pace (a coach might call these VOmax intervals). Tired? Do 45 minute flat loop. I record perceived exertion for what I do each day. I benchmark myself on certain climbs or a 5km TT loop periodically. Total volume per week and month is captured and plotted. Trends appear. Last year was a good year for me, and looking over the log, there were distinct difference in training than in prior years. Recording workout data makes you think about what makes you stronger and is there for you to review if something is going wrong. It does not detract from the joy of cycling if you don't let metrics become your task master.

I would have to say I fit in more with Mr Z's "metrics" camp right now than Mr X's anti-metrics camp. I'm not afraid to estimate metrics though if an electronic trinket fails. I've recently thought about not recording miles on the bike or skis anymore. One of my worst competitive years recently was when I had a goal to ride over 10,000 miles. I logged way too many junk miles that year and achieved mediocre results at best. Quality over quantity wins the day, and choosing misguided metrics may be worse than no metrics at all. So where do you fit in this spectrum?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Embrace the Snow

Bretton Woods Skate Ski
40.7km, 817m vert, 2.9hrs
0 to +3C, CH8 wax

Ok, so this is primarily another ski report. I should be 100% cycling by now, but this winter refuses to give up. Saturday morning I awoke to a fresh covering of snow, dashing any thoughts of riding out to the Wapack Range to do some serious hill work on the bike. I had to stay at low altitude on main roads that were clear of snow. My goal was to ride 4hrs with hill intervals. I got my 4hrs, but mostly a steady, hard tempo pace ride with rolling hill bursts. Of course, the trucks were out again dumping salt and sand on the roads to make sure my ride was messy. I have two bikes with trashed drivetrains now. No Power Tap or other metrics, but this had to have been a high TSS (total stress score) ride.

From top of Mountain Road climb, looking down to where we started 1000ft below.

More snow was in the forecast for Sunday morning, but I had planned earlier to hit the White Mountains on skis, the kind that go uphill better than downhill. Arvid and I went to Bretton Woods. A race was going on in the morning, so we opted to go across Rt 302 and ski up the groomed Mountain Road trail to near the summit of the alpine area. Neither of us had done this trail before. This was a real shock to the system. I was hurting from Saturday's ride, and we "warmed-up" by going right into a 1000ft net gain climb.

Zoomed in to Mt Washington Resort, cog railroad in upper left. Just below cloud deck at this elevation.

Mountain Road takes giant switchbacks working its way up to the top of Bretton Woods downhill ski area. Only a few places were really steep, so it was easy to get in a groove and keep the burn going. After a long time, you start crossing alpine runs and you know the end is near. Of course, the view is great, but it would have been a lot better had it not been such an overcast day. I think I have a new favorite New England ski trail, and Mountain Road is it. It gains 200ft more vertical than Tripoli Road at Waterville and is a riot to descend. I summited several minutes before Arvid did, but Arvid slalom races and smoked me on the steepest, most technical part of the descent.

Crawford Notch.

The race across the highway was wrapping up after our descent, so we had free range of the rest of the trail system. The problem was, an inch or two of soggy snow fell in the morning and was nasty sticky. Not sandpaper snow like when it's cold, but glue snow like suction cups grabbing your skis. Descents were very tricky alternating between soggy and crispy snow sections. This was not as much of a problem at the higher elevations. 40km in three hours was a fantastic workout, and it was thoroughly satisfying. That makes about 7hrs of fairly intense cardio work this weekend. I hope some of this ski cardio work gives me something on the bike, as my first race is only a month away.

View from resort, Mt Washington obscured by clouds on left, Crawford Notch on right.

I head to Arizona 1st of April for 7 days of riding nirvana. This leaves two more weekends to ski, as I do not plan to ski after I get back from the desert. We might not get another winter like this for many years. It's best to embrace the snow while we have it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Ski to the Clouds Race Report

Mt Washington, NH
8km, 45:05
5/11 Men 40+, 22/70 overall (results)

Wouldn't you know it, we close in on another ski race and a weather system fouls things up again. The two days before the race consisted of heavy rain and sleet before the temperature plummeted. To make matters worse, conditions at the 6288ft summit of Mt Washington were expected to be 85+mph winds with windchill many 10's of degrees below zero. I was worried the race would not go up the auto road or be cancelled.

Base lodge, Mt W obscured in snow and clouds (it would fill image)The planned course consisted of 4km of rolling hills before climbing 2200 vertical feet in 6km up the Mt Washington Auto Road. The finish was to be around 4000ft, well below the summit, but exposed above tree line. When Dave Penney and I arrived at the venue, the race was on as planned, but about 45 minutes before race start, a decision was made to shorten the race by 2km, for a race total of 8km. Thus this year's return of Ski to the Clouds was re-dubbed "The Toughest 8km Race in America." The decision to move the finish down was not due to extreme wind and temperatures, it was due to a wind swept, bare ice surface that could not be groomed. This would be too dangerous to race. The summit winds topped 113mph with -42F windchill before the race. Our finish would be a little less extreme.

summit conditions, race started 10:15amWarming up, we noted that the recent grooming churned up fist sized chunks of frozen granular all over the place. It varied from loose chunks to solid and choppy. This was true for both the 4km rolling start and the 12% grade climb. I could barely stay vertical rounding corners on this crud. The only redeeming quality of it was that it was quite fast. It probably didn't matter a whole lot what glide wax you were using. I suspect the classic skiers had trouble.

The start was self seed. I placed myself about 2/3 of the way back, not wanting to get tangled up on the fast, gnarly corners. The start was delayed 15 minutes for one last pass down the auto road with the groomer. The race was started by the same cannon used to start the bike races at Mt Washington. It scared the crap out of me, actually. It is so loud you feel the percussion.

start of climb, I'm #62 in yellowThe first kilometer was all double polling, not by rule, just because the pack pulled you along at great speed. As soon as we got into rolling hills, I started passing people. Lots of them. I probably picked off 10 skiers before getting to the big climb. This held me up some, and I was skiing well below my limit during this part of the race.

Then we hit the climb. The Rock Pile, as it is affectionately known by the cycling community, is an old friend that I missed last year. The Rock Pile can be cantankerous sometimes, and both cycling races were cancelled due to extreme weather in 2007. I was going to take what I could get today, even if it were a teasing morsel to the 2.5 mile mark. The race really busted up as the climb ensued, and I started passing a lot of guys and gals. I might have lost a minute or more on the rolling 4km, but that pales in comparison to how much time I was going to put on those I passed going up the Rock Pile. I never got passed by anyone in this race, but that doesn't mean much when you start near the back.

Dave approaching finishThis was a "C" race for me. I just wanted to enjoy it and get a premium cardio workout out of it. I didn't taper much, riding 3.3hrs in the two days prior. I had to haul my own descent layers up too, as we got there to late to send them up ahead of time. And I carried a camera up. As everyone hunkered down for the grind up, I went into my climbing mode. I quickly found a groove and stayed with it, passing skiers right up to the finish line. There's something about a deep burn in the chest that is so addictive. I managed to put good distance on several skiers that put good distance on me last weekend at Rangeley. The difference today was mostly due to the fast, crusty conditions. I can be reckless with my technique, utilizing core cycling strength, and bully my way up this beast. I crossed the line in 45:05 minutes. This is the "sweet spot" for me as a hillclimb/time-trial cycling specialist.

Beginning descent, snow blowing upslopeIt was bitterly cold at the finish, around 3100ft elevation, although I didn't notice it right away. At times, the wind would come up and conditions would nearly white out. The trees were pretty short and scrubby here, but still provided some shelter. Now that the easy part was over, the hard part was next. Yes, the race up was way easier than the frozen icecube surface we had to snowplow or try to carve back down. I saw many skiers taking headers. I took one. This destroyed my quads and hips more than the race, plus it was nerve wracking.

Looking down on Nordic Center on Rt 16Back at the Nordic Center, Dave and I ate a few bites and went back out for another hour to sample the Great Glen trail system. Little of it was groomed. We did find one large loop that had nice flow to it that might have been groomed the night before. It was very hard and scratchy, but at least smooth. We did two laps for another 14km. We were completely cooked after this. This brought the day total to about 30km distance, 900m (3000ft) climbing, in 2.4hrs skiing time.

Not being a priority event for me, I was quite pleased with my result. Still a far cry from what I can do here on a bicycle. In 2006, I placed in the top 2-3% overall out of 600 competitors. On skis, only in the top third out of 70. But at Rangeley last week, I was in the bottom third of finishers.

Jeff Palleiko in his make-shift windbreaker from trash bagsNo more skis races this season. I hope to ski a few more times however, especially on one of those special spring days where you can dress light and fly on corn snow. With three bike races planned next month, I really need to focus on quality intensity work on wheels now. I think the cardio engine has been tuned to optimal efficiency with skiing, and this should provide a solid base for this cycling season.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Rangeley Lakes Loppet Report

Saturday, March 1
50km, ~1000m of climbing
3:40:00 finish, 7/9 Men 45-49 (results)

I felt quite good about my training base going into this freestyle (skate technique) ski race. It has been a while since I did a ski marathon. Weather initially looked highly favorable, but as the weekend drew near, heavy snow warnings were in place the eve of the race. The race organizers said no fear, we'll have two groomers running 'round the clock.

Dave, Brett and I beat the snow to Rangeley, ME, about a 4.5hr drive from Nashua, NH Friday night. Several inches of snow fell by breakfast the next morning. If that were it, things would have been fine. But it snowed all day, and winds were gusting at 30mph. Arriving at the venue, the course had indeed been groomed earlier, but it was filling in again. The race was delayed one hour to make sure folks made it there in time on bad roads.

Now these conditions are challenging for any skier. I dread these conditions, as I'm all legs and no upper body. Cyclists on skate skis tend to be this way. When Brett first started skiing many years ago, he tore the wheels off his rollerskis in just a couple weeks (5th paragraph). This was mostly due to poor technique, using all lower body with poor balance and not bringing enough upper body into the power equation. I think I'm where Brett was in the mid-90's.

There were about 200 skaters pre-reg'd for this race plus tourist and classic racers. They broke the skaters up into two waves. Having placed well at the 10k race a couple weeks ago, I was disappointed to be placed in the second wave. You needed points or prior placing in this race to make first wave. I fretted even more, as surely the first wave would churn the soft course into minced meat.

After a cursory warmup, Brett, Dave and I lined up for our 10:50am start. The start was clean, no pile ups, not too much tripping over poles going into the trail. The trails were groomed quite wide. My heart rate immediately red lined. I was dying to stay with the front half of my field. Brett was in front of me and took a header around a corner. He stuck a ski tip into the deep bank. I passed, trying to stay with the group. There is drafting benefit in a ski race, primarily on flat and especially downhill sections. This group slowed a little too much on the small hills for my liking, and I passed many of them. But I'd get passed again on the flats. This went on for a while. Brett was behind me again and told me to keep the gap closed. I couldn't. I was on verge of popping, and this was only 5k into a 50k race. We hadn't even reached the first of three big climbs yet. I let Brett pass and he was gone with the pack.

When I reached the top of the first big climb around the 9k mark, my triceps and lower back where toast. I knew at this point my race was essentially over. Dave was now hanging out just behind me. He stopped at first water station, but in no time was right behind me again. Dang. The second climb was a ball buster. Long straight-aways right into the wind, course chopped up into mashed potatoes consistency, with blinding snow bouncing off your eyeballs. I even had my glasses on. I now realized even finishing this race was going to be a challenge. The third climb hurt almost as bad, then a nice descent back to start/finish area. I contemplated bailing, but encouraged Dave to go after Brett. The thought of going around that whole course a second time was more than I could bear, but I plodded on anyway.

My back and triceps were utterly trashed and I had no upper body to contribute to motive force. But that's what was precisely needed in these soft conditions. I tend to mash, as my leg strength is over developed for skiing, and I do nothing to develop my upper body. Brett and Dave both do upper body work all year, and it was serving them well in this race. I was just pushing snow around with my legs and going nowhere.

The emotional low point of the race was when a few college girls where trailing me. I was killing myself to stay ahead of them, yet there were chatting the whole time like they weren't even working! Eventually they one by one dropped me. After that, I spent a good hour without seeing another competitor. I figured I was DFL by this point. But tail ends of races like this tend to get very spread out. The second time over the middle climb about did me in, my triceps badly cramping. I still had one more big climb after this one.

When I crossed the finish, there were about two people left, and they were the ones recording times. The awards ceremony was about over too, as the contenders finished an hour earlier! Competition is chocked full of humbling experiences, and this was certainly a biggie. On the positive side, this was the first marathon I did not crash in despite very challenging conditions. I think I also got the nutrition aspect right. Maybe ate a little too big of a breakfast, but I did not bonk. I carried a Camelbak with about 60oz of Gatorade mix, perhaps bogging me down further. Contenders carry no or only one bottle of water. But they were serving evil HEED on the course, something my lower GI does not tolerate at all. In terms of percent difference, 8 minutes is the closest I've finished behind Brett in a Marathon. Dave had an awesome race, his first 50k, finishing just a minute behind Brett. Racing on skis for 3.5+ hours in mushy snow is incredibly hard.

Technique is everything when it comes to this sport. There were guys in their 60's that beat me good. I doubt they're much more fit than I. They are vastly more skilled. Had the conditions been more in my favor, like crispy granular where I could lay power down with reckless abandon, I would have placed much higher overall. I've learned in training I fair the worst when conditions are soft.

After the race, I was in a pretty foul mood. I could barely change clothes with my back totally destroyed. I was in a major carb deficit too, and that by itself makes most athletes cranky. It took ibuprofen, coffee, a couple of huge oatmeal cookies that were out of this world, and a vanilla shake to bring my attitude around.

Another race to look forward to (or fear) next weekend. This one is dubbed toughest 10k in America. Could be. The last 6km goes up Mt Washington Auto Road at 12% average grade. Race will essentially be a one hour time trial sufferfest in good conditions. I don't even want to think about repeat conditions...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Post Race Therapy

Otis Trail Ride
25mi, 3.1hrs

After a miserable ski race experience yesterday (report forthcoming), I was still licking my physical and psychological wounds. My lower back and hip joints were killing me. Nothing a small handful of Ibuprofen and Starbucks couldn't fix though. The local side streets were still a mess after the usual weekend storm, something Cow Hampshirites are now accustomed to this winter. But streaming webcams showed the Cape escaped snow. Temps were supposed to much milder down there too. It was a no brainer. I badly needed a recovery day, but perfect trail riding conditions were too good to pass up. While other bloggers are ranting about how sick of their trainers they've become, there are so many other outdoor opportunities to get your fix in.

Self PortraitI went down to the Otis trail system this time, as I only touched what's there a few weeks ago. This sits adjacent to and on closed military base land. Today I learned just how vast this network is, and I haven't seen nearly all of the trails yet. I did two 12+ mile loops, one roughly following Rt 28 nearly to Bourne Rotary, the other more on the hilly interior network of trails. No singlespeed, as my lower back needed recovery from the ski race. I used my granny gear a lot. I counted 18 other riders in the first 15 minutes of my ride, then gave up counting. It was a very busy place on this nice day.

Buzzards BayThe cool thing about cycling and cross-country skate skiing is how they compliment each other. Both are incredible aerobic workouts, but they stress different muscle groups. You can't do both hard on back to back days, because aerobically, one wipes you out for the other. But skiing saves your cycling leg muscles, and cycling saves your upper body skiing muscles. I had no top end today, but did not expect to nor plan to derive any intensity efforts from the ride. I just plodded along for three hours at sub tempo pace much of the time, occasionally harder up hills.

Nearly 80% of what I rode today was new material. I had no idea where trails I took would lead. Of course, I always picked trails I thought would lead to high points. A candidate trail would tease me, working higher, then turning away with elevation loss. But the trail would come around again, reaching higher elevations, getting ever closer to the high point. There is a certain satisfaction upon reaching a high point, akin to a song ending on that one note it is supposed to end on. The summit is the destination, the descent is anticlimactic.

My body and mind felt much better after riding 3+ hours in the woods. Bright sun, clean air, changing scenery, zero cars, and no snow, what more could you ask for?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

New Team Kit

I've decided to join a new team this racing season. I've been with the Nor'East Cycling Club for two years, since club inception, and I've met a lot of great riders in the club. We help put on a couple great races each summer too, such as the York and Portsmouth Crits. But two friends that I do the most riding with decided to join the IBC Racing Team this year. There will be Elite, Masters, Womens, and Track teams. The Masters team has a strong contingent of 45+ age group riders. Nor'East has a few good Masters riders too, but some of them occasional race in the 4's or 3's or often don't hit the hilly road races that I favor. I'm quite often the sole Nor'East rider in my field.

International Bicycle Centers will be our primary sponsor. Although they are based in the Boston area, many of the Masters team members live just a short drive into Massachusetts from my house. The group has penchant for long, hilly training rides, exactly my gig. So when I first received an invitation to join the team, I was torn. Nor'East is a great grass-rootsy kind of club, and I know many riders in the club from both road and off-road racing. There's also the issue of team kit. I have a lot of Nor'East clothing. An entire new kit would have to be ordered. The IBC Racing Team is not a club and will be competition focused. There will be higher expectation to support the team at races.
New Kit Mock-up

I had an opportunity to ride with several of the guys before we went back to our weekend routine of snowstorms. I think IBC will be a good fit. The team kit is hot looking too. Glad it's red, as I have lots of other red clothing to match my Nor'East kit.

I'm really looking forward to some normal riding and racing. Although I rarely hit the trainer, this winter is getting a bit old. Especially after today. Skiing should have been the appropriate activity, but I got a royal spanking in my 50km race today. I did not stick around for results. Think non-stop snowfall, 30mph winds, trudging 31 miles through mashed potatoes. My technique was no match for the conditions. My technique sucks. Maybe after the emotional scars fade a bit, I'll write a report.