Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canvassing Snow and Sand

The double weather system was really hit or miss this weekend. The net snow accumulation at my house was nil. Yet 20 miles away at Windblown XC Touring Center, they got dumped on. Waterville Valley got rain, and apparently the wet snow and wind that came with it took a lot of trees down. They had neglible terrain open Saturday. Bretton Woods was claiming 0km groomed. It seemed Windblown was the only viable option without driving extreme distances. Skaters can never know what they're going to get until they get there.

Well, this time conditions were actually quite good. The only nit is they did not groom the Barrett Mountain trails. These are the only sustained climbs Windblown has. But the softness and moisture in the snow made for some pretty hard work everywhere else, so a good workout was still to be had. A bunch of us converged on Windblown - me, Brett, Jody and Steve, all IBC'ers, and Dave P. Brett and I killed it for the first hour or so before rejoining with Dave who unleashed another dose of punishment in the last half hour. I skied almost 2.5 hours, covering only 32km, but 3000ft of climbing. It was a very peaky workout, nothing steady about it.  We covered pretty much every trail that was groomed.

Hit everything but Barrett Mtn in top center of image

Sunday I got up to see wet/slushy roads and snow still in the woods. Local road and off-road riding would suck. What to do.  A Facebook friend commented that conditions at Otis where ok. I thought surely with several inches of rain and frost potentially still in the ground, conditions would be sloppy. On a whim, I decided to risk it anyway.

There were quite a few cars at the Rt 151 Otis parking area. A good sign.  I brought the singlespeed, the one I picked up no less than 15 punctures in front and rear tires the last time riding at Otis. They were still holding air. I just added 5-8 lbs each.

Yellow track from last visit, red track from today. I hit
start on GPS quarter of the way into today's ride.

Otis conditions were as good as they get. Zero mud, and all the trails had a perfect firm tackiness to them. There was no frost in the ground, and the sandy base drained perfectly.  I put on a flamingo fender but it was not needed. The bike stayed mint clean. With heavy overcast, I found it much trickier to navigate the maze. More than once I popped out on a trail I previously visited. I still managed canvas the area pretty well. The high winds this week brought a year's worth of tree debris down.  I suspect more than a few rear derailleurs were sucked into wheels to day. I nearly endo's a couple times when large sticks locked up a wheel.  All the spokes are still intact.  Singly geared was the way to go.  I stretched the ride out to 3hrs covering over 27mi and nearly 3000ft of climbing. Two high intensity days in a row left me wicked wrecked. Probably not the best way to taper for Rangeley next weekend, but winter riding just doesn't get any better than this.

Non-stop tree debris at Otis

Friday, February 26, 2010

Getting Closer

Finally got my 29er wheels! It's a long story. After weeks of indecisiveness, I finally said enough and placed an order. I decided to buy direct from Stan's. The fly weight 355 rims scared me. To compensate for the sturdier Arch rims I went with, I laced them to light weight DT Swiss 240 hubs. And so I thought my online order was placed. After a week or so, I checked status. My account said I had no order activity. WTF. So I sent Stan's an email, and sure enough, they have no record of me placing an order. It could be I somehow failed to click that last button or something, but I was pretty sure I followed all the way through.

Before learning this, I discovered that Universal Cycles also does custom wheel builds. I've purchased many groupos and other big ticket items from those guys over the years and have never been disappointed. I really wanted Shimano hubs for my wheels, but Universal's prices were high. I was playing around in their custom wheel builder tool and realized wheel build kits are discounted. Further, I realized that I could have gotten exactly the wheel build I wanted for $150 less than the order I thought I placed at Stan's.

Well, you know where this went. As soon as I learned my Stan's order never happened, I placed an order with Universal Cycles for a Stan's Arch rims laced to Shimano XTR hubs. I also ordered the yellow tape and valve stems to complete a tubeless build.

The wheels were right on their target weight, about 1755g for the set minus skewers and tape. This is much lighter than the Shimano XT wheels I was considering and uses standard spokes. It is comparable in weight to the Mavic C29ssmax but has 16 pulling spokes in the rear wheel (Mavic has only 6 aluminum pulling spokes!). My new wheelset is slightly heavier than the Bontrager RXL TLR29 wheelset. I think Bontrager has switched over from DT Swiss hubs to house brand, of which I can't find much reliability info.

Shimano XTR hub laced to Stan's 29" ZTR Arch rim with 32
double butted Wheelsmith spokes. I chose red anodized alloy
nipples for a touch of flair. White rims would look sweet but not
for long in New England. Hayes rotor is mounted with Shimano
Centerloc adaptor.

The wheels are meticulously true, laterally and radially. Spokes all have the same ring to them too, indicating good tension balance. These wheels should treat me well for a long time. The beauty of Shimano hubs is they still use serviceable ball bearings. You can take them out, clean and repack them. I have wheels with Shimano 105 hubs that are 11 winters old and showing no sings of slowing down. You can always tune these bearings to a perfect balance between no play and minimal bearing friction. This is difficult to impossible in most other wheels with sealed cartridge bearings.

I prefer to use Hayes disk brake rotors. But the one drawback with Shimano hubs is they come only in Shimano's proprietary Centerloc mounting. There are third party adaptors out there, most of which scare me. I decided to buy Shimano adaptors, which to my surprise weight 50g each, three times some of the scary ones out there. You don't use bolts with these. It clam-shells the 6-bolt pattern with pins. So it's less than a net 50g gain. I could realize a system weight savings if I find a deal on Shimano rotors some day. At least now I have the option.

Universal Cycles put cloth rim tape in the rims. I had to remove it to install the tubeless tape. The first wheel I pulled it out quickly and it left much of the sticky residue in the rim. Nothing, NOTHING would dissolve this gummy crap. I tried mineral spirits, isopropyl, water, citrus degreaser, acetone, even a nasty lubricant that had heptane in it. I have no idea what the super booger stuff was, but it had a tenacious grip. The second wheel I pulled the tape out more slowly and most of the adhesive came out with it.

When you first apply the yellow tape, you are supposed to mount a tire with tube to fully compress the tape for good adhesion. The deal is, my 29" tires haven't come yet. I've heard it is the same bead size as a 27" tire. So I mounted up a 23mm Michelin Pro2 Race with roadie tube. The beads are not exactly compatible. The tire did not pop out to the rim bead in multiple places, even at 50psi. I did not dare go higher, as I don't know the rating of the tape.

I must have a good eye, as the rotor lined up precisely with the Hayes
Stroker caliper without adjustment. A Michelin 23mm road tire is
mounted to the 29er rim.

At least now I can sit on the bike with wheels, get the fork steerer tube sized and cut, and finish up the cables and chain. The brake lines have been trimmed and bled already. Next up will be more tire discussion.  Where will I find a dry place to ride when the tires come in next week?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wicked Hahd Weston

My Tuesday night routine: Barely break away from work in time to see what random adverse conditions we'll be racing on down in Weston. I think Weston owns the only patch of snow left in eastern Mass.  I really didn't think this one would happen for me. Customers in for the day at work. Then weather forecasters were predicting major uncertaintiness. Could be heavy snow. Could be heavy rain. Could be windy. A quick peek at the radar before bolting out of work suggested the greater Boston area was in a rain hole. It was drizzling in Merrimack, NH. But yellows and orange were fast approaching from the south. At least the drive should be good. Rain would almost certainly move in by the 7pm race start.

I had plenty of time to warm up. It was +4C. The course was beautifully groomed, but it was ankle deep mashed potatoes.  I can work with that. It beats ice.  I do not have a riller and much of the original base structure of my rock skis has gotten polished smooth. Every time I went down a hill it felt like my skis threw an anchor out. They were sucking big time. Literally. Oh well. I find the races I suck the most in I get the best workout. I win one way or another.

A large crew lined up. I lined up 5th row, but it looked like some rows were double filled ahead of me. It was threatening to rain with some sprinkles, but that was it. There were a few entanglements at the start. My skis and poles got skied on multiple times. Somehow I managed to stay up. Seems a lot of the guys structured their skis. I was quickly dispatched from the group I hang with. There was a wicked east wind blowing too. It paid big to draft heading out on the flats. But for the rest of the course, things split up quickly. I passed the normal handful of people that blow up in the first lap, then I was in no man's land for a while. I think it was Wes I caught in lap two. I was killing myself to stay with him, then buried myself even deeper after I passed him. He dangled just behind me for the rest of the race to make sure I wouldn't let up for even just an instant. Victor was ahead of me but slowly growing the gap. I crossed the line at 20th overall, with my slowest 7.3km race yet with a time of 24:41. That totally hurt. Not the time, but how hard I had to kill myself to get this time. All these Tuesday night sufferfests will pay dividends come Battenkill. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

The rain was still holding off, so I did a few more laps after finishing. Hooked up with Peter Hult, who still owns the Mt Ascutney bicycle hillclimb record he set back in 2004. After skiing about 25km total, I was cooked. It was spooky warm out. Looks like Weston could get inches of rain over the next few days. Not sure how well that machine made base will hold up. It is already getting thin in spots. The good news is the mountains should finally get some snow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

PNP Ride

No, were not talking PNP bipolar transistors here. Many readers have no doubt done the 4NaaP ride in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which stands for 4 Notches and a Pass. It's a New England classic loop consisting of Kinsman, Franconia, Crawford, Bear and Kancamagus. Faced with abysmal off-road conditions and warming temps to mess up the roads locally, I figured Saturday would be a great day to kick off the climbing season. I sought to do a pass-notch-pass ride. I posted profiles of my favorite climbs many times here. Can you ID these climbs?

The day before, I did a fairly punishing ski workout at Windblown. Met up with Skogs there, did some laps around the bottom, and a couple climbs up Barrett Mtn. What was not groomed was unskiable. Hard as granite. Much of what was groomed was groomed when the snow was still too wet from the warm day before. It was frozen granular. Not fun stuff to skate on. The trail called Open Slope, which is essentially an alpine run right up the 500ft fall line of Barrett Mountain, skied nicely however. It faces north, and they took one pass up it with the groomer. It was still powdery. Climbing it twice saved the day. Took about 8.3 minutes each time, right on the cusp of hurling the whole way up. Once was enough for Skogs. The first time up, we went down the equally steep narrow trails on the south side. I failed to find any edge on the crusty corduroy at one point and had no choice but to lay it down. At least I bailed in a semi-controlled fashion and didn't jamb a thumb back again. Needless to say, I went back down Open Slope after my second climb. I had enough after 2hrs. I had hoped to get in more of a distance workout there, but conditions weren't conducive for it. I scored about 3200ft of climbing though.

So that left me with ragged legs for Saturday's mini-hillfest. The temperature was 31F at the Lincoln visitor center starting out. This was perfect, as snow melt would be minimal yet it wouldn't be too cold. Plan was to climb Gonzo Pass (1800ft gain, Rt 118), Kinsman Notch (1000ft gain, Rt 112 west), and Kancamagus Pass (2200ft gain, Rt 112 east) all as out and backs. I started with Gonzo. It didn't take long before my wind shell had to come off. I realized the descent would be no picnic. Frost heaves were unreal, and heavily shaded bits were double tracks through ice and slush. I set up a steady, very comfortable tempo pace and reached the summit in 45 minutes. When I drill this climb, I do it in 40 minutes from the visitor center (9 miles), so I was quite pleased how easy a 45 minute pace felt. I headed back down toasty warm and did not bother to put my wind shell back on. It took almost as long to get back down through the frost heave mine field as it did to climb the beast. This is one of my favorite climbs in the Whites. I think the MTBC (mean time between cars) was at least five minutes. Very quiet.

From Gonzo looking towards Kanc

Back at the junction with Rt 112, I turned left to hit Kinsman Notch next. This road was smooth, 100% dry and clean. The only negative was a brutal headwind coming through here. I think the 4mi climb took me about 24 minutes. The half mile of 12% was nothing. I don't climb this one very often, and I was still anticipating the steep part when I suddenly realized I was already heading down the other side. I love it when that happens. Despite some pretty high intensity on skis the day before, my legs felt great.

Kinsman looking toward the Presidentials

I put the hi-viz wind shell back on up here. It wasn't so much that the windchill was potentially in single digits, it was I wanted the visibility when I got back down into Lincoln. Winter break in Mass meant hordes of texting punks between Lincoln and Loon Mtn Ski Area. Once I got past the Alpine area, the traffic dropped 90%. I continued again at steady tempo pace, never pushing myself. The temp must have broken above freezing, as there were now wet spots on the road. There really wasn't much snow here. There is more at my house 100 miles to the south and 2500ft lower in elevation. At Kancamagus Pass, a sightseer had to ask me "don't you get cold?" I was actually roasting in my wind shell. I wore AmFib tights, AmFib booties (which suck getting on and off), and fairly light layers on up top. The internal engine provides more than enough necessary warming. Skiing and biking all winter usually means 35F this time of year feels like short sleeve weather anyway. The 14 mile descent back to the car was nice, although I had to fight that pesky headwind the whole way. That was good for another 5400ft of climbing.

Kancamagus looking west towards Gonzo

These two days started to catch up with me on Sunday. I decided big hills should not be in the plan. It was a nice day out, I wanted to ski again, but didn't want to risk Windblown. Cathy had never been to Weston before, and she thought it would be cool to ski some place without mountains (she's a beginner classic skier). So we went down in the afternoon to catch peak slushiness and misbehaving kids. I quickly surmised I must have forgotten my legs, as there surely was nothing going on down there. They were dead. I struggled to make it over "Mt Weston" without herringboning it. I skied eight laps of the Tuesday night sprint course, good for 20km and just over 1000ft of climbing. Nearly 10,000ft of climbing over a February weekend is a real treat. Looks like the weather moving in this week could dampen riding for a while. That can only mean skiing will improve. Either way, I win.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Electronic Tethers

The other day when I was in a meeting, I couldn't help but notice how many times certain people were distracted by their electronic devices. The rate was at least 10 times per hour for one guy. He'd even stop mid-sentence when he had the floor to see who was calling/texting/emailing him. This kind of shit bugs me to no end, whether it be in a meeting, a conversation driving to a race, or during a meal in a restaurant. It not only bugs me when people I'm interacting with are thusly distracted, but even when total strangers at the table next to me are talking to people a hundred miles away. So if I got this right, you take your wife out to dinner supposedly for quality time, but still talk shop with somebody not even at the table? I think conference rooms and restaurants should be constructed as Faraday cages, effectively rendering all wireless devices useless upon entry.

Psychologists have various theories about this phenomenon that pervades our society. Some suggest wearing a device that demands our immediate attention makes us feel important. It used to be very rude to interupt somebody when they were speaking, yet now we stop mid-sentence when somebody electronically hails us. There has been a shift in etiquette. Back in the day, a Rolodex was the symbol of importance. Then electronic devices took center stage, such as pagers, mobile phones and Blackberries. Now everybody has a crackberry. Except me. I don't feel any less important. In fact, I feel free.

The jury is still out on whether this level of connectedness is good or bad. I do stay in near daily email contact with my mother. I had less contact with her before email became common. This is not a bad thing.  But some say replacing face to face interaction with distance messaging is unhealthy. You lose the art of conversation. You can learn so much more about people through their whole person than through the sterile electronic medium. We become connected yet isolated at the same time. One article I read says we've become "a nation of hyperconnected hermits."

This brings me to music. Folks love discussing their play lists these days. I'm a complete outsider on this subject. I have never owned a MP3 player. I have never downloaded a tune from the web. My wife knows way more about this than I do.  As an outsider evesdropping into all this playlist discussion, I get the impression that some people construct play lists purely on how other people will critique them. Do you really like all the music you suck down into that MP3 thingy? Or do you think it will impress your friends?  I suppose a playlist could be construed as some sort of work of art. From that perspective, I can't really knock it. In this light, different tunes are really no different than the chords that make up a specific song. But I think something more vain is going on here, maybe something akin to wearing the latest designer clothing. It is constructing a facade, the way you want the world to perceive you.

I have always been a utilitarian when it comes to clothing. Clothes keep me from being naked (and protect the public), they protect my skin when performing certain hazardous activities, and this time of year they keep me from freezing to death. That's it. I don't try to define who I am by carefully crafting my wardrobe. Likewise, I couldn't care less what other people think of the music I enjoy.

New music that gets my attention these days comes out of the folk singer/songwriter realm. This includes a number of female artists and male artists like Eddie Vedder.  I like that raw, unprocessed accoustic sound.  Last night after some good Thai food, Cathy and I went to see Liz Longley and Paula Cole. They performed at Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, NH. This venue seats about 200 people. We sat about 6ft from the center mic.  Liz will certainly hit the big-time, a vocally gifted singer/songwriter still attending Berkley School of Music. She hasn't been tainted by big-label producers and fame yet. Paula made the big-time in the 90's and is working on new music again. She sang some choice material from an album that will be released later this year. Small venues like this are great. Both performers encouraged a lot of two-way interaction with the audience. Cathy and I saw Shawn Colvin here a few months ago, and we plan to go back more often.

Paula with guitarist Kevin Barry and percussionist Ben Wittman

So is there a tie-in with cycling here somewhere? When I ride, the last thing in the world I want to hear is my cell phone or some MP3 thingy jamming sounds into my ears. Riding off road far away from cars is even better. This time of year, all you may hear is wind in the pines, cascading water in the streams, and occasional crows or hawks. More importantly, you can hear your own thoughts.  Your mind becomes untethered, free to think new thoughts.  It is a time to be unshackled from the everyday world that demands our continuous attention. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why do I keep going back?

Have you ever been driving along in a snow storm and think wow, they are really doing a nice job keeping the roads clear? I had one of those moments on my way to Weston this evening. I left half an hour earlier than usual just to be safe. I soon realized why Rt 3 was so clean. I quickly caught up to an echelon of about 10 snow plows. Not one car was getting by, nor should they. The plows averaged between 7 and 11mph the whole way to Rt 128. I was riding the brakes in second gear with the engine idling.  I don't tolerate that kind of diving very well.  That added an hour to my drive right there. So yeah, I like a clear road, but don't clear it right in front of me when I've got some place to go. Kind of like folks that want to wean this country off foreign fossil fuel. They don't want to bad enough to have a nuclear reactor in their state. It is human nature to want it both ways.

Anyway, I left 30 minutes early and got to Weston about 45 minutes later than usual. I barely had enough time to warm up. The course was being nicely groomed for the race, but the snow had a very sticky, chunky texture to it. It was just below freezing.  I threw a quick coat of warm Fast Wax fluoro on my rock skis the night before. It would be interesting to see if my skis would slow down right away.

Having a rough day at work and still feeling the weekend, my head really wasn't into racing tonight.  I just wanted to gain the cardio benefit of pushing myself hard.  Lining up, Brett mentioned he structured his skis. Hmm, sounds like he was looking for a competitive edge. We are neck and neck on this course. I started coming around and thought game-on.

I lined up in 6th row, a row further back than usual. This was a huge mistake, as I forgot it is vacation week and a lot of people weren't there. This meant many slower skiers filled in ahead of me. The start was very slow. During the first half of lap one, I was stuck. Finally, I took a risky inside line around a tight corner, drawing the ire of whomever I cut around. I bolted, leaving a gap. Brett was still in the group behind me with a couple other strong skiers.  Now I was racing. I could draw a gap now, but would a few guys working together catch me again later in the race?

The next 20 minutes of the race was an individual time trial. I passed no one, and I continued to grow the gap on the chase group behind me. It started snowing really hard again, and my glasses were packing up with snow and ice. I was skiing blind half the time. I could feel myself slowing down. It was me, not the skis. I went out pretty hard when I broke free and started to pay for it in my final and third lap. No worries though. There was nobody back, and the same two guys I followed for laps 2 and 3 were dangling 50-100m ahead of me. I finished 13th overall with a time of 23:41 for the 7.3km race. Considerably slower than the week before. Got the workout I sought. By the time next Tuesday comes around, I will have forgotten how bad these things hurt and go back again. I'll be sad when the series ends in a couple weeks.

I've skied in just about every condition possible at Weston this year, except for maybe one: icy boiler plate. I've skied when it was cold, warm, rain, and now in a snow storm. I skied five more laps after the race as the snow really piled up at a rate of at least 2" per hour. The snow, my skis, and my body all got really slow by that last lap. Covered about 25km in 1.6hrs. The drive home was not nearly as stressful.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Only Perimeters

Despite snow on the Cape and a dearth of snow in the mountains, it was a great bike and ski weekend. I opted out of the Pineland Farms 10km race Saturday. I figured even if they did shovel enough snow to put a course together, how much fun would it be to ski a zillion laps after the race to get a thorough workout in? I've heard nothing but rave reviews on Bretton Woods these last few weeks, so DaveP, Brett and I headed up Saturday. Conditions were nothing short of spectacular. Moderate temps, flawless grooming and generous base greeted us. We did two perimeter laps plus a Coronary Hill climb up the middle. That entails a fair amount of punchy, short climbs and tight turns at the bottom of descents. This kind of terrain has been largely absent in my skiing this winter. No surprise I struggled at Lake Placid. Waterville, where we hold season passes, has been unable to open their technical south end trails. We've been stuck with Livermore and Tripoli Rd climbs, wide open, no need to scrub speed for turns. Skiing Bretton Woods was refreshing. We skied 41km in 2.6hrs.

Bretton Woods perimeter plus an inner Coronary/Sebosis loop

Sunday I hooked up with the SNH NEMBA gang at Bear Brook State Park for another dose of ice biking. DaveP and SteveG were late, so a few of us did a short Bear Brook/Little Bear loop back to the parking lot. Lots of clear ice on skinny benchcut ledge above Bear Brook. We saw set of stud skid marks in ice go right into a tree down a steep pitch. I bet that rider didn't have a good day. A few years ago riding with the Exeter Cycles crew, I took a header into the brook in January. Glad I was running new Nokian Extremes today. They were hooking up superbly.

We knew Dave was running late, and we figured if Steve arrived before we made it back to the parking lot, Dave would tell him we'll be right back. But Steve arrived one minute after we rolled out and he rolled out a minute before Dave got there, thinking maybe we were gone already and he'd hurry to catch us. That sucked. Guess he forgot how to get there. He didn't see the note I scribed in my dirty back window saying we'll be right back either. Steve would catch up with others later on the trail.

Dave and I get antsy in big group rides, as there tends to be wide range in rider abilities and mishaps. We found ourselves kinda out front and we just kinda kept going. Yeah, we're not the most sociable dirt riders. I have a reputation among the NEMBA clan. When I showed up, PeterD told me my boyfriend was running late.

Dave on Linx Trail

Some of the fringe singletrack was pretty chewy stuff. Popular trails were hiked down firm and were fun. Others were like riding non-stop baby head rocks. Not much fun. Dave went hardcore, riding a rigid fixie. How he managed some of those dicy descents is beyond me.  We opted to stick mostly to trails that had some motorized traffic on them, whether snowmobile or ATV. They rode smoother with much nicer flow. I showed Dave some stuff I hadn't ridden in a long time, out on the western and southern perimeters of the park. This stuff can be very rutted and muddy in summer months, but now it was primo riding. Plenty of long climbs too. There was one lengthy section of blue ice up a steep grade. I barely made it, delicately pushing a modest gear ratio. Too bad I missed Dave finessing his fixie up it. Tire slipped, foot went down, Dave and bike returned to bottom.

We went up and over Hall Mountain, a 600ft climb. It was much easier to climb and descend on ice than during the summer. We tried to ride singletrack around the lake to the campground, but it was not sufficiently packed. Instead, we road across the shinny lake ice. Dave needed to get back and we split up. I climbed back up to the top of Podunk Rd and added a couple more choppy trails to my ride and finished with 26.5mi in 2.9hrs. Combined with skiing, I climbed nearly a vertical mile for the weekend.

Bear Brook with southern perimeter sweep

The body has been soaking up these long-ish MTB rides nicely. Probably because I have a 12 year "masters base" for this activity. Hard ski workouts tend to be much more disruptive. 4hrs per week skiing a few months out of the year is no way to build or maintain a base. I'm feeling pretty good about my overall fitness though. Weight is right were it was all of last summer. Sitting in a meeting this past week, I tuned in to my heart rate. Bah-Bump................. Bah-Bump.................. Bah-Bump. Oh, that seems pretty low. I put thumb to wrist and looked up at the clock in front of me. 34bpm! And that was just after coming up stairs and two mugs of Starbucks.  Granted, heartrates come down as you age, but the recent lowest I measured was 36bpm. And this new low was hardly a "resting" heartrate either.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mo' Weston

Still recovering from this weekend. Not sure why I went to Weston tonight. The Lake Placid Loppet is always brutal on the body. Comparable to D2R2 I'd say. It takes a similar mental fortitude to push hard all the way to the finish. Then do you think I would take a rest day on a gorgeous Sunday? Yeah, right. Steve G and I hit the ATV trails by my house. They were uber dicy mix of rutted out ice and hard packed snow. I surprised myself on some of the descents. Studs, a little skill and some cojones brought on wicked adrenaline rushes. Wish I could do the same on XC skis in much tamer conditions.

Weston is becoming its normal self, hard packed and very fast. I usually suck in those conditions and become very apprehensive. I didn't bother to fuss much with waxing, I used my rock skis with thoroughly rounded edges, and I used my cracked up rollerski boots because my newer ones are hurting my ankles (I could hardly walk after Lake Placid). I thought probability of crash was 50% tonight.

I lined up 5th row. We start, and it was a total cluster of slipping skis and flying poles. Amazingly, nobody in front of me went down. About 30 seconds in, I hemorrhaged a bunch of places. I just couldn't get traction on that surface, and the speed was insanely high. It never really thinned out to single file. We stayed two and three across for a long time. There was huge draft benefit, and I think everybody thought because it felt so easy in that draft, they deserved to be further up. Kind of like a bike race really, where if you get pinched off in back and want to quickly get to the front so you don't miss a move, it ain't gonna happen. I was content for the moment.

2.5km course we've been on a few weeks now. With several hairpin
turns and man-made snow enhanced hills, it is quite technical.

Eventually I had to start passing people. I was at least 30 back. A couple minutes in, a lot of guys implode and the parachute opens up. Those are the easy ones to pass. I was finding my cornering skill has improved quite a bit over the last year or so. I used to get killed around Weston hairpin turns. Not anymore. I'm still a little clumsy, but I don't get gapped anymore.

In the second lap, I started passing people that beat me the last couple races. This surprised me, as I wouldn't have expected to bounce back enough from Placid to make this happen. I caught up to a group with Doucett, Wang and Faltus in it. This group was better part of a minute ahead of me last week.  They were cooking right along and I spent a little time at the back recovering. Not a good place to be. They kept shelling guys, and every time they did I'd have to close the gap the guy in front of me opened up. I buried myself each time, as that was a good train to ride to the finish. This happened at least three or four times.

Also in laps two and three, guys crashed within two or three in front of me on three occasions. In all cases, it was around hairpin corners getting scraped off. I avoided getting tangled up, but again, I had to close gaps back up. Coming towards the end of lap three I entertained the idea of contesting the sprint with our now whittled down group. The pace picked up just enough that it wasn't going to happen. I was happy to ride the back of this one in over the line, with plenty of margin behind me to the guys shelled in the last lap. I finished ahead of several people that have beat me the last couple races, so I think I had a very good race. I did not hold anything back in this one. My lungs still hurt from Lake Placid on Saturday, and they surely hurt after this 20 minute anaerobic effort. About 2:47/km was my fastest average at Weston to date.  For the night, I skied 27km in 1.5hrs. Large quantities of pizza were consumed afterwards.

Chance I may head to Pineland Farms in Maine for the 10k race on Saturday. I had hoped to ride on the Cape on Sunday, but it sounds like they are getting wacked by Wednesday's storm. I will have to do my bike hill repeats from work Wednesday morning before the snow gets too deep.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lambasted at Lake Placid

The 28th annual Lake Placid Loppet is now in the books. This was my third time skiing this course, which pretty much follows the 1980 Olympic course. Driving out to Lake Placid on Friday, Brett, Dave and I were dismayed by the lack of snow. Just a few miles from the Mt Van Hoevenberg Nordic Center, Marcy Field was completely barren of snow. We feared the worst course conditions. But a thousand feet higher and a few miles away can make a big difference. At bib pick-up, we found the ski center had ample snow cover, not a lot, just enough. I suspect the trails were constructed with a big budget way back, so it doesn't take a huge base to cover everything up. They had received some recent new snow.

That was a relief. Now the concern was temperature. It was already bitter cold at 6pm and expected to get much colder by morning. At breakfast, it was 0F. The new snow hadn't yet been worked over enough to become transformed. I feared wicked slow skating conditions. I also wasn't sure how to dress, as I had never raced when it was this cold. I planned to wear my new CSU race suit but didn't know what to put under it.

We stayed at the Wellkommen Hof B&B. It's a mighty fine place to stay when visiting the Whiteface/Lake Placid region. I've stayed there multiple times in the past. Breakfast is great. The proprietors Bert and Heike run the Whiteface hillclimb race and sponsored the BUMPS challenge last year with a two nights stay for the winner.

I did a miniscule warm-up on my rock skis. They had old medium temp fluoro from Weston and were wicked slow. I was bumming, as one of my goals for the ski season is to break 3hrs in a 50k marathon. Came very close twice last year, doing 3:06 at Lake Placid. That was on blazingly fast snow in temps that rose above freezing during the race. A few minutes before race start, I switched over to my race skis with Toko HF Blue and a much finer grind structure. They were much faster, but the snow was still very squeaky and slow. It was +7F at 10am when we went off.

I started mid field. Double poling, I could still feel my tweaked abs from over a week earlier when I did that gym workout at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning. I did a few measly crunch attempts, and more than a week later I'm still not 100% recovered. I still don't think I could do a sit-up with extreme residual pain. Pretty pathetic. I really have no business doing 50k ski races in that kind of shape, and sub-3hrs is pure lunacy.

50k races don't start anything like Weston. You're out there a long time and things get sorted out soon enough anyway. The Lake Placid course goes right into climbing mode. For the first time in about 1.5 years, I felt a hint of asthma coming on. I've never raced in this cold of air. I backed down slightly, thinking back how badly I imploded in the second lap last year. What bummed me out is it felt like the other half of the field came blasting by even though I let up only slightly.

I decided to try a single water bottle this time instead of wearing a Camelbak. My plan was to supplement a large bottle with hand-ups. I skipped the first feed at 5km. A few minutes later on a descent, I reached for a drink. My friggin bottle was already frozen up solid! I was BS to say the least. That would never have happened with a Camelbak. I even kept it under my jacket warming up.  This meant I would be taking 100% of my feeds from the course, new territory for me for sure.

I cruised up Russian Hill and the other mean monster that comes after it without to much difficulty. I did keep thinking about having to go over all that stuff again.  Once you come through the stadium the opposite way, you get a reprieve from the climbing for a while. I had no idea what my pace would be coming through for my second lap. To break three hours, I would have to be 1:25 or better. The snow was way slower than last year, and I did 1:30 on my first lap then. Just as I approached the start/finish, the two guys leading the 25k race came blasting by. They started 15 minutes behind me. Last year nobody from the 25k race passed me. My first lap time wasn't too bad though at 1:33. I still felt pretty good. I was by myself most of the time and really wasn't in race mode anymore, just steady hard tempo mode.

Coming up Russian Hill the second time, I caught up to three guys decisively. I passed two of them. One of them passed me back on the descent even more decisively. I managed to catch him briefly on the next big climb, but then there is lots of very technical descending. He railed the scraped-off-to-ice descents. I never saw him again until just before the finish. What sucks is I could take a minute out of this guy's lead on a single climb, but then he put that minute back on me in just seconds down these descents. He went at least twice as fast as I could. I had no opportunities to train on stuff like this since racing at Sugarloaf last year. To carry speed, you had only one choice, to rail the berm that had built up. I think fear of going into the trees at 30-40mph more than anything prevents me from trying. Had I been able to descend as fast as this other guy, I would have put 5-10 minutes on him in the second lap. Instead, he had time on me in the end.

I come through the stadium with 40k behind me. I was deep into hallucinogenic bonking at this point last year. Cramping too. This year, none of that, and I was taking in minimal calories and fluids from the feed stations. I don't think I was pushing myself quite as hard though. I did see some orange bibs popping up behind me, racers from my field. I would try to preserve what ever meager position I was in.

About 48km into the race, I was feeling quite smug that I hadn't crashed. I thought to myself that the one good thing I can salvage from this race would be my first crash free 50k. You can always tell where the nasty sections are on this course. You see the medics in the red coats with radios just before you get to them. I knew there would be this ugly little chicane deal at the 48k mark, but I figured I could just stop at the top and snowplow my way down it. Well, I started to execute that plan, but dang if it wasn't trees to trees ice. I still still went down. That poor girl had to put up with my verbal tirade. So now I had nothing left to salvage from this race. Frozen water, crappy finish and I still crashed.

I passed exactly one person in the second lap and nobody passed me. I did trade places a few times with that guy that could out descend me. I finished in 3:12, six minutes slower than last year. Comparing other people's times between the two years, I really didn't do too badly. Seems most were slower on average. Brett was over four minutes slower in his 25k race, finishing just under 1:30. Dave finished about five minutes behind me in the 50k. It was his first time here. Now he knows why this course scares me.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I tweaked my thumb again, the one a trashed at Sugarloaf last year. In 11 months, I still had limited range of motion. Saturday's crash just set me back 10 months. Really sucks. Why is it when you fall backwards, your thumb never fails to get jambed backwards?

Guess I have to admit a few good things came out of this race. I now know I can ski a 50k race using only feed support. Stopping at most feeds to grab water costs only a few seconds each time at most, and carrying several pounds of water might cost even more time. I probably won't carry water at Rangeley. I did not bonk or cramp up during the race. This really surprised me. I haven't really trained differently than last year. I probably didn't go out as hard though. There's a lesson in there somewhere. I got the clothing perfect. I wore PI Thermafleece tights under the CSU bottom (and wind briefs of course). I wore a medium weight Pearl Izumi wind blocking jersey under the top. That's it, just two light layers top and bottom with single digit temps at the start. My lightest lobster mitts kept the hands warm with a light balaclava and CSU hat for the noggin.

This skiing business is humbling. I'll have one more shot at a sub-3hr marathon a month from now at Rangeley.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Semi-clad Bike Porn

If Google brought you here in hopes of fulfilling your prurient interests, sorry. Not much here to lust over unless inanimate carbon objects tickle your fancy. I have little progress to report on the build of my geared Superfly. All of the parts are on hand, save for a few. I have yet to make a wheel selection. When I last posted about wheel/tire selection, I received a very detailed email response from Chris Clinton, Bontrager Brand Manager. After doing a little more research, I think most of my fears with going non-UST tubeless have been laid to rest.

The criteria I value most in a wheel/tire combo, in order of importance are reliability, performance, ease of maintenance, weight and cost. Reliability is a biggie, encompassing flats, bearing, freehub and spoke life. Radial laced spokes on the rear wheel do not make sense to me. You get half as many pulling spokes, and they're bound to fail. Performance entails primarily low resistance in bearing seals and stiff, efficient energy transfer (no guitar string DT Revolution spokes for me!). Under maintenance, it is a big bonus to be able to service wheels with components readily available at most bike shops. At home, I do all my own wheel maintenance. I probably have collected a few hundred spokes over the years now.  Exotic spokes alone would eliminate most wheels on the market from my selection criteria if it were the most important one. Weight and cost are pretty obvious. The whole rotational weight thing is way overhyped. There are very limited cases where this matters, such if you race crits and are a really good sprinter.  So what 29" wheels are in contention?
  • Bontrager Race X-lites, ~1700g, <$900. Tubeless ready, need centerlock adapter for Hayes, standard spokes.
  • Mavic C29SSmax, ~1750g, $600. UST compatible, only 6 pulling spokes, proprietary spokes.
  • Shimano WH-MT75, >1800g, $560. UST compatible, need centerlock adaptor.
  • Stan's Arch/Hope Pro-II, 1786g, $695. Tubeless ready, standard spokes, beefy build but not heavy.
  • Stan's 355/DT 240, 1602g, $815. Tubeless ready, standard spokes, XC race build.
I've had really good luck with my Mavic Crossmax's. They are laced 2x on both sides of the rear wheel. Ironically, the new Mavics are laced 2x both sides of front where only braking power is transferred, but 2x just on non-drive side in the rear. Since I do mega-climbing in tiny gears, I just know those six pulling spokes (24 spoke wheel) will die an early death.

I've also had really good luck with my Shimano XTR wheels. Shimano does not make a bad hub. I love the fact they still use real bearings, where you can take them out, clean them, repack them. They last forever. The deal is, they don't have a 29" XTR version yet. The XT level listed above is pretty heavy.

I've received many good testimonials about Stan's rims sealing up well with wide range of tires. Stan offers many rim/hub options that get me into my price target. I'd like to give Bontrager wheels a try, but finding a bargain on a new set is hard to come by right now. I will definitely give Bontrager tires another try.

When I went downstairs to ogle my new frame, I noticed shiny spots on the rear tire of my Dean singlespeed. What the... There were no less than 10 punctures in the rear wheel and 5 punctures in the front wheel. You could see the puncture holes, and every last one of them sealed up. This must have happened at Otis last Sunday. If you ran into a cholla cactus in Tucson, I could see this happening. But what could cause this at Otis? Seems very suspicious to me, like maybe something deliberately was placed to flat bicycle tires. I did make a short foray out of the Otis riding area down the powerlines across Rt 151. I found a kids pump track. Wonder if it happened around there?  The fact the punctures go all the way around the rear wheel tells me I had to ride through at least two meters of spikes. I thought the Stan's would have long since dried up in those tires, but it still did the job.

Five of ten punctures in rear wheel

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

You go first

I've been ski training and racing with the same few guys this winter. We're all pretty close to each other in ability. There's differences in form and fitness, but they kind of even out. It is tough to set pace while skiing. This is true whether you are out for a hard training ski or racing against each other. Leading adds another degree of stress to your effort. You can't see if your nemesis is right there or not. You may hear him if he is close. But you have no idea if you are making him suffer or not, or if you are totally killing yourself by being up front and he's just tooling along. Cycling is similar, except you know the guy sucking your wheel is working way less than you are. Ski drafting is more subtle. Snow resistance is likely higher than wind resistance, at least at my level in most conditions. There's a significant psychological benefit in ski drafting. By trailing someone, you feel in control, like you have the skier in front of you tethered.

So Brett and I hit Weston Tuesday night. Conditions were actually quite good. I expected ice and there was none. My skis ran more sluggish than others in some areas, I suspect where snow was most recently made.  Lining up, neither of us wanted to lead out first. I planned to race conservatively with Lake Placid coming up this weekend. I line up a row further back than usual, the 6th row out of about 20 rows.  I had one of my cleanest starts ever, probably because I let the group go that I normally try to stay with. Most importantly, I let Brett slip in ahead of me. So now he would have to worry where I was and what I was doing back there. Yeah, I'll be honest, I would have had the same thoughts if he slipped in behind me.

The race goes almost three laps around the 2.5km course for 7.3km. A couple guys between Brett and I either faded or passed him, so that brought me up into Brett's draft before the end of lap one. I thought I'd just hang out there for a while. But rounding the sharp left hander under the bright light near the club house, I think Brett caught a ski on a pole and stacked hard. With a paceline of guys behind me, I thought surely I was going down with10 more on top of me. There was zero time to react, and luckily my skis went over Brett's instead of catching on them. Haven't you ridden over somebody's bike when they crashed in front of you before? Common in MTB or CX. That's three of my four Weston races this season where somebody crashed right in front of me in the first lap.

I spent much of the next lap with nobody to draft, picking a skier off every now and then. Towards the end, Scott Lundquist and I think Brandon Smithwood in a Colby kit and I traded places a lot. I thought I had the edge on them coming into the finish, but they both handily dropped me in the final 200m.

I didn't kill myself in this one, finished respectably, and most importantly, felt I was always in pretty good form. It was another solid 20 minute effort, and my third lap was just as fast as my first one. Doing these things so late in the day makes sleep that night challenging. My metabolism stays in overdrive a good 8-12hrs afterwards. I was awake before my alarm went off, not having slept much.

After the race, CSU was selling off remaining team clothing in inventory. Thus far, I have relied purely on cycling clothing for skiing. It works perfectly, even using the jersey pockets for food and water sometimes. I could use a race suit though. Fit is risky via online buying. I lucked out and got the last of CSU sizes that fit me.

Spiffy, eh?  Oh, and my weight lately has been hanging out lower than my "racing weight" most of last season. Seems maybe there is something to the Tabata method that Alex Combes brought up a while back. Since the holidays, I've been drinking deeply from the intensity well about four times per week. Modest volume, only 45hrs total volume last month, less than half that on the bike. I think bringing intensity back into the mix after a three month hiatus has done a nice job balancing the in take/out take formula.