Being on the road for the majority of the last month has taken its toll on my training plan. I have become quite familiar with how to alter a spin class to fit my workout needs and how to find motivation by staring into at a wall of mirrors at 5 am while pedaling a "bike" in a pool of sweat that goes nowhere. That brings me to the overload that was last week and the two races that capped it all off.
Cyclo X - Interlocken - Men's Open
The second of my Open races this season and I was hopeful to redeem myself, a top 20 was the goal. I arrived with plenty of time for two different sets of a 2 lap recon, the first set was done on the race set up to dial in tire pressure. Plenty of tight slow corners, off camber at different angles all over the course, and nearly all of it on grass. I settled with 22 psi up front and 20 psi in the rear, still rolling on the ever trusty Clement MXPs with plenty of Stan's sealant for momentum, and goat heads. The second set of laps was on the newly built B-Bike, just in case I wanted to ride the mud. Yeah, never did that, kept it clean as I did plenty of asking and watching during other races. The line choice was obvious - only commitment and speed was necessary. My typical trainer warm up under the Foxtrot tent followed and the legs were feeling better than indicated they should - but I could still feel the week's efforts and travel lingering.
Another 2nd row call up, which is something I'm not quite comfortable with yet in this group of racers. Lining up behind 2 men that get paid to do this is a bit unnerving and humbling, as you will see. I looked down with a minute to go and noticed my heart rate was back where it should be - in the mid 120's and pounding with excitement. I held back at the start knowing how fast it was about to get with Allen Krughoff and Danny Summerhill lined up, on top of my lack of a top end at the current point in the season.
Most of the race for me was an exercise in maintaining as much momentum in the all the turns as possible, I didn't slip out once, and getting on the gas and back up to speed as quickly out of the corners as my legs and brain could manage. I was successful in these endeavors for the most part - aside from the ten or so times I wanted to quit. What kept me going through that was Kirk's constant encouragement and presence in the pit each time I rode by, and probably even more so his two kids heckling me at different spots in the course. In that part of the pain cave I concentrate on only the lap I'm on, try to pass someone in front of me, and just remember the goal for January.
The only consistently memorable section of the race was the mud pit since it seemed like a different animal each of the eight times I encountered it. It wasn't so much of a pit as a drainage ditch off to the east of the property, up against Highway 36. The night before it was barely a half dozen tire tracks through cat tails that hadn't dried out since, well probably ever judging by the smell. By the time we first rolled through it just before 4:30 in the afternoon it looked like a 33 millimeter wide trench with horse hoof indents surrounding it. As I said I hadn't ridden it and I quickly was thwarted on my first attempt at riding it by at least one other rider.
The second time I powered out too hard and had to tripod out of the other end, still didn't go down. The third, and each subsequent, time I nailed it by gaining as much speed before it, coasting to the top of the other side, and then making an easy cruise around the right-hander at the top.
The last lap was the most interesting and tactical for me; something I'm also feeling a bit uneasy about. I started the lap behind a rider and somewhere in the barrier-sand-sand-barrier confusion I ended up in front (something I did on nearly every lap). I paced myself just in front of him without expending too much energy knowing I needed something for Sunday. After the tricky leaf riddled off camber I saw the leader coming up on us - this is where the uneasy comes in - and wanted to position myself to beat the rider but also get lapped by the leader. I had to feather the brakes at the finish chute so I wouldn't have to go around for another. Was extremely relieved at the time but wondered if I cheated myself.
I ended up 21st, just off the mark of what I wanted but content with knowing I did what I could with what I brought.
Blue Sky Cup - Xilinx - SingleSpeed
Generally the woes of setting up bikes for a course involve taking a little air out, then adding a little, whoops too much; you've decided on the correct PSI and then halfway through the race you are wishing for more in the front and a little less in the back. The benefits of riding a long on relaxed steel single speed is you have one thing to worry about: gear selection - well that and if you have the legs to push it for 45 minutes. I made a recon lap and decided on a 39 x 17 combination which would prove itself just right for the whole course.
The legs for the course: they were there, for the most part. If have ever watched the start of a single speed race it is somewhat comical as everyone sprints for the front and promptly runs out of gear and you now see about 100 legs spinning madly trying to gain every spot before the bottle neck. I ended up somewhere around 11th as we hopped the first curb and went down the hill towards the south end of the course.
This is actually my preferred course as Xilinx as the entire sandy south field and adds in some interesting turns and the soul crushing ascent on the west side of the complex. I also happy to be able to hope the 3 railroad steps by the ever present hecklers near the wooded section. Only had to run them once as there was a bit of traffic as the group caught up to the 45+ men.
My goal was to finish respectably - not sure what that meant for a race I had never participated in - and work on spinning out of every corner. I quickly found I was under-geared for the flat stuff but perfectly geared for quick accelerations and the 2 soul crushing climbs. I also don't especially like using the Surly during races as the saddle is just high enough from the higher bottom bracket to make me question fast remounts. Though I did find that pedaling through all the corners was very valuable with that higher bottom bracket - trade-offs.
The most memorable thing from this race? Two spots on the course: The first being the pavement left-handed 180 to right-handed 180 where I could hear the sound of rubber making perfect contact with pavement. The sound and feel when you know your tires are gripping more than they should, being able to lean over way too much, at the same time knowing that same sound means your tires are on the verge of losing all grip sending you sliding into the tape. The second was not too long after this set of corners: The grassy slalom corners that required a little body-English to stay fast and upright at the same time. I could feel and hear the grass ripping out from under my tires.
I was passed on the last lap on the way up that soul sucking west side climb and nearly gave in to take my spot and be satisfied where I was. After the set of 180's I decided that wasn't and option and did all I could over the next 3 minutes to close the gap, the hoping of the steps being what finally allowed me to get close enough for a little energy boost. I spun out my legs coming up the finishing hill and finished in front of 15th place by a little more than a bike length. Legs were completely gassed and I felt satisfied with a long week and double header to cap it off.
What did I learn from it all? Dig deep, leave it all on the course, and set realistic expectations of your race.
TrainingPeaks data from Interlocken
TrainingPeaks data from Blue Sky Cup