Sunday, April 26, 2015

cross-chaining on SRAM 1×11

There's been an almost religious response to SRAM releasing 1×11 for the road. I find this puzzling, as to me it represents a valid choice for riding where super-wide range gearing isn't needed. And in the vast majority of the United States, the idea regularly riding extended steep climbs is at best a fantasy. It's restricted to European bike tours, etc.

1×11 provides basically the same gear spacing as 2×8, which honestly back in the day was fine, although also not for everyone, and those who wanted more went to triple chainrings. Today a lot of those who used triples back then are fine with wide-range 2×10 and 2×11 options. But if you want to avoid dealing with a front shifter, and maybe save a bit of weight, 1×11 can be an attractive choice. I was riding with an old colleague from Stanford Cycling, Mark, who's been riding SRAM 1×11 on hilly San Francisco Bay area rides and he loves it. But then he started racing with 2×6, and so learned to ride at a somewhat wider cadence range than riders starting today seem to require.

But one good argument against 1×11 is cross-chaining. We were all taught to not cross-chain. Riding in the big-big or small-small combination causes a lot of friction, it's always been said, and indeed when you spin your chainring backwards in a big-big combo there's a lot more resistance than when it's in a gear with less lateral chain deflection. But when applying power, how much difference is there?

My favorite source on such matters is FrictionFacts, and they did a study on drivetrain losses in various gears. It's reported by Bike Radar.

Here's a key plot from the report. It shows drivetrain losses in various gears on a 2×11 drivetrain:

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In general, given the choice between two gear combinations at the same ratio, you take the big-big combination versus small-small. This is because the big-big combination will have the chain under lower tension and the chain will bend less each time it moves off the rear cog and when it moves onto the front chainring. The chain also bends on the pulleys and on the bottom of the chain run, but down there it's under lower tension. So what matters most is when it's under high tension, on the top.

But the big-big combinations tend to have inferior chainlines at the low end of the gear range. You can see it in the plot. Not this isn't an ultra-dramatic effect, and I used to vastly underestimate it based on backward-spinning experiments. The big-big combination is less than a watt higher than the alternative at the same ratio with the small ring. But still, I'll save a watt if I can.

With a 1×11 system the chainring sits aligned with the 6th cog in the back, counting the cogs 1-11. That's 5 cogs to the right, 5 cogs to the left, one perfectly aligned. With a 2-11 system, given my measurement of 9 mm of separation between the small and large chainrings, which is 2.4 cog spacings, that puts the chainrings in positions 4.8 and 6.2. If you always optimized your front chainring choice based on chain line it seems 2×11 should provide on average a better chainline than 1×11, by virtue providing more choice. And indeed if we ran, for example, a 44×44 front, that would obviously be true. I could pick my front ring based only on chain line.

But we don't run 44/44. Instead we pick the front ring based on whether we want a higher or lower gear range. Typically front shifts are a relatively last resort, if the present ring choice is running up against one or the other limit. So in real life, what gears to riders pick?

Now I don't claim to have nearly enough data to study this in depth. But I do have sample data from DC Rainmaker, who was testing the Garmin Edge series support for Di2 reporting via ANT+ Sport of gear choice. Here's a table from DC Rainmaker:

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What I did here was to calculate the front chainring position (4.8 or 7.2) versus the rear cog position (1 to 11) and calculated from that the chain deflection in cog spacing equivalents. Weighting these by time spent in each gear I was able to calculate an average chain deflection of 2.6 cog spacings for this ride. I determined that he could have done the same ride with a 44 tooth chainring in the front using 1×11 with the same 11-25 range in the back. So I then repeated the calculation using the closest gear in that 1×11 system, assuming the front chainring as in position 6. Surprise, surprise, surprise: the average chain deflection was now 1.4.

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How is this possible? The reason is that DC Rainmaker spent the vast majority of the ride in the ratios which would have been provided by the middle 5 cogs with the choice of a 44 tooth chainring. These have deflections of -2, -1, 0, 1, and 2. A time-weighted average of the absolute value of the chain deflection thus yields the remarkably small number of 1.4.

I'm sure if I were to look at another ride, for example one with super-steep climbs and extended fast descents where the rider spent a large fraction of the time at the absolute extremes of available gears, the chain line result would have been different. But for relatively flat rides the 1×11 system may actually provide superior chain lines, based on this N=1 example.

But keep in mind on all of this we're dealing with a fraction of a watt in drivetrain losses. I like obsessing over this sort of thing but if you're just going out for a training ride it's essentially irrelevant. You're better off worrying about keeping your zipper shut and wearing tight-fitting rather than loose-fitting clothing.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Liége-Bastogne-Liége picks

I strick out with Fléche-Wallone so I'm going to try again here with Liége-Bastogne-Liége. There's a lot of favorites so the best approach is to eliminate some then deal with the rest.

The new course doesn't favor Simon Gerrans and combine that with his inferior fitness so far this year due to his early season crash and despite winning last year he doesn't deserve to get on any top-5 lists.

Vincenzo Nibali is strong so far this year but he was no weaker last year since he won both the Italian national championship and the Tour de France. But in 2014 he finished 31st here and there's no reason to expect him to suddenly place top 5. He's going to try some sort of crazy attack but the race is so controlled recently that's only a long shot. So no to him.

Phillippe Gilbert was certainly strong at Amstel Gold but then he crashed hard enough to destroy his bike at Fléche Wallone. The older you get the harder it is to recover from crashes so while he says he's willing to start he's not going to win.

Joaquim Rodríguez last finished in 2013 when he was 2nd but he's also not at an age which is kind to annual improvement and I don't see him cracking the shell of favorites. He wasn't as strong as Valverde at Fléche, so I don't expect him to be as strong here.

Julian Alaphillipe isn't a favorite for some reason but he was in the lead group at Amstel and a remarkable 2nd at Fléche so how is it that everyone seems to be overlooking him for this race? He definitely to my view has a better chance than the above riders. He claims to train by doing 8 hour 300 km rides in the mountains: old school but well suited for the difficulty of this course. So he's on my list. The odds on him are around 50:1 and I think that's a very good bet.

Dan Martin has shown signs of strength this year but crashed at Fléche. He crashed out of a probable win last year and the year before he won. He's still not too old, certainly not by the standards of Valverde and company, so I like his chances tomorrow. Supposedly he wasn't bangled up too badly at Fléche so I'll go with him tomorrow, despite relatively weak team support from Garmin-Cannondale compared to some of the other teams.

I often overlook Valverde, perpetually thinking he's too old, but I'd have to be a fool to not recognize his strength at Fléche on Wednesday. His time up the Mur de Huy wasn't as good as the year before but the favorite had just put in what according to Strava data was a very hard effort on the new climb preceding it and then the group started the Mur relatively slowly in what was a tactical finish. For whatever reason the guy is crazy strong and he's already won this race twice.

Daniel Moreno is another Katuscha rider who shouldn't be overlooked. He was ninth last year and he was 5rd at Fléche on Wednesday, a race he won in 2013. I'm not going to put him quite in the top 5, though.

Michal Kwiatkowski was looking great after Amstel but something happened to him at Fléche and he finished well back. But he was a remarkable 3rd in 2014. The course is a bit tougher this year and perhaps the addition of the extra climb at Fléche softened him up. At Amstel he had a bit of recovery before that final assault on the Cauberg. But I can't dismiss his chances based only on Fléche. He cracks my top 5, despite the presence of his teammate, Alaphillippe.

I've got to pick a 5th. Tony Gallopin was strong at Amstel Gold. I'll go with him.

So I'm going with the following:

  1. Dan Martin
  2. Alejandro Valverde
  3. Julian Alaphillipe.
  4. Michal Kwiatkowski
  5. Tony Gallopin

Those are my picks.

added

Daniel Martin got whiplash from the crash on Wednesday, so it was a bit more serious than I'd understood. I'm not sure if this will affect his riding, though. Maybe not at all, maybe making it harder for him to get his head low, maybe he drops out. With this in mind he remains my pick but I'm not sure I'd recommend putting money on him.

I had a hard time picking between Gallopin and Bauke Mollema, who had been a pick for Wednesday. Bauke is more of a stage racer, while Gallopin seems more likely to pull out an excellent result in a one-day race.

Rui Costa has been mentioned as another threat. Maybe top ten, but not top 5, I think.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fleche-Wallone predictions

Fleche-Wallone used to be my favorite classic, despite the lack of distance. The finish made my legs hurt just watching: the cruelty of the finish being SO close yet almost unreachable. A war of attrition ending in a head-to-head test of suffering.

“Back in the day” it was essentially always a small group, for example 2, arriving at the base of the Huy the last time. And with the shift to pack finishes, you can see a jump, starting in 2004 when Rebellin won, in climbing speeds here. It used to be 3:10 was typical, now sub-2:50 is common and it’s never as slow as 3:00. You don’t see the agonizingly low cadence as riders fatigued from riding in a break push their oversized gears up the impossible slope, pushing threw the wall of pain to reach the top before the other guy, then collapsing just past the finish. Good stuff.

But now it’s become a virtual pack sprint. Basically the riders with sufficient near the position spin their little gears up the hill and someone wins. It’s still an exciting finish, but with the race coming down to the final kilometer every single time, it’s lost any notion of scope. As usual I’ll probably check steephill and download a video after the race. But really I've little incentive to watch more than 3 km.

A new climb was added this year, only 5.5 km from the finish: Côte de Cherave. It will be interesting to see if that changes the dynamic of the finale, or if the pack arrives together at the final climb anyway, as they did at Milan-San Remo and as they did at Amstel Gold?


It's a stiff one, maxing out as around 13%. This has got to affect the finish. If you're caught out here, it's going to be a hard time getting to the base of Huy at the front. This will favor strong teams who can survive this climb with decent numbers. It could well save the race from a decade of mediocrity.

In contrast, Mur de Huy is clearly tougher, as it should be being the finish:


For this race the key question is: did Kwiakowski ride a tactical finish on the Cauberg, exploiting Michael Matthews marking Gilbert? Or was he simply unable to follow? If the latter he’s not likely to win here. But if the former he’s an excellent pick. I think if he'd been able to follow Gilbert he would have, and so I think he's missing what it takes to win here. Indeed the only one legitimately able to follow Gilbert was Matthews, and he's not racing here. Valverde said he could have followed but got boxed it.

Last year it was Valverde over Martin followed by Kiwatkowski, then Bauke Mollema and Tom Jelte Slagter. All of the top three from last year have been strong this year. In 2013 it was Daniel Moreno over Sergio Henao and Carlos Betancur, with Martin fourth. Practice makes perfect, and I've got to believe Daniel Martin will only benefit from that extra climb, and will get his timing perfect on Huy this year. He's my pick.

Gilbert tends to be too impulsive. Last year he got boxed in on Huy, which is a major traffic jam. But his attack at Amstel this year was impressive. Since he pulled away from Kwiatkowski at Amstel, it's hard to put Kwiatkowski ahead of him here.

I'm going to go with the following. It gets a bit hard to pick an exact order from this crowd but I've got to do it.

  1. Daniel Martin
  2. Gilbert
  3. Kwiatkowski
  4. Valverde
  5. Mollema

The "candyass" rule says the pick needs to be perfect, starting from 1st, or you lose. So this is it: my top 5. I nail the stack or else.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Running progress via VeloViewer

I love VeloViewer, which does amazing things with the Strava API. In this case, it plots my accumulated over the course of each year in each of various activity categories, like cycling, running, walking, and hiking. I am interested most right now in running as I prepare for the Ohlone 50 km.

This first plot shows total distance (km) running per year since I started using Strava in late 2010:

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There's three periods where I've managed to sustain a relatively rapid rate of distance increase. The first was towards the end of 2012, when I'd decided I was going to run the California International Marathon. That didn't quite go as well as I'd hoped, with leg problems kicking in near mile 20. But from the plot it doesn't seem like there was a shortage of training: I ran close to 1100 km starting in September.

But the marathon caused damage. I tried to continue running after, but I just couldn't get rid of the nagging pains and stinging numbness I felt at the race. Every attempt at a long run caused a recurrence. What I really needed was a good rest. So starting in February I decided to focus more on cycling. And indeed that was going well. I built cycling fitness quickly, riding the Berkeley Hills Road Race in May, then the Memorial Day Ride 4-day tour to Santa Barbara, then the Devil Mountain Double where I did very well. It all came to a painful end, however, in June, when I crashed on a bike path avoiding 3-abreast walkers, one of whom had cut quickly into my path (since then I've installed bells on my bikes). This further set back my running. I didn't start again until after Low-Key Hillclimbs, in November.

That began my second strong period on Strava. My goal was the Woodside Ramble 50 km in April. Preparation for that was curtailed when I got sick in March, but I recovered in time for the race, where I ran very well. I finished the race, running the whole way, and finishing strongly. It was probably my best run performance, a nice contrast to CIM 16 months previous. Note though that eyeballing my running preparation before the 50k I did only 900 km total in contrast to the 1100 km total I'd done for CIM. But the nature of my preparation was clearly better, stacking up hard training days in up to four-day blocks, and doing more hilly trail runs to strengthen my legs. Of course you can't directly compare performances on a 50 km trail race and a 42 km paved road race, but I definitely felt better about my trail race effort.

But after that my running was again curtailed. I again switched to a cycling focus, doing the Memorial Day Tour in May again. But beyond that "real life" matters got in the way, and I was sort of treading water until a spending 6 weeks in Switzerland in the fall reignited my cycling in time for the Low-Key Hillclimbs.

This year, 2015, I got greedy and wanted too much. I did the San Francisco Randonneurs 200 km brevet at the end of January, then the 300 km brevet at the end of February. It's easy to see my running miles were lagging well behind what they were in 2014. However, after the 300 km brevet, I decided I needed to pick one or the other, and I went with running. I was really happy with the 50 km trail race in 2014, capping off a series of trail runs which had been my first trail races since early 2012. Even though I hadn't run much after April last year, I felt I could build upon that experience and do another strong 50 km this year, and maybe, just maybe keep up the momentum and try for a 50-miler. So I ramped up my running again.

This time by early April I wasn't ready for a 50 miler, though. This plot makes it quite clear why I felt this way. My total distance of concentrated running was only around 400 km. So I did the Woodside Crossover 35 km in the same time slot. That went very well, also. It gave me confidence that I would be able to step up to 50 km in May. A key difference from 2014, however, was that in 2013 I took a too-long break from running, from February all the way to late November, whereas my only really long break from any running in 2014 was the almost 2 months from April to June. From there my running was intermittent but there's a big difference between running occasionally and not at all.

It's interesting because as much as I love running, I probably love cycling even more, and since I like concentrating more on one versus the other at any given time, I've not been able to really focus on running to realize my full potential there. My cycling has also suffered, not riding as focused as I used to before running got as much attention as it does now. Certainly bike racing demands full focus: the best masters bike racers are at it 12 months a year. Similarly the best runners are at it year-round although you can get a lot more satisfaction out of doing running races at less than top fitness than you can out of doing bike races inadequately prepared. Bike races without proper preparation really are miserable.

Here's another plot, this time showing each day as a color-coded block.

image

Of course the data and so the story is the same. But this plot focuses more on the consistency of the running as well as better highlighting the truly long days. You can see some pretty major holes in my early 2014 schedule, these most clearly due to the presence of races ramping me up to that 50 km goal: first a half marathon, then a 30 km. Racing is tough on consistency. Same deal in 2012, although there my races were on the road: a 10 km race, a half marathon, and running Highway 9 in the Low-Key Hillclimbs (which was surprisingly less stressful).

Anyway, hopefully Ohlone goes okay. I look forward to seeing what happens there.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

GT Grade: geometry compared to Trek

GT has come out with a really cool new bike, the Grade Carbon, which is designed to the "all-road" model for bikes able to handle paved roads, dirt, gravel, and trails. That starts with a bike designed with tire clearance first (35 mm), then with a frame design with compliance as a first priority. So GT builds into the frame exceptionally flexible seat stays to provide suspension for the rear wheel. It also has swept out handlebars, which I'm tempted to call novel. Tire clearance in the rear means long chainstays, and the Grade Carbon has by today's standards exceptionally long ones, at 430 mm. It also has a really slack head tube.

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One issue with "endurance" bikes is always geometry. Numbers are here:

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Here's a comparison of the GT Grade to the Trek geometries:

image

The GT Grade is very close to the Domane 6, which is considerably more relaxed than the H2 (it's sort of an extrapolated H3). By the way, those diagonal lines show the effect of 1 cm changes in spacer stack height, or for changes in length of a zero-degee stem, both for a 73 deg head tube. So they'd be perpendicular if the axes had the same scale. Note changing a -17 deg stem (for a 73 deg head tube) would result in a pure change in reach, but changing the stack height of spacers increases stack but reduces effective reach.

I thing I find interesting is this bike has an awful lot in common with Tour de France bikes in the late 1920's, early 1930's. Here's Charles Pélissier, TdF 1931, from Goggles and Dust, which is a fantastic book:

image

Interesting aspects:

  • bottles on handlebars, with small fender to keep mud off
  • pump mounted on frame + something else I am not sure of (spare pump?)
  • Wing nuts to remove wheels, not yet quick releases, which came in in the early 1930's.
  • extra sew-ups wrapped around torso: not so aero but pros did this for a half-century. They stopped when car support became reliable but amateurs without team car support also stopped at same time.
  • Single gear (two if you flip the wheel): this was the tail end of the "no derailleurs" era in the TdF. The tourists were using them but the TdF was retro. Sort of like this being the last year of no disc brakes, on a much lower level. Average speeds increased significantly when derailleurs became allowed. Riders would swap bikes to get lower gears for long climbs or to switch to the flats, however.
  • Super-skinny stays, long wheel-base, fat tires: a lot of dirt and cobbled roads and huge stage distance, plenty > 300 km, although the photo is of an "only" 211 km stage.
  • No elastomer seat stay shocks I can see :)
  • position isn't as relaxed as you often read, but negligible handlebar drop: bars were moved out, not down, then they'd ride in the drops.
  • Unzipped wool jersey: terrible aerdynamically but while guys obviously realized you needed to be low unzipped jerseys remained common until very recently. You still see it occasionally.
  • No helmet (obviously) and yet somehow they all survived, perhaps at an even greater rate than at present.
  • Goggles which are effective at keeping the dust out of the eyes.
  • Jersey shows colors of France because in 1931 the Tour was raced by national teams, not trade teams.

Stats on a 1927 Alcyon Tour de France bike from Jan Heine's book: 13.0 kg, 700x30 mm wheels, 66 deg HTA, 67.5 deg STA, 80 mm fork rake, 490 mm chain stays, 465 mm handlebar width (flared out), 165 mm crank length, 124 mm Q, 62 mm trail, gears (from 1926 Automoto Tour de France): 46/16 fixed and 46/20 freewheel.

So the bikes in the era were like the GT Grade on steroids: super-slack head tubes, extremely long chainstays, and you can see those chainstays and seat stays flexing, and it's hard to imagine those fork blades not doing so. Massive tire clearance provided mud clearance. And the handlebars are very similar. All the GT Grade is missing here is a single-speed drivetrain. Although it's easy to imagine one of these thing getting set up with SRAM's Force 1, which eliminates the front derailleur, at least. But the Grade isn't available as a frameset, from what I can tell.

I'm not a fan of that geometry, however.

By the way, GT has a certain brand image on those triangulated chainstays but they're not new, either. As I was reminded from a recent blog post by Jim Langley, they are called "Hellenic" stays, and here's an example from a 1948 Silverlight:

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Here's the Routens Jim photoed at the Eroica in Paso Robles:

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Here's a close-up of the Grade:

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Trail running race check list

It seems every time I do a trail race there's something I forget. So I'm making a list:

Clothing:

  1. trail shoes
  2. light socks
  3. compression calf sleeves (I don't know if these do anything, but maybe)
  4. underwear compatible with running (some, err, rub the wrong way)
  5. running shorts: super-short won't work well but extra-long shorts waste energy: you've got to lift that material every foot stride. I like pockets for stuffing gel wrappers.
  6. Body Glide on nipples and other bits which may abrade.
  7. technical running shirt (these do tend to abrade somewhat, hence the previous.
  8. sun screen everywhere which might get exposed
  9. something to wear over running clothes before or after race
  10. running cap
  11. contact lenses
  12. belt for holding water bottle.
  13. optional pouch for belt: good for storing Clif Bloks, Endurolytes.
  14. Possible light gloves and compression forearm sleeves if it's cold
  15. Make sure laces are tied well. I generally leave my laces knotted and slide shoes on off, tied. I like them loose and have never had foot problems like this other than toe nails getting too long and cutting skin on the adjacent toe.

Note I don't wear sunglasses: too heavy. Also I prefer contact lenses to eye glasses. Contacts are lighter. I do like the cycling cap, however. That's an indulgence.

Other stuff:

  1. Check toe nails.
  2. TomTom GPS watch, batteries charged.
  3. cell phone, batteries charged (I don't run with this, but for before and after it's good to have).
  4. bring a few safety pins (better to reuse these)
  5. Endurolytes: best to start with a few to save time looking for them at rest stops.
  6. some coconut juice would be nice for post-race.
  7. bike lock & key, if riding bike to start.
  8. house keys
  9. money
  10. something to store extra stuff during race if car not available for this purpose
  11. extra water bottle for pre-start if water won't be available near start line

other preparation:

  1. study the course: key navigation points, and major altitude features.
  2. know the start time: it's important to get there at least 30 minutes earlier, but 60 minutes isn't too early.
  3. know how to get there: road navigation.
  4. Breakfast: black tea with maple syrup or honey (caffeinated or decaf depending on how much caffeine I've been consuming), plus maybe a banana with some nut butter. Keep it fairly light.

Pre-start:

  1. First priority: check in.
  2. Next priority: pee. This saves weight and doing it during a race wastes time.
  3. figure out where to store clothes for race.
  4. start GPS, acquire signal.
  5. warm up a bit, but not too much: typically races are pushing my endurance limits and going out and running a few extra km before the start is going to do more harm than good. But if it's a short race I'll warm up more.
  6. Pee again if there's time.
  7. go to start line.

Rest stops: These are really key because being efficient here is easily worth one spot in the results.

  1. before the rest stop: decide what's wanted. Water? Sports drink? Coke? Fruit? Sports chews? Gels?
  2. Approaching rest stop: get bottle out of belt, take a drink if water's left, loosen cap a bit.
  3. Reaching the stop: kindly hand bottle to volunteer and ask for sports drink or water. Drink from paper cups filled with liquid of choice, if available. Take enduralytes or other electrolyte supplements if needed. Eat fruit slices at the stop, quickly, but sports gels or chews should be stuffed in pocket and eaten on the run.
  4. Pop a few Endurolytes: I forget to take these more often than not, but I really think they help, especially on hot days. If I have brought some with me I can just grab them from my pouch or pocket but otherwise I need to find where they are at the aid station table, which costs around 5 extra seconds.
  5. Save the caffeine for the last aid station stop. Coca Cola is a big boost but it's best reserved for the end game. Avoid caffeinated gels, etc, which are often not super clearly labeled.
  6. Thank volunteer for filling bottle and return it to belt.
  7. Any gel wrappers which need to be thrown away? I never remember to do this.
  8. Thank all volunteers and get out of there.

On the course:

  1. When passing other runners, make sure to not startle them. This is a run, not a bike race.
  2. When encountering hikers, be super-nice to them. They came out to enjoy the solitude of the trail, not to get passed by 100+ rampaging runners.
  3. When getting passed: can I stay with the passing runner? It's important to not dig too deep too early keeping an unsustainable pace. This isn't a bike race. But if it's end game things change.
  4. If I encounter a steep hill, can I walk it? If I can without losing speed, start walking immediately, but make every stride count.
  5. If I'm coming off a steep slope, start running at the first opportunity, even if it's just for a few strides.
  6. Drink when I'm thirsty, pop chews at appropriate intervals.

I don't think I've ever done everything on these lists but hopefully now that I've written this all out I'll avoid making these mistakes my next race, the Ohlone 50k.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Inside Trail Woodside Crossover 35 km trail race

Last year I did the Inside Trail Racing Woodside Ramble 50 km and it was for me a very successful race. That race was broken down into 6 segments: up Huddart Park, along Skyline Ridge, down into Wunderlich, back out of Wunderlich, back along Skyline Ridge, and down Huddart Park (with its infamous mini-climb just when you think you're close to the finish). That's two primarily-climbs, two primarily-descents, and two rolling sections. I'd trained hard for the ride, ramping up my distance as I should have done for my previous long races, both marathons, none of which went as well as I'd wanted. The key for me is to get solid blocks of consecutive long days, for example 10 miles or more four days in a row, to really build endurance for the longer distances. And for trail races it's important to train hilly trails, not just flat runs.

This year my running suffered from the distraction of the San Francisco Randonneurs brevet series, first the 200 km at the end of January, then the 300 km at the end of February. Each of these rides took its toll, costing me at around 3 weeks total of quality run training in addition to the days spent riding instead of running in preparation. With my ramp up last year a "just in time" for the 50 km at Woodside, as tempting as it was, I was going to have to forego the 50 km distance this time and pick instead the 35 km course. I used to think you could prepare for runs by riding, but at least for me, I've got to prepare for runs by running.

But Inside Trail Racing changed the course. At the Woodside Ramble, the previous course, 50 km was the obvious quality distance: it was the only route to include the excellent loop into and back out of Wunderlich Park. The half-marathon was also solid, running up out of Huddart a bit along Skyline Ridge, then back down Huddart. But the 35 km was a bit of a mutant with an out-and-back along Skyline Ridge appended to the half-marathon route. It's the sort of route you probably wouldn't have done on your own.

image
Smokey Bear

This year was much different. The 35 km had all three of the major climbs of the 50 km route: up Huddart, then two climbs in Purissima Creek Redwoods. The 50 km added the Skyline Ridge out-and-back, which is extremely nice, but unlike last year there wasn't any feeling of missing out by doing the 35 km. And this made the 35 km this year a much harder course: 3 major climbs instead of one (a first climb of 460 meters, a two-part second climb of 400 meters followed by 125 meters, then a third climb of "only" 280 meters) plus a few shorter climbs and some rollers. Since last year's course was almost constantly up and down, even with the Ridge section, squeezing in more climbing meant only one thing: steep!

I'd initially assumed the change in course was due to conflicts with equestrians last year. But at the starting line someone said Pacific Coast Trails had a race this year which went through Wunderlich,. So it was still available, it seems. But another possibility presented itself: this is simply a better course. More climbing for the 35 km, less shared out-and-back between the 35 and 50 km (there's a section of out-and-back in Purissima Creek on the Crossover route, but it's shorter than the Skyline Ridge out-and-back), and the superior views provided by the western slope of the ridge (in addition to the superior "epic" factor of crossing the ridge). The course really is spectacular.

The only downer was instead of crossing relatively low-traffic King's Mountain Road (which the 50 km still had to cross), this year's 35 km route included two crossings of twisty Skyline Boulevard, Hwy 35, infamous for high speed car and motorcycle traffic and violent crashes. But this was dealt with nicely by the promoter with a combination of volunteers and a CHP officer to help make sure it was clear as runners approached. Note this is in striking contast to the incident at Paris-Roubaix, the same day, where runners were brought into "conflict" with a TGV at a level crossing (nobody was hurt). The ASO could take a hint from Inside Trail.

Inside Trail Racing is my trail race promoter of first choice right now: they really do a fantastic job. The most important is navigational: they use at least twice as many ribbons on the route as other local promoters from my experience. The usual practice is a few ribbons warning of turns, then a few after a corner confirming that you're on the right trail, then not much until the next point of navigational ambiguity. Inside takes it far further: in addition to the corner markings, at particularly tricky intersections augmented with signs and/or chalk or flour, they put blue "off-trail" ribbons along wrong directions, and then along straight sections of trail they place course markers every 200 meters or so. The result is that every time I find my navigational paranoia asking whether I'd missed a turn (almost impossible to do) I'd see a marker around the next corner. I've had several emotionally scarring wrong-turn incidents in my racing history with other promoters and none of them would have occurred with Inside Trail: I'd have seen a blue ribbon almost immediately. I've never taken a wrong turn, or even been confused by more than a few brief seconds, on one of their races.

Another win with Inside is their rest stops. Some trail runs focus on Costco crap like M&M's or pretzels. Some runners like this; that's fine. But with Inside I have no problem getting what I like to use on trails: food designed for the purpose: sports drink, water, Clif Bloks (cheweables), optionally uncaffeinated gels, and Coca Cola for the end game (okay -- Coke isn't "designed for the purpose" but it's effective). Additionally they always have volunteers to fill my bottle while I drink from cups or perhaps grab some fruit or cups of liquid. It's super-efficient and zero-worry.

But on top of these advantages they also have some of the best long courses. It's easy to take a few loops and create multiple lap options to extend race distances to 30 km and 50 km, but I find it far preferable that courses cover greater distances, avoiding retracing trail segments. The Woodside Crossover is a great example of this. They did a half-marathon course completely within Huddart: do two laps of that, add in a 4.5 km out-and-back, and call it 50 km? No -- they extended the course over the hill into Purissima Creek. Big win: more epicness.

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Go! (Cara Coburn photo)

Anyway, back to the race: the 35 km and 50 km started together. As I stood on the start line I looked around and noted everyone there looked fit: lean and ready to go. This was so much different than any recreational bike ride I've done where even on a double century you see guys who have a bit of a denominator problem (W/kg).

Along with the new course we had a new start location. The previous start included a sprint across the meadow to a hole shot to a single-track descent before the climbing began. This made positioning really important. In particular you didn't want to be too far back or you'd get caught in slow traffic on the descent but you also didn't want to be too far forward or you'd get swept away with the leaders, burning matches not wanting to slow down for fear of getting in the way. Fortunately this course lacked this sort of bottleneck so self-selected runner sorting was less critical. Nevertheless I placed myself with around 10 runners ahead of me and this worked out well.

Off we went and indeed the start was mellower than in years past. I let a group get away and filed myself in with some other runners well matched to my speed with minimal passing. My start position had been good.

The first climb up Huddart is really sublime: running up past switchbacks on the soft trail (optimized for the influential equestrian community) through the redwoods. The climbing goes on and on but with relatively gentle grades and cool temperatures I really was in no rush for it to stop. After around 8 km, however, it did: first I heard the car traffic on Skyline, then soon after I saw the tent marking Aid Station 1. As I approached, I took a drink from my bottle and then loosened the cap. One climb of 3 was in the bag.

Here I made a bit of a mistake. Instead of handing my bottle off to a volunteer to fill it while I drank from cups, I filled the bottle myself, using Tailwind, a maltodextrin-and-electrolyte drink sposoring Inside Trail events. I then grabbed a few Clif Bloks for my belt pouch and one vanilla gel for immediate consumption. Then I was off.

The issue here was that while I was now topped off on water it's hard to drink at replacement level while running the trail and in any case I lacked adequate carrying capacity to make it between aid stations this way. I really needed to drink at the rest stops in addition to filling my bottle. It was early, it was cool, and I felt under no distress despite the 460 meter opening climb, but there was still 27 km to go, still my longest run of the year remaining, and I really needed to think for the long-term. I wouldn't make this mistake again during the run, and I vowed to compensate by drinking extra next stop. The challenge was there was a long descent followed by a long climb before that stop.

The bottle I've been using is a prototype, a bit smaller than a standard bottle and that size was nice for running. I was carrying my water on my Nathan belt, and when the bottle was full it tended to bounce a bit, but once it was down to around 70% full it was more stable. Larger bottles get more cumbersome. The capacity was fine as long as I drank at the stops, something I'd neglected to do here.

Out of the rest stop I ate my gel (checking first it didn't have any caffeine: I save caffeine for end game). It was fine but gel requires some water and it didn't make sense to be drinking right out of the stop, but I took a small drink.

Crossing Skyline Boulevard went smoothly. There were several volunteers as well as a CHP. I'm not sure what they would have done had someone come whipping along the road on a Ninja making an attempt at qualification for the "100 club", but nothing in life is perfectly safe. I got across the road without issue.

The next course segment was the descent to within spitting distance of the trail head at Purrissima Creek Road. I've biked this in the opposite direction several times, always on a road bike. It's challenging on a road bike as there's some steep sections where traction is a bit dicey, especially recently as they laid rather coarse gravel near the top. Here I was running downhill, though. This isn't my sort of thing: power descents with gravel-covered hardpack. Several runners came pounding down the trail past me, gliding down the hill at impressive speed. I could only shake my head and focus on my own run: it was early in the race and what I absolutely didn't want to do was to trash my legs on the extended trajectories of downhill running. The key on downhills, in addition to throwing yourself at the mercy of your balance, is efficiency. I try to think about aborting my fall without braking my speed. But I'm not sure how successful I am at this. Here's the one point in the race where I regretted I hadn't replaced my vintage circa 2009 New Balance 790 trail shoes: I was feeling small rocks through my soles, and I lacked confidence in the traction of the well worn treads. I'd tried to get new shoes before the race but had had problems with brick-and-morter stores within my access radius, so had succumbed to the tempation of Amazon, but too late (in any case, Backcountry.com delivered the wrong shoes on my Amazon order, but that's a digression). I'd have new shoes for my next race.

There's not much I could do about time lost going down so I just focused on running a good race from the bottom onward. We didn't actually exit the trail to the road intersection but rather took a sharp right onto another trail. I'd not been here before and was immediately struck by how nice it was.

The most notable difference between the trails in Purrissima Creek and those in Huddart is the steepness: repeatedly I reached sections which were steep enough that I was better off walking than trying to run. People talk about whether a trail is "runnable": I think the opposite. Is is walkable? If I can walk it that's more efficient than if I can run it, even if walking is slightly slower (which it often isn't), since running takes so much more of a toll. The key is not to walk as if it's a fun day hike, but rather to maximize stride length and cadence while pushing on my thighs with my hands to aid in propulsion. If I'm walking and breathing hard it means my aerobic system is doing its job and if it feels like I should be working harder it's simply a testiment to the reduced impact of walking. As soon as the trail would level out below my walking threshild I'd switch to a running stride, even if it was for just a few steps: don't let walking-inertia kick in, even for a second. Looking back on my Strava data later this worked well, as I had a very good split time here.

Somewhere along here I saw a Clif Bloks wrapper on the ground. Without slowing much I reached down and grabbed it: I hate it when trail racers leave a trail of litter in their wake, so I try to "leave the trail cleaner than I found it". But to my pleasant surprise it was full of four Bloks. I stuffed it in my pocket. It was one less thing to worry about at the rest stop.

After considerable climbing I came to the turn-off for the out-and-back section This portion took us up to Skyline Boulevard where the 2nd rest stop was. My water was running low so I pulled my map out from my belt pouch and checked the apparent distance. As I'd recalled we still had quite a way to go before the stop. The water issue was enhanced by the fact that sections of the trail here were exposed to the sun, which would substantilly increase my rate of sweat.

Not long after starting this out-and-back section I encountered what appeared to be the leaders returning. Impressive. I was surprised to see the lead woman not too far behind the leaders. It was Caitlin Smith, who used to virtually dominate local trail races back around 2009 when I was just starting. She was obviously as fast as ever. She'd go on to finish a very close 2nd in the 35 km race.

As I ran up the wider, initial portion of this segment a runner behind me called for me to get to the side: a ranger vehicle was approaching from behind. Indeed it was huge: a full size pickup truck. I wondered why the rangers felt it necessary to drive such a large vehicle on the trail. The truck passed without incident but had additional runners been descending while it did so it could have created an issue.

The route funneled through an access-control gate (no equestians, no cyclists) onto a very nice single track section. There were a surprising number of hikers here, likely accessing the trail from the Skyline side. No surprise: the views were fantastic. I felt bad for them, though -- they had come out for hike in isolated redwood forests and instead were faced with a near-constant stream of bidirectional running traffic. It just occurred to me that one thing Coastal Trail Runs does, for example, is to put signs up notifying of an "ultra-marathin trail race" on the route. This can go both ways, however, as notifying equestrians, who may be hostile to running events, that there's a race there may lead to vandalism.

A ran out of water a few km short of the rest stop but since the climbing abated somewhat, and the sun exposure was reduced with the shift to singletrack, I was fine. I handed my bottle off for more Tailwind, drank 1, 2, then 3 cups of water (volunteer said it was Mountain Dew but it certainly didn't taste like it to me). Then my bottle was full and closed and I was ready to go.

Back down the trail, I faced the upward traffic of the majority of runners who were behind me. This was a bit of a hassle, and I don't like appearing rude expecting hikers to get out of my way (although I do expect them to get out of my way). So I tried to be almost over-the-top friendly to everyone I passed. To one hiker I said "a lot of people on the trail today!" "No kidding," he responded. I was relieved when I finally arrived back at the junction marking the end of this out-and-back section.

Next came perhaps the nicest trail running of the route: a gorgeous single-track spection with fantastic views. At one point I came upon a man sitting on a bench on the side of the trail, looking westward. I really wanted to stop and admire the view with him. Of course I didn't: this was a race. I was reminded of the speech at the beginning of an Envirosports Half Marathon I did in Huddart Park in 2009, my second trail race ever, where we were told if we stopped to admire the view we should report the time to have it deducted. No such policy with Inside Trail Racing, though!

The single track bliss came to an abrupt end when it dumped me out onto Purrisima Creek Trail again. This was the base of the third and final of the "major" climbs of the course: 290 vertical meters, much of it exposed, portions walkable.

At the beginning of this leg I'd actually anticipated I might be able to skip the final rest stop for the downhill run to the finish. But as I worked my way up this climb I realized I was going to be close to empty, and I certainly didn't want to run the final 8 km without water, even if it was mostly downhill (with the nice little bonus climb toward the finish). So I rehearsed what I would do at the rest stop: 1. water in the bottle, 2. electrolyte pills (3-4), a half a paper cup of Coke. Rehearsal is key. I absolutely cannot think on my feet at rest stops, especially this late in the game, and mistakes could be very costly.

I felt for sure I was going to get overtaken on Purrissima Creek trail. It was a slow grind. I felt like I was running out of gas quickly. Towards the top the surface became moderate-sized gravel, terrible for road bikes, but a challenge also for my worn-out shoes, which skidded way more than I liked (skidding comes directly from forward progress). But I knew this route from cycling, and knew when I was approaching the finish of the climb. Even if I was trudging the steep stuff, I was still running fine on the flattish portions, and I once again crossed Skyline without problem, aided by the excellent volunteers and CHP officer.

At the rest stop I handed over my now empty bottle (cap already partially unscrewed) asked for "electrolyte" and was pointed to cups of NUUN. "No -- pills!" I said in slight panic, my time-efficiency at the stop seriously dinged, and was pointed to cups filled with 2 capsules each. I dropped the contents of two of these into my hand so they could be reused and popped them into my mouth. I then asked for the Coke and was pointed to a large number of filled cups. I searched for a relatively lightly filled one and quickly drank it. My bottle was now full and I was gone, thanking the volunteers profusely in compensation for my brusquness.

This was it, the end gap. This is where I was supposed to sprint home.

Despite my enthusiam my departure from the rest stop was almost comical: no sprinting happening at first: my legs just weren't going to move that quickly. But second-by-second I felt a bit better, and within 30 seconds I was legitimately running down the trail. Huddart Park provides truly fantastic downhill running, cutting down the switchbacks on the soft trail. I was starting to enjoy myself despite the fatigue. It would have been tragic to miss out on running this fun descent.

Last year I wasn't passed on this section and I hoped to repeat that today. A runner was going slowly ahead of me, wearing a yellow number indicating the 50 km race. He obviously wasn't in that race. As I passed I asked him what field he was in and he said 30k. I think seeing my green number may have perked him up because soon he was back on my heels and blew right by. I decided I wasn't going to count that as being passed.

Further down I passed a small kid running with who must have been his father. I was able to get past them without much trouble.

On the "bonus climb" approaching the finish I passed a few half-marathoners, but that was it. On the climb I somehow got some rocks in my right shoe and the foot legitimately hurt every few strides when the rock happened to fall into a point of contact. I decided to ignore it: it was just pain and there was no reason it should slow me. The climb passed eventually and it was downhill again. I hit 35 km on my TomTom and there was no sign of the race finish, making me question my decision to not remove those troublesome rocks, but I was feeling okay so just kept on pushing. The finish appeared fairly suddenly and I was able to sprint across the line.

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Cara was there, cheering me on, which was very nice. Soon after finishing the adrenaline & caffeine mixture which had been fueling my descent vaporized, and I was left not wanting to do much more than sit on a log and stair at the space between my shoes. A few minutes after my finish I saw Bjorn, a runner I'd helped pace at the North Face Endurance Challenge a few years ago, finish. But I really needed to move. Cara perked me up, got me to drink and eat a bit, and gave me $10 for a quick session at the post-race massage table (always a good idea). I gradually transitioned from feeling as if I was going to completely shut down to feeling human again.

My finish: 3:45, 13th overall out of 56 and 2nd in my age group, 6:49 after the age group winner. For the 2nd race in a row I barely missed my top 20% goal (12th was 39 seconds ahead, which would have put me at 20% of the 55 other runners ahead) but I had to be pleased with this: harder courses tend to make for harder placings since the threshold level of fitness for finishing is higher. And while I wish I had been faster on that initial descent, my goal coming in was to run everything which should have been run and finish relatively strongly. That goal was accomplished. I felt much better about my race than I had about the Marin Ultra Challenge 25 km lst month.

So what's next? I'd decided if I felt good here I'd think about the Ohlone 50 km in May. That's a classic regional trail race, an epic point-to-point and deviation from my usual promoters (Coastal Trail Races, Pacific Coast Trail Races, and Inside Trail Racing). It's a lot of climbing in big extended doses. But I think if I recover reasonably quickly from Woodside I should be able to do it, so I signed up. This 35 km race was an excellent stepping stone to 50 km, a bit closer to target than a more typical 30 km race.