Monday, June 29, 2009

A new connection

What a wonderful feeling to discover that two previously unconnected domains are in fact connected. And what a glorious connection!

Nothing new here. Bill Bushnell had it on his incredible ride atlas. Keith Vetter translated that to his brilliant Klimb. But heck, these days its even on Google Maps. But it's one thing to see lines on a screen. Numbers: distance traveled, feet climbed. Abstractions. It's another to actually be there, turn the pedals. Point A. Then Point B. Two dead-ends now very alive.

Public or private? Next question. Road is basically the same after as it was before. No harm done. You can't trust signs, anyway.

view from Loma Prieta Way
From Loma Prieta Way (Jores photo)

It's been a good week for me. Okay, so the power meter hasn't told me anything exciting. But not so long after racing Hamilton I raced the slopes of Diablo. The next day: I rode Alpine Dam to the Mt Tam summit. Then Umunhum on Wednesday with Dave, taking a half-day at work. The Bay area Big 4. Top it off by spending Thursday hiking Muir with my visiting sister and her boyfriend.

Finally I've managed to get in a solid block of training, and I'm recovering better, staying stronger to the end of long rides. Long rides through beautiful terrain really remind me what it is to be alive. And if I can make new connections, that's even better.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


There was a strong headwind on North Gate Road this morning. I'd swapped my Edge 24 "Mt. Washington" front wheel with its Veloflex Record time trial tire for my heavier but more aerodynamic Reynolds MV32-T with its Veloflex Carbon road racing tire when the Tufo sealant I'd injected into the Record clearly couldn't handle the 140 psi I tried to apply. With the wind, though, the Reynolds may have been the better choice, as it has proven solid aerodynamics, likely substantially better than the shallower Mt. Washington.

Ron Castia and Tim Clark, each scheduled to start soon before me, were each missing. This was frustrating, as it meant I had no competitors in my field to chase. Not that I was going to catch Tim anyway. It's nice to feel the pull, though. That left only Nate English's push among the riders I knew, or knew of. Nate was starting 90 seconds after me. I hoped to avoid getting passed by him until I was within 3 km or so from the finish, then to use him as a rabbit to motivate a maximal effort to the finish. But I put Nate and everyone else out of my mind as my turn came on the starting platform.

For the first time in 3 attempts at this race I managed to avoid a near-crash coming off the start ramp, then immediately got as aero as I could for the relatively flat first section of about a kilometer. Dan Smith encourages practicing in the drops, and I've been doing a lot of that lately, work which I felt paid off here. I managed to catch Ed Condit, 45+, who'd started 30 seconds earlier. This was a positive sign, I felt, although there was still the bulk of the climbing yet to come.

The headwind and variable grade made for pacing challenge on this climb. I planned to keep the pressure on everywhere except the steepest pitch at kilometer 4. On the steep stuff, the grade itself provides its own inspiration, so I find it best to focus on throttling back in these sections, spin as low a gear as I have available, then quickly ramp up the effort when the grade relents. This seemed to work fairly well.

Soon after, I heard heavy breathing from behind. That could mean only one thing: Nate. Sure enough, he soon noisily overtook me. I thought of Tim Clark, another rider who breathes loudly. Both the sight and sound of Nate reinforced my determination to push myself through my limits. Break through the barrier. But this barrier wouldn't break. Nate was simply faster than me. Me and around 5.9999 billion other people.

climbing Diablo
Climbing Diablo (Casadalane Photography/Taleo Racing)

I passed a few more riders along the way, the distance markers painted every 100 feet slowly, too slowly, ticking down. I was in a void, a void of information. No power meter. No heartrate monitor. No context of a mass-start field. Just the Zen of applying force to the pedals.

1 km to go..... I recalibrated the offset of the foot markers... 200 meters. 100 meters! I was dizzy. My field of view closed into a small focal spot. The finish. I was done.

So ends another hillclimb story. They tend to all come across similarly. But I never get tired of them.

I'd done the best I could. My times were faster in 2006 and 2007 (I didn't race last year), but the wind was a huge factor. The numbers:

Mount Diablo Time Trial 35+ 1-2-3
1. Kevin Metcalfe Team Specialized 26:13
2. Keiran Sherlock Webcor/Alto Velo @ 1:10
3. Greg McQuaid SJBC/SugarCRM @ 1:22
4. Doug Merrill Davis Bike Club @ 1:37
5. Dan Connelly Team Roaring Mouse @ 2:03
6. Kevin Kennedy Taleo Racing @ 2:47

Interestingly had I done the 3's I would have been in second of ten by 4 seconds to Greg Coleman. But then Kieran and Doug in the 35+ 1-2-3 are also 3's. Not that categories should matter in time trials. If I wanted to place higher I should have ridden faster, not chosen a different category.

So overall, not too bad, not too good, sort of just what I'd expect to be able to do. Which given how I've been riding is better than I'd expect.

My time would have placed 10th in the P12:
Mount Diablo Time Trial P-1-2
1. Nate English 24:11
2. Justin Lau @ 1:13
3. Chris Phipps @ 1:42
4. Rob Anderson @ 2:16
5. Eric Balfus @ 2:36
6. Ryan Sherlock @ 2:45
7. James Wingart @ 2:47
8. Davis Yakaitis @ 3:15
9. Justin Lucke @ 3:51
10. John Tefethen @ 4:36
11. Michael Foley @ 5:17
12. Adam Ross @ 6:21
13. Kalen Oruber @ 6:30
14. Mark Deterline @ 6:32
15. Chris Ott @ 7:45
16. Lee Jenson @ 8:18

Neighbors on the Start List

C4 has set us up with a nice alphabetical start list. My neighborhood:

Group 3 Master 35+ Cat 1-2-3
InfoVista Cycling Team
Group 3 Master 55+ Men
Group 3 Master 35+ Cat 1-2-3
Red Dragon Racing
Group 3 Master 45+ Men
Group 3 Master 35+ Cat 1-2-3
Team Roaring Mouse
Group 3 Master 45+ Men
Fitness Journal
Group 3 Master 55+ Men
Peninsula Velo
Group 3 Master 45+ Men
Taleo Racing
Group 3 Master 55+ Men
Taleo Racing
Group 3 Pro Elite 1-2 Men

Fun times. If I can hold off Nate English, that will have been a super day.

BTW, I just realized when using HTML tables in Blogger, the whole HTML table should be on one line: no newlines. Otherwise blogger will stack up the newlines before rendering the table. Learn something new every day. Well, most days, anyway.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Diablo Time Trial preview

You've gotta love hillclimbs. Just ride up the hill, pure and simple. Fastest one to the top wins.

This Saturday C4 Racing is hosting their annual Mount Diablo Hillclimb time trial: 10 km of pure pain. Unfortunately, they only get to run their race up North Gate Road, rather than continuing on to Summit Road, but still it's a very worthy course. 10 km = 6.2 miles with 1900 feet (580 meters) of climbing. Good stuff.

Profile of the course, with data taken from MotionBased

After licking my wounds from Pescadero with 2 days off the bike and 3 days of recovery rides, I should be ready on Saturday for my best effort, at least relative to my unknown current fitness. It's a tough field in the 35+ 1-2-3: Low-Key legend Tim Clark, Ross' Hillclimb winner in the category Kieran Sherlock, and recent 3→2 upgrade Greg McQuaid have all proven they can out-climb me. Then add former 35+ winner and this year's Mount Hamilton Road Race winner Kevin Metcalf... the field's only 10 strong but it's going to be a super-solid result to crack the top 5. I could easily have a great day and still be tenth.

So the focus here is just on me and the road. To dig deep. Deeper than I want to. Deeper than I think I can. To liberate the mind from the inhibitions which hold us back.... that's what climbing is all about. To go to that place from where an industrial society tries to insulate us. Deep within ourselves, running from that chasing predator, pushing ourselves through the wall of pain.

Thanks to C4 Racing for hosting such a fun event.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

reflections on Pescadero

Michael Grundmann photo.

I moved back to the Bay Area from Austin in late 2000. In early 2001, I was racing very well, having ridden solidly through the winter, reveling in the roads I knew from graduate school. I upgraded from 4 to 3 that year, in time to use my points from a circuit race I'd won in San Antonio the summer of 2000. I was 11th at Pescadero RR as a 3, riding strongly on the climbs on each of our two laps, coming unglued on the final descent when I was dropped from the lead group of 11. I held on for 11th, though. I also did well that year at the Pomona Valley Stage Race with an excellent opening hillclimb and surviving the splits on the circuit race. Somehow I managed to finish the crit in the pack, holding onto my GC spot.

I set my PR up Old La Honda in 2002, 19:03. But the rest of the year was generally frustrating I was getting dropped in my races. Pomona was earlier that year, and I did poorly this time, getting lapped in the last-stage crit. In the fall, after a crash at the Patterson Pass Road Race seemed to cause a cascade of problems, I was pack fodder at the Green Mountain Stage Race until getting cut when I was again lapped in the final crit. I thought that might well be my final race, both because of the trend in my results, and because I wanted to share more activities with my girlfriend at the time.

2003 and 2004 I rode the Noon Ride but not much else. I became quite good at the Noon Ride: I'd come into the week fresh, then thrash for my hour each day. But I wasn't good for much more. I missed the longer challenges.

In 2005 I had more time for riding when that girlfriend moved back to the east coast, so I decided to go back to double centuries, completing for the second time the California Triple Crown. Double centuries are really painful: the low point is around mile 130. I felt good to get back into it, though.

In 2006 my confidence was increased, and decided to dip my toe into racing again. Berkeley Hills was frustrating, my first race back, as I was dropped, but still managed to finish. A highlight was the Sierra SuperTour, and epic two-week bike tour through the Sierra mountains. That fall, though, Kevin Winterfield and I restarted the Low-Key Hillclimbs. I did better than I anticipated, and the series was a success.

2007 was highlighted by a strong ride at Diamond Valley in the 40+ state championship, in part due to fitness I gained riding a Memorial Day weekend training tour from Campbell to Santa Barbara. I also rode well at Climb to Kaiser, a 154 mile ride/semi-race from Fresno to Kaiser Pass and back. And again the Low-Key Hillclimbs were a success, despite Kevin's departure for Connecticut. I also rode well, at least by my standards.

2008 I started training with Dan Smith. The year started nicely, with the Hostels International San Diego Christmas Tour. Cara and I again did the Memorial Day weekend tour, where I felt I wasn't as strong as in 2007, but it was still solid training. Cara and I then did an excellent bike tour in Italy with Andy Hampsten: week-long trips just do wonders for fitness, I find. I rode well again at Diamond Valley (not placing as well, but still feeling strong), and placed second in the Ross' Hillclimb in the cat 3's. Another successful Low-Key Hillclimb series followed.

That winter, I decided to start running. I did a few 10 kms, and a few trail runs. Super-fun stuff, a nice break from bike racing. Cara and I did a bike tour over Christmas with Red Spokes in Thailand and Laos. It was by far the least physically challenging bike tour I've done, though, so from the training perspective, wasn't the best. Still very interesting, however.

I spent much of the tour sick, first with a cold, then with food poisening. Then when I returned, I got sick again. This killed my goal of running the Austin Marathon. And later, I got sick again. I injured my knee running that second trail run, which provided another set-back. And I continued including running in my training, which didn't seem to tranfer much to my cycling. Then Cara injured her knee, causing us to miss the Memorial Day Tour, and subsequently we're going to have to skip our pre-paid Bicycle Tour of Colorado trip. My power this year has been off 20 watts from where it was last year. And I just lack the ability to make multiple hard efforts. I've yet to finish a hard group ride, and the only race (other than Ross' Hillclimb) I've finished has been the Menlo Grand Prix, a flat crit. I feel like it's 2002 again, except this time I'm six years older. Pounding my head against the wall for no reason. Pounding my head against the wall because I don't know what else to do.

So finally this leads to today...the Pescadero Road Race. I simply wasn't a factor. I struggled on the climbs. I got dropped on the wet descents. I quit after two of the three laps, exhausted. Why was I there? What was the point?

Well, next week's the Mount Diablo Time Trial. Cara and I were supposed to be in Colorado, but we're going to have to eat our non-refundable non-transferrable entry fees on that one and sit it out. So Diablo it is. A chance to see where at least one aspect of my fitness is this year compared to the past two years. I hate going to races and not being able to compete. Dropping out exhausted half-way through, before the real race has even begun, is an enormous waste of time and attention. We'll see how Diablo goes. If well, I can think about that. But otherwise, it may be time to pack it in again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ross's Epic

Another Ross's Epic in the bag.... and again I was shocked at the brutal steepness of the final 1100 vertical feet.

Partial results finally went on-line last night. I and many of the other day-of-registrants seem to be missing. I was number 119, second in the 35+ 1-2-3. Not a bad result for me: the category winner was Webcor/Alto Velo's Kieran Sherlock, an excellent climber who's fairly fit with a focus on time trials right now. Also up the road in my starting group were Rob Anderson, winner of the 45+ 1-2-3, a truly excellent climber, and John Bennett, a 3 riding for Whole Athlete. I was with these guys until close to the end of the first climb of 2000 vertical feet. I desperately wanted to hang with them, as it's a big advantage to be in a group on the 2-mile flat-descending section separating the two climbs. But I just couldn't stick.

After being caught by the second group, I ride past the volunteer station at the start of the second climb. Curiously our order of finish was the same as our order in this photo. Coincidence? Photo by Hulk Hands.

On that plateau, I was caught by a group including 45+ John Ornstil (VOS), E3 Justin Malloy (Norcal Velo), and E3 Brian Gillis of Z-Team. "2 miles to go!" the volunteers shouted as we began the brutal second climb. Sobering.... a bit too much so, as it's more like a mile and a half. I should have been aware of this. Indeed, Keiran Sherlock had memorized the pattern of switchbacks from Google Maps.

Brian had difficulty on the steepest grades and fell off the pace. Justin surged, a pace I couldn't or wouldn't match, instead settling into a pace I could sustain for this rather extended climb. John rode near me.

approaching the finish
Approaching the finish with John Ornstil (Veronika Lenzi)

I looked for the 500 meter or 200 meter signs which had been there last year. The road snaked out ahead. I remember being fooled by what I had thought was the summit last year, surging too soon. I wasn't going to make the same mistake this time.

A line appeared from my tunnel of pain. John surged: my addled brain not registering until too late that it was the finish line. I crossed with fuel left in the tank. Not good.

My front tire had a slow leak. Not a big deal on this climb: it's so steep there's not much weight on that tire anyway! Still, I needed more air for the descent. I pumped it, then started riding down the hill. After some bumps on the steepest portion of the descent, my tire, a Veloflex Record sew-up, went totally flat. I stopped at the volunteer station near the bottom of the second climb, eventually getting a ride back with Veronika Lenzi. It was nice to finally meet her: she does great work photographing local races.

Overall, I wasn't too disappointed with how my race went. Of course, you always want to win, and I didn't do that. But my official time was faster than last year, and I know I was much fitter then. I know I have room still to improve this season.

The event itself is in transition. Last year it was a USA Cycling affiliated race, this year it straddled the fence between race and ride. The missing signs, the lack of results at the start-finish, the long delay before getting results on-line all could have been viewed as a disappointment viewing it as a race. But it's moving beyond that, and should be judged in a different light. It's a celebration of climbing and of health. A chance to reflect on how lucky we are. And a chance to raise some much-needed funds for Ross.

But the transition has taken its toll. I can name at least 3 competitive climbers who stayed home because of the change in status. If the event is going to survive, it needs to attract the semi-competitive recreational crowd, the ones who turn out so strongly for the Low-Key Hillclimbs. They've got to get the word out, get beyond the hard-core racer crowd.

Is there space on the race calendar for another USA Cycling hillclimb? I think so. Every time I attend one of these events I file away what I like and what I don't. I'd like to give it a try. It's a big jump from Low-Key to USAC. But let's see for 2010.

Friday, June 5, 2009


I just finished weenieing up by bike for tomorrow's hillclimb. One compromise: a Red steel 11-26 cassette instead of my Recon Al 12-23. This costs me around 90 grams. Worth it, I think: those three extra teeth are going to be very precious on that last section of Pine Flat Road to the summit. A nice thing about training with a power meter: it really shows how my power falls off quickly, even at increased perceived exertion, as cadence drops below 60. No need for Armstrong-esque 100 rpm: 70-75 is probably my sweet spot. But get down into the mud in the 50's or even lower and the legs start to really burn without doing much useful work. Yes, that 26 cog is easily worth those 90 grams.

I also moved the 34 ring from my Ritchey, replacing the 36 I had on the Fuji. 36-50 is a great combination, especially when combined with an 11-23, and one you can't get with the Vumaquad or with Extralight. Just not tomorrow. Not on this climb. They don't come much nastier than the top of Pine Flat Road, especially with legs softened up with the preceding 2500 feet of climbing.

See you there, I hope.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

post-May fitness assessment

I've definitely seen tangible fitness improvements in May. For the first time all year, I've been able to train fairly consistently without sickness. Okay, so I missed some time after my crash at Berkeley Hills. Okay, so I missed some time when I scratched my eye with a contact lens. But after a nice "recovery week" of four consecutive rest days with a gradual transition back to training, I was feeling really good. And my three race efforts, although I had trouble at each of them, were of obvious advantage.

But where do I stand relative to last year? Consider the maximal power curves, comparing data taken from a subset of rides in March to May 2008 to data taken from non-race rides in May and the first few days of June 2009:

maximal power curve comparison

Starting on the left, I've clearly been sprinting well this year compared to last year. Moving right, I've done exactly one decent 5 minute interval, compared to a notable 200 second interval (3⅓ minutes) from last year. But in the near-20-minute range associated with Old La Honda climbs, you can see last year's data rise clearly above. Moving further right, multi-hour rides from last year were at higher power. This includes rides like the Roaster's Ride and race data. True, I've not been using my Powertap at races this year. But I haven't raced hard much more than two hours: Berkeley Hills I crashed out of after 30-something miles. Mount Hamilton I fried after having ridden really hard for an hour and change. At Spring Hill I dropped out after two hours (44 miles). So in that 3-5 hour range not many solid efforts.

Also shown in the plot are CP model data. The anaerobic work capacity (AWC) from this year appears relatively higher: it is listed as the ratio of AWC to critical power (CP), which has units time and is labeled τ. But the issue with the CP model is it requires near-optimal efforts over at least two sufficiently different time intervals.

My best anaerobic effort was that 5 minute interval I did in the Headlands back on May 5. I completed only one; when I attempted my second I had nothing left. When feeling well I'd be able to complete at least 4, preferably up to 6 of these, with my best being the second or third of the set. This was soon before I took my recovery period, as I was feeling depleted.

And my best Old La Honda effort was this week, on Wednesday's Noon Ride. The day before I thrashed myself on a short hill workout, the "Ghetto Blasters" loop from my days with Stanford Cycling oh-so-long-ago. Ghetto blasters, unfortunately, aren't good at putting up impressive points on the maximal power curve, although I did manage to set a PR-this-year for around 30-seconds. In any case, by Wednesday's Noon Ride the next day I was still feeling that Tue-evening workout a bit, and after doing the two sides of Old La Honda (the west side slowly with other Noon-riders), I felt bonked.

Let's consider the two exemplary OLH efforts: the one from 9 April 2008, and the one from this Wednesday. The running average of power from the beginning of the climb is shown in the following plot:

maximal power curve comparison

In the 2008 climb, I actually started out a bit slowly, waiting a few seconds before I decided to test myself. The average power took awhile to recover from this initial delay, but once it did, reaching the 290 watt range, it barely faded, and what amount it did fade I managed to recover in the final few hundred meters. In contrast, in Wednesday's climb I started out at a similar 290 watts. Indeed, the recent short hill work I've done made this effort feel easy. I was doing well, hitting the first mailboxes at 6:30 on my watch, quite good for me. But then I really began to fade. While 290 watts felt relaxed near the start, it got to be a struggle to even stay above 250. I'd led at the bottom, but as I faded I was caught by Matt. I tried to apply pressure but couldn't drop him, so followed him instead. He surged away from me at the finish, leaving me to struggle in behind.

In summary, I think I have a better OLH in me right now. Maybe not 23 W better, but better than the 266 I put on the board on Wednesday.

Curiously, my time was much better in this week's climb than in the one from 2008. There are at least three identifiable reasons for this. One is weight: my equipment on Wed was slightly lighter (maybe 120 grams from a lighter saddle, Ti bolts in my stem, and Al bowties on my pedals... plus some undocumented difference in water). But also my AM weight was 5.2 lb lighter this time. That's a big deal, but as is evident from the W/kg number, my power-per-unit weight was still greater in the 2008 climb. Another factor is drafting: although I faded, I had the advantage of drafting Matt for part of the climb this year, while last year was a pure solo effort. And the final factor was wind. Last year's climb was with a notable headwind (although it wasn't very strong), while this Wednesday there may have been a bit of tailwind. Wind on Old La Honda is always relative modest, but even undetectable levels of wind can have an effect. Indeed, I did significantly better than Wed's 17:51 in other rides during 2008, although that April ride was my best recorded power number.

So while the stopwatch can be misleading, power meters don't lie: my power on OLH this year is way lower than I was achieving last year. But I must remind myself last year I had a much more successful training experience early in the year: the Christmas Tour out of San Diego, Dan Smith's training camp, and some good long miles with the Roaster's crew. This year I've struggled to find continuity between sickness and injury, and my early emphasis on running didn't seem to translate well into cycling fitness. So I don't want to allow myself to become discouraged. I burned out last year after Diamond Valley in early July. Maybe this year I'll start later but last through Cal Cup, where I had nothing last year.

Saturday: Ross's Hillclimb. Last year I was second in the E3 race. This year I'm planning on riding 35+, part of the same pack but picked separately. It'll be interesting to see what happens. Obviously there's no indication I'm at the same level of preparation as I was in 2008. But I'll show up with a lighter bike: last year I had my Powertap wheel (with batteries which had expired at the start line, so no data!) which is a brick. This year: my Mount Washingtons. Indeed, this will be a chance for my recent weight-weenie addiction to pay off, at least a bit. But power almost always trumps equipment weight: while light weight stuff may save even 20 seconds on a climb like Pine Flat road, I'd much rather have that extra 18 watts of CP.

Saturday will tell. Breakthrough rides do happen. Maybe I'm due.