Sunday, April 30, 2006

I don't crit

Sunday, 30 April

But today I finished a race at Seward Park (okay, it's a pseudo-crit) for the first time since...25 April 1998. On that day, Lysle Wilhelmi (who has since retired from pro-dom) lapped the entire field except me, and I managed to lap 3 other riders. So in 8 years (!) I have done laps here and there on Thursday nights but otherwise managed to escape the whole enchilada. But today I succumbed to peer pressure and doing what I "should" do. The proof is here. And I live to tell the tale.

Actually, it's not much of a tale because I can't say I did much racing. There were 10 of us at the start, 3 Wines of Washington women, 4 from other teams, and 3 of us unlikely to be factors in the race. Not long after the start, Gina (Wines) attacked and got a little gap, and Carrie and Jen bridged up to her. Suz and Tricia (Wines) sat up, blocked, whatever, and nobody seemed particularly interested in going after the others (with so few of us in the race, it's not like you can "block" anyone from getting around on that course). Taylor had to get a wheel change and then launched a couple of pretty good attacks when she came back in from that little rest. But Suz and Tricia kept reeling her in. Amara launched up the hill when she knew she was about done; the fact that she attacked going uphill was a sign that something was up, even before she went backwards. We dawdled around some more, hitting the marvelous speed of 14 mph at one point. How Gina et al. didn't manage to lap the field, I'm not exactly sure. We all knew that Suz was going to jump at some stage. When she did, we waved goodbye and hung in for the few remaining laps. It was sort of a textbook race and it was pretty entertaining to just watch the predictable plot unfold. Okay, it was lame of me not to race, but I was happier being entertained than being frustrated like Nancy and Taylor.

Under (year-old) standing orders to do some crits, I'm workin' on it.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The return of fred

Saturday, 29 April

A girlie digression. I rode home from work yesterday via the Burke Gilman Trail. This is normally a boring, bumpy way to get a few extra miles. But on Friday it was heavenly. It was a warm afternoon, and all the lilacs and everything else in bloom smelled SO GOOD. I really pitied everyone who has to drive a car to work.

And on Saturday, for once, the rain in the forecast didn’t materialize until AFTER our race. That made conditions at the Green Valley TT pretty close to ideal. A little bit of wind, but not enough to push me around. I heard a complaint that it could’ve been warmer, but no wind and no rain is just fine by me.

I prerode most of the course for my warmup. Nope, nothing new out there since we raced on 10 miles of this 11.5-mile course at the Ice Breaker TT in early March. I was one of the first riders off so I could get back in time to do the whole thing again on the tandem. Martin was chasing me…again…and I asked him to please not catch me quite as soon as last time. It was good to see Kitty being the starter; she was a fixture of my early years of racing. The problem today was that about 30 seconds before my start, she asked “are you still officiating a lot?” I should have left it with a yes/no answer, but there isn’t one, and I got distracted and stopped paying attention to those little rituals you do just before your start. So when she said “3-2-1-go” and I stood up, I discovered that my right foot wasn’t clipped into the pedal. I think there are penalties for the words I said as I tried to recover from that oops move.

But once I was all clipped in (too many pedal strokes later), it felt pretty good. I rode some on the 55x12 but never got down to the 11. I think I was pushing a pretty big gear most of the time, and maybe I should’ve been spinning more. But I didn’t get bogged down. Martin didn’t pass me until more than 5 miles into the course—not long before the turnaround. I kept the gap pretty constant to the turn, but then he pulled away. That road must be more uphill on the return than anyone notices!

I consciously tried to work even harder from the 1K sign to the finish, and my legs were so tired that I wondered how on earth I was going to be able to do this a second time. And there wasn’t much recovery time at this race. I rolled around a little, went back to the parking lot, hopped on the tandem, and we cruised up and down a little bit. My stomach could not bear the thought of a gel, so I had to go with whatever breakfast was left in me. As we approached the start, I reminded Martin that we were still in the middle chain ring and we should probably race in the big ring. Neither of us was very excited about that switch to reality; spinning an easier gear was much nicer for tired legs.

More chatting before this start. Mick was in front of us and Les was behind us, so there was someone strong to chase and another to hold off. We still don’t stand up for these starts, so it seems like it takes a long time to get up to speed on the tandem. But once we’ve settled in and I get down into my bars, it’s just pedal pedal pedal. I can't see when there’s a bend in the road. Fortunately, there are only gentle turns on this course so I didn’t quite tip over when Martin leaned into the turns. Several people commented on how fast we were going when we passed them, but I only saw one person go by in my peripheral vision. No standing up after the turnaround, either, which is kind of funny because both of us barely sit on the saddle as we try to put more power to the pedals to wind it up again.

Bottom line for the day: Fred and her pedal inattentiveness got beaten by a second, but my time was 26 seconds faster than last year. On the tandem, we were 19 seconds slower than last year. What’s up with that?

The view from the front of the tandem is here.
Race results are here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hooray for teammates

Tuesday, 25 April

The results prove it. Allison is such a great teammate. (Actually, I think she's just a great person and that transfers over to everything else she does.) She and I and Suz and Carrie comprised the riders of the TRIA team at Willamette. At the end of Sunday's stage, when I was trying to motor along on the flats in the last 20K and catch Maria, I was apparently running out of steam because the Allison train came cruising past like I didn't know how to time trial. Good thing I was able to hop on and stay with her all the way to the finish! Left to my own pace, I clearly would've slipped farther down GC. Thanks to Allison's help, I finished 6 seconds ahead of Maria in GC (and 7 behind Allison):

9 08:07:25,03 Beall, Allison TRIA
10 08:07:32,63 Walsh, Martha TRIA
11 08:07:38,23 Lee, Maria Symmetrics

This gave TRIA 3 riders in the top 10! Not so bad for a team with anonymous blue jerseys!

Full race results are here.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A fred has fun

Sunday, 23 April

Today was the big road race stage at the Willamette Valley Classic. It featured two BIG climbs (3+ miles each), three not-quite-so-big climbs (~1 mile), as well as some things that were definitely bigger than rollers. The second half of the stage was on roads I had raced on before; the first half was new. We rode 70 miles, the same as the eliter men’s categories. In a nutshell, it was an absolutely spectacular day on the bike, in spite of an operator error that cost me any hopes of GC respectability. It wasn't epic, it was just good, hard fun.

Our race started at 8:50, when it was all of about 45 degrees. You knew it was going to warm up, but it was hard to convince yourself that you didn’t want long sleeves or shoe covers or knee warmers. The race staged and finished at the King Estate Winery, which perches on top of a BIG hill near Lorane. So the first half-mile of the race was really frigid going downhill.

We rolled along in the valley at such an amiable pace that our follow official pulled up next to us and asked if we knew we were racing! The tempo on the first little hill was pretty moderate, and I don’t think anyone got seriously gapped off. We had our pack pee stop; I had chosen the right day to not wear bib shorts. The first BIG climb came about 20 miles in, and it was probably 3-4 miles long; the course profile shows 1000 feet of elevation gain. Riders kept going off the back until we were down to 10, with Leah setting tempo most of the time. I hung in there all the way to the top, and down the other side, but nobody wanted to drive the pace and the whole field caught back on within a few miles.

The next climb wasn’t so big, but I wasn’t expecting it. I had worked my way through my gears until I was riding on my 50x23, so of course when I shifted onto the little ring, the chain came off. I guess I forgot to turn in my fred license when I upgraded to cat 2. The hill was steep enough at this stage that I didn’t have enough momentum to give me time to get it back on by pedaling, so I had to stop, get off the bike, and put the chain back on. 300 meters off the back is a big gap on a climb when there’s more horsepower at the front than you’ll ever muster. I worked and worked and passed riders. When the pack turned onto Siuslaw River Road—which is where the course became familiar—I was still 200m off the back. Chase, chase some more, and finally I got back on. The double-whammy problem was that Siuslaw has some pretty substantial rollers and I need recovery time after an effort like that. Bad combo. We came to a hill right away, somebody punched it, and I was out the back again.

After that, as they say, I was no longer racing; I was just riding my bike. I rode in little groups of different women. I rode away from some on the climbs, and one rode away from me on the descents. I had a good deal going for a while with Deb on the rollers; I rode on the front on the uphill and sat on her wheel on the downhill. I never got reattached to the front group, and probably I would not have stayed if I had. I set tempo for my little group (which had a different composition at the top than at the bottom) up all of the Wolf Creek climb, and then again on the 5 miles of false flat into a headwind before the descent down to Territorial Highway. At the bottom of the hill, I was riding solo again for the longest time (trying to catch Maria who was maybe 300m up the road) until Allison and Kori came by, and I hung on to the Allison train all the way to the finish. We lost Kori on the last little hill coming up to the mondo climb back up to the finish at the winery.


This was a PERFECT course. The scenery was amazing. You wonder how riding through trees can be so great, but in the Willamette Valley they are dripping with moss, they are just now starting to leaf out, and the sun was trickling through them all. They make a canopy over the road in a lot of places. And there is NOBODY else on the roads. (Except chipmunks!)

Most of the roads were nice 2-lane affairs with a yellow line down the midde. But this is “Willamette” after all, and we had a fair distance on patched, gravely little one-lane BLM/logging roads with branches and fallen trees across half the lane in places. No traffic. More trees. It was truly a taste of the old Tour of Willamette. The kind of stuff we don’t have at home. (Me saying I liked riding on gravel and broken pavement ranks right up there with yesterday’s fun in a technical circuit race for unlikeliness.) The climb where I dropped my chain was on a bitsy little road with no centerline, and you couldn't tell where the edge of the road was because it was covered in gravel and needles. We were given the "whole road" on the first big climb where I stayed with the front group, and it was nice to be able to take the shortest line through some of the corners. After patroling the yellow line like it was the edge of the universe in our two previous road stages, the officials must have figured out there hadn't been cars out on the roads we were on today in months.

After the feed zone on Siuslaw River Road (who were all those people who knew my name?), there’s about a mile of descending with some tight turns. We rode this road last summer in the Co-Motion Classic on the tandem, and as I went around the bends at the top following Allison’s wheel, I was wondering how on earth I managed to hang on to the tandem which was undoubtedly going a lot faster than I had the nerves to go on my own. As if to jar me out of my reverie, a chipmunk scooted out onto the road, stopped about a foot from Allison’s wheel, and turned around. I’m not sure who was more frightened: me, Allison, or the chipmunk!

Getting to race with Alice is always fun because you know she loves the sport but she doesn't treat it like rocket science and is just out for a good, hard effort. There aren't many wheels I would rather ride on because you just KNOW she's got the bike handling skills to avoid anything. It was great to see her in the front group on the big climbs today. Maybe someday we'll have to get her to take a time trial seriously. It was also good (in a perverse sort of way--you know she'll make you suffer) to have Leah back after her crash at Cascade last July. And it was a pleasure to race in an elite women's peloton. After the first day, there was not a sketchy wheel in the bunch. It's going to be hard to go back to Tuesday nights with masters and cat 4-5 men.

Oh, and the weather? For all those people who didn’t come to this race “because it always rains at Willamette,” it was 70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky at our finish.

I think maybe I had more fun today being a fred out the back than I would have if I had been trying my damnedest not to get dropped by the pros and 1s in our pro-1-2 field. I didn’t win, I wasn’t even the first loser, but I had a lot of fun. It was one of those days that makes me appreciate being able to race my bike and ranks right up there in top 10 days on the bike. Thanks to Richard Sweet and his army of volunteers and OBRA folks for starting a new Willamette Valley tradition. It really is a “Classic”!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Martha moves up

Saturday, 22 April

Weird things happen in bike races. In WVC stage two today, I moved from the bottom of GC to 7th with one 16-mile time trial. It had some hills and a tough headwind on the return, but I only got out of the saddle once, never had to use the small chain ring, and used my 55x11 a few times. I was a long way off the winner's time but happy enough to finish 6th. Miranda got her revenge for my win at Jack Frost, beating me by 8 seconds today to take the massive $5 prize for 5th on the stage.

This was a double-stage day. Stage three was a 5.2-mile circuit with a big climb on the course profile. Our 6-lap race was shortened to 5 laps while we were on the road because the race was running behind schedule. Reports from the riders in fields that raced earlier were that the descents were a bit sketchy (which meant I would not be happy). We figured the race would get blown apart by the climb and aggressive riding on the descents. It turned out to be a pretty fun race.

At the end of the first lap, I wondered "where was the hill?" It was a big-ring drag, not really a "climb" at all, and so it didn't really have the potential to split up our race (not that a few didn't try). There were some sharp turns in the descent/rollers section, some of them at pretty good speed. Kori went off the road on one of these, using her mountain bike skills to keep it upright in the gravel and not get tangled up in the wire fence. The wind kicked up, but most of the course was sheltered so it wasn't a factor. I stayed in the pack (well, on the back of the pack), which was better than I expected. It really showed how deceptive course profiles can be. And either the women in our race were riding conservatively or I might be getting used to these sort-of-technical races.

While we all waited for our traveling partners in the men's 1-2 race, Deb and I had a picnic dinner with some of the BC girls in our race. When Deb caught me buying a bottle of beer in the supermarket to go with my panini, I explained that I was just taking a page out of the training program of one of her teammates. She said, "don't you need a whole case?!" The Canadians were dumbfounded when I sat down with my bottle, then they admitted that they thought it was great that you can buy beer in supermarkets in America!

It was so fun to race in the warm sunshine, to have a good TT, and to be happily surprised by a fun race on a course described as a big crit.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Windy Willamette

Friday, 21 April

Now I remember what I don't like about stage races with the word "Willamette" in the name: being at the bottom of GC. At the old Tour of Willamette, my goal every year was not to be last. And I think I achieved that goal, although sometimes it was pretty close, especially when 10 women would DNF on the last day (and all of them below me in GC, I swear). But today, at the new Willamette Valley Classic, well, what can I say: I get to go first in the time trial tomorrow morning.

We did 3 laps of a pretty flat 16- or 17-mile circuit. It was windy when we arrived and only got worse during the race. I just can't ride in the wind. The bike doesn't go where it's supposed to, and I seem to spend all my time and focus keeping it from migrating across the yellow line or diving into the ditch. Only by some miracle did we escape a huge pile-up in the last lap when a gust blew several women into each other. Our official could not figure out why women kept going across the center line: they weren't attacking, the wind was pushing them.

I got gapped off in a cross-wind section at the end of the second lap. The follow cars passed me, and then stopped cold in the middle of the road (one in the left lane, one in the right lane) as we came around a corner to start the last lap. WTF??? That sure didn't help my chase-back-on effort. And about a mile or two after I did get back on, they neutralized us so that the cat 1-2 men (break, then pack) could pass. That was like a 3-mile rest stop for us, and there was another one several miles later when a huge 1-2 chase group went by. If you're doing the math here, you'll realize there were only about 3 miles left, the first one with a huge cross wind, then a long tailwind straight (great for those lead-out types), and then a right turn and 1K (more cross wind) to the finish. Quite a few people started to sprint at the 1K sign (you could see the finish line), but needless to say they weren't the first ones across the line. And the woman who did win schooled everyone else with about 30-foot gap at the line.

I hope to rebound a little in GC with our 16-mile TT tomorrow morning. But the afternoon circuit race sounds like my race from hell. So I guess I just look forward to long, long climbs (one of which I know all too well--I'll be sure to point out where the logging truck went over the edge to anyone within earshot at that point) on Sunday. And maybe if I hold my GC position at the end of the race, I can DOWNGRADE back to cat 3!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The heck with Seabeck

Saturday, 15 April

Today was payback for those three dry Saturdays we had at Mason Lake in March. It made the Tahuya-Seabeck-Tahuya road race an ugly epic this year. On a good day, it's a tough 65-mile loop. On a bad day, it's awful.

The forecast was for rain, rain, cold temperatures, and high winds. But the forecasters were wrong: instead of wind, we got snow! It's amazing that I did not hear of a single crash, and although I saw some horribly cold riders, I don't think there was any irreversible damage.

It was pouring rain and 42 degrees when we got to Tahuya (which is on Hood Canal), and it just never stopped or warmed up. Nobody really warmed up before our race--because of the rain. We staged--in the rain. We bowed our heads and thought warm thoughts of Brad Lewis and his smiles and encouragement for everyone (thanks, Effie!)--in the rain. We should have also thought happy, supportive thoughts for Emily, who's an active member of our peloton and past participant in this race.

Backtrack a little here. After Thursday night's laps in the rain, I developed a hacking cough. I don't feel sick, but it sounds pretty bad. After the first kilometer of today's race, I could feel every breath like a knife in my lungs. Probably not a good thing, eh? After another kilometer or two, my hands and feet were soaking wet and well on their way to numb. So. Ride 65 miles in steady, cold rain, or not? This is not rocket science. I rode to the top of the first hill (about mile 5) and turned around and went back to the car. Lots of the men who had started before me were already there.

All our cars in Tahuya were jammed in one small parking lot like we were at a football game, so there was no getting out to go to the feed zone (like anyone would have wanted a bottle of cold water!) or drive the course to pick up hypothermic riders. I was able to give refuge to two returnees who were locked out of their carpool buddy's car, and I maybe helped out a little at the finish line. And I heard so many stories of snow, shivering too hard to control the bike, inability to grab the brakes because of numb hands, willingness to abandon bikes if only someone would offer a ride back to Tahuya.

I never once thought I'd made the wrong decision for me. But there must be a more competitive side to my character than I acknowledge. When I got home, I was grumpy. I considered the day pretty much a waste of time. I didn't do anything constructive, I didn't do anything I enjoyed, I didn't get a workout, I didn't see much that was beautiful (on a clear-ish day, this course has a fantastic view of the Olympics), and I saw lots of people suffering. And I'm so behind in my training because I rode just 11 miles today!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Pacific Raceways

Tuesday/Thursday 11/13 April

Another assumption not to make: never assume that you won't someday be doing what you now shun. Persuasive friends have a way of converting the weak-minded, or at least those with lame excuses.

A year ago, the thought of me racing at Pacific Raceways could not have sounded more unlikely. It's an hour's drive from home (more, if rush hour traffic is its typical self). It involves going around in circles for an hour, a privilege for which you pay $12. But then friends started to mess with my mind and suddenly I found myself sucked into this new racing scene and in less than a year I have become a proselytizer myself and this week I went twice. And it was rewarding both times.

The boys race on Tuesday nights. As usual, I started with the masters. I hope they went ballistic from the gun, because it sure seemed that way to me. After a few laps, I was way too uncomfortable and sat up to wait for the 4-5s to catch me. I'm hanging out in my usual spot on the outside of the back of their pack when a little voice next to me says "Martha, ya gotta move up." I was puzzled because I thought I was pretty incognito in that field. It was the sweeeet Mr. Stangeland on a solo mission from the 1-2 field, cruising past the 4-5s like they were standing still (never mind that he was one of them a year ago). Actually, I think he was using them for camouflage so the 1-2s wouldn't see him when we passed them going the other way. He didn't stick around to chat (dang, I should've gotten on that wheel!) and went on to win his race by more than half a lap (these are 2-mile laps). It turned out that the 4-5s weren't much slower than the masters. And the track was the tiniest bit wet, and several spots were super slippery. When I watched guys slide all over the surface on the drag strip on the next lap, I just sat up and let them ride away. Better to end the night of racing early than sliding across the ground. That meant I got to watch Jamie cruise to his incredible margin of victory, a habit to which he is apparently becoming quite accustomed. It also meant I missed the crash in the masters race that took down more than a handful of riders, some with painful damage to bodies and bikes.

Girls get the track to themselves on Thursday nights. And this time the track was more than just the tiniest bit wet--it was pouring and there was a half-inch of standing water on the smooth stretches of pavement and giant puddles everywhere else. Women's racing at SIR is a learning experience in a safe riding environment. There are some cat 2-3 "coaches," and the women who turn up to race are divided into the cat 4 racers and the beginners. My "job" as a "coach" tonight was to ride with the beginners, giving them tips on riding on the wheel in front of them, cornering, bike handling, etc. And when somebody got dropped, I towed her back up to the field. It was 45 degrees, raining steadily, water spraying everywhere, and you could hardly see anything (it was twilight). And these women were enthusiastic and had FUN! They attacked and countered, they sprinted, they chased back on, they rode through puddles like two-year-olds. Sometimes I really need an attitude check about bike racing, and these women provided it in spades. One thing's for sure: for the new racers who turned out tonight, bike racing can only get better!

I guess it's a stretch to say that I race at PR. But it is fun, and racing with the masters last year proved to be effective training. If working out with the women on Thursday nights continues to be this motivating, I can't imagine a better combination: intensity and inspiration.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A little perspective

Sunday, 9 April

Anything I achieved on the bike this weekend is sadly overshadowed by a tragic event at the Boat Street crit in Seattle on Sunday evening that took the life of an all-around great guy, Brad Lewis. He always had a smile on his face, and that's how I'll remember him. My thoughts and prayers are for his family and those who were with him at the race.

Brad loved this sport, and I hope I can pay tribute to his dedication by affirming why it was important to me this weekend. But I am reminded that it is "just bike racing," and so many things are so much more important. Treasure every single one of those things.

Up until the phone call on Sunday night, it was a good weekend--and this entry was going to be titled "I won a WHAT?!" I won the finishing sprint at the Kings Valley road race outside Corvallis on Saturday. I don't sprint, much less win them. It only proved my number one rule of bike racing: never assume anything. Those who know me are thinking that everyone else must have been DQed for crossing the center line or abucted by aliens. Nope.

By some stroke of good fortune, the rains stopped just as the first race rolled out of the parking lot. We had a couple of miles of light rain after the first lap, but other than that the race was dry. The combined women's field had 25 riders, and things were pretty sedate on the first lap. It's a 19.5-mile lap, with the finish line being about 16.5 miles into the third lap. The part of the course I remembered from years past was The Hill, which is the last kilometer up to the finish. I did not remember all the painful little rollers in the first five miles of the course. And oh yeah, there's that pesky headwind section out on the backside of the course, where the road is flat but the riding is tough.

[One hysterical note I almost forgot: the women staged behind the masters men, and while they were listening to the official's litany, I noticed that the guy in front of me had carbon wheels--and fenders!! Only in a masters race!]

After the first time up the hill, we were down to about 15 riders. The second lap was a little friskier and we lost another 5 or 6 women on that trip up the hill. This time, we got organized on the fast section after the hill and rotated our paceline around the first part of the course. Laurel attacked on one of the rollers and dangled 100m off the front for maybe 2 miles. Kori and I chased her down on the longest "roller," but the rest of the group caught us before we could get any farther away. So everyone settled in to wait for the last time up the hill. There were only two cat 4s left with us, and somehow they got stuck riding on the front for a couple of miles (more headwind) while we all rested up for the inevitable. Thank you!

We had been passed about a half a lap earlier by the cat 1-2 break, and then by a 2-man group trying to bridge. At the 1k sign, our follow official warned us that a 20-rider group was about to overtake us, but it was unclear whether we WERE neutralized, we would BE neutralized, or we should just go like hell to finish before them and get out of the way. Laurel opted for the latter interpretation, jumped immediately, and got a good gap. I think she didn't realize how much headwind there was. Kori and I were kind of stuck behind those cat 4s and others in the group and took a while to get out and launch after her. Kori got a head start, but I caught her within a hundred meters or so. I wasn't sure whether to sit on her wheel or pass her. I knew I should sit behind her if I wanted to "outsprint" her, but I also really wanted to catch Laurel, and Kori wasn't closing that gap. So I went around her, thinking that she would hop on my wheel. I also figured Andrea and the rest of the group were lined up behind me. I was surprised at how quickly I caught Laurel. I was worried, though, about whether we were supposed to be acting "neutral," so I kept to the right side of the road. We were not, in any case, allowed to take the whole road at 200m.

This all played out in very slow motion. It's not a steep climb, maybe 5%, but it slows us down (and wears us down) plenty, and the headwind was very much a factor too. It flattens out to a false flat at 200m, but your legs don't really notice. Two thoughts were going through my head: one I wasn't familiar with (there's no one between me and the finish line: go go go), and one I know all too well (there are 8 women sitting on my wheel, about to surge around me when they put some power into their sprint effort). But nothing happened at 200m, or 100m, and even at about 75m I still couldn't sense anyone moving up on either side. So I put my head down and just went for it. It turned out that only Andrea was on my wheel, and at the last second I knew she was moving to come around me. It was close, but the finish line came before she passed me. I was amazed at how much time there was to think in the sprint, and, in hindsight, I'm pretty surprised that I never once thought about turning around to look back. And those crowds at the finish line are great when they are yelling to actually motivate you, not just applauding your effort for finishing.

The promoter of the race has a special trick at the awards ceremony. Every envelope of prize money has a picture on it of a famous pro rider winning a famous race. If you can name the rider and the race pictured on your envelope, you get bonus bucks. Right up there with my inability to sprint is my failure to recognize ANY bigtime bike racer, so I was prepared to be embarrassed. But (don't assume anything, remember), the rider on my envelope was last year's winner at Kings Valley, Nicole Demars, with whom I have raced many times (ex-pro, now mommy, who lives in Eugene). And of course I recognized her. The winner of the cat 1-2 men's race gets a crown and has to pose with an "ermine" robe (this is KINGS Valley, remember), and I got an enormous bouquet in a vase/decanter that's etched with the name and date of the race. Nice touches! (Thanks for the photo, too, Scott Goldstein!)

Sunday was another race in Oregon, the 10-mile version of the Estacada time trial east of Portland. (It increases to 20 miles as the season goes on.) We got there in time to preride the course and to admire how spectacularly beautiful it is. It's on a two-lane highway that's closed farther on due to snow, and it runs down in the bottom of the Clackamas (?) River gorge. It winds and twists (and undulates) along the river, past lots of promontories and rock cliffs. Really, really scenic.

The race starts out uphill, then down a fast, quick descent where I was thankful for my 55x11. Then you twist and turn and dodge divets in the roadway from rocks falling off the cliffs. There's not too much shifting on this course, so you just go. After the turnaround, I was really surprised to get back into (and stay on top of) the 55x11 for long stretches. That little hill in the last 1k is pretty tough, and then it's false flat, and then finally it's downhill for about the last 200m so you're flying by the time you cross the finish line. Once more, I just managed to hold off Andrea and had the fastest women's time of the day.

It all seemed so sweet, and then so insignificant when I learned of Brad's death. It was a privilege to be part of a sport with you, Brad, and to know that we relished and cherished some of the same things.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Indoor time trial

Thursday, 30 March

This was my last indoor TT of the season at CycleU, the tenth I've done since the middle of November. I had no great hopes or goals or expectations tonight, but something happened on the way to the finish line. And--my goal every time I race my bike--I learned something.

Martin said I went out really hard. The course starts with a gradual downhill so you get some momentum. I thought I was spinning pretty fast (maybe it just LOOKED like I was going hard) and should've shifted into a bigger gear. But when the course went up, I didn't have to shift down and powered right up the first hill.

For once there was someone next to me who was riding at just about my speed for the first half of the course. We swapped back and forth between being second and third; the CompuTrainer program projects tons of data on a screen, including how many feet you are behind the rider ahead of you. I found that when I was 5 or 6 feet back, I could put in a few really hard pedal strokes and catch him and pull ahead. Eventually we settled into a long climb and the gap between us went to double digits and then triple and I couldn't catch back up. But the extra efforts I put in to try to keep this guy from pulling away did amazing things for my results. Thanks, Ian! I thought you were supposed to be smooth and steady in a TT and not have little jumps and surges, but maybe I'll have to try super hard pedal strokes intermittently to catch that ghost rider just a bike length ahead in my next TT.

My time was a lot faster, my average watts were significantly higher, and my heart rate was as low as ever. Go figure. I'm gonna go back and try this again in the summer to see if I get overtrained, plateau, or really do get stronger as the season goes on. I don't think I'll beat tonight, though.

I knew Martin was tired tonight when he got off his single bike and SAT DOWN before we "warmed up" for the tandem ride. But he/we took off like a shot at the start, harder than last time. I shift a lot on my single bike, and it seems like he shifts hardly at all on the tandem, so I think our cadence probably varies by as much as 25-30 rpm during the race. At one stage I thought we were spinning like mad and wished he'd shift to a bigger gear. Oops! We didn't have a bigger gear! We were just 6 seconds off our fastest time, which wasn't bad considering the effort I must have put in on my single bike and his claim to just being tired.

So thanks Adrian and Kristi and Craig. Over 4.5 months, my average watts increased by 31, my max watts by 80, I took 90 seconds off my time--and my HR was exactly the same. And I gained 5 pounds. Okay, I was in rehab/recovery mode when I started, but numbers like that are motivating!

Independence Valley Road Race

Saturday, 25 March

What a great new race in Rochester, Washington! Field sizes were small in the morning, but the afternoon turnout was better. We all thought this was a new course until one of the cat 1-2 guys told us he'd raced there 21 years ago! The cat 1-2-3 women raced in the afternoon, so I did my usual warm up of helping at registration until 15 minutes before my race start. I heard plenty of horror stories as the morning racers rolled back in from their finishes, and I was getting worried about the size of the hills that were reported out there.

In fact, I was so busy listening to reports that I was about the last to line up for the women's race--which meant I started at the back again. The roads were narrow, so there was no moving up during the neutral 2-mile rollout. And as soon as we got on the course, a TGH woman went off the front. We let her dangle out there for the first mile, which was a false flat/tailwind section. I think her aim was to get a running start at the first climb, but we reeled her in about 200m after the road started up. It was a stairstep climb, with a flattish spot in the middle.

Most of the group stayed together over the top of the hill, but then it strung out on the twisty descent after. Men reported hitting 50+ mph on this, but my max speed for the day was 41. In the run-out at the bottom there was a sharp right turn, and things pretty much came back together after that. We settled into that antiracing tactic of the women's peloton--rotating paceline--for the next 10 miles through rolling countryside with a good (?) headwind.

Another right turn, and another climb. This one was shorter and not quite as steep. Carrie went to the front and rode hard enough to pop a couple more women off the back. Another twisty little descent, and then about 5 miles of pretty flat roads into the finish line. And then another lap (2 x 19.5 miles for the race).

The road was narrow enough that you didn't want to be at the back of the group on the "big" climb, or you'd get gapped off and have to make a huge effort to get back up to the front. So I stayed at the front. And at the top there was no one with me. Sweet! I was so sure someone was going to punch it on this descent on the second lap and I would go backwards out of the group. Maybe I had enough of a gap so that I would still be in the front group by the bottom of the hill?

Not exactly. After the sharp right turn at the bottom, I looked back and saw that I had probably 15 seconds on the next group. Head down, pedal hard, off I go. Between the headwind and the undulating road, it was about impossible to keep a steady rhythm. But every time I looked back, all I saw was empty road. After maybe 5-6 miles, the lead car dropped back to give me the time gap. Did he say 15 or 50? With 50 seconds, I probably had the race locked up. But come on, Martha, how could you have gotten 50 seconds? Both TiCycles and TGH were riding strong in that pack, and neither they nor Gina were going to just sit up. Okay, it must be 15. But I still can't see them. About a mile before the second climb, they closed the gap enough that I could see them (it was only 15 seconds). If I rode as hard as I could, they would probably blow by me on the second hill. I eased up just a tad, and they caught me with about 1/4 mile to the hill.

As we made the right turn onto the last climb, Suz (who had already raced with the Master As in the morning) said "here you go again." I was hoping to just hang on. I didn't quite, but I caught back on in the first part of the descent (!). TGH and TiCycles were driving that front group, trying to keep other riders from catching back on, and we were flying along. I managed to pull through, but every little roller hurt. There was no cat-and-mouse in this group in the last few kilometers, and when the hammer went down at 200m, I had nothing left.

It's an interesting course. The climbs are tough enough to favor climbers, but after the hardest climb there's a long stretch to catch back on before the next one, and then after the second climb, there's still plenty of descending and flats for sprinters to motor back to the front of the race. I'd love to see the finish moved to the top of one of the hills. :)

Thanks to Erik and Dave for starting a new Northwest race tradition. Word of mouth about this course is going to bring out lots more riders in 2007. And thanks to Eric for his kind words about my descending--it's nice to surprise some of the people some of the time!

Race results are posted here.

Tandem training

Sunday, 19 March

I confess up front that this entry is mostly to test the blog software. But it was a great training spin on the last day of winter, so it's worth saying that much at least.

This was one of those double-ride tandem Sundays. First, we join up with Hank's ride, a "spirited" trip around Mercer Island. Everybody pushes the pace as hard as they can; we manage to mostly hang on for the uphill sections, and then everyone sits on our wheel on the switchbacks on the east side of the island. There's one painful drag just after we get onto the island that is a killer when you've raced the day before, and another short steep hill on the other side that you cannot just sprint up on the tandem. After we give everyone an awesome lead-out for the finishing sprint (but can't wind it up fast enough to take the sprint ourselves), we head back across I-90 to Leschi.

The early part of the Leschi ride this week was sedate. This never happens. Martin was using the brakes rolling down Rainier Avenue! I was testing out some new handlebars and was all ready to go hard with my head down--but there was nowhere to go. After the usual pause at Coulon Park, we rode hard up McDonald's Hill; Clint and others politely waited until a third of the way up the hill before they came around us about 5 mph faster. The tandem can go faster on the rollers (well, down the rollers, anyway) after the top of the hill than a single bike, so (with hard work) we caught almost all of those lighter climbers before we got to Coal Creek.

Todd told us afterward that our pace across May Valley was like motorpacing for everyone on our wheel. We (the tandem) turned on SR 900 to take a shortcut to Issaquah due to "time constraints." We managed to again get the tandem up Cougar via the zoo. This feat amazes me. We passed one poor soul who, as Martin said, would not give in and shift onto the small ring of his triple, so he was barely moving (we, however, could not be so concerned with appearances and were in about the lowest gear we could find). There's a really steep right hairpin near the top of the first half of the climb, and we were going so slowly by that stage that we had some navigation issues. But we were able to get in and out of the saddle on the stairstep rollers at the top.

Lots of fun descending back down to I-90, caught the faster members of our original group as we approached 405, and had a nice trip back across the bridge in the sunshine. We got helpful feedback on both rides about our riding style(s). Total miles for me: 89 (71 on the tandem).

Martin's tabloid comments about this ride are here.

Mason Lake #3

Saturday, 18 March

Another day of riding with the boys. The Excel team wasn't quite as dominant today, so it took a couple of laps before the winning break was established. And it wasn't all Excel guys (yea, Greg!!). I think our early speed must have been higher than last week because I remember thinking a couple of times that I didn't have five laps of that tempo in me. But I held on to the finish.

Just after this course transitions from little country chipseal road to nice wide smooth county highway, there's a drag of maybe 3-4% that's about 1/4 mile long. You hit the smooth pavement and it suddenly feels like you have a ton of power, and (if you don't ride at the front) you feel like you're just getting sucked effortlessly up that hill. Until you get to the top and you realize your HR is through the roof and they're still going hard. At the top, the road turns and today it was all headwind after that turn. Fortunately, that usually brought the tempo down just in time for me.

Somewhat to my credit, I started AT THE FRONT today and stayed until after the top of the aforementioned drag when the attacks started and I didn't feel a need to cover them. I moved up a couple of times during the first couple of laps, only to get annoyed at guys who liked to push me on the thigh to get me out of the way (this was not a tap on the hip to let me know he was over there) or who thought that a gap of more than six inches between me and the rider in front of me was an open invitation to cut me off. Duke came back to tell me it was way too much work to sit on the back, and I assured him that was actually mostly a myth because riding behind 30 guys who weigh a lot more than you do and are a lot wider than you are is a pretty comfortable place to be--until it gets strung out. Bob came back, moaned about the racing, and then put his arm around me to apologize for whining; officials in follow cars probably don't see that too much in races!

We did not catch the women's 1-2-3 field today, but we did pass a lot of other riders who had gotten dropped from their races. I noticed one very apparent gender distinction. The cat 4 women we passed were all riding single file as far to the right on the road as they possibly could. The men we passed were either (1) riding on the left side of the road (you know, where oncoming traffic would hit them--Darwin awards in the making!) to not be in our way, or (2) riding right smack in the middle of the lane so that our pack had to swarm around them, which was a little confusing sometimes when some guy came rocketing backward through the group. (Draw your own conclusions about what I'm trying to point out here.)

I was pretty happy with my race today. Same average speed as last week. Same weather, damp roads at the start but sunny at the end. I had some bone pain issues that completely distracted me from racing in the last two laps, but since they didn't affect my pedaling, it was easy enough to keep going, behind 30 big guys....

Race results are posted here.

Indoor time trial

Thursday, 16 March

My little biweekly "race" ritual this winter has been 30 minutes of pain and suffering at CycleU, which offers indoor Computrainer time trials. This was my next-to-last "race night" here for the season, and the numbers were among my best.

It's the same course every time: 10K of rolling terrain, no more than 3% grade. The Computrainer system monitors tons of trivial details, such as heart rate, power output in watts, average watts, watts per kilogram, calories burned, speed, average speed, and on and on--all projected onto a large screen to keep you distracted from your pain. Over the course of the winter, I have managed to get my watts and HR consistently higher (note that I did not say "significantly"), and my times have generally come down. It's also been a great opportunity to figure out what to eat (and not to eat) before a time trial effort, when to eat it, and lots of other race details that are harder to experiment with in a "real" race situation (just because there are so few of them).

This week my time on my single bike (I do this on my road bike, not the TT bike) was within 0.5 seconds of my fastest time ever (which happened to be in December, when I thought everyone was supposed to be fat and slow), and my average watts was about 2 higher last night than ever before. My HR wasn't as high as the week I experimented with caffeine right before the race (speed turned out to be not correlated with HR, so I dropped that prerace food group), but it's higher than it was a year ago when I started doing these things.

For extra punishment, I (OK, we) do this event a second time, on the tandem. Last night we had a new set-up for my handlebars, which should make me more aero on the road but obviously is of no advantage when you're sitting on a trainer. We rode a lot in the 55x12 but generally did a good job of not mashing gears too much. And we set a new "course record." Our power output is always entertaining: our max watts last night was 823. I can never get my HR as high for the second event, and I haven't figured out if this is a function of it being a second effort or of having someone else set the cadence.

It's a really hard workout, there's peer pressure to stick with it, and there's always someone cheering for you as you work up the climb at the finish. And what other social event are you going to do on a Thursday night and burn 496 calories?!

Race results are posted here.

Mason Lake #2

Saturday, 11 March

Since I will never be one of those women who can launch endless short attacks just for the sake of getting in a good workout, for the second installment of this race series I started with the Master A/B men. If I could hang on for even one lap at their pace, it would be a hard workout.(Note how anticipated results were not a factor in this decision.) Lo and behold, I hung on for the full five laps--and we lapped the main women's field part way through our last lap.

The race action was all at the front (duh), where I was not. The race was dominated by the Excel Sports team, which had 7 or 8 riders. No other team had more than 2 riders. If something went up the road and it wasn't Excel, it was reeled in. Guys would go to the front, attack until they were toast, and then come hang out at the back with me to recover. And they all complained about Excel shutting down the race, blocking the whole road, etc. Two groups were finally off the front, but still the attacks would string out the field from time to time. It was indeed a really good workout. Even better, after the first couple of laps, the road was dry and the sun came out.

At the beginning of lap 3, Glenn came back and hid behind me (this may be a difficult concept for those who know our relative sizes). I think he was trying the "out of sight, out of mind" approach, hoping guys would forget he was there. He wasn't very chatty, and he for one wasn't complaining about Excel behavior. Once he'd had his lunch, he launched from the field and was never seen again.

Mid-race, I was chided for not mixing it up at the front. Suz was also in the race, and while I think men would never let a woman get off the front of their field, she sure wasn't willing to acknowledge that. "See, Martha, if you attacked like that, you could be number one" (Suz's race number is 1 for being the state champion in 2005--never mind the corollary: if I was strong enough to be number one, I'd be strong enough to attack you guys too). Post-race, I was scolded in another roundabout way for spending my time sitting at the back for most of the race. Thanks, Martin and Eric, for not cutting me any slack for my second post-crash road race (don't you guys know "barely hanging on" when you see it??). This week I will try to move up before lap five.

Two highlights to this day of racing (apart from getting my name in the results from a men's race): Having Mike Rogers back in the NW peloton was great, and he was a super wheel to ride on. And watching from the lead car as Jamie Stangeland won the men's 1-2 race in the afternoon was, as he says, "sweeeeeeeeet"!

Race results are posted here.

Ice Breaker Time Trial

Sunday, 5 March

Short report: It was a very windy day. I couldn't make my bike go in a straight line, I had to get out of the aero bars, and I had to stop pedaling about 20 times.

Martin started 30 seconds behind me and passed me within about 2 miles like I was standing still. My time wasn't anywhere near what it should have been. It is such a disappointment to have a bad day at a time trial....

Somewhat happier was our ride on the tandem, 90 minutes later. We beat last year's time--by one second. We saved face, too, by beating our 30-second guy, Jamie, by that same one second. He taunted us at the turnaround, but the headwind on the way back was really hard the second time (fatigue) and we never saw him again. I guess we have some endurance-building to do before the 40K season rolls around!

Race results are posted here.

Mason Lake #1

Saturday, 4 March

I have a hard time getting excited about this race, which is not a good thing. I won a race here once, and I won the series once, and now I seem content to participate for the early season entertainment value.

It's a flat 12-mile course around a lake; women 1-2-3 do four laps. There's usually a headwind on the wide-open main road half of the course and a tailwind on the twisty little back road half of the circuit. If you could get a gap on the twisty section, you might be able to hold it, but the line of sight on the main road is a good half-mile sometimes, so you're not going to be out of mind for long. There is almost always a break in the men's races on this course, and women's races almost always come down to a field sprint.

There were some team efforts to animate our race, and I admire women who can motivate themselves to attack, hang off the front of the field for a couple of minutes, and then get reeled in--only to do it again in a few miles. The team with the (arguably) best sprinter also had the most riders in the race, so it was pretty clear who was going to be doing the reeling in. The strongest rider in the bunch saved her attacks for the last lap (one of her teammates had done more than her share in the earlier laps), but even she couldn't go anywhere, probably because she was well marked. So, predictably, it came down to a field sprint. I guess the placings after first were not completely predictable, but it was not exactly a nail-biter of a race.

The entertainment value in this first road race of the year was in watching who struggled to stay on the pack when things got harder, the racing habits of the new cat 3s (the youngest woman in the field did a great job), the sections of the woods around the lake that had been logged in the last year, and me trying to remember how to use Campagnolo shifters (my rain bike has Shimano). And the exciting part about this race day was the 48 cat 4 women who raced; the 1-2-3s mustered only 17.

Race results are posted here.

Jack Frost Time Trial

Saturday, 26 February
First race, 2006

What better way to start a season of bike racing than with a time trial, especially the beautifully smooth, flat, and not-windy-this-year Jack Frost Time Trial in Vancouver, WA. My last time trial of 2005 was on my road bike with clip-on aero bars without a disk wheel, when I pulled off one of my fastest average speeds ever in a TT (in abysmal conditions). My project at Jack Frost was to ride first with full aero set-up on my TT bike, and then to give it a second whirl on my road bike with semi-aero wheels and the clip-ons. (It's great being old: you can race once in your category and again in your age group.) If I went faster on the road bike, it would show that something is definitely wrong with my TT set up.

I should mention that the day before this little experiment, I rode 91 miles, most of it on the tandem, up and down three of the biggest, longest hills around Seattle. So my legs were not exactly fresh or rested, and some would believe my nutritional habits on the bike over a 5-6 hour ride would put me in a deficit I might not recover from until May.

Jack Frost is three hours from home, so there was no sleeping in to aid recovery. I prerode the 12.4-mile course as a warm-up. Nope, it hadn't changed much since last year, as my (absentee) tandem partner would've observed. There's a stretch of dead-end road near the start line that's maybe a half-mile long, so you can do a few hard efforts before zooming in to the line for your start. I try to go hard from the start, and then back down teeny little bits until I'm convinced I might not explode. But this time I didn't have to back off! There was no wind, and it just felt great all the way out and back. I had forgotten to look up my times from previous years, so I didn't know if my finish time was okay, pretty good, or....

I went back to the car, had a gel and some water, tried to stay warm (it was below 40 degrees), and headed back out on the other bike. Right away I missed the disk wheel (and not just the sound!). And the road bike has a computer, so I had this pesky data display reminding me when I was slowing down (I have no electronics on my TT bike). I've always thought this course was dead flat, but when you watch your speed, you realize it's not. Even in my oxygen-deprived state, my brain managed to figure out that if I wasn't doing 24 mph, I wasn't going to go 12.4 miles in less than 30 minutes, so I was bound to be slower than the 29-something time I had done on the TT bike. And then at about the turnaround, those 91 miles from the day before started to come into play. I had been gradually catching a woman who started 3 or 4 minutes in front of me; I got to within 250 meters but I just couldn't close that gap in the last quarter of the race.

My second time was two minutes slower than my first. Sure, some of that was not having a disk wheel, and some was fatigue catching up with me. But I think last year's super-fast TT on my road bike was a fluke, and I'll stick with the TT bike. When I got home and looked things up, I found that my first time broke my PR on this course by more than a minute, and I had the fastest women's time of the day. I can't say that my training program has been a whole lot different this year, except for some regular, diabolical Computrainer workouts at CycleU.

I eked out just a few seconds over a local Portland rider, Miranda, who has beaten me in every TT for the last few years. By now she's got a new team TT bike, so I'm sure she'll be out for revenge next time we meet! Third fastest time went to former "national rider of the year" Megan Troxell, who was absolutely astounded that there were more than 50 women racing at a time trial in February. I dearly love time trials, and not just because I do them reasonably well; it is so cool to see women come out to race who might not think of themselves as competitive. They work just as hard as I do, and for a longer time, and I hope they have just as much fun as I do!

Race results are posted here.