Monday, June 20, 2016

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Snake Alley Recap

This past Memorial day weekend I raced the Pro 1-2 race at Snake Alley in Burlington Iowa. Built by German immigrants in 1894, "Snake Alley" features 1100 degrees of turning while climbing the 60 feet at a 21% grade. The road was intended to be a shortcut to the main street below in Burlington, with bricks being laid at an angle to allow horses better footing as they descended. It's also been the setting for a unique bicycle criterium race for the past 34 years.

I raced this event for the first time last year. Later that evening, I watched the Pro 1-2 race with anticipation of racing it with the big boys this year. The Pro 1-2 field's size was larger (100+) and longer (5+) laps than any race I did. It also had a steep attrition rate, with officials culling nearly half of the field after five of 20 laps, and then gradually pairing it down to the top 20 with about five to go.

When planning my 2016 season, Snake Alley got an "A" race designation. I worked with my coach, Mark Savery, to focus on very specific high-intensity intervals to mimic the up-over-down-and-around required at this race. Several weeks of these painful efforts helped my mind and body adapt to the stress of racing Snake Alley.

Over several months, I also moderated my diet by waging a war on added sugars, placing myself on ice cream and beer embargoes, and only allowing extra carbs to pre-load before long workouts or races. The results: I haven't seen this weight since high school.

Since Snake Alley seeds riders by order of registration, I made sure to sign up early. I was assigned bib #20. Having a low starting number on this course increases one's chance of staying up near the front at the start of the race, which is important considering the half of the field would be whistled off the course within 15 minutes.

The Race
The start was like a cyclocross race, full-bore from the whistle. Despite being in the fourth row, and getting a good start, the outsides swarmed inward and I got pushed back to about 35-40th position by the time we entered the snake. We rode three abreast going up the blue-clay bricks, which required full concentration to manage holding position, adjusting for speed to keep from overlapping wheels, and keeping an eye up the hill for trouble.

After exiting the snake, I put in a few extra pedal strokes to accelerate past those who sat up after cresting the hill. Then came the first harrowing descent over some of the *finest* Midwest concrete, which includes two off camber 90 degree turns, and a final turn at the bottom where cracks and broken concrete are tagged with neon-orange spray paint in several places. All this, while descending at 38 mph, in traffic. By the way, these precious seconds of descent also double as the only recovery section on the course, so don't forget to relax and enjoy the view.

After exiting the descent, a flat headwind required ramping up the power once more through three 90 degree turns, then a false-flat to the 200m straight-away to the start/finish. As we approached the start/finish, I shifted into the small ring and spun up the cadence to get up the hill efficiently while accelerating around others mashing it.

The next few laps were pretty much the same. Then around lap five, a couple of riders got tangled up on the snake a few places ahead of me. The ensuing chaos resulted in snapping the string of riders in several places. I was sitting pretty far back and had to get to work, or risk being pulled. Over the next several laps, I moved up by passing one or two at a time.

I made a final move to secure my spot in the selection with about ten to go. At that point, one rider was in a solo breakaway, I could see the main chase group of about dozen on the snake itself, and another medium sized group approaching its mouth. I escaped my group by punching it up the first hill and entering the snake at full steam. I stayed on the gas while climbing the cobbles, catching the second chase pack as they were exiting the top. As soon as we exited the snake, our group split into two as I watched the first three ride away. I was gassed and had to sit on for a bit to recover. From there, it was a race of attrition to the finish, where I ultimately crossed the line 20th uncontested and feeling both relieved and elated.

For many, finishing 20th wouldn't be much to write home about. Not me. I spent a lot of time and energy preparing for this race. This goal stretched me. I worked for it, and as a result, it gives me a lot of personal satisfaction in achieving it.

Here's to season's goals. May you get yours.


photo: Big Country 1031

Friday, April 29, 2016

Harvest Racing Weekend: Iowa City, Madison

This weekend, the Harvest team is split squad: half of us will be in Iowa city, while the other will be in Madison, Wisconsin. Here's are the lineup:

Chris Lillig/Old Capitol Criterium:
Lucas Marshall (P 1-2)
Brady Murphy (P1-2)
Jordan Ross (P1-2)
Greg Shimonek (P1-2)
Paul Webb (P1-2)
Tyler Reynolds (M3)
Cole Limpach (M4)

Rapha Prestige: Madison, WI
Ryan Atkinson
Mark Savery
Matt Tillinghast

Wish us luck!

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading

Check out out the latest news, race recaps, social media and other updates on Harvest Racing's website

Friday, April 22, 2016

I Just Washed My Bike

Whenever he rolls through a puddle, my buddy Shim will lament, "I just washed my bike". He says it a lot. So much so that I believe that his bike must be the most washed bike in the city of Omaha, if not the entire state of Nebraska. I'm not kidding. It's like his personal mantra.

But I hear what he's saying. Rolling through a puddle after just washing your bike with Scrubbing Bubbles, or whatever he uses to do his thing, is kinda annoying. Really. I feel bad for him. It's true -- a little piece of my heart melts whenever I hear him grumbling about just washing his bike. As Bill Clinton so famously once said, "I feel your pain".

As an aside, Shim is a big fan of the Clintons, especially Mr Clinton. In fact, the only person Shim admires more than than Bill Clinton is Nancy Polosi.

Anyway, lately I've been thinking about some of the annoyances that get in the way of the ordinarily wonderful pastime of riding one's bicycle. You know, those things that just remind you that despite feeling like you're in heaven while riding you bike, you're really a mortal, stuck on earth, and in a fallen world. Sigh.

So here's the list of grievances that accompany cycling, in no particular order:

Dropping one's sunglasses from their helmet, resulting in a chipped lens directly in front of your line of vision.

Mechanicals. Unless it's a mercy-mechanical, where on a particularly hot and spicy ride, the entire group laments about having to stop while secretly being relieved to have been granted the mercy of a few moments of precious recovery.

FTP tests on bad weather days.

FTP tests on good weather days.

FTP tests. Period.

The Garmin Edge User Interface.

People who ride fast when you want to dawdle. Hi Shim.

People who dawdle when you want to ride fast. Hi to everyone else but Shim.

Wind. It blows around here. It's also quite windy.

Half-wheelers. We already abused Shim for that offense some time ago.

Wheel-suckers, especially the silent, unknown, uninvited tail-gunner picked up on the pedestrian trail.

The guy on the group ride who talks and talks and talks and talks...

Strava KOMs. Man, those things are really annoying.

Receiving a notice that one of your Strava KOMs has been taken. Definitely annoying.

Receiving a notice that one of your Strava KOMs has been taken by Jonathan Wait. The worst.

That solitary person walking on the pedestrian trail that intersects with you and the opposite approaching cyclist at exactly the same point and time.

A visit from Crashy McRoadrash. This one truly sucks, especially if you're laid up with a long recovery that only eating a tub of peppermint ice cream while watching the Giro feed can temporarily relieve. Get well and soon, B Redemske.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and taking a step back, most of these are petty grievances if you think about it.

Yes. Cycling is pure enjoyment. Today, let's end with a blessing, which I've adapted from my Gaelic ancestors

May the road rise up to meet you.
May a stiff tailwind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
and may the rain's puddles stay off your just washed bike
until we meet again, on our bikes, on the open road,
God's blessings to you. Amen

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Rest Days and Dawdling Course Records (DCRs)

I was a summer-league swimmer when I was a kid. The team I joined was called Wheeler's Peelers, named for our coach Jim Wheeler, and it was a force to reckon with. Over the span of a decade, I think we lost one meet. There were several close calls. I can vividly remember one time when it came down to the last leg of the final race, the girls 15-18 medley relay. Our team was anchored by one of our best swimmers, Donna Diemer. She was 14 years old a the time, and was swimming up with the big girls (15-18). Anyway, it was all riding on her shoulders, and she managed to out-touch the other to seal the victory for us. It was high-stakes drama for all involved, and it was a ton of fun to be on the winning side of that experience.

I was a better than average swimmer, but not by much. The thing about me, even back then, was that I didn't mind the training. I put in the time, and did everything my coach asked of me. I honed my craft by doubling-up on both morning and evening practices. All that swimming developed some muscle tone. I'm not kidding you when I say that I had a six pack when I was eight years old. I have to admit, it was pretty impressive.

Apart from the six pack abs, I owe a debt of gratitude to Jim Wheeler. He taught me how to swim, then how to train, and then to compete. Yeah sure, it was only summer league, but running the tables for ten years didn't just happen automatically. It took a lot of organization and commitment from both coach and athletes to succeed each year. 

Coach Wheeler expected us to work hard, but he also expected us to rest well, too. On competition days, he'd plan an easy morning workout, even for summer league standards. For the all-club meet, he'd taper us over the course of a week. During rest days, he cautioned against strenuous activities, and heavy chores were forbidden. Everyone liked this clause, because it meant getting a free pass on mowing the lawn for the day. 

Jim wanted us fresh so that we could perform our best to score points for the team: five points for first, three for second, and one point for third. Every point mattered. Sometimes, like the case above, it came down to the final race. 

I find it interesting that I learned the value of taking rest days when I joined Wheeler's Peelers way back when. Today, as a forty something year old competitive cyclist, I respect my recovery time. When my legs feel like poo, or when I find myself getting irritated by seemingly trivial things, or when my training log reflects fitness in the red, I will gladly take a rest day. If I still feel like riding, then I'll go for a super-easy 45 minute spin at about 100 watts. We call riding at this easy pace "dawdling," and I excel at it. In fact, I am proud to say that I own several Dawdling Course Records (DCR) around town.

Now, if I could only get my spouse to buy into the free pass from strenuous activities clause. Then I'd have it made in the shade. I can just picture it now. "Sorry Katherine, I can't mow the lawn today, my coach has scheduled a rest day." Yeah, that's probably not going to happen anytime soon.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.