Thursday, July 31, 2008

How to Survive the CSG Triathlon

This year's Cornhusker State Games (CSG) Triathlon had a new "Championship Heat" category. It's purpose was to put the aggressive competitors into the first heat to duke it out together for the overall victory. The men and women champions would then be invited to represent Nebraska in the "Best of The US" national sprint distance amateur triathlon later in the fall. Perhaps because it was the first year of the championship heat, some of the faster competitors may have missed the new category designation and signed up for their own age group. As a result, the overall winner came from the male 20-25 age group. My friend Lucas Marshall was third overall but wasn't in the championship heat. Another age grouper was also in the top five. So that's how I ended up third in the Championship Heat but sixth overall.

It was a fun race and well organized. It's great for spectators to see racers six times from the same place. And Team Nebraska Triathlon puts on a nice cookout following the awards ceremony.

As for the competition, there are three types of triathletes at the CSG: 1) The Type-A, 2) the Weekend Warriors and 3) the Fitness / Recreationalists. With over 400 entrants in the CSG race, it is wise to formulate a survival strategy. So without much ado, here are a few freebies:

Nebraska Type-A racers swim 100m intervals at a 1:30 pace and practice multiple times per week. If you can swim like this, you belong at the front of the line in Nebraska triathlons. The weekend warriors - those who swam in high school and currently practice less than once per week will hang with the Type-As for the first 200m before lactic acid overtakes them and the pace falls off. The Fitness and Recreational group is often better prepared than the weekend warrior but lacks the swimming background. They will be more likely to pace themselves for a steady-state effort and even catch many of the weekend warriors. But the fitness group should look out for the warriors who've fallen back -- while the warriors' tired arms may no longer flail with gusto, there's still plenty of kick to take one in the face.

Because each successive loop on the four mile course adds another 100+ cyclists onto the course, it can turn into a war of attrition. By the time the final cyclist is on the road, it's like downtown Bangkok during rush hour. Negotiating the flood of squirrely cyclists while maintaining pace on a boxy and hilly course becomes a real challenge. Ideally, slower racers will stay to the inside and allow the fasties to pass on their left. Also, it'd be nice to think that all cyclists would hold their line, but c'mon we're talking about triathletes here. The fact that we can turn the bike 90 degrees without falling over is a miracle in itself. My advice: stay alert and hope to avoid the pile up when someone suddenly decides to make the full lane sweep in front of you.

By the time you enter the run course, it's likely that you're in a lot of pain. This is especially the case in a sprint triathlon. Complementing your sky rocketing heart rate is the discomfort of switching muscle groups from cycling to running while dealing with the rising heat of the day. It's not a graceful moment that can get ugly. For example, one racer (pictured) attempted to box me out while passing on the run. It wasn't subtle. As I approached, he crowded me to the outside of the path and nearly forced me into the grass. To perhaps his and my surprise, I fought back. I raised a forearm and Heismanned my way to a clear path. It was a steel-cut moment if there was ever one. Was it necessary? Probably not. But neither was crowding me. You mess with the bull...

In truth, this is supposed to be a low key event. Yes, competition is fun and all. And there is some bragging rights to medaling in your age group or finishing among the top 10 overall. But really, this is the CSG. It's a family event. Play nice, smile, thank the volunteers, etc.

For Next Year's Competitors

  • Don't swim over top of slower swimmers; go around them.
  • Don't make violent sweeping turns in front of other cyclists.
  • Mount and Dismount your bike at the marked transition area.
  • Wear your bib number on the run. Don't stuff it in your Speedo to only make it magically reappear from beneath your sweaty lycra loin cloth at the end of the run. I mean, that's just simply gross.

For Race Officials and Volunteers
  • Thank you. It was a well-coordinated Race.
  • Championship heat was a welcomed addition. Consider inviting top 20 next year by email
  • Consider capping it a 400 entrants or change venue
  • Penalize rule breakers
  • Cook out was great. Thanks!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cornhusker State Games Triathlon

The Cornhusker State Games Triathlon is this Sunday. It's my second triathlon of the year, but a vastly different race than the long course event I did earlier in the Spring. This one's a maximum burn sprint.

Where: Holmes Lake, 70th and Normal Blvd Lincoln, NE
When: 7:30am Sunday, July 27 2008
Swim: 750m
Bike: 20K
Run : 5K

The swim is triangular course in Holmes Lake. The three-loop bike course is boxy (mostly right turns) with a couple short hills of medium grade. The run is out and back on a crushed-gravel trail with one hill.

The Competitors:
Omaha cyclists will recognize current Cat3 racer and former triathlete Mark Brackenbury. He put four minutes on me at last week's TT. Ouch! When not on the bike, he cross trains by running and swimming. Look for a strong performance.

And then there's CAT 1-2-3 rider Morgan Chaffin. Her fearsome attack on the bike can make grown men cry. Oh, and she's great swimmer, too. She's going to do really well.

As for triathletes, former Cornhusker State Games Triathlon champion (2006) Scott Bredehoft will be there, as well as contenders Lukas Marshall, Scott Bowen, Jorge Zuniga and Andres Traslavina to name a few.

Enough of the talk, let the hammerfest begin!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Bicycle(s) You Own

In the past week, I've talked with three people at the U.P. that have purchased new bicycles recently.

Scott picked a new Trek 7300 commuter as his first "grown up" bicycle purchase. He is actively putting it to use commuting to work and experimenting with routes from the 50th and Grover area to downtown. Any suggestions?

Tracy also bought a Trek commuter as her first bicycle as an adult. She lives a little further out west and has transported it to join the UP lunchtime riders over the past two days.

A few weeks ago, Wes was rear-ended while transporting his 2006 GT Series 1 roadbike. From witness accounts, he was more distressed about his totaled bike than his totaled car. The good news was that he was fine and the insurance covered the damages to car and bike. Now he's riding a 2008 fully-carbon GTR Team bike w/ Dura-Ace components, Dura-Ace tubeless wheelset and a Ritchey stem and fork. Dang that's a nice upgrade, dude! During our lunch ride yesterday, I struggled to hang on his wheel at the levee hammerfest north of the I-80 bridge. My hope is that he enters that thing in a Cat5 race with me next year.

Congratulations on the new bike purchases to the three above. Enjoy them and be safe.

While purchasing a new bike is always a titillating experience, shopping for a pre-owned bicycle also has its rewards. Craigslist is a great place to start, especially if you're looking for an entry level bike.

A month ago, I bought a 1987 Nishiki road bike for $40 off of Craigslist with the goal of overhauling into a single speed during the off season. Advertised as a CroMoly "lightweight", it has enough extra steel to be recycled into a manhole lid. Heck, calling the derailleur guard a pie plate is an understatement; it's more like a charger plate. At first, it will be a rebuild on the cheap. New bar tape, brake pads and a spacer kit are the only parts I hope to purchase. I will swap the 27 inch wheels with a spare set of 700s if the existing dia-compe brakes are long enough to reach. The original peddles are also going into the manhole lid effort too. In doing this overhaul, I hope to build a bullet proof commuter while learning more bicycle maintenance.

If time permits, I may even take it to the Omaha Bicycle Co-Op just south of California Tacos on 30th and California. Katherine and I dropped by there recently: a Creighton student named Emerick Huber has built this grassroots co-op with the help of other students, the neighborhood association and contributors (bike shops, electricians, carpenters and such). It's a pretty cool place. The basement has like a jillion bicycles waiting to be restored. What used to be a kitchen contains bins of spare parts. The former dining room, living room and bedroom are now fully stocked mechanic stations. When we visited, all three mech stations had a volunteer working with a neighborhood kid on simple bike maintenance such as flats and brakes. They even have a deal that if you go through their volunteer mechanic training program, you can build your own bike out of the parts other have donated. Bike cost = your sweat. Volunteers are needed with even the most basic bike maintenance skills. If you can fix a flat, you're ready to volunteer at the Omaha Bike co-op.

Finally, as many of you know, my current multi-use bicycle "Old Yeller" is a hand me down from brother Brendan. It was in pretty dire shape when I got it three years back and lasted for another five hundred miles before the indexing blew up on the 8 spd Shimano RSX shifters. That was a year ago next week. Munson came to the rescue with a cache of quality used parts and reassembled it into what I've got now. While the bike is worth $300 on paper, it rides and looks great. In my estimation, it's priceless.

So what is it about your "grown up" bike that you like? What would you change now if you had the cash/time?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Junk Yard Dog

This past Saturday evening, Katherine and I went to Avoca, IA (pop. 1500) to watch the main event: a junkyard car derby. Awesome! Katherine's friend Shannon is from Avoca and her boyfriend had built a car for the race. Man, that was fun. And LOUD, too.

For the inexperienced, a Demolition derby is an event where automobiles engage in a battle of attrition against each other. It's essentially a cross between the two Rs: racing and 'rasslin, and is a favorite at county fairs. No offense, but other than the 4-H youth who hand fed Wilbur into a hogzilla, who really wants to see the prize hog? Indeed, nothing beats Car Wrestling at the mud track.

Apparently the rules state which type of cars can be entered and how and where they can be reinforced for safety purposes. What it comes down to is choosing the best type of frame that will naturally protect vulnerabilities: radiator, wheels and engine. A 1995 Camry like the one I drive would be a poor choice because it's small, under powered and has plastic bumpers rated at 5 mph. What you need is a steel behometh with some punch under the hood. It appears that station wagons built in the U.S. of A in the 1960-1970s fit this bill best. I wondered more than once how mom and pop's 1976 Catholic Cruiser (Pontiac Grand Safari) would have fared.

While the smell of funnel cakes wafted through the air, I noted the tactics of the better drivers pruning the others with minimal damage to their own. A car smashed another into the wall and the crowd jumped back. My mind then drifted to volunteering at last week's Papillion crit, where a race course official cautiously stepped back from the haystacks and said, "Here comes the Cat5 on their first corner - better give them some space." That's when I had a revelation: there's a lot of derby tactics that can be applied to Cat5 bicycle races.

Cat5 riders are notoriously squirrelly riders. Any time you get 20+ amateur cyclists, much less entry level racers starting from a bunched up state, you're likely to have bedlam. Except for the mud, the noise and carney food (beer-drinking fans exists at anytime of the day), I figure Cat5 racing is not unlike the junk yard derby. So here are my racing takeaways:
1) Turn (lean) into a competitor crashing into you
2) Protect your wheels
3) Position to the inside during turns
4) Get the hell out of the way if somebody's about to T-Bone you at high speeds

Finally, I picked up a few maintenance tips.

A sledge hammer (see yellow circles) is a excellent way to straighten out that frame after a wreck. Sure, dentists will probably need some of Munson's duct tape to get their carbon fiber bike reassembled, but the majority of Cat-5'ers are more likely riding croMoly or aluminum jobbies that could use some good ol' fashioned persuasion to prep them for the next road race.

On paint: I'm sure that many have deeply longed to put a custom touch to their rig's paint scheme but just didn't feel they had the permission. I say go for it. Forget Tom Boonen's Tornado emblem or Ricardo "The Worm" Ricco's Cobra decal that might have come from a box of Cracker Jacks. What I'm talking about is making a statement that really stands out, like car #32's "I like girls that like girls" slogan. The problem of a bicycle not having enough real estate for such a message is overcome with a homemade FOTL and magic marker jersey. Imagine the pizazz! People would show up every week if only to see what Fredcube was pimpin' (and to drink beer (which they do already)).

Anyway, armed with my copious notes and pictures, I say to my fellow Cat5 riders: "Let's get ready to rrrrrrrrrrumble!"

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cornhusker State Games TT

This past Saturday morning I participated in the Cornhusker State Games time trial. With lots of sun, 72 F and 94% humidity at the start, my hands were sweat-waterlogged by race end. I completed the 22 mile rolling hills course in one hour and five seconds (21.97 mph).

I have mixed feelings about the performance. Comparing to this past June's Ironman Kansas 70.3, where I completed a 56 mile TT in 22.05 mph average, Saturday's efforts fell short. Kansas was also a similar rolling course and had warmer (80 F) temps, but less humidity (80%). It was also slightly more windy in Kansas. It's true that I had a long taper before the Kansas race, so that could have been a factor. It's just hard to say whether it was an "off" day or if fitness is lagging. These are the questions that linger after such a performance.

Regardless, it was a good experience just competing. Doing an all-out sixty minute time trial, regardless of results, is excellent training. So I got that going for me, which is nice. It was also fun sharing a ride and sponging up race-day tips from Bryan (thanks!) and seeing Munson and other racers out there. Congratulations also go out to Bryan for sewing up Nebraska's Cat-4 Rider of the Year award at this race. Enjoy the free race entries next year; you've earned it.

Finally, now that I'm an officially (one-day) licensed Cat-5 racer, you can count on seeing me more involved in cycling races in the future.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another Time Trial Test

Yesterday afternoon, I headed out on the P2sL for another time trial on the airport service road. It was 89 F with 16 mph steady winds and 19 mph southerly gusts. I did not bring water since it was a shortened, 50 minute ride. That was a mistake. I believe that I could have wallpapered my house with the paste that developed in my mouth by the end.

The first half was a steady-state effort into the wind for 4.68 miles while carefully minding pace to keep from going red-line. I nearly felt defeated by the wind at the turn around. It could have been mental, but it certainly felt like fatigue. But then with the wind to the back and speeds over 30mph, motivation suddenly recovered. As those of you know when cruising with the wind, agonies experienced only moments before get wiped clean from the memory. Ah, the joy of cycling!

The Results
Dist: 9.36 miles
Time: 22:30
Avg: 24.96 mph
Max: 32 mph

This is a two minute improvement from a similar effort in March of this year. Munson was right: I will get there. So with that, I feel good about going into the Cornhusker State Games Time Trial this Saturday. Granted, the airport is absolutely flat as opposed to what I imagine to be a hilly course at the State games. Still, I'm looking forward to competing in my first licensed bike race since upgrading from being a self-proclaimed CAT-6 rider.

Let the games begin!

Friday, July 11, 2008

On Apparatuses and Straining Vital Organs

It's off to the races for this year's Omaha Cycling Weekend. For me? No, not to race, but to watch and volunteer.

How about an early morning training ride for those of us not racing? I'm going to bring out the TT bike for this one since I haven't been on it in a few weeks and have triathlons looming. I'll promise to only ride in aero when in the lead. Also, I don't intend to hammer, but just get some good miles in aero position. So if Fred and Mike would like to join, please do. If not, I'll do a solo tempo ride followed by a run afterwards. Here are the details:

Straining Vital Organs on Apparatus Inaugural Ride
Where: The Coffee Shop Formerly Known as Caribou
When: 6:00AM
Route: Winds out of the NW - Arlington or Ft Calhoun loop
Distance: 40 miles

For those of you who will really be straining vital organs during this race weekend: have fun and race well. Katherine and I'll be cheering for you!

Bicycle races are coming your way
So forget all your duties oh yeah!
Fat bottomed girls they'll be riding today
So look out for those beauties oh yeah
On your marks get set go

That one's for you, Bryan.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Voodoo Stratacaster of Bicycles

I met Fredcube for a lunch ride with the UP Peloton on Monday. But perhaps due to the higher temperatures, the group ride was only us. Oh well, we rode on.

During the ride, Fred tells me that his golf game has gotten more interesting since he picked up a left handed golf club and started bombing whitey a la Happy Gilmore from the left side. He's naturally a right handed golfer, but Fred claims he's got more power from the left side.

So it got me thinking. Perhaps Fred needs to change it up on his bike as well. Do like Jimmy Hendrix did to his Vodoo Stratacaster and thread the drive train backwards. He could even follow Sheldon Brown's lead and model his rig after the Gunnar Street Dog Left Drive bike.

I could see Fredcube actually doing this. He and his wookie-sticks on this left-drive thinger. It could be the catalyst of a revolution that might surpass the public's current fixed-gear infatuation.

I'd be willing to bet at least my friend Munson would jump on board. He's got this deal that one of his legs is freaky-stronger than the other. And if we could suspend the laws of physics for a moment to suggest that a left-drive would offer an advantage for the lefty, Munson would be unstoppable. If his left is stronger, forget about it. If his left is weaker, then it'd be an excellent cross trainer to strengthen it. Either way, it'd be win-win.

You could also forget the Eddy Merckx race category. The two of them could race in a special classification for left-drive bikes in a scene reminiscent of the Princess Bride

It's the final lap of the Papillion Twilight Crit and Munson's all smiles.
Fred: What are you smiling about?
~ Munson is in fact all smiles ~
Munson: I'm not a lefty after all!
~ Mashing hard from the right side, he gains a wheel on Fred ~
Fred: You're amazing!
~ Lots of grunting, panting and thinking of lollipops & bunnies ensues from Munson ~
Fred: Hey Mike - there's something I ought to tell you.
Munson: Tell me.
Fred: I'm not a lefty either!
And with that Fredcube sling-shots around him for the victory...

I'm looking forward to seeing that Voodoo Cannondale on the next UP Lunch ride!