Friday, October 31, 2014

What Makes for Good Cyclocross Races

In my somewhat limited cyclocross experience, what makes for a good venue includes the following:
1) The level of competition
2) Challenging race course, following UCI/USAC standards
3) The intangibles

The level of competition is important if you race seriously, because individual results are weighted according to how strong the field is. This ultimately determines one's handicap, which is important for races that follow call-up procedures based on points. Therefore, although standing on the podium is exhilarating, a lower result in stronger field can end up being better in the long run. This is true even in local races. For example at last year's Omaha CX weekend, I was second on day one and fifth on day two. However, due to a stronger field that showed up on day two, fifth place on the second day was weighted heavier, resulting in similar handicap points.

In other words, if you can choose between two races (Category/Masters), pick your races wisely. If your goals are short term, then going for cash isn't a bad option. Otherwise, a better starting position in a future race would dictate picking the harder race, even if it means a much lower place.

Part of what draws good competition are a challenging course and the intangibles.

As for the course, it must follow USAC or UCI standards. The standards are not only published in the rule book for consistency among race venues, but they are there for safety purposes. For example, courses should be 3 meters wide throughout the entire course. Another one: courses may also include a single section of temporary, artificial wooden barriers up to 40cm tall, between four and six meters apart. I have pointed out and asked officials to remove a third barrier before. It may sound appear elitist to do so, but I'm sorry, that's bush league, and it seriously undermines the validity of the race venue.

The intangibles of a race venue will also attract/repel competition. Location (big city/rural) is unfortunately part of the deal; small venues have it harder this way. But smaller venues can do a lot to ensure they're race gets put on the calendar year upon year. Cash prizes are always nice, as are deep field (10+) payouts.

What else? Swag, food, refreshments, live music. Clean, plentiful toilets. These are all standard fare at good races.

What else can a promoter do? Offer a pro clinic to all participants. This is what I experienced at the Gateway Cross Cup in St Louis last weekend, where Ben Berden and Nicole Duke put on a top notch race clinic for anyone interested. I picked up several tips at this clinic, including better turning techniques. In fact, applying what I learned the day before allowed me to pass six in a single turn on the first lap. The clinic was worth the trip in itself. And it was the best value (free!) of all.

Good competition follows great venues and intangibles. Last weekend's Gateway Cross Cup has all of that. It's why it's been on my calendar for the past two years, and will continue to be so.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gateway Cross Cup

I'm heading to St. Louis for the Gateway Cup Cross this weekend. This is the second year that I'm doing this race. Nearly eight hours of travelling makes for a long weekend. But it's worth it. Since the Gateway Cross Cup is also a UCI race, it draws good competition. St Louis is also where I grew up. While we're out there, we'll be catching up with my sister, who still lives there, and my best friend from kindergarten, Steve Missey.

Last year, I did the Masters 40+ race both days. This year, I'll be racing the Open races. I pre-registered for the Open races because I thought it'd be the most competitive. However, when I checked this morning, you could argue that the Masters race was the better choice due to the racers entered. Old guys can be fast. But while the Masters top end talent is better, the Open field has a deeper pool of second tier talent. In either case, there will be good racing, and I'll have work to do if I want good results.

While there, I'll also be attending the Pro clinic, hosted by Ben Bergden (USAC Rank: 5) and Nicole Duke (USAC:16). To do this clinic means taking a day off from work and departing Omaha at 5:00 AM this morning. Still, I couldn't pass up free instructions from the Pros. I mean, I get a lot of that already training with our own pro/Masters World Champion, but it's nice to hear it from others too. Especially when the race promoter and pros go through the effort to put this together. And it's free! You can never get enough knowledge in this sport.

Ah, my time is short. Let's recap: Great racing, and a Pro Clinic. A family visit. Road trip. It's on.

Now, to hit the publish button, grab my coffee, and point the car due east.

Happy Friday everyone.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spin Monkey Spin

My workouts over the past couple weeks have called for cadence drills. Basically, it amounts to a set or two of  five 5-minute intervals at higher than normal cadence. The goal each time is to spin at a high (115+ rpm cadence) as smoothly as possible. This means riding without any bouncing in the saddle. The theory is that a smooth cycle stroke results in a more efficient power transfer.

Until last week, I had done very little cadence work. Ever. This is mostly because I didn't fully grasp the value of it. And I suppose I was lazy.

It's amazing what a small investment in time can do to begin smoothing out a pedal stroke. On my first five minute interval, my form began breaking down at 105 rpm. The second interval jumped up to 115 rpm average. The third: 120 rpm. Fourth at 125 and fifth at 127. That was last week. This week, my first five minute effort started at 125 rpm. That's a 19% improvement from last week's starting point. Also, my best five minute average was 135 rpm, but there was a solid minute in there at 145+ and a max cadence of 151 rpm.

My breakthrough came in discovering the role core strength plays. Actively keeping the trunk firm helped provide a more stable platform for my legs to spin freely.

What was also interesting was how the bike felt immediately upon completing the cadence portion of the workouts. There was a new "understanding" that my legs had for the drive train. It was akin to a special connectedness that felt more familiar, like how a well-fitting glove is supposed to feel on the hand.

These first two session have been a successful experiment. It has been solely to see how fast I could spin with very little resistance on the crank. Next week, I intend to start adding more resistance to see what I can hold at a certain power. The goal then will be to identify my sweet spot where I'll produce the best power at the greatest efficiency.

Certainly one can do cadence drills without a cadence meter. But it sure helps to see the raw data. If you're considering a power meter, add this to the justification list. Otherwise, a cadence meter can still be had for cheap.

And that's all for today. Go out and have a spin. Happy Friday

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Fistful of Quarters, Part II

"You wash dishes?" said a harsh voice that sounded like it was gargling gravel.

I looked up from my magazine and saw an African American male sitting opposite from me on the #4 bus heading downtown. He was around 60 years old, wearing neatly pressed Khakis, a maroon pullover and canvas court shoes. His white-stubble beard betrayed two, maybe three days of growth. Meanwhile, his gentle brown eyes peered at me from behind a pair of protective work glasses.

"Excuse me?" I said.

"You wash dishes?" he repeated. "I notices [sic] your white pants there and wondered if you a dishwasher."

"No sir, I work in an office setting."

"My name is Jerry," he says while leaning towards me, hand extended.

I reach for his hand. He slips me a fish, but I don't mind so much.

"Hi Jerry. My name is Brady. Do you wash dishes?"

"Nah, I work at Lozier in hardware. But I used to wash dishes at Methodist. I wore white pants like those you wearing now."

"Ah, I see."

"Say, you got an dollar you could len' me?" he says without missing a beat.

"Sorry Jerry. I don't have any cash in my wallet" It was the truth. Except for a check to be deposited and a few old receipts, the fold in my wallet was practically empty.

"Okay." he says. A random smile envelops his face as he leans back into his seat. He raises a hand to scratch his stubble thoughtfully.

"They called me into work today." he eventually says. "Tomorrow too. Never know when I'm gonna work more than a couple days out. I'm in hardware, but I used to wash dishes at the hospital."

I nodded in silence. Jerry gazed through the window, appearing to look at nothing in particular. There wasn't much to see anyway. It was Omaha, after all.

We sat quietly as the bus rumbled down Northwest Radial, giving me some time to think about the ethics of altruism. Normally, I refrain from giving money to strangers, because I profile and suspect that it goes towards an addiction. I'd much prefer to offer buying a sandwich if they're hungry. Hunger is hunger, regardless of a substance dependency.

Still, there are times where I fell pity for the addicted. This is where I get in trouble. Half of me wants to not contribute to their vice, the other half wants to give them a momentary break from suffering, regardless of the long term affects. I also find this to be interesting; that it also takes willpower to not "help" someone in this state, just like it takes willpower to overcome a substance dependency (albeit a lot more).

At any rate, Jerry did not appear to be troubled by addictions. His profile indicated to me that he was a productive member of society. He was on an early bus and going to work. He was clean and neat. His eyes were alert. What he needed the $1 for could be anything: the commute home, food. I suppose it could be for cigarettes or alcohol, or illicit drugs, too. It just didn't seem like it.

As Jerry pulled the stop cord on the bus, I recalled that I had several quarters in my messenger bag's coin pocket. I reached in the fold and grabbed a fistful of loose change. There were several quarters in there.

"Is this your stop, Jerry?"

"Yeah. Gotta catch the #18 transfer," he rasped.

"Have a good day" I said, reaching out my hand.

He grasped my hand and felt the cool coins in my open clutch. His grip firmed up while his face transformed into another warm smile.

"Thank you, Brady. God bless you, and have a good day."

"See you around, Jerry"

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cyclocross HUD Warnings

"Your lines are driving me nuts," Shim said as he went around me during the first of five laps at the Oakley Night Cap Masters 45+ race this past Sunday morning.

I wasn't on my strong program that morning.

It wasn't that I didn't know it beforehand. During warmup, the Heads-Up Display (HUD) lit up with a pair of glowing amber warning lights:

It was true. The bad leg report was a direct result from the grueling Open Cat 1-2-3 race from the night before. At that race,  I took it out a wee bit on the spastic side (think Peter Boyd on crack) in order to hang with the alpha pack. Then, after say a quarter lap, reality set in. The next hour and nine minutes was a a wonderful experience of intermingled suffering and humiliation. Man, I can't get enough of this sport.

So anyway, that explained the CHECK LEGS warning on my HUD. The same can be said about the CHECK BALANCE alert. I was cornering for crap at the start of the race. That was mostly due to lingering doubt from a couple sloppy, fatigue-induced wipeouts from the night before. With my confidence still reeling Sunday morning, I felt slightly off-kilter on the bike and took to cornering cautiously. As a result, my turns were slow and with bad lines. This opened up gaps between me and the dude ahead of me, requiring some effort to catch back on. This was so evident that my good buddy and teammate, Shim, couldn't keep his cake hole shut about my crappy turning skills. After he mentioned it for the third or fourth time, I finally just gave in and let him go by.

I followed his wheel from there. Because he rides good lines, my cornering improved rapidly. The CHECK BALANCE light turned off shortly after. And though we had lost contact with the leader of the race, we had a nice gap between us and fourth place. Rather than try to catch back on, we rode a smart tempo around threshold for the remainder of the race. My legs were still fatigued. The wet course and heat didn't make it any easier. As a result, the CHECK LEGS* alert remained lit throughout the remainder of the race. Still, Sunday's race was more enjoyable than the night before. Finishing on the podium helped.

*CHECK LEGS finally cycled itself off during Monday afternoon's taco recovery spin.

Well that's all for today.  Thanks for reading and Happy Friday.