My road racing season is winding down, and this year I have been gratified to find myself with a second wind in August. The early season races are generally better suited to my strengths, with the exception of these few races that I often attempt towards the end of the summer. In past years, I have had a let down in fitness after competing hard through the spring and taking time off for family vacation in June. Although I have gone through that same letdown this year, the dynamic was a bit different due to a change up in schedule. In early May, at a time when I would normally be geared up towards racing hard, we went to Europe for 2 weeks. That served as a signal to my body that it was time to go from racing mode to recovery mode. I put on weight and I found myself unwilling and unable to engage in the hardest high intensity workouts that I typically do on a weekly basis. I recognize this change from past years, but typically it has begun with our June vacation. Having it start in early May has allowed me to have a resurgence in fitness that is peaking in mid August. My weight has come back down and I have found myself looking forward to and enjoying the weeks’ hardest workout.
That workout is an interval effort that many on our team engage in on a weekly basis throughout the year. I do the workout a lot, but I also allow myself to step away from it if I feel my body is telling me to do so. When we returned from our family vacation in mid June this year, I was feeling fat and fully recovered from my early season racing. I decided to see if I could get fit again for 3 races on the schedule in August; Dunnigan Hills, San Ardo and Winters. I wanted to bring my weight back down and increase my ability to ride with intensity. I began in mid June by doing repeats on the back side of Hazeldel, in the same direction that the Saturday ride does it. Rather than use my power meter, which is currently broken, I decided to use time along with weight as my measurement. The fact is that it doesn’t matter how many watts you can put out, and it also doesn’t matter how much you weigh. What really matters is the combination of those two factors and the resultant time that it takes you to get through a given interval. My given interval starts at about 10 mph from the bridge at the bottom of the Del to the Stop sign at the one way traffic control. The effort is to repeat this interval 6 times, with my perceived exertion the same at the beginning and end of each interval, as well as being the same across all intervals. I restarted doing these intervals in mid June, weighing in at 197# (Clydesdale material). My first week out, I found I could only complete 4 efforts before I was done. My best time was 5’ 45”, with my slowest effort at 6’ even. The next week out, my weight was down to 193#, but I continued to hover in the same time range. I think I had one effort in the 5’ 30” range, but I did complete all 6. After that, I found I was beginning to look forward to my weekly interval session on Tuesday mornings. It continues to be painfully hard, but I am now completing 6 efforts each week with a best time of 4’ 45” and at a weight of 186#. The truth is this is still not good enough, but I know the deficiency is weight related more than power related. I think it is an important fact about racing to explain how I know this.
I regularly do the Saturday ride. Many of the most competitive riders in our county do that ride, and I find it a good opportunity to test my fitness and race readiness. The normal Saturday ride route does not include any huge hill, but it does include this effort that I have been using for my interval work each week. There has never been a time, during the season, that I have not seen this section on the Del used as the means for separating the contenders from the riff raff. They always hit it hard. I am never going to make it over that climb with the 1’s, 2’s, pros and youngsters, of whom there are always at least a few. My goal is to make it over that hill with the guys in our area who I know are as good at climbing as the best race climbers in the 55+ age group. I have identified several riders who fit that description. Some of these guys weigh 40 - 50 pounds less than I do. It takes too many watts to make that up, more than I can train for. For me to get over with them, I have to do 3 things. I must train my power as best I can, I must lower my weight to the point where I will not sacrifice any of that power, and I must make the effort to hold those wheels that I want to get over with. That last is a key point that I think is often forgotten in training. While the value of drafting off of another rider is not as great on a hill, it can still be substantial enough to make the difference in making it or getting dropped. It is almost always worth the effort to stay with a rider you know is a leader in your category. When I began engaging in interval training in mid June, I would round the last corner heading up to the stop sign on the Del during the Saturday ride, and see those riders heading out of sight beyond the stop sign. I was more than 1’ 30” behind them and discouraged. Now when I do that ride, I am still behind them, but the gap is more like 30”, and my time with other riders is at 4’ 30”. It’s faster than I can do it on my own, but it’s still not fast enough. There is a place, not far from where I currently sit in this, where I will know that I can reach back, dig deep, and bridge that last remaining gap. Right now, I know that to try and do that would blow me up, leaving my body too devastated to continue at race pace. I also know that I have somewhere between 6 and 10 pounds that I can lose without giving up any power, maybe more. The challenge I have is that when I reach for these lower weights, my mind has a tendency to send me towards panic mode, even though I can tell my body likes it. I just keep working on it and I know that I will get there eventually.
I am rambling through this because next weeks’ race at Winters, has a hill. I haven’t done it in a couple of years, but I seem to recall it being a hill similar to the Del. I am signed up for the 35+ 4 race there, because the 45+ 4 race is full and there is no 55+ category. I thought about the E-4 race, but their course is too long considering that I am also planning to do the CCCX races on Sunday. I do not expect the 35+ 4 race to hit the hill as hard as the 55+ racers would. The 4 races tend to stay together more and come down to a sprint at the finish. My hope would be to alter this dynamic by attacking as often as I can, but I will sit in the first lap to see how I do on the hill. If I get dropped, I will have to chase, and that will change my plan. Still, I am realizing that this course at Winters is really what I have been targeting in my late season training. I want to use it to prove to myself that I can climb with my peer group, perhaps even punish most of them. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
My race at San Ardo was way fun. After entering the E-4 race at Dunniigan and finishing well, I was excited to enter this mostly flat race with the 55 open group. I was a bit disappointed to see that the race was not going to be a big group with only 10 guys preregistered. Still, one of those guys was Steve Archer, one of the best racers in our district. I knew he would make sure the race was animated, but I had a few plans of my own. At the line we had 12 total, as two of our team, Kem Akol and Jim Moran, had made the trip down and signed up for the race. I am always stoked to get to race with teammates, but in this race, it was not to be for long. The course meanders uphill from the start for the first mile plus and then proceeds to roll through about the first half lap. By the time we had gotten through that section, I looked around and saw that there were only 8 of us left. Both Kem and Jim had been among those dropped, but I give kudos to both of them for making the effort and for remaining on the course and finishing the race!
For my part, I was feeling pretty good and I wanted to do my part to make the race competitive. Dave Montgomery from the Sierra Nevada team had animated the first part of the race and his effort had shelled the early riders. He had recovered and attacked again, staying off the front of our group for 10 or 15 minutes before Archer and his teammate made the effort to reel him back in. Our race had pretty much ongoing attacks, and I did my share, at one point staying away for 10 - 15 minutes. Pretty much everyone recognized Archer as the favorite and made either he or his teammate chase down the attacks. Still, he is a very strong racer and was able to launch a number of attacks on his own.
Our race continued on in this fashion until the risers at the beginning of our second lap. At that point, a guy from San Jose Cycling went to the front and attacked really hard. I had a gap open up in front of me and had to chase very hard, but at no point did I feel like I was in danger of getting dropped. However, we did lose one more racer before it was over, and we were down to 7 in the lead group vying for 6 places in the medals at the finish. Dave and I continued to attack, along with the rider from San Jose Cycling, but Archer and his teammate chased us down each time. Then, an opportunity presented itself. Archer saw that he had a slow leak and was flatting. He told the group that he was pulling off, and his teammate pulled off with him. At first no one acted, but I suggested that we needed to ride hard and lose both of these guys. We began to do so, but it was late and never in an organized way. Before I knew it, I looked around and Archer was back with us. His teammate, sacrificing himself, had given Archer his wheel and remained behind. Archer had chased us down and was back in the group. Pretty impressive.
The attacks continued with no overall impact, and we began to contemplate the finish. I knew Archer was a force to be reckoned with, but there was also a Cal Giant rider in our group who I thought I remembered as a good sprinter. What was more, he had not taken a pull or launched an attack all day. As we rolled through town and began the uphill effort to the turn for the finish, I was sitting 2nd wheel behind the San Jose Cycling rider. I was giving my best effort, but I think I should have been in my small chain ring for this. The big ring effort was starting to grind and I couldn’t keep up as Archer and the Giant rider came around me. I was trying to chase, but I ended up getting in Dave’s way in the process, for which I am very sorry. Still, I regrouped and continued with Dave’s encouragement on my wheel. I was starting to make up some ground, as we entered the corner for the last effort to the line, but I did not have enough. Dave came around me and took 4th behind the San Jose Cycling rider in 3rd, the Cal Giant rider in 2nd, and Archer with the win. I finished 5th as the last guy in our lead group had nothing left for the effort to the line. Kem came in a bit behind in 9th, and I think Jim was 11th. I think Dave may have taken 3rd if he had not been on my squirrely wheel. I’ll do better in the future. Still, it was a really fun day of racing!