2015 Woolley Cross – Cascade Cross #1

We actually had a little bit of rain on race day!

It wasn’t enough to generate any mud, but at least I got to experience a few sprinkles while out on course.

The day started off with another women’s specific clinic run by the Washington Women of Cross. Dawn attending this as her second clinic and was able to absorb a bit more knowledge on tire pressure, tread, cornering and some other CX skills. They’re doing a great job of growing the sport among local women and I’m glad to see it!

As far as the race itself goes, I heard a lot of positive comments out there. We had a few people who were on their first cyclocross race and this was a good experience for them.

While we had a serious runup over tree roots, there were no traditional barriers that required dismounting or remounting. The biggest challenge (at least for me) was the long stretches over the still bumpy grass. Some short sections got smoothed out by racers, but it was still pretty bone jarring.

Given my experience at the last race (South Sound Super Prestige) where I kind of blew up early and had a hard time sprinting at the end, I was going to take a different approach at this race.

The plan was to keep an eye on my heart rate and make sure I didn’t get into a zone where I would not get a chance to recover. So rather than blasting out the gate at the start I kept my cool while people passed me.

This seemed to work out fine until we made it to the run up. Normally this would be a good feature for me as I can power up the hill and get back on pretty quick (usually). In this case I totally flubbed the remount. Instead of getting back on smoothly and heading forward, I ended up stopping all momentum while jumping on and ran into some bushes.

Getting myself sorted out and back on course cost me several places and got me out of the “flow”. My HR shot up. Rather than blowing myself up to catch back on I focused on not letting my HR get too high and was going to try and slowly ride myself back on.

Turns out the rest of the field was totally not in with that game plan.

When we got to a relatively smooth and straight stretch they all took off while I focused on keeping calm. By the end of that sector they were all gone.

I didn’t really give up at that point, but it gets harder to justify going into the red when you’re so far off and have little chance of catching on. So I saved my legs for next weekend and rode hard, but didn’t turn myself inside out. I still managed to catch one guy before we both got lapped.

The friends, family, and other race fans were all out doing a great job of cheering, heckling and providing the beer & bacon handups.

Music used in this report video:

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2015 MFG #2 South Sound Super Prestige Race Report

MFG keeping production values high with their running commentary.

Last minute prep for the South Sound Super Prestige began the night before. I stayed at Shawn’s place, a friend and teammate, even though wasn’t going to be able to race the next day. His place is about two hours closer than mine to Lakewood. It’s a good chance to visit and save a bunch of time in the morning. The idea being that I would be better rested and prepared for the next day’s event.

My intention that night was to just have one beer with dinner. Turns out beers went down before dinner started being made. So out came the wine.

A little wine while making dinner.

A bit more wine during dinner.

Even more wine and conversation after dinner.

Before I realized it, it was 10:30 pm and the two of us had emptied two bottles of wine. This was probably not the best prep for a race I’ve ever done.

Waking up at 6:00 am the next morning I had a bit of a headache and a tad dehydrated. Not too bad, all things considered. I guess that’s one upside to being a Clydesdale: more body mass to metabolize alcohol.

Starting off the Clydesdale race at 10:30 with mild alcohol poisoning, I was ready to be done by the second lap. The climb to the top of the water tower hill was the most obvious challenging feature of the course. However the less obvious and more challenging feature was the long stretches through bumpy turf.

“Bumpy” is not really a very complete description of this turf. The moon is “bumpy”. Gravel roads are “bumpy”. This was more like being the rattle shaken around inside of a spray can. Roughly a quarter of each lap was spent enduring this uniquely sapping experience.

After getting out of the “turf of purgatory” you would hit the start/finish stretch. This is normally where you would try to recover or sprint the finish. In my case it felt like just a little bit of relief after the constant pounding. After getting off the pavement you have some time spent on some less bumpy – merely washboard – section of turf before heading through some trees and towards the climb up to the water tower.

Being a Clydesdale (200+ lbs) I was surprised at how many people I could catch and pass on this climb. It’s relatively short, about a minute and a half, so my strategy was to apply as much power as possible, climbing out of the saddle most of the way. By the top I would be crushed, but there was a convenient downhill section to allow a bit of recovery.

After getting back down to the bottom of the hill we had a bit of double track, then into the turf of purgatory, starting with a set of double barriers.

After the barriers you settle in for the long stretch of bobble-head training. I understand the secret to riding this kind of terrain is to use a lower cadence and apply more power. For me that worked up to a point. By the time we got back around to the paved finishing straight my legs and cardio were pretty cooked.

Regardless, by the last lap I still had delusions of glory in the possibility of being able to outsprint two of my Clydesdale competitors.

I caught the pair near the barriers and formulated a plan to sit in until the final paved section. I modified that when it appeared Guy #1 was pulling away from Guy #2. I didn’t like seeing the gap grow, so I accelerated and got in behind Guy #1.

Everything went to plan until we got back on pavement. Guy #1 and I both started accelerating when suddenly Guy #2 came flying by me. He went past Guy #1, who took up chase.

They both pulled away from me despite my fully going into the red zone. I nearly collapsed after the finish.

I blame the bottle of wine.

Music used in the highlight video:

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2015 Lake Sammamish GP Race Report

This was another day that had the potential to be a nice day out for the family, or to be the cyclocross version of trench warfare.

We left Bellingham at about 5:45 am to head south to Lake Sammamish. The kids were loaded in and they were already started on some “screen time”. Hey, you do what you need to do. Team gear filled the back of our Sienna.

The nice thing about being on the road that early in the morning is you get to see the sky lighten up. We didn’t really get to catch the sunrise since it was overcast.

Getting closer to Seattle we noticed the clouds get darker and some sprinkling rain start to come down. It seems this could have gone either way – clearing up or downpour.

For the sake of my kids, I’m glad it went towards the clearing up direction. Even though we have gone “all out” on having a team tent this season, it’s still nice to have the option of having the kids go out and use the play area without complaining about it too much.

My wife Dawn has started racing this season in the Beginner Women category and is having a good time with it. Her race went off in the first group of the morning. The kids and I got around to different parts of the course to cheer her on and take photos.

The youth racers went off just ahead of the women. This gave me the chance to cheer on the next generation of racers, both boys and girls, as they made their way around the course. One of the more inspirational moments was watching the smaller kids heave their bikes over the double set of barriers. Imagine having to heave your bike over a barrier that is 1/3 your height, then climbing over it yourself!

These kids were not about to give up and there was quite a crowd there to cheer them on. It really looks like these kids have caught the CX bug we’ll see them racing for years to come. There were some determined young ladies in that group I see as a continuing force to be reckoned with.

Just as Dawn’s race was finishing up my group was already staged at the start. This year I’m racing Clydesdales, which up until this race I was having mixed feelings about. I’m one for sticking to “officialness” in a lot of cases and it kind of felt like the Clyde’s was sort of “made up”.

I appreciate the effort to have something for us burlier guys, but it still felt like a patronizing effort.

That was until I actually raced in the category.

Clydesdale is no joke!

In other years, and in other events, I would race in the Cat 4 Master’s 45+. The winner’s time in the Clyde’s was 1:19 faster than the winner in that group! And while I managed to pull off 9th place (of 20 – barely top 50%), my time would have put me 30th of 69 in Cat 4 Master’s 45+.

So while my percent finish may not be as strong in the smaller field, there is something to be said for racing against a smaller field. Also, since these guys turn out to be really strong riders it might be even better preparation for me to go up through the “traditional” categories as I get more tuned to racing cyclocross.

Check out the video (above) for more detailed course description and experience.

Music in the video used under Creative Commons license:

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Labor Day Cyclocross Championships 2015

The inaugural setup of the Pints & Cowbells team tent.

On the drive down to JBLM I was having second thoughts about my tire choice for the day.

I’ve been set up with file treads for dry conditions and was considering switching over to something more aggressive. The rains over the last week had me thinking I should account for terrain that might not be so hard packed. Through a combination of not really wanting to change tires the day before a race and assurances from teammates “it will be fine” I kept the file treads.

As we hit rain squalls driving down I-5 I began thinking the file treads might not be the best choice. But the time we got there (at about 7:30 am) and set up the team tent the rain had stopped and clouds looked less menacing.

On the course pre-ride I could tell the tire choice would be fine. There were no big muddy climbs and there were several sections that were either dirt road, gravel road, or hard pack soil. Other parts of the course were routed though large trees, with plenty of tight corners to keep it interesting. The soil in these sections was a bit looser, but easy to get through with half decent handling skills.

There was one barrier to get over that forced a hill run up on the opposite side.

I ended up racing in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ since there was no Clydesdale option and I didn’t feel like getting crushed by the Cat 3’s.

I had decent start, and was conscious of not putting myself on the front and burning too much energy too early. I was passed by a fair number of racers in the first couple of minutes, but navigated around them later as they blew up.

I found I was able to gain on those in front of me by concentrating on keeping a low cadence and applying more power. Then when the tight corners came I would take turns passing and getting passed by other racers. Counter-intuitively, to me anyway, I was stronger on the “fast” sections than in the tight technical sections. It felt a lot like a diesel coming up to speed. My RPM’s would get up past 75-80 and I would shift up. Cadence would creep up again and I would shift up again. There were two or three sections where I could play that game and make gains.

In the end, I finished 18 out of 30. Still not that top 50% I’ve been chasing, but not bad for a race I have not really been targeting.

A big shoutout to the organizers for the Labor Day Cylcocross Championships for putting on a great event. It was a nice venue and the gear I got set up for the team tent made it even more fun for our group.

Aerobic Fitness In Cyclocross – Personal Insights

Anaerobic Power in Cyclocross

Is it surprising that you need strong aerobic fitness in cyclocross? It kind of was to me. If you’re familiar with CX, you’ve probably seen how much power is needed right from the start to get to the front. Plus there’s a crap ton of accelerations since you need to slow down for barriers and sharp turns. Then there’s the mud and grass to deal with.

This all led me to believe that you could do well in cyclocross races if you could produce a lot of power in short bursts (anaerobic power). While that’s true, you also need to be able to recover in between those bursts.

When I finished my 2012 cyclocross season I was not really happy with how the season went. I was pretty much at the back of every race I entered. And it’s not like I’m racing at the highest levels. I race Cat 4 Men, 35 – 44. That’s not exactly where all the glory is.

At the time, I figured the anaerobic conditioning I was doing with Crossfit would help carry me through. Well, it probably got me fit enough to at least be strong at the start, but my physiology tends more naturally to the anaerobic side.

Figuring I could do better, I asked one of my Crossfit coaches to help me develop a better engine for the 2013 cyclocross season. He’s very good with programming conditioning and improving athletes, so I figured this would be a good fit.

While my results were better for 2013 over 2012, it’s not quite what I was hoping for. Having someone work with me over the past season, and seeing what the results were from that, helped determine where my main weakness is (recovery from anaerobic efforts) and what I need to do in training and in races to address it.

What I have going for me looking to next season is that I know where my engine is and my coach knows how to move it where it needs to be.

It turns out I’m pretty heavily on the anaerobic side of the spectrum. While you would think that would be good for an event that doesn’t last more than an hour, I’m so far on the anaerobic side that I don’t recover that well after putting in big efforts. I have very good power output when I’m fresh, but then I’m tapped.

So what we need to do is build up more of the aerobic capacity. I need to be able to recover after putting in the big efforts I’m capable of.

This also works into the strategy for my last race of the season, which comes up tomorrow. Even though I can blast off the line and be in the top five to ten of my category, I probably shouldn’t. Because every time I’ve done that this season, I lose the leaders after half a lap. Then by the second or third lap I’m really hurting because I’m still trying to push hard, but I’m not getting the recovery time I currently need.

So my strategy for now is to go out not quite as hard and ride within myself, taking the occasional dig into my anaerobic power when I need to. Maybe that will keep me from being DFL this time. I can only hope!

I’m definitely looking forward to building out my aerobic and recovery capacity over this next training season.

Your First Cyclocross Race – Are You Ready?

With the cyclocross season starting I’ve received a few questions about what to do before your first race. My mind starts reeling with all the different factors to consider, but I’ll boil it down to a few elements here.

“The bike” typically pops to mind first for most people I talk to. Choosing a bike is really an entire article in itself, and here’s a good starting point from cyclocross magazine (opens in new window).

Running the barriers at Steilacoom (I'm the guy in the back)
Running the barriers in stride

Once you have that covered you will want to get some practice doing some of the things you will only do on a CX bike. Regardless of what kind of course or weather you’re going to have, you will be doing some dismounting and remounting. Besides actually pedaling your bike, this is going to be your most used skill.

Go out in a grassy area in the yard or a park and practice a bit.

To dismount simply swing your right leg over and behind your bike. As your foot comes around and you’re ready to step with that foot onto the ground unclip your left foot from the pedal if you’re using clipless pedals. If you’re using platform pedals without clips this is much simpler as you don’t have to worry about unclipping.

If you’re using toe clips or cages, remove them. Seriously. You’re going to get hurt.

Be sure to dismount a few steps ahead of the barrier or whatever it is you need to run through. This will give you a chance to hit some stride before the obstacle and get over it cleanly.

When remounting try to keep some speed with the bike. Swing your right leg over and hop onto the saddle first, aiming to land on the inside of your right leg (rather than straight on your bottom). Landing on the inside of your leg reduces the impact. Then you just slide your butt into position on the saddle while getting your feet back into the pedals.

It feels clumsy and awkward at first. If you check out the pros on YouTube videos it seems like they do the whole thing without breaking stride. They make it look easy because they’ve done it thousands of times. Practice.

Here’s a good instructional video for dismounting and remounting:

Kris (in the video above) mentions that “step through” is an advanced technique. In truth, even most pros are not doing step throughs anymore. You just need to watch videos from pro CX races from the past few years to see that. Also, here’s 2012 US National CX Champion Jeremy Powers discounting the technique:

As you’re looking at the calendar and figuring out which race you’re going to make your debut, there’s a few things to consider. You want to prepare for the weather.

Hopefully you will be doing your first race in the early season when the weather is not going to be such a shock to the system. If it’s 36 degrees and raining for your very first race, you might be facing a few more challenges at once than you need to.

If you’re doing a race in the September or October time frame, then you have fewer things to worry about. No drive trains are likely to freeze up in these relatively mild months.

Here’s a beginning packing list. After you do a few more races you will figure out other things you may want to bring along. For now we will just keep it simple.

Starting at the top, you obviously need a helmet. Any helmet intended for biking use will do. If it’s going to be cold, you might want to get some ear warmers.

Sport glasses are nice to have, but not absolutely necessary. Lots of people use them, lots of people don’t. If you wear contact lenses it may be a good idea. I wear contacts and when I have not worn protective glasses in dry and dusty conditions my eyes were very uncomfortable by the end of the race. For muddy conditions the need is probably a little more obvious. In ‘cross season it’s likely to be overcast so track down some clear lenses.

Going with a base layer t-shirt is largely a personal preference, but since I started using a base layer I’ve really come to prefer it. I like having the layer between my skin and the straps on my bib shorts. Avoid cotton if you can and go with some sort of technical wicking fabric if you have it. Under Armour makes very popular shirts for all weather conditions designed to be worn as a base layer.

A cycling jersey is great if you have one to use. You probably will not need to carry anything in your jersey pockets since the races are relatively short compared to road races or recreational road rides. The one thing you may need to carry with you are your car keys.

Car keys pinned to inside of jersey pocket
Worried about keys jumping out during a CX race? Pin them to the inside of your jersey pocket.

One way to be sure your keys don’t get ejected from your jersey pocket is to use one of the pins you get with your race numbers to pin them to the inside of your jersey pocket. You really don’t want to spend the rest of the day going over every inch of the course looking for your car keys.

For shorts, you really want to have a pair of biking shorts, either regular shorts or bib shorts. Even though these races are shorter duration the chamois in biking shorts helps protect your more sensitive areas from the bumping and impacts you’re sure to experience. Also, well fitting bike shorts will not get in the way when you’re trying to do a running remount on your bike.

If it’s colder you can opt for some insulated cyclings pants or tights. The big caution here is to wear something that’s not going to snag on your saddle while you’re doing your running remount.

That tends to end badly.

If you can, wear your insulating layer under your shorts. Avoid leg warmers. They have a tendency to fall down around your ankles which puts a bit of a damper on trying to pedal.

For your feet, you can wear shoe covers for your warm up laps. But as with the leg warmers, during the course of a race they have the distinct possibility of becoming dislodged or getting jammed up in your cleats.

Instead you can wear some thicker cold weather cycling socks or use the chemical toe warmers you can find in sporting goods stores.

That’s about it for clothing.

For food you may need to experiment with what works best for you. Keep in mind that beginner or Category 4 races are usually the first ones of the day. This means a relatively early morning start, somewhere between 9 am and 10 am. A good rule of thumb is to finish breakfast about three hours before you start. This should give you time to digest and have an empty stomach at the start line.

Starting a race with a ball of food in your gut is an awful feeling and does nothing for performance.

On the mechanical side, it doesn’t hurt to bring along some extra tubes and a pump. I had one experience where I had three flats just doing warm up laps. I ended up borrowing a tube from another racer, but then still ended up borrowing a wheel from another racer as I flatted again heading to the start line.

If you’re doing a race and it’s pretty dry out you may not need to worry about cleaning much before packing your bike up. But if you encounter any amount of mud, you’re likely going to want to get a bit of that grit out before heading home.

sprayers for cyclocross
Sprayers, brushes and a bucket are handy for post race cleanup. And keeping the mud out of your car.

Unfortunately, most amatuer venues don’t have pressure washers for all to use. So the next best thing is to bring your own. But rather than getting something with a motor and still needing to hook up to a hose, just get a two gallon sprayer from your local hardware store. Actually, get two. In the morning before you head to the race fill them up with hot water from the tap.

Also bring along a small bucket, some brushes, and a bit of car wash liquid.

When you’re all done racing you can take a few minutes to scrub down your bike (and your legs) with some nice warm sudsy water. You’ll be the envy of all the other races. I’ve even had offers for beer in exchange for cleaning bikes! Even though I kind of like the bike cleaning process, it would have to be a good amount of good beer to get to do someone else’s dirty work.

That’s my advice for doing your first race!

You can leave any other questions not covered here in the comments section and I will get back with you!

Going Tubeless with Clement LAS or PDX?

Shimano RS10 Wheelset. Good for tubeless conversion?

I’ve probably put way too much brain time into thinking about what tires to run for 2013-2014. I haven’t made the jump to tubulars yet, but I’ve already gone tubeless on my road bike. The next step is to go tubeless on the CX bike, but what conversion will work best with my stock Shimano RS10 wheels?

I like the idea of running with Clement, partly because of their history with cyclocross and partly because I’ve heard good things about how they perform. I have two points of trepidation though:

  1. How well with they convert to tubeless on my existing rims
  2. Should I get one set for the entire season, or get two sets for different conditions?

With the conversion, I’m going to let my favorite local bike shop (Earl’s) handle the conversion and mounting.

Clement PDX - Tubeless?
Clement PDX – Great for when conditions get sloppy

The bigger question then is what to run with. If I were going to go with just one set, it would obviously have to be the Clement PDX. They’re designed for the wet, muddy conditions we should expect to see in the Pacific Northwest. However, the reality of the past couple years is that it has been pretty darn dry here the last couple of seasons until about late October or November.

The last two years the season opening race at Big Finn Hill Park has been a dry, dusty, race on grass and pavement. This is where the Clement LAS shines. It has a file tread designed to fly over grass and pavement, with extra knobs on the side for traction while cornering.

While it would be a little bit of a hassle to switch between the two sets of tires between races, depending on the course and weather conditions, it would be a little bit of an edge in competition. And based on my results from the last two years I can use all the edge I can get!

Another niggle in the back of my mind is worrying about the dreaded “burp”. This when the tire bead gets unseated just enough to let air out. This generally happens as a combination of not having a good seal between the tire bead and the rim, and not running a high enough tire pressure.

Since with cyclocross we generally try to run a low a pressure as possible for both improved traction and lower rolling resistance, it becomes a delicate balance. One way to guard against having the tire burp is to be sure and build up the bed of the rim you’re converting with extra rim strip. This helps make sure the tire bead sits tight against the rim.

Clement LAS tubeless
The file tread on the LAS looks fast. Hopefully that translates to reality.

Another point of failure leading to tire burp can be the tire sidewall not being quite stiff enough and folding under during big hits or hard cornering, pushing the tire bead into the center of the rim channel, causing air to escape.

Putting all this is combination with me not exactly being a “light” rider (I’ll be somewhere between 185lbs and 195lbs come race day in September), it’s definitely using up a fair number of brain cycles.

So, what to do?

I’m going to have my local bike shop order both the PDX and the LAS, run the LAS tires until the courses start getting wet, then switch over to the PDX.

I’ll report back with how it goes!