Or maybe a better title would be using races as training or possibly just how to effectively screw up a whole day of racing with improper training and racing. Regardless, last week and particularly last weekend I found the perfect combination to sabotage not only my own day of racing but my wife's as well. I'm choosing to take the high road here though, and say that we simply used last week culminating with the day's racing on Sunday as a nice solid block of training. That is much easier than simply admitting suckage.
The weekend prior to last week was a solid block of riding in and of itself despite not racing and last week had some good hard efforts highlighted by the two hour interval road ride on Tuesday. I've been trying to do more of this type of ride and have gotten a good small group together to hit some mild hills really hard. We end up on a very local 35ish mile loop where we sprint it out every time the pavement goes up. This nets us about 13 or 14 good solid 20 second to 1.5 minute efforts. Recovery in between allows for some really good repeats. I've been seeing historic records set in the short interval blocks on a weekly basis. This is a good thing. Anyhow, that was the Tuesday ride followed by the normal cyclocross specific training ride that saw another block of longer intervals, though much less intense. A solid block on the rollers Friday capped off the work week and had me feeling pretty good.
Friday evening as we were pre-registering for the Sunday race, I convinced Cathy that doing a double was the hot setup, because you know, the second race only costs $10. We both registered for the 1/2/3 race as well as the SSCX race, a race that we both hoped to do well at. In the past I've had mixed results with doubling up on races. In some cases I have had great success but in others not so much. If I am feeling good for the first race I often manage to put in respectable results in the second race. Typically though if the first race doesn't go well the second isn't much of an improvement. We would just have to see how things played out.
Unfortunately, I decided that a great pre-race ride would be to do a Saturday AM 50 mile group ride out to Harvard and back because it would be nice and gentle. You know me, I'm excellent at the nice and gentle thing. I can so handle that gig. Oh yea, that's right. I actually totally suck at "nice and easy" and failed "gentle" in kindergarten. This near three hours block of "nice and easy" was the straw. About half way in, right after I did my one and only "opener" hard interval at the top of Oak Hill, it dawned on me that I'd done way too much. Cathy echoed my sentiments shortly after that. The damage was done and despite shutting it down and coming the last 20 miles "easily" home, the legs were whimpering. At home I downloaded the power from the ride and was surprised to see that in no less than three short time interval categories I hit within 50 watts of my personal bests. That either indicates that my personal bests are pretty lame or the ride was probably not "nice and easy". The data confirmed the physiological assumption, this was not the best pre-race ride choice.
Fast forward to Sunday AM and we get to the venue early to support and cheer on the Junior Development Team who showed up in force. The legs for some reason have not recovered from the previous day's activity. I wonder why? I pulled the single-speed off the rack, got suited up and got out onto the course to pre-ride and see what it was all about. Cathy had already headed out on her geared bike to preview the course. Making an appearance at the day-time venue once again was the dreaded flyover of doom. This is always a challenging feature and can be a game-changer if you are not comfortable and proficient with it. On the pre-ride lap my legs actually didn't feel all that bad and so I was still optimistic. As my races were much later in the day, I figured that I would just see how it played out after a few hours of spectating. What else could I do after all?
First up on the day were the Master's events. We had a bunch of NEBC teammates in the mix and walked around the course and spectated. After the Master's events were the Cat4 and Junior races. We had a seven kids in the races from the team including three who would be competing in their first cyclocross race ever. The race was super exciting and very animated as they sent nearly 100 Cat4 Men off at the same time as the 20 Junior racers. It was mayhem. You can read all about it via the NEBC Junior Team Race Report directly. It was great to see all of the kids out there having fun and getting the opportunity to experience a new aspect of cycling. That is what it's all about, if you ask me anyhow. Keep it fresh and keep it fun. We had a total of five of the team bikes the I've been working all season to pull together from strategic purchases and donations from club members and friends. This allows the team to try this new discipline without having to shell out for a bike. We also have some mountain bikes to use for the team as well and have in the past been able to head into the woods to experience yet another discipline. The program is going very well and is having a very positive impact, at least from what I am seeing.
Next up was Cathy's category race. She was doing really well at the start and having a great race but as time went on and the race progressed, I could see my stupidity in ride selection from the day prior was taking a toll. This was when the true extent of my poor judgment sunk in and I realized I hadn't only potentially impacted myself but had sabotaged Cathy's day as well. Ugh! She still managed to finish up strong and never gave up.
My category race drew a big field of primarily younger guys than I am used to racing with. This was because they offered no Master's 35+ 1/2/3 field but instead chose to combine the fields into a single 1/2/3 group. Off the start I wasn't feeling quite up to the task. Combined with the slight uphill sprint into the uphill power section slog I was already in trouble. The younger guys seem to be able to start just a little bit harder than I am comfortable with. This results in me struggling hard at the start and then picking it up when they start to fade off. This happened as usual but I found myself well behind the front end of the race. Despite making up some ground I could never close the gap to the group ahead, who were still charging hard. Despite seeing him coming and trying my hardest to preempt the strike, I got beaten at the finish by SSCX rival Shawn M. which slipped me another place back. That's racing though.
For the single-speeds, I'd switched our gearing combination on the SSCX bikes from the previous race at the venue, opting for a taller gear. I'd changed both of our bikes from 38x17 to 40x17 shortly after the previous race. After spending some time on that combo, including doing a real cross practice including some sprint intervals with the NEBC Junior Development Team, I decided to go bigger still. I've come to realize that riding SS is a very different animal that racing SS. You really want to over-gear for a race situation and suffer through it on the ups with the thought being that it allows you more chance to recover/go faster on the flats and downs. Being spun out at 125rpm is no way to try and recover. So I bumped up to a 42x17 which, after the pre-ride lap I decided was the right choice.
I was still confident that I could hold it all together for a good showing in the SSCX race. That was, until I finished the 1/2/3 and felt the true gravity of the situation. The SSCX race started in 15 minutes and I was, spent. I choked down a Goo and drank some water, pulled off my base layer which I really didn't need in the first place and regretted having in the previous race. At the line I had really good seeding, but then they told us it was to be a Le mans, running start. They then sent us back down the hard-pack sinder road a hundred or so yards. They then put the women off 45 seconds in front of us. This is going to be challenging.
The running start was a joke. I'm an OK power runner but with carbon soled shoes and toe spikes on hard-packed surface, I may as well have been running in clogs. Heck, it looked like I was. I got to and on my bike with about 20 people ahead of me. My tired legs balked at the first power climb and the switchbacks were mayhem. I struggled, thrashed and floundered like a walrus caught in a fishing net. It wasn't pretty. As the course opened up I started to make some headway, and then we hit the women. The only point at which this was a real issue was when I got stuck behind a small but opinionated and vocal woman going up the flyover. It wasn't pretty and it was slow. The rest of the race was just trying to chase back through the spots I'd lost at the start. The short is that I managed to get most of the spots back and had the group ahead of me and even the leaders back in sight with a couple of laps to go but I could not even match the final lap pace, let alone close. The gear choice was spot on, I just wish I'd have had the ability to use it. Cathy thought she was a little high, but I suspect that was Saturday's ride and the 1/2/3 race earlier talking. I know that she can push a big gear when she wants to.
So lets just chalk that one up to a block of training. This week started with the plan to do some steady, recovery riding and not further tax myself. Other than going out for a very, very short run on Monday which basically crippled me for days, the goal was met. I'm hoping for good legs for the weekend of racing in Maine. Will see what happens. I'm optimistic and looking forward to the weekend at the very least.