Mike's Blog

Turning over the pedals

On the bike, that is; that is my goal for 2014.  In 2011 I rode/trained my way into the best shape of my post military life at 180lbs, a top-10 in my first road race in decades and racing into the top half of my cyclocross races.  Unfortunately my cyclocross season was marred with wrecks and injuries and I didn't realize the full potential of my training.  Moreover, the 5500 miles on the bike (Jan-Oct) was a strain on my family and as a result I cut back in 2012 with ~2400 miles and no training whatsoever.  2013 was even more dismal for my cycling with less than 1200 miles as I really focused on my boys and it was difficult to pull myself away from them to get out on the bike.

So, for 2014 I want to get back to the mediocrity I had found in 2011, or at least get close.  To that end, I have a lot of work ahead of me based on my high-tech, bastard scale which reported the following for me on January 1, 2014:

Weight: 220.2 lbs
BMI: 28.3
% Body Fat: 30.5
% Muscle: 31.9
RM KCAL: 1978
Body Age: 69 (FFFFUUUUUUU!!!!!)

On January 1, 2014 my body also reported to me that it was now devoid of whatever cardiovascular fitness I once thought I possessed.  A 25 mile ride with 1760 feet of climbing took 1hr 52min, or 13.6mph average, which by all accounts is pretty pitiful.

So my plan is to ride/train six hours a week without a major impact on my family.  To do this I will work nine hour days, three days a week.  The remaining two work days will be 6.5 hours, allowing me to get home and ride for 1.5 hours each day before my kids get home from school.  The remaining three hours of riding will come via a long ride on the weekend.  In addition to riding, I also plan to incorporate some weight training to help build some much needed muscle.

No doubt this plan of attack will be challenging.  For the moment I plan to simply do easy rides, then ramp up the intensity come late March or April, relearning how to suffer and like it.  Hopefully I will document my successes and challenges here along with my progress.

So today was our office bike race up Ilchester Road in Ellicott City.  If you are unfamiliar with this road, the portion we "race" is about 9/10 of mile long with an average gradient of ~8%.  It starts out at 18%, levels out a bit before pitching back up to 12%, and then leveling off to more sane gradients to the end.  Why we torture ourselves with this is beyond me, but because we do I have decided to rename it the 4DG Challenge, or Four Dumb Guys Challenge.

The participants of this race are myself, Scott S., Bob M., and Mike F., co-workers of mine.  The first two of this group are avid road cyclists; the latter two are avid mountain bikers.  How this all began is a bit of mystery to me but from what I have gathered Bob said "Road bikers suck. Hulk Smash!" and in doing so challenged Scott to a race up Ilchester.  I'm not sure how this venue was determined but I would like to kick one of them square in the nutsack for choosing it.  Another uncertainty is how myself and Mike got dragged into this, something which undoubtedly also requires some nutsack kicking.

Before today we had done this race one time: October 4th 2009.  On this fateful day we all suffered greatly and Bob, self-named 'The Destroyer', won with a time of 6 minutes 15 seconds.  I was 27 seconds behind him and Scott was another 30 seconds behind me.  Mike came in sometime before we were all ready to leave.  In 2010 we could not agree on a date that would work for all of us and so the race didn't happen; no one shed a tear.

Enter 2011.  Sometime a couple months ago we agreed ton June 4th at 9am.  Almost as soon as we had firmed up the date, the smack talking began and did not let up until a couple of days ago...Thursday to be exact.  Why Thursday, you might ask?  Because Wednesday I went out to Ilchester and rode the hill; no one was impressed and my times were well below those of 2009.  To my credit it was over 100F with the heat index and I had done a pretty hard ride the day before, but still my resolve and confidence were broken.  I attempted to throw in the towel, asking my compatriots to allow me to bow out gracefully and without penalty (i.e. ridiculing) but they would not agree.  So now I had two days to consider my fate, one which I was certain would not be good.  At all.

Thursday I did an easy ride and Friday I rested.  My plan for Saturday was to get to the be ready to ride at 8:30am so I could get in a nice 30 minute warmup.  Unfortunately I was running late and only managed about 15 minutes of a mediocre warmup, and my legs, they did not feel good.  We lined up and Mike counted down for the start.  I will let the video below tell the rest of the story.



As a training note, I had new 1-minute and 5-minute power personal bests during this event.  I also won a free Indian buffet lunch!  Thanks to my compadres for pushing me to do my best.


In the last installment of "Tales From a Tail Gunner" I lamented on how I'd been viciously dropped at the Black Hill Circuit Race and that I had every intention of doing whatever it took to make sure I stayed in the pack in my next race, the Carl Dolan Memorial Circuit Race, which took place Sunday, April 17, 2011.  So Sunday morning I got up at 0530 to eat and get packed for the race, having planned to meet my teammate Tom at the site at 0700 for a course recon.  Once there, we suited up and headed out for a couple of laps before the Juniors' races started at 0800.  The first thing we noted was the wind: there was an abundance of it and it seemed to be in our face on every portion of the 2.1 mile course.

Let me describe the course which uses the main road through an industrial park in which most businesses are closed on the weekend, meaning very little traffic.  This allows the promoter to close the lanes for traffic in a clockwise direction for the race.  Leaving the start/finish line the course has a gradual right hand turn with slight undulating hills for about 1.25 miles; this entire section had either a direct headwind or nearly direct crosswind.  At about this point on the course begins a gradual downhill into the only real corner on the course, which opened up into three lanes and continued downhill until about 1.5 miles into the course; this downhill section after the turn was the only portion of the course where we had a tailwind.  At 1.5 miles in began the climb to the finish line.  This finish climb began more steeply before leveling off into a slight uphill, the whole thing totaling about half a mile before a gradual downhill to the finish line.

During out recon I noted where I needed to be in relation to the group on certain parts of the course in order to be shielded from the wind.  After two laps we returned to our vehicles, pinned on numbers and other various things to prepare for our race which started at 0845.  Once done we headed out for some warm-up laps in reverse on the course.  At 0845 the Cat 5s were amassing and waiting to be called to the line and I was there, ready to go, with three of my teammates.  When we got the call I positioned myself on the front row, left side, in preparation for the head/crosswind coming from the right that we would encounter first.  The whistle blew and we were off.

Immediately two lines formed with me on the head of the line on the left.  I felt like this was the perfect position to be in but once we encountered the wind it was almost full on in my face.  I slowed a little to bring myself even with the third wheel of the right line but the wind persisted.  Eventually I had to ease up or blow up, and when I did the former I fell the back of the line rapidly.  I had flashbacks of being popped and dropped on the first lap as I had been at Black Hills so when the end of the line came by I stood up and put in an effort to latch onto the back and get some shelter.  There I was able to recover to the corner.  This corner could easily be taken at full speed, but at the end of the line I was braking considerably to avoid colliding with riders in front of me who were also braking.  The result of that was having to sprint nearly full out on the exit of the corner to get back up to the main group to do the climb sheltered from the headwind; if you were on your own when you started the climb, you were in trouble.  With the exception last lap (and the details of the start) this was repeated eight times, requiring an 1100w peak sprint exiting the turn and a 50 second 350w climb of me each lap.  As much as I tried to move up towards the front of the group before the corner, I always found myself near the back of the line, sometimes dead last.

On the last lap the pace picked up but the herd didn't thin too much.  We hit the corner with around 40 riders I'd guess and again I came out near the back of the line.  Once around the corner I could see that the front of the group had definitely opened it up and the line was strung out quite a bit.  I hustled up to a group of five guys and recovered for a few seconds when I noticed people starting to fade bad.  I picked up my pace a little bit and got by about 20 riders before the end of the steepest part of the climb, at which point I backed of a hair and prepared for the next move.  At the top of the hill, just as it starts to go slightly downhill to the finish, approximately 200 meters away, I stood up briefly to sprint but only got in a few revolutions of the crank before I had to sit down and just go as hard as I could.  Riders were still slowing and I managed to get by several before lunging for the line neck-and-neck with one other rider.  All told, I think I was only a few bike lengths behind the winner and on the same time.  I was confident I had a top-15 and maybe a top-10 but not really sure.

About 90 minutes after the race, results were finally posted; my teammate Charles had taken 3rd and I finished 8th.  This result was far more than I expected or even thought myself capable of, but there were a lot of things, not the least of which was luck, that went my way.  For starters, the wind prevented any breakaways from sticking for more than a couple of minutes because people weren't willing to work together.  Secondly, the course was not that hilly, or at least it didn't seem to be; I can't get seem to get a similar number from any website or my GPS.  Lastly, aside from my stint on the front at the start, I was mostly able to sit in the pack and conserve most of the race (as did most of the riders in my race I'd guess) which allowed me to have a good spurt of energy for the finish.

Average pace for the race was 22.7mph with the last lap averaging 25mph exactly; race data is here.  No one hit the pavement, but there was one near accident I narrowly avoided about six laps in.

So that's it, my second race.  An overwhelming success in my opinion.  Next up is the Turkey Hill Country Classic Circuit Race in Lancaster, PA on May 7th.  Karrie and boys are heading up with me and I'll have five teammates in my race with me so it should be interesting.


Kind of at the last minute I decided to do this race in the small little town of Smoketown, Pennyslvania, about 20 minutes east of Lancaster.  My teammate Tom also decided to do this race and after Karrie and the boys decided they would go watch, I booked rooms for us at Spruce Lane Lodge and Cottages since the early start time necessitated us spending the night in order to be on time.  The cottage we had was really nice and as a bonus, I could walk out the door, turn left, walk 50 feet and be on the airport's perimeter road.

The weather for this race had been looking iffy the last couple of days and on race morning it was wet and sprinkling.  Tom and I headed over, registered and set up our trainers in one of the hangars to warm up.  Karrie and the boys showed up just prior the race start.  One of the reasons this race appealed to me was the relative flatness of the course; a one mile circuit of the airport's two runways with a 180 degree turn on one end and a couple of smaller turns to navigate the other end.  The start side was the longer of the two and was slightly uphill.  The category 5 race was to be 15 miles and they started us off with a neutral lap behind the officials' vehicle.  Once the gun sounded we were off and pace was fast.

I only managed to stay attached to the lead group for four laps before getting unhitched.  Every lap I went by, Karrie and Brady could be heard yelling encouragement to me, which was motivating, however the elastic snapped and I was off on my own.  About five laps later I was caught by a group of three other racers and the four of worked together to the end where I was beaten by half a wheel in the sprint of our group.

Overall I was not dissatisfied with my 18th place finish of about 50 racers, even though only 31 showed in the results; I'm guessing they did not include DNF'd riders.  I think this is one I will definitely do again next year, maybe adding some time to see of the sites in the area with the family.

So earlier this month I recapped my bike training and some race plans coming up.  Training has pretty much been the same, still going reasonably well but still not getting the volume I'd like.  I did my first criterium race in ~25 years on March 19th, the Black Hills Crit at Black Hills Park in Maryland.  The day started off decent; I woke up on time, ate a decent breakfast and got to the site early enough to do one lap to remember the course and register.  After pinning on my numbers I set up my trainer by my truck and warmed up while watching the juniors race.  The warm-up was not all that I wanted it to be, but it was something.  Packed up my trainer 20 minutes before my race was to start, went to the restroom and started heading towards the start...without my sunglasses.  So I rode back to my truck and quickly searched for them, in vain, before I had to bolt to the start to avoid missing it.  As a result, I was at the very back of the group of 50 racers, and this race started at the bottom of the main hill leading up to the finish; yay!

The whistle blew and I was off.  The back.  Really, really badly.  A group of four or five guys formed about 100 meters in front of me, one of which was a teammate.  I chased them for two laps and caught them in time for the group to shatter into pieces.  My teammate Tom and one other guy rode together for several laps before Tom dropped on the next to last lap of the race.  This was near the bottom of the finish climb and also about the time that the moto ref came by and informed is that the leaders were about 30 seconds behind us.  I picked it up a notch hoping not to get lapped but was caught and passed by the leader on the descent after the finish.  Soon after that the main front group came by, but I could not hang on to them for long.  In that main group was another teammate of mine who was doing his very first race ever; he wound up getting a podium spot in 3rd place.

No idea where I actually finished (scored me 23rd but that is wrong) since they had some scoring issued in our race.  During the race I set new personal bests for power in the five minute and 20-minute brackets which indicated that I needed to bump my FTP up some.  That means I'm making progress, which is good, but I still have a long way to go.  Looking at my data after the race and comparing it to the data of other teammates who were in my race, it was very evident that you gain a HUGE advantage by being in the pack.  Next race for me is April 17th, the Carl Dolan crit.  The course here is not as hilly and I have every intention of turning myself inside out to stay in the main pack as long as I can.

The start of daylight savings time at the end of March meant the start of the notorious Glenelg Gang training rides.  This is possibly the fastest, baddest ride in the area and I've never felt up to being able to do it, although I had tried once or twice in the past.  The first GG ride was to be March 15, but I elected to ride solo from the house due to questionable weather.  The following Tuesday I showed up to ride and feeling quite good.  After having been dropped off the back right at the gun at Black Hills I was determined not to suffer the same fate at the GG ride, so I rode on the front of the train for five of the first six miles.  I pulled off about a mile from the first climb of the route, the climb that splits the pack of between 20 and 40 riders into two or more groups.  I was feeling really good as the pace line rode by and was looking for a hole where I could fit in, but it never materialized and I wound up at the end of the 25 rider line.  As the front of the group hit the hill gaps started opening immediately so I got out of the saddle and tried to make it up to the lead group of 10 or 12 guys since my objective was to ride with the front group as long as possible. I almost made contact but was caught by traffic on one of the major roads the route took us on.  I tried working with some others but ended up getting a stitch in my side and riding the majority of the remainder of the ride alone.  Overall though, I was very happy with my effort and was looking forward to the following week.

March 29th came and again I headed to the GG ride, this time hoping to be a little bit smarter.  I wasn't feeling quite as good as I had the previous week, but was feeling good none-the-less.  I sat mid-pack for the first five miles at which point I was sitting 3rd wheel, which I thought was just about perfect as I would be near the front when we hit the hill, allowing me to fade back a bit during the climb and still be with the leaders.  Then something happened and I wasn't sure what to do, but I think I chose poorly.  The guy on the front of the line took off and was chased by the 2nd wheel leaving a gap in front of me of more than 30 feet.  I chased, feeling it was my responsibility to close the gap I had let open and this proved to be a mistake.  About a quarter mile before the hill both guys sat up to regroup, and while I was at the front, I was also spent.  I pulled off and drifted back to the back of the line...again.  I worked with one other guy for the next 12 miles or so, each taking turns pulling, and we kept a pretty good pace.  At mile 19, the front group, having added an extra 1.5 miles to the cuesheet, caught us at a stop sign.  I rode with them for a while before being dropped and riding back with a couple of other guys.  Another very good effort in comparison to almost every ride I've ever done in the past, solo or with a group.

That's about it I guess.  Our team kits came in today and we are all getting together on Sunday (Brady's birthday!!!) to pick them up and do a team photo.  I ordered a jersey for Brady as well and he's excited to be a part of the team.  Looking forward to more training and more improvements!

Here is an edited video of the Black Hills race.  Since I was shot out the back from the start it doesn't make for very exciting stuff, but it's what I have.  Enjoy!