Monday, November 30, 2009

Support for Champaign County Charities

I serve on the Rotary Club of Champaign charity committee. I am on a subcommittee that directs monthly donations to local charitable service organizations. We are currently selecting recipients for 2010 donations. The typical award is in the $300-$500 range.

Because of the economic recession, our current focus is on organizations that meet basic human needs. Recent recipients include the Crisis Nursery, the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, Salt and Light, and Restoration Urban Ministries. A recipient must provide services in Champaign County and must be an established 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in good standing, capable of providing a current letter of tax exempt determination.

Let me know if you would like to nominate an organization to receive a future donation from the Rotary Club of Champaign.

Other past recipients include, but are not limited to:

American Cancer Society
American Red Cross
Angel Car Boat Donation
Champaign County CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates)
Champaign County Courthouse Belltower Project
Champaign County Humane Society
Champaign County Operation Snowball
Community Blood Services of Illinois
Daily Bread (New entity replacing Catholic Workers House Soup Kitchen; non-ecumenical)
Eager Beavers Preschool Program (through Champaign Park District)
Family Service of Champaign County
Goodwill Industries
Junior Achievement of Champaign County
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation
Leukemia Society
Salvation Army
Talecris Plasma Resources, Inc.
University YMCA

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tour de Champaign

July 11-12 witnessed the running of the first Tour de Champaign series of criteriums. Wild Card Cycling and Scarlet Fire Racing, a semi-pro team spanning the Illinois-Indiana region with several local riders, sponsored and produced the event. We hope it becomes a regular annual weekend of races. I competed with several teammates in the weekend's first contest, Saturday's category 5 race.

Ready to start the cat 5 race

At the suggestion of teammate Tom, I had planned to launch an early attack and use my relative strength in time trialing to try to stay off the front as long as possible. The short loop (about 1 kilometer) presented the possibility of getting out of sight more easily than usual. I wasn't planning to go as soon as I did, but immediately after the first turn onto Main Street, we encountered a light headwind. No one seemed to want to work on the front and the speed was really low. I figured the time was as good as any.

On the attack!

My attack allowed my team to relax early in the race while the responsibility to chase me fell to the other teams. However, it was doomed from the start. The field included a very strong Scarlet Fire rider, a successful ironman triathlete and former varsity cross country runner at the University of Illinois. He led the chase and pulled me back after about 4-5 laps. A lot of riders couldn't keep up with the chase and it thinned out the group. A cat 5 rider on the Scarlet Fire team is a rarity indeed, but he certainly is on his way up.

Cornering is one of my weakness, especially in large packs. I can usually go faster through corners on my own, so I rode with more confidence while on the attack. The smaller group I found after the catch helped compensate for my cornering weakness as well. I found that I could handle the bike and fight for position reasonably well in the small group.

The group nonetheless did not shed a particularly erratic rider with very poor bike-handling skills. (My skills aren't great either and I don't dish criticism loosely.) He made me very nervous when he was in front of me. Whenever he was on the inside line, I moved outside, and vice versa. It me a little uncomfortable moving up through the pack, which I did successfully only a few times, when I could jump hard enough to get around him. Inevitably I would bleed a few positions through each corner. This rider also mixed it up with my teammate John, who pushed back on him with some authority at one point.

With two laps to go, I successfully moved up to second wheel, but the pace lifted again on the final lap. I again lost position in the corners and found myself on the back. A tailwind on the stretch before the final turn pushed the speed to about 35 miles per hour and I had no luck gaining position. The finish line came up pretty fast after the final turn and I finished last in the field sprint to take 15th place of the 28 riders.

I'd like to think my attack played a part in opening the door for Big Jay, our strongest teammate in the race, to jump into the winning break. He wound up 4th. If I were paying attention more and if I were strong enough at the time, I might have tried to go with him. I continue to learn a little more after each race.

Rain crept into the morning for the women's cat 3/4 race and became really heavy for the men's cat 4 race, which was delayed for several minutes due to lightning. When it resumed, a xXx rider who had crashed and fallen off the back before the delay, was able to rejoin the pack, launch a solo attack off the front, and steal the win. The wet roads made cornering much harder for the chasing peloton. It was nonetheless a pretty good day for Wild Card Cycling. Complete official results for Saturday's downtown criterium are here. The Wild Card summary:

Men's cat 5:
4 Jay Yost
9 John Sturmanis
15 Scott Dahman
19 Dan Shunk
21 Art Hess
22 Shea Nangle

Women's cat 3/4:
1 Anona Whitley
4 Becky Chan - though we are fairly certain she was 2nd

Men's cat 4:
3 Mark French
4 Alexei Perelet
5 Chad Knutson
7 Tom Carlson
8 Luke Taggart

Women's cat 1/2/3:
2 Anona Whitley

I was unable to race on Sunday because I had previously agreed with a friend to swap days for duties at church. Sunday's cat 5 race was announced only about 5 days before the race and it was too late for me to rearrange commitments. However, I was able to get there with Zach in time for the kids' races. This was Zach's second kids' cycling race and his first on a training wheel bicycle. He contested the other on a big wheel. Jennifer, Faith, Kay, and Len also arrived just in time to catch the spectacle. Zach had a great time and pedaled hard.

Zach lines up for his race

Sprinting for the finish!

A well-earned ribbon for a promising young rider

Wild Card had another successful day, including a podium sweep in men's cat 4 to cap our first effort as race hosts:

Men's cat 5:
2 Jay Yost
5 John Sturmanis
7 Art Hess
15 Dan Shunk

Women's cat 3/4:
1 Becky Chan
4 Anona Whitley

Men's cat 4:
1 Mark French
2 Alexei Perelet
3 Jay Yost
6 Nick Hand
7 Chad Knutson
8 Quentin Capista
9 Luke Taggart

Women's cat 1/2/3:
4 Anona Whitley
6 Becky Chan

Masters' 35+ cat 1/2/3:
19 Greg Youngen

More pictures from Sunday's action:

My Album

Teammate Rob's album
Professional event photographer

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Freedom Celebration 5k

After a lackluster run in the Mattoon Beach Triathlon, I decided to focus a little more on my running. An open 5k seemed like a good way to work more high-intensity training into the mix and to see what I could do without the burden of 45 minutes of swimming and cycling prior to the start. I had not competed in a running-only race since the fraternity intramural point leagues in college. Prior to that, I competed in distance running in high school, but gave it up after one year of injuries and knee and foot pain.

An annual 5k race is held on July 4 prior to the Champaign County Freedom Celebration parade, following the parade route. It seemed like a good opportunity to get back in the game. The race was well-run by the Body n' Sole Sports shop and the local Second Wind Running Club.

On Wednesday prior to the race, I ran a 5k time trial on the St. Joseph-Ogden High School track with our newly acquired Forerunner 305 GPS-enabled run computer. The goal was to get a feel for how I should pace myself during the race. I knew that it would be faster than a 5k run at the end of a triathlon, but wasn't sure how much. Most of my recent run training has consisted of either long low-intensity sessions or short, high-intensity intervals. The Forerunner was actually a gift for Jenny to use as a fancy heart-rate monitor for her mostly indoor workouts, but I get to use it for running whenever it would otherwise sit idly in her gym bag. It mounts nicely on the wrist and can communicate lots of useful data during a run, such as pace and heart rate.

I completed the time trial at an average pace of 6:35 per mile. I figured I could push myself a little harder in the race, but the road surface would not be as fast as the track. My plan was to target 6:40 for the first mile of the race, then increase the pace several seconds each of the next two miles if I felt strong enough. 20 minutes seemed like a good goal for my race finish time.

The race day forecast called for lots of rain, but fortunately the strongest storms were supposed to come later in the day. Jenny, the kids, and I arrived at the Assembly Hall at about 10 am, where we met Jenny's parents. Faith participated in the Youth Run before the event. She was a bit nervous, but ready to go. The Youth Run course was described only as "around the Assembly Hall." I assumed that meant they would start and finish near the start of the 5k, but would follow the streets around the Assembly Hall instead of turning east along the parade route. I told Faith that her run would be about 1 mile. She was prepared, having run a mile with me on a few occasions in the spring and early summer.

Getting ready at the start

The kids actually lined up on a sidewalk along the southeast parking lot of the Assembly Hall. The race director told the kids they would run along the sidewalk to a cone, then turn left. Other cones and volunteers would direct them where to go from there, but I had no idea where they were running or how long their course was. There were probably 30 kids in the run. The big kids lined up in front and Faith was a couple rows back. I reminder her not to start too fast. If she felt good near the finish, she could run a little faster.

Lined up and anxiously awaiting the siren

When the siren sounded, the big kids took off fast. I ran alongside to encourage Faith and help her with the pacing, but it was hard to dispense good advice when I didn't know how far she'd be running. As it turned out, we basically took a loop around the southeast quadrant of the Assembly Hall grounds and the distance was probably on the order of 500 meters.

On the backstretch at Assembly Hall

When we made the final turn, I saw someone handing ribbons to the kids as they finished, so I told Faith to run as fast as she could. Jenny and her parents shouted encouragement as well. She did great and ran a lot harder than I expected. Though it wasn't really a race and there was no timing, the kids seemed to finish mostly in order from oldest to youngest. The News-Gazette the following morning featured a picture of the start of the Youth Run on the front page of the local section, but Faith was obscured behind some of the taller kids in front. Bummer.

Faith kicks for the line!

Shortly after the Youth Run, the rain seemed to pick up a little. I did my final preparations and headed for the start along 4th Street. Based on the results from the 2008 race, I figured I would finish about a fifth of the way down the field, so I positioned myself about that far into the crowd at the start.

The Course

Watching in the rain

Everyone around me seemed to really take off fast at the siren, so I did the same to keep up and avoid getting pushed and trampled on the wet road. The course turned right on Kirby Avenue about 300 meters or so from the start. After rounding the first turn, the average pace on my run computer showed about 5:33, considerably faster than I had planned. I gradually eased up to meet my target pace, resisting the urge to stay with the herd. Several people passed me, but the move paid off because I passed a lot of them later.

I finished the first mile in 6:28. I held a fairly constant pace for most of the race, after the initial burst. As we turned left onto Lincoln Avenue, I tried to stay close to Jolee, a fast 15-year old runner and state track meet qualifier from St. Joseph-Ogden High School. Her entire family, whom we know well from church, ran the race as well. She started a little faster than I did and held a higher pace when I eased up following the first turn, but she seemed to slow to a pace similar to mine after the first mile or so.

Shortly after the turnaround, I passed a couple runners that started to fade. After mile 2 and the turn back onto Florida/Kirby, I felt pretty good and just held onto the pace. I started the finishing kick after the final turn onto 4th Street. One runner came streaking around me on the finishing straight, but I passed one or two others myself. As luck would have it, the only picture of me from the race was taken as I was passed. Or was Jenny trying to tell me something? Hmmm.

Getting passed just before the finish. I don't look too happy about it. At least this guy was not in my age group.

The finish was set about 75 meters past the start line, where we were corralled into a chute in the order we crossed the line. I had to get off the gas a couple seconds before the actual finish line because several runners were backed up in the chute. The officials tore the stubs from our race numbers in order. I guess if they missed someone's time, they could interpolate between others that finished just ahead and behind.

I officially finished in 20:13.8, which was good for third in my age group and 74th overall. The participants numbered 462, which included about 50 walkers. I thought it odd that they reported results to the nearest 1/10 second when the timing seemed nowhere near that precise, but it probably served to differentiate between runners who finished within 1 second of each other.

Here is the run profile. The lap splits (each mile) show a pretty steady pace, despite the initial burst. The speed graph shows the initial burst and finishing kick. The crazy speed fluctuations seem to derive from GPS location error. The sampling rate is probably too high for the accuracy of the unit and the actual speed traveled. The speed should probably be integrated over a longer period when the speed is low. Maybe it is designed for pros who run 4:30 mile splits. Here are the results overall and by age-group.

True to the forecast, the heaviest rain held off until about noon, well after we finished. The parade was cancelled for the first time ever because the ground along the route was so heavily saturated. Just about all fireworks celebrations in Central Illinois were rescheduled to the following night.

There is another 5k in our little village of St. Joseph on August 8, during the annual Community Festival. Faith wants to try, but she has never run more than a mile. Jenny and her mother Kay may try it as well, but both need to start training soon. I don't even like to run that much, but it looks like I may have helped start something.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Cousins

Immediately following the Mattoon Beach Sprint Triathlon, I headed to my parents' house near St. Louis for a weekend with my sister and her family. We usually see them about twice a year: once at their home in Austin, Texas, and once when they come to St. Louis. I picked brother-and-law Kevin up at the airport on my way.

It is impossible to get a good picture of all 5 kids. This is as close as it gets.
Back row: Harrison, Faith, Ian; Front row: Alex, Zach

Faith and Zach enjoy seeing their cousins, who are close in age: Harrison (7), Alex (4), and Ian (2). Though Faith is the only girl, she makes the best of it and seems to especially enjoy seeing Harrison. The boys sometimes rub off on her though. Several days into our last visit to Austin, at Thanksgiving, Faith jumped on my back once when I was seated to put shoes on. She then growled into my ear, "Prepare for pain!"

The Bike Split

At last year's Mattoon Beach Sprint Triathlon, Wild Card Cycling teammate Rob finished 2nd, but posted the fastest run split. He recounted the race in a blog post, aptly titled The Run Split. I will never win a run split unless everyone else faints or runs backward. However, I thought that someday I might pen a post entitled "The Bike Split." I didn't think it would come so soon, but the unfortunate fact that Wild Card Cycling teammate (and normally stronger time trialist) Martin skipped the race due to a stress fracture meant that the door was open. My recently acquired rear disc wheel cover and carbon tubular Zipp 404 wheelset certainly did not hurt.

The Giant TCR C1 with Zipp 404s. In the race, I used the Zipp on the front and a Mavic Ksyrium with wheel cover on the rear since the wind was light.

Like last year's edition of this race, the weather was beautiful. The days leading up to the race were rather hot, but a cooling trend moved into the Midwest on race day. The high for the day still reached 89 degrees at Lake Mattoon, but the morning race time temps ranged from the mid 70s to low 80s. There was a very light wind, in the 3-7 mile per hour range, mainly from the east. The conditions were fast.

The race had 80 participants total, which was a pretty good turnout for a sprint race in the the Mattoon Multisport series. Past editions of this event featured both a 1/4 distance race (with each leg 1/4 as long as a full ironman race) and a 1/8 distance race. This year, only one race was offered and the distances, as advertised, deviated slightly from 1/8 ironman.

The Swim

The race started in two waves, with all men at 8:00 am and all women at 8:03. I like the mass start format because you always know the score. If someone is ahead of you on the road, they are ahead of you in the race. There is always some guess work in a staggered start race.

The swim was billed as 400 meters, somewhat shorter than the 1/3 mile of last year's race. As usual, I tried to focus on an efficient stroke with good rotation from side to side. My regular workouts with the University's Masters Swim Team have helped considerably, but I am still not a particularly strong swimmer. My goal is always to exit the water without having used too much energy and without giving up too much time to the leaders. I think I did pretty well to that end. The top swimmer finished less than 2 minutes ahead of me and no one that beat me in the overall race swam more than 90 seconds faster. My swim pace was slightly faster than it was at this event last year, though the distance was shorter.

The Bike

The 14.5-mile bike leg started very poorly. First, I had some trouble just getting my bike out of transition. The saddle caught on the rack as I tried futilely at first to squeeze it underneath. I finally had to push some of my gear out of the way and turn the bike sideways to dislodge it. I set my right pedal forward when I initially racked the bike to accommodate my preferred mounting method. I normally stand left of the bike, swing my right leg over, then stomp on the right pedal to start moving. Somehow the pedals had flipped when I was wrestling to get the machine off the rack. Standing in the road, I rotated them back by hand, which took more time than it seemed it should have because my shoes were clipped in. (I prefer this to running though grass and over other surfaces with bike shoes on, which can clog the cleats with debris or scratch them. The cleats are also quite slippery on hard, smooth surfaces, so it seems faster and safer for me to push the bike barefoot.) Anyway, the shoes tend to get caught on the ground if the pedals are rotated without lifting the bike up. I must have looked rather clumsy trying to get on. Once I did, my troubles were not over.

The next task was to get my feet into the shoes and fasten the Velcro straps. As usual, I pedaled several strokes with my feet on top of the shoes to build a little speed. I inserted my left foot and fastened the shoe without much trouble, but the Velcro became bunched and stuck on the right. I yanked on the strap to free it, but pulled it out of its clip entirely. I had to climb a small hill and pedal a few more strokes to get some speed back before I could reinsert the strap. I no doubt lost a lot of time as it took almost a mile to get fully settled. I just managed to strap in before the first turn. My average speed for the first mile was 18.4 mph. Not a good start, but it was time to focus on the task at hand. There were 19 riders up the road to catch.

If I had any hope of contending for the overall win, I would have to catch everyone on the bike and lead the race into the run. The course turned north into a light crosswind for several miles, a stretch that also featured a slight increase in elevation. The next turn was right, into a light headwind, before a turnaround at the halfway point. The tailwind after the turnaround would provide an opportunity to recover, so I decided to ride hard up to that point. I caught all but three riders before the turnaround. Several shouted kind words of encouragement as I passed - usually something like "good job!" to which I would reply "nice swim!"

The eastbound section included a freeway overpass (otherwise known as a hill in East Central Illinois) into the headwind which was the slowest part of the course. Even so, with the calm conditions, my minimum speed on the course (except the "extended" mount, turnaround, and dismount) was 20 mph, occurring on the overpass. After the turnaround, we headed west into the tailwind. I recovered a little and then picked up the pace to try to catch the three guys still ahead on the road. It was clear they were pretty strong riders.

I soon turned left into the crosswind. Just before the final turn back to the transition area, I caught one more rider. The other two stayed away and I entered T2 in third place. It would prove fleeting.

Here is the recorded profile of the bike leg - most of it, anyway. My bike computer suffers from forced shutdowns caused by loose battery contacts. I'll have to fix it when I have some time, but the consequence is that everything before the shut down does not upload. Fortunately, it only shut down once and it lost only the most agonizing part of the start of the ride.

The Run

I decided that if I had any chance of catching anyone else, I needed to move through T2 more quickly than usual, so I skipped the socks. I had done this before in the Champaign Park District Mini Tri, but its run is only 2 miles. Nonetheless, the last guy I passed on the bike overtook me just before we both exited transition and I dropped back to 4th place. Out on the run, he was fast. The 3.1 mile out-and-back run course was L-shaped, starting with a short westbound segment in the tailwind, then turned north for a longer segment before the turnaround. I held him in sight for a while, but he kept pulling away.

After the turn north, I looked over my shoulder through a field to the "bottom of the L" and saw no one. At this point, I was pretty tired and breathing heavily. I gave up the notion that I might catch any of the guys up the road. At the same time, 4th place seemed pretty secure as no one threatened from behind. The motivation to push hard wasn't there.

As I approached the turnaround, the guy that passed me in transition was still flying. He overtook another runner to take hold of second place. I tried to keep my pace from dropping too much, just in case one of them started to fade or someone from behind found a second wind.

After the turnaround, the trailing runners were still comfortably back. I plugged away at a steady pace until the final turn home. By this time, the three leaders were well out of sight. I again looked across the "L" to make sure no one was attacking from behind. All clear. I still wanted to finish as strong as I could, so I picked it up for the last 1/4 mile or so. The decision to go sockless left me with a blister on one toe - not a terrible penalty. Still, I didn't reap any benefit in terms of position.

Summary of my results:

Swim- 8:35 (20th place, 2:09/100m, included some running to transition)
T1- 0:49 (13th place)
Bike- 36:10 (1st place! 24.1 mph; 24.8 mph after the disasterous first mile)
T2- 0:55 (44th place)
Run- 23:18 (14th place, 7:31/mile)
Total- 1:09:47 (4th place overall, 2nd place age group)

Here are the official results overall and by age group. No matter where I place overall, there always seems to be one bloke in my age group that edges me out. I have a lot of second place trophies.

My run pace was much slower than what I achieved at this race last year, which I attribute to a few factors. Though I have recovered quite a bit from the knee pain (which I suspect is patellar tendinitis) that flared up in May, it has kept a lid on my run training. I have mostly been able to run at least twice a week, but I have not worked in many high-intensity workouts lately. Most of my training has been lower intensity tempo running. Second was the lack of close competition by the time I reached the run. Finally, though I did not measure the run course, I suspect it may have been a bit longer than 3.1 miles. Last year, this event incorporated a 3.25 mile run and the course seemed identical this year. Perhaps the turnaround came a little sooner, but it sure felt long. The aid station, which was supposedly positioned at the one-mile mark, seemed to come pretty long into the run (perhaps because I was running slowly.) Also, the fastest runner officially posted a 6:24 per mile average, which seems a little slow. Only five runners in the field of 80 recorded splits below 7 minutes per mile.

I had hoped to improve my running a bit more approaching the Olympic-distance Evergreen Lake Triathlon, to be held this year on July 18. On the upside, my cycling is ahead of where it was last year. Hopefully it will be good enough to compensate for any shortfall on the run so that I can still improve on my performance in that race. I plan to compete in the Freedom 5k, held in conjunction with Champaign-Urbana's 4th of July celebration and parade. It will be my first pure running race since intramural cross country and track in college. Faith will participate in the event's Youth Run.

Monday, June 22, 2009


With Jennifer and the kids still in Florida, I took in a full weekend of bicycle racing on June 20-21. Saturday was the Cobb Park Criterium, presented by the South Chicago Wheelmen and Sunday was the Tour de Winghaven, a National Racing Calendar event that attracted several high-caliber pro teams.

Cobb Park

Wild Card Cycling teammate Alexei and I first headed to Kankakee to meet up with a large cadre of other teammates at Cobb Park. The setting was really nice, in a historic district on the north bank of the Kankakee River. Lots of old trees provided plenty of shade from the sun and protection from the wind. The circuit was short and fast. There was really only one tricky corner, but I thought it bordered on dangerous because of the way the available roadway drastically narrowed after the corner. The road we turned onto was a narrow, divided boulevard, but only one side was open to the race. The road we turned off of was considerably wider. Alexei and I started in the category 5 race, made up entirely of new racers with less than 10 starts. We were joined by Wild Card teammate Art. I surmised correctly that there would be several crashes in this corner. It might have been better if both sides of the boulevard had been open to the race. Cones could be tapered into the center boulevard gradually, so the field could split early and safely.

Even as I gain experience, I don't know that I will ever be 100% comfortable with the criterium format. Success requires the rider to maintain a position at or near the front of the race to minimize the risk of being involved in or slowed by a crash. The changes of speed entering and exiting corners and at the tops and bottoms of hills are magnified in the rear. There is a lot of jockeying for position between corners, and I am not yet comfortable slotting onto a wheel in a crowded pack. As a result, I again spent most of this race at or near the back.

The first crash occurred on a wide open stretch near the start/finish line. I am not certain what caused it, but someone probably just lost focus. A crack in the asphalt ran parallel to the direction of travel for a while and perhaps it snagged someone's wheel. The speeds usually hit 30 mph in this stretch, so any mistakes were potentially disastrous. The crash happened far enough ahead of me that I was able to avoid it without losing contact with the field. At least two more crashes occurred in the tight corner. A high curb on the outside caught riders unable to hold their lines. I ended up in the gutter a few times and decided to stick with the inside line after the group thinned a bit.

I thought the pace was comfortable and even quite slow at times. This was my first criterium with a field composed entirely of category 5 riders and it was noticeably easier than my previous outings. Our average pace was just over 24 mph, but due to the fast nature of the course, it did not seem to require as much power as usual. No one attacked off the front and the pace never really lifted until the final lap. Nonetheless, several riders dropped off the back in the second half of the race. Each time I sensed someone in front of me fading, I jumped ahead to keep contact with the group. I was poorly positioned for the sprint at the end, but I managed to move up to 17th place by attrition. Alexei rode most of the race near the middle to front of the pack and finished 8th. I was happy to sit in and save my legs for the following day's race at Winghaven, which would prove much tougher. This was still my most successful crit to date and the only one that I have finished on the lead lap. Art fell off the back but successfully finished 32nd.

Here are the official results from Cobb Park and here is my ride profile.

We watched other Wild Card riders in the masters and cat 4 races. Our cat 4 team had six riders, who finished between 5th and 13th places. Just about every Wild Card racer threw an attack at some point during the race and a couple secured primes. It was a lot more exciting than our race.

A neat video montage of the Cat 4 race produced by teammate Rob. Unfortunately he was sitting out due to running injuries. Get well soon, Rob!

After the cat 4 race, Alexei and I headed for the greater St. Louis area. We stayed with my parents and awoke early the next morning for the Tour de Winghaven.


Winghaven was hot and humid. Should we have expected any different on the first day of summer in St. Louis? At least our cat 4/5 race was early in the day. The course was a counterclockwise circuit around part of the master planned community of Winghaven in O'Fallon, Missouri. The route included a couple of small hills and a couple of roundabouts. Our race would include 7 laps, advertised at 3 miles per lap, but measured by my GPS at about 2.75 miles per lap. We were supposed to start at 8 am, but after we all lined up and clipped in, we were delayed waiting for the police escort to arrive. Perhaps he was in a donut shop in the restaurant/retail enclave near the start/finish. Aside from this mishap, the race was run very well.

Roundabouts are pretty cool, especially when the pros hit them at 35 miles per hour and the TV cameras get a nice aerial shot from a helicopter. When planning for the race, I thought they were going to be one of the most exciting features. However, the prospect of navigating them with 74 other amateurs, most of whom probably have little or no race experience with them, seemed pretty scary when I was warming up on the course. Normal corners have pretty easily discerned lines and most racers have practiced them, at least a little. As long as the riders hold their lines, the pavement is clean, and the exit is not constricted, mishaps are usually averted. But roundabouts are a little trickier. The outside line at the entrance becomes the inside line around the circle and then the outside line again at the exit. There are lots of chances to get crowded out, no matter which line you take.

The first roundabout came right after the start and on a slight downhill grade. As expected, there was a lot of braking and I correctly guessed the first crash was just a matter of time. Oddly, it occurred on a pretty wide open uphill section of road (and only about 1 mile into the race). I managed to stay up from the very back of the field, but was still about 3/4 of the way down. There was a lot of braking at the bottom of the hill as the front of the race started on the subsequent ascent, but that seemed pretty normal. I think someone just lost concentration when the road tapered at the start of a left turn lane cut out of the median. The course was completely closed to traffic and this part followed the left side of a boulevard, but the crash seemed to start in the middle of the road and radiate to the right. I was to the right of the center of the road and thought it best to try to navigate around it on the right side. I followed another guy who looked like he was going to get through along the right gutter, but then a bike or body part fell in front of him and he jammed his brakes, sending his bike sideways. I was forced to unclip both pedals and walk up on the median and around the carnage. I think the riders on the left side of the road were a bit luckier.

I regrouped with a few others and encouraged them to work together to get back on, but they were either too weak or had just given up. Toward the end of the first lap, I had a group of three in tow and came up on a fifth. I told him, "hop on, I've got three with me." But then I looked over my shoulder and there was only 1 rider. Ugh! I then realized the only way I was going to avoid getting lapped by the main field before the finish was to solo it. I quickly dropped nearly everyone impacted by the crash and occasionally picked through riders that unhitched from the main field later in the race.

I didn't see any organized groups until shortly into the 2nd to last lap. Three riders from the St. Louis-based Hub Racing Team looked like they were taking a warmup lap, but their bib numbers were in the 500s, indicating that they were in my race. "Are y'all still racing?" I asked, thinking they may have abandoned.

"Yeah, but we are about to get lapped," said the guy on the back.

"We are NOT about to get lapped," I countered. "The pack isn't in sight behind us and we only have one and a half to go." I joined their pace line for about a lap and decided that if they could not pick it up soon, I would shoot off the front on the climb about 1.5 mile from the finish on the last lap. When we reached that climb, a lone rider from Momentum Racing was just ahead. From second wheel, I jumped at the foot of the hill. At the top, the Momentum rider was on my wheel. I eased off a little in case I needed to save some for a sprint (for 54th, as it turned out - whoopee!) As we turned into the headwind, I cranked for about 10 pedal strokes to see if he would stay with me. He dropped off, so I powered down the last hill just to make sure, then coasted to finish about 4:30 in arrears. On the plus side, it was pretty cool to solo the roundabouts and turns with no brakes.

In the end, two trends remained unbroken: Alexei rode strong and had a solid finish and I was caught behind a crash early and found myself with almost 20 miles to practice my time trialing. Alexei sprinted with the big dogs, bagging 4th place and a boatload of upgrade points. The 2nd and 3rd place riders were both cat 4s and the winner had no license number, so presumably he raced on a temp license. (I'm thinking he is cat 1 sandbagger using an assumed name.) Alexei also pocketed a share of the $200 prize money.

Anona had a great race in an open women's field and sat 4th wheel late in the race, until a few pro/1/2 women outgunned her up the finishing hill. Dave won the masters race and then lined up for the 2/3 race about an hour later. Dave is also from St. Joseph and likes to race bikes, but that is about all he and I have in common. He rides for the powerhouse Scarlet Fire Racing team and is about twice as strong as me. Alex and some of the other Scarlet Fire guys also represented well. Here are the complete results from all Winghaven races and here is my ride profile.


  1. Get up front. Duh. I know this, but am too protective of my body and bike to fight too hard for position. I think I have a decent competitive streak, but the middle of a pack of cat 4/5 riders barely in control of their machines isn't my preferred setting for unleashing it.

  2. If (or when) I do fall off the back, I am probably the strongest guy fighting to get back on and can't count on any help. The stronger riders are toward the front in the first place and avoid the crashes altogether.

  3. My athletic profile is best suited to time trialing. I can hold a respectable level of constant power, but I have no burst of acceleration to quickly close a gap, bridge, sprint, or even move up a few positions in a crowded field.

  4. I can sort of climb (in a Midwestern sense; I've never faced a truly grueling test.)

  5. It was still fun.

I returned home to 82 degrees that never felt so cool.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Time Trialing

When the weather cooperates, I have been participating in a bi-weekly time trial series organized by Wild Card Cycling teammate Martin. Our race is known locally as the Seymour Time Trial series, which is contested on a 10.85-mile out-and-back course that starts and finishes in Seymour, Illinois. Seymour is a small and somewhat depressed farming community about 8 miles west of Champaign, which means that it doesn't have a lot of traffic. However, it is served from the south by a mostly smooth asphalt road in much better condition than the more prevalent oil-and-chip surfaces I often encounter in training.

The Seymour Time Trial out-and-back course

The time trial, also known as the "race of truth", is the purest form of bicycle racing. Each competitor rides alone on a fixed course, without the ability to draft behind other riders.

Any sort of wind is detrimental to cycling performance, and the stronger the wind, the greater the punishment. One might at first assume that the wind would be a neutral force in a race that starts and ends at the same point. A headwind and tailwind might balance each other. However, a (simplified) examination of the math and physics involved reveals otherwise. For example, in the absence of wind, suppose a given rider might be able to hold 25 mph. The rider will encounter some drag even in calm conditions due to the apparent wind generated by his motion. From fluid dynamics fundamentals, the power required to overcome wind resistance is approximately proportional to the cube of the apparent headwind. (Note that a cyclist almost always faces an apparent headwind or net headwind, or more technically, a yaw angle within 90 degrees of a pure headwind. If the wind is blowing faster that you can ride in a tailwind, get off your bike, crawl in a ditch, and cover your head!) But a given wind that slows the same rider to 20 mph in a headwind would allow him to ride about 30 mph in a tailwind with approximately the same power output. In order to average 25 mph, the rider must spend equal amounts of time at 20 mph and 30 mph. On a course that starts and ends at the same spot, that is not possible. The rider will spend the same amount of distance at each speed, but the time spent at 30 will be much shorter due to the faster speed. Also, for a fixed power output of the rider, as windspeed increases, average rider speed drops faster than linearly.

Our first 2009 running of the Seymour Time Trial was contested in very windy conditions, perhaps 15-20 mph. At least the wind came from the south, dealing riders a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back. If the wind must blow, this is the preferred direction as it allows the rider to fight the headwind in a fresher state and recover into the tailwind. Crosswinds can often be harder that the headwind/tailwind combination because the rider must expend energy just to keep the bike upright and moving straight ahead - energy that is not available for the objective, which is to move down the road as fast as possible. Still, I managed a 24.1 mph average on the first outing and was only 3 seconds slower than my best time from 2008, which I achieved on a calm day. This year, I logged a greater volume and quality of early-season training, mostly from my Wild Card Cycling spring training camp and preparation for an early May triathlon. I was looking forward to taking another shot on a calmer day.

Our next scheduled running of the time trial was stormed out. Winds were very gusty and racing would have been dangerous. Two weeks later (June 16), the forecast looked ominous again. Rains feel early in the day and the hourly forecast at the weather channel called for a possible clearing, but persistent 15-20 mph winds. As it turned out, the winds calmed considerably when the skies cleared, easing to about 7-8 miles per hour. The wind was again out of the south.

I felt pretty good, though a little tired from traveling back from Florida the night before. I was the first rider to start and was passed by the former 40+ state champ about 4 miles into the ride. When he came around, he was mashing a massive gear at maybe 70 rpm into the headwind. He must have been simulating hills or something and not even trying to do his best time, but he still averaged almost 28 mph. I held about 22-24 into the wind and 27-31 with it. The result was an improvement of 1:12 over my best effort of 2008 and an average speed of 25.25 mph. For the moment, I am third on the 2009 Seymour Time Trial leaderboard, but several strong riders were not present during the second running with the more favorable conditions.

Here is a partial ride profile from that running. (Most of the first mile was lost due to a shutdown of my bike computer, and about 200 meters of freewheeling after the finish was also recorded before I shut off the timer. Also, the heart rate readings are a little crazy and distorted into the headwind due to "flapping jersey syndrome".)

The time trial is a form of racing that suits me well. I have a lot of practice from triathlon and occasional commuting to work by bicylce. The bike leg of triathlon, at least in US events, is essentially a time trial. My athletic profile seems to be well-suited to the discipline. The more I ride, the more I learn that I am able to hold a pretty high level of average power, but I don't have much acceleration or top-end speed required to be a good sprinter or criterium racer. Put another way, I have good slow-twitch muscles, but lousy fast-twitch muscles. I'd like to think that I am not a shabby climber, either, but I don't get much practice on hills and haven't really been tested. I did fare better against the competition in the modestly hilly Hillsboro-Roubaix race than in my other mass-start cycling races.

Without the ability for riders to share the load and take turns sitting on the front, aerodynamics are critical in time trialing. I have recently acquired some gear to help me reduce drag and improve my performance in time trials and triathlon. I've been using clip-on aerobars for some time, but have recently added an aero helmet, shoe covers, a wheel cover to convert my standard rear wheel into a "poor-man's disc wheel", and a deep-section carbon tubular Zipp 404 wheelset (which made me poor after I purchased them. I'd like to eventually get a dedicated time trial bike also, but that purchase will have to wait.)

The Giant TCR C1, race ready with new Zipp 404s and aerobars.

The disc on the rear wheel reduces drag significantly, but makes the bike hard to handle in the crosswind. A disc on the front wheel is always a bad idea (except on an indoor track), since even a slight crosswind pushes the steering out of line. So far, I have not had the opportunity to use the new wheels or wheel cover in a timed event, but I should have them at my disposal for my next triathlon. I am pretty optimistic about my prospects, especially if the morning wind is calm.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Monsters of the Midway

On Saturday, May 16, I raced in the Monsters of the Midway criterium hosted by the University of Chicago Velo Club. I met Wild Card Cycling teammate Tom at his house in Champaign just after 8 am and we headed north. We picked up our race packets on arrival and headed several blocks east to warm-up on the Lakefront Trail. The weather was near perfect, with sunshine and temps in the low 60s.

The course was a long, flat 1.1 mile rectangle on the Midway Plaisance

Tom and another teammate, Nick, joined me in the category 4 race. I race the beginners' category 5 in USA Cycling races, but this race was sanctioned by American Bicycle Racing (ABR), which seems to have a regional presence mostly in parts of the upper Midwest and California. Nick recently joined ABR as a cat 4 and I preferred to enter this race with teammates, so I did the same.

Not that I really benefited from having teammates in the race, nor that I was able to lend any assistance to them. I had trouble from the very start. I finished my final warm-up lap a couple minutes after Nick and Tom lined up at the start. I tried to line up behind them, but a rider from Turin Bicycle Society slipped in front of me. He had trouble clipping in after we rolled out. My concentration lapsed and I fumbled my own clip-in. Our race was shortened to 30 minutes plus 1 lap due to delays from rain and crashes earlier in the day, so the pace was high from the start. By the time we entered the second turn, I was at the back of the race. The slowing and subsequent accelerations in the corners were terrible on the back. I moved up a few positions in each straight, but then dropped back at each corner.

I stayed connected to the back for about 1.5 laps, but then a guy in the row ahead of me let a gap open and I wasn't strong enough to jump around him quickly enough. I soon found myself in a group of about 10 or so, as the cord snapped. I made a last-ditch attempt to bridge back when it seemed the pack slowed in the headwind, but no one grabbed my wheel. If I could have worked with at least two or three riders, it may have turned out better. I wasn't strong enough to bridge alone. My small group off the back grew and shrunk throughout the race as we picked up remnants from the two crashes and as others dropped off. It seemed like I was one of only about three or four guys that were willing and able to work. Every time I tried to lift the pace from the front, no one followed, so I sat up and rejoined.

Scott on the front of Groupe Lanterne Rouge. "Work with me people!"
(Most photos by Anona, with Tom's camera)

During the last couple laps, I tried to encourage the other riders to pick it up. I told them we did not want to be lapped. I'm not sure if I'll get an official place, since technically I was lapped just as the main field sprinted through the final meters. I was surprised that the guy who allowed the critical gap to open on the second lap stayed with my group until the end. I didn't want him to beat me to the finish, so I sat on his wheel through the final corner and sprinted around him at about 100m. He did very little work through most of the race. Plenty of blame for the outcome lies with me, of course. I have a pretty short, lousy record with crits, and not all misfortune is due to factors beyond my control. At least I seem to be improving with each race. (I didn't finish the first two.) I'll figure it out before too long.

Scott, Nick, and Tom after the race

It wasn't all about me, of course. There was some good news on the day. Tom was about 9th in our race and Nick also finished with the bunch sprint. A few riders went off the front early in the race, but were caught on the last lap. Wild Card Fast Grrrl Anona cleaned up and put the team on the podium, taking second place in the women's category 3/4 race. Sorry we missed your race, Anona! It started too darn early.

Peace out, Anona!
(Photo by Tom, with Tom's camera)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tri the Illini

On May 2, I competed in the first running of the Tri the Illini sprint triathlon, organized by the Fighting Illini Triathlon club at the University of Illinois. The event took place on the University campus, with the swim and transition area at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC). The ARC is the main intramural gym facility.

Since this was an inaugural event, I was a bit anxious about its level of organization and support from the community. The bike course crossed a few major intersections on the way in and out of campus, and support from Champaign and Urbana governments and police would be essential. The cities had recently hosted the much larger inaugural Illinois Marathon, which was a very well-executed event, but road closures stirred the ire of many local residents and motorists. My concerns proved unwarranted, as the event was well-executed by the student organizers and the course was well staffed with volunteers and law enforcement. That this was a relatively small event with a short duration early on a Saturday morning meant that traffic control issues were minimal.

The weather was also nearly perfect for the race, despite the fact that heavy rains fell for much of the weeks preceding and following the race. It was sunny, with light winds (for spring) from the west and about 60 degrees.

Also joining the race were two of my Wild Card Cycling teammates, Rob and Martin. All of us ride the bike pretty well, though Martin is usually a bit faster, especially in time trial and triathlon events. He also has a new full carbon time trial machine that he had built in China for $400. Rob is a pretty strong swimmer and runner, and Martin runs respectably as well, so keeping up with them is usually pretty challenging.

The Swim

The swim took place indoors on 6 lengths of the 50-meter pool. Racers started on 10 second intervals in the order of their estimated swim time. I started 86th in the field of approximately 300. In theory, if everyone swam his estimated time (with even splits), there would be no passing and congestion in the pool. In practice, there was some passing and congestion. Rob performed a pretty rigorous breakdown of the outcome. I passed two or three people and was passed by two or three people. One guy I passed was walking through the shallow sections at either end of the pool. He obviously had no business starting in the first half of the field, but this incident notwithstanding, the swim seemed to run fairly smoothly for most of the 20 or so swimmers that started on either side of me.

I executed a flip turn after the first length, but the remaining four turns were congested enough that I though I risked colliding with someone if I didn't perform an open turn after crossing under the lane divider.

The exit from the swim into the cool morning air injected a bit of discomfort, but race day adrenaline masked it fairly well.

The Bike

Next up was my strongest event, the part which I dub, "out of my way, all ye swimmers on mountain bikes." Pushing my bike out of transition barefoot, with shoes clipped into the pedals, I had a little trouble getting settled into my shoes after the first couple turns on the bike course. This being the first triathlon of the season, I should have rehearsed the maneuver at home a little more. About half of the opening 4.5 miles of the 11 mile bike course headed east into the tailwind. It was fairly easy to hold about 25-27 miles per hour, but I knew that the westward stretch along Curtis Road would be tough, with no trees to break the headwind. I had pre-ridden part of the course that passes near my office at PowerWorld, and I knew that the sections on St. Marys and Wright Streets would be tough. The roads are in pretty rough condition, with potholes, gravel, and a few tight turns. Fortunately, the organizers covered a nasty patch of gravel at the last turn in this section, but it was still very tight, as riders had to turn left onto the bike lane of Windsor Road. The car traffic on Windsor was oncoming to the riders, so it wasn't possible to swing wide through the turn. It was the slowest part of the course, but I survived. At least I could come back up to speed in a tailwind.

The turn into the headwind came just before the half way point. It was not as bad as I had feared, as the winds were not terribly strong, but it required concentration and a steady dose of effort. It helped that there were lots of slow riders on this stretch to pass. That kept my motivation high when it was vulnerable to being dampened by the wind. I even overtook a guy on a tiny BMX bike.

The last major change of direction on the bike took us north for most of the last two miles. The stretch included some gentle uphill grades and the first mile was unprotected from the crosswind. This was the hardest part of the ride for me, and my speed slowed to about 19 mph as I ascended the gentle slope past my office on First Street.

The Run

The run is typically my greatest liability in triathlon. I am not a particularly strong swimmer either, but the swim is usually only about 8-20% of the total race. As the first leg, a key to the swim is usually to conserve energy without losing too much time to the fastest swimmers. The run is usually the part where I give up huge chunks of time to the people who beat me in the overall race.

I felt pretty good at the start of the run and though I did not take splits, it felt like I kept an even pace throughout. Still, it felt pretty slow as quite a few people passed me. A loop around the University quad came at roughly the halfway point of the run. The quad was crowded with pedestrians and high school students attending a math contest. Fortunately I didn't run into anyone.

The guy with bib number 83 came around me shortly after the entrance to the quad. I tried to keep pace with him, knowing that at the point he passed me, I was still 30 seconds ahead of him. As he pulled away, I started picking out landmarks and counting the time between his passing and my passing. The first check was about 10 seconds. Good, still ahead. But before we reached the far end of the quad and turned back home, it had grown to 32 seconds. I had dropped another spot, but tried to focus on running my own race.

I spotted Rob about 100 meters from the finishing line. He had already finished his race and encouraged me to finish strong. I stepped up the kick a bit, but there wasn't a lot left. It wasn't a bad finish, as I'm usually more disappointed if there is too much in the tank. It wasn't a bad run altogether and the pace was actually 17 seconds per mile faster than my first multisport race last year.


I finished in 22nd place, in the field of about 300.

Swim- 5:55 (106th place, included some running to transition)
T1- 1:10 (38th place)
Bike- 29:24 (22.5 mph, 10th place)
T2- 1:40 (215th place - I put socks on, apparently rather slowly)
Run- 21:14 (7:04/mile, 59th place)
Overall- 59:22 (22nd place)

There were many racers from Big 10 triathlon clubs, and I was surprised that more of them did not beat me. For one, I am about twice the age of the average freshmen student. As collegiate athletes, one would expect that they would also train pretty regularly as well. My theory is that college triathlon, as a non-varsity sport, probably draws a lot of athletes that are pretty good swimmers or runners, but not good enough to make the varsity swim or track teams. An athlete with exceptional self-discipline can really excel in collegiate club sports, but most never experience the level of motivation (and constructive pressure) from coaches, teammates, and fans as their counterparts in varsity sports. I competed in crew (rowing) at Washington University, but quit after one year as it became too easy to miss practices due to other commitments or just being tired.

In addition to Rob (10th place overall) and Martin (15th), I recognized several of the 21 racers who beat me as strong runners. Bib 83 is a respectable local runner from the Second Wind Running Club. Most of the racers that beat me in the other Champaign-Urbana triathlon are also strong runners. In fact, all but one athlete that finished ahead of me overall had a faster run split.

Here are the complete results overall and by age-group.

What Next?

I have since tried to increase my run training to compensate for my weakness, but unfortunately, a pain in my right knee pain that dogged me several years ago has reignited. Last time I experienced this problem, I visited an orthopedic surgeon, had an MRI, and visited a physical therapist. I never received a confident diagnosis. The MRI revealed no trauma or injury and the surgeon hypothesized that my knee has some faulty alignment and does not track on an ideal path through the running stride. Most of my pain seems to center around the point of connection between the quadricep and patellar tendon, with some tightness in the tendons connected to the hamstring. The physical therapist prescribed stretching hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves during my prior treatment. Fortunately, I can still swim and ride with minimal discomfort. I am going to take a break from running, at least until our family's final ski vacation of the season, and focus on stretching and strengthening my right leg.

My goal for the season is to improve on last year's performance in the Olympic-distance Evergreen Lake Triathlon by at least 13 minutes. A stronger run than last year will be essential. Hopefully this setback does not derail the goal.

This event was a great experience and I hope next year's leadership of the Fighting Illini Triathlon club elects to host the race again.

Monday, May 18, 2009

North of the Border Skiing

Immediately after Jennifer, the kids, and I spent the final weekend of the midwestern skiing season at Ski Brule, I had to travel to the Seattle area to provide software training to one of our customers, Puget Sound Energy (PSE). I booked an extra day onto my trip and optimistically packed my powder skis, hoping to visit one of the nearby ski resorts on Wednesday, April 22, after my work was complete. I needed to be at PSE on Monday morning, and thus had to travel on Sunday evening. My trip began in Madison, Wisconsin, which offered the most convenient flights I could access on our way home from the weekend trip to Ski Brule.

Unfortunately, the few nearby ski areas still open for the season had shifted to weekend-only operation. My best choices would be Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada or Mount Hood, east of Portland, Oregon. Each area was about 4 hours by car from Bellevue, assuming light traffic. Each area operates deep into the spring, with Timberline at Mount Hood offering nearly year-round skiing on their snowfield. I took a shared limo to my hotel in suburban Bellevue, sharing the ride with a local and a couple other visitors. My skis stretched across the center of the passenger area of the limo and the local guy asked where I was headed. I described my limited choices and he suggested Whistler, since the traffic through Portland can become quite congested. Armed with that knowledge, my decision was made.

As it turned out, the traffic to Whistler was rather heavy in both directions - especially rush hour around Vancouver, BC and to a lesser extent on the Sea to Sky Highway, which is getting upgrades for the 2010 Olympics. After spending most of fall and winter on my rock skis or race skis, I was excited about the chance to pull the fat skis out of storage. However, the top 2/3 of both mountains was total ice, which would have been OK on giant slalom racing skis, but it was not so pleasant standing over a 95 mm waist. The area experienced low temps and very high winds the night before, so anything that wasn't groomed was jagged and chunky where old tracks had frozen solid. I went to the top of Blackcomb in the morning and was pretty much the only moron that tried the bumps. It was a waste of time and energy. The conditions were more Loveland in January than West Coast in April. I never thought I'd be seeking out the groomed on my powder skis. The lower mountain had good spring conditions, but there just isn't much terrain down there. The runs on both mountains funnel tightly to a common base area at Whistler Village.

I skied a few cruisers on the middle of the mountain until midday, then headed up Whistler Mountain to check out the 2010 Olympic Super G and Downhill course. I was surprised by how easy it seemed, but I'm sure it will be a different animal injected and at 70 mph. Still, it ain't no Birds of Prey. The bottom half of the course was roped off as the smaller Creekside base area had closed for the season. The sun was hitting that side of the mountain and it seemed like there was nothing better to ski, so I ducked under, hit the nicest spring bumps on both mountains, and caught a bus back to the main village. It was too bad Creekside was closed, because it looked like it had nice intermediate and advanced terrain all the way to the bottom.

With the sun still out, I figured I'd try the top again and hit Whistler Bowl - a big mistake and another big waste of time. It was still jagged ice and the clouds rolled back in. One guy passed me on the way down, but I was really fighting it. I was parked on the Blackcomb side and slightly above the base area, so I needed to get back before the lifts closed. It was a perfect opportunity to ride the brand new Peak 2 Peak Gondola which crosses 1427' over the valley floor - pretty neat - a lot better than the skiing on that day anyway. By this time it was even snowing at the base, which is only about 2200' above sea level. In late April!

It was A LOT of driving for some very marginal skiing, but it still beat a good day at work! The drive was gorgeous as well, especially along the coast just north of Vancouver. The mountains rise straight up out of the ocean, with the road cut right into the edge.

"The Chief" as seen from the bay at Squamish, BC (from a user of
Other neat pictures from the area

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spring Weekend at Ski Brule

We traveled to Ski Brule near Iron River, Michigan the weekend of April 17-19 to close out the Midwestern ski season. I have taken Faith for a weekend in April four of the last five years. We only missed 2007 when she was recovering from a successful heart cathederization. Our first trip was in 2005 (article on page 14). This year, Jennifer and Zach joined us for the first time.

We picked Faith up from school around noon on Friday and headed north, stopping in Madison for dinner. We arrived after the lodging office had closed and retrieved our condo keys in an envelop they left for us. I was disappointed to find that they had given us a unit on the 3rd floor of the Pioneer Lodge, instead of the one I had reserved on the 2nd floor (which is on the same level as the two outdoor hot tubs). However, we were pleased to find they had upgraded us to a larger unit, so all was forgiven.

Saturday morning brought sunny skies and warm weather. The whole family skied in the morning. Zach was able to ski on his own across some of the flatter terrain on the top of the hill, but needed support from the leash on the pitch. His favorite run was Sunrise, which passed the horse pen and included only a short section that was too steep for him. We tried taking him "off lead" once on the steeper Log Jam, but after a fall-away turn sucked him into the exposed dirt on the left side of the slope, he insisted on the leash thereafter. Ideally we would have made the trip a week earlier when snow cover was more substantial and the easier Homestead side of the hill was still open, but Easter fell on that weekend this year, so we made the best of the 5 open runs and 1 chairlift and 1 rope tow that were still turning.

Faith takes a break with the horses

Zach makes a turn without help from the leash

Jennifer and Zach enjoy the sunshine

Zach took a one-hour lesson with Arlen after lunch, while Faith and I skied on our own. Arlen didn't really provide much instruction to Zach, opting mostly to walk alongside him and hold his hand on the bunny slope. However, Zach was starting to get a little crabby with us towards the end of the morning and the presence of the unfamiliar authority figure at least forced him to pay attention and try. At least that's what I tell myself as reassurance that $45 plus tip wasn't just as well flushed down the commode. In fairness, Arlen was a gentle teacher who quickly established a good raport with Zach.

Zach with Arlen

Nap time was soon calling, so Jennifer and the kids called it a day after Zach's lesson concluded while I ripped several runs at full speed in the afternoon sun. It was the best skiing of the weekend. I found that it is much easier to stay dry when crossing the small ponds at the bottom of the hill at high speed, as you can get out of the way by the time the water sprays up behind you. One of these days, I will have to try a pond skimming exhibition. I have been saving an old, beat-up pair of boots in my office closet for just that purpose.

Faith and Zach in the bear chair inside the Brule Saloon

We hit the base of Whitewater for snow tubing after the lifts had closed. We walked up the slope for our first of 5 runs, but the guys came to our rescue with the snowmobile shortly thereafter. The kids thought that was really cool. Then we went into town for Italian at Alice's. It may not sound Italian, but it's pretty darn good.

Zach hangs on as Jennifer screams down the tubing run

Faith shows her approval of snow tubing

The clouds rolled in on Sunday, bringing rain and colder temperatures. We had come a long way and still had the morning, so we made the most of it. I took the kids, one at a time, for about an hour each on what would be Ski Brule's last day of operation for the 2008-09 season. As Zach and I walked over, we met another father and son from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the same boat. It was about 9:15 and the lifts were still not turning. The lift employees were biding their time in one of the buildings at the base. When they saw us walk over, they came out and started the Big Bear lift. The rope tow had already been dismantled for the season. Zach and I made about 4 runs and then I took him back to Jennifer at the condo and headed out with Faith. We did about 7 runs before the rain penetrated our gloves, at which point it was about time to start packing for home.

As soon as we started taking off our skis, the lifts stopped and the crew started cleaning up. I think Faith and I officially made the last chair of the season! One other snowboarder joined us briefly during the morning, making 6 patrons in total for the day. My kids and I made up exactly half. It was a great time nonetheless.

I drove the crew back to Madison, where I caught a plane for Seattle for a couple days of work and another day of skiing. Jennifer was a good sport to bring the kids back the rest of the way home to St. Joseph. Though our Midwestern season is done, we will head to Colorado for Memorial Day weekend and Arapahoe Basin's Festival of the Brewpubs as we did last year. This time, Zach will join us and we will also make some time for horseback riding. It should be another great adventure.

More photos from the day

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Commuter

Today I joined the diverse fellowship of those who commute by bicycle to work. I plan to do it at least once or twice a week when the days are long enough to do so safely. I had a couple of pretty good rides today in winds pushing up to 20 miles per hour from the east northeast. The morning commute was mostly tailwind and cross tailwind. I mostly held 22-24 mph while barely breaking a sweat. The evening commute was another story, but it provided a solid workout.

Morning commute profile
Evening commute profile

Triathlon and time trial training are the primary motivation. Before I joined Wild Card Cycling and started training and racing with the team toward the end of last summer, almost all of my training miles consisted of solo rides. Since then, I've logged most of my miles with the team. We usually do a long Saturday ride (60-100 miles) and, during daylight savings time, a high-tempo Wednesday evening ride (30-50 miles). I normally do a solo recovery ride and run on Sunday mornings before church, and sometimes several shorter morning low to middle intensity solo rides during the week, but my solo miles have really dropped. High-intensity solo riding is important for building the powerful muscles used in triathlon and time trialing, where there is nowhere to hide from that persistent antagonist, the wind.

So I'm filling the void by commuting on my bike. I can't realistically ride every day, since some days find me shopping, swimming, or tending to kids' activities and other errands after work. My home and office are separated by just over 14 miles, with slightly more than half on quiet, dark, oil-and-chip county roads. I use a rear flasher in twilight and low light conditions, but it doesn't seem very safe after sundown, even with a headlight or helmet light.

It takes about 45 minutes to ride each way, give or take depending on the wind, versus 25 minutes to drive. So I can get 90 minutes of training at a cost of about 40 minutes from my day. As a multisport athlete with work, family, and other obligations, the bicycle commuting math is definitely favorable - not a bad way to squeeze in a few solid 20 km plus time trials every week.

The Research Park where my office is located has an incubator building for start-ups. Tucked away in a corner of the second floor is a shower room. It was built ostensibly to serve workaholic entrepreneurs who don't get out of the office much, but it also suits my needs quite well.

So the big question is "what type of commuter am I?" The Aussie cycling blog Cycling Tips profiled the universe of commuters quite cleverly. I probably fit somewhere on the spectrum between the "Weekday World Champ" and the "PRO".

The Weekday World Champ (quoted from the Cycling Tips Blog):

"Every roadie loves the Weekday World Champ. This keenly competitive species of commuter is doing his own race for the rainbow jersey every morning. Usually wearing a free jersey from last years charity ride, solid black shorts, $6 sunglasses, fenders, rear mirror, and any other optional safety features. He will follow your wheel while you’re slowly rolling along the road or bike path and then attack you at the opportune time of his liking. Then his head will blow off and soon after you’ll come rolling past at the same speed you were doing for the past 20 mins. The World Champ botches a trackstand at red lights then punches it off the gun when it turns green. Again, you’ll catch up to him shortly and pass him once again."

This describes perhaps 25% of my commuting persona. When not wearing my own racing kit, I can usually be spotted in solid black shorts (some fairly plush Nike threads, mind you) and either the Tour of Missouri GC leader's jersey, or a splashy but unadorned Giordana jersey from the late 80s. Though I lack a free jersey from a charity ride, I will never ride in the Tour of Missouri and I won't likely ever lead the GC standings in a cat 4/5 stage race. I can't yet trackstand, but I know better than to attempt it in public, thus avoiding the botch. I don't sport $400 Oakleys, but my $40 sunglasses were purchased from a hardcore running and swimming boutique and my only optional safety feature is the aforementioned flasher. I also know how to ride a time trial (even if I'm not especially fast), and though I may get passed, my head will not blow off until the very end of a truly violent racing effort (or at least not until after T2). Which brings me to the other 75% of my commuting persona...

The PRO:

"That’s right - YOU. You didn’t think you were gonna get out of it so easily, did you? You’re the only one who thinks you’re the coolest kat in town. You’re the guy who gets all kitted up, pins a number on, rides the Zipps, and has an espresso flavored powergel on your way to work. But I’m sure you have good reason to ride in like this... It could be because you have a race after work, you need to take your bike to the shop at lunch, or it could be because you like to show to all your coworkers how PRO you are. Sorry, but we’re the only people on the planet that think spandex, shaved legs, and tiny arms look cool."

As stated above, I actually do race and do wear a full kit (when not sporting all black shorts) - my own kit, thank you. And I do think spandex, shaved legs, and tiny arms look cool - probably because I have no hope of having arms that are anything but tiny. I don't have $2000 Zipps and my bike lacks the full complement of PRO grade components, but it's still way too cool for 95% of the commuting public.

My teammate Rob places himself between the Hardman and the PRO. Like me, he is definitely all PRO on the Wednesday and Saturday team rides, but his usual commuter bike and threads are 100% Hardman. I ride and train in all kinds of temperatures and rain, but I usually avoid icy or slushy roads. I will probably never commute in snow, mostly because of the shortened daylight that usually accompanies it. I will never be worthy of the Hardman.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The First Road Race of the Season

On April 4, I competed in the Hillsboro-Roubaix road cycling race, organized by the International Christan Cycling Club. The "Hillsboro" refers to the location of the race in Hillsboro, Illinois. Despite being surrounded by flat plains characteristic of central Illinois, Hillsboro is aptly named, with several small hills and valleys.

Course Elevation Profile (click image for larger picture)
The hills near the end of the course at mile 20 would prove to be the hardest.

The "Roubaix" is a reference to the famous spring classic pro cycling race, Paris-Roubaix, also known as the "hell of the north" for its typically brutal, windy weather and miles upon miles of rough cobblestone roads. Hillsboro-Roubaix also includes a section of cobblestones in the finishing circuit around the town, but they are not nearly as rough as those of its namesake. Also, we were blessed with a window of beautiful weather for the 2009 Hillsboro-Roubaix, sandwiched between two days of typically seasonal wind and rain.

My team, Wild Card Cycling, brought 15 riders to this race, though we were spread across several categories defined by experience, age, ability, and gender. Last year, in the team's inaugural season, the men's category 5 riders were tremendously successful, capturing first and second place and four of the top 10 spots. We also won the women's category 4 race. I joined the team later in the 2008 season and hoped to do my part to continue the team's success. I had started criterium races in St. Louis and Jefferson City last September, but failed to finish each. This was my first ever road race.

Wild Card Command Central
Photos by teammate Rob and his wicked Canon EOS 50D

We originally registered six riders in the cat 5 field of 50. Only one team, the gi-normous Chicago-based XXX Racing-AthletiCo, registered more. This is a very popular race that filled up the same morning that registration opened. Karl, our team leader, manager, directeur sportif, and beer taster did a fantastic job at the computer to get us all in. With more than 10% of the field, we figured we could do some damage and dictate the outcome of the race. We talked about race tactics a lot in our team meetings and on our team message board.

One of our team's youngest riders, Alexei, was showing a lot of strength in the early season and seemed to have the best shot of winning the race. Nick was also riding well and we thought he should try to get to the finish with Alexei and lead him out, if the race were to end in a sprint. Art and I, as support riders, would lift the pace early to try to split the field if other teams could not or did not want to drive. Alexei and Nick would be protected until one or both felt stong enough to attack off the front of the group.

Several teammates on last year's cat 5 team advised that the field would split up on every climb. Riders in the more advanced categories have pretty homogeneous abilities, especially at category 3 and above, and most of the riders stay together in a peloton or pack for most of the race. Cat 5 is comprised entirely of relatively new racers, as riders get promoted to cat 4 after 10 starts. As a result, a cat 5 field can contain some very strong riders who are just getting started with racing, but who will probably move up to higher categories very rapidly. It also usually contains several riders in their first race who are just giving it a try and may never enter another race again. With such varied ability levels, the field typically splits up early and often, especially on hills and in crosswinds and headwinds.

We planned to take advantage of this tendency by attacking early and often, starting on the opening climb. Our race was also just a single 22 mile circuit, which meant that the pace at the front of the race would be high throughout the race (or at least high considering that the field would quickly disintegrate into many small groups of riders). Immediately after leaving town, the route descended about 90 vertical feet to a creek and then climbed about 80 feet up the other side of the valley. A turn northward into a crosswind followed shortly, though the road was protected from the wind by woodlands.

The riders rolled out by category separated by 2-4 minute intervals. The cat 5 race started near the end. We were late getting to the start line and could not find Alexei, who was to be our leader for the race. He eventually showed, but we had to squeeze onto the left side of the field, which was not a very favorable position. The first 400 meters or so to the first right turn were neutralized, meaning that we had to hold our positions. We would enter the first turn and the start of the race on outside. The roads outside of town, where most of the race would take place, were open to traffic and a centerline rule was in effect. It was not legal to pass another rider from the left of the center of the road and a violation would lead to disqualification. However, none of the roads had actual lines, so there was some subjectivity the officials would apply to determine whether a violation had occurred. As we rounded the corner, I was the worst positioned on our team, near the back and on the left side, dangerously close to the "centerline". Art managed to work his way toward the right and Nick and Alexei were up ahead on the left. I did not want to get caught behind a slower rider on the way up the first hill, so I took a big risk in moving up on the left side. The biggest problem was that other riders started to elbow in on my right, which forced me further left. I backed off a little each time I felt I was too far left, but inched my way up whenever I could.

At the bottom of the descent, the group suddenly slowed and riders were braking. I am not sure exactly what happened, but I suspect the riders in front were not tucking as low as they should have. This is typical of the rookie blunders that occur often in a cat 5 race. I am certainly not above making a few myself. Because the riders on the front of a descent face much greater wind resistance and drag, the back of the pack tends to accelerate into them. The riders in the front should pedal hard down the descent and tuck onto the handlebars to avoid causing a pile up behind. The result was nearly catastrophic. A rider in front of Art must have squeezed his back brake hard, as his bike turned seemingly perpendicular to the road. From the corner of my eye, I saw Art swerve into the ditch to avoid a crash. I had to touch my brakes as well, but tried to do so as little as possible to avoid magnifying the problem further back in the pack. Art fortunately recovered from the ditch without injury or damage to his bike, but he had lost several places and could not rejoin the back of the group on the climb.

After we got moving again, I took advantage of the holes that opened up in the pack to move up and position myself well for the climb. I hit the climb hard and managed to lead the race into the first turn, with Nick and Alexei on my wheel. I continued to ride hard for a few hundred meters after the turn to try to drop as many riders as possible. Nick warned that I should ease up, but I figured I did not have much of a chance of making it to the line with them anyway and this was the best way I could contribute. At the first turn, my heart rate was up to 172, which was extremely close to my max at this point in the season.

I soon backed off and let Nick, Alexei, and a few riders from other teams come around. Shortly thereafter, and just after we turned west into a tailwind, a rider from Chicago's Half Acre team launched a solo attack. No one followed him, and since we were all pretty new to racing, we didn't know if his was a dangerous attack or not. We hit two more significant hills in the first 6 miles and then turned into a crosswind. Even only a day after the race, my recollection of specifics is a bit hazy, but I believe it was about a half mile or so into the crosswind that a group of several riders made another attack, which Alexei joined. I did not see Nick go with him, and I briefly considered jumping on so that I could help Alexei later in the race. However, it was still relatively early and I was not feeling particularly strong. I decided that it would be best to let them go and not risk pulling other riders on my wheel and into Alexei's break. I rode at the front of the remaining group for a while, but allowed the gap in front to steadily grow. After a short while, I realized that I was all alone. The last couple of hills and the crosswind had shattered the group again. Unfortunately, Nick had also dropped back.

I backed off and just rode a steady tempo, waiting for other riders. Eventually a rider from the Cycle Smithy team caught up to me and we worked together for a few miles. Later, we caught two riders, who I suspect had dropped off Alexei's break and were joined by three more that bridged up from behind. I was now part of a comfortable group of seven to work back into the headwind and into the finish in town. Two of the riders were not doing any work on the front, but the other five of us did about equal share. It was nice to be able to conserve a little energy for the final hills in town, especially since I had driven hard earlier in the race.

It wasn't long before we hit the descent to the creek. The 90' climb on the other side (which was the opening descent) was followed immediately by another climb on the finishing circuit in town. I managed to drop a few riders from our group of seven on this climb, which was the hardest of the race. At the top of the climb, we turned left. At the bottom of the ensuing descent were the cobblestones. I was really happy to have a shock absorbing carbon fork and frame. The cobblestones continued through the next left turn and most of the straight until the final turn before the finish. I was really fighting my machine at this point, as were most other riders around me.

As I came around the last turn, I saw two riders from separate teams holding a modest tempo about 100 meters ahead. I couldn't tell if they were marking each other for a sprint or if they had just agreed to roll to the line without a fight. Even thought the front of the race had already finished, I was determined to get the best place that I could, which meant passing them if possible. I tried to gradually close the gap without alerting them of my approach. At about 250 meters from the line, I started to accelerate a little more, at which point they did the same.

200 Meters to Go

Not an experienced sprinter, I probably hit the gas too early, but I thought it was my best chance. I pushed as hard as I could to the line, coming around the left side and passing both of them for 9th place. The 10th place rider was just 0.113 seconds back. It seemed like he was less than a wheel length behind on my right. Four riders had crossed the line in the 1.413 seconds after me. Though it wasn't for the race victory, I had won my first cycling sprint. My bike computer said I only hit 28 miles per hour at the line, but it sure felt like I was going much harder. I was obviously quite exhausted at that point (and fortunately, the others were as well).

My heart rate was high throughout the race, but I maxed out at a modest 176 beats per minute. When I am on peak form, I can push well into the 180s. My average heart rate was a rather high 164 bpm, reflecting the work I did on or near the front of the group, on my own, and in a relatively small group of riders. (Here is my complete ride profile.)

Alexei finished 5th, which was awesome. Though our strategy did not play out exactly according to plan, two riders in the top 10 was a pretty good showing. Nick finished 19th, as he rode strong but struggled a bit on some of the hills. Art finished 31st, but likely would have done much better if not for the incident on the first descent.

After our race finished, I was able to watch many of the other Wild Card riders in their races, most of which consisted of multiple laps around the 22-mile course. Art and I went to the feed zone at the hill just outside town to provide fresh bottles of fluids to our masters riders as they approached the start of their 3rd and final lap. I failed my first assignment as soigneur, arriving about 15 seconds too late to deliver a fresh bottle to Martin. Fortunately, he had enough on board to finish his race. Art successfully refueled Gene, although the exchange took place at a much lower speed and with less grace than exhibited on the Pro Tour.

Gene approaching the finish of the Masters 40-49 race after 66 miles in the saddle

The second pack of Cat 3 finishers winds up the sprint.

Despite not matching the success of last year's team, it was a solid showing by Wild Card Cycling. We had some very strong riders in the cat 4 and masters races and most finished in the middle of the pack, evidence that their races were marked with very high paces and strong fields. Teammate Rob blogged his perspective of the cat 4 race. Here is a summary of the Wild Card results:

Men's cat 5:
5 Alexei Perelet
9 Scott Dahman
19 Nick Hand
31 Art Hess

Women's cat 4:
11 Becky Chan
15 Anona Whitley

Men's cat 4:
9 Tom Carlson
17 Luke Taggart
19 Rob Raguet-Schofield
38 Mark French
DNF Dan Sochacki
DNF Karl Crapse

Men's Masters 40-49:
38 Martin Gruebele
44 Gene McDowell

Men's Masters 50+:
17 Greg Youngen