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.