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.