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Today we raced in the sand.  Not far from the scene of Het Meer a couple of weeks ago, Zandercross took place in Vancouver, WA.  It's part of a burgeoning series I like to call Couve Cross.  Happily, it was a benefit for the excellent non-profit P:ear.

The promoter decided that the main feature of today's race would be sand, and its waterfront venue provided plenty of the loose, deep, and soft stuff.  In addition to a few barriers, there were two (for some people three) long running sections in the sand.  There were a few steep banks, but all could be ridden if one took the right line.

I pulled a muscle in my left leg last week at Marathon Nationals, and the all the running today only served to irritate it even more.  It made running and dismounts painful, but I don't think it really slowed me down.  The data show a decent pace, even if the start was a bit harder than I would have preferred:

Zandercross.  Red is Heart Rate, blue is speed, and orange is elevation data.

My LTHR is 178bpm, but today I was able to average 180bpm for the hour-long race.  This is possible for a couple of reasons.  First, I was relatively fresh.  I hadn't done a lot of training in the past week as I was (and am) tired from last weekend.  The aerobic system recovers quickly relative to the body, however.  So, even though my body was still a little tired,  I was able to maintain a slightly higher HR since my aerobic system was relatively fresh.  Second, it was warm today.  In hotter conditions, one's HR is often slightly elevated.

If we break the race into two halves, we can see that I started a bit on the fast side (for me).  For the first half of the race, I averaged 183bpm, while for the second half my average HR was 179bpm.  I hit my max of 193bpm about 20 minutes in, while passing some people on one of the sand runs.  That effort cooked me a bit and afterwards I had to slow down to recover.  My effort today netted me 7th place.

Here are some photos:

The start. I got the call-up, but dust makes me chicken.


Sand surfing

Adnan and AES in the Wall Street Journal!

This week the Wall Street Journal did a segment for print and video on cycling "tribes."  I was asked to describe the "roadie," and here is how it went:

It's a bit ironic, as I'm not really just a roadie, but cyclists like to label each other and the Journal picked up on that spirit, too.


Data Analysis - Marathon MTB Nationals 2012

I have had a day or two to digest what happened last Saturday and I've finally had a chance to sit down and look at my data file as well. 

It was a day where everything came together just right:  The start was fast, but not too fast.  The climbs suited my new lighter physique.  The bike felt perfect and I was confident on the descents and singletrack.  I had no mechanical issues.  I had rested properly in the previous week.  The distance and hot weather both suited me.  I was able to stay focused for the entire 4+ hour effort.

All of those things are the ingredients of the perfect race.  Together, they allowed me to do my best possible ride on the day.  In terms of numbers, here is what that ride looked like:

Click on the image to magnify.  Red is Heart Rate, blue is speed, and orange is elevation data.

My LTHR (Lactate Threshold Heart Rate) is 178bpm, represented above with the red dashed line.  This places my Threshold Level (also referred to as Level 4) at 169-188bpm.  Theoretically I can ride at 178bpm for about 1 hour.  On Saturday, the data shows ideal pacing over the duration of the race.  I managed to average 167bpm for the entire distance, keeping my effort sustainable over that period.

The nature of MTB racing is such that there are often times when you must exceed your LTHR in order to clear an obstacle, or stay with a rider you need to stay with, etc.  Several times I bumped up against my maximum HR of 194bpm, but my training has been such that I was able to recover and maintain a high pace.  During the race, my HR never dropped below high Level 2 (Endurance), even on the descents.  It was a consistent effort, and by the finish I was completely spent. 

The last week has seen two great lessons in pacing in two very different types of events (see the post on last week's cyclocross race here).   One event was short and intense, while the other required more endurance and the ability to focus for a very long time.  Happily, both yielded great results!

2012 USAC MTB Marathon Nationals

I came to Bend not expecting too much from myself.  I haven't been myself lately, and my anxiety level has been really high.  It's tough to concentrate like that, and for a 4+ hour race, it's a tall order to do so.  In addition to all that, I hadn't touched my mountain bike in months.

None of that seemed to matter today.  I put it all behind me.  I felt great, rode well, and did my best ever National Championship result: 6th place.

It feels amazing.  I just wanted to finish and I dared not dream of a top-10 placement.

The rest of the crew had pretty good days as well.  Mark and Jeff just squeezed into the top-20 of their respective classes, and Chris (Specialized/Adventures 212) was running in a solid 15th until a cut tire dropped him to 20th.

My race seemed to last forever.  The start was harder than I would have preferred (just about every one is), but I settled in on the first climb and started to feel better.  The descent to Flagline was awesome, and that is when I began to move up in my class.  I knew a lot of people had started at a level they would not be able to sustain, so I simply rode at my own pace and made sure to eat and drink regularly (a special thanks goes out to Chris Graham for doing hand-ups for us).  One by one, the riders began to come back.  I wasn't sure, but I thought I was in the top 10. 

By the time I reached Tiddlywinks, just about everything hurt, including my stomach after the USAC neutral feed handed me a bottle of Gatorade (ick).  I managed the descent without incident, and barely hung on while I climbed Funner to the finish.  Desperate to know where I stood, I asked a checkpoint official where I was.  He simply replied, "Oregon."

When I finished, I had to lay down for a while, the violence of the effort having taken its toll over more than 4 hours.  Once I was told I had come 6th, I went back to the car and had a little cry by myself.  I'm still not sure I believe it.

I didn't know if there would be any photographers out there, so I took some snaps myself:

Mark's car ready to roll to Wanoga and the race start


Prepping with my pal Brian Gerow


The tail end of the lead group rides under the highway


Somewhere in no-man's land.  I decided I still had enough energy to snap a photo


Exhausted.  Looking and feeling very old


Another amazing Bend sunset with wildfire smoke

US MTB Marathon Nationals Course recce

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Now, back to our regularly scheduled program:

Today I am in Bend, OR with one of my pro MTB racers, Chris Peariso (Specialized/Adventure 212),  his wife Michelle, and my best bud NURD from California.  We are all here to race the USA Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships, which take place tomorrow.

The course consists of some sandy doubletrack, some rocky climbing with sand, and lots of sandy singletrack, all starting and finishing at the Wanoga Sno Park.  It has been very dry here this summer, and the trails have a deep cover of fine powder.  Here is the not-very-simple map from USA Cycling:

We rode the second loop, which is one of my favorite rides.  The last time I rode it early in the summer was one of the best rides of my life.  It's all singletrack with a long descent followed by a (at least on the pre-ride) mellow climb back up to the finish.  NURD, on his first MTB ride in Oregon and had a blast.  We have since cleaned all the bikes, taken naps, eaten lunch, and prepped for tomorrow.  Now all we need to do is relax and enjoy the sunshine.

Here are some photos from our morning out:

Aliens with large heads prepare to ride.  From right: Chris, Michelle, NURD, Ak
This guy followed me all day
Chris on Tiddlywinks
NURD climbs Funner
Ak chased by a NURD on Funner

The Lake

Today I raced my first cyclocross race of this season, the TBGP Het Meer race in Vancouver, WA.  I made a day of it by riding out there, doing the race, and then riding home again.  It was a cool, overcast day and perfect for cross (unless you like mud).

The race consisted of lots of straight, fast sections, followed by some twisty, fast sections, followed by a mean sand trap on a lake beach.  The drop into the sand trap caught a lot of people off guard, resulting in some spectacular crashes.  I managed to avoid them:

I'm on the left avoiding the unlucky fellow who is now going the wrong way.

Once I got into the groove, I was able to ride the sand without any trouble.  

I've been having trouble focusing lately, but CX racing is a good place to put life out of your mind for an hour and just concentrate on what you are doing.  This is what I look like when I concentrate:

Notice the tongue (and the cute girl with the dog).

Despite all the craziness, I had a great race, ending in 5th place.  I was able to start off within myself and finish strong, picking off one-by-one the riders ahead who had started too fast.  I didn't have my Quarq on for this race, but I did record my speed and HR data.   The graph shows a nice, steady cardiac drift.  This is an example of good pacing.  The red line is HR, with the dashed horizontal at my LT HR – 178bpm.  Check it out:

Het Meer HR
red – HR
blue – speed

Despite a relatively open course, I was able to start easy, settle in right at my LT, and then push it up a bit in the last laps.  This served me well and garnered me one of my best ever CX results – in the season's first race!

The Power of Positivity

We've all heard the start-line murmurs:

"My legs are tired."

"I didn't have much time to ride this week." 

"I'm just here for the training."

"Whatever happens is meant to happen."

It's likely we've all said those things or something similar at one time or another.  All of these statements have one thing in common – they put the speaker in a position of not having to take responsibility for the outcome of the race.  They are built-in excuses that allow us to explain not getting the result we had really wanted.

Once some years ago, I was racing a stage race which featured a road race on Saturday followed by a Sunday Criterium.  In the road race, some riders ahead went down on the wet roads, and the fallout from the crash took me off my bike as well.  I chased with 3 others, and although we came within seconds of the field, we never regained it.  Frustrated, I told my teammate that I was not going to race the criterium the next day.  My teammate is an optimist, and told me that I was better than the rest and that I should race.  He urged me to put that day behind me and look forward to a fresh opportunity.  I thought about it all night and in the morning, I was ready to go.  His positivity was infectious and deep down I knew he was right.  On the start line that morning, I knew I would win.  Even though criteriums are not my specialty and everyone who knows me knows that in a sprint I often go backwards, I won.  The previous day, I didn't even want to race.  Now, I had won, and the reason really boils down to one thing:  I found the positive side of a difficult situation. 

Finding the positivity in one's athletic pursuit takes practice.  It's easy to get down when things don't go your way, and it becomes self-fulfilling.  If you tell yourself that your legs are tired, then they are going to feel that way when you race. 

Here are a few ways to stay balanced and keep perspective on your training, racing, and outlook:

  1. Keep a journal.  This is not a training journal (more on that later), but an actual diary.  Write down each day what you're feeling and how you feel you're processing it.  Later, go back and read it.  Notice your language and the tone of your thoughts.  This will give you some perspective on yourself and help you see that, even though sometimes things are not exactly as you want them, they will change.
  2. Set your expectations.  If you're a new cat 3, it's not likely you'll ride the Giro any time soon.  However, you may well upgrade to cat 2 in the same season.  Set your expectations accordingly.
  3. Learn from your failures.  Don't focus on them, but make them part of your success. Success builds on success and your expectations of yourself will follow.
  4. Log your training.  Keeping your data and looking for trends in what you do and don't respond to is a good idea, and so is actually writing down exactly how you feel about how each workout went.  This helps put you in touch with your body and your mind.
  5. Hope for the best when you set your goals.  This is really another way of saying "focus on what you want."  Visualize success and achievement and remember to visualize being happy with your achievements. You need to believe in yourself.

Achieving a positive outlook will help you to not only get the most out of your athletic pursuits, but it will help you go about your days with confidence and the knowledge that you are doing your very best to succeed.

Food for Athletes on just published a nice piece about diets for athletes.  It's more of an exploration of the eating habits of endurance athletes than a guide.  I have a few things to say on the subject, too.  Check it all out right here.

Marin Camp 2011 Wrap up

This year's Marin Camp is done and I'm already looking forward to next year.  The weather played a big role and forced some schedule changes, but the staff and the Retreat handled it all wonderfully.  Thanks to all of the supporters of Marin Camp:

Quarq Technology - makers of the world's best bicycle power meters

Cyfac bicycles - top-end custom bicycles for the discerning rider

Studio Velo - purveyors of top-end bicycles and equipment right here in Mill Valley

Easton  - Suppliers of some of cycling's best wheels and components, based in nearby Santa Cruz

Clif Bar - keeping us fueled and hydrated on those long days out, from nearby Berkeley

Strava - Bay Area-based, Strava provided  ride analysis and rider comparisons through GPS data of our rides

Corsa Concepts - a new, Portland-based company providing top-end wheelsets to racers and to:

LifeCycle Adventures - offering self-guided and scheduled bike tours in California and Oregon, as well as supporting local bike advocacy organizations and events in each region, LifeCycle Adventures supplied spare bikes and our support van

Marin Camp 2012 is already well into the planning stages and I'm excited to make even more improvements for the future.  If you would like to reserve your place, email me at and let me know.

Thoughts on Guam from a (relatively) chilly place

I've just finished another beautiful day of cross country skiing near Mt Hood.  It's incredibly scenic up there, but it's a long way from the clear waters and sandy beaches of Guam and Saipan.  I must admit - I miss the islands.


Mt. Hood on December 21, 2010

Micronesia is a special place.  The remoteness of location makes it less of a tourist draw and allows the beauty of the local culture to thrive.  I think about Guam, and what keeps coming back to me is how the people I met were among the most welcoming and generous I had ever seen.  I'm still amazed by how we were treated and with what genuine interest everyone took in our journey.  Everyone wanted to make us feel like we were always part of the family.  Leaving bordered on painful.

As for the cycling, it was excellent.  In hindsight, the slippery roads were not so bad, and I would rather risk those than the icy ones we currently have here.  The terrain was stunning and the drivers generally courteous and friendly.  One guy passed us twice, each time flashing a shaka.  On every ride bar one it rained a bit, sometimes heavily, but it didn't seem to matter very much.  It is so warm that the rain almost comes as a relief.  The local riders seem to like it, actually.  I'll take warm rain over the cold stuff we have here any day.

Now that some time has passed, I have had a chance to think about the race and all that surrounded it.  I didn't finish as well as I had hoped, but there are lots of things in races one can't control and I'm happy with how it turned out.  I was able to show up in top condition.   I made some incredible friends and met some awesome people.  I had amazing support from my wife Stacey and friends Monessa, Karly, and Rosie.  Invaluable material support came from Russell Cree, my good friend Joseph, and from Easton Cycling.  Without any of these folks, things would have been very different.

As we settle into what looks to be yet another deep freeze here, I find myself dreaming of the Islands and the warm rain.  I'm even thinking about Guam's premier cycling event in February.  Who's coming with me?

HOM Story from the official site

The official website of the Hell of the Marianas has published a story on the race.  The description of the race is not exactly how it went down, but it is still an entertaining read:$lang

Hell of the Marianas on Russian TV

Here is some Russian TV coverage of the Hell of the Marianas.  Naturally, it's in Russian, but they put in some nice race coverage:

I'll embed the video if it becomes available.

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