Posts filed under ‘Training’

Gravel Grovel Pre-ride

View from the fire tower looking back down towards the start View from the hickory ridge fire tower looking back down the first big climb from the start

View from the firetower looking east towards some of the later climbs on the courseView from the firew tower looking east towards some of the later climbs on the course

Standing at the bottom looking up the 110 foot fire towerStanding at the bottom looking up the 110 foot fire tower

Snowing on the gravel road heading out towards the Story InnSnowing on the gravel road heading out towards the Story Inn

Trail climb with stone pile markersTrail climb with stone pile markers

Trail goes under this tree - rideable but watch out for the standing water just on the other sideTrail goes under this tree – rideable but watch out for the standing water just on the other side

You know a race is going to be epic if the pre-ride of the course is six hours long through amazing scenery like that shown in the pics above. We drove up from Birmingham late Tuesday night, and after sleeping in I set out to ride the whole course estimating it would be five hours at most. After getting lost in the national forest a couple times and bushwhacking a bit through what I’m 75% sure is part of the course, my pre-ride ended up being nearly six hours long. I ran out of food and water with nearly two hours left – so completely ravenous and bonked for the last climb and descent. The description for the race course is perfect – mix of road, mtb, and cross specific sections. This really is the perfect finale for the ultracx series. I mainly wanted to write a blog b/c I couldn’t instagram any of my pictures during the ride … too cold! Speaking of cold, the average temp for the ride was 25 degF starting out in the teens. This was a shock to my Alabama system as we really haven’t had any cold weather yet. 20 minutes in and my nose was burning from the cold wind. 20 minutes later though and I was climbing up a 15+% hill and fine for the rest of the day – except my second water bottle was drunk as a slushy four hours into the ride. Here are the rest of the pics I got:

November 28, 2013 at 11:36 am 2 comments

Cycling and Don Quixote

Windmills and the setting sunWindmills and the setting sun

Two years ago, I raced all of the Tour of America’s Dairyland including the Fond du Lac criterium. I raced well and crossed the line in first at the start of the last lap trying to maintain good position. Unfortunately, I managed to get passed by 20 people during the last lap to finish just out of the money. I was quite distraught after the race having blown such good position to end up outside of the top 20. I was hoping to redeem that performance with a top 20 finish this year, but with huge thunderstorms and rain showers all across the sky and approaching Fond du Lac before the start I was not very optimistic. We managed to start the first few laps dry, but then it started to rain, and I drifted to the back, off the back, and then expecting to be pulled was told that I could continue to race. I am never going to willingly pull out of a race again after a disasterous race in West Virginia in 1996, so I raced for another 20 minutes or so getting lapped 3 or 4 more times by the field. I used the opportunity to continue racing to work on my rainy cornering skills, as I have had several recent rainy slideouts losing a lot of confidence in the rain.

It was barely halfway through the race by the time that the officials decided I had raced enough and pulled me from the race. I just checked the results, and I was rewarded for my efforts by being placed in the results instead of a DNF — 59th out of 105 starters. Afterwards, wanting to get some kind of training in, I started wandering towards the hills, first looking for some good climbs, and then seeing windmills in the distance riding to try to get a good picture. The windmills are huge so that they appear closer than they really are. And then even when you start to get close to one, you find that the road is gated off or unrideable in the mud or the windmill you were heading towards was actually on a different ridge beside a different road. Eventually, as it was getting dark and as I was getting farther and farther away from Fond du Lac, I started to feel like Don Quixote chasing windmills, and I began to suspect that somehow for many people including me such is the lot of the bike racer. Finally, I found a cool valley with a bunch of windmills with a farm gravel road that was not only rideable but also quite pictureesque. It was amazing to be standing underneath something so gigantic and hearing the whoosh of the three blades as the passed overhead. Standing directly underneath it as the blades headed towards you was a bit disconcerting as you wondered unreasonably that you might have misjudged the length of the the blade and it would suddenly hit you standing there on the ground.

So, anyway, even as I was chasing the windmills I thought of Don Quixote. I don’t know the story all that well, but I believe the basic idea is that poor Don thought that the windmills he was chasing and trying to defeat were actual enemies that needed to be defeated. He continued to pursue these windmills never realizing that they were unbeatable. Comparing this to bicycle racing, the idea is that we as bike racers try so hard to win or at least do as well as possible romanticizing that one good result to the point that it lures us back for more even after a series of really bad results. Often the level of competition is so far above and beyond our own capability that it is truly like Don Quixote chasing windmills – an impossible and illogical vain pursuit.

Again, I don’t know the story all that well, but Don Quixote must have been fulfilled, fully alive, full of purpose as he chased after those windmills even if it made no sense to anyone else. The danger though is the damage that Don was doing to those around him as he sought after those windmills even as he tried to do good and help/rescue/save the world. I am fortunate that my family is supportive of my windmill chasing, and I do everything I can to turn bike races into family trips and family experiences, and I think the good far outweighs the bad, but the very real danger is pursuing too far without putting everything into context.

As I was trying to find a windmill I could ride right up to and set my bike against on my 10 year anniversary with my wife 100 miles away camping with her family in Door County, I realized both the beauty and the danger of bike racing. I had spent the night before camping with them and the morning of our anniversay was awesome with a nice trail run/ride with Kristine and the kids finding a cool boat landing and then a climb up to a tower overlooking Sturgeon Bay and the entrance to Green Bay followed by a little bit of caving with Josiah and then more trail riding and finally capped off joining Kristine’s dad as he finished 1100 miles of hiking the entire Ice Age trail which ends at the tower we had found earlier in the day. All of this before leaving my family to go get dropped in a bike race, but then finding beautiful rolling hills, picturesque farms with barns, cows, and fields of corn, big sky with clouds from various storms on all sides aglow with lightning and the setting sun — surreal, almost perfect, forgetting that an hour or so earlier I had just gotten dropped and pulled from a bike race – I was content realizing that bike racing in the context of life is so small, but in the moment if you look in the right places you can still find something worth pursuing even if it looks like windmills to everyone else.

Pictures from earlier in the day camping with Kristine and the kids -

June 30, 2013 at 12:05 pm Leave a comment

Snapping turtle in bluff park

Today on my ride into work, I almost hit a large snapping turtle at the bottom of the Mountain Oaks descent up in Bluff Park. It was in the curve right before the covered bridge, and it wasn’t moving so I knew it had no hope of making it across the street without getting hit. I tried to scare it off, but it wouldn’t move. About a minute or two later, a nice older lady came around the curve and asked if I needed any help. I said sure, do you have a blanket or something to help me move this turtle? She got one of those mesh carpets you lay on a floor to keep a rug from sliding on a hardwood floor out of her trunk and handed it to me. I started to pick up the turtle and everything was fine as I started to pick it up. I had lifted it about a foot off the ground at the spot where it’s feet were finally starting to lift off the ground and it snapped HARD up and to the right toward my right arm. It couldn’t quite reach me, but the lady screamed and I very quickly set the turtle back down. By this time, there was another car stopped behind the first lady’s car and a pick-up truck had stopped coming the other way with another car behind it. A guy got out of the pick-up truck with a shovel, but by this point the turtle had crawled on top of the mesh. I started to drag the mesh over to the side of the road and the guy in the pick-up truck picked up the other side of the mesh and we got the turtle off the road where it promptly crawled and fell about 4 feet down into a drainage opening. I could see it at the bottom and it was right side up and moving so I thought it must be ok. I went back later after work, and looked inside the drainage ditch and there was no sign of the turtle – so I think it must have made it back down to the creek. From my first effort at picking it up, I’d say it weighed somewhere between 5-10 pounds. That’s a lot of turtle for that high up on a mountain in Birmingham – who knows what it must be eating to get that big. I hope it isn’t chipmunks, squirrels and/or small cats.

April 30, 2013 at 6:48 pm Leave a comment

Athens Twilight 2013

Quick summary
Awesome weekend hanging out with friends in Athens. Perhaps the highlight of my weekend was being there to see Mark Fisher win the amateur finals race in a crazy solo move. I was also very happy with how I was able to stay near the front in the pro race and even attack to take a $100 prime late in the race. With two laps to go, a couple guys crashed in front of me of me going into turn 1. As soon as I hit the brakes to try to stop, the guy behind me plowed into me at pretty much full speed — popping me up into the air and then landing ironically on him, his bike and unfortunately for my right knee, his pedal (or my own headset). Initially, I thought I had shattered my knee b/c the pain/shock was so great that I was almost paralyzed to even try to move to unstraddle my bike. Somehow after untangling everything I still had one foot on the left side of my bike and the other foot on the right side of my bike. So I’m standing there trying to figure out whether I can still get back on my bike when the field starts to come down the stretch again. I knew at this point there was no way to even ride in easy so I scrambled off the course just before the remnants of the field came barrelling into turn 1 again with one lap to go. Disappointing finish to an otherwise great weekend! On Sunday, I partially redeemed the weekend by discovering a new Cat 2 climb for Alabama (Campington Ridge) on what was supposed to be a 120 mile ride home via Mount Cheaha. Instead, I got to climb Cheaha in a thunderstorm full of lightning and then descend it in a thunderstorm downpour. By the time I made it to Talledega, finishing the ride wasn’t even on the menu any more — but a hot coffee and supersonic breakfast burrito while waiting for Kristine to come pick me up definitely was!

The videos
Well, as it turns out my camera bounced off my handlebars in Turn 2 fairly early in the race … I think it may have been the second or third lap. Some kind soul found it for me and turned it into Ashley Travieso. So assuming that the camera card wasn’t broken by the impact, then I should have videos to post of the scrum, call-ups, and first one or two laps. I’m picking up the camera from Ashley at the Sandy Springs race on Sunday so I’ll probably have those videos posted by Sunday night or Monday morning!

The data

Athens Twilight Pro/1 2013
59th place, crash 2 to go
Lap	Time	Mi.	AvgPow	MaxPow	HR	RPM	MPH
1	1:27	0.6	299	888	154	83	25.7
2	1:19	0.6	293	791	167	82	26.2
3	1:17	0.6	256	815	169	79	27.5
4	1:19	0.6	264	824	168	80	27
5	1:15	0.6	246	877	167	81	27.6
6	1:14	0.6	259	851	170	84	27.7
7	1:12	0.6	239	736	173	84	28.6
8	1:13	0.6	258	862	174	80	28
9	1:20	0.6	245	807	174	83	25.3
10	1:17	0.6	272	849	173	81	26.8
11	1:17	0.6	246	880	176	79	27.3
12	1:20	0.6	254	862	174	77	26
13	1:14	0.6	246	847	176	81	27.8
14	1:16	0.6	274	868	177	81	27.6
15	1:12	0.6	269	896	178	83	29.2
16	1:19	0.6	207	856	175	79	26.8
17	1:21	0.6	250	855	170	84	26.1
18	1:14	0.6	262	833	172	84	27.6
19	1:21	0.6	224	827	175	78	26.3
20	1:19	0.6	248	820	172	83	26.9
21	1:16	0.6	243	838	173	79	27.6
22	1:16	0.6	269	851	175	82	27.7
23	1:12	0.6	232	929	178	78	29.1
24	1:20	0.6	257	826	172	80	26.5
25	1:18	0.6	251	859	178	76	26.6
26	1:16	0.6	244	771	176	80	27.9
27	1:15	0.6	244	824	173	79	28.3
28	1:14	0.6	270	788	173	82	28.5
29	1:11	0.6	249	781	177	80	29.8
30	1:13	0.6	239	892	175	78	29
31	1:17	0.6	241	832	176	74	27.4
32	1:20	0.6	231	723	172	81	26.4
33	1:15	0.6	241	868	173	83	27.9
34	1:12	0.6	241	835	176	79	28.5
35	1:12	0.6	239	789	174	81	28.9
36	1:18	0.6	242	865	170	74	27
37	1:17	0.6	243	829	174	79	27.2
38	1:14	0.6	240	829	174	81	28.2
39	1:15	0.6	232	781	172	83	27.7
40	1:21	0.6	286	796	178	81	25.9
41	1:13	0.6	266	854	180	80	28.7
42	1:14	0.6	244	868	175	78	28.2
43	1:16	0.6	243	879	172	80	27.8
44	1:16	0.6	242	821	170	80	27.5
45	1:17	0.6	236	801	170	82	27.3
46	1:15	0.6	250	797	170	80	27.7
47	1:15	0.6	221	769	171	79	28.4
48	1:15	0.6	257	770	170	81	28
49	1:16	0.6	244	795	172	84	28.1
50	1:14	0.6	246	767	171	86	29
51	1:13	0.6	249	807	170	81	29.3
52	1:16	0.6	224	731	169	82	28.3
53	1:15	0.6	261	793	167	80	28.4
54	1:15	0.6	252	788	174	78	28.4
55	1:16	0.6	248	745	172	81	27.5
56	1:25	0.6	216	783	166	78	24.9
57	1:18	0.6	234	763	164	79	27.1
58	1:15	0.6	226	783	163	80	27.8
59	1:18	0.6	243	837	159	79	27.1
60	1:17	0.6	253	776	167	77	27.3
61	1:12	0.6	255	808	170	83	29.4
62	1:21	0.6	255	745	172	79	26.1
63	1:19	0.6	234	711	169	79	26.5
64	1:16	0.6	286	716	168	80	28
65	1:18	0.6	221	727	170	80	26.9
66	1:25	0.6	216	617	161	81	24.8
67	1:11	0.6	418	741	172	82	29
68	1:24	0.6	262	548	183	84	25
69	1:16	0.6	242	750	175	83	27.7
70	1:19	0.6	261	732	168	82	27.1
71	1:18	0.6	269	772	173	79	27.1
72,73	2:34	1.2	241	734	171	80	27.4
74-76	4:00	1.8	265	819	175	80	26.7
77	1:20	0.6	277	794	179	81	26.7

Towards the end of the lap data with rain moving in, apparently my GPS couldn’t keep up with the turns anymore and my auto-lap feature wasn’t kicking in correctly. Looking at the data, it may be that my crash was actually with 3 laps to go (2.75 laps).

Athens Twilight 2013 Pro/1 - Heartrate zone summaryAthens Twilight 2013 Pro/1 – Heartrate zone summary
Athens Twilight 2013 Pro/1 - Annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)Athens Twilight 2013 Pro/1 – Annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)
Athens Twilight 2013 Pro/1 critical power curveAthens Twilight 2013 Pro/1 critical power curve

The detailed report
Athens Twilight is a race like no other in the country. From the atmosphere of thousands and thousands of people lining the entire course several rows deep, to the pre-race scrum fighting for position before the race even starts, to the super fast course, to the uncertainty of how the race itself could play out in any number of dramatically different scenarios. After racing it for seven years in a row now, I think I’ve figured out what makes the course so amazingly fast — the fact that turn 1 is so slow. What this does is it causes everyone from the back of the pack to have to accelerate really hard up the hill to keep from having gaps open up. Yet the course is so wide coming across the top of the hill that there are plenty of people with lots of momentum to slingshot past the guys at the front causing the guys at the front to respond and pick up their speed behind the new guys who are trying to attack or go off the front. And that new faster speed is easily carried through the wide turn #3. Heading into turn #4 you are coasting, so you have a chance to recover and then hit it really hard again through the start/finish. This process repeats itself enough times and pretty soon you are averaging over 30mph per lap.

I had a really great start in this year’s race on the second row, and I held good position towards the front third of the group until a crash coming out of Turn #1 at the very front of the field caused a pile-up. I could see guys pulling up behind it and getting ready to head back to the pit, but I also could see a way around the mess so I opted to just keep riding since there were no gaps I could see. Going up the hill out of turn #2, I was in a bit of a panic b/c I could see a front group of about 25 riders had separated itself from maybe the next 50 or so of us — and I was near the very back of this group. Fortunately, some heavy hitters were not in that front 25 so our group was able to catch back up before the end of that lap.

In the chaos of the crash and remerging of the groups, a few riders slipped away and formed a dangerous looking break. Predator missed the move, though, and after 15-20 laps of steady chasing they brought it back. A few laps later, a three man move including eventual winner Kevin Mullervy (Champion/NoTubes), Carlos Alzate (UHC), and Frank Travieso (Mountain Khakis) escaped and quickly got a good gap on the field. Predator went to the front again to chase, but they couldn’t get any help from anyone else. During these laps, I was slowly working my way back up towards the front. Then with maybe 16 or 17 laps to go, I was in good position and the pace of the field let up at the front so I thought about attacking up the hill with no real race objective other than to be off the front for Kristine. I realized it would be better to wait for a prime, though, and on the very next lap they rang the bell for a $100 field prime. The pace slowed again just a bit across the top and I took that opportunity to launch an attack to go for the prime.

I imagined the whole time I was attacking that I was just pulling the field with me or at least one or two other riders who would come around to take the prime, so I sprinted hard all the way to the line not realizing that I had escaped cleanly and had maybe a 5 second gap by the line. I was cooked from the effort, though, so I sat up, recovered, and waited for the field. I slotted back in at the front of the field and spent the next 12 laps attacking up the outside on the hill to keep from getting passed by the field and then slotting back in behind UHC through the start/finish. This was taking its toll on me but I was maintaining good position until 3 laps to go heading into Turn 3 when the pace eased up a bit on the downhill and I wasn’t close enough to the barriers so a whole slew of people came around me on the outside. I tapped the brakes feeling squeezed by the people on the inside and lost even more positions. I think I probably went from top 15 back down to top 30 by the start/finish line. Shortly after the start/finish line heading into turn #1, there was a big pile-up on the ground in front of me, and as I hit my brakes to try to stop before running into it, the guy behind me plowed into me from behind propelling me up into the air a bit and then ironically landing on top of him as he came sliding by me on the ground.

Side note – I’ve now crashed five times at Athens Twilight after racing it for 7 years. Out of those five times, my body has only hit the ground twice – once in 2007 when I landed on my butt in the straight section between Turn #3 and Turn #4 when somebody went too far outside hit the curb and bounced back into the group taking down a number of riders (including me) and then once in 2011 when I landed hard on my wrist in a very similar wreck to this year’s except going through Turn #1 instead of heading into it. The other three wrecks (two more in 2007, I had three wrecks that year, and one in either 2008 or 2009) have all involved me landing on top of other people already on the ground!

My first thought was get back up and try to tack back onto the riders who were still streaming by those of us caught up in the wreck. But my bike was so tangled up in two other rider’s bikes that it took a few seconds to even get the bikes untangled. By this point, the field was gone. Also, it was about that time I realized must have cracked my knee really hard on something (pedal, headset) as it was bleeding and hurting quite a bit. In fact, the location of the pain paralyzed me for a few seconds as I was afraid to move or bend my leg thinking that I had done some serious damage to my knee and would end up crumpling back to the ground if I tried to move. As I looked back to the start/finish I could see the lead moto and knew that the field was coming soon so this forced me to try to move and I found that I could move my knee without any additional pain. I climbed through the fence as spectators grabbed my bike and pulled it into the beer tent. Turning down numerous offers for beers, ambulances, and other forms of assistance, I was able to take my bike and ride it through the crowd to the start/finish line where Chad was interviewing the winner, Kevin.

Even having to pull out with three to go, I still ended up 59th as many of the nearly 100 starters had already abandoned the race earlier. So I’m happy to not have to put a DNF in my results! Kristine related to me later that the race for first was an intriguing one with Kevin attacking the break with six to go and Frank and Carlos hesistating to chase. This gave Kevin enough room to solo it in from six to go. Carlos ended up outsprinting Frank for 2nd with Frank rounding out the podium in 3rd. All-in-all I think it was a good race for me being in good position so late in the race and then just a bit of bad luck with two to go. C’est la vie – can’t wait until next year!!!!!

Alabama’s newest Cat 2 climb – Bain’s Gap to Campington Ridge
On the way home I had Kristine drop me off on the old Fort Mclellan property so I could ride a new Cat 2 climb and then bike almost 120 miles home via Mount Cheaha. Along the way I saw a really cool wild turkey run across the road, and a long black snake, and then I got absolutely soaked in a thunderstorm on the top of Mt Cheaha – quite scary with all the lightning – and a huge downpour on the descent down into Talladega. By the time I made it to Talladega, I was ready to be done riding so I called Kristine to come pick me up. I got some cool pics that I’ve posted in the gallery below.

April 29, 2013 at 10:50 pm Leave a comment

Smyer KOM

Quick post here … I took back the Smyer to Shades Crest KOM today. One of the things about that climb is that it is has been on my commute route home from work for the past eight years. Before I ever had a GPS I used to time myself with a very basic bike computer. I kept track of a backpack time and a non-backpack time. The segment doesn’t match if you are coming up from the 280 side (which I do quite often) so Strava only shows me as having done the climb 126 times — but I would guesstimate the number closer to one thousand times especially considering my pre-strava commutes from 2005-2008. I know that climb well enough to possibly do it with my eyes closed … actually I’ve experimented with that a few times and ridden sections of it with my eyes closed just for fun.

A few weeks ago Paul Tower took the KOM from me with an amazing time of 2’33″. A few days later I was able to put in an effort on the climb to try to take it back, but I ended up falling quite a bit short (2’37″). Just four seconds … but for such a short climb that is pretty much an eternity. Not racing this past weekend, I needed to get a good hard effort in to wake my legs up for this weekend’s Mississippi Gran Prix so it worked out for me to try again today. This time I started from a cross street instead of lower down on the hill … and that made a huge difference. Combined with a little bit of GPS love (i.e., the Strava segment matched up a bit early b/c my GPS track was offset a bit to the right at the end) led to a smashing of the old record with a time of 2’25″ … almost 20mph.

Now that Paul (and Mark Fisher) know the ideal place to start the segment, I’m not sure how long that KOM will last — but rest assured if it falls, I will be back out there again to try to get it back! Here’s my data from the climb:

Smyer to Shades Crest takeback KOMSmyer to Shades Crest KOM … 2’25″ @ 484 watts, VAM 1500 on a 5% climb.

April 10, 2013 at 6:57 pm 1 comment

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The southminster switchbacks further up the hill plus run-in to the berm (bottom) Hwy 31 left sidewalk- hidden gem in Vestavia. Check out my road bike tracks on the berm in lower left pic. Samford at 400watts across the top of Vestavia Dr

Kristine’s ToonesFanClub

Brian Toone

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Quick reference stats

Anaerobic Threshold:
Power:315 watts
Heart rate:180 bpm
Power:1097 watts (5s)
Heart rate:198 bpm (5s)
AT power estimated by critical power curve in Golden Cheetah, which predicts I should be able to maintain 315 watts for 1 hour.

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