Wednesday, September 29, 2010

1st Triathlon!

I started running again a couple weeks ago and it finally doesn't make me sore for three days after.  So this Sunday since the weather was so nice and I had the opportunity, it was a good day for a bike ride, a run, and a swim!  I entered the TBF Granite Bay Triathlon which is a 3/4 mile swim, 13 mile road bike, and a 5 mile trail run.  I haven't swam since, oh... probably May of this year, but I'm pretty comfortable in the water so I was willing to just "get through" the swim.  I know a little bit about riding bikes and the run... well I don't know when I've ever run five miles at one time but I was up for it!
My transition gear
I donned my wet suit, goggles and swim cap and headed down to the water level of Folsom Lake, which was thankfully much higher than it has been the last few years.  Last year I remember it was a .8 mile sandy run up from the water to transition.  This year was probably about half that distance.
I was in the first wave to go off, of men age 34 and under.  The "gun" went off and we were running through the shallows and about 50 yards in it was finally deep enough to swim.  I started off to the side because I wasn't used to swimming in such close proximity to others.  I still had a little bit of an issue with a guy that seemed like he kept crossing in front of me, but maybe I was weaving around behind him, who knows?  The swim course was a two turn course in a big triangle with orange sighting buoys half way in between the turn buoys.  Well when I was almost to the first orange buoy, hardly a 1/6th of the way through the course, I wasn't very comfortable.  My arms were already starting to fatigue and my mind was getting some pretty panicky thoughts.  You know... "I can't touch the bottom!" "I've just started and I'm tired... I'm going to drown!"  etc. etc.  I almost turned around and quit right there... seriously.  But when I thought about quitting, I thought about how much I would hate that I quit.  So I told myself to calm down and just do 10 more strokes, and breathe.  Well 10 strokes came and went and I got into a rhythm, and before I knew it I was to the first turn buoy.  I kept that steady (but slow!) pace and never stopped and finally finished the swim... yes!  I ran up the beach and passed a few people before making it to T1 for the bike.
I got my shoes and helmet on as quick as possible and mounted my two day old Giant TCR Advanced 2 for the bike leg.  Honestly it felt a little weird getting on a bike right after swimming and my equilibrium seemed slightly off.  But a few hard pedals and I was right back at home.  The course was a good combination of rolling hills and turns so it was pretty fun.  I hammered and passed more people than I could count on the two 6.5 mile laps and made up a lot of the time I lost churning in the water.  The new TCR is so much fun to ride.  It's super responsive to any power I can give and it turns and handles incredibly quickly.  I really wished the bike leg was about 3 times as long, but it was over and I headed down into T2.
Off came the helmet and MTB shoes (haha!) and I pulled on my sweet super-meshy-water-tri geek-trail running shoes and was on my way.  I even did everything sock-less like a real triathlete!

I started out running with short strides to give my legs a chance to get out of pedaling mode which worked pretty well.  And I was in a good running rhythm after about 200 yards.
And then I got passed by a 44 year old guy (our ages were written on our calves), doh.  But he wasn't blazing by me so I stepped up my pace to match him and that was just about right.  I have no idea what pace we were going though, but it didn't seem like it was going to push me too much.  I ended up running with a group of guys in their 40's until we got into the trees and the fun trails with climbs.  I like climbs on the run!  I think because the leg motion is closer to that of a bike pedal stroke.  I powered through the first rollers and up a little steep climb, making motorcycle "BRAAP" noises in my head through the turns.  I was feeling good and, I'm almost ashamed to say, really enjoying running!  That might just be because it's something different than the hours and hours of bike time I've had for months straight.  But still, three miles into the run I was really amazed at how good I still felt!  We came up behind a woman who was running slower on some singletrack and the guys I was following just slowed down behind her and didn't pass.  Well I just did what I would do on the bike and went up into the grass and weeds and blew on by!  Woohoo!  This was kind of fun!  I was passing people on the run!  I never thought I'd do that!  I started to pick up the pace a little and then came the climb up to the water tower on Mooney Ridge.  This steep, sandy climb was riddled with people walking and I just kept on chuggin' and powered up.  The reward for the climb was the fun rutted descent that I liked to ride on the knobbies too.  It was harder to keep control running down it than it is to ride that's for sure.  I successfully made it to the bottom without slipping or twisting an ankle and a little over a mile later I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon!
What a sense of accomplishment trying something new, stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone, and succeeding gives!  I was really quite happy with myself.  I made it through the swim without stopping, had a good bike leg and pushed it the whole time, and kept a good pace on the run without stopping.  And most of all had a blast doing it!  Then I found out I placed 5th in my 25-29 age group!  Awesome!  The fastest overall time was 1hr 26min set by a guy in my age group and my time was 1hr 57min... ouch.  But I really didn't care that I wasn't close to the overall.  I had a great time and a great off-season workout.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ohio Trip

I had a business trip to Columbus Ohio planned for last week and the week leading up to it I was hoping my new road bike would come so that I could bring it and explore a new city.  Well it didn't come, and I'm glad it didn't.  Monday afternoon I started calling around to bike shops in the area for a road bike rental.  The closest shop didn't have any road bikes to rent or demo, but they did have a Niner Air 9 in a Large I could demo.  Hmmm... I wasn't thinking about mountain bikes, is there even mountain biking IN Ohio?  I stuck that idea in my pocket and kept calling around.  Some shops farther away had road bikes for me, but I didn't have a car to get there.  Tuesday rolled around and a coworker local to the area offered to take me to get a bike.  Sweet!  After work I called the next closest shop, who told me they had a road bike the day before, but no luck today.  Bummer!  Oh well, I decided to go with the Niner and just have as much fun as I could even if it would be a lot of pavement riding.  I had discovered a park across the street which had some hiking/running trails I could have some fun with.  We headed over to roll: bike shop and got hooked up with the bike.  They also gave us directions to a MTB trail in Alum Creek State Park that was only about 15 minutes away.  Sweet!  We loaded the bike in the car and I got dropped off at the trail, since it was close enough for me to ride back after I was done.  

The park has two mountain bike trails called Phase 1 and Phase 2.  The guys at the shop said that Phase two was the more advanced trail so that's where I was.  It's about a 7 mile loop of very tight singletrack, weaving around in a thick forest of rolling hills.  There wasn't much climbing, nothing sustained at least, but the technicality of the trail kept it challenging.  The trail was littered with roots, which I don't have much experience with out here on the west coast.  They can really break your momentum and you have to hit roots at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible since tires can slip on them very easily.  The trail also had a ton of logs to hop and man made ladders and bridges.  It was a sweet trail.  

I chalked off one lap and had enough time to rail another.  The dirt was really dry hardpack so it was quite fast.  I was really enjoying the Niner as well.  It had quick handling for a 29er and was great weaving around the trees and for the quick adjustments I would have to make on the obstacles.  I was even getting used to the fact it was a hardtail too.  I enjoyed the quickness and 100% pedaling efficiency.  But hitting a big section of roots was still jarring, there's only so much the big wheels can smooth out.  My second lap was a blast as I knew what was coming on the trail and could really push the speed and rail it.  A half hour road ride back to the hotel and I was done, with a big smile on my face from 2 hours on a sweet bike on new trails.  

I decided I was going to get my money's worth out of this bike demo, so I rolling on the bike at 6:30am the next morning (after fixing a flat! Did I ever mention I hate tubes?) to see what fun I could have on the trails at the park across the street.  It wasn't quite light out yet... ok it was dark... but close to a full moon!  I had hiked a lot of the trails on my first day there and studied the map so I knew where I was going for the most part.  The sun eventually came out and I got in a good half hour or so of spinning so I was happy.

After work that day I set off for Alum Creek again.  As I came outside I noticed a couple rain drops fall.  Oh this could be interesting.  And then I looked to the west and the skies were dark, really dark, with the wind blowing it all my direction.  Oh well, at least it's not cold!  A little midwestern thunderstorm to ride in.  So I set off anyways.  By the time I got to Phase 1 trail, which was closer, it was starting to rain steadily.  I pulled into the trees and set off for a lap around this 6 mile trail.  Phase 1 trail was supposed to be the beginner/intermediate trail, but it was still challenging at speed.  It was littered with even more roots than Phase 2 in my opinion, but didn't have as many big logs and ladders.  The forest provided shelter from the wind and rain, but things were still getting a slick covering as I went along.  So I got to experience WET roots!  Those are tough!  You can't hit them with the bike leaned or at any acute angle or you slip off and can easily be on the ground.  The hard pack dirt also just turned slick instead of muddy and the rain and wind were knocking leaves onto the ground which also added to the slippery conditions.  Oh and anywhere there was a man made ladder or platform, well you can guess where I'm going here.  Just look at the sheen on this:

So all this slowed down the ride and just made for a few "oh #%*" moments when I hit a root I didn't see.  Or ride across a ladder with the timidness of a tight rope walker.  But I finished up Phase 1 trail and set off for the 10 minute road ride to the north for a lap around Phase 2.  With the wet conditions it was nice to have the trail knowledge, but it almost felt like a different trail than the day before because I had to ride it so cautiously and at a lower speed.  The rain did stop about half way through the loop but things were still wet.  There were a few really narrow board crossings that I cleared the day before, but in the wet I decided to walk because the risk just wasn't worth it.  Slipping off a wet wood bridge or board is not fun, I've done that before, and it hurts.  

I finished up Phase 2 and headed back, and the storm had passed.  It turned out to be an epic evening of riding with the storm conditions, lightning and thunder, wind and rain.  I had a great 2.5 hours on the Niner and I was really comfortable with it.  It's a great handling bike and would be a good racer for sure.  Even though it was an aluminum frame, it wasn't overly harsh.  I would love to try out the Air 9 Carbon.  

Then, I found out later that the tornado warning sirens were going off at some point.  Oops!  I never heard those.  :-)  

The next morning I didn't have to fix a flat so I was on the bike at 6:15 for one more ride in Highbanks Metro Park across the street since I would have to return the bike in the afternoon.  The skies were clear and the moon was shining bright to give me a little bit of help seeing in the early morning darkness.  I explored a few different trails while dodging downed tree limbs from the strong winds the day before.  I can't really describe the peaceful atmosphere that I was riding in.  It was really cool.  In complete silence except my bikes freewheel whizzing through the trees in brisk morning air and passing through moonlit patches of fog and seeing moon-rays through the trees.  Just an amazing way to start the day.

I'm so thankful that I was able to take this trip and experience everything as I did.  Just another awesome story to add to my blessed life.

Oh sorry for the bad picture quality, I forgot my camera so my cell phone was the only thing I had.

Monday, September 13, 2010

US Cup Finals / CA State Championships

I made the six hour drive down to SoCal and lined up for the US Cup Finals and CA State Championship combined race last Sunday.  The course was woven through Bonelli Park in San Dimas giving a 4.2 mile course I would race around six times.  When it climbed, it was steep and short... same for the descents.  Nothing very technical.  Just a little bit loose, but my WTB Nano tires stiff suspension setup was perfect.  As far as a mountain bike trail goes, it leaves something to be desired, but it makes for a pretty good race course and a fun venue for family and spectators.

We set off on the pavement with a sprint from the start and after about 20 seconds of that the course turned up with about a 17% fire road climb.  I was in about 6th place by the top of that climb, then after a short descent we were climbing again and I was up to 4th.  I was a little surprised with my positioning so early on and how good I was feeling.  I rolled into the "techy" descent on the course which was pretty rocky with a couple switchbacks, but nothing concerning, and came out of it clean and set off for the longest climb on the course.  It's a couple minutes long and steep in a couple parts and brings us up to a ridge line for a two breath recovery descent and then another short climb to stand and hammer.  A little more fun after that as we made some 's' turns through trees on some deep loose dirt and mashed through some nasty stutter bumps before an off camber left turn.

The next section was fast and rolling terrain then a good gradual climb.  This is where I first noticed I was in a lead break of about 4 riders.  We stayed together up to the ridge and began another fast and choppy descent.  I was in 3rd position behind John Nobil when he got bounced off line and slightly off to the right of the trail.  Then I heard a nasty noise, thankfully for me, it was coming from his bike.  I think he caught a stick or something in his chain/derailleur.  I saw my opportunity to pass and released the brakes to blow by.  I was able to catch back up to the leader Sid Taberlay (5 time Australian National Champ, Olympian, etc.) to set in for the last climb on the course.

After crossing the line for lap two I took my turn at the front and stayed there, pushing the pace, but not red lining.  Sid made an attack on the short climb before the 's' turns on the ridge that I was able to match and stay on his wheel for the descent.  I stayed with him for the rest of lap two in the breakaway group of three.  I'm not sure when or how it happened, but we had dropped Vincent Lombardi from third place and Sean Donovan and bridged up to us.  On lap three Sean and Sid began attacking each other and I took a breather but kept Sean in a manageable gap going up to the second ridge.  Sid had really dropped the hammer I guess and gapped Sean to really stretch it out because I couldn't see him.

Then... I dropped into the fast and choppy descent just like the previous two laps but this time the violent jarring created by the stutter bumps vibrated my chain so much it came off the big chainring.  I tried to pedal out of the high speed corner at the bottom and the pedals locked in place.  Looking down at 25mph I could see what the problem was and had to ride it out to the bottom of the hill, hoping it would stay out of the rear wheel's spokes.  "Not again!!!! I thought as I contemplating just throwing my bike into the lake... But after stopping for a second to put the chain back on, I was on my way thinking I just lost a few seconds and could get back in it.  But there was bigger problem that revealed itself after a few pedal rotations.  In that whole mess, probably when I tried to pedal hard and the chain locked, some of the links had bent so they wouldn't catch the gears anymore.  Now it was nearly impossible to pedal with any power because it would slip every time those four or five crooked links were over the gears.  Still at that time I didn't really know that was the problem.  I started to fiddle with the cable tension on the shifter thinking maybe it just got knocked loose, but I adjusted it to the limits in both directions and it still wasn't helping.  Going up the last steep climb of that lap I was getting really frustrated.  I looked down and watched a full rotation as I pedaled and could finally see the near catastrophic problem.

I came into the grass area and saw my brother and told him the problem as I rode by.  Looking back, I really should have stopped there to see if he could fix the problem.  That would have saved a lot of the time I lost on lap 4, by running every single climb on the course.  But I finally made it through that lap, with my back pretty knotted up after the running and came into the feed/tech zone where I was planning on pulling out of the race.  I hate DNF's, but I wasn't going to run two more laps.  As I rolled into the tech/feed area my brother was there with a chain breaker tool and the chain he pulled off of his bike (which he rode to a Cat 2 victory earlier!).  We decided that since so many links were bent on my chain, we'd just replace it with his chain.  A few minutes of hurried finger work got the replacement chain attached.  I hopped on and then BANG! CRUNCH! GRIND! SNAP! and a whole bunch of other noises I can't quite put into words erupted from my bike.  The crowd that had just watch us frantically work to "fix" the bike let out a roaring "OOOooo" groan when they heard the gear explosion.  The seriously marred gears really didn't like the new chain, and all that messing with the cable adjustment left the shifting way out of alignment too.  It took about a half lap and running a couple more climbs before I finally got the shifting decent enough to put some power down.

I gave the last lap and a half what I could, trying to hold off my emotional disappointment until after I cross the finish.  Hoping that there was still someone I could catch.  Well I caught a lot of people, but only Cat 1 racers and not any pros.  I was the last pro to finish and rolled in for 8th place.  There were quite a few dnf's, 6 I think.  It was such a roller coaster of a day emotionally.  Nervousness, pain, excitement, surprise, frustration, and disappointment.  Looking at the positives though, I was well prepared for the race and my fitness was where it needed to be to race for the podium.  And I still, even with all my problems, finished my 6 laps under two hours which made me feel good.  Oh and Jen was happy because she didn't screw up any bottle handoffs, thank you!

I'm going to be trying out a 1x9 gearing setup with a new 1.X chainguide from MRP.  That should solve the chain issues I've been plagued with this year... :-)