Tuesday, October 10, 2006

False Peak?

Last Friday I raced for the first time in over a month. I was at the track, and glad to be there, but not expecting anything spectacular since (a) I hadn't been training and (b) I had hardly even ridden my bike in over a week. Well, I'll keep this post short, but the news is basically that I think I performed better than I have all year. I even lapped the main field a few times. I was the last one pulled in the miss-and-out because the field got disintegrated by some antsy juniors. I had a decent showing in the 6-lap scratch. And I took all the 4th place points in the 18-lap points race. I felt strong, and Cyndi even complimented me on my tactics in the miss-and-out, then complimented me to Doc after the races (he had to work and just showed up to pick up Ethan). I talked to Jamie for a while afterwards, too - haven't seen her in months. It was nice to chat, plus she commented on my new muscles. : D I feel good, and I'm hoping that I can keep that up for this Friday, as well, since it's the last track race of the season.

I'm looking forward to buying my own track bike, trying out racing at the Superdrome (in Frisco, near Dallas), and maybe even cat-ing up one of these days...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Psyched Out or Psyched Up?

Yesterday was my second day back on my bike after my trip, and I was only able to ride for half an hour due to time constraints. It gets dark so early now, plus I didn't get off of work until late. So I wanted to make the most of the short time I had. I was riding up the closest stoplight-free stretch of road (Space Center Blvd., for those who know it), and crankin' it pretty hard. All of the sudden I noticed another rider behind me. He soon passed me. After he was far enough ahead that I couldn't draft, I picked up speed and just tried to keep pace with him. I don't know how he felt about it, but I felt great! All I needed was someone to pace me, and I no longer thought about how my legs or lungs were feeling -- I thought about my front wheel's distance from his back wheel. It's amazing what a psychological battle it is to tell myself that I really CAN push that much harder for that much longer. But when there's someone else there, I work so much more, without thinking twice about it. It's so easy to psych myself out when it's just me on the road trying to do one more Power Interval or Climbing Repeat. When I've got competition, there's nothing I won't try. So I've found that the difference between being psyched out or psyched up is simply the presence of another individual - some competition, whether they know it or not. (; Just a thought - a realization, if you will. I guess I really am a competitor at heart.

And no wonder the TT doesn't seem like my strong suit... : p

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Back in Houston

Home, sweet home. At least for now. (: I'm back from one of the best trips I've ever taken. I wish I could keep riding for another 3 months (or more)! So much to say, but I won't leave it in the blog. I'm safe and sound and back with my friends. Elisa, my roommate, even made me a welcome back cake, and Bryan put together a little shindig for tonight! I love my friends. I sure did miss 'em.

But I sure do like Seattle. : p

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Newport, Oregon

Just a quick update. We rode approximately 30 miles to South Beach State Park, just south of Newport, OR, today. We'll catch the 6am bus from Newport to Albany, and catch the train there. That is, as long as we can get our bikes on the bus! We'll figure it out somehow.

It's quite warm here today - I'd say it's up into the 80's even! When we got to the top of a hill called Cape Foulweather, the temperature there was 76 degrees. It's been beautifully sunny, and is supposed to stay that way for a while now.

On to San Diego!!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lincoln City, Oregon

We made it to Lincoln City today! We knew we had a big hill to conquer before we got into town, and I was a little scared, knowing that I had to tow all of our gear to the top of it. But it turned out to be a nice gradual climb, albeit long, and it had a nice rewarding descent, all through Siuslaw (sp?) National Forest. It was a beautiful day to boot, and we are a bit sunkissed now, finally, after covering up all week long to stay warm! We set up our tent at Devils Lake State Park, and went to grab some grub at the local brewpub. We filled a 4-person table with appetizer, entree, drink, and dessert, and proceeded to finish it all! Yum! (:

We are now at the library looking up bus and train schedules to get us inland and southward. We will either ride a bit farther south tomorrow to Newport (South Beach State Park), take the bus to Albany on Monday, and catch the train Monday night; or stay in Lincoln City tomorrow night and bus it to Albany from here on Monday, and then catch the train Tuesday.

Once we're done here, we'll head over to the laundromat to do some MUCH needed laundry, and maybe tour around town for a bit.

The past 3 days have brought us some great weather, and for that we are extremely thankful. I was almost complaining about the heat today! Luckily, riding in Houston has made me accustomed to warmer temps, so I just reminded myself of that... One thing I can say is that this entire trip has taught me a lot, not only about my physical capabilities, but also my mental strength. There were a few times where I believe it was only my will to continue which pushed me up the last bit of a hill, or made me keep going when all I wanted to do was pull over and quit (or just turn around). This afternoon, we had to walk up a very steep path to get to our campsite, and as I was pushing my bike with the trailer still attached, I couldn't even walk it up the hill! I had to change into my regular shoes just to get enough grip. I don't know HOW I towed all of that up those hills just by pedaling...

Well, I should get back to helping Kathryn figure out our travel plans. The next time I post we will either be in Newport, Oregon, or San Diego, California!!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Manzanita, Oregon

Wow, 2 days of a library/computer in a row! I'm getting spoiled... Today held dry skies, and we made it approximately 40 miles from Astoria down to Manzanita. This is a cute little beachfront town, and it's on the other side of 2 very trying hills. Since I'm currently towing Kathryn's trailer AND my panniers, the climbs were particularly interesting. (: We even got to go through a tunnel! There's a button you press to light up a flashing sign, which then warns motorists that there are cyclists in the tunnel - pretty cool. Oregon is SO beautiful. The views from the tops of the cliffs overlooking the ocean made the ridiculous climbs worthwhile. We've set up our tent for tonight already, and we can hear the ocean from our campsite. It will be so unreal to listen to the ocean as we drift off to sleep.

Per some combined advice we've received in the past day or so, we're likely going to head inland a bit sooner than originally planned, and catch the Amtrak in Albany, Oregon. That may even give us a few more days in southern California, with warmer temperatures and sunnier skies! But so far the trip has been great - and an amazing learning experience. I know that it will be over before I know it, and Kathryn and I are already saying how we don't want to go back to work. (; I'm already considering options for where my next touring trip will be. Perhaps I'll make it an annual journey, and go different places every year. At lunch today in town, I was looking at some Arizona Highways magazines, and that sure looks like a beautiful place to visit...

Well, enough for now. I'm sure I'll post again soon. Keep your fingers crossed for more dry days for us!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Astoria, Oregon

We made it to Astoria - finally across the border! I'm 10 minutes overdue on my computer usage here at the library, but I figured I'd post a quick update. This was our 4th day of riding, and our 3rd day of rain. We've camped 2 nights, hostelled 1 night, and tonight we're staying at a motel to stay try (or rather, to dry out). We've met a lot of other cyclists, and a bunch of kind people.

Our plan now is to head south on 101 to Waldport, then take Rte 34 inland to Peoria Rd to Eugene, where we'll catch the train southward. I might even get to meet my coach in Santa Barbara!! I sure hope that works out in our plans...

I'd better get off the computer now. Hope to post again soon! (:

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I can hardly believe it's really going to happen...

Tomorrow morning I leave town with my bags packed full of cycling and camping equipment. I will make a quick stop in Massachusetts to visit the fam, then I'm heading to Seattle to pedal down the coasts of Washington and Oregon. I've been wanting to do this for years, and now it's finally happening! It's hard to believe, and I don't think it will really sink in until I'm actually on my bike, on the road, without a care in the world except where I might sleep that night.

I'll try to post updates if I come upon an internet cafe, but no guarantees. (: I'll be thinking about all my loyal blog readers, nonetheless, and I appreciate the words of encouragement I've already gotten from quite a few people.

Catch you on the flip side!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Back at the track!

Friday saw me back at the velodrome. I couldn't WAIT to go back and race! They don't have races in the middle of the summer (too hot, perhaps). Last week was the beginning of the Fall season, but I was at the HHH. So this Friday I'd race the 6-lap handicap, a miss-and-out, and an 18-lap points race. I knew the points race would be my best, and I'd just do the best I could on the other two.

For the handicap race, I was surprisingly NOT given the largest handicap - one junior was ahead of me - wohoo! I had another Spincycle rider hold me for the start, and we were OFF! Except he didn't let go of me! "GO! GO! GO!" I yelled. He finally let go, and as I tried to accelerate, Shelby zoomed past me. I caught her wheel, and was feeling pretty good. She pulled off, and I pulled for half a lap, and pulled off. Then I realized we were all there in the paceline. Eek! At this point there were about 3 laps left. Where was I supposed to go?? I didn't want to get caught at the back for the sprint, but I didn't want to be out in the wind for the rest of the race... I stayed to the right for a while, but eventually rolled to the back. I came in second to last, sprinting pretty hard to try to beat out Shelby, but I just couldn't make it.

After a few races to rest, I had the miss-and-out. My initial goal was to not be first out. Then I thought maybe I was setting my goals too low - maybe I should try not to be the first 2 out! Well, I made the first goal, but fell short of the second...nothing too surprising, but better than I've ever done before in that race!

Like I said, I knew that the 18-lap points race would be my best. We lined up, and I found myself a pretty good position after the neutral lap. But the quick juniors quickly picked up the pace, and I found myself struggling to hang on. As the points laps came and went, the pace quickened and slowed accordingly. I was able to work my way back to them so that I was never lapped, and sucked one kid's wheel quite a bit. Sometimes he would drag me back up to them, sometimes I would drag him, and sometimes we were too spread out to work together a lot. But I felt pretty good, and even lapped 2 other people. Definitely a good race.

The racing that night was sponsored by NWCC (Northwest Cyclery Club), which supports the Alkek Junior team, so Kathy made a big speech about how well the juniors had done at nationals this year. After she rattled off all the medals they'd won, I felt a LOT better about them beating me all the time. (: They're even sending 3 of their juniors to worlds!!

So I guess I learned that I've improved my fitness enough to not get lapped by the jr's in an 18-lap points race, and I'm getting better at the miss-and-outs. Other than that, still just working on fitness. But MAN I love racing the track!!!

By the way, if you didn't know, the City of Houston has decided to hand over track management to a newly formed non-profit organization, the Greater Houston Cycling Foundation (GHCF). We currently need to raise a lot of money just to keep the track alive. If you are interested in learning more, and/or donating money or items for an auction we'll be holding, visit http://www.houstontx.gov/alkekvelodrome/GHCF.htm. Thanks!!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Who's ever heard of Wichita Falls, Texas???

It was finally here - my goal event for the year: the Hotter 'n Hell Road Race and Criterium. The Hotter 'n Hell Hundred is a rally ride and 2-day race all in one. For a lot of people, it's just an awesome place to do a century (if you like the challenge of 100+ temps and LOTS of wind), and for some, it's a great weekend of racing. I went for the competition!

On Friday I left work at noon, and began my drive to Wichita Falls, a small town about 100 miles northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. I drove into the parking lot of the events center where I'd pick up my packet, parked my car *in the shade*, and got out. WHOA. It was HOT! And it was already 7pm! The wind was blowing -- and the WIND was HOT! I was already starting to get psyched out. I had talked to my coach on the drive up, and he said I just needed to remember to hydrate. Man, would I ever! Laughing out loud (alone, mind you), I went to collect my race number and timing chip.

After that I drove to my hosts' house. (Side story: I ended up staying with a couple (Steve and Camille) whom I met on an airplane from Houston to Denver. We sat next to each other, and I inevitably ended up talking about cycling. They mentioned this famous ride that takes place annually in their town, and offered me their place to stay if I ever decided to go. Of course I took them up on the offer, since hotels are impossible to get, and expensive to boot -- there were 12,000 riders this year!) When I arrived, they were making a wonderful spaghetti dinner, "so that I could carb-load," according to them. They were also hosting one of Steve's friends, Scott, who was racing the Masters 35+ category. We had dinner, and I went to bed early because I had to wake up at 5am.

Saturday morning I followed my routine, ate my oatmeal and instant breakfast, got dressed, aired up my tires...the usual. Scott and I had decided to ride from the house to the starting line, and leave our spare wheels behind. (Luckily I never flatted or had any mechanical problems, so that was a good choice.) I filled 4 water bottles - 2 for my cages and 2 for my jersey pockets. There was only going to be 1 neutral feed, about 25 miles into the 62 mile race. That didn't make much sense to me, so I knew to not rely on that at all. As we rolled down to the race, it was still pitch black, but we saw more and more cyclists as we got closer. I was starting to get excited!

Lining up for the 7am start of the 100km race, I looked around and sized everyone up. There were apparently about 50 Women 4 racers, some first-timers and some racing veterans. Soon the head official gave us our pre-race schpiel and we were racing! It was starting to get light out, and definitely not too hot yet. We kept a relatively leisurely pace for quite a while, and then people would start to pick it up a bit as they alternated leading. I tried to at least stay in the front half of the pack. When I found myself drifting back, I'd work my way up again and find a good spot. The wind started to pick up, and it got harder to find a nice place in the draft. All in all, the race wasn't too interesting - a few times a girl or 2 would attempt a breakaway, but the pack chased them down immediately, and no one got away. The wind was the worst part of the whole race -- it felt like we only had a tailwind for about 5-10 miles. The rest of the time it was a stiff headwind or a brutal crosswind. This race was a great lesson in finding a good draft, and figuring out how to save your energy. At a fork in the road, some volunteers told us to go one direction, which turned out to be the wrong one. Luckily we were corrected less than half a mile later. I hear that some other categories weren't as lucky. About 15 miles from the finish, I looked behind me, expecting to see the second half of the pack, and no one was there!! Whoa. Two thoughts went through my head: (1) I need to work my way back to the middle, and (2) Where did everyone go??? I did a quick helmet-count, and came up with about 21. Crazy... Once we got closer to the finish line, the pace picked up more and more. I was at the back, and was having a hard time working my way up to the front, partially because I wasn't sure *when* I should make that move. The sprint seemed to start way too soon, and I came in 13th, inches ahead of someone else whom I caught just as we crossed the line. As I stumbled out of my pedals, a volunteer ran up to me to take off my timing chip from my ankle. I knew I hadn't done spectacularly, but I had stayed with the lead group the whole time - definitely an achievement.

Sunday was the criterium. Now, the race flyer said our race was at 1:45, with the W123 at 2:45. The race "bible" that they handed to us at check-in said that all women were racing at 2:45. When I got to the race around 10:30am, I went straight to the registration area to double-check -- they told me the time was indeed 2:45, according the race book. I have worked out a good timeline that I follow for all my races, so knowing how much time I have before the race (much less just knowing when to be at the start/finish line!) is important. About 2 hours before my race, I noticed other girls in my category already starting to get warmed up - did they know something I didn't?? I went up to an official who was obviously on break, and bothered him for an answer. According to his schedule, we raced at 1:45!!! AAAAHHH!!! Ok, no need to panic, just get changed and warmed up ASAP! Stupid registration people! So anyways, after all that, I went through my warmup routine as best as possible, and rolled over to the starting area. The head official seemed to know there had been a schedule mix-up, but all except for 1 of the registered women were there, so we started on (scheduled) time. There were about 10 of us, and we were dropping people left and right until there were only 5 of us left. We pacelined for the rest of the race, and in keeping with my lessons, I didn't sprint for any primes. The problem was that towards the end, I was starting to get mighty tired trying to catch up to the other 4 after the prime sprints. Luckily, Shelby's mom was there cheering my name, and that gave me a surprising amount of temporary energy to get back up and hang on. They were wearing me out! The final lap, everyone slowed down and we fell apart. Everyone was just looking around, and then one girl just took off. We tried to catch her, but it was too late - she had enough in her to keep her position, and came in first. I ended up in 5th. Afterwards, I was talking to the girl who came in 2nd, and she said that they were purposely trying to wear me out. She had pinpointed me, along with 2 other girls, as ones who could outsprint her, so she did her best to get rid of that possibility. I still feel like I should have beaten the woman who came in 4th, but I think I have some sort of psychological barrier that makes me feel like I can't beat her. I know how long she's been riding, and I know the way she acts and talks...and I guess I just still get psyched out by her.

What I learned:

(1) I can stay with the lead groups now. I've got the fitness. Now I just need to work on pack placement and sprinting. (Hahaha, "just" those things...probably the most difficult ones!)

(2) Apparently I've got the respect of my peers, if they think I can outsprint them. Now I need to work on being on the offensive instead of the defensive.

(3) Get rid of baseless psychological barriers!

What a GREAT race weekend. My host couple was AMAZING, I met a whole bunch of other women races from Texas and Oklahoma, and I learned what I've gotten good at and what I need work in. Definitely a success! (:

Thursday, August 10, 2006

One-Year Racing Anniversary!

This past Sunday, I raced in the Bear Creek Criterium for the second year. Last year this race was my very first USCF race ever! I actually met Aimee Cormier at this race last year, and it was the first race for both of us. She was there again, and we greeted each other accordingly.

I got to the race in plenty of time to register, change, and, most importantly, WARM UP SUFFICIENTLY! I really tried hard to warm up better than I have been, by doing my prescribed intervals and all that good stuff. I had made sure to eat a good breakfast, and had a Clif bar 2 hours before the race. Then I just kept drinking water.

As I rode over to the start/finish line, I started to get a litle nervous, but after the normal pre-race lecture, we were off, and I had no time to be nervous anymore. Once again, we raced with the juniors, and they took off right from the gun, as usual. I knew I needed to keep up with the fast women in order to even be in the running, so I took off with them. The course wasn't very technical - just one sharp turn, that took a bit of getting used to. At one point, the wheels of the girl ahead of me seemed to slip out from under her, but she somehow stayed upright, and there wasn't an incident.

As the race continued, I was definitely expending energy trying to keep up with the lead group. By this time there were about 4 of us Women 4's riding together, with the occasional 5th person grabbing a wheel. At some point, we were passing a line of juniors on the inside, and someone wobbled, someone else braked, and 2 girls went crashing into the gravel. I screamed as I heard someone get a flat, but I stayed upright, and we kept going. At this point, I think there were just 3 of us in our paceline: me, Joyce, and Michelle. Joyce and Michelle pulled much more than I, but I saw that as their own fault for not pulling off when they got tired. So I just sat in and enjoyed the draft. As they started putting signs up with 5 laps to go, I started getting pretty excited -- I could actually be a factor in the final sprint! With 1 lap to go, 2 or 3 juniors got between me and the 2 other women (I was in the back). This made me a little nervous, because I didn't want the women to jump away from me, in case they knew I wasn't right behind them. But I hung on, and as we came through the final turn, I crept a bit closer. Then the juniors started to sprint. As the 3rd junior passed me, another W4 came out from behind, and I jumped on it. I just KNEW Joyce would be right behind me, but as I passed her, she showed no signs up picking up her pace. The girl who came from behind me was still ahead, but I thought we'd lapped her, so I just dug in, panting like crazy. I crossed the finish line beside 2 juniors, and behind that other W4. As I rolled around the course to cool down, I was having trouble believing I'd just won my first race! I wasn't sure if the girl in front of me was really lapped, but when I spoke to Joyce and Michelle afterwards, they seemed convinced that I'd won (and they'd taken 2nd and 3rd). I waited around for the results, and my name was listed as 2nd. I didn't argue, and took my silver medal. But Mike, who'd come to watch, was also positive I'd been 1st. So today I checked the race results on the TxBRA website, and, sure enough, I came in FIRST!


There are 4 main reasons this happened:

1) Committment to my training, along with the fact that I have a coach to guide me.
2) Fueling well.
3) A great warm up.
4) Lessons learned from previous crits:
Lesson 1: Don't bother sprinting for primes if I want to be in the final running. This one I learned at the Houston Grand Criterium.
Lesson 2: Staying with the pack is ESSENTIAL. There's no way I'm catching up if I don't hang on in the first place.
Lesson 3: I have to warm up more than I think I do. I won't wear myself out on a warmup!

I'm sure there's a lot more, but that's what I've got for now. It feels really dang good to be a winner. Now I'm gearing up for the Tour of Columbus crit this Saturday...we'll see how it goes!

In other news, I flew on the "Vomit Comet" today and it was AWESOME. I got to feel weightless. : D

I'll hopefully be posting after the TOC crit.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Short Update

Racing has been uneventful lately. On July 19th I raced the Memorial Park Crit, and stayed with the pack for over 30 minutes - a major improvement for me. Last weekend I did the Texas State Time Trial (40 km), and sucked it up horribly. Out of 14 riders, I was 11th, over 14 minutes behind the winner. But looking back on it, I can really see my improvement over the past year or so. To average 18.98 mph on my own, over a period of 1hr, 18min, 34sec, is something I couldn't have done a year ago. Since my start in the racing scene last August, and especially since starting with CTS, I can tell that my endurance is up, my thresholds are up, and I'm just stronger overall. I know that the road I've chosen is a long one, so I'm learning to get my satisfaction from these small improvements.

I'm also enjoying the challenge of finding a way to do my workouts when I'm on the road. I've gotten to ride around the Cocoa Beach, Florida, area, as well as rural Maryland just this past week. And I even got to bring my bike with me to South Dakota! The places I've gotten to see are ones I wouldn't have if I didn't need to ride my bike all the time.

Now I'm gearing up for a month of 3 crits and a road race, followed by a month of riding down the West Coast!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Memorial Park Crit Series (x2) & Saturday Night @ the Track

A few Wednesdays ago I went out to the second night (my first) of the Memorial Park Crit series in downtown Houston. I left work late, ate too much at lunch, couldn't find the registration table or race area, and didn't have time to warm up. Taking all that into consideration, I think I did alright. I hung on to a group with a few other W4's and a bunch of Men (maybe 8-10 of us total). The category was 4/5 (mixed M/W). At the end, 2 of the W4's on GCCA blocked me out for the sprint finish. Oh well, that's what they're supposed to do.

Then on Saturday, June 17, I raced with Team SpinCycle at the velodrome. The Saturday Night Races are much more relaxed than the Friday ones, but challenging as well. They're mostly sprints (which I didn't do), and a few scratch and points races. I raced in the Senior 4/5 Category. I earned a few points for the team in 2 separate races, and even came in 4th in the last race. I think by the time the 3rd (last) race came around, I'd figured out where I needed to be in the pack, and learned whose wheel to follow. My teammates gave me some good drafts and breaks, and it turned out alright. All in all, my first experience on a team was pretty positive. Plus another team attempted to recruit me (Team Tilson Homes). They're trying to increase their female membership, so I'm apparently a hot commodity. : p

Yesterday I raced the Memorial Park Crit again. This time I left work early enough to get there, register, and warm up for a decent amount of time. I stayed with the lead group for about a lap and a half, when I started to freak out with all the people around me on the corners. Now, don't get me wrong, this isn't a very techinical course. There are corners and such, but the roadway is nice, no gravel, no big potholes, no manhole covers...just corners. So anyways, I got nervous, backed off on my pace, and lost the pack. I tried to catch back on, but couldn't, and spent the rest of the race until the last 3 laps all by myself. Literally. I would look as far ahead of me and as bar behind me as I possibly could, and would see NO ONE. And this is only a 1.1-mile course. When I finally caught glimpse of a guy ahead of me who'd fallen off the back of the pack, I set myself an intermediate goal of catching him. But a half-lap later, I noticed the pack gaining on me, and lost my guy. Well, I got lapped about 3 times by the pack. The second time I got lapped, I tried to catch back on, was doing great, and then heard a big POP! sound. The guy next to me looked at my bike and yelled, "FLAT!" so I pulled off, got off my bike...and realized I DIDN'T have a flat. Boy, was I frustrated. Well, now I know not to listen to other people during a race. So then I got back on my bike, with a little less enthusiasm now, and kept going. Three laps from the finish, I was able to catch and draft off a SWCC rider, but the finish was very anticlimactic. Mike came to watch, and, when prompted, admitted it wasn't one of my better races. It was all very strange, though, because I was all alone. Later, Mike told me there were a few people behind me, and obviously at least that one guy ahead of me, aside from the lead pack, but I had no one to work with, and was all by myself for basically the whole race. It made the race seem pretty pointless, since part of my purpose in doing these crits is to practice pack riding in technical situations. Afterwards, I talked to Rod (a Cat4 who got 2nd) and Mark (from Tilson who must be a Cat2), and they both told me I have the fitness, I just need to work on my nerves and trusting my bike and stuff... I guess that's encouraging.

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. Life has just been too busy! This weekend, I'm headed to the Cape (Canaveral, that is) for the Space Shuttle launch. Next week I might race Memorial Park again if I'm back from Florida in time. The State Road Race Champs (north of Austin) got postponed because they were intended to be held on a military base, but the troops there got activated so we weren't allowed on. State TT Champs in Patterson (west of Houston) are in a few weeks - only my second TT ever, so should be interesting. I'll let y'all know how it goes!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Final Night @ the 'Drome for the Half-Season

Alkek Velodrome has a split season, which means they race in the Spring, and then again in the Fall, but skip mid-Summer when temperatures and humidity create sweltering conditions (a smart move, though I'd like more track races!). Last night was the last night of the first half of the Friday Night Racing season. A fair amount of people showed up to race, especially considering this is a big weekend for crits elsewhere (i.e. not in Houston), and I had a huge fan club. It seemed like every time I got back from riding around or finished a race, another friend would have shown up. So, the races...

We started out with an 18-lap tempo. Again, I just set my goal to stay with the leaders/pack as long as possible. I did for a few laps, but they eventually lapped me. I tried to grab on to the back as they came around, and succeeded for a few more laps, then lost them again. I beat both the Juinior girls (one of whom was also racing W4 - Brittany), and one Junior boy. And Mike said I looked pretty good, hanging on to the pack when I could. The sprint races always tear the field apart, and this was no exception.

The next race was a 10-lap scratch. The Juniors were totally goofing off - when the whistle blew, no one pushed the speed, and I was really getting nervous. Both Brittany and I were on edge, but everyone else seemed to be having a grand old time just tooling along at the top of the track. They finally started to pick up the pace, and I managed to hang on for quite a while. I caught a few different pacelines, and pulled for more than my share of time (my fault, something I'm still learning), and finally lost everyone I was pacing with and did what I could on my own. I think I beat the same crowd as in the tempo race. Nothing spectacular, but again, it felt good.

Finally we had a miss-and-out. I thought I had it figured out this time. I knew I needed to be at the top of the track, and I worked hard to get there and stay there. They rang the bell, so we knew the next time we came around they'd pull a rider. I was maintaining my position, but as we came around turn 4 into the homestraight, more and more people were coming down and around me! I kept counting riders ahead of me, and the number kept growing...and then I heard my race number called. First one pulled. Again. Oh well...still have a lot to learn. I talked to Leigh about that afterwards, and he gave me some advice on miss-and-out races, adding that they are difficult, and that I raced well tonight. Whether or not that was true, words of encouragement are always nice to hear.

I also talked to Mark (Doc) about riding with his team. I'll probably go out there next Sunday, since I've got company this weekend, and it's a 100-mile round-trip to Katy to ride with them. And now I've got his phone number, too. Plus, the totally DIESEL woman who's on that team gave me all sorts of help and advice last night. She helped me with my malfunctioning bike, and then mentioned that I should really keep certain measurements with me all the time (seat post height, etc.) and offered to let me borrow her tape measure any time. What a gal!

As I was rolling around the warmup circle for my last race, a guy from one of the other teams rolled up to me and said, "You should get a prime for bringing the biggest crowd every week!" I just kind of laughed, and he emphasized, "I think you're the only female racer who gets non-cyclist guys to come out here." I thought that was hilarious (and true). He wished me luck in my last race, and I rolled up to the rail. I was so tickled! I don't know why I get all these people to come out and watch the races, but I'm glad they do. Last night was a record-setting night, definitely - Felicity, Justin, Shalin, Will, and Mike. And Will even called Felicity earlier in the day to tell her to make some signs they could hold up as I went by. They kept it a complete secret until I started racing and saw them holding a sign that said, "CHRISTINE ROCKS!" with a little cyclist drawn on the side. It was the sweetest thing in the world! Later, all 5 of them wrote a message on it and signed their names, so they can prove they knew me "before I was famous." (: I showed it to Kathy and Leigh afterwards. I'll have to get a frame for it...

Definitely a 5-star night. Thanks go to everyone - Leigh and Kathy, DIESEL Cindy, Doc Bing, funny guy whose name I don't know, and all my friends. What a great way to finish the track half-season!

One more thing - it seems that everyone at the track (racers, coaches, staff, and Juniors' parents) knows my name now, because I'm pretty much out there on my own and unattached, but I REALLY don't know other people's names. That should be my goal next season: to learn who people ARE...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Adult Cycling League Finals

Tonight were the Alkek Velodrome "Adult Cycling League Finals." Anyone who took the velodrome's adult track cycling class over the past few months was invited to come and compete. I was one of 3 women, and there were about 5 men, but we all raced together. It was a good group, really friendly, and we were all just out there to have a good time (and get a decent workout...). We had 3 races: 5-lap scratch, unknown distance, and 12-lap scratch.

The 5-lap scratch race started off with a neutral lap, and I was reminded that people who just took the class and haven't raced much don't understand the logistics of a neutral lap. We finally got everyone to get more or less into a group, Cindy blew the whistle, and we were racing! But...it...was...slow...especially compared to the Juniors! With the Juniors, at my Friday Night Races, they jump right when they whistle blows, but this group didn't seem to see a reason. So I went along with it for a while, and we took a few turns pulling, and it finally started to speed up. When we came through turn 4 for the final lap, I got boxed out, and Darren (a major sprinter) whizzed by me. I ended up 3rd or 4th, I think.

Next was the unknown distance, and the start went the same way -- no one really felt the need to act like we were racing. So after a few short laps, I decided to try to make it interesting, and broke away. My attempt worked, but I knew if I tried to keep it going, I'd run out of fuel before they rang the bell, and end up last (or nearly). There was already a chase group of 3 forming, so I waited for them, and we shuffled around up and down the track until the bell rang signaling the last lap. I jumped on it, and managed to hold the lead all through the finish!

The 12-lap scratch race was last, and I knew that if I played it right, I could probably win. (With the 5-lap, I think I knew the sprinters would eke me out, but on the longer races, I figured I had a few racing tactics and endurance on my side.) I took it easy for a while, keeping a good paceline, but also staying alert for any guys who thought they could break away. I kept to the outside for a while, and sure enough, with about 3 laps to go, one guy took off (Logan?), and I jumped on his wheel. He thought he was on his own, and he pulled me around for about 3/4 of a lap, and I didn't let him draft me too much once he pulled off. A few other riders caught up with us, and we were in a tight group for a lap or so, and as we came into turn 3 on the bell lap, another guy tried to break away. I was on the outside, so at a distinct disadvantage as we went around the turn, but I stuck with him, and as we pulled out of turn 4, I was gaining on him. I won the race by about half a wheel.

It was a fun night, and I got to stand on the top of the podium, even though it was essentially meaningless (I did get a nice framed certificate). I like racing against people who are more at my level, but it doesn't push me as hard as racing with the Juniors. I'm looking forward to Friday night!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A team?? And showing off the new wheels...

Friday night at the velodrome we had a chariot race (wohoo!), an 18-lap points race (eh...), and an unknown distance (ugh), in that order. Kim, a woman from my "intro to the track" class, showed up for some races, so I at least had someone to compete against in the W4 category. The only other female was Shelby (a Junior and also W2 or 3 on Southern Elite, she's always there). So the chariot race was the 3 of us. In a chariot race, the riders line up in a standing start for the 500m race (about a lap and a half). The whistle blew, and we all took off. Shelby followed me about halfway around, then I pulled off and grabbed her wheel for about 3/4 of a lap. I pulled out and started sprinting down the homestraight, but she beat me across the line by about half a wheel. Kim apparently wasn't clipped in at the start. ): Live and learn, I guess.

The points race wasn't too bad, and I ended up lapping both other women, and even hung in with the Junior Boys for quite a while. As we came around for the first round of points (6 laps into the race), I was in 4th position, but one of the boys came around me about 1/4 lap from the line, and I couldn't react in time. So I made my goal for the unknown distance race to stay with the pack. I was having a good time reacting and staying with them, but eventually the really fast kids took off. I worked for a while with the boy who lapped me in the points race, but he eventually picked up the pace when I pulled off, and I didn't catch him. It ended up being about 16 laps or so, and I was pushing pretty hard the entire time. Leigh and Jaime were again very encouraging, saying I looked good. I felt pretty good too. I think I'm getting better at keeping up with the Juniors, and I'm learning how to react faster. I also made sure I didn't get a bike (rental) with too small a gear, and Leigh switched out a stem for me so my reach wasn't crazy. And I made my $20 back again! (:

But one of the coolest parts of the night, by far, was being "recruited" by the SpinCycle team! Apparently Kim (who's on the team) was chatting with Doc (the team coach), and he told her that I needed some recruiting. (: So she came over and gave me the lowdown. It was pretty awesome, especially considering one of the best Women racers at the track (a Pro?) is on SpinCycle. I told her I'd talk to Doc after the racing, but was so exhausted at the end of the night that I forgot! The only downside to joining the team would be that it's all the way on the other side of town (over an hour drive in good traffic). I've got invites from 2 other (closer) teams, too, so I'll just have to think about this for a bit. But this is the first team that's proactively asked me to join them, without my mentioning I'm looking for a team. Doc's a big proponent of women's racing, so I'm sure that's why he's interested. Something to chew on...

Then Saturday morning I decided to kick myself out of bed early and take my new Madone 5.2 for a ride with the Bike Barn group. One guy recognized me, and I got myself up front into the faster group of riders. I can't say how fast we were going, because I have yet to mount a computer on the new bike, but we were definitely cruising. The fast group stayed together until about Alvin, and then the REALLY fast guys took off. I was still in a substantial pack of riders, and kept getting double-takes from all these guys. I think it's because I was the only female in the group. I got the feeling they didn't think I should be there, but that could just be me being paranoid. I kept up their pace for a good hour, at least (again, not sure, since I didn't have my computer to glance down at), but finally dropped off the back, couldn't sprint back on, and got picked up by some other guys who'd done the same thing. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, and had no idea how to get home, they offered to let me stick with them (thank goodness). We caught up with the group at the Wee Mart (a planned stop), but let them leave. While we were there, another group pulled in, with a few women in it, and we all chatted about my spiffy new bike for a minute. (I made sure to mention my gripe about the stupid triple!) Then my little group took off again. There were 3 of us rotating through, with me taking noticeably shorter pulls, and we finally stopped at a Chevron on FM517 and 646. I had reached my prescribed 3-hour mark, so I called Mike to come pick me up, and told the guys I was with that I was out.

I'd call that a success - my first time out with that group, and I stuck with them for a fair amount of time. I liked taking the big boys by surprise. I liked playing in the pack. And I liked knowing that I can go pretty fast! I'm sore today, but it was worth it, and tomorrow's a rest day anyways. I'll have to try that again... (: One of these days I'll be able to stick with them the whole time. And 53 miles in 3 hours, including stops, isn't bad for me!

Maybe next time I write in here I'll have made a decision about a team... And hopefully my PowerTap will have arrived! This is gonna be a big week - 2 nights of racing, and 10 hours of riding - a max for me so far doing CTS!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Houston Grand Criterium

The Race: 2.8-mile criterium course. Long and windy. Out-and-back on a section of Allen Parkway (a divided road in downtown Houston), with 4 not-too-technical right turns (nice wide 90-degree corners). Start/finish line was maybe 100m or so from the first of the 2 turnarounds. The wind really hit you on the way back. Women's Open category. 5 primes, which translates to a prime each lap for this 45-minute crit.

I stayed with the pack the first lap. I kept getting pushed to the inside for the turns, which was a little frustrating, and I couldn't figure out how to get on the outside. When I tried to move over, I just got passed by more riders each time.

I stayed with the pack the second lap. I caught the wind on the outside coming back up the other side of the course, but was starting to figure out how to get over without getting passed (or at least how to gain my position back). Because I got stuck out in the wind, I was in no position to sprint for the prime, and about 8 riders (out of the field of 18) passed me across the start/finish line. I stayed with the pack around the turns, and then we headed back out again.

As we came in for the 3rd lap, and third prime, I was feeling good, and had a great position - a few riders back, out of the wind, with lots of road space to my left. I started sprinting, and was passing all the girls ahead of me! Well...almost all. It came down to me and one other rider, and I just didn't get into my big ring soon enough. I didn't have it in me, and she inched me out for the prime. But by that point, I was spent. I don't have that kind of recovery yet; the two right turns came immediately after that sprint, and then they accelerated again. I lost the pack, and never caught back on.

There were 3 of us who got left behind right after that turnaround, and we tried working together for a while, but we didn't have the rhythm we needed. Two of us ended up working with each other for the rest of the race (her name was Shannon; the third girl DNF'ed), but we never caught back up to the group. On the last lap, we passed a girl who had fallen off the back about a lap after we did, whom we'd been chasing the whole time. In trying to catch her, Shannon got away from me, and the finish line came too soon - she outsprinted me by about a bike length.

So this was another learning experience. Once Shannon and I started working together, we didn't really lose any distance on the pack. I know that if I hadn't sprinted for that prime, I would have been able to stay with the better riders the entire race. There was even a point, on the home stretch of the last lap, where Shannon and I thought we might almost catch them. But I also learned that I'm only inches (and some strategy, and maybe some teammates, too) away from beating a better rider in a sprint. That prime sprint was rough, but I know I was thisclose to beating her, and I definitely gave it my all. The best part is that I'm still in the beginnings of my training -- I've got lots of improvements yet to make, and I see only good things in my future.

Thanks to Bryan, Felicity, Paul, and of course Mike for all coming out to cheer me on -- I do hear when y'all scream my name, and it gives me a little more reason to work *just* a bit harder. (:

Now I can't wait for the weekly Memorial Park Crits to start so I can really hone my criterium skills!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Velo 4

Last night was my fourth time racing at the track. Man, it was a ROUGH NIGHT. There were no other W4 competitiors, but those juniors pushed the pace every single race (W4 and JM/W race together), and it didn't help that my gear was much to small.

We started with a 6-lap handicap. I, of course, was the rabbit, placed at 120m, and gave it my all. Leigh gave me a nice push to start out with, and I just sprinted my heart out until someone caught up with me...and passed me. Oh well. I think everyone caught me, but I don't think I got lapped by everyone - maybe only half the field. The worst part was that my legs were spinning so hard! I just needed a bigger gear, and I could have at least grabbed on to a wheel a bit sooner. That's what you get for renting a bike at the track. I mentioned my gear issue to someone as I was leaving - they saw that I was walking to my car without a bike and inquired if I rode a rental. When I replied "yes," I added that the gearing was way too small, and they told me they bring extra gears every time, and I should never hesitate to ask them to borrow one. Sweet! Cyclists are pretty nice people. (:

Next race was a miss-and-out. This means that the person whose back wheel crosses the start-finish line LAST each lap gets pulled from the race. They pull one rider per lap until there are 3 left, and then they have one lap to go and they sprint for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I knew I needed to get up high on the track so I wouldn't get stuck in a position I couldn't get out of, but somehow everyone got over me, and I was the first one pulled. Oh well, live and learn. I was already coughing up a storm from the handicap race, and I needed the extra rest.

Finally we had an 18-lap points race. Points go to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd (13, 7, and 1 are the points values, I believe) every 6 laps. I knew I wouldn't be sprinting for points, so I just tried to hang on as best I could. All I know is I lapped one person, but so did the rest of the field. I grabbed a few wheels and worked with them for a while, and that was all I could do. It's hard to push yourself too much when you know you don't really have any competition, but I definitely gave it all I had on that last lap.

All in all, I'd call it a successful night. I didn't perfom all that well by any stretch of the imagination, but I learned a ton. I learned that I needed a bigger gear for those races. I learned that I need to figure out how NOT to get stuck on the inside in a miss-and-out. And I learned that even if there are no other competitors in my category, I still get $20 at the end of the night! This only pays for next week's road tolls ($3.75 total to get out there during rush hour using the Beltway), bike rental ($3), and entry fee ($12), but in the end I make a buck, and it feels good to be handed an envelope with money in it! (: I really pushed myself to my limit last night - I really worked my butt off. And it felt good. Now I get to spend today recovering (2hrs of endurance miles with a few power intervals thrown in for fun), and hope to keep up in tomorrow's crit. It's a Women's Open category (i.e. I'm racing with Cat1's), so it should be interesting and another learning experience, if nothing else. Wohoo!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

First Post!

I'm starting this blog for those interested in my cycling training and racing. Enjoy!