The Longbranch Road Race – From Hero to Zero

29 06 2013

So OK, the ’13 season started fairly well. I brought 12 upgrade points with me from race placings last season. Moving to the Seattle area brought new courses and teammates, and a different topology on the race venues. So far I’ve raced the Mason Lake series, Independence Valley road race (IVRR), Ravensdale RR, and the Longbranch course venues. At Mason Lake 1, I placed 14th, which I thought was OK for a season opener. At IVRR I placed 4th, and at Ravensdale, I won. Not a bad start at all.

Picture at the front of the Peloton, Mason Lake 1

At full left-side of frame, finishing my turn at the front.

The following weekend at Mason Lake 2 the weather didn’t cooperate with rain coming down soon after we started. The first crash occurred within 10 minutes after the official signaled “Race start.” The second crash about half-way through the first lap. I saw my teammate David go down in a flash when two members of an opposing team made a sketchy pass on the right where there was no shoulder. They hit each other and David had nowhere to go.  I decided right there that I wasn’t going to jeopardize the rest of my season, and bailed-out to the rear and rode in for a pack finish. The jury’s still out on me racing in the rain. I hope that the Cat 3 guys will have better judgement and bike-handling skills. David’s now had a couple slow rides, coming back to the bike in proper time. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll see him the rest of the season.

Picture of sprint finish at Independence Valley Road Race

The loudest laugh you’ll ever hear in a sprint. Me on the left almost catching 3rd place

The Independence Valley RR proceeded quite well with my form starting to emerge. My tactical play served me well coming into the finish sprint as I had plenty of capacity. It felt so good I let out a laugh that the pack heard. If you check the photo, you can see other guys grinning (or grimacing) too. I gunned it from ~180 meters to place fourth. I realized afterward that could’ve launched earlier and probably caught the lead guy as I had a great head of steam on and was passing racers left and right.

The Ravensdale RR was pretty interesting too. There was a climb I was concerned about along with a minor climb. At race pace these inclines had the potential to have me shelled off-the-back. As it turned out, I was able to stay with the front of the pack even after jumping with a few not-so-viable breakaway attempts. I think one of these attacks could have stayed off-the-front if a few more of the guys would have cooperated and worked a bit, but that was asking too much. Nonetheless, I wrote a separate post about this finish. I won this race and gladly accepted my competitor’s compliment as being a “tricky guy.”

Picture of the finish sprint at the Ravensdale road race

The sneak attack. An opportune moment opens just before the 200 meter mark…and I’m alone at the finish.

With this win bringing 10 points, I had enough to justify my request to upgrade. On June 11, the regional USAC representative informed me that my request had been approved. I was a new Cat 3, and have finally achieved my top goal albeit carried over from last season.

So I’m thinking that the wet, sloppy base miles accrued during the off-season, the targeted mid-range intervals, and general season campaign plan is working pretty good. My expectation was to gain an understanding of what the new racing scheme is all about. I think that every race course and every categorical mass-start has it’s own personality. I had experienced the Cat 5 and Cat 4 personas to include the master classes. (Yeah, I’m an old-er fart and I’ll get to try the 50+ group after next August.)

I sent an email to my team captain about the upgrade and he responded appropriately and transferred me to the Cat 3 team captain. These will be the guys I start training with during the transition period and they’ll be my starting squad-mates next racing season. With 24 of them, I’m sure there will be plentiful advice and guidance to come.

A week or so has gone by since my upgrade and I’m on the fence about racing and training. Call it a slump, call it motivational burnout, call it whatever. The Capitol Stage Race comes and goes…I’m not feeling the love. (I’ve missed-out on the Walla Walla Stage race two years in a row now and have yet to do a stage race.) It was with a half-spirited sigh when I clicked the pre-registration button for the Longbranch RR.

I registered for the master’s 40+ 1-2-3, and my race would be in the afternoon, 1:05. I watched who had signed-up early and was concerned when the deadline showed only five racers. If no others showed for registration before race time; we’d all be working quite hard for the whole distance. Another possibility was that the race organizers would combine our pack into another with separate scoring. This latter possibility would skew the pack characteristic that I was trying to learn, but I’d have to wait and see.

Six of us carpooled to Longbranch, WA. After jostling the cars around so we could gear-up/warm-up and discuss race stuff, we settled in underneath a pop-up awning that a thoughtful teammate brought. This course had an uphill slope from the start leading to a small climb, which lead to a larger climb. Both course features would yield a selection, whittling down the pack to only those who could survive. As it turns out, these climbs would prove significant during the race.

Longbranch RR profileSo we chatted about who was doing what pack, that is to say, masters or regular category. Three or 40 plus? I was vacillating. If I stayed with the master’s (similar ceilings for HR), I would have to race with a pack of only 10 and no teammates. If I moved over to Cat 3, I would race with three teammates in a pack of 40 (better quantities for points.) On the other hand, the 1-2-3 group contained former uber-fast guys who, as local consensus said, were likely to establish a breakaway. I choose to move over and race with my Cat 3 teammates. This meant that I would race 66 miles, or about six laps of the above profile.

Andrew walked about; dealing with his pre-race jitters. David warmed-up on the course. Greg and I warmed-up on our trainers while chatting about training regimens, warm-up routines, and other race banter. I learned that my routine was still oriented to a morning race: that is, awake early for breakfast, pack the van with pre-staged gear, drive to the race, set-up—warm-up— race. I had not considered taking extra food for the hours after breakfast and before the race. Greg was cool enough to give me a few food bars to chow on and I wasn’t going to be picky about it. Additionally, my Joule GPS wasn’t picking up my G3 signal.  I knew that you could command the Joule to find the sensors but I couldn’t find it on the menu. (It’s on page 10 of the users manual—press the + and – buttons at the same time.) Great, all I had was the Borg RPE scale to gauge my warm-up effort. So far this (and the lack of food prep.) feels like strike one for this race effort.

Staging time. I detach from the trainer, swap skewers, put on the helmet and glasses, and make my way over to the group. David and Greg are already in place; I roll in behind them. The race official bellows out his stuff. He reminds me on one of my DIs while in boot camp many years ago,

“…race start is from here after I blow the whistle. There is no neutral roll-out today.”

Now I wished I had pedaled a bit higher in intensity during warm-up (legacy thinking, see book reference above). I noticed Greg digging into zone 4 but hadn’t really thought about it. Strike two. There’s the whistle. Staccato clicks of pedals and cleats, and pings of derailleurs shifting under tension. We’re rolling north on Key Peninsula Way for what I’ll call the first area of interest in retrospect.

Jeez, we’re moving fast. I’m already aerobic; trying to hold the wheel in front of me, my introduction to racing with the Cat 3s. The little voice in the back of my head wasn’t saying anything, but if it did:

“Hey—you asked for this.”

My Joule display shows me where I am on the course and the feedback from my legs is pegging the warning light…they’re full of lactate. Crap! I’m in trouble. We’re over the rise now heading north-west, hitting a downhill portion for 45 seconds of recovery. Draft dude, stay in the draft. Almost 32 mph now, we cross the bridge. My little backseat voice chimes,

“Christine said to ensure you’re in the small ring when you cross the bridge.”

“Got it”

Down goes the chain. My legs aren’t clearing out. I’m getting nothing from the recovery. The guy in front of me gets squirrelly as  something in front of him makes him un-clip his right foot popping it like an outrigger.  I swerve to protect my front wheel. Shit. My legs are burning; I look up to the front of the pack.

“Oh God.”

The road is straight as an arrow, and it’s going up. Up all the way to the horizon, up to the sky. A little tunnel of light flanked by the trees on either side. The pack surges at the base of the climb as we clear the bridge. My meter would say something like over 730 W. We’re climbing around 15 mph and slowing to 8.5 mph as gravity exerts it’s hold. The pack surges again and post analysis says I’m still over 660 W. Our speed increases to 14 mph (huh, going uphill?) My legs are dying, I’m sliding back to the rear. Another surge over 560 W. I can’t clear my legs out. The coup de grace is upon me. Still another surge over 500 W, speed now over 17 mph. I’ve cracked. The pack glides away from me. Other casualties fall away, spat off the back. Ahead of me, David and and Greg manage to hang on. Andrew is somewhere near the front, his 150 lb. body weight an advantage.

Picture on the second climb on the Longbranch road race course

Cracked and dropped on the third climb. I spend the rest of the race trying to clear my legs; barely able to turn the pedals for decent speed.

“I might as well get some time in. What else to do on this fine afternoon?” I might as well, I gotta’ wait for Andrew to finish since we carpooled here; he seems to be holding it together. David and Greg eventually drop too although I wouldn’t know that until I started a subsequent lap; seeing them riding together back to the parking area.

“You guys finish?” I huffed.

“No, we’re done, just heading back.” they reply.

This chip-seal is going to get old. I’m not sure I want to do more laps ’cause it’s starting to feel like the Ann Weatherill century+ ride that I did in Walla Walla last Saturday. Not only were my legs blown, my motivation was sapped too. I didn’t have my usual MP3 training accompaniment with me either. After the fifth lap I had had enough of riding by myself. My back was a giant knot and the fun meter was on vacation somewhere else.

Post Analysis

What happened? Yeah, I wondered that question for the rest of the afternoon. Since my Joule wasn’t synchronized and didn’t record a single bit of wattage data, I would be hard pressed to create conclusions based on vetted data. Then, I remembered that my teammate Andrew had a Garmin—and we had raced in the same pack. I asked and he agreed with my reasoning to benchmark the numbers behind the situation. I converted his .wko file into a .tcx file for easy data summary and snooping with the Strava web application. There was a problem however: Andrew weighed 150 lb. and I weighed 167 lb. that day. Given the same speed within the pack, I would have to exert more wattage because of my higher system weight.

One ballpark solution involves the excellent equation for steady-speed cycling power given in Bicycling Science’s address in chapter four:

Graphic for the steady-speed cycling power equation

Equation 1

Where:

  • WW = power at the wheel (watts)
  • V = velocity (mph, converted to SI units within the equation: meters/second)
  • KA = aerodynamic drag factor (SI units within the equation: CD·Aρ ⁄ 2)
  • VW = wind velocity
  • m = system mass, bike + racer (kg)
  • g = 9.81 (SI unit within the equation: meters/second)
  • s = slope of the road surface
  • CR = .0027 coefficient of rolling resistance

Method:

Using information from the data file and the Strava.com web application, segregate the three areas of interest and find the average speed for those areas. Setting the speed as a constant, use the equation to extrapolate the power needed to traverse those areas. Assume a wind speed of “0” mph and coefficient of rolling resistance of .0027 for simplicity. I used my body and race bike weight for the system mass constant. Compare the estimates of required power and duration to those of recorded training efforts. Determine inadequacies. Comment on training stress balance (TSB) or insufficient recovery from the Walla Walla weekend as possible contributing factors.

Data:

The following profile shows the areas that I wanted to investigate:

Graphic of Longbranch RR Course Profile: Areas of Interest

Longbranch RR Course: Areas of Interest

Input values for Equation 1 were identified from “windowing” the respective areas of interest within the Strava application:

  • V = area average mph
  • s = area average slope
  • t = transit time

Constants for equation 1:

  • Ka = 0.25, aerodynamic drag factor
  • Vw = 0, wind speed
  • m = 83.5, racer + bike mass
  • g = 9.81, gravity
  • Cr = 0.0027, coefficient of rolling friction

Calculation results:

Area            Description/Location           WW W/kg   V     s   Time (min.)
First start to top of first climb 365 4.8 21.6 0.015 5.6
Second bottom of first descent to top of second climb 363 5.7 18.7 0.029 1.55
Third bottom of second descent to top of third climb 437 4.8 13.7 0.073 2.42

Notes:

  1. In situ equation calculation was performed using SI units
  2. Power-to-weight ratio added after the fact, outside of Equation 1 function
  3. “All Time Bests” values date from June 2011 to May 2012
Graphic chart of training vs. Longbranch racing data

Graph 1

Conclusion:

Lets discuss the comparison of data. Basically, what I have is a benchmark survey of my first race as a Cat 3 to compare to my training target(s). As we can seen in Graph 1, the power-to-weight (P/W) ratios from the 6/22/13 Longbranch race for the most part are greater in intensity than any other sampling except the 1.5 minute point. Additionally, the race sampling is only taken from the first several hill climb portions of the course. Any sprint P/W samples from the race may be comparable, but as of yet are unknown. In this study, squad rides and hill repeat durations generally do not approach the intensities found at Longbranch.

The current training impulse will not stimulate adaptation needed to produce the desired levels of intensity such as those experienced at Longbranch. Thus, I have some decisions to make about where I spend my training time. If Carmichael’s energy string theory is true, I can focus on the higher levels of training intensity while retaining the benefits of training in the lower zones, and drawing close to the exertion targets needed for racing these types of climbs. I think this method is viable as now is the time to build intensity on top of the extensive base foundation formed during the off-season.

Note: I had intended to produce a regression equation from the Longbranch data in order to estimate target P/W levels and discuss them here, but this post runs long as it is.

I questioned whether I was recovered from the Walla Walla 113-mile ride. Prior to the race, my TSB level was 24. For me, this should have been sufficient as an indication of full recovery with the likelihood of a top-level effort.

So there it is, I’m confident that the reason that I cracked is because I got in over-my-head on racing intensities far above my current training level. It’s time to up my game if I want to be competitive for the remainder of this season and for the seasons to follow; not to mention the next milestone of Cat 2.

Keep it safe out there and take care of yourself.

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4 responses

26 01 2015
Christopher Langford

I finally bought a USA Cycling/WSBA License to race this season. Do you have any thoughts on which races are beginner friendly? I’m entering Cat 5 or Master Cat 5 if the mileage is about 40. I’m looking at Tour De Dung, Mason Lake Series, Independence Vally and Vance Creek. Good luck on your season. Chris

26 01 2015
Eric Abbott

Hello Chris and thanks for reading. I’ve raced all the courses you’ve mentioned. Depending on what you mean by “beginner friendly,” I’ll comment according to course topography:
Tour de Dung (aka Sequim road race,) is the flattest of the bunch, with the wind being a constant factor because of the relative lack of vegetation (Note that there are rumble strips in the middle of lane closer to the turn north. My first race there had me wondering what the bunch was referring to when they started saying “Hold your lines!” to everybody…then I ran over the strips. (I was expecting the strips to be on the shoulder like on the highway.) Overall speed seems higher than expected. I like this course. Anyway, be aware.

Mason Lake is the next flatter course. There are some minor grades, <3% average IRRC. Described as having rolling hills, I found the more important spots to watch for are the mossy patches that inhabit the slicker parts of the road surface. Combine the moss with eager racers coming out of the off-season, possible inclement weather, a large bunch, and a higher average speed than your group/team ride; gives you the likely scenario for a crash or two. Fair warning OK? Other than that, this is a nice course when the road surface is dry.

Independence Valley has two climbs. This is another course that I like. MapMyRide shows the average slope at less than 3% but the climbs make it seem higher at race pace. I seem to remember the second climb permitting the "selection" of a determined breakaway if they were present in the group. Other than that, nice road surfaces, fair group size, some climbs for the climbers, flats for the all-arounders, a straight-sprint finish, and not much prevailing wind make for a nice course.

Vance Creek. A seemingly shorter circuit than the other venues above, this course has a substantial climb just before the finish line. On my last race there, during the third of four ascents I was thinking, "Holy _uck. Can I stay with the bunch the last time up?" There's a good portion of this course that had fresh chip-seal installed. The rest of the road surface is rather like rough, older farm roads. IMO, the sharper edges of the chip-seal caused many a puncture in many of the packs that day. I was one of them with a double-puncture. Jeez. Anyway, speaking of farm roads, if the farmers are spraying fertilizer and if it starts to rain just know that you're going to get that crap (actual circumstance, pun not intended) in your face and mouth as the tires in front of you will fling it up.) On the other hand, there's also a loonnnng downhill going into the valley where you might catch a breather. (I really like that downhill, effing fassstt!) Oh, if the thermometer is lower with rain and a wind chill, layer appropriately 'cause at least one of our teammates looked hypothermic after they stumbled back to our cars.

Hey man, sorry for the qualitative statements above instead of numbers. I usually like to quantify my thoughts when I write but I figure you might have more specific questions. I'm going to presume at this point that your "pack skills" are good-to-go and that you don't have concerns riding bar-to-bar at race pace. This is the usual condition given the size of the bunch at many of these races. I'd be happy to answer more questions that you might have…just let me know. Keep it safe out there. Maybe I'll see ya at one of the races this season; our Bikesale kit should be easy to spot.

29 01 2015
Chris Langford

Thanks for the info. I basically just need to chase away the butterflies and get out and race. I had a great experience last year at a three day charity ride (255 miles) riding at speed with a bunch of racers and handled a fast pace line on narrow roads at Levi’s Granfondo. I’ll most likely be the lone Bike Masters guy at these races.

29 01 2015
Eric Abbott

No problem Chris. Remember that everyone out there started just like you did. I’m going to recommend that you look into joining local road clubs. Their club and/or team rides will greatly improve your pack familiarity and skills, more so than trying to go it alone. Plus, it’s always nice to carpool with teammates to race venues. Good luck out there and stick with it.

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