Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Elkhart Time Trial: a Family's Race Against the Clock

I fell in love with time trialing about 8 years ago.  I had no idea of what to expect.  Being a triathlete I was in a state of ignorance of what it meant to "race against a clock".  In road cycling there is a class of race called a time trial.  It is essentially a single rider, released in measured intervals, ride a set distance, and try to beat the other rider's time without knowledge of it.  I have won a managed towin a  state title in this event and have won this particular series once before, and have been top three for about the past 4 years.

At the start, Jerome in the background
Our local bike community holds a monthly series called the Elkhart Time Trials, hosted by Zealous Racing Team. Once a month anywhere from 40 - 80 riders line up to race 7.5(ish) miles on the flattest, straightest road, in central Iowa.  The course truly has it's own personality.  The first event is held in April and then every month till August.  Each month the course is the same but the biggest change is weather.  We can have winds that literally blow the riders off the road, heat that will destroy even the most hydrated, rain, and not to mention the seasonal crops surrounding the road that affects both wind and rider. Points are accrued in each race with 20 points going to first, 19 for second, and  so on.  Each month is tallied and by the end of the series the rider with the most points wins in their respective class. 

Rider's head south to a traffic cone sitting in the middle of a desolate road roughly 3.6 miles from the start, round the turn, and scream back to the finish.  The course is level with a total of 50 feet of gain. The pavement is nice, and traffic volume is very low, as the race course is open to traffic. If the winds are brutal, which they usually are, each rider secretly wishes for the tractor to pull out and lead the way home.  Of course drafting is illegal, and any outside help is also frowned upon.

Well the April race has come and gone. Though this was a special event for our family. This was the first time that all four of our family members raced. My wife Kerrie (who has won the women's class in prior years), my oldest Connor, and now my youngest Cooper has become an official time trialist.  I entered the event knowing I had to hurry my finish to get to ride with Cooper at his start.  It is accepted that experienced riders ride alongside or near new junior riders to ensure their safety and the safety of others.

The weather for the night was a bit unusual in that it was warm!  It was mid 70's with a steady 20mph wind from the south, which was slowly shifting to SE. This was absolutely my dream conditions.  I love to hammer a hard headwind and reap the benefit of a tailwind home.  Overall time record for this race is under 15 minutes, that is an average of 30 mph. For myself I have a PR of 16:01 a bit over 27 mph.  My first race of the series has generally been the slowest so this left me at the start line wondering how I would fare.

We have liftoff
I lined up first, which I never do because I love to have "carrots" down the road.  The timer gave the countdown and off I went. The wind was noticeable, so I kept low and poured as much into the pedals as I could.  I made the turn smoothly, got out of the saddle and put the hammer down.  I was roughly at 24 mph avg at the turn, and my speedometer did not drop below 30 mph after the turn.  The ride remained uneventful, and being first off the line I had clear road ahead.  I crossed the line in 16:44 averaging 26.9 mph. 

I had no real time to recover as I had to get back to the line for Cooper.  He was nervous but steady.  His main concern was whether Jerome could hold him ok for the start.  Which we all found quite humorous.  His count down came and went, Jerome released him, and off he went.  He wasn't much for chatting and he was holding a steady 12 mph in what was now a SE headwind blowing still at 20.  For any normal 8 year old they may have stopped and said forget it. But Cooper assured me he was fine and continued to push his pace.  About a half mile from the turn you crest a hill and see the mirage that is the turn.  This was Cooper's defining moment, he said he was hurting a bit but, pressed to the turn never dipping below 11mph.  After the turn he had a huge smile. He quickly accelerated and was near or at 20 mph for the trip back.

He pushed and pedaled to the line calling out his number at the finish like he has watched all of us do for years. He had done it.  He earned the finish in a time of 31:58, averaging 14 mph.  He was satisfied and happy, but once he got in the Jeep he was quick to fall asleep.  As for Kerrie she won the night for women overall, an Connor won the junior night.  After seeing the results, I found that I won the night overall as well.

All smiles, first race in the bag
 This was a great start for our family and it was a blast to be a part of.  All smiles and happy legs.  We  look forward to the upcoming races and hope to defend our respective titles.

Data File: Loop 1 is my race (note I always start it a bit before the timer says go, and don't stop it immediately after the line)  Loop 4 is Cooper's ride

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Kent Park: A Season Eye Opener

Kent Park Road Race is hosted by Atlas Racing and benefits Children's Center for Therapy. It is held in Kent Park near Oxford, IA and is perhaps the unwritten season opener for Iowa road racers.  The race itself is a challenging early season race with a humbling appeal.  Once again my son, Connor, and myself entered the Cat 4 field with hopeful thoughts. This is my 4th time racing this event and I have had good success in the varying fields. This was the 1st time racing with Connor in the same field which posed new challenges for me and will continue to be challenging for every event I choose to jump into.

The final descent - you can see the start on the right and the quick left to the finish at the end of lake

1st quick descent and climb
The course itself is a blast to ride.  It usually has three distinct challenges; weather, hills, and fitness. The event is held in a park on a closed 4 mile loop.  We do 6 laps (24 miles total) of well paved, smooth road. The race start is staggered with Cat 1,2 together, then 3's, Master's, 4's, 5's, Women, and finally Juniors.  Each wave is separated by roughly 1 min.  The course is a downhill roll into a hard left turn, then sweeps right and up a 16% grade to what will be the finish line at the top.  As you recover through the line the road sweeps right then dips hard left where the pace quickly accelerates.  For the next 2 miles it is a relatively flat road with subtle sweeps and accelerations up very small hills.  This quick section is tree lined and today happened to have a tailwind. The road pitches left and the fun begins. 

Descent and climb #2 pure evil - the climb is in distance
The left turn brings an onslaught of wind and the first of three miserable climbs. The first descent is fast and sweeps right,  taking a line from outside to inside and sweeping right can reward the rider with gaining position at the top with little effort. With quick exit climb at only 7% the riders are able to carry a bit of speed. At the top the road again sweeps left and quickly drops the rider into a steeper descent.  The speed is incredible nearing 40mph down, though the exit is not as easy.  The road quickly pitches to 14% and the long climb of roughly 3/4 mile begins. Exiting the climb the road again sweeps left and leaves the rider vulnerable to the wind, which today was howling.
 A right hand sweep again drops you into the last major climb before the finish. Again the climb is 14% for about 3/4 mile.  Exiting the climb and sweeping to the left gives you the fastest descent, again over 40mph, past the start line and a fight to get position for the finishing climb.  This is done 6 times unless you are lapped then you get one less!  Everyone in the race finishes on the lead lap.

Descent and climb #3 absolute hell

Weather for the race:
10 am start 40 degrees at start warmed to 60 degrees by finish, Sun, wind at 25-30 mph out of the South
Cat 4 group 15 riders
 The race as I saw it:
Connor and I arrived early and were able to ride 2 laps prior to the race start. He had been battling a chest cold for the past two days and both Kerrie and I knew this may not be a good race. Connor has also been doing a new structured workout leaving him with some new pains and soreness, though when questioned he said he was fine. As for me the warm-up was not entirely reassuring. I am in the midst of Ironman training which is now 6 weeks away and could really feel the heaviness in my legs.  It was a day for both Connor and I where the heart and head were willing but the body was not.

Connor not, so happy..
At the start I did something I regretted for the next 60 minutes. We rolled easy picking up speed with the subtle downhill, then, I hit the gas. Yeah that was not smart. But I thought I had good reason which I shall explain. First, I love to race. I don't care so much about the results, so I wanted to see who wanted to play. I had a Sakari rider pull up next to me at the base of the climb and was excited about my eagerness. Second, I was definitely not the strongest climber in the field and that first climb across the line it was my thought that if I could get up first, that by the time I hit the top I would be mid-pack and ready for the race to unfold and sit in until the second to last lap, where I planned to attack big again.  That was the plan.  Well, for reasons in the first paragraph the race did not go to plan.

I crossed the line, near the front end of the group and I began to look for Connor to make sure he was with me.  I did not see him in the group. He crested off the last wheel and was clearly struggling. I dropped back and quickly found he and I chasing once again.  I tried to stay steady and keep him on my wheel to bring him back to the group.  Through the sharp left turn, we began the mission to get into the group.  For the next 1.5 miles we chased finally catching him up into the group before the first fast descent.  That is when I heard the sound. Much like a toilet bowl flushing.  Coming out of the first climb Connor was struggling to breathe and was unable to hold position in the group.

The finishing climb - post race
We quickly lost the group but I hoped the race would come back.  It was not to be. The race quickly became a character builder.  We will call it a nice training ride.  We chased with some effort for the next lap but couldn't make a dent and I could see the pack slipping further away. By the third lap, we had resigned ourselves to ride out the race. We were caught on the end of lap 4 which meant we only had one loop to finish up. It has been a long time since I have been lapped but I know that it does not represent the effort of Connor nor I.  It just wasn't there.

Connor and I had a good talk following the race.  We try to take lessons to build and keep life in focus. We crossed the line with smiles and finished safely. On paper he beat me to the line but I don't care about the finish. We spoke briefly about my jump at the start, he wasn't happy with it, but forgave me.

 Connor is just starting his journey this season.  He will get stronger, healthier, and smarter. He has his goals and it is races like this that he will draw upon to strengthen his resolve. Kent Park ate us up.  I spent another 45 minutes just riding to finish some extra training, while Connor changed and recovered.  Congratulations to all finishers on a tough course, on a tough day.  

Connor's power profile below