Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Here we talk about all things cycling - training, wattage, group rides, bike rallies, triathlons, weather, coaching, coaches, nutrition, ponderings, musings, and equipment! If you have a topic or a question, send us a note and we'll try to answer for you!
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Coach Wharton
15:00

A Primer on Xert - A NEW PARADIGM for Training With Wattage!

xert_teal_and_gray_copy
When we first began looking at power meters and the information they provided, converting that data in to knowledge was a real shot in the dark. Scientists, coaches and athletes knew that they wanted to generate more power, more often, for longer periods of time, but they really didn’t know HOW to get there. Traditional training methods have been slowly overturned as the digital age accumulated knowledge, and converted it in to useful information. That said, there’s always been ‘wiggle room’, and the interpretations for power, energy, and fitness, and specificity have created great opportunities for coaches and recreational cyclists alike, the human trend toward ‘logic’ has us always searching for a better way to read wattage files, and look at ways to do “X”, and get “Y” results.

The latest method of doing just this comes from Baron Biosystems of Canada. Their platform, called Xert, provides a unique way to take instant and empirical data from a cyclist, measure its’ effects on the body, and then determine some crucial elements that can determine the effectiveness of a workout, and the effective trend towards a goal. I’m really excited about this technology, and I think that it will be incredibly useful for riders and racers of all levels here at Cycling Center Dallas, and via the internet through Online Bike Coach.

Let’s start at the beginning.

First – a cyclist just creates an account on XertOnline.com. If the rider has an account with Strava.com or Trainingpeaks, older data can be imported and analyzed. If the cyclist has data on a Garmin with a .FIT or .TCX series of files, then the data is imported just like a thumb drive. The meat of the setup is found in the area titled “Athlete Type”. Here’s an image.
What kind of athlete are you_copy1

There are twelve different types of cyclist described, from a 10-second “Power Sprinter”, to a “Below Threshold Power” Triathlete. Just read through the descriptions, and select the area where you think your cycling strengths best apply. Some knowledge of ability is required; if you’re in doubt, defer to something in the middle, like “GC Specialist”, which focuses on your 8-minute average power-to-weight ratio.

(One thing to note is that, even though the categories reflect cyclists that participate in longer, multi-hour events, when you look these athlete types and at their particular strengths and weaknesses, they all boil down to an ability to perform at a given duration. Everyone is unique in their ability and this chart helps capture those differences.)

The website churns through your past data over a period of minutes, to help determine several parameters for fitness. It then presents you with a summary page, showing the following:

  • Total # of activities
  • Average Ride Time
  • Total Ride Time
  • Average Distance
  • Total Distance.
Fitness Comparison and Ranking Male 40 plus


The next line down is where things start to get interesting. The data provided for this continues to grow with more people getting on to Xert, so the data is being filtered by age and gender, and is perpetually updated. You get a “Fitness Comparison and Ranking”, showing your BEST and CURRENT value. In this case, my ‘365’ watts over 5 minutes is just 97% of my Best watts of 375 over 5 minutes, which I have hit in the last six weeks. The Median for this age group is 336 watts, and the 90% percentile is 422 watts. My 365 watts puts me at about the 66th percentile for the population.
*** Now – I DO need to make something clear, because it can be confusing. Xert’s ‘365’ is NOT the ACTUAL VALUE that I may or may not have achieved in the last 42 days. Instead, it’s the MAX POTENTIAL VALUE that I COULD have achieved on this day. I’ll make that more clear in a paragraph or two.  Xert's unique algorithm determines this in the background and I have found it to be REALLY close every time we've tested it.


On the next section of the page, there’s a GREAT image, affectionately known as the “Spider Chart”. It basically looks at the 12 different power categories, and determines where you rank in relation to ALL of them. This can help you identify holes in your training, or strengths. In my Spider Chart, shown below, my most recent training has tilted me slightly toward the short-and-mid-intensity specialties, between 2 and 8 minutes, while my time schedule has prevented me from riding longer events or rides.
Rankings Spider Web

You can mouse over the orange dots, and it will re-state your current records, and where those records sit in relation to the rest of the population.

Finally, there’s a ‘Progression Chart’. Now, this is a bit complicated, but there is a method to it, and it does help you understand what’s going on with your fitness.
Progression Chart April 3

The first thing to focus on is the left-side “Y” axis. The left Axis is showing, in my specific case, that “MAX WATTAGE POTENTIAL” for my chosen Athlete Type - Breakaway Specialist - 5 minute power. The circles (Best Activities) correspond to activities where I reached my 5 minute max wattage potential on that day.  Mousing over these circles shows what my maximum 5 minute wattage was on that day.  In addition, if you mouse over the vertical bars, “Best Activities”, which is that small script on the lower left side of the graph, acting as a key, changes from day-to-day showing your maximum 5 minute wattage.
Progression Chart March 9

In this example, March 9th of 2016, Xert calculated that, based on everything I’d entered in prior to this day, I had the POTENTIAL to hit a ‘359’ watt average over 5 minutes. However… after a solid block of Specific, hard training, which again, I’ll explain in a short while, that value bumped up to 371 watts on April 2nd.
Best Activities 371

So that’s a roughly 3% boost in 3 weeks, which, honestly, is pretty realistic. So look at that first when you get down to the Progression chart.

Next, slide all the way over to the FAR RIGHT “Y” axis. There, you’ll see “Weighted Average Daily Accumulated Energy (KJ). This is NOT a part of the Progression Chart. Instead, it’s a way to see, through the vertical red/purple/green bars, just how much WORK you’re doing on a regular basis. Again, it’s NOT a fitness indicator so much as it is a “VOLUME” indicator. We can debate the pro and con of any scoring system, but this is just a convenient way to look at work, and how it’s being used on a daily basis, out to about six weeks. But it gets even MORE detailed.
Progression Chart Low High Detail

Take a look at the Key along the bottom of the graph. You’ll notice that in the chart above, it says

“LOW – 811”, “HIGH – 56”, “PEAK – 12” and “FOCUS – 7”

for that specific day of April 3rd, 2016. This is a measure of how much training I had been doing.  On that given day, which was actually a race out on the Scenic Loop of Ft. Davis, TX, my “Weighted Average” of WORK, measured in KILOJOULES, breaks down to:

  • 811 kJ of Low Intensity Energy Use (Largely Aerobic energy use)…
  • 56 kJ of High Intensity Energy Use (Largely Vo2 and Anaerobic energy consumption)…
  • And ~12 kJ of PEAK energy Use (completely anaerobic and near-maximal effort).
Xert summarizes this information and categorizes it as an Athlete Type.  This is the Focus Line, the ‘Wandering Trail’ that floats through the vertical red bars.   It highlights the fact that on THAT day, when you add up all the training I had been doing, it indicates that I had been focussing my training as “GC Specialist”, which is an 8-minute best average power.   Xert’s Focus Line helps you identify what area of your training you’ve been putting your focus over the past few weeks.

You’ll be able to tease a couple of more things out of the graph at this stage of learning.

First, that ‘Wandering Trail’, can help you improve on your SPECIFICITY, and basically, stay away from rides that don’t suit your goals or purpose. The more intervals you perform at a specific intensity and duration that is based on your goal, the more that ‘Wandering Trail’ rises or falls toward your w/t goal.

Second, the vertical bars are designed so that you have a light-red to imply ONE workout in a 24 hour period, and you have a darker-red rectangle, to reveal TWO workouts performed in a single day.

Now – let’s finish up with the Progression Chart by looking at the circles and dots, and understand just what those mean.

The circles show you just how well you did on a given day.  A purple circle generally means you worked hard by didn’t accomplish anything special that.  Sometimes when you’re tired, purple circles may provide indication that you weren’t able to produce your best results that day.  Gold, silver and bronze circles indicate that you had shown an improvement.
Progression Chart BIG CIRCLE

A SMALL purple circle, like the one found on March 20th, symbolizes a ‘but that ‘Best’ wasn’t hard enough to merit a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Medal. The LOCATION of the dots is in relation to their wattage.  
Progression Chart Red Angled Arrow
Looking at the Progression chart a couple of days later, you’ll see that there are a series of Purple Dots, and they decline in power. Now, this is going to get in to a bit of coaching and over-reach vs recovery, but this was a period of time, about 14 to 10 days out from the Ft. Davis Stage Race, where I was just BURYING MYSELF in intensity! The result was that my maximal power output suffered, even as my volume and overall intensity increased. If you look at March 28th and 29th, you’ll see that I ended up with a ‘Silver Medal’, signifying a new record and the next day, I had another purple dot that was also a record of an 8-minute effort, that was JUST UNDER the record set the previous day.

So, just to review:
  • Purple dots are ‘Highs’, but not ‘Record Highs’.
  • Medals mean you hit a new breakthrough in fitness.
  • The size of the medal means how definite the achievement was.

Let’s look at one more thing before we leave the Progression Chart…
Progression Chart March 12

Take a look at that ‘Wandering Trail’ or, the ‘Focus’ Line. You’ll notice that it rises and falls. While I think there might be a better way to show this metric to the viewer, it really IS an interesting category. What it’s saying is that, based on ALL of the work you’ve done over your recent training, the ‘FOCUS’ centered on one particular category in the Spider Chart or ‘Athlete Type’ mentioned above. As I did my workouts and tried to focus exclusively on intervals that would improve my 5-minute Power, the FOCUS line rose. When I performed rides that had longer durations, and gaps between intervals, like on weekends, my FOCUS line actually dropped. If you look at the past 3 days of workouts, you’ll see that my FOCUS line once again rose, as I resumed training after a two-week hiatus.

I think there is some REAL potential here, because if you follow Xert’s premise, it’s not just the rethinking of power and time-in-zones and recovery that is required, it’s the actual CONTENT and INTENSITY of the INTERVALS that makes for such incredible potential. And THAT is where we’re going to go next…


PART II – APPLYING THE NEW IDEAS INTO ACTION VIA INTERVALS

I’m going to skip over Xert’s Power-Duration Curve stuff, and will return to it later, but the reason I want to discuss the Intervals Builder first, is that it is, in my opinion, the absolute strongest feature in Xert’s arsenal. Furthermore, once you have your Fitness Signature, there are APPS, available on Garmin’s Connect IQ and via Android (iphone coming soon), that will allow you to further exploit Xert’s Power-Duration Model and Maximum Power Available information. Again, I’ll get to that later, but for now, let’s discuss Xert’s Interval Builder and why it’s so important to your fitness goals.

Once you’ve got your fitness profile, and established your goals (3 minute, 5 minute, 8 minute, stuff like that), it’s time to figure out how you’re going to get there. To do that, head over to the left-hand bar of options, and click on ‘WORKOUTS’.
Standard Workouts

You’ll get two options in the sub-menu; “Standard Workouts” and “My Workouts”. Let’s start with some “Standard Workouts”, and then we’ll tinker with some custom workouts to sharpen the blade a bit.

Now, remember – my goal is to have a stronger FIVE MINUTE POWER. That puts me in the “Breakaway Specialist” category. So, I’ll go the THIRD COLUMN, which is “WORKOUT FOCUS”, and click through until I find some appropriate intervals. If you click on the Title, it will sort by “Focus”, and “Breakaway Specialist will be on Page 1.
Standard Workouts Seiler

Now, let’s click on the second workout – Seiler – and see what it looks like…
Workout Designer Seiler Wharton

This interval set shows that, UNIQUE TO ME, if I were to perform FOUR SEPARATE, FOUR-MINUTE INTERVALS, at 372 watts (OUCH!!!!!) each, with just TWO MINUTES of recovery, that the amount of STRAIN (see middle of the image) would be adequate to optimize my 5-minute output, over time.

HOWEVER – take a look at the PURPLE LINE. That PURPLE LINE is an indicator of “MAXIMUM POWER AVAILABLE”, and you can see that it intercepts the RED LINE of the SECOND INTERVAL, the THIRD INTERVAL, and the FOURTH INTERVAL. Now – if you believe Xert’s programming, THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE! Let’s ZOOM in so I can explain why.

Seiler ZOOM

Xert’s Foundation goes like this: When you ride a bike, you use “Low-Intensity Energy” (your aerobic system), “High-Intensity Energy (Your Vo2 and Anaerobic Systems), and “Peak” Energy systems, which is your Phospho-Creatine System and Sprint power. The “Maximum Power Available” curve declines as you cross over your Threshold Power, and it rebounds when you recover beneath it.

For the first interval, that purple line of “MPA”, and the red line of “Watts”, don’t cross paths. The interval ends with an “MPA” of less than 600 watts, while the interval’s overall 4 minute effort was at “372”. But, for the SECOND interval, the decline of “MPA” intercepts the red line with about 23 seconds to go. In the image above, there is theoretically NO WAY that I can hold 372 watts at that moment, with an MPA that is at 343 watts and declining. This happens again, a bit earlier in Interval #3, and again in interval #4. So I have to alter this workout if I know that I’m going to be able to even complete it.

If I go down to the bottom of the screen, I can see that there are three options in this interval. I’m going to extend the recoveries out to 2:30, and see what that does for me.
Extend Recoveries

When I click on “Calculate”, I get this…
Click Calculate Xert

So – I pushed my ‘Point of Failure’ out for the three intervals I’m concerned about, but not quite. Also – look at the ‘FOCUS’. I’m still in ‘Breakaway Specialist’. Let’s see if I can buy myself some more recovery, and be at least theoretically successful in these four minute intervals.
Pushed Out Recoveries_copy

BOOM! At 3 minutes of recovery, I am going to be JUST ABLE to COMPLETE the intervals, if I can hold 372 watts!

Now – as an Indoor Studio Professional, here’s an ADDED Bonus. Go to that upper right hand corner of the chart, and you’ll see either “TCX” or “ERG” buttons. If you click on them, they’ll export the workout in to a “watts over time” protocol, for your Indoor Ergometer!!!

Here’s what this protocol looks like in PerfPro Studio, the system that I use with Online Bike Coach and Cycling Center Dallas.
PerfPro Seiler

Now – we don’t have ‘Maximum Power Available’ just yet on PerfPro, but we’re lobbying for some type of licensing deal that is satisfactory to all parties. But this literally re-writes the book on interval training with power.

A couple of quick notes:

  • Traditional Zones are thrown out the window. We know what aerobic rides feel like, we know what “Threshold” feels like. Xert has apps that define zones based on CURRENT MPA, FATIGUE OVER TIME, and ENERGY USE. Thus – THEY SHIFT, based on fitness, and real-time work spent at different intensities.

  • The intervals can sometimes be MUCH, MUCH HIGHER INTENSITY than we’re used to, and are LONGER than you may feel comfortable with. Sometimes they are the opposite SINCE THEY DON’T HAVE YOU ATTEMPTING SOMETHING YOU CAN’T DO.  And THEY WORK. They REALLY, REALLY work. Many times, the workouts bring you RIGHT TO YOUR EXACT LIMIT meaning, you won’t complete the very last part of the interval. THAT IS FINE. YOU ARE STILL GETTING THE RECOMMENDED TRAINING DOSE.

I think I’ll stop here – and will focus on the Apps in another blog post, but you should go through the workouts, look at them, and then, click on the “New Workout” option, and experiment with building your own. You’ll see how changing the three deltas of intervals – Frequency, Intensity, and Time (FIT) can alter your specialty, and can determine your Maximum Power Available, to determine whether the workout is doable or not. YOU CAN BREAK THE MODEL!!! And that’s a GOOD THING. But the more information you put in to Xert, the more it’s going to learn about your fitness and capabilities, and the more it will ‘Tune’ the workouts. One Day’s “Breakaway Specialist” workout, may be tomorrow’s “Rouleur” workout, as Threshold or Anaerobic Capacity Wax and Wane.

I’ll be back with a full Blog about Xert’s Apps on a Garmin, but for now, read through, download the FREE BETA, and insert your data. I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have.

Enjoy the ride!




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Tracy
11:54

Think you can't do push ups? Think again....


trxsmall_copyThe push-up is an all-purpose movement that develops strength in the upper body and stability throughout the core and torso.

It is a GREAT exercise.  It can also be a difficult one, especially if you haven't developed the core and upper body strength to be able to push yourself up off the ground.  

"I can't do push ups" 

Is something I often hear from clients when I introduce a push up movement to their workout. More often then not, it is not that they can't do them, but they just haven't found the right variation for them.  Doing them on a suspension trainer can help you easily find the right level of resistance for you, whether you are beginner to very advanced.  

If you have no problem cranking out push ups, skip to the feet suspended version and the spider push up shown in the video below.   You will not be disappointed. 


The push up is usually one of the first exercises I have people learn on a Suspension Trainer, because it is such a basic movement that works a lot of muscle groups.  It is also very easy to adjust the difficulty level.  You don't have to worry about being able to lift more body weight then you can handle.


Here are examples of two levels of resistance during a Suspended Push-Up. The more upright you are,
the more body weight you are supporting with your legs and not having to push with your arms. If you want more resistance, simply step back further to load more weight onto the straps. All the angles in between the hardest and the easiest (most upright) can be used to load any desired amount of weight onto the straps. You can even change resistance mid set!

vectors_copy



Push-Up Hands Suspended
300b_Pushup

This is the best version to start. The all-purpose pushing movement increases both strength and stability of the upper body and core. It will help to give better support and control of your body as well as improve power transfer through the core while on your bike.

Primary focus: Chest and Shoulders.

Steps and Notes:

Facing outward, hold the end of each strap in each hand, and get into a shoulder-width or slightly wider stance, and keep a straight body position from your head to your feet,

Allow your arms to bend and lower your body until your elbows reach 90 degrees and are aligned with your shoulders.

Push yourself back up to the straight-arm position, exhaling as you do so, and maintaining a tight core and straight body from head to ankle

 

To make it harder, step back to load more of your body weight onto the straps.  To make it easier, step forward to support more of your body weight with your feet.

 

Push Up – Feet Suspended

This is a progression of the previous push-up variation.


This version requires torso and upper body strength, as well as proper timing of the stabilizer muscles to maintain a straight body. 
Get into push up position with your toes in the cradles. 
Start by straightening your legs, which will lift your knees off the ground and moving your body as a unit.  Go down until your elbows bend to approximately a 90 degree angle. 
At the bottom, push through the floor to raise your body back up to the starting position as one unit. 
Become proficient with the traditional, un-suspended push up first before this things one.   Advance to
feet suspended push-ups at that point

309b_Suspended Push Up From Floor  309c_Suspended Push Up From Floor


Watch this Video for even more variation of the Push Up movement on a TRX Suspension Trainer, from every beginner, to very advanced!  Sigh up HERE for a small group strength class to get some hands on practice and learn some new TRX movements and more!



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Coach Wharton
15:35

Ft. Davis Stage Race 2016 - A Lengthy Review

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Almost every year since I’ve moved back to Texas, and that was in 1999, I’ve made at least one trip out to Ft. Davis, Texas. I was convinced to go out and try my luck at the hardest stage race in the state by an early client whom I’ve sort of lost touch with, Wesley Keeton. He described the course perfectly; wide, empty roads that were pretty smooth, steep climbs, and wind. In my younger years I fancied myself as a Climber, and so every year, I went out there with one intention; to climb as best I could, and try to score some strong finishes.

The terrain, the elevation,  the elements, and my sporadic ability to actually prepare for the event with specificity has always conspired against my ability to really perform at my best, and of course, the inevitability of age, recovery, and, yes, weight gain, further add to the challenge. I’ve had a few good years, many bad ones, and even survived a wildfire that left us stranded on top of the McDonald Observatory, watching Armageddon approach.

Last year, Tracy and I were still deep in the fitness hole of a startup business, and we’d just closed down one of our two locations, so we arrived in Ft. Davis completely unfit and decided to just use the weekend as an opportunity to ride, train, and run some video. YES, we were THOSE DORKS with helmet cams, handlebar cams, our own videographer performing interviews, and we were NEVER in the running for the race. I still have footage of that weekend that I want to use to promote the race, but again, time and money conspired against us, and we built maybe one video and half of another, never taking either to the web. That’s kind of a shame, really, because this race is in serious jeopardy of not continuing in the Stage Race format. In decades past, Cyclists came from all over the state, New Mexico, and even Northern Mexico, for the challenge. I do my part by sponsoring the event and trying to help with marketing, but it seems like TXBRA and the major cities where cyclists are centered, don’t want to travel, don’t want to meet the challenge of terrain longer than 1-minute hills, and don’t understand that races cost money to manage and promote. It’s frustrating, because it is an EPIC event, and it deserves a wider audience.

This year, with the situation at the studio at least a little calmer, Tracy and I agreed to head out and try our luck at the Hammerfest, and this time, we’d actually be prepared. I started training in late January, focusing on those low-to-mid-cadence efforts of 3-8 minutes, at Critical Power or just below. I slowly started raising my CP, along with the volume of my regular riding, doing most of my intervals indoors and on the E-Motion Rollers from InsideRide.com. But over the last 5 weeks or so, I hooked up with the owner of a wattage analysis website, Dr. Armando Mastracci, of Baron BioSystems and XertOnline.com. Armando has been a regular contributor on the Wattage forum, of which I am a Moderator, and his ideas have been revolutionary, to say the least. Here’s some background…

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Training with Wattage for cyclists first started in the mid to late 1980’s, and I specifically remember seeing Don Myrah of mountain bike fame, racing a Trek Hardtail with an SRM at a NORBA National in the mid 1990’s. I embraced the wattage revolution with my first CompuTrainer purchase in 1995, but was unable to afford an on-bike system until the early 2000’s. Meanwhile, measurement of physiological responses to physical efforts – what I call the ‘merge’ between physics and physiology – started yielding a greater understanding of just what wattage meant, and how to use it. This was manifested in CyclingPeaks WKO, TrainingPeaks, and other similar programs, which I’ll call “Gen 2” software. Needless to say, it worked, and for over a decade now, we’ve had great ways to interpret fitness for cyclists, focus on specificity, and manipulate Frequency, Intensity, and Duration to optimize the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

In 2008, that technology and ability to plan for and predict performance took another leap forward with the introduction of RaceDay Apollo and the work of Dr. Philip Skiba. Skiba’s software was uncanny; using the performance predictor, in 2011, I prepared for the Ft. Davis Hammerfest by following a steady progression of 20 minute intervals and 3 minute intervals, and I tested roughly every two weeks, with a really hard, tough, maximal effort. Skiba’s software confidently upped its’ prediction abilities until it got to the point where I would specifically NOT peer at the predictions, would go out and perform a fangs-bared, all-out effort ----- and then, before uploading my ride data, would glance at the predicted wattage. I think it was within 2 watts every, single, time. So I went out to Ft. Davis feeling confident, knowing that I’d prepared, raise my Critical Power, and kept my weight in the 155-158 range.

AND THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT THE FIRES HIT. We were lucky to have survived.

Suffice it to say that the rest of 2011 and early 2012 were a fiasco in my life, as I blew up my marriage, stayed in North Texas, and got divorced. The race was again canceled in 2012 due to fires, and did not resume until a new Race Director showed up in 2014 to resume the operation. Peri Mashburn is a fantastic promoter, official, and general cycling enthusiast, and we can’t thank her enough for her hospitality and ability to make connections, local and state-wide, so that this venue and event can survive. Again – as a competitive cyclist, you owe it to yourself to come out and race this event.

As Tracy and I started our lives together, we traveled out to Ft. Davis in 2013, and got engaged at “DOM” rock, outside of Lajitas, and then traveled to another town, Alpine, to race the “No Country for Old Men” Ultra Event in the Fall of 2014, which we won. The studios got up and running, we got married in 2014, and we continue to push the envelope on Training with Technology, as we try to help others get the most bang-per-buck-per-minute out of their bodies.
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I’ll talk about this more in another, separate post, but Armando’s software and technology should be considered Gen 4 wattage interpretation, programming and analysis. I began using Xert Online about six weeks ago, and followed the training protocol two or three days a week, and suffice it to say, at age 45, I FINALLY had a great Stage Race, and was modestly competitive at Ft. Davis. The trick is to make the intervals about 20% harder, and KEEP DOING THEM! Again, fodder for another post, but if you haven’t taken advantage of XertOnline’s free Beta program, you owe it to yourself to port your data over there, and start analyzing the results for yourself.

THE RACE – STAGE 1
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Sadly, starting around February, Tracy started suffering from lingering knee issues, and the result was a delayed progression such that she was unable to adequately prepare for the event, and we both decided that it would probably be best if she used this weekend as a training and support weekend, instead of a competitive race that would leave her frustrated. I, on the other hand, started following Xert’s suggestions for intervals that would improve my 5-minute average Power. To get there, Armando and I looked at the modeling, and we both agreed that I could MAYBE handle intervals of 1:1 work to rest ratio, and that intervals in the 90-150 second AT 370 WATTS EACH would be most effective! Oh Holy Moses performing those intervals really, really hurt! That said, I was excited to see my Critical power Jump, and Armando’s modeling quickly got within 2% of predictions. I had a conversation with Rob Kitching of CyclingPowerLab.com, and given the altitude, we dropped my numbers by about 24 points, to be conservative, and I decided to use Stage 1 to race the terrain, instead of trying to race the racers. We also arrived a day early, so we could rest up and start hydrating and adapting to the elevation as best we could.

Ironically, the Friday before the race began, Tracy went out to attempt the Scenic Loop with David Bambaugh, from Houston, who was helping with race management. I provided SAG and just enjoyed the day and the geology in the area, reading a book about a modern author following Coronado’s Route through Arizona as he attempted to find the Legendary Seven Cities of Cibola. About 2/3 of the way through the route, deep in the mountains, the weather abruptly changed and the ceiling dropped until there was about  100 feet of visibility, and temps were around 42 degrees. Neither of the cyclists were completely prepared for this, and after climbing Fisher Mountain, we all agreed to call it a day. The clouds finally lifted late in the day, but not after depositing a chill near freezing all over the Davis Mountains. THIS was the atmosphere we were facing on Saturday morning as the Stage 1 Climb to the McDonald Observatory began.

I warmed up indoors, made sure all my kit was solidly layered, and we rolled out in 34 degree temps with the Women 1,2,3’s and the Men’s 50+ group, of whom there were almost twice as many racers as the 10 riders I was racing against in the 40+ field. As soon as the neutral zone ended, Team Crest, with 4 of the 10 cyclists, began some aggressive moves. I wasn’t sure whether this was just to warm up, or if it was all part of a plan, but I stayed near the front, and chased down a couple of breaks, just in case. However, after the Prude Ranch, and before the old “Heartbreak Hill” of previous years, John Murazek of Crest took off on a solo endeavor, and I followed. Soon, we were clear, and we did a 2-man paceline that got about a minute up the road and took us all the way to the base of the first climb, beyond the Gazebo and “Lone Oak” landmark. There, I actually climbed really well, and dropped him, not getting caught by the pursuers until almost at the top of the climb. This was the best I’d felt on that first climb in years, and I knew it was going to be a good day.

There’s a short recovery, and then the second hill, which I’ve heard called “Arrowhead Mountain”, began. This is the longest climb of the stage, and while it’s not overly steep, it’s just a long grind. Almost immediately, I lost some ground, getting passed by one 40+ rider in a group of about 7 or 8 50+ cyclists, and again, I didn’t panic, I just looked down at my rolling 30 second power, and rode against the terrain. Sure enough, one by one, several riders started to pop, and I reeled them in, bit by bit. I got to the top of the climb in good position, but there was a 40+ rider ahead of me that I needed to catch. I did get there, and while we all took a breather and prepared for that last, steep climb up to the Observatory, I decided to make a serious effort to pass him and put some distance between us. It almost worked – I made the climb in a strong position, but with about 500 meters to go, he literally rolled by on my right, about 3 rpm higher than me, and finished about 15 seconds ahead of me, in second place. I completed the climb in 3rd, and congratulated those ahead of me. This felt good, this felt right, and this felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders, as I’d finally climbed somewhere near my ability. I’m not as strong as I used to be, I’m not as light as I used to be, and I’m not as fit as I probably could be, but I was done, and actually in the running. Whew.
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THE RACE – STAGE 2

Stage II was held the, and was a gentle climb for about 18 ½ miles of to the Crow’s Nest, which is a camp and retreat. Usually, this stage suffers from rising heat and wind, which blows up the peloton. However, that afternoon, the wind was actually at our backs. This made for a very fast, and tightly packed group, and to avoid any possible headaches, the first place rider and myself ended up just trading leads at speed to carry the group toward the finish line. My legs were not feeling hundred percent, but I finished with the pack in the Sprint, and I believe I finished fifth or sixth in my category. That said, I was really sitting my power for the long stage and scenic loop.

 

THE RACE – STAGE 3

Sunday morning, the race for 40+ again at 9 AM, and it was considerably more than the previous day’s races. Once again, I warmed up indoors for about 30 minutes, make sure that I had at breakfast, and continue my diligence on staying hydrated. Right before getting of you, however, I looked down at my front tire and noticed that I had a large slice it. I called time and was allowed to go to the wheel and grab my spare, which I quickly installed in place the errors.

 

The road out was at a neutral speed, and John Murazek, who was in first place in the general category, service up to paceline counterclockwise as we once considered up towards Crow’s nest. This have the combined effect of making the race quick enough to get somewhere, but also comfortable enough to avoid getting chilled or board. I made a point of eating as much as I could the first 90 minutes, and drank both bottles before the first feeds zone, but the pack largely stayed together until about 6 miles from Bear Mountain. A single 50+ rider went off the front, quickly gained several minutes, and no one gave chase. We were all focused on the second half of course, which started at Bear Mountain.

Unfortunately, my legs were not as fresh as they had been the day before, and I was dropped beginning of Bear Mountain. Once I got to the cattle guard, I was able to pedal more strongly, and I reached Tracy and the bottle about one minute 15 seconds down. After Bear Mountain, there is a 6 mile descent, and I connected with David Richardson and Bill Shirer and, as they were old team mates of mine, I think we clicked really well. We worked together to try and bridge to the lead group of writers, which included first, second, and third in the 40+ group, as well as several 50+ riders. We were able to get within 20 seconds of this group, when the second large climb started, and once again I fell off the back by about 45 seconds. Bill and David remained just with insight, and just outside of reach, for the next several miles, and I continued to try and ride hard, and descend quickly so that we could reconnect and work together.
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Ever since I started writing out in Fort Davis, Fisher Mountain has always been one of the most challenging segments. It starts on the opposite side of a creek bottom, and quickly goes through 8 to 13% gradients in a left-hand, then right hand, and then left hand climbing chicane. Then, it climbs straight up the mountain at about 6%, until you reach the second feed zone at the top. I’m actually really proud of the way that I rode this, as I did not blow up, and did not lose more than about five seconds to build and David. I also ended up passing several of the category three and category four stragglers. The second feed zone is at the top of this mountain, and Tracy said that I had 45 seconds to catch up with them. I made the descent as quickly as I could, and by the time I reached the final climb out that ends up that McDonald Observatory, I was closing the gap.

 

I remember watching the cyclists ahead of me passed by shadows and road signs, and I quickly took mental count of the seconds that I had to go to catch up. 40 seconds became 30, 30 seconds became 12,12 seconds became eight, and at the top of the file climb, I rolled up to them and said “I’m back. Let’s reel them in!” I think I took maybe a minute to recover, and then we began about 18 miles of rotations and strong pulls, to try and catch the leaders.

 

I’m convinced that the fact two runs known for years, helped make a big difference in the chase. David, Bill and I are all familiar with each other, we know how to communicate without speaking, and we encourage each other. I believe that I was a little more fresh for some reason, and so I insisted on taking longer holes that may have been a little stronger, and in my head I counted to 8four to eight times in a row before wiggling my elbow and moving to the back. We continued to reel in stragglers, but when we reached the Prude Ranch, which is only 4 miles from town, we knew that it would be really, really tough to catch the leaders. We were just running out of real estate. I continue to push, and eventually as we approached the edge of town, we came upon four of the 50+ riders, including a teammate of Bill’s. Build attempted to slingshot off the draft of the riders, but when he made the right hand turn into town, we were all set by a stiff headwind, and it brought him back to hide and recover.

 

The eight of us, and basically congratulated each other for a good effort and a great time together, and with about 600 m to go, I asked David what he wanted to do. He said, “Well, I guess we’ll have to Sprint.” And I told him that I did not believe I have the legs to try that. I then said “I’m going to stay by the white line, you take the yellow line, let’s let these guys do their Sprint first.” The 50+ rider stormed through the gap, and David beat me by three or four bike lengths to the finish line. He took forth on the day, while I finished in fifth.

 

Afterward, we all grouped together at an intersection hundred meters down the road, and congratulated everyone on the race, a great time, the fantastic course, a few day, and good camaraderie.
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I always approach this race with a bit of anxiety, but also a sense of elation. It is by far the most beautiful venue for racing in Texas. It is also the toughest. In order to do well, you have to think about it and plan for it almost 4 or five months in advance. If you do not, and you show up unprepared, be prepared for disappointment. There have been years in the past where I left the race before it was over, or have beaten myself up over four preparation. But this year, I really think this was the most complete race that I have ridden in years. Cyclists have to be prepared for terrain, wind, and stiff competition. Furthermore, success does not always come in the form of a strong finish. It comes instead from solid preparation and knowing that you have had a very great experience. I urge all of my fellow cyclists who compete to come back out in future years and simply ride this venue is spectacular, but it is the act of cycling in this remote and beautiful region that sets it apart from anything else.

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