Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Racing - Revised 2012 Goals

So the last few months have let me think about racing in 2012, specifically think about how to structure the year mentally. Usually I start off with a bang after a steady diet of JRA rides on the trainer. In December I'll start on some harder trainer rides, really bumping up the volume and intensity. This leads to a long, hard training camp in SoCal where I try and do 30 hours in a week.

This sets me up for a decent Bethel Spring Series, whose races end mid-April. A break for a bit (usually another trip out West, this time to Vegas, with the Missus's company), some training, and then I ramp up again for June and July.

After that it's all gravy, I usually realize too late that I'm honing some good form, and I try and take advantage of whatever legs I have before the season ends.

In 2012 it'll be a bit different.

For various reasons I won't be making either trip, to SoCal or Vegas. This means a loss of some serious training hours in January and February. It means a loss of another short training camp in April.

It means a loss of a lot of training time.

In addition I'm heavier than I want to be right now. I was pushing upwards of 180 lbs just a few weeks ago. With some help, advice, and some motivation, I'm trimming down just a bit, but my 160 lbs goal seems pretty far away. We'll see how it goes but my best case scenario at this point is to be 160 lbs.

(To put it in perspective, in 2010 I hit Bethel at about 155-158 lbs. In 2009 I was floating around at about 185-200 lbs.)

With the lack of early season mega-miles, a bit of weight to lose (and the inability to do massive miles when dieting), I need to push back my initial goal a bit back. Okay, fine, I want to be good at Bethel, but when I'm missing a third or more hours of training, it'll be hard to be as good as I want to be.

On the other hand, the team has really evolved in the last few months. A number of members have upgraded, racers who I admit are in superior fitness relative to me. One actually rode me off his wheel when he tried to lead me out - he was that much stronger than me.

Along with this a couple of guys have joined the team, reinforcing the strength we have with some long time experience and racing savvy. One of the new members is a guy that I've wanted to race with for literally 10 years or more. For whatever reason we could never get on the same team when we were both on form (we got on the same team one year but he was away most of that year due to work).

I've changed my goals from outright racing goals (i.e. placings, wins, etc) to something a bit more abstract - have more fun.

What is fun?

Ah, now we're getting into the core of things. I race bikes because it's fun. There's something engaging about the whole process, the equipment, the training (however much I don't like structured training), riding in a group, and, of course, racing.

I can do most of the above on my own, poring over wheels and cranks and bars and stems, going out on training rides. I need others to be able to ride in a group (obviously), and it takes more to do an actual race.

Group riding is just that, riding with a group. It's pretty straightforward, and with a good group of riders, it's pretty low key, even if it's a hard ride.

Racing, that's a whole different creature.

I can race as an individual. I did for many years, with teammates in just occasional races here and there. It's kind of like playing the violin (or any musical instrument) - I can practice and play on my own.

It gets exponentially better when you play the violin as part of a group. The give and take, the coordination, the shared goal, it all makes it all that much more exciting when playing in a group.

An orchestra is kind of like doing a mass group ride. There's a lot of people, some that you don't even know, but you all coalesce and make music together. Of course you share a bit more with your immediate neighbors, playing the same notes as you (at least in the violin section you hope you're playing about the same note).

Then, at appropriate and gratifying times, you'll hear a response from the viola or cello or bass or horns or flutes or even the timpanies (drums).

It's that give and take that's so special, so satisfying.

Problem in an orchestra is that it's pretty diverse, at least in a student one. Some of the kids are musical prodigies, Cat 1s or even pros if you will. Others are there because their parents think it's good for college apps or just to get them out of the house. Those are the Cat 5 musicians.

It can get frustrating when some of the kids don't live up to even a minimal expectation. Although the really big players tend to be good (you can't be a bad timpanist and survive more than a week), it's pretty bad when the folks around you are screeching their violins or otherwise detracting from the experience.

In music there's something a bit more intimate, a bit better - the quartet.

In a quartet there's usually two violins (first and second), a viola (a deeper violin), and a cello. Usually the musicians have complimenting skill sets, but at a level about equal to the others. If a first violin requires exquisite finger and bow work, that musician could be considered the sprinter. The cello player would then be more like the time trial guy, the super domestique.

(Ironically, with regards to playing the violin, I'm more a stayer than a sprinter.)

With a cohesive and intimate group, a quartet can produce wonderful music.

Expo Wheelmen, in a sense, is becoming that quartet, just with a lot more than four riders.

See, what makes racing really fun, what makes it so effervescent, so transient, is teamwork. I can go out and rip out a sprint or two in training, or motorpace a truck or go bombing down a hill.

But I can't do a 3 rider leadout to an imaginary line, not without two other riders.

It's possible to simulate such a thing on a group ride, but the group ride is like the orchestra - you can't have a consistent level of quality. Sometimes I'm the hammer, but other times I'm the nail.

With a good team, with a certain level of consistency, with a broad array of abilities, teamwork suddenly becomes incredibly satisfying.

And it all goes away as soon as the effort ends - that's the transience.

It's hard to describe the joy I feel when a team comes together. It's motivating, it's energizing, it's incredibly pain-numbing. As part of the team I can't sit up because if I do I sit up on everyone, not just myself. I've dug harder than I ever have when working for someone else.

There's only one problem with this whole scenario, as it applies to me.

See, at the end of 2010 I upgraded to Cat 2, and there's only one other Cat 2 on the team, and although he's a great rider and all, we don't do the same races, and when we do, he's at such a higher level than me that I can't help him and he can't help me.

Heck, I struggle to hang on when he's loafing along.

I also realized (knew?) that although I earned my Cat 2 upgrade, I'm not really a full fledged Cat 2. I can't climb as well as many Cat 5s, I time trial about as bad as possible, and I can't even hang with guys when I'm sitting on their wheels.

In other words I can't do a lot of Cat 2 races because, frankly, I'm not good enough. I get shelled in Cat 3 road races; I get shelled by the 4s and the 5s that follow behind. I do well to time trial with a Cat 4, but I lose minutes in a 7 mile time trial to the Cat 2s.

My upgrade was a sniper type upgrade - I hit my target in a very narrow, very accurate way. In those races I excelled. In any other application I was out of my league.

Expo Wheelmen, on the other hand, has a whole slew of Cat 3s. We have two very savvy guys joining us from another team. We have a bunch of 4s upgrading to 3s (okay, they already have). And we didn't lose any of our 2011 Cat 3s. I think we have close to a dozen active participating Cat 3s, guys that I saw almost every week during the summer, guys that understand the concept of teamwork, guys that can race as the protected or the protector.

Guys that I want to race with. But I can't because I'm a Cat 2. On paper anyway.

My path, then, becomes very clear.

Downgrade to Cat 3.

Join the boys on the team. Race together, an exquisite balance of strengths, leveraging off of one another's strengths, motivating each other beyond our normal limits.

And have a whole lotta fun in 2012.


Anonymous said...

Any chance your desire to work with Expo teammates will extend to races other than Crits?

Aki said...

I'd like to, but only if I can really help. Couple days ago on the trainer I was thinking about a whole non-road-racer leadout train in a road race to the bottom of the first hill. Thinking it through I think it'd be more beneficial to work a feedzone or something like that. Based on time/scheduling limitations I'd want to help out at closer races (sub 2 hour driving).

As far as riding goes, in 2010 I had a hard time climbing with even Cat 4s. Unless I ride in a purely domestique role until the first climb I won't be of any help.

Kokorozashi said...

It's always refreshing to read your blog, in part because you're so candid and brave enough to be very public about things like downgrading and so forth.

I think too many of us take ourselves too seriously. Your humor and humility always bring me back down to earth.

I hope 2012 will bring you more fun than a barrel of caffeine-addled Cat 4 'crossers :)

(If you do find such a barrel, though, please let us out. It gets cramped in there sometimes.)

Aki said...

Thanks for the kind words. It's good to see feedback on the blog (even negative stuff), and it's nice to see that someone is reading my stuff (haha).

I shouldn't take a lot of credit on the humility bit though :) It may seem candid talking about downgrading but frankly it'll be common knowledge soon enough (when registration starts for Bethel). I think what's important is the reasons for it. It's like feature-benefit - it's no use just knowing the feature, it's more important to understand the benefit.

I did forget one thing before I downgraded - I didn't take a screenshot of my membership info as a 2. Now it says 3 (and I just renewed my license). And, honestly, it seems like that's what it should be. I just wish I had that screenshot.