Monday, June 27, 2011

South Street

Finding spots to train for track sprinting is pretty challenging in a town like San Francisco. There are too many damned hills in this place. Even getting out to Golden Gate Park is on the limit as far as climbing. Over the bridge? Forget about it. I miss the pancake-flat roads along the Tamagawa river back home -oops!- I meant back in Japan. Perhaps because of San Francisco's hills I'm a little more fit than I was in terms of the size of my "spare tire", but it's by no means proven that fit means faster. Quite possibly the opposite. Many of the fastest sprinters I know wouldn't look that good at the beach.

Here's my other weekly training spot, South Street in the Mission Bay Complex. It's a straight, flat shot about 300 or 400 meters long. Too short for many drills, but great for starts and jumps from a slow roll. It's deserted on the weekend when the park is crammed with families. Not bad.

The empty buildings feature many, many security cameras to keep me from feeling lonely.

There's even this lovely little park with no one in it. Great for a short break, drink of water, change the gear, vomit..., what have you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

First Race in the US

Ah, we now have internet at home! Took only just over two months to get it-- welcome back to American style customer service!
But things are settling in: Got jobs, got the apartment, got phones, a gym membership, the obligatory Ikea items, and I even have a new favorite training spot. Above is the Panasonic at Golden Gate Park's Polo Grounds, which features what is basically a big velodrome. It's an oval just over one kilometer around with just slightly banked turns. It's perfect as long as there aren't too many baby joggers and dog walkers around.

And got this guy (above). Buster's been waiting patiently for us to return from Japan, and probably he is what I missed most about the US. Him and burritos.

Last Saturday was my first "real" race in the US, meaning one sanctioned by USA Cycling. The "Festival of Speed" time trials at Hellyer. I did flying 200 and the dreaded kilo. This is the 200 above and below.

The 200 was my best yet at Hellyer, a 12.34, which tied for best time, much to my surprise. Seems a long way from my best 200 of last year (11.65 seconds), but I'm learning that the time on its own is fairly irrelevant. What matters more is, where did you do it? The Japanese tracks are just faster. But I'm making better and better friends with Hellyer.

The kilo was another matter. First time doing one on Hellyer so I didn't really know what to expect. I tried a bigger gear than I've used before (50x14 for 96.4") as an experiment. Seems it worked well for the 200, but for the kilo, I think it was too big. I'm just not strong enough to start that gear properly, so I think I lost some time in the first lap.

I'm also still just plain afraid of Hellyer's shallow, bumpy turns, and I know I'm not reaching the peak speed I'm really capable of. Time was 1:12.53, which was the best time. So I shouldn't complain, it's a win in my first race, but still the time is not what I'd hoped. I've been aiming for a 1:08 this season, and 1:12 is a looooooong way off that.

Here it is, the first number I've pinned on since, oh, 1992? Nostalgic. I'm glad so glad to still be doing this sport!

The Kachimamori still works on the other side of the Pacific! I should start selling these things...

Nice sky at Hellyer. I think it got near 90˚ that day. I was burnt to a crisp three hours later...

The numbers. Read 'em and weep!

Sunday Training at Hellyer

Coming back to the US after 3 years in Japan has been a much bigger adjustment than I'd expected. Japan is a very different country and I didn't realize how adapted I'd become and how many things about that culture I was taking for granted. Of course some are good, some are maybe not so good.

In Japan, people are generally quiet and polite, which is a pretty nice thing. But at the same time, this politeness goes along with a confounding indirectness-- it's often hard to get a straight answer, especially if the answer is "no".

On the other hand, America is infamous for its excessive volume and rudeness. But the flip side of that is the direct honesty most people will treat you to. I definitely missed that while I was in Japan. At the same time, it's pretty damn loud, dirty and stinky over here! I completely forgot what an experience a trip on a SF Muni bus was...

Putting all that aside, the tracks are very different between the two counties as well, and I've found that I'm spoiled rotten by the lovingly maintained Japanese tracks. Hellyer is an entirely different beast: Bumpy and narrow, with banking that is too shallow in the corners and seems unnecessarily steep on the straights, I could barely get out of my own way on this track at first.

And no disrespect to the track, I'm glad to have it. After a few times around it, I came to a stunning realization: I'm not a very good track rider! The velvety Japanese tracks did not prepare me for this. As a result my pedal stroke is too jerky, therefore I lose traction in the corners. When I'm standing, I'm wild all over the bumps because I'm not centered enough. I'm taking these as lessons Hellyer is teaching me about riding.

I've attended a couple of Sunday advanced training sessions, which are mostly geared for sprinters. Thanks to the Hellyer folks for allowing me to join them. This led to realizing another track-related difference between Americans and the Japanese: Americans are BIG. I was used to often being the tallest guy around, if not the most burly, at the track in Japan. At about 5'10" and 175 pounds, I seem more like an enduro over here! This Sunday group includes some of Hellyer's heavy hitters- Pete Billington, Sam Milroy, Allen Vugrincic, Carlos Johnson. These guys are big, football player big! I feel small...

The big guy on the front here is Carlos Johnson, who's been giving me some great coaching on how to tackle Hellyer.