Friday, October 5, 2012

2012 US Masters National Track Cycling Championships

Alright, it's a been a good long time since anything new appeared in this space. I guess fatherhood will do that to you-- the boy is ten months old now and all action. Maybe he already has a track sprinter's temperament? Seems like I barely have time to scratch my ass much less sit down for hours on end editing photos and mulling over catchy descriptors. It's actually taken me over two months to get this one out. Anyhow, here goes... .

A few events have passed under my wheels this year worth mentioning but no time to devote enough time to chronicalling properly: A couple sprint tourneys, some meaningful training sessions, a sprint tactics clininc with former British Cycling coaches (recommended!), Hellyer Velodrome Challenge, and Masters District Championships (2nd kilo, 1st team sprint), all of whch have seen a slight but noticeable (at least to myself) increase in my fitness and speed. Last year was a downward spiral all about coming to terms with my new status as a household domestic and the change in focus that requires. Read: less training, lower fitness, fewer results. In short, frustration.

This year, I'm doing if anything even LESS training than last year, but it seems like I'm making it count more. God, I am tired, but somehow I've been able to lift my game a tiny bit. Just that little bit is enough to keep me motivated to get up at five and train before work and brave the wife's fury when I occasionally sneak into the gym on the way home. It's a dangerous life.

First a couple words about the track. The velodrome at Colorado Springs' Olympic Training Center is a 333 meter track with a maximum 35 degree banking, and was designed for world class competition. It has seen battles between sprinting greats such as Marty Northstein, Jens Fiedler, the great Michael Hubner and more. The track is at an altitude of over 6000 feet, and this means that the reduced air density makes it one of the worlds fastest tracks and is frequently used for world record attempts. An exciting track with a lot of history!

My first view of the track was pure love- oh, that steep, tall banking, that smooth concrete... . Altitude or no, it looked fast! In fact the size and dimensions of the track looked nearly identical to the 333 I rode at the Japanese nationals in 2010. I knew it would be far and away the best US track I'd set wheel upon. That first day we arrived late and only had time to dump our tent and find the hotel, but I couldn't wait to ride the Olympic velodrome!

The weather was schizophrenic the entire time we were in Colorado Springs. One minute, hot, dry and still. Twenty minutes later a cool wind picks up, sprinkles appear and then it's bucketing, hapless racers running this way and that to get expensive bikes under sagging tents. Then hot and dry, track rideable in an amazingly short time. A couple hours later the winds would pick up, and it was time to look for heavy objects to tie the tents down to stop them flying away. That was about how a daily cycle seemed to go.

One of the great unknown secrets of my vast success as an old-guy track racer is my mysterious unnamed advisor who drops brilliant nuggets of knowledge on me out of the blue. I'll call him Obi-Wan. Here's what Obi-Wan had to say to prep me for Colorado springs:
"Colorado Springs is the best track in the world. Its heaven on earth. Your going to suffer greatly if you are not prepared for altitude. Takes 6 days to adjust. Either go right before your races, meaning a day before, or go 5  days before.  If you don't fall in either of those ranges...the best thing I can tell you is to make sure you don't ever go over 80% on any effort prior to your race. Your legs will feel like shit, your body will seize up, and your lactate levels. You will get a dry air cough in your lungs that will feel like you were sucking on a blow torch, expect this and don't let it bother you. Your can gargle with a slight amount (tsp.) of glycerin from a pharmacy to coat your throat, but its just the way it goes."
Right. So I hadn't felt anything of the altitude yet, but the following day when I got out for a few efforts I most certainly did. My plan was just to get out and do my normal warm-up, 20 laps gradually increasing to an 80% sprint pace, five to ten minutes rest, then a couple of flying 100's. Went pretty smooth, and the track was indeed a thing of beauty, definitely the best track I'd been on sine Japan and maybe even better than those tracks. But wow, it took an awful long time to recover from those little flying 100's, a REAL long time! I did just two of them, in the morning, and I was still hacking mid afternoon. I remember feeling a little wobbly and weird in general afterwards, too. Oh well, I thought, if that was the worst of it, no big deal.

It wasn't the worst of it. Thankfully I had no races the next day, as I woke up with a splitting headache and by mid afternoon I was bedridden feeling like I was gonna barf. I recovered fairly well by dinnertime, but it was pretty ugly. I wasn't sure if it was altitude or food poisoning. Obi-Wan set me straight:

"You got bit by altitude. Did you find you couldn't really feel your legs and when you did it was acid? 
Its the altitude. I feel sad telling you, and didn't for a reason, but you gotta be there a week before or you're fucked...
Some handle it better. You practically have to not ride at all if you come in with short rest. In a week I bet you gain 2 seconds."

Ouch. At least I had a night's sleep between me and the event that was likely my best chance at a result, the kilo.

Here's the entry from my training log for the day of the kilo:

Good warm up with (teammates) Paul and Allen in the morning before the track got real crowded. Bobby Walthour had set a 45-49 WR the previous day with a 1:06, and he'd just done a 1:08 at Hellyer so I had an idea it would be fast. Allen went out and did a 1:07.4 with a 35.2 500 split (eventually 2nd place). Got out there feeling ok. Start was good but I kinda lost my plan at first and had to throttle back my effort having started a little too hard. My 1st half-lap was 15.4. After that I kinda lost the thread and felt lost. I feel like I throttled back too much and didn't get the peak I could have. Never really got a rhythm. Probably didn't get relaxed enough and the last lap was hell, my last lap was 22.9, felt like I crawled across the line. Still podiumed with 1:09.236 in 5th, and that felt good (new PB by about .5 sec), but looking at my splits I think I could have had a 1:08 if I'd been more together on the same amount of effort. I have not had a good last lap since Japan, must fix this!

The last lap of a kilo always hurts, but this one seemed the most painful in memory. Altitude again? Anyhow, a podium and a medal felt good. A PB too, but only by .5 second over my best sea level time, was secretly hoping for better.


On the rest day following we went up Pike's Peak on a train. Super neat.


My mom was racing again this year at nationals. Her class was expanded to include the age category below hers, so she had a much larger field of competitors this year. While she was disappointed not to improve on her two third places from last year at Trexlertown, she still went away with two 5th place medals and two new PB's, going 2 seconds faster in her 500 meter time trial and a whopping 7 seconds faster in the 2000. Nice one, mom!

Sprints the next day pretty disappointing. Wicked headwind on the back straight slowed everyone and I could only manage an 11.68. My third best time ever, I'll admit I was really hoping to go at least 11.5. All the same, it's the first time I've gone sub-12 in the US, so I have to take some satisfaction.

In the rounds I just felt sluggish, and feel a lot was just mental. Lost my first round thinking I could get him from behind, but the wind probably played havoc with that. Rep round, I took the front, played it well, razored the guys, one guy just faded off with less than one to go, the other came up on my hip in t3, held him there through the turn and thought I had him but he came back and took it by a tire. 
Exciting race and fun, but I was done. Kind of a drag. Teammate Allen Vugrincic went on to take fourth.

Here's my training log entry for the last event of the week:
Team sprint day and I was psyched. Felt great in warm up and I was slaying my partner without trying on our jumps. Hot conditions and little wind. We got out clean but 2nd man started falling off the wheel exiting t2. This happened with the same guy last year, we've been using him as 1st man at Hellyer with some success, but we had to sub a guy and he really wanted to try 2nd man again. Our 1st man, Carleton, did a blazing acceleration out of t2 and Paul (2nd man) was gapped, but not as bad as last year. By the line, it was probably 5 lengths so not a total disaster, but definitely not ideal. I didn't freak out and just rested on his wheel, nearly skimming his tire. He faded a bit, but gradually, and I readied, backing off out of t4 and rolling on through the straight. 

I did my first solid last lap in the US. Just rolled in on through the whole lap, feet getting lighter even though I was on a 51x14, a gear bigger than I'd ever raced. My second half-lap felt quicker than my first and I was able to save something for us, 1:07.3 and another podium with 5th. That was probably my most satisfying effort since coming back to the US. Getting my mojo back?

Gearing was interesting at that track because of the altitude and the correspondingly fast condition of the track. Log:
I rode the 51x14 only for the TS, and weirdly, it didn't feel too big for that. I did not have a problem starting it at all and it felt pretty smooth during my lap. I rode 50x14 for everything else at CS. I usually ride that for 200's at Hellyer, but usually ride 49x14 for kilo and 49 or 48x14 for sprint rounds. I should mention these are all substantially smaller than the guys I usually train and race with ride. But I know 51x14 is big for me, that was an exceptional situation. I'm not planning to start gearing up. Apparently the top 4 guys at CS were riding 47/48x13 for the sprint rounds. Seems huge! Best time in my age group was 10.7 for the 200, and that was with the headwind! Some fast dudes.

A satisfying week on the bike. Some ups, some downs, no earth-shattering breakthroughs, but a couple of solid efforts and decent times. Fun. And progress. Not a lot, but enough to keep the motivation necessary to  keep spending nearly all my precious little free time banging on at this. Next race: Elite Nationals at the LA Velodrome.

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