Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bootleg Canyon MTB Camp

It is so fun to learn new things, and learn that most of what you thought you knew is wrong. I know that I have only been riding a mountain bike for about a year and a half and I am completely self-taught, but after doing really well at the Xterra races last year I thought I at least had some of the basic mountain biking skills mastered. Apparently not. Not only that, most of the advice that others have been giving me is also off the mark. I decided after Worlds last year that I really wanted to improve my mountain biking skills, not only to improve my racing but to have more confidence on the trails. A lot of the time I feel like I get by on my mountain bike with good fitness and a lot of luck, rather than really knowing what I am doing. After doing some searches on the internet I decided to take Gene Hamilton's Better Ride mountain bike camp. He is a downhill mtb racer (crazy) and has spent a lot of time and effort learning how the best racers race the way they do. The camp is a three day intensive skills clinic held in Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City Nevada, though, we have been spending most of our time in the parking lot practicing and doing drills. (I will definitely have to come back and do some riding here, tons of great trails including some serious downhill runs - which I won't be riding)

Bootleg Canyon, Nevada

Gene trying not to get frustrated with his class

Day one started with learning how to properly look ahead on the trail by using your peripheral vision. It is much harder to do than you think but seriously works if you can convince your brain that you don't have to look down. Body position on climbs and descents as well as how to do wheelies were also covered. My wheelies definitely need work. Saturday, day two, I managed to get my butt out of bed early and get to the pool for a quick swim before the camp got rolling. We started the day in a pavement parking lot learning how to corner properly. This is one skill that I have never felt comfortable with, even on my road bike, and now I know why. I was doing it all wrong.

Me learning proper cornering technique (smiling is mandatory)

We also learned braking techniques (ie your front brake is your best friend) then headed out to the trails to implement what we learned. It is definitely going to take some time to get used to these new techniques but I can tell they are going to make a huge difference in my riding. The key is going to be not reverting back to my old bad habits. Tomorrow: switchbacks and rear wheel wheelies, oh boy!!! Hopefully I will have more photos of the canyon as it is really spectacular but so far I have forgotten to take any until it is too dark.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


So I flew to California on Saturday morning for a little under a week in the LA area. My coach, Gareth Thomas, is based out of Santa Monica and we rarely get to work together face to face so it was great to get out to see him. The main purpose of the trip was do to some blood lactate testing on the bike and run which we got out of the way first thing on Sunday. My training is based on the results of these tests and they are a great way to evaluate how training is going. I personally don't like them as the goal is to really hurt yourself, and my fingers end up all bruised from the needle punctures. Oh well, the tests were great and I am way ahead of last year. Monday I was supposed to join up with one of the local pro mountain bikers and do an epic ride in the Santa Monicas but it ended up raining the whole day. Figures it would be warm and sunny until I get here then rain. I spent the morning doing nothing then decided that it wasn't going to let up and headed out to swim at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. I know you are wet anyways, but I've always hated swimming in the rain. I also only had my dark goggles so I could barely see anything. Later on it cleared enough to get a run in. Tuesday, perhaps a chance to get on the trails? Nope, more rain. Again I spend the morning hoping it would let up but it only cleared enough to go for a quick spin on the roads. I am staying at friends of Gareth's sweet pad in Burbank right next to Griffith Park (where the Hollywood sign is) so I headed up the the roads that run through the park.

I know this is a cliche picture but I couldn't resist

It was some nice riding for the middle of LA, with some pretty serious climbing, over 3,000 ft by the end of the ride. I was all excited to see a coyote until it stopped and waited hoping I would feed it. The second one looked positively annoyed that I didn't have anything for it. At least the third one I saw acted like a real coyote and ran off into the trees. Later on I joined Gareth and the UCLA triathlon team for a swim workout on campus. Really brought back some memories of the dual meets we had there. (UCLA and ASU swim teams didn't get along)

Tuesday, finally sunshine, and even though everything was still pretty damp I had to get out on the mountain bike. I did a quick swim in the morning then packed up the bike and headed to the Santa Monica Hills. I started from the end of Mulholland Drive and cruised along the ridge and down and back up one of the canyons for a great ride. It was all on fireroads, so nothing technical, but is certainly made up for it with some serious climbing (over 5,000ft) and some amazing views.

Now I'm all packed up and ready to move on. I am driving to Las Vegas for the weekend to take a 3 day mountain bike clinic in Bootleg Canyon. Since mountain biking is so new for me and definitely my weakest link I thought it would be great to go and learn how it's really done.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Snake

Well the snakes didn't show up to the Snake Creek Gap TT, but there were definitely lots of roots, rock, and they forgot to mention mud. I decided to drive up to Dalton, Georgia which is just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to where the race was Friday afternoon so I wouldn't have to ride after sitting in the car for 3 hours. Good thing because I forgot about the time change and probably would have been an hour late getting there. (Of course I still would have beat Casey there!!!) The race is a 34mile mountain bike ride point to point. (17miles if you don't feel up to the full distance) I showed up at the parking lot with lots of time to spare, got registered and loaded my bike up onto the bike transport trailer.

Standing around waiting for the pre-race meeting I met up with Xterra triathletes Craig Evans from Nashville, Omar Fraser and Scott Mills from Alabama and Mark Rudder from Atlanta. Ed Hamilton was also there (the 6th rider from the Oak Mountain group ride whose name I forgot - made sure I remembered it this time). Omar drove up from Birmingham and when asked about Casey Fanning said he left at least 45 minutes behind him. As it turns out he also got a speeding ticket on the way, so as per usually he was running for the bus as it was pulling out. The bus ride to the trailhead was about 45mins were everyone immediately jumped out, headed to the bushes for a pit stop, grabbed their bikes and lined up for the start. The start was a moderately organized time trial start. Basically about six people lined up at a time and were started a couple minutes apart after their numbers and names were recorded. Craig and Omar jumped right in at the front and we never saw them again. The rest of us somehow all ended up in the same start and headed out together. I had no idea what I was up against so started very conservatively and hung back with Ed.

The first section was a pretty mellow dirt road except for the creek crossing within the first couple of miles. Nice, four hours of riding with wet feet. Thankfully the weather was great and warming up nicely. Then the mud started. I have never enjoyed, or been able to ride well in the mud so it was slip 'n' slide for me. The mud let up once we got onto the single track and the climbing started. It would total over 5,000 ft by the end. I spent most of the time going back and forth with a group of guys. I would pass all of them on the climbs and they would fly by me on the downhills, repeat, repeat, repeat. I was cruising along nicely until I got to a set of 3 downhill, narrow creek crossings. I flew through the first two then missed the line on the third and ended up on my ass. While I managed to avoid landing in the water I did manage to land right on a big rock. Definitely going to leave a mark. Got back on my bike, hiked it across the river and cruised it into the halfway mark.

At halfway, where the 17mile ride started, they had a sag station set up. My bike was totally mudded up and threatening to stop shifting. I have to admit that I feel a little guilty about this but sometimes, especially at mountain bike events, it is great to be a chic. I pulled in and there were several guys hanging out. A mechanic was offering lube to those who needed it, but as I pulled up immediately came over, grabbed my bike and proceeded to clean the chain, derailleurs, shocks, rocker link, and relube my chain while I switched out bottles, grabbed some food and lost the arm warmers. Wow, can you say full service. The second half started with, you guessed it, more climbing. All the riders were pretty spread out by this time so there was lots of room to ride your own pace. I was approaching the three hour mark and thinking that I hadn't bothered to fill my camelback at halfway and was quite possibly going to run out of water when another sag stop appeared, whoohoo, saved!! From there until the last mile it was rock garden, after rock outcropping, after rocky climb. I really got the hang of it and ended up riding really well, mostly because I was so sick of getting on and off my bike and just sucked it up and rode it. My goal, based on nothing whatsoever, was to get under 4 hours. I ended up at 4:16 total time, 4:08 ride time. (next time definitely under 4, might have to forgot the full service bike stop at halfway)

Bike post-race

Riders post-race (CJ, Scott Mills, Casey Fanning)

Woke up Sunday morning a little stiff and sore, and definitely a couple of bruises but overall feeling pretty good. Next up, recovery week (nice) then a week in California with my coach, Gareth Thomas (even nicer). It will be great to finally get some sun on my training camp.

Friday, February 6, 2009

New Shoes

I find during base training you have to enjoy and look forward to the little things that break up the otherwise somewhat repetitive and boring training miles. Yesterday was my day off and I got out of town and headed to Tuscaloosa to visit my college swimming teamate Camilla. Her husband got an assistant professor's job at the University of Alabama so the whole family made the move from Phoenix, AZ to 'Bama. We got to spend a couple of hours catching up while the two little ones where at daycare, then headed out to lunch with Emilia 3 and Isaac 1. I have a whole new respect for Mom's.

Ready for nap time!!

Today I got home from swim practice to see a big package delivered for me. Oh ya, new shoes!! This year I am lucking to be training and racing in Pearl Izumi running and biking shoes. We all know they have been making bike shoes forever, but they also make a great line of running shoes. What's even more exciting is they make a trail racing shoe, lightweight enough to race in but still great on trails, can't wait to try them out. (they also come in really cool colours)

Now it's off to Georgia and the Snake Creek Gap MTB Time Trial tomorrow. Will update after the race. CJ

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lots of Training

Not much is new except lots of training, training, and more training. I finally got out to the local group ride this weekend, the Birmingham Bike League. It is a great Saturday ride throughout the winter months with designated attack zones, usually 2-3, set within the ride. This past weekend with the warm weather finally back, 40-50 riders showed up to join the fun. After a solid hard week of training my plan was to simply try not to get shelled out the back in the attack zones so I wouldn't have to bust my butt to catch back on in the neutral zones. Luckily there were quite a few others just out to ride steady and I always had a wheel in front of me to draft off of. The last attack zone was straight up the last hill of the ride just to make sure your legs were really done. The ride ended up being just over 3hrs with 4,200 vertical feet of climbing. I needed 4hrs so I had to tack on an extra 45mins solo at the end.

Sunday was hill repeats on the mountain bike with a short aerobic run off the bike. Since I am here training at the site of one of the Xterra Cup races this year I took the opportunity to do the repeats up the main hill on the race course. Full of rocks, roots, and even water crossings, it was a great day out on the bike working on the technical skills I so desperately need. It's so exciting to be able to train outside on great mountain biking terrain instead of at home on the trainer. After the brick I decided to jump in the lake as a substitute ice bath. It seemed like a good idea, much better than filling the bath tub with ice and sitting in it. Well when I got out some of the local riders mentionned that while it was still cold enough to not be a problem, the spot I had chosen was frequently visited by copperhead and water moccasin snakes. Yikes, maybe the bathtub is a better option after all.

This coming weekend I am toying with the idea of riding the 'Snake Creek Gap Time Trial'. It is a 34mile mountain bike race in Nortwest Georgia that is supposed to be pretty epic. It's described as over 90% single track full of rocks, roots, and rattlers!!! Just what I need, more opportunities to run into snakes. Hopefully since it is such a popular race there will be plenty of riders in front of me to clear the trail. Until then....