What Does It Take To Be A Racer

The Tour De France is just around the corner and just a month ago we were able to experience the Amgen Tour of California in our own home town.  Seeing these amazing riders compete in such an epic way may fuel your own thoughts about taking your cycling to a new level - racing.  What would it be like to be a racer?  How do you start racing?  Cycle Folsom's Aaron Terrazas is a racer on Team Revolutions and has given us some great insight into these questions.

What Does It Take To Be A Racer by Aaron Terrazas

I had no real aspirations to become a racer when I first started road biking, I just wanted to lose weight, get fit and not get dropped. As my fitness increased I began to think about racing; it looked fun and terrifying. I started doing some research, talked to friends, read articles, watched YouTube videos and thought, "why not try it, if I don't like it, I can always quit".

So what steps do you need to take to get into racing? What does it take to get started and be competitive?

Get a Coach
Regardless of how serious you intend to be, I would recommend getting a coach. Having a coach to focus your training and guide you. A coach will not only help you improve your fitness, they will also provide you with direction and focus during your race season. Without direction, folks tend to flounder, and drop out.

Work On Your Fitness
Spend the winter season training, working on your fitness and learning as much as you can. I find that folks who don't train before the race season, tend not to last long in racing because they get discouraged after a few races. There is so much to learn, and while the level of fitness among racers various greatly, the serious racers are on a completely different level of fitness than your average / above average club rider. 

Find a Team
It is very important to have a group you can connect with, work with and be mentored by. When you race, it's very difficult to win a race on your own, unless it's a very small field. Bike racing is a team sport, with strategies, race plans, lead out trains, domestiques, climbers, sprinters, and each serves a role based on the type of race. 

Get Your Race License
You need to register and get a license to race. Get your USA Cycling license for the season: https://www.usacycling.org

Racing Categories
The women's racing categories start at Cat 4 and go up to Cat 1.

The men's racing categories start at Cat 5 and go up to Cat 1. 

There are several different types of groups for each category. Juniors (kids), Cat 1,2,3,4,5 (19-34) and Masters 35+, Masters 45+, and Masters 55+. The non-masters categories are the categories that can go pro (Cat 1).

Beginner Race Program
Every Sunday morning through the month of January,  before race season officially begins, classes for road racing are provided for beginning racers called the Early Bird Races or Beginning Racer Program (BRP). There are various classes provided throughout the state, but the closest one to us is in Fremont. Instructors run through various skills you will need to know for racing like sprinting, cornering, bike handling and more. Instructors will take you through drills and at the end of the class you will get to race a Crit for 20 minutes. Each class with a race is worth 2 points which count towards your 10 upgrade points to get out of Cat 5 to Cat 4.

These classes really are essential if you plan to race.

Do You Need a Race Bike
If you don't have a great racing bike, it is ok, try racing out first before you invest in a good race bike. Racing could also be a great excuse to get a new bike. If you do want to buy a race bike, here are a few things to consider.

Aerobikes are great for crits and flat races, but they tend to drop anchor on rollers and climbs, and many do not corner as well as an all round light race road bike that handles well, responds great on climbs and sprints. Consider purchasing wheels specifically for racing that you can use for all of you races (have a separate pair for training). I have a set of tubular all carbon 50s that I use only for racing, anything deeper would probably not be as great for a climbing race.

Types of Races

Criterium Races (Crits) 
These are fast paced short lap, usually 1/2 mile to 1 mile in length, with multiple laps around a closed small circuit within a 20-40 minute period. These are great for strong riders who might not have the fitness for a long endurance road race, are great sprinters or like to be in the red as riders attack and maneuver for position. Crits are known for bunch sprints, tight corners and crashes (crashes will happen in all race types).

Circuit Races
These are basically the medium between a road race and a Crit, where you race a longer lap of several miles for an hour or more several times. Usually these are not as fast as crits.

Road Race
These are the longer endurance races, which can be longer circuits of 4-9 miles; these are done several times (40+ miles). The duration of these races differ from race to race and category to category.

Time Trial (TT)
These are solo races on a time trial bike (TT). The duration can range from 6 - 20+ miles. These are basically, how fast can you go for 20-40 minutes.

Stage Race
These are typically a series of races over a few days that can have a combination of all the different race types.

Winning Races
Bike racing is one of the few sports where most people never win or podium. There are pros who spend their entire careers never having won a race because their jobs are to support their team leader. So why race?

Racing can be challenging, scary, exhausting, fun and require dedication of time and focus. Most of us who are older are certainly not going to make it to be pros or ride in any world tours, so racing is just something we do on the weekends because we love cycling, competition and pushing ourselves. Most of us don't take it too seriously (some do), and let's face it, we aren't getting paid or sponsored, at least not those of us who are Masters (older), so the most important thing it to just have fun.


A Tale of Two Rides

Yesterday, we completed the 10th and final century ride in the Train for the Tours (TftT) series for 2016.  This one was an out and back from Sly Park to Carson Pass and included more than 10,000' of climbing, riding at altitudes above 7,500’ for much of the ride and some tough climbs like Carson Pass and Mormon Emigrant.  A tough ride by any measure.

I did this ride last year and I thought it would be interesting to compare my experiences since they were so different.  Last year, I thought the ride was a brutal experience.  I was totally exhausted and wiped out at the conclusion.  This year I felt good the entire ride and had "gas in the tank" at the end. 

Why the difference?

Thanks to the Garmin Edge and Strava, I can compare statistics.

The differences between the two rides are very minor.  Moving time, average speed, cadence, and average heart rate are about the same.

The only significant differences are the ride temperature and overall ride elapsed time.  The temperature was 7 degrees cooler and I finished the ride 20+ minutes faster.

It looks like statistics do not tell the full story.  What about my ride game plan?

This ride I tried a few minor changes to my approach to a long endurance ride.  I didn't want to make any big changes as I thought it was a little too close to the Death Ride to make any significant changes.  But, I did have a few areas I thought warranted some "tweaks".

First, I had been having problems drinking fluids during the latter part of the ride.  I have been using electrolyte tablets such as Nuun and Gu. However, I have been getting so absolutely sick of the taste, that I dreaded drinking.  This was further exacerbated when the fluids got warm.

So, I decided to try using Endurolytes (electrolyte pills) and plain water when I was tired of the taste.  This was an amazing improvement.  I was drinking delicious cold water in the last half of the ride as if it were an ice cold beer at a baseball game.  Swallowing a couple of pills was easy when chased by the ice cold water.

Secondly, I tried eating in a snack mode the whole ride.  I added a small frame bag to my top tube where I had a mix of dried fruits, pistachios and seeds.  This allowed for easy access where I could simply reach down and grab a small portion as I was riding.  I also put some oranges with the SAG vehicle as I find oranges clear out that "dry mouth" feeling when breathing hard for long periods.

This approach also helped the 3rd of my ride tweaks - the minimal stop.  I noticed more experienced riders skipping breaks or making very quick stops.  I then looked at many of my rides and I noticed my break times seemed excessive.  Last year's Death Ride, for example, I had nearly 3 hours in non-riding time. My TftT breaks were about an hour.  I am all for breaks, but I don't seem to get much benefit after a few minutes.  I focused on replenishing my water, eating a few orange slices and then getting back on the bike - less than 5 minutes.  Since I was eating while riding, I didn't need to worry about eating during the breaks.  On this ride I had about 20 minutes worth of breaks (4 minutes per break) - 20 minutes below last year's net break time.

Finally, I focused on a manageable and steady pace.  I normally ride at a steady pace, but I made an extra effort to have gas at the end and thus be even more conservative in the beginning of the ride.  As one of the heaviest riders in CF, hills are especially challenging and I have to be careful not to burn out on a big climb. I may be slow, but I figured I would be better off minimizing total time vs. reducing just the ride time.  This also worked well.  Last year, I felt very good on the early Mormon Emigrant climb, but the Carson and Silver Lake (Tragedy Spring Rd) climbs were miserable. Brutal even.  I had to stop repeatedly to recover.  This year, the climbs were hard, but I only stopped once when some other riders were stopped as well.  Last year's "Tragedy Climb" was surprisingly easier. When I finished the ride, I felt good.  Tired, but not wiped out or exhausted.

Overall, I was extremely happy with the ride.  From a perceived difficulty perspective, I would rate the Iowa Hill, Loon Lake, and Rainbow and Roses rides as harder than this one.

I learned a few valuable lessons.  First, always be open to improvement.  While my changes were seemingly minor and the ride statistics were nearly identical, my perceived difficulty was dramatically improved.  Second, stick with your plan.  I could see riders not far ahead of me and I could have caught up.  Instead I stuck to my planned pace and caught up due to my faster breaks and ended up finishing ahead of about a half dozen other riders who actually had faster average moving speeds, but used more and longer breaks.

The Death Ride is less than two weeks away and I have a plan I think will work well.  I think I am ready!



Riders - Know Your Route

Several weeks ago, I was with a group riding a route that used very common roads.  I noticed the rider(s) in front looking back occasionally and asking "which way?"  We weren't in a remote area or on an unusual route by any means.  They clearly didn't know the route.  After a short while, I spent my time up front to ensure we took all the right turns and avoid any "bonus miles".

Confession coming...  Toward the end of this ride, a little mean streak surfaced and I bet a fellow ride leader riding beside me that the rider up front was going to miss the turn. When the turn approached, it seemed as if he was going to take it, but then kept riding straight.  Here is where I should have yelled "RIGHT". Instead, I silently pointed the right turn and made the turn with the remainder of the group and let the "wrong way riders" figure out they goofed.

While winning a bet is always nice; this scenario, unfortunately, is actually all too common.  So why is it important to know the route?

First, and foremost, knowing the route is a matter of safety. If you are up front and don't know the route, you can endanger the riders behind you. I have witnessed several instances where a rider up front doesn't know what to do when a navigation choice is required.  All of a sudden they are slowing and weaving out of their line while they try to find out what to do.  The riders behind are then at risk of potentially running into the front rider or moving too far into the road.

Second confession... This happened to me once and I was the cause of a minor incident with one of the riders behind me crashing. Fortunately it was a minor incident and the rider and bike were OK.  In this case I knew the route, but there was construction and I didn't recognize the street until too late and I tried to make the turn anyway.  I slowed unexpectedly and caused a rider behind me to overlap wheels and fall.

Secondly, knowing the route is important should you end up riding on your own.  If you get dropped or even have a mechanical issue, you may find yourself separated from the group.  You should know the route so you can safely get home or catch back up to the group at a break stop.  Knowing the route may also allow you to take a shortcut to get back with the group.  Some riders are very skilled in using shortcuts to avoid a challenging part of the ride and still remain with the group for large portions of the ride.

In a later post I will talk about using electronic devices like a Garmin Edge cycling computer where it will display the route, cue sheet, and provide turn reminders. I have a Garmin Edge 520 and I love it. These devices are amazing and a great asset to a ride.  However, they are not a substitute for knowing the route.  I consider them to be an enhancement or an added tool for following the route.

Cycle Folsom makes it very easy to learn the route.  Every meetup notice has a Ride With GPS route linked that can be reviewed.  If you do not have an account, simply sign up - it is free.  Then follow the link in the meetup ride description and you can examine the ride.  I like to click through the cue sheet as this will show me all the turns.  I will also note the planned break location(s) and any climbs.

Ride leaders take the effort to provide a safe and well planned ride.  Part of that effort is creating a route and making it available to all riders in advance of the ride start.  Show them some courtesy in learning the route and doing your part to ride safely.


One Cool Loon

Mike and Brad at Loon Lake
Scott McKinney's Train for the Tour (TftT) series is Cycle Folsom's most grueling set of training activities.  These 10 progressively more difficult century rides from February to June will get you in condition to do almost any extreme endurance cycling event you can find - including the Death Ride. One of the hallmarks of this series is the camaraderie that the ride creates.  All participants, whether you are the fastest or the slowest rider, are embraced.  In many ways, this training creates more memories than the "big event" everyone is targeting.

Yesterday was the 9th ride in the 2016 series - One Cool Loon.  This is a 100 mile out and back from Cool to Loon Lake and features 10,000 feet of climbing with about 7500 feet of that being on the way out. This type of ride is always a challenge for me. Being a Clydesdale sized rider, a big climbing ride is always tough.  This is especially true of rides where the climbing is grouped into one section as this does not allow for recovery time.
One Cool Loon Elevation Profile

The first part of the ride is relatively flat as we headed toward Georgetown.  Georgetown is a great little town of about 2400 people that epitomizes "small town" America.  There is a small baseball diamond that reminds of the one where I learned how to play baseball as a kid in a small Indiana town.

Stumpy Meadows
On leaving Georgetown, we stayed on Wentworth Springs Rd for about 35 miles. Most of the effort is climbing. The climbing is not terribly steep, but there are a couple of challenging sections that make you take notice. A short break at Stumpy Meadows was a needed relief as we had climbed 4,000 feet and completed 29 miles.

Enrico near Loon Lake
From Stumpy Meadows, we continued climbing on Wentworth Springs Rd all the way to Ice House Rd where we pause for a quick break before the final 7 mile climb to Loon Lake.  This section of road is beautiful and there is an amazing view looking east into a picturesque canyon.  This 20 mile section from Stumpy Meadows to Loon Lake is mostly climbing with an additional 3500 feet adding to a total of 7500 feet.

Vu dunking his head in Loon Lake
At Loon Lake, the elevation is about 6300 feet, about the same as Lake Tahoe.  This is about a 5000 foot elevation gain from the starting point in Cool.  This alpine lake is beautiful and right off a postcard.  I was happy to get to the turnaround point and take a break.  While I felt good at this point, I was struggling to eat and drink. Neither food nor drink sounded good and I had to force myself to consume something.

Before we started heading home, Vu put his head in the water following Mike's pre-ride announcement of this head dunking tradition.

The trip home started off great.  The first 7 miles leaving Loon Lake were all down hill.  During this descent, we gained more appreciation for the actual climb.  Turning back onto Wentworth Springs Rd, we started a 5 mile climb that was very taxing.  A couple guys stopped for a moment, but I was afraid to stop as I wasn't sure I could restart.

10 miles later we stopped in Stumpy Meadows for our final break.  There is a small climb out of Stumpy Meadows and I had the misfortune to get a flat.  Both SAG vehicles stopped to check on me and I used a floor pump to fill my tire.  Unfortunately, this also meant I was on my own for the last 30 miles.  Being tired and aching when alone seems much harder than suffering with others nearby. Nevertheless, I was able to let my mind wander and the time went by quickly.  I kept a steady pace and was relieved when I arrived in Georgetown as I knew there was only about 10 miles to go.  When the remaining distance gets to single digits, it is a great relief.

When I finally arrived in Cool, I was fully spent.  This was a very tough ride and I think I underestimated the difficulty.  I think the 7500 feet of climbing to Loon Lake took more out of me then I expected.  The return trip, while a net descent, was much more difficult than I thought it would be.  There were several challenging climbs on the return portion that really tested my stamina.  It is probably a mistake to underestimate any ride that has 10,000 feet of climbing.  I built some mental toughness doing this ride.

Special thanks to the SAG support from Lois and Cindy.  We all appreciate the extra help in accomplishing these challenging rides.

Chris Mumma also made a video of the ride that I am sure you will enjoy: Link.


The "Swing"

I just finished reading Boys in the Boat the other day. 
It is a great story about the University of Washington crew team that won the rowing gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  There were many memorable things about the book, but one thing stuck with me that could translate to cycling was the “swing”.  In rowing, “swing” is a rare condition of harmony and perfection; where all rowers in the boat are seemingly in a state of perfect harmony.  They are so in tune with each other that they operate as a single entity of power, speed and grace.  Everyone is in “the zone”.

This “swing” thought has been with me for a while but I only put a name to it after reading the book.  A few weeks ago, I decided to help with a Gruppetto ride and I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Ward about group riding dynamics.  This was a great eye-opener as Steve shared some great thoughts about group riding that gave me a new appreciation of how fun a group ride could be when that group truly subordinated themselves to ride as one group rather than a bunch of cyclist riding as individuals in close proximity.  He talked about the idea of every rider working for the group and adjusting the effort to match the group’s capability.  This was fascinating as it opened up this new potential for elevating the enjoyment of cycling to a new plane; a breakthrough in understanding and clarity.

Could cycling have its “swing”?  Could we develop group riding to the state where we all ride in perfect harmony with each other?  The pulls up front are just the right duration.  The lead rider pulls off just as everyone expects.  The pace is perfect for the distance to go and matches all riders’ abilities.  The dropping rider catches back on without any wasted motion.  The group sacrifices personal needs and subordinates absolutely to the group.  Could this happen?  Could I ride in a group for a long effort in a cycling “swing”? 

I have experienced some great group rides where this seemed to happen in moments.  Some of the best rides were the night rides on the South Canal led by Vu and Mel.  I have had many other experiences like this in various group rides, but the moment of perfection is usually broken by a single act of personal need.  A rider pushes the pace, misses a turn, does a “hero” pull, has bad group riding skills, or many other reasons.

Many times I have experienced the “non-swing” rides were everyone seems like strangers on the same road.  Rider leaders are trying to “herd cats” on bikes who have left their group riding skill and knowledge at home.  Well organized pace lines get busted by self-minded individuals looking for a few minutes of rest on someone’s wheel.  You get the idea.

We have all learned the skills and techniques for group cycling, but the more I ride with a group the more I realize how much I have yet to learn about the true potential in a group of cyclists working
in harmony.  I think this will be a new goal of mine – to find some CF riders who want to ride in the “swing”.  Maybe riding in the “swing” could be the norm.  It will be interesting to find out.