Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

Last week, some of the team lined up for a local road race called the Harbins Road Race located on the outskirts of Dacula, GA. The race was short for a Pro/1/2 race at only 65 miles, but it had a decent climb that required riding every lap for 9 laps. The big guns were up in Greenville racing the Pro Crit Nationals, and some others were at other races in other states. With only about 15 starters, it was clear that Thomas Brown, United Healthcare of Georgia p/b 706 Project was the favorite. Thomas is an excellent cyclist who can win races anytime. The rest of the field didn’t have any consistent winners, so it was pretty wide open.

An early break went away with a couple riders, so I bridged up halfway at about half effort just keeping it close enough to me in case they rolled away. I’d prefer to put in a few hard pedal strokes early rather than chasing for several hours. The group slowly got a gap. Once the gap become 30 seconds, it was a confusing situation for me. Is this a good break to help drive? There were 7 riders in the break, which is too many riders, but we didn’t have Thomas in the move. He would be stuck chasing later or forced to solo bridge. It seemed like a good move considering the chances of winning the sprint from the break were better than sprinting straight up against Thomas.

So, for the next 60+ miles we rode what seemed like the slowest break I’ve ever ridden. The rotations were smooth, but the pace was very slow. It felt like we were going 1 – 2mph slower than a typical breakaway which is a lot slower than normal. There were a few times that I bet most of the riders considered going solo, but the head wind would kick up every time they tried to attack the group. Also, there were only a couple riders who could have attacked the break and ridden away. Each time someone attacked the break, it didn’t contain the legs required to ride away.

Tip of the Day: If you plan to attack your breakaway companions, make sure you are one of the strongest riders in the break. Don’t think that you are going to successfully attack a break if it contains stronger riders than you.

With around 12 miles to go, my teammates rolled up to the break so I knew that it would come down to Thomas Brown sprinting for the win. I considered going off the front solo and probably should have tried since he may have let me go since he couldn’t chase every rider on our team. We could have started launching guys and forcing him to chase each one. If there is only one very strong rider left in a front group riding against a group of riders on the same team, that’s probably the most effective approach. At some point, they have to stop chasing each attack and hope that no gap is established. I never attacked, so I’m not sure if that would have worked.

In the end, my teammate Brendan Cornett made a perfect attack leading into the steep uphill sprint. Thomas had to chase, but he couldn’t see me about three bike lengths off his rear wheel. In hindsight, I should have kept that gap and used it for a flying start into a fast sprint right as the hill started. It would have been tough, but I would have flown by at a couple miles per hour faster. Instead, I sat his wheel and couldn’t come around since the uphill effort made the draft effect less important. So, it was a second place on the day.   Several years earlier, I was in a similar finish where I dropped a few bike lengths off his bike and got a running start.  I’m not sure why I forgot how to approach a steep finish with a three man break, but there you go, that’s bike racing.

On the back front, things were not great, but it was strong enough to ride without a lot of pain.  I”ve realized the back spasms come from repeated hard sprints from corners, so I”m going to minimize those types of races this season.  Next season I hope to be back at Speedweek, but this year I’l be a spectator.


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I remember reviewing race results when I was new to racing and being impressed by one rider’s results versus another rider’s results.  I had no idea what I was really reading.  I was looking at the surface of the results without any context.  I remember thinking, “Wow, rider A got 12th and rider B got 23rd.”  That’s an impressive result for rider A and not so great for rider B considering what little I knew about them.  I think a lot of casual fans and newer races still read results like that because I still hear people getting congratulated for results.

In Category 5, 4, and 3, there is some credit that can be given to riders.  If someone sits in the whole race as part of their strategy, then their 5th place finish may be the result of maximizing their talent.  However, in Pro/1/2 races, teams have strategies and riders play roles.  On many strong teams, there are many riders who could podium in a given race, but the team will designate specific riders as the focus for that event.  So, rider B may have been tasked with getting in the early break and rode 90 miles with three others into a headwind for four hours before getting caught by the pack.  If that rider still managed to finish 23rd out of over 100 riders after riding in the break for 4 hours, that result may have taken more effort and talent than any of their prior podium finishes.

Some riders sit in the pack for four hours essentially riding a recovery ride and then feel good about sprinting for 15th while all other 100 riders in the race were throwing down.  Two different riders can race the same race, but they experience vastly different races which was highlighted perfectly in this article: http://www.vervecycling.com/community/racing/power-data-analysis-solo-break-vs-sitting-in/

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As we heading into racing season, I’m writing with a little LL Cool J from the 80’s “….Don’t Call It a Comeback….”.  That’s not exactly the situation with my riding as I’m far from back and may never get fully back, but I’m healthy enough to train and race this season.  

The rehab process and has been long and hard with a lot of time spent planking, side planking, lunging, etc….you get the idea.  My weak glues and weak core are still weak, but just strong enough to support training now.  I can ride most days without severe back pain, so that’s a win alone.  I’m on a hardcore diet and went from 182lbs in December to 170lbs right now.  I’m going to keep going until I reach low 160’s or at least mid 160’s.   My power is lagging big time, but I’ve been 100% focused on zone 2 base rides until now, so I’m not going to get overly concerned with power in late January.  During the airport ride last week, I had a 20 min peak of 323 watts which is about 12 watts below normal this time of year.  On a percentage basis, that’s about 7% which isn’t bad considering the zone 2 base focus.  On the bright side, my base riding has left me fresh with a good starting CTL which is slightly ahead of plan.  I’d like to start race season on March 7th in Gainesville, GA with a CTL of 95, peak 20 min of 330w, and a weight of 165lbs.  My goal is to start May around 162lbs, peak 20 min of 345 watts, and CTL of 100.  If I avoid injury and illness, that’s very realistic.  If I can get the weight down there, I’m a little less concerned about a few watts here or there.  So, that’s the goal, and I’ll check in two weeks from now to see how it’s tracking. Stay tuned….

My workers’ compensation attorney wife, Beth Gearhart, has been very helpful throughout the process.  Since she’s an expert workers’ compensation lawyer in Atlanta, it was easy for her to understand these similar injuries that she sees in her work injury clients.  While different on the surface, it has been interesting to see how herniated disc injuries in cycling are not that different from herniated disc injuries for injured workers.

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It’s been 20 days since my last post, and I’m doing pretty well in the back department.  I got my 2nd epidural injection and think the one disc herniation and 3 annular tears are potentially healing a bit.  It is hard to say what’s actually injured back there since a fall off a chair straight onto my back on hardwood followed-up by lifting pain with a dog may have pushed some additional things out.  Regardless of the damage, I’m on the mend, and I’m hoping to be pain free by December.

I’m back on the bike riding with a brace on my back.  It is a neoprene ace bandage, and it is about 8 inches tall wrapping around my midsection to support my back.  My hope is that I can avoid further injury with the back brace while simultaneously doing physical therapy to rebuild my core and protect the back without the need for the ace bandage.  I’m thinking it probably makes sense to ride with it until mid-November, and then slowly start riding without it.

If you want a good overview of herniations, the link below is the most comprehensive and visual explanation that I’ve seen:


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Blog – Back to Square One

I was about 80% healthy from the herniated disc when I bent down to pickup the smaller of our two dogs last Tuesday night.  Suddenly, I felt a jolt of lightning go through my back down my leg as I lifted him.  I dropped the dog and realized I couldn’t straighten my body.  I had done it.  I had reinjured myself when I was only a few weeks away from being healthy.  It’s hard to see if falling off a chair the prior week on my back or just too aggressively stetching my hamstring earlier in the day caused the injury, but I knew one thing, it was reinjured.  The worst part of the pain is the reinjured back felt much, much worse than the original injury.  I never had a moment when the back “went out”, but that moment was clear that something had badly slipped out of place, and I would be starting over.  It’s 3 days later and sometimes the pain is worse.  I can’t even think about riding a back since just walking is very painful.  It looks like I’ll have to reset expectations and dial back any 2015 cycling goals.  I can’t see myself getting back on a bike for a bit, and when I do, it’ll be at a snail’s pace.  Heck, that’s life, you win some and you lose some.  I’m just in a losing streak right now…

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I woke up this morning to another EPO headline on Velonews highlighting that PED use in pro cycling is still an issue. I immediately started to think about the Cat 1 – Masters who have been testing positive over the last few years.  Then, I started to wonder how many of these masters cheaters had explored natural strength building exercises to improve their performance prior to going down the cheater path.  I’ve never gone down that path, and I’ve never even been tempted.  I don’t care enough about winning to even bump bars with riders at 1 to go, so I definitely don’t care enough to cheat.  I have a great career and a family outside of cycling, so maybe it’s easier for me since bike racing is a smaller part of my life.  I’ve always been more satisfied with a strong result in a stacked field that winning a race where the competition was not as strong.  I’m never impressed when I see a masters rider winning a masters race.  I’m always impressed when I see a masters rider on the podium of a big race because I know how hard it is to train hard enough to race competitively at a high level and avoid injury as you get older.

Prior to injury, I was focused on 1 min / 5 min / 20 min power, hill repeats, etc…  All these things are important, but they don’t matter at all if your muscles become so tight and inflexible that they eventually cause injuries.  My back injury (herniated disc / several annular tears) wasn’t a case of overuse, fit, form, etc…it was a case of no flexibility, inconsistent muscle strength, and some areas of weak core.  If I was a racer in my twenties, I probably could have raced without injury for years.  Eventually, the lack of strength in my glutes, no flexibility in my hamstrings, and no range of motion in my hip flexors would have caught up with me.  Since I’m race age 43 next season, it happened much sooner, and it is taking much longer to fix.  At this age, these muscles don’t become limber very quickly, and they also don’t rebuild as fast, so it is a long process to fix imbalances.  The best thing about the physical therapy is that I can see how much better off I’ll be in the long term.  I’m only about 50% convinced that I’ll get back to pain free riding, but if I can accomplish that, I could get faster because all the imbalances caused by weak / inflexible muscles create a slower rider.  If I fix imbalances, but I still have nagging back pain, then I’ll never be fast again, and I can live with that.  It’s a very real possibility since I’m over a month into this physical therapy and still feeling serious pain if I try to push for any extended period of time.  It may be that I have permanent damage that can’t be fixed, only managed enough to ride short group rides recreationally.  However, I’d like to look on the positive side and think about a more optimistic potential outcome.  If I can get pain free, then I could eventually get faster with a long rebuild.  I’ve lost a lot of muscle, so it could take 6 – 12 months to rebuild all my muscle, but if I can get pain free, continue PT exercises, and rebuild fitness/form, I would be a faster rider.  I was riding with so many imbalances across so many key muscle groups, that it caused strange compensations and over use by other muscles to make up for my weak muscles.  I think this is likely the reason why I always complained so much about fast crits.  Nobody else walked around hurt for several days post crit like me, and I couldn’t figure out the reason.  The likely reason is that my weak glutes, tight hamstrings, and inflexible hip flexors caused my other back muscles to compensate and created severe pain and soreness.  My rehab process involves a lot of trigger point therapy to remove tight muscles that have built up over time.  The mots common reason for trigger points is due to a muscle compensating for another weak or tight muscle that isn’t doing it’s job.  The muscle that is forced to compensate then becomes overused and worn out.  It knots up and cause a lot of pain.  When you add sensitive nerves running down the back to the equation and other injuries like herniated discs, it is a problematic mess.

So, 4 weeks into physical therapy sessions, and I’m happy to report that we’re making progress, but at least 8 – 10 weeks away from pain free riding.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever get pain free, but if it’s possible, it will not happen until December.  Fingers crossed…

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This is day 3 or day 4 of the sore back. While the piriformis (I’ve been misspelling it for weeks) is tight on every ride, the bigger issue is the lower back pain that happens around 1hr. I’m taking 3 days off and hoping to fix it again. This will further drop CTL, but it’s already so low that I don’t care anymore. I’d like to get healthy, so I’ll be trying to avoid any hard jumps in Sunday’s Georgia Games crit. Luckily, that is more of a circuit than a crit, so I’ll try to avoid crit type back tiring jumps.

I went back to reread my posts from last year to see if I had any back injuries. I didn’t have any, but I did the prior year in CX. At that time, I started doing the “Foundation” exercises by some Lance Armstrong core strength coach. I’m not a fan of Lance Armstrong, but those seemed to work well two years ago. They worked so well that I pulled a muscle in my chest at the beginning of last year due to some imbalance between the core and chest that I created by doing back inflections all winter. So, my goal now is to focus on back inflections, push-ups, plank, piriformis stretches, and a few quad stretches. Somehow, I’ll try to remember to ride my bike too…. As I keep saying in these posts, getting old doesn’t mean getting slower, it means more injury and an inability to recover which leads to getting slower. If you are religious about keeping a healthy core which I am not, then you will likely stay fast as you age. Some of us obviously only learn the hard way after multiple recurring issues. Someone please punch me in the head if they hear or see me preparing for CX in September. If anyone needs a true offseason this year, it is me!

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I’m vacationing right now, and I thought it would be a good time to get in some miles. My performis and back pain have resurfaced to the point where I can’t even ride hard. I came into this week with CTL lower than any midseason since I started racing, and now it’s dropping even lower. I have no ability to recover at these low levels. If I do a hard interval or race, I’m not able to train with any quality for two or three days. This season has been hard due to injury and illness, so I may hang up the CX bike this season. I enjoy CX, but the last thing my back needs is to spend the winter beating the crap out of myself off-road. I really need to take a few weeks off to fully recover / heal the back, and then start a good yoga / core training plan. I probably need some PT to make sure I come out of November healed up too. So, I’ll probably keep riding in pain a few more weeks, and then I’ll hang it up for the year.

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This is my second post today, and I’m not that into blogging, but I need to document this thought for next year.  A lot of people think I blog to share with others what I have learned or experienced.  I’d say that is a small part of it.  I don’t know enough about cycling to think that my blog posts offer much to most riders.  However, these blog posts allow me to go back and read a year or two later what I was thinking, feeling, and doing (power / wattage) at certain times.  I was flying last year during the Georgia Cycling Gran Prix, but I’ll need to go back and read about what I was doing leading up to the race.  I know that I had a steady mix of long rides and shorter rides, but I can’t remember exactly what I was focused on, so I’ll read old posts soon.

This post is mainly focused on reminding myself something that I forgot until just now.  Last year I learned that I am much faster when I hit a certain CTL target.  My goal this year was to race at that level most of the year.  Until I got sick, I was sitting there pretty close to the target.  However, the key piece that I forgot from prior year’s “lessons learned” is that “how” you achieve your CTL is every bit as important as what you have for CTL.  Last year, I had a nice high CTL, but I was able to maintain it with some longer / easier rides that kept the CTL high and fatigue low.  This year, I had some setbacks and also some good days, but I went a little too hard on some of my good Tucker days and longer Tues Night Crit days.  As a result, I had the same CTL on fewer hours of riding.  The CTL value was the same, but it was probably done on 1hr less per week.  In the beginning, this was fine, but as the weeks progressed, it was tiring and may or may not have led to the ear and nasal infections.  So, just a reminder to myself that the CTL target is a very real target to achieve for a minimum level of P/1/2 race success, but “how” I get there is very important.  Better to be 2 – 3 points lower CTL with some added freshness than 2 to 3 points higher with a lot of fatigue.  And as they used to say back in the old days of Saturday morning cartoons, “And that’s one to grown on…”

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Yesterday was day #2 of the Dingo Days of Summer Criterium.  It is a small race in Flowery Branch, but it is well run with fast scoring and quick payouts.  I think racers in Georgia should seriously consider attending these races from this promoter, Nathan O’Neil.  He puts on a midweek race called the AMP Series which is too far away midweek for most racers, so I think they lump the small turnout for those midweek races and paint all his races with that broad stroke.  That is unfair because he does a great job promoting his races, and the weekend races are very well run.  I’d like to see double the field sizes next year.  

Yesterday’s crit was raining during the start pretty hard, so it was wet and slippery out there.  For whatever reason, I can’t corner very well in the rain.  I’m not sure if it is because I race on clinchers, have a slightly less aggressive (i.e. higher setup on my bike), or just plain suck at cornering in the rain, but whatever the reason, it’s a disaster every time.  The last time I raced a crit in the rain was Roswell, and I lasted about 15 minutes.  I don’t ever crash in the rain, and that is exactly it.  I’m unwilling to push the corners away even remotely close to potentially crashing.  If a corner can be ridden safely at 18mph in the rain, then I’m probably going to take it at 16.5mph.  I’m also braking longer, so I’m coming out of every corner 3 to 4 bike lengths back each corner.  I’m sprinting up to the guy in front of me each and every corner.  After 10 – 15 minutes, that’s exhausting.  Since I’m a bigger rider (170lbs yesterday…about 6 – 7lbs over normal race weight), the sprinting out of corners at decreasing speeds relative to the riders in front of me makes it even harder.  Normally, it’s a back breaker for me, and yesterday was no different.  

We had a good team start with Charless Rossingol drilling it at the beginning to get Jordan Heimer and me into a break of 6 riders including Thomas Brown from Astellas Cycling.  That group of 6 was solid, but I knew that I couldn’t maintain their pace since I was taking to corners a lot slower.  I went to the back and sort of quit sprinting back on after about 22 minutes.  I thought that the remaining group of 5 would stay together, so it didn’t occur to me to gut out a few more laps waiting for a couple others to drop with me.  Two other riders dropped about 1 minute after me, so I could have ridden with them had I just held on a little longer.  Sometimes when the moto is right behind me, and I know I’m going to drop within the next couple of minutes, I forget that there will likely be some others to join me if I just gut out a few more turns.  I’ll remember that for next time because at the time, it seemed like only I was struggling in that group of 6.

The rest of the rest was a fun TT training ride for me.  I got to ride an open course in the rain and go through turns with marshals holding back traffic.  As long as I’m not going to screw up the break, that’s a fun thing for me to ride solo.  I was able to download my race file to my WKO+, but the new Garmin driver on my wife’s computer corrupted and screwed up the download to Strava.  So, I lost the ability to compare lap times and stuff like that without manually marking my WKO+ which I’m not that interested in doing.  I thought that my power would be solid with high normalized power.  However, the braking and coasting for the 6 turns must have dropped the overall average.  I averaged 305 watts for 60 minutes and had an NP of 328 watts.  That was very close to the prior days race which was actually much easier on partially dry pavement with only 4 corners instead of 6 corners.  The two additional corners were tight and slow, so it was apples to oranges when looking at power.  I’d say those two corners would drop the average at least 10 – 20 watts because that section required braking for tight right turn downhill, braking for tight left turn, and then acceleration.  However, there was almost no pedaling since both turns were downhill.  Power was below 100 watts average for at least 15 seconds every lap in that section.  

I was cruising and having fun TT’ing the course in 6th place for about 30 minutes until I was caught with 5 to go.  I had about a 30 sec gap on the field and wasn’t slowing, but they all started working together, and I wasn’t looking back enough, so I got caught with 5 to go.  I was asking for splits up the road, but it didn’t occur to me to ask for splits in the back.  I lapped so many riders that I just assumed there were pockets of 2 and 3 riders that wouldn’t catch me.  I was surprised when a paceline of 9 guys showed up with 5 to go out of nowhere.  I ended up sprinting for 8th, so it wasn’t a great day.  6th wouldn’t have been any better, so no big deal either way.  On the bright side, I did get in two good days of intervals in a break of 5 on Saturday and a solo chase effort on Sunday.  Given that I had some good miles in my legs and no race fitness, I’m pleased that my back held up and was able to hold decent power.  I’m definitely about 10% below last year’s power at this time, but I have three weekends until Georgia Cycling Gran Prix to get it back.  If I can just get back 5% or 15 watts on my FTP, I’ll be fine.  Last year, my FTP was around 350 watts, and right now it is closer to 325 watts, so not quite 10% and closer to 8% rounded up.  Either way, that’s a lot of missing watts when you are riding in a break.  The other big factor is that I raced around this weight last year, but I can easily drop a couple pounds if I just focus a little more.  So, target for GCGP start day is weight down to 167lbs and FTP up to at least 330 – 335 watts.   That looks easy and realistic, but things never go as planned in cycling…..we’ll see.


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