Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Finishing Track Certification and a long 20 minutes.

This past weekend I returned to Dick Lane Velodrome to finish my certification and to attempt an hour for their record day.

I was hoping to have a successful report this week, but the situation did not allow for it.

This came about two weeks ago when I was at DLV for my first day of certification. I found out that Saturday (10/2) was going to be Dick Lane's record attempt day. I, like many people out there, have always wondered how I would/could stack up in an hour attempt. I'm a pretty fair TTer, with a lot of endurance background, it seemed not a question of if I'd finish it, but how far I'd go.

Something something something pride before the fall something...

In reality, I wanted to learn as much as I could about TT'ing on the track, and I was well aware that it was not apples to apples the same as on the road. I couldn't think of a better way to get some firsthand experience than to dive right in. The fact that Atlanta is a 4ish hour drive for me means opportunity to ride (especially alone) will be few and far between, so I jumped at the chance to set a record.

Things did not get off to a good start after I signed up, as you may expect.

The first hurdle was actually getting a bike together to make the attempt on. I have *some* fixed gear equipment, but certainly not an extensive bit. The biggest issue was a rear wheel. I have an old cheap Origin8 flip flop that would have to do the job, and none of my disc covers would fit it. Unfortunately running a deep front with a box rear wheel did not appeal to me, so after eliminating borrowing a disc or converting my old specialized trispoke. (HED of course is very helpful when it comes to servicing Trispokes... in that they don't really want to deal with it at all, but I digress. Maybe that has only been my own experience in the past) Eventually I settled on chopping up an old disc cover and making it fit the Origin8, thanks to a lot of tape!

That solved, there is the issue of gearing. The primary issue... I had no idea what gear to use. Everything I read about hour attempts are from serious folk who have a good bit of help (and track time) finding the right gear. Of course, I had limited options in the gearing spectrum as well. Since I wasn't going to get to ride on the track pre-attempt, I'd just have to guess. I had a 53t chainring, so I finally figured a 15t cog would let me hit 40k (my target pace) at 90rpm. Sure, I've read a lot saying that's too low of an rpm, but I've never done a TT with a much higher rpm. Go with what you know.

I decided that I'd run my Kask Bambino helmet because I planned to be looking down constantly (all you have to do is follow the black line, right???) and considering I haven't been training in the TT position much lately I figured that was a good choice since my neck would likely be a weak point (it was) in my armor. I took both my club short sleeve skinsuit and my older Castelli Bodypaint and left the choice for the morning of and the temperature.

Our (wife was coming for support) plan was to leave after a half day of work on Friday evening, trying to beat Atlanta rush hour. I wanted to get to DLV early Friday evening and at least get a few laps in to try to figure out pacing... which my wife was going to have to do for me.

- (eventual) arrival

We loaded up the car a little before noon and started out towards Atlanta. A 3 1/2 hour drive meant I assumed we would beat the full assault of rush hour traffic. I was woefully mistaken. We made excellent time right up until we were around a mile outside of Atlanta proper. From there it was, well, what you'd expect on a Friday afternoon in Atlanta traffic. Add to that the UT @ GA game on Saturday and well... you know the rest. Since DLV is on the other side of Atlanta, it meant we sat for a LONG time. Planned arrival time - 4p.m. Actual arrival time - 6p.m. (to go like 10 miles!!! F* traffic)
We made a rushed check in and then drove straight to DLV. I unloaded my bike and set up my stuff while we watched a motley crew assorted on the track. A family was walking the banks while a fellow rider split his time riding his hipster fixie in dead sprints, and recovery / snorting a white substance that seemed to be either pixie stick sugar OR possibly an illicit narcotic. He also vomited a few times in the grass as I was kitting up, which thrilled my wife. Different strokes I guess.

- First (bad) taste

I took a couple of slow laps on the apron getting re acquainted with the feel of the fixed gear, then another couple on the base bar again reminding myself that gravity would indeed not be the death of me so long as I promised to ride fast enough. The next lap I get down into my aero position on the straight leading into turn 1. My thought for the first lap goes like this

"Hmm, this isn't so bad... oh wow, turning and following the black line is kind of tough, HOLY S#*T I almost just slipped off my bars and wrecked... that was the roughest bit of pavement ever!!! Oh straight again, alright alright shake it off, look cool, pedal harder. Ok, turn 3, try to line this one up better, oh hell this part of the track is cracked, ooof, crap keeping my arms in these pads is tough, woah I'm over the red line, get it back in position... let's see what the wife thinks, she's supposed to let me know if I need to speed up or slow down... crap I can't see her from this position, gotta look up, woah missed it back into turn 1, death grip the bars this time... sh*t this is hard. Two laps??? Only gotta do that 59 more times!"

After a couple of laps I slow down and decide to see what my laps looked like.
My wife looks mortified. "I can see you bouncing on the track in the turns." Oh, I thought it just felt like I was bouncing. I look back at my saddle and notice that my seatpost has slipped all the way down into the frame. @%#%^!!! That seatpost has been fine (and on some rough Tennessee roads) for over a year! Now that's bumpy. My primary concern is not the back of the bike however, but the front. The narrow 3T pads are not conducive to staying firmly planted. As opposed to riding with my hands leisurely on top of the extensions as I do while road time trialling, I am death gripping the J bends trying to stay planted. I sit down for a moment and collect my thoughts. First thing, let a good amount of air pressure out of the tires. I do so and jump back out on the track for some more laps. Things go a little better this time around and I am hitting my split times fairly accurately. Nonetheless, I decide that 38k would be a better target to start with since things were not really going as well as I'd hoped, I figured a little buffer would help me keep calm.

At this point it was starting to get later in the evening. I wanted to stay out on the track and get some more laps in, but knew that I couldn't do much to help myself at this point and could certainly ruin the next day if I spent too much time. I (along with my wife) was also hungry and in need of some sleep. So reluctantly it was back to the hotel for dinner and then an early'ish night of tossing and turning. My practise laps had not eased the feeling that I might have gotten myself in over my head.

- D(oom) Day

I get up pretty early (of course) and get some breakfast. It's funny, when an event that makes you nervous is on the horizon time seems to move at a very, very fast pace. The irony of how slow time was about to start moving was not lost on me. I put on the smiles and jokes for the wife, but I had a good feeling that things weren't going to be sunshine and flowers... but I was here now and sometimes a man with no options can pull out some amazing things, and I was not about to no-show.

We get to DLV about halfway through the earlier record attempt (Excellent job, he was in control and paced it perfectly it looked to me. Just under 40k and a record) I watched an my spirits were bolstered slightly, maybe I could indeed do this.

First however, we have an issue with my equipment that has to be addressed. Despite not being a sanctioned event, DLV wanted to use a jig to measure the bike and keep it in regulations. No big deal, mine fits. However, they disagree, my extensions are too long, 77cm. I explain that I get one exemption no questions asked (my saddle is far behind 5cm of the bottom bracket) and after a (too) long and tense bit of checking, I'm given the green light.

I get on the track and warm up, but time is still moving very quickly and it's nearly time to start. I look at my seatpost and notice it has once again slipped down. Sh*t. My wife grabs my wrench and I torque down on it as hard as I feel I safely can.

"Time to line up."

I get some final encouragement from the wife and head to the start line. My holder is the current record holder at DLV (40 and some change) and he gives me a couple of tips and commends me on trying it, especially being my second time on the track. I crack some jokes "this is probably going to be a pretty short hour," but despite my levity and obvious silent prayers for Godzilla to attack, a meteor to strike or for time itself just to stop, the countdown clock has started.
30 seconds
crap, I've really got to give this a go, what was I thinking
20 seconds
I really hope I don't fly off the bars on the first turn
10 seconds
crap crap crap think of something smart to say, last words and all that
"Go Time!"
Yes, the best thing I can think of to say is "go time." This might be my biggest failing of the day.

It's funny, starting in a bigger gear is surreal. You are putting down a lot of power, but you aren't really moving. It's like everything is in slow motion. I take a small amount of satisfaction that I don't wipe out on the first turn, and by the exit of turn 2 I am nestled into the aerobars. I hit turn 3 still accelerating and get my first jolt. Slightly less unpleasant than it was yesterday, or at least I tell myself it is. Obviously I'm not on pace on the first lap, so I try to get my rhythm set for the second. Again, entering turn 1 and into 2 I'm jarred on the saddle and pads, but I figure I can manage it so long as I don't loosen my grip.

Time starts to slip away, but slowly. The splits are fine, we only had a very basic form of communication "up, down, steady" to gauge my effort by, but I don't know how far down or up I am, I just have to wing it.  That's the only thing going well. The differences between the road and the track are made (painfully) apparent to me as I tick off the laps. The inside of my thumbs are very sore (read: bleeding) where my rough'ish tape and gloves ending has rubbed a raw spot. My legs feel pretty good, but I can feel some fatigue building up in them... my cadence is decidedly too low for this type of event, because it will certainly slow by the end of the effort, and muscular fatigue will likely set in long before that. The real issue is my neck.  In my inexperience I assumed that I'd be able to hold my head similar to how I do on the road, maybe even further pointed down (that's why I wore the bambino after all) but in reality that is not how it worked. Watching the black line on the track isn't like watching the black line in the pool. You have to be lining up the entry to the turn, stay low in the turn itself, and then exit the turn without overcompensating. This seems pretty simple, but in practise is a big deal. Messing up the turns mean you are going much farther per lap than you need to, and it adds up when you're trying to get things down to the tenth second every lap. The track pulls you up toward the red line as you start going in the turn and it takes a good bit of effort to keep low, but as soon as the turn ends you need to be ready for it so that you don't go onto the apron.

My neck becoming sore is the issue, as it (obviously) leads to my head drooping, which despite my earlier thoughts on the matter is a very, very bad thing. I need to be looking up the track, because when I'm not, my line get's worse and the worse my line is through the turns the more I'm bounced around on the rough track (the black line is slightly less rough than the higher sections) and the more I'm bounced around the more fatigue sets in (and the slower I go, requiring speed pick up) it's actually a very viscous cycle. At around the 15 minute mark  I hit the bump in turn 1 and this time I do nearly come off the pads. I won't lie to you, it shook me. I decided to take a couple of laps slightly easier and rally myself. I'd put my head down in the straights and look up through the turns. It works sort of, but as I start drifting onto the apron on the straights I have to face the facts, I'm a wreck waiting to happen. Sooner or (probably much closer to the sooner side) later fatigue is going to really kick in and I'm not going to on top of the bike when I hit some turbulence. I'm at 20 minutes, things aren't going to get clearer in the next 40 minutes, that much I'm certain of.

As I pass the start/finish line I throw my hand up signalling I'm done.

I wasn't happy about the way it went, and certainly wasn't happy with not completing the hour, only making it a third of the way, but it was the right decision. My inexperience could be sort of hidden while I was fresh, but it was going to catch up with me before the end of the hour, I'm certain. I apologized for my showing and thanked everyone for taking the time to show up, then cooled down and quickly packed my bike back in the truck for the walk of shame.

Despite how poorly it went overall I think the experience (both literally and figuratively) was invaluable. The things I learned (especially how my head and hand positions will change on the track) on Saturday are things I probably couldn't have known any other way with my limited time available. These are things that will serve me very well in the future, both in training and in racing.

Next year Dick Lane Velodrome... next year I'll be back. And I'll be prepared.

Thanks for reading, I think I'll cut it off here and maybe finish our little story next week!

Specificity, even more important than we imagined!!

- Christopher Morelock

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