Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer Camp 2013: Part I

How my Love Affair with Track Racing Began

On a long coffee ride in my early cycling days, one of my riding buddies mentioned that I was built like a track racer.  I looked at him with a puzzled look and just filed that tidbit away.  Back then, I think I would have been mortified if he had told me "You have a big butt." Now that I know it's a compliment in trackie language, I would smile and say "Thanks." Track riders tend to be "bootyful" and some of the men look more like linebackers. That comment didn't get me into track, but it made me a bit curious.

 2013 Marymoor Gran Prix Women's Scratch Race, Photo by Dennis Crane

In 2007, I got my first track bike and Dino took me down to get certified at the beginner's sessions at Hellyer Velodrome in San Jose.  I was instantly hooked!  We raced a good amount, despite the track being so far away and I was able to get my upgrade so I could start racing the big mass start events. I loved the fast learning curve of doing lots of events over a single session. I loved the camaraderie of the infield.  People helped other people get better to make faster, safer races for everyone and it helped pass the time hanging out between races.  I love the naked sensation of the fixed gear, floating up and down the track at speed. No gears, no brakes, no computer or other things to get in the way. Just me and the bike! 

West Coast Velodrome Challenges

The next year, we signed up for the Hellyer Velodrome Challenge and I got my first taste of high level women's racing with big fields. I didn't get great results but I was in the field. When I first started racing, I struggled with my body image and felt really insecure and scared. I was also racing with women who were the best in North America and some from other countries. Out of all of the cycling disciplines, track is the most like performance art. Everyone sees everything! So then it started clicking, if I can race with these women, who cares about what I look like? The nervousness was still there, but it was getting better. I forgot who first said it to me, but I repeated the mantra "It's just another bike race" when I lined up with national champions and pro riders.

2013 Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge Women's Keirin, Photo by Dancing Light Photo Studios

The next year we made it up to the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge, where we were convinced to go up to Seattle for another high profile track race in Seattle the next year to complete what was starting to be called the "Summer Camp" series of West Coast velodrome challenges.  We made good friends with racers from all over the country and world. I felt like I had found my people!  We set up camp together in the infield, stayed in each other's houses, borrowed each others rollers and called each other "track family."  The competition is fierce, but so are the friendships.  Plus, there was a lot of silliness too. 

It is like camping out for the weekend as you can see. Part of what creates the bonds are are the 12 hour days at the track together living in an EZ up. This one was special this year thanks to the Portland Sizzle Pie crew, complete with bike box walls and bike bag curtains. It was a hot year.  Next year, we are talking about using trash bags as changing skirts just to add to the homeless camp effect.

What I didn't realize when I started racing track is that you have to have good endurance.  You might do up to five races in one day, warming up and cooling down in between. You spend a lot of time on rollers. Luckily, my husband Dino made my roller boards more stylish.

This Year

Our annual trek on to the West Coast Summer Camp track races almost didn't happen this year because of life and finances getting in the way. We also haven't even been able to get to our local track which is over two hours away. I didn't even want to think about how much I would miss this trip since it has been the driving force in our cycling lives for the last five+ years.  I'm sure that my roadie friends get tired of me blabbing on and on about track since most of my conversations tend to drift in that direction.  Yes, I'm obsessed. I thought about these races all winter doing painful intervals on my rollers. They motivate me even though I'm happy just to hang in there.Why do I love this race series so much? To put it simply, great people and great racing!

Despite our worries, it must have been in the cards for us to go this year. Everything miraculously lined up for us to go, and yes, we had some angels in the wings.   It turned out to be one of the most memorable and amazing race experiences of my life.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge

After racing one of the fastest women's races I've ever been in at the American Velodrome Challenge at Hellyer this year, I had a better idea of what I was in for in Portland's Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge. It was the same fast women, minus Proman's Shelley Olds and Cari Higgens. One thing I learned out of Hellyer's AVC is that I need to get a wheel and not be scared to get down in the pole. It's still nerve-wracking after seeing some gnarly crashes, including my friend Ashley S. of the Roaring Mice hitting her head really hard.

It was a long and uneventful 10 hour drive up to Portland, other than forgetting that all gas stations are full service up there. Luckily, we went straight for the Velodrome to do some laps at Beth N.'s suggestion. My first thought when I saw it was "I'M GOING TO RIDE MY BIKE ON THAT?????". It looked more like a pro skateboard ramp than a velodrome.

It turns out that it is one of the steepest velodromes in the country-- 43 degrees. What's strange is that the straightaways are nearly flat with not much of a transition. There are some interesting bumps and skids marks on the surface just to make it a little more interesting. We jumped on our bikes and I rode a lot faster than I needed to through the corners, scared of falling down the track. Later, a local told us that a "jedi master" could ride 8-9 miles per hour very uncomfortably, but that 15 miles per hour was safe. By the end of the weekend it seemed like no big deal. Unlike Hellyer, you can't easily tool around warming up. It's like a pool with only a deep end (no treading water). You feel like a pin ball being shot around when you race. The G-forces at full speed in the pole felt pretty cool. Only the locals knew how to really stay down there through the turns. What a trip!

We stayed in Northwest Portland for a couple of nights. I scored bigtime when I found a french bakery called St. Honore' Boulangerie that was showing the Tour de France on a big screen.

When we got to the track. I felt more comfortable realizing that we had a group of about 18 from Hellyer. As usual, I got lots of good advice from friends and my teammate Andrea Fisk from Portland. I had a qualifying points race to start things out. I was really nervous about qualifying and being with a big group on the steep banks. To make things worse, I found out on the rail that only four of us would qualify for the rest of the women's races. Fortunately, the organizers realized that they would be sending a lot of women home and they opened up two more women's 3/4 races. I still felt a lot of pressure. I stayed with the group, but never did score any points. I ended up 9th. I was really frustrated and a little teary after my race. Dino cheered my up and said "You have five minutes to feel bad, then you have to focus on the next race. It's okay. It means you care." Boy, I needed that. That night a beer at Mcminimum's Kennedy School tasted really good. We also made the mandetory trip to the famous Powell's Books with Dino's daughter Jasmine.

Things really got settled in at the Hellyer Camp on Saturday. It was warm, but I had a lot of fun hanging out and cheering for friends. Matt's boy Teo ran around being silly and getting free massages from the massage ladies in the neighboring tents. It was non-stop action and intense speed! Around noon, we lined up for a scratch race. The Hellyer ladies agreed to keep and eye on each other and go for some moves later in the race, possibly getting away. Dave McCook was a great advisor for us all weekend. I got in one good dig, but got caught behind some traffic at the end. It's really hard to pass on that track. Being shorter than Hellyer, you had to set up your position a few laps earlier. I finished 8th and crafty CC made the podium at 3rd.

I went crazy watching Dino in his master's scratch race-- he almost lapped the field to score 20 points!!! He got caught with only two laps to go. Heartbreak for sure, but what a great display of his power and guts. He ended up 5th and caught the attention of the announcers and spectators.

Also, my teammate Velo Bella Andrea Fisk set a new track record for the team sprint. She really is a powerhouse and always looks so solid. We got goosebumps watching her.

I was really impressed and proud of all of the talent that we have at Hellyer. Hanan made one of the most impressive moves of the weekend. I was in the perfect position to watch her non-nonchalantly roll off the front at the end of the scratch race while other teams were battling it out. She won by a half lap. They never know what hit them. Inspirational!

That night we celebrated a good day racing at the host house behind the velodrome.

I was much more relaxed on the last day, realizing that I only had one race left, the miss-n-out. At the advice of Andrea, I was going to start in front and stay in the pole I did exactly that and controlled things until the fourth elimination. I should have gotten out of the saddle earlier and could have made the podium. Sugar CRM's Kira P. sure was looking strong all weekend! She ended up 2nd. She's one to watch! I felt successful since I rode my own race.

Dave gave us in an impromptu Madison lesson on the lawn.

After the Miss'n'out and Dino's Scratch race, we left to get some lunch. When I got back I signed up for a heavenly massage. Apparently, when I was gone there was a meeting about the women's points race. They were letting some women who hadn't qualified on Friday race anyway. I didn't know until I heard them calling my name on the start list as I sat in the stands. Doh! I was disappointed that I didn't get to race. I didn't know about checking start lists and not leaving the track if there is a chance that you'll get to race.

Next Year
Even with the emotional ups and down's of racing, I had a great time. I learned a lot and liked trying out a new velodrome. The more I race track, the more I love love love it. I agree with Dino, next year more trips!

1. Be careful of metal rails--they can give you little burns.
2. Always check the start list and ask questions.
3. Enter More Events!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mid-year Reflections

What a race season it's been so far! Since deciding to solely focus on racing and the track, I've made the leap. It's been hard work and it's had it's frustrating moments. My coach Dino fine-tuned my workouts over the winter, giving me a solid base. Doing River Rides over the winter kept me from getting rusty with groups and speed. As things got more into full swing, I worked a lot on sprints and changing speed. I've gotten top tens in all of my criteriums which have been mostly 1/2/3's (with the exception the Menlo Park Grand Prix against the nation's fastest women). I'm happy! I can hang with the big girls unlike last year.

Another thing that's helped has been losing weight! Bella Sabine suggested trying out, which is an online food diary. It's helped me lose eight pounds so far without cutting too many calories or hurting my training. I would highly recommend it to athletes who want to learn more about nutrition. It's a great tool for weight management. With Dino's encouragement, I've added a core strength workout five days a week. It's amazing how much less my back aches and how much more solid I feel sprinting. Overall, I feel lean and fast.

Some of the growth I've experienced has been working on my mindset. How I see myself influences my motivation and willingness to take risks. In the past, I was always focused on whether I was good enough to compete. Sometimes, it's hard to distinguish realistic thinking and negative outlooks. The times where I've succeeded, I've let go of that negative paradigm. I am trying to not compare myself with others, and focus more on my own growth. It's easy to think, "Oh, I'm just a mid-thirties busy working woman on a limited budget. What can I really expect?" After rubbing shoulders with some champions, I realized that it was pretty lame to think that way. There are lots of fast women not in their twenties working on their PhD, working in demanding career, raising kids, and being a wife . It's inspirational. Also, I've got a great support system-- a great mechanic/coach/racing financier boyfriend, awesome team and great friends encouraging me.

Since my last post, I've raced at Hellyer Velodrome six times! That's a lot of two hour drives from Sacramento. We don't mind though. We have it down, including the midway stop at In-n-out burger. It has been the most fun I've ever had racing. I love the people, the learning atmosphere, the hangout, the food, and the intense racing. I think so far Friday nights have been my favorite, but AVC was an incredible experience. I am addicted!

May Track Highlights:
5/17/2009 Get Ready for Summer, Woman’s 3-4 Omnium, 2nd Place (That was a HOT day!)

5/22/2009 Friday Night Women’s Omnium, 3rd Place

5/31/2009 Get Ready for Summer, C’s Omnium, 4th Place

This weekend, I also competed in the American Velodrome Challenge-- but that's another story for another post (coming soon)...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Having too much fun to blog much?

1st Friday Night Races: May 8, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Back to the Track

On Saturday, Dino could tell that I was excited about the first track races of the year, Hellyer's 1st " Get Ready for Summer Series". I ran around triple-checking everything before we made the drive over to San Jose. I wanted to show off my cool new t-shirt that my friend Thomas designed. Unfortunately, we miscalculated the amount of time it would take to get there and get ready. I had about a half hour to get dressed and warmed up before the first C's race. Of course, the ticket machine was malfunctioning, and a huge line of cars waited at the entrance. I grabbed my backpack and ran to the bathroom to change into my skin suit, then jumped on my bike as soon as I could. Luckily, Dino took care of setting up and registering while I did my abbreviated warm-up.

He pinned on the number and I was ready for my first keirin. I had trouble keeping up with the moto and got gapped by two guys in front. As it turned out, I had on my warm-up gear!!! After Dino switched it, I got second in the second heat of the keirin, which qualified me for the final. The keirin is a freakin' drag race. I think it's my new favorite. It was a tough way to start the day, however. I was the only woman in the final heat, and got last place. Dang.

As we rolled up to the rail for the scratch race, I thought "Geesh, this is a big field." It was a bit windy as we rolled out and I sat mid-pack. Then the swerving started. Nobody was stringing it out and people were way too frisky. A rider swerved randomly in front of me, which made me swerve. I felt like apologizing profusely to everyone behind me. My instinct yelled "Get out of this mess! Hold your line everyone!" I scooted up track into the wind and grabbed DBC's John Licatesi who had won the Keirin. Phew! Much Better!

Then about five laps in, I heard and felt the sickening sensation of a big pile-up behind me. Six riders went down, including a Michelle, who was just happy to be riding after breaking her back in a crit a while back. I was immediately concerned about her. My concern was misplaced, as she was mostly okay. Everyone got up with minor injuries except for Joe Fineman, a Hellyer institution. The paramedics took him away with a serious neck injury and no feeling in his arms or legs. He's now in intensive care after surgery to remove a disk that was placing pressure on his spinal cord. I've been thinking about him everyday and wish him a speedy recovery.

Scratch Continued
I don't know how you feel after a crash, but my nerves were fried and my enthusiasm dimmed. Getting right back on the horse is all you can do. They gave us about nine more laps after the track cleared.I vowed to attack hard if the same sketchy, silliness continued. Some of the guys had the same idea and they flew off the start. I ended up 4th.

When I was riding around the warm-up ring, John Cheetham reminded my about not getting caught in the sprinter's lane for this one. So, what did I do? Move right into that spot, where I promptly got pulled on the first lap. Doh!!! I haven't done too many Miss'n'Outs in my short track career and it's been at least a year since the last one. File this one away and move on.

I feel most comfortable after racing points on Tuesdays with Larry last summer, even as math-challenged as I am. I pulled off some great efforts got 3rd in our remaining tiny field of C's riders.

  • This really was "getting ready for summer" for us. The logistics weren't quite dialed in. I was happy to do my first Keirin and be held on the track for the first time (thanks to uber-holder Andreas Vogel for excellent holding with added coaching).
  • I have strong legs this year and feel like I can get my track upgrade. Part of me wanted to race the B's after the crash, but I want to get points and the elusive "W". I got 6th overall in the omnium, but know that I could have gotten better without blowing it in the Miss'n'Out. I missed the podium by one spot.
  • Even though the crash was terrible, I still feel that track racing is no more dangerous than any other type of bike racing. It was a fairly rare thing.
  • I still get a major kick out of the track. It's a fertile growing environment physically, mentally and socially. Also, Facebook has been a great way to network, keep in touch with old friends and meet new ones in the cycling community.I can't wait to get back!
  • After six races my legs feel pretty beat up!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Movin' on Up

Saturday, February 28,2009
Merco Criterium: Women's 3/4

Dino and I left home around 5am for the two hour drive down 99. After checking in, I did the same hard warm-up on the trainer beforehand that I used before the Cal Aggie Crit. I used to be afraid of wasting my energy and tiring my legs out, but have learned that a good warm-up prepares the body for any hard efforts off the line. I saw bella-fella Tyler W. and he gave me a good talk through of the course.

It was my first time on the course and I was a little surprised that nobody wanted to do a free lap to inspect it. Was position that important with such wide open roads? I had no problem moving up quickly. It was easy to outmaneuver girls through the fun little schwoopy corners with barriers.

We had a good field of crafty 3/4 women and plenty of active teams. There was one obvious strength in a solo girl sponsored by Whole Foods. She was off the front and in front the whole time. I stayed right on her tail an tried to keep anything from getting away. In the first couple of laps I was stuck in no-woman's land after a prime sprint and I bridged up to the two girls in front. One of the girls wasn't going to work with her teammates back in the field and we sat up. Attacks came from several different teams including Colavita and Roaring Mouse.

When it came down to the final lap, I maintained my good position. After the final corner several things happened in retrospect: I should have shifted to one harder gear and got out of the saddle, I waited too long before sprinting all out, and I should have let the teams do more work since I was solo. We were placed separately so I think I ended up 7th in the 3s (official results aren't out yet). I got a little $ for lunch on the way home.

Despite that I am really happy with myself. I felt in control of the race and kept a really good position. I felt really strong (a good indication of things to come). The high end sprinting will come with spring/summer and track racing! It amazes me how far women's racing has come in just the last couple of years. The speed and skill level has definitely increased. This is a race I want to do again.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cal Aggie Cry-tier-ee-um

Last Saturday was the first race of the season for me. I was much more mentally prepared than last year. Dino has been focusing my workouts on speed-work and convinced me to do a harder warm-up. It was nice to race later in the day with the 1/2/3's. We had a nice little safe field of 26ish. Teammate Soni and I spent the first lap up front at a reasonable pace. From there on, it's like a song that got faster and louder. My old friend Mary (Vanderkitten) controlled a lot of the race-- toying with us really. I watched her draw people out by hammering up front and getting a little gap, just watching who would follow. I tried to stay on her tail-- She could have led me out for a prime but she was just too fast! It was suprising that she didn't take it in the end. She ended up 2nd to Cal Aggie Amanda. Touchstone looked strong with Kelly and Carol contesting the prime sprints. I ended up 10th place. I was very happy with that. Good times!

When Dino analyzed my power files later, I had gotten all personal bests (except for 1 second watts). He raised my threshold by 20 watts. A big jump! Amazing after being off my bike for a week with a stupid chest cold. It re-inspires me to work hard and look forward to a good season.

Stats: Average Speed- 23, Normalized (average) power 244 for 50 minutes