Chapter 9First Race Report

After a week-long illness and its subsequent lack of training, plus missing the first scheduled race of the year as a result, I wasn't at my best. But it wasn't a disaster. I learned a lot. Read on, new racer…

Lynchburg Road Race: April 17, 2016

Race goals

  • “C” race: training only; no wild efforts. Stay controlled
  • Finish with main pack
  • Follow as many attacks as possible

Race Results

  • Could only follow 3 or 4 big surges
  • Ultimately dropped in the middle of the 2nd of 5 laps
  • Finished 17th out of 24 riders

Initial post race observations

  • In back of group during surges. Bad.
  • Didn‘t realize how low my power was…

Detailed analysis

The Lynchburg Road race, the second road race of the Ohio Spring Road race series turned out to be my first race of the 2016 season. This is because I missed last week's first race due to illness.

Of course, it's easy and immediately tempting to run to “my illness last week,” and make it a scapegoat for poor performance. However, after carefully scrutinizing my race numbers, there is very real credence to this.

As you know, a standard FTP test measures your best effort at 20 minutes. Mine is just at 240 watts. At 66 kgs of weight (Or 151 pounds) that's 3.6 watts per Kg; not stunning, but adequate for smart Cat 4 racing. (There's a twist to this fact, later.) And I have been faithfully training with over-unders, climbing repeats, VO2 intervals, and other types of workouts using this as my gauge.

However, yesterday, my normalized power for the entire two hours and nine minutes was only 194 watts. And my best 20 minute effort was also only 194 watts, average. So, wow. The flu packs a punch.

Additionally, I had estimated the “top of the box,” the rolling portion where attacks are normally made on this course using other race files, Strava, etc., to take me roughly 8 minutes at speed to traverse. My eight minutes Mean Max Power is just under 270 W. However, the very best run across the top of the box for all five of my laps never went above 220 W. Here’s the power segment for that:

Incidentally, that 8:13 segment you see highlight up there? That was spent watching the break and the split peloton slip away.

Below: Here are the matches I burned as the attacks ramped up. The top graphic shows the red and yellows (125% and 150% of FTP) that were hot n' heavy during the first two laps of the race. The bottom graphic just shows a zoomed-in view of the top portion, so you can see the 17 matches (that’s a whole heckuva lot) as we entered the “top of the box” portion twice; the first time on the left of the highlight, the second time to the right of the highlighted section. That second group of matches was approaching the north-south portion of the course, or the long vertical section of the map on the western edge. This was the big set-up for the push that would ultimately cause the selection to be made.

So clearly, my power was down. This despite the fact that my previous week of training was completed to plan regardless of the fact that I was getting over the flu. Also, my preparations the night before and my travel to the race were completely without stress.

​It must be noted, however, that during my “microburst” workouts, my hill repeats, and surge workouts, I was spending precious little time in the 400–600 watt range — precisely where these matches forced me to go. Generally, my training “bursts” are shooting to hold only 360 watts or so. That’s clearly not enough in races like this that are devoid of long climbs that favor spindly riders like me.

The race is staged at a nearby school parking lot. You are led via car and motorcycle during a neutral roll out to the course. The portion of the course where you start is admittedly the most challenging portion. It is not what you would call hilly any stretch but it is rolling, and it was heading directly into a light wind.

Halfway into the course, we crossed the finish line for the first time rolling along at a comfortable pace. The race began in earnest after we crossed the finish line for the second time. The digital timer at the race officials booth flashed “four laps to go.”

At the end of the long rural straightaway, the road turned right, and this is where the first of the surges began. This was a fight for position. At the end of this road was a series of short left-right turns that deposited the racers at the beginning of what I called the “top of the box.” Once the group had made it to the top of the box, the attacks started in a flurry.

Despite my lack of power, which at this point had not revealed itself to me, (note to self, include “average power for previous lap” as part of your Garmin data screen on race day) I was in poor position. I did not anticipate attacks starting so quickly in a five lap race. Looking at my race file you will count 17 efforts at 150% or greater of my FTP at this point in the race. To put it bluntly, this took the snap out of me. It did not finish me off, it did not sap me, but I had no more punch.

The roads were very narrow, and a centerline rule was in effect (although not very stringently enforced by the new moto referee for our race.) I was able to look down the road and see 15 or so riders ahead of me when the attacks started. I was more than prepared to answer them, but after the second wave, the combination of slower reacting riders and narrow roads took its toll on me. I was boxed. Then the yo-yo effect started at the back. I found myself watching the group string out and ultimately slip away.

I clearly remember looking ahead to the only left-hand turn on the course to see the three or so racers who would ultimately win gapping the group and arcing around that left-hand bend, each of them out of the saddle and hauling proverbial ass. 

They had split the field, and they knew it. That so has to feel awesome…

For about half a lap I was completely alone. And then, I started picking up stragglers.

I want this to be a lesson to any new racer: just because you have been spit off the back, don’t give up. Think about the course. Think about where the wind is. Understand that if you use the typography of the course and the wind, you are very likely to pick up places. In other words, you can scoop up those whose will has been broken.

Over the course of the last three laps, I would encounter six racers. Two of them would join me in a rotating paceline to continue the race. Good natured chaps, I enjoyed riding with them. They were both from the same team, pleased that their earlier efforts had helped send a mate up the road.

Next steps and lessons learned

The workouts scheduled for this coming week continue to work on surges. For example, I have been working on so-called “microbursts.” Many short intervals in a row with little rest at 150% or more of FTP. Microbursts are a way to rack up quite a lot of time at high intensity, and are great over extended periods of training, provided you don't allow too much rest in between.

Keep in mind that yesterday's race (and the race I missed that preceded it) were both marked as “C” races. Training races. I am not scheduled to peak until the end of next month. This is important. My goal was to finish with the group yesterday, but with a combination of poor position and admittedly low power presumably due to illness, that wasn't going to happen. No use beating myself up over it. Observe it, accept it, and make appropriate changes as you go forward.

I have 5 weeks to continue to ramp up my power during those 8+ minute periods, and I’ll need to do that for my chosen “A” event. ​

In my case the only change is to make sure my position is better next time. I have a pretty good understanding of where attacks and the selection is likely to occur. Understanding that the majority of races are held on narrow farm roads, it is crucial that I do everything in my power to stay at the front but not waste energy on the front. Once I have lost position on these narrow roads it is virtually impossible to make it up during crunch time. I believe my training is appropriate. I will stay the course with my anaerobic intervals, and my focus on surge power.

A shot of realism

Let's pretend I was at the front yesterday when those initial surges happened. Do I believe I could have stayed with the leaders, or at least the main group? I believe that I would have stayed with the first couple of big surges, yes. However, that final burst heading into the run at the top of the box certainly would have been too much for me. I could not have stayed with the leaders. And it is likely I would have stayed with the main group for at least another lap. But I know that I couldn't have stayed with them for the duration of the race.

When the selection is being made, especially if it’s an “A” race, you HAVE to fight with all you have to stay within the group; because the group is your protection. On open Midwest courses, it‘s your shelter from the wind. Left exposed, you’ll experience what Mark Cavendish described as “falling through ice” as you watch the peloton ride away.

Here's that twist on weight that I told you about: after getting home, with only a water bottle and a recovery shake in me…in other words, I had not eaten a post-race meal as I wanted to shower before going out to eat — I stepped on the scale.

My second big surprise of the day: 142 pounds.

Prior to getting sick two weeks ago, I was at 151 pounds. Dropping 9 pounds is statistically incredible…if you are able to maintain your power and muscle mass. Less weight with the same power of course equals more speed. But this was weight loss due to a week of virtually no training, fever, fluid loss, etc.

It may take longer than I realized to regain my previous power and muscle mass. Any exercise physiologists out there who care to comment on that? Please do…

One final tidbit

During the last lap and a half, I realized after attempting to get out of the saddle and sprint up a roller that not one, but both of my legs lightly cramped! I was carrying my usual two bottle system: one with two scoops of Hammer HEED, and one scoop of Hammer Sustained Energy. The other bottle was plain water. I also carry a flask with several tablespoons of organic maple syrup, of which I took a big gulp during the back half of lap 2.

It was unusually warm for this time of year in Central Ohio: 83°. After getting back to the car, it was pointed out to me that I had only taken in a little more than half of the total fluids I’d taken on board. So not only was I underweight and underpowered, but I was also under-hydrated.

Complete rookie mistake.

Still, a positive experience

This was my first road race in over a year. Last year was all about training to do long distances over mountains in Europe for a wonderful weekend that I will never forget. I'm in a period of getting my head on straight as well as readjusting my body to racing.

Racing is a mental and logistical challenge, even though you've been conscientiously training, eating, and supplementing throughout the winter. When it all comes together it really is quite magical. My struggle-mates yesterday were cheerful and friendly, the weather was beautiful, and my bike was performing mechanically very well. I learned a lot and I'm looking forward to next week's race, which incidentally happens to be on the flat-to-rolly side. C'est la vie.

Always Learn Something From Your Races

  • C Races are training races. They're real opportunities to sharpen your focus as you look to your A event(s)
  • On narrow road races, you MUST stay at or near the front. You can't cross the centerline to react to attacks.
  • Continue training on VO2 max and surges with over-unders and microbursts. I need to target 400+ watt bursts.
  • Update your head unit (in my case, a Garmin 810) to show Avg Last Lap Power. Be aware of what you’re expending!
  • HYDRATE!!!!! If you’re training intensely enough (appropriate time, duration, and intensity) and you’re cramping, you're not getting enough sodium and/or water. Drink up!

Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.