Tag Archives: Time Trial

The jury is still out on this trial

The last couple of days I have been in one of my bicycle funks. The last week or so has been really disjointed with the delays in my bicycle repairs. Just some short rides on my TT machine and the fixed gear have all I’ve been able to pull off. I had no idea how I would do at the Greenville Spinners Summer Time Trial Series.

The funk goes deeper than that, but I’ll save that for a later blog post. This instance is to give a report on the TT that I decided to do last night. I figured since I wouldn’t be doing the road race on Saturday, I might as well give it a go in the race of truth.

First, I should point out that the course has been changed. Since the beginning of the TT series the course remained consistent, until last night. It is still an out and back totaling 10 miles, but the start-turnaround-finish is different.

The original course

It is somewhat of an optical illusion as you look at the two maps. The original course seems longer, but it is because gap between the start and turnaround is closer together on the first map. It is the “golf course hill” that is the major new wrinkle in the course and places the turnaround farther along the course (as shown in the below map).

The new course

What this means is that the start/finish and turnaround points create a whole new approach to the strategy of the course. While the two elevation profiles (seen below) appear very similar, it isn’t the case. For instance, in the middle of the profile you see a smaller bump then a steeper climb up to the turnaround and then a smaller bump following as the course mirrors. However, these two sections while looking similar are completely different locations.

The original course elevation profile

While the first course started at a higher elevation, the new course has more total climbing. On the new course, you climb 486 feet with multiple 3% to 5% grades. On the old course, the climbing totaled 230 feet with most grades not exceeding 3%. Of course, that also means there is downhill involved since it is an out and back course. However, the decided difference between the two courses is definitely the extra 250 feet of climbing.

The new course elevation profile

So, how did I do? Well, I at least got off to a better start than last time! This week I had the opportunity to get off work a little earlier and was at the course shortly after 5 PM. I got my machine out, got it set up and then went to register. I chose 6:33 as my start time. I hoped the wind would still be calm, but I would also have more time to get warmed up.

I then went out on the course in my shorts and t-shirt. I just wanted to get a feel for the road and plan my approach. Of course, I felt pretty rotten just getting on and starting to ride. However, by the time I made the turnaround and started back, I was watching the cadence and speed picking up as my legs warmed. When I reached that point, I shut it down and cruised easily back to the start.

I got in my skin suit and climbed on the trainer to spin along easily until it was near time to start. Nearing my time slot, I got back on the road and noodled around until time to get in the chute. By this time, I was feeling pretty neutral. I had no idea what would happen. I could do great or I could blow up. My emotions were pretty calm.

Some things I changed from previous attempts were 1) to not wear shades. It seems simple, but the shades I have just don’t cut it in a time trial. Invariably, the top of the glasses obstruct my vision as I am tucked forward on the bike. 2) Rather than try to “look right” by having my helmet lined up lower on my forehead, I pushed the helmet back so that I wouldn’t have to bend my neck so much to stay in an areo position. 3) I was now much lower on the bike due to the changes I made to the bars.

One nice thing about the new course is that it starts out flat. On the old course, I had a tendency to go too hard down the initial downhill. It got me started with a higher speed, but I typically paid for it real fast and things would go downhill from there.

This time, I set my goal at what I thought was a reasonable 26 mph average. If I could exceed that speed without much effort — such as on a downhill — I would. However, I would not kill it on the downhill and focus on trying to get uphill as quickly as possible.

I reached the turnaround right on target. My average speed was 26 mph and I reached it in 30 seconds over 11 minutes. I really felt pretty good at this point. I certainly felt faster. However, this was about to change.

There is a good amount of climbing to the turnaround. I handled it just fine, but the problem is that you have to turn around and then go back over the undulating terrain and you realize that the majority of the climbing is packed right into this middle section. It gets tough soon after you make your turn.

Going up golf course hill, I ended up having to stand to try to keep my momentum going. I kept telling myself that it would get better after I reached the top. It did, but my legs were starting to tire and even the more shallow grades to follow were a chore.

One of the things that helped is that I was over taking the riders who started before me. It took me until nearly to the turnaround to catch my 1 minute man. Just as my legs were starting to yell at me after golf course hill, I saw my 2 minute man in front of me. It gave me a motivation to keep up the cadence. Once I got around him, I started glancing ahead to see if the 3 minute man might be visible.

All this time, my average speed was dropping. I was now hovering just above 25 mph. My 26 mph goal was now out the window. However, I was determined to hang onto the 25 mph line.

As I was climbing 3M hill the average dropped into the 24 mph range. However, I knew I was coming up on some flatter sections and I caught a glimpse of my 3 minute man. I set my goal to catch him and power through whatever pain to push that average back up to 25 mph.

I rounded the turn that would take me to my next point of reference… the railroad tracks. I moved over the white line in order to find the smoothest part of the road. I was slowly gaining on the rider ahead of me. My fear was that I would catch him right as we crossed the tracks.

Thankfully, I watched him navigate the rails just ahead of me. Then I went over them. When I did my bars dropped! I was now tilted way forward. However, I kept my concentration on the rider in front of me.

I cleared him in sight of the line and then settled in to meet my second objective. I glanced down for the last time and saw 24.9. I’m sure I was rocking back and forth as I gave what I had left to push my speed up in these last meters.

Result? 23:57 with an average of 25 mph. That was good for 2nd place in the Cat. 1/2/3 field and 3rd place overall. However, my biggest question was did I improve my overall effort from previous attempts? The fact that this was a new course made that tough.

The only thing I can go on is that I was beat by Chris Calder who finished the May event in 21:41 — the gap between us was 1:51. Last night, Chris finished with a time of 23:16. The gap during this event shrunk to 41 seconds. Sure, it is very possible that Chris had a bad night, but it is also true that everyone was having slower times.

All in all, I walk away from the evening with a positive feeling about my progression in the time trial discipline. The more of them I do, the more I understand my body and what it takes to pace myself. I’m looking forward to the next one so I can compare an apple with an apple!

I am 9 minutes slower than Captain America

The bicycle has allowed me to do some pretty incredible things over the last decade. As I look back, racing has been a part of it, but my greatest memories haven’t happened in competition. They center around people, places and events associated with helping others. I’m talking about “charity rides.” Well, I have another thing to add to my “that was incredible!” list.

Definitely one to add to the "that was incredible list!" (photo Eddie J. Helton)

As you know, I signed up to ride in the Stars and Stripes Challenge as a way to remember my friend Michael T. McCaskill and raise money for the fight against cancer. The ride is scheduled for Monday and I’m still planning to roll out with everyone that morning. However, something I didn’t expect came my way.

Because of the generosity of those supporting me in the cause, I was given the opportunity to race the USA Cycling Professional Time Trial Championship course. At 9:49 AM Saturday morning, I was slated to start from the same ramp that the pros would use at 11:30 AM. There would be a dozen of us rolling off to see how fast we could make it around the course.

I had no idea how I would do. I really didn’t care about where I fell within the group. What I wanted was to get the best time I could and then see how that would measure up to the pros. In my mind, I was thinking I would be happy to come in within 20 minutes of the winning time.

As I got there it was like a reunion. I was running into various people associated with my Palmetto Peloton Project days. Some of these folks I had ridden with from Greenville to Austin — twice. I also had the pleasure of meeting some new folks. I will admit that it is kind of cool to say, “Hi, I’m Jonathan” and then have the person say, “Wait, Jonathan P… P… Pait, right? The guy with the blog?”

John Cash finished in 51:20 on his Trek (photo by Lance Footer)

John Cash showed up. “The Man in Black” is a great guy. He absolutely knows no stranger. He has a few years on me, but he is fit and has enough energy for both of us! I knew if there was anyone there that was going to get a faster time than me, it would be him. As the previous “winner” of the ride, he would start last with me right before him.

However, the thing about it was even though we had fun trash talking, mostly we just had a great time talking about the things we were doing to help others. I caught him up on what was happening with Ride for Mike and pointed him to Helping Hands Ministries for a project he was interested in doing. He told me some stuff that LiveStrong was doing (he is a LiveStrong ambassador) that I was not aware of and I was glad to hear about.

Then we got in the starting chute.We weighed our bikes and John’s Trek was just a tad heavier than my Felt — and I had a disc wheel. His sure looked faster though! The Felt weighed in at 8.51 kilograms (18.8 lbs) so I was well above the UCI requirement — not that it mattered.

The tool for the day -- got lots of nice comments

Then I had a moment that really stuck out to me the most. Tom Wennogle was standing in line before me. He was kitted out in normal riding gear on a typical road bike. He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Don’t mind me when you go by. You’ll probably catch me right away.” He continued, “I don’t think I’ll get anywhere near your time.”

I asked him, “Yes, but how much money did you raise?” He got a perplexed look on his face and replied in a questioning tone, “$5000” “See,” I told him. “You beat me. The money we’ve raised means a lot more than the times we’re going to get out on the course!” It did me good to see him smile. “Thank you for saying that,” he said. Well, I meant it.

Wow. I’m not ashamed to say that I was pretty pumped about standing at the top of the ramp getting ready to go out on the course. Later that day, Dave Zabriskie would be preparing to roll down that same ramp to claim his 7th US Pro Time Trial Championship. Here I was about to roll off with the same officials following the same process. Even the race announcers were calling the event as we slow dozen started our attempts.

With about 20 seconds to go I started to wonder if anyone had ever fallen off the ramp. I fleeting moment of panic passed over me that I might be the first one. It passed and I just got ready to roll off when the official waved me to go.

I was away. I could hear my family and some other folks cheering me on. The voices of the announcers were saying something about John and I battling it out (I was John’s one minute man). Then I started up the long climb up to Old Sulpher Springs.

Before long all I could hear was the sound of the solid disc wheel turning beneath me. I tried to keep right on the edge of my comfort level. I knew I would turn left and then have a roller with more downhill than up. I could recover a bit then.

It seemed to be working as I made the turn onto Verdae Blvd., I was starting to feel my legs loosen up a bit. Then the tightness came back as I had to climb a short punchy stretch coming back up Old Sulpher Springs. That led right into some more shallow, but painful, climbing up to the turn around before flying quite a distance downhill to reach Innovation Drive.

That was the place where you got a rush! At nearly 40 mph I entered a sweeping left turn. I was thankful for those fast descents I had been making on the west side of Paris Mountain! I was hanging on as the bike screamed through the corner.

Then it was time to climb again. Innovation Drive was basically a climb (with one short downhill break) all the way up to Laurens Road. However, once up to Laurens there was a long downhill where I was able to recover a bit. One short climb near the turn onto Millennium Blvd and then it was like riding a shallow bowl from end-to-end up to the finish line.

I made the first lap in 16:16. I had no idea if that was a bad or good time. I just knew that it was a time that was fast as I thought I could go knowing that I had to do it two more times!

The second lap was 17:01. I felt that it was slower than that. However, starting that final climb away from the start — I felt it was REALLY slow. I just tried to imagine that John Cash was getting ready to catch me. I searched for a comfortable cadence and tried to get my wattage up to 300 if I could.

Checking the wattage while starting the climb from the start (Eddie J. Helton)

By this time I had passed all the riders in front of me except for Scott Tetzlaff. He was out there Merckx style and I just could not close the deal. I could see that I was gaining, but he finished probably 200 meters in front of me.

As I was coming down Laurens for the last time, I looked at the clock. By that time, I had realized the times I was getting and I so wanted to come in under 50 minutes. I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but I set it as a goal to see how close I could get to that time.

All during the ride, I could hear people cheering. As I would come by the start/finish, I could hear the announcers calling. Somehow, someone had gotten them the story of Michael T., Ride for Mike and Low Cadence. I was lifted during the earlier laps by hearing them telling people to go by the blog and learn more about it. That made it all worth it. I as also encouraged that John Cash never came around me!

As it turns out, I learned that I am 9+ minutes slower than a pro on his best day and about 2+ minutes slower than a pro on his worst day. That was the spread between the top pro finisher and my time and the final pro finisher and my time of 50:39. Still, for me, coming within 5 minutes of much of the pro field was pretty cool!

I went to bed Saturday night with a smile on my face.

Another bib number to add to the collection of fun!

Thank you to the Palmetto Peloton Project, Sunshine Cycle Shop, Boyd Cycling, Eddie J. Helton Photography and the wonderful supporters of Low Cadence and Ride for Mike. You all made for a pretty great day.

Spinners trials is a fun test

Time trials. You love them and you hate them. Thanks to the Greenville Spinners, you get the chance to love what you hate several times this summer with their annual time trials series. While riding a time trial can be something you hate, its hard not to love hanging out with the Spinners.

My number for the Spinners Summer Time Trial Series

This Thursday was a trial just getting to the event! I had busted one of my aero wheels and Boyd Johnson let me borrow one of his while he was putting together a permanent replacement. I didn’t get a chance to put the wheel on the bike until 4:30. When I did, I discovered that the rear derailleur was doing something funky — like the chain was hanging up.

This got me out the door late and then it was time for the criterium race through traffic on Pleasantburg Drive — just as everyone was getting off work. I was starting to get a bit nervous because I needed to start early in the queue so that I could get to my son’s baseball practice to pick him up. My window for registering, warming up and getting to the line was shrinking with each delay.

After registering, I unloaded the bike and took it over to The Great Escape mechanic who was there supporting the riders. I got into my skin suit and then went to pick up my bike. A moment of panic flashed into my mind as I realized that my start time was only 15 minutes away! The mechanic was informing me that the chain was not meshing well with the cog on Boyd’s wheel. I told him to get it working the best he could on a particular gear and then I would go with that.

I went out and did my best to get my legs loose before returning to the line. However, I knew it was going to be a painful experience as my legs were complaining to me that they weren’t ready as I rolled up to the line. I figured I was just going to have to use the out portion as my warmup. If I could just hang in there, my legs should come around on the return.

There isn’t much to say about the actual attempt. I almost immediately started to feel that my legs were bricks. The battle was to fight the negative thoughts that I was just wasting my time. Still, each turn closer to the turn around lifted my spirits.

I looked down at the time and saw I was rolling toward the halfway point at around 11 minutes. In the past, I made this point in just over 10 minutes. Considering how I was feeling, that was actually a relief. The turn came and I determined I wouldn’t look at the wattage. I was just going to ride as best I could back to the finish.

My legs did lose that “brick” feeling. However, now they were starting to feel like noodles. As I soldiered on, I could see other riders making their out attempts. I had been passing some riders, but I couldn’t tell for sure if they were on their attempt or just out warming up. Regardless, I tried to use each one as a rabbit to overtake.

I was thankful that the gearing didn’t give me a problem. The bike was shifting well — not that I was doing a lot of it. However, I did go down to a bit harder gear as I made my way within sight of the finish. The clock stopped at 23:32 for the 10 miles.

That wasn’t what I wanted by any stretch. At the same time, I was much better than I felt I did. I had pretty much convinced myself it was going to be a 24:00+ time. Only being 20 some seconds off my best time was a surprise.

Turns out my out portion took about 11:50. That is significantly slower than previous attempts. However, the back portion took around 12:20. That is significantly better than previous attempts. I imagine there is something to learn in there… I’ve just got to figure out what it is an capitalize on it.

I had to leave before the winning times were announced. However, I figured that since I was competing in the Cat. 1/2/3 field that I wouldn’t be seeing “the podium.” Later, I was surprised to get a tweet from my friend, David McQuaid, who informed me that I had taken second by a second. Chris Calder, having returned from racing with the USA development team in Belgium, crushed all of us with a sub-twenty-one minute effort.

We’ll see how things go next time when most likely there will be a few more heavy hitters who I assume were holding off from the time trial in anticipation of the criterium in Spartanburg tonight. Folks like Eric Christophersen and Matt Tebbetts regularly turn 22 and sub-22 minute efforts. I’ll be on the outside looking in at that point!

However, that is what is so fun about the Spinners series. It really is a relaxed atmosphere. Really, for the majority of the participants it is as though we are a support group cheering each other on against the clock. If you are interested in turning your pedals in competition, this is a great venue to start with.

As for me, I’m determined to improve my time during the next few events. I’ll start by making sure I schedule things better!

The trials of learning to time trial

Time flies when you are having fun. This is even true for the time-crunched cyclist. Amazingly, I have only two weeks left to use the Time-Crunched Cyclist Plan. I’d have to say that I’ve been pleased with the results so far.

The bottom line is I was able to compete in a criterium style race and mix it up. That is what the plan says it can do for you. It will be interesting to see where I am at when the full 12 weeks are complete.

Thursday night will be a new experience and we’ll see how the TCCP works out for me. It is time for the Greenville Spinnners’ Summer Time Trial series. I’ll be heading over to Donaldson Center to participate in a 10 mile out and back individual time trial.

I’ve got a goal to go after from last year. I think I’ve learned a little bit about making a time trial effort each time I have attempted one. With a little bit of mental discipline, I hope I can put it into practice and beat my PB of 23:08.

The TT cockpit helps cut down wind resistance

Yesterday, I rolled out the Felt with my time trial profile. The AR is a road bike with a lot of TT bike characteristics. It is very similar to some older Felt TT bike frames. So, by simply switching out the “cockpit” you can go from a road bike to a TT bike — with some compromises.

My plan was to get out and ride just to get comfortable with the position on the bike. Steering can be a nervous endeavor when your elbows are centered near the stem and you arms are stretched out in front of your shoulders. Speed wasn’t my goal. Confidence on the bike was the plan.

The TCCP called for me to put in 1:3o EnduranceMiles. There would be no need for intervals or hard efforts. I headed out to the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

Normally, I don’t think the SRT is a good choice for a TT bike. You aren’t supposed to be riding at high speeds on the trail and when it is crowded, a TT setup can be quite dangerous. Of course, the SRT is still the best way to get out of town. If you are looking for a smooth, relatively flat surface, it is a good option.

Once I got out there I was feeling very comfortable and put out some bursts when I reached “The Swamp” — a long section with no stopping and where you can see for a distance. The thought came into my mind to go to the Chick Springs TT segment and attempt to move up on the Strava leader board.

I saw that Boyd Johnson had moved into third place with a time of 2:09. I knew that he was trying to see if he could take the top spot. Maybe I could get it before he did.

As I was riding back toward Greenville, I happened past the new location for Boyd Cycling — it is located right off the trail beside the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery. I saw Boyd’s van outside so I swung in for a look at the still under construction digs.

It is good to see the success that Boyd is having. I think the new location is going to be another step in the progression for his company. I’ve got a lot of respect for someone who takes a risk and works hard to turn that risk into success. I’m looking forward to the grand opening coming up in less than a month.

We talked about Chick Springs. Boyd said that the time that currently stands was part of a team time trial. That means it was going to be hard for an individual to take the top spot. He had tried it a day earlier on his time trial rig and came up about 4 seconds short.

I said goodbye to Boyd and headed for the segment. Knowing that I have a tendency to go too fast in the start and then fading toward the end, I determined I would keep myself under control for the downhill portion of the route. Then I would give what I had left when the road began to kick up. I was going to have to trust in the equipment and position to get me a good time.

I came into the segment with a rolling start. My goal of spinning my legs just under that point where I felt like I was pushing too hard seemed to be working. I was holding a speed of over 36 mph for much of this section.

The I reached the point where the road leveled a bit more. I started to feel the effort at that point. Still, I felt as though I was on top of it. Looking back, I realize that I could have pushed a bit more at that point. I still had the final kick up at the end in my mind. No use pushing hard just to lose time in the last few meters.

Then I went around the final left turn and a car was coming toward me in the turn. That sounds dangerous, but it wasn’t. I was well within my lane and he in his. However, it caused me to lose my concentration for just a moment and my bike washed toward to edge of the road. I let up to correct it and then got back into the effort.

Now I was climbing up the final little kick. I was debating with myself whether to stay in my position or stand up and attack. One would keep my momentum, but could possibly keep me from getting more power. The other would cause me to have a short drop in momentum, but with enough energy would allow me to increase my power. I stayed seated and pushed through to the end.

I got home hoping to to see a little crown beside the Chick Springs TT segment in my Strava profile. Instead, I saw that I had my second best time. Interestingly, it was the same time as Boyd’s last attempt at 2:09.

That time will fall. It might be today!

My trials continue

Arriving at the Greenville Spinners Time Trial event last night, I found the trees being blown back and forth. A storm was approaching the course and everyone was checking their smart phones to see what the radar indicated. It was tempting to pack it up and plan for another day, but this was the last Spinners’ TT of the year. I waited to find out what would happen.

Spinners' TT start

Getting ready to start final 2011 Spinners' TT

While I waited, I went out on the course. Going out from the start line the wind was at my back. Tailwinds are funny. You don’t feel them. You just feel like you are flying. There is an amount of wind resistance in front of you as your power keeps you in front of the wind pushing from behind. Sometimes you don’t realize you have the assistance until you are out of it.

Then the course began to make a gradual turn to the left. At this point, I started to feel a crosswind. I could sense the gusts catching my 50c wheels. It was almost rhythmic as my bike would push right and then release just to do it over again.

The flags at the businesses along the route were standing out from the poles. I was thankful that for the most part the course was downhill as I started onto the 3M section and into a more direct headwind. I tucked as small as I could as I tried to avoid the few rough sections along the road at this point.

As I neared the turn around, I was somewhat protected by some trees that kept the crosswind to a minimum. Making that turn, I got started back. This time what had been a headwind became the tailwind helping to push me up 3M.

Once I got over the tracks I eased up to make sure I was saving something for the actual effort. The way it appeared to me, if I went out hard in the beginning I could fight my way through the wind and then have the wind to my back on the long stretch. Then it would just be a matter of suffering up the final approach to the finish.

The lesson I learned this night was that things can change and you have to be prepared to adjust on the fly.

As I waited my start, the wind had died down. The trees were no longer waving in the wind. However, I figured at that point there would still be a residue of the earlier environment.

I went off to attack the first half of the course. I felt pretty good in the first fourth of the course. My one minute man was in sight as we neared the turn onto 3M hill. I caught him on the way down.

The effects of the effort began to break through my concentration as I began to make my way up to the turn around. The rider who had started two minutes in front of me passed me going in the other direction as I started the slight climb to the cone. The pain started to knock on the door of my mind and two negative thoughts hit me… 1) I had hoped to catch my two minute lead, but it didn’t appear that I would. 2) I had misjudged where the cone would be.

I knew the cone is set up near a tree and a turn onto a service road. When I rode out earlier, the cone was not out and I made my turn at what I thought was the mark. Well, the cone was placed at least 100 meters farther up the road.

“No big deal,” I told myself. “Just ride with the pain.” I was determined that regardless of how my legs felt, I was going to keep turning them. As I made the turn I realized I was going to have to manage that for five miles.

I looked at my clock and saw that if I wanted to get the time I was aiming for, I would have to come back nearly as fast as I went out. I settled in to do the work at hand. The pain had seemed to level off and I just tried to reestablish a rhythm. I also began praying that the tailwind would be there as I started up 3M.

It wasn’t. If anything, it appeared the wind had shifted. I kept spinning and looking down at times to see that though I felt I was putting out a consistent effort, I saw the wattage dropping. It wasn’t a huge collapsing drop. It was more like a slow bleed.

I even came out of the aero position in hopes that I could stand and restart my momentum. For a bit the wattage climbed back into my target level. Then once again it began to slip away.

“Forget the computer,” I told myself. “Just ride as hard as you can.” So I did. Everything around me closed down. At this point I wasn’t even focused on the time I might get. I just wanted to finish without giving in to the feelings in my legs.

I crossed the fine feeling like I had a very bad time. To be honest, it wasn’t that great. However, it was better than I thought it was. 23:22 was the finish. Not as bad as my first attempt, but not as good as my most recent.

The top thee finishers were all under 22 minutes. The top finisher was only 2 seconds away from a sub-twenty time. I was fifth – nearly a minute slower than the fourth place rider.

Time trials are a challenge. There is strategy, power, and technique involved. To get a good time, you have to hit the mark on all three. Tonight I think I blew it with my strategy, which led to a decline in power, that then messed up my technique.

It is definitely a trial of the body and the mind. It is also a trial I want to endure and then conquer.

Happy to be unhappy

Yesterday was full of unexpected changes. I was trying my best to be negative, but good things continued to surprise me. I finally had to give in and just enjoy it.

Early in the afternoon I walked across campus to get a cup of coffee and to stretch my legs. On the way back to the office I looked out toward Paris Mountain to see clouds begin to build behind it. “Don’t know if I’ll be riding the time trial tonight,” I thought to myself. “I really don’t want to be out there in the rain.”

The main reason I wanted to participate was to go out and get a personal best. If I didn’t have a chance to do that, then I just didn’t feel up to getting out there and suffering or putting myself into danger. Rain – with thunder, lightening, and wind – would create that scenario.

Back at the office I checked the weather map and things didn’t look so good there either. However, around 430 the clouds were breaking up and I could see blue sky. Surprisingly, it appeared that storm was going to stay away for a bit. It was time to go.

I grabbed me a peanut butter and honey sandwich, grabbed a bottle of gel along with some water, and headed out the door. My Felt was on top of the car with it’s time trial setup. My alien helmet was in the hatch. Let’s roll!

The versatile Felt AR

Once I got on the course to warm up, the negative thoughts started creeping back into my mind. The reason was due to the wind. The course was much more windy than it was during the last TT at Donaldson. Basically, that meant even if I rode harder this time, there would be a good chance that I would come in slower.

My plan was simple. I would set up my computer to give me an average power reading. I would then ride to maintain an average that would exceed my last power average and be consistent with what I knew I could do for a 20 minute effort.

I timed my warm up perfectly. Just as I arrived back to the line my name was called. I was feeling cautiously optimistic as I got my gearing sorted and waited to go.

The rider ahead of me was Jake Strasser. When I first saw him there, I was disappointed. Jake is a pretty strong rider and I know that he has a good power output. It crossed my mind that I wouldn’t have the pleasure of a rabbit to chase.

As soon as the countdown ended the surprises kept coming. I came out strong and my average was easily holding over 400 watts. More than that, it appeared that the wind – rather than growing stronger as the evening progressed – was calming. My mental condition tilting upward.

My plan was to finish the course with an average power over 300 watts. I told myself that it didn’t really matter what time I got. The important thing was for me to give my best so that when I came across the line I was spent. If I averaged that wattage for the 20+ minutes, that should be the case.

As I passed the halfway point on the leg out, I could see that the average was still over 325 watts. As I glanced below the average watts line occasionally to see what I was doing I started feeling better and better. Most times I was showing over 300 watts though sometimes touching a low point of 290 – 280.

Then I came into sight of the turning point. Ahead I could see Jake. That was a surprise. I figured I would see him near this point, but he would be going back the other way. Ah, there was my rabbit!

I made the turn at 10 minutes 30 seconds. The slight climb up to the turning point had put a few nagging negative thoughts in my mind, but I put them aside and concentrated on the back of Jake’s jersey. “Find your happy place and just turn in circles,” I told myself.

The average watts read 316 as I made the turn and pointed the Felt home. I caught Jake at last just before making the right hand turn that would take me to the next challenge — the climb up 3M hill. I could see the flag off to my right waving gently, but out from the pole. Here I was getting a crosswind. That meant it would be tough going on the section after crossing the railroad tracks.

About that time I caught another rider. This contestant was riding Merckx style. As I went by, he cheered me on. That made me smile and I settled in to level out 3M.

After making the turn that would lead me to the railroad tracks, I could see that I was still holding watts over a 310 average. “Almost there,” I told myself. What I tried not to tell myself was that this final bit was going to be tough.

As I crossed the tracks I just aimed for the section of the course where the tarmac would smooth out. While that would also mean the beginning of the wind, it would be a welcome relief from the rough asphalt around the tracks. It would be nice to get away from that resistance reaching up and trying to grab my wheels.

Ahead I could see another group. It was one of the teams (three riders in this case) who were participating in the team time trial. It was a co-ed team. As I approached them, I could hear the sound of a vehicle coming up behind me. I did slow slightly as I overtook them at the same time the driver overtook me.

Then it was clear road ahead. I was really feeling it at this point and the average had dropped to around 308 watts. The wattage dropped further as I made the slight descent into “the dip” before the long climb up toward the finish.

As I descended, I found it hard to get my wattage up. My legs weren’t able to turn the gear fast enough to exceed my momentum enough. I used the moment for a chance to catch my breathe before giving it all I had for the climb up to the finish.

I started the climb up having reached a low point of 303 watts. I tried to find a rhythm to my breathing and tried to ramp my power up as best I could. I moved into the 400 watts range and started to find it harder to hold. I kept turning, but watched the real time wattage continue to drop. Still, I was staying over 300 watts.

It wasn’t until that point that I realized that I was going to meet my goal. I finished that final section averaging 350 watts and crossed the line averaging 311 for the effort. My watch showed a time of 22 minutes 39 seconds. Officially, I was given the time of 22 minutes 40 seconds.

That was nearly a half minute faster than my previous best time. However, it was only 5th best for the night. Pat McCallion finished first with a time of 21:22. Of course, he is a South Carolina time trial champion. Unsurprisingly, Eric Christophersen (also a former SC TT champion and runner up to Pat this year) was second coming in at 21:32. Third was my teammate, Mark Caskey, with a time of 22:22. Edging me out of fourth place with a time of 22:37 was Brian Kadien.

I summed it up on Twitter following the race, “Got a PB at TT tonight, but placed 5th. Not happy about it. That makes me feel good.” It was nice to feel disappointed because it means that some of the fire that has been missing from my belly has returned.

Good, better, but not quite best

Sitting in my office at around 4PM I brought up the weather map. The forecast for the next several hours called for potential thunderstorms. Walking outside and taking a look at the sky showed clouds north of Paris Mountain. To the south things didn’t look so bad. Looked like the Greenville Spinners Time Trial at Donaldson Center would be on.

I rushed home to get ready. All the while the clouds continued to mass. I could hear thunder in the distance. It would be my luck that I would be all ready and get there just to get dumped on. Still, it was worth the chance.

What a surprise to find that when I arrived it was overcast, but not threatening. The bigger surprise was that normally windy Donaldson Center was dead still. The flags hung limply from their poles.

Hmmmm, low wind and cloud cover easing some of the oppressive heat from the sun just might be a good setup for a good time. The only weather condition that might be an issue was the incredible humidity. You really could feel the air around you.

I got registered and started warming up for my 6:09 PM start time. As I followed the course I took note of the road surface and the various flags and trees around the course that could give me an indication of the environmental factors. Another objective was to map out in my mind how I would approach the terrain.

When I got to the turn around spot, I hoped to find the cone so that I could practice making a quick turn around it. Unfortunately, the cone had not yet been placed. Also, traffic was heavy at that point and I had to stop with several other riders to wait for it to clear so we could start back.

Arriving back at the start I just had enough time to swallow some gel and jettison one of my water bottles before I was called to the line. I would be about fifth out. I slotted in and waited for my turn.

The track start still was uncomfortable for me. I’m sure I gave the guy holding my bike fits as I couldn’t seem to get my pedals positioned correctly and my weight shifted around. To make matters worse, I shifted my weight on the aero-bars and pushed my elbow rest down. The count down got closer to “Go!” and I tried to put all that out of my mind.

Then I was off! My goal was to beat my time of 23:32 from the previous TT I did a year ago on this course. I wanted to do well on the finish sheet, but that was not my primary focus. The person I wanted to beat the most was myself.

I had started in my big ring and about the middle of my rear cassette. I tucked in my aerodynamic position and started shifting the gears into a consistent cadence. I worked to hold myself back a bit in this first section to around 300 watts.

Immediately, I could tell this wasn’t a warm up anymore. As I started up the first incline my breathing began to change. I focused on avoiding quick draws into my lungs and tried to bring my breathing into a rhythm with my pedal strokes.

Alone, cutting through the heavy air around me, I was suddenly elated! This time a year ago, I was on pain killers with a neck brace and sleeping in my recliner. “I’m alive!” I thought to myself. “I’m not just alive, I’m competitive.” Sure, I wasn’t back to the point I had reached last year, but I was better. Suddenly, it didn’t really matter how I did. I was just enjoying the moment.

Crossing the tracks I reached a straight section where I could see ahead to the next turn. There was my minute man. Hey, maybe I could catch him. “You’ve got the majority of the whole course to do it,” I had to tell myself to keep from accelerating too quickly.

I didn’t really have an idea of how I was doing with my time. Unfortunately, all the uncertainty with my start caused me to forget to start my computer until a number of seconds into the effort. How many seconds I did not know.

My minute man got closer as I made the turn that would bring me to the turn around. I could also see several other riders ahead or coming toward me. I might not have the best time, but I certainly was going to have a time better than most.

As I got to the cone, my minute man was just starting off on his return. Going into the turn I found myself coping with another participant who was just passed by the rider in front of me. I had to negotiate around him, but my turn was still waaaay better than last year!

So, I had already overtaken the rider who started 2 minutes in front of me. By the time I made it to the first turn that would take us to 3M hill, I passed my minute man. Up ahead, I could see yet another rider. It was encouraging to have some targets.

At the same time, I was starting to feel it. I found myself wanting to mash on the pedals instead of pedal in circles. As I would get my legs back in form I could feel the lactic acid begin to build. “That’s not pain,” I would repeat to myself. “That is power.” A grin came to my face as I found myself actually enjoying that swelling feeling that comes into your legs as your heart rate nears its threshold.

I passed the third rider before I reached the rail road track. I was struggling a bit at this point and the thought of the final climb began to affect my effort. It was at this point I probably lost time that I could have gained. My power average for that section was a dismal 209 watts. My thought was on saving something for the climb.

As I started up, I could see the fourth rabbit up ahead. I put my head down and went after him. I caught him at about 1K to go. Then I knew it was just me to beat. I had the sensation that if I continued to sit I would start to fade, so I stood and began to push toward the line.

I knew immediately that I had left something out there. My calculations left me with a bit in the tank. Of course, the number one rule of time trials is to leave nothing there.

Looking at my clock, I could tell that it was going to be close. I cooled down and made my way back to the officials’ tent. The more I figured in my head, the more I began to think I might end up with a time very close to my personal best. At the same time, I wasn’t sure I beat it. Just how long was it before I pressed the start button?

I pulled up to the tent. “Could I have an unofficial time?” I asked. The volunteer took a look at the spread sheet… “23:08” Yes! I had beat my time!

Still, I knew I was far from the fastest time. People regularly turn 21:00 to 22:00 lap times. Turns out there were two Cat 4 racers with faster times (22:38 and 23:00). However, since there were only three of us in the Pro/1/2/3 field, I got a second place. I trailed Eric Christophersen by 57 seconds.

My evaluation? It was good. I followed my plan and accomplished my goal. It was certainly better than last year. However, it was obviously not my best. My power average was well below what I know I can turn out for 20 minutes.

Well, now I have a goal for when we take to the course again in July. It won’t be a time goal. It will be one simple objective: Go for broke.

T T Tonight

It has been over a year since I last participated in a traditional individual time trial. After searching through the archives I finally came upon my blog entry for that event. It will give me something to aim for going into my effort tonight.

It was May 6th when I lined up with a borrowed time trial rig to see how I would do in the “race of truth.” You can read about it in the entry titled, “Telling the truth about the race of truth.” I enjoyed it and after some success gaining a PB on the following Saturday doing the Paris Mountain Time Trial, I was looking forward to some more opportunities. However, in a later post titled, “Trial Love,” I was prophetic is saying I wasn’t sure when I would do another.

That brings us to this evening. I have accomplished one goal of acquiring my own TT rig. Actually, it is my Felt AR road bike with a TT cockpit replacing my drop bars. After the race, I’ll make the switch and get back to using the bike as my primary road ride. I will admit that the Giant TCR Advanced has more than adequately met my needs while the Felt remained configured for the time trial.

What will I be aiming for? I have no illusions of placing high on the list. In my blog post, I mentioned that I finished 7th in my category, but think I may have read the results incorrectly. One thing I do know for certain  is that I finished the 10 mile out-and-back effort in 23 minutes and 32 seconds.

That gives me my goal. To be open about it, I’m not certain I can beat it. I was in VERY good shape at that point. Had I not messed up the turn at the mid-point, I’m certain I could have gone under 23:20.

So, tonight I am hoping that my experience of that event will help me use my head to overcome my lower fitness level. I think that being smart and nailing the turn will help give me a chance of improving my time. Here is my plan…

1. Be less aggressive on the downhill portions of the course. The return for output is much less there than on the climbs. Losing a little bit of time descending could help me avoid losing even more when I have to climb.

2. Settle into the winning pace. On the rolling course this could be a little tough, but I know the speed I will need to average to beat my current record.  I want to pace myself to stay in that zone. Going out an entire minute slower than I did last year could pay dividends on the return. I was over two minutes slower coming back in.

3. Make the turn. This should be a great way to shave off some time. Last year was embarrassing. Now I know to get around that cone as quickly as possible. The road bike geometry should help me with that.

My concern? My concern is my energy. I don’t know if it is the heat or bad sleeping patterns, but I feel very lethargic. If I get out there and go off like a dud, it could all be for naught.

Hey, that’s why we race. I might get out there and find my inner TT specialist! Either way, I’ll know several hours from now.

Trial Love

In my recent article about my first ever Individual Time Trial, I said, “The truth is that I hated it… and loved it.” The rest of the post dealt mainly with why I hated it. By the end of the missive I made the comment, “Next time I’ll talk about why I loved it and why I’m looking forward to getting out there again.” Well, as usual, things came up and the “next time” covered something else. So, today I’m going to give some reasons why I loved the Time Trial.

The first thing to get out of the way is that I loved the pain. It is the primary love-hate portion of the endeavor. However, there is just something about pushing yourself to your limit and going on. In life there are many times when you reach that point emotionally, professionally, or spiritually. Those aspects of life are pretty complicated and it takes more than just gritting your teeth and continuing to churn to reach success.

The Individual Time Trial allows you to take that ball of life’s frustrations and turn it into something real. For a bit you can take all the pressure and stomp on it with every stroke. Here is something you can control. Here is an opportunity to push through and feel the pain knowing you will find an end to it. Best of all, the pain has a measurable purpose. The better you ride above the pain, the better your time.

The second thing that draws me to the Individual Time Trial is that it is individual. You are racing against yourself. In other forms of bicycle racing, you are part of an organism. Every move made by another affects you. That can mean, as in the recent Giro d’Italia, that you could be leading the race at one moment and caught up in an accident the next. It also means that if  you are smart, you can use the tactics of the team or the riders around you to win without using all your cards.

In the ITT, you have to lay it all out. It is just you and your bike against the environment. The wind, the road service, the temperature, and any number of variables are your only competition. Oh yes, you can’t forget that top competitor — the clock. How much time does it take you to lay it all on the line and overcome the variables is all that matters. How well you do or how badly you ride is all on you.

That leads me to the third siren call of the lonely ride. Data. There are all sorts of things to measure and evaluate. Because it is individual and the only thing you are competing against are measurable environmental elements, you can recreate your effort by looking at the data. You can then go out and do the same course again and compare that data. Minute changes can make the difference in seconds — even tens of seconds. It drives you to say, “If I just did such-and-such, I could have saved this amount of seconds.”

So, I am looking forward to the next Individual Time Trial I’ll have an opportunity to race. Right now life is so busy, I’m not sure when that will be. All the end of the school year programs, etc. are really putting a hole in my training. Thankfully, I have a coach who understands and is working with me. I guess it is just one more of those frustrations I can iron out when I start feeling the pain of my next race of truth.

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I am faster than myself

Whew! I’m still tired after the last several days. Thursday night was the Greenville Spinners’ Individual Time Trial. Friday was a nice easy spin, but then Saturday morning rolled around and it was time for me to roll up Altamont Road for the Paris Mountain Time Trial.

Jonathan climbing the mountain

These Time Trials will give you a workout! Photo: Eddie Helton

I made it to the event with plenty of time. My coach had instructed me to get on the trainer for my warm-up. I tried to get the bike on there, but the adjuster was stuck. My bike was not being held firmly in the trainer and I didn’t want to risk messing up the trainer or the bike. So, I decided to do my warm-up on the road.

As I was out there and I wasn’t feeling so hot. My legs were pretty sluggish and my right calf muscle was feeling pretty tight and sore. It was starting to work on my mind. Then I did at 4 minute push at power over my FTP. Once done I cooled down a bit and then did a high cadence spin for one minute. My muscles were starting to feel a bit better, but my mind was still pretty apprehensive.

I pulled up for the start. It was neat to see John Cash, a pretty cool guy from Tryon. It was the first time since the lost of his son that I was able to speak in person. We were talking about it when he was called up. Then it was time to concentrate on the start.

My friends were giving me some words of encouragement. Kirk Flinte, with whom I have had a friendly rivalry on this mountain, was saying he expected a 11:05 out of me. I didn’t say it, but my thought was that I would be happy with a 11:45. Even that seemed like a challenge.

I pulled up behind the rider who would start 30 seconds before me. I waited quietly trying to get my mind blank with no thoughts of what has been, but thinking only about the next few yards ahead. My mind suddenly cleared and my confidence was pretty balanced. I wasn’t on a high or low. I was just ready to get this thing started.

Once again, I had trouble with the start due to the face that I had not done this before. Right when they said for me to go, I started my clock. About 15 feet later I started the climb and there was a timer who actually started the official clock. I knew now that my clock was going to be off.

Oh well, that was okay. It wasn’t my job to keep up with the time anyway. I put it out of my mind and focused on the task at hand.

I remembered what I was told and kept myself in check for the start up to the water tower section. I was holding things just over 300 watts. Then when I reached that first hard climb I picked up my effort just a little more. The turn following that section evens out a little, so I maintained my pressure but didn’t push.

As I was going into these turns I was trying to cut the shortest distance possible unless the turn was a hard grade. In that case, I tried to stay at the crown of the road. This is the way I kept going until I neared the halfway point. There I looked down at my clock for the first time. The numbers were clicking just past 5 minutes. I knew I would be about 5:45 at halfway. Hmmmm, I would have to keep it cranking if I wanted a good time.

He was getting ready to eat my lunch!

He was getting ready to eat my lunch! Photo: Eddie Helton

Once I passed the halfway point, I got passed by a streak of blue! It was Pat McCallion. Ha! This was interesting. I knew he would kill me, but he might be just the thing I needed to get me going. I was afraid that I was a little too mellow and I needed someone to drive me. He would certainly fulfill that need!

I picked up my pace and tried to stay near him. It was kind of funny. Before the race, I was talking with him and I mentioned that the blue pole about three fourths of the way up was my pain post. Seems like every time I reach it, I start to croak. For a fleeting moment, I wondered if he saw the post and recalled our conversation.

Whatever the case, he seemed to pick it up or I started to fade. I had to stop focusing on him and just ride my own race. Up ahead I could see the rider who started 30 seconds before me. I began to focus on her and tried to close the gap. She was doing a good job though and as I came around the turn that revealed the yellow road sign that marks my focus on “The Wall” I could see Pat disappearing around the turn that starts the straightaway of the hardest grade on the route.

I passed my rabbit just as we both turned up to start our own climb to the finish. I shifted to one harder gear and stood. It was time to leave it all out on the road. I didn’t look ahead. I just looked down at the road in front of me and pushed it up. I was afraid to look ahead because I didn’t want to be demoralized by seeing what was left!

Head down and driving for the finish.

Head down and driving for the finish. Photo: Eddie Helton

The fact that the suffering would soon be over was an incentive to keep going. It seemed to go by faster than I thought. Wow, I was almost finished?! I heard some people calling my name and cheering me on.

I continued to climb and I heard someone say something off to my right. It sounded official and for a moment it made me wonder if I they had changed to finish line. If I had any sense in my head, I wouldn’t have had any questions. However, for a moment I eased and didn’t push hard across the line.

It was only a couple seconds, but it is one of the things I would like to have back. I should have kept sprinting across the line.

I pushed the button on my Garmin and saw 11:27. Hmmmm, since I started the clock early… Looks like I would definitely get a sub 11:30!  I would be happy with that!

We waited for the result to come and I found that on this day, I was the 14th fastest rider up the mountain. My official time was 11:24! That is 11 seconds faster than my previous personal best. It is only 9 seconds slower than my goal for the year of 11:15.

Hey, would I have liked to have been faster? I would have liked to have beat Kirk — though he scorched the climb at 11:00. However, right now, I’m just glad that beat myself. I’m already looking forward to August 21!

Afterward, I learned that I’m a pretty big deal. I was interviewed my Neil Browne with the CarolinaCyclingNews.com site. He was asking about Low Cadence Coffee and I appreciated him taking the time to help me spread the word. You can check the video out here.

Neil Browne interviews me about Low Cadence Coffee

Neil Browne interviews me about Low Cadence Coffee. Photo: Eddie Helton