Friday, March 28, 2014

Barry by the Numbers

I'm a data guy.

Collecting, analyzing, and making sense of data is my job.

So when I finished the 2014 Barry-Roubaix, and wondered aloud whether it was harder than it had been in previous years, I thought I would do what I usually do, and ask the data.

The chart below shows the relationship between time and placing for six editions of the race.  For this chart I combined the 40+ fields and the Open field in 2013 and 2014 because in the first four years they let the stallions run with the geldings.

There are a few things to note.  The first three years the race (2009, 2010, and 2011) was two laps of a 32 mile course.  The most recent three years (2012, 2013, and 2014) the race was added to the American Ultracross Series which required a single loop, and the race was shortened to roughly 62 miles.  In 2013 and 2014 the start was moved from Yankee Springs State Recreational Area to downtown Hastings, and registration limits were expanded from 1,500 to 3,000.

Thus we would expect that the first three races to be slower.  They were of a longer distance with more elevation.  In the last three years the number of registrants increased dramatically which influences the slope of these lines.  More registrants of similar ability makes for a flatter line.

The lines below clearly cluster into 2009-2011 and 2012-2014.  The first cluster had slower winning times (intercept with Y axis) and fewer registrants (length of the line).  The second cluster had faster winning times, more registrants, and tighter competition.

So back to the question, was 2014 more difficult of a race?

There are two ways answer this question by looking at the above graph.  If we draw a vertical line at any finishing place, we can see which race required the fastest time to achieve that place.

For example, in both 2012 and 2013, to get 50th place you had to finish in about 187 minutes.  In 2014, 50th place was a full 13 minutes slower at 200 minutes.  Across the board, at every placing 2014 was a slower race than the other two races held on the same course. So 2014 may have been faster than the all of the years in the first cluster, but it was much slower than the prior two years.

If we draw a horizontal line, we can see in which year would a given time lead to the best finish.     200 minutes would have put you on the podium in 2009, but in 2012 that would have gotten you one hundred and twenty fifth place.  In 2014 that same 200 minutes would have ended up in 49th place.

But what about individuals?  How did they fare year over year?

The chart below looks at the year-to-year differences in times for those men who competed in the Barry-Roubaix in back-to-back years.  The number in parentheses on the X-axis shows the number of men who competed back-to-back.  The graph shows the average time difference (green triangle) as well as the minimum and maximum differences.

There were only 13 men who completed the race in 2010 who also finished in 2009.  For these finishers, as well as for 2011-2010 the average time was just a little bit slower each year.

The fourth edition of the Barry was by far the fastest.  This resulted from both the unseasonably warm temperatures as well as the shortening of the course which also reduced the total elevation gain.  The average rider improved by 37.4 minutes from 2011 to 2012, and the every rider who rode in both years shaved some time off in 2012.

An interesting note?  The person who had the largest increase (51.3) from 2010 to 2011 was also the same person who had the most improvement (-79.8 minutes) from 2012-2011.  My friend Mike Hemme had a mechanical early on in 2011 and ended up walking back to the start shortly in the race to fix it, and ground out the rest of the race solo.  He came back in 2012 and finished 18th overall.

For the 97 gentlemen who returned in 2013, the course was less forgiving than in 2012.  The average time was 4.3 minutes slower, and for the 118 who returned from that cold-frozen mess, they found that the mud was even slower (by more than 13 minutes) than the cold.

The story for the women and singlespeeders is not as straight forward.  The top five women were slower in 2014 than in 2013, but things are not as clear in places 6 thru 25. The most important trend is the growth of the women's field from 3 in 2009 to 35 finishers in 2014.

Oh yeah.  And single speeders?  U cray.

So how did I do?  I shaved just under a minute off of my time this year and I'll say it out loud.  I feel pretty good about that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Barry Roubaix IV

For the last three years, the Barry-Roubaix has been, if not the beginning of spring, than the final last gasp of winter, the end of my personal winter.  It has been the marker on the calendar that has motivated me to continue training through the dark and cold, and keep building strength from the end of cyclocross season to the beginning of the next season.  This winter has been particularly brutal.  My training miles were down from 2013, in part because of a December bout of the flu, and a January respiratory infection.  However, the quality of training was definitely better.

Last summer, I moved from the city of Chicago's Northside to the Northwest suburbs, and over the course of last summer through group rides and exploring solo discovered there are places here where the earth actually bends upwards towards the heavens.  After living in a place so flat that highway overpasses count as elevation, it was a revelation to find these wonders of nature littered about the landscape.  I created a Garmin course that incorporated as many of these "hills" (as the natives call them) into a training loop.  I called it the "Gravel-We-don't-need-no-stinkin'-gravel" training ride.  It is a 43 mile loop with 1,700ft of climbing, with three sustained climbs at 12-24% grade.  In addition to some 2 x 20 minute intervals on a flat but windy course to the west, I spent a lot of time pushing myself to the limits in negative and single digit wind chills, and temps in the 20s.  So when March came, I felt I was ready to redeem myself after a sub-par performance in 2013.

As we did last year, my fiancee Morleigh, my close friend Chernoh, and I left for Michigan on Friday morning before the race, making our way to the Ace Hardware in Hastings to pick up our numbers, then checking into our hotel before heading out for a pre-ride.  This year we headed east from the hotel, and actually made it onto the western edge of the course, and we found a little bit of gravel to test out.  It was wet, but not too wet.  It seemed like it was going to maybe even be fast.

Then overnight it rained.  It wasn't a lot of rain, but with the ground already saturated from run-off, and the snow still covering most of the land, it didn't need to rain much.  We were however thankful that the precipitation had passed, and there were patches of blue in the sky as we drove into Hastings.  We had a volunteer parking pass because Morleigh was going to be out photographing the race for our little enterprise while I was racing.  I took about 7 photos before the race started, and she took more than 500.

In the past years, there has been a lot of hemming and hawing the morning of the race, trying to figure out what to wear.  This winter I've been using a spiral bound cycling daily log (a Christmas present from Morleigh's daughter Lexi) to keep track of the clothing and weather on each and every ride. This allowed me to sit down the night before the race and make a check-list of things to both wear and cary with me.  Having the list made getting ready in the morning much easier. I laid my clothes out in the hotel room, and everything else was packed neatly.  There was still the customary rummaging through bags in rented mini-van 30 minutes before the race started, but it much better than our first year when we rolled up to the staging with less than 30 seconds to spare before the race started.

I knew from past years that I wanted to be close to the front, so that I could at least try to hold with the leaders for a while, so I slipped into the starting grid next to some friends from Chicago who were near the front.  I found my teammates, Joe and Karson just a few rows behind, and we made plans to join forces somewhere beyond the chaos.  I finished up one last-minute task in the starting grid that I had forgotten to take care of earlier.  At SouthernCX I used electrical tape and cellophane to make a electrolyte pill dispenser on my stem.  For Barry I had grabbed some aluminum foil, and used the 10 minutes in the starting grid to put two extra electrolyte pills within easy reach on my stem.

Then it was time.  I took off my jacket and hung it on a sign where Morleigh would find it, and surged with the field to the starting line.  At precisely 11AM EDT we rolled off to the west, into the moderately strong northwest wind.  Before we got out of town, my teammate Karson had made it up to where I was, so I tucked in behind his wheel.  We were on the right side of the peloton, and as the field surged across both lanes, I heard someone wonder aloud if the road was closed or if the center line rule was in effect.  Shortly thereafter an oncoming pick-up truck answered that question, and the pack flattened back out into a single lane.  As we turned south on Cook, once again some riders started to push across into the lane of oncoming traffic, but for the most part we held tight in the right lane.  At this point I was in the top 50 riders.  When we made the turn to the right, back into the wind and got our first taste of gravel, there was not the explosion in the front that occurred the year before. The wind played a factor here, along with the soft ground.  No one really wanted to go out hard and pull big into the wind so early in the game.  So the field held together at least until we hit the Three Sisters.

I held on Karson's wheel as we powered up and over the first two sisters with the field.  The peloton was still thick around us, and with everyone's legs still fresh the Sisters again seemed much smaller than they did my first year when I had to walk up the third sister on my second lap.  At the base of the third sister I was still on Karson's wheel and had more momentum coming down the hill than he did.  I had to roll up on his left side to keep from running into him and just as I did he he veered to the left to avoid someone slower in front of him.  He drug my front wheel out from under me, and I had to unclip my right foot and step out to the right and push my body back up and over my bike to keep from falling.  Had we been going much faster I would have crashed and caused a major pile-up, but quick footwork got me back up and pedaling without missing a beat.

But something was wrong.  When we got over the crest of the hill I could feel and hear the my wheel rubbing on the left front brake.  I could see a wobble as it was rotating.  I had knocked it out of true on Karson's wheel.  I knew that I couldn't ride 62 miles dragging a front brake.  I knew that stopping now was a race-killer.  I was still connected to the lead peloton, and if I pulled over for even a few seconds I would probably loose not just the lead peloton but the whole field.  So I reached down and grabbed the end of the brake cable and disengaged my front brake.  It's a race, who needs to stop?

That was enough stop the rubbing, and I focused again on maintaining contact with the lead group.  We made the left turn on to Hubble Rd, and started up the second big climb, the one I remember as "the cow climb" because during my first Barry, the adjacent pasture was full of dairy cows enjoying the first green grass of spring.  This year it was full of snow.  Half-way up the climb I fell to the back of the group, and saw a small but dangerous gap opening in front of me.  I peaked over my shoulder to see see how far back the second echelon was.  There was no one in sight.  I was standing with my back to a cliff, and a long fall behind me.  I looked forward and hammered my way back onto the group.  As I passed another rider who was falling back, I turned to him and said, "It's a long way down" as I powered by.  I re-attached myself to the tail, but this climb had done it's damage.  The leaders had sheered off a gap, and the larger group was starting to fragment into a few smaller ones.  I don't remember exactly when it happened, but somewhere in the potholes and mud of Goodwill Road the leaders pulled away, and Karson and I were left with a few other stragglers in no-man's land, fighting to close a gap of a few hundred yards.  We started at this point to run into two unfortunate things, deep mud and puddles, and the stragglers from the earlier waves.  We started to fall further and further back.  When we reached the first section of sweet pavement we were maybe 400 yards off the next large group.

Karson and I joined up with a few other riders, and we started working together trying to catch the next big group.  We did a single file pace line for as long as we could, and some faster riders (P-B M from Half-Acre and Avi from Cutting Crew) joined us, and then pulled away from us on the long climb.  They were clearly trying to catch up to the next group, and Karson and I were both pretty cashed.  Once we made it over the big climb, we both decided to sit up for a bit and recover.  We could have tried to push onward and tried to close the gap on the group of 20-25 riders visible in the distance, but I knew that were mostly taking it easy.  We'd blow ourselves up just to catch back on, and would be dropped as soon they hit gravel again.  My suggestion was that we recover ourselves, and wait for the first wave of Master's 40+ riders who would be coming by at about the same time as we would have caught that wave.

My calculations were correct.  Right at about the 20 mile mark, just after we turned onto Mullen's Rd, the first wave of 40+ riders crashed into us from behind.  Karson was behind me, and when I found a gap in the line I snuck over and joined in at their frenetic pace.  I lasted about 4 miles before I got dropped heading up a small hill.  I turned to look behind me, to check on Karson, and he was not to be seen.  I was hoping he had grabbed onto the 40+ group with me, but he was not able to hold on. I made a slight miscalculation about how quickly we were coming onto the Killer, and sat up perhaps a mile too soon, but regardless that group was made up of small wiry dudes, and I would not have been able to keep pace with them up the Killer.  So I sat up a bit, and conserved some energy for the steep grind.

As some other riders noted, the Killer isn't really that bad in this new course.  It's not the steepest or longest climb in the ride, but it's name comes from the days when it was at mile 12 AND mile 44 of the original course.  The second climb was the one that broke many spirits, including my own.  On this day I was able to make it up the hill without breaking myself, even having enough energy to pull down my Cold Avenger Pro and smile at Morleigh, swerving in her direction asking for a kiss-hand-up.  She told me I was crazy and to keep pedaling.

I made it up and over the Killer, taking a moment to glance backwards at the top.  There were just a few red tags behind, and no group visible in front.  I was in no-man's-land.  I hardened my resolve, and thought back to the thousand miles or so that I had been grinding in the countryside.  It was preparation for this moment.  I put my head down, and pushed firmly into the pedals.  I continued to pass yellow and blue tags for a few miles, until we hit the turn-off when 62 milers headed south, and all others headed north back to town.  The road was crowded before the turn off, and like the first year, it was desolate after the turn.  There was a lone straggler ahead, and when I made it to the first corner I glanced back to the turn.  There was no one behind.  So I pushed onward to the south.  When I was approaching Cloverdale, I happened to turn again and glance over my shoulder.  This time there was a pace line of three men who were closing in fast.  Again I made a tactical decision to sit up and recover as we rolled into town, and when they came by I clicked the lap-timer on my Garmin and grabbed a wheel to see how long I could to the tail of this new tiger.

I did much better than I expected, holding that wheel for the next16 miles.  I was completely red-lined just holding, so as they rotated through I made space for each one as he came to the back and tucked behind the last wheel.  A few times I pushed to the front on the gravel and got encouraging words, "do what you can do", and made a point to get out in front on the pavement where I could push a big hole for them to recover in.  When we next encountered Morleigh hunkered in front of the van she hollered out that we were only a minute or so behind Joe, another of my teammates, and that we should go and catch him.  By this point in time I had lost all sense of where we were on the course, and even what direction we were headed.  I was putting everything I had into holding wheels, and couldn't even be bothered to flip over to the map-screen on my Garmin.  It didn't really matter where we were, I just needed to hold this wheel.  I kept repeating those words, "hold that wheel" in my mind over and over again.  We came up on Joe after making a right-hand turn onto a climb.  I hollered at him, telling him I was riding with a group and asked if he could grab a wheel.  He said he was pretty cashed, and to be quite honest, so was I.  The last few ridges we had climbed, I had stretched the rubber band to the braking point with my group of three, and I think they might have even been slowing down just a bit at the top to let me re-attach for a few climbs.  I decided to cut the cord and ride with Joe for a bit.  He was in pretty rough shape, so I did most of the pulling.  It felt good to be able to do for him what Chernoh did for me the year before.

So I rode with Joe for another 7 or so miles, until we pulled onto Broadway and two things happened.  First, being on Broadway meant that we were on the final leg of the course, and I started to hear the finish line whispering my name.  Second, we were on a steep downhill, and I got into the aero position and simply pulled away.  Joe told me that he was grateful that I pulled him for as long as I did, and that I could ride my race at any time.  So I rode.

I was in no-man's land again for few miles, and I was able to grab onto a few wheels here and there as they made their way past.  One fellow on a mountain bike asked me if I knew what mile we were at as he blew by.  For the first time that day, I flipped over my Garmin to check.  We were at mile 52.  Only 10 miles left to go.  Another group of three passed me, and I was able to grab onto their wheel for a bit, but fell off again before too long.  About 5 miles from the finish I was swallowed up by a larger group of 15 or so riders who were mostly from the second wave including the lead two women.  Once again I mentally committed to holding on, and was able to ride with this group all the way into town.  I was fortunate because I think everyone was hurting, and no one in particular wanted to take a big-hard pull into the wind, and into town.

The final approach to Hastings was new this year, and included a pretty steep climb on Broadway.  As we approached I mentally prepared to get dropped, but again, no one wanted to take the lead up hill into the wind, and pace slowed to something that was manageable for me.  As we approached the top, my legs finally gave out and started to seriously cramp.  As rolled over the crest, I grabbed a drink of water, and decided to do something foolish.  If I was going to blow up, it was going to be one hell of an explosion.  We all started to pick up speed as gravity took over, I dropped into my aero position and sunk my weight into my pedals.  I pulled out to the left and hammered for the bottom of the hill.  I don't know how many I surprised, but when I reached the bottom I peaked and saw that I had strung out the field somewhat.  The ladies surged forward along with a few men as we entered the first left-hand turn, and I decided to just completely bury myself in these last few block.  They were mostly 40+ men, SS, and women, but I didn't know how many Open men there were, and didn't want to lose 5 spots because I was afraid of to dig deep.

Shut up legs.

I maintained a spot in the front four or five as we turned left, then right, then right, then left, then right, and on the final left I was out of the saddle and sprinting for all I had.  The pain was intense as I fought through the cramps, but was able to maintain my position.  I gave a little celebratory bunny hop at the finish line, and that was it.  My fourth Barry was in the books.  I was smart enough to press "Stop" on my Garmin, but not smart enough to look at my time before clicking "Save".  I had no idea how fast I had ridden.

Thankfully Morleigh was at the finish line taking photos for just that reason.  We looked at the time stamp on the photo she took when I crossed the line, 2:29:34 PM CDT.  A full minute ahead of my time the previous year, and I had a feeling the course was slower this year.  I hung out at the finish for a while, congratulating and consoling friends, teammates, and strangers.  I felt really good about my performance, about my ride, and about my day.  It was about this time that I remembered 3 hrs earlier I had detached my front brake.  I looked down at my wheel, and discovered that my wheel was out of true because one of my spokes had snapped 3 miles into a 62 mile race. I was lucky to have been able to finish, much less had my second-best time ever.  The plan that Chernoh and I had to ride together never materialized.  He wasn't able to get a hold of that first wave, and spent the rest of the race finding packs trying to catch up.  Once he made it across the finish, we headed back to the mini-van and spent a few minutes recovering, then changing and getting warm.  We drove to the Waldorf Brew Pub for lunch, and then onto the highway headed back home.

Morleigh looked up results on her tablet on the way home.  I finished 67th in a time of 3:29:32.  The sprint had paid off because there were four of us who finished within four seconds of one another.  Had I sat-up and given up at the top of the hill I could have easily been back in 70th place.  Although it wasn't my best time, it was my best finish ever, and I managed to improve on my time from the year before under difficult conditions.

The details:
Nutrition: Two insulated bidons mixed with hot-water and my special mix of nutrients, plus 2 Salt-stick pills opened and dissolved in for electrolytes. One uninsulated bottle of water, and a "gel" with the same mix of nutrients and salt.  Two salt pills from my stem, taken 2hrs and 3hrs into the race.

Clothing: Craft Wind Stopper (ws) briefs, Craft tights, Craft Short sleeve ws base layer, Craft Long-sleeve ws base layer, Capo thermal speed suit, Capo short sleeved jersey (mostly for pocket-room), swobo arm-warmers, Craft beenie, and a Cold Avenger Pro.

Bike: Specialized 2013 Aluminum Crux, SRAM Rival GXP crank, front derailleur, SRAM Force shifters and rear derailleur, Avid Shorty Ultimate Brakes, and Fulcrum Racing 1 wheelset with Michelin Jets at 58 PSI.