Wednesday, August 21, 2019

CMRA Round 6 - MSR Cresson CCW - Adjustments

It’s interesting where life takes us sometimes, and how those places and things make other things start to come together. After wrapping up the previous CMRA race round, I knew my fitness, which I had already started (but barely) to work on improving was a major hang up. With a few weeks between rounds, it was going to give me a chance to kick my own butt and see if I could make a noticeable difference in that department. With close-together rounds, however, I knew the differences would be minimal, but doesn’t mean they can’t be noticeable.

It’s a bit interesting being one of only a few women out there who is racing a “big” bike. I only know of less than a half dozen who have tried it in the time I’ve been racing. Some were relatively successful, some are still fighting through it and working to improve, some moved back to a bike they got along better with. In the CMRA grid, I am the only female on a big bike – mind you, not the fastest girl out here (yet, lol), but the only one on a “big” bike. For me this ends up meaning that resources for information and tips/tricks specific to the struggles a woman faces on one of these beasts is extremely limited to non-existent.

I stuck to my training and eating plan really well, and there were measurable differences – the weight started to come off my middle and started to go up in the “iron” department. Cardio sessions started to get a little longer and the intensity was able to be bumped up. Granted, with such a short time in there the losses and gains weren’t huge, but as it turns out, it was enough to make a difference.

With a track day going CCW at MSR Cresson the Sunday before the races, I chose to skip the Friday practice (because, money) and focus on my races. During the track day my best lap was a mid-high 1:27. Realistically, best case scenario, I figured I’d be lucky to get into the 1:24’s during the races. Laptimes in both directions are pretty similar, so that would be a 1-2 second drop from the previous round, and 3 seconds off my track day pace, which seemed like a solid (but still reasonable) goal.

I got set up Friday afternoon and made sure I was well prepared for Saturday. Some fresh tires and I was ready to roll. I headed out for my first practice session and was feeling pretty stiff. It took me most of the session just to get warmed up and my head in the game, still a second off my track day times. The next session went a bit better and I rolled in a second faster than my track day times. Okay, good, the race was looking positive and my goals were within reach.

My only race on Saturday is A Superstock. I enjoy this race, and we rolled out for what I was hoping would be a good battle with some other riders. I had a decent start and was in the mix of things through the first corner – then, coming in to the first part of “Rattlesnake,” I basically get my proverbial doors blown off. That entry, eventually followed by the entry into “Little Bend,” and I was just listening to the zooms of everyone passing me. I still did my best to fight back and hold off a few people and was coming around for what should have been my white flag lap – and the starter pulled the checkered on me. I wasn’t sure if one of the really fast guys was up my tail pipe or what the deal was, so I puttered around the last lap, figuring anyone behind me definitely got the checkered. Unbeknownest to me, we apparently weren’t given a cool down lap, and the guy behind me followed me around that last lap and because I thought I wasn’t racing anymore, I was just cooling down – so if the actual results didn’t take the checkered when it was thrown, I probably shot myself in the foot as I forgot to go look at the results before leaving for the day.

Despite all of that, my times progressed quite nicely, and I made it into the high 1:24s, so I really looked forward to reviewing video that night and seeing if I could shave some more time off that. We sat down and did just that, and I got some good advice on things I needed to do with this bike to really clean up some of my problem areas. I had a big focus on those two corners in particular since that’s really where I was getting smoked. With that information to chew on, I tucked in for a good night’s sleep.

Sunday promised sun and warmth, and I headed out for the second practice session. My times weren’t great, but I was okay enough with it to feel ready for my first race, A Superbike. We gridded up and my start was on point. I very quickly noticed that the changes I was working on were paying off – while a significantly faster rider here and there would make a good pass in those corners, unlike the previous day, it wasn’t a herd of bikes passing me every time. In fact, as the race went on, I actually managed to pass a couple other riders. My confidence was growing, and I was getting more and more comfortable with the things I was changing.

This race proved to be a bit of a “big bike” milestone for me as I finally left the “back marker” group and crept up to the tail of the “middle pack” group – not a place I have been since getting on the ZX10R. I also came in to find I had dropped another second and a half, getting down to a 1:23.4, and consistently being in the 23’s and 24’s most of the race.

After this it was a long break before my last race, the F40 Heavyweight. I got my rear tire flipped, and then went after food. I was pretty hungry and rather than listening to my good sense, instead wolfed down a full meal and then some. My hunger subsided but returning to the track I realized that a very full tummy was not going to be doing me any favors when I suited up for my race. Add in the fact that the heat was kicking up, and I was not in a great place. I was still determined to not put in an embarrassing race, so did my best to get my head in the game and prepare for our grid.

I had an inside grid spot, and while my start was decent I got held up coming in to the first turn as everyone else was swarming towards the inside of the corner. I held my spot but couldn’t make up much ground. I fought off a few riders, and worked to chase down a couple others, but my lack of fitness combined with that heavy lunch sitting in my gut and I just wasn’t doing what I really wanted to. I was consistently in the low 1:25s, and dipped back into the 1:24s, but wasn’t going to be setting a new PB this race.

Overall, however, the weekend was a total success in my mind. Moving up to the next “group” was a big accomplishment for me, and I was able to tweak my riding partway through the weekend to make some changes that will pay off in upcoming races. My confidence in my bike is growing in leaps and bounds, and I’m starting to figure out what that twisty thing on the right does, and how better to use it. Thankfully my riding skills are tuned enough where I can make these changes and see the immediate results, and the confidence thing is absolutely priceless for me right now. Actually getting back to passing some other riders (in my own class) rather than always being the one getting passed, had a surprising effect on my mental state as well.

I can’t thank all of my wonderful sponsors and their products and services enough for all of the assistance and hanging with me through some rough years. The ongoing support from friends both near and far – well, there’s no way to put a dollar amount on that, and the help people have provided - be it advice, support, or simply a cheer - has meant way more than I can express.

There are a few weeks until the next CMRA round, and in the meantime, I will be doing my homework, hitting the gym, and keeping up my off-track training to be sure the next round keeps this momentum going.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

CMRA Round 5, 2019 – MSR Cresson CW – Moving Up in the World

Rolling into the 5th round for the CMRA I had a bit more time to prepare than I had for Round 4. I had a trackday going the same direction a week before, which gave me time to work on getting lines established on this rather technical track. 

MSR Cresson presents some new challenges to this California rider. It is bumpy, and there are bad seams in various places on the track. This means that the “lines” are not necessarily the “best” line, but the ones that are the fastest race line around all of the extra challenges in the surface of the track. Granted, everyone is on the same track, and apparently these bumps and seams have been there, well, forever, but when I was used to maybe one or two corners where you had to take those kinds of things into account, it was now pretty much every single corner that had some extraneous considerations.

I decided to save a few bucks and only do ½ day on Friday to refresh my memory. Some dumb-dumb, who shall remain nameless, decided that even though her set up was working great the previous Sunday that she should change things before the races. Needless to say, Friday’s sessions were nothing but frustration as I was fighting the bike the whole time. I managed to go a little faster than I had the previous weekend, but it was stressful and mistake ridden, and it was all I could do to make it happen. After a strict reminder of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” from my friend/pit help/coach, I put things back where they had been for the following day when I would have one brief practice before heading out for my first race of the weekend.

It was a late night, but sleep was had, and we arrived bright and early ready to kick off my second race weekend with CMRA. For some fantastically magical reason, the bike was working great during my warm up practice session, and I looked forward to gridding up and hopefully getting drug into some faster laps.

We headed out for the A Superstock race, and with how CMRA lines up their grids, I looked forward to being able to use my generally pretty good starts to hopefully put me in the mix of things a bit more. My launch wasn’t very good – for a split second my brain reverted to watching for a flag instead of the lights, so I was a bit off the mark, but still got up with a number of other bikes by the time we got to the first corner – and boy was there some drama going on! Thankfully managed to avoid all the slicing and dicing and kept my wheels on pavement, unlike some of my fellow competitors. After that it was time to settle into the race and try to see if I could work on improving my position in the pack. The first couple laps managed to get drug along with the group a bit and dropped my times into the 26’s, providing my best lap of the race. My fitness eventually proved to be a major hinderance as I started to fade about mid-way through the race. My last two laps I really faded off only to get passed by the front runner with about 1/3 of a lap to go – fortunately or unfortunately, it wasn’t all bad as I was pooped!

I came in to find I had moved up the pack a little bit though, with 3 riders behind me + one crashed bike, so that part felt great. I looked forward to Sunday and hoping I could pull out some more speed.

First up on Sunday was A Superbike – generally one of the faster classes, and I wanted to get a good launch and see if I could avoid getting lapped this time around on this short track. My start was good this time, and I did my best to hang onto the faster group as long as I could, dipping into the 25’s. Once again, however, my fitness (or lack thereof) combined with the heat, and I just couldn’t maintain that pace. I stayed pretty consistent in the 26’s-27’s, and did not get lapped, which meant finishing all 8 laps. 

I came in exhausted, but I was pretty stoked to find that with the start, my fight, or “rawr” as I like to call it, seemed to be coming back. Not fully fledged out yet, but that was something I had lost after the leg and bike situations, and I was beginning to wonder what it would take to get it back. Finding that I fought through the start, held my spot, and didn’t just give up to other riders was a great feeling. 

Honestly, that was probably my highlight for the weekend.

After that there was a long, hot wait until my last race, which was also the very last race of the day – F40 Heavy. I really hoped the downtime would let me recover and that I could keep my motivation up to push through for a final improvement.

Being the old-farts race, I had hopes here of fighting for something more, but my lack of training off the bike bit me big time. I was 1-2 seconds off my pace earlier in the day and couldn’t seem to dig more than that out of myself. Some defensive lines kept me from last place, but I was once again fighting for “not last” rather than moving up through the pack. I finished, but this race mostly proved that only a couple weeks of getting back to being more active and working out wasn’t going to make much of a difference yet and I had a long way to go before next year rolls around.

Overall, the round wasn’t bad. I got a valuable “slap in the face” on a few things that I need to correct as a rider. First off, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Secondly, that fitness thing needs to be ramped up and is going to start being one of the big factors holding me back if I don’t correct it NOW. Thirdly, this bike can work for me, when it’s set up right. If I’m not happy with it, even if I can’t put my finger on it, speak up and say something. Someone else may have a clue what the issue is. 

Good things were a) I moved up in the pack a teensy bit, and I had some fun; b) I’m getting better on the throttle – where 600’s could beat me in straights/faster sections at the California tracks (where my perception of time was throwing me off), here, that is not the issue, and the other liter bikes have to work to get around me (and it’s generally the technical areas where they have to do it). As these pieces all start to fall into place, and I’m getting them lined up where they need to be, the puzzle is coming together…

The weeks before the next round are being spent working my butt off in the gym, getting my eating focused, and keeping other activities going so my body starts to get used to the idea of being active again rather than sitting around all the time. 

Next round happens soon, so no excuses!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Race Report - CMRA Round 4 - New Territory

Sometimes in life you just need to proverbially throw yourself to the wolves. Let’s face it, change isn’t easy, and life seems easier when we stay in our comfort zones, but seldom do great things ever happen when that’s the course you choose to take.

Pushing oneself isn’t easy. Doing things outside your comfort zone isn’t easy. A lot can be learned, however, when you try new things and put yourself in situations where you will either shine or fall flat on your face. Or maybe do a bit of both.....

My move to Texas gave me the opportunity to do just that. Since my very first track day, only once had I raced on a track I hadn’t ridden, but I had 2 full days of practice before, and I was still a shiny new yellow plate racer (aka, slow to begin with). That was in March of 2015. Now, in 2019, I had the opportunity to once again throw myself into a situation where I would, no matter what, learn a lot about where I was as a rider, and worst case, make a complete fool of myself.

Deciding to show up to a track I had never seen, with little to no time to do “homework” prior to arriving, to race with an organization I had never so much as attended an event for, surrounded by people I didn’t know was a bit of a leap, but a decision I found surprisingly easy to make. With my goals as a racer where they are, this was a great chance to find out where I am as a rider and racer and, realistically, how close I am to being able to take the next step.

I arrived at MSR Houston on Thursday night with a friend, Jack, who was helping walk me through the ropes with the CMRA. Jack has raced with them for a while but wasn’t back to riding himself yet after an injury, so took his weekend to help this transplant get acquainted with the CMRA. I was also pitting with the single other person I knew there, Shandra, who was going to be racing her Triumph 675.

We got set up and a few introductions were made, and I tried to make sure I was ready for the next day. I hadn’t ridden this bike since getting him back from Gerry (GP Wheel and Frame) after our rather epic high-side at Buttonwillow, so I had more than a few things rolling through my mind. I was able to get the bike through tech that night, so hopefully there would be less to do Friday morning. After dinner it was time for some sleep, but Thursday night didn’t prove to be restful,  and I arrived to the track with less than 45 minutes of sleep that night and rather cranky, on top of everything else I had going through my mind.

Oh well, we deal with it or we don’t, and I just put my head down and got through registration and ready to get out on track, deciding avoiding people was my best bet until I had a chance to wake up and/or a good night’s sleep.

Finally it was time to head out on track – I followed Shandra out, but she was ready to roll and took off. Since I didn’t even really know if I was going left or right yet, I just did my best to figure things out for myself. The practice groups with CMRA are set up different than AFM, and all experts on middle and heavyweight bikes all go out together regardless of laptimes, so it wasn’t particularly easy to find someone to latch onto. I came in knowing I had been going around at a slow C group pace at best, and my times reflected that. My best lap was a 2:19 – definite C group pace.

Combined with my mood, that had me questioning the rest of the weekend – if that time didn’t drop significantly, this was not going to be good. I decided right then that if I wasn’t below 2 minutes on Friday, I was going to scratch the rest of the weekend.

The next session out I had an idea where the track went at least, and Shandra headed out a bit slower and ramped up a bit more slowly. I also had ridden the bike a session and knew it was working and not doing anything too crazy weird. I got down to a flat 2 minutes that session. There was one more morning session, and I decided it was time to start working on picking up the pace a little bit, and I came in to find I had knocked another 4 seconds off, getting into the 1:56s. Okay, looked like I’d be willing to grid up – I knew that was very back of the pack and then some, but it was progress and I knew a little more time would come. The afternoon decided that I needed rest, and rain rolled in, so I got my tires changed and ready for Saturday, with hopes that the weather would start to clear up and I’d get a dry practice and race.

Much more sleep was had that night, and I arrived in the morning, and after some coffee and breakfast, I was ready to go. My first practice session I was right around where I had left off on Friday, rolling in the 1:57s. Still a long ways off the pace, but for having about 20 laps under my belt, I wasn’t complaining too much. The next session I tried latching on to some people and managed to find a little more time, down to a 1:53.8. After this, it was time to wait for my first race.

Thankfully the weather cooperated, and when my race was coming up, things were dry and looking good. We had worked through a few set up and tire pressure issues, and the bikes seemed as ready as it was going to be, and I was feeling ready to go. We rolled up to the grid, only to end up with a restart. Okay, fine, eventually back out we went. CMRA launches off lights, which I knew about, but was a new experience for me, and my first start I totally botched, ending up stalling the bike. I took me a moment to even realize what had just happened (first time for everything!) and then I threw a hand up only to realize I was at the back of the grid anyways, and they were getting ready to release the novice wave behind me, so I just punched the starter and took off with a couple anger-wheelies down the front straight. I caught up to the back of the group before too long, made a couple passes, got passed, and in general had some fun, never really feeling like I was “alone” on the track. I came in to find I had broken into the 1:49’s.

I was determined that Sunday I wouldn’t botch my starts again, so relaxed and watched some of the later racing and made sure I was all set for the next day.

Sunday I decided to skip practice as it had been raining all night and I knew track conditions would change a lot between then and my race. Like an idiot, however, I didn’t look at the schedule very well, and realized too late there were actually 2 full practice sessions Sunday morning and I could have done the second one with more confidence. Oh well, the first race up was A Superbike, where I knew I wouldn’t really do anything anyways, so just made sure I was ready to head out for that.

My start was closer to normal this time and I was starting to figure out the timing on the number boards vs the lights, so was in the mix this time. Had a few battles with a couple other bikes, managing to hold off a few riders for a while (much to their frustration I’m sure), and had cleaned up some lines overnight after reviewing video, so still had a good time chasing a few people down. I came in to find I had dropped a teensy bit more time, down to a low 1:49. I was getting to a time where there were some other bikes to battle with, so was never really alone at all this time.

My last race of the day was the F40 Heavyweight, and I looked forward to that knowing I might actually be able to fight for a place or two. My start was decent enough this time, and I managed to find a few riders to battle with the entire race. Things were slowly coming together now, and I found a little more time, getting down into the 1:47s.

There’s still lots of time to be had – another 10 seconds to be thinking about top 5, and about 12 to be looking at potential podiums. Overall, however, I was not disappointed with my weekend. As always, it wasn’t quite enough for me to be “ecstatic” over my performance, but I wasn’t disappointed by what I was doing, either. I saw plenty of places where I could easily make up some additional time, much of which was just a matter of my lack of comfort with the track, and then just some riding skills I need to clean up/work on.

The best parts of the entire weekend were the things I was able to learn about myself as a rider and racer, and the chance to really test where I’m at, where my weaknesses lie, and what things really are just “preconceived” ideas vs actual lacking skills. What I did learn was that my ideas of what I thought was partly hold me back was probably true, and this weekend also highlighted very specific things I can work on to improve my times. The learning experience was invaluable, and I am excited to take what I learned, work to improve those areas, and make some big steps towards the next goals!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Final 2019 AFM Round for this Gal

After some things coming together for me in other areas of my life, I finally made the decision to accept my job’s offer to move me with them to Texas when my current lease is up. That meant I would be changing race series, but without many championships on the line, it didn’t seem wise to ride out the season with the other risks that would be involved. I would be jumping straight into the CMRA June round, and missing no races, but that still made Round 2 my final AFM round and I was looking forward to going out with a bang. Riding had been going well, I was getting comfy on the bike, and my pace kept improving. I had high hopes.

Photos by Oxymoron Photography

Unfortunately, I took “high” and “bang” a little too literally.

On our Friday practice day, I was cruising around, and in the afternoon started to see some decent laps, putting down 1:58s despite a fair bit of traffic. I was looking forward to Saturday and my regular practice group, and seeing if I could make a Formula Pacific showing before I moved. I went out for what was going to be my final Friday session, hoping traffic would be lighter and I could maybe get down to the 57s or maybe even 56s. I was rolling through, had just passed one of my friends going into Cotton Corners, leaving me with clear track in front of me. I put my head down and decided to push a bit. That was apparently the wrong choice with the tire/temp/wind/dust/throttle combo, and as I came into the fast, left kink before the bus stop, the rear suddenly spun up on me, and I was launched into a low orbit.

After my air time, I hit, HARD, but thanks to my D-Air when I came to a stop I assessed my damage and it seemed relatively minor and I was able to get up and wait for the crash truck.
Bike obviously had some damage, but was still rolling in mostly one piece, and I was mostly in one piece, but that night I was fairly certain I was done for the weekend. When Jesus and the guys with DareDevil arrived, however, they were pretty sure they could get the bike rideable – I wasn’t sure about my own riding condition, but figured if nothing else it would be good to get back on the horse and at least do a few laps that didn’t involve a major crash.
By the end of Saturday the bike was back together and we made it through tech and I was ready to go for Sunday. Jesus thought the bike handled fine and rode straight in the pits, so my practice session would be my shakedown to be sure it was okay at a little more speed and to also see how I was feeling.

Photos by Oxymoron Photography

Sunday morning I headed out for practice, taking my time. The bike felt okay, wasn’t doing anything weird, but my body was having a few things to say about the situation. I was hoping it would get better with a little more time, so still planned to head out for my first race, Open Superbike. 

We gridded up, but this race tends to be a bit of a shit show, and this day did not disappoint. I was in a fair bit of pain trying to move around on the bike, and every bump was torture, so I just wanted to finish my (very slow) laps and come in, and hopefully not get collected in anyone else’s bullshit. Managed to do that, and came in, not feeling good at all, but thinking maybe some modifications to my back protector would help.

Photos by Oxymoron Photography

There’s not much time between Open SB and Open GP, so I pulled the tail off my back protector to give my rump more room in my suit, hoping that would allow me a bit more comfort. We headed out, and this race was a bit calmer. I was still going slow, it even felt slow, but my body had no intention of putting up with any additional pace. I finished up my laps and came in, basically just cruising around the track – and almost in tears. Riding was pure torture, so I was done. If I had at least been able to go quickly with that pain it maybe would have been worth it, but going that slow, in that much pain, was not worth it. I had turned some laps, bike felt fine, but I couldn’t focus on riding at all, so decided that was enough self-torture and scratched my afternoon.

Photos by Oxymoron Photography

Slowly packed up that afternoon and once everyone in our group had finished their day relatively unscathed, I headed home to recuperate and get ready for my next races in June – in Texas.

I will miss my AFM family, but have no doubt I will be back to see everyone again!

Big shout outs to all of my sponsors, race team, friends, corner workers, and all of the AFM family – it’s been very memorable, and you probably haven’t seen the last of me 😊 Most of my sponsors are sticking with me through the move/season, so looking forward to expanding our “reach” to another area!

Now I’m going to go put some ice on my butt…..

Photos by Oxymoron Photography