Monday, March 09, 2009

Bethel Spring Series 2009 - Ris Van Bethel

The alarm went off in the pitch dark, a low moaning alarm (we were at my dad's and we don't "know" this alarm). I had a flash of "I'm never doing this again". I guess it was the combination of daylight savings, being just plain tired from yesterday, and the daunting vision of 12 or 14 hours of stressful "I'm responsible" work.

Luckily for my sense of responsibility, the flash went away after I closed my eyes for about 30 seconds.

After loading up the van with some minor stuff, I tried to start the van (the dome light went on so I had juice). Two short attempts later (and maybe one low strained "whir"), I was backing up my red car to jump the van.

After stressing about this for a while, I'm convinced the battery just happened to give up the ghost. Many years ago the battery came out of my green car when I decided to replace the battery "just in case". Then a couple years later, the morning of a Bethel (of course), the normal enormous battery in the van was dead (courtesy yours truly leaving on some light). The only battery around? The green car battery.

Then, because I don't use the van too much, I never took that really old battery out of the van. And Sunday morning I paid the price.

Of course there's always a benefit to things, the way I look at things. And this was a perfect time to learn left foot braking on an automatic. See, if I revved the engine, it wouldn't stall because the alternator is working. But if I let it slow to an idle then it would die. So I left foot braked, popped it into neutral every time I had to stop or go down a hill more than a few seconds, and constantly had my foot tapping the gas pedal (no tach so I had to hear and feel the engine revving).

My traditional backing out of the driveway took a few muddy ruts for the worse, and my first few slows were more like panic stops in the middle of the road. But by the time I got to the race course, safe and sound, I felt pretty good about my newly learned technique.

That's when I looked around and saw all that sand.

One local swears up and down that the town doesn't plow - they just spread sand. And although we got a lot of snow last week (on Monday, after the canceled race, not Sunday like the forecast said), we didn't get that much snow. But there was a lot of sand. Lots.

With a full crew of helpers, we set up, with the missus and the stepping-away co-promoter lending two additional experienced hands, we got things under way. I took up my traditional duties as street sweeper, using the Echo powerbroom, a regular broom, and a wheeled leaf blower.

For the next 2-2 1/2 hours I swept and blew and swept and blew. To the others' credit I didn't get too many radio calls - everyone handled things fine at the start/finish and registration. I didn't realize this but we had no cop this week as no one volunteered for our particular job. Other than that things went well.

At some point someone did radio me, and to my horror I couldn't even depress the talk button on the radio. I'd become so focused on sweeping I had no idea what my body was doing, and I was absolutely and totally exhausted. I decided to trudge back up to the registration area and take a break, but I saw so much sand I had to leave again, this time mainly using the wheeled blower (which I don't have to carry).

I managed to catch up with a few folks, talk to others, and generally didn't do much until just before my race. Then, in full panic mode, I dressed and got ready, just in time to ride my bike to the start line.

With no warm up, an optimistic short sleeve jersey, shorts, and a wind vest, I suddenly felt cold, kind of hungry, and really tired. I sat at the back of the field and tried to figure out if my legs were okay, if they were bad, or what. I couldn't feel them load up ("bad") but they weren't responding to my every whim ("not good").

I did weigh the bike before I tossed it in the van. 19 pounds fully loaded as I rode it in California. With the carbon clinchers, 16 pounds. And with the tubulars, maybe 15 and change. The bike definitely felt more lively, more tossable, and I liked waggling the rear of the bike climbing out of the saddle.

The 175 cranks, too, made a difference. I felt like I had these really long levers that let me drive big gears up the hill. I usually find myself unwilling to shift down, thinking I was already in the 23T, but then I look and I'm in the 15T or something. So I looked down, and yeah, I was in the 15T or something. I could sit and spin in the 21T or 23T, but the spinning got uncomfortable as I got tired so I'd stand and push more.

I had a few teammates in the race, quite a few actually, and though I'd spoken to a couple of them, we really didn't have a plan per se. One guy, who led me out for a field sprint win last year, made it clear he was doing the race for training and would be willing to lead out the sprint. Another guy, ostensibly working for me but typically much stronger than I am, also made it clear he was working for me.

Of course there are the "friends in the field" too, long time friends whose loyalties lay with friendship, not with teams or such in a race not important to their team sponsors. I didn't talk with any of them but I did manage a hello or two.

I forgot how many laps we were to cover, and after not looking for as long as possible, I looked, praying we'd see a nice low number.


Not that low. Not 22 for sure, but not the 7 I thought I'd see.

I groveled more, counting each lap, sitting at the back, sometimes momentarily sliding off the back on the hill. No warm-up, not enough rest, too early to rise, and lots of physical effort equals a not-very-energetic me.

At 10 to go a one time supreme rival rode up to me and asked if I wanted to tag along when he went to the front. Since I was seriously contemplating dropping out, I politely declined. I also knew he was strong enough to move up on the outside in any wind in virtually any field, and I wasn't strong enough to follow such a move, and I didn't want to get sawed off the back trying to follow someone in the wind.

He nonchalantly rolled up to the front of the field.

At 7 to go I was dangling off the back, a long time friend nearby. Sporting my old Carpe Diem Racing colors, he had already done the M40 race, and he entered this race to get some miles in and, I suppose, to give me one effort.

He goes back a long way. He worked (really hard too) the first 5 or so years of Bethel, volunteering his van to lug various big things to and from the race. He showed up every year, no complaints, volunteering a long day without a touch of complaint, for many, many years. He told me one year, apologetic, that he just couldn't do it anymore, and for the next few years, as I lugged all that stuff around, I was amazed that he did it for so long.

He's one of those good guys, one of the guys that makes amateur grassroots racing possible. If everyone did 10% of what he did, we'd have a plethora of races to choose from.

I digress...

He drifted across my front wheel ever so slightly, looked to see where I was, and touched the pedals just a bit harder. He told me long ago that no matter how bad I looked, no matter how bad I felt, all I had to do was to get towards the end of a race and I'd perk up, finding immense reserves of energy from who knows where. So here he was, trying to dig into that untapped reserve.

He found it.

I moved up to his wheel, and without a single word, not even a glance at me (just at my front wheel), he slowly ramped up the speed, knowing my fatal weaknesses, understanding what I needed to get to the front, but that he'd have to balance effort and results to get me there.

He moved up the side, always aware of my need to find shelter, leaving too much room to his side so I could slide up to his right pedal, finding shelter from the vicious wind while still moving up on the outside. He never drilled it, nor did he ever change pace or line suddenly. He just rolled along, calmly, just fast enough to bring me into 20th or 25th position, and then, finding a little pocket of open shelter in the field, he rode next to it, making a little box for me to fill.

I rolled into the box, he sat on the windward side of me, and as we climbed the hill and away from the wind, I murmured to him.

"No problem."

Now it was 6 to go and I had been gifted position without using up my reserves. I felt obligated to fulfill my part of the bargain, to fight for the race.

Though small breaks had been going off all day, and sometimes even threatening groups rolled up the road, nothing seemed to stick. I couldn't do anything about them anyway, but everytime someone rolled off without a teammate, I prayed that they'd come back.

And they did.

I learned something on those few laps, metering my energy so preciously. With the stiff headwind on the backstretch, the field would bunch up there, but it would surge on the hill, and if would string out on the first straight. If I made efforts at the right time, I could situate myself in the same spot every time we hit Turn 1, holding my position without hitting too much wind.

The laps counted down.

At 2 to go (well, at 1.5 laps to go because we were on the backstretch) my legs threatened to betray all my efforts. I contemplated sitting up and quitting the race because I had no idea how I'd be able to sprint feeling this bad. But about 100 meters later I figured I better just finish the fricken race.

A few moments later my teammate rolled up to me.

"Aki, this is my finishline?"

We were just passing my favored jump point.


He surged away, on a mission. My legs deflated. Wait. Wait for me. Wait for... hm. I'll have to find him. 30 guys passed me. Hard to find someone that's 30 guys away.

We crested the hill, specatators cheering, screaming, my legs screaming, at least a bazillion guys in front of me. I reinforced my faith in the backstretch headwind. It would sap the strength of all the eager sprinters, zapping their legs. Only the strongest would make it to the front as the course turned away from the wind, and I figured the first three would win the race. I figured the rest of the field would be collectively blowing, having been in the wind too long to maintain their forward position, and there'd be a huge exchange of position as fresh legs in poor field position went flying past the excellently positioned tired legs.

We hit the backstretch and I was towards the right side of the field. The left side surged. I thought about my headwind theory again, and hoped even more that I was right. I managed to move a little, I'm sure, but my brain didn't save this bit of the race too well.

As we started the right bends to the bottom of the hill, I had almost given up. With 25 or so racers in front of me, a wide field, and no surges or holes, it looked pretty dismal.

Then the Red Sea parted.

Guys on the left (windward side) went left, guys on the right went right, and a big lane opened up in front of me.

Without even thinking I was shifting and jumping into the gap, flying through guys slowed either by wind (left side) or by overzealous moving up and boxing in (right side).

I examined my SRM data and I actually coasted for 4 seconds (!) as we rounded the bend at the bottom of the hill. I don't remember this but I must have had to slow to avoid rear ending the guys spread across the front.

I do remember watching one guy lead it out strongly, with two guys on his wheel. "1, 2, 3..." I thought, "let's see what happens when this gaggle of riders breaks up a bit.

I jumped when I had the chance, went through that gaggle of riders, and passed the one target I had in my sights (he was leading out the remanants of the field on the left side). Then I exploded. The three guys in front were untouchable and the guy to my left was also blown and not about to come back to me, and with no motivation to sprint, I didn't. My SRM data told me that I actually slowed during the whole sprint, that my jump merely maintained speed, and as I tired I slowed. I did a fake bike throw at the line, really a stretching of my legs, and sat down hard.

Well now.

What a turn around.

I started and promptly dropped out of the P123 race, my hands shaking, my brain working in molasses, cold sweat, bonk, everything all at once. I sat perfectly still in a chair - any movement caused air to move across my skin, but if I sat still I felt warmer.

I never saw my friend after the race, the one who brought me up, but I'm sure he knew what happened in the race. To be honest I saw very few people afterwards because I was totally cooked, but it'd been worth it.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was a blur. Another van jump (this time the missus disconnected the cables), another left foot brake practice drive (to my dad's) which included two curb strikes and about four curb rubs due to my deteriorated mental state. A nice dinner at a diner. A long drive home in the red car, paced by the missus. Posting results online. A 90 minute talk with a long time friend and former teammate.

Then trying to get to sleep. It was about 2:30 AM before I fell asleep inadvertently while reading about the Tour and letting various cats snuggle up to me, the missus waking me up at some odd hour like 5 AM or something to bring me back to bed.

Next week, another race.

Oh, and happy birthday to my sis. Happy Birthday!


tyrade said...

Nice finish, Aki. I was riding in the back of the 3/4 race (my first) with you (until the final laps). It was fun watching you implement your pack skills, getting into the absolute best position. I had the same observation as you did about the slowing and picking up speeds on various parts of the course. Someone else mentioned that the hill is so much easier in the faster races (3/4, 1/2/3, M40), where they carry the speed through the turn at the bottom of the hill. I totally agree with this. Having done most of my Bethel races as a 4 or 5, I could really tell the difference yesterday.

Thanks for a great day of racing. See what you can do about lining up the same weather for the rest of the series ;-)

Aki said...

tyrade - thanks. I thought that was you but I was semi delirious and got you and your teammate on the Scott confused. Or were you one and the same? I dunno.

Hill is harder if you start it slower. The M40 and P123 probably hit it most consistently, you almost punch the pedals five or six times and coast the rest of the way.

Weather was perfect. I'm sporting some red rings on my legs where new skin got exposed to the sun.

adj said...

Thanks for remembering bro!

No One Line said...

I thought those power brooms were extremely awesome. Thanks for all your hard work promoting this race - I'll be back in a few weeks! Maybe this time I'll find you and introduce myself.

Aki said...

adj - I did forget to call tho, arg.

NOL - those brooms are great, I really like them. I'm hoping for a miracle related to the brooms to occur this week, something I can't really mention, but crossing my fingers. If you make it to another Bethel feel free to say hi, even if I look a bit busy.

Anonymous said...

Aki, we're loving your videos and blog here on the west coast where the season doesn't start for another couple weeks. Keep up the good work. Very motivating!