Sunday, March 13, 2011

Outdoor Sports Center Bethel Spring Series - Ris Van Bethel

(Official site stuff here.)

My hamstring is hamstrung, an appropriate way to end a grueling day. It feels sore from a last minute contraction that luckily resulted in only some temporary pain for "moi" and probably a lot of "what the heck?" looks and thoughts from others.

That's starting at the end, so let me start a little earlier than the last paragraph of the day. And, as a warning, it starts much earlier than that hamstring thing.

It really started the day before, when I tried to gather everything that I needed for the races today. I'd been accumulating stuff throughout the week, trying to fix stuff that went wrong at Ronde de Bethel. Transparent to the racers, sort of, but still stuff that made me feel pretty down on myself.

Actually, I'd been so involved in fixing that stuff between the Ronde and the Ris that I never wrote a post on it. I'll eventually write one and stick it in the time appropriate spot. If I remember I'll even link it from here.

But I digress.

I headed over to my dad's place, which is really my dad's and brother's place. It's a full house, pleasantly so, with my dad (who is grandpa in the household), my brother and his wife (daddy and mommy), and three kids.

A somber topic of discussion - the tsunami that swept through Sendai, my late mom's home city. We have one relative there and right now there's not much more to do than to hope she's okay (update: she emailed my dad that she was okay). My mom's sister, in Tokyo, reported in okay, and some other folks we know seem to have made it. But until we get the full extent of the disaster I guess we won't know.

And I hate to say it but I think it's going to be exponentially worse than it is now, where they're saying there's a thousand or two dead, kind of like how the tsunami in Indonesia just last year.

It didn't help me any, thinking about the horrific events over there. I'd already been feeling stressed about the race. It's a love-hate thing, this whole race thing. I was raised in a group-centric culture (Japanese if you will), where you do your best to raise the overall group. For example you work to make your company better by working hard and doing your best. If you have an after-work group, you try and make them better too.

Bike racing is my after-work group.

Therefore I try and make bike racing better. I could do a lot of different things, I guess, but the whole "promoting races" thing kind of fell into my lap and I've run with it since. To me this is one of the best things I can do to help bike racing. Since it's my after-work group it's my duty to do my best to make it better, if that makes sense to you.

Sometimes doing the races feels less than pleasant. Just like school, I guess, the stress of a test. Some stress is good, productive - I felt stress before the last race at Bethel last year, but it was a good stress.

Of course too much stress is bad, like when I realized that, holy smolies, I was crumbling academically mid-semester as the curriculum got too difficult for me to grasp. At first it's just a bad feeling, then some struggling, then the "oh snap!" realization that I'd fallen out of the academic loop.

(As you may deduce, I started in one major and finished in another.)

Promoting races sometimes follows the same pattern but with more real consequences. There are those unpleasant times, either with upset people (racers or non-racers), general stress (show up at the race course and there are no portapotties), or even just worrying about weather and such (should we call the race because it's supposed to start snowing at 1 AM and snow 15 inches but the moon is crystal clear in the sky at 11 PM?).

Saturday was one of those long, drawn out days. I had lists of things I had to bring to Navone Studios for the race, stuff I needed to do once I got there, and stuff I had to do after the race at my dad's.

With more tasks than time, I ended up doing some race promotion triage, figuring out what I could and couldn't accomplish, then selecting which of the doable tasks I'd actually do.

The list of things to bring to Navone had absolute priority - I needed it at Navone's and I wouldn't be able to replace them before the races started. I had to bring stuff like the computers, the registration stuff (releases and such), money, and all sorts of other stuff. I wanted to bring my bike and kit (I skipped only one "bring" item - Atomic Balm - because I couldn't find it in a timely fashion).

The list of things to get done at Navone had different levels of importance. Registration stuff - priority. Clear packed down sand off of the road at the bottom of the hill - priority.

Testing finishline camera... not so much priority. I decided to rely on the long time camera and all-round "I can figure it out" guy Jonathan.

So I set up registration, cleaned part of the course, and left knowing that I hadn't even looked at the camera stuff.

In the evening I found myself sitting in my childhood kitchen, at the table, with that "thousand yard stare" that typically describes soldiers during drawn out battles. I wasn't fighting for my life or anything that significant, but I still had that glazed look in my eyes, enough so that my brother looked at me and just chuckled.

"Every year I see you like this and every year I can't believe all you do for the races."

I had to grin. What else could I do?

It's like school, right? The pressure, the paying-for-goofing-off, then you do it all over again.

I managed to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, woke up at 5:15 in the "spring ahead" time, slept for another hour, and woke up refreshed and a little panicked that I'd slept too long.

I got to the course reasonably on time, a little before 7, and got the first turn swept a bit. Soaked in sweat (and I wasn't really dressed that warmly), registration had a few questions, Jonathan was struggling with the camera (we eventually went with our old TiVO set up and it worked), and bam, I was late for the clinic.

It went well, some reminders from before, some new stuff, and some random tips. I even got to do a few faster paced sections. One of the things I mentioned was never to swerve around a normal pothole or manhole cover, especially at Bethel. Bethel's course, although rougher than the past, has no significant potholes or manhole covers. Reason for not serving is that swerving suddenly can take others out, and, at least for me, bike racers have a responsibility towards the group.

That group thing again.

With my hands getting cold (in the rush to start the clinic I didn't put on gloves), a bit out of breath from the faster laps (I was working hard, regardless of what I looked like), and some misty rain starting to fall, we had to clear the course for the Cat 5s.

Unfortunately we had a pretty major stack up in the Cat 5 race. Someone, ironically, swerved in the sprint to avoid a manhole (at least that's the report I got). A lot of guys crashed. I raided our first aid kit to get one particularly road-rashed rider patched up. (Don't worry, we'll have 50 more Tegaderm patches and some other supplies Sunday).

We started seeing some traffic problems, with a huge influx of vehicles for the next door volleyball folks (they were having a tournament).

I started getting stressed. We had to clear the pavement of all riders and spectators so that volleyball drivers wouldn't feel like they had to crawl into the parking lot. If the pavement wasn't clear, they felt like they might hit a cyclist, so they'd naturally slow down.

Cars crawling slowly into the parking lot spend a lot of time on the course. And that's not good for the racers who are racing on the course.

I actually felt this chest pain, a tightening if you will (don't worry, I have a physical scheduled shortly). I started rubbing it subconsciously, then consciously, because it felt better when I rubbed it.

One of the registration girls teased me about it.

"Doing the Pledge of Allegiance?"

I could only grin.

I tried to do what I wanted to do for the races - make sure registration went well, folks that wanted to switch races could switch, those that transferred from last week got in properly, upgraded riders could get into their races, and those who forgot their licenses... well, I gave everyone a break this week.

I also tried to check email because racers were very good about contacting me via email with questions and such.

A huge goal for me is immediate information. I know people like to see their results online as soon as possible, with race reports as a bonus. Of course they're sometimes extremely off base - like I didn't put in that one winner lapped the field solo in the Ronde de Bethel. I try to put up results in a timely fashion (i.e. as soon as they're official) - my goal is results up before the next race finishes.

I failed miserably.

I managed to put up race reports only after a few races had finished, with no results (so no naming the top finishers), and putting up results only towards the end of the race day.

The whole time I kept rubbing my chest.

A few long time racers asked why I wasn't racing the 3-4s. They didn't realize that I'd upgraded to 2, and that I couldn't do the race.

Of course why the heck anyone would upgrade at my age (I'm almost eligible for the M45 race) is beyond most people's comprehension. For me, though, it was a culmination of a long time dream, one that I simply could not comprehend when I was 15 years old. So, for better or for worse, I do the last race of the day.

It eases a lot of pressure off my racing, which kind of shoves more pressure onto the promoting side of things. I felt uneasy about the numbers for next week (a problem that is getting resolved even as I type), I felt unprepared for some race stuff, and overall I felt like I was doing a poorer job than previous years.

This made my chest hurt just a touch more. I rubbed it a bit more.

I internalize my failures. It's hard for me to bounce thoughts and ideas off of others, and although we're a tight community when it comes to racing, there are few people where I can talk about race stuff. I've talked to them before, but I usually talk with the Missus or one or two other extremely long term friends (one was my best man; another I've known for more than 20 years and although he's at the races, he tries to give me a lot of room). I have some new confidants too, including some of my teammates and folks that help with the races, and it was a couple of these that helped me deal with the pressures of the day.

Of course I also come to race. I put both Stinger6 wheels on my TsunamiTwo (an unfortunate name at that moment given the situation over in Japan) for the first time ever. Luckily they cleared everything. With the higher pressure tires, lower weight wheels, the bike felt taut. It felt like it wanted to go. Not quite like some other bikes I've picked up, but this one was mine, fit to me, in a racing load out.

Okay, almost fit to me.

Once I started racing I realized I moved the bars up a touch too much after last week's debacle. I needed the bars tilted down just a few degrees. Not warming up didn't help because I didn't have a lap or three to go, hm, this doesn't feel quite right.

Part of it was that I finally remembered (thanks to my checklist) my CamelBak and its all important fluid bladder. With the CamelBak on it affects my posture on the bike. Slightly, but it does. And this made my bars, which were okay in the clinic, not quite okay in the race.

(Now I'll ride even the trainer with the CamelBak.)

My chest pains had dulled just before I got on the bike. Racing, as you may well know, is a great stress reliever. There's nothing more relaxing for me than to get in the middle of a field and fly along at some inhuman pace. All my focus and attention (as long as my bike is set up right) goes towards immediate decisions, ones that have immediate and short-term future consequences.

On this day the wind had to be the most significant aspect of the race. More powerful than usual, it actually blew around even the more experienced riders. I found myself looking for the gust points, especially by Turn Two, where my wheel would typically get pushed sideways a good six inches.

It got so that I had to think about when to move my hands from the bars (to change position or to drink), when to shift, when to even brake. I wanted both hands on the bars when the wind hit me; I also wanted to be prepared if another rider got hit unexpectedly - a few riders got caught out by the wind and had to catch themselves to keep from falling.

Strong wind usually spawns a break, acting as a filter to push the stronger riders to the front. The strongest riders normally launched from there and disappear down the road. Four guys obliged, chugging away steadily, resisting some impressive chase attempts.

Near the end of the race the field suddenly slowed dramatically - we were down to 18 mph on the backstretch. I remember thinking to myself, "Hey, I train at this speed!"

Then, like a freight train, the four man break rolled through the field.

The pace ramped up to "speed comma insane" and things went back to normal.

Cold, a bit heavy on the hill, I lacked the spark that I normally feel at Bethel. Therefore I just sat at the back. I gambled heavily on making a last lap move. I knew I could make a move on the hill then try to dice it out for a lap. I sent the memo to my legs and they responded - I was at the front of the field diving into the first turn.

I couldn't go and pull though and my speed stutter kind of messed things up. The big boys, the long time 1s and 2s, put things right, with riders drilling it as we went around Turn Two. I got stuck a bit, waited for an opening to the right, and gunned it.

Right foot down, hard.

Left foot, down...


That's when my left hamstring cramped totally unexpectedly. I'd felt twinges from my calves, not my hamstrings, so the hamstring cramping... it was like someone hit me in the leg with a baseball bat.

I stood on the pedals, scything agony driving into my left leg. I couldn't straighten it. I think I hit the curb, but managed to stay upright. I had to release this agony somehow, but I could only think of one very indiscrete way of doing it. After a millisecond of thought, I realized it had to be done.

I screamed.

I screamed out the pain of my leg, the stress of the day, the crushing disappointment in my fitness.

Riders moved around me, scattering politely. "Get away from that crazy dude!"

I coasted to a stop at the bottom of the hill. The marshal there (Pat, who helped me chop ice) came over to make sure I was okay. I was, in a physical sense, except my hamstring. But that unlocked, finally.

I made it back up to registration. Results went up. I put them on the site. Wrote some race report stuff. Asked some riders what happened, how it went down. Made sure some of the guys who didn't pick up their money last week got it this week (I like pleasant surprises as much as the next rider - and getting "free" prize money totally rocks). Started thinking of next week.

My chest hurt again.

The folks that help run the whole thing finished packing up the race stuff. The registration girl walked out the door, a casual wave bye.

Then a mischievous grin, a hand to her heart.

I had to crack a grin.

Yeah, it's stressful. Yeah, it's hard. Yeah, my chest hurt a bit. But promoting races...

You gotta crack a grin at the end of the day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed the read. Glad to hear your relatives are OK.