Monday, March 21, 2011

Outdoor Sports Center Bethel Spring Series - 2011 Tour de Kirche Report

I thought for sure I'd have very little to look forward to on Sunday the 20th. Yes, it's the third race of the Outdoor Sports Center Bethel Spring Series. That means it's the half way point, after Sunday half the Series will be done.

The stress and pressure I've felt for the past two weeks has been tremendous, even resulting in an all day chest ache last week.

I'd written off being competitive in the races as early as April of 2010, when the Series ended last year. I wanted to head into 2011 with no pressure to perform on the bike, just whatever sense of honor I had within me to uphold my end of the bargain when I asked to be upgraded.

I wanted to use my 2010 form to upgrade to Cat 2 so that I'd enter 2011 as a newly minted 2 with no expectations. In the Bethel Spring Series, that meant that I could only enter the P123 race. I don't qualify for the Masters race if I kept them at 45+, and I kept it there for very selfish reasons - I didn't want to get tempted to enter that race. The P123s, with some very good racers, felt out of reach for me. I wouldn't be gunning for the Jersey, not even for a placing, so I could just race "however" and be okay with it.

Of course, at the time, that seemed relatively insignificant. I could race "however". I just had to put on the races. Honor, duty, whatever, right?

The winter didn't help. I didn't lose weight like I thought I wanted. I say it like that because if I really wanted to, I'd have lost it. I didn't lose weight (I gained about 10 lbs), so I didn't necessarily want it that badly. I didn't train much either, with time spent doing all the thing I didn't do during the summer. Finally I got sick at very inopportune times, the times where I had free blocks of time to train.

It really hurt that I got sick in California, unable to really train hard for most of the trip. Then I got sick when I got back, so that didn't help my pathetic lack of form.

Therefore I headed into the Series poorly prepared as a rider.

Unfortunately, to me, I also went in poorly prepared as a promoter. I always have dreams for the races, little baby steps. I'm not looking to make the race huge; lots of people have asked me if I'd thought about "big race stuff" like PA systems, finish line banners, stuff like that.

And I always think, "It's a Spring Series. Not a July 4th crit."

But that doesn't stop me from thinking of cool things I want to do. I'll openly talk about them if it's something I think I'll be pulling off that year, where I have realistic plans and such. But if it's possible it may not work, well, I shut up about it.

Better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver, right?


My big goal this year was to have better race numbers. With Outdoor Sports Center stepping up in a huge way, I wanted to honor our first cash sponsor in memory (I couldn't believe that's accurate either until I thought about it for a while). In the past I've gotten merchandise and sometimes a lot of it, but the cash that the race spends, that comes from the racers and the promoter. For a long time it came just from the racers, but recently someone else has been footing part of the bill.

Since it's not the racers, you can guess who it might be.

I also wanted to have more prizes, primes mainly. But it's hard for me to buy them (the race historically tried to pay for all the prizes it gave away, minus the watches and wheels and frames early on), and hard for me to ask for them. Usually I just give out money. Everyone can use money, and I don't have to buy it - I just give out money racers have given the race.

But with help from others... Outdoor Sports Center is a pretty big operation and has a lot of buying power. This means they could ask for some goodies from their various reps. It takes time, effort, and a certain level of fiscal commitment (i.e. "We're gonna buy a whole lotta your product, can you donate some of your goodies to this race we're sponsoring?"). OSC came through in a huge way, accumulating a lot of stuff.

You prime winners know this. It's cool stuff, good stuff, stuff a bike racer wants or likes. So I may not go out and buy myself a particular item (like a Michelin shirt or Garmin cap) but if I won one, I'd wear it proudly. It's this kind of stuff I wanted to give away, stuff that I'd want to win myself, and it's stuff like that that OSC got for the race.

There's more coming up too, with one week which I'll "sub-name" Thule Week, with halfway primes from Thule and a nice big prize which anyone who raced that day can win (I'm still working out exactly when that prize will go).

Of course some of you have bumped your head on the CAAD10 frame hanging over registration. That's another prize that got donated to the race, courtesy the efforts of OSC, although technically the folks whose office sits just beyond Turn Two (i.e. Cannondale) actually gave us the frame. That one will be given away on the last day of the Series, along with yet another Thule item sure to be high on people's wishlists.

But I digress.

We can give away all that cool stuff because of Outdoor Sports Center and their commitment to helping the race. I didn't do all that schwag collecting - they did it.

On their own.

Without me asking.

Now, if you ask me, that's a sponsor that rocks.

So, at the very least, I wanted to have the coolest numbers out there. It wasn't just a promise now, it was something I felt compelled to do.

A duty, if you will.

And now it wasn't so casual, this feeling of duty. I had to repay their efforts.

I thought that a nice full color logo on custom printed numbers would be awesome; I also wanted them to be different from what's out there. I spent some time with Frank of Navone Studios trying to figure out the best way to print up these numbers; you guys saw them on the first and second week of the race.

First batch of numbers.

The P123s got the better numbers, but they were much more expensive.

Expensive number in action. It's fine, normal, but with much better print quality.
Not good enough though.

But Frank, a guy with very high standards for himself, was actually embarrassed by the initial batch of numbers. He wanted to raise his game another notch. Another five notches, really.

In our talks after Ris, he had an epiphany. While I typed up some stuff like race reports and such at the end of the day, he came over with three test numbers for me to check. We did some initial tests. We knew they were waterproof but we needed to check ripstop (i.e. pin resistance). They failed miserably but Frank pointed out that with a sticky back, the numbers would be stronger.

Not only that, I realized, if it's a sticky back, the pins would be there just to keep it from peeling. The sticky back would do the rest.

Plus, it's soooo Pro. So Pro. Oh so Pro.

I decided to go ahead with these numbers. Because, you know, if it worked they'd be so Pro. It was a huge risk - if they didn't work, we'd be scrambling for numbers on race day because, honestly, I barely had enough extras to handle one day of racers. Frank and I were committed to making the Sticky Back Numbers work.

Of course then I got a cold.

I spent a lot of time doing nothing, less than 2.5 hours riding my bike, and on the warmest day of the year (Friday) I rode 10.77 miles outside. Yeah, I was wearing just shorts on my legs, but, come on, I rode 38 minutes or something. 16.8 mph.

I was coughing a lot. I couldn't think straight. I spent a lot of time in bed when I wasn't at work. Saturday (which I take unpaid from work since I use it to prep for the race), I didn't even try to get down to Bethel early. The week prior Frank said he'd be there from noon to 5; in reality he was there till past 6 or so. I know because I was there too.

This week I decided that I'd be good if I got there by 3. I gave up racing Sunday; I'd sacrifice my reserves to get the course in raceable condition. If the course needed touching up, I'd use up whatever I had left handling that, and I promised myself to do the inside registration work before I went out to do course maintenance.

So it wasn't until almost 2 that I left. I checked my oil as my car was running a bit sluggish. To my horror I saw some brown pudding under the oil cap.


Blown head gasket or a cracked head or a cracked block. My trusty red car would need a heart transplant soon. But Bethel called. So I headed down, knowing I'd be using up the car in these last few weeks of the Series.

I pulled onto the course and my spirits lifted.

The Bethel Street Sweep Elves had been here recently. The course was clean.

That there is some clean pavement, full of traction.

Dusty, yes. But no grains and such.

One fast lap with a leaf blower and it'd be good. I decided to ask the helpers to do that tomorrow. Today I'd stay indoors, stay warm, and work on registration.

I went inside. I saw the stack of numbers from last week. No new numbers.

I wandered in back.

"Frank, you have the numbers for this week?"

"You wanted numbers for this week?"

My heart stopped. I mean, it probably didn't, but I'm pretty sure it stuttered.

Then I realized he was grinning.

He had them stacked up, some finish work necessary.

I went and set up registration, my mind wandering a bit due to I don't know, fatigue and lightheadedness and whatever else.

Frank came over with the numbers. They looked awesome. My spirits lifted. And things were good.

I stay at my dad's a couple towns over, in the town where I grew up, in the house where I grew up, and, for the last two weeks, in the actual room that was my room when I was a kid. Which is pretty cool if you consider that it was 25 years ago that I lived there. Doing the Series is a lot more than doing a race. It's about family and catching up and talking and being brothers (my sister lives out West) and stuff.

So I talked with my brother, my sister-in-law, listened to the young nephews' breathless stories before they had to go to bed, and gave my dad a big hug. Last week we brothers and sis-in-law talked about the tsunami. Not my bike, no, we talked about the wave thing that hit Japan like a ProTour rider scything through a Cat 5 field. My dad's sister had been out of touch, and she lives (or lived) in Sendai. We eventually got in touch with her and she's okay, but we didn't know that last week. You can imagine the mood last week. I'm sure it didn't help my stress level any.

This week the discussion was a bit more positive - how to help Japan. It's not a poor country. It's not broke. They're busy printing money to pay for all the recovery costs. It's a country populated by people who feel an extremely strong sense of duty, of honor, of doing what they need to do.

It's a country where people pick up litter and put it in the trash. Where if someone driving cuts off a cyclist, apparently the driver gets out, bows an apology, and feels shame for failing as a citizen.

There's no looting. I read an article where a Times reporter finally found a store owner who saw looters. Three of them. The reporter asked if it was that desperate that people resorted to looting. The store owner looked at him.

"They were foreigners."

Duty and honor. So how do you help the Japanese?

By buying their products. Because Japan needs business to survive and thrive, so that businesses can pay their employees, so that businesses can pay their taxes.

And trust me, they pay their taxes. They pay enough that companies are rated by how much tax they pay (at least when I saw some stats on Japan). They dutifully pay what they're supposed to pay. They may complain, but they pay.

And in that way, through taxes paid to the government, the government paying for the recovery, they'll finance the recovery.

With that, I went to bed. Not sleep, bed. I read a bit of William Gibson, Count Zero, a real kick-butt book that gets better every time I read it. Gibson's other big book (to me) is Neuromancer, with Wintermute a main character of sorts in there; the trilogy ends with Mona Lisa Overdrive. At midnight I went to sleep. Woke up at about 4:30, startled myself awake, thought I overslept. At 5:15 the alarm went off - by then I was tired again, and I let it snooze once before I showered and set off to the races.

Unlike last week, the races (from a promoter point of view) went well. No one yelled at me (and I'm not saying that people that yell at me can't yell at me, I just feel like I've failed my duties as a promoter if that happens). No one complained.

And slowly, unsurely, we handed out the Sticky Back Numbers.

The racers loved them.

I didn't have my own Sticky Back Number experience until 20 or so minutes before the P123 race, when I started to kit up. I got the backing off the number, marveled at the number's thinness, and stuck it on my jersey.

Sticky Back Number

StickyBackNumber after the race.
Note four USAC mandatory pins.
They're mandatory for our numbers too because they could peel off otherwise.

Holy smokes! This totally rocked. Totally, totally rocked.

I could barely contain my glee. Okay, fine, I admit I couldn't contain my glee, and the registration girls made fun of my unbridled enthusiasm over the numbers.

When I lined up my enthusiasm got sidelined a bit during a chat with the guy winning the Cat 3-4 Series overall, Bryan H. He asked me if I remembered a guy that I initially knew as Lee Wintermute.

As in the "character" name in Neuromancer.

Of course I remembered him. With a William Gibson character name, especially as arcane as "Wintermute", how could I forget?

But just before we set off on the race, I couldn't help myself from doing an informal poll, right then, right there.

"Hey, a quick question," I hollered. "How do you guys like the Sticker Numbers?!"

The group cheered their approval.

Duty fulfilled.

The race for me was anticlimactic. Okay, that doesn't say much so I'll describe my race. I sat in, realized I wasn't going to finish after about 8 laps, attacked at lap 27 or so as a last hurrah, then crawled up the hill so pitifully slow that a friend ran over and pushed me up the hill so I could finish my 28th lap - like I said, anticlimactic.

No, for me, my race wasn't as important as everyone else's race (if you will). I define my success at the Series in terms of how the race gets held. If it's good, if racers like it, I'm happy. I've fulfilled my duty as a promoter, to provide a good race (whatever that may be).

If racers complain, if they don't feel like they got what they should have gotten, then I feel bad. I've failed. Even unreasonable people (in hindsight) can temporarily ruin my day.

And all the tension and stress from the first two weeks of the race, the stress before the race, the snow, the ice, all the emails I answer during the week, that all went away when the P123s cheered their approval.

The racers were happy.

I fulfilled the promoter's obligations.

Duty and honor.

I was happy.


Anonymous said...

And what awesome numbers they were!!!! Just another reason why this race is sooo special, the hard work you put in makes us proud to race the series, thanks for the effort, it shows.


Anonymous said...

No failures! As always, for those of us in the race and not behind the scenes, everything works flawlessly. The only thing we wish you could change is the wind on the backstretch, and maybe make it a few degrees warmer. The sticky numbers are *very* pro, a nice touch.

I just finished Neuromancer and thought it was great. Have you read his latest trilogy--Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History? Gibson just gets stronger all the time. He's also on Twitter--@GreatDismal.

Aki said...

I'm glad that some folks appreciate the same odd quirky things I appreciate :)

Of course it seems that the optional headwind gets thrown in spontaneously when the weather order gets fulfilled.

This week may be a bit ugly, we'll see.

Didn't know about William Gibson on Twitter, and I started reading but never finished Pattern Recognition (and didn't know it was part of a trilogy). I'll have to find it and start it again.

Vader said...

I did love the sticky back numbers, Aki! I drove home with it on because I forgot I had it on!
The work you and the volunteers put in to the series is appreciated by all of us. Thank you so much to Outdoor Sports Center.
Only two left! I look forward to every Sunday -- I'll miss it when it's over!