Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Racing - Tuesday Night Series

A long time ago I went through a period where I either raced or did a race-like training ride during the week, usually on Tuesdays, also known as "sprint days" for anyone following Eddy B's basic schedule of training. I had the best cycling years of my life but there were so many variables it's hard to say if the Tuesday evening workouts were critical for developing good race form.

Other factors included things like my unending enthusiasm, racing at every opportunity, and being sort of poor so I didn't eat as much as I could have eaten. My enthusiasm stretched my racing year from February to November, and I trained through the winter. I only took time off when I was sick.

I raced all the time, or so it seemed. I tried to race twice a weekend, sometimes managing three races if the categories and times worked out. Other weekends I'd race an early race in NYC then drive over to Gimbles and do the group ride afterwards.

Finally, as a starving bike shop guy, it helped that I was a relatively lean rider, rarely breaking 145 lbs (5'7") and staying under 140 for long stretches at a time.

With life and work intruding on my cycling, a number of things have happened. I went through a few years where I rarely raced, doing perhaps 8 or 10 races a year. My training time drooped severely, aided by frequent 9-10 day breaks where I didn't even look at my bike. I even took three weeks off in the middle of the summer, an impossible layoff when I was younger, even for a winter month.

At the same time I rose above the poverty level (based on income). I could afford to eat. Unfortunately I ate like I was still training and racing a lot, ultimately ballooning to over 190 lbs. (Recently I discovered my scale is off by as much as 7-8 lbs at 175 lbs, so my 190 lbs could have been - and probably was - more like 200 lbs).

I committed to trying to re-find myself in the sport in the last few years, spending oodles of time on the trainer, lifting, taking trips to warmer climates to train in the winter months. I've had varying successes but I've never quite recaptured that "immersed in cycling" feeling.

One problem was the lack of racing. Although racing is much easier as an experienced racer (versus a new one), it still hurts, and I have a hard time remembering how much I suffer in the more difficult races. In my serious days my early season schedule used to include some very fast Cat 1-2-3 races so that I'd remember how to go fast. This in turn would make a Cat 3 race feel much more manageable. Over the past ten years or so I've sort of missed those faster races.

Time is a factor as well. Cycling is not quite as important as some other things, a situation simply unimaginable when I was younger. It's difficult to regularly spend a whole weekend focused just on racing or training or both. My weekends used to be "Friday - eat and spin; Saturday - race or do Gimbels or do both, then eat; Sunday - race or do Gimbels, then eat". Hard to do that now.

I suppose another problem is that my training became "serious". I like saying that it's important to go out on a training ride with a goal in mind, something to focus on while you ride. If you're doing intervals, go do intervals. If you're working on pedal speed, focus on cadence. This utilitarian approach to training is good in some ways but it makes cycling less fun. If you approached all your fun things like that they stop remaining fun.

A couple weeks ago I found myself in that "enjoying cycling" mode again. There is one main reason why, accompanied by a less "significant" but just as important sidekick. The idea is not that earth shaking, but since it took me a few years to figure it out, here it is:

The Tuesday Night Series at Rentschler Field.

In the last two weeks I did this race twice, bridged twice, got shelled twice, got lapped more than twice, and had a blast both times.

The course is pretty simple, a tri-oval if you will, flat, nice pavement. There are three actual "turns" where you would normally coast (but where you can pedal if you want to do so). The sprint starts off on a long sweeping bend, the "4th turn" if you will. It's a short course, half a mile, and the whole course is visible from any standpoint around it. Because of the large stadium alongside the backstretch there is some wind direction/speed changes, making for a neat obstacle in an otherwise featureless race.

Okay, it'd be nice if I don't get dropped every time I go there but the race is so informal, the atmosphere so casual, it's hard to race "seriously". So if my momentum takes me to the front and there's a group away, it's hard to resist doing a few pedal strokes and rolling off the front of the field. At that point I'd feel kind of dumb if I didn't try to bridge, so I would. The first race I did it was less a bridge and more like closing a huge gap. The second was a true bridge, with about 2/3 of a lap of effort (remember they are 1/2 mile laps so my effort was not too long).

Both times my efforts killed me.

I'd pedal until the field dropped me and then I'd circle slowly, catching my breath, wondering how much harder I could have gone without becoming an uncoordinated and dangerous rider, and then, when the field lapped me, I'd jump back in.

Then I'd think, "Boy, this isn't that hard. Why didn't I just sit in?"

A few laps later my legs would be hurting and I would start worrying about becoming that uncoordinated and dangerous rider, affecting actual racers, the guys (and gals) on the lead lap. I'd sit at the back, carefully letting everyone in before me, making sure I didn't gap off a contender.

The bell would ring for soda primes, a nice reward on a hot summer night, an appropriate prime for a fun race. The pace would pick up and I'd start seeing daylight between wheels.

Finally, after struggling at the back for a while (but before I inadvertently gapped anyone), I'd sit up, unwilling to take the chance that I may affect the race's outcome.

I'd roll over to the car, try and rinse some of the sweat away. Talk with friends. Move over when someone makes a U-turn with their car and I'm in the way.

It's fun, it's informal. All smiles, no swearing. Some good natured kidding. But all in all a fun race, a fun ride.

Coincidentally both times I had dinner with friends afterwards. Part of racing is rehashing what happened, listening to what other people experienced, listening to what they saw you do (as opposed to what you think you did).

It helps that the race is close to home - less than 30 minutes away, maybe as little as 20-25 minutes. The series ends in August but I hope to be able to do them until they finish up.

Of course tonight I went there, eager to ride, eager to race.


I forgot.

No race this week.

The guy at the parking lot smiled as I drove up. I knew something was wrong because there were no other cars there and a lot of TV camera vans and stuff. I rolled down my window.

"How's it going?"
"Good, you?"
"I take it there's no bike race."
Smile. "Yep, sorry, no bike race."

I laughed at myself as I turned the car around. No one in my way, of course, so easy to do. The promoters told us a few times last week that there wouldn't be a race this week. What am I, hard of hearing or something?

I guess so.


Anonymous said...

You know, they had weekly races like this in Virginia Beach when I lived there. Now that I'm here in Jacksonville they don't have anything even remotely close; that I know of. It sounds like a ton of fun.

Aki said...

I think these kind of informal races are critical for developing racing as a sport. They are not intimidating, it's friendly, and it resembles a somewhat more organized group ride than a race. The only problem is getting there in time, and unfortunately for people who work, that's probably the biggest challenge to racing mid-week races.

Anonymous said...

I feel pretty fortunate to have a series like this where I live. It's what got me into racing and I've seen a lot of new faces through the season as others get their start as well. I've learned a lot and am coming along in my racing - a big part of that is hanging out with the 1/2/3 guys after the race and hearing their recap.