Thursday, December 29, 2011

Life - Home Work, Team Meeting, Promoting

There are cycling goals and there are just goals.

We're busy working on the house, basically doing maintenance and slight updates throughout the house. Our goals include updating the exterior lights, put in new flooring upstairs, put new paint in a couple rooms, complete a still-unused room upstairs, furnish the den (which is really a master bedroom suite with its own bathroom) into something more like an extra bedroom/guestroom, stuff like that.

(I also have this fantasy goal of putting in a floor splitting up our 2+ story high garage, one ideal for a bike workshop, slot car track setup, and whatever other space-eating hobby I might have. But this is a super long term goal.)

With the power outage in the Halloweeen storm I also need to get my act together on using our transfer switch. Instead of an extension cord into the house (and directly plugging in the fridge, microwave, and a few lights, not back-feeding the house), I need to put the correct generator back on the deck, use the new twist-lock cable to feed the secondary panel in the basement, and have a fully functional backup for the house.

In that little week-long HTFU experience, we also put in a window pellet stove, replacing a wall-mounted air conditioning unit we used for all of about 2 seconds (we tried said AC unit when we first moved in, it blew out leaves and debris, and I shut it off as fast as I could). It heats the house so well that we can't leave it on overnight. Although the fire department checked it out, it's still a bit precariously installed. We need to fix it in place, make it a bit more permanent.

Bella likes warm spots.
(She also camps out in front of the humidifier, which blows warm air.)

Recently SOC came over and helped out with installing flooring in that second upstairs bedroom. The Missus and I had struggled through finishing the hallway - it was quite exhausting for the both of us. She called in reinforcements and SOC and Mrs SOC responded.

It worked out well - I'd been thinking about this whole downgrade thing, about what makes racing fun, and I got to talk about it all with SOC. I basically left him stranded in 2011 when I upgraded out of the 3s - we rarely raced together, and when we did, it was so infrequent that we didn't work well together like we did the prior year. I hope that in 2012 we return to that fluency we had when we raced together in all our races.

Mrs SOC and the Missus caught up on all the news too. They made a supply run to pick up more flooring, and with the additional supplies SOC and I were able to finish up the second bedroom.

Last corner of flooring done, thanks to an emergency run by the Missuses (sp?).

Then it was off to the team meeting.

This was Expo's first meeting since the Salvage Cross race so it became as much a wrap up meeting of 2011 as well as a kick off meeting of 2012.

Teams vary so much in structure, goals, and formality that I've been working on a post trying to summarize the basic teams I've seen, but with Expo the structure's been simplified a bit from prior years.

This doesn't mean the team structure is worse, or that the team is suffering at all. In fact, I'd argue the team is stronger than ever.

I think it helps that our illustrious leader, David H, has gathered a good group of people. I had made an observation at the 'cross race about Expo - it seemed that we had a LOT of people there helping out.

At some point I turned to SOC and vocalized a thought that had just solidified in my head.

"You know how every club has one or two people who do everything? You know, the ones that do the clothing and get the sponsors and whatever? Like if they left the club would kind of fall apart? Well, I think that Expo is made up of all those doers. We're a club of doers. Even I feel like I don't do that much compared to other members, and I've felt in other clubs that I'm the only one doing anything."

I paused, thinking this one through.

"It's not how you motivate club members; it's how you select them. And David got together a good group of people."

I thought about it a bit more. It's possible that if David disappeared that the club would fall flat on its face, but I think that the people here are such that the club would still continue on.

Knowing that Expo has about 60 members, I was curious about how many showed up to help out. And, in fact, David revealed during the meeting that there were over 40 members present and helping.

Pretty cool.

We tried on fitting kits for the 2012 Expo kits, to be made by Verge (a favorite of mine). I reluctantly ordered size L jerseys, not size M, and size M shorts (which is what I've always worn for Verge).

I want to be down to about 160 when Bethel starts, but I hate building expectations. Therefore I ordered a kit for a 170-180 lbs me.


It's been a sprint to the end of December. With holidays, family stuff, some final bike race business stuff (called taxes), and trying to stay in touch with friends, our dance card has been very full.

The Missus and I will be traveling tomorrow to meet with our friends that help make Bethel the fun race it has become; we'll be discussing the 2012 Series. We want to go over procedures, we'll work on the finish line camera rig, and we'll brainstorm to see if there's anything we need to change for the 2012 Series.

Although this is the first time we're having such a formal meeting (normally it's been some emails and such), I guess this is one of those things that help make a good race a good race. There's a lot of thought, a bit of planning, and a core of people who give the event a solid foundation.

It's up to the racers to support the race; they should support it only if they think it's good.

9 weeks to the Bethel Spring Series. Can you believe it?

Yeah, I can't either.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Racing - Revised 2012 Goals

So the last few months have let me think about racing in 2012, specifically think about how to structure the year mentally. Usually I start off with a bang after a steady diet of JRA rides on the trainer. In December I'll start on some harder trainer rides, really bumping up the volume and intensity. This leads to a long, hard training camp in SoCal where I try and do 30 hours in a week.

This sets me up for a decent Bethel Spring Series, whose races end mid-April. A break for a bit (usually another trip out West, this time to Vegas, with the Missus's company), some training, and then I ramp up again for June and July.

After that it's all gravy, I usually realize too late that I'm honing some good form, and I try and take advantage of whatever legs I have before the season ends.

In 2012 it'll be a bit different.

For various reasons I won't be making either trip, to SoCal or Vegas. This means a loss of some serious training hours in January and February. It means a loss of another short training camp in April.

It means a loss of a lot of training time.

In addition I'm heavier than I want to be right now. I was pushing upwards of 180 lbs just a few weeks ago. With some help, advice, and some motivation, I'm trimming down just a bit, but my 160 lbs goal seems pretty far away. We'll see how it goes but my best case scenario at this point is to be 160 lbs.

(To put it in perspective, in 2010 I hit Bethel at about 155-158 lbs. In 2009 I was floating around at about 185-200 lbs.)

With the lack of early season mega-miles, a bit of weight to lose (and the inability to do massive miles when dieting), I need to push back my initial goal a bit back. Okay, fine, I want to be good at Bethel, but when I'm missing a third or more hours of training, it'll be hard to be as good as I want to be.

On the other hand, the team has really evolved in the last few months. A number of members have upgraded, racers who I admit are in superior fitness relative to me. One actually rode me off his wheel when he tried to lead me out - he was that much stronger than me.

Along with this a couple of guys have joined the team, reinforcing the strength we have with some long time experience and racing savvy. One of the new members is a guy that I've wanted to race with for literally 10 years or more. For whatever reason we could never get on the same team when we were both on form (we got on the same team one year but he was away most of that year due to work).

I've changed my goals from outright racing goals (i.e. placings, wins, etc) to something a bit more abstract - have more fun.

What is fun?

Ah, now we're getting into the core of things. I race bikes because it's fun. There's something engaging about the whole process, the equipment, the training (however much I don't like structured training), riding in a group, and, of course, racing.

I can do most of the above on my own, poring over wheels and cranks and bars and stems, going out on training rides. I need others to be able to ride in a group (obviously), and it takes more to do an actual race.

Group riding is just that, riding with a group. It's pretty straightforward, and with a good group of riders, it's pretty low key, even if it's a hard ride.

Racing, that's a whole different creature.

I can race as an individual. I did for many years, with teammates in just occasional races here and there. It's kind of like playing the violin (or any musical instrument) - I can practice and play on my own.

It gets exponentially better when you play the violin as part of a group. The give and take, the coordination, the shared goal, it all makes it all that much more exciting when playing in a group.

An orchestra is kind of like doing a mass group ride. There's a lot of people, some that you don't even know, but you all coalesce and make music together. Of course you share a bit more with your immediate neighbors, playing the same notes as you (at least in the violin section you hope you're playing about the same note).

Then, at appropriate and gratifying times, you'll hear a response from the viola or cello or bass or horns or flutes or even the timpanies (drums).

It's that give and take that's so special, so satisfying.

Problem in an orchestra is that it's pretty diverse, at least in a student one. Some of the kids are musical prodigies, Cat 1s or even pros if you will. Others are there because their parents think it's good for college apps or just to get them out of the house. Those are the Cat 5 musicians.

It can get frustrating when some of the kids don't live up to even a minimal expectation. Although the really big players tend to be good (you can't be a bad timpanist and survive more than a week), it's pretty bad when the folks around you are screeching their violins or otherwise detracting from the experience.

In music there's something a bit more intimate, a bit better - the quartet.

In a quartet there's usually two violins (first and second), a viola (a deeper violin), and a cello. Usually the musicians have complimenting skill sets, but at a level about equal to the others. If a first violin requires exquisite finger and bow work, that musician could be considered the sprinter. The cello player would then be more like the time trial guy, the super domestique.

(Ironically, with regards to playing the violin, I'm more a stayer than a sprinter.)

With a cohesive and intimate group, a quartet can produce wonderful music.

Expo Wheelmen, in a sense, is becoming that quartet, just with a lot more than four riders.

See, what makes racing really fun, what makes it so effervescent, so transient, is teamwork. I can go out and rip out a sprint or two in training, or motorpace a truck or go bombing down a hill.

But I can't do a 3 rider leadout to an imaginary line, not without two other riders.

It's possible to simulate such a thing on a group ride, but the group ride is like the orchestra - you can't have a consistent level of quality. Sometimes I'm the hammer, but other times I'm the nail.

With a good team, with a certain level of consistency, with a broad array of abilities, teamwork suddenly becomes incredibly satisfying.

And it all goes away as soon as the effort ends - that's the transience.

It's hard to describe the joy I feel when a team comes together. It's motivating, it's energizing, it's incredibly pain-numbing. As part of the team I can't sit up because if I do I sit up on everyone, not just myself. I've dug harder than I ever have when working for someone else.

There's only one problem with this whole scenario, as it applies to me.

See, at the end of 2010 I upgraded to Cat 2, and there's only one other Cat 2 on the team, and although he's a great rider and all, we don't do the same races, and when we do, he's at such a higher level than me that I can't help him and he can't help me.

Heck, I struggle to hang on when he's loafing along.

I also realized (knew?) that although I earned my Cat 2 upgrade, I'm not really a full fledged Cat 2. I can't climb as well as many Cat 5s, I time trial about as bad as possible, and I can't even hang with guys when I'm sitting on their wheels.

In other words I can't do a lot of Cat 2 races because, frankly, I'm not good enough. I get shelled in Cat 3 road races; I get shelled by the 4s and the 5s that follow behind. I do well to time trial with a Cat 4, but I lose minutes in a 7 mile time trial to the Cat 2s.

My upgrade was a sniper type upgrade - I hit my target in a very narrow, very accurate way. In those races I excelled. In any other application I was out of my league.

Expo Wheelmen, on the other hand, has a whole slew of Cat 3s. We have two very savvy guys joining us from another team. We have a bunch of 4s upgrading to 3s (okay, they already have). And we didn't lose any of our 2011 Cat 3s. I think we have close to a dozen active participating Cat 3s, guys that I saw almost every week during the summer, guys that understand the concept of teamwork, guys that can race as the protected or the protector.

Guys that I want to race with. But I can't because I'm a Cat 2. On paper anyway.

My path, then, becomes very clear.

Downgrade to Cat 3.

Join the boys on the team. Race together, an exquisite balance of strengths, leveraging off of one another's strengths, motivating each other beyond our normal limits.

And have a whole lotta fun in 2012.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Racing - Kit Time, Again

It's winter time here in New England, and if you're on a cycling team, it means one thing.

Kit time.

Okay, so it means other things too, trainers, snow, booties, gloves, studded snow tires, and other unpleasantness.

For me, though, kit time is a love-hate thing. I love new kits. I hate dishing out for them.

I've never been one to get free kits, and any "free" kits I've gotten have cost more than the kit itself. For example I have a great kit from a team in Pennsylvania, a team the co-promoter of Bethel raced with for many years. We donated thousands of dollars to their national level Junior and Women's program.

The last year we gave them money, they gave me a jersey and shorts. I joked with the co-promoter that this was a "several" thousand dollar pair of shorts and jersey.

"Free" kits aren't that free.

I do get some actually free jerseys every now and then, from all sorts of sources. The Missus had one for me. A good friend has plied me with a few. I got one for promoting a race for a collegiate team (a team jersey - if you ever see me in it you'll know it for two reasons; first, I weighed about 150 lbs when I helped them, and second, I never went to Yale).

Okay, so that last one wasn't free.

But you get my drift. Kits cost money. Kits are great.

Since I try and wear my team kit whenever I go out, I buy 2-3-4-5 pairs of shorts at a time, a similar jersey count, and I usually get a wind vest, long sleeve jersey, and a jacket.

The "deluxe" purchases would include knickers and any detail stuff, shoe covers, gloves, hats, stuff like that.

For 2012 my kit will be a much simplified Expo kit, a retro kit if you will. It'll be missing a lot of the commercialism of the 2010-2011 kits. The team's goal is to have a long term kit, a kit that doesn't change constantly, a kit that one will wear until it actually starts to get a bit worn.

What this means is that my 2010-2011 kit is about to be outdated. It consists of about 6 or 7 bibs, 5 or 6 ss jerseys, 1 ss jersey, 2 vests (well 1 vest, I just gave one away), 1 jacket, 2 sets arm warmers, 2 sets leg warmers, some other stuff.

My 2012 kit so far is jacket, wind vest, arm warmers, shoe covers, hats. It covers some basics (jacket, vest) and some deluxe stuff (everything else). The team hasn't ordered any jersey/short stuff yet; that's scheduled for our just finished team meeting, and it's basically shorts and jerseys.

My order tonight? 3 jerseys, 3 pairs of shorts.

Maybe later I'll get a long sleeve jersey. Knickers would be a dream.

But that's it. I'm set for 2012, at least as far as the kit goes. The team has gone with Verge, a clothing company I really like. They help out with the Bethel Spring Series (they do the Leaders Jerseys) but more importantly they've shown up for Sweep Day even though their schedule prevented them from doing a single race.

That's grassroots support.

Since I usually wear Verge knickers, I have a bunch of them anyway, so I'll be okay for the spring races in 2012.

At some point soon, when we have our kits, I'll post pictures and stuff.

For now though I'm going to bed.

I have to admit that I've been a bit remiss in posting regularly. I have several 2/3 written posts, a bunch of ideas with framework, and a whole lot of posts waiting for the right time. To put it in perspective I have 163 posts in draft form.

I know, even I can't believe that.

I hope to get them out a bit more regularly going forward.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Promoting - Salvage Cross 2012 Pictures

(This post regarding the Salvage Cross race)

When you're just working registration, you have more time to snap pics. No changing for the race, no pumping up tires, none of that. Just hang out, register people, do paperwork, and take pictures.

It helps too that your phone takes good pictures. These are all off my DroidX.

Registration. I forgot what it's like to do registration outside.
At the Bethel Spring Series we are lucky to have Navone Studios and indoor registration.

Some notes:
1. Laptop with all important race spreadsheet.
2. Printer
3. Numbers, sorted by race.
4. Dayquil for a sick me.
5. Folders for release forms and One Day licenses.
6. Wireless Broadband MiFi modem somewhere there.
7. Heater.

Secret to staying warm - jet heater thing.
Bonus: we didn't melt anything.

Red RC truck, used to "Mars Rover" under the building where I work (I wanted to see where the cats who live there go), brought along for some reason. Equipped with a ContourHD camera and a NiteRider MiniNewt light. Ended up amusing two kids all day.

Promoter parking area. The red car is mine.
Pick up is SOC's.

Illustrious Expo team captain David H on a course marking fixing mission.

The wind picked up significantly during the day, ripping tape off the marking stakes. It also moved the tent, whipping up images of rolling 20x20 tent (with 2" wide posts), wrecking cars, bikes, and impaling specators and racers alike. Luckily the folks that set it up staked it well and although it groaned and slid and protested, it never went anywhere.

Chilly. Women and 4s did the first race at 11 AM.
Other fields raced at noon and 1 PM. Very simple schedule.

Lining up.
Yellow ribbon is to keep racers from joining the line from the side, i.e. "cutting in front of others".

Barrel O'Heat.
We played Hobo and stood around the thing. Now I understand why hobos do that.
Note singed grass around barrel.

At the end of the day someone dumped all the wood in there. It got really hot!

During the day the grass near the air intake hole caught fire.

Woman pokes her head in the registration tent.
"Um, the grass around the barrel is on fire."
I jumped up and poked my head out.
Cliff was there dumping water on the grass.
I walked back to registration and got back to work.

Expo Dog.

This is new from Verge, the dog sweater. No, I'm just kidding. It's really an XS women's jersey. No, I'm just kidding. It just happened to be a skull and crossbones dog sweater.

I finally got to drive my car into the tent.

I did this when we started packing up. It certainly beat walking back and forth 50 feet in the cold. Red RC truck - I have to download the footage off the camera.

I have to admit that I really like my car. It's full of pep, gets great mileage, and lets me play rally driver now and then.

The tent as it started to come down.
Fortunately for me they politely waited until I moved my car out.

Breaking down the tent.

Not quite the EZ-Up that Carpe Diem Racing has but still pretty quick.
It was a 20x20 tent when up and very, very sturdy.

Kurt poses with some 2012 Expo kit.

Course marking stuff, gathered and being put away.

Another view.

We borrowed a bunch of stakes from one club, a bunch from another.
Eastern Bloc had the green ones. I forget who owned the others.

They had a lot of them though.

Hay bales.

End of day club raffle.

After we were all packed away, David held an end of day, volunteers eligible raffle. He gave away some cool stuff.

Not everyone won, but, unusually, I was one of them - I scored some Verge socks, size M. My size and my favorite clothing company. Yay!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Promoting - Salvage Cross 2011

(I should point out that I'm not the promoter of Salvage Cross, I just helped with the registration bit of it. But since I only helped with the promoting part, I can't call this a "racing" or "training" post.)

I had quite the eventful week leading up to the first Expo Cross race, Salvage Cross 2011. First off, by Monday, I was getting sick, spending a lot of time at work allowing others to get things first. Tuesday I got flattened by said sickness, not remembering much except first waking up at 11 AM. Wednesday I had to make it to a pretty-much-non-changeable appointment, forcing me to drive about 4 hours, napping there before heading back.

I'd planned on updating the spreadsheet for the race Wednesday, but being sick and having to drive so much, I didn't do anything at all.

Thursday, the day registration closed, I was still delirious with fatigue, aches, but, according to the Missus, a breaking fever (I felt cold the whole day in a hoodie, sweats, and with the pellet stove cranked).

I managed to get some stuff done for the race, staying up long enough to download and updated the spreadsheet. I thanked my lucky stars that there were only four races, and I basically passed out as soon as I emailed it to Jon, the Salvage Cross promoter.

Friday, because I was asking for Saturday off, I felt I had to get to work. I loaded up on Dayquil and headed in, bundled up like it was freezing out.

Halfway through the day the Missus showed up. She was sick and going home.

Oops. My bad.

I managed to make it through the day and went to bed prepared for a not-so-early wake up call. As walking wounded (i.e. sick) and just there for registration, I didn't have to be onsite until 9 AM.

I threw some stuff in the car in preparation for the race, pens, pins, tape, binders, cash drawer, printer, some stuff that I wasn't sure if I needed but it'd be good to have. Normally the Missus would be coming with me but she was getting into the cold I still had so she stayed in bed.

I got in touch with SOC, my fellow registration person; he told me he'd be a bit late, 9:15 AM. I told him I'd get there just before - my GPS was telling me 9:05, and it's pretty accurate.

Saturday morning meant little traffic so I made good time, getting to my GPS point by 9:02.

Problem was that the cross road didn't show up on the car's nav system. I pulled over, checked the DroidX (normally acting as a dashcam), and saw I was a minute or so away from the course. I turned into the parking lot, someone flying up the road behind me.


We parked in the "promoters'" area. SOC and I greeted each other and I laughed.

"When I told you I'd be there just before you, I didn't mean 10 feet in front of you, I meant 10 minutes. You must have made good time."

Well, that and without GPS stuff he didn't have quite the same pinpoint ETA either.

We brought everything in the car to the registration table, including, I have to admit, the little red RC truck with the helmet cam and NiteRider light on it. I figured I could take a few 4" off the ground type of shots with it.

Jon had figured I'd just bring everything I needed, so he hadn't brought anything other than power and tables. I thanked my instincts in bringing everything, and in short order we had things set up and running.

A young'un and his new friend promptly borrowed the RC truck and ran it around for pretty much 2 or 3 hours. I'm curious what the cam captured as the young'un was savvy enough to turn it on and off.

It was nice to have something for them to do (he didn't have a bike), and it was nice to see kids who had both respect for the people and things around them but still managed to have fun and explore and experiment.

Reminded me of myself when I was a kid.

Of course I spent most of the time doing registration, and I started remembering a lot of things that I'd forgotten I forgot.

I forgot how much laser printers steam in cold weather, and in the 30-odd degree weather the printer steamed a lot.

I also forgot what it's like to type when my fingers were numb with cold. It's been only two years with Navone Studios (now also a bakery), and it's been a few years since I had to really man registration at Bethel. How easy it is to forget pain.

I also haven't done the minute-to-minute registration stuff in a while, so I was relearning that too. It's something I think about when people compliment the Bethel Spring Series. I appreciate it, yes, and I am very proud of the Series, yes, but I think that we have a slightly unfair advantage - we get to practice 6 times a year. Most promoters only get one or two days of practice a year, and by the time they've figured things out, it's been a year and they forgot what they figured out.

By holding 6 (and 7 for many years) races a year, we get to practice the registration/day-of-race bit a bit more than others, and we have motivation to streamline our process. Our goal is to have paperwork essentially done by the time the last race starts (except for the last race's placings).

I have to say that we basically succeeded. By the time the Open Men's race started, we were starting to gather all the packets for the officials (fee schedule, start lists, results, one days, release forms, whatever).

At about this time I started finding detail type errors in my Thursday night edited-while-groggy-on-Dayquil-or-Nyquil spreadsheet, little things. One Day license totals didn't match (spreadsheet cell error). USAC results didn't populate properly (ditto). The places didn't auto-populate properly (ditto).

SOC and I started fumbling a bit until a knight in shining armor showed up.

The Missus.

Okay, she was in a black jacket, coughing a bit, but she saved the day. Having run registration for a few years (that's why I was so rusty with it), she knew immediately what we needed to get done. Zip, zap, and bang we were all set, literally within a few minutes of her arrival.

So cool.

I told SOC that most officials hate the bit after the race, where they count One Day forms, figure out how many racers raced, this fee, that fee, exclusions, exceptions, results, start lists, all that. It could take an hour or two just for the paperwork; I know because it used to be like that at Bethel.

Now, with the spreadsheets originally created by Gene P (and slowly honed by me), we were done before the official even walked over to the tent.

I took extreme liberties in the breakdown part of the day, only packing away the registration stuff (and literally driving my car into the heated tent to save walking out in the cold).

Then I took pictures.

I skipped the cross-required beer, partook in the post-race-volunteer-raffle (won some socks!), and set off with the Missus for some well deserved rest.

I have to admit that cross doesn't really do it for me. I admired Jon's bike, with its low pressure bouncy tires, and I think it'd be fun to carve a few corners, but the actual races looked like death marches, like a hill climb laid flat.

But working registration, that was fine. I contributed in the area of my expertise, I could help carry some of the stress that Jon had to carry as a promoter, and I had the equipment to do it.

Next year I hope that we can hold it again, maybe a bit earlier (the original date was Oct 30th, but we got stormed out).

Whenever we do it though, I want to help out again.

Hopefully I won't be sick.

(I have to offload pictures off the cam and the DroidX so I'll post those later.)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Story - Kind Soul

One of my first "big" races was the Worchester Polytech Institute crit (pronounced "wooster" or, more simply, "WPI"). Like many collegiate crits, it featured a wall of a climb up to the finish.

I was in my lightweight phase, running stupid light stuff, pushing limits even for a barely 112 pound racer (my weight at the end of my UCONN days). For that day I selected my piece de resistance, a delectable 28 hole 17 mm "aero" rim (in the days when a 20mm or so high rim was aero), shod with an equally tiny 17 mm Panaracer tubular.

Those tubulars deserve a post in themselves. They resembled a slightly oversize ball point pen when inflated, rode like one, and, because of its nylon casing, seemed completely bullet proof.

Because the tire's miniscule dimensions scared me, I always inflated them to 140 psi, the most I could get out of my pump, and only with someone else's assistance.

(Because, would you believe this, at about 120 psi I couldn't push down on the pump anymore - instead I was lifting myself off the ground!)

With some just as crazy rear wheel (I'm guessing I'd have run my trusty Ambrosio Crono tubular with a matching Panaracer 19 or 20 mm 200g kevlar belted tubular, my favorite set up for a while), I lined up a bit late, in the last row of something like 125 racers.

Cocky beyond belief, I joked and smirked and hid my anxiety until the race started. I looked at my many watches on my wrists (I wore 2 for a while, 5 towards the end of my collegiate career) and, once the whistle blew starting the race, counted thirteen seconds before the riders around me started to move.

With little reason to scramble into the pedals (toe clips and straps, my trusty Gipiemme half axle pedals), I leisurely clocked the time, clipped in, and started rolling away from the line.

Immediately I changed gears mentally. I knew that on a tight, twisting course, with a monster wall, there'd be massive splits in the group. This meant working as hard as I could to get towards the front of the group, about to where I could literally see the front racers. For me that meant getting into about the top 30, maybe top 25.

With a hundred and twenty odd riders ahead of me, I had a lot of passing to do.

I gritted my teeth, pedaled deep into the turns, jumped just as hard out of them, spun up my uber-light tubulars, thanked heaven to Betsy that I had the 17 mm 140 gram front tire, that I had an equally effective 200 gram rear tire, both shod on stupid light rims. The bike responded beautifully - I'd make it to the front or break my wheels trying.

The hill presented the biggest challenge and, ultimately, the biggest advantage. Halfway up the hill the road had a huge pothole, about three feet wide, maybe a foot deep, and about two or three feet long. On a descent the hole would flip a rider right over his bars. On this climb it presented what amounted to be a "no-ride" zone.

There was a nicely placed pedestrian bridge just over it, giving the lucky two dozen up there a great view of the carnage below.

Racers scrambled up the sides of the pothole each lap, wiggling and balancing to try and keep from falling in.

As they flowed around it, the hole created a natural breakwater, a natural flow of racers around said hole. It started maybe forty feet before the hole, as riders tried to move up until the last second, then ended in the twenty or so feet after, when they riders at the edge thankfully moved back into some sort of spacing and order.

That first lap I scrambled with the best of them, balancing precariously at the edge of the hole, my tires literally an inch from dropping into a guaranteed crash.

The next lap, a bit more tired, I left it late, and ended up faced with a decision: brake hard and try and move over, or try and get some speed up and see if I could ride through the round trench in front of me.

You can guess my choice.

I punched it, tugged hard on the bars, and sailed the front wheel over the hole.

The rear didn't fair as well and it definitely had some terra firma contact as bike and rider passed over the hole.

I accelerated angrily away from the pothole, angry at myself for subjecting the bike to abuse and angry for putting myself in a poor tactical position.

The furious pedal strokes also tested the rear tire's integrity - a pinch flat, however unlikely, would show itself as a softening tire, one easily discerned by an angrily stomping pedal stroke. There were other tests too, but for the first four or five pedal strokes that's what I focused on.

As the racers around me adjusted their trajectory, an unexpected person filling in the reunification of the two peloton halves, I realized that my rear tire was fine.

No lumps indicating a bent rim. No squishiness from a partially deflated tire. No wiggliness from a broken spoke.

I'd just learned my new line up the hill.

Relieved a bit, and, I have to admit, tiring rapidly, I took it easier in the multitude of corners through the course, saving up my energy for another run at the pothole.

The next lap I launched myself at the pothole like there was no tomorrow.

Again, my front wheel cleared, my rear wheel caught.

Again nothing happened.

Again I moved up, a lot, maybe ten, maybe 15 spots.

For a few laps I kept this up, forcing the issue, passing more and more tired racers, defeat on their faces, blasting my bike through this trench of a pothole.

Provoked, motivated, I sensed the end of the opening battle, the time to ease a bit, gather my thoughts, and figure out what to do next.

Somewhere in there, in the frantic movement to the front, accelerating out of yet another hard turn, the UCONN cycling team coach (a Cat 3 but a very savvy one - I hear he's a 2 out in SoCal now), went by the wrong way, backwards, fading hard after staying at the front for a while.

He yelled at me.

"Stay up there! Don't get dropped!"

I looked at him sideways. Don't get dropped? I can see the front, there were maybe 25 guys in front of me, a good hundred behind.

Don't get dropped?

I looked down, looking for the wheel behind me.


I looked back.

Open road.

Okay, my coach was back there, so were a few other riders, but all had the same look on their faces.

This was it. I'd made the front selection.

In one of the first Winning Magazines ever, there's a beautiful picture of a field blown apart by severe crosswinds, the picture taken from one of the first following vehicles. You can see the progression of the groups to the front, smaller and smaller, and, imaginably, faster and faster.

The caption read something unfriendly, like "A peloton of losers that will never see the front."

I hated reading that because it stung. It stung because, for those guys, those pros, it was true. The race was over for them and nothing short of time travel would make it better. It stung because it often applied to me.

Not today.

Today I was in the peloton at the front.

I wasn't a loser.

The group attacked itself over and over again, always on the hill, usually towards the top. The best time to attack is at the top of the hill, when everyone mentally eased up, when everyone's legs are fried from sprinting up the stupid hill.

I cursed under my breath each time but found somewhere the energy to keep going.

Our group shrank. 25 became 20. 20 became 15. And 15 became 13.

I started thinking of the win.

I knew I could sprint okay - I'd just learned that in the last few races, where I'd won two (the prior fall) and got second a couple times.

I knew the course now, even though I saw it mainly from an eye-at-stem-level viewpoint.

And I knew I could get up that hill pretty quickly.

The bell rang for a prime. Here was a chance to test my tactics for the finish. I didn't want to be quite first through the turn but I wanted to close to the front.

I don't remember the lap but I jumped out of the last turn about third, sprinting against just one guy, the other guy, the leadout one, dropping away quickly.

Now, I should point out that cash prizes had just been outlawed at collegiate races. The powers that be decided that money on the line was uncollegiate-like (think of football and such) and therefore illegal. Primes were a different matter - cash, money, dollars, it was all okay.

So when they rang the bell for a prime, at least that collegiate season, the racers perked up.

Sprinting up the hill I'd taken the front, knew I had the front, but had started going deep into the red.

Another guy sprinted next to me, thrashing, looking not so great, but gaining on me.

I looked at him. Looked down.

If I didn't finish off the sprint, I'd lose whatever money, ten bucks or something, a pizza and then some. If I did finish off the sprint, I'd be really vulnerable to a counterattack for a good lap or so.

I looked over.

I punched the pedals again.

Won the sprint.

A guy who had introduced himself to me at the line rolled up next to me. In fact I believe he led us out.

"You win the prime?" he asked, eyes wide with excitement.
"Yeah," I muttered, blown to pieces and hoping for a reprieve.
"That's so cool!"

And then bam, he took off.

I looked up like "Wtf is he doing?"

I still remember the sight. Him red faced with effort, looking like he was about to explode, but then launching up the right side, his skinny legs putting down an unbelievable amount of power, like he hadn't turned a pedal all day.

The others raced after him.

The prime loser and me looked at each other, both giving up, both having burnt all our matches for the now-stupid prime.

We joined the peloton of losers. I'm pretty sure he dropped me, but I caught someone that had a flat or crashed or both.

I don't remember much of the race after that, just time trialing on my own, descending well, trying to sprint up the climb, and getting lapped by the solo leader.

I ended up 12th or 13th.

The guy who won was the guy that was so psyched for my prime win. He didn't attack me on purpose; he attacked because he was so psyched for me he had to release that energy somehow.

He had just become a Cat 3, like me, and shortly thereafter a Cat 2, not like me.

He was a Kind Soul, a solid, solid Cat 2, old school, always worked hard, tried to go for the big wins, never let the success go to his head.

At races he always greeted me with his wry grin, cheerful, asking how I was, how my season was going, stuff like that. He never seemed dour, never upset, always happy to be there.

Yet, on the bike, he could destroy fields with his legs.

I remembered one of the last July 4th Middletown Crits, the one down Main Street, the epitome of what a crit should be - major holiday, big wide main street closed down, and a field of good racers hacking away at each other.

At some point he launched a bit move. The others looked at him, hoping he'd blow himself up. But he trundled on, power from his tall lanky legs, bike pounding relentlessly on the rough tarmac.

Lap after lap, under a hot sun, he stretched out his lead, this in the days before EPO, before HGH, before the internet. Honest racing, strong racing, where talent and training determined your place.

And he thundered on. You could hear the tires thrumming on the pavement as he screamed by us. I remember thinking, "How can he put out so much power, lap after lap? I could do that for maybe half a lap, then I'd be done."

He soloed in for a grand win, the best way to win, a spectacular ride on a spectacular day out of a spectacular field.

His races weren't always so nice.

On a different day, an industrial park race, one no longer held, he was away with one other guy. They worked hard together but the other guy, he had the favor of the announcer. He had been a hotshot Junior, he'd been at all the camps, he had what it took in the area. Kind Soul, as good as he was, raced for a rival team, a rival sponsor, and, well, frankly, he had a poor sprint.

It didn't look good for Kind Soul, but we were all rooting for him, me and all of my friends. We respected the other guy, sure, but we desperately wanted Kind Soul to win.

The last lap came; one of the two would win. The other guy was always a bit iffy but always really, really strong, one of the strongest in the area, and we waited for the fireworks.

The two rounded the first bend, disappearing from view. We all turned to look down to the other end of the straight, even though it'd take them a good minute to appear.

We all waited, me and my friends rooting for the Kind Soul.

"He has to attack out of a turn."
"No, the other guy can jump harder."
"Maybe he can double jump him, a fake then a real one."
"I dunno, maybe after a long break he's strong enough to sprint."

We talked a race worth of "what ifs" and then we saw a rider appear.

It was the other guy. He rolled into view, not really pedaling hard, rolled up to the line, winner, arms in the air, kind of casual about it.

We all looked in puzzlement.

Then our friend Kind Soul rolled around, obviously scraped up from a crash, poorly hidden tears streaking his face.

The winner was laughing, said that the other guy just fell over.

There were some angry words spoken but nothing came of it. The race results stood.

I asked Kind Soul much, much later, years later, what happened.

He told me that on the backstretch the winner guy jerked his bike sideways, slamming the winner guy's rear wheel basically through Kind Soul's front wheel.

Kind Soul hit the deck hard.

Winner guy looked back and made some comment about learning to ride the bike (or some such nonsense), then scampered off happily to take his win.

Kind Soul managed to remount his bike and take second; the two had that much of a lead over the field.

I asked him why he didn't protest. Apparently he did, but the officials and announcer were sort of like teammates and coach of the winner guy, and there were no witnesses that weren't in their camp.

Therefore there was no incident, there was no contact.

The winner guy is now a respected coach in the area. He still races. He's way stronger than me but I always keep an eye out on him when he's in the same field as me. You never know when a person reverts to their old self.

As for Kind Soul, he moved back to the Midwest, where he apparently lived before his time on the East Coast. I found him when he found my blog. He blogs too, infrequently, but mainly about his son and his son's racing. I'm glad to say that they seem to be doing fine.

(I won't link to his blog unless he okays it; I still have to ask him.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Life - Sick

I'm sick.

I even got the flu shot (at least a month ago I think).

The thing about being sick is that I never remembered feeling this bad.

I mean, I remember remembering that I didn't remember feeling this bad, but I didn't remember the actual feeling that I remembered not remembering.

Does that make sense?

Suffice it to say that I'm in la-la land and totally unproductive.

Which, I suppose, is why they call it a sick day.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Racing - 2012 Goals

(Lifted pretty much verbatim from a lengthy post on

My 2011 season was a wash.

My main problem was not having a goal early on (intentionally), which meant no real training over the winter, which meant a very low fitness level going into March. It was so low that my normal "use races for training" didn't work because I couldn't hang in the races long enough to get good training. As a 3 I was doing the 3-4 race (1+ hour) at Bethel, then the P123 race (1.5+ hours). As a 2 I couldn't finish the P123 by itself.

The Missus even commented on my lack of fitness relating to lack of goals relating to lack of training. One of my friends calls his wife "The Coach"; I used to laugh inside at this, but now it's sort of turned that way for me. Since my training most affects the Missus (through time spent away from her), if she says I ought to train more then I ought to train more.

I suppose that if I was single I'd be training/racing more; I'm not so I don't. It's not a bad thing, it's just the way things work. I'm not single because there is significant time I'd rather be with the person with whom I'm not single (the Missus) rather than on my own. That the Missus enjoys the racing scene helps; that she understands my need to race helps too; and that she understands my disappointment when I don't race up to my expectations, well, that really helps.

For 2012 I have a very simple short term goal: to arrive in March in race trim.

It's all or nothing. I don't want to aim at June or July or some abstract warm sunny time in the far future. I want to focus on the grey, dingy, flahuten March in Connecticut weather. I want to be flying by then, lean, relatively fit, and hungry to race.

Once that happens, all bets are off; the rest of the season hinges on what happens in March. In 2011 I had a poor March, which meant I had a poor April. That led to a poor May, albeit with a few flashes of form. With no solid base the flashes flashed, my body went back to its unconditioned self, and I had a poor June. And July. And August.

I don't want to do that again.

I want to start with a good base and let things go from there; if things go well I can always find a goal for May or June or July or whatever, it's getting to March in race trim that counts. "Race trim" means losing weight, maintaining my bike equipment, and doing some training.

Curiously enough, once I had this goal (it only really solidified a few nights ago while on the trainer), the things I had to do to accomplish said goal suddenly sharpened in focus. It became very clear what I should work on and what I can let go. It comes down to a few things.


In 2010 I was 155 lbs at the first race at Bethel; right now I'm working to stay under 180. I gain weight quickly. I used to lose it quickly too, but that went away when I got "older". In my early-mid 30s I lost without dieting 20+ lbs in one very active February. Now weight I gain sticks around. I need to focus on diet for the next 2-3 months. Once I start losing weight it becomes very exciting for me - it's easier and easier for me to watch what I eat because I can see the results of my prior efforts.


I neglected my equipment in 2011. I'm not talking just handlebar tape or cable ends; I'm talking replacing two SRM wiring harnesses, a set of SRM batteries, two sets of BB30 bearings, shortening the stays on the orange Tsunami, gluing up new race tires, sorting my gear bag (kit, accessories). All this needs to be done by March 2012. Other than new kit I have no necessary purchases - I have all my race wheels, training wheels, race and training tires, chains, cassettes, etc. I even have spare derailleurs for groups I don't use (SRAM).

Pet Project

(This is kind of like extra credit - not really required, but ends up a huge time suck.)

Each year I have a pet project. For two years it's been whatever new bike equipment (2010 = Tsunami/HEDS, 2011=TsunamiTwo). 2012's pet project will be adapting a Cycleops trainer stand (I have 3 stands, 2 resistance units) into a Rock N Roll type pivoting unit. A friend who welds will help me with this. I want to use that to turn my trainer stuff up one notch. I haven't ever been able to do all out sprints on the trainer; I hope this allows me to do something like that.

My first step will be to create some patterns for the steel plate. The second step will involve giving my friend Mark a big steel plate and the patterns. He'll cut, weld, and return a franken-trainer. This ought to be good.

A secondary project will be experimenting with FSA Compact bars. I'll use them to build up the Orange bike when I get it back. If that works then I have a lot of options as far as bars go. Right now I have a very precious stash of crit-bend bars but I'm starting to run low.

The third one will be the stay-shortening on the orange Tsunami, but to me that's more like a build project, not anything unusual.


The Missus has been reminding me to train. This is a good thing as a lot of time I feel guilty training, not because of anything she says but because of how I feel about what I should be doing. The big change for 2012 will be no California trip in late January. This means no 10-12 completely dedicated, pro-style training camp days. I normally did 3 hour rides consistently, with some 6 hour rides thrown in there (and some corresponding 0-1 hour rest days). I'll try and replicate something like that here, depending on how things go. I hope to turn four travel days (2 actual traveling; 2 packing/unpacking) into training days - that's the only way I can turn this into a "better" training camp.

Depending on the weather I will train outside a bit more. It burns more fuel, gives me a more natural pedaling action (i.e. I can stand), and on the mountain bike it's both slow (warm) and never ending (I have to pedal everywhere as it doesn't coast well). I relearned all this when I went for a mtb on the road in Maine.

Other Stuff

There's a promoting aspect to my season too. I hope to bring off another successful Bethel Spring Series, more of which I'll post about later; suffice it to say that it's my only "must accomplish" goal of the year. I'd like to do a bit more on this side of cycling, but for now that's just dreams and wishes. I put it this way in a forum thread somewhere - I don't want to announce things when I'm planting seeds; I'd rather wait until I'm harvesting.

We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Training - In Maine, In Snow, On a MTB

A few things I relearned Friday:
1. "1/2 inch down and 1 inch over" doesn't necessarily mean it's just a few miles.
2. Android GPS Google Maps doesn't have scale. In other words, it's impossible to tell what "1/2 inch down" means.
3. If the town where you started riding suddenly disappeared from the map, it's a hint that the scale has just gotten to "you should zoom in now".
4. If it takes over 1.5 hours to ride the 1 inch to the left, the 1 inch up and 1/2 inch over will take another 2.5 hours or so. If you have 1.5 hours of daylight left this is a problem.
5. The mountain bike is a bit slower than the road bike.
6. When I realize I've hit the wall and call the Missus, and she's trying to call you at the same time because she realized I've hit the wall...

A corollary:
I have a great Missus. She eliminated the "2 hours of daylight I didn't have" quandary by driving out and picking me up.

All these significant statements requires some explanation.

First off, yes, like the title says, we were in Maine. We were visiting the Missus's Mom and Bob, up at their palatial digs in rugged LL Bean part of Maine. We're not talking the quaint "let's go shopping at the mall" Maine, or the "Let's camp out for Black Friday" Maine.

We're talking the rough and tumble, shoo the chickens out of the way when you walk out the door, the "Can you move the .410 slugs so I can put down the coffee?", the "Are the guns away?" kind of Maine.


That kind of Maine.

It all started on Wednesday when we set out for the drive. It's not bad if you're just going to Portland, but to get to, um, "that" part of Maine, at least the wimpy bit of the rough Maine (I'm too wimpy for the really rough bits of Maine, where breakfast is what you shot that morning), well, Portland is just past halfway there.

Of course another tough storm threatened the area, the Maine area in particular. Down here it was supposed to rain three inches. Up there?

It was bad enough that even the tough Mainers closed down a lot of stuff. We joked that they'd think it was just a dusting, but when Mainers close down schools, for the whole day, by 7 AM, you know it's serious.

And how did we know they were closing schools by 7 AM?

Because, believe it or not, we hit Portland at about that time. That means we left at, right, about 3:30 AM.

Laden with supplies (okay, maybe not, but we felt like we should bring flour and other things that the supply wagons brought to the wild west outposts), we had set off at oh-dark-o'clock.

With the Red Car II shod with brand new aged (I'll explain at some point; suffice it to say that car tires are marked with their manufacture date) snow tires, we made great time in the heavy rain that accompanied us from home. I only felt the tires do a little "wha?" twice, and that was in a row, two stripes of water running across the highway, while doing the "speed limit plus ten" speed.

In Portland we optimistically called the Maine Outpost to report that we'd just gotten past the halfway point, that we'd be seeing them, based on the scarily accurate GPS, about 9:42 AM.

(We fudged - we'd make a couple pee stops so we said it would be more like 10-10:15 AM).

Then reality struck.

Or rather, the rain changed into sleet.

"I don't think that's rain anymore."
"What? No, that's rain."
"Look. It's splattering when it hits the windshield."
"Oh. Look. It's starting to stick."

In about 4 minutes we called the Outpost back.

"We're gonna be a bit late. It's all snow now. No, really. The trees are white! I know, I can't believe it either. I think we should be there at noon maybe."

(GPS was already wondering who the wimp was behind the wheel - it was me - and our ETA quickly flew forward into the 11 o'clock ETA range.)


We passed a lot of spun out cars, a couple spun out trucks, and plodded our way north.

After almost 12 hours, sometime after 2 PM, we arrived, tired and a bit stunned, at the Outpost.

"You're the first ones here. The others should be here at 9 or 10 tonight."

I promptly took a nap.

I woke up to the sound of talking, headed down for some family time, and at some point called it a night.

The next day dawned bright and clear, the storm a memory past. I checked out the situation with the cars a bit closer.

Snow tires, outside side out, performed wonderfully.

The newly mounted snow tires (Pirelli Sottozero 240s, 225/45-17), after just 6 or so miles of test driving around town on Tuesday, made the half day trip north easily the following day.

You get an idea of the amount of snow we encountered, about 6 hours of steady storm.
On a related note I wonder how the Maine police deal with bank robbers in the winter. No visible plates.

I gathered myself inside and got some coffee from the Missus. My eyes caught something holiday-red sitting on the shelf. When I inquired, I got the answer.

".410 slugs. Less recoil than the 30-06."

Sigh. Such beautiful holiday decorations.

A more business-like item, the aforementioned 30-06. I think there were two in the house.

I headed out of the house to play with some of the kids, guinea hens scrambling out of the way.

Guinea hens.
They look like chickens Darth Vader would raise.

The guinea hens had been roosting outside, refusing the heated shelter on offer just a few yards away. Maybe the more normal looking chickens made them self conscious, I don't know, but for whatever reason the grey hens were outside the whole time.

The standard morning routine for some of the guys (equipped with snow gear) was to gather hunting sticks (aka rifles) and head out.

"I'll be back."

They're return a few hours later, empty-handed. I think hunting is more like fishing, it's really a time to hang out, talk, and trudge around in the woods for a while. It's kind of like going for a long training ride with a couple friends - there's some unspoken communication, a bonding if you will, without much official or measurable transactions.

Trudging back.

Ultimately, through all of this tough living, I went for a ride. I brought my mountain bike, thinking it'd be the appropriate one. I figured that at worst I could venture down some half frozen logging trail, follow some deer, something like that.

Best would be a road ride.

I should point out that although I like this bike, I haven't maintained it much. It still has a broken spoke in the rear wheel (I got it like that, maybe 8 or 10 years ago?). It still has just one usable chainring, the big one; the other two are too bent. The brakes are pretty worn. The front shock is useless, fully compressing almost immediately. The tires have steel beads so they weigh about 1.5 pounds each.

But the bike has its strengths too. It has a set of widely spaced gears (usually too much of a jump at one time, but I could live with that) so I can ride around with just that one chainring. It has my absolute favorite seat for a mountain bike, the old Concorde-like nose WTB saddle. I put full fenders on at some point which are great for inclement conditions.

I hadn't ridden it in so long that before I put the bike in the car I pumped up the tires, just in case they were bad. The Missus had to remind me to toss some pedals on the thing - I'd stolen them off the mtb to equip some other thing, and now they had to go back (Look Keo Classics - road pedals).

At the time I also tossed in my totally full gear bag, with everything and everything in it. I wanted to be prepared.

Luckily for me, the weather turned around and cleared up nicely for Friday, the day after the big feast. 40-something degrees, sunny, and not that windy.

Fully fueled from a huge dinner ("I've never seen you eat that much"), a few glances at a map online (in the house we had just one computer that was internet browsable, with a couple very slow-connection smartphones), and I set out for what I hoped would be a 2 hour ride. I wanted to get a bit fatigued, get that "hey I feel good" feeling, then ride that out until I faded. Such a ride would usually take me 1.5-2 hours for the first part, transition to the second part, then do another 1.5-2 hours before I faded.

The last time I did a ride outside I rode with a teammate, a good two hour ride. I got to the point where my legs just started to come around when we finished up; this time I wanted to push through that barrier.

With just a two or so hour ride ahead I decided to skip any food or water. My last ride I skipped both and it had lasted two hours. After much more food, a lot more rest, I figured that I'd be safe without food/water for a two hour ride.

I set off, ominously almost falling in the deep snow in the driveway, but okay once I got on the drying pavement.

Kind of dry pavement. It got better.

The first few slush ridged made me thankful for my full fenders, a mod I made a few years ago when I rode a few times outside in inclement weather. The tires gave that reassuring SUV feel, letting me daydream until I ran off the road a few times.

I headed southeast on 170, aiming to make a left on a Molly-something road, then a right at a T, then a right onto 169, then a right back onto 170.

Route 170. Slushy snow and an occasional logging truck going 60 mph.

After a bit I came to basically a T intersection, Routes 170 and 6. Glancing at my smartphone (GPS working fine but no signal for phone use), I saw that my short jaunt had taken me about 1/2" down the map on the phone screen. If I went right on Route 6 I'd have about an inch to get to Route 2. Another inch took me north on 2 until 170, and less than half inch brought me home.

In my somewhat befuddled state, I forgot that the stretch on 170 from 2 to home was almost 9 miles.

Which meant that the bit on 6 would be close to 20.

Totally oblivious to this, I took the right on 6 and headed west.

I noticed the wind right away. I thought about a post on BikeForums, someone asking what to do when faced with a headwind.

"Tough it out," I thought back then.

I did what I thought I should. I toughed it out.

Wind means windmills. Or rather windmills mean wind.
Note the nice condition shoulder.

I did have a glimmer of hope - if the wind didn't change, the slightly left headwind would turn into a tailwind on Route 2. That meant some nice riding for the inch up Route 2.

It took me about a minute longer to grasp the other course difference. Unlike the flat-rolling 170, Route 6 did a lot of up and down. I learned after the ride that the locals call it the Airplane Road because you feel like you're in an airplane constantly climbing or descending.

For a guy on a mountain bike, this was the Purgatory. The road tested me. I slogged over the hills, trying not to gear down too much. I found my second set of legs and started pushing hard (for me). I knew that I had to get to Route 2, then to Route 170, all before about 3:30 PM. I'd left past 11:30 AM, so I had only 4 hours total, and... well, I realized that I was going to be out for a bit more than 2 hours.

The sun looked threateningly low in the horizon, and Route 6 just would not end. This hill, that curve, another descent, and yet another climb, and still no signs of an impending intersection with Route 2.

At some point something twanged and pinged on the rear wheel. I looked down and the 31 spoke wheel, already a bit wobbly, looked positively pear shaped. I could hear some clinking and plunking but since nothing seemed to be failing more, I kept going.

Eventually those noises went away.

(And to be totally honest I never checked what happened. Whatever happened is still like that.)

I started thinking about when I'd have to call the Missus. I realized at about this time (when I had a lot of alone time to think about things) that I had about 9 miles to go on just 170 alone, and I also realized that when we drove up Route 2 to 170 that it took us an hour or so.

This meant that the inch on Route 2 was probably 20 miles, which made the inch on Route 6 another 20 miles.

20 miles which for me on a mountain bike would be about 1:30 by itself. Another 1:30 for Route 2, and 45 minutes of panic-stricken riding would get me to home base.

With the sun so low, I mentally moved my panic-stricken riding ahead of schedule. I'd race for the 2/170 intersection and hopefully meet help there.

I turned onto Route 2. The wind shifted as I hoped, pushing me along. I tickled my top gear, the much flatter terrain really helping.

Then, riding along next to some railroad tracks, my legs suddenly switched off. I struggled just to turn over the pedals.

I was cooked and I knew it. I think you could have heard my legs explode about 20 miles away, it was that bad.

I pulled over. I'd have to ask the Missus to not only drive all the way down 170 but also south on 2. I was a long way away from 2, probably a half inch, so about 18 miles of driving, half hour or so.

When I unlocked my phone I saw that I had absolutely no signal.

In situations like this you can't complain, you can't argue, you can't do anything but harden up and keep going.

I wasn't going to go stupid though, I got going while I thought about things. I'd push forward on this flatter section until I could see more of the surrounding hills. If a cellphone tower sat on such a hill, I could get a signal.

No dice.

My next thought was to get to the top of a small rise. Cell towers work on line of sight so a hilltop would be the best bet for a good signal.

I crawled to the top of the next climb, stopped, and checked the phone.

2 bars.

I rang the Outpost.

On the first ring the Missus picked up.

"You're alive."
"Yeah. Um, can you pick me up?"

I told her where I was, and we both figured it'd be about 17 miles to get to me.

I didn't realize but the Missus could drive about 50-60 mph the whole way, as the speed limits were that high, even on secondary roads.

I set out again, the thought of help sapping any remaining strength from my legs.

I rolled up the biggest hill on Route 2, passing a house surrounded by kids standing around drinking beer.

I looked over at them.

They looked at me.

I'm sure we both thought the same thing.

"Thanksgiving, and you're doing that?"

I didn't make it much further until, to my surprise, I saw the Red Car flying towards me, the front end wiggling as the Missus threw out the anchors.

(Okay, that wasn't accurate, but she did slow might fast, and my mind did see the front end shuddering as if under massive braking. Plus a hatch driving in snowy conditions screams "Rally!" to me and rally cars wiggle under braking.)

I tossed the bike in the back, jumped in the car, and the Missus expertly K-turned and started hauling north on 2.

"I tried to call you about 10 minutes before you called the house. I figured you'd be running out of gas."
"Oh. I tried to call you 10 minutes before but I didn't have a signal."

I thought about that for a moment.

"Waitaminute. You called me when I was trying to call you because you thought that that's when I'd be blown?"
"Yeah," she grinned. "I'm good aren't I?"


We flew home, the Red Car acting just like a rally car on the potholed and dirt covered roads. Okay, the Missus acting like a rally driver, driving along the backroads to the Outpost at top speed.

Once at home I had to share my adventures with the group (12 of us there at the Outpost). The locals (Mom and Bob) filled me in on the details. I'd ridden just under 50 miles on the mountain bike, some hilly stuff, some flatter stuff.

My "one inch" on Route 6 was about 20 miles. The bit down 170 to 6 was almost 13. I rode 11 miles up 2 before I faded hard, and another 4 before the Missus got me. It was 16 miles back to the Outpost.

I staggered around a bit once at the Outpost. The Missus whipped up a plate of awesome, which I downed in about 5 minutes; an hour later I joined everyone for dinner.

And in the middle of the night I got up, starving, and ate cookies, bread, muffins, and drank Coke, juice, and water.

Incredibly, the next day, the day we headed back, I felt fine. No sore legs, a bit fatigued, but otherwise totally recovered.

The Missus asked me how I felt.

"Tired. But if this was California, I'd be doing it again today."

We both grinned.

For us, though, it was time to get home. We did the return trip a bit quicker, stopping to visit the Maine brother and his family. Finally we arrived, well into the night, but with enough time to spot some of the mischief our cats had accomplished during our absence.

I heard the Missus in the kitchen.

"Someone left little tooth marks in the sweet potatoes."

Riley's curiosity teeth marks. She loves sweet orange things.

At least we won't have to poke holes in them.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Training - It's Off Season Alright!

I read a very nice post the other day in Bike Forums. There's a thread on training and such, another one on miscellaneous stuff ("My Twitter Feed"), and a couple more that kind of blend in together in my head. At any rate, after some atrociously pitiful riding on the trainer, I posted something to the effect of "I could finally use something harder than the small ring 23T."

Another member replied "You must have some serious tension on that thing."

Unfortunately, I don't. And that's where this post is heading.

I've been struggling with even the lowest level of training, trying to get the legs to turn over. It feels like I'm "anti-doping" - I have close to zero energy, zero motivation. I explained earlier that I tried to set some lower expectations in 2011, and that this lack of goals led to a lack of motivation, leading to a complete lack of results.

With the help and encouragement of the Missus, I'm trying to get back on track. I've laid off a bit on the bike, fine, but I'm starting to ride it again. I even rode outside recently (it was a nice day), but my planned two hour ride lasted only a bit more than half that, my body exhausted.

It's not like I've been eating just Twinkies and Coke; I've been eating somewhat normally, some food good for me, a little bit that's not that good for me.

I admit I don't sleep enough, probably, but I'm not sleeping any less than I did a few years ago.

My training, though, feels uninspired. I'm not sure what it is, what's changed.

Sometimes I wonder, am I burnt out?

I don't think so. I love riding fast, I love diving into corners, I love the acceleration when I jump.

I think that I'm suffering from "good form withdrawal".

2010 was an absolute banner year. I had some disappointments for sure - I rarely finished a Tuesday Rent race, I had some abysmal Sunday races (especially towards the end, like Fall River), but overall I had a season to die for, at least to me. I rode well in races I normally don't finish, did well in a race with a big to me hill (New London), and did enormous amounts of work in races where I worked for teammates or, in one case, to stay out of danger.

I think I fell into a false sense of security. If nothing changed, I'd be like that for 2011, even with no goals and such. Trouble was that this, of course, isn't the case. Form comes with work, and great form is not only a function of great work, it's also a time-limited commodity - no one can maintain a peak indefinitely.

I spiraled downward in 2011, a few ill-timed illnesses really zapping me in the off season (I was fortunate in the prior 2009-2010 off season). The lower fitness meant I couldn't complete races in the spring, losing me even more training time. This led to a lot of DNFs in the late spring, making me lose even more potential fitness training.

It finished with a weak summer, DNFs all over, and even when I could finish, I had no "moments", no bits in races where I could make huge efforts and recover like it was nothing.

I never earned any form.

When I climbed back on the bike in October I wasn't thinking of doing much. Trainer rides to me consist of spinning the small ring to get started, churning the big ring once I feel warm. I so rarely use my lowest gears that I usually have to stop and adjust my derailleur when I go out to California - the first half mile climb usually forces me into my bottom gear, a 39x25, and I'd hear the derailleur pinging away at the spokes.

"Right," I think, "I haven't used that gear since... I don't remember when."

I'd climb off the bike, tighten the limit screw a bit (sometimes a lot), and it'd be good until the following year.

Well, last month I realized that the low gear (a 44x25 right now, only because the only non-worn rings I had left were a 55x44 combo meant for the tandem) was about the only gear I could turn.

I spent the whole hour turning the 44x25, and suffering doing it.

After a few rides I felt it possible to turn the 44x23.

One cog to the right.

Of course I'd clack away at the shifter, tossing the chain into a huge gear like the 19 or 17, but after 10 or 20 seconds, when my legs started to feel numb, when my breathing got uncomfortably rapid, I'd shift back into the 23.

I found myself doing mini intervals, going hard in the 17 or 19, recovering in the 23 or 25.


Yeah, it was bad. It is bad.

A few nights ago I got on the trainer. I felt pretty good and ventured into "the right range", the harder gears.

I could turn them.

I counted from the 11, incredulous.

11, 12, 13, 14, 15.... I'm in the 15? Lemme count again.

Sure enough, I could turn the 15 over, some effort, but nothing killing me like before.

I rolled along, happy with my bump in form.

I only have speed right now, my SRM harness a mess, my HR straps dead. I figure I'll fix them at some point, but right now the only thing I have is speed.

And the speed, as they say, "She is slow."

My October speeds sound like Tour mountain stage speeds, when they're climbing the early unimportant mountains.

From the middle of October:
13.6 mph
12.6 mph
13.1 mph
13.6 mph

A month later, I was a bit better:
13.8 mph

Then, Wednesday November 16th:
14.4 mph

(November 18th was 13.7 mph)

Wow. I broke 14 mph.

It's a sad triumph, truthfully. But for me it's okay. It's acceptable. I'm seeing an upward trend in speed.

I read today that Thomas Dekker will be racing with Garmin-Cervelo for 2012. He was suspended a couple years ago for blood manipulating (I can't remember if it was EPO or blood itself, but that's irrelevant). Jonathan Vaughters, a strident anti-doper, signed Dekker regardless.

Vaughters said something interesting. He said that as Dekker got stronger, his blood values shouldn't change. That's the sign of a strong racer getting fit naturally.

What Vaughters also revealed is that Garmin-Cervelo has been testing Dekker monthly for 18 months!

Now, I don't get to test my blood every month, but I know that right now I'm bad.

When I read that bit on Dekker, I realized that that's what I wanted to do:

I want to get stronger while my blood stays the same.

Vaughters was saying that good training makes the body better. It says so much in so little. It encompasses weight and FTP and power and endurance and resiliency and handling and cornering and so many things.

I know I'll never be a ProTour racer. I'm not going to earn myself a contract to earn money to race. But I'd like to be a bit more than I am now, to fulfill a bit more of my own potential.

I'm starting to think of ways to attain this goal.

I bought some more cold weather gear, in preparation for a California-less January and February. I've figured out how to recharge the headlight I bought from a local bike shop (I charged it once, used it once, then we used it when we lost power during the Halloween storm).

I even bought non-ventilated insoles, meant to help retain heat in the shoes in cold weather riding.

I have to get some work done on the bikes too. I want to send back the orange Tsunami to get the stays shortened - I still have to box the frame. I need to fix the wiring harness for the SRM, get some new batteries for the HR straps.

I have to glue some tubulars onto my Stingers.

I want to clean up my bike room a bit, maybe even paint it, do the trim (it's a very roughly finished basement room).

I want to be better than I am now.