Photo: Tony Allen-Mills

Photo: Tony Allen-Mills
The Charge: First Race, First Climb

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

10th Annual Reston Town Center Grand Prix: Or How I Learned to Relax and Loath the Dive-Bomb

RTC GP Category 5 Criterium
June 26, 2011

Duration: 42:26
Avg Speed: 23 mph
Laps: 22.8 / 23
Successful Turns: 182/184
Speed of impact with asphalt: 22.5mph
Place: From 8th of 50 to done with 200m to go
Units of Frustration: ∞

So you want to win an eight-turn technical crit in grand fashion? With √©lan and class? Here's an idea: haul ass up the inside of the seventh turn just as the race is poised to unleash itself in the final turn and finishing sprint. See the leaders gnashing their teeth in a single line, countersteering and banking. Fix now upon the seventh wheel, leaned over nicely.  Sprint, as hard as you can. Say not a word, but stuff your front wheel into the gutter just inches from the curb and try to outgun number seven and the line of riders in his wake through the apex that is rapidly closing. Go ahead, dive bomber, squeeze in there, see what happens.  I'll wait.

What?

Rather not?

"Inside suicide," you say? What a catchy phrase.

Well, then. Congratulations. Your capacity for reason and for measuring risk against reward seems to be in order. But this is exactly the strategy chosen by the ["overenthusiastic" racer] who took out an NCVC rider in the penultimate turn of the Cat 5 race. And, as I happened to be following that particular wheel and holding more than 22 mph through that turn, I rapidly found myself in NCVC's wheel, or maybe it was his spine, then over the bars and sliding on my back and face on the asphalt. The collateral damage didn't end with me; two others, an Evo and an unaffiliated fan of AC/DC, were doomed as well, one sliding out his rear and the other pile-driving into a pole as they sought to avoid flying bikes and bodies.

Reston was the big one on my calendar. It was my final race as a Cat 5. It was my first race following a month and a half during which I was unable to race and had fixated on this one. It was likely my final race this season, a result of outside obligations beginning in July. And it was the first race in which I was able to ride into a position from which I might have achieve a season-long goal of a top 10 finish.

I put in a fairly good race. I made mistakes, but for the most part I managed well. It didn't take long to realize that the backside, from off of 2 and into 5, offered a respite and ability to recover. I worked the race accordingly.  I went off the front twice or maybe three times, including lap one, but only for brief spells, and after each foray was able to get back on and recover within a lap or two. By the time the count had dwindled to 3 to go, I was feeling my limits, but many others around me appeared to be taxed and faring no better. It was relatively easy to advance positions along the back side, where the field typically coasted a bit, and turns 3 and 4, two wide-open turns that mark the end of the back side of the course, made for an easy place to generate speed. So I took advantage there, and from 3 laps to go to the final I gained position until I was sitting 8th wheel out of turn 5 as we began the uphill into the rapid-fire series of turns 6, 7, and 8.  I know I was 8th wheel because I was feeling solid enough to be able to quickly count the riders between me and Chris Rabadi of Raw Talent Ranch -- the winner of every prime, and ultimately the winner of the race. But I made one whopper mistake. I followed the paceline into the inside of turn 7. I should have come outside, because I would have set myself up for the quicker inside line of turn 8 and the better sprint position. I also would have avoided my fate as road kill to the dive-bomber who toasted the guy I followed into the turn.

In the aftermath, I assessed the damage. Five riders with road rash, some worse than others. A set of Zipp 404s, property of NCVC dude, shattered. My powertap rear and a Campy Eurus front both wildly out of true, but hopefully correctable -- we'll see. A few stitches in my arm from the teeth of someone's chainring. Five bikes scratched up.  And the worst part, 40 something minutes of exceedingly hard and careful effort, up in smoke. All the result of an indefensibly misguided and reckless calculation.

Yeah, that's racing, it's a frustrating sport, whatever, get over it. Perhaps. Hard pill to swallow when the cause is so needless and avoidable. The funny part in this, though, was the comment of the guilty party when confronted: "I held my line."  Too rich. Maybe it's karma after all.

On the bright side, what a venue. I really enjoyed the racing, the crowds, the Joeisms. The course was incredible. And it was another big day for my teammates in the cat 4 field, who took 1, 3, and 4, and who I will be joining just as soon as I can get my upgrade in, my bike fixed, and my schedule ironed out.  Until then, stay classy MABRA.

Yay, pictures:

Leading the field, first or second lap.

Finish sprint, seconds after the collision.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On the Magnificent Greenbelt Seven, err, Baker's Dozen or So

Greenbelt Park Series Training Race
'B' Race (Cat 4/5)
June 22, 2011
Duration: 00:57:47
Distance: 22.423 miles
Avg Speed: 23.2 mph
Crashes: 1 (not me)
Place: 11/32

Another sweltering Wednesday evening in a small section of federally reserved parklands, another hour or so of circuit road bicycle racing fun on the books.  This iteration of the B Race began ominously for me with a dropped chain as the field moved into position to fill the space vacated by the 17 souls who constituted the spartan A field. Fortunately, I managed to wrap it back around the ring in time for the start, with no more lost than a little dignity.

For a change, perhaps because it was muggy and sticky and I think none of us were particularly interested in circling the parking lot, my teammates and I staged fairly well this time.  Staging may be less important at Greenbelt than at any race in the whole of the United States.  All the same, it was nice to be near the front with the entire five man squad from the start.  In keeping with my general feeling of malaise, it seemed like even the clacking of the clip ins off the line was sort of desultory and sporadic, and the pace around the first wide turn felt sluggish at best.  It was therefore not much trouble to reach the front and stay there.  By chance, my entire team did the same. And so it was that we were pulling the field when we passed the line after the second lap.

New member Byron leading the DVR train,
with LaRue (red helmet) coming around the left for an early break.

The race settled into something of a pattern.  There were a few breaks, several by Byron, Tony the Second, and LaRue.  Given that activity, given my highly inferior genetics, and given my overall soporific state, I settled in the bunch and did my part on a couple occasions by soft pedalling and opening gaps when others were trying to bring back the flyers.  (Yeah, I like that role. It's good work if you can get it.)  Although every so often the pace sped up, for the most part the racing was manageable, and almost every lap slowed to a crawl on the two rising sections approaching the start/finish area. Looking back over my GPS file at the lap by lap data for the 16 laps of actual racing, aside from the relatively quick 2d lap in which the team was pulling, the laps were all fairly slow, in the 21-23 avg mph range, or 3:30-3:50 minutes if you prefer.  Either way, that's pretty sedate.

The status quo ante changed dramatically as we neared the final act.  The antepenultimate lap slouched along at a laconic 22mph avg pace in 3:49 -- quite tame. The penultimate lap was a bit more brisk, taking all of 3:38 to complete, 23.1mph average.  But then the slumbering field awoke. Shaking off whatever conjuration of the heat had held it in thrall for most of an hour, what was left of the B field came around for the final time in 3:08 (for me) at a 27mph average speed.  This was a bit painful, I have to admit.  I managed to pass a few suffering soldiers and to not get caught by some others. I crossed the line 11th, at the precise moment my calf seized and said forget it. So good timing in that sense.

Now, the fine officiants at Greenbelt are worthy of great praise. On this day, they captured the first seven B Race riders across the finish line and reported those result with rapidity and precision. But there's been some controversy.  So, as a public service, I note for the inquisitive that Julie Elliot kept a photographic record of the B Race finish, from which we gain a clearer understanding of the identity of the first 13 finishers, and a pretty decent idea about the top 17, in fact. So, counting backward from this image of the first 3 sprinters, Aaron Canale (Ft. Lewis), Matt Ringer (DVR), and Anthony Monaco (ABRT): Places 1, 2, and 3, followed by Jay SHRUM (Jay always gets recorded in uppercase, presumably because he is awfully fast), Place 4, we get to my little groupetto, Places 5-13.  (We eliminate from the count Messr. Escobar of Battley-Harley-XO etc., who makes a cameo in that last image while soloing a couple minutes ahead of the A field.)  After that, it's slightly less apparent how people fared, but here you go: Kat (AU/YAH) in 14, ABRT in 15, Belgian-looking team kit guy in 16 (CRG?), and LaRue (DVR) in 17.  The rest you will have to deduce for yourself.

So I have been trying to bust a top 10 in a race of more than 10 individuals before I finish my time in Category 5 and hang up the cleats for the season. As pathetic as that photo of my "sprint" may appear, I put every watt I had left into the pedals at that point. Alas, I was close but not quite.  Better luck at Reston tomorrow.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Most Tedious Report Concerning the Latest Rendition of the Mid-Week Greenbelt Park Training Race Series Excellently Hosted by Route 1 Velo

Greenbelt Park Series "B" Race (Cat. 4/5)
June 8, 2011
Duration: 43:47
Distance: 16.7
Laps: 12 of 16 (DNF)
Avg. Speed: 23.1

So Freaking Hot. Hotter than them. Not Planck hot. Or solar particulate ejection hot. But still, really, really hot: according to the @dcfireems twitter feed -- an alarming feed to follow if you ride a bike on the District's mean streets -- we were operating under a 110 degree heat index yesterday evening. Tarnation!

Despite the oppressive environmental conditions under which the race would be run, the field for the B Race reached its 50 rider capacity quickly. As usual, DVR fielded a large team, with solid representation also from ABRT, NCVC, WWVC, as well as a few other well established acronyms. As a result of an eleventh-hour rear derr. problem, however, one of our dependables was limited to two gears -- 53-15 and 39-15 -- and then of course there was the further problem that another one of our team members was me.

So, my engine felt anemic from the start. I chalked it up to the intensity of training over the four days prior in combination with the miserable heat. I figured I'd see if the legs were going to come to life later in the race, alive enough to have reason to contend for a top 10 spot. If not, rather than surf the pack for no purpose, I thought I might try some silly stuff off the front just for the fun of it and, if necessary, cash it in then. It's just a training race, and I was feeling rather open minded about my options.

Meanwhile, I ground along through the first few laps, popping out of the saddle here and there along the front to open the legs, drinking when I could manage. Unfortunately, on the downhill backside of only our second lap we had a crash. I didn't see the proximate cause. From my vantage, I heard shouting, saw a wave of bobbing and scattering helmets moving back through the pack, followed by the unpleasant crunch of bike and rider hitting asphalt at speed. One rider went down to the left, and I believe a panic crash may have ensued on the right as well.  I followed a couple others off the road and into the grass around the mess, then hopped back into the street and safely reintegrated with the field.  I was saddened to see on the next lap that our victim was a junior, I doubt more than 14, who lay doubled up and bravely clutching his knee to his chest in obvious pain while the medic attended to his injuries. I had noticed him earlier, swinging his bike from side to side as he mashed gears to keep pace with the group. As I said, I didn't see the accident, but from what I saw beforehand I harbor some doubts about whether he was quite ready to race the B just yet. Whatever, hopefully the poor kid heals up quickly.

OK, at any rate, the race ran along its course, painfully hot. A few went off the front, including a few DVR folks, but frankly I think there were fewer attacks then previously, in part perhaps because of the heat. Nonetheless, by lap 8 or 9 I was seeing lots of tired faces in the peloton, and I was pretty sure mine was among them.  I decided it was time to throw something off the front to see if I could cause some destruction in the field and maybe advance the interests of a couple of my teammates in so doing. When Chas the Invincible asked if I wanted to work up to the front with him, that was all it took.  We quickly shot up front on the backside, me following his lead, until we broke free and dove into the single real corner on the course alone.

This was the first opportunity I think I've had to hit that Greenbelt turn entirely unimpeded by the Others. Usually I am grabbing brake and trying to negotiate a safe line among the dozens of riders similarly negotiating, some with less precision than others. This was more pleasant and much more efficient. Chas thrust his knee out as if he was wrapped in leathers, counter-steared his bike way low, and despite not being entirely sure exactly how fast we could take it, I followed suit. We sailed through the corner at 25mph rather than 19mph, then shot up the front side with a couple chasers behind. Chas finished his pull, then I went all in and held that for as long as I could until I popped.

As I worked my way back, pretty much blown, I was pleased to see that we had inflicted some damage. I tooled around for another lap, just floating at the rear and trying to see how well I was going to recover. The answer was not very. So I waived goodbye and peeled off when I next reached the parking lot on lap 12. Disappointing in retrospect, I know. I only had another 3 laps to go at that point, and I have never purposefully abandoned before. On the other hand, it's a training race, I never got my grove on, and despite that I accomplished something I wanted to accomplish, so I watched the finish play out fairly contentedly while munching a tasty peanut butter smeared bagel.

The finish was hot. Hot like this. Not as hot as this (yeah, that one's a bone for my sole follower -- recognize!), but way hotter than this. Congrats to Matt for a well-deserved victory in a head-to-head sprint against the jersey holder to win on the bike throw at the line. Awesome to watch in person, and perhaps to have added something to it in my own little way. Hopefully one of the photogs lining the course caught it, because it was a matter of milimeters and made for a great picture, I'm sure.

Matt beginning his sprint. Photo: Julie Elliott
As a postscript, it turns out the heat was a bit of an issue for me afterall. Despite downing 4 bottles of water, several salt pills, and more water, bananas, etc., when I got home, not long thereafter the most miserable hamstring cramp in history struck out of nowhere and just leveled me. It stayed locked for what felt like forever but was probably about 3 minutes. I was alone, so I had to stretch it away myself. I'm still limping a bit. Ouch.

Oh, and by the way, for those counting at home, that's number 8 in the books, ladies and gentlemen.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Not-Racing Race Report

As I may have mentioned, I have been grounded on the weekend racing front since my epic failure at Poolesville. Well, it now looks like I will make a return to the sport on June 26, at the RGS Title/Prosperity Mortgage Reston Town Center Grand Prix. This intermission in my racing schedule has put a crimp in my grand "race into fitness" scheme (but given the damage meted out in the killing fields of Baltimore and New Jersey of late, maybe it was somewhat providential as well).  Regardless, matters were made worse when my dependable midweek fitness crunch, the Wednesday evening Greenbelt Park Training Series race, was cancelled this week as a result of radical overestimation by the weather forecasting services of the likelihood of rain.  And the next several weekends are chock a block full of things like memorial tree planting ceremonies, birthday parties, and overdue household obligations, none of which I am in a position to skip in favor of a decent training ride. So like it or not, I am not exactly busting the TSS bank during this little unscheduled racing interregnum either.

How will the downturn in training affect my racing when I return late June? How long can I maintain physiological ripeness at half of my preferred training regimen before I shift irrevocably from just very-well-rested into atrophied? These are the questions that vex my soul as I slide into sleep at night.

The answer is self evident of course: cram as much riding as possible into the limits of the day and as "specifically" as possible for the coming event. Intervals, good; aimless and haphazard pedaling, bad. Time to dredge up the hill repetitions and microbursts I love to hate. So look for me on the road at 6am tomorrow. I'll be the lunatic flailing up the same damned hill as many times as I can manage in an hour. Maybe you will be doing the same.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Riding Circles at Greenbelt Park

Greenbelt Park Series "B" Race (Cat 4/5)
May 25, 2011
[updated with picture]
Distance: 22.4 miles (16 laps)
Duration: 55:41
Average Speed: 24.1 mph
Place: 19 of 50 (a full field tonight)

This one hurt.  I wasn't exactly sure why until I got home and took a look at my power file.  The pace was higher, the humidity and temperature were higher, the number of laps was higher.  I do recall wondering why the number 12 lap card did not seem to move much during the first 3 or 4 times around the circuit. I felt seriously taxed from the start tonight, however, so I just assumed that observation was a mistaken artifact of my generalized state of cerebral hypoxia. Guess I was right though as we did 16.

So Greenbelt is one of those kinds of races.  The whole thing is just a prelude to the ultimate question of who has legs left for the last 400 meters.  The rest of the race is about getting to that point alive and with some gas in the tank for the last-lap surge to the line. Tonight I had more left than I have before; although my placing was about the same, it nets out better for me in light of the larger field and increased workload required to deliver oneself to the line. So that's good. Showing improvement.  But let's face it, I've got a long way to go yet.

The Greenbelt B Race finishing sprint, May 25, 2011 -- LaRue in for 4th

Monday, May 23, 2011

Update

A couple things:

Thing Number 1: I really chunked the math component of the post below.  I mean like simple addition.  I have concluded that I will let it stand as is and not try to fix it on the sly, even though probably no one has read it yet or would have noticed the correction.

Thing Number 2: I just learned that I will not be able to Ride Sally Ride.  Holy cow, with this sort of involuntary idleness, what's the point of all this training?  Greenbelt is the point.  I guess.  Not much of a point, though.

So with no real race reports to write for a month or so, be prepared my two or three readers for more vacuous babble like that last post, some pictures, some Greenbelt recaps, and if you are lucky, general blog silence.

Training Day Interludes -- Suffering Hurts, Sleep Heals, and Other Profundities

Warning: what follows is wonky drivel.  For your own good, skip to the pictures.
***
For a variety of reasons, I have found myself unable to race (other than the Wednesday night training series in Greenbelt Park) until Ride Sally Ride on June 4th.  So, that was a three week training block following the performance at Poolesville.  "Was," in that I am now one full week in.  If I were the slightest bit organized I would have taken the time to put together some specific work outs designed to maximum the performance benefit of the three-week period now at my disposal.  I did not do that.  But I have two weeks to go, so perhaps we should try to correct that now.  In that spirit, let us consider my training schedule beginning with Poolesville and working forward:

May 14 (Poolesville RR)
  •     Duration: 1:05
  •     Relative Intensity: 0.994
  •     Work: 750kj
  •     Score: 150
May 15 (tempo/threshold)
  •     Duration: 1:46
  •     Relative Intensity: 0.943
  •     Work: 1180kj
  •     Score: 173
May 16 (off)

May 17 (off)

May 18 (ride to/race/ride from Greenbelt Park)
  •      Duration: :42 + :50 + :54 = 1:46 [sic]
  •      Relative Intensity: 0.724 / 0.976 / 0.821
  •      Work: 346 + 541 + 486 = 1373kj
  •      Score: 43 + 83 + 65 = 191
May 19 (off)

May 20 (local hills)
  •     Duration: 0:58
  •     Relative Intensity: 1.0
  •     Work: 601kj
  •     Score: 110
May 21 (random hard effort explorations)
  •      Duration: 1:45
  •      Relative Intensity: 0.952
  •      Work: 1153kj
  •      Score: 174
May 22 (group ride)
  •      Duration: 2:35
  •      Relative Intensity: 0.836
  •      Work: 1490kj
  •      Score: 203
As we can see, in nine days I have taken three off the bike.  Treating Greenbelt as three distinct rides, I rode eight times during the other six days, which consisted primarily of efforts in excess of five- to six percent of my presumptive one-hour maximum sustainable rate of effort (that is, every ride except the rides to and from Greenbelt and the group ride this morning). By the numbers, in the stretch after Poolesville I put roguhly 9:30hrs on the bike, and burned 5,797 kilojoules of energy, for a "Bike Score" (akin to "Training Stress Score" or "TSS" as Hunter and Coggan put it) of 851 imaginary units of hurt.

Although plenty of the hyper-fit around here would find nineanahalf hours in eight days inadequate to their training goals, for me the number of high-intensity efforts made this a full calendar. I felt it on the ride this morning and every time I rise from a seated position since. Today was a real test. I was not suffering aerobically; it was purely fatigue. My legs could not sustain any hard efforts for long, even though my heart rate never popped out of its zone. My centers of power simply felt threadbare, the thin, stretched feeling that sometimes announces a cramp. Efforts usually within my reach were impossible today, like 8 ohm wire conducting 16 ohms of electricity for too long; the system may work for a while, but once the fatigue tolerance of the medium is exceeded, we are left with a cooked line no longer capable of carrying even the original 8 ohm load. In this analogy, toasted copper wire = my legs.

All of this leads to the simple conclusion that I need to work in a rough taper so that I arrive at June 4 reasonable fresh. Not that that likely crash-filled criterium is my A event or anything. But no one wants to race with legs like mine today (or mine any day, but particularly today). I need fewer intense rides, I think, and some longer, L3 type outings.  And I still have a few VO2 max hill intervals, two Greenbelt training race cycles, and a couple mid-week 2x20s to work in over the next 14 days, as well.  But hopefully it should not be too hard to mix it up while lightening up in advance of Sally.

***
During the "random hard effort exploration" ride I mentioned in my little training calendar, above, I decided to pay a visit in my suffering to some of the haunts I first discovered during certain aimless ventures on the road bike early last year. All within a mile, guarded on the one side by the grade up Stoneybrook Lane and on the other by the short but painful Forsythe kicker, lie a number of interesting structures with similar metaphysical importations. Like Mount Athos of old, those who wish to worship by bike must be ascetic and dedicated enough to suffer a few climbs to reach them.  First, the temple of the Latter Day Saints, a gold-tipped edifice to immortality rising brightly above one of the high points of the city.  Just down the road and across the crest of that hill sits another structure that to me resembles nothing less than a massive French Catholic abbey. But if so, it is a French abbey in startling propinquity to a red and black Japanese pagoda, suited for the temple residence of a reclusive Zen Buddhist Marylander or a nice restaurant (attention millionaire religio-metaphysics buffs: both structures are apparently for sale!).  If you have reached this point in my rather incoherent introspection on my week of bicycle riding, then you are ascetic enough and well in need of entertaining, so as a closing treat to you, I present for your amusement a few pictures of a few of the structures I chugged past on my Saturday ride:

The Washington Mormon Temple
(photo: Amanda Slater)
The Monastery Proper

The Walkway to the Lodging of His Holiness, the Good Abbot

Next Door, the Much Esteemed Pagoda
of the Sect of the Zen Buddhists (zoned for commercial use!)

Till next time, sincerely, with fond regards, etc.

P.s. So I did a little digging -- it did not take long -- and it turns out my wandering eye brought me into contact with what was formerly a fancifully planned resort and elite girls finishing school, a site for the solace and convalescence of military wounded, and now a condominium development.  Who knew? Probably everyone.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Greenbelt Exploits Reminisced in Miniature

Ah, I love Greenbelt.  Even when I can't quite hang on to the bunch sprint during the last 200 yards.  But leaving the job slightly early, riding out in a bunch through terra I-don't-go-there, an hour of racing followed by a swift ride home under a darkening sky is an incomparably pleasant way to spend an evening in the middle of a work week.

Greenbelt Park Series "B" Race (Cat 4/5)
May 18, 2011

Duration: 45 min
Laps: 13
Avg. Speed: 23.9mph
Place: 22 of 42
Crashes: 1 (not me)
Ejected bottles: 1 (not me)
Camper vans parked on 40mph downhill section: 1 (not mine)
Total Weds night miles: 48

Life is good.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Poolesville Road Race, or Slaughterhouse Category Five

Duration: 1:05
Distance: 22.5 miles (for me)
Result: 29/50 (with a big freaking asterisk)

This week I was fortunate to ride for a little while in what is widely considered one of the classics of the MABRA racing calendar, the 2011 edition of the annual Poolesville Road Race.  There are a whole collection of elements that make it a terrific venue -- rolling hills, chicanes, steep pitches, picturesque tree-lined country roads -- but all of that tends to be overshadowed in the lore surrounding the race by the nearly 2 mile stretch of dirt and gravel that transitions out of a ludicrous 90 degree turn tacked onto the bottom of a relatively short but sharp descent.

The perilous turn, photo credit NCVC
So I've tried to write this review about six times now.  Really there isn't much of redeeming value to say about the matter.  I lined up in absolutely terrible position, about 48th of the 50 person field, and couldn't find any real opportunities to change that before we hit the turn into the dirt. Entering the transition I saw it was already littered with two or three riders recovering from some mishap or other. I went through easily, locking on a safe line, nothing aggressive at all, and completed the turn.  Everything looked good, and I was ready to launch into the inevitable sprint back into position that follows every turn in these things when you're sitting in the back. But almost immediately things choked up. We had cleared the turn, I remind you.  Nonetheless, an "unaffiliated" rider toward my front left side suddenly veered to his right toward my wheel, while an NCVC rider on my right shifted left.  Stuck in the pincer, with about a dozen bikes behind me at this point, I had nowhere to go. The guy on the left took out my wheel, and I hit the deck.  I was back on the bike and chasing within about 21 seconds according to my GPS file.  But it was not to be.  By the time I was out of the dirt and had hit the short, steep incline that follows it, the field was maybe 75 meters out.  But the chase cost too much, and I picked a stupid tall gear up the climb that I couldn't push.  Race over.  The next 15 miles or so I spent solo-ing around at threshold or else in a quasi-but-not-really paceline of about 5 of us -- a nice group of guys -- that was as unorganized as it was futile.  The officials pulled us after the second lap, but placed us anyway.  So on paper I managed 29th of 32 scored riders, despite crashing and dropping.  Gives you an idea of the amount of attrition in the Cat 5 race, which started with a full field of 50.

Salted with Poolesville dirt.
So I'm really irritated with myself about this one. I felt strong going in, and was hopeful that I would be in at the end and able to contend for a spot in the top 10.  But I was entirely apathetic about grabbing a place at the start; instead I was off piddling around while the peloton lined up in front of me.  I knew better, in this race of all Cat 5 races, than to let myself get in that corner at the back of the field -- in fact I wrote up a little list of pre-race goals, the leading one of which was to hit the turn between 5th-15th wheel.  I also wish I had video of that crash, as I wonder if there was anything I could have done to avoid it. I suppose I could have gone into the gravel even slower, or failing that, not tried to surf out the choke point and instead hit the brakes hard and hoped no one behind me took me out instead.

On the bright side, I guess, I got to take a few pictures of my own race's finish -- not a good thing but interesting nonetheless.  So the guy who won it did so on a break he launched \after lap 1 and which finished thirty miles later with a 45 second gap on the group of 4 or 5 behind him, two of whom were his teammates.  He seriously destroyed the field -- not a surprise, really, considering that his time from the Wintergreen Ascent a few weeks ago not only was good enough to take the Cat 5 by nearly a minute and a half, but would have won the Cat 4 race and placed him 2d in the Cat 3s.

Chris Rabadi (Raw Talent Ranch) decisively takes the win on a lengthy solo break.
More Cat5 finish photos here.

The balance of my team had no better luck at Poolesville than did I.  Our rider in the 35+ field flatted out, and a crash, a flat, and a cramp ended the hopes of 3 of our 4 riders in the Cat 4 race.  Onward and upward, I guess.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Near Miss: Appointment with Reaper Rescheduled

Today I was involved in one of those incidents that makes you pause, take a deep breath, and take stock of the goodness of being alive.  At about 11:30 this morning, three of us in our team kit leaned silently on our bars at the intersection of Tuckerman and Old Georgetown, waiting for the long light to change.  Grant and Eddie had pulled up just behind the crosswalk, and I sat slightly behind them.  I was a bit breathless still from the flogging Grant had been delivering all morning, and really was not paying attention to much of anything around me until I heard a squeal of brakes from the highway to my left.  I looked up just in time to see an SUV hurtle into the front end of a sedan that had begun to cross into the intersection in anticipation of turning left from Old Georgetown to Tuckerman.  The sedan spun 360 degrees, striking the SUV again, I think, which caused it to be struck yet again from the rear by another car going in the same direction in the lane beside it (the sedan was then hit again by a car coming behind it).  All of these high-speed impacts, as the concepts of conservation of energy, conservation of linear momentum, and conservation of angular momentum would predict, resulted in a billiards-like chain reaction that ultimately caused the SUV to adopt a new vector -- one directly toward the three of us.  We each had a foot clipped in, were straddling our top tubes, and were hardly in a position suited to sudden evasive maneuver.  I think I yelled "watch out!" or something equally inane and pointless as the SUV quickly slid sideways toward Grant, who was the first of the three bowling pins in the line of its new path.  By chance and good fortune, the thing missed us, and instead went up the curb and onto the sidewalk.  It was a close enough pass that a piece of bumper that had come free during one of the collisions actually slid into Grant's wheels.

Foreground: Grant and the fateful SUV.
Background: Montgomery County EMS and what's left of the sedan.
The three of us dropped our bikes and rushed to the cars to see if we could assist the passengers.  I admit that I approached the sedan with some trepidation, hoping that the circumstances within would not be one the sort I would regret observing.  Fortunately, no one in any of the cars appeared seriously injured, although EMS ultimately took the driver of the sedan away on a stretcher after he complained of chest pains, seemingly from impact with his airbag.  (As an aside, I'll add that the passengers of that vehicle were  very fortunate to be driving a car made close in time to the year 2011, as when I reached them they were ensconced at all angles in airbags, driver's and passenger's, front and side.  Given the considerable amount of abuse that car took, it was rather amazing that the soft fleshy bags of pressurized meat and bone that were the human occupants could leave the scene of the accident nearly unscathed.)  Perhaps the most chilling thing about the accident I heard after the fact, however, when we were talking with the driver of the SUV.  He mentioned that he was going to turn right during the crash to avoid the next collision, but he saw us at the crosswalk and went up the curb instead.  I do not know how much control he actually had at that point, but Grant and I assured him that we really appreciated his decision not to turn right.  If it had gone even slightly differently, one or all three of us would assuredly have been toast.
The piece of bumper that reached us, with the SUV on the sidewalk behind it.
There's a few things I took away from this.  One, as Grant observed during our very careful ride home, it is often better not to know what did not happen to you but nearly did.  Two, never stop out front of the crosswalk or stop line, as I and other cyclists often do; should the worst come to pass, it is much better to have some space between you and cross traffic -- fortunately we did today.  Three, hug your loved ones; life is precious and fleeting, and ultimately we are all puppets of chance and fateful circumstance.  Four, none of this suggests you should live in a cave.

Stay safe, and Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Greenbelt Runs White and Blue

Well, that was serious fun.  The Greenbelt annual weekly evening come-as-you-are training series commenced, rain-free, Wednesday night.  I pre-registered for a 4-pack of racing goodness, and picked the "C" race because, well, this is my first season racing.  As is not atypical, I arrived at the venue about 60 seconds too late.  The motley crew of Cs had been unleashed.  So I scratched my head and, after some quick down and dirty negotiations, the good organizer permitted me to upgrade my 4 punches to the B race instead, at the cost of one extra punch.  Sold. It worked out well -- for the first time yet, I was able to race with members of the team in the same field.  I was filled with anxiety that I would get blown out the back within a lap or two, but I figured I might as well give it a try.

The field took off at a relatively mellow pace, somewhere around 22 or 23 mph avg I suspect.  I had never laid rubber to the course before, so that was fine by me.  Concerning the course: the only complication on the whole circuit is the single right hand 90 degree, which is not much of an obstacle.  I was able to find a line every lap that allowed aggressive pedaling through the apex without any sense that I was near to scraping asphalt.  The rest of the course couldn't be a more straightforward training venue.  A slight false flat rose out of the sole corner, leading through a few curves to a very minor uptick into the start/finish area, maybe 3 percent or so, that didn't impose much of a hurt, and which in turn was followed by a long, gradual downhill around to the sole corner again, during which a rider hardly has to turn the pedals and can easily recover.

My set of goals for the night were simple: (a) not to get dropped; (b) to stay the hell out of the way of my teammates who had ideas about capturing glory; (c) to try to assist if I could do so without running afoul of goal (b); and (d) if I was able to do something in furtherance of (c) without tripping over (b) that caused me to fail to accomplish (a), that would be acceptable as well.  I am a good soldier/domestique and ready to answer the call of duty when it comes.

So, as I was saying ... the field took off at a relatively mellow pace, permitting me to get a feel for the course during the first couple laps.  After that, the only significant exertions would occur immediately after the corner, where, inevitably, it was out of saddle sprint-fest for position, then sit up and join the pack for a trip up the ramp through the start/finish and the beginning of the downhill refresh.  Repeat that at 23-25mph another 10 times, and we arrive in the vicinity of the bell lap.  Meanwhile, the team was doing a great service to the concept of riding as a team.  For a change, I enjoyed a position that allowed me to witness the work unfold first hand.  What I recall is a very early break by Matt that drew out another rider, then a counter-attack by Corey immediately after Matt was brought back that drew out more.  A couple other breaks went off, but almost always teammates were sitting with them and not letting them get anywhere.  Then a strong break by a couple AABC riders (or maybe ABRT, I really can't recall) formed near the penultimate lap which showed some promise, but that too was brought back (Edit: by KARSTEN [happy now?]), and the peloton was together going into the final lap.  Two of our guys were positioned to go for it as we approached the last 200 meters of road before the line.  Unfortunately, there was a congress of riders surging for position, and John got bumped and shunted off course and into the woods, where I watched as he negotiated a 3' tall dirt berm that I would have loved to have discovered when I was twelve on my sweet Redline BMX bike -- back then, I would have tried for a cross-up and maybe a crappy effort at a table-top.  At any rate, John was fine, if done and frustrated, so I kept going, and watched with pleasure as Nate walked away from the field and took first and the right to the first B race jersey of the season.  In total, six of us rode the B, and 4 were in the top 11.  I was mid-pack the entire raced, until in the final approach I slipped to the back, but I made no effort at all to join the sprint at the line, content simply to finish with the group in satisfaction of goals (a) and (b), netting 18th of 30 or so starters for the night.  Besides John's bad luck in getting bumped off course, the only big alarm came when someone tried the ever-regrettable inside line on the corner in an effort to cut his way up the field on the turn; as expected, the riders coming across the turn cut off his inside position, where he was going way too hard anyway, causing him to hit the brakes, lose his rear tire sideways, and careen across the deck.  It really was a text book inside-suicide maneuver.  Hate to see anyone crash, of course, but it was kind of interesting to watch it unfold in real time right next to me.

Someday I'll be fast enough to fit in the frame of Nate's camera phone.
So, the "A" race.  We had two riders plus an honorary third.  Honorary member and Martin took top-5 places, while Dennis, who was away on a solo break for 5 laps, continued to hang tough and came through 14th.  Great night in Greenbelt for the team all the way around.

Hard to imagine a better way to spend a few hours Wednesday night in the middle of the work week than riding to Greenbelt and back, with an 18 mile road race tossed in the middle.  By the time I do the 16th of these things, if I'm not in shape I don't know that I can be in shape.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Concerning One Third of the Tour de Ephrata, Taking Place in Lititz, Where Whifs of the Malodorous Presage the Finest Post-Race Hamburgers

It was April 4th, a few weeks after Black Hills (a race in which I found myself time-trialing for more laps than I care to recall), that I registered for the Tour de Ephrata, more specifically the cat 4/5 field.  Because I fit squarely within the 5 part of that equation, I did not expect much.  But the idea of riding circuit on a 9 mile course in picturesque Amish country, and a stage race no less, was too temping to resist.

The days before the race were filled with other responsibilities that could not be deferred.  For that reason, Friday morning I had 3 hours of sleep, and Saturday, maybe 4.  Further, I would only be able to ride the road race and could not leave for Ephrata the night before as I had hoped.  It was going to be an expensive and painful one-day affair for me.  So it was that I arose at 4:30am on Saturday to get to the course in time for registration and a quick warm up before my 9am start.  I have to admit that the drive to Ephrata was frightening.  I struggled to keep my eyes open and more than a few times came nearly lost that battle and careened into a ditch.  But the cure came about half-way there, when I stopped at McD's for breakfast just to take the edge off.  It actually worked.  I made it to the event in one piece and feeling reasonably fresh.

The temperature at the start of the 4/5 race was around 48-50 degrees, and the wind was up and blowing.  It was a small field, twenty-six total.  Stands to reason, since there were three fields available to the Cat4s, and perhaps most sane 5s were not interested in spending ninety big ones to ride in a 3-stage race especially against any 4s who wanted to beat up on 5s for upgrade points.  I marked one of the 4s, who had won a podium spot in the cat4/5 race at SoYoCo, so my plan from the start was to watch him and follow when I could.  Turns out I was right -- he won the road race.  Sadly, I did not manage to stay on his wheel.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

 After the neutral roll-out I found myself mid-pack for most of the first lap. As in other races, the pace seemed awfully slow.  It was a pleasant enough ride, some small talk, plenty of helpful voices calling out impending turns.  Gradually we reached the middle part of the course, where the wind came hard from the front and then the side, slowing the pace even more.  The same two or three riders were pulling up front, and no one made any real attmpt at a break.  Given all this, just in advance of the single real climb at about mile 6 or so, I was surprised that my Garmin was telling me that my heart rate was far higher than I expected.  I figured it must have been the wind, but it was not a welcome sign.  (A photo taken right at that point in lap one shows me wearing the sort of snarl that suggests I was hurting, although I really wasn't feeling it; maybe the camera just caught my bad side.)

Ill-tempered midget or optical illusion?
The climb rose up out of a sharp left-hander and continued for about a half mile, gaining perhaps 140-feet in two steps of maybe 5 to 9 percent, with a short flat section in between.  A young boy with a camera watched us pass from his porch.  The first two laps I spun up in my big chainring without too much trouble holding the cadence.  The group finished the climb in about the same time each of those laps -- 2:09/2:11 for me.

Shortly after crossing the finish and beginning lap 2, or mile 10 if you prefer, apparently someone else decided we were going too slow as well.  The motor marshal pulled alongside and told us we were neutralized for a while.  He almost caused a crash when he did that, since the guy he shouted to swerved, sending the chain reaction down the line, but all was well, and we stopped for a 2 1/2 minute pause while the 50+ masters class swept by.  It was unfortunate, as several riders had fallen off on the climb and were able to rejoin the peloton.  No one had attempted a break before we were stopped, so we were all together and refreshed again when the whistle blew and the race recommenced.

Miles 10 through 18 were no different than the first lap. I jockeyed somewhere in the middle of the pack, and rode the wheel of my stalking horse for at least half of it.  When we got to the climb, this time I suffered some going up; I felt winded and although I finished in the same time as before, it definitely hurt more.  I was not too alarmed, as I figured there should be a lull as we shifted directions and the wind was at our backs.  I had not counted on Syd, however, another cat4 who I had a nice chat with after the race, deciding to take the second approach to the start/finish area as his cue to open the field.  I admit that I was napping a bit, still not fully recovered, and just too close to the tail of the peloton at the time.  Regardless, just as we rounded into the beginning of lap 3, the pack went single file and the line quickly stretched taught.  A gap formed a rider or two ahead of me, and I could do nothing to fill it.  Worse, once I started chasing, my fuel tank almost instantly evaporated.  I ended up watching the peloton ride in front of me by about 100-200 meters for a mile or two, until finally on the windy approaches to the climb it was over and the gap drew out.

There had been opportunities.  Another rider from my race, a junior (yes, a junior), was just ahead, and we were both passed at a rapid clip by another youngster (although not a junior) with truly massive quads.  I tried to communicate that we should work together and not simply bash ourselves against the wind individually.  Neither seemed to understand English, or at least they weren't interested.  By chance, a couple of guys from the 50+ masters race had also fallen off their pace and were riding near us, but unlike us, were working well together.  The junior jumped on their wheel, and steadily that little mixed-category groupetto pulled away from me as well.  Of course I said something to the kid along the lines of "hey, you can't work with them!," but maybe that was a bit ambiguous.  I suppose I can't blame him.  Anyway, a later photoset taken at the climb shows that the other dude, the guy with massive quads, had done the same thing.  Oh well, maybe I'm the fool.  Anyway, by the time I reached the hill again on lap 3, the peloton had extended its lead over me to 1:28.  And that is where the climb time of the field and yours truly diverged significantly: 2:13 for them, 2:53 for me.  No good excuse.  I was hurting from the solo, there were riders behind me somewhere but far off, and was clearly never going to catch the lead group again, so yes, I took it a bit easy up the hill that third time around.  Nonetheless, when I saw the photog taking his pics, rather than give him a throat cutting motion and maybe loll my tongue like a dead-man, as I thought for a moment I might, I instead put on my toughest jailhouse gritting in the hopes that, if those pictures were to see the light of day, it would at least look as though I was still in the thick of the race.  Sadly he was not using that big telephoto lens of his to much effect, and there's just no missing the empty spaces stretching into the distance before and behind me.

I felt a bit embarrassed about lollygagging it up the hill, so when I hit the long and very fecal-smelling downhill section after the climb, I decided to see if I could at least catch the gear-restricted junior before we reached the finish.  He was probably about 30-45 seconds ahead at that point.  So I hammered as hard as I could, but the wind and my heart were having none of it.  I doubt I exceeded 34mph.  I never did catch him, and ended up 17th of the 26 starters by the time I crossed the line, alone.  I threw my wheel at the thing anyway.

After the race, I smelled the sweetest scents wafting over the parking lot, a pleasant change from the eue de pastureland I had just ridden through during the last few Ks.  Across the street from the event, an enterprising couple likely with pasturelands of their own had opened for business a table stocked with freshly butchered and barbecued hamburgers and fixings.  It was one of the tastiest burgers I've had in a long while, and for just $4, in an age where a hamburger at a mid-flight DC restaurant can fetch $18 or so, it was money well spent.
***
As an aside, at some point during my race, I began to think about T.S. Eliot and poor J. Alfred Prufrock, a literary creature I've always sort of identified with.  This is not bullshit.  There is a line in the poem that has been stuck in my head for decades, which describes my current level of expectation in cycling fairly well -- to be pack fill, perhaps with an occasional ill-fated breakaway here and there just to get things started:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two. . . .

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  I mentioned something about not being Hamlet to a teammate immediately after the race, but he just sort of looked at me.  Must have figured I was delirious.  Maybe I was.  Anyway, most psychologists probably would frown on thinking about the pathetic figure of Prufrock when contemplating one's sporting goals, so I will just leave it at that.
***
Ultimately, I was not able to compete in the other two stages of the stage race.  The same obligations that kept me in the weeds early into the morning Friday and Saturday called me home after the road race.  So that part of my theory about why I should spend $90 and a tank of gas to attend Ephrata, rather than Bunny Hop, didn't pan out.  The Amish business certainly paid off, though.  Not long after I left the venue in my car, a sleekly appointed two-door sports machine, I was greeted by an apparition from another time: a tall, gaunt, wispy bearded fellow in neatly homespun black pants, suspenders, and a white square-collared shirt, who expertly surfed upon the boards of a wooden thresher drawn by a pair of horse.  He stood during his labors.  I tend to think there was not even a seat on the rig, or at least I do not remember seeing one; I imagine a seat would be incompatible with the austere and hard-scrabble existence he had chosen for himself.  At any rate, he held the reigns in one hand, and braced himself with the other upon what seemed to be a tiller-like steering mechanism of some sort.  The blades of the ancient machine spun and chopped behind the two briskly trotting animals, cleaving a swath through tall grass, a thin cloud of dust trailing back over his painstakingly curated plot of ground.


This kind of clean living is by no means easy living, and here is the proof of that, I thought.  It was a picture of hard, rigorous, unflinching existence, but perhaps quite satisfying for him, lack of creature comforts notwithstanding.  Anyway, after blowing up in a road race and again beginning to feel the signs of sleep deprivation steal through my skull as I braced for the long drive home, it was hard not to carry away from that image some sense of significance to my own endeavors.  I sped toward the federal highway system, thinking about suffering, and relentlessness and determination in the face of suffering, which come to play in the sport of bicycle racing moreso than in any other sport I've participated in to date . . . albeit not my strong suits so much.  But I will leave whatever symbolic interest may reside in that encounter, at least as it relates to bike racing, for the reader to discern for himself.  It's late, and I'm too tired to say.
***
Now that I've had some rest, let me add a post-script -- not that any more electrons really need be spewed on the subject of Ephrata here.  Nevertheless.  You wouldn't know it from my inane, stupifying narrative, but my team fielded seven other riders at Ephrata, two in cat 4 and another five in the cat 3/4 race. I think I enjoy watching these guys spar with their fields as much as I enjoy racing myself, if not more. I'm just a piker, but they are the genuine article. And the extent to which you start to share in the successes, as well as the agony of the near misses of your teammates after riding and training together all winter and spring is a real bonus to membership, especially on this team, that I hadn't thought about much when I decided to join and try my hand at the sport. If nothing else, the gallons of shit that get flung across the team list-server really help break up the work day.  Not sure what my point is, other than to say I wish I could have stuck it out for the rest of the weekend.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Black Hills Circuit Race: Now I Know

An overdue retrospective on the Black Hills Circuit Race, held March 19.  I tend to go on in these things.  For those who desire brevity, the summary of the summary would read: took epic pull lap one, blew up spactacularly.

Parameters: 12-mile, 8 lap affair (yeah, cat5s are fragile creatures), featuring a rolling profile with one reasonably sharp 200 meter-long climb each lap, with a finish near the top.  The climb was a bit underbilled in discussions leading up to the race, although its effect in the cat5 race was entirely predictable -- bloody carnage.

I was unprepared.  For warm up, I figured if I wheeled around the parking lot a few times that ought to about do it.  When later I saw my higher-cat teammates spinning trainers, sweat dripping from chins, I concluded that maybe my approach was inadequate.  On the bright side, it afforded me the opportunity to line up early, second row.

I had no plan.  Planning is hard when you have no idea where you fit -- it was the first race of the year for most, the first ever for me.  My strategy, such as it was, involved a vague idea about riding in the middle of the field and moving up with a couple laps left.  The hill seemed like no big whoop based on its elevation profile and my brief pre-race eyeballing, and I wasn't concerned.  But when it comes to endurance aerobic activity, a foolish confidence often is worse than none at all.

The whistle blew.  I clipped quickly and jumped to the proximity of the front.  So much for the plan.  Let us now take the time to describe that first lap in some detail, for we will have little to discuss thereafter.  The ascent began almost immediately after the start.  I spun up it effortlessly -- looking back at my power file, I see it was not, but at the time my understanding of reality must have been overwhelmed by the surge of dopamine and adrenaline that washed through my body.  The pack slowed momentarily to negotiate the turn atop the hill, then it was a brisk shot along the back end of the course, over a few small rises, around a turn or two, one bigger hump with another turn, until within a couple minutes we cleared the final roller and charged around the arc onto the straightaway that fronts the parking lot and start line.

Here the race went to hell.  I recall the episode vividly still.  I was riding in fourth slot at the single-file point of the spear.  A slight downward gradient fell out of the wide turn into the straight.  I felt strong.  The pace seemed rather complacent.  I had to warm the brakes to stay off the wheel before me.  But I didn't want to grind brake.  I wanted to charge.  So I pulled your basic roller derby slingshot move coming out of the arc, hit the gas, and leapt around.  Not a sprint, just a solid push into the wind at about 30-32mph or so.  Don't ask: I have no idea what I thought I was going to accomplish.  Drop the field?  I think not.  Nor was that my intention.  The problem is I really had nothing tactical going on in the move, period.  I just wanted to go faster, to taste the air in front for a while.  It was as if I had forgotten I was in a race and not just jousting in a group ride along MacArthur.  Anyway, inevitably, the others jumped into my slipstream.  And so it was that I pulled the field the length of the straightaway, past the start line, and halfway up that maddening little climb.  I was having a ball.  "This is what racing's all about," I chortled.  It was delirium speaking.  As the road turned upward again, I began to dial up the wattage.  Only, rather suddenly actually, I discovered that my legs had turned to clay.  I couldn't push the climb any harder, and that was less hard than my more patient peers.  They swamped me like a slowly rising tide, and I dropped back and back and ultimately out.  Aw, crap.

But my folly did not end.  At this point, I should have cashed every last ounce of mitochondrial fiber to hitch onto the back of the field and then eek a recovery out of the easier side of the course.  Instead, I let them go.  Bye, bye.  I wasn't really thinking at all, to tell the truth.  Somehow, somewhere in that short period when my thumb was pressing the turbo button, not only did my quads fill up with Tabasco sauce, but I lost my mind as well.  My psyche did a significant blue-shift; what had been an acute, Whippet-twitchy eagerness to charge off the front was smothered in a fog of laissez faire complacency.  The stupor began to pass once I crested the hill.  By then, the field had vanished and could not be regained.  I was left to time trial as hard as I could in a cone of silence for the remainder.  I caught and passed a small handful of later dropees, and was passed from behind by one other, but it was not what one might call a successful day at the races.

After my ignominious finish, I stood as a spectator and watched riders from other categories effortlessly streak along the course and smash up the hill, and I began to understand what I had gotten myself into.  Bike racing is really hard.  Now I know.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

18th Annual Carl Dolan Memorial 2011 Senior Men's Category 5 8:45am Cold and Windy Snot-Rocket Circuit Race presented by DC Velo Race Reportage

Ancient history does not sell newspaper, cutting edge news sells newspaper.  I am not in the newspaper selling business.  But so what, it's a fine analogy.  So instead of annotating the tragically funny experience that was my first race, the Black Hills Circuit Race last March 19, or finishing my Sleepaway Camp encomium to the concept that shared suffering is better than suffering alone, both old news now, I will move forward along the arrow of time to the recent past (or near present, if one prefers), and talk about the 18th Annual Carl Dolan Memorial Circuit Race, which I raced this morning.  Bottom line, the Cat 5 race was lots of fun, crash-free (if just barely!), frustratingly slow at points, laden with moments of panic and several bowel-clenching near disasters at others, and topped off by a ridiculously early and tough to pace final sprint which found me out of gas when it counted.  Finish: 21st out of a field of 46-50 or thereabouts.  I loved it, and I thought DC Velo put on a great event.

So let me get some data, the good and the not so good and some other random factoids, out of the way for us:
  • ~9 laps, 18.6 miles
  • Avg speed: 22.9 mph (windy)
  • Max speed: 41 mph
  • Max wattage: 930 (meh)
  • "Normative" wattage: 230 (major meh)
  • 564 kilojoules
  • Max crank torque: 1030 in-lbs.
  • HR:wattage: -2.68% (what does this even mean?)
  • Witnessed nearby wheel bumpage: 3
  • Crashes: 0
  • Lost water bottles: 0 (new record for me)
  • Boogers in face: 1
So, the category 5 race went off at 8:45am.  The wind was running about 15-18mph or so from WSW, according to weather.com, which is never often wrong but in this case seemed about right.  Just before I began my warmup on the trainer, I checked the car external temp gauge, which read 49 degrees.  My garmin, however, tells me the avg. temp for the ride was 53.  Either way, with the wind, it was cold at the line in the morning.  As I mentioned, and unlike my first race, I indulged in a steady 30 minute warm up on the trainer prior to heading to the start, and I felt reasonably alright.  I qualify, as I had not ridden for 2 days and was coming off an arduous team training camp the weekend before (at which I did about 650 TSS, in WKO+ speak), followed by a hills interval ride on Tuesday night and a reasonably hard exertion during a solo ride Thursday -- so really I had no idea how all that was going to play out once I got underway.

We hit the road at a moderate pace, at best.  Everyone was antsy about the wind, I suppose, and no one seemed particularly anxious to take the front along the west side of the course.  Almost immediately a predictable pattern emerged: slow as dogshit on the west side of the roughly square-shaped polygon of the course until you hit the single turn, then immediately out of the saddle sprint like hell up the outside along the east side of the course until the finish line.  Then repeat.  Here and there one or two guns would fire alone, but they were rather easily drawn back when no one went with them and the wind and hill did their work.  This pattern held until about four laps remained, at which time a group of 5 or so fast-looking fellows got away and began to form into a line on the slow, wind-heavy west side.  I was sitting maybe 10th or 15th wheel, and when the first 5 got about a 100m-150m gap, one by one I and several others apparently reached a tacit understanding that the move could have a chance and we should join it or bring it back.  I have no idea why I decided to participate in that effort, given my prerace commitment not to do any epic off the front pulling (my Black Hills lesson), as in retrospect there was slim chance anyone was staying away once we hit the hill, but thinking clearly at 170 bpm isn't my strong suit.  So off I went into no-man's land to chase, along with sets of 2 or 3 others at various intervals before me, and I guess the rest stringing out behind us.  The break wasn't working together very well (I later learned), and we caught it and the whole race came back together on the "foot" of the east-side climb (it maxed out around 3.5% grade, so I don't want to overstate), as I probably should have predicted.  That effort in the wind took its toll.  I redlined on that ascent, and it took eveything I had to keep my claws in the ass-end of the field when it hit the hump at the start-finish area until we ran into the much-blessed slow as dogshit part of the course again.  Thankfully, I think the uptick in pace to catch the break took a toll on the field as well, as the next time we reached the turn /stand-up-and-sprint-to-the-hill-climb component of the course, things felt less fierce and I managed to recover.  After that, I stayed in the thick of the peloton until the final lap.

A couple bad things unfolded at this point.  First, and this is gross, a WWVC or some other red-colored kit guy kindly looked over his right shoulder to check his blindspot before releasing a healthy, one-nostril snot-rocket projectile into the free air.  Unfortunately, and for reasons I cannot explain or understand, although he checked right, he turned and unleashed it over his left shoulder.  Into airspace that my face occupied.  I quickly mentioned my displeasure and kept going past.  He was kind enough to say "sorry," so I guess we're good.  Second, I came off the turn less hot then I had every lap prior.  I guess I was worried about the final climb/sprint and didn't want to cook my goose before I absolutely had to.  I may have been right, but maybe not -- my position entering into the sprint was probably the furthest back in the field at that section of the course that I had sat all morning.  This is a guess, but I must have hit the finishing climb about 30-35th wheel.  I dug deep to pass about a dozen bikes as we approached the 200m mark, and by that time the leaders were already hammering hard for home.  I had no chance, was well beyond red, the horizon shrunk to a dim and narrow tunnel, my aerobic energy system hung from its feet in Shelob's lair, and there was nothing left.  The wattage display on my garmin deteriorated quickly as I crossed the line 21st -- frankly, lucky to hold that.

I am not complaining.  The twenty guys who beat me had more in the tank because they are more fit, or more savvy at speed.  Likely both.  Either way, they win.  Truly, I'm sure the top ten or so would have licked me in the uphill sprint even had I jumped with them.  That said, I would have liked to finish somewhere above 15, even if realistically a mid-pack finish is about right.  Most importantly, though, looking back over the months since November, when I  first decided to give racing a try after riding nothing more than recreational group rides for a year, I recall that my sole goal was simply to finish among the main field in a cat 5 race, to not get dropped.  I figured that would be something.  And now, in my second race ever, I have achieved that something.  It feels good.  Admittedly, maybe I set my sights too low; it feels like I did, now that I've done it.  But that's often the case with goal setting generally.  And back in November the idea that I could accomplish even that modest level of success was far from certain.  So I am quite pleased with the result, and I have modified my goals accordingly.  I still do not expect to affix a podium picture here anytime soon; but I want a 5-10 spot.  (Unfortunately, the next few races are 4/5s, and I think we can all agree I am not likely to make my breakthrough in any of those.)   In a solitary cat 5 field, however, who knows, it just might happen ... so long as I play my cards right and stay away from the plethora of inadvertent cat 5 wheel chopping behavior that, incidentally, I also witnessed today (yes, I'm talking about you, crazy inside-suicide-loving no-kit guy, and you, too, kindly but swervy DC Velo gentleman).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sleepaway Camp (for Cyclists)


When I was twelve, I had wealthy friends who would dissapear for several weeks at a time during summer.  They attended camps with silly names where I understand from innumerable cinematic renderings they spent their time endlessly canoeing, competing in foot races, and making out at night with kids from the neighboring camps.  Finally I get to do the same, absent the boats, foot racing, and getting to first base, or summer weather, for that matter.

Team training camp begins tomorrow.  I promised a kidney to get free of work and began negotiations months ago to attend the three-day span of the event, but somehow I managed.  We will be doing four organized rides through the mountainous wilds of West Virginia, three days of a serious amount of kilojoules expended in my attempt to stay with the group during radical 5 mph ascents, or so I'm led to believe.  We've rented a string of cabins, and will be recieving our new kits as well.  Should be fun.

Welcome to WV, Wild and Wonderful

Early to rise.  In the car.  Traffic congestion worse than I recall -- usually I am sheltered from surface urban morning commuter woes in an aluminum tube with other metro area morlocs.  But eventually I break free of the misery that is the federal enclave and find myself buzzing down 66 to 81 to 48 to 55 to 259 to Lost River State Park in rather rapid succession.  I'm actually early, the first on the team to arrive according to the state parks lady responsible for handing out cabin keys.  As a result, I get the choice of beds, and I conclude that my teammate, the indomitable 55+ racer I've mentioned already, is entitled to the larger single-bed room as he has a podium already this year.  My first-race DNF entitles me to the shared space in room two.

The first camp ride was advertized as a chill, 32-mile session.  The weather was about as I expected: high 30s to low 40s, heavy rain, fog.  Somehow in my preparations I failed to pack more than one set of bibs and forgot my excellent Craft baselayer entirely, and I was soaking wet and nearly hypothermic as soon as I began the decent from my cabin to the appointed meeting spot at the base of the park.  About 18 of us set off together, and the two leaders shot off the front at a fairly rapid pace.  I followed their wheels, and felt fairly strong despite the cold and wet, until within about 1 mile I had hit a pothole at 26mph or so that jettisoned my sole water bottle into the abyss of the roadside forest primeaval.  I already had no clear idea where I was, and definitely none at all where the group was headed so I shrugged off the lost bottle as a propitious sacriface to the woodland gods who patrol those roads and stayed with the group, steeling myself for the test whether I had 30 more miles in my legs waterless without cramping.  Fortunately, a teammate spared me the need to find out when he passed me one of his.  And bonus -- it contained a great tasting drink mix the name of which I really need to learn.  A further aside, the rain was heavy by this point, and I ended up riding sans glasses -- I found it nearly impossible to keep the lenses free enough of mud, water, and general road grit, and the risk-benefit equation of blinding myself to road hazards temporarily versus risking permanent eye injury from flying particulate matter fell in favor of squinting it out.

WV soil -- good for the pores
So, the ride; in a nutshell, it was a lot of fun, mostly in retrospect.  The pace remained energetic throughout.  We encountered lots of chained dogs, kamikazi squirrels, collapsed barns, the most horrendous smells wafting from definitively non-free-range chicken farms, and then a cat with an apparent death wish as well.  By mid-ride the rain had slackened, but the mud coating the road surface had increased and multiplied, so that each of us was pushing the envelop on the amount of gunk that could be plastered into the gaps between brake calipers and across faces.  Animated I suppose by the thought of a weekend filled with more of the same, we barreled down the roadway, a glistening, shivering, mud-covered troop of amateur bike racers, gaudy plummage disguised beneath road spray.  By the time we returned to our cabins, I was drained by the elements, my bike was a disaster, and I was damned excited about the idea of putting an end to the battle against hypothermia through the welcome ministrations of a hot shower.

The hard numbers do the experience no justice, but for the analytical types, here is the ride:  32.8 mi, +1800 feet, 1180 kj.

And so ended the work of the first day of training camp.

A compatriot's rig after mudding it through the first ride
May I Have Another?

Day two dawned misty and cool, but markedly better for outdoor althetic activities than the day that preceded it.  With a huge ribeye dinner at the Lost River Grill and 8 hours in the sack behind me, all vital signs were thrumming and I felt ready for work.  The team assembled at 9am for another 32 miler with moderate climbing and a short gravel-enhanced section.  The working concept was to take it easy and to maintain group cohesion throughout, as the afternoon ride would follow soon after and promised plenty of opportunty for exploding hearts and breaking legs and chainrings.  The ascending began soon enough, turning skyward almost immediately out of the park with a nice and steady ~8% ascent rising about 800 feet over 2 miles (ok, you do the math, but my Garmin was convinced we were at 8 percent most of the time) that we completed in a leasurely 15 minutes.  It was here that we hit the promised off-road portion of the festivities.  Only it turned out that there was a bit of a miscalculation.  What our intrepid expeditionary leader thought would be about 2 to 4 miles of gravel was in fact about 17 miles of dirt and mud and stones, and a weird downhill section with pointy-edged slaty looking things in seriatim rows that worked on the same principle as highway dots on the wrists when hit at speed.

Ascending on dirt in fog.  Remarkable image: Grayson.
When finally we hit real roads, 17 miles later (oh, did I already mention that?), the pace revved up right away.  Turns out we had actually done a fair amount of climbing during the off-road excursion, although I had not noticed given the constant focus on picking lines and washing out around a tangled trail of root wells, mud, rocks, and broken tree limbs.  And I didn't really feel it afterwards either, as it felt so good to let the mental fog lift and open the legs at a pace intended for roadbikes again.  I wasn't alone in submitting to this interesting sense of euphoria --  for a few miles a whole line of us shot down the slim ashpalt track leading out of the dirt pass at well over 24mph.  Then a flat or two brought the pace down, until eventually the whole group of twenty-six reformed into a nice, tight pack three abreast for a nice tour through some gently rolling WV country roads back to the park.   Then it was a quick stop for hosing down the muddy bikes at the guard shack, and the unpleasant little slap-in-the-face climb back home to the cabins for a quick lunch (interesting fact, strava.com rates the mile of asphalt stretching from the park entrance to the door of my cabin itself as a Cat 4 climb), the passing out of new team kits, the taking of the annual team photo, and back again on the bikes for our next ride, including the much anticipated assualt of the mother of all the worst climbs I've ever dreamt of ascending by bike.

Totals for Day 2, Ride 1: 32.3 miles, +2800 feet, 1285 kj.

Sucker.

Cycling, the recreational sport, amazes me for many reasons, but high on the list is the strange proposition that avid cyclists seek solace in suffering, rather than from suffering.  And that perversion of the natural order is perhaps most vividly demonstrated in the desire of otherwise rational minds, once strapped within a vented polysterene foam lid, to look for more horrible, more horrific climbs with which to punish the frail human flesh that houses the soul.  Enter the Saturday afternoon training ride.

Following the team photo extravaganza which was conducted in the freezing, still slightly misty early afternoon air, 25 of us (one kind member agreed to stay behind and trace the route in the unofficial SAG wagon about an hour behind our departure time) set forth on our third ride, this one into the ugly maw of the WV hill country.  Two groups quickly formed, an A and a B essentially.  I rode the A train for about 3 miles, until I hit the identical pothole that bit me on day one and I ejected another freshly filled bottle from my now soon-to-be-replaced carbon fiber cage.  I was not about to attempt this ride bottleless -- I was pushing my luck with just bringing one -- so I dropped back, allowing both groups to whir past me as I retrieved it from a gully beside the road.  No worse for wear, I cranked it up and caught the 5 or so teammates who made up the back group, and jumped in with them.  Along the way we picked up a couple more.  Word was that the front group was setting a terrific pace toward the first climb.  I thanked the minor roadside diety to whom I had sacrificed my first bottle for knocking out the second and saving me from trying to hang with that crew.  What lay ahead would require the freshest set of legs I could manage.

We hit the first climb, the Climb up to THE CLIMB as it were.  The Climb measured a little more than 3 miles in length with an average grade of 6% and 813 feet elevation gain.  It really is a two-part affair, however, as there is a short flat section in the middle.  Whatever, Strava's calculus deteremined that it is Cat 3 worthy, but who knows.  Anywho, we climbed for a little while and opened the legs a bit.  Then followed a grand descent on wide, clean asphalt where I managed to hit 48mph before deciding to pull the ripcord.  About 30 miles in, the general store, our mid-ride rest stop, hove into view.  I dove into a snickers and coke refuel in preparation for the murderous stretch of winding road that I could glimps in the distance when I dared look over my shoulder. 

So let's get to it then.  The agony ultimately would last about 50 minutes, long stretches of which passed at a blistering 4mph turning my 39-28 at a startlingly painful 45-50 revolutions a minute.  For unknown reasons, we collectively decided to push toward this thing of beauty in a singlefile paceline.  I did my part, taking a hard pull and not really saving enough to latch back on without some pain.  Unfortunately, as I was dropping back one of my teammates opened a spot for me in the middle of the line, but I realized it only after I had fallen behind the optimal point for jumping into the hole.  I had to sprint to make it in, and as soon as I did I knew it was over.  The line was moving fast, and I popped just trying to maintain the pace even with the shelter of a wheel in front of me.  I waived him past with a feeble "I'm done" and then swung out into free air to run my own pace into the maw of the mountain.  By the time I reached the foot, I could see only flashes of a white and blue host rising between the trees in the distance.  I followed at my pace, and began to recover and pick up stragglers along the way.  The climb was about 5 miles long.  By about two miles in, I had passed 3 or 4 others, and was riding at the same pace as a group of 3 guys.  One was the stolid Nathan.  After a couple miles he began to give up his lunch, his own form of sacrificial offering.  By this time, I was deep in extremis, inhabiting that part of my mental space that is reserved for only most harrowing encounters with physiological distress.  The best I could do was weakly inquire if he would live as I wobbled past.  Interstingly, he soon thereafter past me, seemingly refreshed, and I and the others never saw him again.  The other two with whom I found myself sharing the throws of aerobic and neuromuscular agony -- Tom and John -- were the perfect company for this ordeal.  We three hit the same stride, suffered and weaved through the same stretches, and remained a unit the whole way up.  During my darkest moments, when I actually dared suggest that I might be close enough to death that the sag wagon may be in my near future, Tom gave me a mini-lesson in ascending tactics that put me back on track.  John fought on through a leg cramp and back breaking switchbacks indomitably.  The psychology of mutual affection that brands those who undergo shared suffering -- well explored by United States Marine Corps drill sergeants, remarked upon regularly in the literary treatments of the victims of unkind prison wardens -- was fully in effect, and those two soldiers will forever enjoy a most favored nation status in my mind.

The broken, the unbowed, and the beguiling call of the escape pod
Ultimately, after 50 minutes of climbing, we three arrived as a group at the peak and slid into an ice-flecked cloud that had settled upon the crest of the mountain -- nearly 4.5 miles, 10% average grade, 2000 feet ascended, with innumerable switchbacks hitting 17-18%.  Without a doubt, the most difficult climb I have ridden to date, and all the harder with 90 miles and about 5000 feet in my legs in the thirty hours prior to arriving at its base.  The rest of the day was spent in frigid descent, then a 10 mile stretch back to the park that passed in a blur.  The only real recollection of that segment comes from a photo shot nearing the border of our campground, John perched boldly on his seat, me hunched and clearly undone by the work of the day.  Of course, in the strange way of cyclists, I look back upon this pain-filled afternoon with regret that I am not riding that hill again tomorrow.  To suffer is to live.

Totals for Day 2, Ride 2: 48.0 miles, +5600 feet, 1900kj.