Sep 28, 2011

Everest Challenge Stage 2 report

When we left off, I was tearing up on top of Rock Creek, but there wasn’t much time for that, as I needed to recover as intensely as I just beat up my body. At the top, the great volunteers had recovery drink mixes, soup and other goodness to replenish, salts, calories and other necessary elements. Having snacked for a bit, it was now time to make my way down the hill. And that’s where Brooks and I had a bit of a SNAFU.

I managed to get a ride down to Tom’s place, but was solo from that point on. I didn’t see Brooks at Tom’s Place and hoped to find him at Millpond, where we started that morning. It was about 19 miles to Millpond, mostly downhill on 395. However, the speed with which one can actually go down 395 on a bike was largely exaggerated during the pre-race meeting on Friday. I was hoping to hit 50, but had to settle for 30s at the highest of speeds. I think next time I’ll pack a few bricks into the bag I send to the finish.

When I got to Millpond, I noticed the car was gone. I figured that Brooks took it to Tom’s Place, or to the summit to try to pick me up. Oops! I flagged down a couple, who was packing in their gear at the car, and asked to use their phone to call Brooks. I left him a message that I was going to head to the hotel. It was another six miles to the hotel, but other than the first flat mile, the other five were all downhill, so I pretty much just rolled.

This little adventure actually wasn’t that bad, as it let me spin my legs easy and my cramping was almost gone by the time I got to the hotel. Now it was time for an ice bath and compression tights. I have to admit, this was my first time ever trying the ice bath therapy routine, and I’ve decided that it will be reserved only for such extremes as Everest Challenge because it is probably more unpleasant than most of the cramps I had to deal with that day. Compression tights and the roller are always part of my recovery equation, and this was no exception. Race hard, recover harder!

Race day

My legs actually felt okay on Sunday morning, and I was happy that there was no excess built up lactic acid – at least none I felt. The morning was much cooler than the day prior, but as always for this race, I dressed to a bare minimum – bibs and jersey – no warmers or jackets of any kind. After a few neutral miles, we crossed 395 and began the ascent up the first climb.

The first climb of day two is about an eight-mile climb up to Glacier Lodge. Most of the climb averages about 8 percent and it flattens out considerably in the last mile and a half or so. It wasn’t a bad climb because it was still cool, but it was taxing because of the steep steady grades and 15,000 feet in my legs from the day before.

The field stayed together in the beginning, but once the steeper sections began, it split up and I was once again on my own. I was passing some and being passed by others, making my way toward the top of the climb. I knew that this day was going to be different. There weren’t going to be any clouds, or cool winds, and I had to brace for heat that was surely going to hit the desert at some point during the race. But for now, it was all about making it up this first climb.

As I approached the top, I saw Brooks begin to descend. The front group, with which he went up the climb, had already descended and I knew exactly what was going on. Brooks decided to wait for me at the top, but got too cold and began coming back down. This was reaffirmed when he said he was going to wait for me by the car as we passed each other. The idea was for him to stay with me that day, but what worked out best for both of us was for him to drop me on climbs and eat at rest stops while I caught up. I had a buddy to ride with part of the ways, and he wasn’t bonking and getting dehydrated. I’ve gotten used to being able to consume most of my calories while on the bike, but I know that doesn’t come easy for others. It certainly didn’t for me at first.

I made it down from Glacier Lodge and found Brooks waiting by the car. I kept going toward the second climb of the day, he quickly caught on and we continued together. At this point we were about a third of the way through the race distance-wise, but of the 40 or so miles left in the race, 30 would be uphill.

We began the second climb, which rises just over 2000 feet in 6.6 miles. It is the complete opposite of the Glacier Lodge climb – the pitches are all very mellow, averaging around 6.3 percent, but it is completely exposed and hot. There is absolutely nowhere to hide from the sun. In fact, if you ever wanted to see the California desert up close and personal, this is the road to take.

Luckily, when we began climbing, it was not too hot, and Brooks was doing a nice job of pacing me up the climb through about half way, then he took off. At the end of the climb, there was an aid station, and Brooks was waiting for me there. As with the rest station at Glacier Lodge, there were no handups, so I had to stop and have my bottle filled. I also grabbed a banana to munch on the way down. 

Two climbs out of the way, one to go. That’s what I kept telling myself as I flew back down through Waucoba  Canyon toward the last climb up White Mountain. This was the last climb of the day, but it was also the longest and in my opinion the hardest of the whole race. From the bottom of Waucoba Canyon, it was 22 miles to the finish on White Mountain.

The climb is best described in three parts. The first part of the climb is seven miles long. It rises from the desert to 6000 feet, where the first aid station would be waiting for me. The first two miles are rather mild, with low grades and some rollers so the legs can get momentary reprieve and coast. Then, however, it pitches up to 8-10 percent and stays that way to the end of the section.

Once I hit the higher pitches, I knew I was about to pay for all of my pervious efforts and then some. The sun was high and so were the temperatures. My Garmin registered the highest temperature of around 97, and my body was feeling it. It was a struggle to hold a pace of higher than 5mph. After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the first aid station. The only thing that kept me in the saddle was the fear that if I stopped midway, it would me one of many stops and this climb would drag out forever.

At 6000 feet, Brooks was waiting for me (having dropped me about 2 miles into this stretch of road). I had to stop and get some ice in my bottles and swallow some coke with endurolyte pills. Then we were off again.

Now it was time to climb another 2000 feet in seven miles toward the second aid station on the climb. This middle portion is not too bad. It has milder pitches, a few flats and a couple small rollers. Additionally, once I got above 7000 feet, the temperatures began to drop and heat was not as much of a factor. One thing that never really left my mind, however, was the finish of this climb – three miles at 10 percent or more. I reached the second and last aid station, and Brooks was once again there waiting for me. After some more coke and a few pieces of banana, it was time to finish this climb.

After the last aid station, the climb continued mildly for several miles, with false flats, a downhill and some mild pitches before turning on a switchback and pointing up. I knew as soon as I turned the switchback that this was it; these were the last three miles.

Twenty-seven and a half thousand feet were already in my legs over two days of racing. The sun at the bottom of White Mountain sapped much of my energy reserve. I was physically very exhausted and mentally I wanted to be done. It was a struggle between my mind that wanted it to be over and my legs that could push no harder. My hear rate absolutely refused to go above 140. There was one thing I was thankful for, at 8000 feet, it was 77 degrees and breezy.

One leg turning over the other, I pushed as much as I could, but often slowed down to barely a crawl. I knew that this was going to be a very long slog like this, so I started playing a game – a couple minutes of steady pedaling, then 20 pedal strokes out of the saddle, then repeat. This kept me entertained for a bit, but the fatigue kept catching up to me. I felt like my body needed more calories and that I was headed for a bonk. I knew I had about a mile and a half to go, but I would not make it if I didn’t do something immediately.

I got off the bike, legs to the sides, head on my forearms, on the handlebars. Not a minute passed by that a car parked behind me and a guy walked up to me. All I saw were his shoes, as I had absolutely no intention of lifting my head to see who it was. He offered me endurolytes – I declined saying that I don’t have cramping issues, which was the truth. Then, he decided to be helpful and show me how much further I had to go, but I already knew that too, so I told him I’m fine, again. With a pat on the back, I was left alone. I reached back for my last Mojo Bar and when I looked at it and started salivating, I knew that the dreaded bonk was just around the corner. I quickly ate the bar, drank it down with water and pressed on.

I was remembering how much I suffered on this climb a year ago, having to stop many times to prevent overheating and muster up the energy to continue. This year was better, but still miserable (and I use that word in the most endearing sense possible). I finally crossed the 1000M mark and I knew it was just a mater of a few minutes before I can get off my bike. I started to pick up pace, or at least as much as I could, and push as high of a gear as my legs would allow to get this over with as quickly as possible. Then the 200M mark was in sight, and just then I saw someone in my field coming even with me on the climb. I really didn’t want to be passed in the last 200M of the race, so I got out of the saddle and “sprinted” for about 50 yards to the turn, knowing that it was a slight downhill from there to the finish line. I yelled out my number as I crossed the line. I did it!!!

I was done. That was it. I was now a two-time finisher of Everest Challenge. My official time for Day 2 was 6:36, a much better time than last year’s 7:29. The total time over two days was 13h58m41s. My goal when I started day two was to finish under 14 hours – I didn’t think it would be that close, but I’ll take it.

When I started writing about the first stage of this race, my legs still hurt too much to think about doing this again, but now that the final keystrokes are being put toward this chapter, I know that I’ll be back at EC next year, hunting for an even better time, with hopefully a better pair of legs. 

Sep 27, 2011

Everest Challenge Stage 1 report

It was Friday, and Brooks and I were on our way to Bishop to tackle the race that nearly mentally cracked me a year prior. For Brooks, this would be his first attempt at Everest Challenge. We were both entered in the Elite 4 field, but I was only going out there to race one person, myself a year ago. I knew how much pain and suffering the race has to offer, but was confident that this year would be better. It had to be better - thousands of miles, hundreds of thousands of feet of climb, countless 5 am wake ups, and more times up Hawk Hill than I care to count - it had to be better.

Interesting news trickled in days before the race. Stage one was going to be run in reverse this year, making Rock Creek the last climb instead of the first. The reversal would also eliminate 12 flat “junk” miles we’d have to cover between climbs, which I was happy about, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have a side-by-side comparison of my performances from a year prior. Another thing that looked very promising was the weather – unlike last year, record heat was not in the forecast.

Race Day

As I was getting myself ready, Nate English came over to borrow my pump. We made some small talk and I commented on whether he was looking forward to setting another course record on a different course. He had a very humble reply. Something to the tune of having stopped serious training a month or so prior and not being sure of how he felt. As he handed the pump back, he said: “Good luck, don’t die!” I smiled and replied, “You too!”

We staged at Millpond Recreation area and shortly after 7:30 am, our field was set loose to battle it out on the climbs of East Sierra. The field was neutral for the first few miles, but then as we turned toward the climb to South Lake, the race was on. A few guys went off the front, while I held my pace steady. Some of the racers passed me, some stayed behind. For a race like this, I know what I can do and I’m realistic about my abilities. I know I’m not in the elite group of climbers who can win that race, but I also know I’m good enough to put in a good performance if I race my own race – not someone else’s. Those guys who are better climbers will likely beat me anyway, and those who aren’t, but burst ahead, I will catch at some point when they blow up or have no more to give.

The climb up to South Lake is 17 miles long, averaging 5.5 percent and rising almost 5000. The morning was still cool. I wasn’t overheating, and my heart rate allowed me to work in the 170s to pace myself up the climb.

A group of about 20 riders from our 42-person field went off the front and I was alone for a bit, racing my own race. Then a group of six very chatty riders came up behind me and sat one my wheel for what seemed quite a long time. Not that there was much drafting going on at those speeds, but perhaps they found the pacing helpful. Eventually I rotated to the back of the group and a mile or so later, I let them go ahead (I caught and passed most of them later on).

At mile 15 was the first aid station; I grabbed a hand up bottle without stopping and pressed on to the top. As I approached the summit of the climb, I was happy that this was the first climb instead of last because the final pitches toward the finish would have really stung the legs, as they surpassed 15 percent in the final stretch. As I gained elevation, the air became cooler and I started moving a bit faster, gaining some ground on other racers. I reached the summit aid station and while I was making my turnaround, my bottle was being filled with water. Again without stopping, I pressed on and it was now time for a very long descent.

The heat of the working muscles, together with the cool air at nearly 10,000 feet resulted in my thighs beginning to cramp up. This wasn’t good. Cramps 20 miles into a 88-mile race are never good, but considering I had another 10,000 feet to climb that day, it was especially not good. I tried to spin my legs easy as I was descending to loosen up the muscles, hoping that once I was in the warmth of the desert once again the cramping would subside. It did, somewhat. I was also pouring water on my legs, which helps with cramps.

I made it down and it was now time for a few flat chore miles to get to the base of the second climb up to Pine Creek. I got on a wheel of one of the riders from a different field, and asked him if it was okay to sit behind him for a bit to let my legs “uncramp.” He didn’t mind and in this race, working together with different fields was allowed, so it was all good.

I was on his wheel for about a mile, until we passed the staging area where I stopped by my car to swap bottles before pressing on. As I moved toward the base of the climb, I was caught by another rider in my field and we rode together through the six flat miles to the start of the Pine Creek climb. 

At mile 47, another rest station came and I yelled for a water handup, what I got, however, was HEED – I hate HEED! I had a choice, turn around, toss the bottle (essentially wasting it) and grab another one of water, or deal with it. I decided to deal with it and pressed on. Luckily, the HEED was very mildly mixed and I didn’t have any problems taking it down.

The climb up Pine Creek is 7.6 miles long averaging just over 6 percent. This was the climb that took a lot out of me last year because it was hot and exposed. This year began similarly as I started to climb from the base, with the sun already beating me over the head. I kept telling myself: “Keep on pushing, it’s not that bad. Sherman Pass was twice as long and much, much hotter, and you survived!”

About half way through the climb, mother nature smiled at me in it’s own little way. A cool breeze hit my face. I looked up and ahead of me saw ominous clouds and heard rumblings of thunder in the background. The sun slowly disappeared, tiny raindrops began to fall and strong, cool gusts of wind began to hit my face and body – I was in heaven.

I livened up, my speed increased, my legs took on a life on their own and with an ear-to-ear grin on my face I shot up the last half of the climb, catching and passing riders that had passed me much earlier. I wanted more of this, more wind, more cold, more rain. This was my kind of weather, my kind of element. While others put their head down to brace for the strong headwinds, I sat up, exposing my chest to it and plowed on enjoying how it cooled my body.

I stopped at the top of Pine Creek for just a brief second. I ate a few pieces of banana while my bottles were being filled and swallowed a few endurolyte pills with some ibuprofen to subdue the cramps.

It was now time to fly down the decent, and fly I did. Pine Creek was my fastest descent from anywhere, averaging 43.6 miles an hour for 7.6 miles, and it probably would have been even faster without the cars I had to pass because they weren’t moving fast enough.

The next five miles to the base of the last climb were flat with a mix of headwinds, tailwinds and crosswinds, as the gusts became stronger and stronger. As I was approaching the base of the last climb up Rock Creek, I knew I needed to eat, so I grabbed a Mojo Bar out of my back pocket, but the cross-winds were so strong, that eating it was a challenge because I was afraid if I took one hand off the bars, I’d get blown over, but somehow I managed to stuff it into my mouth and drown it with water. Then I had to take a nature break, and guys reading this can appreciate the complications strong winds that can cause in that endeavor, but I came out “unscathed.”

Then it was on to the last 20 miles of the day. With the exception of about a 1-mile downhill, the last 20 miles would be uphill, averaging about 5 percent. As I made my way up the climb, another rest station was ahead, I yelled for another water handup, this time asking twice to make sure I was getting water before I went in for the grab – indeed I was.

The climb was steady, and I pressed on, passing a few people who had stopped to get things at the aid station, or at the side of the road. I knew that there was a downhill coming that would give me some time to recover, so I pushed a slightly higher gear than I would have had it been a steady climb all the way. The downhill came and went and it was time for the two most dangerous moves of the race – crossing highway 395 twice! Luckily, the traffic was light and before I knew it, I was at final aid station before the finish. I needed both my bottles refilled, so I had to stop. While the wonderful volunteers were filling my bottles, I grabbed a banana and downed half a coke.

Ten miles to go to the top. As I was ready press on, to my astonishment, I saw Brooks sitting on the ground at the rest stop – I thought that he was long at the top of the climb, knowing that he’s a much better climber than I am, but he wasn’t having the best day in the saddle. I continued on having yelled some words of motivation in his direction, hoping to see him flying by me shortly. (That wasn’t the case, but that’s not my story to tell.)

The last 10 miles lay ahead. It was cool, the clouds were over my head, and I was in my element, feeling great and motivated to finish strong. But it wasn’t all that easy.

Remember those cramps I had earlier? Well, they didn’t go anywhere and while they were only lingering from mile 20 to what was now mile 78, half a mile from the rest stop, as I got out of the saddle to take a few pedal strokes and change up the muscle groups, my thighs completely seized up, causing me to grind my teeth and force the legs to rotate through pain just so I could keep the momentum going or risk falling over.

One painful pedal stroke after another and pressed on, but knew I was not going to be able to finish like that. So I made a very quick stop and swallowed some more edurolyte pills and some more ibuprofen, hoping to ease the pain. One thing was on my mind, the slogan from the backside of Rocktape that was ensuring my left Achilles tendon would survive the ride: “Pain is the weakness leaving the body!”

I kept rotating it in my head, over, and over, and over again, knowing that I cannot stop again, not until the top. Pain, cramps, fatigue, elevation, none of that mattered, I had to press on. I was catching and passing many riders, some of whom I didn’t think I’d see again, but there they were, and there they went. The cramps were not letting up. I put my hand on my left thigh, it was rock solid even in relaxed state, same with the right. I didn’t care. With a masochistic grin on my face I kept turning the pedals over.

Up ahead I saw two riders from my field, who passed me a long time ago. I thought I would sit on their wheels for a bit before passing, so as to not create a cat and mouse game, but when I approached, I saw they were in no shape to chase. I gathered every muscle in my body, clicked the shifter a few times and attacked past them out of the saddle. I looked back - there was no reaction. I settled in and continued. The pain became even worse. Now my inner thighs were starting to seize up and each pedal stroke felt like I was fighting all sorts of forces within my body.

It seemed like I caught four or five second-winds up that climb because with each jolt of pain came a jolt of adrenaline that propelled me further. Then, there it was, the mark I was waiting to see all that time – 1000M to go. Just 1KM and I can get off my bike. I’ve already pedaled for over an hour through the worst cramps I ever had on a bike. I jolted forward, and before I knew it, the 200M mark was under my wheels (in chalk), just a few more moments and I crossed the finish line in 7 hours and 21 minutes (with only 4 minutes and 27 seconds of stop time) – 2 hours and 9 minutes faster than my time from the year prior.

I knew it wasn’t a fair comparison because of the change in route, but to me, it was an accomplishment nonetheless. I was proud of what I had done on that day and as I crossed the finish, I was overcome with a completely unexpected wave of emotions.

I likewise knew that many, many riders in my field had finished ahead of me, but I didn’t care. On that day one of two, I won the race against myself and was one tiny step closer to becoming one of them. I was also happy to have had sunglasses on, so the tear that trickled down my cheek was easy to disguise as sweat.

But there was no time to bask in any self-glory, as another stage lay ahead and I knew there was a chance that in much less than 24 hours,  I would pay dearly for the efforts of the day.

Everest Challenge Stage 2 coming tomorrow!

Sep 20, 2011

Folsom Cyclebration Omnium report

Another weekend spent racing near Sacramento strongly reaffirmed what I had already suspected: heat and anaerobic efforts don’t agree with me. At this point, you probably know how the rest of this report is going to go, but knowing that most of you enjoy reading about my suffering, I won’t spare you any details.

Challenge Criterium

The crit was actually the best race of the whole Omnium weather-wise because it started at 8 in the morning when it was only about 70 degrees. The course was sort of bean shaped, with only two wide sweeping turns and an arch linking them. The length of the course was .7 miles and the pace was fast for most of the race.

I lined up in the first row and knew exactly what I was going to do, attack right out of the blocks. I knew that I had a TT coming up in the afternoon, so I wasn’t really planning on getting into a break from the start line, but I wanted to see how motivated the group was and how my legs felt. After flying solo for about a lap and a half, I saw there was no chase and the legs seemed okay, so I settled into the middle of the group to see how the race would develop.

There were five primes for the taking. The first two were a gym membership and a t-shirt, neither of which I was particularly interested in. The last three primes would be for points, two for each (two points at an ominium equals to one place, in principle).

Attacks and breaks went flying fairly often, but all got chased down. About two thirds through the race, with two riders up the road, a rider from Davis tried to bridge and I jumped on his wheel. After turn two, I got on the nose and took my pull, but saw that the rest of the field was on our tails and just sat up to let someone else finish off the chase.

Fast forward to three laps to go, the pace picks up. In fact, it picked up so much, that I somehow forgot we did a lap. On what I thought was lap three, but was actually lap two, the pace almost halted for some reason after turn one and some derailleur to front wheel action in front of me required me to got a bit heavy on the brakes. This wasn’t too big of a deal because I was neither off the back, or crashed out, but I knew I had to move up quickly because it wasn’t going to get any calmer. As I’m making my way up the field, we pass the start/finish and I see one to go (fully expecting to see two to go).

Now I have to make up the distance in the field in one lap that I was planning to make up in two. All of a sudden, a San Jose junior finds an open lane on the inside and I’m riding his wheel past half the field, then the field swings left and that gets door shut down in a hurry. Through some maneuvering, I was able to roll in for 14th, but knowing I seriously screwed up that finish.

The South Canal TT

I was counting on making up some points in the TT, which was an out and back course, just shy of 11 miles with a set of three rollers in the first (and accordingly last) 2 miles of the course. The rollers are short, maybe 50 meters at the most, but very steep, 12 percent or more for sure. This was the same distance as the Madera TT which I killed, so I was hoping for a similar performance.

I felt good during the warmup. Despite the fact that the temperatures were now creeping up into the high 80s, my heart rate seemed to be not off the charts and the power was there.

I hit the course hard, getting my HR over 170 in the first 30 seconds or so and holding there on the way out. I was told that it was easy to go out too hard, which I realized when I started hitting 30mph on the way out and almost touching 40 going down the backside of the rollers. I made it to the turn around point in about 11:30, which was a very good time, assuming I could do something similar on the way back.

The way back proved to be more of a challenge with fatigue setting in, heart rate creeping up and a headwind slowing me down. At one point, my mouth had become so dry, I could not physically swallow, so to minimize time loss, I waited until I was on the downside of the roller, and while gravity was helping me, I grabbed a gulp of water. Except that my HR was so high, all I could do was swoosh it around my mouth and spit it back out, none of it wanted to go in, but it did what I needed it to do.

I finished in 26:04, a fairly disappointing time because I was aiming at about 25 minutes. Just like in the crit, I was 14th in the TT – my worst TT finish in the last two years – oh well.

Folsom Circuit Race

My start for the circuit race was at 2:25 pm, and it was getting hot. The course was absolutely awesome, and I wish I could race it again in much cooler weather. It was a 2.4 mile circuit, with six 90-degree turns, a couple of sweepers, a few undulations to break up the rhythm and one Euro-style roundabout. I talked to Michael and Phill before the race and they both told me to stay on the inside on the roundabout to avoid trouble, which I did.

We ended up racing eight laps or about 20 miles. I was fine in the pack for the first six laps, but as we were racing, the heat was going up and I was slowly starting to cook. Dumping water on myself no longer worked, as it was hot. With two laps to go, it was time to start making moves and as I tried to move up, my body started fighting me and I started to remember Sacramento Grand Prix. On the last lap, my body had enough and I was literally cooked. The field split right before my eyes and I just didn’t have enough in the gut to bridge and ended up rolling in. I didn’t check, but I’m pretty sure I was either last or almost last (unless we lost some people on earlier laps, which is possible).

Some people don’t like climbs, some don’t like crits, and I don’t like heat. Next year, anything that will have me racing in the 90s or above at anaerobic levels, I’m not doing. Considering I only had a handful of races like that this year, I don’t think I’m giving up much.

There’s more coming later this week on my ever-growing to-do list and I’ll go out on a limb and make some Everest Challenge predictions (oy!). 

Sep 12, 2011

Sacramento Grand Prix and rant

As far as the race was concerned, I don’t really have much in terms of colorful commentary. I’ve said it again and you will probably read these words on this blog many times in the future – I don’t do well in the heat. I think it was in the mid-nineties on Saturday when we lined up for the race around 2pm.

I was sweating just standing on the start line waiting for the whistle, so when the race started, the heat was really on. We had about 70 people in our field on a very fast, very open, 4-corner counterclockwise circuit. It’s the same circuit used by Tour of California for their finish in Sacramento, which I thought was very cool, but I too, would have like to have raced there in May, when it was probably a bit on the cooler side.

I didn’t realize what a toll the heat had been taking on my body until about the third or fourth lap when I decided to attack and test my legs. The field wasn’t really chasing, so I put some distance between myself and the front of the peloton and settled in. I was probably pushing something in the 400-watt range, which I can do for about 90 seconds to two minutes without much (if any) burn in the legs, especially that early in the race.

All of a sudden, I started to feel not so good, while my legs were still feeling pretty strong. I looked down at my Garmin and saw my HR was at 192 – I have not seen my HR in the 190s this whole year (I ultimately maxed out around 195, one beat off my max). The effort felt like I should have been in the high 170s. I knew then that I wasn’t going to be doing much in this race except trying no to overheat.

I tried to stay near the front for as long as I could, eventually finding myself in the back because I just didn’t have the extra energy to expend to fight for position. I would drift back and forth in the field for the whole race. With three to go, I started to shiver. The only reason to shiver in near 100-degree heat is that your body is overheating. So the last three laps were a balance of trying not to puke, not to pass out going into a corner and not to finish dead last. I rolled in about mid-pack, with my legs feeling like they barely raced at all, and everything else in my body feeling like it was ready to melt into puddle of amorphous matter.

My average HR was 183 for the race, that’s eight beats higher than the hardest crit I raced all year, which was Benicia. And seven beats higher than the Berkley crit I raced after a night of drinking, eating and 4.5 hours of sleep (my max in that one was 185).

Now for the (not so) mini rant

There were many things that the promoters of Sacramento Grand Prix did right, and I’d like to acknowledge and commend those first. The course was set up wonderfully, with all corners cleaned, all dangerous elements covered and railing set up to prevent pedestrians from wandering on course. The setup, announcer’s both, lap counter and all of that was very, very pro. It was also a nice touch to see my name on my number and to be able to grab Cytomax and/or Muscle Milk after the race. Lastly, emailing the results right after the event was a great touch and obviated the need for all to gather in one place to see a piece of paper posted on a wall.

From that point on, however, things took a turn. The numbers, while a great touch, were printed on crap. This probably doesn’t affect most of you, but it does affect me because I glue my numbers on and when only the top layer comes off upon removal, that’s a sign that the number was printed on cheap material. Nothing that Goo Gone can’t take care of in about 3 minutes, but still very annoying, especially when the back of the number has a beer ticket on it!

Yes, I know, by NCNCA rules I’m supposed to have my number pinned and my number always has pins in it. Now whether those pins actually hold the number to my skinsuit, that’s another story. If the officials want to call me out on it, they are more than welcome.  Frankly, if they do it after reading my blog, I will be both shocked and flattered at the breadth of my audience.

As far as that beer, I didn’t have a problem getting it. That is, after I walked the lady in charge of the beer garden entrance to someone who knew what the hell was going on to get confirmation on the fact that a number did really get those who raced one free beer. The choices of beer left A LOT to be desired. Let’s just say I’m sure they ran out of Sierra Nevada pretty quickly. I’m actually not complaining about the beer, it was free after all, and at $2 a glass (after the free one), no one was getting ripped off.

The biggest problem I had with the race is what happened toward the end. I guess this is the same thing that has been happening at other races this promoter has put on, but this was the first one of theirs that I raced. While the women P/1/2/3 race was going on, five or six young ladies showed up, dressed in very gaudy fashionably questionable outfits (I’ve spent a couple years clubbing 3-4 nights a week, believe me, these were bad), with absurd funny pink umbrellas, and headed to the VIP section. Turns out, their main role was to walk the P12 guys getting callups from where the field staged to the line – a whole 10 yards. And considering most guys met them half way, it was more like five yards.

First of all, for the promoters to assume that those women were there to give us (spectators) a show after the P123 women just raced very hard for 80 minutes is in my opinion extremely disrespectful to the entire women’s field, which I personally found much more entertaining (in many senses of that word) to watch than the umbrella girls (as the promoters called them).

Second of all, the riders couldn’t care less if the girls were there or not. Most didn’t know what the hell to do once greeted by them. The rest just wanted to get on with the race – it was very visible in their faces.

Lastly, no one came there to see the umbrella girls. We came there to see some of the top pros and amateurs duke it out in fashion. We were there to watch cycling, in its pure, wonderful, powerful form. The umbrella girls added nothing, but their presence managed to cheapen the whole thing. I still don’t quite understand why all this pretentiousness had to be infused into the race. It was the ONLY race this year where I didn’t quite feel in my own element as a spectator post my own race. But maybe that was just I, and I shouldn’t take objectifying women for no reason whatsoever so seriously, but that kind of goes beyond the scope of this blog. 

I could probably go on and on about how ridiculously stupid it is to have a VIP section at an amateur event of this type, but I won’t. Instead I’m going to suggest they get another announcer for their next race, someone who’s actually familiar with NCNCA rules and local racers. How the hell do you confuse Bubba Melcher with Dean Leberge – even from 200 meters out?!?

Rant over. Hopefully next year there will be some improvement, and maybe if the umbrella girls won’t go away, at least the promoters will consider inviting some variation of Chip ‘n’ Dale dancers to escort the women racers to the line. You know, in the spirit of keeping all things equal. 

Sep 7, 2011

This commuting by bicycle thing...

I think I shocked quite a number of people a few weeks ago when I tweeted that it was the first time I’ve ever biked to work. I know, kind of crazy for a guy who’s been biking thousands of miles a year for a number of years to have never have ridden to work, but it just kind of worked out that way for several reasons.

First, when I really started riding, I lived in Chicago, and while there were some hardcore commuters who would bundle up and venture out in freezing weather, that really never appealed to me. Riding through axle deep slush and salt is not very pleasant or good for equipment. In the summer, it was just too damn hot and humid, and I had to be either in a suit or in business dress every day at work. Coming in looking like a sweaty mess into a law office didn’t seem like a very viable option. Lack of showers at the said office didn’t make it any easier.

So that was that, but then I moved to San Francisco. No snow, no hot summers and I don’t have to wear a suit to work anymore.  Apparently no excuses, right? Well, not quite.

This brings me to my second point. I actually don’t despise the commute as much as I sometimes let on through my complaints about MUNI. My commute is relatively short – 20-30 minutes from the door of my house to my office chair – and it gives me a chance to do things before or after work that I enjoy, like reading Bicycling, or getting Philz coffee, or just totally spacing out to some music while I mentally prepare for work, or unwind from work and daydream about what to cook for dinner. Somehow banking the saved time and using it for those activities never really works out, as that time is immediately occupied by something else.

Lastly, there are a few pesky logistical issues I didn’t really want to deal with, like packing a pair of non-bike shoes, finding a proper bag to ride with that won’t fly around and making sure my bike would be safe.

I know, all of these things taken individually are probably pretty petty and pathetic (that’s a lot of P-words), but taken together, the 10-15 minute time saving in my commute wasn’t worth dealing with them or giving up the things I actually enjoy about the commute. But then the BART protests started and getting stranded at the office wasn’t fun, so I bit the bullet and rode my bike to work and ended up liking it a great deal. Even those pesky logistical details didn’t seem like that big of a deal when it actually came down to it. For the last several weeks, I’ve been commuting to work my bicycle and it’s not been all that bad, very good actually.

I wouldn’t yet call myself a total commuter because the only place I commute to/from is work. I still walk and use public transportation to get around the city for all my other errands. Mainly this is because I don’t really own a bike lock and when I get to work, my bike goes next to my desk. I’m also not in the market for a bike lock because I don’t have a single bike I’m willing to let out of sight anywhere in this city, even with heavy chains wrapped around it.

The above notwithstanding, my foray into the world of bike commuting did give me a new perspective on riding and I’ll share a few of my observations.

The first day I commuted to work, I realized that there is a practical use for skinny jeans. I would never wear them, mainly because I can’t get my legs into them, unless the waist size is a 38, but even if they fit, I think it’s one of the ugliest things anyone can put on. A striped dress shirt comes in close second. (No need to get offended if you consider you skinny jeans and striped dress shirt as your best outfit. I’m sure I, too, offend the fashion senses of others on a daily basis.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into fashion at all; in fact, having worked in journalism for over a year now, I’ve probably lost whatever little fashion sense I ever had, but not the skill to tell ugly from non-ugly.

Dodging traffic is its own type of a thrill. The shortest route between my house and my office is a straight shot down Market Street and the organized morning rush chaos that it is. Other than the rails, the cracks, the bumps, cars weaving in and out of lanes and Cat. 6 commuters, the ride isn’t really that bad. I’m sure the skill of squeezing into a foot and a half of space between the curb and the oversized cargo van stopped at a red light will also come in handy at some point – cross season?

Whenever I’m out for a “regular” ride, most riders I see around me are dressed similarly: spandex, helmet, bike shoes, road bike, etc. Among commuters, however, homogeneity is non-existent. One of the ways I kill time at red lights is trying to figure out what the rider next to me does for a living based on how he or she is dressed and the bike. I’m sure that 99 percent of the time, I’m totally wrong, but that doesn’t make guessing any less fun. Especially if the object of my attention is dressed in completely incompatible way with bicycling – short tight dress, fishnet stockings and 6-inch heels pushing SPD pedals on a bike that clearly has seen its share of singletrack - and yet navigates the bike as well as the helmetless, fixie-riding hipster with no brakes on his bike and no tight dress to get in the way. (I’ve noticed a positive correlation between the absence of brakes on fix-geared bikes and absence of helmets on their owners’ heads, and all of them guys.)

I’m going to keep commuting to work on most days, and who knows, maybe I’ll become a more avid commuter and acquire an older bike I won’t be afraid to lock up outside while grocery shopping. But I’ll take it in baby steps. For now, perhaps the new cycling experiences will prompt more interesting blog posts (“more” modifies “blog posts,” in case you were wondering).

Sep 6, 2011

Bike racing, crashing and judo

On Saturday, I was planning to go down to Fort Ord and race a couple of races at CCCX and then on Sunday, I was going to hurt myself doing the Esparto TT, but alas, the best laid plans of mice and men, yada, yada...

Fast forward though the waking up, getting together, driving and warm up drivel (it really doesn't get much different unless I'm hung over, and I wasn't) and we're full speed ahead on lap one in the E4 field at CCCX. The legs aren't feeling fantastic due to the hard training week and it being the last week of the block, but I'm not under any serious pressure here. Once around we go and on to the second lap. 

As we go around the sweeping right turn leading up the start/finish line the second time, I'm sitting somewhere near the middle of the pack, when all of a sudden the guy ahead of the guy in front of me (you follow?), who either didn't read this or just didn't make it down to the comments section, touches wheels and the next thing I know the guy in front of me goes down and I'm flying off my bike at 22.5 miles an hour (last recorded speed by Garmin) and landing splat on my back - mostly the right side of my back.

It's amazing that I was able to process things in order, and recall the order in which I processed them, but thoughts came into my mind in this order: 1. "Can I still catch on to the field?" Pain hits. 2. "Oh, that's not happening!" 3. "Hope nothing is broken, Everest Challenge is just around the corner." 

Once I realized I was in too much pain to get up and hop back on the bike, there really wasn't any rush in getting up. A tip I'd like to give all serious cyclists - because if you're out there enough, at some point you will crash - is that if you're not in any immediate danger where you are on the road and you know you've just hit the ground hard enough to be out of the race/ride, don't be too fast to jump up on your feet or make any jerky movements, you really have no place to rush. So I lay there for a few minutes assessing my injuries.

The rights side of my lower back and ass and my right elbow absorbed most of the impact. I moved my right leg with no pain that would have signaled serious injury in the pelvic region, my elbow on the other hand was throbbing and when the EMT guy arrived on the scene, I still wasn't sure if it was okay, but by the time he completely checked me out, the pain subsided and it turned out to be nothing at all, just minor scratches. My lower back (the part that didn't really hurt much after I landed), on the other hand, looked like a panda with rheumatoid arthritis had just taken a swing at me. I didn't even notice the damage until I got up and pealed back my bibs to ASSess the damage to my backside. 

I was also very fortunate that nothing on the bike was broken. A few marks on the saddle and the bar tape, but that's petty cosmetic stuff. And I broke off another clasp on my right Sidi, but luckily had a spare from the time I broke it falling into gravel at Panoche Valley, so that was a fairly easy fix as well. All in all, considering the impact, I feel pretty lucky to have walked away with only uncomfortable injuries as opposed to debilitating ones. The fall, however, took me out of the second race for the day, and I woke up so sore from it on Sunday that doing a TT was really the last thing on my mind, so I just started my rest week a bit early and let my body come back to normal.

This brings me to the last part of this blog post - judo. Actually, I never studied any judo - I just thought it sounded well in the blog title. A little deception for sake of artistry is a small price to pay - just ask David Copperfield - but I digress. 

I did, however, for a period of almost a dozen years (maybe more, I lose count) study various forms of martial arts. There isn't much that I can say can be taken from martial arts and applied to cycling, outside of maybe better reflexes and an expanded peripheral vision, but valid arguments can be made that those skills can be developed through any game where hitting or catching a ball with precision is necessary. What those other sports won't give you is the ability to fall down hard and walk away. Of course, if you happen to be a Pro Tour rider and reading my blog (first of all, I'm very flattered), martial arts can come in handy.

Alberto with a fist to the face. Two facial expressions worth noting, Alberto's and that of the camera guy behind him.

Many years of falling on the mats have paid many dividends over time. Luckily, I seldom hit asphalt, but I've crashed more than my fare share off a MTB and CX bikes (not to mention a million times I fell while skiing), without any serious injury (knock on wood as CX and ski seasons approach). The three key things that my body just knows to do from muscle memory/instinct is tuck the head, relax the rest of the body, and hit the ground with as much surface area of the body at the same time as possible to defuse impact. This isn't something I'm writing as a tip because you can know what to do, but until you've hit the mat in a proper way at least a thousand times, it doesn't really become instinct and you can't teach instinct - you have to develop it. Another thing I'll add in case you're wondering, hitting the mat in practice thousands of times doesn't make your ass any harder or the asphalt any softer, it still hurts like an SOB, but it does greatly improve your chances of walking away with no broken bones.

I've already told myself that if or when I have kids, before I suggest they seriously take up cycling, I'll make sure they have a few years of judo under their belt (that's a horrible pun, so let's just pretend that was unintentional). Maybe this is a good piece of advice for those of you with little ones running around to consider.