Friday, October 23, 2009

Racing Across the Silver Screen

Saw "Race Across The Sky," last night. In case you don't know, that's a documentary about this past year's Leadville 100 Trail Race (mountain bike race), in which Lance Armstrong dethroned 6-time winner, Dave Wiens.

How was it? It was pretty damn good. The movie was a little over the top at times--Lance riding solo, climbing up the Columbine Pass, clouds parting, mythical classical music playing, gods and demons locked in an epic battle for the souls of humanity...

On the other hand, Lance was, well, Lance, and he crushed the race. No disrespect to Wiens, who is himself an amazing athlete, but Lance is a different breed of human. Wiens did come in second, which is also an incredible accomplishment, and more than my feeble body will handle.

I think the unsung hero of the race though, was Matt Shriver, who drove the pace in the first part of the race--splintering the field. He eventually dropped back to 5th but was able to come back up to third. Wow.

Check out the trailer!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I love cyclocross--part 3

This morning I awoke to metaphorically stand at a fork in the road. It was just before 6:00am, Sunday, and it was in the 30's and raining outside.

On the one side was my bed. My nice warm bed. It was still dark outside, so logically, I should go back to sleep. My wonderful wife was soundly sleeping, and what could be better than snuggling up to her on this cold, dark, rainy morning. I had 100lbs of dogs at the foot of the bed too-which serve as de facto heaters. They'd like me to go back to sleep too. I could sleep in, then have a relaxing morning, leisurely enjoy my coffee, and slowly embrace the day.

On the other side was a race. A cyclocross race. Sure, I had just raced yesterday, and I certainly had some fatigue in the legs, but the cyclocross season is short, and with me working some weekends, I want to hit as many races as I can. If I opted to race, I'd have to pack my stuff into the car, drive an hour, then race for nearly an hour in temps just above freezing, with wind, rain and MUD. In addition to the hour's drive, and the effort of racing, I'd also have plenty of bike cleaning ahead of my should I choose to race. My bike, would no doubt, be caked in mud and crud, not to mention my clothes that would probably not be recognizable. It was an awful lot of work...and for what? To push myself to the brink of passing out to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack?

You know how I chose.

The drive to Wrentham was uneventful but very wet. Unfortunately, I mis-read my directions and went the wrong way off the highway. This detour set me back by only about 15 minutes, but the clock was ticking.... I hadn't pre-registered and registration closed 30 minutes before start time. I missed the deadline by about 10 minutes. I threw myself on the mercy of the race officials and the let me sign up. That was the good news. The bad news was that I had about 15 minutes to get my bike, get changed, and get to the start line. To hell with warming up!

I ran back to my car and changed faster than Superman in a phone booth (remember phone booths?).

I got to the start line in just enough time to stand, shivering in the cold rain, for 5 minutes or so. I hadn't pre-ridden the course so I had no idea what I was in for. I hadn't warmed up except for my run to the car, and I was wondering how deep of a hurt I'd be in because of my race yesterday. Oh, and because I was the last person to sign up for the race, I was at the absolute back of the pack for the start. Yeah!

The course was definitely a roadie course-fast power sections and not very technical. However, the rain changed things a bit as every corner was super slick. I may not be the strongest rider (as evidenced by my results), but as least I can keep my bike upright... Anyway, all in all, I really liked the course, and the cold rain and slick mud made it even better.

Don't ask how I did... I don't know. Results weren't posted when I left. I didn't win and I didn't come in last. The important thing is that I didn't get beat by the guy on the bike with fenders and a rear rack. Sure, he was ahead of me at one point, but damn it, I wasn't going out like that!

Ironically, my bike, which has disc brakes (perfect for wet and muddy races), had no braking power. I actually had to drag my foot on some turns to slow down. Hmmm... I still didn't fall though.

Anyway, after the race, I stuck around to snap a few shots, but I wanted to head home to start the long cleaning process. The drive home was equally rainy and windy, but unfortunately, not enough to actually clean my bike. As I had already shut my hoses off at home for the winter, I had to stop at a car wash to hose the bike down. It now sits in the basement waiting to be stripped and down and built back up. And what's up with the brakes?

It would have been nice to have stayed in bed and slept a little late, but that race was a blast. Back to back races are good, and now I've got about two weeks to get the bike ready for the next race... I love cyclocross!

Enjoy some more random pics!

I love cyclocross--part 2

Another weekend off from work brings me another opportunity to do some cyclocross racing. My original plan was to head up to Portland, ME, for a race up there-and I'd get to catch up with my UNE homie, Mike and his wife Jo. However, I found a race a little closer-just over the border in NH, so I opted for the shorter drive. This turned out to be a good idea as I ended up picking Jean up from the Airport at about 11:00pm on Friday night.

My alarm went off shortly after 6:00am on Saturday, and since most of my gear was all set, it was just a matter of making some coffee and packing up the car. I made a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts to see one of my co-workers at her other job, then with another hot beverage in hand, I hit the road to the New England Velodrome in Londonderry, NH. Interestingly, I had this race venue confused with another venue also in New Hampshire, and truth be told, I hated this course. When I pulled in to the parking lot, I actually thought about turning around and heading home. I can't say exactly what it was about the course that turned me off so much, but it's definitely not one of my favorites.

Well, I was there, I had pre-registered, so I wasn't about to waste that time and money. I got my number and took off for a practice lap.

The course starts on a paved, oval track. After about a half a lap, you take a hard left, up a short hill, take another hard left, hit a dip, then hit a hard right while also heading uphill. That first section, from what I remembered from last year, was TIGHT as the mass start totally bottlenecked because there's plenty of areas to flub up. Once through that section, it's basic singletrack for a short while, until a nice short but steep downhill. This little downhill separated the mountain bikers from the road riders. Unfortunately, you had to make an almost 180 degree turn at the bottom and come back up. Fun! From there, it was more singletrack until you popped out to flat area with a zig-zag/hairpin turn section marked off with old tires. The turns were tight and traction was sparse. After that, there were a couple of other tight turns then we popped up back on to the track after a short but steep sandy run-up. We went into the track's infield, jumped over a couple of barriers, then more hairpin turns until we popped back out on to the track, to head out for another lap.

After my pre-ride, I re-assessed my opinion-the course was tight, twisty, and fun.

When the race started, I was surprised to find myself near the front-in fact, after a few turns, there were only three riders ahead of me. Another passed me, and then another, but one of those guys was in a different class (older-damn him!), and the other guy I caught and passed, until he passed me again. One more pass and I held on for fourth in my class (Cat 4), and fifth overall. That was enough to secure my 2010 racing season on a UCI Pro team, and possibly an invite to the Tour De France. When I finally got done signing autographs and taking business cards from sports' agents, I made my way back to the car. Lilo, my mechanic, who also happens to be a koala bear, took my bike and rubbed it down with eucalyptus leaves, and I put on my mauve recovery jump-suit. What the hell am I talking about? Who knows. I did come in fourth, and I did have a good time-and I'll even go back to that course again some day!

Enjoy the random pics!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Some days, you're the wolf, some days, you're the rabbit. Sadly, I had the fluffy white tail on today's ride. Mike was able to get out of work a little early so he and I met up at Bradley Palmer/Willowdale for about 15 miles of singlespeed singletrack syllogisms.

Here's an example: More gears on a bicycle means more potential complications, complications are not fun; ergo, singlespeed bikes are more fun.

And another: Cool weather is perfect for mountain biking, fall weather is typically cool; ergo, fall is perfect for mountain biking.

And this--which is not technically a syllogism: Mike kicked my ass today.

In addition to these fine conclusions, I also came home with tired muscles, a muddy bike, and a vow to crush Mike on our next outing.

This rivalry, which can be seen on roads and trails, running and biking, has only been going for about 25 years. I foresee wheelchair races someday...

I forgot...

To add my nerdy GPS/HR data to my recent cyclocross post! How else would you be able to see that corkscrew like course design or my 192bpm max HR? Egads! Take that age predicted maximum heart rate!

I love cyclocross.

One of the biggest 'cross races in the country just happens to occur up the road in Gloucester. It's a two day racing extravaganza with some of the sport's top riders battling it out on a fast, aggressive course-which, for the rest of the year is known simply as a park--Stage Fort Park. In addition to the sport's superstars, there are HUNDREDS of hacks and wanna-be's. That's where I fit in.

If you're unfamiliar with what cyclocross is-go here.

I signed up to race both Saturday and Sunday. Ambitious? Yes, but like I mentioned, I love cyclocross.

In any event, I woke up early Saturday morning-to the sound of pouring rain. This would test just exactly how much I love cyclocross...

Cyclocross is perhaps best when the elements are against the racers. Rain, snow, mud, ice-these are key ingredients in a successful 'cross season. So, I sprung out of bed and went down stairs to finish gathering my gear. I made the mistake of sitting on the sofa for a minute... and closing my eyes for a minute... only a minute... it was such a long week at work... I really was exhausted.... It really was pouring out... I just wanted to close my eyes for a minute... the sofa was so soft and warm...

And just like that, I was out $30 for an entry fee as I woke up just as my group would have been hitting the start line. I was lulled to sleep by snoring dogs. Damn them!

At that point, I did the only sensible thing, I went back to bed.

Saturday was a wash out, so I re-focused my mental energies on Sunday's race. I got all of gear ready the night before, so all I'd need to do would be to roll out of bed and into my car.

The weather Sunday morning was MUCH better than Saturday, although still quite damp and foggy.

I arrived early enough to get my race number and to ride a quick practice loop. I'll say it now, and I'll say it again, this was one of the most confusing race courses I've ever been on. Fortunately, I was pretty much within the confines of the taped course, so as long as I didn't break the tape or duck out underneath, I just has to follow the yellow or white tape. However, the course was different than the day's previous race course, so the clearly defined tire tracks and mud would veer off one way, while the tape would force a turn in the other direction. This alone was almost too much for my small brain. Add to this the loopy-loop design, where the course just kept looping back in on itself (I think at one point, I was forced through a wormhole only to pop out of a hole in the fabric of space-time), and it was just a matter of pedaling until I was told to stop.

It was time to line up at the start. Again, for those who don't know much about 'cross races, the start can totally make or break your race. The classes can get big (94 starters in my class), so if you start near the back, you're fighting the whole race to get towards the front... heck the race leaders can be in the first turn before the back of the pack even leaves the start line. Being in the middle of a mssive start like this can be treacherous too, as one overlapped pair of riders can bring everyone down. The front, is definitely where you want to be. To be fair, the first row, at the start, is usually for series points leaders and other racers who have their game faces on. Front line starting positions are coveted and valuable. As a perk for being a member of ECV--the race's host club--ECV members were given prime starting spots for their individual races. This put me on the front lines.

I've started nearly every 'cross race I've ever entered in the back. That's been fine for me, as I'm just in it for the fun, so I just looked at it as a chance to start in the back and pass as many racers as possible. And, if there was a crash in the middle, I'd be able to go around (or over) it.

Starting at the front was a bit surreal. I had 93 riders behind me that would be hoping to take me down. Fun! The start whistle went off and the race was on. I was in the second/third spot up the first hill, but wouldn't hold that spot for long.

I'll make no excuses, I'm not in "race shape." I just race to have fun, so it's no surprise that I got passed by many racers. Cyclocross is fast--essentially an all out sprint from start to finish--with tight turns and running sections. I had my engine redlined and my plan was to keep riding until the race--or I--ended.

As I mentioned, the course was confusing. When the announcer would declare that we had one or two laps left to go, I honestly didn't know what to make of that as I had no idea where I was in terms of completing a lap. Just keep going!

It was SUPER cool to have Jean there to cheer me and my feeble effort on (and take pics), and my buddy Glen (who was racing later in the day, and kicked some ass) was there to yell at me as well. Glen's encouragement got me to give 110% at the end and take out a couple of guys on a sprint to the finish.

In the end, I came in about mid-pack, 45th out of 94 starters. I'm not in it to win it--I just have fun.

Next up--Portland, Maine!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hello Morton.

I hate being a patient. It's much better to be on the listening end of a stethoscope, or in this case, the blunt end of a needle. You see, I've been having some pain in my right foot. It felt like I was "walking on a marble..."

That's of course, one of the classic symptoms of a Morton's Neuroma...

I tried some NSAIDs for a while, didn't help...

So, I finally went to see a podiatrist, to get a cortisone shot in the foot.

Jean came along for moral support (i.e., to watch me squirm)

Pain was *better* but not completely gone for a few days, but by about a week out, I was back to walking on a marble.

I haven't been running, and I haven't been back to my martial arts classes...

The bright spot is that riding is fine!

Anyway, I got a second shot this past Monday, and I'm going back in for an ultrasound of the nerve on Friday.

Sigh... A pity party will be scheduled so stay tuned.