Sunday, June 28, 2009

poolesville road race

An interesting day (yesterday) at the races.

So I've liked doing MABRA races in the past, but this one had a strange vibe to it. I don't know, maybe it was the douchbags that were still in diapers when I started racing bicycles telling me when it was my turn to take a pull (which was lame and wrong, on so many counts). Or maybe it was the weird finish off the circuit, which didn't seem to make any sense. Or maybe it was the officials starting the race a solid six minutes early, catching everyone off guard, including some who weren't at the starting line. Or maybe it was the insane pace we kept on the tailwind section, the only section where we encountered oncoming traffic, and the snail's pace we kept on the hills, where real damage could have been levied. Or maybe it was the super narrow roads, which allowed _no_ movement back-to-front in the pack for at least the first two laps.

Well I don't know what it was, but it felt weird, and I felt weird afterward...

The course was run on a 10+ mile lap through pretty mild rolling hills. The major terrain element of interest was the one mile dirt road section--essentially a one-lane, water-flat dust ally, with two parallel tracks of pretty smooth dirt and gravel in between and on the shoulders.

I enjoyed the dirt section tremendously. Got me all kinds of excited for cross season. And it would have been nice to be in the front at least once through the dirt. I would have liked to push the pace, which seemed way too slow each of our five times through.

But where I most wanted to push the pace was on the incline just after the dirt section, on the last lap, about five miles from the finish. After the first lap I decided that's where I wanted to make a move. But before I had a chance I got caught behind a touch up on the dirt section which felled a handful of riders and, having to brake, then circumvent the bicycles and bodies splayed about, by the time I closed the gap we had reached the road, and the effort had left me winded. So I waited. And waited. And waited too long.

Way too long. Of course, not really having any idea where the finish line was didn't help. I was looking for a 1K to go sign...then for a 200m sign...I saw neither. By the time the sprint began in earnest I was too far out of position. I finished 12th.

The finish line business really made no sense. I simply can't understand why the finish wasn't somewhere on the circuit, like it is in every race everyone has ever done on a circuit like that. I'm sure the rationale had to do with keeping finished riders off the course or something to that effect, but I still think it silly. One strike. And if there were 1K and 200m to go signs, they had to have been practically invisible, because I was looking for them. Two strikes.

But as much as I'd like to blame my poor finish on the promoter (that's the bike racers' style, right? blame your disappointing finish on someone or something else...never the rider's fault...not ever), I know where I gave up. Or, I think, more accurately, chickened out.

So here I'm reminded of this (start at about 8:30 in, for about 30 seconds):

It's not so much that I gave up physically, but it's lacking that special little crazy something that allows some people the mental capacity, the fearless-thoughlessness for this:

I mean, it looks all pretty from a bird's eye view, but when you're in it, when you're going a bazillion miles an hour and you're afraid to blink for fear of some obstruction coming your way while your eyes are closed, and when the consequence for failure (and remember, we're all a bunch of douchbag amateurs here...a USCF Cat 3 sprint finish is every bit amateur hour) is yet another broken collarbone and strawberry mash for skin for days...well, I just don't have it in me. And there were only like 15 of us even contesting the sprint.

I'd like to think it has something to do with being older, wiser, having a family...but I know it's not that. It's that I've never had it. I'm just not that guy.

But not for not wanting to be.


Back to Poolesville... Seventy-five started. Only 24 finished. Probably about 10 crashed out. Another handful flatted. What happened to everyone else? When we were in the final few miles and I looked around and counted only 20 riders I was dumbfounded. What happened to everybody?



Oh yeah, I raced the wheels I built earlier this week. Thirty-two spoke, three-cross numbers on one dura-ace and one ultegra hub. The rims some discontinued Mavic box section numbers in a snazzy red anodized finish. The first set of wheels I've built or, for that matter, had success truing. They held up wonderfully. I'm bursting.

Friday, June 19, 2009

two (eBay) pet peeves

It really drives me nuts when eBay sellers advertise their auctions as "no reserve," but then indicate a minimum bid.

News flash: If you set a minimum bid (eBay calls it a "starting bid"), you have, in fact, set a reserve for your auction.


I think eBay rightly encourages potential buyers to communicate with sellers prior to bidding. However, while eBay gives lip service to this policy, the mechanism they provide for doing this is so cluncky and antiquated that it rather discourages communication.

My eBay experience would be vastly improved if eBay would update its message function to look, feel, and function like email.

I wish Google would buy eBay. It would be better.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

bike racing as therapy

Yesterday morning was the pits. Or I was in a pit. But I had a race on tap in the afternoon...and though all morning I didn't feel one bit like racing, I'd already paid so...

The girls (A & M) and I trotted the 25 some miles down to Lancaster. They parked their lawn chairs behind the announcer's tent (Joe Jefferson has never pronounced my name right...really, it's these mid-state folks...I can pop down to DC and no one will bat a tongue's eyelash, so to speak, but safe in the bosom of Pennsyltucky they just can't quite get their tongues untangled enough to roll it out) and cheered their little hearts out as I attacked midway through the 25 mile crit, taking an NCVC rider with me, and putting about 15 seconds (according to Beth) on a slow-to-get-motivated field. But, despite the power of little girls' cheers (which are not to be underestimated), after six laps or so they brought us in. But racing for the win lifted my spirits considerably. I just like racing my bike.

(Interestingly, I wasn't really planning on racing this weekend, but some days ago Valerie suggested that if we were staying in Hershey we might be close to something, which we were, so I registered. I'm not sure that yesterday she didn't regret that suggestion. But it did me a world of good.)

Bike racing... In so many ways an absurd activity. The carnage, for one. (A crash in the third or fourth lap--just after I'd moved to the front, thankfully--left two ambulances and a firetruck on the course for about half our race...then finally they took off, one ambulance with sirens blaring. Ugh.) The $ expense, for another. (Exhibit one: I got a quote from rrvelo on fixing my Tarmac's two breakpoints--$600. Holy nuts. It may be just enough for me to swear off carbon...especially when there are perfectly reasonable alternatives.) The time expense. Yeah... Well... And finally the inarguable arrogance of it all. I mean, I'm 35 stinking years old. Why is it so important to get to the crest of a hill or an inauspicious white line quicker than somebody else? What is it about my damaged psyche that takes so much pleasure in being better than some other poor schmuck on two wheels? And yet I do take pleasure from it. A great deal, as a matter of fact. And I'm sure I'm a smaller man because of it, but... Well... What is the defense of middle-aged competitiveness? But of course there's a flip side to the pleasure of being better. And that is, of course, the indignity of being worse. And the thing about low-stakes amateur bike racing (or really all bike racing but for a handful of the world's best) is that there will almost always be people much, much stronger/fitter/more cunning than you, and you will much more often be worse than you will be better. If I were to write an essay on the topic it would probably be called "Of fishes and ponds..."

Yet, for all the reasons not to, I'm somehow convinced that it is a very good thing for me to be doing. Fitness. Endorphins. Self-efficacy. Identify. Goal-setting and achievement. The explanation lies somewhere in that crowded landscape. I suppose.


So the year-to-date race resume...

One mountain bike relay as a season warm-up. I wasn't expecting exceptional results and I didn't get them.

A seventh at the Philly Phlyer.

Third at SoYoCo.

The crash at Turkey Hill. (Despite the obvious disappointment of the in-the-last-500m crash, probably my worst race this year. I've only raced TH twice, but both times that course has just kicked my butt. Those hills...and the constant attacks with nothing really ever getting takes a toll.)

A crappy 13th at Fulton. (I wanted this one bad. On the first lap, up the second, steepest climb I thought, "I'm never going to finish this thing." But by the fourth lap I realized the racing had beat down most everyone more than me and so I rode a pretty stinking aggressive fifth lap. I was in a three-man break for a couple of k (I blame it's lack of success on my breakaway companions not being as strong and/or motivated as me). Then pushed the pace up the leg-breaker hoping for a selection of four or five by the top, but ended up with a selection of more like 20 (a field of around 70 started), then made a bid for solo glory with about 2k to go. To no avail.

And then a back-of-the-field finish at Race Ave yesterday.


I wonder how much my summer Pennsylvania allergies affect my performance. It certainly can't help.

A typical June ride will see me launching a blurring sequence of snot rockets from an allergy-induced runny nose, red, bloodshot eyes, and by the end of the ride my arms and legs are aglow with inflammation. Something like a southern Utah landscape--random mounds and ridges of deep red against a peach-orange background... And if I'm on the mountain bike... Yikes. It's enough to almost make me long for the good ole slip-slide ice-skating runs of December-February. Almost.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Six a.m. in the Ronald McDonald House. I can't sleep. Marian sawing logs in bed next to me may be a contributing factor.

The Ronald McDonald House... Just as with children's hospitals, I love that there are such things, I love the beautiful strangers that work here, the volunteers that come to make breakfast and dinner, the granola ladies that bring their dogs for the kids to pet, all the leftover food from local restaurants, all the corporate and private donors... But I hate being here. Hate, hate, hate... I hate that I've been to enough of them that I can compare their architectural and policy nuances. I don't want to know these things. I hate that I know these things.

I hate that the charity century ride I did a couple of times in high school benefited the Ronald McDonald House. That memory hangs hauntingly in the past, a wickedly cruel foreshadowing of the present.

And though these are special places, one feels far from special being in one. Just as in the hospital, everyone has their tragedy. You feel so me-too. Wallowing in your own sorrow seems even more selfish and tawdry. Because. You know there's someone just down the hall with a kid that's ten times sicker than yours, with a story ten times more tragic. I don't want to talk to that person. I don't want to know. I can't stand to know.

They say it's the house that love built. Love... Such a damned awful word. If there were no love, there would be no pain...