Monday, December 04, 2017

A terrible weekend racing bikes is still a pretty great weekend

Friday night, for the 2nd time this year, I threw my back out doing nothing at all other than just being old. Being old is stupid and should be avoided whenever possible. I was fine at the bottom of the driveway when I checked the mail, but when I parked I was in agony. By the time I was ready for bed, I'd taken a fistful of ibuprofen and had a heating pad on. A Saturday with 2 cyclocross races did not seem a very exciting proposition.

Alastair and I got the truck packed and got there with plenty of time, then proceeded to lose a lot of time to my inability to carry anything or pull bikes out of the truck. Then we lost time at registration, where they couldn't find my 2nd race number. Then we lost time, lost time, lost time. I managed to get Alastair out just long enough to get half a lap of practice in while I scrambled into my skinsuit and pinned my number, but I was running late.

My watch told me I had just enough time to hit the porta-loo, and that's when I learned a really neat lesson about skinsuits: they are not porta-potty friendly. The temp was low enough that I had a thermal jersey over it, so I tried to treat the think like a regular bib. No dice. Just as I finished getting "down to business", I heard the faint sound of a whistle. Well, crap. No sense rushing a miracle, I finished and sped across the park to the starting area, where nobody was interested in telling me how or where to get rolling. And then a couple of turns were...curiously under-marked. By the time I had my heart-rate up, the leaders were well into their race.

I figured there was no sense giving up, as riders would get shelled off the back pretty quickly, and indeed I managed to pick off at least 2 riders every lap. Not great, but better than DFL. I never caught the main pack. Hell I never even SAW the main pack, but I went as hard and fast as I could by myself for 30 minutes. Ultimately my lap-times were competitive for the 4/5 race, just several minutes behind everyone else's.

The guy across from me was in the Army. He says one of their big mantras is: "If you're early,  you're on time; if you're on time, you're late; if you're late, you're left." Well: lesson learned.

I headed back to the paddock to lots of embarrassing questions and comments about timeliness, and proceeded to freeze in the sweat trapped in the skinsuit.

Alastair, meanwhile, embarked on his double-header of a cyclocross race followed immediately by a mountain bike race. He has not figured out the importance of a strong start and faded quickly in both races. He really enjoyed the 'cross race and hated the mountain bike race, claiming that he felt unable to apply power on the mountain bike. A review of his lap times showed that he was actually 16 seconds faster on his first mountain bike lap, but I'm guessing he felt slower because it was smoother, and then just backed off because he didn't feel like he had it working.

Either way, after 1 hour of racing 'cross, the boy was DONE.

I lined up later for my 2nd and final race of the day (first time I'd ever done a double-header, too). I learned my lesson racing Masters 1 - 4 and won't do that again, but a 3/4 race seemed right in my wheelhouse, especially after doing fairly well at DCCX Masters 3/4/5. I made it to the start on time, but I suck at 'cross hole-shot starts. I got spit out the back by the 2nd turn, and while I managed decently quick laps (most faster than in my first "race" of the day), I just couldn't pull the group back.

I sat on E. Halverson's wheel for the first 2 laps, pulling in 1 or 2 guys, and then he just rolled away from me. With only a couple of guys staying a stable distance behind, and no hope of catching back up, I settled into a fatigued rhythm and just held on.

With 2 laps to go, my back decided it was done. I could ride, but it was getting really tough to climb the only obstacle that required a dismount: a 23-step staircase. Earlier in the day it was uncomfortable, but now it was excruciating. The last time up the stairs I nearly collapsed, and I was almost grateful when my front tire flatted a couple minutes later. Granted it was the last lap, and I did limp it home, but I was done, the bike was done, and it was time to acknowledge being an old man.

The only thing I could really take away from that race was that I finished on the lead lap.

But I gotta be honest: as much as it sucked, I kinda loved it. Yesterday I could barely walk from the pain in my back, but I'm jazzed that I get to race again this weekend. I just have to make the start.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

A Polite Suggestion Regarding Monument Avenue

I often stroll on parts of Richmond's Monument Avenue in the Fan to clear my head during the workday. This has become less effective as the monuments themselves have become part of the national conversation on racism.

Let me be clear from the outset: I do no support the monuments.

I grew up in this city. Monument Avenue marked my northern limit for personal exploration as a tween. I was allowed to venture anywhere within the Monument / Boulevard / Main / Belvidere box, though I may have tested those limits from time to time. But because they were my limits, I traveled them extensively. The monuments were very much a part of my cultural knowledge of this city.

As a child they did not bother me. Even as a young adult, I allowed myself to buy into the "part of history" and "culture of the south" (I won't quite venture to "heritage") notions. I even can still allow a romanticized version of history to justify the presence of most: Lee was, after all, not in favor of slavery, but defended Virginia as his personal homeland, and remained a public figure for reasonably good causes after the war; Jeb Stuart died defending the city; even Stonewall Jackson could be viewed as a hero of Virginia, more so than a hero of the South.

But all of that falls apart at the shrine to Jefferson Davis. Jefferson Davis was not a Virginian. He did not die defending Richmond, or Virginia. He argued long after the war that the South should remain defiant, and reading some of his bio information I learned that he was not well liked or even respected by his government, largely ignoring the responsibilities of Head of State to micro-manage the military.

And let's not forget: it's not a monument. It's a SHRINE. It is actually called a shrine. Monuments are erected to remember great men and great events. Shrines are built to worship them.

So the monuments are, at best, problematic. The shrine is inexcusable.

But to super duper complicate everything, Monument Avenue is also a national landmark, so the likelihood of doing anything destructive about it is next to zero. Ever. And while it would be easy to turn the resulting anger toward other statues and monuments in the region, evidently early 20th century racists had a plan for that and actually exhumed and re-interred the remains of A.P. Hill into the base of his statue. Check and mate: Richmond's statues are here to stay.

But that doesn't mean we have to celebrate it. I've mused for some time over ideas of how to deter traffic from the area. Richmond's mayor, Levar Stoney, has expressed support for measures that would diminish the cultural impact of Monument Avenue, so here are a short list of options that would cost next to nothing for the city, and would significantly detract from the foot and vehicle traffic that we force to see our monuments and SHRINES to racism and treason:

  • Reduce the speed limit inside I-195 to VCU to 25mph. It's residential!
  • Install stop signs at every intersection that does not include a traffic circle. (Push traffic to Broad St)
  • Rename the street to Franklin St. That's the name east of Stuart Circle, and while there is a "W Franklin St past Thompson St, that could also be renamed "Old Franklin St".
  • Suggest that Henrico County rename their portion to "Franklin St". They have no monuments and no overlapping street names and gain nothing from celebrating Richmond's troubled past.
  • STOP HOSTING PUBLIC EVENTS ON MONUMENT AVENUE
    • Move the Easter Parade--Byrd Park would be a lovely venue.
    • Move the 10K to Broad St
    • Eliminate the marathon's turn at the Stonewall Jackson monument
  • Allow parking on both sides of the street at all times, not just Sunday
We will not win a war against the statues, but we can at least make them inconvenient.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Cross: DCCX Masters 40+ 3/4/5

Not sure I'll ever become a 'cross convert. I like my cross bike. A lot. I love the flexibility it gives me in terms of when and where I can ride, the long wheel-base, the ability to tow a trailer or haul a baby-seat. I like the simplicity of a 1x drivetrain, and have given serious consideration to porting that setup to my road racing bike.

But racing it? Whoo. I'm not down with interval training. Give me a peloton and an open road, and I'm happy. Short, choppy straights with vertical walls and loose terrain do not play to my strengths.

The nice thing about the DCCX course is that it had a fair amount of open space. There were even 3 paved straights, and a couple of good long rolling grassy straights. I basically used those to make up for everything else.

I was called up to row 4 to start, not too bad for having basically no real cross racing history. I was on the far right, and the guy to my immediate left got a better start. Going into the first turn, I was trapped behind him, and I stayed trapped for about 4 or 5 turns. In that time, about 20 riders blew past us on the left, and I finally got enough space to get through. From there on, the whole race was all about recovering positions. I don't like racing like that--it feels pointless to work your ass off just to get back to where you started.

Coming into the iconic "W" for the first time, I was really shocked at how loose the first downhill was, and probably played it too conservatively every single lap. I kept the right line, more or less, and made it back up the sandy climb better than most of the guys around me, and that kind of defined most of the race: I sucked at the downhill, crushed on the uphill.

One particularly easy-looking turn on the bottom half of the course had me unclip 3 of 5 laps, and then just blast up the exit.

I also super duper suck at barriers, but got lucky with the barriers going uphill. Guys who were really good at them gained no particular advantage over my stop, climb on, and roll. I even picked up a few spots there and at the top of the stairs.

Ultimately I settled into a rolling group of about 5 or 6 guys, not quite pace-lining, but kind of pacing off each other (the hecklers made me very aware that we were kind of relying on each other a bit too much). The one time I found myself out in the open I started rolling too hard and had to back out. I can't see my heart-rate very easily, so it's hard to pace myself with nobody to chase.

By the 5th lap, I was too tired to try anything exotic. My ability to steer had basically gone away, and I think I cut a couple of guys off in one turn in an effort to keep the bike upright. Ironically, my speeds came up for the last half of the last lap, and my blast to the finish was good enough to have stayed in the top 25 times on Strava.

I ended on the lead lap, 2nd of 12 Cat 5 racers, 34th overall of 82 starters. If I cared enough about cross, I'd upgrade to Cat 4, where I would have been 12th of 38, but I just don't do this kind of racing often enough to get excited about it, and it huuuuuuurrrrts. Holding a 180bpm+ heart rate for 45 minutes is not my idea of fun, but I was very satisfied with where I finished, and for being able to lay down a pretty decent sprint at the end.

---

The real reason why I signed up for this thing, though, was for Alastair to get a sense of big-pack juniors racing. There were also 82 people in juniors 9 - 14, and while he *just barely* made his start time (like literally rolled into the start corral as they blew the whistle), he was rolling strong and steady for the first lap, catching and passing members of his age-group. At one point he was as high as 6th, and apparently gaining on 5th. His heart-rate was glued to zone 5 like a boss.

Alas, in the 2nd lap he tried to ride down the W, got bounced to the inside, and went over the bars, landing hard on his hip and bending the right shifter over. He got up quickly, but was in a lot of pain, and had serious trouble controlling the bike. His lap-time plummeted, more than 2 minutes on just the 2nd half of the course, and he dropped to 19th of 23, one lap down. He has a big bruise on his left hip, but the bike was easily fixed after the race.

He was really irritated to have finished that way, but is actually looking forward to trying again next year! He said he was feeling really great until the wreck, and feels confident he could have put himself on the podium. That's an amazing improvement for a kid who's finished dead last in every prior cross race he's ever done. Even crazier? I think he's got the bug for cross. Uh oh.