Sunday, December 18, 2011

So much for the...

From My Racing Thoughts

I woke up at 7:30AM with the intention of heading over to my teammate Bailey's house for pancakes. I rolled out of bed and looked out the window. The courtyard was covered with a thin venire of white and powdery snow. The Afterglow was here, and the conditions were primed for epic (Note: No epic was guaranteed by race promoters). Instead I got delayed by a long awaited phone call. I had some catching up to do with my girlfriend's daughter. After connecting with her, I had breakfast and a shower, then finalized my packing. I bundled up my head for the ride over to compensate for being a little lightly dressed in the lower body. I did not layer up for the rid over because I wanted to try to ride quickly, but not get all of my clothes soaked with sweat. It was too cold for that. The ride over was chilly and into the wind, but entirely uneventful. I arrived at the Park and hopped onto the race course on the Northwest corner. I rode last few hundred yards into the finish line area. The park was blanketed with the first real snow of winter. The tall unmowed green blades poking up through the inch thick dusting of white. There was already a line 14 inches wide melted around the course where the grass was blazon green through the white. When I arrived at the starting line Mumford with a bullhorn gave me a preview of what the day would be like.

"Good citizens do not panic. That is NOT Darth Vader on a bicycle, it's just Nathan."

I do look pretty ominous when I put on my helmet, Cold-Avenger Pro and Ski Goggles, and dressed in mostly black and red.

I found our tent, warm with two heaters, and threw down my bag. I wanted to get out there and pre-ride the course. By the time I got to the park, got my gear set down, there was not really time to do any pre-riding. I could have taken off, but they were already starting to stage for the first races of the day. They were running the Master's 30+ and 40+ concurrently with the 30+s going off first, followed a few minutes later by the 40+. I got my camera out and waited by the starting line for the race to start. I snapped photos as both waves took off from the line, and then worked my way backwards around the course (cutting across at the wheel pit) to take pictures of the riders as they made their way around. I took pictures of guys making their way up and around "Heroin Hill" and then headed to the Beach of Broken Glass to watch the riders tackle what turned out to be the second fairly nasty sand pit. I even got a photo of a guy mid-wipeout out on the beach. There were two lines, and I noticed that all the fast guys went to the right. Mental note.

I finished up at the sand pit, and headed further up the course, all the way to the far southeast corner. I found what looked to be a good vantage from which to take pictures. I was snapping riders as they came around the course, and saw a form that I recognized. It was no other than Gavin from Half-Acre. I didn't realize that he was racing in the master's race today, he usually races Cat 3. Then it hit me. He wasn't racing as a master's rider. He was pre-riding. Oh crap. This was my only shot to pre-ride the course. I tucked my camera back into my bag and hopped on the course.

I lamented at that moment that I had not yet let any air out of my tires, and that I was still at road pressure of 60psi. The course was very rough at that pressure, and I did not have as much tractions in the turns. But at the same time it was okay, because I had my camera, I was pre-riding, and it was 30 degrees. I did not want to go all that fast lest I crash out and ruin my gear. I was also wearing more layers than I had when I arrived, having put on some additional clothing to keep from freezing while photographing. All of these things combined for a low-key pre-ride back to the finish, I did not get waved off the course by the officials so I continued on, but I did not make it all the way back to where I started. I made it down and around the backside of the field house where the sandy beach dropped off into 4 inches of sludge and then into the sand. I didn't need to pre-ride that. I have ridden enough mud and sand, so I turned back. The single speed race had already started so I grabbed my camera and started shooting. The single speed men made it by before I could really get into position, but I found a better spot for the women. I let the men come around a second time, and I packed in my camera for the day. It was time for me to get ready to race.

I went back to the tent, changed into my speedsuit and dry base-layers. I wanted to be warm, but I also did not want to over dress. I found what felt like a good balance, and had Michael C pin on my number. While I was standing in the tent some guy named Barry poked his head in and asked if he could drop his bag in our tent. He had just ridden down from Evanston and wanted to drop his stuff. Yeah Barry, you can hang out in our tent.

I went into the bathroom, and found that Michael had pinned my number to both my skinsuit and my baselayer. After a momentary panic I was able to pull myself together and avert a full crisis. My friend and teammate Chernoh was also in the bathroom finishing changing into his race gear. We chatted a bit and then headed outside.

We walked out of the bathroom together, and were headed across the parking lot and I literally almost ran into my girlfriend Morleigh. She was sitting near her car, waiting for me to come out. Apparently she had seen me go in and called to me, but I was in such a hurry that I missed her. Chernoh had not had an opportunity to meet her yet, and he was very pleased to make her acquaintance. I gave her a quick kiss, and I had to go. They were staging the Men's Cat 1-2-3 race and the Men's Cat 3 race so there was not much time to get my bike (let air out of the tires) and get to the starting line. Staging went fairly quickly as there were only about 70 people total for both races. The men's 123s were sent off first, followed by the Cat 3. I started from "the back row" but as there were only three rows I wasn't worried about being able to burn a match and move up in the field. And move up I did. I got past half of the field around the first corner, and fell into line when the course got narrow before the first run up. My match burned out about that time, but hitting the sand helped me hold position. I found a line through the muck, and dismounted at the turn into the second sandpit. That would be a theme for the day. I was able to power forward and hold position ahead of my teammates Brent and Forest for most of the first lap. I had one mishap dismounting for the barrier on lap one. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but as I was swinging my right leg over the seat to dismount the wheels slipped laterally, and I somehow ended up driving my groin into to top of my seat. I groaned, but did not stop. The rest of my race went fairly smoothly. Brent and Forest both passed me, but I was able to pass them both back. Brent (who was on his second or third race) faded and I was able to get past him. I rode a mostly clean race, having to only put my foot down a handful of times as my front wheel washed out on turns, but I did not hit the ground. Forest (who had a mechanical in his third consecutive race) took off on the last two laps and opened up a gap that I could not close.

The hecklers were not all that creative. "Go Darth", "What's that on your face", "Storm Trooper", and one "let's go terminator". For the record the thing on my face was a Cold Avenger Pro, a new piece of high tech winter equipment that has a number of impressive features. First, it is effective at creating a pocket that pre-warms the air coming into the mouth and nose, which reduces irritation and helped reduce exercise/cold induced asthma. Second, the surgical grade silcon cup causes moisture from breathing to condense away from the face, so unlike with a traditional cloth wrap or balaklava it does not get wet, heavy, and cold. Third, there are sufficient drainage holes on the bottom that even snotrockets drain out of the mask during the race. Fourth, as previously mentioned, it looks bad ass.

During the 4th lap I was passed by the leaders, and picked a bad time to yield by taking a terrible line through the deepest muck. I had to get off and run which took a lot of energy. My legs were completely shot by the last lap. Getting off my bike in the sand on the last lap it felt like I could hardly run. I then missed the high approach to the off-camber barriers on the last lap, and ended up sliding and steeping for about 20 feet on the upper track heading. It was ugly looking, but the course was increasingly muddy and traction was even harder to find. It felt like I could hardly pick them up to moe through the sand. I gave a good effort on the bell lap to close the gap on Forest, maintaining good balance on the technical sections and trying to power it out on the straight aways. I was able to get a little bit closer, but not enough to actually have a chance at making a move. Instead I finished in the same position I had ridden for most of the last lap. In 19th place it was my best finish of the season. It wasn't the strongest field, but I was happy with my performance and my effort independent of who else was there. It was a good enough result for me to think seriously about the New Years Resolution.

My bike was piled with mud, but I was lucky that it did not stop functioning. . My bike had literally about 10lbs of wet sand and mud piled up behind the downtube, on the wheels, and on the pedals and chain stays. There were some mechanical issues I noticed on the way home including a chain that was slipping, wheels that were out of true, and mud on everything. It was a good day, but I did not stay to watch the rest of the races. I was cold, tired, and hungry and ready to head home.

Photos: So much for the....

So much for the...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

End of the Line

There is a photo that Edmond White took at Montrose Harbor on Sunday that sums up my day pretty well.

I am the faceless, nameless, numberless body. I am the red and white helmet, the black sleeve, and the matt black/brown bike. The thrill of victory is not for people like me. We ride by after the fact, after the race has been decided, and form at most a backdrop for other peoples' victories. But neither are we vanquished to live with the agony of defeat. There is no defeat in cyclocross. There are no losers. There are only your friends and acquaintances who rode either faster than you, or slower than you on this particular day. There are the people who had mechanicals, who were hung over, who were burned out from doubling or tripling, or even those rode their best race of the season and are super excited with how high they were able to finish no matter how low it is in the field.

The only people who lose in cyclocross are the people who do not let themselves have fun doing it.

And I should know because I have lost my fair share of races. There was the day in DeKalb that I got stung on the tongue by a bee. The last two races I rode in October were also losing efforts for different reasons. Thankfully despite the anonymity of my performance, Sunday was not a loosing effort. Let me explain.

Sunday morning I woke up at a fairly normal time for me. The race was a scant 1.6 miles from my house, so there was no hour drive in a borrowed or rented car to get there. I ate breakfast, and spent more time than necessary trying to figure out A) what to wear and B) what to bring. I consulted the weather channel, rummaged through drawers, made piles, sorted piles into new piles, and finally decided on what should be stuffed into the bottom of my newly warrantied Mission Workshop Vandal. I packed lighter than I did last year because the weather was a touch warmer, and I have dialed in my race/post race clothing needs much better this year. I don't over pack as much because I have enough experience to know exactly what I need.

I threw the pack on, pulled down the freshly washed and lubed Falcon, and headed north to the lake.

When I arrived at the park, the Master's 40+ race was already underway. Those guys generally get the short end of the stick with photography so I made a concerted effort to get out with my camera and find some shots. It took me a while to get warmed up and my equipment dialed into the lighting conditions, but I was able to get a few good shots. After their race I ran my first pre-lap of the day. The course could be described in three words: Sand, mud, hill, and not in equal portions. It was about 50% sand, 25% mud, and 25% hill. The winds had drifted and blown sand up from the beach over the barrier berm, and there was 2-3 inches of sand (thankfully it was wet) across large swaths of the course. It was a hard ride, but the difficulty of it did not make it less enjoyable. Everyone who I talked to about it said it was "Miserable", but they all had the same silly little grin on their face. It was the kind of misery we live for.

During the Master's 30+ race I went back out with my camera. I know more of the Master's 30+ racers, and it is always fun taking pictures of people that you can tag later on Facebook. I was on my bike, riding to different parts of the course, and spent a good bit of time on the hill trying to capture a "money shot" of someone coming down the hill silhouetted in front of the city skyline. My teammate Brad hammed it up a little bit for what I believe was the best shot I took that day.

After the 30+ race it was time for another pre-ride. It went smoothly, or as smooth as possible. The women's 1-2-3 race is one of the harder ones to photograph when it's cold, and I did not get out with my camera. Instead I focused on my race preparation. Getting the right layers on, getting my number pinned on, getting my number taken off when I decide that I really don't need full leg tights and realize that my number is pinned through my skinsuit into my baselayer, and then getting my number pinned back on. Before I knew it, Jason was calling for staging for the Cat 3 racers.

My staging for this race was the worst of the season. The system that was used to filter in individuals without CCC points left me back in the fifth or sixth row. The one "beef" had was that there were guys who I have raced against in CCC races, who have never finished higher than me, and who's cross results points were lower than me, who ended up being seeded higher than me. I don't know how that worked out, but I decided that I was not going to make a stink about it. Instead, I lined up in the back of the pack with my friends and teammates as we shivered, laughed, and bantered with the riders in the front who we would not see again (until they lapped us). In short, I was having fun no matter what.

I lined up on the far left side of the course. The starting grid was open, meaning there was no fence immediately to my right, but the officials warned us that trying to jump outside would result in a not-automatic disqualification. They would let you suffer for 40 minutes and then DQ you. But regardless I knew that I could jump past some of field on the long home straight away, and when the whistle blew I did just that. I burned a match and surged out and around, pulling up not with the leaders but certainly in the top 25 people going into the first set of barriers. As was typical my match did not burn for all that long, but the tight technical sections kept the pack close together and we jostled amongst ourselves for positions through the sand and around the corners. I was right where I wanted to be racing in the cloud of people that I wanted to be racing with. Not just that but I also felt pretty strong going into the second lap. Even when we surged up the hill the first time I was able to keep pace. The leaders of course were starting to pull away and open a lead, but I was holding my own within the top 25. I remember being close to Paul-Brian, because I'm always close to Paul-Brian at some point in the race, especially if I am doing very well. We passed the finish line and surged down the straight away again. We hit the barriers for a second time, and made it through the far south end of the course still in a pack. Riding up a small hill with a 90 degree turn to the left in a sand pit, my front wheel washed out and I stepped / tumbled forward. I think I might have put a hand down, and maybe a knee, but I didn't roll. I was dead stopped, so I grabbed my bike and started running. I made it about 20 ft and someone behind me was kind enough to yell "Your chain" and I looked down and saw I had dropped it. I tried to do what I did at the USGP and put my chain back on while I was running. I did that for about 30 yds and had no luck. So I stopped and started to try and get it back on. I couldn't. I tried again. I couldn't. 10, 20, 30, and 40 riders swarmed past. The bulk of the pack went by while I stood looking at my chain, feeling stupid because I could not figure out how to make it go where it went.

I took some deep breaths and looked back at the rear sprocket. The rear derailleur had shifted up about 5 chainrings from where the chain was. It was putting so much lateral pressure on the chain it was pulling it off the front ring. Only after I shifted back into alignment was I able to get the chain back onto the ring, but the race had literally passed me by. There was only one thing to do though, and that was finish. So I hopped back on my bike and started pedaling. The first person I remember passing was my friend Chernoh. He said after the race that I just blew by him, and I kept going. I would see someone ahead of me, and I would reel them in. One by one I just kept picking off riders. I felt strong, I was riding a lot of the sand pits, and I might have looked tired according to one spectator, but I didn't look as tired as the guys I was passing. I rode hard and I felt pretty good about my effort, my speed, and the number of people I was passing.

When I was talking to Paul-Brian (who did awesome) after the race I told him that it was kind of fun riding from the back and have the feeling of reeling guys in and passing them vs. the last few weeks where I started closer to the front and then watched as guys blew by me, one after the other. I caught up with and passed my teammate Sean, and even Brent who finished two places ahead of me at Ted's Double Track adventure. As I noted above, I ended up getting pulled one early like the race before, but this time I was less happy about it because given another lap I would have had at least one more place. Instead I settled for a fairly anonymous 50th place.

It was my worst finish in any CCC race, but by no means was it my worst race. For 38 minutes that I was in the saddle, I felt like I was moving. Had I not failed at Chain 101 for 2 minutes, I think I would have even been able to hang onto a top 30 finish. Shortly after I crossed the finish line the leaders of the race blew threw with much cheering and fanfare. I made sure to congratulate them, as I am in awe of how fast those guys are.

John Keating (Robin William's character in Dead Poet Society) said:
Now, devotees may argue that one sport or game is inherently better than another. For me, sport is actually a chance for us to have other human beings push us to excel.
And excel we did. Even though we did not get to stand on a podium today, and though we may never see a podium we, the nameless faceless masses excelled. I am proud to be among you my brothers and sisters.

Now, I just need about 49 of them to Cat up so I can dominate the 3s next year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Photos: Chicago Cyclocross Cup #12: Montrose


Back in the saddle

When I left Carpentersville I was glad that I was getting a break from cycling. All year long I had been planning a trip to Montana elk hunting with my Dad, Uncle and Brother, and knew I was going to miss part of the season. It was one of the reasons why I moved up to Cat 3 instead of vying for the title Sandbagger of the Year in the 4As. I knew that missing three or four races in the middle of the season would not be conducive to a series championship, so I decided to take the leap and "Cat-up" as they say. I was able to squeeze the QuBe (my mountain bike) into the very top few inches of space in the back of the Suburban we took out west, but I was not able to ride it very much. My compatriots were unwilling to view the bike as an asset and an additional vehicle, and I didn't want to "ruin" the hunting trip by turning it into a bicycling trip. So we rode around in the truck and hiked a lot, but I only got in three short rides in two weeks, and missed three races.

My first cross practice back, a Sprockets Tuesday morning, was bad. It was really really bad. I just felt slow, and like my body was covered with a stiff tar. Guys I could ride with, even lead for a while were blowing past me. Any feeling of confidence that I had in my ability was stripped away by taking three weeks off. The rest of the season was going to be rough. Wednesday night in Humboldt Park went slightly better, and by the end of the week I was feeling comfortable the saddle again. I had registered for both races at Indian Lakes, and was looking forward to going and racing.

Instead a confluence of events kept me home. My transportation and lodging to the race fell through at the last minute, so I had no way to get there. That was combined with big project at work that blew up on Friday and was due on Monday. I ended up working 10 hrs on Saturday, and sending off the client deliverable at about 12:33AM. Even if I had a way to get out to Indian Lakes in the morning, I was completely spent. I ended up sleeping until 10AM and then looking the results up online. My "mid-season break" turned into missing half the season.

But I was looking at the wall in my house where I keep my bikes, and where I have started decorating with my race numbers. I had already raced in 14 races this year ranging from 39 minutes to 4 hrs and 8 minutes. Last season I raced a total of 13 thirty minute cross races. This season the opportunities for racing are even better late in the season than they were last year. If I feel up to it I can race in at least 5 more races after the end of the ChiCrossCup season. I am undecided on winter racing as of yet, but I would like to test myself against the Barry Roubaix again this year. Maybe have a little bit better experience by going into it a little bit better prepared than last year. We will see how that works out.

The following weekend was also a double race weekend, but only one was a CCC race. I thought about doing both races, but again transportation and work were issues. In theory I could have rented a car, but it would have had to have been picked up by 6:30pm on Friday (Rental place doesn't open until 9AM on Sat leaving me zero time to get to the suburbs), and I had a "Summer Outing" for work that turned into a happy hour. I even had a friend offer me a solution for transportation, but I didn't get the message (aforementioned happy hour) until it was too late to work out. Like the Rental car place the Metra train in the morning was running just a bit too late, and I did not get home until 1AM anyway, and had no time to prep for a race. So no double race weekend for me.

Instead on Sunday morning Sean and I rode to the exurbs with Chernoh in his friend's car. One bike went in the trunk, and two went on the rack. We had a good time chatting on the way out, and the only snag was that I had forgotten my wallet in my other backpack, and had no money. Being the good friend that he is Chernoh floated me a loan until we got back, and I was able to race.

We arrived at the course, unloaded and headed to the tent. For me it was the first "chilly" cross race so I had a extra lot of clothes. It was also the first race of the season without my trusty Mission Workshop oversized backpack so I was left holding the bag, a black duffle bag I used last season.

We made it to the Sprockets tent which was well placed on the course, and incredibly warm. It made us the center of attention even though we were not on the most spectator friendly part of the course. I had not pre-registered for the race, so my immediate concern was getting a number, getting everything set-down, and getting on the course for a pre-ride before the Master's 30+ race.

The time in the morning before a race always goes so fast. I did something a bit different after the 30+ race and hit two laps around the course. I don't think I made it all the way to the end of the second one, having been pulled off the course to make way for the swarm of women-who-are-faster-than-me, but it was good to get some extra riding in given how many weeks it had been since I actually raced.

I went back to the tent to change from my warm-up clothes into my race clothes, and while I was standing there in my base layers I heard my name being spoken outside. I turned towards the tent flap and in pops a familiar face. My mom had made the trip down from Wisconsin to see my race. So I finished getting dressed, then went outside and hung out with my Mom until it was go time.

We headed to staging, where I was pleasantly surprised with a call-up into the third row. I was expecting to start at the back of the pack with Chernoh and Sean as a late registrant, but my early season points moved me up into the third row. (It also helped that the field was small, only 48 finishers that day). The whistle blew and we were off. It was a little bit sketchy because the starting shoot led into a 90 degree turn to the right, up a hill, then a 90 deg turn back to the left, and up a longer hill. It was repeatedly cursed as the worse part of the course because it wasn't a steep hill, but it was long enough that a single match would not get anyone to the top. I was on the inside edge of the turn which made it a little hairy getting around the first tree, but going up to the top it opened up a spot on the outside to move up with the pack. After the hill started the long namesake section, the double track adventure, which was a fairly smooth long downhill. We were cruising down that section at a break neck pace of 20+ miles per hour, all of us still trying to hold onto the lead pack, and the lead pack trying to blow up the rest of the field.

The double track came to an end as it curved into some literal single track, weaving through the woods, then opening up on double track again with two rail-road tie obstacles. They were oddly spaced to bunny hop both of them, but the were rideable (for most). I cleared them and maintained my spot. As we were coming out of the woods back into the camp we opened up onto some pavement and wove around the buildings. I was passed on the downhill, but was able to reclaim some spots on the uphill. As we looped around the buildings we hit the most dangerous turn. It was a steep downhill, off camber 180 degree turn, into a railroad tie. The railroad tie was buried into the ground on the proximal end, and was all the way out of the ground on the distal end. So if you took an "ideal line" around that corner (wide, narrow, wide) you would end up running into that railroad tie with about 10 inches of it exposed.

I remember that turn because I was trying to go wide narrow, narrow, and Sasha from Tati came on my inside and cut me off, I had to brake hard but let him go by on my left side, then cut across his line so he was on my right. That put me in position to hit the railroad tie where it was only 2in out of the ground, and he hit it where it was about 5 inches. I saw him come to a complete stop, and start to fall to his right. I don't know if he was able to unclip and catch himself, as I continued onward, with a small feeling of satisfaction. That was my personal moment of victory.

Unfortunately the tide of battle soon turned. We looped down around toward the lake, then had to run up a steep-steep stair run. I did not sprint up, knowing that I did not have too many matches left in me, instead choosing a more plodding pace, and still ended up almost unable to breathe at the top. Very shortly afterwards, all of these people passed me.

And then I died a slow and painful death. I continued to lose spots and fall backwards in the pack, and could not find any second wind. The hill climb, the straight aways, everything felt like thick mud, except the sand which just felt like sand. I blew up so severely that even my dear mother, who knows nothing about cycling, and sympathy in her voice when she encouraged me to "keep going". Near the end of the second to last lap there was about a 200-300 meter gap between myself and a pack of three riders who were in front of me. I started to feel like I might have a second wind coming up, like I might be able to make a move on them and try to close that gap on the final lap, and I was mercifully denied that opportunity by the officials who made me the first person to get pulled off the course. It was the first time that I was not allowed to finish the same number of laps as the leaders, but I was okay with that. I really don't think I had it in me to catch the guys in front of me, and there was someone coming up behind. I'll take my 38th place out of 48 and go home feeling like I knocked some of the rust off, and get ready to go again in two weeks.

It wasn't a terrible finish given the amount of time that I had taken off, and the severity of my crash. It also wasn't a terrible crash relative to my friend Sean who, for the second year in a row at this same race, crashed HARD going over the railroad ties. He landed on his head, and actually cracked his helmet. He didn't know it at the time and finished the race much dazed.

We packed up and headed back to the city during the 1-2-3s race. We like to support the 4s racers (and I usually like to take pictures), but we all had commitments that evening. We exchanged race stories, and talked about the next big adventure. Somewhere in our future is a killer gravel road race.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Photos: Chicago Cyclocross Cup #5 Carpentersville

ChicagoCyclocross Cup #5: Carpentersville

Photos: Chicago Cyclocross Cup #4: Psychocross

Chicago Cyclocross Cup #4: Psychocross

The Long Weekend: Day 2

One of the reasons why I started this blog was to record my racing results as they were happening so the feelings and experiences would be captured in the moment and not distorted by the passing time and subsequent experiences.


It has been almost a month and a half since I have penned anything in this blog, as my racing thoughts have mostly turned into thoughts about all the other detritus that has been washing over me. But I digress.

The last time I wrote was to document the fairly terrible race I had at Psychocross. The result was not terrible, but the experience of racing mid-asthma attack was.

I don't remember much about the Sunday morning before my race as far as the procedural minutia. I am assuming it involved the usual routine of packing clothes, food, and gear, loading the car, and driving to the suburbs.

I do remember that I was carrying a heavy emotional burden. A close friend was supposed to call me on Saturday night and make arrangements so she could accompany me to the race on Sunday morning. She never called, so I was going to the race alone and upset. It was not the first time this happened, so the pain was especially acute.

So I made it to Carpentersville alone in my rented Jeep. The course was much wetter this year than it was the year before, there was actual water running in the stream that cut through the park. The cornfield on the East side of the park was a morass of thick black mud that attached to bikes like clay. I didn't even bother riding through it on my first pre-ride. I saw five guys who broke derailleurs or hangers in the first two races. It was thick and awful, and like no mud I had seen before. On my second pre-lap I bit the bullet and "rode" the entire cornfield maze. I didn't actually ride the whole thing, as I took a strategy that it was better to run slowly than break my bike pre-riding. I then spent the intervening hour trying to clean the thick mud off my bike. There was a hose, but I just used my hand and the creek. It wasn't as effective, but it was better than standing in line. I looked like an idiot, but oh well. It's not the first time.

When it came time to race, I felt pretty good. I was a little bit stiff, and spent some time riding up and down the road to try and work out the stiffness, and because of my strong early season performance I was still called up near the front of the pack. When the race started I surged, and maintained a position with the lead pack, probably in the top 20. Unfortunately I could not hold it. Even in the first lap I felt my legs seizing up. I carried my pre-ride strategy into the first couple laps and ran the corn instead of trying to ride it. I think it did help because my bike was not being pushed into the thick mud, and it was not building up as much. However, as the race progressed the mud dried enough that I rode the mud (or tried to ride) the last few laps.

Although my lungs felt better than the day before, my legs were much maligned and the race went much the same way. I started strong, then faded as others continued to surge past me. I fell from the top 20 to the top 30, to the top 40. As the placing numbers clicked backwards my thoughts drifted from the race I was in to the disappointment I woke into. As the physical pain mounted, the emotional pain complied it. I lost my focus.

In the parlance of Dr James Loehr, (The New Toughness Training for Sports) I failed to maintain my "ideal performance self" and therefore "choked". I tried as much as possible to "correct course" and "re-engage" but, I could not get back into a good mindset for racing, but my body and my emotions would not cooperate. I continued to slide backwards in the field as people who "should not" have been passing me were passing me. Which is to say that the Cat 3 field has a lot of strong riders, and I must have been in really good shape early in the season the first couple races in the season to end up in the top 30. My mileage had decreased, my fitness had decreased, and I ended up once place lower than I had the day before in 37th. It was extra sad because I did so well there the year.

In 2010 I was not planning on racing on Sunday, but found a ride after a very disappointing race (finished 39th) Saturday. I got the hole shot (Someone took a great picture of me leading Bryan Lee around the first big tree), and finished 20th overall. The technical course seemed like it should have favored me, but the straights were long enough, and the ground soft enough that I sunk in, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I bought a new camera this fall so I could spend time taking pictures at races, and on Sunday afternoon it did not even make it out of the bag. I took some pictures of the 30s+ racers in the mud in the morning, but did not take any pictures during any other races. After my race I rushed down to the hose so I could clean my bike off, and instead of staying to be a photographer and spectator for the later races, I packed up my stuff and went home feeling sad, defeated, and like I needed a break from racing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The long weekend: Day 1

I'm not going to lie internet...this was a really long and difficult weekend. It was the kind of weekend when the emotional and psychological burdens were so heavy I couldn't even set them down to race for 45 minutes.

For reasons that are beyond the scope of this particular post I ended up renting a car on Friday night and driving to the race on Saturday morning alone. I left early because I wanted to be there before the start of the Master's 40+ to make sure someone was there to help with staging (there was) and to take pictures of the 40+ riders, some of whom have been expressing discontent on the Inter-tubes that the photographers do not show up until later in the day.

The sun was shining bright when I arrived (not the best for photography), and the wind was blowing fiercely. I stepped out of the rental car and felt the "cold" and lamented the fact that it was "cold" while still knowing that it wasn't even close to cold. Come back in two months and you will feel cold.

I took my first pre-ride lap after the Master's 40+. The course had many elements that were similar to last year, but some noticeable improvements. Gone was the long rectangle around the cornfield. They added a chicane with berms where last year was loose rocks. The course still wrapped around the willow over a bumpy bumpy section of unused roads, and the Verdigris flyover made it's triumphant return.

I warmed up and felt fine. I made my way around the course and felt pretty good, fresh from a light week of training. I made it back to the tent, changed into some warm clothes and had a sandwich. I did not get out and photograph the 30+ instead focusing on getting myself ready to race. I took a second pre-ride before the women's 1-2-3s and 50+ 60+ and then spent some time during that race taking pictures.

When it was time for staging and racing I felt really good. The new staging is working out phenomenally and leading to much better order in the starting grid which has made the starts feel safer. Due to low enrollment I was staged in the top 20 (e.g., second line), and when the whistle blew we powered off. I was able to stay with the leaders, and maintain a top 20 position for the first few minutes of the race. But after that, I started slipping backwards. At first I couldn't figure out what was going on. My heart rate (e.g., effort) was near max, my legs were spinning, but I was just not going anywhere. Somewhere during my second lap I turned my focus inside and started to try and figure out what was wrong. That's when I heard it. There was a raspy wheezing sound coming from from within my chest. I have a family history of asthma, and have always had problems in October / November transitioning from warm to cold weather. In college during football practice I was teased for being "out of shape" because I was "out of breath". In reality I suffer from mild exercise-induced asthma, and was having a mild attack in the middle of my race.

When I was telling this story to my girlfriend she asked me with a note of concern in her voice,

"So what did you do?"

I replied, "Ummmm? Who are you talking to?"

She with a tone of confusion, "I am talking to you, but why do you ask?"

"Because I want you to think about that question again in the context of who you you are talking to."

"Oh. You finished the race."

That's right. I finished the race. It was not particularly fast or glorious to finish. I worked as hard as I have in any race this year, and had one of the worst results. It was frustrating watching the guys that I never want to get beat by pass me like I was standing still, and knowing I couldn't do anything about it. There was a limit to how much oxygen my body could take in, which put a limit on how much energy I could created. I used as much as possible which was frustratingly below 100% of what I had available.

The race itself was fairly clean and uneventful. During the first or second lap I was riding in a pack of people, and narrowly avoided a collision as the rider to my right (Nico) Slid out on a turn. I teased him afterwards about "punching my bike" as his arm grazed my seat stay as he went down.

One one of my barrier remounts I ended up somehow laying face down flat like Superman with my seat pressing into my stomach and pelvis, arms on the handlebars and legs straight out behind. I don't know exactly how I got there, I just know it was painful, very painful transitioning back to a seated position without stopping. I was just very happy at that point in time that the barriers were hidden behind the flyover, and there were no photographers there to immortalize one of the worst remounts in history.

After the finish when I went to check results I was kind of surprised to see that I was still in the top 40. I thought that there were only about five guys behind me at the end, but there were more like twenty five. I thought it was going to be my worst result of the year, but a mild asthma attack turned out to be less detrimental than being stung by a bee and doped up on anti-histamine. That's one of the hard things about being a Cat 3. There is no hiding. You can't have a slightly off day and expect to coast through a race. They are too many good guys, and the races are too long to fake it. I was in pretty poor spirits after my race, but I leaned on my other hobby and found some good spots from which to take pictures. Getting some good pictures helped stabilize my mood, and I felt like I did the best that I could do, and the breathing problems were kind of out of my control. All I could do was reset for Sunday, and hope that my body would acclimate to the colder weather.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Last week, I did everything in my power to prepare for a good race, and life threw me a curveball. It made for an interesting story, but kind of a miserable race. This week's race went so smoothly that it there hardly seems anything to write about.

I woke up a bit early knowing that I had to be out of the house by 7 AM. Well, it wasn't that I had to be out of the house by 7AM, but I knew that I needed to cross the street before 7:30 AM least I not be able to cross it again for a few hours. Last year I made the mistake of not leaving the house until just before 8AM and it was too late. The marathon ran literally around my house and there was no way to escape it. I ended up standing on the west side of Broadway for about 10 minutes watching thousands of runners stream by waiting for a gap wide enough to cross the street. I found a diagonal brake about 20 feet wide and like jumping into a river I sprinted across and down stream looking for the far shore.

This year I was out when the sun was just starting to kiss the tops of the buildings along the lake, and there were no cars or people on broadway. There were a few police officers preparing for the flow of traffic with yellow tape across the side streets. Yellow tape?

I rode home from the Humboldt Park practice on Wednesday night with my friend Chernoh. We made plans to meet Sunday morning at the Ann Sather's on Broadway for breakfast. I was there a bit early, and spent some time writing and collecting my thoughts. Chernoh arrived. Then food arrived. We ate, conversed, departed, and drove to the southside without issue.

When we arrived the sun was bright, the weather was warm, and the trees radiated a warm yellow glow from every leaf. It's was fall, it was summer, it was a beautiful day for a bike ride.

I have still not mentally adjusted to earlier start time of the Cat 3 race. We arrived after the start of the 40+, and I was glad that I had dressed to ride so that there was no time lost trying to change. We had 10 minutes to drop our gear and get on the course for the first pre-ride. That first lap was a little bumpy as I had forgotten to let any air out of my road-pressure tires. I knew it was going to be a fairly good day, as I did not have any problems even with the reduced traction of a higher pressure tire.

After the pre-ride I pulled my camera out and took some pictures of the Master's 30 riders. I tried to be mindful of the quality of shots as I continue to learn the best ways to leverage my new camera. It was my best performance with my camera to-date. I did not take a lot of pictures, I tried to be more strategic, and I was not afraid to remove sub-quality pictures on the spot. It saved me a bunch of time when I got home sorting through two to three hundred photos. I came home with a total of 146.

After that pre-ride I went to the starting line and helped out a little bit staging the Master's 60+ riders right after the start of the women's 1-2-3 race. I have not done a good job the last two weeks of photographing the women's 1-2-3 race nor the women's 4s race. The new staging procedures should create some windows of opportunities for photographing the women before the Cat 3 race, but my first priority is getting warmed up and ready for my own race.

The new staging procedures were rolled out in the CCC for the first time this week to eliminate the "race-before-the-race" which I was not afraid to try and win. I was in the lead pack at Jackson Park, not so good at Hopkin's Park, but now I don't have to worry about it. It went very well and also helped the fairly redundant process of checking riders in for the officials.

There were fewer entries in this week's race in part because of the marathon and in part because of natural attrition over the course of the season. I ended up in the third row, behind Austin Warner and someone else I do not remember. Chernoh lined up right behind me, and waited for the officials to make their final announcements. The whistle blew, there was a surge forward and chaos just to my left. There was a collision and someone went down (I learned later it was Austin and Newt who got tangled, and Austin who went down). I was able to swerve around the pile to the right, and make a reasonable sprint with the lead pack. Maybe in the top 20 going around the first corner. I was where I wanted to be, and just needed to race my own race.

I do have a couple of memories from the race. First, I was able to ride the technical section of course at the top of the first big descent on my first lap. I didn't have to start dismounting until after lap 2. I remember this technical section because I was at the top of the hill heckling 30+ riders who were running that section.

"A nice elderly woman who passed through here a few minutes ago rode that section gentlemen."

I did not bunny hop the log at any time nor did I attempt it. I did not want to be the next Joey.

On my second or third lap, right after the log barrier, I remember being passed by one of nemesi, Paul-Brian from Half-Acre. I remember feeling the urge to burn a match right and try to put some distance between he and I, and I remember thinking to myself that no matter what I did right there in that moment, no matter how hard I burned, PBM would be there with me at the finish. He was too good, too smart, with too much endurance to try and sprint away from. I had to race my race.

So I raced my race. I took advantage of the long flat straight aways to use a different pedal stroke than for the technical sections. I put it in a big gear (Sur la plaque, fucktards) and pedaled at a relatively slower cadence to get some recover on the straights. I was able to save up to then get out of the saddle and spin up most of the hills pretty fast. I think I passed Paul-Brian again on the next hill climb because I played it smart and did not chase him down.

I made one really bad (and painful) technical mistake. On lap 2 or three as I was coming down the home stretch toward the starting line I was getting ready to dismount and cross the double barriers. I was happy with the barrier placement because I felt I was making up places on guys by being able to get back on the bike quickly. This time, not so much. I was coming in hot, so I was trying to swing my leg over my seat, get my self in position to step through, and slow down enough that I could actually hit the ground running. I trying to do those three things simultaneously I somehow did the exact opposite of what happened two times last week. Instead of being unable to clip out and wiping out because of it, my left leg, standing straight over the left pedal with 100% of my weight on the left pedal clipped out and fell to the ground. I was moving between 12-15 mph still at the time so the result was catastrophic to my "not falling on the groundness". I crashed and my bike fell on top of me. I did no damage to the bike, and just a little damage to myself. Scraped up my knee, had a hip pointer bruise, and a little blood dripping from below the knee. It slowed me down, shook me up a bit, but I remounted hoping there was no video or camera out at that part of the course (thus far I have found no evidence).

I remounted, overcame the pain in my hip, looked at my knee (small blood) and passed the general systems test of being able to continue going. The crash cost me contact with a pair of riders who I was riding with, and closed a gap behind me so other riders were able to catch up and make moves past me. Getting around someone was not a big deal given the abundance of long straight-aways. Somewhere around the fourth lap I hit the "I can't do this anymore / Why am I doing this again?" wall. I kept going.

On the penultimate lap I remember getting passed by two riders on the straight away after the log, whom I passed again going up the hill. I never bothered to downshift so instead of spinning I mashed it in a big gear and made it to the inside corner before them.

Later on in the same lap the same rider came up beside me and didn't quite get around me as we were going into a turn. He gave me a "Sorry, man" and I said, "I did kind of a dick move on you back at the hill, so no worries". When we hit the straight away, he was gone. I could not give chase.

On the bell lap I was pretty much spent. It is always a nice idea to think that "Okay I'm going to hammer it for the entire last lap" but the last lap was two additional miles of racing with two steep hill climbs. The real question was "How do I not blow up?" So I kept on at basically the same pace. I noticed my turns past the team tent and through the "technical section" were fuzzy and not crisp, so I tried to redouble my concentration and keep moving. The last time up the hill was hard and my remount at the top was sloppy. I think I lost contact with the guy in front of me somewhere at this point in time. When I made it down to the bottom of the hill, down the straight away, and made the turn to head back toward the log I was able to see who was behind me. It was Paul-Brian and Kyle from the Shop. They were not to far behind me, and I coming up fast.

Instead of trying to catch the riders in front of me, and possibly burning out, my strategy became trying to recover enough energy so that I would have enough left at the end of the race to hold off the challengers coming up from behind. There was still little over a mile of the course left to go, so I bleed off the lead I had built up over Paul-Brian and Kyle until the final straight away, and then stood up and sprinted home. PB later commented that my strategy worked with about 10ft to spare. I was happy I did not get caught by 3 inches again at the line.

I did a little bit of a cool down, sprayed myself down with water to get the mud off, and mentally reset with some calories and water. Thankfully bees were absent from that day. I went to check results and found that I placed 27th out of 64, and was quite satisfied with the day's effort and performance. I finished off the day taking photos of the 1-2-3s and the 4As. Chernoh and I were going to take off after the start of the 4Bs but I ended up going on a wild goose chase around the course looking for a brand new insulated camelpak water bottle that went missing. (If you found an extra one in charcoal I would appreciate seeing that come back to the Sprockets tent at the next race). It was a good race, a great day, and I took a couple great photos. All in all it was a good day to be racing bikes in Chicago.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Photos: Chicago Cyclocross Cup #2: Hopkins Park

Chicago Cyclocross Cup #2: Hopkins Park

"Things went downhill from there."

There are a lot of quips I could put as a title to this weeks post, but for the sake of keeping it "realz" I will use part of my FB status from yesterday to kick off this post.

As always my race preparations started on Saturday with bread baking and sandwich making. Unfortunately I saved my bike preparation for last, and due to a particularly long session of Fallout: New Vegas ended up being at about 11PM when I should have been getting ready to go to bed. But the race prep was supposed to be quick and easy. I just needed to strip off some commuting gear and swap wheel sets.

(Sidebar: I went for a road/path ride on Friday and popped two spokes on the way home. I ordered a brand new set of Fulcrum Racing 5 CX to replace them, and donated the old wheels to the junior program at West Town Bikes. What gear do you have in your closet that an underprivileged kid could use to get hooked on bikes instead of something worse?)

So I flipped my bike upside down to put on my racing wheels. But when I grabbed the front wheel to align it parallel to the frame I felt and heard something very bad as it spun: crunching and grinding. Instead of being quick and easy, my bike prep quickly degraded into trying to clean a pair of dirty, sandy, gritty, black-greasy, rusty headset bearings hoping that I could get enough of the particulates out of the cartridge to make them turn without grinding. I got them turning freely again, but I got to bed much later than I had hoped.

Despite the late night repairs, the morning went smoothly. I got dressed, finished packing, ate breakfast, and rode north to meet Chernoh at Sarah's house. As I was stopped at the intersection of Clark and Belmont I saw a familiar face, and yelled "Hey Gabe". Gabe is the manager of my friendly-neighborhood car rental place. Every weekend I have had a race this summer I have rented a car from Gabe. I guess that makes me a "regular". He was hopping back into his illegally parked SUV with a fresh cup of over-priced coffee in his hand. He hollered back, "Hey! Am I going to see you later?" and I said "Sorry, catching a ride with a friend today". That is to say: "Sorry Gabe, I'm cheating on you."

Sarah was kind enough to share her spacious SUV with me and Chernoh, and got us to the race. We had a good time in the car, and we arrived precisely when we intended at 9:30am. Unfortunately we did not make it from the car to the starting area in time for a pre ride before the Master's 30 race. Instead we unloaded the car, answered our respective calls from Nature, found our team tent, and I got my camera out to take some photos of my teammates and friends in the Master's race.

After taking some photos I set my camera down and started to get ready for the next window to pre-ride the course. Part of that preparation involved eating one of my home roast beef and cheddar sandwiches on homemade bread. There were some bees flying around so I was being careful with my sandwich, wrapping it back in the bag between bites, and swatting them away when they tried to land on the sandwich. Unfortunately I was not careful enough. About half-way through the sandwich I was bringing it to my mouth and the yellowjacket landed on the sandwich when it was below my field of vision, and ZAP!!!!!!!!!!

My eyes melted with searing pain as his stinger buried into my tongue.

Spit, sputter, yell, drop to my knees and paw at my tongue to make sure there is no stinger in hole.

I remember being under the center of our tent on my hands and knees drooling.

I remember telling EVERYONE as my tongue swelled that I had been stung by a bee.

I remember than no one knew how to treat a bee sting to the mouth.

I remember Katie teasing me by asking "So are you going to finish that?" with a covetous tone in her voice.

I remember going to the first-aid kit and finding the insect sting / bite antiseptic wipes.

"External use only."

I sent text messages to my girlfriend and a nurse friend asking for advise, I talked to Sarah who is a nurse about what to do, and Chernoh googled "bee sting on tongue".

There was no recommended treatment, so we ended up deciding on an anti-histamine. I rode across the street to the Jewel, walked inside with my bike, and wandered around in the pharmacy for 10-15 minutes looking for benedryl. I finally asked for help from the pharmacist. He said they don't make it anymore, and pointed me to the generic.

I returned to the meet, took two 25mg pills, and did my best to warm up. It was 11AM by that time already and the field for the 3s was going to start queuing up in about 10 minutes. I had no time to pre-ride the course, I didn't really even have time to do a good warm-up. Instead I went and stood in the staging area for 40 minutes. Bryan Lee was near by and gracious enough to give me verbal tour of the course as the words "Do not use while operating a motor vehicle or heavy equipment" flashed in my mind. Maybe this wasn't a good idea.

Call-ups were made, and after the rush I ended up in the 4th row back from the start. I had a pretty good start and moved up in the field as I normally would. But instead of being able to sustain that pace and hold my place in line the lack of warm up hit me. My legs got very heavy and I got slow. The rest of my race is a blur. I don't have an idea of how many laps we did, and I can't give a lap-by-lap account. Just some fragmented memories of what happened.

I got passed...a lot by all the usual suspects. Austin, Forest, Demey, etc.

I wiped out at the north end of the course on an off-camber turn.

On two separate laps my left foot did not unclip as I was trying to dismount and turn to go over the uphill barriers at the south end of the course and wiped out.

On the way to Dekalb we were talking in the car about and the concept of a "nemesis". Sarah asked me if our friend Austin was one of my nemeses, and I laughed because Austin is way faster than me, and I only every see him when he is passing me or he is on foot with a mechanical. Sarah yelled on the first or second lap "Let's go Nathan, at least you're ahead of Austin" not seeing that Austin was immediately behind me waiting for the next straight away to blow past me. Austin quipped "Hey!" and he was gone.

Somewhere about 3/4th of the way through the race I started to feel okay again, and maybe like I could start climbing back up the field. A guy in a red/white kit passed me on a straight away, and I started to try and hold his wheel. When we got to some technical sections I was able to close the gap, and when we went up the flyover I was able to bound past him again. On the remount on the top of the flyover though I overshot my saddle a bit and had to swerve to catch myself. I then had to swerve back to keep from falling the other way, and fell into the side railing at about 15mph. I was able to get control of my bike, pull off the railing and not crash into the ground at the bottom of the ramp, but I could feel a burn on my forearm and on the back of my hand. It could have been a splinter, it could have been a cut, I wasn't sure if I was bleeding or not. I could see that I had epidermal burns on the back of my left hand, but I couldn't see my forearm. After navigating two turns I tried to look at my forearm for blood, and ended up running off the course and getting hung up on the tape and a plastic post. I had to take a step backwards, lost two spots, one of which was to the guy in the red/white kit who I passed recklessly on the flyover to get the burns in the first place. I think my second wipe out at the barriers was on that last lap too.

I remember that Julia was helping out the Half-Acres and running around the course doing mid-race repairs and cheering me on. I needed and appreciated the encouragement.

I remember gagging and choking on my own salva and mucus. It turns out you can't swallow when your tongue is paralyzed. There was a lot of sputtering, hacking, and spitting trying to keep my airways clear enough to breath.

It was kind of a miserable race. It was my worst finish ever in any ChiCrossCup race in any category. I wanted to quit. I wanted to throw in the towel. But I did not quit. I finished, and I finished in the top half (42nd of 90 some odd finishers). After the race I got on the phone with my girlfriend, walked around the picnic shelter with registration, and laid down in the grass and had an emotional breakdown. It had been a really rough week, and a terrible race day was the straw that broke my back.

It took another three hours of being a complete zombie before I was "with it" enough to even take some pictures. I got a few good shots of the 4s and SS race before bailing back to the city. My race bag remained unpacked as I zoned out telling friends and family and Facebook the story of how (complete Facebook status) =

"I got stung my a bee. On my tongue. Things went downhill from there."

Sometimes the downhill parts make the best stories.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Photos: USGP of Cyclocross Day 2: Women's Pro

These are the only photos I took on day two. Family obligations pulled me away from the course after my race. I came back to get the tent in the break in the weather after the women's race. I found these last few competitors working their way toward the home stretch. I wish I could have been their for more of the day.

Photos: Planet Bike Cup Day 2

Planet Bike Cup. Day 2

Sunday morning I was not up and out of the house as early as I was on Saturday. I dawdled in a fatigued stupor looking at the pile of mostly dry spandex, looking at my backpack, stuffing things in, taking things out. The weather map looked ominous, ominous and wet, so what would I need to wear? By the time I got to the race the First race of the day was lining up to go off, and I did not get to pre-ride the course. It took time to set up the tent which was placed at the bottom of the far side of the hill on a parking lot instead of at the very top. I was trying to A) not have to carry the tent up the Stanley run up again, and B) trying to be somewhere that would not turn to mud.

I even got a bike rack from across the parking lot and carried it over the course to hold the tent down, and to provide additional space for storing gear (a impromptu lean-too) made with a tarp. I spent a lot of time messing around with the tent and stuff, and pretty much used all of the time I had during the men's 4 race to get ready for my first pre-ride. By the time my pre-ride started so had the rain. The course was muddy, and the main track was already slick with mud. The off-camber turns on the top of the course were already slick, and getting worse with every drop. I returned to the tent and cheered on the women from Chicago that I know, Becky, Ellie, Katie, and Katie (all of whom did awesome). Paolo and I were in the tent watching the muddy women ride by and it hit me that...we were next. There was not another race between the women's 3/4 and the men's 2/3. It was time to get ready now. I put on my skin suit and opted on arm and leg warmers. I got into a conversation with Paolo about toe cleats I said "yes" and he said "meh". But as the rain picked up he switched his vote to "Yes", and I helped him put in his cleats while he pinned on my number. I slipped on my rain jacket and pants, threw on my poncho, and it was time to head to staging.

Which of course meant another trip to the portapotty to undo all the dressing I had just so meticulously completed in a small wet enclosed space with risk of loosing something small in the most embarrassing way. When I emerged the rain had surged heavier, and I tooled around the parking lot a few more times before heading to staging. Once again they were calling names as I arrived, but as my number was even higher than it had been on Saturday I had plenty of time to shed my rain gear and get into the starting grid. We were tightly packed again waiting for the whistle. I saw my Mom and Dad standing near the starting grid, and waved at them. I think we got a whistle on day two instead of a gun. Was it too wet for black powder?

Regardless the whistle went and we surged forward once more. Once again I made my way to the outside to find room to sprint, and once again I was able to make up some positions on the field hugging the corner. It was longer, but there better traction out in the wide-line because the grass was not completely submerged in mud. I was able to move past some people on that turn, and it felt like I moved from the back half of the pack into the front half. As we headed into the Zipp barriers I was in very tight traffic. So tight I actually had to put my shoulder into a rider who was trying to cut me off from the outside. He even took his hand off his handlebar and reached for my bar for a moment. Someone, maybe an official, yelled to keep your hands on your own bike, and he relented. I remember nothing else about him except that his arm was royal blue.

It was about that time that my body felt the impact of having raced the day before. There were a couple of straight areas where guys who were still firing on all cylinders were accelerating, and I could not engage any high-end torque. I just kept in a low gear and spun until the next technical section. My mantra in wet and muddy conditions is to stay below the threshold of effort where cognitive ability is impaired. Mistakes are more costly than going slow. Beside, in the wet weather all of my "matches" were wet, and so I did not have any to burn.

The Stanley run-up had been modified to make it even more difficult. They threw in an extra up-then-down 180 degree turn before turning 180 degrees back up the run-up. In my first lap it was rideable to the top of the 180. But the way down was already a sluice of mud and water. I didn't run down. I planted a foot and slide down. The run-up was the most painful part of the course for me. My third trip up I got a really bad side-stick on the run-up, and had to soft pedal for a while until it went away. All the technical muddy corners, the water, the puddles and mud were fine, but the run-up kicked my ass more and more each lap.

The first announcement I heard over the PA system about how much of the race was left was that there were three laps left. I remember thinking to myself that I didn't know that I would be able to finish the race. I did not know where I would find the energy to run up that hill three more times. I was seriously wondering if I had it in me to finish. But it was also on this lap that I started to feel like I was moving a little bit faster than some of the others on the course. Yes I was dying, but maybe I wasn't dying as fast as some others. I pressed onward.

My brother and his wife were standing just on the other side of the hill on my third trip up watching the now treacherous off camber. When I navigated through it by unclipping and "scootering" with two steps around the apex, they heckled in the spirit of the sport saying next time I should make it worth their while and at least have the decency to wipe out.

As I hit the pavement the most glorious thing happened. I heard the announcers say that there was only one lap left. Somewhere in the middle of my fourth lap the counter jumped from 3 to go down to 1 to go, and all of the sudden it was the bell lap. Any doubt of being able to finish was washed away, and I just focused on riding within my self, finding the best line (sometimes very far away from an ideal line) through the corners and getting around guys when they made a mistake and fell down. I remember my right leg-warmer came untucked from my shorts on the last lap, and I watched as it slowly crept down around my ankle. I dared not stop and tug on it, and there was no room for taking a hand off the wheel. Instead I watched it fill up with mud, and hoped that it did not become entangled in my drive train.

My bike was filthy to the point where the mud was interfering with shifting. I lost some spots on the last lap, but I also made some spots up as I was able to take advantage of the mistakes of others. I remember having closed a gap on a rider in front of me down and around the playground, but the last time up the hill was by far the worst. It didn't feel like I was running. It didn't even feel like I was walking. It felt like I was literally crawling as I supported my weight with my bike, and used my legs to drive us up the hill. It was not pro, but it got me to the top which was all that mattered at that point. I was completely spent at the top, unable to breathe. The rider in front of me had pulled away up the hill, and I gave up any hope of catching him. Instead I turned my attention backwards, and wondered what I had to do to keep the rider behind me from catching me at the finish line again. When I hit the pavement I glanced backwards. There was no one coming. There would be no dash to the finish line for me, just a nice stroll toward personal victory.

When I cross the line I posted-up to celebrate. I had no idea where I finished, but I did finish. The announcers made note that lots of guys were posting up across the finish. Just finishing means something on a day like that. I went back and found my parents at the starting line, went back to the tent, and changed into dry warm clothes. I was starting to shiver, and just wanted to be dry. I ended up riding back to my brother's house as a cool down, and started the process from last night all over again. Wash the bike, wash the clothes, then me.

The mud came off very easy with a garden hose. When I turned the hose to my skinsuit dark brown water ran off the bottom for almost a minute as I sprayed clean water onto it. Everything from my shoes to my helmet was saturated with as much mud and water as it could hold. Everything got pre-washed and then thrown in a washing machine. I threw myself into the shower, and had to kick the dirt and grit down the drain.

We had a little family gathering at my brother's house so I did not make it back out to watch more of the races until later. There was a break in the storm near the end of the women's pro-race and I returned to fold up the tent and give away water bottles that my sister-in-law had from work. I pulled out my camera and snapped some photos of last lap of the women's race. I headed up the hill to hand out water bottles, and it started to sprinkle again. I sprinted downhill and collapsed the tent by myself and loaded it into my brother's blazer. I did not have any of my rain gear (or waterproof shoes) so I did not stay to watch the men tear it up. Although there was nothing left to tear. The course was completely destroyed from fence to fence. There was no grass left just a two mile long slough of mud three meters wide.

The timing of my race was messed up. My placing was correct, but my lap-times are only recorded for three laps. Someone missed me through the finish area on my first lap. But the totals are pretty telling.

On Saturday I ran 6 laps in just over 42 minutes. On Sunday I ran one fewer lap, but took about five minutes longer to complete the course. It felt like it was more than a little epic. Not "Gravel Metric 2011"-EPIC, but certainly a grueling cyclocross-race epic.

The Planet Bike Cup. Day 1

I started writing this post on Saturday night before exhausting set in. It was originally titled "Exhaustion"

It's day one of the Planet Bike Cup. I took more than 400 photos, was outside all day mostly on my feet, and oh yeah...cyclocross race.

Oh yeah...

Cyclocross race tomorrow.

Everything went smoothly this morning. I was up early at 6AM, and then snoozed for another half an hour. My brother helped me get to the park with the tent, bike, and gear, and then he went to play basketball. I got some help getting the Sprockets tent to the very top of the Stanley run up. I ran a warm-up lap before the first race, and another before the second race. The grass was damp with a heavy dew and maybe some overnight precipitation, but the ground was not muddy. In the corners if it was slippery with dust if anything. I took a few pictures in between and changed from my warm-up kit to my skin suit. It was a little bit of a frantic dash by the end as I was trying to get everything situated, my number pinned on, and visiting the portable rest room. It never fails that once I get all layered up to race, the first thing I have to do is go into a small plastic box and try to disrobe without dropping a glove or an arm-warmer in a smelly blue place.

By the time I made it to the staging area they were already calling guys into the starting grid, but I was fortunate that I did not miss my call up. My number was 247 so the call up order was not determined by registration order as I was one of the top 25 guys to register. That was a little bit disappointing, but randomness is like that sometimes. Fortunately there wasn't much time to be disappointed. We filed into the corral and bantered amongst ourselves waiting for the gun.


Yes, I believe there was a legitimate gunshot to start our race. That's pro, right?

I was kind of in the middle at the start and worked my way around to the outside edge. I was able to move up in some positions during this first hard burn and get closer to the front of the pack, but I was not able to sustain that pace for long. The speeds were very high on the dry grass, and there were a lot of open straightaways in the top half of the course. I kept hemorrhaging spots that I had burned hard to gain. I wonder if it would have been better to hold an inside position, not burn as hard, and then try to pick guys off at some of the later straightaways. Regardless, the race was on.

It was a combined Cat 2 and Cat 3 race which means there were lots of guys who were faster than me. Every time I was passed I thought to myself, "It's okay. He's Cat 2." When someone I recognized as a Cat 3 passed me I thought to myself, "It's okay. He should be Cat 2." Mostly I didn't think.

I do remember loathing the Stanley run-up. A long steep climb that some of the pros were bunny-hopping over the rail-road ties at the bottom and riding up. I was dismounting, leaning heavily on my bike, and then running up as fast as possible which did not feel very fast at all. The one lap that I did sprint hard up the hill I got to the top and realized that not only did I have to ride my bike again, but I had to be able to navigate some oxbow off camber turns, which was almost impossible without any oxygen.

I do remember some things about the last lap. Somewhere near the bottom of the Stanley Steamer I passed Austin who was on foot. He shifted over his rear chain ring and ground his chain along the spokes behind the cassette. Forrest passed me, and pulled away up the Stanley Run-up. There was a guy who was right behind me at the top of the run-up and we ended up in a dead sprint for 56th place. I had the lead, and I lost the sprint by about 3 inches because I stopped pedaling and tried to "lean" it in, instead of continuing to hammer past both the finish line and the point of vomiting. Part of me is kicking myself for giving up just a bit too soon, and the rest of me is kind of glad I did not vomit for 56th place. Fifty seventh place was uncomfortable enough.

I hung out and watched the pros race cheering on the Chicago natives I knew, and watching some of my teammates drink and heckle to the best of their ability. I got some help getting the tent taken down I packed up my belongings into my backpack, rode back to my brother's house to get his car, and then returned to the park to pick up the tent. The rest of the night was spent cleaning my bike, then cleaning clothes, and then finally cleaning me. I went out for a treat at Culver's and returned to my brother's house for a quiet evening of photo editing and writing about my day.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 this was pretty cool.

As previously noted, I raced on Sunday.

Instead of going with my usual Monday night routine and going on the Chicago Cycling Club Monday night group ride, I went to a small (3 people) impromptu cyclocross practice at Cricket Hill. It was a nice change of pace from a 40 or 50 mile day. I also wanted to be "fresh" for the Tuesday morning Johnny Sprockets cyclocross practice at Montrose Harbor.

I set my alarm for 6AM. It woke me up, I hit "Dismiss" instead of "Snooze" and fell back asleep. I woke up again at 6:27AM and in a fog realized what had happened. The pillows called loudly to me. "Lay back down. It won't hurt anything if you skip this week. Come on. We miss you already."

But I was already up and mentally figuring out how to cram what normally takes 45 minutes in a slow stupor into the next 20 minutes. I thought a little panic would help so I panicked.

I made it to practice fashionably late, with just enough time to drop my bag and drop my tire pressure.

We played 2 games of "foot down" as a warm-up, and then went to hotlaps around a course. During the hotlaps we noticed a photographer with a big lens who was taking pictures of us. During our break he came up to ask us what we were doing. He came to the harbor early to enjoy some wonderful morning light, and stumbled across a bunch of people in brightly colored spandex crawling in and out of the pain cave.

He explained he was a photojournalist with the Tribune, and he had no idea what we were doing. We started explaining cyclcross to him, and he asked if anyone would be willing to give a little explanation on camera of who we were and what we were doing. I volunteered so I could give a shout-out to my friends at Johnny Sprockets and the Chicago Cyclocross Cup

This was the result.

It was one take, and looking at it now I wish I had read today's update so I could have said SIX HUNDRED AND EIGHTY RACERS instead of 560 pre-regs. Also, I used the word "discipline" too many times. Other than that I think it went pretty well for being before 8AM on a Tuesday morning.

I am also very glad I broke out my good baby-sharks-clubbed-to-death-with-baby-seals-skin suit with red racing strips for practice this morning and not the faux-red regular-lycra-skin suit or heaven forbid, matching separates with arm warmers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Photos: Jackson Park

Photos from Jackson Park.

Men's 30+
Women's 4s and Juniors
Men's 1-2-3

Chicago Cyclocross Cup 2011 Jackson Park

That went well....

Sunday morning started with an alarm ringing at 7AM. I threw my legs over the side of the bed, wiped the sleep out of my eyes with my fists, and stood up and stepped into a something resembling a Rube Goldberg machine who's sole purpose was to get me out the door headed for Jackson Park in less than a hour. My clothes were laid on the floor next to the bed in the order they needed to be put on. There were socks, warm-up bib-shorts, khaki shorts, under armor top, warm-up jersey in a row. A bowl and spoon for cereal waited on the table, water-bottles were half filled with ice in the freezer, three roast beef sandwiches on homemade bread sat in the fridge with 15 ozs of home-brew energy gel portioned out into 5 oz servings. An empty soft-sided cooler waited next to the fridge to be filled. A backpack by the door waited for a soft-sided cooler. Shoes, socks, race kit, helmet, gloves, tubes, levers, pump, chain lube, multi-tool were already preloaded in my backpack. I pulled the Camera battery off the charger, loaded it into camera, and loaded the camera into my camera bag. The Camera bag was then loaded into the backpack. I pulled the Falcon from her hanger, and was ready to roll with time to spare.

But it was cloudy. I thought that maybe I should check the weather.

According to weather dot com it was currently sunny with a small chance of showers until 4PM when it looks like rain.

According to the window it was overcast. According to the sidewalk, it was raining. That was two votes to one weather dot crap. You loose. I stuffed a poncho and some arm-warmers in my bag in case the wet wanted to lead to cold. I also returned to the hall closet one more time and grabbed some knobby tires just in case. I strapped them around my backpack, put on my Shower Pass rain cycling jacket and Race Face rain pants, and headed toward the Lake.

I could have ridden the 13 miles to Jackson Park, but I have done that once before, and was not all that thrilled with the results. Given the mileage I have put on this year, I'm even more certain that I could have done it, I just didn't feel I needed to do it. Not with 40lbs of gear on my back and the weather cool and wet. The buses all have bike racks, and it was a relatively painless journey three blocks to the 151 then another block to the 6 and then three blocks to the Park.

I arrived to Jackson Park well before my target of 9AM. I just missed the start of the 40+ race (GOOO CHERNOH!) and had plenty of time to get set up for a pre-ride. One of the key things I learned last year was to dress to ride. It was nice being in civilian clothes on the way to most race, but it takes too much time to change into race clothes. I prefer to be able to get on the course and get rolling as soon as possible. There are too few windows to pre-ride to be missing them trying to get into bib shorts without showing everyone ye' ol' twig and giggle berries.

So I got myself set up to pre-ride, and then cheered on the 40+ riders. It was raining too much for me to get my camera out. Sorry mature gents, no photos of you today. I waited for the end of their race and did my first pre-ride lap. The course was wet from the morning's rain. My Michellin Jet file-treads did not do all that bad considering the course was wet, twisty and full of turns. I liked it better than the previous year's course with many more trees and shrubs and fewer straight aways across baseball diamonds.

I returned to the start, put back on some warm layers and got ready to watch my teammates Brent and Michael C take off in the 30 plus. (YAAAAYYYY GO BRENT!!!! GOOOOOOO MICHAEL!!!!!!!!!!!! (I really need a cowbell). The rain had let up so I took some pictures with me new camera.

During the 30+ the rain started coming down more steadily. Michael and Brent ran good races, and it was time for another prelap. The full field of 30+ racers combined with the added water significantly impacted the course. It was slick and the path around the course was muddy and brown where an hour earlier it had still been mostly green. There was a lot more drifting on the second pre-lap than there was the first. I was very glad I brought a different set of tires.

After my second pre-lap I returned once more to the team tent, changed into my dry race bibs, pinned my number onto my race jersey, ate a sandwich, pulled out my levers, and went after my tires. I focused on getting ready to race and did not take any pictures of the women's 1-2-3s. I took a short ride (too short it turns out) on my new tires, but did not stray to far from home. I knew that I wanted to be one of the first in the starting grid, so I was planning on being warmed up and ready to go fairly early so I could be one of the first to queue up. With a few laps left to go in the women's race, I went back to the tent grabbed a bottle of water and a home brew energy gel to suck on while waiting. I kept my jacket on to hold in some heat, and went to the starting line to wait at about 11:10AM (40 minutes before my race). There were already some veterans in the holding area, so I took my place amongst them. I don't remember how long I was standing there making small talk when it hit me. I had a panicked memory of a mistake I made at a race last year when I pinned my number on the wrong side of my jersey and discovered it a few minutes before the start of the race. So I opened up my jacket to double check, and realized that I wasn't even wearing a jersey. Just my underarmour and my race bibs. I had never bothered to put it back on after I pinned my number to it. So I leaned my bike up against the fence and made a quick "I'm warming up" run back to the tent to prevent automatic disqualification. I was back in plenty of time even before the bulk of the pack showed up.

And so we stood in an increasingly dense cloud of men and bikes. There was the subtle and almost imperceptible surging forward toward the starting line, the gentlemanly banter, the microscopic jockeying for position. Eventually it was our turn. Jason called us out in stages and I was able to fill up onto the front line. The call-ups were random and unlike last year at Jackson Park I did not get one. The starting grid filled up, and we were then given the opportunity to surge forward one more time before the start. I held my place and started from the second row fourth from the left of behind the 10 starters. Unfortunately I did not "pick the right horse" so to speak and when the whistle finally blew the center surged forward and my lane stalled, so going into the first turn there were already a dozen or two riders on the inside of me moving into the lead.

I overheard some of the master's 30+ riders talking about the first sharp downhill turn after the U bend with the barrier being a serious bottle neck. They were not wrong and even though I was in the front quarter of the hundred man field, things were already starting to pile up when I got there. The first 5 or 6 riders sped away while the field slammed on their collective brakes and piled into one another. It was definitely a choke point whether intentional or not. The field of 100 could have used some more distance to spread out naturally (especially with the random call-ups) before the course narrowed. Or as I have discovered in mountain biking a steep climb straight up hill is very effective way to spread out starts by ability. But I digress.

The rest of my first lap is kind of a blur. I know that I made up places on some guys in the twisty turns, I know others passed me. Things calmed down more in the second lap than in the first. I got into the pack of riders with whom I would be jockeying position for the rest of the race. My second lap was also the lap where I started to feel that my rear-tired was under inflated and rolling out on me around curves. I psyched myself out and thought I had a slow leak and was debating whether to stop and try and fix it or if I should keep riding until it was flat. It was a distraction and I soft-pedaled out of many turns on the second lap fearful of blowing it out or tearing it off the rim. It wasn't until the end of the second lap that I became more confident that my tire was a little under-inflated, but it was not losing pressure. If it was leaking it should have been flat by that point and it wasn't. So I pressed on.

It was also the end of the second lap that the official told the rider in front of me that he was sitting in just around 20th position. That emboldened my spirit. The third lap started off with a bang. As I noted earlier I was jockeying for position with a couple of guys for most of the second lap, and I wanted to try to open up a gap on them and be in the lead going into the twisty back part of the course where I felt like I could out ride them. I burned a big match up the home straight away. When I looked down at my garmin I was sitting at 25mph riding on a slight incline in wet grass with 35lbs of pressure in my tire. It was awesome while it lasted, but unfortunately I burned too hot and was not able to maintain the gap on the two guys that I passed. They both caught me again before we reached the twisty stuff, and I was once again trailing them through the sharp turns. It was on this lap, that I made the worst technical mistake that I remember making. I was going around the sharp 180 double back into an off-camber by the lake when the rider in front of me went down in the mud. I was able to adjust my line and avoid him, but I ended up having to unclip to maintain my balance on the off camber uphill section. When I tried to step back up on the pedal, my muddy foot slipped off the front of my pedal two times as I stalled out on the hill. A pack of riders piled up behind me at the mess. I don't remember giving up any spots right then, but there was a pack that closed the gap and was breathing down our necks for the rest of the race. Some of those riders pass us on later laps. I had learned my lesson with 3 laps to go, and did not burn a big match on the straight away during lap -2. I pushed myself hard, but stayed within my threshold.

I tried to ride the penultimate lap calm but aggressive, and then hit the last lap as hard could. I wasn't the only one hitting the last lap hard as a couple of faster riders from team Pegasus (who got caught up in the collision at the beginning of the race) made their way through the crowd and advanced forward during that last lap. Fortunately for me the two riders I had been shadowing both had issues that allowed me to squeeze by them. One wiped out on a turn, and the second had a mechanical issue within 150yds of the finish line.

I was physically spent with a half lap left to go, and was battling to hang on. I could sense more riders behind me, maybe three or four, and I was started to feel like I would soon be bent over a garbage can donating partially used roast beef sandwiches for the greater good. I fought through that sick felling thought and pushed onward toward the finish. Coming around the last turn I was out of the saddle sprinting trying to catch the guy in front me sleeping (I didn't) and trying to to be caught sleepy by the riders behind (I wasn't).

It was my first solo Cat 3 race, and I finished 23rd out of about 100 entrants and 94 finishers. Despite the very wet and muddy conditions I ran fast (as verified by an independent observer and being spread as a rumor) and did not wipe out once (knock on wood). I hit almost all of my dismounts and remounts cleanly (no bull wrestling and only one 6 step remount). I finished in the top 25 and felt pretty good for the effort. I knew that I finished in front of a lot of guys who finished in front of me a lot of races last year. All in all, it went well. I stayed around for the Women's 4 race, the men's 1-2-3 race, and the start of the 4A race taking pictures and socializing. However, the rain was starting to get heavier, and Chernoh wanted to ride home, so we set off before the end of the 4A race. (A shout out to my friend Chernoh who A) road to the race from Foster and Clark, B) Raced in the Master's 40+, C) Raced in the Cat 3s, and D) Then rode home. He's one to watch for this year). We took the Lake Shore Path and enjoyed a favorable tailwind. We were both overloaded with gear and on fat-tire cross bikes. The rain continued to fall, but with the wind and a good day of racing us behind us our spirits remained warm and dry all the way home.