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.