Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Regarding Lance (Part 1)

Whereas the author begins an ongoingsometimes profanethread
about Lance Armstrong...

In this episode, the author: introduces the subject; identifies his conflict; muses on phalluses and the sphincters; and touches on the difference between a hero and a symbol.

Inspiration. Instigator.

Sinner. Saint.

Dick. Asshole.

Patient. Survivor.

He's been called all of these things (and more).

Where do I stand regarding Lance?

I believe that he is a blank canvas, or (more accurately) a scrim. Sometimes he is transparent, and we see something within him. Sometimes he is opaque, and we see the reflections of our own expectations. And sometimes he reflects the gobo someone else aims at him, and we react to the shadow we see.

This story needs to be told out of sequence, and it's one that is yet to be concluded.

Let's begin in the middle...

Convalescence 2

I was recovering from shoulder surgery, so I had entirely too much free time.

Lookie, a shoulder! Don't cry on it, though...

As is my won't, I pillaged the library.

I read three years' worth of Bicycling Magazine, cover to cover. Interesting.

I checked-out every nonfiction cycling book on the shelves—at three libraries. Some I devoured. Others I merely flipped through (bicycle maintenance is interesting, but not practical with an arm in a sling and a bloodstream poisoned by painkillers).

One result was that I learned more about Lance Armstrong than is necessary or advisable. There are a lot of pages and column inches devoted to him—and "devoted" is often the word to describe the authors' angles.

The thing about it was that (despite the fawning prose) the more I read, the more I kept asking myself an old question: "Is he a dick, or is he an asshole?"

The Noughts

My first real exposure to the Mythos of Lance was my reading of "It's Not About the Bike" sometime in the early 2000s (you know, the noughts).

Like most folks, I was enthralled by the triumphant story. Cancer survivorship: check. Champion cyclist: check. But surrounding and beneath it all, he did not move me. Like a hero in a movie, something inside me wants to like him. (Which is one of the major reasons why the great villains in literature and film are so great: they're likable...consider: Lucifer, Richard III, Fagin, Keyser Söze, et al.)

In Lance I beheld a jerk of a hero. Worse, I though he was a class "A" asshole.

Time passed. He kept winning, and every July I slavishly followed and cheered his accomplishments. After all, he strode atop the pinnacle of a sport I loved.

Anything else he did I filed away as: "meh".

Then I started having pain and discovered a serious lump in my naughty bits. Somehow I remembered something from the book. I went back and scanned it. Yep. Same symptoms.

Convalescence 1

With a testicular cancer diagnosis ringing in my ears I re-read "It's Not About the Bike". This time, the cycling took a back seat to, well, everything else.

I finished it and I was conflicted. I was deeply grateful to have read it (previously), because my memory of it triggered events that led to my diagnosis, and I was able to avoid chemotherapy's debilitation.

But my appreciation was compromised, because I was grateful to a person I couldn't abide—a person I considered to be...well...a douche.

Considering my situation, it may seem strange that I would spend energy thinking about Lance as a person. Part of the reason is that I needed something to think about that was cancer-related, but not scary. Anxiety and primal fear rule throughout the process of testing, diagnosis, and treatment. Lance fit the bill: he threw me a lifeline, but he was not directly involved in my odyssey. And best of all, he didn't even know it.

Safely distant from the person, I was free to articulate my internal conflict. It all crystallized into a single question: "Is he a dick, or is he an asshole?"

Regarding Dicks and Assholes

My theory—unscientific and puerile as may be—is that an asshole is always an asshole. It cannot help being what it is. A dick, however, has a choice. It can be controlled by a more-civilized mind. Even the hardest dick can be softened. An asshole, however, is always going to smell like shit.

So, is Lance an asshole? Does he act the way he acts and treat people the way he does because he is wired that way?

Or, is Lance a dick? Is his behavior the result of a controlling ego that has been tempered by hard experience?

Heroes and Symbols

I want to like Lance Armstrong. I would like to call him a hero. However, I don't perceive him that way.

To me, a hero is someone you admire, revere, and treasure. It is a person whose actions you would emulate, whose leadership you would follow, and who you would defend against antagonists.

Lance is all of the former and few of the latter. I admire his strengths, revere his accomplishments, and treasure his role as an anti-cancer activist.

I do not wish to emulate many of his actions—his selfishness and meanness is something I cannot abide. His leadership I question—I cringe at his degree of self-promotion and wonder how long I could follow a self-aggrandizing figure. And he has done many thing I consider undefendable; I would not take a hit for him.

Lance Armstrong, family man.
Need I say more?

Thus, despite my desire for him to be something more, Lance Armstrong remains—for me—a symbol.

To me (and in this context) a symbol is a person whose presence, image, or mention represents something above and beyond the individual.

Lance represents tenacity, strength, endurance, survivorship, and myriad other things. I can look at him and draw strength from his example. I can reference him to others and achieve instant recognition. People "get it". This is his value; he is a symbol.

To expect anything beyond that diminishes his power as a symbol.

He's a hero to many, but a symbol for me.

His all-too-obvious flaws—from his in-your-face attitudes, his dismissiveness of people, and his overarching egotism—eliminate him as a hero. Yet, as a symbol, he remains powerful and compelling.

Person and Persona

Maybe it comes down to the difference between Lance Armstrong, the person, and Lance Armstrong, the persona.

The public Lance is a persona, the man we see in press conferences and advertisements, on the bike and the red carpet.

The private Lance is a person, with all the aspirations, qualities, and flaws that come from being, well, human.

So, what happens when you meet the person?

...on to Part II

Lactate Threshold Heart Rate Test (Part II) Results and Reflections

In Part I I described my preparations and mindset, as well as the logistics behind the test. This (Part II) will be the template I will use for reporting my future tests.

Baseline Data

HealthGoodNo issues
RestGoodNot great sleep, but not tired
NutritionGoodOatmeal/eggs/coffee standard breakfast
HydrationGoodSipping water all morning. No "sport" drinks

My Results

Previous LTHRN/A
% ChangeN/A

  • My result was an average heart rate (HR) of 174 beats per minute (BPM).
  • There was no change from previous results (as there were no previous results).
  • Based on the results, my current training zones are...

My Zones

Lactate Threshold heart Rate = 174
4Sub Threshold163-173
5aSuper Threshold174-177
5bAerobic Capacity178-183
5cAnaerobic Capacity184-190


On the test...
  • I need a solid 20-30 minutes to warm up.
  • I could have done better. I feel like I had another 5 minutes left in the tank. I need to figure out how to bring those 5 minutes forward.
  • Hydrating throughout is a key.
  • Video + iPod combo worked well.
  • I am delighted to have a benchmark.
On what the results mean...
  • I don't know.
    • Am I in average shape for someone my age?
    • Is it realistic to expect to be competitive this year?
  • I was doing my Zone 2 training at too low a level. I was staying below 144, which is technically my recovery zone. Not good.
  • I am beginning a long journey.

2010 Tour Down Under

I love the <*insert corporate sponsor here*> Tour Down Under!

It's like the peloton was airdropped into an alien world. While winter here, summer there (what's that big, hot, yellow thing in the sky?); and the terrain sometimes looks like Mars. I would love more climbing, but I must admit that day-after-day of sharp elbows and hurly-burly makes for great tv. .

A few musings...
  • Cadel evans looks good in Rainbow.

  • Radio Shack kits look cheap. Fitting, that...

  • Sky look good. Fabulous bikes, and a stylish kit give them the look of contenders. Their teamwork, understanding, and strong finishing kicks make them contenders. I'm looking forward to watching them this season.

    Pinarello = Bike Porn at Its Finest!

  • The Basque madmen of Caisse d'Epargne are an inspiration. Constantly attacking at the most inappropriate times. I get the sense that TDU is not racing, so much as a week of hard training for them. Whatever the case, they are fun to watch.

  • HTC/Columbia want to be the bully boys again in 2010. That is good for the sport. Every competition needs its Goliath, and they are built-to-order, on that account. I hate to see them win, but I love to watch them work. Their train is magnificent. And they were without Cavendish.

  • Greipel is a beast. Michael Barry called him Hulk Hogan. The Hulkster in a skinsuit. Perfect.

  • I missed Cervelo.

  • Whither Garmin?

  • Radio Shack struck me as: "meh". I was neither impressed nor disappointed. That said, did I mention that I think their kits look cheap? "Pedestrian" also leaps to mind.

  • I love my BMC boys

    • Great to see that my bike is winning sprint points!

      NOT My BMC SLX01...It's George's....

    • I hope what I saw of the teamwork is real. It looked like they were beginning to figure it all out. They were nowhere near as confident as Sky or Columbia; but I thought I could see them coming together.

    • I have a man-crush on George Hincapie. There, I wrote it. It has become even more delicious now that he is training on my bike. He does, however, have better wheels. That would explain why he is faster than me. Right?

    • BMC has the Rainbow jersey and the Stars & Stripes. No pressure.
      I hope George's crashes are getting out of his system now. I want to see him in the mix in Flanders, not crashing.

    • 140mm stem...wha, wha, what?

    It's not the size of the your stem, it's what you do with it.

  • With respect, does every race need to be the Lance Chronicles?

    • Paul and Phil are consummate professionals, so I wonder if they get sick of mentioning him every 23.4 seconds.

    • I know they don't control the pictures. It's the non-picture mutterings, promos, and asides that are driving me insane. And it is only going to get worse when they bring on Bob Roll. Oy!

      Two faces of the same evil...
      Tommy Smyth and Bob Roll.

    • As a tangent, what will Masters' coverage be like this year, if Tiger doesn't play? Can you imagine how obnoxious TdF will be if Lance is unable to participate?
Paris-Nice is the next big race*. Bring it on!

*With all respect to the tours of the sultanates and emirates of the Gulf region.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lactate Threshold Heart Rate Test (Part I)

A key performance indicator for my training this year is my lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). It is a barometer of how my body tolerates work. Knowing my LTHR enables me to identify my training zones as I prepare for this year's events. (More on all of this in forthcoming posts.)

Determining one's LTHR is easy—on paper.

You just do a 30-minute time trial in a controlled environment. Go all-out—steadily—for a half hour, and your average heart rate over the last 20 minutes is the magic number.

Trepidation and Preparation

How fit am I?

That's a daunting question for a 41-year old cancer survivor who remembers what it feels like to be unable to stand steadily or walk.

It's a happy question for a 41-year old who became obese in the wake of illness, and then dedicated himself to getting strong and losing the weight (45 pounds of it).

Either way, taking the test would be taxing. Never having done anything like it before, I expected it to challenge my mind as it tested my body. How long would I be able to concentrate? How far could I push myself? How would it feel?

To prepare I read others' accounts. In my spin classes I focused on steady-state pedaling for the entire 45 minutes—learning how it felt to stay within a zone, pedal through discomfort, and listen to my body.

I also had to work out logistics. When? Where? With what equipment?

The Plan

  • Sunday morning (while BCB and the LAs went to church).
  • The living room!
With what equipment?
It's all self-explanatory, except for that last part: the DVD.

I had asked Santa Claus for one of these magnificent downloadable sufferfest videos.

I did not get it. Boo hoo.

Santa, however, knows things. Sometimes, he simply gets things right. Clearly, I was a good little boys

So, my stocking had Coach Troy Jacobson's video. Brilliant!

The DVD is a 60-minute workout designed around the functional threshold test. It has basic warm-up, targeted heart rate ramping, the test, and cool-down.

It works.

Just don't listen to the music (it's a cross between 80's porn music—not that I would know—and the scintillating sounds of the John Tesh Orchestra).

The Test

I finally had the necessary components for murdering myself. I had motive (after all, it had been weeks since I first intended to do it), I had opportunity (family out of the house), and I had weapons (borrowed stationary trainer, television, DVD, iPod).

I warmed up using the DVD's guidance. First it was your basic spinning—getting comfortable, waking muscles, focusing mind. Heart rate in 130s. Then a few intervals with increased resistance and effort stepped-up the heart rate. I got into the 160s with concentrated effort and intention to do so.

At this point in the proceedings I was comfortable in the saddle and hydrating appropriately, but I was bewildered by my HR. As soon as I reduced intensity it would plummet to the 120s. On the one hand, I was happy to see that I could recover efficiently. On the other hand, I had no idea how I was going to "get it up" for the entire duration.

Warm-ups finished; it was time for the test. I turned on the iPod and let AC/DCs primal, mid-tempo growl penetrate my core. I was about to perform on a animal level—might as well channel animal music.

I dropped in to my 50x12 gears (compact cranks, wot) and hit it. I focused on maintaining a cadence of 102rpm.

Why 102? Because it is greater than 100, but not as loose as 110. Not to be snarky; it's simply comfortable for me.

At 10 minutes I was breathing heavily, but well in control, and my legs had a steady burn—nothing severe, but I knew I was working. My heart rate was in the 170s, and it appeared to be pegged at 176.

At 15 minutes, no changes. I was sweating more, getting that pinkie-and-elbow drip. Everything was steady.

I was enjoying it. the video gave me something to focus on, and Coach Troy's motivation (or, what little of it penetrated the the Young brothers' growl) reminded me to focus. I only caught myself in a mind-wander once, and my cadence dropped to 95. I quickly compensated and got back on track.

As 20 minutes approached, I got a lot out of the video. Watching others push through to the end—especially Luther, the Clydesdale triathlete who was pushing for 600 watts in the final minute—fired my competitive spirits.

I finished the test and spun down. The video has a few post-test intervals, which were well worth doing. They re-invigorated my legs after the steady-state push.

My results?

See Part II...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Capital 'Cross Classic (Reston)

Schooley Mill hooked me.

Reston reeled me in.

Flush with the excitement of my first cyclocross race, I hoped to find another race before the end of the year. The Fates were with me. There was a race coming up December 6th in Reston.

I waited to get through Thanksgiving to see if the desire and motivation would endure through the feasting.

It did.

I waited to make sure the calendar did not get filled, what with the hyper-busy holiday season.

It didn't.

So, I committed. The trifecta:
  • I registered for the race.
  • I registered with US Cycling.
  • I joined AFC.

The Man in Black Rides Again!

I contacted the lads at AFC and told them I was on board. To make it real I picked up a long-sleeved skinsuit. Black. Red polka dots. Cool.

I was official.


The only thing was...I didn't have the polka dot socks. I looked on line in vain for black and red polka dot knee-high socks. Nothing.

I did, however, have a plan "B". I would wear a pair of my black knee-highs.

Crisis solved.


December 5th was our first snow. The radio weather announced that the temperature at Dulles was 23 degrees (that's Fahrenheit to you, wise-arse).

Here be dragons...ice dragons.

What was once water, was now ice.

Yet, I was committed.

Commit Me

I was up and out by 0630, to make sure that I was on-site early. My newbie mind requires me to see and experience everything, so I can learn from the adventure. And this was going to be an adventure.

The drive was uneventful, but memorable. The ice-laden trees were awesomely beautiful when painted by the sun's rosy rise.

As I approached Lake Fairfax Park I realized that I hadn't seen any cars for some time. Tracks? Yes. Vehicles? No.

I followed snow tracks on the access road and found the parking lot. Black ice, hillocks, and talus greeted me. Someone shuffled across the lot and flolloped indelicately onto his arse. It was bad.

Welcome to the pleasuredome...?

I crept forward and found much space between two other cars. I parked, got out of the car, and made my way to registration.

I ran into Dr. Bill, another AFC rider and the gentleman responsible for the most excellent photos of the day that grace this post. We exchanged shiver-talk, registered, got our numbers (I was 512), and ever-so-carefully made our way back to the lot.

A few riders were picking their way through the course already, and race organizers were making all efforts to civilize the untamed ice. It was everywhere.

I unloaded my bike and—to my wonderment—was praised by all and sundry for my decision to bring my 29er. People thought I was a genius. Considering the conditions, riding a more stable bike made sense. No one, however, knew that I did not have a 'cross bike. I did confess it to Dr. Bill, but only because of the doctor/patient confidentiality thing.

We're Racing?

We mounted our trusty steeds and headed to the start area to begin our practice lap. We barely made it to the grass.

My future...

Walking more than riding, we picked our way through the course. We carved fresh tracks in the crusty inches of snow. Then I hit the ice.

No, I mean, I HIT the ice. Ome second I was rolling forward; the next I was looking up at the sky with a brutal pain in my hip. I have no idea how I got there; all I know is that it hurt.

I ate it four times on the practice lap. I was a baby on the bike.

Note the sourpuss expression. Me ride bike good some day!

We finished the lap and went to our cars to gear up/down. I was taking off layers and lowering my tire pressure. As I stripped off, the guy in the car next to me remarked: "Skinsuit and socks? Are you insane?"

"You wear what ya got." I replied.

You may translate that as: "Yes, my good sir, I am insane. It should also be noted that I am sporting the polka dot for the first time, and I wish to look good. To hell with comfort, this is about representing my new team with honour, dignity, and erect nipples!"

THIS is pavement after an hour of shoveling, chipping, and salting.
Oh, did I mention that this is the start line?

Yes, We're Racing

89 started. 79 Finished. 27 were lapped. I finished in 49th place.

I finished.

I survived.

I did not get lapped.

No one pipped me at the line.

It was brutal, cold, miserable, nasty, and painful. I would do it again tomorrow.

I fell more times than I care to count—thrice spectacularly.

The first of these was on an off-camber turn just before the transition-to-pavement-from-hell. The guy in front of me braked and nearly stopped. This forced me to brake and crash into him in a way that made me bounce off and hit the deck. My cleats did not release from one of my pedals, and I lay on the ground like a beached whale as three riders passed my bloated carcass.

Shovels would have been nice...

Two observers were right there, just outside the tape. I could have touched them. At least they did not laugh.

The second spectacular fall occurred along the evil icy causeway across the damnable dam that held back the inky-black, frozen lake. Like my practice-lap hip-crusher, I was on the deck before I could say "Crap!". (If I was lucky, I got out the "Cr"...but that might have been my teeth chattering.)

This was spectacular because of the immutable laws of gravity, which state (and I am quoting Newton): "Falling objects shall continue to fall until an equal or greater opposing force stops its sorry arse." In my case, I fell, slid, and rolled down the embankment. I completed two complete rolls while still clipped into the pedals. In Olympic terms, it was a double-Lutz with a head twist.

Looking back across the evil, ice-infested causeway from hell...
the site of my ignominy.

From a full 50 yards away, I could hear the laughter. It was a sight to behold. I just wish I was the beholder, and not the beheld.

The third was a Herminator-esque, fly-through-the-air-and-land-sliding-across-the-road-while-completely-succumbing-to-the-forces-around-me fall on the final turn of lap three. I had just gotten up to speed, using a snowy part of the path as my traction control, when I shifted my weight just so...

Some day we will all look back on this and laugh.

...and down I went. I nearly took out two spectators in the process.

So, let me reiterate:

I finished.

I survived.

I did not get lapped.

No one pipped me at the line.

It was brutal, cold, miserable, nasty, and painful. I would do it again tomorrow.

What I learned

  • My gloves were not warm enough (no feeling by end of lap 1).
  • Wear skin creme (no feeling on face or ears after lap 2).
  • Wear earplugs (Ear canals HURT when cold! Who knew?)

  • Ice hurts.

  • I'm a survivor.
  • I'm addicted to 'cross

The last point is the point.

I love this sport, and I am so grateful that I have been able to participate in it.

So, when's the next race?

My Team (Or, Why I Joined Adventures for the Cure)

2009 was a great year on the bike. After (literally) years of prevarication about my riding, my January shoulder surgery helped me focus on discreet goals. Something deep within me was re-awakened.

I rode the Five Boroughs Tour, the Long Island Harbors Century, Pelotonia, and my first cyclocross races (Schooley Mill 'Cross and Reston).


During the second half of the year I was looking for a team. I wanted to race more with each passing week. My long-dormant competitiveness was awakening, and I believed I needed some guidance and structure to support me.

I knew I wanted three things from a team:
  1. Experienced riders (and racers) from whom I could learn.
  2. Opportunities for group training.
  3. Philanthropy.
I spoke with a score of riders from all over the Washington, DC region. I learned about the Squadra Coppi squad in Virginia, Route One Velo, Team BBC, Club Kelley Benefit Strategies, and others. All have merits. Ultimately, there really was no choice: it had to be AFC.

Why AFC?

AFC met all my criteria, with the added bonus that everyone associated with the team (who I had met) was, well, nice.

1. Experienced riders (and racers) from whom I could learn.

The two team founders are veterans of Race Across America. In 2008 they completed it on fixies. In 2009 they won the two-man team competition. (RAAM is a wild and crazy ambition for me. More on that some other time.)

One of the founders, Adam the Machine,was just promoted to Category 1 for cyclocross—that new and wonderful discovery.

Sure, he's dreamy...but on the bike he can kick your arse
without so much as a grunt. No. Really. He can.

From what I have been told, AFC is not a hardcore road-racing team. It is mostly cyclocross and mountain-focused. This is an opportunity. Not only do I get exposure to new and exciting things, but I can hp grow road racing within AFC.

2. Opportunities for group training.

One of my big lessons from 2009 is that riding alone has its merits; riding with others is a pleasure; and riding in a group can be a blast.

I loved going to my Tuesday night group rides. It was the one evening each week that I had to do what I wanted, so I took advantage.

O, to have mountains like that near our group rides...

AFC is based near Ellicott City. While not my backyard, it is within my riding radius, so it is local enough. And central to AFC is the Google Group and its mail lists. Being able to send a simple email to reach out to scores of riders, scheduling rides last-minute, is a huge bonus.

There is also a fabulous opportunity to take part in group coaching. Nifty!

3. Philanthropy

I am a cancer survivor, yadda yadda.

I know most people are uninterested in this fact. Nevertheless, it is a driver for me.

Me. My Bike. My Cause. Any questions?

Put me in the category of those who want to do something good for my cause, and who see their (my) activity as a method of bringing focus to it.

I am no noeticist, but I do believe that collective awareness begets action. the result of this belief is that I happily add my voice to the chorus of cancer-haters. I delight in efforts and activities that help raise both money and awareness of anti-cancer causes.

AFC is not focused on cancer, but they do require all members to perform charity work. This laudable requirement is a huge attractor for me. Selfishly, I hope to leverage AFC for my unselfish goals (Does that make me a bad person?). I also hope to learn from them. Fund raising is not a native skill, it's a learned process, and I have a lot to learn.

Decision Made

It's done. I made my decision at Schooley Mill.

I am in the honeymoon stage. I raced my first race while resplendent in AFC colors. I've joined the group/team coaching, and I attended the red-and-white party (taking the advantage of meeting some of the folks). The mail lists are active, but not cumbersome. And it is clear that Adam the Machine and Patrick the Competent care.


And that's really the point, no?

You choose your alliances. Sometimes it's Machiavellian. Sometimes it's charitable, but it is always a choice.

I choose AFC.

P.S. Oh, and the polka dots help!

Schooley Mill 'Cross (The Making of a Cyclocross Addict - Part 2)

Opportunity Knocks

I was looking at cyclocross events to see if there were any I could visit as a spectator. I wanted to get a feel for the sport. I was shocked to see that there would be a race in a much-loved, local location—Schooley Mill Park.

Yep, that's the entrance!

The MABRA cyclocross series visited Schooley Mill Park in 2009 for the first time. Schooley Mill is a place full of happy memories. I have taken my girls there for countless walks in the woods in all seasons and in all kinds of weather. We've stalked deer, spied on beaver, and befriended horses and their riders on the well-maintained paths through the woods. We've followed animal tracks, crossed logs, fallen into the creeks and lagoons, and returned with smiles and treasures. On a few occasions I rode there on my mountain bike and romped on the paths, with one or two out-of-control, daredevil descents on the hills.

So, how cool was it that there was going to be a race there?

I mulled. I daydreamed. I wanted to ride—even though I had no idea what that meant. Eventually, I registered.

Getting Ready

Everything I read and everyone I spoke to told me the same thing: 'cross is hard. To prepare, I increased the intensity and frequency of my spin classes (more intervals). I also went out to a field and practiced dismounts and remounts.

NOT me. Note the form and the, er, risky position

Funny, it was just like riding a bike!

It was easier than I expected. I simply channeled my childhood. As a kid I lived on my bike, and I leaped off it countless times. I knew how to run and remount from endless games of chase and tag. Somehow, the running-jumping-mounting-pedaling thing came back to me.

NOT my old bike, but you get the idea

Even off-camber turns—initially terrifying—came back to me. All those afternoons as a kid riding the trails around Carpenter's Pond are hard-wired in my memory. My 29er ain't my old yellow banana seat bike, but the same rules apply.

The Day Cometh...

Crisp, cool, autumnal air greeted me when I left my driveway for the 20-minute ride to Schooley Mill. My backpack was filled with water, tubes, clothes, tools, and a shop pump. I had more than I needed.

Riding to the race was the perfect warm-up to the warm-up. I got there early and registered. While in the anteroom outside registration, I stood with my number (640), four pins, and nary a clue about what to do with them. A wise, kind woman (in a BBC kit) bailed me out, helping me to don the number (right side, facing backwards, so the race officials could identify my corpse when they scraped me off the tarmac).

I stashed my bag in some tall sea grass near the tot lot (nifty hiding place for belongings and wayward children) and rode a lap, marveling at the activity surrounding the final race preparations. I had visited the previous evening to get a look at the course; everything looked a little different in the morning light.

Course map for Schooley Mill 'Cross!

Nervous, I kept having to pee. I'm sure the caffeine had nothing to do with it.

As a result, I nearly missed the start. I was in the loo when I looked at my watch. It read 08:56. Race start was to be at 09:00. Christ!

I completed my transaction, mounted my steed, and rushed to the line, where several score angry-looking men in tight shorts were lined up for the start. I nearly toppled an entire group as I maneuvered into my start row (4th row!).

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

I saw Beautiful and Charming Bride (BCB) and my two girls, the Lovely Angels (LAs), at the start. Goofily, I grinned and waved. Nodded to the racer next to me, and we were off!

The Race

Prior to the race, veteran cyclocross racers told me the following about 'cross:
  1. You redline the entire race.
  2. Bike-handling skills are at a premium.
  3. Speeds are slower, so when you fall (note: "when") it does not hurt as much.
So, despite my night-before-the-event-visualization-fantasy—in which I made the podium in my first EVER cyclocross race, riding a 29er mountain bike, with family cheering me on to legendary victory—I really had two realistic goals.
  1. Finish.
  2. Don't fall.
Modest. Realistic. Manageable.

No one in front...no one behind...still in the middle...

I can happily report that I achieved both my goals.

I finished despite several cyclocross-veteran comments that I would be fortunate to not get lapped in my first race, in large part to the behemoth bike I was mounting.

I did not fall, thus proving that even blind squirrels occasionally find a nut (er, well, you know what I mean).

I was 34th of 65 starters (three did not finish).

I was middle of the pack. I did not get lapped.

I am a bicycle racer!

What I Experienced

A breathless rush: that's what it is.

I died a thousand small deaths each lap.


As I passed the officials, concluding each lap, one mindtrack screamed "call the race!" and another mindtrack howled "kill the rabbit!"

I like chasing rabbits. Motivating. Driving. Primal. When that other guy is out there in front of you, reeling him in is an absolute delight.


I passed BCB and the LAs twice each lap (as I passed the tot lot). I have no idea when they arrived. Each time, I could clearly hear Youngest Lovely Angel (YLA) shouting "Go Daddy Go!" BCB and Eldest Lovely Angel (ELA) were more reserved in their support, but I heard them.

I got chills whenever I heard them. It absolutely motivated me to pedal stronger (at least when I was near them!), to make them proud. It's cliche; it sounds trite. That said, it's real.


I wore my heart rate monitor. My average BPM was 178. My maximum BPM was 186.

Thus proves the statement: "you redline the entire race."


Obstacles were manageable. They were not easy, but I didn't feel like they abused me...with one exception: the uphill carry over the two cyclocross-board obstacles.
  • Lap 1, not so bad. Carried 29er over and easily remounted.
  • Lap 2, not so bad. Carried 29er over and easily remounted.
  • Lap 3, not so good. Stopped dead before lifting 29er, and remounted with effort (not so much spring in the step).
  • Lap 4, bad. Stopped dead. Heaved 29er onto first barrier to roll it over. Labored up hill. Re-heaved 29er over second barrier (barely clearing it). Stopped dead. Got back on bike (it's not a "remount" if you are walking, true?).
That bike got heavy.


Chasing the rabbit is a good thing. Being the rabbit...not so nice.

Just before the line (uphill approach) a comet passed me at mach II. Effing hell. As Ian Brown would say: "Amateurs! Amateurs!"

So this is how it feels to be lonely, this is how it feels to be small...

will never happen again.

What I Learned

'Cross Is Hard!

Let me repeat what I wrote before: "I wore my heart rate monitor. My average BPM was 178. My maximum BPM was 186."

'nuff said.


I stayed in the middle ring (front) and shifted surprisingly little. Of course, coming up the boggy hill, I needed to downshift, but I never got into the rear granny ring. I also never got into the rear power ring. It was always somewhere in the middle.

Eating & Drinking

A Gu 20 minutes before the start, and then one at the start fueled me perfectly with no GI distress. Even if I was thirsty, there was no way to drink during the race. I don't even remember thinking about it until after the finish.

Finish Strong

I was chasing my own rabbit when I was caught. I was riding hard enough to catch my target, and I had no idea I was being stalked. In the wild, I would have been dinner. Situational awareness will not let me down again.

Why I Will Do It Again

40+ minutes of vitality in the cold, wet, muddy, sunny, windy, speed-driven hunt.

40+ minutes of risk and reward, hunting and seeking, chasing and dodging, leading and scrambling.

40+ minutes of living fully.

...it's FUN!

'Cross is fun.

Socks! (Or, the Journey to Sartorial Self-Determiniation)

I like clothes.

My Rapha-fetish notwithstanding, it's not about volume. It's about quality and "a look". I am far from a clothes horse—in fact, my closet is largely void of anything I can wear (...courtesy of weight loss and my unwillingness to go out and buy clothes that fit. As Trevor, my irrepressible and irreverent colleague—hereinafter to be referred to as “ir-Trevor”—says: "If you do (get new clothes) you're only going to gain it all back, anyway.").

But I like to look good in a classic way. Alternatively, I like to look interesting.

Ergo, cyclocross is perfect for me. It’s traditions—irreverence, occasional costuming, and frivolous atmosphere (that thin veil obscuring its profoundly powerful competitiveness and strikingly sweet masochism)—lead to a kind of sartorial self-determination.


Schooley Mill 'Cross was organized by the Baltimore Bicycle Club Racing Team. Their colors are pink and black. Interesting.

BBC logo as rendered in pink

It takes a bold man--here in the US--to wear pink convincingly. We're not Italians, celebrating the Giro by coloring our world with the un-red. And we're not Eurocentric Brits, slavishly following the fashions of Thomas Pink of Jermyn Street, London.

Even so, I must admit that BBC looked good, all these fellows in their pink-and-black kits.

But then there was one. This was a man after mine own heart, a gentleman of profoundly outstanding vision and taste. There was a man in argyle.

Not for him, the mere pink-and-black stylings of his jersey and shorts. Not for him, the mere classicism of his pink-and-black cap. Nay!

For him, nothing less than knee-high pink-and-black argyle socks would do.

I love this guy!

Knee Socks!

Since I-can't-remember-when, I have been a fan of knee socks. It is a running joke in my family that knee socks are a gift (for me) for any occasion.

Less-well-known is that I deeply admire interesting socks (argyle, polka-dot, stripes, smiley faces).

NOT Sean Connery

Unfortunately, people seem to be less-inclined to gift me interesting socks. Damned gender-biasing! Were I a girl, I would need to dig myself out from the avalanche of fancy knee socks that would materialize every holiday. Alas, here I sit, brokenhearted...

Argyle and Polka Dots

The Schooley Mill race—I had decided—would be the event/day that I would make my decision about which team I would join. I was 90% certain that I would join AFC, but BBC was still in the running—and Mr. Pink Argyle was having a huge influence on me.

Then I ran into Patrick of AFC...

Patrick the Competent,
sporting the dots!

He was sporting his polka dot kit and...


I had a vision.

Polka dot kit. Polka dot knee socks.

Decision made.

AFC it would be.

Sartorial self-determination, er, determined.

Now, how will I realize my vision?

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Making of a Cyclocross Addict (Part 1)

This is a cautionary tale...

It happened slowly, imperceptibly.

Yet, it happened. I'm addicted to 'cross. (See! I'm even calling it by its nickname!)

Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer...

While recovering from shoulder surgery I spent a lot of pain-filled time sitting in a comfy chair watching TV. Through serendipitous scheduling and the miracle of the DVR, I watched a replay of the 2008 cyclocross world championship.

It looked interesting, but it was crap TV. The leader was out in front for so long, it was boring. There wasn't any strategy, and all the riders were so good, that the obstacles seemed routine. I preferred watching the Tour of California.

The summer road season progressed. Other riders would mention 'cross. They would speak reverently about the coming season. Some guys were on 'cross bikes with road tires.

"Meh," I thought. Not for me.

The year flowed on, and I was hearing more. I kept reading about 'cross during my morning surf. Blakedo, my spin class instructor, talked it up. Then I was blindsided by the Adventures for the Cure crew.

Attack of the Polka Dots!

The Tuesday group ride had become a highlight of my week. I loved that my 40+ year old legs were competitive with the 20-somethings on the parcourse (Sure, they had competed in Ironman events, marathons, and centuries each weekend prior to the ride, but that's no excuse!).

Then some dude in a polka-dot skinsuit showed up. He was strong. I had a hellish time staying on his wheel on the Harriet Tubman climb. He dropped me, and I looked like a punch-drunk fighter, dazed and bewildered. He made it look easy, the arrogant (unmentionable)! God, I hated him.

Over the next few weeks, I got to know Jay PolkaDot and his white Klein a little He had a good sense of humor, and the roadie arrogance I'd perceived was really my imagination. He was a good guy, and his strength forced me to step up and get better.

Then the other shoe dropped. He brought two of his teammates, and all hell broke loose.

Unassuming, friendly, and riding beat-up bikes, his "teammates" proceeded to kick our arses up and down the hills and around all the curves of Howard County. And they were on fixies.

Effing fixies.

My fragile ego was crushed. My roadie arrogance crumpled; my confidence plummeted.

The two "new" members of the polka dot crew, it turns out, were the winning two-man team in the 2009 Race Across America.

Oh, and one of them is a Type I diabetic who rides with an insulin pump.

Effing hell.

So, what has that got to do with 'Cross?

The polkadot crew are serious 'cross riders. (In fact, Mr. Insulin Pump just got promoted to Cat 1.). Between arse-kickings, they talked-up cross.

Cyclocross Everywhere

Being the curious sort, I added cyclocross to my morning surf. I was exposed to the sub-sub-sub genre of "POV Cyclocross videos with indie rock soundtracks", courtesy of In the Crosshairs.

They were kinda cool.

I dug deeper and watched video of training sessions, where the subtle skills such as "dismounting you bike at speed without falling on your face" and "remounting your bike without performing an auto-orchiectomy" were taught to eager, rosy-cheeked, pneumatic-thighed participants.

They were entertaining.

Then, lo and behold, I learned that there was going to be a race near me; and not just near me, but at a park near and dear to my heart!

The Schooley Mill 'Cross was scheduled for November 21st, the weekend before Thanksgiving. I read about it in August, and I knew--deep in my heart of hearts--that I was doomed.

...On to part 2