Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bike Racing for Dummies - 2017 Green Mountain Stage Race

Preamble - if you know nothing of bike lingo and terminology, fear not. I will define everything to the best of my ability, however, as you will shortly find, I am still learning on-the-fly here. I bought my first road bike this past June. June 10th, 2017 to be exact. I've never followed professional cycling or any type of cycling for that matter. I do love to ride bikes though. I love it A LOT and I am learning as much as I can, as fast as I can.

However new I am to cycling,  I am not new to having fun while pushing hard and testing physical and mental limits. I have a lot of experience in this area.

I also don't mention names much in my previous stories but for your, the reader's, sake I am going to in this one. It might be weird but we will get thru it. Promise.

So let's begin - Lesson 1 - The Green Mountain Stage Race is a 4-day cycling event that takes place in Vermont. I am brand spanking new to cycling so I am in "Category 4/5" or "Cat 4/5" for short. Racing in "Cat 3" is earned by racing more and acquiring points by winning races. There is also Cat 2 and Cat 1. The experience level going higher and higher. Each category races separately.

A "Stage Race" means that there is a number of different events where cyclists earn points and/or time bonuses against their competition, and thus a ranking amongst their respective category. The Tour de France is a 21 day "stage race" where the overall winner is determined by the fastest time in the "general category" (or "GC") ranking. There are also points awarded to competitors for "King/Queen of the Mountains" (or "KOM") challenges and "Sprint" challenges, but for time sake we will come back to those later. Click the links for more details on speed and strava files, pictures, and/or videos. Click the pictures to make them bigger.

My Drishti was set on competing for the GC and overall win.

That being said - I also recognize that this is the Cat 4/5 race - I know it is not the pros or even the Tour de France. It is very small-time compared to those races. I promise to describe things truthfully, and descriptive as I can/know how. I also promise to try my best to keep you on the edge of your seat and make you think that you are reading a description of the TdF.

2017 Green Mountain Stage Race (GMSR)

For story's sake, this weekend starts with a fist bump early Monday morning in Burlington, Vermont. It was Labor Day and 3 blocks of the city were closed and barricaded off for the final day of racing. The fist bump was of the most unexpectedness: an enthusiastic presentation of four smaller knuckles outstretched upward on a young arm. Though his arm reached only up to my chest and his closed fist was much smaller than my own, it was rock solid and steady. I was immediately jealous of these traits as I returned the "knuckle-tap" with a loosely closed hand that trembled with nerves.

"I hope you keep that yellow jersey!" he said without inhibition, even though I was a complete stranger.

"Thanks, Big Man! I appreciate that a lot!" I said half-bewildered and very surprised by the encounter. I was straddling my bike in full race gear with a bandana tied under my matte-black helmet and full reflective aviators that hid the uncertainty in my eyes. "What's your name, buddy?"

"My name's Everette and my dad's racing right now and he's doing really well in the sprints and in the GC! I hope he wins but there is a bit of gap right now and I don't know if they'll bridge it up! Not to mention there are only a couple laps to go until the next prime!" he sputtered quickly. He was surprised when it took me a minute to process all the information. He had all this information ready to go in his head which was at an awkward height where could barely peep over the top of guard rail but wasn't quite short enough to see under it either. I watched an unapologetic look of disappointment wash across his face when the most intelligent and engaging response I could muster was, "That's really cool. I hope he wins too!"

I had barely a clue what he was talking about and the clue that I did have was all learned the previous night -sleepless and frantically trying to figure out how to race a "crit".

Crit - bike race where the course is deliberately short with lots of corners designed to test cyclists' strategy and bike handling skills. One small mishap likely means a crash.

My hands were shaking with nerves for two reasons. One, because I had never really raced a "crit" before; two, because I just borrowed a bike pump from a guy who wiped out pretty badly who was in an earlier race for a different category. He had road rash all down his left side and said "Yeah, that sucked but at least my head didn't hit the curb... here's my pump. Good luck out there! Defend that yellow jersey of yours!" I pumped up my tires silently and went out to warm up a bit.

Let's back up again - The yellow jersey in cycling is given to the current leader in GC points. It is an awesome honor to wear the jersey but it also is intended to make it easier for the rest of the racers to know who is leading in points, AKA, who they have to beat.

The crit is the final stage of the GMSR. The time was getting closer and everyone began making their way to the entry corner of the race (because course it totally blocked off, there is only one way to enter the actual course). A few of my teammates and friends made a big deal about how I was going to get a "call up" and how that was going to be a big help in the crit. I asked a couple times what that was but I didn't really understand to be honest. "It's simple," Tim and Dan said, "They call you up to the start line. What don't you get?" I am not quite sure what I didn't get but I still didn't understand. Everyone was bunched up in the entry area and the announcer began talking.

"One second!" I yelled. "I'll be right back." I pedaled up to the opposite corner, took out my headphones and phone, and left them with my lovely lady, Suz. I sucked back a HOTSHOT and made my way back to the group.

"We can start now?" The race official joked as we all sat waiting to be released to the start line. I zoned back out. Apparently, the announcer called my name. I didn't hear it. I didn't really hear anything until the kid next to me nudged me and said, "That's you, bro."

"What do I do?" I asked.

"Get up there, dude!" he poked fun because he must have thought I was joking.

"Oh." I pedaled up 500 feet to the start line alone as everyone cheered. I don't do well with boasting and/or inequality in any aspect of life and the solo-pedal up to the line was super awkward for me. He then "called up" the 2nd and 3rd place guys to the start line. Then allowed everyone else to the line. We stood there for two minutes. Longest two minutes of my short lived cycling career. I was in the lead. 10 seconds behind me was a kid named Robbie. 10 seconds behind him was Berk. First place thru 3rd place all within 20seconds of each other. It was anyone's race, really. The difference being that Robbie had his teammate, Rees, at the starting line with him; and Berk had his teammate, Dustin, at the starting line with him as well. I, on the other hand, was solo and had no idea what I was doing.

Stage 1 of the GMSR is a (mostly) uphill "Time Trial." A time trial is a race against the clock. Each rider is released on to the course in 30-second intervals and the times recorded individually. Coming from a triathlon background, I have a lot of experience in time-trialing and knew I was going to fair decently. The effort is totally individual. Drafting off of the other riders on the course is not allowed. Drafting is when one cyclist will ride close behind another rider. The rider up front does a lot more work than the person in the back, because the person in the back does not have to fight air resistance they both travel at the same speed.

TT in action
The GMSR TT course is 5.6 miles. The first 2.6 miles climb about 500ft and took me 8min 57sec. The rest is net downhill for 3miles and was into a 10-12mph headwind. The only thing you can do in a time trial is pedal hard and get into an aerodynamic position, henceforth "aero." I am good at pedaling hard and getting better at being aero. I finished 2nd behind a kid named Torin. I wasn't expecting to win, but I also wasn't expecting anyone to go 26 seconds faster than me. This kid had legs. And because he won the 1st stage, he got to wear the yellow leader jersey for Stage 2. My effort analysis is here if you want more numbers but for non-bike-nerds, I will save the jibber-jabber. Long story short, it was pretty much right on point with what I expected I could do. Average 388watts for a duration of 15minutes and 40seconds.

A "watt" is a unit of power commonly used by cyclists to quantify effort. It is basically how hard someone can push the pedals. Think of it as weights on a barbell in a gym. It just measures how much overall work you can do on a bike. 388watts for 15minutes is right on point for me. For comparison's sake, 388watts is equal to half of a "horsepower" when describing an engine in a car. Not too shabby considering I run on infinity miles per gallon, eh? On to stage 2.
Torin doning the Yellow Jersey after the TT

On my way down from where I was staying to the start of stage two, I stopped at a coffee shop in Rochester. I was in my bike attire and ready to get in, get a coffee, and get on my way. However, a woman came up to me at the register and introduced herself and asked how the race was going. She was clearly excited about it and wanted to chat. I didn't have much time but I ended up learning that her son actually won the GMSR a couple years ago and was now off racing somewhere else as part of a different team. We actually ended up chatting for a little longer than I noticed and though I wish I could have talked more, I was now later than I wanted to be. I told her it was awesome meeting her and her husband and left for the start line. After random encounters like that, I now had a big smile, a new friend, and a great feeling overall. I didn't really expect to talk with either of them again despite them telling me that they were volunteering on the course for stage 3. At most, I'd wave to them on the course as I passed by. Nevertheless, Vermonters are some of the best people on the planet.

Stage 2 was 54 miles and called The Bridged Resort Circuit Race. It was my very first race on a road bike and to be completely unfiltered and frank it was not much different than my very first sexual encounter with another human.

At first, much like I did with the opposite sex as a teenager, I built up both experiences in my head a lot more than I should have. I "put the bike race on a pedestal" if you will.

Thru inexperience in each, they were both very uneventful, they were both over  a lot faster than I wanted them to be, and left me wondering "Did I do that right?" "Was that good for you guys, too?" I was very unsatisfied.

There were a few failed attempts to break the pack up (this is when a few riders will start power up ahead of everyone else and start working together to "break away" from the pack). This is when a "gap" forms. When cyclists refer to a "gap" they mean the distance between the leaders and the rest of the pack. But when a gap forms, the pack usually starts to work together a lot better to get everyone back together. The burden of reeling everyone back into the pack is usually on the person in the leader jersey. On the contrary, the pack rarely lets the person in the yellow jersey get away because everyone knows who he is and, in our case for the cat 4/5 group, the leader had 26seconds on everyone else.

Torin wore the jersey well for Stage 2; too well. Typically the person in the yellow jersey will shy away from taking pulls up front and doing more work than he has to. He has 26seconds to give after all. It's our job to beat him... he doesn't have to beat us. As long as the pack stays together and finishes together with the same time, the time will get added to our time from the previous day for the overall results. If all the finishing times are the same, he stays in the lead. Again, it doesn't matter how fast or slow we go today if we all stay together and get the same time because he won the Time Trial yesterday by 26 seconds... Torin did a lot more work than he had to.

So anyways, besides a few small and short attempts at a break, no one did anything. Everyone finished at the same time. The only other thing I am going to add to this description of stage 2 was that there was a "GC Time Bonus" to the actual first 5 people across the line. So even though we all finished in the same time, the first person across the line got a 15-second bonus deducted from their overall standing in the GC time. This doesn't mean much for the single stage of racing but is pretty huge for the overall GC standings. Robbie finished first across the line.

My analysis is here. To sum it up, I averaged 215 watts and the group finished at 2hrs and 16min. I made a couple of moves but lacked the bike racing experience, confidence, and intuitiveness to have instigated any more than I did. I was so frustrated at the end that I put my running shoes on immediately after the ride and peeled off 4 miles at about 7min/mile pace. Not the best idea when we have another 65 miles to ride tomorrow but honestly, I felt like we didn't even ride at all. To put in in perspective, I could have covered the same distance faster by myself. The Monday before the race I rode the stationary trainer for five and a half hours at a harder effort level than we rode stage two. However, I was still in 2nd place overall GC. Behind by 26 seconds, heading into stage three with fresh legs.
Stage two finish

The kid in 3rd place going into Stage 3 was from Vermont and a phenomenal climber. Torin, still in first place is also an incredible climber. Had conditions been different on Sunday morning I am almost positive Stage 3 and the overall race would have ended differently. I was just as surprised as the rest of the field when I noticed that the kid only 2 seconds behind me in the running for GC, going into his strong suit, on his home turf, did not sign in to ride. I did a mini-happy dance in my head but then was brought cruelly back to reality a half of a second later when I remembered it was 42 degrees out and downpouring. I went back to my car after I signed in. I needed to stay as warm as I could. When I got back to my car I noticed a message on Facebook from a stranger that immediately warmed my heart again (unfortunately not my fingers though).

It was from the woman I had met yesterday, wishing me luck. I always shy away from telling people specific times or standings when they ask, "How did XXX race go?" Clearly, people want to know numbers and placings but speed and times are all relative and I try to honor that as best I can. I also try and focus on how much fun I had and how awesome the people and crowd were at the race more than how "fast" or "slow" everyone went. When I met Tamme at the coffee shop, she asked these leading questions. Deep down I knew she wanted a number, a time, how fast I went. My superego (accorind to Frued) decided to dodge the inquiry and just talk about how awesome the day was, how nice a freshly paved road was, and how I am looking forward to racing more. If I had told her a specific time, the conversation is immediately taken over by times and performances (which in my opinion, is not much of a conversation) but if I talk about how awesome everything else is and how lovely Vermont is, and how awesome everyone around the race and/or event is... it invokes a "next level" conversation. Tamme, her husband, the barista, and I did just that... we had a great conversation and got to know each other, rather than compare times and have a surface level conversation. If I had told her my time, Tamme might not have decided to look the results up herself and track me down on Facebook to send me this truly lovely message...

Knowing they were going to be cheering me, a complete stranger on, kept me happy. I didn't quite know if Suz was going to be able to get on the course or where she was going to be so knowing exactly where Tamme and Bill were going to be helped. They were going to be right around mile 60 out of a 65mile ride. I wanted to get there and I wanted to be in first. For time's sake, I'll spare the details, the first 60miles were freezing cold and uneventful again. The only thing I can really recall is getting made fun of for wearing ski gloves and winter "booty" shoe covers. They were heavy and soaked, but I could feel all my fingers and toes for the entirety of the race. Numb limbs don't climb mountain roads well. Stage 3 consisted of climbing 1,200ft up Middlebury Gap, then riding down, and was to finish on the top of App Gap, a 1,600ft climb.

I was warm the whole ride and I sang, "if you like Pina Coladas... gettin' caught in the rain...." As we started the turn onto the final climb. I stripped off my booties and gloves and tossed them to the side of the road (I went back and picked them up later). Half-way up the road around mile 58 I heard Torin yell, "This fucking sucks!" It was right then I knew the day was mine. In my head I was still singing, Tamme and Bill were right up the road, and my legs felt great.
The finish Line at the top of app gap

App gap finish line - Robbie up front. Me directly behind him. Like I said, the kid rides with heart.

My good friend and fellow teammate, Dan, started 10min before my group. He was in the 50+ division. He was a big reason why I got into cycling and pretty much the only reason I signed up for GMSR. My group was closing in on him up ahead. I had to put on a show. I threw down a couple hard pedal strokes to break away from the group and lead everyone by Dan. He yelled. "Go gettem, Haff!" and I replied with, "I am about to light App Gap on FIRE!! WOOOOOO!!! LET'S GOOOOO!!!"

That was all I needed. A few minutes up the road I saw Tamme and Bill. They started jumping up and down in the rain. "FOUR-FOUR-TWO... THAT'S BILLY! GO BILLY!! GOOOO!" I went. Hard. I powered up the last 2.5miles of App Gap in the howling winds and sideways rain in under 16min and with more power than I put out for the Stage 1 Time Trial.  Robbie was right behind me most of the climb and we both put a hurting on one another. The best kind of hurt. Robbie rode with a lot of heart and was able to power by me with 200meters to go. I finished in 4th place for the stage but I got what I wanted. The yellow jersey and the lead on the GC going into the last stage. I think an unspoken bond forms between two people who suffer like that together. I threw my bike down at the top and Robbie and I hugged it out - I'll remember that climb forever.

The bond was moments later half-broken when we both saw the GC standings. I was up front, he was 2nd by 10seconds and Berk made up a ton of time by winning the stage, putting him in 3rd over all (remember that the GC rankings are cumulative times from all stages) only 10 seconds behind Robbie. 4th place was 1min 12sec behind so despite an epic implosion by one of us, this would be the final podium... but in what order would be determined by Stage 4 - The Crit.

Berk and I rode down the backside of Middlebury Gap together (this was immediately after the first climb of the ride) with another strong rider named Luis. Out of all the riders in the race, these two were my kind of people. We would yell and hoot and holler at each other the whole way down the mountain chasing the lead pack down like little kids... Little kids who almost forgot that it was still low-40s, pouring rain, and epically wet and slippery... we topped out at 49miles per hour and didn't blink an eye. We literally didn't blink an eye; to do so would have meant crashing.

"WOOOOOOOO!!!"
"GIDDDDDIE UP!"
"I'M WITH YOU! GO GO GO GO!!"
"YEAHH, BABBBBBY!!

Suz and I invited Berk, his girlfriend, and his teammate, Dustin, back to our place for dinner. Lot's of bike talk ensued. I learned that Dustin's brother was killed a few years back in a cycling accident with a truck in Boston. Long story short, I had an eerily similar encounter with a garbage truck going thru Harvard Square. It was early in the morning, I was heading south on Mass Ave and the dump truck was on my left, taking a right-hand turn without a turn signal on. I do not particularly enjoy being right next to a truck like that on the road so I sped up to pass it just as it began to make its turn. I locked up the brakes and skidded into the side of the truck; specifically, the gas tank. I ricocheted off and onto the curb. Had I been going slightly faster, I would have been engulfed by the front right wheel well; had I been going slower, I would have been underneath the rear wheels. Being a cyclist in the city is incredibly dangerous even if you do everything correctly. A lot of cyclists do not do anything correctly and it gives us all a bad rap. People in automobiles get insanely annoyed with bikers - sometimes because we are doing something inappropriate and we might deserve a honk from the horn. Please if you are driving remember that you are in a 2,000+ lbs vehicle and you might not see the huge crack in the road that a biker swerved to avoid or any other obstacles out there.

On that aside, let me take you back to the very beginning of my story and the starting line of the crit where I stood with all of these men and more for one last race of the weekend.

I need to set the stage further here so bear with me...

The Cast
I will lead off by saying that (almost) all is fair when it comes to bike racing - less any physical or malicious contact or actions a rider can go as fast or slow as they want and they can fight for position behind other riders wheels as aggressively as they want. Though I had an awesome time riding with Robbie and Rees over the stages, and just shared a really awesome meal with Berk and Dustin, they are both on the same teams respectively. They are going to team up against me and against each other for their team to get the win. Dustin helping Berk and Rees helping Robbie. This is just how it goes.

Throughout the stages, I also made a few friends, though. Torin was out of the running for the GC but is a phenomenal crit racer - he didn't have a teammate in the race so maybe he'd help me a little. We got along great and shared "kudos" on Strava. I gave Arturo an extra HOTSHOT at the start of Middlebury gap yesterday when he complained of cramping. I gave a bunch of lead-outs thru the previous days to people who were no longer in the running for GC. I was hoping to call in a favor or two from these guys but you never know how races are going to go (especially me as I haven't ever raced before).

The Stage
Pictured below. Described: 1 kilometer (.62 miles) per lap. A 6-corner, very technical course in the heart of downtown Burlington, Vermont. The course has some irregular pavement, cobblestones, manhole covers and grates. Due to the technical nature of this course and irregular surface conditions, participants are encouraged to make a walking inspection of the course. USE EXTREME CAUTION

The Race
25 laps with sprint "bonuses" - Basically, the first four people across the line on the 5th lap and on the 15th lap get 8,6,4,3 seconds subtracted from their GC time respectively. The winner of the crit over all gets 15 seconds subtracted and then 11, 8, 5, 3 for the next four riders. This ensures for an exciting race. The person in the yellow jersey has to defend and carefully plan moves to not burn their legs out going for bonuses but also keep track of everyone else in contention. For example, a rider could be the first across the line for laps 5 and 15 and then sit back resting in the draft of other riders, then sprint up to take the win on the last lap because he hasn't put in as much of an effort to keep up with the pack. In this case, all other things being equal, the winning rider would 31 bonus seconds PLUS however much time he actually won the race by.

My race was almost over after the first turn... Close encounter with the barrier.
Without further ado, the gun went off and we all started pedaling frantically. The "neutral first lap" went by in an instant. My plan from the start of the race was to hammer the first 5 laps hard and take a piece of the bonus time. I didn't need to win the 8seconds but 5 would be nice and then I could reassess things with a little more of a cushion. I absolutely knew that these guys weren't going to drop me. I'd be within 2 seconds of the winner no matter what so the only thing I focused on was the bonuses. Berk needed the most bonus time so I knew him and Dustin were going to hammer from the start. Here is where team tactics come in to play a lot. Not only can Dustin and Rees help Berk and Robbie break away but they can also take time bonuses even though they realistically aren't in contention for a GC position. If they get bonuses, I don't. And their teammates can make up more time on me.

Back to the story. The first lap is controlled and neutral - we will use this as a baseline reference. 0.6miles and 6 tight corners went by in 1:42 or about 20.8mph. The next three were a little faster at a decent pace - about 1:30ish for each lap. Much like boxers in the ring trying to feel each other out before throwing jabs. The 5th lap came up and we gunned it. Berk went off the front and I gunned it to keep up with him. 26.3mph around 6 corners, not knowing if I was going to hit something or someone but doing my best to keep a steady line. Berk took the 8second bonus, I took the 5, and Robbie didn't contest it, which I thought was strange. My GC lead was now 15seconds ahead of Robbie and 17 ahead of Berk.


Torin and Robbie working well together off the front.
Only a few laps after that, somehow, Torin broke away up front. Not long after that, Robbie took off after him and latched on. This was the absolute worst scenario for me. Torin fell out of GC contention but wants to stay up front and win the stage for bragging rights after a tough day yesterday. Robbie will work with him all race to collect bonuses and widen the gap. The 15th lap was the next bonus and the 8th I realized how tired my legs were. I was doing a lot of the work and no one wanted to pull thru or help. I started yelling as I took corners, "Pull Thru! Let's GO! Bring em in!" I got less than a reaction and I'd soon realize why. The person holding the position right behind me was Robbie's teammate, Rees. It was a really good tactic. He held my wheel tight for a few solid laps. This means anyone who did want to help me out (if they were out there) would have to pull thru Rees and me to get up front. I wasn't chancing it. I knew if I want to bring Robbie and Torin back to the back I was essentially on my own. I lead laps 12-15 solo at a super consistent but increasingly difficult level. 25mph each lap. My legs were screaming and the two of them were still far up there.

Rees still guarding my wheel
The Rees/Robbie duo delivered another blow at the end of the 15th lap... I watched Robbie sprint ahead of Torin for the 8 second bonus and though I BLASTED 680watts for 15seconds to end the 15th lap, my heart broke when I saw Rees sprint by me (having sat on my wheel with rested legs) at the end to take the 3rd bonus and someone else take the last bonus for the lap.

I not only gave back the 8-second cushion I had, but Torin and Robbie looked strong up in the front, and I apparently had no help and my legs were roasted. We took the first corner of the race again and I heard a spectator yell "9 seconds!" meaning that Torin and Robbie were 9 seconds ahead of the pack.

I was fucked.

I was also being fucked with. And I didn't have any idea how to fuck back. I had to do something though. With a stroke of luck, the sprint of the 15th lap mixed up the pack behind me a little bit and Rees was right in front of me after the first turn. I yelled out loud, "FUCK!" three times. I saw Rees grin and that sparked an idea. I yelled up to him, "YOU OWE ME ONE! LET'S GO DUDE PICK IT UP!"

This is Robbie and Torin pulling away up in the front of the pack.
I've claimed ignorance on pretty much every instance up until now. I won't for a second claim that I was ignorant on this move. I was riding in the yellow jersey and I yelled up to a cyclist "YOU OWE ME ONE" who is playing defense for a teammate who now is in the GC lead by at least a few seconds is. At surface value, this is quite possibly one of the most douchy things that could ever be said.

However, I didn't yell to Rees and truly think he was going to repay me for the pull I just hand fed him. I yelled up to him in hopes I'd catch him off guard. I was Lt. Kaffee screaming at Col. Jessep. DID YOU ORDER THE CODE RED!?!?!

Rees reactively yelled back at me with a snarl, "I don't owe you shit, dude! I don't owe you a damn thing!!"

Rees covering my wheel tight STILL!
He was absolutely right. I knew that. But he also might as well have just shown me both of his cards. It was a deuce and seven. Off suit. The worst hand in Texas Hold'em Poker and now he couldn't bluff. He slowed down just enough for a half a second.

Out of nowhere, Berk and Alvaro BLASTED by him. I hopped right on with the two of them. Alvaro was on Team Patch and I had friended them at the end of stage 2 as well. They raced super hard and no doubt raced incredibly well together.

If Rees wanted to put the nail in the coffin, all he would have had to do was keep his cool, accelerate thru and fake me out. Essentially, he just had to act like he was going to help me catch up to his teammate and Torin but really sandbag his pulls and slow the pack down. Instead, he yelled back, "YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT I ORDERED THE CODE RED!"

Leading the Pack
I knew Alvaro, Berk, and I were going to reel those two in. The very next lap, the same spectator at the corner yelled, "6-seconds!" we were closing in. Another lap. Another shout, "5 Seconds!" There were 8 laps to go and the three of us were in the zone. The first corner came around again, "4 seconds!!!"

We caught them with 5 laps to go and I resumed my place at the front of the pack. If I could have beat my chest without crashing right then, I would have.

I completely sandbagged the 20th lap. Then again the 21st. I was barely pedaling. A different spectator on the backside of the course yelled, "Come on!!! What are you doing?!?"

Sandbagging
I was double-dog-daring someone else to step up to the plate and challenge the lead. No one stepped up.

Benjamin D Bloom took some epic pictures of this race. The full gallery is here.

A couple other people jumped up in front for laps 22-24 but not at a pace that could have shaken Robbie or I. We knew it was on. And he knew he had to make the first move. I thought they were going to attack with a team effort but Robbie caught me off guard heading down the hill to end lap 24 and start lap 25. He was bombing and took an inside line of the corner so tight and fast I thought for sure he was going straight into the barrier.
Still Sandbagging

This kind of move takes a whole lot of heart, it takes even more guts and a whole lot of skill. I tried but given the previous efforts, I couldn't come close to matching the line he took around the corner or the power he was pushing. He was off like a bandit. I gained a ton of respect for him and how much heart that move took Robbie to make. I could barely hold his draft. We started the final lap pushing 734watts for 12seconds and then opened a gap on the group. We bombed around the course at 27mph taking turns I had no idea I was capable of. It was just him and I. But, the way he raced, I was happy he won the stage.

If you need video evidence of any of this feel free to watch the Strava Fly By here. It color codes all of us who uploaded a GPS file. I get chills re-watching it. And I get chills re-reading some of the comments on my Strava files.

The overall gap between Robbie and I was 4 seconds..... 6hours and 24minutes determined by 4 seconds.

Here is a link to the finish line video.

Racing bikes is insanely fun. I walked away with the yellow jersey, more new friends than I could have ever imagined, and a group of guys that know how to dig deep. I also took $280 for winning.

Dan, Tim, and I recapped over a beer and fries. Luis (the guy Berk and I bombed down Middlebury gap with) and his friend, Edison, who also raced. Came up and asked to get a picture with me. I held back tears as we snapped a few pictures and they both sat down with their daughters and wives on the patio as we watched the woman's race. I used part of the $280 to cover my table's food and beers and then used the rest to tacitly cover their two families' tab.

This weekend of racing not only brought out the best in a lot of people, but it moved me. Truly deeply moved.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Irrational Levels of Confidence - Tuckerman Inferno

"We will just see what the people ahead of you are doing and give you some advice when you get there. If we need to change things up, we can..." A friend who was crewing for me said as we debated the logistics for the hiking portion of this race. I was packing things into one of the four transition bags I'd need for the day.

"Sure," I replied. "The only problem with doing that is that there won't be anyone in front of me!" It was a half-joke as I informed my team that my newly found strategy to mentally prepare for this race was to employ "irrational levels of confidence." It was funny. And it took the edge off of just about everything we did or said when we talked about the pre-race nerves and game-day logistics over pizza and beers the night before.

The race is staged around Mt. Washington at the beginning of April. Spring doesn't really spring until May in the White Mountains but the chatter pre-race was about how 'lucky'  we were to have predicted temps in the 30s. To call it a multi-sport event is a bit of an understatement. It is the multi-est of multi-sports and we can get into the details later; it is a run-kayak-bike-hike-ski. Dubbed the Tuckerman Inferno.

I have never kayaked before and I've only skied in Tuckerman's Ravine once. I had no idea what I was doing signing up for this thing. The thing was, I haven't really suffered in a race in a while and I was just looking for some opportunity to suffer. I was also looking for something outside of the box. I was looking forward to seeing how I handled racing in the freezing cold temps. Maybe masochistic of me, but I was really craving the frigid temps; the feeling of telling your fist close but digits not responding to the command due to frozen muscles. 


I was super nervous leading up to the race. I didn't know how I was going to handle what race-day was going to throw at me; and even better, the race is so unique that I didn't even know how to go about preparing myself for it. By shear chance, I had set up to have lunch with a friend the Thursday before the race - it was the conversation we had that afternoon that got me back in the right mindset and back to the title of these ego-maniacal race-rant-blogs of mine. Act as if. Or as Matt put it that day "irrational levels of confidence."

To back up, I met Matt while running a marathon back in 2013. We were strangers at the start line, then stride for stride for most of the run; and after we finished, we smack talked each other a bit, and became really good friends. The focal point of our lunch was that he had just completed a 100mile run. I simply wanted a recap with him and I wanted to pick his brain.

"What got you thru the 100miles?" I inquired. "How'd you feel?"

He replied with a resounding, "I dominated every single one of those miles... and I enjoyed every second of it. Every one was telling me to 'respect the distance' but I blatantly disrespected the distance and it was one of the best days ever." Matt went on to joke, "I 'talked shit' to my crew when they told me I was going too fast. I told the race director I was going to go out for another loop once I was finished." Matt told me that he literally sped up and "ran away" from anyone he came across on the course who had a negative attitude.

I walked away from that lunch with a new attitude and the race changed right there for me. No matter what happens on race day, I told myself I was going out reckless abandon (even if it was completely out of ignorance). It was very liberating.

My crazy, old, bald, football coach used to spit and drool and snap clipboards over his knee while he screamed (with a lisp), "HAFF-A-TREE!! YOU CAN MAKE A MISH-TAKE BUT YOU'VE GOT TO MAKE IT AT FULL SH-PEED (exploitative, exploitative, exploitative)!!"

So that's what we did on race day.

I say "we" because I had the best crew up there with me. Three of them I had never met before but they truly made my race/day/weekend. I'm still smiling ear to ear as I write this thinking about it all and how selflessly they committed their day to making sure my race went smoothly. I like to think I returned the favor as best I could with some humor and smiles along the way. I committed myself to having the best day ever, even if I was in the depths of hell suffering thru this race, I promised that I'd always find a way to joke about it and laugh it off.

The Run
The race starts with an 8.3mile run that starts at Storyland in New Hampshire and ends at a launch on the Sacco River. The first quarter of a mile is relatively flat then you get kicked in the face by a 600ft climb over the <2 miles. Everyone starts in one wave, so it's unclear who is doing relays and who is doing the whole event. "Fuck it." I said to myself as the race director yelled GO! "Just beat everyone and keep a huge smile on your face doing it." I know this sounds arrogant. I did look at the previous years times, and I knew I was definitely not going to beat everyone. I just wanted the feelings and the pain that I knew was to come upon completely disregarding the voices telling me to "save your energy for the run" which I have become numb and a little bored with in the triathlon world. This morning, I was saving nothing for the nothing. 

My legs immediately cursed me for this decision. Adrenaline hides the pain at the beginning of a race but it doesn't take more than a few instants for the pain to lift it's vale. My heart was beating faster than I have ever felt. I crested the top of the 2 mile hill in about 15minutes and the 4th runner. I tried to real in the guy ahead of me as we switched from climbing mode to downhill running mode. My muscles felt the shift as well and they took the opportunity to cry out again as the lactic acid built. I mumbled, "I love this shit." to myself and pushed them harder. I wondered if there was a breaking point in terms of self inflicted pain registering in the brain - as in - what if there was a point where you could keep pushing beyond the point where your muscles hurt. What was after that point? What would it feel like?


It hurt the whole way. However, as promised, I didn't let a single bit pain show beyond the confines of my cranium. When I saw Chris with his phone out around mile 4, I asked him if the race started yet and went up for a heel-click.

I would find out after the race that I had set a personal best 10k time within this 8.3mile run and though I have never seen my heart rate above 181 BPM (even during track workouts) that I somehow pushed it up to 192 BPM during this run.

The Kayak
My legs were screaming so loud during the run that I didn't realize that snow was flurrying and that it was cold. Doug and my crew helped get me in the kayak and shoved me off. I dipped a hand into the water, looked back, and yelled "Yeah, a little warmer than bath temp!"

To sum up the kayak, I hit every single rock in the rapids. In true Atari/Pong fashion I rammed back and forth from one side of the river to the other. I went backwards and I nearly capsized multiple times. About a mile down the river, I spotted one of the race officials. He asked me if I was sure I knew what I was doing and then proceeded to inform me that I was using my paddle backwards.


I replied with my best Quint impression and let him know that, "HOOOPAH DRIVES THE BOAT CHIEF!" Then commanded my vessel in the same voice... HARD TO STARBOARD! He half-laughed, half-worried-for-my-safety as I paddled off with hands barely warm enough to keep a grip on my backwards paddle.






The Bike
Other than the fact that my leg muscles had an amazing opportunity to seize up after overflowing with lactic acid and then going completely docile for 40minutes, I was feeling great. At this point my body was freezing cold as well. I didn't change my soaking wet clothes because that would have taken too long and started got on the bike shivering so hard I could barely control the handlebars. I felt my legs flash figurative double-middle-fingers(toes?) up as I reasoned with them - pedal harder and you might warm up faster.

The bike up to Pinkham Notch was not only steep and unrelenting but the head winds were absolutely brutal. My deep rimmed wheels blew around like sails with every gust. I'd say "Woah, I bet everyone else is realllly hating this wind right now!" and crank harder.


The Hike/Skin
I rolled into the trail head parking lot and smiled when Doug greeted me to take the bike. I threw on my borrowed skis and skins and started making my way upward even more.

The hiking trail is also incredibly steep, windy, and snowing harder still. It was about halfway up the mountain when I realized I hadn't eaten anything or drank much at all. I started getting super dizzy every little turn hoping to see the transition to the ski. I'd sing to the other people on the trail as I passed them (it was still open for public use during the race) and I'd ask them stupid questions like if they had seen anyone else in goofy looking spandex going the wrong way on skis. Some of them got the humor, some didn't, but I was having a blast and despite the dehydration and hunger and freezing cold and heart throbbing out of my chest, I was in high spirits. 

I got to the top and didn't really know what to do up there. I knew I had to take the skins off and lock my boots down but I didn't really practice how to do that on my borrowed ski set up. I lost a ton of time here and race people at the top seemed to get a kick out of my goofiness but I eventually managed to get ready to ski the right way down the mountain

 






The Ski
Or maybe I should just call it a "slide and don't die" rather than a ski. On frozen, already sore, beat up legs I put a pair of skis on that I had never skied on before and attempted my way down. I was getting tossed air-born by the deathly combination of ice and mogles. I yelled more times than I will ever admit and at a higher pitch than I could ever recreate. I begged to crossed the finish line before my quads gave out and sheared off my bones. I finished with a huge smile 3rd across the line. 



It was one of the best days I've had racing in a long while. Attitude is everything. Stay upbeat and positive no matter what. The alternative is to act shitty and to have shitty thoughts; that will only reinforce a shitty experience and no one wants to be around that.


Even if it's not 100% your style -  I highly encourage and challenge you to try and employ "irrational levels of confidence" in any aspect of life whether working, racing, or absolutely anything. See what happens, I can almost guarantee you'll either be happy about what comes of it, or have an even more hilarious story about how you went down laughing about it. I am still not sure which of those I like better.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

This Shit is So good.

I'm glad you're here.

No really. I am so glad you are here.

You could have slept in. And I guess I could have too. But we showed up. And we crushed it. Today was awesome for me. For no particular reason that I can put my finger on. I've been struggling to find some of that mythical workout-motivation-mojo recently. And that is a new phenomenon for me. I've always been a pretty self motivated, but lately I've been finding it all too easy to make excuses and figure out how the deck is stacked against me.

I guess that's what I love about NP so much. The shit is always so good. Getting up and hearing, "I'm glad you're here." is so basic that it is always awesome.

Don't get me wrong. Hugs are amazing. But hearing "I'm glad you're here." hits the spot completely demolishes the spot.

We both could be in bed under warm sheets (in our respective beds). And bed always seems like a better place in the morning. Sure, you can get a solid bounce while still in bed. And you can even scream "Fuck yeah!" at the top of your lungs a couple times if you're into that sort of thing.

But doing these things always seems just a little bit better at the Harvard Stadium with a bunch of smiling, hugging friends.

So that being said, I don't want "I'm glad you're here." to fade off into the distance and lose meaning. It holds dearer than the "Hi-how-ah-ya?", "Good-n-you?" exchange. And it's better than a quickly mumbled, "How's it going? (But don't really tell me because I don't care)." The same way a hug totally dominates a handshake.

If you have ever run into the wind, you realize and acknowledge the headwind100% of the time. It's in your face. Your mind is constantly focusing on the harder the effort you are putting forth to maintain the pace. Just like the obstacles and hurdles you have to deal with during the day. But when you turn around and and things switch to a tailwind, it's all too common that you only recognized and appreciated for a minute or two. After the initial relief, it's easy forget about it and you appreciate it less.

The connection I am trying to make is that I find it's so easy to play the world's smallest violin for myself and it takes effort to find the subtle special moments in the day. Hearing and expressing, "I'm glad you're hear." is one of those subtleties. Every time I say it, I mean that shit. And everytime I hear, it means something back.

So thanks! I've been bouncing around a lot but it's good to be back. This shit is so good. I can't wait to start dropping verbals all over the place. I am truly glad to be sharing my morning with you all.

I know it's a little late for an Irish Blessing having missed St. Patrick's Day. But here's a little better version tailored for real life...

May the road rise up to meet you,
(but if it doesn't, don't be afraid to meet it halfway)
May the wind be always at your back,
(and try to appreciate it every second that it is)
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
(but try not to worry too much when it is not)