Monday, March 29, 2010

King of Burlingame Race Report

Ah, late March, that beautiful time of year when it's 40, rained all week, and getting up at 5:45 to drive almost 2 hours each way to do a 30 minute race seems like great idea.

I love the King of Burlingame TT, but I can never tell if I love it only because it's the first race of the year and it's only 30 minutes long. You know what you don't need base miles for? 30 minute TTs. You know what I don't do too much of? Base miles.

Inconsistent blogger and consistent teammate Kevin weaseled his way into the carpool and did his best to bring it down in flames by being woken by his own doorbell at 6:15 AM. Shockingly, he was not sleeping in a chamois, nor had he packed anything the night before, so we burned almost an entire Burlingame TT of time while he figured out which way was up. Finally we got on the highway, got the Fit up to 75 (no small feat with bikes on the roof) and blitzed south.

As usual it was cold and wet, so I wasn't too sad about missing valuable preride time. I find 30 minute efforts are easier when you use the first half as a warmup, and with it being the first race of the year there's never a temptation to do something dumb, like, say, take it out too hard...

I got the #1 seed for group 2 because I was the fastest returning sub-40-year old. This gave me a ghost rider at 30 seconds and Kevin "Golden Boy" Hines a minute ahead of me, at the back of the 40+ field. In other words, I wasn't gonna catch anyone for quite a while. Bad for blogging, but good for racing.

As is traditional with the first wet race of the year I was running dry tires, a Python front and XR1 rear. There was a big mud puddle three pedal strokes into the race, and my Python had no intention of hooking up with it, so I almost ended up on my face with the entire 19-39 field watching. Almost.

The course was significantly wetter this year, and it turns out you forget the important lines when you ride a trail once every 12 months. I alternated between thinking, "wow, my feet are cold," "wow, this really hurts," and "wow, I need to look down the friggin' trail before I ride off it again."

Between the cold feet and slow(er) mud, I felt like I was riding terribly. The negative self-talk got started, and I remember thinking "you should blog about how 'you know you're having a bad race when you decide you need to take a rest week during the race.'"

Oddly enough, my watch was suggesting that maybe this wasn't going as badly as it felt. In fact, maybe it's that if you feel good during a 30 minute TT, it's going badly. Once I started to infiltrate the back of the 40+ starters morale improved, except when I was off the bike on sections I distinctly remember riding last year. And of course, Kevin Hines was nowhere to be seen, because he was busy bagging the overall win by nearly a minute.

In the end I crossed the line in 31:00, only 6 seconds slower than last year. I couldn't believe my watch. With the course running considerably slower than 2009, that end up being good enough for 4th overall, and winning the 19-39 Expert category by 2 seconds over Josh Wilcox. Secret IBC elite team member Dan Barry came in 3rd at 31:13, and Kevin "Gas Money" Sweeney snagged 4th at 31:17.

We were overshadowed as usual by the 40+ field, with Hines/Bold/Petro taking the top 3 overall, and not one of them being under 45. At this point I'm starting to think it's possible my career will peak before theirs does.

I wasn't even the biggest deal in my own car, because Linnea defended her QoB crown and took the women's overall for the third year running. I sulked until she spent some of her winnings to buy me Tim Horton's.

The queen's wardrobe is less than complete.

Post race, Rob Stine took us all to Arcadia and dragged us through the most impossible rock gardens known to man, while making it look easy on a rigid singlespeed. After 2 hours and 3 trips over the bars, I headed home a happy and broken man.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rhonde de Rosey "Race" Report

Hey Internet! Remember me? That guy that used to blog about races?


Well anyway, a rainy March, combined with the insecurity caused by every single cyclist I know bragging about how much they were riding, led to me pulling the plug on the nordic season a bit early this year, which was hell on the blog. Usually I get to smugly race all through March, while everyone else whines about how bad the weather is for their 22 hour training weeks in Boston. But not this year... the weather's been warm, so no one's complaining, they're just out training, and I'm just sitting here freaking out about how they're all gonna drop me once we put numbers on.

So I did a bunch of riding (panic-training, really), but no one wants to hear about that, so the blogfront was quiet. Thank god for Rosey stepping up and organizing a non-race race this past weekend, giving the New England blogosphere something to squawk about.

After most cyclists had gone 3 months without racing, the bar for "getting people excited" is pretty low, but Rosey knocked this one outta the park with a crazy 60-mile cross-specific loop around the greater Boston area. It's a "Rhonde," not a race, but we're on "teams" and have "staggered starts," so it's clearly not a group ride, either. I'm in.

Old man Parsons and Sweens took the bait instantly when I tried to get them on board. Turns out that any email containing the words "ride" and "beer" they'll respond favorably to. Unfortunately, Thom fell victim to "having a job" and bailed on us, but not before getting new IBC Elite MTB recruit Will to ride in his place. The only catch was that Will didn't have a cross bike, but it's all good because I have two bikes. Right?

The night before the event (is there any other time to check equipment?) I tested out my pit bike and it was good to go, except for a slightly loose headset. Went to tighten the top cap and... no resistance. Gee, that's weird, I think I'll loosen everything up and investigate (doh!). Turns out that the compression plug in my carbon fork had come unstuck, and just like that, no more rideable pit bike.

Like most bikers, my basement is a bike graveyard... so 2 hours later Linnea's old cross bike (PVB's original cross bike, I think) was up and running. Alas, during the build process I didn't notice that the chainkeeper had been cannibalized from it, so Will ended up dropping his chain roughly 15 times during the ride. Other than that, it rode great, which is far better than I was expecting!

We headed out pretty late in the start order, which gave us plenty of time to guzzle coffee. As IBC riders we're required to know the Cutler park region, and thus we had navigation dialed for the first hour, along with coffee legs. As a result, some extremely fierce tempo was ridden at the front, and we blitzed through a ton of teams in the first hour who were doing things like "reading directions," "fixing mechanicals," or "not going anaerobic." By the time we got to the end of the trail along I-95, we'd done an hour at race pace, caught the pro girls team (aka the "Vagiants") and were feelin' good.

Unfortately our local knowledge ended at that point, and 4 hours of navigational miscues began. The Vagiants picked up our draft while we stalled finding the right roads in Dover, and while you can't drop pro women by pulling at 25 mph on the road we sure did try.

We intently burned matches (even though it's not a race) all through Dover, culminating in Kevin taking an epic pull right past the turn onto the Wellesley cross-town trail. Five of us (we still hadn't dropped the girls) stopped and Kevin motored straight past, undeterred by us screaming his name. He finally turned around about a quarter mile later.

To make up for this time loss (60 seconds! omg!) we put the hammer down on the trail, only to get to the pavement and have no idea where to go. The girls caught up again. We got oriented, headed off the right way, and caught onto a big group (Minuteman girls, some Hup guys?) on the road. Obviously we needed to lay down some wattage, (obviously!) so we went smoking past just in time for everyone to slow down and turn onto the trails behind Wellesley College.

We fought our way back to the front (obviously!) in the woods and emerge on the college grounds totally confused. Three other groups patiently followed us around while we tried to find the exit. Eventually they realized we had no idea what we were doing and left us, and only then did Will get his bearings enough to find the exit.

This did give us a gap on the chasers, so we LAID DOWN THE WATTS (it's not a race) on Weston Rd to get away. It turns out that we were supposed to go left onto trails after 0.1 miles, but that didn't stop up from TTT'ing all the way to Route 9 before realizing we missed a turn. We pulled a U-ey/whipped a shitty/flipped a bitch and headed backwards just in time to pick up the 10-strong group we had just ditched and lead them all back to the trails.

I was beyond frustrated at our inability to ditchez-vous les bitches(?) by now so we obviously had to attack again on the trail. Kevin and I solo'ed away from everyone despite it not being a race, only to discover that Will had dropped his chain on the attack and gone all the way to the back of the group. Doh.

We snuck away again in the confusion after Rt 9, when the Minuteman girls flatted and the Vagiants became inexplicably lax about drafting us. Sensing an opportunity we drilled it for the millionth time of the day and rode away, only to take a wrong turn near School Street (nice "directions," Rosey!) and then another wrong turn off the railroad bed where we crossed Conant St. By the time we rectified the Conant St mistake the pro girls were right back with us, but we screamed obscenities instead of giving them directions and disappeared back down to the railroad tracks.

This gave us a small gap, so we decided to switch things up and hammer randomly. The gap grew to "out of sight" status, and we started discussing whether or not we were possibly leading the non-race at the point. Our hubris was repaid by Will flatting, and Kevin's 2-minute flat fix getting ruined by ripping off the valve stem when he went to C02 it. By the time we got Will back rolling again, 3 or 4 teams had gone past, and as soon as we hit the road it was clear that the tire bead had popped off the rim as well, so yet another deflate/inflate cycle was required. We'd gone from almost-leading to almost-losing in all of 15 minutes.

The only solution was to hammer randomly. Luckily we were fresh from not hammering for the first two hours, so this went well on the long road stretch up Concord. We came across the Pete/Dave/Scott group (aka "real watts") right as they were finishing a flat fix and got our dirty mountain biker wheelsuck on, while the real roadies pulled us up to Concord at 20+ mph.

Here we met the pro women yet again and apparently passed the Minuteman girls making a bathroom stop. Will announced that he was out of water, so we shamed him into not stopping and gave him half a bottle, and chased the girls and "real watts" up to the next rail trail.

I was stoked to see dirt so I decided it was time to hammer randomly. Some non-racers (civilians?!) scurried for cover as nine insane Rhonders bore down on the mudhole they were daintily navigating. The adrenaline of scaring people on hybrids stayed with me for the next ten minutes, and we gapped the Vagiants yet again.

We got to the end of the trail and the group was only five riders. It took me disturbingly long to figure out who was missing, but when I finally got it down I realized Will was gone. Not just "back a bit" but "wait, when was the last time you saw him?" back.

Turns out he dropped the map, dropped his chain, and started a massive bonk that would debilitate him for the next half hour. We let "real watts" go, cursed the Vagiants as the passed us, and set about getting enough food into Will that we could get back to hammering randomly.

Somehow we managed to make up time through Beford/LPR, despite an extended foray into a swamp that was erroneously marked with a big yellow "R." My semi-local knowledge of the area was enough to lead us into bushwhacking in the right direction and eventually popping out on Turning Mill Rd, where we picked up the course at the powerlines.

We soon found a massive group of Hup riders, who were quite displeased to see us. I started regaling Chip with our tales of misfortune (and resisting the urge to hammer randomly) and after five minutes I asked him if he knew where he was going. Since he laid out half the route I assumed the answer was yes -- but of course, it was not, and we had just missed Willard Woods.

Since the 4 hour mark was approaching, we rerouted to the next known landmark (the bike path after Willard Woods) and picked up from there. Once again there was no random hammering, although one of the Hup guys sure did get hammered by the wooden bridge he fell off.

At the exit of these woods, my team was pretty bonked (Will still hadn't eaten much), so we headed off to Dunkin Donuts in Lexington while team Hup headed off to "victory." Our competitive spirit was temporarily put aside to drink chocolate milk and other, even less PRO foods.

Back on the bike we hit all the turns for Great Meadow (score) and exited just in time to find "real watts" coming down the bike path, which was definitely not on the course. Cheaters! But we were happy to have some help in dragging ourselves back to the finish line... in fact... it might be time to hammer randomly once more!

My legs hurt really badly, whether I pedaled hard or easy, so I figured I might as well pedal hard. I thought I was driving us at a pretty good clip through Arlington, but then Pete announced that he was "sick of this shit and wanted to drink beer," so he went to the front to put out some real watts.

By the time crossed the Charles we were approaching five hours in the saddle and the cupcakes at the finish line were close enough to taste. The uphill run into Washington Square gave us the chance to raise the pace from "hammering randomly" to "attacking randomly." Somewhere along the line I ended up drafting a car down Washington St, pedaling as hard as I could in the 46x11, wondering "why the hell I was doing this?"

Then I went flying into Washington Square, stopped at the tavern, high-fived Rosey, claimed a very questionable 2nd place, and went inside to drink beer and swap war stories at the top of my lungs for another 3 hours.

That's why.

Incredibly painful day, but the most fun I've had on the road/trails in a long time. Thanks to Rosey for organizing, Washington Square Tavern for hosting us, Pedros/Broadway Bikes/Pepsi/? for sponsoring it, and thank you, blog-reader, for making it to the end of this mammoth post.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Birkie Cam

After a few dry runs at Weston, I ended up gluing a cheap fisheye lens to my Flip Mino to drastically widen the field of view. This helped make the image a lot stabler, albeit at the cost of some blurriness around the edges. That's what you get when you buy $20 lenses, I guess. Big thanks to Dave Chiu for the idea.

I eventually got about 45 minutes of video from the race, but since long distance nordic skiing is a fundamentally boring sport to watch (unless it's the front of the Vasaloppet), I edited it down to 6 minutes with music and captions. Starring Cary Fridrich as "chatty guy."

Birkie Cam from colin reuter on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tuesday Night Group Therapy

Being an insufferable racerhead has some benefits. Let's say you skied terribly on Saturday, and almost decided to bag the rest of the ski season, and not race a bike until April 10th. That would be a rough 6 weeks, wouldn't it, with "I skied the worst race of my life in the biggest race of the country" as a sendoff to your 2010 nordic season?

But wait! Why not take one more shot at ski racing, when there's 20 minutes of pain just down the street every Tuesday night?

The pro thing to do would obviously have been a proper rest week, but I decided to mortgage my recovery a bit in exchange for a bit of sanity. It didn't help that (pro skier) Alex was talking trash after beating me by 22 minutes in Wisconsin, and made it known that this would be her lone Tuesday night appearance. I figured the standard for hanging up the skis would be "can't beat Alex in a 7k," and headed off to see if I should continue my season.

It hasn't been below freezing in what, four days in Boston, so Weston was sloppy. The hills were ankle deep mashed potatoes, and the straights looked firm right up until you tried to push off, upon which you'd bury your ski as the snow gave way and almost fall over. It was nasty, calf-burning skating. I was not happy about this before the race, no matter how times I tried to remember, "it sucks for everyone."

I found Alex and started whining up a storm before we started, even though I promised I wouldn't make any excuses.

And I felt like a fool when the race started, and I somehow slipped into 4th place, and after 200 meters thought to myself, "oh. I can do this, after all." Conditions were crap and no one could ski fast, and my super-rilled Weston-killer skis were actually better than most. And when you're plowing through slush, being 145 lbs is a pretty big advantage. What was I so worried about, again?

Two guys got off the front immediately, so us regulars were going to race for 3rd place. Fine with me. I jumped in the track on a downhill because it was way firmer than the trail, which was a genius move that took me straight to the front of the group. Crap, now I'm leading on lap one. Significantly less genius.

I noticed I even had a bit of a gap, but I wasn't about to try to solo 18 minutes to the finish with a bunch of stronger guys chasing. I've seen how that goes, they catch me on lap 2 and drop me on lap 3. Ok, so just get off the front!

I got someone else to lead and snuck back into second, but my darn fast skis had me overtaking him on the next downhill. This should've been good, but I had to step out to the side to get some wind, and then I couldn't get back in because everyone tightened up in line. I drifted back pathetically while trying to find a gap to jump into.

Finally I found a spot behind Rob, but this spot only existed because Rob decided that it was go time and headed to the front. I followed him, because I didn't feel half as terrible as I should at this point. We went thrashing up Mt Weston in 6 inches of slush, and oh yeah, that's what I usually feel like by now.

Still though, over the top in 2nd in the group means everyone else is feeling it too. I started up a cheesy inner monologue about how this was the last Tuesday nighter of the year, we had ten minutes to go, and I could totally f-ing do this. Totally!

I got shuffled back a bit but held onto the rapidly shrinking front group as lap two ended. One of the CSU juniors got around me just in time to get himself gapped...dammit. And I was so close to redeeming myself, too! I got back around him but couldn't catch the draft, no matter how fervently I tried to harden up. The bottom line was that accelerating when you're skiing through something with the consistency of hummus isn't really possible.

Right when I was about to give up, though, the group took a curious line through some of the soft stuff next to one of the few firm sections on the course. I was about 10m back so I diverted to the hard snow, got the first solid pushoffs of the entire race, briefly doubled my speed, and just like that I was back on!

With the end in sight there was nothing to do but froth all over myself for a bit and then try to win the sprint. Frank and Rob got some separation while I was still celebrating closing the gap, so they were gone, but I did get around Andy and Dave to pull in a 5th place on the night and some much-needed redemption. I'm back, baby!

With a 50k this Saturday I suspect my ski career's revival will be short-lived. That's ok, I'm not sure how much longer I can handle reading about everyone else's training rides, anyway.

Monday, March 1, 2010

American Birkiebeiner Race Report

I've been squawking about the Birkie for the last two months here. It's the biggest ski race in North America and the automatic focal point on my season, since it's the only ski race I'm paying $600 (airfare,lodging,entry) to do. After all the anticipation, did it live up to the hype? Let's find out!

Unless you're a big-time skier, skilled sweet-talker, or someone who did a qualifying race, your first Birkie involves a wave 10 start. I met none of the above criteria wave 10 it is! Wave 10 is the last group of skiers to hit the course, about 2 hours after the elite wave goes off. Joining me in this inevitable mess was Cary. Starting about 7000 people ahead of us were most of our travel companions, John, Nick, Aaron, and "pro skier Alex Jospe."

Aaron is a Birkie vet so we got some good intel from him. The first race is actually to the front of the staging area, so when wave 9 starts (ten minutes before wave 10) you're in position to sprint the 50 meters from staging to the front row of the actual start line. Cary and I faithfully followed his advice and fought our way onto the front row of staging and took off when the rope raised.

I fell like huge tool as I double poled as hard as I could toward the start line, but right when I thought about backing it off from "frantic sprint" I almost got bowled over by two guys from Gustavus Adolphus College who were sprinting, carrying their skis. I used my cross experience to defend my position as we skidded to a stop at the start line while pushing on each other. I am not exaggerating this one bit, we were actually throwing elbows before the race started.

Ironically, once we got started it was actually totally civil. There were only 20 or 30 people in wave 10 that were in it to "win" it, and the trail is as wide as a four-lane road, so there was plenty of space. Compared to most eastern skate marathons, that put 100 people into single file within 200 yards of the start (I'm lookin at you, Rangeley), it was no problem at all. I settled in, talked some trash with Cary, and noticed that I felt not good at all.

After 3k the trail turns and hits the first climb of the race, Powerline Hill, a stair-stepped climb that's as wide as a freeway. I was immediately in trouble. I quickly gave up my position in the front five as people surged around me. I rationalized that since most of them were 25k racers (they had different bibs), they could be safely ignored. I tried to explain this to Cary, but he was too busy dropping me.

I don't really know what happened -- I'm hoping it was just a perfect storm of questionable fueling, poor rest, air travel, and not tapering soon enough. Whatever it was, my body didn't friggin' work. At all. Usually in a 50k, you have the option of going "way too hard" in the early going to stay with a group, but here I was at the 4k mark watching people ski away from me left and right, and I really couldn't fathom skiing any harder. Damn.

And thus, a 47k sufferfest began!

At least it was a high-traffic sufferfest. With 7000 people on the trail ahead of me and most of them skiing at a slower pace, it got busy fast. We actually passed the back of wave 9 (who had a ten minute head start, mind you) before the 2k mark. By 5k in I was into the thick of wave 9 and rapidly finding wave 8 as well. Soon, the hills were all about lane choice -- full of wall-to-wall skiers four or five abreast, all you could do was try to guess which lane was going to move the fastest and jump into it. Since most lanes contained folks from wave 8 or 9, nothing was actually moving that fast. I'd have been a lot more frustrated if I'd actually had the legs to attack the hills.

After about an hour of skiing, I started to feel vaguely like a ski racer again. Either my body was coming around, the trail was going downhill, or it had been long enough that the fact that my legs didn't work made total sense. In any case, the trail was rolling steadily downward (high point was at 13k in) and I was breezing through hundreds of earlier starters. Hey, I think I'm finally having fun now!

The one thing that was decidedly not fun was the knowledge that I hadn't seen Cary since the 4k mark. Nevertheless, I was hammering the transitions pretty well, and with the stream of people I was passing, surely I was making up ground now?

Unbeknownst to me, the Birkie has sensors buried in the snow at the 22k mark that read your chip time, and I passed the 22k mark over five minutes down on him. Makes all that time I spent scanning the trail ahead of me for his blue suit/red hat combo between 20k and 30k seem kind of stupid, in retrospect.

Side note: do you know how many people race in a blue suit with a red hat? I think it's the state uniform of Wisconsin.

So, if the first 20k I was "inexplicably hurting," and the next 10k I was "working hard," where do you think that's gonna take us? I can't even finish a marathon without falling apart when I pace myself, so it was inevitable that the wheels were coming off this one.

I hung the dream of finishing strong right up to the 40k mark. The gradual downhill rolling section ended and a series of climbs began. I knew that the infamous "Bitch Hill" was somewhere out here, so when I got to a climb with irreverent signs about bitches in the snow and a band near the top, I figured I'd found it and decided that as long as I made it to the top going strong I'd be able to cruise to the finish.

This was stupid for several reasons:

1) This was not actually "Bitch Hill"
2) What appeared to be the top was actually the first of three summits
3) I didn't even make it to the first "top" without my quads cramping, anyway.

So I stopped to eat a gel and think about how much this last 10k was going to hurt.

Bitch Hill was actually hiding directly after this hill, and I knew it was Bitch Hill because it was a 25% wall that made me think "sonuvabitch." Oh, and there was someone in a nun costume standing in the middle of the trail on top. Obviously.

Alright, so after Bitch Hill I should just be able to cruise in, right? Nope. My Birkie guides didn't tell me that 40-47k is actually a series of hills giving me and my cramping quads the middle finger. All hopes of catching Cary are gone, now, because it becomes impossible to envision a scenario in which he is skiing slower than I am.

Finally at 47k the trail hits the lake, and the agony of wondering how many more hills there are is exchanged for the agony of wondering how a lake could be uphill.

A helpful spectator offers me a shot of Jagermeister. I reject it, and then immediately regret it. Puking Jager up at the finish line would have been the best excuse everywhere.

All horrible things must come to an end, and eventually I reach the end of lake. I am chased up onto Main Street by Ari, who is screaming about getting on camera (dude, I ran out of disk space about 2 hours ago) and quite likely drunk.

All in all, it was one of the worst days I've ever had on skis, but at least it was a totally unique ski race to do it in. With the snow starting as super-fast hardpack and ending as churned-up sugar, there was no chance of competing with the earlier waves from wave 10 -- I ended up dropping 22 minutes to Alex (who was the 16th overall woman, pretty impressive) and almost an hour to the overall winner. Against my wave 10 peers I ended up 10th, which sounds a lot better, at least if you don't know Cary was eight minutes ahead of me and leading wave 10 until the 45k mark.

My finish position (791st!) is good enough to qualify me into wave 2 next year, and I regret to say that I've already got 2011 Birkie Fever (tm). I have no intention of doing this race every year for the rest of my life, but as of now, I have a serious score to settle with it. Next year, Birkie. Next year.

(birke-cam coming sometime this week)

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