Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kisscross cyclocross race at Markin Glen Park (part 2)

For part 1 of this report, go here!


It was just about race time. Kendal went to scope out some good places to take photos. She took great care to find spots where we were most likely to flirt with disaster. Dan and I headed to the start line. Our race, the men's C class, was 30 minutes of racing. The C class is for first timers or slower racers . Perfect, since I am both of those things! The race director said something that I didn't pay attention to, as is my usual behavior. The first wave included the men and women C. I figured I'd be slow even among the slow, so I put myself near the back just behind Dan.

And we were off! Sadly, there was no canon or gun shot or even a loud "Go!". The only reason I knew the race started was because people started moving in front of me. So I followed the herd!

Unlike Lowell, the pace picked up immediately. Dan was just in front of me. Once we started rolling, Dan started to take off. Not surprising. During Lowell, I gave chase. But this time,  I decided to not follow. I just didn't know what to expect from myself on such a short, high intensity race. I hadn't done enough training to know what my body was capable of. How fast can I go without running out of gas? No clue. But my guess was, "Not very fast."

So during the beginning, I settled myself in to a little group of guys and girls on mountain bikes near the back. The race started on a straight section of paved path but it wasn't long before we took a left on to grass and hit the big hill. Even on the hill, I didn't attack on this first lap. I just sat back and followed the guy in front of me. Through the whole first lap, Dan was in visual sight. There were probably around 8 to 10 riders between us. It looked like he was riding strong. In fact, his lead was growing!! I guessed he was a full 40 seconds ahead of me at one point, which is a ton! I started to wonder if all of his commuting to work had put him in a position to beat me in this race. That would have been terrible. I would never hear the end of it. Even if he never beat me again, he would remind me of this loss forever! Unless I could come up with a good excuse! Maybe I could crash and break an arm? That would be plan B. But I wasn't giving in just yet.

As I approached the first obstacle, I thought it a perfect place to throw the race in the event I decide I couldn't beat Dan. But now wasn't the time. I approached sorta slowly and very deliberately. I didn't stumble much at all! Dismounted pretty smoothly! Hopped all three barriers! I probably looked like a total dork though. I was so paranoid about catching by foot on the barrier,  so I jumped extra high. Like, I had to grunt to achieve the height I wanted to in order to feel safe. Overkill. It's like pulling out a calculator to do simple arithmetic (which I also do). After the final barrier, I hopped back on the bike. Sorta. I was NOT very graceful or fast at getting back on the bike. And I couldn't clip back into my pedals to save my life! The pedal thing would plague me all race long. I need to practice clipping in quickly. But...I didn't fall or crash. That's the most important part! The scariest element in this race had been conquered...for at least this lap!

Then came some tight turns. Going through the tight, technical sections I noticed that I had a bit of trouble compared to some of the other riders at carving up corners. On the tighter turns, no matter how slow I went, it seemed like I could BARELY make it without going off course. I have to work on bike handling skills!

Dan, carving up corners.

Me, delicately navigating my way to the next straight section of the course.

Once at the beach section, pretty much everyone was carrying their bike back up beach. Otherwise, they found themselves falling down trying to ride it. Good thing Dan and I scouted the course! I still can't fathom how that girl made it through on her road bike! Lies! They were lies! Because that makes me feel better!

I actually had a bit of trouble on my first pass through the beach. I waited too long to dismount and started getting stuck in the sand. So my dismount was hasty and panicked, which resulted in me getting off on the opposite side of the bike than usual. So once I got to the top of the beach, I didn't really know how to remount from that side of the bike! But I managed to fumble my way back on the seat, and wobble off again.

I'm cracking up after the most pathetic remount ever! But I didn't fall!!!

After lap 1, I didn't really speed up. I felt comfortable and wasn't sure I could go much faster without a fair amount of discomfort.

[Discomfort is the ultimate limiting factor for me in cyclocross. I don't like to really dig down deep and kill myself. More than any road race or triathlon I have done, I saw plenty of guys and girls riding so hard I literally thought they were going to have a heart attack! They were struggling with their breathing so badly, they sounded like a overweight, chain-smoking James Gandolfini sprinting after his next plate of capocolla. I have nothing but respect for these people that push so hard in a race. I can't do it!]

I didn't feel like speeding up. But LOTS of people started slowing down. Since this was the 'C' race, there were probably lots of beginners and first timers like myself. Many of them probably let adrenaline dictate their first lap pace. That usually ends poorly. I started passing people when I could. And that's the thing. I learned that on a cross course, you can't just pass people when you want. It's crowded. Narrow. Full of trees and bushes and tall tall grass. The only places I felt really comfortable passing people were on a long straight paved section or on the big hill, both at the beginning of each lap. But during the second lap, I passed a lot of people. And on the hill, I finally caught Dan.

"This is intense!", I said.

"I'm done!", replied Dan.

Dan looked tired. But he always looks tired going up hills. I slowly crawled ahead of him and continued on my way.

You can see Dan in the blue jersey still ahead of me in the red jersey at the end of the first lap.


Shortly after the hill on lap 2, I'm starting to slowly crawl away from Dan.

I kept picking people off here and there, whenever I thought I had the energy and room to do so. And soon, the second lap was done. Some time around the third lap, I settled into a small group, two riders in front of me and two riders behind. I tried to drop them once, but they caught back up pretty quick. So I settled in and just  rode with them, flip flopping who was ahead a couple times.

The four guys in front of me I was chasing. Got two of them. Should have caught the other two.


Chasing down riders!

The second half of the race was mostly uneventful aside from avoiding small, crying children on the course. So yeah, they released the kids on the course for their one lap race before the adults were done. Now, I enjoy watching children get injured just as much as the next guy. But they were affecting the adults race! Near the beach, in a very criss-cross section, I had to slow down to not annihilate a small child (you're welcome!). That allowed a couple people to catch up to me for a bit...and allowed others to get further ahead of me. Found out after the race that Dan fell while trying to avoid a kid.

The other odd thing that happened near the end of lap three was a very odd exchange among spectators. As I was passing by a couple guys, one says to the other,

"I like this guy on the Motobecane."

I'm still curious as to the context of this comment! lol

Despite and because of the child I had to avoid, our group of 5 riders reformed by the 4th lap. Shortly into the 4th lap, I looked down at my Garmin and we were at around 28-ish minutes. But there was no indication that this was our last lap. I figured they'd signal final lap after this lap. And I'd use that 5th lap to get away from my group. Perfect!!!  Because I was feeling fantastic. I paced myself very well and I had a lot left in the fuel tank. We came up to the start/finish line to begin the 5th lap when...

"Pull off into the parking lot!"

What?!?!? The race was over?!?! Nooooo!!!!!! I really had a lot left for a very very fast 5th lap! How come there was no warning that this was the last lap? I was later told by another racer that there was a little sign by the start/finish line that indicated how many laps to go. Apparently, the race director announced this at the beginning of the race. I NEED to start paying attention to what they say...

I was BUMMED! Not only was I prevented from attempting my final lap strategy, but I was also not mentally ready for the race to be over. It's like telling Usain Bolt to stop in the middle of his 100m run. Just like Usain would have been, I was upset and confused! (Yup, I compared myself to Usain Bolt. I feel it's apropo.) But...there was nothing I could do. I'll just have to chalk this up to a lesson: listen to the race director, make sure to find out how many laps there will be or how they will communicate it to riders during the race.

I went to look for Kendal. I couldn't find where she was. But I had a very nice chat with some of the other racers. One of the guys I was fighting for position with, Ben Gross, came to say I rode a good race. I said likewise. It was his first cyclocross race as well. Everyone was so pleasant and cordial and just very cool!

I then went to a section of the course to wait for Dan. As he was coming around into earshot, he asked if it was the last a lap. Dan obviously was not aware of the little sign either. I told him that he's done once he reaches the finish line. "Thank goodness!!!!" And he dialed up a few extra watts to end his suffering as quickly as possible. After he crossed the line, we all regrouped in the parking lot. Dan and I traded our race stories. And Kendal told us how awesome or silly we looked at different parts of the race. We packed up and made our way home to get some much needed food!

All in all, it was a success! I finished 11th out of 21 but felt I could do much better (which I could not say about Lowell). And it was a blast! There's something very urgent and intense and gratifying in participating in a 30 minute event as opposed to a long event like a triathlon or marathon. There are very few lulls...every second is exhilarating! Plus...unlike long events, you still have the afternoon to do whatever you want!  I'm just bummed I waited so long to give cyclocross a shot! There's a learning curve, for sure. But if you spend time in another bike discipline (road, track, time trial, mountain, whatever) I would strongly encourage you to try cyclocross for a bit of cross training. Of even if you don't bike, get a cyclocross bike and give it a shot! You won't regret it!

Thanks go out to my wife Kendal for all the pictures and the cheers on every lap!

Results: http://michianatiming.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/crace-results-markin.txt

Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/27606618

Fourth lap! I still having a blast!


Eat my dust!

Dan is sprinting up that beach!!

He's feeling the suffering...

"If you try to pass, I'll KNOCK YOU OVER!"


Monday, November 12, 2012

Kisscross cyclocross race at Markin Glen Park (part 1)

Yesterday, I participated in my first cyclocross race. It was part of the Kisscross series and took place at Markin Glen Park in Kalamazoo. As always, preparation is key. I left nothing to chance!

Nutrition:

  • The days leading up the race, I prepared my body by fueling it with McDonalds, Red Lobster, Nick's Original House of Pancakes, and assorted candy from every single place I stopped at for whatever reason (gas stations, pharmacy's, etc).
  • On race day, Dan made us some homemade breakfast sandwiches! Absolutely amazing! All sorts of meats, egg, cheese, and these crazy potatoes roasted in rosemary or some such nonsense! Fanciest breakfast sandwich ever. Later, I would learn that even one breakfast sandwich constricts blood vessels and essentially tries to kill you dead: Killer Breakfast Sandwiches! Luckily, I had been eating well prior to race day. Phew!
Cyclocross technique:

  • I attended one of three CXpreX cyclocross clinics in September, where I failed so miserably that the instructor would shake his head and groan, "Motobecane..." every time I fell.
  • I never attempted cyclocross techniques again until this past Saturday.
  • Less than 24 hours before the race, I began to panic at the thought of face planting all over the park. So I followed Kendal on my bike while she went on a 6 mile run and practiced getting on and off the bike. It's like cramming for an exam! That always works, right?
Fitness:

  • After having not prepared for Lowell and racing in said unprepared state at Lowell, I did nothing for a week except sit in bed and watch Family Guy on Netflix. Went on a 30 mile social ride with Dan on 11/2. Then another 20 mile social ride with Dan and Joe on 11/3. Averaged a blistering 11mph!
  • Then, four days before the race, I started panicking. So I got on the trainer for 20 minutes on Thursday. And 40 minutes on Friday. Anything above 5 minutes on the trainer is a lot for me. Just sitting on the trainer and not pedaling is far more than I usually do. Oh, and did laundry on Saturday (it was a LOT of laundry so it counts as a workout).
Bike maintenance:

  • My rear tire had some sort of blow out. So I had to repair it. Didn't do so until 3 days before the race. And only tested it on my panicked technique ride where I followed Kendal on her 6 mile run the day before the race.
  • Completely cleaned my bike. That included removing the crank and bottom bracket to get all the sand and grit off of everything. And applying fresh grease where needed. In the process of putting the bottom bracket back in, the bottom bracket wrench slipped and deformed the normally round bottom bracket cup into a oval. Smooth, freely moving cranks are overrated anyway. I like the resistance. Yeah...
  • Ignore the entire decision making process involved in choosing a tire pressure and just use max pressure.
This is how champions are made, people. Take note.

Shortly after arrival, and before nerves kicked in.

The race started at 11am. So Kendal and I got up around 7:00am. Packed up the car and headed over to Dan's. We picked up Dan at around 7:50am. And off we went, enjoying Dan's death inducing breakfast sandwiches (but they were awesome)!

We arrived at the park very early, around 9:30am. We were so early, in fact, that when we approached the registration table a guy started talking to us about where to put the barriers! If Dan and I had been a bit more agile of mind, we would have ran with it and made sure the barriers were placed off of the course! But we are fragile of mind, so we just looked at him with blank stares which clued him into the possibility that we might be racers instead of volunteers.

After getting registered, I did what I had to do in the Porta Potty. Success. A sure sign that my body was getting ready to race!


As you can see from the above pic, the mind was NOT ready to race. Sheer terror.

Once back at the car, we still had an hour or more left. Dan and I unloaded the bikes and got ready to ride. It was a shockingly warm and sunny day, I was wearing all my summer riding gear plus arm warmers. Dan thought it would be a good idea to take a lap of the course. I thought it would be a good idea to sit in the car and ignore the race for as long as possible. But I ended up riding the course with him. We started out at a random spot because the volunteers were still putting the start/finish area together. But we found out we were going the wrong way when we ran into another group of 4 riders scouting the course. So, we turned around!

The first thing I noticed was how bumpy and jarring the grass is. I had forgotten about that as I hadn't ridden grass since the CXpreX clinic. It also appeared that the course was cut through the grass and thicket very recently. The cut stalks were crunching underneath our tires as we rode. The course was also very technical. Bike handling is not a forte of mine. I could barely make the turns at very slow speeds. The course was pretty rolling...lots of small up and down hills...a couple ditches...one big hill...a triple barrier. And then the beach. After coming down a very technical section, you turn left onto a beach. It was a bit slippery but the sand wasn't very deep. I actually think the slight dampness of the sand helped bouy us on top of it. But then you turn left again to go back up and off the beach. A few feet after making the turn up the beach, Dan came to a complete stop after his wheels sank into the sand.

"Dan's going down!"

Then I made the turn, determined to not make the same mistake.

"Juho's going down!"

Dan, though, was even more determined than I. So he picked himself up and said he wanted to try again and chose a different line. Nope! Down goes Dan. We both felt that riding through this was impossible. We just planned to dismount and carry the bike up the beach. But oddly...there was a set of tire tracks without any footprints next to them.

When we got back to the parking lot, we spotted one of the riders that scouted the course before us. I asked her if she was able to ride through the sand. She was. On a Pinarello FP road bike. With 28mm slicks. We had no idea how she did it. But...I saw other riders also fall and was satisfied with my decision to carry the bike up the beach. We also discovered that Dan's left shifter got sand in it and had seized. It was stuck in the small chainring, which actually suited Dan just fine.

We still had a bit before the race started so Dan decided to change out his file tread tires for his Michelin Mud2 knobby tires for more traction. And he decided to lower his tire pressure. I decided to use the same knobby's I used in Lowell and keep my pressure at max. Since I have no clue what I'm doing, I thought it best to do nothing at all!

Race and results and pics to follow!!! Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Humiliation on the horizon

Hello readers!

It is November 8th, 2012. Barack Obama is our president again for the next 4 years. Is that good or bad? Time will tell. I'm just glad I won't have to deal with the incessant political ads again for a while! Not to mention everyone's politically charged Facebook posts (guilty at times). Anyway...

The last time I wrote in this blog, I had just completed my first ever bike race! I finished it, so it was a resounding success! And I had thought that would be all for me this year. I thought I'd have all winter and spring to prepare for whatever my second race would be. That way, I might have a chance at improving my standing!

Alas, that is not to be. Instead, I'm going to experience nothing but misery and humiliation this Sunday at my first ever cyclocross race. My buddy Dan wants me to do it. And even my wife wants me to do it. I think they just want to see me suffer for their amusement.

What is cyclocross? It's sorta like those steeplechase races at the Olympics...except on a bike. Cyclocross courses are usually short, usually very technical, over varied surfaces. And like steeplechase, there are obstacles.

After obtaining my cyclocross bike this summer, I wanted to eventually try out cylcocross racing. To that end, I attended a clinic that helped teach beginners about how to race cyclocross: CXpreX

Why would one need to be taught how to race? You just ride your bike, right? Well...it's those pesky obstacles that bugger up everything. There's a technique to getting off the bike, getting over the obstacle, and getting back on without losing much speed or time:


From what I have gathered, there are actually a few different ways to accomplish the whole mounting and dismounting. At CXpreX, they taught it a bit different than the guy above. But it's all frigging difficult! At the CXpreX clinic, they first showed us how to mount quickly and smoothly. I had trouble mimicking the technique. I would either slow down too much to carefully mount the bike, or if I tried to do it quickly, I'd wind up in great discomfort and put any future children of mine in great jeopardy.

Dismounting was no easier. The idea is to have both feet unclipped form your pedals before dismounting. Then you swing your leg up over the bike, while your other foot supports you on the other pedal which is already unclipped. Then you simply step off the bike. But I had great difficulty unclipping my left foot and placing the foot back on the pedal so that it won't accidentally clip back in! My other big problem was the whole stepping off the bike step. While balanced on that one pedal, I had a tendency to hold my bike away from my body because it felt more stable and balanced to me. But the problem is, once you step off the bike like that, the bike is very far away from you. And the bike would sorta get loose of my grip and go rolling off by itself, and eventually crash to the ground.

I was a total wreck. I was EASILY the most incompetent person at the clinic which included other beginners of all sexes and ages, on all manner of bikes. My ineptitude was mighty impressive. Then, after the teaching portion, they staged a practice race. It was supposed to be four laps. I did two laps and quit because I just could NOT go on. Cyclocross is INTENSE! I'm just not used to or trained for that high an exertion level for any amount of time!

I have yet to try practicing how to mount and dismount since that disastrous clinic back in September. And I have done zero workouts to improve my anaerobic threshold, steady-state level, or really anything. Soooo....yeah....well prepared for a race, as usual!

The race is part of the Kisscross series of cylcocross races. It's this coming Sunday in Kalamzoo, MI. It'll be me, Dan, and Charles. My wife Kendal is coming for documentary photography purposes. You know, for laughs later on. She's going to do the Turkey Trot 5K the day before instead. Smart girl!

Here's someones race footage of the course from last year:



The course looks like it's over grass, single track, blacktop, and sand. For obstacles, there's a triple barrier and a set of stairs to run up. Ample opportunity for me to fall or look silly in some manner. The Adult-C (beginner race) is 30 minutes.

I got on the trainer yesterday for about 20 minutes. I'll probably workout today. That leaves me two days to get fit!

I'll tell you how it all goes!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Lowell 50: lost and found! (part 2)

For part 1 of this report, go here! Also, check my buddy Joe's account of the race here!

So I was saying, Joe had taken off on his 50 mile journey. Charles was up near the front waiting for the 28 mile race to start. Kendal, Dan and I were at the back.

"Go!"

It was time to race! Being near the back, it took a few moments after the start signal before we were actually going. But eventually I was in the saddle and rolling forward. We took a immediate left out of the parking lot where the race started. I had decided to just stick with Dan early on and rode to his right. I took a peek back and saw Kendal rolling along at a pretty leisurely pace. Truth be told, she could have probably done pretty well in the race. But being on all new equipment and clothes, plus a week of working a crazy schedule, she just wanted to treat the race as a moderate level workout.

As soon as I turned my head forward, Dan had taken off a bit. Dan, Dan, Dan. The thing about Dan is...he's very competitive and prideful even when his abilities aren't able to quite back up his competitiveness and pride! I started spinning up and caught his wheel. We started passing a fair number of people. The first mile of the course is pretty flat with a couple upward and downward undulations. On one of the downward sections, I was inches off Dan's wheel and freewheeling while he was trying to pass as many people as he could. I couldn't help but egg him on a bit,

"Man! Drafting off you is awesome! I don't even have to pedal!"

"Get away from me!!!!!", screamed Dan as he attempted to speed away.

I just stayed on his wheel a few feet back to avoid any potential mishaps.

After a little over mile, we took a right and onto the first dirt road of the day! It was a bit damp from the previous days rain, but you could only tell by the color contrast and not by the way it felt. I stayed right behind Dan as we continued to pass a lot of the back of the pack riders. Then the road turned up hill. This is where Dan struggles. And this is where I do OK for someone that doesn't really train. Ever. This hill averaged about 8% grade over close to a third of a mile. Yeah, yeah...a mere speed bump for those that train in hilly states. But for us michiganders, this is like climbing Everest! I was feeling very good so I decided to climb out of the saddle. I left Dan behind and started passing groups of people. It was very narrow and very crowded. I had to squeeze past riders on either side and sometimes in between riders very close together. I got to the top still feeling pretty fresh. Took a peek back and couldn't see Dan anymore. I was riding with strangers the rest of the way.

For the remainder of the race, I decided to do my own thing. But what I found out was that it's really difficult to figure out how hard you should go. I started going at what I thought was a good pace.  But a mile later, I knew it was a pace I couldn't sustain. So I backed off. But then, that seemed too easy. I pretty much kept increasing effort and decreasing effort for most of the race, trying in vain to find a good, steady effort level.

After a bit, I caught up to Joe on yet another hill.

"Joe! How's it going?"

To which he replied, "Good. This course is hilly!"

That it was! It felt like there were very few flat sections! I had read reports about the Lowell 50 that indicated it was pretty hilly. But a day or two before the race, Dan texted me say that he looked at the elevation profile and it looked pretty flat. Never listen to Dan!

I wanted to keep my momentum up the hill so I continued on to let Joe ride his race.

As with triathlons and half-marathons I've done, my mind begins to sorta wander. A few of thoughts were:
  • I'm am not cold at all! My cold weather riding choices were brilliant! Testing is overrated.
  • Wow. I'm actually a bit warm when climbing up a hill in full sun.
  • I hope Kendal is OK. I wonder if those arm warmers as base layer were overkill?
  • This is a pretty small race. Not a lot of riders in front or behind me. I hope no one gets lost.
  • I'm brilliant for insisting that everyone have their phone with them to GPS their way back if they get lost!
  • I should eat one of my Honey Stinger gels soon even though I don't feel like it.
  • If, somehow, Dan catches back up with me...I will die of shame! 
  • I should start thinking of excuses for poor performance now...just in case.
  • Why am I so slow? Half the people in front and behind me are on mountain bikes!
About 45 minutes into the race, I figured I should eat a gel. I took one out, ripped the top off with my teeth and started to consume the gel. By the time I was done,  several people had passed! I have not yet learned how to eat on the bike without slowing down to like 10mph. I was so annoyed, I didn't end up eating either of my two other gels for the rest of the race. Mistake? No clue!

For hydration, I had plenty of Hammer Endurolyte Fizz. I was very conscious about staying hydrated because I have a tendency to forget to drink enough, then 30-40 miles into a ride I'm barely moving forward, nearly falling off my bike of exhaustion and dehydration. Funny thing is, despite trying to stay hydrated, I did have some minor cramping issues in both calves. But nothing major. Every time they started cramping, I'd stop pedaling, stand up, stretch each calf out and slow down for a little bit.

The rest of the race went well. I just rode within myself. I had no strategy, I'm just not that fancy. Didn't draft or paceline. Passed people when I could. Stayed back when I couldn't (not so much to avoid drafting but to avoid crashing).

But at some point, a group did start pacelining behind me! For miles! Which, really isn't a HUGE deal. But it was sort of annoying because when they started to go around me with 3-5 miles left in the race, I found that I just didn't have the legs to keep up. Could I have kept up if I had been one of the ones drafting? Or maybe if I was on file tread tires instead of knobby tires? Or was it my nutrition/hydration? Who knows. Maybe I'll race "smarter" next time.

I finished with no one very close behind or in front of me, so no sprint necessary. But I felt pretty ok...not super strong, but not completely wiped! My finishing stats:

Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes, and 14.84 seconds
Average Speed: 15.81mph
Position: 16th out of 26 finishers in my division
               83rd out of 138 finishers overall for the 28 mile race

Not very good. BUT...honestly, it was still better than I thought I'd do! I was afraid I wouldn't average much over 14mph. I consider my performance a success!

After crossing the finish line, I figured it wouldn't be very long before Dan and Kendal crossed as well. So I planted myself on the grass to the side thinking I could get a couple good pictures of them. 5 minutes passed. 10 minutes passed. 15 minutes passed. Hmm. That's odd. A little more time passed. The clock read 2 hours and 15 minutes. I expected both of them to finish not too much after the 2 hour mark. It was at 2:15...which would put their pace at less than 13mph. Something must have gone wrong. Crash? Flat? Lost? I decided to text both of them.

To Dan: "Hurry up!!!!"

To Kendal: "Hope you did not get lost or crash! See you soon!"

Then Charles found me near the finish line. We chatted for a bit. He did quite well! 1:31:53 (18.3mph)!!!! Then, my phone rings. It's Kendal.

"Uh, I'm completely lost. I'm in the middle of nowhere."

I think this is one those things that happen to illustrate that one still has some growing to do. You see, there are many ways to react to this situation. And there's a spectrum that spans the distance from "good response" to "you're a moron." Lets go over a few of the possible responses:
  1. "Are you okay? Are you in a safe location? I'll come get you!"
  2. "WTF?! How did that happen?!!
  3. burst out laughing
I found my way to the first response. Eventually. But I opened with the third response. Wrong end of the spectrum. My outburst was met with a very terse, and very frightening, "It's not funny." That set me straight to where I got myself to the first response. She wanted me to pick her up. I asked her what two streets she was by. She wasn't sure but would call me back in a few minutes as soon as she knew. Told Charles the scoop and I was off to the car. Chucked everything in the car as fast as I could. Kendal called to let me know she was by the corner of Ingalls and Benton. iPhone says it's 20 minutes away. While driving, I get a text from Kendal saying that there's another guy who got lost and can't find his way back or follow the 50 mile signs back. She said to see if Dan can come and help the other rider. Literally seconds after I read that text, I get a call from Dan. He's lost too!!!! Dan said he's on his way back via some other route. I told him about Kendal and said I'd call him after I get Kendal, to make sure he got back safe. I decided I'd just have to make room for three bikes and three riders in my Ford Focus! In the meantime, Kendal had some fun on Facebook:


Once I arrived, I loaded Kendal and fellow wayward racer John and their bikes into the car and headed back to the race finish. By the time we got back, Dan had returned and already left Lowell, MI.

I did not get lost. But only because of luck. The markings were pretty inconsistent and often very very small. I was lucky to see all or most of them. And I was lucky to be following people who saw them correctly or just knew where they were going.

But others were not so fortunate. Kendal was with a group that got lost. Dan was also with a group that got lost. Later, I found out that Joe also got lost on the 50 mile route.

Once back at the finish, Kendal decided she wanted some tomato soup for her misfortune. While getting some soup, the volunteer asked her how the race went.

"Not well. I got lost."

Instead of sympathizing and apologizing, the volunteer had the audacity to ask,

   "Well, didn't you follow the course markings?"

   "Yes, but the markings weren't very good."

   "Yes they were. I marked them myself. No one else got lost."
  
   "Yes, they did. There were several lost riders."

   "Well, maybe someone came along and pulled the markings off."

The sad part is, by the time we were driving back, Kendal was no longer upset and was totally fine that she got lost. And didn't feel overly negative about the event. But after the attitude of that volunteer, she never wants to do this race again and will tell anyone that asks for her opinion to never do this race. Customer service people, customer service.

Kendal finished her tomato soup and bread. And left with a very sour taste in her mouth thanks to that ungracious volunteer. Luckily, we were on our way to meet our good friends Lindey and Marvin in Grandville for lunch. And that cheered her up instantly! :)

Conclusion? Mixed bag. The course was very nice, very pretty. It was challenging. The other riders were all pleasant. But the course markings and general organization was not great. Plus, they had at least one less than fantastic volunteer. I'd be on the fence about doing this race again. I wouldn't be surprised if Kendal, Dan, and Joe would never want to do this race again until they get more organized and improve their course markings.

My friend Josh says I need more pictures for a blog. So I stole some of Joe's pictures and one of Kendal's!






Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Lowell 50: lost and found! (part 1)

Welcome to my blog! It's my first ever blog. My excuse is that my narcissism wasn't quite developed enough. But I'm there now!

I suspect this blog will be about my interests/hobbies that I'm most consumed by. These days, that would be cycling. But I'm sure I'll babble about triathlon, food, music, pop culture, and other random things!

Today, allow me to regale you with the tale of my first ever bike race that I did yesterday: The Lowell 50!

The Lowell 50 is a dirt/gravel road race. You know, those roads on the outskirts of town. The way it was routed, the course was reported to be 70% dirt roads and 30% pavement. I'm not sure anymore how I first learned of this race. It might have been my friend Joe? Or was it Dan? No clue. But as the race approached, we all signed up: me, my wife Kendal, Joe, Dan, and Dan's co-worker Charles.

There were two distance options. You could either do the 50 mile race or the 28 mile race. All of us except Joe opted for the 28 mile race on account of our total lack of fitness. To wit, neither Kendal or I have done much of anything besides watching Glee (Kendal) or Futurama (me) on Netflix since August! Joe was much braver/dumber/fitter (pick two) than the rest of us!

Before we get to the race, let me outline in detail how Kendal and I prepared for the race:


  1. Stop working out completely
  2. Start a strict fast food diet regimen
  3. Panic 7 days before the race and start training
  4. Get on the trainer planning to spin for 2 hours, quit after 24 minutes
  5. Avoid having EVER ridden on anything but pavement (me)
  6. Make sure you have only experienced warm weather riding
  7. Purchase all your cold weather riding gear 5 days prior to race and never test them out
  8. Build up both cyclocross bikes 2 nights before the race, and neglect trying them out either
  9. Choose to use big fat knobby tires when most people recommend file tread tires for extra speed
How could anything possibly go wrong?

So, with absolute confidence that we were well prepared, I got all our gear ready the night before while Kendal relaxed. All we had to do when we woke up was shower, get dressed, grab our pre-made PBJ sandwiches, load our bikes on the rack and drive!

The raced started at 10am. We decided to head out at 7am and planned to arrive by 9am. Everything was going as scheduled. Kendal brought a pillow to catch some extra sleep in the car. So, being the amazing husband that I am, I rode in silence so as not to disturb her. I ate a banana, PJB, and chocolate milk while driving. Pre-race fuel: check.

We arrived at Fallasburg County Park just a bit earlier than expected. I think around 8:45am. Soon after we arrived, we ran into Joe! He'd gotten there even earlier and was signed in and ready to go! Kendal and I walked over to get signed in, pick up our race numbers, and use the bathroom. For those of you that don't race...let me tell you. Racing is the most powerful laxative in the scientific world. Just before any race, your body will expel everything you ever ate, very rapidly. If you do not experience this...you're not ready to race. Racing without having done this will lead only to death! Suffice to say, I was very very prepared for The Lowell 50.

Back to the car. There, we put on the rest of our riding gear. We brought a lot of clothes. The forecast called for 39 degrees at race start and not much north of 41 degrees in the estimated two hours later at race finish. My car read 36 degrees. But the sun and physical exertion would make it feel much warmer. BUT the wind while riding at 15+ mph would make it feel colder! What to do? So we looked around to see what most of the other riders were wearing. We both went with our thermal bib tights, base layer, thermal jersey, shoe covers, small/thin head layer under helmet, and gloves. I went with the only gloves I had (Pearl Izumi Thermal) and Kendal used her summer riding gloves under a pair of Pearl Izumi Lobster gloves (her hands usually get very cold). Then we unloaded our bikes and joined Dan and his co-worker/friend Charles in the other parking lot by the race start.

It was still around 15-20 minutes before the start. The 50 mile riders take off first, followed by the 28 mile group. Total racer count was about 250...and it was a close to even split between 28 mile riders and 50 mile riders. Since we had a few minutes to kill, and since our bikes were built up right before the race, Kendal decided to find out if she knew how to clip in and out of her new Crank Bros Eggbeater pedals. She also needed to figure out if she could even shift with the lobster style gloves. I also got on my bike and tooled around the parking lot to see if our clothing choice would keep us warm enough. Hit 20mph on a empty part of the parking lot and felt ok, the wind was not whipping through me. 

We all started heading towards the start line. The race director was saying things undoubtedly important but I didn't hear anything. Then it was time for the 50 mile riders to start,

"Go! Rider down..."

I don't know if he was joking or not...but I choose to believe it was true. Because that's HILARIOUS! We all laughed at the prospect of a rider falling 0.1 seconds after the start of the race...because we're all caring, loving people. Then I wished Joe good luck on his race and he was off!

The remaining four of us started to position ourselves for the 28 mile start. Charles is apparently a very fast rider and positioned himself up front. Kendal, Dan and I put ourselves pretty much at the very back. There were literally 8 people behind us. Kendal's plan was to be the last person to cross the start line because she really did not plan on pushing hard and she didn't want to be anywhere near a crowd where she could run into someone or someone could run into her.

Race and adventurous conclusion to follow! Stay tuned!