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!