Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Race Report - 2017 Fort Ord CCCX XC MTB


I belong to the East Bay Velo Club, a very generous outfit that hasn’t kicked me out even though my last race was in 2014.  Actually, we’re a very laid back bunch who care mainly about coffee, camaraderie, and chronicles.  The chronicles are mostly of our races (though I usually have to make do with ride reports).  These reports wisely focus on the food, because who really cares about the race?

Anyway, this report ought to appeal to anybody, even (or perhaps especially) anybody who hates cycling.

Executive summary – CCCX Fort Ord Mountain Bike Race – Category 2 Men’s 45+

Weather was great, course was phenomenal, I suffered pretty badly, but not badly enough, and lost the race.  Lunch was tasty but not big enough, and dinner was epic.

Here is my younger daughter with me before the race.

Short version                                                               
  • Race stats:  19.83 miles, 1:34:26 race time, 1:12:40 above heart rate target zone, 0:00:50 at redline, 2,161 vertical feet climbed
  • Dinner (night before):  1½ servings eggplant lasagna (tasty, a bit chewy, hearty enough), a few ounces of salmon (secondhand, insufficiently rare but “pretty yum”), one sip fountain Fanta (cloying, slightly flat), and one beer (make and model unknown) resulting from bartender error
  • Breakfast:  half a muffin and one cup coffee, black, from the Rise ‘n’ Dine continental breakfast at the HoJoMo
  • During race:  2 bottles energy drink (froot flavor), one chocolate Clif gel
  • Glycogen window treat:  none (!)
  • After ride (lunch):  one hamburger, two hot dogs in one bun, one piece styro-chicken-foam, one brownie, half a bottle energy drink (found on the ground)
  • Dinner:  Stella Artois beer; Doo-Boo salad (tofu, corn, all kinda crazy stuff), Gangnam French Fries (topped with bulgogi, cheese, and sauce), Jap-Chae (glass noodles with veggie), Gangnam chicken (fried with special sauce) at Gangnam Chicken in San Mateo
  • Verdict:  PASS(-ish)
I realized at the start line that this was going to be one of those days.  There’s a legend in these parts about men over age 45 who make a killing in tech, and then either retire or go to part-time consulting, and then—due to the same world-beater tendencies that helped them make a killing in tech—need to find some outlet for their competitive impulses and became these totally driven bike racers who train all the damn time, buy the best gear, race every weekend, and make it impossible for people like me to achieve any kind of success in the sport.  Is this legend true?  Well, in the words of one tough old dude, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”  In other words, I find it easier to face defeat if I can scoff at the top 7 riders and say, “Get a fricking life, man.”  (And then the next morning I wake up sore and tired and go back to work because I haven’t made enough money to retire early or make a living consulting part-time.)

To my credit, I was very successful in looking around at the start and deciding who the fastest guy was likely to be.  Once the race started I got right on his wheel, and sure enough he passed everybody during the slight uphill asphalt run-up to the dirt.  I hit the single-track in second position, died on the guy’s wheel for a few minutes, and then the single-minded, sport-obsessed, totally unbalanced evil bike bastards started passing me.  It was a long race, four laps, and my strategy was to pace myself and wait for the guys ahead to start detonating ahead of me.  Some did; most didn’t.  But—and this is critical—I rode well enough to not embarrass my daughter.  At least, she says I didn’t; maybe she’s patronizing me.  (And how did she fare in her race?  Better—but I won’t steal her thunder because she’ll likely write her own race report.  And—as my teammates are fond of telling me—it’ll be better than this one.)

Long version

My daughter Alexa is on the Albany High School mountain bike racing team in the NorCal League, and every January this team does a CCCX non-League race as a warm-up for the season.  As an assistant coach, I was encouraged to race.  The head coach reckons the kids deserve a chance to see us grownups suffer, and that we should be reminded of what we’re putting these kids through.  I (obviously) agree.

During the last pre-race training ride, we took a rest stop, got off our bikes, sat in a circle, and took turns describing our goals for the race and for the season.  I’m not real big on goals, but I declared, “My goal is to not disgrace my daughter on race day.”

Dinner the night before was pretty good, and most of the Albany Cougars and their parents and coaches ate together, which was pretty fun.  Now, about that beer.  On principle, I was not going to have a beer.  I doubted a beer would slow me down, but I felt I needed to show the bike race gods that I was willing to sacrifice pleasure for performance.  Besides, I needed to model temperance for the young impressionable racers.  But the bartender poured somebody a beer, and that somebody handed it off to somebody, and the bartender got confused and thought he hadn’t poured it yet, and poured another.  (Maybe he’d been embezzling libations?)  I ended up with the extra beer.  I can’t abide waste, so I drank it.  It was a bit warm and a bit flat by the time it made its way to me.  I Beck’sted a couple of friends and here are their responses:
“Drinking the night before a major race?? Do you expect to get a new contract?  You are dead to me.”

“The culture surrounding road racing and cyclocross couldn’t be more different.  Not only is beer an acceptable post-race refreshment, but in following Richard Sachs on Instagram and Flickr, I see that a flask of whiskey is not uncommon in the post-race team meetings.”
I got this second reply in the morning while preparing for my race (and my daughter Alexa’s race), and here’s how I responded: 
“A flask!  Great idea!”

Okay, I had some fun here but actually never drink whisky.  That flask contains Coleman fuel (aka white gas, aka solvent) for my bike chain.  This solves two problems:  1) how to transport a small amount of solvent (for chain cleaning) in a leak-proof and vapor-proof container, and 2) what to do with the hip flask.  You see, I got the flask as a gift at a company holiday party during the late ‘90s, and always wanted to put it to use, because it’s so nicely made, and seems like the kind of manly furnishing that would say I’ve really arrived, you know?  And yet, what situation could I possibly find myself in that I’d need to smuggle in an alcoholic beverage?  (Fear not, after this gag photo I applied a skull-and-crossbones label.)

Trying to carry out pre-race logistics for myself and my daughter was nearly impossible.  I couldn’t find anything, and realized that although we had five bottles between us, it would be impossible to coordinate the feed zone stuff because I had to be setting up for my race while hers was still going on.  I won’t bore you with my other struggles other than to say one of them worked out pretty well.  I was warming up on a stationary trainer when suddenly my bike pitched to the side and made this horrible noise.  I hadn’t secured it properly.  Hurriedly messing with the knobs on the trainer, I grazed my finger against a plastic burr and drew blood.  This blood fortuitously dripped on my race number, which a fellow coach declared was totally badass.

Despite the great start recounted above, I fell off the pace a bit, but still had the leaders in sight.  As they passed one of the Albany Cougars (who had started a bit before us), he crashed and blocked their path, giving me the chance to slip by.  Well played!  My rivals probably didn’t except teamwork between the Cougars and the EBVC!

Subsequently I took the wrong line on a descent and got passed back.  I took it pretty easy on the downhills because after a terrible bike wreck a few years back I’m on thin ice with my wife, cycling-wise.  Plus, this was my first mountain bike race in almost 30 years (no, that’s not a typo) and I’m no John Tomac.  (John who?  Exactly!)

I was a bit worried about bonking because I only had one bottle waiting in the feed zone.  So, despite having the wheel of a guy who was slowly gaining on the leaders, I decided to go for a gel.  It was really thick, and there’s just not a great place to eat such a thing on a race course that’s almost all single-track.  So my mouth got cemented shut like the pig’s mouth in Farmer Boy when she ate molasses candy.  I lost the  guy’s wheel and never got it back.  I probably never would have finished ingesting the gel if I hadn’t had the flask of solvent to wash it down with.  (Kidding!)

By halfway through the race there was nobody in sight ahead of me, nor behind.  It’s kind of hard to motivate under such circumstances, especially when you’re me, and when you’re out of contention. So I gamely kept hammering, kind of, but without quite the passion I’ve shown in, say, shame-based events such as the team time trial.  I mean, here you are (if you’re me), out there on some remote trail with nobody around, trying to motivate to dig deep when it all seems so futile.  I knew I could have ridden harder, because at certain specific times in the race I actually did.

Those times, of course, were my trips through the feed zone where most of my Albany High cohorts were gathered.  It’s really kind of amazing how much noise they were able to make.  It sounded like a stadium full of fans at a rock concert or something, just this tunnel of noise.  What a rush!  In accordance with the advice the Cougars coach had given his riders the day before, I tried to look my very best while riding this stretch.  Check this out:  two complete strangers are cheering me on here.

Actually, if you look carefully, one of the guys whose mouth is open seems to be looking behind me.  Could he have been cheering somebody else?  Possibly.  It’s also worth pointing out that the kid whom I’m partially eclipsing in the photo is one of the ones I coach, and yet he looks totally oblivious.  But that still leaves one guy who actually appears to be looking right at me and cheering.  I can’t recall the last time somebody cheered me on.  It’s not like I’m ever on a conference call and somebody yells, “Yeah, go, man, go!”  Or I’m on the subway and I successfully procure a ticket and the guy in the booth yells, “Yeah, way to transact, dude!”  And my kid never whoops it up just because I got her drivetrain clean enough to eat off of.  So, yeah, in this unsung life, I’ll take whatever cheers I can get. 

One more thing about the above photo:  isn’t my bike amazing?!  Sometimes I gaze upon it and I just can’t believe it’s really mine.  Okay, I guess I’m getting maudlin now.  Probably I’ve drunk too much solvent.

Here’s something else cool:  as I sit here writing this, my daughter is across the room pounding on her laptop keys as well, and I can tell from her occasional questions (e.g., “How do you spell chamois?” or “What’s it called when they hand you a bottle?”) that she’s writing her race report even as I write mine.  In that light, who really cares that I got my ass kicked in this race?  Those other 45+ riders, they’re probably totally estranged from their kids.  And their wives are probably reading my blog right now, wishing their husbands had been English majors.

Okay, so now you’re surely wondering (if you’re still there), did anything actually happen in this race?  Why, yes, and I’m glad you asked!  It came to pass that my strategy—letting myself get dropped on my own recognizance, pacing myself dutifully, and hoping somebody up ahead started to wear out—started to pay off.  I was gradually gaining ground on a guy who had passed me earlier, and whom I had nicknamed “Soulless Life Ruiner.”  I wasn’t pulling back much time, but I could imagine the effect on this guy’s psyche to be petering out.  I hope he felt like an old-fashioned flashlight whose bulb goes from white to orange when the battery runs down.  The trouble was, it didn’t look like I’d get him in time.  That’s when I got lapped by this guy in the Pro category.  He was kind of an old dude and wasn’t going that much faster than I.  So I decided to see how long I could keep up with him.  I followed his lines on the sharper, sandier turns, and the sheer pucker-factor of this activity surely drove up my adrenaline levels.

By the time the pro (inevitably) begin to pull away, I was in striking distance of the Soulless Life Ruiner.  Of course, I was also in pretty serious oxygen debt, but a short downhill took care of that.  On the last real climb, I powered up to him and—following the protocol of mountain bike racing as I understand it—called out, “Passing on your left.”  As I did so I was afraid he’d been loafing himself and would say, “Oh yeah?!” and then pick up the pace and pull away again ... but he wasn’t and he didn’t.  Instead, he said, “Bring it!”  So I guess he had soul after all.

Of course once I’d passed him I had to make it stick, so I was deep into the red for the last five minutes of the race.  Knowing my wife and kids and various Cougars and their parents were in the vicinity, ready to note my disgrace if I faltered, I found the energy to finish fast.  (As it turns out, the guy I’d passed finished nowhere near me, and if I’d just gone harder I might have caught another guy, who finished only 5 seconds ahead of me.  So that kind of sucks.  But I do take some solace in knowing that you, gentle reader, couldn’t care less.)

Look how delighted my kids are to see how much pain I’m in post-race.  Alexa is craning her neck to get a better view.  Peer past my sunglass lenses and you’ll see my eyes aren’t even open.  Note also how my jaw is jutted forward like I have an underbite.  Is that some effort to get more air, or am I doing flehmen, that weird smelling thing that cats do?  I have no idea.

So yeah, I suffered.  But it was a blast.  Racing on a great single-track mountain bike course is like riding a roller coaster, except it goes on for an hour and a half and you’re (ideally) in control.  Oh yeah, and your legs and lungs burn, but you deserve that.  If you’re me, anyway.

After my race I hung around the finish line cheering on the rest of the Cougars before heading over to our team tent and scarfing a hamburger, a couple of hot dogs, and this thing that looked like Chinese orange chicken but tasted like a combination of Styrofoam, foam rubber, modified food starch, and sawdust.  Plus it was cold.  Man that was disgusting, but I didn’t want to be rude in case the person who’d brought it (or had shat it out) was looking.

I’d have hung around eating more, but during her race Alexa had hit a bump so hard she lost both her water bottle and her pump.  This is amazing because the pump has (or normally has, or should I say had) a little Velcro strap.  (It’s a good thing she didn’t blow out her tire on that bump, needless to say.)  So we had to go back out on the course to look for the lost pump.  We pedaled along at walking pace scanning the trail, in vain, and then we realized that whoever was responsible for tearing down the course—that is, removing the little arrow signs and tape that indicate where to ride—was already at work.  Without the signage, we got totally lost in the network of single tracks.  Soon we were turned all around like in a bad dream, where we were bike-riding hamsters and our Habitrail was tangled up like a headphone cord.  Even when we gave up looking for the pump, we were just crawling along because we were both so shattered from racing.

By the time we got back to the car, we discovered that a) the whole Albany High team compound had been dismantled and packed away and everybody was leaving, and b) our car’s battery had died, so my wife was sitting there with the engine running, having gotten a jump-start.  So we headed out, afraid to stop at our favorite taqueria in Gilroy lest our battery wasn’t sufficiently charged.

Dinner was at Gangnam Chicken in San Mateo.  Gangnam French Fries—regular fries topped with bulgogi (i.e., beef), cheese, and the Korean equivalent of the sauce you get with hot wings—is a brilliant innovation, kind of an Eastern rendition of poutine.  Everything I ate at this place seemed brilliant.  Of course, if you went and ate there it’s possible you’d be disappointed, because I was just so damn hungry probably anything would have tasted great.  (Except that weird styro-chicken-foam after the race.  What the hell was that about?)

Epilogue – the heart rate charts

My daughter placed much higher than I did.  In case you’re wondering how a kid with my genes could achieve this in only her second season of racing, these heart rate charts tell it all.  Zoom in on these.

Her chart is the second one.  Look how much time she was in the red!  What’s particularly impressive is that her heart rate didn’t drop that much during the descents.  That’s some serious pucker-factor.  With drive and vigor like that, she’ll probably end up becoming one of those tech superstars who retire at 45 and go slay everybody on the bike race circuit!  I just hope she’ll still talk to me then....

Epilogue #2 – my daughter’s poem

A week after the race, my daughter presented me with this unsolicited poem about her experience watching me race:

To watch an off-road bike race feels strange
I’m used to observation from within
To see my dad partake is quite a change
The struggle’s not just mine, the fight to win

It’s not as fun, observing, as I’d thought
Though not competing, I still felt the stress
The race had fried my brain, my nerves were shot
I really wanted you to have success

My suffering was finished, yet, you see
I wanted you to finish feeling proud
Do you all feel this way when watching me?
Bike racing’s tiring, even for the crowd!

    I’m proud of you, you handled it with zeal
   Tough, intense, and strong, with nerves of steel

I suppose that if she felt moved to write that, I couldn’t have completely disgraced her.  So I got that going for me.  Which is good.

Epilogue #3  the unpleasant aftermath

If you're interested in the unpleasant aftermath of my race, click here.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

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