Thursday, February 8, 2018

Race Report - 2018 Fort Ord CCCX XC MTB


It is a tradition on my bike club to send out race reports that give a comprehensive explanation of how all the race tactics played out to produce the thrilling final outcome. No, of course that’s not true—who cares about any of that? We actually focus on what was eaten, and at what velocity, and what beer it was washed down with. Here is my second report of the year (my first being this one).

But before we get to that, I’m actually on two teams: the aforementioned EBVC road team, and the Albany High School mountain bike team. That’s right, a routine background check determined that I never actually finished high school, so I’m back finishing up a couple courses. No, actually I’m an undercover cop posing as a cheerleader. Or maybe I’m just an assistant bike team coach. I race the CCCX mountain bike every year so that the student athletes get the chance to see me suffer, too.

Executive summary

I had two dinners the night before, one of which included a free beer that was almost forced on me; race-day weather was gorgeous; course was even better than last year; I suffered way better than last time; and, though I did not win, I was a bit closer, and achieved a distinction I haven’t enjoyed since 1991.

On Android phones, the first photo of every blog post appears on the albertnet home page as a thumbnail alongside the title. I want to avoid any spoilers, so here is a photo of my cat drinking beer.

Bonus: my younger daughter was so impressed by this photo, she did a drawing of it!

Race report - short version 
  • Race stats: 23.2 miles, 2,343 vertical feet climbed, 1:40:25 race time, 159 bpm average heart rate (vs. 153 bpm last year), 1:36:39 above heart rate target zone  (i.e., 96% of the time!), 13.9 mph average speed (vs. 12.4 mph last year), 16:21 at redline (vs. less than a minute last year)
  • Pre-race Dinner #1: “burgef”; some secondhand (moribund) fries; the residue of my daughter’s potato salad; a leaf of her lettuce; two glasses of water, at Monterey Brewing Company (slogan: “We’re not actually in Monterey”)
  • Pre-race Dinner #2 (since I wasn’t even close to sated): a carnitas burrito and a beer that a fellow patron insisted on styling me out with, at some random taqueria in Seaside
  • Breakfast: one quarter of a so-called “muffin” that was a muffin-shaped hunk of (let’s face it) cake; its polar opposite, that being some homemade low-glycemic-index bread made (apparently) of bits of wood and bark, which took about 20 minutes to chew; one PBJ; half a banana; two cups coffee, black
  • During race: one sleeve froot-flavored Clif Shot Blox; one raspberry-ish gel, four bottles of water
  • Glycogen window treat: none (because I was too busy standing around near the finish line waiting for my daughter to finish her race)
  • Lunch (post-race): a glorious grilled sausage; one small pile spaghetti à la Boyardee(-ish); one small hunk of a grapefruit-sized meatball; half a hamburger bun (white); mustard; artificially colored sweet pickle relish (a guilty pleasure)
  • Dinner: three large plates De Cecco linguine topped with one of those new fancy-pants grocery store tomato sauces that’s like $8 a jar (don’t worry, I bought it at deep discount) with fresh BelGioioso Parmesan grated with a zester so it melted like fresh snowfall on the pasta; two large servings spinach (to model proper behavior for my kids); Häagen-Dazs ice cream (chocolate, dulche de leche). This meal was carefully calculated to reverse the effects of the South Beach Diet, which has worked so well I recently got a PR in body fat (5.3%) and my wife is complaining frequently and bitterly about my gaunt physique. I am in full North Beach mode now and gladly accepting donations of beer, pizza, chips, and other crap. If you have anything left over from your Super Bowl party, bring it on by!
  • Now (as I write this): one Lagunitas IPA and an apricot pastry because all this talk of gluttony is making me hungry and thirsty!

Last year, I got kind of a crummy start, became disillusioned, lost the motivation to keep hammering, didn’t suffer enough, and ended up finishing just 5 seconds behind another guy in my category (not that it really matters, as both our placings were pretty humble anyway). I have lived with the shame of this poor performance for a year now and thus resolved to put it to rest. So, at the recommendation of my friend/coach/tormentor Peter, I actually did some interval training this year (which is remarkable, intervals being the whole reason I quit racing in the first place) and hammered properly during the race, astounding myself with my ability to stay at redline almost the whole time, and made the (albeit the spacious five-tier mountain bike) podium.

Long version

As I’ve explained in these pages, I’m not real big on goals. That said, I had one general goal for this race—suffer much better (i.e., worse) than last time, with my Key Performance Indicator being a higher average heart rate. I also had one specific goal, which was … shit, I forgot what it was. Oh, yeah—to get a better start so those sorry poor-life-balance ego-trapped alpha-dog get-a-life bicycle-as-penis-substitute overachievers would be trapped behind me for a spell and I might somehow beat some of them. I did not write down a bunch of milestones that I would reach along the way to achieving my goals, but I did train hard, and stuck to the diet that I’d embarked upon in the run-up to my last race on January 1.

The night before, my daughter and I arrived late at the Monterey Brewing Company because Google Maps had randomly directed us out into the middle of nowhere. There we were, driving along this dark, deserted highway with nothing in sight but fallow fields, and then the little voice said, “You have arrived.” Son of a bitch!

Once we rerouted and found the restaurant, the food took forever to arrive even though (being a large group) we’d placed our orders more than a day in advance. We each had a scrap of paper with our order scrawled on it that we placed on the table. Mine said “burgef.” The “f” at the end was actually a lowercase “r” with a bar added so it did double duty as an “f.” This meant “burger with fries.” Ingenious! Most of the other coaches got salads instead of fries, but then they were drinking beers, too. I loves me some beer, but I’d had one (via happenstance) last year and then didn’t race so well the next day, so this time I stood firm and employed all the “Refusal Skills” I learned in high school health class. Even when the head coach teased me and said, “What are you, chicken? Everybody’s doing it!” I held firm. (Note: he did not say this.)

The burger was good and the fries were very fresh. But damn it, after two straight months of quinoa and napa cabbage, I was in need of serious calories, more than a mere burgef could provide. I stared at my daughter’s plate with puppy-dog eyes but she ignored me. I even said, “You know Alexa, if you start to get full, I just want you to know I’m here for you. I got your back—I can help you finish your plate.” She gave me the brush. I did steal a lettuce leaf, and scraped the potato salad residue from her plate with my fork, which at least embarrassed her. She punished me by going on and on about how full she was.

There was nothing to be done but to find a taqueria near the HoJo in Seaside where we were staying. We found a suitable place where the jukebox was just pounding out the accordion-rich taqueria music (which always has a Pavlovian appetite-inducing effect on me). While I waited for my to-go carnitas burrito, the guy at the next table tugged on my sleeve. “Hey, amigo, you wanna beer?” he asked. He had a steel bucket of beers on the table. Resolute in my quest for redemption after last year’s pre-race one-beer bacchanal, I declined as politely as I could: “Oh, no thanks—I have a big bike race tomorrow.” He replied, “Hey, man, it’s just one beer!” Textbook peer pressure, exactly like they warned us about in Health class! I paused. It was only Modelo Especial, which I guessed was sub-5% ABV. (In fact, it’s only 4.4%, with just 145 calories, and it’s even vegan!) The guy went on, “I really want to give you a beer.” So I accepted. Here we are, appreciating quality and enjoying it responsibly.

I love how my new friend isn’t even looking at the camera—he’s looking at his beer, with love in his eyes.

On race day, I wasn’t much use as a coach because I was so busy warming up for my race. Fortunately, the kids rose to the occasion and sorted certain things out for themselves. Apparently sticking Shot Blox to your top tube is all the rage right now. Though I don’t like this idea (what if one fell off?!), I’m glad the kids are marginally increasing their chances of remembering to eat during the race.

At the start line, I started chatting with this guy who looked really fast (thin, ripped, nice bike, not visibly nervous which means he’s a season veteran, etc.). He told me his name, John Hopkins, and I realized I’d raced with him in San Luis Obispo almost thirty years ago! “Your brother sold me my first mountain bike!” he recalled. That’s the good news. The bad news is, I remember him as the guy who always trained more and harder than the rest of us.

All the Category 2 men started together this time, so it was impossible to tell who was in my 45+ category. What’s worse, the young bucks (or who knows, maybe the old bucks) were making the pace brutally fast. The first ten minutes were mostly downhill, which isn’t exactly my forte  because if I crash, my wife will kill me. Fortunately, there were a few great climbs that helped my cause.

One thing about being underweight: it makes uphills a blast! I would see this horrible 12% grade looming ahead, and I’d think, “Yeah! Bring it!” I’d look at the guys around me with something like pity. Now, before you think I’m getting a big head, I’d like to point a couple things out. First, my head only looks big because my body has gotten so twiggy. Second, the only reason these guys were around me is that all the good racers had already dropped me, duh! Those near me were the albeit decent descenders who’d been trapped behind me on the single track and now had the added indignity of being dropped on the climb.

Well, almost all the good racers had dropped me. Somehow John Hopkins was among those trapped behind me, and didn’t come flying by until the feed zone, about half a lap into the race, where I was already guzzling my water before getting a fresh bottle because a) it was hot, and I was sucking air like the ram intake blower on Mad Max’s car, so my throat was totally parched, and b) the kids I coach were running the feed zone and I couldn’t bear to deprive them of the fulfillment of their sacred duty.

Watching John ride off into the sunset doesn’t mean I was complacent, though. I kept passing the same guys on the climbs and then getting passed back on the descents. I thought I was totally holding back on the tricky single-track downhills until my front tire almost washed out. Probably I’m doing ten things wrong (and passing along my faulty technique to these poor high school kids in practice). One guy kept bobbing up (“you again?” we didn’t say) and after the race he confided that he’d had to run off to the woods at one point to take a dump (the implication being “otherwise I’d have beaten you,” and my implied response being “stopping to crap didn’t stop Tom Dumoulin from winning the Giro d’Italia”). Of course it was hard to figure out who was in my category (i.e., who mattered). One rule of thumb: if he has a tattoo, he’s probably not a high-school kid.

I won’t bore you with the blow-by-blow details of all four laps other than to say that the ability to occasionally overtake somebody, and the sense that others were nipping at my heels, really stoked my coals and to my amazement, my heart rate was like 160 most of the time. I kept waiting for my body to fail, and against all odds it managed not to. Toward the end of the last lap, two guys in my category weren’t far behind at the base of the final climb. But this climb was a beast and I really gave it everything.

Photos and video have a way of making climbs look shallower, but that doesn’t even look shallow, does it? Ugh. Anyway, by the top I had a really healthy gap, so much so that I was even able to relax just a bit and gaze out at the new McProjects alongside the course (visible in the photo above) and reflect wistfully that soon somebody will decide that the trails at Fort Ord are a menace, or a hassle, or that Fort Ord itself is prime real estate for more McProjects, and the whole place will be bulldozed, and there won’t be any more races here.

After the finish line, feeling truly shattered, I was filled with the sublime feeling of having truly given it everything, so it didn’t matter how I’d placed—which was good, because I really had no idea about that. It’s better that way, I think, to decide how it went without worrying about the more or less meaningless matter of how I compared to those who happened to show up and race my category.

I stood around until my daughter showed up. We didn’t care how she placed either because she looks so cool in her new shades. Did I say shades? I meant racing jacket factory eyeshade système.

I won’t tell you how she did because she’s working on her own race report.

Here is a photo of my lunch. If you zoom in and look closely, you will notice two things: 1) I was so knackered, I totally missed with the mustard and got most of it on the plate; 2) the ingredients of the relish include FD&C Yellow #5 and Blue #1. Blue dye? Gross! I normally stick to Del Monte which isn’t nearly as pretty but is not artificially colored.

Okay, here is a photo of me on the podium. If it seems prideful to post this, consider that it would be even more prideful not to bother, as though this weren’t any big thing for me. Sure, a great racer would shrug this off and not even mention it, but I haven’t stood on a podium since 1991, and may never get the chance again. So, yeah, I’m going to humbly admit this is like my fifteen minutes seconds of would-be fame (i.e., if anybody but me cared). 

(It looks like I placed 3rd but it was actually 5th. Two guys didn’t wait around for the podium ceremony so the organizers had me step up.)

Look at the winner. Notice how he can’t be bothered to show his team colors. In fact, where’s his medal? What did he do, shove it in his pocket? I guess this guy must win all the time. As for the second-place guy, I’m required to dislike his Stanford jersey, and I really don’t like his teen-style hat. Next year I’m gonna kick his ass … unless I get free beer again the night before.

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