On my road cycling team, we have a tradition of sending around race reports, which detail everything about our races, starting with our goals, the way we tailored our training program to them, a mile-by-mile analysis of the race Strava file, a deep discourse on how the tactics played out, and an absorbing lesson in what worked, what didn’t, and what we’ll try next time.
Wait, don’t leave! I was just kidding! All we actually write about is what we ate before and after, what we washed it down with, whether or not we hurled, and perhaps a few words about the race itself if and only if anything amusing happened. And because we’re all getting too old to spend a lot of time reading, we start with very brief summaries and work up from there. This report details my first mountain bike race in almost a year, the CCCX race at Fort Ord near Monterey, California. I raced with the Category 2 age 45+ group.
- I had 1.5 dinners the night before and (this time) no beer;
- Race-day weather was iffy but basically dry other than my left foot;
- I suffered mightily but vaguely, due to the data-free, non-electronic void I found myself involuntarily plunged into;
- I lost the race but ate well afterward;
- Judging by the increasing itch on my legs, I might have been exposed to poison oak again.
As head coach of my daughter’s high school mountain bike team, the Albany High Cougars, I commanded my daughter to solicit, in her capacity as team captain, race reports from her teammates. These can be as brief as the kids want and will ultimately get combined into a single, anonymous literary mash-up. So far she’s received only two contributions: mine and a (clean) limerick from another coach. Kids these days. Sheesh.
My contribution to the Cougar team report included this haiku:
Bikers out in force
Plucky Cougars kick it off
Crazy, kick-ass course
Race stats: 19.6 miles (vs. 23.2 last year), 1,608 vertical feet climbed (vs. 2,343 last year), ~1:25:00 race time (estimated – my bike computer died right before the race). Here’s the map and the elevation profile, like you care.
Pre-race Dinner: Cream of asparagus soup; hella bread & butter; 2/3 plate fettuccine Alfredo with chicken (not as good as what I make); at least half a plate of my daughter’s pasta (the most expensive one on the menu because that’s just how she rolls, with lots of seafood in it; she must have filled up on bread), including some delicious (and doubtless farmed) salmon, at Gino’s in Salinas (slogan: “Sorry our parking lot is so small”)
Breakfast: A bunch of banana bread; several unwise bites of a burrito from the previous day’s lunch that had spent the night in the car; two cups motel coffee, black
During race: two sleeves Clif shot blox: one Acai Berry & Rose Hips flavor, one Frankincense & Tea Tree Oil (actually, they might have been Mountain Berry and Salted Water Buffalo, er, Watermelon)
Glycogen window treat: Clover chocolate milk – da bomb! Also some birthday cake that another team, in a neighboring tent, brought by. I love the plate … the kid’s mom must have forgotten he’s not 10 years old anymore.
Lunch (post-race): hot-off-the-grill cheeseburger that was just dripping fat (in the best possible way); one half of a secondhand burger from my daughter that was starting to congeal (in a way that had its charms, actually); a hunk of tri-tip (if you’re not from California and haven’t heard of tri-tip, just think of it as steak that is better that what you’re getting); a hot dog that was weirdly salty, even by my standards, but good
Dinner (post-race): Asian-ish noodles with tofu; sautéed bok choy; a bunch of chips and salsa because I’m getting back in touch with my inner fat bastard after dropping some weight for this race; one Lagunitas Maximus IPA featured in this official post-race Beck’st:
I couldn’t get my head right for this race, for the longest time. I finally located my mojo during the last five minutes of my warm-up. I suffered pretty seriously, though not as much as last year because it was a demonstrably easier course (less climbing, shorter overall). I just missed the podium (i.e., came in sixth place), which was a bit of a letdown until I remembered that nobody cares anyway and I shouldn’t either.
The suffering started about three weeks before the race, because a) I stopped drinking beer, figuring it’d be a lot easier to lose weight than to build strength, and b) I fretted unduly about racing poorly. It’s an old story: I was pleased with my race last year and feared I wouldn’t live up to the new standard I’d set for myself.
On top of that, my derailleur hanger broke during practice the week before the race, throwing my preparation into a tailspin. You’d think it’d be easy to scrounge up a new derailleur hanger but it turns out they’re almost as unique, one to the next, as snowflakes. Everyone recommended a different source for a replacement: Wheels Manufacturing, North Shore Billet, Amazon, some place in Italy, some place in France … by the time someone said, “Have you tried derailleurhanger.com?” I thought he was joking—but he wasn’t. Thinking I wouldn’t get to (i.e., have to) race came as a relief, so then of course I fell into a deep pit of self-loathing over being relieved. Then the race got canceled (due to down trees on the course), so we postponed until the following week for the next race in the series, by which time the replacement derailleur hanger had arrived and I got to (i.e., had to) race after all.
There was a mix-up at the motel, the Howard Johnson. I had reserved two queen beds but was given a single king. They kept saying they couldn’t upgrade me without charging more money, and I kept showing them my confirmation (on my phone) with the original price, for two beds. They kept saying that couldn’t be my confirmation because it purported to be directly from their website, whereas, they insisted, I’d booked through booking.com—which I hadn’t. I say “they” because a supervisor got involved. He was on the phone with the home office for a good while before figuring out the problem: they were simply looking at the wrong reservation. Seems a guy with a slightly similar name, Dennis Abraham or some such, had checked in earlier and they gave him my room, and then gave me his. They actually misread his name as mine, and vice-versa: the same category of error, twice in one day. “This explains why Dennis came down earlier to complain about not getting a king-size bed!” the guy said triumphantly, as though spending 20 minutes ironing out such a stupid mistake should be some kind of bonding experience for us both.
I woke in the morning to this weather:
Fortunately, the rain subsided, though the race course was mighty wet. The whole morning my head was just filled with all this negative BS about my lack of fitness and the unsuitability of the course to my strengths (due to less climbing than last year). Yes, of course you’re correct: if I’m not fit, the lack of climbing is actually a boon. (The wimp who takes over my brain is also an idiot.) Fortunately my warm-up on the stationary trainer finally turned things around. Once I started to suffer, the sheer familiarity of the pain and high heart rate set things right. I became more robotic, which is a big step up from actually thinking. Plus I had the right music—my workout megamix—and in particular the Lil Wayne song “Mr. Carter” which is one of my favorites. I’ve never been able to figure out what, if anything, the song is about. It’s just a lot of blather, but really good blather.
I got a really cool race number this year: 151. Why is that cool? Well, I told the kids I like it because it’s palindromic. That was my official story. The real reason I liked it is because this number shows up in some really cool music lyrics as a reference to a (now discontinued) brand of overproof Bacardi rum. In the song “One Mic,” Nas describes how his rap is “Pure, like a cup of virgin blood, mixed with/ 151, one sip’ll make a [fella] flip.” (Yeah, 151 is strong—it’s 75.5% alcohol.) Bob Schneider sings about a guy who is “Hard as boardwalk bubblegum/ And smooth as 151.” So, to live up to this number plate, my job was to be strong and smooth.
Was I strong? Well, it wasn’t too bad. I did find that on the climbs I could put the hurt on people. I’d heard these climbs described as “really long” but they seemed really short. I think that’s the beauty of eating like a pig all the time and drinking beer but still riding bikes: you have to haul that around all that extra weight during training, and then when you start living sensibly three weeks before a race, and the pounds melt off, you still have some strength left over. (Not to overstate anything, of course, since I didn’t even make the podium.)
Was I smooth? Well, I picked the right lines and never came to a stop or had to dab my foot, which is saying something because the course was pretty muddy and had some pretty sketchy uphill sections. Wow, I just realized how boring this is. Sorry.
Eating was a bit of a problem, so when I found a fairly smooth stretch I ate most of an entire sleeve of Clif shot blox at once. This basically cemented my mouth shut for awhile, and left this thick film of blox goo (bloxfilm?) on my teeth, which improved my performance due to its sweetness. (Click here for details.)
I had great support in the feed zone. It was a cool day and the laps were short, but I still went through 3½ bottles in four laps.
There was this lone course marshal in the far-flung regions of the course, and I’d pass him twice per lap. He had this cow-bell he would ring like crazy, which was inordinately uplifting.
There were several very deep puddles on the course that we’d bomb through, sending water gushing up everywhere like one of those amusement park water rides. Oddly, only my trailing foot would get splashed. By the end of the race I had a drenched left foot and a bone-dry right foot.
The skies looked ominous the whole day, and we got sprinkled on by just a bit of rain, but ultimately the weather held out the whole race.
Other than some crazy fast descents, nothing that exciting happened (other than going almost anaerobic by the top of every climb) until the last lap. My teammate Dean, a fellow coach, had won his Cat 3 race earlier in the day with a well-timed attack on the final climb, and said the climb suited our team perfectly (living, as we do, in a really hilly place such that every single ride prepares us for climbing). On the last lap of my race, I saw this guy I’d remembered from the start line and had been chasing for the whole race (though most of the time he was too far ahead to even see). He raced for the Woodside Beasts, a rival high school team, meaning he’s a coach too. I started to close in on him on the final climb, right toward the end of the race. It looked like I wasn’t gaining fast enough and that he’d hold me off, except that I could tell he was just dying.
I dug deep, deeper, and deepest, and literally 50 feet from the end of the climb I finally passed him. Damn, what a sucker-punch! I’ll bet he’s still pissed off about it! Now was the tricky part—holding him off on the fast, technical descent to the finish line. I’m not that great a descender because my wife would kill me if I crashed. I went for broke, and presently on a narrow single-track section came up on a young high school girl who wasn’t going that fast. I knew if I got stuck behind her, the Beast would catch up and surely pass me in the twisty bits near the finish line. On the other hand, there was no place to pass except the thick bramble alongside the trail. Bramble is a notoriously tricky surface to ride on, because the ground can be really bumpy, even rock-infested, beneath the brush, and you won’t know until you’re on it. I took the gamble, and though it was indeed bumpy—my bike heaved like a bucking bronco—I made it past the girl, returned to the single-track, and never saw the Beast again.
I came across the finish line in a world of hurt, lungs burning, chest heaving, and Dean said, “Would you like me to take your bike?” I thought that was a great suggestion but couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. Dean had vanished! Where did he go? Oh, he’s back there! I finally realized that I needed to actually stop my bike. It’s just that I had forgotten how.
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