Last year I started a new tradition—the Non-Race Non-Report of the Bike Race That Didn’t Happen—and was looking forward to continuing it. But a number of complications arose: the COVID vaccine enabled groups to gather again, so the Albany High School Cougars mountain bike racing team (for which I’m an assistant coach) started back up; the Fort Ord CCCX Cross Country Mountain Bike Race returned to the calendar; I somehow built up enough fitness to decide to have another go; and, crucially, I realized the Non-Race Non-Report format was already too tired a concept to spawn a sequel. And so, here I am again to report on my agonizing attempt at glory in an actual race.
Note: if you care about the race itself, and my tactics, and how they played out, and all that other chess-game-on-wheels stuff, you’re in the wrong place. (Perhaps you got here because I stuffed my report with juicy SEO-friendly search terms like iPhone, Tesla, Marvel, Netflix, Disney, Coca-Cola, bacon, bitcoin, cryptocurrency, Minecraft, Halo, and PUBG, in which case I apologize.) In keeping with a long race report tradition, I focus herein mainly on the food.
- I gave up beer for five weeks to lose weight for this race (and it worked, I dropped 7-8 pounds), which gave me the gumption to train and race extra hard so my great sacrifice wouldn’t be in vain
- My pre-race dinner was so extra
- I rode super hard through the Start/Finish section every lap but I’m not sure my student-athletes were even watching and thus may still view me as a concierge, not an actual athlete they can take seriously
- I suffered in a novel way, which is kind of remarkable after forty years of this
- I got poison oak again
- I buried myself far more successfully than last time, trading short-term agony for the blissful avoidance of at least a year of self-loathing
- I ate well post-race
- For only the second time in five tries at CCCX, I made the podium
CCCX is a course for the fearless,
Racers who shrug off the crash or the near-miss.
Alas, I’m so old that I’m utterly timid,
Braking, then having to sprint at my limit …
Doing okay only ‘cause I’ve been beerless.
Race stats: 19.9 miles (vs. 22.4 last time); 1,987 feet of vertical gain (vs. 2,362 last time); 13.6 mph average speed (vs. 13.3 last time); 156 bpm average heart rate (vs. 153 last time); 174 bpm max heart rate (vs. 164 last time); 0:07:40 at redline (vs. 0:00:27 last time). Conclusion: I was 2% faster than two years ago, and averaged a 2% harder effort, with a 6% higher peak effort, despite being two years older. This reverses a three-year trend of slowing down every year. Before this race I had almost given up on myself, so to achieve this (albeit modest) redemption has me chuffed to bits. (Note: if you’re thinking of attributing my higher average speed to the flatter course, you have a point … but I actually do better on the hillier courses. As mentioned in my limerick, fast, technical courses like this one favor the bold and skilled, whereas hillier courses give me a chance to take back ground.)
Pre-race dinner: The bar at Los Laureles Lodge in Carmel Valley
As you’ll surely recall from my 2020 report, last time I did CCCX I carbo-loaded the night before with a delicious pasta with cream and steak tips, so you can imagine my excitement to see a similar item, creamy steak fettuccine, on the Los Laureles menu. But the price was $37! There’s no way I can do that. To be honest, I know my way around homemade pasta, not to mention a real cream sauce, so for $37 I’d have to be blown away. I couldn’t take the risk, being The World’s Cheapest Man. So I went for the $18 loaded burger (swiss, griddled onions, bacon, avocado, etc.), which was roughly the size of a cantaloupe. I had to unhinge my jaw to take a bite of that bad boy. I felt like my friendly neighborhood squirrel must feel when he eats the face off our Jack-O-Lanterns. It was a good burger, too … it was cooked rare (pretty red inside) and was really greasy, so the grease was just oozing out all over my fries (more on those in a minute). This wasn’t that gross kind of grease you’d get at an inferior restaurant, where the fry king has to occasionally skim off the skin that forms on top and/or fish out the cigarette butts. This was, like, high-end organic fair-trade grease, that had an innocence about it, almost like broth. The bun was just coming completely apart because how could it stand up to the sheer mass, and juiciness, of that burger?
Now, about those fries. They were freaking good, like they had some kind of special second-starch coating so they fried up crispier than just a strip of potato. (I know I’m not describing this very well, but what am I, a restaurant critic?) They were just great—and the portion was crazily, grotesquely, irresponsibly huge. There is only one person in existence with a high enough caloric need to justify such a huge portion, and it’s a lucky thing that person happened to be me.
Was there bread, a salad, an appetizer, a drink, or dessert? Hell no. What would be the point?
Breakfast: in the team tent at the race. I had a firm banana and an onion bagel. It’s funny: I’ve been more careful about my diet lately, so when I saw the bagel this voice in my head scolded, “Bagels have like five times the calories of a slice of bread—nobody should eat them!” How strange. Then this other voice said, “You know damn well you can’t get a real bagel outside of NYC.” That wasn’t as unexpected, because I recognized it as being my own voice. I really have no idea whose voice the first one was (and in fact a bagel has only three times the calories of a slice of bread). But the bagels weren’t from a grocery store—a team parent had taken some trouble to find fresh ones, and they looked good. So I told both voices to piss off, and slathered that bagel with cream cheese and wolfed it, chased by black coffee. And I’d do it again. Take that, diet plan! I’m back!
During race: four bottles, each two-thirds full, of fruit punch flavor Gatorade, mixed strong. The bottle I drank on the first lap was just for the sweetness, which improves performance irrespective of calories (as explained here). The second and third bottles were to fuel me, obviously. The fourth was just because it tasted good and I wanted whatever psychological comfort it could provide, and because our recently revived team had some fresh blood in the feed zone who could use the bottle hand-up practice. Speaking of blood, the drink was dribbling all down my chin, and one of our kids commented after the race that I looked like a vampire. “That’s because I fill my bottles with the blood of my rivals!” I declared. He then accused my rivals of doping, and thus me as well, by extension. These modern kids … so cynical!
Glycogen window treat: in the team tent. There were various sugary treats available to aid in my recovery, but some part of me was just too elitist to partake … I really miss the oatmeal cookies that I had in 2020, baked by the (then) team co-manager, E—. Her son L— graduated and they moved away, so she’s no longer co-manager. But L— has returned as a coach and was at the race … so why weren’t there cookies? He probably stole them, in which case all I can say is: well played! I’d have stolen them myself. Anyway, there was chocolate milk which I got excited about for a moment, but it was lactose-free and though I have no problem with lactose-free, I also have no problem with lactose so I figured I better leave most of it for whatever Cougar(s) can’t handle lactose. Besides, what did I need to recover for? My work is done for another year!
Lunch (post-race): in the team tent. Our team’s co-manager of 2020, F—, isn’t around anymore either, which, from a barbecue standpoint, is kind of like the Edmonton Oilers losing Wayne Gretzky. But some new parent was doing a yeoman’s job grilling up sausages and burgers. I had a sausage that was delicious but the entire time I was eating it (about ten seconds) I was keenly wishing there was sweet pickle relish for it. I’ve never in my life been as preoccupied with the absence of a condiment. Don’t get me wrong, I was very glad for the sausage, but that relish became an obsession. Maybe I’ll bring relish to the next race, even though I’ll only be coaching.
Dinner (post-race): back home. My wife made some innovative three-bean chili with pumpkin in it, I’m guessing for the high iron content. (Yes, I know it’s only the pumpkin seeds that are high in iron, but who actually eats those? Perhaps the proximity of the pumpkin flesh to the seeds works like a homeopathic remedy.) She also made, from scratch, macaroni & cheese. I washed it all down with a long overdue beer.
Here is the “Hardware Beck’st” I sent to my pals just before dinner. (I know I said a second ago that I washed dinner down with the beer. I didn’t. That’s just an expression, a nice idea. I drank the beer first … it’s best that way.)
(If you don’t know what a Beck’st is, get thee to a brewery! Or better yet, click here.)
I’m of the school that says your race number is always an omen. This year I got 101: how cool! It represented how I was about to get totally schooled in the race, and also how terrifying bike racing is (cf. Orwell’s “Room 101”).
I had a strange problem during my warm-up on the stationary trainer: I was listening to my workout megamix and my Bluetooth earbuds somehow got out of phase. The music in my left ear was a fraction of a second out of sync with the music in my right. The effect was extremely jarring for complicated cognitive reasons, and in fact made me almost nauseous. Meanwhile, pondering inconsistent Bluetooth latency isn’t conducive to a focused warm-up. Fortunately, being absurdly well-organized, I’d brought backup headphones and was able to proceed.
Due to some problem out on the course, they kept us sitting on the start line for at least twenty minutes. We passed the time with bike tech-talk, so you can be glad you weren’t there. I had a slow leak in my tubeless rear tire, and hadn’t gotten around to reinflating it, so instead of confidently saying, “I’m running 23 psi in the rear for the sandy conditions,” I could only describe the tire’s firmness as “al dente.” One of my student-athletes, meanwhile, was running his tires “pillow-soft.” By the time the ref rang the bell to start the race, I was no longer warmed up. Alas.
The course starts on a slight uphill, and is a wide, straight road for about a quarter mile before you turn onto the single track, so there’s no excuse for not hitting that dirt near the front (except of course being slow). I started the single track in second place. Before long my teammate M—, a fellow Albany High coach, passed me and took the lead, which was fine with me. I wasn’t feeling so hot. My legs were oddly okay, but my throat was burning and I could taste blood. My breathing was way harder than it should have been for my (albeit elevated) heart rate, and I was feeling stressed, frustrated, anxious, and agitated. In short (I suddenly realized), I had COVID! Exercise-induced COVID! Is that a thing? But I kept at it, and decided that having a burning, raspy, blood-flavored throat could become part of my new normal, like everything else. So I relaxed a bit mentally (but not physically!) and just settled into the burn.
Just a couple minutes later, on a descent, the guy ahead of me suddenly slammed on his brakes. I was like “What are you doing!?” and he said, “We missed a turn!” Dang it! By the time we got back on course, I had no idea how many guys were ahead of me.
Oh my god, I am so sorry … this is so freakin’ boring. Suffice to say, I somehow found the motivation to hammer much harder than last time for the entire race. At least some of the credit goes to my younger daughter, who—though she’d never shown much interest in my cycling before—surprised me, when I left for Fort Ord, by wishing me luck and saying, “Dig deep!” (It’s not that she’s not into sports, being a wrestler who describes herself as “secure in my masculinity.”) So I did dig deep, and it worked. By the end, I was totally satisfied with my race despite having no real idea how I’d placed. I’d given it everything I had, hadn’t miscalculated my pacing, and was perfectly empty by the end. And, as I mentioned before—and will probably mention again, until everyone is sick of hearing about it—I managed to snag a spot on the podium … which distinction I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve again.
All the guys on our podium (this being the Category 2, 45-54 group) are high school coaches. The guy on the second step is my Albany teammate, who breaks my legs twice a week. Look at the dude who got fourth … why are his legs so filthy? Did he find some puddle on the course and try to cool off?
No, of course I didn’t really have COVID. And no, exercise-induced COVID isn’t a thing. I confess I just worked that in to seem more timely, and to help this post perform better in search. Say, that reminds me: iPhone Samsung Galaxy Android Tesla Silicon Valley Oscars Billie Eilish Leonardo Dicaprio Emma Watson Ethereum Fortnite.