Saturday, November 29, 2008

Duality, thankyouverymuch

I lived last Saturday twice. Whitmore Cup Cylocross race in the morning, Erik's surprise party in the evening. Bear with me, dear reader, as I color-code my story for your entertainment.

It was bitter cold on Saturday morning /evening, and windy. Figuring out what to wear was going to be tricky, for reasons more functional than aesthetic; the compromise was a tenuous tradeoff between staying warm en route to the start / bar and disrobing (not all the way, gutter-mind) once I was safely racing / partying. The decision troubled me for hours, but it would prove to be the least of my worries.

After a final preride / round of dinner, I made my way to the start line / train station, not quite confident in my legs / tie. The whistle / clock left me no choice, though, and I took off like a bat out of hell. Not a fast bat, mind you - Lord knows I'm not a sprinter / sprinter. Nevertheless, I had a race to contend / train to catch, so I put forth my very best effort. Anyone watching was treated to the sight of a very intense look of focus as I puttered along.

Do you get it? I was slow! Too slow. By the time I reached the end of the first lap / Northbound platform, the train had left the station... figuratively / literally. It was my own damn fault; It would have been a much better idea to've ridden my bike in the previous week / left on time. Not one to dwll on the past, I went into damage-control mode, cruising around the course / New Brunswick for the better part of an hour.

I wasn't the only one having issues. Behind / Ahead of me, the C3 guys were / Bearded Megan was having a whole other set of issues. For entirely extrinsic reasons, namely drivetrain / train delay woes, their morning / her evening was not going any better than mine. It was, at least at some level, comforting to have company for my misery. Still, hearing them / her chat about it only served to emphasize my own self-inflicted difficulties in contrast.

Any last semblance of promise went out the window when I took the incredibly wrong line / cab. The C3 pair / Megan had passed / met up with me, and in the hope of making up some time, I opted to ride the dune / hail a cab rather than run it / hazard the subway. It was a bad decision.

The ride / taxi choice had been good in principle, but it came with the risk of slowing me even further. I realized, as I teetered precariously on the cusp of major time losses at the top of the dune / somewhere on Houston Ave, that I had to / couldn't bail out. As I slid down the side of the dune / sat in Saturday evening downtown traffic, I started to laugh.

It began as a quiet chuckle, then turned into a breathless guffaw. The improbability of it, the sheer ridiculousness of the situation was simply and objectively hilarious. Now, stuck in the shrubbery at the base of the dune / the world's slowest cab, I could see that humor.

After three-plus years at Rutgers, years of learning to think like a pro / New Yorker, I had rediscovered the simple pleasure of racing my bike / visiting The City. Here, trapped in knee-high underbrush / the only law-abiding cab in all the five boroughs, the last bit of pretension melted away and I let myself have fun, a pure fun unfettered by any ambition.

From that point on, the race / night out was sheer pleasure. My reward wouldn't be making the podium / shouting "Surprise!" when Erik entered the bar, and that was okay. It was more than enough to get an enthusiastic high five from Coach Ken / Erik when I happily rode by / entered the bar. The best things in life are free.

Nothing could ruin my mood. Not the dune crash / gentleman-cabbie, not the off-course excursions / bar's ridiculous No-Mastercard policy. Not even the twenty yards of caution tape that sucked into my drivetrain / obnoxious passenger in my traincar on the return trip could deflate this mood - although the pitch of the laughter did grow somewhat maniacal as I unraveled tape from the derailleur / listened to the jerk describe the hypothetical act of beating a schnoodle with a 4x4. Because honestly, even in 'cross / NYC, who expects such things? Nobody, that's who.

I shall conclude with a quote:

"When life gives you lemons, you clone those lemons and make super-lemons"
-Principal Cinnamon J. Scudworth

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Aspiring Karaoke Studs, BEWARE! A Cautionary Tale

Continuing this week's theme - Internets Say the Darndest Things - here's a gem from TheSmokingGun. You can't make this stuff up:

Meet Kyle Drinkwine. The Wisconsin man, 24, allegedly became so incensed by a lackluster karaoke performance of a heavy metal song that he assaulted the singer and a second man, police charge. According to a River Falls Police Department report, Drinkwine throttled singer James Mischler, 28, and his friend Cyrus Kozub, 29, "over one's ability to sing karaoke." Though cops did not specify which song set Drinkwine off last week, Kozub told TSG that Mischler was performing "Holy Diver," the title cut on Dio's 1983 debut album

You may be expecting me to approach this from the predictable angle. Karaoke is supposed to be about peace, love, and understanding - the new century's answer to Woodstock, but on a smaller scale and with better hygiene. When someone's performance is reminiscent of a diseased cat's howl, the worst you can (okay, should) do is ignore the poor sap. Not pick a fight.

You may be expecting me to take that approach, but you'd be wrong. What should I write, "I'm scared that if I mess up a song, someone might beat me up"? Oh blah. Remember, your humble scribe is the two-time defending World Champion of Karaoke.

I therefore submit: This Drinkwine guy did something terrible, yes, but also exceptional. He throttled two men. Imagine simultaneously choking two different, conscious people... no small feat, if you ask me. To accomplish something so impossible, Drinkwine (what a ridiculous last name, might I add) must've been out of his mind with rage.

This is a condition with which I can empathize. By no means am I advocating violence, but bad Karaoke cuts me to the quick. On more than one occasion, a dysphonic octet from Johnson and Johnson has threatened to send me into a violent rage.

It'd take a lot more than Dio to push me over the edge (Dio has rocked for a long, long time; now it's time for him to pass the torch). That said, if I hear one more person butchering Tainted Love, one more pretender doing injustice to Under Pressure, one more gaggle of drunk accountants singing Living on a Prayer, I may just snap.

Nota Bene: It doesn't matter if Living on a Prayer is sung well or poorly, I just hate Bon Jovi.

Again, I don't take Karaoke, or almost anything, seriously enough to fight over it. I do, however, consider it important, even sacrosanct. Nobody should defile my beloved Karaoke... or they run the risk of being throttled. Or punched. In the sensitives.

Or blogged about.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lactic Acid does WHAT?!?

Lactic acid may or may not be bad for athletic endeavors. For more on this, read here, or go take a long walk off a short pier. Athletic endeavors are, for the vast, vast, vasty-vast-vast majority of us, just a hobby. Ride your damn bike.

But what if athleticism is bad for you? I mean, of course it's not, but what if it also is? We already know it is... ALS has been shown to be correlated with slimness and the sporting life. If that doesn't scare the bejeesus out of you, I don't know what will!

It's not like anyone's immortal (with the obvious exceptions), but what a horrible way to go. Trapped in a non-functioning body, with a fully intact mind. There's nothing dignified about that.

And then there's the big C. I won't get into the ramifications of terminal cancer, because I'm no more expert than any of you. Pretty sure it's not good, though.

We've all heard the warnings about how to minimize the risk of cancer - don't smoke, don't tan, don't reuse water bottles, etc - but this one is new:

A team of researchers at Duke University Medical Center and the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) has found that lactic acid is an important energy source for tumor cells. In further experiments, they discovered a new way to destroy the most hard-to-kill, dangerous tumor cells by preventing them from delivering lactic acid.

That first sentence shook me to the core. I make lots of lactic acid, which apparently is the fuel of choice of the most dangerous cells. Am I putting myself at elevated risk every time I sprint or climb?

Perhaps not. In fact, much like cell phone radiation and blah blah blah, this may just be some good ol' fashioned pseudoscientific fear mongering.

The second sentence gives me hope. Maybe it's pseudoscience as well, but maybe it isn't. Maybe these researchers have found another weapon, maybe even a better weapon, in the fight against cancer. Wouldn't that be something?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Not cool, Toni Morrison

From an interview on the Leonard Lopate show:

Leonard Lopate: When W.E.B. Dubois said that race was going to be the number one issue in America in the 20th century, some people have said, he should've said the 21st century as well. Is there any way to get past that?

Toni Morrison: I don't know, that question has to be put to white people, not me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Coalition

On my long list of places I'd like to post-doc, in fact somewhere towards the top of the list, is University of Delaware. Mostly because of this place - especially this guy.

Another big big part of the balance sheet is the Delaware Cross Coalition of Delaware. Ever heard of them? They're at every race, wearing black shirts that simply read "CROSS". You can't miss 'em.

I've been saying for years that Granogue is easily in my top 3 races, and while the other two change from season to season (new this year: Cycle Smart Int'l), Granogue is always up there. Well, guess who runs Granogue? The DCCoD.

The cast of characters that makes up this team is well-known to those who race, and my non-cyclist readers have no idea who the hell I'm talking about. Describing them could be fun, but then this post would risk becoming a giant piece of ass-kissing fluff, and nobody wants that. This weekend, on the other hand, was description-worthy.

So, this weekend was muddy, in case you didn't already know. Brutally muddy. Anyone who had access to a spare bike was getting a fresh bike every half-lap (ie, as frequently as possible). This meant that their Pit Guy was charged with turning a muddy mess into a good-as-new machine every few minutes.
Blake, photo by Gabe Lloyd

It costs the racers very little time to take a new bike - in fact, on this course, it was actually faster to ride through the pit! - but by the time the drivetrain has been gunked-up, they can gain significant ground on rivals who didn't exchange bikes. So it's tough work, but it's what needs to be done on a muddy day.

I won't sugar-coat it: it SUCKS to be in the pit. Courses aren't exactly designed to give Pit Guys a good view of the course. During the few minutes after an exchange, you don't see the race at all. Instead, you sprint to the wash station, get soaked with cold, muddy water, then sprint back, hoping you haven't missed your racer. Anyone who says they wouldn't rather be spectating is a liar... and probably a dirty communist.

From what I could tell, most of the racers had one guy in the pit, and the rest of their friends/family/team were elsewhere on the course. The top-tier guys had a small army of mechanics and multiple spare bikes. Eric and I worked together today, with help from Wade, which was two more than I'd had on Saturday.

The DCCoD was in the next pit stall, and theirs was an impressive operation. They must've had about 10 guys working for 5 racers, but rather than act in autonomous pairs like me and Eric, they were coordinated. From what I could tell, they had an assembly line - one station to catch the old bike, one to hand up the new bike, one to run to the wash station, one to clean in the pit. One supervising. FatMarc as Free Safety. And most impressively, it was flexible, with DCCoDers jumping from station to station with all the fluidity and purpose of a colony of ants.

When I was alone in the pit on Saturday and during today's Women's race, they sent somebody to help with my exchanges.

Here's the take home message... The DCCoD had nearly a dozen people working together when half that number would've sufficed. Rather than enjoy the pleasantness of spectating, they toiled. That is rare.

I have this terrible feeling that this post reeks of sycophantism. That's not its purpose. Instead, all I'm saying is this:

If I wasn't with Rutgers, I'd want to roll with the DCCoD.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I'm With the Band

Today's race was not about me. It's never about me - National Champion I'm not - but it was especially not about me today.

Successful racing takes a certain degree of selfishness. Some people take that leeway too far, but even the most level-headed among us can expect to be left alone while warming up, to cut the line at the bike-wash station if everyone but you has already raced, and so on.

Because I wasn't going to be competing today, I got a chance to indulge in the backstage of cyclocross. When cars got bogged down in the parking lot, I pushed them out. When anyone asked, I'd pin them up. When Pat needed to swap bikes twice a lap, I did that too.

I got a decent workout that way. Pushing cars is tough work, definitely a load on the quads. Then, when I had to wash Pat's bike, I sprinted to the wash station, then sprinted back. That works out to an all-out 50 yard sprint every 3 minutes or so. ATMO Amy, who was pitting for her teammate immediately after finishing her own race, said "this is NOT proper recovery" somewhat breathlessly.

All of the "mechanics", standing with spare bikes in the pit, were issued official passes... to keep the spectators and looky-lous out, or at least to try to. FatMarc, rockstar that he is, announced "these are like backstage passes!"

I'd noticed it too, and so I told him that I agreed. Without hesitation, I added "dibs on blogging the backstage pass thing!"

Sure, that backstage pass thing could've been spun into an anecdote, or maybe some pointed observation-via-analogue (mechanics are roadies, racers are divas, beer is beer... it could've worked!). Frankly, I think the best story, for which you can find your own moral, was the interaction of the FatMarc and your loyal Ninja; to paraphrase Marc, each "a legend in his own time, or rather a legend in his own mind"

Thursday, November 13, 2008


My father's greatest failure - perhaps his only failure, as far as I'm concerned - is that I am not currently playing professional soccer for his beloved Hapoel Hadera. He wouldn't even have minded if I wasn't a starter, so long as I pulled on their traditional yellow and black every Saturday.

Seriously, I could win the Nobel Prize for curing cancer, leverage my fame into a successful political career, and bring about World Peace (as my wife, reigning Miss America, had suggested during the Q&A portion of the pageant), and he would swell with pride... except for that little hole in his heart, which could only be filled by seeing me standing at center field in Hapoel Hadera's stadium, amid crumbling concrete walls rising majestically above the threadbare, dusty pitch. It is probably only for want of me that the team is languishing in the fifth-tier league [edit: Congratulations, Hapoel Hadera, on your recent promotion to the fourth-tier!].

Being destined for the glory that only footballers find, I was brought up accordingly. The day I finally developed the balance for it, I was playing one-touch with Dad in the hallway of our apartment in Faculty Housing. As far as I could tell, this practice was sacrosanct, on par with religious ceremonies and Sesame Street viewership. It never occurred to me that mine was likely the only household in Hanover where a two year old was encouraged to send a soccer ball careening off of vases and painting and bricabrac, so long as he only touched the ball once per turn.

Before long, Mom moved our ritual outdoors.

It was a few years after we moved to East Brunswick that I was old enough to play on a team. I was six, and small for six, and I was playing with boys as old as eight. Sometimes we won, and sometimes we lost. Life was good.

This was pee wee soccer, and of course it was ugly. As soon as the whistle blew, everyone but the goalies charged toward the ball. The game instantly devolved into an amorphous blob of frenzied kicking, twenty tiny legs churning at an unseen ball while coaches hopeless shouted "spread out!" Every so often, the ball would squirt out of the scrum, and the riot would pursue en mass. Sometimes the ball would miraculously make its way into a goal.

Year after year, our parents occupied the sidelines. Some sat with Camcorders on lawn chairs, shivering under blankets and cheering like mad, especially when the ball was kicked really high and far. Others paced the sidelines, screaming contradictory instructions at their children, who struggled to tune them out. These were the Americans.

Interspersed among the crowd were expatriated European dads, and they were ghostly-quiet in comparison. Sure, they cheered after a score, but mostly they observed in silence. My Dad claims that this is just the way of Europeans, but I'm convinced that they were too busy downing Antacids to quell the ulcers that each game would bring.

These were men who'd been playing soccer since conception, for whom any empty space was a suitable field of play, for whom soccer was a heaven-sent deliverance from the squalor of being, well, European. Their sons, on the other hand, were driven to well-manicured fairgrounds thrice a week - two games a weekend, plus a practice on Wednesday, unless it was drizzly. Their sons wouldn't dream of playing without cleats and shin guards. Sure, we knew Pele, but we'd never even heard of Johan Cruiff. We were poseurs, and despite their pride, we were surely to blame for every gray hair that sprouted during the season.

One by one, the Euros would tire of passivity, and they'd take on a coaching job. I liked to think that there had been some ceremonial passing of the whistle over the winter, or rather that the Euros would snatch the whistle from the American's one hand as he read "Coaching Soccer for Dummies" with the other. Rather than practicing throw-ins for an hour, the Dutch kid's dad made us work on passing around a defensemen and positioning ourselves without the ball. The Englishman taught us how to control the pace of the game; he also encouraged us to use our "boots", even though we were clearly not wearing galoshes.

You know, having mentioned throw-ins so disparagingly just now, I feel like I should explain their importance. The referees, teenagers who often had only taken up soccer recently, felt they needed to earn their $20 per game. Offsides were hard to call, and it was easy to award a free kick every time anyone made contact with anyone else, but the real mother lode was in throw-ins.

For a referee to call an improper throw-in is unheard of - they are an afterthought of the sport, a technicality - outside of East Brunswick. In East Brunswick, where the refs felt they had to earn their paychecks, their call-of-choice was the improper throw-in. It was their proof of knowledgability, their demonstration of superior focus and fairness.

The Euros would be dismayed to hear a whistle after a throw-in, at least at first. East Brunswick soon crushed their spirit.

The one Euro who managed to stay out of the fray was my Dad. The demands of his job put him out-of-state often enough that it was impractical for him to serve as coach, or so the story went. I knew the secret, though: Health.

A man's blood pressure can only go so high before damage is done. East Brunswick Soccer, well-intentioned though we were, threatened his very health.

Then, when I was 14, the unthinkable happened. The referee didn't show up! Since we were in the oldest age bracket, there was a substantially smaller pool of referees - already our refs were our classmates; a younger ref was unthinkable. To salvage the game, the coaches asked for a volunteer from the parents. For reasons I still don't understand, my Dad stepped forward.

It had started to rain. There were puddles all over the field, there was no traction in front of the goal, and soon everything was covered in mud. Dad ran up and down the field, blew the whistle for out-of-bounds and offsides... and that was it. Play continued, on and on without any of the usual interruptions.

Either this was the cleanest game in the history of East Brunswick Soccer, or a paradigm had been shifted.

We on the field were the first ones to pick up on this new interpretation of the rule book. As it became clear that short of armed robbery, nothing we did would be called, we started to explore new territory. Elbows found ribs, knees met thighs, and the mud flew higher with each slide tackle.

Each side's mothers, huddled under umbrellas, grew increasingly agitated. Their babies - their 14 year old babies - were being brutalized by those ruffians from the other team. Hadn't they put their children into Soccer leagues to avoid the violence of the Football leagues? This was unacceptable! Their eyes shot daggers at my Dad, but he stuck to his policy.

I don't remember who won the game. I do remember picking a fight behind the play. The defensemen who'd been covering me, a red headed kid named Matt, had been playing dirty, or so I had assessed. As we jogged down field after their goalie punted the ball away, I bumped into his foot with just the right timing, and he tumbled to the ground.

He was immediately back on his feet and right in my face. He shoved me. I shoved him. Our teammates shouted; my goalie had cleared the ball in our direction. In an instant, we were back in the game, elbowing each other's ribs and jockeying for position.

I glowered at my Dad on the way home. What a travesty, I thought, what a mockery of sport. He'd turned an athletic event into a brawl. As is the nature of my relationship with my father, approximately 3 minutes passed before the storm blew over and we were back to normal.

After that game, I became good friends with Matt the red-headed defensemen. We had squared off on the field of battle, each had stood his ground, and respect had been earned. We lost touch after high school, but I never forgot the game.

I didn't realize it at the time, but after 16 seasons in the league, I had finally played a real soccer game.

Years later, while in college, I was asked to referee an intramural floor hockey game. Unless the ball went out of bounds or a goal had been scored, my whistle almost never touched my lips. I was letting them play, as it was supposed to be.

Maybe I'll Just Have a Salad

"The paramount aversion to a severe motor impairment was perhaps our most surprising result. Patients scored the dense disabling hemiplegia as significantly worse than general confusion, global aphasia, and death."

Solomon, NA, et al. "Patient preferences for stroke outcomes". Stroke 25: 1721-5 (1994).


Monday, November 10, 2008

Good Sportsmanship

This being the weekend of HPCX, the 'cross race put together by the Rutgers team, I was going to be spending a lot of time at Thompson Park. By coincidence, my cousin Sol informed me that he'd be racing at Thompson Park on Saturday morning.

So on Saturday morning, before anyone else from the team had arrived, I stood with my Aunt and egged him on while my Uncle roamed the course. Sol has a classic runner's build, and his economy of motion improves every time I watch him run. (He's going to write a smart-ass comment in response to that last sentence, but I don't care.) It was fun to cheer for him, really a rare treat.

As I understand it, Sol had his best race of the year. Not his best ever, but his time was the fastest this season, and he finished just behind competitors that had previously been putting significant time into him. Not that I cared; I was just glad for the opportunity to holler.

That said, what a boring course. Essentially, a lap and a half of a giant rectangle. One slight downhill, followed by a slight climb. I'm not saying that cross country should mimic parcours, but what's the harm in a little variety?

The HPCX course, on the other hand, was fantastic. As King Hermes intended, a real roller-coaster (after the first kilometer of muddy climbing, that is). As demanding of the reflexes as it was of the fitness. Well done, Mark and Rob and Your Majesty.

On Saturday morning, I had met up with Sol and his teammate soon after the race. The teammate, whose name I've forgotten but whom I shall henceforth refer to as Quintus (in honor of Ben), had fallen during the race. Nothing serious, but he'd slipped and hit the ground. A competitor stopped and helped him to his feet. Granted, Quintus hadn't been racing for the win, nor anything close to it. That wasn't the point.

Quintus was perceptive enough to appreciate this out loud. "That's real sportsmanship, I think". True enough, Quintus.

The best show of sportsmanship I saw all weekend came after the Men's Elite race. There had been some argy-bargy with a few hundred meters to go, peaking with one's hip being whacked by the other. As the two crossed the line, they came to a stop and faced each other. They were shouting, apparently on the verge of actually fist-fighting.

The following is from a letter I wrote to Richard Sachs (of the Richard Sachs team):

When a fight was about to break out just after the Men's Elite race at HPCX, everyone in the Rutgers camp was looking on in shock. In fact, from what I saw, everybody in the general area, racers and spectators, were frozen in shock.

The one person who wasn't frozen was a Richard Sachs guy. I think it was Matt, but I don't know for sure. Matt, or maybe Justin, rode in between the two guys as they squared off, and just like that, the
confrontation was over.

It was a really classy move that Matt, or maybe Justin, made, and it certainly reflected well on the character of the team as a whole. It's something that I think you, the team manager/owner/head-honcho, should be told about.

Wade told me about the letter he'd written to Amaroso's after the Amaroso's racer decked Jenks, and about how the Aquafina team had disbanded after word of one guy's inappropriate emails got back to management. It strikes me that it is as important to notify team management when you see something praiseworthy happen as when you see the bad. ATMO.

My shorts are longer than Sol's
but tighter

My race was eerily similar to Sol's, except with more turns and mud and hurdles and hills and fun. It was the result that was similar, I guess. Not my best race ever, but certainly my best this season, and I finished just behind Jim and Andy, who'd previously been leaving me in their dust.

As far as sportsmanship is concerned, maybe I didn't do so great. Not that I was obnoxious... it's just that I felt that my competitors needed to be informed of my opinions during crucial segments of the race. Like when a Carnegie Mellon kid tried to pass on the inside during a tight corner and only managed to ram into my side, I wondered aloud "Really? You're trying to pass me here? Really?" and then rode away.

Or when the CRCA guy remounted next to me after running the switchbacks I'd ridden. He'd passed me on foot, but his remount cost him momentum, and I moved to pass him. Neither of his feet found the pedals, and he drifted downhill towards me, running me into a stake and forcing me to a dead stop. I voiced my displeasure - not obnoxiously, but perhaps not in the manner of a saint either.

"Left side. Left side. LEFT SIDE. DUDE. DUDE!! DUDE!!! ... dude"

Friday, November 07, 2008

And You Don't Stop, part 2

I creaked out of bed on Sunday morning - and by bed, I do mean couch - and took stock of the previous day's carnage. The butcher's bill was lengthy... my left arm and my right butt cheek were the only body parts from the neck down that didn't ache.

There's a difference, though, between aching and hurting. Learning to recognize the subtle, paramount chasm between discomfort and pain is a rite of passage for endurance athletes. Consciously or not, we learn how to silence the discomfort and push through it, and also how to listen to the pain as it signifies some physiological compulsion to stop. Pain protects us from injury, but discomfort only protects us from excellence.

Think about it.

Patrick and I were sitting in the back of Bad Boy, the Rutgers van, an hour before my race started. I rubbed embrocation onto my legs, working the stiffness out of my uncooperative muscles, and Pat pinned numbers to his skinsuit. "You know," I thought out loud, "we rub chili pepper goo into our skin, then ride around in the cold and wet for an hour, knowing that we're going to suffer profoundly and probably not win".

"Yeah, so?" Pat didn't look up from his safety pins.

"I'm just saying, it's a pretty ridiculous sport we have".

The morning races had been even colder. The frost on the ground betrayed the chill in the air, and friction from hundreds of tires had melted it and flung it up at the riders' legs. Their tights were damp, and sand stuck to them like glitter.

Joe, Rich, and Eric were burying themselves, and it was beautiful. Rich was in pain, but he soldiered on. Eric was mired in the middle of the field, where people surged mindlessly, only to fade and impede the others' surges. It was ugly on the hill, the sort of chaos that snowballs as rider after rider dismounts.
Chaos on the first lap of the B Race.
See if you can spot the guys who didn't expect to dismount
and lost a ton of spots!

Lap after lap, a lone figure emerged at the top of the hill from within the cloud of kicked-up dust, riding forcefully between the exhausted-looking walkers. Elbows out, savagely turning over a huge gear, Eric rode like a champ when he could've justifiably wimped out, and it was inspiring. My voice grew hoarser with each lap.
I owe Eric a beer or three

Joe rode his best race yet. Mostly riding alone, in no man's land, he put his head down and worked. Worked. We ran around the top of the course, screaming encouragement, because no man's land is a demotivating vacuum and that's what teammates do. Joe rode across the finish in 9th place, putting the hurt on Army and UVM (10th and 11th) in the process! A thing of beauty.

After a bit of ibuprofen and a solid hour of stretching, I actually felt good during my warmup. Snappy, like. The first lap was calamity-free, and I spotted the Army guy who'd caught me yesterday. Oh yes, Army guy. Today would be my day. Oh yes.

I charged around packs on the pavement, cornered aggressively, attacked the barriers, sprinted like a maniac. It was probably the hardest I've ever pushed during a first lap. Now, this braggadocious report must be put in the context of my fitness... I am not quite as fast as my contemporaries. As hard as I was charging, it was still squarely in the middle of the pack. You might call my condition "thesis legs" - and it would be a sufficient explanation, had I not been this slow before I started work on the thesis.

So, there I was, scrambling to earn every collegiate point I could. The first lap had ended, and I was just a few spots behind Army. I dove down the descent, hopped recklessly over the rail road crossing, threw my bike to the left, put my elbow in the course tape, straightened out before catching a stake, sprinted out of the turn, touched the brakes, and made the next turn. And then the problems started.
Andy takes the rail road crossing

As I floated over the rail road, the rear wheel got a bit of air, and when it landed, it grabbed at the dirt. It grabbed so hard, in fact, that the glue between the tire and the rim was sheared to oblivion. The tire was no longer attached to the wheel. Fwip, fwip, fwip. I couldn't move anymore. Shit.

What else could I do? I shouldered the bike and started running for the pit. Racer after racer passed me, and I was powerless to respond. Goodbye, bike race. I got to the pit, maybe 30 seconds after the back of the pack. My heart pounding, I hunted for my spare wheel. Shift into the proper gear for a wheel change, unfasten the brake - crap, the tire is stuck and I can't dislodge the brake! - neutral support comes over and helps me change wheels. Another minute passed before the bike was rideable. A solid shove on the small of my back from the neutral support guy, and at last I was on the course once again.

The guy one spot ahead of me rolled by on the pavement. Geographically, he was close to me, but he was at least 90 seconds ahead on the course. I was alone in my suffering. And to make matters worse, the drive-train was tuned for the tubular wheel, and my spare wheel was causing it to skip. Every pedal stroke, I was in a new gear. Misery.

I changed bikes a few times. Remember how I said that Eric is owed a beer? That guy is my hero. He ran to the van, got me Joe's bike, hustled to the pit, and exchanged bikes with me. Then, while I floundered on an ill-fitting, mis-shifting bike (seriously, Joe got a top-10 on a bike that was horribly mis-tuned), he fixed the drive-train and called me back in to the pits. A more selfless teammate you will not find.
On Joe's Bike

By two laps to go, I was asking the judges what their lapped-rider policy was. Basically begging to be pulled out of the race. When I finally finished, I grabbed my jacket and rolled back to the car. Some non-cyclist passers-by shot a quizzical look. "Dumbest. Sport. Ever" I replied, only half-joking.

I washed the chili pepper goo from my legs. I'd ridden around in the cold and wet for an hour, suffering profoundly. I did not win.

Time, though, heals all wounds. In my case, 5 minutes of spinning my legs out, followed by 1 minute of changing clothes, followed by 30 seconds of cheeseburger consumption. Cheeseburgers, in fact, heal all wounds. You should haz one!

As great as hamburgers are, Taco Bell showed its virtue that night. One of the guys, I don't recall whom, announced that he was craving some Bell, and the idea spread like a virus (fungus in a locker room? crabs in a college bar? so hard to choose a metaphor). We would spend nearly an hour wandering southern Massachusetts that night, pulling U-turn after U-turn, exploring the dark recesses of the Mass Pike. Because by God, we needed that Taco Bell, and damned if we would be denied its spicy, greasy flavor. Burgers are dandy, but Taco Bell, especially as part of a team adventure, is earth-shaking.

Mega was racing once I'd inhaled my cheeseburger, so I took my trusty noisemaker and wandered the course. She may not be my teammate, but she is worth every ounce of encouragement. Some people are honorary members of every team, because they touch everyone - metaphorically, JD, don't worry. So I made noise and screamed "faster" and tried not to be scared of Meg's INTENSE game face.

I think the reason the Belgians use cowbells is that the pan-and-ladle combination, while functioning at a similarly piercing timbre and a significantly higher decibel level, is infinitely harder to operate while holding a beer. Pastoral tradition be damned, this is a question of ergonomics!

The Elite Men's race started, and I stood at the bottom of the descent, pan and ladle at the ready. The field streaked by, and I tried to pick Pat out. Perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention? Two corners later, they came by again. Still no Pat.

Eric, who was standing in the pit (it was his turn to Pit for Pat, which is such a fun phrase), called me and asked if I knew what the story was. "The official said that EMTs had been called to the start line." Upon hearing this, I took off in a dead sprint, faster even than I'd run during my race. The pavement at the start was empty. I started running along the course, until JD pointed me to a corner where there was a small swarm of people.

Pat had suffered a freak accident, bumped while remounting so that his knee was wrenched awkwardly. His race had ended after 30 seconds.

Eventually we all found Patrick. Joe took his bike, Rich found his jacket, Eric brought the spare bike. The EMT wrapped his knee with ice and sent him on his way. We walked slowly back to the parking lot. Mega and the DCCoD guys stopped us en route to the van, a gesture we won't soon forget.
Pat manages a post-injury smile

Over decadent Taco Bell that night, I realized something important. I could've talked to Jeff, the super-fast DCCoD junior - or any other prospective student, for that matter - about the merits of Rutgers until I was blue in the face. Maybe that would've convinced him, probably not. Pontificating only goes so far. However, if he saw the team walking back to the car, he saw something unique, and more poignant than any sales pitch.

People get injured in racing all the time. How often, though, do you see an entire team rush to the crash? Not even knowing if anything can be done to help, just knowing that we had to be there for our guy? It happened at Hillbilly Hustle, when C-Money fractured his collarbone, and it happened at Northampton for Pat. It's not a fluke, but a mindset. For all our petty squabbles, we are a team.

The entire team helped Pat back to the van. Professionals don't have that many support staffers.
Also, Hooray for Taco Bell!

Behind the scenes, the "old guys" of the team spend a lot of time wondering how to develop the organization into an elite cadre of racers. Yes, we're always looking to recruit the fast juniors, as should any ambitious team. If any junior racers stumble across this post, though, there's only one message I want them to read:

No matter how fast you ride, how many races you've won, who you think you are... if you're with Rutgers, you run to your teammate's side.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pavlov's ID

I walked up to the folding table, or rather to the hand-written S-Z on white printer paper that was taped to the folding table under a big binder. Smiling at the old man seated behind the table, I told him my last name, and he flipped to my page.

He showed me where to sign my name, and as I took the pen, he asked to see my ID. So I reached for my wallet and pulled out my USA Cycling license.

The old man looked at me quizzically, and I blinked hard. I was not registering for a bike race, but checking in to vote!

Please tell me that I'm not the only idiot cyclist who did this today?

Bonus points if you asked what side the numbers go on.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sunday preview

Look what I found!
Photo by Geoff

And You Don't Stop, part 1

The time between changing into street clothes after my race and cheering for my teammate Patrick during his race, those are the magic hours of cyclocross. The pre-race nerves have passed, food can be consumed (the greasier the better) without fear of regurgitation, and it's the warmest part of the day. Sunday was temperate and cloudless, and with a burger in hand, I wandered around the race course.

I joked with Richard Sachs, who runs an eponymous elite team and builds their eponymous bikes. I nursed a Harpoon IPA in the beer garden (Biergarten?) and yelled at the Elite Womens with Sheldon, who had warmed up with me. I got a debriefing from Deedee Winfield, who had finished third in the Elite Women's race.

Among these other vignettes of American cyclocross, I spent a little time with the Secret Henry's team at their freaking awesome EuroVan. Jeff is a 15 year old phenom who has yet to lose a B race this year, Lauri had earned my boundless gratitude for loaning me embrocation, and Tom is the director of the Granogue race (which elevates him to deity status as far as I'm concerned). Nice people, and a pleasure to talk to.

When Jeff's dad joined the conversation, Tom introduced me as "the Rutgers recruiter". Now, I hadn't mentioned Rutgers at all, and I certainly hadn't mentioned the stacks of brochures in my trunk... but yes, I suppose I was recruiting Jeff.

I've recruited for a youth group, a fraternity, two Universities, and a cycling team. I've attended and given lectures on the fine art of recruitment. If there's anything I've learned, it's that it's easiest to recruit when you really love the organization. So yes, even though I wasn't recruiting Jeff, I really was.

That's the way the weekend went in the Rutgers camp. As a group, we did everything with such intensity that it oozed out us like an aura of unfiltered awesomeness. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, sure, but not by much. The Rutgers crew, for all of our youthful indiscretions and lengthy conversations about farts, rolls at least as cohesively as possible.

On Friday, for example, we arrived in Northampton well after dark. Patrick, despite being the youngest on the team, has been around the racing block once or twice; he insisted that he was going to go on a leg-opening ride. In the dark. Without any lights.

Why didn't we have trainers? What an excellent question. I choose to ignore it.

After a brief deliberation, we came up with the best solution (better than my "do a few thousand laps around the back yard" proposal, anyway): the team would ride on the road, with me and Cristian driving my car behind them. They put on their full uniforms, all Scarlet Red and big R logos. I turned on the hazards and lit the road with high beams, shepherd to a flock of exhilarated young'uns. The uninformed might've mistaken us for a ProTour squad. Cristian took pictures out the passenger window, but none of them turned out well.

It's the most fun I've ever had in a car at 20mph.

Andy, Patrick, Amanda, and I arrived at Look Park on Saturday in time to watch the C race. We ran around the top of the course, screamed at Rich, Joe, Matt, Eric, and Cristian, and got hassled by Richard Fries. Joe clipped the last barrier at broke our hearts... but you'll never hear him complain.
Something is just off about this pic of Matt remounting

Eric loaned me his tubular wheels - expensive, hard to repair tubular wheels. I owe him a beer. Especially after what would happen Sunday.

Saturday posed its own challenge, of course. Starting in the 8th row, I'd have to be aggressive during the first lap... not my strong suit. When Colby Josh flew by, I knew his was the wheel to get on, and so get on I did. We passed a handful of riders, took some rather entertaining lines through corners, and I was feeling fine.

Knobby tires make a distinct sound when they rub each other, like combining a two-stroke engine with a zipper. Josh's body wiggled as his front wheel contacted someone's rear wheel. The noise stopped, and he recovered. And then he didn't, and he was on the ground. With nowhere to go, I ran directly into his back, somersaulting into my patented ninja roll. It would've been perfect, if I hadn't caught a handlebar with my ribs.

Of the hundred-plus people in my race, I crashed into one of the two with whom I'm friends. Sweet. To boot, the only wounds I have to show for it "look like good sex scratches".

Note: "Good sex scratches", and all other unbelievably fantastic quotes in this post, can be attributed to one person. Bless her inappropriate heart.

When I got back on my bike, I was in dead last. I got out of the saddle, stomped on the pedals, and nearly ran into some dude who'd dropped his chain and stopped in the middle of the course. After grazing his hip with my knuckles, barely avoiding further calamity, I shouted an apology back to him.

Because you can't, you won't, and you don't stop.

I fought and fought and fought, swapped spots with a few collegiate guys, and ran out of gas a half-lap from the finish. Andy rode brilliantly to take the top D1 spot. A cadet from Army caught me at the line, taking 2nd D1. I'd like to tell you that I don't hate him.
Andy has more fun than any other racer
We should all be so cheerful while suffering

I did yoga with Amanda. Downward Facing Dog is good for the hamstrings.

Scorpion is actually a terrible idea. Shoulder Standing on top of the van is just wicked-cool.

When it was time for Pat's race, I volunteered to stand with his spare bike in the pit. Yes, I volunteered to Pit for Pat.
Poor bastard has no idea what's in store

The pit was two-sided, so that the course passed it twice per lap. After Pat passed on one side, I would walk the spare bike to the other side and wait half a lap, as would each of the other 40 pit-guys. With each half-lap, fewer mechanics were migrating before me... so I started to keep count. Pat had moved from 30th to 25th to 20th. He was 18th, looking comfortable and still advancing, when I watched him dismount and start running. He had rolled his tire and needed the spare bike. Crap.

After what felt like a few hours, Pat reached the pit and threw the bike at the ground. He'd only lost a half-dozen spots, and the race was only half over. Having procured a spare wheel from Neutral Support, I resumed the semi-lap migration. I shouted encouragement at Pat, but he'd lost his rhythm and wasn't gaining ground.

When he approached the pit a few laps later, pointing at his rear wheel and looking despondent, my heart sank completely. Pat had utterly destroyed a tubular tire - an expensive, hard to repair tubular tire. This time he threw the bike at me and muttered something along the lines of "Fuck my life".

Back on his original bike, but floundering in 28th, Pat kept riding, even if no longer racing. He would finish on the lead lap. Because you can't, you won't, and you don't stop.

I got us quite lost on the way home, which gave him plenty of time to vent. Slowly his tune changed from proclaiming "this is the sort of thing that makes me aspire to be an alcoholic" to sighing "shit happens". Back at the house, the guys patted him on the back and we put up a giant pot of water. A big bottle of YellowTail Shiraz appeared, and we had an absolutely classy dinner of pasta, meatballs, and garlic bread. Periodically we would raise our glasses, and a toast would be offered, and accepted. We happily bid farewell to Daylight Savings.

There was no underage consumption of alcohol!
We gave the young'uns ice cream instead

That which is coming soon

Having driven from Northampton to Highland Park tonight, I had plenty of time to think about how to write about this weekend. While a first pass would conveniently parse the blogging into three discrete posts, there's just too much overlap in subject matter. Anyway, the chronology of the weekend doesn't lend itself to the cause of good writing.

Plus I'm waiting on pictures from at least two different photographers to be put online.

So, I'm going to do this right. It may take a day or two, but I'll find the time and try to do this weekend justice.