Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lifetime Fitness Ass-kicking

This is gonna be pretty short, as it's around 10:30 and I'm exhausted, but finally on the recovery from a pretty tough few days. Bottom line: I got served out in Minneapolis, but I hear from the front runners that there was a little drafting going on at the front of the pack. I should know better than to mix it up w/ITU/World Cup guys, because I got dropped from the swim about 30 seconds into the race. If you count the weekend in Lake Placid as a race (I'm going to), I've raced 10 times over the past month and a half. I'm fried. Mid-season blues? Got 'em. I'll try to put together a post tomorrow about fighting the good fight against those. Oh, yeah, the picture. I'm the guy w/the mutton chops, about the only thing I'm known for in the pro field right now.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fitchburg Stage Race

Well, it's a week since stage one of the the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, known mostly as the Fitchburg Stage Race or, as an approximation of a slightly bigger race in Pennsylvania, simply, "Fitchburg." It was my first time tossing myself into stage racing, and coming out on the other side I have even deeper respect for the guys who'll race 20 out of the next 22 days (and even more contempt for the ones who are getting through it with help). Stage racing is hard. Only one or two days into it, you start feeling vaguely sick. Efforts that would normally not set you back too deeply require the gut-check of the truly hard. Here's how it all went down.

Day One, The Time Trial.

Normally, I'd say this would be my chance to lash back at all the effete roadies who think triathletes are soft. However, when the stage looks like this:

I start to re-think my chances. O.K., so things didn't actually go that badly, but I didn't exactly deliver the redemptive, knockout blow I'd hoped to. I came across the line 38th out of 111, posting my best finish of the weekend, but in some solid company (Ryan Kelly, Peter Bradshaw, Morgan McCleod), riders I respect a lot. It was hard. Captain Dondo once said to me: "Time trialling is a lot like trying to make yourself vomit, and then keeping the bile down when it starts to rise." That's mostly what it felt like. 18:10 of it.

Day Two, The Wachusett Road Race.

This one didn't strike me as too bad to begin, but I got lost on the way to the start, and was a bit scattered rolling to staging. I forgot to change the cassette on my wheel, and discovered, when I stood to climb, that the chain skipped like Julie Andrews.

O.K., well, I could deal with this. It just meant being at the front whenever we started to climb. This worked for the first five laps (the race was 8 laps of 11.4 miles, with a final 2K climb to the summit of Mount Wachusett), but then things started happening to my legs. Somehow, I caught back on each time, although twice I had to chase hard to get back to the peloton. I'm happy to report I made it the 8 laps with the group, and then waved goodbye as they went up to the summit. My 81 Kg body doesn't go up hills so good, so I just tried to keep it together and crossed the line about 4 minutes behind the leaders. Still, I was going to be racing the next day, and I still hadn't given up grievous amounts of time. And really, how hard could a circuit race be?

Day Three, The Circuit Race (i.e. the kiss of doom)

O.K., circuit races can be pretty bad, especially if there's 100 feet of climbing in the 200M right before the Start/Finish, and everybody in the race knows that that's the place to split things up. I'd changed my cassette, so at least I had all my gears, but once again it was a case of get to the front on the backstretch so I could hit the hill in the first 15 riders. If I did this I would find myself safely in the back third of the pack at the top of the hill. If I didn't, I would face a grueling battle to hang on until the descent on the backside of the course (I can always catch up on descents; it's the one place where being a fat cyclist helps). I made it for 14 out of the 16 laps, got caught in the middle of the pack on the back, and waved goodbye once we got to the top of the hill. Still, I once again only gave up a few minutes: there were plenty of riders who got shelled off the back of the pack completely; I was only 9 minutes down. This was the most challenging day for me. You know those little stickers USCF sends out, with the guy on the bike with the caption "Suffer?" Yup, that was me, doing my best Jerry West impersonation of a white silhouette.

Day Four, The Downtown Crit.

Ah, a criterium! Flat, fast, hard, my favorite things (hmm, another Sound of Music reference; something must be up). A relatively short crit of 28 miles, or 25 quick laps. This never got going really fast, not up to the fiery level of Exeter last year, or even the Salem Witches' Cup (31 and 28 MPH, respectively). 2s don't have that extra little bit of unbelievable speed that the Pro/1 guys have. I moved up, steadily, and was in striking distance of the front on the last lap when, cliche of cliches, there was a huge crash right in front of me in turn 3 of the final lap. We all got the same time, but I really think I was going to be in a better spot than the 66th place in which I finished.

The GC

So I finished of 66th of 99 finishers (with 115 or so starters). Not bad, really, for my first race as a two. I never truly got dropped and got to race every day. I would have liked to finish the circuit race with the pack, but I did learn, over four days, what it's like to be truly uncomfortable and go out and suffer anyway. You also learn that everyone else is hurting too, and if you can be a bit more uncomfortable than them, good things will happen.

Right now I'm in Minneapolis, getting ready for the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon. Hard to believe, but I just had a casual, fun dinner with Greg Bennet and two members of the Canadian Olympic team. What am I doing here? Updates on Saturday. Be well.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

8 Days, 5 Races

Racing every weekend, when you're a cyclist, is normal. Cycling is hard, but it doesn't beat you up the way that running does, especially if there's a lot of descending in the run you're doing. June ended with a trip to the Spirit of Morgantown half-iron, in Morgantown, West Virginia. This is a great race, and if you're looking for a fun, late June event for next year, put this one on your calendar. It's way cheaper than any of the exorbitant 70.3 races, is well-supported, and challenges its participants with a mixture of flats and hills. I'm just going to talk about that race today, and discuss the other four races (the Fitchburg Longsjo Stage Race the following week) tomorrow.

The beginning of the race was a bit of comedy of errors, with the officials telling the pros that we would be running down a six foot wide dock, crossing the timing mats at a sprint, and diving into the river. We would have looked like a bunch of lemmings starting a 5K. We all balked, and, happily, David Thompson took over, suggesting a better way to start the race. We ended up doing a dive start, and I came up between Andrew Hodges (one of my LC Worlds teammates) and David Thompson. The front group, with Andrew Yoder and Kevin Lisska, had already put in a little gap, so Andrew, David, and another swimmer (he was touching my toes during the entire swim) swam at a pretty comfortable pace around the course. It's rare that I actually get myself into a group during a race, and I knew I was right behind D.T., so things were looking good already. Hodges and Thompson put a little gap into me in the final 200M or so, but nothing that I didn't think I could catch back on the bike.

A word about the bike course, because it took some casualties this year: there are some odd twists, and some bad pavement. On the ride out of town, I was glad that I had done some cyclo-cross in the past, the road was so bad. There's also a little two miles out-and-back, which ends in a sharp right hand turn that goes under a tunnel. This is the turn that took out two of the race leaders. On the first lap, David Thompson went straight and ended up cutting the course and abandoning. On the second lap, Andrew Yoder took a pretty nasty fall after riding through what looked to be a very deep puddle. I benefited from these mishaps, and I still don't really feel very good about it. I've been saying, publicly, that staying on course and staying upright are a part of winning races, but I don't believe it. Those two would have beaten me soundly, I think, and triathlon is a race of fitness, not attrition.

Anyway, the bike course, if you stay on it and upright, is a lot of fun. There's a bunch of climbing, some screaming descents, and, this year, torrential rain. I was lucky not to flat in that period when the rain starts forcing little debris into your tires, instead of washing it off. As soon as the skies opened (and I do mean opened), there were tons of people on the side of the road, changing flats. Word was that Kevin Lisska, one of the race leaders, suffered two flats out there on Sunday. I was surprised, in the last few Ks, that my friend and co-Mainer Mike Caiazzo came up to me on the bike. We're about similar while riding, although I usually have a slight edge on him. The course was hilly, though, and I do have to drag around about fifteen extra pounds. Gimme a rolling course and I'll get him any day. Unfortunately, I've yet to see the run course on which I could catch him. Perhaps a cliff. Mike and I came into transition together in 2nd and 3rd place, trailing race leader (and eventual winner), Daniel Bretschler (I'm sure I'm killing that spelling) by about 2:30.

The run was a bit of a suffer-fest. The sun came out and turned all that rain into humidity, and I ended up shedding my jersey about 7 miles into the race, for a decidedly un-PRO barechested look. I ran pretty well for the first 5 miles (which are flat), before crashing right into Morgantown's Sixth Street hill, which doesn't look too bad at first, but is probably in the 12-15% gradient realm. The real killer is you run up it for two cross-streets and then turn right, and look at a longer, but more gradual hill. Since you're running 9:00/mile at this point, your heart rate in the low 170s, and your furnace overheating, that extra hill is a real issue for the old bean. I just took it as slow as I dared and tried not to blow up. After the hill, you run up and down through the campus of WVU, and it's the downhills that really make the second lap painful. By the finish, I'd been caught by Andrew Hodges and faded to 4th place, after running a 1:28 half-marathon. Really, still not good enough yet. But it was nice to collar some prize money, even if I missed out on the podium by only a few minutes.

One post-race novelty was getting an IV drip. I was in pretty bad shape post-race, but getting a drip really cleared things right up. It's not for every one (maybe you don't like needles; I looked away as the Med Tech was saying things like "Wow, I'm making a real mess here," and swabbing my arm with an entire package of gauze), but the recovery train got started right quick.

In any case, things are starting to come around, although they're still not where I'd like them to be. Final splits were approximately as follows: Swim 27:00; Bike 2:16; Run 1:28. Coming down, but not yet coming good.