Monday, November 29, 2010
Feeling left out for not partaking in any cross racing this fall, I was compelled to fly the Penguin colors at a couple of Turkey Trots! The first was the Brattleboro Turkey Trot, a 5k, which I ran on Thanksgiving Day with my mom (picture of us above) and friend Kim who we were surprised to bump into two hours south! The course was an out and back with live turkeys at a farm on the side of the road and a paper turkey that someone had made and displayed on a stool at the end of their driveway. Participants bring an item, usually baked good/other food/homemade craft, and put it in the back of a truck when they sign in. Once runners have crossed the finish line, they head to the truck and pick something out as a prize. My most memorable item from years past is a homemade slingshot - its whereabouts are completely unknown at this point!
The next was the Turkey Lane Turkey Trot, a 4.25mi race on Sunday to benefit the Hinesburg Land Trust. My mom had been trying to convince myself and my sister's boyfriend to run in this race for a few weeks, but ended up being ill and I had to go it alone as my sister's boyfriend is quite the serious runner (like he actually wanted to get there early to warm up!) and way ahead of me. I did, however, end up winning my age group since there wasn't a huge turnout and got a gift certificate for "a mug with coffee and a donut" with the mug part crossed off...such is life! Let the off season continue!!
Sunday, November 28, 2010
I've got to hand it to John. He is the stalwart of the team, making it to 15 plus races this year. So when I talked to him midweek about going on Saturday, he was game. We cruised down in the Honda Element, the perfect race vehicle, and made it to Sterling, MA with a couple hours to spare.
The weather was nippy, 35 or so with a cold, cold wind, but plenty of sunshine that warmed up certain spots. I did my warm up on some beautiful roads around the Chocktney Jr. High, the site of the race. This was the first race I had the "what to wear" debate. I opted for knee and arm warmers, but no hat. I dropped gear and headed for the staging area. Greg Brown and John were there doing some prerace shivering.
Call ups began: third row! All thanks to the Maine pilgrimage (I scored my Verge points at Downeast). Alan Atwood even called my full name! I'm used to feeling anonymous at Verge races, just a number pinned to my body, and I usually can't remember what that number is. So I took my spot in the third row. There were openings in the second row and I should have been more aggressive and grabbed the slot. Someone beat me to it. Actually the kid who missed his call up tried weaseling in, but got rejected by AA and other riders. I do like the organization of Verge races. No scrum to the line, so less danger right?
Well, except at Baystate you have to race a lap and half around a dirt track. A "parade lap" it's called. More like a dangerous dirt crit with ruts and riders who don't necessarily have experience riding crits. Full lap around and I'm tucked behind a junior on the left side. WHAM! Next image in my view is an upside down junior (I believe) and an upside down bike elevated about three feet in the air. Rubber side up! The bike goes flying towards me as I slide right, I see the whole crash and yet a moment later I'm still riding. How did that happen? Greg Brown wasn't so lucky. He had been right behind me and went into the downed rider and took a bike off the back from the guy behind him (I learned this after, I thought I had beaten him fair and square, but as long as Greg isn't hurt I'm going to chalk up the W anyhow).
And finally we start racing cyclocross. I love this course (except for the scary beginning). Early on I went hard, trying to glue myself to some nemeses. But the gluttonous two days or the end of the season caught up to me. I died a few little deaths and started going backwards after two laps. I tried to be tactical and for the most part I was after that. My handling skills give me an advantage, but my power does not. So each time we went around the "parade lap" I tried to tuck in behind someone. Still that was tough. I usually gained ground on people through the circuitous stuff and there was just enough chicanes and off camber stuff to get me moving forward again. Someone was letting us know where we were placed on the run/ride up chicane thingy. This was very helpful. I like this motivation more than my wife screaming at me to "move up" and "get your ass up there George!". Instead of thinking of divorce proceedings I just thought about getting some spots back. He let me know I was 34th. Okay, not horrible, but time to move it.
I returned to smart racing. Spinning every chance I could and hitting the brakes the least I could. By the last lap and a half I was with a Cl Noonan rider and a Rockstar rider. A Colavita guy was just up the road. The Cl Noonan rider attacked and got a little gap, he was thinking of getting up to Colavita, but that was a long lonely trek on the back stretch, the windiest and straightest section. I gained ground on Cl Noonan on the off camber rollers. I caught him before the left hand turn at the edge of the field on the last lap. He hadn't caught Colavita. He slowed way down on the straight before entering the dirt track. But I didn't take the bait. This was my race. I just loped along behind him. Then the turn came onto the finishing straight. I hit it hard. The cramps came. But a thought flashed through me: only I know I'm cramping. Break the will of others, not my own. It was a longish sprint since starting from 6mph, maybe 100m. It wasn't looking good, but then a gap came and I had it. I rolled over the line alone. Small victories. 29th place out of 81 starters.
I watched Greg and John finish up. John caught several people towards the end of the race. We rolled back to the Element, got dressed and opened the beer. We drove back north, stopping for dogs at Fat Frank's. John went with the chili sausage, he'll need some space the next couple days.. I had sweet Italian. When we got back up to the Ascutney park and ride my car was covered in snow. A symbolic note to the end of the bike season.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Some people like to use the term nemesis, which has a bit more negativity and less respect than I would like to invoke. I'm sure anybody that races a fair amount here in New England, or probably anywhere, has 'that guy' or 'those guys' [gals] they always seem to end up racing against. Usually these arch rivals are people whom you're evenly matched with and your relative finish position is never a given from the start. Crossresults will help you find 'those guys' if you're having trouble, but you probably already have a pretty good idea. If you're racing well, the arch rivals are behind you. Racing poorly? well...you know how it goes.
For the sake of discussion, let's just call my rival Greg Brown. Greg and I have been racing eachother for a few years now. It all started at the Tuesday night races held at the auto track in Claremont (highly recommended). They run a points race with sprints every 5 laps, primes are mixed in as well. Thus on an approximate weekly basis we can throw down 12 or more times. We definitely go back and forth. If I had to categorize us, I'd say he's got a slightly bigger engine but I've got a little more punch to my sprint and possibly an edge in the handling department. We're pretty well matched. Racing on the road in this region, our paths have crossed more than a few times in crits, road races, and in cross too. Typically Greg has his way with me in crits, I think I may have the edge in road races, and I've pretty much dominated in cross. Greg has had some notable success on the road this year. I have not.
Where am I going with this? Honestly not sure, let's see how it turns out!
As you know, dear reader, the Flying Penguins co-promoted the second annual Paradise Cross Phrenzy on 11/13 with our friends down at Paradise Sports. It's held on the grounds around the Harpoon Brewery, Paradise Sports, and Simon Pierce (yes, a little something for everyone). I recommend you mark it down in your race planner for next year due to the venue and atmosphere.
After a full day of socializing, cheering, and standing around, it was time for the men's 3/4 race. Because I was socializing and generally not warming up, I managed to make it into the last (3rd) row for the start. Sure, as a promoting team I could have weaseled my way to the front, but we were represented there and I needed to work on my starts. Whistle goes off and I kill the start. Actually, it was pretty good - 6th wheel by the time the course narrows up before dropping into the halfpipe section. We were still pretty well bunched up by the off-camber up-down. Greg was running 3rd or 4th wheel at that point, lost traction and hit the dirt. He had a fast recovery and was running. Being rivals, I thought it was a good time to offer [shout] some encouragement to the tune of "Get on your bike, Greg!". He remounted but we were gapping to the guys out front. George squeaked by, and then after 5 or 10 seconds I took my rightful spot in front of Greg. Of course the gap was growing and now I had to close it down. I'll be honest, I burned a few matches, but we were taking time out of the gap little by little so it seemed like a good move.
First lap ends and we're dangling at about 6 seconds or so. I pulled over to let Greg take a pull and he gapped me like a spectator. The benefit of working hard for one lap was that we had a sizable cushion to the guys behind us, now I just had to focus on riding good lines and reeling him back in. It was going well until we hit the first barriers on lap 2 - he was much faster than I through the high-speed barriers and I was hemorrhaging time to him there. Sadly, the course favored more power and less of my skill areas. Couple that to the matches I'd burned, and oh, did I mention that my "training" this year hasn't really left me with many matches to start with? no, well, I have now. Either way, Greg was slowly putting more distance between us. I figured there was really only one good thing left to do: a little mid-race arch rival banter. So, sitting at a 15 second deficit with 3 or 4 laps to go in a section where the course doubles back on itself, I mustered my most ominous voice, sat up, pointed at him and yelled "I'm coming for you!"*.
It worked! After that, man did he start to put the time on me. It got so bad I couldn't even heckle him since our paths weren't crossing any more. Anyway, this is how I prefer to remember it...giving him a lesson on how to suitcase the bike (elbow in).
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Mid-way through the Verge series its pretty evident that I won't be getting a Verge point. I'm not sure what (or who) made me think this was a possibility. I guess the hope was that Green Mountain and Downeast would be out of the way enough that the field would be sufficiently small. Maybe if they did a race on a Tuesday in Nova Scotia I might have a chance but I have my doubts. I suppose the lesson for this year is that false optimism is no substitute for training. Anyway - as we all know, no Verge points = no call up, which puts me two rows from the back of the 140 man field at Northhampton. Not that this cannot be overcome but as we leisurely strolled up the first run-up politely chatting with each other it became evident that it wouldn't be me doing the overcoming.
So, unburdened of living up to the Call-up, or cracking the top half for that matter, I looked for motivation. The bright side of a large field is that you are at least always surrounded by someone to race. I set my sights on the group in front and tried to catch them. As we came to the bell lap it seemed that this too would elude me. Just as I was about to go into soft pedal mode I glanced ahead and caught sight of the Belgian waffle tent. There I spotted my prize, my new motivation. Beer! Thats right, the Hand-up. Taking advantage of all the extra space around me I picked a nice clean line around the last corner and manuvered toward the tent. I reached out and cleanly grabbed the plastic cup of beer. I threw the beer in the direction of my mouth and managed to get most of it in - the rest spilling down my neck and arm. Newly motivated I put in a last kick and was able to close the gap on the group I'd been chasing. I blasted through the sand and got on the wheel of the guy at the back and prepared for the sprint. As we hit the pavement I held back a belch and put everything into the pedals. Victory was mine, at least this one. The more important Victory however was finding a little fun at a Verge race. As it turns out that can be as elusive as a Verge point.
Thanks to Dave and the guys from Expo/Superior Energy for the yummy beer.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
In the past 4 Verge races I've had a second row call up. So, what, 10 riders in front of me on the line? And a whole slew of racers behind me ready to gun me down. (I know that's nothing compared to the 150 riders the boys had to contend with in the cat 3 race but it was more than I've ever raced with). I've been finishing good enough to get a call-up... so you would think I'd be strong enough to keep up with my peers on the start. Hell no... I'm getting slaughtered...
On day 1 in Maine about halfway through the first lap I see Alix next to me "Hi Raina!". WTF! (Sorry Alix - no slam intended) She was on a mtn bike! And there were 30 riders between us on the starting line and somehow we were next to each other. Either I was doing something really wrong or she was doing something really right.
On day 2 in Maine I was determined to have a better start. No go. On lap 1 my place was in the mid-20's... more than 10 places behind where I lined up on the start line.
On day 1 at Northampton I was DETERMINED to have a good start. I powered through the first few hundred yards and felt I was holding my position starting the run-up. Yay!! Halfway up the hill someone hooked my rear wheel in their handlebars. Got all turned around and by the time we were untangled and moving again we were WAY back in the pack. Damn-it.
On day 2 at Northampton I tried again for a good start. I can do it. I can do it. My pep talk to be aggressive and hold my position. I picked a bad line (yet again) and came to a dead stop behind a few girls who got crowded into the inside post on first hard turn. At the end of the first lap I had slid so far back in the pack Eric wouldn't even tell me what place I was in (he gave up counting). He just kept saying "what are you doing?" "hellloooooooo.... are you racing?". I think about halfway through the race when I was still tagging along in the same pack of riders Eric gave up any hope of me moving forward.
Soooo... I've got lots of homework to do before next cross season.... figure out the art of the start.
A few quick notes on the men's sunday race (Oliver was with his grandparents so I could really pay attention to what was happening).
Kudos to George for improving his race strategy over the past year... instead of starting out gangbusters and slowly sliding back the rest of the race, he's had really good starts (strong, but not getting to far into the red) and then holding steady the rest of the race or moving up. He had a great finish passing a few riders on the last lap and then a good sprint finish to hold his position.
Kudos to Eric and John for making the most starting in the back of a field so large that if you are not in the first few rows you don't have any chance of a decent finish.
Eric decided to have fun with it anyway and give it his best shot. On the first lap there were maybe 10 riders behind him (out of about 150) and he spent the whole race just trying to move up in the pack... picking good lines conserve energy and making some aggressive passes on the straights. He passed about 70 people during the race to finish in the top half. Maybe I need to take some lessons from him on how to ride aggressively on my first lap.
John also decided to have fun with it to, but in a different way. John took a beer hand-out with a few laps to go. And had a good finish... picking off a handful of people in the last few laps and then another rider in a sprint finish. Hmmm... maybe there is some strategy to taking the beer handouts?
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
I'll leave the witty blog posts up to the English major and instead share some photos I took this weekend at the Cycle-Smart International Race in Northampton, MA.
Note: I think George was too busy trying to yell directions at me on all of the more difficult sections and so did not take any photos at those times....so, while it looks like the women's 3/4 race took place entirely on a flat field, trust me we rode the same course as the men!
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Monday, November 1, 2010
Day one. To make Alix's 9:30 start, we awoke to a pitch black morning. Four AM to be precise. I think I've been up that late about the same number of times I've woken up that early. Neither situation seems to be a good idea. Luckily, Alix was ready to rock. Annabelle and I, on the other hand, continued our beauty sleep. We awoke about 45 minutes out. Time to fuel up the baby. Options were slim, so we introduced Annabelle to Burger King French Toast Sticks. She found them curious at first. After a through inspection, she warmed up to the fried wonder and promptly devoured the pack. Yummy.
At this point, the sun was about and my 4am grumpiness was thawing. The race organizers did a stellar job with signage, so we made it to the scene with enough time for Alix to register. Pshew, I still feel bad about green mountain where I got us off track and blew Alix's start time. We lucked into a sweet parking spot about 10 cars back from the staging area. Things looked good. I opened - and promtpy shut - the car door. Brrrrrr. The cross races I tried back in North Carolina spoiled me. Reminding myself this is what cross is supposed to be like I donned a couple extra layers. Annabelle didn't seem as phased by the cold weather. She's a real trooper.
Nothing too exciting to report racing-wise day one. All Flying Penguins finished in typical penguin style. Raina and George led the way with 15th and 25th place finishes. George and Eric sounded like they had a fun time with a rider in their group who hammered ahead in the straight aways only to cause small traffic jams once they got back into the more technical sections. John was in there too mixing it up. Good times.
Day two. Another brisk morning. Raina really laid down the hammer. She looked smooth and came in sixth! It was Amber's debut. She put in a good effort at the start and everytime she came by she was smiling. That was awesome. Alix also was sporting some smiles. Eric kindly loaned her his sweet ride. She happily tossed her mountain bike aside and didn't look back.
Getting ready for our race, George hooked me up with a chocolate Gu. mmm... well "mmm" enough to get down at least. I took my usual start position at the back of the pack. Did I mention the start of both Saturday and Sunday was a bit hectic? The short paved uphill right into a hard left isn't conducive to spreading riders out. Some guys got tangled right in front of Eric, John and I. After a bit of friendly bumping the three of us got around it safely. Sunday's course was more fun. It boasted a sweet log section, a stone-wall that you could ride up and over, and an off-camber approach to an uphill barrier section. After riders started stretching out a bit, I started feeling better. Some credit is due to the Gu (thanks George!), but I also felt more confident on the bike. Day two on the new ride means I have twice the experience. So I should've been about twice as fast right? Clearly math can't always be trusted. That said, however, I was having a good bit of fun. I started braking less in corners and hopefully my sketchiness decreased a bit. I passed a couple riders and didn't feel like I was completely red-lined. On lap two, however, my front tire lost a battle with a rock. Sloppy on my part. I descended too fast and failed to adjust in time. Dropping out crossed my mind, but dropping out is rarely a rewarding experience. So I shouldered the bike and began a lesurely jog. I think I flatted the furthest you could from the pit. Good spot for running practice. I made it to the pit just as the leaders came by. Crap. Lapped halfway through the race! I took off and actually found it quite fun to chase those guys for a bit - they're fast and smooth. The rest of the race wasn't as exciting, but I'm glad I stayed in it.
After finishing, we packed up quick and hit the road. The first of many epic weekends to come. It's fun to be racing again.
Bonus post. We took this weekend off from cross to attend a good friends wedding in Atlanta. While in Atlanta, we brought Annabelle to the aquarium. Her favorite exhibit: the penguins!