Monday, October 30, 2006

Canton Cyclocross

We received a pretty pounding rain on Saturday, which all but guaranteed the course for Sunday would be a mess. Of course, it wasn't, thereby proving the importance of "all but" in the previous sentence. While the ground was soft and did get torn up a little, there was only one puddle on the course, and that could barely be classified as a puddle. Otherwise, it was a beautiful course in Canton, at least for me since it did not require great technical skills (but good skills would be helpful).

There were around 85 people signed up for the C race. The course was pretty wide open, going through some grassy fields, some brief single track, onto a cement walkway, back onto some grassy areas, down a hill, up an embankment, around a running track, back through grass, then uphill on a road to a finish. Pretty long loop and it seemed pretty easy.

I had a pretty good warmup, getting a nice feel for the course. Then someone says, "Let's do another 1/2 lap." Stupid me says fine, and off we go. Rule number 1: Don't do any more warm-up when you feel warmed up. Rule number 2: Don't go tearing off with one of the A master's guy for a warmup when you're a C. Everything was fine until on right turn on the concrete when my bike goes skidding from underneath me. Rule number 3: Cross tires and pavement don't mix. It wouldn't be a warmup if I didn't crash. I was fine despite some road rash, bike was fine despite some road rash, and off to the starting line bleeding once again before the race starts.

I had a decent start. I wasn't trying to kill myself since it was a 40 minute race. Plenty of time for that on lap 4. But, very soon after the start, my bike started to feel funny. The back end of a little squirrely. BINGO! A flat tire. No problem because I put my spare tires in the pits. However, one small problem in that the pits are on the other end of the course and I now have to ride the course with a flat back tire. It was fine as long as I was on the dirt. Once I hit the pavement, it was like being on an ice rink. The running track was worse. I'm trying to make my way around, not getting in people's way too much, and getting passed a lot.

I finally make it to the pits, and the mechanic pops the tire off, new tire on, off we go. I've never ridden on my pit back tire, so let's see how this works. Everything seems to be shifting okay, but now I am hopelessly out of the hunt. So, might as well work on passing technique and get a hard workout in. Rule number 5: There is always something to be learned from a race. The next three laps went by pretty fast, considering I lost 2 minutes on the first lap, what was 12:18. The next three laps were 10:12, 10:10, 10:08. I was having a good time and it was a beautiful course. It was also a beautiful day, despite the 20-30 mph wind gusts.

Despite the appearance of a smooth course, there was a lot of carnage out there. People were going down all over the place on the cement. Rule number 6: Despite the appearance of a smooth track, you can't lose your focus. One guy washed out right in front of me on the first lap, and I had to swerve around him (with a bad back tire) lest I run over his head. I saw another guy in the shower with major road rash. He hit a bump in the pavement while looking behind him. Launch. Rule number 7: Don't look behind you.

I have no idea where I finished overall. It was good experience at a larger race. We had a ton of MRC guys there doing different races, and it was good to see everyone enjoying themselves. I figure I could have held my own toward the top 15 if I wouldn't have flatted. Live and learn. Possibly doing Northampton next weekend, but that depends on family variables.

Footage of the race can be seen at:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thread City Cyclocross - Mansfield, CT

Third cross race, and it was going to be a chilly one. It is interesting to have a up-close and personal view of the weather and lighting changes as we plummet toward winter. We are now scrambling to get our rides in before sundown, which in New England is now around 6:00pm. Come daylight savings time, it will be around 4:30pm. Ouch. The air is getting a bite to it, and those humid days of training early in soupy air is over.

I had no idea what to expect from this race, but had heard that it was a good, low-key affair. I was hoping for a confidence builder as my cross skills get better. The C race was going to start at 9:00am, so I was there are 7:30am, one of the first cars in the lot. By the time you get there, get oriented, get the bike out, set the bike up, get your stuff sorted (what to wear, etc.), get to registration, get your number, get to the bathroom, get to the car, ride the course a few times, get back to the bathroom, tune the bike if necessary, get back to the bathroom, 1.5 hours doesn't seem like a lot of time.

I asked one of the guys on our team who pre-road the course what it was like. At this point, a significant pause before his answer can mean only a few things. A) it is soo good that it is beyond description; B) we're all screwed. It was B. He then proceeded to tell me it was not a cross course, but a MTB course. Great.

I tried to pre-ride the course with another teammate, but we couldn't figure out which way to go or where the course was going. Not a good sign. There was no less than 6 points where you HAD to get off your bike (unless you are that breed of psychotic cross rider who things everything is rideable). Two barriers, two beaches (one downhill and uphill), and two run-ups (one of which you should have roped in and used ascenders). Then there was a particularly sadistic off-camber which was otherwise known as a road embankment. During the pre-ride, I actually managed to crash and cut my knee open. Not a good sign.

At the start of the race, I actually had a pretty good hole shot and was placed well going into the first barrier. No problem. Then the off camber. At this point, I am positioned around 5th and trying to hammer this thing and get through it. No such luck as I slide down, taking about 90% of the field with me. Trying desparately to unclip, the front guy were rapidly getting away. Luckily for our team, we had two guys placed in the "break". No, this was not a plan ahead of time, but it worked out well for those guys.

After scrambling back on my bike, I was able to give chase without having lost too many positions. The effort was HARD the entire way as we caught the field in front of us. I went to that primal place of survival as I went around the course. At this point, finding a "line" gave way to staying upright. Everyone in my race was suffering as we went up and down and through sand and woods and other unspeakable horrors. The funny thing was, as the first lap went by, the course actually became fun. I don't know if I was happy or upset at the one lap to go sign from the officials. This would mean we only had done two laps of the course in a 30 minute race!

After seeing one lap to go, I figured it was now or never as I tried to up the tempo and pass whoever was around me. This strategy was working, and it was an interesting case of fitness versus skill. I have a lot of fitness (althouth not as much as I would like) but not alot of skill. There are folks in the race with a lot of skill, but not as much fitness. One this course, fitness was prevailing for me as I was able to keep it together and pass a few more people in front of me.

I actually almost caught the back of the breakaway, and given one more lap I would have made it. But, I'm not going to complain. I was able to do the off-camber the next two times around and not kill myself on any other section. As a team, we did very well with three guys in the top five of the C 35+ race. Other people had decent races as well, although one person vowed never to race in CT again.

Now, onto Canton Cyclocross this weekend.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Back on the Marathon Course

Yesterday marked my first return to the Sunday morning run on the Boston marathon course since Hailey was born. It has been a challenge rebuilding my fitness since then, and I still feel slow. Putting on winter weight doesn't help much. But, it was a nice day, and it felt good to hit the Newton Hills. We ran out to Mile 12 (just past Wellesley College) and back, making for a 19 mile day. Other folks getting ready for NewYork opted for longer. I was finished. Ended up doing 2:14 for the entire trip, 5 minutes faster on the way back. We were able to pretty much keep it under 7:00/mile pace coming back, with some miles being in the 6:40s. Surprising thing was it didn't feel too hard once I got into the groove. What hurt the most was the 1:45 it then took me to mow the lawn once I got home.

I guess that Dean guy was out there with a large crew, doing his 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. Fortunately, we didn't run into him. It would have been a hassle trying to navigate around whatever traveling circus was there. Plus, when you can run into Karen Smyers and other such luminaries on a weekly basis, seeing Dean isn't all that impressive (sorry Dean). I once saw Elena Meyer at my chiropractor's office, and someone else saw Meb Keflezghi running on the Newton Hills. Lots of celebrities come to our humble running course.

Saturday was a killer cross workout at Ghiloni Park in Marlborough. We spent some time spinning through the trails, generally screwing around. Then we set up a short course that included 5 hills in a row, each of increasing size. It is amazing what you can do in a park in terms of a workout. After doing 3 sets of 3 laps, I was cooked. Got off my bike and collapsed on the grass. Ouch. I'm sill somewhat lousy at cross, but my fitness helps get me through as other people are falling off the back.

If anyone is interested, check out the new evidence from Floyd Landis regarding the doping accusations. After reading what's on his webpage, you might think differently of his guilt.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Gran Prix Gloucester Cyclocross 2006

On a perfect autumn day in New England, the 2006 Gran Prix of Gloucester took place at Stage Fort Park, located right on the ocean in Gloucester, MA (of "The Perfect Storm" fame). Last year's Saturday day was witness to a perfect storm of sorts, as snow blanketed the area resulting in challenging race conditions. This year, the difference couldn't have been more drastic as partly sunny skies and a light breeze welcomed cross riders from as far as Portland, OR and the UK.

The setting was absolutely spectacular, with a course that had elements of fast single track, technical switch backs, and challenging run-ups (oh, and the dreaded sand pit). Being only my second cross race, I was just excited to pay only about $20 to ride around a course for 40 minutes. As people parked their cars, you could see them scurrying about with the excitement usually reserved for children on Christmas morning. Everyone wanted to unwrap the present that was the Gloucester course. I set about trying to get things together. It is funny no matter how carefully I pack my car the night before, it always ends up in a shambles as I throw gear around trying to find what I need.

After a good warm-up and getting my race number figured out, I went down to the start line. The race bible said that there was going to be a call up based on UCI points and registration (or race number). I figured I had a little time, and got down to the start with 10 minutes to spare. N0 call-up, no registration line-up, and the Men's C (my race) and B Masters were all thrown together, which meant that I was in the very back.

I decided to take it easy at the start, not wanting to be "that guy" who causes a major pile-up. Being at the back meant I was essentially screwed for any placement. This was doubly secured when going onto the grass off the pavement, there was a crash and we got held up as the front of the field roared ahead. My main concern was getting into a rhythm and riding my race (and having a good time). The course was great, the weather perfect, I was riding the Gran Prix race, and I wasn't doing housework. All in all, a good bargain.

I was basically red-lining the whole way, trying to make my move through the field as much as I could. I had a very solid race for my second race ever, passing a lot of people and not killing myself. I was a little slow in some of the technical sections, but that's to be expected at this point. I was very happy that I could get on and off of my bike without too many problems, and actually was able to use my mounting and dismounting to advantage and pass people on the run-ups.

The race went by way too fast. In fact, I only ended up racing for 38:30. The race is done by calculating approximately how many laps the leaders are going to do in a set time. So, it is not an exact science. The highlight was coming into the finishing area, which involved a fast section across dirt and grass, transitioning into a uphill climb on pavement. I was behind three other people coming onto the pavement into the climb (a short hill). At that moment, no matter where you are in the race overall, it becomes a dogfight to the line. As we wound up our sprints, we might as well been the leaders of the race. Digging furiously to the line, we were all trying to beat each other into the ground. I was able to sprint ahead, screaming out loud, and nip the other three guys at the line for 19th place overall. A small victory, but I'll take it.

The rest of the day was spent hanging out, watching races with the family, who came up later in the day. Both Amelia and Hailey liked the race immensely, although Hailey was more interested in a bottle and Amelia more interested in picking up stones. The men's and women's races were great to watch, and humbling to see the skill that they have. Lots to work on between now and Nationals in December.

There are some great photos out there of the race to see. Mine are at

They are a little small in Yahoo Photos, which is too bad because some of them are nice. Another good source for photos is under the Gloucester Gran Prix section.

Looking forward to the next race, and to next year in Gloucester when I am for sure going to race both days!!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cyclocross Season and Family Distractions

Since my last blog, I had a baby. Not just me of course, but my wife did most of the work. Hailey Harris David was born at 4:15pm on September 8, 2006. A very welcome addition to the family, and she's been enjoying her new environment and doing baby things.

Of course, this cuts into the training time a wee bit, so it's been tough to get things done. I haven't seen a swim in a month, despite having my wet suit in the car. I'm afraid to take it out, feeling as if that will be some kind of acceptance of the end of open water swims at Walden Pond. So, I keep it in there in some misguided attempt to hang onto summer. At some point, it will have to go under the bed and hibernate till next year.

The bonus of this time of year, however, is cyclocross season. I just started it this year, buying a bike from a clubmate. I keep wondering where this has been all of my life. It is the best time I've had on a bike. There is something about autumn in New England that compels you to ride a modified road bike (or cross bike if you have one) on the side of embankments while jumping over barriers and jumping back on the bike (risking all that men "hold" dear).

My first cross race was at Milford, NH. All went extremely well, except for not being able to unclip before the second set of barriers on the first lap, which of course meant that I went down hard, my Surly Crosscheck went down harder, and thanked me for my efforts by embedding a crank in my calf. First race, first lap, first wipeout. The cosmic forces were aligned.

But, I was able to use my base fitness to claw my way back in the always competitive beginner's race and finish top ten. I even had to do a sprint down the finishing straight and beat another guy buy a bike throw (pushing your bike forward in order to have your tire cross the line first).

Tomorrow, the big time: Gran Prix of Gloucester. This is cross in New England, in Stage Fort Park, on the ocean, with people coming from all around to do this race. Post to come.