Sunday, March 30, 2008

Anticipation to Anticlimax

Today is a race that I had prepared well for over the last two weeks. I rode smart and recovered well. I put in the efforts needed to get faster and looked after my nutrition and sleep. I elected not to see one of my favorite bands, Explosions in the Sky, last night in favor of rest and clean lungs. And then it stormed. Waking up to driving rain and thunder, I knew it made little sense to gamble the last of my meager cash flow to drive to Potosi for what would likely be a three hour mud bog. One bought of rain is one thing, but the preceding week featured much of it and indeed the trail was under water for a period last week. I sit here with all my anticipation deflated. Likely, all will return from the race with reports of its perfection, but I'm not in a position to chance it. Good luck to the Mesa white wave and I will turn my thoughts to next week at Tsali...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cycle Ball (Radball)

Flipping through the TUFO catalog the other day, I came across a category of tubulars designed for cycle ball. Intrigued, I found that cycle ball, or radball, looks a lot like this:

Is this the future of our great sport? I hope so.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is It Over?

So spring is here in St. Louis, it really seems like it waited until the actual equinox to show its face. Usually, winters here are fairly mild with a few bouts of bitterness and the sweet smell of spring begins to drift into the senses around the first week of March. 2008 had other plans as feet of snow and ice continued to cover the city over and over. The first weekend of March brought some relief with a 75 degree day, but nature had one final laugh with near ten inches of snow two days later.

Things have been on the upswing lately. My rides reveal a burgeoning green to the ground cover and the trees are just beginning to show a dusting of tiny new leaf buds and cautious blooms. The cherry tree a block over is blooming and the dogwoods are just starting to take off. All of this brings a positive feeling to my days and makes me relish the rides free from leg warmers and thermal jackets. There has been a fair amount of rain, further feeding the advancement of spring and slopping up the trails concurrently. Some are even under water....

As excited as this season makes me, it's difficult to forget the week of 20 degree weather that laid waste to all of spring's progress last year. While there is little to be gained from fretting over such possibilities, it's hard not to wonder if it's really over. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the longer and warmer days and drink as much of it in as my senses will allow...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Takin's my Lumps

Lost Valley was this last weekend and it clued me into a couple factors that will definitely slow a person down- promoting the race and going to a show the night before.

Saturday night was Built to Spill with the Meat Puppets and I had had tickets since Christmas. When our group of NORBA race promoters were designating dates, I picked March the 16th not even thinking about the show and when I realized the conflict later, I just decided to suck it up and take it in stride. These were two bands I've been into for about 15 years and there were no other dates for the race that didn't conflict with something else, so there wasn't much for it. For it's part, the show was amazing. I walked in and the Meat Puppets launched into "Up on the Sun", a jam I used to space out to in eighth grade with my buddy Danny. The nostalgia was waist deep and the kept coming with the hits and some serious country fried picking. Curt Kirkwood could hold a clinic on that playing style and you'd be so awed by his playing that you might not notice the stained and yellowed t-shirt or the warm up pants. Built to Spill also brought their own brand of melodic and space laden indie rock. The version of "Goin' Against Your Mind" was face melting to say the least and they really brought out the big guns on "Carry the Zero". Beautiful stuff and a great show. Unfortunately, St. Louis still has smoking in public places and my lungs were provided with a tasty coating of tobacco butter. I got to bed around a quarter to two and got to wake up at five thirty to get out to Lost Valley and prepare for the race.

Race promotion is a relatively stressful endeavor, something I'd taken for granted in the years I've been going to MTB races. After weeks of paperwork wrangling, the weather started to be a major factor in the weeks preceding the race. Lots of snow and threats of days of rain had me planning on a reschedule, but somehow most of the rain passed us and the trail was absolutely perfect on race day. Given my lack of sleep, I deliriously made my way out to Weldon Spring, narrowly avoiding automotive catastrophe several times in my weakened state. I got out there around seven and started setting up the course. I had originally thought I might race SS, but there was little chance of that happening so early, so I bided my time. As I let off race after race, I was pretty sure there was no point in me lining up, given my exhaustion. However, I eventually convinced myself that it was the only race I would get to do for free and I might as well get a good hard ride in since I had my bike, clothes and the weather was perfect. So, against my better judgement, I got a number and strapped it to my bike.

There's not really much to tell about my race. I let a little gap go on the initial gravel section while two guys up front on CX bikes were drilling it. I caught a group of three on the climb and eventually dropped them on the last descent before the flats and rode alone for the rest of the lap until two of my sport teammates caught me the second time up the climb. I sat on them for a while, they were motoring and were on their way to a 1-2 in the sport. Eventually, I let them go right before the last piece of singletrack and just tried to stay steady for the last lap. I was alone and no one in front or behind to gauge my efforts on so I just kept riding and having fun. Eventually, a DRJ fellow with a flat fork caught me right before the last singletrack. I guess I was an effective carrot for him for a few miles and he steadily reeled me in. I finished 15th. It's not bad and it really isn't my kind of course and there were extenuating circumstances and I probably have some more excuses around here somewhere. Either way, it was a fun ride and I'm glad I talked myself in to doing it.

Ultimately, the race went really well and everyone had a good time. There were a ton of new faces and some old ones who haven't been around in some years. It feels like MTB racing is coming back in St. Louis and I hope this represents a positive direction for the sport around here. Now if I can just get some sleep and avoid the rock.... Ah hell, life needs balance, bring on the rock!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Peep Show

Sunday nights are always family dinner night at Lizz's family's house. A true Italian affair with a massive extended, but not necessarily related, "family". This past week, my mother in law was inspired by a traveling "Show us your Peeps" contest in which those sugar saturated marshmallow birds and rabbits are placed is real life scenarios. This is what Christopher, Andrew and I came up with....

Monday, March 3, 2008

St. Joe Pain Train pt. 2

The first race of the year is always a big question mark. Having spent the duration of the year ticking out low intensity base miles and spending some time in the weight room, I really had no idea how I would react to the first XC race of the year. I had a pretty good feeling that two hours of intensity would be a shock to the system, but the season's got to start somewhere and in this case it was St. Joe state park.

We lined up with what looked like around twenty to twenty five riders and set off on a stretch of pavement before diving into the woods. The last two months have delivered nearly two feet of precipitation, leaving many deep mud holes throughout the course. One such hole was waiting a the entrance to the trail. As racers funneled into the single track, I was in the center of the group and hit this mud hole at full speed, sunk several inches and lost much of my momentum and watched as the entire race funneled around me. Now at the back of the line, I spent the next several miles picking off as many people as possible, all the while deep in the red. After cutting my way through some DRJ and Dogfish guys, I set my sights on my buddy Jeremy and my teammate Cory. I kept them both in sight at about twenty to thirty seconds for much of the first lap. The course was constantly rolling, mostly uphill for the first few miles, and very soft. The spongy trail conditions were absorbing more energy than I had to spare and I was definitely hurting far too early in the race. To add to my discomfort, I had allowed DB to convince me that embrocation was a totally pro move and I had twenty four miles to curse that decision and my legs which had now been set ablaze by a coating of Sportsbalm. Every creek crossing and deep mud hole then became a relief as it cooled my fiery legs.

Towards the end of the first lap, I was caught by the DRJ guy I had passed earlier and he proceeded to sit on my wheel for the rest of the lap, occasionally asking about our gap to the next group. By the time we made it to the pavement stretch at the end of the lap, I was already cooked and he dispatched with me near immediately. Coming through the start/finish area, two of my sport class teammates, who had gone one-two in their race, were cheering me on and I begrudgingly set out for my second lap. At this point, I was alone and had hit the wall a couple times already so I decided to make a good training day out of it and stop worrying about my result. Nearly the entire lap was spent thinking about quitting at lap's end. Curiously, I started passing people. This was not due to my superior speed, but my competitor's inferior luck as many people were having issues with flats, broken chains and detached crankarms. This was encouraging to a degree, at least I was making up places even if it was due to my bicycle's fortitude if not my own. This thought was still way back in my mind behind the pain and thoughts of quitting and the ice cold PBR's waiting for me in DB's car. When I ran out of water two miles before the end of the lap, I was sure I would quit. I had a Camelback and a bottle and it just wasn't enough. However, coming on to the pavement at the end of the second lap, I passed DB pushing his bike with a fresh gash in his fancy mud tires. He offered some encouragement and , somewhat to my horror, his remaining water bottle at the start/finish area. With the water excuse removed, I had no choice but to pick up his bottle and push on for lap three.

Things didn't get any better. I was crawling and continued to spend the first three miles of the lap thinking about quitting. I had caught Jeremy, who informed me that he had dropped out, and kept grinding away with him on my wheel. We hadn't seen each other in a while and since he wasn't racing anymore, he struck up a conversation with me which was somewhat demotivating as he had already quit and I was dying a little inside with each pedal stroke. I was a bit relieved when he revealed that he had quit after one lap and was only just heading out for a second to get some training in. As the miles progressed, Jeremy drifted further from my wheel until I was alone again, with only Editors lyrics to keep me company. For some reason, the line about "your arms and legs are sore" seemed apt and they kept rotating in my head as the mile markers, which I noticed for the first time at mile seven on the second lap, counted down. Around mile six, I saw the Dogfish guy off in the distance behind me and found a little bit left in the tank to gas it one more time and put him out of sight. Once onto the pavement, I felt a beautiful sense of relief. I turned around about halfway through the pavement stretch to see Scott closing in. This was impressive since he had broken his chain on the first lap and has a penchant for quitting races. I dropped it into the eleven and gave whatever I had left to finish in front of him by a scant eight seconds for a total time of two hours and fifty minutes, by far my longest XC race. I ended up seventh in the expert men's class which was far better than my legs indicated it would be. I was well adrift of the leaders, but I hung in there despite an overwhelming desire to quit and ended up with a respectable result. It would seem that there is nowhere to go but up from here and hopefully the next races won't be such a slaughterfest, but this one's in the books. Eighteen hours later, my back and legs still feel like rocks but I feel satisfaction at my resolve to keep pushing despite logic telling me not to. It's a good indication for the season ahead. Until next time...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

St. Joe Pain Train pt. 1

The MTB season got rolling today in truly sadistic fashion. A full report will be filed soon when the memory of the searing pain and incessant desire to throw in the towel have subsided somewhat. Needless to say, 23 inches of precipitation this year, 24 miles of challenging terrain and a stacked field all combined to reduce my legs to two lengths of quivering agony. The benefit of hindsight in the coming days will likely dull this sensation, but I have not suffered so completely in a long long while. A field of roughly 25 and nearly 10 DNF's speak volumes to the intensity of todays race. More to come...