Monthly Archives: November 2007

Half full or half empty?

The results for Palmer were finally posted, and they were very interesting on a number of levels:

Masters 35+ (cross Cat 1-4)
1 379 John Foley MTBMIND.COM
2 367 Mark Gunsalvs Bikebarn
3 370 Jeff Molongoski Joe's Garage
4 375 Brant Hornberger Fitchburg Cycle Club
5 380 Michael Patrick Gary Fisher/Subaru/GU/Kenda
6 366 Ian Modestow Joe's garage
7 355 Matt Domnarski Horst-Benidorm-PRC
8 372 Wade Summers Horst-Benidorm-PRC
9 353 Gary David Minuteman Road Club
10 354 Dominique Desmonts Tokeneke Road Club
11 364 Jack Madden The Hub
12 373 Mike Spangenberg Cyclonauts
13 374 Christopher Evans NCC
14 368 Joe Rodrigues Cyclonauts
15 365 Patrick Brandon
16 371 John Slyer

So, I either had a Top Ten finish in a Masters 35+ race (not too bad), or I was more than half-way down the results (uh oh). Got me to thinking about how we measure “success” or what we look for when we tally up the ledger sheet at the end of the race day.

I am currently involved in a research project looking at performance metrics for companies engaged in medical transcription. In a data-driven world, there are any number of measures that we can construct and contrive in an attempt to portray “what happened”. Behind the veneer of any “objective measure” is a subject judgment that is made regarding what goes in and what stays out. When we think about “success” or “failure”, we likewise enter into the same exercise. Is the glass half full or half empty?

Our humble MRC club is trying an experiment in our Wrentham CX race start staging using Colin R’s as a way to line up. That should be interesting. I do not know the methodology Colin uses, I’m sure it is “sound” in a relative way and makes “sense” on some level. Kudos to Rob Bauer for trying to find an “equitable” way to line up the races. Given that the fields are not likely to rival the 80+ fields at a Verge race, the methodology probably won’t matter too much in the end, but it will be an interesting experiment. But, again, it is just one measure among many that could be used.

I find it interesting how we become fixated on certain measures of success that are somehow meant to convey “success” or “failure” across experiences that are relatively individual. Was Palmer a success (Top 10) or a failure (bottom half)? These measures place me relative to other people who were there at the same time as me in the same race. However, were we in the “same” race? It was my third race of the weekend, I am lousy at technical stuff, my cleats were shedding dirt less well than others (making it more difficult to reclip), I had different people to pass at different moments, I had no team mates to ride with in my sub-group, etc., etc., etc. How are these variables factored into the ultimate equation of success and failure? Are these “factors” or “excuses”? How does a factor (something that has legitimate impact) became an excuse (something that has a diminished legitimacy)?

I was reading the blog of Christine Vardaros regarding her exploits in Europe, and the travails of Jonathan Page in regards to his team’s “disappointment” with his “results.” Christine just did a couple of races after experiencing two concussions. A factor or an excuse? Jonathan has been sick, as well as had some “bad luck” (factor or excuse?). I would say legitimate factors for sure, but how easy would it be to turn these things into excuses?

Even though we are racing at different levels, with different stakes, and in different geographies, we are all going through the same calculus of the end-of-the-day ledger sheet regarding success or failure, factor or excuse. But then we should also remember the ultimate equation: A day on a bike > a day not on a bike. When put in this perspective, having the chance to fail on a bike is better than not having that chance at all. I hate to say “We’re all winners” because that always sounds hollow when I hear it at a race. Or, to paraphrase George Orwell, “We’re all winners, some are just more winners than others.” In a sense, though, maybe that is the most accurate way to look at it.

Was Palmer a success or a fail? Top 10 versus bottom half? The answer is: Yes.


Wrentham and Shot Clocks

Only a few days till Wrentham MRC CX. Fun course with cold temperatures. Sign up while the signing is good.

Random thought: Shot clocks at the check out registers in stores. 35 seconds to complete your transaction, ask your questions, use your coupons, swipe your credit card, whatever. If you can’t complete the transaction in that time, you turn the cash register over to the next person in line. Might have to have a longer shot clock in grocery stores. I’m still working out the details.

Sterling and Palmer Double

For the sake of expedience, let’s combine two race reports into one:


This is where parking becomes a relative thing based on the number of racers. But, the measure involves: 1) Are there enough spots; 2) Is it conveniently located to the course; 3) Are you going to lose an axle getting there.

Both races do very well. Palmer is very straight forward with parking right next to the course. There wasn’t a lot of it, but then again a lot wasn’t needed. At Sterling, you actually have options (in front of the school, behind the school, to the side of the school). Requires a little forethought and planning. But, options can be good.

I was a little worried about Sterling, since last year we were funneled into this little hallway with people waaay out the door. Also, we got the email that Reg wouldn’t open until 7:45. But, no worries. We had the wide alcove and the school was opened earlier than that. The people knew what they were doing, and things progressed pretty smoothly.

It is always interesting when you arrive to a race, and the registration people are getting instructions on how to do registration. I arrived at 7:30, with the first race at 9:00, and registration wasn’t going yet. I always think that 1:15 minimum before the first race and registration should be open. It was close, but again, because of the small numbers things went pretty quickly. You couldn’t ride your bike to the registration because you had to walk down stairs, so minus one cowbell.

Indoor bathrooms are always a bonus. Both races had them. I didn’t see any PoJ’s though. At Sterling, that’s a little rough because the school is a bit away from the meat of the course. Since there are plenty of spectators, it would be great to have at least one or two closer to the Start/Finish line. At Palmer, there were only the bathrooms in the school as well, but plenty of woods to dive into in case of an emergency.

An absolute study in contrasts. Fast and open. Technical and tight. New school and olde skool. Take your pick. Both courses were a lot of fun (and moderately frozen). Doing them back to back makes for an interesting weekend.

Palmer had those crazy run-ups. Very similar to Mansfield Hollow. Lots of roots (watch that tire pressure). Rocky downhills. Triple barriers (screw you, UCI). Plywood scrap bridge over a stream. Sterling had the hairpin uphill and downhill, the newly dubbed Subway and Mind the Gap barriers, the horse jump. Either way you go, you can’t lose.

Big fumble for Sterling. Since when do we line up the faster group behind the slower group? So there we were, the Cat 3/4 Masters stacked behind the Cat 4 field. Huh? Mr. Stevens didn’t seem very pleased with that development, but it was too late. We were already placed. Being a Verge race, this stuff should be automatic. Created an interesting obstacle course throughout the race with Cat 4 back-o-the-packers going down like dominoes.

Palmer was cool, but it is hard to screw up a line-up when 30 people are involved. Just lineup and go! It was interesting to lineup on a slight off-camber, though.

Sterling gets the edge for the double pits, where Palmer only had one. I guess another bike shop was supposed to be at Palmer. I don’t know. But, it wouldn’t have been too tough to set up another pit someplace so people could stash their tires in one location and use the neutral support in another. I saw one guy run an entire lap because he had a mechanical right after the pit. Props to him, but an avoidable casualty.

Nothing at Sterling that I could see. But, MRC brought some beverages and I had a banana in my cooler. Palmer had a food truck behind the school. And they gave away free Endurolyte pills at registration. Yeah for free stuff. I think they also had Hammer Gel samples. Enough to get you guy in a pinch.

Minor stuff aside, who can argue with two nice (if not cold) days at the end of November to do a cross race. I would strongly recommend this double next year just to experience both sides of the cross spectrum. Large very intimate. Grass versus roots. New and old. It is an interesting way to see where we are, and where we were. Everyone can then argue which is better. To me, they’re both pretty good.

Glad that’s over

Three races in four days. Not exactly a stage race, but tiring nonetheless. But what fun we had.

To imagine Palmer CX, take Sterling and do the exact opposite. A small intimate affair on a lot of single track with roots, step run-ups, technical riding. Even Mr. Paul Curley was riding without his disc wheel in the back. It was like Bizaro-world.

I saw this course on the pre-ride and thought “What in the hell am I doing here?” Technical riding is not my thing, and this was definitely not my thing. But, you should never judge a course on the pre-ride, and a course has a much different feel “at speed” than just riding around. It is amazing how speed can transform a course. Not that I have a lot of speed, but you get the point.

I was wondering at the start of the day how long it would take for someone to utter the words “old school” or “before the UCI” or some such derivative. I heard it first right before the Cat 4 race at 9:00. “This is what all the courses used to be like before the UCI turned cross into grass crits.” Bing, bing, bing. We have a winner!

I was glad I got there at 7:30am, even though my race wasn’t until 10:00am. I was able to go around 4 times, each time picking up the pace a little bit. There were definitely harder and easier lines, and trying to discern which way to go.

You have to love low key races. Not that people don’t race as hard, but it is a totally different vibe. You have about 30 guys toeing the line, all kind of laughing and hanging out (at least until the official say 30 seconds).

Got a moderately decent start and hit the single track. There was no crowd to speak of. We disappeared into the woods, only to miraculously reappear at the end of the lap. That’s okay because there wasn’t a lot of time for distractions. I was riding fairly well considering I suck at single track. I have been doing a lot of rides with other guys on the area trails, and that definitely helped. Had to ride light over the roots, balance through the corners, let the bike run downhill, sit back when climbing, etc.

There was one section where you rode down a steep grade into a 90 left which then became a steep run-up. I rode it a few times during the race, but opted to dismount at the top, run down, and run up. It wasn’t a bad strategy. I didn’t lose much time, and actually passed a few people who had to slow way down to dismount and then run-up. I had the advantage of cutting inside of them. It is important to know your limitations.

Oh yeah, can’t forget the triple barriers, the river crossing over the palette “bridge”, and the run-up from hell. This was like a 20 foot wall. By the last couple of laps, it was as if we were summiting some 8000m peak, one foot in front of the other, eyes cast downward. The people yelling encouragement didn’t help either. One of my teammates was screaming to go faster. I almost hit him. But I was too tired.

There have only been two races this year where I was thankful for the race to end: Mansfield and Palmer. Both will absolutely kick your butt. The total body-wrenching pain is quite different from other anaerobic crit-type courses. Everything hurts. But, strange thing is that we call this fun!

Oh, and I finished 9th in the Masters 35+ 1/2/3 race. Basically I am very happy with that result. I got everything I could out of that course, and I left not bleed and not crashing (it wasn’t for lack of trying). I got to race some guys hard, and experience a type of ride you really don’t see all that much anymore. And the sad thing is that if you look at the New England Bikereg Cyclocross race section, we are down to one page. Three weeks left kids. Then what?

Could’ve been much worse

That about sums things up for today. Could’ve been better, but could’ve been much worse.

Butt cold of course. About 20F when I arrived at 7:00am for the Bay State CX in Sterling, MA. Holy crap. The ground was frozen solid. Not much wind, but enough to make you want to take up bowling or something warm. At least the sun was out, with the tease of warming up. It did get warmer, probably up to 25F. The warm-up was more to see the course than to actually stay warm. As soon as you stopped, the warming effect was lost. Good thing the Super Strength Greyhound Juice was in effect. Kept the legs moderately toasty while surveying what Tom Stevens had in store.

Many of the old features with some new features. All in all, fun stuff. The run-up (frozen), the horse jump (frozen), the newly dubbed Subway and “Mind the Gap” barriers, and gravely tight turns. Plus, a few new items to break up the long straights, and a start on the track.

The first bit of contention started with the Verge staging guy lined up the 3/4s behind the 4s. Bad move. The race director came up to him and said that he had it wrong, that of course you put the faster guys in front of the slower guys. But, we were already staged, which meant a lot of traffic.

I had my usual so-so start. Some guy was leaning on me, and I wanted to flick him into the tape. But, not a good idea at the start. Made it around the track safe enough and into the downhill-run-up combo. I saw a pile up happening, so I figured to dismount early and run past people. As soon as I started down the short hill, my feet flew from under me on the froze ground. I slid down the hill, and so did other people behind me. I fell pretty hard on my right side, mostly back, and it is pretty sore right now.

After that debacle, I started to try to move through the crowd, which was not easy. It was as if there was someone in the trees with a gun the way people were going down around me. The course wasn’t very technical, but icy and lots of inexperienced riders to go through. By this time I had no idea where I was in my race because we were all mixed together.

The next bit of excitement happened on a hairpin downhill by the pits. Guy in front of me goes down, and I have no where to go but over his bike. This was where riding over roots and such came in very handy, as I was able to ride directly over his bike very cleanly. However, by the time I was over his bike, I was in the trees, which presented a problem. After extracting myself from the trees, I was back on the course and able to find some room to groove.

Into the last lap, I heard a couple of clubmates who weren’t racing yelling that the “leaders” were right in front of me. I didn’t quite believe that, but figured I was in a decent position so I had better keep the gas on. I was able to catch a few more people, including a teammate on the last lap toward the end. Generally, I was powering past people on the straight sections pretty easily. I was almost able to catch the guy that was next, but ran out of real estate.

I looked at my watch and saw that I only raced for about 36:30 out of a 40 minute race. That was a major drag, as one more lap and I could have made up some more ground. What made it more depressing was that I was 4th in the 3/4 35+, missing the podium by one. I know that one more lap and I would have had 3rd. Tends to be a common feature of races now that I get short-changed on time.

All in all, it could have been a lot worse. I’m a bit disappointed for missing the podium. Second week in a row that I finished one spot “out of the money”. But, I’m happy I was able to pull through so many people during the race. Gives me some confidence going forward.

Positives: Not giving up when things got sucky. Racing more aggressive. Riding over someone’s bike.

Negatives: Lousy start. Not knowing how to ice skate. Still need to work on turns.

Two races in three days. One more to go!

Pedifile (sic)

There is a gymnastics facility in Stow that was in the news recently. I guess there is an accusation of an instructor there raping former students of his while they were students of his. This was supposed to have happened at other facilities, I think. I don’t know the details. Anyway, all I do know is that driving home there were four news vans parked at the Stow House of Pizza ready to beam to their satellites from on location.

I drive by the sign for the facility and someone has sprayed “Pedifile” on the sign. Great, something to take down my property values. Thanks a lot! Plus, if you are going to deface private property, at least have the common courtesy to consult a dictionary first so that you don’t make yourself look like a bigger yahoo than you already do by spray painting on a sign. What a nimrod. But, I guess people that would spray point on a sign would be those who do not own a dictionary or any reading material beyond The Star or something.

In other news, did a 5k today, the Stow Gobbler 5k. First in a long time. I haven’t been running at all since the bad toe incident. I wanted to go 18:00 and damned if I didn’t go 18:00. Nothing stellar. Just enough to get a workout. Finished 6th overall and 2nd in my age group. Given the long weekend of racing that I have to deal with, I didn’t want any heroics. Mission accomplished.

1st Stow Gobbler 5k

Out of 5

This was held at Bose in Stow, so plenty of parking to go around. Plus, being a small race, no problems at all.

I should have pre-reg’d, but planned on doing a different race. Sick daughter=closer to home. Anyway, relatively smooth. But, here’s a pointer: put the blank reg for on a separate table so that people can fill them out before standing in line. They did have a course map, which is a plus.

I didn’t have to use them. But, there were four PoJs, which was plenty for this crowd. Plus, some private nooks and crannies in the surrounding area to go in a pinch. Being a very local race, everyone could go before leaving for the race.

Road races, especially 5ks, are relatively simple affairs, and thus should be hard to screw up. Only a few essential elements are need:

1. Is it accurate in terms of distance
2. Are the miles marked and accurate
3. Is it “fair” or “honest”, which means is it anything but flat. For a course to be fair or honest, it has to have some rolling hills.

The course fit the bill on all counts. My Garmin had 3.12 at the end (we’ll give them the .02 for me not cutting the tangents enough. Miles 1 and 2 were marked and seemed to be relatively accurate. I didn’t see Mile 3, so that could be added. The course rolled a little, which broke it up. Relatively straight forward without too many turns. The course was open to traffic, but the time of day and holiday meant there wasn’t much traffic to be had. Overall, the course was nice for a holiday run.

There was also one water stop, but who cares in a 5k in November. One potential deduction for plastic water cup. DO NOT USE PLASTIC CUPS FOR A ROAD RACE!!! USE THE KIND THAT YOU CAN SQUEEZE WITHOUT HAVING THEM BREAK!!!!

Bagels, bananas, granola bars, water, etc. They tried to do the right thing by having coffee, but it was Dunkin Donuts coffee, and who likes that swill anyway?

This is where a lot of races drop the ball. Because there were walkers on the 5k course, we had to wait until EVERYONE was done. Took forever. Mostly everyone left. I stuck around because I give my daughter medals from races. Gotta get things rolling faster after a race. At least they broke up the age groups in 10yr increments and didn’t double dip.

This race was conceived by two brothers who goto Nashoba Valley HS. They are part of the XC team that took 3rd at States. Proceeds goto a good cause, and they showed a lot of initiative in putting this thing together. Good for them!! You really can’t complain about anything. They got twice the people that they expected, and that a lot of bodies doing something healthy. Nice job.