An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Missing a traditional event...

This coming Saturday is the Bonney Lake Labor of Love Triathlon, the 7th year the race has been run.

And it's also the first year that I won't be doing the race. As one of only a few who have done each edition of this race, it's kind of sad to miss it this year. A streak broken. And in fact it's the first year since 2007 that I haven't done any triathlons at all.

The reason I'm not doing the race has nothing to do with the fact that I haven't done any running or swimming since... well, since the last time I did the race. I could still do the bike leg of a relay. Though it wouldn't be my best ride. 

And it has nothing to do with needing time in the shop to finish up things for the Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Fest, where I'm exhibiting for the first time.

No, the reason I won't be doing the race is because I've been battling some lower-back issues since just a few days after the Capital Forest ride, now over a month past. I believe that ride set me up for the injury, one of those "how could that hurt me so badly" kind of things that just seems stupid, but nonetheless puts me on the sidelines. This one was just hanging on. I can still ride, but every time I get into a good race position and push it, everything starts tightening up.

So I sought the intervention of a chiropractor.

I've seen one locally a few times when I've been feeling it. Within a couple adjustments things cleared up. Maybe they would have done so on their own anyway. This time, though, I wasn't seeing any progress, and the chiropractor was hesitant to take x-rays to see what was going on. I could FEEL the vertebrae out of place.

I defected to another chiropractor, and now a week later I'm doing MUCH better. X-rays showed that I wasn't imagining things -- a sideways angle at L-4 to L-5, and a forward displacement below L-5 said a thousand words of "ouch" in two pictures. 

Aggressive treatment is what I was after, and that's just what I got. Without 15 minutes of talk about how the chiropractor wanted to expand the clinic.

Anyway, I may still show up at the event if I can get on the road early enough, just to say a quick pre-race "hi" to the RockSteady kids. Maybe passing along a lesson in making the wiser choice...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mixed-surface madness

Last night I dropped in on the local Kermesse Cup series for a flogging. This particular edition was the Buckley Slough Kermesse.

What is a kermesse, you ask? Well, a thorough description of the European standard would be found here, but for the purposes of this local series, it's a short loop bicycle road race that is partially on dirt/gravel roads. The format is a point-a-lap sprint at a designated location on each lap, with a neutral after to regroup.

The entrance into the gravel
section (and where the
real racing started) to the right
(photo by Alfredo Rmz)
Last night's edition was on a basically flat 5K loop course, just over 1 mile of which was on a canal trail service road, with the sprint near the end of the gravel double-track.

I transferred over my 28mm road tires to a new set of wheels I'd built up a while back, and they now measured out to 30mm (WTB I-19 Team rims), and I figured I was as ready as I ever would be.

My warm-up was interrupted by volunteering to retrieve another rider who had flatted at the farthest point on the course, so when we all started into the gravel section right from the opening whistle, I wasn't ready for the first-lap-of-the-criterium mad pace. I barely hung on, and was the last to catch onto the group during the neutral. But it got better. I had to remind myself that I was going up against guys that were still racing on a regular basis, and I hadn't done anything like this in close to 10 years. [yeah, yeah, I know... "excuses excuses"]

Promoter and winner
Michael Pruitt in background,
second place Alfredo Rmz in
foreground (photo by Alfredo Rmz)
On subsequent laps, I became more active in the mix-up, taking my share of dust and pulls, chasing down early flyers, and having a great time. My lines through the rougher stuff got better, getting my "land legs" in the gravel at speed. Something I'm not used to, even with all the gravel riding I've done.

On the fourth lap, just as the final sprint lead-out was winding up, I gave a good push to hang on, and my back tweaked on me. I've had some issues with my back since a few days after the Capitol Forest ride, and up to that point it felt best when I was riding. This was a definite and very abrupt giving out, and I backed off and just soft-pedaled to the regroup. I let them know I was done, and hung it up when we got back to the start area.

Sure, my fun was over for the night, and it made for a very restless and painful night of barely-any-sleep (and a visit to the chiropractor this afternoon), but I think I did okay, all things considered. Met some new friends, got a good, if short workout, and had fun.

Would I do it again? Maybe, but if I do I'll stick with my normal gravel road set-up of 38mm rubbers and leave the road tires at home. And go in with a healthy back.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lucky Deuce Gravel Crusher

It’s been four days since the end of the Lucky Deuce Gravel Crusher, and I’m still shaking off the effects of the ride(s). In fact, just yesterday a little in-home project had me sitting on the floor for a bit, which led to my back seizing up for the rest of the day. It’s still sore today.

So how was the ride? Let’s start with day 1…

In a word, brutal. And I was the one that mapped it all out. Okay, I’ll admit that event day was the first time I had strung it all together into a single ride. And in fact the first time I’d actually ridden some of the course (I had driven it, but that’s not the same thing). Not only does time dull the pain, but not doing the whole course at once gives one a skewed idea of just how hard it is… So I was going into it maybe just a little less blind than my ride mates.

In any case, after a dozen miles lulling us into a false sense of security, the climbing start in earnest. And that in steep grades. I had a 34/32 low gear, and was unceremoniously dumped into it early. Let the grinding begin. And then, once you think you’ve hit the top (at 15 miles, with a short downhill to seal the illusion), we take a sharp right and hit the REAL climb. A cruel pitch even longer than the one on the Elbe ride, and just as steep. I ended up walking a portion of it, and have no shame in saying so.

But the views from the top (at 22 miles) and along the long descent were fantastic. It’s funny how dropping altitude, and the attention it requires, makes one wish for flat ground, or even a little uphill. Relief comes at 32 miles, and more when we hit pavement again at 34.

The stop in the raging metropolis of Malone, at the “post office” (an outdoor drop box and PO Boxes against the side of a mom-and-pop shop) allowed for restocking the water and fuel stores, then we were off again along Highway 12, being buzzed by every truck in the county. Yes, Russ, there IS a law that every truck must haul a trailer, apparently.

And then the precip started. A drizzle that quickly became a vision-sapping heavy rain, and almost obscured the left turn back into Capitol Forest (39 miles). Let the climbing re-commence.

Insult on top of injury. This climb was long. And steep. And long and steep. With occasional respites of less steep. One seeming top-out at 44 miles, and then another onslaught at 45, with the actual summit at 48. That’s right, 9 miles (give or take, mostly take) of ascent. But what goes up must come down, and the next 8 miles was a series of drops and declines that had me on the brakes or letting it fly. Once again, by the time I hit the base of the gravel and onto pavement, it was a massive relief. Funny how we come to a ride like this for the gravel, and then feel so relieved to be off it. Two more miles of paved descent and back to the highway.

Turning off the highway at mile 60 and onto the backroads seriously decreased the baud rate of input, and a sigh of relief was audible. Little to no traffic, no terrain to deal with, an easy cruise to the end. Beer and snacks followed. Glorious.

After chillin’ away the evening and as good a night’s sleep as I could muster in unfamiliar surroundings, I arose for day two.

Though I was a little more familiar with the route and terrain for this ride, I had never done any of the spur out to the Brooklyn Tavern. I told myself that if I were the only one riding, or if every one else who showed up was tired or not up to it, I’d skip the spur and do the shorter route. Turns out I was the only one to show. But I was prepared for the full meal deal anyway.

Similar to day one, there’s a good 10 miles of pavement to warm up on before the first gravel sector. But this time there was more paved climbing, hitting at just over 8 miles in.  A nice, freshly graveled road awaited, with a closed gate (so no danger of motor vehicles). But up it went right away. Not as long, but every bit as steep, followed by some gentle rolling, and then a long descent to 12.5 miles. I hit rain (or it hit me) just as I approached the final uphill, put on my arm warmers and vest for the descent, and eventually sought shelter under a tree to wait out the worst of the rain.

Actually, the worst of it was all the tall grass that was bent over the sides of the gravel road soaking me as I rode through it. Close to the pavement, I came up behind two riders on horseback, and they showed signs of skittishness as I approached. I stopped, said a hello, waited for the horses to calm down, then walked my bike past. They, too, had gotten caught in the rain. We wished each other well and went on our own paths. By the time I reached the pavement, the rain had quit, and warm temperatures returned rapidly.

A short paved section brought me to the second gravel sector, with much more climbing in three stages, but also more pleasant gentle rises and falls over the six miles. This road was also gated, as the winter past had required ditching across the lane to prevent washouts – peaceful, nice surfaces. Four short get-offs for the ditching and the final short rise back to pavement had me back in civilization. Though this was an eight mile stretch of off-tarmac, it went by quickly.

While I didn’t go out to the Brooklyn Tavern, I did go out the spur part way, a couple miles to where the route departed the main roads, about 13 miles short of the Brooklyn. I felt guilty for not making the full trek out to the destination, but also knew that to do so would have meant at least another 2 hours of riding, and likely 3 hours or more total. I made the decision to turn back there and get to the end of the ride, paved the whole way.

The finish of day two follows much the same path as the final miles of day one, so familiar landmarks goaded me to push it in to the end.

Thinking ahead to next year, I see no reason to change the routes at all. Yes, they were hard (more so on day one), harder than even I expected, and harder than I had characterized in my info to other riders. But with some more accurate advertising, I think that more crazies would be attracted to make the event next year.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Okay, I've been riding with some regularity for a good 35 years now, and it seems that this particular thing has been happening much more frequently this year than any other time. So far -- knock on wood -- I've never hit pavement because of a motor vehicle (I have due to other cyclists, however).

Here's how it plays out... I'm riding along a straight road, maybe going past a strip mall, nearing a driveway, intersection with no stop sign, something like that. A motor vehicle will pass me with its right turn signal flashing.

And then it just stops.

Now I don't know if it's just waiting to get a good shot at me as I pass, or being nice and letting me by -- I choose to believe the latter. And I appreciate the gesture of being attentive to others safety.

But it makes me wonder just what reasoning is going on here.

My thoughts are two:
(1) What makes this driver think it's a good thing to stop dead in the road with traffic coming up behind?
(2) If that turn was so close, why even attempt to make the pass?

Sure, I've had people burn past and almost flip the car trying to make the turn without causing me to T-bone their side panels, and it's almost always a large pick-up slurping a good $1.00 worth in fuel in the process. I just laugh.

But the ones that stop? I mean, in the first thought above, all it's doing is increasing the chances that one of us will get rear-ended.

And in that second thought, I have to wonder what was so important that the potential 3 second delay of waiting behind was unbearable, which then turned into even LONGER because... I don't know, maybe they think everyone on a bike is tootling along at the standard DUI case of 5 mph and thinks traffic law is for someone else. Then they realize too late that I'm going a bit faster than that and OH CRAP! I'm not gonna make it!

I've talked with a few of them at times, and the usual answer is "I couldn't tell how fast you were going." Really? Then, again, why would you attempt the pass? Are you in the habit of venturing into a situation like that where you couldn't tell how fast traffic was going?

What I end up doing in every case is staying behind the car and waving them through the turn. I refuse to put myself where they can't see me and risk them taking the turn as I'm passing. Sometimes it turns into a bit of a standoff, but I'll pull into the lane behind them if needed. That usually gets the message across.

It's just something I don't get. But then it seems common sense has left the building. Along with common courtesy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On being an ex bike racer

It's been a lot of years since I lined up for a bike race. Sure, I've done some fast group rides that turned competitive, and ridden some fondos and a triathlon or two since then, but it's not the same at all.

I love to push the pace on the bike, and I'll even give a spirited sprint now and then. I've still got some decent cruising speed, and can find my way around a moving peleton and stay in it long enough to see the final line-up, but frankly I've lost that pointy end. The mind still knows how to get in there, but the legs just aren't gonna cash that check. I can still be the big fish in a small pond on most shop group rides. Most of the folks who show up have never done a true bike race. But when any regular racers show up, they can hand me my hiney on a platter pretty much at will.

And I'm okay with that.
There is a certain respect among racers that never goes away, even long after the race wheels have been sold off. And a mystique from non-racers.

I realized in spades just how okay I am with not racing after I had lined up for my last race, the local Tuesday Night World Championships at Pacific Raceways back in... 2006?

Some people joke that PR (Pacific Raceways) actually stands for Pretend Racing, and likely many people hold back on those nights. I never did -- when it came to racing, I was always drilling it, no matter what the event. It was racing, after all, and as a racer, if there are accolades at the finish, by thunder I was gonna race.

Okay, so mainly my team role was first lead-out man. Meaning that unless there were a lot of hills, especially with a hilltop finish, or this was a stage race that included a time trial, it wasn't my turn for personal glory. But I was good at my job, and did it with joy, ushering my second lead-out and sprinter to the fore more often than I can count, and watching the pack stream by as I gasped my way across the line, long-since spent.

ANYway... So back to that night in 2006 (I think). My last racing year prior to that was probably 1996, the culmination of years of racing an average of 4 days a week from May through August (with it starting around 2 days a week as early as February). Track racing on Wednesdays, full calendar of weekend events, Tuesday nights every week, Thursday crits... I took about 5 years off everything but weight training, and bulked up to... a lot. Got back into triathlon for a couple years, and stupidly thought it'd be cool to drop by the Tuesday Worlds for a taste of the peleton again.

Since my racing license had long-since lapsed, I decided to race the 4/5's instead of the Masters (which included many local cat 1's and 2's, and a few National champions). Lining up, I noticed all the deep section carbon wheels, high-end rides... I just wanted to make it through the end on my semi-aero rims and old Softride. I got more than a bit of ribbing over that. Plain red jersey, as I wasn't on any team. With a blow of the whistle from my good friends who run the event, we headed out.

At a dead sprint.

Hey, this isn't a crit!

I charged ahead as the pack as it slinkied up the first mile, reforming into the less-strung-out version it had been before the whistle. I hung around the back of the pack, just getting the feel of the large group again. Down the chute to the chicane turns, a long shallow uphill to the top straights... I was there, but suffering. Another lap, and I was mentally just throwing in the towel. I hung out for one more time up the hill, and then just let the pack drift off. Kept pedaling, and when the masters pack came by I jumped in the back to finish my workout.

That is when the real assault started.

You see, the 4/5 pack is used to seeing new blood. The masters, not so much. I got derided handily for jumping in a pack that I didn't belong in. Maybe the rules for this event had changed over the ensuing years, but back when I was doing this regularly, it wasn't a problem to jump in but not contest the sprints or affect the breaks. But I think the real issue is that no one knew who I was, that I had done this a LOT (though several years prior), and that I wasn't going to pose a danger to anyone.

Maybe I should have worn my old kit anyway.

But I essentially got flicked off the back by one of the designated generals of the pack. Sure, well-meaning, but the kind of move that enforces the elitist reputation of the upper categories.

I called it a night. And I realized that, really, I was fine with not racing in the peleton any more. I'd made the transition from triathlete to good bike racer once, and it was quite painful, thankyouverymuch. It was a good run. But I wasn't interested in putting myself through that again, in my mid-40's.

I like the events I do -- gravel rides and fondos are keeping me focused enough on riding. And it's fun, even putting on a few low-key events.

And my wife said she'll disown me if I shaved my legs.

Though lately I've been hanging around some active racers. And when the group winds it up, I get that itch...