Monday, June 29, 2015

The case against survival mode

(Photo by Matt Masten)

We arranged a late checkout from the hotel yesterday in Lawrence. By we I mean Mike and by arranged I mean "paid 50 bucks." But it was nice being able to race at 4:15, head back to the motel, get cleaned up and head home.

That minute or two of reflection in the shower (Which was only hot, by the way. Seriously, it couldn't make cold water.) was great, but it was the first in a series of second-guesses and laments on missed opportunities. You know, like after every bike race — unless you win.

Saturday was not great. The race was held not on the KU campus, which is hilly and beautiful and all, but at Haskell Indian Nations University, which is neither as hilly nor as beautiful. The technical aspect of racing was much higher, instead. And it wasn't a technical course, really, but rather it had a couple of technical spots that demanded a clean line and good speed, and I don't think I got the second one right all day. I was in the same boat as a lot of others, because on the times where I got pretty lose to nailing it, the two guys in front of me didn't, and opened a big gap. I'm sure i did the same for those behind me at least once or twice.

So, anyway, after chasing at 30-some mph for a couple of laps, catching back on and hoping for the best, I finally got to the point where I couldn't get back on. There was a lead group of four, the man bunch, and then my bunch. And then stragglers here and there. It was not my best day.

After waiting more than 24 hours to race again (during which time I wandered Lawrence, visited the record store, and rode around a bit), we lined up Sunday afternoon to go again. I spent the bulk of the early afternoon in the sweet, sweet air conditioning of the hotel room, trying to convince myself I wanted to race again.

Because I definitely didn't want to. I was tired of being away from home, not psyched on my Saturday performance and not ready to go feel awful for another 50 minutes. That's a rough way to go into a race, by the way.

I went to Starbucks and got a cup of coffee about 90 minutes before the race, had a little snack and began the process of convincing myself that bike racing was awesome. By the time 4:15 came, I was back in it and ready to go. Part of that came from confidence on that course. It's a fast course, but one that's easy to pack-surf and wait for an opportunity.

It was easy to move around on the course, even with 50 guys in the race. And it was clear from the beginning that nothing was going to get away. I hung out in the back half for a bit, just killing time. About halfway through I moved up into the top 10 and tried to stay there the rest of the way.

With two to go, Pat and I moved up another wheel or two and tried to go hard ahead of all of the points where the bunch usually pushed up from behind. I was fifth across the line with one to go, and held that until the last third of the lap.

This is where survival mode comes in. When I felt the bunch coming up to swamp us, I should have gone. It was at most a one-minute effort left. But because I was thinking about surviving instead of going for it and trying to take a top-5 or podium spot, I didn't do anything. Hell, I didn't even have a plan. I had nothing in mind for when this situation came up.

I lost a few wheels then, and a few more down by the fast, flat part with two turns left. By the time we hit the finishing straight, the opportunity was gone. We rode in with the main bunch and finished 25th or 26th or something like that — well out of the money, but feeling OK.

I should know better than to come to a race without a plan. But Saturday's race made me think about just getting through Sunday, and my Sunday attitude was non-productive. I have no idea if I would have survived even 30-seconds going full-gas on that last lap, but trying is better than waiting and waiting and eventually doing nothing, right?

So that's the end of survival mode as the main mindset in a race. I'm going to try to relegate that to, like, plan D or something. And on we go with the rest of the season.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Finish line

Well, we're almost there. The end of baseball. The picture above was taken by Chris last week, and if you look really closely, you can see the ball about to smoke Jack in the hip. He was fine, but it made a nice sound. Luckily since we use soft-touch balls in this league, kids rarely go home with marks after being hit. Anyway, if a kid gets hit by a kid-pitcher, the coach comes in to pitch. He got a nice hit after this.

We're in the last four games of the season — a tournament right now — and that'll be it. (Unless he makes the 8U select team roster, at which point our lives will end and we'll play baseball year-round. This seems unlikely, though.) So we'll have a bit of free time coming up, and maybe that means I can ride my bike a little more. It's hard to say, though. Because we have a trip home coming up, and then vacation, and then ... wait ... school starting in 6 weeks?

That can't be right.

But it is. Summer always goes so fast. Or maybe the commitments we have take up so much of summer that the actual, true, no-responsibilities summer goes by in a flash. As a guy with no summer break, it's going to be like this forever. And at some point soon — maybe even next summer — the things I want to do are going to take a back seat to what the kids have going on. Maddy may start tee-ball next year, plus swimming lessons, plus ... god forbid, soccer ... .

The schedule will be full. And I'm not sure there's room for playing bikes. That would be a drag, because I can't stand the thought of not racing. But at the same time, I'm struggling to go fast with things the way they are. We'll see.

For right now, I'll make do. Lawrence is this weekend and I'm ready enough. Then the Clear Lake cit, then hopefully another race or two, then Des Moines and then Bellevue/Papillion. And then the season is over and it's cyclocross time again, just like that.

See what I mean? Summer's going fast.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Will race for ice cream

One of the good parts of fall (of which there are many) is cyclocross. It's a little bit cooler, the racing is a little bit shorter and everything is just a little bit different. Cyclocross fits well in the fall. It seems more low-key, unless you have big, legit racing goals. I don't, generally, other than to avoid embarrassment. 

So 'cross, for the most part, is fun-time bike racing for me. How fun? Why not go do it in the summer? Given the intensity of the event, this is a terrible idea. It's super-hard and really uncomfortable in the fall. Yesterday it was in the mid-80s and kinda humid. But there I was in LeMars, racing in Bike Central's Summer Cross. Chris and the kids loaded up the car and headed north after baseball in the morning. And it was pretty fun. 

 (Chris took this photo)

It was hot, as anticipated. And there weren't really a ton of people there, which I also anticipated. But mostly I wanted a hard, race-like effort that didn't involve me being out of town all weekend. Plus, there's the bonus of being in the middle of the Ice Cream Festival. So, you know, there's ice cream to be had afterward. (I had too much, like always.)

(This one came from Bike Central's Instagram feed)

Anyway, I won. That was reasonably exciting. There was a South Dakota guy right on my wheel for the first three laps, and that kind of stressed me out a little bit. As far as I could tell, he was hanging easily, but I noticed little gaps opened on certain parts of the course. He faded on a section that had a downhill into sand, and then a long uphill to barriers, and then a wide-open power section. So when I felt him back off, I punched it hard there.

I got a good gap, but he was back on my wheel after the technical stuff. I hit the next barriers and uphill pretty hard, and that again distanced him. I guess he had a mechanical after that (or just blew up), because I never saw him again.

I felt predictably awful, because this type of effort is pretty different than what I've been doing lately. I faded a bit at the end, but tried to really push in the last 10 minutes. I drank all of the water in town after that because, seriously, it was like racing on the sun.

I rode easy today, mostly because it was humid and I'm tired and all of that. We're a week out from Lawrence, and I'm looking for a good ride there. We'll see.

(Thanks, always, to the gang at Bike Central. It was a nice course and a great race. Those guys know how to get it done.)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Out yonder

Over the course of a day, I talk to several dozen people on the phone. Most of them are from California, which means Nebraska is more of a concept than anything else. (At the same time, of course, California is little more than a concept to me. I've only been west of the Rockies once, and it was Portland.)

Nebraska is hard to describe sometimes. Conversations start with the weather, depending on who's on the other end of the phone. Tornadoes are asked about frequently, as well as blizzards in the winter. Both are pretty rare.

Is it flat out there? Some parts are. Some parts you can ride your bike for 100 miles on a straight road and see your destination an hour up the road. That's rough. Some parts are hilly as all get out. And sometimes that's rough, too.

With a few exceptions, though, I think it's nice. We're going to go explore the panhandle on vacation this year, but the picture above was taken about three blocks from our house, at the end of my ride on Tuesday morning. There are lots of views around this part of the state that are pretty similar. And those are the views I wish I could show to the people on the other end of the phone. It's nice out here, really.

I mean, I'm not saying it's tourism-slogan nice, but it's a pretty good life. Man, there's another one.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

We still like baseball ... for now

The "week-o-baseball" has been OK so far. It was helped — sort of — by a rainout on Monday night. That was helpful for the purposes of not getting tired of baseball, but unhelpful because Jack was not happy about another rainout.

Tuesday we went to to the Storm Chasers/Iowa Cubs game. Jack kept score for the first time, which is pretty much the perfect learning opportunity for him. He seems intent on trying to figure out everything about baseball. This is a good start.

Meanwhile, Maddy was mad that the Iowa Cubs lost. Somehow, the Omaha catcher hit three home runs to keep his team in it, and the Storm Chasers won on a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth. Ugh.

We lost our game Wednesday in the last at-bat, too. I didn't feel like crying, but it was certainly a drag. We have another one tomorrow night and another on Saturday morning. And then a two-week tournament begins.

We're almost there.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The baseball project

In my long-dormant list of "writing projects (careers?) I'd like to do," the most ambitious — and ridiculous — is attending every Cubs home game. Ten years ago, long before kids and job changes and everything else, maybe that would have been a possibility. I know now it's not going to happen, but it's fun to dream a little.

Anyway, that project goes like this: season tickets and attending every home game. It's a diary of sorts on the day-to-day affairs of a major league ballpark (and city and fanbase, really). Chapters broken up by homestands. And what do you do when the team is out of town? Probably do the stuff you haven't been doing because you're at the ballpark every day.

It would be a fun, and likely exhausting, project, but it still bounces around in my head sometimes. The closest I can get is what's coming up beginning Saturday. It goes like so:

Saturday: Baseball game
Sunday: Baseball practice
Monday: Baseball game
Tuesday: Storm Chasers game
Wednesday: Baseball game
Friday: Baseball game
Saturday: Baseball game

I've wondered when thinking about the Cubs project whether I'd be sick of baseball by the end of it. I'm guessing no, because I watch almost all of the games, anyway. The same question could probably be asked about the nest few days: won't you be sick of baseball by the time you're done?

We're about to find out. It could be a long, long week.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Present and accounted for

As far as I can tell, this photo by Mike Dixon is the only shot of me from the weekend. But, really, I was there the whole time. I promise! (I'm the guy in the white and pink jersey, by the way.)

Unfortunately, being present is really all I have to show for the weekend of racing. (By the way, remember when I used to do race reports right away? I'm afraid those days are long gone.) The crit on Saturday was probably the best of the three times I've raced that course, but it still wasn't great. The pace started off ridiculously high and just got faster. At that point, I was one of many who fell away from the front. In the end, it was a lead group of four, three chase groups of two and then my group, which had between six and nine guys at varying points. Everybody else was pulled long before then.

Considering last year I was done after about 10 minutes, this is an improvement. Of course, I don't ride all the time in order to improve well enough to finish in the bunch. But I wasn't that bummed at the end.

After getting decent rest and rehydrating as much as possible, I lined up for the Sunday road race. It was only 64 miles (or so), but it was hot and the skies were clear and every former football-playing bike rider from Iowa was going to be there. I swear, the Des Moines teams recruit a new group of 15 guys each year, and they all look like linebackers. And they can all make a bike go really fast.

Anyway, it was a solid race. I've raced here a lot, and I know that absent extraordinary attacks, breaks don't stay away here. Thus, we (Flatwater) didn't chase anything. No rotating, no pulling, none of that. (That's not the case in a 1/2 race, when attacks are, indeed, extraordinary and frequent.) So we didn't. I made sure I was near the front in order to follow little surges — and to not get gapped on hills — but that's about it.

I did get popped on the last lap when I couldn't answer a number of surges in a row, but the group slowed a couple of miles later and my chase group of four was back on without too much stress. After that, it was just waiting for the sprint. And despite feeling like I'd done some work in sprinting with dead legs, I most definitely did not sprint. The pack rolled away in the final 500 meters or so and I finished pretty much in the same spot as the day before: mid-pack and nothing better.

Such is the life, I suppose. But my desire to remain hidden and do nothing crazy likely has to do with that sole picture up top. I focused on staying out of the wind and away from spots that cause trouble, which made some parts of the race easier. That doesn't make for good photo opportunities, but it keeps you in the game until the end, I guess.