Thursday, December 24, 2009

A New Ride

After a taste of cross riding I got the go-ahead from my SO to buy a cross bike.

Because I love the ride and durability characteristics of titanium my first choice of frame material was titanium. I contacted Bill Holland to see what he would charge to build a frame and it turns out he doesn't build cross bikes.

So I turned to the internet. My searches turned up several builders of ti cross bikes and I eventually settled on (TiCycles). One of my regular training partners rides a TiCycles road bike and really loves it. That's a good recommendation.

Several email and phone contacts later we settled on a 52cm frame with Shimano components. One part of the setup that I'm particularly excited about is the disk brakes. I'm so sick of grinding down my wheels with road grit.

The final result is pictured here:

The fenders and light are for my first ride, but more on that later.

Once Dave (of TiCycles) and I settled on the specifics and he got a deposit the process moved ahead. This is a stock frame so it's welded in China. (He has all his stock stuff made in China these days.) After weeks of waiting I got notice that the frame had been delivered to Portland. It passed his QA review and he began the assembly process. A week or so later I got notice that he was done.

The final payment was on its way and I made my final preparations for the pickup adventure.

Since he's in Portland (Oregon) and I'm in Seattle I decided to take the train to Portland and bus out to his factory. Another twist: the single bus line serving his area stops about 2 miles short. "No problem" he says; I'll pick you up. Great; this adventure began.

On December 22 I was on the Portland-bound train at 7:30 a.m., decked out in my cycling togs. It's a beautiful ride with sections that go along right next to Puget Sound. The seats are comfortable, you can get up and walk around any time, there's a dining car, and even power for a laptop! Can't say enough about the quality of this trip.

My trip to pick up the bike went very smoothly. It was a peaceful trip to Portland. My only nervous part was that I forgot to put Dave's phone number into my phone before leaving and hadn't written it down to take with me. TiCycles wasn't listed in the phone book at the train station and my VZ Navigator didn't allow me to find nearby internet cafes. No libraries were with walking distance so I called Janet and she looked it up on the web for me.

The weather was very auspicious - by the time the train got to Portland the clouds had broken up and there were glimpses of blue sky! It was a 2-block walk to a bus stop to take me out his direction. Glad I was dressed warmly as I had to wait quite a while for the bus.

After that it was uneventful: got off the bus at its last stop on St. Helens Rd and called for a pickup. My ride was there in just a few minutes. It turns out that Dave has one person working for him (Eric) and his shop is in the basement of his house! So we were out in this rural area with a bike fabricator working in his basement. This spring he will be moving into a much larger workshop out behind his house.

The bike fit just great except the seat was a wee bit high. Dave lowered it about a half centimeter and it felt just right. Took it for a spin and it rode just fine. Dave took a few pictures of me and the bike to potentially put on his Facebook site. I put a pair of clip-on fenders on the bike and headed back to Portland.

My initial plan was to go back to St. Helens Rd and follow it back into town. Dave, however, suggested that I ride Skyline Blvd back in. Eric got me a GOOGLE map and they sent me on my way. Great suggestion! After 2 or 3 miles of heading uphill on McNamee I got on Skyline which wandered up and down and ultimately brought me right down into the west edge of Portland with a pretty much straight shot back to the train station. The route was about 15 miles.

Had a snack, waited around an hour or so, and got back on the train for a relaxing ride home. Got back to Seattle at 9:00 pm or so and got all hyped up riding back up the hill so that I couldn't get to sleep.

I can hardly wait to get out and ride it off road. Maybe early in the new year?

Monday, November 23, 2009

At the end of 2009 cyclocross

After my friends shamed me into trying cyclocross this year I have to admit that I did have some fun. It put a whole new twist to riding in the fall and riding on into the bad weather.

This past week I found a great urban cyclocross/MTB route. It follows a Seattle City Light power transmission right of way right through the center of south Seattle. A combination walking/biking trail (article) also uses the same right of way. In places there's a gravelled path that parallels the paved path. However, for CX/MTB the entire right of way has been engineered into a series of great big swales.

The swales have low spots that get muddy, steep ups and downs, and are covered with lumpy grass. All this makes for challenging riding. I found that I could traverse the sides of the swales, go straight up if not too steep, descend on the steep sections, ride through ditches and muddy places. Every once in a while throw in a little paved surface variety. All in all, have quite an experience.

Plus the approach up Beacon Hill via Cheasty Blvd
View Larger Map allowed me to ride all the way up and down on a gravelled path that parallels the road.

Riding the length of the Chief Sealth trail and returning was quite tiring. Now to recruit some of my friends to go with me again.

Yesterday (11/22/09) was my last cyclocross race of the year Seattle Cyclocross' Sedro-Wooley event. And was it a doozy.

First, it was a ridiculously long drive from Seattle - 75 miles - for a 30 minute race. Then, it had been raining for several days so the venue was well-soaked. This made for interesting mud all around. My photo is evidence.

What did I find challenging?

The 50' mud pit. On my final lap I only had to step down for a single step; didn't even have to dismount. On another lap, however, I was brought to a halt in the middle and stepped out into a bog. People used may different strategies to get through from trying to ride all the way to dismounting and running all the way.

The S-mud-downhill. Made it down every time. This was an S-shaped, slippery downhill followed by a slight upgrade to a steep little hill out of the other side of the gully. A challenge to carry enough speed through to the hill and not spin out over the top (muddy again).

The straight away downhill. A nice little run down with a straight runout. Came in to it straight and let it run out. The other side of the gully was a slight up bit over some light mud and roots. Kept enough speed to get up with minimal rear wheel spin.

The log corner. Just a bit before the S-downhill. At a right hand turn half the path had a small log in the earth with a big puddle right behind. The un-log section to the right developed deep mud. So I found it tricky to maneuver through.

The pasture lumps. Everywhere we rode on the grass there were serious humps and bumps. Just jounced my way through.

The washboard. A non-deep-mud bypass to a huge mud section early on in each lap. I slowed down significantly to navigate through.

Post race cleanup was a new experience, as well. Start out with the hose to sluice off the thick mud then 2 cycles through the washing machine. I just hope that my shoes don't mold before they dry out; I've never had so much mud on my shoes.

Now to get my friends out on the trails and to get my hands on my new cross bike!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pink is for boys

I've always liked to be quietly tweaky of convention. Not enough to get too much noticed by polite people and who cares about the impolite ones. All my training partners note when I dress "conventionally". But since the wild lycra 80s it's become harder and harder to get loud and obnoxious clothing. I have found an online vendor who will sell you wild and crazy lycra stuff.

Doing a quick Google search reveals an interesting history of boy/girl color identities. It was only within the last half of the 20th century that the current boys=blue, girls=pink fashion came to be.

Some years ago, before I began my recent run of age group competitiveness, I decided that I could get attention by dying my hair pink for IMC and I could tweak the masculine sensibilities of lots of men. And boy did it work well. The first year I did it (pink hair) I got into the IMC video. Now it's old hat and doesn't happen any longer. But it still works full tilt boogey in the masculinity tweaking department.

It never ceases to amaze me how sensitive so many guys are to outward appearances of being "manly". And pink hair pushes buttons on lots of them. All my friends now think it's just quirky old me.

Same thing with clothing.

Men only wear black or subdued dark colors. Animal prints or loud and/or clashing colors? Never!

Sad to say, my obnoxiously loud workout clothing is wearing out and it's a lot more effort to find and replace. I've got some pink running shorts from the early 90s but those will be history one of these days and there doesn't seem to be readily available replacements. Nowadays I prefer shorts to lycra, so that really restricts my choices.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ariadne's thread, my 2009 racing season

The story
In Greek mythology Ariadne was the daughter of Minos the king of Crete. The half man half bull Minotaur inhabited the labyrinth on Crete. Every year 14 young men were provided as sacrifices to the Minotaur. After Ariadne fell in love with Theseus she provided him with a magical golden thread so that he could find his way out of the labyrinth when he was placed into it. Read more and more

This certainly describes my 2009 racing season.

The races
Steilacoom Resolution Run Series
Death Valley Marathon
Desert Half Iron
Ironman Canada
Grand Columbian Half Iron

The numbers

Resolution Run, age group first, mile series
Death Valley Marathon, age group first, 30km event
Desert Half Iron, age group first
Ironman Canada, age group fourth
Grand Columbian, age group first

The labyrinth
I started the 2009 season high as a kite from an incredibly successful 2008 season. In retrospect this was clearly dangerous. My aspirations were high.

My work career was winding down to retirement and I had time and inclination to train. During the fall I had a number of incredible trail running experiences in California. My in-laws lived in Cupertino at that time and their assisted living facility backed up to Rancho San Antonio Park and open space. The weather in Silicon Valley in the winter time can be great, the hills were challenging and beautiful, and I was stoked. On the day these photos were taken I ran all the way to the top of Black Mountain and enjoyed every second of it.

Then disaster in the form of a training injury struck. Running more than a few miles resulted in the most excruciating knee pain I've ever experienced and brought me to a crawl. I struggled through the 10-mile and 15-mile Resolution Run races. In both races I started out fine, but the pain returned some time during the race. At the 15-miler everything was great to about mile 12 at which point I slowed to a crawl.

All this was pointing me to the Death Valley Marathon which was going to be a whole new experience for me. It was not to be.

By the time I got there I was not healed so I switched to the 30km race. That was a smart decision but still a struggle. Bad weather resulted in a course change so we ran in Badwater (the lowest place in North America) instead of through the mountains. By the turn around my pace had slowed to a painful limp. That journey back across Death Valley, peering through the mist, was probably the longest 3 miles I've ever run.

Now I was suffering from serious testosterone poisoning: big aspirations in combination with a body that wasn't cooperating.

Following the thread
First, I went to a physical therapist. A PT had helped me to recover from a shoulder over-use injury the previous year, so I felt some kind of confidence in this approach. With my exercise bands firmly anchored I proceeded to follow instructions and I began to heal!

I was able to run again! It took a while, but it happened.

Then I worked at lowering my aspirations. This was really, really hard because I had set myself up.

But, if the fun was to go out of it, I didn't want to do it.

Training one day at a time became my mantra. Have fun training with my buddies and race up to whatever I was capable of doing and make my competitors work to win.

By the time the Desert Half rolled around I was feeling pretty frisky. But I was flat on the bike, just didn't have the snap I expected. The run was hard, hard, hard. It seemed that my plan was not fully executed.

Then some other mysterious injury settled on me: my right hamstring HURT LIKE HELL when I rode my bike. Massage and acupuncture helped and I could still run totally pain free.

Who would believe that it would be possible to get injured swimming in Lake Washington? It happened. On a training swim I collided with another swimmer who did a perfect head butt to my left rib cage. At first I could hardly breathe; couldn't cough or sneeze or laugh without awful pain.

Wow, I was really being tested.

The coup de grace occurred in mid-August when I was laid low by a hemorrhoid (hargh!) attack.

So, here I was getting ready to do an Ironman with: sore ribs, hurting leg, hargh! Whoa, would I make it to the starting line?

Off to Penticton with plenty of reading material just to make sure that I took it EASY and laid low. The days raced by, I was filled with self-doubt, and I meditated on my state of mind.

The race was a reprise of the Desert Half only twice as long: flat on the bike, struggle on the run. It seemed almost as if I had dug myself in even deeper.

Then the way cleared up: I was still good, I could still race, even in spite of it all. Holy, moly, what a revelation! It didn't matter. I had gone in to the race with self doubts about starting and finished really well. I could let go; I could let the day unfold around me.

That was it. Now I could focus on the fun again and let the rest of it happen as it would, without worrying. And I did. My last race of the year was total fun with a big success.

My first cyclocross race

For the past couple of years I've been "encouraged" by several of my friends to give cyclocross a try. My first thought was "That's a great way to get injured!", what with my lame bike handling skills. As I thought about it more, I became more and more intrigued with the idea and my fear level diminished.

So, last winter I decided to take a cheapskate approach to entry to the sport. I had this old hard tail mountain bike in the garage, demoted from commuter vehicle to taking up space. My second thought was: How can I make this harder for myself? Ah ha, I'll convert the bike to a single speed!

Charlie helped me by suggesting gearing that I could use and by being encouraging. Over the winter I removed all the components from the bike, bought the parts I needed, and made the conversion. This was challenge enough for me as I'm not what you'd call "handy". Here's the final result.

I did nothing over the summer with the conversion. As fall rolled around the only remaining item was tires. Again, Charlie to the rescue. He suggested a lot of options and I chose Vredestein "Tiger Claws". How could I go wrong with tires called "Tiger Claws". During the tire process I found that the rear wheel needed to be replaced. One new wheel later I was ready to go.

Once again Charlie to the rescue. He took me under his wing again, taking me to practice sessions at lower Woodland Park and a Wednesday night session at Marymoor Park. After several of these Tuesday sessions I was ready to give "racing" a try. With my skill level and the speed achievable with my bike racing is a loose way to describe my progress around a course.

Seattle Cyclocross sponsors an entire race series all through the fall. My first race was Beverly Park. As a side note, for those of you who aren't acquainted with cyclocross, the courses tend to be contrived. There are lots of tight turns around trees and/or artificial barriers, at least one run-up where you have to dismount and carry your bike up a hill, and at least one barrier where you must dismount and run over the barrier with your bike. Beverly Park had all of this plus a spooky (for me), steep descent and a weird, uphill, off-camber, S-shaped turn. I walked/ran both of these.

My only goal was to finish in one piece.

Charlie picked me up on Sunday morning for the drive to the race venue. We arrived plenty early, got signed in, and were able to ride a practice lap. The temperature was low and the sun was out.

We started in the infield of a track and within 200 yards were faced with the run-up. I was in the CAT4 55+ men. All the CAT4 men less than 50 started ahead of us and the CAT4 women behind us. It was quite a scene as the riders charged ahead and streamed up the run-up, carrying their bikes.

The first group was off and a minute later we were, as well. There was a barrier at the foot of the run-up to force a dismount. I felt reasonably smooth with my dismount and chugged up the hill. By the time I was a quarter way around the course the first women passed me. Soon I was totally surrounded by women and had lost sight of all the other men. Alexie went by me soon after with an encouraging call.

After the upper section we had the weird S-shaped hill; I walked it. On my third lap I crashed here during my dismount. Shortly after this we were sent down the descent hill which I also walked. This was a real time loser because the descent was followed immediately by an ascent which I then had to run up. Finally several circuitous laps around the track and back to the run-up.

On my third lap I dropped my chain just after the run-up and had to spend time getting it back on. By the time I got back to the track I was starting to overtake a few other men who were pooping out. This chain drop took enough time that I didn't get out on a 4th lap.

Next time.

I met my goal of finishing uninjured; my crash resulted in only a minor elbow abrasion and a sore ankle and shin. All survivable and rapidly healable.

My friends are right, it is fun. And now I've got another sport for the interim season after triathlons are done.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

IMC 2009 lead up

Written the day before IMC 2009:

Well, it's almost here. Tomorrow morning we'll be in Lake Okanagan thrashing our way into another IMC.

Had a great dinner with the Deads on Thursday. It was good to see old friends and meet some new faces (thank you, once again, Tony).

The weather has been good for a race. Not too hot, should be manageable.
That's always my biggest fear - that it will be beastly hot. There's just something strange about setting out on a marathon in the middle of the afternoon when the temperature is over 90. I don't think we're going to get that tomorrow.

Lake swims have been terrific. The water temperature is cool and comfortable, wetsuit perfect. We've not seen any high winds on any day so far. In fact, when I walked back from dinner on Thursday night it was so balmy and calm in the lake the kids were out swimming and playing in the water under the moonlight. Their laughter was like music as I walked along Lakeshore Drive.

Yesterday I dropped off my extra wheels at the Bike Barn. I hope that I can save someone else's race by doing so. Mine was saved a number of years ago when I broke a spoke turning in to the out-and-back. Let's hope that the karma I experienced that day is still flowing.

Sister Madonna got a standing ovation at the carbo dinner last night. She was sitting at the table next to mine and we can only hope that we all have the drive, skill, genetics, and persistence of that woman. She's 79 this year and looks just great. Frank Cokan, her male counterpart, is also here. He's a relatively young 78, I believe.

My table was blessed with 2 of the Dick-Eds: Ed Wong and Ed Russell. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Dick-Eds, the 3 of them have done every IMC except the first. That's a streak of 26 years this year!) Ed Russell had special caps made embroidered with "Club Ed" and he gave them out to people at the table. I will proudly wear mine.

Today I'll get all my transition stuff together and give over my bike for its overnight stay in transition. We also get to sign up for the opportunity to sign up for next year's race. Since I've already reserved my room for next year, it looks like I'm on it again. This year will be my 15th IMC. Feels kinda special.

This morning I lay in bed, plugged into my Zune listening to Toby Keith, and thinking about Hurricane Bob's essay on being prepared. You're so right, Bob. I am ready. I've spent the last few days pushing all those doubts out of my mind and preparing for the challenge ahead.

It's a rare privilege to be here with all these dedicated athletes, all of us ready to take whatever is handed our way, and face tomorrow with a big smile and a heart full of joy.

Here's to tomorrow.