Tuesday, July 21, 2009


It is often said that cycling is a metaphor for life. I find that with BCBR the analogy is uncanny. Perhaps there are greater cycles of life I can compare the race to, but most obvious to me at this time is the parallel between the six nights at BCBR and the six years of my grad school career. Like a race, one of the remarkable things about my last four months was the recognition of the importance of every moment, that even my few periods of rest had meaning and purpose. If I may speak in analogy for a while, perhaps we may distill a deeper meaning of things. For those with little patience for words and the rambling thoughts from the road, I have posted a photo taken from my mother's porch early one morning on my visit to California last winter, an image which perhaps captures the essence of this essay, should one know the full story behind it.

The first two days of the race were effectively a hazing ritual, the first day especially so. All too soon we dove headfirst into the hills and felt the pains of existence so acutely, my competition swarming past me as I struggled. And at last, reaching the top of the hill there was little reprieve, for I knew that it was but the beginning of the more terrifying prospect of descent. Lumbering over the drops and rocks as best I could, rallying my courage to continue, we battled on, all too relieved to reach the finish, but I, having suffered through it all with immense cramping, was truly intimidated by the prospect of six more days of this, each stage longer and more unknown than the first.

It is hard to say that day 2 was much better. Where the trails lacked the brute intimidation of Stage 1, they made up for it in the length of climbs and freshly cut trails on off camber slopes taunting me, laughing at me as I tried to rally legs that refused to move. At times literally only able to stand, I wished my shame to vanish with the cramps. Ending the stage with a good section of fast fire road, I felt a fair bit of redemption. In my element, able to turn a big gear at slow cadence I was at last rewarded with the feeling of success. Retiring at the end of the day though, I could only hope that tomorrow would be better by some mysterious force of nature moving within my legs.

Perhaps finally coming into form by the trials of the first days, Stage 3 saw us embark on the start of a hopeful journey toward a higher running. Like a puppet of the gods, it seems it was perhaps more a lesson in hubris, for day 4 brought me to the lumbering endless darkness beneath the blazing sun. Everywhere I looked was only pain and frustration, with myself and with my place in the world. As I wrote before, for the space of 5 hours I was in a place of suffering. We finished in 5 hours and 15 minutes.

It seems that making it through the hump, with the end in sight, perhaps the hauntings of the previous day were mental more than physical. Rolling into our strongest day, we placed 18th on the stage, finding reward in the early showers and the first boat to Squamish, where in the shade of a tree we napped peacefully and dreamt only of good things to come. The final two days took us over hill and under hill, across root and yonder river. We had come into our own, finding comfort in the trails, rolling in tempo with the course, on our mark as it were. We finished day 7 on a high, perhaps not technically perfect, but somehow in tune. It was perhaps the best finish imaginable given the forecast from the first days.

I remember thinking so clearly on the first climb up the mountain slope at Whistler, how remarkably similar that effort was to the entirety of my thesis writing. Both are now a fog in my mind, save for a few moments of clarity through obscure twists and turns, brief moments where I caught my breath at some switchback or in the damp walk home from lab in the wee hours of the morning. But how vividly I recall the one thought, emblazoned upon the day as it were, that like climbing a mountain one breath at a time, one climbs a thesis word by word. And should you dare to look up from the valley and wonder at the height of the mountain, dumbstruck at the possibility of ever getting there, you may think it an impossible task. As endless as it may seem, it is far better to stare at the trail ahead, counting off the breaths, finding some enjoyment in the simple rhythm of life. Mountain tops are made for looking down from, not to look up at.

And having completed the journey, it is appropriate to look back to the beginning whence we came. If there is a meaning in the analogy, it may be that we carry our past with us, that beginnings are all important, that they mark a conclusion of a former chapter. Perhaps also it tells us that our various comings and goings are not as separate as we might imagine, that our training on a bike is training for life, that the way we face obstacles and greet companions on the trail is exactly that. It seems fitting at this time to revisit the beginning of this chapter, my first post to this blog, a century ago by some measure:

``When I think of the ideal life, it’s one where I might greet my colleagues tired and battered, but walk yet with the levity of victory. It’s one where on the starting line my competitors might call me Dr. Edlund, though I might suffer more because of it. It’s one where the suffering we endure makes us gracious and wise. We should aspire to live a passionate life, drawing from and giving to the stories of legends. I am honored to be embarking on this mission with Keith, and hope that with the courage to ride what comes, the coolness to flow with it, and the patience to try again, that I can learn some of his grace.

I’m not sure what I’m in for, but know that it’s good to dream of the future. With the inception of my thesis writing and graduation looming it’s hard to say where this year will take me. It’s good when heading off into new territory to take a survey of the land and set your bearing by some prominence – I think a mountain top somewhere will serve well.''

Perhaps this chapter has come to a close. Perhaps it is just the beginning of something new. There is not too much more which needs to be said, for I believe we have made it there. And having arrived at this place, now with the perspective of time and uncountable effort behind, what is it I see? Perhaps this, a passage from me thesis, a section from my acknowledgements written this day, captures the way from here.

"In going forth, I promise that I shall use the wisdom of my years and the full force of my experiences to assist our great evolution through the stars. We should ask ourselves daily, ``in what capacity can I best serve?'' At the end of the day we should be judged not by what we have done, but by what more could we have done. As scientists and citizens, we should not only endeavor to solve the world's problems and find freedom from the shackles of the past, but to create new ways of thought and new means of living. It is our duty, everyone one of us, to march ever toward the light."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Climb to the Clouds "Race" Report

[Edit: for those of you randomly linked off of google searches for C2C: Before posting snippy comments, please remember there's this thing called sarcasm that is often used as a literary device... oi!]

There's no way to to make yourself feel better after a frustrating week of slowness than soundly trouncing a couple hundred 50-somethings riding custom Ti bikes and Carbon Serottas on a nice friendly century ride.

While Eric made the trek to Maine for a "USAcycling event" with "people his age" who are "probably training a lot more than we do", I instead opted to wake up at 6am and ITT it out to Concord for the satisfaction of making people my parents' age weep.

The best thing about this particular ride--less than aptly named "Climb to the Clouds" as the road to the clouds (the top of Wachusett mountain) was closed for construction this year--is that it's fully supported, meaning that you not only get tasty food at two locations on the ride but you also get to pass the whole main field not one, not two but THREE times if you organize your passing and lounging in the sun correctly; with each pass picking up a few chaps who vainly try to hang on for a few miles and then fall away into obscurity as soon as the terrain points upward more than a couple of degrees.

But all humor aside, it was a good day for wrench's legs. As has been proven time and time again, the wrench is a pure endurance athelete. I can hang in z2-3 all day, but don't have a high end to save my life. Fourtunately, such a skill set is perfect for a hilly century and I finished with a rolling average of 19.7mph for 115miles (including the ride to Concord), pulling pretty much the whole time and not even having to kill myself to keep the speed up until the last 20min.

The scenery, as usual, was excellent, the weather nearly perfect, and the plums at the aid stations succulent. All in all well worth the early wake-up call.

MIT Compatriots Ilana, Gerald (on a tendem), Chewie, S___ and Yuri all hung for varying amounts of time, with Yuri impressively sticking my wheel for 85 miles, long past even the calves of steel (Chewie). Impressive!

Now to evacuate the contents of my fridge...

P. S. It is NOT ok to complain about your bike being heavy when you're riding a Cervelo P3. You, random middle-aged guy at the base of Wachusett with way too much money and not enough sense, need to sack up.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pat's Peak Race Report: DNFantasy

Oh, local bike racin' how I loathe the so...

It was back again this week to the local bike race scene, with a short jaunt up to Pat's Peak MTB festival. In keeping with tradition I made sure to:
  1. Build and/or change my bike significantly the night before and not ride it
  2. Phone up the weather gods and make sure it rained significantly right before or during the race
  3. Fail to obtain adequate sleep the night before the start
Because there's nothing like a race season where you're perpetually over-tired, off-balance and slogging through mud to make you love riding bikes. An man do I love bikes this year, but I digress...

One nice thing about perpetually racing in the rain is that you never overheat--admittedly a nice feature on a lot of courses--but you have to wonder if you've been stealing ice cream cones from toddlers in your sleep to build up bad karma when you show up to a course so muddy you have to run like a mid-october 'cross raceer while getting baked to a crisp in the 85 degree sun.

And don't get me started on ski resort courses...

So you might think that having a really intense 26 hour riding week (BCBR), then taking a week off would make a guy really fast, or at least that was my hope as I lined up in the first row of a 13 man cat1 start. I even joked at Colin, who has recently dabbling in the Pro/Open field, that if he took his reverse hole-shot particularly hard, I might be abel to get a wheel. (though really I'm just glad he's not in my field any more so I don't have to face getting beaten in every race he decides to finish--a great way to kep a guy from crossing the line ahead of you is to make him do an extra lap just in case!)

Having done this whole ski-resort thing before, I know the drill: Don't kill yourself so badly on the climbs that you can't stay upright in the woods on the way down, and keep the pot just below boiling because it always ends up being a long day and you'll need some steam for that third hour... Thus, despite my heckling, I took a page from the hecklee's book and rocked my own reverse hole-shot.

The nice thing about starting at the way-back is that even if you're having an awful day (we'll get to that...) you usually end up passing more people than pass you. I might have even passed all the way up to second place by the end of lap 1, you know because I'm just that good -- POP! pfffffttt.... [crumple]

The start of lap 2 was decidedly less enthusistic than lap 1. This was largely due to the realization is that I no longer race in a field where I can make time on descents, which was arrived upon empirically when my chase picked up ten seconds through the long twisty singletrack downhill. Has one too many faceplants made me cautious? Say it ain't so!

By the start of the second climb of lap 2 I had conceded third, and efforts much beyond fully aerobic were quickly starting to be out of the question.

As it turns out, my body post BCBR is a lot like an old laptop battery. It's taking forever to recharge, and even when fully juiced up I only get about 40 min before totally crapping the bed. Sara says it's going to be this way for another couple of weeks. She should have told this guy as much before he lapped me (on his 5th lap, I was only riding 4) after taking 10th in BCBR AND racing 6 hours solo the day before this event. Clearly his starbucks job is netting him a much better caffiene hookup than the rest of the field.

Anyway, round about lap 2 I started putting together a rather grandiose DNFantasy (TM) to distract me from how much suffering I was still in for. The secret to a good DNF--and by association a good DNFantasy--is the convolution of greatness and failure such that your pathetic inability to ride a lousy few extra miles without passing out on the side of the trail is overshadowed by the epicness of the ordeal from which you were unable to recover. At the same time you want to escape with no major damage to yourself or your bike, such that you can survive to race again without maxxing out your credit card on spare parts or spending hours in an emergency room. It also helps if you come off as the consummate straight shooter or good Samaritan. This can all be boiled down to a simple formula:
  1. You're in the middle of having the race of your life (Glory)
  2. In a desperate move to drop/pass/otherwise end you, some other guy pulls [bonehead stunt] (moral high-ground)
  3. The bonehead stunt backfires, causing [insert description of carnage] (karma)
  4. You, being the benevolent and forgiving guy that you are, pull [heroic move] to keep from steamrolling the other guy, despite his being a douche with no race etiquette. (honor)
  5. Though you just barely escape crashing yourself, you manage to [catch, bash, grind] your [inexpensive but essentail bike part] on a [rock, tree, ditch, stick], rendering it totally f--ked and ending your race. (pathos)
The construction of the perfect fantasy managed to sustain me all the way until lap 4, by which time I was all alone, way past having given up on racing, and pretty much cruising along enjoying the weather. Mountain biking is much more pleasant in zone 2...

All in all, it's probably not a bad thing that my DNFantasy didn't come to fruition, as a lackluster 8th place actually bumped me UP to 5th in the overall Cat1 points. Yay persistence.

Maybe it's time to give up XC and ride the lift to the top. Of course then I'd need to learn to do this:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

BCBR Wrap Up: Recovery is Pro.

If image does not show, right click here and select 'view image' or 'show image'.

You know it's been a long haul when you're still sleeping past 11 on the fourth off-day following a race, but with the rain abated at last it's time to sum up and move on. So here it is BC Bike Race 2009 recap, 30-2 (my plate number). If we're lucky there will be a 30-1 version coming soon. After I'm done with all the nitpicky details, someone has to talk about his feelings...

Back in November I said something to the effect that we were trying to execute the perfect MTB stage race--an elusive creature of myth and legend that leads hundreds of adventurers back to the hunting grouds every year in pursuit of it's sinewy hide--and so the hunt continues.

Rolling into Transrockies 2008 (if Eric hears me say the T-word, one more time he'll probably slit my throat, but hey, it's agood opening) everythnig was dialed. I hadn't so much as changed my tires in three months, I raced my setup nearly every weekend and was riding with the same partner as the year before in a race I'd already ridden 2x. This is the definition of no surprises. Indeed, with the exception of s few flats (we weren't yet on the tubeless boat), we got out of TR2008 with no major time-sucking errors. Almost perfect.

Fast forward just over 10 months and I'm sitting in Vancouver with less training, a bike that just got finished a week earlier and a pair of new tires at a totally new venue with this new guy that hasn't raced all season and only brought half a bike. SURPRISED? Not really.

The most difficult part of stage racing is planning and logistics. If you're as into riding bikes as we are, you can't screw up the training part of the P&L too badly, but when it comes to dialing and testing gear, packing it up and getting to the church on time there's a certain degree of sphincter tension required. Most people simply throw bills at the problem to make it go away (you'd be amazed what $4k worth of complete new bike and $400 worth of airline baggage fees will get you) but when you're at best partially employed and your partner is a starving grad student you've gotta be your own wedding planner. Any wedding planner will tell you that you NEVER get away with overlooking the details. Of course Eric had just filed the divorce papers for his thesis 5 days previous, so the clipboard and walkie-talkie were firmly sitting in my lap, and I haven't been my usual risk-adverse self lately.

After a new cassette (my bike) and rear derailleur (Eric's), everything seemed to be rolling fine except for the annoying problem of my tires not wanting to stay on the rim. Of all people, I should know that if you have a strange catastrophic component failure when warming up for a big race IT WILL FAIL AGAIN IN THE RACE WHEN YOU LEAST WANT IT TO. But I'm a stubborn bastard, and bogarting two pairs of brand new tires (mine and Eric's) then ponying up for different (untested) rubber at retail prices was not on the radar. Not one tire survived to the end of the week in tubeless form.

Keith out of character take 2:

On our Friday warmup, Eric's seat stubbornly refused to stay tight. Did I personally drown the clamp in loctite? Nope. Was it loose again on the trail by day 2? Yep.

Keith out of character take 3:

When I found Eric's pedal nearly seized after day 5 did I insist on replacing it with the pair of spare pedals I brought? Nope. Did it fall off on the trail on day 6? Yep.

Then there was that time I landed on my face...

If image does not show, right click here and select 'view image' or 'show image'.

Total lost time (including getting lost for 10min on day 4): about an hour. Total number of places that could have bumped us up in the GC: 4. Somewhat less than perfect.

But let's talk about riding bikes:

BCBR is a very different sort of stage race than what I was used to. TR is all about vertical ... and suffering. A hour long 10% climb in the sun is standard fare for TR, as is hiking with a bike on your back. Technical riding, for the most part, means threading the needle between loose rocks and ruts at 30mph. Singletrack is something you have to ride through to get to your next jeep trail up a mountain. BCBR is exactly the opposite. If you can't ride your bike, you might as well go home. At the same time distances, vertical and ride times are all significantly shorter.

Interestingly, our ride this year was exactly as fast (or slow), wrt the leaders, as George's and my ride last year in TR (144% of the winning time) despite the vast differences between the two races. It's probably a coincidence but I choose to believe it's a statement about how slow we are riding north shore tech because we climbed way faster this year. (As a point of comparison, the #2 team in both races included Barry Wicks, so one can expect that they're roughly comparable in terms of relative competitiveness at the front.) Fitness was definitely not a significant limitation for me, though I would have loved an extra tricep on each side for the downhills. More about training in future posts...

If there's one thing for sure, it's that riding big mountain singletrack forces you to become a better rider. Stiffening up on a 20 or 30 min technical descent means not making it to the bottom without a rest, and riding loose means trusting your skills at drop-offs, staying off the brakes and getting comfy with your seat in your gut. I'd like to think we do all that better now. The skinnies still scare me a little, but that didn't stop me from more than once hitting one way too fast and coming out the other side in one piece with my heart in my throat. Adrenaline makes you faster, after all.

A note about teamwork, or maybe team chemistry:

One of the hardest parts of stage races (the team variety) is making the most of the fact that everything will always be twice as screwed up as when you're riding solo--2x the mechanicals, 2x the bonking, 2x the snoring in the tent at night (though I maintain I don't snore). Somebody is always faster, and nothing is ever 100% in your control [grinds teeth]. Coming into BCBR, I expected this to be particularly challenging for our team with Eric off the race scene for so long, riding an old bike, and totally new to the crazy adventure we were about to embark upon. I can also be ultra-competitive, passive-aggressive when annoyed or disappointed and generally a huge know-it-all at times, though I try to keep it in check as much as possible...

In addition, while the TR rules allowed me to vent any pent-up frustration through my hand directly into my partner's back, BCBR said no touching so we were both riding our own races no matter what (and all you people pushing your buddies uphill for extended periods are dirty cheaters!)

However the relationship progressed over the course of the week, it's final state was best summed up by the experience of changing Eric's flat on day 7:

Hearing a loud "BANG" a few riders behind me, I instinctively knew that Eric's tire was off. I Jumped into a hollow off to the side of the trail and by the time I had the CO2 out Eric was there. I pulled the wheel and tubeless valve while he dug out a tube, which I then pre-inflated while he cleaned the rim. Working from both ends we then seated the tire together and I inflated it while he picked up the spare bits. Off and on in three minutes flat through neatly coordinated teamwork [Fist Bump].

I could go on and try to make some sort of profound statement about how the BCBR experience has changed my life perspective or something like that, but really it just makes me want to go back and ride it all over again. Besides, Eric's the reflective one.

In case you were wondering, Pedal and Wrench will live on post BCBR. We still like bikes and still have WiFi...

All the BCBR photos here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

BCBR Stage 7: Race ya fer Beeahs

In the spirit of today's stage, I'll be quick. Real quick. Stage 7 of BCBR was 30k long, had 1200m of vert... ...and started by shooting straight up a ski hill. We came out as hard as we could go, securing a solid position on the climb, and ended up in a lengthy party train on the singletrack descent where Eric soon blew a tire (sorry Panaracer, no more noTubes for you), allowing the whole train to pass while we tubed up. It was off to the races again after that, passing plenty of others with flats on the rest of the way down.

Unfortunately for us, there were more than a few people who really really wanted to get ot the beer tent ASAP, because despite our best efforts we came 22nd on the day and only picked up 5 minutes on our closest competitor, leaving us at 22nd overall in the GC.

and so to the beer...

Full week recap coming soon.

Friday, July 3, 2009

BCBR Stage 6: Hot Buttered Hammerfest

I should have been a little more concerned last night when I found Eric's pedal (Crank Bros. Candy) noticeably difficult to turn. It looked like the (cosmetic) end cap on the axle was just broken and jammed up inside the cage, and sure enough pulling it out loosened everything up nicely. Having done this multi-day stage race thing a couple times now, I should know what happens once WILL happen again when you least want it to--Murphy's law or something like that--but I left well enough alone. There's only a 6 hours or so of racing left, right?

After a start that nearly killed me (why is everyone all of a sudden racing again on day 6? I thought we got all that out of our systems on the island...) we dropped into a steep, dusty, switchback ridden descent where the rule was ride or get run over. It was tight, intense, and my arms were burning so bad I wanted nothing more than a ten foot high skinny to get everyone off their bikes for a while. Racing up with the fast kids ain't no joke.

Hitting the bottom I looked back for the first time, no Eric. Everybody on the party train rolls through, no Eric. I waited a couple minutes more, no Eric. This is SO not a time to eat dirt and slide (trust me, I tried it on day 3). Then here comes Eric, no PEDAL. The bearings were so seized it was unscrewing itself from the crank.

He reattaches and we roll. 10 minutes later, BUGGER.

If there are FIVE things (we're up to five now, right?) that one learns from stage racing, number five is how to manage adversity. Usually we're talking making a quick and clever fix to a broken part, mitigating the effects of fatigue through proper care, weathering adverse conditions and the like. Today I tried channeling adrenaline fueled rage into a 6mm allen key. Effectiveness? Let's just say I needed a 10" lever to get the pedal off again after the stage, but I digress.

We raced harder today than ever. Technical descents left little room for rest after climbing in the 85+ degree sun, and the stage finished with a 10k false flat time trial through the woods in town. Maybe we raced too hard? Maybe we won't recover? Eric is already bionic (has a neat tape thing that makes his knee not hurt) and I've already made a little human hamburger, but that's how it goes up here in the mountains. When you're pinning it up a climb (pinning it might not be far into zone 3 at this point), it's hard not to be asking the question "what about tomorrow?" The question transcends racing, really. Every moment we live has some effect on the next, yet if one spends every moment worrying about what comes next one never lives the now. Today we lived the now. 23rd on the day, moved up to 22 in the GC.

The now is bombing down a gnarly singletrack so steep you're riding the bike your chest and snapping up your head for a second to admire the amazing snow-capped peak framed between two trees as you fly past. The now is attacking a 30 degree climb like it's the last one of the day because you want to know if you can make it. The now is accelerating through a berm around a blind corner you've never seen and trusting the next berm will be there for you. Most of the time it will be.

Tonight we leave you with an example of life in the moment, trust in one's abilities and one of the best trails riders of all time (seen live after Stage 6 of BCBR), Ryan Leech "just turning around":

(sorry for the giganticness, no video editing here...)

Stage 7 is a sprint tomorrow. 30k, 1200m of vert up a ski hill and back. Leaders expected in 1:30! Gonna have to break out the reserve legs for that sort of silliness...

BCBR Stage 5: Reincarnation

Stages races are long. We made it over the hump of stage 4, but just barely. Though not our worst performance on the books, it was a stage I don't wish to recall, at least in detail. Perhaps my most pressing memory of the day is the 3 km mark for the second aid station, and then remarking later what a miserable hour that was (Keith assures me it was not nearly so long).

If my bike were as worn as I was yesterday, I wouldn't ride it to the Dairy Queen. I had entered that dark place where suffering surrounds every moment and every movement. With legs completely tapped and a haunting pain in my left knee, the day was a lesson in survival, or sisu as the Finns call it. I spoke few words that day, preferring to keep the darkness to myself. For the space of approximately 5 hours I hated my place in the world.

As if coming back from the dead, I pulled myself together and today we had a stellar ride, placing 18th in stage 5. We pushed hard at the beginning at latched onto the back of the pro group as we hit the singletrack. The climbs were to our liking, being not too steep, shady, and technical enough to put distance between us and those behind. The investment of altitude was returned in full by a bomber descent that for a period seemed endless in its twists and turns, dives and rolls through fern laden gullies. The finale of stage 5 was truly a work of art, inspired by generations of mountain bikers carefully crafting the most excellent and graceful of courses, which through its flow drew out our inner grace and unity with the world.

Finishing stage 5 in just a shade over 3 hours and 30 minutes, we were fortunate enough to make the early departure to Vancouver and enjoyed the afternoon sun on the deck of the ferry.

We celebrated the fruits of our labors with a nap under the shade of a tree near base camp, studying the course profile and the terrain for stage 6.

Team Pedal and Wrench will sleep well tonight, dreaming of big things tomorrow.