Sunday, April 17, 2011

All bleeding stops, one way or another.

Mountain bikers (and cyclocrossers), in sharp contrast to most roadies (present team affiliates excluded), are usually a lot of fun to hang out with.  I've often tried to put my finger on exactly what makes this true, and I'm sure there are a few key elements, but it was the one roughly described by the title of this post that pressed on me today. Those who love riding trail tend to have a pleasingly casual approach to adversity (and risk) that ensures just about whatever craziness occurs, it's gonna be a good time:  If you survive it makes for a decent story; if you don't, the story is probably much better. In either case, you're laughing all the way home.  Even if you are (this is a real list from the last few years):
  • Duct taped into your bike shoes for a 7 day stage race
  • Having gravel scraped out of your face with a piece of gauze
  • Wearing a monocle-shaped black eye from face-planting on the end of your handle bar
  • Braking by jamming your shoe in your rear tire
  • Freezing your entire hand to a CO2 cartridge
  • Falling in a river on a 25-degree day
  • Bending back a derailleur hanger with a rock
  • Riding singletrack all morning with only one crankarm
Or, as today might have it, finding out how fast you can ride a flat downhill on your way home from the woods:

It's cool, he races cross...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Things to Like About Being Injured

You're probably thinking to yourself, "man, this is gonna be a short post" but don't go jumping to conclusions already.  I'll admit the Things to Like About NOT Being Injured list is a little longer,  but if you think about it for a minute, you might agree that a little bit of gimp isn't such a bad thing every once in a while.   

As an endurance athlete, a professional or any other position in life where people are respected for strength, resilience, hard work, etc. being good at what you do doesn't necessarily make your life any easier.  For a person with any ambition, success makes life harder. Ever heard the saying, "people are promoted a level of incompetence"?  Whenever you succeed you get pushed harder until you're going flat out can't hold it together any more.   Despite knowing about this trap, must of us type-As end up falling into it anyway.

For the professional type, just deciding to have a rest is usually considered a sign of weakness.  Having to take a rest, for instance because you killed yourself getting that last big deal, is a badge of honor.  Similarly, shirking your training schedule because you don't feel like riding is lazy.  Watching movies all day with a bowl of popcorn and a beer because you had a spectacular crash in the reckless pursuit of glory is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged.

In a world of keeping appearances, a well gotten injury is the surest socially acceptable path to indulgence and sloth.  Let's examine some of the specific benefits:
  1. Personal Appearance:  While some elements of hygiene are pleasurable, like showers; others are a pain in the ass, like shaving and hair primping.  Injured?  No problem.  That five-o-clock [last Wednesday] shadow helps you communicate to the world just how badly you're hurting without having to complain (complaining is counter-productive, see #2).
  2. Around the Office:  If you manage to hurt yourself in a sufficiently spectacular way, the highly exaggerated stories of your near-death experience will precede you.  You'll get toughness points for playing down your injuries when your co-workers ask "OMG, are you okay?"
  3. Life's Little Annoyances: Forgot your keys downstairs?  "No, no, no! Don't get up.  You're hurt!  I'll get them for you."
  4. Prescription Painkillers:  There's a reason they keep these things away from regular people, but now you're special! (and as high as a kite)
  5. Priorities:  In athletics, most of your life resolves around causing yourself different sorts of pain: Lactic acidosis, eschemia, fatigue.  You've learned to endure it; even convince yourself that you like it.  Now your only objective in life is to make pain go away.  Refreshing isn't it?
  6. Significant Others:  All relationships are a compromise, but if you're hurt you get what you want.  My mom reads this blog, so let's just say you get to pick the TV shows. 
While all this is pretty sweet, one must be careful not to milk it too hard.  The entire magic of the injury phenomenon is that the perception of how bad you're hurting or how honorably you sustained your injury exceeds the reality.  Like airlines pricing into the demand curve, you're merely capturing the surplus sympathy between your actual disability and the perception of that disability.   The moment the perception and the reality come into line the gig is up, and if you get caught setting monopolistic sympathy prices for your gratitude you'll never enjoy being hurt again.

 See, being hurt isn't that bad, as long as you get better before it gets old...

(now back to that thesis)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Always Wear a Helmet

So I've always been a dirt rider, and an endurance rider a that, but sometimes all your friends decide to jump off a bridge and despite your better judgement you decide the drop looks like fun.  < leap >.  Rumor has it my current alma mater is pretty good at road racing, and since I used to ride bikes all the time, said pretty good road team is incessantly trying to to get me to pedal on pavement.  Fine.  You Win.  But I'm not gonna be fast! (the last time I was on a road bike was 2010).  And so begins the story of Hubris' ride and fall...

It all started in last weekend at the Tufts campus crit, which I'm told is one of the most technical criterium courses on the east coast.  As a trail rider who knows his way around a bike, I was excited and terrified all at the same time:  Excited because I'd be bringing Cat 1 off-road bike handling guns to a Cat 4 roadie knife fight; terrified because I'd be trying to ride a bike through a Cat 4 roadie knife fight.  Really, it's a wonder they avoid stabbing themselves most of the time. (while concurrently making me look like a couch potato fitness-wise)

Let's digress a moment to understand my perspective on this road racing thing:  I'm a guy who races with big spacing at average speeds of 14mph; on dirt, which is soft; dodging trees, which don't move; on a bike that eats obstacles the size of baseballs for breakfast.  Now take this same guy and put him on a bike that feels like a toy, speed him up to double the pace, replace dirt with concrete and add a couple dozen clean shaven 20-somethings as fit and aggressive as they are squirrely bike-handlers to swarm about while whipping around in circles until everyone is blind from oxygen-deprivation.  They tiptoe on the brink of disaster where the minimum penalty for failure is ending up like a lemon skin after an evening in a french kitchen.  This is pretty much the definition of scary. 

With the above perspective in mind, you can understand why the strategy for said most technical crit on the east coast was "Get to the front. Stay there.  Don't get in a wreck.  [win?]".  At the start of lap 2, I took the lead in an effort to test the field's cornering jones.  At the end of lap 2 it was me, two tails (Tufts, Villanova) and gaaaaaaaaaaap.  "Sonofa---, umm guess we gotta make this stick?"  With my current level of fitness (none), and the number of for-real crits I'd raced before (none), this development was less than ideal.  On the other hand, it was better than sitting-up in a writhing ball of sketchiness for 35 min, and we did eventually stick the break.  The few that managed to hang (the two originals plus a few that bridged on, including Steve from MIT) were glad to keep the ante up in the corners until we were sliding out one guy about every three laps in corner 2 (ouch).  Only five guys rolled to a sprint in the end, but MIT's winning move was blocked by yet another crash that ruined my lead out for a teammate.  If only we had a few more laps, we could have just crashed out the rest of the sprint and gone 1-2, but I'll take 3-5 any day.

Fast-forward to this week:

Coming off a successful race at Tufts, I was ready to make some moves in New Haven.  I was a little under the weather so the hilly circuit race was not my best performance, but this crit, man, this one was gonna be AWESOME.  I had one other teammate in the race (Loomis) and since I sprint like a little girl with a sprained ankle, the plan was to drag his 200lb diesel tractor to the finish and make him a hero on the downhill sprint.  I'd cover all the attacks, but otherwise sit in until the last lap where I'd bury myself on the the back stretch and give Loomis the clean line to the finish. Deal?  Deal. 

Everything started out according to plan.  Loomis and I were right up in the top five, and I was lazily grabbing all the wheels of riders trying to ride off the front.  Then came the first prime lap.  Now, remember that I sprint like a little girl but I'm also easily bored, and being up near the front I was in a great position to make some moves.  Even better, the guy making an early break for it was the climber who exploded the pack the day before in the hills.  In other words, the little girl with the busted ankle had a chance to throw down against another little girl with two broken legs. GAME. ON.

With 100yds, a 90-degree corner and a long downhill straight to the finish, I jumped into chase.  He was on the inside.  Coming through fast, I wanted the inside but with the pack coming on I couldn't count on a clean cut behind him from the wide side so I opted for the wide line. In retrospect, I should have given the rest of the pack a curt, "I'm cutting in and if you're there, I WILL run you over", then taken the inside line but hindsight is 20/20. I went wide and hot.

Unsurprisingly, the leader (Williams) took a terrible line through the corner from the middle of the road and took it all the way out to the curb, cutting me off and causing me to scrub all my speed. I still had position so I got on the gas, coming out of the saddle to a full sprint.  Being cut off turned me into a ball of blind, snarling rage.  BLIND. SNARLING. RAGE.  Williams would be buried for his insolence, save for divine intervention, and I don't have much belief in god at the moment so I was pretty confident of the outcome. 

God may or may not exist, but if he does he realllly wants to remind me that I am NOT a sprinter.  Three pedal strokes into my merciless attack, my left cleat released on an upstroke and threw me over my bars at a speed I care not estimate. Thanks to some MTB ninja skills I managed to roll through the impact with only a bit of road rash (and maybe a cracked rib) but returning to my bike I found my wheels would not spin.  My helmet, well, looked like this: 

...and so ended my second for-real criterium.  Down two wheels, short a pound of flesh and in the market for pedals that don't suck.  As a whole, this pretty good road racing team of ours had a pretty solid week, running away with the team omnium and taking top 5 spots in lots of categories.
The MIT success story is not in small part due to the fact that they're a scrappy bunch, Including this lady at right who rode back to a top 5 after dragging her crashed butt out of a ditch, and her teammate who blew out a knee on Saturday and then finished not one, but two crits on Sunday.  If only we could get some of them on mountain bikes!

Fortunately the collegiate field as a whole, but especially team MIT, has a great sense of humor.  While I may not be much of a roadie I toss a mean heckle, and our team has its own megaphone... 

Thanks team MIT for a great weekend, even if you did try to kill me.