Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Miss Manners

It was the NSAC Homecoming 5K last Saturday, which was was also my first "official" 5 K in many years, if ever. They'd always seemed so short and not worth driving half- (or an even smaller fraction) way across the province for. The whole "road-to-race" ratio seemed far too small. A ten hour round-trip for the 28 hrs of the Cabot Trail Really is a pretty much unimpeachable road-to-race ratio (1:2.8). The twenty-four hour round trip for a 3hr Boston (1:0.125) seems kinda sucky but at least it's a marathon and guaranteed to be worth the trip as the marathon (not to mention getting over it) will occupy a fair amount of time. By comparison, the 6 hr round trip to the Digby 5K (1:0.042) doesn't even start to compute.

The NSAC 5K had a ratio of about 1:1.5 given it was about a ten minute drive to the start, a ratio only bettered by the Cobequid 10K which at a ten minute walk from my apartment was at ca. 1:4. In other words 5Ks may suck when you train for marathons and stuff but with a road-to-race ratio better than unity for a race that lasts minutes (and a trip shorter than the race itself) I was fresh out of excuses.

I'd love to give you a blow-by-blow of the race but I can't for the simple reason that there weren't that many blows; "start, run hard, finish as first loser" was all she wrote. The blows, such as they were, started by getting beaten by someone half my age! Then to rub NaCl into the as-yet unclosed wound, he ended up winning my age-group too. Somehow, in this event, "Open", (that is the 19-39 age-group) is synonymous with "Overall" (that is to say everybody), so the 18 y.o. Nicholas Wood (#3652 below I think, I didn't really see his face. Oh, watch for the name and under no circumstances attempt to stay on his heels, don't say I didn't warn you) won the U18 and the 19-39 categories whilst yours truly didn't even get a name-check in the weekly college e-bulletin (redefining "faculty rights and privileges").

"And they're off....". It was all a red- and-lactate tinged blur after this point

Still, I mustn't really grumble; after a health scare I should be (I am) thankful to be running at all, I am thankful that I am still able to be competitive at events, to be at the pointy end of affairs and help to make (not follow) the race, and compared to this getting name-checked (or not) in the campus newsletter is not important. Besides, it's not personal, not like Monty Mosher at the Chronically Horrid, a guy who has seemingly gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid printing my name (the print-union at the Chronic obviously charges over-rates for 'a's).

One reason my lungs still felt bruised twelve hours later was that I posted a PB 17:24, and it was only a PB because I couldn't remember running one before! The idiot box gave an average pace only slightly higher than riding 68" fixed into a stiff headwind, which I found scarily sobering. Something else that is sobering is that at Canada Games Matt Piggot ran way faster than I did last Saturday, but after the swim and the bike.

La belle posted a PB 21:15, taking 15 seconds off her Lung Run time. The record should show that unlike the pan-flat Lung Run course, the NSAC course has a couple of hills in the first 2K which are nowhere near compensated for by the net downhill in the last 2 km as you've likely already shot your bolt on the climbs! She should have been 30th, but had to settle for 31st when she was outsprinted in the chute by a guy she'd passed a mile earlier and his very momentum seemed to carry him to the Popsicle-stick lady first. Kudos to buddy for making up the time but to outsprint a lady for 30th place, let's just say even Mark Stein seemed to look on with a slight air of "Duuude, WTF?"

Etiquette. I'm a roadie and I'm British which means I've got manners and etiquette stored up for the most unlikely situations; probably even etiquette on etiquette. What can I say? It's genetic (like apologising for everything, but that's another story).

Always remove your hat to a lady; especially if it's an IronMan visor.

This blog is ostensibly about clothing etiquette, but finish-line etiquette seems to be equally as obscure to some and exposition is clearly required. When it gets to the point that even Mark Stein (who has stood at more finish lines than I've had hot dinners) goes "duuuude, WTF", the time has come to act. Or write a long, polite note (does it get any more British than that? I'm sorry).

In our line of work the sprint is something special and like Grandma's fine china, you only get it out for special occasions. Only sprint "for something". The podium or money are the only things to come to mind really. If you aren't sprinting for the podium or money, what are you sprinting for? 30th? In a field of 70? In a local race? Nice. That'll look good on your palmares.

Call me old-fashioned (and if you do it will be the nicest thing I'll have been called all week) but endurance sports are all about pace, are they not? What separates a Rami Bardessey from the rest of us, apart from no fast-twitch muscles whatsoever, zero body-fat and a camel-like ability to survive without food or water (and yet it's me who has the hump!) is the ability to measure his effort so that he hits the line with nothing left, having used every last molecule of ATP getting from A to B as fast as he can. If you have something left to sprint to the line with, then you didn't leave it all on the course. What's the point in trying to save two or three seconds in the final 100 m when with a more careful application of your reserves, you could have saved two or three seconds per kilometer. It doesn't take a Stephen Hawking to prove that three seconds saved per kilometre, in even a 5K, is "better" for your time than saving three seconds in the final sprint.

Use these wisely, use them sparingly but use them all on the course, and by course we don't mean "finishing chute"

There are of course, a couple of exceptions to the general "all on your own, mid-pack and still sprinting" embargo. If you hit the finishing straight and you know that a personal best or a Boston qualifier is on the cards then by all means lunge for the line, although given the mathematics of it you'd probably be better off starting to wind it up from a couple of kilometers out rather than scattering finish-line volunteers like nine-pins. I accept these exceptions and have taken advantage of them myself but given the volume of "sprints" that I see, please don't try and convince me that everyone is always seconds away from a PB or a bus to Hopkinton.

Sprinting to get a time to go here is fine, sprinting just to get a time is not!

What is worse than sprinting for 142nd is outsprinting a lady. Convention once required us to hold doors open for women and let them go first. What held true in the hallways and drawing rooms of Victorian England still holds true in the 21st century finishing chute. Whilst accepting that there are few doors on a race-course, this doesn't abrogate your responsibility to let the lady go first. How fragile can your ego possibly be that it will be assuaged by sticking to a F30-39 age-grouper in the Sprint to claim 63rd? That's really going to bolster your reputation as a hard-man come race day. Classy!

However, the crime even more heinous than outsprinting a lady is outsprinting the lady who has paced you all the way. What better way to thank her for all the hard work she has done by nipping in front of her at the line? She's done the graft, she gets the applause. Simple. There are, again, a couple of exceptions. One is she's a pace-bunny. Once you put on the silly ears and the "Follow Me 10-and-1" T-shirt you have abdicated all rights and responsibilities to a place, a time and sometimes even a prize (not to mention your dignity!). As pace-bunnies we pretty much pace, promise, plead, support, cajole and threaten you to within sight of the line and then let you go for your moment of glory. In fact, if we do our jobs right, we won't even be on your finish-line photo. So if she's wearing ears, you can go for it.

You can outsprint the Pace Bunny, but first you have to stay with the Pace Bunny!

The second exception is that you have made a prior agreement. And I do mean prior, I don't mean within sight of the line. I mean many, many miles down the course. It can be implicit, it can be explicit. Try asking "let's work together for the next x miles", try asking "wanna go for it?". Either way, so long as you both know that after a certain point, the race is on, then it's fair. You might want to wait for the sprint, she might want to go for the long flier but with 100m to go there's no point asking a "long flier"if she wants to make a race of it; she wanted to know twenty minutes ago! Once the race is on, all's fair in love and war apart from an egregiously-thrown elbow and so long as you both fully understand this, it's OK.

Oh, and apart from looking good when you cross the line; jersey zipped up and straight, shades on and a big smile there's one more, slight point of finishing-chute etiquette those of us in reflective vests would like to ask of you; please don't vomit on the head of the chip-retrieval person!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dogma va Reality

This morning was the first time this season that temperatures in Nova Scotia were below 0C, with the (virtual) mercury in Truro at around -3. That said, the sun was shining and the wind had completely died. It was a great morning for a ride, even if it was a short "extended commute" rather than anything more serious.

It felt like a winter's day in the UK and no matter how much a Brit will whinge about their weather, it rarely gets colder than it was this morning in Blighty. Buy yourself some peace and remind any and all expats you know in NS about this today. After the initial surprise stepping out into minus temperatures, it really was a great day to ride. There was still some warmth to the sun and the way it shone off the frost and ice was nothing but magical. Plus, sleeping in and leaving later than usual meant what traffic there usually is (and this is Truro remember) was already at work whining about having to scrape their windshield in October, leaving the lanes all for me.

It was definitely a fixie morning. The tribars are off the Lemond now, as much as to coordinate with the uber-traditional woolen Flemish cycling cap under my helmet as it was that the things are a genuine pain in the arse(and ugly too).

The Lemond looks a lot more relaxed after Riverport

There is a definite relationship between cold and discomfort in my hands and feet and interestingly, they are opposites. I wonder if I've inherited my mother's northern European hands and my father's south-east Asian feet. My hands (solid line, -), though initially cold, acclimatise pretty quickly to a cold day of ice-age foraging whilst my feet (dashed line, ---) are initially macho "Cold? Meh!" but after 30 minutes are whining like a child on a road-trip "are we nearly there yet?". The relationship looks something like this;

If 0 is "sitting on couch comfort" and 1.0 is "OMG!" then the "discomfort" in my hands is almost asymptotic for the first ten minutes or so, to the extent that if someone offered to amputate my fingers in this time my only question would be should the prosthetics should be steel, titanium or crabon? This feeling of acute "arghh" soon abates as, unfortunately, my feet slowly freeze! The intersection between the two lines, where both hands and feet are equally tolerable, is temperature dependant. On a morning like this, and dressed as I was, it was about 40 minutes, which as luck would have it was as long as I was out for.

Now, here at Socksnob we aren't dogmatically rigid. We recognise that in the real world the ideal cannot always be maintained. Ideology may require, for instance, white, ankle-length socks but this image shouldn't be maintained at the cost of losing a toe. On days like this morning we are quite comfortable to break the taboo in the interest of keeping a full complement of digits. Which explains this morning's dress-code; yes, that is a whack-load of grey and black!

The nice thing about long tights is that they cover a multitude of sins, or in our case lengths and colours, but this doesn't mean you can completely let go. So we offer this morning's sock, the Balega Trail, as this week's Sock Of The Week. These are pretty much the comfiest socks I have. A bit longer than talus high means they can be both worn with shorts for running (and I ran all last winter in Balega Trails) and they're high enough to wear with tights. Plus they are woolly and warm! Plus there is the mud caveat, which we'll investigate in more detail later but suffice to say a nice pair of white socks can be irretrievably ruined by the end of the driveway and unless your sponsor keeps you in socks then darker colours can be worn (and even embraced) as long as approached and worn with caution.
Here's hoping Aerobics First gets a new stock of Balegas

This segues nicely into the first reader question (and I'm surprised as you to find there are actual readers apart from myself obsessively proof-reading entries). "Should I match my outfit to my bike?" asks x of Canada. Well x, obviously colour coordination should always be your first choice but unless you are a sponsored pro where all your kit, from your track-mits to your frame-decals are matched, this is going to be impossible. It's one thing to have a couple of helmets so you can sorta match with reddish, blueish and black n' whitish jerseys (none of your jerseys are yellow, right? Good!) but to have a stack of bikes to do the same? Plus, do you really want to be constrained to only wearing this jersey on this bike and only this one on that one. Then what do you do with the '09 Heartland Tour jersey, seemingly and unerringly chosen to clash with everyones bike?

That green '09 Heartland Tour jersey on an orange bike? Smile and the world smiles
with you (and hopefully doesn't notice the orange bike and/or are deuteranopic)

As long as the kit internally matches itself and at the same time keeps you warm (or dry or whatever the day requires/demands) then an e.g. blue jersey on an e.g. yellow bike is acceptable. Take your care over the jersey/jacket/gloves/socks/cap (your tights and shorts are all black so there are no problems there, right?) and don't worry that your bike was only offered in fluorescent-orange-fades-to-neon-pink that year. Whatever you are wearing, wear it with a certain insouciance, a certain "just a little something I threw on this morning", wear it with confidence, wear it with a spring in your step (although that may only be your cleats, perhaps we should say "wear it spinning at 100 rpm instead") and wear it with a smile and only your style will be noticed, and not the lime-green bike you're sitting on.

Happy colour-matching.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Recycling the Cycle

Another sign of my continuing Canadiansiation. The UK is a tiny island and England, although accounting for 2/3 of it, does not rank highly in the "large geographical entities" table. It rather reminds one of what is said about Rhode Island, that is only exists to be compared to things vastly larger or smaller then it, such as France, the Vatican City, the daily deforestation amounts in the Amazon or the hood of a '54 Cadillac Eldorado.

Seriously though, England is on a par with Nova Scotia for size. A crow would only have to fly 565 km to get from Hastings (on the Channel coast) to Coldstream (in the Scottish borders). To drive it is about 700 km, which also happens to be the approximate distance from the Yarmouth Triathlon to Heart of the Highlands.

Despite the incredibly close geographical proximity of just about everything, driving in the UK has, or at least had, the air of something not to be undertaken lightly. They say that no place in the UK is more than 60 km from the ocean and yet going to the seaside usually takes on an air of epic proportions; service the car, fill it with emergency rations and (for all I know) a locator beacon, take high-resolution Ordnance Survey maps not just of the route but of all adjacent areas (in case you get lost) and obsess about taking the A24 all the way there with the attendant traffic or trying the avoid the Greater Whinging roundabout by taking the B3256 and B6472 but having the possibility of delays due to sheep-crossing ("but it is so much more scenic dear, and your grandmother would love to stop for tea at that little place in Lower Mold-by-the-Vein").

Certainly no Brit in their right mind would jump in a car with nary a thought for a 200 mile round-trip in an evening, but recently I did just that to collect Old Bess from a friend who’d borrowed her for a bike-tour. The trip came with the realization that after nine years in the Maritimes this actually seemed to be a fairly short excursion. Indeed I was congratulating myself that it was only a quick dash to and from Moncton rather than having to drive all the way to Bathurst or something. Plus I got dinner at St Hubert!

200 miles for chicken, gravy and a Pouding chômeur; who wouldn't?

It’s good to have Old Bess back. We often attribute personalities to our bikes and Old Bess is a real trooper. She always does me right, goes where I want her to go and does so without complaining. I couldn’t say I love any of my bikes more than any other but when push came to shove, it was Old Bess that I decided to keep. She’s definitely La Doyenne, and I’ve done what any self-respecting roadie does and tart her up with hand-me-downs from my racing bikes. Originally specc’d with a triple, dubious low-end Shimano (and that’s what you could see, I shudder to think what the BB and headset were, and curiously enough the words "headset" and "shudder" were often linked) and very dubious V-brakes she’s now rocking 9spd Ultegra, a sweet little compact and a pair of bombproof cantis, some of which has trickled down from erstwhile "Sunday Best" racing bikes.

After placing me in the recovery position, Old Bess takes a well deserved post-race breather

In this day of crabon windcheating goodies, I think this recycling aspect of cycling has gone by the wayside. The old boys in my old club all had amazing tourers and winter “beaters”; all Campy and Mavic. What they had done is ask the age-old question whenever they bought something for their Sunday racer; “but when I’m done with it can I put it on my touring bike?”. Far too many of us fail to ask this question and are stuck with a shed-full of full-on racing kit which is only used three times a year. Sure, spend $2000 on an aerodynamic wheel-set but unless you are a pro it is, frankly, of dubious utility, and you can’t go touring on Zipp 404s! The "kit-isation" of cycling doesn't help either; nothing is compatible with anything else nowadays. Gone are the days of nonchalently mixing Shimano levers with Campy derallieurs and a Stronglight crankset! It has reached absurd extremes; Cadel Evens may well have lost the '09 Vuelta because his DS was worried he'd got an incompatible wheel from neutral service (he hadn't and anyway, can you imagine that happening to Merckx?).

It is more appropriate to suffix "Tour" with "ing" and not "de France"!Old Bess in full-on touring mode.

So many people buy new bits, or even a new bike, and immediately sell the old stuff on Ebay. Yet eventually they will end up shelling out another couple of grand on a lower end bike for commuting, early season training or a wet-weather bike. Oh yes triathletes, not only do we ride in the rain we do so with a frequency that requires a specific bicycle, and with fenders no less (fenders, although often dirty, are not a dirty word). In reality, you should keep all that Tiagra or 105 stuff when you upgrade to Red or Chorus. Find a nice frame (preferably steel) and graft all your old racing stuff onto it; et voila, a sweet little ride that cost (relatively speaking) next to nothing, because you already owned most of it. Something always needs to be bought new however, more than likely a headseat or BB (because there are more HS and BB “conventions’ than there were schisms in the early church) but other than that, you get that new bike smell for a fraction of the cost. Plus you get the satisfaction of riding a one-off that you built yourself. In this day of generic, cookie-cutter crabon “monocoques” with low-end mish-mashed drivetrains and a Bonkranger cockpit what isn't sweeter than that?

Glow in the dark handlebar tape? I don't care if it is Cinelli - NO!!

Just do us all a favour and don’t make a “statement” with the handlebar tape!


Friday, October 9, 2009

Falling Over

Despite having been in North America for over ten years, I still haven't got round to calling autumn "fall". Some of it is oldworldly curmudgeonlyness, in the same way I've retained my British accent. Well allegedly retained. Some of my British friends swear I have acquired a North American drawl but seeing even after all this time I still have to repeat myself in coffee shops (and that's in Anglophone Canada, don't start me on la quebecoise), I don't think so. But then again, in the interests of streamlined communication I do use many Americanisms; grocery store, intersection, gas and sidewalk (although I do draw the line at fanny pack, that is just so wrong). Autumn however, remains autumn, and I think it is because I love autumn.

In some ways, I've fallen in love with autumn all over again in recent years, because after a summer of working hard on the tri circuit the autumn has given me the opportunity to race again. I've recently added cyclocross (where I flatter myself to think I'm a bit of a stalwart on the local scene now, albeit stalwartly bringing up the rear) to add to the close of season fun.

Off the back again. At least I'm warm

My love of autumn has less to do with sweating one's bollocks off in the mud and crashing into trees than it does the trees themselves. The cliches are of crisp mornings and walking arm in arm through the colours wrapped up in sweaters and coats and hats and scarves (like the promo shot for When Harry Met Sally). and for once, they may be true. Many of my significant memories are tied to the autumn; every bright blue sky, every puff of exhaled condensation, every firework, every red and yellow tree, every crunchy footfall in a pile of leaves, every whiff of woodsmoke recalls precious times.

I rather suspect we'll be seeing these two again

As well as getting wrapped up for walks through the leaves, it is also time to start getting rugged up for rides. This is the time for long sleeves, long gloves, knee-warmers and a little cap under your helmet.

All those layers have been needed here as it's been a wet week. It started as it meant to carry on at Riverport, which was wet in epic proportions, and the early trend has seemingly carried on all week. Tantalisingly, there nearly always seems to be a patch of blue sky somewhere but it's never over me. I'm starting to feel like Douglas Adams' truck driver cum rain-God in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish. The bikes are starting to feel it too; check out this vaguely pornographic bottom bracket/crotch shot of the Carrot and you'll see what I mean.

An intensely private and personal view of The Carrot. Not everyone sees her like this!

This week has left a thin, or in some cases not so thin, layer of grime, grass and leaves all over, and permeating into, everything. Including me. It's not an epic post-'cross layer, just a never-ending spray of guck! This week's Sock Of The Week honours this low-level grime-fest. Not sure if this is even a sock, it's more a negative sock impression, perhaps we could call it an anti-sock. Also we're not quite sure what to call this SOTW either, perhaps the Roubaix? Actually this SOTW is really two socks. Remember the really short socks, the ones that don't even cover the talus? We can still see the tan-lines they left. Above that is the Roubaix-defining grime-line from this morning's ride.

The Roubaix anti-sock

The Roubaix should be worn with pride, not shame. We all know "cyclists" who won't ride in the rain. If you've just shelled out $4K on a new bike I can understand not wanting to take your new squeeze on wet roads in the first month or so, but as a generalised rule? Give me 60 soggy minutes in the lanes over 60 soul-destroying minutes on a dreadmill any day. The Roubaix says you rode in less than ideal conditions and what's more you did it willingly and with a smile. because you love to ride. Riding is a means unto itself, not just a way of getting from T1 to T2. Nothing bolsters your hard-man (or woman) credentials like the Roubaix.

A morbid horror of the Roubaix shouldn't be a reason not to ride, in three months after all we won't be able to ride outside at all. I say rug up well and keep riding, a spin in the rain on quiet roads can be quite enjoyable, and even invigorating, as long as you're dressed for it and expect a bit of distal discomfort!

No sun, so what? Chilly fingers and chilly toes but still smiling!

A word on overshoes. Don't! Maybe it's just bad luck but I've never had a pair that even remotely worked. If the water doesn't spray up through the large holes in the sole for your cleats then it runs down your shin and wicks through your socks. Either way the end result is cold, wet feet. Which you would have got if you weren't wearing them. Plus there's the a bonus-hole you get in the heel pretty quickly after walking in them! Perhaps I'm missing the point entirely (it wouldn't be the first time) but why spend $50 or more on something that can't work and that will only make you feel let down? If you need a bit of toe protection, get some toe-covers instead; they'll keep the chill off your toes without pretending to be waterproof. Either that or wear a large plastic bag under your socks! It works but it sure ain't pretty; just don't let me see you do it!

Stay warm, try and keep dry and even if you don't, keep smiling regardless...


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Does My Bum Look Fat In This?

We hear a lot about the positive consequences of exercise; the weight loss, improvement in cardiovascular health benefit, longevity, psychological benefits and the whole social aspect of working out. From our point of view, it seems that exercise also has a darker side....

Anyone seen my inhaler?

Chronic, overuse injuries are hard to deal with because they are there as a direct consequence of the sport. Let's face it, who hasn't sat on the couch icing that foot or trying to stretch their ITB (and come on, who are we kidding, the words "ITB" and "stretch" are surely mutually exclusive, unless separated by the words "can't be") wondering if they'll ever play the piano again. They can lead to a whole new dark-side of anxiety and, unfortunately, only patience will get you through this. That and a huge stack of DVDs!

Bike accidents aren't glamourous and I wouldn't wish one on my worst enemy (apart from, well, you know who you are). The line between telling an amusing story to your friends and a policeman telling it to the coroner is too thin. The split-second you find yourself in the air thinking "oh crap, this is really gonna hurt" isn't that much fun. Neither is lying on the road looking at the underside of someone elses bottom bracket shell or front grill and feeling yourself all over to see what still works and if everything is still attached. If you're lucky, you'll come out with a juicy-looking scar and as the saying goes "pain is temporary, glory is forever, chicks dig scars". For those of you of the diploid-X persuasion don't worry, this works both ways. Male roadies will always be impressed by a scar, regardless of the karyotype of the knee or elbow it happens to be adorning.

Hello Doctor, is this a big hole in my leg or am I pleased to see you?

Being an alleged paragon of healthy living (lots of fruit, early nights, no alcohol or cigarettes and plenty of exercise) doesn't always play well at the doctors office either! Unless (or sometime seemingly because sometimes) one is wheeled into ER on a trolley, doctors often get excited by the low heart-rate and signs of an enlarged heart. Sometimes I think all of us of the endurance multisport persuasion should have our training logs and possibly our palmares on our health cards. True, the latter might be a bit egotistical ("look Doc, I got a winner!") but the former, well that would be useful. No more having to explain everything, besides, it's hard to say "I run marathons" with a tube down your throat. Plus, you know all those surveys that say North American per capita consumption of potato chips is ca. 9 kg or they drink ca. 70L of beer each per year? I'm seriously annoyed as it means some-one else is drinking my beer and eating my chips (and I'm eating their damned salad!).

Bank managers may also have problems understanding our ilk. I cannot be the only one to have their bicycles listed as "significant assets" can I (well compared to my POS car they are; actually to be honest the value of my car did recently increase significantly, but I had just filled it up!)? Our spending habits may be slightly erratic and not necessarily planned; it doesn't matter if it's Aerobics First, Cyclesmith or MEC, something always follows you home, be it a flashy light, "extra" pair of shoes or a fully loaded Pinarello Dogma with Campy Record (as if). And yes, mea culpa, I did once pop in to buy an inner tube and impulse-bought a bike; who hasn't?

There is, however, an unplanned hit. The weight-loss means having to buy a whole new wardrobe, several perhaps. Surely I'm not the only one out there who appears to be playing dress-up with their parents clothes. For many multisport athletes it's the swimming that does it; one day you're fine, the next your shoulders have magically increased in size and you're busting out of your Thomas Pinks like the Incredible Hulk.

Waking up the day after swim practice, Mark inexplicably found his shirts no longer fitted

I recently experienced this hit in a slightly different direction; I can't get trousers to fit me anymore. The old standby off-the peg measurements don't work. Either the waist fits but they won't fit around all the miles in my quads or I can get the width in the leg but I need to put another notch in my belt and yet it still has to be cinched tighter than the zip-ties on the finish-line banners at Guysborough this year. Unless you want dress-pants tighter than the Sex Pistol's jeans that you can't move in, you have to go for the slightly baggier ones. But this means buying the larger waist size! As comfy as these trousers may be, every step you take down the street you say "I can't believe these are 32's, I can't believe these are 32s". Obviously I have my mother's thighs, but then she did ride the kilo for the DDR.

Does my bum look big in this?

In the long run, for the sake of my own sanity, I think this means I'll now have to get both my suits and my frames bespoke!


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Idée fixe

So I slew (or at least mildly inconvenienced) the demons that were the Riverport Du on Sunday. This was my first multisport race for two years, my last being R'port '07. Running is easy; one foot in front of the other, repeat. The bike adds a whole new layer of complexity and concern (well for me, and I've been at this a while). It was also officially my first race in the 40-49 age-group but as I was so wound up about racing, this momentous (to me) milestone went totally unnoticed! It was a grey, blustery day that rapidly became a grey, blustery wet day, and then just plain wet in epic proportions. It was a perfect day for riding fixed, so I did. I stuck my shorty tribars onto the racing fixie (who still needs a name) and put a slightly nicer front wheel on (a Mavic Open Sport instead of the venerable MA2 it usually rubs/rocks) and I was good to go.

The Lemond in racing shape (and yes she's in the kitchen; where-else
do apartment-dwelling roadies keep their bikes?)

There were many surprised faces in TZ when I racked; "oh, so you're racing then" with a bemused smile was the usual refrain. Then again, if you were new to the sport, you probably had never seen me without a vest and a whistle. Nevertheless, it made me feel appreciated and also that no-one begrudged me having a bit of fun for once.

I put the tried-and-tested duathlon game-plan into effect from the gun; hit R1 hard and run like there's no bike to get a gap, keep the gap as long as possible on the bike (where I suck now) and then give R2 everything you've got left. The way I see it I'm giving up three or four minutes on the bike. If I can take 60" to 90" on each run then at least I can remain competitive.

If 666 is double 333 does this mean I'm only half as bad?

R1 was hard, in a loose group with Jeremy Law, Chris Milburn, Shawn Aimirault and Kenny Fraser (the latter of whom I don't know). with althetes the calibre of Denis Choquette , Shawn Muise and Alan Miner not far behind. Kenny came though a couple of times on the run, leading a couple of guys in the following pack to ask "does this guy know who he's taking on?". All credit to him, he rocked R1 and then posted the fastest R2. He may have been an unknown quantity this time but we'll all be looking for him next time: the dude can run, and here's to hoping he doesn't improve on the bike.

I kept a slim lead going through T1 and was very quickly up to cadence on the short downhill out of TZ. I was worried that a high cadence after killing R1 would be a bad combination but it wasn't; different muscle groups, slow-twitch/fast-twitch perhaps? Who knows. Jeremy came through quickly on the bike followed, or so it seemed, by many, many others. Unlike previous years, where there had been headwinds all the way around the loop, this year there were clearly defined tail and crosswind sections. The first 12km were a tailwind and I was spinning out in places, doing about 35 kph on 70" fixed had me spinning at 100 rpm, rising to over 120 for the downhills . Needless to say I was passed a lot on this flattish 12km stretch before the hills and rollers by guys in 53 x 16 (ca. 90"). They were pedalling at a much more sedate 85 to 90 rpm and and freewheeling on the little downhills.

I didn't pass a single person. Of course if one does the math; if starting first and as the slowest cyclist, then one wouldn't expect to do much passing! As much as I'd told myself that performance wasn't important (to the extent of bringing the "wrong" bike) this hurt a little but I tried to take some small comfort in being a true time-trialist in the pre-war British mould; black outfit, bare-bones bike, small gear and high cadence. Unfortunately, there was no prize for "class".

Some measure of revenge came on the hills and rollers. The climb of Grimm Road wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated, and I was able to climb it all sitting down and even passed a couple of guys. The fixed really came into its own on the rollers where the gear gave a nice sense of rhythm which helped me to keep the pace better on the grades. I was still being passed, but at least now I was able to pass some back. I even got locked into a few "you're faster than me on the downhills, I'm faster than you on the uphills" battles, and I like to think I eventually won a few of them.

T2 was going to be a unknown quantity given I'd never raced on fixed before. There was no "spinning easy" into T2 given the choice (well, total absence) of gears, but at least the ratio was pretty small to start with. In fact, my legs didn't feel that heavy at all going into R2. I had a couple of precautionary twinges, the ones that tell you that cramp may be coming, but that's kinda par for the course. I started R2 in the mid-teens and managed to pull myself up a few psychologically important places in four kilometres, finishing 8th overall and 3rd in my age-group.

Would gears have made a difference? Perhaps, perhaps not. Two years ago on this course my bike-split was faster by a 1 kph or so but it was a nicer day then (calm, dry, sunny). Would having access to a 53 have made a difference in the finale? Perhaps crunching >100" gears is good in the short-term but in the end there are the heavier legs and more fatigue. Would the ability to coast have been rhythm breaking on the rolling second portion of the ride? I rather suspect that being forced to take it relatively easy in the first 12 kms helped in the latter part of the event, and I know that gears would have disrupted my rhythm. Maybe gears would have helped to erase the minute or so between 7th and 8th or even 6th, but in my age-group I was roundly beaten by Chris Milburn and Denis Choquette, two excellent athletes who regularly show me who's boss on the bike, gears or no. Nevertheless, I'm bringing a 14 next year!

Definitely coming back with a bigger one next
year; it's funny the difference 5 inches can make!

The discussion in the car on the way back was dominated by racing on fixed. I know it harkens back so some of the UCI's weirder ideas (and the one that stuck, the "athletes record" for the hour), but racing on fixed would be a great leveller. At any race, TZ runs the gamut from $100 CCMs from Crappy Tire to custom crabon rigs with wheels that cost more an entry-level racer. Put everyone on fixed and then we'll see who can ride and who's relying on technology. By all means allow the racers to choose their ratios; a big-gear cruncher won't appreciate a 75" whilst a waif-like climber won't even be able to turn 100" over. Within reason athletes in the race should be allowed to choose their frame too; this isn't the 1901 TdF where the RD specified the very bike the riders were allowed to use! Nevertheless, people shouldn't be scared; as the saying goes "class will out" or "cream rises to the top". Pantani would have conquered the Galibier on a ladies'-framed shopper with a Sturmley-Archer 3-speed and a basket on the front!

Big kudos to la belle, who slayed the course on fixed and, in a strange reversal of gender roles was rocking 75" (42 x 15 to those of you who can't do the conversion) to my 70" (39 x 15 ditto). All jokes about her having 5 inches more than me aside, I think think this deserves some serious recognition. She attacked the course for 4th lady overall, finishing on equal terms with many, whilst on a $600 bike with three brakes (if one counts the fixed), one gear and no coasting. If I was behind her on a tricked out Cervelo, I'd start re-thinking my bike strategy. From a confidence point of view she hit the course sight-unseen head on, including the hills. For those who have never ridden fixed, riding a downhill sight-unseen takes a little confidence as you have no idea how fast you will be going at the end, remembering that you have an absolute upper speed limit of ca. 50 kph on 75" fixed and anything above this you will crash! Also, there's no such thing as a flying dismount! La belle even claims to have had a little skid-stop at the dismount line; she's been watching too many Chris Hoy videos on Youtube (I've been watching too many Victoria Pendleton videos, but that's a different story). In fact this result has even made her think about the velodrome.....


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Recycle Cycle

You are what you eat (I am a sesame bagel with cream-cheese and an Americano) and you wear your heart on your sleeve. Or in our case, our ankles.

Now granted something approaching the perfect sock, the Audrey Hepburn of socks, has already been published: short (just above the talus) and white. A makers' logo only if absolutely necessary, and to be honest the Nike logo on those otherwise marathon-comfy socks pains me greatly. Despite being the acme of socks, this would be a pretty short blog if that was the beginning and ending of the matter. I might as well have called the blog "Andrew's Pointless Ramblings With Occasional Excursions Into Endurance Sport Fashion" consisting of pointless ramblings with way too many adjectives, parentheses and pop-culture references interspersed occasionally with egregious sock sinner exposés.

As well as evangelising (short and white, short and white, short and white) perhaps this blog can be used for good (as well as cathartics) and help the uninitiated navigate the murky waters of sock fashion. How does one approach the wall of DeFeet socks at MEC (gingerly to be honest) and drill down to the one acceptable pair? How white is white, is there such as thing as too short, how long is too long and perhaps more germanely, how much colour is acceptable before falling foul of the sock police?

Colour: in most cases and situations it's wise to stick with the dress code the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club apply at Wimbledon for competitors' attire; all white or, if you can't help yourself, almost all white with colour accents.

With this in mind, we present this week's Sock Of The Week. It's kinda pushing all white, but unless you are wearing sandals with your socks (NO!!!) the green body won't be (shouldn't be) seen. Not too high either, a tad longer than the Audrey Hepburn sock but still within acceptable limits. Green isn't a bad colour, and it's not that fluorescent green that blighted socks in the early eighties. The only problem may be getting a jersey to match (of course, matching your cycling shorts is no problem because your cycling shorts are black, right?).

The logo is an interesting one, the recycle symbol and a bicycle. Unless you are one of those people who straps a $10 000 Pinarello with all the trimmings on the back of a Lexus, you'll know what I'm talking about. Many cyclists are committed in some way or another to the environment; after all we spend so much of our time out in it. Hemmingway said ""It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them" (Hemmingway clearly didn't ride fixed) and we don't want the contours to be swathed in smog or softened by a layer of plastic bags and coffee cups.

Plus, this sock is guaranteed to raise the ire of any self-respecting Hummer driver when you slip through a gap and skid-stop your $500 fixie in front of them at the lights in particularly gnarly rush-hour traffic-jam. What wouldn't be sweeter than that?