Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ja, I'm a hipster

The stereotype of the LBS is that it's owned by an ex-pro and staffed by a bunch of up-and-coming guys in their late teens who are more interested in pro-dealing their shot at the big time than customer service. Cyclesmith is not like this. The average age on the sales-floor in the low 40s and most of the guys are on career 2.0.  One of the advantages of this is a wealth of disparate experiences and a fairly thick skin to boot. I like to feel we're also pretty small-l liberal; black, white, pink, rainbow. It doesn't matter.

There is one caveat. They used to say that anti-catholicism was the last remaining acceptable -ism in North America. At Cyclesmith creed or colour doesn't matter but i think there is one, last acceptable -ism.


Well, certainly against each other.

Hipster, like art, is notoriously hard to define.  There seem to be some commonly agreed-upon biomarkers; fixed-gear bikes, tattoos, facial hair, art-house coffee shops, music from the eighties and beer.

Here, many of us accuse each other (jocularly, mind you.  At least I hope it is) of being hipsters, we'll great each other with "I'm sorry sir, we don't serve your type in here", and deny any such accusation against ourselves.  As the definition if hipster is so vague, it's easy to pigeon-hole so-and-so as a hipster based on meeting only a small set of criteria e.g. bike and beer, whilst willfully ignoring facial hair and "career" in social media.  The "no I'm not a hipster" defense doesn't do anything as, as we we all know, there's nothing a hipster likes less than being pigeon-holed. It's a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose situation.

I'm going to take a stand. I'm not going to deny my hipsteristic tendencies any more. Just like suppressing your sexuality can lead you on your knees getting arrested for indecent acts public washrooms, I'm afraid that if I continue to deny my hipsterism, I'm going to end up simultaneously wearing fake tortoiseshell glasses and contacts or start drinking PBR.  So, whilst I may not have a bike-polo mallet (Tony Lacopia, I am talking to you), my name is Andrew and I am a hipster.

Lets look at the evidence.

1) I live in a condo in the North End of Halifax. When you read the "Gentrifying Scum Out Of Our Neighborhood" graffiti, they're talking about me or to me.

2) Not only do I drive a Smart car (four seats are too mainstream), so does my wife. In fact, we park two Smart cars in a single parking spot in that gentrified North End condo. Because one spot per car is, well, just too mainstream.

3) We were early adopters of Two If By Sea cafe in Dartmouth. We don't go any more because it's way too crowded nowadays and the nature of the crowd has changed since their halcyon opening days. In short, we don't go to TIBS, a watch-word for hipsters in this town, any more because it's too mainstream!

4) Instead we go to Java Blend. Does it matter we can see it from our balcony? No. Does it matter if Jim is a friend? No. Does it matter that Jim supports the events we put on including our wedding? Hell no. What matters is we get our coffee from the same place as this guy.

5) Fixies. I have two. One is a straight-up fixie, one is a road-bike conversion. I'm the original owner of both. They have brakes, fenders, a GPS speedo. In short they're proper bikes and I do proper rides on them. Have you done Peggys Cove on 68" fixed? Does any of this matter compared to the fact I bought one of the frames because the chromed lugs made it look retro? Retro? Authentic? Hello? Hipster.

5.5) There's a Brooks saddle on one of those fixies. Sigh.

6) I'll freely acknowledge my shoe problem (Filipino!) but really, I have a bike jersey problem. Hell, I could have a chapter of the Bike Jersey Project book all to myself. I'd like to draw the jury's attention to two jerseys. The Crest jersey was my club jersey in the late eighties. It still fits me. But it's like from the eighties. Pretty hipster. The retro-look Adidas wool jersey? I bought it on sale at the La Cordee in St Bruno because it looked retro and would look great when I was on those fixies. Hipster? Duh!

7) Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, ABC, Culture Club? I like music from the eighties. Of course I like music from the eighties. I came of age in the eighties. Mind you, I like The Smiths nowadays, but I didn't care for them in the actual eighties because everyone else was listening to them; in short they were too mainstream. Evidence perhaps of latent hipster tendencies even back in the eighties. I had a crush on Molly Ringwald when I was, like, you know, in high school and she was playing kids who were, like, you know, in high school. Does any of this stand in mitigation against the fact I have hours of eighties music on my iPod and copies of The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink on the shelf? Hell no. Hipster.

8) I can, in fact, wear my wife's jeans. The legs are a touch tight and a short on me, but that's OK because then they don't get caught in the chain. The only thing that's worse than this would be having those Rapha jeans with the Rapha logo on the inside, so it can be read when the pants-cuff is rolled up to mid-shin. Furthermore, I do, in fact, have actual Rapha cycling clothing and yes, I have worn the cycling cap as a stand-alone fashion accessory.

9) I used drink imported Belgian beer; Hoegaarden, Duvel and the like. Pretentious? Moi? I used to think it was about getting in touch with my inner Flandrian (cyclocross is the next big thing you know), but really it was more about Molson being too mainstream. Who cares if Olands is brewed down the street and fits in with the 100 mile diet ethos (hipster), but hipster beer credentials trump buying beer with a low carbon footprint. Nowadays, I get my beer in a growler, because bottles are, like, too mainstream.

10) I don't have tattoos. But I get enough cat-5 tattoos at work portaging the bikes around. I don't so much have a chain-ring tattoo on my leg as having a succession of them. Similarly, I don't have a NOBR AKES knuckle tattoo as I skin my knuckles on other peoples bikes. Seriously man, permanent tattoos are just too mainstream.

I'm trying to get help, but it may be too late. It may have run it's course. In short, my name is Andrew and I'm a hipster.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Run Rabbit Run

I think my attitude towards running is getting a little hedonistic. It's because of the bunny ears.

No, not that kind of bunny ears, although that would be hedonistic,  These kind of bunny ears.

Slowing down and, figuratively speaking, smelling the roses has reminded me how much fun running can be.  Not only that, but if you are not turning yourself inside out to get a PB or a BQ then even running a marathon can be fun, and fun is surely why we do this. Goodness knows we aren't doing it for the money and the consensus is out as to whether we're doing this for the good of our health or not (as we might be shortening our lives) so we might as well be having fun.  Isn't that hedonism?

My average marathon time, not including the three or four pace-bunny outings, is around the 3:07 mark, with a handful of outliers eight-to-ten minutes either side of this arithmetic mean.  Nicely Normal.  This translates to an average 4:26 kilometre pace.  Bunnying a 3:30 or longer takes the pace down to 5 minutes a kilometre or longer.   I've been asked, more than once, isn't it difficult to run this slowly?  No is the answer. If anything, it's the 4:26s that are are abnormal.  If you were to send me out Garminless (which is to say functionally naked) I would naturally do a 4:40 or 4:45, so doing a 5:00 isn't too much of a stretch. Besides, if one is bunnying a Running Room group to 3:30, they may be on a 10:1 run:walk schedule, which equals a 4:45 running pace with a 1 minute power walk.

I don't train differently if I'm "only" bunnying.  My last outing with ears was Bluenose 2013 and I still put in the miles, let me tell you.  Many of those long runs were cracked off at a pace significantly faster than my projected bunny pace.  I didn't even have a marathon of my own coming up, BN was it, and I still racked up over 1000 miles in training since Jan 1. Seems excessive?  Twenty six point two are not numbers to be taken with alacrity and, regardless of pace, you need to treat the marathon with respect.  One reason I train "properly" is because the marathon treats my body the same way, whether I'm bunning or racing.  When I'm bunnying, I often find my body goes through the same stages of aches and pains and bonkiness as in a raced marathon, only the crappy sensations don't come on quite as hard and don't last quite as long.  Similarly, I usually recover somewhat more quickly after a bunnied marathon than a raced one. Going down stairs after two days instead of three perhaps.

One hears much of bunnys and bunnying strategies.  Most of these are somewhat negative and I'm rather glad never to have heard through the grapevine "that 3:30 bunny at the x marathon was a real muppet".  The singular most important trait in a pace-bunny is to run steadily and even split the marathon. People may come and go out of your group, but as long as you run at 4:45 or 5:00 or whatever, you are doing your job. It may seem heartless to erstwhile members of your group as you steam away slowly after 20 miles, but you must stick to the pace. No deviations. It's a bit OCD, but as runners we're all a little OCD at heart, so it comes naturally!

It annoys me to hear the bunny horror stories about bunnies who bolt off the line in order to "gain time", which we all know is a marathoning fools' errand, and are never seen again. It's not sensible running if you're trying to run for yourself, much less if you've been entrusted with getting others in on time. I once heard of a bunny who crossed the line fist-pumping, like he'd got a good time for himself.  Did I mention he was ten minutes ahead of schedule too?  It may seem like a bit of a lark;  they pay your entry and you get to run, albeit in the dorky t-shirt and ears, but remember; you're essentially employed and entrusted for the morning to run a pace.

Alternatively, the 3:15 pace-bunny at Dublin was a right sargeant-major. I heard him coming, barking orders "water station coming up; water on the left, Gatorade on the right", "Left hand corner coming, lets swing right and run the tangent". I almost expected him to say "...and if you see a kitten in the middle of the road, don't stop! Take no prisoners".  

I don't bolt off the line, I don't bank time (on purpose) but neither am I the Dublin RSM.  I'll be your friend, I'll cajole and coax and encourage, I'll talk and tell jokes or I'll listen.  I'll work with them, not against them. At the start I ask the group that coalesces around me at the start how they want to run; run:walk or continuous, It's the same either way to me, this is their race, not mine. Whatever strategy they choose, I tell them I'll re-assess it periodically.  Sometimes we can keep on schedule to the end, sometimes we need to change, but let me worry about that.   I've had to do both.  I'll dole out a bit of tough love though. If one thing is certain, I tell them, I will run 3:30. That I guarantee,  I won't wait for you.  I'll come back for you once, but after that, you're on your own.   

Bunnying also gives an interesting perspective on how one runs a marathon.  In my experience, and those of others, one runs with several distinct groups. You start with a reasonably large group hoping for, let us say, 3:30.  Most of this group hangs with you for the first half.  No problem. One or two might drop off.  Somewhere between 21 and 25 kilometres this groups melts away in ones and twos.  Gradually, your original group is replaced by a second, people who were likely aiming at a 3:15 and are now coming backwards steadily.  This group might last until 35 kilometres until it too melts.  Eventually, you will pick up a few stragglers who were likely on pace for a 3:10 or better until they hit they wall.  One or two of these stragglers will find the energy to hop on your heels for the last mile or so to the finish. It makes you think upon how you run your own races. The standard deviation on my personal 4:25 average must be quite large; likely starting at a brisk 4:15 and slowing to an ignominious 4:40!

Running is often seen as a solitary activity. When one thinks about doing good by running, one thinks of charity running, which apart from pan-handling around your family, friends and acquaintances (no doubt at the same time your friends are doing the same) means running in an actual bunny suit. Or a fat-man suit. Or a turtle suit.  Of maybe just a baggy cotton t-shirt a la Simon Pegg in Run Fatboy Run, which you just know is going to do a job on your nipples.  Or you could give back to the running community by working at races or even organizing a race.  I've done those latter two. Man, that's hard work.  So, as well as the sheer unabashed fun of running, pace-bunnying has another reward.  You get to help out a bunch or runners by doing what you enjoy doing, viz, running.  Win win!

Interestingly, pace bunnies in Halifax are usually organised by the Running Room.  When I started this ears gig five years ago or so, I was the only non-Running Room pace bunny. At the last Bluenose, three or four of us out of the full. half and 10 were Halifax Running Club. I'd like to take a little credit for that, along with la belle, for getting the word out.  I think more and more of our running partners are starting to see pace-bunnying not as a chore, not as something to do if you can't race but as a rewarding and meaningful activity in it's own right.  Something I hear isn't "I wouldn't like to do it" but "I don't think I'd be good at it", which could be dissembling but I like to think is a more nuanced way of saying they're not sure they could harness their run-like-the-wind urges to come in bang on time.  Why don't you just try it, I usually reply.  You'd be great at it.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

Why, Spongebob Squarepants of course.

But more about the yellow, square absorbent one in a bit.

I really wanted my next post to be about the pace-bunny experience. It's pretty much written, and I'd love to share it with both of you.  However, I've just had a deeply unsatisfying morning that has left me more jaded with age-group sport and age-group athletes than I would care to admit.

La belle and I scored free entries to the Penguin Run at the RNS banquet last year, so we cashed them in. Except the ten miler was now a half-marathon; not an entirely popular decision I understand from listening to chat.  Oh well, it is what it is.

Overall, I like the new course. New race HQ is about a kilometre down the old course from the old one. Parking was easier. It's outside, so that'll make it tricky if it rains but with the mercury (technically ink-in-glass nowadays) hitting 28C, that wasn't a problem today.

A pretty traffic-free course, and by my Garmin, bang-on distance.  I heard some people complaining it was long, but I think they were running the tangents, not out on the left, hang a u-ey at the turnaround and come back on the left.  I saw a bit of that going on.  We (as in RNS) need to get that sorted.

Fortunately, the course was essentially traffic-free, which with runners using whichever side of the road they felt comfortable using, was a good thing. There was even a guerilla water-stop at 10km, which is always a sign that the local community is getting behind the event.

The course is really quite lumpy; not Cape Breton hilly, but grinding rollers. As you can see, not much elevation in any one hill, but they just came one after the other.

No flat to be found.

I got stuck in from the start; the first two kilometres were a bit fast, sucked along by the concomitant 5K but I tried to keep a lid on it.  I was aware of a presence on my shoulder after the 2.5km turnaround for the 5K, and could see three people up ahead; Bryan Hipson, Mike Vargo and some guy no-one knew, who turned out to be a ringer from Saskatoon. We think he found it somewhat hillier than he was used to. Oh well, come to Nova Scotia for the lobster and the hills!

My shadow became my problem. I wasn't able to elicit much information from him, apart from that his name was Patrick and he did the Bluenose half in 1:24 or something and was looking for a sub-90 performance today.  I don't know what he looked like, so I'm going with this.

I never saw his face, he never came through (not once), he never put his face in the wind. I was just aware of a figure on my shoulder. We were running pretty steady, between 4:05 and 4:15 per kilometer, nothing earth shattering.  It sounded like he was working. After a while I started to get a bit aggravated about the lack of coming through to do his share of the pacing. I made a couple of half-hearted swings across the road to gesture "your turn", but no, my heels were a good place to be.  I tried to be a good lead; pointed out the holes in the road (they were legion) and the water stops and tried to make sure we both had room at the table so we could run through unimpeded.

Still, no pacing help.  I was feeling like a pace-bunny all over again but no ears. Except there was no talking because Mr The Star was wearing an iPod, so all I got for conversation was the steady tschh, tschh, tschh of the beats. After an hour I got a bit too P.O.d by that and asked over my shoulder

"Could you turn that down or something?"

No reply

"Sorry, but could you turn that down or something?"


"Sorry, I had to turn my iPod off so I could hear you; what did you say?"



So I slowed down and made some wild course changes from the shoulder to the yellow line and back, trying to force him to to come through. Douchy I know.  We only had three miles to go. I think I nearly went at ninety degrees at one time, but my faithful shadow stayed glued.  I think I heard something along the lines of "wow, it's like you're trying to get rid of me".  I didn't hear the sounds of pennies dropping.

The penultimate kilomter is an uphill drag, noting crazy, but after the rollercoaster of the previous nineteen it was heavy on the legs.  I tried to slow up a little to save something for the flat finish but it was really to no avail as my bolts had been shot off on each hill, trying to wear him down.  Coming around the final corner I turned and said "I suppose you're going to outsprint me now". 

With 700m to go he became quite voluble.  He was quite chuffed. Didn't think he had it in him to run that fast in the heat, didn't think he'd be able to stay with me. He couldn't come through because he couldn't have lasted out front at that pace for long.

With 500 m to go however, the front suddenly became a tenable place to be and he smoothly accelerated away. Clearly the previous 20.7 km were not to his liking, but this stretch had him written all over it!  I think I slowed down. I hope I did, because I conceded fifteen seconds in 500m.  Chip-time was a loooong 1:26. Let's do the maths.  That's 5160". Five hundred metres at 4 minute/km pace is 2 minutes, 120". Or 2.3% of the race in front.  I spent the previous 97.7% or 5040" dragging his arse up hill and down dale.

I've had many stand-up, knock-down, drag-out fights in running races and triathlons and, win or lose, I've always been able to walk up to the guy (or gal), put out my hand and say "well done, great race". Regardless of the outcome.

Not today.

On the plus side, Mr The Star had a great race. He didn't think he had it in him but he did anyway. You can't fault that.  Tactically it was pretty astute; draft off the faster guy, come around at the end for the result (even if the result was a big 4th overall). Result! Tactically, I ran a bad race; too much time on the front, chasing my own demons (I've never run a half longer than 90  minutes and I wasn't prepared for today to be that day) and not paying enough attention to the guy behind.  Plus, I think I gave up as we rounded the last corner with 700 to go. I know my heart wasn't in it.

Still, I feel used and essentially douched out of the position (yeah, yeah, that big 4th). In purely impassionate terms, he had an excellent race, I had a sub-par one and the better guy won. I just don't have to feel that way.  From my perspective, it wasn't a classy move, even if it was the right one.

I didn't stay for the awards, I was too steamed. I still am if truth be known.  La belle picked up my prize.  I haven't opened it.  If you want it Patrick let me know. It's yours. You earned it, even if you didn't work for it.