3 seconds

3 seconds. Only 3 seconds.

Back up a day. I got into work early yesterday and I knew I was coming back to work for a dinner function last night. So I decided to take a break in the afternoon and go for a ride. It was a great day for riding. Cool. Light wind. I dressed in my brand new Fat Cyclist jersey (first time in pink!) and headed out.

I have a personal favorite 35 mile route that I ride when I have the time. It takes me out towards the mountains and has a number of steep, moderately long (i.e. longer than a kicker, not as long as a “climb”) hills and so it makes for a fun ride.

This ride also has two Strava segments on it. One each way depending the direction you take the loop. Strava, for those of you who don’t know, is a website that allows you to upload your ride from a gps. You can define what they call “segments” on pieces of road. Segments are like little mini races. Usually they are hills and you can see how fast you go up that climb. Others who ride that segment also record their times and everyone can see who is fastest (“King/Queen of the Mountain”). I don’t want to get into the goodness/evilness of Strava others have done that. But I find a weird thing happens to me when I define a segment to see how fast I am on it. I feel like I own it. I feel like I should be the fastest on that segment. I feel like I marked it as mine.

I defined the segment on my 35 mile loop. Its a 1.2 mile climb that has a 10-12% grade for the first half and a 2-3% grade for the second half. And it was mine until about a month ago.

So off I biked. It was a great bike ride. Lots of fall colors. Nice weather. I had a great time. Then I got to the segment. Up I went. Going hard. Then it was over. And the thing is you don’t really know how you did until you upload your gps track. But that didn’t bother me. The end of the ride was great. I love the last quarter of this loop. You are at the max altitude for the ride and you are left with a rolling hill decent back home. If you are feeling good those rollers are a lot of fun. You can maintain momentum up them and build momentum on the downhill. And I felt good yesterday.

When I got home I stretched and booted the computer. Up went the ride to Strava. (Geek Doug moment. I think this technology is way cool. This program takes my gps track, figures out if there are any segments on it, pulls the portion of the gps record for that segment out, calculates a time, and compares it to all the other times people have ridden it. Totally cool.)

Personal best (meaning it was MY fastest time ever), but not King of the mountain (meaning I wasn’t the fastest ever). I missed the fastest time by 3 seconds! 3 lousy seconds. That’s one hesitated shift. One more car going up with me instead of against me. I recognize the name of the guy who has the fastest time. He is a very strong, fast rider. And I was 3 seconds behind him. Can I beat him? How hard did he go? Maybe he was just cruising and taking it easy when he did it.

The ride was fantastic regardless, and I’m sure I will be doing it again, soon. I figure I have 3 more seconds I can shave off. I mean I better. After all, its MY hill!

(BTW. 3 seconds is about how much slower I am on a luge run than my friend Duncan Kennedy who is a former Olympic Luger. I will probably never make up that time on him, he is perhaps the best slider the US has ever produced. Just a quick aside. If you want to know just how cool Duncan is as a person, read this article. That’s who Duncan is.)

Advertisements

Moments of Glee

During the day I am a professor of mechanical engineering at a small school in upstate New York. One of the things I do when I teach a class is ask my students to send me an email telling why they picked whatever flavor of engineering they did. The answers are usually pretty predictable. “Good with math and science”, “want to know how things work”, “I want to drive a train” (No not really, in fact I tell them specifically that if this is their reason, please make something else up). Every now and then I get something more personal.

I believe that turn about is fair play so at the beginning of the second class I tell them about me, and why I wanted to become a mechanical engineer. This by the way is the reason I am a mechanical engineer who studies fluid dynamics.

That boat and that moment are the reason I started down my professional path. A prize (mostly I will allow you to gloat) goes to the person who can correctly identify the boat and why this picture is historically significant.

But you know that picture really doesn’t have the umph that captures the attention of my students (also it happened over a decade before they were born, which makes me feel old). I needed something else. I had a number of students in my class this year who said they raced bikes and wanted to do something bike related for a career. So this year when I was telling them about me I told them that I bike, a lot. Then I dropped the bomb…..

“I am signed up to race in Leadville next summer.” There was an audible “Wow” from the class. (Gotcha!) Clearly some of them had heard of this race. Now I had their attention.

I am going to confess something. I have moments of glee at times like this. The glee comes from surprising you because you did not expect something like that from someone like me. It makes me smile inside (sometimes I hear the bike cackling voice).

Here think about this. One of your good friends comes up to you on a Monday morning and says:

“Guess what I did this weekend?”

“Cleaned the garage?”

“Nope, I rode on a luge.” (Your friend says this casually for max effect.)

“Luge? That’s insane! BTW. Which one is that?”

“Feet first.”

“You mean the one where you cannot see anything?”

“Yup.”

“Wow” (And now your friend is experiencing the moment of glee)

My best moment of glee was this summer when I was in Lake Placid talking with the Luge coaches about the work I am doing for them. They knew I had done a bike race in Lake Placid in June and asked how it went. Good I said. I qualified for a race next summer. 100 miles, at 10,000 ft with 12,000 ft of total climbing. Stunned silence. I had stunned three former Olympic Athletes (two of which had won Olympic medals, all three of which are very cool people) with something I did that was athletic.

Not bad for the grown up version of a pudgy kid who was never good at sports. Yup. I had a moment of glee.

Reflection

This post isn’t so much about riding (or sliding) or “living dangerously”. Its not so much about a quest to conquer a stupid 100 mile long bike race. Well, its not and it is all at the same time.

I apologize in advance. This post is a little deep for a Monday morning. But hey that’s the space I am in right now (and its my blog!).

I have a good friend who I met because I bike. She is a fun, sometimes loud, vivacious person. She is also a good soul who cares about people. Over the past couple of weeks there was some potentially bad news on the medical front. It was hard to sit and not be able to do much to help my friend other than try to support her as best as I could in her uncertainty. I spent some time thinking about “stuff”.  (This part of the story ended well. We got word on Friday that everything was fine. Big yeah!)

We get reminders all the time about how precious and fleeting life is. Sometimes it comes in the form of a driver coming too close to us as we ride (or driving AT us when we ride). Sometimes it comes from possible medical problems. The reminders are not always bad though. Sometimes they come in the form of a long hard climb up a mountain followed by a ripping, totally in control, descent down that climb. Sometimes it comes on a luge run when you are totally focused and in the moment. Sometimes it comes in a quiet dinner or discussion with someone we love. But we get these reminders. The question is do we listen to them?

It’s easy to go out on my bike and ride hard to get myself ready for Leadville, or to ride in a race and be focused on how fast I am going. And that’s OK. That’s part of living each day and appreciating being alive. But its also important to take a moment to look at the fall colors. Or marvel at the giant wind turbines. Or see the moon above a mountain on a perfectly clear Colorado afternoon. Or to meet new people when we bike, even race. Its important to not loose sight that its the journey that is important. Its important to not loose sight that one of the things I am looking forward to at Leadville next summer is having my family and friends there to help me and share the experience. I am looking forward to having them give me water, or a coke, or a reminder to just keep going doing my best, whatever that ends up being. I am looking forward to having a smile, or a hand to hold me and my bike up, or a hug when I finish. They add a richness and perspective to the experience that makes the effort worthwhile.

A couple of years ago Coreen got me a RoadID for Christmas. I joke with here all the time that it was really a gift for her and not me. I mean if it ever needs to be used…..well probably not the best thing in the world for me. BUT the last line on my RoadID is a message from Coreen. “Enjoy the Ride!”. Remember its about the process.  Its about seeing the world and enjoying a crisp fall day. Or its about kicking mud up from tires on a wet single track. Or its about finishing something really hard like Leadville. Its about experiencing life with the people who are important to you.

Quandary

The weather is getting cooler. And I find myself wondering how I will approach the winter this year, and maybe not in the way you might be thinking. See, I have a decision to make.

My number one priority for 2013 is to train for and do well in Leadville. By now that’s not a surprise. I am actually going to take this seriously and train for that ride. What that means is I am going to be smart about how I train and dedicate myself to that event. More details on that to follow, but it involves a coach and a training plan designed for me.

Nope. That’s pretty clear. My quandary is what to do this winter with my other sport, luge. At some point I will describe how and why I got into that silly sport. A sport that when I tell people I do it, they get this crazed fearful look in their eyes.

(People also tend to get a look in their eyes because of the outfit ;), but I think I look dashing.)

I get a lot of “be careful!”,  “isn’t that dangerous?”, “really?!?!” kinds of comments.

Isn’t it dangerous? Well yes and no. Luge is statistically no more dangerous than recreational skiing. (A sports doctor in Boston did a study, go figure.) My problem is that I am a beginner and the learning curve is steep. That picture actually makes me look like I know what I am doing a little bit (Yes I know my head is up too much, thanks luge friends for pointing that out.). Many times I look more like this going down the track.

(That was a wicked exciting run. One that I got a lot of crap from the track announcer for. It doesn’t take much to get the track announcer to talk about you over the PA, she excels at that. But it was an ugly run.)

Here is how luge run looks from my perspective at times. I spent a lot of last season with a bruised foot and bruised shoulder. On my worst day I crashed, hard. (BTW. This is where MTB and luge are the same. Its not a matter of if but when, and how bad it will be. You will crash at some point.) I gave myself a minor concussion and I was out for a couple of weeks.

I don’t want to over state how dangerous the sport is. Its really about like skiing as far as chance of injury. And I am further up the learning curve so I am doing better. I actually ended my season last spring by winning a race. (I won because the best slider in the group “failed to finish” a run, but I was the best on that day!) And luge is a heck of a lot of fun. For about 50 seconds of your life your mind and body are totally focused on what you are doing (it had better be). And when you do a good clean run the feeling is fantastic. I have made a bunch of great friends through luge and I enjoy spending time sliding with them. I have competed against former Olympians. The experience has been worth every bruise I got. But there is a risk involved. My concern is getting hurt and pushing back my official organized training for next summer.

There are a couple of ways I could approach the season. I can skip sliding the entire winter. I can slide in the fall and through say February (when our competition season ends for the most part). I can slide a full season. I can start sliding and play it by ear. One thing I cannot do is slide scared or cautious. That goes back to the being totally focused and in the moment. If you are worried, you are not focused. And that would be a bad idea.

Part of me says, I do lots of other things. I play hockey, I ski. I could get hurt doing them. Am I going to stop everything for this Leadville thing? What’s the right thing to do? Decision time is coming soon.

Scars and bruises

A little random thought for the day. I think I have stumbled onto a counter-intuitive truth about mountain biking. The external physical evidence of a fall (what I really mean is the resulting outward physical marks you get from a crash) does not always correlate to how bad the crash was. Here are a couple of case studies so that you can see what I mean.

Case 1: Elden Nelson (aka The Fat Cyclist or Fatty to his friends) recently road a mountain bike race in which he crashed. (Note the fact that Fatty crashes makes me both feel better and worse at the same time. On one hand, if the 2013 Leadville Single Speed Champion crashes I shouldn’t feel bad right? On the other, crap I am going to keep crashing too.) He in fact rated this crash as a 1.5 on a 10 point scale. Not bad right? He got back on his bike an finished the race (3rd in his category). Later, when he was home cleaning up, he discovered he was injured. Fatty had a rather large splinter lodged in his leg that required removal by a doctor with a scalpel. He’s going to have a nice scar from that one.

Case 2: My Crash. Hacking around in the yard. Crashed so hard, I was face down in the driveway with tears streaming from my eyes. There was NO way I was getting back on my bike. Only place I went was the ER. So I patiently limped around and waited for the totally awesome bruise to come. You know, the one that would match the magnitude of the pain I suffered. That glorious mark that I could point to and say “See look how bad my crash was!”  Never came. A little light discoloration, but not that epic bruise that you would be proud of. (Coreen asked if I would have taken a picture of it. Ummm… Yes! :))

Case 3: Training for Wilmington Whiteface 100. Crashed and landed on left leg. Saw some blood on knee no big deal. Kept riding. Got back to the car 20 miles later to discover blood on lower left leg with gouges in the shape of my front chain ring. I never never knew it was there while I rode. Never felt a thing. But I will have those marks for the rest of my life. (I kind of like those scars. They look cool, and you can totally tell what they are.)

Case 4: (What got me thinking about this.) My crash during the raced on Sunday. I was going up a rock garden. The back tire skipped off a rock and washed out. I went down relatively lightly. Got up and got onto my bike. I felt fine. A little bit of pain in my left hand. But nothing even close to bad. Yesterday I look at my hand and it is all red and purple. Go figure.

So what does it all mean? I don’t know. Its just funny.

(Just between you and me though. After I crashed on Sunday I purposely did not look at my left leg. If it was all scrapped, injured and bleeding I didn’t want to know. It felt fine and I had a race to finish. If it was going to hurt after the race so be it ;))

Race With the Wind – Part 2

3:41. What the heck did that mean? How did I do?

That’s a complicated philosophical question. OK flash back to Sunday afternoon. I cross the finish line and bike back to the the guys who are writing down the finishers.

“3:41 did that match your gps?”

“Yes, how many finished in front of me?”

“7 you are the 8th person in.”

Wow, that’s pretty good the voice in my head cackled. (Yes it was still cackling. And it was happy that I beat some of the cross bikers…OK, I’ve turned into a mtb snob. Its a mtb race, ride a mtb. If you want to ride a cross bike, you get what you deserved 😉 )

So why is it complicated to figure out how I did? Well if you remember back, I was shooting for a 3 hour time. I missed that mark by 41 minutes. That’s not so good. But no one finished this year under 3 hours. Winning time was 3:05. That’s good. It would have been really incredible if I had finished in 3 hours. Clearly time was not a good metric.

How did I feel about my effort? I went out fast. I was close to the lead group but I just could not hold onto them. I rode about 40 of the 46 miles with another guy. We yo-yo’d the entire way. Well mostly he got ahead of me, then had to stop to, umm do some business or get some water and I passed him. Then he caught me. We talked. Then he passed me. Repeat process. In the end he was a little bit stronger and I didn’t stay with him on the last hill. Do I feel bad about that? Well turns out he is a runner and a more experienced mountain bike rider/racer (remember we talked). So in the end I don’t feel totally bad about finishing behind him. He was stronger. Once we got onto the course and riding, no one passed us. That’s also good. So all in all I feel satisfied with my effort. (Next year? I am going to be better. I am going to be the guy who rides away at the end. I might even win this thing.)

But how did I finish? I was 2nd in the sport class. 1st place went to the guy I rode with. I got a nice plaque out of the deal.

Better than the plaque. I got a $15 gift card to a local dairy shop called Stuarts. They have awesome ice cream. Perfect reword for a fast ride in a a fatty jersey!

But that’s really only half the story……OK Flash back to my finish………

(yeah that’s the same picture, we are in a flash back after all)

How’d I finish…8th…(yadda yadda yadda) I bike away to find my awesome family sitting on the grass.

(Me) “How did Noah do?”

(Coreen) “4th. But he is bummed. I finished 3rd and got a prize and he didn’t get anything.”

(Me) “4th? That’s awesome. Were the kids who beat him bigger?”

(Coreen) “Yeah High School kids on full sized bike.”  (I knew it was going to be tough for Noah to “win” when I saw he was in a under 18 age group. He actually said he wanted to “dominate”. It’s rough to be 10 and on a 20″ bike)

(Waiting for the race director to announce the winners.)

Coreen also said their course was much harder than we figured. More rocks. More hills. More mud. Pretty much a mini version of my ride. But Noah gutted it out and finished. Coreen also said that Noah got passed by a girl and was upset at being “chicked” (my words not hers). She told him if he didn’t like it to do something about it. So he put it into high, passed her, and never saw her or her dad again.

Noah said that next year he wants to train harder and longer. He wants to do some single track to get ready. Oh, and he is hoping Santa or mom/dad will bring him a bike with big tires. Sounds like a plan to me. This was a good learning lesson for Noah. You don’t always finish on the podium. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes you need to work harder. (Still proud of you dude, it was a tough race!)

After we finished the race we went out for lunch.

Garlic knots, pizza, and lots of water. (Of course ice cream for desert!) Yum.

So that’s the story of my first podium as a mtb bike racer and Noah’s first race of any kind.

My thoughts? This was a great race. If you are in the area think about riding in it. The course is fun. It was well marked. The people who ran the race were super nice. I have the date circled on my calendar for next year. (I might need to do a ride that doesn’t make me cry by that point.)

It was great to do a local low key race. Yeah, there was no Armstrong or Weins or Rush to race against. But heck I felt like I had a chance. And truthfully, sometimes it feels good to win (even if it wasn’t against Armstrong or Weins or Rush ;)). It feels really good.

Race With the Wind 2012

I have been talking about Race With the Wind for a little bit. I had a plan that I had to change due to a crash. It was my year end race. My fall classic. It was also Noah’s first race. It was today. And what a totally fun day it was.
I want to start with a couple of observations. First observation. I have heard the wind called “the climb that never stops” by bikers. This race was the “Race with the Wind”. It took place on the largest wind farm east of the Mississippi. Oh, no……

(Just to show you how big the turbines are, I put the picture in the post really big, see how I did that?)

Good news/bad news in that picture. Good News: You can easily tell the wind direction by looking at the turbines. Bad News: Yes there was wind.

Second observation. Here look at this picture. Its the elevation profile from the ride today.

What do you notice? No real big climbs. In fact its only like 500 feet from the low to the high point on the elevation profile. (Easy right?)

OK. So we got out to Lowville NY this morning at 8:45. The race was to start at 10:00 for me (and the other 46 milers) and 10:30 for Coreen and Noah. Time for some requisite pictures.

That’s a fine looking Fat Family of Bohls if I ever saw one.

And there are my super awesome wife (who ran 8.5 miles yesterday for the FIRST TIME EVER and volunteered to ride 10 miles with Noah today) and my young budding racer.

Time to warm up. And start.

There were 28 people in my division. Probably 4 or 5 cross bikes, the rest mountain bikes. The start was fast. There were about 8 people who went out really fast. I went with them. Here is where the wind played its card for the day. I lost the wheel of the front group, and never got it back because of the wind. (This was probably not a bad thing, they were faster than me and I’m not sure I could have kept up with them for 46 miles.)

The course was a lot more challenging that I had expected. What the profile did not show was the 15-20 short very steep climbs that were along the course. Go back. Look at the profile. See all of the “fuzz” on the profile. Yeah, that’s the stuff. Leg sapping hills. Hills with no real down hill to let you rest and recover, or with downhills so covered with rock you had to work to get down. It was 46 miles of continuous cranking with no real coasting. The second thing was all of the rock gardens. Fun going down and fun going up (and rough on cross tires!). And finally, they had added a bunch of single track to the ride. Really nice trails (added to punish the cross riders :)).

I passed one cross rider very early on while he was changing a flat. He got back on his bike and promptly flatted again. I saw him later in the race  as he tried to pass me and flatted his last tube (no I didn’t cause any of those flats! But I did cackle in my mind. Yes the voice in my head cackles…)

The ride itself for me was pretty uneventful. Lots of peddling. Lots of mud (it rained here yesterday). On slow motion crash (back tire skipped off a rock). My bike was a mess when I finished.

I was a mess when I finished.

But I finished without too much trouble. 3:41….

But how did I finish? How did Noah and Coreen do?