A Supposedly Fun Thing : Chequamegon report, tribute to DFW, and a lower GI tract issue, Part 3, my gawd still not even to OO
Rather than wasting a lot of your time reading this ventilated twaddle, perhaps you'd like to scroll down to the shorter version for the attention-impaired.
SO the idea of sitting in is that you find a comfortable pace that’s somewhere between pretty hard and not hard enough and mentally a place you could stay in for a long long long time, and damn it there goes another train of pot-bellied men in tee-shirts and tennies and a girl with a wicker basket on her handlebars and you know there are some very strong citizen racers who, yeah, never were smokers through college, but who were born with good strong lungs and hearts and if they cut down on the chips and dip would tear the legs off guys like me who spend all of our time just training up to the level of a regular fit person, working against formidable genetic deficits, paltry VO2 max, lactic thresholds that barely register as a bump in the floor, wattage that could barely light a candle, but awfully nice/light/expensive/durable bicycle equipment and pro-sumer grade shorts and shoes and a $200 carbon fiber helmet, and number plates cut into trapezoids to cut wind resistance, and so on. And while it’s true that only one guy, a pro or semi-pro, gets to win a race and therefore 1999 losers, there are other consolation prizes along the way like best of age/division/class such as the clownish tandems and the chic singlespeeds, but also Back East you might notice that overall results are downplayed and age class results are sorta more prestigious and played up, Back East they seem to take more seriously the idea that age is an important distinction, the most important distinction between racers, that it is almost immoral to compare the competitive prowess of say an 18 year old with a 30 year old with a 50 year old, that they're almost not even the same species and if you must compare them, if you insist, then you'll have to parse the age/division results to determine the actual overall winner, if that sort of thing matters to you as a lower/less evolved/literal minded sort of person who needs just one winner, although I would add that we’ve seen some pretty wacky results over the years – thanks primarily to Steve Tilford – who as something of a freak of nature has won the race numerous times well into his fourth decade, and continues to be considered a threat and a rival by those in the lead pack, and this is actually true of a lot of marathon events in the Midwest, where you see the 40-50 year old crowd dominating the overall results, probably the toughest age class at the FTF or, say, the Birkebeiner. And maybe that’s a socio/economic thing more than anything else – men and women in their mid to late forties having peaked career-wise, with stable family situation, good income, some money in the bank, an IRA coming along, some time and interest and need to invest in training, plenty of dough to buy the gear, an appetite for socializing with like-minded people, even your occasional millionaire early retiree who rather than squandering away his health on the casino boat of the pure leisure class, decides to get obsessive about bike racing in the summer and XC skiing in the winter, and these sorts of obsessions are perfect for the rich and retired, because they are great sinkholes for the two things this sort of person has in excess (and the things everyone else has too little of): time and money, and the only emotional thing a rich person and a poor person have in common, relative I mean to emotional worries, stress, regardless of how much money and time you have, when you think about it under the cold light of reason, the only commonality is that we all worry about our health as we get older, become hypochondriacs and start to consider with every little ache and pain what we never considered before, that my God, life is literally half over, I am according to the US Census now exactly middle-aged, half way to life expectancy (if I’m lucky) and it’s a downhill slide from here, so I’d better start digging in my heels, eating better, drinking less, accentuate the positive/eliminate the negative/cut ties with Mr. In Between, start opening those envelopes from the brokerage, those shysters supposedly “managing” my 401K and SEP-IRA.
So this is what I am doing/thinking/experiencing pretty much for the middle 9/10ths of the race. The Birkie ski trail from Hatchery to Mosquito Brook is what I think of as my backyard, cuz this is where I ski all the time, and it’s the closest trailheads to the cabin, and I know the terrain almost better than anywhere else on the planet (other than the almost endless singletrack of Woodstock, NY, Jockey Hill, Ohayo Mountain, Wilson S.P., Overlook, which I can still ride entirely in my mind’s eye, having ridden it [irresponsibly, selfishly] every day all day for the better part of summer 2001).
I know a good So-Cal Cat 1 roadie who discovered road racing in his mid-40s (after he'd made a cold fortune in Silicon Valley, semi-retired into posh consulting gigs just for fun-- for fun, ish!) and he excelled at it, quickly climbed through the ranks from Cat 5, won every race handily, the upward curve of his trajectory was a surprise to everyone around him, and he did well even as a cat 1 in semi-pro races, finished top third of class, but he peaked and plateaued, and even though he was still getting great results – possibly blunted a bit by too much training, though of course that’s a controversial thing to say these days – he was so disgusted with the limitations of his body/training/pain threshold whatever, that he hung up the bike. Literally did not ride a bicycle, for like 10 years. And I’m thinking about this now, as I get the relative hole shot onto the ATV track at like mile 10, because that summer of I think 2006 was the stressful angry summer where I was 10 pounds lighter than I weighed when I was 18, and all I ever did was ride my bike, including some pretty targeted training with a heart rate monitor, I mean trying to be smart about it, right, coach myself and not just waste a lot of time, but see you know if that sort of approach would have any effect on results – again, never with the idea that I’d ever be a racer to strike fear into anyone else – but just to test personal limits, and I guess that’s why a lot of people do this sort of thing, and of course the whole endorphine-junkie thing too, the whole sado-masochistic biology of marathon training, and the mental cob-web-clearing that regular exercise, induced by the threat of an eventual race, brings. So but we have our peaks and our plateaus and then our valleys, and I guess the only thing that ties it all together is the plain joy of riding the bike for whatever reason, for no reason at all, but with a number of excuses at the ready to explain what is essentially an irrational and childish way to spend so much time, like say collecting beer cans or shooting clay pigeons.
So the rollers of the Birkie are a bitch on the upside, and a hoot on the downside, with long runouts and plenty of room to pass, which you're going to need considering that you're not really going to get separation at all until, say, Gravel Pit road. And the grass is wet, and the single snake of dirt down the middle of the trail is not necessarily the best place to be, although you feel like you have a little less rolling resistance than in the deep wet grass, and I'm going to be generally happy all day that I didn't mess with the tires that are presently on the bike, that have been on the bike, really, since last year's Dakota 50 -- which is just pure, hard, hot hell on your whole bike, but especially tires, tubes, wheels and any other moving part and many non-moving parts, like last year when the course rattled the rivets right out of my brake levers, and I had to jerry-rig my Juicy 5s with a bobby pin procured from a buxom and vivacious young lady at the feeding station below Hobo Camp-- relatively too knobby for normal XC racing, a mud tire on the rear I think maybe a Bontrager Jones XC, and maybe a Michelin on the front and BTW like why are bike tires almost exactly the same price as car tires, does that not give anyone else pause? It sure keeps me from buying tires as often as I probably should, but so these knobbies are really made-to-order for this year's FTF because even though alot of the course is sandy and rocky and drains well, it's been raining off and on all week, and the grass is greasy, and the mudholes that are always there will be especially dicey when you come screaming into them at 15 MPH boxed in and forced to take a terrible, life-threatening line. So but this rubber is holding the edges pretty well, even though I'm feeling a little sketchy in the first miles up to Mosquito Brook, because even in a dry year, I've seen racers low side on tight steep corners, and instantly take out nine or ten pins, a perfect gutter-to-gutter strike, leaving a wake of destruction and indignation and accusations, racers throwing their wrecked bikes into the woods disgusted, crying --grown men crying! or begging passing racers for parts or tools or maybe just a gesture of sympathy.