Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Neoprene Swim Cap and the Sword of Damocles


I write this post as I rapidly approach the CRSP (Critical Range of Spousal Patience). I'm starting to get those looks that say, "You're really pushing it, buddy." After several weekends of missing family time trying to race bicycles against people half my age, I'm in the final stages of preparing to do the Holy Toledo Triathlon in Many, Louisiana this Sunday with my brothers. I don't mean brothers in the sense of other dudes with whom I share "bromance". I mean my full-on brothers, Ben and Andy.

The Holy Toledo is a 1 mile swim, 40 mile (not km) bike, and 10 mile (not km) run over a really, stupidly hard course. I did this race last year. The water was 65 degrees and it was windy enough to have whitecaps on the lake and for bikes staged in the transition area to be blown down on top of carefully placed running shoes and race numbers. The water was so flippin cold I thought about quitting about 100 yards into the swim. The shock to my head and face was so severe that I couldn't get my breathing under control. But I thought, "I didn't drive all this way from Texas and camp out next to drunk bass fishermen and pee in this wetsuit I borrowed from Dan Trott just to give up like a big wiener-dog." Hey, you use what motivational techniques work for you, and I'll use what works for me.

So I actually had a real good swim and finished the race in decent shape, except I was so cold I didn't feel my toes until about halfway into the run. Well, this year I not only have my very own wetsuit to pee in, but I also have this very functional and roguishly handsome neoprene swim cap to keep my head warmer during the swim. What appears to convey immense dorkitude is actually a tremendous weapon of swimming comfort. And I've also recruited two other victims, er, I mean, competitors. I want to point out that my brothers are both younger than I am. There. The excuse is already out there.

This year's race promises to be as windy and cold as always. Maybe with some rain thrown in. The race wizard, Bobo, seems to have this Saruman-like capability to summon crappy weather on race day to accompany the nastiest hills in the Gret Stet of Louisiana. But it's going to be a good time even though the race hangs over my head like the Sword of Damocles. My Dad is bringing over the camper so we can enjoy toasty camping goodness and not sleep on the ground the night before the race.

I'll soon be home for a full weekend, honey. Pretty soon.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tunis-Roubaix

No one in the Men’s “C” group looked back or missed a pedal stroke when we heard the stomach-churning sounds of lycra-encased flesh and a carbon fiber bicycle hitting gravel at speed. It was too early for sentimentality. We were on the first of four eleven-mile laps of a collegiate road race. There were still many tactical moves to be played, much gravel to churn through, and endless pain to be meted out and endured over the next two hours. This was Tunis-Roubaix, the Texas A&M Cycling Team-sponsored event famous for sending unsuspecting riders down tennis ball-sized gravel roads (I believe this year’s course was actually much, much tamer than in years past). What wasn’t tame was the weather: about 52 degrees with a 17 knot north wind gusting to 25 and intermittent rain.

I took my own advice after the UT races last week and stayed at or near the front for the first lap and a quarter. But when a couple of guys took off the front on the long stretch down I and Gn road with the tailwind blasting behind us, I didn’t react quickly enough. The couple of guys in front of me materialized into 8 in a lead group and I couldn’t catch them. The course soon turned us back into the wind and I was looking for a wheel to suck and losing ground to the lead group. I eventually joined a small group with Austin Marshall from our team, Ian from UT, a dude from U of H bundled up like he was doing Itidarod, and occasionally, the spaceman from Texas State with the old-school bike, green tennies and platform pedals. By the final lap Ian from UT had flatted, the U of H guy was smoked, and Austin and I worked as a group of 2 to trudge through the wind. I finished 8th in the 44 mile road race feeling like I had been eaten by a billy goat and crapped over a cliff, but a little smarter and maybe a little stronger. I’ve got to get to where I can more rapidly get up to a higher speed (sounds like a very basic concept of “racing” doesn’t it?). At least this time I didn’t take the corners like Grandma Moses.

Best sights of the morning:

-Looking around seeing about 125 people shivering in the cold wind before the races started. Most people had a look on their faces like they’d rather be wading naked through fiberglass insulation.

-The real bossy guy from OU who wanted to tell everybody else how to ride flatting at the beginning of the second lap.

-My hero Willie Allen riding up to participate in the alumni division in his A&M jersey from the Pleistocene epoch. He rode up to me as giddy as a new cheerleader brandishing his race number. It was 666. I attached his numbers to the few remaining patches of material that would take a pin. And he rode like hell. Like always.

The 12 mile time trial in the afternoon was also grueling. Winds were up to 30 knots by the time we were going out at :30 second intervals. We had the tremendous tailwind in the first half of the out-and-back course before rounding a cone and bouncing off what could best be described as a “wind trampoline”. In the time trial it’s illegal to draft behind another rider, so you’re on your own against the wind and left to sort through your own discomfort and self doubt if things aren’t going well. I got 14th out of 31 riders in the C’s, which was not as good as I hoped for.

A few things kept it from all being too serious:

-One of our guys riding the time trial in BMX gear, complete with face-shielded helmet.

-Somebody competing on a mountain bike wearing a big sleeveless t-shirt that billowed behind him like the mizzen mast on a schooner.

-The elaborate warm-up routine of one of my teammates which includes an hour on the trainer at 130 rpm, pre-race tunes, bike yoga, lighting candles, incantations and offerings of incense to Eddy Merckx.

That night we had an alumni dinner catered by Johnny Carinos – a really nice event that included a display of old A&M Cycling team gear and jerseys. John Young, the father of one of our team guys, Pierce, brought in a lot of his old stuff from the late 70’s to show us. It was great to get to talk to him, see the pictures and hear the stories.

All in all, a great, unforgettable Saturday.