Thursday, April 30, 2009


I remember an episode of the X-Files long ago where Mulder is poring over an old baseball box score. Scully walks in and asks him what he is doing, and he waxes poetic about his ability to visualize the entire game purely through the information drawn from the numbers on the paper, and feel the energy and excitement of the action. While probably exaggerated, and likely derivative of some other baseball cliche I am unaware of, the basic tenet of his talk with Scully probably holds true for most MTB racers checking their results. Knowing only that I placed 4th at Mansfield is like knowing only the outcome of a baseball game; it does not account for the score or the people behind the home-runs and no-hitters. It lacks specific information, which bicycle racers, probably far more so than baseball fans, desperately crave. Which is why I checked the OCA website at 5 minute intervals for the 18 hours it took them to post the results. I need the context and the raw data so that I can (over)analyze every single facet of my riding that day, even though virtually none of it has any value moving into the future.

I entered my first ever bike race at the age of 13 (about the same time that X-Files episode aired). It was late April 1996, and I was recovering from a case of strep throat at the time. My mom did not want me to race but I would not be deterred! (The same way I wasn`t deterred at the end of that season wanting to race a week after concussing myself, but that is another story all together) What I found after competing in this event was that there were seven people faster than me in the 13-14 age category that day. They were (and I swear I am doing this from memory, though I have looked back at those results in the past year): 1. Michael Hendricken 2. Sean Thrush 3. Derek Thomas 4. Tristan Galbraith 5. Ryan Schonauer 6. Taylor Martin 7. Shaun something (?) (may be reversed with #6). The point of this exercise is not only to display my memory's incredible capacity for entirely useless knowledge (which is pretty intense) but to illustrate a greater point about the racer's tendency to STUDY and OBSESS over their results and those of their competition. Had you asked me a week after the race exactly what the time gaps were that day I probably could have told you to the second. I thought I was alone in this phenomenon, having always been a pretty big nerd who likes to lose myself in insignificant thought. And though I may obsess harder than everybody else, I am fairly certain all of these years later that everybody else has been obsessing. This point was hit home today when my co-worker Simon (who hasn't raced at all in some time, but was my competitor in 96) said he was checking my Mansfield results. "What hapenned on your last lap? Looks like you really lost it....."

YES! I totally lost it. But I was so overcome with joy that all of these years later Simon still has the knack of STUDYING results, that I didn't mind explaining once again that my endurance sucks and I didn't even really put up a fight for a podium position. But I really needn't have explained myself in the first place, because Simon had already figured it out, plain as day: Lap1 25m, Lap4 29m. And in hindsight, it is very easy to look back and say "Dammit! Why did I not go faster on lap 4? Am I some kind of apathetic loser or something?" And the guys who I beat who had consistent 28m laps are thinking to themselves the same thing about lap 1. But is it really so easy to dissect our own performances and those of our competitors simply by looking at lap times and splits?

Probably not. (This is why Garmin and Powertap are in business) But the results allow us to relive the race, and eagerly anticipate the next one with even greater fervor, because the numbers in the results do not account for PAIN. There is an excellent chance that the last place beginner racer hurt as much or moreso than the top pro for their time between the tape. I know that I certainly FELT like I was literally killing myself in my first couple of years racing as a 14/15 year old (concepts like 'pacing' and 'riding smart' do not appeal to competitive adolescent boys), and even in my first sport class races in my early 20s. (Sport class behavior approximates that of adolescent boys pretty closely) And since time and distance cannot in themselves tell the story of each individual's suffering, we can always comfort ourselves with the possibility that, in spite of our results, we went out there and TRIED harder than everybody else. Because all those other suckers in front of you (or me), they probably have years more experience, or superior genetics, or a more expensive bike, or a cheaper bike and better mechanic, or time to train, or pre-rode the course, or any other variable that would allow them to out perform us. But dammit, there is no goddam way that they went out and raced as HARD as we did! Their legs and lungs didn't BURN like ours. If they had any idea what it felt like to SUFFER like we did surely they would tuck their tails between their legs and shamefully walk away from the sport for good. And maybe, just maybe, if we stare at that matrix of lap times hard enough, we will some how find the wherewithal to suffer just a bit harder next weekend and reel that sandbagger in.

That is why I compulsively check for results.

And that is why I'll be back next weekend.


"I've been first, and I've been last,
Look at how the time goes past,
Now I'm all alone at last,
Rolling home to you"
-Neil Young

Saturday, April 25, 2009


So the first big race of the season is coming up tomorrow, which being almost midnight, is pretty much today, and I should be asleep. BUT....the race is at MANSFIELD

The brand of toilet at the restaurant I took my girlfriend to for her birthday on weds......MANSFIELD

The town where my roommate's new shoes were shipped from? (I just saw the box in our recycle pile)........MANSFIELD, Ohio.

Now, when unbridled irrational superstition is applied to these two incredibly pedestrian happenstances they can only lead me to one SHOCKING final conclusion........

The first big race of the season.........

Will STILL be held at MANSFIELD!

See y'all tomorrow.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Century Sam

I had been eye-balling the route for well over a month. I hadn't done any big long rides in about that time, either. So with my day-off corresponding with predicted 20 degree temps, it seemed only natural. I was chatting with Zef last night and he indicated interest in a long road ride, too. I decided to spare him though, as his "I should be good for 100km" did not inspire my confidence. I wasn't planning on riding a century in metric form.

Even though I slept in a little (to a blissful 9:30, instead of this recent 6:30 nonsense) I had pretty much made up my mind I was going to do it. I ate my big-ride-breakfast; two eggs, two hash browns, two pieces toast w/jam, and two cups of coffee. I scoured satellite maps trying to determine the best route, then memorizing, "gore-oldchurch-airport-walker-mountainview-grange-mclaughlin-forks-miss-steeles-heritage-creditview-bristol-queen-lakeshore". I figured out how to 'pack light', knowing my back would not take well to excess weight (read: courier bag) for 100 miles. End list: 3 bottles (2 sports drink 1 water), 2 bananas, gel in flask, 2 tubes, 1 tire, multitool, chain tool, wallet, camera, and house keys only. Managed to fit all of it on the bike and in my jersey pockets (without too much sagging). Got on the road at 11:32. Stopped at Yonge/Belmont about 15 mins in as my spare tire needed to be restrapped to my seat, and I took the opportunity to raise my seat a little as well. Then back on the road to escape the city.

I wanted to be at Albion and Steeles in an hour, but I fell a little short taking about 1:15 including my break. I blame traffic lights and wind. After getting on to sweet country roads though, my list of excuses was cut in half, but god was the wind ever awful. I had checked the weather and I was supposed to be getting a 20km/h W wind. This however, was blowing right in my face at what felt like a far more offensive speed. I will probably never know how fast it was actually blowing, but I got to turn off after 23k of that crap (55 in total) at 2 hours total ride time.

This is when the ride got amazing. Yes I was gassed from fighting wind for over an hour and still maintaining a, hmmmm, not decent, but not embarassing speed. But I turned on to Old Church road and realized that I was on pretty much the prototypical amazing road to ride on, the type that they shoot bike catalog pictures on. There were even signs imploring drivers to share the road with cyclists. The terrain was rolling and occassionally twisty, there were more motorbikes on the road than cars, the temperature was perfect and, HEY! Is that a turtle? Yes there was even a turtle crossing the road, so I stopped, took a picture, and safely deposited him on the other side. (Note after relating this story to my GF she quite reasonably asks "where the hell were you riding that there were turtles crossing the road?")

After turning north off of OC I started to feel some lactic twinges in my legs, probably not a good thing with the steepest hill yet coming up shortly, but I was looking forward to a break at the top and the ensuing ride down Mississauga Rd with a headwind. Turns out the switchbacks were managable without dropping to my lowest gear, which was a nice surprise. Also, the little town at the top of the hill was jam packed with motorcyclists, which was also a bit of a surprise. Rather than sticking around and tainting the leather festival with lycra, I just kept on riding right down the road, with about one bottle left and knowing it would be about 40km to any semblance of civilization. I was also pretty sure it was generally downhill and there was the tailwind.

I got going, with the three hour mark of the ride passing with Grange Sideroad. I was a little disappointed, actually, feeling quite a bit of wind in my face. Where was the tailwind that I had worked so hard for on the way up? I got the answer on a bit of steep-ish downhill when I went for a harder gear and my shifter was broken. Wait, the shifter was fine, I had just run out of gears! This does not normally happen. That "headwind" was actually just me outriding the tailwind and man did it feel good! Even after stopping for a light or two and eating a banana on the fly, after doing some math (no bike computer, only google maps, watch, and landmarks) it would appear I was averaging about 50km/h for over 20 mins.

Of course it had to end sometime, and some construction forshadowed re-entry to suburban-industrial hell. Which actually wasn't that bad, as I had planned the route to avoid freeway interchanges and use some (judging from the map) quieter streets. The detour was actually really nice, all (marked) bike friendly, and spitting me back out on Mississauga Rd. for a tour of the high-rent district. I was really feeling blown at this point so I had the other banana and tried rationing the remaining bottle the best I could. Got down to Lakeshore and ground across, feeling on edge but still unable to resist challenging the pedestrian signal countdowns. I was planning on taking the bike path, but realized it would be more of an obstacle-course than thoroughfare after crossing the Humber, so I hopped on the Queensway and took the most direct route home. Getting to Parliament I started feeling really happy to know it was ALMOST over, and that even a catastrophic mechanical now would be no worse than a $10 cab ride home.

I headed up Broadview to KaKa Lucky, for the most food you could ever hope to buy for $4.50, then to the Better Price Food Market (yes, two Chinese establishments with incredibly entertaining names) for some chocolate milk and then home. Rolled up at 5:10pm, 5:38 ride time including stops. That is pretty much what I was hoping for. Moreover, 5h10m in the saddle without stopping (except for lights and turtle), which was from my seat adjustment to Chinatown dinner. It was definitely the furthest I had ever ridden in one shot and I am ecstatic that I pushed myself to do it, and have pushed myself hard enough this year to be in shape to ride that long at that pace without exploding on the side of the road.

-After mapping it, I realized that I was actually 600 metres short of 160km (100miles)! Oh well there is always next time.

-Also, for those interested in that kinda thing, after consuming the food and liquid I had with me (~4-5lbs), and drinking 2 cups of water after getting home, I had still lost 6lbs during the ride.

-Courtesy from pretty much everyone on the road. It is amazing how much space cars give you when you don't ride unnecessarily far from the edge of the road!