Monday, February 29, 2016


     The race was great.  The story is what led up to my participation.  To reiterate, last year was not a good year for racing in particular and cycling in general.  My legs were just not working they way I thought they should and I imagined all sorts of things that could be wrong.  Of course, the number one cure would be to put more miles on the bike and more race experience.  If that didn't work, I would need to go to Plan B, as yet undetermined.
     I had competed in the inaugural Heads or Tails Time Trial in 2014 and placed second in the 60+ age category.  Since there were only two participants in it, a negative person would suggest I finished last.  For Senior Games, the time trials are only 5k and 10k, so jumping up to 40k is quite a leap.  In addition, coming in February, there were not a lot of miles put in using the TT position.  Nevertheless, because I wanted the race miles, I signed up early and made plans to drive four and a half hours, through Houston on a Friday, to attend.
     My hotel room had a 24 hour cancellation clause, and my plan: race Brazos Valley to ascertain my fitness, review the 10-day weather forecast, check the other entrants, then make a final decision.  My legs did well, considering, on the 40k road race last week, and the weather forecast seemed perfect.  But in checking the other entrants, I found me to be the slowest, on paper, of eight.  My friend Clif, who came in 3rd overall in 2014 and also this year, has moved up to the 60+ category.  Except for Dean, I was ten years older than everyone else, and they all had good racing results last year.  I decided I really didn't want to race Dean for last place.
     I cancelled the hotel reservation and prepared to email Dean to advise I wouldn't be going.  Then he called me and said he thought he convinced the race director to open up a 70+ category.  I wavered.  Then I received an email from the race director confirming the category and would I like for him to move me into it (or stay in the 60+, duh).  So, within a few hours I was in, out, and back in.  It cost an additional $10 for the room since we received a super deal the first time.
     Let me say a few words about Heads or Tails.  They are super organized, run a great race, everyone especially friendly and helpful, and have a great venue, closing off MLK Boulevard so we have a 10k loop on concrete.  Dean and I met at packet pickup, reviewed the course in the car, then had an early dinner at Olive Garden.
     Something about old men.  We returned to the hotel and since it was still early, checked out our bikes.  I noticed a lack of bike computer and after checking the car, called home to verify that it was still where I left it.  I won't even mention the water bottle sitting in the refrigerator.  Well, that meant I didn't need to wear the heart-rate strap and would just monitor the body the old-fashioned way.   Dean had a chuckle at my expense, but one must watch out for karma.  It seems he brought his back racing wheel rather than the front.  He brought two bikes, so it wasn't like he didn't have a good front wheel, just not his racing one.  He uses a disc for time trials.  Other than that, we were good to go.
     We didn't want to arrive any later than 7am in order to get a good parking place.  That meant waking up early, and not enjoying the hotel breakfast which started at 7:00 on the weekends.  Not a problem, we brought nourishment.  We pulled into the parking lot on time and had a great spot.  Now, we had an hour and forty-five minutes to start time.  We walked over to the start line to pick up our timing chips and were instructed on how to put them on the bikes, then returned to putter around and get the bikes ready.
     I did minimal warm-up, maybe twenty minutes with some thirty-second sprints.  Eventually, my time came.  The sun came up at 6:45am and Dean went off at 8:45am, so it warmed nicely from 39 degrees to maybe the low 50's.  I was in tights and arm warmers.  Zero wind (practically unheard of in Beaumont).  Could not have asked for a better day.
     Dean had difficulty at the start and it didn't take long for me to make up the one-minute start difference and over-take him.  My goal was to hold off Clif, who started twelve minutes ahead, from lapping me (He would pass me, I just didn't want him to do it twice).  As best I can figure, because I didn't see him pass, he finished forty-four minutes after I started.  I completed three laps in fifty-four minutes.  Pook ding-fu!!  But this is why I need more races.  On the other hand, I was faster than fourteen younger men doing aero, and overall, 70th out of 113 who finished.
     A few words about the race itself.  It is mostly flat with some minor inclines that become more difficult to ascend in the last two laps.  The outbound turn-around can be taken at speed, in the aerobars for the more adventurous.  I was pretty consistent in the laps, the first being somewhat faster, and the third the slowest (as I protected from blowing up and not finishing well).  Without the computer reading out my heart-rate, I probably lost a few seconds here and there, but the up-side is I finished and recovered quickly.  My legs were fine, but my arms were killing me, especially during the race.  Several times each lap I had to come off the aerobars just to give the arms a rest.
     An aside: I forgot to stop by and drop off my timing chip, so proceeded to remove it myself.  I had a Swiss Army knife in the car and used the can-opener blade to rip off the zip-ties.  I slipped and sliced my left wrist.  I had some first aid stuff in the car, so swabbed it down, put a compress on it and proceeded to the first-aid station, clutching the timing chips since the two stations were close together.  When asked what happened, I replied that I was displeased with my finish time.... That brought a chuckle.  Anyhow, I got bandaged up, refused an offer of stiches, turned in the timing chips (mine and Dean's), and returned to the hotel for a shower and departure.
     Another four and a half hour drive, again navigating Houston traffic.  Just because it was Saturday didn't mean the freeway was clear.  Bah!  I don't particularly like the driving distance, but the Heads or Tails is a really a first class venue.  You should put it on your adgenda.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Brazos Valley Senior Games, 2016

     Once again this year we lucked out with the weather in February.  The wind wasn't as stout as last year, but on Saturday morning, for the 5k time trial, it was enough to move us along the point-to-point course.  Blue skies and a wind at our backs.  I don't know why more people don't sign up to do this venue.  The course is great.  The 10k course is a simple rectangle, more or less, and for the road races of 20k and 40k, you just do multiple laps.
     Saturday morning we started with the 5k time trial.  My warm-up consisted of riding the 10k course at a mostly leisurely pace with a few sprints thrown in to get the heart-rate up.  My friend and sometimes teammate, Tom Cole, started 30 seconds ahead of me.  He finished 31 seconds ahead of me.  One second!  I did some retrospective on where I could have picked up two seconds, but didn't dwell on it much.
     About an hour later we started the 10k time trial.  Tom just did the 5k as a warm-up for the 20k road race which started shortly after the finish of the time trial, so I didn't have him as a carrot.  Volunteer holders are sometimes an adventure, but we were quite lucky this year, she was very good.  Still, ever since the incident several years ago where the holder didn't let go and I almost cramped on the first pedal stroke, I have been starting in the small ring for the first dozen strokes to bring it up to speed and cadence.  This time my bike decided I needed to stay in the small ring.  I shifted and nothing happened.  Multiple times.  This wasn't a complete disaster, in that while the road was flat, the wind was in my face for the first mile, so I just dropped down to the small cog (14, not the 12), and kept a good cadence.  Once I turned the corner, the bike relented and let me shift up and I settled into a good rhythm.
     Even though I felt as though I could have pushed harder, my time was good enough for first place.  A slim field, but more people just need to show up.  A more difficult test would come Sunday morning in the 40k road race.  I don't particularly like road racing, but do it more for the training than anything.
     Apparently a lot of folks feel the same way about the 40k, in that only fifteen people showed up to race.  The race director just started all the men in one group, and the couple of women in another, just seconds behind.  We fell into line at a reasonable pace, since we had the wind in our face. I noticed one woman had already bridged up to the guys.  Deb took gold at Nationals (all four of her races) last year and frequently rides with the guys in order to go hard.
     Anyhow, once we made the turn and had the wind at our backs, the pace picked up.  I had a choice to make, hang with them and risk blowing up, or let them go and proceed at my own pace.  There were only three of us in my age group, and both of the other guys are much faster in the finishing sprint.  I opted to let them go.  As it turned out, my Gruene teammate, Dean, and Deb hooked on with me and the three of us did a great job of rotating the whole route.  The main peloton was only about thirty seconds ahead of us and we kept that distance through the entire first lap.   On the second lap it had moved out to about forty-five seconds, and the third lap someone called out we were sixty-five seconds back.  Not that it mattered to us, we were enjoying ourselves.
     The last mile includes several small rollers, and Dean attacked.  Deb hooked on, I waved good-by.  I finished about ten seconds behind, standing and sprinting by myself, just to see what, if anything, I had left in the tank.
     Dean and Deb won their respective gold and I accepted my bronze.  I finished ahead of everyone who didn't show up to race (and a few others who did).  Besides the three medals, I took away a growing confidence that my legs are on the way back to performing as they did two years ago.  Last year was the pits.  Next up, the Heads or Tails Time Trial in Beaumont.