Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stinky Spoke Not A Race Report

Most of my friends and family already know I joined a new cycling team. If you didn't know... I joined a new cycling team.

I'm now a Blue Rooster. Internally, maybe, a Mud Rooster. The team is fairly large and has been around a long time and they have a regular training ride on Saturdays, strong participation in a lot of road, mountain, 'cross and track events, and some pretty nice sponsorships. Including from Blue Rooster, which is a marketing company. Sort of. It's some kind of internet/computer/tech business, and much as I hate to admit it (or not,) I don't really know what they do. My impression is that they're survivors of the dot-com boom and bust, implying that they do actually do something.

The Blue Rooster cycling team has some pretty active Google Groups email lists. So some chatter went out a week or two ago about the Stinky Spoke Poker Run. A poker run is a mountain biking event in which each participant follows a set course that passes card stations in which a playing card is given to him. At the end of the ride, participants each have five cards. High-scoring hands, in this case three-of-a-kind with face cards or better, win something. The rest of us still got a gift bag and a drink ticket. There's an entry fee, and proceeds went to a charity, the Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center. I thought it sounded like fun, and it followed a well-known training route, the Thrilla Route, in Woodinville that I'd never quite gotten around to figuring out, so I entered.

The route follows the Sammammish River Trail for a while. The section on the SRT is a little over three miles long, and since it's boring and I wasn't really with anyone, I put my head down and my hands on my bar ends and ground it out at high effort. I started chasing into the ride right away - no surprise there. Then it turns onto the Puget Power Trail; the first card station was at this intersection. The Puget Power Trail is a gravel-surfaced and generally well-maintained climb. By the time I got there, I was already, if not in race mode, in workout mode. I tried to be as nice as humanly possible about passing people, though. Even in a race, I'm generally somewhat polite, but everyone else signed up for a charity ride, and I was trying not to be "that guy." As well-maintained as it is, I think the route would be great practice on a 'cross bike, and I saw several riders on them yesterday. I also passed people on bikes with lots of travel - the monster trucks to my rally car - people on department store bikes, people pushing bikes, and people stopped with mechanical problems.

The second card station was at the point where the route split between the shorter, easier version and the longer, more difficult one. I knew the longer one was supposed to have more trail riding, so I went that way. Also, I'd passed enough people to be confident that even if I was somewhere near the back of the ride, I wasn't at risk of not finishing in time.

The long route followed some more powerline trail and then entered the Redmond Watershed. This is not a park, exactly, but it has trails, some of which are accessible to mountain bikers. They're narrower but still well-maintained. A little more berm at the corners, and it would have been even more fun. The third card station was pretty shortly after the routes rejoined each other and had a pretty long line. After that, I was more-or-less out of workout mode - too much standing around, and the route was a lot more crowded from that point on.

The fourth card station was right on top of a hill. I wish they'd put it just past the transition from climb to flat, because I like finishing climbs. As it was, I stopped and got in line before that quite happened. I guess it let people on the climb see the station, in theory, but I didn't figure out it was there until I was almost on top of it. From then on, there was nothing left but descending. I read about an idea for balancing well on the 'net recently that I wanted to try, once I was on the steeper stuff and it became relevant. Rather than pushing against the handlebars to stabilize myself when braking, I tried to push through the pedals, with my feet. It landed me a lot further back on the bike, and I felt a lot more relaxed. So I think it was a success, and I'll be trying to do it more in future. Interestingly, I think it made it easier for me to keep my front wheel hooked up too.

I got to the bottom of the descent, rode the SRT for a little while back to the Redhook Brewery, one of the event's sponsors, and picked up my last card. I had a pair of fours, at the end of all that - statistically, I think a worse-than-average hand.

The tent at the end was pretty crowded and I couldn't hear myself, and while I got a drink ticket, I don't drink often and don't have the tolerance to drive after even one, and there were lines for both food and beer. I couldn't see any friends or teammates. So I went to the bathroom, gave the drink ticket to someone else, and left.

The ride was fun and I'm glad I finally did that route - it's been eluding me for a while. I also got a pretty great workout - it's the right length for a race training ride, and it's easier to work hard on routes that are not too technically demanding and don't have a lot of options. Rather than stopping and starting and thinking, I just work hard. However, I didn't really like the poker run format. In a race, luck is still involved. I DNF once last season because of a flat, and there's a joke that winning or losing the beginners' class is a matter of who else shows up. But by maintaining my equipment well, preparing well, riding as hard as I can on the day of the race, and with a little luck, I can achieve a better result.

Yesterday, having a well-maintained bike, decent aerobic base, and some good recent preparation behind me were all meaningless. I knew it was a charity ride and I said that I'd do it slowly. I even meant it, and would probably have done it at a more measured pace if I was riding in a group. But when I'm on a relatively non-technical, relatively well-flagged course, that I know I can repeat, the challenge that's left is to try to do it fast. (Just over two hours, but it's not a clean time.) And when I work hard at something, I want to be rewarded for it. Obviously I go on a lot of training rides that aren't part of events and have no direct reward; the enjoyment of the ride and the greater enjoyment I'll gain from future rides and races as a result of fitness gains are the reward. But when there are concrete rewards being handed out, I want to be rewarded more for working harder! I think it would have bothered me less if it was a raffle, perhaps because I had to complete a task in order to get the cards themselves, while a raffle ticket would have been included in the event entry, or sold - no relation to cycling ability is implied.

Regardless, I think it's good to start a season with 'C' and 'B' events - sort of like rehearsals for the races I really care about. My next 'B' race is the Tapeworm Time Trial. It's in a tight little riding area that I'm not a huge fan of - it's very slow, not flowy for me, and very technical. So it's a ton of work to ride the course, but not the kind of work I'm good at. Hopefully I'll have time to practice on that course between now and then - I feel like I often lose positions in races because I don't carry speed through the technical sections as well as other riders.

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