Fourth Week

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I had deluded myself into thinking that I would be once more liberated to navigate a New England spring on the bike. Previous years’ efforts — skiing, marathon running, recovery — and a lack of urgency had delayed the start of my road seasons to sufficiently better weather conditions.  Subcribed, as I had become, to my diligent plan of base preparation and acknowlegding that the required volume no longer permitted indoor training, there remained no choice but to get out there and ride.

And so I did. 

At first, I marveled at the absurdity of me, on a bike, weather in the 30’s. I was extreme in my haberdashery on the preliminary outings; subsequently underdressed thereafter until I upgrade and updated my wardrobe to include a new pair of Castelli winter cycling tights — a garment for which I had foolishly believed I would no longer have any need and had long since discarded. However windburn, cold thighs and dick freeze demanded recourse and the redress was maximally enjoyable. In the words of Ned Flanders, “it’s like wearing nothing at all.”

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The Dawn of a New Season

I officially started the road season last Sunday.

It coincided perfectly with two late-season Nor’easters that dumped nearly two and half feet of snow on the ground.

Following Rangeley, I had taken the week off.

The entire week.

Completely off.

No transitional workouts. No colds or sicknesses that were double-counted as recovery. No crazy projects. No “fun” efforts that were merely disguised training sessions.  It had been several years since I had taken that much time off and I expected my body to rebound almost immediately and my outlook to improve day-for-day.

Instead, by the end of the week, I was irritable, crawling out of my own skin, and itching for any workout, no matter how meager or minimal.

Sunday was an hour and half. I had fitted my cyclocross with full fenders and cycled the wet roads,  the snow piled high up on the sides, through Weston and Wellesley. I wanted to keep going but it was the first day back and I was pacing myself, riding deliberatly slow and short.

On Monday, I squeezed in an easy hour in the late afternoon after work. The storm was coming and the skies turned cold and gray and the temperature dropped over the course of the ride.

On Tuesday it snowed. All day. I rode tempo intervals on the trainer and shoveled out.

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Crossed Off

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It’s the First of the year, snow is on the ground and it’s less than zero degrees outside, so time to reminisce about the ‘cross season — even while I skied over 200km over the Christmas break. I went all-in this year on cyclocross. I went to camp. I did base preparation. I bought cross tubulars for racing and extra set specific for mud. I got a spare bike (used), and set it up identical to my first one.  I’m still not sure I got the return on investments and efforts I was expecting, but that goes with this somewhat uncharted territory of trying to get better while I get older.

0. Cycle-Smart Cross Camp

A great program run by one of my oldest cycling friends (and competitors), Adam Myerson, in the hill towns of western Mass. We were blessed with torrential rain and mud on day one and drilled wet, sloppy corners, built one hell of a rut, and got tips from the likes of national cyclocross champion Stephen Hyde. I was already pretty familiar on the basics — I started racing cross in 1987 — but learned a lot of little things, the glue that holds everything else together. Things I no longer have time to learn the hard way.  The pros: running through drills and techniques in a “safe” environment was invaluable. The cons: I had to rebuild my bike after the wet, muddy day and I tweaked my back practicing dismounts, and that would hamper the first half of my season.

1. Vermont Overland

Not exactly a cyclocross race, this mixed terrain, road, gravel, mud, rock, ski slope race in central Vermont was the first sustained effort on the cyclocross bike.

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Snow Day

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Photo by Katie Busick

The plan was always to ride in the snow.

My mother would have never let me leave the house if the snow were already falling, so I promised to “squeeze” the ride in before the storm.

Beneath leaden skies and not a single flurry, I bundled up and headed out, covered north-to-south with balaclava, Oakely Factory Pilots (with yellow lenses), heavy gloves, Biemme thermal jacket, plastic rain jacket stuffed in the pocket of the thermal jacket, along with a banana, spares and tools, Giordana full-bib thermal tights, and bright blue Brancale booties to cover the Dettos.

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Song of the Witches Cup

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Photo credit: Katie Busick

Last year’s Salem Witches Cup race report was an homage to Hawthorne. This year, I picked up the spirit of Shakespeare’s witches, from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1.

Song of the Witches Cup

Round the Salem green we go:
Into corners we must not slow.
Fighting hard for position
Laps and laps to fifty-one.
Sweating, turn, to brake or not,
Sprint again to have a shot.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs will burn and Red Bull bubble.

Scrape of pedal, squeal of brake,
In the corners, risks to take;
Eye of tiger, shift of cog,
Lap plus lap becomes a slog.
Lungs alight and legs a’sting,
Elbows flick and prime bell rings.
All for a prize not worth the trouble,
Pushed too hard, now on the bubble.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs to burn and Red Bull bubble.

Squeal of brake, scrape of pedal,
Do I even have the mettle?
Click of shift and whir of chain,
Round the corner once again.
Ever faster, tires grip;
Next time round I’m sure to slip.
Elbows bump and rub and grind,
Tires cross, no doors to find.
Ten laps remain in the race,
Two riders flee o’er the pace.
Chase them down to no avail,
Drop in speed, we start to flail.
Into the sprint, a turn of speed,
Stuffed again, I cannot fulfill the deed.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs to burn and Red Bull bubble.

Across the line, I’m out-spun,
Bottle’s empty, the race is run.

 

 

Beverly Dreams

The night before the Grand Prix of Beverly I dreamt I was flying. I had gone over the edge of a cliff during a mountain bike race and was plummeting to an inevitable death thousands of feet in the valley below when I realized there was another option: to fly.

I summoned up the willpower and, instead of the typical weak, anemic response, I was suddenly rocketing skyward. I shot past the edge of the cliff, turned a loop, and landed gently on my feet to the astonishment of onlookers.

In the car ride to Beverly, I told my wife about the dream and she said that it meant I was “unblocked” and I was ready do something special.

I had been patiently building cycling fitness, having skipped the Boston Marathon and gone straight onto the bike after the ski season. But my form seemed slow in coming. I had done a few Masters races with little to show, apart from finishing. I had abandoned the longer Pro/1/2 road races due to insufficient mileage in my legs. I had survived New England Crit week with solid bottom-of-the-top-25 finishes. But no stand-out performances thus far.

My best years were growing evermore hazy and mythical. I was beginning to doubt I had ever been a “real” bike racer.

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2016 Salem Witches Cup

photo by Katie Busick

(Written in the style of Nathaniel Hawthorne.)

IN THE CENTER of one our New England towns, anchored on the one hand by the Salem Witch Museum, the brick facade of the old East Church cast in shadow, the windows staring vacant and hollow upon the world, and on the other hand by the venerable Hawthorne Hotel, resides the broad, grassy expanse of the old Salem Common.  The Common is circumscribed by Washington Park, a collection of streets facing the various points of the compass, composed of alternating degrees of rough and smooth paved road surface. A creaky wrought-iron fence of questionable integrity rings the inner plot of the Common, hewing in the souls, present and past, that might have gathered there in bygone days for events, which if worthily recounted, would form a narrative of no small interest and curiosity to the reader.

The aspect of this green space and the moniker of the bicycle race which had lead me, among numerous other New Englanders, to journey here, year upon year, to make numerous passes around the perimeter of the Common, had always evoked dark and sinister feelings drawing from the town's dark yet well-known associations with the trials of several young and gentle women under suspicion and eventual execution, for being practitioners of witchcraft. Thus, the Salem Witches Cup had come to be a cornerstone of the racing season, migrating from cooler climes of the calendar and the complicit attraction of All Hallows' Eve, to the balmier evenings of midsummer.

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