Race Jitters in Fevered Prose

          Frankly, or whatever that means as a method of setting a specific tone which I’m no longer sure is applicable to the duration of this article (perhaps insinuating that another point of attack might have been more appropriate,) the unorthodox training plan I have adopted over the course of this idiotic winter, primarily consisting of staring at my rollers while riding my Netflix account or dainty donut-ridden cruises while I fantasize about the ramifications of my bicycle spontaneously transforming into a woman, has been remarkable both in its ability to rabidly undershoot any vague hope at hitting an effective volume of bike-related work and in its prodigious talent for keeping any likelihood for success in the upcoming season on par with the probability that one might find a lone Flintstone’s Vitamin in the Ural Mountains or that some other specific item will be juxtaposed with a setting or condition that is either absurd or irrational (i.e. A Cornish Game Hen spontaneously combusting at Niagara Falls, Ruth Bader Ginsburg shaving her head and joining Barnum and Bailey’s as a trapeze artist, every Cat 1 Racer in the ECCC being diagnosed with polio and being confined to blanketed wheelchairs.) Needless to say, while I could blame the winter, the cold (snot-freezing and laziness-enabling) the snow (piled high as a night out with Boonen) and the ice (slick as a Vaseline-coated Fonzie) for the nightmares I’m getting of Robin Carpenter breaking away backwards at the front of the race while he chucks forks at my legs and calls me a “little nancy boy” (recently, the forks have been exchanged for bowie knives, his bicycle has become a unicycle and Robin Carpenter has become a faceless Intro Rider coddling my strenuous efforts with a patronizing “d’aw, it’s like you’re really trying”) the fact of the matter is that I have somehow, by my own deludingly fatigue-justified volition, introduced a great degree of uncertainty into my life that’ll probably result in a great deal of asthmatic wheezing, tunnel vision, and an inability to walk more than 10 feet. There are all sorts of terrors orchestrated by monsters on bikes, those sick lizards who can stomp on pedals and produce some sort of effort that is apocalyptic to both my immediate ambitions of not getting shelled out the back and to any sense of pride I’ve had in my ability as a cyclist, those 6’10” behemoths riding 25 cm saddle-to-bar drops and shaving their legs with old steak knives who scream through the wind at six hundred watts for a half hour, jetpack-wearing ethereal mountain goats capable of descending uphill at paces that can only be described as stupid all with smiles on their faces, midget juniors spinning 200 reps a minute with hummingbird hearts that shift from a resting rate of 12 beats a minute up to 400 at a moments notice before careening back down again to enable another attack just 3 seconds later, sadistic 30 year old veterans who’ve delayed their PhDs some five extra years so that they can look back into my contorted face to see honest fear and flowering pain before jumping off the front of a 60Km/hr train, thick and lean germanic sprinter-types with horse legs that look like eight of mine who need new crank arms after every race because they keep bending them as they approach the sound barrier, and I’ve cast myself right smack down in the middle of it – a mouse in a snakepit.

          With that last bit acting as a set of excuses for my inevitable failure (and not mentioned my proposed ban on any training at all for everyone except myself) I have constructed a pre-race training plan, tentative strategy, and speculative and pseudo-prognosticative race report for our the first weekend’s road race (I won’t get into the hill-repeat tragedy that is the unwinnable 90 minute circuit race that will only result in the demise of every participant) that begins at the moment I finish writing this unreadable and non-informative article: Tonight, after drinking another pot of coffee, I will ride my bicycle on the rollers for a scant thirty minutes that will stop if I break a sweat, get tired, or get bored of whatever movie I have on my computer that I cannot hear because of the heavy oscillating of my uneven pedalling. Tomorrow, I will wake up and make myself a french press and go to they gym with my team to do a workout that is probably not as good for me as I like to pretend it is (I am determined not to do any more arm workouts because you don’t need arms to pedal and I’ve been wasting valuable time trying to make the upper half of my body look properly nourished.) Saturday, cup of drip in hand, I will look outside and see that it is snowing and decide that it’d be better if I got ahead on my homework then got sick from riding, and instead do neither. On Sunday, after smelling a 12 oz. bag of Stumptown French Roast for fifteen minutes, I will try to coax someone into taking me XC skiing – I have never done it before so I will probably crash and die, rendering my cycling season dead in the water (which should be really good for my anxiety.) Monday, I’ll be dead – no need to train. On Tuesday, I will lead an indoor workout in a spin room through a process too ridiculous to describe without further debasing myself. Wednesday, I’ll try to ride rollers for a bit and end up refreshing the comments section of this article waiting for someone to respond positively. Thursday, with shaking hands from spending too much of the day in a cafe, perhaps I try to ride outdoors, perhaps I see if a couple extra hours of sleep will make me faster. Friday – taper. Then Saturday is Race Day, where I’ll probably have to be up moving and full of 12 servings of mud, around 5 O’clock if not earlier so that we can make it to Stevens in time for the team time trial, after which I will elevate my legs, eat cereal, and do a mix of napping and cheering on my teammates until I need to start getting ready for my race around 1.

          My day-of preparation will go as follows: I will stop eating around 11 or Noon, thinking that if I eat any more, I will either cramp up or get fat; I will complain about how there’s not enough coffee at ECCC races. I will put on too many clothes and stuff some cookies in my pockets for quick fuel when I need to close a gap or bribe someone into slowing down a little bit (“I’ll give you a cookie if you take the foot off the gas pedal. Honestly, I have cookies in my pocket, and they’re pretty good too. I’ve had four already.”) I will drink any caffinated substance I can find; I will pour Five Hour Energy into my bottles while my coach is not looking. I will show up to the startline jittering and bloated like a balloon strapped to a Brookstone massage chair, and waste about 300 calories trying to be sociable to a bunch of grad students who will whip out their leg-destroying machines some hour later to suck my muscles clean off the bone. The race will begin and some people with a lot more ambition, talent, stupidity, gross distortion of their abilities, endurance, pride, or anything that would make someone want to exert a bunch of effort for a chance of winning in the low zeros than I have will go rocketing off the front, and we’ll spend the first 20 minutes huffing it to chase them down. After the first break has been caught, I will eat a cookie and drink some watered down energy drink. This will give me power and confidence for when I stupidly end up 50 meters up the road for ten minutes, burning every match that I’ve been collecting in glycogen stores since I started my non-training in November. At this point, the race will be a quarter done and will settle down for a bit. I will then ask, “Where are all the Cat 1s?” The answer will be that they have already finished the race without any of the rest of us knowing, in addition, all riders of my age will also have made the split, leaving me stranded amongst a slew of people who have no appreciation for my antics. I will cry and binge-eat three more cookies. After another hour, I will take part in the bunch sprint for eighth place and come in ninth (out of the sprinters, for a combined total of seventeenth place.) I will then realize that I was not actually sprinting for eighth place, but for twenty-third, and everyone who finished behind me had just come off a nine-month chemotherapy treatment.

          I will get off the bike, and try to gather myself, as my team is antsy to leave after being at the race for eleven hours straight. On the ride back, I will detect a tone in both my teammates’ and my Coach’s voices that lets me know that I ‘should have started in Bs.’ I will become indignant and write an article about how the ECCC is rigged in favor of people who care about the sport and/or train. I will delete it and post something far more nonsensical.

          The sport is masochistic and addictive – it’s a disease more than anything. The people who show up to the race aren’t some sort of a support group, they’re the decadent enablers for one of the primary reasons that I’m so lonely, the people who give back pats and accolades, sick props and depraved facilitation to the leg-shaving and the spandex, to the tan lines and the disproportionate bodies, to the hours spend on a leather crotch-hammer pelting road noise into the perineum, to the artful sock choice and tasteful cap addition, color coordination and bar-tape job, to the glossed up account of the top ten finish in a weekday criterium some six months ago, to all the stupid trivialities of a sport that, at our school, has less members and appeal than the Quiddich Team. There is no other option. There’s no methadone for the sport besides self-loathing, laziness, jealousy, contempt, and beyond-marginal weight-gain: we’re all stuck in this vicious cycle; staring at VeloNews instead of training, pretending that we’ll go out tomorrow and instead watching reruns of Flanders, or Roubaix: It has you even when it doesn’t. There are really two ways to go about it: you can chase a dragon named “W” who keeps getting bigger as you pull off his Gecko tail, or you can ride alongside those lightspeed lunatics deep into their binge, trying to hang on, maybe getting a kick out of some pictures thrown up on the Facebook, getting a little joy when a teammate can throw his hands in the air, getting a little pulled in when you sneak into a break, when you can smell the dragon’s sweet embers, when you go for it. There’s one way to race your bike. It hurts and fills your head with lunacy. But it’s a fun ride. It’s such a fun ride.

(At best, this piece is entirely constructed on lies in order to arrive at the one definitive proto-truth of the season (that winning anything is a pipe dream) – no one shaves their legs with steak knives, Juniors need at least 5 seconds to recover, and I drink at least twice as much coffee as reported. If you are interested, my bicycle is named Charlotte. )

Cycling Chow: An Alternative Consideration

Allen-Lims-Rice-Cake-280x421There are three reasons why to love cycling; having a sweet ride, looking good on said ride, and getting to eat while riding. Those points arguably apply to ever sport we do- the cool ones at least. Pushing the limits of competition is something I thoroughly enjoy, and making adjustments to find that extra half percent advantage can be a fun mental exercise. Just be careful about how much you tweak, or you will one day wake up as a tri-geek, fretting if you look fat in your wet suit.

So let’s talk about the third point: eating while riding. Once a year, the UNH team sends in an order to Cliff Bar and we get a massive stock of goodies to stay fueled during races. I used to think that was an exaggeration, but that was before I watched my D racer teammate teeter off with forty pounds of Mint Chocolate Chip bars. He claims that it’s to last him the year, but let’s be realistic for moment: it’s going to be gone by the end of the season from when teammates ask for some and it’s the only food he has at midnight coming back home on a Sunday.

Fortunately for him, I will never ask him for one. My stomach is a bit delicate in regards to what it can handle during a race. I have no problem eating everything from apples to Zebra Cakes during workouts-except bananas, cannot stand the taste of those-, but for races I need to watch my sugar intake. Through trial and error I have realized that foods with relatively high sugar content create a spike in energy, followed quickly by a “sugar crash.” For the most part, it’s not a huge deal- I just snag the bland vanilla Gu Gels and Rice Crispy treats as safe forms of refueling during races. It’s the plus three hour sufferfests that are bit harder to dial in, as that much sugar and little substance does not really do it for me. For people that want a more in-depth explanation of the nutritional science behind eating and working out, check out this link.

Luckily, people have posted alternative ideas on the Internet. For one USAC Stage race, I decided to try the opinion from one of UNH’s esteemed alumnus blog, who in turn got his from Feedzone.com. Being Asian with readily access to rice, and looking for a way to add significant fuel during races, I decided to give it a try. The first time, I made the Feedzone’s version- that involved a greasy mess and a lockdown of two days in my community kitchen. The rice cakes themselves I wrapped in Saran wrap and, while a bit messy to eat, were better than any else I have had to eat during a race. The next time I tried exit 17’s version of baking the cakes in a muffin tin- not only was it a lot cleaner, but the cakes managed to stay crumble-free for all of my rides.

There’s no one-size-satisfies-all option out there. Frankly, I would direct people to the professionals like Gu and CliffBar for sport foods. If yours is the adventurous palate and are willing to experiment to find that extra edge in a race, I recommend a search on Google. Start with what foods or flavors you know you prefer during workouts, and see if someone has already made a recipe. The really cooking savvy people can go ahead and start the mad experiments in the kitchen. Feel free to share in comments on what alternative cycling foods have worked for you.

PSA: Keep Your Rims Clean!

Winter riding is the cold, hard truth of collegiate racing in the Northeast. There is only so much time I can spend training indoors before I have run out of Tour de France DVDs; the downstairs neighbors start banging on the ceiling; and I start having unbidden daydreams about crushing that peppy spin instructor’s  iPod full of dance tunes under my cleat.  Time to venture out onto the road.

As if the frothy mix of salt and slushy matter that is sometimes the byproduct of road treatment* weren’t enough, winter brings another hazard: enormous potholes that the salt eats into the roads. I hit a big one this morning and bent/cracked the rim on my rear wheel.

Take care of your rims, or this could happen to you!
Take care of your rims, or this could happen to you!

While the pothole was the immediate cause of this ignominy, two things put me at risk for catastrophic rim failure: (1) over-use of my rear brakes, a holdover from when I first learned to ride a bike and Dad told me to always brake with the right or I would go flying over the handlebars—I’m getting better about this; and (2) failure to keep my rim and brake pads clean. You see, all that sand and grit gets caught between the rubber brake pads and the rim, wearing a  concave groove in the braking surface until it’s as thin and flimsy as a Coke can. Moral of the story: keep your rims squeaky clean, kids! (Except without the Squeak.)

Start by rinsing off excess sand with water, so you’re not just rubbing it into the rim. Beware of shoddy advice out there on the Interwebs; don’t use household cleaner (which can leave behind a film that slicks up your braking surface) or steel wool  (unless you’re TRYING to wear down those rims). Mechanics I trust recommend acetone or rubbing alcohol, which evaporate without residue. Spray your chosen cleaner onto a rag and wipe those babies until they shine. (I’m talking about aluminum rims here. I know nothing about taking care of carbon rims, so feel free to chime in on the comments! Also, what the heck are you doing riding that nice carbon wheelset in this weather?)

I can’t complain too much about the life of this Mavic A-719 rim, which boasts about 8,000 miles of commuting, cyclocross, and and winter training. But maybe if I had taken better care, it could have made it to 10,000!

*I feel we should name this substance after someone we hate, Dan-Savage-style. Any nominees? Where are we on hating Lance Armstrong these days?

2014 Swag Ready to Roll

With the winter pressing on, the ECCC is here to deliver new motivation! Despite the snow storms, convoys of UPS trucks have been steadily making their way to conference headquarters with new goodies for the imminent 2014 season.

2014 Season T-Shirts

In a shocking display of the conference leadership having its act together, 2014 season t-shirts are already here instead of arriving minutes before departure for the final Easterns weekend. A variety of sizes are available in each of blue, orange, lime green, lemon, pink, and chocolate, seen in the feature photo above and ensemble below. T-shirts will be $10 (cash only), and available on-site at races as supplies last.  Shirt sales will begin by registration at Stevens after the conclusion of the first wave of the season-opening TTT, once the horde of racers has worked its way through bib number pick-up. About 265 season tees are available—first-come, first-served & when they’re gone they’re gone!

2014 season t-shirts front and back.
2014 season t-shirts front and back.

Travel Bags

New for this year, a limited number of ECCC small sport bags are also available. Vinyl and easily rinsed out or washed, these are ideal low-cost bags for shoes, helmets, dirty kits, and other items that should probably be kept segregated from the rest of your clothes lest the funk permanently transfer. About 36 bags are available among red, blue, & black  and will be sold on-site for $10 as supplies last.

ECCC small vinyl sport bags.
ECCC small vinyl sport bags.

Media T-Shirts

Of course, the other way to acquire a t-shirt—and the only way to get a red t-shirt this year—is to contribute to the ECCC Blogosphere! Media t-shirts exclusive to authors and photographers are in, and they are definitely going to stand out at every race. Get involved today!

ECCC Media exclusive t-shirts.
ECCC Media exclusive t-shirts.

Verge Bib Numbers

Even for those that miss out on this year’s t-shirts, every ECCC racer is going to receive a hot new piece of swag to hang on their walls: New cloth season bib numbers, graciously and speedily donated by Verge Sport. Seen in the photo below, they’re visually striking, ultra long lasting, and definitely have that super-pro feeling, regardless of category. All ECCC riders with annual licenses will receive a pair of these at their first race, to use throughout the season and then place forever in their personal shrine to cycling glory.

Cloth season bib numbers, courtesy Verge Sport. From left to right, top to bottom: Men's D, C, B, A; Women's D, C, B, A.
Cloth season bib numbers, courtesy Verge Sport. From left to right, top to bottom: Men’s D, C, B, A; Women’s D, C, B, A.

Hincapie Leader Jerseys

Finally, last but no means least, is the most exclusive piece of ECCC gear: The series leaders’ jerseys. As they have for over a decade, each Women’s A and Men’s A rider to top the season overall and sprint points standings will receive their own leader’s jersey generously provided by Hincapie Sportswear. Many people might say a diploma is the absolute best thing to hang on your wall and show you did something with your college years, but they’re actually wrong. It’s one of these sweet babies, firmly declaring your position among the most elite riders in this region and the country.

Yellow season overall and green sprint points leaders' jerseys.
Yellow season overall and green sprint points leaders’ jerseys.

Less than three weeks till go-time, get on it!

Writers, Photographers, Show Your Stuff!

For 2014 the Eastern Conference is relaunching and rejuvenating the ECCC Blogosphere, which you happen to be reading right this moment! We’re looking for all the writers and photographers out there to join our team producing content for this and all the ECCC‘s media efforts. If you’d like to practice your skills, contribute to the ECCC, become a conference celebrity, and do a lot of talking about cycling, you should contact us and get involved right away!

Outreach

Previously the ECCC has maintained the ECCC News Network and ECCC Blogosphere websites. The News Network carried official conference announcements and race reports. The Blogosphere started as a linkroll pointing to other blogs and then morphed to be a blog of its own with various writers contributing. At its height the Blogosphere had an amazing portion of the conference’s racers reading regularly, as well as a large number of family and friends. Major articles on both sites continue to get a significant number of readers, long after they were posted.

This year we’re merging the News Network into the Blogosphere. Major official conference announcements and calls are going to be made via featured articles here, and several have already gone up. In addition, all writers are invited to contribute articles and posts on a wide range of topics. Any writing related to cycling and the conference is welcome and eagerly desired. Hoped-for categories include Bike Tech, Interviews, Training/Fitness, personal Race Reports, and Storytime—more general musings and observations. Any kind of writing about cycling and racing is welcome and will find here an eager audience of the entire ECCC.

As a particular class of post, we also need a crew of authors to write short weekend recaps after each event. Alumni, family, and friends at home do read and appreciate those as a way for them to follow along with Eastern Conference action throughout the season. Just one or two paragraphs goes a long way to keeping everybody linked into the scene. Those weekend race recaps are also needed and easily reused for the weekly updates on the USA Cycling Collegiate homepage, gathering an even broader audience and putting the conference and our riders in front of yet more people.

To make all of that sing, we’re also looking for photographers to contribute. Road racing especially requires particular equipment, practice, and effort to get great photographs. Those photos though are absolutely necessary to truly capture the excitement and drama of ECCC racing. High resolution, high quality photographs are also critical to maximizing the impact and success of the ECCC’s major outreach projects, including the main website, Facebook ad campaigns, and other upcoming projects.

Contribute!

Contributing as a writer or a photographer is a great way to practice both crafts. They’re also excellent ways to meet new people and make friends throughout the conference. Absolutely no one is as popular on the circuit as our regular photographers and writers. This is also an easy way to make a significant contribution back to the conference and keep it and all its projects moving forward.

Sweetening the deal even more, we’re offering exclusive ECCC MEDIA t-shirts, seen in the artwork proof above, to anybody who regularly contributes writings and photos. There will be absolutely no better way to stand out and be a known personality at all the upcoming races than to be sporting one of these.

The 2014 Road season is coming up fast and we’d all like to hear about your training, advice, new gear, and other thoughts, so all the writers and photographers out there should contact us to get set up with a Blogosphere account and start getting your voice heard!