Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The dog that didn't bark

The Barkin' Dog Duathlon, 5k run/30k bike/5k run, now in Cherry Creek State Park. It used to be in Keenesburg, CO, "Home of 500 Happy people and a few soreheads" and featured an utterly flat 30k with one turnaround. There was the occasional agricultural by-product to dodge on the way, but it was a good ride. The farmer's dogs would come out and bark at the bikes, hence the name. The run went along a dirt road next to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad which gave the town its reason, now the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe. At times we'd be hurting ourselves along the road as a massive freight train rumbled by, "ground tremble birdseed fly in all directions", made me feel like a small fragile mammal. Eventually the few soreheads tired of roads clogged with Lycra-clad freaks and the race had to move. In Cherry Creek the locals still don't like Lycra-clad freaks but at least they're used to us.

Last year race day was cold and rainy, perfectly miserable weather for bike riding. Today's forecast was for the same, but in the event was clear and cool. I'd decided to do two 5k runs with a jog in the middle if it was raining. The over-45s all started together, with a modicum of creaking and groaning. A mop of white hair shot to the front and was last seen streaking through the woods - turned out to be Scott Hajicek, 54, running a 17:13 first 5k. It's been twenty years since I could run that fast. In the last 3 Dogs I've done:
first 5k, 19:59, 19:53, 19:54
second 5k, 21:20, 21:30, 21:10
I haven't broken 19:50 on a standalone 5k in ten years. Today's race was 19:05 first, 20:10 second. This was entirely due to a new pair of Newton shoes. They have four fat lugs on the forefoot which are supposed to encourage 'good running form', whatever that is. I didn't really believe it but will try anything once, especially now I'm old fat slow and desperate. The shoe is essentially flat - height of forefoot including lugs is the same as the heel. This I suspect is the key. Whatever it is, a 5% improvement from shoes is astonishing. Now I'm on the hook for $160 for new Newtons every year, dagnabbit.

The 19:05 was good only for 6th place in the over-45s. We are very serious old guys: old enough to have the money to buy aero goodies and engage in the whole arms race of buying speed with bike bits; old enough that we've either made our pile, or have given up trying, so have time to train; young enough that there's something left to train with; "made weak by time and fate", but denying it with all the strength left to us. Though perhaps I speak only for myself, in which case strike out the bit about 'made our pile'.

Duathlons tend to attract strong runners who can't swim and don't bike much, so my relative weakness on the bike becomes a relative strength in these races. The bike too had a winter makeover. Brand new used Hed aerobars, plus high-end tubular tires to replace the Continental Sprinters, which are sturdy but slow. Thanks to AFM, whose indefatigable testing of tires has produced the reference database of rolling resistance, for the idea. To my surprise, spending $100 per tire instead of $50 per tire, does produce a difference in the ride quality. Bike aficionados tend to witter on about 'ride quality' but I've always figured a racing bike is going to hurt and there's no doing anything about that. However these new tubulars produce a distinctly pleasurable sensation, even on the ruts and potholes of the Cherry Creek road. They are also faster I think, though the effect is not currently measurable as the new aerobars confound things.

The aerobars are carbon, which I've previously avoided on general principles. Several different carbon fly rods have exploded in my hand while casting: this is not a problem when footling about in pursuit of fish and standing foursquare on the good hard ground; but exploding handlebars at 25mph, suspended several feet above that same hard ground by two square inches of rubber, would be over-exciting. A lust for speed induced the sleep of reason so now I'm riding carbon. The trick is to not overtighten the bolts holding everything together, a torque wrench is a necessity. My bike mechanic-skills were all learnt by making mistakes in a poorly lit garage at 11pm, after the day's work is done. Wrenching on carbon provides an opportunity for new mistakes.

I’d adjusted the length of the aerobar extensions and timidly tightened the retaining bolts to what seemed appropriate. Descending from Cherry Creek dam road at 30+mph, the right-hand extension came loose. This was still manageable, steered with the elbows on the pads, held the loose bar with one hand and shifted with the other. I thought, "as long as the LH one stays solid, I can finish" so of course about 5km later the LH one comes off too. Stopped, jammed them back in, tried to start uphill in a big gear, cramped, got off the bike and downshifted, retried. This was very annoying as I'd been on schedule for sub-45 minutes over the 30k, which would have been a new land speed record for me, averaging close to 25mph. Bashed on regardless, cradling the extensions in a delicate yet firm grip, to the transition.

As usual both calf muscles cramped rigid in the first few steps of the second run. I'd worn compression socks for the full tri-geek look, also to see if it would help with the cramps, but no luck. Peglegged along for a quarter mile or so, then they began to relent. Mr CEO Challenge, Ted Kennedy, had repassed me on the bike during the equipment malfunction, and was slowly dwindling into the distance. Chased, but did not have the legs for it.

At the end of it all I'd won the 45-9 age group by 20s, and 41s ahead of 3rd place. There were four 50+ guys ahead of me though, so felt a bit of a fraud. On the other hand, I've been fourth in AG at races where I'd have placed in every AG but my own: call it karma and feel no shame. The awards are always a nice beer glass with a howling dog on it. I've heard several people complaining about the awards, having too many of these glasses, but that's not a problem for me. In fact the boys usually fight over who gets the dog glass, so I'm very happy to have two now.

There were several dogs at the finish, none of them barking. Most notable, a big Newfoundland the size of a small island, slobbering genially at us all.

Picture from bike leg is here, looking agonized in full aero tri-geek mode.

Racing is a kind of addiction. The reward is an altered state of consciousness, more precisely the obnubilation of consciousness, a holiday from the quotidian: "the strong life; it is life in extremis". This is true, win or lose: but there are many ways to win, and only one way to lose: which is to let winning matter.