Sunday, July 22, 2012

Stravassholes and the real reason for cycling

How cyclits used to crunch their data before Strava.
If you've been riding a bike for any length of time at all, odds are you've either had, have or will have a servere affliction of number and statistic crunching.  I don't know what it is about cycling or cyclists, although I realize this happens in a lot of sports, but data gathering tends to go hand-in-hand with our sport.

It all starts out innocently enough.  "I'll get a computer to see how fast I go down this hill" is BIG reason a cyclist first gets a cycling computer.  But then, you realize how many other bits of info you can glean from the little 2" x 1.5" LED screen.  Top speed sure, but how about trip distance, total distance, or average speed?  Soon the data on a cycling computer isn't enough and you take the next step to a Garmin (or other GPS based cycling computer) which adds elevation gain/loss, current elevation, grade %, direction, temperature, and more.  Throw in a Quarq Powermeter and a heart rate monitor and you can add your wattage output and make sure your keep your heart rate within a "target" zone.  Whew.  That seems like a LOT of info, but wait, there's more!

I suppose at some point a person was bragging to his cycling friends on Facebook about his cycling exploits of the day when the idea struck him to combine his passion for cycling for his passion for social networking and VOILA, Strava was born.  Now you can take all your information from your Garmin or smartphone and upload it to Strava and BOOM it compares your ride to everyone else that has done that ride (or parts of it) showing you just how damn slow you really are.  Every ride or climb has a KOM status (King of the Mountain for those not in the know) for the person that has done it faster than anyone else.

And just like society's obsession with social networking, a big chunk of the cycling community has become obsessed with Strava.  Strava has gotten so big in the cycling world that someone in San Francisco, or some other big city that has more hipsters per capita crawling around its surface on fixies than we have rednecks in jacked-up 'Merican trucks, got killed in an accident on their bike and his family is suing Strava because it made him want to beat his best time which caused his fatal accident.  You just know that when you're being sued in this fashion you're huge OR you've jumped the shark, which might just be one in the same.

So, I hear it every week at least, "When are you joining Strava?" or "You'd love it, you should join Strava!" or something of the sort.  Well, if I did join Strava, I'd see hard data on just how fucking slow and pathetic I really am on a bike, which would decidedly NOT inspire me to try harder but would make me sad and make me want to drink even MORE beer than I do, which would make me even slower and drink even more beer, which would eventually lead me to quit riding all together.  BUT, then I could sue Strava for making me feel bad about myself and I would win thousands and thousands of dollars, with which I could buy a new bike and I would feel good about myself which would inspire me to ride harder.  All that sounds like a lot of work, so screw Strava.

Actually, I think I know myself pretty damn well and I know I'd get all wrapped up in the numbers and become way too obsessed with it, so that is the real reason I won't join.  I already get too wrapped up in the numbers on my Garmin Connect page, much less trying to see how I compare to others.  And while I can appreciate the desire to be faster/fitter on your bike, all of it distorts the real reason we ride (or should).  We ride for the freedom and the simple joy of pedaling a bike.  Next time you're out on your bike, don't look at your computer or even better, put it in your pocket or turn it so you can't see the numbers and just focus on the fact you're pedaling, steering, and balancing on a bike.  Just think of that, a bike cannot stand up on its own, yet we can balance ourselves on top of it, press down on the pedals and by giving gentle input into the handlebars and by shifting our weight ever so slightly, we now have one of the most efficient forms of transportation ever created.  Throw in some sweet technical singletrack and it should completely blow your mind that we can ride over some of that terrain.

How many people have actually seen the "Knifeblade"?  
If the fact that you can simply pedal a bike or  you can ride a bike off-road where we do doesn't completely amaze you, than think of the things you see when you're out riding.  Sweet locations, wild animals, or amazing views that a big chunk of society never gets to see.  And if that doesn't completely blow your mind, then, well, upload your ride to Strava I guess.  Just don't ask me to.  I'll be too busy enjoying the ride.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tatanka 100

50-100 miles races are becoming all the rage.  For whatever reason, they have supplanted the 24 hour racing format as the endurance racing format.  And if you would have asked me a year ago if I'd ever do a 100 miler I would have laughed riotously in your face.  Not only did I not have any desire to do a race of this length, I knew I physically couldn't do it.  Boy, how time can change your attitude.

I suppose it all started last year in August of last year, watching Cleaver and Al line up for the Leadville 100 and having a bit of twinge of jealousy, even though those dreams were bitch-slapped around a bit after the whole torn quad debacle back in December. I had a plan to ride in a 100 mile mountain bike race this year.

No, it isn't one of those bullshit-check-it-off-my-bucket list stupid things. I say if you're truly living your life then you don't need one of those lame fucking things. Sure you can have some things that you're going to do in the future, but to say, "I've gotta do this before I die" is stupid. Don't plan out jumping out of an airplane, just get a wild hair up your ass and sign up before the reasoning center in your brain takes hold. But, I digress...

I did sign up for Leadville and (obviously) did not get in, so when news started burbbling out that there might be a 100 miler here in SD, I thought I might give it a whirl. When I found out it was in June, I was less enthused about it, knowing that getting enough miles (for me anyhow) in by that date was going to be difficult, so I postponed my decision until the last possible minute to see if I could get enough riding in to not only survive, but actually enjoy torturing myself for a LONG day in the saddle.

The ride that tricked me into the Tatanka.
My Lovely and the Boy decided to take a trip to Miami to see family, which left me home to my own devices, which meant either going to bed by 9 so I could ride in the morning before work OR riding until dark every day they were gone. And, I went out and peeled off a 70 mile mountain bike ride and turned around the next morning for a nice, windy 35 mile road jaunt, so I thought I might be able to pull off the Tatanka, so I signed up.

And the second I hit send on the PreRace sign up page, I wondered what the hell I got myself into, but it was too late now. Well, I suppose I could have just not gone, but I don't think I've ever signed up for anything and not seen it through, so a few more "training" rides and it would be race day.

The morning of the race came WAY to early, getting up at 3 so I can eat, get dressed and be to Sturgis by 4:30'ish (yes, 4:30 AM) to get signed in and be ready to roll by 5, all of which seemed to ggo off without a hitch.  After a quick talk by the race director, Kevin Forrester, we were off and riding.  We had a police escort to Ft. Meade and then it was 5 miles of gravel road to the Alkali Creek trailhead where we hit singletrack and the Centennial trail.  Everyone had settled into their "positions" at this point and I was floating somewhere around mid-pack climbing Bulldog.  But that wouldn't last for long.  Half way up the first climb, something decidedly did NOT feel right and I pulled over to find my rear tire was extremely low.  7 or so miles into a 100 mile day and a flat?  Not cool man, but no panic, there were a lot of hours and miles to go so no need to freak, even if almost EVERYONE passed me at this point.  I pulled the tube to find a hole in the tread of the tire as well.  A boot made from a Clif Shot Blok wrapper, a new tube and I was on my way.  If this were my only issue of the day, I'd be set.

Between flats somewhere before
Dalton Lake (courtesy of Les Heiserman)
If it were my only issue of the day, I would have been set, but for some reason the Flat-Gods were frowning upon me on this day and it would be my first of four flats.  Yes, I said FOUR flats.  After I got through the Elk Creek area of this first leg of the race and was climbing once again, I felt that tel tale sign that something was amiss only to pull over and find my tire losing pressure once again.  At this point I thought it was leaking slowly enough that I could just add some air and make it into the aid station at Dalton Lake and I'd fix it good and proper there, so I did.  I pulled over and pumped it up as all those people that I passed back, passed me once again.  And off I went only to have it pinch flat about 3 miles later.  This time, obviously, I had to fix it all the way, so off came the tire, I patched it, reinstalled it only to discover there was another hole somewhere in the tube, so off it came yet again for another patch, reinstallation and fill-up, which did the trick (mostly).  At this point I was SUPER frustrated with the way things were going and contemplated bailing once I got to Dalton.

As I rolled to the aid station, I saw my Lovely and my mom anxiously waiting and I am sure wondering what had happened to me.  As I explained they got me some food, a tube and a tire that I had stowed in the truck, which was good foresight on my part I guess.  I replaced everything and after eating I knew I couldn't bail just yet, so away I went and I would fend off the wrath of the Flat-Gods the rest of the day.  Actually, it was the end of any major mechanical issues the remainder of the ride, save for a few dropped chains and the like, so any issues I had were all my doing and not able to be blamed on an inanimate object.

Finishing the race!
(courtesy of BH
I won't bore you with details of the rest of the race like I made it here in this much time or to this spot in this much time, but I will say this about the Tatanka 100; if the first half was physically tough as it was a lot of rocky singletrack with steeper, albeit shorter, climbing, then the second half was a LOT more mentally tough with long, gradual but sustained climbs.  Once the ride got to the Mickelson Trail, it was a mind game with yourself on how you could keep going to finish this ride.  There wasn't much to take your mind off the monotony of just endless pedaling.  Oh sure, there is amazing scenery, cool old mountain towns like Rochford and the occasional day tripper that would roll by and give you a word of encouragement, but mostly you were alone with your thoughts and a playlist on your iPod that was getting on your nerves.

Profile of the day.
102.5 miles and 15+ hours later I rolled across the line at Woodle Field in Sturgis with a smile on my face knowing I just did one of the toughest mountain bike rides that anyone could do.  I was super happy that I finished despite the issues earlier in the day, but if you asked me in those minutes after the race if I would do it again, the answer would have been a resounding no.  Hell, at that point I wasn't gonna do another race until the Dakota Five-O on Labor Day weekend.  But, now I am signed up for the BAM (which is basically the same section of course, but backwards, on which I flatted all those times) which is this weekend, and the Black Hills Back 40 in a few weeks and I am already starting to look forward to the 2nd Annual Tatanka 100.  You can be sure I'll be there, with a new rear tire and a LOT of spare tubes.