Archive for August, 2011

After crashing 3-1/2 weeks ago, my prospects for competing in the USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships in Bend, Oregon, were not very good. I saw my doctor for a follow-up exam about 2 weeks after the crash and guess what? He said I was good to race at the nationals. Here I am the night after the first race of the championships, the individual time trial, or for my non-cycling readers the ITT. Between my doctor’s OK to race and leaving for the championships I had about a week to try to rebuild my fitness after essentially having two weeks off the bike. That week ended with two days of driving and one day to get acclimated to Bend’s relatively high (for me) altitude of about 3,600 feet.

My overall confidence was not very good but it improved a bit after a reasonably good training ride to scope out the TT course. One problem with the reconnaissance was that I thought I was racing the 30 Km loop when, in fact, the Masters Men 50-54 years-old were competing on the 25 Km course. More on this later.

The afternoon before the race, registration opened and at registration, the Chief Referee conducted a courtesy bike inspection to ensure that your bike met UCI regulations and giving you a chance to fix it if it didn’t. I am pretty detail-oriented when it comes to setting up my bike and I was pretty confident that my bike met the technical regulations. It turns out that I was wrong. The biggest problem was the length of my carbon fiber TT handlebar extensions. They were too long and I didn’t have the tools or the time to get them cut down to meet the rules. I ended up spending a couple of hours in the condo trying several different combinations of changes to my setup with the hopes of making my TT bike legal.

I got the race early and brought my road bike as a last resort backup. It turns out that my adjustments made the bike legal. Of course they also made the bike less comfortable. Relieved, I went about my pre-race preparation and warmup rituals.

I got to the start in plenty of time and then got in line for the starting ramp. Five-four-three-two-one and I was heading down the ramp. A friend who raced earlier said something about the start not matching the course map but I didn’t fully grasp what she was describing. The start was a series of short straights and tight turns along the local high school perimeter road before turning on to the main highway that climbed to the courses highest elevation. At one point I thought that I made a wrong turn but I was OK and got on to the road with my 30 second man (who ended up 4th) in sight.

That didn’t last very long and I headed up the climb a series of riders passed me. I used them as inspiration pick up my pace. The turnaround point came a lot sooner than I expected because I had a mental picture of the 30 Km turnaround instead of the 25 Km turnaround. The guys who passed me were still in reasonable sight at the turnaround, but on the long descent back down the hill I was no match for them and lost sight of them completely.

The course finished with a “south” loop through a new, high-end housing development. I was working hard (per my hear rate recording) but I got passed by a few more racers before the finish. I ended up 29th out of 31 starters. At least I wasn’t dead last.

In retrospect and after reviewing my race data, I probably could have ridden a bit harder, but my lack of confidence and less-than-optimum position on the bike conspired to give me a less than stellar day. I learned a lot about the course and I accomplished one of my objectives for this trip — learning the courses for next year. Next year I’ll be the youngest in my age group, instead of the oldest.

First Road Crash in Over 20 Years

Posted: August 10, 2011 in Bicycling

Why have I been able to catch up on completing unpublished, draft posts today? I was home from work recovering from a cycling accident this past Saturday, August 6th.

I planned on a fairly normal Saturday morning ride with my cycling club. In fact it was very normal as I was running late to get to meeting point. I checked the ride schedule and it indicated that the ride was going one way, but when I headed that way I saw the group going in the opposite direction. After turning around, I started chasing to catch the group. As I approached the intersection of Loynes and PCH (where I needed to turn left to head south on PCH), I saw water on the road. Water is not unusual in this intersection. There is a large perforated pipe that sticks up on the median of Loynes and I frequently see water coming out of it. As I approached the intersection (with a green light) I slowed down. Apparently I didn’t slow down enough because after riding though the water I started my left turn and immediately my wheels slid out from under me.

It was one of those slow motion videos that your brain starts processing. I felt the wheels slide out, saw the horizon tilt, felt my body hit the ground, saw (a flash of light), and then felt and heard my cheekbone slam into the pavement as my neck whiplashed sideways. I never blacked out. I got up quickly and started to assess the damage to me and my bike. I felt my cheek and it hurt but not dramatically and thankfully, there was no blood. I started to gather up my bike and the remnants of my sunglasses (the flash of light was my sunglasses breaking and flying off my face) and seat pack (which broke away from my saddle), all of which were in the middle of a busy Southern California intersection.

I had a couple of clubmates waiting for another group. They were on the sidewalk near the intersection and as I gathered myself up they kind of gave me the once-over to make sure I was mostly OK. I said I was going to ride home on my somewhat deranged bike because it was less than 1 mile away. I didn’t feel too bad on the way home though I knew the pain would come later. Little did I know how much pain would come.

I got back into the house and my wife, Nina, was kind of shocked to see that I had crashed. We talked about cleaning up what appeared to be a relatively minor case of road rash. We started to clean up the scrapes and Nina decided to head out to buy a few first aid supplies peculiar to this kind of injury. While she was gone, my nose started bleeding.

Soon after the nosebleed started, my teeth on my left side (the side that hit the road) started hurting. I was taking care of myself when Nina got home and all of my symptoms just accelerated from there. Nina got me some Tylenol for my teeth while I continued to try to ebb the flow of blood from my nose. Even after taking the Tylenol, the tooth pain soon reached 10 on a scale of 10 and I was almost incapacitated by it. Finally I asked Nina to get me some Vicodin that I had left over from an auto accident years ago. Eventually the pain subsided to a barely tolerable level but the nosebleed was not subsiding. I could tell that the blood was coming from my sinuses so with a box of tissues, Nina drove me to the Emergency Room at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.

Checking in and getting into a triage room was fairly quick. A nurse assessed me and ordered a chest x-ray and a CT scan of my head. Both of those procedures happened in good order and I was back in the triage area in less than an hour. From there someone escorted us to a waiting area where a doctor would evaluate me and the images. It turned out to be quite a wait. We were in the waiting room for over an hour and after getting into the treatment area we continued to wait. In the end the prognosis was a several (three?) “minimally displaced” fractures in my orbital and no fractures in my ribs — bad and good news. The nurse bandaged my road rash and we headed home, five hours after getting there, with prescriptions for Vicodin and antibiotics.

Sunday wasn’t a good day but I got by and on Monday I went to my Primary Care Physician and dentist. They did not detect any further problems than what the Emergency Room doctor found on Saturday, but my doctor’s “orders” were no strenuous exercise for two weeks and no racing for six weeks until the fractures fully healed.

The problem is that I spent the last two months preparing for the USA Cycling Masters National Road Championships at the end of August, roughly four weeks after my accident. I am supposed to have another CT scan on August 19th. That scan will hopefully provide enough information for me to make a good decision on whether or not I should cancel my trip to Bend. Until then I will do some light exercise and hope the bone heals quickly.

Read This Book: Brain Rules

Posted: August 9, 2011 in book review

(This is my last “catch-up” post from my draft folder. I need to have more discipline in keeping my blog current. Thanks for reading.)

This isn’t a light read but it’s a very good read. Dr. John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. There are 12 Brain Rules that he delineates and there is a chapter devoted to each rule with a lot of insights. If you know me, you won’t be surprised to know that my favorite rule (though none of the rules are completely independent of one another) is Rule 1: Exercise boosts brain power.

As in each of the succeeding chapters John Medina provides scientific evidence that supports the idea that exercise improves brain function. Though not necessarily conclusive — after all what is conclusive in this world? — the evidence lines up logically to support the rule. Additionally, John provides clinical and historical anecdotes that tie nicely with the scientific evidence. What I learned from all 12 Brain Rules will help me in my professional and personal life and hopefully make me a more effective husband, father, change advocate, and human being.

Read this book.

Another CicLAvia

Posted: August 9, 2011 in Bicycle Advocacy

(This is the second “catch-up” post to my blog that I am completing during my downtime due to my recent injury.)

This past Sunday, 04-10-11, exactly six months after the first CicLAvia on 10-10-10, some friends and I got to enjoy a sunny and slightly brisk day in downtown Los Angeles. Once again, this was to be a completely car-free day for me. I made arrangements to meet Joy on the Blue Line train line that goes from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles. I rode from my house to the station and brought my bike on the train. On my way to the station where Joy was boarding, I sent her a text to let her know which car I was in. Somewhat surprisingly, she had no trouble finding me, and we soon found ourselves at the end of the line at the downtown Metro Station.

Our good fortune with logistics continued when we exited the station at Figueroa Street and almost immediately saw Greg who had ridden from his home to downtown. From there we joined the masses and rode to the west end of the route in the Melrose District. On our way, shortly after waiting at one of the car crossings, I saw some guy on a fixie riding somewhat erratically towards me and just as he passed me I heard, “Don’t take out the leader dude!” In an instant I recognized the voice, it was Lance Armstrong. Just as quickly, Lance and his cycling entourage were passing me. We had to stop again a bit later at another car crossing and Lance was maybe 10 yards in front of me. Greg and I started calling out his name (not many people recognized him) and he turned around. Unfortunately, the quick shot that I tried didn’t come out very well. One thing that surprised me is that Lance is shorter than I thought. He really didn’t seem much taller than me.

When we got to the Melrose District I saw Lance in the distance getting ready to jet off to his next engagement and I saw a local TV news reporter interviewing one of the guys in Lance’s entourage.

Greg and Joy and I absorbed a bit of the scene at that end of the route and then we headed towards the east end. On our way, as in October, we saw a wide variety of cyclists. One thing that we saw that I didn’t see nearly as much in October was fallen cyclists. That was kind of distressing especially since some were being carted away into ambulances. It was still a very small percentage of the total participant but it was still distressing.

It was also a bit more difficult to deal with the crowds this time but I could still deal with it and enjoy the overall atmosphere. We made it to Hollenbeck Park and milled about a bit before heading back towards downtown. On our way we were looking for a lunch stop and we finally went with a “green” noveau asian noodle place. The food was good and the prices were commensurate with its downtown location.

Joy decided to depart as we rolled past the Metro Station and Greg and I headed back to the Melrose District. We did a little more absorbing of the atmosphere and took a stroll through one of the more famous fixie shops in Los Angeles. From there we rode back to the Metro Station and caught the Blue Line heading back towards Long Beach.

The last bit of our day’s adventure was being on a train that was having mechanical problems. Eventually we got off at a station that was about 12 miles from my home. Instead of waiting for the next train (which probably would have been impossibly crowded) I decided to ride home from there. I also decided to go all the way to downtown Long Beach so that I could check out the new separated bike lane on Broadway which wasn’t officially opened yet. It looked pretty good even though there was hardly any traffic on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Overall it was another enjoyable CicLAvia experience and I am looking forward to the next one.

First Stage Race in Years

Posted: August 9, 2011 in Bicycle Racing

(I have a bad habit of starting blog posts and not finishing them. Now that I am laid up for a few days I have an opportunity to catch up.)

Through my so-called racing career, I always liked the thought of stage races. Mind you, I don’t have the talent to be a good stage racer, but I fantasize experiencing some of the sensations of a professional bicycle racer competing in a race like the Tour de France. In the 1980s, I competed in several stage races, sometimes twice a year, with the races lasting 2 or 3 days (a far cry from the 23 stages of a Le Tour). However, after a short sabbatical from racing in the mid-1990s when my kids were young, I haven’t felt like I’ve had the fitness to try a stage race.

This year, with the help of my club’s generous sponsor, Cal Pacific Export Packers, I felt like I had enough fitness to try the Valley of the Sun (VoS) Stage Race in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 11-13, 2011. I’ve heard about this race for years and most of my racing friends who have done it have given favorable feedback. It’s a 3-stage event with an individual time trial, a road race, and a criterium. The time trial is an added bonus in making it feel like a big-time race since you have the excuse to bring your time trial bike and road race bike to the event.

I had two teammates there with me; Greg and Tom. Greg was the youngster of our group and in a gesture towards team solidarity, Tom and I, who were eligible to race in the Masters 50+ field, decided to race in the Masters 40+ field with Greg. We took most of Thursday to drive out to Phoenix and arrived in the late afternoon. We decided to go straight to the local bike shop to pick up our registration packages and found that there was a considerable line to get our materials. From there we went back to the hotel to check in and drag six (6) bikes into our suite with two queen size beds and a sofa bed. We made everything fit reasonably well and headed out for dinner.

Our start time on Friday was not too early so we had time for breakfast at the hotel and a relatively short drive to the start. Doing all of the normal pre-race stuff we (or at least I) were still kind of rushed and somewhat short on warm-up. In hindsight I would have benefited from pre-riding or pre-driving the course. It turns out that it was more of an uphill grind on the way out than I expected and I did not ride the return leg as fast as I could have. In the end I finished 55th out of 76 racers, 2 places ahead of my teammate Greg. Tom was further back. The hindsight is 20-20 revelation was I would have been 26th out of 53 if I had entered the 50+ field. Age makes a difference.

After lunch we took a short ride on our road bikes and the messed around until dinner. We had a very early start and a relatively long drive to get to the start of the road race stage so we tried to go to sleep early.

Saturday morning, we got up and got to the start in good time but the start area was kind of a fiasco with a lot of cars trying to squeeze into a small stretch of road. Sign-in was quick but the port-a-potty lines were long. Also, it was cold! I ended up racing with arm and knee warmers.

At this point I should note that part of my decision to do this race in the 40+ field was Greg’s description of the previous year’s race. He noted that the road race was pretty mellow and that the main climb was not too hard. Well 2011 was very different from 2010. This year’s field started relatively quickly and just got faster when we hit the climb. I fell off of the back very close to the top and ended up with two other guys and my teammate, Tom, who had intentions of trying to catch the main field. We worked pretty hard and we caught another chase group that contained my other teammate, Greg. Unfortunately, Tom fell off around this point but we were able to inspire this larger group to work together and, amazingly, we caught the main field — about 3 miles from the climb. Again, I got dropped near the top but this time I was alone. I eventually got caught by a couple of other guys and as we approached the tightest corner on the course, we saw the remnants of a crash in the main field.

I continued to work with these guys as we got back around to the hill. Unfortunately, I pretty much used up everything that I had on the previous lap and they dropped me. Now I was truly alone for a long and windy lap. I got passed by some other racers from some other categories (including some women) and I barely made it up the climb to the finish. Greg had finished about 25 minutes(!) ahead and Tom came in just a few minutes behind with another racer in last. So much for the road race stage.

We made the long drive back to the hotel with a stop for lunch. Can’t quite remember what we did the rest of the day but we ended the day with dinner at a small Mexican restaurant.

Sunday dawned and we had a mid-morning start for our criterium — or so we thought. When we got there we found out that they were over an hour behind schedule because of course logistic issues. That gave us plenty of time to warm up and watch the Masters 50+ race. As it turned out for Tom and me, things could get worse in the criterium. It started very fast from the gun and in my inimitable fashion, I was behind a number of guys who were opening gaps. I closed a few gaps but with a few laps I was off the back — with Tom. Tom and I and a guy who was really bad at cornering but was fast on the straights, worked together off the back. Our average speed was OK for 3 old guys but nowhere near the speed of the field. About 4 laps before the finish we got caught and pulled from the race by the officials.

The kicker is that before the race started, the Chief Referee clearly stated that if someone got dropped and pulled, their finish time would be calculated based on their distance and time when they got pulled. When I looked at the results online after driving home, Tom and I were not listed for the criterium or in the final results. Of course, both of us would have been near last in the race so I didn’t have much to complain about but it is kind of disappointing to race all 3 days and not be shown as a finisher. Oh well.