Gateway Cross Cup

I need to pay more attention. The weekend before last I randomly decided to take a load of old cardboard to the University City recycling center at Heman park. As I passed the park (something I do maybe once a month) I saw a sign advertising an “international professional bike race” to be held at the park in a few days time. It didn’t add up. International? Professional? At a city park a mile and a half from my house? On a Wednesday? The instant I got home I looked it up on the internet, and sure enough, it was true. The Gateway Cross Cup was a new cyclocross race that attracted many of the top American professionals, and a few Europeans as well. It was a little weird to have a midweek race, but if that’s when the pros can make it I guess that’s when you have it. It was an all-day event with additional amateur races and a “5K” cross country run. I guess I had better take the afternoon off.

For the uninitiated, cyclocross is a type of bicycle racing that takes place on grass/dirt/mud/sand/snow on a closed loop course. The course is narrow. There are many sharp turns. There are barriers and steps placed in the course that force the riders to dismount their bikes, run over the obstacles, then remount and continue. This race had a flyover, basically a wooden bridge where the course crosses over itself to make a figure eight. Riders run up steps on one side, then down a very steep ramp on the other side. Then later the course goes beneath the bridge. I was aware this sort of obstacle existed, but I had never seen one in person (much less raced on one).

Cat 4 Race

I showed up about an hour before the first race (cat 4), enough time to take a few warmup laps. It was very helpful to familiarize myself with the course. Not doing so sufficiently was one of my two major problems in every previous cyclocross race I’ve done. The other was getting off to a poor start (due to the frequent sharp turns it’s sometimes difficult to pass people), which I also rectified here. Since I was one of the few people to preregister online I ended up with a starting position in the front row. After the long paved straightaway at the start I hit the first turn into the grass around 8th place. And I moved up from there. I was in 5th after the first lap, then 4th. With one lap to go I was in 3rd, with two guys nipping at my heals. They both passed me mid-lap, and I passed one back by the end to finish in 4th out of 34 (just barely off the podium). It was by far my best cyclocross race ever.

“5K” Cross Country Race

I took it easy for a couple hours before the “5K” cross country run. I keep putting “5K” in quotes because the actual race distance was quite a bit farther. I found while warming up the loop was 2.05 miles, so two loops would be 4.1 miles (a full mile farther than advertised). Oh well. I didn’t see very many other runners there (I was literally the only one who preregistered for the race, which is how I ended up with number 1). Right before the start I saw three guys wearing college jerseys. Shit.

Gateway Cross Cup 5K run bib

It turns out they weren’t the ones I should have been worrying about. From the start some guy shot out to the lead and before too long I could no longer see him. I ran in the chase pack with the college jersey guys (who I later found out had all graduated a few years ago and were no longer in their prime) until they slowly faded one by one. I finished 2nd, but it hurt. It was a (long) hard race on a (long) hard course that came after an earlier hard race.

That makes four consecutive races with top-four finishes, and seven total races in the month of September.

UCI Pro Race

I caught bits and pieces of the other amateur bike races between eating dinner and going home to fetch my camera. The pro race was pretty awesome to watch. I’ve been reading these guys’ names in results on CyclingNews.com for years so watching them race past me was somewhat surreal. One other really cool bit was watching a friend of mine (and multi-time state cyclocross champion) from Champaign, Jason Rassi, who saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and registered to race against the top pros.

Teal Stetson-Lee takes the win

Women’s winner Teal Stetson-Lee emerges from beneath the flyover

Jeremy Powers takes the win

Men’s winner Jeremy Powers

Todd Wells finishes 5th

Current US Pro champion Todd Wells

Jonathan Page bunny hops the barriers as Ben Berden runs

Former world championship silver medalist Jonathan Page bunny hopping the barriers

Chase group climbs the flyover near rowdy fans

Rowdy fans cheering riders running up the flyover

Jeremy Powers

On top of the flyover

Jeremy Powers leads down the flyover

Down the flyover

Chasers climb the steps

Up the steps

Men’s single speed race winner Craig Etheridge runs up the steps in slow motion

Jason Rassi

Jason working hard

Jason Rassi finishes 17th

Jason finished 17th

It was a heck of an event to watch. The top pros are so strong and so skillful at this difficult discipline, I was in total awe.

ABQ

William already shared his insights on our trip to Albuquerque last weekend. I’ll add a few other random tidbits.

Albuquerque botanical gardens

I photographed the entire weekend with my (reasonably) new 30mm prime lens. Since it has a fixed focal length, zooming with this lens is extremely manual (i.e. the photographer must physically move). I was a bit concerned this might be too much of a burden, so I actually packed a zoom lens but I ended up not using it. Also, since it has a large maximum aperture of f/1.4 I was able to shoot a lot of indoor photos without a flash (which I didn’t even bother to bring).

Lying

The Albuquerque airport shares runways with an air force base. Fighter jets are super loud when they’re flying… and they’re even louder when they take off. It was kind of amusing to watch them take turns with the commercial jets. They were very loud even all the way across town.

Running at 6000 ft of elevation was definitely noticeable in the first few miles, though it didn’t seem to bother me much after that.

Albuquerque sunrise

New Mexico apparently has a lot of dinosaur fossils.

Snack

Albuquerque has Bicycle Boulevards with lane markings clearly indicating cyclists are entitled to the full width of the lane. Of course, this is true on nearly all public roadways… but most motorists don’t understand this.

Bicycle Boulevard

Bicycle Boulevard

Mexican food is quite popular.

The hand that feeds you

The Rio Grande has way more water in it in Albuquerque than it does downstream in El Paso/Juarez. I guess it’s all channeled away for irrigation.

Rio Grande

It’s really hard (impossible?) to get the white balance right when photographing an aquarium indoors with low light. Either we ended up too red or the water ended up to green.

Albuquerque aquarium

Camp

Wild Card Cycling’s training camp in southern Illinois was last weekend. I knew what I was getting into after the past two trips. I was a little concerned about my lack of miles this year, but I ended up riding a little better than I thought/feared I would.

Wednesday evening was our regular weekly fight ride. It was tough.

Thursday we left for camp, drove in the pouring rain, arrived in the pouring rain, unpacked in the pouring rain, and rode (you guessed it) in the pouring rain. It was slightly miserable, but not too bad. My legs were not fresh after Wednesday’s ride. I actually felt like crap for about 20 miles. The good news was that I didn’t feel any worse after the next 20. We rode from Giant City to the top of Bald Knob (the highest point in southern Illinois) and back. It was a very hilly 50 miles. Even though the speed wasn’t super-fast, it was still tough.

Friday the sun was shining, but it was cold when we left for the ride. We had some logistical problems and ended up riding in two separate groups after the two groups apparently couldn’t find each other at the predetermined ride start time. No matter, we still had a good ride (again) to the top of Bald Knob and back. After a few detours I ended the day with a (very hilly) 66 miles and a slight sunburn on my exposed left calf below my knee warmer.

Saturday the goal was 100 (very hilly) miles. My legs were toast at the start from the previous three days of riding. I started the ride with a comfortable 18 miles with just Martin. I ended the first 50 tagged on to the back of the fast group, which was too fast for me. I felt like crap and I was 50 miles from my cabin. I made a conscious decision to take it easy and things got better from there. I rode for a while with just Scott. Then we picked up a group who opted for a shorter loop. The last 18 miles I rode with just John S. At 90 miles I felt better than I had 50 miles earlier. That was the biggest surprise of the weekend, that despite never feeling great, I always ended the rides feeling as good as (if not better than) I did at the start. I guess it’s taking me a while to warm up. Anyway, I got an even worse sunburn on Saturday on my left calf below my knee warmer.

The sun be a harsh mistress

The light red line is from Friday, the dark red line is from Saturday.

Saturday night was dinner at Giant City, which was good times as usual.

Sunday morning it was pouring down rain so everyone ended up leaving early rather than do a dangerous set of hill repeats in the pouring rain. It was very good to get home to see Melissa & Will after a few days away. We made the most of the afternoon with a trip to the park.

Shortlist

So there’s a “Photographic Print Competition” next month at Lincoln Square Mall. Both my wife and my father have suggested to me that I enter the competition, and they’re both pretty smart so I better do what they say.

I noticed the competition is sponsored by the Champaign County Camera Club, a club I had never heard of before, but sounded somewhat appealing to me. I checked out their website last Monday, just in time to notice one of their bi-monthly meetings was happening that evening on campus. I decided to go check it out. It was indeed interesting.

One of the odd things I learned at the meeting was the club members are not allowed to enter this competition for some reason. I’m still not exactly clear why this is the case. I mean, Second Wind Running Club puts on races in which club members are encouraged to participate. The same thing happens with events put on by Wild Card Cycling or Prairie Cycle Club.

Anyway, I didn’t join the club yet… and now I’m going to hold off doing so until after the competition. Speaking of which, I put together a shortlist of photos from 2009 I’m thinking about entering. Participants are allowed a maximum of three entries. There are multiple categories into which these photos might fit, most of which are fairly strictly defined:

  1. Architecture
  2. Animals
  3. People
  4. Nature (absolutely nothing human-made)
  5. General
  6. Manipulated (does not interest me)
  7. Youth division (ineligible)

Here are the photos currently at the top of my list:

Dragonflies

Nature, Animals, General

Bzzzzzzzz

Nature, Animals, General

Urbana High School

Architecture, General

Sock monkey

People, General

I’d really appreciate any feedback on which photos people think are the best. I’m sure with this audience any picture of Will will probably get an automatic vote, but try to keep in mind that photo contest judges may not be as interested in Will as many of you.

The Most Adorable Fit I’ve Ever Seen

Last night was the neighborhood holiday party. We dressed Will up in the Santa outfit Uncle Brad gave him. Shortly thereafter he threw a little fit that, in that particular outfit, was rather adorable. I couldn’t help but to preserve the moment.

Anyway the holiday party was a success. Will received a great deal of attention from the mostly-grandparent-aged crowd. We left just a couple of songs into the singalong so we could get Will home to bed, but we were there long enough for everyone to enjoy themselves.

The FOLEPI River Trail Classic

On Saturday morning I ran the FOLEPI River Trail Classic 4-mile race in East Peoria. This is a race that I had run once before (in 2003) and I liked it. This race is quite unique in that it is a point-to-point race which is almost entirely downhill (at railroad grade so it’s not steep at all, just fast Fast FAST). Since we were in Peoria for Thanksgiving I decided to give it another shot.

As Melissa pointed out to me before the race, yes, I am running a marathon next weekend. I’ve done very little speed work this fall, instead focusing on long distance. Still, what’s the worst that could happen?

Rob & Will before the FOLEPI River Trail Classic

Will and Rob pre-race

In my warm-up confusion I somehow caught the very last bus to leave the finish/registration area to head to the start. We arrived after the designated start time, though fortunately they waited. I hurried to the start line just in time to… stand around. After several minutes of waiting with little-to-no instructions a young woman (parade queen?) very softly said “Ready, set, go” at which point, I assume, the race started. I wasn’t really sure. My GPS had turned off during the long wait, so it was just as caught off guard as I was. I eventually got it going about 50 seconds into the race.

Every race has a handful of people who want to start at the very front who really have no business starting at the very front, and this race was no exception. In fact there seemed to be a greater number than usual, as it took me quite a while to pick my way through. I thought this would do well to slow me down, but it didn’t so much. The first mile was completely flat (the only flat part of the course) and I kept reeling in the fast starters. I crossed the 1-mile mark in 5:32. Hey, that’s the fastest mile I’ve run in probably six years. And I still had nearly an entire 5K race left to go.

On the one hand I thought I was probably going too fast. On the other hand I knew the next three miles were all downhill. That would help, but would it be enough? Instead of easing back I pushed on. I reeled in a few more fast starters with a 5:38 second mile. I hadn’t slowed down as much as I expected, but it took a lot out of me.

The third mile was much the same, slowing down a little bit to 5:43. As soon as I crossed the 3-mile mark a couple guys I passed earlier passed me back. Uh-oh. I was slowing down and the trail was starting to flatten out a bit. It was all I could do to not completely crack in the last mile. It wasn’t pretty, but I eked out a 5:51 4th mile. There were a few more runners hot on my heels by the finish, but nobody else passed me.

Rob finishing the FOLEPI River Trail Classic

So, I’m guessing my final time was somewhere in the ballpark of 22:44. Sure, it was mostly downhill, but still not bad for very little speed work. We left for Thanksgiving with my family right after the race ended, and the results haven’t been posted yet, so I don’t know my placing. Melissa and I both estimated somewhere around 15th place or so. In 2003 I ran 22:24 for 6th place, so the competition was much stronger this year. Anyway, I like this race for the sheer novelty of running three miles downhill, if nothing else.

Update: The results have been posted. I finished 15th overall (good estimate) and 2nd in the 30-34 age group.

The Gift of Brownies

Simpsons episode CABF14, Trilogy of Error:
Homer: Oooo! Can I have a brownie?
Marge: They’re for after dinner.
Homer: Oooo! Can I have dinner?

I am a brownie fiend. You all know it. I was fortunate to receive a very unique gift for my birthday a couple weeks ago, a gift certificate to an online gourmet brownie store (Vermont Brownie Company). I ordered a box of their Signature Brownies and a box of Peanut Butter Brownies.

Internet brownies

Oh. My. Goodness. Are they ever delicious.

Bittersweet

The first couple I ate cold, directly from the fridge, and they were good. But then I started to microwave them for 25-30 seconds, which is so much better.

Anyway, I love the brownies. Thanks so much to Michelle, Mark, & Logan!