or as Marge Simpson would say, foilage.
Surely I can’t be the only one who’s horribly offended by this ad campaign for Sherwin Williams paint. “Cover the Earth”. With paint. Really?
When I first saw this a few years ago I thought to myself, “Somebody’s going to get fired for that…”. I assumed it would be quickly retracted and a public apolgy would be issued. Nope, they’re still pushing on with it.
I went out in the pitch black dark with my camera & tripod to take some photos. As it was completely dark, I wasn’t always entirely sure what would be in the photos. I had to play around with the camera settings to get A) something to show up at all, and B) to get the content in focus.
I travelled to Portland, OR this past weekend to participate in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship race. The Olympic distance triathlon (1500 meter swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run) took place at Hagg Lake, just southwest of Portland. The race venue was absolutely gorgeous. Even after this, my third visit to the Pacific northwest, I am still in awe of the region’s beauty.
I arrived in the early afternoon on Friday, the day before the race. I had to pick up my race packet and check in my bike before 7 pm. My flights, car rental, and hotel arrangements all went off without a hitch. As I drove on part of the bike course on the way to the race venue my initial feeling of awe and wonderment for the beauty of nature around me slowly turned into a feeling of uneasiness as I saw how hilly the race would be. I live in central Illinois, quite possibly the flattest place on Earth. I trained long and hard for this race, but I simply didn’t have access to this type of terrain. History has shown that I’m surprisingly good at riding uphill for a flatlander, but would I be good enough?
I picked up my packet and was quite pleased with the swag, both in terms of quantity and in terms of quality. Many races typically hand out some crappy 100% cotton t-shirt and a few small trials of some company’s products. This packet had two high quality technical shirts, a nice hat, a nice towel, good race shoelaces, a poster, and (after the race) a nice jacket. I swear half of the Portland airport was wearing that jacket the next day.
I unpacked and assembled my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket (including aerobars and Speedplay pedals) before taking it out for an easy spin on the 20 km loop around the lake. I was eager to see exactly how difficult the course was going to be. Did I mention it was really hilly? At this point I was glad I chose to bring a bike with drop bars rather than my TT bike with bullhorns. I knew I would spend a lot of time with my hands on the brake hoods while going uphill, and a lot of time with my hands in the drops going downhill.
After the ride I checked my bike into the transition area with all the other (bigger wheeled) bikes. As I was walking in a complete stranger wanted to take a picture of me with my “cool” bike. This was just the beginning. I must have talked to at least 20 different people at the race about the Pocket Rocket. There was a lot of fascination with it. Even during the race several people made comments. As I was passing a woman uphill I heard “Oh wow, that’s cool!” Or as some dude blew by me downhill he’d look over and say “Nice bike, man!” Now imagine how that sounds with a Doppler Shift.
It was a long day of travel and race preparation. Back at the hotel I loaded all my race gear into my backpack while watching my favorite pre-race movie, American Flyers (once you get past the cheesy 80’s veneer it is a really great movie).
I woke up at 4:15 am the next morning and headed back out to Hagg Lake. Of course, it was completely dark at this point. The 1200 race participants and spectators all had to park in a grass field outside the park boundaries because the roads were all closed for the race. They had school buses hauling everyone from the parking lot to the transition area. I arrived with plenty of time before the race started so I was able to properly prepare everything. It was a nice change from being been way too rushed in all my previous triathlons this year.
The air was cool, in the low 60˚s. The water was slightly warmer, but it sure didn’t feel that way. It was no San Francisco Bay, but it was no temperature controlled swimming pool either. Swim waves started every four minutes. My 30-34 age group was the 10th or so wave. 44 of us lined up in the water next to the dock and before I had time to take it all in the starting horn sounded and I was swimming like crazy. Fortunately, it wasn’t very crowded, so I wasn’t getting kicked or elbowed (or hit with a stick).
The group split up pretty quickly. About 2/3 of the pack pulled away from me, while the remaining 1/3 fell behind me. I spent most of the swim by myself in between these two packs. About halfway through I found another guy and tried to swim with him for a little while. I was swimming hard, but well within myself. I’ve been doing a lot more swim training recently, so I felt more comfortable in the water. I knew I was going to improve on my time of 28:10 from the Evergreen Tri, but I didn’t know by how much. I checked my watch as soon as I exited the water and I saw 25 something something (officially 25:17), which was about as good as I could have hoped.
Next I had two challenges almost as daunting as the swim. No, not biking & running (not yet, at least). I needed to get out of my wetsuit and run up a long hill to the transition area. You see, I’ve only worn my wetsuit in one other race in the past five years and it didn’t quite work out the way I planned. I had a really difficult time taking it off and I lost probably 45 seconds just fighting the neoprene cocoon. I practiced two or three times at the pool recently, and steadily improved. Luckily, I had no problems getting it off during the race.
I ran up the hill, perhaps faster than I should have. By the time I mounted my bike after the first transition I looked at my watch and noticed my heart rate was 180, which was a bad sign. I feared this would be a repeat of the Dairyland Tri (Racine, WI) in 2003. In that race my heart rate started too high on the bike, I never recovered, and I had a terrible run. So I intentionally started the bike a little slowly to allow my heart rate to drop. The whole first lap was a bit of a struggle for me. Five miles into the bike I reached the big hill. I ascended at 8 mph. 8. miles. per. hour. And as slowly as I was going, I was actually passing people.
By the end of the first bike loop (of two) I was feeling much stronger so I was able to pick up the pace a little on my second loop. I ascended the big hill at a whopping 9.5 mph the second time, again passing people. I got into the habit of passing many people on the uphill sections and then getting passed by a few of those same people on the downhill sections. And I wasn’t going slowly on the downhills (max speed 38.6 mph).
I finished the bike in 1:08:38, somehow managing to average 21.7 mph on a very difficult course. Again, it was really as good as I could have hoped. The Pocket Rocket performed amazingly well.
My second transition should have been super fast, but it was almost a complete catastrophe. I ran down the wrong row and became slightly disoriented when I couldn’t find my transition area. I ended up wasting close to a minute. My slow transitions were the one aspect of this race that clearly needed improvement.
Heading out on the run there was a short, steep hill. Then another. Then a longer hill. Etc. The run course was hilly as well, and again, I don’t train on hills. Like the bike, I started out a little slowly. I could tell right away that I felt better at the beginning of this run that I did at Evergreen Tri, but the hills were going to be challenging. Still I was able to slowly ramp up the pace to run negative splits. My first mile was around 7:00. Next was 6:55, then 6:58, 6:47. I really picked it up and ran the fifth mile in 6:20 and finished very strong. My run split was 42:24… faster than at Evergreen Tri (which was completely flat). Again, it was the best I could have hoped to do.
My final time was 2:20:34. I finished 28th place out of 44 in the 30-34 age group. My time was 20 seconds faster than it was for the same distances at Evergreen, but this course was much harder and it had longer swim->bike transition. Individually, compared to Evergreen, my swim was 3 minutes faster, my bike was 1 minute slower, and my run was 30 seconds faster. All things considered, I had a great race.
About 20 minutes later my friend Martin (who started later than me) crossed the finish line. We’re generally a pretty good match for each other, but he said he had a bit of an off day. He had some troubles breathing on the bike & run and that slowed him down a little bit. He finished in 2:23:41. His swim was 6 minutes slower than mine (ouch!), his bike was 5 minutes faster, and his run was 3 minutes slower.
Competing in the Age Group National Championships was a fantastic experience. And now that I know there’s an Age Group World Championship race… I guess I’ll need to figure out how to drop 13 minutes off my time in order to qualify for it :)
This morning five Wild Card Cycling members headed up to the Chicago suburbs for the Blue Island ProAm criterium. We did the Cat 4/5 race, which was 25 laps on a 1 mile circuit. This is kind of long for a criterium, so the speed wasn’t insanely fast the entire time. The course only had 4 corners (as opposed to 8 at Proctor), which was good for me because I suck at high speed cornering.
Since Melissa did such a good job taking photos (and ringing the cow bell), this entry will be largely pictorial.
I stayed to the outside for the first 6-8 laps, taking all the turns very wide. I tried to stay relatively close to Luke, who is far more experienced than I. The pace increased and decreased repeatedly, causing a few riders (but not many) to drop off early. Eventually, I got stuck on the inside for one of the turns. As it turned out (despite my fear of this scenario) it wasn’t bad at all. The turns were nice and wide and I realized the shorter distance on the inside actually took significantly less work. After a few more practice runs on the inside I changed my strategy to favor the inside on the corners.
Tom & Mark were very active near the front of the group. Tom frequently tried to break away with a few other random riders, but the lead group didn’t let him get too far ahead. Next, Mark would go, then Tom again, etc. We worked pretty well together as a team. Whenever one of us would be in a breakaway the others took turns chasing down other attacks.
About 12 miles into the race Tom made a big move off the front with 1 other rider and they built up a pretty good lead. Tom’s attack caused a split in the group. About half of the field fell behind the lead group at that point. Luke, Dan, & I were all caught in the second group. Luke & I immediately surged to bridge up to the front group, but Dan didn’t quite make it.
Tom & the other guy stayed away for a long time. They were partially aided by Mark & Luke, who moved to the front of the chase group and slowed down the pace. Eventually, Tom’s breakaway partner fell off the pace and came back to the chase group, so Tom was all by himself as we were getting close to the finish.
A little less than 2 miles to go and the chasers caught up with Tom. Luke attacked as soon as Tom came back to our group, but he didn’t get very far. The group caught him with 1 mile to go. At this point somebody needed to try something. I didn’t have much left, but I thought what the hell and jumped off the front as they rang the bell (indicating 1 lap to go). About a quarter mile later my heart rate was 190 and I had nothing left. The group pulled me back and it was all I could do to keep up with them until the finish.
Tom & Mark both stayed pretty close to the front on the last lap, while Luke was near the middle, and I was at the back. Tom & Mark both started the final sprint in good positions and placed pretty well at 2nd & 3rd. Luke started to sprint, but had a mechanical problem and coasted across the finish line just ahead of me near the back of the group. We were 11th & 12th. Dan finished a short while later in 20th place with the next chasing group.
As luck would have it, the race had awards 12 places deep, so I ended up winning a small cash prize (and by cash I mean a $20 check).
Our team had a pretty successful race. I think this was Tom’s 5th podium finish of the season, and Mark’s 1st. This was also an interesting race in that it was:
- the first criterium where nobody crashed immediately in front of me (though I am told there was a crash behind me…). Apparently Eric the bike destroyer wasn’t there :)
- the first criterium where I finished with the lead group (mostly due to being caught behind crashes in all previous crits)
- the first bike race where I actually won a cash prize
What a day. First we headed over to the Freedom 5K at the Assembly Hall. This race is huge and neither of us had ever done it before. Since we ran over there we didn’t have any place to put our race t-shirts, so we stuck them in a bush and picked them up after the race. It started at 11 am, rather late for a summer running event. The temperature was much cooler than usual for this race (though it was still hot for running, in my opinion) so there was a rather large turnout (by far the largest I’ve seen for a Champaign-Urbana race).
I started out a little fast, but not ridiculous. We ran down the fresh asphalt of Kirby/Florida before turning north on Lincoln. There were lots of spectators on Lincoln. They weren’t necessarily there to see the race, but rather to reserve the best locations to watch the 4th of July parade that would be starting in a couple hours. Almost two miles into the race we passed a popcorn stand, the smell of which kind of made me want to hork. By the time we turned back onto Florida and crossed over into Champaign again the smell of the fresh asphalt was really getting to me. This was the third mile of a 5k and my heart rate hit 193 (the highest it’s been in years). Fortunately, the end was in site.
I finished in 17:46. In most other area races this would be good enough for a placing somewhere in the 3-5 range, but in this huge race (with lots of good high school aged competitors) it was good enough for 23rd. I’m a little skeptical the race was actually 5k. A couple mile markers were definitely in the wrong place and my GPS indicated the course might be a little short.
Melissa had a good run as well, finishing in her fastest time ever for a 5k. I stuck around for a while after the race to pick up medals for both us, each placing 3rd in our respective age groups. Unfortunately, I passed most of the time waiting for the awards ceremony by standing in the sun and now I have a painful tank-top shaped sunburn on my back and shoulders to show for it.
After the race we ran home, showered, ate, then hopped on Big Red to ride the couple blocks over to the parade. Champaign County Bikes was again part of the parade so we found the other bicyclists and joined them riding in the parade. We covered the 2 mile route at very slow speed, seeing lots of friendly faces (including a few we recognized) along the way.
Our tandem (Big Red) was one of the crowd favorites, but there were a few other neat bikes which the crowd liked even better. In particular, the tandem-recumbent-one-rider-rides-backwards bike and the custom-welded-double-tall bike received the lion’s share of attention. It was a good time.
After the parade we walked a few houses down the street to a neighborhood block party/cookout. Our neighbors are all very friendly, and generally much older than us. It was kind of funny when one of them mentioned how nice it was to have people under age 50 at the party. Again, a good time was had by all.
Finally, we got Big Red back out and headed over to Parkland to watch the fireworks. They used to be held within walking distance at Memorial Stadium, but since the stadium is under construction they moved them across town to Parkland. It was a long haul, but the roads were relatively traffic free (I think most people arrived early).
The fireworks were pretty good. We sat on a little blanket in the grass. Afterward we had a long ride home. We avoided most of the traffic by sticking to side streets. We arrived home late. It was a long, exhausting, fun day. It’s a good thing we got to sleep in until 5 am this morning.
While in San Francisco a couple weeks ago I spent one afternoon riding Mt. Tamalpais. Mt. Tam is probably the closest mountain to San Francisco, located about 20 miles north of the city in Marin County. This was the fourth time I’ve ridden it and it holds a special place in my heart as the first mountain I ever rode on a bicycle.
I started in downtown San Francisco and made my way out of the city, over the Golden Gate Bridge (which I rode 5 times during the trip). It was so foggy that day I literally couldn’t even see the bridge until I was on it. As I was approaching the bridge I passed two tourists on rental bikes intently studying a map, looking around, and pointing different directions. As I passed I called out to them, “Are you looking for the bridge?” They replied, “Yes.” I responded, “It’s this way.” I have been there several times before, but no matter where I travel I always seem to be the one who gives directions to other tourists, despite the fact that I don’t actually live in these places.
Once over the bridge there is a nice little descent into Sausalito. There are a lot of bikes in this area as well. One of the popular routes for tourists on rental bikes is to cross the bridge to Sausalito, then take a ferry back to San Francisco rather than ride back (it’s a little hillier than the average tourist can handle). The route to Mt. Tam follows the bay for a few miles before shooting inland.
Mt. Tam is a little over 2500 ft high. The main climb is 10 miles long and averages around 5% gradient (though this includes a few downhill sections, it’s mostly steeper than that). It starts on a very curvy section California Highway 1 at Tamalpais Valley Junction, just slightly above sea level. These first two miles can have a fair amount of traffic, depending on the time of day. Fortunately, this road is also heavily travelled by bicycles, so nearly all the cars behave sensibly when they encounter a bike. There wasn’t a whole lot of traffic on the afternoon I chose.
After turning off California Highway 1, there really wasn’t much traffic for the remaining 8 miles. Once I reached about 1200 ft of elevation I broke through the fog & clouds and it was perfectly clear and sunny. In fact, once I got to about 1600 ft the sun was absolutely blistering. I was sweating profusely and going through water like it was… er, water. I even got sunburned. This was not what I was expecting when I left town, given I could only see a couple blocks ahead of me.
I had been looking forward to this ride literally for months, so you can imagine how I was feeling when halfway up I entered Mt. Tam State Park and saw this:
I was pretty devastated. I stopped riding and walked across the road to the ranger station. I found a map and started to plan the remainder of my ride (I still had a few hours to kill). Maybe I wouldn’t get to ride all the way to the top, but I would still try to find somewhere interesting to go. As I was standing there I overheard a couple of hikers chatting with the ranger. The ranger was telling them it was okay for them to go hiking up on the mountain. Hmmm. After they left I walked over to the ranger and asked about biking. I was delighted to hear that the road was only closed to automobiles, and bikes were quite welcome to continue up the road. So I can just walk around the gate and keep riding? Apparently.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because there was no auto traffic on the road for the last half of the ride. I was basically all by myself (well, there were some horseflies).
Mt. Tam has three peaks (west, middle, east). The east peak is the highest, though the road doesn’t go all the way to the top. The west peak is slightly lower, but the elevation of the road is the highest there (a little over 2500 ft). The two steepest and hardest sections of the entire ride are right as you reach the east peak and right as you reach the west peak. Go figure.
At the top I filled my water bottles and ate a couple Clif Bars. There was a soda machine which appeared to have cold lemonade for $1, which sounded perfect. I reached for my wallet only to discover a lone $20 bill. Damn. I made due with water.
Now the hard work was over, it was time to coast for 40 minutes (okay, there were a few small uphill sections on the descent). The first 8 miles of descent were traffic free. About a quarter mile after turning onto Highway 1 I caught up with a car (yes, I was going significantly faster than the cars downhill) and had to follow it the remainder of the way down (there was no room to pass). I broke my $20 bill for a bottle of Gatorade at a gas station at the bottom of the descent. Then I made my way back to the city.
What a great ride. The best part was seeing how well my little Pocket Rocket held up. Not only was it great at climbing, it handled amazingly well at around 40 mph on the descent. It truly is a no compromises travel bike.
I got one last view of Mt. Tam as I was flying out of the San Francisco airport. If you follow the wing all the way to the end, then look up you can see Mt. Tam.
|Date:||2008-06-13 1:24 PM PDT|
|Road Elevation:||2492 feet|
|Climb Distance:||10.0 miles|
|Climb Ascent:||2492 feet|
|Climb Average Grade:||4.7%|
|Climb Maximum Grade:||20%|
|Ride Distance:||49.5 miles|
|Ride Total Ascent:||5685 feet|
|Ride Maximum Speed:||37.4 miles/hour|
|Ride Start:||San Francisco, CA (0 feet)|
|Ride End:||San Francisco, CA (0 feet)|
We made it to Madison, picked up Melissa’s race packet, checked into the hotel, and ate dinner at the Olive Garden. Soon we will complete the pre-marathon ritual by watching American Flyers then go to bed. The marathon starts tomorrow morning at 7:10 am CDT. I will attempt to post updates of her progress either on this site (http://rob.ragfield.com) or on Twitter (http://twitter.com/ragfield).
If possible I will try to post some photos as well, but that will be a little more difficult. The problem is that I’ll be blogging from my phone, but there’s not a good way to get photos from my camera onto my phone (yes, my phone has a camera, but it sucks). I have all the hardware necessary to transfer the photos using two different methods, but neither method has the necessary software to work correctly. I have an iPod camera connector, which will download photos directly from a camera to an iPod, but this connector is not software compatible with the iPhone. Additionally, I have an Eye-Fi memory card for the camera that can automatically upload photos, but only to the internet (not to other WiFi enabled devices like my iPhone). I would surely love an easier way to transfer the photos.
Anyway, check back tomorrow morning and prepare to hit the refresh button in your browser.