August 15, 2016

Race Report: BBC vs BTC Time Trial 2016

Last week I was proud to bring my team victory in the 2016 BBC vs BTC Time Trial.

Let me explain. The BBC, in this case, is the Buffalo Bicycling Club. The BTC is the Buffalo Triathlon Club. Every year they have a club-vs-club time trial, with the proceeds going to charity. The trophy goes to the winning club to hold until the next year.

I should probably explain what a time trial is, too. It's one of the disciplines of cycling. Most road races are "mass start" with the cyclists forming into a bunch ("peleton") for aerodynamic reasons. The less common road race is a "time trial" where racers start one at a time, with a standard time gap between each one. (Perhaps 30 seconds, perhaps 5 minutes, it depends on the race.) In a time trial, riders are forbidden from cooperating– you can't ride along in the slipstream of another rider. If you catch up to someone that started before you, you pass them and keep going.

Anyway, as noted, this time trial is between a bicycling club and a triathlon club. The former have the advantage, because they are specialists, while triathletes split their training time three ways. But the BTC has more members. So this race has an interesting scoring system. First, we're divided into six categories:

  1. Masters Men (age 50+)
  2. Masters Women (age 50+)
  3. Open Men
  4. Open Women
  5. Cannibal Men
  6. Cannibal Women.
For each class, the fastest finisher gets 25 points for his club. The next gets 24, then 23, etc. Everyone gets one point, for finishers below 25th place. That means there's an incentive for each club to bring as many riders as they can; the slowest guy there doesn't hurt his team, rather he gives it at least one point.

I was in the male cannibal class. Because I like to eat long pork.

I kid! Yes, I am an evil person, but it actually refers to the bike you are riding. Open class is for people with time-trial specific bikes. Such bikes have disc wheels, wind-tunnel-tested aerodynamic frames made from carbon fiber, and the handlebars have forearm rests so the rider can get down into a low-profile tuck. The cannibal class is for people not using such bikes. It's a fairness thing, because aero bikes are very expensive and not everyone has one. Such bikes aren't allowed at all in mass-start races, because the aero tuck position reduces maneuverability and that leads to crashes in races where riders are bunched up.

(Why "cannibal class" you may be wondering? Is it because those of us that can't afford to drop $5k on a bike are savages? No, it's a reference to the greatest cyclist of all time, Eddie "The Cannibal" Merckx. He retired from cycling just as aerodynamic bikes were being developed, so the previous kind are nicknamed in his honor.)

Enough backstory, this is a race! I didn't get to the event site until registration had been going on for a while, so I was racer number 57. The organizers were starting people at 60 seconds gaps, so even once the race started, I had lots of time to chitchat. Eventually I got to the front of the line, the marshal counted me down, and off I went! The course was a simple out and back, starting into the wind and uphill. Which sucked, of course. By the time I left the sun was already setting, but the course is largely north-south so it was never in my eyes.

I'm not a time trial kind of guy. I've done a triathlon, but then I was already exhausted when I got to the bike segment. Here it was just me and the road. The key is to dig deep but not overdo it, of course. So I kept an eye on my heart rate monitor. I tried to keep my HR between Zone 4.4 and Zone 4.8.  Heart rate zones are themselves a whole rabbit hole of research, so suffice it to say that Zone 4 is 80%-90% of your calculated max heart rate and is "hard aerobic", while Zone 5 is 90%-100% of max heart rate and is "anaerobic". In short, I was trying to keep it to the point where I felt like I was going to die, without actually dying. Looking at my race data, my HR peaked at 178 bpm and averaged (once I was warmed up) about 164.

It hurt. Boy did it hurt. I covered about 13 miles in about 45 minutes. Both in terms of time and distance, that's a short ride for me. But at the end I could barely walk, my butt was so sore, because I never stopped peddling to stand up and stretch.

I'm proud to say I beat the oldest person there, a 84-year old. You might not be very impressed by my beating an octogenarian, but that dude went to the Olympics for cycling. He also was a repeat US national champion. He may be twice my age, but I fear the old lion more than the young.

How did I do? Well, I won the event for the BTC! That is, I finished dead last in my category. But I earned one point for the BTC. And the final team scores were BBC 503, BTC 503. A tie! I'm dead serious. The tiebreaker was the number of riders for each club, so BTC has claimed the trophy for the first time in several years. And it is no exaggeration to say that if I hadn't raced, my team would have lost.

Hooray! Now I just want to be significantly faster next year. I'm creeping towards the Master's category myself, so I'd like to prove something to myself before I get there.

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August 12, 2016

Badminton Is a Serious Sport, People

I quite enjoyed taking two university PE classes in badminton. Americans know it from messing about in backyards, but there's a reason it's a serious Olympic sport.

Anyway, here's a video from my favorite TV show. I especially liked the QA testing at the end.

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July 26, 2016

Ah Yeah, That's the Stuff

Today was my first day back at work after two weeks of vacation. At 3 PM my boss called me and said "Welcome back. Audit is all over us about [a program I run]. I'll send you all the emails. There's a conference call to get us back on track tomorrow at 2 PM. Expect to do most of the talking."

OK, I exaggerated slightly… my boss didn't say the first two words of the quote.

That said, for the last year of my Marine career I was the guy giving the audits, so I know how these things work. I expect I've got this. At least I expect I've got it well enough that I don't need to polish up the ole' resume quite yet.

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July 14, 2016

Ride for Roswell 2016

The Roswell Park Cancer Institute has an annual charity bike ride to raise funds. This year 7000+ people participated, raising $4.5 million.

All the riders aren't in a single pack- you sign up for your choice of routes, from a 3-mile family easy ride, to a 100-mile 'century' for the hard-core. This year my wife and I chose the 30 mile route, which is the most popular. It's so popular that there are two start times. We picked the early start so my wife could head off to her favorite strawberry festival, which is scheduled for the same day every year.

Sadly, one of us hit the snooze button the morning of the ride. I'm not going to say who, just that it's the guy that was up late prepping the bikes. We're not here to cast blame. I'm sure that the sleepy gentleman had a series of other excuses reasons too.


We did arrive in time to start with the 45-mile pack. I just made a point of standing next to my bike in such a way as to conceal the sticker identifying which route we were going on. Really though, no one cared. We took off with the 45-milers, and then when the two paths diverged after five or so miles, my wife and I took a left while the hundreds of other bikers around us took a right.

Being late turned out to be a genius decision. Instead of being stuck in the middle of a horde, we were free to gambol along at my wife's preferred pace. (About 1 mph faster than last time, despite us not getting in much bike time in spring.) The route was clearly marked, and the aid stations were still open because the second wave of the 30 mile route (the "late start") was going to come along in another hour and a half.

A few of their fastest riders managed to catch us just before the end, because it was hot. It wasn't so bad when we started at 7:30 AM, but by 9 it was in the mid-80s and humid. We were the last people to complete the 30 mile route, because in light of the rising heat index, the later wave of people doing the 30 mile course were all diverted to a shorter route.

So to summarize, we had a hot morning of riding along with a few thousand random strangers, and also raised some money to support our local cancer treatment and research center.

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June 27, 2016

Race Report: Corporate Challenge 2016

I should talk about my half-marathon sometime! But last week I ran a shorter race, so that's an easier report.

The JP Morgan Chance Corporate Challenge is a strange sort of race. It's 3.5 miles long, which is strange because it's just a wee bit more than the extremely popular 5k distance (which is 3.1 miles). It's a team event, sort of, in that the team you are running for is generally your employer. Due to cultural conditioning, I think it perfectly normal to race for the glory of my nation or my military unit, but racing for a company makes me think about cyberpunk novels. It's a charity event, but my company paid the substantial entry fee for any employee that wanted to join; I just had to cough up $10 for the post-race food and drink that would be served in our team (i.e. company) tent.

The race was scheduled at a super convenient time for me, on a weekday evening. The day before, I collected my team t-shirt while at work. Banks are boring, so our shirts were just a solid color with the company logo. Other companies are much more creative, and in past years there has even been a contest for best design. (Funny shirts this year included an avionics company with a Star Wars scrawl, a pathology lab with the slogan "We can dish it out!" and a picture of a petri dish, a computer company with the slogan "Fast servers, slow runners!", and the boilermakers union local with the slogan "Huffing and puffing is our specialty!")

Parking was several miles away from the event, in a university's parking lot. We all queued up for shuttle buses to get to the actual event site. It's strange to be an adult on a school bus– everything seems out of scale, like the bus has somehow shrunk. Anyway, the bus delivered me to the city park where the race would be, and then I had to find my company's tent so I could sign in and drop off my bag of stuff. (I use an old USMC helmet bag, it's a perfect small gym bag.) I had printed out a little map with our tent's location circled, but the legend was cut off so I couldn't tell what the other tents were. That is, I could see that I was standing next to the GM tent, but the map only labeled tents as "A1" "D23" and so forth, and my map didn't have a way of connecting the label to the name. But a little bit or orienteering led me to believe that our tent was on the west end of the encampment, and I can tell the direction by the setting sun, so I set off confidently. It was 40 minutes until the starting gun airhorn, there was no rush.

When I got to an edge of the encampment, I discovered that I had made an error. Because the map didn't have a compass arrow, I assumed that it had the default orientation for maps in Western cultures, with north to the top. Not so! The top of the map was south. I'd spent ten minutes walking the wrong direction, and now had to spend twenty minutes walking to get to the right place. I got there, signed in, and the PA system was already calling people to the starting chute.

I ended up jogging to the chute, which I suppose was good in that it warmed me up. It was bad, though, in that even though it was evening, the temperature was still in the low 80s. I had planned on drinking water in the tent before heading to the start, but I hadn't had the time to tank up. I was dehydrated before we had even started. The starting queue was packed to overflowing, with in excess of 14,000 people. The announcers were trying to get runners to the front and walkers to the back, but most people were just kind of milling about. (There was a separate group of elite runners in the very front, but I'm not fast enough to qualify with them.) I was forced to join the pack at the very rear.

The race director gave a short speech, the mayor made a not-as-short speech, someone sang the national anthem quite credibly, and we were off! Well, the front of the queue was off. There were about 12,000 people in front of me. I stood in place for, no joke, 15 minutes. Then we started forward at a slow walk. I was already very thirsty. Someone had discarded a plastic water bottle just on the outside of the chute's fences. It had a few ounces of water left in it. Sweet, transparent, life-giving water… I pushed to the edge of the pack and stretched out over the fence to grab it. Ahh, it was so good. Thank you, found water! I chugged the couple of ounces that were left and tossed the now-empty bottle. I was ready to do this. After five more minutes of walking, I finally made it to the start line. Like all modern road races, everyone was wearing a race number with a RFID chip, so official results are "chip times" and thus it doesn't matter how long it takes to get to the actual starting line. I stepped over the starting mat and beat feet.

Annoyingly, I was trapped among thousands of walkers. I spent the first mile and a half trying to get past people just strolling along. (Sure, I was faster than them, but some of them had crossed the start line twenty minutes before me). I wasn't the only runner stuck in the back of the pack, and eventually the runners migrated to the sidewalk and let the walkers control the street. That was far from ideal, though, in that the sidewalk was too narrow so we were passing each other by running on the grass. Plus, sidewalks are uneven, especially in Buffalo. The road surface was lovely and smooth, but it was taken by the lumbering hordes that didn't realize this was supposed to be a race.

The race itself was through the city's finest park, then along our gorgeous old main cemetery, and then there was a segment on the city's Millionaire's Row. The half-way turnaround was a loop around a gorgeous public fountain, and by then I was largely free of walkers. Except for some people that had run as far as they could and had slowed to a walk. Those folks I didn't mind, though. We had two water stops, which is generous for a race this short, but then it was a really hot day. I chugged a cup of water at each one. I wish I could say I didn't break stride, but walkers had crowded around each stop, so I had to stop running to wedge my way up to grab a cup.

The final stretch was a real bear, because in the Marines I trained for the 3 mile PFT run, and subsequently I've worked on the 5k run, so when I hit the 3.1 mile mark my body expected to be finishing. But there was still .4 miles to go! I dug deep, dodged slowpokes, and suddenly I was in the finishing chute, the fenced-in section leading to the actual finishing line with the finishing mat that would record my time. I had enough gas for a sprint, so I kicked hard and doubled my pace. The line was coming up… forty yards… thirty yards… twenty yards… and then a middle-aged woman directly in front of me suddenly stopped running, pulled out a cell phone, and was apparently trying to take a selfie. Before she crossed the line.

I didn't have time for that nonsense. It was a race, and because the finish mat isn't that wide, we were all bunched together. There was now room to the right or left, and that dummy had stopped right in front of me. So I ran her down. I angled my shoulder into her back, plowed her aside, and drove to the line. I wish there had been a finishing line camera, because I would have loved to see her face. I hope she learned something. Something like "Don't stop for a selfie while still in traffic."

Victorious, I grabbed a fresh bottle of water, a banana, and meandered to my tent. Awkwardly, I didn't know anyone there. Only one other person from my department had signed up, and for some reason she didn't make it to the race. My office is way off in the edge of the building, and we eat at our desks, so I don't really know anyone else. I ate a chicken sandwich, grabbed a cookie, and walked back to the shuttle bus that would take me to my car, and left.

What can I say? I had a great time. I fully intend to do it again next year. I'll just make sure I get started further towards the front of the queue.

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June 17, 2016

Acting Masterclass

Sadly, the video title kind of gives the joke away...

'To be or not to be_' featuring Benedict Cumberbatch & Prince Charles - Shakespeare Live! - BBC from Mai Martin on Vimeo.

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June 02, 2016

Say Uncle!

My niece counter has incremented. Little Diana was born yesterday via c-section, after a very long labor. Baby and parents are healthy.

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May 26, 2016

Hot Hot Hot

Heh, last post was about signing up for a half-marathon. Well guess what, the race is in two days.

Remember my first triathlon, last year? The weather turned very cold just a few days before the race. I had trouble with hypothermia and did not do very well.

The good news for the half-marathon is that hypothermia is off the table, because the weather turned very hot with just a few days to go. I've been training in weather that's been up to the mid-70s. Now suddenly it's in the high eighties and very humid. Plus there's going to be an air quality warning for the race. This is going to be awesome, I can feel it. The race organizers are already sending out emails warning people to take it easy out there.

But go for it, I say! PR or DNF!


(PR=Personal Record. DNF=Did Not Finish.)

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March 07, 2016

The Old Ticker

I went for a run today, and also signed up for my first half-marathon, which will take place in a couple of months. I've got some work to do on my running.

But also today, I found out that a brother-in-law went to the hospital for a cardiac catheterization, and they decided to put in a stent then and there. Obviously they didn't like what the catheterization revealed.

This is a good reminder to me about keeping up my fitness. I work an office job with long hours, which has caused me to gain weight. Just the other day I saw some photos of my father at my age, and he's about one inch shorter and probably thirty pounds lighter. He sure wasn't jogging. So not just running, I need to work on my eating too.

But circling back to the cardiac stent, we live in an age of miracles. Doctors analyzed the function of the beating heart, and performed some plumbing repairs. How awesome is that? Awesome in the modern sense, but also in the older sense, in that I am filled with awe.

Anyway, BIL, get well soon. And I'd better get fit, or I'm going to get embarrassed at the half-marathon.

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February 15, 2016

One Never Can Tell

After a winter of unprecedented warmth, tonight we're getting our second major snowstorm of February. Perhaps it's karma, perhaps it's regression to the mean.

But most likely, it's that the warm December and January meant the lake never froze, so when cold finally did arrive, the lake effect snow machine was rarin' to go.

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