Archive for April, 2008

End of the Year

It is the end of the academic year, or almost. I have classes tomorrow and my final class on Monday. We have finals for almost two weeks and then graduation on the 18th. It has been a strange year, with some very deep and dark lows and some strange highs. I’ve gone from a sense of despair as I received another rejection for one of my articles and I became convinced I would never have a chance at getting tenure; this despair faded when I unexpectedly found another article a home.

Nevertheless, the tenure game is fraught with uncertainty, and a good sign immediately seems to be undermined by some half-heard, half-perceived slight. I was invited to serve on several high-profile committees, but every academic knows that committee work is a fool’s game, with the same dozen suckers serving on all of them, while those who can sneak away laugh at you for saying “yes” to one more meeting.

On Monday I submitted my letter of intent to apply for promotion and tenure, which means this summer I will assemble my packet by gathering all of my documentation and writing up a full report laying out my case. The whole process is terrifying, and I still have moments when I think there is certainly a chance that any one of the entities viewing my application could reject it.

On the other hand, tonight, our campus hosted a huge awards ceremony put on by the campus life people. I had been nominated for the outstanding faculty award by some students. Although I was nervous about going to the ceremony, where we nominees had to sit through an hour of other awards before they got to the faculty and administrator awards, I was, as the saying goes, very happy just to be nominated. Since the students do the nominating and run the whole selection process, it feels particularly touching; after all, I decided to start teaching because I like the students.

Well, I won.

When the presenter, a retired English prof after whom the award is named, started her introduction of the winner, she was careful to be deliberately vague at first. But then she had to start giving away some identifying details, mentioning that the winner taught Gothic lit classes and poetry. I almost fell out of my chair.

It’s good to win.

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Racing Humiliation

I am seriously considering selling my bike and taking up some hobby where I might actually be any good.  Or a hobby where months of work will yield real results, perhaps building ships in bottles.  I bet if I spent all winter building a ship in a bottle, I would have a ship in a bottle by the end of that time.

The Palmer race was perfect for me and my strengths.  It was long–three laps of about 20 miles each.  The hills were not too bad–I was able to climb all of them fast and in the big ring.  The finishing stretch was perfect for me–a relatively long uphill.

The race began with a neutral start, and I had positioned myself in the very front, so when the racing actually started, I was right there, setting the pace.  I stayed in the lead for five miles or so, and I felt practically invincible, rolling easy, breathing deeply, pushing the pace at 25-26 mph.  Boston Road Club, which had entered 17 guys in the Cat 4 race, sent about five or six to the front of the pack with me, and every few minutes one of them would launch an attack.  At first, I chased, but soon realized that they were trying to soften up the competition with pointless attacks, so I settled in and let the BRC guys drift back on their own.

At about mile 15 I was at the front with a BRC guy and someone from another team.  The course made a hard right after going over a bridge under construction, and the three of us went hard.  I missed a wheel as we were rotating and couldn’t catch back on, so I waited until the hard-charging pack caught up and went to work with them.  As we passed the finish line for the first lap, two more guys jumped hard to bridge to the breakaway, but I was on the wrong side of the pack to jump with them.

The pack soon started to try to reel in the break.  The problem was BRC.  Every time we tried to organize a pace line at the front to pick up the pace, BRC would throw off our rhythm or not pull through.  That was fine, though, since they had someone in the break, and they really shouldn’t attack their own guy.  Nevertheless, we were able to push pretty hard, screaming down the descent in a paceline at 42 mph.

On the long climb not far from the finish, I started to worry.  My calf muscle kept sending me little twinges of pain.  When I stood on the pedals, my hamstrings did the same thing.  To counter this, I took deep swallows from my bottle, and hoped that I could stave off the problem.  As we crossed the finish line for the second time, the pain was becoming more intense and insistent, but I gritted my teeth and tried yoga breathing exercises to loosen up.

A few miles later, I got forced off the road into the sand at the shoulder and skidded sideways.  Although everyone who saw this made horrified noises as they thought I was going to go down, I showed the months of riding on dirt roads paid off and regained the road without a problem.  I was feeling a little too cocky, though, and about ten minutes later, as we started up one of the hills, my calves, my hamstrings, and my quads on both legs locked up with excruciating cramps.  I screamed and tried to stretch out my legs, but I saw the last of the pack slip past me, with the race follow vehicle bringing up the rear.  When the follow vehicle passes you, you are in trouble.

I told myself that I was not going to get screwed out of this race.  It was mine, and I knew I had at least a top ten if not a top five just waiting for me.  I was easily one of the strongest racers there.  I yelled some more and stood on the pedals, ignoring the cramping muscles and forced myself to hammer hard past the follow vehicle.  I had just reached the back of the peloton when my legs started hurting so bad they just stopped working.  No forcing, no screaming, no swearing would make them work.  I drifted to the side of the road, got off my bike and fought tears of utter frustration.  My race was over.

I have had problems with leg muscle cramps before, but this was extremely bad–my legs still hurt today, more than 24 hours after the race.  I have tried everything.  (Please don’t suggest I eat bananas: bananas trigger my migraines.)  I take enough mineral supplements to build a battleship.  I am careful to hydrate properly during the race.  I had dumped some Hammer Endurolytes caps in my bottles.  Nothing seems to work.  I am so frustrated, angry, and humiliated by this–I have been training so hard this year (I have over 1500 miles of training since January), and I am finally racing smart (holding my place in the pack better than ever).  And then, to make it even worse, the guys who sat in the back of the fucking pack the entire race while I’m up front really racing finish in the top ten.  Wheelsucking pack fodder finish in the money, and I get a fucking DNF.  No justice.

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Some Riding Analysis

After my disaster with my high heart rate last weekend, I was worried about my conditioning and general cycling health.  When I went on a ride on Tuesday, I felt fine, and didn’t have any problems, but I wasn’t sure if that meant anything.  Today I decided to be a little more systematic in my assessment, and I think I discovered something useful.

I had a little bit of time this morning before I had to go to campus for hours and hours and hours of events.  I went out for my short 23 mile spin and took the first 35 minutes very easy.  At this point in the ride, the road climbs in three short sections, none of which are very hard, but combined, they provide a nice little challenge.  I pushed a little on the first section and my legs started to whine.  When I checked my heart rate, it was only at 160, so I thought I would have to show my whining, sniveling, crying legs that they really needed to HTFU, so I pushed until my HR hit 175.

By this time, I had crested the hill at a very respectable 25 mph.  The road then drops nicely into a forested area, and I took advantage of my burst of speed by coasting down to this spot in the road where it narrows to one blind lane.  As I negotiated this spot, I checked my HR and saw that it was down to 115.

Later in the ride, I tried the same trick: hammer the hill until the HR hits some big number and then coast down the other side of the hill.  This time, after 40 seconds of coasting, I had dropped from 170 to 95.

So, what does this tell me?  Antibiotics + cough suppressant + high temperatures = bad news for my ticker.  I thought I was in better shape than that stupid Battenkill race indicated, and I knew my recovery time was phenomenal in ordinary circumstances.  Now, if I can just put this into practice for this weekend’s race.

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Battenkill Postmortem

I’ll end the suspense right away:  my race sucked.

It was a stunningly beautiful day, especially for April, with clear blue skies, dry air, and temperatures in the 80s.  The course rolls over some lovely upstate New York farmland, and the race seems to have some real community support, with people setting up chairs on their front lawns to cheer the thousands of racers as the fly past.  The race organizers really knew what they were doing, and everything ran smoothly.  Couldn’t be better, right?

There were so many Cat 4s signed up that they had two separate fields of 140.  My group left first, and we rolled out with a neutralized start.  I had positioned myself fairly near the front of the pack, so I was feeling good about that.  The pack was riding well, although there was a little jostling for position, and I managed to keep my place in the pack much better than I usually do.  I did not let other riders push in front of me or force me back in the pack.  So far, so good.

We hit the first dirt stretch about six miles in.  It started off slightly downhill, and was quite fast.  I picked my lines perfectly and even managed to move up some in the field.  There were a couple of short hills, but they were power hills, perfect for me, and I hammered up them in the big ring.

The pace was fast, and I was beginning to notice something disturbing.  My heart rate, which ordinarily is around 160 at that particular pace, was over 170.  On the descents, when I usually recover very quickly, my heart rate refused to drop.  And then we hit the first killer climb of the day, Juniper Hill, with an 18 percent grade.  The pack disintegrated here and I found myself struggling to hang on, dropping to the back of the middle group.  My heart rate hit 180, which is very near my max, and stayed there for the five minutes it took to climb the hill.  I normally only see 180 in a sprint, and then only for a few seconds.

After the hill there was a long descent, and again my heart rate refused to drop.  Even coasting, it stayed above 167.  Then we hit the next dirt section, and I could see people spread out across the road, most of them walking their bikes.  I tried to pick a line through the walkers, but hit sand about four inches deep and had to get off and walk, something I have never, ever done in a race.  Near the top of the hill, the dirt was again hard packed so I jumped back on the bike and rode off.

The next stretch was five miles of more of less downhill.  Again, my heart rate would not drop, even when I was drafting and coasting.  When we sort of organized a paceline to chase down the groups ahead of us, my heart was again up in the 175 range, which is an all-out effort, deep into zone 4.  We started off with five riders but quickly began catching up with groups ahead of us and soon coalesced into the main pack of about 60, with a break of 20 or so a good distance away.

Things were working well, and I was taking my turn at the front, including a screaming 40mph pull on a slight descent.  Then, at about mile 27 disaster struck.  The course took a turn to the right and then a quick left and started climbing.  I pushed and my legs did not respond.  I stood up and forced myself to get some more speed, but the world started to turn gray.  I moved over to the side of the road, thinking this was not good, and then the next thing I knew I was bouncing off the dirt hillside.

One of the official vehicles stopped to offer assistance, and, after a lot of waiting around, the officials finally decided what to do with me, since I insisted I did not need an ambulance.  One of the course marshals drove me back to the start, and I ended my race in a most shameful manner.

I am not sure what happened.  After the crit last week, I felt very light-headed and had to sit down and put my head between my knees.  I didn’t think much of it, since I have that head rush problem very often (low blood pressure plus being very tall).  The only explanation I can come up with is the medication I have been on for my sinus infection in combination with the extreme exertion and heat just overwhelmed my system.  I am through with the medication now, so I hope I will find my heart rate and fitness getting back to normal.

I have another race next weekend, where I hope to redeem myself.

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Pre-Race Jitters

Tomorrow I’m going to the first big race of the season up north of Albany.  Battenkill-Roubaix is a famous race in the northeast, and this year there will be over 1300 racers.  That’s right–more than 1300.  That’s huge.  For some reason, all of these big, popular races are also notorious for being brutally hard, with killer climbs, or, in the case of Battenkill, miles and miles of unpaved sections.  It’s the unpaved sections that give the race its nickname, in honor of the hellish cobbles that make Paris-Roubaix such an exciting race.  The race has been going on for several years, and features an expo and other good things to draw spectators and amuse the non-racing families while their racers are out getting pummeled on the course.

The course looks difficult.  It is a 55 mile loop with six longish sections of dirt, and most of those dirt sections are also steep hills, I think.  So why an I doing this?

The course is actually a lot like the epic Tuesday rides I went on all winter with my teammates–lots of climbing, some tricky dirt sections, and quite long.  As a matter of fact, this race might even be easier than some of those epics rides.  It will be about 50 degrees warmer and about 20 miles shorter than the toughest of them.

Part of the pre-race jitters is making sure everything is ready to go.  Here is what I have:

  • My bike (obviously) with race wheels (Fulcrum Racing 1) on the bike.
  • Training wheels (Fulcrum Racing 7) in wheel bags for the support truck.
  • Helmet.
  • Team kit (bib shorts, jersey, gloves, socks, hat).
  • Base layer.
  • Embrocation for the legs.
  • Arm warmers (probably won’t need them, I hope).
  • Sunglasses.
  • Shoes (Sidi 5.5–the best shoes ever).
  • Clean up stuff–towel, washcloth, wet wipes, bottle of liquid soap.
  • Flask of Hammer gel (vanilla, because the shop was out of chocolate).
  • Clif Mojo bars (the roasted peanut and the peanut butter pretzel are my favorites).
  • Safety pins (I know the registration tables always have them, but I like to bring my own).
  • Toilet paper (too many times the bathrooms have run out).
  • Heart monitor strap.
  • Water bottles (to be filled in the morning with Accelerade).
  • Racing license and insurance card.

Dorothy is not going, because she is a smart, sane cyclist who sees “55 miles, dirt roads” and realizes right away that participating in such a thing is stupid.  I’m going instead with a couple of guys on my team, because we are all stupid and see “55 miles, dirt roads” and think to ourselves, “Hey, that looks like it would be really cool!”  Because we’re stupid–did I mention that?

It’s going to be really cool.  Race report later this weekend, I hope.

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Link Time

Check out this other blog.  I know the author, if you know what I mean.

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I received this letter in the mail yesterday:

According to our records, you are eligible for tenure consideration during the 2008-2009 Academic Year.  If you wish to be considered for tenure, please submit a letter of intent to the Chairperson of the 2008-2009 Committee on Rank and Tenure…

You know what I will be doing this summer.  I of course knew this was coming and have known for five years, but the official notification still makes me nervous.

In somewhat related news, I was nominated for a major teaching award by the student life division.  It means a lot to me to be nominated because it comes from the students, and this nomination seems to show me that I am doing something right when I stand up in front of the classroom.  I don’t know how much influence this might have with the R&T committee, but I am sure it can’t hurt.

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Sick Puppy

Before I left for school this morning, I noticed that Muttboy was acting strange.  He came into the kitchen as I was preparing to leave, looking for the Milkbone that I always give him before I go out the door.  He was holding his head awkwardly and limping.  When I knelt to see what was wrong, I noticed he had a scared look in his eyes and he was shaking.  I got him calmed down and he seemed to be feeling a little better.

Then, when I got home this evening, Dorothy was sitting next to Muttboy, petting him anxiously.  I knew as soon as I walked in the door that he something was wrong.  I immediately called the vet, and they said to bring him down right away.

He had a little trouble getting into the car, and when we got to the vet, he stumbled walking up the sidewalk.  Once we got inside he kept panting nervously, but was not as interested in seeing the receptionist as he usually is.  The receptionist, who knows Muttboy from other visits, could tell that he was not at all himself.

When we got into an exam room, the vet techs took blood and Muttboy’s temperature.  They seemed to have an idea what was wrong, and they did not appear to be at all anxious, which went a long way to allaying my fears.  Soon the vet came in and said that the blood tests revealed that Muttboy has Lyme and ehrlichiosis, both of which are tick-borne bacterial infections.  Fortunately, both are also easily treatable with a big antibiotic regimen.

Right now Muttboy is resting quietly beside me, having had a shot and a handful of pills wrapped in cheese.  He should be back to normal in a day or so, but he will be taking eight pills a day for six weeks.  It is a huge relief knowing what is wrong and that it is something that can be taken care of with little fuss.  He is a good, sweet dog and I can’t stand the thought of him feeling sick.  Muttboy will certainly be getting a little extra love over the next few weeks.

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Why My Teammates Hate Me

My teammates don’t actually hate me, but they are very puzzled about my training and a little annoyed, I think, that I can race as well as I do despite bad training.  About a month ago, I got back from El Salvador and raced on about three hours of sleep and managed to finish third. They couldn’t believe it.

And then there was today.  After last Sunday’s race, I started to feel weird, as if someone were choking me.  My head felt the way a balloon looks when you squeeze the bottom of it, and my throat kept tingling.  I had a terrible feeling that I knew what this meant, but I gamely ignored it until I woke up around midnight, shaking uncontrollably and sweating miserably.  For the next several days I had a fever, bright red throat, and the desperate hope that I would get better in time to race.  Last night, that hope flew out the window as I coughed my way through about four or five hours of restless sleep.

So today when I lined up for the race, I felt lighter, since I had sneezed or hacked up about fifteen pounds of phlegm (sorry to be so graphic!), but not really in any sort of racing mood.  I gave myself permission to drop out of the race if I felt another coughing fit coming on.

Once the race started, I felt detached and sluggish.  Even so, I stayed near the front most of the time, and when I dropped back I quickly moved back to a smarter spot in the peloton.  Every time we hit the hill, I could feel my lungs tickle threateningly, and my legs lacked any real snap.  Nevertheless, on one of the trips up the hill, I decided to attack.  My brave effort lasted about half a lap before I was caught by the pack.  The other racers know who I am, so they are not likely to let me get away, but I thought this time would be different: they would say, “Oh, he’s sick–he can’t do anything.  Let him go and we’ll find him dead on the side of the road in five minutes.”  No such luck.

When Chris attacked with about four or five laps to go, it just proved my theory.  He hasn’t placed yet, so the pack didn’t try to chase him down right away.  Finally, after a couple of laps, we started to reel him in, but it proved to be too late.  At the bell lap, I kept myself as close to Zack, the series leader, as I could, knowing that he would get a good lead out and I could try to follow.

In the final stretch, it was Chris, still off the front.  After the small gap came Brian, Zack’s lead out guy, with Zack right on his wheel.  Then four other guys and then me.  At the bottom of the hill, Chuck, my teammate, started his sprint, and I grabbed his wheel just long enough to pass two of the guys in front of me.  Then I launched everything I had left and went wide to the right.  I could see Zack ahead of me, hammering for the line, but I was gaining.  Zack looked over his shoulder and saw me gaining.  His face–though this must be fantasy and not a real memory–wore a look of shock and terror as I stomped on the pedals.  At the line I threw my bike in a very poor imitation of my old hero Davis Phinney, but it was not enough.  Zack still beat me by half a wheel.  Nevertheless, it was good enough for third place.

After the race, Justin, one of my teammates, shook his head.  “I’m still trying to figure out your secret,” he said.  “You race better when you’re sick and you don’t train?  Maybe I need to get sick!”

I don’t recommend it as a training strategy, but it seems to be working for me.

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