(typical scene during my rides from November to March)
There have been a few happenings in SOC land this past month, mostly race-related (who wants to hear how busy it's been at work with all the gun control stuff? Nah, me either...)
But speaking of work, just briefly - and as it relates to this here blog - Mrs. SOC is now working all full timey and whatnot up at the Asylum state legislature with me. Well, we're at least in the same building - different chamber (Senate vs. House), different floor, etc. But at least we get to commute together. It's been about 10 years since she's worked full time outside the house (she'd been working at home/telecommuting) and that takes just a little adjusting to. We discovered with her working just about the same crazy hours I do that we usually need both weekend days to get caught up on all the around-the-house stuff. That's bad news and good news: Bad news is that she's not able to make it to races much & the lack of pics and videos diminishes the reasons y'all may want to check in - and my motivation for writing. Good news though is that, despite the crazy schedule, she still wants me to race. Which is very cool.
As has been the case the past few years, my racing season actually starts with a broom the day before the first race of the season. SDC, who promotes the Bethel Spring Series of races, does an excellent job of making sure the track is ready for the season. But he's the first to admit that many hands make light work.
Some years are harder than others - 2011 being the worst in recent memory - but even with the kind assistance of the Town of Bethel, there was still plenty for us all to do to get things all nice and safe for the racers on March 3rd.
In addition to brooms & shovels, we also bring our bikes. So after the track is all chipped, shoveled, swept, and blown, we usually do a few practice laps - at varying levels of intensity. Since this was the first day my road bike had been outside since Thanksgiving, I was anxious to make sure that everything still worked right - both body and machine.
The next day - First Race of the Season - was super cold and windy, with the extra shot of adrenaline that comes from seeing how the first few laps are gonna feel. Fortunately, while it was fast and every time we turned onto the backstretch it felt like we hit a wall of wind, it was a good, safe race. There were 93 starters in our Cat3/4 field and teammate BJ came in 6th, securing our first points of the series. I did better than I expected, coming in 26th after my work for the team was done.
A stomach problem the following Saturday night into Sunday morning kept me from racing the 2nd week of the series and I thought missing a race would mean I'd be psyched and pumped for the next race. But when the alarm went off that 3rd Sunday morning, I was anything but motivated to get up and race. If anything, it was even colder and more windy than that first week. Racing was the last thing I wanted to do. Then I remembered that it was the anniversary of a bad crash that happened last year, one that took one of our fellow racers from us all too soon. I thought SDC would appreciate some support and, besides, I really needed to be there if for no other reason than that I could be there.
I don't remember much about the day other than the fact that I was noticeably subdued. You know how long drives alone can sometimes be. You start thinking way too much. It's generally a good thing to pause, reflect and take some time to reevaluate. But sometimes it just gives your mind too much freedom to do too much second-guessing. And if you're on your way to a bike race, you start seriously questioning why you're putting yourself through such agony, on a cold, windy day, when most folks are enjoying Sunday brunch by a fire. Case in point: by the time I got to the track I'd pretty much decided that this would be my last Bethel. I even asked a teammate whether he was all set for wheels, being willing to pass on my "permanently loaned" tubulars to him if needed.
So I kitted up, not really expecting anything special. The race played out as it usually does, but I didn't race as I usually do. I'm typically pretty conservative, wanting to be sure to have enough matches left at the end to be helpful to teammates for a leadout or whatever. But figuring this would be the last time I raced here, I got to the front and did a lot of chasing, bridging, etc. Well, as much as I could without totally blowing myself up. Things stayed together and teammate BJ came in 2nd - out of 120 starters (a record for this field) - and secured a bunch more points for the team. And, incidentally, I had a pretty good finish too - coming in 21st despite the work I'd done. Out of that large a field, I was pretty happy. And "pretty happy" - especially on that day - was pretty great. Certainly better than it'd started out. Hanging out with my teammates, helping marshal after the race, reminded me of one of the main reasons I continue to do this craziness.
If I needed another reminder, I got it at Plainville the following weekend. The Plainville Spring Series is 4 week Saturday series right in the middle of the Bethel series. Some of my first races were here and it was my go-to series before I started going to Bethel. It's a flat, fast track and doesn't have the "seperating" hill that Bethel has. Consequently, folks can sometimes get in over their heads here - going faster than they're really comfortable and over-cooking corners. A rash of crashes a few years back tipped the scales toward Bethel for me, despite the hill and its being farther away.
The first race of the series had been cancelled due to snow, but Team EXPO got right near the top of the individual and team classifications in the Cat3/4 race the 2nd week. Teammate Stan won that race and teammate TJ got 5th. So I decided to get in on the fun the 3rd week this past Saturday. It wasn't as cold as it has been, the sun was out, but it was even WINDY-er (a big problem when the parking is so far from the start line, and you have wheel bags to carry while riding your bike. Just sayin'). The field wasn't nearly as large as what I'd gotten used to at Bethel, but still respectable with a few good-sized teams, including friend Anthony's team CLR.
As expected, it was fast from the start and - as much as expected - for the first few laps I thought "man! I'm gonna have to work hard to keep from getting dropped!" Hadn't felt THAT in a while, but the smallish field meant little shelter, and I was suffering. But, determined to do what I could for Stan & TJ, I worked my way to the front and tried to jump on anything that attacked. After a bunch of laps and many attempts, a break finally stuck and - thankfully - two of our guys were in it: Stan and Lance.
While they worked the break, our team helped shut down the field. We jumped on anything that tried to bridge. As a result, the break almost lapped the field. As it was, the pack was forced to end their race with 5(?) laps to go so the break could fight out the finish.
So - that reminder of why I continue to do this craziness? - it's the blast I have while racing with friends and teammates. Sure, great results are, well, great. But they're only the icing on a very filling cake.
The only downside of the day - and, unfortunately, a big downside at that - was discovering later that one of our teammates that I don't know - "Doc" - went down hard and broke some bones. He'll be in the hospital for a few days, but will hopefully be back to racing before too long. Get well soon Doc!
With tired legs, but also with a new shot of motivation, I went to Sunday's race at Bethel looking to help get BJ into the leader's jersey and have a blast doing it.
Well, 1 outta 2 ain't bad I guess. I had a blast, feeling better during the race than expected despite having raced hard the previous day, but our team didn't do so well - all of us finishing far outside points for the day. One personal consolation: I came in 11th out of 82 starters - my 2nd best finish here, ever.
For most everybody else in the world, Monday is the start of the work week and the door that slams shut on our weekend. But for me - after a full weekend of racing - it's a rest day, a chance to recover and reflect on the fact that I'm blessed enough to be able to do this bike racing thing. I'm blessed to be healthy, to have a very supportive spouse, and really cool teammates and friends. Sure, I have to go back to the office and face all the things that have been waiting for me since Friday. But with my new Carpe Diem Racing coffee mug, my memories of races past, and my hopes for upcoming races, it makes Manic Monday just a little easier to take.
And if that alone isn't enough of a reason for me to get me out of bed early on a weekend morning and ride my bicycle in circles really, really fast, I'm not sure what is.