Craig Wisner

Archive for March, 2012

WolfpackHustle: Marathon Crash Race 2012

Rain.

Rain all day Friday, followed by downpours throughout Saturday.

I’m tired.  I don’t want to run.  I want to sleep in.  My weekly running mileage was low.  I managed to get in a quick 5K on Friday, followed by another one on Saturday afternoon.  During Saturday’s run, in the midst of what I thought would be a lasting break in the rain, the clouds opened, completely soaking me.  Cold, pouring rain.  Fun, but in the scheme of my training for the upcoming Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim run (April 14th), weather like this has you questioning the wisdom of being out.  It would be really depressing to wipe out months worth of running and training by getting sick from running in a few storms.

And then there was the Marathon Crash Race, lurking in the back of my mind.  Two of my students invited me a week ago, both pretty serious fixed gear riders.  I jumped right in, signed up, it all sounded like a blast.  It had been a long time since I’ve been on a city ride, having really given up any serious cycling efforts for running.

But all week long, the forecast of pouring rain all weekend had me second guessing the whole affair, leaving me with difficulty getting psyched about it.  I’m not one to shy away from doing things in bad weather, but heading out into a rainstorm at 2AM to do a bike race was beginning to sound like a great way to potentially mess upmy R2R2R training.  I couldn’t help but silently worry about getting sick or about sliding out a turn and becoming entangled in a high speed pileup.  Missing an event I’ve worked towards for so long due to illness or injury caused by a spur of the moment bike race would be hard to live down.  After all, the race was not that important to me.  Under any other circumstances, I wouldn’t have worried about it, but I felt like I had a lot on the line last night.

Despite my hopes to the contrary, the rain never let up on Saturday.  I set my alarm for 1:20AM, had my bike and gear already loaded in the car, and went to bed around 10:45PM, thinking any sleep I could get would be better than nothing.  The sound of pouring rain outside my window as I dozed off.

I awoke to the alarm a couple hours later, disoriented, not sure if I was getting up for work, for a run, for what…Then I remembered.  Rain still pouring.  Shit.

I would be driving to Culver City, my workplace, about 30 miles away to meet the students riding with me.  Hot coffee in hand, I drove across Los Angeles, pondering the stupidity of it all, tires hissing on the freeway.  Downtown soon appeared, skyscrapers looming in the clouds, mist, streets illuminated in a slick shine.

And suddenly, upon seeing the city brilliantly lit in the dark, I got excited.  Generally, I find cities ugly, but at night, in the rain, empty, Los Angeles becomes an amazing display of light and reflection.  All the anxiety vanished; something told me this was going to be a good race.

To skip parking woes, we decided to forgo driving to the race start at Tang’s Donut in Hollywood/Silverlake.  So at 2AM, Frank, Cody, and I embarked on a 15 mile “warm up” to get to the start.  Thankfully, the rain had stopped, at least temporarily.  Riding the race in the rain was one thing, but being soaked and cold long before it even started was not sounding too fun.  Everything was wet, but at least nothing was falling.  Turning onto the Sunset Strip 45 minutes later, more excitement brewing.  More flashing lights started appearing, bikes turning onto the boulevard from various side streets.  Something big was amassing.  Soon the lights of Tang’s were apparent in the distance…along with the blinkers of a thousand or more riders and police lights.  Fortunately, the LAPD was working with the race; they likely had no choice.  Disbanding a thousand riders would cause infinitely more chaos than letting them ride.  Strength in numbers.

Punk kids with gauged ears, tattoos, and sticker-covered Cinneli track bikes milling about beside roadies in team kits riding the latest S-Works offerings and everything in between, it was the motliest cycling crew I’ve yet to witness.  But unlike a Critical Mass, Crank Mob, or Midnight Ridazz gathering, everyone here looked extra hungry.

After 30 minutes of milling about, announcements on bullhorns, and anxiety, the race started.  It was a rolling start to the line and once crossed, the pace was fast from the outset.  The warmup served me well, as I already had a sweat going before the start.  Trying to find a line, settle into a rhythm.  Debating the pace; was everyone going out too fast?  Should I follow, or ride my own race, hoping to catch them later?  I followed, staying as close to the front as I could.  Frank and Cody disappeared into the pack.   I would only see them a few more times on the ride, Cody ahead, Frank somewhere behind.

All-out riding with this many people was an absolute blast.  I clocked 38 MPH on one hill, nearly elbow to elbow with 50 other riders, the smell of rubber from fixed riders hanging in the air as they checked their speed towards the bottom, people screaming “Left turn!  Hold your line!”.   The first big crash I’d witness was up ahead; a rider fumbled a bottle, the pack scattered to avoid it, and like a fool, he hit the brakes and looked back after the bottle, swerving.  Another rider hit him while going at least 25 MPH.  A crack and a pop, bikes sliding, bodies flying, and another two riders caught in the pileup.  The next crash I saw was a few miles ahead on a fairly high speed turn.  A rider was going too fast to hold his line, drifted to the outside, and then got squeezed out by the pack, forcing him into a curb on an island.  Launched over the bars, he hit the metal pole holding the yellow diamond sign, breaking it off.  That’s all I caught; by the time he hit the floor, I was focused on staying straight, not crossing wheels with anyone in the turn.

Fortunately, I managed to avoid all the madness and kept a steady 25+ MPH pace through the rest of the ride.  In the last few miles I hooked up with a small pace line, 4 of us taking turns pulling and drafting until the finish near the Santa Monica Pier.

I finished about 3 minutes behind Cody and five or 10 minutes ahead of Frank.  Overall, I have no idea what my placement was, but judging by the crowd and hanging at the finish, we were at the tail end of the top third.  Cody’s clock read an hour and nine minutes, so we averaged somewhere in the 24MPH category.  I heard the winner crossed in just under 55, but I’m not sure.  Given the lack of any real starting line, I have no idea when the clocks officially began.

After the finish and the awards, an 8 mile ride back to the cars ensued; cold, wet, the sky beginning to light up in the east beyond the clouds.  The kids were trashed, but I felt good still, sprinting ahead and weaving through empty streets; not bad for a guy twice their age, I felt like I could do it again.  They’re fast, but I realized they don’t know what it is to suffer for hours and hours on end.  My old days of road racing 100 and 200 miles certainly gives me an edge in the mental game.  I took everyone out for breakfast, headed home, stood in the shower until feeling in my toes came back, and went to bed at 8:30AM.

A beautiful, exciting night, a far cry from the typical monotony of distance running and the slow-suffering mental game.  I forgot the feeling of chasing, pushing, dodging, drafting, of moving fast in a tight pack.  I think this ride re-kindled a bit of the old love for road riding.  Well enough, as I’m considering another try at triathlon after some of my running is done over the coming months.  I’m very glad to have not backed out, once again reinforcing an old lesson: there’s no glory in staying in bed.

And so as to not skip out on some gear geeking, here’s my road ride:

-2007 Specialized Allez Elite compact frame (paint/logos stripped, had it powdercoated black…over 10000 on this frame, sentimental!) w/ Easton EC90 fork

-Ultegra 9 speed groupo

-Mavic Open Pro wheels, Ultegra hubs, 23c Continental GatorSkins (laced/built the wheels myself)

-DuraAce calipers

-Look Keo 2 max pedals

-Thomson Elite stem/seatpost, Selle San Marco Aspide Arrowhead saddle, FSA Wing bar