A Tale of the Dragon

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Get through the curves so fast? You make it look so easy. I’m scared half to death most of the time.”

“Me, too.”

“What? No way. But you ride with such confidence…”

Conversations such as the one above happen to me quite often now. The interchanges differ slightly, some are broad and generic, some more specific and focused, and yet others are just to say hello and to tell me that the way I ride is inspiring. I’m not really sure why. I am mostly just flabbergasted, because I don’t consider myself fast, or inspiring, am nowhere as smooth and proficient as I want to be, and I’m definitely a little scared a lot more than I’d like to admit. Heck, I’m still a newbie myself. I’m in my fourth year of riding, with roughly 44,500 miles logged, and have yet a long way to go before I could even consider myself an experienced rider. So why have I become the go-to girl?

Maybe I am asking the wrong question. Maybe it’s not what I do or to what level of proficiency I do it. After all, the degree of a skill is relative to the comparisons made. Maybe it is how I do it.

So how do I do it?

Upon reflection, I find that the answer is of quite a simple nature:

  • I refuse to accept “good enough” as a standard and continue to learn and practice those lessons whenever and wherever I can
  • I keep reaching outside of my comfort zone little by little, gently pushing my skill envelope and working through my fear(s)

And no matter where I am in my skill progression, or how advanced of a rider I may become, these two concepts hold true. Mastery does not equate perfection. There is always room for improvement and always an opportunity, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, to learn more. “The day I quit learning is the day that I die.” I don’t know who said it, or where I picked up these words of wisdom, but I wholeheartedly embrace the sentiment. Words to live by, indeed.

It does make a girl feel good (and a little bit proud), even if she feels a tad awkward and shy, when others show their appreciation for the way she rides. Especially when the kudos come from riders whom she considers to be so far above and beyond her own skills, that she is amazed they even gave her the time of day. It keeps her going, it makes her work even harder and cements the refusal to give up and not let temporary setbacks beat her into the trap that is “oh well, good enough.” It really isn’t good enough. “Good enough” is dangerous as it leads to routine and routine eventually results in rashed paint, dinged frames and broken off bits. Or worse.

Well…?

I’m in the mood for a little story telling rather than my usual not-quite-scientific analytical nerdiness. I’ll be as long-winded as the Dragon is curvy. That’s my specialty, and if you are one of my a regular readers, you’re used to this already. I am an editor’s worst nightmare. Well, I would be, if I had one. I’m gonna be, one day.

Here you go. Sit down, put your feet on the pegs, and hold on tight:

A Tale of the Dragon

A week ago, my husband and I returned from a five-day motorcycle vacation. Two of those days were spent at Deal’s Gap, riding a stretch of US-129 between North Carolina and Tennessee that is known to motorcyclists all over the country as the “Tail of the Dragon”. The road is notorious for its advertised “318 curves in 11 miles” and it is quite the gem from both a biker’s point of view and that of an engineer’s. It has a curve for every taste. Banked or off-camber, blind or the kind you can see all the way around, constant and decreasing radii, compound and multi-apex curves, fast sweepers, esses, elevation changes, dips, cracks, rough and smooth asphalt… you name it, you can find it, in various more or less gratifying combinations. Want to see if your street game is up to snuff, this road is a good place to evaluate. The Dragon comes complete with photographers ready to snap your picture as you negotiate a few choice corners (please smile, wave, and get your lean on to get that knee or floorboard down) and the obligatory contingent of county and state officials with clipboards at the ready and fat ticket pads to grade your excellence in high performance. It even has a Tree of Shame to hang your various broken bike parts on, should you flunk the skills test. Just don’t go there in the middle of the day on the weekends, or you’ll just get stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of seemingly nowhere, and then you will be lucky if you even get to average the speed limit, which is a posted 30 miles per hour.

The sky looked ominous. It desperately wanted to rain, but the weather had held so far and I was determined to get a few good runs in before it let loose, if it was even going to in the first place. If it did rain, so what? In my husband’s words:

“I’m going to do the Dragon. I don’t care if it rains. I don’t care if I’m the only man to ever do it wearing a trash bag, that Dragon is going down!”

Mr. Slow is a self-admitted fair-weather biker, so this was important enough for him to risk getting caught in a rainstorm. It was important enough for me, too; albeit for a completely different set of reasons. His reasons included shutter speed, mine corner speed. I really didn’t see my husband a whole lot after I followed him on his virgin run with the video camera attached to my bike. We never broke the (averaged) speed limit and I was one-handing it most of the trip, waving fanatically at the photographers hoping to get my silly self into hubby’s frame to ruin the shot. Didn’t quite work out as planned. I risked his life for nothing. Bummer.

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I almost didn’t go, because the sort of shenanigans that I had in mind were for dry roads and warm tires, but I made myself gear up anyway. I quietly admonished myself that I was supposed to keep it at 60% and keep the racer mentality off the public roads. So far I had done pretty well in that regard. Yes, things got a little spirited on occasion, but I would like to think that I never exceeded 75% of my skill at any given time. Did I not just spend a weekend riding with a friend resetting my brain to “street mode” and adjusting my “Speed Racer” mentality in an effort to ditch the frustration with the limitations of street riding that has plagued me for the better part of the past two years? To recapture the enjoyment of the ride at slower, more sane speeds without letting too much hang out on that slippery slope that is risk acceptance. “No speeding in the straights!” is the toughest rule to adhere to, especially if the road isn’t entirely straight, but sweeps invitingly from side to side.

As it turns out, the road is cold and wet in places, and it seems to be getting worse. I realize that it is starting to rain and that we are catching up with the worst of it. As we continue northward the road gets wetter and there are leaves in a lot of the corners. I slow my already temperate speed even more. I have only one word to describe my feelings about wet leaves in wet corners: treacherous. My tires are sticking and my lines are true. However, this situation makes me feel timid and uncertain. To the close observer, this anxiety makes itself evident in my body position. As the battle between fear and intellect rages in my mind, my sternum becomes rigidly glued to the tank. I have to make a conscious effort to correct this tendency, hang off properly by dropping the upper body into alignment and in doing so also right the bike from its excessive lean. When your chest is stuck to the gas cap, your ass might as well be sitting in the seat, with your knee gripping the tank. You can’t just hang your cheeks out and expect to conserve lean angle by lowering your combined center of gravity. It doesn’t work that way. Either hang off or don’t… that half-assed crap isn’t really doing anything but make you look like an assclown. I’m getting a little flustered with myself, not that I would have to hang off at all. But hanging off is one of those things I still need to practice and perfect for myself, so I always at least go through the motions, even at speeds where it is not needed. At minimum I like to “pop” the inside hip into place and weigh the outside peg. Besides, sitting sedately center, hauling through a curve is much scarier than doing the same while getting low and to the inside of the bike, for the centrifugal forces involved are less apparent. It just feels slower and more manageable. This is also the secret to getting your kicks without having to push the speeds too far into “jail-able offense” territory. And if you also take the “car line” through to avoid flattening out the curve you can get even more thrills for your speeding ticket buck. But that’s an entirely different story altogether.

I’m not liking this kind of riding. This is more like commuting or roadtripping than joy riding. But as the ride continues, my fear is gradually replaced by annoyance. I want to be irresponsible (in a responsible kind of way), but am somewhat inhibited by the probable presence of more cops (one had parked himself in the first longish straight to set the mood) and the less-than-fun traction conditions. But it is good practice. Since I’ve lost my job, I haven’t had much occasion to use my crap weather skills, so this is really a blessing in disguise. With the newfound attitude I begin to settle into a rhythm and am starting to enjoy myself again, even if such joy is served with a dash of apprehension.

We turn around at Tabcat Bridge, at the northern end of the Tail, and make our way the eleven miles back south. It isn’t too long before the skies open up and let us have it in full force. Visibility becomes more and more limited as the rainshower cranks its intensity up to torrential downpour. My visor keeps fogging up and my gloves are getting soaked. Our average speed doesn’t drop all that much and we are still dancing smoothly and effortlessly through the curves. Now this is something I can cope with. The leaves have washed off the road and the asphalt is finally clean. This is the kind of riding I refer to when I say: “Rain is nature’s way of giving us clean roads and 80% traction.” I don’t like “sort of wet”, but “really, really, really wet” I can definitely deal with. The hanging off bit stops as soon as I realize — to my chagrin — that my crotch is absolutely soaked and my feet are sopping wet. I make myself as small as possible, trying to keep the water out. To no avail. I can feel a cool trickle making its way down my spine between my back protector and the moisture-wicking compression shirt. Oh, goodie! We all know where that’s going next: Asscrack Falls. And then I’ll be sitting in it until I stand up. I smirk at the thought. I’m not entirely sure why this is even funny, but I’m getting a kick out of it. Hell, yeah! I made that damn Dragon cry. I suffer another mental burst of girly giggles.

David and I are the fastest crew to come down the mountain that morning. The Pirelli Angel ST tires are again proving their crap weather worthiness. I don’t trust them quite yet on their sides, because they have massive grooves for water evacuation running almost all the way to their outer edges. That’s just too much air and not enough rubber in the chicken strip regions for my comfort level. When it was dry I wished I had a stickier, softer tire; but now I am definitely glad I’m rolling these sport-touring hoops. My confidence in the tires is evident in our pace. I have no problem keeping up with David who is leading the return trip.

We’re safely passing several vehicles and catch up with some sportbike riders who do not seem to appreciate getting caught in this shit storm at all. One is making a concentrated effort not to lean around a corner; and another is hugging the center lines, crossing over repeatedly, almost as if he was using them as a visual guide to help him stay on the road. We pass him in a hurry, before he could make it to the next curve. It appears that David and I had the same idea, neither one of us wanting to see “what happens next”. [Both of these guys made it back down the mountain alright.]

Several riders gave up and parked it at a pull-off. The Harley boys just kept on cruising, a little slower than usual, but those dudes don’t wimp out for some rain. Especially if there isn’t an overpass to park under for miles and they’re already wet. The cigarette smoking while riding, however, has ceased, for obvious reasons.

We finally make it to the chain-link fence that marks the southern side “Beginner’s End” at the North-Carolina/Tennessee state line. Almost there. Almost. As we round the right-hander a flash of hi-viz yellow catches my attention. I smile as I realize it’s Mr. Slow creeping down the mountain on his Samsonite Missile. He also has no real pressing urge to lean. That’s my man! I smile again, since I’m happy to have caught up with him; because I assure you, I would have freaked out approximately 22 minutes after not seeing his Connie parked in front of our room.

This is a good time to have lunch at the Dragon’s Den Grill and the place is packed as people settle in to wait out the storm. The satellite TV has quit, we have no cell reception, and it’s anybody’s guess as to how long this’ll go on. A typical spring afternoon shower? Couldn’t be more than an hour or two.

As soon as the rain subsides, I’m geared back up and on my way to my bike to head out. Everybody else also wants to go, but they want to wait about 20 minutes for the road (and their gear) to start drying out. With my renewed confidence I’m not even interested in wet roads or wet gear. I sit down on the bench in front of our room and impatiently wait on time to tick off the minutes as I watch the steam as it rises from the pavement; the road slowly begins to dry.

My overly inflated ego is promptly corrected not too far into the next run. Let some of that air out, hot stuff, shall we? Traction feels iffy and after sliding around in two consecutive turns, I am absolutely crestfallen. WTF?!? My riding again becomes timid as my anxiety level rises. I hate sliding the rear wheel. I dislike it on the track, but I’ve learned to cope with it there; however, I still don’t like it when it happens and I find myself avoiding to ride that close to the edge of my traction limit. When it happens on the street my anxiety is multiplied. I already hate the outside edge of the pavement and sliding around like I am isn’t helping that situation any. This is the reason I have a tendency to take the “race line” through a corner, hugging the center-line at the apex with my body hanging all over into the oncoming lane. Never mind that my tires are still in the correct lane space. On the track this tendency is displayed in a distinct cutting of corners to the apex. It’s almost a little like dog-legging it, rather than a more gradual approach. It’s point-and-shoot from entry to apex, but on exit it is a gradual drifting out to the outside edge, as it should be when accelerating out of a turn. This is also why I prefer right-hand turns on the street, even though it would make sense to be more fearful in a right-hander. After all, if the rear breaks loose, I would be sliding into oncoming traffic rather than off the road. All these worries and various discomforts come flooding into my conscious thoughts. Slap! Take you down a notch, missy. A pass and review of your more annoying (and tenacious) riding flaws. Arrrrrrgh!

On the return trip I can barely keep up with the guys, my group or otherwise. Correction: I can’t keep up with the guys. They only reason I keep catching them is that they get held up by other motorists. I feel tired and unfocused. I’ve let myself down. I am really disappointed. I know I can do better, so what is this? It’s almost schizophrenic. I feel slightly nauseated as I fight my way through every curve.

By the time I’m back down at the Gap, I’ve worked myself up into a real pisser of a self-deprecating attitude. I park the bike, and start stripping off my gear. I’m not going back up! This shit sucks, I’m really not in the mood anymore. Apparently, you can’t teach some old dogs anything… I notice none of my friends’ bikes are there. Not even Mr. Slow’s is anywhere to be found. Oh, hell with this! I’m going back up and I am showing this damned Dragon who’s wearing the bitchin’ pants in this freaking crowd. The guys pull in as I am adjusting my tire pressures. Great, those jokers stopped off somewhere and here I was trying to catch up. But the decision has been made. I’m getting back on this damned motorcycle and I am going to own what should have already been mine. I’m letting two more pounds of air out of both tires. I will find me some traction (or loss thereof) and collect my confidence while I’m at it. I am a girl on a mission. A girl who is intent on making the DTC work it for her. The guys also decide they didn’t have enough yet, swap bikes between themselves, and we head back out. This time I end up in the middle.

I spend the next 11 miles trying to push the front, slide the rear, or make either the RaceABS or DTC intervene; whichever one of those three comes first. I don’t care. I find I’m a little angry. I work my way into racing up to a corner, slamming on the brakes, throwing the bike in, and grabbing a judicious twist of throttle on the way out. Rinse, repeat. Nothing. The tires hold solid. The subtle pulsing of the ABS system or the faint “clicking” of the traction control both remain elusive. Maybe the shit doesn’t work anymore, after all? Well, I do know the RaceABS is in working order. I have finally mustered up the courage to put that one to the test by a few hamfisted, idiotic grabs of the front brake. There was never any doubt that the rear brake was working, that thing goes live when I’m just thinking about maybe using it. A little excessive for my taste, but whatever.

I wave the thought of maybe not having a functional traction control system to save my bacon aside and am wondering if Rick, who is behind me on David’s Ducati, is bothered by me riding like a jackass. He seems to cope fine with my change of riding strategy, but I make a mental note to ask him, and apologize if necessary, at the turn-around spot. I am not worried about hurting David’s feelings, who is undoubtedly playing around with the ZX10R’s ABS/DTC systems as well. He’s a racer and we’ve been doing “skill runs” pretty much all weekend. I’m sure he doesn’t mind my nose up his tail and in his business every corner we come to.

We actually looked quite well together, the three of us. Later inspection of over 200 uploaded low-res digital proofs by the various Dragon photographers confirms my suspicion. Mr. Slow also hands in photographic evidence. 🙂 I hope I meet these guys again. It was a blast riding with them. And next time Rick better bring his wife, who didn’t want to go until he had “checked it out”. I told him to tell her I am mad at her for not showing up.

Miss Busa in the Middle

As I was gradually working my way up to braking later and harder, and accelerating sooner and more aggressively, I felt something I haven’t experienced in a long time. A glimmer of my former bravado and aggressiveness. That something in my personality that I thought had finally been tamed. The little streak of crazy is alive and well and its clawing its way back to the surface. I do believe that to be a good thing. And I have the Dragon to thank for it. Why? Because it rained a little bit.

I had lost a lot of my spunk after crashing last year by tucking the front end into Turn One at Barber Motorsports Park at 120+ mph. A crash that prematurely ended the 2011 racing season for me, because I got to spend my money on fixing my bike rather than actually racing it. A crash that also trashed my confidence without me even realizing the significance of its impact until months later, when I finally got to do another track day and realized I was slower, less confident and more nervous. It took me another few months to pinpoint all the kinks that had developed in my riding as a result. And it was extremely hard to admit that to myself. I blamed it on not getting enough seat time. Yeah, that’s part of it, but that hadn’t slowed me down significantly before I had lost my balls in the kitty litter.

And that is how I do it. This is how I roll.

Check out some of the photos Mr. Slow took. He’s stashed them at FramedByJoe.com (link opens in new window).

I submit to you our first round of Monday morning dragon slaying. There wasn’t much slaying going on quite yet, since the Dragon himself was still pre-coffee and in no mood. 😉

Sunday Pics by Killboy & Co.

Monday Pics by Killboy & Co.


How-To: Teach a Woman…

You have asked and I shall answer, to the best of my ability.

This one goes out to all the men out there who are lucky enough to have a lady in their lives who is either riding her own motorcycle, is learning to ride her own, or is thinking about learning to ride. Maybe she’s your wife, your girlfriend, a family member, or just a woman who is in your social circle and for some reason or another has “adopted” you to be her mentor for her two-wheeled adventures.

These are the “rules of engagement” as I have come to understand them in my journey as a biker chick to become the best skilled rider I can possibly be. Look at these “rules” as a general guideline, as an inside peek at how us girls roll.

Biker Babes

If the woman in question is already riding her own motorcycle, there are only two points you need to be clear on:

  1. More likely, a woman will ask for advice when she wants it and ask it of whom she trusts. Do not offer uninvited advice, unless you see her doing something repeatedly that could endanger her and others. In this case, be tactful, respectful and don’t get personal. And please don’t dress her down in front of the entire crowd. Think of how you would want this to be handled. This is not the time to trash talk, poke fun or be condescending. The message will only be heard if it is delivered appropriately. Any other time, keep it to yourself. Men are protectors, they want to fix things that they deem to be broken in some form or another. You’re wired that way, but please rise above your biology and resist the urge to “fix it” or “save her from herself”. Uninvited critique on technique or style will come across as patronizing, sexist, sometimes belittling, and even disrespectful. Again, a girl will ask if she wants to know.
  2. When you overhear a woman, usually in quite an animated fashion, critiquing her own screw-ups, please don’t take this to be an open invitation for a riding lesson. We’re not exasperated or unsure of ourselves. It isn’t a sign of being helpless. When a girl goes on about how she totally blew a corner, or how she was a complete idiot for doing this, or not doing something else, she is processing. She knew she’s messed up; and that should be the key to understanding that she isn’t asking for help or trying to elicit your advice on the sly, but rather is engaging in an “after-action review”, to relive an event so she can do better next time. She is aware of her boundaries and where her skill development needs further attention. She’s got it under control and is handling her affairs.

Biker Babes in Training

If the woman is a beginning rider or is thinking about learning to ride a motorcycle, here is a list of things to keep in mind to understand how our learning experiences differ from that of the men, and how best to deal with gender-specific issues that may not even cross your mind as it is a non-issue for most guys.

  1. If she has asked you to teach her how to ride and you have agreed, you should sit down first and talk about the expectations you have of each other. Make your own ground rules to ensure a pleasant and fun experience, for both student and teacher.
  2. Implore her to take a basic riding course either before or after you begin teaching her. I cannot overemphasize the importance of formal practical training. She can learn the fundamentals of motorcycle operation in a safe and controlled environment with a relaxed and non-threatening atmosphere. A foundation which I personally found to be of huge benefit to my further education and skill training. Two of the most common courses are the Basic RiderCourse offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and the Rider’s Edge Course offered by a lot of Harley Davidson dealers. Taking a riding course will also help those women who are unsure, to figure out if riding a motorcycle is something they would enjoy, before they take the plunge and buy a motorcycle, which is a sort-of big deal for a lot of us financially.
  3. If at all possible, hook her up with an experienced female rider who rides the same type of motorcycle that she does. Women riders understand the obstacles a girl faces when first starting out and are for the most part very supportive of each other and a lot of women will feel more comfortable asking certain questions of another female rider.
  4. Be patient and let her take each lesson at her own pace. A woman’s learning curve differs from that of a man’s. Generally speaking, a woman will learn at a slower pace, but will peak their skill set above that of the average man. I’m not saying this to be sexist, it has to do with how most of us girls approach new experiences and how we work through problems and our anxieties. We place more emphasis on education and prevention to keep us out of potential trouble. Men are more apt to wing it and learn as they go. “One down, five up? Ok, see ya.” That’s how my husband learned to ride; that was the question-statement he posed to the dude he bought his first bike from, gave him the cash and rode off into the sunset.
  5. Do not pressure her about her speed. If you constantly nag her about “being slow” you may inadvertently destroy the confidence she is building in herself and her bike’s capabilities and turn it into frustration. In other words, don’t push her too far too fast. Girls don’t have the need to keep up with their buddies for worry of embarrassing themselves or being called slow; for the most part. Her speed will pick up on its own as her skills mature and her confidence increases.
  6. Don’t try and talk her into something or out of something. Ride your own ride, let her do the same.
  7. Let her buy her own ride. Period. She is the one who has to ride it, not you. Give her pointers, if she asks for your opinion, but give them objectively and without putting a spin on things. Also implore her to do her own research. The more she knows about motorcycle basics, the better the position she’ll be in to make an informed decision.
  8. Don’t let her wimp out. This is a toughie, though. When we have a bad experience and we aren’t reliant on our motorcycle for daily transportation, we have the option to take the Chicken Exit rather than working through it and conquering our fear. This can manifest itself in several ways, and not necessarily where you would think. That is what makes this one so difficult to pinpoint, even to ourselves. Be supportive, listen, and gently encourage her to keep on trying. How do you do this? That is something I cannot answer. It’s probably easier for another female rider to accomplish, because girls are more apt to say “if she can do it, so can I” when she can’t find the motivation on her own. Left to her own devices, a woman usually will either work through her discomfort and keep pushing herself in an effort to overcome the obstacle in her path or she will eventually quit. It all depends on how much importance she places on conquering the perceived setback. Not all women will become avid motorcyclists, some will find that it’s not for them after all and some will turn it into a lifestyle and sell their cars. Some will be content with riding pillion and others won’t stop until they have their racing license and have proven to themselves that they can do it. Again, whatever she decides, it is not a failure on her part or yours as her mentor.
  9. Realize that women riders face a slightly different set of difficulties when learning to ride a motorcycle. Things most men find a non-issue and have never really given it much thought. Things such as: seat height, rider position, weight of the motorcycle, upper body strength, physical endurance, inseam, body shape, etc. These all have an impact to one degree or another of how we approach riding and the kind of bikes we find “agreeable” to us when we first start out. Even finding properly fitting motorcycle gear can be a real chore for girls.
  10. And last, but not least, don’t ever append “…for a girl” at the end of a statement; unless you want to carry your balls home in a jar.

Blood Mountain Scenic Ride

Michelle, whom I met on Facebook, invited me for a ride through the Chattahoochee National Forest to show me around her “neck of the woods.” We had a blast on two wheels. It  was a great weekend filled with good company, good food, good beer and beautiful roads. Michelle is a most gracious hostess and is an excellent motorcycle rider. She helped me “reset” my brain to enable me to enjoy street riding again for its own merits and with its own set of challenges. In other words, I had to retrain my attitude. Street riding has been a fairly frustrating experience for me for the past year and a half. I couldn’t enjoy the street because my brain was stuck at the track. This is a dangerous problem to develop. If you find you cannot separate and compartmentalize the differences between racing and street riding, you’ll soon find yourself in a world of pain. It’s really a little like playing Russian Roulette, but with bullets in most chambers.

The first racing school had cured me of such silliness as trying to put my knee down on public highways and practicing racing technique on curvy roads. There comes a point in a rider’s skill development where the street isn’t the proper place to learn anymore. The focus shifts from trying to “be faster” to honing your risk management skills and collision avoidance. There is a reason why a lot of racers eventually quit riding on the street. I fell into the trap without even realizing it until it was way too late.

After spending an entire day at the Kevin Schwantz School learning and practicing my racing skill set, I jumped on my S1000RR and headed the seven miles back to my hotel. I felt claustrophobic and slow, even though my average speed hadn’t changed. But after being at a racetrack where you do not have to worry about such things as Jersey Barriers or pavement conditions or opposing traffic, everything I saw around me became a possible death trap. I calmed down. At first.

Eventually, the lines between track riding and street riding blurred once more; and even though I hadn’t fully reverted back to my former level of hooliganism, I was still racing, although with less confidence. Which was a good thing. It kept me diving into blind corners tempting the fates.

If you are riding at the edge of your skill and your traction, eventually you will lose and most of the time that means a very high probability that you may not live to tell your story the next time you round a blind turn and find yourself nose-to-nose with that car violating the double-yellow line to take the “race line” through the turn. This means possible death for you, especially in the mountains where there’s a wall on one side and a ravine on the other with no real place to go. It means a whole load of paperwork for them; not to mention you’ve just ruined their day.

Something had to give. I was intellectually acutely aware of this. But I still couldn’t refrain from “redneck road racing” for the most part. The frustrations with the limitation of street riding soon became manifested in such a way that I couldn’t even enjoy riding anymore. At one point, after losing my job, I had told my husband just to sell my bike and be done with it. He became irritated. Maybe he didn’t understand what I was going through; maybe he thought I was getting down on myself because of the financial distress my unemployment caused. That was part of it. A small part of it. My problem, however, ran much deeper than just simply trying to make ends meet with less money in the bank. I was subconciously looking for a way out. I knew what I was doing would spell disaster in the long run. I knew that street riding requires a completely different skill set than track riding. I knew that practicing racing technique had no place off the racetrack. I knew. My brain knew. My soul kept flying.

I behave when I’m in a group, even if it is just with one other rider. I am courteous and attuned to other riders’ comfort levels. I make it a point not to create an environment that breeds competitiveness and the pressures of trying to keep up. It never has led to anything good for anybody involved. It’s one of those things. Nothing ever happens. Until that one time… But I have lost my “street eyes”. Where before I knew what a proper following distance looked like and managed to keep such a distance no matter what speed or how curvy the road, since I scanned ahead and made early adjustments, now I find it of no concern when someone dives into a curve behind me glued to my tail section. And I have no problem shoving my nose up someone else’s pipe either. This creates that peer-pressured environment that I seek so hard to avoid. Never mind, that I know I can stay well within my lane and not run into the person in front of me. What exactly are they thinking about me being back there? What position am I putting them in? At best, they don’t care just like I don’t; at worst they get scared, lose their concentration and do something that causes them to wipe out. Who’s fault is it? Technically the person who lost control is at fault, they call it “failure to negotiate a turn”. In my eyes, though, I am the one who put them in the situation to begin with. Hence, I am at fault. But that’s the way I think.

But when is too close too close? That is the question. If you follow someone and they crashed for one reason or another and you couldn’t help but get involved in their crash, you’re following too close. Optimally you shouldn’t be diving into a corner before the person in front of you has exited the curve in question and is well on their way into the straight part of the road. In a lot of cases you don’t even know when that is, since you can’t even see the apex (for those of you who don’t ride: the middle of the turn, where corner entry becomes corner exit, the point where slowing down turns into speeding up). Even if you could stop in time to avoid becoming involved in a crash, is the person behind you capable of doing the same? It’s a tricky proposition to brake when leaned over and it takes finesse and knowledge of motorcycle physics and how all these forces interacting with each other affect available traction and your continued success of staying on your tires rather than sliding on hard parts.

I used to get to “Point B” and people could be overheard talking about what they’ve seen; how pretty that waterfall was or how cute the fawn looked grazing in that ditch. I get there, usually ahead of the pack, saying: “What scenery?!? And where the heck are we anyway?”

I am well on my way to regain my proper (and safer) street game, but I have yet a ways to go. But Michelle showed me that yes, you can have fun on the street without breaking the sound barrier and risking going to jail. Yes, you can have fun on the street without having to haul triplets down the straight and grabbing a massive handful of front brake lever, throwing in two downshifts and stuffing 999cc into that awesomely banked constant radius right turn. However, when I’m by myself, I tend to get bored and sometimes get caught up in the dance that is negotiating those beautiful curves winding through the mountains. It starts out innocently enough, but the speed seems to steadily mount with every passing curve, as the music moves into the second movement and the dance continues.

It helps to make it a point not to brake for turns, but to adjust one’s speed in such a manner that you can just flow through without even touching the brake lever. It also helps for me to make it a point not to hang off, since remaining center on the bike really does give you that feeling of going faster than you actually are. I can still get my kicks at more reasonable speeds. The problem with riding “in the zone”: if the people behind you are relying on seeing brake lights to know what they need to do, you risk getting a nose up your tail. I don’t rely on brake lights or turn signals. It’s not a good idea anyway. It works fairly well until somebody blows a fuse… or signals one way and then changes their mind without telling you. It can also lead to target fixation. Another bad habit to avoid when riding, since the bike goes where you look.

Last weekend I’ve had the most fun I’ve had on the street in almost two years. The speeds were kept sane, I came home WITH CHICKEN STRIPS and I actually enjoyed some scenery for a change. 🙂

Thank you, Michelle, for being my tour guide.


Race Report: The 2012 Palmetto Half Marathon

13.1 x 2 = Awesome

Rewind. Stop.

If you just want to read about the actual race, scroll down to “The Starting Line” to begin.

Seven days before race day

Week 7 of my marathon training has me running 12 miles on Saturday. In order for that to happen without risking personal humiliation I needed a change of scenery and I needed to arrive there feeling like Wonder Woman, so I opted to take the bike and check out a paved trail along the Savannah river, running along the fall line of the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. What can I say? I get bored rather easily and I need distraction. This time I actually had the opportunity to steal the Sponsor’s truck which was parked in the driveway while its owner was sleeping off the nightshift.

I jumped into my running gear, and “half-squidded” it across the river to the North Augusta Greeneway. Yes, I basically rode half naked. Top half in leathers, bottom half? In a world of pain if I end up on my side for one reason or another. Some of my motorcycling friends are going to give me hell for this one, since I am a rather loud-voiced advocate of ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) and that such gear should also fit properly and have the minimal features required to actually be considered safety apparel. But that is a different story for a different post.

I get there, secure my gear on my bike, check the park’s map to figure how to run the trails without the least amount of repetition, refill my water bottle and make one last pit stop before hitting play on my Nike+ app and get moving. It is already in the high seventies, if not the lower eighties and it’s humid. But I have new food for my senses to soak up. For some reason I feel alive today. Happy, even. I am enjoying the new sounds, sights and smells and am actually happy to be running.

Wait a minute here! Happy to be running? Who the heck are you and when did the pods take over the body? Yes. I can’t deny it, but I am actually happy to be running. It’s only been about a mile, I’m sure I’ll snap out of it here shortly. Two hours and thirty-eight minutes later I complete my scheduled 12-miler with having set a new personal best for the half-marathon distance by nine minutes.

I ride home happy and secure in the knowledge that even though I might not make my arbitrary goal time of 2:26 (it’s twice my bike’s competition number, in case you were wondering what hat I pulled that out of), I can give my adrenal gland a rest knowing I will not embarrass myself in public by dropping dead halfway up the first steep hill I come to. Mission accomplished, even though that trail seemed uphill both ways. I swear it.

Race Week

During Week 8 of Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Marathon Training, coach is telling me to run 3 miles on Tuesday. I miss out on that mileage due to unforeseen events during an unscheduled motorcycle joy ride that culminated in carbo-loading and beer drinking at the Carolina Ale House with the Slower Half. I said screw it and skipped the run. After all, it’s only three miles. And my calf muscles are still screaming bloody murder, and the right one is extremely unhappy where it attaches to the whatnots behind my knee. I don’t feel too bad, Hal himself said to take an extra rest day if we needed it. I needed it. I hadn’t been out with my baby in over four weeks. All work and no play saps the life force away.

Wednesday I’m supposed to crush six miles for the sorta-long run. As good as I felt Tuesday, I couldn’t understand why I felt so drained, unmotivated and sluggish today. I felt downright depressed. I was hoping that my mood would clear in time to maybe still get the procrastinated morning run in before it turned Dark:30. It didn’t. I ended up moping around until it was too late, succumbing to the misery and watching TV all day, not doing a damned thing other than wallowing in thoughts of self-sabotage.

Thursday. I don’t even remember Thursday. I didn’t run Thursday. I remember that much.

Friday is a rest day in the program. I rested. Surprisingly, when Mr. Slow woke me up with coffee and a few kind words, I’m not even sure what he said that served as the catharsis, but my mood returned to its normal levels. Now I was free to get excited and a little anxious about the race. I decided to hop on the bike, run a few errants and then book it the almost 100 miles to Columbia, SC to pick up my race packet and do a little pre-race recon to ease the nerves and scope out the traffic situation.

Oh yeah, that did it. Nothing like playing in rush-hour traffic at speeds 30 miles over the posted speed limit to make you feel alive. It  trains the senses, sharpens the reflexes and hones the skill. Playing a game of Frogger with the commuting crowd and getting your lean angle kicks on cloverleaf ramps is prescribed skill training for the redneck road racer. To my defense? I’m a goodie two-shoes in all other areas of my life. I have no other vices, I don’t even drink enough to be considered problematic and I’m a really cheap date, I don’t eat a lot and I’m buzzed halfway through my second beer.

When I returned home, after 196 miles, I was nicely tired out, I barely managed to eat a few more carbs, laid out my gear and set the alarm for 4:00 am and went to sleep.

Six Hours Later: Racing to Race Day

I get a call from hubby at 4:00 am. He will be back in time to come with me. This day is off to a good start already. I smile as I get ready. Logistics have just gotten a heck of a lot easier. Since I am now meeting my husband at his work, I don’t have to worry about what to do with my gear and how to pack it for the bag drop at the start. That saves time, too. I end up leaving the house 20 minutes late anyway, because I can’t concentrate. I’m excited, a little nervous, and my brain is mush.

I am freezing my tush off on the 40-mile ride to meet up with the husband. I’m glad I’m wearing my winter gloves, but I didn’t think it was cold enough for a neck warmer. Holy hell, the cold air is rushing straight down the neck hole into my jacket, I’m shivering by the time I get to the state line with 25 more miles to go. I’m in a full-on race tuck, my elbows dropped below my knees, hugging the bike tightly with not so much as a toe sticking out in the offending breeze, trying to stay in the bubble to keep warm.

I arrive with a massive neck and shoulder ache and the chills. I unceremoniously park the bike with a dive of the Beemer’s nose, kill the ignition and yank the key before the kickstand is even fully extended, jump off the bike and straight into the waiting pickup truck. “Damn, it’s freaking cold out there” serves as a good morning to my smiling husband and off we go towards half-marathon destiny in a more civilized fashion.

The Starting Line

That would be me rocking the pink mini skirt and the speedos with the go-fast hot pink accents.

We arrive with about 45 minutes to spare. There are people everywhere. Running to and fro, warming up, stretching, and standing around in small groups chatting. There is music playing over the PA system and the mood is cheerful. I am shivering in the cool morning air and since I am too restless to stand around we start walking away from the starting line so I can jog in place and get my heart rate up and maybe quit being so cold. 15 minutes before the race Joe hands me my gel so I can eat it. Espresso flavored, in lieu of my morning coffee. Yum! I head for one of the women only port-a-potties and relieve myself one more time, just as the newbie tips I’ve read online instructed me to do, even though I didn’t feel the urge to go. I immediately regretted that decision. I tried to hold my breath, not touch anything without falling over or peeing on myself, without much success. At least I didn’t have an accident and there was paper still on the roll. That’s something.

Note to self (and other first time racers): Bring a packet or two of single-use disposable antibacterial wipes to clean your hands with after the fact. Heck, bring a smallish stash of TP (or a single-use wet-wipe), just in case.

By the time I emerge from the plastic outhouse, the race is about to start. Everyone is instructed to line up in order of their pace, faster runners in the front, slower runners and walkers towards the back. Since we were already milling about towards the back of the crowd I didn’t have too far to go. I find a spot in the very rear where the 5K runners and walkers are hanging out. They are easily spotted due to their yellow bibs. I actually ended up standing next to my “bib mate” #782, and I wanted to say something profoundly geeky to the girl, but I bit my tongue and kept the mathletics to myself. When I’m nervous, I talk way too much and I also break the verbal speed limit of pre-coffee cadence and coherence and I blabber, sometimes about more than one subject at a time. No. I’m keeping my trap shut and smile and nod and radiate a friendly aura, but I’m keeping it zipped. I’m enforcing the five-word sentence limit.

Race Start

Joe tells me to keep to the left when I’m crossing over the starting line, so he can take pot shots at me with his Canon and with these last instructions he disappears into the spectator crowd lining the left and right sides of the road. I suddenly feel very alone in a sea of brightly colored, happy people. I feel lost and out of my league. The organizers have a prayer  before the race and then someone sings the National Anthem over the PA system.

Shortly thereafter we begin moving forward, slowly at first, but by the time I am crossing the finish line we are at a run. As promised, I am keeping to the left of the road but I can’t spot Joe anywhere. I scan the crowd, but he is nowhere to be seen. Now I really feel alone, I don’t know why, but I wanted to catch a glimpse of him one more time before I embarked on this experience.

The Race

Around Mile 7

It feels strange running with so many people. I train alone. The last time I ran with people was in the military, and we ran in formation for the most part, singing cadence and keeping in step. The pace was forced and falling out meant pain later, so you didn’t. They would round your ass up and make fun of you or make you run circles around the entire running formation as punishment. It wasn’t pretty and it meant more work, so unless you were croaking of an embolism you kept up, no matter what. Failure was not an option.

I’m starting to pass people because my legs want to go faster, the pace doesn’t feel right. It feels too slow. I fight the urge, reminding myself that coming out too slow is better than coming out too fast. I have two and a half hours of this and I haven’t run in a week! I can’t help myself and keep passing. I’m trying to be as courteous as I can and dance through the crowd without making contact and giving people their space. I find other people are doing the same thing. Everybody is being nice. Where are the elbows? They must not come out until Mile 13, I’m assuming. I smile to myself at the thought. There is a word for what seems to be happening here: Esprit de corps.

I am shocked to hear the first pace announcement from my GPS app: 9:38 I think it was. I have the application set to tell me my average pace every 0.25 miles, so I can adjust my pace accordingly.  I know that if I fall below 11:14, I won’t meet my time goal of 2:26. A week ago, my average pace was 12:02. I keep reprimanding myself to slow down, but my body doesn’t listen. I keep right on going. I tell myself that I will “deal with it later” my right leg isn’t bothering me too much and my body feels strong and my breathing and heart rate are normal. I’m surprised. Maybe it’s because it is cool and not as humid and I am used to working out in 80-90 degree heat with humidity, since I can’t seem to manage to get up early enough on my own to run in the cooler part of the day. My allergies also don’t seem to bother me as much. My sinuses and lungs feel clear and my nose isn’t running. In other words, the God of Speed is with me. The weather is perfect.

As we begin our decent down the Clemson Road cloverleaf ramp, I am happy I’ve been incorporating hill work into my shorter runs. I have read tons of articles on how to run hills and practiced a few things, and wore myself out on hills. Threw myself at their mercy, to be ground up and spit out feeling weak and like a failure. The torture seems to have paid off and I’m smoking the ramp, gaining speed as I let gravity do its thing, lengthening my stride and controlling my movement. I’m passing people left and right. It felt great to see all that work pay off in a quantifiable sense. If I had been on my bike, I would have been sliding sideways around the corner onto Two Notch Road. I can finally say I passed a motorcycle cop and didn’t rate a ticket. 🙂

[BTW, riding that slow on a motorcycle without dangling your feet or power walking the bike, takes tremendous skill. This cop had his machine under control. Dude knew how to freaking ride.]

As I rounded the corner onto Two Notch Road, I wanted to scream praises out loud and maybe do a little happy dance as the race continued up the next hill towards the first water station… with energy to burn and feeling fine.

I was waiting on my sub-10 pace to keep biting me on the bum and reducing me to walking the rest of the way, but the expected exhaustion never came.

Around Mile 9 or so I had to pop the two Advil I had stashed away in case the pain in my right leg became bad enough to slow me down. On a training run I would have slowed down, but this is a race. I’m eating the pills. These are desperate times, and I can’t come home with a DNF, especially not after I’ve managed to keep my average pace below the 10-minute mark for 8 miles. This is also when I switched to Gatorade from water because I could feel my electrolytes going whacky, or at least I think that’s what was happening because I started to have goosebumps and experienced chills. Another cup of Gatorade and an orange later, the chills were gone.

Around Mile 10 I knew I could have the time goal of 2:26 in the bag with lots to spare. But I kept waiting on the hammer to fall. Running this fast for this long on a body that isn’t trained but to run at a 12-minute pace AFTER taking an entire training week off must have consequences. Not to mention the abuse I’m putting my shredded right calf muscle through. And why the heck am I not out of breath yet?

Fight to the Finish

We need more cowbell! The fight for 642nd place. Why? Because THIS is racing. 🙂

Around Mile 12 I have to start fighting. My hip flexors are sore and are beginning to be painful; this is a sure sign that my legs aren’t going to want to go much further at their current pace. Now I am really glad I’ve taken those two Advils earlier. In my training this marked the time of a definite decrease in speed and stride length because my legs were starting to feel extremely heavy. It almost feels like I am running in water.

Getting back up that dreaded Clemson Road ramp is a feat of pure willpower. I see a girl two runners ahead of me simply walking up. I want to stop and walk, but I am afraid that if I start walking I would not be able to start running again; that my hip flexors and calf muscles would just tell me to piss off in a refusal to cooperate. I could have made better time walking up the ramp, but I just put my head down and baby step it up that puppy, concentrating on just keeping those legs moving at roughly the same speed they were moving before. Do not stop. Do NOT stop! After what seems like an eternity at a snail’s pace, getting passed by a few people, I finally reach the top of that awful ramp and things start feeling a little bit more manageable again. Once I was over the bridge and back to a slight decline of the road, I was back in business.

I never could catch the girl who walked up the ramp. I tried, because her strategy was sound. I wanted to employ it, but I didn’t dare. I regained my lead on a few people who passed me on the ramp. And I held off a few attempted passes by others.

When I finally round the last corner and saw the finish line up ahead I just want to die. I keep running but for some reason it doesn’t seem to get any closer. What the freaking hell!?! My running app’s voice-over announces something along the lines of being almost there and making it count and to please tap to hear my “power song.” My power song is “King of the Mountain” by Redline, the Isle of Man TT “theme song”. I would like to tap, but I don’t think I’m coordinated enough at this point.

Almost there! The fight to the finish.

The last few hundred feet to the finish line is like running the gauntlet. I feel claustrophobic and exposed all at the same time. All these people are cheering us on as we come in, but I can’t hear them. Yes, I have my music on, but I could hear people talk at the water stations, I could hear traffic. I can’t hear shit now. Eyes on the prize. Almost there. Why the hell am I hauling ass? I don’t know, but I’m now in “just want this to be over quickly” mode.

I see movement and a flash of color in my peripheral vision. Someone’s trying to pass me to my right. I turn my head slightly to check the situation.

My racer mentality kicks in. Oh, hell no!!!

I increase my pace, she keeps up and gains. I redline it, give it all I have; so does she. The crowd is cheering. I still can’t really hear them nor see them. I have tunnel vision at approximately 8-9 mph! Last time I had tunnel vision I was going a little faster than that… maybe 130 or so, more importantly I was pulling some Gs. This would be funny if it wasn’t so damn painful.

I’m thinking to myself that we are giving the crowd what they want to see. The glory of victory and the cruelty of defeat. We are crowd pleasers, true racers. I think I beat her to the finish line, but I’m not sure.

There are three pads lined up and I’m not sure which one is the actual timing pad. I would assume the first one, but I’m uncertain so I cross all three, but I’m already slowing down. I think I have her on the first pad, but she was passing me and had me on the second and definitely was ahead of me on the third.

We had them going! A podium worthy finish fighting over 642nd place. 0.85 seconds separated us in real time. Our chip times weren’t as spectacularly close.

I wanted to high five her and tell her that she has made the finish of my first race a thing to remember. Something that makes that side of me that is slightly crazy and overly competitive sing praises to the God of Speed. But by the time I’d gathered my senses and my finisher’s medal Miss 325 had already disappeared into the crowd.

The satisfaction of placing 643rd. 🙂 Who said I couldn't make this in 2:26? Proved y'all wrong I did. I kept true to my basic rules of racing: 1. Find someone to follow 2. Pass someone (don't come in DFL) 3. Finish ~ Oh, and I didn't throw up in my mouth sitting on the grid this time. >.<

Stats:

Finish Time: 2:14:05.60 (new PB and official first PR)
Finish Position: 643 (out of 933)
Finish Position [Females]: 291 (out of 511)

I also set a new (unofficial) PB for the 10K distance: 1:01:02

The Palmetto Half Marathon Course Map

Splits:

I try to run with a steady pace, rather than negative splits, since I don’t have the patience for starting out slow, it’s not in my nature. I’ve tried.
1.  9’56″/mi
2.  9’38″/mi [Fastest]
3.  9’50″/mi
4. 9’50″/mi
5. 10’01″/mi
6.  9’39″/mi
7.  9’50″/mi
8. 10’42″/mi [Slowest]
9. 10’30″/mi
10. 10’04″/mi
11. 10’38″/mi
12. 10’34″/mi
13. 10’33″/mi

Racing Firsts: Mementos of 643rd Place. This even triumphs the purse money I won in my very first motorcycle road race because I got up and the other guy didn't. And I placed 3rd then. 🙂


Pre-Race Jitters with a Side of DOMS

Here’s an article I came across while researching my current affliction courtesy of forgoing two weeks of training plan in favor of laying around the house depressed and then picking up where I left off, just to up the ante by a few more miles. Yes, I’m a dumbass. :/

ultraRUNNING Online – Dealing with DOMS

When I first started my marathon training my left knee eventually decided to tell me to knock off the silliness and get back on the couch. After all, my body parts are accustomed to the luxuries the sedentary lifestyle of a geek has to offer, only momentarily interrupted by the physical exertion required to throw a motorcycle around a few curves. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at this) I was endowed with a pretty fast metabolism and the genetic predisposition of being muscular, which allowed me to indulge in junk food and hours-long sessions in front of the computer without too much damage to the physique. But at 24% body fat, I wasn’t what you would consider healthy or in shape, even if I only weighed 115 pounds and wore a Size 2.

I solved the emerging knee problem by online research and then doing what was suggested as the first steps: making sure I was using the right footwear and paying attention to my stride and keeping things aligned properly. The first made the second so much easier. I’m not sure if my stride is what they would call efficient, but it seems easier on the legs, so it must be better than it used to be.

Since googling and self-diagnosis worked the first time I encountered a problem during my training, I am not shy about using the same strategy again. Is it medically advised? Probably not. Is it smart? The stupidity of the whole endeavor depends largely on how the research was preformed and on the accuracy of the self-diagnosis. But since I don’t really have a choice in the matter, it will have to do.

As with my motorcycle racing skill training, I have to learn most of it on my own and occasionally I might even get to spend some money on professional skill training to make sure I’m on the right track. I’d rather spend money on a racing school then pay for a personal trainer or a running coach and a sports doctor. Thank you, but if I had that kind of money, I’d rather see a world champion racer about a slide around a corner than a dude clad from head to toe in UnderArmour with a clipboard and a stopwatch about some pace-enhancing speed work. Since I have money for neither, at this particular point in my life, the option isn’t available anyway.

Now that I am trying to enhance my body’s performance and not just look the part, I realize that there is more to it than just going out there and doing it. Apparently, DOMS isn’t my only problem. I’m supposed to be fueling my body appropriately, too. However, I’m running on regular 87-octane pump gas, rather than the VP-110 racing fuel I’m supposed to be on. I severely lack in protein and am completely over on the fat. As a vegetarian this is probably the normal state of affairs for my body anyway. I never was one to pay much attention to how much of what and the overall quality of the foods I was eating. I ate what I wanted when I wanted it and how much I wanted.

Partial analysis, however, reveals that my diet is lacking and that I am probably malnourished. No wonder I am always tired, feel sluggish, can’t seem to get enough oxygen into my system and am irritable and moody. Not saying that all these problems stem from my diet and correcting my eating will not solve all of these problems, but it definitely won’t hurt.

I’m really getting nervous about the upcoming race. Just having the suspicion that something is wrong is one thing, but now finding out that there is a definite correlation between my habits and my lack of progress performance wise are two different animals for me. The latter is a hell of a lot harder to overcome mentally. I’m starting to be afraid to fail, even though I have shown that I can cover 13.1 miles without dying, I’m beginning to think that I won’t be able to make it, especially now that my body is showing the damage that I have done by proving that I can cover the distance in the first place, after being ill-prepared. My husband keeps telling me I’m overdoing it. I keep telling him that I have no choice. And I keep telling myself that racers do play hurt.

The anxiety builds. Yesterday I was fretting over the 6-miler, but against all I deemed possible, I made it. I was in pain the entire time, but I made it. Today I don’t want to run the prescribed 3 miles, because I’m still feeling the effects of the six-mile pounding from yesterday. And I don’t even want to think about the 12 miles I am supposed to run on Saturday. I feel like I’m going to a funeral this weekend. My own. I get nauseated just thinking about it.

Yes, I am definitely getting the pre-race jitters. Except this time, they arrive a week early for the wrong sport. And my response to this type of fear is always trying harder, going faster, taking more risks. And something tells me that this might not be the appropriate course of action in the sport of (sorta) long distance running. But I really am at a loss as what to do, and failure is not an option, since I already paid the entrance fee and a DNS is not preferable over a DNF at this point or any other. *sigh*


I’m Too Old For This!

We’ve all heard the expression: “I’m too old for this shit!” A few of us loudly proclaim our belief in the principle on occasion, but keep on keeping on. Some of us think it and quietly give up. Then there are some who use it as an excuse not to even start.

The subject of wether or not I’m too old to pound my body into submission and shape myself into an athlete by brute-force methodology has crossed my mind on more than a few occasions. My body is threatening mutiny, or so it seems. However, my mind has been known for its propensity of cracking the whip to quell the whining and the whimpering when the mission is deemed critical and worthy.

My husband’s view on the way I approach things? He just shakes his head and exclaims:

“Damn, baby! You never do anything half-assed, do you? You can’t help yourself!”

Even though my fervor must get on his nerves on occasion, I do believe he is sitting back, smugly, big shit-eating grin on his overly satisfied face, arms crossed at the chest, nodding and thinking to himself:

“Yeah, that’s my baby!”

He brags to his friends and co-workers. I know he does. Where others whip out their wallets (mobile phones) in one smooth and snappy movement to accost you with an array of baby pics and family portraits, he whips out his track photography. I think he has more pictures of me dragging knee on his phone than I do. That’s pretty bad. Where the wives (girlfriends) of others are gorgeous in their perfect hair and flawless makeup, he runs around flashing people with my sweaty helmet hair and unpainted countenance in dirty leathers.

He says I’m not like most 40 year-olds. But I don’t buy it. I feel too old for my own good on most days; and where I used to look ten years younger, frequent exposure to the elements and a high-stress work environment have finally taken their toll. I now am starting to look about as old as I feel. My crow’s feet alone could probably get me some premature social security benefits, if they didn’t check their paperwork. 😉

At least we don’t get the “so nice of you to take your daughter out” comments anymore. That was always a hoot, since hubby usually responded to those remarks with laying a fat slobbery kiss on me a few minutes later, after failing to correct the erroneous assumption. What a nut job! That’s why I don’t take him out in public very often… *giggles*

But there are a few individuals who defy the “life is over after 40” rule and they give me the drive to keep on going. Because a midlife crisis, after all, is a terrible thing to waste. =D

I almost didn’t start racing when I first got the notion and excitedly and very loudly exclaimed, while my nose was buried in Keith Code’s book A Twist of the Wrist: “Hell yeah! I wanna do THAT!” I’m glad I was on weekend duty and alone in the office. After the initial excitement wore off and my brain had time to process all of the information, it responded with an unkindly “I’m too old for this shit!” and that was the end of it for about a year or so.

A guy at work, who is a few years my junior, found out that I had crashed on my second race weekend and ended my first season prematurely, decided that he should save me from myself and told me the following: “I know you don’t want to hear this, but you’re too old to race. You crash and your body takes forever to heal and your injuries are probably going to be more severe. That’s probably also why you’re slow. You’re afraid to go fast.”

[Note: I only sustained minor injuries to my left hand due to my glove failing. The season ended prematurely because it took a little over three months and most of my saved up money to repair my bike, and it was decided it was best to prepare to race a full season in 2012, with a dedicated race bike and a lot more cash saved up.]

Excuse me?!? Dude, you better thank your lucky stars that we’re at work, because if you had said that to me anywhere else, I would have put you in your place, you presumptuous little prick! And then raced your cruiser riding ass for pinks. In first gear, with one hand. Asshole!

He stopped riding sport bikes (“crotch rockets” is the term he actually used) because he, by his own admission, was “too old for this shit” and had crashed and it took him forever to heal.

The reason I started racing, despite my misgivings about starting so late in life and only having been riding motorcycles on the street for a little over two years? Burt Munro. The old fart showed Bonneville how old timers roll, and he didn’t even pre-register. 😉 He bet “the farm” on his dream and it paid off. Against all odds, with plenty of obstacles and no sponsors. Yeah! He’s still my hero.

Read up on him sometime or watch the movie ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’. Very inspiring story, even if you are not into racing. His story transcends the sport. It’s a testament to the fact that “I’m too old for this shit!” is just another fallacy we’ve been brainwashed with by the media, societal norms and rate-of-return expectations. Youth is wasted on the young. Whoever said that, they have it pegged.

I ran into a man of the “over-the-hill type” at my inaugural WERA race. He’s freaking awesome. I think he said he started racing when he was 67 and that was a few years back. But don’t quote me on his exact age. The man is my hero. He doesn’t know it, but I secretly look up to him. He’s having fun doing what he does, has a wicked sense of humor, and he’s fast.

My “sister in speed”, whom I met during a racing school we both attended, just shrugged when she first heard how old I was and said: “You’re just a baby.” She doesn’t look it, but she’s ten years my senior. And crashing does not slow her down a bit. She’s having fun, too.

There are many other people to whom I look up to, who defy the norm. People who do in spite of it all. Did you know there is a dude who races motorcycles and only has one arm?!? I didn’t know it was possible. I saw him at Barber, while I was walking to the race control building he was making his way onto pit road to go on track. I did a double take, shaking my head because I thought I was hallucinating, and then did a triumphant fist pump in his direction. He didn’t see me, because he had already passed the spot where I was standing to let traffic through. Yeah, get a load of THAT. That’s what I call passion! That’s what I call drive and determination. Freakin’ awesome. I still don’t know who he is, but there are a number of amputees still riding and racing motorcycles. Still think you’re too old, too disabled, too whatever?

Today I am researching a few topics of interest on running and come across an article that talks about fears first time road racers have. One of which is also a very real fear for first time motorcycle road racers: the fear of coming in last. It takes one race to get over that silliness. 🙂 But I digress. One of the items listed was the fear of being too old to run, let alone enter an official road race. The article ended with:

“You’re never too old to start running, and it’s definitely never too late to start road racing.”

And that is the truth.

Obstacles are placed in our way to test our resolve, our determination, our passion, and our will to succeed. I can’t do nothing about my chronological age; but I can work on being in the best shape of my life and not let my age stop me from achieving my goals. My age also can’t keep me from dreaming!

And as the clock keeps ticking away, forcing me to grow even older than “too old for this shit”, I still try and retain my inner peace and happiness while I’m waiting for my turn again.

Three basic ingredients are needed for sustained happiness:

  1. Something to do.
  2. Something to look forward to.
  3. Somebody to love.

I have lost my main “to do” four months ago, but I am keeping busy with my marathon training and writing, to keep the depression and anxiety at bay.

I am looking forward to racing my motorcycle again, which will happen once I have secured re-employment and have regained a positive cash flow and met my other financial responsibilities. 2013 could be my year and I have to be ready, mentally and physically.

I have the third item covered in spades. No, make that hearts, even though it is not the trump suit, it works better in a literary sense.


Race Pace

I like numbers. I have a semi-pathological obsession with numbers. Numbers, unlike words, never lie. You may be able to misrepresent them, which takes words, but in and of themselves they are true to the nature of their representation. Numbers prove words true. Applied mathematics makes sense out of life, for the most part. Theoretical mathematics are just plain fun. “What is” versus “what could be”. Hence, my obsession with lap times, mostly my own, rather than anyone else’s.

I’m a very competitive individual. When I’m lacking decent competition I will compete with my own self. Decent competition here is defined as competing with racers who are at similar skill levels to my own, preferably on the faster (or better) side of things. An easy win isn’t anything for me to aspire to. I do like easy wins, don’t get me wrong; but “cherry-picking” my way around the competition just doesn’t feel nearly as good as that win you’ve earned. The win you’ve fought so hard for, you weren’t sure if you’re going to make it, and in doing so scared yourself on several occasions because you were giving 110%, pushing the envelope way past your personal comfort zone. I like those. Those are awesome! That’s the stuff a great story is made of. A story worth telling. A story worth reading. An inspiration; the fuel that keeps the flame alive and burning brightly. Coincidentally, those are also the races that will be remembered: the nail-biting, edge of your seat, heart-pounding close ones. Good times! Good times!

It would be utter nonsense to compare my “PR” of the best lap I ever turned at Barber Motorsports Park with that of Mat Mladin, who currently holds the track record of 1:23.664, with an AVERAGE speed of 115.474 miles per hour. I barely haul that on the front straight, never mind averaging it. Not even close. If I could get into the upper 1:40s consistently I’d be holding a press conference. My PR for Barber is 1:52. And that is NOT my consistent average.

Here’s a word problem for you:

“If Mat and Em left pit road and entered the track at the same time and there was no other traffic, where on the track would the lapping pass happen and at what time in the race?”

I give you a hint: When Kevin Schwantz crosses the finish line on a Saturday afternoon sighting lap with no brakes, Em is still trying to figure out whether or not to shift on top of the curb or before it, even though it really doesn’t matter either way at her current speed or the gearing she’s running, not that she would have to shift at all if she didn’t want to.

Another hint: She wouldn’t see Mat again, short of catching a quick glimpse of him heading out of Turn 6, once he disappeared from view in the middle of Turn 3, until she was unceremoniously lapped a shortish while later.

Go!

I try not to make it a habit to keep tabs on my competition. An activity, a friend of mine calls “lap time stalking”. She says it helps her confidence to know what she’s up against beforehand. I rather not know how I stack up against others. It becomes self-evident once you’re on the track with them. You either know wether or not you have a chance to keep up and possibly even have a chance at beating them. If they pull away from you like the newbie equivalent of Mat Mladin in my silly example, you might as well pick on somebody your own size… I mean, speed.

The same also holds true if the roles were reversed. It wouldn’t be any fun for me to pass another rider who runs in the 2:20s at the aforementioned racetrack. It’s boring and uninspiring, just like Mat would feel about my hanging out in the raceline with him. Non-consequential at best, a liability at worst, and an inconvenience every third lap or so. Like a sprint runner passing the fitness walker at the gym’s indoor track.

The stalking of lap times has the opposite effect on my psyche. If I had known what kind of times the boys were handing in during my first race weekend, I would have stayed home; not that I left the house thinking that there was even a remote possibility of me winning anything. I just wanted to do it and be part of something fairly unique. I headed to the racetrack with only one goal in mind: I didn’t want to come home with a DNF (Did Not Finish) or, worse, a DNS (Did Not Start). The former meaning I probably crashed out, and the latter meaning I didn’t have the courage to grid up for the race in the first place.

That’s also my attitude about running in my first half marathon. I’m not entertaining any notion that I’ll be winning anything. I just want to say that I did it and crossed the finish line under my own power.

Last place is always preferable to being a no-show or a quitter; and who knows, there might even be a few people I could pass and finish ahead of. That was true for my first road race on two wheels, it will also be true to my first road race on two feet.

However, this didn’t stop me from trying to figure out where (and how fast) I would finish and where I could finish in my ultimate goal, which is completing an official marathon. On my quest to comparing the “what is” with the “what could be” I came across this nifty little tool. The runner’s (free) equivalent of the motorcycle racer’s (expensive) data acquisition: Greg McMillan’s pace calculator.

I plug in my PR of 30:00 for the 5K, which just so happens to give me the best projected outcome and furnishes me with all sorts of digits I can use in my marathon training. You can try it for yourself here.

Caught in the act by my daughter (I think she was trying to report on a heinous fashion crime though): At Barber Motorsports Park looking at posted lap times and race results.

Who said theoretical mathematics couldn’t be fun? Probably the same person who also insists that playing around with applied physics wasn’t a pleasurable activity. Talk to me once you’ve put your knee down for the very first time cornering your motorcycle or have set a new personal best for the mile in your run. We will then revisit the subject of “speed is relative” and can be enjoyed on any level, as long  as you have a grasp on what the accomplishment means to you personally.

I will never complete a lap in the 1:23s at BMP, nor will I ever complete a marathon in the 2:15s. What I will do, however, is be inspired to reach for my own personal best, by working hard and not giving up when things seem to get too tough; and enjoy my triumphs and be proud in my accomplishments, no matter how they may compare on a broader scale.

There is always somebody faster.

Just do it and be your best. Discouragement is highly discouraged. And discouragement happens when you compare yourself to others, especially to those (way) out of your (current) league. Don’t compare, but compete. And competition happens when you find someone who’s at your own level… and then the real race begins. The one you have a possibility of winning. The one that happens with the person directly in front of you. Let them inspire you to give it your all and then give a little more; and as you pass them, you’ll inadvertently do the same for them.

And that is where it’s at.

Chances are you’ll end up pulling each other along to the finish, crossing the line together in an impromptu team effort towards a common goal.

Chances are that the motorcycle you’ve been chasing and trying to hopefully pass for the better of five laps, inspired you to go faster than you ever have and you’ll still end up doing the happy dance in front of the posted race results, looking like a complete dork, even though you’ve finished the race in the back of the pack.

*overuse of the word “inspiration” in its various forms was completely intentional*