Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Apples and oranges and all that I needed

If you’re anything like me, you can spend hours after a race dissecting what went well, what didn’t, where the difference was made. For instance, I’ve spent the last two days beating myself up about Lotoja—not for letting a gap open on the Salt River climb, but for being so stupid as to be towards the back of the pack when the climb started.

You see, thanks to online time splits, I know there were a couple of riders who stayed with the lead group but who climbed that hill in about the same time I did. Had I been at the front, even climbing at a slower pace, I would have just drifted to the back but may have been able to stay with the lead group. Ironic since I’ve been known to rip on Levi and VDV for not staying at the front and getting caught in crashes as a result. And those guys are way smarter racers than I’ll ever be. Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

Here’s the thing, though, the usefulness of comparing splits only extends so far, even in the same race. For instance, the Cat. 3-4 group was slower over Salt River than the Cat. 4 group. Does that mean had I signed up with the 3-4 group, I would have stayed with the leaders? Impossible to say. It was a different race, and had I been there and not where I was, the tactics could have been completely different, too.

It would be great if there were a magic calculator we could plug a few splits into, have it check our pulse and a few other vitals, and it could spit back our finish time in a given race. But it doesn’t work that way.

Which is why I get a kick out of comparisons from one race to another, such as Leadville to Park City Point to Point, or Tour DAY Park City to Lotoja, or Lotoja to STP. They’re different races, and times in one don’t mean the same as times in another. Moreover, even if the courses are the same, times from one year aren’t directly comparable to times another year, as wind, weather, and other externalities, in addition to tactics, always play a role.

Even within the race, my time at Lotoja is only directly comparable to others in my start wave. Were the Cat. 5s who caught us between Logan and Preston stronger riders because they finished 3, 6, or 9 minutes faster than the Cat. 4 winners? I doubt it. They benefitted from Mark T. and Spence R. pulling the train just as much as the other Cat. 4s did. Had Mark and Spence drilled it from the opening gun, I doubt the fives would have ever caught us. But tactically, none of the 4s thought it was in his interest to pull through that section, so nobody did.

Comparing one race to another is even more difficult. For example, let’s compare Leadville to Park City Point to Point. Alex Grant took fourth at Leadville with a time of 7:10 and first at PCPP with a time of 7:04. Afterward, he said PCPP was tougher. Does that mean a sub nine hour finish at PCPP is roughly equivalent to a sub nine hour finish at Leadville? Who knows?

At Leadville, Alex had the benefit of a fast lead group that he was chasing throughout the day. At PCPP, Alex was in front most of the day, with Bart a few minutes back but not really threatening. Do you go faster chasing/being chased by someone, or do you go faster riding alone? Moreover, which would you perceive as more difficult?

At both races, roughly 20% of the field did not finish. Of those who finished Leadville, roughly 10% finished under nine hours. Of those who finished PCPP, roughly 40% finished under nine hours. Moreover, several racers, such as KC and Chris Holley and Kenny Jones, did both events. All three plus AG had faster times at PCPP than at Leadville. That suggests going under nine is “easier” at PCPP than at Leadville.

But the four in my sample may have been healthier at PCPP. Weather certainly was less of a factor at PCPP. Leadville could have improved their fitness ahead of PCPP. Additionally, the field at PCPP may have been overall stronger than the field at Leadville. Self-selection may have led to the 40% who finished under nine hours being of the same caliber as the 10% who did so at Leadville.

I bet you’re expecting me to get somewhere with this, but I have no point, beyond my assertion that comparisons are valid only for the very practical and extremely useful purpose of beating one’s self up. As for congratulating one’s self for a result that never happened, well they’re sort of useless in that regard. Because who really cares about a result you didn’t get in an event you didn’t enter? (Or, if we’re being brutally honest, who besides you, your mom, and a few friends cares about a result you did get in an event you did enter?)

For nearly everyone reading this blog—working stiffs who ride and race for fun, fitness, and mental health—the only thing that matters is that we’ve proven to ourselves whatever it is we didn’t know before. Mark T. summed it up well in his comment Monday:

At one point James C told me "you're a tough rider." Maybe, maybe not. I can't stomach giving anything less than everything. All I want at the end of a day like that is to know - without reservation - that I worked as hard as I could, and emptied the tank, utterly. Any less and nothing may be learned.

To me racing the bike is part of The Way. I've used other means but in the end the means don't matter, only that one is honest, 100% present, and aware enough to learn the lessons of the experience. In this sense I got everything I needed on Saturday.


  1. mark t sets the bar waaaaay too high. can't identify with that kind of work ethic or standard.

    how bout this: was it fun?

  2. Dug, I hear you. It has to be fun. But if I didn't do everything I could, and my result wasn't what I wanted because of that, the aftermath is very un-fun. At least for me.

  3. I looked at some of the same PCPP/Leadville comparisons, but didn't post most of them for the reasons you said - the comparisons are pretty pointless. But now you have me thinking...

    I did notice that the single speeders generally chopped more time off in the PCPP than their geared counterparts. My guess is because there was nowhere to spin out in PCPP.

    I don't know that I've seen anyone who finished PCPP slower than Leadville, so I would say that sub 9 in PCPP is easier. Does that mean PCPP is an easier race? Depends on who you ask, because I talked to people on both sides of the fence.

    So now that we've both participated in this completely pointless exercise, I'll say what I said before. They're both hard. But if forced to choose, I'll take the singletrack because for me, it's more likely I'll answer dug's question in the affirmative.

  4. ...and there we see the difference in how people derive fullfillment from events like these. Fun for me is knowing I laid it all out there, letting the chips fall where they may. Finishing feeling like I didn't leave everything on the course is the most frustrating, fun-sucking thing of all. In fact I suppose fun isn't what I get from it, but a deep sense of satisfaction (but satisfaction is fun, right?). Am I upset that I finished 15th (in the 4s) at LOTOJA this year? Yes. I am sure anyone who started the race thinking they were going to win, or should win, and didn't is second guessing themselves right now while musing at the clarity of hindsight, (insert introspective metaphor here:_______), blah, blah, blah...What I am trying to say is that they are disappointed they didn't win (I know I am). What is more upsetting to me though is how good I felt afterwards this year. Knowing you left everything out on the course at the end of a race is a good feeling. Coming in 15th isn't the worst thing in the world if you know there was nothing else you could have done. In fact I could live it with it just fine if I felt that were the case. There was one point somewhere after Afton where I said to Joel, who eventually won, "Stop working and let someone else move to the front," with the hopes of getting some fresh legs on the front, maybe ramping up the tempo a little and shelling a few of the sit-ins. The only thing that accomplished was slowing the peloton to a crawl (and pissing me off). My biggest regret is not deciding to put my head down sooner and hitting the finish line with nothing left. I could have taken 30th and been fine with it because if you can't even walk after the race, how much regret can you really have? I could walk just fine afterwards this year, and that is what is bugging me the most these past few days. It sounds like skibikejunkie and Mark T. would agree, being able to walk upright afterwards can suck the fun right out of an otherwise very enjoyable event... You know what would have been really fun? Driving the pace with the Spin Cycle Guys and the Simply Mac guys from just outside of Logan (cat 5 free) all the way to Jackson. That's the kind of good time I would come back for in a heartbeat. Next year I plan on having LOTS of fun. Be ready to party.

  5. Aaron, you know you don't have to choose. Leadville is an experience unto itself. You ought to give it a try. I'd like to do PCPP for the rave reviews you and everyone else have given it. Even though you know how I feel about racing on singletrack. Incidentally, PCPP will be a disaster if it ever gets the numbers Leadville does, precisely because it's singletrack.

    PCD, I like your attitude, but sometimes it's a prisoner's dilemma when considering whether or not to work on the front.

  6. SkiBike Junkie, are you me? A good day on the mountain is better than...well...anything. That's right. I said it. There is nothing, NOTHING, I would rather do than ski the good stuff all day- Fortunatley, I don't have to choose...

    With that being said, in relation to the topic at hand, the prisoners dilemna, sometimes it boils down to not what will make me the happiest but what will upset me the least.

    A slow peloton can be frustrating, especially in a ride like LOTOJA, because I don't want to sit on my bike for 10 hrs. Also, my attention span is notorious for its brevity, and consequently, I get bored. Do I want to be bored for 10 hours? Hells no! (unless I am getting paid, in which case sometimes I will endure a little boredom). So in an effort to avoid said boredom I often find myself out front when the pace gets a little slow. I realize that in doing so I might be setting myself up for some disappointment in the final miles of a race, but even if that scenario does occur, I can't remember ever being bored when I am on the chase, or even better, in the break. So, when given the choice of sitting in for 206 miles at 18 mph or suffering on the front for a few hours with the likely outcome being getting done sooner without getting on the podium, I will be much less upset with the latter choice than the former... decision made.

  7. My all-day (or 4 day, in the case of Leadville) races are pretty rare, so I probably would have to choose. Honestly, I don't think I'd do as well in Leadville. I found myself making up time on the highly tech parts, and not so much on the "put your head down and hammer" parts of PCPP. Maybe one of these years I'll find out how I'd do at Leadville.