Thursday, June 6, 2013

Uncontrollable Moment

It donned on me today during my ride that cycling gives me more back than I often realize. One word seemed to rise above all else: Hope. Circling my legs through the strokes of my ride I found moments of solace. Where I am now from where I was after my last race... Well, I know things have worked out well for me in a number of ways. Not everyone is as lucky. Other aspects of where I am will take more than time and simple hope. A determination and diligence is what I must call upon to realize goals further than just the future.

The last time I raced was in Chantilly, VA over a month ago. Being relatively close to where I live, I was able to drag my girlfriend there to watch me race for the first time. My parents were also able to make it, and I was excited to be able to ride my hardest for them all.

With decent training leading up to it and a good warmup before the start line, my legs felt good. From the start I was cautious of my efforts, but not afraid to follow moves I felt were important. If I wasn't at the front of the peloton or slightly off the front nursing a move, I kept toward the outside of the field. Experience with a Cat 4 field has this solidified in my racing style. Yet, as good as I felt, as cautious as I was being, nothing could be done to save me from experiencing the worst crash of my career.

THIS is why a cyclist shaves his legs.

In an uncontrollable moment my front wheel is pushed to my left beyond my balance by the rider in front of me while my rear is held in place by the rider behind - an unnatural twisting force that grapples my front wheel to dip to the left. My left hand lifts from its grasp of comfort and is extended in a frozen purgatory. My eyes scan between each pinpoint of information my mind is absorbing in its hyperactive state. I hear a my voice waver a panicked yell as I realize my painful fate is near . As far to the left of the field as I was, another rider is at a glance in my left peripheral and the instant I have to stabilize is now far gone. My only option is to brace for black impact.

I hit. My body groans again as the solid pavement I have just slammed into begins to rip and grind away my left side. I know that the best way for me to lessen the damage to my already fraying skin is to be released from my locked footing to my bicycle and roll. Immediately my left foot is released from under my bike by someone's own ill-fated position behind me having run over my bike. My eyes are sealed and after one roll I feel a stunning 1-2 jab to my right ribs and upper arm. These impacts revive another groan from my worsening condition and I roll over and over again to allow the mauling pavement to decide where I stop.

I am stranded - alone. I lie there writhing in sudden pain and panic while the adrenaline quickly numbs my senses to help me cope. My eyes open and although my agonized groaning has not stopped, my only other response to the panic I am feeling is to raise my head and slam it back down on the pavement that did this to me over and over - the adrenaline needs to work faster. My eyes close and open once more and my right hand gently presses against the tender ribs that were just run over by someone not unlike myself.

"How can I help you?" My groaning stops. I am not alone. From my left another sorry racer that has just ridden over me asks again, "What can I do?" I look up and reassure his panicked inquiry that there is nothing he can do for me. I blink and now see other riders sprawled out past him that have gone down with me - because of me. I close my eyes and slam my head back once more.

My breathing is sharp now and the first sensation of feeling I regain is a flap of skin that has folded off my right thumb that has just brushed the jersey on my side. I place my thumb into my mouth and bite off the skin and spit it out. This is no time for remorse. I know I have to now asses the damages and limit my losses. The pressure on my ribs rises to a crescendo and I groan once more. The other riders are regaining their bearings and are remounting their bikes to rejoin the circuit race before the field passes us once more.

I now realize two things. First, there is blood. Second, I feel no pain except the pressure on my side - my ribs are bruised but not broken. I sense the open skin on the side of my hip, left leg, knee and ankle, right hip and shoulder, forearms, knuckles, and fingers, but no pain.

I finally get up and pick my bike off the ground. I run the pedals through a stroke or two to make sure I did not lose more than what I can repair; myself. I know that I cannot continue the race and I begin my walk back along the outside of the race course to the start/finish. In my state of shock reluctantly accept a free ride back with a race medic. When he and I get back I see my girlfriend still watching the race as if I was still in it. My parents too... They all thought they must have just missed me passing by during the past few laps.

Their eyes scan the damage and I am profoundly grateful they are there to take my car and me home, and that I was not 4 hours away from home with only myself to drive. My girlfriend drove me as the adrenaline was wearing off and the pressures and pains began to creep into my consciousness. We search for proper bandages and make it back to my home with french bread pizza waiting for us.

Bike and blood rag retrieved a few days later.

After a week of training for a new position at work and another week helping open a new store I am able to ride again. The healing process was often painful, but it's over now.

Today, my knuckles and other skin have sealed and healed. My riding, subject to the schedule I now am without, is sporadic and hardly something I can call training. But I still get out and ride when I can. And that gives me hope that I can still realize dreams I have about this cycling thing.

(instagram: @johnnybrison) Thanks for reading.

Also, the guy that I watched win the race... I've beaten him before in sprints and I could have beaten him again. Next time.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Where's The Podium? #17: Salisbury Road Race - 6*th

I am trying up up my fitness. With the work days and all that fills my weeks between the wars that I am slotted to wage come Saturday and/or Sunday, they call my kind the "weekend warrior." Each day can be a battle to do what I feel I need to do so that I can succeed and rise to each weekend's challenge. Yet, yesterday's road race war was not quite the type of race war I have been training for. As you read this please understand that my complaints here are not without reason. I felt unnecessarily unsafe in nearly every moment of the race and I will not sit idly by when a cheater tries to cheat me. I would have moved up if I could have, but this is the nature of these lower category races sometimes.

Despite my placing 6*th out of +/- 65 riders, yesterday's race was a poor road racing experience. The only "race" happened in the last kilometer. Before that, my brakes got more work than my legs.

Reason being, the tactical wariness and timidity of the category 4/5 race field. Two weeks ago I complained about the unnerving manner of the U-19 racer combined with the poor weather conditions. Yesterday's race had neither, but was the sketchiest race I have ever had to ride. On the first of four laps alone, there were 2 crashes. Because no one is willing to ride hard enough to make the peloton, nor least of all, themselves hurt a little to make the race an actual race, the riders were subject to suffer far worse consequences. I would be willing to wager nearly a quarter of the riders were affected by the 5-6 crashes yesterday. Disgusting.

But okay, Let me put some of this into context.

There is a center-line rule in place. That rule is there because the race organizers, despite the amazing work they do to make these events happen, could not get all of the roads closed to traffic. Thus, cars, trucks, horse-buggies, and anything else is allowed to drive through the course on the left side of the yellow line of the road while the races carry on. Simple. Understood by all. De jure. De facto... riders hate the yellow line rule for a number of reasons that I won't go into here, but they cheat it whenever they can and think the will win the race by doing so. It's next to impossible to move up when the peloton is tight and slow, but some can't seem to understand that the race will not be won cheating up a few places by going over the yellow line. 

I had one guy try do it to me after a turn (where the yellow line disappeared through the intersection) and when I wouldn't budge over into another rider or slam on my brakes so that he could slot himself in front of me. I pleaded with him "Yellow line dude. Come on..." as if to say, "why would you try that? I'm not letting you in. I hate you right now." He protested back at me with, "It disappeared through the turn!" Readers... this is an example of the morons that I had to wage war against yesterday. It took an oncoming horse-buggie for him to pull his brakes and go back to where he was behind me. Pathetic. Dangerous. Cheater. Waste of a race entry.

 One guy I called an explicative for cutting me at the beginning of the last lap so that he could be behind his teammate. As if that was going to make him win the race. As if that move was going to have him beat me. Nay, rider. Nay.

Yesterday, because no one wanted to ride at a decent pace on the front, because of the yellow line rule, and because these riders are novice, I and everyone else, was on my brakes way too many times. I was scared that one wrong move in the compact, stuck peloton would send my bike and me straight to the pavement. 

My friend's race was ruined on the last lap when some rider on a climb decided to swing and swerve his bike over and accidentally into my friend's rear derailleur. This move caused the following to happen:
  1. Broke the cable to my friend's rear derailleur - no more shifting for him - meaning he had to finish the race in that easier gear he was using to ride over the rolling hill where/when this event happened.
  2. Rider that hit rear derailleur hits pavement next.
  3. Rider hitting pavement hits other riders on the way down causing them to hit pavement too
  4. The race is over for many riders and the lucky survive.
My strategy for this race became clear to me on the first lap. If I am to stay safe and out of the path of falling riders, I have to either be at the front or on the yellow line so at least I can swerve outside and not into someone next to me should something happen. That strategy paid off and I was able to go into the final turn down and up the finishing hills with decent positioning, perfectly un-fatigued legs, and enough clarity in my mind to want to end this race as soon as possible. Taking 6th was not a great or terrible result for me with a lot considered. But don't get me wrong... I'm content enough* with my placing.

No matter how much I complain about the terrible racing that my friend and I were subjected to yesrerday, nothing will change until we cat-up for stronger fields where race tactics, stronger legs, fearless riders, and everything else changes. I've been through these races before. I just hope my bike and I make it out safe again.

Easter colors for you from my morning drive up to PA

I would like to say thank you again to the support I have and the race organizers that put on these events for us. I am by no means complaining about their hard work, sacrifices, and commitment to us all. They do a wonderful job and I cannot thank them enough.

The sun was a welcome friend during the warm-up ride, race war, and drive home. It was incredible how I could feel the intense cold when someone's shadow passed over the lyrca on my legs.

Thanks for reading.

*Originally, results posted said I took 5th. USA Cycling official results put me in 6th. I need to train harder and drop these races with better results.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Where's The Podium? #16: Strasburg

You could say this race had a lot not going for me. You could also say I couldn't care less.

I'm just happy to be racing again.

And that is how I am choosing to look at this early morning's experience. Leaving my house at 5:15 am to drive 2.5 hours for a 1.25 hour race may sound daunting to most, but I leave for work every day only an hour later to face 8-10 hours of retail onslaught. This morning's cycling onslaught is a trade I'm happy to make.

Strasburg, Pennsylvania is part of the great county of Lancaster. From iconic PA sights interwoven with its rich, unique Amish culture, bike races are allowed to flourish here and I hope to make my way up many more times. As you can see from these first two pictures, the morning was beautiful in sight. Yet the cold winds were leading the charge of a bitter spitting of hail turned snow for the 9:00am race start.

The race course had its rollers, twists, and Lancaster character. From the ripe smell of cow presence to the horse manure patching the roads... if you can't tell by now, this race was sketchy. Instead of me going into a long-winded explanation of all the forces against a more positive result for me, I will simply list them out for you to see.

Beginning with factors effecting the race overall...

  1. First race of the season for many
  2. Poor, cold weather
  3. Snow making the roads wet and slick
  4. U-19 riders not heeding warnings, yellow lines, or their positioning on the bike, within the peloton, nor anyone else around them
  5. 2 crashes - caused by the aforementioned factors, yet they still play a part  (unnerving for some - tho one was right near the end near the back where the strong and capable of winning wouldn't be found)

And for me personally...
  1. My first race in two years
  2. Sketchy riders all around me causing me to be unnerved for much of the race
  3. Legs weren't fluid - for a number of reasons on their own...
    1. Poor training - SO MUCH WORK all on my feet for those 8-10 hour shifts (not a complaint- just a fact) My legs can only handle so much before fatigue cripples any gains I would hope to get from all the training I wish I could be doing
    2. Asthma - this only comes up in extreme cold with high exertion and in extreme heat with extreme exertion - it flared up for the last 4 of the 5 laps sapping my needed oxygen for that ATP energy production, muscle recovery, and sustainable strength in the legs. 
  4. At the end - I was caught behind a crash that took our 5-6 riders in front of me and almost claimed me with it. Glamourless onslaught.
  5. Legs didn't have it.
  6. Legs didn't have it.
  7. Legs didn't have it.
If my legs did have it, I wouldn't have been caught in the back behind that crash at the end that nearly took me out with it. I would have been up front with my friend going for the top step. But you know what... I got 22nd and I can only hope to improve with hard work, more dedication, and trusting myself.
I'm not done here yet.
I've done what training I could so far, and I will continue to do what I can as I dive into this upcoming season. It's a balancing act I feel most have to contend with. As much as I may feel mine is the worst, I cannot help but simply retract any negativity and replace it with appreciation for my ability to race, all the support I have around me, and what I hope to still accomplish. I have a lot of work to still do, but no one is in my way*.

Leaving Lancaster, PA and the Strasburg road race was not accompanied by disappointment. Seeing people going about their daily lives of work in this weather I hated to race my bike in certainly reminded me of the perspective I carry. I'm finally racing again and I couldn't care less about the placing I got today... I'm lucky to be able to do this. I will be back to race in Lancaster two weeks from now and I look forward to it. I am happy that my friend's hard work in training time and efforts payed off with a 3rd place and I hope I can help him out a bit more next time and slot myself up a few places in doing so.
100% Colombian + me = 200% Colombian
Thanks for reading.
instagram: @johnnybrison
*except me

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Finally Snow

It's about time Northern Virginia acquired the justification for calling it "winter" and these cold temperatures. It was a dusting and no one was freaking out, but it was a welcome sight to me. I had the day to myself and though I didn't get too much done as far as productive, inspiring accomplishments go, I did drive to the post office for a package that was already delivered. Whoops.
Bean boots were chillin' in the whip.
With my fruitless errand fulfilled for the day, my check engine light decided to awaken from a deep, peaceful slumber. After 38,000+ miles, this '08 Hyundai had better not be trying to cost me money.
Note: no check engine light captured here... I just took the pic feeling lucky to have caught the moment.
Tomorrow I have work at the nice early time of 7am. I enjoy that early time. I don't know if I'm an "early bird," but when there's a job to be done, I'd rather have it slap me awake. At any rate, that's too early for me to get my car to a shop and figured out. Now I know what you're thinking... why didn't I just take it in today? Well, I had an on-call shift that I might have had to go in for and I just thought I could drive it in and there would be no problem.

Well, that would have been a problem. One should really not drive their car anywhere with their check engine light on, unless it's to a dealership to get that junk checked.

I just hope that check doesn't cost me money. It will have to happen this weekend I think. My mom is letting me borrow her car tomorrow.

Anyway, I went to Philadelphia with the pretty girl in this next picture. Unfortunately, her cat could not join, but we had fun seeing an IUP friend living there. I hope to make it back up there for a visit or two this year.

Also, I am LOVING the camera my girlfriend got me as an early birthday gift. I resisted having her gift it to me early, but she convinced me otherwise and I'm glad I caved. In fact, all of the photos on this post (and probably most every other from here on out) were taken with the new camera!

I seriously take this wonderful camera with me everywhere!
Never had a fancy latte like this before.

These teeth have not been this clean in a long time.
I'll close this post out with a few shots I took of a fiery sunset from a few days ago. I was driving to the mall with my friend Donnie and we were enjoying the scenic sky.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

For Me Lately

I'm just going to let my fingers do the talking on this one. I want to tell you all about the ride I had this weekend that would quickly turn into one of those "Okay... but what have you done for me lately?" types of topics if I allow it to linger too far beyond tonight.

I didn't do this one alone. As it turns out, I wouldn't have thought to do this ride or put in the effort that I did without a training partner. And before you all think I'm about to get all bromantic here, it makes for a huge difference mentally to have someone suffering, questioning their existence, and able to help you along riding next to you (and sometimes in front). It is something I have not had in this particular fashion on the bike before and I believe it will make us both stronger because of it - we are pushing each other at our most vulnerable.

Now, I say that I wouldn't have thought to do this ride without someone suggesting we tick away at it because it's true. I'm a sucker for the same stuff. Same rides, same routes, same whatever I have to do to not get myself lost and feeling like a helpless puppy... you get it... I'm a sissy about some things. When an opportunity like this presents itself to me (i.e. someone else is navigating), I'm not going to back away without feeling like I'm taking something away from myself easily. That being said, limits are taken when the legs aren't there or when the weather turns way too sour for a quality ride to be had and I could just ride my trainer for proper fitness and not cycling equipment testing.

That being said, when the esteemed weather-folk give us the "sunny skies in the middle-to-high 60s on Sunday" and things are actually "cloudy and fog all day with a chance of some rain for some of you with temperatures holding in the low-to-mid 50s"... don't you lie to me! Okay, we can't complain for the weather turning out that way in JANUARY, yet in principle no one appreciates feeling lied to when they plan their lives...

I'm going to go ahead and pump the brakes on my fingers here. The tangents are all generally understood.

Anyway, I wish I had brought my cameras. Filming on a day like this would have been amazing. What else do I have a weatherproof camera for!?!? Obviously, I'm kicking myself for not bringing it along as well as my new point-and-shoot for the gratuitous post-ride pictures. We were soaked, chilled, dirtied, tired, and in awe of the ride we had just experienced.

The Experience.

Have you ever ridden through and above a rain cloud before? This day's experience is one I do not think I will soon have again. Riding somewhere between where fog you drive through and the clouds you look up to - we rode into a rain cloud. Surely one has driven through this sort of thing, but there is hardly anything I can use to describe it when I was so intimately a part of it. 

You were not there feeling the pain through your body as lactic acid lit fire to every muscle sending your blood scour your lungs for every molecule of oxygen available. You were not battling kind of pain that makes your mind turn against you as a way to protect itself pleading for your submission. You were not wanting to quit like I was. I had forgotten this kind of suffering and how much it makes me love riding. 

For a moment we saw the sun this day. You did not.

In that moment of bright, blue, partly-cloudy skies we were reminded that everything experienced on this would be for the better in days to come. I know that some day ahead I will have the benefits of this day's suffering and feel stronger than everyone else around me... for a moment. The moment passes as the cold, wet fog engulfs us through another descent as we still have many miles yet to ride back.

And when it is all over with, it is a ride and experience like this that simply reminds me how lucky I am to continue suffering like I do for it. I know I am achieving no worldly "greatness," but in my own way I can say that I am able to experience more than so many others through my highs and lows on the bicycle. I ride for that pain and suffering to know my limits, and to push beyond them and my mind telling me to stop. Because sometimes its nice to feel that control where the rest of your world seems to dictate so much and hold you back.

Thanks for reading.