Tag Archives: parenthood

My Festive 500

14 Jan
The goal is simple: ride 500km between December 24 and December 31.
I rode the Festive 500 the first year Rapha put it out there, back before Kid #3 and when I  was still racing on the road with any regularity.  It was tough but doable as I had a job where I could ride at lunch and group rides to jump on to burn up some of the miles.  It got tougher each year after that.  Travel days, work, riding less in general, another child, a move.  It all added up, but I used it almost every year to try to motivate a burst of riding.  I made it a shorter and shorter distance down the track each year, so to speak.  Last year we were away over Christmas and I didn’t even try.  I think the year before I made it to Dec. 26 before admitting defeat.
I hadn’t much thought about it this year, until something clicked in late November and I knew I had to try again, despite an inconsistent cyclocross-focused training schedule that rarely saw me riding more than 60 minutes at a shot.  I was suddenly determined this year would be different, this would be the year I pulled it off.  With a half-day of work scheduled for December 24 and Christmas Day falling on a Friday, I had a good chunk of time to knock out some miles at the start before my wife went back to work the following Monday and I would have to work things around hanging out with the kids, dinner and bath times, and the like.  I knew this would eventually involve some night riding.  OK, a lot of night riding.

December 24: not at all an auspicious start. The plan had been to get up early to tack some extra km on the ride in to work.  Did I mention I have largely lost the ability to wake up early?  The snooze button and I have a difficult relationship.  Half the time I don’t even remember the alarm going off.  So no pre-work ride apart from the commute.  Nonetheless rewarded for making the effort to ride in with a great sunrise, though. On the way home, I tacked on some extra, enjoying the daylight ride down Berlin’s Ku’damm, delighting in the Christmas lights and last minute shoppers.  Rolled up in time to make it to Christmas Eve mass and my kids in the pageant.  Well, one of them.  The oldest was too cool to be in the play and the youngest slept through the whole mass, missing his potential star turn as a sheep.  I got some miles on the board and felt pretty good for it, despite the worry that I was already behind schedule.  40 km done/ 460 remaining

IMG_5144December 25: Headed out after the Christmas morning bonanza into weak sunshine and a narrow window before guests started piling in for Christmas dinner.  Between the dark and the holidays and not having hooked up with a team here, I was expecting to be alone for most of this week.  This time I actually had some company, with a guy joining me for a loop around the Havel and Sacrow lakes. “You doing the Festive 500 too?” he asked, rolling up from behind.  He was clearly in much better shape than me as I was often just under or at threshold just sitting on. Got the ride done faster as a result but there was no way I was going to be able to keep that up every ride and survive this thing. The GPS battery helpfully died about 9km from home, which meant for the rest of the week I was also obsessing about getting in that “extra” nine kilometers to make sure I got proper credit. And I started getting “where are you?” calls and texts for the last half hour, meaning I had clearly started making people nervous about whether there would be anything on the table for Christmas dinner. 61/399

December 26: The anxiety grows.  Slept in too long, so another day of working the ride in between late breakfast and afternoon prep for a Boxing Day dinner (fewer guests, but still some cooking to be done.)  Also, another day well shorter than the 65km a day you need to average to stay on track. Starting to get nervous as I’m three days in, behind schedule, and patience at home is wearing thin. These are the days where there’s actually someone at home to watch the kids, too. What’s going to happen when I only have pre-dawn, twilight and after-dark hours to get this done?  A big day (or two?) looms in my future. Weather is still weirdly warm; was out in winter jersey (no jacket) and no gloves. 44/355

IMG_5163December 27: Brunch.  F’in brunch.  If there’s something that separates racers from non-racers, it’s brunch.  If training is key, you don’t spend your Sunday mornings sitting around burning up perfectly good daylight and hoping your kids aren’t trashing the upstairs bedrooms while trying to make polite conversation and not letting your anxiety show about how low the sun is sinking in the sky.  Instead, you’re out there training.  Don’t get me wrong, our neighbors are lovely, lovely people and very generous and it was a fun time.  But the other half of me was freaking out about how long we were there.  First night ride of the week, and the weather started to turn.  Hungry the whole ride, obsessing over the Boxing Day leftovers of spiral ham sitting in the fridge and the jalapeño cornbread on the counter.  Starting to get paranoid about my legs, too, setting the power meter as a restrictor plate so I don’t go too hard and trash myself before the end of the week.  Constantly hungry, paranoid, and anxious – I sound like a drug addict.  43/312

CXQFsZ1W8AA3b9pDecember 28: Rode in the dark and cold as long as I could manage, staring straight ahead and zeroing in on that focus point, that spot of perfect stillness within.  Turning the most perfect circles I could with my legs and thinking “action through non-action” again and again and again.  I was trying to run to myself by riding away, seeking to capture that stillness so I could hold on to it and produce it when I need it.  Like when after a great day checking out the new T-Rex skeleton and having a blast bopping around as a wolfpack of four, everything melts down over dinner and bath time and I’m left furious and loathing myself.  So I rode off into the dark and sought that focus point as long as I could until the phone rang with worry.  These are not normal times to be out riding a bike and I’m grateful for the holidays for the lack of cars and the way I can ride by the cozy houses with their twinkling lights out in the front yard and slip in and out of neighborhoods with no one even looking out their windows to see me pass by.  I want that lonely feeling because I want it to make me want to be home when I’m there, where I can find that focus point and that stillness in the middle of chaos.  And the worried phone call brings me home and I wonder if this was the part where Shackleton’s boat is frozen in place, where the whole goal comes splintering apart.  60/252

December 29: There’s always a moment that’s decisive in a big effort. Today was that one. After last night I thought it was over, that I wouldn’t ride at all today. Not even half done.  A few years of attempting the Festive 500 have taught me that you can’t register a zero km day. I didn’t have any extra child care coverage so it was going to have to be worked around spousal working hours, which meant riding in the dark. I had pretty much resigned myself to the quest being over, though I still had plans to go out for a long ride with Carl on the 30th. Why cancel perfectly good ride plans?

Then my wife shoved me out the door, pretty much, saying “aren’t you going to ride?”  So I kitted up after dinner and off I went into the night, cruising through Teltow in the dark with Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” ringing in my ears.  The cold was truly setting in and I was glad for shoe covers and real gloves and the spare glove liners in my pocket. Rolling past oddly whirring windmills in the dark, surprised and then inspired at one point by the rumbling sound of a freight train catching and passing me out by Sputendorf and I felt like I would just keep turning the pedals over and over and over, spinning on into myself in the dark.  My legs didn’t hurt and the cold made me feel alive and the shocked teenagers I rode by just made me laugh.  Maybe this might be possible?  45/207

December 30:  The one day I’d actually shown some foresight and planned in child care, with the babysitter showing up in the early afternoon and plans to meet up with Carl for a long road loop plus whatever I could fit in before dinner. I had hopes for 110km or so, which would mean another long day on the 31st (and a double workout at that). Running it closer than ideal, but I was still in it.

Nonetheless, at 1:00 the sun already looked like late afternoon and the wind was coming up. I was tired and so was grateful for the company as we rolled south out of town, or the temptation to just bag it and go home would have been strong. It was a cold, cold wind blowing out of the southeast. Carl and I chatted and occasionally traded off at the front to give the other a rest. As we ground through the dorfs and past farm fields and yet more windmills the sun flared ever more orange toward the horizon. We bounced over the cobbled stretch at Kietz and my legs went from sprightly to fried in the span of about eight minutes. A water refill at Carl’s place when he dropped off near dusk and I was back out on my own, and the wind now seemed to come from every direction. (I’d also screwed up the GPS tally again by forgetting to start the timer after leaving Carl’s place.)  As the sun set I foolishly added on an extra out and back climb, thinking that the standard Grünewald loop wouldn’t get me the klicks I needed. The wind and my failing legs meant I was crawling at this point, though, and I had to then turn the loop into another out and back to get home only an hour after dark. I dragged in at 110km on the day, obsessed with the notion of a beer and ham and a hot shower and trying not to think too much about the double stage I had just teed up for myself on New Year’s Eve. 113/94

December 31:  Part 1 — my alarm went off at 04:45, and motivated by fear of falling short because of something mundane like oversleeping, I made a beeline for the coffee machine.  The morning was cold and windy and clear, with a low moon casting shadows through the trees. The wind was blessedly at a different angle than the night before, so there were actually a few tailwind sections. All the same, it was a slog, the lowest point on the bike all week in physical terms. My knee ached. For the first time I feared I wouldn’t physically be able to do this or that I would destroy my chances of riding this spring. Dread flickered through my mind with each pedal stroke while paradoxically I’m thinking keep ticking over ticking over ticking over and then I’m rolling up the driveway and craving a nap. Just around 50km left to go, too close to give up now.  50/44

Sent the wife off to work with her coffee, and managed to get about an hour of sleep in.  This was disproportionately rejuvenating.  After a frantic run to the grocery store for supplies ahead of New Year’s and Sunday closures and the kids’ mega sleepover (five kids in one house for three days is almost a blog-worthy epic in itself), and resorting to giving myself a haircut when I couldn’t find anywhere open or available, I kitted up to roll out as soon as my wife returned from her own hair appointment.  We had formal New Year’s plans, you see.  If I was crawling like I had the night before or just this morning, this could get ugly.
Part 2 — I got out just before dusk and set out on the same lake loop as on Christmas Day.  The wind was gone, the clouds were holding in a little more heat, and my legs somehow felt better than either of the previous two days.  It was a lovely ride, remarkable only in its unremarkable…niceness.  I felt good, and watching the lights come on and the first fireworks from those too impatient to wait until midnight was as far away as possible from the willful sensory deprivation of earlier in the week.  In perfect symmetry, I ticked over 500km at the same spot where the GPS battery gave out on Day 2.  A light rain started, and I marveled at having been so lucky with the weather – only the second time I had been rained on all week.  I rolled home damp and ahead of schedule and did a meek little hop of joy once I got off the bike – I was so much more tired than I realized.  59/-15
The Festive 500 is of course trivial, arbitrary, and silly – it is, after all, a marketing gimmick by a cycling clothes company.  It’s also a real challenge.  Not so much for the distance, but for the time management, motivation, and relationship hurdles that come with putting in that many hours in the saddle in the season with the shortest days and most social obligations.  I like to pretend that the kids noticed that I was out riding in the dark and the cold to meet a goal.  I thanked my wife for indulging my pursuit of lines on a map and numbers on a computer screen.  How does that shake out in the end balance?  I’m not sure.  But I do think now about that freight train, a chain of black shapes and red lights against a dark sky, rolling on through the night, sure of its destination.
Totals:  515 km, 18 hours 47 minutes.

How to Fly With Small Children

3 Feb

It’s not all overwrought musings about bike racing around here.  If air travel with small kids doesn’t qualify as a form of discomfort, voluntary or otherwise, I don’t know what does.

My wife and I decided early on that not traveling once we had kids was unacceptable. For starters, our jobs require a nomadic lifestyle. Secondly, we knew we would have to compromise on so many other areas that letting go of travel — one of our shared loves — seemed a bridge too far. Finally, kids today are coddled and mollified in virtually every way imaginable. Becoming part of that by saying, “ok, we’ll bend to the whims of this child and never go anywhere” seemed like it would send the wrong message to our children about who we wanted them to be.

That’s not to say travel, especially air travel, with kids doesn’t suck. Quite often it does, even when the baby doesn’t throw up all over you while you’re solo parenting two kids on an all-day trip.  (OK, that happened to my wife on the train, but the point is the same.) My rules for how to cope:

Continue reading

Tacchino CX: What About Home Field Advantage?

9 Nov

We put on a darn fine race on Sunday if I do say so myself, though most of the credit goes to others who did far more work than I.  In particular, Promoter Jim deserves much love and adoration.  The man is something of a visionary when it comes to putting together a full day’s entertainment that just happens to involve a cyclocross race.  I’m serious — if you put this guy in charge of Nats no one would know what hit them, but they’d all go away damn sure they had a good time.

Oh, yeah, the racing.  Child care contingencies meant I showed up too late to pre-ride the course and instead went straight to work at registration.  If you were helped by a rather inefficient man with a baby strapped to his chest, that was me/us.  So my warmup (once I conned got new teammate Tara to watch the baby) was a) running back to the parking lot to get my bike, b) crashing as I carried my pit wheels and my son’s balance bike under one arm and got my frayed pants cuff caught in the chain, and c) slathering lots of embro on my legs to try to make up for the non-warmup.

Note: Home field advantage doesn’t mean jack if you don’t actually know the field.  I knew I should have volunteered for course setup instead of registration and tear-down.

As it turned out, though, that warmup was perfect preparation for what I was about to do.  Got a great start from the third row and with some slightly aggro (but not too rude) riding was sitting in tenth at the start of the second lap.  Just coming out of the twisty woods section to get on the first gravel road stretch, I put too much front brake on and locked it up in a corner (see: pre-ride, lack of) and went down.  Got up to discover I’d rolled my front tire.  So, off I ran for about 2/3 of a lap to get to the pit.  I was way in the back by the time I got there.

Editorial comment:  Where the hell was my beer feed?  Of all the times for no one to be offering me alcohol — seriously, this time I would have taken the handup.

Prior goal: podium and/or contend for win.  New goals: don’t get lapped, and see how many people I can catch.

In the end, I still made it on the first page of the results in forty-somethingth.  Caught plenty of guys, got a shout out from our announcer about the fact I’d forgotten to take my name card out of the spokes before leaving the pit.  “He’s competing in the Squadra Coppi AlleyCat 2010, folks!”

And now I’m sore in all sorts of weird places from running so long with the bike on my shoulder.  Yet another reason why you shouldn’t believe anyone who tells you that there’s no need to train to run for cyclocross.

The rest of the day was rather glorious, with the boy taking home the win in his Lil’ Belgians age group and me screaming “You’re my heroes!” to my married couple teammates as they cruised by in the tandem race while the sun set and you could just make out the “Baby on Board” sign the stoker wore.  Lots of other good memories to write about, but I’ll give those their due in a less egocentric post.

Kinder ‘Cross Race Report

4 Nov

Fun times this past weekend.  But first, a message from our sponsors:

The Tacchino Ciclocross is this Sunday at Rosaryville State Park in Upper Marlboro, MD — come on out and race!  I’d try to describe just how much fun this will be but I can’t do it justice.  I’ll let my friend, teammate, and race promoter the Unholy Rouleur do the talking:

We’re working to give you a lot of reasons to join us.  We’ve added a little bit of length to the course with a sweeper section with some off-cambers, some stairs, and more gravel road.

Off the course, there will be a moon bounce where your young’n’s can bounce themselves dizzy.  There will also be a roller race, and a Huffy toss… featuring a truly unique, high end stand-in for Huffy, with prizes for those who rock the rollers and toss the Huffy strongest. Team tents will again line the course, with preferred parking close to the pavilions for teams that request it in advance.  Pineapple Alley Catering – who hit it out of the park last year with Belgian style sausages and pommes frites – will be back with that menu, and will add Belgian desert treats.  And for those adults interested in bouncing themselves dizzy, funk band Gallons to Ounces will be playing again, and our sponsor Duvel/Ommegang has added their prestigious Duvel Green to the draft beers on tap.

Of course, since he wrote that, the prize list has just gone completely off-the-hook crazy.  Over $5000 in prizes and swag being handed out.  First-lap primes.  Mid-race primes.  Best kill ratio (start at the back and catch as many as you can) prizes.  And a prize list for the top placings that makes turning yourself inside out even more appealing (beyond, you know, the love of suffering itself, which is the entire premise of this blog and not something to be taken lightly).  Sponsors including Conte’s of Arlington/Bethesda, the Acorn Inn in Nellysford, VA, Stevil Kinevil of All Hail the Black Market, Duvel/Ommegang, Voler, Well Oiled Wine Co., and the Java Shack of Arlington, VA.

Oh. My. God.  This race will be amazing and you should come DO IT!  Tell your friends.

Online registration is closed, but day-of registration is still available in all races everything but the Men 4 and Masters 3/4 (Promoter Jim helpfully set me straight there).  Info here.

Did I mention the weather forecast is sunny, high in the 50s?  Seriously, if you haven’t cleared your schedule to come out for this, what the heck is wrong with you?

Right, so Kinder ‘Kross (I can’t deal with the misspelling so that is the only time I will write it that way in this post) hosted by ABRT was this past weekend on Halloween, out near Annapolis.  My mom and grandmother were visiting, so the whole family piled into a couple of cars and came out.  Most important detail: the boy finished first in the 3-and-under race.  He was psyched and ready to do it all again immediately.

This was a first-year event and as such a huge contrast to the full fields, noise, and general atmosphere of DCCX.  But the venue, Kinder Farms Park, shows some great potential and the proximity to DC could make this a top event with a bit of refinement.  The lower section was a seemingly endless series of 180s on grass, though they made great use of a few off-camber slopes to spice it up.  The turns do need a little opening up, however — there was really no flow.  And in my ideal world the barriers would be on a flatter section so those with some ‘cross-specific skills can carry a bit more speed into the remount.  Following a slightly uphill barrier with a power climb really negates the barrier a bit.  Or, put the barrier on a steeper hill and make it a true run-up.

I got a great start in the small field, but hesitated and didn’t quite go for the hole shot.  I’ve been turning over since then whether or not this was a mistake; instead I was second into the grass.  We were braking a ton through all the twisty sections, but there was no room to get around and I wasted a bit of energy trying to get past on the second lap.  If I’d just been leading, then I could have been gapping people through those turns rather than blunting my sprint to no good end.

This came back to bite me about halfway through as I started to fade.  I would make up lots of ground in the twisty section, but could never get in front, and would get gapped again on the two bumpy climbs on the course.  I didn’t have the focus I did at DCCX and had a short weak patch, before rallying on the last two laps to regain one lost place and come in sixth.

I was still fairly psyched about this (best placing this season, after all), until the latest crossresults.com points list came out today and confirmed my fears that the small field size would come back to bite me.  Boo.

Upside:  I’m on the home team this Saturday.  It’s a series race.  And I got a good enough workout at Wednesday’s practice to be woozy for hours afterwards.  Perfect.

Can’t help wondering…

20 Oct

…how much better a bike racer I’d be if I could actually get to sleep at a decent hour. Or nap. Or both.

Ooh, eight hours of sleep a night. SO sexy. And a 30-minute nap in the afternoon? Talk dirty to me, baby…

Two minutes

24 Sep

My ride to work takes about 15 minutes, mostly on a bike path and neighborhood streets.  It’s relaxing, in the way that turning the pedals over easily usually is.  Too short to be a workout, but ideal as a transition time between home and office.  A chance to clear my head a little. 

Even so, there are days and times and topics that can’t be shaken loose so easily, when I get home still agitated about the last thing that happened before I left work.  I no longer have that problem on the way in to work, however.

With the onset of my relapse into cyclocross season — yes, I pretended to complain about August and early September being “too early” for ‘cross, but it was a sad attempt at acting out a struggle — I’ve started adding a diversion on the way in.  A sharper turn to the right on that downhill, and instead of rolling down a paved path I’m off on a twisty bit of singletrack wedged between a condo development and a suburban park.  It certainly started as just a goat path cut out by some kids, but over time someone has invested in this little stretch, putting in water bars and removing a fallen tree that had blocked the trail.

For two minutes and three dismounts, I can’t worry about anything else beyond the bike, roots, rocks, and trees.  My courier bag bounces off tree trunks and I lean over to keep from smearing bark and leaves on my dress shirt as I weave around the corners.  Head blissfully empty, I come to the bottom of the hill and hop back on the bike path.

At home, the preschooler’s pre-school chaos may still be raging (“C’mon, you’ve got to brush your teeth now,”), but that’s behind me and the day ahead is open and full of potential.

Not a bad trade for two minutes of extra commute time.


17 Jan

How can I feel like such a crap father for much of the day and yet this little beanbag of a girl seems like she’d rather sleep curled up on me than just about anywhere else?

Hoping she knows something I don’t.

Hoping this might mean I’m better than I think I am at other things, too.