« A moment (19) || HOME || A rite of spring »

March 2, 2005

I rode in my second race this weekend. In January I had done an alley cat race, but this was my first sanctioned race, a 10K time trial in Wheaton.

It is still winter in Illinois. The cold is no obstacle to alley cats, but the spandex crowd is a more delicate bunch, so the race was held indoors on trainers. Riders are racing against the clock but ride head-to-head against an opponent. Split-screen digital avatars show their status. It's like a NASCAR race being held at an arcade with Pole Position and a sack of quarters.*

I knew going in that it was a little ridiculous. The $25 entry fee was a lot of money to spend just for 15 minutes on a trainer. That's almost $2 a minute. I have hired I have read, in the New Yorker, of hookers who cost less by the minute. Nonetheless, a co-worker had done it and reported that it was fun, so I decided to give it a go.

Before the race a volunteer gave me some basic advice. Go smooth to start, he said, to get a feel for the trainer. At three miles start going hard and fast, then gas it for the final 200 meters.

The trainer was similar to the one I've been using at home, but at home I can do easily do 10K in under 15 minutes. It must not be calibrated correctly. The resistance here was much greater. As soon as I started I knew I'd have to gut it out just to break 17 minutes.

My racing partner was about 15 years older than me. He matched my 21 mph pace for the first three miles, tailing me by about 5 yards. I wanted to yell at him to stop drafting. Once I goosed it to 23-25 mph, however, he fell from vision -- insofar as he disappeared from the screen but continued to pedal three feet to my right.

By the end I was in my highest gear -- I'm still learning; would I have been better in a lower gear but with a higher cadence? -- and giving it everything. Between wheezes I growled. Had I not been plugged into my sprint mix I might have let up. Head down and blind to the finish line, I finished in 16:35. Slower than fair, but faster than middling.

I'm not licensed yet so I raced as a "citizen" and was the second of three citizens in my age group. Had I been with the Cat 4 riders I would have finished 16th out of 40.

While I cooled down, the volunteer I'd talked to earlier asked how I did.

"Personal record," I said.

He was thrilled. He slapped his hands together, then caught himself short. "Hey, didn't you say this was your first time?"

"Yes, and?"

He said I don't get to claim a PR until I've done a race twice. So I guess I'll do it again, but I'll wait until April when there will be one held at Navy Pier. This was fun but wasn't worth leaving city limits for.


* I described the race at the Oscar party Sunday night. Someone suggested that a footrace could be held using treadmills, in which case two people could hold a ribbon and run toward the winner as he finishes. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

Photo taken: Feb. 27, 2005