Monthly Archives: September 2011

MP3s: Killaflaw, TV on the Radio

Music of the week is Killaflaw’s Set Me On Fire.  Alex McAndrews (Clarkson) was playing this earlier in the ECCC MTB season and it’s a pretty sweet dance/rhythm song.  At 4:18 it’s short enough to play over the PA and is upbeat and moving but definitely not pop or techno.  Ideal warmup/get out the door music for me, and something I would listen to that works well in a race soundtrack.  The rest of the album is sadly solely a few (inferior) remixes and another song, but this single is a definite winner.

Also getting play this week on radio kopena is TV on the Radio’s DLZ. This has a slightly darker, destructive feel to it. It’s used excellently toward the end of the second season of Breaking Bad when Walt comes to a realization that he doesn’t want to let go of the business.  DLZ is probably toward the bottom end in terms of tempo on what I should play over the PA, but probably still workable.  This is a pretty cheap album and has some other good stuff on it, so worth checking out.

ECCC MTB 2011: NU @ Holiday/Jiminy

Over the weekend Northeastern hosted their second race of the 2011 MTB season, taking the conference back to Holiday Farm and Jiminy Peak after not being there for a couple years.  Short write-up is on the USAC Collegiate Weekly Wrap; full results on the calendar.

Nik and Rob realize one of them's about to bump the other out of slalom.

All in all I think the weekend went super well.  Northeastern’s pretty on the ball as promoters.  If you know what to look for you can tell that they have established a decent trend of passing on knowledge from year to year, e.g., simple things like having receipt slips printed out.  Attendance seemed solid but was below previous years’.  Downhill was a notably exception, with good local turnout for the Open race boosting that over 70 riders.

Allison and Molly rock out in slalom.

The slalom course was interesting and worked well.  It was buried in the woods and carved in and out of trees so it had a very different, much closer feel than almost all slalom courses.  It fits right into the trail network there, so for a change Holiday is planning on keeping it intact.  A minor issue we’ll have to watch for in the future is that the lanes had no gap between them at the finish, so setting up the gates was precarious and they got knocked around a bit.

Men's C on the short track course.

I spent a fair bit of time over the weekend taking photos.  In some ways this is a little sad as I only have a passing interest in photography and would much rather walk around or conduct operations.  However, we don’t really have that many people taking and making readily available high quality photos throughout the MTB season.  We need more of that kind of stuff if we’re going to really push back against the MTB attendance drop, so I’ve been consciously taking more photos.

One thought I had for the future is possibly buying a decent, action-photo ready camera for the conference and passing it around throughout the weekend.  That way I don’t have to spend time on it, new people get to try taking photos with more than a point & shoot, and I reliably wind up with the photos at the end of the weekend.

Women's A lines up for short track.

I also spent a fair bit of the weekend trying to consciously standoff a bit from the timing and officiating while still also being there.  This coming weekend I will actually miss an ECCC MTB race for the first time in over six years.  Not that long ago this would be almost unthinkable in terms of the quality of the event, but the guys are super on the ball even with the new timing equipment thrown into the mix.  Other than a few errors that have crept into the short track results recently, I’m actually not concerned at all, which is somewhat of a relief at long last.

More photos are in my flickr gallery.  Amanda Buerger (NU) also has a good bunch of photos up on FB.

NU packs it up for the day.

Southern Directions

As noted, this year’s Lehigh turnout was unfortunately small, even by the standards of our southern MTB races.  The racing was still solid, but the endurance events can’t really get much smaller without suffering.  It’s a shame because those are some really good courses, particularly the phenomenal short track course, and it’s just a great, low key, low cost weekend.

A number of us spent a fair bit of time talking about this, and the overall gradual decline in MTB participation from southern schools over the past couple years.  My best theory is that we’ve let the schedule drift too far northward, an effect caused by several issues:

  • Many southern, XC only venues like Ringwood, NJ and Mt Joy, PA that were used back in the day just aren’t workable given the importance the modern ECCC places on gravity events.
  • Other central venues like Jiminy Peak have lapsed as the teams associated with them, in this case UMass, have waned a bit, or as the conference has had negative experiences, such as at Plattekill.
  • PennState’s MTB squad losing momentum as a racing organization and no longer putting on events.  It’s tough to put such a load on one team, but they were really the cornerstone of southern MTB ridership and together with Lehigh the only consistent promoters.

All of that has combined with the general turn of the century decline in MTB popularity, as well as the usual team ups and downs.  For example, both Drexel and U. Delaware used to routinely field over a dozen riders, but both have moved almost entirely away from MTB racing.

When PennState first lapsed putting on MTB events a years ago, I don’t think we realized how big a deal it would be.  At the time no one thought much of it because it seemed like a typical short break, and their events had been shaky for a few years—a cancellation, some really rough edges on the weekend logistics, and so on.  However, though probably impossible, in hindsight we should have realized those problems were symptomatic of larger issues and the squad was about to fall off the scene.

Combined with lapses at the other traditional central venues, dropping out that second reliable southern race shifted the season schedule dramatically northward.  Over time that shift has slowly eliminated the southern MTB racing squads.  The lack of southern races has let their numbers and engagement with the season dry up.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that there are simple solutions to this.  A few of us have been taking very personal action to try and rebuild the MTB numbers down here, but that’s a slow, unsure, and limited process.  Some other ideas include:

  • Organizing clinics and trying to build numbers with a wider net.  This has been talked about in different shapes for a long time now, but it needs some student leadership to take charge and make it happen.  The conference can support and help organize these kinds of activities, but ultimately there’s enough else going on in the conference that this task needs to be driven by some new people.
  • Making a commitment to continued southern races.  Conroy from NU pointed out that even when they held a race in the south last year, at Blue Mountain, few teams and southern riders showed up.  However, I think those teams effectively just don’t exist anymore.  They either don’t have riders, or aren’t thinking about racing.  In some sense, we need to make the investment in keeping races down here, take the hit for a couple years, and hopefully slowly gain traction.

The good news is that there’s been a slow increase in gravity venues down here over the past few years, so there seem to be more options for southern race locations now than in the past.  How to have races put on down here though without teams and riders is a big chicken & the egg question.

ECCC MTB 2011: Lehigh

The second week of ECCC MTB racing went down at Lehigh this past weekend.  A short recap is in the USAC Collegiate weekly wrap-up; results are on the calendar.

In many ways this is one of my favorite weekends.  The proximity to my house—generally about 90 minutes to get there in the morning, 2–2.5 hours to get back depending on traffic—isn’t actually as big a motivator as you might think, though I certainly won’t complain.

Men's C XC starts into the woods.

Probably most important is that this is one of the few current MTB weekends I’ve actually raced at.  Almost all of the other races have come online since then or significantly changed.  For example, Highland will make up a third of the season this year but, as far as I know, was still an abandoned, defunct ski mountain when I was racing.  A lot of this change has come about from different season dynamics.  Gravity is quite consciously more important and consistent now, and over time that’s changed the workable race venues quite a bit.  In terms of relating to the events as a rider and having a personal race history, Lehigh is probably my strongest connection, ironically together with Catamount, way the hell up in Burlington.

Lehigh is also a really nice weekend as a conference director as it’s simple, reliable, and predictable.  No potential problems with mountain operators, no last minute changes or hidden fees, no nonsense.  The guys basically bribe the cops to let the shuttles run more or less unimpeded, the school signs off on us using the grounds, and away we go.  You know what each of the courses will be and it’s all so established by now, we could all show up and have some races with hardly any Lehigh riders around.  It’s the most reliable and least stressful of all the MTB races, so that also earns it a special place for me.

"Isn't this great? I'm not freaking out about anything" "Crazytimes!!!"

This year’s races were on the small side, but still solid.  It was good seeing Jesus Martinez (Columbia) again being challenged in the short track, this time by Rose Cameron (UNH) on his singlespeed.  We thought Rose did a notably good job selecting gearing for the course, but in the end just couldn’t ramp up the top end speed to track with Jesus on the finishing climb.

I was also pleased that our timing equipment again proved its worth.  Almost all of the Men’s A downhillers finished within just a few seconds’ span both days.  The increased precision with the finishing gate definitely improved the quality of those results, and I look forward to adding a starting gate to really nail things down.  We again saw good performance from our units, missing just 3 reads over the course of maybe ~150 race run reads throughout the weekend.

For me it was also great to see some old faces, notably the Millersville delegation of old heads like Greg and Andrew.  I thought it was pretty cool that a bunch of their guys made it a point to get together for the weekend and get in some ECCC MTB racing, either as usual or in the traditional Lehigh embedded alumni categories.

Andrew Webster (Millersville/U Delaware) rocks out in the alumni short track.

More photos from Greg Wesolowich (Millersville/Kutztown) are in his Picasa gallery.

Drexel Ride Rules

Up and AT THEM!

There were a number of serious problems on Wednesday’s ride, so I wanted to remind everyone of some rules in case you find yourself on a “Drexel ride”—as completely opposed to simply a Drexel ride (*)—and sometimes referred to as an “exploratory ride.”

  1. Maps, GPS devices, smartphones, and other navigational implements are strictly forbidden, as is following a known or marked route for any significant distance.  [20 demerits]
  2. Doubling back on the route is discouraged unless you’re doing repeats or crazy loop sequencing of hill or non-paved features.  [1 demerit per mile].
  3. Radioactive Man must be held in your left pocket! [2 demerits]
  4. All Radioactive Man attacks must happen from the left and never in traffic or on downhills! [2 demerits]
  5. You can only ride on the VF bike path if you’re TTTing, coming home after 35+ miles, or doing it for the irony of it. [1 demerit]
  6. You cannot come home through Manayunk without hitting Port Royal, Green Lane, the Wall, or the towpath. [1 demerit]
  7. Generally being a bike mechanical disaster. [1 demerit]

Current demerits tracking for the 2011–2012 year now begun following Labor Day:

  • Tim: 2 demerits (Radioactive Man pocket infraction)
  • Charles: 1 demerit (doubling back)
  • Joe: 1 demerit (skipping Manayunk features)
  • Brett H: 1 demerit (mechanical disaster; one and counting…)

(*) The rules for which are only that helmets are always required.

Old Race Reports: Summer 2008 Pickle in the ‘Villa

This is an old race report, from my first Pickle Run, in August of 2008.  It’s reposted for the archives here for the sheer awesomeness of this debacle of a race attempt.

The Pickle Run. Increasingly notorious, yet still a mystery to many. For those just tuning in, one of the projects of Drexel Cycling founder Frank Durso is the Pickle Run, actually a series of runs he’s been promoting. They work like this: He sets up a course at some location not many people know. Everybody comes and runs, making a prediction beforehand about their time. Afterward, prizes are awarded for fastest runs by age and for closest prediction. It turns out they also give prizes for really bad predictions. Even better, they also hide giant pickles around the course which will also get you a prize if you find one and run it back to the finish. But, really, the key point is that Frank runs around in a giant pickle costume being a goof. Today was the inaugural Pickle in the Villa, a trail run race.

None of this did I know. All I knew was that I was somehow talked into signing up for this “Pickle Run” and that I had to make a prediction about my time when I pre-registered. Caitlin and I debated long and hard about this. Here are the two basic problem we faced: One, I haven’t run systematically in a couple years at this point. I don’t even watch the clock anymore when I do make it out for one in a steady trickle of oddly scheduled runs. All I knew was that I wasn’t as fast as I used to be, and that my times are wildly inconsistent based on sleep, food, etc. Second, I had no idea what the course was going to be like. It said “trail run” but sounded more like a basic bike path around a park or something. I had no idea, only that it was supposed to be 4 miles long. Notably (this is important later), at one point I settled on 35 minutes, figuring that when I was in shape I could do four miles in about 24 minutes, so that would cover being out of shape and any possibly challenging terrain. Caitlin scoffed. “Thirty five minutes?! Slow! Why am I dating you???” but abruptly terminated any discussion of how fast she could do it. Generally shamed, I hesitantly revised downward to 28.5 minutes.

Speed forward twelve hours, and we get to the questionable decision making that is the hallmark of any Drexel Cycling story. Cycling widow that I am, I was all alone Friday evening while Caitlin was off racing for the weekend. Around 10:30 I looked at the clock, thought to myself “Sure, I’ll get to bed at 11, get up and leave by 7:15, get there at 8, race at 8:30. Great!” and started playing around with fixing some problems with my computer instead of going to bed right then. This is a critical yet common error that many Joes are known to make. Seven hours later I look at the clock and say “Holy god, it’s 5:30! I need to leave in two hours!” and dive into bed.

Later, in the middle of a vaguely pleasant but forgotten dream I wake up. All sorts of things are flashing and beeping. It’s 7:49! Shazbot—I have successfully slept through the collective wailing of four alarm clocks! Gathering my cool, I grab my sleeveless Drexel jersey, slip on the shortest short shorts I have, and run out the door with my shoes half on. Bursting into the Kia, I slam the gas before the door’s even shut and peel out of the parking space like Elwood Blues on speed. Seconds later I’m doing 85 and making my way around the Lombard curve and onto the highway, at which point my trusty Korean sidekick and I really punch it, rollover warnings be damned.

Adroitly aided by our other buddy TomTom after some sketchy sections trying to type in the address while racing trucks down the narrow parts of 76, we cruise without incident to the race and come skidding to a flying stop in a great parking space for which the “Handicapped” sign had fortunately, arguably, fallen over. Car door slam still ringing in my ears, I grab my bib number out of the registration lady’s hand as she’s packing up and quick foot it to the start line with a whopping forty seconds to spare. Former Drexel Cycling superstar Dan Heinaman is there laughing, noting that “Yeah, they said only one person hadn’t shown up yet and I just figured it had to be you!” Catching my breath, I went to make a snarky rebuttal but the starting gun went off and I immediately lost my breath again.

Here we begin the long dark tea time of the soul that is the heart of a good race. Warming up on the move, I begin a debate about optimal strategy here. I’ve had two hours sleep, no breakfast, and had pretty much skipped dinner. The smart move is to go into survival mode and trudge along. The genius move is to book it, go wide to flank the 150 people between you and the front of the herd, and pray to all the trail gods that you don’t fall apart completely in your highly distinctive and recognizable Drexel jersey such that you’ll be choking on their knowing smirks as the entire crowd re-passes you. Clearly, that was the only viable choice, so that’s what I did.

Just a few seconds later, coming down a nice grassy field I was thinking to myself “Hmmm, this is kind of like a cyclocross race of running—not really off road, not really on road. Easy!” when I saw the Lord of the Pickle himself, Frank Durso, course marshaling and cackling maniacally. Seeing that he was not, indeed, in Pickle costume, I briefly dreamed of many forms of vengeance upon him for getting me all the way out here way early on a Saturday morning—when he wasn’t even wearing the Pickle costume, the point of the whole thing! Those thoughts were quickly obliterated though as I realized the source of his maniacal glee, a sharp left turn and descent into the woods as the race turned into a legitimate trail run! “Shazbot!” I thought to myself as the course plunged into the woods, across several creeks, and up a number of hills.

Later, having developed a style I’m labeling Drunken Running, the key tenet being that it doesn’t matter if you can’t run straight if the course doesn’t go straight, I was sitting pretty in the top seven or so as we rounded the top of what I thought to be the main loop on a lollipop course. “Halfway! Man, easy!” I exclaimed, and pushed on.

Coming down toward the stem of the lollipop, a little voice somewhere deep in my subconscious noted “Hey Joe-Man! Those arrows ahead aren’t going straight back… Aw, shazbot…” and watched in quiet horror as my feet followed the course sharply away from our direction home. At that point I think I blacked out.

Waking up much later, subconscious noting that we were now on what my head was convinced was mile nine of a four mile course, people starting trickling past. Belatedly coming around to reason, feet and head finally switched to our patented survival strategy: Find some cute girl and follow her around for some motivation to keep moving. What with the stream of runners now going by, that proved not hard and much thanks goes out to the sweet girl from Ursinus College for unknowingly ensuring I got back with some semblance of dignity intact. I apologize for sprinting by you in the last hundred meters, but after all, you have to finish strong to look good for the crowd…

Hanging out at the awards ceremony, Frank now in costume, I was shocked to learn all sorts of Pickle Run proceedings that I had not been aware of before. For example, that you got prizes for either winning, predicting, or finding a pickle. Not shockingly, the straight winners were largely high school runners who mostly looked too young to shave, but had times in the mid 27s and 28s. Amusingly though, all of them got schooled on the predictions, having seriously underestimated what would definitely be a legitimate mountain bike race course. The winner came in with a decidedly more average time, but was only off by seven seconds. Dan Heinaman also built on earlier foundations and took home a pickle for solid predicting, having won an earlier race in the series by being off by only a second, and being reasonably close today on a generally unpredictable course.

To be honest, I was a little disconsolate at not winning a pickle and wasn’t really paying attention when all of a sudden I heard my name being announced! Shocked, I quickly enquired what was going on and discovered that they were giving out pickles for worst predictions and I’d come in a strong second with a 34:30 time, off by 6 minutes! Sweet, sweet inconsistency paying off once more! Drexel Cycling, rockin’ it in (some sort of) style yet again! Most importantly though, that was only thirty seconds off my original prediction. Third place was a minute and a half off their prediction. If only I had stuck to pattern and not listened to Caitlin, I would have an admittedly same-sized yet vastly less questionably prestigious pickle!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you Pickle Race. Further, let me tell you, this is one of the most awesome trophies I’ve ever won, and I’ve got some kickass Sarah Uhl handmade specials that set the bar pretty high:

The bandito Pickle Villa strikes again!


ECCC MTB 2011: NU @ Highland

The 2011 ECCC MTB Season kicked off this weekend with Northeastern’s race at Highland.  A quick race recap is in the USAC Collegiate weekly update.  Full results are up on the ECCC website.

Any time the all-mountain Prius shows up, you know a great race is about to happen.

This was probably the smoothest season opener we’ve ever had.  Slalom, with full men’s brackets, took just over two hours to run, with results up immediately afterward.  DH results were up about ten minutes after the race ended, and we were packed up and off the mountain by 3pm on Sunday.  Tim and I actually managed to get home at midnight, a definite victory.

The ECCC supercomputer station cranking out DS brackets.

This was nice, as Tim couldn’t leave work before 8pm on Friday and I obviously didn’t have everything together, so we left promptly at 10:15pm… and arrived at the mountain at 5:15am.  Basically just enough time for me to throw down my sleeping bag in the parking lot, get in, sleep for 20 minutes, and have Rob Meissner wake me up stomping around getting a team van ready to go get coffee and bagels.  Tim and I were pretty excited though to make it through the weekend with no Red Bulls, though there were plenty of Oreos involved.  Saturday evening we camped out at Highland with Northeastern and a good number of teams; the weather was gorgeous enough for the weekend that we didn’t even bother with tents.  Tim, Sully, and I employed some strategically excellent timing that evening, throwing down bags and going to bed just before all assembled started burning tires in the parking lot campfire…

Our new timing system worked excellently throughout the weekend.  I was extremely nervous, given that the equipment’s comparatively low-end and not really designed or used for cycling, that it would not work out well and be a huge hassle to return and try to get our money back, as well as a big disappointment.  However, it worked super well.  Out of four to five hundred detection events required to run this weekend’s slalom and DH, it missed about about half a dozen.  One occurred in slalom qualifying but was a non-factor, the rider just turned around and did a re-run.  For the couple cases in DH we fell back to my stopwatch finishing time, the accuracy of which throughout the weekend was nowhere near affecting the results on Highland’s relatively technical trails, even in the one Men’s A failed read.

Our new super-pro DS finish setup.

The gates combined with our experienced, smooth running crew, made slalom go by very quickly.  It was also exciting to see some very close racing, with a big boost in precision from the photogates.  The Men’s A finale came down to something like a .17s differential, with Craig Michaud (Wentworth) coming up just short on recovering from a ~1.75s deficit against Peter McNulty (NU) with a very strong, heated second run, making a very exciting finale to Saturday’s opening day.

Men's A starts making their way up the mountain for their DH race runs.

Other quick notes:

  • Highland’s new XC trail is still short, about 3.5mi, but was well reviewed by racers and seemed technical enough that it didn’t result in every rider stacking up on top of each other like the Kingman course.  It’ll be great to see the trail extend over time.  Mark’s goal is to eventually get about 7–11 miles of trails around the mountain, making a standard, very legitimate XC course.
  • Women’s A numbers were thin, but Women’s B was pretty solid, with 11 racers.  UNH in particular brought out a bunch of girls.  Although still not very robust, this was a relief as we were very worried about women’s numbers going into this season.  On the upside, a handful of women also did DH, and 8 did slalom.

Start of the Women's A and B short track.

  • As awesome as the timing equipment was, Sam Mellen pretty much stole the show, seriously channeling some iconic Prefontaine in his new look…

It's almost like he spent the summer traveling back in time to the '70s...

A few more photos are available in the Flickr gallery.