Tag Archives: philly

Arsenal Crit Cancellation

Though very unfortunate, the cancellation of this year’s Arsenal Criterium is a good opportunity to think about how amateur cycling races in our area are put on.

Notably, no one is more disappointed than Charles and I, the organizers on behalf of QCW. A lot of effort, especially on Charles’ part, has already been sunk, and costs incurred. Instead of spending a day hanging out at a cool race, we’ll spend a lot of time in the coming days writing refund checks and reading Internet comments.

Beyond that, it’s inarguable that Charles and I are unreasonably dedicated to making races happen and this is a large disappointment to us. For this year’s Philly Phlyer—without question the most ambitious and substantial amateur cycling race in the Philly area—we personally staked over $12,000 on the event, and were relieved to come out having only lost a few hundred each. Even as a student I regularly risked $10,000+ on the Phlyer. Now, as director of the ECCC, I volunteer 1,500 to 2,000 hours a year—essentially a full time but completely uncompensated job—to ensure collegiate races from Delaware to Maine happen and happen well.  Anyone pushing at us the commitment of race promotion or demands that promoters take the hit on losses had better be making similarly extraordinary personal commitments of time and money, or stop talking real fast.

Causes

Unfortunately, this cancellation is just about money rather than weather or other act of god. Watching registration trickle in, the QCW general leadership and us become duly concerned about the looming financial loss. Even under very optimistic, unrealistic models for day-of registration, QCW was going to incur a loss amounting to a substantial portion of the 2013 club budget. At that point we decided to pull the plug somewhat early so that racers would have at least some opportunity to replan.

Part of the calculus here, especially for Charles and I, is that this just isn’t that big a deal. It’s unfortunate for all the racers, particularly the women who do not have ample opportunities to just go do another race or group ride instead. But, this just isn’t an event people are traveling to, peaking their training plans for, etc. In contrast, I hold ECCC races to a much higher standard—we simply don’t cancel races if at all humanly possible—precisely because hundreds of riders each weekend are making exactly those commitments. This disruption is annoying and unfortunate, but not the end of the world or a financial loss to any racers.

Similarly, the Arsenal is a great race but ultimately a business park crit. Burning the club budget and crippling QCW’s ability to operate and support other activities in return for a great, ambitious road race or a well attended but expensive major event crit would be one thing. Taking a huge loss to enable fields of ~20 riders quietly spinning around is another.

Risk

To that point, it’s just not reasonable to ask promoters of these kinds of small time races to simply absorb extravagant losses. In the business world—notably including promoters putting on races on a business footing—you can reasonably place that expectation. Sometimes you make a profit, sometimes you lose, and as long as you keep the former ahead of the latter you’ll gain in the long run.

But events like Arsenal and other small cycling races simply aren’t businesses. There is no profit, everyone’s just hoping to break even. They either lose or they lose, without the large gains to offset bad years. Absolutely no one has the right to simply ask individuals and clubs to just accept losses, because the promoters don’t stand to gain anything if it does work out. They’re doing it purely for the community. Further, it’s simply not sustainable to ask promoters to take on nothing but risk—since there’s no gain worth speaking of—and not cut their losses when that risk becomes too large. That only guarantees eventual destruction of an event or even a club, and you can see that over the years in the loss of many great, traditional Philadelphia races that simply don’t exist anymore.

Sponsorship

The usual response to this, especially from armchair promoters, is that you need to cover the difference with sponsorship. Extra cash and other support is of course great and it’s important to try, but sponsorship is not an efficient or sustainable mechanism to enable these kinds of races.

It takes an extensive investment of time to procure any amount sponsorship. Worse, hunting sponorship is absolutely one of the least enjoyable, most miserable tasks entailed in promoting a race (or running a club). Put those two facts together and it’s incredibly difficult to have volunteers work that angle successfully.

Further, no matter how much effort you do sink, sponsorship isn’t reliable. Ultimately there just isn’t a strong business case for cycling sponsorship even in the professional leagues, and none whatsoever at the amateur grassroots. Without such an objective rational, sponsorship is reliant on personal whims and interests, and corporations being flush with cash. Your patron benefactor moves to a different company, the market goes down half a point, almost anything will cause that critical support for an event to drop out and not be there next year.

Between that difficulty in procuring it and the unpredictability in retaining it, sponsorship of individual small events isn’t a viable foundation for long term sustainability. That core financial support has to come from within the participants and the community.

Foundation

Small tweaks could be made to address some of these risk concerns, e.g., moving pre-registration dates earlier to have more commitment from riders to match commitment from promoters, or substantially raising entry fees to generate actual profit in good years and enable a business-styled boom/bust amortization. Neither of these or similar ideas are appealing or likely to address root issues though.

An idea myself, Charles, and other ECCC and Philly-area cycling leadership have been kicking around is to work toward a substantially different model for these kind of small, amateur races.

The predominant current structure is races backed by particular clubs or even individual people. As discussed above, that entails them taking on a lot of financial risk for something for which there is essentially no possibility of gain. It’s not reasonable to peg all of the cost and risk on one entity when the only value is to the community as a whole simply in having a great event. Long term sustainability and reliability would be much better if those costs, risks, and the effort, were better diffused throughout the community rather than focused on individual organizations and people.

The basic proposal then is to establish a non-profit association or foundation specifically for organizing and promoting races, in this case in the Philadelphia area. The organization would promote multiple races, both enabling new events and moving existing races out from under their individual promoters and into this umbrella. The Phlyer would be a great flagship, the Arsenal another good candidate member, and then other races as promoters are interested.

Each race would of course be run to break even plus some safety margin, but losses would be backed by the foundation. Money for that in turn would come from invested clubs, the community as a whole, and sponsors. An umbrella like this would enable all area clubs to contribute large or small amounts to ensuring good races happen. That’s opposed to the current model requiring that single promoting clubs be able to take on the entirety of the risk, something none can sustain through a catastrophic loss or for years on end. We also believe, and have seen in experiments with the Phlyer, that a fair amount of funding could potentially be crowdsourced from the community; there are even many people who do not race themselves but are eager to support good cycling events. Finally, by enabling multiple events, it becomes more rational for businesses to provide, and more efficient for organizers to seek, meaningful sponsorship.

Beyond that financial support, this organization could also provide the structure to address other issues. Basics include coordinating race dates in the immediate Philly area, and drawing volunteers from all clubs as well as the larger community, thus addressing another critical issue in race promotion: People power. Additional frills could also easily embellish this scheme, e.g., standings and awards across a series made of the foundation’s races.

In sum, there are built-in, structural, completely valid reasons why great traditional events like the Philly 2-Day or Lemon Hill crit have ceased, and cancellations like this year’s Arsenal happen. But it’s possible we shift the underlying model to address those issues and work together as a community to ensure important events continue or even restart. We have some more detailed ideas than the above and would be eager to talk with any interested parties about getting this off the ground.  Of course we’re also eager to hear any other ideas as well as positive or negative comments.  Finally, obviously, we also deeply regret this particular cancellation and hope to see everyone out on the roads, trails, and at other events in the future.

Thanks!

Ride Report: Memorial Day Hills

In a newly minted tradition, a whole bunch of us went on the indefatigable Mr Greene’s Memorial Day Hill Ride. An incredible 30+ people showed up to climb hills and suffer 90F temperatures. I thought it an excellent way to really begin the summer, catching up with friends and meeting new faces.

After last year’s ride Kevin and I talked a bit about my theory that good rides are hard or fun, but truly great rides are emotional. Last year was exactly that. I hadn’t done a big group hill ride in years and was a little concerned beforehand. It was a moving moment then to get an hour in and realize I was killing it.

This year I couldn’t defend my title, but I did pretty well against a large group with a bunch of guys I respect as well as some new ringers. I did though have a deeply satisfying weekend and rode a lot, in near-brutal heat: A fast century on Saturday (Vino Velo, then TTing to Valley Forge); Sunday in Belmont & Wissahickon for a metric MTB century (62mi; this is quite a bit in MTB world); Monday the hill ride and then some for another century worth 8200ft (corrected) of some of Philly’s best hills. Very rewardingly, this is pretty high volume and mostly hard miles, but wasn’t overwhelmingly crushing; I feel pretty good. It did though give me a lot of time to think.

As many people have realized—and pointed out unnecessarily often!—at the top of the year I turned thirty. Despite cliches, it’s kind of a big deal. As my mom put it, “How do you think your father and I feel? We’ve got a son who’s 30!” Not that long ago envisioning anything past twenty-seven was just a fathomless chasm; thirty was as remote and alien to me as the dark side of the moon.

This year also marked the first time cycling eclipsed soccer as the sport in which I have spent the most years of my life, fifteen years now. It is quite a different scene than it was. When I originally joined QCW ten years ago, I think Colton and I were basically the only ones under thirty. Now there are collegiate riders, recent alumni, even juniors all over every group ride, often dominating in both numbers and strength. It’s a huge shift in culture that’s been fascinating to watch and to help drive.

Looking back, twenty-five year old Joe was pretty fit and a strong racer. He could sprint a bit faster, probably get up steep hills a little quicker. But thirty year old Joe would absolutely crush that me; any one of this holiday’s rides would have made a good weekend. Looking further, eighteen year old Joe couldn’t have even really appreciated the power, endurance, and competence involved.

That’s a strong statement. So much of our culture is predicated on looking back at college, back at high school, as high points. It’s quite different to say, actually, no, these are my best days—not when I was twenty-five, not when I was eighten, but right here and now, when I’m thirty.

From the opposite end, I remember when I was twenty looking up to riders in the club and being blown away. I’d watch racers I rode with a lot like Rick and Ted and think “Hell, I just hope I’m still riding when I’m thirty, let alone strong like these guys.” And now I am thirty, and I am strong.

There’s a defiance and a force behind both those lines of thought that I try to pool up, a reservoir of strength to put behind every pedal stroke when I really need to catch that wheel, when home’s a long way to go. Through miles, hours, and sheer willpower, that abyss has been turned into one of the badges I clutch dear when things look grim; a source of power instead of doubt and fear.

I’m away for work through June and July, so I’ll see y’all in August. Prepare to defend your favorite hills!

Race Report: Poolesville 3

Over the weekend I went down for the Poolesville Road Race and rolled in at the back of the field sprint, 23 of 59 in the cat 3. A combo of 80F temperatures, narrow roads, a dirt section, and 65mi of steady rollers dropped more than half the field.

The race is just on the edge of being a reasonable day trip from Philly, about 3hrs away in Maryland (I made a weekend of it with some in-laws). But, I recommend it for any road course fans; crit monkeys stay home. It’s a quiet event but well organized, with great marshaling. There was also super aggressive yellow line enforcement, of which I approve; the motos were even coming forward to move offenders to the back during the race. The course is comparable with Turkey Hill, but a ~10 mile loop so it feels a bit more like a road race to me, as opposed to a circuit race. Climbing is similar to Turkey Hill, nothing crazy at all, but more steadily rolling. It is very narrow, but on the plus side mostly shaded and not as hot. There’s also a pretty clean ~1.5mi dirt section that’s kind of fun.

One thing I did well is moving up and fighting for my place aggressively the first two laps. Characteristically I started literally in last place and was kind of concerned between the rollers and dirt about being blocked in as groups dropped. The course is very tight, never more than 10 feet across and often less, and the hills weren’t really long enough to move up easily, so moving up was tough. I wound up riding the corners much more crit-like and aggressively than I would usually. They’re where the yellow line is fuzziest and the road widest (by simple geometry), so by taking it a little wide or a little tight and kicking it a bit harder than necessary coming out I was able to pick up 3 places here, 6 places there, etc., and pretty quickly found myself sticking safely by the front.

The dirt section was actually fun, and fairly tactical. On the fun side it was really ridable but had the usual dirt ridiculousness. I didn’t see anybody crash, but saw a bunch of guys slowly divert off the road, tons of dropped bottles, chains, etc. It was also super dry so the first few times we hit it there was just a mile and a half of billowing dust with ghosts moving about in it, like we were riding out of a western or something, with visibility about three bikes ahead.

Up the ziggurat, lickety-split! (photo by Pam Mauch)

On the tactical side, it’s a dirt section, so of course the guys in front punch it in order to stay safely out of the mess. It may have also been just slightly uphill. With everyone trying to give each other more space, it’s like a CX race where you’re sort of drafting and the pace is high, but you’re not really in a draft either so you’re kind of TTing. That’s a setup for lots of people to get gapped, but it was the kind of dirt section with two solid hard packed tracks and loose gravel in between so you couldn’t just go around them at will. Coming into it near the front then became more important, plus I had to really work gaps and safe looking places to cross the gravel so that I was always moving up and not getting blocked in.

In the end I just didn’t have enough to do much more. At the end of April I thought I had a good shot to do really well here and at Turkey Hill. They’re my kind of courses, good for someone who can climb a bit and time trial a bit, and I was riding well. Then I got sick, like usual, too many ECCC weekends living out of cars and way overstuffed motel rooms. Not a big deal, but I haven’t been able to shake the last trace of congestion and fatigue. At Turkey Hill I got up Gamber’s with the group the second time and just sat up, the first time I’ve not finished at least in the field sprint there. This race obviously went much better and it was pretty easy to hang on even through a couple fragmentations, but in the one short excursion I did to test my top end it just wasn’t there like it was two weeks ago.

To an extent I guess I’m disappointed about that. I won’t be able to race again until August and had pretty high hopes for these. However, I’m actually pretty ok with it, which is good in its own way, and both of these days were still a lot of fun. Ultimately not every race can be your best race ever and a lot of it is just getting out there, throwing some efforts against the wall, and seeing what sticks.

I think Ron Short’s photo of Darco and I sums it up super well—that big blue American sky, the long road behind, ridiculous people getting absolutely shelled but still having a great time:

Darco and I at Turkey Hill; photo by Ron Short & GoPro.

Race Report: 2012 Philly Phlyer

A race report from earlier this year that did not get posted previously.

This weekend (March 17/18) was of course the Philly Phlyer extravaganza.  I wound up doing the full slate: The open TTT and the 3/4 circuit and crit.  In each I pretty much just rolled in at the back of the main group: 8/17 in the TTT, 44/90 in the circuit, and 23/52 in the crit.

On the one hand that’s somewhat ho-hum.  On the other, I double checked my training log this morning and have definitively not been working out since Labor Day, so those are much better outcomes than I could have reasonably asked for.  Even better, it’s the middle of March and I’ve already done more road races than all of last year.

Most importantly though was that the weekend went amazingly.  Charles Rumford (Drexel/QCW) and Glenn Eck (Temple) did a fantastic job arranging the venues, coordinating everyone, all the endless thankless tasks that go into promoting not just a race, but three great and affordable races right downtown.  You really could not have asked for a more smoothly run weekend of racing.

Alan, Charles, and I before the start of the Temple Crit.

TTT

Tim, Brett H, Chat, Blake, Ryan Shank, and I all signed up for the TTT.  Yes, it’s a 4-person TTT, but Drexel Cycling does not respect your lamestream rules and regulations.  We’ve been talking about this for months now but, per tradition, not actually preparing, so I was surprised by how smooth it went.  Fortunately we beat the Peanut Butter Human Zoom monkey girls, to whom we’d been talking a lot of smack, thus preserving our manhood, albeit just barely.  Physical near catastrophe was also just barely averted several times as Houser attempted to get fancy with the handoffs.  Strategically, Tim’s harder, longer pulls eventually lead to him taking the final one and I was able to pip him at the line for the critical intra-team victory.

Circuit

Having not been riding, I wasn’t planning on doing the circuit race despite yet more smack talk.  In the end though the sun was shining, the temperatures way up, and I couldn’t resist that beautiful course.

My only real disappointment was that, despite all that smack talk, I was hoping to help protect Victoria Hanks (PBCO/HZ).  She’s probably stronger than me, but I think male/female power-to-weight imbalances make that course tough for women in men’s fields, and I expected her to struggle a bit in the endgame climbs.  In the event though, I was in too defensive a posture myself to process the situation and respond appropriately when she did finally slip back (and wound up coming in just behind the main field).  It’s a testament to what a mental game cycling is and how much discipline real strategy takes that I fully anticipated exactly what happened, saw it happening, had a plan for that circumstance, had reserves I would have happily burned to execute that plan, but completely blew it simply by being too much on the bubble myself to be thinking strategically and process the situation.

One thing I did do well was effectively employ all of my different muscles, forms, and cross-training.  Not having been working out, I really don’t have any strength right now, but my cardio is still solid.  Also having a decently stable and efficient high cadence spin, the first couple times up Ford Rd I just sat and spun in a very easy gear, burning my cardio rather than my strength.  The third lap that wasn’t fast enough and I needed more speed, but leveraged all my running to stand the whole climb and really basically run up the climb at a pretty high standing cadence.  Together that meant it wasn’t until the final climb (keeping in mind between the TTT and Intro races I’d already done 4 laps before the start of the race) that I had to really dig into my limited cycling strength reserves to ride up in a somewhat more traditional mix of seated and standing hard digging to stay in over the last hump.  This is one of the ways a lot of cross-training among road, MTB, and running, as well as explicitly working on different styles of riding, has really helped me, giving me many different options and reserves.

Crit

I was especially not planning on doing the crit, instead figuring on announcing and foregoing all the many risks of a pretty choppy course. Ironically, what put me over the top to jump in was that Tony Eberhardt, coach of the UNH team whom I like a lot, said he was going to do it.  He wound up breaking a clavicle on a fluke pothole crash.

One thing I did well here was to ride my own race and not panic. Given the many surface challenges of the course and that I’m not at the moment strong enough physically or mentally to fight for front pack positioning or a win anyway, I made a pretty conscious decision to tailgate more loosely than is best and give people lots of room in the two particularly risky corners.  This risked wasting fair amounts of energy having to catch up each time.  However, I would have space to avoid the many anticipated crashes.  The only reason this would work was because I looked at the course and figured: (1) If I fell behind I’d be able to make up ground comparatively easily on the two uphill stretches; (2) More importantly: They were hard corners.  The group would slow down a lot, as it did.  By hanging loose in the approaches and following my own curve, I gave myself space to avoid crashes, and ultimately didn’t expend that much extra energy because I was smoothing over the hard rubberbanding of the group.  In the end I really only had to dig hard once to reattach after a clump ahead of me dropped on a prime lap, and pretty easily hung in there for the end.

Tom, Brendan, and I patrol the back of the field in the opening laps of the Temple Crit.

Race Report: Philly Marathon

This past Sunday, Caitlin did the half marathon and I did the full marathon. Caitlin ran with some of the Students Run Philly Style kids from her school in about 2.5 hrs. I finished in 3:25:02, 931st/5921 male finishers, 192/927 in my age bracket, 1098/10076 overall. That’s 25 minutes slower than my original goal early this year, and somewhere between 25 to maybe 45 minutes slower than I was running by Labor Day. Given how the preceding week and the fall in general has worked out though, we were both pretty happy.

We’ve both been sick with some sort of sinus thing the past 10 days or so. Up until about 12 hours before the race weren’t even real set on getting up in the morning to go, particularly after a brief jog to go pick up bibs on Saturday didn’t go so awesome. Both of us have also really fallen off the trolley on training. After her Ironman at the end of the summer, Caitlin decided she was ready to start hibernating early. The excessive number of hours I was working out by the end of the summer directly converted first into driving overnight each Friday and Sunday to ECCC MTB races, and then to some new work projects. From a high of 40–60mi running + 12–16hrs riding + weights & core each week, Sunday’s marathon alone was literally more running than I did in the 6 week span from late September to early November, and I haven’t been riding either. We were fully prepared for a disaster.

We were both super glad we went though, obviously especially since it actually went pretty well. It was a gorgeous day to run, perfect temperatures and clear skies. The marathon also makes Philly look super awesome, I really enjoy it. It’s filled with great stuff, like the opening stretch down the Parkway into the morning sun coming up over city hall and the skyscrapers, the people lined up shoulder to shoulder cheering all down Chestnut St, and the way the the sun lines up perfectly in your face again when you make the last turn for homestretch return down Kelly Drive. I think it really is one of the best ways to see Philly, it comes across in a great light, so I highly recommend it for that reason alone.

More technical notes:

In terms of general fitness it was actually not difficult. I pretty easily cleared the first half in ~90 minutes, but starting around mile 15 had real serious knee problems and was very close to dropping out. Unfortunately, that stretch from mile ~14 (Girard Ave) to ~18.5 (Grape St) I consider definitively the hardest part of the course. Physically the sequence from 23rd & Chestnut to 34th St to Memorial Hall is the hardest because it’s uphill throughout, but that stretch on the river has no real crowds. It gets real quiet from miles 15 to 17 especially, and if you’re running in the top third of the field, there aren’t even that many other runners around. There’s nothing exciting going on course-wise either, it’s just flat and no turns, so it’s a real long time to spend by yourself in pain.

I told myself though to just keep going to mile 18, where there’d be a timing mat and I could quit with an official time at the 30k. Somehow that meant something in my head. At 18mi my knee was still getting worse but I told myself I just had to get into Manayunk where there’d be no way I could quit with people cheering again, and then I’d be on the return and home free. I did though have to adopt some serious survival strategies, which in the end carried the day. I cut my average pace by about a minute and a half (not that I had much choice), and started walking ~3 minutes every 2 miles or so. I could not possibly have run any faster or for any longer periods, but combined those gave just enough relief to my knee to finish, walk home, and just generally not permanently destroy the joint.

Food wise I have definitely settled on a really really scientific regimen of water, Shot Bloks, Snickers bars, and Dr Pepper… It blows my mind how little food and liquid most people must be taking in during one of these events, given that only the more serious end of the field carries anything at all, and even then hardly anyone and generally just a couple gels. Four hours and more for the bulk of the people is a long time to be out there doing a serious workout and living off just the occasional water cup and gel.

I run longer stuff with a Nathan HPL #008 water vest which I strongly endorse, it’s amazingly stable for running and hardly noticeable even when well overstuffed. I use it even in supported events like this because I hate dealing with or slowing down for water cups, and much prefer to take in sips throughout rather than gulp down at water stations. Besides generally making sense to me, I also think having a higher caloric intake mostly eliminates concerns many other people have, like stressing out about a great breakfast or oversize carb dinner the night before. I pretty much just eat what I always eat, in part because by eating steadily in the event itself I figure I avoid an unsustainable deficit. That said, I do try to be conscious of not eating ridiculously more calories or sugar per hour than I can probably process (the soda adds up real fast on the latter).

Finally, another important piece of gear I’ve adopted alongside my beloved compression calf sleeves and water pack are double layer running socks. Historically when doing a lot of running I’ve fairly regularly gotten minor blisters that I could ignore while running but would be a small nuisance otherwise. This year I’ve used WrightSock double layers for longer runs, and that minor problem has been completely eliminated. Worth checking out.