Thoughts on biking and Czech life through the Eyes of an American

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm Not a Racer I just show up at the startline.

Ride Stats

  • Dist:84.1

  • Time:4:08:58

  • Avg. Speed20.27 mph

  • Max. Speed44.6 mph

  • Climbing:6161 ft

  • Avg. HR:161 bpm

  • Energy:4438 cal

  • Dist 2008:3861 mi

Biking Shot of the Day

Sun & Clouds


High: 67° Low: 61°


High: 67° Low: 61°

race graph
Graph of Heart Rate (red), Speed (blue), and Altitude (gray) for the race
For those not familiar with heart rates, 110-120 beats per minute and you know you exercising, 130-140 and you are really starting to work, 150-160 and you are putting out serious effort. At about 165-170 a little voice in your head says, "ok, you can maintain this for about 30 seconds, then I'm giving up". At 170-180 your body says, "ok. Nice suicide attempt. Stop. Now!". At 180+ you are venturing into the maximum your heart can possibly beat (aside from all psychological "omg, this is too hard" thoughts). The general calculation is 220bmp - (Your Age). For me, I guess that's around 191. So when I see that I was over 180 for 11 continuous minutes... you can imagine the agony...

Last weekend I met up with the local cycling club for there Sunday ride. After a sedentary Friday and Saturday of sitting on a bus for 5 hours and sitting through Human Resource Management class for 12 hours, I was ready to do some riding. As folks started to roll towards the habitual meeting spot, I began to notice 2 distinct cliques forming. I sat on the top tube quietly as some were chatting about bike parts, races, or other things (in Czech obviously). Then one guy turned to me and said in english, "how far would you like to ride?" - guess my incognito style wasn't as covert as I thought. They were thinking of going for about 5 hours so I joined them. The other group had some riders that didn't look as fit and they headed in a different direction. We had a good ride with a small group of 4, riding by some impressive looking nuclear power plant towers and rolling countryside. I chatted with a guy named Pavol who was really nice and had great english skills. One or two guys headed home early so we were down to 3 - Pavol, Michal, and me. We hit some big hills near Mikulov with dramatic limestone(?) cliffs framed with rolling vineyards and small villages.

We finished the ride after 117 miles averaging 20.1mph... pretty fast (for me anyway). Noticing that I had a weekend hiatus from my MBA classes, I emailed Pavol on Friday wondering if there were any rides scheduled for Saturday & Sunday. He said that 2 races were going on... one near Prague, another in the Southeastern corner of the country. He found a ride for me to get to the race and suddenly I found myself hours away from my first race in 6 or 7 years. Yikes!

My goal for the race was... well... to just show up and hope to finish. Obviously if you don't train for 6 years, you can't really expect much more. During most of my rides, I average 130bpm (that's heart beats per minute for the non-bikers out there). That qualifies as exercise but certainly isn't high-octane racing pace. Plus, I had already done 2 long rides over 100 miles each during the week so I probably wasn't super-fresh.

The Race
I met up with Petr, Libor, and Jura with 4 bikes mounted on the roof. I filled out the registration form and immediately one of ladies at registration noticed that my name wasn't Czech... she said something and Petr said I spoke english. The race organizer perked up and said in perfect english, "oh if you need anything, just let me know." I found out later why they were making such a big deal... apparently my entry into the race marked the first year that the annual event "was international". I even had my picture taken by the organizer before the start... sort of embarrassing for someone trying to "lie low" on the race radar since I was hopelessly out of race shape and just trying to do one race to get motivation and aspiration to train and meet some of the local bike crowd. I certainly wasn't going to tell anyone that I used to be a Cat 1 racer because I don't feel I even deserve to be considered a Cat 5 now.

The Gun Goes Off
Yes, they had a gun. Despite the common perception that 50% of American's walk around town with a gun tucked in their pants, I never see too many... but apparently here it's pretty rare to have a gun. It was probably just a cap-gun but it reminded me of the American stereotype obviously generated from Hollywood shoot-em-up flicks.
Anyway, I was a bit nervous until we actually started riding. Riding in the peloton was soooo much better than riding in a peloton in the US... US pelotons are kind of crazy... lots of yelling, numerous attacks... followed by yelling about who was going to chase it down... yelling at riders who don't hold a perfect line...etc etc. In contrast, the Czech peloton was very quite... hand signals were mostly used to point out potholes, chicanes, roundabouts, etc and there wasn't a single idiotic attack.

Into the Hills
We hit the first hill and all I knew was that it was sort of long. The pace was pretty fast and a lot of riders got dropped fast. I managed to stay in contact with the main group but I had to bridge a 300 meter gap on the downhill so I didn't get much rest. The next hill came soon after... another long one. I found myself again dangling on the back with 6 or 7 others. My heart rate was easily in the 170s and even 180s at times but the main issue was that I had no solid rest since the last hill. My legs felt agonizingly weak up the 6km climb but I crested the top and myself and another guy again had to bridge a tiny gap to get back in the lead group. The roads were through a some sort of park (think: state park) and were about as wide as a single SUV (more like a path than a road). With steep drop offs on one side and trees precariously close to the road, we hammered down the sun dappled tarmac navigating the tight 100° turns and switchbacks. We caught up with the lead group... again without sufficient rest on the descent.

The Suffering
The third climb began and I was hurting. Another 4-6km climb with several steep sections... I couldn't maintain the pace. I formed up with a small group of 3 or 4 riders and we pushed hard to catch the lead group with our speed at 27mph as we rotated pulls at the front. We caught another small group that had also been dropped and we all pulled together. My pulls and a guy on a Trek we probably the strongest but I realized I needed to rest more because I didn't have much juice left. On the next climb I fell off the back. For three hours+ I had been virtually max'ed out and my legs needed to back off just a fraction of a percent... but that meant losing contact with the small chase group. For the next 1.5 hours I was basically riding alone which makes it hard to stay motivated and to keep pushing, especially when your legs want to stage a mutiny and jump ship.

The Finish
I sort of dogged it up the last climb and the final flat stretch into town I did at a moderate pace, about 23-25mph. I finally finished and was pleased just to cross the line. The lead group had winnowed down to just 14 riders or so (all categories included) and I finished only about 16 minutes behind... probably not too bad since I'm sure during the final 90 minutes when I was riding solo, exposed to the wind, and mostly just checking out the scenery, the lead group was probably hammering in nice efficient paceline. I ended up 27th overall and 13th for my category (Men 20-29) out of 70 racers. One more year and I can be in the slightly less competitive 30-39 category :)

The Aftermath
After the race, we had complementary tickets for lunch and drinks. I got in line and was promptly handed a full roasted chicken with a slice of bread and a pickle. As soon as I reached for my plate, I began to search for some plastic utensils... I got distracted and found our crew at one of the outdoor tables. After sitting down I thought, "ahhh, I forgot to get some silverware" but then I looked around the table to notice everyone eating their respective chicken with their hands. I don't think I would ever eat a chicken with my hands, not because I think it's unsanitary, I just prefer not to have greasy fingers... but I had no problem temporarily adapting to the custom. Even though eating with hands is (possibly) more common in CZ, they are more strict in other ways... foot coverage, for example, is vehemently enforced. Walking in bare feet around the house is guaranteed to conjure up a cold - and wearing only socks is just half the battle... to fully ward off colds you should wear sandals especially designed for home-use. I'm not choosing sides here, just pointing out some cultural differences. The beverage coupon entitled the holder to a cold beer (didn't catch the brand, probably Pilsner Urquell or Starobrno) but I stuck to water as I'm not a big beer drinker.

All in all, I guess I didn't do too bad for someone who hasn't done a single interval in 6 years! But of course now I have to wonder how I might do with some regular training.

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Anonymous Heidi said...

44mph...! That's fast... Riding in Czech looks nice...

June 22, 2008 at 4:06 PM

Blogger JV said...

Hi Heidi,
Yes, riding around in the Czech Republic is great. Like most places, it has it's flaws... poor road surfaces, and twice as many people die as a result of accidents in CZ than the US (per km/mi driven). But its pretty nice.

The 44mph stat was actually the easiest thing about the race. Probably the only time when I wasn't riding flat-out. The descents were very windy with no guardrails on a road that most people would think was a bike path (super-narrow) with no real straight sections and just about all the curves had some dirt on them (some had big rock-chunks!). During my normal rides from home I usually can get just above 50mph but max speed is pretty pointless - but it can be an indicator of the hard work put into riding UP that hill :). 10mph up a 15% and I would be very impressed with that!

June 22, 2008 at 5:54 PM


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