Thursday, November 27, 2008

Just a little more Tacchino...

...The real Tacchino, that is.

And with that, Happy Thanksgiving ("Yom HaMo'edim" to all of you Hebrewphiles).

As for The Complete Jewish Cyclist, he took a back seat to his wife, whom today became The Complete Jewish Runner, busting out a very respectable 10k early in the morning. I was thinking about doing the run myself, but didn't want to risk some nasty running injury like a shin splint with just one week to go until the Capitol 'Cross race in Reston. Besides, can you picture a cyclocrosser like me doing a family fun 10K? It would be all fun and games until the gun goes off and I start elbowing and shoving people to get a good line into the first corner.

Also, cheering fans are way more fun at 'cross races than at running races. Fans at a running race call out a delightful "you can do it - go go go!". Compare that to the abuse a 'cross fan can dish out; "C'mon, get on that wheel - take him man, make your move - HUP HUP HUP!".

Yes, if I'm running, there better be a bike on my shoulder and a muddy ground with barriers underneath.

Then I prepared the stomach with a strong afternoon training ride, busting out a fast thirty miler with a good deal of climbing and fast, big chainring riding. Had a great moment when I passed a kid on a BMX bike. About a few moments later he sprinted past me, fell behind, and did it again. He turned out to be the Maryland State BMX champion - an fast rider and a nice guy. I told him I'd better see him in the next Olympics. When you read about how much power those guys can generate on a BMX bike, don't underestimate that - those guys can crank. Want proof? Consider the exploits of two former BMXers; Robbie McGewan and Sven Nys.

So we finished off the day feasting on all sorts of hearty and heavy, yet kosher fare. We had the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, plus the traditional Jewish brisket. Nothing dairy, but we did have some awesome parve desserts and finished it off with some good single malt scotch and some strong coffee.

'Nuff said. I'm a bit fat now. I'll burn if all off next week when I throw down some training rides in advance of the Capitol 'Cross.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

2008 Tacchino Ciclocross

Damn it was cold this morning!

And since it was a cyclocross race, damn it was fun!

And fun is indeed a great way to describe this race put on by the folks at Squadra Coppi. This Italiancentric racing club, based in Arlington, VA, and named after the famed "Il Campionissimo" himself - Fausto Coppi - the Coppi team once a year brings an Italian flair to this very Belgian sport. Italian for "Turkey Cyclocross" to honor the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, this late-season race in is fun event giving a bit of a break to the racers who are near the end of a very serious season of racing.

Held in scenic Ida Lee Park in beautiful Leesburg, Virignia at the base of the Catoctin Mountains, the Tacchino Ciclocross presents a challenging course to the riders. The front side of the course included long paved straights before diving into a field of tight corners, gravel and grass stretches, one dismount barrier, and a series of sharp ups-and-downs in rapid succession to test the strength and bike handling skills of the riders.

And of course, there was fun. As always, the big Turkey stuffed into a Squadra Coppi kit (no, really, some guy dresses up in a big turkey suit) was on the course to humor and taunt the riders. Nothing like trying to get a laugh from a guy who's searing lungs are one breath away from explosion. And The Complete Jewish Cyclist got some recognition today also! The primes included a suitcase of meats originally billed as "The Suitcase of Sausage", but redubbed as "The Jason Pearlman Memorial Hebrew National Prime" on account of the somewhat kosher Hebrew National Franks mixed into a prize basket of obviously not kosher fare of bacon and sausage. The "Memorial" was soon dropped after it was discovered that I was not actually dead. I didn't win any primes today, but the Unholy Roleur himself, Jim, charged me with walking the suitcase itself - one of those metal secure attaches complete with handcuffs - over to the organizers table. Still, it was nice to hear me name over the loudspeaker, though next time I'm gonna go for something more like "Jason Pearlman is tearing this field to pieces without mercy".

And, of course, there was racing to be done.

The start of the Men's Cat. 4 race was at 9:00 AM under cold blue skies and air set at a cool 30 degrees. I opted for knee warmers and a simple base layer under my Team Bike Rack kit, in addition to doubling up on socks and gloves. I held at the rear of the field on the first lap, avoiding the falls. Working myself midway into the field with three to go, I defended my position while avoiding one of the many riders who went down in front of me on the backside of the course on the tight corners leading into the climbs and descents. I moved up some more with two to go, lost two vital placings after that, but then surged to take over one rider on the last lap to get myself into 20th position. After finishing 44th here last year and not on the lead lap, this year's race was a big improvement, and many thanks as always go out to my family for their support, my friends for their encouragement, the Bike Rack DC for helping me get into 'cross, and HaShem for bringing me to this point.

'Nuff said. Here are some pictures of the day. Apologies for not having too many pictures this time. I took off after the results were posted, and spent the rest of the morning exploring the charming historic downtown of Leesburg with my family, enjoying the warm indoors of the Georgetown Cafe and the quaint shops along the mainstreet.

Early in the race, joining into a group as the field begins to string out. I'm sitting just behind the Bike Lane rider in red and black.

Sitting on the wheel of a Bike Lane rider, waiting for the right point on the course to make a move.

Last lap now, into 20th position and fighting to keep my position after pacing a rider just a few moments earlier.

"The Suitcase of Sausage", which on raceday became the "Jason Pearlman Hebrew National Prime", awarded to the riders leading certain laps. The only possible kosher meat of note here are the Hebrew National Franks. Hebrew National is now certified kosher by the Triangle-K under the auspices of Rabbi Ralbag, head of Kehilat B'nai Yisrael in New York City, himslef having learned at Yeshivat Etz Chiam and the legendary Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav (pretty awesome things to have associated with a prime sprint in a cold field in northern Virginia).

The Unholy Roleur himself, Jim, is an incredibly friendly guy, and no MABRA/MAC race is complete without his prescence. Big thanks to him today on injecting this race with some good humor, even if it led to my friends taking the joke further that the wieners were circumcised (hey, if you want a deadly serious tone, go to a road race; if you want fun, hang out at a 'cross race). And of course, big props to Jim and the Squadra Coppi for once again putting on an incredible race and a great day for the MABRA/MAC cyclocross scene.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dude, Seriously, Update Your Blog (Part 2)!


Life can get very busy, even for The Complete Jewish Cyclist. I'll admit to right now to not being the most prolific and productive blogger out there. OK, so here are my excuses:

1. I'm knee-deep in the cyclocross season. Granted, this is only a six-race season for me, but a lot of training has gone into this season, and it continues this Sunday with the Tacchino Ciclocross. I finished something like 42nd here last year, but this season has been going well, with consistent top-thirty finishes and a dip into the top-20 with a 19th place at DCCX. I just need to keep the focus and concentration going, and still remember to have a good time because cyclocross is pure madness - the most painful fun you can have on a bike. After that race comes the season-finale; The Capitol Cross in Reston, VA.

2. The temperature is dropping here in the Mid-Atlantic region, but the Bike Rack DC Sunday morning shop ride still goes on. When I'm not racing 'cross, I'm on this awesome ride, even into the cold weather.

3. With the cold weather and short days, I'm only getting in one, maybe two commutes to work a week. I love cycling and this has been an awesome season for me, but I'm just looking forward to finishing it on a high note and finishing it. I've hit most of my goals for the year, so now I'm concentrating on placing as high as possible in these last two races for the year.

4. And of course; family, friends, and work. No to demean any of those - I'm very thankful for all of them B"H. Still, they command a lot of time, which means that velo time is limited, and that time is best spent pushing pedals and not computer keyboards.

That's all for now. Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and all of the other posts, and for those closer to me, thanks for being patient and understanding of my cycling lifestyle. Don't worry - in just a few weeks time, I can go out on a Saturday night instead of staying home to shave my legs and prep the bikes and gear for a Sunday-morning hammerfest on the roads and in the fields (the latter usually requires a 5:00AM wake up call).

Enough with the words. Blog posts without pictures suck. Here's the rear derailleur on my road bike:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cold Morning Commutes

A true cyclist is not a fair-weather cyclist. After the summer fades, warm breezes give way to cool winds; blue skies turn grey, and the foliage loses its green lushness revealing skeletal forests, a more defined community of cyclists take command of the roads and trails. They are known by many names, but most common are terms like "hard-core roadies", "cyclocrossers", and "die-hard commuters".

They're also called "nuts", "crazy", and "ridiculous", but the cycling world is sustained over the off-season by these riders, and for these particular riders, thier cycling lives become sustained by riding well into the weeks and months when many a rider has traded bikes for skis or simply a saddle and waterbottle for a couch and mug of hot chocolate.

Such are things I think about when riding to work on cold autumn mornings. Yesterday's commuting weather was in the upper 30s with relentless cool breezes, the kind that present a wall of resistance to a hard working rider and slices through all forms of cycling clothing, no matter how technologically advanced. I could simply take the Metro train to work, sit in a cushy seat, read the paper, and nod off in a heated car watching a cold, morning world blur by.

But I can't. I race cyclocross. I have two races left this season. I still need to be training, still need to be pursuing top results for myself and my team, Bike Rack DC. This season began January 1st, and after 2500 miles of training, many in the form of my morning and evening commutes, it's nearly over but not over yet. The Tacchino Ciclocross in Leesburg, VA and the Capitol Cross in Reston, VA, are the final objectives for me this year, and I plan to max this season out to the very end. I've turned my commutes into training rides; nine miles door-to-door became 20 miles of speedwork here, 30 miles of intervals there, and still more after work in the form of strength training or hill work. For me, these lonely rides on frigid mornings late in the year as as crucial as warm summer commutes at the height of July.

With that in mind, I took one final look at the weather, and matched the right layers of clothing to 37 degrees with a cool northwest wind. Truth be told, I enjoy cool weather riding. While warm sun on skin is a wonderful feeling during the dog days of summer, being bundled up in layers of lycra, polypropeline, and wool has an enjoyable coziness all its own. And as a single speed commuter, I can wear the thickest, warmest gloves possible since I don't need to worry about tapping at small shifter paddles tucked behind a brake lever. So with backpack stuffed and bottles filled (hydrating is as important on cold mornings as it is on warm afternoons; you can cramp in either one), I rolled out.

Hitting the road midweek in the early hours of a cold day is a very different feeling than a Sunday midsummer ride. The blast of cold is evident immediately, though the warming efforts of a strong ride are incentive enough to go hard. That's just the physical factor, but the psycological factor is a much bigger element; the bike paths and roads look, seem, and feel much more deslolate. There is a feeling of loneliness, vunerability. But then it pans out to this; in this solitude, cycling is not longer "hip", "trendy", or "popular". Withouth the fair-weather masses and warm weather buzz, this is when cycling becomes real. In solitude on rides like this, the cyclist is just that; not lost in a crowd, but blatently identified. At this point - mid-November on a cold weekday morning - the riding is the product of, the show of serious love and passion for the sport, a commitment to this lifestyle, which at times has people labeling us as "nuts", "crazy", or "ridiculous".

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Good News on the Kosher Cycling Front

Now that the season is winding down, I have a chance to start relaxing a little and give some thought to next year (can't relax too much though - I still have two 'cross races to do). One objective is helping grow the presence of kosher athletes in the energy supplement market. While there are plenty of supplements on the market, very few are kosher. Luckily, a few such as Hammer Nutrition, Clif, and now CeraSport offer products with kosher certifications such as the OU (Orthodox Union), Kof-K, and the CRC (Chicago Rabbinical Council).

I have a few forthcoming postings which will focus on kosher energy products. OK, I know posts about energy products are not as exciting as subjects like blingtastic carbon super-bikes or Euro-cool cycling action, but in the end, nothing is sweeter than a good ride experience, and supplements help add to the experience. And for the kosher cyclist, this will help you know what's out there and how they can help you in pursuit of everything such as crushing the competition at the local 'cross races, besting your personal century time, or simply surviving that little bit more on the next Sunday morning ride.

And yes, there will be pictures, because cycling blog postings without pictures suck.

Monday, November 3, 2008

2008 Kelly Benefits Strategies Cyclocross - Quick Updates

(Note: The previous post contains the race report and photos. This post is to clear up two issues related to the race.)

While the Kelly Benefits Strategies Cyclocross at Rockburn last Sunday was an overwhelming success - good racing on a great course, and a beautiful autumn day spent with family and friends of the Mid-Atlantic cyclocross scene - two issues arose which need clarification, one lighthearted and fun and the other a bit more serious, and one every local amateur (read; neo-Cat. 4s like myself) should read.

1. This is the lighthearted issue:
The new energy supplement company I discovered at the race, CeraSport - producers of energy drinks with a kosher certification from the OU - should not be confused with CERA, the new drug of choice for soulless pro racers who cheat. CERA is for pros who like to win every time trial and and mountain stage in a Grand Tour by means of injections, oxygenated blood bags, and evil doctors who like to turn pro riders into ticking chemical timebombs. CeraSport is for local amateur cyclists looking to put in their highest possible race results or take the sprint to the top of the hill on the Sunday morning shop ride by means of a funky citrus-flavored drink in their water bottles to replenish nutrients and fluids.

2. This is the more serious issue:
As you read in the previous post (you DID read the previous post and not just look at the pictures, right?), you saw their was a serious issue with the posting of my race result. As always, the results from the Cat. 4 race was posted less than an hour after the race. As with all initial postings, they were not fully complete, and there was a protest period for the top riders. The emphasis in the initial posting is to sort out the "money riders" and the riders eligible for upgrade points. The riders outside those placings simply wait and hope the organizers get it right.

So after what I felt was a good race, and I was sure I was once again a top-30 finisher, somewhere in the mid-20s, I was shocked to see myself listed at the bottom with nothing; no DNS, no DNF, or no DQ. I was simply there on paper, but no where on the results (by that posting, some 70 riders - pretty much all of the finishers - were listed). It was a flashback to the fiasco of the 2007 Charm City Cyclocross, where the organizers listed the top ten riders, and then botched the results for the other 90 riders. I was taken aback (read: pissed) and was not going to let this stand. Knowing that this is not too uncommon - rider's results being lost or misstated - I was not going to accept this. Next, I was listed at 14th in the next round of results, again, completely wrong, and now even more difficult to deal with because I did not want to be stuck with a false finishing position, which would've deprived the riders who beat me and possible cost somebody an upgrade point. Here is how I dealt with it, and how I eventually got my proper (more or less) result posted:

A. Knowing who I finished with.
Not that this is always possible with the mayhem and fury that is cyclocross, but in this case, I got quickly familiar with the rider I finished with. I found myself at the end battling with and eventually losing to a BBC rider on a LaPierre. Seeing a BBC rider listed in the results near where I finished, I tracked down the first BBC rider I saw, inquired about the guy who raced Cat. 4 on the LaPierre, and was quickly introduced to him. He turned out to be John Scott, a very good rider and a good person, who offered to vouch for me to the officials.

B. Knowing where you are on the course.
On the next to last lap, I heard the officials call me out as being in 28th position, and in 25th position on the final lap. Granted there is a lot to focus on in the final moments of a 'cross race, but knowing to keep an ear out for the officials calling out positions of riders on the lead lap was helpful not only to my race, but also to helping the officials figure out my position afterwards.

C. Civility and Professionalism.
This, I believe, was a key factor in stating my case to the officials. In the chaos following the race, I quickly realized that the officials and judges deal with chaos. They have to deal with close to 100 riders for the Cat. 4 race, then figure it out before dealing with hundreds of other riders throughout the day. This being local cyclocross and not the Tour de France, there are no electronic chips, no video replay, and no army of photographers and referees to check and triple-check the standings. At most, it's a handful of judges comparing handwritten notes, simply lots of numbers scrawled on paper, of riders sprinting by, some with numbers crumpled, ripped, or covered in mud. Here is how it worked:

I approached the officials with a plan. It began with waiting patiently, apologizing to them for distracting them from the work they need to do diligently. I extended my hand, introduced myself, and stated my case as such:

"My name is Jason Pearlman, I was bib #167 in the Men's cat. 4 race, and I finish right behind John Scott, bib #131 in 24th position"

This is much more helpful to the official than "Dude, WTF, why am I not listed?". It also establishes a civil and respectful relationship to which the judges are willing to work with. Unfortunately, it took me two hours, trips all over the race venue, tons of patience and restraint, and deliberations with three different judges to do this. In the end they said they couldn't promise anything, but seemingly appreciated my honesty, respectful tone, and persistence.

In the end, I did receive my finishing position of 24th, but seeing as the rider who beat me listed as 22nd, I was content to take my 24th instead of a possible 23rd.

D. Lessons Learned.
First of all, you'll need to stick around after your race and for the results to be posted. If you leave before hand, then there's nothing you can do. Second, after you affix your race number to your jersey, ask an official if they can read the number. It may be too high or too low on your side for them to read. Finally, if you do find yourself in a position where you need to contest your result, take a moment to calm and compose yourself, and make a plan of attack. After racing for 40 brutal minutes after countless hours, days, weeks, and months of training only to see a DNF is enraging to say the least, but the officials are strained people doing a difficult task, and making it as easy for them makes it easy and inviting for them to hear and help you.

For a local amateur like myself, a weekend warrior with big dreams and realistic expectations, a USCF judge can be an intimidating person. They need to be concerned with the top finishers and the prize/points winners, and less concerned with the guy who finished 25th or 37th or 61st or 78th. One official told me that I wasn't a "money rider" and wasn't as important as the prize winners, and I responded that as a paid entrant, I was indeed a "money rider" even if I part with $20 and come home with nothing other than good memories and sore muscles. In the future, I would like to see a little more respect paid to the lower placed riders and to the efforts and results of all paid riders. In the meantime, I do acknowledge and thank them for taking the initiative to do so, such as they did at this year's Charm City Cyclocross by beefing up their numbers and scoring all of the Cat. 4 riders, and in particular, to the judges and officials and Rockburn for taking the time to listen to and working with me to correct my standings, and I look forward to only good racing and good interactions with them in the future.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

2008 Kelly Benefit Strategies Cyclocross at Rockburn - Elkridge, MD

(Note: There are pix at the end of the race write-up, so scroll down if you want to get right to the action)

Today's race was the Kelly Benefit Strategies Cyclocross at Rockburn, held at Rockburn Park in Elkridge, MD. Last year, this was the final race on the calendar, and this year the race moved up from mid-December to the beginning of November. Not only was today's warm and sunny conditions a contrast to last year's cool, raw weather, but the field entries also grew, on trend with the overwhelming and growing popularity of Mid-Atlantic Cyclocross. I missed the race last year in order to spend time with family and celebrate Chanukkah, so this was a race I was looking forward to doing this year.

The course was nothing short of awesome. A long parcours at 3.3 kilometers, the circuit was dry and fast, with challenging climbs, rapid descents, ripping-fast singletrack, twisty bends, and varied terrain for technical fun (gravel, rocks, sand, grass - you name it, it was there). It was a course which demanded power, speed, brute physicality, and bike handling skills ranging from confident to sharp to agile. In short, the organizers laid out a smart, challenging, fluid course which was fun to race.

As for me, I came into the race with a 19th place finish in last week's DCCX. Following the same strategies of last week, I eased into the first two laps, and ramped it up in the ensuing laps. I worked my way into the group of riders I knew I would be with to the finish, came into the next to last lap in 28th position, then fought to stay in the top 30. On the bell lap, I pushed it to move higher, and in the final straight, lost out in a sprint with John Scott of BBC Velo, but ended up in 24th overall.

Then the day came crashing down.

I went to see the final results, only to find my name at the bottom without a placing. I tracked down race officials to see what happened. Over the next two hours I found myself all over the venue talking to different judges, some who had records of my lap positions, others who didn't. Stranger still, a later posting of results had me in 14th place, which enraged me even more. 23 riders beat me, and I wasn't about to jump the positions of nine of them falsely. Despite protests, this seems to be the final result according to the officials, but as of this time, I still don't know the final results.

Oh well, I finished 24th as far as anyone is concerned. Enough of that now - the day was awesome, the racing was exhilarating, and the CX scene as always was the bastion of the coolest people around. That's it for the prose, here's what you really want: Pictures!

Pre-race smile. Cyclocross racing will wipe the smile right off your face, but I still took a moment to enjoy the pleasant autumn conditions of today's race.

Here I am working one of the many tricky bends around this well-designed course.

Running the double barriers at the top of the hill.

One of the great things about cyclocross is the friendliness of the scene and the people we meet. For me, a raceday is not complete without guys like Michael Giancoli of Hup United and his dog Elwood. Mike has been riding well all season, and according to DataTracker, is my "Arch Nemesis". Giancoli scored 13th today in the Cat. 4 race. Check out his blog "The Muddy Dog", found in the blog rolls to the right.

CeraSport, a new nutritional supplement company , was on hand at Rockburn to show their new line of electrolyte drink mixes. When they offered me a sample, I simply inquired if their product was kosher...

...and oh yeah it is. The OU symbol (Orthodox Union) says it all. Rejoice, kosher cyclists (and cyclocrosser), the market for kosher energy supliments is growing all the time. Cerasport joins Hammer and Clif as one of the few companies to offer kosher energy products, and I will have a review of their products in a future posting on The Complete Jewish Cyclist.

I stuck around for the Mens Cat. 3/4 race to enjoy the action and to snap some shots for my friends in action. Here's two of them:

Ryan Dudek:

Nathan Chenenko