When A Racer's Responsible Resolve Disolves Away

After too many years of doing the 9-5 office cubicle thing, I'm back in school. Contrary to my own preconceived notions, it has been harder than ever to maintain a consistent and high quality level of training throughout the fall, winter and now (almost) spring. I think I've gotten dumber in my old age (and I wasn't particularly smart to start with) because I find combining good training and good studying almost impossible. Consequently my training has suffered and I'm literally months behind in my usual training routine.

All of these things, plus tighter funds, and my usual level of disdain for racing in colder climes in March (while the beautiful months of October and November blow by with few road races scheduled), made it easy for me to proudly proclaim to coach Al, my girlfriend and anyone that would listen, "No way am I racing in March...that would be stooopid!" Al and I agreed and we went about the business of planning a course of action to get me back into shape for summer's hammer-fests.

And then it happened. Sometime during the middle of last week, I started keeping an eye on weather.com and saw that Sunday's weather was going to be dry and in the mid-30s to low 40s. And I started think about lining up for one of New York's famous Central Park training races (somewhere there's a picture of a young George Hincapie racing ithrough blizzard conditions in a park race). Of course, like any proud pre-schooler, I had lots of good excuses for going against our previously agreed-upon resolve.

"I would have to ride that day anyway, and since I had a lot of studying to do, an intense 30 miles, would be a better use of my time than an enduring ride of 50-75 miles."
"The field's at these races are always on the big side (50+ riders), so I can just sit in and 'motorpace.'"
"It will be a good gut-check and motivator to keep training when I get chewed up and spit out the back."

But the real truth is that, I LOVE TO RACE and I couldn't resist the lure of the two-wheel action just a few blocks from my front door.

With just a 3.5 hours of sleep before the morning's race (in large part due to confluence of daylight savings, episodes of The Dog Whisperer, and the baking of chocolate chip cookies), I rolled up to the start line. The 10k outer loop road of Central Park had taken a beating this winter. Cracks and potholes were filled with glassy water that reflected nothing but blackness. It was 6:30am many of the course's street lights were completely out (uhm, did someone forget to pay the ConEd bill?).

All of which is to say that the first lap of my 2007 season was SKETCHY. Fortunately, I quickly found my rhythm and was racing near the front of the field--exactly where I needed to be. I think I always race smarter when my fitness is lacking. [Mental note to self: race smarter when you've got the legs too!] Obviously, my whole "siting in and motorpacing" plan was out the window.

Unfortunately, whether I was in the front, middle or back of the pack, there was no avoiding one unpleasant reality of the park roads that morning. Liquified horse manure.

If you ever seen a movie or TV show set in NYC, chances are there is at least one scene of a googly-eyed couple taking a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. Well folks, this is not a piece of fiction dreamed up by movie directors. There are in fact many, many, many horse-drawn carriages that wind their way through the park. So in addition to the beautiful memories created by love-dovey couples, something less etheral, and a little more earthy gets left behind on the roads.

Add a night of rain, thundering herds of bicycle racers and let me just tell you that my water didn't taste quite the same and there were specks of things stuck in my teeth that were not from the ovens of the Clif Bar bakeries...if you know what I mean.

In the end, I raced fairly conservatively, kept myself near the front for most of the day, and managed to uncork a pretty well-timed and moderately-strong sprint for 12th place. Just 2 spots out of the money! So close, yet so far...

As I write this I'm pretty wiped out (a clear sign of my lack of fitness and form), but I have to say that, liquified horse manure withstanding, it felt pretty good to be racing again. The next month or so, I resolve to train more regularly and race very little, if at all. I know that today I got by on experience alone, but if I'm to succeed in the much tougher regional New England/Mid-Atlantic races this summer, I've got a LOT of work to do.

Enjoy your next ride,
Marc Bertucco

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