Salt City Sprints

The speedskating season is quite long, and after the stress of national champs, it’s a really good idea to do a mid-season fitness rebuild that involves plentiful cross-training.

Usually this involves the weight room or the bike. The US national team often goes somewhere warm for a week of long rides. However, this is not an option for the rest of us.

When a friend sent me the link to this bike event happening in a local bar, the Salt City Sprints, I just had to go!

Although wintertime indoor cycling races have been around for over a century, this modern version of it involved one of my favorite strange American sub-cultures; the fixed-gear urban cyclist crowd.

I’ve ridden a track bike on the city streets since 1993 (for training, never really for commuting) and it’s been so much fun to see the explosion of interest in fixed-gear riding & the distinct cultural identity that has become attached something I’ve done on my own for years.

I thought it was mainly a young hipster thing, but there was really quite a diverse & playful crowd there for the sprints. That is one of the fun things about bikes, (or speedskating for that matter) the love of an activity can cross all sorts of lines.

I had my camera with me, and about halfway though did some taping, just because the event was so cool.

Click here for the high quality Quicktime, or press play below for the youtube.

There is an interesting psychological footnote to this. This was a fun event, but it did center around a “race”.

When it was my turn to ride, my extremely intense competitive nature naturally bubbled forth.

I am a sprinter by nature & nurture, and I wanted to show that, even though speedskating ability does not necessarily mean you can spin 220+ RPM on a track bike.

These were time trials, as fast as you could go for “250 meters”. Everyone rode once, and that was supposed to set up elimination rounds between the top 16.

When it was my shot for the time trial, I rode pretty well, and as I staggered away from the bike, I heard the times announced.

I heard the time of the fellow who rode next to me, and thought it was my own. It was not a good time. I watched guy after guy, and even some women, go faster.

I was pissed off, mostly at myself, for having that prideful, competitive kernel bouncing around my innards like a spiked superball.

Eventually, I did find out my true time, and felt much better, as it barely qualified me for the top 16. I would get to ride again.

However, as the evening wore on, it became quite obvious that the “times recorded” were all off, as the computers were not registering correctly, and in fact, the organizers were forced to just use one bike & do hand timing. So the results became “wildly impressionistic” rather than accurate.

But because of my earlier moment of timing confusion, I started wondering why “racing” is so damm important to self-esteen. Why do some of us so enjoy measuring ourselves vs other people? & why do the crowds cheer so loud?

They seemingly got the computer working for the final round of 16, I was one of the first to ride, and I guess with some combination of my size, power, & lack of grace, I killed the computer (the moment in the video that goes from fast to slow-mo, that is that moment).

I’ve done this before; I once broke a treadmill in a professional lab during a VOmax test when I was 19, I have snapped the downtube on several bikes & crushed maple clap blade mechanisms. I guess I just break stuff when I go as hard as I can.

I don’t blame the organizers, they were doing their best, and without them, I would not have had so much fun. But should I blame myself for caring so much? Especially when I see prizes being handed out.

Is unleashing that nasty spiked superball on your guts a necessary personality trait to have, if you want to be someone who can win races when it really counts?

10 Responses to “Salt City Sprints”

  1. Did you not get counted AT ALL because the computer broke? Aww! The rest of it looks and sounds like a lot of fun. I don’t think caring, even when it makes us upset, is bad. You are probably right that if we are going to compete, we have to be 100% into it. It does not work the same to be sort of ok with either doing pretty well or doing not so well…or having the equipment mostly work or not work very reliably! Also, we can’t race with doubts - if you’re going to go as hard as you can, you have to trust that the equipment is going to work…and then it is always going to be an ugly surprise if it doesn’t. (Unless you know in advance that you need a couple of extra people timing your race.)

  2. PS I’ve been somewhere warm this weekend…the gym!

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  4. On Dutch television, there’s a nice show about sports called ‘Holland Sport’. At the end of the show, they invite some people they’ve interviewed during the show to participate in the ‘fietsspel’. 4 people on stationary bikes and a small-scale model of a bike-arena. Their times are electronically measured. See a youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUlC3srYgvU

    The fastes ever to ride was Theo Bos, brother of Jan Bos, who is a 5 times world champion on arena cycling.

    But I thought, the numbers 2-10 were all iceskaters! Most of them even faster than road cyclists! :)

    This year, Simon Kuipers is leading the pack, with Lars Boom (who is the cyclo-cross world champion since yesterday) on the second place at quite a distance. The whoel 2007-2008 list:
    http://www.vpro.nl/programma/hollandsport/artikelen/14422044/

  5. Does competitiveness have to be painful? (Or do you enjoy that spiked superball feeling?) I suspect that,like too much coffee, while it can jangle and hurt, it also gives a high edge to what’s happening. Intensity makes things seem more real, us feel more alive. When I’m going to a presentation, or walking in to teach a class, i hear myself saying inside, “OK, Turn it on.” and I do better for that; hell, I’m able to do it at all because of that.

    Ever read “Fight Club”?

    I’m not, myself, much troubled by feelings of inauthenticity, of looking at life through a window of pretense and inadequacy - and I don’t think you do either - but i understand there’s a lot of it going around.

  6. Andrew,
    Sometimes competition has brought out a surprisingly ugly facet of my character, like the one you alluded to. Most often the glorious moments in sport come during the toughest, most unglorifying moments of training, when you mentally overcome yourself, not physically beat another opponent. I learned how to remind myself to have fun during the race; save the mental beatings for the training!

  7. excellent comment Heidi! and I think you are 100% right.

    This particular evening just highlighted it for me, since there was absolutely nothing on the line. Why did I care? why was I pissed?

    One of the facets of long track that I truly love is the internal, self-challenging aspect of it. Because although there is a “result” at the end of the day, its really just you vs yourself.

  8. Sports aren’t fair. Live with it.

    That doesn’t mean they can’t still be fun, though.

  9. Hey Andrew,

    I think some of us just have competitive personalities. I don’t think it’s something to feel bad or embarrassed about. Do you think you would have accomplished all you have without a competitive spirit? You just have to know how to accept and deal with it. Know how to be a good winner, but also know how to deal with yourself when you don’t.

    I was at the Tour de Georgia a couple years ago. GE was one of the sponsors and had a display at the finish areas where you could ride a stationary bike and see how long it took you to generate a certain amount of power (very similar to the sprints you described). I got myself all jacked up for that (knowing I could do pretty well), and was pleased as punch when the announcer commented on my results. The whole thing was kind of stupid, but it sure made me feel good.

    Competitiveness can sometimes put people off (depending on the situation), so you have to make social adjustments. But, things like the Salt City Sprints are there for the sake of competition - whether they have any deep meaning or not. You (and I) are competitve and, therefore, competition is fun. When a competition is in front of you that you think you can be successful at, it just raises the competitive spirit a bit and gets your blood pumping because you know the possibility of winning is within reason. And because your interest was a little higher, when success didn’t come along, you fell a little harder. Competition is part of who you are - don’t beat yourself up for “caring” about something that “didn’t mean anything.” You were just feeding a personality that finds satisfaction in competition and winning.

    Now, if you are still in a deep depression from the experience, then you might have a problem. ;)

  10. […] bookmarks tagged speed skating Salt City Sprints saved by 7 others     kewmonkey bookmarked on 02/07/08 | […]

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