Wednesday, October 28, 2009

To Infinity and Beyond

Mountain Season 2009 and the Future

My goal in creating this document is to look at where we are and a partial look at were we can go and what it will take to get there. Greatness doesn't happen without exertion, examination and refinement. To continue to be the best thing going the ECCC has to keep looking forward, looking just past the horizon. This is a part of that effort.


The Good

The year we saw excellent production values out of each of our events. While not every event had all of the behind the scenes paper pushing totally dialed, almost all of the events had their flyers up with a decent amount of time before the actual event. I tend to think that this is a huge and important step. The attendance of small schools that cherry pick events is greatly affected by the quality of the event. A late or practically non-existent flyer is a black mark against these events.

While some of the events were still missing basic amenities, that would be expected during the road season (notably some sort of rest room at an xc venue), the venues were solid. There were of course variations, but the standard for a set up raised a lot this year. Notably UVM, and UNH put a lot of effort into making their start finish areas (on the first day for each) look really professional. This is the sort of thing that I consider to be icing or a special sauce. It doesn't make the dish, but it is what separates a 3 star effort from a 4 or 5. The courses have to be dialed, but this does increase the production value of the event. It makes an individual rider feel like the race (or race series) they are a part of is a much bigger deal. I think that this is important to continue to fuel the ECCC to higher participation.

I think that on the whole all of the races were of a higher caliber this year. I don't think that any of the races were events that I would have significant reservations about in the future. There is room for each of the promoters to improve, but a step towards excellence did occur.

The Bad

Probably the biggest problem I saw this year was a noticeable and quantifiable backslide in attendance. This is particularly troubling given that the price of gas was about %40 of what it was in the 2008 season. Travel was cheaper, why weren't people at the races?
Possible factors:
Graduation. This isn't an end all excuse, but it does cover some of the drop off especially in the less full fields.
Bad experiences the year before?! (we certainly hope not)
A huge drop off in UVM attendance %30~%70 less racers than previous year (roughly 15-25 fewer per weekend)
While this is a really serious concern. I am not overly worried by it. The attendance did seem to pick up as the season went on. (I think this indicates two things) I think so long as the races continue to be top notch, and there is a high production value at the races, our numbers will rebound to what they were last year. I explain the pick up at the end of the season to two factors. The first factor is that there was interscholastic competition. UVM and NU as well as Clarkson and RIT for their respective omniums. Nothing encourages recruitment like the thought of a championship. The second factor is a little more complex. The season started earlier in the year. I believe the UMASS race occurred on the first weekend of school for many people. This meant that teams who tried to attend the race were putting a good deal of energy into logistical planning. There is a chance that this meant that their fullest effort were not going towards the recruitment of new members. Teams that did not get it together to go to the first race were effectively cut out of the conference omniums to a large degree. This disincentivized recruitment for them. Despite this, the quality of the racing and races had a word of mouth effect. People came because the racing was good.

There was a critical loss in womens participation. For those of you who don't pay attention to womens racing the WB dh events only held on by a thread and numerous WB stxc races were attended soley by the girls of UNH. Both Womens' A and B xc races were at a much lower attendence than last year.

(These charts didn't publish well in this format. Look at them in this link)

2008 Race Womens' A XC Womens' A DH1 Womens' A STXC Womens' A DH 2 Womens' B xc Womens' B DH1 Womens' B STXC Womens' B DH2
Lehigh 9/13 11 1 8 5 11 2 10 2
UNH 9/20-21 13 1 11 3 14 1 8 1
UNION 9/27-28 10 5 6 3 11 2 6 0
PSU 10/3-4 4 5 4 4 8 0 9 0
NU 10/11-12 12 7 8 7 10 3 9 3
AVERAGE 10 3.8 7.4 2.4 10.125 1.6 8.4 1.2
Averag Sans PSU 11.5 3.5 8.25 4.5 11.5 2 8.25 1.25

In 2008 we can practically consider PSU an anomoly. Th rest of the data seems to run counter to what it suggests. The xc racing poulation for both fields seems to resm around 11 girls. Gravity attendance is much much more sporadic. Although with the womens' A it does appear that as the season progressed so to did the attendance.

Here is how 2009 Shaped up

2009 Womens' A xc Womens' A DH1 Womens' A STXC Womens' A DH2 Womens' B xc Womens' B DH1 Womens' B STXC Womens' B DH2
UMASS 9/12-13 7 4 5 4 7 2 6 2
UNH 9/19-20 11 7 6 7 8 0 3 4
Lehigh 9/26-27 7 No Event 6 6 7 No Event 3 3
NU 10/3-4 6 3 5 5 8 3 7 1
UVM 10/10-11 8 6 8 6 10 4 7 1
AVERAGE 2009 7.8 5 6 5.6 8 2.25 5.2 2.2
AVERAGE 2008 11.5 3.5 8.25 4.5 11.5 2 8.25 1.25
Change from 08-09 -3.7 +1.5 -2.25 +1.1 -3.5 +0.25 -3.05 +0.85

So there it is quantified and visual. The good news is that the Downhill events are much better attended in the women's A fields. It is so hard to really take a positive from the increases from the Womens' B DH events since the fields are so small this is really just one extra racer in one or two events. It isn't an extra rider for the whole season.

Last year we could count on 9.875 women for any (A or B, Stxc or XC) event. This year it was 6.75. It appears that we lost about 32%
of our womens' endurance fields. This is terrifying. The danger here is that the events get so small that women would rather stay at home and go for a ride, than go to a 'race' where they are the only one in it. Teams really need to get on this next year, and the way to do that is starting this year. The womens' council/reps should be able to help with this, but the interest in growing these fields has to resonate with team leadership.

THE Ugly

An Issue for Timing:

I know that a lot of kids don't race outside of the ECCC. That is cool, no worries. We are pretty laid back on a lot of the USAC rules. Maybe too laid back. This year we let a lot of people make their own number if they lost it, rather than pay the $5 replacement fee. Tons of people wrote either the wrong number or didn't race with a number at all. This is hugely irritating. Fortunately Joe, Amy and I were able to figure it out and we didn't have any major errors in results. However, this not only means we have to yell after you to get your name, it also distracts us from doing results as accurately and as timely as possible. Don't assume that because you know us, we know your race plate. The USAC empower officials to fine racers who don't use the correct number, I doubt we will start doing that. But, in the future we will start applying the, 'no valid number, no result' rule.

The Future


Bigger Season 6/7 races
First race is the two weekends from laborday
Easterns has a weekend between it and nationals
Strive to have only A level races
Heightened participation in general
Heightened participation for Women

Getting There
Bigger Season:
This is a pretty tough one. It isn't in our control alone. A lot of this has to do with descisions that are made by USAC. As with any issue that has to do with USAC you should each take the time to let the person in charge know. Don't forget that this is your association to, don't let it be run by the warlocks in distant towers. They are people and they might listen. The guy who runs Collegiate and High school is Jeffery Hansen. Drop him a line and let him know what you want.

Strive to have only A Level Races:
This is part of the race season but I put it separately. This is something that is on the shoulders of a lot of different people. The knitty gritty of the races is on the promoters (i.e was there tape at an intersection, where is the ambulance). The results, whether somebody was dq penalized, that is on the official/results service. The broad strokes, the conference as a whole is on the shoulders of Joe Kopena (as well as lots of little details too). All of these things have to be working in concert to make things go off well.

Putting on a race is impossible* for one person, it is a team effort. This can be done by several teams (mutual host) but it is something that takes a lot of work. I tend to think that race promotion is a really really good gauge of the quality of a teams organization. I don't think that it is a surprise that the most active teams are the ones that host the races. We have teams that I think could shoulder the of promoting a race, they should definitely be thinking about this.

I think that it is essential to have teams that are active hosting the races. This means that they are at the races and know what the conference as a whole expects out of races. Commitment to quality is essential here.

Heightened Participation in General:
Attendance has been driven ~50% by three teams (NU, UNH and UVM) this is not a good position for the conference or promoters to be in. It means that these teams essentially control whether the races are profitable or break even. Ideally no one team could do that. In all teams there is a tendency to say, these are the folks we got (the ones who sought us out) and that is all we need. Don't settle for this as a team leader. There is no reason you can't have more. You should be looking for the people who will be the future. Active recruitment and efforts at retention can yield tremendous results. Last year I was able to nearly double the participation of the largest team in the conference. I am not that smart, you can do the exact same thing for your team.
As long as the race promoters, Conference leaders, and officials aren't making the races there is no reason we can't have bigger races. That means that team leadership has to step up there efforts.

More participation in the Skillz Clinics, Instruction: I think that we were really fortunate this year to get this going. It was my brain child (if you can call it that), so of course I think that it is good. However, they can only be as helpful as the people who are instructing them are well versed in the subject and in teaching it. I am of course limited in that I would never dream of hoping on a DH bike. Never in a million years. As a result, a lot of what I talked about had a much more xc bent to it.

Maggie was also able to help out. Which is awesome. If we can get more people involved in the teaching process that would be awesome. If you are interested try to seek me or maggie out. We can talk about it.

I would also love to get feedback from anybody who took part in a skillz clinic. Tell your teammates and pass along my email.

Heightened Womens Participation:
This is a challenge for a lot of teams, and competitive cycling in general. There are lots of women out there riding bikes. It is not a mans' sport, but men disproportionately do it competitively. This makes a lot of the teams boys clubs. Nothing but men on the teams and only boys go to the races. That means that even to go on a race weekend takes a lot courage/determination for a woman racer. There are barriers implicit with this situation that no male member of the team would even be aware of when considering going to a race. As a result of this the leadership of a team should try to make effort to lessen the cultural shock of the experience. Encouraging repeat participation should be part of every team leaders efforts to a new rider.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Be Your own Hero

We all grow up wanting to scale tall buildings, save damsels from distant towers and slay dragons. At the very least we think about being a fire fighter or a police man. Somewhere along the road of our lives those things fall by the wayside (except for the Women and Men of West Point). We all decide that our best utility lies in studying engineering of the works of Democrates. All of these things are great and contribute to society in a multitude of ways. Part of us hasn't yet given up the ghost. We are still looking to be heroic, looking for our chance to do something extraordinary. You might not even know that about yourself. You might not think that you want to be a hero. I know different. If you are a racer, I mean really a racer; one that is all about sniffing out the path to glory, then you want to be a hero.

What is heroic. There are two deff
initions I like to think of (whoa whoa, don't give up on me yet, it sounds boring but gets better). The first is a classic deffinition, a hero from a Greek tragedy. yeah like that guy (See Left, Oedipus). These are your heroes that suffer from flaws (Killing your father and boinkin' y'er ma', breaking the laws of your country along the way) but overcome them and make the right choice (the hard one) despite the tragic condition aligned against them.
The other take of heroism is the holywood type. Yeah you know what I am talking about. You have seen it time and time again. This is Rocky Balboa stuff these are the heroes who take on incredible odd because it is the right thing to do. Yeah this might even be like the biggest DudeFest ever. In all of these flicks the 'hero' is wicked noble and gets the piss knocked out of 'em until they dig into some deeper reserve of heroic power and take a death stab at their vile enemy.

Thats nice Sully, wtf does that have to do with racing bikes? Racing bike is like either of these things. Why do you think that people like cyclocross? I will tell you why, they get a chance to be epic, in horrific conditions against horrific odds they do________

My Sophomore year of high school I was running xc. We showed up at our district meet. I had been running between 6 and 9 on the team. (7 guys start at varsity races). I had gotten a fever coach decided to run me in the JV race. I obviously wanted to run the Varsity race at states wicked bad. I mean, who wouldn't?

Anyhow, we roll up to the race and it is pouring. Rainning so hard that little cars were up to their mufflers in the parking lot. At the deepest part of the course the water was up past my knee. Which is a bit, I am 6'2". To top it off the overnight low had been 31 degrees and the high for the day was 36 and windy. Talk about harsh weather cond
itions. I am not proud to admit it, but I sat on the bus and thought that it hadn't been that bad of a season. I wouldn't warm up, wouldn't preview the course. I would just sit there until 10 to go, then hop of the bus and to the start line. I could take the race at a trot and call it a year, better luck next time. I wasn't the only one...

Coach hopped back on the bus after picking up the race numbers, with a huge smile. He told us something I don't think I will forget as long as I hav
e anything to do with racing of any sort. he looked around at all of us and said,

'It isn't any worse out there for the kids from Essex, or CVU or any other school. It is raining just as hard and is just as cold for them. Just because it is harder than usual, doesn't make it any less of a race, if anything it makes it more of one. You are going to have a lifetime to sit inside by the fire and watch the storm beat down on the windows. Then you won't remember the sunny and mediocre races, you will remember the races you struggled and triumphed. I guarantee that whether you race to win or race to finish, you will always remember this race. This is the only shot you have at this moment in time.'

I will tell that the races that I cherish the most were the ones that were the most uncomfortable in. These are the races that make you feel like a h
ero. Embrace those moments

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Near Misses and Not Enough Time

I had a really really good coach once. He wasn't even just my coach. I was on his team, very very mediocre at what we did. Actually I was bad, straight up ota bad. That wasn't the case for him, he was good. In the way that few coaches are, he could motivate and train athletes, a rare combo. While I ran for him I went from dfl a lot to qualifying for New Englands and pursuing the sport at a collegiate div I level. He was awesome

Once he told me, " Sully it is all about time. You never have enough, you waste what you have, and when you make the most of it; 90% of it you are at the wrong spot at the wrong time. By the happenstance of time you compete against the truly greats and your star is comparatively weaker. Being great is getting all of that right."

Essentially what he was trying to tell me was that sport is hard, it is unforgiving. What sport gives us, that many other things in life do not, is a chance to be great. To be the hero or heroine of your own adventure. When else in life to you go under ardous undertakings for the sole hope of glory.


Glory is something we have forgotten about as a society. The greeks had it right. In fact they had a word, one that I have always liked, Arastia (I butchered the spelling but it is late) . It is when a warrior is recalled from the dead by the gods, because their patron god wished them to have an everlasting burst of glory before they crossed the river styx.

You don't get that as an accountant or a bureaucrat. You keep your head down work hard and work through the proper channels. A pox on that. You get that in bike racing, the need to push your legs a little harder to hold momentum, the thrill of sprinting when your whole body is a brick. All of these things are not for the meek. They are for the strong of will, the real victors. All racing is Glory.

I hate it when people talk about how hard racing is. Of course it is. It is a war on bicycles, you try to tear each others legs of, ride through sections so fast no one else can follow without crashing. These are the joys of racing. You never would here a great general talk about the trials o supply chains or the dead weight of alliances. No you would hear about the imortal glory that is gained in victory, the cheering crowds in parades. These are the things that make struggle and strife great.

The long and the short of it is there is no suffering, no sacrifice that would not pale in comparison to the greatness and the glory of victory.

Don't miss your shot, get up and race your bike.