walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Handful of Curious Anomalies

(...Well, maybe just two.)

Anomaly the First:

The sport of running, where amateurs are concerned, offers hosts of events that bill themselves and conduct themselves as 'races.'  Some of them take place under the auspices of some or another Major, Awesome International Sporting Authority or another (the Union Joggeur Internationale, perhaps?), while some don't.  There are races and categories for runners of all stripes (and probably those of no stripes), including the 'race-walkers,' who can apparently be more contentious than a Kennel-Cab full of poorly-acquainted cats.

Many of these events are charity races, others aren't.  Some comprise legs of a given series; others don't.  Some will win you nifty prizes if you finish well in your ... erm ... is 'category' the right word?  'Division?'  Help me out, here, I'm crashing drowning stumbling.

Basically, what I'm saying, here, is that if you like running and have done it even once or twice -- literally -- you can probably find a comfortable little race that isn't packed full of sandbaggers in $6,000 carbon-fiber Asics (note: I actually like Asics, and when forced to run, I generally run in them, except when whoever is forcing me to run doesn't allow enough time to change out of my ever-present mountain-bike-stylie clipless shoes; however, my Asics are your garden variety, acquired second-hand).  Likewise, you can probably help out a good cause while running in said race, and get your name in the newspaper (even if it's on page Y-27), because enough people will probably enter that someone will notice that, "Hey, there's some kind of running event going on!"

Bike races, on the other hand, seem to be rather more rarified.  The vast majority of road bike races I've encountered are highly-competitive, UCI-sanctioned affairs (mountain bike races seem to be a tad more diverse, and you can still find some non-sanctioned 'cross races).  They're also expensive.  I don't know about you, but as a college student (at a school with no race team, which I still mean to fix next semester), I kind of have to be 'strategic' about my entry fees.  Last 'cross season, that meant I rode exactly one race.
Meanwhile, there are such things as popular charity rides -- but they also carry seriously hefty entry fees, for the most part, and tend not to be races (at least, not officially).

Now, I realize that in a real bike race, there's good reason for the competitors to have some sense of what they're doing, and usually in the process of gaining that sense, riders put in bazillions of miles in the saddle.  Those miles make for some pretty stiff competition even in Cat 5 (or, if you're an off-roadie, the equivalent).  I wonder, though, if the world wouldn't benefit from a few more 'gentlemen's race'-type things, especially some that supported charities, and a few more non-UCI sanctioned starter series.

Last year, the Five-Spot Crit series just over the river did pretty well, from what I understand, and every session began with a clinic for newbies.  From what I understand, there were a fair number of would-be racers who decided to try it.  Since it was far cheaper to enter than a sanctioned race and offered some 'tech support,' if you would, for new racers, I would guess it constituted a pretty comfortable 'launch pad' for at least a few racing careers.  Likewise, I wouldn't be surprised if there was at least one rider who showed up, gave it an honest try, and decided it wasn't his or her thing.

I guess what I'm trying to say, here, is that your average person who sits around on the couch and eats potato chips all day can, on a whim, wake up one morning, see a flyer for a competitive 5K that's six or eight weeks out, and feel like he or she can train for it without committing enormous resources or balking at the entry fees.  A flyer for a bike race, on the other hand -- if, indeed, a non-cyclist can even find one -- isn't likely to beget such a feeling of confidence.  It's much more likely to beget fear and horror, accompanied by such thoughts as, "I can't believe how much those guys spend on their bikes" and "The world does NOT need to see me in Spandex(tm)."

I guess part of my reason for griping about this is that I'd really like to see a casual race series for people who can't afford awesome race rockets (or who can afford them, but would really like to race their old steel bikes instead).  It would be awesome to capture a little of the spirit of the 'gentlemen's race' in a slightly less under-the-radar format.  You know, maybe one with flyers and an official t-shirt (because custom jersey printing would jack up the entry fees), and perhaps with a bit less tweed and irony.

I'd even like to see a category for really new riders, though I realize that we don't usually see any such thing because everyone's concerned about the potential for hideous crashes instigated by hot-doggers with sketchy bike-handling skillz.  (Note: I hereby move to declare 'hot-dogger' the official antonym for 'sand-bagger,' to be defined as 'hot-doggers: those who want and/or try to compete in a manner or category beyond the limits of their individual skill-sets, bringing behind them road rash and destruction.').  Maybe the trick would be to make it a short 'time-trial' type event on a criterium-style course, with the riders' start times spaced far enough apart that one rider's counter-steering fail wouldn't become another rider's broken collarbone.

As a semi-roadie, quasi-racer, and bike-shop flunkie, I am contractually obligated to light somewhat askance at the amphibious world of the Triathlon, with its strange snakey-looking bikes* and curious cultural rituals such as changing clothes during the race.  However, I do think the people of the Tri tribe get at least one thing very right: they have entry-level events that put ours (that is, those of the Roadie and 'Cross tribes) to shame.  From what I can tell, the competitors are often pretty serious about trying to do well -- but in a way that's more '5K' than 'Cat 5.'  The most basic triathlons look pretty accessible to mere mortals, while the Big Dogs still have bone-crushingly challenging races to contend with -- and I think that's what makes the 'Tri' format so popular.

Of course, I actually have no idea what I'm talking about, and this is all pure conjecture.  But it's a thought that mildly vexes me from time to time

Anomaly the Second:
There are times that I think the world has lost all sense of perspective.  This is especially true in the fields of health and nutrition (at least, popular health and nutrition).

One encounters such irrational arguments as: "Eating too much meat is bad for humans**, therefore humans should not eat meat at all" -- you know, arguments that begin with a sound principle, then overshoot its logical conclusion by, oh, roughly half a solar system or so.

Likewise, it is becoming increasingly popular to deride the meat industry and conclude that we should do away with meat entirely.  I do think the meat industry has an awful lot to answer for -- but that doesn't mean I think we should do away with it.  The truth is, Americans (at any rate) are conditioned to associate volume with value -- so we think a lot of cheap meat makes a good value.  In fact, if we actually ate meat in appropriate portion sizes, most of us would eat a lot less of it, and could -- therefore -- afford to pay a lot more per pound, since each pound of meat would go a lot further.  In turn, the decrease in volume and increase in income would allow meat producers to treat their livestock humanely and to reduce their ecological footprint significantly, answering the other two major arguments against meat -- but I mean to focus on nutrition, here.

My whole point comes down to one question: whatever happened to moderation***?

It would appear that we Americans, at least, have become so hung up on individual nutrients -- fat, sugar, pantothenic acid, sodium, what have you -- that we can't see the buffet for the ham.

I am all for individuals being allowed to choose diets that don't include any animal products at all, particularly when they recognize that such a diet is not actually the 'natural' diet for human animals (if it were, vitamin supplements wouldn't be necessary).  That's one of the great parts about living in a free country.  That said, I would be greatly comforted if many among them would lay off the doom and gloom a bit.  First, shame (your diet makes you fat and is bad for the earth!  Also, adorable baby cows!) is a dirty tactic, and selling real benefits (eating less meat will save you money and help you stay leaner -- and wait 'til you try this amazing thing called kohlrabi!) works better.  Second, a skinny vegan with a B12 deficiency is no healthier, in reality, than a fat 'meativore.'  Both are likely to develop life-altering medical problems.  Both are missing key pieces of the nutritional puzzle.  Both need some moderation, and fast.

Just as the possibility that one might encounter stalktastic weirdos out there doesn't mean that we should do away with the internet entirely, the impact of America's current meat-consumption levels on both our own health and that of the world doesn't mean we should do away with meat entirely.  Do those dangers mean we should change our behaviors?  You bet -- but it doesn't mean that throwing out the pot roast with the pasta water is the only answer.

Ultimately, I think the thing that bugs me the most about all this is that we've fallen into a habit of looking for what's not in a given food -- Fat Free! -- or obsessing over individual nutrients -- High in Omega-3! -- and have totally lost our sense of perspective.  Plant foods are great, and we definitely need them.  However, it's impossible to make a truly sound argument for an entirely plant-based diet from a physiological perspective: healthy vegan diets without supplements, in particular, are pretty much impossible (read: I am willing to entertain the possibility that such a thing exists, but fairly-extensive research has not revealed one, and the realities of human physiology don't make a strong argument in their favor), and any diet that requires supplementation is inadequate.  I, for one, would much rather acquire my nutrients from actual foods than from pills or powders.

Cruelty and environmental damage aren't arguments against consuming animal products -- they're arguments against our meat and dairy industries.  The health problems that result from eating too much meat, likewise, aren't arguments against meat -- only against excess.

I don't mind people speaking their minds, of course.  That's what I do here on a daily basis (though most of my thoughts are relatively fluffy).  I guess I just kind of wish we would, as a culture, grasp the concept of moderation.

Um.  What do I do with this soap-box, now that I'm done?

*...I think TT-style brake levers look like fangs.  I am also quite fond of snakes -- so, while I don't particularly want my bike to look like one, don't worry.  I'm not making a value judgment, here :)
**The same could probably, by the way, be said for any food item that provides more than its fair share of our daily caloric intake.
*** Yes, I realize aiming to ride my bike 400+ miles every month isn't exactly a stellar example of 'moderation.'  I CAN QUIT ANY TIME, I SWEAR.  Besides, pro racers ride WAY more than I do, as does at least one 82-year-old lady here in town who racks up 500+ miles a month.
**** For the record, I do think we can, for the most part, live without meat, because dairy and eggs deliver most or all of the nutrients meat delivers.  'Can,' however, is not the same as 'should' or 'must.'


  1. 1) What's wrong with tweed and irony?

    2) I try to take my moderation in moderation....
    Actually I agree with most of what you said. I'm an omnivore, I eat everything... and it shows.

    I still take supplements because no modern diet is the "natural diet".

  2. LOL, tweed and irony are great, actually. I should've said I wanted to attract the non-tweedy, non-ironical semi-cyclists as well as the 'tweed and irony' set.

    'Tweed and Irony,' come to think of it, sounds like a great name for a murder mystery.

    Also, I want item #2 on a bumper sticker. I also take supplements, for largely the same reason (like helmets, they're 'cheap insurance'). I probably should have mentioned that as well. Apparently, it's nigh impossible to get any two 'experts' to agree on what our 'natural diet' should be to begin with, which is perplexing.