Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Trainer Reflections

Damn Michigan weather. Never seems to cooperate with my riding schedule. It's sunny all day while I'm at work and the second I'm home, the sky turns ominous and the temp drops. 40 and rain do not make for a fun ride, I kinda learned my lesson last time... So I resigned myself to the basement for some trainer time.

Coming off a really cold and snowy winter, the trainer and I have become quite intimate. Probably more intimate than I would have liked... The trainer cannot replace spending time out on the road, but it does have its merits. One that I appreciate is that it allows me to get lost in my thoughts with out worrying about traffic, stray dogs or looming pot holes.

This evening, as the pedals turned over in an even tempo, my mind explored the reasons I became a bicycle racer.

Why bicycle racing? If it was solely the competition I was after, there are several other sports to pursue, many of them with a lot less investment. And I already had a head start on playing soccer. I'd been playing since I was 7 and wasn't too shabby. If it was competition I was after, soccer would have filled that void. There was more to it than that.

I mulled over a couple different theories and postulations and landed on this. I chose cycling because of the trueness of the sport. You train, you push yourself farther and harder, and there are usually visible rewards from your efforts. You get stronger, you can ride faster and just maybe you get some good results. Your legs do the talking. No need to shout about how great you are, just show everyone. The results will come.

It's a refreshing juxtaposition from my day job at an ad agency. Politics rule. Posturing and perception are what matter - true hard work counts for nothing. There's no letting your efforts speak for you, braggarts and suck ups rule and receive all the palmares.

Sure, in cycling there are conceited braggers, cheats and prima donnas but they usually have (or had) the legs to back it up. There was still some effort there, some sacrifice. Totally unlike my place of work where shoddy performance is hidden behind a veil of flattery or being able to talk sports with the boss. In cycling, the truth is there for all to see.

It's no wonder they call time trials "The Race of Truth".

And the truth shall set you free...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The First Race of the Season

My first race was on Saturday. It was a training series that my club puts on at an auto racing track. It's a nice race to get your feet wet since the pavement is in pretty good shape, there aren't any sharp turns and if you get dropped or lapped, your car isn't that far away. They divide the race into A, B, and C categories. I chose to race in the B category.

Having raced MTB, 'cross and road, I'd have to say that road racing still comes out on top as the most intense. Cyclocross is a harder effort, but the high speeds and rider proximity of road racing make for one helluva' adrenaline loaded experience. Maybe downhill racing could beat it but I don't have the nerve for that.

Lining up for the race, I was quickly met with some of the, how shall I say, less favorable personalities of the sport... One gentleman looked my bike up and down and, with out so much as a "hello" or "hey", proceeded to comment on the relatively high cost of my bike compared to his and his teamate's. Let's get something straight. My bike is a Look 285, and it's about 8 years old. A lot of the parts and components on the bike have been discontinued and have been out of production for at least 4 years. So it by no means is something that should induce envy of any sort. Maybe it's because these gentlemen were MTBer's (a fact made obvious by the goatees and Time ATAC's they were rockin'...) and maybe in mountain bike racing the most expensive bike usually wins. Their compulsion to comment was influenced by the threat of the perceived value of my bike. Whatever the case may be, it's personalities like those two that lend credence to negative stereotypes...

Once we started, all that BS was forgotten. Nothing to think about except the race at hand. All in all, the race was pretty uneventful. It's was a really fast pace (ave speed around 25-30 mph) I sat in the peloton most of the time with a couple of short attacks off the front (short because I couldn't sustain them, it's still too early for me). It was fun just the same. One of my teammates took third, and I finished with the bunch somewhere in the top 20. As for the two that were scoping out my rig at the start, I beat one of them and finished a couple bike lengths behind the other - so maybe they had a right to feel threatened!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Sunday Epic

Got my first "Epic" under my belt. A four hour cyclcocross ride of dirt trails, gravel roads and pavement. Our trio consisted of Jan (a friend I met racing 'cross last season), my friend Steve and me.

It was great to be on the 'cross bike again. I've been spending most of my time on the road bike, I forgot how fun and versatile that bike is. Even if you never ever race cyclocross, it's a great bike to have in your inventory.

Back to the ride. It started off on the chilly side (35 degrees) but once the sun came out it warmed up a bit. When I say, "a bit" I'm not talking layers could be shed or anything, but it warmed just enough to take the chill off. Jan was our tour guide for the morning, taking us on an amazing journey over hill and dale with a nice coffee stop 1/2 way. These are the rides I really love. Racing is great and that intensity can't be matched by anything but this is what originally drew me to cycling. That feeling of open road freedom and being able to share that with some friends is one of the best feelings in the world. The post ride sense of accomplishment is nice too.

All in all, it was just about 60 miles for me. Thanks to Jan and Steve for a great Sunday. I'm already looking forward to the next one!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In Honor of St. Patrick's Day

Here's some Sean Kelly action in the 1986 Paris-Roubaix

Monday, March 16, 2009

Amazing Mt. Bike Descent

Check this out - Even the staunchest Roadie can appreciate the amazing bike handling skills of this guy...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Will to Win

I've been thinking a lot about this the last couple days. It all started with something I read on a fellow-cyclist's blog. He was talking about running a 5K for training. Through the course of his entry he mentioned he was going to pre-run the course. When I read this, my first thought was, "what the hell is this guy thinking? Pre-run a 5K fun run? That's kinda obsessive..." He mentioned that this particular 5K was handing out medals and that there was a possibility of winning one for his age group. For him, that was a big motivator. I thought, "that's great, but if it's for training, I, personally, wouldn't really care about winning."

So, that got me thinking...

This cyclist's will to win has gotta be very strong. I can attest for his winning ways having finished several places behind him in every 'cross race last season. But what I really want to know is, is that what it takes?? Does it take a "win at all cost" type attitude to actually win races? Does winning need to be my main motivation?

My motivation to race comes from one thing, my love of riding a bike. I've raced quite a few seasons in several different cycling disciplines and I have yet to win even a single one. Does that mean my source of motivation should be adjusted? Do I lack that "Eye of the Tiger"?

I had to write about this just to see if it got any comments. Well, you gotta have readers to get comments, but I think there's like 9 or 10 of you out there so I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Sunday in Hell (or, more specifically, MY Sunday in Hell)

I love Sunday morning rides. I love getting up at the butt-crack of dawn and spending a few hours on the road and just enjoying the leisurely feeling that accompanies this closing of the week. It's one of the things I look forward to most on the weekends and this Sunday started off as no exception.

Weather called for temps in the low 40's and heavy rain in the PM. Cold? Yes. But compared to my ride last weekend, 40 would feel like spring break in Cancun. I suited up responsibly, even embrocated (Mad Alchemy Medium is my fave) in the anticipation of getting a little wet. Little did I know "wet" would be an understatement...

Left the house about 9 AM, a bit later than I wanted, but that's what happens when you have a 17 month old running around (that and daylight savings time always makes for a sluggish start). Streets were fairly dry and skies were overcast but not ominous. All in all, a decent day for a ride.

Off I go. My plan is to do "The Usual" today. "The Usual" is this 30ish mile there-and-back ride I do on a very regular basis (all my routes involve some derivative of "The Usual"). Today, I'm doing the straight up variety, which involves mostly flat to rolling terrain and a couple of short "climbs" to open up the lungs.

About 30 minutes into the ride and my legs have warmed up and I'm feeling good. My posterior is all nestled into the saddle, my head, hands and toes are feeling toasty - it's a great day for a ride. That's when the rain started...

I don't mind the rain. In fact, I like to ride in it every once in a while, because you never know when you are going to have to race in it. But, there's one caveat, when temps are just north of freezing, the rain sucks. I was bound and determined to get my miles/time in so I continued on. At least my toes and hands were still warm.

As I rode along, the rain got more intense. Not only was the deluge hitting me from above but also coming at me from the road. Water quickly permeated every pore of the "hi-tech" material of my cycling clothing. "Hi-tech"? I might as well have been wearing clothing made out of "Shamwow".

Great. Now I'm soaking wet and feel like I'm carrying around an extra 40 lbs from all the water I've absorbed. Sponge Bob Spandex Pants, that's me...

About an hour in, I get to my usual turn around point and start heading back home. The rain isn't really bothering me anymore since I can't get any wetter but now I'm starting to notice a chill creeping... My digits... Fingers and toes. Always the damn fingers and toes. They were getting cold but it wasn't unbearable.

As I negotiated the "Michigan pave", I learned something. In the rain, it's actually nicer to ride on a road with lots of potholes than it is to ride on a newly surfaced road. When you ride a newly surfaced road, the uniform surface allows the water to coat the entire road, which results in more spray back (reminder: I need fenders). It can also get a bit slick (thankfully I didn't learn this the hard way...) The pothole-ridden road on the other hand, allows for the water to pool in the depressions, thereby keeping the rideable road surface dryer.

As I road along contemplating my new revelation, I soon came to the conclusion that I was going to have to stop somewhere and warm up. My fingers were having trouble working the shifters and brakes and my toes were totally numb. Unfortunately, this route is mostly through residential areas so there aren't too many places to warm oneself. I couldn't take it anymore. I pulled off at this little strip mall (none of the shops were open) and walked my bike back and forth under the awnings until I got some feeling back in my toes and fingers. It actually wasn't too bad when I wasn't moving. I rode around behind the strip mall for a quick pee and was off again. It's funny how when you're on a bike, things like indecent exposure and public urination are completely acceptable...

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say it's all right... No, not really. There would be no sun today, but for some reason, this little ditty was providing me with the illusion of warmth, sort of a trick to the old subconscious. I'm not sure if I was singing it aloud or if it was just in my head, but i just kept on singing. I rode by the park that marked 20 minutes until home. Fingers and toes were numb again, but I felt like I should just press on. I can handle 20 more minutes of this. Man, nothing like straight up suffering to teach you that time is relative.

Home at last. I can barely walk. I've always found it odd that with cycling walking actually seems harder than riding, especially after an exceptionally hard effort. I get inside and immediately strip. I'm almost afraid to remove my socks because my feet have been numb for so long. The wife is looking at me and I see a bit of concern in her eyes. Evidently my face had a waxen appearance and she thought I had crashed or something. Nope. Just foolishly riding in some of the worst conditions I can think of...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Suffering for the Sport

As the pros prepare for the "first" (according to the purists) stage race of the season, I find myself still struggling to eek out a 2-3 hour ride outside. Here in Michigan, we've been blessed with a super cooled winter with temps typically topping out in the teens. Makes for some cold toes and fingers...

There are folks I know who have been putting in 4-5 hour rides for the last couple months, and I give them a lot of credit, they are obviously more hardcore than I am. I went out for an hour and a half last Saturday and it was pretty damn painful. I opted to ride my fixed gear, the thinking being that, by forcing me to keep the legs moving, I would keep warm. Well, that thinking didn't seem to apply to my toes... Even with wool socks and booties, my toes were totally numb about 45 minutes into the ride. I kept trying to wiggle my toes to get some feeling back but to no avail. The only thing that helped was the sun. But it only warmed the side of my body facing the sun, so on the way out the toes on my left foot were cold and on the return trip, my right. By the time I got home, my shoes must have turned into little ice boxes, because in comparison, even the concrete of my front porch felt warm under my stockinged feet...

It's all comes down to suffering for the sport. It's the most sincere way I can think of to show your dedication. Sure, there are those with deep pockets who can continuously purchase new bikes and make pricey upgrades, but I liken that to the wealthy parents who attempt to buy their child's love instead of spending some quality time with him/her. Don't get me wrong, I still drool over $6,000 carbon and custom titanium frames, I have a pulse.

New and pricey cycling stuff is great, but you still gotta put in the time and sacrifice. Whether that be dieting to increase your power to weight ratio, boring sessions on the indoor trainer where minutes turn to hours, or training rides in frigid temps, we do all this in hopes of having some on-bike fitness for the coming season. That's what makes cycling what it is. It's also what bonds us emotionally and physically to the sport. It all comes down to the suffering.