Wednesday, April 25, 2007

All Thanks to OJ

I don't typically rant about politics, religion or other serious and controversial topics, more for fear of it coming up in my background investigation by the FBI or some other G-man investigator processing my top secret clearance, but I need to get this one out. This is the product of a really long road ride today where after a couple of hours the mind just begins spilling out uncontrollably everything that has been bottled up. It's a mental cleansing for me. Contrast that with mountain biking which is more of a soul cleansing experience, you don't think too much, you just try and be one with the trail and forget about everything else. Maybe I should just ride my mountain bike.

So to my point. First off, I'm not trying to debate the Constitution or say that our founding fathers didn't have the foresight to see what a f'd up world we would create. I'm just trying to make sense of everything lately. This all started last week with the tragedy at Virginia Tech, but the tipping point for this post was this ridiculously inappropriate and disrespectful article I had the complete misfortune of reading first thing this morning.

What is the media thinking? The editor who allowed this piece of trash to be published should be publicly flogged. We know the situation in Iraq is bad, but this piece of journalism (term used very loosely) isn't even worthy of the National Inquirer.

Now flashback to the events of last week. The first thing the media said they WOULDN'T do was make this story about the killer. Bullshit. That lasted all of what, a day? The other real tragedy of this situation is the complete circus the media made of the entire event. Do they have no respect for privacy and personal grieving, that question is rhetorical. The first amendment is a great thing, and we're lucky to have its protection so don't get me wrong, but the need for sensationalism and higher ratings is rotting the value of the first amendment from the inside out. News and media outlets need to be held accountable for what amount to nothing more than reckless behavior that's detrimental to society as a whole.

Everyone wants to know "How could this happen?". Well, here's part of the answer whether you like it or not. And before you finish the first sentence, don't worry I'll get to the liberals next. Let's start with the gun totting, right-wing conservative NRA and lobbyists for the gun industry backed by our Commander in Chief who has repealed or let lapse multiple gun laws in his illustrious tenure, all at the very open displeasure and dismay by members of law enforcement. I also believe in the second amendment but please, no one needs to own automatic weapons, and some people obviously shouldn't own any weapons at all. Now, couple the conservatives with the left-wing, bleeding heart liberals and privacy advocates who would rather die (or more rightly, let you die) than allow the government to use someones history of mental illness against them in a background investigation for the purchase of a gun. It's actually amazing, if these guys are so good at keeping your private data from the government, then why can't they keep public companies from selling my information to the highest bidder?

This country has gotten so polarized with picking sides in the left-wing, right-wing debate that no one can see that there can be no black and white when it comes to issues like this, because when they bleed together it always turns out to be the color of blood.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Pain Cave

Today's circuit race in Columbia was a lesson in suffering, and there was plenty to go around and not just mine. This race has a history of being filled with crashes in the lower categories, one main reason I opted for the 1/2/3 race. As history once again repeated itself, several teammates in different races had pretty bad days. In the 30/40 race Ace somehow T-boned a guy who cut in front him, crashing his sweet Pinarello and cracking the frame in half. The worst of the day was one of our new riders who hit the deck really hard at the finish of the 3/4 race. He was transported to the hospital with a possible pelvic fracture and broken collarbone. As I sit here I think about how I've been really lucky in my road racing career to have never hit the deck hard in a race and it's definitely something I'm not trying to experience anytime soon.

The day started out early with the 4/5 race and my buddy who was looking for a little help in his preparation. Gina and I pulled in to the race too late to catch him and give him some last minute advice for the uphill sprint finish. He had a really good race, for his first race he was smart and stayed near the front, not getting caught off the back chasing and wasting energy or sitting on the front pulling the field around fruitlessly. One piece of advice I gave him early on was don't worry about not being fit enough for this race, worry about the muppets around you in the race who don't understand (or care for that matter) whose next to them when they decide to jump around someone. He made it to within 500m of finishing his first race, with relative ease mind you, before one said muppet took him down. Not at all the best finish to your first race and fortunately he was ok, although you couldn't tell by the shattered helmet, just some minor scrapes.

As for me I knew it was going to be a hard day. This was me yesterday dethatching the lawn, yeah I know. Anyway, the dethatcher we rented was a bit more industrial in strength. For an hour I was drug around our yard by what felt more like a rolling jackhammer. My hands are still vibrating.

By the end of the day I was tired from being worked over by a piece of lawn equipment followed by raking up all the dead grass and so sunburned that the thought of getting on my bike to open the legs up was the furthest thing from my mind.

The race started out fast and furious as expected. We were averaging a good 28-29mph for the first couple laps with breaks constantly trying to form and being chased down. About 6 laps into the 18 lap race I realized that no amount of drink was quenching my thirst as all I could do was spit cotton balls.

And no matter how much I tried, I just couldn't stay near the front. Everytime up the climb I would move up, only to end up at the back minutes later. 6 laps later I punched out. I knew it was coming too, we had crested the climb past the start finish and instead of moving up, I was still sucking hind tit near the back and the pack was strung out in one long single file line about 400m long. A surge came and I just couldn't respond. I was on Spencer's wheel when it happened and after the race he said he remembered looking down and he was pushing 400W going 33mph. Yeah, my top end is just not there yet. I can't say it was a relaxing end to a rest week.

Anyway, I hope everyone that went down is ok. I'm going to try and stop by the hospital tomorrow to check on our rider as I'm sure he probably spent the night.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mein Kampf

"As a cyclist you shouldn't think too much. If you worry about it at all you'll never make it. But if you're susceptible to it, then you start thinking. And that's not good" -Erik Zabel

I spent the week worrying about yesterday's race, enough so that I barely slept Friday night. It felt odd to be so nervous before a race. It seems like only a few weeks ago I was getting up every weekend to travel to a race, it's been 4 months already since the end of 'cross season. Since I didn't really sleep it made getting up easier. Gina didn't go since her sister was still staying with us so I didn't have to worry about getting her loaded into Special Sauce and on the road on time. I stopped to grab breakfast at Cafe Bagel and as was on my way to Mt. Joy plenty early.

I pulled into the parking lot and Wendy and Ramon pulled in soon after. Registration and the course were almost a mile away so we rode over to get signed in and found that the wind was more prevalent and the sun didn't seem to be shining as brightly. While we were there I saw the end of the Cat4/5 race, Nat looked to have another good day, he's a 4 right now and he should be upgrading soon so he will make a nice (and much needed) addition to the 3's. I also saw John (uber-light) verBryke drop from the masters field with an apparent broken seatpost. Turned out the carbon rail of his uber light all carbon saddle broke on the slightly rougher roads of the PA course. Lighter isn't better if it doesn't get you to end of the race.

We made our way back to the cars to start getting ready. I still felt run down from the week and the legs were a pair of boat anchors so the idea of not finishing this race quickly overwhelmed me. It didn't help there was a steep climb on this course that everyone was making out to be worse than the Kemmelberg. My plan was to sit in and just ride smart and finish the race. Overheating on the rollers, I decide to just ride around a bit and ran into E-town. There were alot of other familiar faces from the 'cross scene there as well, Hebe, Hessel and Bad Andy were all in attendance.
A last minute trip to the ol' Port-O-John provided me a backrow seat to the start of the race. To make matters worse, I must have been lined up behind a bunch of Cat4's because as soon as the race started, instead of pedaling and clipping in, these muppets stood there trying to get clipped while the front end of the race went up the road. Finally getting around them all I found myself sprinting the first 300m to catch back on to the pack, great start, can't wait for the rest of the race to develop. Still at the back of the pack I needed to move up, but with the yellow line rule and PA country roads with zero shoulder it was tough. Fortunately just before the Kemmelberg there was a fairly wide strech of road with about a foot of gravel covered shoulder. I used it to move up towards the front and prepared to be humbled. Atleast starting at the front on a tough climb you can afford to slip back and hope to not lose contact with the group before the summit. The first time up the climb I was immediately struck by how insignificant it really was, it will no longer be referred to as the Kemmelberg. That's what I get for listening to a bunch of flat landers who only ride around Davidsonville where the longest climb lasts 10 seconds, this one was not even a minute, more like a big bump really.

At the top of the climb we made a right turn onto a nice long, twisty 40mph downhill. The rest of the course was fast and rolling, a really nice course overall and probably one of my favorites of the PA races. My fitness must not as bad as I think it is, either that or everyone else is just as out of shape as me because on the third lap, I somehow ended up on the front leading the pack up the climb. Basically I was just trying to stay out of trouble as guys were blowing up themselves and their drivetrains left and right on the first two laps. I couldn't believe how many guys in a 3/4 race were riding cross-chained then downshifted to the 39T at the base of the climb and dropped their chains. Several unsuccessful breaks went off the front but with a lap and a half to go, an NCVC and an All American rider went of the front and it stuck. Satisfied with finishing rubber side down, I played it a bit safe on the sketchy run in to the sprint finish to finish at the front end of the pack.

It was a good start to the season, more mentally rewarding than anything. Except for the bout of severe GID I raced with which turned even worse on the ride home with stomach cramps so bad I almost had to pull off the road. Apparently my stomach isn't quite trained yet to take in gels during a race. Next weekend is the Carl Dolan Circuit race and I'm in the 1/2/3 field. This is a rest week so hopefully the engine will be fully charged because there's going to be some legs ripped off in that race.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Fear and Loathing in April

I'm just going to start this off by saying this is bullshit, the weather specifically. At the end of summer I long for the cooler days where the highs are in the 50's, the air is crisp and I know 'cross season is just around the corner. But come on, it's April! One day it's 80 and then in the 40's and 50's for days on end.

Tomorrow is my first race of the season up in good ol' PA. Most people I know and will be racing against tomorrow already have a couple races in their legs. The only thing in my legs are lactic acid and chocolate covered blueberries from Trader Joe's. I put off the start to my road season for several reasons, first of which was after last year's dismal start due to less than optimal fitness, I was left suffering the rest of the season never really finding that afore mentioned fitness. Secondly, I started racing last year in mid-March at the most poorly organized race where my warm-up consisted of standing in a line 150 people deep at 7:30 in the morning in sub-freezing temps waiting to get signed in. Then running to get my shit together and to the start line, where my race was promptly over a lap and a half later. That day pretty much set the tone for the rest of my season and I swore it wouldn't again happen this year.

So why do I find myself more nervous the night before a race than I have been in probably more than 10 years? Because tomorrow isn't shaping up weather wise to be any better than a year and 1 month ago and the race is organized by the same promoter, that's why. Deja Vu? My fitness has already been a roller coaster ride, my Training Stress Balance score in CyclingPeaks has been negative since March 27th and I almost passed out on the rollers last night trying to do some threshold intervals. The power was there but the heartrate told me I was sprinting up the Manayunk wall, something wasn't jiving and it wasn't simply cardiac drift.

On the bright side, today is the day Gina and I met, well not officially the day, we met in July, but it was Friday the 13th. Who says everything bad happens on Friday the 13th?
Things are changing here as well, the next few months should be interesting.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Proverb of the Month

Those who drink beer sleep well,

Those who sleep well never sin,

Those who never sin go to Heaven,

Drink more beer,


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Movie of the Month

If you've never watched Hell on Wheels, you need to, if you don't own it, go buy it. There are very few cycling movies and documentaries that capture the sport like this one does. I break it out when I need motivation, to know I can work harder and can suffer a little bit more. Maybe it's just the harsh German language.

Don't try to watch while doing intervals on the rollers, it's in German and French so all sub-titles.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

If It Ain't Broken...

Find a longer, steeper hill. More on that later.

Last week I got an email forwarded from our webadmin, it was someone in search of me. Somehow they managed to track me down, either through luck or searching the team rosters. It turned out to be an old college buddy I hadn't seen in almost 3 years. His email was quite funny, he told me how he dropped 30lbs and was into cycling and was preparing for his first race, the Carl Dolan crit later this month and was looking for someone to help him prepare. I'm no coach, and can't offer anyone anything but useless anecdotal advice, but I liked his attitude. He told me victory to him wasn't winning the race, but finishing in the pack. I could work with that. We rode together Thursday evening so I could get a sense of his fitness level, full time job and a family I wasn't expecting much but he impressed me, good endurance and really good form for a relatively new cyclist. What he was lacking though was a bit of intensity, especially speed changes. So I put together a little plan for him to help get some intensity into his riding so his body didn't go into a complete state of shock in the race. His plan wasn't suppose to start until Tuesday, I told him to do whatever he usually does for the weekend then recover on Monday and we would start on Tuesday with some Vo2 intervals. Being that he only has a heartrate monitor and his knowledge of HR and RPE, I estimated his threshold HR and provided his intervals based on the percentage of that threshold HR. As I was doing my own workout Sunday, I was thinking to myself that I may not have been clear on what the percentages were, 100% is of threshold HR not 100% is max HR, he would figure that out right? The intervals were only prescribed at about 105%, so not too much over his TH, maybe not even enough for real anaerobic Vo2 efforts.

When I got home from my ride, I had an email from him in my inbox. Apparently he was a bit eager to get started so he decided to go out Sunday and take a shot at the Vo2 intervals. It must have been intuition because this is what he wrote:

"i assume you knew i'd puke after several of these, but it slipped your mind to include that in the prior email! i set out towards the biggest hill i can find (> 10% grade for 1/2 mile)... it broke my the first interval i charge up the hill and think this is the 4th i feel my drink creeping up my throat and lost it..."

I felt bad and clarified for him how to use the percentages, he responded:

"ugh...miscommunication. i thought you meant 100% of my max. i pegged my hr. the effort felt more intense than my readings"

Oh, well, it's all a constant learning experience. He's enjoying it and I think he can do alot better than just finishing in the pack. Unfortunately he's a Cat5 so the hardest part of the race will be not being taken down by a muppet and learning to safely navigate surfing the pack.

As for me I'm finally coming off an extended base period. I don't believe in LSD rides and living around Howard county, there's no way to do them anyway so I have some intensity in my legs but nothing structured. My first race is in two weeks, Mt. Joy up around Lancaster. There's always something brutally hard about racing in PA. The roads are rough and the PA guys who ride around there are always hammering it these steep, stair-step climbs. So I decided it was time for a little leg breaking of my own. Ellicott City has some great climbs up from the river that are steep and twisty, makes the suffering a little more tolerable. While I love training with a power meter, I've found that trying to use it for structured anaerobic intervals leaves a gap in my fitness when compared to going out and just punching it like I would have to in a race. Like the old saying, practice how you play, well, train like you race. When was the last time an effort lasted exactly 2 minutes at and your power and cadence stayed in a specific zone? So taking my own advice for my buddy I went out and trained like I expected to have to race. Ilchester Rd. is this ball buster climb, it starts out at 18% for the first 200m then eases up a bit before kicking up to around 10%. Overall the climb is only a 1/4mi. but feels like a mile. After about 5 of these I was done. Enough so that the 3 mile ride home might as well have been straight up. I'll be looking forward to those 20min threshold intervals after today.