22 December 2008

Why I do this..

At the end of each season, I inevitably get some downtime. As I mentioned in my last post, its a time where I get to feel human again. I get to wake up and not ache, and each day I feel more rested and get hungry to ride and race again. Its been almost a week since I threw a leg over a bike, and I'm getting close to that point where I need to suit up. I've been getting a run or two in, and yeah its a little workout, but thats not why I ride and race.

I started riding as a little kid to get away. It was a simple escape out my back door to some place I didn't know and a world to discover. I had some things as a kid that I wanted to hide from, and being on a bike was the one place that I found some reprieve. Growing up I had few really close friends, lots of acquaintances, but only a few that really understood or knew me. On a bike I could let my imagination go free and not have any concerns. I would imagine that I was riding my bike through forests in Europe, chasing the last rays of sun as the day came to a close. It was always hard to come home, I just wanted to live on my bike.

I played most of the popular sports, I enjoyed them for a while, I even became pretty good at them, but they disappeared when the fun did. Cycling was always somewhere in the back of my head, sometimes just barely visible, but I still felt it. At college, I became buried in books and homework, a girlfriend that was about as supportive as a spaghetti bridge. I gained weight, ok, almost a person in weight, and felt awful. I was just a fat dude. As my girlfriend moved across the hall, don't ask, I got my mountain bike out again, and started to ride more. Instantly, I started feeling better both in my head and body. I finally felt alive again. I started to ride more and more like I used to. I decided to apply for a delivery spot at JJ's to deliver food on my bike. I got a spot, and started working around 15 hours a week. I figured that 15 hours a week on my bike would be fun, but I had no idea what it would do to me. The first week or two sprinting around town on a converted single speed, made me work, and would just wear me out, but I kept feeling better.

I kept at it, and picked up more hours, longer shifts, and rode harder. I sprinted so hard to make a light, to make that gap between cars, I made myself hurt. I had always looked to the bike for a safe haven, but now I was making myself hurt because it made me feel something other than the crap I was going through. I was in a bad place in my head, and the pain that a steep climb on a windy day gave me, was excruciatingly beautiful.

The more I rode, the more focused I was on being healthy, and I changed my diet almost entirely; almost overnight. I literally threw out some perfectly good food, so that I wouldn't eat it. The weight started coming off slowly, and I worked with a dietitian friend of mine, and she kept me losing weight and feeling better.

Cycling soon started to take a front-seat in all aspects of my life. I was leaner, healthier, even loved life a little. I had some things that embittered me, and placed a huge shadow over everything, but I could get out from underneath that shadow on the bike.

The training of riding 30+ hours a week was incredible, I would kill to have that much time available now. I started to morph into a really capable cyclist; I was super-fit going into college, so it wasn't that unreasonable. I was doing long 4 hour rides instead of studying, working instead of going to class, and generally getting into shape. The first race I did was something a little out of the ordinary for a still heavy dude. My brother had talked me into doing a 12 hour mtb race near our hometown. We did it solo, and really did ok for our first ever race. For me, I caught a bug that hasn't left me since.

I had always used cycling as the outlet for all of my anger, frustration, sadness, and just pure stress, but this was something entirely different. The competition made me more focused, and it was addictive to toe the line and let loose on the trail. I started to race more, and more, started working at my home shop, and soon cycling took over completely.

My family really didn't know what to think of it all, but they have come around. My Mom has been learning more about 'cross, and has come to see me race a bunch this season. My Dad has even made it to a couple races. I'm in a happier place than I've been in a very long time, and its all because of two wheels. I still get out on the bike to ease some struggles in my mind and to obtain that clarity, and Mary knows when I need to get away.

So, thats a long story, well long, but its why I put in hours on the bike. Its why I pay someone to let me race my bike, its why I would go without heat so I could buy tires or the entry fees for the next race. Some people take up cycling just for fitness; I took up cycling again to save my life. So, thanks to everyone that has helped me, and continues to support both the addiction and the cure.

21 December 2008

Baby it's cold ooooutsiiiiiiiiide!

The sun was practically piping heat directly to my bed via those beautiful white beams as I cozily stretched between my flannel sheets, snuggled by Bacon, and began to think about getting ready to think about facing the day.
*Enter Aaron.*

Of course, the first thing out of his mouth is, "We should get dressed and go out to Cherokee to see if the trails are frozen." Frozen, eh? That was NOT something I aspired to be. The sun and I were just sharing a moment. Then, as if the word frozen hadn't already entirely turned me away from the idea, I asked what the temperature was. "Oh, 20 degrees, is that all?" Completely disregarding my cynicism, stone-cold Aaron simply said, "Well, with the wind chill, it's actually only six." As in degrees, yes. I told him to have fun, but I doubt he heard me as my head was already buried back in my warm, happy place.

25 minutes later, he returns with a baselayer and hat. Ugh, I can't catch a break! I sat up to actually entertain his proposal when I was saved by the spirit of weather.com.
"Oh no! It's colder outside! 19 with a wind chill of 5!" blubbered a heartbroken Aaron. He knew as well as I that the rule is no rides under 20! Thinking I was saved by the weather.com gods, I started to actually get up. The problem was, though, that I'd forgotten Aaron's recent, bizarre running kick. To cut to the chase, Bacon got to stay in bed, and I got to go out into the frozen Tundra of Louisville for a 30-minute run.In the long run (no pun intended), I am actually glad that it was only 19 degrees (or 5); it gave me a chance to really test out the new 180s Quantum Dry base layer that was sent to me at the shop this week. In the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to test the Zensah Long Sleeve Compression Shirt, Craft's Long Sleeve Windstopper, and 180s Quantum Dry Base Layer. All three were worn in very similar weather conditions; though, in all fairness, the 180s piece was worn for running and not cycling.
In terms of overall warmth, I'd say it's a tie between the Craft Windstopper and the Zensah. The Zensah fabric is a touch thicker and is so form-fitted that I forgot I was even wearing it; I think perhaps this allowed my sweat to distribute evenly rather than pool, so I never got that freezing sensation that comes with sweating in the cold. The Craft piece has Windstopper down the front, and it is certainly effective in doing just that - keeping the wind off of the core. The 180s shirt was perfect for running, but I imagine that had I been riding today and not running, I would have gotten a bit chilly.

All three base layers seem to wick reasonably well; I felt dry post-workout wearing each of them. None of them let me down on that front. In terms of overall feel of the fabrics, Zensah's polymide takes the cake. It's sort of like my Feetures socks - if there were a quilt made of it, it would be oh so welcome on my bed. Plus, it uses silver ions that help regulate temperature and, more importantly, smell. Believe me, it works. I tested it during a couple of two-day race weekends. It should have been unbearably gamey, but it wasn't at all. 180s' baselayer feels similar the Zensah on the inside, but the exterior is a bit stiffer. This is because this piece is uniquely reversible; it seems that this also is what contributes to the piece feeling a bit thinner though, as the nylon is not as warm as the polypro. With the nylon on the outside and the polyproylene on the inside like I wore it, moisture wicks away from the skin; however, it can also be turned inside out, in which case, the polypropylene creates a water barrier and repels moisture from the outside. Kind of a cool concept.

Zensah uses some sort of crazy heat-welding process to join the many panels that make up the compression shirt (which makes a really nice fit), so I didn't feel any seams anywhere. Even when inspecting the piece, the seams are visible, but they are so soft that they just fold and blend right in with the rest of the fabric. The 180s uses flatlock seams, so they lay very nicely and are not really detectable, but now that I've been spoiled by Zensah, they do seem a bit stiffer. The Craft WS is pretty effectively seamless, but it is not paneled as precisely as the other two.

In terms of venting, both the 180s and Zensah are done really effectively; they are not so vented that I was chilled by the wind, but they are vented enough to prevent excessive sweating and the dreaded pooling. The only difference that I can tell between the two is that the 180s' venting seems to come up a bit higher on the tops of the shoulders and is perhaps a touch wider through the back.

The overall fit of the Craft is my favorite; it boasts a shirt tail in the front and the rear, which kept my back from being exposed as I was really moving around. That is my one complaint about the Zensah - I wish it had a longer tail, at least in the rear. The part that I do not like about the Craft is that this model's WS fabric is just added on like a chest plate and does not move and stretch with the fabric below it; it feels a little like I am wearing a pillowcase sewed to the front of my baselayer and is a pain in terms of getting zippers caught. But, it is pretty darn warm... It also seems to hold its shape a bit better post-wash. They do make a higher model that uses the stretch fabric, but again, you have to pay for what you get.

In a nutshell, the Zensah compression base layer is the best for your dollar. Both the Zensah and the 180s retail at $50, whereas the Craft rings in at $80. I still stand firm behind the fact that you can never go wrong with Craft; the WS was really very warm and nicely shaped - apart from the awkward WS fabric on the front. That said, for $50 you can buy a Zensah that is at least close to equally warm, super soft, seamless, incredibly functional in terms of performace. The 180s is a nice layer, and the reversibility certainly makes it unique and useful in the early spring, but in weather like this, I would be much more inclined to only wear it while running.

Thanks to each of these companies for allowing me to test their products!

18 December 2008

09 Cross Schedule-yeah already

Well it looks like this next year is going to be awesome, all three USGP's are within reasonable travel distance now, and Louisville is still home to one stop! That means all of my fellow Louisvillians need to get ready for Fisherman's Park as the new stop for the GP. Boy, I'm excited, I might just make some more waffles!

Preliminary USA UCI Cyclocross Schedule for 2009:

Date Cat Event Name Location field
9/19/2009 C2 Star Crossed Cyclocross Redmond, WA men wmn

9/19/2009 C2 Nittany Lion Cross Fogelsville, PA men wmn

9/19/2009 C2 Michigan Double Cross - 1 Springfield Township, MI men wmn

9/20/2009 C2 Michigan Double Cross - 2 Springfield Township, MI men wmn

9/20/2009 C2 Rad Racing Grand prix Lakewood, WA men wmn

9/20/2009 C2 Charm City Cross Baltimore, MD men wmn

9/23/2009 C1 Cross Vegas Las Vegas, NV men wmn

9/26/2009 C1 USGP of Cyclocross Planet Bike Cup Sun Prairie, WI men wmn U23 jr
9/26/2009 C2 Schoolhouse Cyclocross Williston, VT men wmn

9/27/2009 C2 USGP of Cyclocross Planet Bike Cup Sun Prairie, WI men wmn U23 jr
9/27/2009 C2 Catamount Grand Prix Williston, VT men wmn

10/3/2009 C1 Gran Prix of Gloucester #1 Gloucester, MA men wmn

10/4/2009 C2 Gran Prix of Gloucester #2 Gloucester, MA men wmn

10/10/2009 C2 Providence Cyclocross #1 Providence, RI men wmn

10/10/2009 C2 Lionhearts International Cyclocross Middletown, OH men wmn

10/11/2009 C1 BioWheels/United Dairy Farmers Harbin Park International Cincinnati, OH men wmn

10/11/2009 C2 Providence Cyclocross #2 Providence, RI men wmn

10/17/2009 C1 Granogue Cross Willminton, DE men wmn U23 jr
10/18/2009 C2 Wissahickon Cross Philadelphia, PA men wmn
10/24/2009 C2 Downeast Cyclocross Day 1 New Gloucester, ME men wmn

10/24/2009 C1 USGP of Cyclocross Derby City Cup Louisville, KY men wmn U23 jr
10/25/2009 C2 Downeast Cyclocross Day 2 New Gloucester, ME men wmn

10/25/2009 C2 USGP of Cyclocross Derby City Cup Louisville, KY men wmn U23 jr
10/31/2009 C2 Blue Sky Velo Cup Longmont, CO men wmn U23
10/31/2009 C2 Beacon Cross Bridgeton, NJ men wmn

11/1/2009 C1 Boulder Cup Boulder, CO men wmn U23
11/1/2009 C2 HPCX Jamesburg, NJ men wmn

11/7/2009 C2 Cycle-Smart International #1 Northampton, MA men wmn

11/8/2009 C2 Cycle-Smart International #2 Northampton, MA men wmn

11/14/2009 C1 USGP of Cyclocross Mercer Cup West Windsor, NJ men wmn U23 jr
11/15/2009 C2 USGP of Cyclocross Mercer Cup West Windsor, NJ men wmn U23 jr
11/18/2209 C2 Empire State CX New York, NY men wmn

11/21/2009 C2 North Carolina Grand Prix #1 Hendersonville, NC men wmn

11/22/2009 C2 North Carolina Grand Prix #2 Hendersonville, NC men wmn

11/21/2009 C1 Supercross #1 Southhampton, NY men wmn

11/22/2009 C1 Supercross #2 Southhampton, NY men wmn

11/27/2009 C2 Jingle Cross Rock - Night Rock Iowa City, IA men wmn

11/28/2009 C2 Jingle Cross Rock - Rock 1 Iowa City, IA men wmn

11/29/2009 C1 Jingle Cross Rock - Rock 2 Iowa City, IA men wmn

11/28/2009 C2 Baystate Cross Sterling, MA men wmn

11/29/2009 C2 Baystate Cross Sterling, MA men wmn

12/5/2009 C1 USGP of Cyclocross Portland Cup Portland, OR men wmn U23 jr
12/6/2009 C2 USGP of Cyclocross Portland Cup Portland, OR men wmn U23 jr
12/5/2009 C2 NBX Grand Prix of Cross Warwick, RI men wmn

12/6/2009 C2 NBX Grand Prix of Cross Warwick, RI men wmn

12/6/2009 C2 Capitol Cross Classic Reston, VA men wmn U23
12/10-13/2009 CN USA Cycling National Championship TBD men wmn U23 jr

New Projects

Hello folks, since its finally the off-season, that means that I get back to focusing on how to live like a normal human. Though, that is only for a couple weeks. The routine of getting out of bed, eat, ride, eat, shower, go to work, home from work, eat, maybe ride inside, sleep is finally disrupted. I've been able to catch up on sleep for the first time this year, and enjoy breakfast instead of just getting fuel to burn off in the next hour.

Today, I made the most delicious waffles. I am a big fan of Bob's Red Mill Stuff; the muesli, waffle mixes, oats, cookie mix, you name the Bob's product, and there is a good chance I've sampled it. So, the waffles of the day, or WOD if you prefer acronyms, turned out to be Bob's Buttermilk waffle mix with chopped hazelnuts. I topped those golden brown waffles with my favourite crunchy PB and honey. Now, I've made waffles all season, before big races, before training days, but these waffles my friend, were exceptional. Slightly crispy, a little crunch due to the hazelnuts and PB, and then a nice kick of sweet from the honey come together to make a cloudy, cold morning into a sun...oh, wait I like this weather. So, while not weather-changing, these were a great shot in the taste buds this morning.

Well, that brings me to my 9-5 activities, rather my 10-9 activities. I will be thrilled when our holiday hours go the way of the Yugo. But, those long hours give me plenty of time to get things done. I started out in a shop just building bikes. I graduated to service shortly after, and then became a sought-after mechanic in my new home of Louisville. Now, I have so many hats, from manager dude, to still sought-after mechanic, bicycle class instructor, race promoter, rider promoter, racer, boyfriend, and cook. All of those activities may seem like they would overwhelm, and yes it did at first, but it just makes me focus and makes my time valuable.

Here at the shop starting January 5th, I'll be teaching novice wrenches everything from tire and tube changes, tune-ups, and how to get ready for a race. I enjoy teaching and educating people about cycling and everything about it. I'm the dork that tries to explain 'cross to the little old lady that asks me, "Why are those men running with their bikes? They can't all be broken?" So, I am excited about helping folks get to know their steeds, and learn how to listen to them. I will be teaching a Women's Mechanic class, and I've already had a ton of interest shown, so thats reassuring. Though I must admit that my first pupil is none other than Brian. He's one of the first folks in town that I met, that had the 'cross addiction. I'd like to think I've helped him out and taught him a thing or two, but it will be nice to educate him on some of the finer details.

We're also trying to launch Louisville's first Short Track MTB series. This is yet another new venture for Mary and I, but between Mary's business sense, and my course designs, I think we can make it happen. At this point, I think its going to be a 5 race series, just to make it simple for us. If the reactions and attendance are good, we might carry it longer than 5. To us it just seems like Louisville has a great cycling community, but its not complete. If one looks to big cycling cities, they'll see Hillclimbs, Short Track, 'cross and road races in large numbers. Granted that exists in the cycling mecca that is PDX, but I think its possible here. Mary and I are part of a new guard of cyclists in Louisville, and we like to shake things up a bit. So everyone should cross their fingers and see what 2009 will bring for racing around the 'ville.

Mary and I have been planning our 2009 season already, figuring out where we're traveling, what races we want to do, and calculating how much its going to set us back. It hit me already with my registration for the Cohutta 100. Its an endurance mtb race that I did last year, well the 65, and it was by far the most fun I had on my mtb last year. My chain broke twice, and took my rear mech with it the second time, but it was just a blast. The trails there are equivalent to a strong street drug; addictive as can be, and deliver a glorious high. It also happens to be almost as expensive...But, that makes the first race of 2009 that I am registered for. I plan on doing three 100's this year. It is a very different approach than I've taken before, but I plan on making those my huge base miles for the season. I'll stop racing my mtb in June, and then its all road stuff, and prep for 'cross. We'll see how that works out. I am looking for it to leave me fresh for 'cross instead of waning towards the end.

We are also on the sponsor hunt as well this time of year, with this economy its really hard for the little guys like us to catch any of the scraps that fall off the table. I feel a little like my favourite movie rat, Little Chef. He just wants a little piece of the good food thats out there....
(I have the same ears too!)

17 December 2008

Well thats all folks..

So, CX nationals was last weekend. I didn't attend. As I've gone through this season, I've found that this jump to the Elite level in 'cross, has made for the hardest few months of competition that I've ever faced. I knew that I was biting off a big ol' chunk of hard, but I had no idea that it would leave me this beat down. The last race at Brookside Park sealed the deal for me.

Mary and I traveled up to the frozen tundra of Indianapolis, and were kindly greeted by temps in the teens. Luckily Brookside is one of the best venues in the series, and has a nice huge heated building to thaw out inside. So with a couple inches of snow on the ground, a good wind blowing, and super cold temps, Mary set out for her last race of the season. This course is, by far, the best course in the series. It has great elevation changes, a great run-up, and a wicked off camber section. Its one of those rare complete courses that challenges everyone. Mary was trying to finish up the season ranked 5th in the series, and she was really concerned about holding on to it. She started pretty well and was rolling pretty good, but attacked at just the wrong time, and couldn't capitalise on it. It was nice to see the pilot light going with her again. She's had a rough year, and she finally had that competitive burn going again. It was nice to see, and I can't wait to see what happens with her new coach Alec Donahue of Cycle-Smart. All I can say is, Mary is medicated, motivated, and will be out for blood. (For you anti-doping folks, its all legal, and she'll have a TUE next year for all 300.)

Later in the day, when it was time to suit up and race, the temps had climbed to a balmy 23 degrees. Let me reiterate how nice this venue is, I was able to get dressed in a heated (yes, I said heated) gym. I really prefer to get dressed slowly and just relax. I usually lay a towel out for my feet to be on, pin my skinsuit or jersey, and then proceed to hang out for a few. After I've relaxed for a few, I lay out whatever I am planning on donning, and then start the layering. I'm sure it looks funny from afar, but its my little bit of peace and quiet before I have to suffer.

Well, once I decide that I'm not man enough to rock a skinsuit and leg warmers, or BKW's, I decided on my full tights. Yes, this is the same guy that would be bare-kneed on a rainy 35 degree day two years ago. I got a lap and some change on the course, and it was actually getting a little muddy in spots. I am always happy with the mud. The race started and once again, I got hosed on my start spot. Its amazing that I've raced almost every race in the series, and was ranked 8th , but couldn't get my appropriate start spot. The start goes right up a longish road climb, and then gets off-road at the top. Its definitely where your legs start to really burn on each lap. I started towards the back, but made my way through the pack on the climb, and then continued to pick off some folks on the grassy section. There were quite a few roadies that showed up, and while they had the legs to smoke me on the road sections, they crashed eachother immediately. I wish I had known that the rest of the race would be similar. I would pass them, they would catch me on the first road section, they would sit on my wheel, and then attack on the next road section. Then crash-city, everytime taking a few seconds away from me. It drove me nuts, but I couldn't do anything about it. They would be sprawled out all over the widest course in the series, so it didn't leave me much room to pass. After a few laps of that, I just settled in where I was at, and finished the race. My legs didn't have it, it was my kind of course, my kind of conditions, and should have been a better race. It was so frustrating to be at the best venue for me, but my legs just didn't show up.

Mary and I cleaned up our mess, went inside to see the awards and schwag give-away, and I managed to walk away with a shiny new Chris King Headset in blood red. It made me feel a little better, but only by a little.

That weekend just capped the season for me. Kansas City would not be a part of my schedule. I didn't want to be one of those guys that is just in the way. Knowing my luck, I would be the guy that t-bones Trebon or Johnson. So, this begins the offseason.

This last picture really sums up my season. I've been working hard, putting in the time, but I've still got a bit to go before I'm where I want to be. That makes me want it even more, and I feel it each day I get up and think about getting back on the bike.
Photos courtesy of www.gregsailor.com

03 December 2008

Nearing the End

I only have two races left in the cross season this year. It seems like I was just starting to shift my training around, and getting things around for 'cross. This past weekend was a local race called Storm the Greens. It was held at the same place as the USGP's when they came to town. The course Sunday was pretty nice, pretty much a shortened copy of the gp course, but the conditions made it nice and slick.

We started out the day with reasonably warm temps, with on and off rain. This made the course pretty wet and slick. Mary had a bunch of falls, and managed to have just a little bit of fun. I think its the first time she has raced her cross bike in the mud, so it was a learning experience from the first pedal stroke.

It actually started to cool off right before my race, and the wind really picked up as well. So we had a little different conditions than the earlier races did. The mud wasn't wet any more, and just became super sticky. I had 34 Fango's on Grover, and 32 Grifo's on Kermit, and I should have run my 30's. It was that kind of mud. The kind of sticky that wouldn't go away. This was the first time that Mary and I did bike changes too. I think we did a pretty decent job for the first time out. Mary was a trooper in the pits, washing the bikes by hand each time.

I was generally disappointed in my results once again, I started well, but when you falter in the first lap, you're hosed. Someone bobbled in front of me in the big sandpit, and I had to take a different line. That different line swallowed the bike whole, and put me on my head. There went any chances of a good result. This entire year of racing has just been one thing after another. I know I'm getting faster, I know that I have good tech skills, but I keep finding myself outside of that window. It seems like the window that you have to squeeze through to get results, is just getting smaller and smaller. The competition is improving, and just getting deeper and deeper. Some of the guys in the back of these races, are super skilled, and really fit, but just had that one bobble.

All of these races have beat me down a little bit, but I am about as stubborn as the mud we raced in; so I will keep pushing, and hopefully I can squeeze through that window soon.