Friday, September 12, 2014

Knowing That You Have Already Arrived

Earlier this summer, my buddy Fred gave me a hill-climbing tip. He said to simply go light on your pedals and you'll spin right up the hill. He swears by it.

Now Fred's a smart dude. I'm quite sure he's aware that this pedal lightness/uphill paradox is in dire conflict with the general theory of relativity. Though skeptical, I tried it anyway, and to Fred's credit, having a lightness-on-pedals mindset seemed to help get up that hill faster. There might have been a stiff tailwind that day. Who knows?

Lately, I've been training my mind to cope with the challenges of cyclocross. Here's something that works for me: mentally picturing the next feature before arriving there. When I'm on my 'cross bike, 80% of my focus is on the here and now, and the other 20% is scanning my memory of what's up the road. If for nothing else, it allows me to be prepared for a snarky feature, a needed gear shift, some wheel-rubbings from Shim, etc..

Cyclocross is an obsession. To be good, really good, requires a single-minded focus on the sport. It can consume you, if you let it. When in season, I can make a cyclocross connection to almost anything.

Take this as an example. On a recent taco ride, I randomly pulled this can of coke from the cooler:


A "Soulmate" is something that Richard Bach wrote extensively about in two of his novels: Bridge Across Forever and One. Finding his soulmate was his obsession. But before that, Bach wrote a short story about the titular character Jonathan Livingston Seagull. In it, Jonathan (a seagull) is obsessed about the art of flying. His preoccupation with flying, and not doing other seagully things like eating, ultimately gets him ostracized from the flock. He wanders for a bit before eventually finding other gulls who are equally consumed with the passion for flying. It's there where he meets his mentor, Chiang. Chiang then takes Jonathan under his, uh, wing --

-- Timeout. I just realized that Richard Bach missed a golden opportunity here by NOT stating that Chiang simultaneously took Jonathan literally AND figuratively under his wing. I mean, this is quite possibly the only place in all of literature where one could argue the case that literally and figuratively are both plausible at the same moment. Pfff, what a shame.

Back to our story. Chiang then enlightens Jonathan with super secret knowledge that will enable him to fly ludicrously fast, so fast that it enables him to instantly travel to any point in the known universe. The secret, Chiang tells him, is to "begin by knowing that you have already arrived."

Now the other day I was practicing my cross skills at Roberts park. There's this hill that isn't particularly long, nor steep. But because it's immediately after a speed-scrubbing, off-camber turn, the hill demands one's respect. On approach, I pictured the sweeping turn-hill combination. My brain then called up a motivation routine. It was Fred's, "light on the pedals uphill" program. I shifted weight towards the back of the saddle and leaned into the turn. But just as I was going to go light and easy on the pedals, my mind jumped to Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I had a vision of Chiang, and he was speaking these words directly into my soul: "begin by knowing that you have already arrived." I did just that, focusing 100% of my brain into believing that I had already arrived on the hilltop. At that moment, a flash of searing white light engulfed me while I felt my atoms scrambled and reassembled from the every point in the universe. When the veil of light receded, I was cresting the top of the hill.

Now here's what really happened. Before I even took a single pedal stroke uphill, Lucas came around me and dropped me like I was standing still.

Cyclocross is difficult, my friends. There are no short cuts. Just grit and cowbells.

Now excuse me, a bowl of steel-cut oats and a cup of black coffee awaits at the breakfast nook opposite of my soulmate, the exquisite Ms. Katherine.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Triathlon Vs Cyclocross

I'm going to attempt to do what very few, if any, have ever attempted.

Now I know what you're thinking. Sorry to disappoint, but it's not going to be attempting to perform a 3 1/2 back flip into an ordinary eight ounce glass of water. That's too easy.

What I'm about to do to your bewilderment is to compare triathlons to cyclocross. Be forewarned, your smart phone/PC monitor could blow up in your face at any moment.

There are so many differences between these two sports, where do I begin? The only commonality between them is that a bicycle is involved in most of both races. Aside from that, there is nothing. The two sports couldn't be any more different.

That said, we'll stick with the bicycle comparison.

Triathlons
In triathlons, one gets on the bike after nearly drowning for 20+ minutes beforehand. It's a horrible way to start a bike ride. Sometimes I wonder if this is what the onslaught of death feels like. I'm not kidding. Especially those first few steps out of the water. Oyi.  Anyway, once you're on your bike, it usually takes a few minutes of ramping up to your functional threshold power (FTP) before your body has adapted to the demands of cycling. For those who don't have a power meter, FTP is the point at which your quadriceps begin to burn, and you have shortness of breath. Since everybody who's ever ridden a bicycle knows what that burning sensation and shortness of breath feels like, we have established a common reference point. Good. Now imagine that while pushing the crank for the next 5,400 revolutions. And as a bonus, run a 10K after that. Meanwhile, the course is so flat and straight, it's as if the scenery never changes. What that means is that it's boring. Really boring. Therefore, you must distract your mind with things like bunnies, or bow hunting carp, or my recent favorite -- pinkzilla cyclocross bikes --  to keep the agony from shutting you down. In conclusion, the overall feeling of triathlon goes like this: nearly drown, then suffer while cycling and running for the next 90+ minutes.

Cyclocross.
In cyclocross, there is zero ramp-up time on the bike. It's simply mad-as-hell, full-throttle burn right from the whistle to the first turn. Congratulations, if you're smart and disciplined, you've managed to prevent burning your entire book of matches on that first 200m sprint. That's important, because you still have about an hour to go, and you need as many matches as you can get your grubby mitts on for turns, barriers, fly-overs with stairs, hills, gravel, mud, heavy mulch, sand and snow. And whereas triathlon's cycling time trials require distracting one's mind from pain and boredom, cyclocross involves mentally picturing the challenging sections ahead. Now, you still suffer in cyclocross. But because the mind is engaged so much, there isn't enough brain power to account for misery. In conclusion, you just keep burning your matches until there's none left. It's at that point when your body says no more. If you've timed it right, the finish line is around the next corner. Otherwise, head for the beer and dollar hand-ups. Either way, you're good.

Both racing requires thinking and strategy. But while triathlons are more steady-state and proper, cyclocross is more beastly and chaotic.

After a summer of being conventional, I'm ready for some chaos.

Somebody ring a cowbell already.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday


Friday, August 29, 2014

Godzilla Rides a Pink Cross Bike

At swimming yesterday morning, the topic of discussion during the ten seconds of rest in between 200 m repeats was a recent study suggesting most people daydream 47% of each day.

There's no way that could be true. At least not for me. I'm a prodigious daydreamer. My daydreams are daydreams within daydreams.

Allow me to illustrate. At cyclocross practice the other night, my mind was racing all over the place right after we started. One minute, I was hammering it along a 200m straightaway, the next minute I'm daydreaming of lollipops and bunnys, and Ramno'ing bass. While my mind was actively adrift, I heard this fluttering into my consciousness:

Errrrrrrrnnnnh!

That sound was not part of Ramno'ing no [sic] bass. It came Fred's cantilever brakes on the pink cyclocross bike he was riding that evening. The pitch, high and nasally, sounded exactly like Godzilla when he's pissed.

Errrrrrrrnnnnh!

The scenery in my mind morphed from Ramno'ing to burbling water and white foam on the Missouri river. The water erupts into a vigorous boil as dark-spiny ridge appears, then a pair of enormous eyes and a long snout. In a rush of rippling waves,Godzilla's head, neck and torso appears. He steps on to the bank --

Errrrrrrrnnnnh!

-- SPOILER ALERT --

Did you see Godzilla (2014)? If not, and you'd like to rent it, then consider skipping the next paragraph.

Godzilla 2014 was terrible. Not Amazing-Spider Man II terrible, but worse than that because I had such high hopes for it. 80% of it was boring dialog, 20% action. They killed off their best actor, Bryan Cranston, in the first 20 minutes. The other actors were horrible. I take that back: Godzilla carried what was left of the movie. In fact, I got a little choked up on the scene where Godzilla got has ass handed to him and was left for dead by the other evil monsters. But like all Godzilla movies, you can never count him out. And when he comes roaring back, he has mysteriously gained the ability to shoot blue fire out of his mouth. He could have sure used that about six minutes beforehand when he was getting pummeled. Anyway, after a couple deep belly-breaths, Godzilla torches the bad guys with blue fire and then rips their heads in half by their jaws. Unfortunately, that was 20% of an otherwise boring movie.

-- END SPOILER ALERT --

Errrrrrrrnnnnh!

Back at 'cross practice, that sound could only mean one thing: Fred and his Pinkzilla 'cross bike were on the counter-attack. Gritting his teeth, Fred's was charging Eric O'Brien (EOB) with a vengeance. At this rate, there was no doubt he was going to catch EOB. The question was when: before or after Eric dispatched David Randleman, who was undermatched on a steel-is-real road bike with 28cc slicks. It was going to be close. Well, it would have been close until --

Errrrrrrrnnnnh!  

Blue flames suddenly shoot out from Fred's backside. EOB wasn't the only one not expecting this. Nobody saw this one coming. 


In the ensuing pandemonium, EOB goes over his handlebars after ditching to the right to avoid getting blue-flamed by Fred and Pinkzilla.

Errrrrrrrnnnnh! Errrrrrrrnnnnh! Fred's has the blue-flame afterburners on full throttle, frightening the daylights out of Randleman and everyone else who showed up for cross practice. As the screen in my mind fades to dark, Fred and his Pinkzilla ride off into the twilight until all that remains is a tiny blue dot before being swallowed up by inky blackness. The credits role. At the end, there's a final trailer: it's of David Randleman silently changing his underwear. 

By the way, Leah's dog Gander bears a resemblance to Godzilla. See Gandzilla for yourself:


Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Senator Palpatine Wrote the Triathlon Rule Book

I've been dabbling in the dark wizardry of triathlon too much this summer. Sure, I've had some success, but I'll be glad to be moving on after the Hy Vee Triathlon coming up this Labor Day weekend.

Training for triathlons has made me feel like I've aged a lot over the past year. It's good for overall fitness, but the stress of doing only time trials feels harmful. Either that, or it's because of resisting evil and all the seemingly petulant USAT rules to abide by. In either case, I wouldn't be surprised if my blood contained an elevated level of cortisone in it. I can't blame anyone but myself for this. I mean, I put myself in harm's way by choosing this path. It's kinda like that scene in Star Wars Episode III where Senator Palpatine's evil force electricity is redirected back at him by Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), wrinkling up his own face like an ugly old prune.

Lego scene: Lucas still has his grubby mitts on the royalty rights.

This summer, I've also come to realize that triathletes in general are not a fun bunch to be around. (I can say this because I'm one of them, and look how much belly-aching I've been doing lately.) Despite this, triathletes are among the most courteous and well-adjusted athletes I've encountered. It's odd. It's like we're friendly, yet passive aggressive -- nice on the surface, but boiling within. 

I've had a lot of time in the saddle and soloing down the road on my feet to think about this. I contend that it's not the triathlete that is naturally miserable, but it's the sport that has made them so.

It comes down to this that makes triathletes a depressed group:

1) Triathlons essentially mashup the least enjoyable parts of swimming, cycling and running as one race. It's basically back to back to back time trialing. I know of nobody who enjoys time trialing. Nobody. In fact, in road racing, most people suck at TT'ing because it's so dreadfully boring to train for. But as bad as it is -- and it's bad -- at least you're still riding a bicycle. For those who've done an hour time trial on a bicycle, imagine swimming your ass off for over 20 minutes beforehand, then jumping off the bike and running a 10K as fast as possible.

2) All those rules. It's bad enough that triathletes have to suffering through three time trials; why add so many rules? I'd agree with most of them if they were there to promote safety. But the rule book explicitly states that safety is not the reason for the rules. After the title, the very first words of the USAT rule book are:

The Competitive Rules are intended to provide for the orderly and consistent administration of events sanctioned by USA Triathlon and are not designed to establish standards of care for the safety of participants or other persons. 
If not to establish standards of care or safety, then for what? Order and consistent administration of events?  In short, I was penalized two minutes for being a slob with my swim cap. What a load of crap!

But that's not it. There are even more preposterous rules. Like this one:

5.1 Propulsion. All bicycles shall be propelled only by human force and human power. Other than pushing a bicycle, any propulsive action brought on by use of the hands is prohibited. Any violation of this section shall result in disqualification
Can somebody please tell me what this means? Other than pushing, how else could anyone gain an advantage propelling the bike forward with their hands? Can you picture it? I laugh when I do.

It gets better. Check this one out, under running conduct:

6.1 Permitted Conduct. A participant must run or walk the entire portion of the run course... A participant who gains forward progress by crawling or otherwise violates this Section and shall be disqualified.
Is it me, or does this even make sense? Since when does crawling or otherwise (what, like doing the 'worm or something?) become an advantage over walking or running?

Who wrote these rules?

I'll tell you who. Senator Palpatine did.


Oops! Wrong file. Let's try that again.

*Ahem* I'll tell you who wrote them. The Dark Lord Sith did:


Bleh.

Anyway, I've already moved on. As a result, my general disposition has changed for the better over the past week. It started when I raced a crit last weekend. The next day, I drilled it on a fast and furious 42 mile corporate cycling challenge group ride.

Then on Wednesday of this week, I announced that my focus has switched to cyclocross (cx):


That's 1.5 hours a day, four days of week of glorious 'lawn racing' over the next four months.

Speaking of 'cross, I jumped into cx practice this past Wednesday night. It was an oppressively hot and muggy afternoon, but for the two laps I completed before I broke yet another spoke, and had to pull the plug, I was enjoying myself on the bike. A lot.

The end of summer season means that a transition is naturally upon us. I'm not disappointed I raced triathlon this summer, for I achieved about as much as I hoped for. But now I'm ready for a change.

My friend Rafal summed it up best when he sent me an SMS comparing triathlon to cyclocross:


I think what he's trying to say is that I don't have to worry about being penalized for losing my swim cap at the Trek Cyclocross Collective Cup on September 20-21. Yeah, something like that. YPG.

Thanks for Reading. Happy Friday.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

2014 USAT Nationals Race Report

I raced the USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals on the previous Saturday. As you may know, the race was held in Milwaukee, right the heart of downtown in/along Lake Michigan. There were 215 men in my age group. The course was flat and fast and there was lots of suffering to go around.


I had a great race. In fact, it was a personal best time of 2:03.11 for an "Olympic Distance" triathlon. That time was good enough for 7th place in my age group. With a goal of top 20, and a double-secret-tell-no-one goal of Top 10, I was ecstatic with my results after the race. I had finally put together two solid hours (+3 mins to be accurate. 11 seconds too) of essentially three time trials: a 1500 meter open water swim, a 40K bike TT and a 10K run. I had PRs in all three segments of a triathlon race and improved my Olympic distance time by over five minutes.

A top 10 finish meant standing on the podium. But to my cycling brethren, don't get too excited. Non-Pro triathletes are ineligible for cash prizes. What a podium meant was photo proof and a special plaque that I accomplished something. Pats on the back and handshakes would be plenty, too.

But several hours after the race, as I was starting to get comfortable with seventh place, I discovered that I had been assessed a two minute penalty on the bike course. I was like, what? Where? How?


The penalty -- errrr adjustment -- was simply tacked onto the live results sheet as if an afterthought. One moment it wasn't there, the next it was. There was no explanation, either. Just two minutes added on to my time. I clicked here and there for more information. Nothing.

As a result, I had suddenly slid from seventh to sixteenth place.

This is where I started losing my mind.

I searched in vain all over the race website for protest procedures, of where and when penalties were posted. I found nothing. It was infuriating. It felt like one moment I was happily humming a tune while skipping down the street, when somebody randomly kicked me in the nuts, and then disappeared without a trace. Something like that.

The best I could do was find a general email box to post questions about the race. I quickly sent them a note to ask when and where I could find more information about the penalty and to whom I should address a protest. I knew it would be several days before I would hear from them, but it was the best I could do.

It took six days before I heard back from USAT. But before I read their email, that same morning my friend and fellow triathlete Adam Little told me that he found the explanation of penalties on pages 91-92 of a 92 page PDF of all printed results. How could I miss something so obvious?

But finally, I had an explanation for my infraction: Rule 3.4.h: Abandoned Equipment.

In the first transition zone (swim to bike), I dropped my swim cap while pulling the goggles from my head. As it was, with dozens of caps, gels and gu packets littering the ground, I thought nothing of a 99 cent latex swimming cap. And though I had read about the abandoned equipment penalty several times before, somehow it just didn't occur to me that a swim cap qualified as such. For one, I had never heard of anyone being penalized for this before. Secondly, try telling that to one's brain while running and removing a wetsuit moments after going full throttle for 21 minutes in an open water swim. The swim cap shot off my head and was the least of my worries at that point.

I certainly would have picked it up if I understood that it would cost me a penalty. And a two minute penalty at that. Seems excessive? Yes, so do I. Welcome to triathlon.

After seeing this explanation, I went hulk (as in Bruce Banner) for a while. Fortunately, I didn't speak to anyone or HULK-CRUSH any stuff during this time.  After I cooled down, I exchanged correspondences with the chief race official asking for clarification about the rule, about when penalties are posted, protest periods, etc.

Though I disagree with the penalty, a rule is a rule. I was guilty of breaking it. I started feeling better after thinking about it some more and the exchange of information with the chief referee. I mean, I would have still been angry if I was flagged for something on the bike, because I was extra careful not to draft/block on a congested course. But I could live with abandoned equipment, and have since moved on and accepted the official 16th place finish.

But what truly made me feel best this past weekend was getting out on my road bike and riding with friends again: I entered the masters race at the Papillion Twilight Crit on Saturday and did the Corporate Cycling Challenge on Sunday.


Riding bikes always seems to help.

That's it for now. Happy Monday.

Friday, August 15, 2014

On Vacation

I got back late from vacation last night. This week's deadline will have to come and go without a real post. I mean, technically I still made the 5:00AM deadline and such, but...

Anyway, check back sometime later. I may get something put together about the USAT Nationals race last weekend.

Until then, happy Friday

Friday, August 8, 2014

USAT Age Group Nationals Saturday

By the time you're reading this, I am already en route to the USAT National Championships in Milwaukee, WI. The race is the Olympic Distance National Age Group Championships on Saturday.

I originally qualified for this race at last year's Hy Vee Triathlon. For age group triathletes, this is the fastest race around. And it's a huge one with 5,700 entrants signed up for the race. Anytime that many people gather for a competition, it's bound to be fast.

The race is apparently going to be streamed here. Given that there are so many entrants in this race, I would probably have to break the tape in order to have a chance at making the stream. That would be quite a feat, especially considering the fact that my age group (45-49) doesn't start until 9:40 AM, or over two hours after the first wave starts for a sub-two hour race. I'll need a cape, or a time traveling machine capable of hitting 1.21 GW to do that.

Regardless, I have my work cut out for me. I would be very happy to make the top 20 in my age group.

Anyway, that's all I've got today. Thanks for reading and Happy Friday.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fellas, I'm Ready to Get Up and Do My Thing

foreword: the following is what results when a commitment to write a weekly blog post runs smack up against an 11th hour attempt to write about something -- anything -- that comes to mind. In this case, it was the Best of James Brown that brought out the goodness trainwreck you're about to read. Brace yourself, it's worse than a Sharnado jumping a snakes-on-a-plane/train wreck. Let's just say you've been forewarned.

The godfather of soul, James Brown, was apparently a tyrant in the studio. A perfectionist who was abrasive as he was petulant, Brown's band essentially hated him. As a result, his original band walked out on him, forcing him to create a new one.

Bobby! Should I take 'em to the bridge?

But his fans adored him. When Brown shouted out riffs like "take 'em to the bridge," he did it more than to announce a short instrumental solo linking two musical movements together. The chatty improv also served to link his audience to him through his band. While band members probably wanted to jump off the bridge, his fans couldn't get enough of him. It was because of this type of connection that made him such a popular entertainer.

Bobby! Should I take 'em to the bridge?

Take 'em to the bridge caused me to pause and think about the Wednesday Group ride. Specifically because the route literally takes us to a bridge -- the Mormon Bridge -- where we normally wait for everyone to regroup. Well, that didn't happen the last time I did this group ride. Nope. What happened was that I was dropped hard when some fool attacked on a closed section of Boyer's Chute road, where remnants of recent flooding still covered the surface. At the time, I was frustrated by the stupidity of the attacking there. It was stupid because it was unsafe. I intended to air my grievances when we regrouped at the bridge. But when I arrived, nobody was there. Frustration boiled over to anger.

Bobby! Should I take 'em to the bridge?

YPG.

Queue: I'm ready to get up and do my thing. This lyric comes from the first single with Brown's new band, the J.B.'s. When the J.B.'s were formed, the course of funk was forever changed. Instead of a heavily scripted bass that had previously marked his sound, a busy, improvising one came from replacement bass player William "Bootsy" Collins (later of Parliament-Funkadelic). This was the new "thing" James Brown announced at the beginning of the single, Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine. That, and the other innuendos that that [sic] "thing" implied.

Fellas, I'm ready to get up and do my thing also sums up what I've been doing since my last group ride. For the past month, I've been singularly focusing on improving my time trialing skills in preparation for the USAT National Championships in Milwaukee, August 9th.


Developing time trialing skills are what I need at the moment. None of the group ride stuff matters for a triathlon.

I'd have to say that the self-imposed exile from group riding has been a good reprieve. It's given me a chance to work on my time trialing skills, as well as providing an opportunity for me to cool off. I've been enjoying riding by myself during this time, but I've also begun to miss being a part of the pack.

Until I return, Fred will be my proxy. He's a fine choice as he's plenty capable of providing funky good times. Yes, I do declare, Take it higher, Fred.

Fred, Fred, Fred?!?

And Maceo? Don't get me started on Maceo.

Well you've made it to the end. Let's recap: James Brown and time trialing. I suddenly have a massive headache behind my right eye. I need a nap. Or a blunt object. Or both.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.