Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Over the weekend, I got out for two snow adventures on my feet.

On Saturday, I went for a 90 minute run on the plowed packed/powder streets of Omaha. While you could probably get by with ordinary running shoes, I recommend a safety upgrade for better traction. There are a couple ways you can do this: 1) screw shoes and 2) Yak Trax Pros. I've never done the screw-shoes, but apparently they're quite effective.

I can tell you that the Yak Trax Pros are worth the $25. Yak Trax also makes a walker version for $20, but if you're planning on running, get the Pro model. Yak Trax are a rubber mesh wrapped in steel coils that slip over your normal running shoe. Unlike the normal version, the Pros are secured with a Velcro strap across the top. Running with Yak Trax doesn't feel any different on your feet than your ordinary running shoes. They're ideal for when there is less than a couple inches of packed power. They do provide some protection against ice. I've never fallen when wearing them.

Following Saturday's run, I rented a pair of MSR EVO snow shoes from the UNO Outdoor Venture Center. My boy EB was there with a big old grin and was ready to rent these to the public at large. By the way, have you been on UNO's campus lately? The new HPER building is coming together nicely. What an upgrade! As part of that upgrade, the OVC has a lot of space in a good location. No longer do you feel like your renting equipment from a janitor's closet. Not that there's anything wrong with renting from a janitor's closet.

Anyway, I've wandered from my topic of snow shoes. First off, MSR makes top notch outdoor gear. The EVO is listed as a back country snow shoe, but is excellent all around choice for beginners. Unlike entry level snow shoes with flimsy plastic, the EVO's uni-deck solid plastic mold forms the entire platform of the shoe. In addition to the hardened steel crampons, it has two rows of steel teeth to assist with traction on ice. There are also a couple other features that you also won't find on entry level snow shoes: 1) a six inch clip-on 'flotation' extension for deep snow walking and 2) a heel elevator ('Televator') can be locked into place to help in steep ascents. This latter feature is not necessary in Nebraska, but would make a big difference if you're planning a hike in mountain country.

Now, here's the best part: the OVC rents these $200 shoes for $7 a day. You don't need to be a student to rent them. You can't beat that.

So within 15 minutes, the shoes were rented and I was on the way to joining friends hiking the five mile mountain bike loop at Jewell Park in Bellevue.

If you haven't used snow shoes, you're missing out on some good fun. The MSR EVOs were easy to put on and made walking in the 12-24 inches of drifts very simple. Of the six of us, three were novices at snow shoeing. None had any issues with hiking with their snow shoes.

Snow shoeing not only offers a fantastic fat-burning workout, but gives you freedom to get out and enjoy the winter with a walk in the solitude of the woods. With Shim and Limpach in my group, that wasn't the case. But you get what I mean.

So there you have it. You don't need to be on that treadmill. Indeed, get out there and enjoy the snow.

From old town Bellevue's Mission Aven and Main Street, here are the directions to Jewell Park.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Incorrigible Yellow Fervor

Last month, I competed in my first cyclocross race: the Lincoln cyclocross weekend. It was tons of fun. And that new yellow bike, the Incorrigible Yellow Fervor, took the beating well.

For the uninitiated, cyclocross events are off-road races on grassy terrains with patches of sand, single track dirt, mud and snow. Entrants ride a modified road bike with wider profile knobby tires not unlike what you'd see on a mountain bike. While most ride geared bikes, the single speed classification is also offered at cyclocross races.

The best part of cyclocross is the attitude. It's just fun. For everyone. And race venues have a reputation for being crowd-friendly. The Lincoln cyclocross weekend certainly did. The short loop course offers many opportunities for spectators to watch, encourage, give pity, donate cash, and in the case of Pioneer Park's Hooligan Hill, feed food and beer. I'm not kidding. There was a guy in an orange jump suit (shop overalls? prison garb?) shoving hot dogs smothered in ketchup & mustard in your face at the top of the hill that you just carried your bike up for the sixth time. It's that kind of attitude that keeps it fun. You can race your legs off while having a laugh along the way.

A belated thanks to Lincoln for putting on a great race.

Here are a few of the images that my friend Lucas Marshall took:







Monday, December 21, 2009

Injury Update, part 3 of 3

You may have wondered what compels me to write about my hemorrhoid experience. You may have even advised against it. One such comment came from Shim, "I think it would have been best if you had taken a few more weeks off of blogging."

Remember when Katie Couric broadcast her colonoscopy? It's kinda like that. I'm doing this as a service for the WSCG audience. Chances are, somebody reading this is familiar with this territory. And that's...OK. You don't need to suffer in silence. There are treatments.

So with that, it's time to shit or get off the pot.

Picking up from the last installment, I took the #2 bus from downtown to the Westroads Mall transfer center, which was a short distance from the clinic. Along the way, I became contrite about my behavior on the phone. Even more, I was concerned about Ratchet telling me to be prepared to wait. She could really make me pay for being nasty. Indeed, an apology wasn't going to cut it. This called for a bribe.

A box of warm cookies from the mall fit the bill.

Fortunately, Nurse Ratchet wasn't present when I arrived. In her place was a double for Queen Latifah. With dark chocolate eyes and the voice of honey, Queen Latifah 2 (QL2) was a vivacious and wholesome woman. She was an immense improvement on Ratchet.

QL2: How can I help you?

WSCG: I have a walk-in at 11:00 am.

QL2: Here's the paperwork, and I'll need a copy of your driver's license and proof of insurance.

WSCG: Here's my license, insurance and a treat for the staff. I was a bit irrational over the phone earlier. Could you put these in the break room for me?

QL2: Why that's sure nice of you. Hmmm. I think I'd better have one now... Ewwww these look soooo good! Oh Sugar, you know how to get out of the dog house don't you?

The cookies hit their mark. Within 15 minutes, a paper surgical gown was draped over my torso, while I was bent over in a position of disadvantage. The doctor said that the series of shots I was about to experience were not going to be pleasant, but I'd be feeling relief shortly after.

He wasn't kidding. I was wishing my mother had never met my father while he was delivering those injections. When the anesthetic took effect, the external portion of the hemorrhoid was lanced and stitched. The stitching, although painless, felt like piano wire was being drawn through me. Then he somehow put a ligature (rubber band) around the internal portion, explaining that it would wither up and go away within ten days.

The treatment was immediately effective. However, the doctor explained that I was feeling the effects of the anesthetic. He offered to write a script for a mild narcotic, but also said extra strength Tylenol should be enough to manage the pain.

I passed on the prescription.

Things were fine until I had to go #2 later that evening. It was bad. Really bad. Like, intense raw pain. If you had told me that I was passing a steady diet of coarsely broken fiber glass and chicken-wire, I would have believed you. It was that awful.

*** Again, this information is for your advantage. SO PLEASE NOTE: If the doctor offers a mild narcotic for a couple days to deal with pain, take it! ***

After a restless night, I called in the prescription. I took the narcotics for four days, then extra strength Tylenol for two more before things started returning normal. In all, it took about ten days from injury to recovery.

And with that, I'm done. Whew! Glad that's over with.

Wait - one more thing. This doubles as my heart-felt holiday greeting to you:

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Injury Update, part 2 of 3

You'd think that a person who has a diet rich in wholesome steel-cut oats wouldn't be afflicted by an inflamed hemorrhoid. A fibrous diet certainly minimizes the chances, but doesn't eliminate it entirely.

My ordeal started two years ago. I had completed a long run on a sweltering summer day. Apparently, I hadn't taken in enough fluids and was dehydrated. The dehydration led to constipation. Then, straining produced a bloody stool -- I know, yucky -- and worse: an external bump. I was quite frightened; the blood and bump really freaked me out. My thoughts jumped to it being a cancerous tumor.

The Mayo-clinic's website brought some clarity on it. In short, everyone has hemorrhoids. And lots of them. It's basically soft tissue to help you know when it's time to move bowels. Unfortunately, more than half of us will experience an episode of inflammation in their lifetime. Once inflamed, a portion of it can become external, causing the bump. It's at that point when it can become a thromboid (clot) and swell to a considerable size. With nowhere to go, the clots aren't life-threatening. Still, if untreated, they can cause other troubles from infections.

On Monday morning, I made the call to the doctor. As this was a private matter, I slipped out of my cubicle and found a quiet nook in the lobby adjacent to the bustling Starbucks in my office building.

Nurse Ratchet took my call.

Nurse Ratchet: "The next available appointment is mid January."

That wasn't acceptable. I pressed to be seen immediately. Ratchet countered by asking when the symptoms started. My mind accessed the repressed memory of sweating it out on the toilet two years ago. Somehow, I knew that a couple years didn't warrant an emergency today.

WSCG: "Five days ago," I suddenly blurted out.

Nurse Ratchet: "Well there's nothing that the doctor can do now since the swelling of a thromboid subsides after three days. You'll have to make an appointment earlier next time."

WSCG: "But the intense swelling started Saturday morning. That's only two days ago."

Nurse Ratchet: "Well, I'll go ask the doctor, but I'm going to tell him that you originally said five days and then changed it to two."

Did I really just hear that?!? I replayed it in my mind. Yes, she said that she was going to tell the doctor that I changed my story. A flash of anger sent adrenalin coursing through my veins.

WSCG: "DON'T TELL ME THAT THAT THING THE SIZE OF A KIDNEY BEAN PROTRUDING FROM MY ANUS CAN'T BE TREATED RIGHT NOW. YOU GO TELL THE DOCTOR THAT"

Silence. Then after a pregnant pause...

Nurse Ratchet: "Please hold --"

The lobby outside Starbucks had grown eerily quiet. Where did everybody go? Actually, I didn't care anymore. The rush of beta endorphins from that outburst was better at suppressing pain than any narcotic, over or behind the counter.

Nurse Ratchet: "The doctor can squeeze you at 11:00 o'clock. Be prepared to wait."

Next Part 3 of 3: The Treatment

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Injury Update, part 1 of 3

Please accept my apologies for taken an extended leave. It's not that I haven't had breaking news to share. It's more that I've been giving homage to my homey Fredcube for his excellent blogging as of late. Nice Old Yeller and Blue bike, Fred.

As for late breaking news, here's an update on my injury. This may be confusing to you since there was never an original post on the injury. Trust me, you'll be fine. Let's just jump right in to the latest scoop.

For the better part of five years, I've been fortunate to remain relatively injury free. It's partly design, partly dumb luck. The design part is attributed to being multi-sport focused, as swimming, biking and running doesn't contribute to excessive wear and tear on one particular muscle group. At least in the amount that I'm exercising.

Still, I've neglected a minor injury for a couple of years. I suppose I would have addressed it earlier if it had become critical, but most of the time, it'd remain dormant enough to train through it. When the injury did flare up, an extra day of rest would usually take care of it.

That all changed on Saturday morning, December 5th. On that morning, I was preparing to do a trainer ride at the Trek store. But because I woke up late, I was hurrying to get everything together, including bike, trainer + block, fluids, and an extra bag of clothes. As I ran out the door, I remembered that I forgot to do one last chore before leaving: dump the trash.

And by dumping the trash I don't mean emptying the garbage from under the sink.

Now, in an even-more hurried state (you know where I'm going [and yes it's too late to turn back now]), I strained too much. Way too much. This effort erupted into a nasty, fourth degree hemorrhoid (image).

Fourth-degree hemorrhoids: Hemorrhoids that prolapse and cannot be pushed back in. Fourth-degree hemorrhoids also include hemorrhoids that are thrombosed (containing blood clots) or that pull much of the lining of the rectum through the anus.

I didn't write that last ditty. That gem came from the MedicineNet website.

Back to Saturday. I quickly reevaluated the situation. Being that I could hardly sit without incredible pain, 90 minutes of rocking on a TT bike's saddle didn't sound like a good idea anymore. So without providing any of the gory details, I tweeted @bredemske that I simply wasn't going to make it. Till now, he didn't know why. Hi Bryan. Sorry I couldn't make it that day. It was because of a raging hemorrhoid on my ass.

From that point until recently, I've been quietly sulking in my convalescence. I went through some dark times, but things are getting better now. Indeed, I'm like a mangy dog, who having gone off to die in the solitude of the woods, has returned to your doorstep with tail-a-wagging and in a dire need of a bath. In other words, wholesome steel-cut goodness is back and is here to stay.

There's your late breaking news. Again, please accept my apologies for not blogging lately. It really wasn't to give Fred homage, but more to deal with this nasty injury.

Next: Part 2 of 3 -- Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Not Riding. I'm In Training

Excuse me, but what was that?

Not riding. I am in training the rest of the week.

That's what our boy, the real Wes J (as opposed to the fake real Wesley J), instant-messaged me yesterday afternoon when asked about the absence of his roadie on the bike rack.

Oh wait wait, I get it. What Wes J meant was that he was in training for work, as in taking a class or something. That's the reason why he left his bike at home.

But his ambiguity made me think about people who train for their, uh, training.

If I had messaged Lance Armstrong, he might have he replied:

Not riding. I'm in training.

Yeah, that makes sense, right?

You see how confusing that is, Wes J? From that response, would I surmise that LA would forgo a few laps at Juan Pelota's ranch for spinning session on the trainer?

It gets worse. What if I had tweeted Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, about why he didn't ride yesterday. Since Carmichael is a trainer by profession, he could have messaged back:

Not riding, I'm in training with Lance, who's not not riding because he's in training


But what if -- follow me closely now Wes J -- what if Chris Carmichael was not training Lance Armstrong when I tweeted him yesterday, but was actually on the trainer himself, in some sort of twisted, recursively-narcissistic session being coached by himself in his latest spinning video?

He might have tweeted back:

Not riding. Not training. I'm in training

Then again, probably not. My gut tells me he would have replied:

CLIMBING SERIES 3-DISC SET - $79.99 - Buy Now!!!

By the way, Wes J., I'm not riding today. I'm in training. For the Boston Marathon next spring.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cross Noob Project Update

About six weeks ago I wrote about getting a cycl0cross bike put together. The project has finally come together. It's a frankenbike if there ever was one.

The Scattante frame (and fork) were practically given to me by Mike Miles.
From Jim Maaske came the Rolf wheelset, cantilever brakes and a saddle.

The 9 speed Tiagra brifter, a cane creek front brake lever, Ultegra crank, 9 spd cassette, handlebars and tires came from Mike Munson.

A carbon fiber wrapped seat tube came from Bryan Redemeske.

The Shimano 105 rear derailleur and the nine speed chain were cast down from Old Yeller.

The remaining parts came from the Trek store.

You may recall that the last post on this project had noted concerns about the integrated headset and the pitted and slightly abnormal shape of the head tube. Upon further review, it was agreed that while the integrated headset is not the best design application for a cyclocross bike, it would still work. The longevity of it is anyone's guess.

Brushing that aside, I took partially assembled bike to the High Gear shop in La Vista for a professional fitting.

After an hour of dialing in my measurements to the fit, the bike started feeling good beneath me. With the frame being slightly smaller than my road bike, a longer stem was needed to cover the difference. With that, it felt really good. I had the steer tube cut to make it permanent.

Alas, my new 'cross bike:


I took it for a spin around the block yesterday. Weighing in just under 19lbs, its 53cm aluminum frame and carbon fork provides a smooth ride with quick handling. The bike's 1x9 gearing offers enough power for the hills and its cantilever brakes are ideal for mud and gunk that off-roading brings.

And while the fit was right on -- and I'm excited to have a cyclocross bike -- something still didn't feel quite right. It needed an extra something... a final touch that would leave no doubt that this bike belonged to me.

I settled on this.

Much better.

Somebody ring a cowbell for me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

We got one of those in South Dakota

Years ago, my brother Matt and I were fortunate to go to Europe for a month. It was a graduation present from our parents to expand our horizons through experiencing other cultures. What a terrific time that was. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Shortly after arrival, we found ourselves swept up among a pack of fellow North Americans. While we were from all over the States and Canada, the two women from South Dakota made the only lasting impressions.

Before I write another word, let me first say that I have nothing but respect for the State of South Dakota in general. Let's face it, fellow Nebraskans, we're not much different than our northern neighbors. Sure, they've got Mt Rushmore, but we've got our own totemic monument in carhenge, and what's more excessively American than a timeless tribute to the automobile?

Now about these two SD women. Within a few days they were grating on the group's nerves. They talked incessantly. They were loud and brash. And it soon became apparent that they had dissimilar interests and budgets than the rest of the group. For example, when we wanted to go to Versailles, they wanted to shop for $1,500 Haute couture leather boots. As Matt and on were traveling on less than $15/day, even coffee became a luxury.

So by the time we arrived in Florence, there was a lot of animosity in the group towards these two. But to everyone's delight, they made an announcement on the platform that they were going to catch the next train to continue their journey to Greece.

"But what about Michelangelo's David," I suddenly blurted out.

Eyes were rolling. I could almost hear the thoughts of others telling me to shut up.

"We'd rather go lay out on the beaches in Greece"

Somebody gasped.

"But it's a masterpiece!"

"Oh the David? We've seen it already; we got one of those in South Dakota."

-//-

I was reminded of these two at the Des Moines Marathon this past weekend.

Before the race, I was among hundreds who escaped the chilly morning air by ducking into a nearby hotel lobby. Along the wall, an elite marathoner was sitting on a couch. I knew he was running the marathon because he was the only person sitting in the crowded room and distance runners value resting their legs before the race. I also knew that he was an elite athlete by his small build and his Kenyan accent. Since I also running the full marathon, I was fully qualified to sit. I plopped down next to him.

Near us was a group of women who were already mid-conversation with the Kenyan.

"What's your fastest marathon time?"

"2:22," he replied.

There was a buzz of excitement in the whispers shared among them.

"Where's your next race?"

"South Korea"

Blank looks.

"You mean South Dakota, right?" the woman inquired.

"South Korea," he reiterated.

More whispering.

Then again, this time more sheepishly, "Don't you mean South Dakota, U - S - A ?"

"No. My next race is in South Korea. It takes 13 hours to fly there."

"I TOLD YOU HE SAID SOUTH KOREA!!" she repeated triumphantly back to the group.

-//-

As for me, I completed the marathon in 3:01.25.

Overall, the race was organized well. There were plenty of aid stations along a course that was quite scenic, albeit challenging. The first half had lots of hills not unlike what you'd encounter in midtown Omaha. The second half was flat as a pancake. It was a calm and 32F at gun time; later, the 20mph southern winds brought the temperature into the mid 40s.

I had previously decided to jump in with the 3 hour pace group. By our pacer's plan, we ran the initial eight miles of hills at a slower than 3 hour pace, attacked on an upper section and the down hill portions at a 2:52 marathon pace and then settled into a 2:59 pace for the remaining 8 miles.

As reported by Athlete tracker alerts, my splits went like this:
1) 10k at 42:10; expected finish at 2:58
2) Half at 1:29:51; expected finish at 2:59
3) 19.5mi at 2:09:54; expected finish at 2:54
4) finish at 3:01:24

What happened after the 19.5 mile split actually started shortly after the hills section: around the 11th mile, my quads started feeling heavy. Then at the 16th mile, hard pounding during the quickened downhill pace also took a toll on the quads. Tightening followed. At mile 22, my calf muscles began cramping. It was at this point that I fell off the sub 3 hour pace group.

In the end, the 3:01.25 finish was a PR by over seven minutes. It's also a valid Boston Marathon qualification time, which I intend to use in 2010. I am happy about this. Of course, I would have liked to have gone 86 seconds faster to break the three hour barrier, but I gave it everything and will gladly accept the results.

For the next few days/weeks, it's time for some R&R.

Perhaps I'll go pay the David of South Dakota a visit. I hear that they got one of those there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Project X, a WSCG Experiment

Yesterday, I wrote about your life being an experiment. Through my own scientific trials, I have recently discovered that I possess mutant power.

Last month, the state championship road race fell on the same weekend as the Omaha Corporate cup 10k foot race. And in addition to that, the marathon training calendar I'd been using to prepare for an upcoming race also called for a 20 mile run that weekend.

To manage the energy requirements, I began a carbohydrate loading diet experiment.

Step 1. About a week before the event, reduce or maintain your carbohydrate intake at about 50 to 55 percent of your total calories. Increase protein and fat intake to compensate for any decrease in carbohydrates. Continue training at your normal level. This helps deplete your carbohydrate stores and make room for the loading that comes next.

Sunday and Monday came and went without much notice. In fact, I was beginning to think that the unloading phase was a bunch of hoo-ha.

I found out otherwise during Tuesday evening's 1200m repeats at UNO's track. On the last couple of intervals, my legs became heavy. As much as I tried, I couldn't keep the leg turnover speed up. A feeling of general malaise and extreme hunger had set in. Meanwhile, my senses became seemingly sharper focused. Pedaling home from the track, I could smell the Amsterdam Cafe's carbohydrate-rich falafels & curry fries from six blocks away. I was tempted, but I had one more day to go.

If I thought Tuesday was bad, Wednesday was worse. At breakfast, the fridge opened its doors to containers awash in liquid diabetes; the pantry revealed boxes of processed foods gratuitously coated in refined sugars. Meanwhile, my mind was freaking out, continuously insisting on stuffing fistfuls of this garbage into my mouth. I had no idea how much of this crap was in my kitchen, let alone my body. Yet I resisted. Barely.

This insanity continued throughout the day. At the Starbucks in my building, the pastries were the first thing I saw when I entered the store. I was unaware that they had so many varieties of scones. Back at my desk, there weren't enough celery and carrots in my lunch bag to quench the sugar cravings.

Then came the Wednesday evening Trek store group ride. Since Shim talks behind my back in front of my back when I'm not there (his words -- not mine), you may have already heard how many times I was dropped that night.

If not, it went like this: repeated drops, each time with extending distances between the group and me. At the last regrouping, somebody asked if I had flatted. Apparently they had to wait a really really long time. As we soft-pedaled away from this final grouping, I confided to another rider about experimenting with my diet. Before he could ask more about it, I was dropped again. Allow me to remind you that we were soft pedaling at that moment. Sigh. I just didn't care any more. I sat up and saw the pack pull away at 12 MPH. My leg muscles were quivering and my brain hurt. I wanted nothing else to do with that ride.

EAT YOUR LIVER

I had succeeded in waking the mutant within. My liver & metabolism were undergoing lipid to glycogen regenesis. Without any quick energy (carbs) left, the body was forced to convert its fats to sugars from the liver stores. It's an inefficient process that causes significant performance degradation. In other words, a total bonk.

The time had arrived to flip the switch to begin carb-loading.

Step 2. Three to four days before the event, increase your carbohydrate intake to 70 percent of your daily calories

I rolled up to the first available convenience store. As I paid for the two bananas, a quart of Gatorade and a 16 oz bag of twizzlers, the attendant commented, "You look terrible."

A reply formed in my brain, but the synapses connecting the abstract thought to uttering a response misfired. A heavy nod simply conveyed my agreement.

Within 15 minutes, I was feeling much better. The sugars were coursing through my veins, clearing the fog in my head while providing energy for muscles. I was steadily cruising along at 20 MPH again.

Over the next three days, I was a banana-eating monkey. I had my fill of grains and pastas. I even had a falafel with curry fries. Evidenced by exclamation point abuse on my twitter feed (!!! ack !!!), a wave of ebullience overtook as my energy levels rose. I was ready to race.

The weekend's results were promising. A good Cat 4 race on Saturday was followed by a 10K PR while on the way to completing the 20 mile run on Sunday.

-//-

Fast forward to the present. I'm racing the Des Moines marathon this Sunday. I've completed a second round of carb unloading and am well into the reload phase now.

The unloading wasn't as bad this time because I was tapering. Still, I got the sugar cravings going and managed to wake the mutant within once more.

I'm expecting to see Charles Xavier at the finish line.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Experiment in One

Why does somebody forgo the convenience of their automobile to brave the daily transit on their own power?

Why does another pound the miles away on the hotel treadmill after a long day on the road?

And why does one zip up booties and apply an extra layer when the commute gets chilly?

Or another pushes it a little more during early morning runs, having just recovered from injury?

And what about the one who cycles alone over the lunch hour when it's below 40F and drizzling?

What drives that person to put in 30 minutes of cardio at least three times a week?

And how about the person who plunges in the pool at dark thirty when it's below freezing outside?

Why do we hang up our road bikes for the 'cross and mud, or mount the studs and fenders for snow and ice?

And how about those who put in 600+ hours of training a year to willingly suffer an ultra endurance event such as an Ironman?

Sound familiar?

Is it to give us something to blog/tweet/Facebook/socialize about? Maybe.

Is it for vanity? Could be.

How about ego? Perhaps.

Reduced, I say it's simply because 1) we can and 2) we're driven.

You don't have to do this stuff. It's all optional. It'd be easy to take the easy way out and quit.

But you don't give up.

Instead, you do it because you can. Somehow, despite work, family and outside commitments, you're still able to carve out enough time to make it work.

You do it because you are motivated. It's not always fun nor exhilarating. Along the way, you've learned that there are two times to stick to your goals: 1) when you feel like it, and 2) when you don't. You may be striving to achieve something that you deem to be a great feat. You may be compelled to conquer your demons. You may desire to stand alone at the top of your game. Regardless of the reason, you have passion and have found the will power to face the challenge.

Your mind and body are like a science lab. Your recorded metrics are a testimony to your endeavors. In your trials, you have encountered countless failures that have taught you something about yourself that will assist in the next challenge. And you've learned in victory that the sweet taste of success is fleeting.

There's always another goal, another test, another experiment ahead.

Indeed. Your life is an experiment in one.

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.
-- Steve Prefontaine

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Search Has Begun

The search has begun for Old Yeller's replacement.

It should come as no surprise that a miser like me would begin by trolling less reputable places (nearby craigslists) for a 54cm bicycle. eBay, too for that matter. So far, the results haven't been promising.

For one, I haven't settled on a frame material yet. I vacillate between not-rigid-enough steel and bone jarring aluminum. Somewhere in between is carbon fiber.

As for the latter, I can't help but think that many of the used previously owned carbon fiber bikes have also been previously compromised. I worry that there's a microscopic crack in its chassis that's like a time bomb waiting to explode.

Then again, I suppose that when that happens you can simply sweep up its plastic shards to create new one.

In an attempt to assuage my plastic bike fears, I did some homework on carbon frames. Fortunately, this year's Interbike event provided great opportunities to review the latest in carbon fiber technology. For example, here's the Delta7 Ascend:

Extremely efficient and light, the Ascend™ maximizes the IsoTruss® tube structure proving to be the best carbon fiber bike available, weighing just 2.3 lbs (1050 grams). Truly stunning visually with ride qualities and features unmatched by any other tube structures

Without doubt, it's extremely efficient. And no one can argue that 2.3 lbs is heavy. I have no problems with their claim that its visually stunning. Yet absent in their introductory paragraph is the word indestructible. Heck, I'd even settle for a less exciting word like "strong" to convey its strength, but alas, there isn't a single mention of its durability.

I have a problem with that.

As an aside, the only place I've seen a bike that comes close to resembling the Ascend is at Ironman-branded triathlons. Ironman events are great. There's a little something for everyone. Usually staged at a resort, those unwillingly dragged along are able to bail the actual event and enjoy the wonderful scenery, fine dining, shopping and all of the pampered services the resort has to offer. Meanwhile, except at Ironman Kona (where one qualifies through athletic greatness), participants fall into one of two categories: the 10% who've actually trained and the 90% who come to compete in the best of show competition. And make no mistake about it, the Ironman organizers are quite aware of this fact. Ironman officials know that while it's important to pay attention to the race leaders, the loud speaker crackles to life with new exuberance when the fat wallets on their sexy Litespeeds, Sevens, Serottas and Cervelos come rolling into the transition area. The Ironman series is wildly successful because they know their target income, I mean market.

With that, I fully expect to one day see the Delta 7 folks roll out a Triathlon bike. If they've been paying attention, they probably already have one on the drawing board. If not, here are my suggestions. To reduce drag, encapsulate its IsoTruss frame with a protective membrane not unlike the material of Michael Phelps Speedo. Next, taking a hint from the auto tire industry, fill the Delta7's covered frame with some exotic lighter-than-air gas. And you thought 2.3 lbs was light! Finally, why not capitalize on the Green Movement and pressurize it with the abundant, environmentally-friendly hydrogen?

That said, I present to you the most technically advanced carbon fiber, lighter than air Delta7 TT Green machine:

Perfect for that dentist -- the same one who failed to give you enough Novocain at your last root canal -- at his next triathlon.

Another Green Movement idea would be to create a skin from 100% post-recycled plastic. It could be made out of recycled plastic bottles, McDonalds trays or Vanilla Ice's Greatest Hits cds. It could even be reconstituted from wrecked carbon fiber bicycles.

This way, every tree hugging, Prius-driving environmental lawyer can also enjoy the carbon footprint credits on this limited Delta 7 Lite-bright rendition:

Regardless of the environmental issues plastic bikes present, my biggest hangup is in seeing them as a long term liability. Certainly, the ride and performance are spectacular. But so is its spectacular destruction. Yes, there are plenty who've crashed and lived to ride on without seeming troubles. But nobody can say a word about their longevity. The frame material just doesn't have enough of testing to be conclusive.

Still, I haven't eliminated carbon fiber as a possibility. The search continues...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Name's Not Buttons

Although recent evidence from racing could suggest that I'm growing younger and faster with age, I'm no Benjamin Buttons.
Nor is my name Ed Whitlock, but I'd be proud to run a sub 3 hour marathon at any age, let alone after a 70th birthday.
And even though the State of Nebraska once listed my birth year as 969, I didn't originate from the dark ages.
I suppose if that were true, I'd be mixed in with the occult and my name could be Frankenstein.

That's Fronk-en-shtein.

If I lived more than a 1000 years, I'd be older than that geezer of the Bible, Methuselah. But since I'm a God-fearing man, I don't want to be taken for a blasphemer.

No, my name is simply Brady and today is the final day of my youth.

Frankly, on the eve of my 14,600th day on this planet, I feel fabulous. In fact, I don't feel (act?) much differently than I did when I was 20. Actually, it's more like 14, but nobody takes a 14 year old seriously.

So, um, seriously... I have a lot to be thankful for: a wonderful wife, a supportive family, great friends and good health to name a few.

Later today, when you're compelled to strike a match while sitting on the throne, kindly wish me a happy birthday as you blow it out, for tomorrow I turn 40.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Old Yeller: Taken Out to Pasture?

Last night I put my road bike, Old Yeller, up on the stand for post-race maintenance. Immediately after removing the water bottles, my eyes were drawn to a hairline crack where the seat tube meets the bottom bracket.


Hmmm, I don't recall seeing that one before.

Because this bicycle was powder-coated, I realized that it was unlikely a simple scratch on the surface, but more probably a fissure all the way through the aluminum (aluminiyum for you Brits) frame.

The only way to be sure was to pull the crank and bottom bracket for a gander with a mirror from the inside of the seat tube.

The frame is indeed cracked.


Crap!

Here are more details of the same images: external, internal

Should I be concerned about this? Has Old Yeller's racing days ended, or is this a mark of graceful aging no different than the deepening crow's feet near my eyes?

Your comments are welcome.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Throne Room

Following this past Saturday's State Road Race, I began preparing for the Omaha Corporate Cup 10K.

Preparation entailed replacing the toilet in my house. With a hairline crack in its holding tank that was progressively leaking more water, the repair wasn't critical. Yet. But since shit happens, the commode needed to be replaced before it would happen.

So here's how it went down. After completely removing the damaged toilet, I cleaned the soiled black and tan mottled wax ring from the flange while a nauseating sewer gas permeated the bathroom. Next came the daunting task of squatting the replacement porcelain bowl into the correct position. Threading those collar bolts through the mount holes without spoiling the new wax ring wasn't easy. But after two failed attempts and a hearty bout of cussing (sorry neighbors!) , I finally got it right. All that on road-race fatigued legs. Boy, was I was relieved to finally drop that load.

The toilet, that is.

Needless to say, I wasn't expecting much on Sunday. But you know, it's often in those times when you're pleasantly surprised by the results: I ran a personal best 10K at 35:33.

For the bicycle enthusiasts following this blog, cycling conditioning gave me the confidence to attack three times in the sixth mile, dropping two runners while producing my best mile split (5:34) of the race. Last year, it was bridging; this year the attack. Thanks to all you who taught me how to suffer through that valuable lesson.

Splits: 5:38, 5:42, 5:50, 5:47, 5:48, 5:34, 1:14 (5:43 avg)
Official Results

After the battle had ended and its banners were neatly folded and stored away, I celebrated the spoils of victory quietly -- indeed peacefully -- by sitting upon my newly installed throne.

Ah, now that's Wholesome Steel-Cut Goodness!

I'm No Cavendish, and I'm Not Cadel Evans Either

This past Saturday I raced Old Yeller in the Nebraska Road Race Championship at Branched Oak state Park. The Cat 4s had to complete five 11.2 mi loops on this relatively flat course. The course's challenges include small rollers, a long graded climb (think Leavenworth St from Saddlecreek to 52nd) and a potentially difficult section into the south headwind across the dam. As there was little wind, the latter didn't play much into the race.

As my first race as a Cat 4, I decided to observe and mark the tires of some of the fasties. I was expecting savage attacks after the warm up lap and wanted to be ready. On the contrary, we actually slowed down on the next lap, becoming a fun group ride instead. People were cracking jokes while we soaked in great scenery under calm, sunny skies. Outside of a short up-tempo session to reel in a small breakaway, the only thing missing from the parade of laps three and four were the 'Shriners.

Inevitably, a race did happen. Half way through the final (bell) lap, the clowns shred their disguises and started throwing down. Attacks and surges ensued for the next 15 minutes. Going into the final sprint, Old Yeller had managed to climb up to sixth position overall. Then the sprint started for the pack of 25. I stood up and charged but found myself going backwards. Like those shriner mini-cars could have even passed me. But I clawed away to finish in the middle of the pack.

The race official scored me as eighth.

As there was no photo finish -- just officials hastily writing down bib numbers as the mass crossed the finish line -- there were bound to be mistakes. Certainly, they scored the top five correctly. But after that, who knows. And really, who cares? First, we're amateurs, and Cat 4s at that. Secondly, if the purse pays only five deep, does it really matter who was the first loser to not win their entrance fee back? Did it matter if you finished last in the pack? How about last overall?

Apparently, it mattered to some. So when I went to volunteer downgrading my finish to mid to back of the pack, another competitor was already relentlessly badgering the official about finishing seventh, not 12th. So like my Dad did when I threw a tantrum, the official mercifully pulled the racer aside to to spare him any further public embarrassment. Unfortunately, it wasn't effective. Turning away and after claiming not to care, he reiterated again that he didn't finish 12th.

I decided on the spot that I indeed finished four places ahead of him and instead offered my appreciation to the officials for staging the race.

What I learned:

  • Cat 4s are wiser than their Cat 5 brethren. While there are usually one or two Cat 5s that believe they're superhuman and foolishly attack a pack of 50 riders, Cat 4s will not make a stab at it alone. Expect a super group ride until the last 5 miles.
  • I'm no Mark Cavendish. In fact, I suck at sprinting
  • Non-podium finishes are worth protesting?
  • Officials have the patience of saints
Anyway, congratulations to Brandon Fenster for the win, to my teammate Mike Bartels for third and Pete Dureyea for a podium finish. To the rest of us losers, there's nine months to lick our wounds and train for next year.

Finally, thanks again to the officials and volunteers who put on this race. Without you, my eighth place wouldn't have been possible.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's Make A Deal!

Last night I paid a visit to Munson to buy some more parts for my franken-cross bike. While there, I had Munson inspect the frame and headset. All was well until he noticed that the races (ball bearings) protrude a couple millimeters above the top tube. That's not good. Upon further examination, we discovered that there were not only small gouges along the opening, but the tube itself wasn't quite round.

Munson did his best to un-mitmon the thing. With a lot finagling of parts interspersed with sighs and other munson-esque exasperations, he finally concluded that the frame's headtube was simply messed up.

Then, like Monty Hall, Munson laid out the options for me: Keep it as-is, apply lots of force to get the headset in place and deal with potentially shoddy results. Or to take what's behind curtains 1, 2 or 3.


First, let's recap. I procured this never-been-ridden Scattante XRL cyclocross frame & carbon fork from Mike Miles for $50. As many of you know, Scattante is the in-house Performance Bike brand. The XRL is a cheap, basic frame; perfect for said Cross Noob. It lists at $499 retail, but is on-sale at $249. The frame has probably been on sale since they began stamping these things in China, but shhhh! let's keep that a secret among us. Anyway, Mike's savvy purchasing skills negotiated the price down even lower, to $100. I'm quite certain Performance didn't lose money on the sale, so they were happy. Miles was happy. I was happy. You see? Everybody's happy!

But after Munson's assessment, I was no longer happy. Then Miles was no longer happy when I called him about possibly sending it back to Performance.

Miles originally offered to give me the frame months ago. He had long since abandoned the project bike and didn't want the burden of lugging it around. Even more, giving it away relieved him of the liability that one day some cross noob would come back to him and say, "about that $50 frame you sold me..."

But I have this to say about riding on other people's stuff for free. I just can't do it. I imagine it's like wearing someone else's clothes. After months of usage, you'd return to the owner and say, 'are you gonna want this shirt back, 'cause in case you're wondering, it now has yellow pit stains that no amount of lye and a wire brush can take out.'

And so it's the same with bicycles. You can use it, abuse it, stain it, even throw it in the dumpster Fredcube-style when you've exhausted it. The point is that you don't have to question its ownership anymore.

That's why I'll either offer to pay for the bicycle/parts in cash or provide a quasi-bartering service as payment, such as pointing out that bike mechanics are like rats jumping from a sinking ship when Shim wheels his filthy bike in for maintenance. But in fairness to Shim, at least his 'ride isn't as jacked as Limpach's Madone when it's rolled in for an overhaul.

Back to last night. Appearing nonplussed, Munson stood patiently waiting for my answer. Oh yeah! Let's Make a Deal! Well, Monty, err Munson, I'll take what's behind curtain #1.

Curtain 1: reveals TrekStore Chris drinking a beer while filing down the Scattante's headtube's burrs after hours. Meanwhile, TrekStore Lucas is also drinking a beer while whacking the downtube's exterior with a mallet to get that really nice ISO-9000 compliant fit.

Curtain 2: reveals a donkey wearing a sash with the crocheted words, "IT IS WHAT IT IS"

Curtain 3: reveals an expenses NOT paid FedEx round trip to Performance Bike for more than the frame's worth in value.

While curtain #2 was tempting, I'm happy with #1.

What kind of beer would you like for your services Chris & Lucas?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cross Noob ++

I'm making progress on the cyclocross bike. Currently, I have possession of the frame, fork, headset, wheels, crank & bb, canti-brakes, seat tube, saddle and cables.

Items still needing to get my grubby hands on include: 8 or 9 spd rear shifter & derailleur, handlebars, stem, bartape, tires (Munson?), peddles, chain and a front brake lever.

I have no shame and will gladly accept donations. Otherwise, I can either pay for the items in cold hard cash, or by lampooning the cyclist (Shim wears fairy shoes) of your choice here on WSCG.

Next Step:
I've scheduled a professional bike fitting from a local bike shop. I prefer a LBS that's been trained on the Serotta Size Cycle Fit System (eg High Gear/La Vista).

Basically, the fit system is a stationery bike with swappable parts that allow the best combination of handlebars, stem, peddles, seat tube and saddle positioning for your individual body measurements.

While the Serotta fit cycle is typically used before purchasing a new bicycle, my fitting will be on the actual cyclocross frame with parts swapped out from the fit system.

Originally as a road-noobie, I wondered whether the expense of a professional bike fit was justified. I don't anymore. Not only does it make you more comfortable and efficient on the bicycle, it's an investment that will significantly reduce the risk of repetitive-use injury. A bad fit could lead to a nagging knee injury, requiring rest and a possible visit to the Physical Therapist. Obviously, opportunity costs (downtime + therapy) are a lot more than doing it right the first time.

Consider getting a professional fitting. While it won't make you a better wheel-sucker than Shim, it will make for a greater overall riding experience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cross Noob

Thanks to an offer for a cyclocross frame, fork and headset that I couldn't refuse from Mike Miles, I'm in the planning stages of building up a new bike.

Needs:
* Cantilever brakes: looking to purchase

Recommendations:
* Gears: 1x9 single chainring or a double crank?
* Wheelset
* Tire size and brands

Race Calendar
While my calendar is sketchy for Omaha's cyclocross weekend, I'm not counting out racing in KC or Des Moines. Please share any comments, tips, and must-do races.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Buddy System

I took a couple weeks off from the bike recently. It wasn't due to injury or lack of motivation. It was simply being busy before going on a week's vacation.

By the time I got back to saddling up Old Yeller, my conditioning wasn't optimal. I decided that the Wednesday night group ride would be a good test of fitness.

The axe fell quickly. There was no mercy. After being severely dropped about five miles from Ft Calhoun, I had to solo (hobble) back to the regrouping point. Thankfully, there was my good old pal Shim, who like Charlton Heston with a touch of gray, was visibly concerned while stoically shepherding the wayward back into the fold of the group. I was saved! What relief I felt to know that would be spared the misery of slaving away solo for the next hour.

After a quick respite, three of us -- Shim, Joe Savoie and I -- were on the chase to reel in Kevin Limpach and John Wait along S HWY 75. As we took turns pulling to make up the ground, I was growing alarmed at a rising heart rate & dead-feeling legs. Then, with only 10 meters to close, Limpach and Wait launched a massive counter attack. Crap!

Shim and Joe managed to bridge up. I flamed out and was going backwards; my heart knocking on my ribs. By myself again, misery became my company.

But yet at another regrouping miles down the road, there was my good old pal waiting for me again. Shim's not bad, I thought. In fact, for the remainder of the ride back to the Trek store, he let me hang on his wheel. Moses would've been proud to see such a sight.

~//~

A few days later, having rested and licked my wounds, I joined the UP lunch riders, Wes and Ed. Shim was absent. I was about to tell the group about the Wednesday night ride when I found out that they already knew the story.

Ed: So I heard that you had a bad night on Wednesday. Shim said you really sucked, man. What happened?

Wes: He also said that he was the only one to bridge up to Limpach -- that you and everyone else were dropped.

And on and on and so forth. Sucker puncher! Even more, throughout the rest of that ride, I listened to the embellishments and self-aggrandizement Shim had concocted about himself and his impressive riding skills. Sucker punching megalomaniac!!

~//~

[ FFWD-> Boyer's Chute Pace line on this week's Trek ride ]

Brady: I heard that you were talking behind my back & telling how much I sucked last week.

Shim: I wasn't talking behind your back. You just weren't there.

[ FFWD-> one revolution through the pace later ... ]

Shim: Anyway, I didn't say you sucked. I said you blew.

Nice.

Fifteen minutes later, after being dropped on the first of the two Ponca hills, I was on the chase and closing the gap on Shim, Limpach and Pete Duryea. Though aware of the similarities from the previous week, I was determined. This time, I was stronger and brimming with WSCG confidence.

With rapid staccato breathing, a forehead dripping burning sweat into my eyes and hot snot bubbling around my nose, I valiantly (rabidly?) pushed forth. 20 meters, almost there... 15 meters...

And as if on queue at 10 meters, Shim, Limpach and Pete stand and launch a counter attack.

My engine sputtered and flamed out. Again. And just before the group crested the hill to leave me for good, Shim calls back, "C'MON BRADY, YOU CAN DO IT!!"

What a buddy. What a pal.

That is Shim.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How to Get Your Stolen Bike Back

Dude! Where's My Bike?!? That was my reaction as I pondered my bike's whereabouts in front of the downtown Omaha public library where I had locked it earlier that morning. Apparently my bike, Old Yeller, had been stolen.

Like Pee-Wee, I was without my favorite bicycle. Over the next week, I inquired about my bike in many local businesses around Omaha and Council Bluffs. Fortunately, my efforts paid off. A tip called in from the flier posted at the downtown Jimmy Johns hit pay dirt. The caller said that he saw Old Yeller being walked into Sol's Pawn shop on 16th and Cass on the day it was stolen. I immediately called Sol's and began the process of recovering Old Yeller.

If you're reading this because you've been the victim of theft, I wish you the best at recovering your property. Hopefully, after using some of the following tips, you too will hear the wonderful news that your bike has been found.

How to Get Your Stolen Bike Back

1) Don't panic. You've got a reasonable chance at getting it back even if you only have a basic description of the bike. Most often, a bike is not chopped and sold for parts on eBay, but remains in your area as is. More often, it will end up in a local pawn shop within 90 days. As I researched this story, I found cases where people recovered their bikes years later from garage sales in the exact condition it was in before it was stolen.

2) Act Quickly: file a Police report ASAP. The Police will a basic description including make, model, type and color. Even better, provide the bike's serial number and a picture.

3) File an on-line Bike theft report at Bikewise.

4) Use Social Networking: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, e-bulletin boards, craigslist. Tell everyone you know. Get the word out fast!

5) Create & post fliers on bulletin boards of local businesses in the vicinity of the theft, in local bike shops, pawn and second hand shops.

A cash reward does a lot toward helping motivation. I offered & paid $50 to the person who called in the tip.

6) Hit the Bricks: get out and talk to people over your lunch hour. I handed out dozens of fliers around the library and talked with lots of locals. You may get some good info by word of mouth.

How to Prevent Bike Theft

1) Get a good lock to lock your bike well. A braided steel cable offer reasonable protection, but the ULock is your best bet. A rubber-coated kevlar cable is next to worthless: a serrated kitchen knife can easily defeat it in seconds.

2) Record your bike's serial number. DO IT NOW. The serial number is stamped on the frame beneath your crank (on the bottom bracket housing). When my neighbor's bike was stolen two years ago, I followed their advice to write down the serial number. Why do this? Because pawn shops are required by law to file the serial numbers with the Police Pawn Unit before they can sell any merchandise. When you file a police report with your bike's serial number, it's a guaranteed match to recover your property.

3) Have a good picture of your bike for the police report.

Regarding the Police Pawn Unit

  • Police Pawn unit shares a database of serial numbers between Nebraska and Iowa.
  • Pawn shops typically take two weeks to process new inventory serial numbers with police
  • Pawn shops thumb print and ID all sellers of merchandise. Thefts over $500 are felonies.

Again good luck and thanks for reading.

 

Saturday, July 18, 2009

OLD YELLER STOLEN

STATUS: STOLEN
$$ CASH REWARD $$
Make: GT (road bike)
Model: ZR-4000
Year: 1999
Color: Flat Yellow powdercoat; NO Decals
Serial#: MT90105838

Contact: Brady
Phone#: (402) 216-7542
Email: yellowbike23@gmail.com

Or call 911 as the bike as been reported stolen to the Omaha Police department.

Last Seen:
12:00pm - 5:00 PM Friday July 17, 2009
Downtown Public Library Bike Rack
215 S. 15th Street St (15th & Douglas)
Omaha, NE 68102

The Kevlar cable was cut and bike/lock completely removed.



Thursday, July 2, 2009

Spinning | Mashing

A cyclist's natural cadence falls into one of two camps: 1) spinning (faster in a lower gear) or 2) mashing (slower in a higher gear).

Lately, the trend has favored spinning. Like many things related to cycling in the past decade, Lance Armstrong has something to do with it. Essentially, spinners peg a higher cadence to a particular heart rate zone, which has been derived from the cyclist's HR MAX. Following this method can produce a very efficient cardiovascular system tuned for intense racing.

There are also those who say that spinning is less taxing on the knees than mashing, as pushing a high gear puts tremendous stress on the patella and its surrounding tendons. Visualize the knee cap as a watermelon seed being pinched between the thumb and index finger.

While I prefer to spin, my friend Wes is a masher. With tree trunks for quads and softball-sized calf muscles, Wes is ideally suited for the long and strong cadence over spinning. So while time trialing on the flats, he's grinding. Climbing Ponca Hills? Yep, big ring. Icy winter rides on a franken-hybrid with aero bars? You got it: torquing the high gear. And tho it doesn't appear to have any effect on his apparently robotic knees, the same cannot be said about his chain ring. Once squared and flat, the ring's teeth are more likely to appear on the blade of a Black & Decker circular saw than as a bicycle component. And like any true masher, the smaller ring appears as blemish-free as the day it was forged.

Anyhow, I thought of Wes during last night's weekly Omaha Trek Store club ride. Near the end of the route, it has become a tradition to assault the last hill in the 53 x 11 gear. Why this has become the case, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's to mix-in strength work. It could also be the final chance to redeem a token of pride for those mashers who were dropped by spinners on previous climbs.

Whatever the reason, I made an initial attempt to ascend this hill in the biggie three weeks ago. I managed (barely). It wasn't too bad, actually. Yet before I could bask in my self-righteous hubris, Shim informed me that it didn't count because I was standing on the pedals. Jerk.

So I made a second go at it last week, climbing 3/4 of the hill before standing. Almost!

But let it be known that in the twilight sun of July 1st, 2009, I became a bad-ass masher who finally made it up the entire hill while remaining seated in 53x11. As I approached the crest, a rush of adrenalin swept over my quivering legs and through my soul, compelling me to shout out in a booming voice above the valley of Fort and 82nd Street, "LO, I HAVE BECOME WES JOHNSON!!"

There you go, Wes. This one's for you. Happy mashing, fella.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Truth in Time Trials

It's been a few days since the Nebraska State Time Trial Championships, hosted by Team Velo Veloce.

I've heard it said that a cycling time trial is a race of truth. There is no peleton to hide among and conserve energy, and drafting isn't allowed. No, it's been said that the truth comes in how much suffering you can manage while racing against the clock.

Given that, I question how truthful time trials really are. There are lots of additional variables that enter the equation, including the fit on your bike, your bike's style (aero/road)and its wheel set. Other advantages include skin suits and TT helmets. And let's not forget the chamois ointments and sports creams.

Allow me to digress on the use of chamois butters and sports creams. Not too long ago, cyclists used real leather chamois in their shorts to provide a moisture absorbing layer to aide in saddle comfort. But after awhile, the chamois would become hardened. Ointments like bag balm were applied to help soften/condition the leather.

Later, synthetic chamois were developed. The synthetics advantage was that they didn't dry up and stiffen over time. They were also cheaper and could be marketed in AS SEEN ON TV spots.
Yet despite the popularity of synthetic chamois, cyclists still have found it difficult to part with these beloved ointment and creams. Many say that they provide a degree of protection against grimy (sweat) that contributes to saddle sores and chafing. While this information is valuable to any cyclists, it is of particular importance to the time trialer, who's spending the majority of time rocking back and forth on the nub horn of the saddle. The post-race suffering one can endure by failing to abide by this last point can be significant.

Now please note that these ointments are not to be confused with the icy/hot types of sports creams (think of a cycling-specific version of Ben-Gay with a 500% markup that is sold exclusively at your LBS). While the icy/hots have a legitimate place in cycling, you don't want to apply those down there. You know what I mean. But apparently during cold and wet conditions, icy/hots are applied to retain heat on the legs from calf to the upper vicinity -- but not too close! -- of the nether regions. Don't worry. If it's applied too liberally, you won't ever make that mistake again. Now I would never have guessed how popular the icy/hots were until I saw a a group of cyclists dipping their grimy hands into a communal jar at the Norfolk Classic race weekend. It was like, hey friend, that's some good stuff... and hey what's that on your lip... no worries... got any Chapstick you can also lend a buddy?"

Till date, I haven't used any of these sport creams or chamois butters. But if I do, I'll forgo all of these products for a simple jar of Noxzema. Noxzema has a solid reputation of efficacy. Take Ignatius Reilly, who had "several accessories which he had once used, a rubber glove, a piece of fabric from a silk umbrella, a jar of Noxzema" (Confederacy of Dunces, 46). Granted, Ignatius applied his practice with a different objective in mind (visions of his pet border collie, Rex), but the spirit of it all is still the same: lubrication.
Can lubrication make a difference in a time trial performance? The truth: not a chance.

I've come to realize that no matter how much training and Noxzema is applied, lacking aero equipment puts you at a significant disadvantage in a time trial. Among elites and pros, the equipment difference are often trivial, because they get all of the good stuff from their sponsors. Sometimes that includes a set of Mavic R-Sys wheels that can explode (allegedly) like a trick cigar. But for the most part, pro riders' equipment is neutralized.

On occasion, however, the advantages of using aero equipment over standard among the pros is obvious.

Take this year's final time trial at the Giro. On a short (15K) course through the eternal city, challenger Danilo "The Killer" di Luca used a standard road bike in his attempt to overtake overall General Classification leader Denis Menchov, who was riding a time trial bike. In a word: FAIL. I don't get it. The Killer was already 20 seconds in the hole before the TT even started AND going against the Giro's previous time trial winner. Yet despite a dramatic crash within sight of the finish line, Menchov crushed di Luca's hopes and sewed up the Giro victory by padding an additional 20 seconds to the overall time. Apparently, you can lay your TT bike down and still comfortably win a major tour against a roadie.

If it makes a difference in the pros, imagine the disparity among amateurs.

You don't need to imagine. I'm going to tell you.

In the cat5 field, I rode a TT bike and won the category by over six minutes. The rider in second place was on a standard road bike.

Among the cat4s, my effort would have been good for fourth place. In this category, those lower than fourth were mostly on standard road bikes.

Among the cat 1-2-3s, I don't believe that there wasn't a rider in the top twelve who used a standard road bike. Most in this group had very nice TT bikes, helmets, skin suits and the like. Moreover, the riders who finished in the bottom of this category are stronger riders than I am despite the fact their times were over two minutes slower.

From this point of view, the truth in time trialing is relative; equipment is a great equalizer.

Perhaps among amateurs, time trial races could offer an Eddie Merckx category, where no perceived advantages* are allowed. That way, those who don't have the luxury of a dedicated TT bike with expensive aero components can have a more truthful comparison against similar peers.

With the allowance of a few precious exceptions, that seems fair to me.
*EXCEPTIONS: Noxzema, rubber gloves, and a swatch of fabric from an old umbrella.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Call to Prudence

As my previous WSCG blog suggests, I am now officially a cat5 bicycle racer.

As a bicycle racer, one is required to purchase a license from the United States Cycling Organization. You can buy a single day license for $10, or an annual license for $60. Since I'm now gulping the cycling Kool-Aid faster than it can be mixed, I opted for the annual license.

At $60, the whole license thing might seem a bit hokey to the outsider. The benefits include: 1) Ranking among 60,000+ amateur cyclists, 2) Discounts such as 10% hotel fees and magazines, and 3) Accident insurance. The latter is really the only thing that matters. Still, the marketing wizards do their best to assuage the insurance hating people that they're getting something useful (beyond insurance that they appreciate after wrecking) for their hard-earned bacon. I don't have any problems with bartering my bacon for the potential of paying medical bills. Cycling is a risky sport. I just wish they would call it accident insurance rather than the flimsy attempt to mask it with benefits I can find in the value-saver junk mail.

It's actually funny to imagine being ranked fairly among 60,000 people across different states, regions, etc. Can you imagine the BCS ranking 60k football teams? Take heart Boise State, I bet I am currently ranked 60,001 of 60,001. Helloooooooo up there!

The evening before amounted to preparing for the race: a once-over on Old Yeller, tweeting friends for a spare 9 speed wheel set to go in the wheel-truck (fail), packing and watching Conan on the Tonight Show, then the Family Guy, then Sienfeld. As I put my head on my two snow white pillows, I drifted off to sleep strategically planning how I would win the race the following morning. I was out in about 15 seconds.

The thunder and lightening served as an alarm clock at 5:30 AM. It was raining buckets as I loaded the car with Old Yeller and cycling gear for the short drive over to carpool with fellow cyclist Mike Miles (cat4). With the gloomy weather conditions, it was going to be an interesting day for a first road race among cat 5'rs.

On the way out, I asked Mike about cat5 racing strategy. He said that the best way to win the race was to sit in the pack about four deep from the front, so as to be ahead of the squirrels and to be ready to mark a potential threat that attacks from the group. That's the exact same advice that Shim (cat3) offered during a recent UP lunch ride. Both said that there would always be some yahoo who thought he was the stronger than the pack and would would launch several attacks before being swallowed back up by the group. Most cat5 races, they contended, ended in a sprint finish from the pack.

But when I got to the race, Chris Spence (cat3), gave me the green light to attack right from the beginning and TT all 32 miles to victory. Bryan Redemske (cat3) affirmed this vote of confidence.

Ultimately, I decided to sit in with the group and reassess at the halfway point of the single loop 32 mi course.

There were about 25 cat5 racers at the starting line. It was 48 F degrees and raining. I was shivering. It felt like November. I would've been at home if I hadn't become the 60,001 amateur cyclist the night before. But I was a committed foot-solder now.

There was a neutral rolling start for about a mile before the race officially started. From there, I sat in for about twenty minutes before losing patience. We were going about 16 mph on a false-flat with a slight crosswind. At this rate, it'd be two hours before we'd cross the finish line. I was getting antsy and decided that it was time to become that yahoo that Miles and Shim had forewarned about. Plan shifted here from assess to attack.

At the next hill, I dropped the hammer on the group and opened up a huge gap. Like outta sight, man. I continued pounding on the rolling hills through the next five miles of the road.

But after being away for about 15 minutes, I could see that the pack was closing in on me. With 16 miles to go, I sat up and let the pack catch me.

My efforts shed the group to 12 riders. A few in the pack were complimentary on the attack and my ability to stay away for as long as I did. Somebody suggested that I should add insult to injury by putting Huffy stickers on my plain powder-coated yellow frame. Huffy? No, I prefer to let people think that I stole the bike from Portland.

So I sat in with the group on my stolen bicycle with no name and let things get really comfortable. My heart rate plummeted to about 120 as we tried to organize a pace line. There was lots of talking. It was not unlike being on an easy peddling Shommer Shabbos+1 ride after a hard workout the previous day. If a Crane's Coffee shop was in sight, I do believe the group would have temporarily abandoned (possibly quit) the race for some 'joe.

Ultimately, I started getting cold again and prepared to yodel on the way to the top of the next climb.

When the time arrived, a Clydesdale in front and two flankers must have guessed my strategy as they boxed me in. I'd feign right: blocked; then left: the same. The big gun in front of me was practically standing while grinding out a measly 10 mph up the hill. With no other option but to go backwards, I slowed to 8mph to let them pass and then wiggled through for my escape.

This time somebody latched onto my wheel. This was a good because the two of us could work together to stay away. But after two pulls, my fellow protagonist fell off.

From there, I gave it my best time trial, but the pack closed once more about two miles from the finish. I sat up and positioned myself third in the group the pending sprint to the finish.

With 1K left to go, someone I never saw in the previous 31 miles came charging out of the pack and was pulling the Clydesdale with him. Oh, the irony. I jumped on their wheels. And then, another attacker came from the left. That's when my left calf muscle cramped. Game over. I coasted into fourth place.

The Clydesdale won.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

While there are lots of skills required to win a road race -- sprinting speed, strength, bike handling, strategy -- I've learned that the most important skill in a cat5 race is practicing patience.

For example, it took a tremendous amount of patience to pin the bib on the back of my kit even before the race started. I spent about ten minutes doing that while pre-race jitters would have had me pee. It was agony. The actual cat5 race itself requires being prudent until you can see the whites of the officials' eyes. That's the demarcation between where the 31.8 mile neutral roll out ends and a cat5 race really begins.

In the end, it really doesn't matter if you're out of shape or as strong as an ox. I'd be willing to bet that you could even polish off a six pack of Schlitz the night before and roll up to the starting line with confidence knowing that despite your troubles to pin your bib to the jersey, you still have nearly 32 miles before you're required to get bright.

Tons of fun. Glad I did it. Congratulations to the victors and to all who competed.