Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gryos e Giro

I backpacked through Europe 20 yrs ago with my brother Matt. We traveled on a 30 day EuRail pass and a shoestring budget of $25 a day (btw 2 of us), visiting nine countries while sleeping on the train, boat, in youth hostels (Pensiones in Italy) and park benches when necessary. Good God, that was fun.

At the beginning of the trip, we looked like typical tourists: big backpacks, sneakers, tee shirts, jeans, cameras, and such. In the end, we still looked like tourists but smelled more like gypsies.

One thing I learned is that people hate gypsies. I received this free education while renting a room from the sweetest Italian woman in Florence (Firenze). She could have been Munson's Grandma. (I don't have any Italian friends, otherwise I would have used their name in place of Munson's, but you get the point.) In Florence, we had two wonderful days of absorbing the best of the Machiavellian culture: works of art from Michelangelo, da Vinci, etc..., and enjoying great wines, breads and cheeses of Italy. If there is such a place in this world where wholesome goodness abounds, it's got to be there in Florence. Anyway, this sweet Italian woman asks us where we were off to next. I say "Rome". Suddenly, her face became dour and her eyes went inky black. Darkness gathered behind her as she sternly commanded us in Italian/English, "when you see those a-goddama gypsies, you, you -- pfff what you a say?!? -- punch 'em right in the face-a, and a-smacka the shit out of them-a!!" My knees were knocking with terror. Then, a Mediterranean breeze carried opera music through sun-drenched flowerpots hanging in the porticoes just a short distance from where David proudly stands. Grandma Munson's gentile smile returned once again as she bid us a warm farewell. Ah, now that's Firenze!!

I was reminded of this over the past weekend while watching the live universalsports.com feed of this year's Giro d'Italia. While Cavendish was about to make a sprint to the stage victory in Florence, the British (not the American boobs) commentator smartly remarked, "as this stage comes to a close in this remarkable city, there are likely countless American tourists here that have no idea that this race is even going on."

That statement is 100% true. I traveled in Italy in the month of May 1990 and had no idea about this road race. Heck, even two years ago, I was clueless to the Giro. Fred told me about it while on our way to joining (and meeting for the first time) Mike Munson, Bryan Redemske and Jon Randell for a group ride in Ponca Hills. That particular day was also the first day of the 2007 Tour de France. I remember this because Fred was looking forward to finishing the ride so he could make a Dagwood Bumstead sandwich and plop down in time to watch the "prologue" on his (pre 52" plasma flat-screen) CRT television. Prologue? I was confused. What did Julius Caesar have to do with it? Then he mentioned something about the Giro that had completed a few weeks before. Giro? Wasn't that something I ate in Greece right before they smashed a clay plate over my head? As he was opening the door to a world I was completely ignorant of, I kept my mouth shut and silently nodded while trying to muster up something better than a glazed look over my face. I'm quite sure I looked stupid, but I realized at that moment that wearing spandex shorts and riding a road bike was only the initiation into something bigger.

Did you see any of this past weekend's race? Incredible! Seven hours in the saddle in temps in the 90s and still have enough for a sprint finish?!? I'm amazed at the strength of mind and body required to complete one day, much less 21 stages, over three weeks.

Geez, I'm hungry. I wish I had King Kong Gyros. I've got some Kosher Dill pickles in the fridge that have my name on it. That'll do for now.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Big Stick

When I was twelve, I enjoyed playing the game of golf. I was a short-game wiz. In fact, without being able to hit the driver (3 wood) more than 160 yards, I didn't even attempt to win the Low-Gross trophy in the junior league tournaments. Low-Net was occasionally within reach due to a high handicap. The real feather in my cap was in mastering how to win the tournament's Low-Putts trophy.

I was a realist who golfed to my strengths. Where others in my foursome would attempt to hit the green in two, I'd aim for the fringe in three or four. Yes, even five. That way, I could chip or putt the ball from the frog-hair as close to the cup as possible without having to actually count it as a putt. Then, nearly all of official my puts were "gimmies" (putter to grip length). Now that was strategy.

By the end of the round, you can imagine the carnage of pencil markings on my scorecard. Double, triple and quadruple bogeys were in abundance. Yet despite shooting well over 130, about 20 of those strokes were putts. I didn't care that my friends easily beat me. At the time, what mattered was that while they went home empty-handed, I won another Low-Putts paper-weight.

Ah, golf. So many games within the game itself.

After puberty, my long game improved significantly. That's when I realized that without having any money to actually bet on a round of golf, the saying, "drive for show, putt for dough" didn't make much sense. Hence, the "show" part became of greater importance.

To improve the long-ball, I took lessons and went to the range to work out the slice from the #1 big stick. I learned how to hit the three wood without a fade and spent hours on the two and three irons. To round it off, I even practiced the middle irons and spent some time maintaining in the sand and around the green. Near the end of that summer, the efforts were paying off: drives were straighter and longer; the medium and short games were solid. I had dropped 10 strokes off my handicap. Overall, it was all coming together.

Then Bertha came on the scene. Bertha was big. No, I'm not talking about my third grade school teacher who had enjoyed a few too many pastry strudels. What I'm talking about is Callaway's "Big Bertha".

Until that time, there were few gimmicks that lesser golfers took advantage of. Occasionally, you might catch somebody playing with a "Robinhood" ball with more dimples that'd make it fly farther. Outside of that, golf equipment was relatively equal. Bertha changed all of that.

For those unfamiliar, Big Bertha is golf's equivalent to the German heavy artillery gun bearing its name. Callaway marketing gurus developed this over-sized, extremely forgiving driver for people like me who suffered from #1 wood insecurities. It made tee-box monsters out of the most impotent of drivers.

My friend Jamie had one. He out-drove me by a jaw-dropping 30 yards the first time he was in my group. Even more, his classic hook was gone. In a short order, that club made believers out of skeptics and started appearing in other players' bags. My long game became non-existent once more.

As a result, I grew resentful of Big Bertha. You weren't going to see me with one of those wretched things. For one, I couldn't afford it on a $15/wk neighborhood lawn mowing business. But it was more than that. It was a matter of principle. I felt that if it was my lot in life was to suck at golf, so be it. Bertha wasn't going to sully my bag, baby.

My golf game quickly fell apart after Big Bertha's arrival. I'd shank the ball from the tee-box into the woods every time that chubber-clubber was within sight. Then, when some other kid mastered 18-putting his way to 140 and Low-Putts champ, I hung up the bag for good.

The fat lady had sung and it was over for golf and me.

Anyway, I thought of Big Bertha today after a recent UP Lunch Velo Club (UPLVC) ride. In the post locker room recap, Brant said that he'd be able to hang onto Shim's and my wheel if he replaced his compact crank with a carbon 53 tooth big ring/double.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Intervals with Team Nebraska Triathlon

Training for an upcoming sprint or an Olympic distance triathlon? Want a quick way to improve your next 5K or 10K race time? Gunning for a P.R? Or are you simply looking for a fun group to do some speed work with?

Interval workouts are a terrific way to increase your running efficiency. With better efficiency, you'll be able to carry a quicker pace longer, more comfortably.

In Omaha, one place to do this is with Team Nebraska Triathlon's (TNT). The TNT group meets May - October Tuesdays at 5:45 PM at UNO's Caniglia Field. The practice is organized by TNT's Gerald Kubiak. All are welcome.

Each week's workout consists of a light two mile warm up, foot drills, a main set of three miles of intense speed with active recovery (light jogging) and a group cool down. In all, a total of about 8 miles.

Warm Up
2 miles easy
Foot drills

Main (Fast group goal: 80 sec per 400m)
1st Tues: 12 x 400m w/200m recovery
2nd Tues: 6 x 800m w/400m recovery
3rd Tues: 4 x 1200m w/600m recovery
4th Tues: 3 x 1600m w/800m recovery

Cool down
1-2 miles easy

So here's your invitation: come out and join the group.

See you at the track on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Esprit de Corps

I bought my first bicycle as an adult a couple summers ago from the High Gear bicycle shop in La Vista. At that time, I joined the Midwest Cycling Community (MCC) and received an extra 15% of the bike's purchase price toward accessories. The membership also came with a complete cycling kit as well as a coupon book for accessories, clothing and maintenance packages. It truly was a great deal. Win-Win.

That was two years ago. Since then, I've entered a few triathlons, but haven't had the opportunity to train with MCC's club rides, much less any group on a regular basis.

This spring, however, I've been a regular at the Trek Store's Wednesday Night club ride. I wear the Midwest Cycling Community gear because the Trek store is the club's sponsor and organizer of the ride. It's also a good looking kit.

I give credit to the MCC for their attempt to be an inclusive club. It's even stated as their motto. And as such, the club ride is open to just about anyone who'd like to join in. So on any given Wednesday night, there are people who wear other team's colors, as well as other store jerseys, professional team jersey replicas and the like.

For example, last night's ride had 22 cyclists. Of that, maybe half were wearing the MCC kit. Of the rest, there was a smattering of jerseys: a few from Omaha Velo club's donning orange and blue tiger stripes, a Bike Masters forest green jersey or two, a blue and lime green Team Liquigas jersey, other random bike shops, a Nigel Tufnel skeleton Jersey (Lucas) and what appeared to be a gray merino wool polo shirt worn by Eric Brunt.

You see? All are welcome in such an inclusive cycling community.

But being too inclusive can have its draw backs. It can muddy the waters about who's really on your team and who's just part of the overall community. But since the team is also part of the overall community, it can become some sort of recursive, inbred mess.

Let's back up a step. First, I didn't even know that I was on the team until Shim recently informed me of my status. Was it when I bought the kit? Or did I become a team member when I wore the jersey the first time? I dunno, but I half expected that at some point to be trotted out in the alley behind the store to be picked for a local team grade-school style. But apparently all it took was buying a cycling kit to distinguish myself apart from the community as a member of the team.

That brings me to my next point: who are my teammates?!?

The kits are a good start. But what happens when a dude shows up wearing the red and black MCC jersey AND clashing orange 'n blue tiger stripe bibs from Omaha Velo team's kit? <== that really happened. Am I to embrace him as my teammate? And if so, am I to embrace his upper half while Omaha Velo takes the lower extremities? And what about the Skeletor and Mr EB Woolie Polo? Do they have MCC kits hanging in their closets too? Or, is there an unknown secret handshake/grip and Greek phrase to be muttered before races that I've yet to learn about? These are things that are still left to learn about my team, my teammates.

Don't get me wrong, I like all of the wholesome goodness that inclusiveness brings, but please help me identify where the line is drawn, 'cause I've been thinking about racing soon and I wanna know who's with me.

Go Team.