Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Very Murphy Christmas

I am the fourth of five children. Our family was considered big back then. It certainly would be considered so now.

Christmas was such a fun time when I was a kid. We always had a real tree with a model train circling it. The tree was trimmed with all kinds of kitchy ornaments, lights and popcorn strings, and finished off with tinsel. Oh, how the tinsel popped. Several years also featured the "special" blinker bulb that added that touch of pizazz that only a multi-colored strand of bulbs blinking on and off could bring.

I've come to realize that the best part of Christmas is sharing in each other's company. There's nothing inside a gift-wrapped box that can capture the joy of simply being with loved ones.

Free hugs to loved ones. Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading

Friday, December 19, 2014

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

I've got this locker at work, in Union Pacific's fitness center. Because of demand and slow turnover, it took about four years of sitting on a waiting list to get this locker assigned to me. I've had it now for ten years. Like I said, slow turnover. Anyway, it's small, one of those half-sized jobbies, as opposed to one of the large, public daily-use lockers. I rent this one for $12 a quarter. It's a pittance to pay for a nice perk.


In fact, next to having the top notch, 24/7 fitness center that Union Pacific also provides gratis -- with (free) towel service to boot --  this tiny locker is one of the best perks around. It's well worth the hassle of writing that check every three months.


As you can see, I make use of all of the space allotted to me. It may not appear so, but I've made a number of mods to improve its efficiency. The deep drawer is for toiletries and such, and a three-tiered shelf for smaller items in the back. I have also installed three hooks: two for clothing and one specifically measured for my bicycle helmet's straps. The helmet itself becomes a hanging basket for other smaller items, like hats, glove, pumps, tubes, etc...

In the summer, things stay nice and tidy in that space. But come winter, like in the picture above, it's a chaotic mess. This is mostly due to clothing redundancies for key pieces of cycling gear required for winter rides.

Like shoes. There's road, cyclocross, running and dress shoes that are all vying for space.


Exhibit A: the shoes in my locker on this past Monday

* Two pairs of standard road shoes (+ winter shoe covers)
* One pair of standard mountain bike shoes
* One pair of winter (mtn) boots
* Two pairs of running shoes
* One pair of dress shoes
That's seven pairs of shoes. Seven! Can somebody give a shoutout to Imelda Marcos? Okay, some of that maybe overkill. Like, I probably don't need two pairs of road shoes. The same goes for running shoes.

Regardless, besides the shoes, my locker has all the normal gym stuff: toiletry kit, a towel, a pair of running shorts, a tech shirt, two or three pairs of socks.

In addition to the above, it also has a summer cycling jersey and bib-shorts for indoor spinning, or to use as a winter base layer.

And then there's all kinds of extra winter riding gear: a long sleeve base layer, a long sleeve thermal jersey, thermal shoe covers, arm and leg warmers, gloves and hats.

Finally, there are some bicycle repair stuff in there as well: a foldable road tire, an extra inner-tube, chain lube, some tools, even a brake cable. I'm not even sure what I was thinking that I may need to repair a brake cable, but it's in there in case I do.

As you can see, the locker is well-used.

I think you can readily agree with me that this is a perk that I get a lot of use out of.

Well, that's all I've got today. Happy Friday and thanks for reading.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Soft Pedaling 1.5x4x180

Ah, the cyclocross season is over. It couldn't have ended for me any time sooner either. I'm afraid that if it went any longer, you just might have lost me for good, for I was beginning to go a tad bonkers.

Sitting in the Trek Bicycle Stores sprinter van after the Iowa State championships last weekend gave me some time to reflect about this past cyclocross season.

I learned a lot, like how to train and race better, and being better prepared by having more equipment choices. I learned some strategy, like not simply drilling it until I blew up.

I also experienced some firsts, like attending a pro-led cyclocross clinic, cracking into the Top-5 at a big race (Jingle Cross), and reaching the podiums of both the Nebraska and Iowa's Open 1-2-3 races.

Iowa State Championship podium. photo: Brittany McConnell
Nice Photo-bomb, Kent McNeil. Ha! What a lurker.

Anyway I can look back at this season and say that I reached heights that I had never attained before. But as you can see, it wasn't high enough that I couldn't resist the urge to still stand on my tippy-toes when I got there.

This is the real reason why my Mom thinks I'm nice and tall
Regardless, I leave this season with a sense of satisfaction, yet hungry for more. This is good. I am eager and already excited for next year.

But first, I'll be soft-pedaling 1.5 hours by four days a week for the next six months (180 days).

Happy Friday and thanks for reading.

Lucky #ƐƖ at Oakley Night Cap, Des Moines
Gateway Cross Cup, St Louis
Spooky Cross, Des Moines

Start of Jingle Cross Day 2, Iowa City

Nebraska State CX Championships, Lincoln   photo credit: Matt Steele
The Trek Bicycle Stores Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, 



Friday, December 5, 2014

I'd Rather Be Good than Lucky

Cyclocross has a little bit of everything in it, including the element of chance/luck. These past few races I haven't been so lucky. Or as Ray Charles might have said, "if it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all."

For instance, in my Saturday Jingle Cross race, I dropped my chain in a crash. The crash itself was a bit of bad luck in itself. Dropping the chain made it worse. But where I was really unlucky was how the chain dropped to the inside, becoming wedged in between my crank and frame. That cost about 45 seconds and several places before was back on the attack. Then on the first lap of Sunday's race, somebody dumped it right in front of me, forcing me to dismount and run through an icy/muddy bog, This resulted in frozen debris solidly jammed into my right cleat.


There was no amount of smacking the pedal that would dislodge the sediment. As a result, I couldn't clip-in for the rest of the race. Fast forward to the next week at the Omaha Weekend, when I flatted after clipping a course marker with two laps to go. And at Frosty Cross this past weekend, a section of course tape snapped in heavy wind and blew right into my drive train as I rode by. If I had been a fraction of a second before or after, it's unlikely I would have had an issue. As it was, I lost precious time getting off my bike to unspool the tape from my cassette.

Granted, I did a lot of this to myself by taking higher risks than necessary, like hanging fat turns that put me closer to tape/marker stakes where calamity could happen (and did). There's a fine line between risk and reward. I'm at that phase where I'm still figuring out where that line is.

On the road back home from Frosty Cross this past weekend, Mark, Lucas and I were talking about our training plans. Lucas said, "in cyclocross, you get out of it what you put into it." Those words are simple, but so very true. Cyclocross demands focused work, in both being able to repeatedly drill it on the rivet, and in being able to handle a bike in the corners. If you neglect cornering skills, then you won't have a chance to recover. If you neglect power, then you won't be able to hang with the big dogs on the straights. You simply need both.

Cyclocross isn't meant to be easy or lucky. It's difficult. Those who prevail do so by putting in. In the end, you get out of it what you put into it.

That's why I'd rather be good than lucky.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday

Snychronized Dismounts at Frosty Cross. Photo courtesy of Ian Richards

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanks

It's black Friday morning and I am thankful for NOT being in retail

... or that I even live within three miles of a Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc...

... or that I have a spouse who wants to go out today

... or that I have to sit in traffic,  or wait in lines, or sleep outside for door busters.

... (sigh)

I could go on and on about what I'm thankful for not having to deal with this Thanksgiving holiday, but who really cares?

If you care, I am thankful that I can sit in my underwear and mop-head hair while blogging with a cup of hot coffee at my side.

I am thankful for my spouse, my family and friends. And pets. Let's not forget them. For a good job, a nice house, and plenty of food.

And cyclocross. That's important too. Speaking of which, I have the Frosty Cross races to get ready for.

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Cheers




Friday, November 21, 2014

Mud Tires Work Best When Mounted

This past weekend's Jinglecross Sunday race featured a muddy course from the 2-4 inches of fresh snow that fell Saturday evening.

When I drew the curtain back on Sunday morning, I smiled over the winter landscape and smugly thought, 'Fear not, I am prepared, for I have a brand-new Clement PDX mud tire waiting just for this occasion.' And then a moment later, I remembered that the tire was sitting on my work bench back home, some 200 miles away. Crap!

Apparently, mud tires work best when they're mounted on the wheels of the bike you intend to ride in the mud.

Executing the plan is one of the intricacies of cyclocross. Often, the difference between a good result and a mediocre one is in the fine details of preparation. Like, remembering to bring mud tires for a wet sloppy mess.

For those who've raced cyclocross for a few seasons (like me), dialling in the equipment to the condition is a trial by error method. It typically takes me a handful of times before I get it right, if ever.

Behold, Barry's proven five-step method to dialling-in cyclocross equipment:
1) FAILURE from first time experience without upgraded equipment
2) FAILURE from stubbornly refusing to purchasing upgrade
3) FAILURE from purchasing the upgrade, but forgetting to bring it
4) FAILURE from racing the upgrade improperly (lack of experience)
5) GOTO STEP 3

Success may eventually come, but don't count on it. Suck it up and deal with it. It's called cyclocross.

I'm serious. I've been going through these five steps with mud-spikes for my shoes. The same can be said about having the proper gloves for the occasion. Or how about eye-protection: like having a set of clear lens for dusty night racing? Or heck, how many times have I missed a call-up due to failing to pre-register, or missing the pre-registration deadline by two minutes, or missing the call-ups because the starting chute was not where I thought it was? Oh, and let's not forget this dandy: dropping a swim cap in the transition zone of a triath -- vrrrrrrrp -- wait, what? My apologies, we will not have any triathlon discussions here.

Anyway, experience is everything, and failure is the best teacher.

This weekend's thaw and potential rain/snow mix could make for muddy courses at the Nebraska State cyclocross championships. Hopefully, I can be a step 4 failure this time around.

One day, I just might get it right. Then again, I probably won't. Man, I love this sport.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Muddy Conditions at day three Jinglecross 2014, photo credits:McColgan Photography


Friday, November 14, 2014

A Little Savery

Oh golly. I'm nuts. Absolutely nuts. I cannot recall the last time that I have been so singularly focused on one race, that being this weekend's set of three races at Jinglecross in Iowa City.

When I say nuts, I'm afraid I mean it. It's on my mind a lot. Like incessantly. Good grief. I can't stop thinking of it.

The thing is, I love racing my bicycle. Especially off road, in the dirt and grime; in the elements of cold and wet and sloppy. And I'll have more than my fare share of that this weekend, especially the cold.

A few months ago, I posted something about being cyclocross 1.5x4x120. This was somewhat of a tongue in cheek deference to our local world champion Mark Savery, who claims that he is cyclocross twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Pshaw. Nobody -- well uh, maybe Mark -- can be that into this sport. That's why I made a more realistic claim that I would be spending 1.5 hours on my cx bike for four days a week for the next 120 days. Seemed reasonable at the time.

Now that I'm in the thick of the season -- with my "A" race upon me -- my mind is whirling with cx this, cx that. For this week, 1.5x4x120 is an understatement. It's more like 12x7x7: 12 hours a day, 7 days this week I've been at least thinking -- if not actively preparing -- for jingle cross.

As you can see, I've gone bonkers. I'm all in. Oh geez, I just realized that I am becoming a little Savery. Ha! What's equally alarming as it is funny is that I don't care.

But you may (care). I'll tell you what. Let's make a pact. If I don't snap out of this soon, then be my accountability partner and drag me out of these (still?) shallow waters before I get too deep. Otherwise, I may have to resort to stealing my dog's prozac supply.

Deal? Deal.

Now, as for the cold weather this weekend? I say bring it. Unh. Yeah baby. DO YOUR WORST MOTHER NATURE. Oh yeah, uhn, I'm ready!

Seriously, please wish me well. And by well, I mean my mental state :)

And as always, thanks for reading.

Happy Friday.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I Use My Shins for Brakes

At the end of a recent cyclocross race, somebody asked me, "what happened to your shin?"  

Standing there in my race kit, with my cross bike straddled between my legs, I looked down at the crimson and dirt-encrusted road rash that overtook a large part of my left shin. I was as surprised to see it as she was. But then I recalled choosing a bad line through a tricky, off-camber turn, and eating shit in a cloud of dust about a half an hour earlier. 

"I used it as a brake," I finally said.

Of course, my bike's cantilever brakes were a better option, it just that they weren't available at the moment. As I was crashing, that was.

Traditional cantilever brakes have been around for ages. They have wonderful stopping action and excellent mud-clearance, which are both especially important in cyclocross. The biggest criticism they draw is in setting them up. They're finicky. Get it off a hair and the brake chatter can sound like Godzilla when he's pissed. However, having upgraded to Avid Ultimate Shorty brakes this season, most of that maintenance headache is a thing of the past due to their elegant design.

Even better than cantilever brakes (or shins for that matter) are disk brakes. They have improved stopping action, and with the disk mount near the hub, aren't affected by mud. The problem is cash. Like lots of it. It's not that the initial setup costs any more than a traditional bike, it's that you have to replace all of your existing rim-brake wheelsets because they're not compatible with disks. The thought of purchasing a new bike(s) and multiple wheelsets makes me want to take a nap.

But they say that disks is where the industry is heading. It just may take a while.

At anyrate, it doesn't matter much to me. My cantilever brakes work just fine. And when they're momentarily unavailable, my shins do quite a job at stopping me, too.

Disk brakes aren't going to change that anytime soon.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, October 31, 2014

What Makes for Good Cyclocross Races

In my somewhat limited cyclocross experience, what makes for a good venue includes the following:
1) The level of competition
2) Challenging race course, following UCI/USAC standards
3) The intangibles

The level of competition is important if you race seriously, because individual results are weighted according to how strong the field is. This ultimately determines one's handicap, which is important for races that follow call-up procedures based on points. Therefore, although standing on the podium is exhilarating, a lower result in stronger field can end up being better in the long run. This is true even in local races. For example at last year's Omaha CX weekend, I was second on day one and fifth on day two. However, due to a stronger field that showed up on day two, fifth place on the second day was weighted heavier, resulting in similar handicap points.


In other words, if you can choose between two races (Category/Masters), pick your races wisely. If your goals are short term, then going for cash isn't a bad option. Otherwise, a better starting position in a future race would dictate picking the harder race, even if it means a much lower place.

Part of what draws good competition are a challenging course and the intangibles.

As for the course, it must follow USAC or UCI standards. The standards are not only published in the rule book for consistency among race venues, but they are there for safety purposes. For example, courses should be 3 meters wide throughout the entire course. Another one: courses may also include a single section of temporary, artificial wooden barriers up to 40cm tall, between four and six meters apart. I have pointed out and asked officials to remove a third barrier before. It may sound appear elitist to do so, but I'm sorry, that's bush league, and it seriously undermines the validity of the race venue.

The intangibles of a race venue will also attract/repel competition. Location (big city/rural) is unfortunately part of the deal; small venues have it harder this way. But smaller venues can do a lot to ensure they're race gets put on the calendar year upon year. Cash prizes are always nice, as are deep field (10+) payouts.

What else? Swag, food, refreshments, live music. Clean, plentiful toilets. These are all standard fare at good races.

What else can a promoter do? Offer a pro clinic to all participants. This is what I experienced at the Gateway Cross Cup in St Louis last weekend, where Ben Berden and Nicole Duke put on a top notch race clinic for anyone interested. I picked up several tips at this clinic, including better turning techniques. In fact, applying what I learned the day before allowed me to pass six in a single turn on the first lap. The clinic was worth the trip in itself. And it was the best value (free!) of all.

Good competition follows great venues and intangibles. Last weekend's Gateway Cross Cup has all of that. It's why it's been on my calendar for the past two years, and will continue to be so.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gateway Cross Cup

I'm heading to St. Louis for the Gateway Cup Cross this weekend. This is the second year that I'm doing this race. Nearly eight hours of travelling makes for a long weekend. But it's worth it. Since the Gateway Cross Cup is also a UCI race, it draws good competition. St Louis is also where I grew up. While we're out there, we'll be catching up with my sister, who still lives there, and my best friend from kindergarten, Steve Missey.

Last year, I did the Masters 40+ race both days. This year, I'll be racing the Open races. I pre-registered for the Open races because I thought it'd be the most competitive. However, when I checked this morning, you could argue that the Masters race was the better choice due to the racers entered. Old guys can be fast. But while the Masters top end talent is better, the Open field has a deeper pool of second tier talent. In either case, there will be good racing, and I'll have work to do if I want good results.

While there, I'll also be attending the Pro clinic, hosted by Ben Bergden (USAC Rank: 5) and Nicole Duke (USAC:16). To do this clinic means taking a day off from work and departing Omaha at 5:00 AM this morning. Still, I couldn't pass up free instructions from the Pros. I mean, I get a lot of that already training with our own pro/Masters World Champion, but it's nice to hear it from others too. Especially when the race promoter and pros go through the effort to put this together. And it's free! You can never get enough knowledge in this sport.

Ah, my time is short. Let's recap: Great racing, and a Pro Clinic. A family visit. Road trip. It's on.

Now, to hit the publish button, grab my coffee, and point the car due east.

Happy Friday everyone.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spin Monkey Spin

My workouts over the past couple weeks have called for cadence drills. Basically, it amounts to a set or two of  five 5-minute intervals at higher than normal cadence. The goal each time is to spin at a high (115+ rpm cadence) as smoothly as possible. This means riding without any bouncing in the saddle. The theory is that a smooth cycle stroke results in a more efficient power transfer.

Until last week, I had done very little cadence work. Ever. This is mostly because I didn't fully grasp the value of it. And I suppose I was lazy.

It's amazing what a small investment in time can do to begin smoothing out a pedal stroke. On my first five minute interval, my form began breaking down at 105 rpm. The second interval jumped up to 115 rpm average. The third: 120 rpm. Fourth at 125 and fifth at 127. That was last week. This week, my first five minute effort started at 125 rpm. That's a 19% improvement from last week's starting point. Also, my best five minute average was 135 rpm, but there was a solid minute in there at 145+ and a max cadence of 151 rpm.

My breakthrough came in discovering the role core strength plays. Actively keeping the trunk firm helped provide a more stable platform for my legs to spin freely.

What was also interesting was how the bike felt immediately upon completing the cadence portion of the workouts. There was a new "understanding" that my legs had for the drive train. It was akin to a special connectedness that felt more familiar, like how a well-fitting glove is supposed to feel on the hand.

These first two session have been a successful experiment. It has been solely to see how fast I could spin with very little resistance on the crank. Next week, I intend to start adding more resistance to see what I can hold at a certain power. The goal then will be to identify my sweet spot where I'll produce the best power at the greatest efficiency.

Certainly one can do cadence drills without a cadence meter. But it sure helps to see the raw data. If you're considering a power meter, add this to the justification list. Otherwise, a cadence meter can still be had for cheap.

And that's all for today. Go out and have a spin. Happy Friday

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Fistful of Quarters, Part II

"You wash dishes?" said a harsh voice that sounded like it was gargling gravel.

I looked up from my magazine and saw an African American male sitting opposite from me on the #4 bus heading downtown. He was around 60 years old, wearing neatly pressed Khakis, a maroon pullover and canvas court shoes. His white-stubble beard betrayed two, maybe three days of growth. Meanwhile, his gentle brown eyes peered at me from behind a pair of protective work glasses.

"Excuse me?" I said.

"You wash dishes?" he repeated. "I notices [sic] your white pants there and wondered if you a dishwasher."

"No sir, I work in an office setting."

"My name is Jerry," he says while leaning towards me, hand extended.

I reach for his hand. He slips me a fish, but I don't mind so much.

"Hi Jerry. My name is Brady. Do you wash dishes?"

"Nah, I work at Lozier in hardware. But I used to wash dishes at Methodist. I wore white pants like those you wearing now."

"Ah, I see."

"Say, you got an dollar you could len' me?" he says without missing a beat.

"Sorry Jerry. I don't have any cash in my wallet" It was the truth. Except for a check to be deposited and a few old receipts, the fold in my wallet was practically empty.

"Okay." he says. A random smile envelops his face as he leans back into his seat. He raises a hand to scratch his stubble thoughtfully.

"They called me into work today." he eventually says. "Tomorrow too. Never know when I'm gonna work more than a couple days out. I'm in hardware, but I used to wash dishes at the hospital."

I nodded in silence. Jerry gazed through the window, appearing to look at nothing in particular. There wasn't much to see anyway. It was Omaha, after all.

We sat quietly as the bus rumbled down Northwest Radial, giving me some time to think about the ethics of altruism. Normally, I refrain from giving money to strangers, because I profile and suspect that it goes towards an addiction. I'd much prefer to offer buying a sandwich if they're hungry. Hunger is hunger, regardless of a substance dependency.

Still, there are times where I fell pity for the addicted. This is where I get in trouble. Half of me wants to not contribute to their vice, the other half wants to give them a momentary break from suffering, regardless of the long term affects. I also find this to be interesting; that it also takes willpower to not "help" someone in this state, just like it takes willpower to overcome a substance dependency (albeit a lot more).

At any rate, Jerry did not appear to be troubled by addictions. His profile indicated to me that he was a productive member of society. He was on an early bus and going to work. He was clean and neat. His eyes were alert. What he needed the $1 for could be anything: the commute home, food. I suppose it could be for cigarettes or alcohol, or illicit drugs, too. It just didn't seem like it.

As Jerry pulled the stop cord on the bus, I recalled that I had several quarters in my messenger bag's coin pocket. I reached in the fold and grabbed a fistful of loose change. There were several quarters in there.

"Is this your stop, Jerry?"

"Yeah. Gotta catch the #18 transfer," he rasped.

"Have a good day" I said, reaching out my hand.

He grasped my hand and felt the cool coins in my open clutch. His grip firmed up while his face transformed into another warm smile.

"Thank you, Brady. God bless you, and have a good day."

"See you around, Jerry"

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cyclocross HUD Warnings

"Your lines are driving me nuts," Shim said as he went around me during the first of five laps at the Oakley Night Cap Masters 45+ race this past Sunday morning.

I wasn't on my strong program that morning.

It wasn't that I didn't know it beforehand. During warmup, the Heads-Up Display (HUD) lit up with a pair of glowing amber warning lights:


It was true. The bad leg report was a direct result from the grueling Open Cat 1-2-3 race from the night before. At that race,  I took it out a wee bit on the spastic side (think Peter Boyd on crack) in order to hang with the alpha pack. Then, after say a quarter lap, reality set in. The next hour and nine minutes was a a wonderful experience of intermingled suffering and humiliation. Man, I can't get enough of this sport.

So anyway, that explained the CHECK LEGS warning on my HUD. The same can be said about the CHECK BALANCE alert. I was cornering for crap at the start of the race. That was mostly due to lingering doubt from a couple sloppy, fatigue-induced wipeouts from the night before. With my confidence still reeling Sunday morning, I felt slightly off-kilter on the bike and took to cornering cautiously. As a result, my turns were slow and with bad lines. This opened up gaps between me and the dude ahead of me, requiring some effort to catch back on. This was so evident that my good buddy and teammate, Shim, couldn't keep his cake hole shut about my crappy turning skills. After he mentioned it for the third or fourth time, I finally just gave in and let him go by.

I followed his wheel from there. Because he rides good lines, my cornering improved rapidly. The CHECK BALANCE light turned off shortly after. And though we had lost contact with the leader of the race, we had a nice gap between us and fourth place. Rather than try to catch back on, we rode a smart tempo around threshold for the remainder of the race. My legs were still fatigued. The wet course and heat didn't make it any easier. As a result, the CHECK LEGS* alert remained lit throughout the remainder of the race. Still, Sunday's race was more enjoyable than the night before. Finishing on the podium helped.

*CHECK LEGS finally cycled itself off during Monday afternoon's taco recovery spin.



Well that's all for today.  Thanks for reading and Happy Friday. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Donkey Kong and a Fistful of Bicentennial Quarters

It was the summer of '82 when I became somewhat of a subject matter expert of the arcade video game called Donkey Kong. It wasn't easy, because there wasn't a bonafide version of the arcade game within striking distance of my yellow Schwinn Stingray Jr. The closest Donkey Kong was at a pizza restaurant some six miles away. Getting there involved crossing a major inner state freeway and traveling hilly roads with no shoulder. I could only hope and pray that one of my classmates was going to have a birthday party or sleepover or something at that pizza place so I could get my chance to square off with Kong.

Yet while Donkey Kong was miles away, there was a decent knock-off version called "Crazy Kong" nearby. Crazy Kong, or "Monkey Donkey" as it was sometimes referred, was discovered by my older brother Matt at a cut-rate gas station called "Fas-Gas" about a mile from our house. After he told me about it, you could spot my yellow bike leaned up against gas station's pane glass many afternoons while I honed my skills on Crazy Kong. Sure, it wasn't the real thing, but it was close enough. And I became good at it a dollar a time. Sometimes, when I was broke, I just watched others play.

Inevitably, the day arrived when a friend invited me for a sleep-over, and we were going to the pizza place that had DK. I was finally going to get my chance.

Now, I have a confession to make. This admission of my guilt is directed to my dear ol' Dad. The rest of you can be my witness. Public confessions are always the best way to handle such things. Just get the mess all out there in public and everything. It's yucky, but sometimes it needs to be done. Anyway, here's what happened.

Before I left the home that day, I raided my Dad's top dresser drawer -- the underwear one -- where a small (single) goldfish bowl had been re-purposed for use as a cache of quarters. Now, they were not just any old quarters. They were commemorative 1776-1976 Bicentennial quarters.

Granted, they were in circulation (not mint), but still. He was collecting them because they were special one-off versions of quarters long before the US Mint had the notion of creating one for each of the 50 States. Back then, and for as long as anyone could remember, there were just two valid quarter dollars: the standard, and the Bicentennial quarter. The former were meant to purchase a postage stamp, the latter, apparently to hoard and treasure.

The fishbowl was Dad's temporary holding queue until he had the time to roll and deposit into the safe in the basement. At any rate, my Dad had a trove of them.

That night, before heading out the door, I purposefully went into the master bedroom and stuffed fistfuls of those Bicentennials into my pants pockets. It felt dirty, but 'Kong was waiting.

And with that, it was on like Donkey Kong.

It took about 40 of Dad's Bicentennial quarters before I blew up the machine's high score that night. There must have been ten kids watching me as I made a mockery of Kong, cycling through his world seven times while he stomped and made futile attempts at tossing barrels at my tiny, pixelated-head. When I finally stepped away, my initials, BCM, were above all the rest. I was the top dog, the #1 Donkey Kong killer at that place: 89,000+ points of pure mastery--

Oops, I got a little carried away there. I believe that I was in the middle of an unfinished confession.

Dad, I regret all of these years having passed and I have hidden this from you. Please know that this was the only time I can recollect taking anything from you. Not that it makes it right. Once is bad enough in itself. It felt as dirty then as it does now. I mean, except for the glory of destroying Donkey Kong for an hour or so. But, uh, other than that hour of joy, it was all wrong. All of it.

So here goes: Dad, I own you an amends.

I was wrong for stealing those Bicentennial quarters from you.

I am sorry.

Please forgive me.

Wow, I feel a lot better now, like having a load of bricks lifted from my chest. Indeed. For the first time in three decades, I think I should sleep peacefully tonight.

Well that brings us to the end of another post. Thanks for reading, especially you, Dad. :-)

Happy Friday everyone.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Omaha Corporate Cup 10k: The Party Is Over

I raced the Omaha Corporate Cup 10k again this past Sunday. After thinking about it for a week, I'm afraid to report that when it comes to running in Omaha, the party is over. At least at this race.

I wish I didn't have to wax nostalgic, but running used to be sexy in Omaha. There used to be lots of races, real races, not those so-called color runs, or mud runs, or dressing up as gladiators, vikings or warriors and pretending to run. Those events may have their place; just don't call them "runs" or "races", because they are not those things. It's actually a disgrace to real running. Real running is where grit in the soul matters more than grit in your teeth from crawling through a sand pit. Ugh.

Anyway, where a runner's true grit used to matter most was on Omaha's largest running stage, The Omaha Corporate Cup 10K.

The Omaha Corporate Cup 10k used to be able to claim they were one of the premier 10K races in the country, let alone Omaha. It used to draw over 10,000 participants. It used to be televised locally in the running heydays of the '80s. But even as recently as three years ago, professionally sponsored runners, and several former UNL runners used to duke it out with local amateurs for cash and all the glory. It was quite a scene, and I can attest how electrifying it was to toe up to the starting line.

photo: omahacorporatecup.org
Unfortunately, those years are now long gone. The run has since moved from downtown. It now features a course filled with hills and off-camber turns. It doesn't flow well for a 10k course. As a result, attendance is dropping: only 2,630 finished this year's 10k. That's down from 3,116 in 2013 and 3,901 in 2012-- the last year the race was downtown. I could only find numbers going back to 1998, but the trend is telling:

10K finishers (data: athlinks.com)
Year 2003 was an aberration due to a heavy thunderstorm. The uptick years between 2008 and 2012 was a result of larger cash prizes for winners and/or breaking course records. Years 2013-2014 coincided with relocation/new course and the decision to drop the cash prizes.

The Omaha Corporate Cup used to be a fun race because it rewarded the runner with a 10k PR on the flattest 10k course most will ever run on. There was no better place to get a PR than the downtown course. The best runners regularly ran under 31 minutes (4:59/mi avg). It didn't matter if you were elite or not. If you wanted to know your fastest 10k, that's where you got it done.

Fastest Male/Female times (data: athlinks.com)
While the original downtown course was flat with one turn (a turnaround), the new Aksarben course is the exact opposite, featuring 19 turns greater than 90 degrees, and seven hills having a grade of at least 5%. As a result, the fastest male/female times are off by 90 seconds from the downtown course.

The Omaha Corporate Cup used to be a fun race because it awarded prizes. There used to be a cash purse: $500 for the male/female winners and $1000 for the course record. One year, they had a Fiat as a door prize.

Now, without cash prizes or 10k PRs, runners are deciding not to do this race anymore.

One thing for certain: it isn't due to a lack of running interest. There aren't any less recreational runners out there than there used to be. At least it doesn't appear to be so. But the trend for 10k races has been slowly declining for several years.  For some reason, either shorter distances (walks) or ultra-distances: half-marathons and above, are more popular. That, and the color/mud/warrior events.

The decline of the Omaha Corporate Cup 10k is a harbinger of bad things to come for the Omaha running community. Unless the race organizers redesign the course and infuse prize money back into the mix, this race will fade away from its once greatness.

I hate to wax nostalgic, but the Omaha Corporate Cup 10K used to really be something. Judging by this year's lackluster attendance and mood at the starting line, I'm afraid this party is over.

photo: omaha.com
Thanks for reading. Happy Friday

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.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Racing

I would like to ask you to consider why you like racing, either as a passive spectator (eg horse racing),or as an active participant racing in the field. 

For the spectators, would you continue to tune if you were prevented from knowing who won? Let's say you're watching the Kentucky Derby on your big screen at home. The horses are galloping around Churchill Downs, and suddenly --  inexplicably -- the network switches to the Blimp view several thousands of feet away for the final stretch call. Would you feel slighted? Would you tune in again if that's how it's always done?

I wouldn't.

For the active participants, would you train for several months (and pay good money) to enter a competition where nobody would be declared the winner at the finish line?

Again, I wouldn't.

The dictionary defines a race as a competition between runners, horses, vehicles, boats, etc.., to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.

We are fascinated by racing because we want to see who is the fastest in covering a set course.

If I'm in the race but am not capable of being the fastest on that particular day, then I'll strive for a PR, or being faster than someone else in my class/category. Either way, winning the race does matter.

Racing is an honorable pursuit. To be an active participant in the race is something special. To vie for the victory, all the more so.

So I say, hail to the victors, and let us fête our champions for their achievements.

Otherwise, what's the purpose of racing?

Please don't say it's to receive a participation medal.

YPG. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lost and Found

My phone buzzed with another unknown local caller. I momentarily panicked, wondering if it was election season again. It wasn't. I let the call go to voicemail. Would it be a wrong number? Or would it be some seedy phishing scam, like the guy last week who identified himself as "Luis from Sprint," and proceeded to offer me warranty insurance on phone model I don't own, from a carrier I don't use.

It turns out I was wrong. The caller identified himself simply as Joe, and he wanted to return the bidon containing a small bicycle repair kit that I had lost, and he had subsequently found, on the Keystone trail a few weeks ago. I was astonished. No political survey? No scam? Just somebody wanting to return something I had lost? I nearly dropped the phone.


It may not sound like much to lose, but that bidon contained an 80mm stem inner tube ($8), a c02 pump ($20), a 17 use multi-tool ($20), and a couple tyre [sic] levers ($2). That's $50 of booty that I had already painfully accepted as gone for good.

And now it was coming back to me.

Joe found it on the footbridge crossing the creek just north of Dodge Street near 24hr Fitness. Apparently, the bidon was on the on the edge of the bridge, dangerously close to falling into the creek below when he found it. Although he's a cyclist, he was unfamiliar with a bidon tool kit, and was hesitant to open it at first. He said that the strip of electrical tape I used to seal the lid caused him to wonder if it was some sort of bomb.

As he was telling me this, I could almost picture the hazmat firetruck detonating the bidon, along with the Keystone footbridge splintering into thousands of shards as collateral damage.

Awe man, that bidon had an $8 inner tube in it.
But a cooler head prevailed. When he uncapped it, he found a trove of goods that he could have easily claimed under the finder-keepers clause. But he also saw my name and phone number on the inside of the cap, which ultimately prompted him to call me.

As an aside, this wasn't the first time that I've unknowingly ejected a bidon from my cage, only to have a random act of kindness return it to me later. The last time this happened was this past winter, while doing some hot laps on my cyclocross bike at Tranquility. I'm not sure when or how it happened, but after the ride, I noticed that it was missing. I re-rode the course backwards until I found the bidon (white) wedged in a tree branch. It was brilliant putting the bidon in the tree; I probably would have never found it in the white snow.


Perhaps Joe is a mountain biker, too?

Anyway, I arranged to meet Joe this past Tuesday morning. At the exchange, I pulled a crisp $20 out of my wallet to thank him for returning the stuff, but he resolutely refused the reward. Instead, he settled for a handshake and some good old fashioned small talk about the local cycling and running communities.

Thanks, Joe. A simple act like this does a lot to restore some lost faith in humanity.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hot Wax and TT Bikes (This May/May Not Be What You Think)

My back isn't (wasn't) very hirsute. It's just that the hairs tend toward long and unsightly, especially when wet. Since I'm in the swimming pool year around, I decided to do something about it. So, I had it waxed. I did this for the sake of the others. That, and for when I flex and point in front of the mirror at home.

Anyway, I know that this material has been covered in movies/TV shows before, but still I would like to confirm to you that there is a price to pay for getting waxed. The price is pain, and the pain is for real. Now, the shoulders and upper back are not an issue. You can wax up there all day long, no problemo. But the patches above the kidneys? I just had a visceral reaction recalling it. And, how about the small of the back?

YPG.

With surprisingly little resistance from my wife, I found myself getting prepped for the "treatment" at the Dundee Waxing Room. Small talk accompanied shop owner Lindsey as she began applying a warm, soothing balm to open the pores on my back. The room had a pleasant floral fragrance. The talk, and warm soothing goodness put me at ease.

"So, do you have any vacation plans this summer?" Lindsey asks.

She applies another swath of warm balm over my lower back. It smells delightfully of orchids. I could fall asleep it's so nice.

"Well, my wife and I just returned from Colorado, but nothing else planned this summer."

"Colorado? What did you there?"

Reassuringly, she places the palm of her hand gently on my back. It was starting to feel like a Swedish Massage. I'm enjoying every part of this very much. So much that I was regretting that the treatment would soon follow. I guessed I had at least five more minutes before the real fun began.

"We visited family and went for a hike in the mounta --"

-- Riiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaappppppppppp!!!!!

A searing flash of pain instantly electrifies my spinal column, seizing several muscles en route to exploding in an array of complicated emotions in my brain.

"Did that sting a little?" Lindsey asks, mostly out of courtesy.

 "Yah!" was the best I could muster.

"I'm sorry, but I've found that the element of surprise works best for my clients. Believe me, I've tried doing the countdown. But each time, the client says that anticipating only makes it --

-- Riiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaappppppppppp!!!!!

"... worse."

"Well, perhaps for me you could give the countdown another --"

-- Riiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaappppppppppp!!!!!

" -- try."

And so on and so forth until the agony was over. I will tell you this: I didn't cry. Well not very much at least.

In hindsight, I will agree with Lindsey's professional assessment that the countdown would never work. What did work was changing my perspective. Instead of anticipating pain some of the time, I switched gears to expecting pain all of the time. That way, when I did get the hair yanked out of my back, it was kind of like a mini-vacation from the other pain.

I accomplished this feat by imagining racing my TT bike while Jordan and Spence were my +/- 30 second men. It was beautiful. I was suddenly in complete agony 100% of the time. That made all the difference.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaappppppppppp!!!!!

A big toothy grin transforms the agony to joy on my face. A moment later I'm back on my TT bike, HR red-lining, lactic acid boiling in my blood. My clenched teeth are being mashed to pulp. Fighting like hell to not let Spence catch me, sweat stinging my eyes as I'm pushing the big ring up a hill at over 500 watts ---

Riiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaappppppppppp!!!!!

A big toothy grin transforms the agony to joy on my face. A moment later I'm back on my TT bike, repeat etc...

--//--

I'm glad we covered this on my blog today. You're welcome.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fourth of July Weekend Festivities

I had a terrific childhood. I loved summers best of all. Especially the festivities of a Fourth of July at the swimming pool.

At around 2:00 PM, our swimming team coach, Jim Wheeler, would close the pool for a special events swimming meet. The swimming races involved completing one length of the pool using a modified stroke and a special skill, like swimming one-armed backstroke while reading a newspaper aloud. Not only did the participant have to be heard reading the paper, but the winner had to also correctly answer a quiz afterward to collect a prize. I believe that my buddy, Brian Denby, won that event one year. His fish-wrap, a local grocery store insert, was neatly folded over and dry when he completed the race. And when asked how much bananas were selling for a pound, he proudly stepped up to the microphone and said, "11 cents." He was correct. Smart kid. He took home a 200g Whammo Frisbee for his efforts. That disc was the real deal.

After the individual events were completed, a greased watermelon water polo game ensued in the deep end. It was done no holds barred, bloody American style. The game usually ended when one of the 15 year old boys (already growing a full beard) would gorilla press the watermelon over everyone and onto the deck, where it cracked open and spilled its red guts all over the place. The game was then declared over, and its remains were carved up with a long butcher's knife for all to enjoy.

Yeah, pretty good times.

Thanks for reading, and keep all your fingers (attached) this weekend. Happy Independence Day.

Greenbriar Hills 4th of July Special Meet
06 and Under: 1,000 Penny dive in the shallow end. Most pennies wins.
08 and UN: 25m breaststroke, ping-pong ball on spoon, clenched in mouth.
10 and UN: 25m breaststroke, blowing ping pong ball entire length
12 and UN: 25m one-armed backstroke while reading newspaper aloud. Paper must remain dry and the participant must pass a quiz afterward.
13 and Over:  25m three-legged, three armed boy-girl race.

Watermelon Polo
Deep end Greased Watermelon Water Polo for 12 and Under
Deep end Greased Watermelon Water Polo for 13 and Over

Bonus Events
75m Family side-stroke relay (3 lengths of pool)
Stevie Robbin's 1M Belly flop contest
Don Ussleman's 3M Gainer Challenge

Prizes:
Wiffle ball and bat combo
Fat bat and ball
Whamo Frisbees
Water rockets
nerf footballs, basketballs, soccer balls

Friday, June 27, 2014

Group Workouts

This past Tuesday afternoon's mile repeats at Elmwood Park was incredible. Well, I suppose as incredible as running can be.

Now hear me out (you running haters), I promise this will not only be short and sweet, but universally applicable to anyone reading this.

Have you ever had a chore that you hated doing? Or, how about a looming workout in which you lacked the necessary moxie to get it done? Well, that was the state of my mind entering this past Tuesday afternoon's running workout. Track practices are tough. The only thing I can compare it to is the intensity of a hard group ride.

Anyway, my attitude changed quickly after I arrived. There was something intangible in the air. The mood of the others who showed up -- 10 men and six women -- was electric and uplifting. Sincere words of encouragement, youthful enthusiasm, and abundant high fives got my legs turning over in short order. As a result, joy had replaced my dread before the first mile repeat was completed.

In short, it was fun. That's saying something, because running mile repeats in humid weather would otherwise suck.

The group that afternoon made all the difference.

I am fortunate. I have great people to run with, swim with, and yes, some of the best cycling buddies around. If I didn't, then I'd probably find another group to run around with.

Indeed, the group can make all the difference.

If this sounds appealing, but you don't have what I have, then I encourage you to not settle. Join a group, or if the one you're in is bad news, then find a better one. Training with negative people is a drain. You're probably better off by doing it yourself if that's all you've got.

The groups I train with not only hold me accountable to keep at it, but they have helped me achieve goals I probably wouldn't have attempted without their support. If I'm in one of your groups, thank you for this, and thanks for sharing in the good times along the way.

Here's to more.

Happy Friday.

--//--

Track workouts are a great way to become a more efficient runner. Interested in joining this group? It's free. Just show up and be prepared to throw down.

Team Nebraska Triathlon (Facebook link)
Tuesdays, 5:45 - 7:00PM

Norris Middle School
2235 South 46th Street
Omaha, NE 68106