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

Friday, June 20, 2014

KOMs Gone Bad, Addendum

We all love to capture a Strava King of the Mountain segment. They're fun, and they say something about our fitness level. But that should be the end of it.

Risking limbs, or worse, should never be a part of the KOM discussion.

My last two posts (My First KOM, Earned the Hard Way, Gibson's Attempt at Danger Pass) have hopefully illustrated the futility of getting KOMs. If not, then read this account of a friend of mine who went down hard trying to take a dangerous KOM.

Edit (thanks Fred): Firstly, KOMs don't belong on public use bike/run trails. Ever.

It should go like this: if one gets injured while attempting to capture any KOM, then the KOM should be flagged as dangerous and removed from Strava. End of story.

That's hopefully the last I have to say about KOMs-Gone-Bad.

Oh and by the way, KOMs are really worth nothing.

There, I said it.


Gibson's KOM Attempt on Danger Pass

As kids, we used to cruise the golf course on our bikes on Mondays when the course was closed for maintenance. The golf cart paths were perfect for this. Without any golfers around, it was our own private circuit, and a long one at that.

Hole #16 (par 3, 172 yards, blue tees) was one of our favorites. Starting from the #17 tee box, it descended with a sweeping turn that flanked a densely wooded embankment hiding a rocky creek some eight feet below. Normally, this hill wasn't a hazard for golf carts because they typically went uphill to advance to the next hole. Nevertheless, the golf course engineers mitigated the risk by building a railroad-tie curb and a three foot high, braided-steel cable fence to catch any troubled carts from going off the path and into the creek below.

But riding the four-foot wide path downhill, with all those hazards, on bike with only a coaster brake, was exhilarating as it was nerve racking.

We called it Danger Pass.

By now, there is no doubt you can guess where this is heading. Shall we continue? Good.

One Monday, my buddies Gibson, Burkemper and I were riding the course. As we approached #16, Gibson impromptly blurted out that he was going to set the course record on Danger Pass. For those regular followers of this blog, you may recall Gibson. He's stuntman Sam, the same guy who also attempted to jump #7 pond on the same golf course.

Setting a record on Danger Pass was a gutsy call. Long before there was commercial GPS or Strava, we kept track of course records on Casio digital watches. If no one wore a wrist watch, then counting Mississippi's was the next best thing. A King of the Mountain was still a KOM no matter how it was recorded. Even back then, a KOM still meant nothing, and everything.

Now when a kid said he was going to do something this monumental, his word was final. There was no talking about it, either to encourage or dissuade him. At best, a simple head nod was all that was necessary when such a claim was staked.

So like when a golf pro attempts a daring shot, a sobering hush fell over Burkemper and I as Gibson lined up his approach atop #17's tee box (green arrow). Gibson paused as the wind tousled through his curled hoosier-mullet. Then, he stood and deftly drove the force of his leg into his pedal, setting into motion the historic run at Danger Pass.

Greenbriar Hills CC #16, AKA Danger Pass
One Mississippi, two Mississippi... Gibson was a quarter way into the turn and was making good speed. At three Mississippi, he had stopped pedaling, his inside leg tucked in high and tight as he leaned into the turn. His line was good, approaching from outside to the inner apex.

At four Mississippi things started to go awry (yellow arrow). His front wheel bobbled over a patch of rough asphalt. He attempted to correct it, but alas, the sharp corner was all over him, or he was all over it (red arrow). And just like that, his front wheel drove into the railroad tie while the three braided steel cables snared his bike, catapulting him over the handlebars where a mouth in the dense foliage formed and opened wide, swallowing him whole.


We hurried to the spot his bike had come to a rest. The trees burped up muffled moaning as we bushwhack towards him. I spotted him first.

You know that scene in Extra Terrestrial (1982) when E.T. had all but given up hope of ever returning home, and they found him all pasty looking in that creek bed?


E.T. had nothing on Gibson

Gibson looked far worse. Far worse. His skin was as ghastly white as E.T. was, but c'mon you could tell E.T was a rubber suit. And where was the blood? Gibson had all the pastiness that E.T. had, plus the blood: a bloodied face, arms, knees, and a deep gash on shin.

I could go on and on about how Burkemper was slapping leaves on Gibson's wounds, and how he started to take off his belt to apply a tourniquet to Gibson's leg, but in the end, Gibson managed to walk home on his own power. When it was final, he had a broken collarbone, eight stitches in his shin, and lots of small cuts and bruises all over.

We gave the KOM to Gibson. As far as I know, that was the last time anybody attempted the Danger Pass KOM anyway.

There. I'm done with KOMs-Gone-Bad for awhile.

Happy Friday and thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My First King of the Mountain, Earned the Hard Way

It all started this one hot and oppressively humid summer day. The thermometer was pinned at 100 F. Without a lick of wind, the heat of the midday sun was scorching.

Days like that were made for the swimming pool. That's where I was, cooling off. But when the lifeguards called an "Adult Swim" rest break at the end of the hour, what was a kid to do to get out of the heat? I cupped my hands over my eyes and scanned the pool deck for a spot of shade. Everywhere I looked, from large deck umbrellas to the shade beneath the trees trees, was already claimed.

It wasn't that my search was in vain. While scanning the deck, I spotted a radio flyer wagon. I had a new plan: I was going to beat the heat by taking that wagon for a joy ride down the steep hill behind the pool. The wind would cool me.

I wheeled the wagon down the pool deck, past the curious eyes of my friends, through the gate and around the backside of the pool where a ribbon of asphalt descended the hill. Surveying it from atop, I noted that the hill wasn't particularly long, maybe 150 feet. But what it lacked in length it made up in slope. There was also one technical section at the bottom of the hill where the path forked 45 degrees: to the right was the tennis courts; to the left, the golf course. I decided that the best line was towards the golf course.

My skinsuit that day was rather spartan, consisting of a lyrca Speedo. Wearing just and only that, I loaded my scrawny 45 lb body into the radio flyer, pointed its front wheels downhill, and shoved off. The wagon quickly accelerated to its terminal velocity. Before I could even appreciate the wind's cooling effects, the forked turn was upon me. I quickly lurched the wagon's handle to navigate the sharp turn. This was where the plan went off the tracks. To my surprise, instead of the wagon hugging the turn, as I had envisioned it moments before, I was suddenly sailing through the air, completely free of the wagon.

For a very brief moment, I noted how refreshingly cool the air felt as heat radiated from my body. It was the slightest of moments, here and gone in a flash. Then things turned ugly.

By the time I stopped tumbling, I had a fair amount of road rash over my body. I mean, the Speedo did its job protecting what it could. But the rest? Esssh.

I was told later that my screams were so loud that the head lifeguard hurdled the 4' pool fence in a single bound as he hurried to my aid.

That's how I earned my first King of the Mountain. I earned it the hard way.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Every Day is National Donut Day

I am at a loss for somehow missing National Donut Day last Friday (first Friday of June). I don't know how, but it just came and went without partaking in even one densely caked, or soft and airy sugary-sweet confection. Mmmm, donuts.

Amazingly, there was a period of time when I didn't feel so strongly about donuts. Once, for about 12 years, I had had sworn them off my diet completely. That's a true story. From about age 22 to 34-ish, I quit cold turkey, passing up every donut opportunity that presented itself before me: the open boxes in the break room, Winchell's drive-thrus, or donuts and coffee after church -- I just moseyed on by about my business.

There's a dozen years I'll never get back.

Then Katherine came into my life. Sorry, babe, I'm calling you out on this one. Or perhaps I should be thanking you? 

Regardless, Katherine loves donuts. She just loves them. And so it follows that when she came into my life, the donuts accompanied her. That, and stuffing ice cream in my face, but that will have to wait for a future blog post.

Decades ago, long before I knew Katherine, and before swearing them off for a dozen years, I never passed on donuts. On occasion, a box of Dunkin's would show up on the kitchen table. But mostly, donuts were acquired by going to church. We went to church every Sunday. That's a lot of donuts.

Still, there was a dependency of needing somebody else to deliver them to the kitchen table, or of going to church to acquire the delicious reward afterward. I didn't like that.

That all changed when my folks gave me a 12 speed Schwinn Traveler for my junior high graduation present.

Prior to the Traveler, I can think of only one time that I had gone beyond the three miles from home to my grade school on a bicycle. The Traveler, however, allowed me to experience the open road and all of the freedoms that accompanied it like I never had before.

I came to know this freedom best that first summer I had the Traveler. Frequently before morning swimming practice, I'd saddle up at the crack of dawn and ride eight miles to a Dunkin' Donuts, where I'd pick out a half dozen of their best. I'd eat three of them immediately. I'd then saddle up for two more miles of riding to my girlfriend's house, where I'd consume one more donut, then I'd drop off the bag of the remaining two, with a note from me, on the front door step. I never considered the ants. YPG.

Let's recap: that's four fresh donuts for me, two semi-stale, ant-infested, ones for her. It was the thought that counts.

Anyway, a 20 mile round trip back then was like cycling to Wisconsin and back or something. Not only that, but I did it on my power and paid for the donuts with cash that I had earned mowing lawns. Granted, the bike was a gift from Mom and Pops. But the rest? Now that was all my doing.

Some 30 years later, I still have swimming practice in the morning. After practice every now and then, I'll swing by Winchell's to pick up a few of Katherine's favorites. I leave them by the coffee pot with a note to greet her when she gets up. Best of all, no ants. Or at least Katherine hasn't said so yet.

I hope you have donuts in your break room today.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Cunning Fox

Due to an enormous storm that pushed through Omaha on Tuesday evening, the local Wednesday Night Worlds (WNW) swelled to some 30 riders this past week. Most of the influx was from Green Street Velo (GSV) riders. It was good seeing the GSV team. Some were familiar faces who knew the terrain, but I'm sure there were a few who had never ridden WNW before.

Large groups tend to have wide a range in riding abilities. These differences can create paceline instability. In smaller, more civilized rides, the ride leader will take command of this situation and cull the group back together with verbal instructions, like telling what direction we will rotate through the pace line, who's pulling through too hard or not hard enough, etc... Wednesday Night Worlds is not like that. Why? Because it's Wednesday Night Worlds.

As a result, WNW newbies are at a disadvantage. Newbies don't necessarily know the course, or when the attacks come, or which riders are the strongest to choose a wheel from.

Years ago, my friend Barry gave me some good advice the first time I rode WNW on my entry level aluminum racing bike and wheels.

"Carbon fiber race wheels. That's how you'll succeed on this ride," Barry said to me shortly after I regrouped at Fort Calhoun. I had been dropped during a blistering tempo upswing a few miles back and had solo'd in alone. Although it was a little after 7pm, the temperature was well over 90 and the humidity would make a tropical rain forest feel like the Sahara. A river of sweat was pouring down my face.

Barry wasn't even sweating.

"Carbon fiber race wheels? I can't afford those. And this is a training ride. I thought you kept race wheels for racing," I objected.

A wry smile formed on Barry's face.

"Racing? This is Wednesday Night Worlds. It has the best KOMs around. You capture a KOM and you're a local legend."

His tone straddled the fine line between admiration and cynicism.

"Anyway, I wasn't talking about you, kid. I was talking about the others. Pay attention to those riding race wheels."

As he said this, I scanned a couple dozen bikes leaned up against the convenience store's walls. I counted five bikes on deep dish carbon wheels.

"OK, I get it," I said. "You want me to mark those guys because they're the fastest riders, right?"

"No. They are not the fastest. The fastest riders do not show up on racing wheels for a training ride. They ride heavy training wheels."

Barry's logic was dizzying. Or maybe it was the heat. I suddenly felt the urge to take a nap.

"So why am I to mark the race wheels then?"

"Because those riders are the most cunning. They're like the opportunistic fox who hunts by using a sudden pouncing technique that can quickly overwhelm its prey. Their timing is impeccable, sensing best when to launch their attack to score their kill."

I could almost hear Jim Fowler's voice narrating this passage.

"Identifying the alpha fox will reveal to you the identity of the fastest rider whom he's chasing. When he pounces, you pounce a moment later. That is how you win Wednesday Night Worlds."


As an aside, it's been said before that Shim's a feral child who was raised in the forest by a den of foxes. Somebody -- Rafal -- call the Discovery Channel. There may be a story here.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.