Friday, December 25, 2015

A Very Shim Christmas

With Katherine working third shift Christmas Eve, I was on my own recognizance as a lone ranger. Fortunately, I had the privilege of accepting an invitation to meet Shim at his parents' home for a very Shim-Christmas.

Let me tell you, it was quite an honor. Truly, it meant a lot to me to meet Mr. and Mrs. Shim, their children, in-laws and grand children. Now, I have met Mrs Shim before, but not Mr Shim, nor the the rest of the clan. Wow! What a night.

In fact, it kinda felt like I was Richie Cunningham meeting Aurthur Fonzarelli's parents on a Happy Days Christmas special.

[Queue Happy Days theme song. As the opening credits fade out, Richie Cunningham rings the doorbell of Mr and Mrs Shim's house. Shim answers the door]

[Richie/Brady]: Gee Shim, it sure was nice of you to invite me over to your parents' home for Christmas.

[Shim]: Heeeey!

[Shim sways hips and gives thumbs up as the canned audience recording erupts into clapping]

[Shim]: Brady -- I mean, Richie --

Shim rolls his eyes and looks directly at the camera, invoking the fourth wall. 

[Shim]: This is stupid. Do I really have to participate in this charade for your blog?

I stand there silently, waiting patiently. After a pregnant pause Shim sighs, then composes himself once more. 

[Shim] -- Ahem, uh,  I'd like you to meet my parents, the Mr. and Mrs. Shim.

[Richie/Brady]. Merry Christmas Mr and Mrs Shim!

[Mr & Mrs. Shim]: Heeeey!

[Mr and Mrs S. sway hips in unison while giving the thumbs up. Queue canned clapping sounds...]

[And scene!]

Yes, there was plenty of good cheer, food, beer, and football on the tube. Best of all, I found this gem on Mrs Shim's fridge: a photo of the toddler Shim himself. I bet you can guess which one he is.


That's all I've got. Merry Christmas all!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Deescalation

Lately, I've been catching an early morning bus so I can join a conference call at work with an offshore team. Normally, catching the 5:58 AM bus is a straight forward affair without much ado. But this past Tuesday morning had some excitement.

Since I live only a few blocks from the stop, it means I can leave my house on my bike and roll up to the bus stop about 30 seconds later. It also means that I can see the bus approaching the stop from my driveway, and if necessary, I can put a few quick pedal strokes into the crank to ensure that I don't miss it.

That shouldn't have been the case this past Tuesday morning as I left my house five minutes before the bus was to arrive. But as I was rolling down the driveway, I saw my bus go barreling through the intersection at 52nd and NW Radial at about 40 mph.

I had to be on that bus. And if that was going to be so, I was going to have to chase it down and earn my seat the hard way. So, I quickly adjusted my shoulder strap, flicked on my Bontrager Flare tail light, and then jumped into a full on sprint down 52nd Street. Within a few moments, I had rounded the corner onto NW Radial Hwy and settled into a high cadence burn from the saddle. Fortunately, I had a bunch of angry adrenaline boiling in my veins. That, and a gradual descent on that part of NW Radial aided in my pursuit.  It took over a mile to do so, but I finally caught up to at Hamilton Street, where the bus was held up by the traffic signal.

Since the bus was hugging the outside curb lane, I opted to overtake it from the inside. It was a slightly risky move since it meant passing the bus on the left.  But since there were no cars in the middle lane, and the light was not about to change, it was fine.

"Now why would you pass the bus on the inside?" the bus driver asked me as I boarded.

My adrenaline spiked a second time. My brain failed to quell the angry words that were forming.

"YOU ARE FIVE MINUTES AHEAD OF SCHEDULE!" is what I started yelling at him, though I'm not sure if I used only those words. I do remember a big snot bubble popping and then frothing around my lips as I barked at him like a dog about having to chase him down in my dress clothes and stuff.

When I was done with my tirade, the bus driver looked at me patiently.

"Would you like a transfer ticket?" he said calmly before deducting my fare.

I grabbed my pass and headed to the back of the bus. I spent a good portion of the ride collecting myself. It took most of the next 20 minutes, but by the time we reached downtown, I was at peace again.

"Will you be coming from the south 52nd Street again tomorrow" the bus driver asked with a smile as I approached the exit. "Because I'll be looking out for you to make sure you don't miss it next time," he continued.

"Thanks, but probably not tomorrow. Maybe Thursday."

"I want you to know that I was pretty hot when I boarded the bus, " I continued. "But I've cooled off since. I am sorry for having yelled at you like I did." I meant it.

"You know, what I said to you was only out of concern for your safety. It's just dangerous passing a  bus on the inside like that," the driver said.

"Yeah. Thanks for looking out for me. My wife appreciates it too," I replied.

In the end, we were all smiles and stuff.

In hindsight, I admire his ability to deescalate the situation. He had managed my frothy anger by not engaging in my barbs, by not raising his voice, nor by justifying himself. He allowed me to vent, he was polite, and he offered a solution. Only after all of that did he circle back to restate his original concern for my safety.

Deescalation is a valuable skill to have. I took note.

Happy Friday. Thanks for Reading.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Mud and Patience

My cyclocross season ended on a good note. First and foremost, I managed to retain my current level health through the weekend. I still crashed, more so than usual due to the challenging conditions. However, aside from a few scrapes on the legs, I was otherwise unaffected. My bike remained healthy, too: no snapped derailleurs or worse throughout the weekend.

Having a good starting position in a big field helped a lot. This was especially true during Sunday's race, where I was able to line up behind Scott Daubert (Trek Cyclocross Collective), who had won the previous two day's races. I hit my Sunday start well and was able to find a window to tuck in behind him and Doug Graver (Mafia Racing). The front of our field overtook the stragglers of the M35+ quickly. Then a M35 rider's crash gapped me off from the Daubert and Graver. I panicked a little and probably pressed too much, resulting in washing out my front wheel during a greasy turn. This was to be my only mistake in the race, but it cost me as I was passed by Scott Moseley (360 Racing), who ultimately took the final spot on the podium. Still, I was satisfied with taking fourth. To date, this was my best showing at Jingle Cross.

I learned a lot while racing in the mud this weekend. A good portion of that will go towards equipment purchases for next year. However, the thing that I gained most about racing in the mud had less to do with equipment, and more about one's frame of mind. Mud requires patience. Mud slows things down a lot. The temptation to think that you're not going fast enough can lead to over exertion and elevated heart rates. When you really need it, like when shouldering your bike up Mt Krumpit, your heart rate can easily spike over the top. It took me until Sunday to figure this out. In fact, after my single crash on Sunday, I spoke the word "patience" in my mind almost as if a mantra. I think it helped. I don't recall feeling really horrible at any one point in the race.

It was great seeing so many friends at this race, many of whom I've met while racing. We also brought a big group from Omaha. Our own Midwest Cycling community had 14 racers make the trip. The camaraderie of sharing this experience in challenging conditions, as well as the group effort made to give the best possible chance of success, such as teammates helping in pits and tuning up bikes afterwards made this even more memorable. Thanks especially to Kent McNeill for providing the Trek Store Sprinter van and tents for this weekend.

So with that, my one month cyclocross season is done. I miss it already.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Trending Down?

I didn't have a very good weekend at Frosty Cross last week. A flubbed start on Saturday's M123 race had me fighting for position from mid pack right from the gun. The field was small, but top-heavy. I like these types of races. Without much congestion, it allows one to ride their race. Mostly.

The course conditions were shifting from wet, sticky mud to frozen. A set of mud tires would have helped my handling. I crashed several times. It was on one of the crashes with about three to go that drove my elbow deep into my ribs. That rib was already tender from going down the week before. My performance suffered over the last 15 minutes. I lost contact with the group I was with, and had to switch tactics to defend my position from Tyler Reynolds, a junior who was bringing back five seconds on me on each lap. I ended up seventh place, just seconds ahead of Tyler. Greg Shimonek was ahead of me, but I was nowhere near him.

After the race, I went back to the van to lick my wounds. I was in a lot of pain. Breathing was shallow and painful. I made a decision to call it quits for the weekend, and wasn't even sure if I'd be able to race at Jingle Cross this weekend.

Sunday and Monday were filled with more doubt. But my ribs felt less tender on Tuesday, and even better on Wednesday. And yesterday, I did a set of openers that elevated the HR and breathing. Thankfully, it felt fine. So with that, I have given myself the green light to roll my bike up to the starting line one last time this year.

Now, because some big races with podium spots near very strong riders have fallen off over the past few weeks, my ranking has been trending downwards lately. As a result, I have slipped nine spots from when I initially registered for Jingle cross three weeks ago. Still, I can hardly complain. I'm in a good spot in the third row. If I race into the top 16, then I can make call ups for the first two rows on the follow day's race. Anyway, I believe that I'm a stronger racer than my starting position suggests. So I suppose I have a chip on my shoulder -- if not on my ribs -- to kick start my motivation. I like that. It will help.

Anyway, wish me luck that I keep the rubber side down. If I can manage to do that, I like my chances for some good results this weekend.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ice Cream!

For the third year going, I am traveling up to Le Mars, Iowa for the Frosty Cross races this weekend. This race is fun. The people who promote it are super cool and have put a lot of resources into designing a challenging course that features a flyover, and a 260' sand pit. The cash payouts are very good, and equally divided among men and women. And after it's all said and done, the local bike shop hosts an open house with a generous spread of goodies and libations for all.

On top of all that, Le Mars is the ice cream capital of the world, which of course means a trip to the Wells' Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum in downtown Le Mars. And for some reason, probably because it was funny the first time Lucas did it three years ago, imitating Forrest Gump saying ICE CREAM is also part of that tradition. Silly. But I would be lying to you if I denied chuckling to myself while typing that last sentence. 

The Scene:
The Trek Store Sprinter van is rolling down Central Ave in downtown Le Mars. Lucas, who up until this moment has been
lurking quietly on Instagram in the van's second row, sits up, squares his shoulders, and begins to deadpan Forrest Gump's staccato southern accent.
Lucas:
The real nice thang 'bout the Frosty Cross Races in Le Mars Iowa is the ICE CREAM. After all the races, and the parties at the bicyle shop, we pile into the Trek Store Sprinter Van and drive over to the Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum on Central Street in Le Mars Iowa. That's in downtown Le Mars, just off highway 75 in Plymouth County Iowa. 


Now the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum has just about anything you could imagine you'd ever want to eat or drink, that is, if your diet is ice cream. They have over 40 diff'rent types of flavors, shakes and malts. And they have all sorts of toppings -- hot fudge, caramel, nuts, marshmallows and chopped up candies... shoot, they even have Mamma's favorite, the chocolate mudslide, which isn't at all like a box of chocolates, but nobody cares because it tastes so good. 


So anyway, being that I just finished the Frosty Cross races where number one, I burned 'bout a bazillion calories or something like that while riding that flyover and running that sandpit; and number two, I got more podium money in my pocket than Davy Crockett, I think I'll have me about 15 scoops of ice cream...

--//--

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading

Friday, November 20, 2015

Five Is the Number

I need five races before Jingle Cross, which is only two weeks away.

The reason I need five races is because that's the minimum required to maintain a rating handicap. Having a rating before Jingle Cross is very important because it allows one to be seeded nearer to the front of huge fields. As of this writing, M45+ has 68 entries already. At eight across each row, not having a handicap could potentially land me in the 9th row.

Ieeeeeeee!

The good news is that I have a plan. Even better, it's already underway:
1) Complete ONE Iowa State Cyclocross weekend (DONE: 12th/49)
2) Complete TWO Nebraska State Cyclocross races this weekend
3) Complete TWO Frosty Cross races over Thanksgiving weekend

If all goes to plan, I'll have my FIVE qualifying races over the three weeks leading up to Jingle Cross.

Suddenly, my abbreviated cx season got way more interesting.

Here's another thing that will be fun to watch: because my 2014 races have not yet expired, I am currently pre-seeded as high as 7th place at Jingle. This ranking is based on five decent results at races at the end of last year. The outcome of the five races that I do in 2015 is anyone's guess. For one, I have to complete all five to even receive a ranking. That means no DNFs. For seconds, just one bad result among the next four can send me back several rows at Jingle Cross.

Ha! This is going to be fun.

There was a time earlier this fall when I almost stepped away from racing this season. I was in a different place physically, and mentally then. This is the first time that I've had to deal with that feeling. It would have been very easy to step away. Honestly, more than once, I was tempted to say to hell with it -- there would always be next season. I'm glad I didn't. If for nothing else, this experience has afforded me some understanding and empathy when others take time off for various reasons.

Well, I am back now, and I'm gunning for five strong showings. My bike is ready, my body is ready, and my mind is ready.

Now, excuse me while I apply a liberal amount of extra strength Whoop Ass.


Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Trade Secrets

I often listen to documentaries and such while doing household things. This past weekend, it was glass making from Steven Johnson's "How We Got to Now" (PBS). The gist of it was that a bunch of glass-making Turks came to Venice to escape persecution during the 13th century. Then they got stuck there because the Venetians liked their glass so much that they threatened death upon the Turks if they left. Wisely, the Turks decided to stay and settled on the island of Murano just off of Venice.

As a result, Murano became THE place for artisan glass makers. Over the next several hundred years, their close proximity on the island created a crucible in which their art was intensely refined and perfected.

Even today, Murano is still known for its glass making. A local artisan was interviewed. Interestingly, in spite of spending some 30 years at the furnace, he claimed that he learned more simply by listening to the older generation sharing trade secrets over drinks after work.

Last weekend, Harvest Racing had a team get together. It was mostly a social event with a little business mixed in. While I sat and listened to Mark, Kent and Shim talk about the local cycling scene, I couldn't help but think about that glass maker perfecting his craft just by listening to those with more experience.

Until this year, I have never been coached. What I know about cycling has come mostly through my own racing experience, and most of that has been attrition style of racing -- cyclocross and triathlon events. Team racing requires experience to do it well. Obviously, racing on the open road is a great place to learn that. But you can also learn an awful lot off the bike just by listening. I did this past weekend.

--//--

After missing most of this cyclocross season, I've decided to make my return to racing this weekend. It's gonna be a doozy, too -- the Iowa State CX championship, and the field is going to be stacked. Wish me luck. I'll need it!

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mime Your Camera

Fred's wife is our real estate agent. Now that she's taken our house to the market, there have been a few questions along the way. For instance, after there were a couple of mid-day showings of our house today, Jill had texted me to ask how long the visits were. Since I was at work during the time, I replied that I had no idea. And since Katherine wasn't around either, that only left our dog Emmy to answer Jill's inquiry, and I told her so.

 Jill replied that it was a good idea (to ask Emmy) since she is warming up to her.

 Emmy's response was an instant classic:



The back story of 'Mime Your Camera' can be found here.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Shim's Rest Day (Vo2 Max Sessions)

This past week I did a brand new workout on my bicycle. I wish I could say it was from my coach, the Masters World Champion Mark Savery himself. But alas, it was not. This one came from my good old buddy, Shim, and it's a classic.

It goes like this.

Warm Up:
As you're spinning easy next to your cycling buddy, casually ask them what their workout plans are. Hopefully, they (Shim) will say it's their rest day. Now, Shim's rest days are anything but restful. Usually, sometime near the end of a five minute rollout, he becomes weary of the chit-chat and soft pedaling. That's when he goes rogue and makes up his own rest day workout. If he's had a good leg report, prepare to suffer.

Take the other day.

Brady: Hey Shim, what does Mark have you doing today?

Shim: It's Monday. I've got a rest day. I dunno, I'll probably just ride my bike.

Just ride my bike to Shim could mean anything -- an impromptu taco run, hitting the dirt trails on road bikes, or doing one of the hardest workouts you've ever done. Ever.

Main Set: Half Wheeling V02 Max Intervals
Allow Shim to settle into a pace just shy of a lactic acid threshold. Then, attempt to match his speed so you're riding directly next to him, side-by-side. As soon as your front wheels are parallel to each other, Shim will open up a small lead. This is called half-wheeling, where one's front wheel leads the other by a slim margin. What happens next is the key to this workout, so pay attention. Close that gap, so you're riding side-by-side once more. Now wait for it and watch as he slowly accelerates and opens another half wheel gap on you. Again, close it down to even it up. You won't have to wait long before he puts another half wheel on you. Close it down once more. Repeat, yada, yada, yada. This will continue until you've either run out of road or one of you has cracked.

Cool Down
After running out of road (one of you has cracked), you'll eventually catch your breath while spinning at a true rest day pace. Mind you, Shim will still be half wheeling you, but you're past caring anymore. Anyway, use this time to casually ask your cycling buddy what the hell that was all about.

Brady: "What the hell was that all about?"

Shim: "What was what about?"

Brady: "That half-wheeling?"

Shim: Half wheeling? Who was half wheeling?

Brady: Remain silent while rolling your eyes behind your sunglasses.

Shim: I wasn't half wheeling. And what got into you? Why were you being so competitive? I thought we were on a rest day. I was just riding my bike...

Yeah pretty good.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Too Old to Feel This Damn Young

A younger colleague was lamenting to me about how old he felt recently. Despite being in his mid 20s, he had a lot of responsibilities that he felt we weighing him down: a new born, a career, autos and mortgage payments. I reflected that a lot has changed since he graduated from high school. He chuckled, then quoted Garth Brooks, saying he was "much too young to feel that damn old."

After a little of my own soul-searching, I'm happy to report that the sentiment is not mutual. In fact, I feel the opposite: I am too old to feel this damn young.

Maybe it's because I don't have children. Probably that's the great equalizer, but I wouldn't know.

But I have my own stressors, and my time is still over-booked. After work and house projects, what remains of personal time is spent with Katherine, or the bike. So I'm plenty busy.

The recent return of my health may also have something to do with feeling younger. After going through a rough patch over the past couple months, being mostly pain free is liberating. It means I can ride more. Riding more contributes to both physical and mental well-being. Take a recent lunch ride -- although it was a blustery cool Autumn day in the upper 40s, the set of vO2 max intervals had a very positive effect of supercharging my mind and body. I felt completely rejuvenated at the end of an otherwise grueling workout.

I suppose I feel young because I have the luxury of being able to enjoy riding a bike often.

“We age not by holding on to youth, but by letting ourselves grow and embracing whatever youthful parts remain.”
--Keith Richards, age 70
As a kid, I would have never guessed that embracing bicycles as an adult would bring so many benefits. As an aside, I would have also never guessed that I'd turn to Keith Richards for inspiration on aging gracefully.


Anyway, I'm grateful for bicycles and the luxury of time to ride them.

Speaking of aging gracefully, a well earned Happy Birthday shoutout goes to Fred. Keep staying young, you damn vampire!

Thanks for Reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, October 23, 2015

You Work at a Gas Station

Several years ago, I was out on a long ride that brought me back through Boyer's Chute/Ponca Hills. I was out of fuel and water and reeling badly from the effects of a bonk. Turning a weary crank in squares, I finally made it to the Cubby's gas station at Hwy 36 and Mormon Bridge Road. I practically fell off my bike and stumbled through the door.

The clerk behind the counter looked up and said, "well, you look awful."

My mind gathered some words in reply, but all my trembling lips could do was to form a wry smile. I then procured a small feast of a coke, a snickers, a couple slices of pizza, and some half dozen donuts.

Later, after blogging about this experience, Fred left a comment about what he would have said if he was in my place. It went something like this:

Clerk:  Well, you look awful.
Fred:  You work at a gas station.

To give Fred the benefit of the doubt, I might be misquoting him here.

Nah. I think it's accurate.

--//--

At this past Wednesday's night cyclocross practice, I felt really good on the bike for the first time since August. I could do all the things required of cyclocross without any pain in my hips, ribs, or back. Therefore, the only discomfort I experienced was the "good" lactic acid and cardio pain that comes from a hard cyclocross workout.

I was happy about being pain-free. As a result, I completely ignored my current fitness state and proceeded to shred myself on the initial 15 minute mini-race.

After a five minute breather, we did a 25-30 minute effort. I was going ok for the first couple of laps, but then detonated spectacularly near the end. Afterwards, I plopped down on the bench next to my buddy, Fred. From the looks of it, Fred was suffering worse than I was. He was doubled over, with his head in his hands. He didn't look up when I sat down. I'm not sure if he even knew I was there.

Anyway, when I saw him, I nearly said, "you look awful".

Instead, I kept my mouth shut, and smiled when that string of words triggered the memory of his gas station comment way back when.

Maybe the next time I see him doubled-over, head in hands, I'll just say to him, "You work at a gas station."

Yes. Decided.

Happy Friday. Thanks for Reading.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Staycation Update

I took the week off from work to do stuff around the house. So, since I'm technically on vacation, this will be a short update.

It's funny how difficult it is to get a good workout in when I take time off from work. At work it must be the efficiency of a fixed routine that accommodates being able to do more with the allotted time.

Still, I've gotten a lot of stuff done around the house, so at least the time spent there has been productive.

I did make it to the super secret cyclocross workout this past Wednesday, and I'm happy to report that I can now run barriers. It isn't pretty, but at least I can do it. I sorta just winged it at the last moment. The initial step was quite ugly, and the jarring shock to my hips/back nearly buckled my leg. Fortunately, I was able to somewhat stumble my way through and not eat dirt in the process.


Despite bad running form, progress felt good. Two weeks ago, I was able to just swing my leg over my saddle. Last week, I was able to complete a full mount. This week, I could dismount, run the barriers and mount.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to truly test my progress at Flatwater's CX weekend, because I'm not ready to race just yet.

Good luck to all who are racing this weekend.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Effective Communication

One evening this past week I was relaxing on the deck out back. It was a perfect evening to sit and get caught up on Bredemske's Sweet Home Algomaha blog. My dog, Emmylou, was enjoying the evening too, as she was outback dilly-dallying here and there.

Then all of a sudden, Emmy made a bee-line directly to me from the far corner of the yard. This was unusual, as she normally does her own thing when outside. But not this time. She came right up to me and sat down. I ignored her for a moment. Then she deliberately leaned into me. Now that was highly irregular, so I put the tablet down and looked at her. She was silently looking into my eyes. She rarely looks into my eyes, and when she does, she quickly looks away. Again, not this time. Something was up.

So I asked her, "What's up?"

I'm not kidding what happened next. She stood up and preceded to slowly turn her backside towards me. That's when I discovered the motivation behind her actions: a sizable dingle-berry was dangling back there from a long strand of grass.

I know, ick.

Sorry, but that's what happened.

Fortunately for both of us, I have a box of latex gloves. After extraction, Emmy completely disregarded me and resumed her dilly-dallying once more.

You're welcome Emmylou.

--//--

Emmy's story is a fine illustration on effective communication. I am still amazed that she could communicate so much, and do so nonverbally.

I often fail at clearly communicating what I want. Most of the time, it's because I tend to be a people-pleaser who prefers to go with the flow. This is fine and dandy if the flow fits within my plans, but proves troublesome otherwise. Rather than express a contrary view, I typically keep my mouth shut. This is especially true the closer the person is to me -- a friend, family member, or my spouse.

Failing to state what's important to me is a slippery slope. The more I do this, the further I get away from what I value. Inevitably, this can lead to frustrations and irritable feelings on my part, which can devolve further into other undesired behavior.

All of this can be avoided if I clearly state what I want in the first place. It might be uncomfortable for the moment, but so much better in the long run.

Yes. I should follow Emmy's lead and be clear and direct about my thoughts.

Who knew a dog's dingle-berry could be such a teachable moment? Thanks Emmylou :)

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.




Friday, October 2, 2015

Dissonance

Stop. Stop. Stop!

Dr John "Doc" Milak ran his fingers through his thick hair and waited for the band to quit.

You guys sound terrible today. Truly awful. It's the worst you've sounded all semester. The woodwind section alone sounds like a flock of geese that just got blown out of the sky. But you're not the worst. The brass and percussion sections make a train derailing in a nitro-glycerin industry yard sound appealing.

Dr John "Doc" Milak had been teaching high school band for over twenty years. A stand-in for Jerry Garcia, with his shoulder length wavy brown hair, beady eyes behind coke bottle glasses, and his signature tweed jacket with leather patches, everyone at that school knew Milak was the band guy.

Doc ran his hand through his hair a second time and shook his head. Then he smiled.

"Let me tell you something about sounding this bad. It's actually good. A band sounds its worse when it's ever so slightly out of tune. That's called dissonance, and the discordant tension rises as you get closer to playing in tune. I'm smiling because this is the first time I've heard you sound this bad. So take heart. Until today, you guys sucked. Badly. Now it's only a matter of small adjustments until we've got something groovy."

--//--

Lately, it seems my life is something like a high school concert band that is going through a rough patch. While I could talk about my slow hip recovery, and work related stresses, I'm going to focus on the effort that Katherine and I have been putting forward to get our house ready to sell.

For the better part of 2015, we've put a lot of work into our house. We've checked off several big ticket items, including kitchen and bathroom refreshes, installing new windows, rebuilding a deck, and repairing our roof. We've also dressed up our house by re-surfacing the wooden floors, and adding a fresh coat of paint in and out.

Still, after all of this, there is seemingly never-ending list of minutia to go through before we actually get the house on the market. It's frustrating and tiresome, mostly because it seems that we're so close to finishing this project.

It's this feeling of being almost there that reminded me of Doc Milak's band being ever so slightly out of tune. Hopefully, it's just a matter of attending these final details and we'll have something groovy, too.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Who's That Then?

Star City's Wednesday night cyclocross race was held at Pioneer's Park this past week. I had to skip it again this year (injury). It's too bad, because I've always wanted to do one of these mid-week training races. Pioneer's Park is a good venue for it, and the folks in Lincoln know how to make a fun cyclocross atmosphere. Oh well, maybe next year.

I was a little surprised when I saw the results: our local man-child Dillon McNeill -- one of many promising youths in Omaha Devo -- won the M 1-2-3 race.

But then I saw the podium photo and instantly I knew what was up. Mark let him win. It was the only explanation.

from left to right: Ryan Long (3rd), Dillon McNeill (1st), Mark Savery (2nd)

No disrespect to Dillon, but the reason why I knew that Mark let him win was because Dillon is covered in mud. I mean, look at him. He looks like he just emerged from the sewers of Shawshank prison. Now, the only way one gets that filthy is either by crawling through a river of shit, or sitting second wheel throughout a muddy cyclocross race. In either case, one ends up looking like young DMac above.

And then there is Mark: his kit is practically spotless. Obviously, he was leading the race while showing his young padwan the best lines through the turns. This tutelage should come as no surprise; Mark is training Dillon for the Trek Cyclocross collective for which he also rides.

Anyway, when I saw the podium photo above, my mind instantly arced from Shawshank Redemption to Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail.

The Scene: "Bring out your Dead"
Backdrop: The mortician is collecting the dead as King Arthur and his trusty servant Patsy ride by.

PATSY:  [clop clop, clop clop]
MORTICIAN: Who's that then?
CUSTOMER: I don't know.
MORTICIAN: Must be a king.
CUSTOMER: Why?
MORTICIAN: He hasn't got shit all over him.

He hasn't got shit all over him -- that's how we know who the king is. And in the realm of our local cyclocross kingdom, it remains to be Mark. At least for the near future.

Happy  Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Assessment

I showed up for cyclocross practice on Wednesday night. I knew ahead of time that I was nowhere near being fully healthy, but I wanted to get a gauge of how far off I was.

I cannot mount my bike with any speed. The act of planting a foot and rotating my hips to swing the other leg over the bike is painful. Jumping off that leg is out of the question, as is running. As for spinning, it was clear from the first bumps that though I could ride the track, it wasn't a pleasant experience on my hips. At first it just felt achy, but later in the evening my sit bones and hip joint felt super fatigued. My ribs felt fine from the bumps. Only when I started breathing heavily did I feel any discomfort there.

The good news is that my healing has progressed a lot already.

Mostly, I just enjoyed being part of the scene again. There were close to 30 people at Roberts on Wednesday. Omaha's CX scene is hot.

--//--

I think a lot about cyclocross. Of all bicycling racing, I enjoy it most. I think its because it demands my full attention to the constantly changing aspects of the race and course. When I race cyclocross, my brain is fully engaged on the current state while scanning the next 50m of the course. There is little strategy other than that. There are no team tactics, and things like drafting play a minimal role. It's simply an individual race that tests the competitor's fitness and their bike handling skills.

Cyclocross is a race of attrition. I've had a lot of experience racing like this. Long before I was into cycling, I was a competitive runner. Running is all about attrition. From there, I went into non-drafting triathlon; triathlons are triple-attrition events. Then I got into road racing. Cat 5,4 and 3 racing are all about individual survival; team tactics are rare, if ever exercised.

It was only this past year when I raced with Harvest that we actually tried anything together. Team racing has all been new to me, and quite frankly, I struggled with it.  Not because I didn't want to be a team player, but because it doesn't come naturally to me. You'd think it'd be easy to grasp the concepts of team racing. But in the heat of battle, when my brain is taxed, it seems that my racing IQ drops about 20 points. In its place, instincts of survival and attrition kick in. I have a way to go before team tactics becomes intuitive.

In the meantime, there is cyclocross. It comes naturally to me. I like the style of racing, I like the fitness involved, and respect the bike handling skills.

I'm looking forward to being healthy again. I dream of going full throttle and feeling the hurt of lactic acid burn in place of a bruised hip and tender ribs. I'll be there soon enough.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Some More Firsts

I earned some more firsts at the Gateway Cup this past weekend: two crashes in one race, one Did Not Finish (DNF), and two Did Not Start (DNS). These are not the firsts that I was seeking.

In retrospect, perhaps I was too presumptive and angered the cycling gods when I counted all four Gateway cup races among the 20 new races that I did this year. I suppose it could be bad luck to presume that one will successfully complete any bike race until you actually cross the finish line and step off the bike course.

It's too bad too, because the Gateway Cup is an exciting cycling venue. With four days of racing on courses that vary from Lafayette square's nighttime race, to a flat and fast four corner wide-open Tour de Francis Park, to racing on the historic "hill" of the Italian quarters of St. Louis, to a very technical Benton Park course featuring about a thousand turns, this weekend has a little something for everyone. And at the the crossroads of the South and the Midwest, the Gateway Cup pulls from a wide region of racers. That, plus lots of corporate sponsorship has made this race a bicycle festival for 30 years running. Perhaps this is why it is included in the national criterium race calendar.

Regional races bring exposure to different racing styles, nearly all of which are positive. However, there is one practice that I hope I never experience again, and that is the amount of touching and man-handling that was going on in the peloton. It happened a lot. Basically, it seemed that some in the peloton are more preoccupied with redirecting the riders around them by touching, placing hands, or worse -- pushing them out of their line -- than managing their own bike. This is shit riding. Being intentionally touched is annoying at best. But being pushed is outright dangerous, and is specifically prohibited by the rulebook's section 1N9: "Pushing or pulling among riders is prohibited." Regardless of the degree of contact made, the act of doing so is just wrong. Even if the intention is to let one know of your presence, it is still stupid. For one, your voice is just as effective. For two, using one's hand requires taking it off their handlebar. A small bump, a touched brake, a hazard in the road, etc... at that moment could be disastrous for the rider and everyone around and behind them.

In short, simply ride your own bike. If you must, use your voice. Otherwise, ride in a predictable manner, have a conscience for those around you, and all will be good.

Now, I wasn't pushed on Saturday. That is not why I crashed. I crashed because someone up near the front of the group rode the peloton into the barriers of a wide open, four-lane turn on the final corner of the first lap. This is also stupid because those up front were not paying attention to their surroundings. This is always important, but especially so when more than half the field depends on you to do so.

Fortunately, I got by with a scraped knee after going over the handlebars.

After my shifter was adjusted, I got pushed back in after taking a free lap, and then road like hell to get up to the front so I didn't get caught in another melee like that. But alas, it wasn't meant to be. On the very same corner of lap three, some jackass rode the peloton right into the barriers. Again. But I was prepared for it this time. I had pre-positioned myself on the inside line, allowing myself room to move further inward if this should happen again. So when I saw the stack of dominoes falling sideways towards me, I thought I might be able to get by. Nope. Instead, I was hit from behind and dragged down onto the tarmac. Several riders quickly piled on top, each one grinding the pack further across the concrete. All the time, I was thinking, who's screaming? Then I realized it was me and shut my mouth when we came to a stop. My right hip, right arm, upper back and both shoulders, right cheekbone and earlobe got road rash. But it was my left hip that hurt the most. I could hardly stand up straight, walking was worse. My bike handlebars, housing, and cabling didn't fare very well, either. Needless to say, I was done for the weekend.

The medics cleaned me up and advised me to get an x-ray for my hips. At Urgent Care, the doctor's initial exam revealed previously undiscovered tenderness in my ribs. He was concerned that the rib pain was above my spleen, so they ordered CT scan as well to be sure that I wasn't bleeding internally. Fortunately, everything but the rib (fracture) turned out negative. Negative in this case is good.

These weren't the firsts I was hoping for this past weekend. But that's bike racing. I'll heal up.

Speaking of healing, since returning from St. Louis, I have already begun rehabbing my hip with Edge Physical Therapy/Mike Bartels. Apparently, my hips are as crooked as FOX News (my words, not his). But Mike knows what he's doing, and I'm sure he'll get me all straightened out soon enough.

I am also happy to report that I've been able to ride my bike since without much trouble. In fact, it's harder walking up to my bike than the act of pedaling it. I had nothing but smiles when I discovered that.

I'm unsure what this all means for my cyclocross season. I suppose I should just chill out for a while. I was sorta hoping that my road fitness was going to carry over to give the World Champion Mark Savery a run for it and everything. Now I'll just spot him a head start and see what happens later on.

Yes. I like that plan. Oh, hi Mark :)

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday

Friday, September 4, 2015

Lots of Firsts

I've had a lot of firsts on my bicycle this year. I'm not talking about podiums, although I did win a race outright, and also stood atop the cat 3 podium at the Tour of KC this year. But individual glory is not what I set out to talk about today. Nobody wants to read about that anyway, right?

One of my firsts this year was in having a taste of what it's like to travel with a team as a roadie. I think this is legit too, because I was one of seven on a team that traveled a lot. We had full squads for the Old Capitol, the local Omaha weekend, and Gateway Cup, and all other races had at least four of us.

Traveling with a bonafide racing team has been a tremendous privilege, and I am glad to have experienced it. Especially when we did it right. I'm thinking of those races when we traveled in the Trek Bicycle Stores sprinter van, and when we rented a house so we could all stay under one roof. With only one vehicle or one place of lodging, you can forget about having any privacy. I think I wrote about it sometime earlier this summer, where I described it as the closest thing I've experienced to a family road trip in our 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix station wagon back in the day. Gawd, those were the days. Anyway, I used to wonder what traveling with a racing team was like. I think Shim summed it up best at one of our early team meetings when he said that his motivation to join the team was that he wanted to have the experience of racing for a real team before he gave it up. I shared that sentiment. I'm glad to have lived it.

I also raced at several venues that I've never raced before. Here is the list of raced I did for the first time:
01) Chris Lilig Memorial Road race
02) Old Capitol Criterium
03) Snake Alley Criterium
04) Melon City Criterium
05) Tulsa Tough Brady District
06) Tulsa Tough Cry Baby Hill
07) Tour of Kansas City Cliff Drive Classic
08) Tour of Kansas City Stadium criterium
09) Tour of Lawrence
10) Tour of Lawrence Downtown criterium
11) Nebraska Omnium Ashland Criterium
12) Bicycle Blues and BBQ Road Race
13) Bicycle Blues and BBQ Clear Lake Criterium
14) Sakari Road Race
15) East Village Criterium
16) Bellevue Arrows to Aerospace Criterium
17) Gateway Cup Tour de Lafayette
18) Gateway Cup Tour de Francis Park
19) Gateway Cup Giro Della Montagna
20) Gateway Cup Benton Park Classic

20! Wow, until I just typed that out list out, I had no idea it was that many. They were all good races. I cannot say enough about the promoters and the officials that give us the opportunity to have these moments. But one stuck out above the rest, and it was also a first experience, so I will share it. After the Flyover series was complete, I received an email message from someone I had never met, stating that if  I was the Brady Murphy who participated in the race series, then there was a check for $225 waiting for me for finishing in the money in the series Omnium. Upon receiving this email, I felt like it was some sort of scam. I mean, who else but Nigerians send requests stating you've won something and they want to send you money? I wasn't even aware that I was in the money. That's a true story. My goal was to get upgraded as quickly as possible to race with the team. I wasn't even keeping track of the Omnium points. But it turns out that I did enough to earn the final paying spot. This cash basically fell out of the sky and into my lap. All I had to do was reply to the email with my address. Three days later, I deposited a check that had no strings attached and didn't bounce. Seriously, who does that? I have nothing but positives to share about the Midwest Flyover. They've got their act together. We Midwestern folks have a good thing going there.

There were other firsts as well. Like the times I wanted to choke each and every one of my Harvest teammates for their unique personalities and quirks. Haha. I'm sure the feeling was mutual. But again, I suppose it goes back to what I said earlier, where the proximity to each other is not unlike the feeling of a family road trip. On top of that, throw in a bunch of naturally occurring testosterone, carbohydrates, and of course, proper Skratch Labs hydration, etc, and you've got yourself a potential for a hot mess on bicycles. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I learned that I could also chill out some more at times.

Anyway, good times. Speaking of time, I gotta get packed and hit the road for the Gateway Cup in St Louis.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Motivation

Racing a bicycle takes heaps of motivation.

It's not required at the start of the race. It may take a measure of courage to roll up to the start, but not motivation.

The motivation I'm talking about typically isn't required until at last 3/4 of the race has passed. It's at that point when the relentless attacks have beat down the morale and willpower of the peloton so much that all naturally occurring gumption is gone. From then on out, it comes to the superior grit and resolve of the few to fight it out to the line.

At this point, injected inspiration is necessary.

Frustration may fuel some furious cranks. Being yelled at by teammates for not covering attacks, seeing stupid or reckless bike handling in the peloton, or even racing on streets so broken that it seems a tank battalion rolled through earlier that day are some examples of irritations that may spur action when things get spicy.

Positive thinking can also provide that little extra something-something when it matters.

I've heard that some people tape things to their handlebars. Jens Voigt was famous for his "Shut Up Legs" quote. Writing the name loved ones on handlebars is also commonplace, but I don't know of anybody who does this. Apparently, seeing their names will make you think of the sacrifices they've made to allow one to race in the first place. I haven't tried that yet. Maybe I should.

I've had several instances where a positive thought carried me through a rough patch. For example, while attempting to bridge, I may think about the time at the Twin Bing race a few years ago when I witnessed a racer successfully getting across to the winning breakaway in a horrendous crosswind. At the moment, I was gassed and could not fathom where he got the strength to make the jump and then toil through no-mans-land for several minutes before latching on to the break.

Another time came from earlier this season, when I witnessed 15 year old Dillon McNeill's Melon City M5 criterium race. Dillon got into an early three-man (two men and a child) breakaway with a pair of weekend-warriors riding real carbon racing bikes and wheels. Admittedly, I didn't give the young McNeill and his junior gearing much of a chance at holding on to the breakaway. It was a long time to be away, and the course had a long downhill section that would require him to carry a high cadence to remain in contact. But lap after lap, he was there. With about eight to go, a surge popped him off the back, but on the ensuing lap, he dug deep and caught back on. On the bell lap, the eventual winner attacked and opened up a gap on Dillon and the other guy. In the end, he was out-kicked for second place. It didn't matter to me that he didn't win, or even take second. What mattered was Dillon's tenacious persistence. The kid just didn't give up. He suffered for sure, but he kept the pressure on, clawed back when necessary, and held on. It made for a great race to watch, and a lasting impression on never giving up.

If you've raced, then you've experienced these moments too. I'm sure you have your own subroutines that kick in when it matters most. I know this because you've made me suffer more than I wanted to at the end of races.

So I'm curious, what gets you motivated?

Haha, I just heard my younger brother's voice in my head saying, "Donuts".

Hey, if it works, use it.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Look Ma, No Hands!

I raced the Bellevue Twilight and Papillion Twilight Crits this past weekend. I raced both nights well, but felt that Saturday was the better of the two. My results won't speak to my efforts, though, as my actions were largely spent on shutting down attacks and countering when I could.

The one thing I'd like to record for posterity's sake was how I managed to keep the rubber side down after a jarring hit from an unmarked 2" concrete lip in the road that caused both hands to drop from the handlebars. For a few harrowing moments at 30+ mph, I was riding no-hands while hovering over the top tube of my bicycle. I was aware that several trailing riders were depending on me to keep it upright; many of them personally thanked me afterwards for not crashing and potentially taking them down with me.

I'd like to say that my handling skills played a big role in keeping the bike upright. But honestly, skills had a minor role. And to call it skill might be a stretch. Experience is a better word choice. The experience I'm referring to comes only from lots of bike riding on and off road and in both good and crappy conditions. Especially in crappy conditions. I'm thinking of snow packed roads, and muddy cyclocross courses. There is a certain uneasiness that is experienced in those times that causes one's stomach to knot up. The natural tendency in those cases is to white-knuckle the handlebars, or to suddenly seize into action some counter measure to try to gain control of a mostly uncontrollable situation. Both of those actions can be disastrous. To panic is the worst choice. Instead, I recall following the advice of more experienced riders and allow the bike to mostly follow its own line. Remaining calm with very gentle guidance and a quick prayer are one's best options. The rest is up to chance.

Chance is actually the biggest reason why I didn't crash on Saturday. It was incredibly fortunate that my front wheel bounced mostly straight after my hands fell from the handlebar. It was also so that my torso fell straight down -- that my weight didn't shift much -- so as to not cause the bike to wobble heavily and change course. Had either of those gone the other way, well, it would have gotten ugly.

I find it remarkable that I wasn't spooked by this during the race. It's funny. I've had plenty of lesser close calls before that have shaken my confidence enough to effect my performance. But not this time. It's hard to put my thoughts into words, but I think it was because in this case, I could instantly sense that the bike had chosen a good line. At the moment when I had little control of my destiny, I felt good about my chances of making it through ok.

Perhaps I should mention all of my mamma's prayers at this point. Yes. That may have had a lot to do with it.

Anyway, that's all I've got to say about that.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

The raised concrete lip with a water bottle to show perspective




Friday, August 14, 2015

Polarize

It seems that more than I can ever remember, people are gravitating towards the poles, and there is little middle ground to negotiate anymore.

I used to be more of a middle ground kind of guy, but when I take a step back, I see that I have moved away from center. It's easy to see in my athletic endeavors: I used to do triathlons, but I have given it all up for cycling this year. I literally have not run one mile in 2015. Not one. That's hasn't happened since about 2002. And I quit swimming in the spring. Everything has gone into one bucket: cycling.

My views have shifted too. I'm not just talking about politics. I mean my views of life. I see more black and white than the greys these days. Is it that I'm getting older and find myself wanting to shout GET OFF MY LAWN more because of it, or do I really want people to get off my lawn?

It may be somewhat of a stretch, but I blame technology for the polarizing trend. Not only tech, but social media even more so. I seems to me that social media has made each of us a little bit more judgmental. I think this is because we have more exposure than ever before of what our family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances think by way of the pictures, posts, tweets and likes they post on social media. As a result, we have more clarity about our collective view of people that matter to us than ever before. This brings stuff into sharper focus more for me. With more precise focus comes more decisiveness. And it seems this leads to polarity more often than not.

All of this makes me think of the Babel Fish from the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

The Babel Fish is a small, leech-like, yellow fish, and by putting this into one's ear one can instantly understand anything said in any language; this is how Arthur Dent is able to understand the other beings he encounters on his travels. The Babel fish has led to important profound consequences for the Universe; apart from the philosophical implications the Babel fish has started more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.
Unlike the Babel Fish, social media probably won't start any won't. Probably. But who knows? Perhaps we shouldn't know that much about people outside our immediate small circle. Perhaps some boundaries are good. Yes. I think I'll stay away from social media for a while, and erect some media fences for my sanity. Fences can be good. Robert Frost said so many years ago.

At any rate, I think I shall go ride my bike. I always feel better after a bike ride. That, and Shim's Instagram posts. Oops, there I go again with social media. Sorry Shim, I'll have to go without.

But speaking of bicycles, it's an Omaha bicycle weekend. Yay Omaha!

I'm racing all three days, and have my eyes set on taking the Omaha Corporate Cycling Challenge stage outright.

Race schedule:
Friday: Arrows to Aerospace Twilight Criterium (7:20pm)
Saturday: Papillion Twilight Criterium, Papillion (7:00 pm)
Sunday: Corporate Cycling Challenge!!

Happy Friday. Thanks for Reading

Friday, August 7, 2015

Shawshanked

"Shawshanked" -- that's how Rafal put it.

What he was referring to was my dog Emmy's failed attempt to go on the lam after busting out of my backyard the other day. Or in other words, shawshanking me.

As we rode home from Wednesday Night Worlds, I told Rafal how Emmy escaped through a breach in my backyard deck's lower lattice work. Normally, she wouldn't have been able to access that hole because it is beneath the walking surface. But since we are re-planking our cedar deck, and I had previously removed all the top boards, she was able to squirm her way through a labyrinth of lower frame joists and support beams to find her way out onto 52nd Street.


She made it all but ten houses down the street before being captured by a neighbor.

An hour after telling Rafal all about this, I received this follow up text from him:
As many of the locals around here know, I spoil Emmy rotten. One of the things I do is to make her a mini turkey sandwich for her bedtime snack. It's not just a plain old turkey sandwich. It's actually more of a club sandwich because I also toast the bread, slather some mayo on it, and if I have it, throw a slice of bacon and/or tomato on it.

So Rafal's correct. Why would anyone run away from a turkey/club sandwich every night?

My parents also happened to be passing through town this week. They stayed with us on Wednesday. When I told my Mom about Emmy running away, she suggested that perhaps Emmy was out searching for me. Like Lassie, perhaps Emmy was on a hunt and rescue mission.

It then occurred to me that maybe Rafal and my Mom were both correct, but each had only half of the story. The most plausible explanation was this: Emmy was looking for me to fix her a club sandwich.

Yes, that is it.

Dogs are funny. When I'm at home, Emmy stalks me everywhere throughout the house. Often, I'll catch her spying on me. Like, she'll sneak up and peek around the corner to see what I'm up to. Obviously, she's wondering if I'm fixing  her a club sandwich. As if she's thinking, is he doing laundry, or making a sandwich? Watching TV, or do I smell bacon? You get the point.

Recently I was telling my kid brother about Emmy's spying, and how BB8 in one of the Star Wars Force Awakens trailers reminded me of her. The scene is when BB8 is looking around a corner in the Millennium Falcon.

See for yourself:
BB8 spying and quite possibly wondering if the Wookie is making a turkey club
 I've seen Emmy do this a thousand times, if I've seen it once. 
--//--
Emmy's going to be without the turkey sandwich guy for an evening this weekend as I travel to Des Moines for the Sakari Road Race and East Village crit. Maybe I'll prepare a couple extra sandwiches ahead of time for Katherine to give her. Des Moines is a long haul on four legs, but I wouldn't put it past her to go Shawshank it and hunt me down.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Ride Sponsor

This thread started a few years ago when Fred showed up on a UP lunch ride. Unfamiliar with the route, Fred continued going straight when the group made an unannounced right turn. The outcomes from this event were: 1) a big brouhaha from Leah's bike being nearly t-boned by Fred's bike, and 2) the resulting development of the "Ride Sponsorship Program".

Now it took some time to work out the details (elect officers, pass by laws, etc...), but after nearly 20 seconds of deliberations, the group laid down the foundations of our new program.

RIDE SPONSORSHIP PROGRAM
1) Any newcomer shall be welcomed with an introduction to the group
2) A ride briefing shall be conducted before shoving off, highlighting the route and every Strava KOM ever held by Gregory Shimonek.
3) Newcomers shall be assigned a guide ("sponsor") whose responsibility includes checking in on their protégé, pointing out turns, hazards in the road, and most importantly every Strava KOM ever held by Gregory Shimonek.
4) All shall return safely  Nobody shall crash into Leah, literally or otherwise.

Anyway, I'd have to say that the ride sponsorship program has been a smashing (figurative) success. Take yesterday, for example. Two UP employees, Liz and Mike, joined the famous UP Lunch Taco Group Ride for the first time. Liz' sponsor was Leah, and I took Mike under my wing. After introductions and ride briefing, we pushed off, rode through downtown, across the Bob Kerry bridge, celebrated every Strava KOM ever held by Gregory Shimonek, and had the most delicious food truck tacos. Can it get any better than that?

Yes, it can.

Along the way, Nebraska Cycling Association president and USA Cycling Official Darrel Webb pulled up alongside to heckle us from his car. Oh, and Fred was in the group too, and he didn't nearly crash into Leah, literally or otherwise. And best of all, the World Champion himself, Mark Savery was an added guest. In all, quite a magical group ride. For proof, one only needs to look at the smiles of Leah and her protégé Liz:

Liz (left) and her sponsor Leah. credit: lkleager instagram
Yes. Here's to Ride Sponsorship. Here's to bike rides. Cheers.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading

Friday, July 24, 2015

Unpossible

At work I listen to a Pandora station called "Emancipator" to blot out chatty colleagues. I wouldn't know how to define the station, but Pandora describes it as "heavy use of samples, electronica roots, R&B influences; headnodic beats."

Anyway, a sample from this song caught my attention recently:

Our language, you might say our language lacks a word.
We have the word: impossible.
But we need to differentiate between two sorts of things.
The impossible is that which, by definition can never be done.
We need another word -- unpossible --
that which can't be done just yet.
-- The Unpossible by  Kaleidoscope Jukebox
Unpossible? That concept resounded in me.

When I first started racing my bicycle, Mike Munson was the best cyclist I knew. He was a seasoned cat 2 racer, with lots of palmares. Me? I was a newbie with spotty cat 5 results. I would sometimes wonder, would I ever get there? I had my doubts. My lackluster cat 5 results were proof enough. It seemed very unlikely at the time. I might have even considered it was impossible.

Obviously, that wasn't true. It wasn't that it was impossible, but more that it was just not possible yet.

I've been thinking a lot about what's possible lately. I have wondered how often I've sold myself short, or given up on some dreams I once had. Maybe it's only a matter of redirecting my thinking from what was once considered unattainable, to not attainable just yet.

Now, I'm not suggesting that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. There are the laws of physics to deal with. Only in the movies could those laws be abandoned. But even there, I'd probably still have my doubts. For example, let's say that I was in the Star Wars Universe. As much as I'd enjoy raising an X-Wing fighter from a Dagobah swamp as the next padawan, I would probably agree with Luke Skywalker and also say that it was too big, and dismiss it as impossible.

Sidebar: As I typed that, I could hear Yoda's voice in my head grumbling, "and that is why you fail".

Anyway, there are some things worth revisiting. I'll be challenging myself to think of the potential, rather than the impossible. I will look for how to reach a difficult goal, rather than blindly dismiss it because I felt it was unattainable.

Who knows. Perhaps one day in the future, in a galaxy far, far away, I'll be standing on some exoplanet's swampy surface with an Astromech droid and a little green dude by my side. With my one arm extended, an X-Wing fighter will be gliding effortlessly above us as the John Williams orchestra -- also levitated from my other extended arm -- will be filling the air with a musical crescendo so beautiful it makes one weep. At that moment, I will look with confidence at my little green buddy and say, "I once thought this was merely unpossible."

And in reply, he will grin and say, "And that is why you have succeeded."

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Courage

Last weekend's races at Clear Lake were humbling. I went in with a plan and high hopes. I even wrote about my aspirations beforehand, asking for serenity, courage and wisdom. With our team struggling for results, I wanted us to have something to be proud of for our efforts.

As it turned out, I had my worst racing results till date. The team didn't fare much better. What was even more difficult to process was how I raced: I lacked the courage to act when it counted.

After the time trial that put me in the bottom half, I went into the criterium with hopes of doing better. I figured that although I may not be the fastest of the bunch, and I don't have the bursty speed that most of my competition has, I am a decent bike handler with good enough torque to manage the course's technical turns and punchy hill. All I needed to do was to line up early, get a good start, and stay up front and things would take care of themselves. In fact, that's how it all started. But within a few laps, I started getting swarmed. Rather than fighting for position, I let others take my line. A short time later, a nasty crash happened right behind me. That got me rattled. And a few laps after that, my front wheel got channeled into a crack at 30 mph, spooking me further. It was also around that time that I noticed there were still 32 laps remaining. Oof.

My courage suffered a lot. I was gassed way too early, and fighting at the back of the pack -- not to move up -- but to simply hang on.

Fast forward to 10 to go: I reached for my water bottle and noticed that it was also dangling: one bolt was missing, and the other was backed half way out. I decided that it was enough of a safety issue that warranted pulling into the pit. If that meant abandoning the race, so be it. But the pit judge had mercy, and after a cage adjustment from SRAM neutral support, I was pushed back into the pack for the final 15 minutes of racing. A mere three laps later, I was dangling at the back again, this time with cramping from my quads. With five to go, I was separated from the peloton for good, and was pulled from the race, finishing near DFL.

I struggled after the race to get my brain right. As much as I attempted to force bravery upon it, it didn't take much resistance to fill it up with doubts again. As a result, Sunday's road race was more of the same story. I rode to survive. Riding to survive is not racing. It certainly isn't team racing. It's selfish, and frankly, pointless to pin a number on. I mean, I practically did nothing to ensure the success of anyone on my team. But survival is what I did, at least until around the 75th mile. That's when I started cramping again. However, unlike the previous day's cramping, this one culminated in what felt like a knife stuck in my quad. It tightened up so much that I couldn't turn my pedal. My race was done.

I've spent some time soul searching this past week. I thought about the fine racing that both Shim and Chris Spence did, and the tactics of others that raced well. I recalled hearing the confident discussions among the peloton about the immanent attacks that they were about to launch (and did successfully). I wanted nothing of it at the time. It's because I lacked confidence and courage.

It comes to this: I've got unfinished road racing business to attend to. Last week, I had plans. I had the serenity to know what I could and couldn't change. And I dare say that I even had the wisdom to know the difference between the two. Despite this, I lacked the courage to race my bike fearlessly. These thoughts have fueled my workouts this past week, and will be on my mind for some time to come, resuming with tomorrow's four hour ride.

Courage and miles won't take care of themselves. They both need tending. It starts by getting on the saddle, clipping in and turning the pedals. Somewhere down the road, I hope mine is restored.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Road Racer's Serenity Prayer

Bicycle racing is a lot like that Serenity prayer that Al-Anon users recite:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Serenity
I cannot change the conditions of the course or weather.
Nor can I change my fitness by the time I roll up to the starting line.
And I certainly cannot change the racing tactics of my competitors --  even my teammates for that matter -- although I may be able to influence them to help shape the outcome of the race.

Courage
I can steel up courage to accept the harsh conditions of a technical course.
I can gird my resolve to welcome gnarly crosswinds, to endure in sultry heat, or to thrive in sheets of downpouring rain.
And I can search within for the bravery to chase down attacks -- and launch counters of my own -- against seasoned pros with palmares that span decades.

Wisdom
God, if I only had wisdom. Truly, wisdom's the key above all the rest.

God, grant me the wisdom to know what I can/cannot change, 
and the courage and strength to respond when it matters. 
Amen.

--//--

Harvest Racing is pinning on numbers at the Bicycle Blues and BBQ Festival in Clear Lake Iowa this weekend.  The squad in the Mens P/1/2 race:
Lucas Marshall (cat 2)
Brady Murphy  (cat 2)
Greg Shimonek  (cat 2)
Paul Webb (cat 2)

Happy Friday. Thanks for Reading.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Tour of Lawrence Review

My first cat 2 races were nothing to write home about. But since my Mom and Dad will be reading this post, I suppose there's that. And I saved a postage stamp.

The venue for my first p/1/2 race was the Tour of Lawrence. I had heard about this race a few years ago and wondered what it would be like to race it, especially the criterium in downtown Lawrence.

To my dismay, Saturday's race was moved from KU's campus and on to a new location at Haskell College. The old (KU) course had hills, which I typically like. The new one appeared to have hills on paper, but in reality, it amounted to nothing more than a couple false flats on a level course. Sunday's race remained in downtown Lawrence, where it was also flat. Each course also had plenty of room to maneuver through the pack. I wouldn't describe either as technical, although Saturday's race featured an S turn that was fun to carve at top speed.

Traditionally, I do not fare well on flat, non-technical courses. Flat courses tend to keep the pack together, favoring the sprinters at the end of the race. My sprint isn't so good. The results reflected this: I finished 29th/50 on both days. Oof.

Racing bikes is fun. There is no doubt about that. Winning, or doing something particularly well, makes it even more so. Though I was happy to be in the elite field representing Harvest and Midwest Cycling Community, I wasn't particularly fond of how I raced either days. I struggled with patience. I also got lazy and failed to work at remaining up near the front of the pack. These are the keys to flat and fast races. In short, patience and pack surfing are not as glamorous as attacking the field or carrying speed through technical corners, but both skills are obviously required if one wants to place better than 29th.

That's all I've got to say about that.

I have the weekend off, then next week I'm jumping in for a trip to Clear Lake's Blues Booze and BBQ bike festival where I'll have a chance to apply what I've learned on another flat and fast course.

In the meantime, I plan to do some local training. Perhaps I'll tape an American flag or two on my bike, though I might have to steal them back from Fred's son Jack (see photo at the bottom of the post). In order to do that, I'll have to build a time machine to travel back to the future eight years ago.

Nah, I think I'll just go ride my bike.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Upgrade Request Approved

In the past week, my upgrade request to cat 2 was approved. I have published some thoughts about upgrading on my team's blog at harvestracing.com. Go check it out.


That's it for today. Happy Friday, thanks for reading.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Cry Baby Hill

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a race recap on the Harvest Racing team's blog about what it felt like where everything came together so I could stand on the top step.

Similarly this past week, I had a taste of what a professional racer may feel like at a big race venue.It happened at Saint Francis Tulsa Tough. Aside from Nationals, this three-day criterium race is among the biggest racing venues an amateur racer can experience. Well-managed with the backing of the city of Tulsa's huge crowds, and three very different courses (Blue Dome, Brady District, Cry Baby Hill) made for an exciting weekend of racing.

My favorite of the three days was the crown jewel: Cry Baby Hill.  As a racer, I appreciated many things of Cry Baby Hill. To begin, the course was quite technical. It features a three-step climb from which the name "Cry Baby" hill comes from. The hill itself isn't long, nor steep, but it's just long and steep enough to cause the peloton troubles. There's a short descent after Cry Baby, followed by a one block climb to climax point. From there, a couple blocks of recovery followed by a sharp descent and a 120 degree off-camber turn, bringing you back to the final 200 meter sprint to the start/finish for the first of several laps. It's a deliciously short and spicy course, dotted with technical spots and lots of hill repeats required to finish the race.

But what I really appreciated about Cry Baby Hill was the fans. The city really comes out and lets their collective hair down for this final day of racing. I'm talking throngs of people -- thousands of them -- pausing their revelry just long enough to scream at your face as you make yet another suffering pass through Cry Baby hill. Watching the Grand Tours, I've often wondered how it would feel to be in a race where the seam of a humanity was split open enough to allow the pace car, moto-judge and peloton to pass through. Now, thanks to Tulsa Tough, I have an inkling of what that feels like to be a pro, at least for a day.

Feeling like a pro is marvelous. I wish everyone who cared as much about something as seemingly trivial as amateur cycling could experience this.

Well, you can. Put Tulsa Tough on your calendar next year. Just remember to sign up early: there are only 115 spots, and they'll be going fast.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Attempting to bridge up at Cry Baby Hill M45+ (credit: Lucas Marshall)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Racing Updates: Tulsa Tough, NOW recap

A partial squad of the Harvest Racing Team will be competing in the St Francis Tulsa Tough races this weekend. Harvest's Lucas Marshall and Paul Webb will be racing all three days of Cat I/II events, and Greg Shimonek and I will be competing in the Men Masters A criterium races on Saturday and Sunday. If you have nothing else to do, you can watch us race online.

Live Streaming begins with the first race Friday and runs all weekend.

Harvest Racing Schedule @ Tulsa Tough:

Friday Night Lights, June 12
MCNELLIE’S GROUP BLUE DOME CRITERIUM
7:00 pm: Men Cat I/II (Lucas, Paul)

Saturday, June 13
BRADY ARTS DISTRICT CRITERIUM
3:25 pm: Men Masters A (Brady, Shim)
5:35 pm: Men Cat I/II (Lucas, Paul)

Sunday, June 14
NEW MEDIO RIVER PARKS CRITERIUM
12:20 pm: Men Masters A (Brady, Shim)
2:25 pm: Men's Cat I/II (Lucas, Paul)

--//--

Nebraska Omnium Weekend (NOW) Criterium Recap
In case you missed it, I climbed to The Top Step of the podium at this past weekend's Nebraska Omnium criterium in Ashland, NE. You can read all about it on HarvestRacing.com's blog.

That's it for now. Happy Friday, thanks for reading.


Friday, June 5, 2015

U45+ Development

This post is a follow up to the Tour of KC Omnium Weekend recap.

My teammates joke with me that Harvest Racing has become my personal U45+ (uber 45) development team. In many ways, it has been, both in terms of my physical and character development.

I learned a lot about racing at this past weekend's Tour of Kansas City, but it wasn't all race tactics. What I learned most was how to conduct myself when presented with temptation to take what wasn't mine.

At least, that's the hope for next time.

As I mentioned in my race recap, I was not proud of how the weekend finished. My omnium win was only the result of taking advantage of a mistake that went unprotested. It was dirty, and I was wrought with personal disgust afterwards.

I'd like to say that my pre-motivation to take the win was due to the tempting lure of category upgrade points. But I'd be in denial to say that standing on the top step of the podium after several recent second place finishes wasn't also a strong factor. And of course, cold cash brings its own motivations.

But a motivator that I wasn't aware came to my attention the day after the race. It was from a story I heard on NPR, about how researchers have linked feelings of disgust to unethical behavior.

Research finds that people respond to feelings of disgust by trying to protect themselves from it — and this can quickly translate into self-interested behavior and cheating
Hearing this after personally experiencing it resounded strongly within me. In short, the research suggest that because I felt disgust from feeling cheated out of a chance to win on Saturday, I acted in my own self interest by cheating on Sunday.

Wow! I wasn't aware of the connection to this behavior previously.

By the time I heard that, there was nothing I could have done to take back what happened on Sunday. That had all passed. But what I have done since was to contact the Tour of Kansas City race promoter to ask him to re-review the omnium results, and if for nothing else, to award the first place check's payment to JJ Shepherd. The promoter thanked me for pointing it out, and said he'd follow up with the primary official to see if the official results could be straightened out as well. As of this writing, I haven't heard back from either of them.

I am ashamed by my lack of sportsmanship this past Sunday. I offer my apologies to JJ Shepherd, the peloton, and to my teammates for accepting this fraudulent victory.

One of the things that I appreciate about cycling is the lessons I've learned along the way. As I mentioned above, the team has chided me about the U45+ development program I've been a part of. Ribbings aside, I do believe that I am a work in development. While my fitness and skills are being refined, I hope there's been a healthy dose of character development mixed in as well.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

2015 Tour of Kansas City Race Weekend

I had a strong showing at this past weekend's Tour of Kansas City.

My time trial at the Tour of KC Cliff Drive Prologue Friday evening was good enough for 2nd place finish in the cat 3 field. I just missed the top step by eight-tenths of a second. Had I previewed the course properly before the race, I am certain I could have made up the difference on the first two corners alone, as I had to scrub a lot of speed by braking heavily to avoid crossing the yellow line. Time trials are all about knowing the course. My mistake. I will do better course recon next time.

--//--

I followed up Friday night's TT with a good race on Saturdays' Cliff Drive circuit, where I had another second place finish. I sat-in most of the race, but with about 25 minutes remaining, I went on the attack as the field began to relax. I quickly opened up a gap, then peaked around to see the young Spencer Seggebruch (Big Shark) bridging up to me. I eased up a bit to let him catch on, and then told him to sit on and recover before we took turns pulling. We only managed to stay away for 3/4 of a lap before the peloton chased us down. From there, I sat on and recovered until the final lap, where it all came down to the final assault up the hill. On the final climb, I positioned myself inside and behind the ultimate winner, Mark Cole (Ethos). When Cole jumped, he caused a big bruhaha in the tightly packed quarters of the group: there was lots of unhappy cyclists making noise as we charged up the hill. I had managed to stay away from the traffic and tucked in along Cole's inside. As we climbed, I was making up ground on him, so much so that I believed that I was going to overtake him before the line. Then, the road started closing in, and Cole's line came across mine. He was pinching me into the barriers just as the road was narrowing for the finish chute. My braking nearly cost me second place as well, but the photo finished showed that I just barely crossed the line before Seggebruch.

Several witnesses, including those in the peloton, immediately encouraged me to file a protest against Cole's seeming encroaching line in the final 200m. In the end, I spoke with Cole personally, asking him what he thought of his finish. Cole said he was unaware that he obstructed me, and that his intentions weren't malicious. He apologized and offered to shake my hand. I shook it, congratulated him on the win and let the protest go.

Still, there will always be a lingering doubt, if not just a thought, that had I had a clean line, I might have won.

--//--

Heading into the Sunday, I was sitting first in the omnium with 36 points, and my chief threats were tied for second with 28 points: Spencer Seggebruch (Big Shark), and JJ Shepherd (Alloy Wheel Repair). My goal was to finish in the top four, which would secure the omnium win. If I finished any worse than fourth, then I'd open the door for losing the overall if those two in particular finished ahead of me.

Sunday's race was a criterium on a flat course around Kaufman baseball field/Arrowhead stadium. With wide, sweeping corners and a 500m downhill sprint finish, I suspected that this race would come to a field sprint at the end. Although this type of race is not suited to my strengths, I welcomed it because I need the most development as a racer here.

As predicted, the race came to a bunch sprint. The winner, Adam Leopold (Bonkers Cycling), was clear by two bike lengths. In second place was Shepherd. That was bad for me. I was in the big pack that came across the line next. I thought that I had finished 3rd in the pack (5th overall), but the photo finish showed Trey Hedgecock (Northside Development) edging me out for fifth by an inch. My sixth place meant that my omnium cushion was in trouble. I earned 10 points for sixth; with my existing 36 points, I had a grand total of 46 points. Meanwhile, Shepherd's second place collected 18 points. Added to his existing 28 resulted in 46 points for him as well. We tied for the omnium. The winner typically goes to higher placement on the final day, which clearly wasn't me.

When the results were posted, however, I was listed first with 48 points, Shepherd was second with 46, and Seggebruch third. It seems that the officials had mistakenly awarded me 12 points instead of ten for sixth place at the criterium. Unfortunately for Shepherd, who had left the site altogether, nobody protested. As a result, I was awarded the omnium by a technicality.

At any rate, I am not happy, nor proud of this selfish behavior. It felt dirty immediately, and the regret of taking something that I didn't earn was heavy.

It wasn't one of my finer moments.

edit: continue reading the follow up post here: "U45+ Development"

Friday, May 29, 2015

45 is the New 15

Sidebar: If you missed reading my Snake Alley race recaps, go here.

After the Snake Alley cat 3 race, I rolled up to congratulate the winner, Andrew Schmidt (Hincapie Development). Several of the riders from the peloton rolled up to do the same moments later.

As I took my helmet and sunglasses off, one of the juniors suddenly said to me, "Dude -- I thought you were a junior -- are you also a Masters racer?"

That kid made my day.

You see, I wasn't feeling so young and spry the day before, when passenger Dillon McNeill (Midwest Cycling) basically called me an old man as I drove us to the race. At the particular moment, we were somewhere along I-80 and Dillon was looking at the race flier's schedule. I asked him to lookup when my races were while he had it open.

"Are you a Masters 50 Plus?" Dillon asked.

Boom -- 50 plus? He might have well slugged me in the arm. It probably would have felt better.

"C'mon Dillon! 50? Do I really look 50??" I retorted sharply.

(Truth in disclosure: I'm 45 (race-age 46). As such, I'm not far from 50s. But that pip-squeak Dillon should know better. Honestly.)

Fast forward again to the scene at the cat 3 race above, when I was mistaken for a junior. Ah, do you see that? Woo! As I said previously, that kid made my day. In less than 24 hours, I had my vindication from Dillon's 50+ charge.

But hang on, it gets better. Just a few minutes later, at the cat 3 podium presentation, the promoter was gushing about the performances of the several juniors in the race, including the winner, who was only 15 years old. The promoter was quite proud of all the young riders there, and made several references to the youth on the podium. As he wrapped it up, he called out our names one last time, then concluded by saying:

"There you have it folks -- the future of America's cycling in front of your eyes. Congratulations young men!"

Sweet. 45 is the new 15.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

The future of America's cycling

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Snake Alley Criterium M35+ and Cat 3 Recap

I raced Snake Alley for the first time this past weekend.

For those not in the know, Snake Alley is a limestone and blue barclay brick climb with 8 switchbacks up a very steep hill in in Burlington, Iowa. It's been labeled the crooked street in the world:

In the 1940s, writer Robert L. Ripley saw the street in person, and decided to add it to his Ripley's Believe It, Or Not! column, calling it "The Crookedest Street in the World". The idea was novel enough; however, San Francisco's Lombard Street beats it by several turns. The turns on Snake Alley are sharper though, giving it a total of 1100° of turning from end to end, where Lombard Street's straighter curves total only 1000°.
The setting makes for a unique race course that is quite challenging. Even after reaching the top of the snake, the race continues with a harrowing descent with three 90° turns, followed by a flat technical section that returns to the start/finish line.

They say you have to have legs of steel to climb the snake, but an iron will to descend it.

Anyway, I raced the Masters 35+ in the morning, and then doubled up in the Cat 3 race in the afternoon. I did well in both, finishing second in both races.

Both races had close finishes. In the masters race, winner Michael Gibson (Stages Cycling) opened up a gap on the 12th and final climb just large enough to stay away. Jim Cochran and I sprinted for second, and we nearly caught Gibson in the process. In our sprint, I was momentarily overtaken by Cochran, but I was able to dig one last time, then execute a well-timed bike throw at the line to take the sprint.

A couple hours later came the cat 3 race. Although I was pre-registered for it, I nearly skipped it on account that I lacked the motivation to pin a number on a second time, and wondered how my legs would fare after an additional 15 times up the hill (27 total). In fact, only 20 minutes before the race, I was still sitting on the hill in street clothes, wondering aloud to teammate Lucas Marshall if I would regret not racing as we watched the cat 4 race go by. When that race concluded, I walked up the hill to the car. My legs felt good enough, and I decided at that moment to kit up and race.

The official was giving the 15 second warning as I arrived at the starting line. I had just enough time to line up at the back of the pack when the whistle blew. I quickly checked-in with the officials, then got on the chase. My legs felt great immediately. I passed a bunch up the first hill, and even more on the descent. Much of the same occurred on the second lap. By the time I was heading for the third pass, a group of five was beginning to separate from the pack. I jumped up to this group, which proved to be the winning split. From there, attrition over the next ten laps slowly whittled the group down from six to five, to four and then to three with a only few laps to go. On the penultimate climb, the eventual winner, Andrew Schmidt (Hincapie Development) launched a massive attack up the snake. I dug deep to follow, but he managed to gap me off a bit, so much so that I had to attack on the downhill to catch back on. He nearly buried me in the process, but in doing so, we separated ourselves from third. From there, it was a cat-and-mouse game up the snake the final time, through the descent, and to the final sprint, where he just out-sprinted me at the line.

Of course, I would have liked to have won at least one of those two races that I was in contention for, but I can hardly complain about the outcome. It was good racing. Exhilarating, I might add. Certainly, it was one of my best performances till date.

Obviously, this course suited my style of racing. It plays out much like a cyclocross race, where there's a sprint for the hole shot, punchy climbs that favor torque power, and corners that test one's technical skills. As such, it has already become my favorite criterium course.

image taken from a handlebar video posted to youtube