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

Friday, May 22, 2015

Panda Poop

This past week, I read this story about how scientists have concluded that giant pandas are eating their way to extinction because their digestive system is poorly suited for their favorite food, bamboo:

Despite spending up to 14 hours per day munching about 12.5 kg (27.5 lbs) of the plants’ stems and leaves, the animals can only digest about 17% of what they consume
As a result, Pandas must eat -- and poop -- all day in order to get the nutrition they require.

Pandas are a colossal failure.

Are humans much different? Perhaps we see something of ourselves in them. Maybe this is why we adore them so much.

For example, how nutritionally valuable was your last meal? Chances are likely that your gut's bacteria is not well-matched to many of your favorite foods.

The same can be said about what we put in our brains. In my opinion, 99% of what Hollywood produces is total garbage. And the big networks, the Netflixes and Hulus and the like, aren't any better. I stopped watching nearly every serial I had started on Netflix because I didn't want that puke rotting my brain.

But the worst of all goes to the sitcoms from the Big-3 networks. No, even worse than the sitcoms are the network newsy programs, like Good Morning America. Oh poop (I feel one coming on merely mentioning it). Indeed, I have absolutely no tolerance for info-tainment and melodramatic news.

I forgot, there's even worse: the threat of severe and unusual weather, and the resulting social media frenzy spilling over onto social media.

That last part -- the big brouhaha on social media -- is the human brain's equivalent to the giant panda pooping worthless pulp. Garbage in, garbage out. All day long.

That's why you need this blog.

And by you, I don't necessarily mean you, my reader. Unless, of course, you are me, rereading this post to justify its weekly installment. Then yes, Brady, this is why you need this blog. You need this because it is your unique voice. It's all yours, originating from within your creative imagination, and as told by you.  

Producing a blogpost each week is surprisingly not easy. In fact, it's often a chore (read between the lines -- like this time). But the effort is worthwhile in the end. At least I tend to think so.

Then again, it could be more panda poop. It's just my poop. Everybody likes their own brand :).

By the way, I have a theory on why the panda eats and poops so much bamboo, but I'll have to share that another time. If you're lucky, maybe that will be next week, when I'm staring at another unwritten blog post with a looming deadline.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Photo: Mei Xiang (Photo by Ann Batdorf), SmithsonianScienceNews

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wholesome Steel-Cut Goodness

I really do enjoy eating Irish steel-cut oats for breakfast. It's a regular staple in my diet. At least, it has been again for the past several months or so.

Steel-cut oats have been a favorite of mine for a long time. Enough so, that I named this blog after it. I stove to make this blog like my Irish oats: something that takes some effort to make, is a bit chewy, nutty, and sticks with you for awhile.

But at some point a few years ago, I had gotten off track. Soon, the oatmeal wasn't a regular part of my diet any more.

The reason I strayed was because early morning swimming practice made the process of making oats impractical. I needed something quick. Thus began an affair with peanut butter and toast.

I was seduced by peanut butter's quick and easy convenience, and its sweet and salty combination on top of hot and crunchy bagel-toasted toast. That paired with a cup of inky black coffee and I'm good. Like reaaaaaaly good. And if I'm going full-throttle, then a thick spackle of unpasteurized creamed honey mixed in, all gooey and melty and stuff.  Oh golly! (If you could only hear me drawing my breath through my teeth right now).

Anyway, returning to wholesome steel-cut goodness was the result of a process. Back in January of this year, when I joined Harvest Racing, I cut back on swimming. This took a lot of the hustle-bustle out of my morning, and consequently freed up the 20 minutes required to make steel-cut oats.

The first time that I started making Irish oats again, I set aside an extra bowl for Katherine's breakfast. Later that morning, I received an SMS of thanks from her. For the next several days, I continued to set aside an extra portion for her. Then, I missed a day. To my surprise, Katherine sent me a text message, asking me how I made steel-cut oats. I gave her the instructions. 25 minutes later, she sent a follow up text that my oats were better than hers, which were apparently too dry.

That was the transaction that sealed the deal on my resurgence of steel-cut oats. From then on, I'd be making the oats for both of us. We've been on this plan till date.

And about that peanut butter? I've found a better use for it.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Receiving Instructions

When we were kids, my brother Matt and I hated taking piano lessons. But it didn't start out that way. Both of us were thrilled at the prospect of becoming pianists. I'm sure we both thought we'd be playing Tchaikovsky in short order. That enthusiasm didn't last long. We discovered that the learning piano wasn't easy. What made it worse was that our teacher, Mrs Eiter, was a tyrant to us. It quickly became not fun. From that point, several weeks would pass without touching the keyboard between lessons.

What a waste of my time and my parent’s money.

Fortunately, our lessons came to a dramatic conclusion at the end of a formal recital. After the last note was played by a senior student, Mrs Eiter thanked everyone, then suddenly announced that she was retiring, effective immediately. Just like that, it was all over: no more piano lessons. Amidst the tears of several promising students, Matt and I were giving high-fives by the punch bowl.

Some speculated that the "bad" students (ie Matt and I) were the reason why Mrs Eiter quit. There may have been some truth to that. Within a few months, Mrs Eiter quietly began taking on students again. Matt and I were never invited back.

Nobody was upset with that decision.

Training any skill requires passion to succeed. At passion's core is motivation and commitment. With those two ingredients, its possible that one can greatly improve their skills. But motivation and commitment can only go so far.

Inevitably, there comes a time when the one must decide whether what's been achieved is enough, or if the effort to go further is worth it.

I’m at that crossroads in cycling, and I've decided that I want more. And though I may be able get there by myself, it would assuredly take more time to do so. Getting there sooner (if at all) requires additional support. That means hiring a personal coach.

Hiring a coach needs to be a good fit for both parties. Like the example of Mrs Eiter above, there needs to be mutual respect between teacher and pupil for the partnership to succeed.

To this end, I've hired Mark Savery to be my coach. Mark is a great choice because he knows solid road and cyclo-cross racing tactics. And because he's local, I/we have easier access to one another than a remote relationship. He also has a proven personal training plan that has produced excellent results for himself as well as others. I respect these qualities in a coach, especially somebody who can walk the talk. Finally, as an age group peer, he has insights on what it's like to train and race as a Master.

Of course there's no "Hire Coach" button that magically produces results when pressed. If only it was that easy. Certainly, I'll be as committed and motivated as ever to training. Yet this also means that I must explicitly trust Mark's training plan, and be willing to receive feedback both on and off the bike. Receiving feedback well may sound easy on paper, but it can be tough to accept in the heat of the moment.

I haven't received personal instructions since Mrs Either’s piano lessons way back when. Hopefully, things go better this time around. I'm confident that it will.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 1, 2015

What's The Password?

On a recent road trip to Iowa City, the Harvest Racing team rented a rural farm cabin with what was essentially a petting zoo in the pasture out back. The animals — cows, pigs, goats and horses —  were bottle-fed from birth, and were quite comfortable around humans. So much so that you could pet the farm's bull.

Anyway, despite its rustic charm, our guest house had some modern amenities, including a strong wifi signal. However, without printed access instructions, we were locked out. So after hearing several teammates ask what the password was — like the goats bleating in the pen out back — I took up the initiative to contact our host, Carmen, to get it:

Apparently, our hosts were the Jacksons. Duh. So, I immediately tried “Jackson”, but that didn't work. I then tried the lower case variant, ”jackson” but it also failed. Then I tried the literal phrase, "Jackson of course!” Again, failure.

So I sent a follow up text:

Sorry with a smiley face was her answer? That's it?

I showed the response to Shim, who had arranged to get the place with Carmen. He said that she was out to dinner, and probably didn’t know what the password was remotely. So I gave her some space and let everyone enjoy the simply life of living on a farm.

It wasn't long before the goats started bleating again. "Hey Brady, what's the password?"

I told them that Carmen probably did not know it, she was offsite, and couldn’t help us. The truth was that I was buying time because I didn’t want to be “that guy” who was continually pestering our host while she was dining.

Thankfully, Shim stepped forth and contacted Carmen. He got the password.

With the goats fed, the farm was peacefully quiet once more.


This is a case study of dysfunctional team dynamics.

Here, there was a common goal to get the wifi password. At first, nobody was willing to step forth. Somebody finally takes up the initiative to go get it. Along the way, adversity prevents the goal from being attained. It stalls (fails), requiring somebody else to finish the job.

How many races play out exactly like the one above? Lots.

I'll call myself out on this disfunction. Rather than seek further clarification from Carmen, I sat on it. I then chose to lie about my intentions to the group, which did nothing to resolve the issue.

Being an effective communicator is one of the cornerstones of a functional team.

Communication is only one facet of team dynamics that can be analyzed from the wifi example. There are many more, including: individualism, refusing to share in the burden, and trusting the source are a few that come to mind.

Having a functional team is so easy to talk about, yet so hard to pull off when it matters. It takes practice to build trust in one another to get it right. Our team has been working on this during our group rides, and have designated Wednesday nights as our rolling laboratory. We realize the importance of being on the same page when it comes time to the race, where there is little tolerance for dysfunction. That's why we're using our group rides to smooth out the wrinkles.

One last thought: it turns out that the password was "jackson5". We were so close to having it originally, yet so far away. So close that we could have probably guessed it, but that would have taken time and several efforts.

There is no time for guesswork in racing.

Practice, practice, practice.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.