Friday, October 24, 2014

Back to the Cave

Sunday night found me at the top of one of the many climbs on the South Anchorage hillside, gazing out over the inlet as I hacked up a lung. Tranquil. I was doing as many of the climbs as I could, none of them with any real speed, except for the one where I picked up a shadow and decided to drop him. It’s not a race unless I decide it’s a race. To be honest, it was a pitifully slow race. I reached the top of each climb, paused for a minute, then rode to the next climb and started the process again.

As I watched the sun drop to the horizon, signaling that I really should be heading home, I instead turned my bike towards one more climb. I realized that this could possibly be the last road ride of the season.

I didn’t realize how right I was.

The next morning I awoke to an inch of wet snow on the streets around my house. I had been planning my workouts for the trainer for a couple weeks in case it happened, so for a change I actually was following the training plan when I retreated to the garage.

I walled off a section of the garage for my trainer last year, to keep oily old car parts from dripping onto my bike or to keep sweat from dripping onto oily old car parts. As a bonus, it stays slightly warmer in the winter. I sound-proofed it somewhat to keep my 4AM workouts from waking the kids, threw some old Pergo over the concrete to mitigate some of the sweat stains, and installed a small flat screen TV and speakers to distract me and to drown out the jet turbine roar of my LeMond trainer. A stout fan keeps me cool and mismatched shelving holds my entire collection of well-worn race DVDs. The torn leather club chair completes the ambiance. Quite the man cave, although the home improvement shows my wife watches indicate I lack recessed lighting and tasteful art pieces. I swept the sawdust into a corner of the room- does that count?

Before I turn over control of my aches and pains to my coach, Janice Tower, I generally like to do a couple weeks of trainer workouts to get my head into the game. Riding the trainer for me is almost as much of a mental workout as it is a physical workout. Just maintaining the concentration while sweating and going nowhere takes a lot out of me. It’s almost a completely different sport than what I do on the road. On the road the scenery changes, the terrain changes, the effort level fluctuates, and all of the other sensory inputs keep you engaged. On the trainer, the scenery is limited to what is displayed on my television, the elevation and efforts are stable, and sensory inputs are limited to me focusing on how much my butt hurts. It’s downright mentally invigorating.

I’m starting to wrap my head around my new reality. I’m starting to take notice of the skis I’ve been tripping over all summer. I’m looking for new places to hang up bikes to clear up floor space for ski waxing and other wintertime projects. Maybe I’ll tackle the man cave recessed lighting project or sort some of the greasy car parts.

Then again, maybe I’ll just follow tradition and pile whatever I don’t need at the moment in a corner, where I’ll discover it in the summer- 2 weeks after I buy a replacement. Home organization has never been a strength of mine, and that’s another thing maybe I need to wrap my head around this winter.

Anything to distract me from a long winter of working hard to go nowhere…


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Parts Pile and Turning it up to 11.

Hello. My name is Mike and I am a gear whore. Admitting it is the first step towards recovery.
...but I don't want to recover.
Most years in the fall I will start stocking up on consumables when the online retailers start having sales and are anxious to clear out their inventories. Tires, tubes, cleats, chains, brake pads... I stock up now so I don't have to pay retail later. At least, that's what I tell myself.
This year I went a little into overdrive. It started with 11 speed. I have no intention of moving from 10 speed to 11 speed, as I don't see any advantage at the moment. The majority of my wheelsets won't accept an 11 speed cassette. It would be a pretty massive investment to swap all of my bikes over to 11 speed for that extra gear, especially when it doesn't really add much to the equation for me.
The upside is that a lot of retailers starting to discount their 10 speed stuff. So, being the good consumer I am, I'm taking some of it off of their hands. I started with the cassettes. I now have 10 pretty, new cassettes of varying gear ratios. Since the shipping is often free if you add a part or two to your order to meet a certain amount, I picked up a few tires and a few chains. I now have 10 new clincher tires and 4 new tubular tires, plus 7 new chains... and cleats... and tubes. None of this is all that horrible, since I can go years without buying these consumables again.
Then I started thinking (which is always a dangerous thing). Why not pick up some drivetrain parts for future builds? They're cheap(er) too, and it beats running around trying to find them when something breaks or I pick up a new frame. Long story short, I could build up 3 new bikes with what is in the pile. Actually, I've had to stop myself a couple times from picking up another frame to justify the parts. I just don't have room for the additional bikes, and there's only so many I can ride.
  • I have my blue Madone 5.2 Pro, which is my climbing and training bike. Gotta have one of those.
  • I have my black Madone 6.69, which is my race bike. Perfectly understandable.
  • I have my blue Fuji Aloha, which is my TT bike. Gotta gain those seconds in time trials.
  • I have my black Ridley Orion, which is my stationary trainer and travel bike, since none of the Madones fit in my bike case (seatmasts). Logical.
  • I have my bastardized Kona Jake, which is my foul weather and 'cross bike. Wider tires and disc brakes can be nice.
All of these I ride, sometimes in the same day. A lot of guys I race against who are far faster than me have one or two road bikes, so the reasoning for 5 or more (I do have a frame hanging in the garage) can be pretty thin.
I just like them. I like riding them. I like working on them. I like morphing them from one configuration into another. The parts pile feeds that. I haven't paid full retail on a road bike since I bought the Fuji almost 8 years ago, building or rebuilding each new project from the bare frame up. Ride-able Legos.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to check eBay for valve extenders. If I don't post again soon, I'll likely be found in the garage under an avalanche of SRAM boxes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Yesterday was an awesome day. I was convinced I had seen my last day on the road for the season, with rain in town and snow creeping down the mountain. Then it all came together and I got a temporary reprieve from the trainer.
I felt fast.         I wasn't.
I felt strong.     I wasn't.
I felt light.        I wasn't.

Maybe it was a combination of wasted late-season form and the cold air combining to make me feel like I was riding well, but I absolutely had a blast.
Today I got on the bike and felt like dirt.
I felt slow.      I was.
I felt weak.     I was.
I felt fat.         Yep, I was that too.
Maybe it was my day's diet of nothing but refined sugar that did me in, but I could put nothing into the pedals. My day at work was characterized by always being 3 steps behind, so food was whatever happened to present itself. Nothing good presented itself. I paid for it.
Still, weak or not, I squeezed as much riding in as I could, mindful of what is ahead of me. I'm already planning my weeks around time spent on the trainer, so any ride that involves actually moving from point A to point B is to be savored.
After the season I just had, it's strange to be excited about cycling, but I am. I'm stocking up on drivetrain and consumable items, stretching out new tubular tires for next season, plotting new bike builds, and dreaming of future racing glories.
I feel like a cyclist again.

Better late than never.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Good Start

I've been getting in what will likely be among the last of my road rides for the season, retreating to the trainer when I was short on time or otherwise too wimpy to ride outside. I have been trying to make it out as much as possible, because I don't want to regret not riding during the long months I'm tied to the trainer.
I've been trying to regain some stability in my power numbers before I enter a regimented training program again. That makes the transition that much easier.

I'm starting to think (daydream) about goals for next season, which is a good sign. I think having a target (or three) will make losing the weight slightly easier, and if I can make some small improvements in power I'll be back in the mix.
A positive outlook always helps, even as it gets darker and darker outside.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's All Winding Down Just As I'm Finally Winding Up.

The weather has been pretty much great for the past week, although the cooler temperatures hint that the road season could come to a crashing halt at any moment. I've been enjoying the fall riding, trying to squeeze in as many hours in the saddle as I can while still keeping the wife from going to DEFCON 5. It just makes the time I do have on the bike all that much more special. I haven't viewed my riding time that way this year. I've spent a considerable amount of time being disgusted at myself, because my goals and form were not aligning as I would have liked.

Some people would say I obsess too much about numbers or performance, and by their standards I probably do. They would insist that I'm doing it "wrong", and that I'm failing to get the most out of the cycling experience by devoting time and resources to succeed in races that nobody cares about. I should spend more time cruising around on a 50lb Dutch city bike, stopping at coffee houses every 300 yards. Then, and only then, would I attain any sort of semblance of comprehension of what it is to be a true cyclist.
All I can say is that very little of what they consider the essence of cycling appeals to me. I am a competitive person. I know that I don't have what it takes to be the best, but I still like to find some measure of success in whatever niche I can carve out for myself. Sometimes being the big fish in a small pond is a nice thing. Even when I'm not the alpha male in the group, I still like being able to hold up my end of the bargain. That's the way I'm built.
The last week has been great for my morale, after a season of blah. I needed that. I'm going to keep plugging away until the snow and ice chase me back into the garage for another winter of watching DVDs and dreaming. Maybe I'll come out of the man-cave in the spring ready to rip the legs off of the competition. Maybe not. Either way, I'll keep plugging away at it, because that's how I'm built.
I was built to do it wrong.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Making Lemonade Back Into Lemons

Last week's 'cross race beat me up more than I thought, although I'm slowly improving. So much so that when this week's 'cross race rolled around, I kitted up, threw the bike on top of the car, and drove to the venue. I really wanted to race.

The week had been a series of drizzly days, and Saturday was no different. As I drove to the race, I could feel the cold and wet soak into my back, and as soon as I climbed out of my car, I knew I couldn't race. It would have been another non-finish, and the toll on my body would have been felt for months. I just couldn't do that.

Fortunately, I had the sense to load up my road bike too, so I took a long, wet road ride instead. It was actually a pleasant ride, without the jarring impacts I would have suffered otherwise. Instead of regretting my decision when I got back to the venue and saw all of my former competitors, I realized I had made the right one.

It doesn't happen often.

So, 'cross season is likely over for me. I'm going to stick to the road and the trainer, and dream of next year's glory. I'm going to try to build up my core in the off-season to protect my back, and maybe work on my long-neglected flexibility as well. I'm playing the long game, so next year won't be as disappointing as this year was.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

You get what you pay for.

The Tour of Anchorage pretty much went like I expected it to. While I was hanging on with the pack and slowly moving up the GC, I was also cramping up in every race. This wasn't a lack of electrolytes or any other magic bullet fix- I simply had not done enough of that sort of duration or intensity. When I tore a sidewall 12 miles from the end of the road race, it was a mercy killing more than anything else. The final day was characterized by the struggle to get out of bed, as a steady drizzle pretty much matched my mood. I just didn't want to race. Still, I lined up and rode with the pack, until I cramped up yet again and decided that it wasn't worth it. I was still hurting a week later, so that was probably the right choice. It didn't make it any easier.
Not feeling like much of a cyclist, I went through the motions of "training", but without much enthusiasm. I had decent days and days I'd rather forget, but I knew 'cross season was right around the corner.
... then it started raining. Then it got a little colder. Then the kids decided to give me a cold a couple days before the 1st race of Arctic Cross. Again, I was less than enthused as I woke up this morning. The weather turned around just in time, and although the course was properly soggy, the sun came out and it was a pretty nice day. Master Men were racing the same race as the Open/Experts, which meant a longer race and the chance of being run over as they lapped you again and again. I decided to take a conservative pace and let the chips fall wherever they chose to. While I had a bad history on this course, I was chugging along in the middle of my field when my back started to give out. Every dismount, every run-up, every barrier sent shock waves up my spine, and it was getting progressively worse. I twisted it up with a bad dismount at the bottom of the longest run-up, and somehow managed to drag the bike to the top. When I tried to remount and pedal, I couldn't put any pressure on the cranks. Everything just locked up, and I knew I was done.
Yep, I quit again. Halfway through the race, and I just couldn't go on. The engine was red-lined, but still holding up just fine. The chassis just couldn't handle it. It's not surprising, with the added weight and months of neglected core workouts. 'Cross is brutally efficient in pointing out weaknesses. Usually my complete lack of bike handling skills is what is most evident, but this time I was going too slow to wreck as much as I usually do. While quitting may not be easy, I've been demonstrating considerable aptitude for it lately. Maybe that's my true calling.
After hobbling around all day, I got on the trainer tonight to try to loosen up my back. Without the impacts, I could actually hold a decent amount of power. That was a nice surprise, so maybe I didn't do anything too serious. At this point, I'll take any positive sign I can get. Maybe I'll line up again next week. It's my favorite course, so hopefully that will provide me the extra motivation to finish.