Monthly Archives: March 2011

Want to be a Hard Man (or Woman)?

Just listen to Brad Hansen.

Every year the announcement for his spring training race contains at least one gem:

The event will end when the main field of the “A” race crosses the finish. With all due respect to those that get dropped, since we let you get back in with the main field with some conditions/restrictions that are addressed at the beginning of each race, there is no reason for us to wait around for you to finish your private tour. Racing is racing and touring is touring. Please don’t confuse the two.

In the past there have been messages that went something like: “while you were home on the couch we had a bike race.”

Rain or a little bit of snow? Do you want to get faster? Your competitors do.

When I first started racing, Brad was one of the Hard Men I wanted to emulate. He was the type of racer who would launch an attack just when you thought the race couldn’t get any harder. Hill work for him meant doing 20 climbs out of the Cuyahoga Valley.

When I get lazy thoughts about not hassling with spring races in crappy weather, I think about one of those “Bradisms”.

There’s a race today, and the thermometer is currently reading 18 degrees. It would be easy to stay on the couch and watch basketball. But Brad would not approve. So I’ll see you at the race.

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The first effort is the hardest

Here’s the scene: first race of the year after a hard, snowy winter. The course (Malabar) is a cruel way to start the season — rolling to hilly, with a cross-headwind on the toughest section.

I don’t care how much I’ve ridden over the winter, or how many intervals I’ve done, it still doesn’t prepare me for the shock of the first hard race-level effort.

It usually comes early. Someone decides that yes, they are ready to start, and they put in the first attack. And then I remember that feeling of legs expanding with lactic acid and stomach getting queasy. And I think that my preparation has been woefully inadequate, that there’s no way I can keep that level up for the rest of the race, and man, it’s going to be a long season.

But then I remind myself that the first effort feels like this every year, that everyone else feels like crap too, and that it always passes.

And as the race goes on each effort is a little more tolerable though it never feels good.

At the beginning of the season it’s always tempting to say “I’m not ready to race yet”, and to want to put in a few more weeks of training before coming to the line. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I never feel ready for the first one, no matter how much I’ve done, and that I just have to get that nauseating feeling of the first effort out of the way. Then the racing season can begin.

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Duct tape is a tool

There is a universal law about bike maintenance: when you decide to do it the night before a race, you will without fail run into something you didn’t expect, and it will take way longer than you imagined.

I used to think I wanted to own a bike shop. Then I realized that I didn’t like working on bikes. I generally avoid doing maintenance until it’s absolutely needed. I’m not as bad as some. At least I don’t have duct tape holding pieces together. I take that back. Actually I do.

So the night before the first race of the year, I decide I should dig out some race wheels. Which need tires mounted. And the rear needs a cassette.

After a winter of riding in the slop, the chain is now apparently worn so much that it skips on the cassette. OK, should I find a new chain, break it to the right length? Or just grab the working (worn) cassette of the other wheels. Yeah, the latter seems easier.

But the winter slop has made the lock ring next to impossible to remove without stripping it …

Two hours after starting a 30 minute job, it seems to be together. We’ll see, first time up the hill.

And the duct tape is still on the handlebars.

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Like mixing beer and wine?

Sometimes after the Westlake training race, you will see a couple of guys put on their running shoes and run around the course.

I used to think that seemed really stupid. Why ruin a good bike race by running afterward?

Now I am thinking of doing it.

The last few years, I’ve enjoyed running in the off-season. Each year I’ve enjoyed it a little bit more, as my body continues to adapt. I like the simplicity of putting on shoes and running out the door. I love going for a solitary trail run, where the only noise is my own footsteps and breathing. But I stop running completely, right about now, when the racing season is about to start. I’ve always felt that running during the season would compromise my bike training.

Then October comes, and it’s painful to try to get my running legs back. I remember how far and how fast I could run when I stopped in March, and it’s frustrating to start off so slow again.

So I’m wondering … can I run just enough to keep my legs in reasonable running shape without compromising the bike racing? The big questions are how much, and how to fit it in to the training schedule. Running after hard bike workouts would seem to impact recovery. Running before hard bike workouts would seem to compromise the bike session.

I’d like to hear from anyone who’s tried this. Did it work? Or did it just leave you tired?

Did I go to one to many cross country meets last fall?

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Shocking

10 days ago, if you had told me it would be sunny and 30 degrees with dry roads, I would have been been excited to get out and ride.

After spending 8 days in Phoenix, where .5 inches of rain results in news flashes and flood warnings, 30 degrees and sunny feels shocking. Two full hours after riding, my fingers and toes were still cold, and all I wanted to do was get under a blanket and warm up (and I’m still under it).

OK, so it’s all about acclimation. While out in Phoenix I was riding in shorts and short sleeves while I passed another guy wearing tights and long sleeves. It was about 65 degrees.

We like to think that living in the crap-weather belt makes us tougher. I suppose it does.

After this dismal winter, and after spending 8 straight days in sunshine, I’m starting to think it also makes us a bit stupid.

Every place has its problems. As I mentioned here and here, I found riding around Phoenix to be annoying. But when you can live someplace where the sun shines for most of the year, why would you not seriously consider it?

On one ride this year, after getting caught out in a downpour when it was 45 degrees out, I literally yelled to anyone who would listen, “what dumbass decided to put a city here???”

Final notes on Phoenix:

My last two days I finally found routes that qualified as “awesome”. Great scenery for most of the way, and lots of climbing. But I still had to fight the traffic to get out to those roads. At one point I was cursing out loud at the cars buzzing me when I passed a dude who was hitch hiking. He said something that sounded like, “bummer, man.”

After riding I went to get coffee and sat outside in shorts to watch the sun set. That day was like the day before, which was like the day before that: sunny. I asked someone if she ever got tired of that. She just looked at me as if to say, “what do you think?”

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Lunatic Fringe

To those of us who do it, riding nearly every day doesn’t seem all that unusual. It’s just what we do. Riding becomes just another part of the daily routine. But every so often something happens to make me realize that it’s an obsession.

I’m looking at the rented road bike leaning against the wall in my hotel room in Phoenix. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one here at the conference who has that in his room. If I didn’t have that bike, I would be spending the entire time here thinking about how I’m not riding in the sunshine and warmth. It would gnaw at me every day.

I know some guys have golf bags leaning against the wall in their rooms, but they don’t have the same level of obsession.

Now with the bike, what I’m thinking about is how I want to get rid of its stupid reflectors. You’d think a bike shop would have some appreciation for that. But I came to realize that even in the relatively obscure world of cycling we are the lunatic fringe.

When they wheeled the bike out, my first comment was, “um, could you remove that (wide-load) saddle and put on one that I could ride for more than a few miles?”

“20 miles? No, more like 75.”
“Which pedals? I have mine”.
“Don’t need a saddle bag.”
“I have my helmet.”
“Brought a computer.”
“Also brought a stem, because the 80 that’s on is way too short.”
“Really? You can’t take the reflectors off?”

Unfortunately I didn’t bring a screwdriver to remove the reflectors myself. Next time that goes on my checklist.

I just have to make sure to ride extra fast so I don’t get tagged as a “Fred”.

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No one works on Phoenix …

… or so it would appear.

It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day I ride, there is always a steady stream of cars going by. I’m thinking, where are all these people going in the middle of the day?

I mentioned this to a few people at dinner, and the consensus was: it’s the retirees. Which makes me even more nervous being on the road around here.

One of the people at dinner then went on to rave about the community where his cousin lives: how it’s got walls and a security gate, stores, pools, perfectly manicured lawns, even a theater. And they don’t allow anyone under 40 to live there for more than a few months in a row. You really don’t have to go outside the gate. Another guy and I exchanged sideways “WTF?” looks.

It then struck me that this whole area feels “unreal”. More contrived than organic. The gated communities, the strips of grass requiring extensive watering, the roads that seem to exist only because they end at a housing development. Palm trees that don’t grow here naturally.

And almost everyone seems to be from somewhere else. Every person I’ve talked to while out riding, or who works in the local restaurants or stores, has not been from the area.

I’ve concluded that the entire economy is based on people working in stores and restaurants making their livings off of the people who work in the other stores and restaurants. But that would be an entirely closed system. Then I realized the other source of income to the system is from the retirees who come here in winter.

Now I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the warmth and sunshine, and the people I’ve met have been quite friendly and pleasant. But even with the crap weather waiting back at home, I will not be sad to leave here.

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