Monthly Archives: June 2011

Italian nectar

It’s not wine, though wine is a close second.

It’s espresso.

My usual pre-race ritual includes a double espresso. It doesn’t feel like a race without it. Something about that creamy, slightly bitter espresso taste on my tongue and in the back of my throat makes it feel like race time.

It wasn’t always like that. I’d always been a coffee drinker, and had tried espresso before but didn’t like it.

Then in 1997 I went to Italy.

The first morning at breakfast I had a cappuccino, since everyone else was having one.

I’d never tasted coffee like that. From that moment I was hooked. For the next 2 weeks it was cappuccino for breakfast then espresso in the afternoon. (The Italian way says you do not drink cappuccino after breakfast. Only foreigners do that.)

And then the espresso before racing. This was natural, because all the races seemed to do their registration at the local bar. 30 minutes before the race there would be a line of racers all ordering their espresso.

Meanwhile the registration people would be typing in the entries — on a real, mechanical typewriter. I asked, “wouldn’t it be faster to use a computer?” The answer went, “yes, but then they wouldn’t be able to sit around here and talk and drink coffee”.

I think the Italians have it right.

When I came back I had this espresso obsession. Only I could not find anything that resembled what I had in Italy. Not at Starbucks or Caribou or any place like that. I was told, “it’s the water”, or “it’s the Illy coffee”, or “it’s the barista”. Whatever it was, it just didn’t taste the same here.

I went back 2 years later, and it was the same.

I eventually bought my own espresso machine. I can’t duplicate what the Italians can do, but it’s close enough to get me into the racing mood.


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Just ride around the rain

How did we ever manage the weather back in the pre-Internet days, before we had Intellicast, Wunderground, and Accuweather?

Used to be, if you wanted to ride, you looked up at the sky to see if it looked like rain. Or turned on the Weather Channel to catch the 10-second glimpse of the radar. (Does anyone even watch the Weather Channel anymore?)

Now, we all get to be amateur meteorologists.

Want to go ride? Check the radar first. It’s saved me from some wet rides, and helped to find dry slots on an otherwise washed-out day.

One evening last week I was able to ride around the rain. The skies didn’t look promising, but the radar showed the rain was scattered. It looked like I could stay dry riding south, then east, and then the rain would have passed north. Out riding, I could see the edges of the where the rain was falling, and only had wet roads the last 15 minutes near home. One more session on the trainer avoided.

It doesn’t always work out that way. The radar can’t capture everything, especially when you throw in the dreaded lake (Erie) effect.

Over in Salamanca, NY, at the Raccoon Rally road race, the weather looked fine at the start. Overcast but dry roads. The radar had looked clear.

But 6 miles into the race, over the first climb, the roads turned wet and it was raining. Coming back, over the second climb, it was dry. It was that way the entire race. Raining on one half of the course, completely dry on the other half.

Talk about your micro-climates.

I’d almost rather it rain on the whole course. Once you’re wet, you’re wet. Having part of the course be dry just makes you angry at the stupidity of the weather. Had it been a training ride, I would have turned around when the roads got wet, and just stayed dry.

I’ve had my share of good results in the rain though (like at the Raccoon Rally). I figure if I’m going to get wet and dirty and have to clean my bike afterwards (the worst part), I should ride hard and get my money’s worth.


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Power When Motivated

Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.
– Yogi Berra

Quite a few times this year I’ve climbed on the bike to do a “2×20” interval workout — de rigueur for someone training to ride time trials.

The workout consists of a warm-up, then 20 minutes at or near 40km TT effort, a 5 minute rest, then another 20 minute interval.

The first 20 minutes usually isn’t too bad. It’s the second one, once you’re tired, that requires a fair amount of “HTFU” (google it). Having a power meter makes it worse. The power meter doesn’t lie. It tells you how many watts you’re putting out, regardless of how hard it might feel. It has no problem telling you that you’re slacking.

More than once I’ve started that second interval and said, nope, I cannot maintain that effort. Actually I think I could but choose not to because it’s just too hard.

I’m convinced that it’s largely a matter of motivation. Do you have a good enough reason to suffer?

Starting the last lap of the state road race championship, we’d been in a 5-man breakaway for over 40 of the race’s 64 miles to that point. It was hot. We were tired.

In a non-race situation, if you then told me to go do a 20 minute solo interval at threshold pace or above, I’d say “are you serious?”

But that’s essentially what happened. When I look at my power data from the end of the race, I see that I was able to ride alone for 20 minutes at pretty close to my 40km TT threshold power. No way could I ever do that after 64 (hard) miles in training.

The obvious difference was motivation.

I knew there was a group chasing. I didn’t care to hold back and save something in case I got caught. If I didn’t win, it didn’t matter if I got 2nd or 20th. I know that you do not get too many opportunities to win a big race, and that you regret not taking full advantage of those opportunities. I was still kicking myself for not finishing off the Tour de Frankenmuth a couple weeks earlier.

My conclusion is that with sufficient motivation, you may just find that you can exceed the limit of what you thought possible. No guarantees of course. It could have turned out differently in this case. But even if it had, there would have been no regrets.


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Mixing Beer & Wine Experiment Completed …

… and I’m sticking to wine (bike racing).

At least for the rest of the summer.

I wrote about a desire to try to continue running while bike racing. And had one update here.

The experiment ended in May when I took a week off from running, and promptly won a bike race.

It made me realize that while I could run and be OK on the bike, I couldn’t do as well as I could if I didn’t run.

It was just too hard to fit the runs in between bike training and recovering. If I ran on an off-day, it just made me more tired. If I ran after a hard ride or race, it seemed to hurt recovery. Not a lot, but enough that I felt like I was missing that sharp edge that comes when you are well-trained and well-rested.

So I learned something.

No more running until September. And then maybe focus on some running for a while. If it works for the bike … who knows, maybe I can get a good result in a running race.


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Got my Time Trialing dividend check

There’s a curious thing about competing in time trials. While you may like the competitions, the training is awful. Well, even the competition can be awful. Sometimes I think racers do it in order to “have done” the time trial as opposed to doing it because it’s enjoyable.

Most often: once you leave the start ramp, you just want it to be over.

And the training is worse. It essentially consists of forcing yourself to suffer in an unnatural position for some specified period of time. Then repeating it.

I had a moment this spring where I debated whether to even get on the TT bike this year. With no plans to travel to Oregon for Masters Nationals, there was no Big Event to target.

But the cheap side of me sees this expensive TT bike sitting in the basement. I need to race on it in order to get the cost-per-race ratio a bit lower.

I tend to forget that the TT training and racing can pay dividends in other races.

So when you find yourself off the front, solo, with 8 miles to go in the race, you can call on the experience of that time trial the week before. You know what it feels like to get as aero as possible and ride at the limit for 8 miles.

And when the moto official comes up and tells you that the chasers are only 25 seconds behind, you can find the answer to the question: can I go any harder?

It doesn’t happen all the time. But it only has to happen once for the training to be worth the suffering.


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