Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dear Road Racing, it's not you, it's me. Love, Skinny

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I prefer 'cross racing over road racing. Road season is now approaching full swing, but I've yet to feel even a moments regret for not mounting up. My routine has settled into travel early in the week, legitimate efforts on Thursday or Friday, a long run on Saturday, and a long ride on Sunday. While I'm traveling? More running.

I'm excited for my racing friends. It's been a long winter and those that have "stuck to the plan" are reaping the benefits of their work. Ironically my fitness seems to be ok. A normal person would want to test it out, but as most of your know, my normal may be a few clicks away from  . . . well, normal. I've been giving this a lot of thought, and I think it really boils down to two things. First and foremost, I drive a lot for work. The idea of sitting in a pack for 60 miles, or even 40 seems like pure torture, particularly after driving to the race. Second, and of equal importance, most Cat 4 road racers are complete and total idiots. I'm not talking about you guys. If you're reading this, I'm sure you aren't an idiot.

I should probably get a little more specific though. During the week I may drive 16-20 hours. While driving, I see tons of idiots. On occasion, I'm probably an idiot as well, because let's face it, a genius would find a way to make a living without so much travel. I'm in a glass house here, but here's my problem, people are stupid. They throw cigarette butts out of their windows, drive 64mph in the fast lane, slam on the brakes when they see the po-po, try to back-up at the EZ Pass booth when they realize they don't actually have an EZ Pass, drive rear wheel drive Mustangs in snow storms, text, put make-up on, swerve to the left before turning right, take crappy lines into traffic circles, pass you at 80mph and then slow to 58 repeatedly, and the worst offenders . . . they drive Prius's. They are the worst. I could go on, but I won't.

The driving can make for long weeks. I love my work, but once it's over, I'm not looking to extend the negative aspects of my week into the weekend. This brings me to my problems with road racing, and more specifically road racers. I'm a Cat 4 on the road. This isn't going to change any time soon. It is what it is. Cat 4 for ever. So here's my problem, bike racers, particularly Cat 4's are stupid. They slam on their brakes and yell "SLOWING," they constantly cross the yellow line prompting racers and officials to yell at them, they half wheel, they weave around, they drop water bottles causing panic in the field because the average road racer can't bunny hop a piece of chewing gum, they get bossy and scream pull to the right after they've been dropped, they refuse to take pulls because they have a teammate up the road even though they are dropped and winning is a lost cause, if they actually make it to the end with the lead group they tie up the finish by not sprinting, they complain about everything, everything . . . and some of them even drive Prius's. They are the worst. Except Dave, you're cool Dave, you get a pass.

I think that pretty much sums it up. I'm like a younger, less talented Andy Rooney. Full of anger, and devoid of solutions.

The good news is that there is a circuit race this weekend. It's not quite a crit, but entertaining and sketchy enough to keep my mind off of Prius drivers and racers.

Hope to see you there.

Much Love,
Skinny Phil

Monday, January 6, 2014

USA Cycling?

This blog post has been kicking around in my head for a few weeks now. I don't think that the subject has really percolated enough to justify a well thought out post, but in the spirit of creating more questions than answers, I'm going to take a shot at it early. If Fox News doesn't need to get their facts straight, why should I care? Perhaps the Jon Stewart of cycling blogs will intervene and set me straight if I get too far from the truth.

Here's what I know: USA Cycling is effectively raising the cost of an annual license for most of us by $10. On the plus side, we can now race USAC sanctioned MTB races with that same license, which kind of sort of saves us $20. On the minus side I haven't done a local MTB race that required a USAC license . . . ever.

USAC is increasing the cost of a 1 Day license for road and CX by $5, so it will now cost someone $15 to race with a 1 Day license. I know this is where someone will chime in and say that with the cost of gas and a Starbucks on the way to a race, what's another $5? Well, it's another $5, and as far as I'm concerned ANYTHING that discourages new racers from trying out our sport is stupid. As some of you know, I co-run a Wednesday night "Training" series during the summer. For the last few years we've covered the cost of someones first race. I've personally eaten a bunch of $5 dollar bills in the interest of growing the sport. If I can afford to eat it, so can USAC. Every year, someone gets hooked and takes a deep dive into racing. There's a reason your first hit of Crack is free. If it's good stuff, you'll be back for more.

Every year, someone locally starts an e-mail thread suggesting that we ditch USAC and find a better way. As a racer, race promoter, and generally speaking, middle of the road guy, I usually read the dialog with interest, but sit on the sidelines. This year I finally took it upon myself to go the extra mile and do some research. At the end of it I was as confused as ever. I read up on OBRA, tried to figure out why Colorado went back to USAC after going it alone, tried to figure out who USCX and NABRA were, and listened to a 30 minute podcast interview of OBRA Executive Director Kenji Sugahara. He made some really good points, and they definitely have their association dialed in. At the end of the day, there are many reasons to go their route, but it would be a tough sell in a small market. Most of us would end up with two licenses locally, because most of us will still need to do USAC races.

I'm definitely going to tread lightly here. We are really fortunate in Central NY to have some great officials who are very generous with their time. I have great respect for these people both on and off of the bike. I have enough respect for them, that I even defer to them to some extent and I believe that if they believe in USAC, maybe that's enough for me. The Gen X'er in me is very cynical by nature though, and sometimes it's tough to overcome nature.

The cynic in me struggles with the fee increases. The cynic in me understands why they won't allow beer hand ups in a CX race, but thinks that it limits growth and fun in the sport. The cynic in me thinks their "Race Clean" program is great, but doesn't really apply to grass roots CX. The cynic in me understands why a weeknight training series can't be a "race series," but again limits the growth of the sport. The cynic in me also understands that a racer that isn't attached to a USAC sanctioned team isn't supposed to wear a piece of clothing with sponsor logos on it, but I also think that if a Cat 5 newbie wants to dress like Peter Sagan or wear a polka dot TdF jersey who the heck cares. Trust me, the other racers will sort it out through shame. I also think that if a racer wants to wear a kit with sponsor logo's on it, they should be able to without being associated to a USAC member team.

Anyway, I'm rambling now and I really don't have a point. I do know this though, an annual CX license for OBRA is $15. Their 1 Day license is $5. It's $35 to promote a race, and it's only $30 if you pay in cash or check. The per racer fee is cheaper, and they seem to generally do a better job of fostering Grass Roots racing. I understand that USAC is trying to create a legitimate feeder system to allow talented racers to find their way to the big leagues. My question is, is that for the greater good? Is it better to have a feeder system for a few, or should we be looking to grow the sport? I know that Steve Johnson would argue that they are growing the sport, and he's been quoted as saying that "good role models" i.e. fast Pro's do grow the sport via their visibility. Cough Cough, like LA did.

Well, as I said, I don't have any answers. If I didn't have a day job, I'd take a serious look at alternatives. Since I do have a day job, I'll just sit on the sidelines. For now. I love racing my bike and sour grapes won't prevent me from getting a license or promoting a USAC race, but USAC does have a knack for making one think about alternatives.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Goals . . . Old and New

By all accounts this was a pretty good season. I've officially shut down the 'Cross machine, and as the New Year approaches this seems like an obvious time to reflect while looking forward.

2012 was something of a train wreck. Mrs. Skinny and I moved into a new house two days after I co-promoted Critz Cross, and despite salvaging some late season form with the help of Pointway Performance, I just never felt like I was at 100%.

For 2013 I knew I'd have the same challenges we all have with the training/life balance, but this year it would be manageable and I'd have a full year of structured training under my belt. For 2013 I had one goal. I wanted to win a race. I didn't care if that race was the kids race at the smallest grass roots race. I would put a five year old through the tape for a glimpse at a win. Thankfully, in the words of Tim O'shea, "Preparation met opportunity." I'm something of a mudder. This season didn't present a lot of mud, but 5 minutes before the Masters race at Cobb's Hill, the skies opened up. The rain was torrential. It was raining frogs, but there were no locusts, so the race went off after a slight delay. No one really wants to hear someone recount a race victory, because no one like a braggart, but suffice it to say, being 135lbs with FMB Supermuds helped to pave the way. My power file from the race wasn't particularly spectacular, but good coaching and training met opportunity. It was the first time since 2009 that I was on the top step.

The following weekend I raced in Gloucester. That was a polite reminder that keeping things in perspective wouldn't be a problem. I didn't crack the top 60 of their Masters 35+ race. Good thing I live 6 hours from New Belgium. I love racing there, and often regret that I'm not closer, but racing in central New York is certainly better for my self esteem.

As luck would have it, I pulled off another late season win. This time in snow. Something about sliding around just feels right to me. Fast and dry just never works in my favor. That probably goes a long way to explaining why I don't particularly enjoy road racing.

Which leads me to my goals. Two things I know about goals are that they should be written down, and you should tell someone. It also helps if they are realistic to the extent that goals can be (get out of your comfort zone, but also realize that dunking a basketball at 5'9" and 41 years old is unlikely to happen). The goals should also mean something. You can have a goal of saving a million dollars, but what does that mean? Numbers don't mean much. What does the million dollars do for you, and once you have it how will your life be better, or more importantly, will it be better? Also, will the sacrifices you make to get there be worth the destination? Lastly, goals should be measurable.

So my 2014 cycling goals:
Do more Crits. Every time I do one, I have a blast. Almost every time anyway, getting blown off of the back isn't a blast. I also think that Crits will create a little more snap in the legs for 'cross, because at the end of the day it's really all about 'cross.

MTB more. It's fun, and really helps with my CX handing skills. Good goals require you to get out of your comfort zone, and MTBing gets me out of my comfort zone. Way out sometimes.

Gain some weight. Maybe 7 pounds. No less than 5. Muscle of course, most of it in my upper body. That may seem counter intuitive, and I don't expect anyone to feel bad for me, but being this skinny isn't usually an asset in CX. You'd think it would make me a good climber as well, but I've always excelled at repetitive bursts of speed more than the steady state efforts required in climbing. I need to get stronger for popping out of corners, carrying my bike, and to reach my next goal . . .

Learn how to bunny hop logs and other mid-sized obstacles confidently and without sacrificing speed. I can think of 3 races this year where my inability to consistently hop logs or steps was the difference between a decent result and a poor one. If you take a look at my results on crossresults, it won't take a rocket scientist to figure out which races had me out of my comfort zone. I'll save you the work though. Uncle Sam, Ellison, and Beth Cup. I was sick at Beth Cup, but my inability to bunny hop the log was as embarrassing as it was time consuming. Their log wasn't tucked away in the woods, it was right by the pavilion. Did anyone see me running the log and think less of me? Maybe, maybe not, but it definitely made me slower.

Lastly, I want to be able to dismount and remount confidently on my right hand side. There are courses where this would be a big advantage. A huge advantage? Probably not, but a worthwhile advantage when I'm chasing down Dave Faso! (Picture me shaking my fist angrily in the air as I type his name). Just kidding Dave, but I think you and I spent more time bumping into each other this season than we did with our wives

CX is a tough sport. I love it, but if you're reading this, you already know that. I love that someone with average genetics can hold their own against people who would otherwise be faster. If the only cycling discipline was time trail, I'd be basket weaving competitively. Years ago, I just wanted to learn how to eliminate my stutter step when remounting. Then I wanted to learn how to ride a downhill U-turn. Then I wanted to learn how to dismount closer to the barriers. Every season it's something new. For most of us, our genetic potential is probably in the rear view mirror, but that doesn't mean that we can't do more with what we have. Pointway Performance is in charge of maximizing the engine. The rest is up to me.

Goals. Write them down and tell someone. Feel free to leave them in the comments section. No one reads this blog anyway!

Monday, September 16, 2013

It Don't Get Much Better Than This (aka Sometimes, your cross bike punches you in the face…)

“Sometimes, your cross bike punches you in the face…"

 ... so went a tweet sent out by Justin Lindine after some kind of facial mishap on a stair run-up at the Catamount Grand Prix. 

The timing of this tweet hit a bit close to home knowing that both Skinny Phil & myself  are feeling the effects of a bit of arse kicking at the hands of the CX bikes.   I tried a remount using my ribs (bad idea) on Saturday at Critz 'Cross & Skinny upped the game on Sunday at Kirkland CX when he tested a corollary to a law of physics that goes something like a bike in motion tends to stay in motion unless you hit a stake.   And to our three followers, do not fret, we'll be fine and back at it next week. 

So after our respective Sunday races, Skinny & I found ourselves parked on the tailgate of buddy Wes' pickup talking cx, life, more cx, work and even more cx.   The sun had just poked through and the temperature seemed to rise just enough from sorta pleasant to September perfect ... oh yeah, should probably mention Wes' truck had a stash of cold Blue Lights in the back.   As we sat there, a few of our cx buds gathered to chat, trade a war story and a laugh or two & discuss where we would be racing next weekend. 

It was then that it occurred to me yet again, as it seems to at the start of each new cx season -- that this is why I love cx --  the fairly serious but not too serious competition, a cold beer, the fleeting warmth of the autumn sun and most importantly - the people.   As I was soaking it all in, one of our local buddies rides up with a big smile, a brew in his hand, and while clearly in the midst of a good post race glow gestures around the race area and says "Man, it don't get much better than this".  And by damn I think he was right.

Here we were - we were chillin with our people - the people - 'cross people.

Monday, July 15, 2013

I am not ignorant . . .

I am stupid. The two are often confused, but they are in fact quite different. My biggest fear is that, as Ron White says, "You can't fix stupid."

Let me take a step back though. Four years ago Dave Faso and I started a local training series called the Tuesday Night Training Series. I was in decent shape back then, and the fields were small so it was easy to look like I knew what I was doing. Fast forward a couple of seasons, and my summer time race form had . . . what's the word I'm looking for? Well as a stupid guy, I'll just say "form . . . bad." I spent most of the last two seasons dropping off early to "film the finish." By film the finish I mean I got popped on the first lap, chased like an idiot for a lap, rode a lap pedaling squares and then quit a lap early to film the finish. It became a running joke.

At some point in time last summer I started to feel like a fraud. Granted I'm 100% committed to CX and all things tarmac are an afterthought at best, but I'm co-running a series, racing with the A's, giving out pre-race instructions, and sending out weekly recaps to the local listserv. Getting popped every week is embarrassing. I started feeling like Milos from Seinfeld. Tennis instructor by day, horrible tennis player in my free time . . . here's a clip as a little reminder:
Man I miss Seinfeld, but I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, stupid. So this season my fitness has come back around. Insert commercial: Tim O'Shea from Pointway Performance has really helped me to keep my season on the rails despite traveling for work more than I ever have. This season has been a fresh start so to speak. A little time crunched, but lots of structure, and lots of focus. In fact the Tuesday Night Training Series is now known as the Wednesday Night Worlds, so we're both off to a fresh start. We still hold the series on Tuesdays, but we needed to punch up the name. Ok, just kidding they are really on Wednesdays. If I wasn't so stupid I'd have come up with a wittier joke.

Where was I? Oh yeah, fresh start, new found form, thank you Pointway. Queue the first WNW of the season and my legs explode on the second lap. Second WNW and I hang on until the end. Third WNW and I blow up on the first lap. What separate races 1 & 3 from race 2? It wasn't ignorance, that much I know. It must be stupidity.

A smart person who races road as a Cat 4 would sit in with faster racers. That same person wouldn't cover many breaks. That same person wouldn't ride on the front unless it was at the beginning of a hill. That same person wouldn't average WAY more watts getting popped than they would staying in the race. What kind of Cat 4 racer covers breaks, sits on the front, and generally wastes watts? "This guy," that's who. Who has two thumbs and loves getting dropped? This guy!

A wiser man than I once said, the race is seldom won by the strongest racer, it's often won by the racer who puts out the fewest watts . . . until they need them, and then the watts are still there. So the bad news is that I'm an idiot and I may be destined to repeat myself week in and week out. It certainly beats being doomed to repeatedly push a giant boulder up a hill, Sisyphus style, but not by much. I have clearly angered the Road Cycling Gods with all of my smack talk and boasting of the greatness that is Cyclocross. I get it, I'm likely doomed to repeat myself. Occasionally I'll race intelligently for a week, but just like Charlie Brown falling for the Lucy with the football con, I'm doomed to end up on my back. I believe Aaugh was Charlie Brown's typical response. I have no idea what Sisyphus said as the boulder rolled back down the mountain, but it's probably closer in sentiment to what I say as I get popped.

Anyway, to quote another genius, "Stupid is a stupid does." The good news is that 'Cross is in the air and that's my kind of stupid. That said, if you see me in a road race, feel free to remind me not to be so stupid. Apparently I could use a constant reminder because knowing what to do, and actually doing it are two very different things with two very different outcomes.

Monday, April 29, 2013

I now know that I could never stand up to torture

If you're "Friend's" with me on Bookface, you know that I've been traveling a lot. A lot. Most of my travel is in the car, and most of that travel is in New England (where I am now as a matter of fact). After many weeks of travel, racing season was upon me. The first Albany races were on tap, and I felt somewhat obliged to head out on week 1. I returned from a week on the road on a Friday, packed my bike stuff, and woke up to snow. I left the house under something of a self imposed protest. See the video above, that's what it looked like when I hit the road.

As I headed east, the weather mellowed, and by mellowed I mean it stopped snowing. The temperatures were still less than ideal. Watching the Pro's in Europe battle the elements makes for entertaining reading and viewing. Being a Cat 4 with a day job . . . not so entertaining.

When I arrived I was less than pumped to race. Somehow my mind had blocked out the my previous Albany races and the furious pace at which they start. Either I blocked it out, or I'm an idiot. Probably the latter. Definitely the latter. Anyway, I skipped my warmup because the only place it was truly warm was in my car. 29-32 degrees for a 'cross race? You bet. For a road race? Wait what, I don't even like road racing.

Anyway, to lengthen the list of stupid things I did that day, I also wore a new pair of winter tights that I'd never worn before. Of all of the dumb things I did that day, this was the dumbest. Really dumb. Eating a Big Mac two minutes before the race would have been far less dumb. Poking Mike Tyson in the eye would have been less dumb. Poking Mike Tyson's wife while he was pulling into the driveway would have been less dumb.

So, the race starts and I immediately remember how hard these races are. I'm instantly aware of what a bad idea it was to skip a warm-up. Seven minutes in and the race goes hard, a dude crashes equally hard behind me, and 45 seconds later I'm off of the back. So much for a long winter on the trainer.

All isn't lost, I've been dropped before. I know what my future looks like. I'm doomed to ride with 8-10 other "dropped" riders for the rest of the race. No problem. Heck I'm an expert at that. I'll just try to ignore the guy screaming at everyone to pull. Ignore the fact that he keeps yelling which side we should rotate to. I'll ignore the jerk that dangles toward the back refusing to take a pull. I'll ignore the fact that this ain't 'cross! What is it that I can't ignore? Excellent question. If you're still reading, I'm glad you asked.

I like to think of myself as being pretty tough. I'm a little dude. Well, not little, but if I was standing next to Kate Moss, she wouldn't look unusually skinny. I spent my formative years lifting weights, consuming high calorie body building shakes, eating potato chips, bacon, and six packs of tacos from Taco Bell. I'm simply destined to be a scrawny dude. I don't exactly have a Napoleon complex, but I do tend of overcompensate, and being tougher than average and metabolizing pain is a point of pride.

When I watch a movie and some dude is being tortured, I like to think "I could take that." Well, that all changed for me in Albany. It's official, I can't hack it. Achilles had his Achilles, and I have mine. As it turns out, mine is . . . well, not my Achilles. How do I say this? It was my . . . tip of my junk? Weiner? Frank and beans? Hot dog? Johnson? I'm running out of euphemisms so I'll be blunt. Just after I completed the second lap, I started to notice that the cold in conjunction with my new tights had created what NASA described to Houston as "A Problem." The problem was that it felt as if someone was rubbing sandpaper on the tip of my . . . well I think I covered that already. Anyway, I tried to do some emergency rearranging. I started wondering if I had something in my jacket I could stuff down there to create a barrier. I started to wonder how long it would take to drive home if I turned around now. My first self induced DNF ever. It was then that I understood that I would never be able to keep our nations secrets to myself if I was tortured in that way. Waterboarding? Sounds like a ride at Disney! Cold weather, new kit and repeated scratching? I'll tell you everything I know. Heck if you need to see your target I'll drive. Pay for the gas? You bet.

Anyway, that's all I have to say about that. I've found my Achilles "insert euphemism here."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cyclocross, the Greatest Commute Ever

Bike commuters tend to use the phrase "You're not stuck in traffic, you are traffic. Ride a bike." Unfortunately for bicycle commuters, this post isn't going to be about commuting by bike. This is a blog about 'cross after all. It's no secret that I don't particularly enjoy road racing. I do it, but I do it for 'cross, or to be more specific to stay in shape for 'cross.

I've tried to enjoy road racing, but for the most part I can't do it. When it comes to 'cross I've always assumed that I preferred it for the obvious reasons. Some of the more obvious being the technique required, the camaraderie, the fact that I'm half decent at it, the "race within the race," and of course the mud the blood and the beer. Those are all indeed reasons that I love 'cross, but they still don't entirely explain why I love 'cross so much more than road racing.

I'm a first born. I would probably categorize myself as fairly Type A. I don't like being stuck behind people. In addition to inheriting my fathers rather sizable nose, I almost certainly inherited these traits from him. Well, I definitely inherited the nose, perhaps I learned the rest. In any event, I don't have time to explore the theories of nature vs. nurture, but this much I do know, my childhood was spent trying to "keep up"as my father weaved through people at the mall or darted through crowds looking for the quickest path when exiting a sporting event. As an adult I find myself looking for those same sweet lines.

I spend a fair amount of time in my car. Beyond the obvious commute to work, I spend time working around Boston, Long Island, and more glamorous places such as Buffalo and Albany. Given the time I spend in a car, I'm also no stranger to being stuck in traffic. 1st gear, 2nd gear, back to 1st gear, sweet I'm in 3rd gear, "come on man!" I'm back in 1st gear. There are also times I'm on the thruway and a driver feels compelled to hang out in the fast lane blocking traffic because  "I'm already going 68mph, and the speed limit is 65. It's my civic duty to slow everyone else down . . . and I need to check my makeup and text, so they can just wait." At some point one of two things happens. I get to my destination with angry looking creases on my forehead, or the road finally opens up and I ease into my comfort zone.

What I finally realized the other day is that for me, road racing is like a bad commute. My metaphorical VW TDI of an engine doesn't have the horsepower to break away, and I'm stuck with the rest of the commuters. "Slowing." "Yellow Line!!" "Bottle!" "Close that gap!" For me, road racing is the worst of both worlds. It's like being stuck in traffic during a commute, AND the drivers can actually communicate to each other verbally. At least in a car drivers are limited to using sign language from within the safety of a vehicle so you seldom have to actually listen to the other Cat 4 drivers yelling at you.

In a 'cross race there may be some argybargy in the first couple of laps, you might get taken to the tape, or you might even get yelled at, but at some point . . . at some sweet point, it becomes the best commute ever. The course opens in front of you and by and large you can travel as fast as your potential will carry you. Will people get in your way? Sure. Will you need to figure out how to pass people? Sure, but you'll almost never be stuck in traffic. The weekdays may leave you stuck in traffic but during 'cross season it's full gas. The perfect commute.

Will I stop road racing? Unlikely, it's still the best way for me to stay sharp for 'cross. Will I buy a Kawasaki Ninja for my commute? Highly unlikely, I survived doing that through my 20's and 30's and I'm not too keen on getting killed on my way to work or walking with a limp in perpetuity. I also don't need a ticket for going 168 mph. I know this for certain though, I will continue to love 'cross racing, the greatest commute ever.