Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Nemesis

With full acknowledgement to Merriam-Webster:

Definition of NEMESIS  (nem·e·sis)

(1) the Greek goddess of retributive justice;
(2) one that inflicts retribution or vengeance or a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent.

We all have at least one, or more likely, several in all of the varying facets of our being.  Perhaps it's more than just a single person in a standard setting.  Maybe a group of people, maybe a situation, maybe a company or authority figure.  A nemesis can take many forms and shapes if we step back and contemplate.

Now that I've tried to establish this post as an insightful and philosophical piece of electronic literature, if you are truly a cycling dork, you probably have a few you can rattle off based on your last ride or race.  Think Jan Ullrich and his TdF nemesis if you want to take it to a cycling macro-scale. 

I myself have my share of cycling related nemeses (that's the plural of nemesis for you folks up there in the Oswego County area).  Some are quite easy to identify.... you look at the last 5 races you have done and there is that same freakin guy beating you over and over.  Or better yet, crossresults.com or similar even "calculates" it for you in case you can't tell.  These are your apparent nemeses.  Although you receive a regular ass-kickin, you know what to expect most of the time and can handle it for the most part.  The truly dangerous nemeses are the "subtle" ones.  These are like the passive-aggressive types of the nemesis world.  They lie in waiting looking all cool and calm and then try to put a smack down on you with an aggressive attack.

Such is my nemesis .. the Branta Canadensis with it's subtle and serene yet surprising aggressiveness.  These bastards can be spotted in all sorts of locations (but mainly near water).  They are especially plenttiful along the Old Erie Canal towpath where I like to ride frequently.  These damn animals, all decked out in their sleek yet mysterious black and white, put me on edge in that they put out little "land mines" that I have to either dodge or pay the consequences.  (Look me in the eye and tell me honestly ... do you know what it is like hoping above all hopes that that was mud that just flipped up off your tire into your mouth?) Then, should I happen upon a family, the get all hissy and puffy and have even tried to jump me as I ride by.    I have been tempted to break their scrawny little necks when the come at me but I have shown restraint in starting a physical altercation.  I will admit to cursing a few out on occasion imploring them to waddle their cocky azzes out of the way so I can get by.  So now that I think about it, they are Canadian and all the Canadians (or Canadiens) I have ever met are pretty cool folk so I'm not sure what the story is or why they always act so pissy.

So go forward with an eye on your nemesis, keep your mouth closed, and practice your handling skills cause I am sure my nemesis is more than willing to be your nemesis.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Longest 'cross race . . . ever (or The Highland Hex)

Full Disclosure: What you are about to read is being written by a non-mountain biker. I race CX, road, and on occasion ride MTB's badly.

As some of you know, I'm taking what would typically be my road season and switching it up with some new challenges. I started road racing purely as a means to be a better CX racer. In an effort to keep the motivation high and play around with the lead up to CX, I've stumbled into a healthy mix of road racing through spring and MTBing mixed in with the Tuesday Night Training Series through summer.

A few weeks ago I was on a training ride preparing for the Wilmington/Whiteface 100. I innocently said "I'm not sure if I'm going to do the Syracuse race or the Highland Hex." After two minutes of discussion it was decided that the Hex would be a great overload workout four weeks out from Wilmington. Done deal. Checked with Haight (Bob) and Drumroll, and they were in as well. In the words of Cosmo Kramer . . . "Giddy up."

After peppering Bob with no less than 3 questions a day in the week leading up to the race, I was pretty sure I was ready to go. If anything, I was overly confident. Not about racing fast, but I definitely blocked out any thoughts of the suffering that might occur.

With four of us going from the team, I snagged a big tent from Syracuse Bicycle, brought the tools and a stand, and of course some post race Ommegang. I had a cooler full of bottles, gel packs, Cliff Bars, Endurolytes and a sandwich in case the wheels really fell off.

I'll try to keep this brief, but I could write a novel like "The Rider" after this race:
Lap one - ride easy and try not to get in anyone's way. In my last MTB race a few years ago, my motor kept me up front early, but once it got technical I was more in the way than a drunken monkey on a unicycle in the Tour de France. Regardless of taking it easy, I ended up running through a mud section, running through a spider web of roots section and then crashing in a flowy single track section. When I crashed I jammed my right index finger on a log. It hurt pretty bad, and I refused to look at it for about 200 meters for fear that it would be pointing in the wrong direction. Thankfully it wasn't, although it never ceased to remind me that I'd jammed it earlier.

Lap two - Bob and I are trading positions constantly. In the technical sections he gaps me by 100 meters. On the non technical sections I catch him and press on, telling him I'll see him in the technical stuff. Right around the same place I jammed my finger, I'm back off the bike. On my CX style remount, the bike moves on the trail and I completely rack my left . . . uh, what's the word I'm looking for. Oh yeah, testicle. That never would have happened to Lance Armstrong, but I digress. After another 200 meters, I decide it's still intact and resolve myself to relaxing. If I don't find some Zen, I could lose an eye, break a finger, lose my other . . . never mind.

Lap three - I get my Zen on. Firing on all cylinders, flowing as well as a drunken monkey on a unicycle can flow and generally feeling good about things. I also verbalize one of the dumbest thoughts I've ever had. I say to Bob "Most of these guys can ride mountain bikes, but they're going to get tired, so hopefully it will level the playing field and all of our handling skills will be similar." Man was that stupid. In my defense I was probably well on my way to an oxygen debt fueled trip to Stupidville.

Lap four - I get lapped by Tim O and Bob passes me for the last time in a technical section. Thoughts of catching him again on a non-technical section leave my head. If he doesn't stop to grill a cheeseburger from scratch I won't see him again.

Lap five - this is where things get fuzzy. This is where I start wondering how slow I can possibly ride so that I can minimize the damage but still finish. Also, in an interesting twist I start to think that most of the sticks and roots that I see in the trail are snakes. I really hate snakes. It bears repeating, I really hate snakes. It's primal.

Lap six - I decide that if I play my cards right, I can milk the next two laps and finish in just over six hours. For those unfamiliar with six hour races, 5:59 is a DQ, you need to race one more lap. At this point I'm popping Endurolytes every lap, and running over a bunch of obstacles because I've lost what little trail mojo I ever had. Also, Tim O laps me a second time. He's literally flying, fresh as a daisy and no one else is in sight. If he wasn't a good friend I'd punch him in the nuts for feeling so good while I'm seeing snakes.

Lap seven - I'm ahead of schedule and I don't think I can possibly ride slow enough to make my lap last past the six hour mark. I also don't see how I can possibly ride an eighth lap. On the plus side, I stop seeing snakes. That's as close to an endorsement as I can give for the Endurolytes. "Endurolytes . . . if you completely lose your $&!# in an endurance race, they'll make the snakes go away." If the Hammer Nutrition folks are reading, I'd be happy to work something out in trade.

At the end of lap seven, it's clear that I'm going to roll in just under six hours. A few people are hiding out in the woods to avoid another lap, so they can roll in at 6:01. I see Big John O coming down the trail and he's in my race. I was a little on the fence, but now I decide to grab another fresh bottle, two more Endurolytes to keep the snakes at bay, and head back out. John says he's done. I shake his hand and tell him I'm going back out. As I'm riding away, he says he's all conflicted cause if he goes back out he can probably beat me. He's probably right. He has five minutes to decide.

Lap eight - Oddly enough I hit my stride. I'm still cramping, but I'm getting some flow back and nailing most of the obstacles. When I say nailing most of the obstacles, I mean riding over logs that a seven year old with an MTB could easily clear after a weeks worth of riding. I find some form of inner peace and roll on. I wouldn't want to do a 12 hour race right then, but I can see how it could be done. I'm still slightly concerned that the five minutes of debate got the best of John and that he might be chasing me. I run best scared.

I roll in at 6:49:50. Give or take a second. I ask Jason if this course was normal and he says it was really hard. That's what I was hoping to hear. It was tough, but I'm glad my first one was tough. That should make future races easier mentally if not physically.

Again, I don't have a lot of perspective when it comes to MTB races, but CNY DIRT put on a great low key race. Everyone was SUPER supportive. Much more like CX than road racing. That could be a post in and of itself.

Tim O won, and Drumroll and Bob podiumed in their age groups. I lived and hopefully learned some MTB skills for next time.

Love to ride your bike, whichever bike it may be.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pointway Performance

I try not to pimp any products or services on this site unless I truly believe in them. This is a perfect example of a service I believe in. Tim O'Shea has recently started his own coaching business.

Many people have put up a shingle, taken a test and declared themselves a coach. It doesn't take much quite frankly. With that said, Tim is the real deal.

I've written about the benefits of being coached on a few occasions. In short, a structured training program provides FAR more value than new wheels, a carbon frame, or the latest gizmo. Getting dropped while rolling on new Zipp's is not cool. Trust me, I know. In a perfect world, get the wheels and hire a coach. In an imperfect world, hire the coach first and get the wheels/frame/gizmo's later.

Many may already be aware of Tim's racing credentials. Cat 1 Road racer, kicked Lance Armstrong's ass by over a minute in the NYC Marathon by running a 2:45:20, sub 10 hour Ironman at Lake Placid, 6th place in the Vermont 100 running race AFTER making a wrong turn. He races, road, MTB, CX, runs and swims. I've known Tim since 5th or 6th grade, and despite being one of the smaller kids, he routinely held his own arm wrestling the biggest kid in our class. As an aside, I was the second smallest kid in our entire school. Thankfully there was at least a Filipino girl that was smaller than me, although I'm pretty sure she could have kicked my ass. In sixth grade, Tim would run to and from school carrying his books under his arm. It was probably 6-8 miles round trip. I digress though, because I'm not selling Paul Bunyan. Tim also knows what it's like to suffer and get dropped. You don't become a success without knowing what it's like to fail.

Racing credentials and experience are nice, but that's only half of the package. Being fast doesn't qualify one to be a coach, and being a good coach doesn't mean that you need to be fast. In Tim's case he is well positioned to address every side of the equation.

I've spent countless hours training with, car pooling with, eating with and sharing hotel rooms with Tim. If you spend enough time with someone, you really start to get a sense of what makes them tick and their core values. Tim is built for coaching. He's fascinated by the data, the process, the diet and most importantly the psychology of a racer.

Without harping on the technical side of coaching, which Tim clearly understands, I'd like to address the psychological aspects of training. I think this aspect of coaching is largely ignored, and I think this is what really sets Tim apart from the average coach. Watts, max heart rate, resting heart rate, blah, blah, blah. It all means nothing if you're head isn't on straight. When things are going well, we train. Sometimes over train. When a race goes bad, it's easy to get in a funk and lose a few days of training or lose interest in bikes and racing all together. I've experienced all of this first hand. Tim has a knack for helping to keep everything in perspective. Additionally, he does a great job of explaining things in real world terms using spot on analogies that anyone can relate to.

The bottom line is that Tim spends at least as much time thinking as he does training. I've purposely taken some time off from fully structured training, but I've been reaping the benefits of Tim's dietary knowledge and "attitude" support. If you've ever thought of working with a coach, or if you've worked with a coach that only provides data for work outs, but little else, get a hold of Tim.

You can call him at 315-655-4620 or e-mail him at cxnationals5 (at) gmail.com

As I said last time . . . Love to Ride Your Bike.
Skinny Phil

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mint Condition

There is a phrase you'll never read when I'm selling a bike. "Pictured is my Mint Condition Trek Superfly." Last Thursday it was in mint condition, but now it's used, just like a bike should be. One weekend, and 6 and half hours of riding later and there are already some scuffs, and the finish is already worn down to silver on the drive-side crank arm.

Here's the back story . . . Tim O. starts talking about the Wilmington/Whiteface 100K and I say there's no way I'm interested. After MUCH thought, many e-mails, and hearing that Drumm, Haight (aka Bob) and local CX'er Ormsby are already signed up, I pull the trigger on a new bike. In the process of debating, both Tim and I looked at every conceivable MTB option on the planet. Resurrect an old 26'er, convert the current single speed 29'er, new geared 29'er, eBay, craigslist, turn to a life or crime, shake my money maker for dollar bills, you name it.

At the end of the day, I went with a new Superfly from Syracuse Bicycle. Those guys are awesome and between Paul K. and some, actually a lot of guidance from Brian K. it was a no-brainer. What really struck me though was the number of "mint condition" bikes that were for sale used. "I bought this bike with intentions to ride it, but never did." "I never rode this MTB off road or in the rain." "I built up this bike and only rode it once while wrapped in pillows and wearing oven mitts."

I seldom sell bikes because I usually like to keep them around, but when I do sell them they have been used for 1,000's of miles in their intended purpose. If I were to try and sell my bikes, it might sound like this:

Steven's #1: Head tube scratched from shouldering the bike up numerous run-ups. Paint on fork scratched, couldn't tell you why. Crank scuffed with extreme prejudice. Crashed in CX races more than once.

Steven's #2: See above and add that the protective sticker to prevent chain suck damage was removed during actual chain suck.

Cervelo S1: Frame only. Small paint chips everywhere from racing, training in all manner of weather and some cable slap.

Cervelo SLC-SL: Frame looks awesome. There is some scuffing from cable rub. Oh yeah, I put a hole in the frame last year at Hollenbeck and had it repaired by Calfee. Looks good, rides as good as ever, but selling a frame that had a hole in it is a little tough.

Trek X01: This bike has been raced for CX, MTB'd at Highland, loaned out to countless friends to test the CX waters, raced in Black Fly a couple of times, ridden through two winters, blah blah blah.

I could go on, but I'm starting to feel like a jerk for owning this many bikes. The bottom line is this: my bikes are clean, very well maintained and all of them see A LOT of action. Like I said last time, Love to Ride Your Bike . . . and then actually ride them. I suspect that most people reading this already are.