Saturday, August 22, 2009

You'll never rain on my parade!

I have this theory, a little hypothesis if you will, that I want to run by you. It's pretty simple, and I guarantee that you can test it out for yourself to prove me right or wrong if you feel so inclined, though I have a strong feeling that wont be necessary. So here it goes:

One's happiness is a direct correlation to rate of pancake consumption.
Or, in mathematical terms: P x N = H,
where P is pancakes (a constant), N is number of pancakes, and H is happiness.

Doesn't that look like genuine happiness to you?

I am a pretty firm believer in this theory and have been putting it to the test with regularity over the course of the season. While flogging myself on a particularly long or gruelingly hard ride, doing my best to stave off overwhelming boredom or fight back tears of pain, the promise of a fresh batch of oh-so-delicious pancakes never fails to reinvigorate my spirits and add a little power to my pedal stroke. No matter how much or little I may have suffered on the ride, I know that when I roll up my driveway, by some sort of divine magic, the properly measured combination of fluffy powder, eggs, and milk will yield my absolute favorite recovery and comfort food. Whether drenched in rain, sweat, mud, blood, or any combination of all the above, nothing can take that away from me - with the exception of my own laziness, in which case I may settle for the second-best option of waffles and eggs. But in general, as long as long as good old Aunt Jemima is still around, no one and nothing can rain on my parade.

And with that, I arrive at my question of the day, only this time it is for you to contemplate, whoever you may be, as you now my answer. What I would like to know is this: What do you use to motivate yourself on a particularly trying day? When the skies open up and you absolutely getting pissed on, literally or figuratively, from what source do you draw the strength to drag yourself on rather than curl up in a pathetic heap on the roadside and cry for Mom?

Before you answer that, I need to attach a condition. Some of you might be inclined to say that you are inspired by the desire to be the best, the hunger to succeed, and nothing else. You think of yourself as a pure competitor whose motivation to compete and triumph is never-waning. I'm going to say to you right now that that is absolute bull shit. I am convinced that even the bravest and most ruthless of competitors, be it Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, or Mohamed Ali, have their moments of weakness and doubt. Every one of them and every one of us must have some other source to draw from, however basic it may be. It may sound crazy, but for me that is pancakes.

Maybe I was dropped over the top of that last climb, or maybe the prospect of another interval sounds about as fun as a Jonas Brothers concert, but as long as I keep those pedals turning until my body completely fails me, I know that I can still earn those pancakes. The more I ride, the more pancakes I can justifiably eat. And no, pancakes are not the reason I ride, they are not the reason that I dream of one day being a professional cyclist, but on those days that I doubt myself and doubt my dream, I need a contingency plan. I need some source of motivation that I can keep in reserve when my primary source is waning a little. That is when I think of pancakes.

What does it for you?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Capitol Region: Courageous, but Crushed

Though admittedly a little belated, I've finally decided to fill you, my loyal reader, whoever you may be, in on my latest attempt at eking out a result in a P/1/2 race. Five days later, though, I am not really feeling a full blow-by-blow race report, and I doubt you would truly want to read it anyway, so I'll skip the filler and just serve up the main course.

It was a hot, hot, and, dare I say, hot day, as it has been every day lately. The race was 4 laps of a 20 mile course, and on lap 1 I was already in trouble, nearly losing contact on the first time over the series of short but sharp climbs. I could tell I was on a bad day, but I was able to maintain contact, though just barely. On the second and much flatter half of the course, the innevitable early break began to form. I could see it happening, and knew exactly what was going on, but my legs were absolutely telling me no. But Roger then decided to make things even more obvious, pointing out to me that this was going to be the break and that I should probably be there, now leaving me with absolutely no excuse for being a complete and utter pussy. So when Jackson Weber of Embrocation came up to the front, where I was currently "hiding," and gave me THE LOOK, what else could I do? Ultimately, I grew a set, and Jackson and I, along with two CCNS riders painfully bridged to the 5 riders already up the road. This was the break, and everyone there knew it.

My death was imminent. What can you do.

I'll hit fast-forward now and spare you some details in the interest of both keeping your attention and salvaging some of my pride. I was eventually dropped from the break and then caught by the elite and select chase group a few minutes behind. The next time up the climbs, I was dropped by them as well, as the big boys dropped some bombs and blew the remnants of the field to shreds. Jackson and I were reunited (YAY!!!), and we rode at a conversational pace along with an Anthem rider for the remainder of the lap. Through bribery, namely an offer to pay for beer later, I was able to convince Jackson to continue the death march with me and grind out the final lap. Unfortunately, the promoters felt otherwise, deciding that only the 14 riders contained in the break and scattered behind would be allowed to complete the last lap, and that the rest of us would simply receive pro-rated placings. So I ended the day 16th, which I am not particularly proud of, though I would probably have been a little happier with it if I could have ridden that extra lap. Plus, I could have eaten more cookies, pie, cake, and other assorted baked goods afterward had I ridden the extra lap. Damn you promoters, always denying me my just desserts!

Now that my wordier-than-planned race recap is out of the way, I will answer my question of the day, which I think is becoming a new theme for my posts.
Today's Q: "What did I learn today?" (boring, I kn0w, but nonetheless important).
Today's A: Well, I think I learned that I actually can sneak my way up the road, as I had hoped, and that I am capable of animating a race at this level. Granted, I did not have what it took to hang on to what ultimately proved to be the winning move (4 of the original 9 hung on to sweep the top 4 spots), but at least I was part of it at some point. That in itself is invaluable experience that I will certainly benefit from. I didn't walk away with any result to speak of, and I didn't bring home any prize money, but I took a step in the right direction. All this on a day that I felt absolutely awful from the get-go. Hopefully next time, which should be Green Mountain, I won't be having a jour-sans, and I can actually capitalize on an opportunity.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

But, but, BUTT!

If there is one issue that all cyclists would give up nearly anything to be able to ignore, but are forced to discuss and address all too often, is is our butts. Or, more specifically, the much more sensitive region thereabouts.

After countless hours of turning circles while perched atop an often scantily padded saddle with nothing but a layer of lycra and some sort of chamois in between, it is inevitable that all but the most fortunate are bound for some degree of discomfort in the not-so-distant future of their cycling careers. An entire line of products exists that is specifically geared toward alleviating this problem. An endless variety of chamois creams and balms are available at local bike stores and through online retailers to assist the avid pedaler both during and after rides, reducing the friction on the dingleberry wonderland and easing the pain afterward. Fun monikers like "ass sauce" (a play on Assos if you didn't get that) and "DZ Nuts" help make light of the conundrum, but it still hangs over all of us like Peter Gibbons' painfully annoying boss in Office Space.

Nothing else can truly compare to the pain of a nagging saddle sore that shoots bolts of pain up through your nether regions every time you touch down to set off on a ride. Runners may complain of awful blisters on their toes and feet, football players of concussions and dislocated shoulders, and baseball players of I honestly don't know what. But let's be honest here: Wouldn't any one of us in an instant trade a quarter, or even half dollar-sized blister on the heel or a swift shot to the head for the pain incurred simply by sitting in the saddle for hours on end? I know I would. So please, will all the sneaker and cleat-wearing folks stay out of this conversation. You've lost already.

Unlike Big George Hincapie, whom I gleaned through an interview over the winter is one of the blessed few who can go without the aforementioned products, probably saving him huge dollars over the years, I am cursed by a rather sensitive tainte (pardon my French). Despite my best efforts and countless tubs of chamois cream, of which I have found Assos to be by far the best, my usually enjoyable saddle time has recently been marred but a very unpleasant discomfort. Using my own well-being, and possibly that of my future (and by future I mean distant future) offspring, as an excuse, I decided to make a purchase that I have been contemplating for some time now: a new saddle. And not just any saddle. Yesterday's mail brought with it my brand new Selle San Marco Concor Light Racing Team saddle. Quite the name for quite the saddle.

I've been eyeing the saddle for the better part of the season, and the time seemed right to make a change, my hope being that a slightly different way of rubbing the saddle would bring an end to my worries and that little forest creatures would merrily scamper along as I ride care-free through the hills of northern New Jersey. Today was day two of my experiment and, sadly, my entourage of forest creatures has yet to form, though I've seen more than enough roadkill. I am happy to report, however, that the pain factor has gone from about a 7, with spikes as high as 9, down to a 2. Granted, over the course of my 4.5-hour ride today I was forced to stop nearly ten times to make adjustments, and at one point was nearly crippled with agonizing hamstring pain that was the result of too low a setting, but the pain I was most worried about was gone. And with the insightful input of my seemingly all-knowing coach, the Flying Fin, I was able to finally get everything set-up so that if feels nearly perfect. By the end of the week, I'm expecting a pain-free ride, or as much as is possible in our decidedly masochistic sport.

Oh, and by the way, if you don't own a tub of this already, buy one now. As the great Ferris Bueller would say: "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Finding my place: "Where am I?"

With yet another race in the books, bringing me, sadly, one weekend closer to the end of the season, I've had the chance to learn a little bit more about bike racing and little bit more about myself, two things that I take as pretty fair consolation for not getting a noteworthy result.

Yesterday was Tokeneke, a race that I had not done before but that I had heard was a serious challenge. Although it was a little on the short side for a P1/2 race at 66 miles, the 6000 feet of climbing and utter lack of flat road made the race live up to its reputation. In the interest of keeping your attention and focusing on the real subject of this post, I'll just give you a quick synopsis of how the day went.

No one was shy about racing, and the first lap was intense to say the least. Things cooled off on the second lap, and a break finally rolled away that the field was happy with. The break never gained more than a minute, things got hot again on lap 3, then on the last power climb before the long run-in to the finish climb, the race went nuclear. The field shattered, I didn't have the gas to make the split, and finished the race in a chase group, dropping most of my fellow chasers on the 2.5-mile finish climb and rolling in with Jerome Townsend and James Morrison 3 minutes down for 24th place. The winner? The Fin himself, who clearly earned it by being one of the few riders in the peleton to make any effort to control the break before Jamey Driscoll and BikeReg took over.

Ok, now that we've established a background story, I can try to answer my own question: "Where am I?" Working backwards, the answer to that question is off the front. Unfortunately, that's only the answer if we're working backwards. At the moment, I'm really just a face in the crowd, holding on for dear life and trying to survive in the shadows of the big boys. That's simply no way to live, let alone race. Going forward again, where I should be is off the front, trying to take advantage of my relative anonimity in the P1/2 field. I realize that when I toe the line every weekend, I'm not considered a threat the way any of the top riders are. And nor should I be. I haven't done anything yet to warrant that kind of respect or fear. The problem, then, is that I haven't taken advantage of that.

Rather than trying to mark the fast powerhouses in the race and hoping, rather unrealistically, that I don't get spit out the back when the shit hits the fan, I should be taking advantage of the long leash that I'm sure I'll be given and forging my way up the road with other riders who, like me, are not yet considered a true threat. That way, when the big boys decide to pull out their guns and are shedding riders in every direction, I'll be safely up the road, riding a steady pace and biding my time before they catch up. By then, I can at least hope that just a little bit of the sting from their relentless pace has been used up already. It would be ludicrous to think that I'm ready to match their speeds when they decide to turn on the heat, especially when I know that it is short, intense efforts that give me the most trouble, and long sustained ones that allow me to excel. Granted, it is a major gamble to take off up the road, where you are working much harder than you would be in the fold of the peloton. But the steady effort in the break can be so much less punishing than the constant accelerations of a charging peloton.

So what's missing now? In all honesty, just a little bit of courage and touch of racing savy. These are all things that I know well from racing for 4 years and watching the Tour on TV every summer. All that's left is to work up the nerve to actually apply the lessons I have learned to an actual race and risk losing in order to try to win. I realized yesterday how much I admire those racers who, like me, are not yet labeled a threat, but who actually have the courage to go up the road and try anyway. Some of you may be reading this post right now, and you probably know who you are, as you are the riders who try this same stunt week in and week out. Sometimes it fails, sometimes it succeeds. Either way, you played your best card, and that's really all you can ever do. Your courage inspires me, and I only hope that, starting now, I can find that courage in myself and join you in the possibly doomed, but not necessarily so, break of the day the next time we toe the line. Here's to hoping we make it!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Rain, rain go away.

So it's pretty clear that I've become negligent in my Blogging lately. I'd like to say that it's because I've been extremely busy doing something somewhat productive or garnering some huge race results, but both of those would be a total lie. I've simply been extremely lazy.

The last time I checked in, I was set to take a camping trip, marking my first true break from the bike all season. In the interest of saving words, I'll just say that the woods were refreshing, the beer was cold, and the plenitude of s'mores was absolutely delicious. I couldn't have asked for a better way to recharge the batteries.

Coming back from my trip, I got right back to business. My season is decidedly bottom heavy, with three big events (Tokenke, Capital Region, and GMSR) all falling in a one month span and all involving lots and lots of hills (you would see my smiling right now if I were telling you this in person). But before I can go out and hopefully convert some of those hills into results, I have to train and race more, and this past weekend, that meant the Tour of Lancaster County.

Now for the stalness:
The TOLC was a 2-day, 3-stage race, involving an 80-mile road race on Saturday followed by a TT and a crit on Sunday. Once again in the interest of saving words, the road race was hot as hell and hard, the TT was run amidst a monsoon, and the crit was blazing fast. I didn't leave with any results to speak of, though I was not embarassed either. Realistically, I couldn't really have expected much out of myself at this race, as I hadn't raced since Union Vale nearly 3 weeks prior, unless you count the local Rockleigh Criterium. That span was by far my longest stretch without racing since the beginning of March, and coupled with the my camping trip the previous weekend, it left me without much top-end power. To put it simply, I was very stale. My fitness was high, there is no doubt about that, but I just couldn't quite tap into it. It was like having a full tank of gas before a road trip but not being able to find your keys. I was able to gut it out on what I had, though, and the hope now is that I'll be able to convert that into some good form this weekend at hilly race No. 1: Tokeneke.

With 6000 feet of climbing over the course of 66 miles, it sounds like my kind of day. I've spent the last two days just recovering from the weekend, with a 2-hour recovery ride Monday and a 3-hour joy ride today. Though it's taken me a little longer to recover than I would like, the lack of stress and abundance of good food I have been a party to (tonight thanks to my own cooking -- a fantastic shrimp fra diavlo), I have high hopes that I'll be ready to get down to business tomorrow and Thursday and turn it on Sunday. I'd be thrilled to nab my first Top-10 as a Cat 2, which would be a really encouraging sign a few weeks out from my biggest remaing goal, Green Mountain. We'll see how it goes.