Saturday, January 30, 2010

Round Two

Temperatures today were not much better than they were yesterday here in Medford, MA. By not much better, I mean single digits rather than negatives, and that was only by about 1 or 2 o'clock this afternoon. I think you can see where this is going...

That's right, I spent the day kicking it with Bruce Wayne in the bat cave. Ok, not really, but that would have been really cool. Think of all the sweet toys. But I digress.

I actually spent my afternoon in my dorm room, which resembled a cave with the lights off and the blinds mostly drawn to help keep the room as cool as possible as I plugged away at the trainer again. I'm sure you're all pretty familiar with the set-up.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my roommate for being so accommodating, too. Though he likes to sleep in, which means I have to wait a little while, once he's up he is pretty understanding of my need to stink up the room for 2 hours and do battle with my alien-green spinning contraption (ie. trainer). Hell, he even provides me with my in-flight entertainment! Today's feature film: Platoon. It definitely got the job done. So thanks a lot man. I promise that as soon as the mercury rises again, I'll be out the door before you've even left REM. In the meantime, please continue to bear with me.

Anywho, today's workload was much more bearable than yesterday's, thanks to some good old-fashioned intervals. Though yesterday's easy 2 hours was by no means physically painful, it was sheer mental drudgery trying to slog my way through 120 minutes of left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot...
"Yes, drill sergeant!"

Today, thankfully, my 2 hours were nicely broken up into much more manageable segments of time. Sometimes I rode hard. Sometimes I rode really hard. Sometimes I rode easy. Sometimes I rode really easy. And, what do you know, the time sort of flew by. It's amazing what happens when you're only thinking about the next 5 minutes rather than the next 115.

Not that any of this is news to me, as I have done plenty of trainer rides before -- both totally boring and monotonous and broken up by interval -- so I know how to help pass the time; but some days intervals just aren't on the menu. Those are the difficult days when you just need to use every trick in the book to not look down at your cyclecomputer and see that its only been 1 minute and 46 seconds since you last checked how much longer you have to go. It's tempting, but you just have to resist.

In a way, riding the trainer offers a great lesson -- both for cycling and, well, life. In the end, of course, the big picture is all you can really see. All those little five-minute segments are just strokes of the brush on the canvas that is ultimately your season or your life. But if all you ever think about is the end result, what the puzzle is going to look like when you finally put in the last piece that you've been looking for and finally found under the sofa cushion, not only are you going to miss out on a lot of good things, but you're quickly going to be overwhelmed. It's just too difficult and too much to ask to keep your eye on the prize all the time. We all need some smaller incentives along the way to keep us on that yellow brick road to wherever it is we're going. The Emerald City may may be a pretty bright light at the end of the tunnel, but it's simply not always enough to get us all the way there.

So set that goal of beasting Battenkill, nailing Nationals, or fawoomping (yes I made that up) Fitchburg. But don't get too obsessed with it along the way. Keep it in mind, but don't let it blind you. Staring at the big picture all the time is just too much.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Grab the Bull by the Horns

Fear not, my faithful followers. I haven't forgotten about my promise to keep updates more frequent. This past week just hasn't been all that eventful, and I haven't really done anything that I've though was Blog-worthy. That is, until today: I rode the trainer.

It may not seem like much, but for those of you who know me well, you might understand how difficult that can be for me. To date, I have ridden the trainer only two other times all winter, and one of them was only because I spent the entire day driving home from New Hampshire and night had already fallen by the time I was home. I've braved some pretty severe temperatures over the past weeks and months, all in the interest of actually getting to ride my bike. I've always felt that every time I'm forced onto the trainer, a little piece of my soul dies. There's just nothing fun and nothing satisfying about it, other than working up a good sweat and I guess feeling like I've accomplished something.

So as you can imagine, it had to take something drastic to keep me locked up indoors. Today, drastic came in the form of -7 degrees and wind gusts of up to 32 mph at 10am, when I wanted to start my workout. Though I'd like to think that I deal with the cold better than most, despite what some might call my "slight build," I'm no freaking polar bear; and last I checked, there's not an ounce of Inuit blood in me. Plus I don't have the muscular strength require for pedaling through anything more than 3 layers over my legs, so that ruled out wearing every pair of leg-warming device in my wardrobe.

Having already lifted yesterday, when it was definitely warmer but happened to be snowing quite heavily, my options were limited. So I reached under my bed, pulled out my chemical green Kurt Kinetic trainer, and thus began the war of the wills. The victor: me. Two hours later I was showering and off to lunch. Amazingly, my soul is still intact, and for that, I have Mr. Martin Scorsese to thank. "Raging Bull" proved just the trick to get my mind off the drudgery at hand, and what do you know, it's exactly 2 hours long! Thanks again Martin. It's hard to be too bored while De Niro is pounding faces in. I highly recommend it for your own attempts at self-chastigation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Building and Rebuilding

In this sport, everything is about building and rebuilding in one way or another. When training, we are constantly breaking ourselves down with long hours in the saddle and hard, focused efforts in order to build ourselves up for our goals. Once those goals are passed us, whether we achieve them or not, the process starts anew, and that form we had often deteriorates before we build it up once more, often times higher than before. Build and rebuild. Those are two of the key principles in cycling, as well as in life, in my opinion.

In the past year, I have become intimately familiar with these principles and what it feels like to successfully implement them. Under the guidance of Roger, my coach and mentor, I put in more effort and time to training for my goals than ever before, and I definitely enjoyed the fruits of my labor. A big result at Battenkill, an upgrade to Cat 2, and simply enjoying every minute on my bike were amongst my greatest achievements. I learned a lot about myself and what works for me, and though I still have much to learn, I think I have a lot more figured out now than I did at this point last year.

As I said in my last post, before coming back to school I finished up a huge block of training. I had never before logged such hours in the saddle, and the work I did in those two weeks have me feeling truly confident about what I will be able to achieve this coming year. Without getting into my plans for the whole year, I will say that my most immediate goals are to have a dominant performance at the Cat 2 event at Battenkill in April and then to earn my Cat 1 upgrade by June, before Fitchburg. With school starting today, training is definitely not going to be easy, as I have a big course load with three courses for my major at the same time, but I know I can make it work. I will never let cycling get in the way of school, especially since I know that waiting until I am 22 to let it fully take over my life, at least for a while, will only make me stronger, but that does not mean that I can't still devote most of my remaining energies to the sport. And that is what I intend to do. Though I'll be hard at work studying, I'll be just as hard at work proving I belong where I recently found myself.

That brings me to my final topic of the day, which I alluded to the other day. After throwing my name around and reaching out to a few different people, I was offered an opportunity that, to be honest, was beyond my wildest dreams. Back in November, I was offered, and of course accepted, a spot in the Independent Fabrications Racing Team . I was, and am, truly thrilled to be on such a respected and accomplished team, with a group of riders that I know command serious respect and are proven performers. It is an awesome group of guys and I feel privileged to be counted among them. Now I just want to go out and prove that I belong, even if only to myself.

How does this tie into building and rebuilding? Well, there are certainly some deeper and more meaningful ways, but I'm going to leave you with a bit more of a material one. On my way back to school yesterday, I picked up my new steed from the IF factory. She's a shiny and beautiful IF SSR, finished up with my first ever set of Dura-ace components. At the moment, I'm just finishing the set-up, which should be done early next week. Not that there's anything wrong with Orbea, which I fully intend to keep until it dies, but this bike is SWEET. It's going to be an awesome machine, and I will lick it clean if I have to in order to keep it as beautiful as it is now. It's going to be a good year.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Beginning and An End

I'm sure that my long absence has lost me any faithful followers I may have once had, but for those of you still interested enough to reading this, hello again!

It would be a waste of time to recap the past four months, so I'll just give you a few highlights:
  • I finished the fall semester of my sophomore year at Tufts.
  • I joined Independent Fabrications Racing Team, which warrants an entire, forthcoming post of its own.
  • I skied in Mammoth, California.
  • I hiked in New Hampshire with my new teammates
  • I rode my bike...a lot.
And there you have it: the cliff-notes of my life from September through now. As of now, I'm all packed and ready to head back to school tomorrow morning, where I will reluctantly be heading back to class and, gasp, reading. At least I made the most of my time at home.

Since coming back from my ski trip Christmas week and then playing in the snow in New Hampshire with my new teammates, I have spent pretty much every minute of every day either riding my bike or eating so that I could ride my bike again the next day. As you may recall from an earlier post, pancake consumption is absolutely tantamount to my happiness and motivation; and let me tell you, my mood has never been better (I'm sure Aunt Jemima must be happy too). I don't do the whole "here are my numbers, now bow and worship me" thing, but I will say that over the course of 15 days, ending yesterday, I logged 51 hours in the saddle. That's a lot of pancakes.

Nearly all of those miles were logged in some very good company, namely other local riders and Finkrafters in the area. The group was different every day, but Roger was always in it, which for me is just incredible. I can't stress enough how valuable it is to get to ride with my coach/mentor literally every single day.

Though there were lots of great days over those two weeks, the real high point was last Friday, when Roger, Kyle, Andreas, John Raheb, Prinsloo, Arland, and I set out for the first great epic of the year. We covered 112 miles and climbed over 6000 feet, and somehow still had it in us to haul ass for the last 45 minutes to get Prinsloo home in time to go pick his son up from school. I'd be lying if I said that didn't hurt, but we made it and it was one of the best days I have ever spent on a bike, and 6 hours has never gone so fast. Great company makes days like that truly enjoyable, and all those guys were great.

So now that I have closed that chapter with a nice coffee shop ride today with Rog and Kyle, it's time for me to rest up a little bit, settle back into life at school, and then prepare for the start of the racing season. Collegiate racing kicks off the first week of March at Rutgers, once again on my birthday, which I really enjoy. Though, as I said, I'm a little reluctant to go back to school, where I'll have a few more things on my plate than just bikes and pancakes, I know that I can push through the semester and, before I know it, I'll be back here in Jersey and back to the simple life I love. In the meantime, I'll have this to keep me motivated:

Isn't she pretty?

I promise to try to keep the updates a bit more regular from now on. I'm already beyond excited about this year, and I know it's going to be a lot of fun. Landing it IF was really a dream for me, and all my new teammates are really awesome guys. I could not ask to be in a better place, and, like I said, I promise to fill you in a little better later on. In the meantime, thanks for reading and, to many of you, thanks for riding with me.