Doing it all the hard way...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Training Update Middle Age Reality

Back when "Windows" didn't refer to an operating system
I enjoy cycling and running for pleasure.  At certain times of year those activities take on a different face as part of an integrated training plan. This is one of those times of year and some recent training experiences have highlighted the commonalities and well as the differences between my training now compared to my training in high school and college.

As I was riding into the sun the other evening two things happened. First my vision was impaired ever so slightly by hair in my eye reflecting the sunlight.  This was just like in high school when my long hair would hang down and get in front of my eyes.  A notable difference was that the hair that was glinting in the sunlight on this particular evening was hanging down from my eyebrow and not from the top of my head where (by the way) my hair is engaged in a turf war with my forehead.

The second thing that was the clear was the feeling that summer was ending soon which made me excited.  The sun was still high above the horizon and the temperatures were such that I was glad to have skipped a base layer under my short sleeved jersey.  I cannot tell you why the warmth and sunshine communicated to my head that summer was drawing to a close but I can tell you that the feeling was absolute.

Back in my teens and early twenties the end of summer was exciting because it was the culmination of a long summer of hundred mile weeks.  After paying my dues for three months I was typically hungry to get racing. These days the sport is Cyclocross and I look forward to the challenge of racing and the camaraderie of cheering others and being cheered by my team. 

The start of the school year brings an energy that is palpable on a college campus. The winding down of summer is not unlike the last day of a vacation.  You have enjoyed the fun and are almost ready to get back to work.  For me, that is the feeling of September.
Long shadows....
My stair workout a couple weeks ago made my legs hurt more than they have in my entire life.  Because with age inevitably comes compromise and adaptation to avoid exactly this kind of discomfort, in a sick way I welcomed the hurt as a sign I was still young or dumb or at least still willing and able to work hard.  

I have seen enough that I can connect the dots and know that the right hard work always pays off later.  That experience gives me the patience to put in the work now and wait to see the results later.  In a world where we can get answers in a nanosecond the ability to wait for results is harder and harder to come by.

My current training doesn’t fit neatly into bicycle commutes to work or gym sessions before work.  Consequently it cuts into our usual meal time and inconveniences Hottie.  She has been supportive, however, she did ask when my season ends (the last MFG race is November 9th) and I couldn’t see if her teeth were clenched.

I used to think having sore legs or a tight low back was a reminder that I was working hard.  With injuries and vacations that resulted in extended periods where I didn’t work out, I have found I am sore regardless of my activity level.  My personal experience tells me working out makes me stronger and reduces some of the aches and pains.

Just like when I was seventeen I am cutting the grass at the house where I live. Just like when I was seventeen I am working out hard.  When I topped out at the top of the 188 stairs I slumped forward and put my hands on my knees and fought for oxygen.  In the seventies and eighties I had a training plan taped up in my closet. Now my training plan is on my computer but the principle is the same.  It is a plan aimed at getting results.

In those ways I feel like I am seventeen again.  In other ways I feel like I am qualified to race cross in the 55 plus category.

Maybe there is an age where the "Raphafication" of photographs 
no longer makes you look badass.....
When I see my friends from my youth on Facebook they all seem much older than I think I am. When I see my grown children have children of their own it takes a moment or two for me to deduce that those little people are my grandchildren.  When we eat out, female servers call me “sir” and assume I am harmless compared to the loud young bucks at the next table.  I respectfully maintain that I am not harmless and without declaring myself the latest incarnation of Walter White, I do feel I am capable of both mischief and felonies.

Aside from National Championships I am now in the oldest racing category they offer in Cyclocross in these parts. When I hear a small voice call “Grandpa” I look to see if they are talking to me.  I may not be the fastest old guy, but I am enjoying this life.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

American Classic Argent Tubeless Warranty Service (or lack thereof) Review

I recently had some dealings with a local bike shop and American Classic which in the end just felt sleazy.   

After an obsessive amount of research in 2013 I thought I had found the ideal combination of wide, light and tubeless in a road wheel. It wasn’t carbon or anything, but I began lusting anyway.  A few months later I was able to buy that wheelset and because it was February, after some short test rides I set them aside waiting for spring.

When spring came I was spending a lot of time riding on gravel and so my wheelset rested in my garage patiently waiting for me.  By mid-summer I had been out on the wheels enough to get to know them and was generally pleased.

The wheels were well suited to the Volcano epic and I was glad to use them.  On the third day of our adventure my driving shift was the last leg and when I loaded my bike up on the rack I noticed a dent in my rear rim.  I had hit a pothole pretty hard an hour earlier and attributed the dent to that.

The dent was not where I would have expected. The dent was on the inside (hub side) of the rim. Typically a pothole would damage the outside of the rim.  We had a spare wheel and I rode that the last day while I scratched my head.

I brought the damaged wheel to the bike shop where I bought it and showed it to them.  With conviction bordering on arrogance they said they had seen this type of dent “a lot” and there was no doubt it was caused by the pothole.  They said the wheel was unsafe and they would send it back to the manufacturer (American Classic) who would repair it for a “discounted” price.
I have been dealing with aluminum stress analysis, load paths, shear, bending, compression, tension, moment arms, and finite element analysis since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.  I can’t claim to be an expert, but I do know more about aluminum failure than ninety-nine percent of everyone you know.

I left the shop feeling like I had no alternative, and despite the conviction of the folks at the shop, I didn’t have an answer that I could reconcile with my technical knowledge.


The next day I downloaded my photos from the trip and when I zoomed in on a photo of my bike taken the day BEFORE I hit the pothole I could see the rim was already dented.  There goes the theory of the dent being caused by the pothole.  Having descended 13,000 feet with top speeds approaching fifty miles an hour between when the photo was taken and when I noticed the dent  I have to wonder just how “unsafe: the wheel was.

Based on the apparent indifference shown me by the shop I contacted American Classic directly via email and asked them what they thought happened.

I’ll spare you the back and forth but in the end American Classic said they had only seen something like this once before (my mind shot back to the guy at the shop who said he had seen it “a lot”) and that maybe I had gotten my wheel wedged in a storm drain or railroad track and twisted it. I assured them nothing like that had happened.

In any event, they (American Classic) admitted they weren’t really sure why their wheel failed, but they were (somehow) sure it wasn’t their fault and I would have to pay (how convenient for AC and the shop…) to get it fixed.
They didn’t know why their wheel failed yet somehow they knew it wasn’t their fault.  Awkward pause… I thought the tie goes to the customer, but apparently not when it comes to American Classic’s gear.

As it stands now:
American Classic has a customer who feels shafted because the answers didn’t add up and I had to pay for it.   Answers like "It doesn't make sense so it’s on us” would have been okay as it would have built some trust and goodwill between me (the consumer) and American Classic.
I have a local bike shop where the staff is either ignorant, dishonest, greedy, or lazy.  None of those options inspires me to buy local. 
Finally I have an American Classic wheelset that failed for no reason that anyone can explain so I don’t know what to do differently to prevent it from happening again.  Oh joy.

You need to trust wheels.  How do you trust wheels made by a company that seems to take no responsibility for the integrity of their product?   I find that by nature companies with integrity make products you can trust.  At this point, American Classic is the antithesis of that.

So how does American Classic demonstrate they understand my frustration?  When they ship back the repaired wheel they include the bitchin bumper sticker you see pictured at the top of the post.  Any suggestions on where I should put it ?

They don't get it.  Zero of five Evos. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

This time; it’s personal

A close look reveals the trifecta of disasters; Fire, Wind (snapped tree) and Rain


When the Carlton Complex fire broke out downwind of us inthe Methow it was tragic. Some of myfavorite backcountry riding trails are located in the middle of the fire. I made a quick run out to our place toaddress items related to long term loss of power. It was surreal in so many ways. In addition to losing beautiful wilderness, peoplelost homes and farmers and ranchers lost crops and cattle I felt like we wereat war and were losing friends one after another. When I left the cabin andheaded home I felt like I had put someone in a life raft and left them in themiddle of the ocean and waved goodbye as I powered away. “Good luck, I’mheading to where it is safe,” was the feeling I had.


Two weeks later when the Rising Eagle fire broke out andwas heading toward our cabin they issued a level three evacuation notice (don’ttake anything, just go NOW) for our area it became even more personal. We were in Seattle and completely helpless inthe situation and I struggled to invoke my well-honed powers of denial. I sought to adopt a philosophical outlookthat loved ones were safe etc. but the pit in my stomach reminded me that I wasnot fooling myself.


I succeeded in distracting myself and slowly let my hopebuild overnight as the reports of the fire progress slowing came in and thefire fighters gradually gained the upper hand. We finally exhaled on Sunday but our excitement was tempered by theknowledge of how close we had come to losing the place we had dreamed of for morethan a decade. What was next, famineand locusts?


How do you say thank you to the people who stood betweenyour home and a wind driven raging fire? Were it not for the Carlton Complex fire, all of the personnel needed tostop the Rising Eagle fire would not have been in place and our cabin, and ahundred others like it would be gone. Whatdo I say to the people who lost homes in the Carlton Complex fire? Were it not for their loss our place would begone. Is this some kind of morbidroulette? How do you look at the bear cub, Cinder, who suffered third degreeburns on her feet and was found crawling on elbows and knees and not feel yourheart melt? Fire wants to burn and has no concern about what or whom itdestroys.


Mudslides (a.k.a. flows as my geology professor would have said) post fire !

DG looking downright majestic

We saw a lot of this. Black and green all at once

I know that fire opens up certain types of pine cones andfire is a necessary part of the lifecycle in a forest ecosystem but that seemsa trivial consolation compared to the catastrophic drama that is a forest fire.


The emotional roller coaster of enjoying recreation in aplace that has experienced such tragedy requires a complex combination ofcompassion and dark humor to which I am probably well suited. The joy ofescaping disaster is muted by seeing other that were not so lucky. What do you say?


Hottie and I drove to a trailhead and were met byuniformed soldiers in a Humvee. Theytold us where we could and could not go and then we parked in the lot besidefire trucks. As we got on our bikes wepassed dozens of men and women who were dressed in Nomex getting a finalbriefing before heading up Thompson Road to go hand to hand with the BridgeCreek fire. How do you say, “Have funfighting the fire, we gotta ride these bikes!” How do you look them in the eye as you are playing and they are fightingto protect you? Lucky for us few turnedto look at us and we departed with minimal interaction.

Out of the green and into the black.

Green and brown and black..

I haven't figured out the dry pine needles sitting on top of black earth..

How about some heavy rains and a grey mudflow ?

My own private Oso.

In town you see people you know and some have been sparedand some have lost everything. You exchange awkward looks. My mind is thrown back to the looks exchangedbetween parents on the cancer floor at Children’s Hospital. It is a mix of thethousand mile stare and an expression that reveals their minds and heartscannot reconcile the horrific facts before them. They are just trying to makeit through the day and hope to wake up tomorrow and find it was all a terriblenightmare.


The fire zone is in mop up now and this past weekend theyopened some of the areas that had been off limits.

Black on one side, green on the other..

DG and I were some of the first people to ride roads thathad been closed for a month. The moonscape that greeted us was exactly what weexpected and we were still stunned. Theseemingly random nature of scorched earth on one side of the road and greengrass on the other was crazy.


On Balky Hill Road we saw an entire hillside that wasblack and smack in the middle there was a house that appeared untouched. Along Beaver Creek we saw several houses thatwere saved with black burned trees all around them. It was clear the fire fighters had done allthey could to save these structures. They did their job.

Hottie and I went for a ride this weekend and were stunned by the damage we saw.

We had well over 2,000 feet of climbing and had fun along the way.

Ten percent….No problem

Many trees were black but many had only partiallyburned. The ground cover was all blackand some of the rocks look like they had been spray painted black. A hard rain a week ago had been a Godsend tothe fire fighters. The burned vegetationand crusty earth didn’t hold any water and the evidence of torrents runningdown the hills was everywhere. Mudslides had left puddles of silt the size of baseball infields.


I spent the winter and spring marveling at the week toweek changes the area experiences. The changes slowed in midsummer and I amsure they will begin again as fall approaches. I look forward to watching the back country come back to live over the comingweeks, months and years.

This is what hope looks like in Pipestone Canyon

The community also will take weeks, months and years torecover. I can’t foresee what that willlook like but I do know that those who escaped catastrophe and the visitors wholove this area aren’t flinching at providing a little economic stimulation tothe valley.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

STAIRS Are you crazy? Stairs ?

One of the complexities of middle age is that the line between knowledge-based confidence and ignorance-inspired misconceptions is usually blurry.   The liberation I feel at my lack of concern for the judgment of others is more than offset by the filter that excludes ideas that don’t match my adopted paradigms from being seriously entertained inside my head.

Objectively I do think I know a lot about a lot of things. Realistically I am sure I know a lot less than I think I do.  Combining my conceded ignorance with my extraordinary powers of rationalization results in the perfect storm for unexplained phenomena.

One such phenomenon is my exceedingly pedestrian performances in Cyclocross.  Whilst I don’t find my meaning in life from my finishing position, I do marvel that my dedication and hard work yield essentially nothing.

With the freakish exception of one season of Cyclocross a few years ago my results have been alarmingly mediocre.  For the last two seasons you can take the number of race entrants and divide by two and that is my finishing place plus or minus ten percent. 

I’ve read everything about training I can get my hands on and work amazingly hard to be this mediocre.  I don’t know what was in my oatmeal in 2010, but aside from that one year of podium finishes, I’ve been remarkably unremarkable.

I’ve laid out training plans and worked hard yet my results have been unaffected by my efforts. Excel spreadsheets and graphs have elegantly documented the acute lack of correlation between planning, execution, effort and the subsequent results.  I plan months in advance and tweak my plans as appropriate, yet my race results remain crap. 

I spent the first twenty-some years of my life winning (running) races and my transition from victory to philosophical justification has been humbling.  My ego doesn’t need to win, but I would like to see something for all of my efforts; measureable improvement would suffice.

I enter each season with high hopes and the first race is inevitably a total bitch-slap. Typically the season opener leaves me scrambling, feeling like I have gone down the wrong path AGAIN!!  Nothing like finishing the first race thinking, I must need more base miles!! Too late!  I have lamented time and again that nobody works harder to be as mediocre as me.

A chance conversation with a good friend has brought about a different approach for 2014.  I have a coach.  I was skeptical if this change would bring about different results since (in my ego infused head) I already know everything.  My mindset was open and I will confess that I did feel a sense of relief over not having to deal with the day to day planning of my workouts. All I have to do is execute the work.  That sounds refreshingly easy.

When I got my first week’s plan from my coach I looked at the workouts for each day.  Nothing wild here, I thought.  Hard days, easy days, weights….  Then I looked at Thursday evening’s workout.  Stairs …..stairs, …..stairs!!  I haven’t run stairs in decades. 

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. 
I had phased lunges out of my weight workouts because they made my gluts sore.   I trimmed my interval workouts into my commuting schedule rather than adjusting my commute to include a FULL interval workout.  Without noticing it I had cut corners and used my well documented powers of justification to forget the countless compromises and wonder slack-jawed why my results were unchanged.

When I was in physical therapy my torturer made me do lunges.  They hurt.  I healed. They worked.  Then I slacked.

How many things have I phased out of my training because they were hard, or hurt, or were inconvenient?   My guess is that in the coming months I shall find out. I had adapted to working hard at the things I wanted to work hard at and excluding the things I didn’t care for.  Suddenly the puzzle to my lack of performance was coming together.  Oh the powers of rationalization are strong with this one. 

Having to be accountable is also valuable not just to make sure I did the hard stuff hard enough, but also to make sure I took it easy when I was supposed to.  Many times I was on a recovery ride and feeling pretty good so why not attack the hill?  Well, I just made my recovery ride not a recovery ride.  Accountability seems to be a good thing.  Through the miracle of GPS devices there really is no place to hide.  Good as well.

There is some pain in my future. Pain that brings results is welcome.  I look forward to it.  At least I think I do.  One of my first exchanges with my coach echoed of my conversation with my granddaughter when she fell while learning to cross country ski.  I’ll paraphrase his answer which concluded our conversation “Yeah, it’s hard.”

I ran those stairs yesterday.  Today my legs hurt.  Just so you understand let me clarify a few things. I competed in track and cross country for fourteen years.  I’ve finished ten marathons.  I’ve completed countless other running races.  I consistently ran hundred mile weeks in high school and college.  I would guess I’ve ridden in excess of fifty thousand kilometers on my bike.  My legs have never hurt this much.

There will be pain. Oh yes, there will be more pain.