Doing it all the hard way...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Seasons change

You get the idea
Thanksgiving 2014 is turning out to be a time of transitions.  In years past the holiday didn’t provide any watershed demarcations. When I declared my Cyclocross season over earlier in November I left the door open in the event I wanted to cap my season with a race at Enumclaw or perhaps the now pending UCI races the first weekend of December.  I wondered if my appetite for mud and racing would resurface.  It has not. It is with no great emotion I hereby shut the door completely.  Finito.
 Just another moment of reflection on my journey to nowhere
I am in full off-season mode.  Between now and January I am riding for fun and my only constraint is that I don’t go hard.  That may be difficult but I am willing to try and comply.  Following a season of hard intervals and hard racing, easy spinning is feeling rather enjoyable.  Sometimes you just gotta go slow.

With my beloved fire roads snowed over my gravel riding season for 2014 is done regardless of my emotions or desires.  What a revelation gravel riding was in 2014!  I may ride on some of those roads before next spring but I will do so not with a carbon bike and 35mm tires.  If I ride it will be with four inch wide tires at nine psi on a fat bike.  Riding a thirty-six pound bike on snow is predictably slower than a carbon bike on dirt but fun is what the season is all about and fat bikes are nothing but fun. Try and find a picture of someone on a fat bike who is NOT smiling.

They just closed Highway 20 for the winter so for the next five months our trips to the Methow valley go through Wenatchee. The driving requires more time but less mental focus so in my head it is about the same.  I recall this past spring how awkward the first trip over Highway 20 felt.   
Whiplaesch chillin'
For the next four months I will start most days checking the Nordic trail report for the Methow. Even if I am not there it is a thrill to keep up to date. It may sound silly but having a MVSTA season trail pass has been a dream of mine for years. Hottie and I will be skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking every chance we get.  I agree with you that I don’t deserve this. Pinch me.
Cozy !
My once or twice a week bike commute is dark both morning and evening.  Temperatures have ranged from the twenties to the fifties with wind, rain and ice.  My extensive glove and beanie collection is being exercised on a consistent basis. My love for the Showers Pass Jacket Hottie got me a while back has been rekindled.  It is a red security blanket. “Rain, I laugh at your face!”

Tux finds himself in transition as well.  His muzzle seems to get greyer each week.  He has stopped fighting when he has to get a bath after wading in at the beach.  He hurt his hip running several weeks back and he still favors it which makes me think it has done all the healing it is going to do.  As a result he hasn’t opened up at full speed on the beach since the original injury.  He’s still walking with Hottie and running with me as well as frolicking with other dogs on the beach, but he hasn’t flashed his jaw dropping speed for some time. His fondness for flopping his furry self on our high thread count bed sheets is unaffected.  Welcome to doggy middle age Tux.
The war wagon is entering its tenth year of faithful service.  I have asked a lot from the sand colored machine since it rolled off the lot nearly 170,000 miles ago. Just as we unconsciously adapt to our own infirmaries as we age; it is only after driving Hottie’s car that I noticed the clunking and creaking that I had grown accustomed to from the wagon.  There is a succession plan in place but it requires a couple more years of saving up.  We need to alter our thinking and weigh the vehicular endeavors rather than recklessly taking on all challenges.
The shed is taking on the look of a ski shop...
On my biking side I am enjoying riding as much if not more than ever before.  I am not lusting for any bikes or wheels or anything.  I’m thinking about the quality of the experience as opposed to flat out speed or weight. I am excited Hottie is now set up as well. The old rule of how many bike should a guy have being present number plus one no longer applies.  I’m set. That is a transition. 
Hottie loves me.  She'll follow me to nowhere...
A final transition that perhaps has been more gradual than the others but has reached a point where I noticed it is a hint of discretion in my thought process.  My decision to defer a ride from an icy morning to a safer afternoon, though prudent, is historically uncharacteristic of me.   I tend to get focused on something and ignore all data inconsistent with my plan.  I can’t claim this approach has served me well.  It also makes explaining injuries sustained while riding on icy roads or redlining on slippery trails after dark appropriately awkward.
Strutting !!
I enjoy the tranquility of an early morning ride as much as anyone. The chance to test yourself against the elements is thrilling. The sense of accomplishment, the buzz of doing something hard while others didn’t is a good feeling.  There are times, however, when the smart thing to do is sleep in and make waffles. 

After all these years of getting older maybe I am finally getting smarter.  It’s about time. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

That didn’t work. My 2014 Training experience

 Let me be brief....
My experiment this season was using a coach and it did not produce the results I was hoping to see.  When I first got hooked up with my coach he asked what my goals were for the season.  I basically said I wanted to move the needle.  My results over the past three seasons had been remarkable only in their consistency of unremarkableness.  I wanted to know if I could improve those results as my previous variations had seemed to have no effect on my race placing.   As I measure my results against those I raced with over the last three years my results this season are pretty much identical to the previous three.

For all of my hard work, and there was a lot of very hard work, I didn’t see any improvements.  I followed the plan and while there was a short lull in the middle when I was sick, I expected to see something. In the end I am forced to conclude I saw nothing.  When diets fail it is generally because the person on the diet strays from the prescribed plan.  I stuck to the plan with OCD precision.

My training took a lot of time and it was high value prime time.  Instead of working my training into my bike commutes and YMCA workouts as I had in prior years I would come home from work at dinnertime, kiss Hottie, pet Tux and get on the bike.  As the days grew shorter, training meant getting on the trainer downstairs.  Riding on a trainer is not something you look forward to.  It is boring and your only distractions are listening to music and enduring pain.  It is so boring that you look forward to the pain.
When I finished my workouts I would shower, start the laundry and sit down for dinner somewhere between seven-thirty and eight.  After dinner I was typically pretty useless as far as getting stuff done at home.  Home projects were neglected.   Typically I’d surf for a few minutes and start thinking about bed. Two or three times a week I had morning workouts as well. Hottie ended up having a bunch of dinners alone and was commendably supportive of my folly.

If this effort had produced results I could weigh the value of improved performance against the sacrifice and determine where I wanted to be on that continuum. I expected to see something. I expected to see improvement.   To work that hard and sacrifice that much and see nothing was heartbreaking.  This is why I had no qualms about calling it a season following the MFG finale.
Just like this awesome pancake, I'm done !

The training I did this season was not all wasted. I did learn something important.

In high school and college I competed in track and cross country running.  I did very well and I won more races than I lost. The thinking back in the day was based on your mix of fast and slow twitch muscle you were destined for a certain distance.  All the training in the world couldn’t make a distance runner into a sprinter so the trick was finding an event that matched your physical make up. 

The distances I excelled at were the 400 and 800 meters.  I could compete in the 1,500m (actually the mile back in my time) but I would usually win the 400 and 800 races.  I was competitive in Cross Country (5,000 meters – a tad over three miles) but I didn’t win.  I also would tend to fade during the cross country season.

In hindsight and in light of my most recent training episode I think I finally figured it out.  I’m all about base and volume.   My body responds well to lots of miles and less so to short intervals.  In cross country (and Cyclocross) as the season progresses the mileage goes down and the speed and intensity of intervals goes up.  The hard intervals certainly hurt, but I don’t think they helped me much.  What my body noticed was the decline in long efforts and I would lose fitness.  It is hard to believe that my fitness was going down as my suffering during intense intervals was going up.  Looking back, peaking really never worked for me.  I needed the miles.  When I peaked in high school and college I actually started to feel out of shape and my results toward the conclusions of my seasons were consistent with that theory.
Grandpa planks
I recall competing in the 400m at an off season open track meet at a time when my training for the prior three months had been exclusively long distance.  I was less than two seconds off my PR at the time. I remember thinking at the time that it seemed like an awful lot of hard work to only gain between one and two seconds. 

My one success this season was my first race.  I was still logging big miles and the intervals were still long (twenty and thirty minute efforts as opposed to one to six minute intervals later in the season).  As the season progressed my long rides decreased and the intervals got shorter and harder.   My results returned to the middle of the pack and my befuddlement increased.

I think back to a mini gravel weekend with McWoodie and Einmoton.  We rode eleven hours in three days with thousands of meters of climbing.  Those guys are beasts and I struggled and still couldn’t keep up. Although my legs were quivering on the final day beginning the next week I felt invincible.  I think that is the kind of training that makes me faster.

To be clear I’m selfish and this blog is all about me.  Just because short intense intervals don’t work for me does not mean they won’t work for you.  I’m just happy that I figured it out.  For that clarity alone, the experiment was worth it.  Look for me in 2015 !!

Monday, November 10, 2014

MFG #6 2014 Woodland Park I am so done !

Photos of everyone else can be found here
After having my wish for true Cyclocross conditions more than granted last week, I was foolish enough to be back for more.  A rainy week had saturated the marvelous venue of Woodland Park and all it needed was riders doing warm up laps in order to transform into a slippery course worthy of a series finale.

My bike commute is now dark on both ends and my short sleeved jerseys won’t be used outside for several months.  Intervals are done on the trainer downstairs and the proof of a good trainer workout is condensation on the windows and soggy laundry. This boys and girls is Cyclocross season. 

Despite working harder this season than any of my previous seasons my results have been unaffected.  I’ll deal with that issue in another post.  For context, all you need to know is that my motivation to continue racing beyond the MFG finale is nonexistent.   I’m not saying I won’t race anymore this season.  I’m just saying that I’m not planning on it.

Injuries, age and apathy have combined to make 2014 an unusually sparse year for racers from our team.  This has resulted in a smaller and thus more intimate group of racers.  The dynamic of the same twelve racers coming and going during the day is much different than when we had thirty plus racers who stuck around for most of the day. It has been enjoyable seeing our small band of men, woman and girls persevere, but I do miss the days when our team was both large and loud.  Perhaps if those days did return I would pine for this small group of stalwarts.  I guess I’m just a whiner.  You’ve been warned.
I was looking forward to the return of Big John who had just worked himself back to racing fitness following a late summer wrist injury.  Everyone has more fun when John is around.  When I got a text Friday morning that he was in the hospital ER following a bike crash I was devastated on so many levels.  John is a good guy.  In a fair world something this bad would happen to a guy like, say, Scott.  Scott deserves something like that. John just doesn’t deserve this bad luck.
I was a little off in that I hadn’t felt warm for a couple days and my back was stiff. I’d also read two articles that contradicted my pre-race routine.  The upshot from that newfound knowledge was the static stretching I did just before the gun, as well as my hour long warm up, were outdated and were shown to hurt my race performance.   Oh well. 

Hottie and I arrived early and set up the tent during a perfectly timed break in the rain.  As soon as the tent was staked down the rain returned and the wind picked up. Perhaps I would be lucky this day.

Teammates trickled in and soon the tent was buzzing with brown awesomeness. The rain let off and then came back as a polite drizzle.  I kept my zipper pulled up to my chin and didn’t even wander around the venue talking to everyone as is my normal way. 
I quietly made my way to the car and put on my costume and additional layers to keep me warm until it was time to strip down and race.  I rode the course and the route was mostly the same as prior years with just a couple small but well designed tweaks that added some pain to a part of the course where there used to be a brief chance for recovery.  Though the majority of the route was the same, the rain and early racers had made the course a muddy slippery affair that was different than prior years.

I kept riding and solicited Mr. T to come and collect our clothes from our starting line striptease. He gladly agreed and met us in the starting area.

They staged the 35 plus, 45 plus and the greybeards.   I looked across the starting line at El Pirate and noted that he was not sporting his yellow Lion of Flanders wristband.  He had brought back the wristbands from the World Championships the year they were held in Louisville.  If Cyclocross has a Patron Saint it is the Lion of Flanders. When conditions are particularly Flemmish, we don these wristbands to shield us from the elements.  I pulled off my band and called to El Pirate and tossed him mine.  He shrugged and slipped it on.  His lead in the series was slim and today’s race was double points.   He needed a strong race to win the series. He needed the protection of the Lion. He spoke no words but his gaze told me he understood I was perhaps saving his racing life. 

The start was half a lap away from the finish and those were the only two paved sections of the entire course.  The balance was mud, gravel and some pulverized grass.

At the whistle we were off and I finally had a good start.  The start featured 150 yards of asphalt and I was about sixth wheel in a ball of riders.  El Pirate was in front and he got out of the saddle to accelerate and he went down on the slick glistening black pavement. He slid like he was on a greased skillet and we split and went around him. It seemed like forever before he came to a stop and picked up his bike which had accompanied him on his slide. He must have covered fifty feet. I shouted, “You’re okay, don’t panic.”  Three seconds later we hit the muddy grass at top speed I leaned left and felt my wheels fighting to maintain some traction on the slimy left hand sweeper.

I settled in with some fast guys and felt okay.  The run up was loud and I could hear someone shouting my name the same way Big John usually does but I knew he was home in bed.  My race focus didn’t allow time for speculation on who was yelling for me.   I tried to gain ground on the run up rather than just hold my position.  Other racers tried to ride another five feet up the incline and then bailed having lost all momentum.  I got off early and tried to keep my speed up the soft muddy climb. I passed a rider or two each lap.

I was dueling with Pete K. so I knew I was going fast and I tried to just hang on.  After the run up there is a brief bit of mud before anther soft run up preceded by a double set of barriers.  The course then takes you up a gradual uphill followed by a deceptive uphill on gravel that hurts more than it should. 

PLEASE note some muscle definition in my legs !!
Big John had asked me to channel him and suffer a bit extra on that hill and I thought of him and hurt for him each lap.  I found myself fading near the top but managed to punch it over the top and take back any ground I lost on the short downhill where I relied on my discs to save the day.
Go Matthew GO !
Finally El Pirate caught me and I let him through and followed him for a bit.  He was going well albeit muddied and bloodied.  I shouted to him not to try and get it all back at once.

The course variant they threw in this year removed the short generally flat section that preceded the final paved finishing straight and replaced it with more serious elevation drops and climbs that ensured you were gassed when you hit the pave’.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the course was the greasy uphill corner that followed the finishing straight.  Leaving the pavement you hit short uphill of soft mud that stole all of your speed and then you had to negotiate an uphill turn and accelerate from a near standstill on slickkery mud which just sprayed behind you as your mud caked rear wheel spun fruitlessly.

On one lap I was in the corner trying to pass a rider from the 45 plus cat and I was on his left shoulder and though I was pedaling for all I was worth I wasn’t gaining any ground.  It was like a dream where you’re running but barely moving.  By the time I had traction we were into the next corner and I had to wait and get him on the next corner.

Through the miracle of cellular communication Big John was able to watch our race live through the camera phone of one of our teammates.

My second favorite part of any cross race is seeing 1 TO GO on the lap board.  It means I haven’t been lapped and this is the final lap.  My smile was short lived as I was soon on the greasy corner and fighting just to get moving again.   I dug deep and nabbed a rider and looked ahead for the next one.  I was chasing Guy whom I had caught earlier but he had returned the favor in typical brown style.

I powered the paved section where we had started and took my momentum onto the mud.  Soon I was attacking the run up and then gasping on the dirt that followed.  On the long gravel climb I channeled my inner Belgian Thug and got out of the saddle fighting my way up.  To my horror I was passed approaching the top.  At the top the other racer let up and I charged past noting that he wasn’t running discs and figured chasing me might be a bad idea.  I kept it upright through the Hodala smoke bubbles and whatnot corner and took an excellent line entering the final drops before the climbs to the finishing straight.  I had a bit of a gap on the rider who jockeyed with me on the hill but somehow when we hit the final finishing straight he was right behind me.  Out of the saddle I dug for the line and had a good gap as I crossed.
 DONE   DONE   DONE    DONE    DONE !!!!
I was done.  I was so done.  I found El Pirate who despite the crash had done well enough to win the series.  I hugged him and congratulated him.

He had blood on his leg and knuckles. He then showed me the Lion of Flanders wristband.  It was perfectly yellow except for the side with the Lion. The Lion was covered in mud from his sliding fall.  The Lion had taken the brunt of the fall.  The Lion saved him.  It was a true Cyclocross miracle.

In stark contrast to last week it wasn’t raining and we didn’t have hypothermia looming over us.  I was able to cool down a bit and change into dry clothes.

Soon our young women were racing and when it was reported that Lily had left it all out on the course (including her lunch) I knew it was a great Cyclocross day. 

We took down the tent and listened to the Seahawk game on the way home.  I unpacked and staged the team stuff to dry.  I washed the bike and my clothes.  My sealing of the entry points with Silicone seemed to have kept everything dry.

I was tired from my race and was in bed early.  Although I wasn’t happy with my results this season Hottie did remind me that I wasn’t on crutches like I was this time last year.  Okay, ......not all bad.