Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Lamb of Flanders

It is so subtle the untrained eye will probably miss it.  For as long as there has been a team email list there have been random emails seeking company on weekend rides. 

“Anyone want to go longer tomorrow?” is a popular one.  “I’m going out for a couple hours around noon on Saturday if anybody wants to join” is another familiar flavor.

Thus one could easily miss the increased frequency of the invitations.  The duration of the rides in February and March might also be a tip off to those watching closely.  Many who historically take the post-cyclocross lull very seriously are out logging miles.

Without much fanfare we are all building up for our Dolomite trip.  As El Jefe’ has at times reminded us, the mantle of leadership never leaves his broad shoulders.  He has been a champion at making all feel welcome on some longer weekend rides.  Chapeau to him.
The Dancing Greyhound of Flanders ?
Perhaps when we were younger we could cram our training into the last few weeks leading up to the big trip but as we confess to being on the right hand slope of the middle age bell curve we can’t afford to rush our training.

In February and March it is all about saddle time. Getting to the top of the climb first isn’t as important as all of us reaching the summit. There isn’t a hint of frustration as we wait for our slower brothers. We are all laying down a base and as the days grow longer some will go faster and some will just go farther. 

We may all ride like lions in April but for now we are still lambs.  We are lambs that are riding farther and farther mind you, but lambs nonetheless.

My goals for the trip have nothing to do with speed or rank amongst my brethren but everything to do with taking on the challenges.  In the near term my goal is to say yes as often as I can to more kilometers.  I need to make as many deposits into the pain bank as possible.

As we turn the page from February to March we all have a sprinkling of longer rides on our 2016 palmares but those are more exceptions than the rule.  When we hit April the long rides should be routine and our legs should be coming around. 

As we build for the Dolomites up our minds shift what we consider normal.  Our Saturday rides grow from one to six hours as we approach the Solstice.  I realized how much my perspective has already skewed when I saw a road sign that said, “Seattle 84 miles” and I thought, “Man that is going to take forever…”  Then I smile as I realize that if someone invited me on an 84 mile ride tomorrow I wouldn’t think that distance was too far.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


A coworker said that if he ran the world he would make February 29th a Holiday.
I've never been good at following rules.  
So we're just going to have fun just like we do on the other 28 days of February.....

All the cool things are hard

Training in February looks like this...
By pure coincidence it is almost two years exactly since I uttered these wise words to my Granddaughter Sophie.  At that time she was frustrated by a series of falls on her first day on cross country skis.  When she commented that it was hard my parental instinct was to say that it wasn’t but that would have been a lie.  Instead, in a rare show of wisdom I agreed and then had a moment of brilliance.

“Yes this is hard………….   All the cool things are hard!  And you’re doing a really good job at this hard thing!”  She later told my daughter that skiing was her favorite part of the trip and that she was good at it.

I do believe that self-esteem comes from completing hard things. I’m no longer in search of self-esteem but I do find that many of my favorite things are hard.

Competitive cycling is hard.   The training is hard; the racing is hard, just finding the time to ride can be hard. To be strong in the glorious days of summer you have to ride in the miserable dark days of winter. Inevitably the odds catch up to you and sooner or later you crash. You get cold, you get wet. You get sick, you have self-doubt. You get beat. Your equipment wears out and breaks.  You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror as a middle aged man in a skin tight lycra idiot suit and comprehend, now and then, the true extent of your folly.

Yet somewhere in your head you somehow know that there is an eventual payoff.  You find nobility, perhaps even a form of sanctity in the suffering. You come to respect those who “get it” and willingly pay the price.  You fee`l a kinship with those who are fast and find an even stronger bond with those who pay their dues without regard to the dividends of their suffering.  Contrary to your wisdom and insight you begin to place a value on the suffering itself.

This convoluted tapestry of emotions and logic must be maintained at a safe distance from your rational mind.  When you encounter a like-minded individual or group you bond almost with a sense of relief.  The validation allows you a measure of comfort in your skin.  Misery loves company.
None of us is as dumb as all of us...
It is within this world where our feelings contradict wisdom that the geniuses at Rapha find the opportunity to exploit our insecurity. It isn’t that we need their clothing to go fast or far or that spending money reassures us. It is that they have communicated to us that they understand the inexplicable position of our thoughts where we respect and even enjoy the suffering of cycling.

Their clothing is exceptional but it is the mystique of the band on your arm that says, “I get it.  Do you?”   As if to prove that every rule has exceptions there are more than a few posers and buffoons that can be seen brandishing the arm band.  Typically these pretenders are easily spotted and just as easily dismissed.

In framing our training as a battle against the elements Rapha has succeeded in getting us to classify their clothing as equipment, perhaps even armor to shield us from the weather. 

It used to disappoint me that when I rode in team kit that other riders in team kit would wave at me but when I wore non-team kit they would not wave back.  I sensed that they assumed they were better than me.  Perhaps, and maybe I am being generous here, they valued the kinship of finding fellowship with other racers who, “get it.”  In reality you can generally discern the serious riders from the casual weekenders.
Poser !!
Sadly in our smugness we dismiss those whom we consciously or unconsciously deem to be somehow inferior to us but they are still fighting their own battles. I remember watching high school cross country races and seeing the occasional obese runner in last place and realizing it is harder (emotionally) to finish in last place than it is to win.  I admired the courage they showed then and now.

We all have hard things to do and I hope I am able to help those around me in their battles and I appreciate the help I get with mine.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Coffee and Lies # 165 Contingency

 One of my best days on a bike...
I had a really good ride this past Saturday.  In old currency it was over seventy miles and over four thousand feet of climbing.  I ate a bunch during the ride and finished strong.  I was tired after the ride but not shattered. It felt good.

On the one hand it might seem a bit early to be increasing the volume when my target is in June.  Then again; perhaps not……

On Sunday I woke up with a sore throat and made the uncharacteristically wise move of skipping the Coffee and Lies ride.  It reminded me that my plans have to include contingency for unplanned events like illness.   I’ve already got travel scheduled in May that dictates I skip a week of riding just a month in advance of my big trip.

The message there is I should be in full condition in early May and then take the four weeks after I get back to get BACK into the shape I was in when I left….

Setbacks happen and I am hoping my plans provide enough contingency to allow me to miss some days and still hit my goals.   That necessitates aiming high and dealing with reality.

Wish me luck!