Lately, I've had the pleasure of test riding an Orbea Orca GDR (although mine has pimper wheels than the model shown -- carbon tubular hoops from Shimano's Dura Ace collection.) Of course, I'll be saving my feeling on the bike for the forthcoming review in Bicycling Magazine, but rocketing down the broken, dirt surface of Hollyberry Road in Berks County on a ride with Matt this evening got me thinking about a few things.
First, just a little less than a year ago I was wrestling with a choice between subverting an order from the corner office not to send staff to a softball game in Binghamton, a three hour drive from Saratoga Springs, or compromising my section's claim to comprehensive sports reporting. By contrast, as I sit here on the couch, Top Gear playing in the background, I'm mentally preparing to get myself packed for a work trip to Belgium, 3,700 miles away. The decision to go was made scarcely a month ago, and without a second's hesitation, either on my part or on that of my superiors. Of course I was going to go to Belgium to try out a new helmet and watch the Ronde Van Vlannderen, why wouldn't I? Where is Binghamton, again? With this startling contrast in mind, I find myself struck at how lucky I am.
Yes, obviously I'm lucky to have a job as a journalist in the climate, but a job at such a wonderful company and such an august publication is another thing entirely. Sure, some may scoff, but I've never been surrounded by so many talented writers and editors, and so many passionate cyclists -- both at work and in the community at large. Those points, to me, are the most important. That we get to play with such fun toys is merely an incidental perk.
Secondly, there are the bikes and related toys. Sure, I may have called them an "incidental perk" just a sentence ago, but truly, it's a pretty sweet perk. Take, for instance, the Orbea I was riding today: After a hasty build, the brakes were a little squeaky, the shifting wasn't perfectly dialed and the glue on the tubies was suspect, but even if I rode it gingerly to avoid rolling a tire, it was an incredibly fun ride--especially when pointed uphill. Matt was no match for me on Reservoir Hill Road--and I did the whole climb seated.
After the Orbea, I've got a Scott and Giant lined up to test, along with a slate of other drool-worthy bikes and sundry accessories. Testing the equipment is real work, probably more so than most people realize, but for someone who loves to ride, it's fun work to get lost in. Of course, nothing compares to my bike, but it's fun to get a little variety now and then.
Incidentally, the surface of Hollyberry really was crap, and although it was a lot of fun to shoot down it at speed by myself, I'm glad the roads at Battenkill are in better shape. Look for my full report on the ToB course early next week.
Now, it's time to pack.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Lately, I've had the pleasure of test riding an Orbea Orca GDR (although mine has pimper wheels than the model shown -- carbon tubular hoops from Shimano's Dura Ace collection.) Of course, I'll be saving my feeling on the bike for the forthcoming review in Bicycling Magazine, but rocketing down the broken, dirt surface of Hollyberry Road in Berks County on a ride with Matt this evening got me thinking about a few things.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
It just occurred to me that while I've been posting lots on twitter and facebook about my upcoming trip to Belgium, I've only addressed the trip in passing here.
The last time I was in Belgium it was in July (or possibly August, details are fuzzy), and my cultural experiences were limited to Duvel and a museum dedicated to a peeing statue. This time, my cultural experience will be mostly limited to bike racing, as I'm attending the launch of a new helmet from Giro, and watching the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. (Tour of Flanders, in English.)
Yes, my job has its share of perks, and travel to Europe is definitely one of them. I'm taking off Thursday, riding a bit on Friday, then riding the 150k version of De Ronde's course on Saturday, before spending Sunday following the race. I'll be heading home on Monday (or possibly Tuesday, depending on how the flights shake out.)
For anyone who doesn't know (which probably isn't too many of my readers, but I know Steve isn't in the know), De Ronde is the second most important northern classic, behind Paris-Roubaix. These are monuments, some of the biggest, most important races in the world. Not that I'll ever have the chance to win (or race) either, but if had to chose winning one monument, it would definitely be Flanders.
Both Roubaix and Flanders are cobbled, and both feature powerful wind, sticking mud (in some situations), and crazed fans. The main difference, and the reason that I'm more drawn to Flanders than Roubaix, is that Flanders features as many as 17 cobbled climbs ("bergs," in Flemish.) Would surviving the cross winds and much worse cobbles at Roubaix be awesome? Hell yes! But, I'd rather start in Bruge, then cruise my way over the bergs before crossing the line in Meerbeke. In a way, Tour of the Battenkill's Stage Road is my own personal Bosberg. Of course, the upstate New York, amateur version is nothing like the real thing.
This is all a long winded way of saying that I'm pretty excited to get to ride the Flanders course on Saturday, and to watch what should be an epic battle between Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen.
Due to my travel schedule, I'll have to interrupt my regularly scheduled blogging. There will probably not be any post on Thursday evening, and almost certainly no post on Sunday evening, either. I'll be back to regularly scheduled blogging next Monday. As of this moment I'm planning on posting tomorrow, but if I get too stressed by packing, trying to get my hair cut and finishing with the June issue, something may have to give, and it may well be this blog. But, we'll see.
One last note, the local paper in Coxasackie, NY, published a nice little story on the Trooper Brinkerhoff Memorial Road Race in Sunday's edition. Check it out here.
Monday, March 28, 2011
I recently had a conversation with a runner friend of mine who's getting ready for an upcoming foot race. As you have probably surmised, I'm getting read for the Tour of the Battenkill. In comparing notes on our preparations for our respective events we came to notice that our plans were fairly different.
While he has been running a lot and I've been riding a lot, his one tune-up race was a month before the real event, and half the distance. Whereas, my plan has me racing as much as possible, punctuated by mid-week training efforts.
I think the difference is due mostly to that fact that you can train to run faster or to set a new personal record while running without other people around, whereas, in cycling, your best time doesn't mean shit if you let five people cross the line ahead of you. Therefore, racing is become a chance not only to sharpen your legs for the multiple attacks and feints that come in race situations and which you will have to respond to, but also to sharpen your tactical acumen.
That conversation, along with the scheduled start of a Thursday night training series here in the Lehigh Valley and the moniker given to the former Johnny Cake Lane series, the Trooper Brinkeroff Memorial Training Series, has got me thinking about the concept of training races.
In my mind, there are races called training races, like the crit here on Thursdays, which is focused at giving people a chance to hone their skills in a relatively inexpensive, accessible format. Then are the Brinkerhoff races and others like them, which are a little less accessible, and a little more expensive, but the racing is challenging and the distance is longer than your typical, family-friendly (I know at least one Dad who has made a career out of Tuesday night training races) spring series, but still fits the bill. Then, there are races you do for training because you're building for a peak, but which may be a real -- ie, non-training -- race for someone else.
I'm a guy who really loves racing my bike, and I would race every weekend if I could (as it is, I come pretty close.) But, I can't be at my highest level at every event, so I moderate my expectations from week to week. For instance, my goal on Saturday was to get in some really hard training efforts. A seventh-place finish in a race that only pays five deep was merely incidental.
Going into a race like that, my only really goal was to race as hard as I could, and to come away from the event with legs that would barely function. Mission accomplished. I attacked at every opportunity, spent about one six-mile lap off the front, and eventually accomplished bridging to a breakaway. Undoubtedly, this lead to me doing some things that were not conducive to winning the race (as evidenced by the fact that I missed getting into a winning breakaway), but I came away with a solid day of training. So, mission accomplished in that respect.
I'm headed to the Ronde Van Vlaanderen on Thursday, and will be riding the 150k cyclosportif on Saturday. It's not exactly a race, but I expect it to be a fairly hard ride, and a shade longer than my race a week later at Tour of the Battenkill. Remember when Cancellara did the Flanders-Roubaix double last year? That's my goal for my own personal Super Week. Hopefully, all those training races will have paid off.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
You can see me holding off the sprint at about 2:40
It was a tough day of racing
What a great weekend!
Sadly, it didn't end as early as I had hoped, when I didn't make it home from Saratoga until 10:30 tonight.
But, before this late night calamity, I had a great visit with Matt on Friday night, followed by my return to upstate racing at the second Johnny Cake Lane training race. After that, it was time to head to Saratoga, where I went for a nice spin with Jamie and Colin, followed by a great dinner at the Morgchencko Estates with the rest of the gang (minus Steve, who was was classing it up in NYC.)
This morning I headed out to pre-ride the Tour of the Battenkill course with John and Scott. Details to come on the challenging course additions. It was really cold, but the company was excellent and we had a great ride.
Given the late hour and my eagerness to get to sleep, I'll just write up a brief synopsis of Saturday's race:
It was really cold, as it sometimes can be in March, and it was really windy, as it always is for Johnny Cake Lane. The race is about 56 miles and we had a full field of 85 or so. There were the usual early attacks, and we were strung out in single file in the cross winds, as per usual. Not a day to get dropped, riding on your own would have been painful.
Eventually, three guys got off the front, including super stud Alec Donohue, who eventually won. Some time later, four other guys, including Justin Lindine and Roger Asphlom, went across.* Having missed both of these moves, I did my best to make the best of the training race, and did a few efforts at the front and off the front. It all hurt a fair amount, but I'm pleased that my legs seem to be coming around.
On the second to last lap there was a little split. Once again on the wrong side of it, I had to do a little work to bridge up to the move, but eventually got there and fell into a group of 12 for the last lap. With the strong wind and the top six spots already up the road (though it turned out they weren't as far ahead as we thought), I don't think anyone was too motivated to race, but the little group managed to stay clear of the floundering remnants of the main field.
At Johnny Cake there's a little kicker about two miles (1.5 miles?) from the finish, and I attacked there, into the wind, mostly looking for more training efforts. To my surprise the group watched me go, probably thinking that it was just another ill-fated attempt. Figuring it was a long shot at best, I put my head down and and pushed myself, holding the gap through the downhill, sweeping right-hander that leads toward the line.
I came to the last turn, which I think is about 300 meters from the finish, with a modest gap, hit the head wind and sprinted as hard as I could. In the end, my pathetic sprint was enough to hold off the group coming from behind by a wheel. As you can see in the video above (scan to about 2:40), there wasn't much room to spare, but it was good enough for seventh place -- my second top-ten in two weeks. Thanks, by the way, to promoter Tom Butler for his hard work every year to put this excellent series on, and for shooting and posting the video. My blog crops off half the width of the video, but you can see it in all its glory here.
I've been racing in some sweet shades from Ryders, and after the results from the past couple weeks, I have to wonder if continuing to wear those absurd glasses could result in more results -- or if finding more ridiculous glasses would make me even faster. Thoughts?
So, even if I continue to race like a bonehead in these early season training events, I'm pleased to see that my form is coming around. More tomorrow!
*I'll admit that I'm a little fuzzy on the details and could be slightly wrong on who got up the road when.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
I've made no secret that I went through a sad break up shortly after moving to Pennsylvania. I say "sad," because that was how I felt about it at the time, and how I still feel about it when I occasionally look back to December.
That said, I've been single for about three months now, and haven't really take the time to write about my bachelorhood. The reason? To be frank, primarily because I haven't been doing much about it. Which is to say, I've been doing nothing about it, and focusing instead on my new job and on being fast on my bike.
I've at least reasonably successful at both of those tasks, and, I think, have set myself up well for both the busy racing season that is now upon me, and busy work season that's starting next week with a trip to Belgium.
But, I don't desire to be single forever. Because I still haven't worked up the nerve to talk to girls at grocery stores, and because the collection of women at local bars (the friends with whom I'm likely to be at such a bar notwithstanding, of course) are somewhat less than attractive, I decided to take the advice of a friend and explore avenue of online dating.
OK, in truth, I was reading BikeSnobNYC earlier and he was making fun of someone posting on Craig's List missed connections. Inspired, I cruised on over to Craig's missed connections for the Lehigh Valley. What I found was amusing, but probably constitutes more reasons to stay away from online dating than anything else.
Witness: One listing led to the discovery that there are whole websites dedicated to hooking up AND getting high. There are sites for guys and girls who are into cars (where's datemybike.com?!) And yes, it's possible to spot attractive girls at grocery stories, but, apparently, the way to get them to talk to you is to point out what they're doing wrong. Or not.
So, I'm not exactly sure where exactly this exploration leaves me.
Actually, I am sure: I remain right where I was yesterday, "on the prowl," in the most awkward, leg-shaving sense of the word. Good grief.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
There's no such thing as global warming, right?
As I lie in repose on my sofa watching James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond founder their way across the English Channel it is snowing outside my windows. Well, in fairness, it might be sleet or freezing rain, but it's definitely some kind of "wintry mix."
I suppose it's just as well. I am feeling much better than I was on Monday and Tuesday, but I most certainly continue to exist in a debilitated state, so it's probably best that I was restricted to indoor riding tonight. A more conservative cyclist might have simply taken a day off the bike, but I, fortified with enough pills to mask even the most severe symptoms, pressed on.
Dumb? I guess we'll find out tomorrow. As I said, I was feeling better today, and my legs were happy to get the work in (they are telling me so with a pleased burn from down at the other end of the couch). My lungs are the ones who seem to suffering at the moment, so hopefully they'll be OK in the morning.
At least I wasn't out kicking my ass in the "wintry mix."
It is only the third day of spring, so a little wintry weather isn't totally uncalled for ... but I really thought it was spring after the 70-degree weather last Friday. No such luck. It's been pretty unpleasant this week, and there's not much relief in site.
Instead, it will be "seasonal" here for the rest of the week, and the downright "wintry" (no "mix," mercifully) back in upstate New York, where I'm heading on Friday evening. I'm really excited to be heading back to the Capital Region after a four-month (can you believe it?!) absence. I would have thought my friends in New York would have prepared for my visit by ensuring some descent weather. So it goes.
Mostly, though, I'm hoping to be healthy by the weekend, as I'm planning on racing the really hard
Johnny Cake Lane Spring Series Trooper Brinkerhoff Memorial Spring Series in Coxasackie, NY, on Saturday. The first race in the three-race series ended, after 55-miles, with a three-up sprint in about 2 hours, 10 minutes. Fairly fast, especially considering the wind out there. Assuming I'm healthy it'll be a good day of training, and with a little luck I can maybe even think about getting into the inevitable break away.
If I'm still under the weather I'll do my best to exercise my flag-waving arm as a corner marshal, or something.
On Sunday, I'm looking forward to pre-riding the Tour of the Battenkill course with John and others. I expect to come home with a lots of beta on course conditions and such. I'll then post my annual opinions on tire selection. Emails on that and related topics are already rolling in, and I'm looking forward to having more informed, intelligent opinions next week.
Cycling aside, it's going to be great to catch up with friends I haven't seen in months, and that, my readers, is even more important than pedaling my bike -- sick or not, wintry mix or not.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The last couple weeks leading up to a major goal are critical. The first major goal of my season is the Tour of the Battenkill, which rolls off on Main Street in Cambridge on April 10, just a little more than two weeks away.
Based on my performance this weekend, I'd say my preparations to date have been on track, and my form seems to be rising, which is a really good feeling. Last year's race was a sore disappointment (even if there were some bright spots), and I'm hoping that this is finally my year to break through at the race that has pretty much been my biggest focus since 2008.
However, I've encountered a small set back in a wicked cold that held me in its grips since Sunday afternoon. Maybe I overdid it a little bit with 95 miles on Sunday, knowing that I wasn't feeling my best, but the quality training miles will hopefully pay off.
Yesterday, there was no denying that I felt like absolute crap. I was coughing, sneezing, and producing enough mucous to drown a frog. Yeah, that much. I did manage to get on my rollers (it was raining) for an hour of recovery, which made my legs feel good, but had no impact on my health.
I thought I felt a little better this morning, but by the time I'd poured my Lucky Charms into a bowl, I was back to heaving with both hands braced on the counter. For some reason, I went to work, where I did somehow manage to have a productive day, but riding was out of the question.
And that was cause for concern. I was slated to complete a series of hill repeats today, a key element of my Battenkill training, but there was no way I was up for that kind of intensity. A quick email to Coach Scott confirmed that a day of crappy training while I was sick would lead only to further setbacks, whereas a day of recovery would hopefully get me back to riding sooner.
Now, of course, I'm left wondering if one day of missed training will leave me a little short, come a critical race moment. I guess we'll see.
I did manage to get out for an easy, 90-minute ride with Matt this afternoon, and am happy to report that even if I still have snot spouting out of me, my legs are feeling good. Hopefully I'll be feeling better tomorrow.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Giro Factor, Lake CX 140 winter boots, and the Mavic Zxellium
I also have, in the office, a pair of Pearl Izumi Octane SL IIs
One of the perks of my job at Bicycling Magazine is the opportunity to assist in the testing of bikes and related products. (For everyone who thinks that all I do it play with bikes, I earn that perk by doing a ton of story and page editing, but everyone seems to think that part is easy. It isn't.)
Anyhow, I've been testing a few road shoes recently, most of which are pictured above, 0n the floor in my personal bike room (aka, my small-ass second bedroom.)
Shoes are one of those bike accessories that are often undervalued by cycling consumers. If you don't believe me, ask any shop salesman. Because you can get all the running shoe you need for $165 (or much less), consumers often think cleats for cycling should cost about the same. There's an important difference, though: Running shoes only last a couple hundred miles, depending on how and where you run, and how much you weigh. Average runners will need two new pairs of shoes each year. Marathoners may need many, many more. Don't believe me? (Why should you, I'm a self-described runner hater?) Then ask these guys.
On the other hand, cycling shoes will last for thousands and thousands (tens of thousands of miles), and season upon season. So really, you're saving on your aggregate shoe expenses over the course of a few years.
Economics aside, shoes are also important as the only point of contact that almost never leaves the bike during the course of a ride or race (removing knee warmers, stretching your quads and red lights notwithstanding.) Much attention has been paid to cleat alignment, but it's my impression that the fit of the actual shoes receives slightly less attention, with every shoe maker marketing there shoes as the right shoe for everyone, rather than marketing shoes to specific feet shapes.
How do I know this? I've worn all those shoes in recent weeks, and lots more as a salesman.
What's the best shoe? After all this, the answer should be pretty obvious: The best shoe is the one that fits your foot best. My DMT boots, which I purchased at full retail price even though I was working at a shop at the time, because none of the brands we sold fit me right, are the absolute best fit I've every experienced. There were a little tight around my pinky toes at first, but broke in nicely and have exhibited good fit and performance for the past two seasons. If you're wondering, I bought them after my Diadora Ergo Pro shoes met an untimely end with a rusted cleat plate. No such fate has befell my DMTs, and they're black so they don't look too worn, and they have three velcro straps instead of a heavy, ugly buckle that makes your oversocks bulge.
So, that's the bar to which I've been comparing the rest of the test shoes.
Of the newer shoes, the Mavics fit me best, holding my narrow heel very securely, while clamping my feet comfortably. There's even enough room for my pinky toes and I get just an essence of the front of the toe box. I did, however, have to size way down, from a 10.5 us to a 9) to get the right fit. The Giro's are also nice, though they're wider and let my heel slip, though just a tad. The Pearl shoes in my office aren't the right size (they run large), so I'll refrain from making any comments. Of course, the Lake boots are a special case.
So, that's what I've been riding. Each of the shoes have been tested on Shimano pedals with new cleats, and I've further removed variation from the test by using my custom orthotic insoles with all the shoes. One other note: all of the road shoes feature a carbon sole and have proved to be plenty stiff. Each also features a host of proprietary technical features. Other than my comments on fit, I don't have any complaints about any of the shoes, and have not suffered any broken buckles, or that sort of thing. Look for more formal reviews over at bicycling.com in the coming weeks.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Saratoga Spa 'Cross notwithstanding, this was, I think, the most successful single weekend of bike racing I've had since June 28 and 29, 2008.
That weekend, as a cat 3, I raced my way to eighth place in the Lou Maltese Invitational in Central Park, leading my team to a sixth-place finish in the overall team competition. The next day I climbed my way to seventh place in the Union Vale Road Race. I've had higher placing since then and I've had prouder moments, but the two-day hot streak is something I've had a hard time replicating.
This weekend's success, incidentally, also started out with an eighth-place finish at a race in Central Park. It was round three of the NYC Spring Series, and it started at dawn atop Cat's Paw, as races in Central Park always do. Without much sleep the night before (how are you supposed to get enough sleep when you have to get up at 4:45?), and with a lot of top end work during the week before, I wasn't sure how I'd be able to go.
After one last check to make sure that the race wasn't canceled and I could go back to bed (it wasn't, I couldn't), I rolled from my parent's homestead in Brooklyn (for sale, by the way, if you're interested), to Central Park.
As with many places, I think races in NYC care more about winning the spring series than they do nearly any other event of the year. Maybe it's because everyone has all winter to think about the spring series, or maybe it's just because it's the only event people will race before loosing interest in April and "tapering into 'cross season," or some such bull shit.
Anyway, it's only a training race, and the A race is only 30 miles long, but people come out to race, so we took off fast from the line. There were a couple of early moves that didn't stick. I tried once to go off with Kyle Peppo, but we didn't get very far. Mostly, I just did my best to keep my nose out of the wind. Somewhere nearby, Sergio was doing the same thing.
Heading into the third of four trips up the Harlem Hill, there was a BH/Garneau (or maybe it was Adler, I can't remember) off the front. Feeling the need to do something, I took off from the base of the hill, causing a split that put the usual suspects at the front of the race. Our group of about 14 quickly put time into the peloton, rolling through the start/finish to get the bell with about a 45 second gap.
I was pretty well gassed, but managed to help keep the move going as we went over Harlem Hill one last time, then zipped down the west side of the park. Gavi Epstein, a pro with the Garmin-Sugarlabs team who came over from Jersey to beat up on us amateurs, had missed the move and bridged across to ruin our fun. I'm not much of a sprinter and I don't usually really even try, but that was before I moved to Pennsylvania where everyone is a fast sprinter, and I've been inspired/forced change my approach.
So, I got on someone's wheel coming into the last kilometer. The best sprinter in the group, I figured was Jermain Burroughs, while Brian Breech is always close. And, Gavi certainly couldn't be overlooked. Not wanting to set my sights to high, I settled onto the wheel of my former teammate Chad Butts, and off we went. Jermain won, Brian, Gavi, and four more people were ahead of me when we crossed the line, including Chad, who I almost (but not almost enough) came around.
So, it was good to finally notch a result. Although, my Dad says that what I really need is to win a race. Afterward, I went for a spin up River Road before taking a nice, leisurely ride around Red Hook with Dad, before lunch, a drive home, and a brief attempt at staying away for further St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
Today, I set out to complete what's known as the Lehigh Valley Triple (or, at least, that's what I've been lead to believe it's known as that): The Derby, followed by two local training crits. I set out to do the same last week, but called it a day after the first crit, as I was cold and exhausted.
I was much more successful today, completing the triple. Including the tide to and from the Derby, it was a total of 95 miles with some fairly intense efforts built in. Of course, Bobby Lea and Scott Zwizanski were out of town, so everything was easier, by an order of magnitude, but it was still a solid workout.
The Derby was pretty straight forward -- we rolled out to the turn, then went hard on the way back -- although, based on the number of people still in the group for the sprint, we didn't go nearly as hard as we have in recent weeks.
Then it was time for the crits. Last weeks' Grant's Tomb winner, Mike Chauner, was in the field, as well as Bissell riders Shane Kine and Kyle Wamsley and all the rest of he local fast guys. I missed the break in the first, shorter race, but since the point is to train, I went to the front and worked with a few others to bring the move back. That, of course, was fairly exhausting. Although we did succeed in bringing the move back. Then, I was exhausted and missed the next move rolling. With only a few laps left, I sat in for the remainder.
The next race, 35 laps instead of just 25, went better. The Animal leaped off the front immediately, and after a lap I bridged up to him. We rolled for a couple laps before a larger group containing about 14 caught up and we continued about the business of lapping the field, albeit in a fairly disorganized manner. Eventually, the group split, and I was left on the slow end, but we still managed to complete our task of lapping the field. It only took about 20 laps.
It took me about two laps to make my way back to the front of the race, during which time I missed the next move leaving the station. Still, I'm no crit rider, and lapping the field was a first for me.
Of course, the crit is really a points race, I succeeded in taking points only once, when Pearson and I rolled through the line early on. But still, it was good training.
So, it felt damn good to string to positive bike racing days together, even if I'm using a relatively low-pass standard here. My form is rising, and I hope that this weekend proves to be just the foundation of success upon which I'll build the rest of the season. I can't wait to see how I fair next week at the second race in the Trooper Brinkerhoff Memorial Spring Series. And now, to bed.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I went to the doctor today, to discuss an ongoing condition that I've been suffering for some time. This visit included lots of not-safe-for-dinner-time questions and a couple of exceedingly uncomfortable procedures.
Throughout the entire ordeal both my doctor and his assistant insisted on apologizing to me for every little poke and prod. While I certainly appreciated that this physician was so acutely aware of the discomfort he was causing, but really, it was a little excessive. I mean, I came to see the doctor because there is something wrong with me and I would like very much for there not to be something wrong with me.
I'm no glutton for discomfort, but I also fully understand that it'll be worth my while to suffer a little discomfort in the name of getting better, and, as such, I found it a little odd that everyone was so sorry for everything. Really, I'm the one who should be sorry, given the current state of affairs inside my abdomen, but no matter.
In the interest of decorum, I'm not going to reveal my ailment, save to assure readers that it does not appear that I'll be experiencing any interruptions in my riding, which, of course, is the most important thing in any health-related matter.
Since there's no connection between this illness and cycling, after my session with the doctor I kitted up and headed to the Bob Rodale Fitness Park to enjoy one of the first nights free of the clutches of Day Light Saving Time. Of course, I did get stuck riding home in the dark, having not left my house until nearly 6 and riding for two hours, but not before I'd completed two sets of over/under intervals in the wonderfully car-free cycling loop.
Of course, as much as I enjoyed completing one million laps around the mile-long course, I hope to soon find a real road long enough for a 20-minute interval. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Short post tonight because I'm tired after contributing to team Funky Butt Lovin's third tavern trivia win of the season (a season being roughly defined as the period of time from when my friends and I started playing trivia to the time when we get bored of it or otherwise take a break).
In case you're curious, the answer to the clutch, final round question was "Nevada." The question being: name the state known by the three nick names, "Silver State," "Battle Born State," and "Sagebrush State."
Now, I have never dropped acid, had acid splashed on me, or otherwise "tripped balls" after doing LSD, but I am devotee of Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead, so I was very interested to read about the life and death of Owsley Stanley, famed acid artisan. Stanley died in a car accident on Sunday in Australia.
I can't speak from experience here, but Stanley was known for manufacturing drugs that gave its users an unparalleled clarity. Based on the writers who based work on acid and those who used it, I'm ready to believe that it's possible.
Monday, March 14, 2011
This past weekend was one of those weekends that left me completely exhausted and weary. Not only in the sense that my legs were heavy all day, causing me to limp around the office and my apartment, but also in the sense that despite the relatively warm weather (when compared to a few weeks ago), I couldn't bear the thought of subjecting myself to any more cold.
Needing only to spin all the week's crap out of my legs, I thought I suck it up and head out for a lunch ride today. Then, at 11:30 I emerged from my office to find that it was raining, or snowing, or some such bull shit.
Happily seizing my excuse not to ride, I returned to my office and worked through lunch and straight on into the afternoon. Some time after 5, I realized the workday was about over, packed up and went home.
Although it was warmer than it had been on the ride in to work in the morning, I still felt cold and disinclined to do anything related to my bike. Somehow, I managed to talk myself into bibs and onto the rollers, where I started to feel better pretty much immediately. After some really long rides this winter, an hour-long recovery spin goes by surprisingly quickly, and has a surprising (every time!) rejuvenating effect.
When I hoped off, I felt better and my post-race limp was gone. I good stretch in the shower put the finishing touches on my recovery day and it was off to the couch. Some times a little rest is just what you need.
The cycling life continues tomorrow with a second, longer rest day and a return to outdoor riding. Working at getting faster resumes on Wednesday.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
The season's first big race in NYC
I'm doing my best to stay low and in the draft
On pretty much every Sunday I take a few moments to write about the weekend's riding or racing. Certainly, there's lots of riding and racing to write about tonight, after racing Grant's Tomb yesterday, then riding to Piermont, then riding The Derby and racing a March training crit at the William Penn Business Center today.
But, in light of the ongoing (and worsening) tragedy in Japan, bike racing seems somewhat frivolous. Yes, it was awesome to have so much time to race yesterday and today, enjoying my good health, friends, competitors, and an intact infrastructure.
It's easy to take those things for granted, but we shouldn't. When I pedaled home from the training crit with a co-worker, shivering and thoroughly blown from the weekend's efforts, it occurred to me that even in a sad, post-race state, I'm pretty lucky. Every pedal stroke is a gift that can be taken away with a simple slip of a tectonic plate, and we would all be wise to remember it.
Here we are going around
I think the race was about one million laps long
On that somewhat down note, here's a very brief report on the weekend's adventures:
I've raced Grant's Tomb nearly every year since I started racing bikes in college, and I consider it to be the only crit course I've every really mastered. Of course, due to some parked cars, we raced on a truncated course on Saturday. Still, after getting dropped in the midst of a monsoon a year ago, I was able to survive the fireworks in the early laps, before settling in mid-pack. Although my Dad gave me grief earlier for never winning a race, for a rider as monumentally awful at racing crits as I am, surviving the race is a minor accomplishment. Small victories, Dad, one step at a time and other such cliches.
Afterward, I had a nice spin up to Nyack with my team mate Sergio, and Tracey Wargo, of Chomper Body, whose Crank Embrocation I used during the race to positive results. I got back to the race just in time to watch the collegiate B men duke it out while eating a burger with perpetual collegiate hanger-on Steven Hopengarten.
Today I rode out T-Town for a very windy Derby. It was a huge group and I did my best to stay out of trouble on the way out to Fleetwood. The ride stratified pretty quickly after the turn, and I suffered the injustice of struggling with everything I had to stay on the wheels at the ride's business end, producing enough wattage to power most of Brooklyn, only to glance over and see Bobby Lea casually pulling through with one hand on the bar and eating a sandwich with the other. Some people! I got dropped by the A-listers shortly after that.
I made my way over to the training crits right after, signing up to suffer for 25 laps. Bobby, working with local fast-man Billy Elliston lapped us pretty quickly, but I didn't really care as the snap was all out of my legs by then and I'd hunkered down to sitting in and surviving mode.
I skipped the longer, A crit, opting to go home and get a jump on recovering. I think it was the right decision. Here's to getting faster!
Thursday, March 10, 2011
It rained here in Pennsylvania today. It rained quite a bit, actually. You might even call it a deluge.
Starting some time last night I could here drops hitting my window panes as I was drifting off to sleep. It was a full on monsoon this morning, complete with powerful gusts of wind that drove the rain against the building.
When faced with question of how to get to work this morning, I briefly considered doing something that I have hardly done since moving here, or, indeed, in my working life: driving to work. After all, I reasoned, it was raining pretty hard and it would be no fun to spend the day in wet clothes.
But I was running later than usual and the process of walking to the building's parking lot and getting it out, then finding a spot at the office would have increased the length of my commute by several minutes (and I would have been out in the rain for that walk anyway).
So, I did what anyone slightly crazed cyclist would have done and hopped my fixxy. Because I usually ride my road bike to work, in order to facilitate riding at lunch, I haven't been riding my fixxy much lately, but it's a really fun bike, even in a downpour.
For the ride in, I pulled Gore Tex pants over my jeans and my Gore Tex Marmot shell over my sweater. So dressed, I was mostly dry when I rolled into the bike room. Unfortunately, I made the rookie mistake of wearing sneakers instead of boots. As such, my feet were subject to a constant stream of water coming off the front fender, and were soaked by the time I took the turn into the parking lot at work.
I had neither dry socks nor shoes at work, so I spent most of day hiding my bare feet under my desk as my socks and sneakers dried out. Aside from being a little cold, it wasn't a bad way to spend the day, and everything was dry in time for me to get re-dressed to ride home in the increasing storm, during which my socks got soaked all over again. What fun.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
As I mentioned on Monday, I traveled to Washington DC earlier this week. About a week before, I was on a well-documented, 10-day trip out west. In between I flitted off to Jersey for a day of riding bikes and getting lost while driving between events.
So, it's been a lot of traveling, and while I've become pretty good at packing up for weekend-long outings to various bike races, longer trips for work are something new and I am definitely still adjusting to that type of travel.
Case-in-point: For the three trips I packed in three different bags. The bag from the first trip was empty after about a week but has yet to be put away. The bag from the second trip (to Jersey) is half-full at this moment while half the contents have migrated into my messenger bag for rides from the office or into the laundry. Then there's the bag from DC, which is pretty much still entirely packed. Beyond pulling out my helmet I didn't even really open it. The three of the big, empty behemoths are taking up space on my bedroom floor, where I get to trip over them every morning, before I've located my glasses.
It's a pretty sweet set up, really.
I'm sure that in time I'll both get better at traveling (and stop forgetting important things like my lap top charger) and be more motivated to unpack in an efficient manner. At the rate I'm going, I don't think any of my bags will be empty until I've gone searching for all the cycling gear contained therein, needing them on the road.
Of course, with new kits arriving soon, even that may take a while. At the very least, I'll hope to be unpacked before it's time to pack for my next trip.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Here I am working in yet another break away
No better way to develop and tune the top end!
I'm back and partially recovered from my trip to DC, and ready to hash out the weekend's racing.
For as long as I can remember, the season has started on the first first weekend in March, and this year was not different. Also, as in years past, everyone has done a lot of work training over the winter and everyone thinks that they're faster than everyone else. I for one, thought I'd be able to ride away with ease. That, of course, was not the case.
On Saturday morning I got up early and drove a little more than an hour to Newark, New Jersey for the first race of the Branch Brook Spring Series.
The race feature a course about two miles long with lots of sweeping turns, one harder corner and lots of shitty pavement. At only an hour, it's definitely a short event and firmly in the "training" category, so I made it my mission to get in as many hard efforts as my legs could take over the course of the hour.
Wasting no time, I set out to make a break on the first lap. Although I did get a moderate gap with two other riders, that move -- as were the other three dozen moves I made it into over the course of the hour -- was destined to fail.
After a Friday evening spent more on my feet than on my back (a mistake I knew I was making as I was making it) my legs felt like absolute crap during the first twenty minutes of racing, but loosened up a little for the middle third. As the power data proved, my legs were pretty fried by the last third. Fortunately for me, teammate Sergio made it into the only move that looked like it might stick, riding on the wheel of Sugar Labs' Gavi Epstein, giving me a reason to sit in a bit.
Unfortunately, that move came back just as we got the bell, setting up, I thought, a likely field sprint. Shortly after, two riders lit out from the field in an unlikely last ditch attempt to ditch the field. As unlikely as it seemed, the move stuck and the field was denied a chance to bolt for the win. I rode it out behind the sprint -- close enough to see the sprint, but not so close that I was at risk of being crashed out -- always a risk at Branch Brook.
I was thoroughly worn by the time I rolled across the line.
Afterward, I stopped over to watch the opening races of the collegiate season at Rutgers University to cheer on the Skidmore Cycling team. It was pretty exciting to see those guys contesting their first races.
After that I drove over to Princeton for a recovery ride with, speaking of Skidmore Cycling, Travis. So, it was a busy day of cycling and I was thoroughly sick of both my bike and my car by the time I got home that night.
My plan to complete a doubleheader by racing some training crits here were kiboshed by rain on Sunday. So it goes. Next up: A Grant's Tomb--PA training crit double this weekend. I've got one month to tune my top end before the Tour of the Battenkill, bring it on!
Sunday, March 06, 2011
I'm currently sitting in a hotel in Washington dc, where I'm attending an urban cycling trade show. The suite given to me is very nice, but there are two key problems.
One is inherent in the room, the other is my fault. Read on:
1. The hotel wants me to pay for WiFi. Meh. No thanks, especially in light of,
2. I forgot my laptop charger at home.
Not only does not having my charger make using the laptop tough, but it may also mean that I can't charge my phone, which plugs into my computer. Also, I'm posting this from my phone. For that reason, there will be no post tomorrow, check back Tuesday night for a report on the weekend's racing.
I hope no one is looking for me over the next couple days.
Also, its pouring rain here. I got thoroughly soaked while looking for dinner ... and wound up getting food at the George Washington University student union.
I really hope this trip improves.
Thursday, March 03, 2011
So, last week I was riding in shorts and a short sleeve jersey, enjoying a nice sunburn on my arms and re-upping the tan lines on my thighs.
I harbored, at the time, what may have been an unreasonable expectation that when I returned to Pennsylvania this week the cold would have stopped and the weather would be suddenly spring like.
It was warmer on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday -- not spring-like per se, but in the 50s -- warmer enough to wear just knee warmers and spring-weight gloves. My ski gloves, which have now seen me through three winters of mostly warm-handed riding, happily stayed home, as did my winter jacket.
The warmer temperatures lulled me into a false sense of comfort, I suppose. Today, it was cold again. But, true to my normal, discombobulated state, I failed to look at the weather online before I left for work. It looked warm out the window, and had been warm all week, and my phone still thinks it's in Austin, so I had no idea that it was only in the 30s outside.
Walking into the cold was a rude awakening.
An even ruder awakening was heading out for a lunch ride and realizing that the spring-weight gloves I was wearing were woefully inadequate. My hands were numb instantly, the kind of numbness that made me want to turn back and cut the ride short. I didn't, but only because I don't know the roads that well and felt like I was likely to get lost if I attempted a short cut (I was alone after forgetting my shoes at home and taking too long to ride home to get them). In warmer weather I would have been happy to get lost. Today, I wasn't going to mess around.
My fingers were completely numb by the time I got back to the office and extracting my key card from my waterproof phone case was challenging. Once inside, my hands began the painful process of re-warming. Fortunately, I had gotten back to the locker room ahead of the rest of the lunch riders and the lunch runners, so no one heard me sobbing over my burning hands in the shower. Just kidding. Sort of.
I've got lots of experience with that sort of re-warming pain, but it's been a long time since I last felt it, as I've gotten better at dressing for cold weather as the years have gone on. If memory serves, it's always pretty excruciating when numb hands or toes come back to life, but I think it's ever more painful after a week in Austin.
Fortunately for me, it is supposed to get warmer for the weekend. Some rain is in the forecast, but I'll take rain to cold any day.
On a completely unrelated note, I'll be racing this weekend, first at the Branch Brook Spring Series, and then at the local training crits here in the Lehigh Valley. At this point in my cycling life, racing is pretty much second nature. It's the first weekend in March, so of course I'm planning my first races of the season.
I won't bother packing in advance or laying out my clothes. Hell, it's going to rain so I may not even bother washing my bike ahead of time. I've done hundreds of races, so it's not much to get nervous about, I suppose. Even the start list failed to betray an surprises, as those lists sometimes do.
But, tonight, when I was enjoying a relaxing recovery spin on my rollers, while watching the karate kid, I started thinking about the first road race I ever did. It was sometime in the late 90s, 1999 if I had to guess. I'd previously done a few mountain bike races, and even though I'd been riding a road bike for a while, the racing thing was completely new to me.
So I showed up at Prospect Park at 5:30 in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday and registered for the four lap (was it five?) cat V race. I was wearing the Giordana Brooklyn long sleeve jersey my parent's had given me as a birthday present, and which I still wear as a layering piece from time to time.
It pains me to admit, but underneath that jersey I wore a Camelbak. Yup. It's true. Thinking it would offer easier drinking than a bottle, and thinking back to those mountain bike races, it seemed like a natural thing to do. Obviously it would be less of an aerodynamic drag under that jersey. Yikes.
The race started and I held on for a few laps before eventually getting dropped. Mercifully, I avoided getting lapped by a few hundred yards, finishing the entire race, and not even DFL, if memory serves.
I would go on to get dropped with some regularity -- such is the life of a beginning bike racer -- but I did eventually find my way. I don't know how much I learned from that first experience as most of my learning happened while racing in the ECCC (the season opener of which I'll be attending on Saturday), but I never again wore a Camelbak to a road race.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
I had a nice ride at lunch today.
Now that it's a little warmer out, folks who didn't ride regularly through the winter are coming out of the woodwork to join the daily Rodale lunch ride. Today's route was new to me, and has been dubbed "Bart's ride," to memorialize the route taken by the Mayor of Running, Bart Yasso, to and from work (on days when he rides to work).
There were nine of us leaving the South Mountain Center and heading out through Vera Cruz. We paused for a dropped chain early in the ride, though apparently not long enough, as we were down to seven riders when we restarted.
The wind was coming from the left, and buffeted us a little on the slight downhill toward Cozy Corner Road, but calmed down once we were back on the flats, and then pushed us gently along when we turned south. The pair with the dropped chain caught back up and we kept rolling.
Some rides have great arguments, some have memorable conversations. Today's ride, although I did have a few nice conversations, was mostly marked by my own internal silence. I've got a few things on my mind these days -- nothing Earth shattering, but usual stuff -- and I used the lunch ride, even in everyone's company, to quite these noises, concentrating on just turning over the pedals. Plenty of time for worrying back in he office.
We did eventually cruise by Bart's house -- he takes one set of roads to the office, and another set on the way home -- before turning into a headwind and back onto Vera Cruz road. I felt a little better by the time I got back to the office, and was grateful for both the company and the quite time to introspect.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
After contemplating my week in Austin, I think the most important lesson I learned was to try and make the most of whatever chamois time comes your way.
Typically, I'm the kind of cyclist who likes to eat, chamois up, head straight out for a ride, de-chamois, and shower before eating more. There's nothing inherently wrong with wearing a chamois, but a wet, post-ride chamois is not really the most comfortable thing. Plus, while chamois and the clothes that with them look good on a bike, they don't really work in any other situation.
But, Austin was a little different. With a group as large as ours, we spent a lot of time waiting for everyone to gather. Those of us with a propensity to be ready early were left waiting around in our (not-yet-wet) chamois. Was it really such a bad thing to relax and wait a little? I guess not, though I definitely had to learn to be a little patience.
A similar lesson occurred during a lunch stop on Wednesday's ride. I hate stopping on rides. Even on a 6-hour slog in the middle of winter, I'd much rather ride straight through, stopping only when absolutely necessary to refill my water bottles, and perhaps to buy one of nature's energy bars. Since moving to the Lehigh Valley, I've become accustomed to longer stops, sometimes as long as a half hour, to eat, drink, and warm up.
While it's not always unwelcome, it does always make going back out into the cold that much worse. But, the lunch stop was welcome on this particular day. We'd been riding at a slow pace for hours, frequently stopping to change flat tires and take photos, both of which were absolutely essential to our mission, and yet draining to the legs. Under those circumstances, what's a lunch stop on top of everything else?
To make matters better, we stopped at an excellent Mexican place. I couldn't tell you what it was called, but it was good. The burrito went down a little heavy, but it was good for my soul, I think, as once I'd gotten a bite in I was done caring that I was eating in spandex. My editor pointed out that in Europe stops for food and coffee are the norm, not the exception. Having never ridden in Europe I'll take his word for it.
I do think, though, that I'll need a little more acclimatization before I'm ready for a ride with multiple stops for food, in the true European style, as I was still the first to push away from the table and to begin preparing for a return to our bikes after that lunch stop.