Monday, July 10, 2017

Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

Last year, I posted this about my experience at the Clear Lake Iowa Bicycle, Blues, and BBQ festival.

It's mostly about how much good stuff I learned on that trip.

This year, I have been able to apply much of that when I'm out of town, particularly if I stay overnight. A few weeks back, I did a Saturday/Sunday race weekend in Ames Iowa.  With the exception of a breakfast sandwich and coffee at Panera, I didn't buy any food while I was out of town. I had taken enough from home for the overnight stay.  I packed sandwiches and beverages and stuff. This is way cheaper than buying it all at restaurants, but that's not why I did it.

When you bring your own food, you have complete control over what you eat and when. You can race better if you eat better. Also, I'm sure the town of Ames and the surrounding area has some really neat stuff. But I went directly to and from the races/motel while I was there. Oh, and Panera. Definitely Panera. Once.

This was not a vacation. It was racing.  Both things are fun (except racing - which sucks), but I was only there to do one of them (racing - which sucks).  Vacations gets in the way of racing.

I think Rocky's coach (Mick) said it best when he yelled at Rocky "WOMEN WEAKEN LEGS!" He was talking about Adrian.  What a dick. But he has a point.

In this case, "Women" are distractions like say, "the world's largest ball of twine", and "legs" are well, literal legs. I guess they were in the movie too. Oh jeez, the whole thing was literal. Mickey was an idiot. But what if you took some of that twine and tied it around your legs? Great for learning balance, according to Mick.


Some valuable lessons I've learned so far this year:

At the Water Works Circuit race this year, I learned that there's no harm in bringing a roll of toilet paper with you.  Usually, when I get to a race, my nerves help me purge any excess ... uhh ... baggage.  If there's no toilet paper in the restroom, this can be unsettling.

At the Clear Lake races last weekend, I realized it would have been nice to have one of those "sleep mask" things.  I can sleep pretty well without a completely dark room, but the light coming in from outside at the dorms all night kept causing me to wake and think it was 6AM instead of the actual time (1:43, then 1:48, then 2:07 and so on).

I also learned after the road race that it wouldn't hurt to sharpie my name onto my water bottles.  I got them back, but it would have been easier if my name was on them after tossing them out at the feed zone.

Just little things that make life a tiny bit easier.

But these are just about preparation. Something clicked for me during the crit last Saturday that changed my whole outlook on racing. Most of the fear vanished.  There will always be some jitters, but I actually had fun while it was going on. That has literally never happened.

I used to know this auto mechanic back in the day.  He was a crusty old man. I think his name was "Mick"

Anyway, one time I was asking Mick if he thought I should get some different gearing on my car so it could jump off the line faster.  He yelled at me, "Kid. There's no replacement for displacement!"
 Then he took away my locker.

Sorry. That really didn't have anything to do with anything other than - There's no replacement for racing.  You have to do several of them, full on, stressed out so you can learn to keep cool in those situations. Well, I do anyway.

The clear lake omnium is like most of the others around here. Time Trial in the morning; Crit in the afternoon; Road Race the following morning.

I did the Time Trial in the morning and was happy with my performance.  Time Trialing is kind of the T-Ball of cycling.  Some kids have the power to hit the ball really, really far as long as it's not moving.

It takes a lot more skill and coordination to hit a ball thrown to you than if it's just hanging in the air.

Continuing with the analogy then, road racing would be more like slow pitch softball. You need some skills, but your power can still take you a long way.  Then crit racing would be kind of like trying to fend off a barrage of hand-grenades with a baseball bat.

All analogies break down at some point.

So for the time trial, I used my knowledge from FTP tests and guestimated an average power I thought I could hold for the distance.  I ended up doing exactly what I set out to do, so I have no complaints there.

The Clear Lake Bicycle, Blues, and BBQ criterium race is an excellent course. Scenic, fast and technical.  I was nervous, but less so than I've ever been before a race.  I'm just kind of getting used to the routine, which is nice.

I used to worry that I'd get dropped immediately or that I'd crash.

Then the race would start and I'd be at my limit right away and get stressed that I was going to get dropped.

I didn't know yet that people tend to go real hard at the start and then ease into a rhythm a bit later on. Knowing that takes away a lot of the panicky feeling.

So we were racing around and around. Since I wasn't thinking, "Oh crap, I'm on my limit," or "Oh crap, I'm going to crash," I was able to pay attention to what was actually going on in the race. What I saw came as quite a surprise.

I realized I suck as a bike rider.  I was hitting the brakes all the time.  I've never noticed that before because I was freaking out. I was trying to stay behind the people as they would kind of slow to set up for corners, I would also slow rather than keep my speed. Not because I needed to slow, but because I was trying to not cross their wheel in a corner. Then I came up with an even better idea. This is not new to anyone who races, I'm sure. Maybe it's even wrong, but I was comfortable with it. I started making a habit of getting at least slightly in front of whoever I was near in a turn.  This way I could actually accelerate and pick my line.  Much easier than hitting the brakes.

I also learned that I could shape my line to a certain degree.  If I just stayed calm and envisioned the path I wanted to take, the bike would go there. Very little conscious thought on my part.  This is not easy to do while thinking "Oh crap, I'm going to die."

After about 15 minutes of the crit, something was going on that has NEVER happened before. As I mentioned above, I was enjoying the race.

In the past, I have always been happy that I had done a race after the fact.  A feeling of pride at an accomplishment or some shit.

Now, I was a part of the race. Flowing with the group. Listening to the shouting and swearing, and just generally having a nice ride.

Then I crashed.

The lead group of (Just about everybody in the race) 25 people had just gone under the start/finish line with 7 laps to go. The announcement "No more free laps" was made.

Then there was turn, turn, turn, tu... crash!

Somehow, my rear wheel just slid out on a right hand turn.  I don't know how. Nobody got in my way. I just went down.  Nobody else did (not on that lap anyway).  As I was falling, I still believed I could save it, so my hands stayed on the bars.  I believe this minimized the injury to a couple of minor scrapes.

As everybody went safely around me, I was trying to dislodge my cleat from my spokes. I got back on the bike with a new goal. Finish without getting lapped or caught by dropped riders.

The adrenaline was keeping any pain at bay.  Other than the exact spot where I crashed, I was not nervous about taking the corners at full speed.  I worked pretty hard for those remaining 6 laps and finished 25th place.

I was disappointed that the crash happened, but happy that it wasn't too bad and that I now knew the answer to a question I've been afraid of for a while. Will I quit racing if I crash?

It was good that the crash happened after my revelations from the race.

On every race until this one, I am asking myself, why am I doing this?

During this race, I answered. "This is what I do."

I know it's corny, but it was a huge relief for me.

Another thing I realized in this race is that the category upgrade system is there for an excellent reason.

You can't (or shouldn't) just upgrade a rider because he is strong enough to hang with all the local 2/3s on the group ride. Shit, maybe he can even Time Trial faster than everyone in town. But you wouldn't sign Corky to the majors just because he can smack the shit out of a ball resting on a tee.

You have to actually race to learn how to race.  I think for most people these days who take their training seriously, strength is less a limiter than skill.  It is the skill I'm lacking. But I'm getting better.

I am not a fast learner. Before last weekend, I had heard many times that I should be racing Cat 3.  I understand the reasoning and believed it myself.

Now I realize there's no hurry.  I'll get there when I'm ready.

And I will kick ass.

Just kidding.  But really. Yeah.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Addiction

Toward the end of Cross season last year, I decided to try a little experiment.  I had my new bike and everything, so I felt silly not doing whatever else I could to go faster.

I always knew intellectually that I drink too much beer to not have it hurt my performance.  

I had never actually done anything about it other than wake up slightly hungover on the morning of a race and punch myself in the face for being so fucking stupid.

It would go like this ...

Friday night before the race I would get everything ready to go. Once that was done, I could relax with a nice cold beer.  I get pretty nervous before races, so the calming influence of the alcohol was wonderful, and what could one more hurt?

Well, now that I've had 2, what difference does it make if I have a third? That's still less than my normal 5, so I should be great for tomorrow after I drink this 4th beer.

And so on.

Well after I got my new bike, I did a couple of races the normal (carbo-beer loading) way.

Then one day I decided to not drink any alcohol for the entire week before the race.

The result was unexpected.

I didn't really do tons better in the race.  But there was a huge difference. I was not nearly as tired after the race.

So I tried it again. This time was the Iowa State Championship cross races.  I did the Cat 4 and the Masters 50+ races back to back.

I don't remember which was first, but I got 5th place in one and 2nd in the other.  I felt just as good for the second race. 

That was the difference from a week of no beer.

So as Winter was settling in this year, I decided that if my races were being hurt by drinking, my training probably was too. I mostly quit drinking the day after the Super Bowl.

Not that the Super Bowl had anything to do with it.  That's just how I remember when it was. And Oh yeah - Fuck Tom Brady.  

Anyway - I struggled for a while (and still do - somewhat) with the lifestyle change of not drinking.  I had quite a habit.  But I felt physically better right away. I dropped a bunch of weight without changing anything else.  I think this might partially be from the higher quality training.

I have long talks with Jill about my observations after quitting. I do this to help reinforce my decision to quit. I have the occasional beer, but I need to be careful with that because I notice a craving for more beer for a few days afterwards.

In three months after quitting, I dropped 15 pounds and stabilized at around 175.  That's right where I want to be for racing.

But this post isn't about quitting drinking.  That was relatively easy.

This post is about addiction. Physical addiction.  When I stopped drinking beer, I had no withdrawal symptoms.

So I was reading this book by a pro cyclist. He was saying that early in his career, he had a training partner who had found a simple way to cheat his training.

The coach had given him specific target heart rates for his workouts. The cyclist found he could easily reach those targets if he guzzled a bunch of coffee before training. The result was predictable. Poor fitness when racing started.

That got me thinking. I drink a lot of coffee.  Maybe, I should cut back for the sake of better training.

So I started filling my daily thermos with half regular and half decaf.

When I started feeling dizzy for the next few days, I came to the 100% wrong conclusion. I didn't make the connection that I had reduced my caffeine intake. I thought maybe I was still drinking too much coffee, so I tried to stop completely.  Big mistake.

I went to work on Monday and could not concentrate. I couldn't focus my eyes.  My vision was blurred. My balance was off.  I was having difficulty listening to people. I felt tongue-tied.  My words were coming out wrong. The whole day was miserable.

I tried again on Tuesday and it was worse.  Finally, I went over to Starbucks and got a small (tall) cup of coffee.  I drank it down and about an hour later, I felt a lot better.  Still a little dizzy, but most of the brain fog was lifted.

I realized that since I have to work, I can't just quit drinking coffee. I'm going to have to carefully measure how much I take in and slowly reduce it.

But why? 

That has been the question I've been hearing. Why would I need to cut back on coffee?

Well first it was because I wanted to train without the artificially elevated heart rate. But now that I see what the withdrawal is like, I'd like to completely get away from the dependence.

Not in a million years would I have guessed that it would be harder to quit coffee than beer.

I like beer so much more, but coffee has me physically jacked up.

The main reason I don't want to be dependent on coffee is in case there's a Zombie Deal. I know everybody says, "Zombie Apocalypse" but that word seems wrong to me.  I think "Zombie Deal" is a better phrase. Or maybe "Zombageddon." Yeah - I like that. It sounds a little like a pasta dish with brains in it.  But yeah - When (not if)  Zombageddon happens, you know Starbucks is going down first.  Then all of the people who can't get their caffeine fix will be walking around like zombies and promptly getting their brains blown out.  

So now if somebody asks me why I'm cutting back on coffee, I just say, "Because. Zombies."

Saturday, June 03, 2017

I'm back (for one very special night) -- You should probably read this one unless you hate laughing.

But this time ... it's traditional.

There's a fantastic movie from the 80's. It's called "Hot Shots!" The exclamation point is part of the title.

Anyways, there this thing they do in this movie where the love interest of Topper Harley says something that Topper can't believe is true.

So he says, "You're joking."

Then the woman says, "If I were joking I would have said "A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says, 'Why the long face?'"

At which point, Topper realizes just how serious it is.

I thought of this joke several months ago. At the time, I thought there was something I could do with it.  There's a thing that I used to hear or that people used to say, I can't remember which.  But it's about a joke that someone doesn't get.  Sometimes (not usually) if someone doesn't get a joke, they will tell you.  They'll say something like "I don't get it."

Then the person telling the joke might say "It's not as funny if I have to explain it."

This is a dumb thing to say.  If somebody didn't get the joke, there's no way it's less funny if you have to explain it.  It will be at least as funny.  Or maybe ... You didn't explain it right. Or maybe the thing that isn't funny is you!

Or maybe you are telling a joke that you didn't get in the first place but since everybody else around thought it was hilarious, you thought you'd tell your friend.  Then maybe you didn't quite tell the joke right.

I'll give you an example. It's a joke I've told on this blog before to explain something about how some written jokes won't work as well as if they were spoken.

Charlie Brown is showing off his brand new Speedo at the lake.  Lucy says "Charlie Brown. I always suspected you were crazy, but now I can clearly see you're nuts."

As a spoken joke, the homophones  "your/you're" really go to work in a lovely way.

But what if you heard the joke and didn't get it.  So you're all, "So what? Lucy thinks Charlie Brown is crazy. Big deal."

Then everybody laughs even harder. Now you think it must be terribly funny to people what Lucy thinks of Charlie Brown. So you figure that you've got a joke people will like next time you're sitting around and people are telling jokes.

So you give the joke you don't understand a try, finishing with "... But now I can clearly see your testicles."

Ok that's still pretty funny. Never mind.

Or what if you hear the joke and don't get it and you have the misfortune of being British?

Then you might say, "But now I can clearly see you're a nutter."

Stupid British people.

But if everybody else was laughing and you didn't get it and you said "I don't get it" maybe somebody would explain it to you.

"It's funny because Lucy is either saying the Speedo is a ridiculous thing for a boy of  Charlie Brown's physique to wear, or that his balls are exposed."

Or maybe you get the joke when you hear it, but you start telling it and you can't quite remember the trick.  Maybe you forget that Lucy was speaking directly to Charlie Brown.

Your version goes like this: So Lucy and Sally are at the pool when Charlie brown walks up in his brand new Speedo and says 'Hi' and as he's walking away, Lucy says, "Sally, I always suspected your brother was a little crazy, but now I can clearly see he's nuts."

This one could still actually work, but Lucy would need a thick accent and Lucy doesn't have a thick accent.

You could change it slightly to say that Sally and that guy from the Raiders of the Lost Ark who saved Indiana Jones by preventing him from eating a poisoned piece of fruit (because that guy had a heavy accent) were at the pool ...

Then the guy from Indiana Jones turned to Sally and said with his heavy accent of unknown origin, "Your brother. I can cleerly see eez nuts!"

Do you get it? Because in heavy accent, his/he's is a homophone. Oh never mind. It's not as funny if I have to explain it.

Anyway - back to the "Why the long face" joke. I have written an explanation or apology for it.  I wrote it on a piece of paper and placed it right here on my desk.  It's not here on my desk anymore. It might be in a drawer. I will look later.  If I find it, I will post it.

Otherwise, I'll probably just write some self-indulgent bullshit about the races I've been doing lately.

Goodnight.