Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Peanut Butter, Ice Cream, and Dirt: Only Room for Two

Mostly in between cooking food, slanging beer, consuming one of these items (see: vegan) in the meantime, and riding my bike in beautiful places, I’ve been putting together a tentative schedule for the events I plan on attending in 2013.  In doing this I have realized how popular this sport has become, and how much variety there is to choose from.  I could race every weekend, sometimes twice a weekend, from April until September, if my budget was unlimited and legs were bionic.  Unfortunately I have to make some compromises.  I have decided that I will replace ice cream with peanut butter in my diet in an attempt to offset the costs of attending all of these events.  Also, instead of actually training for these races, and because cutting back on ice cream is training in itself, I will just use the races as expensive professional training sessions.  It will go something like this: “Training Session 1: Try to Keep up With the 30 Guys Ahead of You”, “Training Session 2: Try to Keep up With the 29 Guys Ahead of You”, and so on and so forth.  If I can make it through to Training Session 30 I may be ready to start racing.  There it is in a nutshell.  Of course, the nut will be crushed, turned into a nut butter and spread all over this blog for all to taste.  Sounds easy enough.

The process of formulating a schedule for next year continues to change and unfold.  Right when I think I have it all figured out, something else pops up.  Do I stick to local events and series and try to grow and progress locally?  This is the more affordable option.  Or do I hit the national scene, like the dorky ball boy trying to hoop it up at a Ruckers Park pick-up game?  

I don’t like getting dunked on.  Keep in mind, so far I have no financial support other than what I can personally muster from a meager income and a peanut butter diet.  What I will attempt is to do a little bit of both.  Last year, I dove head first into endurance racing, did pretty well, and enjoyed it very much.  I also did well in shorter cross country races. In 2013 the goal is to stay as varied as possible.  In addition to XC and endurance (now considered marathon), I will be attempting my first ultra-endurance races, which are all generally 100-mile efforts.  The National Ultra Endurance Series, or NUE, is a growing and very competitive series with some of the best races nationwide.  These NUE races, although I’ve never tried them before, are what I am most excited for.  I will attempt to do four NUE races, as the standings are compiled based on racers’ 4 best finishes.  Plus, it gives me an excuse to get back to the Midwest and see family.  Other than that there is a whole plethora of XC and marathon races just around the corner from me in Colorado.  The Rocky Mountain Endurance Series is the one I got my feet wet with this year, and believe it to be one of the most well-run and fun series going.  So here’s a preliminary list of races I hope to attend:

Sea Otter Classic, Monterey, CA, April 18-21 (paid for)
RME Indian Creek, Sedalia, CO, May 18
Gunnison Growler, Gunnison, CO, May 26 (paid for)
Mohican 100 (NUE), Loudonville, OH, June 1
Lumberjack 100 (NUE), Manistee, MI, June 15
Winter Park XC, June 29
Marathon Nationals, Sun Valley, ID, July 6
Breckenridge 100 (RME & NUE), Breckenridge, CO, July 14
High Cascades 100, Bend, OR, July 21
RME Tahosa, Ward, CO, August 4
Winter Park XC, August 10
Steamboat Stinger, Steamboat Springs, CO, August 18
RME Snake River, August 31

This entire schedule is, of course, very tentative.  Can I afford these events?  Can my body handle them?  Will I get dengue fever?  Will I discover my untapped love for sustainable maggot farming?  I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. There are some dingle berry’s hanging around in this poopy list.  Some could potentially get wiped away only to be replaced by others.  The hope is that it doesn’t all go down the toilet.

Some events I am sad to miss, but will one day attend:

XC Nationals, Whiskey  50, 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, SS USA, Transylvania-Epic, BC Bike Race, Breck Epic, etc. etc. etc.

The last 3 are something I would think about scrapping an entire year for at some point down the road.  They are all week-long stage races in arguably the best riding spots in North America.  Pisgah, Breckenridge, British Columbia.  Mmmm Mmmm now that’s some tasty shit!  SS USA, and then subsequently SSWC, are more parties than race, which is why they will always be at the top of my list.  And then, just as I thought I had it all figured out, this came out:

The USAC Pro XCT calendar. It just so happens that I had planned on being in California during the month of March.  Should I entertain the idea of getting smoked by top-level pros?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Catchup and the 2012 Season

Wow, I've been away from the blogosphere for quite some time now.  I have reasons.  Or maybe they're just excuses.  Or maybe it's all just bullshit I've come up with to make myself feel better about not being active in this venue.  Motivation to write about sweet biking excursions has been lacking.  Maybe that's because the abundance of sweet biking excursions has been lacking.  I haven't raced since August.  This kills me.  I shall plan better next year.  Riding has been mostly mundane, hitting the same close-to-home trails that I'm now somewhat bored of.  I am in need of a mountain biking adventure, BAD.  Moab! Sedona!! Can you hear me!!??  But now as I sit here, sick in bed and watching a winter storm move from the mountains into Boulder, it seems like a good time to catch up.

This isn't to say that I haven't been riding.  I've actually been riding a decent amount, very focused on next year, and enjoying a completely different type of riding than I'm used to.  One that involves (semi)skinny tires, curvy handlebars, and road.  Since I picked up a brand spankin' new Kona Jake the Snake about a month ago, my riding options have increased.

Above Ward, CO.
Rides like this have taken precedent.  One of the beauties of the Boulder area is it's close proximity to the mountains, and once a few miles into the mountains there is an endless maze of dirt roads that make for some incredibly riding.  So there has been a lot of on-the-road exploration.  My riding priorities have also changed a bit.  The combination of nothing but sweet mountain biking and this summers' endless journeys, the closing down of some of my favorite riding spots in the mountains, and a new training focus has affected the way I look at riding.  For God's sake, I hope this is a temporary faze.  But in all honesty I've really been enjoying it.  I've been focusing on building strength and power, and so a lot of my rides as of late have been shorter, more high intensity efforts.  Through this I have been really pushing the physical limits of my body.  Learning to dig deeper.  And although the adrenaline rush isn't the same as riding buff mountain singletrack, the payoff in the form of results is very rewarding.  Like I said, I still miss riding good trails like hell. 

Maybe inspiration has been waiting.  I've been waiting for it to come, and don't know if it will.  One thing I've been waiting on is my custom Generic Cycles Ti single speed frame.  Every time I think about it it gives me goosebumps.  But the waiting has been making me a little stir-crazy.  Add this to the fact that I broke my beloved Niner steel SS frame in October and have been singlespeedless since, and I'm getting down-right frustrated. Luckily I heard from Generic a week ago explaining the difficulties they've been having, and assuring me that my bike is on the way.  I've also been waiting to hear back from any of the potential sponsors that I submitted proposals to.  Its exciting and frustrating at the same time.  We'll see what happens.

In the meantime, I wrote a season recap a short while back that I wouldn't mind sharing:

A year ago at this time I was sitting in an office chair twiddling my thumbs and making mouse clicks.  Unfortunately there was more thumb-twiddling than mouse clicks.  The decision to leave Indiana was never easier whilst faced with an uninspiring design position at a company with little future, and a growing passion for cycling with a little grain of racing potential stuck in my teeth.  11 months has gone by and I’m still chewing.  11 of the most life-changing, inspiring, eye-opening, adventurous, self-fulfilling, and exciting months of my life; leaving me hungry for more.

Mountain biking in Colorado took some getting used to.  Or, shall I say, my mountain biking synapse needed to be re-wired.  All I knew was the play-pen that is Brown County State Park.  Perfectly manicured, buff, super-flowy up-and-down well-designed trails.  When I first started in CO I was confined to front-range trails, mostly around the Boulder area.  Anytime I had to jump on double-track, ATV trail, or dirt road, the negative monster in my head started talking.  He said “This isn’t mountain biking! Where’s my singletrack mofo!  Where are my trees and dirt!”  Luckily a couple of trips to Moab, and one to Sedona, were enough to silence the monster.  The mountain biking in these places is so mind-boggling and unique that it’s almost unfathomable until you actually experience it.  Experiencing mountain biking in so many different forms in such a short amount of time has almost done the reverse of painting a new picture; it has wiped my slate clean.  I thought I once knew what mountain biking was.  Now I haven’t a goddamn clue.  I still yearn for the quality trails I used to ride on, but also realize that the possibilities for a good day on the bike are almost endless.  You don’t need singletrack for good mountain biking.  In fact, sometimes single track, if not intended for mountain bikes, is less than ideal; cumbersome, frustrating, flow-less.  Like bad jazz.

I wasn’t even sure about racing mountain bikes until this year, at the end of which I find myself in a whirlwind of inspiration and desire for bigger and better races and places and people.  I didn’t know how I would stack up against the competition in a state known for its mountain biking and outdoor prowess.  I remember telling myself a few weeks before my first race in Colorado, “If I suck at this and it isn’t meant to be, screw it.”  Not that I was giving up, but rather prepared to further pursue the non-race side of the sport; the reasons we all do it in the first place, for the adventure and thrill.  I wasn’t going to wallow in the muck of mid-level racer for years and years.  I’d rather be out riding for fun.  It just so happened that I did well in my first race, and the rest is history.  The seed was planted.  It was an incredible year in which both the racing and adventure sides of the sport seemed to have blended into a sweet intoxicating mixed drink.  An expensive mixed drink at that.  Racing afforded (not fiscally, come on sponsors) me the ability to go to some truly amazing places.  Places that I never would’ve imagined going to a year ago.  Places that I might not have gotten to see if it weren’t for the racing scene in Colorado.  For this I feel incredibly fortunate every day.

My season in review:

I learned a lot this year about racing.  Some mental, some physical, some emotional, some technical.  Mentally, I made strides this year, and continue to do so, that should benefit me forever.  I opened up the box that sets limits and creates fear in your mind.  Kept closed, you convince yourself that you have reached your physical limit or breaking point either in a race or training or riding for fun, that you cannot go any further, any harder, or any faster.  To open this box is to break free of all the barriers and limits your mind is trying to set for you.  In a real-world application, this means continuing to push harder, blocking out the pain, even when you’re deep into the pain cave.  It takes a certain mentality.  You keep digging deeper and deeper in the box, surpassing what you thought was physically possible.  I have just recently realized this very important idea, but if I can continue to keep the box open, there is no limit to how much I may find.

Physically I need to improve in various areas.  Hopefully, with the aforementioned mental improvements, the physical improvements will follow.  I need to get more powerful.  I feel like I lost a lot of power this year.  I don’t own any super-fancy and super-expensive power meters, so I can’t say for sure, but it feels like I have lost some of the pop that I had when riding in Indiana.  This can be attributed to a few things.  Riding at elevation is great for endurance training and increasing your hematocrit, but I believe it has hindered my ability to build power.  In Indiana you have all the oxygen your legs can handle, so you can produce mega power.  At altitude your cardiovascular system is working overtime, but still not able to supply your blood with ample oxygen, therein reducing the amount of oxygen-rich blood going to your legs.  This is my personal theory, but other cyclists seem to concur.  Or I’m just being a wuss.

Nutritionally, I am always trying to improve.  This is maybe the hardest part of the equation, and sometimes the least understood and most neglected by cyclists, or athletes in general.  Simply knowing what types of foods to eat and when can make a huge difference during training, while resting, and during a race.  I still haven’t even come close to figuring out this very nuanced part of the game.  That being said, I think I do better than many in this area, simply because I am conscious of it at all times. 

Emotionally, I think I have taken the right approach to racing.  I ride for fun.  I race for fun.  It’s what I love to do.  This keeps it interesting, exciting, and enjoyable.  Simply “training” all of the time would drive me crazy.  If I’m “training” in Moab though; well, okay.  I also realized this year that having friends and family interested and present at your events makes a huge difference.  It has given me an emotional boost like no other.  Having that support, especially when people went out of their way to be there, is priceless.  I could tell the story of almost coming to tears (during the race) the first time my parents saw me race, but I’ll save it.

To say that I did better than expected this year would be a lie.  I had no expectations.  I didn’t know what to expect from myself, my competition, my equipment, the race courses, etc.  It was all a movie I hadn’t seen before, and I sure enjoyed watching it play out.   Can't wait to see what 2013 will bring.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Candy Store

This weekend saw a trip to the largest bike swap meet in the country, Denver’s VeloSwap.  It is a dangerous place.  Among other things it is a test in temptation and self control.  I passed the test, just barely.  Hey, I could’ve easily emptied my bank account and still left desiring more.  Instead I happened to pick up some much needed essentials at good deals.

I had never seen anything like VeloSwap, and left feeling like I had just taken a 3-hour Calculus final exam.  My brain hurt.  My neck hurt from constant head turning.  My eyes hurt from trying to take in a thousand shiny objects at once. It is nothing more than a candy store for bike nerds.  Didn’t bring enough cash with you?  No worries, there’s two ATM’s in the convention center.  I didn’t know I had attention deficit disorder until going there.  It’s a good thing I went alone, because I would’ve lost any accompaniment in the first five minutes.  It took me about 3 hours to peruse the venue, which consisted of maybe 200 or more vendor tables, each stocked to the max with goodies new and old, from $5000 bike frames to that old Campy piece you’ve never been able to find.  Anything and everything your bike fetish ever desired could be found there. 

I spent more mullah than previously intended, but made a conscious effort to buy what I needed, instead of all that I wanted.  I got some winter lobster finger gloves with Thinsulate, windbreaker fabric and leather palms, for about ¼ the cost of other competitors’ offerings.  

I scored the elusive Cannondale Save carbon fiber seatpost.  Save, as in “save” your tender bits.  Cannondale doesn’t sell these posts separately.  All you have to do to get one is buy a $6000 mountain bike, or go to VeloSwap.  And I got it for about half the price they go for on the Bay.  Now I don’t have to continue to switch my one seatpost between two bikes.  I’m stoked to try it out and see if it flexes as much as advertised.

A few other items were haggled down in price and bought.  That is the beauty of VeloSwap; nothing is set in stone.  No prices are firm.  Want to buy the vendors whole table?  Make him or her an offer.  I didn’t pay the “listed” price for anything.  The big score of the day was a new set of high quality hydraulic brakes.  As my new build gets going, I knew that one of my biggest expenses would be the brakes.  I was planning on having to spend in the territory of $600 on a set.  That was, until I came across these babies:

Finally, a real set of brakes.  Out of the dark ages.
A brand new set of Magura Marta SL brakes in fancy red, with their fancy self-cooling two-piece rotors as well as the standard rotors.  They were sort of hiding on the guys table when I saw them, and no price was listed.  Upon inquiring about the price, my eyes lit up and certain juices started flowing.  Juice can also double as the flowing of cash out of the ATM machine into my hand.  I then went back and haggled the guy down another $20 on his previously too-low price.  Score.  They are a couple of years old, but still brand new and proven to be a great set of high quality super-lightweight hydraulics.  I can’t wait to give ‘em a try.  They will be much lighter and way more powerful than the Avid BB7 mechanicals I’ve been using since the olden days.  I was planning on putting them on the Niner until my new Generic comes in.  Then the Niner decided to take a break.  More on that later. Review to come.

Friday, October 19, 2012

All Kris Crossed Up

Damn, it’s like summer vacation after your first year in college, when you leave the dorms and all those cool people you thought you knew, all the parties, all the girls, all the fun, and return back to your moms house and that pathetic fast-food job for the summer.  One day the sky is the limit, opportunity abounds, new faces and new places are a daily ritual, spring is in the air, girls wear less clothes, excuses for skipping class become easier to come by; the next you’re flipping burgers and wondering where all you’re high school girlfriends ran off to (or with).   

Well these days have been feeling eerily similar.  The mountain bike race season is over – that is, if you insist on living next to mountains that receive copious amounts of snow – and I’ve been having some withdrawal.  Other people, with more talent or money or sponsors or a combination thereof, are still racing, and happy to fill my Facebook and twitter feeds with their wonderful experiences.  I crave the sport now more than ever, and am getting anxious and weary about the prospect of it all being over until late next spring.  Luckily, there seems to be a saving grace: cyclocross season.  Like that motorcycle you bought just to get you through the doldrums of a hot summer at home, which gave life a new meaning, and freedom a new home with you, cyclocross might just be that new drug I’ve been looking for.  Or, I could just be horribly jumping the gun here.  They call it Cross.  

Not to be confused with my heroes of old:

 I’ve never done a cyclocross race.  I don’t own a cyclocross bike.  In fact, I don’t own anything with skinny tires that actually fits me or I enjoy riding that much.  I’ll tell you what I know about cyclocross:  You race a road bike with knobby tires in the grass, pavement, dirt, sand, and mud.  Make sense? I didn’t think so.  But somehow this awkward mix of mountain biking and road biking has grown into one of the biggest racing scenes and niche equipment markets in the world.  So as part of my recovery from race addiction I think I’ll give it a shot.  The goods: there are races on the Front Range every weekend until January or so, the support network for these events is huge, it should keep me in good shape, everyone agrees at how much fun they are, and there will be beer.  The bads: I don’t own a CX bike, and in doing so my mountain bike budget, hence building a race-worthy bike for next year, will dwindle drastically.  There is also the prospect that I will suck at it.  Sounds like the goods outweigh the bads.  Count me in.  Next step, find a bike.

Last weeks race in Fort Collins.  Ok, that looks like more fun than road riding.
Oh, my buddy at Virtuous Cycles sells Kona, who make the Jake the Snake cross bike?  Hmmm, sounds tasty.