Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Departing Democracy Park at 6:15 Tuesday afternoon for climbing repeats up Calhoun Rd.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Millar, redux: racing for love

The following is from Bill Strickland's blog over at Bicycling. It's the conclusion of an ad hoc interview with David Millar, who is quickly becoming my favorite rider. I like him becasue he's articulate and candid, but also because he's one of the only racers caught doping who broke the omerta code. He never tested positive--but he owned up to what he did, paid his penalty, and has worked tirelessly to atone for his transgressions against the sport.

Many people doped, but Millar admitted it and had tried to fix the culture which catalyzed his mistakes.

This paragraph is about his love of the sport that's been rekindled by his return: 

Strickland: It’s just hard to talk about it without sounding like some kind of emotional goofball. Even at my level, Cat 3 amateur, it’s just not cool to get all wet-eyed about a great moment on the bike.   
Millar: "Yes, the thing is, it’s just different paradigms, isn’t it? At Flanders, I was sitting in the front group when Ty [teammate Tyler Farrar, who won the field sprint to finish fifth] came up and said, “I’ve only got a hundred meters in me, Dave.” I was – it was mad. But I was like, okay, we can do this. Yeah. I can bring him up to the front and lead him out as long as I can and drop him where he needs to be. I knew that he had suffered, he had suffered more than me to get to where he was. Even though I’d been off the front and I was shaking and I was a mess, when he came up to me and said, “Dave, I’ve only got a hundred meters in me” — and that’s the only thing he said to me — I just glanced and I thought, okay. He’s such a little hard bastard, I knew he wouldn’t flake off or lose my wheel. He might have been cramping in his hands, he’d crashed twice, almost been out of the race, but if he says he has a hundred meters, he’ll give it a hundred meters. He stuck to my wheel the last 2k or K and half, and he did it. Then sitting there together after the finish line, it may as well have been a junior race. Or a club race, an amateur club race. We had a real moment, sitting there. We’d just done Flanders and ripped Flanders to pieces at the end, but we were like club teammates who had just helped each other at the weekly race. It’s the same sensations! We were just fucking fucked gibbering, but it could have been at the local crit race, you’d still have the same thing. The level you ride at might change, and if you’re very lucky like me, eventually you might end up sitting at the edge of the road at the barriers of the Tour of Flanders. But you’re just a bike racer like any other."

*       *       *

The strongest woman I've ever ridden with bawled like a child at a race. She'd been isolated on a technical, slanted crit course by three riders from another team, and they attacked her relentlessly, lap after lap. She covered about 10 moves before she cracked, and when she did, she just pulled off to the side of the road and wept, draped all over the bars of her machine. I was the first teammate to reach her, so I wrapped my arms around her and tried to get her to forgive herself, to give herself credit for the valiant attempt she'd just made. When she looked in my eyes, I saw a despair and self-hatred so intense that it frightened me. She gave literally everything she had trying to keep those other women from riding away from her, and losing tore her apart. 

Two years later, I watched her get crashed in a corner of another crit. She went down hard, and I was again the first one to reach her. But when she looked at me this time, I saw only a scary anger and determination in her eyes. I asked her if she was okay while someone else else straightened her bars and adjusted her wheel. She didn't saw anything, but as she watched the pack fly by on the next lap, she clenched her jaw. 

As I held her by the saddle, waiting in the pit to push her in after her free lap, I whispered in her ear, "Go show them. Show them who you are. Don't ever forget that this was your race." 

"I'm going to kill them,"  she said.

She won the race in a field sprint by three bike lengths. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Skipping a ride sometimes pays marvelous dividends.

Rather than riding alone down the Keystone, I ambled along it with my newest training partner:

We managed some pretty good cross-training:


And we found some pretty steep hills to climb:

"Recovery" sometimes means more than spinning the crud outta the legs, ya know?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Uhh, excuse me, sir? Here's your ass.

I tried to do my first Omaha "race ride" last night. They call it "Wednesday Night Worlds." Since the shop's blog lists the jumping-off time at 6:00, I rolled in at 5:50. I could have asked the shop's manager to confirm the departure time since we talk twice a week, but no....

Of course, the group left at 5:45. Two very fit guys in Alegent Health kits chased with me. We averaged 24.5 down the length of the Keystone Trail and 26 along Wenninghoff Road, but we never saw the group.

Thanks to Vaughn and Nick for sticking with me in the hills; Vaughn is built just like Max Jenkins: long femurs with no body fat, and Nick reminded me of Tyler--big legs, built for power. They just killed me. Tore my legs off and ripped them apart. However, they also didn't want to leave my fat old ass alone in the wilds of northern Douglass County, so they waited at the top of every hill. All 1,000,000 of them. Damn.

These two could have caught the group if I hadn't been with them, and I tried to send them ahead a few times since I had a map, a phone, a taillight, and plenty of food. But that famous Midwestern hospitality won out. So they waited. A lot.

We finally sighted the group down near the Boyer chute, but I detonated in a crosswind and fell all to pieces. Nick caught on, while Vaughn waited and towed me back into town.

My old Tuesday/Thursday race rides in Davis followed pancake-flat roads for 40 miles. I sometimes got dropped in crosswinds or sat up to avoid huge packs of sketchy buffoons, but if I'd been training well and recovering smart, I could rotate, pull through, even win the occasional sprint with the elites and pros. But this  Wednesday Night World's route climbs 1540 feet in 48 miles. I may never finish with the lead group. Ever.

So, lessons learned? The fast guys here are just as fast as the fast guys in Norcal. Sure, none of them are actual professional riders, but they're all strong as hell.  My days of rotating through pacelines on flat roads are over; if I want to keep up with the racers around here, I'm going to have to forgo a lot of muscle & fat and drop down to 180 or so. During my best season in Davis, I weighed 190 and won a few sprints in flat crits and rolling road races, but I still got dropped badly on even moderate climbs. Right now, I'm at 203, and my back still gets really twitchy under power. I think I'll stop all the lifting, add some more yoga and core work, and spend the next three weeks riding lots of long, slow base rides. I'll never be able to follow 125-pounders  like Vaughn up the hills, but maybe I can consolidate my losses and not implode on every steep pitch.

But for now, my base is crap, my anaerobic threshold is way too low, and my body has too much fat. I may not race until June or July, but I'm going to re-build my aerobic engine and hopefully let my back heal a bit more before I start doing real intervals again.

As I struggled home through Midtown in the dark, griping at myself and getting lost in negative self-talk, a Prefontaine-coined aphorism occurred to me: "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." 

I realized that I've been coasting a lot lately: my academic work is half-assed, my dedication to healing my back and training my legs has been inconsistent, and worst of all, I've been sleepwalking through my family life. 

No more. I'm setting my hubris aside and admitting that everything I've ever achieved came not from any natural talent but a fervent dedication and obsessive drive. Sure, I can lighten up a bit; some balance between my roles as dad, husband, scholar and athlete will help keep me sane. But I'm done wasting time and dabbling in things. I WILL finish this damn archive chapter by the end of May. I WILL file the damn book by the end of the summer. I WILL weigh 190 by the end of May. As for the family stuff--well, that's a bit more personal, no? But I'm going to renew some promises to THEM, too. 

Sometimes, getting your ass handed to you is a very, very good thing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

knowledge without mileage equals bullshit

Although the positivist assumption Rollins makes here (only first-hand experience provides knowledge) completely disregards reason and theory, what are you gonna do, tell Hank he's wrong? He's earned way too much credibility for that.

Plus, the "mileage" word creates a cycling metaphor, which is always a good thing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

to train, or not to train....

Many of you have heard some of this already, so here's a quick recap for the informed--and some back-story for the uninitiated:

In 1997 or 98 I started playing city rec. league basketball as a way to get some endurance after quitting my 11-year smoking habit. Yep, 11 years of 1 1/2 to 2 packs a day. Plus, about 12 beers and 5 whiskeys a week. I never drank more than 4-5 drinks a night, but I spent 3-4 night a week at the Dubliner, White Rabbit, and 49'er. And I was a major volunteer and PR hack at Shelterbelt, which was a nicotine and alcohol-infused hotbed.

I quit smoking by covering every available inch of my skin in nicotine patches (think of Krusty the Klown here) and trading my cigarette addiction for a gym addiction. I lifted three times a week, ran on a treadmill, and played basketball. Poorly.

One night I went up for a rebound, and while I was in the air, a cutting guard accidentally swept my legs out from under me. I fell parallel to the ground and landed on my right hip, probably dislocating something in the sacral-illiac crest and herniating the discs between the S-1 / L5 and the L5 / L-4 vertebrae.

Two years of off-and-on-again physical therapy, spinal injections, and nSAID meds later, I still fought bursitis in both hips and painful swelling in my lumbar spine muscles. Running was occasionally agonizing, so I did a lot of elliptical cardio work and tons of yoga. My ultimate slvation arrived in the form of chiropractic treatment and custom orthotics.

When I finally got pretty close to healthy, I started riding mountain bikes with Miah around Omaha. Then I moved to Davis for grad school and took up road riding--mainly recreational club stuff and the occasional century. I could spin along pretty comfortably for about 50-60 miles on an aluminum Trek, but by mile 80 I would be popping Vitamin-I and stopping to stretch every 20 minutes. LeOuch.

I joined the Aggie race team at the urging of the coach, Judd Van Sickle. He spent some time fitting my wife's road bike in the UC Davis Sports Medicine Center, where he worked under Max Testa and Eric Heiden, and when we got to talking about collegiate racing, I got hooked. Part of the coaching benefits of racing with the Aggie team included power at threshold tests and bike fitting. Once Judd re-positioned me on my road bike, I started to ride longer and longer with no back pain.

I managed to race my entire first year with no back symptoms, but in my third year I hit the deck in some USCF crits and torqued it all to hell again. A TTT at conference championships pretty much laid me out for five weeks (we won, though!), and it's been steadily recurring problem for the last two years. Anytime I let my core strength and/or hamstring flexibility degenerate, I start to suffer or experience a major blow-out. For example, I managed to race a pretty full mid and late season last year, but after driving across the country and moving my family into our new house here in Omaha, I blew my back apart after a long October ride in the Ponca Hills. It was pretty awful throughout most of the winter and early spring, but I managed to get to about 90% by mid-March. Then, some climbing on the TT bike (the road bike needed a derailleur hanger after my Ozarks crash) aggravated everything again and sent me to the couch and ice packs this last weekend.

So I rolled out of the house this afternoon in a wee bit of discomfort. It pissed me off since I felt great last night, but after 2 miles, I started feeling twinges. The DC here calls those twinges "the canary in the coal mine"--early warnings that what I'm doing is dumb and will end in grief.

I almost turned around and came home. But I didn't. I promised to spin a really easy gear and not push myself at all. And, lo and behold, I managed 35 miles of rollers with no pain after mile 10. My back loosened up and let me enjoy the warm and windy weather. And I can sit here and type with only a mild tightness that I'm going to go stretch away right now.

Le Tour de Husker? Ahh--to race or not to race.....

Friday, April 9, 2010

David Millar on riding Paris-Roubaix

from Cyclingnews: A reconnaissance of the final 90km on Thursday left him "terrified," but he is looking forward to his first proper shot at the pave. "It scared the shit out of me," said Millar. "Arenberg blew me away, and there were times I thought: oh god, what have I signed up for?"

That's the best and most revelatory sports quote I have ever read. I love that a pro is willing to admit his fear.

Some part of me has been afraid every single time I've ever pinned on a number. I've hit the deck, cramped, or been dropped so damn many times that demons follow me to all my races, and I spend my entire trainer warm-up trying to exorcise them.

That's why I love racing--it forces me to confront and conquer my fears.  During some races, I never get over it; I race puckered the whole time and try just to finish. But sometimes, good legs and a clear heart coalesce, and I race with a wild abandon that helps me produce efforts I didn't know I was capable of making.

On Sunday, I'll be rooting for Hincapie, my favorite albatross bearer. 

But if Millar is able to animate the race at all that'll be enough for me. And I'll be rooting for all of y'all up at the Twin Bing. If I had a working race bike, I'd be right there on the line with you, introducing myself and trying to disguise my fear.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hors Categorie photography

A friend of mine who lives and work in Davis, California has a fascinating website: Hors Categorie Cycling Photography. He's shot the Tour de France and the Amgen Tour of California, and some of his stuff has been picked up by wire services and regional newspapers. If you want to find some good images of the last three Tours of California, it's a good place to look. He also shoots beautiful stuff of local amateur and collegiate events.

Here's an prime example of his series on land-based whales:

And here's his photograph of an exceptionally rare gathering of Greater West Coast Migratory Preening Birds. Never before have we been blessed by an image of their convergence atop the podium:
We handed Stanford, Cal,  Cal Poly, San Diego, and Santa Barbara their asses that day, winning the conference championship by finishing 1-2-3-4 in the crit. It was a sight to see--and those are my kids on the right.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How'd I Ever Miss THIS?

"green green youth
what about the sweetness we knew
what about what's good what's true
from those days

can't count to
all the lovers i've burned through
so why do i still burn for you
i can't say"

I can't get this dirge out of my head--perhaps since it's a Bay Area resident's look back at the Midwest....

Monday, April 5, 2010

Anyone want to help set up an informal TT series in the Omaha area?

I wonder if there are enough aero-minded cyclists and triathletes in the Omaha area to support a monthly or bi-weekly time trial series?

Here's what I envision: every other week, we could congregate near at the beginning of a five-mile stretch of lightly-traveled road. One rider would volunteer to record names, assign numbers, set up a start list, and keep time. At six PM, riders would start in 30-second intervals and ride out to a pre-marked turn-around spot; another volunteer could serve as a flag man. As they returned to the start/finish, riders would simply yell out their number as they crossed the line. The time-keeper would then record when they finished and perform some basic math to determine their elapsed time.

We could get a shop to sponsor the series and award a gift certificate to the overall winner for each session and for the season as a whole. We could also hold a raffle at each session to encourage participation. And an Eddie Merckx category (road set-up with no aero gear) would widen the pool of prospective participants.

I'd be willing to run the first session, and I think the road that runs to the east of Eppley is a great choice of venue--it's flat, lightly traveled, and easy to ride to.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Three hard laps at Swanson, thinking 'bout Bob Mould

I've never raced my mountain bike. Probably because I suck at riding it. Always have.

What I lack in technical skills I more than make up for with cowardice. Seriously, I'm the biggest wimp I know when it comes to rocks, fallen trees, descents. So not only can I NOT clean basic obstacles, I'm too chicken to learn how.

But Swanson's about my speed, I guess. I mean, I've ridden Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Tahoe and Deer Creek in Crested Butte, but those challenges are mainly length, altitude, and ascent; I walked the famous "double-diamond" section of Toad's, but so did Plastic, my mountain-goat Aggie teammate. But I can handle Swanson. Since my road bike's still waiting for a new derailleur hanger, I took the old Giant NRS out of the basement and did three medium-endurance (Zone 3) loops of the old Bellevue beauty. I guess I should've hit Jewell and seen some racing on Saturday, but those trails went in after I left Omaha.

I rode Swanson a ton with Miah when he first talked me into cycling. Yeah, it's all Miah's fault. We ran into each other at a Bob Mould show at the old Music Box in 2001 or 2002, and he'd lost about 20 pounds since I'd last seen him. My wife asked what the hell he'd been doing, and he said he had been flipping channels one day and saw Lance winning Tour #2 and got all inspired. 

I took a rigid bike on a self-supported tour of Ireland in 1995, but I hadn't ridden it since 1997, so I was WAY out of shape when Miah and I met at Swanson a few weeks after the Bob Mould show. I'd never really ridden on dirt trails. I made it through one lap and had a blast. I was hooked. I bought a hardtail Trek a few weeks later, and now look at me--a frustrated and mediocre Cat 3, eternally trying  to drop the last 10 pounds.

I used to roll through one lap of Swanson in about 35 minutes if I really pushed it. Saturday, I did three loops in about 90 minutes. During the last loop, I hopped on the wheels of two Trek / High Gear riders who showed me some lines and helped me pace myself a bit better. 

The new stuff above Tetanus Ridge is great; it adds some climbing and gets rid of that crappy, rutted descent down behind the fire station. But I don't think racing MTB is in the cards. It'd ruin the pure "fun" part of cycling, and I need to save at least some pedaling for the 10 year-old kid inside who just wants to enjoy the feeling of flying along.

I'm going back to Crested Butte this summer with my old friend Blank, so I'll need to ride the MTB more this season--but I'm going to make sure it stays in the "JRA" part of my training plan.

Anybody have a suggestion for a 6-8 minute road bike climb around Omaha? I gotta find one for hill repeats this week. Urgggg....

Keystone Trail CLOSED between I-80 and "L" as of noon on Sunday

GlamJams: Omaha Police have blocked access to the Keystone Trail 150 yards south of I-80, just north of the trestle bridge that crosses the Papio north of "L" st. Several detectives are investigating what looks like a major crime, and they refused to let me pass at 12:15 PM today. They told me the trail will be closed in both directions for a couple more hours as they collect evidence.

They did offer me the option of hike-a-biking all the way down the creek bank to the water's edge, but they also told me they wouldn't let me cross the Papio on the trestle bridge, so I'd have to hoof it over to "L" to rejoin the trail. I just turned around.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April is the cruelest (and national poetry) month; Easter?

I think (hope) a lilac bush grows just outside our bedroom window. I'm unsure because I've only lived here since October. But I missed lilacs when I lived in Davis.

I missed "spring," really. "Winter" in Davis is like one long Midwestern April:  it rains most days, temperatures stay in the 50's, the grass and bushes on the hillsides turn green after long months of dormant brown. "Spring" in California just isn't the profound transformation Omaha experiences. Flowers in Davis bloom off and on all year, not like Omaha: tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth are all popping up throughout my neighborhood. It looks almost like a different place. So yeah, I bitched and moaned about the terrible winter Omaha has just endured. But I think I knew that the spring would seem all the more miraculous. 

The cardinal in the tree outside my office window won't shut up. A pair of them is nesting in the massive elm, and the male seems pretty proud of himself. I don't remember hearing cardinals in Davis, either.

Yesterday was our third warm day in a row. I went to my usual Friday yoga class at the "Y" and then did core and upper-body weight work for another 45 minutes (I hope all the Bulgarian split squats I'm doing right now will help my finishing sprint on the bike as much as they did two years ago.) I left the gym feeling physically spent but spiritually affirmed, even though Holy Week is still weird for me, a lapsed Catholic. I'm still looking for a practice of spirituality. My friend Miah and I recently shared a good-natured debate about the intellectual legitimacy of my agnosticism; he thinks all agnostics are just atheists too afraid to get off the fence. Another of my old friends, Matthew, studied in a Presbyterian seminary before he started graduate school, and he and his wife are still devout Protestants; he and I once shared the same debate, but he was on the other side of the fence, urging me to hop down on the side of faith.

Believers and skeptics both seem to doubt my theological pluralism. I admire and respect practitioners of most religions, while I empathize with secular humanists. I suppose it's the best and most lasting remnant of my Jesuit education. I've been good friends with very conservative Mormons and with outraged feminists, and I see merit and truth in both positions.

Someday I'll write about my personal and political reactions to the child sexual abuse controversy that's raging in the Church--suffice to say, on this issue, the personal and political are inextricable for me. And the Church's positions on gay parishioners, birth control, and female leadership all conspire to keep me away. My friend Molly insists that a good liberal CAN practice a sort of dissenting Catholicism, one which advocates reform on all of these issues. She clings to the Church's liberation theology and social justice efforts--which still rock, BTW--and prays for better days on the other stuff.

Maybe the Episcopalians have got it right? The ritual and mysticism of the Roman church with a lot more tolerance? Openly gay bishops? Right on! But Henry VIII? Not so much. Besides, an Irish member of the Anglican church seems really strange, no?

Another old friend is a pretty involved Methodist, but her Methodism is of a Berkeley stripe unlike the Midwestern kind from my childhood. My Locke grandparents on my mother's mother's side were Methodists, and my memory of them always makes me think about Maclean: "The Burns family ran a general store in a one-store town and still managed to do badly. They were Methodist, a denomination my father always referred to as Baptist who could read."

So. I don't know what to do. My dissertation adviser has hinted at his Buddhism without ever really talking about it. I suppose that's the most intellectually attractive pathway, and mindfulness would be a welcome respite. But it's also so, uhh, foreign. I'd basically have to start from scratch. But maybe that's best?

I know I believe in some sort of metaphysics that's Neoplatonic and transcendental. And I always look for a more specific set of answers this time of year; the physical evidence of renewal and rebirth during spring lends credence to questions of faith, somehow."To me, the meanest flower that blows can often give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

So, all of this brings me back to April, and lilacs, and belief. Some of my five readers will have seen this coming since the first paragraph, but what the hell. In a wonderful distillation of faith, environmentalism, springtime, and lilacs, here's Thomas Stearns' take on some the issues I've been discussing. After I post this, I'm going to head to the woods and ride my bike in the dirt. At least that's something I can still believe in.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering         5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,  10
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,  15
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,  20
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,  25
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.  30
                Frisch weht der Wind
                Der Heimat zu.
                Mein Irisch Kind,
                Wo weilest du?
'You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;  35
'They called me the hyacinth girl.'
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,  40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od' und leer das Meer.