Monday, March 05, 2012

New Beginnings

By the end of the month, many people will have started their racing seasons.  Of course, for most the real start was weeks and months prior to the first race day; but it's nice to think that the season has a brightline start date which coincides with a race.  There is a lot that goes into bike racing, beyond just hours and hours of training.  There is equipment and clothing to buy, coaches to talk to, schedules to make, babysitters to pay for and bargaining with one's spouse or significant other for unreasonably high amounts of training time and cash to be spent on bikes.  I recently detailed on a training ride the number of people and companies that contributed in some small way to me going out that day-- it totaled at least 15 separate contributions.  It cleary takes a village to outfit a bike racer.

This is a year of new beginnings for me.  By its end I will have married the love of my life, started racing for my first new team in over 7 years and maybe bought a new house.  Any one of these events could be enough "change" for a whole year in itself.  But true to form, and contrary to my Grandfather's sage advice, I don't like doing anything in moderation.  There is a true freedom in a new beginning.  It's the opportunity to remake yourself in the way you see best fit; to learn from the lessons of the former and make the new better. 

Progress, like new beginnings, comes in many different forms.  Most often progress is subtle.  We constantly search out the big change, the breakout story or the sudden smash hit.  However, progress is more often just a touch of advancement here and there.  When I was growing up I had a description of what it meant to be a capricorn on my wall in my bedroom.  I must have read it a thousand times, something that struck me was the message that capricorns feed on small accomplishments.  As a teenager I did not quite grasp that concept because I always wanted to be the flashy new kid on the scene.  I wanted to burst into success as the guy who came out of nowhere to the pinnacle, afterall that's what made the best stories on NBC's coverage of the Olympics. 

Reflection now, however, shows that the slow but steady climb up the ladder can be just as good as the bottle rocket to success approach.  It takes a different kind of strength to make these two climbs and honestly neither is better than the other.  I've spent so much time in recent years trying to figure out which way(s) are correct and thus the only way to do things; but it recently dawned on me that there are often mutliple different answers to a question and thus mutiple different "correct" ways.  In the end, maybe Granpa was right, everything in moderation...including moderation itself. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winter Duldrums-- Riding Clean

A couple years ago the BPA news broke and literally dozens of bike racers fled from store bought water bottles.  I was one of them.  It was a good thing for me because it forced me to dig into my collection of bottles that were far too old to get rid of those that had developed science projects worth of deposits on the bottom from powders and recovery mixes.  I settled on CamelBak's Podium Chill bottles as my first choice in hydration.  With their insulation they were great for the hot and cold days.  Even in the worst temps in DC's Summer I could expect to have decently chilled water for up to about 60 minutes after starting.   
The Podium Chill served me well but I began to notice I was having trouble getting the bottles out of my cages.  This became very true when I switched over to carbon cages.  I ended up having to literally twist the bottles out of the cages and I started to conclude that these bottles must be just a little wider than what the cages were made to hold.  I have no mathematical proof for that assertion but literally hundreds of hours of real world testing.  I also became concerned with the fact that they carried only 21 oz per bottle and cost in the neighborhood of $12 a piece.  Truth be told, CamelBak also made 25 oz Podium Big Chill but that bottle is so large that it almost doesn't fit into my 56-cm frame.  The fact that each bottle cost $12 made signing one for the adoring fans in the following picture taken at SuperWeek last year exhilarating with just a little financial sting. 

Around Christmas, I remembered a  Le Tour video of some guy running along the side of the road in a Clean Bottle suit and so I dialed up the website and took a quick read on the product he was selling.  I was looking at it as a possible alternative.  I found the 4 for $29.95 price much attractive than CamelBak's price and was excited to see that the bottles were also BPA free.  I read more into the story behind Clean Bottle and the outreach the owner undertakes with each purchase and was impressed.  So I bought a 4 pack of bottles and I'm now sold on the product.

I was pretty excited about the idea of a bottle that can be cleaned better in the first place.  Heck, even my Mom thought it was a great idea.  I was a little skeptical about how the bottles would hold up under real world use and I have to say I am very impressed.  I have been using them with a great degree of consistency for the past month and half, including numerous times through the washing machine and they have exceeded my expectations.  I thought you would get leaks with the twin seals but I have never experienced a leak from these bottles.  I have put them through daily hard rides, mountains, and gravel and they have done exactly what I have asked them to do. 

The plastic on the bottle is thicker than most of the store bought versions so they feel substantial in your hands.  Even with gloves on they are user friendly and I don't spend time fighting to get them out of my cages.  The added bonus I wasn't expecting is that the nozzle can be removed for cleaning.  This is a genius idea.  I can now finally get rid of the hangover taste of whatever powder or recovery drink I had used the prior time.  This is that taste which would normally outlast even the washing machine on older water bottles. 

These are officially now my go to bottles in my rotation and when they are clean they are the ones that will go first on to the bike before any others. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Winter Duldrums-- The Ick

The common enemy of all bike racers, aside from roller bladers and taxis, has to be illness and injury.  Nothing interrupts training cycles of the determined more than being sick.  When we get sick or even feel illness coming on we should of course do what is good for everyone else-- rest, see a doctor, get the right medicine, etc...  So when I started feeling a little less than perfect on Thursday of last week you know exactly what I did . . . that's right, absolutely nothing.  I ignored those first twinges of a sore throat and a head ache that wouldn't go away until I was full blown sick with a chest cold this morning.

As a bike racer I fall victim to the same sense of invincibility many endurance athletes feel.  For most people in the United States, that sense of invincibility diminishes somewhere after pledging a fraternity or getting arrested for disorderly conduct.  But for a lot of athletes it never completely seems to go away.  We take risks and push limits well beyond what most would consider prudent.  Why else would we roll down a mountainside at 75km/h protected by spandex and a helmet made of foam?  And then ride back up it to do the same thing again, just this time faster.  

Being a bike racer is about calculated risks.  Knowing when to put in an effort or when to let the break go.  Knowing when to push it through a corner or when the outside line is really faster.  However, listening to your body is equally important.  We run our bodies at such high levels, between training intensity, fatigue and then just every day life.  There is a class of us out there who try to train like pro's just without the support of a team soigneur and masseuse to help us bring it back to reality.  Those folks are left to their own device to try and make sure they don't over do it all.

However, you take all of the above and toss in a little extra drama in life, a touch of extra stress at work or just a bad day stuck on a plane or bus next to the guy whose coughing up a lung and are sick. It's definitely time for me to start listening to my body just that much more.  Another nap is my near future.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter Duldrum-- Picking the Right Clothes

I keep looking at the temperature hoping it creeps above freezing so I can encourage myself enough to go outside and spin for an hour on this recovery day; but alas, that just doesn't seem to be happening just yet.  We have arrived at the unpleasant time of year after Christmas and before it gets warm that tries my soul.  I realize I am from Chicago and should be "used" to winter; but that doesn't mean I like it.  All it means is that I own more winter clothes than people from Florida

One of the things about this time of year I enjoy are long team rides.  I get over scheduled during the season with races every weekend and on the rare occasion I am not racing, others I typically ride with are racing.  Sunday, while out on the District Velocity team ride we paused at the little convenience store on Travilah.  Just a quick stop to rehydrate and plan out the remainder of the route.  In the brief time we sat there talking I saw at least 4 other team rides go by us.  It was a huge breadth of fresh, albeit cold, air that made me feel good. 

I've been pushing lately to break old habits in winter clothing choices.  I've started wearing fewer layers but increasing each layer's heaviness.  In the past I've worn so many different layers that I felt I was cutting off circulation or that I couldn't bend my arms.  This year I have made the transition to long-sleeve jerseys and base layers.  I'm a huge fan.  To that end I've picked up a set of new long sleeve base layers from DeFeet both in regular and wool.

The bonus appears to come in shedding arm warmers in favor of sleeves.  The looser fitting sleeves keep me warmer and allow for increased range of motion.  I still think I'm one of the few people who feel comfortable in wearing two pairs of shorts on colder days rather than thin tights.  Maybe that's odd; but I've also added leg warmers to my collection for the first time.  Prior to this year I had gone with the college football style of winter riding with knee warmers and bare calves.  The addition of a pair of fleece lined Pearl Izumi leg warmers has really helped in the 40 degree temps. 

Still got to have ten different pairs of gloves for every ride.  It's amazing how 45 degrees on Monday requires a totally different set of gloves than 45 on Wednesday and then again on Saturday.  Odd.