Friday, May 28, 2010

On being "Pro," and First Ride

I read something in CXMagazine yesterday (whilst perched upon the throne that is my bathroom toilet) that resonated with me and occupied most of my thoughts throughout the evening (in spite of 3 margaritas on that patio at my favorite restaurant and a rousing performance by my homies Bearfoot at the Station Inn).  It was an article about film maker Brian Vernon but it descended briefly into a tritise on pro infatuation and the resulting Anti-Pro movement (it's not a movement, really, but since I was having one at the time I was reading it I got a little confused and mixed up my experiences).  Basically acting pro, but being an ameteur, is strange.  Like my favorite video so eloquently points out, if you're not getting paid to do it, there's no reason to act like you are.  I had this pseudo-revelation last season when, about midway through my "base mileage" period, I looked down at my "training journal" and realized that I had no reason to waste my time keeping a "training journal."  What was I "training" for?  How many great rides or hikes or whatever had I missed because I was following what Joe Friel told me to do?  Now, I like Joe, and his book is awesome, if you follow the Cyclists Training Bible you will get fast, you will also lead a boring, one-dimensional life.  (I will admit, however, that time spent with this volume still influences my riding, and there's a ton of useful information in there, Joe's the man, but it gets a little over the top.  See Favorite Video above).  I'm just a part-time Single Speed Cyclocross Racer/Musician/Beer Enthusiast/whole lot of other things that don't even need to be made a part of this "identity" that I've conjured up, what business do I have checking my resting heart rate every morning?  I closed the "training journal" and haven't opened it since, choosing instead to do whatever I want whenever I want.  20 mile mountain bike ride the day before a race?  Sure!  Make it 30! (I won that race, incidentally).  10 beers?  Why not?  Hairy legs, purple tights, 10 year old helmet, camelbak?  HELL YEAH!! 

I threw all this "Pro-like training" out the window, rode where I wanted, when I wanted (when the weather and schedule allowed, really) and actually got faster and enjoyed my life more.  I beat guys with white bar tape (seriously, white bar tape?  It's fucking cyclocross.  Why don't you wear a damn wedding dress?).  I showed up late, didn't pre-ride, and warmed up in the grass (seriously, dude, what are you doing riding the indoor trainer outdoors in a parking lot?  Seriously!) and still crushed it. I don't understand the phenomenon of looking/acting "Pro." I don't get super expensive bikes, $1000 spare wheel sets or matching pit bikes.  I guess if that's how you want to spend your money or that's what yanks your crank that's cool too.  It'd be a lot more enjoyable for everyone if we just acted like normal people, turned ourselves inside out and worked less, rode more, laughed at the absurdity of cross and generally ditched the attitude.

On the other hand who am I to question your motives.  If I had tons of cash, I might buy a super expensive bike too (Vanilla understands black bar tape and custom handmade bikes receive immunity from my rant).  As long as you're out there riding and racing and participating, that's cool.  Just don't be surprised when the hippy on the $600 single speed crushes you, he's been out riding while you've been in your basement wrapping your handlebars with new white bar tape.  Because otherwise I have no pictures, I will post a photo of fellow blogger, and admitted Demi-Pro Thom.  I read his blog every day.  I've got issues, too.  He added the Dork, not me.

On a more personal note, went on my first ride since January 31st (when I beat like, 1 dude at the State Championships).  Just a little back and forth on the completely flat and completely sun-soaked Metro Center Greenway.  It was awesome.  Lighting was terrible and it was the Metro-Center Greenway so there wasn't anything worth photographing.  Brace chafes a little, to be expected, and pinches my already expanding leg, but I shouldn't complain.  Later that night I got frisky coming up my basement stairs, tripped, and absolutely drilled my bum knee into the top, un-carpeted stair, slicing it open and scaring the shit out of me.  All's well, however, since my knee is now super-bionic.  Should have taken a picture.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Whip or A Sad Realization

Things have been pretty ho hum over here.  None of the usual fun and games.  Not even much unusual fun and games.  The leg is improving, day by day.  Back on the bike starting today, no standing allowed, only seated and no hills (is that really riding a bike?).  Got hooked up with this sweet Donjoy leg brace.
As you can see it contorts my leg in strange ways and looks very very hip.  I like to stay ahead of the hipness curve.  I was supposed to get a custom brace (only thing custom is the color, apparently) but my insurance company balked (imagine that) and stuck me with a standard off-the-shelf unit.  Such is life.  At least I can ride and hike.  The standing up can wait a few weeks/months and the pushing around of one gear will have to wait even longer.  My Physical Therapist recommends I skip cyclocross season.  I seriously considered finding a new PT when he espoused that advice, but I understand where he's coming from.  It's an 18 month recovery for the ACL and even if everything goes well I'll be hard pressed to nail the dismounts and re-mounts with this brace on my leg (or will I?  Stay Tuned).

The only hope I have of catching cross season is a geared bike.  I was at the shop today, trying to get a new fork installed on the beater (now known as the rehab bike) and Travis showed me an as yet unreleased Cyclocross Specific bike from Specialized called the CruX.  It's badass and cheap ($1400-$1800) which means it's met all of my criteria.  Only question mark for me is the downtube cable routing.  That area always gets hammered by mud, I would have routed it on the top tube.  Comes out in July, hoping to have one bought, built and shipped to CO by the time I arrive there for Rockygrass Academy week. 

In the meantime I can get stoked about a few other things:

New Whip:
I've had my eye on my dad's 2000 4Runner ever since he got it and after he saw the condition of the Carolla, he drew the line and made us take it.  I think he just wanted an excuse to get a new one.  Now I've got my eye on that one.  I see a pattern emerging.  The point is I've got a serious rig again, something I can drive over things with and fit a bunch of crap in without risking breakdown.  Sarah's basically made it her own so most of the time I'm stuck driving our '93 Tercel, but I plan to get a trunk rack for it and that baby hauls ass and gets 40+ mpg so I can't complain. 

Three days a week I've been hammering out laps in the pool.  I'm finally getting where I can swim without investing every ounce of focus on the act of not drowning and can actually slow down and relax.  I'm getting used to the water in the ears but I'm still having a hard time getting used to the old men sitting around watching TV naked in the locker room.  I hope when I'm 60 I have something better to do than watch other men change.

It's no secret I dig yoga, but this accident has given me some clarity about risk management.  Yoga's pretty much the safest thing I can think of and it feels absolutely incredible.  I'm even considering getting a teaching certification at this place.   Seriously.  I know what you're thinking, and yes, I will wear a leotard and smell like scented oil.  It's not that different from wearing bike shorts and embrocation and certainly no stranger than racing Cyclocross.

Weight Loss:
I lucked out and didn't put on any weight these last few months.  I actually lost 15 lbs, most in the form of muscle, but at least I have a decent starting point and I'm optimistic I'll be able to keep it around 175 through the summer.  The swimming and yoga are helping, the one beer per night rule is helping, going semi-vegetarian is helping (helping a lot of things, actually).  The lack of long runs, long hikes or long rides (long anything) and constant touring (I've been on the road since the first week of February) is not helping.

Free Time to Clean House:
Sarah and I are spending July/August in Colorado.  We decided to do it and we're making it happen.  It's strange how things that seem so far-fetched fall into place when you decide you're going to do it, no exceptions.  This coincides perfectly with the delivery of the new bike (whatever it's called) and the green light from my PT to run again.  The timing couldn't be better as July/August absolutely blows in Nashville.  This may precipitate a permanent move, time will tell, but we're treating the next two weeks like we're moving so I've put a mess of bike parts up for sale and a massive Craigslist campaign and garage sale will follow.  Hopefully this will free up some capital (for the bike) and free up my mind from all the crap we've accumulated.

The Infamous Stringdusters
We put out our new record, Things That Fly, in April and things are flying.  Shows are selling out, crowds are going crazy and the band is achieving new levels of musical freedom onstage and personal enjoyment offstage.  It's all coming together.  Now if I could take a bike on tour and take Cyclocross Season off, I would want for nothing else.

The Festy Experience
The Dusters are throwing our own Festival in October on the Concert Grounds at Devils Backbone Brewery outside Charlottesville, VA.  Music, Beer and Outdoor Lifestyle all collide in this weekend event over Columbus Day Weekend.  There's even a Mountain Bike race and a Trail Run that weekend less than a mile away.  This is perfection.  It has it all and this is only half the lineup!  Tickets go onsale June 11th...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cyclocross Singlespeed Pro

So I was browsing the CXMagazine Forum yesterday, something I like to do occasionally, and I came upon a question/topic that it turns out is right up my alley.  Under the heading CX Singlespeed Pro, a guy asked, "If you wanted to compete with the "geared" folks and were in amazing shape, what set-up would you use."  I crafted a response, ended up writing an article, and a few people found it really valuable.  I figured since I wrote it and hadn't posted anything to this blog in awhile, I'd reproduce it here for your benefit.  It's long winded, consider yourself warned:

I don't consider myself in "amazing" shape by any stretch of the imagination, but I do compete on a SS against the local 1's and 2's with some success. All I can share is what I've figured out through experience as there's not really anyone else around me that I've seen racing SS against the geared guys (I don't live in a hotbed, a 10 person local field in the 1's 2's race is a large field). I think that's probably because everyone assumes that you're at a major disadvantage, but for a variety of reasons, I don't think that's necessarily the case.

Setup-wise, there's nothing exceptional about my bike, it's not even expensive (or that light). I've got a Specialized Tri-Cross Singlecross with the following modifications:
I run a 39x18 which is smaller than the SS hammerheads, but makes it possible to ride short or moderate inclines and in mud for an hour. Obviously I work on legspeed for the pavement sections, usually only an issue at the start, and rarely find myself unable to keep up.
I built some simple wheels (surly hubs laced to Open Sport rims) changed tires (panaracer cross-blasters are cheap, light and fast, though narrow, so watch out for those submerged rocks, Pinch Flatington) and will soon be replacing the V-Brakes, but that doesn't really have anything to do with it being a SS.
The other significant modification I made was switching from a 175 to a 170mm crank arm length. My SS mountain bike has 170's and I was used to it, that's why I made the change, but I think it helps with the legspeed thing, and makes it easier to get the crankarm up and over the weakspot in my pedal stroke when I'm really in the shit (like deep mud, 180 degree turns or hills). It also allows me more clearance in the corners, crucial since you're pedaling more and need to get on the gas earlier coming out of corners to get on top of the gear. That's another reason I run a 39 x18, I get up into the sweetspot of my powerband a lot easier and spend more time cruising comfortably than the 42x18 mashers.

The most important thing, though, is your mental state. That's where it's at when you have gears too, (clearly if you're thinking of going SS you KNOW the bike doesn't really matter that much) but it's even more important without them. When you pull up on the starting line, remember; your opponents think you're dumb, crazy, and possibly tough as nails. You want to encourage this thinking. I wear a camelbak during warmup because you wont be drinking for 60 minutes once it starts, no one else does it, everyone should and because it makes me look like I have no clue. I always keep it breezy in the start area, crack some jokes, make fun of myselfand wear outdated clothing. All of these things confuse your opponents and make it hard for them to know what to make of you. If they can't figure out why you dress/behave like you do, it'll be more difficult for them to factor you into their strategy or respond confidently when you attack (which you have to do at some point). They already know you're going to have to ride the course a little differently, but when you don't behave like they expect a "serious cross racer" to behave before you even start pedaling, it'll be even tougher for them to know what to do with you around the 50 minute mark.

Once the race starts stay relaxed. Smile. If anyone's acting sporadically or spazmatically, make fun of them a little. Serious cross guys (especially the roadie types) don't like to be made fun of by the weirdo on the singlespeed when they're getting all squirelly in the first 3 minutes. Spin circles, breath deeply, laugh out loud a little, make more jokes, pretend you're out on a frisky group ride. Observe how the geared guys approach the course. They'll slow down on the hills (it's natural to bail yourself out if you can) you slow down with them. When they go fast on the smooth downhill sections, stick right in there as if it's no thing at all. Tell yourself you can spin at 140 RPM "forever" and believe it. Pick your spots to make your moves but don't let on where you're going to crush them later by coasting past them, or punching it up a tricky short hill. Let them think you're just barely managing to stay with them. This of course isn't true because one speed isn't really slower. Stay near the front, pick your spot and break their hearts. Nothing worse than getting passed by a laughing, crazy, happy, lunatic going really fast on a singlespeed while you're turning yourself inside out. It's really tough to recover from an attack from a singlespeed at the 50 minute mark. Especially from a guy in Purple tights circa 1995.

Now, every other race, particularly ones with climbing, you will blow up and be an absolute non-factor. That's cool, you were on a SS in the Main Event, no one expected you to be a factor. Have a beer and congratulate everyone that beat you, that's part of riding with one gear too.

Of course none of this applies if you're trying to race against National pros. Those guys are just damn fast. Semi-regional too. Cat 2 is going to pit you against the big guns in local races (we have a 1,2 combined race here) and allow you to be competitive at the bigger National-type races (in the 2,3 category). Can you imagine trying to ride a SS against Tim Johnson? That would be ugly. I'm dumb but I'm not delusional and I wouldn't bet on a SS against TJ if Lance himself was riding it with a head start.

When you're on a SS, your bike is more efficient and gets more efficient as the race wears on and mud accumulates. You're forced to ride as efficiently as possible for the sake of momentum. I've never dropped a chain, never been in the wrong gear, never even had to devote one iota of mental energy and focus (at a premium in a 60 minute session) to deciding what gear I want to be in, I just pedal as efficiently as possible and stay on top of the gear I've got (which, you'll find, is going to make you ride pretty fast around the course). SS has it's advantages; use them to yours.

You also will want to make sure that being extra uncomfortable is something you're into because 60 minutes against the fastest geared guys around isn't going to feel very good until it's over.