26 October 2005

Oh, deer

So I went running today. Every fall, on the advice of my coach and various other cycling "authorities," I embark on a running program so I don't get stale from riding too much. When I first lost weight, I ran -- a lot -- and ran a pretty decent marathon at Chicago in 1999. The world record was being broken when I was at mile 22 or so, but my time was OK for a former fat man.

Although I love to run, and enjoy doing so every autumn, what my coaches and other running authorities don't know is that I love to be on my bike a lot more. I don't get stale very easily, and doing the kind of riding I'm doing in October and November does not set me up for "burnout" the following year. (That's left for other rides without enough sleep in July and August …)

But I run anyway, and my company just happens to be located right across the street from the forest preserve that lines the Des Plaines River on the western edge of Northbrook and Glenview. It's perfect running on bridle trails, and is pretty good to my knees and feet -- which are not accustomed to running regularly, and often protest in pain the next day. It's pretty fantastic running through the woods, on trails covered in leaves -- I liken it to running through a Washington Irving novel, and half expect the Headless Horseman to jump out at me around every bend.

Today I had the next best thing: a frightening brush with nature. It was an easy/zone 2, half-hour run, and I began easily enough on the trail to the bridle path. From there I turned north and west, into the wind, figuring I'd have a bit of an easier time on the way back with the breeze at my back. In truth, there wasn't much wind in the woods, so it was just a beautiful, crisp fall day in which to run.

Nearing the halfway point, I started to feel a bit lightheaded, and realized that I was starting to bonk a bit. I had just 3 minutes until I had to turn back, so I decided to continue on -- but chose to do a bit of off-trail running through a small clearing. The leaves on the ground were nice and springy, and their deep carpet made the footing sure as I bounded over small logs and stumps.

All of a sudden, the bonk grabbed hold, and I had to stop for a moment. I had my head down, looking at the ground in front of me, and when I stopped I looked up -- straight into the eyes of a young buck, standing just 15 feet away. He stared at me, startled, and I stared back -- thankfully, he didn't look angry, just curious. But I wasn't going to take any chances! I shouted -- "Boo!" -- and he turned and ran into the forest.

As if by magic, several more deer appeared from the woods and followed his lead. I had inadvertently interrupted their afternoon grazing, and now they bounded away, deeper into the forest. It was pretty amazing to watch the herd move away, and I marveled at their swift, spry moves through the trees.

I had a few more seconds until I had to go back, so I jogged slowly forward, following the path of the small buck. Suddenly, a movement caught my eye up through the trees, as a dark shape loped ahead, following the group of deer. It took a second, but then it moved from behind a tree … and there was an enormous coyote, slowly making its way deeper into the trees.

That was enough for me, as I have heard of local homeowners complaining about the coyote population increase, and attacks on small dogs and animals in the area. I wasn't too afraid, but despite my bonk, complete with lightheadedness and rapid pulse, I wasn't going to take any chances. I turned back the way I came, and made my way out of the woods and back to the trail very quickly.

It was pretty incredible to witness nature in all its splendor today … it was definitely a great day for a run.

25 October 2005

Look ma, no hands!

As off-road cyclists in Chicago know, there are really only two places to ride mountain bikes in the near-metro area: Palos and the Skokie Lagoons. Palos is out west, and offers the best riding; the Lagoons are in the North Shore and are easily accessible. And for those of us who don't like to drive to get to our rides, the Lagoons is the only option!

The Lagoons is basically a flood plain, developed as a drainage area for the river in the 1930s. It's a series of interlocking lakes, and the dredge from the bottom forms the contours through the forest. Fishermen, canoeists and kayakers are frequent visitors, as are cyclists -- the paved North Branch bicycle path runs through and around the forested area. It's often muddy, and floods a lot (both invitations to not ride on the trail, lest we do more damage), and local BMX kids have claimed portions of the trails as their own, with jumps, ladders and other obstacles.

I had my first true off-road experience in the Lagoons three years ago, when I started racing 'cross. I had gotten creamed in the weekend's race, so I joined the local Wednesday morning ride up to Glencoe and into the single-track that surrounds the Lagoons. We're talking a full-on 5:30 a.m., miner-lights-on-our-helmets, dark-until-we-get-home ride, with nearly a half hour on the trails through the woods. I was scared out of my wits, recalling my worst fears from the Magic Mountain roller-coaster at Disneyland …

Of course, I vowed never to go again, until the next Tuesday night found me charging my light and getting my bike ready to go. It was insane, but I thought I'd give it another go … and I loved it! I was still horribly slow, but somehow the magic of turning my head to reveal two large eyes staring at me through the dark was entrancing. The deer in the woods are just afraid of us enough, but somehow being back there with them made it all fun again.

I've made weekly trips to the Lagoons since then, always making the Wednesday 'cross ride and often going up alone to work on my "skills." The courses aren't difficult, but are just technical enough to provide a challenge -- especially at speed -- and offer plenty of opportunities to dismount and jump back on or bunny-hop the various roots and branches. In fact, it was a ride to the Lagoons that helped me turn my season around this year, when I realized that I wasn't riding hard-enough off-road -- ever since then, it's pedal to the metal baby!

Last weekend I had the chance to introduce Kim to true off-road riding. She's been on paths before, but never into single-track, and Saturday morning was the perfect opportunity to get out on a ride together. It's been a dry summer, so the trail is a bit bumpy, and I figured we'd ride about halfway around the main section before turning back -- this is the easier part of the trails.

Boy was I wrong! Kim took to the trails like a fish to water (ha, ha). She has a Cannondale Warrior 800, which is essentially a 'cross-esque frame with a flat bar, and she was AWESOME! It took her a few minutes to get into the groove, and by her own admission she didn't go super-fast, but I was so proud of her. She cleaned root sections in one try that took me two years to figure out!

The most telling moment came about halfway through. I would go a bit further up the trail and wait for her, and watch as she negotiated the more difficult obstacles. When we came to the first ditch crossing, she had hopped off her bike and walked across, before remounting and continuing on. As we came to the top of the main loop, there was another ditch -- I stopped, just out of site, and waited for her. Before long, she came up and stopped, and got off. I expected her to walk across, but NO! she turned around, went a bit back down the trail, got back on, and CLEANED IT! I don't think she knows that I only just started riding those ditches myself this season!

We ended up doing the entire main loop, and when it came time for her to head home, she convinced me to take her on the shorter, hillier side loop. Again she defied expectations -- every once in a while I would hear her shout behind me, but nine times out of 10, by the time I stopped to see if she was OK, she was already on my wheel! She took another big step forward on a downhill -- not her favorite part of riding, road or otherwise -- when she "almost" walked it before using a tree to clip herself in so she could descend on the bike!

With our trip to Galena this weekend, I've been feverishly trying to find some single-track so we can go out and hit the trails. She's pretty excited to get out there again, and it will be fun to watch as her skill level increases. She's a natural, and with the Lagoons just minutes from her office, who knows if she'll just disappear after work one day next summer?

Update: I hear from my runner-turned-cyclist-turned-weightlifter-turned-author friend Dave (aka DJWriter) that there's also some single track in Schiller Woods between Irving Park and Lawrence, down along the Des Plaines river. We'll definitely have to check it out sometime -- urban singletrack is a fun escape from the grind of the city!

Big Mary keeps on rolling

Sunday's race in Jackson Park, on Chicago's South Side, marked the close of part one of my 2005 'cross season. Thankfully, it ended on a fairly high note -- the result wasn't quite as good as last year, but I raced my best so far this season, and finally felt comfortable with a full hour of suffering.

The venue holds a significant place in the history of Chicago -- indeed, in the history of the United States. Site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, Jackson Park is now a large city park with lagoons, tennis courts, a driving range, walking paths, and wide open spaces … and, of course, the ever-present, black "quicksand" that Burnham and his builders first experienced more than 100 years ago.

The race started fast, and I was toward the back of the 18-man field pretty quickly. We snaked our way around a few trees, up the side of the hill, and then down into the first barrier/runup … as the first riders were bunnyhopping their way up the hill, I found myself slowly gaining ground and moving up through the now single-file group. We topped out by Big Mary (a one-third size reproduction of the statue from the Exposition), and then set off down and around the lagoons.

As we settled in, I found myself in a group of four, chasing a group of six, who were in turn chasing the two leaders. It was fun to be riding in a small group, and even more fun to be actually battling for a top-10 position -- without being all alone, off the back! There was a crash in the lead group, and as a couple of stronger riders chased back on, I made my first mistake to not follow them to the front.

Our group did split though, and two of us concentrated on staying ahead of the two behind while trying to chase. Unfortunately, the catch never did happen, although we picked up and dropped a couple of riders coming back from the front group. As the laps wound down, I started playing position, and forced the other guy to the front through the last barriers. This is where I got jumped last year, and I was determined not to let it happen again …

Instead, I sat back, waiting for the sprint. Mistake No. 2 -- I could have jumped him on the remount, as he missed his pedal, but I didn't. So when he accelerated, I went to sprint, and -- BOOM! -- both quads cramped. Locked tight, it was all I could do to sit and spin, and missed out on 9th place by a few meters. D'oh! But I was happy with the race, if not the result, and I look forward to a weekend off before the next Chicago 'Cross event in St. Charles.

Renee and her group came down from Madison to observe the festivities; great photos from the event can be found at http://www.madcross.org. There's even a few of me looking like I was in pain … Kim took some photos too, and I'll post a few later.

Updates: Big congrats to Andy Anderson, who upgraded to Cat. 2 -- I've been there, and it's a great feeling! … Kim and I are off to Galena for a weekend away this Saturday, still looking for a good place to ride off-road … Kim had her first off-road experience last Saturday, look for an entry soon!

21 October 2005

Is he really that clueless?

For those of you who follow international cycling, the name Hein Verbruggen is pretty familiar -- for years, he ruled the UCI, cycling's governing body, with an iron fist and a pigheaded attitude. While not all of his reforms have been bad, his imposing style and sheer lack of caring for constituents has left an indelible scar on cycling forever.

Verbruggen has moved on to a position in the IOC: He is currently the Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission. As such, he has a unique perspective on the ins and outs of the decision to remove the kilo and the 500m time trials from the Beijing games.

Ostensibly to make way for BMX events, the removal of the kilo and its sister event has created a major outcry in the international community. The kilo has been part of the modern Olympics since the first staging in 1896, and consistently provides some of the most explosive, exciting racing seen at the velodrome. In fact, the Beijing authorities themselves are not happy that the events have been removed -- they have been working for years to build their track program, and may have legitimate medal contenders, especially on the women's side.

So what does Mr. Verbruggen say to them, in an attempt to placate their disapproval? Speaking at the 10th Chinese Games -- in China, no less -- he says this:

"That was a good decision, even for China. How many Olympic gold medals has China won in the women's 500 meters and the men's one-kilometre time trial? None.

"Actually it is in some way a good decision for China. You have now BMX developing very rapidly, and the world championship will be held in Taiwan next year, and I see the level of BMX here at the National Games is really high, you got beautiful facilities and you still get other chances too."

Those who follow the sport have known for a long time just how confrontational Verbruggen can be. But now everyone is starting to get a clue, thanks to comments like this: he commits two extreme mistakes, by first questioning Chinese athletics, and then invoking an event in Taiwan as a reason that China should be happy.

Is he really that pigheaded? It's a wonder the Chinese authorities didn't ride him out on a rail! This is the guy "coordinating" their Olympics? What was he thinking? It's one thing to question Lance Armstrong in an insulting way, but to speak in such a brazen and offending manner to the host of the next Games, not to mention a country that in many ways holds the keys to the future of the planet, is just ludicrous.

I understand what he was trying to say, but there are definitely better ways to say it. Sure, he speaks the truth, but to a country -- and a society -- that puts a huge value on presentation, Verbruggen's inability to shape his message to his audience must have ruffled more than a few feathers. We hold our sporting heroes to a high standard -- shouldn't the administrators face the same scruitiny?

20 October 2005

Bartender, I'll have a water chaser

In one of the more bizarre campaigns of the past few years, Anheuser-Busch announced that it is pulling its marketing of a water drinking game first sent out in July. "Bud Pong" as its called, has erstwhile bar denizens trying to bounce ping-pong balls into glasses of fluid … as suggested by the company, the game is best played using water. If you lose a point, you drink. Water.

But -- horror of horrors! -- the New York Times reported Sunday that people are playing the game with -- gasp! -- beer. So of course A-B can't stand for it to be promoting potential alcohol abuse, and has ended its support of the game.

"It has come to our attention that despite our explicit guidelines, there may have been instances where this promotion was not carried out in the manner it was intended," Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman Francine I. Katz said in a statement Tuesday.

The game is just an update of the ever-popular Quarters, and you can bet A-B branded ping-pong balls are popping up (sorry, couldn't resist!) on eBay already. Heck, they'll even be worth more money now than before!

And for it's part, A-B's strategy is brilliant. They hit the summer parties, soaked up the marketing buzz, and now get it on the back-end too now that they've been "exposed." For those who haven't seen the game, they'll now be looking for it (you can bet your local bar won't be shelving the game any time soon), and because of the press coverage the demand will be higher than ever. Just in time for winter drinking game season …

Just wishful thinking, but as a marketing professional, I would love to have been a fly on the wall when this was discussed. Like the whole New Coke/Coca-Cola Classic "fiasco," this sort of promotion takes advantage of the "free" media to build the buzz -- guerrilla marketing at its best. Conspiracy theorists have a field day with stuff like this, and just for personal edification I think it would be fun to know -- just where is that positioning document? It's out there somewhere, and I'd love to see just how stupid they think the public really is, in writing. And not the clean version, but the one that spells out the collateral coverage that a "mistake" like this would generate.

The scary thing is, it worked.

19 October 2005

You could be a millionaire

A friend of mine at work sent me this link today: http://www.milliondollarhomepage.com. Can you imagine? Your web hosting fees are minimal, setup time is short, and you are literally sitting on a goldmine. According to my friend, he's already sold 400,000 pixels!

And the scary part? Both my friend, and now me, are playing right into his hands by telling others about it. But it's such a novel idea that it has to be spread. I guess this is the next "Million dollar idea?"

17 October 2005

A bit of redemption

After a nice, relaxing evening in Milwaukee, Sunday was my second attempt at cyclocross for the year. Kim drove home to study, and I headed to Madison for the Badger Prairie Cross ... a twisty, open, rutted course through a cool prairie area in Verona (it hosts a segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail). Not exactly my kind of course, but with a double sand trap (both sides of a volleyball court), a steep run-up with telephone poles spaced on it, and some wicked downhills that can only be taken at speed, this would be a good chance to practice what little skills I have.

I realized this week that part of my problem is that I don't go hard enough off-road; most of our early morning rides aren't that fast, and to go fast you have to practice fast. So I made sure to include some long-ish efforts in my warmup, hitting some of the trails that weren't part of the course just to get used to the terrain and get the legs opened up a bit. I signed up for the "A" race, which was run at the same time as the 30+ Masters event -- with 14 As and 11 30+, we'd have 25 riders on the course at the same time -- a rarity for the upper levels of 'cross in the Midwest. And it was a stacked field, as several competitors in both categories have earned UCI international points this season ...

I again had trouble with the start, but managed to stay with the group this time. There was a small gap as a Nova/ISCorp rider almost biffed it on the first downhill, and all of a sudden three of us were battling for 11th place, with another guy further behind. I bided my time, just waiting to jump up to 12th -- it's a good thing I did, because just before the steep run-up, the Nova rider got sideways and went down in a heap ... with the next guy doing an endo and flying upright through the air into the weeds! I stayed upright and ditched into the tall grass myself, as last place passed us by ...

Pretty quickly we were back on our bikes, and I managed to get into 11th pretty quickly. We had lost some time on 10th place, but he wasn't that far ahead -- until the lead group of 30+ riders, who had started after us, came tearing by me on the uphill, headwind pavement section leading to the start/finish area. I started to gradually lose steam and settled into my rhythm, which unfortunately wasn't that fast. I got passed to move to 12th, and then even the Nova rider came by me with 3 laps to go ... I gamely held onto him, harboring thoughts of getting back into 12th, until with 3 laps to go the wind and hills sapped the life out of my legs. On the next lap, my rear skewer popped loose as I began accelerating on the pavement, my rear wheel skidded, and the lead rider passed me ... that meant the end of my race, and the chance to not be second-last. Instead, I was 13th of 14 riders ... second-last again.

But in a complete reversal of last week, I'm actually sort of happy about it. I put together a full hour of racing (last week I screwed around a couple of times, not really racing for a few seconds here and there), and I only got passed with 400m or so to go -- about the same as last year. I wasn't in the front mix, but I felt much more confident on the bike -- even riding the sand pit for a few of the latter laps! I still know I'll never be anything spectacular out there, but I wasn't so embarassed this time, and I even had some "good" moves in a few key early parts of the race. So now I just need to keep at it, and extend the good stuff further into the race ...

Next weekend should be a good test, with my favorite 'cross venue on Sunday (Cam-Rock), and a rare double with Jackson Park (Chicago) on Sunday. I've never doubled up this late in the season before, let alone doubled 'cross races, so I'll either be dead or ... well, dead, on Monday. Secretly, I'm harboring thoughts of bagging on Sunday -- I like Cam-Rock that much, that I would sacrifice a rare Chicago race for doing well on the trip up to Madison. But at the same time, I'm reading Devil in the White City, and I want to get down to Jackson Park to experience the area again for myself. I did well there last year (4th place, just missing the podium in the final sprint), and it's a course that suits me very well ...

A bit of salvation

Kim and I were in Milwaukee on Saturday for the wedding of a friend of mine -- I realized halfway through the service that this will probably be it for a while on weddings of friends. We have one family wedding coming up early next year, but that's it as far as concrete wedding plans ... instead everyone is married and having kids. Does this mean we're getting older?

(Speaking of which, a BIG congrats to the Miller family in Kenosha -- I've known Christina now since we were 13, and she just had twins! The two girls are adorable, and I'm sure Brodie is adjusting to being their big brother. In the meantime, Christina has e-mailed me a couple of times with funny stories about trying to keep a lid on three rambunctious youngsters ... hilarious!)

Valerie and Geoff got married at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Cathedral Square in Milwaukee. This church has been the seat of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for nearly 160 years, and it showed -- the interior was georgeous, and I was again struck by the grandeur that the Catholic Church bestows on its sanctuaries. Upon entering, the baptismal font and pool split the main aisle -- I was told later that wedding photographers have had occasion to misstep and find themselves under water!

The reception was at the park built at the end of Wisconsin Avenue, and afforded spectacular views of the Milwaukee Art Museum. (If you haven't had a chance to see this amazing "new" structure, give yourself a day to explore the Milwaukee lakefront -- it's pretty incredible.) The reception was fun, with a relaxed atmosphere, cool Mardi Gras theme, and really good live band (no "Wedding Singer" here!) -- it was fun to see Valerie and Geoff's parents bee-bopping along as the dancing got started. And Valerie's dad made all the table wine ... I didn't sample it, but I was told that it was pretty good!

We had a hotel room on 3rd Street, and chose to walk to the wedding and the reception ... on the way back after the party, we stopped in at Mo's Irish Pub at the corner of Plankinton and Wisconsin. We were just in time to see the White Sox win Game 4, and had fun hanging out for a few minutes before heading back. It's always fun to people watch in Milwaukee, especially with a halfway decent live band and sports on the television. At the very least, Kim and I were in the same place at the same time for once ... that doesn't seem to happen too often any more!

14 October 2005

So ... that happened

There's this great scene in "State and Main" where Alec Baldwin is driving crazy down Main Street, bounces off a curb, rolls his car, climbs out, and says -- deadpan -- "So ... that happened." That's sort of what I feel like after last Sunday.

Several people have asked me how the first 'cross race of the year went. I think it's taken me until today to be able to put it in perspective -- I was pretty disappointed in my performance. But I have to be philosophical about it: it's just 'cross, it was just one race and I'm really out there for the workout more than anything.

First, some background: I started racing 'cross 2 years ago, my first time ever off-road. In an effort to cross-train and build strength for the following year, I combine 'cross racing with a running program -- usually between 2 and 3 hours a week (including some speedwork), sometimes more. At the same time, I'm also riding and starting plyometrics and weight training: usually, in October and November, I'm training anywhere from 8 to 14 hours a week, with about half of that on the bike. Last week was our annual National Sales Meeting at work, meaning several late nights followed by early mornings so I could get my running in. Oh, and no bike time.

However, I went into this race with high expectations -- top 5 for sure, hopefully a podium -- at worst top 7 and in the money. I felt good on my off-road ride on Saturday. I'm stronger than I was a year ago. This was a "home" course in Carpentersville -- I used to run cross-country in middle school here, and I broke up with my first girlfriend in the parking area adjacent to the start/finish line. I had my tire pressures all set, and I warmed up well. I was ready ...

Until I got shelled on Sunday. I never start very well, and by the first barriers (maybe 200 meters into the race), I was dead last. By the end of the first lap, I was off the back with one other guy. By the close of the second lap, he had dropped me. And there were still 14 laps to go.

I almost quit. In fact, I twice stopped to talk to family, to tell them that I was done. I told the officials I was done. But for one reason or another -- I'm still not sure why -- I decided to keep riding. I think I figured I would pull out at the start/finish, instead of halfway through the course. So, lap after lap, I kept going. It was very lonely for a very long time, and rather discouraging that the small crowd of spectators didn't cheer for me (I berated them at one point, a good indicator that I was very over-tired and not ready for this), and generally just not a good time. Eventually I got passed by the top three riders, was able to hold off fourth place for a while until even he passed me, and -- miracle of miracles! -- even passed one rider to not finish last!

I tried to practice my mounts and dismounts. I tried to stay positive. But with my wife and parents watching, I got a rude wake-up call that reminded me: I am not good at 'cross. I'm a rhythm rider, and if you set up a course with even terrain and even some small, stead climbs, watch out. But put too many barrier sections, or a field of rutted grass (as we had on Sunday), and I'm all over the bike, unable to lay down any power worth anything. My off-bike moves are big and cumbersome, and my on-bike handling leaves a lot to be desired. Watching good off-road riders (like Lou, the owner of the Pony Shop, a regular on our Wednesday morning single-track 'cross ride) is like watching water flow down a stream -- it's fluid, always changing, quick and smooth. I am not that rider. Watching me is more like watching refrigerated chocolate syrup pool at the bottom of a glass of milk.

So with that in mind, I'll line up again this Sunday and watch the pack ride away from me. It's discouraging, especially after such a strong road season, but all I can hope for is that I'm not dead last, and I'll try like hell not to get lapped too badly this time out. Cyclocross is a great workout, and that's what I'm there for ... I'm working on losing weight before the holidays hit, I'm running, I'm lifting -- oh, and I have no idea what to do if I'm not on pavement. But did I mention that it's a lot of fun? ;-)

Anyway, these are a couple of photos from Sunday, courtesy of my dad. 'Cross can be a lonely sport sometimes ...

13 October 2005

Have you seen this man?

As anyone who knows us knows, Kim's parents are fun to hang out with. My mother-in-law has a great sense of humor, and my father-in-law is clever and funny in an understated, quiet sort of way. He also has a habit of getting into strange situations ...

Anyway, yesterday Ken spent the morning working as an extra for the show "Prison Break." For those not familiar, this is a show filming in the Chicago area, with the Joliet prison as the main point of reference. Apparently, Ken delivers hay to the stunt coordinator for the show, who asked him if he wanted to be an extra.

So Ken spent the morning hanging out in the Woodstock town square, sitting on a bench and doing other stuff that extras do "on-set." For someone used to bailing and loading hay each day, this wasn't a bad way to spend a few hours, earning a couple of bucks along the way! (In Illinois, extras don't earn union wage, but oh well. Figure that one out!) When he went to collect his paycheck and lunch ticket, one of the casting people gave Ken his card, and told him to call!

It gets even better ... Ken and my mother-in-law, Kris, went out to dinner last night at a local restaurant. He already has his own fan club -- the waitress came up and said she saw him downtown that morning! Not sure if she asked for his autograph, but I'd bet it was the highlight of her evening!

So anyway, if you see this many anywhere around ... he hasn't escaped from Joliet, and his signature might just be worth something someday!

Anxiety is a 4-letter word

Every year, it seems, the cycling "silly season" gets more and more silly. While it's fun to watch the pros hem and haw, and deny press rumors, and eventually sign for the team everyone knows they're headed to, when it comes to the domestic peloton, the reality hits home.

I've always been able to train and race pretty much pressure-free -- I may not know "why" I'm doing it, but I spend hours alone on my bike through the winter, and line up every weekend in the hopes that this race will be better than the last. And I've always thought that contract negotiations, press pressure and all the attendant headaches that come with being a pro were just that: part of being a pro, and that it was a bad excuse when someone whines that they couldn't train this winter because they were "distracted."

Over the past couple of years, however, I've come to understand the power of motivation, and the role it plays in racing and training. As a member of Team Mack, I wasn't under any sort of financial obligation to perform -- i.e., I wasn't getting paid -- but there was an increase in pressure as the races got bigger and the competition got stiffer. There was, however, definitely an obligation to our sponsors and the team, and that translated to the pressure I felt to perform. And as the obligation to our sponsors was supplemented by the obligation that comes from within -- in my case, I'm my harshest critic -- every failure to make the break, or the horrible breakdown in form I experienced last August translated to disappointment, demoralization and an inability to enjoy the training and racing that was happening.

Even this off-season, I have felt this acutely: the first cyclocross race of the year didn't go very well, and I was heartily embarassed at my showing. And then two days later came the announcement about the team ... needless to say, I was just about ready to hang it up for now, if not for good. So I can sympathize with the pro who says they've been distracted, and who shows up overweight and out of shape early in the year. This isn't even my job, but I recognize that uncertainty and expectations play very heavily into the desire to perform ... and whether it's worth it.

Full disclosure, though: as much as I can sympathize, I still think it's a crutch -- I have no idea what I'm going to do next year, but have trained as hard as I need to to maintain my form and build for 2006. FIGURE IT OUT, PEOPLE! You have to do what you do for yourself, not because you're expected to. That's the only way to be successful.

11 October 2005

Just like ... starting over

"Today is the first day of the rest of your life." "Whenever a door closes, a window opens." "It's never as good or as bad as you think."

These and other cliches are running rampant in my head right now, but there's just one problem: they're doing nothing to help. See, I just found out this morning that Team Mack, the squad I've raced for the past two years, is not continuing its elite program next year. Choosing to put its resources where the members are -- in the masters ranks -- the sponsors will continue, and there will be a legacy to maintain ... but it won't be the same.

I have two issues with this: 1) I'm not ready to race masters yet, for a number of reasons; and 2) I've only ever wanted two things in cycling: to reach Cat. 1 and to be on an "elite" team. I accomplished both those goals in 2004-05, and now that I've had a taste, I'm not quite ready to quit ...

Plus, I'm not old enough to race many masters events (they're 35+). And, frankly, I'm not interested. So I have a couple of options: race for Mack as a "club" member; try to find another elite team (there aren't any); quit; try something new; or a combination of two or more of these. Right now, today, with just 6 hours to think about it, I'm leaning toward the last option: stay on Mack as a "club" racer, but try something new. That may mean races I haven't done before; it may mean trying my hand at multisport. Right now I don't know.

What I do know is that I'm not planning on quitting. The toughest choice would be to stay on as a Cat. 1 in Mack colors -- racing solo, without the support of a team. Several Midwest riders have done that very well in the past couple of years ... the only issue is that I'm not quite as good as they are. But that's an interesting challenge!

Whatever happens, RIP Team Mack Elite Squad. It was fun while it lasted, and it will leave a big void in the Midwest race scene. Big props to Gary and Sharmin Doering for their support -- a lot of racers have gotten their start in the blue, white and red, and wouldn't be where they are today without them.