31 July 2008

Why we ride

Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the details. It's easy to forget that our best days aren't on the bike. And when you get right down to it, we're all just playing.









2 days to go.

30 July 2008

Young wisdom

Adam Craig is a stand-up guy. Awesome interview on cyclingnews.com today -- and a great perspective on where he's at in the sport.

"I'm excited about the Olympics. I'm not obsessed with being an Olympian, I'm more obsessed with being at the pinnacle of sport. I'm glad it's working out to get a trip to the Games, and it'll be nice to be the first group of Americans to really go to the Games and do well and have solid performances."

"I think we've shown so far this year that we can be competitive and I think we can go there and do that. I'm not personally looking for any credibility, but if Todd
or I can go there and do well, it would help mountain biking. As Martin Whiteley said awhile ago, 'Mountain biking needs more heros,' and the Olympics are a good way to get that. I'm hoping to motivate people for the good cause of riding bikes in the woods - it's a fun thing to do."

"Even four years ago, I didn't just want to go to the Olympics, I wanted to go and do well. I think we have a chance to go and do well this year. Making the team is great, but I need to make the team so that I can go and medal. It's a perfectly timed step along the way. I'm ready to go."

Potential energy

There are some strange parallels between pregnancy and tapering. Heightened awareness, short attention spans, mood swings, prodigious hair growth, strange bursts of energy, troughs of fatigue and moments of sheer terror and absolute euphoria mark both the preparation for a new person and the readiness for a peak athletic event. Not that anything I could be doing even comes close to comparing to what Kim and Sprout are going through, but it's made for some interesting moments in the Strout household as of late.

I call it potential energy. And if you're not careful, it can lead to some very interesting cross training opportunities ...
It's hard not to take part in the Cat 6 racing on the Lakefront Path when I feel this good. If last year I had wasps nests in my legs, this year they're hornets. Quality sleep has come easy, I'm relaxed and ready, and it's time to get the show on the road.

3 days to go.

29 July 2008

Burn out

Our neighbors must think we're freaks, as dusk becomes night and our bedroom is lit with an eerie X-Files glow. Batteries are burned through, only to be re-amped tonight and tomorrow. Burn times dialed, cycles final -- and then the demons will come.

Rest last week, race and final burn on the legs this morning. Always good when the efforts feel easier with each rep, but the output is higher. NHRA has nothing on my pre-race routine.

Remember this at 3 a.m.: Rust never sleeps.

4 days to go

28 July 2008

Absorption

Training comes down to one thing: how much your body can absorb. You push beyond where you were, and then you rest in order to rebuild.

I've reached maximum absorption.

Spent the weekend with the kids ... except for a pre-ride that had me cursing the heat and fresh-cut grass, I spent all day Saturday climbing trees, watching bike "racing" and playing Uncle. What an awesome day. Then Levi asked if he could go to the race on Sunday, which meant Gabe and Kay would want to come too ...

Slept awesome, some of the best pre-race sleep I've ever had. Starbucks run, picked up the kids, and headed to Crystal Ridge. Plan was to race hard but be sort of conservative -- didn't want to completely cramp up, or worse, wrap myself around a tree. Started OK, settled in the dust cloud, and got to it.

First lap went well, got in behind the Captain in the singletrack, climbed OK, and then the second lap, first singletrack started to get the better of me. I needed to chill out, but I was a bit tight, and -- go figure -- hit a tree. Stop, straighten the bars. Lose a few places. Nope. Stop again. Lose some more. Damn. Got it? Nope. Stop again, lose two more, and then finally get rolling. Whew.

Spent the rest of the race with Scott and John, and then BKB John, trying to make up the places I had lost. I was pushing it but not taking stupid risks, and on a course that I would have said did not suit me at all, I was having fun. No cramping until the last lap (then only minor), climbing OK, railing the singletrack (mostly) -- easily the best I've ever felt in a WORS race, attacking where I could and holding off the chasers. The Song rode like a dream in its first WORS race, and again I was amazed at how much better I ride because of it. (Thanks Brendan!)

Lost a chance to make up a spot due to lap traffic, and then lost a spot for good on the final climb -- I was ready to be done, and that grass just sucked. Finished exactly where I finish nearly every race -- except I felt so much better. Like, ready to do it for 22 more hours better.

Hit Kopps with the kids on the way home, chocolate all over the place. Man, I love being an Uncle. I can only imagine what it's going to be like in another year or two when we can't give the little one back. So cool. Broke my heart to leave Aunt Kim in Woodstock so I could drive home.

And woke up today, just before the alarm, feeling awesome. My body doesn't even know yesterday happened. Maximum absorption. Fantastic.

Bike clean, retape the grips, lube today at lunch. Start packing tonight, food and lights need to be gathered and charged.

5 days to go.

27 July 2008

K side of the family

Is there any better way to spend a summer afternoon than kids and Kopps?

6 days to go.

26 July 2008

Pre-ride

Coolest thought in the world occured to me during pre-ride today at Crystal Ridge. No matter what happens, Uncle Chris will always be a rock star.

7 days to go.

25 July 2008

But I don't want to be ...

Never mind the grammar. It's ON!

Visualization

I've run over the start in my head more times than I can count. For a year now, the gun goes off, we sprint to the first turn. OK, settle in, long race, breathe easy. Throw an elbow, stay upright, down the hill, into the chute.

Past the tent, bike is there, grab it, go. Carnage all around, keep it steady, right up the middle, onto the first climb, left, then right, second group OK, maybe 10 guys up there but some are teams. Man it's easier to climb when your body is 10+ and your bike is 2-1/2 pounds lighter. This is the same place you were in last year, but they're not getting away as fast. Crest, down, watch out for the right, team guy snakes in and I'm cruising. Jump, brake, left, and it's on!

This week is my full-on taper week, no real workouts to speak of. My body responds well to resting this far out, with a few efforts thrown in next week to re-awaken the beast. I'm drinking less coffee this week, eating more fruit and drinking more water -- as a consequence, I've had some of the most lucid dreams of my life. Oddly for me, they all revolve around the race -- last night my mom was grocery shopping with John Posner and got into a shouting match with Chris Eatough. Weird.

8 days to go.

Sprout update: The ultrasound went very well yesterday, we're having a baby! Ha, ha -- Sprout is growing quickly, up to a full pound now, with an enormous thigh bone. Already sleeps like cousin Kaylie, with its arm up around its head. Everything normal and good -- we're more than halfway there!

24 July 2008

Spa day

Christian's dad says Christian lost half a pound by cutting his hair between the Giro and the Tour ... in addition to the four pounds of body weight he lost. That proves Christian's dedication, he says. Do I need to take that as a sign?

(Oh! And check out this photo of Christian's grandmother. She is so cute! We met her at Downers a few years ago, still sharp as a tack and super-supportive of not only her family but anyone with a race number on their jersey. Very cool!)

Seriously, today is a long-scheduled "spa day" before the final push to the start line. 8 a.m. appointment with our magic-hands massage therapist; noon haircut; and afternoon halfway-point ultrasound. I've been looking forward to this for weeks now, a nice way to relax before the craziness of the next few days. Kelli and the boys get into town tonight, Saturday is a family picnic, Sunday Alterra, and then all of a sudden we're in the red zone ...

9 days to go!

23 July 2008

Risk and reward

“Do you think you are going to win?"

Wow, what a blunt question. A while back, my teammate Brad laid it all on the line: he was serving notice that he intended to win this year’s 24 Hour Solo National Championship. He’s been doing this a long time, and realized that ultimately, that’s what all the sacrifice is for: going after the win.

It must have been something in the air, because I came to the same conclusion at the same time; in fact, on the same day. One minute I was just cruising along the lakefront; the next, I was realizing that I wasn’t chasing after “just” a spot on the box, I was chasing the jersey.

“None of the top guys go into this thinking second place,” is how John Stamstad puts it in 24 Solo. Regardless of what Nat says later (“Chris is riding so fast right now … I might as well settle for first loser”), you’ve got to respect the jersey, got to respect what we’re all trying to do. (Does anyone really think Nat let that line go to his head?) Dethroning Chris is going to be a tall challenge, I know that. It will take a massive effort. But as Mark says in the film, “the top dog is eventually going to get beat.”

One of my coworkers asked me yesterday, “Do you think you are going to win?” I’m not going to make any grand predictions. They say you have to risk losing to win. All I know is that I am going to the start line in the best condition of my life, prepared to risk everything to realize this dream. We’re beyond thinking. Now is the time to act.

10 days to go.

22 July 2008

My wife is a stud


I've said it before -- Kim is awesome. Check it out: Heart of the Lakes Triathlon 2008 Results (Search for her name)

She signed up for this tri -- her first, mind you -- 6 months ago, before Sprout sprouted. She wanted to do a race with her best friend, and they hatched this plan during the long winter months that Minneapolis is famous for. Well, you know what came next (again with the long winter months?) ... A few weeks ago, we talked about it, and I suggested that 1) I wasn't really thrilled with the idea of Sprout in an open-water swim, where people can kick you; and 2) having a pregnant lady on the start line might freak out the volunteers just a little. As much as I wanted her to enjoy the race, I would have prefered that she just do a workout solo, or with her friend -- not a race with hundreds of people.

Well, long story short, she changed her mind. And didn't tell me. Until I saw "16" in ink on the back of her calf last night in the kitchen. Now, I've never done a tri -- and never will -- but I know what that means.

The results weren't posted until today. The first thing she says to me? "My transitions were pretty good!" WTF? ;-)

Seriously -- I'm proud of her for getting out there and doing it, although I still think she's a bit nuts. If our child inherits half of our respective independence, we're going to be in for more than a little bit of work ahead of us ...

(For those of you wondering: she did the backstroke through most of the swim, and reports that she kicked more people than she was touched by. She managed to keep her heart rate in the "safe" zone for everything but the swim, and she walked the run portion. And her transitions really were pretty good. And she didn't finish last! Congrats, honey, I love you and am proud of you!)

Not so good news: Hoping that this doesn't directly affect anyone we know at Hayes. That said, layoffs suck, whether you're involved or not.

21 July 2008

D is for DIALED!

Complete tear-down today. Clean, re-lube, re-grease, re-cable, re-everything. We are ON.

Countdown

First off, get well soon Sue, Sam and Nate! Holy cow, sounds like the Mt. Snow ER was the place to be this weekend!

Wow, what a weekend. Started Friday night, skipping the boat cruise at work and hemming and hawing over whether we'd race or not. Finally decided to gear up as if, and got to bed at a decent hour.

Woke up at a not-so-decent hour. I'm really getting to know 3 a.m. race mornings. Chilled out as much as possible, but after a while there's just nothing I can do ... Alpen Sierra in the French press, 24 Solo on the DVD, at least breakfast is good. Wake Brad from his slumber about 4:30, doorstep 4:59, Starbucks 5:10. Rain, rain go away.

Keep calling the hotline, finally get the answer at the exit for Rawson Road. Head over to Crystal Ridge, cool our heels for an hour hanging with Charly, Julie, Ben and the Pegasus crew. We're not "that far" out of our way from blue skies up north, but by the time we cancel and get rolling, everything is soaked ...

Take Ben "Blue Streak" Popper off his fiance's hands for the day, and head up to Suamico. One spilled Venti and a wrong turn later, meet up with Tall Ben, and the four of us roll ... Oh yeah! I forgot how much I love Stump Farm. Ten-point-five miles of sorta-sandy singletrack connected by ski trails -- sort of like 9 Mile but without the rocks. Two thoughts occur to me while we're out there -- I was ready for 12, so having fun for 6 works out perfectly; and there really are no hills at Stump Farm. When you're 15 pounds overweight, as I was a year ago, there are.

Tall Ben headed home, and the three of us hit a couple more laps. Blue Streak was in uncharted territory -- he's probably never ridden more than 4-1/2 hours ever -- he's a super-stud 'cross racer, they don't need that kind of time! He pulled the plug while Brad and I had one more to go -- the famous "last run" syndrome kicks in, and I'm bouncing pedals off of stumps and Brad wraps it around a tree. We're done, and we know it ... Pack it up, Culvers is calling!

Great drive back -- The two Bs successfully kept me awake despite approaching 20 hours with my eyes open. Is there any actor with a stronger resume than Tom Hanks? Drop off Ben, drop off Brad, and I'm passed out just two hours short of a full 24 ...

Waking up to an exciting Tour stage finish is my idea of a great morning. French press, French racing, Italian roads ... this is the way every July should be spent. Call the hotline, Kettle is open ... just one more hard workout and it's taper time ...

Long drive, but worth it: Kettle rides faster than I've ever experienced. Easy to the base of the Blue, and even though my head is suffering a bit from sleep and humidity, it's go time. Blast out the work, rest for a minute, more work -- lather, rinse, repeat. Feel the effort climbing Emma, but the work ends at the end of the first connector section and I'm on cruise all the way back. In fact, I'm riding "slow," but still turn in a fantastic round trip time. (New trail on the way back on Blue? I didn't get to ride it, can't wait!) Roll into the parking lot and it's a Saturday WEMS reunion!

General Store, spinach-and-feta good cold, raspberry and banana smoothie even better. Alterra Coffee and Stoneyfield Honey and Kim doesn't have to grocery shop today. Smooth drive back, domestic bliss of cleaning and folding, and the taper officially begins at 9 p.m. Twelve days to go!

18 July 2008

Thanks Sue!

Just flipped over to cyclingnews and got the news: Sue Haywood is retiring from XC racing this weekend. Sounds like she'll still do some endurance events (Chequamegon again?) and other cool things, but as for top-level Norba stuff, she's done.

I just need to say this publicly: Thanks, Sue, for being such a class act, and a valuable ambassador for our sport. Mountain bike racing is better for having had you participate.

Before I knew much about mountain biking, I only knew Sue's name because of the way the USAC selections went down for the 2004 Olympics. Because my background was dealing with roadies, I read the stories on cyclingnews and Velonews through the lense of crappy bike racer politics, and my initial assessment was totally unfair to both Sue and Mary. And I'm sorry for that, and I learned a valuable lesson.

Truth is, Sue is super-cool, an amazing athlete, and a kind soul. I'm sure no matter what the next chapter is in her life, she'll take it on with a huge smile and that honest, down-home attitude that makes her such a great person. Good luck in whatever you do!

Check out her pics from Downieville on her blog: Haywoodja? Fun stuff from the pro ranks!

17 July 2008

Déjà vu all over again

Oddly enough, I find myself still paying attention to the Tour this year. Maybe it's because everything is happening a week earlier, but I'm not as turned off as I was a year ago. Then again, it's not like Evans is Rasmussen. Hell, who knows what will happen next?

In the meantime, preparations continue. I'm just about at race weight -- well, really, I am at race weight, with my metabolism running overdrive and hunger pangs on a near-constant basis. So far it looks like the rain is going to miss Crystal Ridge, fingers crossed we get to race there on Saturday. If not, I'll have to figure out another big training load before my taper begins on Sunday ...

I ordered Kinesio tape today, should be here next week. Not sure if it will help, but can't hurt to try, right? Kim's not a licensed physio or anything, but the instructions on the web site looked fairly straightforward. At this point, my back is the only limiting factor in how far I can take this thing.

I must be getting close to being ready -- I feel pretty good, time is passing SO slowly, and I can't focus my mind on any one thing for more than about 2 minutes. I don't think it's quite hit me that we're down to just 2 weeks to go ...

16 July 2008

*Almost* on the grid

We're getting close to prediction time!

Wausau, WI 15-Day Forecast

Just a few things

Happy birthday Renee! Hope it's a great one!

Thank goodness I'm not the only one: Sounds like this heat and humidity is getting to people. Julie, Scott -- I feel your pain! I had to basically cut my workout in half this morning I was feeling so crappy. Thank goodness for interns -- ours showed us the best way to make hazelnut soy lattes at work, and after two of them I'm feeling much better ...

Speaking of running, and weather: I mentioned yesterday the summer of '99. I still remember one run I did that year, early morning when it was already 85 and about 90% humidity. It was nasty -- Kim had to help me create an ice bath to cool my core temp when I got home, I was so blown out. I just hope we don't run into a spell of hot weather for the next three weeks -- it'll be tough to acclimate properly (and stay hydrated) in time!

Just can't catch a break: The poor people of Manistee. First it's killer storms, now it's trash floating over from Cheeseland -- man, that just sucks!

Derka derka! Welcome to a couple of new links: You'll find Bonebell out there cheering on endurance freaks and racing 'cross in his death mask ... And although I haven't met them yet, I've added Josh Tostado and Charlie Farrow to the Wausau watch. I think Brad said it best: "It's getting crowded at the top." If there's any question about where the best of the best will be this year, I think it's going to be answered on August 2! (Tinker's commitment notwithstanding, of course!)

Another random fear: I discovered last night that there's something I hate even more than swimming: jumping dead batteries in cars. I've done it a ton of times, but every time I get completely freaked out -- knowing I had to do it when I got home, I spent my entire ride yesterday afternoon in a state of perpetual terror -- sweats, hives, the works. It went OK, we got Kim's car to work, and we both walked away safely. But man, I'm still worked up over it!

Never say never: When we were on our honeymoon, we stopped in at FAO Schwartz on Fifth Avenue and I proceeded to get all the Bananas in Pajamas singing in the round. When we got home, I bought a stuffed B2, and we eventually got the BiP CD. That CD has since been added to our iTunes, and to our iPod. So what do I hear when I walk in the door on Monday evening? That's right: Bananas in Pajamas children's music! Kim had set the iPod to shuffle, so it wasn't intentional, but still! Our kid is going to have a weird mix of The Clash and Disney running through its head ...

15 July 2008

CVV!

Holy crap! The lost sleep was worth the effort -- yesterday's action was awesome! (I made up the sleep this morning anyway, so it's all good.) Man, Christian looked great out there -- that dig at the end was the only reason Evans got the jersey, and at the same time it sent a message that Christian is there to ride, and isn't content to just sit in and wait. Matt White's running commentary in his ear was fantastic -- Whitey is a class act, and it's great to see them working together like this. Take it from me: Hautacam SUCKS, and the place where CVV put in his dig is a nasty, nasty kick in the rear -- it may not have looked like much on TV, but it made a statement.

(The Tourmalet, by contrast, is an awesome climb. It's entertaining to read Will Frischkorn's diary on Velonews.com -- he laments missing out on the views on the way up, and then accurately describes the scrum that follows any one-way ski station finish ...)

We just have to hope that Christian doesn't have a jour sans in the Alps -- if he can hold it to the time trial, he is a legitimate contender. There are a lot of "what ifs," the biggest being this: I like Evans a lot, but I can't understand how a guy who can mountain bike at his level keeps ending up on the tarmac. Look for Evans to go down at least once more this Tour, and if he does it might just be that 1-2% that makes all the difference in Paris ...

I have a soft spot for Christian. Back in the last century, I was working for an obituary company, and part of my job was reading the obits section of the Chicago Tribune every day. This was the summer of '99, and Christian was in his first Tour -- writing a daily diary for the Trib. Although I was a runner at the time, I started reading, and got re-hooked on my childhood rituals of watching Wide World of Sports every Sunday in July. Somewhere in there, Kim says to me, "We should go to the Tour some time." The rest, as they say, is history ...

You're the inspiration: With just a couple of weeks to go, I'm looking for inspiration everywhere I can get it. Check out this e-mail I received yesterday from my sister-in-law!
Took the little miss [that would be my niece!] yesterday for a bike ride that I thought would be just to the little park by our house, but it turns out my little bike-riding rock-star had the energy & the ability to take direction to safely ride on a combination of roads & bike paths to Lakeland Park, then to Fort McHenry, then we headed back on the bike path behind Jewel, up around & by Peterson Park & back thru Lakeland Park subdivision to our subdivision. We stopped along the way (3 parks & 1 beach for impromptu swimming). Thank goodness I had ample snacks packed. All this was done on the little purple bike that the Easter bunny brought her quite some time ago…hence, it’s too little & somewhat awkward for that long of a ride (but she did it anyway...)

How awesome is that?!?!?!?! An endurance star in the making, considering she just learned to ride two wheels about 3 weeks ago!

14 July 2008

Quatorze Juillet

First off, HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to Justin and his lovely wife -- very nice to ride with Justin on Saturday, and then run into them at Texas Roadhouse ... although I think if I were springing for an anniversary with Kim, the Roadhouse (with its gaggle of UW-Stevens Point students/waitresses doing line dancing) may not have been on the agenda ... ;-)

Second, I just need to say this: mountain bikers, and endurance mountain bikers in particular, rock. They have to be some of the coolest people on the planet. Read on to hear about our incredible weekend spent with a few friends and a few people we had never met, or had just met briefly before ... after just a few minutes of singletrack, we were all getting along famously!

What an awesome weekend. Brad and I survived the very scary, killer storm on Friday night despite leaking roofs and overhead thunderclaps, and made our way to Wausau early on Saturday. We made our (now) obligatory stop at Cool Beans and the Trek Store of Madison, checked out a few minutes of the Tour, and then finished the drive speculating on Danielle's night of camping to meet Todd for a high-noon start ...

Pulled into the parking lot to find Danielle and her husband Scott almost ready to go, and as we were talking Justin rolled over. (Big thanks to Namrita for letting Danielle know we were headed up there this weekend! Convoluted, but the Internet saved the day ...) Todd pulled in, greetings were exchanged, and then it was go-time -- Brad and Justin led the way on a couple laps of the course, with each of us dialing in those parts that we weren't sure about, and chatting and rolling in between. It was awesome being out there with such a big group, and we made sure to hit the entrance to Ho Chi Minh a couple of times so we could all say we cleaned it.

The course was in pretty good shape despite the rain, although they've logged out Section 6 (after the long downhill, before you cross over Redbud Rd.), which will become an oven if it's hot on race day, and they closed off the entrance to Section 5 we used last year (so we improvised and looped back in on Section 7, making for a longer lap.)

Anyway, two loops with the big group, then Todd and Justin had other obligations. Brad, Danielle, Scott and I headed back out for another great loop, then as we were pulling back into the lot ran into Heidi and Michael from California. It was a regular party out there! Heidi is training for the Duo Championship, and they made the trip just for the weekend -- they had put their faith in some local shop guys, who had apparently been showing them all the great singletrack, without showing them the course ... about 90 minutes later, we had them dialed and Brad and I pulled out to go grab some dinner ... it was tough, good thing we had an agenda or we would have kept riding all evening!

Ran into Justin at the Roadhouse, then headed over to Days Inn. Quick check in, drop bags, then back out to 9 Mile ... starting to feel like a treadmill here ... unload the bikes, load up the lights, and then Scott, Mark, Brad, Michael, Heidi and I headed out into the dusk.

I was feeling pretty good at this point, but had hit my helmet light on a branch in the first singletrack, before we were switched on. Darkness came FAST, and before I knew it we were lighting up the night ... only I wasn't getting the full effect, and I was really uncomfortable. I was struggling, and dropped off the pace pretty badly into Flower Trail. Finally, I reached up and realized that my helmet mount was completely loose, so my light was pointing every which way! Stop for a minute, re-adjust, swat at some flies and roll ... ahhh, MUCH better, now it's time to RIDE!

One loop with the big group, then Michael and Heidi peeled off while the Brad, the Coles and I headed back out. Doing fine, led down the hill to Four Corners, only to slide out on the log to the left of the first Ho Chi Minh rocks. Pull up and out of the way, can't get going, and by the time I'm out of the section and making a wrong turn, the other three are gone, up the hill and around the corner. I realize my error and start to chase, only to blow another corner. Now I'm PISSED OFF, and vow to absolutely destroy my teammate, who undoubtedly is pushing up the hills, not realizing I'm off. Turns out, this is good training -- I'm catching through some singletrack, and realize that I need to CALM DOWN or risk hitting a tree. So I let my anger go, relax, and when I do catch, just drill it into the widetrack without a word. They're going to suffer for making me chase for 10 minutes on a "fun" night lap ...

Roll 6, cross over, bomb, and then hammer up to Redbud and into Section 3. I'm on a mission, and after Section 2 I drill the widetrack until we're back in 3. I'm out for blood, cruising well, through the rocks, back across the road and blast the uphill widetrack. Not sure if they got the vibe, but Scott is trying to talk to me and I'm just grunting ...

Through the singletrack, back to the wide, and Scott and I are full-on sprinting up Main Street. A fast lap by any account, especially so since it was night. Time for shower and a bed.

Good night of sleep, but way too little. Breakfast, the Big S, and we're back at 9 Mile before anyone else. The fly bites on my arm and inner ear are itching like crazy. Mount up, hit the Start button on my watch, and start to climb ... shooting for 3 laps at more or less race pace on tired legs. And they are tired -- we're riding fast, but I'm making mistakes here and there, thankfully recovering quickly. No warmup, and for the first few minutes I'm struggling ... then I clean Ho and all is good, body back on, and we are HAMMERING.

Three laps later, all within 30 seconds of each other, and we're DONE. We absolutely killed it for just over 3-1/2 hours, drilling the long pedal sections, railing the singletrack, and pitting for less than a minute at a time. We each had sticks in our wheels on the first lap; the second lap I hit a tree and had to re-adjust my brake lever; on the last lap we had no stops. And still they were within 30 seconds. Damn. We're ready.

Quick hellos to Michael and Heidi -- and the hostess from Texas Roadhouse -- and notes tucked under the windshield wipers. Then it was time to roll ...

It was a long drive home, fueled by more Starbucks and free chocolate-chocolate chip muffins and cranberry bagels from the nice check-out lady at the Days Inn. She cracked open the cooler just for us! Plus she rides (calling herself "Chicken Legs")! Drop Brad, pick up Kim, and what better way to cap off the weekend than Le Burrito and a small bit of ice cream ... Managed to watch Ricco win the stage, but then passed out until the alarm clock went off this morning -- damn that beep-beep-beep!

11 July 2008

Final day

It's going to be a challenge, but all indications are that Mary will finish tomorrow. I don't want to jinx anything, so for now I'll just say GOOD LUCK ...

One stage

One stage -- that's all it took for the Tour's first doping positive. Manuel Beltran tested positive for EPO following last Saturday's Stage 1. He finished 25th on the day, and was selected as a "random" rider to be tested. Note that his pre-race blood levels showed abnormalities, so "random" is relative here.

There's a loud chorus heard mostly in Europe on this one: How is it that so many of Lance Armstrong's lieutenants end up testing positive after they're off the team? Euro-speculation includes accusations of systematic "masking" and using of top-top-shelf, undetectable substances while in the service of Mellow Johnny. And then once a rider has moved on, the "quality" of their new team (and its doctors) is not as high ... Or, more broadly, the idea that there's a UCI conspiracy to keep any abnormalities on Lance's team quiet in an attempt to "save" the sport. (Could that be part of the reason why the French are so anti-UCI and anti-Lance?)

At any rate, I hate to admit that I'm not surprised at an early positive, although I didn't expect the first positive to be from Stage 1. Now, Stage 4 on the other hand ...

Just in time for Wausau: I'm giving Twitter a try -- check out the right-hand sidebar, just under the comments. Jeremy tried to text ongoing results from Nationals last year only to be foiled by my phone dying; maybe with Twitter (and a charger), we'll have some success this year?

Half a mile from the county fair ...

... and the rain came pouring down.

Kim has this book called The Three Martini Play Date. I haven't read it, but she says it's a lot of practical-type advice for new parents. The one bit we did talk about has stuck with me: When did parents stop listening to their own music? I mean, when we were kids, I was subjected to show tunes and John Denver -- none of this Barney/Wiggles/Disney stuff. And I think I'm better off for it. To this day I have very broad music tastes, and I still remember listening to "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" on the car radio.

And then this morning it struck me -- I can't wait to share Van Morrison with the kid. Moondance is one of the best albums of all time, and I could see in my mind's eye singing along with it, baby Strout in my arms. Far from being a scary new-dad-to-be moment, it brought a huge smile to my face. Just 21 weeks to go!

... and we'll send you glad tidings from New York ...

10 July 2008

Confidence boost

It's not very often that I talk numbers here, but I had to share some really awesome results from yesterday's workout. There are a few key indicators in cycling that really show a person's fitness, and yesterday I felt like I won the lottery:

8 percent

That's my year-over-year improvement from a similar workout I did the week before Nationals last year. And I was happy with that last year! The percentage is actually a little higher than that, and although it may not seem like much, in a training context it's pretty exciting. With three weeks to go to put the finishing touches on my form, I couldn't have asked for a bigger boost to my confidence. Here we go!

09 July 2008

Brass tacks

Each year in November or early December, I get to the point where I can count the number of weekday training workouts (not recovery rides) I have left for the season on one hand. Although I've had focused goals mid-summer before, it's never been quite like this, and I find myself doing the same thing ... except here we are in July. I'm super-stoked -- I pushed back this week's workouts to today and tomorrow, and this morning went really well. Finishing an interval as you pull up to a garbage truck isn't ideal, but the recovery is spot on and the power looks to be high. Very nice.

Just a few weekday workouts to go!

08 July 2008

Great news all around

Wow! It's only 9:03, and we've already had some great news all around this morning.

First, congrats to Dr. and Dr. Holmes. Happy Anniversary! It's strange that we haven't seen much of them this year, but I rode to work wearing Mack shorts in Jim's honor this morning.

Second, Palos reg is open! Near as I can figure it, I'm the third "expert" to sign up. Whew, check another one off the to-do list.

And ... drum roll please ... we're down to our last clothing shipments to Zambia! There was a delay when the Zambian Post Office started seeing so many boxes come through, but the Cycling Assn. was able to work with officials to explain what it was all about, and we're free and clear (VAT-free, to be specific) to finish with the shipments. YEAH! In the meantime, we've gotten a few photos already, with more to come!

Some of the nicer clothing (skinsuits) were used as prizes for a race -- like I said, more photos to come as soon as I can get them! (Note the banner hanging behind -- that's their effort to bring together belief in the future through athletics, the theme of their racing. Very inspirational!)

07 July 2008

Yes sir, that's my baby!

See, she's a cutie! This is us by the tree dedicated to my grandparents at the Botanical Gardens. It overlooks the birch trees on Spider Island -- very nice!

A *little* torn

Got an e-mail today from the City of Chicago, reminding me to sign up for the inagural Chicago Criterium on July 27. I have to admit, it made me stop and think for a minute. The chance to race down Michigan Avenue vs. one last trip to the hurt locker down a ski hill ... hmmm. Either one would be a good workout -- I had fun on the group ride this weekend -- I'd forgotten what it felt like to push the pace at 50 clicks an hour. If it weren't the week before ... because we all know what can happen in one road race a year, don't we?

Seriously, Judson yesterday was fun, my first time out there since March or so, only my second this year. Down to 15 guys by the Cemetery, 10 by the return, and we just rolled it home, steady and hard. The roads are in bad shape, but not as bad as I feared, and I felt comfortable in the pack even after months out of it. Even better, the legs are there, and with four weeks to go I'm feeling pretty good. I found this photo on Lee's blog today, man did I look pudgy a year ago!

Recovery was a great lunch up north and a few hours at the Botanical Gardens with my parents, followed by fun and fellowship in the city, celebrating summer at a friend's house. Man, how time flies, and even 3-1/2 years can feel like a lifetime. Cherish your friendships and the loved ones around you whenever you can.

Oh! I almost forgot. Kim looked super-cute yesterday. I'll post a photo when I get them as long as she doesn't get too mad at me.

06 July 2008

Happy Fourth, Fifth and Sixth!

Great weekend, can't believe it's still only Sunday morning! Friday was awesome -- slept in, then Kim and I cruised the North Shore Channel Path over to Starbucks and back. Then it was clean-up-and-organize time -- in more than just my workouts, I'm a month ahead this year ...

Yesterday was a split day -- morning workout followed by a nice massage, then vegging on the couch until I rode again. Found myself watching the Tour and actually being interested -- there are some pretty cool subplots to this edition's action. And, as much as I hate to agree with the organizers who are slowly tearing the sport apart, "The chapter is not larger than the book."

Thankfully, there were a lot of options on television last night other than Bob Roll, since we had already seen the stage twice -- U.S. Olympic swim trials, The Empire Strikes Back, and Rambo kept us up until it was time to sack out. Turn on the fan, and I was gone ...

Up early this morning -- things they don't tell you about pregnancy #102: the baby alters your partner's weight, which in turn alters their sleeping and breathing patterns in bed. It's not a big deal, but it's just enough that I can hear Kim breathing and it wakes me up. She needs her sleep more than I do, so it was time for some 24 Solo and Alpen Sierra in the French press ...

Judson in a few, then lunch and Botanical Gardens with my parents. Shaping up to be another great day!

03 July 2008

No Palos

This week is a programmed rest week, and I've been taking full advantage. Easy spins along the lakefront, 9+ hours of sleep each night, and absolutely no bike work have me recharging the batteries in a big way in anticipation of the pain of the next four weeks.

Unfortunately, that means this weekend will be spent at home, with no trail riding -- instead, I'll opt for a couple of road workouts, taxing the legs and lungs but not the rest of the body. It also means no Palos ride tomorrow -- and, looking at the calendar, that pretty much means no Palos until mid to late August, if at all before the race in September. Holy crap! A season without Three Ravines? Is it possible?

At any rate, have a great Fourth and I'll check in with my thoughts on my first Judson ride in months ... and only my second this year ...

Six random things

Amy tagged me. In the spirit of fun, I'll post the six random things, but truth be told, I'm not sure these are things people already don't know about me -- I tend to have a big mouth and wear my emotions on my sleeve as it were ...

1. I hate swimming. Not as bad as Holly maybe, but you'll be hard-pressed to ever get me in a pool or large body of water. I attribute it to being stuck in the birth canal when my mom was in labor. (For 48 hours, if you want to know. They thought I had brain damage when I was born, I say the lack of oxygen just upped my VO2max.)

2. I do not bore easily, or rather I find something I like and stick with it. I have been eating basically the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day since I started losing weight. Eleven years ago.

3. My brother is the mountain biker in our family. He took me out to a gravel pit once when I was in college -- he was on his Gary Fisher (the one I just rebuilt), with me on my fully rigid Miyata 700c hybrid. I vowed from that moment forward to never ride the dirt again.

4. Speaking of bikes, my love affair with them started at a very young age -- when all my friends wanted to be firemen or astronauts, I wanted to be a Tour rider. It started when I saw Breaking Away in the theater with my grandparents (I was about 6 years old), and really took hold when I did a report in second grade about Belgium and Luxembourg, and learned about a certain rider named Eddie Merckx. By the time I was 11, I was doing 2-3 hour solo rides before school on either my dad's old 10 speed or my new Sears Free Spirit. It all went away when I found cars, girls and cigarettes ...

5. My first "shop" experience was when I was seven, when my best friend, brother and I opened Strout's Bike Shop in our garage. Our first project was to strip down my dad's old bike and repaint it, and then we put it all back together again. Holy crap was that thing a TANK!

6. Finally, I'm a pack-rat. I had forgotten about Strout's Bike Shop until I was going through a box of stuff last winter, and came across our price list of services -- yes, that small piece of paper has been in my "collection" for 28 years!

I am going to tag Jim, Mark, Mark, Brendan and Jay

here are the rules:
link to the person who tagged you.
post the rules on your blog.
write six random things about yourself.
tag six people at the end of your post.
let each person know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog
let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Vote clean

Good story on MSNBC, written by a friend of Amy's:

http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/25474002/

They track how many people read and rate it, which will help the author get more gigs -- it's a look at Garmin's and Columbia's efforts to keep it clean this year. I generally avoid these stories, but it's well-written and balanced, even if it's not totally new news to me.

Me n' Travis

So this almost makes me want to go back to Chequamegon to go head-to-head with the 69er hardtail -- the Song only gives up about a pound to Travis' rig this year, with all the advantages of a rear damper ...

http://www.cyclingnews.com/tech/2008/probikes/?id=travis_brown_trek69er08

Interesting to read Travis' thought process behind the mixed wheels; these are exactly the strengths and challenges I've noticed as I've put the Song through its paces. Joe, I've only spent about 15 minutes on full-on 29ers, so I can't really say, but I would tend to agree with Travis about the ability to loft the front wheel and get the bike up to speed.

Here's a little-publicized beautiful thing about Brendan's ingenuity too -- if I wanted, I could purchase a new rear end in 29er format, and convert the Song completely. Brendan knows his stuff, and has built the platform with geometry that can handle either. I just don't see that happening any time soon though -- the more I ride the mixed wheel, the more I want to be on it full-time. Exactly the reaction Brendan predicted back in January!

02 July 2008

Still Singing Strong!

It’s been a few weeks now, and although I haven’t gotten the chance to radically “experiment” with the Song, I’ve put in a ton of hours and had a lot of fun. So with one month to go until show time, I figured I’d put together my thoughts on the bike I hope will take me to the podium …

Trial by fire: It’s kind of hard to believe, but I’ve only had three trail training rides on the Song so far. I’ve ridden it to and from work on the Lakefront Path as well, but otherwise my time has been spent doing what the Song does best: racing as fast as possible, for as long as possible. From my first ride at New Fane until now, I’ve only made one set of minor adjustments, moving my brake and shift levers to a slightly more aggressive position.

What I like: There’s a lot to like about the Song. I’ve been able to get it out onto a variety of trails, and while it hasn’t completely erased my weaknesses, I can definitely say it ups my game in every category. It was fun getting it out to 9 Mile this weekend – the Song ate up the course and made it even more fun than it already is.

And before I get into the handling, a word about the finish: incredible. The powdercoat is beautiful, and the detail work on the lugs is stunning. This is one cool-looking bike!

Strengths: When I talked to him this winter, Brendan likened the Song to “a hardtail with the edge taken off.” That has proven to be absolutely true – the Song excels in situations where a hardtail makes sense. Trails with short, punchy climbs, long pedal sections and buff singletrack – 9 Mile, Kettle – are perfect for this bike, as the stable handling and the ability to stand and jam are key strengths.

That’s not to say it’s not good in the rough stuff. The “edge” is taken off by the 29er front wheel and the Cane Creek damper in the rear, and braking bumps and other small trail features are softened without losing the feel of the trail. This contributes heavily to the feel of the bike over the long haul – even though you’re “only” getting 1-1/2in. of travel, this is a bike that can go all day (and all night!) and not beat the crap out of you.

Another big plus is that this bike is super-stable. My guess is that it’s a function of the frame design + geometry + the large front wheel contact patch, but this is one of the straightest-tracking bikes I’ve ever ridden – road or mountain. No-handed and one-handed riding while eating and drinking is no problem, even on slightly rough trails, and the head and seat angles give you a sort of motocross bike feel that is very confidence-inspiring when the trail opens up and you can motor.

This also holds true for momentum sections – this bike holds its momentum very (very!) well, and was a ton of fun to ride “single speed” out at Kettle. I’ve gotten to where I look forward to getting near someone on a climb so I can get past them and bomb a descent – just to put time on them! (Even rough descents are no problem, although I don’t know about huge drops and the like, you’d have to treat them more like you would a hardtail.)

Tight and twisty: One of the biggest arguments against big hoops is that 29ers aren’t as nimble as their slightly smaller cousins. I’m beginning to think that’s coming mostly from the retro-grouch/never-ridden-a-29er-in-my-life crowd – Brendan’s frame design takes advantage of the “Fifty-Five” mixed-wheel format to produce a capable player when the trails turn tight.

As with a hardtail, line choice is important in tight stuff (especially loose switchbacks), but I have yet to encounter a situation where I feel like I would be better off with a smaller front wheel. If anything, I’ve actually had the opposite reaction – the larger contact patch of the 29er front wheel has saved me from a couple of questionable line choices, especially on switchback climbs. I think the quick acceleration of the 26er rear helps out here, and up-and-overs (like at 9 Mile!) are so much more fun!

As I noted in my L-T report, I’m not a huge fan of riding through trees, but that’s more a function of my handlebar width than anything else. If anything, the increased height of the front end is a distinct advantage in your visibility of the trail ahead, and there are times when the increased clearance has saved me.

Challenges: Is there anything I’d change? No way. I’ve gotten used to the water bottle placements, and they work well to keep the center of gravity low. The bottom bracket height contributes to this by staying low but being sufficiently high – although I have a personal need to learn to not bash my chainring into log crossings, and to not try to pedal through some corners with big stumps. (So if you hear me do so, don’t blame the bike!) Standover height is perfect, and my initial feeling of the bike being “big” wore off by the second ride.

That said, there are a couple of things I need to get used to, and more experimentation will help here. I haven’t yet found exact tire pressures – 30psi f/r was perfect at Lumberjack, but too high for Levis Trow. I run a Karma up front and a Small Block Eight in the rear – the increased contact patch and knobs up front can be a slight mis-match for the rear if the pressures aren’t right, leading to a firm planting of the front even while the rear is a bit loose. This is most evident on tight slalom sections, especially with loose sand (Levis), and since the bike has a slight front bias it can be a bit disconcerting.

That forward bias isn’t bad, but it is noticeable at times. Especially while standing and climbing, you need to make sure to have your weight back to keep the back wheel in contact with the ground. The cool thing is, the front is planted so firmly that on slick up-and-overs if you spin your rear tire you’re still balanced well enough to get out of it with just a slight push forward.

If there’s one situation I found challenging so far, it’s this: This bike does not reward overly-cautious riding. It wants to go fast, and carry its momentum as much as possible. That’s not to say it can’t handle slow riding (it does -- it's balanced and very stable at low speeds), but it’s more at home motoring along and whipping down the trail.

What do I mean? I’m not a big fan of wet, rooty sections of trail like the lowland part of Levis Trow. And while the 29er front wheel and rear damper of the Song normally eat up trail chatter and braking bumps for breakfast, if you’re in the middle of momentum-sucking mud and roots, you may find yourself getting pogo-ed around a bit, unless you’re attacking it aggressively.

After the first lap, during which I did attack it, I got cautious after my crash and that section of trail made me feel like I was on a hardtail. Even though the 29er front rolled over some of the roots that would have stopped a 26er cold, it didn’t exactly make me feel like I was on Main Street. A lot of that was probably me and my style of riding, and would be that way on any bike, but it’s a reminder of the limitations of a purpose-built endurance racing machine. (Doesn’t everything smooth out, the faster you go?) That said, even though I felt the bumps while I was down there, I finished the race pretty fresh for having ridden so many rocks, roots and new-cut trail.

Conclusion: If I had any doubts at all about the awesomeness of the Song, all it took was seven or eight minutes at 9 Mile to erase them. That’s about how long it takes to get from the parking lot/start area to the end of the first singletrack (Section 8), and I knew as we made the left-hander back onto the widetrack that working with Brendan was the right choice for me. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face at that moment, and indeed through the whole lap – This is the perfect bike to attack 24 hours of National Championship racing, while at the same time providing a fun platform for cross-country events and all-day epics anywhere I may ride. Just one month to go!