30 April 2009

Glamour

As I sit here picking sand out of my teeth from this morning's ride, I can't help but wonder what the heck I was thinking.

I mean, when I was 7, 8, 9 years old, racing a bike up legendary mountains in France in 85-degree July sunshine seemed like a pretty cool way to make a living.

Today, as I ramped up to sub-threshold tempo pace in 50-degree rain, just 18 hours after one of the hardest workouts I'll do all year, I questioned all that is holy in an effort to figure out why I ever wanted to be a pro bike racer. Forty-five minutes later, as I spun into work with numb legs, squishy feet and sopping gloves, I still wondered why the heck I was out there.

And then it hit me: Forget Van Halen -- this is what dreams are made of.

29 April 2009

Cognitive dissonance

Crazy day -- one of the perks of having Kate at Evanston Hospital is that we were immediately solicited by Northwestern University to add her to an infant cognition study. It's taken a while for the schedules to line up, but today was the day -- pretty interesting, actually, as they made her clinically bored and then tested how quickly she "learned" the difference between solids and liquids. She was a trooper, all slobbery and smiles for the public. As she and Dad spent their first-ever morning without Mom, it was a bit of a different story ...

Anyway, dropped her off at daycare and then headed home for my own cognitive study: the long stuff is done, and now I get to ride myself stupid at least once a week. Today was the first, and I knew it would hurt ... but really, how bad can a few 3-minute efforts be? Let's just say I'm lucky I was able to make the short trip from the LFP all the way to work ... even after 10+ minutes of cool-down, my head was wonky in the elevator and I couldn't really process a coherent thought ...

(Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you have when you hold two simultaneous opposing thoughts. All I can tell you is that I was pretty damn uncomfortable with the thoughts of "stop pedaling" and "this is what you're supposed to be doing!")

Anyway, when I got to work I found more Siren love -- check out these AWESOME riding jackets! WBR-Siren, so pro right now!

28 April 2009

Siren luv east and west

Lotsa' Siren love on the Internet today:

Playing groundhog: http://www.cyclingnews.com/mtbphotos.php?id=/photos/2009/apr09/cohutta100/cohutta_start2

Go Stephen! http://www.cyclingnews.com/mtbphotos.php?id=/photos/2009/apr09/cohutta100/cohutta_rolling

Results here: http://www.cyclingnews.com/mtb.php?id=mtb/2009/apr09/cohutta100

And huge congrats to our WBR-Siren teammates out at the Whiskey, Lynda takes 1st and Dave 5th! Plus, Sirenite Johanna takes 2nd ... have I mentioned lately that my Song is the Best. Bike. Ever! Don't think it's just for us racer-types, either -- all day epics? No sweat. Buff singletrack? Eats it up. Rocks and roots? Laughing in the face of danger.

Brendan, you rock! (And thanks for sending Craig back to us!)

27 April 2009

NUE-bie

This may sound totally corny, but once I got into being an athlete -- first playing soccer, then running, then riding -- my whole raison d'ĂȘtre was to find out how I stacked up against the best. Actually, it's sort of always been like that, shooting free throws in my driveway as a kid, throwing the discus and putting the shot, playing footb ... well, OK, not playing football: at that I just sucked. But for all the others, I have felt this need to push it as far as I could until something broke.

And so Saturday, as I slotted in on the wheel of MTB honch Jeremiah Bishop on the 3-mile road climb that opened the Cohutta 100 and the National Ultra-Endurance Series, I had to remind myself to stay calm, stay focused, and ... wait, is that Chris Eatough coming up next to me? Huh. How about that?

And that's what made this race so much fun for me. All the political back-and-forth about licensing, all the not-so-stellar cross country finishes, all the endos and blown turns and horrible line choices just melted away as we crested the first hill and I found myself sitting comfortably in the top 10 surrounded by erstwhile Olympians, 24-hour and 100-mile champions, and other pro mountain bike racers all hammering away in our 44x11 going a million miles an hour. It felt like ... I belonged.

I finished in the top 20 of an NUE event last year -- but in another NUE event I let my front wheel get sideways and broke off my front shifter into my knee. I also finished well at a 24-hour race with a strong field -- but I also spectacularly collapsed mentally at the one that really mattered to me. So I came into 2009 feeling like I had something to prove ... if only to myself. And after 100 miles of riding some spectacular, beautiful countryside, I think I have my answer: I may not nipping at the heels of the likes of Jeremiah and Chris, but everything is coming together to make 2009 an incredible year!

The people in your neighborhood: One of the best things about this race was the people. Barb, the RD, put on a great event, and her crew really had things dialed at registration and the finish. Meeting my WBR-Siren teammate Stephen for the first time, and his wonderful wife Rhonda and son Jubal, was fantastic. Talking to Pearso, Bender, Danielle, Carey and a host of other awesome folks really made the long trip worth it, and took my mind off how much I was missing Kate and Kim. It was such a blast to be hanging in the beautiful mountains and on the river, just enjoying life!

The long and short of it: I made two sort-of mistakes that sealed the race for me. First, as we made the hard right-left into the singletrack from the road, I checked up slightly, and my top 10 placing dropped to top 20 in the blink of an eye. Not a huge mistake, but with virtually 15 miles of no-pass singletrack coming up, it meant that I'd be staring at the backside of Ernesto Marenchin (who made a solid, clean, last-minute pass onto the trail) for a long, long time. On the positive, I found myself following him very closely, and only lost position when I grabbed a gel on the short road descent before the Copper Road back to the start area. By the time he got sideways on the root climb, though, I was passing him, and when my chain sucked as it shifted onto the middle chainring, I let him take the lead into the first aid station.

Based on other reports, it sounds like we were just ahead of the single-speeders, led by Ernesto's teammate Gerry Pflug, who pulled away with geared rider Travis from Gary Fisher-29er, making up our little four-person group out of the first aid station and into some climbing. My stop at the aid station was long, but I successfully chased back as we started to ascend. It was getting hot, and I pulled off my glasses to hang them from my jersey ... and dropped them. And ran over them. Damn!

This led to sort-of mistake No. 2 -- I set my own pace on the climb, taking it steady, even as I watched Ernesto attack every little rise and corner to catch the couple of guys ahead of him. I figured I had time, haven't done that many high-end efforts, and didn't want to burn too many matches that early ... except that immediately after that was a 5-mile, flat pedal section. And I was alone. For. Five. Miles. Of. Pedaling. Completely alone in the back-woods of Tennessee/Georgia. Not sure I was on the course. No one to help me along. Just me and my humming tires ...

Thankfully, this is what I train for -- all those hours on the LFP came in handy! But I'm sure I lost time to folks who had small groups to work with, and I was very happy to finally come together with a couple of other guys on the next hill a few minutes later. Travis had sat up a bit, Ernesto's other SS teammate Andy was hanging around, and there were a couple of others we would see on the course. From there on out, it was pretty much me and Travis, Travis and me -- neither of us climbing all that great, he out-descending me, and me making up time on any flat section. Along the way we were passed by Andy Applegate (how did I get ahead of him?!), rode away from the Speedgoat SS guy (not sure which one at this point) on the flats only to have him come back and stomp us on a hill, and passed a very disgruntled Garth Prosser, who was feeling the effects of the heat.

Travis warned me as we approached the last singletrack that it was mostly downhill, but rough and with small, cramp-inducing hills. Sure enough, he dropped in and I let the Speedgoat guy ahead of me, and after about 200m of descending we turned upward ... and I stopped. Cold. Completely cramped. Both legs. Yee-ouch!

Up top (there was 12,000 feet of climbing in this race), in the shade, the temps were awesome. As we came down, it was 90-ish degrees in the valleys, and at this point, with 85 miles behind me, I was feeling it. I rode slow for a minute, checked behind me, and just started to turn it over ... Travis was gone, as was Speedgoat, and I was alone again. I caught a few 65-mile riders, bounced my way through some nasty rocky sections, and ... is that Travis? Hey man, how are you? Stomach issues, sure I have a gel, here you go ...

A couple of nice creek crossings with cool water, some fun downhills, and then all of a sudden I'm blasting out onto the road and the guys in fatigues guarding the dam are yelling one mile to go! I'm cramping so bad I can't pedal, but damn it I will not lose a spot now ... check behind me, all clear, go go go ... holy crap there's a biker convention in the parking lot, navigate my way past rumbling Harleys, there's the bridge, up and over, and ... done. Whew! 7:22, good enough for 19th. Yes! The dip in the river, chamois and all, felt soooooo gooooood ...

I did lose time to my 24-hour brethren -- no telling if grouping up would have cost me more, or less. The flip side is, I'm exactly where I want to be, just 7 weeks out from Big Bear -- a few more high-end workouts to hone the form, and I'll be ready for those extra efforts in June ... They've already raced a bit, so I've got some catch-up to do. And yeah, I'm waaaay off the finishing time of Chris and Jeremiah, but I didn't expect to be there either ...

All in all, a great way to get the party started!

23 April 2009

My day

Breakfast ...
... Lunch ...

22 April 2009

So. Busy.

(Courtesy Tipping Point Photo ... flickr stream here)

I have become a ping-pong ball. It's all good, but holy crap -- moving from one thing to the next to the next in a constant stream of "need to do this now." In the 10 minutes I've been catching up on blogs (why am I doing this?), I've received more than an email a minute that now demands my attention. Yikes.

Even my neurotic A-type racer has had to take a back seat -- I've only checked the weather for Copperhill, Tenn., once, and I haven't printed out any maps or instructions yet. And we leave in 26 hours. Yikes.

On the other hand, my neurotic A-type racer persona hasn't had a chance to be an ass, I've been so focused on other stuff. I'm packed (yes, I'm bringing the Rukus), the bike is dialed, the backup wheel is rebuilt -- but I haven't had time to savor the fact that the 2009 season is about to begin! Instead, it's web site design, press call-outs, clothing orders and sticker runs ...

Geez, two more emails. Yikes.

On the home front, Kate is doing awesome. Saturday was her first formal photo shoot, a small preview of which can be seen by clicking on the link above. She was awesome, didn't smile as much as we might have liked (despite Jon and the caterpillar!), but Liz did an awesome job of capturing our family in a way that really shows who we are now, at this very special point in time. That's the mark of a great photographer.

Cohutta awaits.

17 April 2009

Easter

Some photos from last Sunday -- I luv my girls! (and yes, there's a common theme of my daughter sticking her hand in her mouth!)








Finally got the monkey off my back this morning with a really solid VO2 workout. Let's just say that 2+2 gets pretty darned close to 5. Yeah baby!

15 April 2009

Today

Today is my Siren Song's birthday ... happy birthday to the best bike ever! Brendan etched "Tax Day 2008" into the bottom bracket, and I think there's an inspirational message hidden in the tubes somewhere too? I feel horrible that I dented it so badly at Moab, and can't wait for Brendan to show it a bit of love during a break in the action this season. Still, at 1 year and counting, we're going strong and getting stronger!

In other news, HUGE congrats to World Bicycle Relief supporter and all-around cool dude Kurt Refsnider for WINNING the AZT 300 and SETTING A NEW COURSE RECORD! If you think I've been training a lot, flip over to his blog to follow his preparations for the Tour Divide 2009 ... sporting Siren Fred Bars of course! Kurt is absolutely going to kill it, and spread some WBR love along the way! He'll be at an after-hours party at Boulder CycleSport tomorrow night with the head of World Bicycle Relief's Team Grassroots efforts, Katie Bolling. Stop by if you have a chance!

That's it, I'm out. Registrations are in hand for Big Bear and 9 Mile, Moab will have to wait. Holy cow, is it almost time to race?

14 April 2009

Solo fees

Lots and lots of comments about the cost increase at 9 Mile this year. Granny Gear doesn't publicize this, but does it change your mind on which class you join?

The Men's Solo class is a Pro class: half of the entry fee contributes to the cash purse for the class.

... and then, 30% of each race's purse goes to building the pot for the Series.

I know Kevin's payouts weren't very deep. Will Laird change the paradigm? Or for those of you who aren't racing the Series, are you just feeling like you're subsidizing those who are? And if you're not racing for a top spot in a given race, do you feel like you're just subsidizing those who are? How is that different than any other race you do?

Blame Canada

Friggin' Canadian air mass (emphasis added):

Chicagoans brace for early March level temperatures Tuesday, with readings more than 15 degrees below normal, as the area moves into an 11th consecutive day of sub-normal temperatures. This month's 41.0-degree average temperature is 3.6-degrees below the long-term 138-year average—cool enough to rank among the chilliest 20 percent of April 1-14 periods on the books. It's the first April here in 25 years that has failed to host a single 60-degree daytime high.

The Chicago area remains mired in the same damp, raw northeasterly flow responsible Monday for the chilliest Cubs home opener since 2004. The storm system behind the gray skies, expected to linger into Wednesday morning, has become ensnared in what meteorologists refer to as an atmospheric blocking pattern. These patterns involve jet stream configurations that impede the forward movement of weather systems under their control. In this case, a pool of warm air aloft over southern Canada has encouraged jet stream winds to split into two distinct channels. As these streams re-converge to over the northeast U.S., the confluent winds produce a pressure build-up aloft that forces air to sink to the surface on a massive scale. A high pressure system results which slows weather system movement to the west.

Anyway, good news today as SRAM Wins Best Place to Work Award. My former employer was going nuts just before I left trying to get named to a Chicago-area list. The most they had going for them was a killer workout facility, which was pretty much a pet project of the owner. Of course, it also led to my departure, as I ended up hiding out down there more often than I should have ... Anyway, give me a national-caliber, outdoor-oriented Best Place to Work any day!
And in even BIGGER news ... Kate rolled over this morning! She's been so close for a couple of weeks, and when I woke her up this morning she was halfway over. We took her out to the front room and put a toy just beyond her reach ... and woo-hoo! Baby butt!

It's so convenient that she keeps doing stuff on her day to take block photos, isn't it?

At any rate, spring will be here ... sometime ...

13 April 2009

Why is my alarm going off?

On a schedule this weekend: Filling out my yearly pass purchase as the sun came up, finishing up my first round trip before the trails got crowded, done and at the General Store by noon. Fantastic day at Kettle, exactly what I needed to blow out the cobwebs. The crew has done an amazing amount of work up there, so much so that even with bushwacking the first connector section, my loops rivaled last summer's times despite the new-cut trails. Ron told us that 2009 would see "Emma become fun again," and he's right. Not complete, but getting there.

And when did those damn gravel hills get to be so steep?

Truth is, I crawled back south on the second loop, legs and lungs done for the day. But a singlespeeder decided to race me home after the road, and I obliged ... damn I love my Song. Rolling through the pine forest with the drops, bunny-hopping the rocks, tearing up that last climb ... sweet.

Sorry if I didn't stop to chat, but I was on a schedule!

Back in time for my haircut, then home to hang with the K's. Family outing to Whole Foods and a long walk back with AmyD capped off a beautiful Saturday.

So when Sunday morning rolled around and I asked Kim "Why is my alarm going off?", I almost threw the schedule out the window. But the Alpenglow called, and dawn had me flying south on the LFP with a fun tailwind. Back home for a quick change, then brunch with my family ... too much sugar and not enough coffee and I was dragging by the time of the egg hunt ... only to perk up again in time to ride over to the in-law's, putting in a bit of hill time along the way. The last of the cold hacked its way out somewhere on Garden Valley Road, and then it was dinner with the A's and the K's (with an N thrown in), and then passing out with Kate in the back room until it was time to drive home. Keeping to the schedule, in bed by 10 and all of a sudden Easter was over and it's Monday again!

So ... why is my alarm going off?

10 April 2009

Rebirth

Those of you who know me know that I'm not real religious. My joke is that I went to a Catholic university and learned how not to believe. (Credit the Jesuits for "critical thinking.")

But there is one very Christian holiday that I absolutely love: Easter. Twenty-nine years ago this Sunday, I took my first bike ride. I coasted down our driveway and ... THWACK! Straight into our mailbox. Down but not out, I got back on, and my life's journey began.

I rode a ton as a kid, first on my K-Mart bike with the red banana seat, later on the second-hand BMX bike, and then my dad's 10-speed and my blue Sears Free Spirit that I got for my 12th birthday. My brother and I ran "Strout's Bike Shop" out of our garage in the summers (I still have our price list -- 25 cents to lube your chain!), and my best friend Jeff and I rode everywhere dreaming of how bikes would someday replace cars. For my 14th birthday I saved enough to buy a Miyata TripleCross -- I wanted a Cannondale road bike, but my dad didn't think it was practical enough.

I did a report in 2nd grade, around the time I learned to ride, about Belgium and Luxembourg, and I learned about Eddy Merckx and the Tour de France. I rode everywhere, taking the Prairie Path to Aurora in the summers, and north to Crystal Lake before there was even a path to ride. I got ahold of Bicycling sometimes, back when it was a real magazine. I got accused of shaving my legs in 6th grade. I watched Wide World of Sports any time there was a hint of cycling, becoming enamored with Lon Haldeman and RAAM, and -- of course -- the Tour. When Hinault and Lemond held hands at the top of Alpe d'Huez, I was already smitten.

Eventually cars, girls and cigarettes took over and I lost the urge to ride. I got bigger. My dad, meanwhile, started up. On Easter 1992 I took his brand-new Specialized Epic around the block for a spin, my first ride since I had left for college. I took the Miyata with me that fall for my sophomore year, and my girlfriend and I enjoyed a couple of rides along Milwaukee's lakefront.

She broke up with me the next spring, and I tried to forget about her by riding the Milwaukee County trail system as far as I could. By Easter, though, there was more bad news, starting a tailspin that lasted a long, long while. I didn't ride a bike again for nearly 7 years.

Zach Thornton and Christian Vande Velde saved my life. Around Easter of 1998, Kim and I attended the first Chicago Fire soccer game at Soldier Field, and I realized that Fire goalie Thornton was my age, my height, and was 75 pounds lighter and a whole lot more muscular than me. By Easter 1999, through running and playing soccer, I had lost 120 pounds and was entering my first running race. I did a group run in Evanston, and we got passed by what I would later learn was the Judson ride ... I just stared, remembering the pageantry and beauty of the bicycle.

That summer, Kim and I followed Christian's journal in the Chicago Tribune as he competed in his first Tour de France, supporting Lance to his first victory. As we were watching the finale on the Champs Elysees on Wide World of Sports, Kim turned to me and said, "Someday I'd like to go to France to see the Tour." All those emotions came flooding back from my childhood, and I agreed immediately ... to do it "someday."

I got injured that fall, having run too far, too quickly in my quest to qualify for Boston. In January 2000, I rode my Miyata along the Lakefront Path for the first time. It was one of those 50-degree January days ... and my Biopace chainrings killed my knees. (I still have trouble with them, stemming from that ride!) By Easter, we were moving out of Chicago for Evanston, and I remember asking Kim if I could switch from running to cycling. "It's an expensive sport," I told her. I went shopping at Turin and The (old) Pony Shop, and in early June got my first road bike. I was scared out of my mind to try racing, but with Kim's encouragement I raced Downer's Grove that August as a Citizen. I finished a half-lap down, completely destroyed, but I was hooked ... and I vowed that I would "someday" race on Sunday, in the upper categories. Along the way, Kim helped me to learn that "someday" can happen sooner than you think.

I got my first Cat. 5 license in early 2001, and right around Easter Kim and I took a ride up Sheridan Road together. I remember being passed by Troy, Todd and the group, and -- with Kim's encouragement -- turning around and chasing them down. They dropped me 3 times on the way home, as I struggled up each little incline. It was my first group ride, and Troy made the group wait for me, and after I healed from knee surgery two weeks later, I would join them on their 5:45 rides for a very long time. And I'd finally find out what Judson was all about.

That summer, Kim and I went to France for the first time, catching the Tour first in Belgium and then as they sped through Strasbourg and the Alps. I rode with Frankie Andreau, and climbed Alpe d'Huez, crossing the line just in time to join our group as Lance gave "The Look" on his way to clinching his third Tour title. I lived my dream of parting the sea of orange in the small hamlet of Huez ... and the next day speeding down the valley from Deux Alpes along a roaring Alpine river. Three weeks later I took second place in the Cat. 5 race at Downer's Grove and earned my first upgrade.

So here we are, 29 years after that first solo ride. As I do every Easter, I will celebrate with another ride, relishing the freedom and tranquility that this simple machine has given me for the better part of three decades. It's my own form of renewal, as I look back on everything that has come before, and ahead to the impending racing season. So if you see me this Sunday, don't be surprised if I have a far-off gaze in my eyes, as I remember that first coast down the driveway and ... THWACK!

09 April 2009

By the numbers

Back to the grind on Tuesday. Went out too hard again, last one aborted. Made up for it with a perfect commute home that night, number five all-time, number two home. Downloaded to find out that the numbers were good, really good, I just need to be more in control. Get 'em next time.

Wednesday went well by contrast, sub-tempo can be fun. Getting tired of the road bike though. Morning-lunch-home, late for bath time because it sucks getting dressed for 20 minutes each night. When will spring finally arrive? Sorry sweetie(s).

Woke up and used the scale: haven't been this light since I was a runner. Damn. Easy today, riding the Rush home so I can pack it out to my dad. Sweet rebuild, all X-9 with Elixirs. Sad to see it go, but happy at the same time.

Tomorrow should be interesting. You know, I almost feel a "Kettle" cough coming on ...

08 April 2009

"Q" luv

See, the way I figure it, get her started early, and by the time she's working in the industry I'll be just old enough to afford that biking retirement Kim and I are planning in Europe ...






07 April 2009

Kate-een weeks!

Wow. We pulled out the blocks last night and ... 18 weeks? REALLY?! Geez, time is starting to fly. "They" always tell you that, but now that it's happening ... geez!

We're way behind on uploading photos, sorry. Here's a couple of the latest batches, with links to the albums ...

Seventeen Weeks
Album here

I love my mommy ...

And my uncle!
Hmmm ... bottles go better with thumb!
Eighteen weeks

Check out my new trick ... SO CLOSE to rolling over!
... and to think this was just 7 weeks ago!
Finally, we've been trying so hard to figure out who Kate looks like. Last week I think we found our answer!

06 April 2009

Easy sleazy

Great ride in this morning -- CPS seems to be on spring break, so there's like 500 billion fewer people in the system -- fewer school busses, drivers, etc. Monday mornings are kind of tight time-wise, so it's Clark to Halsted for me, and with a tailwind all the way in, the week kicked off to a great start.

Last week turned out OK after all, finished up with a great road ride on the Song with Brad on Saturday, and managed a few (mostly) dry hours yesterday. Not what I wanted, but knock wood the cold is gone. We'll find out in the morning, when the dial goes back up to 11 ...

We're just 2-1/2 weeks out now. Holy cow, can that be?

03 April 2009

The "perfect" commute

Managed "perfect" commute number 4 this morning!

Here's the deal: I can't trackstand very well. So each morning and each evening, I set out on my rides in the hopes of having a bit of luck on my side: traffic breaks, signal timing, good flow -- all in an effort to get to or from work without putting a foot down.

Sounds easy, right? Ha -- consider that in the last mile and a half before I get to work, there are no fewer than 6 traffic signals and three stop signs. In the three miles between home and the LFP, there is an intersection every 1/8th of a mile. And remember -- I can't track stand very well!

I know I could be more aggressive, but the rules are that you can only voilate traffic laws if it's safe to do so -- like, you can only run a signal or stop sign if there is no traffic. No dodging cars or any other stupid moves. Shortcuts are allowable (I skip two signals by cutting through a parking lot), but no leaning against a vehicle in order to stay upright. Slow rolling "track stands" are OK as long as they don't put you in danger, but looping back and forth at a light is out ...

Anyway, last fall I pulled out two "perfect" AM commutes and one PM. And today was number four, and the first of 2009, made even better by the massive tailwind! Sure, it's a small victory, but it's a fun challenge ... I wonder what tonight will bring?

01 April 2009

Disturbed

Contrary to my musical taste, I'm not so "Down with the Sickness." In fact, sickness sucks. I thought I was good through Kate and then Kim, but sure enough, Sunday's post-snowstorm ride saw my HR struggling to rise and my legs feeling dead. By Monday morning my head was in a fog.

It's not that bad, and Kim kicked it pretty quickly, but it does push back my training a bit. Why do I seem to get bugs after a rest week? It also coincided with an enormous spike in work (thus, no posting), so it's all working out.

In the meantime, Saturday was incredible, with the tackiest conditions I've ever seen at Palos without ruining the trails. Ohmygosh, it felt so awesome to be on dirt. I even stayed up late the night before putting the Siren back together. Hmm ... not enough sleep ...