Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Heading West #cxnats2014

Great mooglie booglies another year has passed. Sitting at my computer two days before Christmas madly packing an RV and a trailer for CX Nats 2014 in Boulder, CO and wondering how we got to this point. This will be our fifth straight trip to USA Cycling's cyclocross nationals and our fifth straight year providing stories, pics, and other CX goodness from the event for The Best Bike Blog Ever.

When we look back at 2009 in Bend, OR I remember very little, literally. But, what I do remember is a rag tag group of a few kids from Lionhearts heading out to Bend. We bummed space on the Red Zone trailer for our bikes, we flew out and stayed in a Best Western. None of them had B bikes, tubular wheels, appropriate clothing for the cold, or really any idea what they were about to witness. I also know that I for one had no idea how much that trip would change me personally.

Even an RV has to stop at Chipotle
As we saddle up for a trip to Boulder we are laser focused on gear - B bikes, extra sets of tubular wheels, summer, winter, spring and fall riding gear, rain suits, winter suits, wet suits, snow boots, rain boots, tents, sides, heaters, battery operated-triggered air pumps, trailers for bikes, tow vehicles, RVs, travel companions, time for altitude adjustment, hotel rooms with kitchens paid for by Marriott points, coaches, extra mechanics, tool bags, pit bags, and I could keep going, but I am out of breath.

What hasn't changed is the passion for the sport - the passion for cycling. The four Lionhearts that will be making their fifth straight start at CX Nats love this sport. They dream about it at night. They ride 6 out of every 7 days. They read magazines and books about cycling. They talk with other kids their age that also ride all across the country. They text about their bike rides, how hard they were, and how they have to do a four hour trainer ride the next day (no, I didn't make that up).

Snug in their bed
Most importantly is the fact that no one makes them do it. Everything you see, hear, or read about them doing is voluntary. Sure there are days where they drag themselves out of bed early to get those openers in before traveling or before school, but they do it all on their own.

Whenever I feel at odds with what I am doing or feel like everything we embark to do is some crazy hair brained idea I take a look at M1 in the picture at the top racing at Bend in 2009 in sub-freezing temps in a freshly fallen snow. A smile comes to my face while a tear hits the corner of my eye. It isn't about me any more, she has made it her own.

These are the best days of our lives.

Meanwhile, look for me on a curb near you. Someone's got to keep the RV rolling while the kids get their sleep and keep their legs in compression tights in a vertical position.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mental vs. Physical

Coaching kids has amazing challenges, but never the ones you think about. This is odd, because thinking is the problem. There are many things I must learn, including not to take anything for granted, period. Just when you think a kid has figured things out and has it all figured out, something comes out and slaps you in the face, something that is hard to manage or deal with during the frenetic race day prep cycle.

Today was one of those experience where despite all the preparation for race day things didn't turn out how we visualize them. As fathers/coaches as we miss the point of view we should be looking from.

The kids have a perspective that you can't predict and despite many of the kids have a good year of racing behind them today was a challenge. If you haven't done Fisherman's Park (FishStix) you aren't expecting what you get when you roll up to the course. There simply is not another course or park like it on the OVCX tour. While it is not outrageously technical, there are features that most can not replicate in their practices at their local parks. For kids this "fresh" perspective is hard to piece together in a one or two lap pre-ride of the course before the race.

To be disappointed in results in this case would be irresponsible and not reflective of the effort put forth by the kids. They rode hard and persevered, a couple kids even finished the race after being informed their dad broke his ankle, and learned a lot. In the end that is what we are looking for this early in the season. Fitness and speed doesn't come right away, it has to be earned and takes time to develop. The kids are certainly reaching that point quickly and will soon learn that the efforts they put in today will reap more benefits later. 

The benefits are the ability to react instead of think. While some have been riding long enough to not remember this, each new element takes a bit to "comprehend". Not comprehend in the send of looking at the elements and saying "Oh, I see that". Comprehension for these elements is the ability to react quickly and navigate an element without brain lock. Brain lock makes a rider slow, and if you brain lock 3 or 4 times on a lap, well it 'looks' like you aren't going fast.

The brain needs as much training as the quads, and in the case of Fishstix it might need more training. The body can only do what the brain tells it to do as fast as the brain can provide instructions.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Special Socks

To the naked eye most socks look a lot a like. Most are the same general shape with the difference being the height of the cuff and the colors chosen to decorate the sock. There are a lot of different styles, but in the end the shape is exactly the same and designed to provide cushion and protection for your feet in your shoes.

To a Cat 3 racer no socks are alike. They all still perform the same function, but there are some that just feel better. The feeling has nothing to do with foot comfort, whether the sock has cushions or are made of special merino wool, but the feeling is all mental. That feeling is knowing the time, effort, and dedication that made those socks yours.

Every racer I know jokes about "racing for socks" and that taking risks aren't worth the socks you will be rewarded with at the end of the race. In the end you aren't racing for those socks, you are racing for something very different and something that you can't assign to a possession. You are racing for achievement and the self-assurance that the time and effort spent over how ever many months it took you to get those socks was worth every minute.

For a majority of racers the dream of being a Category 1 racer in any category isn't unrealistic. The required time, genetic attributes, or financial backing are missing for a lot of category 3 racers, but that doesn't stop them from trying. Ask any 40+ year old category 3 racer about the good season and bad seasons and 9 out of 10 will relay that year where they were on it. They were unstoppable and could ride with the big dogs for a while, even if they couldn't beat them. They could place consistently in their category 3 races and it felt good. The same 9 out of 10 will also relay those years where their job, family, health, or another of life's gotchas preceded their desire to ride their bikes. They lost that year and then it took another year to get back into shape to race at a competitive level in the category 3 races.

I too can relay the good years and bad years, some times one right after the other. There was one year where I won several pairs of socks and then the following year had an accident and took three years to get back to where I could even think about winning a pair of socks.

Sure, you can say that the socks are a display of the glory years, that is a fine analogy. Cycling is too hard to not have something to display for your efforts. Socks may be trivial in many ways, but I still remember winning a pair of Domo Farm-Frites socks in 2003 at a road race where I busted my butt. I can also remember a pair of Descente socks I got at a crit in 1991 in college. I don't still have the Descente socks, but I still have the Domo Farm-Frites socks.

Say what you want, but if the sock fits, wear it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Kings CX Weekend Recap

When Kings CX Weekend was created I never anticipated what it has become. The simple idea was a warm up race followed by an OVCX race to get the season started off, give everyone a chance to get the kinks out and then do some real racing.

This year we followed the same plan and put together what we thought was a pretty sweet course. Without any rain Kingswood was as hard as tarmac and finding nifty challenges through the course to try to keep the Elite's lap time over 5 minutes was starting to be a challenge. We managed to do that and with it being so dry it actually helped slow them down a touch since every corner was pure dust. If you overcooked a corner the course made you pay for it - or it made you strategically run through some tape. The course held its own and made people ride hard, fast, and take the necessary risks that define cyclocross racing success. There wasn't any mud or crazy hard stuff, but with the speed a slip would take you back a few spots and make you work to earn them back.

Organization wise the volunteers were amazing. So many people helping in so many ways and with no real way to adequately say thank you to all of them. Every time I turned around there was someone else who wanted something to do. When we were done with the tear down after the event there were people still hanging out and not leaving. Either they were basking in what we had just done, or told their wives they would be home at seven and since it was still before six they were milking it that much longer.

The highlight of my weekend of racing were my daughters. I have chronicled a lot of the steps and process we have gone through getting them into racing and working with them over the last year. The transition for each of them has been amazing to watch - and they each had a different experience this weekend.

Maddie went into the weekend very nervous and having not done two races in the same weekend on back to back days. The experience was going to be important to her development to understand several aspects of racing. First she was nervous - who would be there? How fast would they be? Were there any other Red Zone riders coming? Was Frances coming? How was she going to keep up? Why were the boys always in her way?

The first day went great for Maddie. She was pretty calm and collected and ready to go. The previous week's experience at Apple Cross had helped her figure out the process and combined with all the Kings CX TT practice she was ready. She took off pretty well at the start and collected a first place on the day.

The second day was a bit tougher. She woke up sore from the riding of the day before and was sure she was probably not going to be able to move. But she quickly figured out that her body would warm up and get loose and ready to roll. She was clearly not as motivated or fast, but that didn't matter - her only goal was to ride well and finish. She picked up second behind Frances and life was good.

Then this morning she nearly cried trying to get out of bed. How will I make it!?! A warm shower and some coaxing from Mom and she was out the door to the bus and in a much better mood after school. Quite the learning for her to figure out and clearly a moment where she started to understand her capabilities.

Kenzie was a different story than Maddie. She has raced back to back days several times previous to this weekend and knew what the drill would be - and how it should be approached. The bigger issue would be remembering to do all those things we had learned last year - especially with me being completely out of pocket running the event.

Her race got started and you could see in her eyes that the focus and attention was not there. She was riding, but not racing, and after the race she knew. She has grown so much in the past year that no one needed to even approach her on what happened, she offered up all on her own. She knew that she hadn't warmed up properly, hadn't eaten properly, and that lead to mental difficulties focusing and physical difficulties performing. While we aren't worried about results, we want the girls to understand the value of preparation and being ready for events, whether they are athletic or otherwise.

Kenzie knew what she needed to do and talked to the right people about what to do the next day. Malissa was a huge help because as it turns out nutrition is a difficult thing for someone of Kenzie's metabolism and slight build. This is an issue I have never faced, but not of slight build and capable of going all day on peanut butter toast at 6:30am. Malissa and Kenzie set up a plan for the next day that included the proper nutrition and the proper warm up before her race.

Kenzie toed the line with four other Nationals level competitors in the girls 13-14 race and you could see the different level of focus in her eyes. The timid, nervous girl of Saturday had left and the determined girl of Sunday had shown up. Maybe she is just mean to race on Sundays, but about a lap into the race she unleashed the best riding I have seen her do in the 14 months she has been riding.

Kenzie was clearly behind two other girls that have been stronger than her through this early season after the first lap, but put in an effort to catch both of them individually and pass them and then turn on the power. She was riding with a look in her eyes that told me not only does racing mean something to her, but that she really wants it. No matter how hard you try as a coach or a dad you can't create or coach that look, that determination, the kids have to want it themselves and it has to be up to them. She wanted to win and at a minimum wanted to do well on this Sunday and was putting in the effort to make it happen.

In the most exciting sprint of a Girls 13-14 cyclocross race I have ever seen, and probably the most exciting sprint of the weekend for all races, she and Katherine sprinted it out for first place. Kenzie was pipped at the line and took second place home, but took home a lot more than a second place prize for her efforts. The desire has to come from within, but confidence also has to be earned to stoke that desire. Kenzie helped stoke that desire this weekend and got the feedback she needed to know that the efforts are not going without results.

The competition in the girls 13-14 juniors this year is going to be fantastic and teach the girls a lot about competition and racing.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The $22 Group Ride - Things to do...

Racing can be funny at times. You always arrive expecting a really hard effort and almost always get that hard effort. Racing in the Cat 3s is typically also that middle ground category where you will also get some team tactics in play, and sometimes it is executed well. In the spring you also expect to battle wind, rain, snow, gravel, and whatever else is left over from the winter.

But today was one of those days where very few of these items applied. I did put in a hard effort and spent some time in one break where my brain was engaged but my legs weren't as engaged, but for the most part today was a group ride. Appeared to be about 60 of us rolling around the Warren County roads do our best impression of a 5 year old soccer team swarming the ball at all times.

The first thing you know in a race like this is that the finish is going to be stressful. All 40+ remaining souls will be riding 30+ mph, grabbing whatever sliver of pavement they can get their tire into, trying to find a way to finish as close to the front as possible. So, to pass the time and get to the end there are a few activities you can do within  the peloton to prevent your brain from thinking about the inevitable mass sprint finish that will complete the day.

Calculate Total Bike Cost

One thing we all know about the Cat 3 group is that there is some cash rolling around. This is not a slam on any of the Cat 3 riders, but with a large number being in their 30's and 40's and having real jobs there is some bling rolling around the course. From the nearly all-white Ridley Noah to the brand new Floyd Landis intended Kuota and everywhere in between. To do this you have to think in retail and MSRP only. you could try to figure out who got a deal and who paid retail, but that is distracting you from the real task - adding up the bling. Today it appeared that there was close to $250,000 worth of bikes in the Cat 3s alone, though wheels are harder to quickly estimate than frames and components. Zipps and Mavics are easy, but the rest becomes more difficult. The best part of this game is that it forces you to move through the pack and learn how to navigate through, building your skills for crit and cyclocross season.

Estimate the Finish

About the fourth lap of the race it was pretty well reasoned that this race would be a sprint finish. There was very little wind, no hills of a substantial nature, and no dominant attacking team tearing things apart. At this point you start to think about who is good in a sprint, who has a team to get them to the sprint, and who you remember getting beaten by in a sprint. The goal is to translate this into identifying the top 3 for the race on the day. Given that I personally am not a sprinter, this is a game I can play without impacting my results. Today I didn't get to play this game, I was busy adding up bike costs. But I fancy this game at the Georgetown race as that seems like an ideal candidate for another $22 Group Ride.

There are more peloton games that can be played in a race such as this or just a group ride. We will discuss those a bit later. I enjoyed today's ride, but these aren't really the races I prefer. I realize, of course, that I only have myself to blame for not being in the condition I need to be to have Cat 3 breakaway speed. As a result a $22 Group Ride is pretty good training for me right now.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mountain Joy

Hesitation was the word preceeding the first attempt at mountain biking with three of the junior LionHearts. I have been working with them through the winter and talking about doing some mountain biking with them to give them some other experience and some better handling skills.

After a long winter of lots of snow and cold weather we finally got a streak of warm weather and decided to hit the trails. The four of us, myself and three of the LionHearts, hit up East Fork on a beautiful Friday morning.

 The initial trepidation soon turned into a calm interest, then to a bit of excitement, then into all out mountain joy. They had never been on a real mountain bike trail with logs and rock and long stretches of curves, downhills, uphills and fun jumps. After about 20 minutes they were all hooked, but each in their own way.

Zane was initially hesitant to mountain bike. When I talked to him mom about mountain biking she told me that he had said that mountain biking was no fun and there wasn't any reason to ride a mountain bike. Whether it was just because his mom was saying it or some pre-disposition against mountain biking, his tune had started to change. We got his mom's mountain bike set up to fit him and refreshed some of the components to make it more rideable and he gave it a shot.

Within minutes he was almost shrieking with excitement. The kind of excitement that almost makes a young boy drool, but definitely turns them into a non-stop commentary on how something is so cool and that he had no idea why he hadn't done this before and that he had never been on real mountain bike trails before now and it was AWESOME!

Spencer was excited, but in a much different way. He was talkative, which is more of a trait than an occassion, and was sure to let everyone know it was cool. However, his excitement was more of a realization that his years spent on a motocross bike were not left to waste. He had now combined his two favorite sports from the past few years, cyclocross biking and motocross, into a single sport. He got to be the motor in addition to dodging obstacles and ramping himself wildly over log ramps that I know Butch had fun putting together.

Mackenzie was a different sort of excited, an excited that a girl shows and boys (and dad's) have a hard time understanding. She found it a lot more interesting than road riding, but mentally was struggling with obstacle clearance. She hadn't seen these things on a bike before. How was she supposed to riding over roots, stones, and rough terrain, especially downhill, when no one gave her the book to read before hand and understand everything about it. The excitement was certainly there, but more muted as she was waiting for a completed operator's manual before letting it all loose.

We had about a 2 hour ride on the trails at East Fork and every one got muddy. The trails were really in great condition except for a few minor spots where water had pooled up and a few small "puddles" throughout the trail system.

Tonight we headed out again, this time to Landen-Deerfield. The trail system was more torn up and you could tell that riders hadn't respected the trail through the winter and wet months. We rode out to a section that was solid along the creek and found a section we could do over and over, including the creek crossings that were still very much in tact.

Now there was some fun to be had. At East Fork we hadn't gotten into any real good creek crossing, but Deerfield showed us something with both creek section we did showing some good water volume. The kids all shrieked.

Kids: "Do we ride over that?"
Me: "Well, yeah, of course, why not?"
Kids: "Huh? Really?"

So we traversed the creeks, some of us falling in the water and soaking ourselves thoroughly. Much laughter and fun was had by everyone. Towards the end of the ride we were trying to get in a few more laps of our safe course we had found including both creek crossings and within about a 10 minute span we had 3 flats on three different bikes. They were all from hitting the trails with speed and trying new things, to which Zane exclaimed:

"You can tell we had a really good ride because we got flat tires! That is the sign of a great ride!"

Sunday, February 28, 2010

New Level of Pain

For the last six weeks we have been working with ten kids and their cycling skills. You may be asking exactly how that can be done given that Cincinnati has had way too much snow and weather cold enough that even the heartiest of riders were deciding it was better to ride indoors.

When we first met six weeks ago we introduced the kids to indoor trainers, the evil side of road cycling in the winter. By February every Cat 3 racer I know loathes the trainer and many just go outside and ride in 22 degree weather because they can't take it any more. The pain of potential frostbite becomes far more entertaining than the pain of sitting on the trainer for another two hours in the basement.

To counteract this we also introduced them to their goal - the Team Dayton Indoor Time Trial. This time trial is a standard length of 6.2 miles and is known round the world for indoor competition. The kids experienced the Computrainer time trial in the comfort of a small group over six weeks ago and then we starting a very basic training program.

Just give me three days a week. We asked them to do a very simple task - workout three days a week. Doesn't have to be cycling, just be active. Run. Jump. Do situps. Ride. Swim. Whatever. The parents were given the guidelines of "what counts" and away we went. The kids took to it. Some of the kids even got frustrated when they were too busy with school to get their workouts in - just like I am when I am too busy with work or home to get my work out in.

We met once a week in a structured workout to make it four total times a week of 30 minutes or more. We would meet for about an hour and a half and ride our bikes indoor for 45 minutes to an hour and then do some core routines for another 20 minutes or so. Sometimes we would throw in games with the Wii or other activities to keep things different, but the kids had a great time.

Today was the day we learned who had improved the most. In the spirit of local bicycle racing, we had two pairs of socks riding on the outcome. Of the ten kids, seven had done a pre-test on the Computrainer to set their baseline. Three girls were competing for a pair of knee high socks that are all the rage in cyclocross, and the boys were competing for a pair of wool Sasquatch socks. The boy and girl showing the most improvement percentage wise would win the prize.

These kids can compete. From the gun the kids were off. You could see it on their faces that they meant business and this was way more than just a six mile ride on their bikes. Whether it was the socks or just for pride they all worked their tail off. Two of them worked to the point of losing their lunch, to which we are grateful for the clean up crew.

More than anything they were each finding a new level of pain they could endure. The average improvement for the kids was 12% - that is substantial. While I would love to take credit for designing a program that promises 12% percent improvement, I know competition had more to do with it. Most times these kids never see the other racers. They are often alone working by themselves. With the time trial they all knew where everyone was - and they knew exactly what to do to catch them - go faster.

They went faster. Most went faster than I or their parents had ever seen. My own daughter told me she went faster than she had ever gone before. While she may not realize it, she also found a new level of pain she could endure. Bicycle racing is a lot about enduring pain. Not letting the pain stop you from pressing forward harder and harder. We all know that the pain we feel isn't our muscles ripping from the bone. We can all press forward if we have the mental capacity to push through it.

The kids found a new hurt locker today.

The boy that showed the most improvement lowered his time by over 20% today. He earned every bit of it. His parents were proud, but were trying to get him to zip up his jersey as he stood outside on a 35 degree day trying to cool off after his effort. This guy loves his bike. At the age of 10 he was out riding his bike this week in 25-35 degree weather. Working hard, trying to get faster on his bike to race.

The girl that showed the most improvement lower her time almost 10%. This included fighting a high ankle sprain for the last two weeks as well as trying to work through knee soreness experienced after growing like a weed over the last 6-8 months. She wasn't sitting out.

Another boy took his time to 21:51 over 6.2 miles. That is over 17mph on a rolling course for an eleven year old. A 12 year old girl averaged close to 16 mph and showed 8% improvement. The list goes on....

But none of this touched my heart as much as my own 9 year old. She woke up Sunday morning and was worried. Not worried about the time trial, but worried that we wouldn't let her do the time trial. She was running a very low fever and didn't really feel well, but there would be no talking her out of going. She showed marginal improvement, but the attitude was way more important. Some days you look at your kids and think maybe they finally understand what you have been saying to them.

It is only February and I am already anxious to get to Cyclocross season where these kids excel.