Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lurking in the shadows of greatness, Part 1

Regular readers of my blog likely already know who George Hincapie is. For those who may not be so familiar, here's the lowdown, from his website:

During his 19-year professional career Hincapie was regarded as the premier American classics rider of his generation. He competed in a record 17 Ronde van Vlaanderen races and finished second at the grueling Paris-Roubaix, the best ever for any American. Beyond the classics he rode in the Tour de France 17 times and won three US National Road Race championships.

And he's hot. (That's not from the website. That's from me).

At the end of February, I was already heading to the Los Angeles area for a week of cycling in the Santa Monica mountains, with AdventureCorps (details reserved for Part 2 of this posting).

Coincidentally, the Saturday I arrive in LA/Westlake Village there's a Gran Fondo in the area (won't be there in time for it) and a Time Trial on Sunday.

Dave is ready to explode trying to reach me with this news on my last day of work before a weeklong vacation: George Hincapie is hosting these events, staying at our hotel, making an appearance at a pre-race wine and cheese reception. Want in?

(HELL, YES!!!)

Stupid excited and with an uncharacteristic bit of bravado, I posted to Facebook a photo of me from last year's Tour of the Valley TT. I wrote in the description 'Better watch out, George Hincapie. I'm coming to get you." And then I tagged him in the photo. And then I got a bunch of likes from my Facebook friends. And then I got a 'like' from George Hincapie.

Holy smoke! Did I really just challenge a 17 time TdF pro in an amateur race? Always finding new ways to get myself in trouble.

Saturday: Arrived in Westlake Village in the afternoon. Put our bikes together (they were shipped from Cleveland a week ago). Reconnect with long-time AdventureCorps friends, and then, off to the Stonehaus wine bar!

Registration table: His bike is parked in front, fresh (?) from the day's Gran Fondo. BIG bike, nameplate on the top tube. I'm in awe. Where's GH? Not here yet, but I sense his presence.

Registration list: I see my name on the start list, 8:30. I'm starting 6 minutes behind George Hincapie! How cool is it to see your name on the same list as your favorite pro rider?

What will I say to him when I meet him? "Hi, George. I'm Pam. I'm the one who dropped the gauntlet on you on Facebook, remember?" I need liquid courage.

He walks in, people flock to him like iron shavings to a magnet. I'm patient, waiting for my moment. I wait for one overly-eager guest to start in on day 6 of his entire life's story, then I cut in. Introduce myself, name drop (turns out we have a friend in common). Photo op. Wonder if he remembers my challenge to him. Decide not to go there.

Sunday morning: Jill and Tim go with us to the TT start, in Malibu. The race is 20K, a one way all-out along the Pacific Coast Highway. Awesome. Crazy awesome.

PCH is not exactly Deerfield. It's not a road you can warm up on,  because it's 4 lanes of wanna-be race car drivers.  I find a short climb nearby, go up and down that a few times before remembering that I should probably not stress too much about this race. This is for fun. I don't even have a proper TT bike - just my good ol' workhorse Bianchi  with the added-on climbing cogset and the 25 mm tires. Perfect for the long rides and steep climbs ahead, not ideal but perfectly fine for this TT. I go to the line early.

Tim and Jill are watching riders take off. They're watching Dave and I fiddle with our bib numbers. They're watching George Hincapie sidle up to the start line, stop next to me, and, as Tim would later recount, 'chat like they're old friends' (you have to imagine this in a Minnesota accent).

(Dave says Tim was jealous. No worries, Tim, you know who's still my favorite person of all time to ride with.)

Last thing I said to George before he went to the start line:
"You  know I'm only 6 minutes behind you."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I think I lost my fire

I can't do this anymore. I can't force myself to burn my legs out on this indoor trainer. I can't bring images of future glory to factor into my motivation. I have no motivation left.

This winter has been hard, harder than any in recent years - at least in the years since I've been training indoors in the winter. I'm told that this is what winter used to be like, back in the 60's and 70's. I think I would remember, but I wasn't riding inside at that time and, besides, I didn't feel the cold the same way as a kid that I do now. I think I used to like it.

But I'm done trying to HTFU. I'm done 'embracing the suck'. The suck became too big to embrace. The suck became the drunken uncle that always wants to open mouth kiss you at Christmas. No no no no no...

I want to move to a place where a 'chilly' day is one that is 70° and sunny. With no wind.

Because I just. Can't. Keep. Going. Like. This. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One more time to finish out the year

I left early, well ahead of the predicted arctic blast that was to deliver the next round of snow and bone-chilling cold.

I've done this enough times that it has become a ritual: base layer, tights, wool socks, jersey, arm warmers. Those hand warmer things for my feet, wrapped up in Windstopper shoe covers. A quick assessment of current conditions: Gore jacket, full finger gloves (not the lobster claws today), just enough fuel for a 2-and-a half hour ride. Automatic. It doesn't take me long to get out the door.

The route is familiar, and easy enough even on a fixie. I ride the trail near my home on days like this because I don't want to have to think about traffic or route selection. One of my favorite things to do on a bike, as you well know, is to get lost. But on my winter rides, I prefer to not get off-the-map lost, but to ride where my thoughts can wander around while my body stays with the task at hand.

Typical winter training ride.

Until it started raining.

First there were just a few cold, wet kisses on my face. I pulled my buff up higher, up to my eyes. I cursed my complacency for not packing any rain gear. Let's just cut to the chase and say that, within 10 minutes, I was soaked to the skin, and I still had a long way to go.

I've met The Man with the Hammer before. The first time was many years ago, on a long ride that I wasn't prepared for. That day, underfueled and riding with a group of fast friends, I became dizzy and nauseated, a typical bonk. I had to get off the bike until the world stopped spinning. I vowed never again to meet him this way.

The next time was in the desert. I admit that we meet there frequently. After hours of riding into a huge headwind and not getting very far, I felt The Man breathing down my neck. I pretended not to notice. My false detachment just seems to encourage him;  he becomes more persistent.

And there he was again, for one last visit to end the year. Fingers and feet frozen, lungs burning from the fresh cold, snot pouring out my nose and unable to see through foggy glasses, I seriously wondered if I was going to make it back home.

I considered my options:
  1. Hide out for a while under the shelter of a bridge.
  2. Cut the ride short and call for a pick-up.
  3. Stop thinking about it, and keep going.

I kept going.

Next year, I hope for more days on the bike where I have serious doubts about making it to the finish. If you've never had this experience, I suggest seeking out a reason to up the ante, and find opportunities that take you all the way to your edge. I'm not saying that you should actually make a date with the Man with the Hammer; I'm just saying that you shouldn't go out of your way to avoid him.

Riding no-handed for the last few miles, I tucked my balled-up fists under my armpits for warmth. I arrived home with all digits intact (blood flow returns - painfully - under a steady stream of hot water), looking like something that was dredged out of a lake. Dave helped peel off the wet layers, offered me a shot of bourbon, and asked why I hadn't called him for a ride home.

Because I know what he would have told me. And I know how I would have felt if I pulled in to my driveway under anything but my own volition.

The Man with the Hammer has taught me a thing or two over the years!

Here's to a New Year of all good things. Approach it with a clear mind, an open heart, and the courage to keep going.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fuel for the Fire

Dressed all in indignation and plenty of Gore Tex

This is what motivates me to ride outside all winter long:
  • The other option is riding inside on a trainer for 3 hours
  • A splash of vodka in each water bottle (to keep them from freezing, of course)
  • I like to suffer and I need to exorcise demons
  • Cold air brings clarity
  • Dopamine keeps me on the high road
  • Physical discomfort expels the emotional variety. Or, as one of my teammates recently expressed it, 'My mind can't pay attention to both. Trade one pain for another.'
  • The small victory I achieve in summoning the activation energy required to overcome the 'holy shit it's cold out there' inertia
  • Cold weather riding steels my resolve
  • The taste of road salt
  • The long, way-too-hot shower at the end of the ride
  • The way my skin burns when that shower water hits where I embrocated
  • The solitude. Duh.
  • Putting Rule #6* into practice.
  • If winter is here, can spring be far behind?

*Rule #6
// Free your mind and your legs will follow.

Your mind is your worst enemy. Do all your thinking before you start riding your bike.  Once the pedals start to turn, wrap yourself in the sensations of the ride – the smell of the air, the sound of the tires, the feeling of flight as the bicycle rolls over the road.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Ideal Ratio of Masochism to Hedonism

This ad was in a recent issue of Bicycling magazine:

The tag line reads: Masochists tend to be more fit than hedonists.

I have no idea what product it's supposed to be selling (I'm a marketing agent's nightmare in that regard), even after going to the Optum website, which is really cool. No matter. I ripped the page out and tacked it to the wall of the pain cave, so I can put all of that indoor training in perspective at the very moment when I need some perspective.

It really makes you wonder why we endure all this suffering, particularly in the off season, when indoor workouts are the only option and why are they so freaking HARD?!

During my high-cadence workout early early one morning last week, in the time-space warp that makes a 5-minute interval feel like a lingering ride through the third circle of Hell and the 1 minute rest in between just enough time to grab a swig of hydration, I thought about the trade-off between pain and pleasure.

I readily admit: my Transition period was all about pleasure. There were tough workout days, of course, but these always came with immediate rewards: morning martinis after the Akron Half Marathon,  expensive cocktails after the Las Vegas Gran Fondo. Obviously, my hedonism mainly takes the form of things that come out of bottles, like a soused Genie.

Anyway, back to the indoor training thing.
My high-cadence drill workout, early season.

Sometime between 'I can do this' and 'WTF?', I started thinking that this masochism thing really isn't so bad. I felt like I was peeling off that layer of alcohol-induced insulation that I was working on over the past month. (I won't need it, no matter how cold Northeast Ohio winter gets. I have Gore-Tex). I was shedding the skin of the just-finished season, ready to begin the transformation into what I'll be next year when I roll up to that first starting line.

The suffering makes me tougher, and stronger. The suffering pushes me to where I used to think my limits were.

When I train, I often think about the reward I've just earned. (Maybe that second bottle of Mission IPA? Gardener martini, anyone?) But as soon as I get off the trainer, I weigh out the balance between that perceived reward and the pain I just put myself through. And you know what? I often find myself walking away from that so-called 'reward'. Because I know that the real reward isn't on that top shelf of immediate gratification.

The real reward is what happens during race season next year.

The real reward comes with strong finishes, podium photos, the satisfaction of a long and strong race season.

That's my kind of hedonism.

Friday, November 1, 2013

2013 season ends, 2014 training is about to start, and all the stuff in between

This season, more than any other since I started racing about 5 years ago, couldn't have ended any sooner. My most awesome season so far - with more racing, more variety, more focus (not to mention a couple of State Championship titles!) - was also the hardest I've ever worked at this sport.

And so it was that I was counting the days to Transition Week, which turned into Transition Month-and-a-Half, so that I could finally -finally! - go do something else for a change. Even if 'something else' maybe every once in a while involved a bike. Which it did, because, hey, after spending THAT much time on a bike all year, you kind of lose any of your other identifying characteristics (that I hope to reclaim between now and spring).

These are just some of the ways I've been occupying my time, now that I don't have to train for 'the next race':

  • Cheer on someone else who's season hasn't quite ended yet
Writing encouraging words to my favorite Furnace Creek 508 contender, in the middle of Death Valley, where he didn't see it anyway because of a re-route caused by some government shut-down thing.

Tim Marks with George Vargas at the end of the 2013 FC508

  • Indulge in something previously off-limits
Pisco Sour at VTR

  • Cross-train!
Akron Half-Marathon, post race with Dave and Beate. I won my age group!

  • Take the time to stop and smell Autumn in the air...
Along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath

The Headless Rider arrives! OK, not really...

  • Dress up stupid for a ride into town
Me and Angie in Valkyrie attire, at Lily's Chocolates in Tremont.

  • Hang out with teammates without having to wear spandex
Chappy, Russ, and I warming up outside...

    ...ready to feast on THIS amazing seafood spread

Kristen enjoying the benefits of our new 2014 Team Sponsor, Fat Heads Brewery

  • And lastly, dig out the indoor trainer, because before you know it,  training starts up again. Like, tomorrow. Because the 2014 season is gonna be even better than the last...


Monday, September 23, 2013

What a crazy fun weekend - Interbike 2013, etc

Thanks to the guys at Ohio Cycleworks, I had the opportunity to attend Interbike 2013 as a VIP guest. 

The Mandalay Bay convention center was packed wall-to-wall with bikes, bike parts, bike accessories, anything you can think of that might be bike related. The show spilled outside into the Mandalay parking lot, with a course to test ride new bikes and for racing in the evenings.

The highlight of the show, for me, was meeting Greg Lemond. 

The next day, I got the rare opportunity to ride the Las Vegas Strip with almost 3000 other cyclists. Dave and I were looking forward to the Viva Bike Vegas Gran Fondo, especially since it took us through the stunning (and challenging) Red Rock Canyon loop.

We opted for the Metric Century version, and I'm glad we did: the desert winds picked up around 9 AM, and soon became a steady 20 to 30 mph with 40+ mph gusts. A little too familiar for us!

We had one more day left of our trip. When we realized that we weren't flying out until Monday night, we knew there was only one choice:
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park
It was back to Death Valley for us, the place that owns my soul.

And as an added bonus, while we were having breakfast this morning in walks this guy sporting his Furnace Creek 508 finisher's jersey!

This is Danny Bonneville, who raced previously in a two-man team (Stubborn Bulls) with Patrice Pellerin. I know Patrice from past AdventureCorps camps. Crazy small world!

Yep, that's Patrice on my right...

And now, getting ready to board a plane back to reality.

Sometimes I really hate reality.