Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Top 7 Favorite Rides/Races of 2014

I love favorites lists. They help me clarify what I enjoy doing, they help race promoters adjust their offerings and they spread the word about events you might not even know about. For me this was a year of firsts. I took on my first endurance race and my first cyclocross race. I bought my first singlespeed, tried fixies, recumbents and landed on the podium twice. As a transition year it was all about exploration and having fun. These are my top seven favorite rides/races of 2014.

Ever get your hands on a dream bike? Back in February I got to tame an S-Works Stumpjumper 29er taking it on a busy Tuesday night ride that sported no less than 40 bikers. There were some high speed banks that almost turned my hair white but in all it was a fun evening. Read the story of how I saddled this beast in the inky blackness of the Carlton Reserve - Dream Bike Review.

 Most good races are known for having a distinct feature. The term "sand trap" was never truly in my mountain bike vocabulary until I attempted this race back in March. Having the wrong tires didn't stop me from barreling into the competition. I faced terrain with names like "Rutty Roll" and "Super Log World." That day the course won but with the right tires I might be back - Fat Tires Rule!

Injured, sleep deprived and in the wrong gear, I still enjoyed my first cyclocross race. Promoters Josh and Kaleigh Thornton turned Stanley Park into a New England style climbers course that set the stage as the first race of the season. The supportive atmosphere and hand ups eased my pains just enough for a respectable finish - First CX Race.

I love trying new things and this represented a trio of boldness. I had been dying to get involved in the Real Bikes Englewood Saturday morning road ride but to do it I had to borrow a bike (a fixie). I worked to maintain speeds that averaged more than 18mph with a sprint that reached 28mph. The concentration and effort involved pushed my riding to another level - To Fixie or Not?

Josh and Kaleigh Thornton did it again by building a course at Burke Park that became known as the "Off-Camber Masterpiece." This race was special to me in part because only eight days earlier a Doctor had pulled a one inch long shard of wood out of my left foot. How I recovered in time to beat my closest rival and win a medal, I will never know. Sometimes miracles do happen - From the Grave to the Podium.

One of the few dedicated Cyclocross courses in the country sits in Palm Bay, Florida. With a newly built run-over, a BMX track and a steady stream of local riders to fill the ranks, Infinity Cross is the complete experience. From the Angus beef hot dogs to heckler's hill to the mud drenched second day of racing, this locale had it all. On a course that exposed my weaknesses and crippled my strengths, you can imagine my surprise when I landed on the podium - Infinity Wars.

I have a dream to someday race the infamous Leadville Trail 100 MTB race in Colorado. However, it was a pretty distant dream because I had no experience doing endurance races until I signed up for Piggy's Revenge. Despite having completed more than 100 bicycle races, completing the 40 mile route at Piggy's was the toughest thing I had ever done. After that day Leadville transformed from a dream into a goal. This year I have had the honor of being one of the promoters of the 2015 event - Thrills & Spills at Piggy's Revenge.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Surviving your First Gravel Grinder

Exploration is in the DNA of all human beings. It is the reason we braved the oceans, crossed the plains and climbed every mountain. It has been the pedestal for great men & women throughout the centuries. So the need to explore is within you but in modern America you don't need to risk life and limb to enjoy its benefits. You simply have to remember what it was like to let yourself get lost.

When I was in 3rd grade my parents moved to an apartment in Taunton, Massachusetts. Due to my age and unfamiliarity with the city, I wasn't supposed to travel far from home. Luckily, my parents had three younger kids to worry about so I was the one who often slipped away. One day while riding my BMX I found a trail that disappeared into a patch of woods. It curved down a hill into the gravel fields of a construction company. I was in heaven.

Surrounded by huge piles of rock and dirt of various kinds all I could picture was how fun it would be to ride them. I started pushing my bike up the nearest mound when a thunderous sound roared all around me. My young mind imagined a mechanical monster, a metal dinosaur living on the construction grounds like a junkyard dog protecting its home from intruders. Slowly I crept down the hill when a huge yellow payloader came rolling around the corner. It was raining dust as its giant bucket raised high in the air in a threatening manner.

I was too scared to scream but I didn't need to, a different instinct had kicked in. I jumped on the bike and pedaled like a demon. Swerving around the piles and sliding in the sand I was certain it was gaining on me. Then I saw an opening in the fence and squeezed through to the street outside. I had escaped the monster. While I might have been temporarily safe, now I had a whole new problem. For the first time in my young life, I was lost. At only 8 years old my ability to distinguish directions had not yet been formed. My house might only have been a mile away as the crow flies but I simply didn't know how to get there.

On that day I struggled with many lessons. I learned that time slows down when you are excited. I was certain that my parents were freaking out. I imagined them calling the police and organizing search parties but in reality the whole adventure only lasted an hour. They didn't even know I was gone. Secondly was that I had enjoyed the thrill of losing my way, exploring an unfamiliar place and then eventually finding my way home. It emboldened me with confidence, a sense of independence and new survival skills. After that day, getting lost in the woods became something of a hobby.

Many years later I would try the sport of mountain biking only to discover that my desire for exploration was still very much intact. Most mountain bike races focus on physical fitness but there is one type that focuses on the journey. Endurance races are fast becoming trendy in the cycling community for some of the same reasons that we used to wander as kids. It is a chance to scout new trails, to be adrift in the wild but with that knowledge that we are not truly alone. They are intentional sufferfests that take place over long distances but can be done at your own pace.

 Sure you might win a trophy or get an event t-shirt but bonding with your fellow riders is the real reward. These off-road events, often referred to as Gravel Grinders, have the benefit of being placed deep in the beautiful nestle of nature. This is especially true for a local yearly race that I have come to love known as Piggy's Revenge.

Started in 2011, Piggy's Revenge was originally a large group ride meant to introduce people to the little known beauty of the T. Mabry Carlton Reserve park in Venice, Florida. The reserve was being visited for hiking and bird watching but it was believed that it could be an ideal locale for building mountain bike trails. The Piggy's Revenge event was key to raising money and gathering support for such propositions.

Trail building began in 2012 with over 6 miles of flowing singletrack completed within 18 months. Attendance to the park quadrupled as people drove from miles around to visit the only dedicated mountain bike trails in Sarasota county. Success at the Carlton Reserve led other organizations to request that SCORR (Sarasota County Off Road Riders) build similar trails in their parks as well. As a result there is also 5 miles of singletrack in Myakka State Forrest.

Back to the grind. While the why is most important, the how will make for a more enjoyable adventure. Step 1: Sign up. You might think that you need special instructions or training or many miles on the bike but not in this case. With a little money at stake and a deadline looming you will be well motivated to get on that bike and ride. Gravel grinders are great learning experiences, this one has 20, 40 and 60 mile routes so there is a distance for everyone.

Step 2: Show up. Make sure to checklist all your gear - bike, helmet, gloves, shoes, food, water, appropriate clothing and emergency gear. Visit the registration desk to grab a map and pick up your event t-shirt (Proof that you competed). Once the gun fires, pedal at a moderate rate. On long rides you don't want to start too fast. Eat every 30 to 40 minutes. Make sure you have enough water for such a long time on the bike, at least 2 bottles. Bring a spare tube, a tire repair kit and a cell phone. You might get lost but remember, getting lost can be part of the fun.

Now for the psychological steps. 1. Adjust your expectations. Chances are that a professional rider will win the race so don't blow yourself up trying to keep pace. 2. Embrace the pain. This might be the single hardest physical exertion that you ever face. 3. Distract yourself. Bring an iPod, take in the scenery or better yet ride with a friend. 4. Relish the journey. You are in the wild exploring nature in a very visceral way. Out in the woods there are no bosses or employees, there are no car horns or alarm clocks, no blaring televisions or crying babies. It is all about you, your bike and the trail. Enjoy the serenity of exploring nature like you were meant to.

Piggy's Revenge is a yearly event but don't wait to sign up. This is not something that you can watch from the sidelines, it is something you must experience.

Are you ready for an Adventure?
Piggy's Revenge 2015

Monday, December 8, 2014

2 Serious 4 Singlespeed: Part 3

Introduction: It's known as the party class. In CXSS you might race a gorilla, battle with Batman or tangle with a triple tandem. Bacon, bananas and beer are acceptable hand-ups. You choose one chainring, one cog and seal your fate with burning lungs and acid filled thighs. There is no description of this class that doesn't include the word: Crazy. This made me wonder if my sullen disposition and oft poetic ruminations were simply too serious for singlespeed. Then I thought... screw it! I'm gonna write whatever I feel.

Stoopid Loop: Mileage is a measure of accomplishment in the world of cycling. A rider's confidence is often attached to the longest distance they have completed. I've heard it said that CX racers don't need more than 2 hours on the bike at a time to train for competition but that blanket has some holes in it. It's not the minutes that matter but rather what happens during those minutes. A Pro, hauling ass, could shred singletrack for twice the distance of an Amateur and do so with an intensity and ferocity that begets astonishing fitness.

My journey towards a defining century has been elusive. Cat 3 XC races in New England topped out at 15 miles. Training rides up north were cut short at around 22. The strength and fortitude required for more epic treks seemed beyond my grasp, until earlier this year. At a local gravel grinder known as Piggy's Revenge, I signed up for the 40 mile race and with no shortage of pain and ambition, completed it. Now I endeavor to take the next step forward.

The Stoopid Loop is just what it sounds like, an urban cross group ride for 90+ miles that shreds every available stretch of trail, dirt and gravel within reach. It is a test of torture that lasts for hours. Your legs, your bike and your will shall be tested. The Stoopid loop would be twice my longest ride and harder than anything I have ever attempted.

Could I prepare for such an endeavor? Apparently not. One week of give it my all, tires to the pavement added up to 3 rides which totaled only 78 miles. It was not enough to adjust my focus but it was enough to pull a muscle. For another week I limped, drank Mexican Mudslides and caught up on Redbox flicks. The whole time kicking myself about improper training methods. There are only so many times that you can whine about injuries before sounding like a cry-baby so I'll spare you the ice pack details.

Somehow during my unintended off time I did manage to make a promo video for an upcoming race. The desire for self-expression shuns any aches and pains. The next day I went back to limping. Doh!

The million little aches of this world never really end for an athlete. My leg/hip/lower back pain was joined by a pulled muscle on the upper left side of my back only days before the ride. Now I was truly frustrated. It was time for extreme measures.

The T-Burn Chemical Massage

Warning: This particular remedy is not recommended for sane, healthy human beings. If you are a reasonable person with a good sense of caution stay clear from anything that could cause more harm than good. Having said that, if you are straight up crazy then no one really cares what you do.

Step 1: Take a scolding hot bath with Epson salts in the water. Take several deep breaths. Make sure the bath lasts at least 15 minutes. This will relax your muscles and open up your pores.

Step 2: Lay face down on a bed and have your friend/significant other rub a sloppy amount of Bengay into your back muscles. It will start to burn almost immediately.

Step 3: Scream like a little girl. Your back is now on fire! Have your friend/significant other towel off as much of the BenGay as possible before you run back to the bathroom.

Step 4: Stand under a freezing cold shower for several minutes, the desire to jump off a high rooftop will pass. Then towel off and return to bed.

Step 5: Have your friend/significant other cover your chemically burned back with Aloe Vera of the sun burn variety. A thick coat over all affected areas is best.

Step 6: Promise yourself that you will never do that again!

Stoopid Day. This cool, cloudy morning gathered a flock of 18 riders, many overdressed for the task at hand. If ever my rebellious nature was evident, I was the only person dumb enough to bring a Cross build to a Mountain Bike ride. We left the parking lot on time and dove into the nooks and crannies of Englewood's back roads and grass trails. It was off road that my 41/17 gear immediately felt a little forced. If my legs were working hard at the beginning of the ride, where would I be 80 miles from now? We'll never know because things went sour rather quickly.

A squeaky bottom bracket grew louder and louder as the first 12 miles breezed by. Then the squeak turned into a wobble until I could feel the crank arm disconnecting from the bike. I stopped on the side of 776 near the Englewood event center and tried to fix the problem only to discover that I didn't have the right tool and neither did anyone else. It was time for an emergency call back.

My wife arrived with 10 minutes carrying the tool I needed. I tightened the crank arm and darted off to try and catch the group. They had a fifteen minute head start but I suspected that they were doing the southern loop in Myakka State Forrest, that gave me a window. I time-trialed up Winchester road against a headwind and banked right into the park entrance. Another mile down the gravel road towards the ranger station and there I saw the riders gathered, waiting for lost stragglers.

Now came the real challenge. What had been a tough churn on previous terrain became a brutal push through the Myakka mud bog. My 37cm tires sliced through the brackish water but the each pedal stroke felt like I was towing a camper behind me. Then it happened again, the crank arm came loose. Seriously? I wedged it against a post and tightened it with more muscle hoping that this time it would stay in place.

We took to the Palmetto trail and all went well, for a while. I was adjusting to the movement of bouncing through singletrack without suspension but as the trail got wetter my average speed slowed to a crawl. Then the crank arm started to wobble again. Each time I stopped to fix it, the line of riders snaked further and further away until finally I was alone. There was no way I could catch them in this muck, in this large of a gear and on a broken bike. I called my wife to designate a pick up at the North entrance. I was a wet and depressed pile of misery by the time it was over. My epic event had fallen apart on so many levels and there was nothing left to do but return home and lick my wounds.

Not every story has a happy ending. My next race is a gravel grinder but having lost faith in the durability of my CXSS, I'm thinking it is time to retire it for the winter and switch bikes. I really enjoyed my first season of Cyclocross and will be better prepared for next year but it was time to cut my losses. I can only afford to keep one running at a time. Was I too Serious for Singlespeed? Sure but the great thing about fanaticism is that it has a long shelf life. I will be back.

Support your local artist. Click on the link below to purchase one of Alex's novels.

Monday, November 10, 2014

2 Serious 4 Singlespeed: Part 2

Introduction: It's known as the party class. In CXSS you might race a gorilla, battle with Batman or tangle with a triple tandem. Bacon, bananas and beer are acceptable hand-ups. You choose one chainring, one cog and seal your fate with burning lungs and acid filled thighs. There is no description of this class that doesn't include the word: Crazy. This made me wonder if my sullen disposition and oft poetic ruminations were simply too serious for singlespeed. Then I thought... screw it! I'm gonna write whatever I feel.

First Mud: The Ego desires to be elevated, to be profound, to be Capitalized. Those obsessed with being in the headlines are never satisfied with a byline. They find their worth in a cauldron of sweat and tears, dust and agony. Stories are crafted in the alchemy of tempting human limitations. That is where drama percolates. Where bards become biographers as victors become vindicated.

So where would I end up this time? As the Victor or the Biographer? The journey to Palm Bay was 210 minutes of flat pavement and patience. Crossing the state is like driving backwards through the decades. Arcadia exists in the 90's, Okeechobee in the 80's and Yeehaw Junction the 70's. Even the CX course sits on the comfortable confines of a yesteryear BMX track. With the normal constraints of time and space warping around us, it was the perfect atmosphere for possibilities.

Our timing was hindered by a desire for sightseeing so we arrived only an hour before my class was to set out.  The crowd was a mixture of Facebook faces and hey I know that guy. I made more of an effort to be cordial and was greeted with grins of recognition. It is the blessing of niche sports that you make friends fast. The common affection of suffering for a passion bonds like super glue. It is quick, easy and can sometimes hold for years.

During the practice gap riders tore up the grass, testing sand filled corners and bumping down rut riddled back roads. The cameras flocked to two locations - the BMX track and the fly over. Both would provide climactic substance to an otherwise horizontal plane.

The effectiveness of training is hard to measure under race conditions. Real life is a terribly inaccurate laboratory. While many of the weekend's classes had twenty plus riders, singlespeed had only 4 to start and double that on Sunday. Since sunny Saturday was my best shot, it was time to rip the lid off. Starting in an all out sprint I grabbed the wheel of Michael Toth and held on for dear life. The grippy grass was welcoming but the dirt road was not. My big gear 41/18 wasn't nearly enough to match the friendly beardo and his well trained roadie legs.

Watching him walk away was disheartening. The gap was unbridgeable but I had to try. Every muscle shook and shuttered under the strain. Legs screaming on the straights, arms aching through the doubles, lungs gasping for a rhythm. Still I had enough to jump the barriers, climb the start hill and pump the track. After six laps I held on for second. Our reward was a labeled mason jar packed with sand from the course. In a room full of trophies this is the one people will ask about.

That night was nothing less than a celebration. Dinner, beer, a Big Hero movie and HBO boxing in our hotel room. Oh Hopkins. We awoke to the light tinkle of rain against the window. The forecast had been right. Today's race was going to be very different. After the atypical continental breakfast followed by a drive-thru at Starbucks, we returned to the track.

The sight before us was something out of a New England spring day. Overcast skies of gray over gray, drizzle blanketing every leafy green and a slow chill that made you want to keep moving so it could never catch up. It was a dank, wet, muddy mess. Perfect Cyclocross weather. This is where we would see if harsh conditions bring out the beast in us.

Lacking the appropriate attire led to improvisation. I slung the camera around my neck, a towel around my head and snapped the unabashed speed of the Pro class. Tic Bowen gave a clinic in viscosity as he seemed to gain traction as the conditions worsened. I suppose we should have checked his tires for velcro. Regardless, his gracious camaraderie at the finish line is a demonstration of what this sport is all about.

I stayed on to watch the vast field of Cat 4/5 riders as they snaked an unbroken line following the race tape. Cat 3 showed their wealth of talent with a similar size contingent. Both managed to capture the crowd's imagination especially when they neared one of the forewarned features. The deluge was taking its toll as evidenced by the kits and faces of dedicated puddle splashers.

As Singlespeed riders started to prepare, the rain drops grew larger. Michael took his earned position on the line and hinted that this was a tougher field. I appreciated the warning but it didn't matter, I never recovered from the day before. The pace stuck needles in my thighs and kicked sand in my eyes. By the time we reached the road I was already a dead battery.

Racing in mud is a different kind of torture. Squinting from the flecks of flying granules makes for a half-blind voyage. All the good lines have become mud ruts. The BMX clay turned tricks into traps. With no chance of placing I instead embraced the jeer of hecklers atop the hill. Ignoring the easy side, I attempted the steeper pitch lap after lap, comically failing each climb.

As the Infinity wars came to a close, I got a taste of both worlds - the Victor and the Biographer. I learned that the podium is not as gratifying without a horse race and a loss can be just as much fun if you toy with it. I learned that I like racing in mud, though the clean up afterwards can be detailed and tedious. I connected with a few more like minded people so if success can be measured in smiles and laughs, this weekend was a winner.

My wife and I took a couple hundred pictures, all posted on Facebook so feel free to explore:

Also check out our highlight video. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

2 Serious 4 Singlespeed: Part 1

Introduction: It's known as the party class. In CXSS you might race a gorilla, battle with Batman or tangle with a triple tandem. Bacon, bananas and beer are acceptable hand-ups. You choose one chainring, one cog and seal your fate with burning lungs and acid filled thighs. There is no description of this class that doesn't include the word: Crazy. This made me wonder if my sullen disposition and oft poetic ruminations were simply too serious for singlespeed. Then I thought... screw it! I'm gonna write whatever I feel.

The Perfect Gear: Perfection is an ideal developed for suckers. Striving to attain ultimate glory with calculated inches is akin to maximizing horsepower with a new transmission. The vehicle is a tool. Only operators can fail. Only riders can lose. When I asked my local bike shop about dropping to 41t in light of my struggle to conquer ascents, they said no. Build stronger legs, they said. Build stronger lungs.

When a retailer tells you not to buy, we assume it's a sign of honesty or in this case, a sign of insight. Previous starts had been handicapped by circumstance but this time I had no excuses. I wrote the calculation on my white board: Leg power + Cardio = Victory!

Hammer Hill is my test track. A bow ribbon layout with two small climbs per lap. I discovered it by accident on a driftless Wednesday afternoon. This pair of retention ponds is surrounded by thick grass and sits below a 9 foot dip from the bike trail above. Mount Snow it is not but for my purposes nothing could be better. No pedestrians, no traffic, all focus.

First attempt to complete 5 laps, 10 climbs was a half-success. Churning hard and desperate each round sapped my energy and stole my reason. Grinding up to daylight I could see the top, strain to balance then drop a boot, inches too short. By the 5th lap pain became comfort, coordination took shape. Like a jigsaw puzzle starting to make a picture, I suddenly knew where the pieces went.

Second attempt brimmed with eagerness. Same gear, same velcro infused monoculture, same unforgiving ascents, new technique. SS is unique in that it must flow. The tug of each stroke applies equal force requiring body adjustment to complete the motion. No brakes on the descents using every mph to accelerate with efficiency. Then loomed the climbs. Heavy feet pressed hard, must hit the hill with intent. Standing, angled off-camber and determined. One hill done then two, then three, then a knowing grin, secret gained, then ten.

If fitness is half toil, half confidence then I was already 20% stronger. Conquering a virtual mountain without the need for a technological upgrade stirs something primal. It brings forth the fierceness our ancestors relied on to hunt and kill. It brings forth a warrior state of mind.

And then I thought... screw it! Why not cover all my bases? I pinched a black MCS 41t from the recesses of Ebay and put it on the next day. All that primal nonsense is nice but I'm not taking any chances. That starting whistle is where the preparations end. Discarding an available advantage would be my bad. Eventually the face of expectation frowns on all of us. At my next race I plan on smiling.

If Alex is your kind of crazy, then you should really check out his books. Click on the link below.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

From the Grave to the Podium

Photo by Pete Miner
"I can't find a pulse," said the nurse who was pinching my right wrist. My ghost white body lay unmoving in the Millenium Medical facility. My eyes were closed and blood pooled under the heal of my left foot. My 2nd Cyclocross race was only 11 days away but I was starting to doubt that I would make it. I was having a little struggle with mortality but, as Billy Crystal's character in The Princess Bride said, I was only mostly dead. A Doctors voice urged from my left, "Come back to us son, open your eyes." They slowly opened to the light. "You're gonna be okay." I was surrounded by people and they sounded very worried so I tried to reassure them with weak words, "I'm here. I'm alright."

"What is his blood pressure?" The Doctor was holding my hand while giving directions. "60 over 30." He nodded, "Let's get him some oxygen." Plastic tubes slid into my nose followed by a soothing pulse of cool air that filled my lungs. "You're doing okay." He continued to watch my pupils. Luckily he knew exactly what had happened. "You had a Vasovagel episode. It's not uncommon. It's a nerve that causes you to lose consciousness and slows your heart." He looked back at the nurse, "How's he doing?" I could feel the tightening of my right bicep, "He's 70 over 40." He nodded, "That's good. He's coming back." He smiled down at me, "You're gonna be just fine."

The Doctor explained that the episode was likely caused by the trauma of the foot surgery they had been conducting a moment earlier. Let me rewind a little so you know how we got here. On Sunday, July 20th, 2014 I stepped on a splinter. Yes, a splinter caused all this trouble! Apparently I don't have manly feet. They are smooth and fragile because that thing stabbed deep into my flesh and broke off. Initially a Vet friend cleaned the wound but I had to wait until the infection and swelling went down before determining if there was more under the skin.

In the meantime I was not going to ditch Cyclocross training while waiting for a proper appointment. During that time I biked over 500 miles, performed 25 hours of strength training and competed in 2 races, including my first cyclocross race. I have heard stories of athletes overcoming nagging injuries to do what they love but this is the first time I had ever been in such a position. Besides, I felt silly telling people that I was taken down by a splinter.

I had signed up for healthcare via the affordable care act earlier in the year but had yet to use it. The foot appeared to be healing but the bleeding and puss weren't going away. Finally, I cleared a day to get myself an appointment for what was bound to be a painful surgery. On Oct 7th I limped into the walk-in clinic. The doctor took one look at my foot and immediately moved me to another room for surgery. That shard had to come out.

They don't normally do procedures like this at such a small office but they made an exception. The Doctor was confident he could remove it. I encouraged him to cut me open and get it over with. After a Tetanus shot, followed by deep tissue pokes of Lidocaine, the foot had been numbed and they started to slice. That's when the Vasovagel nerve kicked in. My body overheated and my blood pressure dropped to nothing. After they revived me the shard was removed. Apparently it was very deep, nearly touching a bone. It had been in my foot for 79 days.

After the drama of the operation was over, I returned home on a pair of crutches. My foot was throbbing. The doctor said it would take 10 to 14 days for the incision to fully heal but my race was 11 days away. I immediately started making alternate plans. However, part of me remained stubborn. Athletes tend to heal faster than sedentary people. After all, they do spend most days breaking down their muscles, only to have them heal so they can break them down again. Eventually the human body adapts to such stresses by speeding up the recovery process. Fingers crossed.

After a good night's sleep I awoke with a little more energy. In fact, I got up from bed and started limping around without the crutches. That was my only rest day. 2 days after surgery I was back in the gym lifting weights. 3 days after surgery I was back on the bike. 6 days after surgery I completed a 33 mile road ride. 8 days after the surgery the Doctor took another look and said the wound was healed. That confirmed my ambitions. The race was back on!

Wicked Awesome Racing #2 was held at John S. Burks Memorial park in Dade City, Florida. It was a twisty grass course with switchbacks galore, just my kind of challenge. On the pre-ride I got a good feel for the possibilities. My lower gear was working well and my foot felt great. I gathered at the line with the other racers eager to blast off.

At 5:30pm, long after the other races were over, the singlespeed riders (Men and Women) plus the mountain bikers all started at the same time. There was a street based holeshot up a slight hill then three sharp turns into an off camber stretch. I stayed with the lead pack while taking note of who was in front of me. Pro wunderkind Ryan Woodall led the pack with Pete Miner and a couple MTBers in the flow. That put me in third position but I knew there were others right on my tail.

Ryan Woodall has been dominating Singlespeed this year
Adrenaline can do amazing things. I was burning through the first lap pulling moves that I was unable to do in practice. I even made a pass on Pete putting myself in second very briefly before he passed me back and shut that door. I checked over my shoulder to see that I had a gap on John LaManna but as we went into the 2nd lap, he was slowly gaining. I had raced John previously and knew how persistent he could be. This was gonna be close.

Every time I checked John had gotten a little bit closer. It was only halfway through the 2nd lap that he rolled right past me. Now I was trying to hold his wheel. As we jumped the uphill barriers, charged the rolling hills and pushed our bikes through the same dirt, he kept his lead. John was showing amazing resilience and with my lungs burning I was starting to worry that I might not catch him. That's when it happened. On course was a very awkward off camber switchback that had been beaten into a dirt trap. John took the corner carefully but it wasn't enough, he fell over. The MTBer and I both passed by and charged on, there were still 2 laps to go.

Seventy nine days of agitation did something strange to me, it made me way more comfortable with discomfort. Compared to being stabbed by wood and needles, the pain of this race was nothing! I fully expected John to come racing back after me so I never took my foot off the pedal. That seemed to do the trick. For four exhausting laps I gave everything I had, making that finish line all the sweeter. After a summer full of doubts and a surgery that brought me close to the edge, I was ecstatic to know there was a place for me on the podium. What an Awesome sport!

1. Ryan Woodall
2. Pete Miner
3. Alex Hutchinson

Be sure to check out my pictures at the link below:

Wicked Awesome Racing #2, Day 1 Photos

Monday, October 13, 2014

5 Youtube Channels that Cyclists Must Follow

If you are the kind of athlete who likes to stay ahead of the learning curve then you probably already have a complete series of channels that you follow on Youtube. These short videos have become an excellent location to get news, stories, DIY tutorials or lectures on virtually every subject under the sun. Specifically, cyclists have a wide array of choices for motivation and information.

Over the last few years I have scoured Youtube for the best of the best in news/tips, exercise updates and product information. The following are the Top 5 sites that I found most useful and most entertaining.

1. GCN - The Global Cycling Network has quickly became the top dog on all things bike related. Funded by Google this internet sensation is the closest thing you will find to a full out television network. Hosted by former Pro racers Matt Stephens, Daniel Lloyd and others its weekly news show covers road racing from around the world with occasional mentions of MTB and even BMX. It also uses that stage for announcing all of its other offerings. From bike maintenance to Pro interviews, How To videos to spin classes, they have a little bit of everything for the cycling enthusiast.

While GCN has a wide and varied selection of offerings, that is not why it is so successful. This show thrives on its quick paced segments and upbeat attitude. The hosts are witty, comical and willing to put themselves in harms way to create a good program. GCN does a solid job driving the news but their point of contact is a well trained funny bone.

Global Cycling Network

2. Specialized - The only channel more diverse than GCN is run by Specialized. The difference is that Specialized doesn't report the headlines, they make them. The Specialized logo can be found in every discipline of cycling. They have created athlete heroes in triathlon, road racing, cross country and downhill. You name the discipline, they have a hand in it. This mega-company creates great products and then celebrates its athletes with high quality videos.

While Specialized has a lot of obvious reasons to pimp their own products, the one area where they make huge strides is the promotion of female athletes. There are few companies that do so much to showcase women in sports. For this fact alone they should be applauded. If you want a good example check out the above video about the internationally successful Specialized-Lululemon team.

Specialized Channel

3. UCI Channel - Missed your favorite race this past weekend? No problem, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) channel has highlights and often full length video replays of Road, DH, XC, Trials, BMX, Cyclocross and Track races. Subscribe to their channel and you will also get to see commercials for upcoming events, rider interviews and past award ceremonies.

This might seem like an obvious choice but not all cycling organizations have their sh** together. USA Cycling also has a channel and they do interviews but fall short on production values, race coverage, etc. UCI is the big money player on the world scene of cycling but it looks like they are putting some of that money to good use.

UCI Channel

4. Barbell Shrugged - This might seem like a strange pick for a cycling crowd but it's one of those cases where you'll want to dig a little deeper. Almost every cyclist I have ever met uses some type of strength training to better their health and performance. Barbell Shrugged is hosted by Mike Bledsoe, Chris Moore and Doug Larson, they are all athletes and certified trainers with advanced degrees. This series is way ahead of the curve when it comes to strength training, nutrition and physiology.

While the show started as a podcast about Crossfit, it has expanded its focus to include anything related to the world of fitness. They have interviewed top experts in bio-mechanics, neuro-science, powerlifting, gymnastics and running. It is only a matter of time before they catch up to a strength coach who specializes in cycling. In the mean time they have 120+ videos full of inspirational stories energetically discussed by passionate devotees. Click above to watch their on-site interview with Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena.

Barbell Shrugged

5. Red Bull - The magical caffeine company that gives you wings has also been the provider of some of the biggest stunts and cycling events in history. On YouTube, Red Bull is probably best known for it's amazing supersonic freefall from space but they are also the geniuses who fund the Red Bull Rampage cliff race from Utah and the Red Bull Joyride slopestyle event from Whistler.

Red Bull prefers to aim its marketing power at those most likely to purchase their popular drinks but this focus produces movie quality outcomes. If you doubt their dedication to enthralling people towards bike riding, keep in mind that the niche discipline of mountain bike trials riding was only known to a few thousand people before Red Bull handed Danny MacAskill the keys to his own imagination. The above video has been viewed 25 million times.

Red Bull Channel

* Bog Dogs Secret Stash - An honorable mention for my own channel. The Bog Dogs are made up of myself, my wife Terri and in the beginning my brother Kevin. We started making videos back in March of 2010 to display bits of our mountain bike rides and races in New England. In 2011 we got involved in Florida BMX Racing and produced more than 100 highlight videos which later included a web series known as Unleashed TV. We have been hired to create videos for kid's races which included the Strider World Championships. We recently filmed our first Cyclocross video and hope to create many more.

In 2013 we made a trip to the rocky mountains to cover the Colorado Freeride Festival. Click above to see our highlight video of the FMB slopestyle event.

Bog Dogs Secret Stash

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Which Superhero Cycling Personality do you have?

There are a lot of distinct personalities in the sport of cycling. From BMX to MTB to Road to Cyclocross, I've noticed some archetypes that show up over and over. Since it can be hard to break down the specifics without a good metaphorical basis, I decided to use Marvel Comics characters. Below are several superheros with easily recognizable traits. You probably know people from your local group ride, at the races or at the track who match these descriptions. Who knows, maybe you have a superhero personality as well?


Matt Murdock, a young lawyer, was blinded by radioactive cargo during a truck accident. His other senses were enhanced and further aided by a blind martial arts master named Stick. Matt became a formidable fighter and the avenging angel of Hells Kitchen. He is known as the man without fear.

Red tights and a baton are not pre-requisites for this type of cyclist. In fact, you don't even have to be blind but you must have uncanny reflexes, a complete lack of fear and be a genuinely decent person. Winning is nice but you take on challenges for the thrill of it. The Daredevil personality is most commonly found in BMX doing tricks or flying high on a slopestype course. However, they can also be found doing trials on a mountain or road bike.

Danny MacAskill (MTB Trials), Matt Hunter (MTB Freeride)


Born with animal like senses and fast healing from almost any wound, Logan was captured by a secret Canadian organization and given an unbreakable skeleton and claws. Treated like an animal, it took years for him to control himself but sometimes he breaks loose to become the Wolverine.

Got a tough guy attitude, Bub? Maybe you ride an indestructible Adamantium bike? The Wolverine personality will crash terribly, wipe off the blood, hop back on the bike and still contend for the podium. Defined by raging tenacity, the Wolverine personality can be slowed down but cannot be stopped. They are most commonly found in the thick of battle often racing Cyclocross.

 Sven Nys (CX), Katie Compton (CX)


Anna Marie's mutant ability makes her unable to touch someone without absorbing their essence, personality, and in some cases, their powers. Rogue attacked Carol Danvers and permanently absorbed her tough skin, superhuman strength, and flight. Rogue tries to be part of a team but often goes solo because she fears the consequences of human intimacy.

The bigger the event, the better you are. You feed off the crowd, off your opponents, off the energy and anticipation of enormity. When everyone else is shivering in their boots, trying to keep their breakfast down, you are bristling with readiness. A little cockiness is expected and acceptable because you respect your own abilities and that of your rivals. The Rogue personality can be found in any discipline but they are easy to spot due to their tendency go it alone and go big.

Brandon Semenuk (MTB Slopestyle), Rachel Atherton (MTB DH)


Quicksilver is a mutant who can move at speeds far beyond the average human. He is the son of Magneto and twin brother of the Scarlet Witch. Although Quicksilver's loyalties and reliability have long been erratic, his love for his sister is very sincere. His velocity is such that he can practically move through time as the world appears in slow motion around him.

Fast and arrogant, no one is quicker than Quicksilver. Nimble, explosive and perhaps even ambidextrous, the Quicksilver personality couldn't slow down if he or she wanted to. While they appear to be the beneficiary of a never ending tailwind, they can suffer for their arrogance. When you crash at those speeds, you don't get back up.

Mark Cavendish (Road), Connor Fields (BMX SX)


Kitty Pryde's life was changed when she learned that she had the mutant power to phase through solid materials. She is the girl who can walk through walls. Eventually she was possessed by Ogun and learned the dark art of ninjitsu, that is when she settled on the codename Shadowcat.

Sweet, kind and soft spoken that's how people describe you. That is also why they underestimate you. Shadowcat is elusive and ethereal in a way that makes people ask, "Where did she come from?" You are the master of going unnoticed in a pack, squeezing through a tight fit and taking that come from behind win. The Shadowcat personality can be found in any cycling sport but there is a truck load of them in BMX racing.



Tony Masters has an ability known as "photographic reflexes." This enables him to watch another person's physical movements and duplicate them without any practice, no matter how complex. It was only limited by the fact that the memories he gained by watching others overwrote his personal memories. Taskmaster is driven by knowledge but tortured by a disappearing past.

You can ride anything! From BMX bikes to Road to Mountain, it doesn't matter the wheel size or terrain because you have got mad skillz! Better yet, you keep right on learning. You love to study the masters, copy their form and training techniques then hit the races. Adaptability is your middle name and you have no prejudices. So long as you are expanding your cycling knowledge, you are happy.

Brian Lopes (BMX, MTB), Caroline Buchanan (BMX, MTB)


Raven Darkholme is a shapeshifter whose natural appearance includes blue skin and yellow eyes. For most of her childhood she is ashamed of her appearance and hides her true self. In later years she uses her talent to become an assassin in favor of the brotherhood of evil mutants. Many people who lose their lives to Mystique are often unaware of her identity until it is too late.

Cunning and guile are your weapons of choice. The other riders give up their secrets to you, they admit their plans, they tell you their tactics. That misplaced trust is tucked in your back pocket for a moment when you can use it to your advantage. The Mystique personality is strategic and bold on the bike. They don't tell anyone what they are up to and often hide their best tricks until the last moment.


Iron Man

Wounded, captured and forced to build a weapon by terrorists, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark instead created an advanced suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity. With technological skills second to none, Tony uses his money and intelligence to make the world a safer place.

When you are not riding bikes, you are building them, perhaps even improving them with your own unique genius. You know more about your tech than the team mechanic. When a newbie breaks down on a group ride, they all turn to you and like MacGyver you whip out a paper clip and twist it into a modified derailleur. The Iron Man personality often works in or runs a bike shop and races on the weekends. His results are only stunted by the long hours he spends with his Allen wrench.

Tom Ritchey (MTB, Road), Joe Breeze (MTB, Road)


Jean Grey was 10 years old when her telepathic powers first manifested. Her parents took her to be treated by Professor Charles Xavier who used her to fine tune his Cerebro machine. When Xavier introduced young Jean to the astral plane a part of her mind manifested as a Phoenix. Later, Xavier erected psychic shields in Jean’s mind to prevent her from using her telepathic powers until she was mature enough to control them. Eventually those walls were broken down and the full might of Pheonix shined through.

Some people are born with overwhelming talent and one day they learn how to control their magnificent abilities. Those riders reach a point in their careers where they appear to be virtually unbeatable. Even when the odds turn against them, they find a way to win. You start to question if they are even human? Do they have engines in their bikes? How are they performing at such an astounding level? These are the cyclists who make history.

Alberto Contador (Road), Marianna Vos (Road, CX)