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