Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Top 7 Favorite Rides/Races of 2015

As you learned last year, 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 have heard of. This was a unique year because I actually had sponsors. Help from Bicycles International, Luksha Reconstruction and SixSixOne products motivated me to hit a few more stops around the state. These included several places I had never been before. This year's list includes some personal victories and a couple unique locations. Here are my top seven favorite rides/races of 2015.

Autumn is the busiest time of year in Florida for many reasons. The snowbirds return, businesses get busy and both CX and XC kick off their seasons often pairing races on the same weekends. This forces all of us racers to choose one or the other. For the last two years I chose CX. However, my piggy bank only allowed for a couple forays. They were run by Zach Fout of Cycology Solutions so I was able to enjoy a high level of quality in both the course and the competitors. My personal performance was crippled by illness but you can bet that I took notes for next year - Edinburgh CX Challenge.

I always wanted to race a Regional Championship. The austere title alone gets my blood pumping. Gone Riding is the premiere MTB racing organization in Florida and SERC is one of their many events. The turnout was nominal and my bike decided to fall apart but the trails did not disappoint. Hailes is private property that contains some of the most beautiful inland features in the entire state. It's a place you must visit at least once. That is why this is - A MTB Race for those who Don't Race.

Adverse weather sometimes makes for perfect racing conditions. This was the case as Tim Reifschneider did whatever it took to put together an off road time trial. As it happened we braced ourselves for a rain storm at the Carlton Reserve. It looked like lightning was going to cause a second cancellation but a few brave souls decided to go for it. The result was a sloppy fun race on BoldlyGo that was made all the better as it got wetter - Timmy's Lightning Swamp Time Trial.

The Withlacoochee forest is probably the second most comfortable chunk of woods in the Sunshine State. There were several sections where I almost forgot I was in Florida. I will return to this event someday, in better health I hope. As it was I suffered a little more than needed and came up short on the ride but it was still worth the effort, after all - How do you Measure Progress?

If you have never been to Santos then you simply must go! People told me that for a long time and this year I finally listened. Not only did I get to race on their well crafted trails but I also camped right near the trailhead. The Hump Day Hustle was set up by the Santos Bike Shop and they really did a great job. The best woods in Florida plus an awards ceremony at a local eatery. We even had dinner with National Champ Ryan Woodall. Had I done better in the race this might have topped the list. Who knows, maybe next year - The Hump Day Hustle.

This will take some explaining. Last Year Piggy's was my Number 1 pick. That year I completed the 40 and broke through to a new level of confidence. In 2015 I complete the 60 mile route and as the online promoter put together an aggressive outreach program that doubled the number of riders who attended. However, it me took 6 distracted hours to complete the course. I was a success as a promoter but a failure as a rider. This year Piggy's Revenge will be even bigger but I will be volunteering - Redemption in the Ruts.

At the Tour de Picayune my roles were reversed. They asked me to help promote this race as well but I blew it. It drew only 40 riders. However, racing 50 miles on a singlespeed fat bike over seven hours through scorching singletrack and deep sand was my greatest accomplishment as a mountain biker. Due to the small turnout the Tour is no more. They might replace it with a gravel grinder (Which should be more successful). Still, I will never forget the pain and suffering I overcame to complete that course and finish in the top ten. It was amazing! - Tour de Picayune.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Contemplating Crossfit Competitions

On Saturday, December 12th, 2015 North Port Crossfit held their first local competition: The Jingle Bell Throwdown. This involved an entire day of WODs starting at 9am and carrying through to 3pm. The participants were broke up into four categories: Scaled for men, scaled for women, RX for men and RX for women, For the uninitiated Scaled is a scaled down version of a listed WOD where as RX is the actual WOD (Weight and reps) as prescribed. There was an even mix among the genders with seventeen men and seventeen women taking part.

For those who follow my humble little blog you are aware that I have been studying up on Crossfit since last summer. Why the study? Because I can't afford to sign up. Instead I have been hitting the weights at home and learning what I can to improve my form and function. Visiting a Box and watching a live competition seemed like the next best step.

As a spectator there were a few things I noticed right away. First was that the range of people doing this contest is not what you might imagine. The Crossfit Games on ESPN gives you a spectacle of beautiful, muscle bound men and women lifting enormous weights. That is not the case at a local box. Some had big muscles but not like you see on TV. Most of the guys had Dad bodies whereas the ladies ranged from skinny to curvy. It was refreshing to see people of all types giving their best against the clock.

The second observation was that it was hard to follow the action. When watching on TV you get to see real time graphics of who is leading. When watching live you kinda have to wait until the end of each WOD for the scores to be added up and updated on the electronic score board. 

My best guess is that competitors scored a point for each correct rep and those were added up over the course of the day. The more proper reps they completed, the higher they moved up the ladder. I didn't actually know anyone at the event but I did recognize a few names from the many running races I have attended in the area. These same people must be all around good athletes because a couple of them (Chris Beers & Jamie Ramos) landed on the podium.

So this begs the next question: Do I want to compete? Apparently you can sign up for events like this without belonging to a box. Being unaffiliated is a big plus for me because I prefer to train alone. The second question to grapple with is: When will I be ready? I think I can break down this competition by workouts and points to determine what it would take to participate without embarrassing myself.

Having seen it with my own eyes I do still have a few hesitations. One is that these small competitions are basically open class. You are up against other athletes of any age. That can be a huge disadvantage for those of us over 40. It's not that I have to do well in order to enjoy myself but who wants to come in last to a bunch of college age athletes? The other worry is that of endurance. Doing one WOD is awesome, two is a serious workout but doing four in one day might be too much for me. I got tired just taking pictures of these people.

Granted you don't have to compete in order to enjoy the benefits of this new sport but I am a competitor. I love competition and need to do something. Now I just have to decide if Crossfit is the right fit.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Before Pictures/Stats

I always forget to do the before/after pictures but not this time. These were taken on Dec 6th, 2015. As I said in the previous post, my goals are both physical and performance based but here I will list some of the stats that are most relevant. I hope to share encouragement with others who are going through the same process. I'm excited by the prospect of great change.

Height 5'9"  Weight 182pds

Chest: 41in
Arms: 14.75in
Legs: 23in

Overhead Max: 130pds
Deadlift Max: 160pds
Snatch Max: 60pds

Pull-ups (Non-stop): 15reps
Push-ups (Non-stop): 40reps

Current 5K race: 32min

Crossfit Cindy (20min): 8 rds + 5 reps
Crossfit Fran (21-15-9): Unable to complete

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Time to Stack the Weights

In 1987 I bought my first Muscle & Fitness Magazine (Pictured above). I loved lifting weights and wanted more than anything to strengthen myself and perhaps become a bodybuilder. The problem was that I was a very skinny kid with many problems. These included an eating disorder, emotional issues and a volatile home life. By age 16 I was 5'6" tall but only 116 pounds and I wasn't getting any bigger. It wasn't until I hit 38 that my life truly started to stabilize. I began to gain weight (And Muscle) reaching my current condition of 5'9" and 180 pds.

At 42 I have the opportunity to fulfill that lifelong dream. Stability has allowed for the growth of self-discipline. I have just enough equipment, food, supplements and time to work on this worthy goal. I have to put some of my other hobbies aside but I believe it will be worth it. Many of my past endeavors have been hampered by my desire to do this. For the next ten months or so I will be writing a new book and I will be lifting weights. Other interests like running or biking will be done on occasion but mostly for social reasons.

Rest assured, I will be back in some manner. In the meantime I will be using this blog to record the slow and steady steps towards physical and performance based goals. So, wish me luck!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Making Memories at the Edaville Rail Run

There are many races where you have that signature moment when you ask: What the hell am I doing? That moment came in the very first mile of the 2015 Edaville Rail Run. A freezing twenty mile an hour wind barreled across the cranberry bogs and slammed into hundreds of runners who tucked deep into their sweat clothes. The wind was a constant obstacle at what was otherwise a flat, 5 mile trail run. But I must back up a little because the race itself was only one part of the journey.

I grew up in Massachusetts (25 years). My wife Terri and I lived there together for about three and a half years (Two years in Carver). We had good jobs and an active social life despite the weather. Terri competed in Dressage while my brother Kevin and I competed in mountain bike racing. Living with my parents was difficult, cramped into a single wide mobile home. We looked into getting a place of our own but the cost of living was just outrageous. We moved back to Florida in 2010.

Five years passed before my mother convinced me to visit. Terri couldn't make the trip so I went up alone but she insisted that I do certain things while I was there. 1. Look through my photo albums, to be reminded of where I came from. 2. Take a walk in the woods, enjoy the intoxicating scent of pine trees in Autumn. 3. Eat at Cosi. It was our favorite lunch stop. Their Turkey Stuffing Sandwich is to die for. It's funny how strongly food is connected to memories.

Number four was a big ask: Spend some quality time with the family. I've got a huge family and can't possibly see them all in one weekend. What I could do amounted to hours of coffee talk with Mom & Dad plus dinner with my sister Ginger and her husband Tim. I also got to hang out with my nephew Tyler and my niece Natalie, both great kids. That list also included hugging a bunch of animals. I followed Terri's instructions as best I could but there was one last thing to do.

Alex and his Mom
On Saturday morning it was time to race. Edaville is the oldest heritage railroad in the United States. Situated on a Cranberry plantation it was an active for decades before becoming a small theme park that is well known for its seasonal festivals. My first memory of Edaville was as a little kid climbing aboard the steam train during the Christmas themed Festival of Lights. Edaville can be a magical place for a kid and even more so in the future as they are rebuilding the park to include more rides. These changes will include Dino-World, a full section dedicated to Thomas the Tank Engine plus the requisite shopping village and archway entrance.

In November of 2000 Edaville created the first rail run to benefit the long standing Dorine Merritt Memorial Fund which gives money to various youth causes in the town of Carver. The route is like no other (Route Map). It is a pure trail run on flat bog roads that circle the beautiful Atwood Resevoir. This would be the very first running race for my brother Kevin who bought brand new, watermelon colored running shoes the night before. He took on the 2 mile course while I huddled my way into the 5 mile race.

The last time I tackled a race of this distance was the 2013 Shark's Tooth 10K so my expectation here was merely to finish. While 46 degrees is not so bad, it was the wind that chilled us to the bone. At the start runners hopped in place and shook their limbs to stay nimble until the blare of the horn. Unable to warm-up before the start I merely had to shuffle my way through slow miles before my muscles agreed to kick in. People stood by the sides of the bog playing Eye of the Tiger on their stereos while holding up signs. The water stops were also friendly and encouraging. The first was worked by a particularly beautiful girl with long dark hair and a great smile, that will always get the heart beating a little faster.

I was probably passed by a hundred competitors and while motivation was difficult to maintain, it gave me time to develop a plan. At the 3 mile marker it was my turn to push. I widened my strides and started counting the people I passed on the way to the finish. Twenty-five runners later I charged up the ending hill and crossed the line. My brother, mother and niece were there to greet me.

You can't beat New England in the fall. This weekend was well worth the travel. If I have two tips for anyone wishing to go they are: 1. Use T.F. Green Airport (Avoid Logan) and 2. Involve your family. These events are so much more fun when you can share them with the ones you love.

Kevin Hutchinson (2 mile) Time: 23:51 - 15th in 36+ age group, Overall 82 of 161

Alex Hutchinson (5 mile) Time: 53:28 - 28th in 40-49 age group, Overall 280 of 352

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Daily Warm-up for Old Bastards

I tend to design the best warm-ups when I'm sick or injured. After another round of back pain followed by a pulled Latissimus dorsi and/or Serratus posterior muscle, not sure which is hurt, I have changed my starting routine. The logic is that if I can do a warm-up while I'm sick or hurt then I never have an excuse not to do it. As you can imagine this takes some creativity.

While I'm not yet an old bastard, I do sometimes feel like one. There are mornings where stiffness and ache threaten to ruin my plans. The truth is that when we get older we need more time to get the engine going so mobility becomes a bigger priority. They have a saying in Crossfit, "The shorter the workout, the longer the warm-up." Such logic applies to this cause. In this case the workout is your wake-up, that step into daily life.

All you need to do this warm-up is a piece of PVC pipe about 5 feet long and maybe 3 or 4 inches wide. This length/size/weight will allow you to do basic exercises like the overhead press, bench, squat and bent over row. Multi-joint exercises are preferred but don't be afraid to put curls in there. Just remember the most important rule: This is a warm-up. This is not a workout. This is not a shock exercise. The reason for using a PVC pipe instead of a weight bar is that it cannot be upgraded or plated. Stay light to get warm.

In addition to the PVC exercises you can also throw in one or two bodyweight exercises but with one qualifier: You must know your limits. If 50 reps worth of air squats causes you soreness the next day, then you can't use that exercise. Try PVC deadlifts instead. So here is the next rule: Your exercises must add up to 300 with a 50 rep minimum. In other words you can do 100 lat raises, 100 lunges, 50 air squats and 50 back extensions. Or you can try 100 bent over rows, 100 bench presses, 50 overhead and 50 box squats. There are a multitude of variations but I do find that this one works best: 100+100+50+50=300.

The magic number is 300. The exercises are up to you but you must stick with the PVC pipe, strick form and 300 reps. Why? If you do 500 it becomes a workout. If you use more weight it becomes a workout. If you misread your own limits it becomes workout. You want to be able to do this every day. There should never be a time when you are too sore or too tired or too sick to manage 300 reps. In addition I like to follow it with a short walk or run. I'm talking about 1 to 3 miles but no more.

My goal was to create something very basic, flexible and easy to follow. We all want to slow the process that turns us into old bastards. It's going to happen but we can fight it every step of the way.

Disclaimer: Alex is not a licensed fitness expert. He is just a crazy fucker who writes books, rides bikes and lifts weights. If you follow his advice then doom on you!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Stop Training & Start Having Fun

You know that instant when you get over yourself and start enjoy the moment? That finally happened to me. Two years ago I was an active runner competing in a race series and obsessing about beating my competition. I chose races based on how well I might place. How ridiculous is that? I was constantly suffering from injuries incurred during training and I was killing myself during the events. After one year I was beat down by my own efforts. I had missed the point entirely.

This time around I decided to stop training and start having fun. Instead of methodically building up to a race, I will sign up spontaneously. Instead of pushing myself to get faster, I will run at an agreeable pace. This is an attempt to stop the crash and burn cycle that has plagued all of my athletic endeavors. So far it appears to be working.

At the 2015 Trick or Trot 5k in Englewood (My Favorite Race), I threw all those unrealistic expectations in the garbage. In the spirit of Halloween I dressed up as The Punish Her. Nothing will make you smile faster than a tutu. I showed up early, posed for pictures and greeted friends. When the race started I took up a casual pace and just enjoyed the experience. It was about great trails, lots of smiles and physical activity in that awesome Florida weather. This is what it should be like. All of my runs will focus on fun from now on.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Edinburgh Cyclocross Challenge - Photos

The third weekend of FLCX took place at Highlander park in Dunedin, Florida and it was another hot one, at least for the first day. Saturday's races took place under a scorching sun which was ironic considering that Highlander is also a water park. Right next to the course was a full size pool and children's sprayground. If only there had been moisture on the course. A well timed rain would have made for a completely different experience. As it were, Edinburgh was mostly flat grass with a dust cloud sand pit, some shaded singletrack and a couple cement bike paths. These made for a fast race. Ryan Woodall held the Saturday record of 5:25 a lap which he took as part of his Pro win.

This was my return to racing after a disastrous start at Veterans park. There I overheated and had an asthma attack, here was I was determined to avoid those traps. It was not an easy task. Electing to take on the crowded category 4/5 race was a great idea. I found them to be a varied assortment of riding styles and skills. Despite entering the chase with a singlespeed I was able to cruise well in the corners but lost time on the straights. My asthma still caught me but not until the second lap and it wasn't a bad attack so I was able to keep huffing forward. I finished the race and had a great time doing so.

I need to thank some people for their support: Race Promoter Zach Fout for some nutritional advice, The Champ Ryan Woodall for cheering me on, Uber Heckler Michael Toth for lifting my spirits in the later laps, Patrick O'Shea for suggesting that I race Cat 4/5 and I want to thank the man I was chasing, John Tenney. I never did catch him, lol.

My lovely wife Terri was there to take some pics so be sure to check them out at the link below.
Feel free to tag yourself and others.

Thanks again to my sponsors: Bicycles International, 661 and Luksha Reconstruction.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Racing with Exercise Induced Asthma

The whistle blows. I'm racing along with the pack, keeping an eye on the jersey in front of me, barely aware of the rider behind me. My pace is steady and the obstacles are manageable. Then suddenly I notice that my breathing is a little forced. I'm taking larger gulps of air and trying to calm them down by breathing through my nose. I ignore the discomfort and keep on. Half a lap later my gasping is so loud that spectators can hear it. Instead of cheering they pause and listen. They know that something is wrong. They might even spot the problem before I do.

In my mind I'm thinking: It's a race. It's supposed to be hard. There is supposed be pain. I'm pushing the pace. I'm focused on a goal. It is within this mentality that I am often the last to acknowledge what is happening, I was hyperventilating. My lungs were restricting, closing up, depleting the oxygen that my muscles desperately needed. I was growing weaker, getting slower. The obstacles became too much. I had to churn the pedals to make it through the sand and mud. People were passing me. Then I was off the bike, pushing it up a hill and suddenly I couldn't even do that. I couldn't take another step. It was over.

Exercise Induced Asthma is not uncommon among athletes, especially cyclists. Perhaps more than 10% of cyclists deal with the occasional attack. There are many theories as to why but the most likely is that cyclists breath in large amounts of pollen and pollutants from the air as they ride. These allergens narrow airways starting a negative reaction cycle. However, the true source of EIA is still largely unknown and its triggers vary greatly.

Of the ten bike races I have participated in this year, only two have been interrupted by EIA. Both of them were on particularly hot days so in my case that is the most likely trigger. As for treatments, there are many suggestions from Albuterol inhalers to corticosteroids to the Buteyko breathing method. The one that works best for me is running intervals. On the day of the event I need to open my lungs up, so to speak, to lessen the chance for an episode. Even so, it can come out of nowhere.

EIA is not a new development as noted in a article that came out earlier this year:
In a study published in 1998 in the “Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology,” researchers studying athletes at the 1996 Olympic Games found that U.S. athletes participating in cycling and mountain biking had the highest rate of asthma. A later study published in the June 2006 issue of the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness” tested the pulmonary function of a professional cycling team and found that 72 percent of the subjects had upper airway or bronchial symptoms.

Many great athletes have suffered from this condition and managed to move forward in their careers. The most notable in our sport is Katie Compton. She has suffered from a number of illnesses but most notably allergy induced asthma. Some attacks have been so serious as to land her in the hospital. Still, Katie has managed to perform on the highest level. How? Her response is, "I'm stubborn and I hate quitting." Thanks to her unstoppable attitude she has won the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships 11 times. We couldn't ask for a better example.

I wrote this to reach out to anyone battling the same challenges and remind you that you are not alone. Take the best steps available (Warm-ups, meds, breathing exercises), keep yourself educated and watch for the signs. Most importantly, don't give up. I put in three months of training and yet still could not overcome the effects of a particularly hot afternoon. It all felt like such a waste. My frustration was beyond words but I've been down this road before. It was only one race. My happiness depends, not on winning, but on participating. I'll be back and so will you. The season has only just begun.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Veterans Memorial Park CX Race Photos

The first race of the Florida Cyclocross Season was a hit. Veteran's Memorial Park in Hudson was well attended despite weather conditions that might have frightened less hearty sportsmen. On Saturday, Sept 5th, 2015 the heat was on. Literally, it was like 95 degrees in the sun. Around mid show there was a brief interval of rain to cool things off but then it went right back to scorching. Still, nothing was going to stop these riders.

Big thanks to Zach Fout of Cycology Coaching Solutions for crafting a fun course full of sand traps and mud pits with a few tricky off cambers bits to keep riders on their toes. Even the kids had an entertaining race with one ambitious young man who rode under the tape several times creating his own loop. While there I managed to get a few photos of the event and competitors then pasted them on Facebook. Feel free to tag yourself or friends.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Season is Upon Us!

The summer is almost over and CX Season is about to start! I have been training in a manner befitting someone who has to visit every five minutes to make future decisions. Regardless, things have gone smoothly. No injuries, no major mechanical issues. I was banging out the reps, running up my cardio and biking over everything that can even vaguely be considered an incline. For example: Hill repeats on the Venice bicycle bridge. It takes 20 laps of that 50 footer to make 1,000 feet of climb at 5%. That's about as big as it gets around here but results should follow.

I have always had trouble sticking with a training plan for very long. However, I have found the cure to that problem - Crossfit. I've been dabbling with CF for a while but this summer I decided to look more deeply into this phenomenon. I read a couple books (Inside the Box & Learning to Breathe Fire). I watched dozen of videos and got my wife Terri involved. We do solid warm-ups followed by WOD's (Workout of the Day) at home usually a few days a week. We scale down the weights and times but always use high intensity. The early results are encouraging and since it is a variable system I never get bored with it. Moreover, Terri enjoys the challenges.

On a related note, during July I was happy to take part in a CX gathering at Payne Park in Sarasota. There were about two dozen people who showed up to learn the ropes or just practice their skills. The meet up was run by Kate Adams of Liv Giant and taught by Florida Pro Josh Thornton. We chatted about the upcoming races and ran through a series of drills, most of which were a lot of fun. If this gathering was any indication, we should have a very active season.

Back to training. After a particularly smoldering morning slaving my way through a top speed 40 min grass circuit, I managed to exceed my previous distance. That means I scored a new PR! Yeah! Right? So why didn't I feel elated by this victory? Because I managed 3.90 laps over the previous 3.75. That is about a quarter of a mile further. This is a win! Right? So why was I feeling flushed by the effort? Why wasn't I excited?

This was what you call a hard gain. It is proof of improvement but in a small amount. Sometimes we'll look at a minor achievement and scoff because, well, it's minor. It is hard to brag about these tiny perks and easy to discount them. Still, it's a win. You have to let yourself enjoy these moments. They are steps towards the eventual goal. Small, steady gains are often better than big leaps because they represent gradual improvement, the building of a foundation that can be relied on for future success.

If I have learned anything this summer it is that since you are already hacking away at your soul with hot laps and voluminous reps, you might as well give yourself credit for that toil. Our trick was to buy a small wading pool and set it up in the shade to act as an ice bath for after workouts. This has been a godsend. While we all want to leave the competition in the dust this fall we can't do it if we are stressing out over marginal improvements so find a way to cool off. The great thing about amateur competition is you have nothing to lose and everything to gain just by showing up.

See you at the races!

Be sure to visit my sponsors.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Summer of Sweat: Part Two

July 4th, 2015 (Englewood, FL) - Training is a process of self-discovery. This is where you feel out your limits and work beyond them. It's the self-study part we need to pay attention to. In this update about my CX training summer of sweat I'm taking note of the some the things I'm learning about myself. In addition I'm training my wife Terri and I have quite a bit to learn about that process as well.

Why Easy is Never Easy - My tendency towards intensity has to be bound with sturdy strings. This first week is all about habit so we're talking low reps and easy pace. However, there is always an evil little bird humming in my ear saying, "You can do more." No matter how many times you try to swat this bird, it keeps coming back. Resisting that temptation is the difference between floating and drowning. When floating you might not be going very fast but at least you're above water. This is the explanation for why easy is never easy, it keeps you busy.

Don't be Tripin - Personal Records (PRs) are our measuring sticks for progress. However, if you rack your limbs climbing a mountain on the first day then you could miss a week of training while trying to recover. This is especially true for older athletes. I'm 42 so setting low hurdles keeps me from getting tripped up. This works for beginners as well. What we do is conquer several small goals that can all be built up over time into bigger ones.

You Can Do it! - Remember when you first watched Rocky 4? Those training montages were powerful, they made you want to train. Lately, watching weight lifting videos on Youtube is one of my big motivators. Barbell Shrugged, Crossfit and GRID videos are the best! I also discovered that they work well for Terri. She watched an emotional Crossfit competition video like the one above and was excited to exercise afterwards.

Blowing Up with a Smile - Probably the best lesson this week was taught to me by a friend. Gary Vasbinder is the owner of Real Bikes Englewood, a local bike shop. He was leading a MTB group ride at the Palmetto Trail in Myakka State Forest on Tuesday night. Gary was at the front of the ride setting a killer pace for the rest of us to follow. I did my very best to keep rippin, giving 110% for the first 6 or 7 miles before I blew up. I soft pedaled the rest of the way back and felt awful about my performance. That was until Gary said that he blew up with about a mile to go. Really? All that time I felt weak because I couldn't maintain at such a high level but here was the fastest guy saying he had also hit the wall. That made me realize that no one has it easy out there. We are all struggling. All of us are pushing hard and as a result we are all getting faster.

My First Week of Sessions
MTB Singletrack Group Sprint - 10 Miles
CX Standing Sprints - 6 Miles for 8reps
Stationary Bike - 1 Hour
Total Running - 2 Miles
Total Jumping Jacks - 700
Total Strength Training - 1 hour 50 min
Additional physical activity - 55min

If you enjoyed reading this post be sure to check out my book Twisted Trails

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer of Sweat: Part One

Mon, June 29th, 2015 (Englewood, FL) - I love training. Not more than competition but there is a real sense of purpose that comes from pushing yourself to a new level with a clear goal in mind. This is my second day of an eight week build up to the fall Cyclocross season. Last year I tried CX for the first time and fell in love. It combines all the things I love about Mountain Biking with all the things I enjoyed about BMX Racing. Last year I could only afford to do 4 races but this year I have sponsors and a schedule. A little help goes a long way.

As for the process, I'm already sweating. Weighed in at 175.6 and will check that number as the summer goes on. I have a series of conditioning exercises plus CX riding blocks all lined up on my white boards (Of which I have 3). I'll be keeping careful track of RPE's, nutrition, hydration, miles and hours on the bike as well as personal records for each exercise in my home gym. I plan to suffer, OCD style! It is crazy hot every day and most of my focus is on intensity.

If you are wondering about all the creepy pictures, those are from today's session. They were filmed using video then taken out as snapshots. I wanted to do a video diary but I still don't like how I look and sound on camera. Anyway, Day One was very quick and Day Two was nice and mellow. For the first two weeks I'll be keeping things simple in order to fulfill required training blocks and establish proper habits. After that we start to push the pace.

If you want to follow my progress check back here over the next eight weeks. I will eventually get the courage to post video of some sessions and talk about how things are going. In the meantime be sure to check out my sponsors.

Bicycles International of Venice, Luksha Reconstruction and SixSixOne.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

SCORR Builds a Bridge

Sat, June 27th (Venice, FL) - Remember that pesky water crossing on the BoldyGo trail in the Carlton Reserve? Well, it's still there but you no longer have to get your feet wet. A trail addition has been added that bypasses the creek and the steep rollers but reaches a newly built wooden bridge that spans the water farther upstream. Hoorah for trail progress!

A dozen members of the Sarasota County off Road Riders (SCORR) carried an 800 pound log, equal to half a telephone pole, through the woods to a selected location. This pole was used as the core of the wooden bridge which was built on site. The bypass has been cleared and will allow riders to choose the hard route over the rollers and through the water or the easy route over the bridge. This bypass will be especially useful in the deeper summer months when the water crossing becomes impassable.

Yours truly was on hand to help out and I also managed to take a full array of pictures that show the construction process. You can see them all at the link below.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: On Top of Your Game by Carrie Cheadle

After a couple epic fails during XC mountain bike races I thought I might need a little psychological boost so I picked up Carrie Cheadle's book, On Top of Your Game. I heard about the book during an interview she gave to Mountain Bike Radio. In the book, the author addresses common mistakes that athletes of any sport can relate to but I found them to have relevance for bike racing. The premise is that while we all prepare physically for our sports, we tend to forget about the psychological aspect until something goes wrong. Her book contains a series of mental exercises that can alleviate such problems, mostly by fixing our focus in the right direction.

Luckily I'm long past the anxiety shakes that hindered my first few races so there were chunks of this book that didn't apply to me. However, there were some gems that hit my issues right on the money. One was my tendency to create "Secret Goals." The author defined that habit as the hidden agenda that we carry into a competition. Reading this section cracked open one of my big problems. With an overactive imagination that focuses too much on outcome and not enough on "Playing" I was setting myself up with unrealistic expectations and thus constantly falling short. Another great notion was the acknowledgement that competition has a natural "Yin/Yang" quality that many of us forget during the good times and remember harshly during the slumps. Carrie writes that if we accept the inevitability of that emotional roller coaster it becomes easier to flow with it.

I read this book end to end and it took a while because I'd read, pause, think and do the mental exercises for each concept. However, most people would probably find it more useful to pick a chapter that jumps out at you. None of us have all of these problems but all of us have likely had some of them. If I have any criticism it would be that while the concepts can be applied across the spectrum of sports, I wish there had been more about bike racing. The shortage of specific examples forces the reader to imagine how it applies to their situation rather than reading about another person facing their exact same difficulty. It is a practical read that focused my mind for another season on the bike, encouraging me to have fun and set more realistic goals.

This book is available on

Carrie Cheadle

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Hibernation... sort of?

Where is Alex? This year kicked off with a ton of riding, racing and travel. Having competed in 9 races and took part in more than 20 events plus group rides, it is time to rest. Right now I'm enjoying a week off from everything. I will start an aggressive CX specific training schedule next week. It will consist of short blocks of riding and exercise which I will be writing about.

Florida summers can be brutally hot! With no AC in our car we're not taking any trips in July & Aug. Instead we are saving our pennies for the upcoming Cyclocross season and for a new car.
So stay cool, stay dry and I'll see you all in the fall.

I want to thank my sponsors Bicycles International of Venice, Luksha Reconstruction and Sixsixone.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Spending the Night at Santos Campground

June 10th, 2015 (Ocala, FL) - Hotels are expensive! You'd think that with all the complicated websites created to help you find the best deal, the price might actually go down. So much for technology. We haven't been on a camping trip in about five years. It was time to drag the tent out. Granted summertime in Florida is not ideal for camping but with a little luck you can get away with it. A few days before our trip the air conditioning in our car died. So much for luck.

It was my wife's vacation so we were not going to let anything stop us. I went through Reserve America to pay for a site at Santos campground and then I signed up for the Hump Day Hustle race on the Santos Bicycle Shop website. On the big day we were blessed with many miles of overcast skies with intermittent rain which cooled things down for the long drive. The normal 90+ weather can drop 20 degrees in a good storm.

The Skills Center and Trailhead are adjacent to the Campground
 Once arriving in Ocala we suddenly realized that we had forgotten our pillows and blanket. No need to rough it. We bought new ones at a Dollar General. Checking in at the camp was easy. We told them our name and received a placard for our rear view mirror. It had our site number and the combination to the front gate (The park locked up at 6pm). We set up our tent and put in an inflatable mattress then set off to get something to eat.

Since local eateries are a big part of trips like this I felt the need to take note of where we went. For lunch and dinner, we went to Mojo Grill. It is located on RT 27, only 3 miles from the campground and has a fantastic selection of burgers/wraps and beer. The reason we came back for dinner was that it was also where they held the awards ceremony for the mountain bike races. For breakfast we ate at B D Beans Cafe, also on RT 27 about 3.7 miles away. This artsy shop has great prices, decent Java Dawg coffee and real personality. It is a hidden gem worth finding.

B D Beans Cafe in Belleview

Every camping experience has its Pros and Cons so here is a quick run down
of what we noticed during our short stay.

Pros: With mountain bike trails, a skills park and a bike shop all within walking distance, this is an ideal place to pitch a tent. A one night reservation cost $23. (As compared to $98. at a local hotel). Since it was the off season we were able to pick from many empty spots. Every site has water & electricity, a fire ring and a picnic table. None of the sites are farther than a hundred feet from the bathrooms/showers (Which DO have hot water).

Cons: If you have good ears, you might not get a restful night's sleep. We could hear everything. Noises from the other campers, cars on the nearby road, planes flying overhead and a train in the distance. You never felt like you were sleeping in the woods. We hardly slept at all but that was mostly because of the humidity.

Would we return? Hell yes! Mark your calendars for the cooler fall and winter seasons but definitely give this place a try. It is inexpensive, accessible and ideal for mountain bikers. Space is limited so be sure to reserve way ahead of time. The spots can handle RVs as well as campers and tents. There is an 8 person per lot limit. Need emergency supplies? Firewood, snacks, beer and much more are available right across the street at Greenway Bicycles.

If you want to know what the trails are like, be sure to read my other articles.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Breaking the Curse: My First Race at Santos

June 10th, 2015 (Ocala, FL) - Ever since I moved to Florida I've done very little cross country racing because, well, I've been cursed. I'm fine when it comes to endurance or gravel grinders, BMX or CX racing. For some unknown reason I can't get through an XC race without something going horribly wrong. At my first race: I crashed out. At my second: I had a mechanical on the start line. At my third: I had an asthma attack during the first lap. The Finals of the Hump Day Hustle was to be my fourth race and I was fed up!

This time I was taking precautions and altering expectations. I was studying sports psychology to change my focus. I was training with weekend rides that exceeded 50 miles. Learning from the past I would not sprint off the line blowing out my lungs. I would not exceed my red line. I would not attack until it favored my strengths. This time I was determined to change my fate.

The race started at the Santos Bicycle Shop and kicked off at 6:30pm with a large Open Sport class heading out only 5 seconds after the Experts. It began with a grass grinder that followed the road for about a mile. I kept a moderate pace, passing only one person and grabbing the tire of a speedy junior. Then the trail broke left into the woods, past fences and through the Santos campground. We entered at the main trailhead turning right then swaying back and forth through the endless narrows of singletrack.

I stayed on the wheel of this junior rider who had one guy directly in front of him and then another twenty feet ahead. I followed them on the skinny bridge, over the rollers and up to some thrilling speeds. My breathing was heavy for a few miles but when it settled into a comfortable rhythm I started to look for opportunities. Little did I know that I was already jumping the gun. I was about to go off my plan.

Our little group passed a guy on the side of the path who had some kind of mechanical. That was one less rider to deal with. I knew my moment was coming. When we reached a wider part of the trail I broke into a sprint. In one fell swoop I passed both the junior rider and the guy in front of him. Then just around the corner a once distant rider had crashed. I swiftly dodged him while quickly asking if he was okay. He jumped right back up. Now I was in the lead of that pack. With more miles of singletrack in front of me it was unlikely they would find a place to pass. I was feeling pretty good about myself but that was soon to change. The curse was about to kick in.

From past experience and earlier riding that day, I knew about 75% of the race course. We were about to hit the part that I didn't know. Suddenly it got hilly and rocky. I was so caught off guard that I didn't drop gears fast enough and got stuck stone cold atop the second rise. While I was trying to adjust my pedal to kick off again, five riders passed me. That was everyone I had passed plus another to boot. I rolled down the hill and pedaled up the next trying to keep up but this time I was caught off guard by the sharpness of the descent. My front tire wedged between two rocks and I went over the handlebars. I landed on my back, on a rock in a trail valley.

I pulled myself up and continued on, pushing the bike up the hills of that gnarly section. I had cuts and scrapes on my legs, knee and elbow. I was covered in mud, dripping with blood and feeling pain in my back. It took about ten minutes to return to something resembling a cadence. I smiled for the camera as I passed Terri. I was faking determination, hoping it would blossom into real ambition. That was when I remembered my original focus. All I wanted to at this race was finish the full distance and beat at least one other person. I was still in a position to accomplish both goals.

I rode the second lap solo. Keeping as fast a pace as I could handle, I never saw another rider until I crossed the line. Overcoming the pain and injuries was well worth the effort. I was proud of my grit. Placing 24th of 26 meant I also managed to beat a couple people. I learned some lessons while also experiencing the validation of my training. Despite the crash, this was the strongest I have felt in an XC race this year. I might not have broken the curse but at least this time I didn't let it break me.

The Hump Day Hustle was a blast. It was my kind of race course, fast running and sprinkled with a refreshing light rain. The awards ceremony at the shop and at Mojo Grill were both fun. The bar was especially supportive of the races. They hung up posters and used the overall awards as decoration until the big day. I look forward to racing at Santos in the future.

I want to thank my sponsors
Bicycles International of Venice, Luksha Reconstruction and SixSixOne.