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.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Photos from the Hump Day Hustle


June 10th, 2015 (Ocala, FL) - The final event of the Hump Day Hustle mountain bike race took place under cloudy skies with a light sprinkle of rain. More than 100 riders gathered at the Santos Bicycle Shop where they took donned a number plate and lined up for a night of fun in the mud. On a fast course with many miles of singletrack, racers had to step on gas and keep it pressed all the way through. Those with the biggest engines found themselves on the podium.

While I entered the fray, my wife Terri took pictures which included pre-race, race, podiums and later series podiums which were awarded at Mojo Grill. Click the link below to see the photos. Feel free to tag yourself and others. Make sure to 'Like' Bog Dogs Secret Stash.