Friday, September 20, 2013

Shaving My Legs Made Me Faster

This little one came about 9 months ago. Right at the end of cx season in WI. Now I don't know if this is the case with every expecting couple, but the last two months of the pregnancy were rough on sleep for the both of us. I also had a location change and responsibility shift in my job. This all lead to my riding less than 2 hours a week for most of the cx season last year (2 hours of exercise a week may sound like a lot to some people, but for a competitive cyclist it pretty much equals zero). I didn't have a strong season. I felt slow and weak, and I didn't have the mental toughness to race hard.

After Lulu was born, Lauren was very good about encouraging and allowing me some time to ride every week so I could stay sane. Although for a stretch of about 6 weeks I did nothing athletic, unless you count playing Dance Central 3 a few times as exercise. Spring rolled around and I got to ride a bit more, but it was still spotty. I would go weeks without exercise.

Then things changed.

I've heard all kinds of reasons for guys shaving their legs when they are cyclists. Some say it is more aerodynamic, others say that it is better for getting massages on tired legs. For me, as an off road rider, shaved legs are easier to clean up after a ride and I pick up way less ticks. Whatever the reason a male cyclist gives you for shaving his legs, what it really all comes down to this: it is part of the culture.

Which is why early in the summer I heard comments from friends on group rides like "Nice hair pants." I actually got harassed for not shaving my legs! The fact is, it wasn't high on my list of to-do's. I had other things to get done and I was happy to just get out and ride. Then one Friday I decided I had time to take the hair pants off. And suddenly, I was faster.

No, seriously. I got faster by shaving my legs. Not for any of the reasons I listed above other than the fact that it is part of the culture. The week after I shaved I exercised more than I had in months. Something clicked. I was a cyclist again.

Here is the reason: if I shaved my legs and didn't ride my bike I was just some guy who shaves his legs, and that's sort of weird. But if I shaved my legs and rode, I was a cyclist.

It is a constant reminder of the culture and community I am part of and it gives me motivation to exercise and ride even when I am  tired or at odd times of the day. I may not be as fast as I once was. I still don't have a ton of time to exercise, but now I make sure I at least do something and I make my time on the bike count.

I feel stronger physically and mentally than I have since last Summer. I am stoked that the cx season is upon us because my cycling community is getting together again and I think I just might get faster as the season goes on (as long as my legs stay smooth).

I think there is a lesson to be learned from this, but I'll let you work that through on your own.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lake Geneva CX: Muddy Fun

As I was driving to the race in Lake Geneva it was pouring rain so I was excited. Racing in the mud is fun. Especially when it isn't too cold. While I was excited, however, I couldn't help but think to myself that I had only brought a bike with disc brakes. Disc brakes don't do real well in extended wet, muddy, sandy, conditions. The pads wear down, and with mechanical brakes you quickly lose the ability to brake. But that was the date I brung to the dance.

My warm-up consisted of doing a half-lap right before the race started. I wasn't too worried about that though, since mud races are usually about skills over pure high speed intensity. The officials did call-ups according to last week's race so I was in the front row at the start. We got the usual instructions, the whistle blew, and we were off. I must have good reactions to the whistle because once again I found myself in front. I self-selected and backed off a bit before the first corner and was probably 5th'ish into the hole shot. (Perhaps I shouldn't count myself out so soon, and if I get a good start I should go with it.)

After the first lap of trading spots with a few guys and going back and forth with them, I was riding pretty well and not too far behind Maciej. We are all having fun and enjoying the mud. Someone would go down or make a nice move and there was usually some nice commentary from a nearby racer. I was definitely taking the corners faster than the guys I was around and I was feeling strong, but my brakes were already going.

After two laps it was clear that my brakes were going to be a problem. I couldn't come into the corners as fast as I had been, and I was looking for new lines. When your braking action changes constantly it is really difficult to judge technical stuff. I believe Kate described my corning as "dainty" at this point. I was wondering if I could even finish the race, but it was too much fun to stop.

For a few laps I was managing okay. Guys were closing in, especially on the gravel climb, which I could have ridden smarter (For some reason I was taking the gravel climb slow. I'm not sure why and it was definitely a weak spot in my race overall. The last two laps I actually stood up and gave it some power). I tried to hold off the guys gaining time on me, but in doing so I went down twice. Which led to them catching me pretty quickly. I lost about six spots in the last lap and a half. I finished 11th.

After the race I discovered that I had zero braking power in the rear. None. In the front, with the lever mashed into the bar, I could slow the wheel, but there wasn't any stopping power. So all in all, when you think about it, that's a pretty good race. I finished by navigating a very difficult course without brakes.

Now, you probably think that since it was raining there wasn't a Clutch Corner. Well, I found some shelter for my boombox, so there was. The disc will be awarded to Andy H. this week for his spectacular crash. I didn't witness it myself but I done heard tale that he slid on his back about thirty feet like he was one a slip and slide. Here are the songs from this week:
  1. Ship Of Gold: Full Fathom Five
  2. Guild of Mute Assassins: Slow Hole to China: Rare & Rereleased
  3. Electric Worry: Full Fathom Five
  4. The Great Outdoors!: Pure Rock Fury                    
  5. Who Wants to Rock?: Jam Room              
  6. Juggernaut: Pitchfork & Lost Needles    
  7. 12 Ounce Epiloque: Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes & Undeniable Truths       
  8. The Mob Goes Wild: Heard It All Before - Live At The Hifi Bar                      
  9. Immortal: Live At The Googolplex           
  10. The Dragonfly: The Elephant Riders        
  11. The Mob Goes Wild: Blast Tyrant             
  12. Immortal: Pure Rock Fury                            
  13. White's Ferry: Heard It All Before - Live At The Hifi Bar   
  14. American Sleep: Pure Rock Fury
  15. Green Buckets: The Elephant Riders
  16. Careful With That Mic...: Pure Rock Fury               
  17. I Have The Body Of John Wilkes Booth: Clutch   

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sheybogan CX Race

Sheboygan was the first cross race of the year. Normally, September in WI is going to be in the low to mid 70’s, this year the high for the race was low to mid 80’s. And while a lot of the state to the south got some huge thunderstorms, at the race venue it just drizzled a few times and then got hot and humid. Not the greatest cx conditions, but hey, everyone has to face the same weather during the race.
The races got a bit of switch-up from last year. This year the 35+ 1,2,3 goes off at 2:15pm along with the 45+ and 55+ 1,2,3 races. We are no longer with the P,1,2 field (which is now the P,1,2,3 field.) So instead of an hour, my race is down to 45 minutes, and if I feel like I want to puke I can double up races.
After watching Heidi and Kate crush it in their races
20130907_131748.jpg 20130907_131858.jpg
I did one last lap to warm-up, making sure to turn the Clutch Corner! boom box on (more on that in a bit.) We then lined up for our staggered start just off the course. I thought we were going to roll up to the line to start but the officials said we were going right from where we were. I was on the end of what would be the inside of the first corner. The whistle blew and suddenly I found myself in front. I wasn’t really trying to do so and sort of ended up taking the hole shot. I lead for a bit until the real motivated individuals hopped in front. There were 3 initially. Then after a bit Andy and Maciej went around me. At first, I let them go and then started to give it a bit and stay on. The gap wasn’t growing and they were about 20 meters in front of me while I pulled 2-3 guys along.

Then at a 180 turn I was watching Andy and Maciej go around and without thinking I turned a full tape length too soon. I caught it before I went through the tape, but the fellows behind me were just watching wheels so they followed me into my wrong turn.  Andy and Maciej were out of sight by the time we righted ourselves. One or two more guys jumped 3 of us and I was last in line before we got going again. Less than a quarter lap later in some big swoopy off chamber turns Eric slide out, so I cut the line short on the inside and ended up back in front of the group.
For most of the race I pulled 2 guys along as the other guys fell off the pace. I don’t say we “pulled away” because I went basically the same pace for the whole race; start to finish, with the exception of picking it up the last 400 meters. We mixed with some of the 45+ guys and came up on Angry Andy who had exploded.

I didn’t have much power; could have been the heat, could be my fitness. But I was riding smooth and braking very little. I noticed that I was gapping the guys on my wheel in all the techy areas, and then they would get back on at two long straightaways. They were also trying to ride the equalizer while I ran it. I figured that if I stayed in front near the end of the lap in the last lap I could beat them because the end had some twisty turns that I was getting 10 feet on them every time. It worked out that way and I even got to sprint a bit at the end just to hold the guy off behind me.
I ended up 5thand I'll take it. It was a good start to the season and while I need to race into top fitness still, I feel fast’ish now.

Now, Clutch Corner is a little bit of life I plan on bringing to the races in the form of a boom box playing a different random mix of the 200+ Clutch songs that I have. I have also decided to give the disc away at the end of the day to some deserving racer. This week was a tough choice between Angry Andy going out super-fast and being in the top three then creating a Big Bang type explosion that evolved into an 11th place finish, or Travis who was absolutely crushing the P,1,2,3 for a few laps, before the ss race (which he won), got to his legs and he hung on for third. It went to Travis. Here is the track list from this week:

1.       Animal Farm: Full Fathom Five

2.       Abraham Lincoln: Strange Cousins From The West

3.       Texan Book Of The Dead: Clutch              

4.       Spleen Merchant: Blast Tyrant

5.       Who's Been Talking? Robot Hive / Exodus

6.       The Elephant Riders: The Elephant Riders

7.       Equinox                : Slow Hole to China: Rare & Rereleased               

8.       Frankenstein: Pure Rock Fury

9.       Spacegrass: Clutch

10.   The Wolf Man Kindly Requests...: Earth Rocker

11.   Pulaski Skyway: Robot Hive / Exodus

12.   El Jefe: Live At The Googolplex

13.   Wysiwyg: Blast Tyrant

14.   Oh, Isabella: Earth Rocker

15.   Hale Bopp Blues:  Slow Hole to China: Rare & Rereleased

16.   The Devil & Me: From Beale St. To Oblivion

17.   D.C. Sound Attack!: Earth Rocker

18.   Sea of Destruction: Slow Hole to China: Rare & Rereleased