Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cinti #FightforAirClimb, Any Monkey Can Win

Except if I was late to work, I never ran up a single flight of stairs.  The longest “run” I’ve done since Christmas is 90 seconds.  I’m not rubbing it in or bragging about finishing tied for 3rd at the American Lung Association's Fight for Air Climb at Cincinnati's Carew Tower.  Aside from giggling at my dumb luck, I am pointing out that “run” and “stairs” are not the operative words.  Climbing the Carew Tower is not about running stairs.  It’s pretty much climbing like a monkey, a very fit and determined monkey. 

Me 2nd from Right with the Rewind 94.9 Rump Shakers
Climbing is the operative word.  In fact, I’m pretty certain I heard a hair raising cackle echo in the stairwell on my way up that gave me chicken skin.  “Ooh ooh ah ah ah ahhh!” No doubt I am half man, half monkey.  Ask my wife.  If I could’ve clawed the handrails and walls with my feet, I would have.  Now I’m not saying it was easy.  To the contrary, it was donkey wheezing, sniveling, spastic arms flailing being chased the boogie man hard.  Bounding is a good term.  Tree-squirreling would be another.  It was not pretty, but fast and effective.

Evil Monkey in Full-Effect
Aside from finding a similarly tight stairwell with handrails within reach on both sides, the 2nd best training would be boarding a cruise ship as it pulls away from port.  You’re not running a gangway so much as getting from the dock to the ship before the rope-railed gangway goes crashing into the ocean.  The 3rd best training would be running from an axe murderer in your basement.  You would not run.  You would not step on the stairs.  With your heart rate pegged at max you would go from basement to 1st floor by whatever means possible, a foot on a wall, a hand on a pipe.  If you must run stairs, the closest analogy is running the pedestrian stairs over an overpass...as it crumbles onto the freeway below.  That is the Fight for Air Climb.

Secret Weapons
As it turns out for me, cyclocross bike racing was a near perfect training.  You don’t run up the stairs.  Hands reaching and grasping, you pull your way up, your feet cross-eye aimed at two steps higher.  Look at the position of a cyclist.  Handlebars become handrails.  Pedals are two-stairs high.  In cyclocross and mountain bike racing, we’re used to getting the “holeshot”, first into the first corner with quick fast twitch speed, trying to essentially eliminate your competition by the first turn.  Most races are all about the first lap, the first 7 to 7.5 minutes of the race.  My time at Climb The Carew was 6:27.  I trained for the Cyclocross Masters World Championships in January with months of 30 and 15 second sprint intervals.  Obviously, some of that fitness is still with me.  The cycling training success fits the advice Marty Sanders, 2012 Vertical Mile Winner, gave me before the start.  He said, “Take two stairs at a time, use the hand rails, don’t run and give ‘er hell when you hit the hallway with 15 stories to go.”  Marty is also an accomplished cyclist and half monkey as well.

I’m not kidding.  I don’t think I could race a 5k without being laid up with sore hammies for two days.  To confess, I have been running, if you want to call it that.  I “run” on a treadmill.  My fastest and longest run is 90 seconds at 7.5mph.  High speed intervals.  In my head I run like Jason Bourne for 90 seconds, and then walk for a minute.  In reality I run like I'm escaping a house fire and walk like a zombie.  Then I do it over and over again for about 15 minutes.  That’s it.

The Next Best Thing to Monkey Feet
I will confess.  I did inadvertently have a secret weapon, maybe two, okay 3.  It was chilly, so I wore a thin set of full-finger gloves on a short jog from my car the Carew Tower.  Made for cycling, they had sticky grippers on the palm and fingers, perfect for gripping handlebars and as it turns out 45 stories of railings.  I wore a pair of tall day glow green tall striped socks (pictured above).  They make me go fast to run away from the heckling.  Oh yeah, and I just got a new pair of Pearl Izumi Peak II trail running shoes.  They’re light, have a snug and soft close fit, and are the perfect color of blue.  While most running shoes might come close to those attributes, the killer grip of Pearl Izumi's sole stands out.  No matter where my feet happened to land, I didn’t slip once, obviously the next best thing to having monkey feet.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sans Bike, Cyclist Out Run-Killed By Zombie

If only to survive the inevitable zombie attack, I believe everybody should be able to run a mile.  If not, accept the consequences…becoming an open head wound Zazzle.com t-shirt wearing zombie yourself. 

There’s added incentive in my neighborhood.  Aside from the fact that most of the Marlboro Maniacs that frequent the local quickie-mart are easy zombie targets which increases the chances of me being devoured by zombies, up in Mt. Lookout Square, exactly 1 mile away from my house is United Dairy Farmers Ice Cream Shop, Cincinnati’s Famous Zipps Café and the little known secret pizza place called Lucy Blue.  If it’s not to outrun chain-smoking zombies, I can run a mile for a cup of Raspberry Chocolate Chip.  However, without their bike at the ready, sadly most cyclists would face the fate of my less than healthy neighbors. 

You’re a cyclist.  You think you’re fit.  You can ride your bike for hours and hours, miles upon miles.  You can climb.  You can sprint.  You’ll be laid up for three days if you attempt to run for 10 minutes.  You’ve got the BMW twin-turbo engine, unfortunately you have the drive train of a 1978 Chevy Chevette.  You'd so not survive the zombie apocalypse. 

Behold!  I have discovered a running workout program for cyclists which will not make you sore, is more or less 20 minutes long, and if all goes well allow you to run the local 5k in a time your tri-athlete friends will not poke fun of.  In no time, you'll have the guns to out run any character on the Walking Dead and 99% of people who call running shoes sneakers.  

In an experiment, I sort of applied a cyclocross workout to running.  Last fall I started doing a workout gleaned from Cyclocross National Champion Katie Compton.  It’s called the 30-30-30 workout.  Essentially you sprint on the bike for 30 seconds, run for 30 seconds, ride easy for 30 seconds and repeat for 5-10 minutes.  While I did get faster at cross, both running and in transitions, I also noticed a huge unforeseen benefit.  I was not sore from running the next day, or the day after that.  Thank you Oprah.  Thank you Tom Cruise.  Thank you little baby Jesus.

Zombie Kllers Pearl Izumi Peak II
I’ve been running twice a week with the workouts below.  I’ll be on week 4 next week.  The key is easing into it with short 1 minute intervals.  The run is short, but right out the gate, faster than a zombie.  The rest is 1 minute, but a super easy brisk walk.  The walk speed could allow a determined zombie to catch up, but you’d take off again before he tears into your shoulders.  In 4 weeks, you’ll be up to a 2 mile run.  In 6, you’ll save face at the local 5k.  The big bonus, rest and a pace change is always on the horizon, because as a cyclist, running sucks as bad as a zombie attack.

WEEK 1: 18 Minutes
Warm up 3 minute walk at zombie pace (3.5-4mph). 
Easy jog for 30 seconds (5.5-6 mph).
Walk for 30.
Jog for 30.
Walk for 30.
Fast jog intervals 
(Fast jog, 6-6.5 mph, for 1 minute…followed by 1 minute walk. Alternate for 10 minutes.  Roughly 1.5 miles)
Cool down with 2-3 Minute walk.

WEEK 2: 22 Minutes
Same thing, but do the intervals at a Full-on run (7.5 mph) for 1 minute…followed by 1 minute walk and extend period to 15 minutes.  Was about 1.7 miles.

WEEK 3: 22 Minutes
Same thing, but extended the full on run to 1.5 minutes with same 1 minute walk rest.  Came out to almost 2 miles.

WEEK 4: 22 Minutes
Keep the run the same 1.5 minutes…maybe a pinch faster, but take the 1 minute rest period to the slow jog speed.  (essentially running for the whole 15 minutes, should be a bit over 2 miles)

WEEK 5: 25-30 Minutes
Probably extend the full on run to 2 minutes, keep the rest at a 1min jog, but extend the workout to 25-30 minutes.  Should end up being a sub 30 minute 5k (3 miles)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

If It Weighs Less Than Poo, It’s Not 4 U

Cyclists are the only American’s that can convert grams to pounds without using Google, masters of the metric.  So don’t tell me you’re grossed out and never considered how much “it” weighs.  If you drop your shorts and barefoot the scale the 2nd thing in the morning, you are sooo guilty, but oh so smart.  If you’re going to drop 25 hundo on the new Sram Red to save 150 grams off the previous version, wouldn’t it be worth it to make sure you read the graffiti in the port-a-poddy before you roll up to the start line?  There’s cheaper and surprisingly pleasant ways to shed grams.

I’m considering a new Hydrapak hydration system.  My thought is that a lighter pack over the course of the 100k of the Mohican 100 MTB race in May will make for a faster Joe.  The Hydrapak Alivia tips the scale at an impressively sexy and svelt 7 ounces, 198.446 grams…definitely according to Rain Man.  The website says it nearly disappears on your back.  It should.  7 ounces is less than the weight of a spare 29er inner tube, listed at Competitive Cyclist at 219g.  However, if my hypothesis is correct, I can save pretty close to 7 ounces every day of my life by reading a couple pages of Road Magazine on the cold white chair next to the bathtub. 

Now I’m not going to fish it out and plop it on the scale, but I’m pretty certain the typical water breaker has to weigh 7 ounces, a bit shy of a half pound.  If not, I’m sure eliminating some incidental weight would do the trick, such as some of the electrical tape under my bar tape.  Yep, there’s more tape under that bar tape and you probably don’t need to have it double or triple wrapped in 14 places.  Pause now, if you need extra time to digest the term "water breaker."  

Throw Away The Broccoli and Keep The Band
Incidental weight is the weight of the things you never even consider when pulling the trigger at the local bike shop for a lighter weight bike-a-ma-jig.  It’s the dead bugs smashed and sunbaked on the front of your suspension fork and the mud caked under the crown.  It’s the big fat pink broccoli rubber band on your spare tube, the best rubber bands known to man.  It's three glopping fingers full of chamois cream when 1 finger full would do the trick on your taint.  It’s using a seatbag instead of your middle jersey pocket or the 7 inches of extra seatpost below the clamp.  It’s wearing deodorant for a bike race, because it's not about how fast you ride but how effortless it appears.  

For weight weenies sake, “Take a poo!”  It’s what we say to each other flipping through the pages of the latest Colorado Cyclist with the credit card by our side.  It keeps things in perspective.  It keeps us from dropping $300 dollars on a carbon railed saddle.  If it saves less than a poo it’s not for you.

Want Some Fancy Salted Mixed Nuts?  Boing!
Is that tube going to spring out of your pocket like a toy snake in a can if you don’t lasso it with that giant rubber band?  What difference does the 150g savings of new Sram Red make if you roll up to the start line with a typical 160g seat bag full of stuff you could fit in your jersey pocket?  Did you knock the caked mud from the bottom of your shoes?  Are you really going to be able to drink two full water bottles in a one hour crit?

Anyone of us can probably drop at least a half pound off their race-day set up without spending a dime.  Sure it’s not quite as sexy as a Sram Red solution, but now you know why cyclists really shave their legs.

Monday, February 13, 2012

#26.2 Stickers & Other Things To Let Go Of

Maybe that’s why people have stick children on their windows and put 26.2 stickers on their bumpers.  I too want to wave it around for everyone to see.  Look!  Look what I did.  I raced a marathon!  I created a monster that can’t control his two year-old self in the cereal aisle at Kroger.  I’m fit, awesome and my buns look hot in cycling shorts!

But that’s exactly what I’m doing.  I’m trying to hang my hat on something.  Problem is, hanging your hat implies being done and I’m far from that.

It’s still the desktop background on my computer, the picture from Cyclocross Magazine of me finishing 30th place and on the lead lap at the 45-49 Masters Cyclocross World Championships.  It’s my lei from Iron Man in Kona. It’s my baby.  It’s my 26.2. 

I don’t want to come off the high.  I like being him.  Still riding the buzz of the pink bike, I’m having a hard time entering another race.  I want to stay the guy whose last race was Worlds.  They always say, “You’re only as good as your last race.” 

So, I want the stick figures on my back window to show a skinny husband and wife on bikes, two cats, our 6 other bikes, the outlines of all the countries and states where we’ve vacationed and the logo from the 2012 Cyclocross Masters World Championships in Louisville.  Look!  Look what I did!

But, that’d be idiotic.  The meaningful moments of my life couldn’t fit on ten rear windows and the schmo behind me pulling into a Walmart parking lot cares as much about Cyclocross Worlds as I care about why he's pushing a cart full of Sudafed.  We don’t exist to impress other people.

However, while it’s not impressive, a cart full of Sudafed does sort of identify you, and not as someone who has a really stuffy nose.  Same goes for the 26.2.  It says you’re a long distance runner and probably look good in shorts.  And, that “I Heart CX” sticker says the driver likes racing weird bikes in the mud. 

If that’s so, that’s not saying much.  This is precisely why I don’t have a tattoo.  One day you put a 26.2 or etch rainbow stripes on your arm and the next thing you know, you’re forever locked in the past like the football tossing Uncle Dork in Napoleon Dynamite.

We’re more than that.  Lives can’t be defined by stickers and tattoos.  So, while your 26.2 sticker, his IM tattoo and my World Championship finishers medal are good keepsakes and reminders of who we are and what we can achieve, there’s no good reason to cling to that one shining moment in fear that you can’t have another.  Mementos should keep you looking forward not back.  

Go out on a high note?  Whatever.  That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.  Sign me up for another bike race.  Even if I finish DFL, maybe I will try trail running.  Even if it was a good showing at the World Championships, an ear piercer of a high note, I don’t want to go out on it.  I’m not done.  Life is a symphony, not a song. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

On Having Made "The List"

The Road Crew: one man working, 15 others watching.

We were going nearly 25mph at the time, and I was on the rivet in the middle of the fall-back lane of the paceline trying to snarf down a Clif Bar.  Ahead lie the last relatively uninterrupted 20 or so miles of the regular Sunday racer ride, Cincinnati’s Hyde Park Ride.  Even with the hammer down, it was still nearly an hour or so home and I felt like I was struggling, on the cusp of letting a gap go or missing tagging onto the rear of the rotating paceline with the fastest guys in the city.  “Hold up!  Joe’s got a flat!  Hold up!”  Wha?  Wha huh?  Sure enough, I looked down and my rear end was a tish mushy, slow leak. 

“Igussadoo evaflat,” I mumbled out between heavy breaths with my mouth full of chocolately goodness.  Well at least it wasn’t my legs this time.  One of the most veteran riders in Cincinnati was on my wheel, spotted it and waived the flag.  Miraculously yet thankfully, the whole ride pulled over to the shoulder.  “Quick change Joe,” he said.  Sweet, I thought.

Either everyone needed a break, or maybe, possibly,  finally, I made “The List” as the Two John’sPodcast half jokingly calls it.  That warm faint feeling of coming to a dead stop after riding at 25mph rushed through my head as I tossed the last quarter of my Clif Bar on the wooden post of the roadside barrier and dug out my tube.  It wasn’t the quickest tube change in the world, but respectable.  I threw my leg over before the last guy finished a natural break, so all was good.

As I thumbed the bead of the tire off the rim, I was grateful.  On this same ride, nearly a year ago I got tailed off on a climb.  Flat backed and head down I tried to claw back on before a stop sign but ended up dropped, a good hour and a half from home.  Solo and lost, I literally had to navigate like a sailor to get home.  I kept heading south to the Ohio River, then followed it west back to town.  Judging from the stickieness of my tube, it’s been a long time since I flatted.  Here, as I tugged to peel the old tube from the inside of my tire, were all the Hyde Park Ride veterans and their teammates chatting patiently.  I tossed the spent tube to the guy next to me to roll up, stuffed the new tube in, double checked the bead and shhhhhhhtt!  I hit it with CO2.

Now I’m not going so far as to say there’s a physical list taped to someone’s stem of guys who the group will wait for in case of a flat and guys that the group will leave behind to navigate their way home by the turns of the river and the setting sun.  It’s not like that.  This ride has been going on in Cincinnati since everyone had steel bikes, down tube shifters and oogled over fine welding.  In every town, there’s a similar standing ride, hang or get dropped.  Know the route and be prepared to fend for yourself.  Bring teammates, make friends, or be left without a draft on the way home.  It’s a necessary evil of a good weekly training ride.  There can be upwards of 40 or more riders sometimes.  You can’t stop every time someone has to take a leak, adjust a rubbing brake or change a flat. 

Courtesy Stronglight
So, on rides like this, it’s not so much a pecking order as it is a level of camaraderie.  While I shrug off the term, an unwritten rule.  When the yellow jersey takes a natural break, so does everyone else.  When Spartacus calls the race neutral, it’s neutralized.  When a veteran rider says, “Hold up! Joe’s got a flat.”  The ride holds up.  Some stop, some take a natural, some snack, some noodle at 12mph up the road.  In five minutes time, the ride is back together rolling toward downtown at 27mph again.

One thing is for certain.  More than anything, somewhere between mile markers over the past 8 years of doing this ride the idle chit chat that began with relative strangers in double pacelines has turned into true friendships.  While of lesser importance, in skillfully avoiding mishaps, mindfully trading work and knowing which direction the paceline should rotate depending on wind direction, trust has been earned.  It’s certainly not the category on my racing license.  Since rap stars and gangstas have ruined the true meaning of the word, I cringe at saying respect.   But, while I may not have stripes on my sleeve from competing at cyclocross Masters Nationals and Worlds, maybe I have earned something intangible and intrinsically valuable. And, I'm truly humbled by that.

Personally, I wasn’t worried about riding home alone on Hwy 52 along the Ohio River from New Richmond to Cincinnati.  No doubt my 4 teammates would’ve waited for me.  You’re always on someone’s list.  However, maybe now I’m on a new list...The List.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Riding the Center Line in Sint Maarten

Bench on Philipsburg Pier
“On my way from Philipsburg, I saw a cyclist riding down the right side of the road in heavy traffic and thought, ‘what are they, stupid?’” said the woman at Tri-Sport bike shop, a surprisingly well outfitted race/rental shop that would rival most local bike shops in the states.  “Bikes and mopeds have the right of way and should pass on the left in heavy traffic.”  We were returning our Trek hybrid rentals from two days of riding and remarked how cool it was once we figured out that on the Dutch/French Island you’re supposed to ride down the center of a two-lane road when traffic is heavy.     

The Car of Choice in Sint Maarten
It’s a world where cars pull to the right to let cyclists have the right of way through heavy traffic.  Essentially bikes get a free pass on the left along the center line of the road.  It’s a beautiful thing, if you can wrap your American brain around it.  It’s actually safer, especially when you realize that many islanders pull to the right of the road to drop off passengers to walk the rest of the way.  Cars expect to be passed on the left and cyclists have full view of on coming traffic.  There’s also plenty of room to ride the centerline since most cars on the island are smaller than a Toyota Yaris.  We rented a Hyundai i10, 5.2 feet wide and 11.6 feet long.  Seriously, a Camry in a St. Maarten parking lot sticks out like a 1970’s Cadillac in the states.
Philipsburg Boardwalk

Before we figured it out the center line thing, we were pissed.  “Why do the cars keep pulling out in front of us?”  Unknowingly, we may have been the stupid people the woman at the bike shop lovingly referred to.  We were returning from Phillipsburg, the main town with the cruise ship dock and boardwalk, discount jewelry stores, the Blue Bitch Bar, a petite French cafe and an incredible Belgian chocolate shop. 

The Other French Colombier Climb
To get back to Simpson Bay was 7 miles and three of the tiniest “mountain” passes I’ve ever ridden over.  The largest mountain on the island, Peak Paradise, is about 1400 feet.  The Colombier with its name taken from the famous climb in the tour, also on the French side, is the 2nd tallest.  The rest of them average maybe 800-1000 feet above the beach.  Needless to say, the climbs, while steep, lasted no more than 5-10 minutes.  We took the long way less-traveled route with incredible vistas of Simpson Bay.  At the last roundabout, we made the turn back into town and traffic was bumper to bumper.  Aside from the occasional truck, more like teeny bumper to tiny bumper.  We started to descend.

View of Simpson Bay
Then the cars started veering to the shoulder in our path.  “What the hell!”  “Dammit!”  Then a moped zipped down the centerline followed by a cyclist headed up the hill in the opposite direction.  The light bulb lit above our helmets.  Alas, we were the stupid Americans.  We dodged to the left of the cars and bombed the hill to the next roundabout, zipped through it and big ringed it down the center of the road back to Simpson Bay Resort.  It was thrilling.