February 14, 2019 § 5 Comments
The most important thing about being a cyclist is not showing up. But you can’t just not show up, you have do it properly, and to do it properly you have to set the stage beforehand.
The most boring people in the world are like Major Bob, who always shows up when he says he will, where he says he will, and then does the ride he promised to do. Borrrrinnnnggg.
Exciting cyclists know that leaving everyone to wonder whether you will appear at the last minute is the most awesome thing ever. Best is when they wait around five or ten minutes, or send frenzied text messages. “You comin’ bro?” “Where are you now?”
Here is how you keep ’em guessing and hopefully leave ’em disappointed.
- Tell your friends after a ride that you are for sure in next week. Don’t show.
- Resuscitate a ride like the Wheatgrass. Make it fun and exciting. Never come again.
- Get several people to agree to do a special ride with you. Don’t show.
- Text the night before, “See you at 6:00 AM pointy-sharp!” Don’t show.
- Go on Facebook and talk smack about how you gonna shred. Don’t show.
- Don’t text. Don’t call. Don’t show.
- Promise you are gonna do the ride, but never do. For six or seven weeks in a row.
- Tell everyone how awesome the ride is, it’s your favorite. Don’t show.
- Text five minutes before the ride and say you’re on your way. Go radio silent. Don’t show.
- Show, but then peel off and do a different ride.
Master these ten tricks and you will be owning everyone, if not every ride.
February 10, 2019 § 16 Comments
Of the numerous crackpot theories I espouse, my favorite is the 6-year cycling cycle. This law says that most people will quit cycling after six years. For some it will be five, for some seven, and a few will dangle out at the decade mark, but for the most part six years is the lifespan of a cycling enthusiast.
Here’s how it works:
Year 1: Amazing progress. Faster, stronger, leaner, Strava-er.
Year 2: Solid progress on the Stravver, huge progress with the equipment. Carbon, e-Tap, more carbon. Carbon flakes for your oatmeal. Make a few friends.
Year 3: Progress not so much but still notable thanks to Praise From Coach. Friendships and cycling social life go crazy. What a great bunch of people! Wow! This community is amazing!
Year 4: Plateau on the Stravver. Garage and bedroom now full. Okay, not everyone is so wonderful. But there are certain groups that are ME. And, cyclocross.
Year 5: Work got busy. Kiddie soccer suddenly became a thing. S/O not quite as interested in the group ride stories any more or those office park crits. Cyclists are pretty much dicks.
Year 6: Tennis/golf/surfing/pilates. Amazing progress. Faster, stronger, better, funner.
February 7, 2019 § 6 Comments
Our trusty correspondent from the planet Mxyzptlk recently drafted this most excellent piece of training advice and disseminated it to members of the Flog
spam list newsletter. It was so good I thought I’d re-post it here; it’s applicable to every miserably hard regular group ride or training race that you do.
Based on 3+ years’ experience doing the local Flog ride, it’s excellent advice.
To Flog, or not to Flog? Just a few weeks into the 2019 Flog season, and, already, this is the question.
It is 5:00 AM.
You are miles from the start at Malaga Cove.
It will be a long, miserable ride there.
You will arrive to enjoy six fun-filled laps, during which you will be mercilessly flogged, to no apparent purpose.
Pulling a shift on a trireme as a galley slave is starting to sound good right about now. And then, there is your pillow, gently whispering “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!,” and maybe even playing this song in your ear.
I have never claimed to like the Flog. In fact, I would tell anybody who asked that it was my least favorite ride, ever. That I dreaded it. Got pre-Flog anxiety every Wednesday, and was never sure I wouldn’t back out of until I actually arrived at the fountain on Thursday morning at 6:35 AM, pointy-sharp.
For some reason, it isn’t as fun as some other rides. No, that isn’t right. It isn’t fun at all. NPR starts at the same time Thursdays, but because you are going fast, it’s a blast. Oh, and you can hide in the group, and if you get shelled you just catch your breath, cut the course, and hop in with the group when it comes swarming by on the other side of the Parkway. They’re called “hop-in wankers” for a reason.
On those other rides, few know if you are hanging on for dear life. There is anonymity in the back third. And getting sucked along by a 60-strong peloton, if you have the basic fitness you don’t haveto go hard if you decide you don’t want to.
No such luck at the Flog. As Yoda said, “There is no hide.” Your struggles and place in the hierarchy are known, and rarely improve. Where is the reward for all this humiliation, droppage, and pain?
No one loves the Flog
A few people over the course of the three years I have been doing the Flog have claimed to love the ride. These proclamations amount to a kiss of death. When anyone starts claiming to love the Flog, and begins gushing testimony to the ride’s training effect, it is a guarantee that that person will quit the ride within weeks. No one who is doing this ride and intends to continue doing it can develop feelings of love for it. If you do, you will for sure not be around in a month or two.
But you can learn to embrace it, with all its unlovability, using some Jedi mind tricks. Let me share them with you, though, like the Flog itself, the explanation is long, painful, and hard to endure.
When I first started flogging in 2016 I was new to cycling, had only very recently graduated from tennis shoes to cleats, and had never even heard of “group rides.” To say that I had a hard time on the Flog would be an understatement. I finished each lap as part of the group Michelle Landes called “ The Caboose,” meaning the very last couple of riders to finish the lap. Every lap was an immersion into intense self-flagellation, my single hope being simply not be the last rider in the caboose to arrive at the regroup.
Even pedaling hard as I could, tasting blood in my throat, I still came in last by a fair margin at least half the time.
Doing worse isn’t progress
I went home all that first year extremely defeated, never feeling like I was getting any better, never looking forward to being part of the Flog and facing my lack of cycling fitness gasping for air in the country club parking lot.
I did 2017 much the same way, never feeling like I was making any progress, with little sense of accomplishment week in and week out. I continued to go, however, because taking time away from the Flog never translates into less defeat; you only get further behind with each week that you miss. But when 2018 rolled around and I was facing another year of the Flog, and many mornings of cold dread, I decided to change my relationship with this ride.
I looked at my strengths and weaknesses and decided to focus on only one of them for the whole year. My nemesis on this particular ride had always been the first bump on PV Drive North. I could never even come close to staying with the leaders on that bump and always crested the top with an insurmountable distance between myself and all the other riders.
However, I was always able to make up some ground on the next section, the climb to the golf course. In 2018, I focused only on trying to stay with the lead group up that first hill, and that was it. This meant that I was going to have to abandon any hope of making up ground on the second section, as well as any attachment to where I finished after each interval. I had to give up the racing aspect of the ride, because staying with the lead group on that first hill was going to leave me unable to do anything but blow up once I reached the top.
Instead, I gained small victories each week by staying with the group further and further up the hill, until finally, I was able to stay with them the whole length of the climb just one time.
Let me tell you how that felt, after three years of getting shelled at the start of each lap, then finally hanging: It was amazing.
Eventually, I was able to do it more than once per flogging, as the ride consists of six laps, and then three times, until by the end of the year I was consistently staying with the main group up the climb on almost every lap, and sometimes even having a little energy to push the pace again somewhere near the end of the lap.
Instead of going home from every ride feeling defeated and like I was not making any progress, I went home feeling good about my efforts and improvements, even though staying with the group on that initial climb cost me so much energy that I still sometimes finished the lap in last place.
Compartmentalizing your gains
By breaking down my goals into small victories I was able to change my feelings towards the ride. I found a way to make each ride a reward. Being able to approach the ride with personal goals instead of as a race to not be last,freed me from the defeat that plagued my commitment to the ride, and allowed me to look forward to going, regardless of how I did within the scheme of the Flog hierarchy each week.
There are real, neurological underpinnings for leveraging motivation in this way, and they are tied to activating reward centers in the brain. One is referred to as Go/No Go learning, which operates on both the Pavlovian and operant levels, whereby you choose to do or not do something based on the probability of a positive or negative outcome. There are multiple ways in which this works, but the two most favorable conditions to learning and motivation are “Go” outcomes as opposed to “no go” outcomes. In other words, seeking reward in the framework of “Go to win” or “Go to not lose” (both are coded as a reward by your brain), makes you ride better.
Through activation of specific parts of the brain, people learn better under conditions of reward, so viewing any action as a potential reward as opposed to punishment or failure will ultimately lead to better learning and higher levels of intrinsic motivation. Can you say dopamine?
There are multiple ways this Jedi mind trick can be done:
Create a reward scenario for yourself when things come out better than expected. Often I am exhausted with sore muscles from demands of my job, which impacts my cycling performance. I used to avoid hard rides when I felt that way, because I didn’t want to face a poor performance. Now, I go out and ride anyway and view the outcome through the lens of riding better than expected under the conditions, so I can go to a ride and feel good about what I accomplished, even if it was not as strong as the week before. Why? Because my frame of reference has converted failure into a reward.
Push your reward further out in time. Make your goals based not on this February or March, but as far out as the last week of the ride in August, as I did when I focused on accomplishing just that one aspect of fitness for the whole year.
Make your reward simply the act of showing up in order to maintain the fitness you have. This is reinforcing the “Go to Not Lose” aspect of learning. People continue to strive when they put themselves in an environment where they perceive their actions as efforts to maximize gains and minimize losses. Feeling as if you have been proactive by minimizing loss will activate your reward centers and motivate you to continue. You win just for showing up.
Break the ride down into small components that address specific training outcomes, and focus on improving in just those areas. Seeing improvement each week, or even on each lap, will activate reward centers and increase motivation. Here are some sub-Jedi tricks to help accomplish this!
- Improve your 1 minute effort by going hard on the first hill.
- Improve your 4 minute effort and VO2 max by going all out on just the section between the bottom of the dip on Paseo Del Campo and the Valmonte stop sign.
- Improve your final sprint by going all out on the last two Via Campesina bumps, even if there is no one around you or, if you already do that, try starting your sprint at the Valmonte stop sign and carrying it through the bumps.
- Try to stay with either the lead group or a rider ahead of you as long as you can before getting shelled.
- Try to do the whole ride as low cadence big ring training.
- Choose to focus on one of these aspects each lap, and make the ride a comprehensive training day that addresses all aspects of fitness.
In Pavlovian and operant systems, reward leads to vigor, whereas punishment leads to inhibition and reinforcement of fear pathways. If you want to stay motivated, especially within the context of a task that is difficult to follow through on, creating a system of small rewards can keep you moving in the right direction. When I disassociated viewing the Flog through the negative filter of a race leading to inevitable defeat, I began to experience new motivation and drive to get up and out the door at 5:50 AM on Thursdays, without the overshadowing dread of previous years. Best of all, I started to see improvements that I had not seen in the past.
In other words, resist making the ride a simple exercise in racing to the finish lap by lap, week by week, year by year. If that happens, you will end up like many others, touting the value of the Flog to enhance fitness, glorifying its worthiness to you personally, and then fading like a distant memory into the Flog history of ex-riders, afraid to return and face the reality of a truly hard ride.
February 4, 2019 § 7 Comments
Before going for a ride yesterday I was treated to a lively Facebag discussion of cupcakes, riding in the rain, hardmen, and pillow babies. The gist of it was that people aren’t as tough as they used to be, proven by the fact that so few people are willing to race in the rain anymore.
Photos were posted of manly men and womenly women from the historical era of Back in the Day as they rode heroically through massive drops of rain. Grizzled Facebook cycling veterans typed contemptuously about the softness of those who learned to ride in the historical era of These Days, and baby-faced youth defended their online bravery, and much was made or not made of the pillow babies who would rather hammer on #socmed than tough it out in the elements. No one, it should be noted, was actually out riding.
I giggled at the silliness and rolled out, enjoying three hours of somewhat rainy weather while the pillow babies and their detractors enjoyed visions of toughness, all warm and dry beneath the safety of their downy coverlets.
Why aren’t cyclists tough anymore?
This is the refrain, and it’s tiresome. The argument goes like this: Back in the Day, real cyclists and especially real racers suited up and ground out the miles no matter the weather. “The weather doesn’t tell you when to ride, it tells you what to wear,” or “There is no bad riding weather, only bad clothing choices.”
People cite to the changed nature of Europe’s spring classics, where global warming has all but eliminated the frigid, muddy, rain-soaked spring races of yore, and point to the fact that on the rare occasions when it gets downright nasty, serious cyclists throw their bikes on a plane and train in Mallorca. In addition, the UCI’s Extreme Weather Protocol now has rules that allow promoters to cancel or shorten races when terrible weather warrants. The days of Andy Hampsten soldiering to victory over a frozen Gavia, or Bernard Hinault suffering lifelong nerve damage to his hands from frostbite during a snowy eight-hour ride to victory in Liege-Bastogne-Liege … those days are done.
On a local level, promoter Jeff Prinz aroused the scorn of the SoCal hardmen, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one, when he canceled his Sunday parking lot crit due to fear of rain. Canceling a four-corner crit due to rain? WTF? Since when did the pillow baby contagion infect race promoters?
And everyone piled on …
The genesis of the pillow baby
Sadly for admirers of that epic historical era of Back in the Day, pro cyclists didn’t used to ride in horrible weather because they heroically wanted to. They did it because there were no other options other than the indoor trainer or indoor rollers, themselves inventions of the 1950’s. No rider could sit on rollers for 5-7 hours, six days a week, so they rode out of doors, where, in northern Europe at least, it was cold and wet in winter.
They raced on horrible roads not because racing on horrible roads covered with muddy slime was fun, but because for decades that’s how roads in Europe were–a mixture of some asphalt, some cobbles, and in the mountains, dirt paths. People were not “tough” because they had some kind of nutty commitment to suffering. They voluntarily chose to cycle as a job or as an avocation, and hence they had to ride in whatever conditions and on whatever roads were available.
There was no Zwift. There were no spin classes. There was your bike and the out of doors, and you got to take your pick: Ride or not ride.
Of course the same applies to racing. Races were held rain or shine because equipment was cheap and more importantly, riders were cheap. At the beginning of a season in the 1970’s, a mid-level Tour rider’s equipment consisted of one bike and five kits. Both were expected to last the full racing season, and if you fell and got hurt and couldn’t race, there was no end of hungry younger riders waiting to take your slot. Everything was cheap, especially the human labor that powered the bikes.
Today no serious team owner considers risking the health of its marquee rider in a single race. The Sagan or Froome-level racer costs millions to retain and to train. The equipment, support staff, and logistical costs are incredibly expensive. Losing all of that capital, and with it any hope of financial return in a sport noted for its poverty, simply to finish or do well in some middling race in Belgium makes no sense at all. And although riders are as disposable as they ever were, they are more vocal about being fed into the maw of truly deadly racing conditions.
In addition to the increased value of the rider, the sport is highly specialized. There are riders who simply do not ride the classics, period. There are riders who simply do not stage race. And no one races 200 days a year. Riders are more selective, teams are more selective, and it means that fewer and fewer professionals have to ever prepare for the gnarly conditions of a rainy Sunday in Hell.
In short, the whole idea that racers were once heroic and manly is a silly myth. They did what they did because they were forced to. When you have 200 race days on your calendar and are expected to attend them all, you are gonna be riding your bike on some pretty crappy days.
The amateur pillow baby
If Back in the Day the heroes were simply doing as they were told, I can say with certainty that for the profamateur bike racer, there was never a time when hardman training and racing were the norm. A handful of riders might soldier through the winter a la Scott Dickson, who averaged a hundred miles a day for over thirty-five years despite living most of those winters in Iowa, but virtually everyone else followed the time-honored ritual of off season training:
- Hang up the cleats in winter.
- Get fat.
- Start riding again when the weather improved.
Of course there were races held in the rain, usually poorly attended unless they were elite, major races, but for the most part recreational bicyclists have never hopped out of bed at five, put on their rain gear, and danced out into a deluge for four hours.
Why? Because people ride for fun, and being wet and cold for most people isn’t fun. This is what used to be known as “Duh.” Moreover, when you compare the fun of a frozen bike ride with the fun of a warm pillow, 99.999999% of the human race judges it no contest and rolls back over.
The modern era has a new twist that keeps the pillow babies snuggly in their beds: Their bikes are just as expensive as the pros they emulate, and although Sagan might get another $15k bike if he washes out and takes a tumble, the rest of us are forced to choose between replacing the bike and being served with a petition for marital dissolution.
You’re really going to risk all that bike and all that pretty clothing for the glory of posting a #socmed photo of your ride on a wet day? Especially in SoCal, when the winter never lasts more than a week and the “frigid” temps aren’t even low enough to kill subtropical palm trees? Really?
This isn’t a new development, it’s how it has always been and always will be. If anything, having Zwift and spin class has radically expanded the number of people who will at least get some exercise on days when out of doors riding is miserable, dangerous, unendurable, or all three. Sciencey people tell us that if you get 20 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week you will live to be a thousand. So what if you are a pillow baby who spins at the crack of noon? You are still #winning.
So why all the fuss?
A friend asked me last night why I ride in miserable weather.
“Because there is nothing better than being soaked to the skin and frozen to the bone, then coming home to a warm house and a warm meal.”
“Kind of like people who enjoy pain because it feels so good when they stop?”
“No,” I said. “Kind of like having fun.”
January 24, 2019 § 3 Comments
The only people who lie aren’t just defense counsel. Flying up north today and some good ol’ fashioned lies from the friendly skies …
- We’re glad to have you aboard.
- We hope you enjoy your flight.
- You can just sit back and enjoy your flight.
- It has been a pleasure having you on board.
- We know you have a choice.
- We hope you enjoy your complimentary snack.
- The flight attendants will be happy to assist you.
- We hope you will be flying with us again soon.
- We’ll be taking off soon.
- We’ll be on our way shortly/soon/in just a few minutes.
- We should be pushing back in a few moments.
- We are working to get you there with the precision of a fine watch.
- We hope you are comfortable.
January 17, 2019 § 17 Comments
It is hard to explain why anyone would insist on writing a blog year in, year out, let alone this one.
I can’t even explain it to myself. It simply starts getting late in the day and I sit down and do it. “I feels me a blog comin’ on,” or something like that.
But every once in a while I get a glimpse at what really motivates me, and it’s always through the eyes of someone else. In the mail a couple of days ago I got a check for $50, which is a lot, and which means a lot. But the letter? That was the real payday.
“Yet another year has passed & your blog is still showing up in my inbox a few times a week & your blog is still a major source of news & entertainment.
“Due to my continued disdain for PayPal, I’m sending another old-fashioned check.
“Please continue your blog as you have been for many years now. It makes a difference in the lives of so many people.
“I look forward to racing with you in a leaky-prostate race in the coming month.”