Spring, un-sprung

April 10, 2019 § 9 Comments

It was chilly when I got here. Then it got warmer, then short-sleeves. Next it got cool and then up in the mountains, freezing. Down here it went back to chilly.

All the while things were greening, imperceptibly in a lot of places. Spring isn’t simply an explosion, it’s also a coiling and you have to look closely to see the signs, pre-budding, the quivering in the earth.

Up in the mountains it might as well have been the dead of winter except it wasn’t, not by a long shot. It was coiling there, too. Tensing.

Lower down there were the smallest of green splashes, or maybe bulging buds that didn’t even yet have a tint to the outside husk yet. Still lower the early blooming mountain cherries were doing their flash in the pan thing. On the flat lands, amidst the paddies, everything was brown again, the brown of tilled and manured dirt getting ready for flooding. But the yards had green, there were shotgun yellow blossoms everywhere, bamboo shoots poking up, and the the uncoiling had begun there with a snap.

Finally on the last ride day it all retracted, the contract rescinded, canceled. A pelting rain bombarded the rooftop at dawn and you didn’t need to stick your nose outside to know it was freezing rain, hovering on the edge of snow.

As Fields used to say, it takes a hard fucker to ride in the cold rain, but a harder fucker still to start in it. Fields still inspires me, not because I’ve acquired any of his mythical hardness, but because whenever I’m waffling on a shitty day I think about the scorn he would have heaped on my head for staying indoors and “riding the trainer.”

“You’ll never get better,” he used to say, “being happy.”

The plan was to ride out to the world’s course, do a loop, go up over the pass, and hurry home. It would take a touch under two hours, I was tired and ready for this twelve days in the dentist’s chair to end.

I had brought neoprene booties, a rain jacket, a crazy warm winter riding jacket, and my knit wool cap from Vienna, but the weak link in the armor was my rather thin pair of gloves. My non-waterproof ones.

This was the morning I decided to explore a new route to Shinrin Park, so it ended up being longer with a bunch of wrong turns stuck out in the rice fields. Halfway there I was frozen. My fingers went numb. All I could think about was the 7-11 at the entrance to the park; the idea of doing the world’s course was discarded, madness.

I got there and went in, dripping pools of ice water everywhere. I drank a cup of coffee. My hands hurt so badly, first the pain of being numb followed by the pain of the blood slowly coming back. I lingered for twenty minutes until I thought I could make it back home before my hands froze over again and rendered my brakes useless.

Outside, the rain had turned to snow, big thick flakes that stung and melted and dripped down into my booties. My toes froze. A bus tailgated me as I hauled ass taking the lane, oncoming traffic spraying me with the dirty frozen bathwater pooling on the surface.

The way home was downhill and direct, no more wayfinding today.

My hands could barely unzip my booties; red, wrinkled claws, the ugly bony fingers of a chattering old man. For the second time today the blood hacked its painful path back into my fingers. I staggered into the bathroom and sank up to my neck in a steaming tub.

There is a perfect symmetry between misery and comfort as it relates to cycling. The more extreme the one, the more intense the other.

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END

The B Ride

April 9, 2019 § 14 Comments

Or, “We had to destroy the ride to save it.”

Thanks to the input and advice from one of the most respected Cat 3 riders in the South Bay, and building on his desire to champion all the B riders out there, I’ve come up with an expanded list of B rides that will all be added to the SoCal group ride calendar, effective immediately.

Telo B Ride: Formerly the toughest, full gas, all out, only-the-strong-survive beatdown training crit around, there will now be a B Telo to encourage riders and help them in their quest to become faster by racing slower. The course will have a diaper changing station, a massage table, a selfie podium to take photos on so you can post to #facegag and #instabrag showing that you were there, whether or not you were actually “there.” B Race Director Karpitt Bagger will debrief finishers with the latest in Connecticut Cat 3 racing stragety.

Donut B Ride: Riders who end up every Saturday #sadface because they #gotdropped can now start five minutes later under the tutelage of Sir Big Boy, the new Donut B Ride Leader. The B Ride will have all of the same climbs but will go at a regulated pace, with a designated encourager and “B Ride Champion-er” to call out helpful advice for stragglers. Cadence, gear selection, and recommended speeds will be broadcast via PA from the sag wagon. Atop each of the climbs there will be a #facegag and #instabrag podium where finishers can snap selfies and post to #socmed in #realtime.

NOW B Ride: Tired of getting shelled at 35 mph on PCH? The NOW B Ride has a speed cap of 21 mph; riders who exceed this speed on PCH, with or without a tailwind, will received a certificate of admonishment and not be allowed to stand on the B Ride traveling selfie podium. Ride Boss Friendly McAngry will sing out appropriate cadences to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Riders will climb Pepperdine Hill together, max w/kg output will be 1.4. Riders unable to meet this w/kg threshold to finish with the group will be provided electric bicycles for the climb. The group will stop at the top so that riders can snap selfies on the B Ride #travelingpodium. A #socmed advisor will be on hand to help get the best chin and drippy sweat angle.

Nichols B Ride: Gosh it sucks getting flayed on the wall on Nichols Canyon Drive!!! The new B Ride will offer a cable tow allowing all riders to summit together. From his motorcycle Ride Marshal Big Daddy Dumpling will encourage all B riders to give solid efforts and work hard to achieve their own personal best. A special kudo prize will be given to the rider who uploads first to Strava.

Flog B Ride: Science shows that too much pain too early in the morning is bad for your work productivity. The new Flog B Ride will be one lap instead of six, starting at 7:45. La Cuesta will be deleted as it tends to hurt too many feelings. The B Ride #travelingpodium will be available at Malaga Cove for B riders to snap selfies; doing the one lap is optional. Selfie Director Lumpy Muppet will help with appropriate hashtag placement.

Wheatgrass B Ride: Follow-up surveys show that riders who get blasted out the back up Stathisridge are #sadface and #unappreciative at post-ride coffee. The new Wheatgrass B Ride, led by Ride Martinet Talky McFacebook, will omit Stathisridge, Better Homes, and De Luna and will have regroups at: top of the Reservoir, top of Marymount, bottom of Switchbacks, base of Glass Church, top of Glass Church, base of Hawthorne Sprint, middle of Hawthorne Sprint, and end of Hawthorne Sprint. Climbs up Hawthorne, Monaco, and Whitley Collins will be replaced by a ride in the sag wagon and a team shot on the B Ride #travelingpodium.

NPR B Ride: This ride is simply too dangerous for B egos, who tend to crash out on the rocky potholes and jagged edges of actual competition. The B Ride will have a speed cap and, led by Ride Fuhrer Our Dear Leader, the NPR B Ride will have especial hop-in-wanker corridors that allow droppees to safely shuttle over to the other side of the Parkway and hop back in with the main group, until re-dropped. The B Ride #travelingpodium will be available along with free gels and an electronic signboard showing where you would have placed if you had been really going for it.

Special note: HELMETS REQUIRED ON ALL B RIDES AND IN THE SHOWER/BATHTUB.

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END

For a fist full of … socks

March 31, 2019 § 8 Comments

On Saturday we rode over to the NOW Ride. The previous week I had been dropped very early when the Subaru Santa Monica pain train led by Evens Stievenart rolled away at express train speeds on PCH.

This week the Subaru team was gone, but in their place, and indeed he replaces an entire team, was Phil Gaimon. Oh, and beast Jeff Mahin, and a couple of other ornery fellows.

We were trucking along PCH at about 35 and I saw Tony Manzella. I handed him a couple pairs of socks.

“Thanks, dude,” he said. Tony has enormous feet along with an enormous heart and lungs and my South Bay socks are the only ones that will fit his boxcars. He tucked them under his jersey.

This was only my third NOW Ride and a lot of people were giving me the stink eye because of my jaunty cloth cap, hairy legs, and general frailty. At Pepperdine Hill, where I always get dropped, I got dropped. First, Phil and Jeff and their pal rode away. Next, a clot of chasers rolled away.

I had about ten bike lengths to catch back onto the chasers but you know that is never going to happen. This time somehow it did. A little dude breezed by and I glommed on. He got me over the top and gave it 100% to close to about five bike lengths. I waited until I judged him spent and dashed past, barely connecting.

There wasn’t any rest, and what had started with 70 or 1,000 people was now down to the three guys off the front and a chase of about 20, make that 18, I mean 17, 16, 15, and finally fourteen. I was the last guy, dangling, and barely hanging on by a meat string each time the young fellows surged, trying to shake loose the old and infirm, me.

As we approached the descent into Zuma, I saw Jeff and Phil on the side of the road. They had stopped with their friend, who flatted, which instantly transformed our chase group into the lead group. At the bottom it is a flat run-in, a couple of miles, to the sprunt finish at Trancas Canyon Road.

The young fellows kept it single file. I hunkered down on Tony’s wheel in last place. I was pretty pleased with myself because I was gonna get fourteenth on the NOW Ride, a miracle. I was already writing up the glorious blog. It was gonna be wondrous.

With about 500 yards to go, Tony glanced back at me. Tony only glances back at you for one reason. It’s because he expects you to follow and he don’t want no excuses.

Tony has done this to me before and it follows a script: He accelerates and I get dropped.

He jumped hard, crazy, insanely, 8,000 gigawatts hard. I don’t know if it was because I was ovulating or because of my oval chain rings … oh, what am I saying???? It was because of my JAUNTY CLOTH CAP that I hung onto Tony’s wheel.

He blew past the front so fast that they couldn’t have caught him if they’d gotten advance notice by telegraph, and once he is going if you are in his draft it is like being towed by a barge that is going 500 knots. “Man, this is great,” I thought, followed immediately by “Man, I don’t know if I can keep this up,” followed by “Fuck this hurts,” followed by “He’s riding me off his wheel. Again.”

At that second he slowed and looked back. “Go, Seth!” he shouted.

I didn’t know what to do. I can’t sprint. I could barely pedal I was so tired. I had no idea what was the correct reaction in such circumstances, so I blurted out what I guess they don’t do in the last 100m of a lead-out at Paris-Roubaix, which is shout back, “YOU GO!”

He shook his head. “Seth!” he commanded. “Go!”

I looked back and saw the piranhas charging hard, so I slingshotted around Tony and got to the imaginary finish line first at the over-ripe age of 55. The young piranhas were not too happy and they kind of glared at my jaunty cloth cap, but not for long because there was a giant, slowing dump truck turning right and we almost slammed into the back of it. Then Tony wheeled into the parking lot of the gas station and shouted in his chain gang boss voice, “Good job, Seth. You just won the NOW Ride!”

On the way back home with Baby Seal and Kristie, I saw a tempting berm of sand and dirt and mud and decided to celebrate my NOW win with a display of the amazing bike handling skills that made me who I am today.

END

MTW Academy Team

March 27, 2019 § 5 Comments

I was standing outside the Sckubrats at the Center of the Known Universe a/k/a CotKU when Ken came up to me.

“Man,” he enthused, “the new Methods to Winning elite team kit is out and it is beautiful!”

“It is?”

“Yes! And your logo looks great on it!”

I was stoked. “That’s awesome! When do I get mine?”

He put his arm around my shoulder. “Seth, I said you look great on it. Not in it.”

Saturday Night Pizza

I went to the Methods to Winning Academy Team launch this past weekend in Santa Monica. The five riders who make up the team, Nigel DeSota, Erick A. Herrera, Michael Barker, Christian Molina, and Cesar Reyes represent excellence in bike racing, but they represent something else: What happens when people come together to support diversity in cycling.

Some of America’s best professional and elite bike racers have always been African-American. Marshal Taylor, Nelson Vails, Rahsaan Bahati, Justin and Cory Williams all typify the very best of the sport. But giving everyone a chance to take a pull and engage is something that has never been anywhere on the priority list at USA Cycling, or the USCF before that. Indeed, America’s first world champion in any sport, “Major” Taylor, retired because he could no longer endure the racism.

Fancy masters teams in SoCal, to say nothing of junior racing squads, typically have the diversity of Wonder Bread. And how could they not? When some of the sport’s shrillest voices such as CBR announcer David Wells appear to be, at least in my opinion, unabashed, card-carrying Trump lovers, the sport’s overall message may be subtle, but sometimes it’s clear: White riders only, please.

Fighting the good fight

Fortunately, led by the Bahati Foundation, Giant Bicycles USA, Muscle Monster, FFWD Wheels, Eliel Cycling, KMC Chain USA, Birdworx, Rock-n-Road Cycles, Specialized Bicycles, and Pioneer Cycle Sports USA, not everyone is content to accept the status quo. As one of the sponsors of the Academy Team, it’s easy for me to see what has brought this group together, and it’s simple: The original mission of the Bahati Foundation, which from day one has always been the motto “Give Back.”

The team launch was low-key but impressive, in other words, lots of great pizza. We heard a great presentation by Rahsaan, and watched this video that laid out the vision of Methods to Winning and its principals, who in addition to Rahsaan include Charon Smith, Ken Vinson, and reigning national champion Justin Williams.

The point behind all this is that if you want cycling or any aspect of society to be representative of the people who make it up, you have to provide opportunities. In cycling that means bikes, wheels, race support, entry fees, nutrition … and pizza.

It’s going to be a fun year for these enthusiastic, hard-charging young racers. Not just because of the racing, either.

Because, pizza.

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END

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Learning to fly

March 22, 2019 § 6 Comments

There is some stuff you can only see on a bike ride, stuff like watching an Olympic medalist swimmer and 7-time world record holder launch off a steep muddy descent through the air like a missile, shouting, “I’m fine! I’m fine!” even before she lands with a thud and rolls into the bottom of a deep ditch.

I was in front and everything up until then had been, well, fine. You could hear the tires quietly rolling behind, everyone picking a line down the muddy slope, when suddenly I heard the onrushing sound of an accelerating bike picking a completely careless line off the trail, the sound of quiet tire-on-dirt replaced by the chaotic noise of tall grass being torn aside by the onrushing bike, and then the immortal “I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine!” and thud.

I’ve been good, but I guess I’ve never been fine

Baby Seal was unimpressed with the head sticking out of the ravine, the body twisted the just-so way of someone who was going to be quadriplegic, and least of all impressed by the “I’m fine.”

“Dude,” he said to the Olympian and world record holder. “You can’t crash like that until July. The Tour is in July.”

I was more concerned about having killed one of America’s greatest swimmers ever on her first Wheatgrass Ride, and concerned about how fine she really was, because she kept saying “I’m fine!” even though she hadn’t actually moved after crumpling into the ditch.

Sure enough, up she sprang. “See? I’m fine!”

And then she did what you would pretty much expect from an Olympian and world record holder. She hopped back on her bike and half-pedaled, half-walked, half-swam down the hill in an abbreviated 200m freestyle.

I tried to think of something encouraging to say, something better than, “Good job not dying back there.”

So instead I did what cyclists do whenever one of their own narrowly avoids a horrific demise. I understated. “Not bad for your first time off-road. Pretty solid 4-point landing, that.”

Meanwhile back at the coffee shop

As we sat at the Sckubrats recapping the day’s event, which will never be forgotten, Sippy, who was indeed fine, had a few questions. “How come that other girl told me that it was an easy descent?”

“Her? The one who turned around and went down on the paved road after telling you it was fine and you’d have no problem on the muddy, treacherous, steep horsetrail?”

“Yeah, her.”

“She was on a bike, wasn’t she?”

“So?”

“So she was lying. If the person is on a bike, he/she is lying.”

“What?”

“‘It’s only a few more miles. It’s not too steep. It’s not too windy/cold/hot/rainy/snowy. The road is fine. There’s sag. It’s no drop. I’ll wait for you. I’ll lead you out. Convo pace.’ All lies.”

“Oh,” she said. “I didn’t know. But how do I know you’re not lying now?”

“Easy,” I said. “I’m not on a bike. I’m sitting in a chair.”

Jerry wandered up and plopped down, heavily. “Man,” he said to me. “That was a gnarly hard pull you took back there. I was gonna go up to the front and take a pull and help you out.”

I looked at Sippy. “See?”

She nodded sagely. “Got it.”

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END

Flog physiology

March 14, 2019 § 5 Comments

I rarely, I mean never, write about actual sciencey trainingy sporty stuff as it relates to bicycling. I don’t know anything about it, I don’t care anything about it, and I always fear that facts will delude people even further into thinking that their avid hobby makes them special, different, better, or worst of all, athletic.

However, the weekly Flog Ride that goes off every Thursday does have some sciencey type benefits, and every week after the ride I send out a little email recap to everyone who participates in which I berate, cajole, praise, offend, encourage and suggest better ways to do a ride that is voluntary, unorganized, unowned, and like all such rides a random happening of riders who have all assumed the risk of riding on public roads with other bicyclists and cars.

This past week Kristie Fox penned a particularly excellent description of the Flog Ride’s “lead-out” section, so excellent in fact that it hardly belonged in the weekly email, and as it smacked of science, reason, training effects, and applicability to the sport of cycling [OXYMORON ALERT], I thought it appropriate to re-post it here, especially as it contains a brief history of time and the Flog Ride.

THE FLOG LEAD-OUT AND WHY IT MATTERS

When the ride first began in October of 2014, it was six continuous laps, essentially a race, with no regroup at the top of the golf course. In order to make the ride safer, a regroup was added in the parking lot at the country club, with a neutral descent down to Malaga Cove Plaza, keeping all riders together for the start of the next lap. The effect was that, instead of a steady-state and uninterrupted solo chase effort by each rider for the duration of the six laps, the ride became an interval session, a near-VO2 or threshold interval for 5-7 minutes, repeated six times.

This change increased the intensity of the efforts but shortened the duration and added a rest period. Essentially, it changed the structure but conserved the overall energy expended on the ride. This is shorthand for, “It was still a brutal beatdown.”

Of course, it also made the ride more “social,” as in the original iteration if you got dropped, which everyone did except for Stathis the Wily Greek, you were by yourself for six laps.

The lead-out that now exists at the start of each lap is intended to provide the same intensity. Prior to the introduction of the lead-out, the effort began at or before the right turn onto PV Drive North leaving Malaga Cove Plaza, and the fast descent out of the turn propelled the group at a very high rate of speed to the bottom of the climb up PVDN. If you were not at or near the front on the turn, catching up to the leader took a high power output because the interval began at the turn.

Of course due to traffic there was also separation as one or two riders could squeeze through and the others were left to chase. Hard.

Seth loved to attack out of the turn here and force the others to chase. After some screaming between Seth and G3 last year, the group decided that a neutral turn onto PVDN was a better option for the ride due to traffic safety, but the slow start was compensated for with the addition of a lead-out.

The lead-out was intended to conserve the energy of the ride: Its function was to get the group back up to the pace they would have been at had everyone been shooting the turn balls out, sprinting to the bottom and then clawing their way up the climb. Again, the goal was conserving the overall energy of the ride and maintaining the difficulty of the effort. The first climb had always been an all-out or threshold effort. In the new formulation, the lead-out goat sacrificed herself to the other riders by setting a pace comparable to what it would have been in previous years with the fast descent and attack up PVDN.

Without this element of an initial hard effort up PVDN, the ride would have lost one of the most challenging parts of the course.

For those who are trying to win the lap point atop the golf course, this crazy hard lead-out also made each lap more strategic. You had to decide whether to go full gas with the lead-out and take advantage of the gap it created, as may riders would certainly get shelled, or sit back in the chase and see if you could make up ground by holding a steady effort a-la Cobley and not going into the red, then smacking down whoever remained on the wall. The lead-out also gave riders a chance to get on the leaderboard by awarding them a half-point in an environment where the same coterie of riders generally tended to scoop up all the lap points. It was, in other words, a trade-off: You give it your all and you’ll get a half-point and the ride’s intensity will be preserved. You, unfortunately, will be fucked atop PVDN when your lead-out ends.

Sciencey stuff

The PVDN climb is a:50 to 1:30 effort, depending on who’s leading. Intervals of this duration and intensity are some of the hardest from an energy standpoint. They straddle the line between glycolytic and aerobic thresholds. Performing an all-out, supramaximal VO2 effort of this duration requires a minimal amount of passive rest before an athlete can perform another effort of a similar level, and even more active rest, which is what we do on the Flog. If you can do the lead out and still latch onto the group at the top, win the lap, or outsprint any of the leaders at the golf course bumps, you have not done an all-out, supramaximal effort, in other words, you have not done the lead-out.

As a result of this effort, if done correctly,  you will be in a state of oxygen debt, rapidly trying to replace oxygen stores in the muscle. This means deep heavy breathing that would not allow for acceleration. Gasping for breath. In addition, the first 45 seconds rapidly use stores of phosphocreatine and glycogen, with a smaller contribution from aerobic pathways. Return of these stores to levels that would allow another high effort to begin  requires more than 3 minutes of passive rest and up to 9 minutes of active rest. It would be impossible to recover from a true lead out and still have a good performance on the same lap, because as the amount of time of passive rest required to recover would put you at the wall on Campesina. If done properly, you may not even be recovered by the next lap. Even with the proper amount of passive or active rest, both mean and peak power decline after the first interval if subsequent intervals are performed immediately following the prescribed rest periods. That means that if you have done an all-out effort, your peak and mean power will be lowered somewhat for the rest of the ride.

So why would someone want to volunteer to do the lead-out if peak and mean power will be compromised? Because this is a training ride, and we all have aspects of fitness we are trying to improve. Although you will experience some decreases in power, there are some adaptive reasons doing even more than one lead out can be a good fitness tool. Plus, you’ll earn, yes, EARN, a ½ point.

The anaerobic power  reserve (APR) is an overlooked component of fitness that contributes to performance. The APR is measured by the difference between maximal sprinting speed and speed at or just below VO2 max. The greater the reserve, the more rapidly the athlete will fatigue. We want to develop power and be capable of sustaining it over time. We want to increase our maximal power, and then close the gap between that power and our speed at VO2 max. That is how we get faster and less fatigued over time.

Let’s say your weakness in this equation is  maximal power. Using the lead out as a way to increase your maximal speed/ sprint ( by doing more than one per lap) will develop maximal power and also cause increase your ability to perform at or above VO2 max. If you are using the lead-out for this purpose, you need to take advantage of the rest of the lap and the proceeding lap as a rest phase in order to fully develop this system.

If your weakness is V02 max, you will want to use the lead out in the opposite way: As a catalyst to increasing your time at VO2 max over the course of the ride. This will extend your endurance and speed at VO2, and the bottom end of the APR equation. You would do this by performing the lead out at maximal effort that approaches or reaches VO2, then attempting another effort after a short active recovery period of one to three minutes, depending on your fitness level. Yes, your effort will have less power and add to your overall level of fatigue, but you are developing your resistance to fatigue at VO2, which is a different fitness component than power. The more minutes you spend at VO2, the more this system will develop.

If you do both of these types of training methods, over time your pace  and endurance at VO2 will increase, in addition to your maximal sprint pace. This translates into better race and group ride results, more points, and a lot more pain.

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END

No place for old men. Or women.

March 6, 2019 § 17 Comments

I went to the NPR yesterday and hung on for dear life.

All the people drilling, grilling, and killing were twenty years younger, at least.

All the old farts who used to line it out at the front were cowering, grabbing wheels, wondering when the root canal was going to end.

A whole second NPR has formed now, the Old Fux NPR, consisting of Great-grandfather Time Timmy G., Jim H., and a whole bunch of superannuated bristlecone pines who plod around the course with various hangers-out and hangers-on.

I’ll be joining them before long, it seems.

I can see how some people get depressed at the harsh reality of their doddering weakness and infirmity, and deal with it by riding somewhere else, or creating a secret OF Ride, buying a cruiser bike, or finally, finally, getting serious about golf.

For me, it’s a breath of fresh blast-furnace air to get pummeled by crazy strong riders in their 20’s and 30’s, because that is how it is supposed to be. It is nice to be reminded of the true order of things, which is this:

You get old, you get weak, and you die, if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you just die.

Major Bob and I were laughing about it on the parade pedal back to the coffee shop. “I don’t even know who these young guys are,” he said.

“And I’m pretty sure they don’t know who we are, either.”

“Or who we were.”

“Yeah. It’s just, ‘Get out of the way, old fuck. Your senior citizen seat is at the back of the bus.'”

“That’s the way we were, too.”

“Yep.”

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END

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