August 7, 2019 § 11 Comments
Fields wasn’t great when he first came to Austin, he was just better than everyone else at a time when cycling was a micro-niche within a micro-fissure of a fringe activity. By the time he left, he was the dominant racer in the state during the second golden age of cycling–his style of riding had made Austin the epicenter it remains today, and he made it such an attractive place to train and ride that Armstrong made it his home base.
Everyone wants to be great. It is a near-universal human longing. But what is greatness? Simply, it is transforming yourself from the person you are into the person you want to be.
Armstrong wasn’t great because he won seven Tours. He was great because he transformed himself from a poor kid raised in a broken home into the most dominant rider in the history of the Tour. It wasn’t until the methods to his dominance were revealed that the greatness crumbled, because greatness is about process, the process of change, and when you shortcut the process you are simply mediocre.
The process of greatness, although it leads to the most intense feelings of satisfaction and pleasure of which we are capable, demands failure, repeatedly, as each step transforms you, bit by bit.
Cycling is only one of countless means to greatness, where you can become who you want to be. And people hunger for it. From the moment they see the first results of a week’s worth of riding, they are hooked.
Whether it’s weight loss, better health, more energy, athleticism, freedom, or big picture control over their lives, cycling is a powerful avenue to greatness. I have personally met hundreds of people who have become great through cycling.
But because greatness is a process of continual, painful catharsis, the moment you stop pushing, your greatness slides into the past. You were great, not you are great.
This is one impressive thing about Armstrong. He is driven to transform himself. From lonely kid to cycling hero to cancer advocate to parent to media commentator … whether or not he “succeeds,” his drive to transform doesn’t appear to rest. He, like everyone who aspires to greatness, gets meaning from his life through the struggle to become the person he wants to become.
But back to Fields.
Back in the day, Fields gave you the chance to be great but it was all on you. You were the one who had to turn the pedals, put on the rain cape, endure the 100-degree, 90% humidity of central Texas, repeat. And he was resented for it. The first time I ever heard his name was at Freewheeling, where the mechanics were shit-talking him and the “carpetbaggers from I-O-Way.”
Greatness upsets everyone else’s apple cart because it reminds them that they are mediocre, that they are satisfied with mediocrity, and that they are too lazy to do anything about it.
And the corollary to greatness truly is mediocrity, where most people live despite their inner desire to achieve greatness. Because greatness is a process that wrings sweat and pain out of you, few people choose to pursue it even though it brings such incredible rewards.
In cycling, the mediocre among us come up with shortcuts to greatness, and there are a couple of biggies–equipment and #faketraining.
Equipment and gear let you think that the extra watts you can now churn out thanks to the equipment have somehow transformed you, the same kind of flawed thinking as if a battery-powered crank or a drug-induced performance have made you different from who you were.
They haven’t. Take away the motor and the EPO and you’re still the same old girl you used to be, as the Eagles once sang.
Same with #faketraining, which, like equipment and drugs, seeks to transform you without making you hurt and hurt badly. Because with cycling, the transformation is first physical, that is, you have to pedal your bike at a speed that tears down, then allows your body to build back up.
The #faketraining of canned riding plans, riding plans that emphasize “recovery” and “rest,” computer data, and cycling social media are all distractions from the ugly and brutal process of greatness in cycling, which simply means riding until it hurts really bad, and then riding harder. Real training isn’t in order to win races or to win group rides, although those things may well result.
Real training is transformation, is greatness, and it admits of nothing but slamming up against your limits and then pushing beyond, whether your limit is riding around the block or winning the Tour. Do you sometimes have to take a break from it? Of course. But not for long, unless you’re done with transforming and ready for mediocrity.
Fields insisted on the long route. He knew that shortcuts were just that, and he held them in total contempt. You were free to ride your bike however you wanted, but you were never free to claim that greatness could ever be a byproduct of laziness.
We’re coming up on the end of our fifth season of the Flog Ride here in the South Bay. It is the hardest regular ride around, and it leaves you wrecked every single time. What’s impressive isn’t simply the roll call of riders like Tregillis, Wily, Cowan, Brauch, Cobley, and Fernandez who have come out and dominated it. What’s impressive is the roll call of riders who have come out for years and committed to the process of transformation without ever winning a lap. Names like Klahr and Fischer and Landes and Reichmann, and so many others who were willing to suffer through the process.
The process of greatness.
July 25, 2019 § 13 Comments
Submitted by our war correspondent from the trenches. Warning: May offend male cyclists. Hopefully, anyway.
MANSPLAINING: A delightful mixture of privilege and ignorance that leads to condescending, inaccurate explanations, delivered with a rock solid conviction of rightness and that certainty that he is right because he is the man in the conversation.Webster’s Third International Dictionary of Reality
MANSPLAINING: Of a man; to explain needlessly, overbearingly, or condescendingly, (typically when addressing a woman) in a manner of thought to reveal a patronizing or chauvinistic attitude.Encylopedia of Common Knowledge
I think maybe I have ‘splained this all before, but before I was a cyclist, and I’m still not entirely sure that I see myself as this, I was a runner. I spent many hours a week running alone in the mountains (Gasp! Isn’t it dangerous for a woman to run alone, much less in the mountains?) and I got pretty good at it.
I was not running as part of a group organized by men, running with a “mentor” of any kind, on a team run by a board of men who instructed me on proper running mechanics and training, or under the tutelage of a male coach, i.e. a moach, or any other coach for that matter. But somehow, all alone, by myself, without any input from anyone aside from me and my own education/understanding of exercise science and physiology, not to mention the direct knowledge of my own body and how it worked, knowledge gained through decades of athletic competition in multiple sports, I was able to train myself such that that I became fast and skilled enough at this running thing (i.e. averaging 6-ish minute miles for long distances with lots of hills) to win or podium at the races I entered. And I did not just win/podium the women’s category, but the overall category. Yes, that’s right. I beat the men. On some occasions I beat all of the men, and on all occasions I beat most of them. Imagine that?
What’s more, for a few years in my young life I was a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. I managed to be good enough at this male dominated and incredibly demanding fire thing to make it onto a Hotshot Crew. In a hyper-militaristic environment, riddled with hazing, dictated by hierarchies based on physical conditioning and strength, where a strong work ethic was required, and with your daily position in the social schema determined by insane competition at the highest and most demanding levels, I was able to stand out enough to be put in a position of authority. Me, a woman. Often times, the only woman. Put in charge of men, in potentially life or death situations. Who knew?
I thought I had this life/training/athletic thing kind of down. And then …
ENTER CYCLING. I became a “cyclist” after I was spotted early one morning Riding a Bike While Female by a Man on a Bike. This Man on a Bike and I had a bit of a battle going up Via Campesina, and even though I was Riding a Bike While Female, I impressed him enough for him to think maybe it was statistically significant that I could do this super complex bike thing kind of decently, but with a little “help.”
Although I explained to him that I was a personal trainer at work, had a sports background, had just completed one of the hardest full Ironman competitions on the calendar and had been a pretty successful runner, Man On A Bike thought that even so, and in consideration of my current state of ignorance since I was some sort of athlete but not a “cyclist,” i.e. a blank slate, he believed that with the combination of full immersion therapy into a team of knowledgeable men and some moaching, my cycling could probably be capable of improvement.
Based on the size and shape of my “muscles” he assumed I had done very little cycling (he was right about this detail) and therefore knew nothing about … well, anything really, especially the things I told him that I knew about already, i.e. sports and training. He gave me his card and told me to email if I was interested in doing some more riding. Against my better judgment, and nature in general, I did. In our first email exchange, Man On A Bike told me many things, including how much benefit there was to being on a team of men, but that in the process I would get a lot of “mansplaining.” I had never heard the term “mansplaining” before. However, this turned out to be one of the most truthful statements Man On A Bike has ever made to me. Perhaps the only one.
What I discovered very quickly was that even though we women seem to function just fine on our own in life, the attainment of self sufficiency being one of them, Riding a Bike While Female subjugates such impertinent details to the knowledge and superiority of the Man On The Bike. Even when faced with undeniable facts of who you are, what you have done in your life, your education, your career, or the fact that you actually “appear” to be stronger than the Man On The Bike, Man On The Bike will mansplain reality back into manquilibrium for you both at 186K per second.
Riding A Bike While Female puts one in constant jeopardy of various types and manifestations of mansplanation, and they come in various forms. Here are some that I have experienced:
“The Dick Line”
Around nearly every man on the bike is what I call the Dick Line. I see it as a sort of Mason Dixon Line of cycling. As a female, you are supposed to be aware through osmosis or DNA electromagnetism of the inherent boundaries of the Dick Line. Crossing the Dick Line puts you in Dick territory, and is strictly forbidden. This is how The Dick Line violation unfolds.
You are Riding Your Bike While Female when you encounter a Man On A Bike. Man On A Bike is slower than you. As you continue to pedal, you pass him. As you are doing so, you cross his Dick Line and his Dick Line alarm is activated. Man On A Bike’s mansplaining mode jumps into action by forcing Man On A Bike to stand up on his pedals and frantically flog himself to a point on the road ahead of you, once again re-establishing his Dick Line and manquilibrium. Unfortunately Man On A Bike is red-lined and slowing to a crawl at the moment his Dick Line is re-established, creating once again a risk of another boundary violation with woman who is Riding A Bike While Female, so he makes either an abrupt right or left turn off the road to avoid the confrontation, or gets a “mechanical” and has to “stop.” Under these new circumstances no one can be positive that his Dick Line was actually violated, and manquilibrium is restored.
Message: Women are not allowed to be faster than men without consequence.
“Pacing Governed By Genitalia”
When Riding A Bike While Female, one must always be aware that it is not necessary to ride as fast, or dare I say it, faster, than Man On A Bike. In fact, to even desire such a thing as riding as fast, or (gasp) riding faster than Man On A Bike is sort of “crazy” and will require some form of mansplaination to reestablish manquilibrium. As a woman Riding A Bike While Female, our highest aspirations should reach no further than riding as fast as the other females, or within some determined range that can be found on gender divided scoreboards based on mph or Watts per/Kg. But certainly, expressions of the drive to compete with Man On A Bike or, for sure, competing directly with the man, is off the table and will be shut down through various mechanisms.
If at any point during your time Riding A Bike While Female, a verbal statement is made by you implying that you will be someday be as fast as Man On A Bike, you can expect responses similar to these: “You will never be as fast as me,”“You will never beat me on a climb,” “You will never win Telo,” “If you want to be faster you will have to do x-watts per/kg and you will never do that,” and my personal fave fave, “Why do you want to be as fast as me? You only have to be as fast as a Cat 4 woman.” If you happen to be Riding A Bike While Female and accomplish some of the previously stated impossibilities, you can expect the following: “So that’s how its going to be, huh?” “I’m slowing down to wait for my teammate,” “I just took a pull,” or my fave fave “I would be way stronger than you if I trained harder.”
Message: You need to stay weak because, penis.
Occasionally, such as everyday all the time, on some rides, i.e. on all rides Riding A Bike While Female, you might be good at it. Being good at bike riding will activate the Mansplain Hustle, an interdisciplinary mode of mansplaining that requires quick yet rehearsed thinking on the part of Man On A Bike. This is a particularly creative and complex mechanism of mansplaination with multiple vectors, thinly disguised as “encouragement.” In truth, The Mansplain Hustle of Inverted Encouragement is simply the mansplaination of factual reality back into the fictional genre of manquilibrium that puts the man back in the position of authority by flipping events inside out to make the women’s accomplishment appear to be the man’s act of chivalry. Here are just a couple of examples:
“Good Job” The Good Job affirmation must be given to a woman by Man On A Bike any time she is passing his Dick Line and he is incapable of generating the energy to activate his flogging mechanism and ride away from her to an unknown point ahead. Good Job establishes manquiliubrium by letting you know that this is a special occasion, like Christmas, or your birthday, and that it only comes once a year and is totally a gift from him, not attributable to anything you have done of your own volition.
“You’re doing better this week!” This Inverted Encouragement is often done at the end of an interval, at the end of a ride or the top of a climb, when Man On A Bike has been soundly beaten by woman Riding A Bike While Female. The purpose of this messaging is just like the one above, with the added bonus of reminding the woman that the previous week she was not as good or as fast as Man On A Bike. This once again implies that this is a special occasion and was merely a gift from the man that will be rescinded the following week when normalcy will once again be initiated. What is most sinister about this form of “encouragement” is that this is almost never the case. Generally, the woman was better than Man on a Bike the previous week, but Man On A Bike assumes that Riding A Bike While Female is taxing out the tail end of the woman’s skill set and resources, including memory, and she won’t recall kicking his ass the week before. Manquilibrium is reestablished via gaslighting.
Message: You deserve an award just for being out here. So calm down and stay back there.
“Let me explain to you body, your job, your life, pretty much just let me explain”
Every time you are out Riding A Bike While Female, you can expect Man On A Bike to consider this your first day on earth. So if you are Riding A Bike While Female with Man On A Bike (or even a man who owns a bike and isn’t riding it), nothing you have done before that day counts in terms of knowledge or experience. For example, if you tell Man On A Bike that you are a personal trainer, have been for over fifteen years, that you began studying Exercise Physiology at the age of 14, that is has been your lifelong passion from the time you began competitive figure skating at age eight, that you at one time owned your own gym where you were individually responsible for training each and every person who walked through the door, that you taught every type of fitness class that could be taught, and that at your current company you were in the top 50 of over 3000 trainers world wide, you can expect him to try to explain to you, in great and pompous detail, what a fitness interval is.
When you try to interject some of your actual knowledge on intervals, Man On A Bike will, in the most unconvinced-of -your-self-described-background and condescending voice he has at his disposal, ask if you in fact really, actually know what a true interval is. When you again remind him of your background, tell him that there is more than one type of interval, and ask to which type was he referring, he will become completely convinced that you are as ignorant as he thought and will not believe that you do truly know what an interval is until you have broken it down for him in PubMed terms that he himself, does not understand. At which point he will mansplain the situation back to manquilibrium by saying “ Smart, strong and funny. Great combo.”
Message: The Dick Line is Overarching.
One glimmer of distinction from this sad state of affairs is that here, on our local Thursday AM Flog Ride, where we have no gender prizes, the women have no interest in gifts and, hopefully, the men have figured out not to offer them up. Although some of the above actually did take place on this ride at some point in the past, a conversation was overheard on La Cuesta last week at the Flog that made me smile. Man On A Bike was heard telling a woman who had been Riding While Female that she was very strong and that he hoped to, at some point, be good enough to get on her wheel. He offered her no advice, gave no critique, and neither did she to him. It was simply an exchange between two equals. As it should be. Who knew?
June 12, 2019 § 7 Comments
I was pretty bummed out after the Flog Ride last week to learn that Michelle was formally retiring from our Thursday morning beatdown. Anyone who did the ride with any regularity at all knew Michelle; she had been there from the very beginning. Along with Emily G., she was a woman who showed, week in and week out, that women are way tougher than men.
And like everyone who stuck to the Flog, she got better, stronger, faster.
Unlike everyone else, though, she did it with unstoppable good cheer. Whereas the rest of us were sour, sourer, sourest, Michelle took her weekly beating and always had time to laugh at the beginning and laugh in the middle and, most importantly, laugh at the end.
When the Flog started out, laughing was no easy matter because it was a six-lap, all-out race, and if you got shelled, you spent the better part of your pre-dawn Thursday … alone. And it was dark. And it was cold. To top the shit Sundae off with a cherry of misery, those early floggings served up people like Emerson Orante and Daniel Holloway, not to mention Chris Tregillis, full-on Wily Greek, Derek the Destroyer, on-form Hair, 800-watt PVDN Jon Davy, Eric A., and strongmen like Craig the Pilot, Canyon Bob, and Ugly Pedal Mike Hines. Every week delivered beatdown hash, guaranteed, with solid regulars like Crowbar, Shriver, G-Jit, and a slew of other riders.
So many South Bay riders have never even done the Flog once, so frightened are they of its intensity, its intervals, its sprints, its grimness.
None of that fazed Michelle. She’d finish in as good a mood as she began, something that no one on the Flog has ever been able to say but her. Michelle wasn’t satisfied with being satisfied, though, she spread the cheer at the legendary post-Flog coffee klatsch overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Golden Cove. She took photos. She cheered people. She had a “caboose” of riders who went at it fang and claw, but who were always friends when the ride hostilities ended.
But that, apparently, is history. She’ll be missed.
Hell, she already is.
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May 30, 2019 § 1 Comment
We had a pretty good flogging this morning, but then again, the Flog Ride is always pretty good, and by “good” I mean “bad.”
Three new riders showed up, one a super nice guy named Lloyd, and two younger fast guys who were there to set the course on fire. They had that “Outta my way, wankers,” look; great whites showing up at a guppy tank.
Google 1 also made the trek over from the West Side, and the fast guys either didn’t know who he was or pretended. Wes and Denis were also there, hunting for points, as was Google 2, who showed up just as we were rolling out. Frenchie, Billy, Fisherman, Scotty, me, K-Vine, Canyon Bob, and a couple of other riders rounded out the chopping block. Ivan the Terrible was absent, noticeably, despite promising to show up and celebrate his Tuesday Telo win by smashing us again into pieces.
Kind of like the #fake #trainingrace Telo, the Flog Ride is good because it gets a good mix of riders, old brokedown flailers and sleek young racehorses. Google 1 and Google 2 are the latter, and from the gun it was strictly a battle to see who could finish closest to second place after Google 1.
The fast young fellers had the lead quickly removed from their pencils because Google 2 is a woman, and she blew past them every lap as if they were on pogo sticks and she was on a Ducati. Somehow their come, see, conquer plan didn’t quite work out, although they tried very hard, breathed a lot, gnashed their teeth, and pushed as hard on their little pedals as they could. Like a lot of floggers, they decided they were late for something and had to get back, because they somehow missed the final haul up La Cuesta, with its 143% gradient.
Denis rode crazy fast, as did Wes, but no one was fast enough to stick with Google 1 when he stood on the pedals. It’s impressive to ride with someone(s) who can strip you down to nothing without even seeming to try. Of all the things I like about road cycling, I like that aspect best.
We had a bunch of peacocks on the course spectating, which was fun on the wet hairpin, and by the time we finished, we were finished.
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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.
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.
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.
January 31, 2019 § 7 Comments
Mrs. Takahashi died last month. She was in her mid-80’s, and lived across the street from us in Utsunomiya. She was what folks in small town Texas call a “character.” She smoked and didn’t care who saw it or if was unladylike. She said what she thought, even when it mostly pissed people off. And she dressed up.
When I say “dressed up” I don’t mean formal clothes, although she would have been equally at home in a barn or at an inauguration ball. Mrs. Takahashi had that one thing that hardly anyone has, and that can’t be bought.
She had a sense of fashion and a sense of style, and let me tell you, friend, she didn’t get it out of a magazine.
Nope, Mrs. Takahashi was more likely to get her fashion items out of a trash can or at a rummage sale or as pre-teen hand-me-downs than she was to buy something fashionable from a store. Two days after we’d thrown away some of my daughter’s purple-and-star-spangled pajamas (daughter was ten), we saw Mrs. Takahashi wearing them with a red turban, bangles, and a sweeping orange cape. She was on her way to the vegetable stand. In bright red, CFM heels.
Mrs. Takahashi always looked stunning, too, and beautiful even with her busted up nicotine teeth and her nine decades of life. Because beauty comes from within, whatever she wore radiated, and she wore whatever. No detail was too fine, no unusual or strange item was unworthy of at least being considered as clothing or an accent piece.
Cyclist fashion of the Rapha-roadie-group-ride variety is about as fashionable as any of the things you buy at a department store. It’s boring, uniform, and tailored after a “look” that is not very attractive, i.e. the look of a 25-year-old male climber on the pro tour with an eating disorder.
By definition it’s unfashionable because everyone else does it, but it’s also unfashionable from an aesthetic angle as well: There is no attempt to cobble together your own eclectic items, scavenged out of a dumpster or bought at Goodwill, and press them into something that is uniquely you. With conformity comes boring anonymity.
But the mores of bike fashion that get handed down within bike clubs don’t represent the great mass of people who cycle. Most riders wear whatever, down to the flip-flops or bare feet they use to push the pedals. Shirtless Keith? Cutoffs, work boots, and a bare torso, yo.
It’s only when you poke your head out from under the covers that you see, for example, the crazy variety at a Los Angeles Ciclavia, some 100k riders strong. Variety, imagination, beauty, fashion, and style run amok when cyclists are freed from the disapproving frowns of those who cannot countenance socks (white) with cuffs less than six inches, not to mention the pathetic fashion douchebaggery of the Velominati.
Here in the South Bay we are as cursed with the monotheism of bike clothing as any other cycling clique. Although my helmetless form is a kind of blow for freedom of cycling as well as for freedom of fashion, it pales in comparison to the Wily Greek.
Once a slave to the smallest details of #fakepro fashion, Wily took a sabbatical from cycling, discovered his inner freak, and now shares it with us every time he rides, which is a lot.
Ski goggles. Yellow nose ring. Ear studs. Down Jacket. Backpack. Bleach blonde hair. No helmet.
One day I asked him about the ski goggles. “Are you trying them out to see if they are better than glasses?”
“No,” he said, just before he rode me off his wheel.
“Why are you wearing them, then?”
“Because they look fucking weird, dude.”
The heir to Mrs. Takahashi. We need more of that.