Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Halftime 2015

Today's ride was a 34-mile solo effort on familiar roads.

Today is the 181st day of 2015. On 99 of those, I did bike rides. Today’s ride brought my year-to-date mileage total to 2,855. I am on pace to smash the personal best 5,236 I rode last year. In 2014 I rode 3,077 miles after June 30, and if this year is typical I again will ride more in the second half of the year than I did in the first.

This was a particularly good month. I rode 816 miles, beating the 772 miles I rode back in June 2007. (July 2011 remains my highest-ever monthly total: 1,020 miles.) But more importantly, I established a new fastest lap time at New Fane. I dedicated 5 days to mountain biking—good workouts, but few miles—and I took 4 rest days, so despite the high mileage total June was anything but a slavish pursuit of statistics.

As much as I have done, sometimes I feel like I haven’t done enough because I haven’t been racing. I shouldn’t feel that way, though. I competed in just 1 sanctioned race in the first half of a successful 2014 season, and that’s true again this year. My main competitive focus is cyclocross, which stretches from September through November. A couple of carefully selected events in July and August will contribute to my readiness for the really important dates on my calendar.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Raising The Bar At New Fane … Twice!

This evening I was delighted as I left the parking lot at New Fane because I knew my third and final lap on the mountain bike trails was a personal record. What I did not know at the time was that my second lap had been one too.

On Sep. 8, 2014, I turned a 25:16 lap but for some reason I had 25:05 in my head today. When I completed my first lap in 25:40 I knew I was going pretty well, and I was thrilled with 25:11 on my second lap but I failed to recognize it as a new PR. Completing my third lap, there was no doubt: 24:44! That is a solid beating of last September’s mark.

I am seeing steady improvement as I prepare for the Northern Kettles Fall Epic on September 19. If I could average 25:42 per lap—no easy task when you account for accumulating fatigue—then I could complete 7 laps within the 3-hour time limit. Only 3 guys were able to do that in last year’s race, and they were all Cat 1 strongmen. I completed 6 laps in 2:41:13, an average of 26:52 per lap. Squeezing in an extra lap might be too much for me, but I like my chances of improving my time for 6 laps.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Took A Look At Minooka

During the last couple of years, mountain bike trail development at Minooka Park in Waukesha has garnered mostly positive reviews from riders and, as of today, I can tell you that it’s a fun place to ride. But fun wasn’t my first priority. I rode at Minooka today because I wanted to preview the trails that will be used for the Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic in the Wisconsin Off-Road Series on August 16. And the jury is still out. Minooka is all singletrack of the tight and twisty variety. My biggest challenge was not to overcook the corners. I wanted to go faster than the course would allow. In the race, passing will be virtually impossible. A strong start will be critical and call-ups for the series points leaders will be a huge advantage.

Of course, I won’t be one of those series points leaders. I haven’t done any WORS races yet this year and the only one I might do before Minooka is the July 26 short track cross country race in the WORS Cup. The June 28 race in Eau Claire is too far away for someone with no series ambitions and the July 12 race in Mt. Morris conflicts with the state championship road race.

I probably should mention that I’m thinking about entering the state championship road race …

Before going to Minooka today, I drove around the course that will be used for the state championship. It’s a quiet 5.7-mile circuit just a few miles outside of East Troy. There is some climbing on the course—no leg breakers, but a couple of rolling hills that will be hard enough at race speed. My race would be 90 minutes long. That’s probably 5 or 6 laps. I am tempted but I am not ready to commit. Let’s see how my training goes over the next couple of weeks.

This very full Friday of cycling began with a trip to East Troy for Day 2 of the Tour of America’s Dairyland. (ToAD kicked off in Shorewood yesterday, but I opted for the Thursday evening group ride from the high school parking lot in West Bend.) I got to see some great racing and I was especially privileged to spend a little time with pro rider Laura Van Gilder, who has more victories than any other woman in American cycling history and is still a top competitor at age 50. We share more than just AARP eligibility: she also is a native Pennsylvanian and an avid cyclocrosser.

ToAD continues tomorrow with the Giro d’Grafton, and I will be the corner marshal at Turn 3 for the men’s pro race. This year’s course has just four corners instead of six, so it will be insanely fast. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My 50th Birthday

My mother-in-law made a birthday card for me with this graphic on the front cover.
Last night the phone rang shortly after midnight. That can’t be good, right? That’s never good. But this time it was OK: it was my sister-in-law calling to wish me a happy birthday. She’s one day older, and when she called it was still June 16 in California. We were in a 2-hour window during which birthday greetings were appropriate for each of us within our respective time zones.

Fifty years ago today, at 2:44 p.m. Eastern Time, I was born at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. It was a Thursday. I was 21.5 inches long and I weighed 8 pounds, 1 ounce.

In 1965, a typical 50-year-old man in southwestern Pennsylvania was someone who had gone right from high school into military service and then into a steel mill or a coal mine. His body was already failing due to harsh working conditions, cigarettes and alcohol. He had been “old” since his mid-30s and would be dead before he reached 70. I grew up around such men. I was respectful of them, sometimes fearful of them, and always determined not to end up like them.

I arrive at 50 as a member of a generation whose lives our fathers and grandfathers could regard only as easy. We have lived in peace and relative prosperity. Fewer of us perform manual labor and fewer of us smoke. We know more about exercise and nutrition. On balance, we have had better healthcare throughout our lives. At 50, many of us are still capable of athletic performances that our forebears could not have imagined.

My birthday ride was 50 miles out-and-back on the Eisenbahn State Trail, averaging 17.1 mph on my cyclocross bike. That was a solid effort, but it wasn’t the ride I wanted to do. A couple of years ago as I considered the approach of my 50th birthday, I thought it would be cool to return to Pittsburgh and then to ride the Great Allegheny Passage to Washington DC, 100 miles per day for three days. It would have been a worthy challenge, but I just couldn’t make it work. Maybe next year?

June 17 has been a ill-favored day in history: the Watergate break-in, the low-speed OJ Simpson highway pursuit, the birth of Barry Manilow … I could go on. But I am honored to share my birthday with two of the greatest bike racers in history: Eddy Merckx (70 years old today) and Sven Nys (now 39).

Turning 50 is an accomplishment not everyone can claim. I have lived longer than John F. Kennedy (46), Elvis Presley (42), John Lennon (40), Martin Luther King (39), Roberto Clemente (38), Lou Gehrig (37), Marilyn Monroe (36), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (35), John Belushi (33), Jim Morrison (27), Jimi Hendrix (27), James Dean (24) and Buddy Holly (22). Clearly, staying away from assassins, drugs, sports cars and airplanes has helped, but as the years continue to accumulate I’m going to praise cycling even louder. Ultimately, it may not extend my life beyond a normal span but it will continue to extend my youth.

One of my racing rivals is a guy from Illinois who always tells me—perhaps only in jest—that his goal is simply to outlast everyone, to win by being the only man in his age group. Screw that. I don’t want to be 1-of-1. I want my friends to accompany me through our 50s and beyond, and I want to kick their asses. There’s more to accomplish and this is no time to slow down.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Nice Night At New Fane

Quite unintentionally, I allowed four weeks to pass between visits to the mountain bike trails at New Fane. When I rode there on May 19, I posted lap times of 26:25 and 26:10. Those were my fastest laps of the year.

Not anymore. This evening I turned in laps of 25:59 and 25:49—roughly a 30-second improvement per lap—and I felt as good on the bike as I ever have. In the last couple of weeks my road rides have gotten faster and part of my performance today at New Fane was due to better overall fitness, but everything seemed to come together. The trails were in great shape: a little tackier than usual thanks to recent rains. The bike worked well and I think I had the perfect tire pressure for today’s conditions. I took good lines … seriously, everything came together.

Back on May 3 I said that I wanted to go sub-26:00 in June or July, and I’ve done that. The next challenge will be to string together multiple sub-26:00 laps in an effort that more closely resembles the September WEMS race for which I am preparing. Tonight’s laps were separated by a return to the parking lot, a luxury I won’t be able to afford in competition.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sometimes Good Enough Is Good Enough

On Twitter I follow a pro mountain biker who almost daily publishes training ride photos from Colorado. Every shot is a dreamscape of purple mountains majesty. Do you suppose he gets bored with it sometimes? Do you think he ever wishes he could break the monotony with a ride past corn fields and dairy farms?

Not every ride can be epic—at least, not around here—and my ride today was about as statistically average as they come during this time of year. I did my go-to route through Newburg and averaged 17 mph to complete the 26 miles in an hour and a half:

Yeah, that’s 63 degrees in the middle of a day in the middle of June … before you factor in the effects of the brisk northeast wind. It was a big disappointment to be back in warmers after a string of days in the 80s earlier this week. But it was good enough, not a complete washout like yesterday. Saturday and Sunday look like they might be good enough too. This has not been the week for which I hoped, but I'm still putting in my work. Make no mistake: some days, that's what it is.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Strong Start To June

Riverside Park in West Bend, just before sunset today.

If May went out with a whimper, then June has arrived with a roar. In the first week of the new month, I amassed 219 miles and 13.5 hours of ride time. It was my heaviest block of training so far this year, and it included a variety of activities on the road and off.

Monday was a mixed-surface ride on my cyclocross bike, using the Eisenbahn State Trail, other local trails, city streets and country lanes. I liked it so much that I did it again today. Tuesday and Friday were briskly-paced road rides. Wednesday was a mountain biking exploration at Alpine Valley. Thursday was the weekly road ride from the high school, but mine was unusually slow as I escorted a dropped rider instead of going with the lead group. On Saturday afternoon I completed my third metric century of 2015. In April, Cheesehead Roubaix was the first one and in May my out-and-back ride on the Wild Goose State Trail was the second.

This was a big weekend for cycling in Wisconsin: the Trek 100 in Waterloo on Saturday, the Diablo Criterium in Menasha today, the WEMS race at Alpine Valley on both days for the 12- and 18-hour racers … I previewed the WEMS course on Wednesday but decided not to compete. On a course that rewarded skinny climbers and fast descenders, I would have had a poor result. The century route of Oostburg Christian School’s Unity Ride, which cut across the northeastern corner of Washington County late on Saturday morning, would have been more to my liking.

In the week ahead I need to get back to New Fane for the first time since May 19. That will be my top priority. It may prove true that my next mountain bike race doesn’t happen until August, but I need to keep practicing at least once a week. It’s too easy for me to fall into the trap of long-steady-distance road rides, day after day.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Something For The Ladies

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot is the current road racing and cyclocross world champion.

Women account for more than 50 percent of the general population but continue to be under-represented in Wisconsin bicycle racing. In Sunday’s WORS race at CamRock, there were just 39 finishers in the women’s Cat 3 field. That compares to 187 men. At the May 23 WEMS race in Suamico, men outnumbered women 34 to 6 in the 30-mile solo category. The disparity is evident in other WORS and WEMS results, and in WCA road events, and in cyclocross as analyzed last fall by Tom Held in Silent Sports magazine.

It’s not just a Wisconsin phenomenon; feel free to conduct your own survey of race results from anywhere in the United States. And it’s not just racing; women are statistically less likely to ride a bike for recreation or for transportation. There are many possible explanations for the gender gap but one of the most commonly recurring themes is that women—especially in the early stages of their development as cyclists—are turned off by the hyper-competitive atmosphere created by many of their male counterparts.

Women in our area have options. Mountain Outfitters will offer a women’s road ride at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays starting next week. The 15- to 25-mile ride will leave from the south end of the parking lot at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in downtown West Bend. Belgianwerkx has a women’s ride at 6 p.m. on Mondays, leaving from the shop in Mequon. On June 13, the Wheel & Sprocket store in Fox Point will host a skills clinic for women who are interested in fast group rides and/or racing. And on July 26, the new Wisconsin Women Cycling organization will offer rides of 16, 32, 62 and 105 miles from Fireman’s Park in Newburg.

These initiatives are great to see, and their success will encourage more events of the same kind.