Sunday, October 27, 2019

Last Milestone Of 2019?

Not a bad afternoon. I wonder when I’ll be able to say that again. With the arrival of winter weather in the week ahead, I may have finished my 2019 cycling season today. And, for what it’s worth, I hit my target. I wanted to ride enough miles today to make 2019 a Top 10 season.

1.   2015 | 6,236 miles
2.   2016 | 5,620 miles
3.   2018 | 5,358 miles
4.   2014 | 5,236 miles
5.   2011 | 5,113 miles
6.   2012 | 5,005 miles
7.   2017 | 4,933 miles
8.   2009 | 4,800 miles
9.   2010 | 4,650 miles
10.  2019 | 4,412 miles

In recent seasons I have been riding about 400 miles after October 31, and if I were to do that again this year I would push 2019 a notch or two higher. Is that worth the effort? I don’t think so.

I expect to get back above 5,000 miles next year. While my “official” goal will be only the 3,000-and-something miles I will need to hit 75,000 all-time, my pursuit of 100 career metric centuries will push me to ride longer. I’m going to need 13 metric centuries in 2020. That will be a proper challenge; I did only 5 this season.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

2019 Cross Fire

The less said about this one, the better. I made a huge mistake on Lap 1, overcooking a turn and running straight into a post at the side of the Angell Park course in Sun Prairie. In that moment I lost 5 spots and my day was more-or-less over. I finished a lowly 25th out of 29 in the Cat 1/2/3 Masters 50+ race. Lance Johnson (Velocause Centraal Cycling) took the win ahead of Christopher Berge (unattached) and series points leader Arlen Spicer (BELGIANWERKX).

Looking at the weather forecast, I’m almost certainly not racing next weekend. In the week to come, southern Wisconsin is probably going to receive the first accumulating snow of the season, and temperatures are going to drop steadily. I’m going to enjoy my time in the saddle tomorrow, as it may be my last time in the saddle this year. There are a couple of cyclocross races in November that I would like to do, and I’ll keep riding on the turbo trainer in the home gym, but I’m now ready to let go of the 2019 cycling season. If the weather doesn't improve, then I'm done.

Friday, October 25, 2019

West Bend Gets Fat

The Hugh Jass Fat Bike Series is coming to West Bend. The 2019-2020 schedule is out and our own Regner Park will be the venue on Saturday, January 25. Find out more about the series by clicking the schedule below.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

2019 Tough Udder CX

This racer demonstrates why I was content to run, not ride, through the muck hole!

Today the Wisconsin Cycling Association’s cyclocross series went to rural Waukesha County for Tough Udder CX, a race around Oak Ridge Farm, a popular place for city kids to learn about livestock and agriculture. This was the third running of Tough Udder but my first participation, and I felt the joy of a schoolboy on a field trip as I discovered the many features of its unique course.

The start, for example, was narrower than usual, and downhill on a gravel path into deep sand. So, it was fast and dangerous but we all got through it without incident and I couldn’t have asked for much more … except not to be in last place. But there I was, and there I would stay for the first half of Lap 1. I made my first pass at the water crossing, choosing to run through a muck hole that was straight out of Hillbilly Handfishin'. I might have taken the bridge, but the approach to it was winding and slow. With wet shoes and socks that will never be clean again, I pressed on and began pulling back a couple of familiar age group rivals. Dave Dineen (MOSH / Team Wisconsin) and Sean Shields (Hampshire Cycling Club) were just ahead. We could easily gauge the time gaps between us through a series of 180-degree turns that played along the course’s biggest hill.

On Lap 2 I passed Dineen and thought I was pulling away, but I made a tactical error when I tried the bridge. Dineen ran through the muck hole like a champ and was right on my wheel again. But he didn’t take back the position, and I opened a new gap by hitting the hill even more aggressively than I had on Lap 1. Early on Lap 3 I stretched that gap to a comfortable margin on a pair of long straightaways joined by a 180-degree turn. It was there that I could tell I was getting close to Shields. I ran through the muck hole again and I was quick through the deeply rutted mud that followed. Bit by bit I was gaining, but Shields wasn’t going without a fight.

By the time Lap 4 began I was feeling good about the way I was managing my race. I was good on the gravel, good through the sand, really good on the long straightaways, good enough through the muck hole—no more detours to reach the bridge!—good through the deeply rutted mud sections, and good up the hill. I was not good on the downhill legs of all those hairpins, but they were short and weren’t costing me too much time. My only remaining concern was that I would get passed by the leader of the singlespeed race that was running concurrently. That group started ahead of mine, and my race would be over if I were passed by the leader on Lap 4. I could see him coming late in the lap, so I hit the gas super hard on the straightaway that led back to the starting grid. I had to take a right-hander a little harder than I would have liked, turning from one gravel path onto another, then I sprinted past Shields across the finish line just in case the race referees decided to pull us.

They didn’t; we had one more lap to do. For a moment I wondered whether the big effort I had made in the last minutes of Lap 4 would leave me defenseless against a Shields counterattack, but I opened a good gap on the long straightaways that suited me so well. I locked up 11th place out of 15 in the Cat 1/2/3 Masters 50+ race. Series points leader Arlen Spicer (BELGIANWERKX) was today’s winner, followed by Brent Rohrs (Diablo Cycling) and John Lirette (Ben’s / Milwaukee Bicycle). A race that had begun so poorly for me turned out to be terrific fun and a real fight from the first lap to the last.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

If Just For Today ...

Tomorrow will be what people who say they love autumn are talking about: sunny skies over colorful trees and temperatures in the low 60s. Such people are not talking about the 9 weeks of autumn that remain after this weekend: 9 weeks of putrefaction to be arrested, eventually, by temperatures consistently below the freezing point. Such people seem to think that’s “winter,” but around here winter is an even more stark reality.

I am not one of those people who say they love autumn. In the last couple of weeks I have had to talk myself into my thermal gear and onto the bike for rides that have failed to inspire. It has just been work, and I have been willing to do it only because I don’t want cyclocross season to be over yet. Will tomorrow’s Tough Udder CX race in Dousman be my final race this year? Could be. When I know that my racing season is over I’m going to be OK. I’m not going to fight for every last ride and every last mile as I did in many prior seasons. I am now an even 100 miles away from making this a Top 10 season, and I will be content with that small achievement.

In recent weeks I have tried to compensate for a drop in outdoor miles with a rise in indoor minutes. I’ve made some nice changes to my home gym and it doesn’t seem as dreadful. I think I will be OK with more turbo trainer time than I have been able to endure in the past. I am also looking forward to going harder and heavier with strength training, which I have been doing in “maintenance mode” since early spring. It’s time not simply to maintain, but to make gains. Lastly, I’m eager to take on some new cross-training challenges, of which I will have more to say soon.

But today was about riding outside. I hopped aboard my road bike for the first time since breaking a spoke on October 10 and I really enjoyed the 25-mile route you see above. After my ride I got my cyclocross bike washed and lubricated for tomorrow. Off came the bottle cage. Off came the backup wheelset with the Continental Gatorskins that turned my Trek Boone into a road bike while the BMC was out of service. It’s a pure cyclocross bike again … at least for one more day.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The State Champions Next Door

Samantha & Brad Heckert received their awards in Stevens Point on October 5.

Meet the Heckerts: Brad and Samantha. See them around West Bend with their children and they look like a lot of other young couples. But see them in a mountain bike race and you’re probably seeing them leaving you behind.

Racing for Team Pedal Moraine, the Heckerts dominated their respective categories in the recently concluded Wisconsin Off-Road Series. Brad is the 2019 Wisconsin State Champion in Category 2 for the men’s 30-34 age group. Samantha is the 2019 Wisconsin State Champion in Category 3 for the women’s 30-39 age group.

En route to his state title, Brad won his age group in the Mount Morris Challenge, the Red Flint Firecracker, the WORS Cup cross country race (which, by the way, also makes him the 2019 USA Cycling Midwest Regional Champion), the Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic, and the Reforestation Ramble. Take age group distinctions out of the conversation and Brad finished third overall in Category 2, known to WORS as “Comp.”

Not to be outdone, Samantha took 6 age group wins: the Iola Bump & Jump, the Red Flint Firecracker, the WORS Cup cross country race (filtering out the non-series competitors), the Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic, the Reforestation Ramble, and the season finale, Treadfest. Coming into the last race, Samantha was in second place on series points. Her victory in Lake Geneva gave her the state title.

“I had been keeping track of my standing throughout the season, which affected how I raced all my races, but this race was a little different,” Samantha said. “I knew going into the final race that I couldn’t get sick, have a mechanical, or let certain racers pass me, and I didn’t have that kind of pressure during other races. For the other races, I was able to ‘race my own race’ and focus on racing smart while trying to kindly and tactfully pass the Cat 3 men I caught up to. My strategy going into this final race was similar to others, but I had extra motivation. I knew that if everything went well, I could have a title in my age group, and that was really motivating since I am still so new at this.”

Samantha’s introduction to mountain bike racing came last year when she entered the Reforestation Ramble. She followed up a fourth place performance in her debut with a second place finish at Treadfest, the 2018 season finale. But for 2019 she took on more than just a full WORS season; she also competed in her first triathlon.

“Balancing multiple sports has been difficult, especially because I don’t come from any specific endurance sport background,” Samantha said, “and I decided to race a triathlon while training for mountain biking. That was kind of the beauty of trying the triathlon, though. I’ve been shopping for a new sport since I stopped dancing, choreographing, and coaching a few years ago.

“I balance my training by focusing on what interests me the most, so this summer I naturally ended up prioritizing cycling, and then my secondary focus was running. For the swim, I was a complete beginner and just tried to learn how to swim correctly. During the race I crossed my fingers that I would make up my time on the ride and run.”

What’s next for Samantha? Probably an upgrade to Category 2, with longer races over more challenging terrain in 2020.

“Throughout the season I was envious of Brad for some of the features he got to experience,” Samantha said. “I’ll see how I’m able to train over the winter, but Cat 2 is the goal. I think bumping up a category would push me to keep up with the pack and would be beneficial to my growth. If I can build over the winter and show up ready in spring, I think Cat 2 is doable.

“I plan to be on the bike more in 2020 and shift my focus to cycling, specifically mountain biking. Cycling is something our entire family is able to do together, and I enjoy it the most out of all the other endurance sports I’ve tried so far.”

Brad came into the 2019 WORS season with high ambitions after a very successful 2018 season. With 6 wins in the 30-34 age group, he was last year’s state champion in the “Citizen” class—i.e., Category 3. For most people the next step would have been an upgrade to Cat 2 and at least one full season in the “Sport” sub-category. Brad elected to go straight to “Comp,” the top step of Category 2.

“Coming into the 2018 season, I started training through winter and I had a lot of success right off the bat, and I was able to gain fitness through the season,” Brad recalled. “I felt like I should have moved up to Sport, but I chose to wrap up the overall score in Citizen. I moved up to Sport for the final three races of the year, allowing Samantha to try mountain bike racing for the first time. I was confident in my training plans and wanted to really set my goals high for 2019, so I decided to challenge myself and move directly to Comp.

“My passion for cycling was taking off, and as I gained fitness I enjoyed riding longer distances. The longer WORS races challenged the pacing side of racing, and I prefer that. I really enjoy maximizing my efficiency when racing. My fitness has really taken off since 2017, when I only had 288 logged riding miles.”

Brad’s success in 2019 extended beyond his age group: finishing in third place overall brings a mandatory upgrade to Category 1 for 2020.

“I’m really excited to be racing in Elite next year,” Brad said. “My goal is to just keep improving. The first year will surely be a learning experience, so I'm not expecting results right away.

“Right now I am taking a break from the training and structure. I plan on racing more cyclocross this year but it’s still an off-season sport for me, and I try to keep it fun. I plan on taking an extended break and start training again once it gets too cold to ride outside.”

So, what will Brad always remember about his 2019 state championship season?

“I definitely won't forget the leg cramps from the first few races in Comp,” he said, “and the thoughts of going to Sport for the rest of the season! I had a rough start, but I’m glad I stuck with it. I needed that extra push. New Fane (in the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series) was another event I'll remember, leading the start of the race 1-2 following Matt Grady for a couple laps and then finishing third, just behind Matt, in the 3-hour event.”

Team Pedal Moraine’s Matt Grady is a good benchmark for Brad. The 25-year-old Cat 1 from Cedarburg was this year’s state champion in the 19-29 age group and 10th overall. As Brad moves into the Elite ranks for the 2020 season, he and Matt can encourage each other to reach new heights.

And what will Samantha always remember about her 2019 state championship season? Perseverance.

“It was tough,” she said. “I was sick a few times and had to push through some nasty stuff during races, but in the end I completed all the events I was able to, and it paid off. This year has been huge for me in terms of personal growth, and this championship was part of that!”

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Monday, October 7, 2019

Service Above Self

Thanks to a generous grant from the West Bend Noon Rotary Club, the Eisenbahn State Trail now has two permanent bike repair stands. Both were installed this afternoon. One is on the south side of the historic train depot in downtown West Bend …

The other is installed where the Eisenbahn meets the Moraine Park Technical College connector trail …

That's Jeff Puetz of Bike Friendly West Bend in the background, assisting the Washington County Planning & Parks Department with the installation.

Each stand includes a tire pump and a set of tools secured to the stand by retractable braided steel cables. What great amenities for trail users!

Sunday, October 6, 2019


This week started well: a 50-mile ride on the Eisenbahn State Trail on what likely will prove to be the last 80° day of 2019.

This week ended well: a 31-mile road ride at a good pace, despite high winds.

It was the rest of the week that sucked: a dramatic temperature drop, days of unbroken dark clouds, and heavy rains that have left the Riverfront Parkway impassable in Quaas Creek Park and Riverside Park. A big chunk of West Bend is flooded, and I feel like my cycling season is drowning in sympathy. The great enthusiasm I had coming out of last weekend’s cyclocross race at Humboldt Park in Milwaukee turned into complete apathy yesterday when I decided not to line up for PumpkinCross in Grafton.

OK, so I was coming off an overnight shift and I had a bit of soreness in my lower back, but those aren’t the reasons I didn’t race on Saturday. I simply didn’t want to. I was convinced the rain was coming and selfishly I hoped that it would come quickly and severely enough to absolve me of any responsibility to decide whether I would compete. As Saturday morning turned into Saturday afternoon, it was clear that the rain wouldn’t stop the race. By that time, though, I was so far away from where I needed to be mentally that there was no question about competing. I was switched off.

I spent an hour on the turbo trainer in the home gym on Saturday. I was there on Thursday too, trying to make something out of a week so abbreviated by bad weather. But those sessions were poor substitutes for riding outside, and my 6:45 in the saddle this week is my shortest effort since the last week of May. That’s 6:45 total, indoor and outdoor. Pretty lame.

I’m trying to be optimistic about the week ahead. We should be in the mid-60s and dry Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then still reasonably warm but maybe a little wet on Thursday and Friday. I’m not worried about finding time to ride outside in the week to come. I am worried about missing another race: Saturday’s forecast for Badger Prairie Cross includes temperatures in the low 40s and high winds. We could be looking at sub-freezing wind chill, and I’m just not willing to endure it.

If only there were someplace else that had cyclocross races … someplace reliably warmer, yet still close enough to reach in a reasonable amount of time by car, and preferably with a Sunday schedule so that I can get some F-ing sleep. If you’re thinking Illinois, then you’re not alone. I ordered my I-PASS yesterday. How’s that for optimism, that chance I will do enough races south of the state line to make an Illinois Tollway auto-pay device seem like a good acquisition? I did a gravel road race in Illinois earlier this year, and I did two cyclocross races down there in 2017, so don’t say it won’t happen. I’m not ready to write off the 2019 season.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A New Approach To An Old Problem

Since December 2012, I have been using a foam roller to work out occasional kinks and to prevent soreness. It has been a great tool for big muscles like quads and glutes, but less effective for areas like the neck and shoulders, where lots of muscles come together in a complex web. With my history of shoulder injuries I frequently experience stiffness in the trapezius, levator scapulae, and other muscles. My stretching routine simply isn’t targeting them effectively, so it’s time to try something else.

I’m convinced there’s merit in myofascial release—i.e., the breaking up of adhesions in the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles. You may have heard it called “trigger point” therapy, but essentially it’s massage. And it turns out that in a world full of expensive and elaborate massage options, the humble lacrosse ball is just the right size and density to work deep into the neck and shoulders. For only $6, last week I bought a pack of three balls. Like the model in the picture above, I place a ball between my back and the wall, then lean into it to apply pressure to the trigger points. A trigger point might be almost anywhere, so there’s a little wiggling around to find one. You will, though, know when you find them: they hurt! And this is one of those rare occasions when you should ignore your body and push through the pain. Holding pressure on the trigger point eventually results in “release” and the pain subsides. Done consistently, myofascial release should leave you with less stiffness and greater range of motion.

This technique seems to be working for me. I’ll keep one ball in the home gym, where I do most of my strength training. I’ll keep one in the bedroom, where a little stretching helps me to relax before I go to sleep. And I’ll keep one at the office, where sitting for 40 hours a week is surely contributing to the persistent stiffness. If I can remember to step away from the desk a few times during my shift, then I can quickly and easily reverse some of the damage.

I think the foam roller has been good for me as a cyclist; using lacrosse balls to loosen up the neck and shoulders probably won’t translate into better on-bike performance. But I’m not always on the bike! Addressing this problem will at least do no harm to my cycling ambitions.