Monday, January 28, 2013

A Sense of Victory

It’s cold here and that’s the straight truth. Yesterday’s group ride was made up of a few hearty, dedicated- or maybe plain ol’ crazy- people who got up, saw the mercury hanging out at 26°F- what am I saying, who uses analog thermometers anymore?- checked a weather website or app, saw that it was cold, and saddled up anyway. The six of us were bundled up with our faces barely showing. We were ready to ride.

Now, this isn’t going to be about how crazy riding in the cold is/was or the merits and hazards of riding outside in below freezing temperatures. That’s a different discussion and one that should involve science and research by people with capital letters after their names- unfortunately that is a group of people that does not include me. No, what this is about- besides the fact that it took longer to get dressed than it did to ride the nine miles to the start of the ride- is the feeling of victory.

Our team kit is great and the technology that went into developing the fabrics is impressive. Still, outside of only wearing a raincoat, it takes some gear to stay warm. Prepping for a cold ride takes a while but will quickly empty the closet. Yesterday I wore: bibs, a long sleeved winter base layer, a thermal long sleeved jersey, a pair of thermal windproof tights, a soft shell vest, heavy winter socks, windproof winter shoe covers, a windproof glove, a cap that covers my ears, and a neck gaiter that makes me feel like a bike riding bandit. Of course I wore a helmet and a critical piece of cold weather gear- sunglasses. These serve most importantly as a windshield than to block the sun. Like many of you, I wear contact lenses when I ride and when a cold wind hits them it feels like they freeze right to my eyeballs. It’s not such a good feeling.

Once on the road, it was like riding through a cold ghost town- thankfully I fit in with that bandit gaiter! A winter weather advisory until mid day scared everyone into staying home and off the roads. Upon inspection of the streets, they were dry and free of drivers. During the ride, we came across even fewer cars than normal. It was great! There were hardly any people out and the sounds we heard were of shifting gears, the purr of bicycle chains and the occasional ranch dog running along side the group. The ride proceeded as usual and four hours later we were done.

While stripping off the many layers of clothes, a sense of accomplishment hit. We had taken victory over the cold, over the season, and showed nature that some low temperatures weren’t going to scare us into staying inside. Did I enjoy a mug of hot tea after the ride? Absolutely! But it was enjoyed with a sense of victory and appreciation of what the seasons have to offer.

Share your stories of winter training, we’d love to hear them!

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Fresh View

For several reasons, I recently moved from the San Diego area to Asheville, NC. One of those reasons was simple- I missed the seasons. The weather in southern California is nice but it’s the same every single day. It gets stale and variation is an underrated aspect of life. Now, variations in the weather have their ups and downs. Last week’s four days of solid rain felt like being in the pacific-northwest and it made me wonder if I’d grossly misinterpreted the weather patterns of western North Carolina.

One of the nice things about moving to a new place is that everything is new and there is so much to learn about the area, the people and yourself. It brings new opportunities- opportunities to meet new people, try new things, tackle new challenges, go on adventures, get lost, find your way back, and maybe find yourself in the process. It helps you appreciate the little things in life that, in reality, are some of the biggest. Here are a few of the little things:

-Zippers. This probably sounds silly but in the move from California to North Carolina I lost the ability to dress myself appropriately. In California, you need a vest and arm warmers every now and again but the weather doesn’t change much throughout the day. Yesterday’s ride saw a thirty-degree temperature swing: 28°-58°. My mantra was zziiiiiiiiippp, zzzzzzzziipp the sound of my various layers zipping and unzipping to regulate my body temperature. Gideon Sundback, thank you for your invention because without it I would roast and freeze all on the same ride.

-Icicles. An upside to last week’s rain was a spattering of beautiful, random waterfalls spouting from the cliffs along the river. These waterfalls trickled water down the plants and vines along the cliffs and froze in the shadows creating hundreds of icicles. They appeared to absorb the ambient daylight and radiate it from within their core, like a string of lights. It was one of the most awesome displays of nature I’ve seen in a very long time.

- A clean bike. Rolling out in the morning on a clean, shiny bike is a wonderful feeling. It makes tired legs feel less heavy, it looks pro, whatever that means and you just feel good! It’s like wearing new shoes for the first time, nothing dramatic has changed but you feel like there’s more pep in your step- or in this case, pedal stroke.

These are some of the little things that helped give me a fresh view on life. They helped me to appreciate the little things that had previously gone unnoticed. The only ice in southern California comes in a glass of Coke and its beauty could’ve been overlooked. I’ve learned who the inventor of the zipper is and remembered the simple power of clean equipment. Thank you to the sometimes cruddy weather for bringing more variation in life and freshening my views.

What are some of the little things in your life that you may have missed? Take a look on your next ride and see what you find. As always, thanks for reading.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Para-camp #1

The 2013 cycling calendar year has officially begun. The para-cycling national team just finished its first camp of the year at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, CA. Located closer to Mexico than San Diego, our camps in Chula Vista are always full of great riding, good weather, camaraderie and regular buzzes from border patrol vans. For many of us, this camp was the first serious block of training following the Games.

Camp began with routine blood tests and CompuTrainer testing for everyone to measure base fitness. Following our pre-breakfast blood tests, a simple ramp test was on the docket for the day. As someone who likes to train outside whenever possible, riding the trainer on a sunny, southern California day, was especially difficult. The mental fortitude of people who train indoors regularly is quite admirable, but I digress. After the first day of testing in the lab, we took to the road to validate our numbers from the previous day. One day consisted of a flat to rolling time trial out the one and only Otay Lakes Rd. The next day, we raced a hill climb up Honey Springs Rd. (For you yahoos that care about Strava, you can look those roads up.) Both courses are ones that we “race” on at every camp. After several camps, we have enough data to track our progress, compare strength to weight ratios and, of course, see who is the fastest at each camp.

Staying at the OTC is like staying in a bubble- the only thing that matters is your sport and your training. For camps, it’s great. Each day began with simple yet hearty breakfast. Every meal is prepared by the dining staff- nutritionists, dieticians and chefs- to provide a nutritionally balanced meal for all of the athletes at the training center. After several hours on the road we’d return to the training center, get cleaned up, eat lunch then begin the recovery process. Between using our personal recovery modalities- massage sticks, lacrosse balls to work out knots, and stretching- and those available in the sports medicine building- contrast baths, space legs, massages and chiropractic care- we were well taken care of. Our afternoon recovery sessions were followed by evening recovery rides. These are super easy rides to help flush any remaining gunk- it’s a technical term- out of our legs. Recovery is just as important as, if not more than, daily training. Without recovering, you can’t train to your full potential the next day or next session. That’s not to say you shouldn’t train if you’re fatigued, but it’s important to reduce the amount of fatigue you feel.

In addition to our on the bike training, we spent time in the gym throughout the week doing stretches, bodyweight exercises that we can do while traveling, and core work. We had group and individual sessions with our team’s sports psychologist to develop- or continue working on- visualization strategies, create game plans for meeting our goals and having an overall better mental state. We had team meetings to go over the race schedule for the year- which, in a post Games year, is sparse- and the expectations for all riders on the national team. Every rider is expected to meet standards upheld by the program. It’s an honor and responsibility to represent our country.

It was a full week of training, learning and growth on and off the bike. This was only a kickoff to what I know will be a great season for everyone. Stay tuned throughout the year for more training camp recaps and race reports as the season begins to kick up. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Zone

As cyclists, or any type of athlete, we strive to be our best. Your best could be anything from winning your local masters’ crit, becoming a world champion, being a better parent or mastering a new skill. Everything comes into play- your diet, sleep, life decisions, completing every painful interval- to get you to achieve that goal. It doesn’t happen overnight and it’s not easily attainable.

No matter what your goals are or whatever your best may be, chances are good that at some point you’ll find yourself “in the zone.” Anyone who’s been there knows exactly what it is. It’s a state of zen. It’s a feeling of effortless and complete focus. You’re powerful, graceful, and it all feels so easy. It’s addicting- one trip and you want more of it.

But the zone is elusive. It’s not easy to find or to get back to. When I sat down to write this article, I found myself getting distracted. I checked my phone, jumped in and out of conversations, and wondered what I should eat for a pre-bedtime snack.
My mind was running on all cylinders… except the one needed for writing this article. It took sitting down, getting quiet, turning off my head and going. Just like on the bike, you have to shut off and just go. Let go of everything and ride.

I recently read an article about thinking more like Sherlock Holmes. The article said to do that, one has to be more mindful, to be aware of their surroundings but focused on the moment. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen next or what might happen, live in the now. That’s what being in the zone is, being in the now. How great would it be to live in the zone 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Work, family, and training would all benefit from simply letting go and enjoying the ride. So now try it! Go for a fun ride, you just may find yourself in the zone.