Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Selfbelieve Beyond Reason

Todd knew I'd appreciate Bill Gifford's article, The Transcendent Pain, in the August 2012 issue of Bicycling Magazine, when he handed it to me through his backyard fence post-time-trial-debriefing. Earlier in the day Todd had maintained an average speed of more than 42kph over 40 kilometers at the Ontario Time Trial Championships. Todd always impresses us with his ability to wring every ounce of speed from the limited time he has to spend training. How does he do it? Muscle memory? Yes, current science suggests that the cellular structure of our muscles gained through training stays with us. Its permanent. So if you were great at something in the past, you can de-train, then bring it back. Todd was an excellent speed skater and road racer in his youth and young adult years.

This poses an interesting question about how athletes who have used performance enhancing drugs should be penalized. If benefits are retained from cheating, should cheaters be banned for life? Complex question. One for another time and place.

Todd's got the muscle memory, yes, but is that enough? It isn't. He, like many other athletes who perform at high levels, has a very strong 'mental game.' Way back in 1989, Charles Garfield published Peak Performance. In brief, the book explains that an athlete's psychological strength and skills are more important than their physical training when it comes to performing at the limit of their ability. In other words, a physically weaker athlete can outperform a stronger athlete by accessing the power of the mind.

Gifford's article in Bicycling highlights recent research on the physiology and neurology of pain and suffering. Whereas lactate threshold and VO2 max were and still are thought to be the limiters of athletic performance, some, like Garfield, argue that the mind is the governor, not the 'parts of the machine.' This view resonates with my experience as a cyclist. To a degree, mind trumps matter. Herein lies a paradox.

Todd might not be able to perform at his true potential because he is too nice. Lance might have been as dominant as he was because he was an asshole.

Lets assume Lance used PEDs. He trained like a maniac. Nobody can say he didn't. He did. He killed himself day in and day out. PEDs let you do that and then do it again the next day. You have to be able to suffer. A lot. The more you can suffer, the better you can get. Lance surely feels he earned all he won with his suffering.

Self confidence it essential to excelling at the elite level. Lance was and continues to be very self confident. He might even selfbelieve beyond reason. That's a quote from Jens Voigt. This is what allowed Jens to win Stage 4 of this year's USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. He said 'shut up legs,' and  rode to a solo victory. Jens is rare; he has massive selfbelief, but is also very humble and kind. This is why he is a hero to many, including me (even though I feel certain he has doped).

Todd is like Jens, but with less selfbelief. This is a personality trait, one that many consider endearing. Humble people are easy to like. With more selfbelief, Todd would be even faster. Because he is gritty, he takes the pain, chews it up, and swallows it. But he knows he has limits. If he forgets about those limits on his bike, his selfbelief can extend beyond reason, and he can ride outside himself. I've seen it.

Neil also has the ability to selfbelieve beyond reason. Leading up to this past April's Almonte Roubaix, Neil stated he would attempt a break after the first wooded sector. He'd have a long way to go, and it would hurt like hell. I told him he'd have to think a lot about what it would feel like, prepare himself emotionally for the suffering. That's what he did. Neil is very good at this. And he did it. He went with Osmond Bakker, atayed away for about 60km, then still pulled off 4th. This achievement was not exceptional to us, his team mates, because Neil won external goods; he didn't. The race is not on the radar anywhere else. Rather, we are proud of Neil because his was a triumph of spirit. It was inspiring.

The PHDs are saying 'you can always go harder...until you can't.' Its true. Racing presents the opportunity to test this theory. The most satisfying riding experiences are those that involve suffering and perseverance. It is cathartic. Dogged tenacity is what allows us to access the inner strength we all possess. In physiological terms, we have to get our brain to allow more than a limited portion of our legs' muscle fibers to fire. Really, that's what the science guys are saying: we literally are always holding back, unconsciously.

Resolve. Decide you will make the break, stick with the leaders on the climb, maintain that target speed, whatever. You are either in or you are out. Go all IN. Commit to the effort, know it will hurt. Accept it. Deal with it. It sounds utterly cocky, but this is what you have to believe: failure is not an option. Believe it and your brain will allow you to access more muscle; fight or flight. You will not die. You are not even close to dying. Unless you are on drugs. Then you might; R.I.P., Tom Simpson. Simpson literally rode himself to death.

Be cocky, believe you can do better. Then do better. If you try, if you truly try, you will find gratification in whatever you achieve. For in going all in, in truly allowing yourself to believe in yourself, you will perform at the best of your ability. There is nothing more we can ask of ourselves, and there are few things in life more rewarding. Embrace failure as part of the process.

When you get off your bike, don't be cocky. That's key.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

D2R2 2012: You Gotta Get Up to Get Down

Get up

The courage to register.
The motivation to ride lots of hills around home.
The forethought to prepare your bike properly.
The discipline to prepare cue sheets. 
Early to drive to Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Earlier to be ready to ride from a field at or close to 6 A.M.
The first climb, within a few kilometers of the start.
The countless subsequent climbs.
Some pain. Maybe more.

...to Get Down
16 hours in a car with fellow bike nerds.
An early start.
Low gears.
Spectacular views.
Countless spectacular descents.
Fascinating riders.
Witnessing, and perhaps demonstrating, raw determination.
Pickles and Watermelon.
The Little Big House.
Minding the 'Slow Children.'
Meeting wonderful volunteers.
Catching up with Sandy, Dirt Road Master.
Hanging with fellow dirt aficionados.
Watering eyes at 75kph.
No flats.
No brakes.
Ejected water bottles.
First timer's euphoria.
Covered bridges.
Beer and terrific food. 
Tall Tales.
Camera Roll-307
6:00 A.M.
Rodd's Photos
Matt's Photos
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The morning's rain has ended. Post-blazing-descent-smile.
On August 18, 2012, I rode my fourth consecutive Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee. Each year I've written long posts preceding and following the event, so I'll try not to duplicate my efforts here. Rather, I'll tell the story of our weekend, and try to contribute something new to the topic.

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Rodd sent me the link to the D2R2 site in 2007, while I sat in a coffee shop in Montreal. We'd grown fond of dirt road riding, but had not yet done any events in this vein. Intrigued, D2R2 was now on the list. In 2009 I rode D2R2 solo and was blown away. My tires were too small, I missed the 6:00 start, and I chased until the second checkpoint (its far) to make up the 13 minute gap. Pretty much the whole ride hurt, but I loved it.

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Watch out for gorillas.

The next two years, Rodd couldn't make it, despite wishing to. This year everything was in order, Rodd was coming, as was Iain, Pascal, and Chris. From my perspective, the ride was going to be about making sure the first timers and Pascal had a good day. Chris would be riding the 150k route while we did the 180.

Camera Roll-287

Despite a navigational on Friday, we arrived in South Deerfield in time to pull Iain's, Rodd's, and my bike out of the Impala rental's trunk. After a shakedown ride to the start/finish area, we met up with Chris and family, Pascal and family, Deb, Dawn, and Nathan (fellow Ottawa converts) at the pizza place down the road from our 'hotel,' the Red Roof Inn. A few of us ate large pizzas solo.

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Zip, its Saturday morning, drizzling, and we've ridden to the start/finish field. Topping up with provided food and coffee, we assemble to roll out. No need to leave at 6 exactly, we're riding as a team today. No drop. No inflicting suffering. The roads will cover that.

Camera Roll-338
"How hard do you think I have to suck this?"

We roll. The 34/34 climbing gear feels good. Iain, Nathan and I are the stronger riders in our group. This is no secret. Its up to us to keep Rodd and Pascal close; basically, don't be dicks. Try not to open big gaps on the climbs, regroup, rip the descents but wait. Don't assume everything is fine behind you.

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The first of two rescues.

Iain is a fast descender. We plummet. We are plummeteers. He drafts me and gets the slingshot. And vice versa. The dirt transitions from somewhat soggy to hardpacked. Its fast. Really fast. Iain rolls on tubeless Clement PDX cross tires in 35mm. I'm on Conti CX Speeds in 35mm, with latex tubes. We roll fast, but the tires are not quite big enough for some of the 'obstacles.' The guy on the Fatback fat bike, with 4" wide tires at 10PSI proves to us that bigger is not gonna kill you. But it might be more fun. We leapfrog all day. He barely pauses at each feed station, while we are take our sweet time. Watermelon.

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The Spooky guys are fun. I rode a Metalhead when this one was 8 years old.
Rodd and Pascal are a couple boobs, two abreast. Pascal is happy, the pace is good. Rodd is loving it, no surprise. The descents....the descents. Euphoria.

Camera Roll-336

Iain is on a 36x28 (or is it 38?). He's a monster, he does not complain. Nathan dangles ahead and Iain often takes the bait. As do I, but only sometimes. I've ridden this thing with a 34x28, and now a 34x34, and it doesn't really seem that much easier. Percy, our companion on a converted mtb, rides his granny sometimes. He's a fit rider, but its not easy for him either.

Camera Roll-348

EPO won't make an average rider great. Low gearing won't make an average rider not-hurt.

D2R2 is hard, no matter how you slice it. Know it. Love it.

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Yes, this is real.

Iain and I are not hunting for Strava KOMs. We are ripping the descents because we love it. We are similar in build, long and low on the bike. My stomach rests on the nose of my saddle as I carve unrivaled ancient undulations in the road. Braking is an option, not a necessity. Watch for cars pulling out, I remind myself. And 'Slow Children.' Look at the Garmin for warning of intersections. Blink, blink, blink; dust from my front tire is blowing into my eyes. Glasses help when I put them on.

I told Iain to wear the LONG fingered gloves and white hat, but he didn't!

Hawkes Road will be the final push. I hit it hard, I want to ride fast. Approaching slower riders, searching for a path. Ditch, katwang...no flat. Dented rim, holding air. I ride safe, with latex. Thank you latex.

hillman rd
You go very fast from here.

We regroup and begin to reel in Fat Bike Guy. We catch him and welcome him into our train. I pull at 40kph, and he's on my wheel. He is awesome. I nod to let him know I am not trying to drop him. Just hold on buddy. He's still there within Red Kite. I nod, he's there. I want to lead him out to a hero's welcome. 300m to go I look back and he's dropped off. Slow down and wait. Close, really close. Determination.

We eat, drink, are merry. A fantastic end to a day sans drama, avec satisfaction.

Camera Roll-309
Pascal, Iain, Nathan, Matt, Rodd.

Friday, August 10, 2012

24 hours??....that’s nothing !! (Prologue)

The first half of 2012 has seen me in a lot of planes, trains and automobiles.....sometimes going the WRONG WAY, travelling like a madman. From end January to end June I figured I’d been home for about 35 nights. Mostly been travelling for work but also some personal vacation. In either case I try to get on a bike and see where it might take me.

First winter relaxing vacation was with my sis and some friends in Hawaii (Kona to be exact). I only spent part of the time with the group and was otherwise amusing myself with exploratory adventures. I had rented a bike for the whole time as I was about 5 k from my sisters place and 5 k from downtown Kona, but also did a couple of longer rides, getting me up to some killer hills and beautiful beaches.
My trusted (but heavy) steed at the top of a big climb

Tall Tree on an almost deserted hidden gem:

Next up was then Traversee de Charlevoix, now this was a 100 km 6 day backcountry ski trip - however it can be done in a few days on bike (or hiking) in the summer. I’d been wanting to do this for a few years now and finally the opportunity knocked with full fists. I had a very adventurous fit buddy come along for the ride. He ad never b/c skied before and was on a pair of borrowed boards (graciously lent by our very own Hurricane Heino). The first day was a bit rough as we started out at 3:30 pm and planned to skip the first cabin due date limitations. This was a freezing cold (-15) day that had been preceded by a weeks worth of freeze, thaw, rain, rinse and repeat. The first 20 k section is pretty tight and technical and it did not help that the snow was cemented with 10 in deep ski groves from the previous day’s thaw. Needless to say we had to walk the last 10 k....in the dark...arriving at our first (very cold but accommodating) cabin at 9:30.

This was our night 2 cabin...very cozy and beautiful !

The conditions got sunnier and warmer and we were loving it. Day 3 we took some additional backtracks to see more gorgeous scenery and day 4 we took some “shortcut” tracks across a lake which lead to a lot of extra tracks !

Only 17 k to go to the next hut !

Mike’s wide world tour agenda then takes me on my annual sojourn to South and North Carolina, the road biking is fantastic and there is a good chunk of mtn bike within 2 hrs as well. One awesomely flowy and well maintained one with 50+ km only 15 minutes away.

The Blue Ridge parkway:

Followed by:
The descent to Brevard
A lovely waterfall stop on the way down to Brevard


Black mtn descent !

Time to go back to work - which brought me for the first time north of 60...to Yellowknife. This is a great little town and I saw bikes for getting around everywhere. There is not much infrastructure for road or mtn biking - but in the sheild you can kind of make trail as you go. I met a really friendly couple who showed me their cool floating house (well frozen at this point) in the bay off Great Slave Lake. The ice highway had just been closed for the season but the ice was still like 5 ft thick in most places. Now the locals go out skiing and riding on the flat white sheet ! My amiable host (being about my size) offered up her steed so that I could say that I rode on Great Slave Lake.

Me getting used to the ride with their house in the background.

The (ice)road ahead !

A bit of a slushy spot !

I rode to a native community at the tip of the peninsula....sunk at the shoreline where ice disappeared as I tried to cross what looked liked only a small gap of running water ...luckily it was sunny and warm out ! The rest of the ride back was along gravel road then the highway through Giant Mine and into town. What a blast !!

Followed that up with a work trip to the hometown of Winnipeg.....did manage to spend the weekend get out for a ride with a buddy one day to see my old town (and the price tag on my old house which was up for sale....CRAZY) !! No pics as that weekend was mostly a blur filled debaucherous endeavour !

Time for an actual race - Transsylvania Epic. As Tanya had done this race the preceding 2 years and raved about it I figured what the hell.....give it a go.

The first couple days killed me - hot and wet and the slipperiest rocks one can imagine....and LOTS of them ! After day two’s dehydration cramping finish my plan was to go easy and just ride day 3. I went into the single track in the top 20ish again which was all a nice camp fortune style dry rocky downhill for a mile or so. Was riding well and enjoying it and came out onto the ensuing road section with a good group so decided best to stick with them as long as possible. It was another hot hot day but dry this time. This stage was mostly road/roadish with only a few miles of singletrack total. A couple of moderate hills after the first checkpoint (where I stopped for water refill) left me off the back of the group and no legs to catch up.Most of the rest of that day was on my own and I managed to avoid cramping until after the second checkpoint which was located at the top of a HUGE climb at a beautiful overlook….stayed to rest, get my cassette tightened up and refuel for 10 minutes or so. The remaining hills were smaller but took a significant toll in the heat and the cramping occurred again. Got passed by at least 15 people between checkpoint 1 and 2.…but another 25 or so from 2 to the finish…..it was a never-ending day and in addition to the cramps my feet were on fire. Another day feeling wreaked coming in.

Day 4 was a 75 minute drive away in Raystown….this place is gorgeous !! The course is more like Hardwood/Albion….EXTREMELY flowy fast and fun with lots of pumps and berms. No rocks to speak of but sort of red clay/sand dirt that drains well with the rain. It was the most climbing all week at 6500 ft but did not fell like it if you ride it well. We did 2 laps of 30 km each starting with a ½ k road climb into the singletrack. There were 4 big climbs and while I was well ahead of most of the 40+ crowd this day, (I was Loving the course), the previous day’s rain made for a few sections of mud that caused havoc with the drive train and massive chainsuck. Eventually I could no longer really shift, nor even put anything more than moderate torque on the cranks. I ended up having to walk most of the real uphills worrying about breaking a chain. But I had the best time riding this course and smiles were abounding !

Day 6 was one of the most scenic yet. Road a bunch of challenging but fun and doable rocky sections with only one or two small hike-a-bike sections....much more camp fortune’y or KL’y. Spent a bunch of time with a couple of the pro-elite ladies (The Stans No Tubes teams is amazing) and my roomie on the road working together...but eventually (even with my fresh legs) dropped off on the hills. Still was far up enough to ride with other strong riders throughout most of the remainder. Tussy mtn ridge trail is gorgeous and we were lucky enough to be up there before the shit-storming....fantastic views while navigating the bumpy narrow pedal grabbing trail.

The end finished with a NASTY rocky climb after a couple k of road and double track...only 5 minutes behind my roomie tho so was successful. I mugged again for the camera with no hands coming across and promptly slid right off the back of my saddle.....fun times !!

Finally more work took me to the beautiful Yukon Territory and Whitehorse. Had a buddy there that I used to race with in Manitoba and he set me up with a bike for a couple days. Whitehorse is amazing with 200+ km of great singletrack right around town...no wonder some people go there and never come back !!

Jonah dropping off a 50 degree descent for a shortcut to the ridge on the other side !

Next day took me and another buddy from Winnipeg to the Grey Mountain side of town

Did manage to spend some additional time up in Yukon taking in the sights and some superlative hiking opportunities !

First night camp up in Tombstone Park off the Dempster Highway....stunning !!

A beautiful 9 hr hike looking to the Tombstone range.

I’m pretty sure this is the rarely spotted Northwest Honeybadger....

Next episode...the 24 hr epilogue