Monday, October 22, 2012

Triple Race Weekend!!!

We've just come through a double race weekend in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, which lead out with a technical race - Ekoi Quebec Cup #8 - put on by the fine Skinouk folks, at Lac Beauchamp in Gatineau. That was followed up by the OBC's race on Sunday at Logos Land. Two vastly different courses, two great races.

If that wasn't enough, we've got more coming. Ride with Rendall are once again putting on the Hammer and Anvil double header, featuring fast AND technical courses at the Nepean Equestrian Park. I have to admit, these are my favourite courses; turns take my attention away from the pain! And they are fun. The OBC race will be held on Sunday, and the timing of the races should allow folks to race twice on Sunday if desired. Double and triple weekends like this afford us the opportunity to taste what it's like for crossers in areas like New England to do cross; they race doubles all fall! No wonder they need two bikes!

So its Cornwall this Sunday, then Kingston, then rest up for the BIG weekend!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The OK Plateau: Intentional Cycling

A lot of cyclists seem to distinguish between fitness and skill. In reality, this is a false dichotomy, because skill is implicated in fitness. I don't mean this in the obvious sense: improving running fitness requires one not to constantly fall while running. I'm referring to finer-grained levels of skill and technique.

I became pretty intrigued by the topic of technique while I was in full geek mode at university. The wiki page on techne is pretty good, worth a read. In short, techne is an ancient Greek term for the craft or art of making or doing. Its about embodied knowledge and understanding, in contrast to episteme, which is what we tend to think of as 'theoretical' knowledge or understanding. Aristotle wrote a fair bit about this distinction: practical versus theoretical knowledge

Aristotle also wrote a lot about habituation. In his view, virtues manifested through habituation, by doing the rights things over and over until they became automatic, intuitive, and natural. In the terminology of present-day cognitivists, Aristotle was talking about transitioning from the cognitive to automatic state of action. 

Techne is about intentional practice. Here's what I mean. 

Techne is not mere practice. The saying, 'practice makes perfect' is only true up to a point. When we stop improving, we hit the 'Ok plateau.' We move from the cognitive stage - learning, to the associative stage - fewer errors, to the autonomous stage - 'Ok plateau,' autopilot on. This is generally a good thing, but if we want to improve our cycling, karate, or memory, we need to stay in the cognitive stage. This means we have to pay attention to what we're doing, why we're doing it, and why we're making mistakes. This is techne.

An obvious case to discuss is cyclocross, since it is so technique heavy, and the features on courses do not vary as widely as say, MTB racing. 

In order to improve in CX, we have to do two things: improve our techniques, and improve our fitness. For the former, we have to continuously ride harder sections if we want to improve our skills. This is why I like to set up off camber turns for CX practice, and also why I intentionally push too hard in turns until I slide out. Going beyond the limit is often the best way to find out what the limit is. By taking things too far and screwing up, we create the opportunity to analyze what we are doing and how we can change that. If we can easily ride sections without thinking about how we're going to do them, we're not learning anything. We maintain our plateau. 

But techne is implicated in improving our fitness for CX (or an other discipline) too. When it comes to power, we can hit our 'ok plateau' if we stick with feel, if we take the Obree approach. Our mind says 'NO,' but we can still do more. However, if we quantify what we are doing, we can continue to improve. Heart rate data is not terribly helpful here, power data is. Aiming for certain numbers during intervals, and tracking our progress, keeps us in the cognitive stage of practice. This allows us to improve. If we stop analyzing and evaluating, we plateau. 

Being intentional about how we pedal matters too. Rather than simply pedaling hard, spend time attending to how you are pedaling. Use your glutes, smooth out your power. Work on efficiency. If you neglect this technique you are losing the opportunity to make efficiency gains. 

I fully acknowledge that cycling is not all about getting better. One might argue that grasping for more - speed, technique, air time, tricks, etc. - is a source of suffering. For me, the key is to know when its time to just enjoy being out on a bike in the world, and when its time to turn inward and be critical of myself. Spending all your time in the latter mode is a sure way to miss what makes cycling the beautiful practice it is and can be. Sometimes you gotta just ride (the plateau).

The 'Ok plateau' is discussed in Joshua Foer's Moonwalking with Einstein, great bookCheck out a video on the topic, featuring Foer here

Saturday, October 13, 2012

For those about to Roc (Marathon)

Spot the Olympic gold medalist (Pro tip: not in green)

This is my second attempt at the Roc d'Azur marathon, and I didn't plan on repeating errors from last year.  It's a pretty big event (over 1600 participants in the marathon; more than 20 other events over four days) and everyone wants to be a hero for the cameras at the start.  The start line is extra wide (25-30 guys across) and stays that way for about 1000m until the course leaves the airfield - this is a long time to jostle for position in such a big group.  Last year I started with a conservative pace, hoping that I could ride consistently for the hilly 84km (2800m of climbing).  Big mistake, as mostly everyone else treated it as a world cup and pinned it until it bottlenecked.  Being far back from the head of the race isn't the worst thing, but being behind guys that slow down significantly after the burst from the line is a step closer.  A lot of time was spent biding my time on descents, or using gobs of energy passing in the rough stuff off the best line.  This was a recipe for bad pacing, and blowing up later.  

This year I was focused on staying closer to the front.  The overnight rain kept the dust down and made moving up a lot easier (being able to see is great).  I got onto the first narrow section of trail without having to stop and admire the scenery - we'll consider this a good thing.  The legs were cooperating, so I kept the pressure on in the hills, and the sensations were good on the downhills.

Last year I was hesitant and nervous on the descents - they're pretty rocky, and I didn't enjoy getting bounced around as much as I was.  The Epic full squish bike took the edge off and gave me the confidence to look for that extra bit of speed, instead of holding back so I could keep my fillings in my head.

The two Baywatch-style beach running sections seemed a tad easier this year - thanks again, overnight rain.  I was joined by two other guys 5km from the line and did my best to ensure we weren't caught by any chasers.  I probably should've sat on a bit more, instead of pulling the trio to 200m-to-go and losing the sprint from the front.  Something to rectify next time...

Kulhavy and Sauser worked their Specialized team magic and took the top two steps of the podium.  I finished in the top-20, which I'm quite happy with.  Looking at the results sheet - the gentleman one spot behind me appears to be a Roberto Heras from Spain.  It's a good thing I didn't know this during the race, or I would've lost a lot of time asking him if he was THE Roberto Heras from Spain, and then losing additional time asking for autographs.

This race uses an 84km loop, and my personal photographer can't drive cars with a stickshift.  The result of this is photos of me and an inflatable cow.  Enjoy, unless you're very intolerant of lactose.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Specialized Crux Blowout

The deal of the month. Specialized Crux. Reg $1999.99/Sale $1400.00
Sizes 52cm, 56cm and 58cm available.

Year End Deals and Pre-season Buy-ins

Hey Tall Tree followers, 

The team and I wanted to let you know that all 2012 stock is now on sale. This includes 2013 cyclocross product and in-stock cyclocross bikes. We also have pre-purchace incentives for 2013 bikes from All City, Surly, Brodie, Kona, Bobbin, and Linus bikes.  This is your chance to get season ending pricing on your new 2013 bike and ( April 1st delivery )**  Beat the spring rush.
Incentive options are:

- Extended service plan, (2yrs).  We currently offer 1yr with in-season purchases.
- 1yr flat tire warranty with our Continental tube and tire setup for all hybrids and city bikes.***
- %10 off MSRP on your new 2013 Bike, Frame, or wheel-set. On above mentioned brands.

If you are not looking for a new bike, we have a fall Tune-Up special. $68 will get you our Level 1 tune, plus fresh inner shifter and brake cables with housing.****
If you know someone who might benefit from our fall special, please pass this along .If they make a purchase of $500 or more by December 22nd 2012, they can drop your name and we will apply $50 store credit on your account.*****

   ** As long as the distributor has stock available to ship for April 1st delivery.
  *** Tire and tube purchase at reduced price necessary. Protection covers penetrations from road debris.
 **** Standard stainless shop cables and housing.
***** Store credit for in-store purchase only. Must be used before December 22nd 2013.

This offer expires December 22nd 2012.
Tall Tree Cycles may change these offers at any time.

Thomas Johnson
Tall Tree Cycles

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Double Cross Redux

Camera Roll-515

socks of awesomeness
Team Awesome Socks!
What a day. Many a rider shook off their post-Thanksgiving stupors to show up on time at the Gate on Sunday more than a few hours on the saddle in the sun. About 50 donated generously in return for a piece of paper with the route cued up; we raised $521.00 for Bicycles for Humanity and the OBC CX Series. Thanks you for your generosity everyone!

it was that kinda day
Steve and Andy atop trail-o-leaves


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Where's Imad? Hey Dave, who shot your wheels with a shrink-ray gun?

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Imad and Dave roll along Lac Phillipe
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Construction along the beach at Lac Phillipe. What's going in here?
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....dirt jumps?
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Obligatory rock-shot
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This is what Double Cross is really all about: Pipolinka! "Hi, there are about 50 more riders coming, you'd better keep the coffee brewing."
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Mmmm, St. Amboise AND coffee.
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The stable. Lots of variety this year, mtbs, touring bikes, all-roaders and CX bikes. Next year Iain and I will be rocking drop bar mtbs! Get weird!
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NAvigating the HWY5 extension. 
Noah leads Chris and Steve up the cut.
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Scramble, vintage CX style.
Photos by Rodd and yours truly. Click any of them to zip through to the rest.

In case anyone was wondering, yes, the climbs on the way back were hard for all of us! Even with a 34x28 and 35mm tires, those are touch. A bunch of us made all of them, but it was not easy!

Aside from a crash Dave T. walked away from mostly unscathed, the only other drama experienced in the front group was an atTack on the 105 on our way back. Sure, we'd suffered a few flats on the trails, but five carpet tacks in our tires on the road was a bit of a drag! Imad left one in, as I should have done, and road it for 12k before swapping in a tube, courtesy of Peter M. Check your tires, folks!

Riders from each of the other groups reported good sensations and little drama as well. The weather was certainly on our side; lets all hope for sun in 2013. Here's a postcard from the Sock Schnob Grupetto, certainly the most stylish group on Sunday:

Feel free to post up more photos etc, on the FB page:

Here's the out:

...and the back:

Monday, October 8, 2012

World Mountain Bike Mudathon Champs

The French open umbrellas to wish good luck upon the riders - It's not actually raining.

Saturday: 20 degrees and sunny.

Sunday: Not Sun Day.  Moist.

Getting the car stuck in the grass/mud while trying to get parked may have been a good example of foreshadowing.  Note to self - Rear wheel drive with low rolling resistance tires is not the ideal setup for  soggy grass.

Not sure if this was the muddiest race that I've ever done, but it's definitely the longest muddy one.  Didn't take long to make sure my jersey wasn't transparent - a group of guys, 135 strong, riding though 5km of muddy puddles will do that.

The next 80km would include:
  • Lots of rideable sections
  • Numerous opportunities to drag/carry a bike. 
  • Awesome (and foggy) panoramic views
  • Awesome (and foggy) panoramic views followed by 3km sloppy slip-and-slides
  • Hoping that my brake pads would last to the end of at least the next descent (They survived the race.  A miracle!  Someone make sure the Shimano brake pad engineer is on the holiday card list).
  • Chances for other racers to accidentally step on my rear derailleur 
  • Making time to entertain feed zone volunteers by allowing one of them to shove multiple cubes of cake into my mouth while I fiddled with bike

I was anticipating a chilly day on the bike, but it was actually quite comfortable on course.  This made it easier to focus on the arduous running sections, and the surfing action on the descents.

I tried to minimize the damage of mechanical issues, but their cumulative direct (time spent course-side, reduced riding efficiency, etc) and indirect (temporary demoralization) effects were likely significant.  I rarely have mechanical problems that drastically affect the outcome of races, so it's especially disappointing that it happened at a world championship.  Looks like it was a tough day for a few people though:  135 starters.  91 finishers.  ~33% DNF.

Smiles were plentiful in the parking area post-race.  The impromtu tractor pull / car-extraction-by-ATV was a hit.

I'm currently making my way south and will be posting less about mud (hopefully), and more about beaches. Next race is the Roc d'Azur marathon on Friday.

Finishing the first 84km lap

Exfoliation is an important part of skin care for both your face and body 
Always wipe excess chainlube after application, or this is the result

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Still in Ornans...

Made a quick TGV run into Paris on Friday where I saw some of my favourite Tom Hanks movie settings. Returned for Saturday's sign-in and the highlight of everyone's 5:30-5:55pm in Ornans - the Team Manager's Meeting.

The forecast is for rain overnight and through tomorrow (race day), so there's likely going to be some course rerouting.  Two of the climbs are already steep/slippery, and won't be getting much better with added moisture.  Looking forward to the new mystery trails that may take their place.  

World Championship Sky Monitoring Station

Every country participating in this year's race has a mural painted on a storefront in Ornans.  This moose ate the mural.

The vertical scale isn't shown, but there's enough climbing.

Some race info:
  • October 7
  • 84km
  • ~2800m of climbing
  • Time bonuses for riding 26" wheels
More to come after the race (or, perhaps, during if it isn't sunshine and lollipops)...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ornans or Bust

Arrived in Ornans, France after a long (even by N. American standards?) drive from not-France.  

Spent a couple days checking out different parts of the course.  The biggest climbs don't gain more than 300m at a time, but they tend to include one or all of:
  • Steep, muddy, rutted trail
  • Barbed wire (deters one from cutting the course)
  • 30% grades covered in golf-ball-sized rocklets
  • Cow pies with chewy centers (This is what the warning is for in the preceding pic)

Ran into (not literally, but close, as some descents are slip-and-slides) the sole American in this year's race.  Rode the first 40km together and stopped to take in the beauty of these scenic vistas.  How romantic.  Also rode alone on the following day in a drizzley mess.  Less romantic.