Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The February Fat Hundred Challenge (via STRAVA)

Hog's (Fat) Back

February. At once dead of winter and birth of a new season. February is time to do more than think about thinking about getting some riding in to eke out more than a modicum of fitness for spring's first glorious ride. February is time to get down to business. If' you've got a fat bike, you can mix business and pleasure.

From February 1 to February 28, take on the February Fat Challenge. Ride a fat bike outside, record your ride with a GPS device or enabled smartphone, and upload it to Strava. All Ottawa-Gatineau riders who log 100km or more will qualify to win one of two one-year Premium subscriptions to Strava, courtesy of the fine folks at...Strava.

Register for the challenge by replying below with your Strava username. On March 1 I will ask all participants to submit their totals to me to qualify for the draw: matt@talltreecycles.ca. Obviously, we are using the honour system here. Any kind of ride on a fat bike counts, provided it occurs outside.

Fat bike rentals are available at Tall Tree Cycles and Phat Moose Cycles.

Get out there and have a great time!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Winter Perspective

Do you enjoy winter or suffer through it? Is it a welcome respite from the business of the rest of the year, a time to slow things down and spend time at home with books, Netflix, chocolate, and red wine? Or is it time to ramp it up and ski double loops of the Gatineau Parkway on misery sticks? Somewhere in the middle? Or perhaps somewhere beyond either end of this spectrum?

I am having the most pleasant winter I can recall, and I'm trying to figure out why that is. It seems any kind of riding I get in makes me happy. Commuting, fat biking, riding the trainer; its all pleasant. Trainer....pleasant? What gives? Well, in short, perspective.

The power of the mind is staggering. And I don't just mean the human mind. I mean all minds. While many a scientist and philosopher alike will argue against attributing mind to non-humans, my view is that any definition that excludes all but humans from qualifying is fraught. But that's another discussion. For now I want to focus on what we can do about how we think with regard to indoor training.

Training. Perhaps that's the wrong foot to start on. Lets call it exercise. The truth is, most of us are not really aiming to put in quality training for the cycling season in January. Except for those who are racing cyclocross Worlds in February down in Louisville, the rest of us are mostly trying to retain as much fitness as we can, and reduce fat acquisition and muscular softening. Some get their kicks on skis, and there has been some good skiing this year. But shit happens, like freezing rain, and you gotta do some moving inside at least once in a while. So its either the ol' BowFlex or the bike. I take the bike.

Writing in VeloNews' February issue, Dan Wuori writes a humorous piece about suffering through indoor trainer season. For many of us Tall Tree riders, fat bikes have greatly reduced the amount of time we ride indoors. So right off the bat, riding inside is less stale when its necessary. But it can still suck if you make it suck. Wait, doesn't it suck, like, by default? In a word, no.

Imagine you've broken your leg, your femur, to be precise. You're in a cast for 2 months. You miss walking, riding, bending your leg, shaving. Sure, you get to read a lot now, but still, it would feel good to move. Getting onto the trainer will feel so good. It'll feel better than good. Even if it hurts.

Perspective. Human beings are notorious in the universe for not appreciating what we have. We always want more, better. That's a positive drive, but it has to be reflected upon with the mind, rather than merely pursued impulsively. Introspection. Sometimes, just moving is enough. Sometimes just moving is amazing.

Most human societies, and definitely ours, are all about ends, goals, indicators of success. Get from here to there. Now do it faster. We focus less on the 'how' than we ever have; we just want to be there, where we are not yet. That's the macro level. On the micro level, we use our bodies the same way most of the time. Do you ever notice how many people are really bad at walking? I mean, a lot of people out on the street have poor walking skills. They are not aware of what's happening around them. They are not conscious of what they are doing. My misanthropic side comes out when I scream in my mind, seeing yet another example of bad walking "You suck at walking!" But I never say it.

So what's going on there? How can it be that so many people can't walk well, when walking is a primary human function. I mean, its basic. And of course, yes, I am aware that many are not as able-bodied as others; I am talking about able-bodied people.

The underlying problem in inattention to that which is considered unimportant. I.e., 'I'll get there, who cares how I do it.' Just pump those legs and you move forward. Even in dance, to move closer to the point, it is common to see young students power through movements to reach the prescribed end point. Just get there, go fast if you can't control the movement. I'm not making this up, this comes directly from a conversation with a former professional dancer who has been teaching Russian ballet for decades.

Ok, so walking and dancing are two data points, if you will. I see these as mere symptoms of a cultural bias. The slow and methodical are devalued in contemporary cultural practices. Speed is king.

How then, does this relate to riding inside? Again, perspective. You have to slow down a bit and allow yourself to feel what you are doing to enjoy it. Otherwise, you are just trying to 'get there.' And you're not really going to get anywhere. You're in the basement, on a stationary bike.

The parallel with the practice of dance is striking. A good dancer is one who feels their movement rather than thinks their movement. Slow movements are far more difficult to execute well than fast movements. Rushing diminishes the ability to learn control, and thus, elegance. From the intimate experience of the mind-body connection gained through careful practice, the dancer can deploy their body in an infinite variety of contortions. Movement must be learned form the inside out.

Cycling is similar. Pedaling technique, to the casual observer, is basic: push down. In reality, developing efficient technique takes decades for most, if ever acquired. Its about very nuanced movement, very finely controlled muscle contractions. Over millions of repetitions, small imperfections magnify into injuries, at worst, inefficiencies at best. Truly gifted cyclists are intimately aware of what they are doing as they pedal, not to mention balance and maneuver the bike.

The trainer presents an opportunity to focus on this technique. Rollers take it another step. On either, it might be wise not to ride hard. Riding hard generally means we rude ragged. Form goes out the window. How much do we gain riding hard in January? Perhaps not much. How much might we gain by turning off the Sufferfest video, turning down the lights, putting on some meditative music, and really attending to what we're doing? I can report from actual experience that this approach makes a difference. I've ridden regularly in the dark, doing just what I'm talking about, and I markedly improved my technique come spring. I did it on a trainer; others might wish to do this on rollers. I wish to live to 100.

You don't have to look inward if you don't want to. You can simply get on your bike, put on a show, and enjoy moving rather than sitting. You don't have to ride hard, simply riding is good. Appreciate it for what it is, and ride hard when you feel like it. Perspective.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2012 in Review

A lot went down in the cycling world in 2012. Some of it was painful, some of it was enlightening, and some of it was downright sad. In our little corner of the world, cycling is thriving despite the turbulence being felt in the PRO peloton. More people are riding bikes each year around here, there are many local events to ride, and new projects are on the horizon. Here's how 2012 shaped up from my perspective.

2012 was my first winter on a fatbike. I rode my Surly Pugsley two or three times a week and figured I was setting myself up for some solid rides in Maui come March. The constant tension on the legs had to amount to god strength for the hills, right? Right, I had no issues with my joints during my trip to Maui, but the climbing I did there didn't exactly set me up for the hard training rides I'd do in late March and early April as well as I'd hoped. Instead, the lack of intensity I'd done showed, and I got destroyed on our group rides. Iain and Neil were perhaps fitter than they'd ever been in the early season, and that compounded the ass-kicking. Keep on trying, it'll come. Such was my mantra.

2012 was not a year of winning, yet it was one of my best seasons ever. It was a season of satisfaction earned through striving.

Hog's (Fat) Back

Iain, Tood and I headed down to Battenkill to kick off our season. I knew I'd suck on the climbs, but Iain would be good. As expected, I got schooled, and Iain flatted. The next day, we were back home and I earned a huge boost in confidence, along with a handful of dents in my rims - through attacking the last sector of gravel in the Clarence-Rockland Classic - and fighting off chasers to grasp the third podium spot. This was certainly one of the highlights of the season, as it exemplified the confluence of preparation and opportunity manifesting success. It feels good to take a risk, dig deep within, and meet your goal. Some seem to think racing is about winning. Its not (except for PROs, for whom it is, mostly), its about trying to win, or simply trying to realize every modicum of your potential. Maybe to even transcend what you think your potential is. Every highlight from the 2012 season involved risk taking and tenacity.

Clarence-Rockland Classic
The Calabogie Classic road race later in April was an odd experience, but another boost in confidence. I rode the Cat1/2 race without any team-mates, and didn't really have a plan. The race was very aggressive at times, then docile. I missed the winning break but made the next best move in helping form the chase group with a group of much more experienced and strong guys. I put in my share of the work, and we almost caught the leaders. I finished 13th, far from the podium, but nevertheless, I was happy. You have to be there if you want to win, and I was there.

Neil's ride at the Almonte Roubaix was one of the biggest highlights of the season for me. We'd planned our strategy, and Neil had committed to an early break-away attempt. He rode through the first wooded sector brilliantly, and made his escape with Osmond Bakker. He rode hard for about 50k with Osmond while the chase group, including Iain, bided their time. Despite his massive effort, Neil still hung on for 4th. This was a massive accomplishment, demonstrating formidable mental strength on top of physical ability. I'm very proud of Neil for the way he rode the race. Iain was not able to match Aaron Fillion and Doug van dem Ham for the victory, but landed in 3rd, a laudable result, nearly pulling off our plan. Rodd rode outside himself too, and I was just left wishing I'd been able to contribute to the team. 3rd and 4th felt like a victory for the team.

McKenna Photography: OBC Paris Roubaix 2012  Paris-Roubaix Cycle Race

Things were coming along well by the time I was in New York city for the Gran Fondo at the end of May. Our Ride of the Damned had just passed, and I was too tired to ride well. But the event was a hit, and I was feeling good in the Big Apple, and eager to ride the route. As luck would have it, I flatted while riding in the lead group and had to chase back on for about 15 minutes. Within another 5 minutes, we were on the first timed climb, and the group was going ballistic. I simply climbed, then chased back on, and continued that way until I was in the lead group of 6 riders coming into the last kilometers of the route. I'd not been able to match the pace of the fast climbers, but I put in a ride to the finish that I was proud of, having tapped my ability to maximum effect, riding with the likes of Tim Johnson and many other talented riders. It was a heck of a ride, the route was spectacular, and despite being way down on the KOM scoreboard, I couldn't be happier about the day. My sealant even sealed up my tubular so I could ride back to the hotel!

Things just got better, but not because I was winning anything. Six of us drove down to the U.S of A. in June for the Rapha Northeast Gentlemen's Race. Sure, we got hassled by the cops on the way down, but that made for great story telling. In a word, the event was incredible. It might even have been epic. If it wasn't, it was damn close. It was a ride I hope never to forget, marrying camaraderie, challenge, heartbreak, triumph, apocalyptic weather, and fashion excellence. Sure, we didn't get cut into the beautiful video, but Dave and I did get props for killing ourselves on the Strava climb. One of the best days on a bike I've experienced.

about 60 miles in, 60 miles to go.

Come July, it was time to crack the Masters stage race in Sutton, QC, Les Coupes des Ameriques. Again, we didn't win anything, but the weekend was incredible. Hanging out with the guys, talking bikes, racing, and Le Tour, we were in a bubble and loving it. Todd rode an outstanding time trial, Alex was a motorcycle, Jamie worked himself over, and Iain and I just missed the podium in the circuit race. In 2013 we'll aim to do better, but at the very least, we'll take risks and have fun.

"Winning is over-rated." - Iain Radford

Matt, Alex, Jamie, Iain, Todd.

Later in July I rode the Ottawa Gran Fondo. I didn't blog about it because I didn't want to add to the negative feedback swirling around the interwebs. I won't ride the event again, but not because I had a bad ride. On the contrary, the ride was great. It was my first day actually hitting 200k, finishing at 223k. I've come within one or two kilometers so many times, I was happy to finally hit it. But beyond that triviality, I was able to ride with many of the strongest riders in the area for the whole 223k,

Rounding out July our Hell Climb for Kidneys went down. It was incredible. The spirit of the event was embraced and taken to 11 by numerous participants. The quality of costumery was staggering, and to be honest, heartening. I can't wait to see what people go in 2013!


August's Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee was special for a couple reasons. First, Rodd was there. Our rental car's flat could not keep him from making it down to Massachusetts for his long overdue first D2R2. Iain was along for his first too, doubling the excitement for me, as D2R2 is best enjoyed by taking in the glee exuding from your camarades as roll out of the countless dirt descents. Pascal and Chris were on tap with families at their side, along with Nathan, Dawn, and Deb, our homies. Good company: check. The second thing that made the 2012 D2R2 special was seeing the communities we rode through having bounced back from 2011's hurricane, which destroyed swaths of road and property. Roads were reconstructed, locals were out smiling and urging everyone on. It was beautiful.

Camera Roll-309

Into September, the Hastings Hilly Hundred was back for a rain-filled edition. Have you ever ridden for 180km in constant rain? I hadn't. Now I have. Ditto for Rodd, Todd, and Andy. Despite 50mm of rain, the ride was outstanding. The pace was mellower than usual, conversation more intense. The ride was free of drama (mostly), but at the same time, kind of illuminating to realize how riding in the rain for 6 hours can be no big deal. Its fine. Whatever. Its wet. I enjoyed learning that. I also learned to be more careful about dropping my buddies.

Double Cross, in October was a blast. Beautiful weather, great company, Pipolinka....what more could you want in October?

Cyclocross season is now a blur. It played out differently, yet the same as 2011. I finished no worse than third in every race I did, 13 of them. I was dogged by two lung infections, with one weekend clear in between, so I never felt like I was at 100%. I found it virtually impossible to beat Steve Proulx, whom I'd been able to battle in 2011. Most of the time he was on another level. I just did what I could, and I was consistent. About that I feel good. Second overall in the series for the third tear in a row, I can only hope to pull off the win eventually. Iain's steady ascent in the ranks was a consolation. His goal was to beat me, and that he did, convincingly. Neil was out for virtually the whole season with a broken collar bone, so it was just Iain, Andy, Jim, and me out there most of the time. Fewer team-mates than we'd have liked, we still had a great season.

This run down only captures the events that stood out over 2012. Interestingly, almost every big event I did made the cut. That must be a sign that I'm doing the sort of events I ought to be doing. Most of the rides I did in Maui should be on this list. The riding there was breathtaking in every sense of the word. But in fairness, the after work hammer sessions I did with the guys on Tuesday nights were amazing too; they brought us together and made us stronger. In the end, the most satisfying experiences I had on my bike in 2012 had nothing to do with winning or being better than anyone else. They were about working together; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

2013 has begun, what adventures will it bring?