Saturday, August 30, 2014

Relays are Rad

Relays are Rad

By Ben Coleman

Photo's stolen from Dave Wilson's and Bobby Lee's Facebook pages

It may not be the most common way to kick off a season of cyclocross racing, but it may

be one of the most fitting ways to do so. Round up one, two, or three of your like­minded buddies

who can’t wait to get their drop bars muddy (or go it solo if that’s the kind of person you are) and

head out to a field on the side of a mountain for a full day of celebrating all things ‘cross. That

means bikes, barriers, singletrack, mud, grass, beers, hand­ups, costumes, slip­n­slides, and

riding so hard that you think you’re going to puke and then going just a bit harder. Multiply that by

four riders and four hours, and you’ve got the International Intergalactic Global Open Cyclocross

Team Relay Championship of the Multi­Friggin­Verse.

It was a damp morning with the temperature rising as the clouds parted and the sun

began peeking through, a sure sign that the course would be changing all day, and thankfully

most of those changes to come turned out to be for the better. What a course it was, somewhere

around two miles in length, containing short punchy hills, one gradual grinder of a climb, logs, tight

trails that threaded between the trees, and two fast descents, one of which was a real screamer

when brakes were forgotten about in the joy of going faster than you think you probably should.

There was also a section where racers could choose between a set of tall barriers on a short,

steep hill followed by a grassy diving “S” turn, all the while being heckled and squirted with hoses

and water guns or racking their bikes and running to the top of the hill and utilizing the slip­n­slide

option. That's right, I said slip­n­slide option! Sections of slimy trail and slick grass soon dried out,

lines were easily worn in and by the halfway point of the race everything was well settled but still

loose enough in spots to allow you the fun of letting the bike drift and float if you dared.

There was plenty of time between recon laps and the start to set up coolers of food and

drink and chill out with my teammates for the day, my FFRP brethren Bill Haley, Bobby Lee (Blue

Mountain Velo), and Greg Mitstifer (Mountainside Ski & Sports) and discuss our racing plans in

the coming months as well as the day’s slip­n­slide strategy. The order of rider rotation was

already determined through registration at the organizer’s discretion, and it was my duty to take

the start for our team. Everyone gathered at the starting area, which was at the bottom of a short

gravel road that climbed up to the transition area and made a sharp right turn to enter the course.

Some last minute instructions and suggestions were given by race promoter Mike Kuhn and Dave

“Mr. Baconsuit” Pryor along with thanks to those who were helping run the show and Funk’s

Brewery who provided a very nice IPA for the day.

A simple, somewhat sneaky “GO” was uttered and we were off, blasting up the gravel

towards the course. I didn’t have the best start, but managed to exit the first corner fifth or sixth

which I wasn’t disappointed with at all. On the following ascent through the trees on some grassy

doubletrack I managed to hold my position even though the lead group was out of sight by the

time I turned to start down the first descent. I made sure to pick good enough lines through the

several sweeping corners to allow me to keep my fingers off the brakes up until the final off-
camber left that emptied into the barriers at the race HQ area. In that descent I had managed to

not only get quite a gap behind me but also reconnect with a rider who had come off the back of

the leaders. I managed to make the pass shortly before the slip­n­slide section, which I opted to

partake in as the rider I’d just passed went for the barriers. We came out of that section with the

same amount of separation we had entered it in, and I was able to hold my position through the

rest of the lap.

One of the things I like best about relays is that you don't have to try and gauge your

efforts on each lap based on how much you want to have left in the tank for the laps that follow.

On a four man team, with a course with an average lap time of over ten minutes, you can go out

and more or less blow yourself up each time. There is plenty of time between laps to recover,

grab a bit of food and a beer and slap your teammates on the ass as they go by. Good times

indeed. It seemed as though we were all taking advantage of this opportunity to go 100% every

lap, and I don't think Bill, Bobby, or Greg gave it less than their all every time they got on their

bikes. I know I didn't. Lap after lap, hour after hour, we all were having a great time and enjoying

the unique atmosphere of a 'cross relay. It's a lot different than any other kind of bike racing I've

seen, and different is definitely good!

With less than an hour to go our team mathematician Greg was working out whether or

not he would get another lap in, being the second man in our rotation. It was clear that I would get

another, barring any sort of catastrophe on Bobby and Bill's last laps. It was going to be close, we

weren't sure how close, but close enough to know that it would be up in the air until I came into

the transition area for the last time. Bill and Bobby both put in clean and fast laps to finish their

efforts for the day and I was sent out on course for my last lap with more of a buffer on the clock

than I'd expected. Greg was ready and waiting, as it now looked like he would be tasked with

putting in a sixth lap too. I wanted to give it my all and not waste my last chance on course, so the

brakes were touched only when absolutely necessary and even then very lightly. The course felt

great at this point, and I felt fast. Some of that feeling may have been due to a few beverages I'd

had throughout the day, but I'm a firm believer in the idea that if you feel fast you'll ride fast. I

caught and passed a rider just before we entered the longest bit of singletrack on the far end of

the course, and shortly afterward caught another rider in that section of tight, twisting trail. There

was nowhere to make a pass, even when I thought about jumping out and going for it I would

immediately have to grab hand fulls of brake to keep from running into the back of the rider in

front of me. At one point it even got so close that I buzzed his rear tire and got buzzed by the rider

I had just passed before the entrance to this trail section simultaneously. I definitely didn't want to

ruin Greg's chance at another lap my doing something dumb, so I sat in, slightly frustrated, and

waited to pop out of the trees and back into the fields where I could easily get my pass made.

With clear course in front of me once again I put the hammer down, all the way down,

and rode the last third of that lap as wide open as I could. I was waiting to hear some sort of

countdown coming from the timing table as I got closer and closer to the end of the lap, but it

didn't happen. I shot up the last little riser before the line and hit the transition area. Greg was

already moving, rolling out to get his, and our team's, last lap started. We exchanged a few brief

shouts of motivation while we high­fived to complete the rider exchange, and as he blasted into

the woods I head the announcer call “four minutes left!” That was it, Greg was out on course and

the clock would expire before he made it back to the finish. I made my way over to where Bill and

Bobby were and we all talked about how well we felt we had done that day. Cyclocross is usually

an individual sport, with a single person's efforts and skills determining the day's outcome, so it

was a great feeling to be able to share in our collective satisfaction and even impressed thoughts

about each others riding that day. Greg finished his lap, nearly puked (but didn't, I don't think

anyway) and joined in on the conversation of how we though we did. Unfortunately, Greg also had

some pretty important matters to tend to back in the real world and wasn't able to stick around for

the final results. As Bill, Bobby, and myself listened to the overall results being read off, starting

with the eight­place team, I thought to myself 'we did pretty well today, we might have made it to

seventh or sixth place' but as the results continued to be read, out team wasn't called. That is,

until the announcer declared that the teams finishing second and third had tied on points, which is

the sort­of black­magic way this thing was scored, and that the higher honors would be given to

the team who had done more laps. With a hesitation in the reading of our team name, “The

Indecisives” had taken third place!! The three of us collectively let out a big cheer of surprised

excitement and collected our prizes. We spent the next few minutes asking each other how we

had managed to pull that result off before I remembered to text Greg with the good news. Minutes

after I did, he called back and the first words out of his mouth were “You're joking, right?” No, sir,

not joking at all.

Bikes are cool, people who like bikes are awesome (mostly), Bill, Bobby, and Greg are

great guys to race with, cyclocross is f­ing great and cross relays are entirely rad. Can't wait until

January to do it again, this time on the lovely property of the McGill's at the Highpoint Team CX

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ending the Year with a Bang…or a Snap

          I haven’t been blogging this year for the simple fact I haven’t had much down time.  This past year I have been trying to remain focused and train towards the goal of competing at USAC Mountain Bike XC Nationals.  MTB Nationals moves venues every couple years, and last year and this year it was hosted at Bear Creek Ski resort near Allentown, PA.  When I first learned that nationals was going to be in PA last year I was both excited and nervous because this meant I could easily go race only 2 hours away from home.  When Nationals is out west, which it tends to be, it is hard to try to commit to the time and expense of traveling out there to race….so it was game on! 
            When I raced at Nationals last year I raced in the Men’s Cat 2 19-29 and I did not have to qualify to go race at nationals.  When I made the decision to upgrade to Cat 1 this year than that meant I now had to qualify for Nationals.  Qualifying wasn’t nearly as difficult as I was expecting and I actually qualified at two different races I competed in this year.  Everything looked like it was coming together for Nationals.
            So now I am qualified, training is going good, and Nationals is just around the corner.  I was doing my best to keep my nose to the grind stone and get ready.  A couple weeks out from the race I was getting nervous but feeling ready.  I was making my final preparations for the race, getting ready to tapper my training, and begin crossing of the days leading up to the big day.  Months of training and preparations was all coming together for one day. 
            Race weekend finally approached and I took a couple days off work, I was ready.  The day before the race I arrived early at the venue, got camp set up, got in a practice lap on the course, dialed the bike in, and relaxed waiting for the next morning to arrive and the race to start.  Race morning arrived, woke up at 6am, made coffee, had breakfast, and began getting ready for the race start at 8am.  An hour out I was kitted up, all my supplied laid out, bike ready to go and I began to warm up on the trainer.  Ok, ok, okay….I’m ready….got everything I need….check….bike is good….check….feed zone is set…check……..time to line up at the start. 
            When I entered staging for the racing I felt surprisingly calm, I felt prepared, and I let fate take over because I knew at this point whatever was going to happen was going to happen.  They called our group up to the start line and I actually received the last call up slot, so got to hear my name being announced as I toed up to the start line (felt pretty cool).  We received our pre-race instructions and we all wished each other good luck……tick, tick, tick of the clock…..whistle blew to start the race.
            Off we went into the woods immediately into a climb, and we were going to be climbing for the next mile and a half or so.  Heart rate pegged immediately and I was sitting toward the back of the pack in the start.  I remained calm and reminded myself to stay strong, steady, and race smart as I still had 2 hours of racing ahead of me.  The first lap I felt good but didn’t feel like I was as fast as I would like but I was getting into a groove and felt I would be able to maintain a strong pace the entire race.  I made it up the climb and started down the backside of the mountain.  I made it through the heckle pit (awesome) and entered the dreaded switchbacks and fumbled once, not a big deal.  At this point in the race the woods were chaotic.  There were so many racers in the woods all at once and the leaders of the groups that went off after our group were franticly shouting trying to make their way through the other riders.  I tried not to get flustered, tried to be courteous to the other guys out there, and tried to hold my lines and race my race.  
            I saw the 1km to go sign in the woods and was about the finish my first lap of three…steady as she goes.  As I popped out of the woods heading towards the start/finish area I heard a snap and no longer could pedal…..shit, did I drop my chain?  Then I hear from a rider behind me “broken your chain, broke your chain!”.  After a couple expletives muttered I grabbed my chain off the course and was preparing to do whatever repairs were necessary.  As I reached into my jersey pocket to grab my chain tool a panic began to come over me….where is my f-ing chain tool?  I emptied my pockets onto the grass…not there….did I lose it somehow on course?  So now what?  Do I start asking other racers for a tool….no, this is to be self-supported and you can’t offer or accept assistance from other racers.  So I stood on one pedal and scooted towards my pit area hoping maybe I had something there I could fix it with. 
As I go through the start finish area I hear the announcer saying…”and here comes the first of today’s many mechanicals!”  As I enter my feed zone I empty my bag onto the grass and begin searching for my tool.  As I do this a USAC race official informs me that I am not allowed to access my own supplies that I must repair my bike only with items I started the race with.  My heart sinks….I give him the ‘I’m finish’ signal and he records my race number for a DNF.  It took a few seconds for the reality of what just happened to sink in.
When it sunk in what happened I was crushed, pissed, depressed, and many other negative emotions.  I wanted to throw something, curse, cry, I didn’t even know!!!  I sat my bike down, took off my helmet, paced around for a few minutes, then grabbed my stuff and had to walk away from everyone.  It was a long emotional walk back to my van as I heard the commotion of the event going on around me.  I reached camp and saw my chain tool laying in the van….I never even grabbed it this morning.
At that point my anger was increased and it was directed towards myself for making such a rookie mistake to forget something as simple yet important as that.  All I could do was sit there for a few moments with my own thoughts as I cracked a beer and collected myself.  Six months of training and preparation was thrown away all because I forgot one simple little tool.  I have been doing this long enough to realize that this is part of bike racing, especially mountain bike racing and this realization still didn’t make it very easy to swallow.  I ended sticking around the rest of the day and enjoyed watching the rest of the racing going on and hanging out with friends.  I still had a good day overall but I was emotionally exhausted.
I learned an important lesson and completed a very difficult rite of passage in the cycling world.  I walked away from the whole situation still feeling pretty good about myself thanks to the support of many friends and family.  I realize I am not the first nor will I be the last person for something like this to happen too.  I lift my chin back up and look forward as I still have lots of racing to do this year….but first time a take a couple weeks off the bike before getting back into it.
Thank you all for your support!!!!!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Race, Race, Racin'

So far this year I haven’t felt as strong to a degree as I did last year at this same point in the season, and part of that I blame on the harsh winter. I am not a trainer junkie and the trainer is not enjoyable to me but I try to commit to completing my workouts and sometimes that means hoping on the trainer. The other side of the equation is that I am not racing the Cat1/Expert class so all my results from last year and years prior are irrelevant for comparison which also makes gauging my fitness difficult.

Yesterday I competed in the Michaux Maximus 20 miler race which was a repeat from last year. I was hoping that this race was going to be a good gauge for improvement as I have done a lot since last year this time and would be racing on a sweet new bike. Last year I completed the race in 2hrs and 3 mins official time pulling in 3rd come in under 2 hrs and show an improvement.

I started the race yesterday feeling pretty confident and had a good start going into the single track in 2nd work any harder than I had to and conserve energy until later in the race. This worked for a little while but then before I knew it the rider behind my passed and pushed me back into the
spot. No biggie I thought as they were never too far in front of me and I was in the belief that conserving a little energy in the beginning would help me in the long run and allow me to catch as pass.

As I climbed the trail called Dead Woman’s Hollow I could see them still not too far in front of me and I was still feeling pretty good. As we entered the next trail around the halfway point called 3 mile trail I realized my mojo in the single track wasn’t where it needed to be to make good time and before I knew it I started to dabble and realized I was not going to get a good run on this trail. It was also in this trail that I realized that I must have setup the front fork with way to much air pressure as I never utilized more than about 60% of the travel on a trail that should have used it all…dammit.

So 3 Mile trail chewed me up and spit me out with less confidence than I had going into it. I was chasing the leaders with all I had and realized it would probably not be enough. After more trail and some interesting additions/changes to the course last year I entered the final climb back to the finish with the leaders nowhere in sight. I pushed and felt on the edge of cramping and finished several mins behind the leaders and roughly 15 mins slower that last years’ time and again in 3rd where down too hard to say if the course conditions had changed played an impact.  Looking at some of the results it looked like all of our times

Overall I felt pretty good during the day but I think I was in better form last year. Comparing last year to this year it looks like I was faster in some places and slower in others. I guess all I can keep doing at this point is to keep up the training, keep up the riding, and enjoy the journey! Until the next one…

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Scotts Trainin'

As the 2014 season kicks into higher gear, its a good time to assess whats transpired to date and what it means moving forward. This season both Joe and I have been utilizing the service of Zach Adams for training plans. Zach has been providing his plan thru training peaks, which I really like. The website, as directed by the coach, sends you an email every days with your training plan for the following day, giving you enough time to plan your day around fitting it in and either dreading it or looking forward to it. Focusing more on what I do on the bike this year when I do have a chance to ride has been a game changer for me. Not a group rider anyway, this has been a relatively easy transition. What I am finding is that if you want to focus on training, scheduling to meet up with a bunch of other riders of varying abilities doesn’t always work well. Training with focus is a lonely. For me, that’s ok. Focusing on a specific interval set actually allows me to focus on something other than thinking about work or all that is on my plate. Its my time on the bike, even if it hurts, and after completing a hard workout, it pretty rewarding. While there have been goals set for the year (why we set our all our goals based on the time it takes the earth to around the sun I don’t know – think annual budgets, sports records – bizarre). Anyway, a goal might be to lose 20 pounds. A system would be to eat healthy every day. My goal was to improve in the endurance realm. The system is sticking to a training plan, resting when I need rest, eating well, and preparing for each race, like its my job. Basically taking control over the things I can control. While setting goals is important, putting the systems in place to make it happen is the difference maker. One would assume that at 47 I would have figured this out long ago, but alas, it has been an eye opener.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

School of Hard Rocks

The Michaux Mountain Bike School took place last weekend and was filled up despite more cold and rainy weather in central Pennsylvania.  Hearty participants came from as far away as Georgia to learn new skills or brush up on old skills from the knowlegeable instructors.  Registration for next year's version will be opening soon, so if you missed this year's event be sure to sign up early to take advantage of a $50 early bird registration discount.

Friday's instruction consisted of a half day of fundamental skills training conducted in the field right in Camp Thompson.  The instructors were Harlan Price for the men and Sue Haywood for the women.  In this field there were logs scattered about along with makeshift barriers created by the school crew.  Sue and Harlan began the day with everyone together and they discussed proper bike set-up and how the set-up impacts rider performance out on the trail.  This primarily consisted of cockpit set-up and we did not cover suspension set-up.  I learned that my two fingered braking method isn't ideal and I corrected my lever position to better accomodate one fingered braking.

When everyone was happy with their set-up the men and women split up and began the fundamental skills training.  And I do mean fundamental.  We covered everything from basic balancing positions on the bike, to shifting, braking, cornering, suspension loading, and track stands.  There was definitely a method to the process because we learned how to utilize these skills to go over progressively taller drops and to clear increasingly higher obstacles.  I didn't poll the group but I'll go out on a limb and say that everyone learned something new and became a better rider.  Harlan made the instruction easy to understand and took the time to patiently answer everyone's questions.  I'm sure the women would say the same about Sue's technique.

An unexpected bonus came when Harlan volunteered to lead us on a 30-45 minute singletrack ride which wasn't part of the published itinerary.  We ended up being out for closer to two hours because Harlan couldn't help but stop the group at various points to reinforce the instruction that we received earlier.  We took turns tackling various obstacles and trail conditions and everyone had a great time.  There were a couple dismounts but no injuries and we returned to camp with smiles on our faces.  We were very appreciative of Harlan going the extra mile for us.

That evening we met the additional instructors and the other participants who hadn't signed up for the Friday fundamentals session.  The other instructors were Jay de Jesus and Ryan.......for the men , Cheryl Sornson for the women, and Gunnar Bergey and Jeff Bahnson for the juniors.  Last but not least was....who taught the Lil' Rippers.  The crew had a series of games that were designed for us to get to know each other and they were effective and fun.  After that, Jay couldn't contain himself and was soon teaching everyone how to do wheelies, stoppies, and various other advanced techniques.  Many of the participants caught on quickly and were soon doing stoppies like naturals.  Jay is a trials rider and his expertise in this area brought an added dimension to the instruction.  The crowd slowly thinned as people began to grow weary and retire to their cabins.  That brought back memories because it was either like summer camp or the army with ten people per cabin stationed in bunk beds.  There was some snoring and late night calls of nature but I was unbothered and slept like a rock as usual.  Truth is, it's entirely possible that I was the King of Snorers but I wouldn't admit that to my cabin mates!

We woke on Saturday morning to dry but colder conditions.  Everyone went through their own morning routines and headed to the dining hall for breakfast.  The school crew had their hands full trying to feed this hungry bunch but I think everyone got nourished in the end.  My only critique of the entire experience was the shortage of bacon and hot coffee.  Cyclists seem to be coffee drinkers by nature so the coffee pot was empty quite a bit.  This was the largest attendance the school has received yet, so I am confident that Zach and his staff will get that situation squared away for the next session.

After breakfast we divided up evenly amongst the instructors with the idea that we would rotate among all three to get the benefit of each one's special knowledge and teaching technique.  The participants that had attended Friday's session hooked up with Harlan first.  I consider myself lucky because that meant that we hit the trails first thing rather than covering more skills work in the field.  We headed out on a similar route that we had taken on Friday but this time had more time to 'session' the various sections of trail.  Again, we worked on employing the techniques that we had learned the previous day.  The rain began to fall shortly after we started but everyone was dressed properly and was carrying spare clothing.  Harlan went the extra mile again and we ran over our alotted time so were the last in line for lunch.  It was worth the delay because we learned much out on the trail.  After lunch we rotated through the remaining instructors and continued the training.  Sunday was dedicated to riding the singletrack in groups of varying distance and speed.

Rather than continue to go on and on about the details, I'll just say that this school was worth every penny paid and if you haven't had the opportunity to attend this school or another like it I highly encourage you to do so.  This instruction will have a much greater impact on your ability and enjoyment on the bike than any new set of wheels or other accoutrement that you think you need to go faster or better.  Some certainly agree with me because I met several people that have attended before, and some that have been to every edition.  Now it's just up to us to practice and employ the skills that we have learned.  I immediately wrote down all that I could remember so that I could review the information whenever I began a practice session.  The beauty is that practicing the basic fundamentals can be done in your back yard with a few makeshift obstacles.  

For those that want to heed my advice, Harlan Price does skills instruction through his TAKE AIM CYCLING.  For those intending to do the Pennsylvania State Championships, Harlan is also doing course specific instruction and the registration page is HERE.  For the women you will find Sue Haywood leading rides at the upcoming  DIRT FEST, and along with Cheryl Sornson the CANAAN MTB SCHOOL - LADIES WEEKEND.  Get out there and have a great spring!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuscarora Off-Road Weekend

This past weekend was the 3rd annual Tuscarora Off-Road Weekend which is the first MASS event of the racing season.  The weekend consists of a Super D race on Saturday and a four hour cross country endurance race on Sunday.  There is also the option of on-site camping to extend the weekend fun.  The Tuscarora State Forest and Fowler's Hollow State Park are hidden gems in central Pennsylvania and there are miles of gravel roads and single track to explore.

There was good weather for Saturday's Super D event with temperatures in the low 60's and dry.  However, the recent warming temperatures weren't enough to completely thaw the course and the middle portion was frozen earth which caused some difficulty for the competitors.  I have to admit that the whole downhill riding scene doesn't suit me.....these riders are completely nuts.  It's all about going crazy fast downhill on steep slopes with rocks, roots, and drops and requires a certain reckless abandon that I don't possess.  But it sure was fun to watch!  My wife Karen joined me for the day and we spectated and chronicled the event with photos and video.  Karen did the still photography and I brought along our new video camera.  We watched from the lower slopes which were steep and rocky.  We saw a number of crashes and near misses, but thankfully no one was injured and all the riders seemed to have a great time.

The weather didn't hold out for the Sunday endurance race and the temperatures plummeted into the 30s.  This didn't dampen the spirits of the racers, though, and all of the perparation and warm-ups went down as normal and smiles were on display.  I guess competing in the first race of the season had the competitors feeling spry no matter the conditions.  The race course is a mixture of everything that makes mountain biking in Pennsylvania special - rocks, climbing, and more rocks!  Throw in some mud and screaming downhills and you have a race course to remember.  My task for the day was to again shoot some video of the racers.  Having raced this event last year I knew exactly where the good places were to get some footage.  My first stop was a brutal rock garden that is probably an eighth of a mile long and ends with "Joe's Bridge".  Then I made my way backwards along the course to another beastly feature which is a hike-a-bike climb known as "The Beast".  I don't know who gave this climb it's nickname, but it is appropriate.  I moved along from there to get some footage of a more sedate climb that was muddy but rideable.

I really enjoyed being out on the course watching the action and giving words of encouragement to the riders.  I was in awe of the ability of the best riders to negotiate obstacles that us mere mortals can only dream of clearing.  Even the riders that had to walk portions of the course earned kudos for their persistance.  Most came by me with a smile or a wise crack.  A wide range of bikes were being ridden - full rigid, hardtails, full suspension, and a fat bike or two.  In my opinion, the most exciting race of the day was the women's event.  Laura Murray lead the first three laps by a slim margin over Selene Yeager (aka the Fit Chick), then on the fourth lap Selene had lost a considerable amount of time.  As she came by, I told her I was starting to worry about her and she admitted that she had suffered mechanical difficulty.  Amazingly, Selene ended up catching Laura and capturing the win.  It was a remarkable effort on both their parts.  You can read Laura's version of events HERE.

After the race everyone gathered to enjoy the post race food and awards presentations.  Zach Adams' legendary vegetarian chili was a hit yet again, and some purchased the delicious Hay Sue's Spicy Salsa.  Overall this was a weekend to remember and I'm sure this event will continue to grow in popularity.  Enjoy the rest of the racing season everyone!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I'm a Gym Rat. Maybe Gym Mouse.

Words by Bill Haley

Given the cold and snowy winter we're experiencing here in the northeast, there isn't much to discuss regarding riding an actual bicycle in the actual outdoors.  I know there are plenty of hardcore types that ride every second of planned outdoor training, usually while shouting HTFU! to weaklings like me (this blog is G rated, so Google if necessary).  The trails are worse than snow covered because they have iced over.  The roads are narrowed down due to incomplete plowing, and they are covered with salty melt water and gravel.  Heck, things are bad enough that this weekend's planned trail work for the Tuscarora Off-Road Weekend will probably be cancelled because we can't access the areas that require work.  Never fear, though, the race should go off without a hitch....don't miss it.  Register Here

So where does that leave those of us who don't care for riding in cold, wind, snow, slush, and misery?  That's right, indoors on a trainer or rollers.  Enough has been typed about the joys of indoor cycling, so I won't bother adding my two cents here.  Instead I'll discuss the joys of an alternative that I've resorted to this winter:  gym membership!  One could legitimately make the point that working out in a gym or riding a trainer brings a higher level of suffering than does riding outdoors in the cold, but this is the path that I have chosen this year.  There is considerable debate in the competitive cycling community regarding the effectiveness of weight training for the endurance athlete.  From what I read most coaches lean toward the 'no weight training' school of thought, but the venerable Joe Friel, author of "The Cyclist's Training Bible" advocates weight training which is good enough for me.  Besides, it's time for something a little different to shake up the routine, and it may be time to ditch the starving cyclist look anyway.

 Left: (Chris Froome photo)  Caption:  World class bike racer Chris Froome

 Right: (Weight lifter dude photo)  Caption:  Me in six weeks?

So now I'm a gym rat and have been spending more time lifting weights than riding my trainer in the basement.  Will I be regretting this when race season starts?  Probably, but nobody is paying me to race a bike, so what the hell.  I had been considering the possibility of adding weight training to my program for a few years now but never did because it would require a gym membership since I don't have space at home for equipment, and having to go somwehere to work out wasn't appealing.  Well this year my mother discovered that her supplemental health insurance covers the cost of a gym membership, so I took her around to the local gyms so she could pick one.  The gears in my head began turning and I signed the dotted line along with thousands of New Year Resolution Joinees (a coincidence of the calendar...I made no resolution).  I have some experience lifting weights but that goes back 30 (holy crap!) years to my high school days, meaning I had lessons to learn.

Every activity has specialized language and subtle, unwritten rules.  As cyclists we're familiar with this but probably don't even think about some of them any more.  Who has the right of way on single track - climber or descender?  What's the right sized Camelbak to wear on that Wednesday fast road ride?  The gym is no different but I don't even know what questions I should be asking.  In high school the coach told us what to do and we did it; etiquette never came into play.  The first thing I learned is that the gym is not a social environment, so I'm on my own to figure things out.  Everyone walks around in their own little, ear-budded, music listening, world.  If I need to communicate with one of my fellow iron pumpers I first need to employ miming techniques to catch their attention and then convey my thoughts.  Anyone know the sign for "Are you using this Bicep Blaster?"  It's a three step process actually.  First, position yourself in the line of sight of the equipment hog, er...fellow gym member, and wave your arms overhead in the universal manner of getting someone's attention.  Second, point at said individual.  Third, point at said piece of equipment with a questioning look on your face (lip movement optional).  The response will be a nod or shake of the head, or a shrug if they have no idea what the heck you're asking.  An extroverted member will pull out one ear bud and answer in the spoken word.  Of course when that happened to me I couldn't hear what they said because I was listening to Olivia Newton John at the time.

Then there's the question of pecking order and equipment access.  Does any one have priority to certain pieces of equipment and, if so, who?  Cycling clubs make it easy by advertising different ride categories with definitions.  I remember my first group ride with the Harrisburg Bicycle Club.  They categorize their rides with a letter designation by average speed and total distance which makes it easier for a rookie to choose the correct group.  In the gym there is no such system to assist the rookie, but I have come close by dividing the gym into four areas.  Area One is your barbell area which is generally populated by thick, serious looking lifters that stack a lot of weight on bars and grunt.  Area Two is the dumb bell area which is populated by ripped users that stare into the mirrors and flex a lot.  Area Three is the machine area which is populated by users that are reading instructions and uneasily glancing at the lifters in areas one and two.  The fourth and final area is the cardio equipment zone which is avoided by the users of Areas One and Two, but does seem to be frequented by the users of Area Three.  The borders between the three weight lifting areas do seem to be open and unguarded, although I do recall seeing looks of bewilderment the first time my skinny cyclist butt wandered into barbell territory.  Everyone has been accepting, if not necessarily friendly, so if there is a true pecking order I haven't seen it.  So kudos to the gym crowd...any meathead stereotypes are unfounded, at least at my gym.

My conclusion for my fellow cyclists, or any other skinny endurance type, is to go ahead and try out the world of a gym and see if you like it.  The current payment system is one of monthly payments without long term contracts, so there is no need to worry about getting into something that you may only use during the off-season.  The majority of the New Year Resolution crowd have already given up and gone back to their couches, so crowds are not a concern.  My mother and I went to four different gym locations to find the right one, so I can say that there is something for everyone.  My mother ultimately picked a different gym than I would have, but I went to her choice anyway.  There isn't a world of difference between them.  You will be on your own unless you also decide to employ a personal trainer, thus the users in Area Three reading all of the instructions on the machines.  Then again, it's easy enough to do some basic research on which exercises are good choices to supplement your primary training and then just doing it.