Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Cycling in Retrospect...with Introspection

At the very end of 2010, after ten years of living in Downtown Seattle, Tracy and I moved to Issaquah as part of an experiment. The City Mice became Mountain Mice:

We’ve now been here a year, and we are staying. Issaquah is a spectacular base of operations for both road cycling and mountain biking:

I wasn’t focused on the raw numbers for 2011, but here they are: 8450 miles (quite a few less than I normally manage) and 532,284’ of climbing (over 500k for the fifth year in a row; not a goal, but maybe it should be). Quite a few of those feet of climbing were on the mountain bike, and I should apply a correction factor of about 2:1, because that’s about how much harder climbing on a mountain bike is than on a road bike.

During 2011 I counseled many athletes in my role as a cycling coach. Some were very fit and experienced people looking to take things to the next level, while others were simply trying to become athletes in their own eyes. I worked with a group of three women in their 50’s that were total cycling neophytes:

No, I wasn’t out saving the world, but it is incredibly rewarding to collaborate with people who are passionate about something and willing to work hard to improve. It’s a great feeling to help people achieve goals and to share in their sense of excitement and accomplishment.

To improve at anything, one must have both the proper physical and mental approach. I looked to my friend and local elite ultra-endurance cyclist Chris Ragsdale for some tips:

In May, I ran the second annual Cycle U Chelan Skills and Hills Cycling Camp, and we had 23 riders. Despite some uncooperative weather, the camp was a huge success:

2011 was a year during which I think I truly sensed my own mortality for the first time:

The major trigger for the visit to an Orthopedist concerned my right hip. For the last five+ years or so I have had some hip stiffness, but over the summer the stiffness got worse and I was sometimes in pain.

It’s hard to control all the variables and isolate what might have caused my hip to get worse. I took up mountain biking on a friend’s borrowed bike with a frame one size too large for me. I was riding a lot, and falling off a fair amount as a newbie. I sprained my right ankle jumping off of the MTB one day, and the right ankle sprain seemed to coincide with the right hip getting worse.

For the first time in my life, I had a doctor tell me that I had something that not only could not be 100% fixed, but that the best outcome I could hope for would be to “stabilize” the condition. Health-wise, I’ve been very fortunate, part by design, and I guess part by luck. I’ve never really been sick, I get a cold every three or four years, and I have had one minor arthroscopic surgery on my left shoulder.

To hear the doctor’s prognosis was rather shocking news, but I am happy to report that so far, Dr. Doom and Gloom’s forecast has not been accurate. My right hip is significantly better than it was in the summer.

Just as with the cause, it’s hard to isolate and analyze the variables that might be responsible for my hip feeling much better. Per the doctor’s recommendation I am taking glucosamine and I doing both stretching and strengthening exercises the PT showed me. I’m doing lower body work in the weight room. My new mountain bike fits me perfectly and I have gotten a hell of a lot better riding it.

I guess I could sprain my left ankle to see if my left hip developed pain. I could stop taking glucosamine and trade for a mountain bike that doesn’t fit me. Stopping my exercises would be easy to do. In any case, even if I do one of these things I still won’t know exactly how it would affect my hip because the other variables would still be intact. So I can’t take a chance; I’ll stay the course.

Perhaps the best adage of life is, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” I might add, “Or see, even with your own eyes, or read, even on the internet.” I intend to listen to my body even more closely than I already am. In fact, my body may be the only thing I wind up listening to. You damn well better believe everything you feel. From a friend in Northern California comes this very sad story:

As always, my number one goal was to have fun on the bike(s), and I achieved that. I had a serious goal of becoming proficient on a mountain bike. Mission accomplished in my mind, but there is so much more to learn! Perhaps my lack of “discrete” goals for 2011 could be in part due to working with many people who had very defined goals. Now that I think about it, my major focus in 2011 was to help other people achieve their goals; I just didn’t realize it at the time. Or maybe I was choosing to live vicariously through others. Chris Ragsdale would be a great place to start:

Looking back at all of the blog posts I wrote this year, I realized that I spent an inordinate amount of time dwelling on motivation (or lack of it), the absence of a competitive fire, and my general apathy towards riding really hard.

During the year, I came to realize that I was just not into riding hard on the road bike. Normally I challenge myself to set new PR’s on five local climbs as a way of convincing myself that I got another year smarter, but not older:,

In 2011 I couldn’t mount the enthusiasm to even have a go at one climb. Not riding super hard meant that I never really got super fit, but I don’t know how fit I was or not because I lacked the motivation to find out. I struggled to figure out the reason for my lack of motivation (and competitive fire, normally itself a motivator):

And I tried in vain to come up with sources of inspiration as well:

I searched for a higher meaning of competition and pride from a fellow Team HPC rider who happens to be a double Olympic gold medalist:

I thought maybe a solution (or at least explanation) could be derived from Tour de France actions:

But then I remembered that these guys are likely aliens from another planet:

One thing I knew for certain is that I couldn’t blame my inadequate or antiquated equipment:

Finally, I looked to more esoteric explanations. It just couldn’t be me, could it?

I guess the bottom line for me in 2011 was just a general unsettled feeling, and a laissez faire attitude towards riding. I focused a lot of energy riding the mountain bike, and on coaching cyclists when I wasn’t riding. I had a blast doing so, and I have no feelings of remorse.

Tracy and I are getting married in March. We’re looking to build or buy a house in Issaquah. We’re digging in. And it’s no surprise that I’m thinking 2012 might be another great year on the bike as well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Campagnolo The Italian Job

Back in early 2009 I wrote about why I am so loyal and passionate about Campagnolo, the iconic Italian manufacturer of premier bicycle components. For me, it's not just about the gear, it's about the history, culture, and commitment of the company to a way of life:

This month's Bicycling Magazine takes an in-depth look at Campagnolo and finds much to admire about the Italian Way:

Campagnolo has resisted the sell-out and remained private. They have bucked the trend and not outsourced and off-shored their manufacturing. Campagnolo employs well paid skilled craftsmen and remains family owned. Can the company survive in this era of cheap global labor and mass production?

Some forward thinking economists maintain that they will not only survive, but that the Campagnolo old school way may thrive in the modern economy. Perhaps even mighty Boeing can learn a thing or two from Campagnolo about manufacturing?

On a sad note (at least for me), Campagnolo has released their electronic shifting groups:

It's much better looking than Shimano Di2 (but still ugly), and at least Campy has engineered some "feel" into the shifting buttons. Nevertheless, I won't be pushing any buttons to shift on my bikes.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


As I stare out the window into the early October mist, I am reminded as to just how frustrating it was to implement a consistent strategy for riding last winter. I design training plans for the athletes I coach based on their available hours, experience, goals, patience, and a myriad of other factors. Unfortunately I can’t control the weather, and the weather is often the most variable determinant of whether or not a training plan will yield the results we are looking for.

Last winter I taught a training plan clinic for High Performance Cycling team members:

During the clinic, I discussed how to build the classic periodization style plan for the cycling year. Later in the spring (while winter was still raging), I came to the realization that I wasn’t even close to following the plan I had laid out for myself. Given my flexible time to ride and the possession of a “rain bike” (and willingness to use it), I knew that my athletes wouldn’t have much chance implementing the plans I had written for them. What good is a plan if it can’t be completed?

Normally our winters are mild enough for year-round cycling. Even so, there is enough variability that following an outdoor riding plan is challenging. This winter I'll be developing a HIT (High Intensity Training) program for people who realistically can ride between 4-6 hours per week (expandable with nice weather) with a maximum of four rides per week. The hard intervals that are part of a HIT plan can be done outdoors, but doing the workouts indoors makes a lot of sense.

A traditional volume based plan breaks down below ten hours a week. There simply is not enough training stimulus. At eight hours per week, a volume style plan can produce moderate fitness…and keep you there. In other works, the athlete plateaus and often gets frustrated with the lack of progress.

For people willing to tough it out through the winter weather for 10+ hours per week, I'll use a traditional periodization plan. Personally, I’m going with a HIT plan. Coming from someone who has spent a total of one hour on the trainer over the last three years, this commitment to indoor riding is quite a concession. I plan on doing a lot of hiking and snowshoeing over the winter, and spending less time on the road bike. I’m not sure how I’ll account for muddy MTB rides in my plan, but I’ll work around it.

In case HIT is copyrighted, I could call it HAT (Hard Ass Training), FIT (Fervently Intense Training), FAT (Fairly Aggressive Training), WIT (Winter Intense Training), or WAT (Winning Attack Training). On second thought, I’ll use HIT and run the risk of copyright infringement.

There have been a lot of studies over the last several years that demonstrate how effective a HIT strategy can be. Will it work as well as a classic plan built around volume of 12+ hours a week? Well, no, I don’t expect it to, but I suppose if you had no idea as to what to do with those 12 hours HIT very well could be more effective. Depending on the athlete, the goal for a HIT plan could be to prepare for a spring cycling tour or big event, Cycle U Chelan Camp, or to ride strong on group rides. For information about the science of HIT, search the internet for “cycling high intensity training.”

I think the key when time or weather limits training time is to maximize the quality and value of the riding that can be accomplished. With plenty of time for recovery, I intend to make every minute on the bike count this winter. Come spring, I’ll be doing those longer rides that I used to grit my teeth through over the winter.

Hey, if we get a week of dry 65 degree weather in the middle of winter, I’ll throw HIT out the window…for a week. I’ll get back to HIT when the next tsunami of rain hits, and I bet I won’t have to wait long.