Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Where can I find a coach when I need one"

Mr Canada Dry (aka Shaun Adamson) pictured above posted a link up on his twitter feed a while ago. It is from a blog post titled: Where can I find a coach when I need one. It is long and in small reverse type (note to bloggers if you want someone to read your blog make it readable) which I personally cannot stand but it got me thinking. I won't presume to take a guess as to what resonated with Shaun about the post but it got me thinking a bit. I don't totally agree with all the blogger wrote but it is worth reading. Ok I will admit I skimmed it a bit but did read the salient points of the post and understand what he was saying and the reasons why. It is a well thought out post. Read it and see what you think. I have heard some friends state similar things about the business side of coaching over the last year.

But to me it was more a launching off point. I have been thinking about coaching a lot lately. And the amature side of the sport. For some reason the topic is even more polarizing than my love of all things Campy and Italian. I am still taken aback by the blind devotion people heap upon SRAM. Its not like their shifters have a bad habit of just randomly exploding at any given time because they were made in China but I digress, anyhoo back to the post. The two things that struck me are calling what we do (we as in all us non-payed racers racing cross) a hobby and the issue of what a coach is. Let's start with my utter hatred of calling cross a hobby. Cross is NOT a hobby. I think maybe people who haven't participated in an endeavor that elicits such an all consuming passion feel more comfortable calling cross a hobby.

It probably goes over better with the in-laws or girlfriend when explaining why you go race to just say oh its my hobby. End of conversation and no one thinks you are a freak. I get it I really do. But once you cross the line of potentially getting hurt every time you click into your Time pedals and get to the start grid with 90 other jacked up bike racers intent on killing each other it is no longer a hobby. When another racer would try and win or gain a spot or two by putting you at grave physical harm it is no longer a hobby. When you break bones and lose flesh it is no longer a hobby. When it is all you think about 24/7/365 it is no longer a hobby. Scrap booking is a hobby. Yahtzee is a hobby. Cross is not a hobby.

I don't buy the if you spend thousands of dollars a year on something its not a hobby because plenty of hobbies are outrageously expensive. Damn the old guys with their remote control model racing sail boats probably spend double what your average Masters racers spends a year on cross and that is saying something cause those dudes do not mess about. To me cross is much more like MMA or any other eastern pursuit. The ritual alone separates cross from a hobby. Is the Japanese tea ceremony a hobby? No I don't think so. It is a life changing ritual. Cross is that for me. And I think it is that way for lots of other crossers. So can we please stop calling cross a hobby? Thanks. Ok on to the coaching business.
Saying you have a coach is like saying you just cycled through a series of epo injections and filled your veins with the blood of a thousand virgins. Why is it so wrong for an amature cross racer to have a coach? Seriously. I think part of the problem is the sport is so young. We are talking about 100 years right? Let's take yoga. Yoga has been around for maybe 2,000 years. People have no problem putting the guru label on even the most pedestrian of yoga teachers. A yoga teacher commands a level of respect unheard of in our society that seems to have lost the whole meaning of respect for someone more enlightened/knowing than we are. We are all peers and special little snowflakes. Guess what no we aren't. There are people who are way more talented than we are, know metric tons more about cross than we ever will and can eek speed out of even the most talentless individuals on terra firma. That is what coaching is about. I hated traditional sports when I was young. I endured them but hated them. Coaches back then just yelled and screamed at you and played the most talented people. That isn't coaching. Coaching is teaching. Coaching is making someone a better/stronger person as well as an athlete.
That is what a good yoga teacher does. It is a physical practice but the lessons go way beyond the physical. I guess that is my whole problem with the article Shaun linked up. I get that coaching needs structure and guidelines. Adam has fought for years to bring credibility and professionalism to coaching making it a business instead of some dark art. And yes coaching should and can be very scientific and structured to make the athlete faster. I get that. But to me that is not the kind of coaching I am looking for. I have no interest in a power meter. I went over a decade without any cycling computer of any kind attached to my bike. I bought a Garmin edge this year mostly to be able to track interval time. A 30 dollar timex watch would be just as effective.
I have always jokingly stated that I am "uncoachable." Which may be true as it is described in the linked article. What I have always been from my days playing hockey and training in martial arts and now practicing yoga is willing to learn. I have always been a sponge. I have always been open to new ideas and very interested in the technical and mental side of sport. I have never been a workhorse that could train themselves into the ground and stare at numbers to support my supposed performance growth as an end all. The coaches I have gravitated towards are more friends/mentors than traditional coaches although I have benefited HUGELY from their traditional coaching methods. I have also hugely benefited from being surrounded by such talented racers who happen to be coaches.
My first foray into coaching was at last years Cycle-Smart training camp. What Adam and Al do at that camp is nothing short of incredible. It was an exclamation point about how important the technical aspect of cross is. Its fine to be fit and be trained to the gills but if you don't know how to race cross, don't know how to drive a bike and don't have the mental toughness to race cross you won't last. And you won't do well over the course of a season. I haven't lasted in cross because I was naturally gifted or talented. Let's face it I am at best a mid-pack masters racer who just makes up for a lack of talent because I have really fast friends who help me out. After that camp I worked with Al Donahue from Cycle Smart for the season. He brings so much experience and such a calming effect to such chaos that helped me immensely through a really hard season to get to the point where by NBX I was experiencing what Matt Kraus so beautifully calls "Zoom, Zoom time." Both Al and Adam are amazing coaches. What Adam has done for the business of coaching can't even really be measured. What is also so great about Adam and C-S is it is an open model. Adam is not afraid to post up numerous articles for free for any seeker to read and use. Frankly I used those articles and the prescribed workouts a solid year before I went to camp. I still refer to the articles now.

So what is the point of this long winded post. That point blank saying having a coach is a waste of time or money is crazy. Adam, Al, Sara and Cort have done amazing things with their clients. I could go on and on about individuals who have benefited hugely from their help. I have benefitted hugely from all of them. They are all so open and available and willing to help. Thinking you don't need a coach or don't deserve one is not fair to yourself. Cross is hard. It is chaos. The season is over in a blink of an eye. All these coaches know what it takes to race cross in New England at the highest level. You need to know where to find a coach? There you go pick one of the above and you will be all set!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Going up to get Down

DECX as the cool kids are calling it. Or Verge #3&4 at Downeast, Maine at Pineland Farms. The last time I did this race it was the "old" course. It was 2005 and my first season back in the NE. I think it had rained for three solid weeks leading up to the race. It was pretty much my baptism into how different things are in New England compared to the San Francisco Bay Area. SF had mud. Lots of mud. But this mud at Downeast was different. I found out how different as I was running up a camber sunk to my knee went to pull my foot out and left my shoe behind. This all happened in front of the announcer who of course saw this as opportunity and began heckling me relentlessly. And yes the announcer was my good friend who had lured me to this god forsaken excuse for a cross race. He was merciless. But I was hooked. Sure I got lapped. I never got lapped in Norcal. Who knew these guys from Boston were so damn fast? And why was no one fat? I mean seriously? In Norcal the population is skinny but the racers are a bit on the say zoftig side. Here back in New England my whole reality got flipped.
Fast forward five years and bam! Its like I never spent 14 years out west. I am right back to being the same white trash towny I was when I left. Ok maybe the edges are a bit softened and I am more cultured. Ok that is a stretch. But anyway back to 2010 Downeast. This year was another west meets east crossapalooza. The Pedros elite team had hinted at the bike sponsor they had lined up for this cross season. I knew who it was and was so stoked to see the bikes. Chris King hired my good friend Jay Sycip a while back to launch and foster their new bike brand Cielo. Jay is one of the coolest cats I have ever known. Not to go off on too much of a tangent here but his tequila chili pasta is still one of my favorite comfort foods of all time. But back to the West coast invasion of Cielo bikes at Downeast. Christine Fort was traveling with the Pedros guys and tweeted a teaser of David's new frame the night before the race. It was a bare frame on a hotel bed. It was HOTT!

As I was getting ready for my race the Pedros Love Van rolled in. David got out of the sprinter and pulled his "bike" out. The steerer was uncut, the crown race wasn't pressed in, etc, etc. Not ready to race. But David is a professional and he wasn't racing until much later that day. And he had a van full of tools! By noon that bike was looking pimp as hell. I mean look at it! The Pedros team paint job is insane! I took as many pictures on my iphone as I could without making David too uncomfortable.
Ok enough geeking out on the Cielo's back to the racing. I loved, loved, loved the new course. It was a mile of swoopy, bermy cxeyness. Granted when I got to the venue it was about 20 degrees and at 10 am as I was pinning my # on my jersey I thought to myself. No way am I getting out of the van. No way. Then I saw dudes rolling by trying to warm up and thought ok fine I can do this. First really cold race of the year is no joke. I slapped on some hot embro, leg warmers, beanie etc. After a couple of laps it wasn't that cold and frankly after each crazy roller coaster berm I forgot about how cold it was. My race was great. Well other than seeing Tom Stevens cartwheeling across the gravel, his bike flying through the air at me and half the field locking up their brakes before ramming me from behind. Luckily I avoided Toms bike (barely) rode the tape to the outside and was free.
The rest of the race was just pinning it and trying to stay locked onto NegaCoach and Derek Grigg's wheel. As Adam's mechanic would say, "brake, corner, sprint" Again I loved the course. I know people still have residual from the mud bog of last year. I could see it in some racers eyes. I would say how much I loved the course and Pineland farms and they would look at me with black eyes all vacant and ask me if I was smoking crack. Maybe its just the towny in me but I like a downhome race. I like cows and farms. I had hoped we got to race through the barn with the cows in it. But that would have been gross I guess.
But back to the downhome aspect. How many races do you have a hot potato with chili on top of it waiting for you post race? The Maine Cycling club rocks for putting on this race. After the potato/chili combo I had a second lunch up at the Pineland farms visitor center. The second lunch was even better than the first. I bought a pie for my sister-in-law who had let me and Dave Chiu and John crash in her barn all weekend. But back to the Pedros team. I am biased in this obviously as I am really good friends with all of them but they are doing such a great job. From top to bottom. They bring so much positive energy to cross. Steve Lehmann is amazing to watch as he takes care of all his racers. I have been really good friends with David Wilcox for a while. The more time I spend with him the more I love him. Seriously. He showed me something saturday. Forget his gonzo bike build. While that was totally impressive it is who he is. This is the same man who went to Costa Rica and built a fleet of Luna Team bikes for Marla Streb. He is bascially MacGyver.

But back to David. I have had a few hiccups this season. One that kind of got me down. Not worth talking about but it kind of burst my usual halcyon cross bubble for a few weeks. Sure you could say I lost my mojo. Anyhoo. One of the great things about a free pass at Downeast and staying 30 minutes away was that I could hang out worry free and watch ALL the races! The Elite mens race was soooo fast! We were in a great spot by the start finish. We saw the leaders come through, then the second group, then third group, a couple of stragglers. And no David. Damn. I was soooo bummed. Its tough when you know your friend just got dealt a major shit sandwich. Finally he came through. No yelling. No panic. No shaking his head and being all dramatic. All Business. And it was on. He fought back hard. We all had no idea what had happened. He just kept moving up and up. At the end he fought his way back to 15th. That is insane!

After when I heard what happened I was blown away. I am not going to go into it. It got my blood going. Its not for me to talk about. But the fact that he stayed positive and did not let what happened on that first lap break him down was a total inspiration. I am bottling up how David rode saturday and putting that in the bank for a bad day. He is one tough hombre and what I love about him and how he rode saturday is everyone assumes tough means being a jerk. Yell, scream, fight, blah, blah, blah. Complain about every bobble or thing that goes wrong. No tough is having some crazy shit go down and rising above it and ride your own ride.

What a great weekend. I hope next year they stick with the same creative course design and that the weather gods smile on them! Thanks to everyone who made Downeast happen!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Das Nacht Weasels Cometh

"If you don't have snot bubbles coming out of your ears then you aren't going hard enough"-Larry Longo.

That is Larry pictured behind Elite winner Merredith Miller and Leah Pappas-Barnes. So many things about that quote and picture sum up the Night Weasels Cometh. This was NOT a hipster tractor pull. It was wicked fun in a way only New England can serve up cross but make no mistake about it, it was more a MMA title card fist fight than a cross race. It was brutal. I had the best first lap of my life courtesy of Ron Steers in the 3 race. You want to get to the front of a cross race? Follow that man. He found lines that didn't even exist and passed EVERYBODY. He would pass like 20 guys in one 90 degree turn by going wayyyy outside. But I don't belong at the front of a race. And certainly not a 3 race with a bunch of young dudes hopped up on NOS soda, gummy bears and a chance to race cross at night for the first time in their lives. You think people were amped up? Yeah that would be an understatement!
So back to my very brief attempt at racing da Weasel. I came through the start finish line way up. Like top 15 and kind of still in contact with Ron. But I quickly lost his wheel and started riding like I do and not like Ronnie does and that is when the bad things started to happen. It is also when I started hearing Colin's voice in my head. And not good old Rooter style heckling like "put out more watts" or one of my faves "Stop Sucking!" More like work stuff as in "is the prize list for the 4s done?" Ummmm not exactly. I think that is when I crashed into a stake got entangled in tape, dropped my chain and slid down a hill in the mud. That is also when the grim reaper in the form of Seth Davis arrived. I did two more crash filled laps as I was really going for the "best crash of the night award" and then pulled the eject button. I haven't stepped under the tape of a cross course and quit in the last 5 years. But it had to be done. I had work to do. But those three laps? They were amazing! That course was sooo much fun in a punch you in the face then let you ride a mud filled luge track on your cx bike kind of way. Lesson #1 of cross racing. It is really hard to work on a race and then race the race. For an old man I think its impossible.
The fact that Linnea Koons worked 10 times as hard as I did and was able to be fresh and rip the course apart in the Elite women and do so well racing and promoting the race proves what a cross god she is. Granted she is from New Zealand about twenty years younger than me etc, etc but make no mistake Linnea may be one of the toughest (and funniest) people I have ever met. But back to the Night Weasels. What a night! So many people put so much hard work into creating one of the most insane evenings of cross I have ever been a part of. Ski Ward was so great in getting the venue ready for the race and just opening up their venue to us to let us just have at it. So a huge thank you to them!
Meredith Miller and a bunch of other Elite racers were so supportive and such sports about the race! They came out in good numbers and they put on such a great show for everyone! Could it have been that they all got a glimpse of the custom trophies that Leah made and wanted to win one so bad it hurt? I think so. Leah's trophies were a perfect example of why Night Weasels rocked. Everyone got so into it and put their own creative stamp on it. Leah brought back the long standing tradition of Boston Cross's trophy parties. Linnea built her Stairway to Heaven. Steen and the MRC/John Harvard's crew printed up a special cross label for their New Belgian Strong Ale. And they brought a ton of beer out for us all to share!

There were a ton of examples of this type of support from our friends. The Pedros guys rolled up and handled the bike wash like it was a UCI 1 race. Forget the fact that they just did Gloucester and were going to do Providence that weekend and were likely exhausted. The fact that you had the GM/President (Matt Simpson) and the VP (Matty Bracken) washing bikes and racing with the elites and kicking butt speaks volumes not only about them as a company but the commitment they have to supporting the grassroots and their friends. They are great partners and great friends! Thank you Matt and Matt and the Pedros crew. You are all doing such amazing things its not even funny. They have brought grassroots racing up a whole other level this year!
So many of our friends just stepped up and got sooo involved. The main point of this ridiculously late blog post is to say thank you to everyone who made this night so special A huge thank you to Colin and Linnea for taking me on this wild ride of race promoting in New England. When Colin first asked me to help I jumped at the chance. When I asked him what he wanted me to do he just said "do what you do." That is both hilarious and awesome at the same time. I think I made him a little nervous initially with my unchecked ADD but what are you gonna do? He did ask me a pointed question as we were scouting out the course the week before the race. He kind of softballed me with "so have you ever worked on an event before?" I calmed him down letting him in on my former life as a hack for the Sea Otter Classic and Napa Worlds. But those two events have nothing on Night Weasels. Nothing.
Thank you to my Hup teamates for racing and volunteering! Thank you to the team for all your hardwork. Thank you to all our friends and sponsors: JRA cycles and Brian McInnis, Derek Griggs, Pete Smith of Mad Alchemy, Indy Fab and Leah, BikeJD for stepping up as our presenting sponsor, Zanconato custom cycles for some insane FMB tires, Newbury Comics, All Hail the Black Market for bringing the darkness, James and Linnea of the Embrocation Journal cycling team, Pedros for their constant support and encouragement, Wheelworks, Steen and John Harvard's and all of you Cross FANatics who make this sport and this region so insane!
The last/first biggest surprise of the whole night? Yash came to our race! Our good friend and Hup teamate Stephen Link somehow kept this a surprise. When Yash walked in it blew me away. I instantly stopped freaking out and settled in and knew it was gonna be a good day and I wasn't even gonna need my Ak....last bit and I am sure you have all seen it by now but this video by David Deitch rocks so hard I just can't stop watching it....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Holy Week Mash Up (Part One)

Every religion has a Holy Week. Each religion has its own set of rituals and beliefs but the basics are the same. Penance, sacrifice, atonement, suffering, release, and transformation. At least that is the hope. You go through a week (or in some cases a day) and come out transformed. Cleansed if you will. Imbibed with a new sense of purpose. My religion is Cross. By any definition I worship at its feet 365 days of the year. Is this healthy? No probably not. Is it transformative? There is no denying that it has changed me as a person and as a biker.

I have talked about my love affair with cross and how it all started on the sand dunes of Sea-Tac at Nationals over two decades ago. But New England. Wow. Unless you have lived here and let yourself be absorbed by its cross culture you have no idea. None. I jokingly refer to it as the Sparta of cyclo-cross but the more I become imbedded in the culture the more that reference doesn't seem that far off the mark.

The Gran Prix of Gloucester has always stood out as one of the Monuments of cross in the United States. It kicked off what a lot of us were calling the Superweek of cross. Superweek has a nice ring to it no doubt. But Holy Week may be more accurate. Gloucester-Night Weasels-Providence. What a week. I am going to do a mash up of all that happened. No race reports just what matters most the culture, the vibe, the magic.

The biggest story about Gloucester was the women. The 3/4 women to be exact. On day 1 there were 100 women lined up for the 3/4 race! Can you even believe that? Talk about growing the sport! The year prior there were 60 women. Sixty is a great number don't get me wrong. But doubling the number of participants in one year! It was a great day for cross in New England. It made me proud to be a part of this culture.
Hup United's women's ranks have also grown in the last year. We have also seen our ranks double. But what has really blown my mind is not just the energy and comradery these women have brought to Hup but the fierce competitiveness they have shown week in and week out. They work hard, they don't ever complain or blame a bad race on something or someone else. There is a lot to be learnt from these women and the example they set about how you conduct yourself as a bike racer. Style, class and fierceness.
Fierceness? When I saw the pictures of Meg and Michele on the runup at Gloucester I was blown away. Now that is how you do it! I put that image in my suitcase of courage and said that is the face I want when I am racing! I want to race with a fierceness like they do! The pain face that they both have says it all! These are good friends and teammates not rivals and they are killing themselves to go as fast as they can. No settling in and taking it easy. Fighting for every step, every corner, every spot. That is how I am racing the rest of this cross season!

So to all the women in New England bringing their A game to cross every weekend I say chapeau! You all get it! Keep fighting the good fight! And most importantly thank you to my Hup Teammates you ladies are amazing.