Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sharing My Data - What have I been up to?

Hey all. It has been far too long since I last updated my blog. Now is as good a time as ever to begin again. Much has happened and the future is full of change. Let's get caught up.

Cognition Coaching is doing well. I continue to coach individuals towards their training and racing goals. Setting them up with a plan to improve weaknesses and prepare for their big event(s). Riding with my clients as often as possible. I'm still the cycling coach that does house calls. The days spent spent on the bike with my clients are the most rewarding.

I have increased my focus on bike skills instruction. Too many coaches and athletes are ignoring the importance of developing and/or improving bike riding technique and skills. After going through each level of the IMBA Instructor Certification Program (ICP), I was invited to become an IMBA Instructor Trainer. One of just nine people contracted by IMBA to teach the IMBA ICP courses. It is an honor to be associated with these great people.

IMBA Instructor Trainers review teaching methods at the Boulder, CO headquarters.
Due to this program, I have gone through a bit of a metamorphosis myself. Recognizing my own skills deficiency, I have renewed focus to improve my own riding habits. Although I have been on a mountain bike for over 25 years, I have some embedded habits that I am trying to relearn. It has been eye-opening as I continuously bounce from student to teacher. Like many of the people I coach, I commonly experience breakthrough moments when something clicks. Each is very rewarding.

To help me advance those skills, I have been at the summer bike parks often. I'm a regular at Mountain Creek Bike Park in Vernon, NJ. Also traveling all over the east coast and beyond in search of new challenges. I don't just go and ride. I hire instructors or attend clinics to help me to improve at a faster rate.

Downhill clinic with Simon Lawton at Whistler Bike Park, British Columbia.

Air Time!!!
While all this has been happening, I took a part-time position at a new REI retail store location that opened near my home. I work as the Shipper/Receiver a few days a week. Managing a small team to handle incoming inventory and outgoing on-line orders. Also, lending my expertise wherever necessary to strengthen the store's team. I recently celebrated one year with REI and it has been great fun.

Many other things are happening and under development. I look forward to sharing that with you more in the future. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sharing My Data - Time to resurrect the Blog

I originally created this blog to share my personal training experiences leading up to my race goals. Training hard through the winter months towards a Spring peak coinciding with early season events. Then, I reduce my personal training ambitions as I tend to clients preparing for their goals.

So when I left you last, I was riding out my early season form. Battenkill, Lancaster road races, mid-Atlantic MTB races. By early summer my decline in fitness was noticeable. I still did occasional races though. I went to the mountain bike nationals at Bear Creek, PA just wanting to enjoy myself. I brought my daughter, Emily, so she could see what a big MTB race is like.

Good luck finding me. Look for the black helmet. ;-)

Throughout all of this racing, I was hosting skills clinics. Starting with road racing clinics in March. By May, I added mountain bike skills clinics. Clinics for my clients. Then adding numerous public clinics for anyone who was interested. That brought on interest from some teams and small groups for their own private clinics. All this filled in my available weekends.

Women's XC racing clinic.

In August, I switched gears and hosted a series of cyclocross clinics. A weekend clinic followed by weeknight mini-clinics. Those were a great success and got people really excited for the Fall cross season.
August cyclocross clinic

I followed that up with Halter's Cycles Beginner Cyclocross Clinic in September. Five coaches instructing more than 50 people eager to learn new skills. That was a huge success and my biggest clinic ever.
September Beginner cyclocross clinic.

I also took some time to advance my own skills. Gotta stay a few step ahead of everyone. In late August, I went to Steamboat, CO to attend the IMBA Summit. A gathering for the MTB community to discuss all things related to fat tires. I was there for some advanced training as part of the IMBA Instructor Certification Program (ICP). A program that not only teaches the skills, but how to teach the skills to others. Something I started in 2013.

In October, I was back in CO for more IMBA skills training. I spent the week with some great MTB skills ambassadors. I am now one of only a handful of IMBA Level 3 instructors in the US.
IMBA ICP Instructor Trainers in Boulder, CO.

And with that, I hosted a few more MTB clinics before things get too cold here. I had a good friend make a short promotional video. Check out what you may have missed.

Throughout the year, I've been advancing my MTB skills and pushing through previous limits. Going well beyond my cross country mountain bike skill-set. You can now find me dowhilling at Mountain Creek Bike Park. I'm not too impressive but that is not the point. Just proving to myself that I have plenty to learn and having a blast trying to figure it all out.

Launching into a new comfort zone.
Thanks to all of you who have supported me and my events throughout the year. I'm looking forward to bigger things in 2015. Before that, I'm still racing this month at the 6 Hours of Cathedral Pines.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

MTB Skills - Neutral vs Ready Position

All mountain bike skills have one thing in common. BALANCE! A simple change in terrain will cause the bike to tilt forward or back. As this happens, we shift our position fore/aft to remain in balance. When searching for the cause of difficulty performing skills on the mountain bike, we can often trace them back to an imbalance or an error in position over the bike.

Although we may spend the majority of our riding time seated on the bike, we need to rise and stand over the bike when performing even basic maneuvers. This allows us to maintain balance by moving the bike under us in response to the terrain. We utilize one of two riding positions on the bike depending on the challenges that lie ahead.

A Neutral Position on the bike allows us to ride confidently over gentle or relatively easy terrain. Maybe a gradual descent down a dirt road, fire road, or field. We could encounter something unexpected. When standing over the bike in the Neutral Position, we are balanced and prepared. Here are elements of a good Neutral Position:
  • Pedals level and equally weighted. One foot in front of the other creating a wide platform.
  • Hips high and centered over the bottom bracket of the bike.
  • Slight bend in knees to absorb bumps.
  • Elbows bent out slightly for stability. Not towards the ribcage.
  • Head up with eyes scanning the terrain.
  • Relaxed grip on handlebars with one finger on each brake lever.
Neutral Position
A Ready Position is used when encountering more challenging terrain. This position is used to withstand impacts of the terrain or when anticipating challenges ahead. It is also used during the set-up and follow-through of many skills and maneuvers. Although the Neutral and Ready position are similar, there are a few distinct difference:
  • Crouched with hips and shoulders low
  • Deep bend in knees and elbows without compromising strength.
  • Knees out slightly to allow for more movement of the bike between the legs.
  • Eyes committed to the riding line ahead.
  • Slight contraction or tensing of muscles in arms, legs, and torso.
  • Our mind is confident and attentive.
Ready Position

The Ready Position is a key skill that is often overlooked. Riders without instruction are simply unaware. Most riders wait too long and then rush into the position at the last moment. They end up in a position somewhere between Neutral and Ready. I call that the Lazy Position. They do not achieve balance as they begin a maneuver and tend to struggle later.

As I do instruction with more riders, I find that extra attention to the Ready Position makes a huge difference. Enough that I have made changes to my own riding behavior and see benefit. When faced with a significant challenge on the trail, I now get into a Ready Position earlier. Then have an extra moment to focus on the next skill I need to execute. It is easier to remain balanced. Therefore, I am able to ride more challenging terrain faster and with less wasted energy.

Thanks for reading!

Descending with balance, confidence, and control.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sharing My Data - The Climb Crusher Workout...

Many of you have seen the Climb Crusher appear on your training calendar. A workout consisting of intervals done when you encounter climbs. Here is the description:
Main Set: Find a MTB course with moderate elevation change. Throughout the ride do various intervals when you get to climbs. The length of the interval will be determined by the terrain.

The shorter the climb, the harder you go.
8min or more = Zone 4-Threshold
3-8min = Zone 5-VO2 Max
1-5min = Zone 6-Anaerobic Capacity
1min or less = Max Effort

Between climbs, take is easy at nothing more than Zone 2-Endurance. Focus on recovering quickly and be ready when the trail goes up again.

I'm a big fan of this workout. I often train this way just to entertain myself. It helps to break up what may be an otherwise routine ride. There are numerous reasons why you should get excited when this workout appears.

It is less rigid. Many people grow tired of structured intervals done endlessly throughout their rides, day after day. They enjoy a day when they don't have to stare at the computer on their handlebars. Checking the elapsed time and confirming heart rate and power numbers. Having to bring a cheat sheet of notes to remind them of what their workout should consist of.

This workout can be done at various locations, on MTB or road bikes. Most of my MTBers are seeing this workout appear on weekends. Most of our nearby parks provide some amount of climbing. When you are not able to get to the trails, you can do it on your road bike. Just go find some hills or rolling terrain. For those of you stuck in the flatlands, use your MTB on the road and find some headwinds on open roads. Choose a bigger gear and push. It will feel like a climb. Just imagine yourself going up.

The Climb Crusher is also the "excuse buster". This workout can be done alone or in a group. Most spirited group rides will follow a similar pattern. Go fast on the climbs and then chill. Allowing people to catch back up. Then the group blows up again on the next climb. If you do a regular group ride that behaves this way, move your workout to that day and add purpose to the ride. I give you plenty of flexibility. Now, go motivate yourself and do it. No excuses!

I did a dual-purpose workout the other day. The Lewis Morris MTB race is scheduled for June 21st. This course has historically been the same for years. I first raced here in '96. Recently, the race has been done in reverse on alternating years to renew interest. For this year, the promoter has made some mild changes to the course. Utilizing a couple trails not often used and a brand new singletrack trail.

I went up there with my course map found here. I would ride at Endurance intensity while stopping often to navigate. Making mental notes of things I encountered along the way. Maybe kick a few sticks off of the trail. I've broken enough derailleurs to recognize those dangerous sticks and twigs on the trail.

After that first lap, I would return to the race start area and prepare to repeat the course. This time, I would be crushing climbs. You will see a noticeable change in my data. Little to no stopping. Heart and power are significantly higher.

Notice the big changes or spikes in my heart rate? While I was drilling it on the climbs, I went into full recovery mode elsewhere. I used the flatter or downhill portions of the course to focus on my bike handling skills. Trying to be smooth and efficient.

I did a progression in this workout by adding cadence drills to my climb crushing efforts. As the workout describes, the length of the climb determined my intensity. Additionally, the steepness determined my cadence. The steeper the climb, the lower my cadence. How did I manage that? Think to yourself, "Don't shift to an easier gear!" Dig deeper and push harder while using the upper body and core to remain stable and efficient.

This ended up being a relatively short workout at 90 minutes. I did a preview of a course so I am prepared to help all of you and answer any questions you may have. I also did a specific workout that would trigger some fitness adaptations. It was a successful day on the bike.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sharing my Data - I am qualified.

This past weekend, I decided to travel to the western portion of Maryland to race the Greenbrier MTB cross country race. I had never done this event before and had never visited the venue. My 2pm start time was unusually late. I didn't mind as I had three hours of driving to get there.

I did some minimal recon earlier in the week. Searching the web for a little insight about the course and terrain. A race consisting of 4 short laps just over 5 miles each. I would do 4 laps in the Cat 1 race.

I arrived about two hours ahead of my race start. Allowing for enough time for me to do a pre-race lap of the course. Some earlier races were still underway. I got my race number, got dressed in an extra race kit and scoped out the staging area and course.

We go to the race start to get an idea of what to expect when it is our time to race. This helps to reduce anxiety when it is time to go to staging. This race was extremely organized at the race start. A corral for each age group. Each one labeled with a small sign. I made a note of the position of a nearby tent. An easy way to identify my corral when I returned for my race.

I set out on the course. Aware of those racing around me. I don't want to get in the way of those who are racing. I didn't put my number on my bike yet. I didn't want to cause any confusion for marshals or scorekeepers.

I went over the first climb and down a long descent. Then I came up to a stream crossing that was high and flowing. Damn, I don't want to get drenched or muddy. I stopped to watch a few racers go through and create a plan of where to ride during my race later. Water sprays upwards as each rider goes through. Damn! I considered turning around but I was already pretty far out on course. Riding backwards on course is a bad idea. I had to go forward. I went through slowly and ratcheted my cranks. I got across with just a small splash on my shoes. I had brought extra race clothing but only had one pair of bike shoes. I wanted to keep them dry.

I continued on. I found more deep water or mud but was able to go around it. I finished my lap with dry feet and a clean butt. Nothing worse than getting soiled and wet before your race even begins. Note to self: Bring extra pair of shoes regardless of what trail conditions you expect.

I spent some time here talking about my pre-ride because this is how we all did it 15-20 years ago. There was no internet, GPS enabled devices, or pre-race course maps. The promoter showed up the afternoon before to mark the course. If you wanted a preview, you showed up early to ride the course before racing later that day. I'm old school. It is also good as the course is always subject to change and conditions vary from day to day.

I got back to the car, changed, and relaxed before starting my final warm-up. Nothing major here. I was just relaxed and riding up and down a shallow grade around the parking area. Then went to the start.

The corral system used at the start worked awesome. I wish more promoters used this method. Each wave started one minute after each other. I didn't rush to the start. I found myself at the back in the corral. Not ideal. Eh, I was just chillin. As we waited, a volunteer came around writing a number on our leg. We could use this to identify others in our race out on the course.

Before the start, guys moved around leaving an open space in the corral. I picked up my bike on the back wheel and moved into the spot. In front of others. I employed one of my old cliches. "When someone leaves a bike-length gap, put your bike in it."

I spoke to others briefly in the corral. A few guys were counting the number of racers. This race was the first Nationals qualifier in our area. The top 15 racers in each age group of a qualifier get an invite to nationals. There were fifteen in my group. Everyone was relaxed. There would only be one winner but we all earned something for showing up.

The race started and I found myself near the front. I often get good starts as I am all business. Know the gear you want to start in. Lock out the suspension for the initial sprint. Get clipped in and punch the accelerator. "Elbows out" when in a crowd. Find a good wheel to follow and stick to it like glue.

Once settled, I bleed a few spots on the first climb. That is fine. I often start slow and find myself able to hold my pace longer than others. It makes my races interesting as I pick off riders later. Not always a good strategy but that is just how my races unfold. I have learned to expect it and remain calm and within myself.

The course had three significant climbs. The first is gradual, short, and smooth. We ride side by side. The second is the largest. A long gear grinder with waterbars that put you right on the edge of traction. I stay in the saddle but really low and close to my handlebars. Keep both wheels firmly planted on the ground. Front for directional control. Rear to keep your effort propelling you forward. The last climb was steep with many rocks scattered about. We bounced around all over the trail in search of a smooth path.

The descents were fast and relatively smooth. Lower portions of the course contained standing water and then mud to follow. Racer drag water out of the crossings or puddles and make everything else muddy. I was loving my new bike at times. Just felt a fun groove as I weaved my way down swooping trails.

Not much else to report. I raced well without mistakes. I passed and was passed by racers in other age groups. I figured I was mid-pack but had no way of knowing. I didn't give away much time and felt good about my effort.

Four laps later, I was passed near the end. I missed the number on his leg as he was covered in mud and had a tattoo on one leg. He rode away pretty briskly. I caught him towards the end as we came out into a field towards the finish. Again, I looked at his leg. Starred at it trying to see the number. I couldn't see it. I often find it silly when racers in obviously different groups try to outsprint one another to the finish line. In this case, I couldn't tell what class this guy was in. "Screw it, I'm racing to beat this guy!"

I sat on his wheel as he was chugging to the line. Around one last wide sweeping turn in grass. I lean towards the inside. Taking a shorter path and remaining in his draft as the wind was coming from the other side. He heard me coming and stood to sprint. I had just a bit more and beat him by a bike length. We roll ahead and come to a stop. Hanging over our handlebars, we glance at one another. I ask, "What age group are you in?" He replies, "Yours! I was hoping to hold you off!" We exchanged pleasantries and I patted him on the back as I rode away. "Great race my friend!"

Looking at my data from the race, I paced myself pretty well. After a fast first lap filled with adrenaline produced my fastest lap time, the remaining laps were all within three seconds of one another. Doing that and finishing with an empty tank is near perfect pacing.

The results showed that I finished fourth. Ahead of what I expected. I enjoy surprises. No podium picture or prize but I earned my spot at Nationals in July. Not certain that I will go just yet but I certainly won't wait until race day to pre-ride that course.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sharing My Data - The Exit Strategy

During my road racing clinic in early April, I explained how we are often forced to ride in close proximity to other racers. We position ourselves in the draft or slipstream of those around us. The closer the better. For new racers, being surrounded by other racers is unnerving. Claustrophobia maybe. For the anxious racer, I suggested riding along the perimeter of the group. You may not get the most benefit from the draft but it is likely better than nothing. You may feel much less anxiety with riders only to one side of you. Then, you can focus on things that matter in the race.

We have to put a lot of faith in the rider(s) around us. We may not always feel confident in those around us. Maybe a rider is looking around, weaving around, seems distracted, or just makes you feel uneasy. The easiest way to avoid them is to stop pedaling and slow down. Racers will go around you and you can change your position.

I prefer to move ahead of a racer that makes me uneasy. When ahead, anything that rider does will have no impact on you. If someone is riding poorly, get them behind you.

During my lecture in the clinic, I added something that I normally don't mention. If you feel anxiety, have an exit strategy. An open area around you that you can move to in case of an emergency. When riding on the perimeter, you can simply move away from other riders.

I made use of this recently during the Turkey Hill Classic road race on May 3rd. A fast run in to the finish. Everyone is still together. Everyone has an equal opportunity to win. That means racers are excited and ready to take risks.

I positioned myself along the perimeter of the group. On the left. Opposite the cross wind we were facing from the right. I had the full benefit of the draft. The road was along a farm and an open field of grass/weeds. I was right along the edge of a road with no curb.

As we neared the finish line. Riders tangled and crashed on the other side of the road. Just ahead of my position. The mayhem began cascading towards me. I felt a bump on my right side. A tire exploded, emitting a cloud of tire sealant. The rider closest to me was getting tangled up with another rider hitting the ground.

What did I do? I made a brief attempt to hit the brakes. Honestly, the exploding tire is what spooked me most. You can't ride a flat at those speeds and it was really close. I consciously executed my Exit Strategy. I leaned to my left, pushed the bike forward, and pointed myself into the grass.

I held the bike out ahead of me and just waited to slow down. All my fingers on the handlebars to get the best grip possible. The grass would slow me down. I just hoped to avoid a hole or depression in the deep grass.

I slowed to a crawl and attempted to shift down. The grass was disrupting my shifting. I came to a stop and walked back to the road. I was recording the entire race on video. This is how it all went down at the finish.
So, when you feel uneasy about those around you, develop an exit strategy. My strategy on this day was very unorthodox but it was far better then hitting the pavement.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sharing My Data - Where did I leave off...

It has been far too long since I last provided a blog post. Let's see if I can get you caught up without writing War and Peace.

In my last post, I eluded to my slumping motivation. My legs have followed a similar pattern. I haven't been feeling fresh. This Spring, my legs just haven't come around the way I hoped. That is likely the biggest reason why I've been quite. I haven't been excited to share my personal results.

I enjoyed the Lancaster series of races last year. I looked forward to going back. Race courses and fields of competition I feel confident in. I went back to the Salisbury Road Race on March 29th. My third visit there. This time it was 45F and raining. A small breakaway formed. As they remained within sight, I figured their efforts would not be a winning move. I also didn't have the legs to confidently bridge across to them. I had a solid plan for the finish sprint based on previous visits. I gambled and waited.

That turned out to be a bad bet. A group of four battled for the win as I sprint among the field for the remaining spots. I was out-sprinted by only one from my group and finished 7th. I have the finish sprint dialed on this course. I just need to get myself in a position to sprint for the WIN.

April 5th was Battenkill. I've struggled previously at Battenkill in the Category 3 field. Racing against people half my age, on their way up through the ranks. My experience and confidence on dirt roads is my advantage. Not enough to overcome the superior abilities of others.This year, I entered the 40+ race. This is an open category race. I'm racing against some really strong guys, who just happen to be over 40 years old. My advantage? I'm only 42 years old.

Warming up in the rain.
Prepared to get wet and muddy.

The winter was not kind to the dirt roads up in NY. It rained heavily the week prior and showers passed through the night before. It was raining lightly as I arrived. I knew to expect soft conditions on the dirt roads. Those in my race did not come to make friends. It was brutally fast almost immediately. During a pivotal climb, only 11 miles into the race, things unraveled for me. Here is video of the scene.

I rode the rest of the race among other racers. I pushed hard but knew I was just racing for my own pride. I finished 46th of the 70+ in my race. This really is a difficult race. People travel from around the country to participate. In its 10th year, the events continues to grow each year. Although it has only been kind to me one year, I look forward to it each year.

The following weekend was my Safe-Racer clinic. Everything went great but I was hoping for a much bigger turnout. I devoted a lot of energy to the event and was hoping to see a better return on that investment. I had hopes of repeating the clinic this year. Instead, I'll look forward to doing it again next Spring.

Next up was a return to the Lancaster series with the Farmersville Road Race on April 19th. I had a great race here in 2013 and looked forward to returning. This turned out to be a strange race as it was interrupted by a crash in another field. There were three races on the course at the same time and the incident involved the field ahead of mine. Here is video of what I saw when we arrived. Because of what happened, I will be stressing the "yellow line rule" with my road-racing clients. It is very easy. Stay on the right side of the road.

All racing was halted and we returned to the start area. We resumed racing when the course was clear. Before the stoppage, my legs didn't want to cooperate. The stoppage didn't help. The race exploded in the last couple miles. I turned myself inside-out to finish 10th.

So, my legs have not been feeling good but I continue to push forward. I adjust my expectations and focus on the challenge, competition, and fun I'm having. In the mean time, I'm doing a lot of instruction. I'm preparing for future mountain bike and cyclocross instructional clinics although I haven't set dates. A couple new clients are helping to fill in my days. It is a busy time of year. Sorry to take so long between blog posts. I'll be back soon to write more.

Thanks for reading!