Old Guy Power

By: Nathaniel Ward Apr 17

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I’m a new-old dad. New kid, familiar responsibilities, and yet, at 33 years old with a 12 year-old and a newborn, I feel like both an old hand and a newbie. As I reflect on it, that applies to racing as well as fatherhood. Sometimes it seems like all experience does is give you a heads up that pretty soon life will surprise you, or your body will, or your children will. Since it’s spring, and road season is here, and I know there are a lot of folks like me out there, I thought I would share my thoughts on the ever-popular “less is more” training philosophy. We’ll call it: Training Tips With a Has-Been that Never Was

So I live with an 8-week old kid, which means I don’t sleep. I train 6-8 hours a week, and I am surprisingly motivated to go hard, even when sleep deprived. I feel pretty fit, I pedal bikes hard and, despite having my worst-ever cyclocross season this past winter, due to what is proving to be a pretty serious back injury, I have the good sensations. What will the coming road season bring? I don’t know, but I know that I now have Old Guy Power. No way, you say; he’s only 33, that’s cheating, he must be age-doping. Am not, says I. Here’s how it works.

The silly version:
Everyone knows about Old Guy Power, or Master’s Mojo, and it isn’t cycling specific. Rock climbers, for example, are notorious for continuing to climb hard on sheer grit, technique and experience, even as their hair whitens, their finger tendons wane, and their in-group slang becomes hopelessly dated. And it goes without saying that, in this day and age, 35 or 40 years old just isn’t that “old” anymore, not really. But when you’re a member of a youth-obsessed generation like mine, and you start making babies, well, you discover that you have become old, even while you were still regularly checking Facebook, buying your coffee at the cool kids’ shop, and driving something demographically appropriate, like a Honda Element or a Prius. Old? Me? Shit. Who knew?

There is, however, a tiny piece of the puzzle of Universal balance here that the Cool Kids’ Kabal seems to have overlooked while they were busy drawing the boundary between youthfully relevant, and over-the-hill. Listen up all you late-early-mid-30-something dads: if they can make us old, then we can has Old Guy Power.

See, this power is made up of some honorable things like gratitude, perspective, and good old-fashioned toughness. But—not to put too fine a point on it—it is also made up of testosterone, stubbornness, fear of death, and the desperate need to prove one’s masculinity. Yes, Old Guy Power amounts to a fairly straightforward mid-life crisis that arrives a decade early and wrapped in lycra. It’s nice to have all winter to train in the desert, sleeping half the day and hanging around with your feet up; but living like that doesn’t leave a person with much to prove. Competition is all about proving stuff, so this is where those of us who are haggard, perpetually sleep-deprived, and feel like we have yet to reach our athletic potential are really dangerous: We have a lot to prove. Count on it.

The Serious version:
This is what Chris Carmichael doesn’t tell you: going fast in amateur races on 6-8 training hours a week isn’t revolutionary, it’s actually pretty simple math.

So here is what you do:
1) Try hard, often.
2) Cross train. Being a good amateur cyclist has everything to do with a well-rounded physiology and a high overall level of fitness. Remember that college rower with giant arms and hairy legs who had been riding bikes for 6 months but still kicked your ass all season when you were a cat 4? That guy was better at sports than you. Bike racing is a sport.
3) Make your workouts count: don’t be afraid to go hard.
4) Use it or lose it. For real. If your pro team is going to send you to Mallorca or Southern California to ride base miles for three months, then you can probably do without hard efforts in the winter. If you are like the rest of us, though, and you’re squeezing in 6-10 hours a week on the bike all year, keep those top-end efforts coming, even in January.
5) Suck it up. Racing hurts, and a big part of failure is mental. If you have the mental toughness to slog through a 90 minute interval workout in your dingy, cold garage while your spouse and kiddies are snuggled up on the couch mere feet away from you, then—dammit—you are tough enough to hold the wheel in front of you when it’s crunch time in a race.
6) Know why you’re racing, and what you want from it. Success can look like finishing in the front group, winning a race, upgrading to a higher category, getting a podium place at master’s nationals or any number of other in-between goals. The important thing is that goals are attainable: progress motivates.
7) Know your limits. Everyone has a ceiling of natural ability, and most of us never find it because we don’t have the time. So what do reasonable, attainable goals look like? Good question.
8) Don’t believe anyone’s training advice, especially not mine.
9) Get to know your own body, get to know your own psyche as an athlete, find out what makes you tick, and do what works for you. Psychology has a lot to do with outcome. If you think you are going to get dropped, you probably will; if you take it as a foregone conclusion and your birthright to make the breakaway in every race you enter then, no surprise, you’ll probably pull it off, as often as not.
10) Enjoy yourself! Duh.

So? Crush it.

*Originally posted 3/24/2011


Reverse Futurity

By: Nathaniel Ward Apr 2

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In our sport.

Yes, Boonen won the hell out of Flanders yesterday, and we wish Fabian hadn’t hurt himself. The fact is, though, that living in the world we presently do, where the availability of information is so laughably disproportionate to want, need, or any other point in human history, we occasionally feel it’s worth slowing down, and considering some of what used to be, that paved the way for what exists today. The present is interesting, but generally predictable. This morning it seems that the past is where the potential exists for real surprises. Think about it.

It’s easy to get caught up in drinking the right coffee, wearing the right over-priced jeans, oiling your legs to a perfect sheen, and all of the other stuff we’re inclined to do, here in our demographic; but we like to think there is something to be gained by considering the art of cycling as a passion, craft, and pursuit that can elevate individual human experience, just a wee bit, as O’Bree might say.

To that end, let’s do some mental slow food today, and dig into parts I and II of a IV part BBC documentary series from 1994. Nearly 20 years ago, if you can believe it. There are bikes and racing in this video; but the key ingredient is passion, and a modernist zeal to imagine that there is more in front of us than we can see, more possible than we can imagine, and reasons for pushing hard against arbitrary boundaries that will be made clear to us later. Maybe.



I thought you were sponsored...

By: Nathaniel Ward Apr 1

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My wife likes to entertain herself with a little running joke. Every time I have to spend money on anything bike or bike racing related she quips, “I thought you were sponsored.” Ha ha.

I had to buy some cables the other day at the local brick & mortar because I completely trashed my bike again in Maine last weekend. So on my wee Tuesday pre-work spin I headed down to the shop and ordered up a handful of cables and housing to stock my toolbox with for the next mudfest. Now I’m not exactly a skinflint, in fact I have been accused of being a little too free and easy with my finances, but I am also immensely fortunate in that I have had the privilege in the last few years of being supported by some great companies and a truly fantastic bike shop. As a result, I don’t have to buy a lot of stuff, and when I do, I get it cheap. Lucky me. And guess what? Cables are friggin’ expensive! Holy crap, I nearly had a heart attack when I signed the receipt. Who knew the damned things are 7 bucks a pop nowadays? I just threw my expense/profit spreadsheet off for a month.

If you’re wondering how it is that I can ride bikes 300 days a year and not know the price of a cable, or if you’re rolling your eyes at the mention of an expense/profit spreadsheet for racing, well, that’s my point. I’m spoiled rotten. But I’m not the only one. “Elite” riders all over the place are infamous for taking their sponsors for granted, wanting everything for free and doing little in return. Little that is, except for getting totally awesome results every weekend that are way better than all of those un-sponsored riders. Hehe. Oops.

The reality is that most of us who are fortunate enough to have someone else even partially underwrite our racing lifestyle/hobby/addiction/avocation will never attract enough attention to ourselves on the merits of our results alone to justify the outlay of sponsorship dollars. During Cyclocross season it gets a little bit easier to be Kind Of a Big Deal due to the increasing number of UCI races and the spectator friendly nature of the discipline. The photographers have an easy time of it and the sponsors actually get some reasonably good exposure to their target audience. This exposure, however, is hard won, and it only partly makes up for the rest of the year, when anyone who has invested their money in semi-professional-elite amateur-fulltime-expensive bike racing has to satisfy themselves with blurry images on Facebook of their athletes proudly flashing the team colors around industrial parks and roadside parking lots out behind the 12th acre of nowhere. We American bike racers really do put the “semi” in semi-professional.

Ok, so it’s no secret to anyone reading this that I am a human governed most immediately by my emotions. I can throw a wobbler with the best of them, I have been known to cry after bad races, and sometimes I’m a needy little cuss, just ask Joe.

But these days, as I meditate on how it is that I am going to salvage this ‘cross season that looks increasingly to bystanders like a hippopotamus drowning in a mud bog (“My lord how ever are you going to save that poor beast?”), I am trying to remind myself to be humble, and grateful for the opportunity to pursue my goals and simply do what I love to do. And not for nothing but people who sign the checks to support bike racing teams are, in large part, the people who keep grassroots racing alive in North America. So to my fellow self-obsessed, well-supported athletes I say: hug your sponsor today.

Seriously, if you’re fortunate enough to be a sponsored athlete, remember that the best way you can show it is to represent your sponsors well both on and off the bike. This means try to refrain from giving cars the finger when wearing the logos of people who spend their hard-earned money paying your race entry fees. It means say nice things about your sponsors’ products, even if they are only partially true. Help out your teammates at races, work the pit for club riders once in awhile, and if you have a benefactor or three who still actively race themselves, then for god’s sake take an interest in the master’s race or the B race or the C race or the women’s race or whatever race they’re in. And above all, just don’t be an asshole on someone else’s nickel.


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