I’m back… with food.

Okay. I’ve had a crummy go of endurance sport lately (entries as to why are coming), so I thought I’d do this one about my other great love. I’m going to teach you how to make a pork tenderloin salad.

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Figure about 1 pork tenderloin for 4 people. Now, pork tenderloin is wonderfully inexpensive and a very lean and healthy piece of meat. I simply can’t let that happen. To keep it wonderfully moist and happy, I’m gonna bard the little bastard with bacon. Barding is the technique of wrapping a lean piece of meat in some sort of fat before you roast it. Caul fat is the traditional fat of choice, but when you have bacon….. well….. does any more need to be said?

First, I get the grill going to a level roughly equivalent to the “I’m giving her all I’ve got, Captain…. the engines canny take it much longer” intensity. I put a pot on to boil with a little bit of water, and blanch the bacon for a minute or two, then straining and shocking with cold water. I do this to take away some of the saltiness of the bacon and add some moisture so that it won’t crisp up tooquickly. It takes about seven regular slices of bacon to wrap a tenderloin. Then I slice some onions into thin rounds, square off some carrots and slice them into little rectangles. The length and width of the rectangles aren’t important, but make sure their depth is very regular, about 1/4 inch… The squared off carrots are at the top, the slices at the bottom:

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(Don’t worry about the scraps…. the kids LOVE raw carrots and the pieces that are too small are destined to make the soffritto for the meat sauce I’ll make for tomorrow.) I also quarter some baby bella mushrooms. If there’s anything here you don’t like and want to leave out or something you want to add, go right the hell ahead. It’s your salad!

I hit everything with a generous glug of olive oil, and then toss with a few pinches of salt and pepper. I then gather my mise en place (all my crap) and head out to the grill:

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I’m going to sear the tenderloin off before I bard it to amp up the flavor, which is why you see the loose bacon. I toss the tenderloin, the onions, and as many carrots as I can on the hotter than hell grill. The goal here is to char the onions and carrots a bit and sear the tenderloin, but NOT cook it through. I want high heat to really give the stuff some color in a short amount of time. The onions go quickly so they’re soon replaced by the rest of the carrots and the mushrooms:

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Next come the barding (turn the grill WAY down now). You’ll use toothpicks to make sure the bacon stays on the pork but please please PLEASE count the toothpicks you use… biting into a toothpick will kill any bacon buzz you’ve induced in your guests. I lay mine out in groups of five, and make sure I use all in a group. That way I know if, at the end, I recovered them all:

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Then it’s back on the grill, but this time on the quarter sheet pan for a slower roast with the cover on. The great thing about grilling stuff is that it adds so much flavor but that doesn’t mean I can’t add more. While the loin is roasting I work up a quick vinaigrette. The only hard and fast rule for a vinaigrette is 1 part acid to 4 parts oil, and that, like the Pirate Code, is more of a guideline, really. Since I hate hate hate cleaning a garlic press I take a clove of garlic, chop it up, add some kosher salt as a grinding compound and smear it to a fine paste with my knife. Takes me a lot less time then it would to clean a garlic press. (Did I mention I hate cleaning garlic presses?) I toast a few tablespoons of sesame seeds, smash them in a mortar and pestle and then toss them in with the garlic and a tablespoon each of  fresh-squeezed lemon juice and tarragon vinegar. In goes a good pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a tablespoon or two of fresh minced tarragon. Then I add about a tablespoon of dijon mustard (adds great flavor and keeps the oil and acid emulsified together… if  you’ve noticed, making dressing really is ‘a little bit o’ this, a little bit o’ that’). Then I start dribbling in some olive oil and some sesame oil, in equal parts, while whisking pretty vigorously.

When the tenderloin hits 145… the guidelines used to be higher because of the admittedly awful possibility of slurping up the trichinae worm… but farm-raised pork are pretty much guaranteed to be wormless… I rescue the tenderloin off the grill, rest it for at least 5 minutes (usually 10), remove the bacon and crisp it up on the grill:

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I toss the grilled veggies, chopped bacon and mushrooms in with some spring greens and about half of the dressing, then slice the tenderloin and lay it on top, serving the rest of the dressing as a dipping sauce. Make it and you’ll see why it makes me go, “mmmmmmmmmmmmmm………….”

 

 

 

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Sybil the Frankenbike!

So I’ve been playing around with the Six13 frame (she’s still wearing Holly the Raleigh’s components for now) and trying to decide how to set her up. I thought about setting her up only for tri’s, but with the quality and lightness of the frame, I’d be really sad to relegate her to my least favorite riding position. I can’t really set her up for road-only and then convert Holly to a tri machine because Holly’s frame is too long for a comfy tri position, and the Six13 is perfectly sized for it.

I was sitting around, thinking about it, trying to make some sort of decision. Then I saw a cheap base bar that would work for my aerobars in the shop. Started thinking about it a little. I’ve got a shorter stem I could use for tri work. I have a longer stem I could use for road work. I have enough components to outfit two bikes. I started looking through the parts catalogs, and came across these:

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These little guys are made by Ritchey, a frame and bike manufacturer who, among other things, specializes in bikes that can be disassembled. They’re not folding bikes, they actually have inline couplings in the frame that allow you to break them down and then reassemble them into full-size bikes. This effectively cuts the bike in half. For the two halves to separate you have to have a way to break and reassemble the cables. Enter these things. To use them, you thread a new cable into the male end, and thread the end of the cable from your controls into the female end, where the cable end is secured by a set screw (or two, in the case of brake cables, probably to provide a fault-tolerant system. A non-functioning shifter cable won’t kill you like a bad brake cable will). To part the cable you simply unscrew the two pieces from each other:
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In the original application, you only have to set things up for one bike. I thought that if I got two sets of these little beasts I could have them on the controls on my drop bars AND my aerobars. If I was careful with cutting the cables I should be able to switch between the two head/stem units by parting the cables and lifting the stems off the steerer tube:
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I’m happy to say it worked:

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Some details:

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And conversion time (unpracticed):

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The conversion worked perfectly, although it took me some time to make sure that the cables were cut properly so that they required no adjustment when I converted from one system to the other. 

Since she is now two bikes in one, with extra bolts, cables, plugs, and things, I hereby dub her Sybil the Frankenbike!

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A Tale of Two Cycles

So my last event for me this year was a 110k ride, a “Populaire” in rando-speak. Populaires are generally (but not always) shorter than the standard lengths (200, 300, 400, and 600k), and are designed to bring in folks who might be new to randonneuring and may not be ready to bite off the whole 200k enchilada. This populaire was interesting because it started quite late in the day for a long ride, and I was in a quandary of which bike to bring. If a ride will definitely finish in the dark you must bring lights to the party. If you don’t finish by nightfall and you don’t have lights (as well as reflective equipment like a vest or a sash), your ride is over. Also, there was a chill in the air and we’d be fighting a significant headwind for a good bit of the ride, so I knew I needed storage for clothing options. I also knew that there would be some pretty substantial hills on this particular trip:

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Since I was having such a hard time deciding which bike to bring, I brought two:

1. The Beast: my built-for-rando/gravel/commute/snow/whatever bike:

The Beast tricked out for randonneuring...

The Beast tricked out for randonneuring…

but imagine him with a rack and a rack-top bag. He started his life as a Cannondale Quick 5 but has drop bars with bar-ends, homebrewed wheels (with a dynohub on the front), running 28mm Continental Gatorskins on 23 mm Velocity A23 hoops. A slack seat tube angle and a long head tube give me a pretty upright position on him. Fully tricked out with things like spare clothes (in case I get cold), spare chain links, spare tire and tubes, spare cables and tools, he comes in at 36 pounds. Yes. This gets important later.

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2. The as-yet-unnamed:  This is a new frame I’m trying, and it’s currently wearing parts from Holly the Raleigh. It’s a Cannondale Six13 frame (consisting of carbon top and downtubes and aluminum for the rest). Loaded with minimal stuff (basic tools and a jacket) it comes in at 16.6 pounds. Okay, for the weight weenies out there, this is starting to look like a cinch, but it’s not completely that simple. Originally, lights were going to be required to start the ride, and I really didn’t have #2 equipped for lights, but this would have been an easy fix. Harder is the fact that I was riding with a friend new to rando stuff, and I wanted to make sure I had enough equipment for breakdowns. On a ride on my own of 70 miles I would have taken the Six13 right away. The last two reasons I had are sort of woven together. The Six13 was pretty untried and untested, having never been on a long ride with me before, and I had built The Beast for rando but I’ve never taken him on one, and I was interested to see how he would do. This would be a nice low pressure start.

Well…… sort of…….

I neglected to mention the fact that my last substantial ride was my tri two weeks ago, and my ride with my enduro partner-in-crime two days before that, both in the 20-30 mile range. My legs weren’t awful, but they weren’t great, and my engine was probably on the short end (keep this in mind as you mercilessly mock my power numbers quite soon). So on the one hand, I had a light, nimble, untried steed, sporting Ultegra components and that new- (or at least new-to-me) smell. On the other hand I’ve got a bike I know backwards, forwards, inside and out with ultrareliable (and ultraheavy) components. The Beast would rule the wind, requiring very little lean into crosswinds but with twice the weight would act like an anvil on the hills. Keep in mind that people spend $200 to shed 100 grams off their bike. The Beast would have to shed 8,818 grams to measure up to The Unnamed. Lord help me, I chose The Beast.

So I tootle off. For the first quarter of the ride we’ve got a solid tailwind, speed’s good, everything’s happy. No dogs, the sun is shining, the temp’s pretty nice, we’re cooking along, I think I even hear a unicorn farting rainbows somewhere off to my left. Then we turn into the wind, and sit there for a really long time. With the upright position The Beast is putting me into, it’s a bit more of a chore, but still not bad.

Then we come to the hills. The first is a longer but less steep hill going from Boone to Ogden, but it’s into a stiff headwind. The second is the short steep hill rising just south of Highway 30 heading towards Woodward from Boone. The first averages a 5.6% grade, rising 50 meters over 895 meters of road. The second goes up about the same, 51.2 meters but more quickly, over just 607 meters of road, giving an 8.4% grade. Physics tells us that lifting myself and a bike requires a certain amount of work against gravity, and since gravity is a central force that work is independent of the path. I could ride all the way around the world and as long as I ended up 50 meters higher the same net work would get me there (I could prove this to you but it would require equations and scary math-y looking things and I’ve heard that equations and scary math-y looking things reduce you post readership by at least 75%, so I’ll spare you, even though one of the scary math-y things actually looks pretty cool:

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and yes, I know it should technically be an open circle in the long “s” unless I’m finishing where I’m starting on the hill.)

So to haul The Beast (as well as my anything-but-svelte frame) up 50 meters requires 47,677 joules of energy. (Since you now know that as well as how heavy The Beast is, you can now figure my mass if you know a little physics. Please don’t.) Lightening things up a bit (reducing bike weight to less than half) would require 43,365 joules. Now, by some bizarre accident of science and units, human metabolic efficiency (about 20-25%) in converting energy to motion is about the same ratio as the joule and the calorie (23.9%). Therefore I know that climbing that hill on The Beast would require about 47,677 calories, or about 48 kilocalories (which are the Calories, notice the big “c”, we eat). Incidentally, this is just shy of the amount of energy contained in one oreo. (On level ground one oreo would give us enough energy to manage about 3-4 kilometers… burning one oreo in a car engine would give us about 100 meters). Trading down from The Beast to the other bike would save me about 4 kilocalories, or the energy in about 1 gram (or about the amount of sugar in a quarter-teaspoon). This is kind of starting to look like no great shakes, right?

Kilocalories measure energy, and energy is hard. It’s a tough subject to wrap the brain around. Power is a lot more fun. It makes guys grunt and do goofy things. You tell a guy that he’s got 1000 kilowatt-hours of gasoline (roughly enough to get someone 20 miles) in the tank he’s going to look at you blankly. Tell him his car develops 450 horsepower and he’s likely to get visibly excited and start making revving noises. Power’s a big thing for cyclists, too. If an athlete who turns pedals (like a triathlete or a cyclist) wants to get the most out of training s/he’ll use power. Power is cool because it’s independent of hills, wind, bike weight, or tire pressure. Power is what a rider supplies to the pedals. You can design a bike to make use of that power more efficiently, propelling a rider faster for a given power input, but the power itself is dependent on the rider. Power is measured as the amount of energy used doing something divided by the amount of time spent doing it, or how fast you can develop energy.

I did the first hill in 259 seconds and the second in 170 seconds. On The Beast I spent 47,700 joules getting up the first hill and 48,800 joules getting up the second. This means that just overcoming gravity, if my power output was fairly even (and it was), required 184 watts for the first hill and 287 watts for the second. To put this into realistic terms, I can manage to keep up (at least right now, kind of untrained, so don’t laugh) about 260 watts for an hour, which is my functional threshold power. Above this figure, I start getting out of breath. Had I brought the lighter bike, I would have given myself a lot more room for error, requiring 167 watts for the first hill and 261 watts for the second. Now we start to see where weight (or lack thereof) pays off.

Unfortunately, weight isn’t the only place the second bike would have an advantage. It would also have a lower position, a more efficient drive train, and easier-rolling wheels and tires. Playing with the physics and using numerical models to figure my power (I don’t have a meter), The Beast would require a total (hill climbing + air resistance + rolling and drive-train resistance) of 259 watts to summit the first hill and 324 watts to summit the second. To me, right now, 324 watts is a fair amount of power, a level I can maintain for 7-8 minutes before wiping myself out. Compare this with the 229 watts and 293 watts, respectively, I would have had to maintain on bike #2 for the first and second hill, respectively.

In bike racing, we have the concept of “matches”. We say that you have a book of matches you can burn. You have a finite number of matches in this book. When you’ve burned all your matches, you’re done. A match represents a significant level of effort… for me, I burn a match if I hold 312 watts for a minute, 296 watts for 5 minutes, or 280 watts for 10. You can see from my numbers that The Beast made me burn a match on the second hill, easy. Taking the lighter bike would have kept me from burning that match.

[It must be said, at this point, who are we kidding? I would have put forth the same effort, but would have saved myself time… about 16 seconds on hill #1 and 26 seconds on hill #2… not to mention the fact that my pre-hill legs would have been fresher, too.]

Now, realistically, I survived the hills, and I can afford to burn a match or two on an easy ride (I’d burned one earlier to pull in a group I wanted to ride with). After the hills we struggled a little bit more as we fought with the wind and pushed a few more miles than we had in a while. Then we finally turned onto the High Trestle Trail, and with the wind at our backs, found new energy to fly over the bridge and into the finish. I think I even heard a unicorn fart as I crossed the bridge headed into Madrid and the finish.

Note: Numerical modeling and iterated calculations were done on MATLAB. All other calculations were done on this:

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A Tale of Three Races

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. Unfortunately it’s been kind of a tough season, although a lot of the blame rests on my shoulders, or rather, my legs. The season didn’t go nearly as planned, but I learned a lot, so at least there’s that. Since I’ve got three races to report on, and my season is over now, I thought I’d write my race report on all three in one post.

1. Omaha. My “A” race. Oh, well. In one way I can say I earned a perfect score by missing every single one of my goals! At least I knew at the outset that the day wasn’t going to be a good one. I was all ready to go with the race as I packed up (see my last post), and then the drive happened. I’ve always had back issues, but it’s never been this sudden or violent. Somehow the drive down pranged a muscle in my lower back, causing severe spasms anytime I made large arm movements on the left side. At the hotel the night before I was terrified because I didn’t know if I’d even be able to race.

The morning arrived, we drove to the race site, and I got good news, bad news, and bad news. I found that my back would let me run and bike (good), but that I had no power on the left side of my body on the swim (bad), and that the water was 86° F and thus wetsuit illegal (under the circumstances, bad). The extra buoyancy the suit would have given me would have partly offset the fact that I could only swim with half of my body. Off went the horn and off I went, essentially sidestroking. Projected time: 30:00. Actual time: 38:45.3, 23/30 in my age group.

The bike on this one was actually a lot of fun. It was packed full of rollers and since climbing was my thing I was ready. I played tag with one guy where I would toast him on the uphills and he’d toast me on the downhills (his bike and position was a lot more aero than mine). It got to be really funny, and we started commenting to each other on each pass. It stoked my ego quite a bit when he called out on one particular long climb after I’d passed him like he was standing still, “how do you DO that???” Still missed my projected time, though. Projected: 1:15:00. Actual 1:15:44.8, 10/30 in my age group.

When we hit the run it was already in the 90’s, so I knew it would be a long day on the feet. Also, I wasn’t sure whether I’d messed up on the bike. In triathlon there are two conflicting pieces of advice: “Train your weakness, race your strength” and “Don’t leave your run on the bike.” I may have concentrated a little much on the former and not quite enough on the latter. The run was slow. Really slow. I wasn’t having fun with it, either, but of the triathlon disciplines the run is most definitely my weakness, and I hadn’t trained it nearly enough. My heat acclimation runs had made it so that I survived well, but my general lack of training hit me hard. Projected: 56:00. Actual: 1:00:26.1, 20/30.

Overall, I missed my projected time goal as well as my qualifier. My transitions were pretty good but at 5:31 were over my projected time of 4:00. I would have needed 2:52:44 to qualify but came in at 3:00:28.7, or 17/30. The eight minutes I added to my swim would’ve gotten me there, or if I’d pulled back 4 minutes on the swim and 4 on the run. All things considered it was a good race. I felt like I persevered through adversity, turned in a respectable race and a more than respectable ride.

2. Hy-Vee

The trouble with late-season races for me is that usually I’m suffering from a distinct lack of training in the mid- to late-summer. I’m even considering next year concentrating more on early season races. Late summer’s the time we see family, the time that we drop the kids off with the grandparents, and generally relax (I got in lots of great bike rides with The Bride… I consider that relationship training). I usually feel it would be selfish and ungenerous of me to spend all that time alone flogging through my training, so my training consistency definitely suffers. Because of that I wasn’t expecting a blazing day in terms of speed at Hy-Vee. Blazing temps, yes… but not blazing speed.

Gray’s lake was also in the high 80’s by race time, and thus wetsuit-illegal. My swim felt a lot better this time, since I could use both arms. I went into this race with only one goal, to provide moral support to a friend of mine new at triathlon, a splendid runner but pretty new on the bike and the swim. I’ll post his times along with mine, since they’re actually pretty funny. (Spoiler: he beat me) Swim time: me: 34:00, 39/95. him: 38:11, 65/95.

For some reason, I really wasn’t feeling the bike this race. I couldn’t get into a good rhythm and I felt tired. Could be that I really hadn’t spent much time on the bike since Omaha. Hmmmm. Me: 1:19:16, 58/95 (ouch). Him: 1:21:46, 65/95.

The run was very hot and my lack of training had me spent. I really disliked the end of the race because we passed the finish and had to run another mile to loop back to the finish. It kind of stole some of my spirit, and I hope they don’t route it that way again. I was painfully slow on this one, and I hope I never run one like that again! My friend, on the other hand, seemed to find a way to cope and turn in a magnificent run. Me: 1:09:15, 83(!)/95. Him: 55:24, 42/95.

Transitions for both of us were slow, but I’m still trying to sort out my treatments for asthma during transitions and this was his first transition ever. Me: 8:47. Him: 8:30. Overall time for me was pretty disappointing, as I was sub-3-hour last year, and I turned in 3:11:15, 70/95. My friend did quite a bit better, at 3:03:48, 61/95.

3. Lobsterman

Of all the races this season, I think this was my favorite. I felt I paced a lot better, although I was on a strange bike (didn’t ship mine) and it didn’t pay back as well for me on the climbs, so it threw me a little out of my rhythm, but overall it was a fun race. I think it helped that I did this race with my partner in endurance sport crime, a fantastic runner, a very strong cyclist, and a good swimmer (Spoiler alert: she beat me, too!). I think the main parts that got me in this race were the transitions. It was wetsuit-legal (wetsuit mandatory, in fact… the ocean in New England is COLD!!!) and I hadn’t practiced as much on transitioning out of a wetsuit and I still have to pause long enough to catch my breath to use an inhaler. This was also an interesting race because New Englanders seem to be a lot more into endurance sport, and my placements definitely show it. They are FAST!

This was my first long open-water swim in the ocean in almost 20 years. I think in some ways I wasn’t really ready for it, since getting a good mouthful of it gags you a lot more than seawater, and I did lose stomach contents a couple of times. It was also quite cold, around 50°F, and thus wetsuit-mandatory. I also got frustrated because we had some college team triathletes who would suddenly change from freestyle to breast stroke, just as I was swimming beside them. This makes their kick twice as wide and generally results in a kick to the face. The last part of the swim was really rough because the current got so strong that we basically had to swim at a 45° angle to hit the swim exit, and the exit just never seemed to get closer. At least it was slow for everyone! Me: 41:39, 33/54. Her: 47:28, 21/27.

The bike went fairly well, although it took me a long time to warm up after the swim and the bike just didn’t seem to want to climb for me. Since I’m a climber, this kinda hurt. Overall, though, it was a lovely course and a fun ride. Me: 1:20:36, 36/54. Her: 1:23:38, 12/27.

Again, I suffered on the run due to lack of conditioning (my fault). It’s really frustrating because I know I can do better, and it’s all in my lap. Consistency is the key to run training and I haven’t been consistent. That said, I think easing up my pace on the bike gave me a little more comfort on the run. I was also buoyed by a “nice legs” comment from a woman I passed on the run. If this endurance thing doesn’t work out I can always go into pageants! Me: 58:45, 45/54. Her: 50:55(!), 6(!)/27.

My transitions were slow, and my overall suffered a lot (if I compare to other races) because of the crazy swim, but comparing myself across others in this race, it looks pretty consistent. Transitions- me: 7:27, her: 5:07. Overall- me: 3:08:26.2, 41/54.Her: 3:07:06.9, 12(!)/27.

I was surprised at the last two races because my swim stacked up so competitively at both Hy-Vee and Lobsterman, scoring better than my bike (which NEVER happens). It leads me to believe that 1) I could really see some gains in my swim, 2) more consistency on the bike would pay off, and 3) my run really is my weakest link. I’m going to fix that next season. I will say I did very will at the 4th discipline of Lobsterman:

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P.S. One other great thing about this season is that now I can add this to my post!

USAC Level 3 Coach

USAT Level 1 Coach

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Cry ‘Havoc’, and let slip the dogs of Omaha!

The time has come… this time tomorrow I will indeed cry ‘havoc’ and let slip the dogs (or the horses in my Honda Odyssey) towards Omaha. So friends, netizens, countryfolk (gotta be inclusive); lend me your ears!

Spent the free time of the last couple of days amassing my gear of war:
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Cleaning my weapon:
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(since, after all, a clean bike is a fast bike)

And carb loading with (a pretty bad picture of) boeuf bourgignon and white rice
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This was to have been my “A” race and my second tri of the season. It was supposed to be my shot at qualifying for nationals. Now we’re just going to have to see how it goes.

I have been able to get in a few swims and some heat acclimation runs, along with a few good bike rides. According to last year’s stats for the race, a placement in the top 33% would require a time of roughly 2:57:00, which should be well within my abilities. Unfortunately for me, since this race is a regional qualifier it might attract a lot more folks a lot faster than that, so I’m not holding my breath that that time will necessarily hold. On the other hand, the water temperature is looking to be warmer than that magic temperature of 78°F. At this temp, wet suits are legal for racing but not for awards or qualification. Since I’m comfortable going without a wet suit this actually might help me qualify.

Officially, here are my predictions:
swim: 30 minutes
bike: 1:15:00
run: 56 minutes
transitions: 4 minutes

This should see me in by around 2:45:00, if things go as planned. The bike course is rolling Loess hills, so that should give me an advantage, as should the hills on the run. My training issues will be my big disadvantage.

So here I go…. off to my adventure. Let’s see how glorious the sun will be after my Winter’s Discontent!

P.S. Here’s a pic of Amélie also exploiting the fact that a clean bike is a fast bike. She and her brother race Friday!
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Still can’t find the day……

So this was supposed to be my long night’s journey into day, the summer of my content, but looks like I’m a little lost… I’ve only now gotten a couple of bars worth of signal in the wilderness, so I thought I’d send up a post.

I came roaring out of spring, with a lot of vim and vigor (and anxiousness to be outside) after a long winter on the trainer.  I managed I nice first brevet, and then… then………

I managed to come down with a curious and fun assortment of ailments, starting with two different and consecutive pulled back muscles that put a bit of a crimp on my Dam to Dam-age.  It was fun to do, and although I raced well with respect to my training, I was frustrated that I couldn’t clock a 12.4-mile run under my 13.1 PR time.  I thought that was bad enough.

Then, I came down with a pretty harsh case of “oh wow…. the room is spinning so hard and I haven’t even touched a drop.” It’s a recurrent thing, I’ve experienced it before, and I kind of know what to do for it, but it’s pretty disheartening when you’re closing in on a big goal (qualifying for Nationals in the Olympic-distance triathlon at Omaha July 21st) and you can’t swim at all, you can hardly run, and even cycling is a scary proposition.

I was entering the long, dark tea-time of the soul when a wise friend (http://pushmylimits.wordpress.com/) told me that I should “control what I can control” and accept the rest. Nationals may not happen this year. It’s okay. I may have to adjust my calendar, pushing my “A” race to a little later this year. It’s okay. I may have to focus on perhaps using this as more of a build year and let the big goals I have wait until next year.  It’s okay.

Instead of worrying, I have decided to embrace the suck. I went on a really fun ride with aforementioned wise friend and some others and got in a bit of relaxation time:

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Then I took the kids to the pool and got in a pretty good swim work that was only minimally spin-inducing (the good stuff seems to be working… thanks MacFarland ENT clinic!). As an added bonus, I got a new pair of tri shoes in today, so while I may not qualify this year for nationals, I’ll at least look fabulous not doing it!

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I’m also having lots of fun getting the kids ready for their second triathlon, Evan’s first without training wheels. I also need to remember that while I haven’t prepped myself as much as I would like, working at the bike shop has given me the privilege of helping a lot of up-and-coming athletes (some who don’t even realize yet that they ARE athletes) better chances at succeeding by tweaking or revamping their bike fit or their equipment.

So perhaps, if I seem to be having trouble finding the day, at least I should focus a little on experiencing and enjoying the night! And now, since there was a fair dose of pathos in this post, here, courtesy of funny or die (funnyordie.com) is a picture I find hilarious:
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The Local Bike Shop… a respectful rebuttal (or at least, a variant viewpoint)

So, one of the blogs I follow is Life on 2 wheels, written by a fellow randonneur (http://jefaisduvelo.wordpress.com). He recently wrote a post about why he prefers not to go to his local bike shop (LBS). Being an employee at one (part time, and not in SLC) I thought I should at least respectfully address some of the very valid points he brought up. (It’s here, by the way http://jefaisduvelo.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/supporting-your-lbs-and-why-i-dont/). I’m now going to switch to talking to the blogger in question… makes the writing so much easier!

First things first… an employee who can’t accurately estimate what it’s going to cost to change a spoke with the wheel in front of him shouldn’t be allowed to work on bikes. In a relatively relaxed market we have a $50 an hour labor charge. If it takes a “skilled mechanic” an hour to pull a cassette, replace a spoke, and true a wheel then s/he’s not really a skilled mechanic. If our mechanics run into a real problem with a wheel they’re working on and it looks like it requires more TLC than a) the customer intended to pay for or 2) the wheel is worth we call the customer, explain, and ask what they would like us to do. In my opinion you were right not to go back. (This happens sometimes when, for example, bearings were cranked to tightly, causing the balls to machine bad grooves into the bearing surfaces, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to a good mechanic who should be able to feel the problem before s/he starts disassembling anything.)

Now that the obvious is out of the way, there are more unobvious points. The kid who couldn’t find the vulcanizing fluid probably had no idea what it was. Unfortunately in an age where we throw away anything less than pristine, patching tubes is becoming quaint and old-fashioned. I personally patch my tubes until the patches have patches (and because I work at a shop I get tubes pretty cheaply), but it’s entirely possible a younger employee has never patched a tube in his life. Part of this, I think, is the problem common in retail in general and bike shops in particular. Nobody works at a bike shop to get rich. Some folks work there because they don’t want to do anything else. Some folks work there because they like bikes and hung around the shop so much that the owner just started paying him/her (my situation). Some work there to pay their dues to become racers down the line. And some work there because it’s more fun than Wal-Mart and less soul-sucking. I have a feeling your clueless kid probably fell into the latter category.

Not all shops are created alike. If you come into our shop (http://www.skunkrivercycles.com/) you will not find arrogance. We simply can’t afford to be arrogant and only cater to racers or triathletes because our shop specializes in non-racers (who may or may not be “casual riders”). We pride ourselves in spending a lot of time on customers (not working on commission helps) making sure they get what they really want and what will fit their needs, and not what we want to sell them. If they come in wanting a comfort bike but they want to get more fit, we show them hybrids, put them on both bikes to let them feel the difference, and even allow them to take bikes on extended rides to really figure out what they want. We explain that a comfort bike may meet their needs now, but won’t grow with them if they want more out of their bike a year down the road. How long will they spend on the bike at a time? Do they need something that’ll handle gravel? Lots of questions, lots of listening, and very little by way of advice, just guidance. If you had come into our shop looking for a tandem (we tend not to stock them because we get them and then they sit forever, taking up space and getting older… our market is not very big for tandems for some reason) we would show you options, the things we could order, and other shops around us that do more business in tandems. We do this because first, we want to see you on a bike you’re happy on, wherever you find it, and second, we love talking bikes.

I guess the biggest issue I have is the value and the buying local issue, and that’s wrapped up a lot in my worldview. I don’t like the way the world is moving. I don’t like the mindset that tells people that if they are not getting the best deal (i.e. paying the least amount) then they are chumps. I disagree with this because I believe that building business is all about developing partnerships and personal connections. It’s why I try to deal locally as much as I can for everything I can, even if it costs more (which, realistically, is a lot easier when I’m in the financial position to do so). I understand the opposing viewpoints, but I think a lot of what has hurt our economy is always searching for the cheapest possible way of getting things we want. I can understand how people may want to spend less, and may need to. But what really chaps my hide is how people will come in, spend hours of our time trying to find out exactly what they need, only to order online. It bugs me when people come in asking me to “measure them for a bike” so they can go to an online store and order from them. (I suppose I could be snarky and give them the wrong size, but I never do.)

I know that so many bikes are now made overseas (all of my frames and forks were, but I want my next one built here), but the money spent in a bike shop does lots of intangible good. We volunteer a lot at events that try to get people on bikes (yes, we get good exposure for that). We sponsor lots of events for runners and riders (yes, we get good exposure for that, too). We repair and donate a lot of bikes to foster kids as well as people at halfway houses and shelters, so that they can have a reliable means to get to work (we get no exposure for that, we just feel it’s the right thing to do).

Is any system perfect? Of course not. I’ve been in a lot of shops on my travels who look at my legs before deciding to invest serious time in me (and I tend not to stay in those types of shops for long even though my shaved legs tend to gain me admission). I don’t believe I should rely on shop mechanics because I won’t have them around when I break a spoke or drop a chain on a brevet and I should know how to do my own maintenance. I have the relative luxury of having enough disposable income to be able to support local businesses, and I do. Is the LBS a preference? Absolutely. It is certainly my preference, and would be (and has been) even if I weren’t employed at one.

P.S. If you DO work at a bike shop and you ARE arrogant and dismissive of anyone not riding a plastic fantastic and wearing matching team kit you’re inhabiting the wrong headspace. Stop making us all look bad!

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