Junk miles for club racers

11 Jan

Ahhhhh, junk miles – the recreational bike racer’s worst enemy.

Wasted time, ineffective training, forced social interactions, and the dreaded possibility of having to wait on the side of the road for someone in the group to fix a flat. For those unfamiliar with the term, junk miles consist of a ride that is too hard to be considered recovery, and yet not hard enough to stimulate increased fitness (I got this definition from Coach Levi). 

The definition of junk miles seems to mirror pretty much every single club ride I’ve ever been on. 

I’m assuming that most of my readers aren’t professional bike racers (this means people who get paid a salary to race their bikes) This post is about the value of junk miles for club-level racers or recreational riders competing in sportives.

My view is that junk miles are some of the most valuable miles you can put in on your bike.

When it comes to threshold training rides in the pissing rain I’m as serious as they get, so why would I say something so insane? Allow me to explain myself…

Junk miles are fun. I’m convinced that most recreational and club-level racers came to cycling because it seemed like a fun thing to do. (If you came to cycling because you were looking forward to the pain of racing around a monotonous loop on a deserted rural road in the pissing rain, then this article is not for you.) So, assuming that you enjoy cycling, then junk miles are a great way to get enjoyment out of cycling. 

They also round out your time on the bike. This is similar to a commonly used anecdote about regrets at the end of our lives. It goes something like this:

It is unlikely that we will be on our death beds wishing we had spent more time in the office or incessantly tidying our living rooms. More likely, we will value the time that we spent with our families and friends or working on hobbies that we are passionate about. We might even have some regret about not doing more of some of these things. 

Think of junk miles as the ‘family/friends/hobbies’ bucket and high-intensity interval training in the rain as the ‘late nights in the office/incessant tidying’ bucket. Both buckets are important for recreational racers, but most of us could benefit from a bit / a lot more fun and a bit / a lot less work. 

The other reason that junk miles are so valuable is that they often involve other people. Coffee shop or Donut rides (which are made up of 100% junk miles) allow you to interact socially with your fellow riders.

This happens both on and off the bike.

If you are doing threshold or VO2 Max intervals in a group training session, it is extremely difficult to have a conversation with the person next to you. If you’re doing these intervals correctly, you should be breathing extremely hard and possibly throwing up in your mouth a little. This makes for an awkward dialogue. 

junk mile rides, on the other hand, make it much easier to interact with other riders on the bike because you are going at a reasonable pace and possibly breathing through your nose, at least partially. This is a great opportunity to find out a little more about the people who you ride with or even learn a thing or two about something aside from your heart rate, speed and average wattage.

I’ve only met a few local racers who could use Neil Browne’s ‘A Pro’s Guide to Hooking Up‘, but most of us could benefit from a little more social interaction with our fellow riders.

The other great feature of a junk mile-laden ride is that it usually involves a stop at a coffee shop or donut shop (ideally both). This provides yet another opportunity for rich social interaction (possibly about something aside from that Strava segment that you just totally crushed). But to what end?

Beyond the simple joys of human interaction, this is probably the most effective networking opportunity that I have ever discovered. In the past 10 years, I have made exactly zero professional connections during a race or training ride and more than 100 professional connections on so-called junk mile rides. 

Let’s face it, zero percent us are going to ride in the Tour and most of us are unlikely to even hit the podium at a local race. But most of us are going to continue to rely on our professional / social networks for a the rest of our lives. Consider this: every single professional relationship that you have right now started with small talk. Why not do this on the bike or at the coffee shop?

So you can see that there is a contrast between the lack of importance of our amateur racing careers compared to the continued importance of things like fun, social interactions, and professional networking.

So maybe those solo, anaerobic threshold training rides in the pouring rain are the real junk miles here?

With racing season in the Lower Mainland just seven weeks away, make a solid effort to put in a few more junk miles this year!

First and final word on doping / lying / swindling in cycling

6 Jan

Pinner_TDDLance appears to be on the verge of a full-blown doping confession that looks eerily similar to an article that The Onion ran back in 2010. I have been trying to ignore most of the fanfare and speculation since the whole EPO-HGH sweater started to unravel this summer. Now that the end of the charade appears to finally be here, I’m taking the chance to share a viewpoint that did not get much coverage:

“Consider. In the dirty age of cycling, those who testified didn’t need to dope to be pro. They doped to make more money/success.”

These were the contents of a tweet sent out by Andrew Pinfold in October of 2012. (I know, I’m blogging about a tweet). I say Amen, Mr. Pinfold.

Andrew had an amazing, professional, clean racing career as the former Canadian Crit Champion, and countless podiums at international races (Details on this here). Now he spends his time and efforts supporting youth and professional cycling development in the Lower Mainland – not to mention crushing weekend warriors like myself at local hill climbs.

Based on his talent and work ethic, racing clean for Andrew likely meant missing out on a pretty good chunk of cash, product endorsements and some additional fame. Certainly, there’s no one out there wearing ‘Pinfold Sportswear’ kits or reading books called “Andrew Pinfold’s Core Advantage.’

The issue this brings up for me is fairness. Lance seems to be getting sued by everyone and their dog for lying and cheating. Hopefully some of this money will make its way back to youth development and clean cycling. But what about people like George, Tommy D, Levi, or Canada’s Mike Barry? 6 month bans in the middle of winter seems a little light. What about all the money they stole or the business ventures they run that are founded on unwarranted fame and lies?

This wreaks of moral hazard. The lesson here seems to be that potential cheaters need only worry about the moral consequences and not the financial implications of their actions. This is not likely to dissuade future cheaters since most of the are already morally bankrupt.

I’m grateful for clean athletes from that era who didn’t trade in their moral principles for some extra fame and money and I’m sure they sleep well at night, but it seems a little unjust that the cheaters are still getting rich selling lies, sipping espresso in Girona and hanging out with Patrick Dempsey.

Racing Like a Girl

1 Aug

There was a lot of discussion during BC Superweek about the state of local women’s bike racing. For those that missed it, or have never seen a women’s bike race, the heart of the issue is pretty straightforward. Field sizes are a fraction of the size of men’s fields and there doesn’t appear to be a large pool of eager young athletes coming up through the ranks. Some suggest that because of a lack of role model athletes at the top, fewer young female athletes are choosing the sport. In reality, there are many more factors that influence the choice of these future athletes, many of whom probably don’t even know that they are not choosing cycling.  This is all good fodder for news stories during the one week a year that road cycling gets attention in B.C.

There is a false insinuation that is implied in these stories though. For some reason, one conclusion that seems to be drawn is that women’s bike racing is less competitive or even less challenging than men’s. I beg to differ.

Bike racing with less people is harder not easier. Smaller packs mean fewer places to hide, fewer teammates to help you and a greater chance of getting dropped, alone, and having to chase back on solo. It’s not as if the top racers are missing in local women’s racing either. There are just fewer athletes in the middle to chase them down, again, making racing harder, not easier.

There are also larger discrepancies between team sizes and abilities, with some more dominant teams having 6 or 7 strong racers, while the smaller teams struggle to pull together a couple of athletes. This means that the bigger teams can isolate strong riders on smaller teams and dominate with team tactics and stronger racers. Of course this happens in men’s racing too, but the skill and ability gaps are much smaller.

At the bottom end of the development spectrum, less experienced racers get thrown into the mix to battle it out with strong, experienced racers in women’s racing. While on the men’s side, developing racers get their own categories where the skill gaps are much less pronounced. This is not just physically harder for women, but takes a huge mental toll as well.

Constantly being spit out the back of a small peloton can have the effect of building character and making a racer work harder to stay in the mix. But it can also be demoralizing for a racer at the bottom of the skill spectrum. And because women tend to be less delusional about their own abilities than men, this might cause them to abandon the sport prematurely in the face of poor results, while their male counterparts might engage in willful ignorance, blame their bikes and stick it out.

But all of this conjecture is nearly impossible to understand until you experience it. (No I have not dressed in drag and entered a women’s race, although I have been know to sandbag once or twice.) I have, however, trained and raced with some of these women so I know they are fast and tough as nails. I also had the chance to do a stage race in Comox with no teammates that featured a 10-person criterium and a 20-person road race. Not to mention being attacked repeatedly by a 5-man contingent from another team. This is about as close as I could get to experiencing the joys of local women’s racing. It hurt, it was demoralizing, and it left me feeling gutted. It was probably just my bike making me slow though…

The Hills are Coming…

31 Jul

Superweek is now a distant memory, Spring Series wrapped up a few days a go, and that pretty much does it for the local race calendar. All that’s left of the season are a handful of Tuesday / Thursday Nighters and some great group rides to lead us into the Fall. But wait… a new superweek is emerging in August in the Lower Mainland. It’s called Climbing Week and it’s almost here.

So what is Climbing Week all about? Climbing week consists of two events: The Seymour Challenge on August 12th and the Cypress Challenge on August 18th (paling in comparison to the 9 events at BC Superweek). I have written extensively about both the Seymour and Cypress Challenges before, but these events are pretty straightforward: go as fast as you can up the mountain and raise money for two great charities while you do it.

For local club or casual riders, this is a great chance to test your fitness and challenge yourself to conquer the North Shore hills with hundreds of other cyclists. For more elite racers, these events can be insanely competitive with the likes of Andrew Pinfold and Sebastian Salas often making appearances (and winning).

Cypress is by far the more glamorous event attracting bigger sponsors and bigger crowds than Seymour. The climb itself is also slightly less soul-crushing than Seymour, the food tends to be a little better and the prizes go a little deeper. Seymour, on the other hand, has history and prestige on its side and the organizers have really stepped up their game this year by creating a proper flyer for the event.

If you had to pick one event to take part in, I’d suggest Cypress for less experienced riders or those looking for a better apres celebration. But I strongly recommend stepping up to the plate and trying them both if you can stomach it. Also consider pre-registering online. That way if you decide to bail at the last minute, the charities still get your money and you feel less guilty about the whole thing!

Either way, Climbing Week promises to be a lot of fun this year, but remember the words of Greg Henderson: “(Climbing) is like fighting with a gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the gorilla is tired.”

Have fun out there…

For those of you who don’t like clicking on my links, Here are the details for both events:

Sensational Triple Crown

5 Jul

If you watch this video, you might think that riding the Triple Crown** is a bit like a sunny walk in the park (three parks I guess). And in some ways I suppose it could be if you waited for perfect weather,  took your time, eased gently up the slopes, chatting away to your friends, and taking in the views along the way.

The reality of this ride is generally much different and feels more like trench warfare than anything resembling a walk in the park with some friends. Sunday’s ride definitely fit the bill… so what did it feel like for me?

Anticipation: After being cooped up in the house for three days under rainy June skies, the window of good weather was looking razor thin. A last-minute decision to have a go at the Triple Crown left only a day of waiting, which was just enough to get the mind churning. Who would show up for the ride? Would the weather hold? How much was it going to hurt? Did I have enough to eat? Would I be slower than last time?

Tug-of war: Rarely does the sight of cloudy skies cause me joy, but after days of biblical rain, it was all that was needed to get me out of the house. The ride to the meetup point was like a tug-of-war with myself. Feeling fresh, I wanted to hit the gas, but was held back by the familiar voice of future me. In this case future me was calling to me from halfway up Mt. Seymour reminding me of the pain I was in, urging me to save every ounce of energy I could.

Kinship: Everyone showed up. And then some. A quick scan of the faces revealed that everyone was keen, yet anxious for the big ride ahead. A great dynamic groups of five riders all willing to push themselves and each other up the North Shore slopes.

Steadiness: The initial pace was perfect. Fast enough to wake up the legs, but not yet suicidal, with the exception of the usual Strava segment sprints between stop signs. We moved along together, with good rhythm, completely in sync through the approaches to all three mountains and on the flatter sections in between. The hills themselves were a different sensation altogether.

Self-Defeat: No matter how many times I ride the Triple Crown, each time I hit the first climb, I find myself wondering if I will make it to the end. I have yet to quit, but there is always that lingering feeling that perhaps I will crack, turn around and head for home.

Roller Coaster: The terrain seems to undulate with my mental state. At the base of each climb, when the legs start to get that dull sting my wind wanders to images of my future self suffering halfway up the climb. By the time I hit the halfway point, my mood turns up causing me to crank up the pace. This then throws me back into feelings of self-doubt as I approach the final couple of kilometres, and is followed by feelings of exuberance as I crest the summit, legs screaming.

Mind Reading: Time spent thinking about what other people are thinking. I’m told that this unique ability is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. I spend an inordinate amount of time in this mental state on the Triple Crown quietly pondering… Does everyone else hate me right now for choosing this route? Is Dave starting to get tired? Does Bart think he’s going to blow up before the summit? Is he sandbagging and waiting for the last kilometer? Is he going to drop me… again?

Frigid and Wet: Hammering through the fog over the top of Cypress is a common occurrence, but is a good way to cool down before catapulting back down the mountain… or so I thought. This argument doesn’t hold much water when it starts to rain at the summit. The sensation of water beading up on my shins an wind howling through my thin summer vest, knowing that just a few hundred meters down the road, it was dry and calm.

Uneasy reprieve: There is a brief moment about halfway down the first summit when my legs have stopped screaming and I forget that there are still two mountains to go. This is never as sweet as the final descent, as it is quickly followed up with the reminder of what’s to come.

Will it ever end?: Capilano Road is just a short little climb compared to Cypress and Seymour, yet not matter what order you do the Triple Crown, it is always wedged nicely in the middle. There is that final section between the Cleveland Dam and the Grouse Skyride, that never seems to end. Its deceptive corners and ever-increasing grade always trick me into thinking it’s almost over when it’s not. Hunting for more gears, grinding past the tour buses wondering if it will ever end. It does.

Throw in the Towel: This pretty much sums up the feeling on the transit between Grouse and Seymour. There are so many great places to stop along the way. Head straight down Capilano Road, hang a left and head home. Avoid the Mt. Seymour turnoff and head to Deep Cove for a doughnut. Pack it in at the base of Seymour and enjoy a coffee while gazing up at what might have been.

I’ll take anything: There are not many times when being struck by a car seems like a good alternative to riding. The approach into Mt. Seymour can sometimes elicit this response in me. At least the ditch would be a nice place to rest the legs. OK maybe not a car, but a minor mechanical, small enough to fix at home, but big enough to call off the ascent. A random, low impact sideswipe from a deer running across the road perhaps? Anything.

Suffer in silence: Between the zero KM marker and the Seymour summit, less than a dozen words were spoken on this particular ride. Somewhere around the 6km mark, someone muttered something about having spotted a 3-point buck— possibly a hallucination. I don’t recall who said what, but it was brief and uninspired. Grinding it out, side by side, two riders suffering in silence.

Quitting on the next corner: By the time we hit the first switchback, I had convinced myself that I would not be going to the top that day. Silent prayers for torrential rain or mechanical problems were not being answered. Each km marker I planned my exit and my excuse, but each time I convinced myself to keep the pedals turning over.

Please don’t be accelerating: Each time my riding companion stood up, shifted, or sped up I wondered if he was attacking, accelerating, or just stretching his legs. I was overcome with temporary panic each time this happened. Perhaps he wondered the same thing of me.

Last ditch: The final km on Seymour was completely fogged in which made it impossible to see the finish line. I decided I had enough gas for 30 more seconds. It was not enough and I watch helplessly as I was overtaken just a few metres from the imaginary finish line.

Empathy: Seeing fellow competitors climbing up the hill as you descend is a sweet feeling. Seeing your fellow teammates do this is just painful. It’s like reliving the climb all over again.

Bittersweet: Hitting the bottom of Seymour, and the end of the ride is sweet for about 3 or 4 seconds. There is some satisfaction with having done it, but it is quickly followed by the realization that the personal bar has been met or perhaps exceeded (to be confirmed by Strava of course) and will have to be met once again…

 

 

**Truth be told, we did not ride up the gravel road on the way up to Grouse Mountain like the Rapha guys. Instead, we opted for the Capilano Road summit. To make up for it, we did two things: 1) Saved face by not riding down the skyride, and 2) Rode from Grouse to Seymour via Montroyal Blvd, Braemar / Dempsey and the Seymour Demo Forest (an extra 250m of climbing).

What would Kevin Bacon do?

12 Jun

For anyone out there who gets to work on a couple of skinny pieces of rubber, you likely draw a lot of inspiration from Kevin Bacon’s classic cycling movie Quicksilver. Who wouldn’t want to emulate the story of a stock market whiz-kid turned bike courier who dons a mauve beret and a tapeless handlebar as he hammers recklessly through the streets of San Fran delivering packages?

Ok, maybe just me.

But when I am out there battling the traffic and congestion on my bike, I often find myself in situations where my only logical source of guidance comes from these five words: “What would Kevin Bacon do?”

These words play over and over in my head when approaching an intersection at speed,  navigating through lanes of backed up traffic, or dodging delivery trucks as they make blind right turns. But beyond just trying to emulate the Bacon, it is important to consider the degree of ‘Bacon-ness’ that is being exuded. Surely drafting behind a garbage truck is more Bacon than simply rolling through an unoccupied 4-way stop. So how to categorize such daredevil acts?

With bacon, of course.

The scale is 1 to 5 (strips of bacon) and looks something like this, but in true bacon spirit, it is not strict and is open to interpretation:

 

Rolling through an unoccupied 4-way stop, Getting the jump on a green light.

 

 

Taking a lane on a two-lane road, riding the gutter to pass a line of traffic.

 

Holding onto a parked car’s rearview mirror in order to stay clipped in at a stoplight, riding between two lines of traffic when approaching a stoplight.

 

 

Holding onto a moving car’s rearview through an intersection to save energy, blowing through a busy 4-way stop or stoplight.

 

 

Drafting behind a bus going 75K all the way over the Lions Gate Bridge (I saw a guy do this once)

The Computerless Revolution

29 May

Garmin, Polar, Ant +, Strava, Suunto, SRM, PowerTap, Quarq, Look… the list goes on. All of these companies have created the analytic tools we need to become a destructive force to be reckoned with on a bike. The big question is: does this all really matter? Is it worth dropping two thousand dollars on a Power Tap just to tell us what we already intuitively know? Likely not. A little less data and a lot more hard riding would go a long way for most of us out there.

Sure, all of this technology has provided a steady stream of feedback telling us that our heart rates are too high, threshold power is too low, average speed is too low, or that somebody stole our KOM on Strava. But this feedback is not really necessary to improve results for a weekend warrior or amateur racer. Most of this feedback and data is, at best, reinforcement to ignore that little voice in our head telling us to ease off. At worst it’s a distraction, and gives us boundaries and limits, or is an excuse for not pushing hard, thus reinforcing the idea that we will be perpetually peaking in two months.

Do we really need power meters or heart rate monitors to tell us when to push and when to take it easy? I think most of us know within the first few kilometers of a training ride or a race how much snap we have in the old getaway sticks. When pro cyclists are being interviewed post-race and say things like “I just didn’t have the legs today” they aren’t saying this because their power meters told them so. They are saying it because they just weren’t on and could feel it.

Our minds and bodies are also quite capable of knowing when we are on the rivets or approaching the upper end of our oxygen delivery capacity – and they are equally capable of throwing in the towel at that point or mentally and physically pushing beyond at these pivotal points. These are the points where fitness actually improves, with or without a computer. I doubt Ryder Hesjedal was checking out his power and heart rate data before deciding to launch an attack on his GC contenders on the back of the Passo Pampeago.

Speed, distance, and location? Sure, a GPS would be helpful for riding in unfamiliar territory, but speed and distance are not exactly helpful pieces of data for the most part. Rides are best measured in time and effort, which can be accomplished by looking at the clock when you leave for a ride and when you come back (once roadside chatting and coffee shop times are subtracted). Speed is more a function of terrain, wind and how hard you are pushing and tends to be pretty useless training feedback.

But at the end of the day, it’s the mental toll that all of this data takes on us that is both worrying and unnecessary. Like emails, meeting notifications, and facebook status updates, all of this extraneous information piles up in our heads and keeps us from focusing on what really matters: riding hard, riding often and enjoying it.

If you can stomach it, it might be worth ditching the computer for a while and getting back to basics on the bike. I’m not suggesting we all become luddites and go back to steel frames, toe clips and downtube shifters, but it is worth thinking about where the role of cycling computers begins and ends in the life of an amateur cyclist.