Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Less than a dream

This winter I decided I was going to get semi-serious about racing mountain bikes. So much so that I decided to read Joe Friel's Mountain Bike Training Bible. So I hammered through it, and completely ignored the huge training grids he had created for the reader to fill out so that they would have an idea of the course of the upcoming season. The blanks to fill in consisted of things like ride lengths and intensities, weekly hours alotted to training, and races prioritized by letter grades.

Sorry, Mr. Friel, but I just don't roll like that. I work in a bike shop and those weeks you want me on the bike for 20 hours, I am going to be working 50. I know from previous experience that more than a couple of consecutive weeks of that will lead to burnout and/or illness, both of which I wanted terribly to avoid this summer. This is not to say that the book was a let down by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, one paragraph in particular set the tone for my entire season. At the beginning of 2008, a few weeks into a tobacco detox, I was all too happy to talk about my plans to destroy the expert field, but even I wasn't sure whether or not I was joking. I was confident in my potential but not my abilities. I did a couple of races and then flamed out, getting sick a month into the season and essentially shutting it down in early June. But I did a few cyclocross races in the fall and a late season MTB event that had me feeling good about my riding and reading this book feeling introspective when I came upon this:

"It's good to think big at this stage, but don't confuse goals with dreams. Athletes often dream about what they want to accomplish-a win at nationals, turning pro or some other lofty vision. That's good for your future in the sport. Tall dreams keep us going and help give all the hours spent riding a greater meaning. Everyone needs dreams, and they can become realities given enough smart and hard training. But dreams aren't goals. Dreams are so big that they take longer than one season to accomplish. If it's far fetched to believe your wish can be achieved this season, it's not a goal but rather a dream." (pg 86)

It really struck me at this point, that I had never really been sure enough of my abilities (in either a positive or negative way) to try to set REASONABLE and ATTAINABLE racing goals. I would always think of where I could or should be in the standings, literally visualizing my name at the top of the expert results (often times while smoking cigarettes on my porch) without having any concept of how fast I would need to ride to win a race, let alone how long it would take me to get that fast. So my dreams remained dreams, and every race result was a relative success and failure. Until I took Friel's advice, and carefully set goals and put them in writing. The following is from an email dated Jan. 7 and was preceded by the paragraph I just quoted above:

Mr. Friel calls for a few major goals to be set according to the following principles:
1)The goal must be measurable
2)The goal must be under your control
3)The goal must stretch you
4)The goal should be stated in the positive

At this point I should probably set a few goals for you now, according to these principles, and in order of my biggest races, as the author suggests.

1) Crank the Sheild. If all goes to plan, and I race the Two Person category with Matt Prosser on a singlespeed my goals are as follows:
(Assuming a similar level of competition in 09 all the following statements should be true)
-Have a time faster than any SS solo competitor
-Have a time competitive with winner in 2-person under 80
-Have a time within the top 10 solo male
-All of the above equate to under a 20% time gap on the leaders, but I would be ecstatic with under 15%
-Understand that either myself or my partner WILL be a limiting factor for some or all of the race, and realize that racing within those constraints will probably be our greatest challenge/victory. Exploit the other's strengths and camouflage their weaknesses.

2) Ontario cup overall. Last season I had a serious truancy problem. I would like to rectify that, but especially after 2008 I feel like attending all 7 may be a stretch. So I would like to attend 5 ocup races, and (finally) race both SS and expert in 2 of those races. I will not upgrade to Elite unless forced. I would like to receive at least 95 upgrade points at three Ocups (SS or Expert) that I finish, and over 90 at the rest. Without any races to drop I would like to end up with >80 ocup points by the end of the season assuming 5 finishes.

3) There is not one race to me that stands out as an important third, not enough to set a goal, so I will choose the HH Canada Cup. I will commit NOW to racing SS and Expert at this specific event (and Buckwallow too, I guess, nothing else really makes sense). This race also provides a great opportunity as a "peak", to have myself race through the first two Ocups without expecting a top result, and seeing what effect this may have on my psyche/fitness. Hopefully my overall feeling/fatigue levels should give me an idea of how hard to go before CTS.

Well, off the bat, forget about #3. I realized pretty quickly after 2 expert races that I was in no shape or position to race 2 Ontario Cup races within hours of each other. This was reinforced at Hardwood (where I planned to do it) when Peter Glassford, the only other guy to ever attempt the feat (and WAY fitter than myself) talked about puking his guts out when he attempted the double header in 2007. (as an aside, right after he related this story to me, I retorted with "Yeah, I know Glassford did both races a couple of years ago" to which he responded "I am Peter Glassford", causing some moderate embarassment to myself)

But let me break down #1, Crank the Shield here, because it is pretty freaky:
-Have a time faster than any SS solo competitor
Matt and I were 1m35s (over 12.5 hours) ahead of SS winner Jamie Davies at the end of CTS. He had some bike trouble day 1 that cost him time but I will take it!
-Have a time competitive with winner in 2-person under 80
Was an hour back competitive? I don't know, but we were in close range on day 3 so I will give us a conditional pass.
-Have a time within the top 10 solo male
There were precisely 9 solo men with a time faster than ours.
-All of the above equate to under a 20% time gap on the leaders, but I would be ecstatic with under 15%
We actually made it within 10%, but the level of competition, no offense to the winners, was not as fast as the previous year. That being said, I still think we would have been close to the 15% mark had the top guns showed up.
-Understand that either myself or my partner may WILL be a limiting factor for some or all of the race, and realize that racing within those constraints will probably be our greatest challenge/victory. Exploit the other's strengths and camouflage their weaknesses.
This one we played perfectly. We never lost patience with each other, always tried to keep the other calm, and knew when to work and when to rest, and managed to use a course over unknown terrain to our advantage. This race went exactly as scripted.

As for #2, the Ontario Cup season:

-I would like to attend 5 ocup races
I actually made it to 6!
-race both SS and expert in 2 of those races
Fail, but I already justified that one
-I will not upgrade to Elite unless forced
That wasn't hard
-I would like to receive at least 95 upgrade points at three Ocups (SS or Expert) that I finish, and over 90 at the rest
I never hit 95, but was over 90 at 4 of the 6 races, and I believe that even the expert race winner only broke 95 at 2 of the 7 races. Semi-pass.
-Without any races to drop I would like to end up with over 80 ocup points by the end of the season assuming 5 finishes
This is my favourite. With a drop (best 5/6) I had 97 points. Assuming I only had 5 races and omitting one of my two 2nd place results, I have 90 points. It would appear that I exceeded my goal. BUT, if you adjust for the 3 racers who upgraded mid-season (i.e. assume they would have beat me in expert class, because they would have) those 90 points turn to 79, and the 97 points turn into 83. Right on the money.

So what does it all mean? It means that because I was for once totally honest with myself about what I really wanted out of this race season in terms of results, I can look back and consider it a success, rather than wondering what could have been. And I have another 3 months before considering my goals for next season, when I'll be aiming my sights a little higher and hoping for a similar level of accuracy.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A perfect storm

I have been putting a fair amount of effort into avoiding the news for the past few days. I was moderately interested in the facts emerging in the Sheppard case that I will henceforth refer to as "The Shitstorm". But halfway through the day on Tuesday, when a reporter called my work looking for my coworker who had written something on facebook to the effect of "RIP Al", I realized that the media circus was just that, and that nothing good was going to come of reading any articles whose contents were researched with only slightly more diligence than the ignorant reader comments that inevitably follow.

The courier was drunk.

Bryant is an asshole.

I couldn't really give a fuck.

God damn it, why couldn't it have been a 60 year-old commuter and a middle aged woman who killed him? You know, like that guy who was doored into traffic last year with little or no fanfare? Or a 15 year-old kid and an old chinese lady, like the woman killed by the sidewalk cyclist? Why couldn't both parties involved just be non-descript residents of the city of Toronto, so that The Shitstorm could remain in some way, shape or form about the events that transpired instead of sensationalized headlines to sell papers and polarize the community?

Could The Shitstorm be any more perfect, really? Rich, powerful, public figure driving a car vs. broke, marginalized, slave-wage-earner riding a bike, and for this reason we will forever more be arguing who the real victim was. This is not about cyclists and drivers. This is not about the proletariat and the bourgoisie. This is not about the celebrity and the anonymous. This is about the rules of engagement.

And unlike fight club, there is only one rule. There are no rules.

Urban cyclists, especially courier types (I include myself under this umbrella), seem to pride themselves on their ability to ride defensively and expect the unexpected, because cars do not behave in a predictable manner. However the last statement is not entirely accurate because cars do not behave in any manner at all, it is their human pilots that are unpredictable. And to think that a driver (or cyclist for that matter) will behave any more predictably or rationally when engaged in an argument is a dangerous proposition indeed.

Perhaps I have less sympathy for Sheppard than the average cyclist, having found myself being beaten by a group of five or so men two months ago, half a block from the spot where he was killed, as a result of my own need to escalate an argument with a jaywalking pedestrian. I fucked with the wrong guy, and I paid for it.

And I cannot help but think that Sheppard's last thought, having no idea who Michael Bryant was, the position of power he held, or the ease with which he will likely escape any consequence for his actions, was much the same: I fucked with the wrong guy.

So please, let's just not fuck with each other at all. It isn't worth it. That Michael Douglas Falling Down glamourized hollywood confrontation you have in your head where you show the motorist who's boss isn't going to happen (in real life fights are a lot less noisy and a lot more painful). And if it does, and ends in your favour, you are probably going to jail.

So let it go.

Please just let it go.