Sunday, January 28, 2018

Three In One

After my last post, I still didn’t quite get off to a great start with winter training, as I came down with some weird flu thing that took me out for a few days almost immediately after posting. However, I’m feeling much better now, my RipRow finally arrived on Friday, and I got to go on an awesome, sorta brutal-for-January, 5+ hour ride with new friends on new trails yesterday. So I’m very tired and very sore, but now I’m feeling like I’m on track for a great year, even if I started a month late.

I’ve been mulling over a few things that I’ve read in the past couple of months, and I’d like to share them now. This will essentially be three different short posts that are vaguely related, but I thought I’d put them all out at once.

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Saturday's Ride


“The feeling wasn’t always shiny and happy – sometimes it was dark and obsessive, and sometimes it was like the quiet, abiding love you see in old married couples.” – Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code

I saved this quote back in November, when I was writing about my theory of “Talent divided by Forks Given equals Happiness”. I covered the Talent and the Forks, but I never quite got to the happiness. I’m not really sure how much there is to say beyond the quote above. The Happiness in my equation is the first part of the quote, the shiny, new happiness that comes with beginners luck or exceeding your own expectations without really trying that hard. It’s the easy happiness that’s sometimes easy to be jealous of when you’ve given too many forks.

I’ve realized that there’s also a different kind of happiness that comes from giving the forks year after year until it’s just part of you, and don’t know what you’d be without it. And your realize that all of the forks you gave do pay off, because you’re better than you were ten years ago, and even one year ago, and you do things now that you never imagined you could. For the last couple of years, I’ve really been trying consciously be more proud of how far I’ve come in cycling and the success that I have had, regardless of how it stacks up to more “talented” people.

It’s not always easy, because part of being in a competitive sport is wanting to observe the best people so that you understand what “good” actually is. I guess the key is to be able to ask, “What can I do to be more like them?” without letting it turn into, “Oh god, I’ll never be like them, so I might as well give up.”


“Grit is that mix of passion, perseverance, and self-discipline that keeps us moving forward in spite of obstacles. It's not flashy, and that's precisely the point. In a world in which we're frequently distracted by sparkly displays of skill, grit makes the difference in the long run.” – Daniel Coyle, The Little Book of Talent

After reading The Talent Code in November, I decided to read the follow-up, “The Little Book of Talent”. It was full of great tips for skill development that I was eager to implement. However, the one on cultivating grit really made me think. It suggested taking the Grit Survey, located here, and the questions it held surprised me.

Although my years of persistence in cycling would indicate that I do possess some amount of grit, I also know that I sometimes absolutely suck at not giving up in the face of obstacles (see basically the whole last month). The thing that really surprised me was how many of the questions on the survey had to do with changing interests and goals. While not a lot of people can say that they have competed in mountain biking in some shape or form for twelve summers in a row, I have definitely bounced around with the type of event and goals that have interested me.

I actually realized the other day that I needed to update the bio on this blog, as my cat situation had changed, then realized that my current phase as an amateur bike racer had changed, as well. The rocks of Rothrock are less of a concern for me these days, although I don’t know if I ever actually befriended them. Now the ones that concern my most are the ones on Wildcat and Old Laurel, and my greatest desire is to smoothly fly over them without really seeing them. I’m not sure if my changing interests in regard to the many sub-disciplines of cycling means I have less grit, but I think it has made me “happier”, because part of my progress has been narrowing the focus of where both my enjoyment and proficiency lies.

Stop Saying “______ is dead.”

Finally, when I read the post above a few weeks ago, it really tied all of this together. I actually don’t know if I’ve ever said that any cycling discipline is dead, despite having lost interest in many. Maybe I already got the point of the article, which was that just because something was no longer my thing, that didn’t mean that it suddenly sucked for everyone else. I think I have said that peak cyclocross has passed, because I read and believed an article last year that said that, but it’s definitely not dead. It’s funny, because I can actually look back and remember “peak ____” for many of disciplines in which I’ve dabbled. They’re all still alive and have reach their appropriate equilibrium.

I think that road, XC, and downhill mountain bike racing all had their heydays prior to the purchase of my first bike. XC will always be there, because for many parts of the country, it’s the only mountain bike racing that exists, and it’s certainly the easiest in which to start. Downhill seems to be regaining popularity due to Redbull TV, but participation will always be limited to those who have regular access to lift-assisted bike parks.

I remember peak 24-hour race and peak stage race in the earlier days of my mountain biking career, but of which plenty of people still do, but being such large investments of time, money, and training, the limited number of regular participants couldn’t sustain the large number events of those types that popped up for a couple of years.

Peak fat bike was a fun time a couple of years ago, but the sport had the unfortunate luck of reaching the top of its popularity during a particularly warm winter. Specialized may have pulled the Hellga from it’s line, but fat biking will continue to be a staple in places where people can count on consistent, groomed snow. For me, it’s still a great way to ride very slowly with bar mitts when it’s especially cold out.

Peak gravel is interesting, because although the American Ultracross Series actually died a couple of years ago, the fact that Dirty Kanza just implemented a lottery system this year means that the number of people wanting to race gravel is still growing. Perhaps “ultracross” wasn’t the best branding, and most of the races of the series still exist. They are still filled by regionally competitors who just aren’t into it enough to travel all over the country for a series title, and at 50-70 miles, they are a great gateway for people wanting to work their way up to bigger challenges like Dirty Kanza.
Now I find myself riding the wave to peak enduro. When will it happen? Will I stick around when it stops being cool? I have no idea, but don’t worry, I’ll never try to tell anyone it’s dead.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shall We Begin?

I had thought I would conclude my “T/F=H” series with a post of the happiness part of the equation, but I wasn’t really sure what to say. Instead, I will likely do a post on some of the interesting things I learned from reading “The Little Book of Talent”, which was the follow-up to the “The Talent Code”. One interesting subject that it brought up was grit, which I would like to explore. Perhaps I can even find a connection between grit and happiness. However, before I move on to those topics, I feel like I need to catch up a bit on recent events, where I’ll admit that I fell short on both.

As much as winter sucks for cyclists, I typically come into January with great hope for the coming year and feeling especially motivated to withstand the suckiness of winter. During November and December, I expected that to be true this year, as well, and looked forward to the conclusion of holiday travel and the beginning of 2018. We moved into our house in December, and I was excited to have a finished basement that I actually liked working out in, instead of having my bike and trainer taking up space in our small living room.

After months of scheming, dreaming, and saving money, I was able to pre-order a RipRow at the beginning of November, and at the time, the expected delivery date was “before Christmas”. Although that already felt like a long wait, at least I would be ready to hit the ground running (or rowing) in January and start getting ready for spring. Then the “before Christmas” delivery date slipped to “early January” to “next week” and another “next week” before any of the units would ship. Now I’m still waiting for them to assemble and box number 49, plus however long it actually takes to get here from Colorado. That puts me a good month past “before Christmas” before I get to use it.

I was so excited about this piece of equipment, and it was huge motivator for me going into winter. We don’t have access to any pump tracks near State College, nor any jumps or drops, so beyond just physical conditioning, I hoped that it would also improve my riding skills. I was hoping it would be a way for to me to accumulate the necessary “reaches and reps” (shout out to The Little Book of Talent”) in a safe and efficient manner so that I could get more out of my once or twice a month days at the bike park. I was also looking forward to the “300 pound dead lift” highest resistance setting with the hope that I could quit the gym and start getting my strength training at home in my nice basement.

It might sound stupid, but the continued shipping delays have turned my motivator into a de-motivator. After the way I had imagined my January training, going to regular old loud and overcrowded gym and doing regular old trainer workouts seem even more unpleasant than they normally would.  Although intellectually I know I need to keep doing the work that I can do, I find it much harder to do regular winter training this year, and so far this is probably my worst January since I started 2015 off with a two-week respiratory infection and tore a rib muscle from coughing too hard.

Besides the direct training motivators and de-motivators, I was also really thrown off by the very sudden loss of 14-year-old cat Mushu on January 8th. Although I knew she was getting older and that I would have to say goodbye to her someday, I had no idea it would be this soon. She seemed so happy since moving to the new house, where she had a lot more room to run around and go up and down stairs, which was always one of her favorite things. She was more active than she had been in a long time, such that I almost wonder if she died of too much fun. Technically, it was a blood clot that cut off circulation to her backs legs, taking her from seemingly fine and normal to unable to walk in under a half an hour. We rushed her to the vet, but the vet said that the “prognosis was extremely grave” and recommended we have to put to sleep. It was truly awful having to say to goodbye to my beloved friend so suddenly on what I had started as a normal Monday morning. I always knew she was a once-in-lifetime kind of cat, and that I was so lucky to have had her as my first pet.

I know that I’ll never find another quite like her, but after years of waiting to own our own home and have as many pets we wanted, we had already started to looking to expand our family. We had planned to get a dog, but it felt like too much to put on Clemmie and Mushu so soon after moving houses. However, I already had gotten pretty used to scrolling through the Petfinder app, and when Mu passed, it just felt too weird being a single-cat household. Within a couple of days, I had located a pair of four-month-old long-haired littermates in Zanesville, OH, which Frank graciously went to pick up on his day off from teaching Friday. Ice and snow fell Friday night and the temperatures barely cracked 20 all weekend, so we closed out our week spending a couple of days shut in with some adorable orange and white babies. I’m looking forward to another 14 (or more) years with Shiny Fluffy Tutu (girl) and and Dashing Happy Feet (boy), whose names were given to them by their 5-year-old foster sister and we decided to not to change when we adopted them. Clemmie is still pretty cranky about the whole situation, but she is starting to adjust.

How can anyone be expected to accomplish anything with these cute faces on their couch?

So we’re now nearly three weeks into the new year, and I haven’t accomplished much training-wise. I’m still nervous and frustrated and burnt out and grieving and also a little paralyzed by cute. I’m trying really hard to get going and make it a great year for bikes. I’m really excited about returning to the West Virginia Enduro Series again this year, as well as pushing my boundaries a bit further by doing a couple of big two-day races at the USAC national championship in Snowshoe and the newly-announced EWS Continental Series race in Burke, VT in September. It’s time I stopped getting bogged down by things beyond my control and got moving with the things that I can. I said I wouldn’t bore you this year with posts about how many planned trainer workouts that I actually did this winter, but it might be good for me check back in next week. Between now and then, I hope to not only find some intelligent things to say about grit, but also muster some of it.