Friday, July 29, 2011

We Will Not Be Diplomatic.

I've never known a spring like the springs I spent in Canada. All day I've been blasting these two Canadian bands in anticipation of the warmth to come.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nothing But The Best For You.

It will come as no surprise to some of you to hear that when I was in Year 12 I studied Drama. The subject at school, not the other kind. Drama being Drama, there was a final group performance instead of a final exam. Coming up to the spring school holidays our group was a bit behind schedule, so our teacher gave us the keys to the theaterette and let us practice over the two week break.

Around that time I was spending a lot of nights out at a friend's place in Hall's Gap, mostly because they had a spare room and I liked it out there in the Grampians. In the evenings I'd get the fire going, have dinner with their family, then head into that spare room and write out the performance. In the crisp spring mornings I'd start walking into town, my thumb pointed in towards Stawell. I was pretty well known back then, so it never took me long to score a lift. I'd meet the rest of my group at school, we'd rehearse the scenes I'd written the night before, and then, when the day was done, I'd hitch back out to the mountains.

When I think back to 1997 I remember a lot of angst, a lot of bad poetry and a lot of disasterous attempts to figure stuff out. Most of the memories, if not horrible, aren't particularly pleasant, a highlights reel of blunders and awkwardness. But I also remember this one moment: Walking past the Grampians Motel, waiting for a car to come past and pick me up. The sun was out, and for the first time in a while there was a bit of heat to it. I had my backpack on my back, and inside it were the scenes that were gradually turning into a play. I was probably singing, possibly to myself, but more likely out loud. I remember thinking to myself that other than this performance I had nothing else in the world to worry about. That I was completely free to pour everything I had into what we were creating. It was a pretty good feeling.

I don't know if you've noticed, but over the past few months this blog has been a bit of a bummer. I've been sick, unable to ride my bike, and more than a bit depressed about it. I've had a mountain of bloodtests, specialist visits and medical bills. It ain't been a great time. But today I've been feeling a bit better. My resting heart rate is back down and my weight is back up. I've had consistent energy throughout the day, and more importantly, the thought of riding my bike doesn't fill me with dread. I've seen enough false dawns since April to not get too excited, but it's always nice to have a decent day.

And then, out of the blue, I receive an email from a bloke whose opinions I respect more than most. This email outlines his theory about peak performance: that if you want to be really fucking good at something, there's only enough room in life for that thing, plus one other thing. No more.

"It's not just about time," he writes, "It's about all the other energies you have to expend as well.

"Cyclist, partner, teacher, friend, mentor, race promoter, vegan... that's a lot of things to channel your energy towards...

"And I'd wager that in all of those pursuits, you do a damn sight better than pretty much anyone. Sure, you might get dropped every now and then, or have guys beat you that you used to be able to smash - but how important is that in the grand scheme of things?"

The email hits me in a way that I'm not sure it was supposed to. I read through it a bunch of times before replying.

"I've said for a while now that I'm going to concentrate on riding my bike until I'm 35 - only three years away now - and then after that start doing other stuff, like getting involved with the club and starting a family. I guess, though, that I need to rethink what "concentrating on riding my bike" means. I got a short attention span, and it's easy for me to get distracted by plans that could probably wait until after I've hung it up. You're right, though - each of those plans means a little less energy for riding.

"Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, getting dropped in a club race doesn't matter. But you know how the first time you heard Minor Threat you knew that everything was just a little bit different? All of a sudden you knew that there was more out there than just the little world you knew before, and you wanted to move out into that bigger world, explore that bigger world until you just couldn't any more. That's what riding a bike is like for me. I'm late to the game, so I know that I won't be able to take it all the way. But there's nothing I want more than to see how much further I can go.

"Fuck man, it's been a long time since I've been this earnest, or spoken this openly about it. Thanks for making me."

It was a pretty good day.

Loss Could Weigh.

The Devil's Taking Names.

I can barely stand to look at my bike at the moment. I can't imagine a time when I'll be as fit and as fast as I was this summer. It's denting my pride as much as my health - I see dudes I used to relish beating and doubt that I'll ever be able to even compete on their level again. Right now, whenever I think about turning the pedals the same fatigue creeps into my legs. I've had mental angst before, by the truckload, and know that it only takes one significant change to knock that world off it's self-obsessing axis. So I'm starting to make deals with my body, speculating that doing something different will trick them into shaking off the lethargy that has plagued me since Eastertime. It doesn't work. Nothing works. I'm going back to bed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It Hurts Instead.

Lest occasional visitors think it's all doom and gloom over here, I'll again throw in another anecdote that reassures both the reader and me. A lot of the notes on this blog are about how much I suck, because, well, it's funnier that way. But sometimes I don't suck. Like the other day, when I took a bunch of kids up to the Latrobe Uni Gym for a sports class. The kids were on the bikes, and were mucking around a bit, seeing what cadences they could hit. That's the kind of mucking around I can really get behind, so I let them at it. "130!" one of them yelled. "142!" came the call from across the room. Now, I knew I couldn't let this stand. So, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I sat down on one of the exercise bikes. Two minutes warm-up and I hit it. With no speed training whatsoever in the last three months, no track racing, nothing at all to ensure the legs could still move quick, the numbers still came up in my favour. "Check it, children!" I yelled, "216!"

There was a pause.

Then one of them looked at me disdainfully and said, "Yeah, but you looked stupid."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

That's The Way The Whole Thing Ends.

On one hand I'm happy to report that the lump in my neck is a weird enlarged gland, rather than a lymphoma. This continues my long history of having strange and occasionally-worrying deformed organs which are thankfully, if adverb heavy, non-cancerous. This is, of course, good news. But on the other hand, it leaves a number of questions unanswered.

I went and saw a fatigue specialist the other day, and talked to him about pinball. Apparently it's not normal for two games of pinball to result in four days of crippling DOMS, no matter how hard you press the buttons. He's put me on a pretty severe data collection regime, one that will no doubt necessitate me getting some Excel lessons from this guy. He also mentioned that my diet may not contain enough fat. In an attempt to counter this, I went to La Panella afterwards and ate the hell out of a fucking pie. It was pretty good.

Other than eating pies, I'm not really sure what to do right now. My next appointment with the specialist is in four weeks. I got a heap of esoteric blood tests to have before then, some of which will take three weeks to come back. Every time I train hard it seems to set my health back another couple of weeks. I've been off the bike for the last six days, and have had no inclination to hit the road again in that time. I still have a program - it's stuck up there on the wall in the end room, mocking me - but I'm ignoring it for the time being. It ain't easy. My mood ain't great, and my motivation is even worse.

So, in an attempt to deal with the issue in a way that doesn't involve copious amounts of pastry consumption, I'm doing what I usually do - going back to basics. Sean the Man and I are going to head out to Kinglake tomorrow, up the back way, via Yarra Glen. It's a loop I used to do all the time back in 2008, when I was an E-Grade rookie trying to get my fitness up. We're going to stop and eat whenever we feel like it, enjoy the scenery, and not push ourselves too hard at any point. It's not really a plan, but it's something.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Down Along The Dixie Line.

My entire cycling life I've struggled with back pain. I've been to chiropractors, osteopaths, massage therapists, bike fit specialists, everyone imaginable. And yet there it is, always flaring up just as I start to put the pressure down. It doesn't stop me from doing so, but it's pretty uncomfortable.

On Monday I mentioned it to my trainer at the gym, Peter. He asked me a few questions about when it occurs, and then suggested the problem wasn't in my back itself, but rather in my pedaling technique. In his typically disdainful tone he told me, "Pedaling isn't about pushing down, Brendan. It's a circular motion. Drag your feet and it will engage your glutes and hamstrings, taking the pressure off your hips and back."

Tuesday and Thursday of this week I had big ring hill repeats to do - or, as I like to call them, Grinders. In the past I've had to lay down for an hour or so afterwards, just to get my back right again. But on neither day was this the case. The low cadence work gave me the chance to really concentrate on my action, and with each revolution I reminded myself to drag the ball of my foot across the bottom of the pedal stroke. And while my back still flared up a little bit, the pain was dramatically lessened. As an added bonus, Pete's way seemed a little more efficient - certainly the numbers seemed better when I was doing things his way.

I get a bit excited sometimes, and start thinking that this new thing I've discovered is going to make me a much better cyclist. Sometimes my natural cynicism gets overwhelmed by my desire to succeed at this ridiculous pastime. I'm pretty sure that pedalling better isn't going to win me any races, but if it can stop my back from hurting while I'm out climbing hills, well, that's a win in itself.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Two Charlies: Manson And Bronson.

Sweet baby Jesus, I've been sucking so much lately that I'd almost forgotten what it feels like to come into a finishing straight thinking, "Hey, I could win this motherfucker!" I mean, I'm out of practice, so of course I didn't win out at Footscray yesterday, but to finish a race at the pointy end - and, further to that, to be in with a chance of winning - does a lot to banish any doubts. Coming home fifth is like someone whispering in your ear, and those sweet nothings all sound like: Keep at it son. You're on the right track.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Two Kinds Of Love.

Yesterday was my birthday. I celebrated by doing six laps of Humevale in the big ring. Welcome to strength endurance training, Mr 32-year-old! Today I woke up and did an hour on the ergo. That felt ok, but when I rolled out this evening nothing else did. I guess that's how long it takes muscle fatigue to really set in. In a couple of minutes I'm going to call my coach and confess something - it has taken him ten months, but today I was not able to complete one of his sessions. Like most coaches, he's a little sadistic. He'll be happy to hear it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

This Great Old Game.

You know, I probably pulled out of today's race earlier than I needed to. But at 23ks I had a little vom in my mouth. At 30ks my back started to hurt. At 35ks we rounded a corner and I figured there was no point sprinting to get back in the working bunch. I sat up for a while until the three minute group came through. They weren't working at all. A couple of minutes later I learned why - the scratch group were on us, and they were hammering. That this occurred just as we hit the lumpy part of the course didn't help. At 50ks I was off the back, and prepared myself to ride the final 40ks home all by myself.

But then I started seeing riders standing on the side of the road. Eventually I saw one that I knew. "Everything ok?" I asked her, "Yeah," she replied, "I'm just waiting for the sag wagon"
"Whoa! There's a sag wagon?"
"Yeah, of course!"

I kept riding, but didn't put quite so much pressure on the pedals. Eventually the van pulled up behind me. It was pretty full in there. The driver seemed a bit concerned. "Hey, you guys wanna head straight back to the finish?" He asked. There was a silence. Everyone knew it was the wrong thing to do, but the lack of response told me everyone wanted it. And I'm not ashamed to say I was the one to crack first. "Yeah, that sounds pretty good," I said, and the others mumbled agreement. The driver gunned it through the backroads and I was changed and packed up before the winner crossed the line.

Friday, July 1, 2011

We Dance To All The Wrong Songs.

I like long songs. I'm a fan of the slow burn, the gradual build, the tension and release, the repetition. And there, in a nutshell, is road racing. I'm going to pour some sugar on my bars this morning, because if I'm going to spend the day chewing them, they may as well be palatable. I'll let you know how it goes.