Garybsmith

Trading, Golf, General thoughts. Not necessarily in that order.

Category: Cycling

I came, I saw….I went home!

Last week marked the start of my cycling racing season.  The event was early Saturday morning.  A 5.5 mile uphill time trial.  I had been training for it for the past 6 months.  My equipment was state-of-the-art.  I was in the best shape of my life.

I never made it to the starting line.

Now as background, the race was held in Montague, NJ, just over the Pennsylvania state line.  Since it was nearly a 5 hour drive from Bethesda, and the race kicked off early Saturday morning, I decided to drive up the night before, pre-ride the course, stay overnight, and attack the next morning.

Problems started on the drive up.  Mental problems, that is, as you have to drive right through the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.  Now, I don’t know what it is about that part of PA, but whenever I go there, the weather is the same: “Overcast, not a hint of sun, cold, windy, depressing.”

That immediately put me in a sour mood, as I don’t mind the pain of time-trialing as much as I hate cold, windy days.  They literally suck the life out of you.

In any event, I put my “don’t let it bother you” hat on, and arrived at the race course about an hour later.  I knew the topography, but wasn’t prepared for the exact route: while the last 2.5 miles were through a beautiful state park.  The first 3 miles…..were on a 4 lane highway!

Yes, take your local 4 lane road with cars whizzing by at 50 mph.  Then imagine riding a 12 lb bike on the shoulder for 15 minutes.  Fun, huh?

Now with an uphill time trial in cold weather, you have one of two bad choices.  You can park near the top, warm up, and ride down to the start, getting a little chilly before you go back up.  Or, you can park at the bottom, warmup, start with loose muscles, ride up, then freeze on the way down.  But, at least when you’re freezing, you’re done racing.

For my pre-ride, I chose the latter.  Big mistake.  One, I had to park in a strip mall parking lot, as there aren’t many parking spots along a highway.  And two, I had no place to warmup other than riding back and forth through the Burger King drive-thru.

Even worse, the wind was blowing at 15 mph, making the windchill about 32 degrees.  And oh yeah: still no sun.

But, still wearing my “I’m an idiot hat” I set off amongst the traffic, and finished about 25.5 minutes later.  I was going at about 85% effort, so I estimated my race time might have been just north of 22 minutes.  Most likely a podium position, so I wasn’t unhappy.

On the ride back to the car, though, things really went south.  The wind was even more severe, cars seemed to be going faster, and I was freezing my a** off.  It then occured to me: I was having ZERO fun.  In fact, worse: I was hating it.

Back at the car, I opened my Ipad and checked the forecast for race day.  More of the same….only colder.  The thought of spending a lonely night in a hotel room, then getting up at 5Am the next day to do this doing this all over again was depressing.

It was then I made an executive decision: I’m 54 years old, and if this isn’t any fun, why in the h*ll was I doing it?

I phoned Nancy, though, and if she said, “stick with it, it’ll be fine” I was going to plow through.  To her eternal credit, she said to come home.  Immediately.  She felt the same way: the whole thing was just nuts.

So I started up the car and drove 5 hours back.  Did I have any regrets?  No, not one.  I didn’t quit during the race (that’s something I’ve been tempted to do, but never had the nerve), but just decided that my hobby should at least be a bit enjoyable.  “Persevering,” “being tough,” and all those other athletic bromides could wait for another day.

 

 

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My other life.

I think many amateur athletes — especially Masters athletes — feel the same as I do: our athletic life is like some secret alter-ego.

On the one hand, I’m Father, Husband, trader, and TV talking head.  On the other hand, I’m this dedicated cyclist who takes his training VERY seriously.

Now, I suppose some would say, “why the focus?”  I’m never going to the Olympics or Tour de France, so stop pretending I’m Lance Armstrong!  On the other hand, if I’m going to do something, especially something competitively, I just can’t bear to be average.

So, with cycling (like golf beforehand), I went whole-hog.  I have the latest technology in bikes, buy all the latest gear, and peruse multiple websites and magazines.  But, above all, I have a plan to get better.

Until I started cycling, however, I did NO endurance sports.  And I certainly had no clue as to how to train for an endurance sport.

Therefore, I thought the smart approach was to have someone help me draft a training plan.  It’s not hard to find a cycling coach, and I did: 4 times over, working with and then rejecting each coach because of fit, personality, or lack of improvement.

I finally came upon “Coach Dean” who of all things, specializes in running.  But, I liked his writing and loved his approach.  Best of all, he’s the only coach I’ve seen in ANY sport who’s flexible enough to work WITH me and not act as an all-knowing oracle, whose training plan is handed down in stone tablets.  Coach Dean is found here and even if you do zero endurance work, his advice on mental toughness and other “life lessons” is well worth the read.

http://coachdeanhebert.wordpress.com/

As for my contribution and approach, Dean was nice enough to publish an email I sent to him a few days ago.  You can find that here:

http://coachdeanhebert.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/lessons-on-training-runner-to-cyclist-to-runner/

My first race of the season is late April.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

Is it so hard to reply?

I’ve been reading a lot lately about mental discipline.  Going with the flow.  Not letting little things bother me.  Being “mindful.”

It’s not working.  Little things still bug the sh*t out of me.

Lately, one of those things is the simple request that goes unanswered.  In fact, never even acknowledged.

As an example, I’ve been using Strava.com for the past few months as a way of logging my bike rides.  It’s useful for that, but you can also “follow” people to see what kind of rides they’re doing.  I follow about 5 people, mostly all local folks who ride the same routes as I do.  A few I follow because they’re competitive in my age group and I like to see what kind of workouts they’re doing.

But Strava also allows you to have a discussion, of sorts, with anyone on the site.  You just post a comment on one of their workouts, and they post a comment back.  Easy enough.

Anyway, I was following one fellow who is ranked nationally in my age group.  Being a “big deal” he has about 145 followers.  (to put it in perspective, I have all of 4.)

As someone who specializes in climbing, I’m always curious about weight, and since he was kind enough to disclose to someone else what he weighed, I asked him what his bike weighed.

And I never heard back.  Nothing.  Not “go f*ck off. ”   Not, “none of your business.”  Not even a ball park number.  And it’s not like it’s a state secret.  Most road bikes are going to weigh between 15 and 19lbs.  I was just curious.

Now I don’t know if this fellow thinks he’s a big deal. (I’m guessing he does.)  Or he was too busy. (takes, what, 30 seconds to post a response?)  Or he’s just a jerk.

Whatever the reason, I stopped following him.   But, the whole non-reply thing still bothers me.

Ich bin ein Juicer

I’m not sure exactly how I got here, but here I am: a juicer.  No, not the Roger Clemens/Barry Bonds kind of “juicer”!  Not even the Alberto Contador infected-beef kind of juicer.

Instead, the kind of lunatic who mixes kale, beets, celery, and apples together to make a pretty good-tasting drink.  Seriously.  I am not making that up.  Yes, it sounds disgusting.  And I think it would be disgusting if you made it in a blender.  But, with a juicer, it actually tastes pretty good.  And a LOT better than it sounds.

But, forget the taste.  How did a guy raised on Budweiser, perogies, and pizza get to this point?  Evolution, I guess, and it all started with the darn bike.

And there the story gets easy to understand:

1.  Guy starts riding a bike.

2.  Guy gets upset when others pass him.  Easily pass him.

3.  Guy upgrades to “road” bike so he can go faster.

4.  Starts “training” so he can go really fast.

5.  Enters races and discovers he’s really not all that fast.

6.  Upgrades bike and training to maximize his sad potential.

7.  Reaches “competitive” stage of athleticism (which, charitably, is just below “good,”) and starts grasping at straws to get even 1% better.

8.  Realizes nutrition is only area untouched.

9. Ditches cookies, cakes, sweets, and much to his chagrin, adds in vegetables, and other formerly-abhorred foods.

10.  Starts searching the internet for ANY food that will make him faster or stronger.

11.  Discovers beets, tart-cherrys, kale, flax seeds, etc.

12.  Also discovers “juicing” which is right next to EST, Lilith Fair concerts, and Earth Day in the west coast, all-natural, “crunchie” pantheon.

13.  Buys insanely expensive juicer, which does something like “masticate” and realizes juice produced is actually….pretty tasty.

14. Vows not to proselytize about his new found religion.

15.  Can’t help himself.  Instead has the occasional burger and fries to get back to his roots.

Idiotic obsessing.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been obsessing about, of all things, the saddle height on my bike.  Now, you may find this hard to believe, but there are a number of scientific ways to figure out the exact number — to 3 decimal places no less! — the perfect height.  Think I’m kidding?  Here’s one method:

Also using inseam length as a guide, this formula calculates 88.3% of your inseam length and uses it to measure the distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat height.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there with such procedures as the “Holmes Method” advocating the use of a goniometer for

measuring the angle of the knee joint at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Holmes recommends an angle of between 25 and 35 degrees and closer to 25 for those with a history of patella tendonitis.

Naturally, I’ve been going crazy trying to figure out which method and which measurement will give me the “right” number, and usual, started obsessing about it.  I finally realized I’d gone overboard when I stumbled upon Sheldon Brown’s (noted common sense bike guru) simple advice:

 “I suggest gradually raising your saddle, perhaps half an inch (1 cm) at a time. Each time you raise it, ride the bike. If it doesn’t feel noticeably worse to ride, ride it for at least a couple of miles/km.

If it had been too low before, your bike will feel lighter and faster with the new riding position. If raising the saddle improved things, raise it again, and ride some more. Keep doing this until the saddle is finally too high, then lower it just a bit.”

Ah, there you have it.  Keep raising it until it’s too high, then move it down a bit!  Simple and straightforward.

Anyway, I bring this up because if you’re like me, you tend to do the same damn thing to with trading: you make it WAY too complicated when simple would work a lot better.

In fact, in looking back at the history of my trading, my simple strategies (usually along the lines of buying stock in companies I use and holding them until they go up!) are invariably the most profitable.

So, in 2012 I’m going to obsess a little less and just stick to the simple stuff.  Yes, 25 years of trading and I’m finally discovering simple trumps “smart.”

Hard going up; SCARY going down

This past weekend, I drove down to Wintergreen, VA to “recon” a race I’ll be doing in April.  It’s an uphill time trial that ascends the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains up to the Wintergreen Ski Resort.  Or better stated: it’s a bitch of a climb.

I was ready for it, though, and slogged through for 47 odd minutes.   Hard, but not overwhelming.  Of course, I didn’t do it a “race speed” and I was carrying an extra 20 lbs of winter clothing, my “training bike,” water bottle etc.

http://app.strava.com/runs/2567823/embed/31f88d9821cd4a9fb4b33286ce6e00e631274a18

Going back downhill, though, was a different matter.  Even after riding up, I still wasn’t all that familiar with the roads, and I didn’t want to push it going down.  Now, I’d say I’m a pretty good, but not great, descender.  Moving down 15% slopes with hairpin turns, though, pushed me right into the “terrible” category.

And when you’re terrible, you’re forced to ride the brakes to curb your speed.  The problem?  When you’re on the brakes, the bike doesn’t want to turn.  So, you’re either going 50 mph and not being able to turn because of the speed, or 20mph, but not being able to turn because of braking.  Not a good choice!

But, I inched down until the road straightened and I let it go, hitting nearly 40mph.  At that point, I heard a clear “thump, thump” every time I touched the brakes.  I thought a rock or something had wedged into my brake pads, but I made it back to my car safely.

Only then did I see my brake pads were worn down the nub, and my entire rim had heated up so much, the carbon was warping.  I figure if I had ridden a bit longer, I’d have had a nasty blowout.  And a nasty blowout at 40mph, would have been, uh, disastrous.

Next time I do the course, I’m only going uphill and meeting Nancy at the top.  Much less scary that way!

 

Assault on Dickey Ridge

For the past few months, my cycling life has taken an unusual turn.  Out went my slightly-better-than-average time trialing career, and in came a (hopefully) podium claiming emphasis on — of all things — hill climbing.

Now, when most people think of hill climbing, they think of off-road mountain biking.  My thrust is even more esoteric: it’s hill climbing, but on paved roads and on a normal road bike.   The most famous is probably the Mt. Washington Hill Climb (http://www.mtwashingtonbicyclehillclimb.org/mwarbh/index.cfm), but there are others scatttered across the country.

Of course, if you follow races like the Tour de France, you’re familiar with climbs like the Alpe d’Huez.  Regardless, they all fall into the same genre: go up a mountain as fast as you can.

Fortunately — and the reason I migrated to this area — is that it plays to my strengths.  I’m not big or strong enough to win flat time trials, but I am strong enough per my weight to do well going up hills.  In other words, for my relatively skinny frame, I can generate a decent amount of power.

Anyway, my training has been going well, concentrating on both getting stronger, and getting as lean as possible.  Out went the cake and cookies, and beer consumption was cut substantially.

But, to give myself a further goal, I started to use Strava.com to pick out a course I thought I could do well on.

It turns out there’s a beauty of a climb about an hour from me, in Front Royal VA.  Many of you know the Skyline Drive as a scenic route, but it’s also a climbers dream: about 6% of steady grade, spread over 4 miles, with very little traffic.  Perfect for a time trial, the route is known as Ascent to Dickey Ridge.  For my purposes, it was going to be an all out assault.

I went out about a week ago for a test ride.  Just good, standard pace on my normal road bike.  As you can see below, I clocked in just under 24 minutes.

You’ll note number one was a Pro, btw….

Now I had a bogey: anything under 20:33 was my target.  It was then easy to figure out what power and pace I needed to hit that number.  I concluded that with a solid — albeit hard — effort, I could break 20:30.

I then spent the entire past week visualizing the climb.  I thought about when I would eat, where I would park, and how long I would warm up.   I also had a secret weapon: an ultralight road bike that’s been so tricked up it weighs barely over 10 lbs.

Of course, when it came to “race day” there was one glitch: the temperature was about 42 degrees with a decent headwind.  I figured when Dickey rode it was at least 80 degrees.  A 40 degree difference probably meant he had a 30 second advantage.

But, I was there and ready to go,  and after a decent warmup I was off.   I concentrated on a steady start, but like always in these efforts, I wanted to quit about halfway through.  At that point, I gave myself the freedom to chuck it….if I could just go .1 more miles.   And then, “tricking” myself, kept going an additional .1 miles until I was within a half mile of the finish.  At that point, the road flattens every so slightly and the pain decreases a bit.  So, I gunned it knowing I could redline and coast over the finish.

It was, I admit, a strong effort.

Now, in deference to Mr. Dickey, I’m guessing he didn’t go all out on his ride.  In fact, he probably went at cruising speed.

On the other hand, he’s almost 20 years younger than me.

Now, was it fun?  Well, during the climb, never.  No, it hurts like a son-of-a-bit*h.  After, though?  Well worth it!

Real climbing in real races isn’t for another 4 months.  Until then, this is about as close as I can get but after days like this, it makes it all worthwhile.

What, no wave?

Was out riding this morning.  A beautiful day: bright, sunny, a bit cool, but hardly any wind.  My effort was squarely in the “leisurely” category.

Now, when I’m riding anything other than “all-out” I try to wave to any rider I pass.  I figure you’re a rider, I’m a rider, we’re all in this together, so why not be friendly.

Sadly my response is usually no response.  No flick of the wrist, no nod of the head, not even a wink.  Nothing.  And I’m not talking about the folks going 150% on some snot-inducing interval.  I’m talking about folks riding fairly slow.

And forget about amateur wannabe-pros ignoring me.  Grandmas on cruisers regularly brush me off!

Honestly, I can’t figure it.  But, I’m not going to stop waving.

 

Competition

For the past few months, I’ve been logging all my rides (on my bike, not in my car!) on Strava.com.  Along with twitter, I suppose it’s the only “social networking” app I use on a regular basis.

I love it because I can see exactly how I match up against everyone else on a variety of the routes I take.  And, if most other people are like me, they pick a specific route and try to achieve the best time.  There’s even a way to segment by age or weight so at least you’re competing against your peers.

I guess the bottom line is that it motivates me to get out there and ride even on days I don’t really feel like it.

This got me thinking that I wish there was something like this for trading.  I’m not talking about mutual funds or even hedge funds, but some ranking of individual traders.  Like Strava, I’d break it down, (I guess by assets managed), and then show weekly, monthly and ytd returns.

I definitely wouldn’t count those silly TV contests where you can just go nuts picking any stock and not worry about the outcome because there’s no money involved.

No, there’d definitely have to be some skin in the game, and it’d be neat to see how everyone else was doing.

Of course, there’d be no way to verify if folks were telling the truth, and because of that, I’m certain many would severely puff up their numbers, if not totally fabricate the results.

Still, it’d be a neat idea.

My hardest workout

Whenever I look at my workout schedule — and yes, I’m anal enough to have every day scheduled, even if it just says “rest” — I mentally go through and note which days are going to be hard and which days are easy.  Coach Dean (http://coachdeanhebert.wordpress.com/) does a fantastic job of mixing it up for me, so I pretty much have the right blend of on and off days.

So, I’m always surprised when I think a particular day will be easy and it turns out to be hard.  In this case, super hard.

Here’s the day, so tell me what you think:

20 min warmup

8x :15@100%/:15 off

20 min cooldown.

Innocuous, right?  I mean, there’s only 4 minutes of total work.  And of that, there’s only 2 minutes of actual effort!

The problem is that 100% part.  I mean if you’re really, REALLY going at it, you’re tearing down the road.  (or in my case, up a hill.)  Of course, it’s only 15 seconds, but then you’re back at 7 more times with almost zero chance to recover.

But, try it.  I did this past Saturday, and struggled the rest of the day with that “all out” effort hack you get when you’ve made a serious attempt at killing yourself.  (If you’ve never experienced that hack, sorry: you’ve never given 100% effort.)

Yes, 4 minutes.  I always laughed off ANY workout that lasted that long.  Never again.