Sunday, September 26, 2010


So, the title is a reference to a video posted on none other than youtube. This Aussi dude is telling Australia to HARDEN THE F*** UP!! Here's the video, then I'll tell you what it has to do with me. NOTE: This video is NOT work friendly, NOT kid friendly, and if you have sensitive ears, you probably don't want to watch it. But it is pretty damn funny, so enjoy.

What's it got to do with me? "Harden the F*** up" became my little mantra today. Today was the Six Gaps Century out of Dahlonega, Ga. I'd been looking forward to doing this century since I heard about it last year. I signed up pretty early, and friends of mine made arrangements for us to spend the weekend in this awesome cabin for the entire weekend (fri, sat, sun nights). Really cool.

Most of us arrived on friday afternoon and we went to downtown Dahlonega for a great dinner. Saturday was a beautiful day of sunshine and we got out on the bikes for about an hour. Just a nice easy spin to get the legs, lungs and heart working.

The clouds started moving in last night and the rain began sometime around or after midnight. When I woke briefly around 2am, the storm was in full force with plenty of lightening. This didn't bode well for good riding conditions for the Six Gaps.

When I awoke around 5am, it was still raining. I hate starting a ride in the rain. We were all checking our portable devices to see what the forecast was supposed to bring. The forecast called for rain, so I told myself to HARDEN THE F*** UP! and I got my gear together, packed up the car and headed to the start / finish at the high school.

I sat in my car and posted to my facebook page "...its raining cats and dogs". Further, there was plenty of lightening. Definitely not a good day for a ride. I thought about bagging it and heading back to the cabin, but my mantra rang repeatedly through my head. HARDEN THE F*** UP!

So, of course, I got my gear together and mounted my trusty steed. This year, they were staging those riders who were a shoe-in for beating 6 hours at the very front. Earlier this year, I had targeted 6 hours as my goal for this ride. However, despite my recent post, I really wasn't feeling it in this torrential downpour. However, I did line up near the front of the 'normal' pack.

As I rode out, I chatted briefly with a guy whose target was 7.5 hours. I told him my target had originally been 6 hours, but was not sure how things were going to shake out - not the best motivation and bad riding conditions sure can mess with one's head.

It didn't take long for me to start hearing that dude say "HARDEN THE F*** UP". So, of course I started stamping out a strong cadence to pull myself up further towards the front.

I grabbed on to probably the largest lead pack. I'm thinking there was probably a smaller pack off the front, but this pack was perhaps as much as 75 or more riders. I hung at the back as we rode through a bunch of rollers on our way to Neels Gap. As we rode, more and more riders were being spit off the back and I moved up as possible.

As we got into the heart of the climb to Neels Gap, I too got spit off the back of this pack. No problem, I was just trying to stamp out a nice tempo pace - on the climbs as well as on the descents, flats and rollers. In fact, although I lost touch with the big pack, I managed to gain sight of them a few times between Neels gap and Hogpen gap. I never really caught them again, but I was surprised to see them.

Another interesting thing - because I was just stamping out a tempo pace, I managed to ride really strong in between the hills. I was a little surprised by this. Except for the hills, my legs were just moving and keeping that steady pace. I felt good.

As we rode through Jack's Gap and Unicoi Gap, I would be passed or left behind by other riders on the climbs, only to reel them back in and pass then in between the climbs. Many times today I looked back and found a pack of wheel suckers just hanging on behind me. Pretty funny and I really didn't care. I was out there by myself, so just holding that pace was all about me. In fact, with the wet roads I preferred to be out front - that rooster tail from riders goes right into your face if you are following in these conditions.

For a while, we actually had some good weather - for parts of the Neels gap climb, all of the Jack's Gap climb and I think all of the Unicoi Gap climb. However, as we finished the descent of Unicoi gap, the rain started again. It stayed with us pretty much for the rest of the ride. We had to deal with some pretty hairy fog conditions out there as well.

Hogpen Gap was as hard as I have heard. It was steep, and it was long. I found myself standing up quite a bit up there. As we approached a flat area very near the top of the climb, another rider who knew the route rode up next to me and said "200 yards - then we get a break". Man was I glad to hear that! It gave me a little boost as we rode that 200 yards and I rode next to this guy for a little while. As we rode through this little false flat, we chatted briefly. He knew the route pretty well, so he gave me some hints about what to look for. Appreciate that guy - he helped me a lot when I really needed it.

The descent from Hogpen was pretty hairy. Even in good conditions, it would be a tough descent. With rain, fog and traffic, it was horrible. Most of the riders were taking it a lot easier with these bad conditions. Eventually, I ran up behind some cars who were having trouble getting around another cyclist.

In good conditions, I would have considered passing these cars and putting the hammer down. However, with the conditions we had, I had no interest in endangering others or myself by trying something like that. A pretty big peloton formed behind these cars until they finally got around the other riders.

The next climb was Wolfpen gap. This climb seemed about as steep as Hogpen gap, but several miles shorter. By this time, I was really starting to feel the effects of the efforts I had put out. I still felt pretty good on the descents and flats, but I was losing steam on the climbs. The top of Wolfpen is about 78 miles into the ride. I kept hearing that dude say "HARDEN THE F*** UP!!"

I was glad to crest Wolfpen as I knew that was the end of the really hard climbs. There was still one gap to go, but it would be relatively mild in comparison to Hogpen and Wolfpen. Check out this elevation profile. To review, the order of the gaps is: Neels, Jack's, Unicoi, Hogpen, Wolfpen and Woody.

Once past Wolfpen Gap, I was pushing myself. I still had some chance to hit the 6 hour goal. As stated earlier, I was good on the descents and flats, but the rollers and hills were the challenge. I tried to push hard on Woody Gap. When I crested Woody, I tried to hammer the descent (as much as weather conditions would allow), but again, I ran into a train of cars having trouble passing some bicyclists. This really has everything to do with the weather conditions. Fog had rolled in and the descent was treacherous!

My buddy Bo had said sometime yesterday that the last 10 or 15 miles sucked the most. Well, it is TRUE! By the time you have covered that 85 or 90 miles, you're just beat down. Thankfully, there is some descents that allow you to drive your average up, but for me, the rollers were killing me! I pushed as hard as I could, got into a little rotation with a couple of other guys who were trying to catch the 6 hour goal. They ended up leaving me on one of the rollers, but they didn't really get all that far in front of me, I could still see them when we made the final turn back into the High School.

As I made that final turn, I was thinking I was way outside of my 6 hour goal. I was pleased to see the clock ticking through 6:10:?? (don't know what the seconds were when I passed).

So, despite not really meeting the 6 hour goal, I'll take it. with the conditions today, I can honestly say that in dry conditions, I would have definitely have beat that goal.

The final words I can say is HARDEN THE F*** UP!!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The South Carolina State Road Racing Championships

were held September 18th at the Fork Shoals road racing course. This was the same course we used for the Spring series earlier this year. I knew the course well, but took advantage of several opportunities to pre-ride the course with my friends from the GHS Every Woman Cycling team.

Although my race was not scheduled until 2pm, I arrived at the venue early so I could cheer on those very same friends. The Cat 4 women's race started at 840 and I really wanted to be there to give support to them. I'm glad I did - my friend Courtney ended up crushing the field to take the win. She'll be crowned today during the USPro cycling championships. Congrats Courtney!

With lots of time to kill between the women's race and my race, I did my best to relax and not think too much about my race. As I got suited up and started on my warm-up, I found I did have some butterflies floating around in my belly. I felt good, but a little nervous.

For the most part, the race was a typical cat 5 race. A few guys got out and did the bulk of the work. I did my share with several pulls on the first lap, but I limited my exposure. The pace wasn't bad, but it seems like we were in for a group ride that was going to end in a sprint. On the first lap, team-mate Dave got out and drove the pace for a while. This was the catalyst for the entire field to pick up the pace. Great job Dave!

I did my best to keep a position near the front and was successful for the entire race. I felt really good and my bike was performing flawlessly. I had full confidence in every shift and she didn't let me down. I even dropped to the small ring on some of the hills just to try to keep the legs as fresh as possible. She did everything I asked of her.

As we made the right turn onto dunklin bridge road on the second lap, a guy attacked. The peloton set off in chase, but when the guy out front started to tire, no-one pulled around him. I was back in about 8th wheel and had a clear opening to the right side, so I made the move to bridge the gap. I got into my time-trial position and stamped out a strong cadence and quickly bridged the gap. This guy I passed and kept pulling for a short distance before relinquishing the lead to someone else.

Shortly after, another guy attacked and opened a slightly larger gap. Again, a similar thing happened. The peloton was chasing and closing, but no-one pulled around as the leader tired. I came around I think on the left this time and pulled us up to the attacker. He had a pretty good pace, so I didn't feel the need to go around him. Plus, I wasn't going to spend too much more time out there. I needed to have something left for the finish.

There was no other attacks after those two and the peloton continued at a strong pace as we turned onto Cedar Falls road and headed into the last stretch of rolling terrain. There are two hills on this section that have potential to string out the field. The first isn't too long, but it does take some effort. I stayed in the big ring for this one and for the descent leading up to the next hill.

This final hill really has potential to break the field. However, the pace we set up that hill was not as strong as it could have been. We were definitely in for a field sprint. I crested the hill and made the left turn onto Turner road in 3rd position. I was good with this position, and held it until the guy I was behind started stamping out a strong pace and began to stretch out the field.

He pulled us all the way up to the 200 meter mark where I decided to make my move. I came around him, but I made a critical mistake - I didn't grab a couple of gears. What this did was cause me to have to let up a little while I was in full sprint mode so I could grab another gear or two. This cost me.

One guy came around followed closely by another. I had lost enough momentum that a third guy was approaching fast. He and I crossed the line side by side. A true photo finish. I knew how close it was, so I could only wait for the official results to be posted.

I was at the trailer when the results came up. They scored me in fourth. Since I knew they had the video camera, I decided to protest the results. I wanted to ensure they used the camera when they scored the race. It's my right, so I informed the judges.

Wouldn't you know it, the official camera had malfunctioned and they didn't get the video. They told me to find the guy and they would ask him. He was nearby and of course he contends that he beat me. Hey, if the roles were reversed, he would have probably contested the results the same as I was and I would have said the exact same thing.

While I was standing there, many others came to protest the results. Without the camera, they only got the first five across the line and the results pretty much put everyone else in numerical order based on their rider number. Bummer for those guys, but one guy's girlfriend or wife had a few camera shots showing the finish.

In one photo, she had captured the 2nd place guy and the photo finish. Unfortunately, her perspective was head-on and all we could say for sure was that it was a photo finish for me and the other guy. The space between his front wheel contact patch and the line appeared to be the same as that same spacing for me. When we zoomed in on the photo, it didn't clarify anything except that the only way to know with absolute certainty would have been with the video for the offical camera. I really wish I would have asked her to send me that photo.

Since this was the only photo evidence available, I withdrew my protest and accepted 4th place. Not a bad finish on the day.

My emotional state

is directly linked to the mechanical condition of my bicycle. It's funny how it could possibly be this way, but I have clear evidence (at least in my head) of that now.

For the last couple of months, I've been a little off in my confidence, in my ability to stay focused and just feeling a little run down. It seems like it started when I crashed my bike the week before the French Broad Classic road race. I didn't know it at that time, but in that crash, I picked up a few gremlins - mechanical and emotional.

The mechanical gremlins are the easiest to describe, because they affected every ride I did since that crash. Shifting problems in the French Broad classic wore on me a little, and those same shifting problems followed me for nearly two months until I finally broke down and ordered a new crankset.

I spent plenty of time trying to diagnose the problem whose symptom was the chain coming off the pedal side of the crank when I shifted from the small ring to the big ring. In fact, it even happened several times where the chain came off when I shifted the rear derailer while riding in the big ring. On one particular ride, I nearly threw the bike into the bushes along the side of the road.

During this time, I still felt that funk. Although I was riding well, I was feeling exhausted at the end of the weekly C-1 ride at SCTAC (the ride which I have been leading most of the summer) . Not just physically exhausted, but a kind of mental exhaustion that really wore on my confidence in my ability to ride. I found that it also extended to other parts of my life - affecting my personal relationships as well as work.

I finally put my engineering head and my dial indicator to the issue. Even with new chainrings, the problem was occurring. Obviously, it wasn't just about the chainrings. When I measured the lateral run-out of the big ring, I found it to be 0.035" at the gear teeth, and about 0.020" at the bolts. This didn't seem like much, but I had another crankset I was borrowing (standard gearing - 39/53) that wasn't having any shifting problems. Thus, I knew this runout was an indicator that the spider arms on the crank were bent. The only solution was to buy a new crankset, so I went over to Sunshine Cycle and picked one up.

The next couple of rides worked out pretty well. I no longer had the problem with the chain coming off the big ring, but I just didn't seem to have that same precise shifting that I had grown so accustomed to. I played with the rear derailer to improve that, but still, no real improvement - in the precision of the shifting or my mood / emotional state.

Normally, I have a little stand upon which I put my bike during maintenance. This stand is nice, but it is home-made and only lifts the bike off the ground by about a foot. Even when sitting on my little workstool, the rear derailer is still well below my line of vision.

Then, last weekend, I needed to do some maintenance on my bike, and decided to put the bike on the Jeep's bike rack to work on it. With 35" tires and 5 inches of suspension lift, the arms of the Yakima rack that hold the bike are above my head. Of course, this puts the rear derailer just below my eye-line while I am standing.

With the bike in this position, I could clearly see that the rear derailer hanger had also gotten bent during that crash two months ago. I wasn't able to get to the bike shop to pick up a derailer hanger until Wednesday or Thursday of this week, so when I finally installed it, the only chance to ride before Saturday's State Road Race Championships was Friday evening.

WOW! What a difference! The precision shifting was back! as I rolled around Cleveland park, I had such a big smile on my face. Strangely enough, it was during this easy roll around the park that my belief in my riding abilities came back to me. As I said, I had been riding strong these past couple of months, but I didn't feel it mentally. That feeling came back to me as I pushed myself up the small hill near the baseball fields. Good timing for sure - the very next day I would be contending for the Cat 5, 35+ State Road race Championship.

As I rode and flashed my smile at every passing pedestrian, runner, biker and dog walker it really felt as if the black cloud that I had been under for the late part of the summer was lifting. Not only was my belief in my riding abilities coming back to me, but a sense of clarity about some personal stuff began to come to me. It was an incredible relief.

I would never have really thought my emotional well-being would be so closely tied to my bicycle. These past couple of months seem to indicate she is part of me - a very integral part. When she is hurting, it is reflected in all I do. I better make sure to take good care of her. Not only does she heal my body and make it strong, she also heals my mind.