Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Dawn

Last Wednesday I started a new Job with New Balance and immediately jumped on a train to head to NYC for a Marketing Campaign launch that was happening. It didn't really feel like I was starting a new job because it was all so familiar except I was really happy. Not that I hated Reebok or anything, I just lost all passion for the brand and working there. The friends will last forever but going into work and feeling like I was completely different from almost everyone was a real struggle. Reebok has hedged the core of its positioning on the current fitness craze - CrossFit. It makes sense for the brand to carve out a new direction, it certainly wasn't working in the running space and seeing how passionate the company is for this "sport of fitness"it makes sense they get after it in a big way. The issue is that I don't like CrossFit. People working out is great and I've seen friends transform themselves by getting involved. But I've see a lot more people transformed by going for a jog or riding a bike. CrossFit preaches a philosophy that is based on short intense exercise routines that change everyday. They believe Routine and Aerobic exercise a major problem. They also preach a Paelo Diet is the way we should eat. Basically lots of lofty claims. I once asked a CrossFit instructor if he considered Lance Armstrong or Paula Radcliffe to be Fit people. He never heard of Paula and he said that Lance is not generally fit, he is good at riding a bike. It was after this conversation that I concluded the program is like a cult. You may be fit but your nothing if your not CrossFit. Going to work became painful because I'd feel like an outsider going for a Jog at lunch time. I was asked every day why I didn't do CrossFit and if you didn't do it there was definitely a feeling of being left out. I loved the people I worked with but thats not enough. You have to believe in what you do when you get up. I have always applied this philosophy to my sport and I used to apply it to work until it was sucked out of me. I love that friends of mine have bought into CrossFit and now they feel really healthy and years younger. But I don't love that CrossFit tells me I'm not Fit. I believe I was the fittest person in Reebok. I imagine my V02 max is higher than everyone in the building and on a stress test of endurance I imagine no one would come close - but I can't do 10 pull ups nor can I do a standing handstand push up. Why in the world would I want to? I race a bike, I need to train for racing a bike, not for dealing with an unfortunate situation I may find myself in that requires me to do a handstand.

I decided I needed to leave and let someone who was passionate about Reebok and CrossFit to take over. I still meet my buddies Thommo, Bryan, and Ben for pints once a week - along with some assorted Reebok crew that come along. My mates know and respect my position. Without blowing my own horn I felt I did the admirable thing. I could still be at Reebok, faking it, taking home a paycheck and laughing but thats not me. I want to live and breath my Job in a healthy way. I believe that at New Balance I'll be able to do that.

When I graduated I signed a small but very meaningful contract with NB. They stood by me through all the injuries - believing that I'd come good. In the end like I did with Reebok I told John Evans that I couldn't be on contract anymore. I needed to move on with my life and the few dollars I was getting would be better off with a new up and comer who needed support. I wanted a Job and in 2006 I started with Reebok. Leaving the world of professional running wasn't hard but leaving NB was. I missed the brand and always wished it well on my travels with Reebok. Now to be back in the NB is really uplifting. I don't believe in fate but this comes close to whatever that word means.

My new boss Josh is fantastic and my co-workers Patrick and Ali have youthful exuberance and energy that makes me feel old! And they are dialed in. Patrick has a big future ahead of him given the breath of ideas and boundless desire to make them come to life. Being in NYC was inspiring. We hosted the launch of our British Milers program, a 12 week TV show in the UK that will follow 7 of our athletes as they chase one of the 3 spots on the Olympic team for London. I used to think I was inspired by the big Marketing presentations at Reebok - and some of them were really inspiring - but by Monday morning reality would kick in. Running is not a priority. At NB the talk of trying to be the best running brand on the planet is real. Full teams dedicated to this goal with a relentless passion to achieve it. Walking in to meet retailers was such an eye opener. They love what we are doing and the product is cranking. Tom Carleo must be the best footwear guy in the business and he is the captain of our ship. Thats what gets me fired up in the morning to go to work. It will be a big year ahead. Very busy and challenging for sure but all in the ways that challenging is great. I am diving in and not looking back. My two previous bosses are at NB too along with a former co-worker and now we are all peers committed to this team and committed to being number one. Exactly the way work should be.

Another highlight of the weekend was some good music talk with Harry Norton. I was pretty down about not riding my bike but now I get to look forward to trainer sessions with new bands to listen to. Harry is into similar music to me so he gave me some suggestions of older bands I might like - Built To Spill and The Microphones. I have heard of them but never gave them a shake so I'll delve into their work this week and report back.

OK thats the buzz. Peace and Love,


PS - I really miss this guy and need to hear something from him soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Learning How To Walk....again

Its almost one year since I purchased my USAC License. This time last year I was under the knife, getting my final knee surgery. Dr. Brian McKeon telling me, "look, there is really not much left to do other than manage the pain. This means not running so much. If you treat your knees well you'll be fine but if you keep pounding there's few options. Microfracture, O.A.T.S, but you really don't want to deal with those surgeries at this stage". He was right, at 33 why would I choose an evasive surgery to help one of my knees when the other knee was also bad, not to mention the many other problems I have in my hips and back. That was the day I became a jogger and a cyclist.

A guy like me never stops dreaming and deep down I still fantasized about a miraculous cure. One day I'd go for a run and everything would be normal. I wouldn't have to sit on a one inch wide, carbon fiber saddle anymore. I'd get on my shoes and run, thats what I love, thats what I'm good at. And I thought about it all the time - still do. Standing at a show watching one of my beloved bands I would drift into dreaming about running the Boston Marathon. Like an addiction, I had to come to terms that I needed to let go and move on to something that was better for me. And that "better" is cycling.

This morning I renewed my membership and I face a season of racing at the highest level in New England. Not where I was running but who wants to go back to that, living race to race, stressing about everything because the sport is the job. That ship has sailed. Cat. 1 racing at the Amateur level is perfect. On Monday, after a hard race, I want to go to work. With that said it is still bizarre to face this season. After nearly a year of racing I still feel like a blow in. I know everything about running. I can debate with any coach/athlete and be completely dialed in. But with cycling every ride I learn something new. While the rest of my life is still going through a process - visas/job issues - cycling is the only thing I have control over so I'm reading, and learning as much as I can. Do I get a coach, buy a powermeter, get a professional fit etc. All questions I've been researching. My own team mates talk in Watts, the way we would talk about pace in running. You run your 8 mile threshold runs at about 5 min mile pace is now you ride 40 minutes at 300 Watts. I have NO IDEA what watts are about because I don't own a power meter and I really don't know if I want one.

My coach Ray Treacy is old skool. If he was a cycling coach he would have the attitude of Sean Kelly. Its about getting the work done without any bells and whistles. When I lived with Steve Jones it was the same. He firmly believed that too many athletes spend their energy thinking about the micro details rather than just getting out, putting in hard work, and resting. And now I find myself at a cross roads. Do I continue to ride like I did last year, 4 hours one week, 10 hours the next week, intervals because I feel like it or 3 days off because I have a pain in my arse from sitting on the saddle. OR do I develop a training program, get the power meter, get tested, and work on hard data. Its a tough one because cycling is very different to running. Not nearly as black and white. Its in between running and formula 1 racing. Like running it requires fitness, ability to suffer, sacrifice, bravery. But then there is the machine, the wheels, the position, and the power. I fear that if I don't learn these basics I'll lose races. Talent can get you through the early categories but now its the real deal. Guys that have been racing for years with legs carved out of stone. My feeble ass won't be able to match their power unless I train. I need to learn how to ride with stabilizers again.

Fortunately I am surrounded by great people willing to share advice. The great riders at Arc-En-Ciel like Dave Kellogg, all my new teammates at Upton Bass Racing, or the guys I will ride with up here in Boston. Ciaran Mangan, and lately Skip Foley. Guys that have been around the block.  This past Sunday I went for a ride with Skip, Peter Sullivan, and a former European Pro Justin Spinelli. Lots of information to be gathered. These rides are like going back to school, at 34! And like a sponge I absorb all the tidbits of wisdom.
We rode some hills up in New Hampshire. At a regrouping after a climb we found ourselves stopped in front of this church. Literally in the middle of nowhere this white chapel and a small house next door. Who goes here? Its part of the charm of New England, something much of us don't appreciate. What we did appreciate was at break after a 3km climb. Skip and Peter looking very "tranquilo" while we regroup. Justin is an interesting bloke. He rode for Farm Frites and Seaco when he was 20. With a lot of bravado around the cycling scene it was refreshing to hear that a former Giro D'Italia rider lives a few miles away and doesn't carry any arrogance. I enjoyed hearing stories about Mario Chipollini.

Yesterday was another 3 hours. Trying to take advantage of the free time and the great weather. I felt amazing. Missing a few days due to a head cold seems to have given me extra energy stores. My only concern now is that I am getting too fit too soon......

Radiohead are headlining the Saturday night at Coachella. I welcomed a text from a buddy last night suggesting we go. There is no doubt that I want to attend this festival but it seems like a hassle. If I go any year though, this is the one. The line up is excellent and the first weekend would work really well. Lots of bands I want to see in addition to Radiohead. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Buzzcocks, Pulp, Feist, Modeselektor....... Might have to make this one happen.

Meanwhile I just downloaded Memory Tapes - Piano Player. The record is not a patch on Seek Magic but still decent. I was moved to get the album when Stereogum posted the video to Trance Sisters. Lovely tune and on heavy rotation in Brookline this morning.

Peace and Love,

Memory Tapes 'Trance Sisters' from Ooh Brilliant on Vimeo.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Trainer Rides and Head Colds

No one likes being sick, especially not me. I've been known to revert to child like behavior with the first itchy throat or stuffy head. It really annoys me because I did 2 trainer sessions this week thus avoiding the freezing temps. Yesterday I rode 3 hours but it was mid 30's, tropical when compared to the previous days. Last night I decided to reward a good week on the eve of an easy day with some scoops down in Providence. I met Joe at Julians for a Blackbean Veggie burger and some IPA.
I knew the cold was in the post but hopefully I can be a baby today, drink lots of fluid (after I get through my customary 2 mugs of black gold this morning) and nip it before tomorrow so I can ride in what is looking like a beautiful day. The trainer rides are going to be very effective for me. Last year I just hammered on the trainer when I felt like it but at the advice of one of my teammates this year I'll do structured heart rate trainer sessions. Without a powermeter, HR is the next best thing. The sessions at this time of year are structured around longer reps and sub threshold HR. On tuesday I did 4 x 10 minutes at 175-80 HR or about 85% of Max. On Wednesday I did big gear work with 3 x 15 minutes at 75-80 RPM, holding a HR at 80% or a little higher of Max. The HR graph can be seen on Strava
3 X 15 minutes big gear work
4X 10 minutes sub threshold

Strava is basically an online training diary with a bunch of add-on features such as maps and average speed/cadence/power etc. You can also compare sections of your ride with all those who have previously ridden those sections and who use Strava. In fact there are guys and gals who seem to want KOM strava status to the point that they seek out popular Strava routes and hammer the sections! I think its a great program and I'll continue to post my training on there.

I listened to PJ Harvey - Let England Shake on my ride yesterday. It is certainly one of the best albums of 2011. Easily in my top 5. I haven't played it in a while but yesterday I went through it twice. I haven't read too many year end lists but I assume this record ranked pretty high on most. There are no bad songs on it. Its certainly a political album. The Guardian described it like so, "an opaque exploration of Englishness delivered in a high, keening voice, that contains not one, not two, but three harrowing songs that explicitly reference the 1915 Gallipoli campaign and a further handful that seem more generally informed by the carnage of the first world war – represents one of the more approachable albums in her oeuvre."
All that aside, the record is full of great songs and melody. Like all great artists PJ Harvey didn't make another PJ Harvey record. She explored a new sound and took on a new challenge with this record. No big fanfair, no promotion, just a fluid and very infectious album. Essential listening. I remember the first time I saw PJ Harvey in concert and I was amazed by the power of her voice given her petit size against the back drop of a massive main stage at the Oxegen festival in Ireland. I was with my friends Grogee and Julie. We danced and sang along even though we didn't know the words. Great times.

Peace and Love,

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year

Happy new year everybody. We are still the same muppit show as we were yesterday. It doesn't take January 1st to make a change. It takes waking up every morning and smashing the day. The Rapha500 got me on my bike so my Redemption, thus Resolution, started on Dec 23. I woke up and decided to get on the saddle again. The week was great. I finished off with a nice 145KM ride on the 31st. It gave me 680 or so k's in 8 rides. The most I've ever done. My goal of 500 miles (800KM) was very attainable but a scratchy throat and not wanting to get sick forced me to take a day off and a day on the trainer. I completely agree that trainer rides shouldn't count so I didn't even think about it.

On New Years eve we rode from Natick, a group ride in the cold and rain. One gnarly day that was awesome. Myself, Ernie T, Aidan Charles, Skip Foley, Tyler Monroe joined Ciaran Mangan for his annual year end ride. We took it steady until the last 30km when Ernie, Skip, and I started a paceline that for me was close to race effort. Hard pulls followed by short recovery into a mild but very cold headwind was enough to leave the three of us feeling pretty wiped. Getting back to my car was a lovely feeling as was the chocolate milk (recovery drink of the year) and americano that waited for me at the corner coffee shop in Natick center.

Right after the ride I jumped in my car and headed north to Burlington to meet Frankie for the New Year. We had food and drink with friends at Flatbread in downtown and I lashed back some excellent IPA. Great conversation, music, and laughs made us forget it was actually New Years eve and when some random people started shouting we decided to join in for about 30 seconds before going back to good chats. Like I said, new years day is just another day but good times are embraced when ever they happen. It was good times that I was celebrating.

Back to Boston yesterday and back at it today. Last couple of days were running, not much, just a few miles and today was my first ride since the epic Saturday morning hammer fest. The bitter cold of this morning made my trainer look ever so special and since I had a workout to do I decided to jump on it and executed the reps. The trainer is actually better in many ways when it comes time to do specific work. I live in the city and dealing with traffic and lights, stop signs and merging lanes makes long reps difficult at the best of times. Add in ice and 18 degree temps and the workout suddenly becomes a torrid affair. I did 4 x 10 minutes at LT (or what I think is LT since I don't use power nor have I been tested on the bike) My running values must be the same so I used those. It was a great session and a few days off the bike has left me fresh.

After watching Liverpool getting thumped at Man City I needed to go for a run, so this afternoon I hit the pavement for 4 miles, stopping at Chipotle at the end. My burrito felt like a 10lb bar bell, which is why I love that place.

I am still working on some tunes of the year for 2011. There won't be a top 10 album list because like I said many times, it wasn't a great year for me as far as music goes. And now that I have a laid back week I can get through my iTunes library and start to pick my highlights.

Mojo magazine released a compilation of New Order covers from the seminal 1993 album Power, Corruption, & Lies. I listened to Destroyer take on 'Leave Me Alone', one of my favorite tracks on the album. I can't wait to hear the rest of it. Some people hate these kinds of cover albums but I love them. Listening to different artists takes on some of my favorite songs is always joyful.

Peace and Love