Thursday, March 17, 2011


Balance is something that it seems comes up all the time with athletes.  I don't recall ever having a discussion or overhearing them when I was a fat ass toy car racer, but recently with bike racing the topic appears to be on the forefront of everyone's mind.  Nearly every time we are talking to fellow bike racers and subject comes up I either politely agree, or chuckle and dismiss the subject because I honestly believe that to live the life we (Allison and I) live there is definitely some imbalance!

Seriously!  I have tanned spots on my head!
Yesterday on my lunch ride I was mulling the idea of balance over in my head.  It didn't start out about balance though.  It started out as a debate on how hard I should be going (balance of intensity and volume) and what my next two weeks should contain (balance of training and recovery) while trying to keep my project on track (balance of work and life).  The funny thing is that balance had nothing to do with my initial stream of thought and then all of a sudden it popped in there like my stupid over use of parenthesis.

Balance is a tricky thing.  It is like track standing at stop lights.  Just when you think you got it, you are really feeling it, some tiny gust of wind or a moment of inattention (keep your damn head up!) causes you to lose it.  In this vein, balance is something we need to talk about, to think about often.  Ritual and routine can get you through, but to have balance gives so much more.  The first person through the intersection is almost always the one that was confidently track standing at the light.

Balance isn't just about staying upright on your bicycle!
Of course balance is a personal thing and one person's balance is another's nightmare.  I think that is a perfect segue to some race reporting!!!!

In the past I have used the excuse that I need to train hard in order to keep up with Allison, but that is only a half truth.  I love competing and racing bikes is a great outlet for that!  So despite her time off the bike and challenges with injury I have been training hard, maybe even harder.  I wanted to have some good early season races at the Kenda Cup series.

The first race didn't go anything like how I might have wanted.  Sagebrush was a total fail on all fronts.  The course was changed at the last moment to basically a muddy CX track due to conditions.

The start was a total cluster with a Pro/CAT1 mass start that left me off the lead train, my tire choice was great in the mud sections but left me feeling like a powerless wimp on the asphalt that comprised approximately half the course, to add insult to injury on the last lap I crashed in the waist deep ice cold water crossing.

Post race I was frozen and broken.

You should have seen the damage to my brand new race bike!

My balance had definitely tipped too far toward suffering and I was experiencing some serious doubts about training and racing while Allison is sidelined.  I enjoy this stuff, but without her doing it with me it feels empty much of the time.  Riding solo isn't why I ride.  Riding for me is a shared experience with my best friend, my wife.  Working on finding a new kind of balance, one that I never had to worry about before, spending quality time with my wife versus bike riding, it isn't easy.

In any case she convinced me that I should soldier on, that I had put in too much time to not give myself a fair shot at my race goals.  I let myself recover some and prepared for the second race in the series at Bonelli.  In addition to the normal life stuff and Allison's stuff, our house has had some young energy infused into the daily routine.  We are hosting a U-23 female that Allison met, liked, and bonded with a bit in Quebec during World Championships.  I think she is swell too.  I think it had a lot to do with that amazing gaufre, who couldn't bond with others while experiencing that?

Such a magical night!
We also volunteered to ride sweep for the Socal High School MTB race out at Vail Lake.

Fast Forward to Bonelli....

Saturday we trekked up to Bonelli to support Lydia and it provided me an opportunity to pre-ride the course before Sunday.  I did three laps of the Pro course and called it quits, then later found out that we would be doing a bit longer of a lap.  The other section of the course has been used many times so I didn't feel I needed to see it.  The Pro course was awesome though!  I would have been more than happy to just race on that!  The added single track really gave some character to last year's course!

The Elite Women's race had some great racing.  Lydia got her first top 10!  I was there at the finish to snap a photo and hand off her cool down water.

I BBQ'd some chicken during the Elite Men's race.  It was tasty!

Sunday my race was super early so my warm-up was in the pre-dawn mist.

I pedaled most of a lap of the course bundled up against the cold and damp.

I managed to crash on a relatively benign right hander, so everything was going exactly as planned...  not really, but last year at this race I crashed in warm up and did fairly well in the race till the last climb where I lost second place due to cramping legs.

One of my favorite times of a race.  The calm before the storm!
I got to the line early to make sure there is no question that I would get a front line start spot.  Ben Jones showed up a bit later and still snagged a front line spot so I was prepared to execute my game plan.  I knew Ben would go hard from the start and my plan was to be top 3 or so onto the single track to avoid the first mistakes.

I just wanted to stay with the leaders.
I had watched the Pro men's start and there was a mistake made on the first slight up on the first single track that sent the entire field off into the weeds scrambling for position, I would rather not participate in such shenanigans.  Things were going as planned, I was fourth wheel onto the dirt, passed the two guys in front of me when they let Ben have a little gap.  I was really glad to be rid of one of them, he had some terrible music blaring from the back pocket of his jersey.  I didn't want it in my head, I had some music of my own I was going to play.

I was a couple yards behind Ben onto the single track.  Despite the fact that things were going to plan I was starting do doubt my execution.  My legs were screaming already from Ben's pace.  I was in the middle of calculating my effort, and trying to re-evaluate my plan, when Ben bobbled in EXACTLY the same spot as the Pro men had!

Fortunately I was prepared, I stayed rider's right, on the high side of the off camber right hand bend, and re-accelerated over the top of the rise after only a tap of the brakes.  I started to freak out a bit at this point.  I had led Fontana for a little bit last year when Gary made a wrong turn.  In that case I felt obligated to sit up a bit.  I didn't attack Gary as I felt it wasn't sportsmanlike, he took the Pro course turnoff and he arguably was on the right course!   :)    This time was a bit different.  I fully expected Ben to catch up knowing he is super strong on the flats and climbs and decided that I would take advantage of my descending and a clean track ahead.

Let her rip!


Special thanks to Desmond Kolish at for these awesome race photos!!!

The clean track didn't last long.  I started passing riders from the wave that went off 2 minutes ahead of us soon as I got across the wooden bridges.  My strategy shifted.  Put as many riders between me and Ben as humanly possible without making too many sketchy passes.  My race mantra started playing in my head, it was a Beastie Boys song that came on Pandora on the way to the venue that morning, "'Cause you can't, You won't, And you don't stop."  I turned up the volume in my head to drown out the alarms that were going off.  Things were clicking, and all systems were go, but my meters were pegged and, "to finish first, you must first finish."  Thoughts of last year getting passed on the last steep trip into the trees, with my legs locking up in cramps, were not far from the front of my mind.  Volume up, "Cause you can't, you won't, and you don't stop!"

Lydia Tanner is not only a great U-23 Elite Mountain Bike Racer and writer, she also takes damn fine photos!
Things start to get blurred together after that.  I know I was drooling and snot was flowing from my nose.  I didn't bother to wipe it off.  I forced myself a few hits off my bottle.  Things were going pretty flawlessly and I was seeking and destroying everyone in front of me with the exception of two Whole Athlete kids that passed me on their way to being World Cup racers.  I stayed on the gas and kept the status needles buried, "Cause you can't, you won't, and you don't stop."

A few memorable moments:

I caught some guy from the wave ahead of us as I headed out on Lap 2.  He put in an effort to stay ahead of me onto the single track and then proceeded to hold me up.  I called out that I wasn't in his AG and he shouted back, "I don't care, I am not going to lose time."  Come on dude, you just lost two minutes to me in ONE LAP.  Just let the faster people go...

I caught Jason Rusnak not long after that on Lap 2.  We were on the asphalt by the beach.  He looked back, then did a double take.  I don't think he was too stoked to see me.  When I pulled up behind him moments later I yelled, "Come on dude, work for me!"  I sat on for maybe 20 seconds or so, then smacked his man ass as I went by.  I was so fired up!  "GET SOME!! WOOOOOO!"

I had two passes that might have been considered a bit risky.  I passed one dude on the high speed rocky descent, on the tight left bend.  I stayed off the brakes and went low, inside my normal line, he went high and I was gone.  The other one almost didn't work so nicely.  I caught Vanessa Humic on the off camber single track down hill section.  She is a good rider so I knew she would hold her line.  On the hard off camber left hand sweeper near the bottom I stuck my front tire into a groove right on the very inside of the turn.  It was a brilliant line, but only barely the width of a tire and slipping out of the groove would have sent me sliding right into Vanessa.  The knobs on the inside of my tire started to grip and ride up the groove and I totally thought I would lose it but railed the corner flawlessly (BRAAAAP!) and after only a moment to contemplate what could  have happened I went right back to search and destroy.

Thanks to Allison for cheering, feeding, and taking great photos all at the same time.  She is amazing!
Allison was awesome.  She was at the bottom of one climb and was screaming her face off at me.  Then she would run over to the feed zone to ensure I got any needed bottles!

I did have one bobble.  After crossing the second wooden bridge on what I am pretty sure was the last lap, I had too tall of a gear, I wandered to the left putting all I had into the bars and pedals and my front wheel got hung up on some sort of pipe sticking out of the ground.  I dismounted quickly, ran up the short climb, and remounted.  Cyclocross season paid off!!!!!!!

Throughout the race I kept looking back over my shoulder.  I expected to see a B&L kit bearing down on me.  I expected to see this black clad locomotive called "Ben Jones" steaming along ready to rip my legs off.  It didn't happen.  My legs were starting to ping on the last trip into the trees, I could feel them wanting to cramp.  The needle had been pegged for about as long as it can be.  Turn up the volume, "Cause you can't, you won't, and you don't stop!"  I was still in the big ring but I think I dropped to the small ring for the first time up the steep pitch into the trees.

Shortly after that on the last lap I started reeling in Marco Arocha.  I didn't know it at the time, but he was running in third place in the 30-34 group that started 2 minutes ahead of me.  On the last dirt climb he looked back and saw me.  He immediately jumped out of the saddle and put in a huge effort.  I contemplated matching it but decided that my legs would likely lock up so I kept a steady effort.  I had almost taken top three in the wave that started 2 minutes ahead!  "Cause you can't, you won't, and you don't  stop!"

Crossing the line I had more than leveled out the balance, I had more than redeemed the race fail at Sagebrush.  I had a truly great race.  I took fourth amateur overall and won my AG by over 2 minutes.

Sometimes things work out.  I don't know that I did anything especially well on the lead up to this race, but I am looking forward to racing Fontana.  My home course.  One that definitely is challenging and maybe favors my skill set. See you there!!

Rusnak, CeeDub, me, and Lydia.  This is what racing is about!
This trophy will have a spot on the trophy shelf for a long, long time.


Jason Rusnak said...

I have a new hero...his name is Justin. It's not that I wasn't happy to see you...I knew I would, just didn't expect it so soon into the race. You f'n owned it Mann!

Fort James said...

Keep this up and you will be racing Elite by June. NICE!