Sunday, May 6, 2012


Toughness is a good thing.

I think it is a trait that people, especially men, seek in their lives.  It is something that my father wanted to see in me.  I can recall times when I would get hurt, or show some emotion, and my father invariably responded with "Rub some dirt in it, walk it off son."  When I think of him I think of his toughness.  His hands were rough and callused and unyielding.

I got a call tonight.  My father had heart failure and is in the ICU.  It isn't likely that he will live.  They are going to stop life support in 48hrs.

Ironically his toughness was likely what had the doctors telling him last week that he was beating lung and throat cancer.  My father was good at fighting.  He was tough.

What I am struggling with most right now is that I don't have much else to say about who my father was.  I wish we could have been closer.  I have said many times that when someone close to us dies we should celebrate their lives and not mourn their deaths.

In following this creed I will embrace the few positive things that I know of him.

What I know of my father is that he had a hard childhood.  He was a good athlete.  He worked hard.  He did what he could to provide for his wife and children before the divorce.  He was very tough.

I will remember the handful of times that I spent with my father that I think I got a glimpse of who he really was.  A fishing trip or two, a few walks in the woods.

I don't think my father was a bad man.  It certainly isn't my place to judge him.  I sometimes wonder if I had lived up to some of his expectations of me if things might have been different.  Maybe he would have identified with me or taken some interest in who I was, but I never could quite get there.

I am sorry that I couldn't bridge the gap.  I know I tried.  I know how much disappointment he felt when it came to me.  I felt it many times.

I am sitting here writing some dumb blog crying.  Not very tough.  Probably letting him down again.

I learned a great many things from my father.  Some day I hope to be a Dad.  I hope if that happens that my child thinks I am tough too, but I hope they have more than that to embrace and remember me by.

Here's to those few times when we were side by side with fishing poles.  I love you dad.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sea Otter 2012: The Umbrella Boy's Perspective

Thursday AM we got up super early and headed up to Monterey to race and enjoy the spectacle that is Sea Otter Classic.  We arrived at Laguna Seca Raceway around 1:30pm and immediately kitted up and rode a lap of the 20.5 mile race course, despite the fact that it wasn't necessarily the best preparation for the Umbrella Boy race on Friday.

First impressions: HATED IT!!!  Too much gravel road riding, not enough fun stuff.  Too long of a lap (and I had to do 2 of them).  No spectator areas.  Feed zone over 3.5 miles away from venue.

On the bright side there were a couple short sections that made me smile and BRAAAAP...

After the pre-ride we did a loop through the show to chat with a few people before checking into our motel room.  Umbrella Boy doubles as Team Mechanic so both of the S-Works Stumpjumper 29er's were the focus of the evening.  Race prepping the bikes went smoothly and I installed Allison's sweet new Ergon saddle for her!

Friday's schedule for the Umbrella Boy was to support Allison Mann (Pro Women's Short Track Race) and then kit up and "race" for over 40 miles in the heat of the day (equates to nearly 3 hrs).  I use quotes because I don't so much race that kind of time/distance as after the 1.5hr mark I am only surviving.  More on that later...

Allison had a pretty decent short track race.  I attribute that mostly to my umbrella holding skills at the start line.  Observations from the race, Allison seemed to have an acceptable start given her back row positioning.  At one point she was right with Kelly and Pua but either she faded or they accelerated, not sure which one as I don't have lap times (Umbrella Boy needs to step up with his stopwatch work!).  It was awesome to see her race again and really cool to see that she is racing around the same girls she was in 2010, this bodes well as she is still progressing in her training for this year!

Umbrella Boy then kitted up and headed out to warm up.  It was hot but I made the game time call to stick with the skin suit.  I just like racing in it!  Chatted some with my racing buddies as we rolled around and checked out the rutted exit from the race car track to figure out line selection just in case things were dicey.

Unfortunately I rolled over to staging really late.  It made me nervous but I was third row on the start.  In contrast to years past, the start was very docile.  Heck, it was down right friendly!  This was great as it afforded me enough time to squeeze through to the front.  The exception to this was interesting.  Marco and some other dude with a hydration pack attacked from the gun and were at least 30 seconds ahead when we touched dirt.  My strategy was to finish this race without locking up in cramps on the second lap so I knew not to chase.

I am leading the pack in the background, Marco is sitting on the wheel of Camelbak dude.

I positioned myself as best as I could knowing full well who the real contenders were.  Unfortunately there was a stupid steep section right before the first single track and when I reached that point Ty and Eric had a slight gap.  When I got close to the top someone gave me a push but when I crested the hill I heard complaints from the guys behind.  Dumb Justin then proceeded to sit up and try to nullify the effects of the push which gave Ty and Eric a gap that would never be closed again.  I don't think a bit of a push makes a difference in a 3 hour race but I can guarantee you that losing their draft did!  I just don't want someone to say I was cheating or something as it wasn't planned or requested...  though it was pretty darn sweet!

The rest of the race was pretty uneventful.  I didn't get passed, did lots of passing, tried to stay focused and go fast.  First lap went well.  I stayed fairly close to Ty and Eric despite the fact that they had the advantage of two riders drafting.  Second lap things went south almost immediately as my quads started to show signs of cramps.  I conserved and never locked up, but it was not so good a few times.  I slowed to a snails pace more than once, and came to a complete track stand twice.  Picture me, track standing on the single track climb, praying to the cycling gods to not make my legs cramp...  not pretty.

I made it out okay though and finished fourth, 13 minutes back from Marco's unbelievable performance.

After XC racing it was time to go back into Umbrella Boy mode.  Back at the motel I had some work to do prepping Allison's bike to ensure perfect operation in her XC race the next day.  I have a tradition of having a one-on-one chat with her bikes where I explain my expectations for it's performance and how high the penalty for failure is.  I also went into a bit of a tailspin regarding my own performance.  I was quite disappointed in my inability to keep up.  My cyclist melt down included consuming an ice cream sandwich, then I spiraled out of control eating a slice of pizza and a pint of ice cream, all after eating a dinner of leftovers.  

Allison was just shaking her head in disgust at my gluttony.

Allison's race went well from all angles.  I was stoked to see her do so well against a decent sized and international field!

I even let someone else hold the umbrella (I do a good job so no fear of being replaced).

Sunday we rode a lot of the XC course and I got pretty disgusted by all the trash we as racers left behind.  I spent most of the 2hr ride filling empty water bottles with gel and food wrappers and dumping them off in trash cans.  By no means did I pick up everything but I did my part to help clean up some.

On the way home I was again stoked to have my little TDI.   Not so much a BRAAAAP as a quiet clickety-clack like a sewing machine!!

Next stop is Prescott, Arizona and the Whiskey 50!  Life isn't so easy for the financial support/umbrella boy/mechanic/soigneur/driver/chef/etc...  but I wouldn't trade it for anything!  BRAAAAAP!!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Whole lotta change comin' my way!

For better or for worse, everything is about to change.  I have seen it coming for a long time, like a dust storm on the horizon that slowly darkens the sky (or more aptly, like the impending sunrise that slowly lightens it!)

I have put in notice with my current employer and will be starting a new job on the 30th.  Changing jobs isn't the end of the world, but this particular job change will pose some significant challenges for me to overcome with respect to time and training.

I know, I have had it good.  Currently I drive less than an hour a day (usually 15 minutes to work, at times as long as 40 minutes on the way home) and losing 2 hours more a day, every day, is really going to smart.  I am going to lose a lot of the time that I used to utilize for training or "family time".

On the other hand I will be working on new stuff, learning new things, expanding my capability as an engineer.  I should also be bringing home a better salary.  For a long time I have argued with myself that money wasn't what I wanted, that although I didn't have money I had something better, that I had quality of life.  Though I still feel quality of life is important, money does indeed make the world go round (or fund trips etc).

Enough about my employment.  I have been putting in what I considered to be a good year so far with respect to training and racing.  That was of course right up until the post-workout analysis of our intervals the other day.  It turns out that despite my best efforts I am just not a great engine, or even a good engine.  Maybe my disappointment with my own capabilities comes from direct comparison with my wife who is quite a good engine it turns out, but certainly my aspirations of reaching higher than the lower steps of the podium against the good engines of the world is a stretch goal at best.

What does all this mean?  Well it is likely a good thing that my job change will have me more focused on my career.  I never wanted to be an Elite bike racer, but now it seems maybe I have achieved the most I can with racing and can just be excited for last year's lack of competition which netted me a lot of victories.  I will still be out riding my bike as much as I can, because that is what I love to do, and will still be throwing down at the races that I attend.  The difference is that I won't really be racing for a top step of the podium.  I am racing to put in fast times on course.  It is a change of perspective and should allow me to enjoy things more considering that I am getting pummeled by better athletes.

No matter what I am still stoked on everything that is going on.  I have a wonderful wife who will be by my side (or up the road having dropped me, whichever the case) through it all.  The Mann Show will rock on!!!

Till next time...   BRAAAAP!!!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012



agreeing or accordant; compatible; not self-contradictory:His views and actions are consistent.
constantly adhering to the same principles, course, form,etc.: a consistent opponent.
holding firmly together; cohering.
Archaic fixed; firm.

With the exception of the race at Bonelli where my finishing position was dictated by the delicate stock rear tire on my new race whip, I have finished very consistently this year.

Though I would also argue I have been consistent in work, training, racing...  pretty much across the board.  Consistency is good to an extent.  There is however a plateau that one reaches with consistency.  Everything about us is geared to adapt and create a plateau, to compensate for stress levels that are present.  Sometimes we can stimulate growth by doing something small, a small increase in training volume or recovery, but every now and then you just gotta say "Fuck it!" and go for broke to see if you can push past your current plateau, past where you ever thought you could get to, and see if there is a "status quo" somewhere in the clouds above your current altitude.  Discomfort often accompanies this stimulus in some form or fashion.  If done right though, you can then level off at a new cruising altitude above where you were previously.

I do acknowledge that my current "altitude" is pretty damn great, I have climbed far from where I started and have had to dust myself off a few times and start over.  The higher we climb the farther we have to fall...  but lets not talk about that, staying positive here!

This week is a rest week but in the weeks to come I will be introducing all kinds of new stimuli.  I will try to blog about what transpires but I honestly don't know if I will have time.  With some luck I will eventually hit a new plateau at higher elevation and my loyal blog readers will be rewarded for their patience.

Speaking of luck, yesterday was the two year anniversary of my broken neck.  It is good to have perspective and to be thankful.  True I am going to be making a big push for changing things up and trying to get to the next level, but that doesn't mean that I am not truly happy that I can still get up in the morning and stretch out (albeit a tad more slowly than before my broken neck), or to go for a bike ride and soak in the wonderful sunlight (while KEEPING MY FUCKING HEAD UP!).  Being thankful for the little things is something we all forget from time to time...

After all that if you are still reading, here is my weekend recap...


4 hours of shredding perfect single track on an amazing day with my wife and Ben Jones.

I don't have any pics from the day, so I will just steal a couple from Allison.  I was rocking out to some sweet tunes via Bluetooth helmet sound system from O-tus Safe Sounds.  Pretty cool to have tunes without chords, be able to easily control them (on/off, skip, volume up/down), and all the while hold a conversation with the nice people you are riding with!

I am getting out of chronological order here, but when asked on Sunday why I did a big 4 hour ride with lots of climbing the day before the Sycamore Canyon US Cup race, my response was an emphatic, "Racing isn't so important that I am willing to pass up a perfect day shredding awesome trails with my wife!"


I fully admit that I didn't feel "ready" to race after Saturday's adventure.  I will also admit that there are more factors than just Saturday's ride that left me feeling deflated and tired.  One of those factors was rolling to the races alone again.

Allison's training called for a 5 hour road ride.  She left the house just before me to ride a serpentine route I made for her up to the race venue that would have her arriving some time around the end of my race.  I teared up a bit after driving past her and then moved on.

I rode one lap of the course during warm up to get a look at it before hitting it at race pace.  It was the same course as last year with a tiny change here or there so no big surprises.

I felt a little more ready to race by the time we got around to lining up.  That is one thing about racing, it seems to narrow the scope and focus my energy to one point, going fast, at least for a little while.  I had a good start.  This week the 30-34 AG started in the wave ahead of us so the group was a little smaller, but Marco stepped up to the plate in creating first lap shenanigans.  He made a wrong turn on the "Start Loop" and then scrambled to get back to the front.  There were four of us out front initially and I was feeling okay sitting third wheel onto the first good descent.  Unfortunately Marco wasn't done playing with us and made a mistake in the relatively easy rock section sampling some dirt while leading, the rest of us smashed up accordion style behind him while he spit dirt out of his grill.  I didn't wait around to offer him any advice for his descending, hope that doesn't make me a bad team mate!  Eric and I squeezed by as soon as there was room and Eric proceeded to go balls to the wall while I sat on.

We got to the bottom of the course and started back up the other side and that is when things went a bit sideways for me.  Eric hit the climb and almost immediately started to open a gap.  It wasn't like the wheels totally fell off my wagon, and I am not really sure I have ever really gone faster than I was, but I wasn't riding his wheel and I am sure that gave Eric some extra motivation to continue to pry the gap open further.  He was definitely stronger on the day.  Not long after that, before we finished Lap 1 actually, Marco went by me like a freight train putting me in third.

Again the finish order was settled on the first lap.  I did my best to maintain my pace after losing sight of Marco.  For most of a lap I was going back and forth with Ted Willard, he started in the wave ahead, who was climbing strong but not matching my speed anywhere else.  In fact the only real mistake I made the entire race was during the time I was trying to scrape him off, I was gassed and lost my front wheel in some sand on a loose left hand turn on the climb.  Still learning.

Eventually I shed Ted and I was alone.  Nobody I could see ahead, and nobody that I could identify behind.  I tried to stay on the gas but the cement had started to harden around my legs and I was locked in third.  Consistent.

One of the greatest things about racing is the respect that some of us share for each other as athletes.

My consolation prize this week was that my team mate Marco came back from his dramatic first lap to take the top step.  Bikes for Boobs baby!!!!!

As usual thanks to everyone that supports our racing adventures.  Special thanks to 110% Play Harder for coming out and checking out the races at Sycamore!  Randy hooked me up with just about the coolest podium socks EVER!  I even put them back on after my shower because I like them so much!

Till next time..  BRAAAAP!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The other day I was on a training ride on the road and as often happens with "mindless miles" lots of different topics flitted through my head.

I have missed putting my thoughts and race reports on my blog but I have been slammed.  There are lots of things going on and I am trying to make some dramatic changes so a lot of the moments where I would author a blog have been absorbed with research or just some distraction from the stress  of the situation.  In the same stream of consciousness I realized from the casual outside observer who knows I haven't been placing 1st at the races, it might seem like my lack of blogging is sour grapes for not being on top of the podium.  This couldn't be further from the truth!  After an email exchange with Chuy (completely unrelated topic, but likely one of the coolest exchanges I have had with another athlete) I finally got the last bit of motivation to set aside some bandwidth for blogging today.

It has been so long that I don't think I can capture everything I would have wanted to.  I will try to recall some of the highlights...

Vail Lake US Cup:

First race of the year, in our back yard, with the new team and new kits and all the excitement, Vail had a huge buildup for me.

I am still learning lots of things on the training and racing front though and Saturday morning I was alarmed to see the scale reading 146lbs, somehow in the previous two weeks before the race I had lost over 4 pounds.  Uncharted territory for sure.  Looking back, I wasn't fueling sufficiently.

I had been trapped into the idea that since my FTP didn't seem to be increasing that the only way for me to compete would be to get lighter at all costs.  I think that mentality has hurt me some recently and have since made a correction the other way.

Back to my race recap!  The schedule for Vail had Short Track and SuperD on Saturday and XC on Sunday.  Short track was interesting as the field was combined CAT1 and Pro.  The start was typically hard and I was in a pretty good spot.  I managed to not get hung up in a first corner crash which put me close to the leaders.  There were about 5 or 6 of us out near the front on the first lap.

A few of the lead group faded just a bit and the last few laps it was Marco and Jason battling for first and Miguel and I duking it out for third.

Going out on the last lap I had a gap on Miguel but completely ran out of steam.  He caught and passed me on the climb and I was unable to answer his move leaving me in 4th overall and 2nd CAT1.

This race was somewhat demoralizing.  I was stoked on finishing with a good position but having watched Marco racing for the lead from the back seat, and stretching out the gap despite my best efforts, I definitely started to feel that the 4 minute gap from last year in race times was likely to not have changed for this year.  I put in solid training, didn't have any setbacks, I hoped to be closer.

As a great consolation prize I rallied later that day and smashed the entire field in SuperD.  Home course advantage...  but I will take it!

Sunday's XC race was another affair altogether.  Marco attacked right away and gapped everyone on the first climb.  I was buried in the chase group but was somewhat content as I had observed Marco's superiority the previous day.  Slowly the group fell apart and I was sitting third with a small gap to second place.  When I tagged onto his back wheel I called up that I was willing to work with him to try to catch Marco.  I didn't think I could do it alone and was factoring in the higher speed climbing sections where drafting could favor a good working duo.  Unfortunately it didn't pan out, when we started up Ambulance I looked back and there was a good gap.  I figured my best bet at that point was to use my descending to try to close on Marco.

I managed to do just that but a few mistakes (clipped my bars on a bush on Slingshot and flew into the ravine, and made a tactical error near the end of the last lap on BMX) left me in a close second place on the day.

To be honest I wasn't sure what to think of the race afterwards.  In post race analysis it sort of seemed like Marco was playing with me some.  He definitely felt bad for me when my bottle exchange was botched due to some crazy feed zone shenanigans that left me without a bottle for 30 minutes in 95 degree heat.  I rode his wheel for the better part of the race but couldn't figure out if he LET me ride his wheel or if I EARNED it.  I figured it was more of the first option as he certainly showed the previous day that he was stronger.  In any case it was a fun race and it was great to have our new team take so many podium spots!

Allison posts a weekly update on the training stuff and now that I have a Training Peaks account I can review my notes and stuff on there, no need to add training fluff in this blog so on to race number two, Bonelli Park Pro XCT!

Gotta mention, we rode with a really awesome road racer from the Specialized Lululemon squad, she went on to destroy some races recently too!

Bonelli Pro XCT:

Bonelli had a significantly different schedule with XC and SuperD on Saturday, and just Short Track on Sunday.  I picked up a new Sworks 29er HT on Thursday and had ridden it for maybe 2 hours when I lined up to race on Saturday morning.

With the switch to 29er wheels I was somewhat unprepared with respect to tires.  I hoped that I could make it through the race at Bonelli on the stock Sworks Renegade tires.  My hopes were dashed quickly though, while sitting in perfect position on the first lap something sliced the sidewall of the rear tire and I found myself standing on the side while the rest of the race raged on.

After repairing the rear wheel with a tube and CO2 (this was a first for any race) I remounted my steed and started riding.

At first I wasn't very motivated.  I knew I had lost at least 5 minutes.  Almost immediately though other racers and spectators started cheering for me.

It seemed "Go Mann Show!" came flying at me from everywhere!  It was inspiring.

I leaned forward and dug deep, chargeding forward through the field eventually slicing my way back up to 7th position.

I was disappointed by my finish position.  I had been feeling good and hoped to chase Ty and Marco.  I was frustrated, but that is racing!  It didn't last long though as shortly after I finished my race I got to watch Allison dominate and win her first Pro XCT race!

I was pretty wiped out after a long day by the time SuperD rolled around but I still had some hopes for redemption.  I grabbed my trusty 2011 Sworks Epic and set off to see what I could do.  Unfortunately due to the scheduling of the race I started after the sun went down.  Despite a crash in a dark tree covered area I pulled off a second place, not what I had hoped for but a solid showing.

It was going to be a long drive for Short Track on Sunday and Allison had bashed herself up pretty good.

A quick email to her coach confirmed that we would spend Sunday in recovery mode instead of racing.  Next stop, Funtucky!

Fontana City "National" (just a local USAC race now):

Bikes for Boobs Skinsuits!!!!

The schedule for this race conflicted with Allison's plans for training so I was racing this one solo and "training through" the race to continue preparing for the season on her schedule.  No short track, and only SuperD on Saturday meant that I was out in the Santa Anas with Allison for a long 4 hour ride the day before the XC race.

 Not the best race preparation, but it seems for some reason I do well when faced with adverse conditions!  What was perfect about this ride was it gave me the chance to test out my new Specialized 2.2" Fast Track tires!  They worked so well I scrapped my plans of riding my Epic and loaded the new 29er on the truck instead!

Sunday morning I drove to Fontana and Allison rode there (4 hours on the road bike) to support me during my race.  I tried to get a bit longer of a warm up knowing that the fatigue in my legs was going to make them heavy.  The start was a bit different as we went off in a combined 30-39 wave with only the Pro Men and Women ahead of us (30-34 and 35-39 are scored separate but started together).  I am sure this was done to help the leaders of our group not have so much traffic on lap one working through the back of the 30-34 racers.

The start went off well it seemed and I was positioned reasonably in the group.  Unfortunately not far into the lap Ted (SDG/Felt) had an issue of some sort and flew over the bars.  I am pretty sure he was sitting second wheel at the time and managed to take out a significant portion of the lead group.  I lucked out and was offset to his right, easily slipping by despite the fact that his long appendages were flailing across most of the trail.

I was now second wheel headed onto the first climb and knew that as soon as we hit the asphalt the attacks would come.  Ty moved past me but seemed to be content with a fairly casual pace (for him, I was of course running near max and barely hanging on).  Near the cutoff to the single track Eric Bostrom put in a dig and I countered.

For a few seconds I wasn't sure how it was going to play out.  Eric had the inside line on the corner and could have forced the issue and sent us into a game of elbow wars which I am fairly sure I was prepared for, at the last second though he conceded verbally and said I could have it if I wanted it.  I took it and was second wheel to Ty up the first single track.  Again Ty seemed to be setting a nearly human pace and I think that I learned a few things following him for the short time we were together.  He has a vast amount of racing experience compared to me and if I can learn something from him all the better!

Unfortunately we were already working our way through the Pro Women and Men and I got schooled in what happens if you hesitate.  Ty was slashing through the slower riders and I wasn't.  A gap formed.  Then as we crested and started down the first main descent Ty got around a woman and I was trapped!  My focus went to shit, I panicked, I was trying to think ahead on the trail to a spot that would let me make a pass.  I hit the first corner, a loose 180 left, and washed the front end.  Dumb Justin!  I do my best to race clean so called Eric by me as I picked my bike up to resume the chase.  Just my horrible luck, Eric slashed his way past the female rider and again I was left held up.  By the end of that track Eric had established about a 25 second lead and I was never able to bridge even after the conditions shifted in my favor with rain (I love racing in the rain).

Despite a solid race I was left third on the day.

So although I don't have any big victories to blabber about (Allison does!), I have been racing hard.  The difference is that this year I am racing against much tougher competition.  Regardless of finish position I am stoked to be as physically fit and having this much fun on my bike whether racing or training with Allison!  She has made big strides in her comeback this year!

We both have a lot of racing ahead of us and hope that we make everyone at Bikes for Boobs and Rock N' Road proud of our efforts!

Thanks to all the team sponsors and everyone that has aligned themselves with our cause.  We are making an impact outside of racing with 25 cases of cancer detected so far!

Please help us keep fighting cancer.  You can donate through my blog, the Bikes for Boobs website, or by purchasing Bikes for Boobs gear from Rock N' Road Cyclery!  If you are far from one of their four convenient stores in Southern California please contact me for details as to how you can purchase gear and have the proceeds go toward saving boobs!