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!!!