Your life is 90% over... when you think it is half done

You think you are half done with life or even less? No, only 10% of your experiential time is left for you to save

You have one foot, a torso, two hands, and a watch in the grave

Be safe, stick with your routine, be comfortable, live “the dream”

and die in a few temporal seconds. Goodnight, you’re dead, end of scene.

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The Worst Breakup: The Mourning After Sports

The Worst Breakup: The Mourning After Sports heartbreak_444561633

You fell in love. She was elusive, distant, exciting. She taught you things about yourself no one else could or did. She took you to new places all over the world.  Months, years were spent chasing her, growing closer, winning and wooing. But, even after entering her warm embrace there was something missing, held back, a slightly stiffened spine, the latent question always lingering, “are you good enough for me?” This whispered hint kept you running, producing fervent efforts to prove yourself, to earn her affections.

Over time the relationship matured, settling into an uneasy balance: occasional punctuations of dizzy delight when things went perfectly and then the opposite, an arbitrary and tempestuous falling out when they didn’t. These episodes created a delicate tension keeping you in her thrall, ever subservient to her whims, always chasing, always pursing. Ageless, her remote beauty and charms only grew and as time passed you grew aware of an expanding list of suitors who began to surround her, muscles flexing, until one day it all ended as she loudly and publicly chose another. The moment was sickening: even as she welcomed a new young, fresh lover to her embrace she continued to call out her undying love to you. You, however, were jaded now: you had been through it all before and had made your choice. Too tired, too old, too weak, too lame, too hobbled from injury you decided to walk away from her fickle charms forever.

Her name was “Sport.”

All breakups are difficult, but the worst breakups are those where attraction still exists even as one party moves on and when there is no clean break, the cuckholded husband forced to watch his replacement woo his wife. The separation from elite sport is this sort of breakup. Even as her insatiable demand for perfection forces you from her embrace, her demeanor never changes, she is still there beckoning even as she entertains the latest crop of suitors. And, unlike real romances, the entire charade, parade and transition is done publicly under flashing lights without any sense of guile or gall. No one apologizes and averted gazes are only directed to you: the flawed, aging or weakened suitor.

What preparation are young, passionate, competitive, perfectionist men and women given to guard against this inevitable moment? Little to none as it turns out. Not once in my 15 years competing on various national teams did anyone ever provide guidance about “retirement” from sport.  For the romantic fallen, the discarded companions, the color of life disappears and is replaced by grasping black pits of hopelessness that yawn for long periods, occasional white sparks of manic optimism intruding and then fading into stretches of grey. She is gone. I will never again measure up. There is no replacement for the feeling she brought me. She took my livelihood, my funding, my sense of self. I am nothing now.

At some point in most normal breakups the color returns and a true separation from the “Ex” is made. Old healthy relationships re-assume their former stature, new ones form, and in the blue distance of time and perspective the warm colors of hope return. Eventually for most, new and better relationships are formed and the brilliant red drumbeat of life resumes.

But, what if after the breakup no separation ever occurred? What if the two divorced parties were still forcibly joined in an endless anti-matrimony with an arbitrary set of rules that look something like this:

1)     The exact set of qualities that earned your lover’s attention are replicated and improved by the new suitors that have taken your place. They look exactly like you, act exactly like you, but simply put, they are better than you.

2)     Your former lover still legitimately needs and wants you, but just as a “friend” since you know so much about her and she and her friends constantly draw you in to the same social circle.

3)     Sometimes the only way to make any kind of living is working directly for your former lover and her new suitors in an odd soup of fading admiration and mild contempt.

If this sounds like a recipe for a bout of depression then you are right. I am not aware of any studies that exist on the exit of elite athletes from sport, but anecdotally the story is much the same.

You've met them: the high school football star who didn’t get to play in college, the college track star who never made the Olympics. The Olympian who never won a medal. The silver medalist who never won gold. The gold medalist who failed to win again... and all of those who, at some point were forced to retire and in so doing put to bed the one singular intense focus of their entire lives in order to move on.

The desires and requirements of elite sport are insatiable: at some point everyone fails to measure up. Nothing and no-one can satisfy this lover, the ungrateful achievement whore who demands perfection every time and rallies the voices of the world to judge. Michael Phelps? A failure for only, ONLY winning 19 Olympic medals. Bode Miller – failure. Lindsay Vonn- fail. USA basketball – fail. USA Hockey - fail.  Only a few seem to escape the trap by breaking up first - exiting on top and declaring their undying love to some new lover (even if no one believes it). Perhaps Apolo Ohno falls into this camp, or perhaps he’s still riding the coattails of his mistress and doesn’t yet know what awaits.

When I broke up with sport it was heart breaking. It was February of 1998 and weak, slow and tired I failed to qualify for the last final at the Olympic trials despite having a fantastic pre-season winning the first American cup. I did not have enough points to make a second Olympic team and at 29 years old I also knew I could not possibly go another 4 years of income-less training to try again. So, I declared my retirement and Chris Needham, the competition’s announcer, shared it on the loudspeaker of the Lake Placid Olympic Rink. Immediately after in the echoing hallways of the arena I sobbed like a child, terribly embarrassed when my teammates saw me. That night I sat on the steps of the Lake Placid OTC with Apolo Ohno (who had also failed to make the team) and commiserated.

I cried on and off for days. Skating was the rhythm of my life, my reason for being. Despite all my passion and sacrifice I had failed to make a second Olympic team despite putting every sinew and synapse towards that love affair the sense of loss was overwhelming. My friend and teammate Stefan Spielman was a rising star in cycling when at age 20 injuries forced him to retire despite 8 surgeries attempting to fix the problem. The loss stayed with him, weighed him down for a decade or more, in fact he's still not sure he's entirely over it. "I would have paid any price just to be back competing, trying.  I was so depressed for 5-10 years, even up to today I do not think I am over that loss."

I was fortunate. I had a new love and one that could actually compete with my former affair – I was in love with a real woman. I also found separation – immediately: the next morning I moved all my meager possessions into a car and drove 45 hours straight west to get as far away from ice as I could, landing in Phoenix, Arizona with my fiancé and starting a new life. I was also fortunate enough to have a fallback in the form of a pair of college degrees from good schools. I hoped that someone would hire me despite my failure and had to be convinced to even put my sports achievements on my resume.

It may sound odd, but the overwhelming feeling I had for a long time regarding my time in sports was one of embarrassment. In those early years I lived with an ambient backdrop of humiliation. I had professed to be something I was not, and I had failed. My romance with sport had become a source of disgrace. Fellow speedskater and Olympic bronze medalist Alex Izykowski shared similar feelings, "I shared the same 'disgrace'. I had a very similar reaction for about a 2 year period…which came after a year-long denial period."

I refused to watch the 1998 Olympics and for nearly a decade I didn't talk about the sport, didn’t enter an ice rink and severed most of my connections with my friends from that world.  I gladly gave my Olympic medal to my parents who kept it for a decade and lived enshrouded in the bubble a new world of work, marriage and, eventually, parenthood.

It was many years later before I finally began to recognize the gift that sport had given me: of discipline, agility, tenaciousness, self confidence and perseverance. It was nearly a decade later when the rewards of that original relationship were made plain to me.

It started simply. A sign in a grocery store in Madison, Wisconsin read, "Short Track World championships coming to Madison Wisconsin – Volunteers needed." And I thought to myself, "well I could help out - prepare the track, chase blocks - whatever." So I called the number.

"Hello?” I said and continued, “Yes, I saw the ad for the world championships and ... I'm a former speedskater and thought I could help out if you still need volunteers.." An odd pause on the end of the phone.

"Coyle?!!"

"Is that you?"

Welcomed back. It was Tom Riley one of my former competitors and a coach and organizer for the event. Quickly I was re-enrolled in the sport in a new role and recognized not for my failure, but for the part I had played. I began coaching, I began announcing and then was invited to join the Olympic broadcast crew for the Olympics with NBC the following year in Torino, again in Vancouver, and soon in Sochi Russia.

I have been very lucky - my first love has requited her love to me in unforeseen ways. No, perhaps they will never trump the one desire that I aimed to achieve - a gold medal - but with perspective I can see that even such an accomplishment would not have been enough. Perhaps had I reached my goal, my pain would have been lessened, or, perhaps it would have been that much worse. At some point the chase must be replaced by the lessons and narrative of the pursuit.

I do wonder and worry for the coaches of sport. I see so many of my peers during those years still traveling, still on ice, still chasing a revised version of that dream. How many of them are still pursuing the same unrelenting mistress and translating their energies into vicarious living through their athletes, trying to become what, in hindsight is impossible – a marriage to sport until “death do us part.” It does put into perspective some of the incredible passions displayed by some of my coaches through the years. It was almost as though they wanted it more than us…

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PS: There is an even more uncomfortable wrinkle to this tale. What if someone’s breakup with sport occurred during the transition to an era of cheating and performance enhancing drugs. What if an early retirement from, say, cycling, occurred right as the elite of sport took to illegal substances to improve their performance? What might have this crop of legitimate athletes have accomplished? Scott McKinley, Mike McCarthy, Marty Jemison and others on the cusp of greatness, winning the world’s toughest events and then suddenly marginalized – only to learn a decade and a half later that maybe, just maybe it wasn’t their limbs that failed them. It is hard to imagine what was stolen from these incredible athletes and and hundreds of others by the cheating scandals in cycling and other sports. Cheating is the perfect word – the heartbreak resulting from the betrayal of true love is perhaps the saddest outcome and these athletes can only wonder what “might have been.”

2013 Race Report: Birmingham Bike Festival

2013 Race Report: Birmingham The drive from Chicago to Detroit began a structure of energy and feeling that emerged like a fractal: it started with the frenzy and stress of the busy suburbs, frequent merges required to traverse the ant trails of the city, my right foot a hummingbird between the nectar of the accelerator and the threat of the brake, bright sunlight from above burning twitching limbs and blinding eyes.

The transition to Indiana began with a ribbed series of long, straight, tarred concrete boulevards surrounded by a parade of ugly billboards pimping everything from hardware to strip clubs and then finally, the curve to the north and the relief of the Michigan border. The transition came quickly its first relief from the afternoon heat found in dappled wood-lined bends, shadows stretching in the late August sun. With the cruise control humming, calm emerged and I grew thoughtful, leaning into the curves.

As usual it was a “race to the race,” but this time merely to join members of my team the Wolverine Sports Club for a simple breaking of bread the night before the actual event. I arrived with ample time to spare and sat in the parking lot of my old grade school / middle school / high school in Southfield marveling at how it was both novel and natural to park the same parking spot of my 17 year old self and gaze upon the bricks that enwombed and entombed me for 13 years as a child, teen and young adult. Egg shells and dripping yolks by the high school entrance reminded me of a series of senior pranks including cementing the doors shut and painting handicapped symbols in every single parking space. Good times.

Pulling into Birmingham I felt the easy embrace of my cycling brethren: the graceful green intellect of Kelly and Jay, the joyful banter of the Rodd brothers and their ladies Chelsey and Sam, Sarah’s competitive curiosity and Kroske with his camera and quick humor. The night was warm then cool, conversation transitioned and groups reformed and I stumbled into Jay and Kelly’s house near midnight, content yet missing my family.

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I slept in the dark basement without setting an alarm never questioning the notion that I’d awaken in time for an 11:20am race. Wine and time zones conspired and I awoke at 10:20am and faced the usual mad scramble to make the race: eat, shower, dress, pack, lockup, drive, get money a the ATM, register for the race, pin the number on the jersey, assemble the bike, pump up the tires, and then, with 7 minutes left, “warmup.”

The race started fast and strung out quickly. For two laps I stayed in 5th position before folding and tucking back behind the draft of the larger peleton. I had forgotten to fill my water bottle and only had ½ bottle for the 50 minute long race and had to ration my sips. The first ten laps were difficult but eventually the pack settled in and I rode the eddies and currents of the rear of the peleton. I felt the newfound power of a clean drivetrain coursing through my veins and into the pedals and determined I would have a shot at the win. I could hear twice that my friend and competitor Paulo Eugeni won two primes in a row. Good for him.

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Then the pace picked up again and the pack slinkied out single file with 10 laps to go as a break of strong riders went clean. I danced inside and outside the turns with Ray Dybowski and had glimpses of fellow Wolverines Jay, John and Kroske for a few laps and then heard from Tim Finkle the announcer that Ray was putting in his signature move of a late break, but to no avail. There was already a break up the road and the peleton was determined to bring it back.

The sun was now heating the pavement and limbs. Families were lining up in advance of the kids race. Tires were grippy and risks could be taken on the tight yet smooth turns and I spent 10 laps enjoying the mastery of efficient pack surfing, gracefully pedaling through corners on cruise control. With 5 to go we gained sight of the breakaway and began to reel it in. The pace was high and the peleton single file – 200 yards from tip to tail. I was sitting 2nd to last and waited for the pack to hit the inevitable lull so that I could move up for the sprint. It never happened.

We caught the break with 2 to go but another surge happened and finally I realized I had to play the hand I had been dealt. On the backstretch with 1 ½ to go I surged up the outside, asking John Sammut for permission to move out. I jumped from 60th to 30th and then followed wheels through the turbulence and then heard the bell for one lap to go. Again on the backstretch I lit a match and jumped up the inside from 30th to 10th before entering the chicane, but now, with only 400m left I realized that my efforts were too late and that my weakness from the accelerations and the single file line ahead of me would not present any opportunity for the win. I skipped a few wheels and finished a reasonable but unsatisfactory 8th – in the money but hardly fulfilled.

Nostalgia reigned after the race as voices and faces from my youth emerged as the kids race and then the Pro race were sent from the line. My great friend Kirk had arrived and we meandered the course, I talked with Ray, cheered Randy and Ryan and Ryan and Ray, ate with Kelly and Jay, talked with Kirk, saw TJ and Duane and the Andreau’s and Stechkines. The sun angled early and I got back in the Jag and pointed the smoothly humming V8 west at 80mph for for the ride into the setting sun.

Something, many things stuck with me. Most of all what I recall was Kelly and Jay talking about their exit and return to Michigan. They had moved to Wisconsin, and then faced adversity. They looked for community; they cast hooks and reeled in empty lines. They realized, she realized, that they were lonely. The defined loneliness and I sat and listened in rapt attention. They realized that they missed their friends and the sense of belonging of Detroit’s cycling community. One year later they moved back. Despite the economics, despite the city’s woes, despite the climate they moved back and were once again happy.

I have been a Wolverine since 1976 and in some way part of that community since I was 8 years old. I always look forward to seeing anyone from the club or cycling community including previous members – Ryan Cross, the Rodd Bros, Ray D., Frankie, Jose, Sarah, Brett, TJ, Duane, Jason, John Sammut, Cullen, Duane, Mark, Scott, Kelly, Jay, Danny, Jamie, Tim, and dozens of others. Other than a brief stint with 7-11 I have always had a Wolverine cycling license despite many offers to switch to teams when I lived in Arizona, Wisconsin or Illinois. To be honest I didn’t give it much thought – I liked being part of the “club of champions” and flying my colors in remote regions.

The sun was setting as I turned off the cruise control and crossed the Indiana state line with a line of cars blocking my way as I headed west. I was having an unnamed feeling, one that I had felt on and off for a few years. The sun was lighting up the worn stones in the concrete like gold coins. I tried to thread my way through traffic but lapsed into the single file queue towards the border. The feeling grew stronger and I avoided naming it. I tried the radio, flipped stations but the sun dipped lower and lower and avoided my visor and lit up my retinas with its brilliance and eclipsing descent towards my current home.

A rush of nostalgia for the previous hours returned. Perhaps my feelings had a name. Perhaps I too am “lonely.”

Perhaps I too need to head “home.”

Choose your suffering...

I was reminded of this bit of wisdom over the weekend. The human existence contains suffering - no matter how much we avoid it, dodge it, drug it or outspend it, it finds us. In fact in a few brief intervals of my life when I was not subject to a rather rigorous discipline of training or school or a demanding job where I was suffering regularly for a cause, I found that my whole day became saturated with a low level angst that penetrated all my activity.

When I retired from sport and was able to luxuriate in doing nothing for a few weeks and months while looking for a job I quickly found my days wasting away and then scrambling to send a few resumes by the end of the day which coulda/shoulda taken 30 minutes in the morning.

Work requires a chosen form of suffering in the investments of time and energy to the tasks that aren't "awesome". I "reward" myself at the end of a work day by saving my favorite tasks for last AND by allowing myself the occasion to write on this blog or theartofreallyliving.com  But... it is not enough. My body as well as my brain needs some physical form of stress to clear out the cobwebs and clear my mind.

Lately I've pretended that work stress was a substitute for physical stress - that the "suffering" I've chosen for work could serve as a substitute for putting in miles on the bike. I was wrong.

On Saturday morning I was tired. I had had a long week, late nights, big client deliverables. Each evening I barely squeezed in a short ride to prep for the coming big race in Elk Grove. Saturday morning came and instead of sleeping in I had to get up earlier than a work day to eat, then head to the race.

I was "on the rivet" every minute of those next 30 miles. I had a mouth full of pennies after the first half lap, tasting lactic acid and feeling the uncoordinated burn of a body not yet really in shape. It was a shredding debilitating pain and I convinced myself to finish at least one lap of 1.2 miles. After one lap I convinced myself to protect my pride and complete two laps. After two, I said, "one more straightaway" and made it. It slowed a little right when I intended to quit on lap 3. Again on lap 4. Lap 5 I got dropped, but a splinter group chasing hard brought me back.  Again on lap 10, then lap 14 and 16. I got dropped over 20 times and managed to reconnect often by hitting the U-turn at 20mph when the pack was taking it at 5mph. I ran the currents and eddies and swung up 30 places only to drop 29 on the next straightaway. I was suffering immensely. I wanted to quit, I even tried to quit, but always the race reabsorbed me.

And then it was over. I didn't win. I was actually "last" - in that of the racers that finished I coasted across last. A few dozen had been "dropped" I suppose, but I did have a quiet pride about not quitting. I had turned myself inside out and was exhausted... but the great thing about the bike is you can immediately feel good again...Not sore, not fatigued, just "clear."

I went home. I checked my bike. I had a small mechanical problem that appeared to be the equivalent of riding with the brakes on. My legs and lungs were lit up like a christmas tree and twitched all night, but when I woke up on Sunday and rode back to watch the final pro race, my synapses and fast twitch muscles were on fire - I rode the big ring to and from the race and averaged the fastest pace on a training ride that I have all season. Was it the mechanical fix? Or did the massive suffering the day before reactivate long slumbering muscle fibers?

I guess I can't know, but I do know that when you choose your suffering and invest in positive stress that makes you stronger, the outcome is a kind of joy that is hard to find in the walks of everyday life. Riding home Sunday after the race was one of the best afternoons I have had in months - just me against the wind, wheels and sky.

At Craig and Kim's house - at the 300m line
At Craig and Kim's house - at the 300m line

2. What Happened to "Endless Summers?"

“Sweet childish days, that were as long, as twenty days are now.”
William Wordsworth

You are eight years old. Your eyes flicker open in the late morning to the brilliance of the summer sun streaming through the wide open window. The light warms the side of your face and your skin glistens with moisture from the humid air - no air conditioning to dry it out. But it isn't the sun or the humidity that rouses you, it is the rumble of lawnmowers and the deep green scent of freshly mown grass - the sound and smell of summer.

You fall out bed and head to the kitchen to pour yourself a bowl of cereal, then head out to the couch to voicelessly join your siblings watching cartoons. After breakfast the magic moment occurs: with the front door wide open, the brilliant shafts of the morning sun angle towards you through the screen door lighting up the entryway, beckoning. In the chiaroscuro of those golden rays you see them, those mysterious motes of dust like stars dancing against the black. Beyond the screen door your eyes travel to the driveway, the freshly mown grass, and the possibilities of sidewalks and sprinklers, bikes and forts and friends and candy bars at the corner store.

Summer calls. So you do the only natural thing, you run outside to play, screen door banging behind you. “Make sure you are home for dinner!” your mom shouts and you reply “OK!” without breaking stride. Another endless summer day of long days and short shadows awaits…

I have a vague recollection of the first time I realized that time wasn’t linear. I was 16 and enjoying summer like always before, swimming, hanging out with friends, boating on the lake, riding and racing my bike all with the August summer sun still high in the sky. Then a piece of mail arrived announcing the first day of school a few weeks hence and I remember this intense disturbance. I felt like summer and time itself had been stolen from me. Shadows lengthened school began and sense of nostalgic loss permeated my thoughts. "Where did it go?" I wondered, "what happened to the summers that used to last forever?”

Question: do you remember the first time you realized that time didn’t flow evenly? That, indeed time was accelerating?

(T-15122)

A Walkabout in Wisconsin... Or, Tour de Franzia

A Walkabout in Wisconsin or… Tour de Franzia For reasons I don’t quite understand there is a significant difference in the psychological value between an out-and-back ride (repetition: same way back), a loop ride (variation: different way back), and a point-to-point ride (progress: destination as a goal from the starting point.)

Out and back rides are generally to be avoided as the fruitlessness of your efforts are obvious and every pedal stroke out has a corresponding pedal stroke back that is completely demotivating unless there is some form of stellar scenery that makes it worthwhile. Wind really matters in an out and back – preference always being for a headwind on the way out. Case-in-point for a worthwhile out-and-back would be a ride along the seaside.

The loop ride is a staple of every cyclist and serves to pretend that ones’ pedaling efforts are not a zero sum game by avoiding the repetition of any portion of the ride. Loop rides are essential and satisfy a number of requirements: 1) they begin and end in a place that has storage for your bike (your house, your car etc.) 2) It provides varied scenery and a sense of progress 3) It requires no coordination with outside forces (transport).

A point-to-point ride entails starting and ending in a different place and is far more challenging to coordinate, usually requiring the agency of outside support to provide transport, creating a dependency typically exactly opposite the freedom riding nominally entails. These are rare, in fact, I suspect there are a number of cyclists who have never experienced one. That is sad because the value is exponential to the traditional ride in ways that can only be understood by doing one.

Yes, there is something irrationally compelling about a point-to-point ride when it can be arranged. It becomes a journey with measurable progress versus the zero sum game of an out-an-back or loop ride. With reasonable distance it transcends the notion of a “ride” to become an “adventure.” Checkpoints and stop-offs all become trade-offs against the final destination, while the clock and the required distance create intensity an arbitrary loop can never hold. For once, you have to ride, make progress, make tradeoffs vs. a timeline.

Maybe there is more it than that. Maybe we as a species were designed to wander, to “walkabout.” In Bruce Chatwin’s book, “The Songlines” he suggests the evolutionary notion that constant peripatetic movement is genetically programmed into us from our distant ancestors, and that for some of us, a “walkabout” or point-to-point journey is the only salve for our souls. In this same book Chatwin exposes the reader to the model of music-as-a-map: that ancestral aborigines, absent written language or maps, evolved a lyrical addition to the oral tradition that included music as a cognitive map – the one and only way someone could remember their way though someone else’s memory of places and spaces was through song; a score conducted to notes and lyrics representing a vast geography and topography.

True or not, I love this notion, I love it with all my being: that music was the math and the legend behind ancient travel. Places, spaces, and paces metered out in a rhythm, meter and rhyme through the red sands and lost spaces of the Australian outback. Lose the pace, lose the chorus and your life is forfeit. Sunrises and sunsets assume stanzas for the complex composition while the distance sets the meter. The terrain creates the melody with pastoral scenes setting contrast with the intensity of the obstacles of caverns, jungle, mountains and wind.

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It makes sense. If you have ever taken a memory test, you may have discovered that contrary to conventional thinking, the more detail, the more color, the more descriptive details you can add to an arbitrary list of words to remember, the greater propensity one has to remember it. Is the Chatwin précis too farfetched that the aborigines of Australia managed journeys across a giant continent using “songlines” of these descriptions, colors and rhythms?

I personally find this instinctual. Since my very first international trip – to Morocco, when I was 17 years old, I imagined the places I’d be – the cracked alleys, arid heights, the humid valleys, the salty ocean-sides and sand strewn desert abysses. I instinctively created a rhythm for the march ahead by recording customized playlists – at first with cassette tapes, then CD’s and now easily with an iPod playlist.

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I explored Middle Eastern music as I explored Casablanca and its environs. In Italy a few years back I had 9-hour playlists that waxed and waned in intensity with the terrain. In Albania 3 years ago, I predicted the incredible suffering of the long climbs in the heat that became burned into my brain by building a musical playlist anchored to Peter Gabriel’s masterpiece, “The Passion” while studying Google maps in preparation. I did not need, nor use, a map on that trip – I “remembered” my way across the country.

In July 2012 my friend Gary Goebel and I cleverly solved the point-to-point paradox by using an Amtrak train as our mule. We saddled up our bikes into boxes aboard a locomotive and traveled from Columbus, Wisconsin, to Winona, Minnesota 250 miles away with the simple plan: ride back over the next 3 days.

I can’t overestimate how much I began to anticipate this trip. From the start, this point-to-point traverse began to take on something larger than its logistics would suggest. As it happens it also began to take on the unpredictability that makes for an adventure.

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Our train was late. Hours late. Stranded before our start in central Wisconsin and Gary, as always was chipper and gregarious. In our wait, we explored Columbus. We met people. We talked to them. We found a pub. Jenny was a waitress at a brewpub who was on her way to California to join her boyfriend in San Francisco while taking a job working in the movement building/charitable industry training canvassers.  We were her last customers before her life was to change.

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We boarded the train and I dropped off the front wheel I was carrying in luggage bin by the doors. Amtrak, on this route, required bikes to be boxed to go into the hold and I had managed to seal up my bike box and forget to include my front wheel. So, lazily I just decided to carry it onboard. This, as it turned out, was a mistake.

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There is something about a shared journey that creates permission for conversation. Amtrak’s Empire builder to Winona that evening found an odd cast and crew in the view car where we settled in at the tables on the second floor deck and the glass ceilings as the sun set lighting up the cornfields.

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There were 8 of us congregated in two tables: John and Gary, cyclists preparing for the ride across Wisconsin. Nate a tattoed 19 year old & recovering meth addict heading to Minot, North Dakota to take a job in the power company that would keep him from temptation. Billy a 52 year old self acknowledged “black red-neck” with a twang matching his missing front teeth enroute to Seattle. Terry a lanky and suave 21 year old Irishman exploring the states w/ a thick Irish brogue that oddly seemed to come and go with plain old American English. Hank a 46 year old transient with a beard resplendent of a civil war lieutenant complete w/ the hat and the accent, and then Natalie, a chubby 26 year drama teacher in a pink pantsuit that accentuated her extraordinarily round and cherubic figure almost like a balloon animal. Natalie was from Portland taking a 3 month sabbatical to explore the country via train. Finally there was the “quiet dude” who said nothing, but smiled a lot.

After the 3 hour train journey where box wine flowed and tongues were loosened, we were in good spirits when we disembarked in the dark in Winona to claim our bikes by the side of the quay. We opened our boxes and assembled our bikes as the train sped off into the distance. Suddenly, giddiness quickly turned to gloom. Somewhere out in the dark, carefully balanced in the luggage compartment of the Amtrack Empire Builder was my front wheel, fading with the noise of the train enroute to Seattle. Damn!

Gary rode slowly beside me without judgment in the gloom of midnight as I wheeled and wheelied my preying mantis of a bike the two miles to our motel. Time to improvise.

Friday we awoke to mild temperatures and optimism: perhaps I could “borrow” a wheel from the local shop and then send it back to them after the trip. Sure enough, Brian Williams at Adventure Cycle was able to hook me up with a Bontrager wheel upon opening at 10am for a nominal fee and the purchase of a tire and tube. We were on our way by 10:15, only an hour off schedule for what became a very long day.

We wended our way through foothills and along the Great River Path to LaCrosse for lunch, Irish pub fare on a sunny street corner before taking a quick nap by the river and heading out for a series of climbs enroute to Viroqua.

I’ve written before about the agony and ecstasy of long climbs, how a rhythm develops that overrides the initial suffering and how happiness and a sense of progress emerges as elevation gains provide views and perspective of the land below.

Over the next 7 hours we did 4 of these large climbs up from the Mississippi and for the first 3 I was on my game, thriving in the heat and rhythm, pedaling while watching the patterns of the leaves, the shiny coins of the flattened stones on the well worn road in the reflection of the sunlight, a caterpillar crawling in the damp of the shade. However time passed, and hours and miles later during the 4th climb happenstance found me bonking – it was 7:30pm , 90 miles in, and over 7 hours on the bike. I crawled like a hopeless insect up that final climb, topping out at 3 and 4 miles per hour as Gary waited patiently. I recovered a bit for the final 25 miles into Viroqua, but we arrived well after dark at 9pm covering over 115 miles, the longest ride of my life.

We ordered Pizza Hut pizza – a foregone luxury from our youth and burned the roofs of our mouths shoveling it in before heading out for a brief visit to the town nightlife in the form of the local VFW Post which was an odd mix of bikers, travelers, and greying ex-military.

The next day fed our peripatetic souls as we descended a grand and graceful valley of ever narrowing bluffs and farmland until the first of several steep climbs. We were thwarted by a sudden transition to dirt roads on a steep downhill but eventually made our way through softening terrain to the Dells, Wisconsin where we heralded a cultural experience that an Aussie would only describe as a passel of Bogans. A dozen or so bachelor or bachelorette parties made for interesting people watching, but our check-in to the hotel was also worthy of note.

(Grizzled cheap motel owner). “Nice day for a ride – Viroqua is a long one though. “OK, your room is on the ground floor around the corner.” Great, we say, we won’t have to carry our bikes up. (Note we are both wearing spandex, shaved legs etc.).

“Oh no, we have a special parking lot for your bikes - safe and secure.”

“Um, well we rode bicycles and we want to put them in the room.”

“What?! You rode bicycles all the way from Viroqua?”

Our final day we had an easy 55 miles to Columbus and despite being very tired, I found myself depressed that the expedition was over – I was wishing we had followed my wheel to Seattle and were making our way across the country, without a map, navigating by sight, sound and song, like the ancients did.

Lost in Malaysian

Lost in Malaysian The sun sets vertically in the tropics, falling straight into the ocean like a stone versus the glancing traverse across the trees it makes in the northern latitudes. I knew this as from a distance, but failed to take it into account when I planned my ride 1 degree north of the equator. This is how I lost my car in Malaysia.

Like most of my adventures, this one started out serendipitously – I arrived on time from Chicago to London to Singapore, a 24 hour pair of flights where I stretched out and slept in the full flat beds of business class on Singapore Air – a first for me. (“I can’t go back… I won’t”) Over the five day trip I flew around the world – literally – I only went east, Chicago – London – Singapore – Hongkong – Chicago. The flights ate up two days leaving me only 3 days in Singapore/Malaysia during which I and managed to see a good portion of the Malaysian coast, eat and drink at the rooftop restaurants of quite a few tall buildings in Singapore, catch up with a great old friend, as well as ride through parks, visit the botanical gardens, see little India, Chinatown, and give a couple speeches as well.

My written plan was to land in Singapore at 7:20am, be thru customs and into my rental car by 8am, drive across Singapore to the Malaysian border by 9am, and make Melaka, a 15th century settlement 300 kilometers north on the west coast of Malaysia by noon. My plans called for a good lunch of Peranakian food and a walking/shopping tour of the old town and then to be on the coastal road back south by 2pm aiming to arrive Benut by 4:30pm for a 50 mile roundtrip ride to the stilt village of Kukuk, returning by 7:30pm, 30 mins after sunset  arriving to my car in the twilight.

Despite not having a map and not being able to obtain one enroute, things went according to plan – I was in the “steering-wheel-on-the-right” rental car by 8am, across the border to Malaysia at 9am, and despite not being able to obtain a map I navigated by signs and general direction to Melaka by noon. I had a fantastic lunch on Jonker street and strolled around the old town before heading south along the coast. Along the way I stumbled upon a monkey preserve and lost some time navigating by feel enroute to Benut, arriving about 5pm. To avoid riding in the dark I drove a little farther south to shorten the ride to about 40 miles roundtrip. I then parked in an empty lot of a seaside restaurant and hit the pedals on the folding bike and rode hard through Pontian toward Kukup.

Kukup sits at the farthest south of the west Malaysian peninsula and consists of a village built almost entirely on stilts – sitting 10 feet above the silt and water of the muddy tidal flats that comprise the land. The roads and paths varied from concrete on metal pillars to wooden stilts supporting uneven narrow wooden planks, but they all shared the lack of an American safety requirement: guardrails. I had a bit of vertigo as I road around the town and the light was fading fast as 7pm and sunset had descended upon my ride.

I headed back out of town as the light faded and was surprised to find that by 7:15, with more than an hour to go back to my car, it was pitch black:  no street lights and few other visual indicators to show the way. Fortunately traffic was light, and I had a blinking rear light, but when I could hear traffic coming from the rear (remember I’m riding on the wrong side of the road) I would leave the pavement and make my way on the sandy dropped shoulder of the highway.

For an hour and a half I progressed relatively slowly in this fashion towards my car, knowing my return speed was much slower than the approach to Kukup. I began trying to identify the generic lot where I parked my generic car in a stretch of highway with a host of generic eateries. As it turned out, these limited visual characteristics were completely masked by the humid gloom of the evening. Two hours of riding later, and I was back in the outskirts of Benut. Damn. I knew I was several miles past my car so I turned around. I rode for another 40 minutes seeing nothing that suggested my parking area and so turned around again. 25 minutes later I could see the lights of  Benut again and so turned around again beginning an endless zizag in the dark trying to triangulate on my rental car.

By now it was after 10:00pm local time, 11am Chicago time and I had been flying / driving / riding for over 40 hours across 13 time zones and I was exhausted, hungry and irritable. More than one pedestrian must have been surprised by the rider in the dark bearing down on them while cursing the random object he had just run over on the shoulder.  A three hour fun ride had turned into a tense, 6 hour death march in the dark dodging onto and off the shoulder of the road hundreds of times to avoid traffic. With the accumulated jet lag I just wanted to lie down and sleep but I was in the wrong country with no cell service and no way of returning to Singapore. So I kept riding…

I had my key fob out  and was clicking endlessly. I knew I was within a couple mile range of the car and turned back again. On one dodge off the shoulder of the highway I hit a large stick and upon steering back up with one hand (keys in the other), my rear tire skidded along the 4 inch tall lip of the asphalt and I ended up crashing onto the highway in the pitch dark. If a car had been coming I’d have been dead, but of course there were none was because I wouldn’t have headed back up if there were lights. Still it was scary rolling out on to the highway on my back in the dark and then recollecting my bike, road rash burning. Now I was really mad.

30 more minutes and 6 hours total of riding in the dark later I saw a sudden flash – my headlights. I can’t explain the sudden exhilaration and life that coursed back through my veins – I was so very happy. Now a mere 2 hour drive back through Johor Bahru and to the Malaysian border and through downtown Singapore without a map to my hotel somewhere downtown and I could finally eat and sleep.

I made it without too much trouble based on my memory of the Google maps I had studied and when I pulled into the St. Regis, still in full cycling regalia I was too tired to be embarrassed and checked to this incredibly fancy hotel (complete with my own personal butler) without apology wearing muddy and bloody spandex.

The Sprinter's Margin: 36 years and 18 seconds

The Sprinter’s Margin: 36 years and 18 seconds A recent conversation:

Ray Dybowski: Hey did you hear? Alan Antonuk won that road race by 7 minutes. 

(Me) 7 minutes!? I don’t think the entire margin of victory from every race I’ve won would total to seven minutes!

(Ray) Laughs, thinks I’m kidding. 

As it turns out I completely overestimated my prowess as a bike racer. I truly was disciple of the Walden mantra, “win it at the line.” After this conversation I did a little math, totaling the number of races competed on a bike over the last 36 years and the rough percentage of those that I won and by how much and then estimated the average finish speed to calculate the average total time between my front wheel and second place. Finally I added up those races to calculate the minutes… or seconds that those margins added up to.

So guess… Guess the total margin of victory for a somewhat accomplished cyclist, who won 400* out of about 4000 races over 36 years? Alan Antonuk won one single race by 7 minutes – surely it must add to more than that, right? (*Includes heats, semis, finals etc. in BMX and track racing – perhaps not as impressive a number as it might look.)

Wrong. 18 seconds. Count it out: one one-thousand, two one-thousand… Get to 18 one thousand and you’ve counted the entire impression of my cycling career across multiple formats: road / velodrome / cyclo-cross / criterium / & bmx.

Here’s the math, complements of excel:

Value Metric Description

5280

feet # feet in a mile

3600

seconds # seconds in an hour

37.5

mph average sprint speed

55.00

ft/s average sprint speed  (in ft/s (5280*37.5/3600) )

2.5

feet typical margin of victory: 1/2 bike length = 2.5 feet

0.045

seconds time to travel 1/2 bike length at a sprint speed of 55.0 ft/s

4000

races # of races (including heats, semis & finals) entered over the last 36 years (road, track, crit, cyclocross, bmx)

10%

win ratio percent of races won over the 36 years (used to be much higher…)

400

wins approximate # of career wins over 36 year career at an average span of one-half of a bike length

18.18

seconds total margin of victory for 400 wins with 1/2 bike length lead at 37.5mph (=400*.045)

Really? My entire cycling career boils down to 18 seconds?  ½ second a year?

Yes. This is a fact. So also is the fact that these victories weigh heavier than the chronological time involved in completing them suggests.

I embrace this conundrum – that time is inherently flexible and that, perhaps, “really living” is found at the margins, at the pendulum swings of the hours, days and weeks of suffering condensed to prepare for a race, meeting, or test, and then again in the expansion of that invested time through the seconds those long hours deliver: a dash across the finish line, a flash of insight, or a compelling soundbite at the right moment in a meeting. The math of the mind is logarithmic and paradoxical: investment measured in years often results in outcomes measured in seconds or lesser intervals (sprinters are the “comedians” of the peleton for a reason). Yet, in the timeless continuum of the human psyche they are equals.

What is the value of those 18 seconds? How many hours, days, weeks, even years would I trade for that tiny slice of ever expanding time? Contained within the long yawn this moment comprises is series of unforgettable moments burned into my retinas and into the fibers of my legs and lungs. That first churning, panic-stricken race in the rain at age 8 with Frankie Andreu, Paul Jaqua and Jamie Carney around the Dearborn Towers. Hundreds of perfectly anointed sprints from 5th wheel and 150m to go to win as a junior and then again in the Cat 3’s. My largest margin of victory at Downer’s Grove when a 160+ rider peleton crashed in my wake in the final corner and I coasted across the line alone. The bike throw against Jamie Carney on the track to win a spot to the world championships in North Africa. Flinging across the shiny cobbles in the rain downtown Grand Rapids year before last to finally raise my hands in celebration.

The wins matter little, but there are synapses built in the process that are separate from pedaling: wires bent toward confidence, towards persistence, and inclined to treat the heat of battle as enjoyable. These connections made in the heat and pressure of the race stay melded together long after…

I’m a terrible bike racer in the grand scheme of things. A non-factor surfing the waves of the strong players forever relegated to the vagaries of the field sprint on easy courses. Yet in 18 seconds over 36 years a great deal of my character has been formed. In the early days a quiet standoffish confidence resulted – when asked to predict my results I would say, “I think I’m going to win, but we’ll see.” In more recent days a willing recognition of all my weakness and failures surrounding a tiny little jet engine of a strength – and hope.  “I hope to finish – and if I do, then I have a shot.” Hope, perhaps is the source of all good, all energy, all tenacity. It is irrational, hope. It specifically is designed NOT to meet the facts. Facts represent the past and carry its inertia. Hope represents the eventualities of the future and provides a trajectory that necessarily includes uncertainty and the possibility of humiliation, or glory.

Bill Strickland, editor of bicycling magazine, wrote a compelling book called “Ten Points” that anchored much of his life and his pursuits, failures, and successes to a Wednesday Worlds local bike race.  Bill Strickland was also abused, severely, as a child and the reverberations of this horrible past had begun to creep into his present. Earning “ten points” in the local series for his daughter was less about beating his significantly challenging rivals, and far more about the magic provided by a “point” earned through suffering for a noble cause.

Bill never did earn his ten points.  But he did end up exorcising some of his demons and becoming a good father and the editor of the nation’s largest cycling publication.

I’ll likely never increase the span of my wins from 18 to even 20 seconds much less 7 minutes. But, on the margin… it doesn’t matter. It was worth it.

Mike Walden

People I owe: Mike Walden What do a tennis school in Siberia, a soccer club in Brazil, a music camp in upstate New York, and a baseball club in Curacao all have in common with a bicycling club from Detroit?

They are all “chicken-wire Harvards,” a term coined by Daniel Coyle in his great book “The Talent Code”. That is, each of these remote destinations has a number of things in common: they tend to be underfunded, they have programs with a relentless focus on the fundamentals of a sport or activity, and at their helm they have or have had iconic coaches who “say a lot in a little,” and “repeat a little a lot.”

They also produce champions. Lots of them. So many that, when plotted on map in red, they become a “talent bloom” – a rose against the white of the page. In fact, one small, yet famous tennis club in Siberia, called Spartak, which has only one indoor court, achieved eight year-end top 20 women’s rankings for professional tennis players for 3 years running (as of 2007.) During the same period, the entire United States only had 7. As it happens there is also a little cycling club in Detroit with even more striking results.

Statistically speaking, it is impossible to conceive that there was more talent concentrated in the environs of Spartak in 2007, or around the Dorais velodrome in Detroit in 1980 than the entire United States. In fact the preponderance of talent from these locales belies their demographics – the argument can, and should be made that these coaches and environments created talent. But how?

Detroit, 1978. The Wolverine Sports Club was one of many of its ilk – typical in many ways. Underfunded, provided for primarily by largesse from Mike Walden’s bike shop in Hazel Park, the club also supported its activity through fund raiser “bike-a-thons” (also a Walden invention.) The Wolverine Sports Club (WSC) ran a regular series of practices – Tuesdays at the run-down Dorais Velodrome in Detroit, Wednesdays were the iconic “Wednesday night ride” from the Royal Oak Library complete with fans in lawn chairs who blocked traffic for the huge peleton, and Thursdays featuring practice races in Waterford on a 2.2 mile race car track. Weekends were for racing, because “racing is the best training,” or so we were told.

To an 8, 10, 12, even 18 year old kid, it all became so normal. I remember my first visit to the Dorais velodrome. Names were inscribed in the cement along the homestretch – Fred Cappy, Mike Walden, Clair Young, Jim Smith. These etchings were meaningless to me and hidden each year under more and more graffiti. Today the track has fallen into disrepair.

One of my first nights at the Dorais velodrome was in the fall, with a low turnout and leaves skittering across the cracked banked surface. Walden was mostly occupied shouting at two female racers who were preparing for a big competition somewhere. I was clueless and didn’t care. That is until, after a series of timed flying 200m events by the two women, Walden suddenly focused his shouting at me. “What about you? Let’s go: 200m as fast as you can go! Pedal circles and finish at the line!”

The two muscular women quickly shared some strategy – line up high on the track on the first corner and then dive for the blue line (marking the 200m mark) and then stay as low as possible on the “pole lane” or black line to the finish.

Moments later, exhausted but exhilarated by the speed, Walden barked out a time (“13.8!”) and turned to other riders. The two women, Sue Novara and Sheila Young, slowed to pass along compliments, “wow – you’re a fast little thing.” Little did I know that both were rivals and world champions in this exact event – the match sprint on the velodrome.  I was surrounded by greatness. I was lucky. It only takes a quick spin through Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” to realize that one of the core elements of the Wolverine Sport Club and my own success was simply the environment: we all got an early start on the requisite 10 years/10,000 hours of deliberate practice that greatness requires.

Another great book, that might have have featured Walden as its poster child is by Geoff Colvin’s “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.” The thesis? “Greatness doesn’t come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades - and not just plain old hard work, like your grandmother might have advocated, but a very specific kind of work.”

“The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes, that enables you to achieve greatness.” Deliberate practice, as practiced by Mozart, Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Sheila Young and Frankie Andreu, is an unrelenting focus on the potentially mind-numbing basics of a sport or activity. In fact, at the tennis camp in Spartak, Siberia referenced earlier, kids spent an inordinate amount of time swinging rackets at the air before they were even allowed to hit balls, and then they were not allowed to enter a tournament until they had 3 years of practice under their belts.

Daniel Coyle then describes the unique characteristics of the coaches who create the right environment for focus on deliberate practice. In one chapter he details the key elements of a master coach, by documenting the actions of a certain famous athletic coach. This coach’s “teaching utterances or comments were short, punctuated, and numerous. “There were no lectures, no extended harangues…. "He rarely spoke longer than twenty seconds. “What made this coach great, “wasn’t praise, wasn’t denunciation, and certainly wasn’t pep talks. “His skill resided in the Gatling-gun rattle of targeted information he fired at his players.”

This, not that. Here, not there. “His words and gestures served as short, sharp impulses that showed his players the correct way to do something. “He was seeing and fixing errors. “He was honing circuits.”

For those that knew him, this sounds exactly like Mike Walden. But this case study was of basketball’s John Wooden. The circuits Daniel refers to are the biological occurrences of “myelination” – the wrapping of neural circuits that become “talent” through repetition, coaching, and deliberate practice.

The hubris of youth suggests the following: “everything good that I have - I’ve earned.” And then the corollary “Everything I don’t have? Not my fault – I wasn’t born with that talent (or I’ve been thwarted by outside forces.”)

With time, maturity and a series of books by acclaimed authors I’ve been forced to realize that virtually all my athletic accomplishments and perhaps even all of my achievements in general – even in academics - boil down a couple simple facts: 1) I had the right parents (a subject for another day), and 2) I was born, raised, and trained at the right place at the right time: Detroit, 1980, WSC... with Walden.

Take away Dorais, Walden, Waterford, and the repeated refrains of “pedal circles,” “win it at the line,” and “race your strengths, train your weaknesses,” and humbly, it is clear that my entire life’s journey would be on a different trajectory. Gone would have been a bid for the Olympics, gone the silver medal, gone the singular element that encouraged some strong undergraduate (and graduate) schools to accept a student with SAT’s and GMAT’s that were at best “average” for these institutions.

My relationship with Mike Walden was not one I would have described as friendly: I came to practice, and he yelled at me. During practice, he yelled at me. Sometimes, after practice, he yelled at me. This was the same for most of the team, though I sometimes I felt singled out. Dorais velodrome was the worst – in the oval you were always within shouting distance. The bumpy track in the inner city was fraught with danger – bumps, graffiti, random kids throwing rocks, and the worst of all, crosswinds. Week after week, year after year, Walden demanded that riders should have only a 4 – 8 inch distance between the tires of other riders in high speed pacelines against crosswinds, over uncertain pavement, and variable speeds – all on racing bikes without brakes or gears. “Follow the wheel” meant be right on the wheel in front of you. If you let a few more inches stretch out as the peleton accordioned down the homestretch, then Walden’s penetrating voice was right there, “close the gap Coyle! Get on the wheel!”

Between each activity, Walden was not shy on letting anyone and everyone know how bad they had failed. “Alcala – you’re a disaster – can’t ride a straight line.” “Andreu – you pick it up every single time you hit the front.” “Paellela – you’re herky-jerky – ride smoothly, quit riding up on everyone.” I was afraid - everyone was afraid - to get it wrong, and you modified each and every pedal stroke to pedal circles, keep an even distance, accelerate smoothly, and drop down after pull at the front. I didn’t know it then, but this extraordinary focus on pedaling fundamentals every Tuesday for nearly 10 years allowed a 30+ year racing career featuring 3000+ races, with almost no crashes (<10), and not one injury serious enough to prevent racing the next day. It also gave my limited strengths a path for success: to move swiftly and safely through the peleton in preparation for the sprint in a manner that may be my primary defining strength as a cyclist. Mike always said, “race your strengths,” here’s a video of that put into action. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9W0WETpST8]

Walden was not one to shower complements. In 1980 at 11 years old, racing as a Wolverine, I won the national championships at the Balboa Park Velodrome in San Diego, California. In the process I also met Eric Heiden who I would “pro-fro” with (live with for a week as a prospective freshman/frosh at Stanford 6 years later.) My relationship with Walden had only slightly warmed over the years, nonetheless I was fully expecting some warm words after my victory against some difficult odds against the likes of Jamie Carney. Immediately after the awards ceremony, still wearing my stars-and-stripes jersey, Walden sought me out and came up extending his hand. I was beaming and expecting (finally) some recognition. Instead I heard, “Don’t get cocky - it’s just a race. “There are a lot more important ones in your future.” He turned on his heel and stomped away. 30 years later and I can still feel the flush of heat to my cheeks as I describe that moment.

By the time I was in my late teens, I was winning races left and right. At 15, like Frankie Andreu, I was solicited by the almighty 7-11 team, and raced for them over the next couple of years. I continued attending Walden practices and continued to fear his penetrating bark. I had decided that he must clearly hate me until an odd morning one summer when I was 18.

I had been invited to a club ride that was leaving from Walden’s house in Berkley one Saturday morning. I rolled into the driveway a little early and no one was there, so Harriet Walden, Mike’s wife invited me into their comfortable, but humble home. I was struck by how normal it seemed. For nearly a decade Mike had been an enigma to me, someone ‘other than human’ who only pushed and prodded, who only repeated the same damn things again and again, “pedal circles! “Finish at the line! “Race your strengths!” Harriet was very accommodating and seemed to know all about me. As I waited for the other riders to arrive, she said something to me that shocked me then, and still cuts me to the core now, “You know, Mike is quite fond of you…” She paused, waiting for her words to sink in. “He speaks very highly of you.” I was stunned.

I didn’t know. But I know now. I should have known then. How could I not know? What kind of courage does it take to push someone to become all they can be and never even ask for any acknowledgment in return?  

A few years ago Richard Noiret made a movie, “Chasing the Wind” about Walden and the Wolverine Sports Club. I believe this is the tip of the iceberg. How did a club in a random suburb of Detroit produce 5 Olympians, 10 World Champions, 300 National medalists, and more than 25% of the nation’s national champion cyclists for two decades?

I’m a coach myself now, both for an incredible team at work, and as the head coach for the Franklin Park speedskating club. It’s odd: I’m relatively terrible at coaching speedskating despite a life dedicated to practicing the sport - it feels like total mayhem. Yet, every Tuesday night, more than one of the kids will say to me, “thanks Coach John!” as they leave the ice, despite all my yelling and it gives he a huge thrill. During all my formative years, it never, ever occurred to me to thank my coach – Affholter, Young, Walden – and it never occurred to me that they weren’t paid for all that time, effort and shouting.

Theron Walden (Mike) died February 12, 1996. I never even new his real name. I was probably busy with something I thought was important. I missed the funeral. It came to me later that I had never really known the man, and worse, that never, in my life had I ever said, the simple words I write now, 15 ½ years later. Thank you, Mike.

I owe you more than you could possibly imagine, but it is only now that I realize it. Thank you Mike – for your (tough) love, and your legacy that I’m attempting, clumsily, to pass on.

----------------------------------------

PS: In order to pass on Mike’s legacy I feel I must pass on the below verbatim. It concerns a sophisticated understanding of strengths vs. weaknesses that is best described in the incredible book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham. As usual, an incredible amount of science belies the couple sharp barks that only become clear with time and repetition. This is another great legacy of Mike’s: repetition is the key to coaching. Think carefully about the conundrum posed by the below and what it suggests for your life’s path regarding your strengths, passions, and weaknesses:

Race your strengths, train your weaknesses. Racing is the best training. Race your strengths, train your weaknesses.

References:

  • “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell 

 http://www.amazon.com/Outliers-Story-Success-Malcolm-Gladwell/dp/0316017930/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318566226&sr=8-1

  • “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle 

 http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Code-Greatness-Born-Grown/dp/055380684X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318566246&sr=1-1

  • “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin 

 http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Overrated-World-Class-Performers-EverybodyElse/dp/1591842948/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318566269&sr=1-1

  • “Now Discover Your Strengths" by Marcus Buckingham

 http://www.amazon.com/Discover-Your-Strengths-Marcus-Buckingham/dp/0743201140/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321302063&sr=8-1

National Championship results, 10 years:  1972 – 1981, Road & Track

1972 -  Road – Milwaukee, WI, Aug. 5-6

SENIOR WOMEN

1.        Debbie Bradley, IA, 28mi in 1:19:10

2.        Jeanne Omelenchuk, MI

3.        Eileen Brennan, MI

 

 1973 Track – Northbrook, IL, Aug. 1-4

SENIOR MEN 10 MILE  -

1.        Roger Young, MI

SENIOR MEN’S MATCH SPRINT : final for 1st and 2nd: Roger Young. Ml beat Jack Disney, CA, 2,0

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT: final for 1st and 2nd: Sheila Young, Ml, beat Sue Novara, Ml, 2,0

MIDGET BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jeff Bradley, IA, 21

2.        James Gesquiere, MI, 10

 

1974 Road – Pontiac, MI, July 27-28

JUNIOR MEN

1.  David Mayer-Oakes, TX

2. Pat Nielsen, MI

3. Tom Schuler, MI

 

1974 Track – Northbrook, IL, July 31-Aug. 3

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT – Final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara, MI, beat Sheila Young, MI, 2.0

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.      Connie Paraskevin, MI, 21

MIDGET BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.         Kevin Johnson, MI, 14

2.          Troy Stetina, IN, 8

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jacque Bradley, IA, 21

2.         Debbie Zbikowski, MI, 9

 

1975 Road – Louisville, KY, Aug. 14-15

SENIOR MEN

1.        Wayne Stetina, IN, 114mi in 4:35:53.22

2.        Dave Boll, CA

3.        Tom Schuler, MI

 

1976 – Track – Northbrook, IL, Aug. 3-4

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT- Final for 1st and 2nd: Sheila Young, MI, beat Sue Novara, MI, 2,1

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jane Brennan, MI, 17

INTERMEDIATE BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jeff Bradley, LA, 17

2.        James Gesquiere, MI, 15

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 19

2.        Nancy Merlo, MI, 12

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Kirstie Walz, NJ, 19

2.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 15

3.        Anne Obermeyer, MI, 8

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI, 5

 

1977 – Road, Seattle, WA, July 26-Aug. 6

SENIOR WOMEN – 1.        Connie Carpenter, WI, 38.24mi in 1:38:31

JUNIOR MEN

1.        Greg LeMond, NV, 71.5mi in 3:10:40

 

2.        Jeff Bradley IA

JUNIOR WOMEN

1.        Beth Heiden, WI, 31.5mi in 1:24:28

MIDGET BOYS

1.        Grant Foster, CA, 11.25mi in 31:27

2.        Greg Foster, CA

3.        Jimmy Georgler, CA

4.        Glen Driver, CA

5.        Frankie Andreu, MI

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Sue Schaugg, MI, 9mi in 27:50

2.        Lisa Parkes , MI

3.        Ann Marie Obermayer , MI

 

1977 – Track  - Marymoor Velodrome, Redmond, WA, Aug. 2-6

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 15

2.        Dana Scruggs, IN, 10

3.        Nancy Merlo, MI, 8

4.        Rena Walls, MI, 7

5.        Jane Brennan, MI, 7

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 14

2.        Lisa Parks, MI, 12

 

1978 Road Milwaukee, WI, July 26-30

JUNIOR MEN

1.        Jeff Bradley, IA. 7Omi in 2:50:48

2.        Greg LeMond, NV

JUNIOR WOMEN

1.        Sherry Nelsen, MO, 24mi in 1:03:51

2.        Tracy McConachie, IL

3.        Nancy Merlo, MI

4.        Karen Schaugg, MI

5.        Louise Olson, MI

VETERAN WOMEN

1.        Jeanne Omelenchuck, MI 15mi in 40:26

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Elise Lobdell, IN

2.        Tyra Goodman, MI

3.        Beth Burger, PA

4.        Karn Radford, CA

5.        Celeste Andreu, MI

 

1978 – Track – Kenosha, WI, Aug. 1-5

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT – final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara-Reber, MI, beat Jackie Disney, CA, 2,0

SENIOR WOMEN POINTS RACE

1.        Mary Jane Reoch, PA

2.        Cary Peterson, WA

3.        Sue Novara-Reber, MI

JUNIOR MEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Eric Baltes, WI, 13 pts

2.        James Gesquiere, MI, 12

3.        Jeff Bradley, IA, 8

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 17

2.        Sherry Nelsen, MO, 15

 

3.        Tracy McConachie, IL, 7

4.        Nancy Merlo, MI, 6

5.        Rena Walls, MI, 3

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Beth Burger, PA, 19

2.        Elise Lobdell, IN, 11

3.        Tyra Goodman, MI, 7

4.        Karn Radford, CA, 7

5.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 7

 

1979  - Road – Milwaukee, WI, Aug. 1-5

SENIOR WOMEN

1.        Connie Carpenter, CA. 39.6mi in 1:44:16

2.        Beth Heiden, WI

JUNIOR MEN

1.        Greg LeMond, NV, 70.4mi in 2:55:08

VETERAN WOMEN

1.        Jean Omelenchuk, MI, 15mi in 43:30

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS

1.        Sarah Docter, WI, 15mi in 38:02

2.        Sue Schaugg, MI

3.        Abby Eldridge, CO

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI

5.        Laura Merlo, MI

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 9mi in 27:09

2.        Elizabeth Keyser, CA

3.        Melanie Parkes, MI

1979 – Track – Northbrook, IL, Aug. 7-12

SENIOR MEN POINTS RACE

1.        Gus Pipenhagen, IL, 18 pts

2.        Roger Young, MI, 18

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT  Final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara-Reber, MI, beat Jackie Disney, CA, 2,0

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Rebecca Twigg, WA, 16

2.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 13

JUNIOR MEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Mark Whitehead, CA, 15 pts

2.        Jeff Bradley, IA, 13

3.        Peter Kron, IL, 7

4.        James Gesquiere, MI, 6

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Brenda Hetlet, WI, 17

2.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 10

3.        Laura Merlo, MI, 10

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI, 7

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Susan Clayton, IA, 17

2.        Jennifer Gesquiere, MI, 15

3.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 13

4.        Elizabeth Keyser, CA, 4

5.        Melanie Parkes, MI, 3

1980 – Road – Bisbee, Az, Aug. 13-17

SENIOR WOMEN

1.        Beth Heiden, WI, 35mi in 1:43:56

JUNIOR WOMEN

1.        Sarah Docter, WI, 28mi in 1:25:58

2.        Rebecca Twigg, WA

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS

1.        Dedra Chamberlin, CA, l7mi in 57:52

2.        Lisa Lobdell, IN

3.        Mary Farnsworth, CA

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI

5.        Susan Schaugg, MI

MIDGET BOYS

1.        John Chang, MI, 7mi in 24:29.54

2.        Steve MacGregor, WI

3.        Hector Jacome, CA

4.        John Coyle, MI

5.        Jamie Carney, NJ

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 7mi in 39:59

2.        Lisa Andreu, MI

 

1980 – Track – San Diego, CA, Aug. 20-23

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT -Final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara-Reber, MI, beat Pam Deem, PA, 2,0

INTERMEDIATE BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Tim Volker, IA, 19

2.        Brad Hetlet, WI, 11

3.        Bobby Livingston, GA, 10

4.        Joe Chang, WI, 4

5.        Frankie Andreu, MI, 4

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 14

2.        Dedra Chamberlin, CA, 9

3.        Amy Saling, NJ, 7

4.        Mary Krippendorf, WI, 7

5.        Lisa Parkes, MI, 6

MIDGET BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        John Coyle, MI, 19

2.        Jamie Carney, NJ, 11

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Celeste Andrau, MI, 17

2.        Jennie Gesquiere, MI, 15

 

1981 Bear Mountain, NY, Aug. 3-9

INTERMEDIATE BOYS

1.        Gordon Holterman, VA, 33mi in 1:33:47

2.        David Farmer, PA

3.        Frankie Andreu, MI

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS

1.        Elizabeth Keyser, CA, 23.4mi in 1:15:15

2.        Bozena Zalewski, NJ

3.        Celeste Andreu, MI

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Lisa Andreu, MI, 11.7mi in 38:17

2.        Joella Harrison, AZ

3.        Gina Novara, M

 

1981 Track – Trexlertown, PA, Aug. 11-16

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT –  Final for lat and 2nd: Sheila Young-Ochowicz, WI, beat Connie Paraskevin, MI, 2,0

Final for 3rd and 4th: Sue Navara-Reber, MI, beat Betsy Davis, NJ, 2,0

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Rene Duprel, WA, 19

2.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 15

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jenny Gesquiere, MI, 21

2.        Gina Novara, MI, 15

3.        Alicia Andreu, MI, 9

 

This list only represents cycling – note the rising tide of MI athletes on the national stage.

 What is missing is the world and Olympic results for cycling and the same results for speedskating. Champions like Gold, Silver and Bronze Olympic medalist Sheila Young, World Champion Roger Young, World Champion and Olympic medalists Connie Paraskevan, World Champion Sue Novara, 9 Times Tour de France Rider and Olympic 4th place finisher Frankie Andreu – and on and on the list is a Who’s Who of American cyclists and speedskaters.

2011 Race Reports 1, 2, 3 & 4: The End of My Youth…

2011 Race Reports 1, 2, 3 & 4: The End of My Youth… I lived my 50’s in my twenties (thanks to the heavy training for the Olympics that left me so exhausted I constantly craved sleep and avoided stairways.) Then, I lived my 20’s in my thirties (where I had seemingly endless energy and required very, very little sleep.) Last weekend I confirmed I’ve solidly entered my 30’s in my forties…

Why again, do I race? It is a question worth repeating. In full disclosure I hate most of it: the monotony of training, the pre-race gymnastics – loading up, driving, registering and paying, the pinning of numbers, warming up, lining up… I hate all of it. Even worse is my hate for the first half or even ¾’s of the race – an agonizing, lung shredding celebration of all my weaknesses and incredible pain and lethargy against faster, stronger, and younger men than I with their chrome plated legs bulging with muscles…

But time, time is flexible, and for the sprinter, there comes a few moments where light penetrates the gray haze of the mind numbing training days and racing hours. For a few moments a brilliant pulse of energy comes to neurons, blood, bones: muscles align to provide a glimpse of hope and opportunity. Today – today could be the day where I win, despite the odds and the haze of pain. And in those seconds, we the dormant, we the feeble, encased in the shell of the peleton suddenly thrust through the shroud of the chrysalis and life, color and hope returns to feed the unfolding of our flight.

-----------------

The end-of-season races in Grand Rapids included the U.S. Pro Championships and a series of highly competitive categorized races both downtown on the bricks and then in East Grand Rapids in the gentrified “gaslight district.” My plan was to “double up” each day, which would mean racing 4 times in 21 hours.

It was in those 21 hours that the evidence ending my extended youth piled up. It all started with an innocuous phone call “Coyle, want to bunk up for the races in Grand Rapids?” This from Ray Dybowski – the “Godfather” of Michigan cycling and heir apparent to Walden’s coaching legacy. Ray turned 50 today and is still tough as nails often doubling up or even tripling up at races, completing 50 to 60 competitions each summer.

In my mind I pictured a leisurely dinner after the first day of racing, a glass of wine, a luxurious hotel with two queen beds, and a good rest prior to the second day of racing. Then Kroske joined in the group – another Master’s level racer with a strong sprint, great sense of humor, and a ubiquitously available camera. Fantastic I thought – “let’s order a roll-away.”

Then team members “the Rodds” entered the picture – a pair of brothers in their young twenties known for winning races, flashing irresistible smiles to the ladies at every opportunity, a high tolerance for post race libations and little requirement for sleep. This is the beauty of bike racing – age matters nothing, only ability. “I’ll bring my inflatable bed” said Ray. Just like old times…

Saturday:

The day dawned gray-blue and lugubrious and the 4 hour drive to Grand Rapids featured varying speeds of windshield wiper the entire way. Oddly I actually felt a quiver of nerves as I approached the race course, partly due to the inherent danger of racing on wet cobbles, and partly due to built up expectations of delivering results: I had won the last two times racing this event and wanted to do so again.

It was about an hour out from Grand Rapids when the realization that another driver of the empty feeling in my stomach was simple hunger – of course – I would need to eat lunch prior to racing. I swung off the highway and looked at the fast food row dismayed by my options. I tried Wendy’s, pulling through the drive-thru. No, nothing there I can eat. I then followed the signs to McDonalds knowing I could get a yogurt parfait and maybe a grilled chicken salad. The McDonald’s was in a giant Walmart. This Walmart was in the middle of no-where in western Michigan. As I entered the sliding doors to Walmart I had a sudden jolt – everywhere, padding along in flip flops and ill fitting stretchy waistbands were rotund families and individuals who were either eyes down looking into an electronic device, or shoving something unhealthy into their mouths – or both. As I waited in line at the McDonalds it was overwhelming – the sizzle of the fat, the massive sugar laden drinks, the mottled skin, stretchy outfits, and instantaneous entertainment befitting the lifestyles and girths of kings – these were now reserved for those without the money or education to realize what the 24/7 passive entertainment, 2000 calorie, 2000mg of sodium meal was doing to them. I was in an earthbound version of Wall-e and it was no joke.

Chastened I ordered only a yogurt parfait, (king sized, of course w/ a superfries and 64oz Coke), and headed to the car feeling holier than thou while texting Randy and checking weather.

I managed to arrive in time to see the end of the pro race, register, change, AND warmup. It was weird.

It was pure luck – the pro race had been delayed 45 minutes due to a storm that had rolled in and taken out half the field and a number of the barriers. All the extra time made me nervous. Ray remembered to give me a plaque from a few years prior - we thought about replacing my hood ornament:

Race 1: Elite Cat 1/2/3 Temp 68 – 75 degrees, light winds, average speed 27.2mph, Finish  speed 37.8 mph

It was a good thing I warmed up – 100 riders on a still puddled course with 2 sections of cobbles. The pace was high much of the race and I wandered the peleton looking for a comfortable position, suffering immensely. Mid-race the pace was particularly tough and I moved up 20 or 30 spots. A few laps later and I found myself at the back of the pack again - without dropping position - the pace had dropped a number of riders.

As the miles added up and the laps counted down I began to feel a glow of power in my legs and mastery of the bike in the corners that Csikszentmihalyi would describe as “Flow”. With confidence and control I rotated up through the corners, purposely fell back on the short straightaways, and then hit the afterburners down the long homestretch in order to stay connected to the stretched-thin core of the peleton. Each lap we hit 32, 33mph into the slightly uphill stretch on cobbles against a mild headwind. Each time the effort put me at the edge of my aerobic capacity, but instead of fear of getting dropped I recognized in the open mouths and agonized pedal strokes of those around me that for once I wasn’t the one “on the rivet.”

Three laps to go and it was “my time” and I began that odd dance through the swaying peleton that has come to characterize my racing career over the years. Like a highly choreographed dance routine on a ship experiencing high seas, the peleton tends to be predictably scripted in its patterns, with the occasional lurches flashing changes like shoaling fish when a predator appears.

Six men off the front, I read the patterns and flashed left and right when the signals suggested panic and in the space of 2 laps I found myself in the top ten readying for the sprint with much younger, stronger and faster men than myself.

Things then peeled and surged and I lost position again but notched my way back up against ever rising speeds, never falling below 30. On the backstretch of the final lap I burned a match to position back in the top 7 and then followed the leadout machine around the final corner and into the uphill, upwind finish. The resisting elements caused a fanning of riders up front and I rode the drafts and waited, finally hitting the afterburners directly in the slip stream of super-strong Panther rider and former Wolverine Ryan Cross who surged toward the line. I had the advantage of the draft and timing and had hopes of breaking through and winning the field sprint when a breakaway rider appeared directly in my path hurtling backward. I came across the line coasting, hands on the brakes and finished third in the field sprint, 9th overall. I was happy.

Race 2: Masters 35+: Temp 76– 80 degrees, light winds, average speed 26.0mp, finish speed 36.6mph

The lactic acid burden had reached its climax just as I coasted to a stop at the line w/ the Masters. I was in miasma of pain and could barely speak when I found Kroske and Dybo and they unpinned my old numbers and repinned the new ones as I heaved over my bars, finishing the job only seconds before the officials sent us off for race two.

F-ing Masters racers! Never content to settle smoothly into a race, they hit it hard right from the start and it was everything I had to just stay tacked onto the last wheel of the peleton for the first lap. Same for the second. By lap three I started recovering from the intense effort of the prior race, and then things slowed up and I began to enjoy the dance, trading places with Ray on several occasions as he made bold moves up the inside to try and force a breakaway.

Things moved to their inexorable conclusion and I moved up into the top five with one to go. Surges put me back to 12th so I again used a match on the backstretch to slot into 4th – as it turns out, right onto the race winner’s wheel. As we wound around the snaking final corners, I considered an attack into the final two corners, and then watched it happen to me – Switlowski hitting it hard just prior to the final two back-to-back corners. I tried to match and then found myself taken to the barriers by a racer shooting up the inside. Braking into the final corner, I tried to retrieve my speed but found myself only able to hold onto 5th.

Then, the true test of endurance began….

Saturday night:

Kroske, Ray and I planned a nice dinner at the bistro across from the hotel and for a while the older crew held sway – risotto, paella, shrimp and varied libations at an outside table. But Randy and Ryan brought their own energy to the conversation and moments later Randy had convinced the waitress to spoon feed him his food, sitting on his lap.

From there were a series of visits to various Grand Rapids eateries and bars where we watched the younger crew expend their endless social energies.

 At one point we tried to lock Ryan in a Port-o-Pottie but he escaped and tried to force us on to the next stop.

Kroske, Ray and I threw in the towel around midnight and it was only upon returning to the room that I had failed at one of my golden rules – 2 glasses of water for every glass of wine, AND there was a huge inflatable bed between me and the sink to get more water. Chugging some tap water before bed and leaving the 10 oz cup lonely on the bedside table I crashed only to be awakened much later by the returns of Ryan and Randy.

Sunday:

It was a night of awakenings – 5 guys in one room, 2 stragglers returning, and then the need to get up and head to the races.

Dehydration and fatigue are familiar friends – despite feeble attempts to hydrate enroute to my first morning race, I actually felt too tired to drink water. I wondered how I could possibly race feeling hot and dry with a pounding head and queasy stomach, but knew I could – and would.

Cat 3: Temp 74 degrees, light winds, average speed – I forgot to check, finish speed painfully fast.

After arrival at the course came an agonizing tiring string of events – parking, registration, changing, number pinning, and lining up for the first race – sun glaring.  After 3 laps I wanted to quit, not unusual. With 3 laps to go I was chugging the rest of my water and wanted still wanted to quit – highly unusual. Still, as a chessmaster I knew what to do even if my pieces didn’t want to comply and pushed my pawn into position for a checkmate, coming around the final corner in 5th and finishing… 5th. Nothing to give.

 

Masters: Temp 76 degrees, light winds, average speed – I forgot to check, finish speed painfully fast.

The beauty of pre-registration is that it creates a dialectic between laziness and frugality: I had already paid so of course I’d have to start my fourth race in 20 hours. Some additional hydration helped with my motivation as well as energy and despite a faster pace I navigated the laps with little difficulty. In the final sprint I struggled despite a leadout from Kroske and only managed 10th.

After the race I hooked Dybo up with a “5 hour energy” vial and then jumped in the Jaguar for the long drive home.

As always, there was something about the darkening reach of the trees and the end of August light that suggested the closing in of time – that the summer solstice and height of the racing season was well behind me and that try as I might, races to try and win would be far and few. Still, I smiled – what a weekend of intensity, fear, pain, suffering and joy.

I remember reading in one of the many books on “Happiness” about a study on joy. I believe the book was called “Satisfaction”. Specifically, the author entered an experiment where he was subjected to some extended and extensive pain (ice water over his extremities). The interesting outcome was that the neurological response to the end of this programme was exactly identical to that of happiness – and indeed the author experienced a “high” following his ordeal that could only be described as joy.

I guess this is why I race: the extended periods of suffering required for limited periods of joy is a tradeoff I’m willing to make. Corollary: choose your suffering – don’t let it choose you.

 

 

Why Cycling is the Greatest Sport in the World

(an edited repost... I think I've converted 3 or 4 cyclists with this line of logic) So… why is cycling the single greatest sport in the world? 

Three ages and three scenarios:

1) Age 35 - 65: Let’s say “you’ve arrived” – after switching jobs and questioning your career, finally, in your late 30’s or into your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s+  you come to that odd and sudden realization that money suddenly is no longer the end goal – that you “have enough” to satisfy your needs – though not necessarily your wants. Meanwhile the questions pile up: “Am I really as old as my age says I am?” (How did that happen?) And then a little more subtly, “yes, where did my energy go? - and my waistline?” or, “How can I stay healthy?”

2) Age 20 - 35: Instead, maybe you are in your 20’s or 30’s - finally “growing up,” finally have a real job and doing well, moving out and moving up, thinking about building a career and a family, fulfilling your potential. “How can I do all that and still stay in shape?” “Am I predestined to become yet another doughy pale office professional?”

3) Age 10 - 20: Finally, lets imagine you have (or are) a grade school or junior high school kid – band, drama, national honor society, soccer, football, track, baseball – so many choices - what activities should you choose?

Let me propose that the activity that is the best answer to all the above questions – and I mean “best” in all its objective and subjective senses – is cycling.  Riding a bike is the single greatest sport in the world.

I can prove it.

“Sure,” you immediately conjecture, “you must be some kind of cycling fanatic, aiming to convert the masses to your biased way of thought. Besides, who wants to cavort around in spandex and risk their lives in traffic?”

Let’s examine each of the three examples above to determine whether there is any truth to my potential fiction. Further, let us add that the criteria for the ‘greatest’ is based on the sport’s contribution to health, longevity and happiness.

Let’s work our way forward starting from the youngest age bracket above from 3) Age 10-20: the junior high, high school, or college kid. Normally soccer, track, football, baseball, or academic pursuits or some combination are the typical achievement oriented activities for this age group. Rightly so – all of these have a teaming aspects and bring about important developmental opportunities including discipline, social development, and balancing individual performances against team gains. For most of these activities, true victories and the associated celebrations come about from the performance of the group rather than the individual – a great corollary for the modern workplace.

For all the above reasons, Team sports are a mainstay of youth development programs the world over and provide many valuable lessons. There is just one huge, glaring problem – team sports for these kids tend to end as soon as high school ends. For a smaller percentage, it ends in college. And for that incredibly rare few (1 in 10,000? 1 in 100,000?) it means a few years as a professional.

Regardless, the fundamental flaw of team sports remains the same – they end. Joe Montana isn’t playing adult league football somewhere and for 99.9% of these talented athletes the result is the same – ‘retirement’. There is no opportunity to create an extended healthy routine from these kinds of team sports. If the goal is health, longevity, and happiness, then these sports have a very limited shelf life.

Want to help your junior-high school student have a full, healthy, active life? Consider individual sports… in particular cycling…

Let us consider the second age bracket,  2): the twenty/thirty-somethings. Work lunches, late nights, travel and the associated fast foods, Friday night beers and cocktails – all without the active lifestyle and sports of high school and college – including the basic physical activities of walking across campus or playing intramural Frisbee.

Witness the arrival of the second ‘freshman 15’ weight gain. Team sports may still be an option – and if you are single – they may still be the best option: find a league dominated by the opposite sex and you’ve got a surefire way to potentially ensure continued reproductive health (and the motivation to continue it.)

Sooner or later though, the odds are you’ll settle down – and suddenly 3 hour softball games a couple of nights a week with single girls in short shorts and tight t-shirts, combined with post game rituals of pitchers of beer after the game may not fly so well with your fiancé – and definitely not with your pregnant wife even if you are both part of the league. And, seriously – is swatting an oversized ball and jogging a few bases really an equal balance to the beer, shots, hamburgers and brats?

At this point, running might seem the best option – easy to do anywhere, no equipment other than shoes and shorts - even city living presents no serious obstacle. That is, until the first injury… Lots of 20/30 somethings decide to train for marathons – often with the doubly noble goals of getting fit and accomplishing a difficult task, as well as raising money for charity. However, there is a significant downside. According to several studies, running a marathon can create irreparable damage to bones and tendons. Even if an injury isn’t serious, a sidelined ‘occasional’ runner may well lose weeks or months of activity while recovering, and will likely be more cautious in the future.*

(*sidenote – in 31 years of cycling I’ve never had an injury that kept me from riding, and indeed, all injuries were from crashing – not from the actual activity of pedaling).

Finally, 1): the productive 35/40/50/60+ year old. No longer in the full bloom of youth where muscle pulls are rare and bodies recover quickly, these maturing adults, professionals, teachers, factory workers, working mothers and fathers etc. still need exercise. Indeed it is more imperative than ever for success in work, family – in life - to reduce stress and increase productivity, as well as to manage weight and blood pressure: heart disease is the number one killer of adults in the USA.

Running remains a temptation – but becomes more and more fraught with injury perils with the exception of those naturally birdlike lightweight athletes whose frames can withstand the pounding.

Now those other team sports – softball, racquetball, tennis, football etc. become more and more untenable – either from a schedule standpoint – or from an injury standpoint. In the modern office workplace it seems that a majority of casts and splints are a result of one of these sports – the sudden twists, sideways movements, stops and starts – these begin to push the limits of the aging musculature and thinning bones.

So… whats left? Surfing and downhill skiing may actually be the perfect combination of “flow” activities that are seasonal and sustainable, but lets be fair to the other 98% of Americans that don’t live near surf and mountains. What remains for the majority are swimming, cross country skiing, walking, and cycling. All of these are low impact sports and tend to be relatively injury free. Each has their limitations – lets start with swimming. For some dedicated few water rats that don’t mind being in a liquid habitrail with no sights and no sounds, swimming may be the perfect addiction – safe, all muscles used, aerobic, no impact – an excellent choice assuming you live near a gym with a pool that has lanes available and you don’t mind all of those other limitations.

How about cross country skiing? Potentially the ‘perfect sport’ for winter – scenery, low impact, all muscles, strength, power, speed, and aerobic conditioning – it also requires… snow. Not exactly year round.

So we are left with walking and cycling. Walking is amazingly healthful – a long walk burns fat, strengthens muscles, improves coordination, and gets oneself outside (weather permitting) to bring in that other significant contributor to health and reduced stress – nature.

That said, walking feels a bit mundane for many – and because it limits output, is necessarily a low aerobic exercise – very difficult to approach aerobic thresholds or test oneself.

Finally – we are left with cycling. An interesting side-note here: guess what, according to several recent polls, is the number one preferred leisure activity for adult Americans? No – it’s not cycling, running, skiing, swimming, baseball, golf, soccer or football.

It is ‘going for a drive.’ Americans love their roads and their native invention the automobile.

Cycling is low impact – the smooth rotation of the pedals causes few injuries. Cycling is both aerobic, as well as anerobic – the body is naturally stressed to accompany the needs to accelerate, shift gears, climb hills. The fat burning characteristics of low aerobic efforts like walking are enabled during flat steady efforts, but this is complemented by the muscle and bone building anaerobic strength exercises caused by accelerations, stop signs and hills. Cycling provides the perfect balance of aerobic, strength, and aesthetic activities in one form.

So… there you have it – for teens, an individual sport like cycling creates a lifelong skill and interest that will increase their lifespan and happiness. For twenty-somethings it can replace time consuming team sports or injury prone activities like running, and for the rest of us 30+ athletes, cycling provides a low impact sport that burns fat, builds bone and muscle and serves as a non-sedentary surrogate for the #1 US pastime of ‘going for a drive.’

But all that is a lot of data – let me end with two stories:

Story 1: When I was growing up – as a young teen – there was a guy in my cycling club named TJ Hill that led a lot of the rides where I grew up in Detroit. He was sort of ageless – lean, muscular, and incredibly strong. On club rides he would take the lead for long stretches and we would all draft off his strong legs and amazing endurance.

I went to college over 20 years ago and never moved back to Michigan. Nonetheless a couple years back I joined the email newsletter of my old cycling club in Detroit – the “Wolverine Sports Club” and lo and behold, TJ was still leading rides and a key figure in the club.

For the last couple of years I continued to read about his exploits without much thought – “that’s TJ” I thought. It never really occurred to me that TJ could have aged in the process.

It wasn’t until I read a ‘race result’ from a 100 mile tour/race in Northern Michigan a couple summers ago that it brought home the legacy I had always observed but never comprehended growing up. Those ‘ageless’ guys leading the rides? They weren’t 20 or 30 something athletes – they were 40/50/60 somethings continuing to practice their craft.

The race result I read? 1st in the 70 – 75 year old category – TJ Hill. 100 miles: time? 4 hours and 17 minutes. 73 years old and he averaged over 23mph for 100 miles. TJ is now 75 and rode 12,313 miles last year (yes – that’s nearly 40 miles a day, every single day). He just got back from a two month training camp in Alabama where rode 58 days straight and averaged 67 miles every day.

Sure – he’s a freak – an anomaly of nature to do so much and do it so fast. But do this – go to a charity cycling event or a century ride – you’ll be amazed at the number of healthy older individuals out making their mark and helping others.

Story 2: This one is simple. Think back to when you were a teen or maybe a young twenty something. Remember how you used to skip stairs, or bounce down them? Sometimes you’d take them 3 at a time, and with a good rhythm seek to skip and reach for the 4th stair? Remember sprinting all out to chase the dog or a Frisbee or having the control while running to leap high in the air off a stump or curb? Remember that confidence, quickness and coordination? (And lack of fear?)

I turned 40 in August. I’ve been a cyclist for 32 seasons. Today I skipped 3 steps (and considered a reach for the 4th) on my way chasing my 7 year old daughter up the stairs. Sometimes in the winter, when work overwhelms and riding in the gym or on trainer becomes a bit boring and lags, I’ll start to feel my age, walking flat-footed, clearing the cobwebs from my back when bringing things up from the basement – but I’ll tell you this: with the cycling season back in full swing and being back outside riding and enjoying the spring air almost every day – my youth is still here. I pad lightly around the house on the balls of my feet with a spring to my step no different than when I was 19, and when I tense my leg muscles to chase my daughter or my dog out in the lawn – it is still with a burst of furious speed that pursue her giggles and flailing tresses.

It’s hard to describe, but after a good hard ride, you’ll never feel more alive: THAT’s why cycling is the single best sport in the world - because you can experience runner’s high without running - and see the world around you while doing it.

The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 5: Bike Maintenance

Volume 5: The Sprinter’s Guide to Bike Maintenance “It’s the rider not the bike” – Mike Walden

Roadies obsess over their equipment and view it as an ally in their route to success. Sprinters view the bike as a necessary evil. A great roadie finish includes references to how the bike and rider have “become one” – Lance Armstrong’s famous quote - “no chain man - no chain.”

Roadies and sprinters part ways when it comes to bicycle maintenance, sprinters win despite their equipment. Before a race, the toolio roadie is waxing his chain, rebuilding his bottom bracket and putting ceramic bearings in his derailleur wheelies. The sprinter hopes he remembers to put air in his tires.

A quick inventory of my own equipment proves my genetics - below was the current state of my bike (upon this writing), and some typical sprinter solutions:

Issue #1: Rust. Recently I noticed a squeaking sound than intruded over the volume of my ipod headphones. To my chagrin I noticed after the ride that my chain, and cog were rusty after a winter of disuse.  

Solution #1: Lube. I didn’t have any expensive “roadie lube” handy, but figured oil is oil so I dumped some 10W40 motor oil from my car onto my chain. Problem solved – look, you can barely see the rust in the “after” picture (sadly my Blackberry self destructed and I lost this wonderful archive of photos of dumping a quart of motor oil on my chain in a Target parking lot in South Barrington)

Issue #2: Brakes.  Again, a foreign sound recently intruded over my headphones (I usually ride on a bike path w/ no cars and hence can listen to music) – this time it was the grating of metal on metal. Sure enough my front brakes had managed to wear themselves out.

Solution #2: Adjust. Right hand = rear brakes. Enough said. (Hear is a picture of the offending pads)

Issue #3: Cracked Seat. I didn’t even notice this problem until someone pointed it out to me. My immediate thought was, “what’s all that extra material on the back part of the seat for? - clearly not necessary” However, over the past weeks, the crack has continued to grow…

Solution #3: Adjust. Sit a little more forward – a typical sprinter move – in a match sprint on the track you end up riding the nose of the saddle anyway…

Issue #4: Threadbare Tires: I only noticed this one because I was taking off my rear wheel to put it in the trunk of my car – apparently if you ride them enough, tires wear out.

Solution #4: Keep riding back to the car – I ride “run flat” heavy tubes on my training wheels, so no big deal if I get a flat.

Issue #5: A month or two ago I received an email from Ray Dybowski about inspecting your bike, and in particular, your cleats. A month later and in putting together this inventory, I actually looked at the bottom of my shoes and discovered this – half a cleat.

Solution #5: In this case, I was forced to admit that actual maintenance was required and I replaced this cleat. (As an aside, during the mid 90’s one of my shoes had a slightly loose cleat with stripped screws, and like a good sprinter I kept my pedal tension very tight.) The solution here was to leave my left shoe clipped to the pedal – in fact it stayed  on the bike for a 4 year period – until I replaced the bike.

Issue #6: Lately, when I’m in the big ring, but using a smaller gear, if I get out of the saddle, my chain will drop to the small ring without shifting. I used to think this was my bike flexing, but now, after experience with this, I realize it means my chain is worn out. Last season I broke two chains – one during a race.

Solution #6: I’ll have to replace the chain soon… and likely that will require a new cassette as well… instead, considering all these issues stacking up, there really is only one solution: a new bike.

My new Trek Madone 6.5 arrived a few weeks after I wrote this (last spring): complete with a new chain, cogs, seat, brakepads, and whatever else was about to go bad on my 5 year old Colnago. Problem solved.

Next Up: The Sprinter's Guide to "Kits" (that's Roadie for bike shorts/jerseys)

The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 4: Cold Weather Riding

Volume 4: The Sprinter’s Guide to Cold Weather Riding “I love to ride – as long as it is sunny, downhill and with a tailwind” – anonymous sprinter

Today in Chicago it was 53 degrees when I left work… and windy… and cloudy. Despite my bike being in the trunk and a reasonable departure time from work, I went straight home. No ride.

Machismo aside, lets face it, when it comes to riding in poor weather, sprinters are pansies. Here’s one sprinter’s guide to riding in less-than-optimal weather organized by temperature:

  • <20 degrees = no riding. I hate balaclavas and other than using chemical heating pads I’ve not found shoe insulators that would keep my toes warm below 20... in the sun. Spin bike in the basement here I come. Clothes: bike shorts, no shirt in the 50 degree basement
  • 20-32 degrees: Must be both of the following: sunny and no wind
  • Clothes: two cycling caps – one w/ ear covers, warm “3 finger” gloves, wicking t-shirt, thin under-armour type long underwear – tops and bottoms, full heavy bibs and heavy long sleeve jersey. Start w/ windbreaker and remove after 20 minutes.
  • 32 – 43 degrees: Must be at least one of the following – either sunny, or no wind
  • Clothes: Same as above if either cloudy or windy. If sunny and calm, same as above but no vest, only one hat, and no t-shirt.
  • 44 – 55 degrees: Can be cloudy and windy but I won’t like itClothes: Same as above if both cloudy or windy. If sunny and calm, knickers and long sleeve jersey, hat and light gloves. Remove hat after 20 minutes.
  • 55+ degrees: Riding in most conditions… except rain

Rain Rules: Never start a ride when it is raining. Turn around if it rains in the first 5 minutes. However, once warmed up, continue riding regardless of conditions (even thunderstorms, hail, tornados). For racing, if rain is 100% assured, just don’t go. If traveling less than 45 minutes, don’t register if it starts raining – go home. Otherwise, if you’ve traveled more than 45 minutes, or if it starts after you’ve registered, (grudgingly) race in the rain and complain bitterly after...

Next up: The Sprinter’s Guide to bike maintenance

The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 3: Sign Sprints

INTRO: Sprinters are the pariahs of the peleton, despised and verbally abused as “wheelsuckers,” “peleton trollers,” or worse: http://www.truesport.com/bike/2005/articles/druber/druber13.html   Deep down though is the unspoken truth: jealousy is at the heart of the contempt.... But, being a sprinter is more than fast twitch muscles, podiums, and podium girls – it is a lifestyle, with a clear set of unspoken rules and traditions – most of which are in direct contrast to the majority roadie rule. In these next few volumes I’ll attempt capture some of them.

Volume 3: The Sprinter’s Guide to Sign Sprints

Sign sprints are a common element of group rides that create a love/hate relationship with roadies. On one hand roadies design the routes for most group rides, and attend them religiously – hence they have insider knowledge of where and when the key sign sprints  are. If you see a roadie suddenly pop out of his saddle and accelerate out of the peleton in the middle of nowhere (when it is not a hill or false flat)– then you can be assured a sign sprint is in the making.

That said, sign sprints are… sprints.  And hence, in the absence of an element of surprise, will ultimately lend themselves to the fast-twitch group.

Rules: The rules of sign sprints are fairly simple: group rides will abandon the traditional rules of steady pacelines, pulling through, accelerating only on inclines, if, and only if certain street signs are within a reasonable distance on low traffic roads with ample time to slow & regroup.

Typical Sign sprints – in order of ‘importance’:

“Yellow signs” – any yellow sign is potentially fair game, though it is usually specific to the ride and sprinting for an “undesignated” yellow sign can look foolish.

“Stop Ahead” – these signs, depending on locale, are ubiquitous, and are generally “legitimate” as long as there is ample distance before the actual stop sign. They are convenient in that the looming Stop sign also creates the natural opportunity for the group to re-form

“Tractor crossing” – in the Midwest these are premo destinations. Rare, usually very rural, and typically requiring insider knowledge, these signs will tend to have a ¾ mile ramp up.

“Town line” – these are the kings of sign sprints – these matter most as they indicate a true change of venue.

“The final sign” – at best a “town line” sign, but perhaps merely a “stop ahead" sign, the final sign of the day features the greatest effort, and the most glory. Win this one, and you’ve won them all…

Below is a great set of posts I found on a forum from a “Newbie” rider who is clearly a sprinter and feeling some guilt about it. He was getting hassled for not pulling enough for some sign sprints. I love his final post – no way to argue with that...

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Newbie Sprinter: Is the cyclist wrong by sprinting at the end if he did not pull "during" the sprint? In most cases during these sprints, several strong riders try to up the pace as much as possible, but these same riders usually do not engage in the final sprint. But often times I hear riders condemn the rider who did not pull "during" the sprint, with comments like " he was never in the wind" etc. And if it matters, the prize is just a beer for the winner of the zone. My feeling is someone who doesn't work with the group or do his/her share during the ride shouldn't sprint, but in the actual sprint zone it's every man for himself and no one's forcing anyone to push the pace at the front. For instance I've not seen Cavendish "take a turn at the front" before he sprints to the finish.

Roadie Response: In my experience, the guys who sprint for county line signs, etc., are usually the ones who do the least pulling during the actual rides. The same guys tend to crank it up in the last mile or so of a long recreational ride -- like they are actually proving something by "winning" the sprint or being the first one back to the parking lot after sitting in at the back of the paceline for most of the ride.

Newbie Sprinter: I'm willing to pull, just can't sustain a long (mile or more) pull at the speed of the best pullers. Is that my fault?

Roadie1 Response: Yes! You should be working on your weaknesses rather than showboating your "talent".

Roadie2 Response: If you're this concerned about sprinting, you should save it for an actual race.

Newbie Sprinter: I have… and I won the race…

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Next up: The Sprinter’s Guide to cold weather riding

The Sprinter’s Guide to Cycling Vol. 1: Training Rides

(The first in a series) INTRO: Sprinters are the pariahs of the peleton, despised and verbally abused as “wheelsuckers,” “peleton trollers,” or worse: http://www.truesport.com/bike/2005/articles/druber/druber13.html  

Deep down though is the unspoken truth: jealousy is at the heart of the contempt. In the roadie dominated peleton, where suffering is the gold standard, the very idea that someone could merely coast in the vortex of the roadie created draft then break out a few golden strokes with their fast twitch muscles to win the race seems unfair.

But let’s face it – if any of these roadies could choose their lot - they’d rather be a sprinter. Inevitably blessed with larger muscles, better looks, and social skills held in reserve from their skinny, geekish bretheren, the sprinter more often than not gets the gold and the girl. It is really no wonder that they are so hated. But, being a sprinter is more than fast twitch muscles, podiums, and podium girls – it is a lifestyle, with a clear set of unspoken rules and traditions – most of which are in direct contrast to the majority roadie rule. In these next few volumes I’ll attempt capture some of them.

Volume 1: The Sprinter’s Guide to individual training rides

Roadies often like to ride together – to prove their fitness, and to socialize with other humans capable of understanding their awkward attempts at conversation. Roadies also like long solo rides – the longer and more arduous the better. Other than avoiding traffic and seeking hills, roadies really put no effort into the art of designing rides and they care little for the weather conditions. This is the one and only area where the sprinter over-analyzes vs. the roadie.

Rule #1: Sprinter training rides must be designed to avoid hills, minimize headwinds and crosswinds, and maximize tailwinds.

Before any ride, I check the wind and design a ride that maximizes scenery, minimizes exposure to headwinds and crosswinds, and avoids hills. I honestly assumed everyone did this until joining a few roadies out for rides and found myself out in the wind scoured cornfields of Illinois without care or knowledge to where the wind was coming from, or if there were hills. It was a rough slog out into crosswinds, and an even worse slog home into a headwind. It was coarse and inelegant.

The first rule of sprinter bike route planning is to determine if there is wind stronger than 7mph, if so, the route must be customized to minimize the effects. Specifically, routes must be chosen that start with the headwind section first – preferably under cover of forest or river valley. The cross wind portions should also be sheltered as much as possible by trees, river banks or bluffs to block the crosswinds on the traverse, and then open land for the tailwind aided return.

 

 Also the golden rule: never, ever, head downwind to start a ride… In the attached diagram you can see a typical ride from my house w/ a NNE wind. (For a South or SW wind I just reverse the route.)

Next up: The Sprinter's Guide to Group Rides

Casablanca 25 years ago Pt. 7

Days 2 through 10 of the never ending junior world trials began the next day… The next 10 days were hell. Each day I headed to the track for a new set of seemingly arbitrary evaluations, (though the first day Jamie didn’t show up.) Standing starts, flying 200’s, motorpaced 200’s, side-by-sides jumps from corner to corner, all head to head with Jamie, all potentially determining a trip to the world championships. Each day brought about another version of the trials. It quickly became clear to me that Jamie was unaware of his “shoe-in” position (if it were real). If Eddy and Craig had already chosen him, they didn’t bother to tell him, so each day we both showed up with something to win, and something to lose.

The worst part is that we often timed each other… For example, in motorcycle-led 200m sprints, Anje would ride the motorcycle and wind it up with one of us following and the other timing. Then after an appropriate rest, we’d switch places on the bike or with the watch – and Anje would write down the times in between.  

I felt good on the bike and felt I performed well, pulling up to the side of the motorcycle after significant accelerations, but my times were mid-tens (10.4, 10.5) – at least according to the watch Jamie was holding. 

When I timed Jamie, he performed well, 10.2, 10.3, so I asked Anje to pick it up in subsequent rounds.

He did so, but still, my times were slower… at least according to Jamie’s stopwatch.

Finally, Craig showed up, and Jamie and I both did a few more  traverses around the track. This time Craig had the watch. Jamie went first with a good time, and then I lined up behind Anje. He winked at me and said in his thick accent, “If you stay me, no matter what watch says, you are fastest.”  He lit it up on the motorbike and we accelerated through corner – tilting completely sideways and continued accelerating hard down the final straight and into the finish.

“10.2 Carney,” Craig said, “9.9 Coyle,” and Anje winked again. Craig also smiled at me after Carney sulked off. It seemed he wasn’t necessarily in Jamie’s corner either and was just following orders.

Finally, a week or so after the trials, the announcement came from Craig: “Coyle, Carney, you both qualify for the junior world championships.” Jamie and I were both immensely relieved and for a period our rivalry was subsumed by our relief.

Still my distrust of the coaches, the process, and the team underpinned the trip I had finally earned… and it showed up in the diary of my 17 year old self...

(On a lark, I decided to search for Jamie on the internet - now 25 years later. Since 1986, we've only met once - summer before last at the Downer's Grove Nationals. Jamie was super fit, but not racing. I had just finished the cat 2. race and come in third. We shook hands. He noted my finish. And then he started, "you know I retired last year, but decided to jump in a stage race up in the pacific Northwest a few weeks back - good money - and I ended up winning the whole thing!" Nothing had changed.

Here's a race from 2006 on the track - a "Keirin" that is led out by a motorcycle until 2 laps to go. If you start a around 3:00 in, you can see the carnage begin. Jamie is in 2nd and backs off the lead rider with 1 lap to go (looking, looking) and then accelerates, riding another up the track and then crashing him...a simple mistake? Then, after the finish Jamie gets cruely taken down for no reason after the finish by another rider... (slow-mo at 6:30)or, if you read the comments...or watch the father of the other rider at 6:51?) No.. nothing has changed.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGnLDr6jRSI]

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Back to the diary: Casablanca 1986

My repechage was a 4-up, taking only the winner. In it was an Italian, French, and Australian. I started 4th (highest) and since you can’t go slow on the banking, I ended up 4th on the pole. On the back straight I jumped into 2nd behind the Australian. He led at a decent clip until 1 ½ to go when all of a sudden the French rider sailed to the front. If I would have realized he was going for it I would have jumped but I just thought he was going to the front – until I saw the gap he had. Instead I waited – cuz I thought he would sit up and the Australian would get on his wheel.

As it was, he got a gap and by the time I realized he was going for it, the Italian had gone around me.

I then jumped and by the corner was coming around the Aussy. He rode me up – for no reason really, then I passed him. The French and Italian riders were long gone. I caught but didn’t pass the Italian – bridging 50 feet to him on the last lap. The French rider won by 40 feet.

I was out.

I was really disappointed – I thought I was as fast as or faster than most of these riders – I just didn’t do it. The East German beat everyone in the 8th final by 2 bike lengths, finishing 5th overall. I had to settle for about 16th.

----------------- 

Wednesday:

Today I got up at 12:00pm. I ate lunch then walked down to the beach. There were trillions of people there once again. Today is some funky holiday – the King’s 25th year of reigning or something. His palace, or one of them, is near our hotel. I then ate lunch, then read, then went to the track. The East German who barely beat me won his first ride against a Russian, then lost his second, then won the third. In the third ride, he led it out and the Russian didn’t come nearly as close as I did to winning. I should be in the top 8 at least. The East German is now top 4!

 

After the races I ate dinner, then went out to the rocks then started writing.

Oh, yesterday, Craig took us all out to eat at the Hyatt Regency. It is the nicest hotel I have ever been in. The floors are all highly polished black marble, and everything was lavish and highly decorated. It was like a palace. I had a shrimp/lobster crab salad, a “Copacabana”, and a sirloin steak. For the finale it was a banana split – the only ice cream I’ve had since I’ve been here. It was great.

Thursday:

Today I got up at 11:30. I took a shower and ate lunch. For the appetizer they had 5 fish. Head, fins, eyes, everything but scales. I picked at it for awhile. It tasted OK, but it wasn’t worth the effort to pick the meat off the bones.

Anyways, after this I went with Anje and Craig and Yuri to the bazaar. Anje wanted a leather jacket like mine. We searched 6 leather stores – but not one had one like it – even the place I bought it from. It was the best one – and I got it. Anje bought another one instead – for $50 – cheap. It is nice but not like mine.

I tried to trade my Levis, but even with them the first two shops wanted 600 Durhams and my jeans. So we left. Back at the hotel I got ready for a ride, but discovered that I didn’t have any wheels. I found my front wheel  - it was on Stefans’ bike. My rear was nowhere to be seen.

So I finally borrowed Clark’s wheel. But it really bugged me that they would take my stuff without asking. I rode hard, doing the road course twice, but extending it down the coast – past the city to the other side. I went fast and when I was finally almost finished, I got a flat – a mile from the hotel. Since it wasn’t my wheel, I took off my shoes and carried it back to the hotel. The sidewall had blown out.

It made me mad because my tires would have been just fine. I later found out that Aaron took it. He bugs me – he is always negative. He is almost exactly like Carney – sometimes worse – always bragging about something and telling you how bad he’s going to beat you. Definitely just like Carney.

This girl Lisa the the OTC was telling me that she was in the Sports Med. Building the day after the World Team Trials and that Carney was in there, and that he had just had them test him for an iron deficiency, mono, and a couple things including anemia. He just had to have an excuse for me beating him at trials. She said he didn’t believe it when the tests came back negative and that he wanted to be tested again.

Anyways, the sprint finals were tonight – I was stranded here at the hotel with a flat and no wheel, but I heard about them.

For the 5-8 final there was 2 Russians- including last year’s world champion (I guess the drugs wore off) a Japanese racer, and an East German I rode against. The East German won, Japan 2nd, and the Russians 7th and 8th. I should have been in there! Third and 4th was between a French rider and an East German. The East German won both rides.

For first and second it was the really fast French rider (11.23) and the Russian Kilo World Champion – he was in position to win two world titles in 2 days! In the first race, the Russian led it out, then rode the Frenchman up – but he still came around and won. In the second ride, the Frenchman led it out and the Russian came around him!

They must have been so tense for the final ride. The Russian led on the pole, and the French rider sat back 5 bike lengths, almost taunting him to Kilo him. So he did – with 1 ½ laps to go he took off. It seemed clear that this was his favorite place to go because he could accelerate that long.

The Frenchmen jumped, but he didn’t close. With ½ lap to go, he was gaining quickly now, but still far back. He was three lengths back there, but caught him near the end of the corner. He then came around and passed the Russian by less than 2 inches. I guess it was pretty awesome. The 200m time – even after 1 ½ laps of sprinting – 11.5 – incredible.

Dinner was lame lamb so we decided to hop over to an Italian restaurant the Kirkbrides had discovered. It was awesome. I had lasagna and a stuffed Calzone and chocolate ice cream. Scott, Stef and an I then went out on the rocks but I got soaked walking out. I stepped in a hole while wading with my pants rolled up, and found myself up to my waist. That’s all that happened today. I miss Stacie. I haven’t gotten her a souvenir yet either.

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Next up - final diary entry from the 1986 Junior World Championship in Casablanca , Morocco, and an evaluation of the Moroccan society, income, and classes.

Casablanca 25 years ago Vol. 6: The perfect race Pt. 4

The Perfect race - finale:

Jim Michener was vomiting into a trash bin in the center of the track, his muscular hulk shuddering, rattling the metal against concrete. He stood up and wiped his mouth as I passed by. “Good luck against Jamie – he’s tough, but you can beat him.”

These encouraging words came from my defeated semi-final round competitor at these Junior World trials. Jim had given me a run for my money two races in a row, possessing an uncanny ability to wind it up from 300 meters and keep the acceleration going all the way to the line – a race strategy directly in contrast to my ability to produce surge of speed and then try to sustain. Jim confessed to having thrown-up after each and every race.

Match sprints and short track speedskating have much in common in terms of the waves of lactic acid induced nausea and weakness after each event and the need to recompose in a relatively short interval of 15 minutes for the next round.  Showing back up to the line after a maximal anaerobic effort is parallel to spooning up another plateful of whatever food you just threw up – “as a dog returneth to its own vomit…”

My stomach troubles were further exacerbated by the self induced pressure that had been building for 6 months since the day I hadn’t been selected to the national team training camp. I could hear Ed’s voice in my head, “What are you getting all high and mighty about Coyle?…If you are as good as you say you are… just come back in July and win the trials." Jamie had pulled out of the last sprint and was probably fresh, I was still shaky and breathing from the effort.

Jamie and I lined up at a safe distance 15 minutes later and without theatrics the 4th gun was fired for the potential finale of the Junior World Championship trials. By now, all the Juniors had clustered right down by the line and were on their feet yelling at us from the moment the gun went off. The “cool” kids were cheering for Jamie but I noticed that I had adequate representation in the stands.

I drew pole position and was required to lead the first lap and did so without deliberation, setting a pace of 20mph and following the black pole lane for one lap.

We came around with 2 laps to go and as soon as we crossed the line I swung up and slowed. I had seen Jamie’s face on the line - he’d been bested despite the theatrics and tactics – his guidance would be to take the race on merit. Sure enough as I slowed, he paused and then pulled through on the pole lane and we continued around the backstretch and into the far corner, 1 ¼ laps to go.

We entered the final straightaway with 1 lap to go and the bell began to ring, Jamie moved up the track and began upping the pace such that we were traveling 25mph by the time we hit the start/finish line. I kept about a 3 bike length space between us and I rode high towards the barriers where the juniors were leaning over, screaming almost right in my ear as we streamed by. I kept “slingshot room”

We sped through the corner high up the track, both of us out of the saddle, Jamie ever vigilant, watching me, riding down lower to intersect any early attacks. As headed for the far side of the turn Jamie jumped and dropped down to the pole, accelerating to more than 30mph as we crossed the 200m mark.  I followed, halving the distance between us in order to capture the benefits of the draft. Whether he knew it or not, Jamie was coldly eliminating my strengths of a quick acceleration, short sprint and bike handling. If the race were to become a straight out drag race it would be close.

Then pride interceded: midway down the straightaway, Jamie paused in his constant acceleration and, looking back, dodged up to just above lane two ( about 5 feet above the pole lane) providing a tempting hole to dive through. I was not foolish enough to spring that trap and hovered above waiting. The pace stabilized for a moment - breathing room.

The final corner approached and I started to accelerate laddering up the track out of the saddle to keep the distance between us steady while increasing my potential energy. Jamie bobbed and weaved trying to own all three lanes looking back. As we began the turn in earnest, Jamie committed, turning his head forward and hitting it hard. Back out of the saddle, he scissored down to just above the pole lane and our pace leapt from 30mph to 40mph in 20 meters – it was on.

The even pace on the backstretch had given me a moment to reload my springs and I uncoiled everything I had remaining. The G-forces in the corner pressed me into the saddle and as I leaned far to the left, the cracks in the track rattled through my forearms. I arched over the bars forming a protective shell over the motor of my quads and calves thundering below and that warm hum began as power throbbed through my legs into the pedals. I matched Jamie’s acceleration and more: despite having the outside lane and longer trajectory, I closed the distance and began riding up on his back wheel.

As we exited the corner I had drawn even with his hip and my front tire had come into view. Jamie flicked up and we had momentary contact and then he dropped and locked onto the pole lane. Any movement from there and he would be disqualified. Meanwhile the liability of the outside lane around the corner delivered its double rewards of higher rotational velocity and declining altitude as the corner flattened. I burned the remainder of my reserves and loosed the catapult, now shoulder to shoulder with Jamie, both of us hammering into the pedals.

Pulse hammering in my brain, my head, hands and hamstrings delivered a pulse of speed down the short straightaway, elbow to elbow for a moment, I then surged past Jamie to cross the line with a ¾ length advantage.

Sound returned and a sudden roar filled my ears and I realized I had done it. As I swung high up the track to absorb my speed I realized that I had won the Junior World Championships Trials and the one and only spot to the Worlds in North Africa. I raised my hands… again only to cradle my head – this time in relief – and spun down around the corner, cheers echoing from the far side of the track.

I finished the warm-down lap, slapped high fives with a core group still at the fence and then retreated to the apron. Richie and a few other juniors were there to catch me and hold the bike as I unstrapped, and Richie shared the unofficial 200m time – at 10.96 possibly a new junior record.

I quickly gathered my things, and as I prepared to leave, there he was, the “man” himself, Eddy B., who shook my hand, smiled stiffly and in his thick accent said, “Yes, good racing. Jamie not race well though…  Perhaps we must bring two sprinters to Junior Championships…” and then he was gone.

Disappointed that I would potentially yet have to face the threat of my mortal enemy across continents I was thrilled with the outcome of the most stressful and rewarding races of my career.

I crossed the track into the shadows of the stands and as I re-emerged into the lights, was humbled to find two dozen junior elite athletes waiting to escort me back to the Olympic Training Center. The sun had set yet I could feel the warmth radiating from the stucco buildings and we parted the trees on the sidewalk as we passed through the park for the 10 minute ride back home.

Conversation was mostly hushed but I rode at the arrow of the peleton with honor guard coverage for street crossings. As we entered the parking lot, an arbitrary paceline formed to give me a leadout to the PedXing sign and I took the bait, winning the parking lot prime sprint with a surge towards the line and a bike throw and we all laughed as we headed for the cafeteria.

It was Richie Hincapie who brought a dose of reality back into the ceremonies. “Great race – I hope you get to go – you earned it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, my voice turning shrill, “I won the trials, of course I’m going.” I paused and thinking said, “but I guess Eddy B. thinks Jamie should go too.”

“No Coyle…, that’s not what I heard. I heard Eddy talking to Campbell about maybe they should bring you too…”

My mind raced back to Eddy’s words, “Perhaps we will have to bring two sprinters to Junior Championships.”  “No,” I said, mind blackening with the darkening sky as realization set in, “they were talking about Jamie – Jamie might get to go – I won…” “I won the trials..”

“Sorry John, but all these trials disguise the reality that it is coach’s discretion – Jamie’s going already. That was decided long ago. But the good news is you still might get to go if you keep beating Jamie at practice…”

Seeing my face he added, “Sorry man, thought you knew…”

Days 2 through 10 of the never ending junior world trials began the next day…

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(Video – this is the 2007 world championships, final race. This race went down in a classic match sprint pattern almost identical to the race w/ Jamie. If this were us, Jamie would be in blue, and I’d be in orange)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kVb1JteAV4&feature=fvsr]

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Back to the Diary:

Tuesday – sprint day:

Today I got up at 9:20, ate breakfast, then slept until 12:00pm. My neck was still stiff – yesterday I couldn’t even turn it to the left. I couldn’t see traffic coming. Anyways, after getting up, I got ready for a ride, only to discover my front wheel was missing. I later discovered that Scott had taken it on Craig’s advice when he discovered he had a flat. I was the only one racing today and I couldn’t even go for a ride so I waited.

I decided to go to Azdine’s room and listen to my Brian Adam’s tape I loaned him. I was really shaken by his room. It is about the same size as mine at home. I figured Azdine had a pretty good job and would be reasonably well off for a Moroccan. I was wrong. All that Azdine owns in life can be easily laid in a normal suitcase. He has no furniture other than his bed. He shares this cement floored and cement walled room with another worker. He has no other furniture besides a small table. On it he has all his worldly possessions – a half-full suitcase of clothing, 2 magazines, 7 or 8 copied cassettes, a walkman type tape player (no radio or recording) and two small speakers powered by the walkman. My box of tapes is worth more than all he owns.

His tapes are funny. He has one for the English class he is taking, along with a magazine-like textbook, one store bought tape of “1984 Superstars!” a K-Tel type tape of top-40 music, a couple of Arab music tapes, a couple copies of American music, presumably off the radio, and his second and final store bought tape, “Canary Birdsongs,” for his 3 canaries.

I don’t know what he does with his money – maybe it isn’t much and it all goes to pay rent and for his class or maybe he is saving it.

At the track, I waited while the coaches and Mr. Kirkbride (who, by the way has been staying in my room since Friday) put my bike together. I guess the tread had flaked off my white, light tires, so they put Panaracers on those wheels. I tried warming up on the new tires, but they are narrow profile and slid very easily – I almost fell when I slid from 2 feet above the red line to the pole line, so I switched to my trust old heavy Wolber rims and tires.

My first sprint was a 3-up. I was the 6th ride out of 8. I was up against a Bulgarian and an East German – both big and muscular. The Bulgarian had qualified 11th and the East German 5th – their times 11.6 and 11.5 respectively.

I drew lane 2. The East German led slowly on the pole until the backstretch. He picked up speed and climbed the banking. I was about 10 feet behind him when the fat Bulgarian came underneath me, then hooked sharply and hit my front wheel – trying to knock me down. I made it though, but I didn’t want 3rd, so I dove underneath and was in first by the end of the turn. I led across the finish with 2 laps to go and around the corner and down the backstretch. Then the East German dove to the pole and started leading. I dropped down in second and was sitting comfortably a little below the red line where the German was riding when I was slammed from underneath again! The Bulgarian had slipped underneath me and from the apron he shot up and hit me. I bounced up, and then down a little and still, before I had time to recover my composure he came and hit me again.

At about this point I got mad. I don’t know if he was just trying to intimidate me, if he wanted 2nd position that bad, or if he didn’t like the USA, but I didn’t like him, so at this point – about halfway through the corner, I took a steep angle down the track and chopped that stupid Bulgarian.

He was 5 feet onto the apron after that – there was no doubt about my intent on that move – he knew then that I wasn’t intimidated.

The German steadily picked up speed – apparently thinking that the Bulgarian was the one to worry about – and that the Bulgarian certainly couldn’t come around from third.

The Bulgarian made his move around the second corner. I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye, waited until he overlapped my wheel, then rode him up past the third line before diving back to the East German’s wheel – who was sprinting now. I was just he and I now…

I knew it would be nearly impossible to pass in the uneven corner so I waited. I felt good, so I let a small gap go then made a run at him at the end of the corner. Into the straightaway we came, neck and neck – but the East German had a very strong kick, and the straightaway was short (wide turns, short straightaways) so I missed beating him by 6 inches. Oh well.

Craig was very pleased with my ride and I knew I had ridden well but I didn’t win and if I lost the repechage round I was out – done.

Back at the hotel I talked with Azdine at his house on the roof. There is some garlic up there in a corner – who knows why – aging I guess, or to ward off vampires. Anyways, I showed him how to freak people out by throwing it (the garlic) into the street.

Not about to be outdone, Azdine grabbed one, went to the back part of the hotel roof, leaned over and pointed to a lady seated by the pool of the hotel next door. I laughed because I thought he was joking, but then he threw it – hard.

It shattered on her table. She freaked out screaming and was looking up in all directions. I was on the ground I was laughing so hard. Azdine is a lot of fun. We talked for an hour and then I went to bed.

Casablanca 25 years ago Vol 4: The Perfect Race Pt. 2

1986 Diary - Friday: The opening ceremonies were very different. The stands were packed – dignitaries and athletes on one side, and spectators on the other. The spectators were packed in extremely close – Americans never get that close – strangers were practically sitting on each other’s laps.

In the center of the velodrome were approximately 500 brightly dressed dancing girls who formed groups in circles and danced and sang between events. Also, a solid line of girls in pink pants and white shirts ringed the track (which doubles as a dog racetrack – having the pulleys and everything for the mechanical rabbit as well as kennels right next to the second turn.) These girls did nothing that I could see. While waiting the King and his son came and sat down along with 50 body guards. They started the ceremonies by introducing the King to the public, and then jabbering away in Arabic about god-knows-what for 10 minutes. Finally some bands played in the infield – small groups either banging on drums or cymbals and dancing faster and faster – I needed a camera! Hopefully I’ll get pictures from Stefan or Dave…

We were supposed to ride 2 laps “in our sweatsuits for ceremony” said Craig, so we brought our road bikes and normal shoes. It turned out to be a 20 lap points race with track bikes, cleats, and helmets. We are so uninformed. I could have won some money if I had only known. A Russian broke away (with 3 teammates blocking) many of the other teams didn’t know about it, and those who did, only the Moroccans had more than 1 rider (2) beside the USSR w/ 4.

After it was over, I chatted with some of the other teams’ riders – mostly Australia and Japan before returning to the hotel for dinner.

After dinner, Scott, Stefan, Greg and I went out to the ocean. We sat on the rocks for awhile as the tide started to come in (drawing of the beach/rocks). Then Scott and I went out to the end of the rock promenade and sat on a rock that jutted far out into the breaking waves (drawing here). At first the splashes went up straight over our heads and then returned straight down - we were surrounded by a temporary white wall of water - and it appeared we were getting soaked, but we weren't. But after a while the waves got higher and higher until one big wave swamped us. It was a lot of fun. Scott is a really fun guy.

When we returned, Scott discovered that he had locked his key in his room, and that the only way to get in was to climb from my balcony to his - but there were two rooms in between. We both went - just for the adventure - but the second balcony had a man in it. Fortunately his back was turned and he didn't see us before we turned around - we couldn't go that way... But then Scott devised a scheme. He climbed to the first balcony, and then got ready to go to the next. As soon as he was ready, I walked down the hall and knocked on the 2nd room door. While the man got up, Scott moved.  Upon opening the door, I could see Scott traversing the balcony giving me the sign - "stall!" - he hadn't gone all the way yet - there was a chair. So I looked surprised and asked the man if he spoke English. He said, "a little," so I talked to him for a minute and then said "au revoir" and Scott was already back in the hall through his own room. It was a fun adventure/scam – Ferris Buhler would have been proud.

Saturday:

Today I got up, went to breakfast and then took the bus to the market w/ Stefan. Before leaving we talked to 3 pretty Moroccan girls for a while (Stefan did all the talking – in French.) I guess they told him they liked my eyes and thought I was very tan – my skin was darker than theirs. I heard them say “magnifique”.  Anyways, once inside the market we walked for a while before meeting a very nice man who spoke English. He told us that he would show us all the best places and haggle for us. We were suspicious, but at least he kept all the people off of us. He took us to a “caskan” factory.

 

His name was Mustafa. I bought my mother a beautiful lavender 2 piece caskan – embroidered. We later found out that Mustafa was pretty much taking us to only the places where his friends worked – he didn’t take us anywhere else – it made me mad. I think I may have paid too much for the caskan and the robe I bought myself.  I paid $20 for the caskan and $10 for the robe. I also bought a knife for $25. It is curved – really cool. I bargained it down from $50. This lady with a baby tried to beg 1 durham (15cents) off us and we gave her nothing, but it was good we didn’t – we needed it for the bus ride back. I also bought a scarf of really nice cloth for $3.

 

Stefan went crazy – he bought all kinds of stuff – jewelry, silver, bags, a caskan, scarf, etc. he borrowed $25 from me and 40 durhams too. Mustafa grabbed a t-shirt I had bought to trade and later he informed me it was his – I had “given it to him for a souvenir.” He later tried on one of my 7-11 hats and when I tried to get it back, he got violent. I was totally sick of the place after all this, especially when the storeowner of the knife place asked me for a little flag for a souvenir, and when I wasn’t looking he took 3 – all of them. I finally got them back though (2 of them.)

We finally got out of there although 5 Arab shopkeepers followed us out trying to sell Stefan silver.

Upon returning, I took a nap then went to watch the TTT finish. It was really cool to see all the teams finishing and especially cool to see the good old stars and stripes coming up over the hill. From where we were on the hill, we could see a half of a mile, and it was 4-5 people deep on both sides as far as we could see.

 

After this, we talked to some teams again. I really want to trade my U.S.A. sweats for the Italian sweats – they are so nice.

We then left for the track. We (Jamie and I) warmed up with the team pursuit. We then did 4 jumps in which I pretty much beat Jamie easily even though he was riding a 45 and I was riding a 47.

Then we each did a 200m time trial. I did a 12.14, and Jamie did a 12.42. Apparently they painted the 200m mark wrong because we couldn’t be that slow – both of us.

We then returned and ate and chatted with Azdine the waiter. He is really nice – he speaks a little English, and has offered to take us to the market. He does think I got a good deal on my leather jacket – I do too. He really likes it. It’s the best! I still have $48 left – not much huh? But the jacket is worth more than I have spent so far so that’s ok. Tomorrow I will write postcards – goodnight!

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The Perfect Race Part 2: 

Nothing had changed in Jamie’s attitude when he lined up next to me after our first aborted race. The referee’s vague warning was issued with a wave of his hand and a complete lack of eye contact. It had little effect and I faced the same leer with now whispered challenges. We rolled off the line.

This was the finale of the match sprint trials for the 1986 Junior World Championships and most of the 70 or so other junior racers had turned out to watch - most of whom had already competed in their own events. Unlike other events where riders could qualify for several open spots on the national team in said event and win an all expenses paid trip to Africa, in the match sprint there was only one spot. It was a 2 out of 3 series showdown with winner-take-all.  Jamie and I had already raced 6 times that day: 3 mano y mano matches where a third race was unnecessary - we were both undefeated.  

The trouble had started upon my arrival – the national team coaches had wanted to own all the practice times and use those practices to “evaluate” riders, but my coach Roger had other ideas and after a verbal showdown with Eddy B. he demanded some time on the track for me and a few other 7-11 riders (“slurpees” as they called us). I was glad he had created space for me to train, but felt even more isolated from the U.S. team and coaching staff who had failed to invite me into the fold. I was not ignorant of the fact that these same coaches would become my future team were I successful. Meanwhile across the track I could see Jamie working directly with Craig, Anje & Eddy. Clearly they had determined that he had the talent they were looking for and had invested a lot in his success.

This was an old rivalry. The days are long in the summer of youth and hence its shadows stretch longer across the seasons. The fact that this match - this head to head combat - had started at age eight was the equivalent of the 100 years war. Jamie and I had always been at odds. From my very first race in the rain around the Dearborn towers nearly a decade prior we’d been evenly matched in talent – but with temperaments that put us at odds. http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/clair-young/

Six years and decades of memory prior Jamie and I had matched up at our first national championships for the “midget” category in San Diego in 1980. The clear favorites of the bunch, the rivalry extended to our parents as well, with Jamie’s dad taking repeated opportunities to provide intimate and intimidating details of Jamie’s training regimen, diet, preparation and successes with my own father in the early days prior to the event.

Having faced similar posturing at prior races, my father decided to strike back in his own way the night before nationals began. He stopped at a local bike shop to pick up a cardboard bike box to fly my bike home after nationals, but instead of leaving it in the room, he boldly set it out on the deck of the sprawling motel we were all staying at, taping it carefully closed as though it were a new bike straight from the factory. Sure enough Mr. Carney saw it and my father calmly explained that it was my new, custom made, superlight race bike from Europe (rather than the 20 year old repainted steed I was riding). My dad and I chuckled about Jamie's dad's curiousity about that box for years.

Jamie and I were closely matched in those first nationals but I came out the victor, and he a close second. These competitive clashes continued to play out over the years – as did the contrasting approaches and personalities. Jamie was the extrovert – the fun trash talking ‘typical’ sprinter. I was more like the typical road rider – independent and relatively self absorbed – but without the endurance. I wished I could fit the mold of one or the other but I didn’t yet know what my strengths were.

Rolling forward for round 2 of race 1 of the Junior World trials Jamie was again slightly in the lead. As the banking steepened, he suddenly looked back at me, grinned, and then steered up the track. My front wheel hooked sideways and even as gravity pulled me toward the concrete, it also pulled my front wheel down into his rear wheel we both collapsed again into a heap at the bottom of the track. We'd raced twice and only progressed 90 feet total. The raspberries from the road rash were starting to shine in the heat.

This time the referee’s warning was stern – another incident and Jamie would be relegated. We lined up again and this time my coach waited until Jamie pulled to the line before rolling me to the start line well above him.

The starter raised his gun…

Casablanca - 25 years ago Vol 3: The Perfect Race Pt. 1

Northern Africa - dreams of wind, sand and stars. After the failed junior camp and the alienation I felt from the team and other riders, my thoughts in between began to fill with the idea of Casablanca, Morocco. Like the call of the muezzin I could feel what it might feel like to race my bike in the land of the sun and souk, the Fez, of blue eyed Berbers with engraved faces and crisp white cloth.  Months later, my chance to prove out Ed’s challenge and travel to Africa presented itself: the Junior World Team Trials. Colorado Springs: The sun was white hot in a metallic blue sky and just beginning to angle west, etching a crisp web of the lattice of my spokes onto the shimmering concrete. My hands were shaky on the bars of my red Serotta “Murray” bike and my stomach was a cavern of nausea.

My coach wheeled me to the line first – high up on the apron of the track. Jamie rolled up beside me, but instead of parking 10 or even 5 feet away on the 20 foot wide track, his handler pushed him so close that our forearms were touching. He leaned in, jostling with each word, “Whatcha got Coyle? “Whatcha got?” He laughed. “You’re going down – down – down.”

I ignored him and waited for the starter. “Toreador, “Attencione, “Go!” We were off. Vibrating with energy, we tuned the strings of our fast twitch muscles and eased off the line, looking at each other, twitching.

The “match sprint” event on the track is a 2 man showdown. Time matters for nothing and there are few rules – contact is permissible and the first man across the line wins. Three laps and one kilometer long, the dynamics of the race and the qualities of aerodynamics find equilibrium at a magic set point at around 200 meters to go. Should a racer start a sprint much prior to 200 meters (about 10 seconds at 40mph) then the competing racer can use the cover of the “draft” or reduced wind resistance in the wake of the lead rider to slingshot around prior to the finish line. Should the lead rider wait to start a sprint too far past the 200 meter mark, then the first man to “jump” or accelerate has the advantage – and the following rider has the advantage due to lack of visibility of his actions. A human on a bike can accelerate for 7 or 8 seconds before faltering – the first rider to jump with even a minor advantage after the 200 meter mark is able to accelerate through the stall point that might otherwise enable a chasing rider to accelerate past.

These subtle elements of position, timing and advantage filter backward into the first 800 meters of the race, and the “cat and mouse” game often starts right from the start line. “Track stands” – moments (or even minutes) where both racers come to a complete stop and balance without moving to avoid being the in the slightly disadvantaged forward position are common.

The starter shot the gun, blue smoke fading into the metallic sky and Jamie and I slinked forward. I was face forward, all muscles relaxed yet on full alert. Jamie rode below me with his head cockily angled at 90 degrees to our progress, taunting. 10 feet, 20 feet, 50 feet, we progressed at 5 mph.

Without warning he leapt up from the saddle – and I matched instantly – but without forward progression – a fake. Just as suddenly he sat down, and even as I matched, he steered upward, and rammed my front wheel at 6mph.

On the slippery embankment, both tires lost contact, and we both slid out and skittered to the bottom of the rack, bikes entangled. “That’s it Coyle? That’s all you got?” He continued to barb as we loosened our straps and exited our bikes.

I quietly returned to the line and mounted my bike. Seconds later he materialized, lining up even closer so that this time his elbow could touch my abdomen and our handlebars were touching. “Welcome to my track Coyle – MY Track! You are going down again, and again and again…”

The starter raised his pistol…

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Back to the Journal:

Friday:

Couldn’t sleep last night – did much today. Got up at 9:30 and ate a light breakfast – hard boiled egg, croissant, French bread.  After breakfast I was about to go for a ride when Scott and I decided to go to the bazaar. We went to the bank first where I exchanged $80 into 720.80 durhams – their money is similar to Canadian except the bills are a trifle shorter and wider. Each bill has the picture of the president. Exchange is $1 = 9.1 durhams.

We then saw the bus right outside, so we ran and caught it. It took us north into downtown past the main street I rode down, to the market. At first it was very similar to Tijuana where haggling is concerned.  It is just trillions of small shops selling everything – food, spices, clothing shoes, appliances, utilities – everything. It had a distinctly foreign smell of mingled food, leather, sweat and refuse.

We walked down the crowded cobblestone streets about 10 feet wide. At first we couldn’t find anything but women’s clothing (I should have shopped for a Caskan but I didn’t). We walked for about 30 minutes through shops full of brightly colored women’s clothing until we finally turned around and went through and alley and back the way we came. The alley was behind the shops and we discovered that there actually people living in these horribly run-down buildings – all of which would have been condemned in America.

We finally found the men’s stores. Curious I walked into a leather store – just to look – but the storeowner wanted me to do more than that – he had me trying on jackets like a tornado. All of the jackets were very nice and of the finest quality. One in particular caught my eye – it was the finest in the shop to me, and the owner quickly affirmed that opinion – though he might have said that about any one of them I’m sure.

Anyway, this one was not a motorcycle type jacket – although black, it was very dressy, “Straight from Paris,” said the owner. It looked really cool as he tried it on me, zipping it up and doing the belt as well. I then took it off and asked Scott if he liked it. He said he did, but then I started looking around. The shopkeeper would grab anything I looked at and try to put it on me. I had Scott put a stop to this nonsense – every time I looked at something I would tell Scott and then he would explain that I didn’t like it.

The Arab protested loudly in French and broken English, but at least he stopped putting them on me. The one jacket I had admired was the only like it in the store – it was the best one and th shopkeeper knew it. We found out when we priced the two I had narrowed it down to. The one I really liked? “1700 durhams, but I give it to you for 1200”.

That was too much, so Scott haggled with him for a while on the other one, - very much like my friend Bill’s jacket. In a short while we had it down to 450 durhams from 900 so I knew I could the other one cheap. I wanted the other one so Scott went at it.

He started yelling “500” in French while the Arab yelled “1100!”. This continued and the volume escalated. Scott anchored at 500 and the Arab moved to 1000, then 900, 850, and then 800. We got stuck at 800 – he wouldn’t go any lower – so we headed out.

He literally yanked me back in, put the jacket back on me, zipped it up, and then put a mirror in front of me. “For you, 750 durham…” but Scott refused, saying “impossible” and jabbering away even louder in French. He was literally shouting “550! 550!” and the shopkeeper was shaking his head shouting even louder “700!” even as he was wrapping it up. Once again we started to leave.

The owner relented.. “650!” he yelled. Unimpressed, Scott yelled, “600!” (this was all in French). Finally after another 10 minutes of haggling we got him to 630 durhams. At this point with a nudge from Scott I opened my wallet and handed him 620 durhams – he counted and then demanded the other 10. He almost gave it all back rather than sell so low, but he gave in and handed me the jacket – 620 durhams - $68.80 – for the finest leather worth well over 200. It was odd, but everyone seemed pleased that it was a hard fought battle. Me - for the jacket, Scott for his mastery of French and haggling, and the shopkeeper for… a real foe?

I also bought another jacket – gray Denim – for 160 durhams – we could have gotten it cheaper, but we had to get back – we had spent 60 minutes in the leather store. I had to borrow 60 durhams from Scott to do this. It was so much fun shopping there – I’m going to buy some nice shoes next time I’m there. We finally left because Scott had a team time trial practice as 2pm. We found a man who spoke English on the way out and he found us a taxi and haggled it down to 15 durhams for a 5 mile trip for 2 – that’s $1.50 – cheap. The bus was only 2 durhams – 22 cents, but they were so crowded with assuredly smelly people we decided to take the taxi.

Everyone like my jacket and they all want to go there. When I go back I may buy some leather pants for the heck of it.

After returning, I went for a ride. I rode to the track – to make sure I knew how to find it – then I decided to take the scenic route back to the coast. I headed back toward the poor section (slums) to see what they were like – BIG MISTAKE!  The homes were made out of sheet metal (corrugated) or rocks – they were terrible. I was following a pretty big road and there were black fires burning everywhere and it was getting harder and harder to see any distance in front of me.

When I turned a corner, the road dead ended into a huge garbage dump maybe 4 stories high. It smelled awful, but what was the worst were the adults and children scrambling over the top “fresh” layer looking for food – it was pitiful and it made me sick. I knew I shouldn’t be there in all my cleanliness and expensive bike and so I turned around and cruised out of there because people were starting to yell and it didn’t sound nice. I trucked out of there and turned towards the coast. (Mistake #2 – I should have turned and gone back the way I came)

It was more slums with more dead ends. I was getting pretty scared because I didn’t see one kind face and I was turning around and around at every other street because they kept dead ending and the roads kept getting dirtier, narrower and rougher as did the people. Finally I saw an alley that served as a tunnel to the main street by the coast so I sprinted down it as shouts rang all around and behind me. I think some men were following me and had cut me off – there were 7 or 8 men in their late teens sitting outside their slum that I swear I had seen before. Fortunately I was almost past them before they saw me – who knows where I would be now if they had – but as it was, when I was 100 feet past them, a brick thrown at high velocity struck the ground next to me and the shattered pieces skittered forward under my tires and bounced, tinking, off my frame.

After that I time-trialed like crazy for the next mile on the bigger road because still the people didn’t like to see a beach boy like me invading their slum. But I had made it to the coast, only to be cheered by the more satisfied people of this huge crazy city. (Jamie was also attacked and a big dent in his camera showed what saved him from a brick…)

I made it back just in time to leave for the opening ceremonies which were held at the velodrome. I will explain these later – goodnight!