Sunday, April 29, 2012

Winter Arsenal

Winter Arsenal 
Stories and Lessons from the long, dark months.

In my last post, (You’re a Week. I’m a Machine.), I left you, dear reader, hanging after one month of my winter training. In that post I extolled my robust weekly schedule that sculpted my life into a training machine. So? What happened during the rest of winter? Was I able to maintain my mental momentum?

The winter has melted. My legs have unfrozen. And yes, this winter was the best winter of training I have ever had. Incredible. There were many reasons why and there was one particular reason that stands distinctly above all other reasons: Dedication found me. 

Did it pay off? Only time will tell. I’m curious to see how my winter training translates into going fast during race season, which is the primary motive for training. Regardless, hard work and dedication always pay off. Sometimes it doesn’t show right away. Trust me. Eventually it’ll pay off. Perhaps in ways unexpected. 

Part I. Focus and Commitment: the art of training.

(Dreams: How far can I go in this sport?  Reality: How much can I learn? Fulfillment: Where will it take me? All I give a damn about is bike racing.)

Focus and Commitment. A bloody fierce combination. These two beasts changed my mentality towards training on a neurological level.  Chemical shifts finally happened after waiting patiently in my cells. Finally, after many frenzied years of trying to lock down a purpose in my life, this winter my future began to crystallize in a slow-motion explosion of self-actualization: Bike racing is the perfect current medium to chase my dreams and uphold my life values. 

I will sculpt my entire life to support this passion. Bike racing fills me with purpose, sends me all over the world, allows me to explore the dark recesses of both my mind and body, and it supports my three life staples required for fulfillment:

Art. Athletics. Adventure.

In conjunction with a newly acquired attitude this winter, I also implemented certain objective changes to my training regimen. Below are descriptions of the substantial modifications I believe will pay off the most in the long run:
  •  Focus
  •  No junk base miles
  •  Hanging upside down
  •  Gym Jones
  •  Nutrition

Focus: The primary reason for riding your bike during the winter 3-5hrs a day—day in day out—is to acquire a huge aerobic engine. This aerobic engine is then transformed into fast legs during the beginning of the race season. Winter training is absolutely necessary.

Training on the bike 20-30hrs a week is a lot of time on the bike. Think about it: 20-30 HOURS a week on the bike. How you approach these hours is going to have a massive impact on your progression. 

There is no doubt riding long hours on your bike consistently for months straight will strike a righteous fitness profit in your legs. But, let us not forget: training is not only about your legs. Training must primarily be about the mental connection between you and your legs. 

This winter I decided to ditch the headphones. No music. No French lessons. No Radiolab science hours. And I trained by myself. Alone. No distractions. No hold-ups. I only had the rhythm of my breath and the monotonous quiet whirr of rubber on pavement as my companion. Days when the wind roared and the rain came violently from the skies were a gift. They offered variation as my mind fought for focus. 

Bike races are very long at the level I want to compete. We are talking 4-6hrs long for days straight. In a race scenario focus is absolutely essential. In the last hour of a race, in a solo breakaway, with nothing but a lead moto and an official’s car trailing you, there are no distractions. You are painfully aware that all you have is you. Focus becomes unavoidable. Focus is there. It can be an ally. Or a vicious enemy. 

This type of focus is not what you see in stupid Gatorade commercials where athletes scream like monkeys on acid. To the contrary, real focus is better witnessed in migrating animals. The ferocious primal force that wills an animal to plod step after step towards a final destination despite predators and death treading all too close in their weary wake is pure, unadulterated focus. 

And this is the mentally I espoused during the winter. At first, the long rides dragged on forever. I would mentally crack and start soft-pedaling, and then have to fight my own mind to keep pressure on the pedals (more on this in: Base). As the weeks wore on, my mind adapted to the self-inflicted pressure. 

Bodies have the unique ability of adapting to physical duress experienced in training. Yet, this can only happen if the correct mentality allows it. When one is focused on the negatives of the workout (i.e. this is boring, or this is taking forever, or this hurts), then the mind’s focus is shifted away from the important task at hand of connecting with the body and has exited into the nebulous realm of excuses and avoidance.

When the mind instead focuses on the task at hand (breathing, posture, connection, every individual pedal stroke, rhythm, consistency, determination, calm, the burn, relaxation, power, strength, agility, smoothness, explosion), then issues like time, distance, and pain become irrelevant. You have complete control over your focus. 

A psychological shift occurred where training no longer was a burden. Training became an intentional habit, a routine I craved. My mental capacity to maintain connection with every pedal stroke grew. Five hours would disappear. I would get home shivering with excitement. The blissful feeling of uninterrupted focus maintained for hours at a time is addicting, almost erotic, yet not corporal, a sort of transcendent release where everything makes sense. 

(Canadian skies are immense. The landscape is rugged and sublime with ancient formations. And my experiences meeting a few unique souls in Vancouver complimented the force of immeasurable mountains and endless seas.)

(Everyone has a limit. On this white-out training day I originally planned on biking to Seabeck from Seattle. When it started pouring snow my excitement rose. When visibility dropped to 100ft reality sunk it. I turned around when my hands froze. Pissed off, I finished my ride on familiar roads where the snow was less severe.)

(Woke up and there was snow outside. Thought I'd be a badass and ride my trainer. Dumb idea. I was wrecked from winter training. Lesson learned: hang up the damn bike and play in the snow.)

(A fine example of 3,000 calories consumed directly before gorgeous training on the Olympic Peninsula compliments of my grandparents who've been going to this pancake joint every Sunday for as long as I can remember. Many Sundays I woke before dawn,  rode the ferry across the Puget Sound as the sun crawled upwards, met my grandparents for breakfast, then took off for hours on solemn Northwest roads. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.)

Base: There’s a common misconception in racing culture about the term, “Base miles.” To most, this consists of pedaling around easy for a long time bored out of your mind.  

In my first years of racing I also followed this misguided notion. Turns out I was just doing junk miles.  A 4-5hr ride done at a recovery pace—as you can guess—is too long to have any recovery and is too slow to have any significant impact on aerobic development. 

It wasn’t until Adrian signed with United Healthcare and started rubbing shoulders with hot-shots and big-wigs that I was introduced to proper Zone-2 through Adrian’s newfound educational resources. 

Base miles = True Zone-2 (or, as some ‘mericans say, Euro Zone-2)

The main objective of Zone-2 is to consistently hold your body in its aerobic threshold (not to be confused with anaerobic threshold, because that would be painfully silly) for long enough durations necessary to significantly develop and increase your aerobic engine. Otherwise known as your aerobic base. Hence, base miles. Light bulb. 

As a rule, Zone-2 is probably a harder effort than you think it is. Your Zone-2 is best targeted with a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors are not antiquated training tools overshadowed by the brilliance of power meters. If you think this, you are wrong, and I will simply refer you to the numerous pro-tour riders who disdain training with power. 

This isn’t a matter of preference. It is a matter of the right tool for the job. Heart rate is like General Theory of Relativity and Power is like Quantum Mechanics. Both are necessary in unique ways despite their differences. Heart rate is best for tracking long, smooth rhythms, and this is why it is much more informative during winter training months. 

Another fringe benefit of training with heart rate is the decreased likelihood of number obsession and the dismissal of listening to your body. The purpose of training with techno gadgets that give numerical feedback on your body’s performance is to help you better understand how your body works. If your heart rate monitor or power meter is not directly corresponding to a marked increase in Intuition, then your approach to training may need to be revaluated. I will let you draw your own conclusions. 

Intuition has been and will always be the most effective training tool.

Admittedly, intuition does have limitations. My intuition does not have the ability of knowing accurately what my heart rate is at any given second. I could tell you roughly what it is. But roughly doesn’t cut it for Zone-2. 

Recall the objective of Zone-2 is to sustain an exertion at aerobic threshold. Your aerobic threshold has a very narrow range, about 10bpm. (Determining your aerobic threshold is tricky. There is much literature on the matter. Michael Blevins recommended me this great book:  Healthy Intelligent Training, by Terry Orlick). 

This objective means—ideally—that every second, every pedal stroke, of a 3-5hr ride your heart rate is snuggly in Zone-2. When you hit a climb you don’t rail it, you back off. When you hit a downhill you don’t coast, you pedal hard to maintain your heart rate. Now perhaps you can see why proper Zone-2 requires immense amounts of focus. Zone-2 rides are hardly easy. 

Anecdote: This is also why group rides are a horrible way to perform base miles. Stop-go-stop-go. Bullshit chatting. Hardly effective steady Zone-2. Training solo (or with 1 or 2 training partners of matched ability who maintain equivalent focus) increases mental capacity improvements, as well as physiological. Professional riders aren’t anti-social. They are focused. Social support/motivation is crucial, yet is too often used as a crutch and thus becomes of limiter. Understand the difference and you will improve. 

A Zone-2 training day is no different in theory than a Z4 or Z5 interval day. When done properly, a 3-5hr ride becomes one long sustained Zone-2 interval as mentally and physically taxing as intervals done in higher Zones. In the last hour of a Zone-2 ride you are wrecked in a similar way to holding a solo breakaway at the end of a long race. This is also why you should eat a shit ton during Zone-2. 

Would you starve yourself if you were in the biggest race of the year, off the front, by yourself, the finishing line coming closer with grandeur of a win? No. You eat tons. So eat in training. There is a copious amount of literature that shows your body best processes carbs during exercise (more on this in: Nutrition).

One last anecdote: Yes, you are wrecked after a Zone-2 ride. Please keep in mind that this wrecked feeling should be sustainable. Meaning: recovery is crucial. Doing numerous days of hard winter miles without proper recovery leads to a nose-dive in quality, and this most often equates to over-training. 

It is a fine balance knowing how long and how hard you can go. A coach or mentor is always nice to bounce around training ideas. Ultimately, your best guide is garnering consistent experience and intuition. If you ever have any doubts in the effectiveness of your training plan, ask yourself this one question: Is my training Quality being diminished? Trust yourself.

Upside down: Like batman, I would chill hanging from my ankles. Before I tell you what this is all about, we need a lot of background info.

Hanging upside is a great way to make sense of the world.

I am a firm believer that a vast majority of sickness, illness, and injury is mentally manifested in the body. The mind struggles against itself and the body becomes the scapegoat for the mind’s misery. Unfortunately western science does not purport this, and instead gives you a pill, which further reinforces any lack of connection between mind and body. 

When I was racing for OUCH Pro Cycling last year, I was thrown into one of the most stressful experiences of my life. There were many positive results, the main one: I developed—or rather—I proved to myself I have GRIT. There were so many reasons to quit racing, to give up. But I didn’t. And I pushed forward broke, homeless, team less, unwaveringly limping towards my dream of racing my bike for a career.

This life experience toughened me up in positive ways. But. It also wreaked havoc on my body. Injuries started cropping up. My mind fought to maintain a sense of stability and its sacrificial lamb was my own body.

I never told anyone this: last year my left leg would fall asleep after riding my bike for 10-15minutes. For the majority of the race season my focus was fractured in races as I tried to push my body towards winning results while having a non-functional leg. 

It was a terrifying feeling. With no money, no health insurance, and no one to tell (talk of injuries is an utter taboo for professionalism) I knew I had to find a solution on my own. I spent hours researching sports medicine and rehab techniques I could perform on myself like a back room kidney operation.

The hours of research translated into hours of time spent alone with my body, my eyes closed, focusing on the nerves and muscles that were pulling my body out of symmetry. On the bike I felt twisted. My legs when they pedaled felt like they were pedaling completely out of synch. I knew this was a musculoskeletal/postural issue inhibiting nerves and blood flow. 

From the hours of being alone with my body my injuries started to disappear. As stress levels decreased (thanks to: the Cottage), my body healed. The hours of research and commitment to understanding my body and reconnecting it with my mind also built: Confidence. 

Injuries heal from the mind, not the body. Only you can fix yourself.

But others can certainly help. An amazing, intelligent, and kind-hearted chiropractor by the name of, Dr. Jacob Perkins, who works at Elite Sport and Spine in Seattle/Bellevue, offered to sponsor me with his services after he heard my bike racing stories. 

When he worked on me I would study intently how he would manipulate my body and I would replicate this myself as best as possible at home. He was the expert of his trade. And I am the expert of my body. With his knowledge I learned so much more about how my body is connected. I constantly thought of the ancient acupuncturist who learned the fascinating pressure points of the body through self-examination and experimentation on their own bodies with no guide other then their intuition and deep connection between mind and body. I decided firmly I could be the own expert of my body.

Anecdote: Another huge gift from the universe plopped serendipitously into my life in the form of Gym Jones. Mark Twight and Michael Blevins taught me proper weight lifting. This new knowledge became the most important factor in my newfound postural strength on the bike. (Read more in: Gym Jones)

Back to hanging upside down. While racing in Trexlertown I stayed at a farm and the mother there owned an inversion table. I tried it out and afterward my lower back seared with pain and would not bend and I had a headache so sever I thought I would vomit. The first thing that crossed my mind was, Holy shit, I need to get one of these things. 

If my body reacted this violently to hanging upside down for five minutes, then my body obviously needed it. It was responding to a stimulus, perhaps negative at first, but over time I knew the decreased pressure on my spine, in conjunction with the endless medicinal benefits of altering blood flow in the body, would only benefit me. 

And it did. Huge fan. Over time, I’ve worked up to hanging upside for nearly an hour. My body has adapted. People scream and shout: you’ll die being upside that long. Really? Then why the hell do I feel absolutely stunning the moment after I swing back around and see the world the way it should be? 

Inverted sit-ups are also an essential way to understand how your core should properly connect during dynamic movements. With no impediment of using the floor as an improper lever against your spine, doing inverted sit-ups allows you to not only connect your core, but also your oblique’s, lower abs, low back, shoulders, hamstring, quads and calves—pretty much your whole body—in one dynamic core connected motion. 

Ninja shit. Plus, doing inverted sit-ups looks hexa badass when you are at the gym trying to look cooler than everyone else. 

Gym Jones: In early November I was invited to spend five days training with the masterminds of Gym Jones: Mark Twight, the founder, and Michael Blevins, the guru. Along with running Gym Jones, Mark—and his abundant knowledge—is often contracted for large-scale projects. The actual Gym is located in Salt Lake City, but this winter Mark and Michael were both stationed in Vancouver, British Colombia to train the lead-actors of the new Superman movie. Since Seattle is a hop, skip and a jump away from Vancouver, they told me to saddle on up and head North so they could show me the ropes about proper weight lifting for a bike racer like me. 

(After building trails in the mountains for the off-season (read: Enchantments) I decided to mark the beginning off winter training with a monumental experience: Adventure north to meet Mark 'Fucking' Twight in Vancouver for a five-day intensive in weight lifting.)

(Here I am doing my first proper dead lift. My first ever. It was an incredible feeling. Like jumping in the abyss knowing you won't die. Or maybe you will.)

(Front squats are great because you can't mess them up. If you do, you'll know quick with an explosion of metal hitting the floor.)

(Wall squats are a great way to conceptualize the proper dynamic movement of Dead lifts and Squats. This movement really comes down to lower back flexibility, something most cyclist don't have. Fascinating how proper weight lifting increases flexibility. So much to learn!)

(Beneath Lion's gate bridge for a photo pit-stop on a particularly philosophical ride with Mark.)

For three years I’ve dreamt about training with Mark Twight from Gym Jones. It is a cool story how our paths crossed. I don’t have time to write all the details, but let’s just say the world is small, bike racing is a beautiful sport appealing even to rock climbers, and Twitter has a lot of power. The whole story can be summer up in this quote:

"By the time you realize it's a door, you're already through it."

If you don’t know who Mark Twight is, you should. A truly inspiring fellow, someone who I have always admired for his radical psychological views on training manifested by his inhuman feats as a world class Mountain climber. To be invited to train was him was an honor, a right of passage, and huge boost of confidence. The invitation was an objective and tangible experience rewarding my persistent hard work. 

I have always been fearful of weightlifting from admitted ignorance. My intuition told me I needed to lift weights in order to fully heal my injuries. So my main objective with Gym Jones was: how do I properly weight lift as a cyclist?

Turns out everything I knew about weight lifting was dead wrong. My time with Mark and Michael was nothing short of an epiphany. I want to respect their secrets they gifted to me, so I will speak of my newfound knowledge in general terms.

The goal of a cyclist is to increase power without putting on weight. Many cyclist stray away from weight lifting from fear of gaining muscle mass. I fell in this same ignorant category. I was also, like many other cyclists, scared of potential injury from lifting heavy weight

  • Injury results from ignorance, not from proper weight lifting. 
  • Low-reps with very heavy weight doesn’t increase muscle mass, it increases strength. 
  • Weight lifting should be simple: front squats and dead lifts are all you need. 
  • Weight lifting should never sacrifice quality training on the bike.
  • If you’re sore after lifting, you did it all wrong (for endurance athletes). 

I’m going to draw the line there. There’s so much more to add. To explain the above notions is best reserved for a one-on-one conversation. My simple weight lifting routine (in conjunction with a lot of supplemental education and time spent refining technique) resulted in the most connected I have ever felt: Strength.  The universe was looking out for me.

My Winter Gym Routine:

  • Increase postural strength (connection on the bike and eliminate injury/weakness)
  • Increase my sprinting pop (development of explosive muscle). 

Routine (Monday: Dead lifts. Friday: Front squats):
  • Warm-up: air squats, single leg dead-lifts, squat jumps, windmills with heavy kettle bell, and wall squats (not to be confused with chair squat)
  • Front squats/Dead lifts: 5sets of 3reps at as heavy weight as I could confidently control. 3-5min rest in-between sets.
  • Broad jumps: two explosive jumps after each front squat/dead lift set to activate fast twitch muscles.
  • Inverted sit-ups: I’d end the lifting session with 100-200 inverted sit-ups to mentally reinforce all the postural connections established during lifting. 

Nutrition: This year I made the decision to ditch the track and focus on racing the road. I needed to get light. I’ve always been lean and I have used this as an excuse to over extend my gluttony and not hold myself accountable for the nutrients I put in my body. By switching to the road I knew I needed to dial in my nutrition to allow myself to get even leaner without sacrificing power and health. 

(Real food. Cast iron pan. Tea. I have very little in my life because I understand a home cooked meal--and the relaxing two hours to make it--is most anyone really needs.)

(A weeks worth of fruit and veggies. Buying in bulk is necessary. All the plastic is not. I am slowly learning ways to eliminate all use of plastic in my life. One day, I could see myself being a director of a professional bike team based upon a zero environmental footprint. Bicycles are environmentally friendly. Whereas, there is much unneeded waste in the sport of bike racing.)

(The single best investment I made this winter was buying a 14cup Cuisinart. Every day I make the most delicious fruit and veggies shakes. Those two jars equals 2,800 calories of real food deliciousness. A grandeur way to enter into a self-induced food coma.)

My diet has been quite clean for many years. I’m lucky to have a mother who understood the difference between real food and ingestible products that are marketed as food. 

Salads and fruits I enjoyed like candy as a kid. Then, in college I picked up the passion for cooking through kitchen-master roommates. It was then that I figured out many of my gastro-intestinal issues could be completely eliminated by never eating processed foods (I hate calling processed food, ‘food.’ It’s not food. It’s an ingestible product that kills you).

Though I’ve been very conscious about what I put in my body, I’ve never taken the time to fully understand how my nutrition corresponds to performance on the bike. I would just eat healthy food and go ride my bike. It’s a great system, and really works just fine.

But, I’ve always been a curious kid, so this winter I finally decided I’d begin tracking everything I ate to see if I could find correlations between performance and nutrition. In short, I would track calories, macronutrient ratios, when I ate meals, and how many calories these meals were. I did a lot of experimenting and some results were surprising, whereas other were pretty damn obvious. For my body (maybe not yours):

  • Diet is simply a choice and not eating is just as important as eating.
  • Cooking and eating, when done with intention, can be an amazing way to decrease stress and improve life quality.
  • Training a shit ton means: I eat absurd amount of calories per week and still lose weight.
  • Eating the same absurd amount of food when you back off on training because you need to work more and thus are sleeping less and stressed means weight quickly comes back on (More about this in Part: III).

Not so obvious:
  • To not be in deficit when training hard I need more calories than I would’ve guess. 
  • Protein is always a friend. 
  • Carbs are never an enemy.
  • Fat is the hot, mysterious mistress that everyone is too scared to sleep with. 
  • My body responds best to eating a lot on the bike. I eat at least 250kcal (Rice bread sandwich with hummus and honey is my favorite on the bike food) every 30min on the bike. I never finish a ride feeling bonked. I recovered faster after rides and during rides I could maintain a higher level of quality training for longer durations. 
  • My body responds well to intermittent fasting: I don’t eat for 16hrs straight and then eat during an 8hr window. 

Short lesson on Macronutrients:
  • Protein: is fucking awesome. Our diet has very little of it because there is no easy way to bullshit high quality protein. It’s expensive. Maybe if people ditched their car or big screen TV obsession they could buy food that doesn’t kill them.
  • Carbohydrates: have a bad rep because of ‘Ingestible products that kill you.’ Twinkies, crappy white bread, cereal, candy, chips, pretzels, etc, are not Carbohydrates. They are poisonous products made in a laboratory that kill you. Whereas: Garbanzo beans, rice, yams, bananas, pears... Get the point? For a typical, healthy, endurance athlete, not eating carbs is equivalent to preventing hypothermia by swimming in ice water. Not possible.
  • Fat: is absolutely necessary for health and high performance. Again, fat has a bad rep because of consumer ignorance. You think non-fat yogurt is healthy? When you take the fat out of yogurt you are left with sugar. Not good. Zero fat yogurt also taste bad, so let’s throw in some high-fructose corn syrup to make it palatable. Even worse. Fat taste good, and is good for you, so just bypass the idiocy and eat fat. The right types of fat. There’s a fundamental difference between dirty fat (ingestible products that kill you) and clean fat. Avocadoes, coconuts, dark chocolate, pecans, macadamia nuts, high quality meat, fish oil, walnuts, full fat yogurt. This winter about 40% of everything I ate was fat. Why would my body need to store fat if it was eating all the healthy fat it needed?

Let’s talk more about this intermittent fasting business. I won’t waste your time explaining what it is so this all may not make sense to you. If you are curious, educate yourself here: 

Most often I followed two 16/8 time blocks. On days where I spent the majority of my day training on the bike I’d stop eating the night before at 6pm and then not eat again until 10-11am the next day, about an hour before I’d do my 4-5hr rides. Then, on the bike I would continue to eat consistently and end the day with a massive dinner. 

On rest days, intensity days, days in the weight room, or days where I had a lot of computer/busy work to do, I’d stop eating at 10pm (after a huge meal), and not eat again until sometime around 2-4pm the next days. This meant I was in a fasted state while lifting and/or while doing my busy work. Why? Didn’t I feel starved not eating until late afternoon? At first, yes. Then, as my body adapted, the fasted state became normalized and increased focus, clarity, and energy was the reward. 

The feeling of hunger became pleasurable. After all, I know a relaxing hour in the kitchen and huge meal is always awaiting me.

The question remains: why in the hell did I even consider intermittent fasting? Isn’t it horrible for recovery as an athlete? To answer the latter question: No. If you don’t believe me, just spend some time researching. I can tell you that you’ll find countless published studies detailing direct correlations between cancer remissions and fasting. The body is complex. Recovery is not as simple as shoving food in your mouth. It’s also about when you shove food in your mouth. 

Concerning the first question, I have always had this gross feeling like I’m always eating, an actual physical feeling, where I feel slow, like my body is always processing food. Intermittent fasting solved this problem, along with others. It satisfied my gluttonous tendencies since I could eat huge meals without increasing daily caloric values. 

I’m sure my diet patterns and food choice may not be optimal for many of you. The point is: nutrition is a personal matter. It also is never set in stone since the body fluctuates over time. Nutrition can only be understood by education, self-experimentation, accountability, and listening to your body with honesty and integrity. Don’t let it become a religion. I’ve seen people end up in the hospital before they admit their ‘health conscious’ dietary restrictions are killing them.

Part II: Stability: the beginning of sustainable autonomy.

(Here is my universe. A little deck looking over Pine and Belmont. After being a vagabond I finally found a home.)

(Another pictures of my little deck, covered in snow, a streetlamp guiding my way just like the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a favorite as a kid. A sense of stability is fundamental for the nomadic existence of a bike racer.)

(My new kitchen! Can't wait to compose a blog detailing the 'before and after' process of doing a full interior remodel.)

(Books and books and books! Here is my nest. A place where my energy is restored and balance is found through the simple act of embracing tranquility. I have my turntable and records, thousands of books, a comfy coach, nutritious food, and a desk at which to spill creativity. Everything I need!!!)

(Custom bike racks I built with my own hands.)

In my last post I boasted about my organization of time. On paper, it looked daunting. I didn’t even know if I could follow it. So did a lot of other people. They scoffed: there is no way you can keep focused for long with a schedule that full

Who was right? Me? Or the non-believers? The answer is simple. None of us were. So who was right? The universe was right. And it was right on my side. 

From November 1st until the middle of February, a span of 2.5months, my focus and commitment to the schedule was unwavering. My life was utterly dedicated to training. And one other thing: finding a permanent home. 

Hard work, responsible planning, and a huge gift from the universe put me in a situation where I was able to co-invest in real estate. After 27 years of feeling like a vagabond, I finally had actualized my long-term goal of having a home. 

Last summer I began looking for condos in the Capital Hill and/or downtown area of Seattle. After rigorous research, and much deliberation, I found the ideal place located right in center of Capitol Hill, a condo perched directly above Pine and Belmont. 

The condo closed in the middle of February. Exactly one month before the race season began. Since this was going to my first home, a place I committed to living at for a minimum of 10yrs, moving in was not as simple as throwing up a few picture frames and calling it good. 

This had to be MY HOME. Meaning, my dreams of the ideal living situation would have to be manifested by a lot of nails, throws of the hammer, bloody hands, paint covered arms, and days covered in sweat and dust. I had one month to convert a white empty shell of a condo into my dream home. And all on a budget that would make any contractor cringe. 

This was self-inflicted torture that paid off ten-fold. After the first week of remodeling I cracked. After laying down a third coat of paint in the bathroom I had barely put a dent into the overall project. I slumped down on the floor of the bathroom and cried. Then I stopped. Fuck feeling sorry for myself. My grandiose ambitions of doing this whole remodel myself were foolish. 

Despite my propensity towards self-reliance I had to admit I needed help. I called up my Uncle (he’s built two houses from the ground up), my close friend, Jack (a journey man electrician), and my savior incarnate, Aaron Rose (my oldest friend and phenomenally talented finish carpenter who happened to have a lot of extra time on his hands. I owe Aaron my sanity).

The whole reason I’m telling you this, dear reader, is because this remodeling business proved my equation:

(Training + Recovery + Nutrition) / Life = Progress.

(The day I started remodeling my condo the weather wasn't exactly on my side. Determined to start the long remodeling process I loaded all my work supplies on a kids sled and ran across town pulling 200lbs worth of tools.)

(A flawless design of boy scouts knots. They held up all the way across town until I jogged through a rutted intersection and the bloody sled flipped over in front of a bunch of people playing in the snow. They all rushed over to help and asked if I was homeless. I scared them off with a few healthy curse words and kicks.)

(This little cottage is the only reason I am where I am today. For two years I was given a home, a place to return to, from a family who simply wanted to see me succeed.)

(Just like an old lover, all the places I once called home will forever be imprinted into the very being of who I am. This little cottage next to the park will always be a piece of my existence even as the memories fade with time.)

During the remodeling process I was logging over 40hours a week just at the condo. I was sleeping very few hours a night, still working many odd jobs to make ends meet, all while attempting to hold true to my robust training schedule. A 80-90hour work week is not sustainable if health and sanity are a priority. 

Something had to crack. And it did. My ego.

For the month of remodeling I finally admitted to myself I'd have to sacrifice my training quality to finish this remodel right. It was simply a matter of Long-term vs. Short-term training goals. 

As a bike racer the race season is extremely taxing. Constant travel and racing makes for a weary soul. Having a home to return to where I can find rest and recovery by far outweighed the training I had to sacrifice. I decided I could back off on quality in training in trade for long-term emotional and physical stability. I would finish the remodel before the race season, this way my life stress levels would be at a life all-time low. 

This arduous one-month process was the pivotal point in my life where I realized: I’m now an adult. It’s not because I own a home, or have reached a certain age. Rather, the reason I am now an adult is because I understand sustainable autonomy is possible through dreams built from hard work. 

Never have I worked so hard in my life as I did this winter. Many times the workload was so daunting all I could do was put my head down and stair at my feet as I dragged myself forward one step at a time. I refused to look up, knowing I had to focus on each individual step forward. Then, my legs stopped, my eyes rose, and I had reached my destination. This whole time I never got sick, I never stopped, I never questioned, and I never complained. I fundamentally knew it would work out.

What I learned:
  • You are more capable than you realize. Limits can be pushed very, very far.
  • Long-term stability most often outweighs short-term stability.
  • Sleep deprivation will catch up with you.
  • Your family and close friends love you more than you think and will help you more than you deserve. 
  • Only ask for help when you really need it. People instinctually know the difference.
  • The body and mind’s capacity to focus is unfathomable. 
  • Yoga classes are a waste of my time even with all the hot girls there.
  • When you question your goals you question you own competence. 
  • The universe is listening closely. Don’t ask it for anything and it will give you plenty. 

(After all these years of feeling like a lost puppy dog I finally realized there's some truth to the story of the prodigal son. Home has always been Seattle. I had to travel to the ends of earth, and my own sanity, to realize where home is.)

And the most important lesson of them all: Stress is a Perception. I chose to view all the hard work as an opportunity, as an enjoyable challenge. If I looked at my endless to-do list as daunting, I would have cracked months ago. How narcissistic and selfish would it have been to perceive the process of obtaining my dreams as a burden?

-dan harm

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Winter Weaponry:

Winter Weaponry: local sponsors who offer quality products.

(This winter I was fortunate to connect with personal sponsors that made training in the harsh Northwest winter months an enjoyable pursuit.)

(A big toothy grin and a very sponsor friendly haircut! I had a great time doing a photo shoot at JLVELO headquarters in Fremont.)

(My two secret weapons this winter: Bomb-proof apparel made by JLVELO and my first TT bike, a Tiemeyer, which the genius of Tre turned into my deadliest weapon. Internal 3-speed fixed gear hub allowed me to rally on the flats and still mash threshold intervals up Cougar mountains.)

JLVELO: Race in JL makes high quality, good fitting, and durable cycling clothing. I put their winter clothing to the test. The results were impressive, and warm. 

Training in the NW full-time through the winter is no easy task.  I'm thoroughly impressed with JLVelo's clothes, specifically their winter soft-shell and Gamex wind-vest. I'm also a fan of their winter bib tights.

What really appeals to me about JLVelo is that they are a local, family-owned company that places a huge emphasis on customer support.  The fact that they do custom clothing was what really sold me considering I am tall and lanky and I have a hard time finding any stock clothing that fits.

If you want durable, good-fitting clothes for the hard NW winters from a local company with a huge friendly heart and passion for cycling, then you will be very pleased to work with the folks at Race in JL.  You should stop by there retail location and say hello. It’s located right off the Burke Gilman trail at the intersection of Fremont & Stone Way.

Tre at Recycled Cycles: Tre is the best damn bike mechanic I have ever met. This is not an exaggeration or hyperbole. I started working at bike shops when I was 14. I consider my self an astute mechanic. Yet, there is no one I trust with my bikes other than Tre. He is the only person I will ever let touch my bikes, and his hands I trust more than my own. 

(The best mechanic I have ever met. You can meet him at Recycled Cycles. With his dog. His talent comes from a mechanical ability to see outside the box, fixing problems with an unmatched creative flair.)

(WINTER MACHINE. Custom full wrap fender job. Powertap. Custom three water bottle cage bracket. Race geometry. I destroyed this thing in more ways than one. And it always fought back.)

(Just picked up my winter machine from Tre. Following my car less mantra, I fashioned a hitch on my bike for my bikes. Much easier than carrying extra bikes strapped to my back like I did for many years.)

Along with having great taste in music, a pleasant and calm demeanor, and an amazing array of finely crafted tattoos covering the majority of his skin, Tre is an encyclopedia of obscure bike knowledge. There has yet to be any question he has not been able to answer. 

Tre is the service manager at my favorite Seattle bike shop: Recycle Cycles. There is no other store that offers as high of quality mechanic work and cycling knowledge on all breeds of bicycles. I know the management intimately, and they are sworn to creating a friendly work environment and a business focused on promoting the growth and sustainability of the Seattle biking community. I’m a loyal customer.