August 15, 2016: Preseason

 

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) makes a one-handed catch for a touchdown against Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr (39) in the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)  ORG XMIT: ERU108

Like the National Football League, cyclocross spans three seasons. For both, training has to start in the brutal heat of mid-summer. Some of the early races take place in these somewhat oppressive conditions but as the season gets into full swing, we are usually racing in the sometimes-perfect weather of autumn just like the big boys who wear a lot of padding and get the crap knocked out of them. However, the most serious part of the cyclocross season is the National Championships, which take place in the depth and chill of the January winter, fairly close in time to when the Super Bowl is played except now they usually play the game in some balmy southern location.

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When I was a fifth grader in 1965, one of my best friend’s fathers was an assistant coach for the New York Jets. John and I would oftentimes be allowed to accompany him up to the Jet’s training camp at the Peekskill Military Academy and hang out both on the field and in the locker room. As fate would have it, this was also the year of Broadway Joe Namath’s rookie season. He arrived each day in a fancy sports car, surrounded by the press but also accompanied by his Irish Setter, Pharaoh. On our first day there, Joe came walking by on his way to the locker room, trailed by photographers as John and I stood by watching. Joe handed us the leash and asked us if we’d take care of Pharaoh while he was busy with practice. Are you kidding me?

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The days of their training camp were similar to the hot and humid days we’ve been having in Massachusetts the last few weeks. When the players broke for lunch, they would all walk into the locker room where they immediately encountered two drinking fountains. One was a normally functioning one while the other was turned off and the basin filled to overflowing with yellow salt tabs. The players were supposed to grab a handful and wash them down with a lot of water. I loved salt then as I do now and would frequently pop a few, imagining myself as an NFL star. Around this same time in the garage of my friend Jeff who lived across the street (and now a bank president and a member of the Federal Reserve Board), we would hang out and suck on rock salt crystals from a bag his dad kept for ice control. Apparently this didn’t mess too much with Jeff’s career path, as I’ve never read anything about his edema or hypertension.

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The other vivid memory from these hot days in Peekskill was also in the locker room. At the time, the Jets had an offensive lineman named Sherman Plunkett. I assume this was before the days of steroids, EPO and HGH. Most football players were big but certainly not by today’s artificially induced standards. Sherman Plunkett was the biggest football player of his time, weighing in at around 350 pounds. I was a pipsqueak, literally having to stuff my pockets with weights in order to be allowed to play football in my hometown where there was a minimum weight requirement of 60 pounds. Walking into the locker room and seeing a naked Sherman Plunkett (or roughly 6 of me) was an image that will not ever leave my memory, in spite of my best efforts.

As I try to get into peak cyclocross racing shape again this year, in this heat, I think back to the New York Jets, in full gear on a completely unshaded, exposed football field, dropping salt tabs by the fistful. Riding a bike, largely on singletrack back in the woods with two or three bottles filled with scientifically balanced energy and electrolyte drink, I have to remind myself that I’m not roughing it like they were. I know that cooler days will be upon us soon and winter lurks not too far behind.

 

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April 4, 2016: Training in Three Seasons in Three Days

 

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Would we all be better riders if we lived someplace with perfect year-round weather like San Diego? As Chris Carmichael argued in the April 2016 issue of Road Bike Action Magazine, tough conditions make for tougher riders. Mark Twain famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” At almost every place I’ve been in the world, except for maybe Southern California, the locals say something approximating this. I think this is just the nature of weather, made even more unpredictable by the wild and crazy effects of global climate change leading to increasingly extreme weather. The last few days in Massachusetts have been no exception.

Friday, I trained in summer-like conditions; Saturday, I trained in early spring; and Sunday, I trained in winter. That’s 48 hours, three seasons and completely out of the natural order of what we expect from the way seasons generally work. The upside is that this is great training for the upcoming cyclocross season (which begins in mid August and ends in early January). If you substitute spring for fall, you’ve got the range of seasonal conditions we encounter compressed into three consecutive days in April. Friday was a 2-hour road ride in almost 70o sunshine. I was dressed in bib shorts and a short sleeve jersey. Saturday was a 3-hour dirt road ride on my cyclocross bike and I was kitted out in thermal tights and 3 layers with a rain jacket on top. It was 42o and raining when we left. Sunday saw three inches of fresh snow. The temps were hovering around 32o when I left and in the mid twenties when I got home. I was out on my fat bike and dressed in almost all of the cold weather gear that I own. There’s something special about riding trails with fresh powder and 4.25” wide knobby tires that make the hour and a half seem like nothing, even in this kind of cold.

Given my stated goal of winning a National Cyclocross Championship in my age group at some point in my life, I feel it important and necessary to train in these sorts of conditions. In every National Championship event that I’ve competed in, it has been some combination of cold, windy, icy, snowy, muddy and wet. Providence, Bend, Madison, Louisville (World’s Masters), Austin and Asheville were the previous venues. Hartford Connecticut is certain to be tough conditions in 2017 as well, if not the worst ever. Since rounds 2 and 3 of the latest storm system are moving through today and promise to dump another 7 or 8” of snow, maybe I should bite another bullet and head out into this opportunity.