Jan 282015

The callous on my right hand reached failure...The majority of the posts on this blog have documented my successes, triumphs and progress over the past couple years. This is not one of those posts.

This morning at my gym, we repeated a workout from the CrossFit Open last year. It was 14.4, a chipper consisting of a 60 calorie row, 50 toes-to-bar, 40 wall-balls, 30 power cleans and 20 muscle-ups, with a 14 minute time cap. Last year, this was my first workout back after discovering the mind-crushing pain of exertion-induced, acute onset headaches. I approached it cautiously then, careful to keep my heart rate reasonable so as not to aggravate the pinched nerve that we suspect set off the headaches the week before. I finished with a score of 99, completing only 39 of the toes-to-bar before time expired.

This morning, I had it in my head that I could make it through the toes-to-bar and get to the wall balls, and provided there was enough time left, I planned to try and do all 40 of them unbroken. There was still the requirement for caution, as I’ve been nursing two very angry shoulders for the last several months, and I would need to concentrate on maintaining good scapular retraction throughout each pull to avoid aggravating them. Still, I counted on getting through them in plenty of time to attack the wall balls, and maybe even get to the bar for a few power cleans.

I didn’t make it. I failed.

I did complete three more reps than last year, giving me a score of 102, but that was small consolation. I got through the first 20 quickly enough, in bunches of five, but then the wheels started to fall off. I started missing reps, only getting three at a time, then two. With a minute to go, I reached failure, and couldn’t get my toes to touch the bar any more. I was frustrated. Dejected. Mad.

As days at the gym go, this will not be remembered as one of my favorites. But it will be important. Reaching failure is an essential element to any training program. It is the point at which the body is optimally stimulated for muscular growth. It is the benchmark against which future efforts will be measured. It can be, once the bitterness of the moment is overcome, the fuel that will drive you toward greater things. It exposes and brings into focus your weaknesses, so that you can address them with specificity and intensity before your next maximal effort.

In fact, a maximal effort is not possible without at least approaching failure. When you are striving for a personal record in any event, you are trying to reach the nexus of performance and failure. In a running race, the goal is to cross the finish line unable to run another step. In a lift, the goal is to put up enough weight that you couldn’t add another gram to the bar. On the race track, the perfect lap is one where you are just on the edge of control, using every ounce of available power and traction. In life, if you aren’t failing with some regularity, chances are you are not challenging yourself, not growing, not really living.

Before today, I never really considered failure as its own destination. I train and race hard, and flirt with failure on a regular basis, but like most people, have treated it as something to be avoided. In the ongoing battle to maintain the positive feedback loop I find necessary to keep me coming back day in and day out, I try to focus on my successes. That perspective will need revising, for me. It turns out that searching for one’s personal limits, in other words striving for failure, is the surest way to find success.

I’m not happy with how I did this morning. I did not meet my own expectations for performance. But I’ll be back to try again, having learned from the experience and improved myself in the interim. And hopefully, next time I’ll reach failure again.

Jan 142015

10344296_716673191704842_3567698627960657134_oNo sooner had I posted my goal sheet for this year, than I was given cause to reconsider significant portions of it. A majority of this year’s race season was intended to mimic the last. I had planned on return trips to Big Frog, the race that almost killed me, and Lumberjack, the zenith of my mountain bike racing career to date. But several things have come up that have caused me to reconsider much of my big-race lust.

The Benjamins

First, I need two new bikes. After thrashing it mercilessly for years, I sold my beloved Trek Fuel at the end of last year, with an eye toward a lighter, hardtail 29er on which to contest this season. The handful of races I entered on the Airborne Goblin Evo last year convinced me that this was probably the most prudent route for the type of riding I’d be doing, and I was past due for an upgrade anyway. My road bike, while certainly a satisfactory performer for recreational rides, was never meant to be a race machine, for sprints or endurance. With more road racing on the agenda for this season, it’s time I stop bringing a cinder block to a rapier fight.

Buying two new bikes isn’t going to be cheap. Neither are out-of-town ultra endurance races. Between registration, gas, hotels (where necessary) and food, I can count on most of those weekends costing me around $500, and that’s before paying to fix whatever the race does to my bike. Those of you who follow me on FaceTwitGram (links at the top right) have seen some of the carnage I inflicted on my machines last year. As I started (at my wife’s gentle prodding) to add up the estimated expenses for my fitness pursuits in 2015, it became clear that trying to do all of it– racing, new bikes, going out of town a half dozen races a year– was becoming cost prohibitive. Something had to give, and the most logical thing, since I need the bikes, is to cut the expensive races.

Where to Improve?

But there’s more to it than just the financial aspect. Ringing in the back of my head for the last several months is a snippet of a conversation I had with my brother-in-law, a far superior and more experienced cyclist to myself. After commenting on the strengths of his finishes at the Iceman Cometh Challenge, I intimated (half joking) that maybe he should give up being a roadie, and focus on mountain bike racing full time. To which he said:

The only reason I do as well as I do on the mountain bike is because of road biking.

And there’s a lot of truth to be found there. Many of the most successful mountain bike racers in the world only ride on dirt when they’re racing. The rest of the time, they’re out on the asphalt, pounding out the training miles. The reason that strategy can work is consistency. You can hold yourself at higher levels of effort, on demand, and for longer on the road than you’ll be able to do when at the mercies of the trail ahead of you. That unpredictability is what makes mountain biking more fun, but also sometimes less effective from a training perspective.

All of this underlines an ugly truth I’ve been trying very hard to ignore: the biggest hole in my mountain bike game isn’t the mountain biking, it’s my level of fitness. When the going gets rocky, or muddy, or tight and twisty, those are the places I’m usually able to hold my own, or even gain ground on my competition. This became especially evident at my last two big races of 2014. But when the trail or road angles sharply upward, or even when there’s a long stretch of fast flats, I run out of gas well before my erstwhile peers.


The targets I set for myself at the bigger events this year would represent substantial improvements, no doubt. But to what end? If I succeed in knocking off an hour or more from my times at Big Frog and Lumberjack, I still finish well outside the top 100. The painful question becomes, do I pay all that money, take the time off work, and go race my brains out for such an ignominious finish? Of course, finishing at all is something to be proud of, but I checked that box last year. To go back and do it again, to finish merely for the sake of finishing, seems a waste of time and resources at this point in my progression.

The gap in my fitness to the next pack ahead of me had already caused me to step back from some of the local MTB races for 2015, removing 6 events from my already jam-packed schedule. While I won the Sport class of our local FastLaps series last year, my victory was due, in no small part, to the sharply reduced field. The next leap forward for me is to the Expert class, where I will need to lose about 4 minutes per lap at John Bryan or MoMBA to be competitive. With that in mind, I had already decided to forego racing the FastLaps series in 2015, planning to train hard and come back in 2016, more ready for the challenge. Consistency demands that I apply the same logic to my endurance racing.

What’s in Store?

Postponing my return to a few of the bigger events this year does not mean my calendar will be short on racing. As I mentioned, I anticipate racing quite a bit more on the road this year, including a few rounds of the Ohio Spring Roadrace Series, and some local crit racing. I intend to scratch the MTB endurance itch at a few of the Tri-State 6 Hour rounds as well, for the experience as well as the training load. And all the while, I’ll be training up to run my first marathon in October.

It was not an easy or pleasant decision to scratch some of my favorite big events from the planning calendar for this year. But if all goes according to plan, I’ll be much better prepared for them in 2016, enough to start chasing some respectable finishes. In the meantime, 2015 will have no shortage of fun and racing, albeit more local and less expensive. Stay tuned to this page for more updates and announcements soon, as my plans begin to take shape!

Jan 042015

Goal SheetOver the past few years, I’ve made a habit of making my fitness and racing goals public. This has served well to drive me forward. It provides a sort of passive accountability, as once I’ve made my goals public, they become obligations to my friends and readers. I harbor the perhaps delusional notion that people are watching me, and waiting to see if I succeed. Maybe they’re rooting for me, and I want to live up to their expectations. Maybe they’re waiting for me to fail, and I don’t want to give them the satisfaction. Either way, it’s fuel.

There have been more than a few people, from psychologists to motivational speakers to coaches, who have come out lately against the practice of setting goals. They say that setting goals is too risky, too idealistic, too finite. They say you don’t need goals, you need a system. Sometimes, they’re even willing to sell you that very system (oh boy, what luck)!

To them I say, goals are my system. They’ve worked for me for years, and I expect they’ll continue to do so. For me, goals are the footholds by which I climb the mountain that is life. They are the ruler by which my progress as an athlete, and a person, is measured. To abandon them in favor of some nebulous “system,” when they have proven so useful for me, would be foolish. My systems, where I have them, have evolved to meet my goals, not the other way around.

Missing goals is a risk, and in fact I missed several of mine over the past year. I missed my goal time for a 5k by 23 seconds, for a half marathon by 1:04, and for my Iceman Cometh finish by 1 position. I wasn’t able to achieve some of my goals due to injury. I missed Barry Roubaix after I put myself in the hospital with thunderclap headaches during the 2014 CrossFit Open, and my progress in the gym has been hampered by nagging shoulder injuries.

But learning how to accept setbacks is part of the process. If I were achieving every goal I set out for myself, then I probably wouldn’t be setting high enough goals. It’s important to know yourself well enough to strike that balance; set goals that you can reasonably achieve, but not so reasonable that you won’t be challenged and improved by striving for them.

So with that in mind, I give you my 2015 goal sheet. It is as ambitious as the same sheets from 2013 and 2014, perhaps more so. Some of the things on this list scare me, but that’s as it should be. Being a little nervous will keep me focused and training. How will I do this year? Keep checking back here to find out.

Note: The first number or time is my goal, the second is the difference from last year’s record, and the third (if present) is the pace.


  • <15% Body Fat                           (-5%)
  • >99 AFPFT Score,                     9:29 run (-0:17)
  • Rehab/stabilize shoulders


  • Deadlift                                        455               (+50)
  • Back Squat                                  315               (+30)
  • Front Squat                                 285               (+40)
  • Clean                                          255                (+30)


  • 5k                                                 20:59             (-1:23)          (6:45/mi)
  • 10k                                               44:59              (new)            (7:15/mi)
  • Half Marathon                              1:41:59           (-4:05)          (7:45/mi)
  • Marathon                                     3:59:59           (new)            (9:09/mi)


  • JB 6 Hour 6 Laps                        (+1)
  • Big Frog 65                                 7:29:59             (-1:36:14)
  • Lumberjack 100                          9:59:59             (-1:12:57)
  • Iceman Cometh                          AG Top 35        (+16 pos)


  • Try a road race
  • 10 mi TT                                      22+ mph avg      (+.36)
  • Calvin’s Challenge                      108 mi                 (+13.5)          (18 mph)
  • Cat 5 Crit Podium                        (+4 pos)

Cyclocross & Gravel

  • Finish races in the pack
  • Gravel Grovel                               5:29:29         (-20:02)