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Expectations and Perspective: The Mental Game of Cycling

Athletics is entirely mental. Every season of cycling has further reinforced this notion for me. I have also, throughout the years, found out the golden race ratio: for every one time you succeed in racing, there are fifty times you either mess up or get screwed over. To be able to survive the mental damage these odds inflict you must intentionally strengthen your perceptive and meticulously analyze your expectations.

Let me speak in concrete terms: two weekend ago in Portland I raced the Alpenrose Challenge, which is a premier National 3-day Track Race poised on the steep and bumpy concrete walls of the aging Alpenrose velodrome.

Throughout the course of the three day event the temperatures persistently rose to the high nineties. The relentless heat reflected off the white track heightened the intensity of the event, creating an atmosphere of survival and restlessness.

Friday morning I was running late. The pursuit, which is an individual time trail event for 4 kilometers, began at 10pm. I arrived at 1030pm, a half an hour fashionably late, due to a lapse in foresight about the pace my forty-year-old pick-up could maintain on the highway. Luckily, the race directors knew me well and allowed me to register late and slotted me in last to go. This meant I had to get ready and warmed up in about 40 minutes, about 2 hours less than I would comfortably have liked.

Over the past six months my training has been sporadic. College loans and the necessity of having a consistent income has put a damper on the nomadic freedom of an elite bike racer. The inconsistency in income most domestic “pro racers” have–which consist mostly of prize money, even for riders on established pro teams–was not going to cut it when it came to paying off my fru-fru humanitarian degrees.

Because of this inconsistency in training, and lack of time and money to race, I have had to shift my perspective on training. If I were to try and train as much as I did when I was racing full time, then I would end up a complete stressed out mess. So, to avoid this, I decided that my training would be purely for fun, and I would do it only when I felt like it. This alleviation of pressure allowed me to actually train more, since it was more of a hobby as opposed to ‘homework.’

But, the lack of training regiment does have its downfalls: security. I had no idea what type of shape I was in. Over the years I have dominated the pursuit, and I did not want to embarrass myself now.

As I briefly warmed up I ignored the condition of my body and focused rather on my mindset. Half way through my warm-up an Australian Professional cyclist set a blistering time, nearly one second off the course record. His time was two seconds faster than my fastest time last year when I had won.

Initially I became downcast. There was no way I could beat that time, I said to myself, I am out of shape!

But then, I stopped the complaining thoughts and starting checking off the list of advantages I held: I knew the track better than anyone. No one has beaten me in a pursuit besides the alien genetic experiment also known as the Taylor Phinney trust fund.

So, I decided that no one else was going to beat me. And this meant today.

I was up in two heats. Usually in a pursuit you race with another person who starts on the opposite side of the track. Originally I was going to go solo, but a last minute change from the officials had me racing a heat earlier with a different rider. This would not have been an issue if the officials practiced standard protocol of having riders race with similar ability levels.

At the start line I knew I was going to pass the other rider in my heat quickly. What I did not realize was that I would pass him twice when I was on pace to beat the course record by over two seconds.

On the last lap, coming into the finish line, I had to pass the rider a second time, which caused me to have to accelerate over him on a 47 degree banked wall, which is the equivalent of having to sprint up a wall after holding near 600 watts for 4 minutes and change.

The clock stopped with me missing the record by 0.5 seconds and a bunch of money for breaking the record.

I was disspointed.

But why? I had won? Who cares if I missed the record?

I had two options: I could complain about missing the record. Or, I could look at the moment and say, “Damn Dan, you crushed this pursuit harder than you ever had and you aren’t even training. Nice work!”

It was a tough decision, one that I could not make, so I, like a good human, decided to do both.

 

As an athlete it is so hard to ignore the negatives and only focus on the positives. So hard I would argue it could be impossible. We, as humans, learn from mistakes, and usually the important mistake–the ones that teach us the most–are the ones that are hardest to forget.

 

The next event was the Madison Race–a race consisting of two man teams racing together in a tactically mind boggling endurance event. The team of two racers literally grab hands at 30+ miles an hour and throw each other into the race amongst 30 other competitors.

The Madison is hands down my favorite race because of the tactics, speed, and adrenaline. Last year, my former Madison partner, Coach Adrian, and I dominated the National Madison circuit. Our season was cut short by him breaking his shoulder in a road race…

Since Adrian is racing on the road this year, I had Jamie as my Madison partner. He is strong as all hell, and we suit each other tactically. From the very beginning him and I were establishing ownership of the race. After the first sprint I attacked and punished the field.

The next lap, as I came sprinting into an exchange with Jamie, his wheel hopped up from a bump in the infamous Alpenrose track surface. When his wheel touched ground the force ripped off his tire, causing him to plough into me. The force of the impact swung my handle bars ninety degrees.

My wheel was now in a precarious position of having 190 pounds of me pushing into it the wrong way. The wheel decided to lose and literally, not figuratively, literally snapped in half, sending me flying over my bars, shoulder first, into concrete at 30 miles and hour.

My shoulder broke. And my bike was now 1500 dollars cheaper from all the damages. I had expected to go home with at least 500-800 bucks in prize money for two days of work, and instead I was in the hole big time. The head impact caused me to have long lapses of brain inactivity, also known as space-case-ness.

In these moments one single word crept to the forefront of my brain: QUIT. Yes, it is time to quit. The crashes, the money, the stress, the unavoidable golden ratio had me tired and worn out.

 

On the three hour (ahem, I mean four hour) drive back to Seattle I had a lot of time to think about how racing fits into my life. In less than a year I have gone from thinking unquestionably that I was going to be a lifetime pro cyclist, to deciding to race regionally for fun so I could pursue other artistic interest, to now thinking about giving up the sport entirely.

Something was not right. I had to figure out why there had been so many shifts. I knew there is something about the sports that keeps me coming back for more? For me, it is the feeling of pushing my bodies limitations. The competition is merely a way I can gauge how hard I have gone.

 

Thus, the story ends simply: Despite having a broken shoulder, the next weekend I went out to race the pursuit at the FSA Grand Prix, which is the Northwest’s premier track race event. Because of my shoulder injury I could not race any of the mass start events, but the Pursuit is a solo event. Just me against the clock.

And I won. I was 8 seconds slower than my time last year. But, this did not matter. Beating my best time was not my expectation. I knew my body would be tired and worn from the crash. My only expectation was to win, and the reason I wanted to win was to prove to myself that I, despite the rough stretch of racing luck I have had, could still maintain a positive perspective, the perspective necessary to never give up.

 

-Dan Harm

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Track Season Gains Momentum

by Dan Harm

June 24, 2009

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Track racing in the Northwest begins to hit a peak in late July. National caliber events–such as the FSA Grand Prix in Seattle and the Portland based Alpenrose Challenge–lure out the fastest track racers in the USA and Canada with prize lists boasting upwards of $15,000.

After returning from a hard education of track racing in Europe through the winter, Coach Adrian and I raced the track full-time last summer–including the FSA Grand Prix and Alpenrose Challenge, as well as multiple other Nationally ranked races–with the specific focus of crushing the Madison (which is an event consisting of multiple two-man teams and involves complex tactics and pure endurance).

Our ambitions were often met with big wins and healthy pay-days. But, there were also numerous disappointments, such as a second place in the Madison on our home turf at the FSA Grand Prix, losing to a team we had beaten both at the Alpenrose challenge and at the larger event, Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minneapolis. There was also the time at Alpenrose Challenge when I missed breaking the track record in the Pursuit by a mere second. This record has not been broken since the 80s.

This Summer much has changed. Adrian will be out of town for both races, choosing to focus on pursuing his goal of professional road racing, and thus putting track racing on the back-burner. I have chosen to do the opposite and focus solely on the track, yet real life has crept up on me and my usual free time to train for the track has been filled with work obligations and worries about paying off student loans.

Track races season culminates down in L.A. in early October at National Championships. Will Adrian be rusty at the Madison from missing very important races? Am I going to be able to keep up my high level of fitness from past years?

There are a lot of unknowns and variables this summer, and this will undoubtedly add to the suspense of how Adrian and I are to defend our reputations as two of the fastest track racers in the USA. I will keep you posted with inside perspectives from all the upcoming races. Stay tuned.

In the meantime: Come see the races for yourself!!!

-The Seattle FSA Grand Prix is at the Marmoor Velodrome July 25-26. There will be festivities, a beer garden, and events for kids, as well as insane track racing action!

-The Portland Alpenrose Challenge is July 17-19.

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Major Taylor Project Rocks Flying Wheels

by Coach Dan Harm

June 24, 2009

 

Youth from the Major Taylor Project are gaining momentum as they train and prepare for the much anticipated Seattle to Portland bike ride. Flying Wheels was seen as fun-filled preparation day for the youth focused on completing the S.T.P.

During the week the Major Taylor youth, with the guidance of program instructors and volunteers, bike together on scenic training rides. Through the course of these rides the youth learn fundamental bike maintenance and proper riding safety. On the weekend the club ventures out on longer, more epic rides that explore areas of Seattle many Major Taylor youth have never even seen before.

Danielle Rose, an instructor and coordinator for the Major Taylor Project tells her story of Flying Wheels:

“On Saturday, June 13th, thirteen youth ages 14-18 from the Major Taylor Project at Global Connections High School and the YES Foundation of White Center joined 3,000 other riders for Cascade’s Flying Wheels Summer Century. The students arrived at the Velodrome at 8:00am and looked nervous and tired, faced with the day’s ride ahead of them. Most were signed up for the 45-mile loop in preparation for the upcoming STP ride. One of the youth who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, on only his second day riding with the Major Taylor Project and using a hand cycle borrowed from Outdoors for All rode the 25-mile loop. He plans to ride the STP, if Outdoors for All has a hand cycle available for him to use.

During those 4-hours, the students seemed affected by the transformative effects of pursuing a long and challenging ride. When the group congregated in the parking lot at the end, there were many friendly volunteers and fellow riders to thank for their encouragements along the way, and stories to share of near misses and endless hills. The most commonly asked question at the end of the day? When are we riding next?! Now the group is training intensively for STP, with 10 youth signed up, and 6 more possibly joining us, we’re going to have a big group. Thanks to all of the riders in advance who will cheer them on as they work towards their biggest riding accomplishment ever! If you’d like to volunteer or donate, please let us know.”

 

Major Taylor Link

Click to read more about the project

 

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Coach Adrian Keeps the Results Coming

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I am writing this race update for Adrian since he is currently recovering from a long weekend of racing by taking a nap. Somehow, for some odd reason, he has been napping for three days straight.

Last weekend, in Baker City, Oregon, racers competed in a regionally prestigious stage race, The Elkhorn Classic, which is known for its uncanny ability to predict the next up and coming Pro Northwest rider. For the past five years every winner of this grueling three-day/four-stage event has landed a large Professional Contract for the next race season.

After finishing in the lead group on the stage one road race, Adrian assumed the lead after taking 2nd in the stage two Time Trial. He held this lead all the way to the last day, a day full of unexpected drama.

The last stage of this event usually consist of a 105mile road race which ends in a brutal 10mile climb to the finish. Yet, this year, despite the spell of sultry summer sun the Northwest has had, the morning of the final race in Baker City began with 30 degree weather and a snow storm. The official referees of the race decided for the safety of the riders to shorten the race to the last 25 miles.

This put Adrian at a serious disadvantage. His skill set as a racer is best suited for long, hard-man races, not pure climbing. And now he was forced to jump straight into an epic climb without the ability to tire out his competitors in the previously planned 90 miles leading up to the climb.

The final results of this race are still not decided upon as the official results have not been publicly announced.

Here is a first hand account from Adrian of the final moments of the race:

” I think I won? I finished in the front group of about 5-10, one guy won solo by I think 30-40 seconds and I had 54 seconds on him at the start of the stage. I also crashed 1k from the base of the climb and rode the whole way with my bars twisted to the side and my front wheel rubbing.”

Let’s knock on wood and cross our fingers for Adrian…

Here is a sneak peak at a part of Adrian’s race resume–don’t tell him I showed you!

2009 Highlights

Cherry Blossom Classic Stage Race

  • 1st, 8-Mile Time Trial
  • 1st, Columbia Gorge Road Race
  • 1st, Volunteer Park Criterium

1st, Frostbike Time Trial

1st, Icebreaker Time Trial

1st, Carnation TT Series #2

1st, OSU Collegiate A Road Race

1st, UW Collegiate A Criterium

2nd, Brad Lewis Memorial Criterium

3rd, Athens Twilight Crit

3rd, Computrainer Grid Qualifiers

3rd, Carnation TT Series #1

5th, Stage 4, Mt. Hood Cycling Classic

11th, Stage 2

Tour of Walla Walla Stage Race

  • 2nd, Wilson Hollow Time Trial
  • 3rd, Waitsburg Road Race
  • 2nd Overall

Collegiate Road Nationals

  • 4th D1 Omnium
  • 6th, D1 Road Race
  • 7th, D1 Criterium

-Dan

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The Big Moment

March 1, 2009

by Dan Harm

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Today I was asked a question: “what was the one big moment in cycling that motivated you to take it to the next level?”  For a few moments I sat in silence. My mind reeled backwards through the five years I have been racing bikes. Various emotions and visceral moments trudged their way to the front of my brain where I could look at them with mixed feelings of excitement, satisfaction, and ultimately, confusion.

Bike racing is such an integral part of my life, I just can’t narrow it down to one moment. Though it may sound odd, I see bike racing almost as a relationship. A relationship full of hardships, trying moments, doubt, and broken expectations. And, like any long-lasting relationship, there is a tremendous amount of commitment and dedication I have towards racing that allows me to work through the hardships, helps me make compromises in order to “save” the relationship.

My life mentality is simple: that which takes the most effort is the most rewarding. Effort usually consists of commitment and hard work. This mentality holds true for every aspect of life. When I was in school, homework never bothered me. It boggled my mind when my peers would complain about essays and tests. My reply to their complaints was, “You do realize you are in school?” It seemed obvious to me that if I were to enroll in a University then I would have homework; so, why complain about the obvious?

This dedicated mentality holds true for my other passions in my life as well: my artwork, my music, my lovers, friends and family. The more effort I put into a relationship with a drawing or a lover, then the more rewarding the outcome will be. Then, if I keep on putting effort into these relationships over a long period of time, I will learn so much more about myself and the person or object or sport I am involved with.

I know I am going on a bit of a tangent here, but there is a point, and it is this: there was never a big moment in racing that brought me to the next level. What has kept me racing was my willingness to dedicate myself to racing even during times when it seemed absolutely pointless.

You see, I have another life theory: one must dedicate themselves the most when everything seems hopeless. Every relationship would fail if it were not for dedication, because, as I mentioned early, every relationship will have struggles, and dedication to the relationship will sometimes  be the only glue holding everything together.

For many years I struggled with being an unorthodox bike racer. I was not gifted with the narrow and intense focus necessary to be a life-career professional racer. Every since I was a kid I have always been distracted by others facets of life I find interesting. Art, music, traveling, adventure, and a little bit of chaos has always captivated me, and trying to enjoy all this while being a pro racer is not possible. I found this out the hard way this past summer. I was trying to juggle many life passions and I was dropping all the balls everywhere. At the Tour of Utah, one of the USAs most challenging professional stage races, I gave up. The months of traveling on the road, the years of having to go to bed at 10pm every night while my friends were partying, the years of training for hours and hours in frigid temperatures all caught up to me as I raced in 100 degree heat at 8,000 feet elevation with the fastest riders in the world. I cracked hard.

But, instead of quitting racing all together, I found a compromise. I realized that I needed to re-evaluate WHY I race. The only answer I could come up with was typical: I love racing. I just love racing my bike. And, even if I don’t have the personality to be a career pro racer, I can still race my bike because I love the sport, the adrenaline, the healthy lifestyle and the people involved within its community.

Once I realized all this I actually began to excel for the end of my race season. In a matter of months I went from “breaking up” with bike racing to “convincing” my bike that it should get “back together with me.” Three months after I broke up with my bike at the Tour of Utah we took a trip together down to L.A. We went down to L.A. to compete at the Elite Velodrome National Championships. All the fastest guys in the USA would be there. My bike was a bit nervous about my fitness. Everyone there was second guessing me and my commitment.

I did not want to let myself down. I did not want to give up on the five amazing years I had racing my bike. After all, bike racing has taken me all over the world, it has given me my amazing job as a coach, it has given me a healthy body, and it has taught me so many life lessons. With this in mind I raced my heart out and took  2nd place at National Champions.

So, to conclude, when I look back and remember all the experiences racing a bike, it is not the happy moments of winning and traveling that has kept me going. Rather, the tumultuous moments–the moments where I wanted to give up and quit it all, the moments where I wanted to walk away and never look back–these are the moments that motivate me and make me appreciate so much more that I am still on my bike racing stronger than ever. Racing is my life long love.