Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year in Review!

Another year has passed in what felt like the blink of an eye, and what a year it was! And despite having zipped by so quickly, it was certainly a long road, filled with (the most) incredible ups and frustrating downs.

The year began as it usually does - with a training plan. Only this year, unlike most years, I began the year with an injury - and spent much of the season working around it. When I look back to January, February and March, I can hardly recall more than a haze of early sunsets, indoor interval sessions and rehab appointments. When April rolled around, I began to incorporate more outdoor riding - and some running.

With uncharacteristic spontaneity, I sighed up for the final Ironman St. George - arguably the most difficult of all Ironman races - three days before the event. +Kristine Marigomen+Alexander Curtis and I road-tripped to Utah and I slogged through one of the most challenging events on record. From that point on, the year seemed to speed by in fast-forward.


Before I knew it, it was July. Kristine, +Bo Boghosian+Morten Lundsby Jensen and I were in Zurich, and I was tackling my season target: Ironman Switzerland. A much-needed vacation followed, and then a business trip to Dublin. And when I returned to the states, well, it was wedding season!

As sublime as crossing an Ironman's finish-line might be, it's barely a blip on the radar compared to marrying Kristine before close friends and family in late August!


I thought things would slow down after the wedding, but work picked up significantly through the end of the year. My free time was spent riding for enjoyment's sake alone, or bike-shopping with Bo, who, as you'll remember from my previous post, had signed himself up for an Ironman. I was able to visit Alex and do some riding in Southern California before the three of us (Bo, Alex and I) tackled some of the roads around Lake Tahoe over a relaxing and wonderful Thanksgiving.

Kristine and I wrapped up the year with a much-needed holiday vacation with my awesome family in Ohio, where we spent the days lounging around in pajamas, baking cakes and cookies, and poking fun at one-another. It was as perfect a Christmas as I've ever had. I love my family, and I love my wife!

Next year should be a good one, with new challenges and big things to look forward to. But before we move on to bigger and better, I'm going to enjoy these last few hours before the ball drops. Farewell, 2012. You've been good to me!


Favorites of 2012

  • Album: Blunderbuss by Jack White. Unoriginal. Sadly, I did not really listen to a whole lot of music this year. For the first time in years, I find myself unfamiliar with a lot of the albums on the top of many journalists' top-ten lists. I guess I have some catching up to do! (Honorable mention: the self-titled debut by Django Django.)
  • Song: 
    1. Breaking the Yearlings by Shearwater.
    2. Semi-Charmed Call.
    3. 93 Million Miles by Jason Mraz (for sentimental reasons).
  • Movie: Life of Pi. Such a gorgeous film. (Honorable mention: Cloud Atlas.)
  • TV show: Kristine and I are a bit behind the times. We discovered Homeland this year and were hooked almost immediately. The first season was probably the best single season of any show ever. (Honorable mention: we were only just introduced to Walking Dead a week ago, and it's already become an obsession.)
  • Meal: Ristorante Bottegone in Lugano, Switzerland. (Honorable mention: just about every breakfast or lunch Kristine and I shared on various park benches in Europe.)
  • Moment: Exchanging vows with Kristine at our wedding, and then dancing ("Stayin' Alive!") with her at the reception. (Honorable mention: sunset atop Monte San Salvatore in Lugano.)
  • Ride(s):
    1. Alex, Bo, +Vitaly Gashpar and I ride in Tahoe on Thanksgiving Day.
    2. Vitaly, +Gerardo Ferrando and I pace each other through the Sequoia Century in June.
    3. +Aylwin Villanueva, his headlight and I climb Mt. Tam for sunrise on a Friday morning in November.
    4. +Oleksiy Mishchenko shows me some of the gorgeous Swiss roads around Zurich and Zugg in July.
    5. I get my ass kicked by the NCNCA master's time-trial champion across the flat, 103-mile Livestrong Challenge course. We finished in under 4 hours and 30 minutes.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday Gift "Guidelines" for Cyclists/Triathletes


On the surface, that special cyclist or triathlete in your life might seem close to impossible to shop for. There are a variety of reasons for this.
  1. Cycling and triathlon tend to be all-consuming hobbies that are constantly front-of-mind. These athletes spend most of their free time thinking about training schedules, routes, weather patterns, aerodynamics, optimizing power, sore quads or pulled muscles. In short, cyclists and triathletes are pretty boring.
  2. All of that time spent mulling over the past workout ("What went well? What didn't?") or planning the next one leads to a lot of optimization. And most of these optimizations tend to result in fairly immediate needs. Example: "I felt really slow on that last ride. I think the rolling resistance of my tires is TOO HIGH. I need new tires!!!"
  3. The realization that something out there can be improved upon translates to a blitzkrieg of online research and decision-making. Cyclists will devour countless online reviews, weighing the pros and cons of the various product offerings out there before making a completely independent and incredibly thoughtful decision. Example: "Hmm, lots of people are raving about Conti 4000S tires, making them the obvious choice... but Michelin ProRace 4's come in purple!!!"
  4. Once the decision has been made, it's only a matter of hours before the actual purchase is completed. Thus, most cyclists and triathletes tend to have already bought themselves whatever it is that they think they really want/need -- making them incredibly difficult to buy gifts for.
But do not dispair! Just because cyclists might have (more than) what they already know they need doesn't mean there aren't a few things out there that they'd really appreciate! The trick isn't in getting your favorite athlete something new, or getting them something they don't already have. Trying to understand the athlete's research/buying/decision-making process just isn't worth your time.

The Principles

No, gift-giver, your task can be made easier by understanding three very simple things:
  1. Cycling/triathlon gear doesn't live forever.
  2. Once a cyclist/triathlete has invested in a piece of gear, they hate investing in it again.
  3. No cyclist ever wants to buy/wear/use anything that's at the bottom of a product line. 

An Example

Pete Pedaler went back-and-forth between a few different sets of bib shorts a few months ago. Set A was too small, set B was too big, but he eventually found Set C was just right. And so he bought himself a pair. After six months and 4,000 miles, those shorts are still going strong. But after eight months and another 2,000 they'll start to wear, and Pete will continue to ride in them, and ride in them, and ride in them, until they're two years old and completely threadbare.

See, Pete already has a pair of swanky, lazer-cut, double-seamed, super carbon-threaded ultra bib shorts. Sure, they're "a little worn," but damn, they were expensive! How could he justify buying another pair?!

That, gift-giver, is where you come in! Pete'll never buy those shorts (and they can - and probably should - be the exact same shorts) for himself a second time. But if you gift them to him, that'll just make his day.

The same holds true for just about any other bit of gear, though you'll have to do some research to understand the shelf-life of each item. All of the gear a triathlete burns through eventually needs to be replaced - and by helping stockpile replacement gear, you're helping the athlete do what he/she loves to do.

Gear and clothing

Shorts are probably the most personal (and potentially pricey) gift-able component, but there difference between an old pair of shorts and a new one can be pretty extreme! Gloves are nice, too - gloves are always getting lost, or crashed, or ratty. Nice running or cycling socks make great stocking stuffers. For triathletes, consider giving a fresh pair of goggles as a gift! (Just be sure to get the same make/model as the set they're currently using!)

Bike parts and maintenance

There's nothing wrong with a small cache of ten-speed bike chains (every 3-4 months), extra cassettes (every 8-12 months), or even tubes and tires (depends on terrain). These are all things a cyclist needs on a regular (and sometimes very immediate) basis. These gifts are a bit on the boring side, but can't hurt as supplementary items.

Another cool idea: a head to your local bike shop and pre-purchase a full-on bike tune-up as a gift for Mr./Ms. Cyclist.

Nutrition, etc.

Cyclists eat a lot of food. Clif bars, energy chews, small pouches of refined sugar, hydration products and protein shakes. And that stuff goes fast. Find out what your athlete's nutrition of choice is and set him/her up with an extra month's supply. It'll be much appreciated! Other, pseudo-related things include: chamois butter, sunscreen, etc.

Experiences

There are a variety of other, awesome gifts that can be given to your special athlete that are more "experience" than "material." The most obvious example of this: a massage or two! Alternatively, you could find out what races he or she is targeting next year and cover an entry fee or two. Or, if you're feeling inspired, you could make arrangements (dinner, hotel, etc.) for the night(s) before/after - to take some of the stress out of what will certainly be an intense weekend.

Things to Consider

It isn't often easy to meld sentimentality and practicality, and most of the suggestions described here lean very heavily toward the latter. Fortunately, most cyclists tend to be rather practical* people and buying them a practical gift carries it's own inherent sentimental weight: you're showing your athlete that you understand him/her, support their obsession and want them to be happy/comfortable while they're doing it.

You might not be able to tell the difference between a $40 pair of shorts and a $150 pair, but your athlete can. Never buy from the bottom of a product line. Always go for things that sound awesome**. Look for words like: carbon, lazer-cut, ergonomic, etc. As most of this gear tends to be rather pricey, feel free to collaborate on gifts with mutual friends; a cyclist would rather have one kick-ass item than five mediocre disposables!

Cyclists and triathletes tend to be very particular about the size and fit of their kit. Pay attention to size. Ask flattering questions like, "Do you feel like that jersey is to loose on you?" to determine if the athlete's happy with the size of their current gear and use that information to shop around.

Finally, don't get too attached to the gift you give, especially where gear (clothing, etc.) is concerned. If they decide to exchange your gift (for another size, brand, etc.), don't take it personally!

Final thought

This blog post might make cyclists and triathletes sound rather materialistic, but in all honesty, all they really want is to know they have the support of their friends and family. Whether that comes in the form of a nice piece of kit, or surprising them with donuts in the middle of a long training ride, or even just cheering them on before, during the process of training for or competing in a race -- that's all we really want.

As for all of the above: I'm a lucky man to be married to Kristine! She's all the Christmas present I'll ever need. The rest of you'll have to find your own! (I love you, sweetheart!)

Happy Holidays

I'd just like to take two quick seconds to wish all of you who might be reading this a happy holidays and a happy and healthy new year. The next few weeks are going to be a bit busy, so I might not have time to update again. Spend some time with your family - and a little bit of time on your bike! - and I'll get to work on 2013 planning!

* - Term used loosely. Bib shorts are a practical gift. Assos bib shorts are an extravagant gift that only a cyclist would call practical. (Side note: incredibly nice versions of what are typically considered practical gifts are almost always appreciated, even if they make the athlete a feel a bit spoiled/guilty wearing them.)

** - Be careful on CompetitiveCyclist.com. They make even the crappiest stuff sound like the world's greatest.