Friday, June 25, 2010

Coteau du Lac

A quick update from Coteau du Lac.

Took a two-day road trip to get here from Halifax, stayed overnight Wednesday in Riviere du Loup. It was raining so hard on Wednesday morning it was all Riviere and no Loup. Got to Coteau du Lac Thursday afternoon. Ran into the TD and HR (Technical Delegate and Head Referee) in the hotel lobby, got sucked into an impromptu meeting and been at it ever since.

Pretty much been keeping eyes open and mouth closed. There's something to be said to keeping schtum. The TD and HR have a shed-load of races under their belts, including a bunch of World Cups, World Champs and the Olympics, so it's unlikely I have anything particularly constructive or insightful to add to anything in particular.

In fact my job here is as much to be mentored as it is to do anything constructive (before race-day at least). In fact, I've been jokingly called a mentor-whore!

The lingua franca is, for now, English, which is good. I've been breaking out in French every now and then, and not for long. A measure of my success? Well, I've not starved to death yet and the swim-course has been accurately measured (to within 10m, which is the resolution +/- of a comercial wrist-mounted GPS). What more can you want?

Spent the morning mucking about on the swim-course and pontoon. Have a secondary assignment to the starts, and the start-pontoon is a bit tippy, and will be more-so when 71 guys all dive off en masse. So we (the officials) had a bit of a practice at not falling off the pontoon.

There is a better class of bike-porn here. Andrew Armstrong (HR) and I spent twenty minutes this morning fondling a couple of Dot Project bikes (including the pink one there) under the guise of familiarisation with the new wheel and tri-bar rules. Seriously though, there are new wheel and tri-bar rules. Be warned!

Race-briefing in an hour and then the officials' meeting. I think I'll be on Moto#1. Vroom vroom! Tee hee hee :)!!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Short-track Penguin

It's interesting how the boys are broadening their cultural memes. These are often strange mash-ups of the world I expect is familar to them and a world I hope is not. For example, Lego (what 10 year old doesn't know Lego) and The Matrix. The Matrix is part of a pre-teen's zietgeist?

The very latest thing I had to see was "300 Penguins". As the blurb underneath the vid said "the raw, unadulterated masculinity of 300 forced upon the loveable and sweet Happy Feet" Again, I know they know Happy Feet (they saw it with me) but 300? I find the mash-up funny (and well done; even the lip/beak-synching is pretty good), but how do they even know it's funny?

I don't want to know!

Perhaps to counter this alarming increase in age-inappropriate sophistication in screen-time I've been getting the boys out to the races a little bit. As much as I would love to see them represent something (school, university, country) at the highest levels with their name on their shirts, I would rather that instead of burning out and fading away by the age of 25, as so often happens, they take a love for running, or cycling or competitive tiddly winks and will still be doing it when they are my age. Plus, of they are at the races, they aren't watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre trailer on-line. Besides, when it comes to healthy life-style choices, this one sure beats passively interacting with sport instead from ones' couch on a Saturday afternoon armed with beer and chips.

Even so, sometimes I look at the amount of chips eaten and beer drunk by the average Canadian and the amount eaten and drunk by yours truly and feel aggrieved that someone, somewhere, is eating my chips and drinking my beer. Bastard.

Joshua, I think as most of you know, has been running a storm in the local 5Ks recently. He doesn't do so well at the YRS and the recent Grade 6 track meet but part of this is the distance (only 1.5 k), partly because Grade 6 encompasses a wide range of physiologies (some of those boys are already into their PHV growth-spurts whilst Joshua can't spell PHV) and finally, he just isn't really aggressive. The term "race face" has no meaning for him. Like father like son though, he can be a bit of a basket-case before an event. Even so, the slightly more laid back nature of the local 5Ks suits him more, and in terms of setting a basis for an active lifestyle, probably better for him in the long run.

At Stacy Juckett's Benny Bulldog 5K he ran a 26 something, and that was a technical off road run with corners and hills. There's usually no point speculating the what-ifs but a 26 at the Lung run would have placed our hypothetical runner about half way down the field. So, instead of what-if-ing (which to be honest really irritates the crap of me) it was time for just what-ing, and sticking him in a road 5K and finding out.

So we hit the Enfield Penguin run. I put a fatherly arm around his shoulder and told him he'd grown out of YRS and it was time to do a proper race. He took that quite well. After some last-minute panic (I had to pull him out of the 1.5 K start corral where he was lined up with his younger brother), I got him correctly seeded in the the 10 mile/5K corral, gave him a good-luck pat on the shoulder and pushed my way to the front of the corrall where, as history and this blog shows, I ran myself stupid.

When I got back J told me he'd done a 24. Hey, that's good; 2 minutes faster than the Benny 5K and a personal best. When the results got posted we went over to have a look. I scoured the results and couldn't find him in the 24s. I widened my search and eventually looked down at him

"you didn't do a 24 Joshua"
"Oh, that's OK" he said, a little despondently
"You did a 22!"

Yup, 22:33. Pretty damned good for a not-quite-12 year old. Plus he missed out on 3rd place in his age-group by 30 seconds to a kid who was a lot bigger than he was.

Still, no more than 5K for him at the moment, LTAD and all of that. Plus, it's for enjoyment.

This leaves Dan, who really doesn't like running. Partly he just doesn't like it, and so he doesn't really try at it, and then he compares himself negatively to his brother's performance. It's not so much sibling rivalry as sibling envy. Understandable. So I took Dan to race#2 pf Cyclesmith's short-track mountain biking series to see if he'd like it. I figured that, as the prototypical second child, if anyone in the family was going to ride their bike off a rock without a second thought, it would be Dan.

Firstly, to make him feel the part, I put him in a real cycling jersey (with pockets!!) in a fetching fish pattern - what else?! Oh, and proper mountain-biking gloves too. After a helmet, probably the most useful piece of PPE for cyclists!

We pre-rode the course, it wasn't technical. The race started and he went off and I felt th usual pang you feel when your child rides off out of sight! He came around past me at regular intervals when I'd scan his face and general demeanor for any tell-tale signs he wasn't enjoying it, Dan will make a crappy poker-player later in life, so there was no danger I'd miss them! When it got to the end, no he didn't win it, that's a fairy-tale, but he held his own. He got the hang of the multi-loop course and seemed to be working hard to master the obstacles; he was nailing things on lap #5 that had him walking in lap 1. His flying mounts and dismounts are better than mine! He even got a hang for the etiquette calling "passing you" and letting faster riders through (something some age-groupers could learn).

More importantly, he finished it grinning and with pride. I think something may have "clicked". He didn't call it stupid, he didn't call himself stupid and useless for being passed. Normally he has a very low frustration threshold; not in mountain biking (apparently), well not yet at least.

We went back for race#3 and same thing. As we walked back to the car after race he quietly asked me which was more "athletic", running or riding. Ah, crunch time! I told him both were, but they were different. You can't directly compare Ussain Bolt or Lance Armstrong. Why would you, they are different athletes in different disciplines, but both very good at what they do. Same here. I think he bought it, and why not? It's the truth. I put a cherry on top, saying mountain biking requires bravery, which again is the truth, is it not? Everyone feels a slight tingle when their bike is on the edge of something loose or high, it's just how you deal with it!

Funny story; before Race#3 I thought we should both prepare his bike for the race. So many things just "happen" for a 10 year old, I wanted him to know a race-ready bike, even if that race is only the junior short-track series, doesn't race-ready itself. We were doing tyre pressures and I realised when I got to contact patches and pinch-flats I'd probably gone too far! Anyway, his tyres were rated for 40-65 psi. So I explained how if it was really muddy and sloppy he should probably run closer to 40 and if it was hard-baked (or, God help us, frozen) mud he should run 65. As it had been hot and sunny all day but it rained last night, he should probably run something in the middle. OK he said, let's run 52.5 psi!

Er, it's not calibrated to 0.5 psi; can be ball-park it to 50 instead?

He does have trouble with asthma and we diligently do the whole salbutamol thing before the race. After the race his cheeks were looking flushed and I asked him if his chest hurt. "No Dad" he said, "my legs hurt".

Welcome to the club, son!


Monday, June 14, 2010

Fourteen days, four races, 87km

As the title may suggest, it has been a very busy two weeks, so my apologies (if only to myself) for not keeping up to speed. Four races; the Bluenose Full marathon, leg#9 of the Cabot Trail Relay (up North Mountain), the Enfield 10 miler and the Cyclesmith 24 duathlon. Whilst not up to Campbell standards, it's long enough for me. I know what you're thinking; "but surely you could have written during the week, these were all weekend races". Yes, that is true, but the deeper truth is that to do this, I had to spend the week asleep, only to wake up again at the weekend to race.

After the exertions of the previous fortnight, I was physically and physiologically ready for a rest. Nothing illustrates this better than my run last Thursday; after 9kms I was seeing bright orange and green splotches in front of my eyes. You don't need and expensive on-line coach to tell you that once this point has been reached, a break is a good idea. Still, ,last weekend wasn't entirely a rest, as I was TD for the Greenwood Tri/Du. As much as I enjoy the cut-'n-thrust of racing (the Enfield 10 miler was particularly satisfying) even if the race-director had comp'd me a free entry I would have demurred, saying my nut and bolt collection needed categorising. Actually it does, it's in a right state!

I think I left you (myself) at the half-way point of Bluenose; 21km in 1:29. Not a PB, in fact some 10 minutes off but as I was bunnying, this was not supposed to be a PB day. As in the previous year, I really shut it down after the first half, as you can see from the graph

I went from 4:15/km pace to 4:45/km pace to finish with a 4:30/km pace or a 3:09 for the full. A nice, solid run for me, sub-3:10. That's where I expect to be, none of this 3:14 Boston foolishness. You may remember that I said that during Boston I felt bored, " when will this be over"? I wonder of it wasn't actually ennui but panic? After all, if you've been running for two hours and it feels like you're still in Natick or Framingham, then you would start to feel a bit panickly too: where the hell is this finish? So I wonder if some part of the more typical ( for me) Bluenose result was the ability to chunk the course. After all, for Halifax-based runners, the BN course is a part of everyday life. So it was easy to think in terms of The North End. The MacDonald Bridge. Woodlawn. Mic Mac Mall. Shubie Park. Grahams Grove Superstore. Maple Street (sorry, Giv'er Hill). Home. If you look at lt like that, in three or four kilometer chumks, now doesn't it seem easy?

The Pocket Rocket also ran with me for most of the second half, getting a long and ultimately slow run in as she came back from injury. She certainly kept my spirits up, but not my pace. I had what I had, and she wasn't able to get any more speed out of me.

The week after this was the Cabot Trail Relay (CTR). I often think about the Cabot Trail in terms of legs of the relay, as this is how I have only ever seen, or not seen, the Trail. For example, I have yet to see MacKenzie Mountain in daylight. This year I realized, there was a new way to see it, and that is as a relay between bacon sandwiches.

Start in Baddeck at 06:00 with a bacon sandwich from the Highwheeler cafe; drive to the Gaelic College, the official start of the relay, and actually eat it. Two legs later, another bacon sandwich at the Clucking Hen. Three legs later, eat the Highwheeler packed lunch (no bacon but it was made in close proximity to bacon. Plus, it's still yummy). Four legs after that, ,bacon-cheeseburger at the Restaurant at the End Of The Universe at Pleasant Bay. Three legs after that, bagels at Timmies in Cheticamp (they don't served bacon breakfast sandwiches at midnight; why oh why?). Two legs after that, another bacon sandwich at The Lakes. Next leg, pancakes; no bacon but we can dream or hallucinate (after >24 hrs with no sleep, hallucination is not a problem). Then, merely four bacon sandwiches and 30 hrs after we started, we're back where we started, getting a bacon sandwich from the Highwheeler in Baddeck.

See, divided into easy chunks of bacony goodness! It's not rocket science. Thinking about it, it's not wise to mix bacon with rocket science. Don't take my word on it.....

(if you're not singing that song in your head all day now, we have failed. Epically).

Despite being on the Tech Crew for CTR again (my third) I broke a couple of my own rules at CTR. I slept at the end of leg 14 for at least 30 minutes and consequently missed most of the end of that leg. I was, however, in much better shape to cope with the final three. I also ran a leg. Cathy Carter, chief recruiting officer for the Eastern Z descendants gave me the choice of Leg#9 "be worshipped as a mountain-running God" or Leg#11 " practice for the first half of next years' Boston". I went for 9 as I don't intend to go back to Boston next year and, besides, the opportunity to be worshiped in my own lifetime? Who could say no! Then she sweetened the deal with a steak and kidney pie. Hell, for that, I'd run a mountain leg double. She she didn't hear me say that, and seeing the profile of just the one mountain leg that I ran, thank goodness for that.

Interesting pace graph; you can clearly see North Mountain, it's where the pace was nearly 6 minutes a kilometer!

I really enjoyed the uphill run and even did quite well, being 3rd or 4th over the top I think, ,even beating the Maine Road Hag, a 2:30 marathoner called Sheri Peirs. Here's the first, and only, time, you,'ll see me in front of a runner of this calibre.

It was Sheri, of course, who later in the relay had the distinction of being this years awesome parking job at The Lakes (leg 16 start).

I was worried beforehand; how would I climb, how would I cope with a sustained uphill effort? The answer? I felt very much at ease climbing the mountain. Sure it hurt (it's supposed to) but it felt as though I was in control and I had more than one speed as we went up. I wasn't just knocking out the rhythm, but I could respond to attacks too, or at least stay on peoples heels as they changed their pace. I wonder if cycling has anything do do with it? Then, there was the amazing sight of dusk over North, which I caught just as we topped out. Insomuch as I was totally on the rivet and unable to talk, I was (would have been) speechless.

The downhill was something else however; how do you train for a 6 km downhill run? Be damned if I know. I know the theory to run downhill, just as well as the next man or woman, but to put it into practice for 6km? The descent was, in my view, harder than the ascent. It strikes me that people usually over-exaggerate about their training runs, but when it comes to the CTR, people tend to under-exaggerate. I'd been told the descent was a bit "sporting", but nothing I'd been told remotely prepared me for how it actually was.

The final 6k into the finish were a bit of a fight. A fight to get my legs back into running order after the long downhill and a fight to reel in the four guys who'd passed me on the downhill. I got three of them but lost the sprint for 5th in the finishing chute. I'd been telling Mark Stein all day for three relays that the finishing chutes as he wanted them, with two 90 degree bends in the final 50 m were not fair should there be a sprint. Guess what, they weren't! Unless you are really lucky (or really, really good) the winner will always be the first person into the chute. And and so it was. I knew the sprint was lost when buddy got to the cones ahead of me but I still tried, after all, he could have slipped. he didn't.

Beating Sheri to the top of North, was a bit of a pyrrhic victory as she floated away from me as we descended, showing me that form and class triumphs over brute strength and ignorance every time. Boy, can she run. She ended up putting about 2.5 minutes into me from the top of North to by the finish. Yup, 150 seconds in 12 km. Oh, and that was her second leg of the relay. I am not worthy!

The Tech crew thing was, as usual a long, hard slog although ultimately highly satisfying. The crew always has a mass, prophylactic apology before the race starts, as tempers inevitably become frayed as the relay goes on. Interestingly, the tempers flared in the early part of the day and the night-legs were surprisingly tranquil. Wasn't expecting that. Something else about the night legs this year. It seemed the runners and back-up crews were a lot more polite this time. There were many thank-yous and a lot less grumbling from everyone around the relay that midnight. Maybe it's the shared experience. Maybe it's a feeling of spiritual oneness once we're immersed in the night. Or maybe they thought that by being nice to me I would be more highly inclined to interpose myself between their runner and a ravenous coyote come dawn. Either way, the politeness plus the short sleep (does 30 minutes sleep sitting in the drivers seat of a Jeep Cheroke count as sleep?) and the tranquility of the night-legs after the somewhat fractious day-legs made for the best night on the relay I've had yet

The downside to getting to run an awesome leg (as in the leg is great to run, not that my running of it was awesome), and for winning best mixed team was that, for reasons still to be fully explained to me me, I had to run in a small pink tiara. AND my steak-and-kidney pie hasn't turned up yet!

The week after this, I did the Enfield-Cyclesmith double. Did we ever luck out with the weather. Saturday morning was hot and sunny for the 10 miler, it rained all afternoon. Sunday morning was foggy but dry for the du, at it rained all afternoon!

The ten miler was a blast. The race was won by Soloman Azrat in a course-record 57 minutes and change. Soloman is the new distance guy in town with East African genetics. I'd heard many stories of him already but neer seen him. He was starting to become part apocryphal story, part boogeyman in my head. Now he's just a boogeyman and the reason I'll only get an age-group gong at an RNS event ever again. Me and every other age-group male that is. To give you a measure of how good he is, he did the first 1.5 miles with Rami Bardeesy at 5 min/mile pace, settled down after the 5k turn and knocked out the 57 and by all accounts was not happy with his time!

I got locked into a battle with Derek Estabrooks (again) for 4th. I started a bit too quickly and dropped him, but he was back on my heels by 2 miles. By this time I'd been long dropped by Soloman (that's overegging the pudding actually, I was never actually anywhere near him) as well as the Dal guy who would be second and Dave Holder who would end up third.

Derek and i paced each other every step of the remaining 8 miles with neither giving any ground. We worked well together, communicated when we needed to, took turns on the front, gave each other room at the water stops. You know, you may be racing, but there's no reason to be an asshole. The unwritten rule is "let's work together until be get close to the finish, ensure we have 1st Master wrapped up and then fight amongst ourselves for the placing". It's nice to run against someone who understands the rules and etiquette.

Exactly when it is you stop working and start fighting is not precise, it depends on how the race is developing. So, when we passed 8 miles, there was less chat (not that the pace was conducive to being highly voluable) and more sideways glances, ,assessing how the other was looking, ever watchful for the other taking off on the long flyer. This intensified at 9 miles as we started to give little digs, to test the other's legs and willingness (or not) to chase.

I knew there was a small uphill at about 750m and I planned to make my move then. Derek has long legs and is an ex-track runner so he has track-smarts and knows how to sprint. If I want to loose a race to him, and I haven't yet, I reckon all I have to do is enter the finish straight with him and he will surely out-kick me. So the plan was to take a bit of a flyer, not a hugely long one, but long enough to gap him. On the descent to final hill I opened my stride and hoped he would just think this was downhill running and not my final shot. This was it. I hit the up hill and didn't let up going up it. When I got to the top i had the gap; only a few seconds and there was still 500 m to go. I grimaced and grunted my way across the highway bridge and managed to keep the lead, and maybe even extend it a little. It was not pretty and if I'm unlucky Ray Moorehead will put those pictures on Facebook for the world to see. Needless to say, I decked out as soon as I crossed the mats and it took several minutes before I could sit or even stand. All of that for 4th overall and first master!

After the heat of Enfield, the du was cold and chilly. I decided to go on 72" fixed again; my experiences at Riverport and DIFS showing I could be reasonably competitive with it. Of course, I wouldn't win on fixed, but I wouldn't win if I had 30 gears and a personalised tailwind either. So I might as well have a little fun with it, and also a bit of a personal challenge, to race on fixed.

I totally caned it over the 5K R1, with a 17 minutes (but it might have been short). I led out from the gun and every time the road went uphill I piled on a bit more pressure and whittled the front group down to three, eventual winner Jamie Hynes and runner-up Tom Soehl. I don't know if Tom and Jamie meant to, but hey let me cross the mats first so I could post the fastest official time. Thanks guys.

I knew my overall competitive day was done as soon as we hit TZ, and predictably it all went downhill from there. I heard the beep of the mat as Jamie headed out of TZ whilst I still had my head down trying to sort the buckles of my cycling shoes. I only hit the road ahead of Tom because he forgot to take his running shoes off before heading out and passed me going out going in with his sneakers in hand! I was passed by a lot of guys, but them I always was, fixed or no. The fixed, as usual, behaved well and had her moments when she was just as good as bikes with significantly more TT about their pedigree.

I was, perhaps, under geared for the flats, but I managed to keep it over 20 mph for most of it. She climbed well and held her own on the rolling sections, especially on the way home when guys were getting tired. I think I had been overexaggerating how big, long and steep the " big hill" actually was as it didn't seem to be that big, long or steep. I fairly romped up it.

The flip side to climbing strongly on fixed is going down the other side. I hit 50.2 kph coming down one hill, which gives gives a cadence of 145.6 rpm. Someone asked me "can you control your bike when you're pedaling that fast". The trite answer is "well I didn't crash so yes", but a greater explanation is owed. Yes, you are bouncing around a lot at a cadence of anything over 130, and when I get that high I'll often wonder what will cause me to crash; bouncing myself off the bike or running out of revs? Good technique really helps you to minimize that. Pedalling circles, still shoulders and an ability to "decouple" your legs so they are kinda spinning in neutral really helps. I read somewhere the reason you can't linearly increase your speed on fixed with cadence is that as cadence increases, you use more and more energy in just accelerating your legs, and less and less to putting power down on the pedals. Finally, at events like C'smith with a lot of rolling hills, ,you are not doing >140 rpm for very long, which also helps.

R2 was not one of my best. I may have had a great R1 but something clearly went "ping" in my legs between leaving and returning to the beach. Maybe it was the length of the TT, but I had crampy legs for the first K of the run That didn't happen at R'port of DIFS, but then the TTs were shorter. I found my legs again just before the first water stop and normal service was resumed as i started ti reel guys in. The time was reasonable, but perhaps (surely) I was finally feeling the preceding 85kms in my legs from the previous two weeks.

The weekend "off" hasn't entirely revived me, but I'm feeling better than last week and less likely to bonk spectacularly during a 10k run! It looks like I will be back on the start-line at Johnny Miles, an event I have never done before, where I will do my first half-marathon in anger since before I was sick. I did, honestly, think "hmmmm full? Why not......?" before my vestige of common sense kicked in. Plus, four loops? I mean, seriously, four?


Photos from Leah Jabour, Randall Hipson and Cyclesmith.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Flavour clarity, bean extraction and market saturation.

I remember when I was back in the UK hearing of a guy who did his thesis on the role coffee shops play in Canadian culture. Not that theses normally get such wide-spread attention (you'd be lucky if your supervisor actually read it or occasionally referenced it, but otherwise....) but I think this particular one was singled out for an IgNobel, for research that should not or could not be repeated. They're Darwin Awards for research and, one supposes, a great way of keeping our collective feet on the ground. Sure, you may revel in doing esoteric work on an obscure protein rarely expressed on the arse-end of an unpronounceable bacterium, but knowing you may be one day cited not for your brilliance at being ahead of the curve but for being an eccentric n of 1, well it may help keep your ego in check. Then again, I know researchers with planet-sized egos or every stripe, people who will strive to succeed even over the skulls of their enemies, post-docs and students, willing to sacrifice even their own pupils and colleagues to enhance their position, much less get a couple of micrometers further up the slippery pole. So, maybe even the prospect of a backhanded compliment from Harvard (the whole "there's no such thing as bad publicity" chestnut) wouldn't dissuade them one bit as they flay another junior colleague and toss the corpse of their erstwhile collaborator's career onto the dungheap of broken dreams, just so they can retain mastery of that obscure protein on the arse-end of that particular bacterium.

Oops, who would have known I had quite so much bile in me this morning? That wasn't the intent of this post, which instead was born out of a get-one-free coupon and a morning coffee. A new Starbucks opened recently in the Hydrostone and to drum up customer awareness they have been putting get-one-free coupons under doors in the neighborhood. Like Starbucks needs publicity!

The problem starts with those coupons; "get one free" is rather prominently printed, whilst "only if you bring your own mug" is less-prominent. However, I don't think they are going to be that strict on that policy as la belle used her's to get an Americano whilst the coupon is supposedly only for a regular coffee or tea. Honestly, how is Dr Evil going to finance Preparation H #2 or the Alan Parsons Project - B if his minions keep on giving out too much free product. I know it's supposed to be a loss-leader but even so, evil empires don't build themselves you know (oblique reference back to research programs again!).

This got us to counting; how many Starbucks are there in HRM? We counted 10, not including the one air-side at the airport on the basis that your average Joe can't just waltz in and get one there. This is all in, what, five years? In the same time the number of Second Cups has remained constant we think, as have Perks, whereas Timothies has gone ventral-side up and even the venerable Timmies has lost a few locations. On the non-corporate side, we have had the openning of a couple of independents though; Local Joes and TIBS.

So HRM has a net gain of perhaps eight coffee shops in the past five years, nearly all of them Starbucks? Is this a good thing? In the UK it was. When I left, coffee in Blighty was, frankly, awful. I used to be able to say "I'm British and this is bad coffee". Since I left, Starbucks came in with a vengeance. Even though Starbucks coffee is bad, they upped the game sufficiently so that a frothy, all-milk concoction made with Nescafe was no longer considered adequate. At least two coffee chains have since appeared, Cafe Nero and Costa Coffee, and when I'm home I try to frequent these guys, and not the Seattle-transplant boys (and girls) in green. So now, when you go to London Zoo and order "a coffee" you get an Americano. Not bad for a country where 12 years ago we were still coming out of rationing-era ideas about coffee.

In Canada? Well, I'm thinking not so good. There was already a tradition of good coffee here, and the subtle Starbucks Sprawl will only drive the small coffee shops under; there's no way Java Blend, TIBS or Local Joes can compete with a multinational. Jim or Zane can't mail-shot loss-leaders like this, much less afford the giveaway product, or indeed, be blasé with the offer; that guy who did la belle's coffee his morning didn't know about his coffee or care what the coupon actually said, it just meant "give a free drink". The bottom line was not a consideration for him and, indeed, why should it have been?

If we get sucked in by the fake sophistication that is Starbucks, then we loose our local coffee shops. And when we do, we loose the talent, the baristas who really know and love coffee with a passion and we become like Boston; a coffee wasteland but with lots of Starbucks. And where does this leave us, apart from with a monster-sized caffeine-withdrawal headache?

I know many of you are endurance athletes so I put it to you like this. You wouldn't buy your running shoes on-line. You can't show a website your old shoes and let them diagnose your running style and problems, much less recommend shoes and brands that suit your style. You wouldn't buy your bikes at department store; those guys are barely competent to sell you the thing in a road-worthy state, much less trouble-shoot it when it goes wrong.

Sure, you can get a good deal at these places, I dare-say a better deal than at the local speciality stores but what happens if we allow ourselves to get carried away by always chasing the almighty dollar? Well, in the short term you don't even get any after-sales customer service worth a damn (other than a returns policy). Then, when enough good deals have been secured and the little guy is forced to put the shutters up because they can't sell $50 shoes, $200 bikes or $2 espresso products then what? Then we lose the experts and when we need their expertise; a shoe-fitting, headset adjustment or an expertly chosen and brewed coffee bean, we're doomed, we're screwed. It just isn't there any more and we might as well all go back to drinking Nescafe and reminisce about the time there was this oil-stained guy down the street who really knew bottom brackets, and also brewed a mean espresso.

I'm off for a coffee, but nowhere they wear green aprons....


Friday, June 4, 2010

Lance Armstrong Drinking Game Equals Certain Death; an historical perspective.

There's no getting around it, Lance Armstrong is ubiquitous in this sport. His media profile borders on omnipresence; check out Fat Cyclists' " LA drinking game equals certain death" and remember while you are reading, Fatty is a bit of an LA fan-boy.

For a while it used to be said, in some circles, one should not buy a cycling magazine with LA on the cover. Naturally, with LA's omnipresence, this was hard to do. Of course, after the retirement, you couldn't buy a running magazine without LA on the cover either as he prepared for the New York and Boston marathons. I remember being tickled by the "how fast can he go" story one of the running mags ran. Most of the estimates were conservative and surprisingly prescient, in the 2:45 to 3:00 range, which is where he marathons (is marathon a verb?). One estimate, incredibly, said 2:04, matching the world's best. Wow, I didn't realize Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen were moonlighting as running commentators.

Anyway, I had an occasion recently to retrospectively examine the basis for the "never buy a magazine...." myth when I cleared out some old back-copies of Cycle Sport. CS was my cycling mag of choice back in Blighty, but I was gradually weaned off it over here due to the price, the fact it was outdated when it finally became available (thanks to the internet and that we were always an issue or two behind) and that it seemed every story was eventually overhauled by a doping allegation.

So, I found 22 copies of CS spanning from Aug 03 to Oct 07, there were 22 copies out of a possible 62 (assuming one a month) or 35% of the total. The issues were mostly from '03, '04 and '05 for the reasons stated; even the ardent fan-boy I was had become jaded to the whole thing by 2005 and I'd finally bookmarked (the nice thing about these free content websites is that one doesn't have to invest actual money in stories that eventually turn out to be tainted). The covers featured the following cyclists; Lance Armstrong (9), Jan Ulrich (3), Marco Pantani (2), Miguel Indurain, Damiano Cunego, Mark Cavendish, Davide Rebellin, Tyler Hamilton, Fabian Cancellara, Robbie McEwan and Tom Boonen (1 each).

What a list eh? Rebellin, Pantani, Ulrich, Hamilton all PED positive and banned, Boonen and Ulrich's (hey, he made the list twice, what a git) recreational drug tests, Cunego - one good Giro and pouf, nothing since. Anyone remember Evgeni Berzin? The rest, whilst clean as far as the UCI are concerned, have all fielded allegations at some point. Even the big guy, that's Miguel Indurain for those of you who started following pro-cycling in 1999, tested positive for salbutomol at one point. Remember the good old days when it seemed that every pro cyclist was an asmathic? Even AleJet tested positive for it a couple of years back, guess he couldn't afford Micera! Speaking of the good old days; remember when Steven Roche and Eddy Merckx collapsed at a mountaintop finish and needed to be revived by O2? Funny how that doesn't happen any more, yet they are all climbing so much faster. Must be a corollary to global warming, this increase in PO2 in the mountains. I think the only people not to have had the grubby syringe of doubt pointed at them are the two sprinters; McEwen and Cav. We should leave these guys alone, they have their own problems; we all thought McEwen was mouthy, but what about Cav? The only guy in the list to get DQ'd after winning a sprint legally!

So, how do those numbers look graphically?

So, using a representative sample of magazine covers that covered five years, LA appeared on the cover just over 40% of the time. Ullrich (our generation's Poulidor) got 12% of the covers, Pantani 8% (and one of those was the ciao Marco edition). Everyone else, 4.5%. I may not be the world's most statistically inclined individual, but 9 times out of 22 when the next highest is 3 out of 22 and the rest 1 out of 22, well that has to be statistically significant (p < 0.05).

The cynic in me wants to say this percentage could have been bigger except that the editor, ardent Lanceophile Phil Liggett, well even he couldn't find a reason to make LA the cover-art in the Sprinters Special, Belgian Special, British Special Australian Special or Spanish Special issues. The non-cynic? Moi, a non-cynic? Never going to happen!

I'll leave it to you to decide if cycling should be so identified with one man, if it's a good thing and what it means for the sport in general. To be honest, with the UCI now fending off stories that Fabian Cancellara (also on the cover-art list) had a fricking motor secreted in his down tube during Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde, then perhaps who appears on the front of a cycling magazine is really not that important anyway.