Sunday, December 8, 2013

I Moved!

I hope you'll come visit at my new address,

If you follow this blog, please update your links and bookmarks. 

And thanks for reading!

Race Report: Racers and Chasers Winter XC Series #1

Balboa Park is home to Ninja Mountain Bike Skills clinics and the famous Tuesday Night Workouts led by USAC Coach Richard La China, so it's no wonder the newly minted TEAM NINJA was out in such good force.

Richard La China Photo
And check out our home base pop-up tent! Thanks to all the Ninjas who came to cheer each other on and show off those black and pink jerseys. It was really exciting to see all those great results. Special congrats to Aaron Hauck who won his category AND the overall fastest time.

And speaking of results, I didn't have a bad day out there considering this event is a bit of an anomaly in the training schedule. Nothing like throwing in a race at the last minute to shake up base miles. As you can see from the photo, the weather was a bit unpredictable today so maybe that kept the ladies away but overall, I was a little disappointed in the female turn out, weather or not. Bea Dormoy and I had the expert category all to ourselves, and we were lonely.

Bea leads it out. Gerhard Gross photo.
The start was kind of funny -- I didn't realize we were starting with the men but in hindsight that probably should have been obvious. So I was off the back from the beginning, but quickly made up some ground and hopped into a pretty blue train of dudes in the expert category.

The lesson today: If you find yourself in a moving train, stay in the train. Don't try to do your part to push the pace, like I did, and then get blown out the back, like I did. Oh well, c'est la vie. They dropped me on a climb and as I watched my HR soar into zone "6" I was happy to them go.

I spent the rest of the race mostly alone, except for fellow Ninjas hollering from the sidelines. Had every kind of weather, including a good soaking for my final lap. Also finally discovered what everyone down here is talking about when they say "Pershings" -- the name of a lovely long climb out of each of the five laps on the menu today.

Gerhard and my teammates were waiting at the end in great spirits despite being cold and wet -- such a nice way to end the race. And I got to stand on the box with Bea so that was also a plus. Thanks Racers and Chasers for a fun event to benefit high school mountain bikers. Thanks Gerhard and all the Ninjas for making racing that much more fun.

The entire women's field in Expert class! Bea Dormoy and Me.  RLC Photo. 
Team Ninja's Ryan Brown and Aaron Hauck. Noel Tabor Photo. 

(And thanks in advance to whoever finds my Road ID Bracelet, which I think I dropped at the start area, or maybe by the podium.)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


An Interview With Head Coach Steve Stuart
Cow Pie Classic, 2013 - Photo by Phil Beckman, PB Creative

By Kristen Gross

“High school athletics, in my opinion, is probably the most fun a kid’s ever going to have in sports,” said Steve Stuart, who has taught at El Camino High School in Oceanside the past 25 years, and now coaches its newest team: mountain biking.

A former physics teacher, Steve is now an educator in the physical education department. Knowing his history of coaching in the water swimming and water polo I asked Steve what drew him to the “dirt side.” He answered passionately on the benefits of mountain biking both for the athletes and their coaches.

“I wanted to do something with the kids that gets them outside, and keeps them active for a lifetime. This is still a relatively new sport, it’s a lot of fun, and one that I can participate in when I’m coaching,” he said with the hint of a smile. “Someone has to go out and ride with the kids.”

Steve’s own mountain biking experience goes back to the80s, almost to the sport’s birth. In college, he worked at a trade show where one of the first off-road bikes was on display: the “Mountain Goat.” “In 1981, I was a part-time event attendant at Long Beach Convention Center while going to Cal State Long Beach. One evening I was on the cleanup crew at the Long Beach Bike show. I walked into the exhibit hall and for the first time at my job there, I didn't get a lot of work done. I remember staring at the Mountain Goat bicycle and thinking ‘Wow! What can you do with that? Would that be fun or what?’ Of course it was 11 p.m. at night and nobody was there to answer my questions except the security guard.”

Today’s bikes have come a long way, but for many kids they are still just shiny objects of desire, rather than attainment. The cost of even a used mountain bike is a barrier to access for students. That’s why Steve’s primary focus for the growing team is to track down support in the form of loaner bikes. “We want to introduce the sport to as many kids as we can,” said Steve. “If they come out for a season, and they love it, they’ll find a way to save up for a bike of their own – but until then, we could use a little help.”

So far, the team’s roster includes a young woman ready to race, and a Chinese exchange student looking to experience all he can while he’s here. There are some BMX racers interested and even some members of the wrestling team are thinking about committing later in the season, once their bouts are wrapped up.

Though the team has already started training together, the official race season starts in February and goes through the end of April, or the second week of May if a racer qualifies for the State Championships to be held in NorCal.

The El Camino High School team is part of the SoCal High School Mountain Bike League. Every school competing is set up as a “club” but the league has hopes to become as ubiquitous as traditional sports like football, baseball and basketball have been.

The League, governed by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), is working to encourage participation, especially for female riders. Points are awarded to every rider who finishes the race so no matter where an athlete places, they’re contributing to their team’s point total. The girls’ points are weighted even more heavily. “Basically the point system is set up to encourage lots of riders, not just the best riders. And it’s also set up to encourage girls. It’s very difficult for a team to be a top contender unless you have girls racing,” said Steve.

Most teams do two to four workouts together a week. Parents are also tremendously involved, helping to make sure bikes and riders get to school for practices, home again, then of course weekend rides.

But races are the biggest commitment for parents and volunteers. They help out with set up, tear down and course marking. They volunteer in the pit, to direct traffic or supervise the athletes. Events run five or six weekends, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, sometimes in a county park.

One could interpret it as pretty challenging stuff, but Steve easily lays out the benefits: it’s a chance to help out, give some kids a meaningful experience, ride some new terrain with the athletes, make new friends and spend the weekend camping, enjoying the outdoors.

“High school mountain biking is truly family oriented which is something I really like,” explains Steve. “My son played volleyball so as parents, we’d go up to Anaheim and hang out in a gym I-don’t-know-how many times a year. We got to know the other parents pretty well, and we got along really well but with mountain biking it’s even more. They’ll have a blow up screen to show movies, bonfires and a festive, fun atmosphere the stuff memories are made of. We’re outside, camping, having a really fun time.”

The team is supported by eight volunteer coaches some are teachers at the school, some are experienced mountain bike coaches and all are excited to give back to the sport they love by helping to introduce it to the next generation of riders. Mountain biking teaches friendship, leadership, believing in yourself and surprising yourself. It comes with obvious health benefits, respect for the outdoors and a deeper sense of connection to it and of course, a lot of fun.

“I coached swimming and I was very competitive,” said Steve. “At the same time, as I get older, I realize, you know what? There’s one winner. And there are a whole lot of people who work just as hard, who don’t win. So you’d better enjoy the sport you’re in.”

The team is looking for help and is always open to donations of used bicycles, or the time of volunteers. The priority is to lower the barriers of access and to spread the word that El Camino High School has got a new mountain bike team with room for lots of members to get involved. For the kids, the mountain bike can be a tool for independence and discovery. And when they’re adults, it will be there to remind them of how it feels to be a kid. 

“Being out there, cruising through the trees and the bushes is very therapeutic,” said Steve. Before we finished our chat, I asked him what mountain biking has taught him for life:  “Learn to roll with it,” he laughed. “Any kid that comes out, who’s willing to put in the time, we’re going to find a way to get them on the team,” he continues. “We don’t want to deny any kid the experience, and lifelong enjoyment of mountain biking.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

RACE TRACKS: Maybe You're Right

If you've known me awhile, you may have been a reader of an old blog I kept from my days as a 20-something ex-pat living in Maastricht, NL. There I met three ladies who made the time away fly by. They called us "the team" wherever we went and we were inseparable. Still in touch thanks to the wonders of Facebook and Twitter it's been amazing to watch where we've all ended up since those last summer days in Europe.

In particular, for this post, I want to shout out to Cam who I remember always had her guitar nearby, a tune on her tongue and wistfully talked about forgetting about all this psychology major stuff and chasing her dream to be a singer-songwriter. We of course supported this idea (you would too if you'd been there, sipping Moroccan mint tea with us, listening to her learn the guitar in exponential leaps and bounds while crooning away with her choir-girl talents).

Cam and I had a little reunion when she was in L.A. not too long ago. I went up to see her and the band she's playing with. She's based in Nashville now and there's an album in the works. This entry in the "Race Track" category has Miley Cyrus's voice and name all over it, but look again at the liner notes and guess whose name you'll see with a big beautiful writers' credit: Camaron Ochs.

I think that's a name you should learn!

Connect with Cam and check out her bandcamp below:

(PS - I bought the Miley Cyrus album -- something I wouldn't normally think to do -- to support Cam and now I can't stop listening to it. Love the whole thing. Not even sorry.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Model for a Day

Took a trip to the future with Canari Cyclewear this week, helping them showcase the Fall 2014 collection for their catalog. So keep your eyes peeled for my mug wearing a variety of very nice tights, knickers, jackets and long-sleeved jerseys.

Thanks to Erik and Corbett at Canari for the call, and for being so nice about it when I fell off my bike in your photo-worthy threads not once, but twice. 

Hopefully that's the only hitch and everything else about the shoot was as productive as planned. Looking forward to the results! Here are some shots from behind the scenes: 

Think Pink! Jersey and Knickers available Fall 2014. Helmet courtesy of Rudy Project.
Got the party shoes on my girl for her big day (courtesy of Reynolds Cycling). And of course, thanks to Focus Bikes for my red and black beauty.
"What's that in metres?"

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Does Your Bike Fit?

Lasers and Focus with Aaron Hauck of Inner Strength Fitt Lab 

I mean really fit.

Because let me tell you, there's a lot more to it than a couple measurements and turns of the allen keys.

I haven't had a fit in a few years, and with a nagging pain in my left knee I thought it would be best to call in the pros. After listening to Aaron passionately discuss saddle heights and pedal mechanics at the weekly Fiesta Island workouts, I picked up the phone.

We set up an appointment and down the rabbit hole I went. Here's what you need to know if a fit is in your future:

  • Aaron suggested wearing a good cycling kit. Do this. Here's why: 
    • Before you even get on the bike, Aaron spends about an hour with you testing your strength, flexibility and skeletal structure -- best to be comfortable while you're doing one-legged squats and hip bridges
    • Your seat height is about to get dialled -- even a couple millimetres difference from your favorite chamois to the one you wore out and should have thrown away ten rides ago can make a difference. 
    • You're going to be riding. I don't mean spinning, I mean he'll say, let's see you at "RPE 6."
    • This is pretty much the worst time to forget your cycling shoes. 
  • If you have two bikes, bring both. 
    • Although I'm a mtb racer and lover, I do spend a lot of time on my road bike -- having them both set up at the same time just makes sense. 
    • But if you can only bring one, make it your road bike. We sit in one position a lot more frequently on our road bikes so better make it a good one. 
    • If you bring two bikes, bring both sets of shoes! 
  • LASERS!! 
    • In case you're worried about how *exact* Aaron is, you should know he uses lasers and he's not satisfied until your knee is tracking with laser-accuracy. 
  • New Stuff
    • If you have new pedals, or a new bar or stem, get it on the bike before you come to the fit -- you won't want to be messing with things afterwards 
    • Similarly, be prepared to take down a list in case you need to pick up a new stem or pedals or handlebar. E.g. did you know that pedals have a widely varying range of spindle lengths?! It's the number-one suspect for my knee problem! 
  • There's more to fit than fit ....
    • I had no idea but this whole time, I was pedalling in a way that wasted a bunch of power
    • Aaron showed me how to maximize my strengths and get 100% out of every pedal stroke
    • We practiced on the trainer, and we practiced on the road too .... which brings me to:
  • Bring your helmet! 
    • I didn't bring one since I naively thought I'd be sitting on a trainer all afternoon. Hopefully this post will help you not make the same mistake. 
So in sum, going to an appointment for your bike fit is a fun-filled afternoon of medium sweating, moving around, riding indoors and out. Be prepared. For example, I was all of a sudden wishing I'd waited to do my intervals AFTER the appointment because even the small amount of soreness I was carrying was distracting when Aaron asked me how things were feeling. I wanted to be able to better isolate what was a problem, and what just needed a little stretching. 

In the days since, I've been working on that proper pedalling and body position Aaron taught me. Things are settling in, I'm starting to feel pretty darn good, and Aaron has already texted me twice to check in with how things are going. You see, I also learned a proper fit is not a one time thing. It takes a little tweaking and refining to get truly dialled in. I have really appreciated Aaron's attentiveness, dedication and his clearly-demonstrated love of what he does and how he helps his clients. 

You can find out more about Aaron and Inner Strength Fitt Lab Training Systems here. I highly recommend it!

Friday, October 25, 2013

RACE REPORT: Inaugural Ninja Night Race

Post-race portraits by Matthew Hulet 

October 24, 2013 will go down in history as the night of the very first USAC Sanctioned Night Race. Kudos to the organizers and thanks to the sponsors, it was an awesome time.

I was doing my best to contribute to the set up in some way all afternoon (though apparently my pop-up tent skills need work ...) so I didn't really get a chance to pre-ride the course. With 40 minutes til "go" I hopped on my trusty steed and quickly went over to the second half of the loop where I heard there would be baby heads and water crossings. 

I quickly found myself alone on the trail, in the dark, with a pack of coyotes for company. Oh yeah, important to remember: I'm Scared Of The Dark. And the toothy things in it. 

I pedalled back to the start/finish area at a rate a little higher than "warm up," which by now had a very festive vibe about it. The Tamale guys had arrived and Zumwalt's was providing an awesome neutral support service. They pumped up my tires and threw in a derailleur adjust while they were at it! Thanks guys! 

Chatting on the start line
It's been awhile since I felt in any way racy, but with a pile of base miles under my belt I'm finally starting to feel at least fit again so I was stoked to be on a line. Coach Richard, Ninja Boss, said "Go" and I WENT. 
... disappearing into the night off the start
Had a really fun start, and took the hole shot too. My first time through the single track wasn't pretty but it seemed to be effective as I held the lead until the second half of the first lap. That's when Lisa Hauck went by me. I hopped on her wheel, happy to hide behind her on the open section of the course. She started pulling away and I thought, that's okay, I'll get her ...

Which is a great reminder. In racing, NEVER wait. 

So, Lisa had a great race. She just kept pulling away ... away .... away ... and she was gone. Just a tiny red blinky, teasing me in the distance. (At least I think that was her ....)

For the second lap I just aimed to keep it steady and clean and even managed to stay on the course. By now, the categories were mixing up so I was riding in a constant state of readiness in case the light coming up behind me belonged to another female. With only a few minutes of racing left to go, I was feeling pretty comfortable in second. That's when Amy Comalli got around me. 

Awesome ride for her, but I sure felt that. 

I couldn't let her just have it, so I pushed with whatever I had left after an hour of dust clogging my lungs and my heart setting new records. Turns out it really was hers, but I was delighted to watch her headlight make more than one pass over her shoulder on the lookout for me. 

So I rolled through as the third fastest female of the evening feeling pretty pumped. At the awards, I got a surprise --  I actually WON my category so I got to stand on the top box anyway. Hurray for age groups! Which by the way, if you noticed the podium at the event, each box had the Japanese character for 1, 2 and 3 lit up with lime green cellophane. Pretty jazzy. Results are here.
Surprise! I win, kinda

I won a cool Ninja cup for my efforts, and enjoyed a delicious tamale which was included with each riders' entry fee. I even won a raffle prize --  a giant bag of HEED which I can't have thanks to wheat allergies, so I got the added joy of giving it away to someone else. 

All in all a super fun night. Can't wait for the next one! 

Some Ninjas, standing around. Check out more event photography by Pink Shorts