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Fri, 05 Mar 2010

Oh how I wish we could distill context in text more easily - 15:47
This will be so much more amusing for people who know Mikal and those who know what TSG (where I work) is like.

There seem to be increasing numbers of students on campus playing some weird Zombie game. This year a lot are getting more and more extravagant nerf war accessories to it seems. Anyway not long after Mikal returned to Canberra last year after living in the US for a while he walked into TSG one day exclaiming with shock "There are nerds on campus!".

Though today he is noticing the nerf accessories almost make him want to go shopping for some himself, what with his military hardware fetish, also commenting that there are "dirty dirty nerds" appearing all over campus and suggesting some attempt should be made to out nerd them, maybe with a tux doll canon or something.

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10 MTB Tips - 11:10
Last year I saw a list of Joss Wheedon's top 10 writing tips and then last week there was a surge of top 10 writers tips with The Guardian publishing quite a few in two articles (Neil offered up his there for example). All of these are full of good information and a lot of it can apply to other disciplines. However looking for something to write about here I am obviously not qualified to offer up writing tips. I thought I would make an effort on some mountain biking tips, as I have been doing a bit more coaching (CORC Junior Program) recently I have been thinking more about some of this stuff.

  1. Relax, this is really a critical element when it comes to any sort of cycling. Recently I heard one of my stretching instructors telling everyone listening that if you look an elite downhiller on a bike they really are relaxed as possible on the bike. The same definitely applies to mountain biking. Hold your position well with core strength but keep your body and notably arms and legs relaxed and loose. You need to control the bike but let the bike flow under you while you can focus on riding. The more tense you are the more energy you waste and the more you may get bounced around by the terrain. The more relaxed you are on the bike the better you can handle surprises in terrain, a rock garden or some other obstacle around a corner that you were not expecting, if you are relaxed on the bike you should flow over terrain more smoothly.

  2. Look up, especially in mountain biking, but also to some extent in all riding you need to be aware of things out around you, the faster you are going the further ahead you should be looking. In a bunch ride on the road or riding in a race or with a group of people through single track do not only focus on the wheel in front of you. Stay aware of things all around you, focus as far as you can up the single track and continually look for lines and terrain details. Sure you can watch the rider in front, if they are a better rider than you seeing what lines they use is a boon. However you also want to be looking ahead and know what is coming up as far ahead as you can. There is no need to look right in front of your bike at the ground and obstacles you are about to ride over, if you have already seen it the brain is really amazing at keeping track of details like that.

  3. Have fun, I think this one may even be in the wrong place, it really should be first, not obviously a skill, however you should try to ensure you love your riding and are having fun doing it. If you are not having fun you will not have the motivation to do it well. Try not to get stuck in a rut, even with a training plan try to ensure when you are on the bike you are enjoying it. The more fun you have riding bikes the more you will want to do it. This is one of the things I get upset about when I see some coaches pushing juniors to ride (often in road coaching) so much they begin to hate the sport. You really want to ensure kids grow up thinking everything about cycling is fun, it will motivate them to stick with it. If you push them so hard and they have no time to have fun both on the bike and in other aspects of life they will not stick with the sport, no matter how talented or gifted they are.

  4. Practice, this is not something you have to go and do separately, however the more you muck around practicing your skills while riding the better those skills will be. When riding muck around, pull hops and jumps over anything and everything. Look for unusual lines and try to nail them, if you are riding along a fire trail don't just sit there and pedal, look around and see if there are things you can do to hone your skills and then do them. The best riders I know or know of all do this when they are out riding. DeathMarch, Morgs, Mal, Shane, Wiggy, Paul Rowney, etc. When you ride with them outside of races they are all pulling wheelies, jumping over things, taking unusual lines, taking alternate tracks, jumping up and down gutters, analysing terrain for lines and trying different and unusual things out. This constant improvement of skills while out riding for the fun of it helps a great deal, you hone your abilities and find new ways of doing things you can use later on.

  5. Fitness helps, I know this sounds like a well duh! sort of statement, however it goes further. The fitter you are the more energy you can spare for your brain to focus on riding and lines and position. When I raced back in the mid 90s as a junior I remember noticing how I slowed down so much after my first lap and kept slowing down. It was as if I no longer had technical skill at times. It sounds boring but if you can get out there and do a lot of km on the road and interval work and other things that improve fitness it will help your mountain biking a lot as you will not be using all your energy just to keep pushing the pedals.

  6. Stay of the brakes and flow, tests on the Sydney Olympic course with the AIS mtb team and more recently with the elite level XC riders back up this, the idea of maintaining flow and staying off the brakes to conserve energy. Hooking up power meters and GPS and HRM and all that to mountain bikers and then getting data from them as they ride around a course. The faster riders often seem to be slower through some sections and yet come out in front. This is largely due to holding their speed, they know what speed they can take into corners and maintain that, they do not sprint between each corner, slam on the brakes, sprint out of it to the next corner and so on. Instead they hold a speed that will get them through the corners and break minimally at all times. The difference in energy used when you focus on cornering well without touching the brakes and have no need to sprint up to speed again is immense. After all using the brakes is just going to slow you down.

  7. Cross train and don't get bored, this ties in to having fun out there exercising and to the fact that fitness helps a lot. I am sure some people can still have fun when only doing one sort of riding and nothing else and still enjoy it. However variety helps a lot I think, try other cycling disciplines (road for fitness, downhill for skills maybe. bmx or 4X for skills and sprints) and even try other sports (I run and kayak and swim a lot too) and if you are not having fun with them maybe try doing them in groups or try other sports that you can find ways to do that you find fun. Weather is not always suited to getting on the bike, so you could go for a run or swim in the rain. Kayaking, swimming and indoor rock climbing use some other part of the body than the legs, also mountain biking does require upper body strength and control so keeping the upper body toned helps. Doing different sports (if you have time) gives you something else to focus on and often makes you keener to get back to the mountain bike.

  8. Race, whatever your cycling discipline you will find racing is different to just heading out for ride. If you race mountain bikes against people faster than you trying to keep up with them is good practice, also you will see them doing things you may not have realised worked or were possible and you can try them out. Also just about everyone will go harder and put more effort into racing than into training. You want to keep up, your competitive spirit kicks in and you push yourself harder. One example I often tell people is that I do a kayak session with friends most weeks, we head out for an hour or so and my HR almost never goes above 135. Through summer I do a 10 km paddling time trial with a local club and my HR average for the whole 50 minutes is over 160. Even when I feel like I am putting in efforts outside of a race I seem to not be going anywhere near as hard as in the race. Also in mountain biking being surrounded by people faster and slower than you helps a great deal in getting used to passing and being passed on single track and in other areas.

  9. Speed confidence and trusting the bike, a lot of this comes from experience, however it is often worth pushing yourself a bit. Generally our bikes can ride somewhere far faster and better than our brains will let us. If you can begin to overcome that and simply let the bike go at speed you often find everything turns out well. The faster you go over rough terrain or rocks the less they will affect you and the quicker you will get past them. When it is muddy or sandy trying to control the bike may cause more problems than simply balancing, holding on and going with the flow of the track, you can still apply pressure and get the tyres to bite where you see the track can help and when you need to, however staying upright and going with the flow helps a great deal. When approaching anything on the trail you really want to try to get in the head space of relaxing and having a go, once you have ridden it you know you can. If you do not try you will never get over it. You may surprise yourself.

  10. Ride lots, another well duh one maybe and everyone is time poor in the modern world, but the more time you spend on the bike out there mountain biking the better you will become. So long as you have the time and are enjoying riding make an effort to get out there lots and your skills will show improvement. This is very similar to some of the writers hints, they say write lots and you will get better, they are on to something there.

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Wed, 03 Mar 2010

Some comments on a book - 14:53
Back in December I ordered a copy of a book I wanted to read, the shop I ordered it from (local) never managed to get it from the distributors, why I have no idea. Eventually I got sick of waiting and on Friday wandered in to the Co Op Bookshop on campus and bought a copy they had on the shelf. The book is Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I finished reading it last night.

In the past I have avoided really talking much about my dietary choices. I choose to remain a Vegan as I am convinced it reduces the environmental footprint of my diet as much as possible. In the book he uses figures suggesting it is less than 1/7th the environmental footprint of omnivorous diets. I try to put to the back of my mind (as Foer describes it learned forgetfulness) how animals are treated in the modern world to provide the increasing meat craving the world seems to have. Reading the book is a stark reminder of how disgusting and horrible factory farming is, not just for the animals but also for the environment anywhere near factory farms.

In the hope that the book was somewhat US centric and maybe the Australian food industry was not so bad yet I spent around 2 minutes googling and reading and rather quickly learnt that pigs, poultry and to a large extent other meat animals in Australia are factory farmed to a similar extent. Another glaring point he makes is that the increase in waistlines and meat consumption widens the global poverty gap more every year, or more obviously the starving from the obese all around the world.

Foer points out again and again how we have a picture in our heads of farming and animal agriculture where the farmer knows all their stock by sight and farms according to traditional images of farming, this simply is not the case anymore around the world, less than 1% of consumed animal product in the western comes from non factory farming environments (and other parts of the world are trying to play catch up). I do not have the book with me at work just now as I write this so can not refer to it just now but it is definitely a reminder to me that I should be happy with my own dietary choices.

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Mon, 01 Mar 2010

A race surprise and helmets - 17:12
So I will be once more competing in the Jindabyne Multisport race as a solo this coming weekend. This is one of my favourite races on the calendar. I competed solo the last two years (2009, 2008) and in teams previously (2007, 2006). So there was a CORC 3 hour mountain bike race on at Sparrow on Saturday afternoon. I thought it would be a good idea to do it and have a last good hit out on the mountain bike before Jindabyne.

For the rest of this week I will not be doing any training efforts over an hour and not much hard stuff, especially later in the week. I have to admit I have been focusing on getting my bike form back to some reasonable level the last few months, maybe something approaching the bike form I had back in 2004 (before I did so much paddling, running and swimming as well as riding). I must say though I never expected this sort of result. At the race on Saturday I finished 10th overall, with 328 people competing, taking into account the teams around 280 people on track. I was racing on my single speed, so I won the single speed category (largely because Chris was having some mechanicals due to being silly enough to make a major change to his bike the day before) and was only beaten by some strong teams and some solos. I was only 1 minute behind Bleeksie and his team mate for example. Riding 8 laps, which it seems only around 20 people managed to complete.

Well I hope that performance helps me on the bike legs, I definitely am hoping to take 30 or 40 minutes off the time for the long bike leg at Jindabyne for the last two years, something closer to 2h30m again would be good.

As for helmets, my good helmet for 2 years now has been a rather neat Giro Animas with hot pink flames. However Giro has discontinued that model and also no longer makes the E2 which was my previous favourite model of helmet. None of the current helmets released by Giro have such a good colour scheme (in my opinion), if I happened to break my current helmet I would have to get something boring. However I have noticed a shop over in the US has Animas in stock still in pink, I am sorely tempted to buy two more (they have them really cheap) so I have a stock pile of helmets just in case. I wonder if this is being silly. When I have some more spare money (new bike just having been purchased on its way here now) I may have to stockpile helmets...

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