Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Power Hour

I've always been more inclined to ignore my weaknesses and focus on my strengths. I mean what's the point of improving a weakness, if all you do is bump it up to average? I hate average. Average is watching mainstream sports on TV. Better off working on your strengths, to go from above average to one of a kind, I say.

Or so I thought.. I'm starting to really love Cyclocross for the exact opposite of my usual reasoning about things I suck at (IMO). In the US, with the exception of a growing few that are amazingly talented, most crosser's are not really crosser's. We're mostly either roadies or mountain bikers that are looking for a good excuse to drink in a park, without completely falling off the wagon each fall. The bikes feel slightly akward to most of us, and riding fast is not really about how much power you have, but how much power you can put down.  

After three years "all in" on mountain bike racing, I felt like my cross skills had reached an all time low the past couple Rolling Thunders. I try to stay positive and respect everyone else for the time they had put in to learn the sport. But when accustomed to the podium, fortune, fame and prestige (ha ha) all summer on the fat tires, it stung a little bit to be fighting for top 20 at a Montana cross race, especially when my best effort was 2nd. A little YouTube review of some Top Gun highlights (as well as the ZooTown series by Jedzilla) this September and I knew I had to "engage Cougar".

Some further encouragement from the Cyclocross Superfans at The Cycling House and I was back in the game this fall, pursuing a sport that I thought I sucked at. I converted my training wheels to tubeless and like Roy Munson I was headed back to a showdown at StarCrossed Cyclocross in Seattle:


My training leading up to that race could be described as "atypical" at best. Three weddings, a trip to vegas, and one to British Columbia to hit some trail was about the extent of my activity that month. Lucky for me the myriad fuels and supplements provided by my awesome employer keeps the engine room at Mach Plasma 24/7. But mainly I benefited from this year's race lacking the UCI designation; the big guns were blasting out in Rhode Island that weekend. So I eased back into the fight and actually had a hell of a time!

So hooked I was, that Sunday marked six weekends in a row of hitting the cross races! For serious:

StarCrossed: 16th

Moose Cross: 4th

Rolling Thunder: 8th

Hot Cheetos and Taki Cross: 3rd and 5th

Herron X: 1st!!!

Woodland GP: 6th

Still to come: Miami of the Mountains, Seattle CX Finals, USGP Bend (hopefully), Baby Masters (that's a big "we'll see")

So why, you ask (or more likely you've moved on to the next blog at this point), am I so fired up about something I don't think I'm very good at?

Think about pushing the limits of Road and Mountain bike racing. If you're really on it, you're walking a very fine line between one of a kind and vegetable. I'll fully admit that when I'm racing a mountain bike, my riding style is influenced by the fact that if you lose the edge and put your face into a tree, life's gonna suck for quite a while. Same can be said about road, if you hit the deck at 60 mph, it will not be pretty. And think about climbing, how hard do you really want to go if you know that particular climb is going to take an hour?

With Cross, I've found it's a great way to push your own bike handling and physical limits, without the mental barrier of the known consequences. What's the worst that can happen? You go sky high on lap one, and lose a few spots til you recover? Big deal. You went into that corner a little too hot? Well then you slide in the mud and feel like a kid again.

Cyclocross is not only just plain fun, and over with before you're sick of it, but's it's also the perfect field for practicing skills on a bike. I've never done any racing where you spend so much time on the edge of complete and utter explosion, failure, heckling, and it's great! Hope to see more Montanans at the cross races next year-even if you think you suck at it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

So I says to the guy.. I says..

So I received the best compliment a guy like me could get a couple weeks ago from a real sweet girl that was nice enough to be my date for a Team Ironclad wedding/rave in Oregon (we're thinking about starting a professional plus one or two service, FYI, if you need a little catalyst at your next shambo, and yes, it was actually part rave). She said "Phil, I have trouble knowing if all your stories are completely false, but I'm starting to realize they're not".

FINALLY!!! Just a little bit of justification for the thousands of miles behind the wheel, two am arrivals,  late nights, next day adventures, races lost due to late nights, and general Peter Pannery that I signed up for when I told myself I wouldn't just lay low in one small town. I've often questioned this seemingly ridiculous investment, to go through the desert on a horse with no name as the song goes. But in my travels I realized the friends I've made were way too legit to write off and post an annual happy birthday on their Facebook wall. Folks so legit in fact, that I consider my only real talent in life is the people I surround myself with. So, with a little inspiration from the Wolverine, I realized my home was a 500 mile range. This continues to be a very difficult but rewarding lifestyle. It was my choice to set up the bat cave way out in the Northwest corner of nowhere, so it's my obligation to put in the extra travel time and make the most of every encounter with my friends across the far reaches of the range.    

One of the requirements of living such a demanding lifestyle is selecting gear (and wingmen/women) that can hang. This is often referred to as the Theory of the One Quiver Man. When I'm driving a thousand miles in one weekend just for one race, ride or wedding, there's simply no time or space for crap that can't hang. I lost my best wingman a few years ago when he decided he wanted to marry this fine lady, which he did two weekends ago in Roche Harbor (he obviously made the better decision, but I'm guilty of always taking the hard road in life):

So on the Wingman front I realized I was lucky if they made it through one big weekend. Here's what my boy Dale the Whale looked like after two days in the life in British Columbia (to his credit, being out til 3 am before doing the 7 hour, 7 summits ride on 4 hours of sleep was not easy, but the true ski bum Noah Young did it in loafers with a smile on his face the whole time!): 

 It's one thing to swap out Wingmen, but who's got the money to travel with junk that needs replacing every weekend? And who wants to anyway? Not this lone wolf!

Oakley shades are one item that I really think is a step above the competition, worthy of The One Quiver Man. I'm saying this under my own free will, I haven't seen a nickel from them believe it or not. Not only are they made in the USA (go USA, #1!), but they are more durable than the tank out front of their headquarters. Plus the optics will make you see like the Dark Knight. If you need to upgrade your sonar, head over to The Cycling House Store for some fresh Oakleys and other bomber goods for your next mission across your own 500 mile range.

So if that product plug wasn't blatantly obvious, I'll come clean and tell you that Owen and Shaun from The Cycling House are my boys, and you should check out their cool webstore anyway. They have have always believed in me as a mountain biker, which helps because it's a tough sport that can sometimes take everything and give you nothing back. Big thanks to the people and gear that keep this guy livin' like the Wolverine. To the wondering web surfer that's washed upon this shore as inexplicably as a bottle: I'll tell you the same thing I told my date after the wedding/rave.. I don't dabble in fiction, any story you hear from me is true!

See you all this cross season,


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Swimmin' with Crocs

At the starting line of most mountain bike races, a guy can look around and usually pick out a few other guys that he knows he can beat. The pro men's race at the Hammer Nutrition Missoula XC is not one of those starting lines. There's barely 40 guys that are either fast, gutsy or just plain stupid enough to toe this line. When the gun blasts you're swimmin' upstream in a river of crocodiles. No matter what you do to prepare, you really just don't know what kind of day your going to have.

As I looked at the field from my starting spot in dead last (come on UCI, don't you know who I am?!?-kidding), I knew everyone was legit. But more importantly I knew it was time to take down some fools. After a string of good form and bad luck (aka bad riding), I really wanted a solid result at the Missoula XC. This race is far and away the most important day of my year. Most mountain bike races have 0 spectators, Missoula XC has over a thousand. And 2nd to Sam Schultz who's so hot right now, I seem to be the other crowd favorite. Not sure why, maybe I've got a good niche as the ex out of shape kid who shouldn't be in the pro race, and is still 20 pounds heavier than most everyone else. Regardless, can't thank everyone enough for cheering, it's helps more than a dozen interval workouts, which I'll probably never work up the motivation to do anyway!

So, back to the race report, gun goes off, everyone sprints like hell, course goes straight uphill, dudes blow up like Katy Perry... After about two minutes, you can tell who's gonna have a good ride. From my call up in  dead last (did I mention that?), I never really saw the top ten ride off, which is kind of a good thing for me cuz I''m prone to ride above my limit and blow up like I referenced in the condensed race report above.

The first couple laps went great. I was so glad that I put in the time at the Kettlehouse Beer Leagues to really get this course dialed. I also benefited huge from a recent upgrade to some XTR brakes courtesy of Shimano. The combo of infinite power and supreme modulation really helps a guy to get cryptic on the steep descents and insane switchbacks on this technical track, or out on your favorite Moses Ride. I would guess about a third of the amateur racers dumped it in some fashion earlier that day, they should give Shimano brakes a try! I weaved in and out of riders until I found myself in some decent company. When it comes to sponsorship, I'm a firm believer that all the wrong guys are getting all the free stuff, it should really be coming to me since I'm a really good guy (my mom thinks so too, and a huge thanks to all my current sponsors ). So this was my motivation for passing a bunch of dudes that get free junk in the mail and ride their bike way more than me. This worked for a couple laps, I made my way up to 14th place, at that point the riders I was with probably deserve said free stuff, so I stopped passing them and started thinking about how hard I had been riding-these are some of the worst type of thoughts you can have in a race!

I spent some time around laps 2.5-3. in the "Depths of Despair". There were a few spots on the course where I didn't see anyone (fans, riders, squirrels, nothin!), and it's really easy to let off the throttle when no one's watching. I dropped a couple spots which I wasn't too stoked about, and I don't think my fans were either!

At this point in the race a couple things happened:

-I realized that in about 30 minutes my "season" would be over and I could have a cold one, stop worrying about riding like the Raging Bull, and kick it with my buds.

-I also determined the remainder of the race would hurt pretty bad no matter how fast or slow I was riding, so I might as well ride fast.

-Everyone started cheering really loud, basically insisting that I sprint every climb out of saddle, in big ring.

The added power from the my amigos from The Cycling House cheering section helped me find a new gear towards the end. My lap times on laps 3,4 and 5 were all better than my 3rd lap at Beer Leagues the Wednesday prior, so I was really stoked to finish strong instead of sputtering in coyote style like I usually do. I cut my losses to this gifted group of riders in 17th place, my first top 20 at a US Pro XCT! My final lap slowed up a bit, but mainly cuz I kept looking back to see where my fellow Montanan/Working Man who also takes down pro's John Curry was at. He had a really bad ski crash late this spring so chapeau to him for pulling it back together for the big show.

I was so pumped at the finish line! For one my bad luck was over and I crossed the line ON my bicycle instead of jogging with it. And two, half of Missoula (best town ever) was hanging out, cheering, high fiving the Olympian Sam Schultz and having a good ol' Montana Time. The celebration continued well into the night, the dance party at the Stensrud Building was like something out of an 80's movie. Folks were getting wild! After the lights came on/we were told to leave for our loose behavior at the 'Lander, I shut er down at one of my favorite spots, street tacos at El Cazador. Luckily my Cannondale Flash 29 has a sweet auto-pilot function, I was so overloaded with positive vibes I don't necessarily recall the ride home!

I left Missoula super fired up about the future. Three minutes from tenth place is on my mind to say the least! Thanks everyone cheering, hell of a race!


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I'm not a bad luck mountain biker, I don't risk very much. I've been known to lose some time on a descent here and there (Sam calls it "Molasses") and I have bad days but I almost always keep it upright. That's been my style, usually doesn't win races but it keeps me up front (of small races) most more often than most.

Until yesterday. On the last descent (an easy one at that) of 3 days of absolutely wild riding in Fernie, was TKO'd by the trail with a combination flat tire, 3 broken spokes, rear derailleur ripped off and taco'd wheel. I'm still in disbelief about it, and not really sure how it even happened. All I know is that instead of cruising in to a 5th place finish out of 300 trail riders, I had to hike-a-bike ten-K in searing 60 degree heat... Okay it wasn't that bad, but still, it stings. I wasn't even racing for money, I still got my finisher's hoody (I had to get back to town anyway, so I figured I may as well cross the finish line), but what a bummer way to close out an epic weekend. 

Oh wo is me you say..... :( I know, I was racing my mountain bike in Fernie, I know I'm lucky to even be there. But I'd bet you a tooney that anyone else would be just as pissed at this outcome. Look at Georgia Gould, finishing a World Cup in 3rd place in tears. Yes, 3rd place is great, but sour compared to what would have been. PS I'm also betting on Georgia to win the Olympic XC race.

Times like these it's easy to dwell on the bad things. Being a groundhog/badger power animal, I thrive on junk like this. If I were content, there's no way I would put myself into the bad place that's required to get up those mountains.  But it's important not to let the negative vibes consume the rider. Angst can only get you so far, passion gets you to the top.

So, with broken bike and enough anger to yell from the top of a mountain, my low-buck race tour soldiers on to Sun Valley for mountain bike nationals. Redemption Time!


Monday, June 4, 2012

Don't listen to me, follow the Spirit Bear if you want to learn the ways of the forest..

It's pretty easy to get frustrated in search of the Spirit Bear, he roams the woods and climbs the peaks with ease. Your biggest day outside all summer will just be another average day in the life of the effortless wanderer... He checks in after stomping out those who challenged him on his home range at Heron Park:

Herron Hammer- 2012 Race Report
Ben Parsons Team Sportsman Ski Haus/Hammer endorsed “Pro” racer

The season is off and running, the anticipation has come to fruition, and rubber is meeting the road, or trail actually.  After months of going on long, slow, cold rides, suffering through yet another cold and wet spring, and early mornings in the gym, the time has come to let the delusions of grandeur come toppling down with a nice slice of reality… you can’t win ‘em all.  But, you might get lucky and win one!  And one, I will take with much contentment.

After kicking of the Montana Off Road season with my least favorite race ever (the Unravel the Scratchgravel in Helena), it looked like I was going to have to train my mental fortitude as much as my power at lactate threshold.  I dislike (mom said I can’t say hate) this race very much because it never fails to make me feel like I should be racing 13 year olds, not the cat 1/pro field.  With short rolling climbs, an advertised “70% double track”, and lack of any technical challenges, it is my nemisis of a mountain bike race.  So I figure there’s no better way to kick off the season with some “character building”. Which is exactly what happened after limping in one off the podium and what felt like eons behind race winner and recent Colorado implant Travis Scheefer. Driving home from the weekend, I was actually quite positive knowing that it was to be expected, and really, I felt pretty decent for my first race effort of the season.   I was charged up for the first big goal of the season, the Herron Hammer, a local race touting $1000 purse and a shot for local glory and bragging rights.

Two weeks later, strongmen and women from around the state converged on a perfect spring day for a couple hours of sick singletrack racing on the newly constructed trails of the Foys to Blacktail organization.   I had been doing some recon work on the trail the last few weeks, and felt confident that it would be a good course for me, granted I could hang with the leaders on the climbs.  Though I consider myself a climber, I usually don’t sharpen my goat hoofs til July or August, and I prefer climbs that resemble more of a wall than a gradual ramp.  Looking around at the comp at the line, I said a quick prayer and hoped to simply enjoy the experience of racing.   The first lap is usually anything buy enjoying racing as the legs are in shock of the lactic flooding and nerves are high while jockeying for position and loosing contact with the leaders.   I kept calm though knowing I would catch up on the decent by employing my jedi trail powers coupled with local knowledge.  Sure enough, 5 or 6 of us started the next lap with the young phenom of Helena (Landon Beckner) throwing down the watts and putting us all in the ringer while catching local fast dad Matt Butterfield.  Phil and Mully (Cling Muhlfield) started loosing contact as the screws kept tightening, and I sucked wheel as hard as I could on singletrack while climbing.   Reaching the top of the 2nd lap, I cut around young Landon and Butterfield and said “Matty, lets sink like stones and drop this youngin… He’s too strong!”  Matt and I hit the 3rd lap with a good amount of breathing room, and then I was left to mentally tell myself that if I could just hang on to the last lap, I would have what it takes to joust Butterfield for the win.  Sure enough, we started up the climb of the 4th lap together, almost rolling at a conversational pace.  Two thirds of the way up Matt asked, “Is this our 3rd lap?”, to which I thought, “He must not want this as bad as I do, attack now and cash in the chips!”  I dropped a couple gears, locked out the Lefty, and swung back and forth over the bars trying to eek out an attack from my rapidly seizing quads.  I managed to gain a few bike lengths going into the final singletrack climb and knew I had it in the bag barring any flats or freak incidences.  Descending the three miles of swooping singy to the finish was a great feeling, being able to enjoy the fruits of hard work and suffering while being one with bike, trail, and lycra. Coming through the finish line, I’m pretty sure I raised my arms, which may be unwarranted in a Montana mountain bike race, but I didn’t care, it was an amazing feeling pulling off a hard fought win in front of the home crowd.  

Unfortunately, I find myself a little complacent after winning a race and I think I’m in for a brutal awakening this weekend lining up with hungry racers wanting revenge and an all but guaranteed London 2012 mountain bike Olympian!   Ah well, enjoy ‘em while ya can, cause next go around, a chunk of humble pie will go down like a box of rocks.  Happy trails and enjoy the season, think about how much you’ve all ready invested into it, might as well enjoy it win, lose, or draw!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mid-Pack Holeshot...

Had a good start to the Whiskey Fat Tire Crit... was navigating through riders with ease! For about 90 seconds, then I blew sky high. I'm in this sea of spandex, maybe 7th row, very white skin. 

Not a great performance, but not to worry, the guns will be blazin' tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Weakest Link

When I first moved to Whitefish almost 4 years ago (with all my possessions loaded in an unlicensed 1981 Toyota  2wd pickup), I had some pretty valid excuses that prevented me from chasing the dream of racing my mountain bike across the land.

-My income: Minimal.
-My vehicle: Shitty.
-Time off work? Nope.
-Race budget: Out of pocket :(
-My bike: Kona single speed 29er with raked out (bent) "freeride edition" fork.

Don't get me wrong, I was happy as a clam with my rolling junkshow, but deep in my haunches I knew I was capable of better. When I moved to Working Lightly (the Yoga Ranch days), I was far removed from the racing scene, but in the center of the trail universe. My time in the single wide at Tally Lake was a much needed reboot to figure out what exactly I wanted to do in life. As my good buddy Brendan Halpin realized after 15 minutes solo at my house; "Phil, the only two options here are stare at the wall or exercise"!

Times were good on the ranch, but a 25 year old guy can't stay holed up in the woods all by himself, I had to get back out into the world. I wanted to show my fancy footwork to all that seemed interested. Two years ago I took a job at Hammer Nutrition, and it has taken me far and wide. But the life of a trucker/desk jockey/racer wasn't ideal either. Last season I was more fired up than ever about racing, but had little time to train, excuses excuses. Last summer was great, my local sponsor Sportsman & Ski Haus was a big help, and our sweet Cannondale Bikes made up a lot of the slack for my extra weight and lack of #training. I got a good laugh about being significantly heavier than most of the other pro mountain bikers out there, and even came up with a cheeky name for my lack of top end fitness, the "resort leg". 

I wasn't disappointed with myself about last season, I'm pretty confident I did the best I could given my schedule (and I can pretty much guarantee I'm the only guy that worked all of Interbike, closed down the Sinclair Imports party, flew to Bend and placed well at Marathon Nationals!). But I still had this * next to everything... More excuses.

So when I started thinking about 2012 and what I wanted to do on my mountain bike, and what areas needed improvement, everything pointed towards me, I was the weakest link in the program. 

-My income: Enough.
-My vehicle: Decent.
-Time off work? Generous.
-Race budget: $$$ in the bank.
-My whip (s): Cannondale Scalpel 29 (so rad), Cannondale Flash 29 Ultimate (20 pound race hardtail).

A wise man once said, it's not the arrow, it's the Indian. So now that all the pieces are in place, there are no excuses left. With no one to blame but myself, one could look at this as a lot of excess pressure to succeed, but I find it's quite the contrary. #Training is easy, it's the combination of $upport, time and motivation that can be ever so difficult for the privateer to round up. And if I ever don't feel like grinding out some hard ride by myself, I've always got the best crew of Trail Rangers the world has ever seen to recharge the nitro boost!

So now that all has (mostly) come together, I'm super pumped to get out to the races this summer. We're super lucky to have nationals and the prestigious Missoula XC back to back again, it's not often that Montana sees such high levels of competition, so it definitely warrants firing on all cylinders. I also wanted to pass on a huge thank you to two new sponsors. Two of the most storied brands in Mountain Biking have signed on to help me out, ESI Grips and Shimano MTB. 

ESI Grips are one of the most simple yet profoundly amazing upgrades one can make to a mountain bike, at any price. They are not only the lightest grips by far, but feel the best on your hands no matter how far the ride. 

Shimano needs no introduction from me, they have been behind mountain biking since before I was even around. After screwing around with all sorts of janky parts the last couple years, I'm very excited to know there is unmatched precision behind every shift of my XTR drivetrain, and the brakes have enough power to hold back the Spokane River at near floodstage!

Receiving product support really helps, but mainly it's just knowing that there's actually someone else out there besides myself that wants to see me race well is the big perk. Intervals are a hell of a lot easier when I can see a little light at the end of the tunnel, knowing there is at least some small reason that I'm cross eyed and about to fall off the bike in pain on that after work ride!

So thanks again to all the help keep the dream alive, hope to see everyone on the trail this summer!