30 seconds. Rinse. Repeat

I spent the latter half of the summer of 2018 chasing down heart problems. Motivated by a drop in max heart rate over the previous years, a corollary lack of performance, and stories of guys my age dropping dead, I curtailed all my high-intensity training and made an appointment with the MGH Cardio Performance Program. It can be tricky to debug heart issues with medical professionals. Unless they’re well versed in the physiology of endurance athletes, it can lead you down a rat hole. 

The last time I tried to chase down similar issues was in the late 90’s, after I had retired from full-time racing. I was having trouble breathing, getting dizzy with hard efforts and overall having a difficult time adjusting to “civilian” life as a non-racer. I ended up on a treadmill in a doctor’s office in New York City, for a cardio stress test. The patient before me was in his 80’s and had needed help stepping on and off the treadmill. On the other hand, I was in my 20’s, and running so fast that the techs were getting concerned if their apparatus could handle the speed. 

As soon as I hit my “peak” heart rate — I still had room to go higher but they were worried about the treadmill — they laid me down on an exam table and scanned my heart with an ultrasound device. Within 30 seconds my heart rate had returned to a normal rhythm and they were stuck. There hadn’t been enough time to really see much of what the heart was doing when it was working hard and the levels I had reached were far beyond what they would typically see. After a few moments, the tech said, “I think we figured it out! When you reach your max heart rate, it crashes. Like your heart can’t handle the workload.”

“Are you talking about the recovery once I’m on the table?” I asked.

“Yeah, as soon as you hit your max, it’s like your heart rate plummeted.”

“Isn’t it a sign of fitness that you can recover to your resting heart rate really quickly?”

The tech pondered a moment. “Um…yeah…you’re right.”

Eventually, I moved out of NYC, got more sleep and less alcohol, and the problems largely resolved.

But here I was again, many years and many miles later, wondering why my body didn’t seem up to the task. I had done plenty of exploration and analysis on my own. I had put together a list of hypotheses and was working through them one by one, as best I could.

  1. Getting old
  2. Weak/inefficient legs
  3. Overtired/overtrained
  4. Poor base
  5. No high end
  6. Incomplete diet
  7. Undiagnosed heart problems 

Part of the challenge was in isolating the variables and trying to control for them. 

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Crossing Over

I won a bike race on Sunday. It wasn’t the biggest race. It didn’t have all the best riders. But Shedd Park Cyclocross was a tough course under challenging conditions. Snow. Mud. Grass. Wet leaves. Dry pine needles. More mud. Steep uphills. Slippery descents. A 150m stretch of ice cold swamp water. Rocks and roots. 

It was the sort of day that didn’t appeear to be a good one. My legs felt blocked up during recon and warm-up. My stomach felt full, like I still had to poop. Never felt quite warm enough due to the cold damp air. I had a poor starting position. First row, all the way on the outside, in the deep snow. 

I was on-point with the starter’s whistle.  I slotted into second position without really even trying. Lucky break. We turned away from the infield and onto the hill and the lead rider slipped out. So I took over. I led up the first hill. And onto the descent. I was going hard but not burrying myself. I was thinking it was a stupid move. But I had clear track ahead of me. I could negotiate the turns and make my own mistakes or perhaps even avoid making them. I was thinking I was just towing everbody around and I would blow up, bobble or crash becasue I was going out too hard. 

But I already had a gap and only Keith was hanging with me. He had won Casco Bay a few weeks earlier.

Great, I thought. I’ll tow him around until he drops me.  Continue reading

Longsjo 2018


I wasn’t sure how I would rebound from my crash at Beverly. An easy spin Friday afternoon and again Saturday morning revealed a sore knee, stiff neck and tired legs, though the tired legs may have been just as much from the three days of racing or the newly arrived heat as from the crash. 

Saturday was only getting hotter. But dry. At least an early evening start time might allow things to cool down a bit. 

I lined up with an ice-sock stuffed down the back of my race suit and low expecations. I had done minimal warm up. It seemed more likely I would overheat before the race than get my legs anywhere close to race-ready. 

The start was sane and manageable. Around the first corner, the sweet smell of fresh haybales hit me. Summer was underway.

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GP Beverly 2018

I could see the Spin Arts rider to my right bobble, then start to tilt, then his bike was sliding out from underneath him, sliding down the road and to the left, sliding into my path and eventually beneath my front wheel, while I tried to manage my speed, while I constructed an exit strategy, trying to float my front wheel over the obstacle, with the hopes that the rest of my bike and body would follow unscathed, then trying to slow down without going down, then abandoning all options as the crashed rider’s bike wedged beneath my wheel and I started to pivot forward. 

There was the moment when I realized I was going over, the moment when first my elbow hit the pavement hard, and then my knee, even harder; the moment I figured my front wheel would crumple; the moment when I realized the wheel would be ok; then the moment when I thought it was all over, and the moment I realized it wasn’t and the rest of me completed the flip, landing on my back or the back of my head, or perhaps in the other order, it was hard to tell, but the tail of the helmet caught the pavement and forced the helmet down and foward into my glasses so that they bit into my nose, splayed the nosepads, then came lose. Somewhere in there I felt a hard smack but couldn’t tell if it was my head on pavement or helmet on glasses, or perhaps one of the other riders who had followed and crashed in kind, sending his own shock waves that I absorbed as my own. My right pinky finger was already bleeding, the knuckle sliced clean and dripping dark, red blood onto the pavement and soaking into my glove. I surveyed the damage, waiting for the various body parts to report their damage, waiting for systems to come on-line so I could determine what next to do. 

“How do you crash on a straightaway?” I asked of no one in particular.

Then somebody on the side of the road was yelling, “Free lap! Cut the course, take the free lap!”

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Exeter Criterium 2018


Photo by Katie Busick

Open with a calm, sunny New England evening. The town slowing to crawl, streets clearing and shops closing so that several dozen cyclists may perform feets of speed and agility before the gracious onlookers.

Women and men in skin tight racing suits, assembled before the town hall. 

The calm before the storm.

Then a pop, and the pellicule starts to skip. 

Ninety-six racers sprint into the first sweeping turns. Immediate mayhem.

The pace not fast enough to string it things out. Riders clot and clump together. Constantly in motion, moving up or losing positions. Dive bombing the corners. Cut or get cut. 

Pedals and derrailleurs clink against my front wheel no fewer than three times. No damage done.  Riders hook and swerve, elbows out, shoulders leaning on hips. The most contact I’ve seen in a race in decades, compounded by the mix of pros, comfortable in the closest of quarters, the younger, inxperienced riders, the older, slower riders, the older faster riders who don’t want to get crashed, the 3’s riding in perhaps their first pro-level race. What a race of all races to choose. 

My front wheel is chopped and sliced, no fewer than three times. I ride each one out, reacting on instinct, drifting with the rider’s back wheel, counterbalanced, not overcorrecting. Staying upright. Barely. That alone is a victory. 

The laps are melting away. Half-way, a blistering pace for the big money prime, then it all comes back together. I’m punching holes and taking lines I didn’t think were possible. Turn three, I get swept all the way to curb, lock up brakes, lose position, and start it all over again. I know I’m in the danger zone when I pull up behind certain riders, question their faulty lines and make an effort to get in front of them. There are crashes, but not nearly as many as the combat would suggest.

Then there are 6 laps to go and I’m wondering where the race went. Time to get into position. Every other rider has the same idea, so it’s more shoulder to shoulder, taking risks, hoping for a split or a break, hoping to be on the business end of it. 

I’m flat out the last three laps. A blur of wheels, multicolored jerseys, finding a line, then another one, locking up, sprinting back to speed.

Last lap, I’m reasonably well positioned within the top-15 or 20. Into turn three, about to punch through it and instead there’s a rider down, a sprawl of blue Hot Tubes, the sickly scrape of skin and carbon, and I’m hesitating, just a second to see which way he tumbles, and then it’s over.

Overgeared, struggling to get back up to speed, I give up 10 or 15 spots, sprint full on into mediocrity.

And it’s over. 

Across the line, I hear Myerson has won, and that makes me smile. 


  • Average speed: 42.8 kph
  • Normalized power: 258 w
  • Max HR: 175
  • Final placing: 30th
  • Attrition rate: 25%
  • Post-race Ice cream flavor: Jake’s Maple Bacon

Greenfield Criterium 2018

Photo by @cc.reuter

It had started to sprinkle on the starting line before the final call-up for the first race of the New England Crit series.  On the drive out Route 2 west from Boston, the clouds had built and so had my angst. Thunderstorms forecast for early afternoon. Percentages building as we approached race time. It was only a matter of time.

At least the warm-up had been dry. Even if my legs had felt sore and blocked.

Five laps into the hour race, it was already raining. Fresh moisture on dry pavement. I tried to remember the last time it had rained. How long since the grease of the streets had been washed clean? It didn’t matter. The pace was fast enough, there would be risks in the corners. The bike felt solid and balanced. The tires gripped. I avoided paint stripes and manholes, best I could. The rain eased up a bit. The course was even starting to dry out.

Boys were putting their hammers down.  I was playing smart, or so I thought, my legs feeling better with each lap. Holding between 10th and 15th position. Staying out of the wind. Following the accelerations but never going on the attack. Sticking to my plan of keeping my powder dry until the finale.

It didn’t last long.

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Race Day

I’ve been meticulously constructing my season around the next 8 days: New England Crit Week. Five pro-1/2 races from this Sunday to next Sunday.  I’ve been following a structured training program, measuring and assessing, week to week, refining, looking for signs in the numbers and analysis that will prove out progress.

I’ve been chasing fitness all season, with little to show for it, despite the time and distance. I will submit that there is little measurable progress. Sure, I’ve lost about 5-6 pounds that I didn’t really need to lose. My power numbers are stable, if not declining a bit. My mediocre results reveal little of the efforts I’ve made during the races. The numbers lie. The results are misleading. The changes are subtle, as much a shift in perspective as improvement of a few watts here and heartbeats there.

The first tourney of the season was to have been Marblehead. Thirty-six miles of a seashore loop at a race I won once many years ago. It was to have been my triumphant return. Instead it was cancelled due to inclement weather forecasts — a strange thing to cancel a bike race because of bad weather — so I raced Palmer Koerse the day before. In a lapse of good judgment, I enrolled in the Pro race rather than my Masters age group because I didn’t want to wake up that early, I wanted the extra distance, and I incorrectly assumed that the other riders would be in my same boat of having done precious little intensity at this point in mid-April.

I was wrong.

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Fourth Week

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I had deluded myself into thinking that I would be once more liberated to navigate a New England spring on the bike. Previous years’ efforts — skiing, marathon running, recovery — and a lack of urgency had delayed the start of my road seasons to sufficiently better weather conditions.  Subcribed, as I had become, to my diligent plan of base preparation and acknowlegding that the required volume no longer permitted indoor training, there remained no choice but to get out there and ride.

And so I did. 

At first, I marveled at the absurdity of me, on a bike, weather in the 30’s. I was extreme in my haberdashery on the preliminary outings; subsequently underdressed thereafter until I upgrade and updated my wardrobe to include a new pair of Castelli winter cycling tights — a garment for which I had foolishly believed I would no longer have any need and had long since discarded. However windburn, cold thighs and dick freeze demanded recourse and the redress was maximally enjoyable. In the words of Ned Flanders, “it’s like wearing nothing at all.”

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The Dawn of a New Season

I officially started the road season last Sunday.

It coincided perfectly with two late-season Nor’easters that dumped nearly two and half feet of snow on the ground.

Following Rangeley, I had taken the week off.

The entire week.

Completely off.

No transitional workouts. No colds or sicknesses that were double-counted as recovery. No crazy projects. No “fun” efforts that were merely disguised training sessions.  It had been several years since I had taken that much time off and I expected my body to rebound almost immediately and my outlook to improve day-for-day.

Instead, by the end of the week, I was irritable, crawling out of my own skin, and itching for any workout, no matter how meager or minimal.

Sunday was an hour and half. I had fitted my cyclocross with full fenders and cycled the wet roads,  the snow piled high up on the sides, through Weston and Wellesley. I wanted to keep going but it was the first day back and I was pacing myself, riding deliberatly slow and short.

On Monday, I squeezed in an easy hour in the late afternoon after work. The storm was coming and the skies turned cold and gray and the temperature dropped over the course of the ride.

On Tuesday it snowed. All day. I rode tempo intervals on the trainer and shoveled out.

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The Rangeley Loppet was my last race of the ski season. A thoroughly forgettable affair that I can’t stop thinking about and is still haunting me three days later.

I had a good start. I went out with the fast college boys like I had planned. I was going to bury myself in this last race if that’s what it took. I felt up to the challenge.

My warm-up skis had been dragging in the fresh, wet snow.  My race skis, with high fluoro wax and a Jetstream topcoat were running much better.

So far.

But these skis hadn’t done well in warm, wet weather this season. They were a colder grind, but already a few seasons old, and I had my suspicions about them.

Well founded.

I could feel the wax wearing off. The skis starting to drag. And only after a kilometer and half.

Then they simply stopped working.

I was off the back of the college group.

I stepped into the tracks to reconsider my plan.

I waited while the second group caught up. I tried to ski at the front but drifted back, one skier at a time. The harder I pushed, the slower the skis went. Then I was off the back of that group. I tried to latch onto the next group and that went no better. Then I tried to just enjoy the ski and that wasn’t in the cards either.

By half-way through the lap, I was dangling off the back of the Dartmouth-Colby women’s pack, out for an easy over-distance effort, and pushing my limits to keep pace with them.

So when we came through the start/finish for the next lap, I packed it in.

I wasn’t interested in a death march.

The only upside was that I got the food table before everybody else and put a pretty sizable dent in the cookies.

After the race, everybody had the same story of slow, sticky skis. It’s a tough calculus. Ski selection, grind, wax, topcoat, rill. The really serious guys might test a dozen different combinations. I had one pair. Live or die by them.

I’ll get them re-ground in the off-season. Maybe finally get a good pair of dedicated warm skis. Or maybe just stop caring so much about the performance and try to enjoy it.

The rest week — a real rest week with days off — started on Sunday.