Sunday, August 28, 2011

Strange Winds

In Milwaukee this morning, it's beautiful. 70 degrees, blue sky, calm.

On the east coast, though, Hurricane Irene continues to batter people with high winds and heavy rain.

That kind of surreal difference is an appropriate metaphor for the Sunday before the start of school tomorrow.

It's quiet in my house, I'm drinking coffee and eating my oatmeal at a leisurely pace. Tomorrow I will be rushing to get on my bike in time to make it to school.

The kids show up Thursday, and by then I'll be out of my mind excited and ready. The first three days of teacher school drive me crazy. They're necessary - meetings, preparation, discussion - but that's only a cloud until the stormburst of kids shows up Thursday morning.

They'll be scared, excited, sad to see summer end and school start. The usual bundle of conflicting emotions. Little hurricanes.

Meanwhile, today, I'm watching the weather channel for updates. Good friends are riding the storm out, and I'm worried for their safety. The calamity of Katrina in New Orleans is still too fresh in my memory.

Unlike my students, there's not much good that comes out of a hurricane, especially one that crushes major cities like Irene.

For me today, it's all about waiting and preparing. The wonderful storm that is a new group of 7th graders starts Thursday. As I fine tune my lessons, I'll keep an eye on the weather and keep praying for the safety of the people on the east coast.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cyclocross Saved My Life

It’s Always a Good Day to Ride – A New Column by Paul Warloski

Paul Warloski is back on his bike, re-learning the ropes. Photo: courtesy
Paul Warloski is back on his bike, re-learning the ropes. Photo: courtesy
Cyclocross Magazine would like to welcome new columnist Paul Warloski, who like many of us, has a passion for cyclocross. Only for him, this passion nearly consumed his life, literally. Follow Paul as he takes us along for a ride of trials and tribulations of a cyclocrosser with a refreshed perspective.
’Cross Saved My Life but Racing Damn Near Killed Me
by Paul Warloski

Cyclocross saved my life.

And at the same time, ’cross nearly destroyed what was left of my sanity.

I have been racing on the road for 20-some years, mostly in masters categories as a cat. 4 or 3. But when I discovered ’cross five years ago, I was hooked hard. I won several races as a 4, upgraded, did well in the masters 40 plus events, and started to work on getting serious about it.

In the fall of 2008, I was starting to overcome some asthma problems when I broke my collarbone in a freak crash in a ’cross race. I started training soon for the 2009 season, lifting weights, doing long base rides, and adding in some tempo.

And on a long March 2009 training ride from Milwaukee around Waterford, I was 100 yards from stopping at a local gas station for a break and to call my coach to tell him how ridiculously good I was feeling already in the season.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was the only vehicle on the road, dressed in a red and yellow kit.
Next thing I know, I was on the ground, fighting for my life. In a split second, a young man in a large pick-up truck broadsided me as he turned left into my path.

I was thrown 20 to 30 feet, my shattered femur came through the skin and a hand-sized chunk of thigh skin and muscle was partially scooped out. I also broke my shoulder, tore the labrum and rotator cuff.

For some reason, I saw the femur and literally tried to push it back into my skin. That didn’t work.

I spent eight days in the hospital and two months away from my 7th grade students, first getting in-home therapy, then going to physical therapy three times a week. I know now I was lucky to survive. If the crash hadn’t occurred in front of a convenience store with many people there to assist me and stop the bleeding, or if the truck had been moving slightly faster, or a myriad of other what-ifs, I would have died.

My friend Mike and I went later to pick up what was left of my bike. I nearly got sick when I saw it.

The doctors did not expect me to walk normally again. And they cautioned me that I would likely never race my bike again.

’Cross season was coming in six months, and they told me I wouldn’t race again?


I managed about six races that first year, mostly to spite the doctors and have a focus for getting through rehab, until the pain in my knee, where pins still held the titanium rod in place, grew too great as I was trying to get up the stairs at the USGP in Louisville.

In 2010, though, I started to feel like a cyclocross racer again; but on some days, I grew critical of myself and upset at the lack of results, especially when I told myself I should do well at a particular course.

And now the pressure was greater because I needed to be back where I was before the crash. I’ve never been good with people telling me what I can or can’t do. I worked so damn hard in PT that they told me slow down. I needed to get back on the bike. I needed to race.

That has been my life-long “problem” with bike racing: I measure success in results, and then I become frustrated and angry with myself when I don’t do as well as I expect. The problem was that I needed to race to prove something to myself, to show myself and those around me that I could be successful at this. And so I put incredible pressure on myself to be successful, and I was one crabby, morose dude when the race didn’t go as I “planned.”

This column will not be the story of some kind of miraculous recovery, or a greeting card reminder of how valuable life is, or even a testament to hard work.

Instead, I will be documenting a year of training: not just my body, but my mind and emotions. I will be training myself all year to work as hard as I can and race ’cross as well as I can. I will train myself to work hard to ride fast and enjoy whatever success comes my way. I will work to eliminate the expectations and the “shoulds” when I get on the bike.

And that’s it. I will work to have no expectations of myself other than to race well and hard and have fun. I will work to celebrate any result, when, in the past, I would have beat myself up for not finishing on the podium.

So to start 2011, I’ll write this on a card that will hang on my mirror and stay in my race bag: Cyclocross is the most fun I can have on two wheels.

And thanks for reading. Drop me a comment with your hugs or hate.

Paul Warloski races cyclocross for the My Wife Inc. cyclocross team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is 47 and a middle school English teacher. He was nearly killed in a 2009 crash when a large pick-up truck broadsided him on a training ride. In this column, he is documenting a year learning how to be positive and content regardless of results as well as physical training. He maintains an irregular blog at
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Orange Hair and Peaking

Orange Hair and Peaking – A Column by Paul Warloski

In 2005, I was having a very good year racing on the road. My training seemed to finally come together, and I found myself in several breaks in 40-plus events. I wasn’t winning, but I was consistently placing top 5 against some very good company.

But as the season points added up, I could feel the pressure get to my head. I started missing the key breaks, missing out on points. The expectations I placed on myself caused so much inner turmoil that I freaked out on the bike, my legs and good form turning to concrete.

By the time Wisconsin’s Superweek came around in July, I knew I had to take a significant step to lighten the mood: so as a 41-year-old man, I dyed my hair orange.

Bright orange.

It still didn’t work. I had a few days of decent racing, but it was mostly a very frustrating experience.

Then, and during the following season, I realized I wasn’t having any fun racing my bike. Racing had become a battle against myself, a battle I was losing.

When I started racing cyclocross five years ago, I thought it was the answer. I was having a great time riding my bike in the mud and grass, falling over and laughing.

I was having a great time until I started to win in the 4s in 2008. By the time the state championships rolled around that year, I managed to build up enough pressure in my head that I had my worst race of the season, psyching myself completely out of the event.

I don’t think even orange hair would have helped.

And in 2010, one year after the crash, when I should have been glad to just ride my bike around in the mud, the same self-critical pressure returned. As soon as I finished well in the first races of the year, the siren of expectations dashed the “fun quotient” against the rocks. Races that I came in feeling physically strong after good training weeks were the races I finished poorly in, all because I expected to challenge for the win.

I expected results even though I hadn’t been able to train most of the year because I was still rehabbing my thigh and knee. I expected results even though I still run awkwardly up hills and over barriers.
And I had these unreasonable expectations even though I was just 20-some months away from a life-threatening accident where one of my legs was shattered.

Clearly there is an issue here for me!

As well-trained athletes, we expect so much of our bodies and our minds. We expect to bounce back after crashes and hard rides. We expect that if we put the training time in, we should get results. And sometimes we end up measuring ourselves by our results, and if those results don’t come, we are somehow lesser people.

And that is the point of this year of training. I will train my mind and heart to enjoy what I can do that day, to view whatever result I get as a success. Given my long history of beating myself up for failing to meet my impossibly high expectations, it is a challenging task.

My coach, who you will meet as Coach Crusty, wrote it down for future reference: “Warloski will work on staying positive all year.” I am getting some help and doing a lot of work to make this mental and emotional shift.

Whenever I have peaked for certain events throughout my cycling career, I have done poorly. So there will be no peaking to my training this year. I will race some road events, some mountain bike events, some time trials throughout the spring and summer. Each of those races will be good training and good days to be on the bike.

And by the fall, when the real season starts, when we again get to ride in mud and grass like kids, I will simply be able to ride faster than I could in the summer.

I am not going to peak for nationals, even though nationals are just down the road in Madison.  Sure, I want to do well, but it is just another race. I will prepare as best I can. But at nationals, it will be just a good day (although cold) to race.

Today, at the gym, I was tired. I could not lift as much as usual. So I had a chance to practice choosing my attitude: I lifted what I could today. I kept telling myself, it was a good day to lift.

And tomorrow, I get to ride my bike in the basement and watch movies.  Even in the basement, it is a good day to ride.

And I won’t need orange hair to ride anywhere.

Mad Cross Skillz

It’s Always a Good Day to Ride: Learning to Trust the Bike and Find Those Mad ’Cross Skillz

Following Russell’s Wheel: Learning to Trust the Bike and Find Those Mad Cross Skillz
by Paul Warloski

Like most riders who come to ’cross from the road, I sometimes struggle with technical skills.

I’ve learned a lot in the past five years. Yet I still grab too much brake, don’t trust my tires enough, and slow down too much before barriers and corners.

The remedy this season? Lots of practice in a park nearby and lots of mountain bike riding.

Before the crash, I definitely had more power than technical skill. I’d sometimes get the hole shot, then crash into the first barrier. I’ve needed be extra friendly to riders I took out in those crashes!

After the truck collision in 2009 though, I have to learn to get everything out of my body that I can. I can’t run quickly up hills or through sand. My legs and hips just don’t move very solidly any longer.

On a reasonably mild Sunday in January, I went on a mountain bike ride with Russell J. and several other local riders, the local “mofos.” We started in Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa, just outside of Milwaukee. The trails wind along the Milwaukee River on both sides, and snow was deep enough in some places to make the riding a bit sketchy.

It was my first time on a mountain bike in a group for a long time. And even though it was an easy group ride for most, I had to really concentrate on cornering to not hold up the other riders.

And like many of us, when I concentrated too much, got too tense, I forgot how to drive the bike. I was forcing corners and slowing down too much through corners. When I relaxed and just let the bike go, I felt better through the corners.

I remembered my first mountain bike race back in the 90s. I had zero idea what I was doing, and I fell more times into trees than I ever wanted to do. Even a few years ago, when my road skills and power had improved, I still couldn’t drive the bike, I fell over multiple times in mountain bike races at the southern Kettle Morraine.

At the end of the group ride, most people drifted to their cars. I wanted to ride more. Russell suggested a back loop. I decided, since Russell is a skilled mountain bike racer, to glue myself to his wheel, study his lines, and pay attention to nothing but his rear tire.

So we took off. I rode around trees and through snow faster than I ever had before. As I removed the thinking from my own brain and just followed Russell’s wheel, I flowed through corners and up and down the small hills.

I let the bike ride free on the trails, just pedaling. I set my critical self on the ground back in the parking lot. I allowed myself to just trust the bike and tires. I felt so good I even forgot to watch Russell duck to avoid a low-hanging branch.

I plan on riding the mountain bike a lot in 2011. I plan on doing many of the Wisconsin Off-Road Series (WORS) and the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series (WEMS) events. I plan to ride the mountain bike at least once a week, learning to corner and descend smoothly and quickly.

Plus, the mountain bike scene in Wisconsin is pretty laid back. My goal is to ride hard, have fun, and enjoy the after-party with new friends.

If I can learn to navigate trails on the mountain bike, barriers, corners, descents, and off-camber courses will be much simpler, and I will be able to make up time that I lose on uphill run-ups.

And in addition to the mountain bike riding, I’ll be spending a lot of time this summer on the ’cross bike. Mike Heenan, who runs the “my wife inc” cyclocross team, has a set of PVC barriers. I’ll drag him and other teammates out to Mitchell Park and practice my skills so I can run through barriers like Tim Johnson and carve corners like Todd Wells.

I want to be able to ride my ’cross bike like I was following Russell’s wheel on trail.

WFQ Points

It’s Always a Good Day to Ride: Chase Fun, Not Points

Chasing the WFQ Points This Year
by Paul Warloski

Actually, I was a little embarrassed.

I stood in front of friends and fellow racers at the Wisconsin Cycling Association’s cyclocross banquet, holding a trophy.

Fifth place overall 2011 WCA in 45 plus.

The trophy is a guy standing next to a bike. It has my name on it. The trophy is ceramic or something. I know that because of what I’ll tell you at the end of the story.

During the season, I made sure I raced every race in the series, even races I don’t like, just to maintain my spot in the points for the trophy. To me it was purely a symbolic and tangible piece of evidence that I could still race my bike, just 18 months after the crash.

Since the doctors said I probably wouldn’t be able to race again, I had to prove them wrong. And to finish in the top five overall would be the proof.

So the 2010 season was a Groundhogs Day of sorts: I usually finished around the same people every race. My goal every race was to stay with Ferguson for as long as possible. That usually lasted a few hundred yards.

To be sure, the competition for the fifth place overall spot with Dave E. was a good time. We’d duke it out every race, and usually the race came down to who won our two-up competition and won trash talk rights for the next week.

Here’s the problem, though: While I have a lot of friends on the cross circuit, I didn’t go on cross racing trips with my good friends on my team: my wife inc. racers Mike and Ross traveled to Cincinnati and Louisville for races while I stayed home to chase points.

They went to Chicago for fun races while I stayed home to chase points.

For me, chasing the points wasn’t about having fun with different people. Chasing points was pressure to prove my “value” to myself; it was another way to put pressure on myself to perform.

Most of us have done the same thing, pursuing an overall points total as a barometer of our worth as a bike racer, even, like me, of our worth as a person.

That’s the whole point of this year of new post-crash attitude: this year it’s seriously all about chasing points for the Warloski Fun Quotient (WFQ).

While it’s always fun to talk with different people at races, traveling with your “crew” on road trips is something else. Our trips to Ohio and Cincinnati the previous year were epic. We didn’t party up a storm or have wild stories to tell. Those road trips are just damn fun, high on the WFQ.

And in planning the 2011 season, I’m going to race my bike as often as my body will allow. The only points I’m going to chase are the WFQ points. I’m going to find the most fun, unique courses and events and spend my time there.

For instance, on a whim last year, I went down to Carpentersville, IL for a Chicago Cup race. It was a hoot, especially an off-camber hill turn. High WFQ points.

I will steadfastly refuse to precisely define the WFQ; The WFQ is anything that makes a cross race a good time. Circles of Death are not high on the WFQ list.

The WCA series this year has a bunch of new races and as one of the committee members, I get to help “shape” the courses. My only goal will be to raise the fun quotient for everyone!

(The only downside to being on the Cross Committee is a certain obligation to race WCA races. This year, though, if the race doesn’t meet the WFQ, I’m not going! Sorry, guys…)

And if I’m tired and need a break, I’m going to take one. It’s going to be a wonderfully long season.

From September to January. I can give myself WFQ points for taking a mountain bike ride in November and missing a race.

So far this year, I’ve made a schedule of all the possible road races, crits, time trials, and mountain bike races in the area. If I’ve been tired or not feeling ready to race, I didn’t go. Yes, I missed out on seeing friends at the events. But I could ride with friends in Milwaukee.

At the WCA cross banquet back in January, I asked friend Mike and and his wife Jessica to the cross banquet to celebrate my fifth place. Mike is the director of our my wife inc cyclocross team, and Jessica is the head sponsor.

Talk about anti-climatic.

I stood there with my trophy, now embarrassed that I worked that hard for this piece of ceramic or whatever it’s made of, sheepish that I dragged Mike and Jess along with me.

A week ago, sometime in the night, I heard a crash in my house. A framed poster of the mwi Cross the Domes race had fallen and knocked over the fifth place trophy. It had fallen to the floor, breaking off the man’s helmeted head.

It seemed an appropriate metaphor for my changed state of mind: The trophy was all about my head needing validation by scoring points. To continue the metaphor, I’m now just riding my ’cross bike, gaining valuable WFQ points, and drinking a beer with my friends when the racing is done.

And that is living at its finest.

Thanks for reading.

Finding Perspective

It’s Always A Good Day To Ride: Finding Perspective

Finding Perspective: How To Play That Hand (or Bike) That You Were Given
by Paul Warloski

Although I’m no longer going to win any prizes for prettiest legs, the crash that nearly took my life has offered a surprising gift.
The day I was brought in by ambulance, the doctors took me into surgery immediately, the first of four, and I spent eight days in the hospital.

Many friends and family members came to visit, and in the first few days, memories of their visits were a little fuzzy.

On the fifth day, Jay L. visited me. I had known Jay from the track at Kenosha and from the various group rides around Milwaukee, but I didn’t know him well. So when he arrived, I was a bit surprised.

But Jay knew exactly how I was feeling. A decade earlier, Jay, a serious Cat. 2 racer, was hit by a semi truck and dragged underneath it. Most of the muscles in his right leg were literally scraped off. I knew the story and could see Jay’s mangled leg when he rode.

But Jay didn’t come to compare war stories. He simply told me what happened to him and what happened after his accident. He told me about the multiple surgeries and constant pain and therapy.
Jay still rides many Tuesday nights at the Kenosha track, spends his summer racing the Wisconsin Off-Road series, doing long group rides, riding at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park, and enjoying the camaraderie of his friends on bikes. He loves riding anything on two wheels and has raised his son Nate with the same kind of love of cycling.

Jay loves riding his bike regardless how fast he is or how much he measures up in a race.

And when Jay visited that day, he was also letting me know that I was in for a long recovery, that I would never be the same kind of cyclist, that I could expect a painful and challenging therapy.

Everything was going to change, and everything was going to take a long time, much longer than I’d ever expect.

He could never have prepared me for what was coming.

Therapy began for me at the hospital on the third day. The PTs had me walking to the bathroom and doing small steps with crutches. I had to learn how to walk again.

In the first four weeks, a PT visited me at home. I did everything he asked me to do and more, and when he left, I did more, stretch bands, rubber balls, simply raising and lowering my leg, firing the hamstring and quad muscles.

By the second or third visit, I was so sore from all the extra work I was doing, the therapist scolded me and told me I had to slow down or I wouldn’t make any progress.

But my identity was so wrapped up in being a cyclist that I had to push myself harder than ever. I couldn’t teach, I couldn’t ride my bike. What the hell was I?

Once I “graduated” from in-home care, Kim took over the physical therapy. I made more progress than the doctors ever expected due to Kim’s work and my stubbornness and determination. And when my leg was healed enough for me to walk without crutches or a walker, the doctors operated on my shoulder, repairing a broken humerus, torn labrum, and torn rotator cuff.

Therapy for the shoulder was a lot more painful and arduous than my leg. There were days Kim had me in tears both because the pain was so great and because we seemed to only make incremental progress.

Formal physical therapy ended, and I kept on with lifting and riding. That fall, six months after the crash, the my wife inc crew traveled down to Jackson Park in Chicago for the first Chicago Cross Cup race. My only goal was to finish and not be lapped by the 40 plus leaders. I managed to finish in the top 30. It hurt a lot, and I had to stop and walk over the barriers, but I finished!

I raced several times in 2009, mostly in the Cat 3s, finishing near the back of the field, but still finishing unlapped. In Cincinnati, I had several good finishes including a surprising top five in the 45 plus.

My knee, with the pins still in it, was really starting to hurt. So when mwi went to Louisville, and I had a hard time climbing the steep flyover stairs, I decided to call it a season.

My thoughts often returned to Jay throughout the season. “It’s a long process, Paul,” he kept saying. “Be easy on yourself.”

And again in the 2010 season, when the demons of expectations and self-criticism emerged full force that I wrote about in the last column, Jay kept reminding me about the long process and that I get to ride my bike again. I’ve been given that: I can still ride. I’m alive. I have two legs that work and can pedal.

In this off-season, while I put in the base miles and the time in the gym, Jay’s perspective is part of my mental and emotional training.

The results don’t matter. What matters is how hard you race, how much joy you bring to a race, how high is the fun quotient.

This fall, I want to ride my ’cross bike with the legs I have now.

We are just little boys and girls riding our bikes in grass, sand, dirt, and, hopefully, mud. We ride our bikes for fun.

Thanks for reading.

Feeling the Flow

It’s Always a Good Day to Ride: Feeling the Flow – Or Learning Not to Think

Flow – Or Learning Not to Think
by Paul Warloski

I dragged my friend Angie up to a Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike (WEMS) race in Green Bay in early June. As part of my new training focus for ’cross, I’m riding a lot more on the mountain bike to work on my technical skills.

Riding for three hours seemed like a great way to practice. I had no intention to be aggressive and serious about racing. I didn’t pre-ride the course, I didn’t even warm up.

The Suamico course was a lot of fun: a nice balance of singletrack and fire roads. When the race started LeMans-style, I leisurely jogged up to the bike.

Once on the bike, though, the competitive instincts kicked in, and I jammed into a big gear and passed as many people as I could.

Since I wasn’t really racing, I wasn’t very aggressive in getting around a racer who was pretty slow in the singletrack. So I just pedaled, getting used to the trail.

The weather, which had already been November-cold for May, turned worse, spitting rain. It felt like ’cross weather, and I was happy!

I passed a lot of people, and was only passed by one guy, an elite racer. I plowed through the middle of the mud puddles because that was the most fun. The whole day, despite the cold and my increasingly frozen feet, was very high on the WFQ (Warloski Fun Quotient)!

I really concentrated in the single-track, especially in the corners. I thought about minimizing braking, on carving through a corner with my outside foot pushing down hard, on looking ahead, not down.

The hours spent at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike park this winter seemed to pay off. I felt more comfortable in the technical stuff than ever.

By the third and last lap, I think I was beginning to see things that weren’t really there. The course was a little twisty as it turned back on itself. I swear there was a rider just ahead of me. So I rode a little harder, trying to trick myself into not thinking as much through the corners.

I never caught him. At the finish, I saw a guy in the same kit, but he told me he finished several minutes ago. I’ve been told that people doing 24-hour and 12-hour races start to “see” things in the woods. If I had done the six-hour, I might have been seeing the pink elephants.

After the race, Angie and I talked about the race. At one point, she said she loved just being able to not think at all during the race, just ride.

Huh? Not think? I was analyzing every corner, trying to figure out how to ride it. I asked her about that. She told me she just rides with a clear mind.

Angie’s ride sounds zen-ish, emptying your mind, purposefully not thinking. I’ve practiced zen before, mostly with little success. I have, to put it mildly, a lot of energy, and I’ve never had much success sitting still, much less quieting my brain.

I want to learn to be mind-less on the bike, enjoying and living in the moment, losing the expectations. (I promise I’m not going to get all new-agey, Dr. Phil on you.) I want to learn to just have fun while racing as hard as I can.

At the yoga class I take to be more flexible, I’m focusing more on breathing instead of the physical movement.

I’m learning to rewire my brain to accept the results that come, rather than focus on getting results.
Part of my goal this year is to just ride my bike and be more like Angie, not think when I corner or ride through the technical stuff. Some of that is being more comfortable, of course, as I get technically better on the mountain bike with practice.

I want to be more mindful — or maybe it’s mindlessness — as I ride. Or maybe it’s a different sense of purpose: changing how I think about what I do.

And keeping positive is a lot easier when I’m rested. I recently did a weekly group ride on Thursdays called the “Beat Down.” I’ve been riding a lot, lifting heavy three days a week to build my strength back up, plus teaching squirrel-y seventh graders at the end of the school year. I’ve been tired, just on the good edge of over-training.

Pre-crash, I was always at the front of the Beat Down. On the first ride of the season, I didn’t last half of it in the front group, and I struggled to get back to my car in one piece. And again the next week, I took the short cut home after getting dropped because my legs were so thick.

I allowed myself a moment or two of self-pity for what had been, then changed how I was thinking: I kept telling myself this was one of those survival, “that which does not kill you, makes you stronger” kind of rides. I pictured how much stronger I was getting with all the hard training.

I was so tired after the ride, I couldn’t think. I got lost driving home. I suppose that is one way to enter mindlessness: ride yourself into the ground.

And I know my teammates and friends will tell me I have no problem being mindless; I just want it to happen more on the bike while I’m racing.

So the mindlessness is a goal for the year. Learn to just pedal the bike in that moment while riding as fast as I can.

At least I’m not sitting, trying to calm my mind, staring at a wall.

Thanks for reading.

When To Ignore Coach Crusty’s Program

It’s Always A Good Day To Ride: When To Ignore Coach Crusty’s Program

Cyclocross Magazine columnist Paul Warloski profiles his return to cyclocross after a near-devastating injury. Follow Paul as he takes us along for a ride of trials and tribulations of a cyclocrosser with a refreshed perspective. If you missed it, check out Paul’s last column, Flow – Or Learning Not to Think.
Sometimes, you need to ignore your training program and just have fun riding. Photo from flickr, courtesy of Jonf728

When to Ignore Coach Crusty’s Program
by Paul Warloski
It was one of those rare days this summer in Wisconsin: sunny, 75 degrees, mild winds. I was camping with a buddy in Boulder Junction, home of some beautiful woodsy roads and trails.

My friend was going fishing, and I was headed out on the ride. The training program told me to ride zone 2 for 80 minutes.

When I returned, my friend asked me where I’d been.

“Riding. Why?”

“You’ve been gone three and a half hours!”  And since I’d forgotten the bike computer at home, I had zero data on heart rate and power.

It had been an incredible ride. I found some dirt roads leading into the middle of a forest, another road that turned from dirt into two inches of sand.

I had a lot of practice riding through sand that day. I learned to sit back a little and power through it. If I could manage riding through sand on road tires, I’m excited about what I can do with ’cross tires.

The next day, I was scheduled for LT intervals, six intervals of five minutes each at just below threshold power with another 45 minutes of zone 2 riding.

Oops. Again, over three hours later, I came back. I found another dirt road and found some amazing paved trails around Boulder Junction. I rode hard on flat roads, powered up steep hills and coasted the downhills. On one part of the trail, I rode quickly in a light gear, getting my heart rate up and carving all the corners.

It was a blast. And none of it was on the training program.

Coach Crusty (whose real name is Craig) and most other coaches, will always tell their client to not be slaves to the program. I pay Craig, though, to simply tell me what to do so I don’t have to think.
I’ve been working with Craig for about four years. His nickname is Crusty because he’s a bit of a curmudgeon. But I love him, he’s a damn good coach, and his approach with me has worked. We have also become friends along the way.

Minutes before the crash that nearly killed me, I wanted to stop and call Craig to tell him how good I was feeling already in March. My legs were tired and thick from lifting and riding, but it was one of those days when you just know you’re going to have a little something, a little snap, that season.

And after the crash, Craig has been carefully and slowly bringing me back. He has had me in the gym a lot, doing traditional lifting and a lot of functional training. He’s had me put a lot of base miles in at a zone 2 or 3 pace to rebuild my aerobic system. He’s listened often to complaining how tired I was or how slow the recovery was going.

And always he’d remind me of what had happened to me and that recovery would take time.

Sometimes, we cyclists get a little fixated on data and our training plan rather than going out and just riding. Sometimes, we just have to leave the power meter at home and ride.

Some days, I love nothing more than pointing my bike in one direction, getting lost, then riding to find my way home. It’s important to bring your phone and some money for those days because they can turn into epic long rides. Or I go out to the Kettle Moraine Park or Crystal Ridge to just ride the mountain bike.

And those rides are usually the ones highest on the WFQ (Warloski Fun Quotient) so I can give myself a lot of points! The rides in Boulder Junction were huge on the WFQ scale.

Even when there are specific intervals to do, I still can ride aimlessly to find interesting places to visit. I don’t do enough of that now.

So after I put in a lot of miles up north, I’m listened to my body and took a rest day, pedaling my commuter bike to the coffee shop to write.

Maybe the pros aren’t able to approach their training like this and still be successful. Most of us aren’t pros, though. We race cyclocross because it’s the most fun we can have on two wheels.

I’m learning to change my perspective on training. For the most part, I follow Crusty’s program religiously. When the program is challenging or tough, I use the intervals as an opportunity to push myself, to visualize riding hard in a ’cross race, to dig a little deeper than I think I can.

I love those days, love it when I can complete a specific task that’s challenging, and complete it to the best of my ability.

But some days, we have to be flexible enough in our programs that we can just go ride, explore the worlds around us and remember why we love riding that bike in the first place.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fire Sale to Finance My Cyclocross Habit

I just sat down to figure out my finances for cyclocross this year. With two new bikes, new components, and new wheels coming, it's time for a fire sale!

Please contact me at for information!

Blue Norcross Lg (58cm TT)Excellent. Used as A race bike for about 30 races.900
Waterford R-33 (gold/orange) 58 cm (57 cm TT)Two years old. Several paint chips. Frame in great condition. Chris King headset. Carbon fork.1,200

PartMy priceQuantity
SRAM Pg-1070 12-23 Cassette40 each2
force Brake Calipers

TRP Magnesium Cross brakes

f-1; r-1

f-1; r-1
Double Tap Levers2300
Rear Derailleur650
PC-1091 Chain202
Compact Crankset 50/341401
Crankset 53/391400
Front Derailleur Clamp-on301
FSA Energy bars 42cm301
Thomsen Elite seatpost 31.6451
FSA AL7050 stem 120151
3T Rx-Pro stem 120251
Specialized Phenom saddles 143