Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Seriously, what interview were YOU watching?!

I  had planned on letting my last post be the only one I wrote about Lance but after watching the interview (yes it was ONE interview that Oprah broke up over 2 nights to bolster her struggling network) BOTH times they were aired each night and then hearing/dealing with the ridiculousness that followed I just had to pipe up.
I will start by saying this, the comments and opinions are ALL OVER the board and are best summed up by one's Facebook status "...well, people on Twitter are comparing Lance to a pedophile. Almost convinced that it’s impossible to have a logical conversation about this". Wow! Yup, that about sums it up. But I do think that people (being me) need to give the discussion a fair chance. Now I had to deal with some of that myself when wearing my Livestrong hoodie into work on Friday (what? It was casual Friday) and a coworker asked "how could you wear that sweatshirt now after Lance's interview the night before"? Um, the foundation has nothing to do with Lance's cycling career and has been recognized internationally for its efforts in cancer awareness. My response? How could I not?! To which another coworker replied with "because I know lots of people who succeed without cheating". Really? DO you?! Can you name anyone else in the sport of cycling that was even close to, much less on the podiums of ANY of the races in the years that Lance won the Tour de France, or even now for that fact?! But we'll get to that later…

Before even talking about what was discussed during the interview…can we just quickly talk about Lance. Did you LOOK at him. The guy that was 10 feet tall and bulletproof his entire cycling career, full of piss and vinegar…and is now graying and tired...and tired looking. The guy that people could never keep up with, on a bike or not, looked wiped out. His answers were not snapped or accusatory. The guy we saw on camera looked/acted nothing like the guy we saw win 7 Tours. He looked like a man defeated.

What he said:
He admitted to using banned substances/procedures during all seven of his Tour de France victories. In his opinion, it was not possible to win the Tour without the use of banned substances. “Not in that generation, ” he said. You know what? History has proved him right! All the top pros in cycling during that 10 year span tested positive for some kind of substance and either had titles stripped and/or served suspensions. Can we just be honest about that time in cycling and quit trying to make it go away?! Doping was the NORM in the pro peloton. Unlike in sports today where everyone says “for every 1 person that dopes there are 99 athletes that don’t”…it was the COMPLETE opposite in cycling in that decade. Lance even made reference to its normalcy referring to it as “…another step like putting air in the tires, or filling the water bottles…” He did say that “no one ever put a gun to my head and that it was my choice and I’m responsible”. He didn’t lay blame or implicate anyone else. He apologized and said "I made my decisions. They're my mistake. And I'm sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I'm sorry for that."  Lance not only apologized on numerous occasions but said that he completely understood everyone's anger and will spend the rest of his life reaching out and trying to make amends.

Lance did admit to testing positive for corticosteroids during the 1999 Tour de France. He confirmed former USPS soigneur Emma O’Reilly’s story that a conversation was had in which team officials agreed to backdate a medical certificate to make it seem as if the steroids had been prescribed for saddle sores. Lance did admit to being a bully in the case of O’Reilly, someone who he feels “got run over” in the process of all this. He confirmed some of the incidents pointed out by both Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis in their statements/books. On a side note I’d like to address these guys that people harp on Lance about “running them” over too. Tyler Hamilton reaped the benefit of the culture and doping, went on to captain his own team with a multimillion dollar contract and only after getting busted…TWICE…for doping and losing it all decided he’d “come clean” about cycling and implicate Lance and the USPS team. Floyd did the same and after getting busted at the Tour de France (which he won and was later stripped of the title), got upset that no one wanted him on their team after serving a suspension (including Lance on during his “comeback” to racing) and with no other option started revealing USPS team procedures.

Yes, during this portion of the interview it was less about his feelings about doping that it was about how it worked because of the questions from Oprah. I do think it’s very interesting that Oprah made the point of saying that while Lance didn’t tell anyone else on the team to dope or fire anyone who didn’t, couldn’t he see that because he was the team captain and he was successful, that his teammates would feel pressure to do the same? Which he acknowledged. So tell me this…if we expand that out to the WHOLE of cycling…why doesn’t Lance get the same consideration?! Even though no one had a gun to his head or told him to dope…the bulk of the pro ranks (the winning and successful members of the pro ranks mind you) were doping and Lance should’ve felt no pressure to do the same in order to stay competitive?! Just something worth pointing out I think.

There was discussion about how when the news broke, he started getting calls from sponsors…Anheuser Busch, Nike, Trek and the lot all calling to say there were pulling out. In total over the span of a couple days he lost $75 million in monies but it wasn’t until having to sit down and explain it to his son (the son who’d been defending him all along to all naysayers in daily interaction on all the social media platforms) that it hit home with Lance and he realized it had all gone too far and broke. Not just with his family but it was at that point of the interview that Lance struggled to keep his emotions in check. And people were criticizing him for that being what it took to resonate with him?! Doesn’t it normally only “hit home” with anything: drug use, stealing, bad behavior…ONLY when family or loved one is suffering pain from it for the person to finally see?!

People were also upset when Oprah asked if he should be allowed to race again and he said “yes, I don’t think I deserve to suffer the death penalty” in regards to a life time ban. First off, what do you want  him to say? No, I never want to race anything again? Get real! I appreciate the guy being honest about his drive to compete. And what he meant with the earlier comment was all those people that not only testified to having doped but also gave testimony implicating Armstrong were only given SIX MONTHS SUSPENSIONS!!! Which oh so happened to coincide with the cycling “off season”. Does that stink to anyone else?! Im not even gonna talk about the fairness of that but the precedent of the ruling has been set by the UCI, USADA and WADA but it can’t ALSO apply to Lance? He must be banned for life? We look over all the other doping to get Lance?! That’s BS. A great case in point? His lieutenant George Hincapie who raced with him on all the TDF wins, not only testified that he doped but also gave evidence against Lance and had NONE of his wins taken away NOR had the TDF record he now holds as most TDF raced taken away…are you kidding me? Bjarne Riis a Tour de France winner who later went on to be the Director Sportif for successful pro cycling squads not only DIDN’T get his name removed from the list of TDF winners but also was allowed to continue to participate in the sport after admitting he doped. Are you f’ing kidding me? And you don’t see why Lance would think he shouldn’t get a lifetime ban?

And for all of you out there that think he should, including runner Laura Felischman who said it should be “one and done” and you’re out of the sport for life…how about guys like David Millar? Here’s a guy who was hailed as the next great cyclist, tested positive for doping, served his 2 year ban and has not only returned to winning but is a beloved and outspoken member of the peloton on the subject?! There are lots of athletes that have been “popped”, served their suspensions and come back to sports successfully. So now everyone wants to just harp on the fact that once you’ve messed up, there’s no recovery. Ya, there’s a great lesson for kids. Lance could become the GREATEST ambassador for cycling, running and triathlon, sports has ever seen. He could be the beacon that “just because you’ve made mistakes, you can still turn your life around and use sport as the way to be a better you” AND inspire a whole new generation of athletes to participate.

Lance closed the interview with admitting that he mishandled the USADA investigation. “I’d do anything to go back to that day. I wouldn’t fight. I wouldn’t sue. I’d listen.” People balked at that comment. What? He’s not allowed to have hindsight? There are a few quotes that stick in my head, attributed to Ironman Champion Craig Alexander that he said while I was at his book signing in Boston recently: “…people hate Lance? Don’t hate the player, hate the game…” and “…really? All these people that talk about his cheating? So you’ve never cut a corner on a race, or false started or drafted or rode into transition a little too long? It’s all cheating!...”  and most importantly “…we have no idea what his life was like or what he had to deal with, who are we to judge?...”. And…not that I’m a religious guy in the least but I think it’s funny that people are so happy to throw the  “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” but that can’t apply here. Lance has admitted to being responsible for his own undoing. "Certainly, I'm a flawed character. I am flawed, deeply flawed" he said. His “reckless desire to win” led him down the path he chose.  He is, as is every person however, worthy of redemption. Let him race, deal with the stigma of the past on a daily basis and see what he does with it. History has judged the “doping age” in cycling so let it have a chance to judge Lance as well.

This is all posted from a guy that LOVES the sport of cycling. I consider it “my” sport. I’ve been racing since I was a kid, I’ve been lucky enough to see a number of Tour de Frances, ride on the same roads and have long discussions/dinners with pros. I can rattle off damn near every major winner of all races (big and small) since I can remember and honestly believe that if there is a heaven, its achieved looking over the front wheel pedaling as hard as possible. So to refer back to the people at the beginning of this post who questioned my hoodie choice or “know” lots of people who don’t dope…you don’t know ANYTHING about MY sport, so do me a favor and keep your uninformed opinions to yourself. The only way to fix the past in the sport is to talk about it out loud and do everything to show that people can be successful in spite of it.

Although I think its a topic that can spawn intelligent discussion, based on the people participating, for years to come I just wanted to get my thoughts out there. Lance isn't a murderer or the devil, he is a man who made mistakes and that doesn't preclude him from doing better. I'll gladly line up beside him at the next triathlon and wait for the gun to go off...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Yes, there is a place for Lance Armstrong.

I’m sure this will upset a lot of people and I’ll lose some friends/followers but so be it. I’m tired of everybody feeling the need to tell me THEIR opinion yet I never seem to get one of my own. I’ve been nice and quiet about it for a long time but enough is enough.

This poster has hung framed on my wall since 2000 and its never come down…nor will it…ever. Lance Armstrong single-handedly changed the face of cycling. And before you quip about the doping, he was doing things that set the new standard in cycling that had NOTHING to do with doping. Which honestly is why I laugh when I hear people say that “There is no place in cycling for Lance Armstrong”. Bitch, please! The reason the pro peloton runs the way it does and teams train/race the way they do is ONLY because of Lance Armstrong. Lance made the Tour de France (TDF) the priority of his and his team’s racing year. Every other race was either training up to or prep for next year’s TDF after. Lance and his team were the first to go and train on the TDF stages for their training camp. They were the first to identify key areas of attack in each stage and trained attacking/winning on them (i.e. when and where to make moves, drive the peloton, launch guys off the front) as part of his “camps”. It was Lance’s tactics that built the idea of “the blue train” and would use his team to stay in control and break the peloton effectively time and time again, stage after stage. Other teams recognized its effectiveness and have subsequently built their teams to do the same. And let’s not forget the team time trial in the TDF. Lance and his teams MADE it what it is. It use to be a sideshow stage to the TDF but Lance and his team’s made it a legit, just as important if not more stage in the tour. Its now recognized as “the” team event to win at the TDF.

Lance pushed the limits of bikes, both road and time trial, trying to squeeze every bit of performance out of them while continually dropping weight. If it weren’t for Lance, there’d be no Trek bicycles. Hell, they didn’t even have a time trail (TT) bike until Lance went and repainted a Litespeed Tri bike in Trek colors to race in his first TDF. Ever since then Trek has been on the bleeding edge of road bike/time trial technology. Speaking of…you know how EVERY brand has carbon fiber bikes and now they're affordable enough that ANYONE can buy and ride one for themselves? Ya, thanks Lance for that too. Wanna know how popular carbon fiber was in 1999 when Lance won his 1st TDF…NOT AT ALL. All the major brands (I mean like Pinarello, Bianchi and the like) were still on the aluminum band wagon and were poo-pooing carbon fiber. But when carbon fiber started winning…they got on board.

Speaking of pushing technology, Lance looked to squeeze every bit of performance out of EVERYTHING: Aero helmets? Lance worked with Giro to make the initial shells high performance and after those aero helmets had to also protect our melons…worked with them to get them as slim, sexy and aerodynamic as possible...and the industry followed suit. Remember when cycling jerseys were kind of form fitting and only made of 2 or 3 panels of lycra? Ya, now there’s dimpled fabrics and “race cut” to not only have the jersey fit better/wear better but also perform FOR you…ya, once again Lance’s input. Carbon fiber soles in the bottom of shoes to make sure you get more efficient power transfer from the foot to the pedal? Lance working with Nike's sports clothing team.. “Ski pole” style aero bars to keep you stretched out more effectively in the TT position? Lance. Wrap around aero shades that fit better under cycling helmets, are easier to maintain/swap and have a wider range of lenses for specific environments? Lance working with Oakley. FRS and Honeystinger would've have never established a foothold in the market if it weren't for Lance trying, loving and putting his name to their brands. All those companies leveraged his mind, his racing and his wins to build bigger or even bigger, more successful companies that continue on today.

Remember when Alberto Contador “supposedly attacked”  Andy Schleck when his chain broke and the peloton was in an uproar about that being poor sportsmanship? But if you talk to all the other old school elite racers and commentators they’d be the first to say “that’s just racing”? Ya, that’s because Lance built the idea of the “patron” of the peloton and Lance never believed in attacking guys if they had mechanical problems and such. Remember when Ullrich crashed and Lance held up the WHOLE peloton in order to find out what happened and get Jan back into the race so they could go head to head in the stage? That would’ve NEVER happened before Lance enforced that type of thought and ethic in the peloton. That idea of “sportsmanship” is still part of the peloton even after Lance has left.

And let’s talk about TDF races. There are iconic images that are in the history of the TDF. Normally we got an image or two every few races. Yes, the TDF is a big race and its practically all that happens in France for the month of July but for the rest of the world it’s not the pinnacle of races…not until Lance got there. With Lance, he said it was "the only race there is" and after winning it time and time again, reinforced that statement. And talk about memorable stages? Lance and Pantani scaling L’alp d’Huez, Lance hands pointed upward winning the stage to honor fallen teammate Fabio Casartelli (who’s son Lance has treated as his own and taken care of all these years), the “look” when he blew Ullrich off his wheel, the "crash on the musette bag", the cut across the corn field after Joseba Beloki crashed and Lance did his best XC bike ride/carry, the “bonk” stage where he fought through it to barely hold on, the rain soaked/on-edge time trial against Ullrich in which Ullrich crashed in a turn and guaranteed Lance a win…to name a few. He doped? Here’s a news flash…SO DID ALL OF CYCLING. I would have no problem condemning the man if he was the only guy doing it and was blowing the doors off every racer in cycling. That wasn’t the case at all. I have no problem if you want to put the asterisk by his and EVERY other cyclist of the time's name. But to think you can just "wipe the results" clean is ludicrous and childish.

And you can say whatever you want about him as a cyclist and/or a person but the fact that he used his ”celebrity” as a platform to heighten cancer awareness, he had the ability and audacity to call US leaders and leaders around the world out about their not doing/spending enough on cancer research and its cures, made the WORLD aware of the disease (in all its forms) and what a gift survivorship is...puts him head and shoulders above most if not all celebrities, athletes and damn near every politician on the planet!

Lastly, for me personally, it was watching he and his team's racing and wining all over Europe, his drive and determination and seeing that poster everyday on my wall that gave me the motivation to get off my fat 245 pound butt and get back to training. After each stage of his Tours I went for a bike ride. I watched his videos of all his Tours while spending hours on the trainer (lots of hours). When I was having a bad training day or race day I thought of how Lance recovered from the “musette crash” or the “bonk stage” to get me through. I’ve been lucky to have a “look” moment a few times at running or triathlon races and used it as motivation to pull away and finish strong (and ending up placing or setting PRs in a couple of those races). Lance has continued to motivate me to bust my ass training and racing. I went from a 245 pound, cigarette smoking, life hating couch potato to a 170 pound lean, fit, relatively fast age group athlete who’s raced 5k-10k-13.1-26.2-Sprint/Olympic (soon to be 70.3) triathlons, Duathlons, Ultra Marathons and I’ll get back to my beloved bike racing this year.

So you’re entitled to your opinion and I’m entitled to mine. You’ve all felt the need to tell me what you think and how wrong I am for not throwing Lance under the bus. To every person that has felt the need to get in my face or tell me an opinion without my asking I’ve never said anything other than “it’s your opinion”...well, this is MY opinion. Cycling not only needed Lance…it still does. He brought cycling to the forefront of the world not just the US. Speaking of the US, Lance made professional cycling something kids and adults wanted to do…and in HUGE numbers…a FIRST!!! Yes, I was lucky enough to see Greg Lemond in person as he won one of his Tours but almost no one recognizes that name today. I've also been lucky enough to actually meet and have conversations with Greg. But even at the height of Greg’s 3 wins he never garnered or generated as much interest in the sport as Lance. Speaking of interest, one of the main reasons Craig Alexander (by his own admission at a book signing I wrote about in an earlier post) Chris Macca and the like of professional triathletes even wanted to do Ironman Kona 2012 was they all wanted to race Lance. They all felt like he was "the guy to race". Because Lance was going to race it, NBC was gonna extend their coverage to TWO hours and would show the coverage not live but within a few weeks of the finish (a first for the BIGGEST event in Triathlon). His influence carried over into a new sport and generated interest. If you’re a fellow triathlete and don’t realize how much having Lance race would’ve helped our beloved sport become a top tier event…you’re blind…and dumb.

That poster ain't going anywhere anytime soon. I've had to listen to your opinion and now I'm finally sharing mine. So...feel free to unfriend, unfollow, unsubscribe me. I take no offense at all.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A little note about Bikram yoga...new practitioners or people considering starting...take heed

First off I want to post a disclaimer that says that I am not a Bikram instructor, this is not about anyone specific in class or any specific Bikram studio and these opinions are my own as a practitioner (which I’ve been for going no 3 years now). Ok, now that’s out of the way we can get down to business.

I know that as the new year dawns, most people will look to new activities to get in shape and Bikram Yoga seems to be getting ever more popular. That’s great! As a Bikram practitioner I can tell you that Bikram Yoga is a fantastic way to keep your body in shape with no impact on the joints and a great way to lose weight too! An average session can burn anywhere from 700-1000 calories depending on the person!!! But…if you’re going to start doing Bikram there’s a few thing you need to know and be prepared for…

The room is hot, 105 degrees with a humidity of 40%...and the room smells…GET OVER IT!!! I get so tired of people complaining about the heat and smell. It’s a hot room and you sweat..it is a WORKOUT after all. If you can’t deal with that, please stay home and do your “Carmen Electra Does Stripper Yoga” DVD. And...YES, its the SAME 26 postures every session.

Bikram says (yes, Bikram Yoga is named after the man that created it, Bikram Choudhury) you bring the best “you” you can to the practice. That best “you” is to try the best you can during the practice. If you’re gonna half-ass your effort, then stay home. In my opinion you disrespect Bikram, the teacher and the rest of us busting our butts in class.

Now, a couple things to keep in mind:
- Eat during the day before class. You wouldn’t go for 90 minute run without fueling would you? Well, this is the same thing.
- Drink during the day before class. See above! Drinking during class and after will not help you DURING the class. Make sure you’re drinking all day and remember to drink after. You did just sweat for 90 minutes! There is one “official” drink break but you’re welcome to drink water throughout the class.
- If you are new to Bikram DO NOT sit at the front of class, in front of the mirror. Why? Because no one is going to hand hold you through the poses and/or tell you how to do them. The onus is on you to LISTEN to the instructor and WATCH your fellow practitioners to see how the poses are done. You can’t do that from the front of the room and all you’ll be is a distraction to the rest of the class.
- The teacher will talk the entire time (a great teacher will be engaging and funny not just recite the Bikram “script”)! That is on purpose. It’s meant for you to not “think” and just “listen” and execute the poses to the best of your abilities
- Quit moving around or fidgeting. Bikram Yoga is all about your focus. Moving around is an easy way to break your focus and meditation and more importantly…EVERYONE else’s. If you can’t do a pose or need to take a break, lay down on your mat in dead body pose or “savasna”. THAT is the acceptable thing to do…pacing around your mat or talking to the person beside you is not.
- Speaking of talking, you may like to chat on a run or at the gym between sets but proper etiquette during your practice is the teacher is the only one talking. And…how can you focus on doing the postures if you’re talking.
- Along the same lines…DO NOT leave the room (unless it’s an emergency). If you need to take a break, lay down on your mat. Your coming and going in and out of the room is poor etiquette and rude but very distracting to the teacher and your fellow students. Who can find their center and focus with someone walking out of the room every 10 minutes?!
My Yogi Maria...she's awesomesauce!
- This is a pet peeve of mine...you will hear the term “cobra tail” during your practice. That refers to your legs being together from the hips to the knees to the ankles to the toes…get it?! So your lower body looks like a snake. If they are not, then you’re doing it wrong. There is nothing worse than me trying to focus on keeping my legs solid and look up to see the person in front of me spread eagle (the same annoyance applies to hands not intertwined correctly, bent knees and bent arms)!
- Don't get disheartened if you cant do the postures like they're "supposed" to look. Your workout comes from trying to make your postures better each and every practice. You'll get there eventually...I promise.
- At the end of the practice, don’t just hop right up and run out of the room. The purpose of the last Savasna is to allow you to recover from the practice, compose yourself and center your focus. Supposedly Bikram has been known to say “that if you don’t relax for 2 minutes after final breathing, it’s like taking a poop and not wiping your butt”. Graphic? Yes, but couldn’t be more true!

These points aren’t meant to scare you off from Bikram Yoga or make you think you’re not welcome at a practice. It’s meant for you to be informed and not show up to class and be known as “that guy/girl” who is the distraction. A little thought before you walk in the door will pay you dividends subsequently help the people who are practicing around you. Namaste.