For the majority of my life baseball was a constant. I began playing when I was 5 and played my final inning at the age of 26. By age 7 I was in love with the game, by age 10 my raw talent was beginning to separate me from my peers. At age 18 I was selected in the 6th round of the MLB amateur draft by the Florida (now Miami) Marlins.
Baseball after High School
When I was drafted out of Westlake High School in 2008 by the Marlins I had to choose between a scholarship at Fresno State and turning pro. It wasn't a hard choice. During the off-seasons (October to February), I was training and coaching. I would spend mornings in the gym, the middle of the day was dedicated to cardio and throwing. I would then head out to Playhard Baseball Academy in Pasadena to coach in the afternoons.
What I learned and loved about Coaching
I worked with kids aged 7 to 18 taking teams to tournaments and giving private pitching lessons on the side. All of the things learned in the gym, from my pro coaches, and from my playing experience was being passed along to these young athletes.
Through them, I found a new way to appreciate the game. I watched them, win, lose, succeed, fail, fall in love with the game, and have their hearts broken by a game in a way only sports can do. It taught me to appreciate my own baseball journey whether it was suffering in the gym to be 1% better or under the lights in front of a few thousand people.
After my playing days abruptly came to an end in August of 2016, I poured everything into coaching. It became a place where I could get my baseball fix despite no longer playing. It felt good to help shape these young athletes into better players while playing a game we both loved. For the moment, I was happy with where I was at.
Breaking up with Baseball
I no longer play baseball, nor do I have a yearning to join a men’s league and toss a ball around. That might sound sad but it’s simply the truth. I still love watching the game, following my favorite players and teams, and most of all, watching a great pitchers duel.
When my playing career ended it left a void. After I played my last inning I needed something new to fill the void. Walking into a pro ball-field to the sounds of the ball park and fans trickling in was everything I had worked for since I was a child. Since I couldn't have that part of the game any longer, playing baseball was out. The first couple years were really hard to swallow. Despite having coaching, something was missing from my life and I desperately needed something to scratch that competitive itch.
Becoming a Cyclist
While I fine tuned my skill on the pitcher's mound as a kid I was spending much of my spare time riding bikes. If you read my last blog on my cycling background, you already know this about me. It also makes the transition from an American sport like baseball to a Euro sport like cycling, make a lot more sense.
I tuned up my dad’s old road bike and started riding with an old friend from high school around August of 2013. This bike, (which was a size 56cm and much to small for me) was eventually stolen from my girlfriend and my parking garage on during the same trip where I proposed. A few years later, my wife would gift me a new road bike, a used 2011 Specialized Roubaix for a wedding gift. I was instantly addicted and was motivated to train. But where to start?
Can I train for cycling the same way I did for Baseball?
Baseball is a much different sport than cycling, obviously. If you were in a coffee shop with a collection of pro cyclists and baseball players you would notice a few things. First, it would be a collection of very fit people. Secondly, you would easily be able to discern that the two groups were indeed separate. The cyclists of course would be oddly proportioned with tiny arms and torsos, and uncomfortably muscular, vascular and shaven legs. The baseball players would simply be, substantially taller, broader, and more evenly built.
The baseball player's body
Even as a pitcher, a player who primarily relies on their arm, it is essential to build the entire body. In fact, the only way a pitcher is able to throw MLB velocity and stave off injury is by having a strong lower half, core, and arm. It’s a complete package.
At 6’6 and 225 lbs, the Marlins were never happy with my weight. 235 was the target weight, and year after year I managed to come in between 220-225. Mind you, I was constantly shaving off body fat and getting stronger. Just couldn't find the extra 10lbs they wanted despite eating 10,000 calories a day.
The cyclist's body
Cycling is very different. Finding the line between weight and power is the key to being fast. Drop too much weight and the power output of your legs drops. Add too much muscle weight and the power gain doesn’t outweigh the actual weight gain making a cyclist slower. There is of course a range of body types even within cycling with sprinters being more muscular and climbers looking to be half starved.
Since becoming a cyclist I’ve gone from my baseball weight of 225 to a skinnier 195 lbs. I’ve tinkered with my diet and training to try and find the best combination that gets me into shape for racing. It’s definitely a tricky balancing act. Early on, I got faster quickly as I had a fair amount of upper body mass to lose. As I got closer to 200 lbs the gains became marginal and diet, training, and off the bike work became more important.
Is training for baseball similar to training for cycling?
In early 2018 I started racing bikes. My first race was a brutal one for a first timer and featured 25 miles and 3,000 ft of climbing. I finished 10th but realized that I needed structured training if I really wanted to compete.
Fortunately for me, my oldest and best friend is a former pro cyclist. He put together a training program and I was soon feeling a lot stronger in the peloton. I quickly recognized that the training I was doing on the bike was similar to what I’d been doing for years. The big difference is that all the sets, reps, and intervals were being done on a bike instead of in a gym.
UCLA Road Race
The UCLA Road Race was my first race. Being a larger cyclist, any race with a significant amount of climbing puts me at a disadvantage. It’s gravity. This particular race is probably the toughest climbing race in Southern California featuring a lap that includes 12 miles and 1,500ft of climbing. In 2018 I finished 10th out of 21 in my category with no training and a weight of 215 lbs.
For whatever reason, UCLA has become the race that means the most to me. Maybe this is because it was my first bike race. Whatever the reason, I trained hard and raced the rest of 2018 with 2019's UCLA RR as a top priority. I did this knowing all the while, that winning was probably impossible. But racing, competing, and winning isn't always about who crosses the line first. For me, it was all about personal improvements.
In 2019’s edition I raced as a category 4 racer. Slightly stiffer competition and 2 more laps than 2018. This meant 50 miles and 6500 ft of climbing. Oh, and quite a bit faster.
I had 3 teammates in the race with me, all of whom weigh between 50-70lbs less than me. To add to the fun, I was racing with a broken hand and wrist from the previous weekend's race and could only ride seated. The pain of riding in a standing position was excruciating.
On the first lap of the race the strongest of my 3 teammates took off up the climb and went for a solo breakaway which he rode to the finish. It was impressive to watch him disappear into the mountains. I managed to stay with the front group of 9 which had split from the field of 20 on the first lap.
Fighting for Second Place
In the end, 8 of us were left fighting for second. Knowing that I couldn’t ride in a standing position and sprint it out at the finish I asked my remaining teammate how his legs were feeling. He replied that they were great so I led him out hoping my protective draft could win him 2nd.
He ended up finishing 4th and I placed 6th. When I looked over the data from the race and compared it to 2018, I saw for the first time how much hard work I’d put in. Our breakaway group had ascended the main climb which is roughly 3 miles long in about 13 minutes each lap. The previous year it had taken me closer to 16 minutes to do that same climb. We averaged a speed of roughly 2 mph faster than the year before. On top of that, I had managed a better result against faster racers with a broken hand. That felt like success.
Later that day I would leave my Oakley Radars on the car as my roommate (who had just won our race) and I got ready to leave. I never saw those again. You win some, you lose some.
The most recent race took place before the quarantine in February. I watched as the weather forecast changed from sunny and 65 degrees to rain and temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s. Oftentimes, racers at the amateur levels of the sport will wait to sign up for races until they see what the weather looks like, how their body is feeling that week, and who might be showing up to the race. This year, that was not the case.
48 riders lined up for the category 4 race and the weather held. I still felt confident and ready for the task at hand. I didn’t care about the weight disadvantage or that I didn’t have any teammates to work with. All that mattered was that I was racing in the mountains at my favorite race. The race began and we spun up the mountainside towards snow capped peaks.
On the first lap a few dangerous riders went up the road and I sprinted up to join them. Our little breakaway attempt established a 15 second gap but got caught by the front group on the descent. As we approached the top of the climb on lap 2, my entire left leg cramped. I watched as the front group rode away leaving me on the side of the road yelling at my leg as if that would help the situation. The cramp eventually subsided and I clipped back into the pedals and began to desperately chase.
The group was barely in sight as they neared the peak of the climb with a few stragglers that had fallen off the pace lagging behind. I reeled in those that hadn’t been able to handle the aggressive pace hoping that I was making progress towards the front group. They were out of sight now and I had no way of knowing how far ahead they were and if I was actually catching up. As I reached the top of the descent and saw no sign of them, my heart sank. A random cramp on a day when I felt good had been my Achilles heal.
I flew down the hill averaging close to 50 mph (I believe my top speed was 55 that day) and came to the final stretch of the descent. It was the first time I had good visibility of ahead of me and that’s where I saw the group. They weren’t that close, but I could see them. I put my head down and chased with a renewed sense of vitality. At the base of the climb I was close. A half mile up the climb I had caught back on.
I didn’t win. From that group of 16 I gave it everything I had in that last drag to the line. I ended up 9th out of 48 that day. However, that put me in the top 20% of the race which was statistically my best finish so far. I can live with that.
Sports, endurance sports, and cycling in particular are great. Competing is a great way to test yourself and see how far you’ve come. Having an event on the calendar can inspire an athlete to work harder than they might otherwise. So what do we do now that events are all cancelled because of Coronavirus?
Well, they won’t be cancelled forever. This means that we need to stay inspired. Watch old race footage, train for your favorite event like it’s a month away. Maybe even try a zwift race!
We’re all trying to find our UCLA road race, so grit your teeth, get sweaty and stay stoked!