January 30, 2011

Does fun equal fast?

Okay, I suppose Sunday and Monday won't be too bad - but for the 29th day of January, 2011, it nearly touched 50 degrees.  Felt awesome outside, so after a few chores around the house I ventured outside and onto the bike for the first time in over a month.  
I've ridden, sure - but it's all been indoors, slowly rebuilding and letting the left leg heal.  After getting smacked with a fairly heavy-duty upper-respiratory infection that has taken three rounds of antibiotics to destroy, I was told by the doc to take this last week as FULL rest (as opposed to active rest) and lay off exercise entirely.  Ugh.  That sucked.

However, it's those down-times that promote healing in many senses and allow muscles to rest.  OK, sure - I'll keep telling myself that.

Today, though, I could resist no longer.  A full week of at-or-above normal temps missed, and a fairly slow-moving winter storm coming next week - it was looking like "now or never".  I took the bike out of the trainer, dressed up, and took to the road.  

Thank goodness for fenders.  A lot of cyclists ask me:  why run fenders?  "you're still going to get wet if it rains," they say - and they're right.  However, this time of year is when I can confidently point to the salty snow-melt constantly running across almost every lane-mile of pavement in the metro and say "that's why."  Summer rain without fenders doesn't really bother me unless I'm on my way to work where fenders do keep me CLEANER if it's wet out, but this time of year when the rooster tail one gets without fenders is laden with salty chemicals and is only a few degrees above freezing... well, if I don't have fenders, I don't ride.  Besides my comfort, let's not forget the chain, cogs, cables, bottom bracket cups... all the things that really don't need to be sprayed with salt-wash.  Fenders.  Fenders.  Fenders.
Whenever I get the nutty idea to "save weight" and remove them, I ride on a day like today and remember why I put them on in the first place.

The wind was light, and the sun was out -- this was an awesome day to be on a bike.  I was buzzed a few times by flocks of geese as they tried to figure which fields were fields, and which fields were lakes.  I conquered the mile-long steady climb from 187th to 199th on Ridgeview without any muscular "noise".
I played "chase the train" on Woodland Road near Spring Hill, KS.  I lost.  
Even as I tried to "take it easy" on this short 25-miler, I found myself with a pretty decent average speed - a number I haven't produced in months, no matter how hard I'd have been pushing.  Sure, it's only 16.2 MPH average for 25 miles, mostly flat to rolling along Ridgeview to 199th, to Webster, to 223rd, to Woodland and back home - but, that's honestly the fastest I've been since... yikes:  September?  August?

I had a blast today, breathing deep, taking turns spinning up some climbs and standing and grinding out others.  The sunshine felt awesome, and the sky was really pretty - birds were even signing.  Heck, even traffic was friendly.  I think that feeling of freedom - freedom from the trainer and that little tiny room off the garage - was propelling me forward, just a little faster than on previous rides.  The training from the last month or so has indeed helped, and - while I won't dwell on this subject as promised - the leg was feeling stronger and engaged... though it did "tweak" a little, just for a few minutes, after I got home.  It went away immediately, however, so that's a good sign.  What felt really good was being able to breath cool air deeply without hocking up a lung... so, the chest is on the mend, too.  It's been a nasty month for such things, and I have heard many echoing that lately.  

I know, I know... average speed:  it's not supposed to matter, but to me it does.  It feels good to be able to go a little faster than the "normal".  Even though I've shelved my massive goals for a while until "whatever" happens I still find it interesting that my average speeds, annually, since 2004 have dropped.  I log miles primarily for component tracking, but I do track average speed - the website I use at BikeJournal.com does the rest of the calculations and averages, so I find myself looking at them from time to time.  My average speed in 2004 - my fastest year - was 16.78 MPH.  Last year it was 14.68 MPH.  This is because of many things:  I ride solo, don't tend to push myself, there is seldom someone to chase when I ride solo on non-commute rides, and commuting generally equates to low averages because of traffic, the bike trail, etc.  If my distance riding happens to be a permanent, it's usually slower - because I may usually be alone.  If it's a brevet, I tend to be a little faster.  In 2004, I was living closer to work - but somehow didn't commute that much.  I did a lot more recreational club rides on the weekends that year, and - for example - I haven't been to a club ride in a LONG, LONG time.  

So, last year and in '09: more commutes & permanents = slower speeds, yes.  But, more commutes - lets be honest:  sometimes commuting isn't the "funnest" thing in the world.  I can only take that same stretch of bike trail for so long, and options are as limited as the time I usually have to get home.  I think if I only wanted to commute and that was my only goal, it'd all be good.  I'd focus on consecutive days or something, and be content -- but I'm a dualist, a conundrum.  I'm still coming to grips with the notion that maybe I can't really have my commute and ultra-race, too.  A big part of me still has that competitive bug eating me from the inside out, but to really accomplish both, I have to ride smarter in '11.  Someday, I won't care nearly as much - but, right now, I still want to try and get a wee-bit faster, commute, and do some ultra-events.  I can tell you this:  the word "fun" does show up a lot more often in that 2004 block of ride entries.  There is something to that.  But I know enough to know that I don't have more fun because I'm faster... I think I'm faster because I'm having more fun.  Attitude.

Still looking forward to March and a 200km brevet attempt.  Hopefully, only a few more weeks of nasty weather, only a few more weeks of questions marks in the leg department, the roads will begin to clear, the sun will get a little higher, the gloves will come off - in a couple ways - and spring will arrive at long last.  If I play things smart, this year will be lower in mileage, higher on fun, and maybe a bit faster.  Here's hopin'.

Thanks for reading, all - and thanks for the waves out there today, my fellow cyclists.  Good to see ya! 

January 20, 2011

Socked in

Feeling guilty, and part of the problem lately:  driving a LOT... more than I have in the past four years, probably.
The "man" is charging plenty for gas these days, too, which isn't helping.
Seems to be going around, just as things were looking up, bronchitis (or whatever this lung-butter is about) has me down hard for a month now.
Regardless, I've been taking long, easy "strolls" on the indoor trainer and making plans in my head.  In front of me while I ride, with music in my ears, is a computer screen with slide shows of warmer days, clean roads, friends, and long stretches of pavement in front of me.  With TdF video tape rolling, and music playing, I am rebuilding... slowly.

Stay tuned... if round #2 of antibiotics works, I hope to be posting some good snow-ride pics and commute stories.  
We're only 20 days into this new year... and I'm itchin' to get started!

Stay warm, upright, and healthy out there!

January 13, 2011

In the clear!

A quick update - after visiting the orthopedic doctors office yesterday, and enduring some leg tweaking, pulling, yanking, poking, squeezing, twisting, and about ten x-rays from varied angles, the verdict is in: apparently, there's nothing wrong with me.
That's exceptionally good news, actually ... while a touch frustrating because there is still some lingering "awareness" in the leg. However, according to the doctor and a good hour of discussion and showing me the insides of my leg on a screen, I feel pretty good getting some confirmation. Whatever WAS wrong with my leg has either completely healed, or is strictly muscular in nature. The knee joints, from every conceivable angle, don't have any damage, arthritis, or alignment issues. The tendons are rock stable and solid, and the ligaments are in great shape. Giant sigh of relief, for sure... and confirmation that, despite the set-backs, I've been doing the right things. Save for this injury, it was invaluable to get a picture of the ankles, knees and hips and basically find that the last thirteen years of cycling haven't done any damage. I feel very blessed.

So, I'm probably on the back-side of things - confirmed. The pain is likely leftover, and as long as it doesn't flare up I'm in good shape to keep ramping up mileage - if I want to. I still have my eyes, therefore, on the 200 kilometer brevet at the end of March. He wants to see me again shortly after that, just in case - but basically said if I can pull that off pain-free, I'm effectively in the clear. The take-aways involved ramping up slowly, don't pile on too much too quickly, and listen to the leg. Common sense stuff, sure... but it's helpful to hear it directly from a medically-trained source. The last three indoor trainer sessions haven't produced any twinges or tweaks or flares... so the bike fit, as hoped, is apparently where it should be again.

The roads have been better... and it's been cold... but I hope to return to the road with a commute... possibly tomorrow. I've been riding indoors to stay warm, stay out of the weather, and make some minor tweaks to dial out the pain - with the added bonus that if anything DOES happen, I can simply stop pedaling, unclip, and stop immediately. Therefore, riding on the road until I received yesterday's verdict was a point of nervousness. Now that I've got the "green", I'm anxious to get back out there - even if it was only zero-degrees F this morning!

Granted, the dynamics of riding without the rock-solid platform of the indoor trainer underneath me might cause my leg to move out of alignment a bit, but the key is taking it slow. I'm going to avoid the steeper climbs on my usual route, and stay in the small chain-ring for sure. Every passing day, I feel stronger.

In staying with the previous post: yeah, I still want to achieve a finish at the Tejas 500: but, I'm not going crazy simply because there's "nothing wrong". Nothing changed overnight. No strict spreadsheets, no "sessions", no craziness, no stress. I can be successful, achieve a finish, and still have fun on the road to the event. No record-breaking runs: just finish. If I can ride a 600k straight through, I can do it. That's the objective, long term. Short term, get ready for the 200k on March 26th. Shorter-term, save some gas money and get back to enjoying the ride to work. The rest of the "training" will take care of itself. If it stops being "fun", I'll take some steps backwards. If things aren't lining up, push it to 2013, 2014, 2020... just like I mentioned previously. Take it as it comes.

And, with that: that's as far down this road as we're going to venture. You may see some mention of "the leg" here-and-there in subsequent posts, but we're now back to ride reports and commuting reports. That's the fun stuff, the reason I write, and the reason you read.

I'm done over-thinking things... time to ride!

January 8, 2011

History repeating

If we, as humanity, simply let history repeat itself blind to the consequences - well, that's pretty ridiculous.
I've noticed a theme about myself in this regard, and the REAL new-year's resolution I should be making is pretty obvious now.
In short: setting goals is what keeps me focused, on track, accountable, and has produced results in the past.
However, setting goals on the heels of an injury... okay, honestly, while still nursing an injury ...is foolish, and is already setting me up for frustration.
Frustration leads to attitude issues, where the bike - a source of healthy, fitness, and fun - becomes a point of stress.
I seem to remember resolving at one point not to stress too much, so I need to keep that promise.

I know, I know -- this setting a goal and backing-off cycle is annoying to read about, I'm sure of that. It's harder living through it, trust me.
I have no doubts that I can achieve what I've outlined a couple posts ago. I'm not backing out because it's too hard. I'm not really even backing out. I'm being smart before proceeding, instead.

Putting this in print basically gives me something to look back on, a brain-check of sorts. I'll do my best NOT to drive this goal thing into the ground, and I plan to return this blog to it's regularly-scheduled diet of ride reports, photos, and thoughts about gas prices, why commuting makes sense, and why I love long-distance riding. I'm going to lessen the personal challenge portion and focus on the real reasons I keep coming back to long-distance riding over and over again: it's FUN. It's VERY hard to explain, but even at 2am, with saddle sores, droopy eyes, an empty stomach and sore legs I somehow find myself smiling and giggling.
I don't want to cheapen the simplicity of those moments by tossing unrealistic training goals, mileage targets, heart-rate data, and cadence drills on top.
Boring myself and my readers to tears with all the analysis therein... there are plenty of racer blogs for that.
This blog has always been something different, and I'd like to keep it that way.

So, for the record and before I put this thing to bed once and for all, some points of clarity:

One: paying for insurance premiums every two weeks on payday and not utilizing the benefits thereof is equal to ripping myself off. I'm tossing out the ridiculous buffoonery and stubbornness that has kept me from seeking professional medical advice for the past six months. I try really hard to self-diagnose and somehow justify my continued suffering as normal, expected, and honorable. I read forums, I read blogs, and somehow convince myself that the words I'm reading are gospel. I convince myself that I can push through it. If it works, great - I saved myself a co-pay... but, it hasn't worked this time. Continuing on this path isn't the solution.

Riding a bicycle is not supposed to hurt. Soreness, tiredness, lactate burn at the top of a climb, bursting lungs.... that's different. Muscle, joint, ligament or tendon pain shouldn't be there. The injury I sustained off the bike in July and exacerbated in September is the culprit, and continuing to ignore that fact is foolish at best. I'm making an appointment with a professional, and will take their advice. If they tell me I can't ride until May, so be it.

The successful rides I finished after the bike fit I received earlier this year tell me it's probably not the bike set-up, but if it's a factor then I will make changes. If I have to take some time off, I'll use that time to focus on other things that will make my cycling upon my return better: losing weight, cross-training my upper body, eating smart, and being happy about it. Even the pros get hurt and have to miss title races - the difference is that they listen to their coaches and team doctors, and heal. They come back stronger. I need to do the same, simple as that.

Two: because of the above, I'm obviously putting my goals on hold. Once I'm healed I see no reason not to revisit them: and if it all has to be pushed back to 2013, 2014, 2020, that's fine, too. However, if I do revisit them the approach will be looser; which will keep me healthy mentally, as well as physically. Ill be training on what's worked in the past for me: perceived effort. No data, no analysis in front of a computer for an hour after each ride, no re-plays, GPS uploads, no stress. Cycling is my outlet to reduce the stress caused by work, bills, normal life stuff. Cycling will not become a point of additional stress. I refuse to take myself THAT seriously.

Sure I want to be successful, and if I do return to the Texas Time Trials again I won't take it lightly.... but I won't take it so seriously that I forget why I like riding in the first place. I've seen plenty of people at that event that are working hard, riding fast, but laughing and having a good time, too. I've also seen semi-professionals there simply CRUSH lap records while their coaches crunch numbers on clipboards - and while some of them are really nice people that will have a conversation and a beer with you, far too many of them are unapproachable jerks that don't know how to have fun anymore. I adamantly refuse to be the latter guy. Let's forget about talent, average speeds, etc. - if I want to ride fast I can, and sure there are faster riders than me - but who cares? I'm not going to be a subhuman jack-hole about it.

Three: If I never ride another "medal" event or never punch past 100 miles again, I can still sleep every night. I've had my time in the sun. Some would say that all of this riding is selfish - and, well, I stand accused. I'm not perfect. But, on record, I have never used cycling as an escape from my greatest adventure: my family. None of this means anything without my wife, kids, and the rest of my extended family at the end of every road. Enough said. If the cycling becomes "too much", I'm done.

Now that I've got my head back in the right place, enough talk.
I have a phone call to make on Monday to find a good sports medicine doctor, and I have some electronics to return.
My only remaining resolution is that this year will not be like last year; whatever that ends up meaning is fine with me.

Ride for fun.
Ride for friends.
Ride for health.
Ride to save gas money.

That's what this blog was founded on.
If I happen to ride 200 miles in a shot, it'll make for a good story.
If not, I'll not lament the "good 'ole days" any longer.
Let's get back to basics.

January 3, 2011

What the heck is "training"?

This is going to be an interesting year; only a couple days into it I find myself scratching my head.
For the first time since 2007 I'm dusting off a lot of old training tools, spreadsheets, and just picked up a heart-rate monitor. I've re-read practically the entire UltraCycling.com website, re-read a lot of my old journal and blog entries, and set up the indoor trainer. I've posted some motivational quotes and sayings in the man-cave/workout room downstairs. I've refreshed the music on the MP3 player. I've joined a couple more forums, a workout tracking webpage, and have some goals set. It's time to get busy.
Professing goals to the masses is part of my motivation - but I'm approaching if differently this time. I'm the only one accountable here, and I'm pretty much writing it to capture my mindframe as I step through the process. I don't want to put any stress into the situation - I can't do that to myself. Sure, putting it on the blog kinda sets me up that way, but compared to years and goals past I can't really use these pages as a "contract". The bond is with myself, not - no offense - the readers. Hopefully, it'll still make for interesting reading as the months pass.
Really loose framework here for the purposes of these pages, however, I have my sights set on a few things - in order of importance.

My prime directive: I want a finishers trophy from The Texas 24-Hour Time Trials, namely the title event and RAAM qualifier "The Tejas 500". I've attempted this race twice before, and DNF'd twice before at roughly the halfway point. The first time it was injury, the second time it was lack of training culminating in basically riding too slow for the time limits. Learning experiences that I need to make good upon to make my third - and probably final attempt - at Tejas a success. I'm setting a reasonably achievable timeline for this goal by looking at the 2012 edition. First, if the Mayans were right it'll be the last time I get to try it. (bah) Second, it gives me a solid 20-months to get ready assuming it's still held the last week of September. There is a big gamble here, and I've seen it happen with other ultra-cycling events: the event could evaporate by then. There are a lot of races that I never got a 2nd chance at because of personnel or level of interest changes, financial issues, or what-have-you. The Tejas events, however, have international pull and have grown each year. I'll keep a pulse on things with the organizers, but I don't anticipate things changing. If they do, I'll pick something else. For the distance, however, this is probably the best event of its kind anywhere. Compared to my subsequent "2013" goal of the Furnace Creek 508, it's a TON cheaper to participate in, also. It's perfect, and I want to finally check it off my list. I may have some forthcoming secondary goals for the event itself (i.e., age group, certain distance in 12 hours, 24 hours, similar) but the primary objective is "official finisher".

Leading up to Tejas will require nearly all of the 20 months of ramp-up time. My last distance even approaching 500 miles was at the 600km brevet in 2007. Since then, and in prior "training", I have to proclaim that I was strictly a "finishing randonneur" - and many of my last dozen or so brevets were simply done on a "finishing" pace. I have never really been a true "ultra racer", and I'm okay with that assessment. I've participated in plenty of ultra events, but I failed nutritionally, mentally and in training. I'm still immensely proud of all the medals and accolades I've amassed, but I understand now where I came up short in certain areas and where I failed to break past the really big mileage barriers. I feel like I have the perspective necessary now to make some changes and put some plans into play with the patience and persistence that generally accompanies the successful ultra-racer's methodology. A lot of this comes strictly with age - and it instantly makes sense why most consistent ultra racers are usually about my age and older. I have no illusions about becoming a "world beater" or "record holder" (although I have been eying Byron Rieper's West-to-East Kansas cross-state UMCA record for a while now, in wonderment), but I do have intentions to approach the sport with more of an athletic, scheduled and proven approach. Simply rinding a bunch won't cut it, simply eating less and slimming down won't cut it, simply having a "faster" bike won't cut it. I still plan on having a lot of fun in the next couple years - but it will be balanced with some honest, hard work.

So, since the injury of late '10 is fading into the background I begin to ramp up slowly to the first stepping stone - the March 2011 200km brevet. Sure, I could probably just knock off a 200k this coming weekend based strictly on the base miles still in my body, but that would be foolish. I truly have to be patient and ensure the injury doesn't flare back up. I have to make sure I follow the same 10% increase rules that anyone coming off of an injury should follow. The past is the past, and I have to start at square-one and take things one week at a time. Therein lies the secondary goal for 2011, which is completing another full SR-series. That's a steady series of 200, 300, 400 and 600km brevets inside a short 7-week period. This tends to fly in the face of the "steady ramp-up" in some respects, but staying on task NOW will guarantee success in April.

Add into this some cross training, weight loss, diet improvement, and mental training. After the 600km brevet is finished, some rest. This is where a lot of benefits are gained - through active rest. I can't make the previous mistakes of just continuing to hammer on mileage and expect to get anywhere. I dusted off a spreadsheet that entails something like a 4-5 week rotation of mileage and effort, which should net gains and reduce the chances of another over-use injury. Keeping that 4-week rotation in mind, it's a perfect segue into goal #3: a re-try of a 2nd RUSA R-12 Award run, which should keep me on a plateau of mileage base while still allowing longer-distance venues to work on speed-at-distance.

That segues into the spring 2012 brevet season, where in contrast to this-year's goal of finishing, I will have an eye on finishing quickly. Fourth goal in line involves a "straight-thru" 600km brevet, focusing on keeping speed up and keeping sleep at bay - good Tejas training. Another rest period immediately follows that ride, and then the ramp-up towards Tejas 2012 begins with the start of that summer.

Bringing some science to the table will be a new approach with heart-rate training. I've dabbled in this arena before, without any success because I never stuck it out. I'm going to give it a good honest try this time. Intervals, fat-burning sessions, the works. This is what has really bitten hard in the past few years, and after some reading it makes a lot of sense now, in retrospect. I've merely been "riding" -- which, there isn't really anything at all wrong with... but I still find myself with goals in mind, a competitive streak, a penchant for personal challenge. Therein lies the frustration - because if commuting and finishing brevets was "enough", I'd be content. Largely, I *am* content... but I still have unfinished personal business. So, my complaints about no longer being "fast enough" have to be answered with the aforementioned return to "training", and using tools like the HRM to unlock potential that has been dulled by a few years of riding by the seat of my pants, not really pushing hard enough to net improvements but not ever taking it easy enough to get real "rest". No-man's land, in a phrase.

It feels good to have an approach again - but there will be challenges. The biggest trick will be balancing a good commuting routine with ACTUAL training. Especially with gas prices on the rise, will be tough to swallow my pride on some beautiful summer days and just drive, carpool, or discover a new bus route. Eyes on the prize. After a year car-free/light, I can afford to drive a few times this year. I have to ensure that I follow the plan, and squeeze potential out of each mile. I can't even count how many times I'd planned to "take it easy" on the commute home, only to arrive overworked and exhausted from another "hammerfest". My body knows that it's being used for something, and no matter what I do on the weekends or on the trainer I have to make sure I'm not making the assumption that "a few commutes" won't impact things. Small wonder in years past that annual average speeds have suffered, and injuries have occurred. Well, no more. While I may end up being "that guy wearing the HRM for every commute", I have to acknowledge the value of wearing it on "recovery" days to ensure I don't over-do it, as well as using it on "intensity" days to make sure I actually work hard enough to change my personal power-band for the better. Since commuting will comprise the bulk of my training time, I have to maximize it - silly as it might look doing intervals with panniers. I know what I'm doing - damn the rest.

Diet. I've behaved badly. Nobody is keeping track but me, I know this --- but remember this is more of my personal journal that a "how to be" guideline for anyone else. I'm not happy with myself right now, and that's part of the large plan, also. I work in a shop with a customer base that includes a lot of local race talent from all age groups, and there's no reason for me to make excuses about not being able to take a few months and look more like the athletic masters racers that wander into the shop. Power-to-weight ratio, injury prevention, personal image - there's nothing wrong with making sure my BMI is in-line. Done it before, and the training program is almost a guarantee I can get there again.

So, there you have it -- at this writing, that's my intent for 2011-2012. I will absolutely ensure that I won't use all this as an "excuse" to not have fun with the bike. Dark Side Rides, gravel rambles, why not?!? There is something called "training load", and heck: if a fun ride happens to occur on a particular training goal day, I'll work it in and then get back into the social groove with the group when I'm finished. There is a balance, and I haven't read a program yet that says you can't have fun while working towards a goal. Therein lies the underlying checkpoint and alter-goal: having a goal in mind, without turning into a "racer" jerk that won't ride the fun stuff. Screw that noise!

As I step through this process, watch for updates and ride reports to resume frequency. Lots to document, for sure.
Thanks, as always, for reading!

It's going to be a good year!