August 12, 2014

July from the pit lane, what-the-heck is "rundonneuring", and gears... who needs 'em?

It's a good thing I did, pulling the plug on the two streaks I'd had running back in late June.  Ambitious; in the past I'd woven my plans from the most hopeful of textiles - only recently have I learned the patience necessary to weave only when practical.  'Using my head,' as it were, often seemed like some sort of excuse not to attempt a ride or event; now, (though no easier) I find myself able to make more intelligent decisions.  That doesn't always mean that will be the case, of course:  take Dirty Kanza.  I don't really have "the bike" for the job - but, that's really the only excuse, and it's still pretty shallow.  It's just a tool, after all, and most successful events don't have much to do with that part of the equation.  I'm - oddly - not worried about that bit.  But, fighting the doctors and surgeon when it comes to injury - that's nothing with which to mess.  June became July became August, and as soon as the extent of my shoulder injury revealed itself to those who had fixed it, I knew I'd made an intelligent choice.  R-12 #4, complete, it was time for a good, extended rest.  I can already see the benefits, and I know I will come back stronger without much ramp-up time.  When the
time comes, that is. 
Still, had I maintained those streaks I would have done so at the risk of un-doing what has been a successful shoulder repair, would have been stressed, and would have watched those streaks evaporate the hard way.  It's all good.

Driving around, and back and forth to work, during the best months of the year - summer - is difficult.  It's only been a month and some change - maybe five weeks since I'd ridden to work, but, it seems like an eternity ago.  Time has passed slowly.  I see riders on the roads, and paths, and I still look longingly as they whisper in and out of sight, trapped in the pit lane waiting for someone to come in for service.  While life happens quickly from their saddles, I wait, watching the clock.  I watch the calendar for a date which I don't yet know.  Frustrating.  Still, I have managed to shift gears and try my hand at more running.  Er, jogging.  Possibly "limping" at times, depending.  Walking briskly, with the occasional "hop"?  

One thing running has taught me, if nothing else:  cycling is  E A S Y.

It seems the old LeMond quote holds true here, as it does for bicycle racing:  "it never gets any easier, you just get faster."  While I have doubts about my speed, it's likely I have slowly gotten a smidge faster since I took up running again at the first of the year.  The company weight-loss-challenge became far easier to attack when I'd chosen an activity that I knew my body wasn't accustomed to, and, sure enough, the calories I'd burned seemed to take more weight with them when I hit the scales and each 30-60 minute session on the treadmill proved far more effective than similar duration on the bike.  When the contest wrapped, I tapered off and dove back into cycling, as usual - but, this is the first year I've managed to maintain a healthy dose of running and core training to help improve the cycling game.  If I'm not losing weight, it's strictly because of dietary hiccups.  When we went to the Gulf of Mexico on vacation in mid-June, I took to running on the beach almost daily - easy on the joints, but hard work.  Therein lay a small clue - I've been steeped enough in the activity I'm beginning to make sense of many of the things I see runners do, like jogging in the street, instead of on the clearly available adjacent sidewalk.  I would have thought it rubbish previously, yet, now I can truly feel how much "softer" and forgiving an asphalt surface can be, compared to concrete.  Late in a run, when it begins to hurt to scale something as silly as a standard 4" curb, the more cushion the road surface gives, the better.  This is also about the same time during the run when the insoles of my shoes transform from supportive, cushioned poly-foam into uncaring slabs of flat Masonite trimmed with sandpaper and finishing nails.  The parallels to cycling are remarkable - just as I ultimately bought a fine leather saddle, I am beginning to make sense of the differences between $40.00 cross-training sneaks compared to $200 ultra-light endurance running shoes.  Granted, I'm not investing in such a thing quite yet - but, I can appreciate it.

Slowly but surely I've evolved from 20 minute sessions, to 30, to 60 - and then, off the treadmill and out the door.  At the Gulf, I progressed through daily 5k (3.1 miles) runs, and then the 10k barrier.  I remember the "Nose Run" back in .... gosh, I have no idea when; but shortly after high-school, I think .... when I ran a 10k with Crowbar (and I say "with" only because we rode to the start line together in the same car).  I still have the t-shirt somewhere - but, afterwards, I never ran again... at least not intentionally.  Now, it seems 10k is filed under "just getting started."  Since the shoulder surgery, I have slowly worked beyond the 10k distance (6.2 miles) up to 8 miles, then 10 miles, and finally this last weekend I reached the half-marathon landmark of 13.1 miles by knocking off 13.4 miles in just under three hours; though not "official", not at a timed event with witnesses, anyways.  I'll be honest:  these are not blistering times, no - but, I'm not one really known for that, regardless of motive power.  Still, interspersed with 1/16th - 1/8th-mile resting walks every mile, I managed to "run/jog" 90% of the distance at something faster than a walk, and the rest at a fast walk - until the last mile back to the house practically had me crawling.  Now I suppose it's high-fashion to go buy one of those oval "13.1" stickers for my bicycle roof rack, eh?  Maybe I should hold out for the full marathon.  Is that inevitable?  Mmm, it might well be, as I'm beginning to see running from the same perspective as I view cycling distance challenges -- although, I'm going to be careful not to get TOO nutty.  Things like Badwater are intriguing... but I'm not sure I need to officially do anything quite like that, especially when I have a nice 135-mile route (am I *really* typing this right now????) that starts right up the street, normally reserved for cycling.  Two-hundred kilometers on FOOT?  I won't likely do anything of the sort - but, I have to say, I once said that about the 400k brevet.  I've only dipped my toes in the giant pond of "running"... and the thought of doubling this weekend's distance (if I would ask my feet) is terrifying, and - despite being a HUGE personal accomplishment - it would only place me into a large population of folk who have completed a marathon.  Knowing what happened to me after I completed my first cycling century ride, would it be enough?  So, then working toward doubling it again?  ...and then AGAIN?  ...and then adding whatever's left over?  Are you NUTS???  On a bicycle, I can stop pedaling, coast, stand up and stretch, eat, drink water easily, and largely enjoy myself - even in the midst of late-ride discomfort and fatigue I'm still covering ground.  If I stop "running", I have only a very short amount of time to rest and walk before the muscles begin protesting and tightening up... and all the while, I'm not getting anywhere.  As the mileage crosses into double digits, each passing mile has the brain calling out for more rest.  Only recently have I begun to understand that resting on the bike toward the end of the ride is detrimental -- i.e., the faster I try to go despite being largely spent, the sooner the finish line will arrive and the agony will cease.  On foot, however, trying to run faster to accomplish the same only serves to drive more nails into my coffin.  Only through small increases in consistency and stamina can such a feat be attained.  I'm not sure it's on my list.  Pulling back to reality, having done a "half" feels pretty darn satisfying.  I'll give it some time, and if I find myself inching a bit farther than that in the future... well, I'll have to see.  
On the way to the ten-mile barrier, along Renner Rd. between 191st and 183rd streets.  Gravel is better than asphalt for many reasons:  less traffic, better scenery, more cushion-y surface.  One of the best things about cycling compared to driving: the amount of things you see at a slower speed.  That multiplies again when I slow down to running pace, as I'm accompanied by butterflies and bugs, have more time to talk to the cows, and can actually read and consider some of the smaller, hand-written roadside markers.

I am hereby considering copyrights for the tags "run-do-nneuring" and "randorunning" -- mainly because I am not, nor do I envisioning being, "fast."  It seems only fitting that making checkpoints and landmarks along a set course toward an ultimate mileage goal would fit someone like myself.  Curious about my outer limits as a human being, but not in a terrible hurry along the way.  

The inevitable truth is I think it's time to invest in a "lumbar hydration pack."   (because if they still called them "fanny packs" I'd have to quit right now.)

Nice ear-lobe.  Another over-the-shoulder shot.

As this isn't (yet) a multi-sport  ACK!  pffffft....!  (scratch that)  ..sorry, "multi-sport" implies triathlon.  Nothing wrong with that, but, no matter what you EVER read here about foot or cycle travels, there is absolutely nothing in my being which maintains parallel aspirations for watersport or swimming (read: flailing in open water).  The only good thing to come out of my forced shoulder surgery rest period is my surgeon putting the kabash on swimming, seemingly permanently.  No argument here.

As this isn't (yet) a dual-mode travelogue involving both foot and cycle adventures, it well could be.  An occasional change of pace is never a bad thing, and I've admittedly been a one-trick pony for an awful long time.  I still don't see cycling ever fading into the backdrop in favor of foot travel, but who knows?  The area rail-trails and even the fairly pedestrian paved bike trails take on a whole new feel and challenge when the bicycle is removed.  As my physique has become accustomed to cycling over the last decade+, foot travel seems to provide a much more effective workout - and, either activity tends to benefit the other, assuming both are accompanies by a solid stretching routine afterwards.  Riding a bike to the Louisburg Cidermill is a great time, and a good workout - especially in colder months.  WALKING there is an all-day challenge and adventure!  So, who knows... but, while this downtime has prevented me from enjoying my preferred cycling habit, I haven't exactly been sinking into the sofa, either.  Something I used to loathe has become a worthy replacement for satisfying that itch to "go farther."  

Just need to come up with a new blog title, methinks...  "commute-a-rando-running-Mandude?"  ugh... considering I've had a lot less to say about commuting (for at least two years, perhaps more), I could default to "what's in a name?" -- change for the sake of change is annoying, but, something "activity agnostic" might be in order, perhaps.  Is "dude" a bit sophomoric for a 40-something corporate cubicle occupant?  If you subscribe to Hollywood, I should be unemployed and unshaven at the very least to qualify for dudeness.  I don't even bowl.  This isn't the first time I've thought about this ... off and on for at least the last five years it's bugged me.  How do you shake such an ingrained moniker?  Does it matter?  Shouldn't.  Like I don't have enough to think about.  It's likely more accurate it's taken on enough of a life of its own, that I'm the only one noticing.  Surely as I've reinvented myself over the years (or at least evolved), the title is not "me" anymore... it's simply the name of my blog.  Too much self-analysis and dribble... that's not why I came to the keyboard today!  Moving on.

Boredom is a dangerous thing.  In efforts to keep the bike from gathering too much dust, and as soon as I had the strength to pull it down off its hooks, I started disassembling it.  Surely this would make a surgeon smile - an activity he'd indicated would be back in my regimen in perhaps four months, if not longer, NOW is the time to perform some long overdue maintenance.  If it's in pieces, I can't cheat and injure myself.  Within this activity, however, things like cog and chain-ring wear receive the spotlight's full attention.  Something else I've been kicking around for a few years is a return to a single-speed configuration.  I find myself replacing 9 cogs every nine months or so, depending on mileage and whether or not that familiar skipping has started up - but, I continue to find wear on only the middle 3 or 4 cogs.  While chain oil occasionally leaves a mark or two on my largest rear cog, reserved for the steepest of hills, lately it has remained dry - as have all the smaller cogs.  I won't waste time theorizing on Shimano's desires to remain profitable, yet, I'm convinced that as soon as I switch to Miche cassettes and their individually replaceable cogs, that company will likely decide to stop making them.  Internal geared hubs are interesting - but, I'm still too much of a weight weenie...while smart enough to know the extra weight won't really matter, I still can't bring myself to do it.  Then there's the pinnacle (in my eyes) of long-term components:  a Phil Wood freewheel hub and a good ole 5-speed cluster out back.  I still see these old freewheels at swap meets, with former owners indicating they'd put xx,xxx miles on them, yet they look as if they just came out of the factory wrapper.  Cheap, too.  Well, the HUB isn't.  Grrr.  Finally, I look back in my journal at the tone of my writings surrounding fixed and single-speed riding, the infrequency of maintenance notes, and the consistency with which I'd been able to tackle any ride I set out upon - only occasional comments on wishing for a taller hill gear, yet, never a mention of having walked.  I remember selling off my White Industries freewheel, with the same observations mentioned above -- knowing full-well it'd endured two seasons of commuting and brevets, yet, appearing brand new.  The 42-tooth steel chainring I still have in the garage, looking ready as ever.  The biggest "ding" is my need, once again, for a new rear rim - after finding tiny hairline cracks around various spoke eyelets.  It's not immediate, but it does indicate the end approaching.  I remember the Surly hub'd Mavic CXP33 wheel I'd owned, and how I'd never had to true it once, despite my continued seasons of punishment and gear mashing.  All my talk of choosing components with a long service life, and I'd gone and sold them all off in 2006 or 07.  Gates, you wretched moron.

So, sitting on the ledge of clicking "submit" for a new rear wheel, I keep making mental pro-con lists about going BACK to single-speed.  (Yes, fixed is awesome - the ultimate extension of longevity and purity... but, I know me:  I need to coast occasionally.  Sue me.)  All the math points to a single-speed wheel being cheaper.  Even when I throw in a new White Industries freewheel, it's only $20 north of a new rear cassette hub'd wheel, out of which I can only reasonably expect another two years.  It's a combination of my riding style and the un-even spoke tension invariably caused by having a dished wheel.  I suppose I could run a heavier rim, yes... I still don't know.  In spite of all the positive evidence in favor of single-speed again, I can't deny the evidence of its eventual departure from the garage in favor of gears.  I can't seem to read the subtext in my own posts - but, it seems to point to a lack of self-confidence.  Others don't, so I assume I can't.  I distinctly recall removing the single-speed set-up from my bike only days before leaving for Oklahoma for a 12-hour race there.  While the race itself had me tackling other challenges, I can't help but wonder:  what was I afraid of, and how much farther I'd have been to the front runners if I'd left things alone?  Time and again, me + single-speed = personal records.  Why does this eventually fade in importance?  I suppose this is how these periodic cycles unfold:  I can't remember, so it's obviously a good time to try it out again, right?

Problem... a real problem:  the vertical dropouts on the Kogswell will provide a host of challenges.  HOWEVER, amazingly, I've been able to find ONE, single photo online of a Kogswell Model P in my size set up as a single-speed WITHOUT a chain tensioner.  The only problem with the photo lay in its small size and the fact it is also one of the few bicycle photos I've found which has the driveside facing AWAY from the camera.  While I can, and have tried, to guesstimate, count teeth and chain links, and desperately find an email address for the photographer (who, in the notes, isn't the owner - and therefore probably of no help anyhow), I don't know for sure what gear combination is being used - but, I at least can narrow it down with the evidence at hand, and some on-line calculators.  Between apparent tooth count on the front ring, number of links, and chain-stay length from center of bottom-bracket spindle to center of rear axle... well, I have most of the variables.  It's still going to cost money, time, and a lot of garage experimentation.  Adding to the fun, I also know that chain TYPE can make or break a vertical dropout "magic gear" single-speed project.  Hard to swallow when part of me knows I may not even like the results.  Suddenly the extra money for a new cassette rear wheel seems cheap.  Dangit.

I've thought about the Trek, with its semi-horizontal short dropouts, too, as a perfect solution here... but, I can't compromise:  It would solve the drivetrain issue perfectly, but I have already swapped the wheels across to find I wouldn't be able to run fenders with my preferred 700x28mm tires.  That's a deal-killer.  No amount of "wow" factor matters when it's 40 degrees, raining, on a must-finish ride, when you don't have fenders.  That's just MY comfort, not to mention the leather saddle and bag enduring direct tire-spray, having to move my lights (as they won't handle direct spray from underneath, either.  H-a-s-s-l-e.  Compromise.  I don't want either, and while I have been green-lighted to make some changes to the finish, I can't stomach moving the rear brake stay.  Add in the 650B "solution", and the money involved, and I'm out.  Cards down, fold.  She's too sweet a frame to cobble about and compromise with.  Back to the magic-gear headaches and the Kogs... which, come to mention it - if I wasn't so worried about its own tube brittleness, I'd have long horizontal dropouts installed to replace the verticals - and it needs a repaint anyways.  More money, more problems.  Ugh.  

Back to gears?  Perhaps that's best... but, my simplicity angst gets in the way, as does my desire to have a practically maintenance-free ride.  Heck, so does my desire for speed of late - faster brevets, more consistency:  for me, it has been proven time and again, even when I slow down toward the end of a long ride, I'm still in a bigger gear than I'd choose had I the choice.  That makes me faster, more consistent.  Sure, with a 35 MPH tailwind, I'll get left behind... but that hardly ever happens.  

Perhaps I'm just bored.

Actually, I feel like a sensible person trying to make a sensible decision.  The wheel in question does indeed need replacing within the next 500-1000 miles, so I don't think I'm bored.  Plus, if I can get by without having to replace that wheel for five years, nor buy cassettes every nine months for the next five years, nor worry about replacing shifter cables and housing -- well, the maintenance list begins to get shorter, the costs lower, the potential for problems on a ride is reduced as components are eliminated, the weight of the bike goes down, the enjoyment (far as I can read) goes up.  Five years?  The kids will be done with school then.  If cycling is still on the radar, the replacement for the Kogs is, also.  Custom, fancy, fine... and drivetrain flexible.

For now, I need to decide... is knocking off a half-marathon enough of a confidence boost to help me make this decision?  Is sensibility REALLY leaving things alone, and being satisfied that un-used gears are there IF I need them... or does removing them re-enliven my cycling, reintroduce some challenge?  Will DK go better, as the race in Oklahoma ten years ago would have, if I don't have the burden of extra gears -- burden, mentally, as-in I can't limp along with a crutch if it's simply not there.  In the fine tradition of HTFU... maybe that's precisely what I need.... 

... LESS.

From early 2004, the Trek 720 fixed gear.  You might notice by the length of exposed seatpost that the frame was ultimately too small for me and what I wanted to do - and I should have waited, scoured, and searched for the exact same thing in a 56cm.  I still am, in a way.  Triple bottle cages, long horizontal dropouts, low-trail fork, long wheel-base, Reynolds 5-3-1 steel, room for massive 700x32mm Vittoria Randonneur tires (though I'd run GBs today), this was the solution to all my issues - and would be today in the right size frame.  These old Treks are harder to find every passing year, and I have to face that.  In five years time, however, a custom builder will get a phone call from me with these pictures to follow.  Maybe an inch shorter rear wheelbase, add a taller headtube, some wire guides and pump peg, and that pretty much nails it - right down to the color.  

...or do I just leave well-enough alone, and stop fooling myself.  It's not as if that last five years have been "boring."  It's not as if the hills are truly "easier" with a taller ratio under me... it's still a grind, not a high-cadence Euro-racer tempo.  I've always been a grinder.

Then, still, part of me envisions the hills of Knob Noster, the Border Patrol, Might Peculiar, the Archie Bunker, and A Mere Two-Hundred, Oak Grove and Ride with the Devil, and I think... no, you need gears, man.  

... and then there's that voice that screams:  "yeah, but what if you DIDN'T?"



Monkeywrangler said...

Couldn't resist pasting this in for you to eyeball. It's got surface rust, but it's still a grand old Mercian, in your size...

Kevin Wilcox said...

Go single man. I don't put in the miles you do but I couldn't believe how easy one hill on my commute became after I took the gears off.

kG said...

You're both right on... I mean, I can't pull the trigger on anything custom... not now. That Mercian even remains out of reach at the moment... at least, considering the outstanding expense on a new rear wheel, no matter what frame it goes into. BUT, fact is, Kevin is right-on. I remember that feeling - there is something weird about it: something that feels like a beast with a geared bike at (say) 39x16, somehow seems EASIER on a single-speed with the same gearing. It's remarkable - and everything I have reservations about, hill-wise, I've always managed to climb them. I'll have to see. I figure I have a couple hundred miles left to think it over, with the rear rim marked with a Sharpie to monitor those tiny cracks. Been here before, and the nice thing about eyelet'd wheels, they give lots of warning before failing.