April 17, 2016

The lab is open

After being lazy for the winter I'm looking past the horizon and focusing on how to approach things on the bike now that I'm "back".  Each passing year brings more challenges against staying healthy and fit - and it has become very apparent and important to me to finally put an end to my cyclic yo-yo approach to dieting and fitness.  The time has come to get fit, live cleanly and consistently, and then enjoy those benefits instead of always feeling as if I'm working to get them back each spring.

A big part of this, specifically for this blog, involves the approach toward cycling.  After a few great rides this last week I've clearly retained my love for it.  Motivationally-speaking, I really don't have a ton of interest in watching a lot of professional racing, however - my choice of role model has changed quite a lot since the whole "Lance thing", and I'd rather watch baseball, lately.  When I do gravitate toward cycling, I prefer the old catalog ... call it, the LeMond years and prior.  Motivation, regardless, still comes in film form - mostly documentary, but with the same general themes of overcoming odds, perseverance, and the acceptance of failure as a positive teaching tool instead of a reason to crawl inside oneself.  Things like "Charge" on the interesting world of the first competitive electric GP motorcycles at the Isle of Man TT (one of my favorite motorsports events), and a terrific film on The Barkley Marathons.  These tales of overcoming make me want to leap from the couch and get to work, and the stories and lessons translate to work, school, sport, parenting, and optimizing my thoughts toward becoming the best version of myself possible. 

To the meat of things.  Going back to my very first journal entry circa 1998 when Warbird and I began the march toward an MS-150 goal the themes toward preparation remain consistent; yet, there is a recurring theme.  I know how to GET somewhere... staying there, however, remains elusive.  There is a part of me that handles goals - regardless of their context - as a finite journey which requires an end.  Once arriving at that end I have simply stopped working.  Recognizing this and understanding that my larger overall journey will NOT end until my body physically gives out, becomes a pivotal theme with which I must remain in touch, while shorter temporary goals will become simple milestones to be achieved all the while.  Continuing to start and stop entirely only creates the personal animosity and frustration which ultimately yields self-destructive behaviors and backsliding, and consequently creates more obstacles when the realizations finally arrive to set things right.  Quite simply, I will never be finished attempting to maintain a healthy weight, I will never be finished trying to be a good father & husband, employee, mechanic, guitarist, trail-runner, fabricator, etc., etc., etc.  I will never be finished trying to be the best I can be:  these things are not mountaintops to reach, they are endless pathways to walk - and enjoy.  There should be no drudgery here - I've been looking at things with the wrong set of eyes.

Looking at cycling, my approach will fall back to what used to work.  The return to heady days of reckless abandon on the bike may not be entirely justified here, but, examining what had worked in the past is certainly worth investigating.  What I used to do involved riding fast right up until the point where I couldn't anymore.  At the time my goals weren't rando-oriented at all, but were focused on ultra-racing.  Faced with a very unforgiving clock (compared to rando) my original approach to riding brevets was easy:  just GO.  Yet, when ultra began to take a backseat to rando, my tactics didn't seem to represent terribly smart riding, so I began to conserve...but, then, I never ended up speeding up toward the middle, nor the end.  I've observed these two opposing approaches to have an end result which winds up roughly the same:  I end up limping to the finish.  On one end, the cause was sheer exhaustion from pushing tempo all day, the other simply exhaustion from being in the saddle for so long.  

However, while I'm seeing practically no difference in finishing speed, I find a definite change in ride TONE when comparing one approach to the other.  In the former case I'd be finished sooner and with a better overall average, and I'd feel happier... and, most importantly, I'd begin to see physical gains from having pushed myself.  Compounding my frustration has been the latter slow-n-steady approach, which has done nothing other than increase my caloric efficiency - making it harder to manage weight off the bike, and creating the frustrated feeling that I've finished slower than I could have, should have, or used to.  Part of my approach, then, will involve just GOING, instead of conserving and waiting for the right time to go faster...which never comes.  

Further, my old approach tended to demonstrate my point of exhaustion in each ride would begin to occur later and later each ride... and, eventually, one year on the 300k route, I actually ended up finishing strong, before sundown, and with a personal best for that route.  So, for whatever all THAT analysis is worth, that's what I hope to put into practice with my randonneuring again:  pretend (or not) that I'm preparing for ultra-racing.  If it leads to that, terrific, but in whatever case I should begin to see my goals come back into focus.  I'm calling it my Dark Helmet approach:  "we're always preparing.  Why are we always preparing?  Just go!"  

You went over my helmet??

Somewhere between smelling too many roses and snapping photos, and hammering along heads-down and too focused to enjoy anything lay the "butter zone" where I would like to be.  Now, enough talk ... time to Leroy Jenkins this crap already.

I've signed up for the Pirate Cycling League's Gravel-Worlds event in August, to put some fire under my backside.  At 150 miles, it's no Dirty Kanza, and it's not really long enough to be called an "ultra" - but, it's a challenge.  I need a challenge.  I need a scary, improbable, out-of-character challenge to get jump-started - and this looks perfect.  Should be a blast!  I don't see a winner's jersey in my future... (well, not with THAT attitude, certainly) ...but, if nothing else it will provide a nice change of scenery and texture, justify the gravel bike I bought this time last year, and definitely get me stoked for personal improvement.  

Clinical trials are over, the laboratory is open, and it's time to see if this latest experiment will pay off. 

Screw that.  It's time to MAKE this experiment pay off.  
Been there - done that = can be done again.  The challenge will be staying there.

Game on.

April 16, 2016

Mini-post, mini-post!

This is WAY better than no post at all, eh?  Mini-post for my most-recent ride and return to the exciting world of ACTUALLY RIDING a bicycle... wow.  Gasp!  Amaze!

The Border Patrol Express is quickly becoming my go-to, easy-to-do, no-excuses training route:  it's close to home, it's familiar, I can navigate it blindfolded, and it's just challenging enough to keep things interesting.  ...so, this ONE time I've ridden it for credit in at least two years, probably three... yeah, "normal training route", whatever, dude.

I was solo for this most-recent ride, but here's a photo from a hot day a couple years back with the Stad-man on the Border Patrol Express Route.  Good times... that day, it actually DID rain.

It does represent another new day in the life of the dude, if nothing else.  With no outside help, no prodding, no additional riders, and nothing but self-motivation and excuse-elimination - i actually printed a card, mounted up, got my first receipt, and rode a RUSA ride for credit.

Motivation?  Self-assuredness?  Self-accountability?  Yeah... I'm no-good at it.  

September.... I think I printed no less than five separate cards for myself for the Border Patrol route (the full 200+ km), yet, in each case the date came and went and the cards went unused into the paper shredder for recycling.  This had begun to compound the personal frustration and found me further and further away from my "last decent ride" of any length.  Before long, the excuse algorithm became self-aware and Fall yielded to Winter.  Without my tried-and-true accountability chain in place, it had become FAR too easy to just not bother trying.  I got more deeply entrenched inside my own head.


...here we are again... the weather becomes warmer, the skies lighter for longer, and the weight that had come on starts to interfere.  This is all good, because - clearly - I've needed to learn how to become SELF-accountable for such things.  And, yes, this entire time there have indeed been other perm route owners out there to request rides from, including the personal routes of our own perm's coordinator - but, the damage had been done and nothing about my personal situation with turmoil and change was going to allow me to ride.  All of the uncertainty, the fact I'd been responsible for my own routes simply became another thing that created a convenient excuse.  There ya have it... what I said I didn't want to get into in the previous post, looks like it played out here anyways, for better or worse.  I'm okay with that, because - now, finally - I'm riding again, and loving it. 

...and "Top Gear" as we knew it is ever-closer to debuting on Amazon Prime sometime this coming summer.  Hallelujah!

Compared to a couple months ago when I'd attempted the Border Patrol Express and came up short, this time out was quite enjoyable.  For being sick for nearly a month, I was at least able to stand up and climb without feeling like I'd been weighted down with a leaden vest.  My average wasn't fast, I took some short on-route breaks, and I probably hung out at the control for too long - but, what else is new?  I enjoyed the day, ignored the clock, and focused on finishing without over-doing anything.

The gravel section comprising the middle of the route was a blast, and despite the headwind on the trip south I managed to make the control in great time.  Upon arriving, I mixed up my Cyto-carb and Skratch Labs carloie-booster, to help compensate for traditionally-low control calorie uptake, packed away the morning's layers, and popped in the FM radio earbud for the trip north.  I looked forward to the tailwind that had been promised all morning, and enjoyed eating up the gravel miles while playfully dodging chuck-holes.   

New tires?  Yeah, I decided to try some new tires for a few reasons - but, flat frequency had become an unfortunate and frustrating self-talk topic of discussion, and I ultimately began to argue with myself on the real reasons I'd basically been paying more money for less technology.  Now, I'm not going to start getting into a full review mode here, and I'm certainly not going to waste time bashing a product for what had clearly just been a string of poor luck on my part experienced while riding on the litter-strewn streets and trails of late-winter Johnson County, KS.  Whatever tires I'd been running before are not "junk", nor are they over-priced, nor are they deserving of "one star" above a hastily-written and poorly-spelled "review" on some webpage or another.  I don't do that.  Tires, chain lube, brake pads, athletic clothing; all of these things' performances and their consumer's perspectives are heavily influenced by uncontrollable variables which directly color how their performance is interpreted - unlike, say, a digital camera (e.g., it either takes quality photos or it doesn't, all things being equal is well within a photographer's control).
Conversely, boo on me for letting these variables get the best of me... but, so far I'm quite pleased with my new tire choice.  I'm not quite ready to jump over to tubeless on the road bike (maybe the next wheel rebuild will mark a decision opportunity there), so they're still the traditional inner-tube and clincher arrangement - but, they do have a modest flat protection belt included, are cheaper per tire, and are locally-available at my fave LBS . . . no more mail order, at least for tires.  From Specialized, I took my positive experiences from the Espoir model I'd run for a while a few years back and decided to try a pair of the Roubaix Pro model; but, in a "dude-approved" 700x28 size.  They fit well, mount easily, are well-made, have a nearly non-existent tread, and despite the addition of the flat protection belt they feel supple, it feels like they roll fast, and they iron out the pavement/gravel/asphalt surfaces quite nicely... dare I say, better than those tires which they've replaced.  Time will tell, as we're only inside the first couple of hundred miles . . . but I'm pleased thus far.  
More to come on that subject.

Songs in my head?  Sure, why not!  
Before the FM radio came on after leaving the halfway marker, I've had a few of my faves from my local fave radio station circling in my mind as the miles rolled under.

M.Ward - "Confession"
The Record Company - "Off the Ground" 
Cold War Kids - "First"
Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop - "Every Songbird Says"

These songs, especially the uplifting, motivational, and hopeful tunes, seem to propel me further down the long, long road and keep the darker voices from being heard.  It really depends on my mood, but I like to think the tone of the tracks in my head on these journeys often become indicative of where I'm headed... not of where I've been, and certainly not of the mistakes I might have made.  As I re-listen to these now, through good headphones originating from lossless files... I feel good, and I feel hopeful. 

My next step involves a 200k later this week - solo again, just to gauge progress and make determinations on whether or not I can join the KCUC series already in progress at the Oak Grove 400km event.  I'm not crossing my fingers, because luck is not a factor.  I'll have to wait and find out if it's indeed the right thing to do.  

. . . but, I can always turn around.  While I realize I recently mentioned that this concept, to me, somehow seems "wrong", well... since when is riding a bicycle, no matter for how long or short, ever "wrong"?  This time of year, with birds singing and sunbeams tickling my forearms... why worry?

See you out there... 

April 8, 2016

Blame Jeremy

My previous post probably has a lot of folks assuming many things about me beyond what the post actually describes.  I can imagine these culminating into a picture of an unshaven version of me wearing all wool, including shorts with genuine leather chamois, turn-of-the-last-century eyeglasses, suspenders, and riding a bone-shaker with oil lamps front and rear, because - dangit - that's how it's supposed to be done!  Well, not really... I'm not a knuckle-dragger about everything.  The backbone of that piece should have taken readers down a road of preparedness and redundancy, not to have them shun every gadget and convenience available to the modern cyclist.  

What "Golden Age"?  They still make downtube shifters in 10-speed, and there are rumors about demand for 11-speed downtubes as well, while at this writing they only make bar-end shifters for 11-speed, as the only "traditional" option apart from STI or electronic shifting.  

But, be it a cost concern, a reliability or field repair-ability concern, or simply an aesthetic concern, any cyclist can ride satisfied these days.  It's the continuous mix of old school and new school that keeps a lot of our diverse cycling market alive and well, even well into the 21st Century.  I dig that.  I can get modern parts that LOOK retro, but have benefited from lots of technical advancement compared to their decades-old cousins.  Chain-rings, down-tube shifters, pedals, whatever... "they" probably make that.  

Reminds me, I need to order up one of these babies:

www.spurcycle.com   I am not a
paid or compensated spokesperson - I just like this bell

It's a bell!  It's way awesome, eh?  Spurcycle, people.  DO NOT BUY the Chinese knock-off.
The real-deal is overpriced, you argue?  Ehhh, for American-made quality and a modern take on an age-old concept?  To help a start-up?  What's "price", anyways?  And, heck, it sounds good... 'scuse me while I dust off my vinyl and clean the volume potentiometer in my vintage '60's stereophonic amplifier... but sound & quality matter.

I digress...

SO.... what are you doing, dude?

No it's not a burning question, and goodness knows there are bigger problems facing our nation right now.  Prepare to vote, people.  PLEASE.

I digress...again!

Now, the WTF section.... 
Exactly... WTF, indeed.

Personally, I haven't been the same since Top Gear stopped airing on the BBC.  I blame Jeremy Clarkson... ... you know, no, no, no ...I can't blame Jezzah.  Honestly, I woulda socked the guy, too.  C'mon, dude, did you think you were catering to Wolf Blitzer or someone?  Good LORD, man.  Anyhoo... 

I've had a few people reach out to me about this blog, my state of mind, and why I haven't logged any "credit" miles since August.  Yeah... August.  I can't believe it.  Time does fly.

Well; I've learned to keep things a little shorter so I won't drag this out into one of those old school "woe to me" posts where I question everything, create drama, and wax on about the champions of old.  Sometimes, the truth is enough - and it really makes it easier to just get past this already.  We have stuff to accomplish, right?  Who READS anymore, right?  Yeesh... brace yourself for the new video-blog format, coming to a YouTube channel nowhere... like I got time for THAT.

SO, I'm not going to wax philosophical and get all "weird" - I haven't ridden a 200k since August of 2015.  My total mileage for March is about 140.  Pathetic... sure, whatever.  Not much can be changed about it, but, I'm officially done being and feeling "done."  That's enough of that.  

Most of it is bad timing.  I wanted to be ready for this season.  Unfortunately, the annual illness that usually socks me pretty good decided to show up in late March instead of January like usual... and I finally completed round 2 of antibiotics earlier this week, and finally stopped coughing like a 1840's coal miner a few days ago as well... plus, the neon-green silicone-consistency goobers I've been hacking up have abated.  All told, I'm grossly under-trained, under-prepared, and pretty embarrassed about it.  Showing up at tomorrow's 300k just isn't going to happen, which is hard to do because it's the return of one of my FAVORITE all-time routes; home to the worst day I've had on the bike, as well as some of the best days I've had on the bike.  Yeah, I could call it a training ride and just turn around... but, I don't show up at RUSA events planning to turn around.  It just seems ... wrong, somehow.  When I show up, I want to KNOW that I'm going to finish - and right now, I can't say that.  

Yes... challenges HAVE to have some element of doubt around them.  Some amount of unknown... otherwise, it's NOT a challenge.  Yes, I need some challenges.  I've missed the DK sign-ups for 2016, but instead of whining about it, I jumped on a personal bandwagon and signed up for the Pirate Cycling League's Gravel-Worlds event in August.  I bought a gravel bike, so I might as well use it for something besides winter-time riding and single-track, right?  Challenge accepted.  The 600K?  Yeah, I still want to do it... but, I need to finish the 400k on 4/30, and finish with some personal respect to know that I can actually salvage this season without the "shorter" rides included.

I've got 20 days from this weekend until the 400k weekend on 4/30.  The plan:
I will ride a 200k on Sunday to assess where I am.
I'll call that "basecamp"... once at basecamp, I'll acclimate with some focused, extended commutes, some gravel, some thrash, some speed... AND some tailored rest and stretching.  Ten days later, on or around 4/20, I'll ride another 200k for conditioning.  Then, more focused rides, commutes, whatever-you-wanna-call-em... making sure my body is up to these tasks, and not over-doing it... and then, 4/30, "summit" at the KCUC 400k.

That should at least improve where I am, even if it doesn't fully prepare me to excel at the 400k, it will be a far-cry better than - almost literally - crawling out of bed and dusting off the bike to try a very hilly 300k tomorrow.  THAT, I feel, would be a recipe for injury... and while starting right off with a 200k isn't exactly "ramping up", it's safer to do it closer to home if nothing else, just in case something bad really DOES happen.

This isn't over, and I'm certainly not "done."
I just fell down.  

You know what we do when we fall down?  

We get back up.

Stay tuned. 

After all, "Top Gear" - or whatever they'll call the reboot - is gonna be on Amazon Prime soon.  I mean . . . how hard can it possibly be?