The best feeling in the world… ambition

With the main summer season drawing to a close, I am already mentally gearing up for the winter training. Working in the Information Technology industry means that I am well-learned from my school days regarding the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle). The basic principle is that you identify a need, you design a solution, you develop the solution, test the solution and then implement it. By the time you implement a solution, you are back to the point at which you need to start identifying for the next generation of software and needs. I find this directly relates to cycling. *Bear with me here, I know it is a stretch*

We all have heard the story of the two cyclists in the fall. Cyclist A hangs up his bike and settles in for a long winter hibernation, while cyclist B spends the frigid winter either riding or on his indoor trainer. Come spring, cyclist A is starting all over, seeing none of his gains from the summer, where cyclist B is stronger and faster than he ever was.  I will never again be cyclist A. I have a tendency to schedule my most challenging events early in the spring (Gran Fondo NY, Harpoon B2B, etc) and in order to succeed at them, I have to train hard in the winter. I might even go as far as to say that my winter training is more intense than my summer riding. Last year I started training around February or so, with the serious training in March and April. It is now hardly November and I am already plotting my course for the training schedule. 

Last year I was determined to finish these events. This year, I am already setting my eye on strong finish time. I want to increase my overall speed, complete the events in faster time and not suffer through them. Suffering is for training rides, where as big events should be enjoyed. 

So this weekend I am putting away my short sleeve jerseys and taking out the winter gear. It is time to get to work!

I’m back, baby!

Apparently I wasn’t as far off the proverbial trail as I thought I was. After my renewed resolve from my last post, I did exactly as I said I would. I cut out all junk, from my diet, no more processed sugars, no soda at all (only water or tea), and removed gluten. I rode in to work (about 8 miles each way) several days last week. The result? Not (too) bad.

This past weekend in prep for the Gran Fondo Niagara, my friend Byron and I, along with Mike and Shawn rode a route we named the Bear Mountain Express. It rolls about 80 miles total with the turn around point at the top of Bear Mountain. With 8,000 of climbing over the 80 miles, we were all sufficiently wrung out. We had great weather the entire day, and no incidents (aside from a few turn arounds). Our speed was slower overall that I would have liked to have seen, but after taking so much time off, I was happy with the ride. I felt strong all day long. 

Tonight I rode a brief (30 minute) recovery ride, and tomorrow and Wednesday I will commute in on the bike. This weekend is the big event. I am as prepared as I am going to be at this point. 

I’ve met my enemy, and his name is ‘arrogance’

First and foremost: I am sorry. I have been away from writing and from cycling all together. The writing more than the cycling, but as the two go hand in hand for this blog, a lack of one meant a lack of the other. My apologies all around for not writing sooner. Now that is out of the way, let’s move on… 

A few weeks ago I was helping to bring some ‘new’ cyclists in to the sport. We were riding easy, only 30 miles or so, and at a slower than normal pace. We were throwing out tips along the way regarding both ascending hills and descending. At the end of a 30 mile ride one morning, I was talking with my friend B and we both concluded that we don’t remember the last time we went out for a ride and weren’t “pushing it in to the red” for the entire ride.  The following week, we did the same with the same group and then I rode a 62 mile group ride with the neophyte cyclists in our group. We rolled slow for the day, and it was a great accomplishment for them to have ridden this. I then spent a week off the bike. Here’s the issue:

That makes four (4) weeks of not really riding much, and never pushing very hard. When I was on the bike I had a false sense of ease. The devil on my shoulder was suddenly very active. “Eat more, you can burn it off!” he said, along with “Go ahead, have another glass of wine, your riding will be fine.” Coupled with a few stressful weeks at work, the cycling came to a slow churn and my weight went up, and the fitness level dropped dramatically.

Here’s the rub; this past weekend I rode in the Golden Apple. It is a group ride put on by a local bike club. I figured “100 miles, no problem, I can ride that. How many other centuries have I done this year? It will be a cake walk.” -said by the arrogant devil on my shoulder. I couldn’t have been less prepared if I tried.

After the first ten (10) miles, there was an optional 1 mile uphill time trial. I imploded on the hill. Not even 200 meters in, my heart rate spiked to 185 and I was forced to slow down. The rest of the TT was spent at a measly pace. Several people released 30 seconds after me passed me before I reached the end.  After the TT, the ride had unrelenting rolling hills. (7,500+ ft of climbing). We were making good time, but at mile 50 something terrible happened. I bonked. I felt the power drain from me, and I was scrambling to eat as much as fast as I could just to stay on the bike. After a miserable 7 miles in steep, short hills, we made it to the rest stop. I was eating and drinking enough to want to vomit, but I felt recovered so we pressed on. Less than 10 miles later, I went back in to the bonk. Small hills were killing me, my max speed was 11 mph, and I was wobbly on the bike. At one point I was climbing next to a drainage ditch and thought that falling off the bike in to the ditch would be sweet release from the torture I was in. 

I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t eaten right the week before, I hadn’t trained ride the month before and being 15 lbs heavier than I should have been (25 heavier than I was at the start of the season) was a testament to the idea that my own arrogance was at fault. I believed for the short time leading up to the ride that I was more or less invincible on the bike. I could do whatever I wanted and I would get through it. Having to cut the 100 mile ride short at 81 miles is a rude enough awakening for me. 

So now what?

  1. Commute to work via bike as much as humanly possible.
  2. Drink only water. No soda, no wine, no more junk.
  3. Eat like I did during the winter. No sugars, low/complex carbs.
  4. Work on core exercises and stretching daily. 

The Gran Fondo Niagara Falls is in two weeks. I know that I can’t be in my top form, but I can be FAR from my worst, and far better than where I was on Sunday. 

Renewed enthusiasm

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time watching terrible sitcoms on TV. One of these was the A-Team. Of course it was corny and silly, and at some point you can expect George Peppard to sit back with a cigar in his teeth and say “I love it when a plan comes together.”  This is the feeling that I want to have. Over the past several months, through all of the ups and downs (pun intended), nothing seemed to be in sync.

I lost weight in the beginning of the year in preparation for the big rides I was doing. Then I gained some of it back. I learned to eat better on the bike, and the secrets of beet juice, but I had already gained some of the weight back, so the benefits were offset. I started to get disheartened, feeling that it would always be a struggle and what was the point? All of the major rides for the year are behind me. Then it hit me. It doesn’t have to be a famous ride for it to be a great ride.

So now I am back on track! I am eating better, losing some of the weight again, and riding every day. This weekend I have a 100 mile ride planned in some of the hilliest terrain I can find in order to prep for the Harlem Valley Rail Ride. Last year we attempted this ride, and by the 70 mile mark, we were completely spent. We couldn’t climb that last mountain, so we cut the ride short. That night something amazing happened. As I was laying in bed drifting off to sleep, I felt like I was back on the bike climbing the hills. It was the same sensation you get when you are on a boat all day, and when you lay down you feel the waves. This was almost euphoric. I loved it. This year, we will finish the ride, but more importantly, all of my efforts (training, weigh loss, eating right, etc) will all come together in one place.

It doesn’t have to be a ride like the B2B to be a great ride. Sometimes those rides happen when you least expect them. Giving it your “all” both on and off the bike is what cycling is all about for me.

One week away…

With only one week between now and the HarpoonB2B ride, I am both nervous and excited. I am excited that I feel almost ready to take on this massive challenge. I have been training for it since January, so I have never been more ready. That being stated, I am nervous that I haven’t prepped enough. The winter and spring have been filled with some of the hardest riding I have done. I have put my heart and soul out there on the asphalt, dripped from the seat of my bike. I have spent countless hours obsessing over the cold and the rain, cooking rice cakes, filling water bottles, cleaning the bike, adjusting the derailleur, washing bib shorts, uploading my stats to Strava, and examining the courses.  I have fought off bronchitis, back pain, a bad head cold, sciatica (which may not be sciatica after all) to train for this ride.

HarpoonB2BNow, with only seven days away, like a nut case, I find myself pouring over the details of the ride. I am examining the hills in detail, looking at them on Google Street View, so I know what to expect. I am looking at the distances between the rest stops, finding gas stations and bike shops along the route and making a mental note of them. Most importantly though, I am mentally preparing for the ride. I think I am ready for it. My brother believes I am insane for doing this ride, especially voluntarily (as opposed to being under penalty of death or having a gun pointed at me). Perhaps he is right.

As with so many aspects of cycling, the lessons to be learned can be directly translated to life in general. Several years ago, I could never have attempted this. I pushed myself hard to be ready for a challenge like this that seems far out of my reach. I have grown as a person, as a cyclist in the process, and I will accomplish this goal. Life’s challenges that seem far out of reach just require more preparation and dedication than the easy ones. If everything was easy to reach, we wouldn’t strive, and in we wouldn’t learn in the process.

I said I wouldn’t do that…

When I started this blog, one of the things I told myself is that I would write. For better or for worse, I would continue to write. This wouldn’t be like a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym, where most people go for about six weeks and then you never see them again until they want to cancel their membership.  I WANT to write. I want to write about cycling. I want to share the experience of it, as best as I can using words. (OK, and maybe some pictures and/or videos)

After the battle with Bronchitis last month, training went back in to full swing. The following week, we rode 115 miles up and over Bear Mountain. It was my first time seeing it from a bike, and I was scared. I guess the training has paid off so far, because while it was a difficult 4.5 mile climb, it wasn’t terrible. We took our time, and talked the whole way up. We rounded a bend and were surprised that we had reached the top already.  A long day on the bike overall, but a great ride.

Then another disaster struck. Last week I was riding home from work (more about the commute via bike later) and my back started to hurt. The type of back pain you-know-will-be-a-problem-later kind of sore. By the time I got home it was dark out and I could hardly carry my bike up the stairs. The next day could best be described as excruciating pain. I could barely walk. My lower back had completely seized up and hurt to move even a little bit. Like an idiot with no sense I went to work anyway, and was performing a hobble/shuffle from my desk to my many meetings. The next morning I couldn’t walk at all.

That weekend I had to make the call that I wouldn’t be on the training ride. It was a difficult call to make, but I knew that in the long run, it would be best. Instead I offered my services to map out a difficult ride in my absence. Later it was quoted as “one of the hardest rides we have ever done” by those who rode it.

This week my back is feeling better. The muscles have relaxed and I can now feel that the source of the issue wasn’t my back at all, but a combination of my hips and my hamstrings. Stretching has helped that along in preperation for this week’s epic ride. We are planning for 140 miles, and about 11,000 ft of climbing. It will be a very long, difficult day. The Gran Fondo (110 miles, hilly) is only 2 weeks away now, the Montauk Ride (150 miles, flat) only 4 weeks away and the Harpoon B2B (150 miles, hilly) only 6 weeks away, this weekend is the last of the hard training rides until late June/July.  

More posts to follow. There is too much to update in a single post.

Ain’t nobody got time fo dat!

I think I have mentioned in an earlier post that I used to be the guy who didn’t train in the winter.  The idea of it seemed like something only crazy, addicted, insane people would do. People with an inexplicable amount of dedication to cycling. I had a casual barometer to riding. Was it too cold for shorts? Then not riding. Raining? Not riding. Had too much wine the night before? Not riding.  And then I made cycling goals. And I got faster. I climbed bigger hills and I made progress. I could be convinced to ride in the rain. As of this winter, I ride in the cold too. Bitter cold. 25° cold with a headwind but never in the dark. I wouldn’t ride in the dark based on the premise that “To ride safely, you have to make the assumption that cars can’t see you, then go from there.” That is in the daylight. In the dark? Well, that is asking for trouble.

Last weekend I had a big training ride planned. About 100 miles or so. It was supposed be a nice day, maybe mid 50’s and sunny. In my mind I am glad to put away the thermals and the wool. I was looking forward to it, even though I have had this lingering cough that I assumed to be allergy related for the past two weeks.  Then I got a call full of tough decisions about the ride.

B: “Hey, I have something to do on Sunday, so I can only ride on Saturday. Cool?”

Me: “Yeah, that’s cool. Saturday works fine.”

B: “Oh. Thanks.”

… The next day…

B: “… listen… about Saturday, I have to be somewhere by 2PM, so we have to be done with the ride by 11:30. I know that will be tough, but if we start early enough…”

Me: “…<sigh> What I won’t do for cycling. OK. No worries. It is supposed to be warm, but only later in the day. It will be dark, and cold… I think I will need to stay over the night before to get started that early.”

B: “Great! See you then. We will start at 5:30AM, should give us plenty of time.”

Long story short… at 5:30AM we rolled out, headlights and tail lights on the bikes over the very hilly terrain in the balmy 25° weather. At 7:30 we saw the sun rise over the peaks to the east while climbing a long Category 4 hill. My breathing was labored, more than usual. I couldn’t get it together. My lungs were on fire, hacking and coughing.

At 10:30 or so we realize we are behind schedule and cut the ride short, which was a blessing for me. I felt completely drained (No O2 going in the lungs, no power to the legs). The rest of the day I am still coughing and trying to get my breathing under control.

Sunday afternoon I realize that the coughing is persistent. It feels like Bronchitis. I go to the doctor, and sure enough, Bronchitis. Just over a month to the Gran Fondo, and Bronchitis? Ugh. I blame it on training in the cold, in the dark, at 5:30AM when it was supposed to get up to 50° that day. Thank goodness for modern medicine to get me back on my feet quickly. Prednisone and a Z-Pack.

Oh, and hopefully, no more cold weather riding. Seriously. I am done with the below freezing riding for this year. The novelty has worn off.