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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Everyone Struggles…

Everyone struggles, some of us just make it look easy…

My wonderful wife celebrated 20 years of sobriety yesterday. We had a big cookout in the back yard with a couple dozen of our best friends. With a lot to do in the way of preparations, I cut my Saturday ride short figuring I’d hit it hard today.

The party was a blast but I stayed up late. This morning my motivation was, put mildly, hit. I slept in for the first time in quite a while then fell back to sleep watching stage two of the Tour de France. After breakfast I fell asleep on the couch again. Before I knew it one o’clock had rolled around and I was seriously contemplating skipping my ride. I threw every excuse I could think of at staying on the couch. I’m still struggling just a little bit with getting my breathing back from my cold and I’m still trying to get a little bit of the junk out of my lungs… This is why I ride early on the weekends by the way; If I’m out the door early I don’t have time to sabotage myself.

The back-and-forth went on for about five minutes before I just got off the freaking couch and got dressed to head out. I got my bike prepped, donned the melon protector, shades and shoes, bid adieu to my lovely wife and put my ass on the saddle where it belonged. Two miles in I was still questioning my sanity. I thought long and hard about my struggles of late… Just before the third mile, heading into the wind, everything clicked. The hamster wheel stopped spinning (actually screeched to a halt would be a better description).

The sun felt good, the wind stopped bugging me so much and I just plowed ahead. Ten miles in I was smiling. Two miles later I headed west, the wind at my back. 20 mph, then 22, 24, 25, 27… After five miles of easy speed I headed north towards home. The clouds started to darken and the wind picked up. I cruised along without a care, it was still a perfect day for a ride.

I pulled in after 30 miles thinking I should keep going and add on another ten. I’d promised the wife that I’d stick to 30 though so I turned around and took the bike inside.

When I go through these tough times, it’s difficult to suit up and get my butt on the road but every single time I do, I arrive home thankful I did. Sure I could have justified taking another day off. Sure I could have chosen to lose the battle in my head. But that’s not how I roll anymore. I didn’t need a day off, I needed to work to mojo back.

Here the big picture point though: Even with all of the benefits of being fit; the stress relief, the lack of chronic pain that I used to live with, the better attitude, the ability to eat whatever I want… I still have a tough go from time to time.

The only constant in life is change. This too shall pass, but only if I continue to do the work… If I choose to give in and polish the couch with my butt, the only thing waiting for me is a fat, painful angry existence. That would most certainly be a change, but I need that like I need a hit in the head – and that’s why I suit up when I’d rather not.

I never knew how odd it is to be me…

I’m sitting in my mother’s living room, my daughter and nephew are playing hot potato with a green ball while dinner settles.

Before supper, my sister-in-law, my mom and I had an interesting conversation about my dad and brothers and how things turned out for the lot of us. I read a post the other day in which a woman wrote about how she worried that the poor behavior of a mother she’d witnessed would leave her son mistreating women for the rest of his life…  This all ties in.  My dad wasn’t exactly Ward Clever, until it was too late.

For me, such hypotheses, that we’re bound to act in the manner that we were raised for one, simply don’t make sense, they don’t compute.  My dad, while he was a great provider and a good father, was not what you could call a good husband.  The example he set as a husband would have left his sons with dozens of excuses to be less than stellar in his wake…  That is not how we turned out though.  My brother Joe is as good as a husband gets, and this comes from his wife.  I turned out a whole lot better at the husband thing than my dad and my brother Chris seems to be doing quite well by his wife too. If you went by common logic, that you’re a product of your environment, at least two of us should be in the midst of, or headed for, a divorce.  Or at the very least in emotionally abusive marriages.

Technically, going by the nurture rule, I should have died an alcoholic’s death a decade ago, there’s enough alcoholics in my family tree that I shouldn’t have had a chance… Yet here I sit quite sober and leading a productive life.  Going by nurture, all of my brothers and sisters should be overweight and barely able to jog to the mailbox.  Instead, if you were to look at a picture of us (all five of us), we’re in pretty decent shape.

You see, when people talk about nurture over nature, we three brothers all bust that stereotype to smithereens in all aspects of our lives – except when we chose to keep the good traits: Where we do follow the mold though, pertains to work ethic. The three of us, in our respective fields, all do very well for ourselves – this trait definitely came from my father.

So what does this mean? We took the best traits of my father and emulated them while we took his worst traits and improved on them or completely discarded them and started from scratch. Even my mom, a staunch ‘nurture’ supporter, ended up nodding in agreement when I explained how we’ve turned out in that context.

In short, nurture may very well be an influence, but the choice to rise above or improve upon negative traits trumps it. In our case, every time.

Don’t get me wrong here, a nice excuse to be repugnant from time to time would be awesome.  Say my wife complains about my losing grip over my anger issue – I could simply say, “Hey, look at my dad. What do you expect?”

That’s really the joke though. Put in that position, no intelligent person would accept nurture as an excuse to actually bear abuse.  In real life, when we’re not making excuses for faceless people, we do expect better.  Some may stick around and live with a certain amount of abuse for a while, but eventually that house of cards is coming down.  While my brothers and I do have our fleas, we are living, breathing proof that it simply doesn’t have to be that way, that it is possible to rise above poor circumstances in upbringing.  If it wasn’t, the three of us (and our marriages) would have gone the way of the dodo long ago.

How To Love Your Bike…

If you have a bike that you don’t respect, chances are it sits in the corner of your garage, unattended to, for years on end. If it’s lucky it’ll see a spritz of W-D 40 once or twice a year (one if the worst things you can put on a chain according to every bike mechanic ever – obvious exaggeration). In fact, from the looks of it on Tuesday night, some of the advanced guys treat their high-end bikes like that too. This is how my bikes were treated when I was a kid – my dad didn’t know any better and to be frank, didn’t have the care to know any better.

Today I own what was, at one time, almost a $3,000 bike. I do everything I can think of to keep that bike in tip-top shape. I clean and lube everything at least once a year. Seat post, saddle bolt, quill stem, crank bolts, chain ring screws – everything. I even store the expensive bikes in the house – not in the garage, in the house.

But there is always the question of just how far to go – and with that comes the factor of time or money. Maintaining a bike is actually easy and inexpensive as long as you know what you’re doing. The problems start if you don’t because the items that need attention get put off until there’s enough time to tinker with the bike. If you’re like me, that’s usually between 8 and 9 pm on Sunday or between 5 and 6 am on Tuesday. As these items are shelved for a more appropriate time, they add up. Before you know it, you’ll need five hours that you don’t have to do all of the tinkering so you take your steed into the shop and drop $125 on a tune-up. There is hope though. It took a significant amount of time, but by throwing 30 minutes to an hour each week at working on my bikes, I eventually became very fast and efficient at working on them. What used to take a half an hour (if I was lucky enough not to turn the task into a mess), now only takes 5-10 minutes. I can do a full clean and lube job on my bike in less than a half hour without breaking a sweat. As I’ve learned from my mistakes I became efficient. Now maintaining my bikes is quite simple and painless.

With the amount of time I put into working on (my bikes and taking my bike to the shop to get my mistakes fixed) it took about a year of messing stuff up before I finally started getting a good understanding of how things worked so that I could fly around the adjustments and cleanings to keep my bikes in tip-top shape (one I ride daily, one every week or two, and one occasionally). My daily bike obviously takes the most work, every other week, while my mountain bike and the back-up road bike only need attention every couple of months or twice a year respectively.

So here’s what I have to do to love my bikes and keep them rolling (relatively) trouble-free:

1. Chain degrease/relube and drivetrain clean and lube (20 minutes every 200-300 miles) including cleaning of the cassette and pulley wheels on the rear derailleur. I also use a bit of chain lube on the exposed cables to keep them like new.
1a. Once every year or two I take the pulley wheels off the rear derailleur of the mountain bike to get rid of the grime and dirt build-up that comes with single track riding to keep them working smoothly.
2. Wipe down (10 minutes, as needed) or complete wash/dry (30 minutes as needed).
3. Clean and relube quill stems (both road bikes 10 minutes every 3 months to 1 year each).
4. Clean and relube seat posts (5 minutes each every 3-6 months).
5. Complete disassembly, clean and relube chain rings and crank. Once a year on the mountain bike and backup road bike. Same for my daily road bike unless it starts creaking, in which case, as needed (45 minutes to one hour).
6. Rotate the tires. Yes, I rotate the tires. They’re just like your car tires. Rotating them will extend their useful life (once or twice a season). Oh, and I pump up my tires before every ride. Some deride this behavior as unnecessary but I’ve found that if I don’t, the tires develop a flat center.
7. Clean the cables, cable stops and, if necessary cable housings. I also coat the exposed cables with a thin layer of bike or chain lube.

There are reasons for each of these items and to keep this post to a semi-reasonable length, I won’t go into each in depth. For example, if you sweat (buckets in my case) when you ride, the droplets frequently blow back and hit the seat post… My seat post is aluminum and my frame is carbon – the two have molecular corrosion issues anyway (really they do), but add the salt from sweat and the seat post can corrode to a point where it can’t be removed. Same applies to the cable stops (different materials, same salt).

Also, one item, taking apart the crank and chain rings to clean and relube, probably isn’t all that necessary but I just like knowing that I’ve done everything I can to make the seriously expensive components properly maintained (cranks run upwards of $200-$500).

There are a few reasons I like to love my bikes. First, I just like having a quiet bike and a clean, well lubricated bike is a quiet bike. To me, there’s nothing better than sitting there on my used bike that I paid less for than an entry-level ride, and it is cleaner, and quieter than a brand new $2,500 bike. That’s when I know I’ve done my duty to protect my investment. Second, I like to ride almost every day. If I’m constantly taking my bike in for general maintenance issues I can’t. With everything that I’ve got going on, the only way I know to keep my bikes on the road is to keep them well maintained. Finally, after all of those years of neglecting my bikes as a kid, it’s nice to have bikes that I don’t have to leave sitting in the corner because I’m too embarrassed to take them out.

How I Got Fast… A Noob’s Guide To Beating A 23 MPH Average

My first post on this topic dealt mainly with solo cycling and speeds. I detailed specifically how I trained to ride consistently at 20+ miles per hour from a noob’s perspective (because I certainly was one when I wrote the post). This post is more about riding in a pace-line or with a large group and trying to keep up – I’m not quite a noob any more, but I’m still fairly new to cycling and I’m still in the process of trying to get better and faster. This continuation post is from that angle.

The rudest surprise that I’ve run into, in terms of cycling fast, is how much work it is to get it back the following season. Part of this may be plausibly blamed on age, but someone else would have to make the claim – while age is not just a number, when you’re talking about cycling at 23+, I ride with plenty if guys in their late 50’s (even mid 60’s) who have no problem keeping up and actually put a hurt on the group. I doubled my indoor training over the winter and I still had a heck of a time getting ready for this season once I could finally put rubber to road this last spring.

It has been my experience that there are fairly specific levels to cycling: the tourists/beginners (10-14 mph), the slow folks (14-16 mph), the mid-range cyclists (17-18 mph), the fairly quick crowd (19-20 mph), the studs (20-22 mph), the horses (22-24 mph) and the semi-pros (24-26+ mph). As a caveat, these speeds are highly subjective and based on mildly hilly terrain – on flat terrain you can add at least 1 mph to each of those, on very hilly terrain you’d subtract 1-2 mph. I went from the mid-range group to the fairly quick crowd in my first six months. From there I spent a whole year trying to get to the studs group. This season I’m very close to mingling with the horses but the gap has been noticeably difficult to bridge. Once you start riding with the horses, they cease to simply ride in a straight line. They begin to attack, creating a yo-yo effect which makes it even tougher to keep up over a distance and it takes an even greater leap in fitness than going from fairly quick to a stud.

There are things one can do to minimize the difficulties in jumping groups though. First is climbing hills. Most people hate climbing because it’s slow, hard work. Become one of the few who love them because the studs and horses use them as an opportunity to kick everyone else’s butt. To do this, I started by attacking every single hill I encountered on my training rides. Instead of shifting down to an easier gear, I shift up and climb out of the saddle, trying to maintain my speed going uphill, or even pick up the pace. Several weeks of this and I got so good at climbing that I found myself having to slow down going up a hill on a few occasions with the advanced group I ride with.  As a side note, implementing this hurts.  It hurts my legs, it hurts my lungs and it works my heart like nothing I know, especially when I’ve got one hill after another or a false flat.  This is not easy.

Next has to do with cycling in a pack. I have a tendency to lightly tap the brakes if the riders ahead slow down for some reason. For the longest time I would try too hard to keep four to twelve inches between my front tire and the rear tire of the person ahead of me. During a slow down, I’d hit the brakes a bit so I could keep my tidy gap. This bleeds too much speed and I end up having to work too hard when the yo-yo snaps the other way. The fix for this is very technical and takes a good deal of concentration so do approach this cautiously if this is news to you. I learned to better pay attention to what the guys were doing two or three riders ahead rather than the one I was immediately behind and I allowed that gap to get a little bit bigger (maybe 1-1/2 to 2 feet). The extra 6 inches to 1 foot doesn’t hurt all that much in terms of drafting and it allows me to absorb the yo-yo a little bit.

Another tactical leap is learning when and where to jump when people are falling off of the back (or in some cases out of the middle of the pack). This takes a keen eye and you have to be ready to jump as soon as you see a gap forming. If you let that gap get too big and you’re not strong enough to catch the leaders (I’m not), then you’re off the back and there’s nothing you can do about it. With this little tidbit, there’s not a whole lot of useful information I can give. Keeping track of what is happening several riders ahead, at least for me, is a “feel” thing and that just doesn’t translate well to print.

If you’re too weak to put the hurt on the group (I am, at least for now), then you’ll have to learn how to hide and how long to pull at the front. I usually feel like a jerk if I hide and don’t take my pull, unless I’m hanging on for dear life (it’s happened like that twice) so if we’re really cruising (24-25 mph on the flats), I have to be very careful to limit my pulls so I still have enough left to latch back on when I drop back. I have a tendency to push myself too hard because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m not pulling my weight so I can wreck the rest of my ride if I’m not careful. Hiding is a tough one. I’ve done it a couple of times but I really felt guilty when I did. My thinking here is why should everyone else work just to pull my butt around the course. The answer is simple, but complex. They ride too fast for me to pull for any length of time so I have to hang on in the draft. That’s the reality, I just don’t like it.

Finally, and this is important, you must know that riding fast isn’t easy for anyone. It’s doubly hard to jump groups and there is no easy way around it. The only way you get a break is to ride in a group under your current ability. For instance, on the Fourth of July we’ll be riding out of the local bike shop. It’s an invite only ride for which the slow pokes and horses are never invited. It’s a 19-20 mph paced ride and if we get going too fast, one of the pacers in the group will slow it down when they get to the front to keep the group together. I can ride at 19 mph, by myself, for well over 100k. Add the help of 20-30 cyclists and I will enjoy every mile of that ride with a smile on my face (I did last year, 80 miles, i pulled for 18 of the last 20 miles and I tacked on another ten to ride to and from the start/finish). The problem with too much of that is it will eventually slow you down. Greg LeMond is often sited for the quote, “it never gets any easier, you just get faster.” Well, many of us know the inverse is true as well… If you always take it easy, you just get slower. The trick is to embrace the suckiness inherent in busting your own ass. Many will spend hours perusing the net for the easier, softer way – the perfect pedal stroke, the perfect cadence and so forth, when the easiest softest way is to learn how to love pedaling faster and harder. The cadence and pedal stroke do make it mildly easier, but without the heart, you’re stuck where you are. All of the cyclists who ride faster than you, every one, has learned to live with or enjoy the suck more than you. There’s no easy remedy for that.

Some days you just have to sit up and enjoy the ride…

Yesterday was a strange day – up early and busy as all get out all day long.  I had time for one cup of coffee at the office and it was cold well before I could see the bottom of the mug.

It rained on and off almost all day.  On the way home it was dry but the sky was not pretty.  I was seriously contemplating staying home from the club ride but then the clouds thinned and somebody turned on the furnace. It got hot, fast…

By the time I got home I was ready for a nap, I was wiped out.  After I took a 20 minute power nap and felt a lot better, I donned the kit and headed out the door.

Mike and I had a nice warm-up five plus miles.  I was a little nervous about keeping up still feeling the remnants of my cold but I put the jitters in my saddle bag where the belong and waited for the start.

We started out painfully slow to let the stragglers latch on.  Second mile, nothing to write home about. 19 mph with a crosswind. Then we took off. I managed to hold on for a whole mile and a half before I knew I was in no shape to keep up.  After my first pull, I said my good evening’s and slipped off the back. I spent the next mile spinning at about 16 mph when I saw a couple of guys about 3/4’s of a mile ahead. We were just about to turn dead into the wind so I figured a little help would be nice.  It took me a couple of miles to reel them in, but reel them in I did.  Before long the three became two, then four, then five and six and we had a nice little pace-line going.  We took a shortcut that chopped I was shocked at the finish when we showed only a 19 mph average. it was plenty enough work – and I was just plain old cooked, but 19? It felt like 22 while we were out there.

The reality is that while I’m feeling a whole lot better than I was last week, I’m just not quite up to snuff yet so rather than completely wipe myself out last night, I had to dial it back just a bit and just try to enjoy the ride.  This is not something I’m very good at.  Generally speaking if there’s gas in the tank I want to use it.  To me, there’s nothing worse than finishing a ride and thinking that I could have done more or tried a little harder so when it comes to rides like yesterday’s I really have to  make sure my motives are right, lest I allow myself to turn into one of those softies.

It’s a delicate balance for sure.

Cycling And Weight Loss – Pushing the panic button

Put enough miles and enough effort into cycling and eventually your inordinate ass will disappear.  Keep putting them in and you’ll have my problem:

Somebody call the Wha-mbulance! It’s time to pull out the big guns…

After being sick and still putting in 80 miles last week, my weight dropped significantly.

I weighed in at 157 the other day (and I’m rounding up).  At 6’0″ that’s getting light so to reverse my fortune I took the kids to Dairy Queen after the youngest’s ball game last night (my youngest got her first base hit!!!).

On that note, I pull up to the drive thru and what do I see on the menu?  Dude, somebody thought to put an Oreo Blizzard into a waffle cone. Sweet Jesus on a pogo stick!  Somebody call the Government or something!!!  That’s cheating!  There should be a law against that or something!  Oh wait, I don’t want to give any of the army of politicians one more thing to rail against.  Never mind Mr. or Mrs. Politician – please forget that you even read this in the first place.  It shouldn’t be too hard, you manage to forget your past within a week anyway.

In any event, over the next few days I’m going to have to up the calories a bit to reverse that loss – and what a wonderful problem to have.  What do you know, sometimes it’s pretty good to be me.

*Disclaimer – Sweet Jesus on a pogo-stick is not meant in a derogatory sense.  Jesus was born and died something like 1,900 years before pogo-sticks were ever invented.  Imagine the smile on his face at trying one out for the first time…  That’d be one smiling Jesus right there.

Minimalist Eating: Salmon

I thought I didn’t like salmon. I’ve tried it a few times when friends or relatives prepared it… Let’s just say I wasn’t too impressed. I figured it was just the fish because the folks who prepared it were very good cooks.

Imagine my surprise when my wife came home the other day and said she’d picked some up at the store. Skip to last night and we were all in the mood for a decent dinner but I wanted to cook outside rather than needlessly heating up the house (it’s HOT outside as it is) so we were grillin’ baby.

Quick Google search to learn how to grill salmon and we’re rolling… If you’re a minimalist eater, try this:

Brush on olive oil, both sides. Lightly season (we used a Tuscany blend), salt and pepper. That’s it. Now, I want to pause here. I am a huge fan of squeezing a fresh lemon on fish… Not in this case. We were 4 for 4, the salmon was better without the lemon.

Oil the grill surface: drizzle olive oil on a folded (2″x2″ square) paper towel and, with a pair of tongs, rub the oil on the grate.

Place the slab skin down on the grill (medium high) for 10-15 minutes (do not flip or move – watch your hot spots, try to avoid the hottest spot or put the thickest part of the filet over it).

10-15 minutes on medium-high heat and the fish will flake easily – it’s done, serve immediately. Drizzle lemon over the top if you wish

We also had a salad and my famous grilled asparagus (again, minimalist:  Olive oil, garlic, grill then douse with lemon juice (be liberal with the lemon juice, it’s better with a lot – the recipe is here.).

Just so we’re clear, the proper order to cook this out is asparagus first.  When it’s done, transfer to a cookie sheet and place in the oven at 210 degrees (F) to keep warm, then cook the Salmon.  We all agreed (a rarity) that the minimalist salmon was the best we’d had.  Sometimes your just better off letting the food taste good all on its own.