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Seventy Miles on a Bicycle is a lot Harder when You only Stop Once

I love long bike rides. Wait, let me clarify and define; I love long rides between 50 and 100 miles (80km to 160km). I’ve gone further, to 125 miles (or 200km) once on a solo ride but didn’t much care for it – a little too much of a good thing, even though I managed an 18.8-mph average.

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50 miles on a bike, depending on fitness and speed, is hard. 100 miles is really hard, especially when you’re averaging north of 18 or 19-mph. (28-30 km/h), but there’s something rewarding about completing a ride like that. I’ve written before that the 100k or 62-1/2 mile ride is, in my humble opinion, the perfect distance. It’s just long enough that you know you’ve done something special and still short enough that, with the right training, you can get used to doing a ride of that length without grinding yourself into the ground, and with a regular day job. That’s not so much the case with the 100 miler.

I maintain that stopping to refill water bottles and refuel is fair game without counting it against your average speed. The day we get team cars to help with flat tires and hand us water or a Coke, and food, well that’s the day when you can fairly say we shouldn’t be stopping… and that leads me to my one conundrum with cycling with my friends: they’ll go 30-40 miles in between stops, I like them a little more frequent. Say, every 20-25.

When we do supported rides, we’ll hit most of the stops unless the first one comes too soon (I can think of two rides right off the top of my head where the first stop is only 12 miles in and we blow by each of them, every time). That said, when you’re stopping every 20 or 25 miles, it’s east to break a 100 miler down into manageable chunks, mentally… and that’s what I like about the stops.

I can almost do 20 miles standing on my head, so when I hit that 60 mile mark and I start to get tired, it’s easier to just think about getting to the next stop.

And that’ll do till they give me and my buds a team car.

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How Riding a Bike makes Me Feel

The author of one of my favorite longevity blogs recently wrote a post about National Bicycle Month, in which he embedded a New York Times YouTube video:

Never before has my enjoyment of cycling been so well explained. When I ride, I feel exactly like that guy – except I don’t feel compelled to quit my job, retire, or do anything else extreme to ride. I’m perfectly happy riding an hour a day, give or take, and a few more on weekends. I need a balance in my life, and spending all day, every day, pedaling my bike isn’t it. Unless you know someone who would pay me to do that…. In that case I might be able to make it work.

All that said, I do dig the Doc’s spirit…

Now it’s out the door for me, I’ve got a bike to ride!

Cycling and Scheduling Days off; Rest is Different for Runners and Cycling. Don’t Confuse the Two.

I was once a runner.  I ran as much as I could but I never got to a point where I ran enough that I could become comfortable with running daily.  I was a three, maybe four times a week guy.   I didn’t understand back then that the key to being able to run every day was just doing it, then doing it enough that you would become comfortable with it.  Eventually.

Cycling, with its lack of jarring impact, is a different animal.  I started cycling four days a week right off the bat and quickly expanded, comfortably, to six.  This was all on a mountain bike, mind you.

I graduated to road cycling in short order and cycling took off for me.  Weekly mileage went from 4 miles (Sunday May 23, 2011) to 60 miles (for a full week) in five weeks.  I was just shy of 100 a week later.  Another four weeks and I was fluctuating between 85 and 105 miles a week – all on the mountain bike.  Then winter and I was training indoors on a trainer as well as running outdoors.  When spring hit, in March, I went straight into 100 mile weeks and I started flirting with the 150’s.  With road cycling, an easy week was 100 miles, a normal week was 150 and a heavy week approached 200.  Today, an average week is a little more than 200.  A heavy week is north of 300 and tops out north of 400 miles during DALMAC week.  The trick is, I might take one or two days a month off of the bike – and it’s been six or seven years since I took time off for an injury (other than letting a saddle sore heal).

Put simply, I don’t need time off like I did when I was running.

Right or wrong, according to whatever professional you’d want to ask, I’m happy and that’s what really matters most.

The trick to my ability to ride as much as I do is a judicious use of the easy day.  My hard days I’ll turn out an average pace between 20 & 23 mph (usually between 21 and 22).  It’s a rare day I’ll ride two hard days in a row, let alone three, and I only ride four hard days in a row once or twice a year.

Before a big day on the bike, I’ll ride easy and usually a little shorter, making sure to spin my legs out, tenderizing them if you will.  The end result, if done right, is that my legs feel a little more lively when I’m lining up for a tough ride.  There are a host of things I do to keep my body fit for cycling but the easy day is just as important as properly fueling a ride.

And here’s the best part: most people think that we fast people are all go all of the time.  While there’s some truth to that, in that our slow days are often faster than many other’s fast days, a 17-1/2 mph day is still a perfect speed to sit up and take in the sights that I’ll normally miss because we’re cruising down the road in a pace line with less than a foot or two between bikes at 40 feet per second (1/2 a meter/12 meters per second).

There is no question there’s recovery without fitness… The question is would I want anything to do with it?

I’ve been in recovery from addiction for 25 years. I’ve been into fitness in one form or another for close to 20 of those – the first three, skip five-ish years, then the last seventeen, give or take.

I didn’t mess around with those five missing years, either. I did it right, they were sedentary. My weight shot up from a scrawny 150 pounds to a chubby-ish 195.

I didn’t know what I had those first few years of fit recovery. As fitness went, I just did what I did and concentrated on fixing what was wrong with me so I could recover. It wasn’t until that second stretch of fitness started – after I’d put some time in and cleared up much of the wreckage – that I was able to grasp what I’d previously taken for granted.

It all started with running.

I didn’t want to be a runner, I hated it with a passion… right up until I didn’t want to be fat more than I didn’t want to run. I never loved running, but that endorphin rush, after having no mood or mind-altering drugs for so long, felt awesome. I did come love that.

Then came cycling and I could have that feeling every time I rode, and I could ride almost daily. For some reason it doesn’t work the same inside, on the trainer, but I rode the trainer through the winter just the same, to stay sane and thin.

Now, cycling is special to me. I do love cycling. I love the toys, I love the mechanics of it, the physics, the friends, and the “want to”…. and I love the perspective and dimension it adds to my recovery.

Recovery from addiction is about coming back from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Quitting drinking, dope, and cigarettes is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and likely the hardest thing I’ll ever do. I was miserable and beat down when I quit. Over time, throughout my recovery from that hopeless state of mind.  Fitness has provided an excellent balance to my recovery.

There’s no doubt there’s recovery without fitness, but fitness makes recovery better.  I am a pickle and always will be, so recovery is the only option for me that keeps me on the right side of the grass.  I would continue in recovery without fitness – I just wouldn’t like it as much.

Road Cycling and Your Saddle: The Most Important 33% of Your Contact with a Bike

Saddles are tricky.  What works on one road bike may not work on another.  What works on a mountain bike probably won’t work on a road bike, though the right mountain saddle set correctly can make a rough riding road bike feel like $4,000.  Such is the case with my Trek.  I’ve been through three different saddles on that bike before finally getting lucky with a cheap Bontrager mountain bike saddle that changes that bike from something I’d ride 30 or 40 miles to my go-to multi-day tour bike.

 

The two photos at the top show the saddle I use today, it’s a $35 mountain bike saddle and has no business on a high-end carbon road bike but it works.  In the lower left photo, the bike sports a Selle Italia saddle that came on my tandem – and I put that saddle on the Trek because I put my $100 Specialized Romin (lower right) on our tandem…  The Selle Italia looks awesome but felt like I was riding on barbed wire after 30 miles.  It had to go.  The Romin felt good but with only a couple of millimeters of padding on the saddle, the ride  was a little harsh.  The Romin works excellently on my Venge and on the tandem though.

 

First things first, notice that there are no gel pads on my saddles.  If you think gel pads are necessary to be comfortable on a bike, that we’re all suffering in agony to look cool, you’re wrong.  Entirely.  A hard saddle that fits your sit bones on a good, properly fit bike is vastly more comfortable than something with a ridiculous amount of padding.  Vastly.  If you’re not comfortable on your bike unless you’ve got four inches of padding on the saddle, you’ve got bigger problems than an over-padded saddle.  Also, a saddle that’s too wide for your sit bones with all of the padding in the world can have you taking time off with hamstring issues (happened to me, not overdone on the padding though).

To find your sit bones, well, it’s a little obtrusive.  They’re incredibly important to cycling, though, so we have to go through this…

 

One of the biggest mistakes, myself included, that noob cyclists make is they sit on their tender nether regions in front of the sit bones and on the nose of the saddle rather than the sit bones on the proper part of the saddle farther back.  That pad in the photo on the right is Specialized’s measurement device – it’s used to figure out the width of the saddle you’ll need.  The photo on the right shows where we should be sitting.  If you haven’t had that test done, or one similar to it, I can’t recommend it enough.  Putting in 200+ miles a week is going to hurt your heinie enough, no reason to make it worse by having the wrong saddle.

With that out of the way, let’s get those Godforsaken gel pads out of the way.  Simply stated, the gel that many think is padding their ride is actually cutting off blood flow which causes discomfort.  Ironically, those who believe in excessive padding then think the answer is…  More padding!  It boggles the mind.  Anyway, the best way to ride is to wear padded cycling shorts with a minimally padded saddle.  This keeps the blood flowing as, and where, it should.

It’s not always about getting the saddle in the right location – some saddles just don’t work for a rider.

Sometimes you end up with a saddle you love right out of the gate, it happens.  Other times it’s a trial and error thing.  You can’t even go with the “if it’s expensive, it’s gotta be good” theory – I rode 385 miles in 4 days on that cheap Bontrager saddle and enjoyed every minute of it.  This is where your local bike shop will be an indispensable resource.  They’ll likely let you try the whole line the shop carries to get you in the right saddle… and they’ll know how to set it where it needs to be.

There’s an app for that.

If you’re looking for a saddle, some manufacturers made apps so you can figure out your flexibility rating and thereby have an easier time picking out one of their saddles.  Fizik would be one, and I have the app.  Typically, Fizik are in the high-end group of saddles.  Selle Italia has a good range, as do America’s big three (Specialized, Trek, and Giant).  By far, the best way I know to get through finding the right saddle is to work with your local shop.  It’s their job to help you get comfortable on your bike so use that resource.  Finally, there are too many videos on-line to bother linking them all that cover everything one could possibly need to know about saddles.

To wrap this post up, getting the saddle right can be the difference between suffering through a ride and riding in comfort.  While we have to be careful of the princess and the pea syndrome, it also helps to take the time to find what works best.  We connect to the bike in five places (or three depending on how you want to look at it):  The hands, feet and butt…  The one that takes the brunt of the weight needs to be properly taken care of.

Ride hard my friends.

As the Weight Burns: Cycling ROCKS! Part 6,315.4

It never ceases to amaze me, that little weight drop when the outdoor miles begin after the big thaw…. Chuck went to Arizona for a month and it appears he sent us some nice weather.

Saturday was a peach of a 32 miler, Sunday was way too windy for cycling, and I played a little hooky at lunch yesterday because it was almost 50 degrees.  The sun was so brilliant, I thought I was in the wrong state.

If you remember that photo of our front yard half-flooded the other day, the photo above shows that the rain soaked into the ground pretty well.  Let’s just say our water table is replenished.  After yesterday’s short lunch time ride I showered up and got dressed, only to realize I needed a belt.  As long as I choose my food wisely, cycling is like cheating.  Just one more reason to love riding – cycling ROCKS!

The Biggest Hurdle to Clear in Continuous Recovery isn’t the Drink or Drug…

If you’re new to recovery, in recovery, or struggling a little bit with your recovery, grab a cup of coffee and stick around a few minutes.  This one isn’t short, but it gets somewhere good.

I follow a lot of recovery blogs – I’ve also unfollowed as many, or more… and the unfollows are all due to a personal flaw of mine.  I find it difficult to sit back and watch someone blindly walk through their recovery and fail, only to blame that failure on a symptom of the problem.  Worse is to watch someone continuously put themselves into positions that make failure inevitable, let alone more likely.

My problem is that when I decided to quit, I didn’t mess around.  Even at 22 years old, barely old enough to drink legally in the USA, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, my drinking career had come to its inglorious end.  That didn’t come immediately, though.  I was sent to inpatient treatment at a working farm (back when they detoxed you right, I was still hungover, with alcohol in my system, when they sent me to the pigsty to shovel pig $#!+.  Cold turkey, baby).  The day of my intake, I fully planned on doing my time in treatment, just long enough to get out of trouble with the law, to return to my drinking.  Two weeks in and I’ve still got the shakes, night sweats, nausea… That’s when I knew if I kept drinking, what was left of my existence would suck.  I’m one of those lucky few whose liver can’t keep up with my stomach and melon.  Based on liver enzyme readings, doctors gave me till I was 30 for my liver to completely shut down if I kept drinking as I was.  Folks, dead at thirty.

So, that brings us to my decision to quit, to really quit.  I was fortunate enough to not involve my ego in that decision – I didn’t care what I had to do, I just wanted the pain to stop (mental and physical, remember, I’m going cold turkey).  This is the beauty of doing things the hard way, my friends.  By relieving the symptoms of detox with drugs, you lessen, even cheapen, the experience of the detox.  My detox lasted weeks and it was f***ing miserable.  There’s no way I wanted to go through that again.  The fear of reliving my detox helped to keep me sober.  If it’s not as painful, it’s not as big a deterrent to picking up a drink again.  Anyway, my ego…  the one thing that I knew when I quit was that I knew nothing.  I had no clue how to stay sober.  I couldn’t make it more than a few days with my best effort, so I’d do whatever they told me to do.  I’d have stood on my head in the corner if that would have done any good (though I didn’t make that public knowledge, lest someone take advantage of it for a good laugh).  They handed me a book and said the instructions for how to stay sober are on the first 164 pages.  Do that and you’ll have a chance, so I did.

I also didn’t have a major problem with “the whole God thing”.  Let’s just say I was comfortable with not knowing anything – even at 22 when we know everything.  I considered myself a “recovering Catholic” right from the beginning.  I didn’t get the whole “fire and brimstone” God that I’d been taught about since I was a kid, so I took baby steps and I talked about my hang-ups… then, because I’d put my ego on the shelf, I actually listened to others who had figured that out already, and I tried to do what they did.  Eventually I came up with a concept of God that worked for me – that didn’t require me to stand on a hill with a trumpet, extolling God (in fact, I often have a problem with God’s cheerleading squad – they’re just as insufferable as the tiny minority who are anti-God and loud).  However you choose to look at it, I made a deal with God on the day I decided, for real, to quit drinking.  I thought, “God, I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll give this recovery thing everything I’ve got, if you’ll help me”.

That was it, nothing more, and the weight that was removed was immeasurable.  Well, immeasurable at least until I did a Fifth Step, that was so awesome I still can’t quantify it without sounding like a USA Figure Skating announcer (ridiculously over-the-top enthusiastic).

Sometime after leaving treatment, and with a full desire to continue my sobriety, I walked into a bar with my six-month coin.  Actually, it wasn’t any bar, it was my bar.  My stomping grounds.  I can’t remember why I went in there, it wasn’t nefarious and it wasn’t so I’d be tempted – in fact, it wasn’t even at night… Anyway, I spoke with the owner for a bit, and let him know I’d quit and wouldn’t be around anymore.  He said, and I can still remember this 25 years later, “Wow, I didn’t know you had a problem”.  All I could think was, “Wow, you’re not very perceptive.”  A short while later (a couple of months maybe) I was at a bar across the street with a good friend from school, celebrating his birthday with a local police officer friend of his…  They had beers, I had a near beer.  I’d been sober for going on eight months and drank that near beer without issue.  Then I ordered another.  I drank that one half-down and froze.  I stood up, apologized and said I had to go.  I left some cash on the table and walked out the door.

The infinitesimal amount of alcohol in a non-alcoholic beer triggered something in my melon that took me straight back to the day before I went to treatment.  I was scared.  I drove to an outpatient treatment center I’d been through a couple of years earlier and asked to see my old counselor.  She saw me and I explained what had happened.  She explained that I had been as close to a relapse as a person could get without actually relapsing.  Let’s just say I understood.  I thought I’d been doing good.  After some analysis with that counselor, though, I found that I’d been falling away for almost a month and a half.  I called my sponsor on the way home.

That conversation was interesting.  He gave me a few pages to read from the Big Book and asked me how I parked my car, whether I pulled into a spot nose first or whether I backed in.  I told him I pulled in nose first.  He said I should back in to every parking spot for the next month and that he’d tell me why after the month was up.

I did.  For a month I backed into every parking spot I could.  At the end of the month he let me in on why.  He said, Jim, I had you back into parking spots for a month because it was easy and if you weren’t willing to do something that easy without complaint, there’s no way you’d be willing to do what it takes to stay sober.  It was more than fifteen years before I found a reason to walk into a bar again, and that time it was with a sober friend who also happened to be my salesman from work… and that was the last time I was in a bar.

This goes back to that “stand on my head in the corner” thing.  Most people, especially nowadays, would question backing into a parking spot to stay sober.  They’d say it was stupid and useless and tell me how stupid I am for requiring such a stupid thing…  All the while, proving exactly why they can’t stay sober and keep relapsing.

Motherfucker, I said stand on your head in the corner and it’ll help you stay sober.

It did me.  Folks, my biggest hurdle in the way of my recovery was me.