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Cycling Legs; What They Are and How to Get Yours

The most valuable things I’ve acquired in all my years of cycling, other than happiness, contentment, and exceptional fitness, some awesome bikes, of course, are my cycling legs.  They’ve been just as important as the bikes I’ve chosen to ride.

Back in 2012, when I was just a pup, one of my friends mentioned that it would take about three years of solid, heavy miles to attain my “cycling legs”.  I didn’t know exactly what he meant back then, but I sure know now…

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This photo was taken at approximately 24-mph.  My friend, Doug, having just come off the front after a 2-mile pull, is obviously no worse for the wear and my friends are looking quite comfortable.  We’re 50 miles into a 100 mile day, after riding 100 the two previous days.

If we had to define “cycling legs”, it’s when one acquires the legs needed to put in the miles one wants to put in, without having to worry about the ability to complete a difficult ride (or several in a row).

For instance, after the four-day tour mentioned above, I didn’t take the day after off.  No, I went for a ride with my friend, Mike.  It was certainly an easy pace and we didn’t go very far, but we were out riding nonetheless (37 miles at 17.5-mph).  The day after I turned in a 21-mph effort on Tuesday night for the club ride (though I dropped off the back after 11-ish miles because I didn’t feel like working that hard – we were above 22 for the average when I dropped).  I didn’t take a day off till it rained that Friday.

That’s having your cycling legs.

So, how does one acquire them?

Well, that’s a little easier said than done.  Going all the way back to 2011, my first year on a bike, I put in 1,820 miles for the year.  Not near enough to begin working on my cycling legs.  2012 was much better at 5,360 – really, that was the first year that mattered.  2013 I barely broke the year before with 5,630.  2014 was the year I really took off, though; 6,000-ish (I didn’t keep any records that year, so I guessed low – 2015 was 7,620 and 2016 was 8,509… I’d say I guessed low by about 1,000 miles, give or take).  It was the three years in a row, north of 5,000 miles, that really got me there.

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Cycling legs are half physical and half mental.

The physical part of cycling legs is simply getting the miles on your saddle to get your body prepared for the regular load we put on them as cyclists.  That’s the easy part, and I felt different once I got my legs under me.  Now, I’m particular about what I’m feeling – I pay acute attention, so I knew within a month of when I hit my stride.  I didn’t hurt the same after a big effort.  I tended to recover a lot faster from hard efforts and could expect more out of my legs.

The mental side of cycling legs is knowing that if you go out for a 100k (or some other distance) ride, you’ll make it back home.   It isn’t “hoping”, or “speculating”, it’s knowing.  Not only that, it’s knowing how hard you can push yourself before you crack.  There are some extenuating circumstances, of course.  Maybe you bonk or you cramp up… but even in those situations, you know you’ll be able to spin home without too much trouble.

There’s one word that really encompasses the whole gamut; experience.

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I’ve been there, done it, got the t-shirt and worn it out – now I use it to clean my chains.  That much experience.

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Day One of My Specialized Strike – Specialized Forgot the Number One Rule in Cycling

Specialized signed on to the pie in the sky “Global Climate Strike” where a bunch of Kool-Aid drinking crumb crunchers decided they needed to “strike” by skipping school because they’re ignorant enough to believe they want an end to the use of fossil fuels. 100% wind and solar is the goal. They only forget to mention one thing; in order to power everything as we know it, 100% of the world will have to be blanketed by solar panels and wind turbines. No room for farming, no growing food, nothing but windmills and solar panels. I wonder what that would do to the environment. In other words, the movement is too stupid to even take seriously.

Whatever their rationalization for signing on (and I did send them a rather scornful email and got a response replete with the normal drivel you’d expect), Specialized screwed the pooch. First, when we take a political stance, based on a politician’s half of a story, we’re immediately going to scorn 40% of the country. Second, it’ll likely be ignorant, because politicians survive by keeping people fighting – and supporting any movement that calls for an end to the use of fossil fuels, is as ignorant as you get when your company relies on them so heavily. Finally, there’s the number one rule in cycling:

The number one rule of cycling was ever thus; no f***in’ politics on bike rides, boys and girls.

Specialized forgot that and they need to be made to remember it.  Our lives are ripped apart by politicians, special interest groups and the news media on a daily basis. Politics are never used to bring people together anymore. They’re used as a wedge. We need our leisure activities to come together as human beings so we can remember why we need each other, how important it is to rely on each other, and why we need to care for each other.

When you drag politics into our fun time, too, you destroy one of the great things there is about being alive and on the right side of the grass.

Shame on you, Specialized.

It’s a damned crying shame…

Oh, and Trek, please stay out of the fracas… I’m running out of bikes!

Bike Handling in a Group Setting; The Friendly Shoulder Bump… Or Elbow, as May Be Necessary (and Probably Wiser).

This post was prompted by reading Bike-Handling Basics #6:  How to Do Pro Tricks (Read number 5 for the cool shoulder…)

A few weeks ago we had a double pace-line going of around 20 cyclists.  Not big by our standards, but not small by any stretch, either.  We were cruising down the road at a spirited 22-mph pace when the road started getting choppy along the right side.  I was in the left part of the right lane.  My counterpart up front started inching closer to me, to the point he started going over the center crown of the lane.  He pushed me closer to the double-yellow until I simply wouldn’t go any further left.  I’m not getting my handlebar anywhere near over the yellow for anyone… he inched closer.

Now, right there, most people will freak out a little and say something.  Not a bad reaction, indeed.  Another cyclist starts crowding you like that, it gets dangerous.

Well, folks, there’s no need to get belligerent about being crowded a little.  Also, there’s definitely no need to cross over the yellow line into opposing traffic.  The key is to ever-so-slightly bend your elbow so it extends beyond the end of the handlebar so it rubs against your counterpart’s elbow.  If they’re novice enough to crowd you during a ride, they won’t be able to hold it together when you start putting an elbow into them.

In my case, I wasn’t nasty about being crowded.  I didn’t jab my elbow into him, and I certainly wasn’t trying to get him hurt.  The elbow did its job, though.  I just kind of eased it out there till he bumped into it…  After bumping arms with him twice, he moved off of me to the right a little bit and that was the end of it.

As it turned out, I didn’t know why my friend was crowding me like that until he mentioned that the right side of the lane was horribly choppy and he couldn’t keep the pace in the bumps.  Things get chippy in a group sometimes.  The elbow, or even pushing a on another cyclist’s hip to let them know they’re getting into your personal space a little too much is a great way to set boundaries and diffuse a situation before it gets too messy

Just remember, you get too pushy and you could end up knocking a bunch of your friends down in the process.  It is very important that we exercise care, caution and restraint, always remembering that we’re traveling down the road at 40 feet per second.

60,000 Miles on a Bicycle, and What It’s Taught Me About Life

Last Sunday, I rolled over 60,000 miles since I started keeping track in 2011. In terms of a special milestone, it’s not all that special. There’s a phone book of people who ride that in a year, worldwide. It’s my milestone, though. I did it, and what’s important is that I’ve had fun putting almost every one of those miles on my bikes.

Cycling has evolved for me over the last eight years. The first few weeks weren’t all that impressive, until I bought a decent bike. An adult mountain bike. After that, a cavalcade of road bikes… and it was Katy bar the door from the moment I first rode my Trek 5200. I dropped 20 pounds so fast it actually scared my wife. I was skinny. Then I learned how to eat, ahem, for an active lifestyle and have been okay ever since. It could be said that I certainly do enjoy eating a lot more.

Anyway, I’ve had my bikes, one or the other, all over the place – especially all over our home State of Michigan, and after all of those miles, I’m still excited when a big tour rolls around. Who am I kidding? I still get fired up, just to run a quick loop around the neighborhood. For those who ride a lot, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I write that cycling has been my source of fun, rather than a source of exercise. The fact I burn a lot of calories just comes with the fancy pedals.

I headed out last evening to hammer some miles out with my friends and, unlike the stock market, past experience is an indication of future returns. I was driving home with a big smile on my face, thinking about how lucky I am to be me. I’m nothing special, of course, but I do believe I’m a blessed guy to have the wife, kids, friends, bikes and life that I have.

I don’t have a whole lot of money. I don’t have a big, fancy house. I do have a smokin’ hot wife, two awesome daughters, some great friends, a good job, a stellar, clean life, (ahem) six bikes, good health… and some fantastic memories.  Above all, though, I am happy.

What I’ve learned over the last 60,000 miles is that the miles don’t matter.  It’s the spending time, regularly, with friends and family making memories.  As we get older, most everyone wants to slow down time.  The only way I know to do that is to take the time to enjoy life.  A little bit, every day.  When I take the time to savor where I’ve been and where I’m at, life slows down just a little bit… and it’s vastly sweeter.

And that’s enough to make any ex-drunk get a little misty. Keep coming back, my friends. It gets good enough, if you work for it, that you simply can’t believe that things worked out so well.

You Can’t Recover if You Don’t Quit; Paging Captain Obvious

Recovering from addiction, if done right, will be the hardest thing you ever do in life.  If you’re doing it wrong, then doing it right will be the second hardest thing you ever do.

For the last, oh, I don’t know, several thousand years or so, alcoholics have been trying to switch addictions to cope with quitting their drug/drink of choice.  Beer only, wine only, liquor only, foo-foo drinks only… weed only, pills only, heroin only, cocaine only, weed and beer, coke to get up, booze to come down… you get the idea.  Hey, why not swing for the fences and throw meth in there for good measure?  I’m sure that’ll end well.

Friends, there is no escape an addict won’t exploit.  If it makes us feel good, without proper motives and checks, we’ll abuse it.  It’s what we do.

The problem is not that we abuse the $#!+ that makes us feel good, it’s that we have to escape what is happening around us, that we want to escape life (usually synonymous with our bad decisions and the wreckage we create).  As addicts, we used to escape, to hide from life, therefore anything that gives us that escape in recovery has to be suspect (even, gulp, cycling).  If it’s mood or mind-altering, in the form of a drug, it’s simply off limits (there are exceptions, obviously, but none of them include self-diagnosis or pot – though feel free to kid yourself.  I won’t try to stop you).  If it’s something that simply puts a smile on our face, like cycling in my case, we must constantly assess our motives and our behavior.  If we don’t, we risk creating more, new wreckage from which we’ll seek to hide.  And that will start the cycle of destruction and the downward spiral to relapse.

That’s how $#!+ works.

In the end, Captain Obvious, it’s very simple; quit first, recover second.  Sadly, we don’t get to put the cart before the horse.  I can’t have the benefits of recovery if I won’t quit in the first place.

 

I’ve Finally Gotten My Trek Right… Again… But Really. This Time. Well, for Now…

My Trek 5200 has been a work in progress since the day I brought it home. I’ve put some serious miles on that beautiful bike.

Wait. Back up a minute. Technically, the bike wasn’t so beautiful when I brought it home. It was a shop loaner. The owner took pity on me because I didn’t have much money back then, but I had a serious zeal for cycling, so he sold me the bike at a bargain price. Three hours after I’d brought it home I had it presentable enough for photos.

Then, the procession of new parts. A new saddle was immediately necessary.  The old saddle was a 155mm and my butt is a 143…

The wheels broke a short time later, so new wheels.  Pedals were next, because I upgraded from mountain to road shoes. Then a handlebar, shifters… and then the paint job because some @$$-hat knocked it off the rack at a fun ride… and while I was at it, a new headset. Then, to complete the transformation, I upgraded it from a triple 9-speed to a compact double 10-speed.  A new, -17° longer stem dropped the cockpit considerably and stretched me out a little better.  Then an upgrade to the wheels – a spectacular set from my Venge went to the Trek after I bought a carbon set for the Specialized… Then a new saddle… and another new saddle… and voila!

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The setup on the Trek is now so close to my Specialized Venge, it’s hard to feel the difference riding the two bikes.  Saddle height is obviously the same, the handlebar is the same distance off the ground on both bikes, and the reach is the nearly identical.

So, no sooner than I take a look at that spectacular remade steed and I’m thinking…

Well, hey, if I get some new brakes on there, maybe something that could take a wider rim (say, new black 105 brakes), I could get a new set of carbon wheels for the Trek…  Then it really would be complete.  For real.

To tell you the truth, I hope my wife doesn’t read this post, because she’d $#!+.  I’m not supposed to want anything more for the Trek… but those carbon fiber wheels are so fast… and black 105 brakes?  How could I not want those on a blacked out bike?!

For now I’m going with “the alloy wheels, even though they’re a little heavier, stop a whole lot better than the carbon wheels do – and in the conditions I ride the Trek, stopping well is a necessity.

I think that’ll work for a little while anyway.

As good as my Trek is, and it is great, there’s always one more thing, isn’t there?

On Gratitude… for Simply Being on the Right Side of the Grass, Pumping Air

It’s easy to be sucked into the morass of the news cycle. It was a dark day in America way back when the big whigs at CNN, on their second day of the network’s existence, realized that 24-hour news was really hard. It seems shortly thereafter they figured, well, if the news won’t come to us, we’ll start making it ourselves.

This isn’t going to be a critique on CNN, though. The point is, when we’re bombarded with crap designed to keep us glued to a TV screen, eventually, to use a phrase seemingly designed for CNN, throw enough crap against a barn, eventually some is going to stick. Therein lies the rub.

I have something rare going for me. I’m a terrible, raging alcoholic.

It’s rare that being an insufferable drunk is looked at as a benefit, but if given some decent perspective, it’s the best thing ever to happen to me.

Being an alcoholic, recovering from it, specifically, has put life in perspective. The hardest thing I’ll ever do in my lifetime is recover from that pit of despair and hopelessness. I did it at 22 years-old, and with just under half of my brain constantly trying to get me back to the miserable relief of escapism through drinking and drugs.

Not only have I stopped mood and mind altering substances, I’ve flourished in this new lease on life, and if I can do that, after all of the despair I suffered through, anything is possible.

One final note on gratitude. The moment after I gave up and asked God for help to recover, I had a complete change of mind and heart. My compulsion to drink was lifted. Maybe “eased” is a better word, but it was something tangible, something I could feel. A crushing weight lifted off my chest… real relief.

People often speak of “being saved”… I get to know, deep down to my baby toes, exactly what being saved feels like. And I know enough not to waste what I was given.

My friends, life is all about how we choose to look at it. Injustice exists everywhere. So does great joy, friendship, happiness and love. Everywhere. What am I going to choose to see, and share with those around me?

Life is never perfect, but if I remain grateful for what I’ve been given, it’s never CNN bad, either.