There are Levels, Man

April 30, 2012

The title of this post comes from a quote from the inimitable Joe Rogan, announcer for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  During one fight, speaking of a particularly high-level fighter, the often-boyishly-enthusiastic Rogan said, “this is what I’ve been saying, there are levels, man…”

By now the alert reader may be wondering how my planned ride this past Saturday (the KCMBC Spring Classic) went.  Well, it went…by the wayside.

This was to be the first organized event I would participate in. I over-zealously registered without knowing the course.  My assumption was that, with 70-mile, 46-mile, and 26-mile options, that the shortest course would be understood to be for those newish to the cycling game, and therefore not overly challenging. And, perhaps it’s not overly challenging to someone in better shape than myself.  But, having received the course map last week and driven out to survey it, I knew in my heart of hearts that this course was too difficult for me.  I would be struggling very hard and still not be able to finish.

It wasn’t the mileage.  I’ve gone 40 miles in a day before, and gone over 25 miles a number of times.  Mileage wasn’t the issue – the hilly terrain was.

And with that, I received, in a very short space of time, a number of different insights.

One is, I’ve spent too much of my riding time on the flat stuff.  It’s a deliberate choice for the most part – I am, as mentioned several places in this blog, overweight and working to lose weight and get into shape.  Hills are hard work for me.  The worst bonk I ever had (chronicled in this post) involved what at the time seemed like a killer hill.  I’ve gotten into the shape that over relatively flat surface (not pancake-flat, but with mild grades), I can go for a long, long way – but if there are more than a couple hills involved, my total-ride gas tank gets depleted quickly.  So, it’s been a conscious choice to enjoy riding the bike miles versus working hard on hills, with the knowledge that at least initially the rides would be fairly short.

Second insight – I’m still a babe in the woods in the cycling game.  I never fancied myself a badass, but I was getting increasingly satisfied with the results of the work I’d put in.  However, seeing this 26-mile course – realizing that to these organizers, who know what they are doing, this probably was at least a relatively basic course – gave me great respect for the fitness level of folks who have done this a while.  I’m a fairly competitive person by nature – even if all I’m competing with is an idea rather than an actual person – so this realization sparked in me a fierce determination to “get to where they are”.

Third insight – “There are levels, man”.  It’s one kind of cyclist who can ride for 25, 30, 40, 50 miles at a stretch in a defined range of terrain.  It’s another who can do the same distance over much harder terrain.  The first cyclist is comfortable and confident that he can put in the miles within parameters.  The second is confident that he can handle a much wider range of adversity being thrown at him.  I wanted to become this rider.  As I mentioned previously, I have an interest to one day join the slightly crazy ranks of the randonneurs; this is out of the question without this experience under my belt and confidence to tackle whatever the ride may consist of.

Fourth insight – Almost immediately, I was cognizant of a reversal of roles, in a way that was very pleasing to me.  Chicken and egg:  initially I started riding the bike only as a means to an end – only to help me lose weight and get in better shape, period.  Riding the bike wasn’t the point; losing weight was the point.  Now, falling in line like a domino within the cascade of the above insights, was the recognition that now, the mission was to get myself into the best possible shape so as to be able to enjoy better rides.  Further, longer, more challenging, rides.  The concepts of losing weight, getting into better shape – these were now the means to the end, the necessary preparation in the service of become a better cyclist.  This was rather unexpected, but I like it.  It’s a win-win.

And so, I had to face the fact that, as I told my friends, there will be a day when I’m able to complete rides like this, but that day is not now.

It was an unpleasant reality but reality nonetheless; getting upset over it would be pointless.  The thing to do is determine what I want, and then give everything I’ve got to get there.  And that’s what I realized this day.

I’m going to switch up the ride routine.  Previously, I’d do largely-flats (fairly gentle grades) for a few rides, then maybe a day of hills, then back to flats.  Now, I’ll incorporate a lot more hillwork.  I’ll push to improve my endurance on the hills and the ability to fight through them for further distance.  I’ll work on sprints.  I’ll incorporate the advice of a couple of wonderfully helpful “mentor” friends I’m blessed to have.

I don’t watch a lot of movies, but I am known for drawing parallels between some given situation and the ones I have seen.  An appropriate parallel here is “the judge” in the movie The Natural.  In an interesting scene, he explains to Roy, the main character, that as a child he was frightened of the dark.  He used to wake up in the dark sobbing, as though it were water and he were drowning in it.  But over time he had so thoroughly overcome his fear that he now preferred a dark room.

The analogy should be obvious.  I will make my weaknesses my strengths.  I will give everything I’ve got to overcome my apprehension of, and avoidance of, hills and challenging terrain, until I am fully comfortable with, and even prefer, challenging conditions.


Overdue post here, haven’t published much lately.

Have been experiencing “hand issues” lately on the bike, little bit of issues with numbing fingers, some hand pain, etc.  I’ve read quite a bit, so I’m able to diagnose the problem as too much weight on my hands due to my riding posture, impeding the nerves in the hand.

My bike is a decent fit for me for somewhat “shorter” rides (maybe up to 20, 25 miles), but as the ride extends, discomfort increases unduly.  I’ve come to realize that my handlebars are a little bit too far from the saddle, which forces me to put more weight on my hands than I’d like (I’m a heavy/overweight person, so this isn’t a great thing).  Ideal would be to move the saddle up a little, but my feet/legs are already about as far forward on the pedal as I’d like them to be.

I’m addressing this problem with a 2-part approach.  First, I had some handlebar extenders placed on the ends of the bars, as shown below.

This enables me to even further switch up my grip periodically, beyond what I already do (and which clearly isn’t quite enough).  At the same time, I’ve bought a slightly better pair of cycling gloves with better gel padding than what I’ve been using.

This all went down a week ago or so.  Since then, I’ve put some miles on, and this is definitely helping.  But, it’s still not fully there, so the second part of the solution is to have the LBS (local bike shop) attach a handlebar extender to the stem.  I looked over a few options, and the one I like has a two-pronged approach; one, it brings the handlebars up a little closer to the rider (extending the stem along its axis), and two, it has an adjustable/lockable swivel which allows the user to tilt the bars themselves closer to or further from the rider.  I’m having this portion added to the bike in the next several days.

I’m very hopeful that this will substantially do away with the hand issues I’ve been experiencing and make the longer rides much more comfortable, flexible, and stress-free.  The absolutely ideal outcome, which I am fervently wishing for, is that the flexibility in that stem extender will allow me to actually move my saddle back just a touch and up just a touch – which wouldn’t really be feasible now because of the weight/hands issue.  The reason this is ideal is to give my legs just that tiny bit more extension as well as allow for a more preferable placement of the foot on the petal.  This in turn can hopefully allow me to add a clipless pedal set to the bike, something I’ve wanted from early days.  This will greatly help my riding speed and effective power transfer.

Will update when this extender is in place, and I’ve taken a couple shakedown rides with it in place.

I already knew I was riding. I knew when I started the car for work this morning that I was riding this evening.  Weatherwise it looked like the worst day of the week – lots of wind, rain, thunderstorms – but after 2 days off the bike I was starting to get edgy.  It wasn’t a question of if I’d ride, it was what route & how far.

Pondering this question – which route to take – suddenly it hit me that with all the road miles I’d gotten in lately, I hadn’t been on my beloved Prairie Spirit Trail (save for the occasional 1- or 2-mile transit on the paved portion here in town) for quite some time.  That settled that.

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The road is calling!

April 19, 2012

Two straight days off the bicycle…just when it’s starting to really get fun…I am going stir crazy!  The weather tonight looks unfavorable – wind, rain – but I may decide to just go rain or shine 🙂

Hey, this is fun! :)

April 18, 2012

In one of my first posts on this blog, I said this:

I realized that I was totally free from the “idea” of riding the bike. I was simply, and beautifully, riding the bike.  Seems such a small distinction, but it was quite magic.

As the boundaries between bike and rider, between effort and freedom, between work and reward, dissolved, I found myself inside the music in my ears.  Traveling in a beautiful, timeless, almost synaesthetic space.  Aware but unfocused.  Present but not deliberate.  Abandoned to the sheer delight of the ride.

In a flash of inspiration during my most recent ride, I realized that I maybe hadn’t fully expressed the distinction.  It wasn’t only that I was free from the “idea” of riding the bike – it’s that for that brief span of time, riding the bike was easy, free, and fun – it wasn’t “hard work”.

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I weigh in every Wednesday*.  I was completely shocked recently to realize that I have not lost weight in three consecutive weeks for over six months.  In other words, it’s been six months since I weighed less each Wednesday than I did the previous week, three weeks running.  I knew I’d been in a “channel” where my weight had stayed within the same 5 pounds for months, but I didn’t realize I had not put together 3 “down” weeks since early October.

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I have expectation to one day dwarf these numbers, but everyone starts somewhere.  I recently (I think on my 4/11/2012 17ish mile ride) passed a meaningful milestone – 1,000 total miles on the bike.  This is as measured from 9/1/2011, when I started tracking mileage via Endomondo.

Not all of them, however, have been with my current bike.  In fact, I’ve only logged give or take 600 miles on the Specialized.  So she still has some weeks to go before crossing her 1000-mile mark.

Some time ago, fairly early in my cycling days, I bit off more than I could chew at the time.  Way more.

I tried to attack the rolling hills that present themselves on Highway 59 north of Ottawa. To an experienced rider – or someone with better cardio than I had (which isn’t a tall order) – those hills are manageable.  Or even someone in my then-shape, but with good riding strategy (smart gear-shifting, keeping energy replenished), would be ok.  But, in what was destined to be a big-time learning experience for me, I charged ahead, very out of shape, with little energy in the tank, with little concept of gearing strategy, and with a full head of steam.

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Bicycling is the nearest approximation I know to the flight of birds.

– Louis J. Helle, Jr.

Top 10 Goals for 2012

April 15, 2012

The empirical evidence for the efficacy of goal-setting and goal-documenting is widely-known and undisputed.  Accordingly, although we are 3.5 months into the year, I have the desire to formally document my fitness-related goals, and what better place than this blog.

I’ll provide occasional updates and/or note the accomplishment of each goal.

Goals are for calendar 2012 unless otherwise noted:

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