August is in the books, and with it a new personal best for monthly mileage on the bike.  At 464 miles, I improved upon the mileage of my previous best month (368 miles in June) by 26%.

The first week of July had been on a very promising pace to top June, but all progress was derailed by my fall on the bike on July 7th.  I rode only 10 more miles or so for the rest of the month until back-to-back 14-15 mile return rides on the 29th and 30th.

That injury month aside, I’ve now increased mileage in each of the past several consecutive months; and with plans I have in store for the final third of the year, I expect that trend to continue!

A minor side note:  according to Endomondo, which I use to track my rides, I’ve recently passed the 2500 lifetime-miles mark, which Endomondo cheerfully tells me is 10% of the way around the world.

I’ve tracked my riding for exactly 12 months now, with a marked upward trend in monthly distance over that 2500 miles.  It took me 7.5 months to log 1000 miles (an average 4.4 miles per calendar day), while I’ve rolled 1500 additional miles in the intervening 4.5 months (11.1 miles per calendar day).

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One of my two major cycling goals for the year was biking the full Prairie Spirit Trail and back (over two consecutive days), which I did in April.

The other major goal was biking the full 240-mile Katy Trail across much of Missouri, which I’ve tentatively planned for October timeframe ever since setting the goal.  I now have a semi-firm date for the start of the undertaking – Wednesday, November 7th.  A buddy is planning at this point to ride this with me.  More details will become clear with time.

Basically 10 weeks from today – 70 days.  I am looking forward to this adventure 🙂

Evolution

August 31, 2012

A few days ago I set out on what ended up being about a 28-mile ride.  Originally planned for 42, but I’ll get to that.

This ride was noteworthy for me for a few reasons.

First, I would consider it a “top 10 ride”, meaning among my top 10 favorite bike rides I’ve taken.  This, despite the unplanned conclusion.  The route was great, I was feeling good, good music in the headphones, some hills, some flats, varying terrain…little bit of wind, little sprinkling rain, rolling at sunrise…it was a beautiful bike ride.

Second, something jelled in my mind during this ride in terms of when I should “push” myself to ride on a given day if I’m not really feeling up to it.  There’s a common saying in sports about “playing hurt vs. playing injured”, and knowing the difference.  The conclusion I reached on this day was somewhat analagous to this – “not wanting to ride” versus “not feeling like riding”.  Just like hurt vs. injured, they sound pretty similar, but what crystallized for me on this ride was that they are different for me.

I am, of course, overweight, as I explain right up front in this site’s foundational post.  Riding the bike began primarily as a means to lose weight (although I’ve found that I enjoy it in its own right).  One aspect of struggling with weight, as I always have and continue to even with my gradual success, is that there remains a tendency, reinforced over years of poor eating+exercise habits, to want to revert back to that lazier time.  The danger is that this has ramifications for both eating and exercise – meaning, the well-calcified habits include eating poorly and staying inactive.  Two sides of the same toxic coin.

When I am feeling a conscious, or subconscious, pull to surrender to this easier routine for a day (or longer!), this is what I now identify as “not wanting to ride”.  This is contrasted with “not feeling like riding”, which typically occurs on the day after a long (for me) ride, or when my body is just especially achey or tired.  When I “don’t feel like riding”, it’s my body telling me I should take a day to rest, while my spirit does very much want to get on the bike.  This is a normal, natural aspect of the work I’m doing to get into shape, and should be honored.  “Not wanting to ride”, however, is almost the polar opposite.  In this mindset, the body is willing but the spirit is not.  It’s a “decision” (which again can be either conscious or subconscious) to take the easy road for today.  The issue, of course, is that reverting to such habits that have become entrenched over years runs a risk of extending “today” for 2, 3 days – or more.  Well, I think to myself, I didn’t ride yesterday, and I let my eating go a little bit, and I’m still alive – so why not today also?  Flashing danger sign here!

For whatever reason – the mind works on all kinds of things while riding the bike at distance – this distinction became perfectly clear to me on this wonderful ride.  The appropriate response follows naturally – when I “don’t feel like riding”, I will typically heed it and let my body rest. This is the angel on my shoulder, wanting what is best for me. But when I “don’t want to ride”, this is the four-headed devil with fangs, wanting me to surrender to being less than I deserve to allow myself to be.  The antidote is to willfully push through every single time that I “don’t want to ride”.  Tell the devil no.

Another evolution in my “growth” (sounds so touchy-feely that I feel obliged to quotation it) was brought to the fore by the untimely end of the ride.  Up till now, I’ve never ridden with a spare tube or air pump.  Sacrilege, I know.  In fact, I’ll be candid – prior to this ride I didn’t really know HOW to change a bike tire.  I’ve always known I was rolling the dice riding dozens of miles away without means to fix a flat, but I’ve leaned on the steps I took to make my tires as flat-proof as I reasonably could at purchase.  Still, it’s only a matter of time, and that time arrived this ride.  With about 14 miles to go, I ran over a small piece of metal which flatted my front tire.  Having no means to change it, too far from home to walk it back, I had to call my buddy with my tail between my legs, to come out and pick me up.  Mrs. O, God bless her (and her husband, both of whom I inconvenienced), once again drove out to return me home safe & dry.  Needless to say, only a fool would continue to ride after that without supplies, so – after having my LBS fix the flat, showing me how to do it, and replacing both tires which had accumulated a ton of wear – I now ride with a spare tube and air pump.  Continuing on the path to becoming a real cyclist  🙂

In all, the ride that I was already planning to blog about as being a “top ten ride” before the flat turned out, viewed objectively, to be every bit that good even despite the premature conclusion, and a welcome evolution in my cycling journey.

The Greatest Fuel

August 24, 2012

I’ve believed since discovering them that Hammer makes the best fuel for endurance exercise. And they’re definitely great.  But on this evening’s ride, I found something even better.

Got in a good 27-mile ride this evening, on a new route suggested to me by my friend Mr. O.  I was a little weary at the end of a hard-working week and the first 10 miles or so were very challenging – some hills (nothing outrageous but more than my legs wanted to climb without protest) and a respectable headwind, plus a smattering of rain and sweat-dripping humidity.

After roughly 13 miles I began to find a second wind and settled in to enjoy the ride.

After a brief stop at a favorite break location, I turned back north for the final ~9 miles home, on Highway 59.  Glancing off beside the shoulder, I caught an unmistakable glimpse.  The American flag, or some portion thereof.  My folks raised me right; I can still hear my mom telling me as a child, “You should never let the flag touch the ground.”  A flash of thought passed in which I was annoyed with whomever allowed this to happen; I hope they somehow weren’t aware it occurred. With alacrity I stopped and retraced the short distance to pick it up.  To my joy I found it wasn’t a tattered part of a flag as I first suspected; it was a full, beautiful flag – a fairly large one, mounted on a wooden stick.

Beaming with pride, I mounted the flag between my handlebars and cables such that it could fly out to my right side as I made my way home.  This was truly the best kind of fuel for a weary rider – I could most assuredly feel a surge of strength from the flag, flapping in the wind as I pedaled, brushing against my arm.  I felt very humbled to live with the freedoms I enjoy, represented by this symbol I carried, ensured by the sacrifices of so many.

Many cars passed me, in both directions, on the ride home.  I like to speculate as to their thoughts at this sight – a guy riding along the side of the highway on a bike bearing a fairly large American flag which flapped happily along beside him.  I hope it brought a smile to many faces.

As I entered my traditional edge-of-town haunts – what I sometimes think of as “re-entering the real world” from a long ride – I passed by gas stations, restaurants, a Wal Mart.  I could feel the surprised glances of shoppers and pedestrians as I passed by – or was it in my imagination?  More than once I wondered, in this highly polarized time, at a fever pitch of political wrangling, was it possible for a proud American to simply ride his bike through a small town holding a flag without it being interpreted as a political message?  As a challenge?  As a threat?  As some deeper meaning than the simple pride in country which increasingly seems to be ebbing into the pages of fondly remembered past?  I managed to weave through my normal “fly-by” points and arrive home without getting my ass kicked…maybe there’s hope yet.

[Postscript – Making this post, I read that it’s traditional to burn the flag if it should touch the ground.  I wasn’t previously familiar with this.  I take this stuff seriously and am going to do some reading to decide upon the proper disposition of my new gift.  Till then, it resides cheerfully beside my bike.]

Happiness Is…

August 24, 2012

…four dozen packs of Hammer Gel arriving in the mail 🙂  I also received a new 4.8 pound infusion of Perpetuem powder.  I’m well stocked on fuel now for quite a while.

I’m a huge fan of MMA (mixed martial arts).  One of my favorite clips is a very obscure one from a lesser-known/lesser-importance fight. It’s a slow-motion shot of one of the competitors following a referee stoppage by TKO.  The man is lying in a disorganized heap on the ground, looking back up toward the fighter who just chained together a flurry of strikes to drop him and win the fight.

This is one of my favorites not for the stature of the fighters involved or the importance attached to the bout itself.  What I like – love – is the raw, unfiltered, uninterpreted emotion written across the face of the loser.  In the best “picture is worth a thousand words” tradition, this brief segment of film speaks volumes to me about the human spirit.  About effort and reward.  But primarily about determination to improve and redeem oneself.

I have no way to know what the downed fighter was actually thinking – perhaps he was thinking nothing, mentally checked out from the near-knockout – but what I see in his face is incredibly raw determination.  His expression seems to be saying to me, “I wasn’t the better man.  But if the rules allowed me to get up right this second and re-engage you, even through the fog of the beating I just took, I would put you on your butt.”  It is to me an unverbalized, uninterpreted look of a man who is already, in that moment, totally committed to what it takes to redeem his sad situation.  But tied up within the ineffable mix of impressions his expression conveyed was also the hopeless realization that this was in fact NOT possible right now.  The rules of the sport dictate – fight’s over, fight’s over.  You will get a second chance, perhaps – but not this night.  No amount of raw determination coursing through you can change the fact that you are, for a time, out of the game, forced to endure the sentence of time before you can show the world what is already a reality in your heart.

I’ve liked that clip for years, but during my recent injury-caused absence, I had reason to relate to it further.  Many times during this stretch, I felt myself to be this man on the ground. The injury kept me totally off the bike, and for my own good I needed to stay free of any real physical exertion for a time so I could heal up.  Many times during this few weeks I found myself with a savage determination to redeem my sorry state and reach performances well beyond what I’d been able to show to this point.  I KNEW that “if I could only” get my shot, I would cash it.  But, like the fighter whose reality dictates that this moment offers no outlet for this emotion, I had to wait.

Now, I am healed up and back on the bike.  I have my second bite at the apple that I so passionately wanted during those weeks.  The opportunity that I was so urgently awaiting – my chance to “make it right” – has arrived.  And I feel incredibly motivated, incredibly energized, and very blessed to have such a chance.  Now that the choice is once again entirely with me – and not with father time – watch me work.

A while back I bought a backup pair of cycling shorts.  Different manufacturer, different style, different fit.  Prior to yesterday, I’d only worn these on two rides – and both of them were among the handful of fairly unpleasant rides I’ve ever had.  Both times, I knew it wasn’t really the shorts themselves – there were other circumstances contributing to the “bleh” factor – but I found myself beginning to associate wearing this particular pair of shorts with hard-working (not in a positive way), unpleasant rides.

Yesterday I broke through this particular hang-up as I got in a wonderful 27+ mile ride with my frequent riding companion Mr. V.  Rode a new route around the Overland Park area, some hills, some wind, some trails, some road – a great enjoyable ride.  And at last, the “bad” cycling shorts were made good.

Anyone out there have a similar situation?  A pair of shoes, a particular helmet, a particular pair of shorts that you associate with less-than-excellent rides?

One of my favorite bicycle blogs is The Early Morning Cyclist.  One theme that pervades his blog – starting with its name – is an avowed fondness for early-morning cycling.  This is something that I share, but alas, cannot do nearly often enough.

I live roughly 50 miles from my work – which means an hour commute in the morning and another on the return.  It’s impossible for me to rise in the morning, get in a quality-length ride, and get to work at any kind of reasonable time.  Therefore, only on Saturday/Sunday is early-morning cycling feasible for me – which for me is a major reason I look forward to the weekend.  It’s a very special time for me.  Either alone on the bike with my thoughts (as this morning), or joining Mr. V, my frequent weekend traveling companion, as on yesterday’s ride.

This morning I rose early and got in about 19 miles after yesterday’s half-century. I could have gone further, but had plans to meet Mrs. O for our sometime weekend morning walk.

Those reading whose job/school location/timing/whatever allows you freedom to ride in the morning, I envy you 🙂  It’s a magic time to ride the bike.

Till next weekend, then…

Saturday I got in by far the longest ride since my post-injury return to action, getting in a half-century with the irrepressible Mr. V.  We headed out about 7:30 AM, hitting a series of trails in Overland Park, ending the day with a lunch at my favorite restaurant – Chipotle – and a short ride back to Mr. V’s house.

Along the route we passed the hill on which I fell five weeks prior, to the day.  I got a couple pictures for the memory books and moved on.

Below, just a couple pictures from this excellent ride.

Daybreak at the gas station heading north to meet up with Mr. V.  I LOVE morning cycling, and wish I could do it most every day instead of only on the weekend.

My trusty traveling companion waiting patiently on the trunk rack.

…and again, well into the morning’s adventure.  A short break at roughly 1/3rd of the way through the ride.

And this is the one that got me.  Five weeks prior, I went down this hill way too fast, lost control, and hit the deck, but not before the handlebars smacked my midsection.  The hill has been smoothed out now versus its condition for my fall.  On that unhappy day, the entire thing was much looser dirt/rocks, in the way that only parts of it now are in this picture.

In all, a fantastic Saturday morning ride.  I think it’s my 5th or 6th-ever half century, and certainly my longest ride since returning to action.  It was cathartic walking past this area of my fall, capturing it for posterity, and moving on with my life 🙂

The enemy.

August 9, 2012

No, hills are not the enemy.  The enemy is obesity, and being out of shape. Hills, deceptively packaged as adversaries, are in fact allies to further you on the journey; to equip you for the battle.

These were the thoughts I repeated to myself as I pushed into the incline.  Breathing quickening, deepening.  Legs grinding.  Muscles burning. The struggle.  The reward.

As I’ve said before, one day I will roll hills like this – and more difficult ones – up.  For today, it is hard work for me.  But it is putting in that work which will allow me to one day roll hills like this up.  No pain!!!