So, two of my main loves in life are all things cycling, and all things data.  Working with numbers, finding trends and meaning in data, graphing, etc.  It’s quite natural that I embrace opportunities to combine these two interests  🙂

In this post are four charts representing varying looks into my cycling “career” to date, plus a look at a prospective 2013 in which I accomplish an ambitious mileage goal.

 
01---Cumulative

Above:  From 9/1/2011 through current day, this is the cumulative mileage I’ve ridden.  The first big upward surge about 1/3 of the way from left starts in March 2012, when I experienced a reawakening to the desire to ride the bike and lose weight.  That upswing in cumulative mileage continues fairly well until the little plateau in the graph’s middle – which was my hiatus-inducing injury in July (see earlier blog post here).  After that, my cumulative mileage continues to climb even more steeply into the summer and fall.  The little jump about 3/4 of the way into the graph reflects our Katy Trail ride (see earlier blog post here).  After that it continues, more gradually, until early 2013, which is a much smoother grade to current day.  I’ve not ridden nearly as much this winter as I’d like, which this post reflects graphically a couple different ways.

02---Average-Ride

Above:  From 3/25/2012 (my reawakening alluded to above) through current day. This measures the average distance per ride – i.e. whenever I saddle up and head out on the bike, on the average this is how far I go.  This chart follows the evolution of that average from 3/25/2012 forward. The first huge jump is a consequence of my first Prairie Spirit Trail 2-day tour (see earlier blog post here).  From there, the average ride meanders around and drifts back down until early August – shortly after returning from my injury.  Thereafter, the average ride distance continues to steadily climb, peaking in mid-October (27.35 mile average ride distance) following our Katy Trail ride.  It has gradually retreated from that, but is still about 26.5.  So this means that my average ride distance since late March 2012 is about 26.5 miles.

03---Average-Calendar-Day

Above:  From 9/1/2011 through current day, this is my average mileage per calendar day.  This is not the same thing as graph # 2.  While graph #2 measures the average distance I’m going to ride when I saddle up, this graph #3 is a measure of my average bike miles per calendar day.  For example, if my entire ride history consisted of 7 days, in which I took one ride of 7 miles, then the top graph would show 7 miles (average ride distance) while this last graph would show 1 mile (average miles biked per calendar day).  For this reason, graph #2 is a better measurement of consistency of ride distance; graph #3 is a better hybrid measurement of ride distance as well as ride frequency.  Once again, the first big dropoff on the chart (1/3rd of the way through) is the time of my injury, when I wasn’t riding at all – therefore, my average miles biked per day was dropping, dropping.  I then resumed riding regularly, and with improving distance, so the averages climbed – up to my top average of 8.26 in mid-October.  So this means that I rode my bike an average of 8.26 miles per calendar day since I started tracking.  It’s on this chart that my relative inactivity in 2013 to date really shows (toward right of graph).  The point where it starts really trailing off was early January.  I’ve not been riding much, so my average mileage per day is dropping.  As of 2/26 (the last point on the graph), my average mileage, at 7.99, has dipped below 8 for the first time since immediately before our Katy Trail ride.

With the winter in its final gasps, of course, and riding season knocking on the door, all these stats will dramatically evolve.   Which is a nice segue to the final graph.

04---Future-Average-Calenda

This is the same as # 3 above, but with an added “target line” (green dashes).  This line – 10.71 average mileage per calendar day – represents the level I will have needed to reach on 12/31/2013 in order to achieve my recently-posted target of 5000 miles for the year (see earlier blog post here).  This illustrates the scale of what that goal would represent for me in terms of progress; I’d jump from an average daily mileage of 8 miles, garnered over 548 calendar days, to an overall average of 10.7 (39% increase) in only an additional 306 days.  This, then, is the meaning of the dashed white line on the graph – this is the average daily mileage I’ll have to attain for the remaining 10 months of 2013 in order to hit my goal.  15.6 miles per calendar day…close to twice what I’ve averaged since I began tracking.  Quite a jump!

Did someone say snow?

February 23, 2013

Mentioned in my last ride report that it would likely be the last ride for at least a few days, as all the weather forecasts were for a monster storm here in Kansas (and indeed the entire Midwest).

They weren’t kiddin’.  When all was said and done, we got roughly 10 inches of snow here in Ottawa, the great preponderance of which fell in the course of 7 hours.

Had to take the opportunity to frame my bike in this tsunami of snow.  Keep in mind, I don’t have a kickstand on my bike; in the pictures below, the bike is just standing arrow straight in the snow (leaning against a mountain of snow in the first picture).

bike_01

bike_02

bike_03

Above:  My beloved Prairie Spirit Trail, the paved portion running through Ottawa.  Completely buried in close to a foot of snow with drifting.

bike_04

Above:  My boot-adorned foot in a typical footprint.  Felt like the training montage in Rocky IV just tromping around in the snow, sinking each footfall way down and then hoisting it back up.

I’m itching to get back out and ride, so I look anxiously outside every 30 minutes or so to see if the roads appear bikeable yet  🙂

Aiming for a 5k mileage year

February 20, 2013

I’ve decided upon a mileage goal for 2013.  I intend to ride 5,000+ miles this year.  Goals are a very individual thing, and this one will seem modest to some readers of my blog – but for me it would be a huge advance.

Put in perspective – this means an average monthly total of 400+ miles…while last year, I only passed 400 miles in a month probably three times.

Compound that with the fact that we’re already almost two months into the year.  I don’t have an exact idea of my current mileage but it’s probably ~300 miles – which means I’ll need to average ~450 miles per month for the rest of the year.

For me, this 5k miles would be significantly more than I did in 2012…roughly 50% more, in fact.  An ambitious goal.  Let’s go get it!!

A first synthesis ride

February 20, 2013

So last night I took my first “real” ride of any distance in 2.5 weeks.  I’d been on the bike 4-5 times in the interval, but for a TOTAL of maybe 10-12 miles, and never more than 3 at a stretch…just very short rides to keep “in touch” with the bike.

Recently much has kept me off the bike.  I’ve been working through some things in the personal life, working a fair amount, the weather has been inconsistent, and crowning it all I had a battle with the nasty flu that is going around.  All these things contributed to keeping me off the bike for – well, one of the longest stretches since I first bought the current bike in January 2012.

But, finally, there I was last night.  The weather wasn’t hospitable to it – it was well below freezing when I set out at about 7 PM and dropped below 20 before I arrived home.  Plus I am still battling the remaining 20% of the flu I’d been suffering.  But with the forecast calling for between 6 and 12+ inches of snow, ice, sleet to fall in the next 24 hours, I knew I would NOT be riding for the next few days – so better to sneak in at least one ride.

I was eager for the ride for more reasons than one.  Beyond just the joy of riding and reconnecting with the bike (which I truly believe, as my blog’s subtitle says, saved my life), I recognized that depending upon route selection, this would be a good “synthesis ride” for me – a good ability to gauge my progress along the all-important power-to-weight continuum.  I’ve been applying myself dedicatedly to improving the power-to-weight ratio for some weeks now, continuing to eat healthy and lose weight while going regularly to the gym for strength training.  I’ve seen the results in numerous little ways, and was eager to assess its impact-thus-far on the bike.

I chose a route that for me historically has been fairly challenging.  Or at least, not a piece of cake.  It’s a roughly 24 mile route up north to LeLoup and back via 68 Highway, a route originally suggested to me by Randy Rasa of kansascyclist.com.  The route has certainly gotten less difficult for me as I’ve lost weight over the months, but I hadn’t done the route in the past several weeks of strength training and weight loss and was eager to measure my progress against it.

Additionally, I have a slightly tweaked fueling strategy that I plan to essay for this cycling season, and this would be a first ride to give that a test.

This became one of those bike rides you live for.  Crisp and cold, yes.  I wore my normal winter gear – leggings with 2 pairs of shorts, t-shirt underneath with long-sleeve shirt atop – but in addition I wore atop THAT a warm red sweatshirt, and on my head a cap/ear cover which I only employ when it’s below 30ish.  All of that gear kept me comfortably warm for the most part (although by ride’s end my feet were cold), and I fired up my usual Pandora mix station as I weaved my way through traffic lights out of town.  Coming up to the first inclines on 68 east, I could immediately perceive a difference in the amount of “push” I needed to exert.  My body felt stronger, quicker and lighter than before, and I made good time up the couple of small inclines with good cadence.

The ride to LeLoup is a beautiful stretch of quiet country road, with a few small rolling hills, and these I also took with less exertion than is typically the case for me.  The night sky was (in parts) clear and bright, and the tunes were as always a perfect soundtrack to my private reel of thoughts as the miles ticked away and the Kansas landscape glided silently past in the darkness.

Making the turn east for the next stretch, I continued feeling very good…a little quicker, a little stronger, and a little lighter.  For maybe the first time in my life, or one of the first rides, I was feeling like a “real cyclist”.  I’m aware that even after all the time I’ve put in on the bike and all my effort in losing weight, I’m just now starting to open the door into a different “era” for me in terms of on-bike potential, and it’s a very cool thing to experience, if difficult to capture in words.

I took a short break at my usual place – halfway in, about 12 miles.  Briefly stopped at my familiar stop-sign breaking point, drank some more water and relaxed a minute or two.  The moon seemed to be directly overhead, aligned with the stop sign, and fringed with bright stars – a beautiful moment to be alive and enjoying a bike ride on this crisp night.  Soon enough I jumped back aboard for the return to O-town.  The first few miles here are on Tennessee Road, with another few rolling hills.  A couple of these climbs in particular have in the past played havoc with my cadence and breathing.  This night though, the “synthesis ride” could hardly have been much more encouraging…I rolled up each climb and down the other side in stride.  Turning back west on 68, passing familiar landmarks and more rollers, I arrived back in town cold (especially the aforementioned feet) but feeling very good.  The fueling strategy seems to be an A+ at this point – when doing this route in the past, I always would feel a little “protest” from my legs in the last couple miles, but not today.  I felt as though, if not for the temperature and the time of day (this on a work-night), I could comfortably have extended the ride for another X number of miles.

In all, I couldn’t have been more heartened by this “synthesis ride” than I was/am.  It’s a very encouraging start to what should be a really fun year of cycling.  Clearly the weight loss, the healthier eating, and the strength training are cohering (synthesizing) into making me a stronger rider.  Now with spring just around the corner…warmer temps, and longer daylight, I will be able to integrate the final piece which is more frequent and longer rides, building the miles.

The train is in the station

February 7, 2013

train_stationRecently, as I was hovering at 209 pounds for a couple weeks, I was using (to myself and to friends) the analogy of “waiting for a train”.  What I meant by that was that, given the time of year, I was pretty content to just hover around 209-211 pounds, waiting for the weather to warm up, days to get longer, and my cycling miles to greatly expand.  I was biding my time, consolidating my progress, waiting for the next big push down in weight. Waiting for my pitch.

Well, I’m thrilled to see that the train is in the station – and not only on time, it’s early.  I weighed in last week at 206.5 pounds – first time I’d ever (well, in a decade) been below 209.  This morning, seeing a recent change in my clothes’ fit and body proportions, in curiousity I stepped on the scale again.  204 pounds came to my wondering eyes like a trumpet call.

We’re having an especially mild winter here in eastern KS.  The past week or two I’ve been staying active, eating healthy, and working out, although not riding big miles.  But the big miles will return sooner rather than later.  I view March 1st as the start of my “cycling season” and it’s just around the corner.  My jeans are falling right off of me, old clothes that hadn’t fit in years are now loose on me, I’m discovering notches on the belt I thought were only for decoration  🙂

Three weeks from tomorrow will be my traditional monthly first weigh-in.  I fervently hope to be under 200 pounds for that one – the vaunted “Onederland” my buddy Mr. O has encouraged me toward.  With a little luck and a little work, February 2013 will be the last month I ever weigh above 200 pounds.

The train is most definitely in the station now, and I’ve got a ticket to ride.  Let’s see just how far this thing can go.

Were I in your shoes, dear reader, I would be cynically asking “how does this bloke see fit to prattle on about ‘what RAGBRAI is’ when he’s never been?”.  My answer would be that this is exactly the reason for the writeup.   You see, with a little luck, 6 months from now I’ll never again be able to say I’m a RAGBRAI virgin.  In my experience, endeavors like this affect you on many levels, and are often very much what you expected and yet nothing like what you expected, all at once.  Being the overly-analytical person I am, I’m quite sure I will have a lot to say about my take on RAGBRAI following the event; so, I thought I’d take a moment to put out there, for posterity and my own later reference as much as anything, some of the lenses through which I currently view RAGBRAI.  It’ll be interesting to see in what ways it’s similar and in what ways dissimilar.

RAGBRAI is an adventure.  The fact of riding 400-500 miles across an entire state in a 7 day span, on a route that never repeats a prior route in the ride’s 40-year history, overnighting in a different town each day and rolling through something on the order of 40-60 towns during the week, camping under the stars with more than 10,000 of your closest friends, definitely deserves the label “adventure”. 

RAGBRAI is social.  Again – 10,000-plus people.  Friendships are formed that cross state lines, folks that have met up online finally meet in person, fellow hometown riders are found via RAGBRAI that weren’t found when you were back home, etc.  Most people who have done RAGBRAI a few or more times say that the social aspect is one of the biggest draws for them. It’s typical to settle, without a specific effort to do so, into a group of riders that rides about the same pace as you and sets out about the same time as you, such that you share big stretches of the journey together.  A different approach some folks take is to make a point to leave at different times each day and vary break timing, so as to deliberately seek out different groups to ride with.

RAGBRAI is a pilgrimage.  If I close my eyes and imagine I’m someone who HAS done a few RAGBRAIs and looks forward to returning each year, this is how I think I’d characterize it.  Wikipedia defines pilgrimage as “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.”  There’s unarguably, inherently, something of spiritual significance to training oneself to be in the shape to ride RAGBRAI and then going and doing it.  One learns a lot about oneself, one’s limitations (and hopefully ability to transcend them), about others, etc.  The way I view/imagine it, RAGBRAI is almost a sort of reverse pilgrimage in a way – where the destination is the start of RAGBRAI itself and then much of the journey is undertaken.

RAGBRAI is a challenge.  This will (as, I guess, will all the other characteristics here) vary by person.  Some very strong riders will find an event like RAGBRAI, where you ride “only” around 60-70 miles per day for a week, as not very difficult.  In a group of 10,000+ people there will be some who either underprepared, underestimated, joined for fun, or otherwise and find the ride extremely difficult.  And there will be plenty of people occupying the hazy middle of this continuum.  For MOST riders, I infer from what I’ve picked up, RAGBRAI is at a minimum not a piece of cake and is challenging.  For me personally, while I expect to be in good shape in July (and arguably could do RAGBRAI if it were a few weeks away), I anticipate a challenge, even given that this year’s route is in the top 10 easiest there has been.

RAGBRAI is visually amazing.  This is possibly the aspect that I’m looking forward to the most.  I’ve ridden with friends or small groups, and I’ve seen relatively small “pelotons” of riders out and about – but we are talking a couple dozen riders, tops.  With many thousands of riders RAGBRAI dwarfs that.  The videos one can find on YouTube remind me of nothing so much as a migration, for example of butterflies or birds.  I think about it in this way – with the pack stretched like pearls on a string into multiple “pelotons” based upon riding speed and strength, hour of departure, amount of time spent in through-towns or breaks – there are likely to be maybe as many as 20 different main “pelotons”; but each of these groups would contain HUNDREDS of riders, men and women of all descriptions riding all manner of bikes, rolling across the Iowa countryside like an enthusiastic little hungry army.  The videos & pictures I’ve seen are incredible and I have a feeling this is a situation where seeing it with one’s own eyes is pretty incomparable.

RAGBRAI is a vacation.  People go to RAGBRAI for all sorts of reasons – some of them listed above.  But one thing the vast majority have in common is that they are there on a vacation from work or at a minimum, from “real life”.  One thing Mr. V and I enjoyed about our Katy Trail journey is that your only “job” for the entire day was to cover the 50-70 miles that you’d mapped out on your itinerary.  How and when you got there was up to you.  You could bang out 60 miles before lunch; you could start pedaling at 10 AM and take your time; you could stop only twice but spend 2-3 hours at each place.  Your “job” for the day – simple although not exactly “easy” – was to get from A to B.  RAGBRAI, being a touring event, is the same.  You get to escape your workaday life, your normal stresses and joys, your normal challenges and achievements, to participate in this crazy rolling pilgrimage by bicycle from one border of Iowa to the other.

As if it weren’t obvious by now – I can’t wait.

Three weeks ago I announced that I’d finally, after 3.5 years of work and effort, reached my initial target weight of 209 pounds.

This morning I weighed in and achieved what is psychologically another major victory. I weighed in at 206.5 pounds, a respectable 2.5 pounds lower.  This marks the first time since I started losing weight that I’ve weighed in below 209.

It’s very motivational for me because the past 3 weeks have seen me gain a pound or so, and lose it.  Gain a pound or so, and lose it.  I returned to a hair above 209 a couple times but not below.  I was beginning to fear I might tread for a while in a channel, with my target of 209 representing the floor of the range.

So, I’m thrilled to have broken through.

I’ve been completely faithful with going to the gym and have started adding some strength training at home – push-ups throughout the day and a new core exercise routine – which is already starting to bear immediate fruit.

Most importantly from specifically a cycling perspective, I’m finally improving that all-important power-to-weight ratio.  As I continue to lose fat towards my target of 184 pounds, my legs (and body overall of course) continue to get stronger – a wonderful kind of diverging trend.

Below is a chart of my weight since I started losing.  Each point on the graph represents one month – more specifically it represents the very first weigh-in of a month.  The first weigh-in wasn’t always on day one; and some of the data is interpolated, although almost all of it is actual.  The first point is my top weight, when I started losing – 284 pounds.  Last point is this morning’s weight!  Top dashed line is my initial goal (209); bottom dashed line is my ultimate goal (184).

weight_as_of_20130201

I’m feeling absolutely great lately, and can tell that I’m losing weight, getting better proportioned, and getting stronger and fitter.  I’m very much looking forward to warmer weather, longer daylight, and the return of cycling season.  Many adventures and many challenges await.