Set free to fly

December 28, 2013

“From my perspective, you looked like a caged animal that had been set free,” my dad said to me a few days ago following our 13ish mile ride together. He was right; but on a 16ish mile just-at-sunrise ride this morning, I realized that a more accurate metaphor for me was that of coming back to health, gathering my strength and confidence, and then being set free to fly.

A few years ago I encountered a mourning dove in the enclosed, upper floor of a parking garage. It had somehow flown up a few flights of stairs but now, in this completely enclosed space, and obviously lacking the insight to fly back DOWN the stairs to freedom, it was trapped. Cruelly, there were glass windows all around and it was evident at a glance that the bird had been there untold minutes or hours, flying itself over and over again into the windows in a vain attempt to get out. It was beaten down, with one wing badly injured, and clearly beyond exhausted. When I returned from my car with a cardboard box lined with newspaper, he put up very little fight as I scooped him up. I took the bird home and, over the course of several days, gradually nursed him back to health. Keeping him in a small glass tank whose sides I covered so he wouldn’t attack the glass again, I gave him food, water, bird vitamins, and dropped in a fish tank bubbler hose to move air around his “cage” in order to keep the air clean, as one wing had a pre-infected look to it. After a few days of providing what he needed, the bird was healthy and strong enough to set free, and I smiled with satisfaction when he flew off into a nearby tree.

This morning, in the introspection that wonderfully comes with the solitude of a good bike ride, I realized that I’ve become that bird. During my recent “burnout”, alienation, whatever you like to call it, from cycling, I’ve become, not exactly “afraid” of riding the bike, but something close to it. “Wary”, or “hesitant” is a better word. All the while, my on-bike fitness continued to drop. We’re talking someone who rode 600+ months a month for a few months in a row, and routinely turned in 40+ mile rides, with 2+ 60-milers per month, gradually declining to riding once or twice, for 15 or so miles, every several weeks.

What I needed was a period to “nurse back to health” on the bike, as it were. My Christmas visit to my parents provided it. My dad has a local 13ish mile route that he does as often as he can get out to ride. This week, I’ve ridden that route with him every day – making today the 7th consecutive day of riding for me. The route is shorter than I typically rode during my “glory days” of spring/summer/early fall of this year, but for where I’m at now, this distance is excellent. I could perceive a return to form – the first day we went out, I was huffing & puffing pretty good; legs sore in ways they NEVER are when I ride actively, and 13 miles felt about the same to me as maybe 25 or more miles used to feel. Day two, I was a little stronger. A few days later, I was handling the distance a lot better and riding in bigger gears, pushing myself. A couple times this week I mulled the possibility of waking early in the morning, before my parents, and going for a solitude ride, to be added to with riding with papa later. But I never felt QUITE up to doing it – till this morning. This bird is getting stronger, and testing his wings, to carry forth the analogy. I got up just at sunrise and headed out. I was ORIGINALLY planning to get in only a very short distance – 6 to 9 miles – and returning home; but once on the bike, I was feeling it. The route wasn’t pre-planned, and it meandered all over God’s green earth; what was constant was a reconnection to that old feeling of being able to bridge any particular distance (within reason) that I wanted, without killing myself to do it.

The distance I turned in – somewhere between 15 and 20 miles – still is shorter than my typical weekend ride would have been 3 months ago; but, wise and gradual progression is what I’m after here. And, added to the 13 miles with dad later today, it’ll end up at close to 30 miles for the day. I felt great during the ride – freedom!! the best aspects of riding a bike – and I’m looking forward to riding again later today (weather permitting – it does look like rain) with dad.

Key will be to bring the consistency and the enthusiasm back home with me post-vacation. Winter in Kansas is, 80% of the time, not friendly to cycling; but that works well with my intentions, stated in an earlier post, to not REALLY accelerate my mileage for a few months. Shorter, but consistent (maybe 2-4 times per week) rides are what the doctor ordered. My plan hasn’t changed with the past few days of riding – it’s still to focus very intently the new few months on weight loss and overall fitness – but, with today’s ride, I gave myself a reminder of what is ultimately one of the main reasons for my efforts: the ability to enjoy returning “full-time” (in terms of my “fitness time”, post-work and other responsibilities) to long bike rides. And if it weren’t clear already, I’m very excited about that.

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As anyone who knows me in personal life can attest, when I get into something I go full boar.  I want to become the very best I can at something, or dedicate huge amounts of time to it, or see/hear/read all there is to experience about that thing, etc.

Cycling but more specifically randonneuring is no different.  I’ve had a passion for the sport ever since first learning about it, and despite my recent “abuse” of randoing – which I deeply regret in several ways – I still retain the love of randoing, and I cannot wait to return to it.

I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to what LIFETIME goals I should set for randonneuring.  So these are the goals that I don’t intend to accomplish in 2014, or the next 12 months (which, today being 12/28, are basically one & the same), etc.  Instead, these are things that, as I look back as an older man years from now at my randonneuring “career”, I want to be able to say I accomplished.

Keeping with my “all in” kind of approach, I, more subconsciously than consciously, ask myself, “Self, what is/are the highest MORTAL accomplishments that you can hope to achieve in randoing?”  RUSA, the governing body of randonneuring in the US, offers a wonderful range of awards, for different “kinds” of achievement – annual mileage, lifetime mileage, consecutive-months mileage, variety of rides, variety of US states, etc.  The “bling hound” in me would love to win every award RUSA offers – and I’d love to make that happen.  But, when we speak of CONCRETE, actual goals, I retain as the criteria that they be big-dream, stretch goals but yet “mortally achievable”.

Switch pursuits on you to give a metaphor – I’m a big chess fan and former very active player.  In one interview, chess grandmaster Edmar Mednis said of his lifetime achievement that “the ultimate goal of every chess player is to become world champion…but that is really reserved for a very very few…so the substitute goal for most of us is to become grandmaster because that is the highest ‘normal’ title you can achieve.”  That sums up what I look for in my lifetime randoing goals – big-dream goals but arguably the highest “mortal” goals you can shoot for.

After some internal haggling about what constitutes “mortal”, I’ve arrived at my Big Four randonneuring goals.  Remember, these are lifetime goals, not what I intend to do in 2014.  I’m not likely to accomplish any of these in 2014.

Here, then, in ROUGHLY ascending order in terms of difficulty, are my targets:

  1. Win the P-12 award.  This, again, is the award given by RUSA for 12 consecutive months (doesn’t have to be 12 months in a calendar year) of a 100-km (“populaire length”) ride.  This was my initial RUSA goal, and I was 6 months into it prior to my “hiatus” this year.  When I return, this is definitely a goal I want to look back on years from now and have ticked off.
  2. Win the R-12 award.  The relative difficulty of goals 2 and 3 are debatable, but ehhh.  R-12 is the same as the P-12 but represents 12 consecutive months of a 200-km or greater ride.  There are a good number of people who have won the R-12 but it’s still a small % of RUSA’s overall membership.  It’s a deceptively difficult award to win, and especially if you live in a state that experiences a true winter!
  3. Win the “super randonneur” award for riding “the series”.  Ok, first off, this is actually an ACP-sanctioned, not RUSA-sanctioned, award, but I’ll spare my non-hardcore readers the details.  RUSA administers the award in the US, succinctly.  This is an award given to a rider who completes “the series” of rando-length rides within a calendar year – that is, a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k brevet (group rando ride) within a calendar year.  For my imperial-units friends, that’s about a 124-mile, 186, 248, 372-mile rando ride in a single year.
  4. Win the “K-Hounds” award.  This is the highest annual-mileage award RUSA offers. Once again sparing my readers laborious detail, this is an award that riders created and moderated (but which RUSA acknowledged & recognized) until this year, but starting in 2014, RUSA will begin administering and formally distributing this award. This award is given to riders who complete 10,000 RUSA kilometers in a calendar year.  Unless my semi-hand-count of the K-Hounds website fails me, only roughly 70 riders (I think I counted 71) have ever won this award since its 2006 founding.  I know for a fact that more riders have achieved each of the other 3 honors I name, so I consider this the most difficult of my 4 lifetime goals.  If accomplished entirely via 200-km rides, this would mean basically a 124-mile RUSA ride every single week for a calendar year.  That’s damn impressive.

When you consider that ~70 riders have won the K-Hounds award, then even if you make an assumption that all of them have won the awards associated with my other 3 goals (it wouldn’t shock me at all if there were a few who had done only 3 or even 2 of them, though), this means that only about 0.75% or fewer of all RUSA’s 9,230 (all-time) members have achieved all four of these.  Very ambitious goals, indeed.

No clever summary here to this post, except to say that obviously I have much hard work ahead of me.  I’m animated, though, to start working toward these very respectable targets.  And like Mednis, the chess grandmaster quoted earlier, once I do achieve all of them, I can – and will – feel very good.

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I registered for RAGBRAI 2014.  As with every year, the attendees are chosen not first-come-first-served but rather via lottery – with your odds of getting in extremely high.

Now just over four months removed from this year’s RAGBRAI – my first – I find myself really, REALLY starting to get excited about the next installment.  That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I cannot wait to experience that again.

Next several key dates for RAGBRAI 2014 are:

  • January 25: Route Announcement Party
  • May 1: Lottery results posted
  • July 20-26: RAGBRAI!!!

I betrayed randonneuring

December 3, 2013

So, I’ve not posted in quite some time.

First things first: as much as it pains me to say this, I let November in my aspirational P-12 streak go by without a successful ride; AND, I am taking a short hiatus from randonneuring.

Following are some excerpts from an email I sent to Sensei Ron A, my friend, mentor, and RUSA route owner, forming the outline of my mea culpa.

I think that taking a small break from randoing is the right thing for me at this point, and I don’t regret THAT, but I do regret my own failings which led up to it…I’m quite convicted that I betrayed both myself and randoing itself…

Basically, not long after RAGBRAI my old fitness-related demons started really plaguing me. I was somewhat aware of it at the time, in stretches, but looking back it’s fairly clear. My bike-related fitness was getting worse, and worse, and worse. Riding the bike began to feel like a chore. Randoing often seemed almost impossibly difficult, which accounts for [my struggles with rando rides since then].

[Most succinctly], I betrayed first myself, through allowing my fitness to decline and decline and decline, and then I betrayed randoing, by continuing to do it when I had no business doing it, and failing quite a lot along the way. Ultimately you, too, were let down [by my inconsistency]…I can say that *I* am somewhat offended by my flippant approach to [randoing during this time].

So, there you have it.

I’ve cooked up basically a multi-month plan. The first few months are going to see me stay off the rando road for now, focusing ONLY and INTENTLY on losing weight. Eating good & healthy, going to gym or other workout 4-5 days a week (both of which are underway and have been underway), and taking only shorter (12-25 mile) bike rides, for fun and for weight loss.

Following this, and once I’ve accomplished a key body weight goal, I enter phase II of the return: continuing to eat healthy (obviously), I take the focus less off of gym/working out – reducing this to 2 or at most 3 times per week – and put the focus more on riding the bike. Longer and more frequent rides, building up to closer to rando distances. I do this for a period of a few weeks, a month, or so.

FINALLY, with both of those things done, now I’m at a point where I’ve gotten much closer to my ideal body weight, I’m in good shape and much stronger than now, and my base mileage rides are under me preparing me for endurance riding – THEN I return, with vigor, to randoing. No divided attention with poor eating habits and/or trying to lose weight. THEN I resume where I left off.

Life, as Jethro Tull said, is a long song. It’s a phrase that’s been in my head often the past couple weeks as I wrestled with this situation. I regret several aspects of this situation – but as Sensei Ron has often reminded me, “That’s in the past. It’s over.” No gains can come now from just regretting it. Now’s the time to work hard to right the ship, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I’ll still continue to ride the bike, as mentioned, and I still love cycling, so this blog will continue apace. Only distinction is, reduced randonneuring-related content for a little while. But count on this: I’ll be back 🙂