Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Grande Finale

I have good months, and then I have bad months.

October was a bad month for cycling, at least, in so far as I didn't get to very often.  Also, note the complete lack of posts for the entire month.  Let's just say that, well, work has not been kind.

The final event of the year for cycling was this last weekend.  The Tour de Tolerance (look it up on Facebook) was the first organized ride that Charla and I rode together three years ago.  We had purchased our first road bikes the year before and I had knocked out a couple 60 milers with some friends the summer before.  Since then, no dice.  I was on an extended vacation in the desert last year and missed out, while Charla was having a blast on her own.

After noodling my way through the 60 mile Oryx Challenge and then crushing the 100 mile Chili Pepper Challenge I was eager to see just how fast I could ride a 100 km.  This year's Tour de Tolerance would be my litmus test for all the cycling I've done since coming home in the spring.

The morning was crisp, almost frigid, but promised to warm up with the sun rising.  The dreaded wind from the east hadn't appeared yet (nor would it the remainer of the day).  I'd thown on my Death Ride kit, wanting to sport something unique for the last ride of the year.  The course was a rolling 10 miles to a single climb out of the Rio Grande Valley up to the mesa, then 16 miles out along a straight stretch of smooth pavement to the turnaround.  16 miles back, drop down the long hill, and cruise to the finish line.  Too easy.

I slid into the front half of the pack at the starting line hoping that I could find a group fast enough to challenge me, and not so slow that I felt like I was cheating myself.  What I ended up with was a group that would push my body well past my worst nightmares.

When the horn sounded the entire peloton took off and stuck together for the first 5 miles at a light 18-20 mph.  I was frustrated.  I thought we should be moving much faster at this point, but I held my line and my pace waiting for someone to start pushing away from the group. 

And push they did.

Just before the climb someone midway in the pack must have been sleeping, because about 15 riders suddenly surged away from us.  I realized it was too late to make the jump with them, I was too far inside the second half.  Coming around the turn that leads into the climb up to the mesa, I found myself riding away from my pack with ease.  I started thinking about what it would take to make the rest of the jump to the lead group.  Once I crested, though, I saw just how fast they were pulling away and realized I was going to need some help.  Soon enough, I was tag teaming with another rider and we tried for a solid mile to cover the distance but were steadily falling away from them.  I glanced at my heart rate monitor once to see that I was redlining against my maximum heart rate.  Just as I was thinking that there was no way to keep up this pace, a train of orange kits cruised along side and I jumped into their draft just as the last rider passed.

For the next 40 miles we worked together, never gaining on the lead group, but making good time anyways.  The pace setter would cruise comfortably at 23-24 mph, then suddenly surge up to 27 mph, leaving me behind so I had to fight to catch up.  We hit the turnaround point, slowing almost to a stop to make the tight u-turn in the middle of the closed highway, then someone stepped on the accelerator for the return trip.  They continued to surge randomly, throwing me off the back end, forcing me to scramble back into their draft.  I pulled twice, but otherwise struggled just to stay with them.  Every single time they dropped me was a heartwrenching, gut-churning moment.  I pushed so hard to catch back up that I thought I might pass out.  Each time I was sure that I wouldn't be able to catch them.  And when I did catch up, it was a struggle just to keep in their draft.  I was afraid of taking a drink of water, or grabbing a gel, afraid I would miss another surge and be left alone.  The last thing I wanted was to be left alone on this ride, 20 miles from the finish with no one to share the burden with.  I quit looking at my heart rate monitor, it was too depressing and was beginning to scare me.  At some point, I saw Charla riding the other direction.  She saw me and smiled and waved.  I tried to smile, lifted my hand and reached out towards her, my voice was gone and I couldn't cough out more than a whisper in her direction.  Less than a blink of an eye later, she was gone, and all that remained was the steady pumping of legs, the burning in my lungs, a dull ache in my thighs.

We made it all the way back to the turn leading to the descent when I fell off for the last time.  It was a half mile shy of the hill and I realized that they'd dropped me (and several others) for good.  I started to bridge the gap on the descent, but I just couldn't spin the gears fast enough.  My gears are great for climbing, but aren't so hot on the flats or the descents.  I couldn't get more than 35 mph out of them.  My heart began to sink as I watched them sail away down the hill without me.  10 miles to go. 

Someone fought up into my draft but fell off after only two miles.  I checked behind me to see if anyone was closing, hoping that I could pull together a little train, something big enough to make the last few miles a little easier and faster.  But every time I turned to look, there was nothing but empty pavement as far as I could see and I realized that I was truly on my own.

The finish lies on a short steep hill, no more than 200 meters in length.  When I hit the final turn I tried to stand up out of the saddle to get the little extra kick through the finish line.  There was nothing left in my legs though and I almost fell over.  I squeaked through the finish, rolled to a stop and stood straddling my bike and shaking for several minutes.

When I finally checked my Strava record, and then the posted results, I couldn't believe just how fast we were riding.  Then I remember my throbbing legs, shaking arms, gasping lungs, and it all makes sense.  For the final major ride of the year for me, I'd call this one a success.

19th out of 154 riders.  Not too shabby.

Check here for everyone's results, including Charla who rode like a mad demon girl, or a crazed honey badger.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

One Tough Weekend; Chapter Two

Chapter Two:  The Chile Pepper Challenge (ain't that spicy after all)

I have wanted to ride in the Chile Pepper Challenge ever since I bought a bike over three years ago, but something always comes up.  Work, deployment, field training, meteor showers, evil undead walking the earth, you name it.  I thought this was the year.  Which, it kind of had to be since we're leaving El Paso in April.

I signed up for the whole enchilada, the full monty, the entire 100 mile ride.  I figured that if you're going to do it, well, do it all the way.

What I hadn't expected was that a major event at work would try to intervene.  And it didn't help matters that the Iron Soldier Sprint Tri was the day prior.  No one has ever accused me of suffering from an abundance of good decision making.  They have, however, called me masochistic and a little bit crazy.

After finishing the triathlon on Saturday, we hydrated and tried to eat healthy.  Okay, so maybe the Taco Bell for lunch wasn't a good idea.

Earlier in the summer, I rode my first standard century ride in the middle of the Death Ride Tour.  Day Two of the Tour and I found myself on a 111 mile ride that started at over 7,000 feet elevation and topped out at over 10,000 feet in the first 5 miles.  I figured that a 100 mile ride, with a lot less climbing, lower elevation, and not following a 73 mile ride the day prior, would be much simpler.  To make sure, though, I kept increasing my mileage on the weekends until I finished an 86 mile ride the Sunday before the Chile Pepper.  I thought I had prepared as best I could with the limited amount of days I could ride each week.

29 September was the first day of fall.  And nature decided to show it by dropping the temperature down into the 50s for the start of the bike ride.  I'd been training all summer for warm weather, learning how to keep my body hydrated in 90+ degree temps.  Didn't do me much good today.  It was 20 miles before I started to get feeling back into my hands and feet.

Almost too cold to smile.
I took off with a quick group that seemed to be averaging about 22mph.  I figured that was a speed I could manage without bonking out of the ride, and it would get me to the finish line with just enough time to change for work and take off.  There was a group of EP Cyclists (local club) that were driving the train and not letting anyone else near the front to pull the double paceline we had going.  I would normally have been just fine with that, but their pace was a little erratic and they imploded on every hill and tight turn.  We stuck together over the first two major climbs until the water point at mile 40.  That's when I found another group that was about as fast, and could stay together much better.

And that's also when I started to realize what a bad mistake it was to try and juggle both a major work event and major athletic event on the same day.

Mile 40 - boss calls to make sure everything is still good for the afternoon.  Yes boss, everything is still on track.

Mile 47 - text message about afternoon timeline.  Yes, everything is still on track.

Mile 62 - deputy to my boss's boss calls.  Mouthful of peanut butter bar and breathing heavy.  Yes, everything is still on track.

Mile 73 - chaplain calls.  Panting and keeping a 23mph paceline going.  Yes, everything is still on track.

We hit the 2-mile sign post when the guy that had just taken lead pulled out to the side.  Apparently, he'd had enough and couldn't pull anymore, which was too bad since he and I had done most of the work over the past 30 miles.  I took the lead and dug deep inside to find enough strength.  I'm not the strongest cyclist, but with a mile to go I started to surprise myself.  Maybe it was the proximity of the finish line, or maybe there was a magical tailwind that I hadn't noticed before.  I started to kick up the pace from 21 to 22mph, then 23mph, then 24 mph, and then I looked down to see 25mph flashing on my cyclocomputer.  We raced around the last long curve to the finish line where I skidded across, both hands tight on the brakes to keep from ramming full speed into the back of a pick up truck.  Not the greatest traffic control at the finish line.
Not the smartest move on gravel, but I was pretty excited.
Post ride, waiting for a burrito and some horchata when my boss's adjutant calls.  Yes, everything is still on... wait... everything just moved up an hour.

Drink water, beg Charla to drive like a crazy person (easier than it sounds), drink water, get home, drink water, shower, drink more water and show up just in time to major work event.

Chile Pepper Challenge 100 mile ride, done!

One Tough Weekend; Chapter One

Chapter One:  The Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon; Take Two!

Saturday was my second chance at the Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon.  One year ago I participated in my first triathlon.  In late winter I was able to do another one while on extended vacation overseas.

They say that you're not really a triathlete until you've done at least two triathlons, so count me an expert.

Ex = has been       -pert = flippantly cocky and assured

Yes, we have matching triathlon socks.
I spent the last year working on my swimming, my weakest event.  In June, I was the swim leg for a Team Aquathlon event, and was feeling pretty good about pulling a time closer to 10 minutes in this year's tri.  But then the month of July hit me really hard.  First it hit me with a horrible summer cold and sinus infection.  Then it hit me with a near death 72 hour flu.  Then it hit me with a car.  Not really my month.

I struggled in August to get healthy, and in September to get back into shape.  I finally got my swim time back to a low 12 minute mark and signed up for the tri.  Standing by the empty pool on Saturday morning, and later in line with 300 other swimmers, was the first time I didn't feel complete panic before getting in the pool.  Not counting the time it took me to jump in the water, or climb out the other side, I finished in 12:02 exactly; only two seconds off my target time.  I may or may not have done a quick victory dance in the pool which is why my recorded time was 12:12.
This sight used to intimidate me and cause real anxiety attacks.  Now it just looks peaceful.
The T1 (Transition 1) was much easier this time with a solid pair of triathlon shorts to make things simpler.  3:01 between the swim and bike.

The bike event is something that I never thought twice about.  All I had to remember was to not stop for anything and not drop my water bottle this year.  I was successful at both.  15 miles in 43:56.  Sucked down two gels during the bike ride so I wouldn't bonk before finishing the run.  May or may not have been a good idea.

The T2 was so much easier this time without having to switch shorts.  I threw my helmet and gloves off, pulled on my tri shoes and visor (thanks Mom and Dad), and took off.  1:28 from bike to run.

My legs felt completely drained and wobbly when I took off out of the transition area, but I remembered reading an article that said everyone's legs are wobbly, just maintain what you feel is a less than miserable pace and even though you feel like you're running slowly, you're actually going quite fast because your legs are adjusting to the different cadence between cycling and running.  Sure enough, at the 1-mile marker my watch said 7:40.  I just kept cruising along, fought off some cramps and bubble guts from the gels and water, and then crossed the line at 23:19.  Two seconds faster than last year.  I'll take it.

1:23:56 total for my overall.  I was 56th overall (out of 265 that finished) and 6/36 in my age group.  Can't complain.  In fact, I feel like bragging a little.  But then I remember that I was 220th in the swim this year out of 268 swimmers.  Time to get back in the pool before we go to Hawaii for the marathon.  No shark is getting a piece of this guy.  I will literally punch every single shark in the face, and then swim away very fast.  Say no to sharks.  Say yes to more swim practice.  (and then say no to blogging while under the influence of too much coffee and m&ms)

I will brag a bit about Char, who finished second in her age group.  She received the first place medal after the girl before her won the overall trophy.  Not bad for someone that 5 years ago didn't run or bike. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When It Rains It Pours

The weather couldn't have been better and the sun was still shining.  So, I went for a ride.

It was an easy 22 mile loop, if I didn't take any detours.  It would take me just over an hour to finish and then I'd be home in time for dinner.

There aren't many things better than a quick evening ride to burn out the stress from the day.  I long for these days.  I plot all week long, hoping to find that one perfect day when the stars align, the weather cooperates and work doesn't drag on into the evening too late to make it worthwhile to head out on the road.  There's a sense of victory associated with the evening ride, as if I've pulled something off that the world has been trying to keep me from.

Last Thursday was one of those days and I was loving it.  There was a strong headwind on my way east, but I just reminded myself of the joyful tailwind it would give me on the way back home.  7 miles into the ride, I found myself staring out across the desert vista at a beautiful tower of dark clouds from which thick sheets of rain were pouring across the flat expanse.  Some trick in my mind told me the storm was moving away from me across the desert.  I didn't put it together that the headwind I was fighting might also be pushing the storm my way.  It was just too beautiful to think about, and I gazed at the contrasting billows of white towering thousands of feet into the blue sky under which raged a fierce rainstorm.  I thought to myself, that at moments like this I needed to bring a camera to capture and bring home these instants that passed along the road and were lost to time and memory only.

I wished the storm farewell and, three miles later, began the long curve that would turn and take me back towards home.  The promised tailwind pushed me along and I cruised into high gear, my wheels eating up the miles effortlessly.

The first drops to hit my arms came as a total surprise.  The sun was still beaming down from the west, it wasn't even quite to the mountain tops yet.  I looked off to the left and behind me and saw the storm cloud I had been admiring earlier, rearing above and curtains of water rushing towards me.  I still had over 6 miles to go before the safety and shelter of home.

I pedaled faster.

The first wave of the storm hit with large bullets of water, stinging my face, arms and head.  The drops were enormous and fell almost sideways until they crashed against the softer exposed flesh of my body.  I couldn't believe I wasn't bruising from their impact, they hit so hard.  The patter on my helmet was almost unbearable.  I made a right hand turn and the stinging rain slowly fell behind me.  I realized that I was in a race with the storm.

I pedaled faster.

My route home was a zigzag of left and right turns.  Whenever I turned right, I would be riding away from the storm cloud, and every time I turned left, the storm would be catching up to me.  Could I outrun the storm?

I pedaled faster.

Less than two miles from home I caught a stoplight.  I thought about sneaking through the cross walk, playing the part of the annoying inscrutable cyclist, but there were too many cars so I waited.  I hoped that I'd put enough distance between me and the worst of the deluge, that maybe there'd be just enough time to get to my house before I got caught in another burst of rain.  I was only a little damp as it was, and didn't think things were going to get too bad before I finished.

That's when I looked to my left and saw nothing.  There should have been a street leading half a mile to a track and gym, buildings and an entrance gate.  Instead, there was nothing.

50 meters down the road, the world ended in a turbulent swirl of gray nothing.  I watched appalled as two men jogging down the sidewalk towards the wall suddenly were blown almost to the ground.  They flailed helplessly as the storm engulfed them in a wall of white water.  Horrified, I could only watch as the gray nothingness began to devour the street, moving towards me.  I shook my head and stared at the stoplight, praying it would change.  I heard the driver in the car behind me swear loudly, then frantically roll his window shut.  I braced myself against the curb and waited for the inevitable barrage of water.  The sound was immense, a steady roaring in my ears as the monster neared.

Then it hit.  Like being caught in a wave crashing near shore, I was completely submerged in the swirling vortex of water.  I struggled to remain upright when the light changed and I soggily clipped into my pedals and took off.  Each pedal stroke was an effort in the suddenly flooded street.  Each buffet of wind nearly blew me off the road and sent me rolling into the mud.  Cars stuck behind me at the light cautiously creeped around me in the maelstrom.  I could barely make out their faces, aghast and staring at my plight.  Several times I considered pulling off, walking my bike into the lee side of a building, waiting out what might be the worst front edge of the storm.  But what if it didn't get better?  I had to get home.

A lifetime later, and a mile down the road, I again pedaled out of the storm.  I was dripping wet; my shoes felt like buckets of water attached to my legs.  I spun my heart out down the road, every ounce of energy combined with pure adrenaline and panic to propel me homeward.  I made the final turn onto my street and forewent the customary victory lap down the block, instead pulling into the driveway immediately.  The pavement here was still dry.  I coasted into the garage, dismounted and spun back to the open door just in time to see the whole world disappear into the mouth of the same monster I had just escaped.  10 seconds, maybe 15, and I would have been back in that mess of wind and water.

I closed the garage on the roar of the storm and turned towards the door leading to safety, warmth, and hopefully dinner.  I was shaking, whether from the cold and the water, or perhaps, because I'd left my dignity out on the road in a puddle somewhere.  Either way, I was home.

Some rides are more exciting than others, especially when you're least expecting it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Old Man and Me

I met a character this morning during my training ride.

He came out of nowhere when I was at mile 32 of an 86 mile ride.  I was sure there was no one around when I took off for a second lap of my favorite hill run.  But just like that, he rolled up behind me at a stoplight and then pulled along side like magic.  Without a word we fell into line like we'd been riding together for years.  We took turns pulling along the rollers that parallel the mountain, each pulling about half a hill and downslope before switching off.  We moved along pretty fast, pumping up the hills and blasting down the other side.

He was hispanic, older, maybe 50-ish.  His skin was the color and texture of well worn leather.  His mustache was peppered with gray.  He was taught, no beer belly on this guy.  His kit was worn, peppered with snags in the fabric, not dirty, but used so many times it never really looked clean anymore.  He was sporting an older blue aluminum Motobecane that seemed tiny next to my 58cm frame.  (It's not a short Mexican joke, I just ride a really tall bike and he seemed really tiny next to me)

While I was puffing up the hills, he was lightly dancing out of his saddle, hardly breaking a sweat.  Maybe he'd been riding all morning, maybe he'd just left his house and pulled up beside me.  I didn't know and didn't ask.

The climb up Scenic Drive can be a pleasant, easy going jaunt.  That's when he started talking.

He asked me about my bike, about how long I'd been riding.  He been riding for 35 years, he told me.  He had his racing wheels on his bike.  We talked about our bikes, about riding and about climbing.  He laughed easily and never sounded out of breath, though we were climbing at a pretty demanding pace.  When we passed other riders, he seemed to know them all by name and he jovially called out to them in both English and Spanish, easily switching back and forth.

At the top he found more friends, and pulled off to talk with them.  And that was the last I saw of him.

I never got his name, part of me didn't really want to ask and spoil the mystery of riding with him.  Instead, he's the stranger that rode with me for 10 miles and helped make what should have been a long and tedious ride into something more.  He's not a real person now, he's a legendary character that I'll refer to in stories about riding, that I'll remember when I'm tired or bored.

He's the old man that let me ride with him for a piece down the road.

Oryx Challenged

A week ago Char and I completed the Oryx Challenge Bike Tour.

The Challenge you think you will face is not always what you think it will be.

I think this time I learned a little patience and more about what it means to be a part of a team.

The Oryx Challenge is an annual non-competitive bicycle ride in El Paso with a maximum route that covers almost a full 100km (62 miles).  I've ridden it for the past 2 years and this would be my third and final opportunity.

It was also the main event for which our little bicycle club had been training for over 3 months.  (That would be the "Imperial Bicycle Club", aka "Biking with the Brigade Commander", aka "I don't wanna do regular PT and I own a bike")

The Imperial Biking Team ready to go!
When I came back from the Death Ride in June, this was the next adventure in cycling.  It's what our group had been focused on during our multiple weekly rides.  We'd been cycling together, practising our pace lines and talking about nutrition on the bike trying to prepare ourselves for a 60 mile, out and back, scorcher of a ride.  Some of us were new to cycling, some were very experienced and some were right in the middle.

The Oryx Challenge course is one of my favorites.  There's not much room to get lost on the 100km route.  Ride off the installation, go east until you hit the turn around, then ride back to the start.  Sherriffs are stationed at every intersection to try and keep you alive, water and peanut butter await you on top of the hill that marks the turn around point, and even the climb up to the turn around really isn't that daunting if you've been in the mountains before.  It might be a Cat 4 climb near the top. 


Ok, so it's a 10 mile long climb to the turnaround point.

I had been doubtful at first when Char told me that she wanted to ride the whole 100km.  I wasn't sure she could really keep up with the group we'd put together.  But over three months of riding, she'd become quite the beast on a bike.  She could hold a paceline at 16mph in equal headwinds, pull her fair share on the flats and not cry about the hills, and had just completed a 62 mile ride the previous weekend without too much complaining. 

60 miles in and things got out of control.
Good enough for me.

But what we hadn't taken into account was just how much another decision was going to affect her ability to ride.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish holiday of atonement.  It involves a 24 hour period of fasting.  And it was the day before the Oryx Challenge this year.  We'd talked about skipping one of the two, for safety reasons, but Char was feeling strong and decided she would be fine if we made sure to plan good meals, get lots of rest and focus on our pre- and mid-ride nutrition. 

And I'm just insane enough to agree with her.

We gorged Friday evening, just prior to sunset.  Then we prepared what we thought was an extremely nutritious and sensible meal after sunset on Saturday.  Baked chicken, quinoa and a fresh veggie salad.  We did splurge on a brownie and ice cream dessert.  But then, you don't want to accidentally die one ice cream short, now do you?

Sunday morning I fixed a simple power breakfast.  Leftover rice and hamburger, scrambled with eggs and some fruit on the side.  We had our pre-ride snacks and drinks at the course.  When the "gun" went off, I felt pretty confident in our group's fortunes for the ride.

For the first 10 miles, we managed a solid 18mph pace.  It was a little tricky with all the wheel suckers trying to break into our pace group, but we managed to stick together enough to keep our newer riders sheltered on the lee side and out of traffic.

At about 15 miles in, the machine started to break down.  That's about where you notice the definite rise in grade as the hill draws near.  Then it's a solid 10 miles of climbing with about a 1,000 foot gain.

First off the back was Chelsey, next was Char.  I decided not to leave them behind to fend for themselves, afterall, this was a group effort and we'd spent too many hours working together not to finish together.  Joe, the ride leader, came back to check and I asked him to take the lead group and I'd stick back with these two. 

I will admit, it was painful to make that 10 mile climb at a fraction of the pace I could have.  I've really learned to enjoy the struggle and pain involved in a solid climb like that.  Watching the other riders, many that I recognized,  descending while we were still plugging along was both a little humbling and frustrating.

10 miles of straight climbing definitely took its toll on the whole group.
We stuck it out all the way to the turn around where I took a much needed latrine break and grabbed a snack.  The girls recharged and we headed back down the hill together.  There were two fun-sized riders coming into the turn around point as we pulled out.  There was nobody behind them.  In fact, there was nobody left coming up the hill.  That's when I realized how close to last place we were.  I know it wasn't a competitive event, but I still feel the competitive edge that drives me to try and push myself faster than the riders around me.  And this was a sharp lesson in humility for me.

On the return trip, at first we were flying, and I was a little worried about dropping them on the descent, but they stuck right on my wheel the whole time.  I was impressed with the time we were making together, but as soon as we hit a few spots with a slight gradient, or the headwind picked up, I felt Char falling off the back end again.  I tried to keep her tucked into my draft, to keep them both out of the wind and spinning comfortably.  It became obviously painful for them just to keep moving.  Even I was becoming weary, struggling to keep them both moving, to keep the three of us together enough to draft and save energy. 

After 4 hours of riding we crossed the finish line together.  By then the raffle prizes were all handed out, there was no beer to be found and most riders had already taken off.  But we were still together.  We finished the same way we'd started that morning and that was my most important lesson of the day.  That no matter how fast I want to go,  it's more rewarding to stay with my team.

I had to ask myself, what if I'd been the one struggling to keep up with the group?  Who would have come back to pull me along?  Although it was a lot slower than I'd wanted to ride that day, I was happier for staying with my teammates (especially 'cause I'm married to one) and seeing the whole ordeal overcome with them.

Next up is the Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon followed the very next day by the 100 mile Chile Pepper Challenge.  This time I might be the one falling off the back. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Maiden Voyage of the (Fill in the Blank)

I did it, finally.  I upgraded my bike to a beautiful, carbon, Cannondale Synapse.  And it was everything I hoped it would be.

Quick backstory:

Char and I bought our road bikes three years ago.  We weren't sure about riding bikes so we purchased low end entry level bikes from Trek.  I loved mine, but rode the hell out of it and have started riding in groups where the poor gearing and heavy frame are slowing me down, plus I realized that I needed a slightly larger frame size.  Char's bike was a men's bike, and gave her problems with posture and made riding painful.  We decided to upgrade this summer.  A new women's specific Felt for her and a Cannondale for me.

I struggled with the decision for a while.  Some friends tried to get me into a Cannondale SuperSix, and even a dealer almost had me walking out with one early on.  But I hesitated, thankfully, and came to the conclusion that I'm just not a sprinter or racer.  The more upright and comfort oriented posture of the Synapse was really my style.  

I made the decision to upgrade in June, after I'd finished the Death Ride Tour, and also after the year's bike sales season.  Most companies had stopped producing the 2013 models and were selling through their stock.  By the time I'd picked out what I wanted, my size was no longer available from the manufacturer.

So I did the next best thing and pre-ordered a 2014 Cannondale Carbon Synapse 105.  Which means I got one of the first bikes off the production line before their even released to the regular public.  Go me!

I took it out for its maiden voyage last Sunday, on a 40 mile trip to the Edge of Texas and back.  Beforehand, I cruised through a 15 mile warm up to see how the bike fit, figuring out if I needed to adjust the seat, etc.  It was wonderful.  The carbon lay up reduces a huge percentage of the road vibrations and takes the sting out of most of the more serious bumps in the road.  The light frame and 105 gearing were very responsive and smooth.  The best part?  This bike really fits me.  It's a full 58cm frame, which on a Cannondale is really big, and I feel like I've been riding a little kid's bike for the last three years.  I can really stretch out on this bike, and riding in the drops requires a much less aggressive posture.  

Already, I've taken it out twice more for almost 100 miles this week.  And now comes the hardest part.

What do I name her?

That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet?

This is serious business.  Naming a bike identifies the personality of the bike and the rider.  It will define and help express my riding/racing style, and help keep me motivated in the darkest, most painful moments of some longer rides.

Is my new bike a fun bike?  Does it playfully embark on joy rides through the mountains and along the roads, careless of the headwinds and crosswinds, lithely bounding across potholes and asphalt patches with an abundance of extra sex appeal?  Black Rose, Black Beauty, Black Betty, Betty Boop, Blackberry Cobbler.  (Haven't eaten much today)

Is it perhaps a more serious character that doesn't give herself over to levity but determines to crush her enemies and see them driven before her, to hear the lamentation of the women? The Barbarian, the Thunderclap, The Storm Breaker, Breaking Wind.

Perhaps she's a determined machine that robotically counts off the miles that pass methodically beneath her precisely spinning tires and coldly calculates angles through harrowing turns without so much as a twinge of emotion yet always ready with a snarky comment? The Knight Rider, The Thyme Machine, Synaptic Revolutions.  (ok, the last one is a bad pun on her model, sue me)

Maybe she's an angry beast, a voracious animal that tears across the asphalt and leaves other riders heart broken and despairing in her wake.  She's a crazy Honey Badger, El Chupacabra, La Cucaracha.

Lookin' fierce!

No, she's none of these, because she's just a bike.  Without a rider, a bike is nothing, it has no purpose, no meaning.

Her name comes from what she means when I'm riding her.  It's what the act of cycling has brought me and continues to help me realize.

She's Serenity.
Welcome to the family, Serenity.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cabin Fever? Meet The Bullfrogs

July has not been a good month for me.
First, Char gets sick, twice.
Then, I get the horrible head cold of death, from Charla.  Thanks.
Then, I get hit by a car on my bike.
Then, I get a horrible 72 hour flu.
July, I quit.  You win.
The worst part about being sick or injured is being prevented from doing the things I normally enjoy.  I can’t focus on work when I’m at work.  Too many emails, not enough energy and way too much cold medicine make for a grumpy and lazy Jason.  And then I can’t enjoy anything at home because I feel too terrible. There’s no enjoying any guilty pleasures like playing a computer game to take your mind off anything.  You can’t focus on the screen and don’t have the energy to click the mouse or keyboard.  Can't help cook dinner or clean up.  Just.  Nothing.
Nothing is not fun.
But the absolute worst part was not being able to go out riding or running or swimming.  For obvious reasons all three activities have been mostly off the books this month. 
But now, thankfully, I am getting the last of the flu out of my body and can start living again.
Char and I went for a ride Sunday out on the west side to the border crossing.  I wanted to take her on a new route, put her on a nice long hill and see how she would do.  We ended up backtracking within the first two miles to find another route that hadn't been washed out and covered with mud after the previous weeklong storms.
Along the way, we kept hearing the strangest noise along some of the flooded fields and irrigation ditches.  A long, rough, droning tone.  We thought at first it was the power line transformers buzzing, then maybe some birds calling to each other across the fields, and then it hit me.  Bullfrogs!  
With the increased rainfall and flooding, they were mating like crazy before everything dried out again. Such is the transient nature of living in the desert.  (ok, high steppes to be exact)
Wonder Woman relaxes with a hot coffee after  a muddy ride.

I’ve never regretted going for a ride.  Not even the time I got hit by a car.  I always appreciate something about each ride, whether I learned something new about my body, technique or just saw something memorable out on the road.  Even though Char and I had some sticky, messy moments and had to backtrack out of a muddy disaster, I’m thankful we did.  
Or we'd never have gotten to listen to the bullfrogs calling.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Car vs Bike. Who Wins?

This ride could be my last.

It's something we cyclists and runners pretend won't happen to us, something we ignore so as not to take away from the joy we find while out there pushing our limits.

But running and cycling are dangerous pastimes, and each time we leave our door it could be the last.

Truth is, out there on the roads, with the cars, trucks and vans flying past, there's not much between us and the brutal honest truth to be found in a 1,000 lbs plus automobile with zero feelings.  Sure, there's a driver behind each steering wheel, but what they don't see or notice, the car won't care about.

Yesterday morning, a car and I disagreed on how best to navigate a roundabout, and I lost the argument.

I woke up early feeling a little sluggish but otherwise very healthy after a week of fighting off a cold.  I took off on my bike into a delightfully cool, cloudy morning with only the hint of a headwind.  12 miles into my ride, I came to a roundabout that signals the return trip to my house.  There was a car to my rear left so I signaled to make sure he understood I was continuing through the roundabout until the next exit.  Apparently he didn't see me, as he kept going straight to the exit, and that's when we collided.

I immediately lost my balance along the side of his ugly orange Charger and rolled to the left as I hit the ground.  The bike came up above me and I slid along the pavement for quite a few feet.  The driver hit his brakes right away and we both stopped next to each other.

I have no memory of what I was thinking about during the accident.  Other than a few swear words there was nothing intelligible in my speech or thoughts.  Once I skidded to a stop, my first thought was a prayer of thanks for being able to see cloudy sky and not the undercarriage of a car.  The driver was already out of his car and asking me if I was alright.

Chronic cynic and sarcast, I answered very honestly, "No, I'm not alright.  You just hit me with your car, dude."

He helped me up and the driver that had been following behind him called the medics.

I expected a lonely Soldier in a van with a trauma bag.  Instead, a full caravan of at least four MPs, one fire truck, one ambulance and the post police chief arrived with sirens and lights blazing.

So embarrassing.
By then I'd had time to check out my bike.  There were scratches on the left side pedal, rear quick release and handlebar tape, plus the brake horn needed to be twisted back into place (which explained the bruising on my hands).  I'd also been walking around and drinking water to both calm down and take stock of my injuries.
Blood soaked bandage for trophy?
After much ado, including an epic mooning of passing traffic while the paramedic dressed the road rash down my entire hip and thigh, I was left alone to finish the police report before pedaling home.

Road rash extended from my hip to upper thigh, and the bruising started in today.  Very pretty.  And it hurts a lot worse than it looks, trust me.
Most people were shocked, both at the incident scene and later on during the day, that I finished my ride home on the bike.  But, honestly, I couldn't imagine doing anything different.  Can't explain it; it was just natural to get back on the bike and head home.  And I made good time, with some PRs for a couple Strava Segments.

When I got home, Char was waiting for me, upset but relieved that things hadn't turned out worse.
Most of the damage was bandaged up or underneath my bike kit.  
The baselayer I was wearing under my jersey kept my skin from getting tore up more, though the bruises still hurt.
Char helped me clean up the scrapes and road rash and get ready for work.  My knee and hip were swollen and bruised, so walking, standing and sitting were each equally challenging.
Most of the impact was absorbed by my hip, elbow and back.  I shudder to think what bones would have been broken had I not rolled and then skidded along the ground on impact.
The best part was getting served a traffic ticket later that morning at work.  After a long discussion with the traffic investigator I learned that both the driver and I had been "in the wrong."  We both received tickets for "failure to maintain" our lanes.

Points deducted off my on post driving privileges, otherwise nothing to worry about.
The roundabout where the collision occurred seems to have been designed by dyslexic monkeys.  In a normal roundabout, you can stay in the right lane (and should as a cyclist) and remain in the roundabout until you arrive at your chosen exit.  You can never exit from the left lane (as the driver that hit me tried to do) but have to pull into the right lane to do so.  At the exit where we came together violently, you must exit if you're in the right lane, there's no continuing in the roundabout even though there is a lane that continues around on the right side.

To navigate this roundabout, you have to pull into the left lane and then immediately dart back into the right when your exit comes up.  Sound safe for a cyclist mixing it up with much faster and heavier traffic?  Yeah, I didn't think so.

Here's an easy and short description on how best to navigate a roundabout as a cyclist.

Every time I leave on a ride from now on, my first thought will be about how each ride could be my last.  I've come face to face with the potential consequences of riding with traffic and will never again take for granted the costs of my passion.

But honestly, if you're going to go, let it be doing something you love.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fellowship of the Diaphoresis. Huh?

I've almost always trained alone.

Running, swimming (sort of) and cycling are really individual events.  You can't depend on another runner to physically carry you along the course.  No other swimmer is going to drag you through the water.  No cyclist is going to push you along the road (not in a race anyways).

Oh, folks can cheer you on, and that provides quite the motivational boost.  But, in the end, success or failure is completely dependent upon your ability to finish under your own power.

For most of the significant challenges I've undertaken in the last couple of years, I've trained mostly alone.

I really enjoy my time out on a road or in the pool.  I can quiet my brain and just relax into the steady rhythms of whichever endurance activity I'm enjoying.  It's a time of reflection, of calmness and introspection.  Some of my greatest ideas (and my worst) come when I'm running or cycling out on a lonely road by myself.

Alone on a mountain, there's no one else to depend on.  You're free from any obligations to anyone but yourself.

Occasionally, I have trained with a partner(s).

In the early days of my new swimming career (last summer), I had my wife nearby (who swims like a fish) to make sure I didn't drown and to point out how horribly I was doing.  I also have friends that I cycle with when there's time.  And, of course, when you're doing PT in the Army, you're never alone.

But mostly it's just me, by my lonesome, out on some desolate road or trail, mile after mile, sweating and running or cycling.

What's really ironic is that my love for these activities really came from experiences when I wasn't alone.

I loved the hours long group runs in high school cross country when we'd all stick together and tell stories and jokes the entire run.  Later on, I ran several road races and it was awesome just to be around other people that shared my passion for running.

Learning to swim (or drown gracefully) with Char was a special time for us to be together in our hectic schedules without distractions.  I rarely wanted to swim alone in the beginning; I needed her presence to calm me down and give me the confidence to make it to the other side of the pool without panicking.

So not drowning, really.
Then Char and I bought bikes so that we'd have another hobby to share together while getting fit.  My first long ride was a 50-miler with some friends (thanks Larry and Alanna) and was the crucial ride that sold me on becoming more serious about cycling.  It also coincided with the summer that I first watched the Tour de France, something that I'm sure Char wishes had never happened.

Le Tour de France?  How about, Le Getoutofmyface!
Over the past year I've learned just how important it can be to have someone else there beside you.  Not just for the race itself, but during training events, too.  They can push you to keep your pace steady or pull you back from overexerting.  Their conversation can help the miles pass by easier on a rough day, or enhance the satisfaction of a really good one.

While I was on my extended vacation overseas, I had two really great runners to train with.  My boss and his boss are both accomplished distance runners and provided me with great training runs before the big half marathon in March.

When I kicked off the last two months of training before the Death Ride Tour, I was invited to join another friend for a couple rides.  My cycling guru, Joe, took me out into the mountains and was probably one the other reasons I was able to complete the Death Ride without actually dying and while retaining some dignity (not much dignity, just enough to sleep at night).

No shame, whatsoever.
What I have learned is that sharing your passion with others, not just suffering out on some lonely road alone, can make you stronger in both your sport and your life.  Although we may race or compete alone, training together really can be the difference between igniting a passionate enthusiasm for your sport and just enduring suffering until the end of the ride/race.

I definitely pushed my body to its limits in May and in June.  Now it's time to relax a little and enjoy my activities not just as another training session building towards some penultimate goal, but also as a time to be with other people that share my passions.  I can still push my body, but I'll try to feed my soul a little, too.

Taking on the 9,000 ft plus mountains of Cloudcroft, NM, with a group was more rewarding than tackling it alone.
So, here's looking forward to more really great group rides with the Team Army Fort Bliss crew, the Imperial Cycling Club, some El Paso Bicycle Club and some special (although painful) training rides with Char.

Hopefully, they can help me stay in shape, get stronger and faster, and stay motivated right up until my legs turn to jelly, my lungs start burning and the tears mix with the sweat running down my face.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Aquathlete? Nevermind.

My hopes and dreams have been shattered.

Ok, maybe not.

The Fort Bliss Individual Aquathlon is this Friday, and I've been planning on participating for a while.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the pool for a few practice laps.  My hope was to relax and prepare for a more intense run/swim/run workout this morning.  The pool was completely packed with families and aquathlon hopefuls, so I was swimming in an adhoc lane at one edge of the pool.  There was a definite current pushing me towards the wall, and I was occasionally avoiding kids and parents jumping into the water (from a side in which they weren't supposed to be playing on).  At some point, I pulled a muscle buried deep in my left shoulder.  It hurt so bad by the time I walked home that I could barely lift a glass of water to my mouth.

Let's make matters worse.

Later, about midnight, I awoke not only to a throbbing shoulder, but a swollen throat and aches all over.

I'm sick.  Thank you Charla, love of my life.

So, Friday's adventure has been called off for me.  At first, I was frustrated and angry with myself for the last minute bungle in the pool, and my weak and pathetic immune system.  But, truly, I'm quite relieved now.

I've been worrying over this aquathlon for over a month now, but haven't really spent the proper time training for it.  Now I don't have to worry at all and can focus on my preparations for the fall triathlon.  Because, as everyone knows, that's where I'm going to get picked up for the WCAP (World Class Athlete Program) where I can run triathlons with world class professionals all while still serving my country.


Maybe I need to quit watching the Tour de France every day.  I'm starting to see myself in the peloton, riding next to Jens Voight, swapping crazy stories about past rides.  Yes, I am a nerd.

Well, at least I don't have to stress over an event that wasn't important to me, and was only going to serve as a sneak preview of the fall.  Instead, I can hop back on my bike and focus on the things that I enjoy.  Plus, now I'm free to take all sorts of pictures of Charla as she competes (now you can't back out, babe) so look for another post this weekend with all the gory details.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Junedoggle

I rode over 1,000 km in June.

I keep all my running and cycling activities recorded on my phone's Strava app so I can look back later on and use the lessons learned to improve my performance, brag about the workout and remember cool routes that I want to run or bike later.  

Every month Strava offers a variety of challenges to work towards.  In June, the Jundedoggle challenge was to ride as far as possible over the course of the month.  I rode 1,000 km in June.
My highest per month mileage ever.
I've never ridden that much in my entire life and was proud to see that number on my home dashboard.

Riding that much has left me retrospective about my cycling experiences.

This is the point where I could get all sentimental and over-analytical about my riding experiences and how much better of a person I am because of my personal accomplishment.

But really, I just want to find something soft to sit on and brag about how much more I can eat because I cycle so much.

(Seriously, I ate a lot in June.  Everyday during the Death Ride Tour, I burned almost 4,000 calories and spent the rest of the day with food in my face. It was awesome!)

I've discovered that I truly and emphatically enjoy being on the bike.  And that I really enjoy eating, too.

Like that was a surprise.

But I do realize that this little hobby that Charla and I picked up almost 3 years ago has become a huge part of my life.

Between the Death Ride Tour, obsessing over the Tour de France and all the group rides I've been in lately, you would think I'd have my fill of riding.  But instead, I'm already looking for more challenging future rides and planning my strategy for the upcoming fall rides around El Paso.

I thought I would start with another Strava challenge for July.  The Take on the Tour Challenge sounded almost possible after June's accomplishments.  But I realize that my real life just doesn't allow me the freedom to knock out 230 miles a week.  Though, to say I rode a 1,000 miles in a single month would be pretty cool.

Still gotta put food on the table somehow.

Instead I'll look forward to the cycling events coming up in the fall (Oryx Challenge, Chili Pepper Challenge, Tour de Tolerance) along with the Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon.

And I'll keep focused on helping Charla with her own progression through the world of cycling, which reached a huge milestone yesterday when she rode her first 50-miler.

Only 20 more to go until the finish, and she's still smiling.
Guess the cycling bug is contagious.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Racing the Coyote

I've written a lot about how I try to constantly push myself in my endurance sports.  I try to swim faster, bike for longer, and run harder than before in everything I do.

Every now and again it's important to slow down and enjoy the ride for its own sake, not always using it to push your physical limits.  It helps me to rediscover why I started riding in the first place.

Tuesday morning, my brigade commander (my boss's boss) hosted the first Bikin' with the Brigade Commander ride around Fort Bliss, TX.  He recently got into cycling and is starting a cycling group inside the brigade to train together.

The plan was to meet at 6 am and go for a relatively relaxed group ride together around the post.

I took off early, about 5:15 am, to go for a quick warm up on my own.  It was wonderful out, not too much wind, the sun just trying to peek from below the horizon.  I was pretty much on my own for the ~10 miles I rode around post.

I took a detour along a road I haven't ridden in over a year.  It's only a few miles along, but takes any rider far away from any traffic and into the edge of the desert.  Along the way, I watched as a lone coyote loped easily along side the road, keeping pace with me.  He wasn't running away, but glanced my way and kept a pace just close enough that it felt like we were racing each other down the lonely road.

I met the group a few minutes later, out of breath but relaxed; my muscles warmed up and ready to take off.
Ridin' with the Brigade Commander, ready to go!
We stayed in a close group, with a slow pace that would normally drive me insane.  But today, it was relaxing and left me able to socialize with the other riders as we rolled down the road.

After the intensity of the Death Ride Tour, it was nice to be able to carry on conversations without the overwhelming pressure of the long rides and intense pace.

And still I was looking for the pain, for the challenge.

At one point I suggested to a couple of the other riders that we could take off and ride a certain segment of the route fast, wait for everyone else to catch up at a point down the road.  They had to remind me that we weren't out to ride like that, we were on a cohesion ride, to slow down and enjoy it.  I can't believe I was the one suggesting we take off and push the pace.  But that's what I had to overcome, and I needed the other riders (thanks Joe and Jason) to remind me that it was ok to have fun.
Jason and Jason riding together.
And we did have fun, and there were sprints; fun spontaneous races inside the ride.

Charla started the first one.

We hit a mile long straightaway, cruising along without a concern, when, out of nowhere, Charla comes flying past me at a dead sprint.  Of course, I chased.

Then, we hit a favorite bridge/overpass that's always good for a sprint, and the front riders took off, pushing each other to climb over the top.

The last bridge, someone (way to go Jason) took off way too early, and we tore off after him for a mad dash over the top.

It was a great ride.  We rode casually, relaxed, and spontaneously burst into mad sprints as we felt the need.  I could finally enjoy the ride for the sake of the ride, not worrying about time or pace or place.

As much as I want to always push myself and seek out the limits of my own body's potential, sometimes it's ok to race the coyotes.

 Just make sure no one has a camera handy when you fall over while standing perfectly still after the ride.  Lying underneath your bike is just not cool at all.


I'm an aquathlete!

Everyone knows that I'm not a strong swimmer.  I have struggled so much in the last year to improve my dismal performance in the triathlon last year.  This time a year ago, I couldn't even finish a 400m swim without stopping to breathe or switching to a sidestroke.

The decision to participate in the Fort Bliss Team Aquathlon was easy, but that was when I was pretty sure that I could find someone else to do the swim portion.

What's an aquathlon?  It's just like a duathlon, but with the bike portion replaced by a swim event.

What's a duathlon?  It's a relay or individual event consisting of a run event, bike event, and concluding with a final run event.

Any other questions?

Turns out, that even as bad as I am, I was the best choice for the swimmer on our team.  Great.  Really.

So, not even a full week after I finished the Death Ride Tour, I'm in the pool prepping for 400m of pure suffering.
Here's a sight that used to terrify me.
My first couple training sessions had me exhausted and not feeling at all confident about being able to complete all 400m without stopping for breaks.  It had been almost a month since I was in the pool and I wasn't sure if I could regain the confidence and ability I'd developed over the last six months in such a short amount of time.  At first I could only swim a single strong lap before heaving and choking along the side of the pool with a death grip on the edge.

Not a good sign at all.

My final training session in the pool changed all that.  I jumped in, started my stopwatch and took off for a warm up lap.  I was finally feeling very relaxed and took my time.  At the end, I checked my watch, 2:45, and realized that I was feeling quite strong.  I made the decision to keep going and see if I couldn't go ahead and finish up a 400m right then.  I ended up with a 12:26, a decent time for me, and knocked out a few more laps to round out a 1000m workout.

The morning of the Aquathlon arrived and I did my best to stay calm.
Warming up before the safety brief.
I waited near the transition area, watching for a sign of the lead runner coming in.  Our lead runner was admittedly out of shape and very slow, so there was no pressure to win anything or place anywhere near the top.  We were just competing against ourselves and to show our unit pride.  After 29 minutes he came stumbling into the transition area trying to unpin his bib.  We slapped hands and I trotted into the pool to begin.
Here comes the lead runner for our team.

Tagged, now time to swim.
I had expected the rush of cool water to cause me to seize up and panic.  Instead, I slid into the water, kicked off the wall and immediately relaxed into a steady stroke.

That is, until I swam headlong into someone going the wrong way.  I pushed around her, coughed a little, then kept on.

And swam into another person going the wrong way.

Ok, so you're supposed to swim in a serpentine pattern.  You swim to the end of the 50 meter lane, duck under the lane line, and come back down the opposite direction.  Do this eight times and you've swam 400 meters.

Halfway through my second length I ran into another swimmer going the wrong direction.  Now I was fighting mad, ready to pop the next one in the face, until I heard the lifeguard blowing on a whistle.  Someone was finally paying attention and getting these dangerous and incompetent knuckleheads moving in the right direction.

As I finished the second length, one race coordinator even tried to stop me to explain how to swim in the right direction, even though I was obviously not the one swimming badly.

I continued on, after a slow restart, and although I continued to get more tired and out of breath as I swam, I was able to keep plodding along.  I even passed another swimmer!  (this one was swimming in the right direction, just slowly)

Last fall, in the Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon, I had trouble passing anyone slower than myself.  I couldn't maintain a steady freestyle stroke and had to switch to a sidestroke which was slower and more awkward when negotiating around other swimmers.
Slowly gaining, very slowly.
This time, when my hands brushed against feet, I just swam off to the left and kept my steady pace.
Past the halfway point.
When I hit the turn of the final lap, I was ready to start celebrating and almost did a quick fist pump before kicking off the wall to sprint (sort of) to the finish.  I could hear people screaming and was sure some of it was for me.
Just the final stretch to go.
When I hit the finish and climbed onto the steps to clap hands with the anchor runner, I can honestly say I had given it all I had.  My head was throbbing, I was dizzy, my chest heaving.  Much more and I would have been vomiting into the pool.

Just tagged the anchor runner, and trying not to throw up.
 Our team finished somewhere in the bottom half of all teams that day.  Together, we clocked in at 1:00:44.  Most importantly, we each faced a challenge that day to overcome and did our best to push ourselves past our limits.
The Cobra Strike Aquathlon Team
And that's what it's all really about anyways.