Thursday, May 30, 2013

What, Are Those Bees?

So, weird things tend to happen when I'm out riding by myself.  Usually, no one else is around, and this leaves me the free license to exaggerate but lacking the fidelity of someone else to back me up.  

I have issues with wildlife, apparently.  All kinds.  Rabid dogs, mother bears, and now, it would appear, killer swarms of bees.

I took Charla for a good two hour ride through some rollers along the edge of the Franklins, and then up and over Scenic Drive for good measure.  We rode back towards home, stopping at the Dunkin Donuts for a well earned breakfast.  From there, Char headed home and I took off for a quick 23 mile loop to stretch out my legs and get some speed work on top of the hills from earlier.  Just as I rode over Haan Bridge, only 2 miles into my ride, I rode into a buzzing swarm of insects.  I closed my mouth to keep them out, and could feel them impacting all over my body, face and helmet.  One bounced down onto my arm and I looked down to see what kind of huge flies were making all this ruckus.  One glance at the yellow and black bodies bouncing off my arms and legs and I realized that I had ridden into a swarm of very large and very noisy bees.  

Killer bees.  Of that I'm sure.

I rode very hard and very fast down the other side of the bridge hoping to outpace them.  After half a mile I was confident none had followed me.  I had escaped certain doom and total embarrassment.  In my mind's eye I saw myself having to call Char to come pick me up, or just limping home, too covered in bee stings to keep riding.  Not fun at all.

I have a history of near misses with violent manifestations of nature.  A month ago, I ran into a pack of feral dogs that tried to eat me.

Or, it could have been one dog, yapping playfully along side as I rode down the highway.  Seriously, how can you not panic when a random dog comes running full tilt out of the woods right at you barking his goofy head off.  I sped up to keep him from getting tangled up in my tires and he kept up for a good 200 feet before tiring out.

My real obsession with running into wildlife while riding comes from an incident that happened during my first Cloudcroft ride, almost two years ago.

I was in town for a leadership retreat.  We started classes and discussions promptly following an 8am breakfast every morning, so I had limited time to ride.  I was still fairly new to cycling and was excited to try my legs out up in the mountains.  I saddled up promptly at 530am and took off down the road, ignoring the concierge's warnings about bears digging through the trash.  The climbs were pretty steep and demanding and the descents terrifying for me. (See my post about my most recent ride in Cloudcroft)

About 12 miles into the ride, I hit my turn around time and flipped around on the side of a steep climb.  Roughly a quarter mile downhill I saw a large black dog run out into the road and stop.  Behind it was a smaller black shape that I took for it's puppy.  As I got closer, I realized that it was no dog, but a small black bear and her cub.  They were blocking both lanes of the road so I braked hard, fishtailing to a stop about 15 feet away.  The momma bear and I stood staring at each other for what felt like minutes but was probably only 15 seconds.  I waited to hear the telltale huffing of aggression, but she suddenly took off, back across the road and up the hillside into the trees, her little cub screaming behind her. 

I waited for more than a minute before my heart slowed down enough that I could clip in and coast downhill without shaking too bad to stay upright.  When I finally made it back to the lodge, cleaned up and walked in to breakfast, I was less in shock but still shaken.  The BDE Chaplain made the mistake of asking me how my ride was, and I lost my composure completely.  I started swearing (at the Chaplain, yes) about my close encounter with the bear, and tried to relate my tale in an almost unintelligible stream of swear words and stream of consciousness. 

To this day I can’t run into him without his relating the tale of the bear to someone nearby.  I also can’t mention riding in the mountains without a select group of witnesses reminding me to not get eaten by a bear.

So, next time I have a serious run-in with nature, I promise to punch every bee in the face. 

Monday, May 20, 2013


lalochezia  lal·o·che·zi·a (lāl'ō-kē'zē-ə) 
 Emotional relief gained by using indecent or vulgar language.  (

“Shut up legs” is the tagline of Jens Voigt, one of my favorite pro riders.  At 41 years old, he’s keeping up with kids that are half his age and destroying them on some of the most difficult terrain in the world.  I watched him break away from the peloton last year in the U.S. Pro Tour and hold off the pack all the way to the finish line in one stage.  This year he’s just as good and recently won the 5th stage of the Amgen Tour of California.

So, how does a rider of his age overcome the inherently painful demands of top level competition?  One trick, according to Jens, is that he swears at himself, scolding his weaknesses and yelling things like, “Shut up legs!”

Lately, as I’ve stepped up my training in preparation for the Death Ride Tour, I’ve become introspective and have been analyzing my own training and performance as a way of searching out new methods of self-improvement in my running, swimming and especially biking.  I’ve also been on the look out for ways to help my wife, Charla, improve her cycling so that we can start enjoying longer rides together.

One of the areas that has piqued my interest me is how we both overcome extreme fatigue and pain during workouts.

Over the past week, I’ve had a unique privilege in being able to train and race with Charla.  We rode together for the first time in over 6 months on Wednesday, ran a pre-race workout on Friday and then ran the Leavenworth 5 Trails Half Marathon on Sunday.  We rarely race together, so I enjoyed the opportunity to run the entire race by her side.

One thing that I’ve noticed about Charla is that when the going gets tough, her mouth gets dirty.  She swears, she yells and she gets really, really angry.  I used to get frustrated with her during harder workouts until I began to understand that her anger was just how she copes with the demands of prolonged effort.  I’ve had to change the way I motivate and give encouragement when working with Char, both to keep her motivated and to avoid having shoes thrown in the general direction of my head.

During my own recent training rides and runs, I’ve experienced “the wall” with a great amount of trepidation.  While increasing my cycling mileage, the lactic acid would build up in my legs, my muscles would become fatigued, my back and neck and hands hurt to grasp the handlebars, and then the saddle soreness started to settle in.  I knew that I needed to finish these longer rides, to push what I was capable of to the level where I need to be for the Death Ride.  When I felt like I was at my limit for pain tolerance, when I wasn’t sure if I could pedal another stroke without toppling over, I began talking to myself.  I was encouraging at first, simple words to keep me moving along the road.  But soon, it became angry.  I yelled at my body, I swore at the road, anything to keep all my parts working together to attain one common goal; to finish. 

And you know what?  It worked.

I finished my long rides.  I climbed the steep hills. 

During last week’s training ride with Charla, about 12 miles from the finish, we ran into a solid 15 mph headwind.  Normally, that wouldn’t have been much of a challenge, but Charla hadn’t been training with me in the hills and the wind.  She swore, she cursed, she ranted and raved, and when I looked behind me less than a mile from home, there she was, still hammering away.

A week later, I looked to my side during the 5 Trails HalfMarathon to where Charla ran, panting, swearing.  She was suffering from a debilitating cold and possible sinus infection, but was out there to finish the race, no matter the obstacles.  We crossed the finish line together, and I can attest that she ran every hill hard and left a trail of tears behind her where other runners were giving up and walking along the course.

You can call it “hitting the wall” or “bonking”, but it’s all pretty much the same thing.  Every athlete, professional and amateur, weekend warrior or Olympic competitor, experiences and strives to overcome it in a different manner. 

I’m sure there’s a psychologist or other brain wizard that could explain in detail how the yelling and swearing affects chemicals in the brain which in turn react with other parts of the body and lead to increased output during stress and adrenaline release, etc.  All I know is that I’m going to keep yelling at myself until I reach the top of the hill or cross the finish line. 

Ear muffs, kids!  This might get ugly.

Hitting the finish line with Charla.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My First Cloudcroft Training Ride of the Year

What might be my last serious training weekend before the big ride was a resounding success.  A total of 5,719 feet climbed over the course of 79.7 miles and I feel great.  For the first time, I finished my rides without debilitating soreness or wobbly legs.  Even better, my first training ride above 6,000 feet, maxing out over 9,300 feet, felt amazing.  I was terrified about shortness of breath at that altitude, but instead, felt amazing the entire time.

My first ride of the weekend took me right out my front door to some amazing hill climbing right on the edge of the Franklin Mountains of El Paso.  My friend and cycling mentor, Alanna, showed me the route the week before and it was a lot of fun and the roads were smooth and relatively empty on the weekend mornings.  All this time I had a treasure trove of climbing sitting right out my front door, but was too nervous to navigate through a few urban neighborhoods to get there.  I woke up Saturday morning, sucked up my own misgivings, swallowed a slice of cold pizza and two watermelon wedges, clipped in and rode off into some awesome rollers and two great steep climbs that gave me over 2,000 feet in less than 2 hours.  It also provided some of the best views of El Paso on a quiet Saturday morning.  There’s nothing better than the feeling of accomplishment and immediate reward gained through struggle and determination that can be found after a tough climb to a beautiful scenic overlook.  There’s also the satisfying feeling of blowing past other riders on a steep ascent, to glance over at them on their fancy carbon fiber race bikes while you’re plodding along past them on a heavy aluminum frame roadster.

After admiring the great view of El Paso from the Scenic Drive, I cashed in and headed for home.  I wanted to take it somewhat easy in preparation for the next day’s training ride in the mountains around Cloudcroft, NM.  This was a ride that I had been looking forward to for months.  In preparation for the Death Ride Tour, I needed some riding at altitudes exceeding 6,000 feet with plenty of climbing to simulate the terrain I would be traversing in Southern Colorado.  I’ve been really worried about the 6 months I spent at sea level and the less than two months that I’ve been training at only 4,000 feet.  Jumping up to rides that will mostly take place above 8,000 feet sounded painful and I didn’t know if my body could handle it.

I met my cycling guru friend, Joe, at his house and loaded my bike next to his on the back of his Jeep.  We made the 1.5 hour drive up to Cloudcroft where the sun was still fighting to climb over the mountains and the air was a crisp 40 degrees F.  We clipped in rolled out to begin an 18.5 mile descent to the town of Mayhill.  The descent was smooth and I hardly spun my pedals as frigid air whipped across my face.  Just shy of the town we turned right across a bridge onto a back highway that climbed for a steady 20 miles past cattle and sheep ranches.  It was by far the longest climb of my life with almost no relief during the entire ascent.  It took me and hour and a half to cover the 20 miles and for the first time in a while, I resented the heaviness of my aluminum frame. 

At the top of the hill, I followed Joe for an additional 7 mile excursion that took us up and over the 9,300 foot mark and added 14 miles to our grand total.  I had ridden this portion of the road once before, almost 2 years ago, and remember the climb over this smaller hill being excruciatingly painful.  This morning, it was fun and I enjoyed every moment of it.  We zipped back into Cloudcroft, flying down the hills, spinning up the smaller rollers, hugging the turns.  I stayed in my drops for most of the descents and thrilled in the sensation of flying through the mountains. 

After 52 miles of hard climbing and screaming descents I expected to be saddle sore, legs filled with lactic acid and wobbly.  Instead, I felt a healthy muscle throbbing in my thighs and a freshness in my lungs.  I was still energetic and almost ready to hop back on the bike to do another lap around the mountain.  This was the feeling I had hoped but dared not expect after a mountain ride and it gave me hope for being able to not only finish the Death Ride Tour, but to enjoy riding it.

This was the last free weekend until just before the Death Ride, and I wanted to make the most of it.  Although I didn’t put up the 70-miler I had hoped for, I think a hard ride at altitude with climbs was better for my training.  For the next two weeks, I will struggle to put in 20-mile rides between work and traveling, but with 3 weeks to go before the big ride I think the small intervals will still help.  I will also continue to make the effort to get in the pool, as I think that’s helped build up my lungs to make the most out of less air.

I guess there’s only one way to find out.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Perfect Soundtrack

What's your perfect running/cycling playlist?

It's a question that's been on my mind quite a bit lately as I begin my final preparations for the Death Ride Tour in June.  Now, I'm no connoisseur, but I do have particular tastes in music when it comes to what pumps me up during a workout or race.

It all started when I was working out with my battle buddies during my extended vacation in the Middle East.  They would drag me to the gym to lift and the music on my mp3 could really enhance or slow down the intense workout sessions.  Problem was, I was using my wife's mp3 player, and there were songs loaded onto it that just didn't work for me.  I would get annoyed having to skip through songs until I found one that I liked.

Then, last month when I ran the Dirty Deid Half Marathon, I had the perfect running soundtrack.  I mean, perfect.  I didn't skip a single song.  It seemed as though each new track that popped up was meant for just that section of the race.  It really got me thinking, what would the perfect riding soundtrack include?  How could I get enough songs together to cover a 6 hour ride without getting bored, or annoyed and having to skip through tracks?  Let's be honest, halfway up a 6 mile climb at 10,000 feet above sea level is a bad time to be fiddling with an mp3 player.

A bad soundtrack/playlist can really ruin a good workout or ride.  You become annoyed with the sound in your ear and then you get bitter at everything around you.  During an exceptionally long and painful ride, emotions are amplified in both positive and negative directions.  I know that I personally can be truly elated at something simple, while a minor inconvenience will derail the whole ride and throw me into a rage.

In my perfect playlist there would have to be songs that were upbeat and exciting enough to keep my adrenaline flowing.  Then, there would be songs that were a little slower, without putting me to sleep, to let me enjoy the more reflective moments of the ride.  A good playlist has to include variety between styles and tempos to keep it interesting.  As much as I enjoy a good hard rock song, sometimes that's just too much in the middle of a race/ride.  Too much death metal and the natural body rhythms are lost in the seemingly mindless chaos of angst and fury.  Likewise, some of my favorite songs would be too slow and annoying when trying to keep my heart-rate and cadence up.

A good playlist is like a work of art.  You have to establish a good theme behind the tracks you choose.  Then they must be balanced with enough variety to break up the monotony of a single style.  If they are overtly uniform in tempo or genre, you'll become bored with your own playlist.

I have a great love of alternative rock, but enjoy all genres including classic rock, hip hop, r&b, etc.  Here's a short sample of the playlist I'm building for the Death Ride in June.  Feel free to comment with your suggestions, and I'll add in my own additions as we go.

Queen, Bicycle Race
The Police, Message in a Bottle
Cold War Kids, Hang Me Up to Dry
Middle Class Rut, New Low
Middle Class Rut, Busy Bein' Born
Macklemore, Thrift Shop
Black Sabbath, Iron Man
Flobots, Handlebars
Deftones, Change in the House of Flies
Duck Sauce, Barbara Streisand
Kasabian, Club Foot
Of Monsters and Men, Little Talks
Cage the Elephant, Shake Me Down
Cage the Elephant, Aberdeen
Cage the Elephant, Ain't No Rest for the Wicked
Foster the People, Helena Beat
Foster the People, Pumped Up Kicks
Health, Tears
Jay Z, No Church in the Wild
Kid Cudi, Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Home
Mumford & Sons, I Will Wait
The Moldy Peaches, Anyone Else But You
MGMT, Electric Feel
MGMT, Kids
Music Magnet, Too Close
The Silent Comedy, Bartholomew