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.