Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category
I’ve written about my weight loss, and how that lead to being able to race cyclocross. Truth is, I’m still riding better than ever, and have started road racing–I’m sure I’ll do a post about that at a later date. I’m not impressive, but I’m sticking with the field. I still feel that being credible at this is a dream come true for me. Being able to stick with fast groups on training rides, or a pack at a road race, or any of the other things feels like, in a modest way, a measure of success.
I haven’t really trusted it.
There is always this thought in the back of my head that, at any moment, this could be taken away from me. Not in the sense that an injury could get me off the bike. More that I got to this place by rubbing a lamp or having a spell cast upon me. I could wake up tomorrow in my old, heavier body, averaging 3-4 MPH slower.
It has made me grateful to my wife, who inspired me to do this and continues to support me in more ways than I can count. It also has me pushing myself harder to squeeze out every little bit of this new-found strength, wanting to enjoy every moment before the spell is broken.
But, coming back from a great ride the other night, I had this revelation: this is not a spell. It’s not a wish from a genie. I worked at this. All the riding I do is a step in achieving this. Logging what I eat and keeping within a calorie budget is a step. Waking up at 5:15 in the winter to suffer before work is a step. There are things beyond my control, but I was making sure I was taking responsibility for the ones that are completely on me.
I suppose this seems more like magic than work because, individually, no one instance of any one thing is not that much work. Picking a small sandwich and baked chips over something with twice (or more) the calories is not that hard, one lunch at a time. Spending an hour on a stationary bike is not that hard, one day at a time. Both are as easily forgotten as the high-calorie lunch or sitting on the couch hours later. Only when I look back at my logs do I see just the effort I put in.
Chris Hadfield once wrote:
“Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight turns you into who you are tomorrow and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”
Hadfield was speaking of becoming an astronaut, but I think it can even apply to more modest pursuits. Many of us may be in a position where we can’t orient our entire lives to something. We have jobs and families and other things that have to take priority. However, we can look at the things we can control, and try.
In a way, I did that starting almost two years ago. I looked at every meal, and every act. As momentum built and I entered my first cyclocross race, I continued making choices. Today, there are times I consciously think I want to race bicycles more than I want the leftover pizza in the break room or I want to race bicycles more than I want that cookie. To be fair, there are times I ride my bike because I want to indulge, but that’s part of the same decision-making process.
Put another way: hard work is magic. While there may be factors that are limiting, by and large, I can continue this or not at my choosing. I can continue to count calories and ride hard, and stay focused on what I want. If I choose to let go a bit to make room for something else, that will be of my choosing. If there are external factors like work that put pressure on me, I can figure out how to adapt. I may not always be able to keep with a pack at 24 MPH, but, if I want to try to get there, I know that it will be my own doing.
This has been a bit of an odd winter. I was able to get out and ride a lot in January–about twice what I did last year. February looked promising, until mid-month, when I wasn’t able to get out and ride one weekend…then the next. When last weekend looked to be the third in a row, I felt I had to do something. I can handle going to suffer on a stationary bike several times a week, and even both days of a weekend once in a while. I couldn’t take three weeks in a row–really a month before the next possible opportunity. I was going MAD!!!!
In the past, I’ve looked into ways to try to drive to better weather. Unfortunately, the climate is such that getting to warmer-enough weather generally requires a drive of several times what I would ride–each way. However, a new option appeared in Louisville in February at the Louisville Mega Cavern that seemed to be a hack. This recreation complex is located in an old mine that stretches under the city, including the zoo. For years, they have had a zip line and a ropes course, along with tram tours of the mine itself. In February of this year, they opened what they describe as the largest indoor bike park in the world.
It’s billed as a “mountain bike” course, with lots of single track and cross-country paths to follow, which I could handle easily on my cyclocross bike. Other areas were designed to allow mountain bikers to get speed, and perform amazing jumps. The big advantage: the cave is a constant sixty degrees.
My ‘cross bike doesn’t have a wheel sensor–I rely exclusively on GPS when I ride it (I also worry, during a race, the sensor would just be a place for mud to accumulate). In a cave, you can’t get GPS signals, so I can’t really give an accurate measure of how big this is. It was easily a mile or so in circumference.
On the day I was there, Morpheus bikes was there, giving demos. I had been watching the folks who do gravity jumps, and was curious. So, I decided to try one out. The folks from Morpheus were quite nice, even if they teased me a bit about being the only one there (at the time) in lycra. The setup is completely different–the saddles are quite low, and mostly, you stand to control your body as you run over the ramps. I rode it for about an hour, and got pretty good on the beginner run getting good air and not falling. By the end of my session, I was thinking about adding another discipline to my cycling.
While I was acting half (or less) my age, my wife and daughter were doing the Mega Quest ropes course.
They said they had an awesome time.
We had a great time at the Mega Cavern, and made mental notes for “next time.” While, for me, it was not the long, stead distance I want to prepare for TOSRV, it definitely was a great way to get out of the gym. I also enjoyed the opportunity to challenge myself on different terrain. I’m also grateful that Morpheus Cycles let me try out something new.
About a month after I started my effort to lose weight, I was contacted on Facebook by Scott, an old friend from the Vox days (whose current personal blog I can’t find). He was acting as mechanic for a team at the Cincy3 Cyclocross Festival. Would I want to come out and say “hi?”
I did, as I also wanted to check out the festival. Cyclocross is an off-road cycling discipline that actually predates mountain biking. The bikes started as modified road bike, and are raced on a relatively short course (2-3 miles), typically grass and gravel–not as rocky and rough as what a mountain bike might take on. The courses twist and turn, and, at various points, there are barriers the riders must dismount and carry their bikes over. Over the last several years, it has become the fastest growing segment of cycling, with the Cincinnati area being one of the hotbeds.
As I watched the racers take this on, I leaned over to my wife. “When I hit my target weight, can I get a cyclocross bike?” She agreed, not knowing the madness that would ensue..
In August, I hit that weight, and got a Fuji Cyclocross 4.0. It was just in time for a series of cyclocross time trials put on by the Cincinnati Cyclocross group, to raise money for a junior development team. After a few sessions getting pointers from other riders, I took to the start line. Ultimately, I did five out of the six in the series (missing one to see the Piano Guys).
Sports Illustrated posted an article called “Grueling Yet Addictive, Cyclocross Pushes Boundaries of Physical Limits,” which is a great overview of the sport. “Grueling yet addictive” is an apt description. After every time trial, I was anxious for my next one. I got a license to race from USA Cycling, cycling’s governing body in the United States, and joined a cycling team, 7 Hills Racing. I’ve worn jerseys from pro teams before, but that was much like wearing a Cincinnati Reds’ jersey–just being a fan. Wearing the kit of my team is special.
As the Sports Illustrated article mentions, it is a very grueling sport. You are pushing at 100% for the entire race, which, for a category 5 (entry level) racer, is typically thirty minutes.
As I mentioned, there are barriers you have to dismount for. This can be short boards to jump over.
Steps, which require shouldering the bike.
Or sand, which better men and women than I can ride through.
It is a race, so, when getting on and off the bike, you don’t exactly “stop,” but jump on and off as you move forward.
In addition to the time trial series (which was more intermural practice), I’ve competed in three mass-start races for USA Cycling points. I’ve been finishing in the middle of the pack. For a middle-aged guy starting in the sport, I regard these results as “credible.” Each race I can tell I’m going a bit faster, executing smarter tactics, and my skills with the barriers are improving.
During my first ride in team kit, I realized that this was a dream come true. I used to want to race bicycles, starting in college. I realized, even then, the Tour de France was out of the question, but for a local club was a reasonable ambition. I was always too heavy or too slow to really be credible. However, between losing the weight and the time on the bike that helped achieve that (and was inspired by that), it became a reality. While the bicycle may have been the material prize, this was my true reward.
The other thing we did on our Romantic Weekend in Akron was ride on the Towpath, a bike trail that parallels the Ohio and Erie Canal. However, instead of a simple out-and-back, we only biked back to our car–we took a train south.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The train goes between a northern suburb of Akron, to Independence, a southern suburb of Cleveland. It runs through The Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a national forest. Lots of people buy tickets to ride the train round trip, and enjoy the sights and activities. During the summer, however, they offer the Bike Aboard program. Partnering with a local hospital, they offer a one-way rate that is a sixth the cost of the round trip fair for cyclists. The goal is to encourage people to ride on the trail for health an exercise.
It sounded like fun, so, after going to the zoo, my wife and I drove to Independence, and caught the last southbound train at Rockside station.
Once the train arrived, they unloaded the bikes that were heading north.
Our bikes were stowed in the car behind where we sat.
We took our seats, and enjoyed the sites out the window.
Including traffic stopping for our train.
And had a lot of fun.
At Akron Northside, our train bikes were unloaded, and we started heading north. We wanted to make sure we covered the distance before sunset, so we didn’t stop too much, and I didn’t get many photos. One stop we did make was at Szaay’s a farmer’s market. They were closing, but it smelled wonderful walking around.
We got to our car just as dusk was setting in. It was a great time, and a wonderful program. We’re already discussing taking our daughter for a ride on the train.
Hat tip to the DiscoveringOhio blog, who posted an artical that clued me in to this. Their timely tweet is a great source of fun things to do in our wonderful state.
Already been up. Time to get back on the road.
Perks of riding 210 miles
I opt for the provided accommodations: a sleeping bag on a gym floor. However, I was assigned the SOMC Family Center, which was dubbed the “TOSRV Hilton”.
I earned this. Next: shower. Sleep. Repeat tomorrow.