Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. It is a holiday that is set aside for remembering our fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is also the unofficial start to summer, providing a three day weekend for many and a great excuse to everyone to cook outside on the grill and have a party. There are also a ton of sales at the stores with the day off providing many people the chance to shop for big ticket items like appliances or new cars. Unfortunately this also detracts from the whole point of the day, which is to say thank you to all who served and sacrificed so we would be able to be free.

Along those lines I am going to run a repost of one of my favorite blogs from the past and take a little extra time off today. It is one that I have had some good feedback on in the past and it is also one of my personal favorites. I wrote it when I was unemployed and while that has changed, it still perfectly describes why I jump out of bed on the weekends and ride my bike as the world wakes up. I’m re-running it because I too am taking the day off to spend with my family. We are going to have some fun, but I will also set aside some time to explain a little of the meaning of the day to my 4 year old son. Then we will hang a flag on our porch as a way to say thank you to any veteran that drives by the house today.

Have a great Memorial Day today, but take a minute to remember why we have the holiday and say thanks to a vet you know. I’ll start it off by thanking my dad and cousins as well as some great friends for serving.

Why I ride:

Up. Wash face. Skip shaving. Think about cost of Electric Shave. Wonder why I do this. Think about still not having a job. Pull on chamois. Hope they hold up for a few more months. Think about the cost of replacing them. Wonder why I haven’t found a job. Eat. Think about cost of bagels. Grab protein bar for later. Think about learning how to make my own. Out to the garage. Pull on my shoes. Look at the straps as I pull them tight. Think about how long they will last. Check the bike. Tires look a little worn. Think about the cost of replacing tires. Add air and check the rest of my gear. Helmet is okay, but felt bits are falling out. Stick them back in. Don’t think about the cost of replacing helmet. Wonder why company that seemed like a perfect fit hasn’t called. Worry about mortgage payment. Worry about stress of unemployment on marriage. Worry about forgetting water. Back inside for water and remember wallet for ID and iPod. Back to garage and repack bag with forgotten supplies. Open the garage door quietly so I don’t wake my son. Worry about him and how to pay for his school. Worry about attempting a career change. Worry about not being able to be a writer. Worry about how to make writing a paying passion. Worry about not being good enough.

Quietly close the garage door. Worry about not making it home in time to help my wife. Worry about how little I have been able to help her while unemployed. Think about how supportive she had been in the drought. Mount up and head down my street. Think about which loop to take. Decide to push myself. Worry that I won’t lose enough weight to ride my new bike when it arrives this spring. Worry about paying for the bike. Wish I didn’t put the bike on order being too fat and broke to make it work. Pump harder as the street rises up to the first hill. Time my approach to the first light so I ride through on green to avoid losing my momentum up the hill. Finally see the start of the sunrise through the light fog. Laugh as my breath clouds my glasses. Feel the burn in my legs on the first hill. Wonder why I manage to start the ride on the hill. Remember that there is a bike in my future that demands better of me. Smile in appreciation of an up-tempo song on the iPod. Better to match my cadence to it for the rest of the hill. Quickly take a drink, feeling the cold water hit my throat and make it contract a little. One of the joys and tortures of an early morning fall ride, the air keeps the water cold enough to almost hurt as you drink. Think about capturing the moment later to share with readers. Start to sweat as the miles begin to pass. Worry that they seem to be going so slow as my legs seem to protest the trail that I have turned onto. Eight more miles of hill before the trail levels off. I bargain with myself, it is only a slight grade; the converted rail bed doesn’t climb that sharply. If hundreds of others can do it, I can too. I may still be fat and slow, but I am ahead of my pace one month ago, six months ago, and a year ago. A year and a half ago I would never even ride, let alone think that 35 miles is a great way to start a Saturday. Three years ago I weighed 50 pounds more and smoked three packs a day. I feel happy that my son will know I smoked one day, but he will grow up knowing a father that is trying to be fit and pass that on to him.

Check the cycle computer and see a larger number than I expect. Realize my time is good for this part of the ride and push the next two miles into the rest stop. Eat a protein bar and drink deeply. Look at the new bridge and trees and thank myself for levering my butt out of bed early enough to see the sun climb through the trees. Start to bargain with myself to push the ride a little longer and head out of the rest area. Feel the miles fly under the bike, quietly singing under my breath along with the songs on the iPod, only one ear bud in to hear faster riders approaching. Smile when I realize that I am passing more people than are passing me. I think about a year ago when EVERYONE passed me. I could only ride 8 miles at a time. I gasped for breath all the time. I thought I was going to die. Everyone encouraged me, my family, friends, especially strangers in the bicycling community. Happy I embraced the change, hopeful about changing careers and writing. Hopeful that others may see value in my communicating what I see and hopeful that I can do it well. Gliding into the turnaround I see that my time is good and I take a shorter rest, choosing to eat the protein bar on the go. Seventeen miles down, seventeen to go. I can do this.

Finish the last small hill and begin to feel less effort as the trail dips down to begin the eight miles of downhill terrain to my house. Remember that this is why I start with the large hill. Laugh as the speed picks up. Shift into the big ring for the rest of the ride. Enjoy the sun dappled trail bed as I search for treacherous sand and soft spots. Start to worry about what a crash would mean, then stop. There is too much joy in the decent, too much joy in being a fat man flying down the trail. Feeling all the benefits of lugging that extra weight up the hill, it pulls me down the trail faster and faster. I don’t think until the trail ends and I am back on the road, gasping for air and laughing like I was twenty years younger and my biggest worry was getting home for supper. I ride onto the road and smile with anticipation of the road bike and new adventures. I am still losing weight, I will make this happen. I will be able to afford it and everything else. My son is calling to me from the porch, breakfast is ready and the day will be a good one.

I open the door and can hear the dog barking and running back and forth anticipating my arrival. I can hear my wife talking to my son. I take off my helmet and earphones, stowing them away for the next ride. I feel the post ride stiffness in my legs that lets me know that I pushed just hard enough. Enough to hurt, but not enough to cause any injury. I feel the endorphin rush subsiding, but not the positive feelings it brought. There must be some way to accurately describe the post ride feelings I have, but the closest I can come to is in terms of Zen-like calm. After experiencing a version of the “no mind” I feel as if I still have problems, but they are surmountable. Things will work out. A company will offer me a job soon. Someone will read what I write, and it will connect. I have accomplished some of my goals, I can accomplish more of them. It just takes time, energy, and the willingness to keep pushing even when I feel discouraged. It is working on the bike; it will work in life as well.

That is why I ride.

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Breaking the Fourth Wall

Every once in a while here at the blog I break down the fourth wall and talk about what has been going on in my life without much of a topic. This generally happens when life becomes hectic or I don’t have a particular topic for the weekly post. This week it is really a combination of the two. There have been some large changes going on as well as having to take a break from any type of fitness or cycling activities. Combining the two has caused me to lack any type of cohesive topic, so it’s a random catch-all kind of update this week, with the added bonus of being posted late! Some weeks it all comes together. This isn’t one of those weeks.
It’s been a very busy and slightly rough two weeks since the end of the Five Boro Tour. I was fighting a cold in the week leading up to the Tour and I thought I finally beat it. It came crashing back by the evening after the ride when my wife and son were sick and I felt like I had been hit by a truck somewhere along the route. I managed to bounce back a little the next day but by mid-week I was full on sick again. It was just a typical cold, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, aches and pains kind of thing. A little Dayquil and I was fixed up. The only problem is that I couldn’t shake it. I felt better on Mother’s Day, but quickly faded again by Monday. A quick trip to my doctor revealed sinus and throat infections. I have been on antibiotics for almost a week now and I am hoping that I finally kick this soon. I have been able to function, but mostly in a haze.

I have also been in the process of changing jobs. I love my current job but I was offered a very challenging but amazing opportunity with a former company. This has caused a fair amount of stress with the change, but I am also very excited to get to work in my new role. It has made finding a topic a little rougher in that there is a lot that I might want to write about, but in an effort to be as respectful as possible to both companies I chose to skip any topics that might bring in my professional life. Believe me, I have nothing negative to say, but I would hate to write anything that might be misconstrued by anyone at either company.

Add together extra meetings (a very good thing) and being sick (not as good) and my time on the bike or out running has been nonexistent. This is the final nail in the coffin for any real inspiration for a new topic. I tend to find my inspiration while I am training. Mostly I tend to distract myself from watching the seconds tick away in each interval by playing with new ideas for the blog. It is always a great time to get my head back on straight and to really work through ideas. Time that I haven’t gotten in a couple of weeks. Last week was covered by the Tour Report. This week I am severely lacking.

To end on a high note, Bike New York featured my Tour wrap up on their Facebook page! It created the best three day hit total for the blog. Hopefully this week’s weak update doesn’t drive anyone new away!

Either way, thanks for checking in and I’ll see you next week!

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2014 TD 5 Boro Bike Tour

Wow. Wow Oh Wow. Some bike rides are done to train for bigger rides. They are rides that you go on knowing you are working towards something larger. Some rides are just for fun. You go out knowing you have no agenda, you ride for the joy of cycling and seeing what is over the next hill. You might also get together for a fun ride because you want to spend time with some great people. Some rides are for charity. You come together with some other cyclists and raise some money for a good cause. These are all great reasons to ride, but for an epic ride you need more than just one reason. Amazing locations, great people, great causes all blend together for the truly epic, the Wow Oh Wow of rides.

The first weekend in May is the TD 5 Boro Bike Tour of New York. The ride is 40 plus miles through all five Boros of New York City. It starts off in Manhattan, heads through Central Park, into Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and finally over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Staten Island. What better location, complete with the bucket list item of a climb over what was once the largest suspension bridge in the world? The tour is organized by Bike New York as their largest fund raiser of the year supporting bicycle education and outreach programs throughout the year. These include adult and child learn to ride programs as well as other educational sessions including how to buy your first bike. Getting more people on bicycles and riding is certainly one of the easiest causes cyclists can support. More butts on bikes is a great benefit for all cyclists.

Patty and I at the start!

Patty and I at the start!


I had the great people piece of an epic ride covered as well. This year I rode with Team Some Nerve, a collection of new and veteran cyclists all riding to support Patty Chang Anker, author of Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave. Patty is a mom who went from cautious and staid to amazing and a force of nature. She set out to conquer her fears, not by merely beating a fear of open water or heights, but by turning each fear into an amazing adventure. Fear of heights fell to a high ropes adventure and the fear of moving water fell to boogie boarding. Fear of cycling in the city? Why not a group ride with 32000 other cyclists through all five Boros? Along the way Patty recruited people from her cycling classes, her publicist, audio book rep, and a bunch of other well-meaning people who felt called to support someone facing fears is such an epic manner.
Team Some Nerve at the start, we are the ones in bright yellow!

Team Some Nerve at the start, we are the ones in bright yellow!


Patty’s group was eclectic and that only added to the fun. We had an amazing man from New Jersey out to conquer the Tour on a recumbent bike he just bought. We had a fearless woman on a single speed determined to prove it could be done. We had a cancer survivor that showed us courage on a whole new level. We also had people willing to try something new, jumping onto bikes to go 40 miles when their personal longest rides were only 15 miles long. Into this group I brought Brian, the writer behind I Wear Spandex. It was a great excuse for us to meet up and tackle the tour.

The TD 5 Boro Tour actually starts the day before at the Bike Expo New York where all the riders pick up their tour packet and check out a great bunch of sponsors and vendors. Specialized, Bike New York, and a ton of other vendors were there to cover you if you forgot any gear as well as showcase new products. Patty even did an author signing as well as participate in a panel focusing as women cycling. I met Brian and we walked the floor checking for deals. I was able to pick up CO2 cartridges from REI as well as a great floor pump from a local vendor exhibiting.

The next morning I found my way to the preferred start corral and met up with most of the Some Nerve team. Unfortunately I was never able to hook up with Brian. I was upset that he would travel so far to be there and I wasn’t able to find him. Such was the scale of 32000 riders and cell phones that were running out of battery. I did meet many of my fellow Team Some Nerve riders and I couldn’t believe how inspirational their stories were. Some were there trying the Tour because Patty drew them in with her powerful optimism. Others were there to beat their fear of group rides or cycling 40 miles. Other riders were there to support the rest. One rider, Natasha, ended up riding the entire tour with me. A New York City resident, she trained by riding in Central Park and using her bike to commute when possible. Natasha made my day, becoming the best possible companion through the city, filling me in on where we were riding and the history of the neighborhoods. The year before my friend and I had no idea where we were riding, this year I had an expert telling me all about each Boro and bridge. Natasha couldn’t have been more gracious and welcoming. She completely made the ride for me.

Some of the views didn’t hurt either. There is something amazing about riding in New York City. There are protected cycle lanes and most of the drivers are very aware of riders compared to Connecticut where the infrastructure is lacking. I thought I would be more intimidated than I was on my way to and from the Tour, but what makes this ride so special is that every road you ride on is completely closed to traffic. Unless you run the New York Marathon, this is the only way to travel traffic free streets in New York City. You get to ride on Broadway, through Central Park, through all five boros, and over five iconic bridges. You even ride on Highway 278 up to the Verrazano Bridge. How many other times will you ever get the chance to ride on an interstate highway? Some of the views are breathtaking and there always seemed to be a new view of the city skyline. Each rest area seemed to showcase another part of the city and there were entertainment stops along the way where bands played as riders stopped for water.

Lunch!

Lunch!


At mile 40 there was a finish festival on Staten Island. Thanks to being part of Team Some Nerve there was a VIP lunch and a chance for a picture or two with Patty who not only conquered her fear but finished in a very respectable time. Natasha and I continued on to the actual end of the Tour, back in Battery Park in Manhattan, by way of an unforgettable ride in the car coral of the Staten Island Ferry. It was a whole new way to ride the ferry, with hundreds of cyclists where cars would normally ride. The ferry crew left the doors open so we could see the Manhattan sky line as we traveled.
Some of Team Some Nerve at the finish festival.

Some of Team Some Nerve at the finish festival.


My only possible reaction to it all? Wow. Wow, oh Wow!
Natasha and I at the Finish Fest

Natasha and I at the Finish Fest


Many thanks are due to Patty who invited Brian and myself to ride with her team. Patty and I along with some of the other riders have already begun kicking around ideas to keep the spirit of the team alive next year. We want to get many more people to stretch their goals and ride with us, perhaps in a program where some of the less experienced riders would get some mentorship from the team veterans. What does everyone think? Anyone want to ride next year?

Posted in Cycling, Epic Rides, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Still Stewing

I’m still stewing about last week’s topic, the horrible treatment of Ernest Gagnon by Boombotix. They basically crafted an advertisement and had to backpedal from the fallout. The company blamed a young designer that went ahead and posted the ad without any internal review. The internet, including Reddit, reacted strongly. The company posted a public apology on their website explaining how it happened and what they would do to not let it happen again. That has me stewing because it reeks of the type of apology my four year old would make. Oops, you caught me so I am very sorry. Here’s some money and we promise to do better. Oh, and wouldn’t it be great to do something positive together? No definite plans, but we will try.

Fair enough. If, and only if, Boombotix follows through on their promises, then fair enough. Their story might be completely true and I am more than willing to allow Boombotix time to prove that they are sorry and that they are going to work with Ernest to do something positive. Maybe it was all just a corporate misstep and they will make amends. I would love to hear an update, and I will be reaching out to them to see if they can give me one. I want to know that they did the right thing and I would love to share that with you guys. I’ll let you know what happens.

There is a larger problem at work here, a larger problem that has fostered the culture that would lead some young designer to think that creating an ad making fun of someone was a great idea. We cyclists have an extremely fractured culture. I have heard it referred to as Bike Tribes; there is even a pretty great book by that very title written by Mike Magnuson. These tribes are often at war with each other. The roadies and the mountain bikers argue constantly. The cyclocrossers end up in the middle somewhere. No one gets along with triathletes because they don’t even want to be cyclists. We fight with each other over disciplines and then we also fight with each other over who belongs or who can even call themselves a cyclist.

Regular readers know I am a big guy, so my sympathies lie with the Clydesdales. That is the term for larger cyclists. One day I might be small enough to call myself that, but for now I am a fat guy in spandex. I get that, no one knows it better than me. I may be fat, but I’m not blind or deaf. I see and hear how other cyclists treat me, even when they don’t realize that I do. The laughing, pointing, staring. The wondering if I should be out there and the misplaced concern that I might hurt myself. The message from some cyclists is loud and clear. I don’t belong. They are sleek and fast, athletes of endurance. They train and dedicate their lives to cycling and shouldn’t have to put up with me in their midst. This is why I ride alone. I don’t race, I don’t group ride, I keep to myself in charity rides. I am not asking to be welcomed into group rides with open arms, just ignore me if you don’t have anything nice to say. I would be much happier with your indifference than you scorn.

This attitude bleeds over into the general culture of cycling. The main cycling corporations have the same attitude. Go to any manufacturer’s website and see for yourself. Bikes are built to a certain standard. Every one of them has a weight limit, even if you have to dig to find it buried in the specifications page. I once wanted to buy a carbon bike from Scott but the weight limit was around 225 pounds. Trek and Specialized have two of the better weight limits. They come in around 275 pounds for their road bikes. My hybrid Trek has a weight limit of 300 pounds but I was more than that when I started riding it. I popped spokes and stressed the rest of the bike until I got under that weight.

Not all cyclists are like this. Most are incredibly welcoming and inclusive. I am actually taking a huge step for me by riding with Team Some Nerve this weekend in the 5 Boro Tour. It is easier because I know I have friends from blogging to ride with me. Some others look to me for help and support as one of the more experienced cyclists in the group. I know that good people are on bikes everywhere and I rarely have serious blatant issues, but it is still a concern for me. I will ride this weekend and hope for the best, knowing that at least 40 other riders will be wearing the same bright yellow shirt that I will have on.

The problem will still exist. The riders that see themselves as better than me or anyone else that isn’t their body type will never go away. That’s almost okay in that it’s inevitable that there will be jerks in the world. It matters more how we deal with them than that they exist in the first place. The real issue is that cycling as a culture tends to tolerate them. We cyclists need to be more welcoming to new riders and understand that not everyone is going to look good in spandex. Apparel companies could help this by making clothes for larger riders. I have mentions Fat Lad at the Back here before; they are reaping the reward of serving these riders. They offer cycling kit made for bigger riders and customers are beating down their door to buy. Imagine if bike makers took the same approach. I know that I would be first in line for a carbon bike that was made for me and not a 125 pound rider.

Companies should be open to serving all types of customers. They should be willing to fill the niches of the market for two reasons. The first is profit. Cycling is not a cheap sport. We are already spending money; I would rather spend it on clothing and gear that fits. The second reason is much more important. The sport of Cycling is a small community. Compared with other sports we barely have any public recognition. Once a year people take notice of the sport as the Tour de France runs and then cycling fades away. The more people we have on bikes, the better. The more welcome they feel and the more involved they become, the better it is for the whole community. We all complain that there is never enough support for better infrastructure or awareness, but we don’t always see that the easiest way to fix this is by putting more people on more bikes more often. Cycling manufacturers, apparel manufacturers, and the cycling community all hold the key to helping each rider feel like they belong. It is up to all of us not to blow it. It is up to the ones that do make mistakes to quickly fix them.

I have reached out to Boombotix, I will let you know what they say. What do you think about body image in cycling? Is it a problem? Is there a solution?

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Unexpected Inspirations

I know I have been talking about running a lot, but I feel like I have been running a lot. I can’t wait to get back on the bike, but until then, I run. The gym where I run has been excellent, and I highly recommend them to anyone in the Connecticut area. I go to the Big Sky location in Vernon, but I have seen the others and all of them are pretty amazing. There are a ton of fun personal trainers, the equipment is generally pretty new and there are a million televisions to watch for a distraction while you are running. The newest treadmills have their own TV mounted to the display panel but the older ones that I prefer are pointed at a row of six separate TVs.

The other night my wife and I were running and a bunch of older movies were on the televisions. She was watching Speed 2 and I was watching Forest Gump. I was struggling through the eighth week of Couch to 5 K and generally being a little miserable. I had to run for 25 minutes straight and then sprint for two minutes. The first time through the intervals wasn’t that bad but it just wasn’t my night. We have all been there. My legs were heavy and I swear the timer was counting backward when I looked away from it. Part of the way through that second 25 minute run I was seriously contemplating quitting. No one would know or care and I really was struggling.

I looked back up at the TV and young Forest and Jenny were walking through the forest near their houses. The bully kids, the ones that had been teasing Forest the whole time, they were waiting there with their bikes. When Forest walked by them they started throwing rocks at him. This is the scene that everyone knows, even people that never saw the movie. Jenny screams “Run Forest! Run!” and Forest takes off down the dirt road. As he runs his braces break and begin to fall off. He starts kicking harder as the kids grab their bikes and chase him and, as the braces completely fall off, he runs like the wind. His pain and awkward movements are lost as he runs into the field.

I wish I could say that the scene inspired me to kick harder myself and finish my run on a high note. It did not. I did struggle through and finish without quitting early. Not because the scene inspired me directly, but because it reminded me of something else. I am still fat. I still have far to go before I will feel or look fit. I still feel like an awkward fat kid a lot of the time, but not ALL of the time. Watching Forest run was a powerful symbolic metaphor of the beginning of my journey. There was a time that I couldn’t run. I could barely ride my bicycle. I was struggling, not with braces, but with layers of fat and the weight of inertia. It was so much easier to say I couldn’t do something than try. Then one day I had enough and I tried. In secret, so no one would really know. I tried and got better and even though I felt like an awkward fat kid, I tried again and again until I could ride. Then I tried to run. Now I can do that as well. There are days, the good days, the days when I feel like I am flying on the trails, the days when the metaphorical leg braces are gone that I can see why I do this. I can see why I try. The bad days are still there, and they are legion, but I have good days and that makes the difference.

I have talked about Ernest Gagnon before on the blog. He is another inspiration. He started cycling at over 500 pounds and he is down to 305. He is one of the people that inadvertently convinced me that I could ride seriously and really lose weight. He is one of the inspirations that had me trying spandex and riding in charity rides. I have recently become friends with him on Facebook, or at least we are connected on Facebook. I know who he is but I am sure he has never read the Soap Box or knows who I am. In keeping up with him it has become apparent that I am not the only big man to ever suffer from a particular subset of cyclists that believe you must be 5’8’’ and 120 pounds to belong to the cycling community.

Let me be crystal clear. 99.99% of cyclists have been incredibly supportive and helpful. Every local bike shop I go to is full of cyclists offering support and advice. There is a tiny percentage that judge people on physical appearance, probably the same small percentage that will do that in the rest of the world. I have been a small target, most behind my back. Very few people come up to me and insult me. I fear that Ernest has had much worse happen to him. It’s sad, if they knew how hard it is to lose that much weight in an effort to enjoy the sport they would probably be more supportive. It is even worse when it is a fringe sport like cycling. It’s not the NFL, we should be encouraging EVERYONE to try cycling. We should be as inclusive as possible.

Hearing Ernest had an issue has re-inspired me. I would like to revisit my idea of banding together with other bloggers and create a safer space on line. A place where we can inspire and push each other without excluding people who might be struggling to get started. We were all beginners once. We have all felt the pain of trying to compare ourselves at the start of our journey with someone who is in the middle of theirs and believing that we have come up short. There has to be a way for bloggers, especially ones like me who are struggling with weight loss and personal transformation to found a community where we can all share our support and help others. Anyone have any ideas? Anyone? I am open to anything.

I would like to offer a standing invitation to Ernest and any other blogger to guest blog here at the Soap Box. I would love other bloggers to tell their story or offer a little inspiration. Anything they feel like doing, including speaking out about how they feel when part of their community turns against them. Or even better, how they overcome. Any takers? You can comment below or inbox me.

Posted in challenge, Cycling, fitness, life skills | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Professional Procrastination

Brian, from IWearSpandex, recently emailed me to ask what my plans were for traveling to the TD 5 Boro Tour. We are planning on riding together and, knowing the size and scope of New York City, he was trying to set up our plan on how and where to meet. We are both excited and enthusiastic to be riding the Tour together with Patty Chang Anker, author of Some Nerve and professional Tour de Force. We just happened to be showing it in different ways. He is always organized and planning ahead. I am a professional procrastinator. I am lucky to be riding with such fun people though, let me introduce you to two of them.

Brian is amazing and you should really check out his site. He blogs about cycling, training for century rides, fitness and bio-hacks. He is a phenomenal source of information, not only for cycling but for fitness in general. He regularly blogs about his own training and fitness regimens as well as his adventures while riding century rides. I stumbled onto his blog and was instantly hooked. He even let me guest on it once. He is also an inspiration to me as someone who decided to tackle cycling when he wasn’t at his physical peak and he managed to not only survive but thrive. He is a great role model for me as I am trying to get to the thrive level. Actually, there are some rides where survive can be in questions, but knowing someone else made it is inspiring to me.

Patty is amazing. Her book, Some Nerve, is worth the read as you get a chance to see where she started out, what fueled her transformation and you get to accompany her on her journey. She is always so positive about everyone else and gives so much credit to her friends for helping her through the challenges of taking on her fears, but she sometimes downplays her own courage in tackling her fears. She tends to go to extremes in defeating her fears and that is what makes her so amazing. She was afraid to ride, so she decided to complete the 5 Boro Bike Tour. It took me a year to get up the courage to ride, she gave herself five months to learn to ride, buy a bike, learn to work on it if she had a mechanical, and learn to ride with 30,000 other riders. Along the way she also managed to put together team Some Nerve and organize 41 riders into a fun community that helps train and motivate each other so we are all ready. She also blogs regularly on her site Facing Forty Upside Down, as well as writing for a bunch of other sites. On top of all of that she has helped promote this little blog more than once as well as inspiring a post or two. Patty is a force of nature.

Brian’s email jolted me out of my routine that I had settled into lately. I had been so stressed about running a 5K race with my wife that I completely forgot that the 5 Boro Tour was the following weekend. I would feel impressed, but Brian is riding his first century of the year the weekend after the Tour. Yeah, I will be lucky to keep up with him for the first few miles! I had been focusing on my running…jogging. I had neglected my riding. I have been riding the trainer to keep some type of cycling going, but not enough. I tried to change that this weekend and promptly paid for neglecting my bike for the winter. I had a rear flat on Thursday, fixed it and bought a new tube as a spare. I woke up bright and early Saturday and tried to get ready to ride. Nothing was going right. I couldn’t find my arm and leg warmers, I couldn’t find the right bib shorts, I couldn’t even find my full finger gloves. I finally got dressed and grabbed my bike almost an hour late. I checked the tire pressure, filled the front and then blew the tube at the stem because it was dry-rotted. I admitted defeat, fixed the tire and mounted the bike to the trainer. I didn’t have time for a full out road ride, but I could put in two hours on the trainer. It was a start, but it was also a sign. It is time to take cycling as serious as I am taking running.

Brian and I will be in New York on Saturday at Bike Expo New York as patrons. I think it will be quite a while, if ever, that I would be anything else. Maybe one day. I haven’t gotten that much interest in a meet up for bloggers, but I know that Patty has an author event that evening. Check her site for information. I think I might go check that out. On Sunday we will all be riding with 38 other amazing people as part of Team Some Nerve helping Patty have a great time riding the 5 Boro Tour. Look for us in our bright yellow Some Nerve shirts and jerseys! Actually if I don’t manage to overfeed him the night before, look for Brian way out ahead of me. I will be along eventually.

Anyone else riding or planning on going to Bike Expo New York?

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Twenty Minutes

I used to be a smoker. I quit when my son was born, over four years ago. Once you are a smoker it is something that will always be a part of your life. I still dream of smoking cigarettes. Two nights ago I had a dream where I never quit and I was still smoking three packs a day. The worst part about the dream was how I felt when I woke up. I was craving a cigarette as badly as I used to when I first quit. It does get betting, and four years in I barely even think about smoking, but every once in a while I walk by a smoker and I can almost taste the nicotine again.

I loved smoking. I loved the way it tasted. I loved going outside and smoking with friends at work. I loved the social aspect of throwing together perfect strangers who all shared the act of smoking so they would talk to each other. Outside of offices, bars, or any public building there stands a group of perfect strangers all talking to each other about how inconvenient it is too slowly kill yourself these days. They will always have the same gallows humor about it as well because they know the truth. I miss the instant stress relief and the ritual of packing the tobacco before you open the package.

I still knew it was time when my son was borne. I didn’t want him to ever think that smoking was acceptable because his parent was smoking. I also knew that I had to work to be a healthy role model for him, and smoking wasn’t a good start. I pushed myself by reasoning that I was also putting his health at risk and that wasn’t fair. I might choose to do something that was killing me, but he had no choice. So one day I started taking Chantix and I followed doctor’s orders and I weaned myself off of nicotine. One slow and painful step at a time, but I did quit.

I think about smoking every once in a while in a different context. Yes, I miss it and I don’t think that will ever change, but I also realize that I gave myself a gift by quitting. I gained a lot of weight and that led to wanting to lose it and that led to cycling. I admit that I chose cycling because it was easier than most other exercises. Cycling lets you chose your intensity and you can cheat. There are many ways to ride twenty miles. You can ride hard, attacking hills and pushing on descents, sprinting towards town lines and other landmarks. You can ride slow and enjoy the scenery. You can do a mix of both. When you are just starting you can average 8 miles an hour until you find some level of fitness but still put in miles that sound impressive. People hear a distance and they associate a level of effort that might not have been there. In short, you can cheat by going long, but easy on your ride. You can even cheat on harder rides by spinning easy after a climb until you are ready to go again. You can’t do that if you are a runner. Well, you can, but it’s called walking.

So I started cycling and instantly paid for smoking too much for too long. I managed eight miles my first ride, and I am pretty sure I coughed up most of a lung. My legs were sore, but my aerobic level was beyond pitiful. Fast forward a couple of seasons and I feel better, but I still was hesitant to try running. I still knew that there is always a bail-out on the bike. You can always coast until you are ready to hammer the pedals again. There is no place to hide when you are running, there is no coasting.

I committed to some obstacle course runs this year, and I wanted to do better than I did last year. I decided to join a gym with my wife and start jogging on the treadmill. I downloaded Couch to 5K and started running. Well jogging. More of a fast paced shuffle. I have no form. I have written a little about this and my struggle to find shoes. Well, I have found shoes and stuck with the program. The Couch to 5K program teaches you how to run by guiding you through interval training. At first the intervals are very short. You run for 30 or 45 seconds and then walk. Slowly they ramp up to running for 5 minutes at a time and walking for one or two minutes between each run. They program is set up to have you warm up, go through the intervals, and cool down in about 30 minutes. They expect you to run three days a week and go for about eight weeks. I have been doing this now for a while and I do okay. I do repeat days until I can complete the intervals with some level of comfort but I also always run them twice each day, so it is an extra-long session. I go for about an hour at a time, warming up, doing double intervals and then cooling down. The intervals have been getting longer and longer until I hit the Week 6 Day 3 program. Warm up, run for a single 20 minute interval, then cool down. No breaks to walk. Just run for 20 minutes. I had been looking at this day with fear for over a week wondering how I was going to make it through.

The day came and I jumped into it. Me, former three pack a day smoker. Me, who chose his first fitness activity based on the ability to coast. It was time to run for 20 minutes straight and try not to die. As I ran I kept thinking that this is not something I would have every tried to do five years ago. I might not have tried it two years ago either, but the person I was as a smoker would have never tried to run, let alone for twenty minutes. I would have been out of breath at twenty seconds. I would have hated myself for trying at all. I still wasn’t sure why I was trying. I was going to fail. I still dream about smoking! I am still fat! I can’t be one of those people that get on the treadmill and run for twenty minutes! I am just pretending to be able to do any of this and I am going to fail and fall and shoot off the back of the treadmill and leave a huge fat guy sweat print on the mirror behind me. Wasn’t I?

I did it. I ran twenty minutes straight. Not only that, I stuck to my program, walked for three minutes and did the whole twenty minutes over again. Twenty minutes, twice. Me. I guess in some ways this week’s update is a victory lap, but in others it is a simple thought. How awesome are people? All of us? My wife is going through the same thing with her trainer, she is pushing herself further than she thought she could a few weeks ago. So many other people accomplish so much more every day. People get up and decide that they are done being fat, or out of breath, or slow, or just not in the shape they want to be in and they change. They make a choice to change their entire life and do it against the weight of years of inertia. I think that this blog is a victory lap for us all. We all rock.

No go out there and do it again today! I have faith in you and I can’t wait to hear you tell me about it!

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Mental Spring Cleaning

I really didn’t want to write an update this week. I mean, I wanted to write one, but I didn’t have a topic and I really had to do some laundry. And some cleaning. A lot of cleaning actually. I think I had to come up with a bunch of reasons not to write the update to force me to sit down and write something. Anything. I didn’t want to go to the gym today either. I had missed a few days and my back was sore. And I was busy. And I was fighting a cold. I had to clean and write a blog update and do some shopping for the family. I was sensing a theme by the early afternoon.

My wife broke the stalemate with the idea of skipping the gym today. My back really was bothering me and I really was tired from fighting a cold. When she got dressed to go to the gym and got my son in the car I didn’t really have a choice but to follow them. I was dreading this run after four straight days of not running or riding. I knew it was going to hurt and I was going to regret going. I was completely wrong. Oh, it did hurt and I am sore, but I don’t regret going at all. I actually used all of the energy in my rested legs and managed to pound out a personal best distance for an hour on the treadmill. Not too shabby and totally worth the trip to the gym.

The rest of the day has been spent cleaning and doing laundry, so those excuses weren’t made up. The cleaning and washing got me thinking about my post for the week. I think my mind needs a little spring cleaning today as well. I have been struggling with inspiration for a little while now, mostly because I haven’t been able to ride outside. Long training rides help clear my head and help me to focus on what I want to talk about. The other problem that I have been struggling with is that there are things that I want to talk about but can’t right now. I don’t want to write about projects and plans that I don’t have confirmed due to the superstition that if I write about future plans something will happen to alter them. Even if it isn’t true, I don’t want to chance anything.

So, with those two issues looming over my head I have decided to do a little cleaning out of what is happening between my ears without getting too involved in future plans and risking a curse. The first thing I wanted to talk about was the 30 Days of Biking. This is an annual event where cyclists pledge to ride every day in April. I was extremely torn about trying to complete this challenge again this year. Last year it was very easy to do, I was just getting back to work and I was home early most nights. That and no real social commitments left me plenty of time to get a ride in. This year I am training for a 5K road race in the evenings. That race is in the end of April. I know I wouldn’t be able to ride that day. I also have commitments on Tuesdays that make it nearly impossible for me to ride four more days out of the 30. The part that was pushing me to try is this year the folks at 30 Days of Biking have teamed up with Free Bikes for Kidz and pledged one new bike for every 30 riders who take the pledge. I had to decide to skip this year but I have made a promise to myself to support my friends who have made the pledge and to try to promote the charity when I can for the month of April.

The next thing rattling around in my mind is the 5 Boro Bike Tour. I have joined team Some Nerve and will ride with them in the tour. Patty Chang Anker wrote a wonderful book, Some Nerve, about facing your fears and opening up your life. One of her fears was biking in New York with all of the traffic and other riders. She set out to overcome this fear and is riding in the 5 Boro Tour. This is a huge step for her as you can’t find a group ride bigger than 30000 plus riders. To help support her she created team Some Nerve. We are 39 riders strong and will all be wearing bright yellow shirts and jerseys as we tackle the course together. Brian from IWearSpandex.com and I will be with her. I am really looking forward to this ride and I am training hard to be able to enjoy it as much as I did last year.

The last thing that I have been thinking about is what to do in New York the night before the 5 Boro Tour. I am thinking about trying to set up a meet up somewhere in the city. I was thinking that a bunch of us were going to go out to eat and then we could head out to a local bar or other low key place to meet anyone from the New York City area or anyone else in town for the Tour. It would be an early night as we all would have a 42 mile ride the next morning, but I thought it might be a fun way to meet some new people. Would anyone be interested in something like that? The Tour is 34 days away, so I am probably thinking about this too late, but I would love to know if there is any interest in meeting up. If there is, we can set something up and post it on the blog.

Posted in 30 Days of Biking, Cycling, life skills | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Routines

It’s amazing what can become a routine in your life. A couple of years ago I was extremely overweight and my idea of physical activity was walking to the refrigerator a few extra times for snacks. I hated exercise. I worked outside a lot and I didn’t mind sports, but I never wanted to exercise. I never wanted to try to ride in a charity ride or to run a 5K mud race. I didn’t want to do anything I didn’t have to do.

You know that all changed. I started riding, I lost 90 pounds, and I ran a Rugged Maniac race. I joined a gym and started running on the treadmill. I have started to turn my life around. I won’t say that I have completed the transformation. I think you never finish, there is always a way to improve what you are doing. Lately I have learned that I need to concentrate more on my diet, so there is always change. What I have learned recently is how much I have changed my routine.

Flashback to three years ago; I was miserable, but I didn’t know what to change. I always thought I was on a diet. I would eat yogurt or drink Slimfast for a while, lose 10 pounds and go right back to my normal routine. Next thing you know I had gained 15 pounds. This had been going on for years. Every once in a great while I would go to a gym and pretend to work out. I say pretend because I never took it seriously and I never went more than a few times before finding an excuse not to go back. I was in a routine and it was fine with me. I might have argued that it wasn’t, but I never made the changes necessary to get out of the routine either.

Once I was unemployed I really didn’t have an excuse to stick with the routine. I started writing at the same time I started seriously riding. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed both activities, but I was doing both as a way to keep my mind busy when I wasn’t looking for a new job. I needed a mental reset each day and writing and riding provided that change of pace. I would get up and look for work for the first five or six hours then I would jump on my bike. At some point in the week I would take a day off from riding to write about whatever I thought of when I was riding. It was a great break from tweaking resumes and cover letters. The writing and riding became my new routine. I looked forward to each ride and each new blog post. I deciding to challenge myself to update my blog every Monday for 52 weeks straight and I set some pretty aggressive cycling goals to give myself something to write about.

After what seemed like an eternity I found my current job. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with writing, riding, or fitness in general. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of giving up these activities once they became such a large part of who I see myself to be. I also did not relish giving up on my challenges that I set while I was unemployed. With a lot of support from friends and family I made it through the year and accomplished all my goals and logged every blog post. My routine held. Of course once I finished the 52 week challenge I had to keep going. My riding, and now my fitness program in general fuels my writing and my writing keeps me honest and motivated when it comes to fitness. That is a huge part of the reason I was able to get back to 90 pounds lost this weekend. I really wanted to be able to write that number again in the blog.

This is now my routine. It took a lot of effort to remold myself into someone who would care about fitness, weight loss, and blogging but I did it. I realized that I was successful this weekend when I wasn’t able to write. Normally Monday’s update is drafted on Saturday and then finalized on Sunday morning while my family sleeps. This weekend was hectic and I never had a chance to write. I was struggling with a topic and had a ton of chores to do so I concentrated on them instead of writing. I was hoping inspiration would strike, but it didn’t. I also had to take my bike to the local bike shop for a preseason tune up. This meant that I was unable to ride all weekend. No time on the trainer or outside. Nothing. This made my grumpy for most of the day and it took a while until it finally hit me, I was outside of my routine. I hadn’t written or rode my bike all weekend. I hadn’t even gone to the gym after Friday night. I have never felt more like a writer than I did at that moment. Finding myself out of sorts because I hadn’t written anything proved to me how much I had changed. This made me happy, which completely confused me, but I think everyone would understand. Sometimes it’s when we don’t do something that we find out how much doing it has become a huge part of who we are, and part of our routine.

What do you guys find to be an indispensable routine in your life?

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Anniversaries

I am sitting in a hotel in Boston writing this update while my wife is at a business meeting. We used the excuse of her business trip to get away and celebrate our ten year anniversary. We figured that if she was going to be in Boston on our anniversary we might as well have a long weekend away. It is amazing to me that we have been together so long, yet it seems like we just met yesterday. I can’t really imagine my life without her, although as a man with a crazy imagination that isn’t exactly true. What is exactly true is I don’t want to imagine my life without her because it would be a sad an empty life.

Meeting my wife quite literally save me. I was going through a dark time and I didn’t know how to turn things around. I had broken up with a long term girlfriend a couple of years before and I still couldn’t manage to shake off the depression that I found myself in. I have never been good at meeting people, at least not romantically, and I was beginning to worry if I ever would. That was part of the reason I was still struggling with a breakup that happened that far back. I had always wanted to marry my high school sweetheart because then I wouldn’t have to date. Even though we realized just how wrong we were for each other, there was a part of me that refused to let go. It was unhealthy, but I couldn’t change that part of myself. I had let the memory of my old girlfriend go, but not the idea that I was supposed to marry someone and I had missed my chance.

Once I had convinced myself I wouldn’t meet anyone, I didn’t. Looking back on that time I can see that there were other women who would have probably been interested in me if I gave them a chance. I did date from time to time, but never anything serious. I can also see now that I have always had more of an issue with my self-image and how overweight I was that I let it get in the way of meeting new people.

The night we met I just talked to Katie. She was so interesting that I forgot to question myself. I was so wrapped up in her and her story that I forgot to be a prisoner to my own. There was nothing too dramatic about her story, but she was the one telling it and that was what was captivating me. We talked all night and then spent many more on the phone. We were more like teenagers in love than college students. It took a lot for her to break through my walls of self-doubt and insecurity, but I finally figured out just how much she cared for me. Soon we met each other’s family and everything moved so fast and so easy that I think no one was surprised when we were engaged very quickly. We spent the next five years moving around and finishing our degrees and then we were married in March 2014. I look back on those five years and I can’t believe that we waited that long to get married, but at the same time I think that those same five years made us a better couple. We spent a lot of that time living in separate states and starting our careers so that when we finally did get married we were two adults coming together and each bringing separate experiences to the relationship.

My wife changed my life by forcing me to change my perception of myself. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have worth if she loved me. Katie dragged me kicking and screaming out of my depression. It is something that I was struggling with then, and it is something that I still struggle with from time to time now.

Years later cycling would do the same thing for me. I was sick of being fat and old. I was struggling with depression and unemployment. My personal life was great, my wife, son, and family all loved and supported me as I dealt with searching for a job and doing what I could to make ends meet. I began coping with depression when I found that I could do something about being fat. I began riding my bike because I couldn’t run. I could barely ride my bike, but it helped clear my head. It gave me something to do with my time and got me away from my job search for a little while.

Gradually I began to stretch out my mileage and that helped me feel better physically. When I felt better physically it gave me some positive progress to look to when other problems seemed insurmountable. I finally found a job and that took a lot of stress off my plate. I kept riding because even now it is as much psychological therapy as it is physical fitness for me. Nothing helps me find balance quite like getting out and putting miles on my bike.

Getting out on the bike for a couple of hours is a mental break from whatever is causing me stress in the rest of my life. There is a certain Zen-like space that cycling creates. You must be in the moment to ride with traffic. You must concentrate on other road users to maintain your safety as you navigate the streets, but you must also let go of worry or you will be consumed by doubt and not be able to ride. You have to be mindful of your body and limits as you ride to avoid bonking, dehydration, or injury; but you can’t lose the focus on your ever changing surroundings or you will find yourself in danger. You can only ride your bike. You can’t worry about work, budgets, schedules, and other stresses as you ride, you can only ride. You can only exist in the moment, and the only tension is the chaos that is cycling.

The curious part to all of this is that as you exist in your Zen-like space, your subconscious mind is busy solving your problems and dealing with your stress. Your conscious mind is dealing with cycling and is fully engaged in the activity leaving your subconscious to wander and analyze problems in a very non-linear way and often times find surprising solutions. There have been many times that I have finished a ride and stumbled upon a solution to a problem at the same time, even though I can’t remember too much about the ride or even once thinking about the problem.

The best part about both my wife and cycling is how both came into my life when I least expected them, but needed them most. I wasn’t looking for anything the night I found my wife. She just walked into my life and instantly made it better, showing me hope when I desperately needed some. She has opened me up to new experiences and supported me as I tackled some of my biggest challenges. I would have never finished college if it wasn’t for her, or believed that I could write a blog every week for a year. I started cycling to work on one problem but ended up finding something that continues to give back to me almost every day in new ways. I have started the blog, made countless new friends, and managed to get a little less fat. Not too bad for something I did to get away from the computerized job search.

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