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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Posted in life skills | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Preparing for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour

A lot has been happening this past week here at Big Joe’s Soap Box with the TD Bank 5 Boro Bike Tour. Most of what has happened I will write about in a future post. Some of it has been trying to get all the logistics ironed out. Most importantly, I realized just how soon this event would be happening. I have about 55 days until the Tour takes place. 55 days! I registered in January and the ride felt like something that would happen at some point in the distant future, a feeling reinforced by the miserable winter that just won’t seem to move into spring. Even a couple of weeks ago I was looking out at freshly fallen snow and the last thing on my mind was riding over 40 miles in New York City.

This past week I have had the pleasure of meeting Patty Chang Anker in cyberspace. She has written an amazing book, titled Some Nerve, which is about facing and overcoming your fears. She also writes for the Bike New York blog Biking the Big Apple and at her own blog Facing Forty Upside Down. I read a few of her posts at Bike New York and it made me realize that May 5th was closer than I have been thinking. It is time I start taking this a little more seriously!

Last year was a different story. I was very nervous about the 5 Boro Tour, and I was very serious. I wasn’t sure I was physically ready to ride 40 miles. I had never really ridden that far and I was riding with someone who, while not a regular rider, was still more ready than I felt. We trained and rode together once or twice to get ready, but when the day of the ride dawned I was still nervous about finishing. This year is completely different. While I have not had the most successful winter I am already back to my lowest weight of last year. I am a full 30 pounds under the weight that I rode last year’s Tour. Thanks to my wife’s constant support I have been running at the gym and my average speed on my trainer is up a full mile per hour, a big step after being stuck at the same speed for so long. Cross training is working wonders for me. This year I feel much more physically prepared. All I need is for the endless winter to finally move on from New England to start putting on some base miles and I will feel prepared.

Patty asked if I had any advice and I just couldn’t put it into a sentence or paragraph so I thought I would talk about it here. I think that the advice goes past the 5 Boro Tour and really extends to any longer distance ride attempted by a beginner like I was last year.

1. Pack a spare everything. Well, maybe not everything, but be prepared. Have an extra tube, tire levers, water bottles, snack bars, gels, multi-tool, pump, spare money, and anything else you can fit in your seat bag and jersey pockets. Normally I would say to not go overboard, but I have found that when you first start riding for distance there is something calming about knowing you have the tools to fix anything that might go wrong. Whatever you are preparing for probably won’t happen, but I felt better knowing that I could fix it if it did.
2. Wear the right clothing. I can’t stress this enough, wear spandex. If you are too self-conscious to wear spandex, wear it under other clothes. There are plenty of manufacturers of liners that have chamois sewn into them that you can wear under regular shorts. You might not appreciate the extra padding on a ten mile ride, but you will on a 40 mile one. Wear layers if you are going to be riding in early spring on a ride like the TD 5 Boro Tour. I can remember standing on the street in lower Manhattan praying for the start of the ride because I didn’t bring a cycling jacket. I was afraid that I wouldn’t need it, so of course I did. You can always ditch the outer layer and put it in a bag or in a jersey pocket.
3. Know a little about how to ride in a large group. I don’t mean that you have to know how to ride a pace line or how to function in a pro style peloton, but know a little about how cyclist talk to each other. Call out to a cyclist if you are passing on the left with a cheery “On your left!” or point out a road hazard with “Bottle on the right” and point to it as you ride by. Calling out your intention and signaling when you can is key in keeping everyone safe. No one will be able to see that far in front of them, so any warning is welcome. Don’t worry about knowing all of the calls or commands; you will pick them up during the ride. Just being vocal will endear you to other cyclists.
4. Train. Take the distance seriously. A longer ride can catch people out who don’t understand how far 40 miles can be. Start by riding five or ten miles at a time and slowly work your way up to at least three quarters of the distance. At that point you will be ready for you distance ride. Matt and I felt ready once we could ride 30 miles on a gravel rail trail. We knew that we could handle 40 miles of pavement after that. At the same time, distance isn’t as daunting if you break down the ride to just riding between support areas. There are so many on the TD 5 Boro Tour that you rarely ride more than 10 miles until you get to either a full support area or one of the many mini-support areas where there are live bands, water, and porta potties. Basically, if you can ride five miles you can ride the Tour.
5. Go at your own pace. This goes hand in hand with the previous section, but you have to ride your own ride. There will be people faster than you and slower that you. Most of the Tour is spent passing and being passed. It is very easy to fall into a group of riders that might be going just a little bit faster than you. You can keep up with them for a while, but if you push too hard too early you will pay for it at the end. There is no prize for finishing first, but there will be amazing sites to see along the way. Ride at your own pace and enjoy the day.
6. Bring friends. Ride together. My first TD 5 Boro Bike Tour was fun because I rode with a great friend. We talked the whole time and motivated each other when we needed it. We joked and laughed the whole time and made some new friends. Along with this, wear clothing that helps you stand out and identifies you as part of your group. Matt and I didn’t understand what 30,000 people looked like until we were trying to find each other in the mass of riders. We noticed that a lot of groups had matching shirts or complete costumes so they could pick each other out in a crowd.
7. Relax. Seriously, just relax. If you have followed the other suggestions you will be warm, prepared, and amongst friends for most of what can happen so relax and have fun. No matter what you think might happen, have fun. Live in the moment and ride like a ten year old. Enjoy the hills and the sights and all of the amazing people you will meet. The right attitude goes a very long way. In a large group ride, other riders will be looking out for you and will offer help if you need it. Your only jobs are to have a great time and look out for your fellow riders just like they look out for you.

Posted in challenge, Cycling, Epic Rides | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Balance Store Review

I love reviewing new products. There is little better in a blogger’s routine than unwrapping some new item to try out and then share the results with your readers. The best items to review are the ones that meet or exceed expectations. The items that you buy to see if you might like a certain product and then are pleasantly surprised at how useful something truly can become in your fitness routine are a joy to write about. One of these are the Sufferfest training videos that I reviewed previously. The video was inexpensive, easy to download and install, and the customer service before and after the sale was phenomenal. The company quickly converted me from a curious potential customer to a huge fan by producing a good product and providing superior customer service.

There is always a balance to anything, and when it comes to writing reviews it is when you have to deal with negative experiences or a product that doesn’t quite live up to expectations. It’s always easy to write about something that goes well, but it can be difficult to write about a negative experience. I almost feel guilty if I have a negative review to write because I know that companies, for the most part, truly try to produce quality products and provide great customer service. To alleviate that feeling I only write about products that I have purchased on my own without informing the company that I will be reviewing the product for my blog. In full disclosure, there aren’t any companies lined up to provide me with any product samples to review. I supposed that a relatively unknown internet blogger doesn’t rate that high on cycling companies’ lists of chief influencers. Fair enough. That is one of the large reasons I don’t write that many reviews, I haven’t bought myself any new equipment until recently.

I started running at my local gym and I have been trying to avoid some of my mistakes when I started cycling. Chief among these was not being prepared with the correct equipment. I will always remember my first real ride. It was eight miles and I was sure that I was going to die most of the time. I was worried about traffic, on the wrong size bike, had the wrong tires for the terrain, and had the wrong clothes on. None of that mattered in the long run, I found a new passion that day, but being prepared with the correct clothing and equipment would have made a world of difference. After committing to learning how to run by signing up for 5K and obstacle races I wanted to start off on the right foot. Ouch, sorry for that.

I had plenty of technical shirts and shorts from cycling and cross training so my big equipment need would be proper running shoes. I headed out to my local New Balance Store in South Windsor, Connecticut determined to fix that need. I wanted to go there for a few reasons. The first was that the store was locally owned and I enjoy supporting my community whenever possible. That is one of the main reasons I try to buy most of my cycling equipment from my local bike shop. The second reason is that New Balance are still made in America. I know that not every shoe is made here, but some still are. The company still has factories here in America, and that is better than most of the other major companies. Again, I tend to shop Trek and Specialized for the same reason. I understand that we live in a world economy, but I do like to do business with my local shops and buy American when possible.

I walked into the shop and was greeted by a friendly salesperson. I was upfront with them about my lack of running knowledge as I learned from going to bike shops to trust the knowledge of the shop workers over anything that I might have read on the internet. I was measured and the salesperson asked what size I typically wore. I told him that I normally just try to find something that fits as I tend to wear a size 14 wide and not many places carry that. He then took me over to special machine that measured the pressure zones of your feet as you stand. You could see if a majority of your weight was on the inside or outside of your feet. The salesperson then showed me a range of shoes that would fit my profile. I chose the 860 V4 that fell about into the mid-range of the shoe models that I was shown.

Once he came out he explained that I was likely to get shin splints if I didn’t use some form of insole. He recommended an arch support and assured me that it would solve any shin splint issues before they happened. I was warned that they might feel a little uncomfortable if I wore the shoes with the insoles for too long. I agreed to try them as the shoes were very reasonable at about $120 and I didn’t think that insoles could be that expensive. I tried on the shoes and they did feel strange, but I trusted the salesperson. I was a little shocked that the insoles were about $60.00 and by the time taxes were paid I managed to spend almost $200.00! Luckily I had many gift cards from the recent holidays and my birthday.

I went to the gym and eagerly jumped onto the treadmill in my awesome new shoes. I started to run and felt immediate pain. The insoles were causing the pain in my arches. I ran for a couple of sessions before I completely gave up on the insoles. I was disappointed, but I was still excited about my shoes! I tried to run in the shoes without the insoles and ran into a few issues. The largest was that without the insoles the shoes almost didn’t fit. I wasn’t able to tie them tight enough without the insoles taking up some of the extra space. After a couple of failed attempts I headed back to the New Balance Store.

The salesperson listened to my complaints and changed out the insole with a memory foam style insert that he said would still support my arches and stave off shin splints but not feel quite so painful. Grateful I headed back to the gym where the new insoles seemed to work. For about a month. Now they have shifted and there is a seam that causes my foot to blister after I start running in them. This time I am past the one month window to return the insoles for any type of credit. Despondent, I grabbed a pair of sneakers that I had in my closet that I found on clearance at a big box sports store. You might know it because it has a slightly crude name if you have a juvenile mind. Coincidentally they shoes are also New Balance sneakers; these are model 411 V2, their “all terrain” cross training shoes. I bought them for about $25.00 with the idea that they would make great sacrificial obstacle course shoes. After running my first mile in them I knew I found my running shoes. They cause no pain whatsoever. They stay comfortable and I feel completely supported. Best of all, they do not depend on $60.00 insoles to fit or feel comfortable. They just work.

I may not be happy with the way my shoe buying adventure played out, but I am happy with finding the right shoes in the end, even if they were in my closet the whole time. My eight mile ride taught me the value of proper equipment. It taught me to buy what I needed to be comfortable when I was riding. My trip to the New Balance Store taught me to never assume that anyone knows more than I do about what fits. If something doesn’t feel right, or if I need to modify shoes before I walk out of the store to get them to fit, it’s probably not a good purchase. Fitness is a journey, and apparently finding the proper equipment and places to buy it can be a journey as well.

Anyone need size 14 wide running shoes? They are barely broken in but might need new insoles….

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Injuries

This week’s post is going to be a little shorter than usual, mostly because it hurts to type. A little. Okay, a little more than that. I hurt my hand shoveling ice this weekend, but to understand that story I have to go back a little further.

When I was twenty one I decided to learn to drive trucks. Not pick-up trucks, but commercial trucks. I started out with a company that shall remain nameless and they taught me everything I needed to know and sent me out. It was local work, home every night, and the pay was excellent. The whole experience taught me that you really shouldn’t pay most twenty one year old men that well, but that is a story for another time. I got a few promotions at the job and started working with industrial clients picking up some heavy loads in a box truck. I had to load the box truck by hand with a dolly or a pallet jack. I was picking up cubic yards of stone like this when I hurt my back for the first time. Partially because I was twenty two and partially because I didn’t make money sitting home sick I hid the injury for as long as possible.

After the third time I hurt my back at the same job they caught on and sent me to a doctor. The doctor was paid for by the company and he decided all I needed was a few days of rest. It wouldn’t be until much later in life that I found out I actually did significant damage to a couple of lower lumbar discs. My back has bothered me now for over 25 years and I have become used to a low level of discomfort but it is only a real problem when the muscle spasms flare up. That happened last week after the third major winter storm of the month.

I treated myself to a snow blower years ago, mostly due to my back issues. I thought that the best thing would be to buy a power tool that would spare me from shoveling my two driveways, the city sidewalk, and my next door neighbor’s driveway. She is a little old divorced lady that works second shift at the post office. I just can’t leave her to shovel her own driveway. The snow blower works great for all of this work and it does save my back from shoveling, but as anyone with a snow blower will tell you, walking backwards pulling a heavy object on a slippery surface is a recipe for disaster. Sooner or later you will fall down or at least lose your balance and feel foolish as you flail around attempting to regain it. The other drawback is that if you leave any snow on the first pass or if you drive over snow and compact it, the snow blower will ride over the top of it and fail to pick it up.

After a couple of falls on the last nor’easter, I managed to hurt my hand. I kept slipping and using the same hand to catch myself. Every time. Then I managed to completely misjudge how much snow I left in the driveway, leaving a good inch of hard packed snow. Unfortunately I also misjudged how cold it would get and how many more storms we would have. The driveway slowly began to get higher and higher because I could never get to the bottom after each new storm.

Finally the weather broke this weekend. We have had back to back 50 degree days, and the flood of snowmelt that comes with it. My driveway became icy with the melt and refreeze until something happened that made me take care of the problem. I drove home on Saturday to find my big blue pick-up truck was no longer where I left it. It had slid down the driveway and almost made it into the street. My wife and I were speechless. My son thought it was the most amazing thing ever. He told everyone how Blue (his name for the truck) had tried to go for a ride without us!

I have spent the last two days chipping the ice off the driveway with a shovel and then shoveling up the pieces with a snow shovel. My son and wife tried to help me but they ended up getting in each other’s way too much and gave up after a while. Did I mention that I managed to hurt my back when I was snow blowing the driveways before? I ended up compensating for the back pain by using my hands and arms too much, further injuring my hand. A trip to the doctor later and I have anti-inflammatory to help, but it is still hard to type!

All of this has cost me gym and cycling time. I have gained two pounds and I went to the gym to run when I probably should have skipped it. I don’t know if it was the medicine or the pain but Sunday’s run was slow and awkward. I felt like I was jogging underwater.

The injuries have also got me thinking about how people cope with injuries, how we hide them and pretend they don’t exist so we can keep running or cycling. I know that I have been injured in almost every sport I have ever played and always played hurt. I don’t think I have ever had a concussion, but I know I have had sprains and strains to joints and muscles but always tried to play through the pain. I just confessed to going to the gym to run when I shouldn’t have tried to run yet. What do you do when you get injured? Do you ignore it until you don’t have a choice? Do you play or train hurt? How do you cope with the down time? Let me know in the comments and I will share in a future blog.

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

What I Have Learned So Far….

When I started this blog I weighed 365 pounds. Please, let that sink in. That is the size of three of the people I normally see running on treadmills when I go to the gym. I bought all of my clothes in the Big Men’s section of Wal-Mart of K-mart because that was the only place I could find clothes with enough Xs in the size to fit me. 365 was not my weight when I decided to stop slowly killing myself, I couldn’t even bring myself to step on a scale back then. To be honest I couldn’t even tie my shoes back then. I could, but not easily and not the way most normal people could. I had to blow all of my breath out and hold it while I tried to reach the laces. A lot of times I would leave them tied loosely so I could just step in and out of them. That is also one of the reasons why I knew I had to make a change. Imagine how frustrating you would feel about your life if you couldn’t reach your shoes to tie them and it was your fault.

Things have changed. I am 80 pounds lighter this morning. I have lost as much as 90 pounds but I hit a wall over the winter. I went from a size 48 inch waist to a 38 inch waist. I have slowly lost Xs from my shirt size. Yesterday I bought a XXL shirt for the first time in 20 years. I still buy three and four XL shirts because fat people will always buy clothes that are too big for them, but my wife is helping me buy the right sizes. She complains when my clothes look like they are falling off of me. I think I do it because in the back of my mind I might gain all of the weight I have lost. I think anyone who has lost any amount of weight shares that same fear.

I am not done with this journey but I have recently had a good reason to take a minute and look back. My amazing wife has decided to join me and start getting into better shape. I wanted to use this week’s blog to talk about the things I have learned to help her and anyone else that is about to start losing weight. I want to stress that this is what has worked for me. Please do not use my story as medical advice. It is not. I have no training and very little knowledge about physical fitness other than my own story. I am not a doctor or trainer. As they say on television, don’t try this at home.

Lesson one is that you have to have an inspiration. I am listing it first because for me it was the most important thing in my finally finding some motivation and success. I had been riding my bike for a little while and I had lost some weight, but I was constantly gaining it back. I would commit to exercising for a few weeks then take a few weeks off because I was sore, out of time, or whatever other excuse I could find. I was failing. I went to a bookstore and was browsing the cycling section when a title caught my eye. Heft on Wheels. How does a fat guy who likes to read and ride bikes pass over Heft on Wheels? It was written by Mike Magnuson and it told his story of being a fat guy who liked to ride bikes and he lost a lot of weight doing it. I identified with the “before” image he painted of himself in almost every way. Formerly athletic if stocky, he became fat when his life slowed down after college. He hit middle age like a brick wall and decided it was time to turn his life around. He got on his bike, changed his diet, and stopped drinking. He rode himself thin. I was hooked. When I hit a plateau or a setback now I still look back to Mike and think if he can do it so can I. Find an inspiration and use it to remind you that anything is possible.

Lesson two is to be honest with yourself. This lesson is for the obese and morbidly obese. It is not for anyone suffering an eating disorder. That is a serious condition and I don’t want this to be misunderstood to be something that might be putting pressure on people who are dealing with that kind of problem. This is a lesson that I learned about myself. The world has gotten used to using euphemisms for everything that might be wrong with people. Fat has become the new F word. People refer to themselves as chunky, more to love, big boned, or stocky. They talk about maybe needing to lose a few pounds, but they rarely call themselves fat. I know I never really thought of myself as fat even if I joked around about it. My wife and family never treated me like I was fat, they always defended me and said that I was really not in bad shape. This was happening when I would get out of breath tying my shoes. Before I could change what was causing me to be fat, I had to own the fact that I was fat. Pretending to be a little overweight was causing me to take weight loss and fitness less seriously. How serious do you need to take having a little extra to love? Not much, but the term morbidly obese is serious. Fat is serious. Take it serious and your family will too. At first my wife wanted to help me feel better so if I cheated on my diet she would be supportive and tell me it was okay, I could always start again tomorrow. By owning my issues and being able to talk to her, I could tell her that wasn’t helping. It was causing me to take everything less seriously. She didn’t want me to suffer for failing, but I was taking her kindness as another excuse. Now if I fall off track she will make a healthy dinner and tell me I can get back on track right now.

Lesson three is to find some form of exercise you like and stick with it. I always loved riding my bicycle as a kid. I never thought about it much because it was how I got around before getting a license to drive, so it never felt like exercise, it felt like freedom. I didn’t mind lifting weights when I was a kid, but it was always a means to an end. There was gym time before football and baseball practice, but it was something to do to get to play sports. I never liked running. I think it was because every coach I had for every sport I played used it as punishment. A mistake on the field resulted in running laps. This all came into play as an adult when I tried many times to get in shape. Everyone always suggested running or weight training and I didn’t enjoy either activity. One day I rode my bike to get some form of movement in and found it to be challenging. I decided that if it was that hard to ride eight miles, it must be exercise, but I loved that first ride. I found the gateway to fitness because I really liked riding my bike and fitness was the side benefit. I would ride even if I didn’t lose weight by doing it. Cycling has turned into a passion for me, and a motivation to do the pieces of training that I don’t like. I am running on a treadmill and strength training now because it will help my riding. I want to lose weight because it will help my riding. I would have failed completely at losing weight and finding fitness if I didn’t enjoy the activity that was getting me there.

Lesson four is the most important one. No one knows what will work for you but you. If you don’t like an exercise, find another one. If you don’t like certain aspects of a diet, work around them. Don’t like exercising in the morning, do it at night. I start every day with stretching, crunches, and push-ups. Sometimes I add planks or bridges, but sometimes I don’t. Every evening I concentrate on cardio. I will either head to the gym and run or I will head to the basement and ride the trainer. I have started weight training but I still tend to concentrate on cardio because that is what is working for me. Your results may vary. They will vary. You might like running. You might like swimming. It really doesn’t matter as long as you are doing what works for you. Listen to trainers, friends, web sites, some fat guy’s blog, or wherever you find advice, but do what works for you.

Lesson five is dress for success. There are specific clothes for working out and at first I didn’t see the point. I would wear ratty cotton t-shirts and shorts. I would sweat and everything would stick to me. Then I tried tech fabrics. Suddenly I didn’t feel like the world’s most disgusting human being ten minutes into a workout. The tech fabrics wick away sweat letting your body cool itself more efficiently and allowing you to be more comfortable. You don’t feel like you have swamp ass as soon as you start exercising and can actually enjoy what you are doing. Once I tried tech fabrics I tried cycling shorts. There is a pad sewn into the shorts called chamois. This allows you to be far more comfortable and avoid the dreaded Monkey Butt, or amazingly sore ass that hours in the saddle will cause. Whatever your form of exercise, there is clothing to make it more enjoyable, do yourself a huge favor and try it.

While writing this I thought about many more lessons that I have learned, but those are the top four. They aren’t really tips on a specific exercise, but they are the most important lessons I would pass on to someone just starting. I might revisit this topic every once in a while. What are some of your top tips for someone just starting out?

Posted in challenge, fitness, life skills, Weight Loss | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Creature of Habit

My animals are creatures of habit. Sunday we managed to run out of food for the cat and treats for the dog. My wife left for the grocery store and I stayed home with my son to play with some of his toys as he was sniffling and we didn’t want to take him out and expose him to more germs, or worse, expose other people to his germs. The cat normally eats around four. The dog gets a Milk Bone ever once in a while throughout the day. Neither could understand why food guy didn’t have anything for them. Both of them slowly ramped up the histrionics thinking that I was withholding their food for some reason. The cat was yeowling on the stairs and the dog was constantly underfoot begging for something, anything to eat. When my wife came home and the food was meted out, everything quickly returned to normal. You would have never known that the two animals were just carrying on as if they hadn’t eaten for days, not hours. Order had been restored and they had already forgotten that they had to wait an extra 30 minutes past their normal feeding.

This little drama got me thinking about how alike the cat and dog I can be in my habits. When the spring gets here I will fall right into my normal routine. I will train four days during the week and go bowling the other night. Each weekend day I will go for a bike ride before the rest of my family wake up, taking care of the training ride and my sanity all at the same time. I will continue this schedule throughout the spring, summer, and into the fall. The only variation will be weekends with organized rides, obstacle races, or the few 5K races I have planned. I am hoping that this year will be no different than the last two and my weight loss will kick into high gear along with my mood. I feel so much better when I can fall into this routine, my muscles may be sore but I am a happier and healthier person once everything falls into place.

I think that this is part of what makes the winter such a challenging season for me. Once the temperature drops past a certain point I am no longer comfortable riding. The cold and the wind are a struggle, but the early onset of darkness seals my fate and forces me indoors. Even on rare thaw days I tend to stay inside as once the first snow hits the roads become even more challenging with a layer of salt and sand waiting to catch me out as soon as I stop concentrating on my lines. Anyone who lives through a winter climate will understand what I mean, even if some, or most, will call me a weather wimp. There are truly dedicated riders out there who have the fortitude, and the equipment, to ride year round. I am not one of them.

Once I retreat indoors I try to stay active and ride my bike on the trainer. There are some great videos that help pass the time and I will be reviewing another Sufferfest offering soon, but none of them can disguise the fact that I am riding in my basement forever. I did join a gym this year and that has helped vary the winter routine and lessen the winter doldrums, but not enough. I find that I start the winter in a decent mood and a great level of fitness and both slowly slide downhill until spring. I end up acting just like my pets, my habits are forced to change and the drama that results is disproportionate to the circumstances. I yowl and pace and beg for warm weather and a decent ride. I try to distract myself and I drive the people who live with me crazy as I feel on edge until the weather finally breaks. I feel bad for my wife and son as they deal with my frustrations.

Thankfully, just like my pets, as soon as the weather passes and I start knocking down training rides on the weekend my mood instantly improves. The first rides through the rail trails as the trees finally show signs of life sprouting green buds and moss lifts my mood and helps me refocus on my center. My wife has even commented on how quickly my grumpy demeanor fades once I ride outside. She is sure Jekyll leaves the house but Hyde returns.

I know that the Tour Down Under is over and the Tour of Qatar is kicking off so spring must be approaching. There is about three weeks until we turn the clocks ahead and steal some more daylight, and I couldn’t be happier until I finally clip in and start getting to those weekend training rides. I am a creature of habit after all.

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Vulnerable: Do I Want You to Read My Blog? Yes…And No

Julia from IloveYouMoreThanIcecream is back with an amazing guest post. She perfectly captures what every blogger feels as they hover over the publish button wondering if they have left too much of themselves out there for the world to see. Some of us jump right in and share the successes and failures of a project or a goal while others speak about current events or a favorite topic, but we all put a piece of who we are into what we write. It leaves us feeling a little naked, like the dream of going to school after forgetting to get dressed when we were younger. Sit back and enjoy this week’s guest post!

No matter how much writers hold back of their personal selves, we always still spill onto the page with our words and end up with pieces of ourselves in our writing. This is even true with novels and/or works of fiction, or so I believe.

Someone at some point much earlier in my life told me that I wear my heart on my sleeve — I think this is part of why I’ve always been compelled to write. Why I’m a writer now and will be in the future. My philosophy is that this is also true of other writers, even in all the varying degrees that it applies.

But this, I feel, also means that I am not only vulnerable in general, but at risk for vulnerability and all the reasons how and why it can occur.

For starters, publishing my thoughts and experiences weekly via Internet is taking a gamble that people will read my writing. It’s also wagering that people won’t read it, as well.

Wait. Don’t I want you to read — and hopefully connect with as well as enjoy — my blog? Yes…

…And no. Allow me to expound. I truly want to not only be read, but by a wide, broad audience. But, I want people to like my work, and in turn, like me through my work. Desiring that though, doesn’t promise that everyone who reads my writing will receive it well.

In rolls the fear of inviting some form of negativity either on me, the blog, or both, ranging from “I don’t enjoy your writing” or “this was only ok for me” to “you’re awful” and “you should never put words to page or screen again!” Or worse then that, inappropriate comments and language. I even fear people from my past stumbling upon this blog and executing attempts to trash my present life and existence.

Do the duel contradictions come across clearer now? Simply, I want to be adored, not abhorred. Just like anyone. Like ying and yang, it is impossible to guarantee a separation of one from the other.

I tell myself this is normal, that other writers must experience these thoughts and feelings, too, especially other bloggers. But then the other side of my brain tells me that I am being paranoid, and concerned over outcomes that could never see the light.

Not to toot my own horn, as I am certainly not ever overflowing with too much confidence, but there is also the thought that I could be vulnerable to being plagiarized, even if only in parts and parcels. I feel pompous just putting that here in black and white. But the realist in me knows that you can never say “such-and-such will never happen to me.” Some other no-name writer could take something I’ve said here already in all these posts and all these weeks, and not only see more in it than what I’ve put forth, but add their own brilliance to it, and — huzzah! — gain some level of blogger’s acclaim off of something I said that I’ll then wish I could have copyrighted.

Taking care to not reveal information that is too personal is always a consideration. This is why there are certain specific bits about me, my life, and the people in it that I have intentionally not included. Even so, being careful is never careful enough. We’re too close to ourselves and our writing to be able to always see clearly whether or not we are saying more than we realize.

Generally speaking, people are judgmental of most other individuals, whether they know them a little, a lot, or not at all. This is always bouncing around somewhere in the back of my head, but especially so as I ready myself to push the publish button and send all these tiny, connected segments of me out into the digital ether. I’ve lost count of how many weeks of this blog almost didn’t happen because of the paralyzing effect that comes just with the possibility of being judged harshly and unfairly.

What I am trying to say to you in all of this is that a blog is much different than a run-of-the-mill comment, tweet, status update, etc. Some of the creators of those arn’t even writers, just abusers of words as they use them to hide as opposed to express and connect. A blog post requires much more thought and insight than a quickly dashed off nothing.

Further, when you read a blog post — or any piece of online writing for that matter — keep in mind what went into it: someone’s heart and soul.

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Muscle Memory

Pain and suffering are a part of any fitness regimen or sport. Cycling is full of suffering. It is celebrated. The biggest races are full of it. Pain is written on the faces of the participants in the Grand Tours. Three weeks of stages that seem to be created just to see how far you can push a human body. Even the one day Classic Races seem to be built upon maximum suffering. Cyclists ride more than a hundred miles over rough roads and cobblestones all to sprint to the end. The most celebrated and popular riders are the ones that can throw their bodies against the miles, hills, bad weather, and still push a little harder than anyone else. Jens Voigt is a prime example. He is a hard man, one who suffers more than anyone else just for the chance at victory. He isn’t the fastest, he isn’t the strongest, he isn’t the best climber, he just suffers more than anyone. He once said “I’m not a world-class sprinter. I’m not a world-class time trialist. I’m not a world-class climber. All I have is my fighting spirit and my big engine- and that’s why I’m still in the business”. He is 42 and he beats kids half his age through experience and the willingness to suffer more. To ride off the front of the peloton, in the wind, with no support just for a chance to win. He is a huge hero to me as I struggle to get fitter and ride faster.

I’m no professional cyclist. I’m barely an amateur rider. I have never raced, I don’t even have a license. I am not sponsored by a factory team. Jens and I do have one thing in common though, we suffer. I can’t suffer on his level, but I can look to him as I struggle through my rides. I can use his efforts to push me to do a little more. If Jens can ride off the front for hours up a mountain, I can get through my 40 mile training ride in chilly weather.

Suffering does become relative after you train for long enough. You keep riding or training and you think you are suffering because you normally do. I ride 15 to 20 miles on my trainer when I ride inside. I normally ride about an hour and ten minutes, sometimes varying five or ten minutes either way. I do intervals that break down into five minute cycles. When I first started my training I would barely make it to an hour. Now, I start to suffer at an hour even if I go another 30 minutes after than mark. My muscles know I should suffer then, and I do. My muscle memory takes over and I hurt when I think I should hurt even though I know I am used to the workout by now. If I am outside I start to suffer around 30 miles even though I know I can go much further. Once I work through the pain I can easily go longer, but it’s always there, right where I think it should be.

The reason I have been thinking about this is I have started running. I didn’t really want to, but I keep committing to running obstacle races and I do want to do well. For a long time I had hoped that I could ride my way into running shape, but that never works. You use different muscles and it never works no matter how much I really want it too. I hated running every time I have tried it, but I did really enjoy the rest of the obstacle race and I do have a small competitive streak so I joined the gym and started following the Couch to 5K program on my iPhone despite my misgivings. It was about 30 minutes into the second day of training when I remembered what suffering really felt like. It was no longer muscle memory telling me I should be struggling, I was just struggling. By the third day I was trying to find other things to do to put off my time on the treadmill. I even went willingly to my second session with my personal trainer.

I don’t know if it was the strength training or the fact that I wasn’t trying to run, but I did really enjoy the second session. My training must have read my last blog because he totally dropped the sales pitch and really taught me what I wanted to learn. He gave me a simple routine to work out my core that I can scale up as I become stronger. It was exactly what I needed to get me motivated and into a routine. He paired exercises with one on a machine and one off at each station. It helped me find a level of comfort on the equipment and I really enjoyed the sets.

The real story of the week has been the running and the pain though. It has been a very long time since I have been this sore after training and I had forgotten how hard you can push yourself. It has taken me back to when I first started riding. I rode eight miles and felt like I rode ten times that far. I was 365 pounds and I was sure I was going to pass out half way through the ride. I ran 1.7 miles three times this week and three miles on Sunday. I felt like I rode 60 miles. I was suffering like I had ridden twice that distance. There was no muscle memory, it was real suffering. It was pain. It was time to think about Jens riding and if he could do, then I could run a measly three miles. Heck, I walked a bunch so I really told myself I had no excuses. It was just time to suck it up and suffer.

I got through it and I am going back for week two tomorrow, but I know there will be more pain. At the same time, I am okay with the pain. I know that soon I will be able to run my 5K races and I will still suffer, but just like when I started to ride it will become relative. The pain will recede until I try something new, and then it will start all over again.

Posted in challenge, fitness, Uncategorized, Weight Loss | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul

“In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness that starts to set in about 2:55, when you know you’ve taken all the baths that you can usefully take that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the newspaper you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.”

Douglas Adams wrote that quote about a Sunday afternoon but I feel like they could be describing a cyclist during the long cold off season of New England winter. The roads are salt caked wastelands that are not conducive to driving let alone riding a bicycle. They are barren wind swept things that only promise frostbitten fingers and crashes in the slush. Indoor riding is no better at this point in the off season, boredom set in somewhere in late December and hasn’t let up yet. Even training videos like the Sufferest can’t quite motivate me to get back on the bike. Every time there seems like there will be a break in the weather, some type of mid winter’s thaw, another four inches of snow falls and the polar vortex manages to reverse course and plunge us deep into Mother Nature’s freezer.

Against this backdrop I scheduled my first two rides of the season. The Five Boro Tour and a local training ride about a month before the trip to New York City. They both seem like far off commitments, evens that will happen in the spring when the weather goes about the freezing mark and there should be some life in the world. That seems so far away right now as I write this after another morning spent shoveling snow. The rides are approaching though, and I needed to find a way to get ready that didn’t involve another hour plus ride in my bicycle torture chamber of a basement. So I did what truly desperate people do when they want help getting into shape, I joined a gym.

My wife and I took a tour of Big Sky Fitness in Vernon, Connecticut. The gym moved into an out of business fitness center’s old building and has begun remodeling it to bring it into the modern era. Despite my initial misgivings about joining a gym that was still under construction I was happy that a business was rebuilding an unused space instead of developing another piece of land in the town. I also appreciated the fact that none of the staff tried to hide the construction work or make excuses for it. They explained how long it was going to take and what they were trying to accomplish. This wouldn’t be a short term project, but the end result would be worth the wait. Most importantly, my wife loved the tour and really wanted to get started, so she helped make the decision pretty simple.

What really sold us on Big Sky was the fact that they offered a kids play area. Nothing will motivate my wife and I to go to the gym quite like free child care while we are there. I know that it is never easy for parents to carve out time to stay fit and having a gym that offers to watch your children is a huge plus.

We also received two free sessions with a personal trainer to help us get started. My first session went fairly well, in that I learned where used car salesmen get their career development. After spending a few minutes learning how little I knew about fitness and nutrition we proceeded to assess my range of motion and try a few new exercises. My trainer took my riding into account and worked on other parts of my body, including my core. We quickly realized that Big Joe still had a very long way to go. After we spent a little time on the floor we went back up to the lounge area to talk about my program. That apparently meant that we needed to reinforce my lack of knowledge and assess my budget for the training that I so desperately needed. Like any good salesmen, my trainer felt really concerned for me and if I could hit my goals without him. I assured him I would manage to soldier on despite the challenge. Sadly we have another session together before he fulfills his obligation.

I was much more bothered by this interaction at first than I am now. I was intimidated by the trainer and really started to worry about my lack of knowledge and if that would impact me. I also worried that I would be wasting my gym membership by not taking full advantage of the trainers, but then I realized that those feelings are part of the sales pitch. I also decided that I am not going to let the trainer make me feel like I don’t belong in the gym. I am going to accomplish my goals there the same way that I have on the bike. I am going to keep trying no matter how foolish and misguided my attempts are at first because I know I will figure it all out. Eventually.

More importantly, I learned that joining the gym did manage to alleviate my boredom. It gave me a new place to go work out and new ways to push myself. It is going to get me through the long dark teatime of the cycling offseason stronger and ready to tackle the first rides of the season. It has also given me a few new ideas. There are some great treadmills there that will help me get ready for the mud runs that are going to be coming up before I know it and they have a pool. I can’t wait to start swimming laps again. You know, maybe I could start training for a mini triathlon…….

Thankfully something else happened that made the end of January seem like the beginning of spring instead of the deepest part of winter, the World Tour started back up again. The Santos Tour Down Under was broadcast in the USA and I was able to set my DVR to catch it. The scenic Australian summer made our own warmer weather seem like it wasn’t so far away, and a chance to ride the trainer while watching the professionals tackle their first real race of the season. I think it would have really helped except the high temperate last week was 20 degrees Fahrenheit. When does spring start?

Posted in Cycling, fitness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Be Bold

There is a certain necessary schizophrenia to being a working writer that is difficult to embrace. I don’t feel like I am alone in being drawn to the act of writing to tell stories to as many people as I can while hiding behind a computer screen. Writing is, despite what corporate America seems to think, a solitary act. Writers can brainstorm or even write pieces together but the writing happens when the author sits down at their machine. The finished work will only sit in the computer’s memory or printed out on a desk unread unless the other half of the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde split takes over. The writer must go out and promote the work. This is a different type of communication than writing, this is selling. A writer must transform their self from a solitary storyteller into a gregarious carnival barker, calling to passersby to stop and read their work.

I think most writers are drawn to the work because it is solitary. There is very little I like more than sitting down at my computer with a cup of coffee and a good idea. It can be the best part of my weekend, happily typing out a new blog post in the quiet morning before my wife and son wake up and start their day. I can take the time to write and rewrite passages and stare out the window until the right way to articulate an idea pops into my head. The solitude of the work can be one of the best aspects of the whole endeavor. There are weeks when the solitude is what draws out the inspiration for the post. The rest of the week the ideas are lost in the bustle of daily life. It’s not until I am alone and quiet that I can hear myself create the theme of the week.

Then Monday morning comes and I have to switch gears and start promoting the blog post. I have to write multiple tweets and Facebook page updates to try to entice readers to go to my blog and give it a chance. I have to pay attention to make sure that I schedule the updates to reach as many people as possible and to find a witty way to sum up three or four pages in 140 characters or less. I also have to try to stay engaging and have multiple approaches to catch as many people as possible. I have to pay attention to Twitter Communities and Facebook trends. Ultimately I have to push my work on as many people as possible in as public a way as possible for the maximum effect. The effort is always worth the return, but I did have to realize that promotion is as necessary as the writing of the blog. To put it another way, there is little point in writing if no one reads it. The only way I can get people to read my work is if people actually know it exists.

I love going out and having adventures, bringing them home, and sitting in my office and writing about them. Part of the reason I try new rides or new fitness ideas is to be able to share them on Mondays. I love posting the blog to the website and checking back every few hours to see if the page views have increased or if there are any comments. I can’t say that I enjoy the promotion of the blog. I do love my Facebook page and my Twitter followers; I just hate begging everyone to read my blog. I wish there was a way to write and have people search out the new posts without having to beg them, but until I have a following like Neil Gaiman’s, it’s not going to happen. Having to promote heavily has taught me a very important lesson. I need to be bold.

I think I have always known that you have to be bold in life to get certain things accomplished. My father used to take me out to sell newspaper subscriptions when I was young. I would go door to door asking people to buy the newspaper. If I sold enough subscriptions I would win prizes. I always won the top prizes, normally because I received a lot of help from my dad, but also because I tried. I knocked on a lot of doors and failed to sell newspapers to a lot of people, but the more I tried the more I sold. It became a math problem, if 90% of people said no you would still find the other 10% if you knocked on enough doors. Someone is going to say yes, you just have to ask enough people until you find the one that says yes.

I found the same thing to be true when I started writing the blog. I offered to write for anyone that asked for submissions. Most sites wanted more experienced or well know bloggers, but a few welcomed my submissions and published them. CycleRecycle and IWearSpandex were two of the first and most helpful sites that gave me confidence to start writing regularly. I started submitting posts to magazines as well. I have had mixed results, but I know that I will be published one day as long as I keep writing and asking. Bicycle Times Magazine is holding one of my articles and has offered some great feedback. Being bold and asking has worked in helping get me noticed.

Being bold has helped me in other ways. Julia, the new Facebook page admin volunteered after I asked for help in a blog post. I have begun asking manufacturers to send me products to review. Some have said no but one has said yes. I have been buying other products to review and other companies have noticed and helped promote the blog when I reviewed their products. It almost seems like the more bold questions I ask the more I am surprised by the amount of yes answers. It is a lesson that I am constantly learning, but I need to keep asking the questions. People cannot say yes to questions you don’t ask.

This year I am going to try to remember to be bold. To promote with reckless abandon. To ask ask questions that probably deserve a no answer but might not get them. I am going to boldly say yes to questions that people ask me. I am going to open up and try new things and write about them. I am going to keep asking magazines and websites to publish me until someone says yes. What bold questions are you going to ask this year? I think my first will be an offer to open up the Soapbox to more guest writers. Julia did a great job last week and I hope she guest posts again. Is there anyone else out there that wants to guest post? I would love to have you to have some new voices on the site to talk about cycling, fitness, or whatever else you would like to talk about. Let me know in the comments if you are interested!

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