11.05.2011

Unwind

I hate to complain about my luck or lack of it, but I've found myself on the short end of this intangible lately.

I've had a hell of a cough for more than three weeks. I'm on the mend, slowly, but it's effectively killed my training and my cyclocross season. Another campaign with both feet in an early grave.

It's perhaps just as well. I've been busy with a lot of other shit. Seems like that's been the tale of the tape for a few years now. I thought about quitting cycling a few weeks ago. But I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to make it more of a priority and cut other things out of my life that aren't as important.

I'm also going to get more into running, too. I did a 6.7 mile leg of the Kansas City Marathon relay with Keck and some other dudes. I'd forgotten how fun it is to do foot races. I can't do it full on like I used to because my knees are so crummy, but I'd like to supplement fitness with a few miles by foot and do an occasional 5k or 10k.

I just need to become a more healthy person. I don't really like the physical condition that I'm in. Going back to that epic cough I've been fighting, I used to dispatch these ailments in about four or five days tops. Back when I was in better shape. I think this one has lingered because my diet and lifestyle both suck.

There's no one to blame but myself for this, and no one who can fix it.

So I'm just gonna fix it. We're the only ones who can control our own circumstances. Enough bitching, more doing.

6.16.2011

Hydration and other stuff

The other day, Britton K. made mention of the importance of hydrating now that the weather's been getting hot and impossibly humid. It got me thinking about the whole subject as I'm making the adjustment to the warmer weather. When I'm training in the doldrums of January, February and March, I don't worry as much about drinking a ton of water. In fact, in the Sheehan Road Race this year, which was a fairly balmy day, I only sipped down one half of one water bottle and didn't touch the other.

Now that it's like a locker room outside every day, I make it about 30 minutes before I'm out of water.

Here's a couple thoughts on the hydrating topic, and a few others.

Hydration
As Britton pointed out, you can't just wake up the morning of a race or a hard workout, chug a couple tall glasses of water and think you're good for the day. Particularly for racing (and particularly for the perennially white-hot Tour of Kansas City coming up in about a week) you've got to be hitting the water consistently for three or four days beforehand. When I'm getting ready for a race, you won't see me without a water bottle nearby in the days leading up to the competition. I'm not slamming water. I'm taking small sips every few minutes. I usually drink about four liters of water, sometimes five or six if I'm working out hard that day.

Having said all that, though, there's a common mistake people make when they drink water — namely, being that they drink too much. You hit too much water and you'll flush out your electrolytes. If you try and race without enough electrolytes, your legs will feel like rubber, you'll be kinda drowsy and once the pace picks up in the race, you're almost sure to be left behind. One trick I learned from racing track and cross cross country races was keeping some small, simple candy in my pocket the night before and the day before the race. I'd usually have Jolly Ranchers or a few rolls of Smarties. I'd pop a Smarty ever 10 or 15 minutes ago. The simple sugar would restore electrolytes and keep my blood sugar at a normal level. Don't go apeshit with the candy, obviously. I'm not talking about eating this stuff like a kid who just landed a pillowcase's worth of booty on Halloween. But keep the sugar around.

Regarding coffee, there's so much literature out there that discusses whether it's good for athletes or bad, whether it dehydrates you or not. Most trainers and doctors I've spoken with about it say that if coffee is a diuretic (a substance that draws water from your tissue and blood) it's such a weak one that it's offset by the amount of water in your coffee that's taken in. My tip on coffee when I race is I'll try to go all week without coffee. Then on race day, I'll find a Starbucks and get a coffee with a shot of espresso about an hour before the race if I can. You get so much energy from it that I hardly can stand still in line waiting to register for the race.

Diet
An endurance athlete's diet is actually a pretty simple thing. You need to eat a lot, and you need to eat a wide variety of different foods. It's really that easy. I'm always amazed at all the snake oil that gets brandished in discussions about healthy athletic diets. I'm particularly surprised at how few people understand that athlete's need to eat a fairly good amount of fat. When I'm really thinking about my diet, I break it down my intake roughly like this:
• 60 percent carbs.
• 25 percent protein.
• 15 percent fat.

The fat part is pretty easy to figure out. Look on the nutrition label and see what percent calories from fat take up of the overall number of calories. If it's 15 to 20, you're generally OK to eat it. Of course, some things like hummus have a much higher ratio of calories from fat. It doesn't take someone with much education to know what kind of fat is good and what's bad.

Training
I won't get into any detail about training because lots of different things work (and don't work) for a lot of different people. But one thing I see all the time in endurance sports is people who don't know when to quit. It's so easy to overtrain in endurance sports. And getting to a point where your body is burned out is a miserable thing. Beyond your body feeling horrible, you get depressed, you can't sleep well and your life temporarily sucks (or sucks more if you feel like your life always sucks in general). More often than not, you need to be taking slow to moderate rides. I see people kill it a lot on rides or runs throughout a week and then they get to race day and the complain that they feel like shit, even though they barely did much the day before. The simplest advice is to listen to your body. If you start a ride you figured would be a hard or moderate ride but you're feeling run down, why push it? Just take an easy day. Or an off day. That's why I don't keep training logs or write down elaborate training plans. It's too easy to go all neurotic when you see a day on your training calendar where you were supposed to hit some hard intervals but you were only able to softpedal for a few miles. You start thinking about what it is that fucked you up and shit just spirals down from there. Just listen to your body and do what it tells you to do. I'm not saying you shouldn't push yourself beyond your limits and comfort threshold from time to time — you won't get better if you don't learn to break through pain barriers. I'm just saying, listen to your body, use common sense and don't be an idiot.


5.03.2011

Tuesday Night World War!

There was a crash on the last lap of tonight's Tuesday Night Worlds.

It involved two people, one was Charlie and the other was some guy from Big D. There were no serious injuries but at least one bike might have seen its last rodeo.

It happened in front of me, but I didn't really see how it unfolded. Rather than finish, I unclipped to see if everyone was OK.

Soon, a crowd descended upon the scene like flies circling a state park restroom that had gone years without cleaning. Immediately, the chatter what about What Happened. Word couldn't have spread faster on Twitter.

Accusations were made.

Blame was assigned.

"It was [name redacted] who did it!"

"Well, did you see what that guy from [team name redacted] did?"

Reputations were tarnished.

Non-victims shared in the victimhood of victims.

Soy lattes boiled in the stomachs of angry men who were in disbelief at what happened.

Off in the distance, one could see George Tiller and Osama bin Laden, who only moments before had risen from the dead, holding signs advertising a topless car wash at the corner of 95th and Lackman to benefit the Lenexa Optimists Club. But no one at the race could notice as they were trying to identify the Tuesday Night Worlds' Most Hated Man.

Oh yeah, there was a race that happened. We averaged about 25 miles an hour. I hung out mostly in the back.

Good times were had by all.

Well, nearly all.

5.01.2011

Sheesh

So I managed to race OK today. Makes me wonder how I might do if I struck up a more organized training plan.

The truth is I train when I can. That almost always means a couple rides on the weekends of the long-ish variety. And when I can, I ride to work which makes for two short but high-intesity rides a day. Occasionally I'll train after work, but my schedule as it is makes it difficult to get motivated to head out at 7 p.m. when I've tended to my responsibilities and crank it for three hours.

So I do what I can.

I went out to Leavenworth to race all 49 miles of the Sheehan Memorial Road Race. When I did this race two years ago, the weather was a fistfight of wind, sleet, snow and rain. Today was decidedly calmer with temperatures of 45 degrees at the start and marginal breezes.

The pack went out and rode fairly steady for about 23 miles. There were a few mild attacks, but little to speak of other than a lone ranger from Omaha striking out on his own after about two miles. It would be about 42 miles until we'd catch him.

After we hit neutral support, people really started stepping on the gas. And when we left Atchison to head westward back to Leavenworth, that's when we really started getting after it.

At one point, the pack went up a long climb and splintered in to factions. I was in the back of the second one and instantly worried that if I didn't hitch a ride to the back of the first group, my race would be over. I was starting to labor a bit at this point, but I really stepped on it and pedaled until my eyes watered before I reached the lead group. Not long after that, I took a brief pull at the front to take some pressure off of Quiet B., who had been doing his fair share of the work.

We coasted back to Leavenworth and with about two miles left, I started to move toward the front to prepare for what was going to be a 16-person sprint for the finish. But as I moved outside and to the front, I couldn't tuck behind anyone. Left exposed and with about a mile to go, I figured, "Well, I'm at the front and I'm feeling good, so fuck it, I'm going to try to win."

To gapped the pack for about half a mile before I got raided and meekly made my way to the finish. I probably finished 11th or 12th. I have no idea, really.

This was the type of race I would have gotten murdered in a couple of years ago. I would have had a difficult time bridging that gap that emerged with about 14 miles to go. And the sustained pressure in the last half of the race would have been tough for me to manage.

There's a few positives to take away from this race. I was pleased that I remained stubborn and kept with the group, despite a fair share of nerves heading into the race about my readiness to hang with the group for a 50 miles race. Speaking of nerves, I was also pleased that the nervousness of riding in a tight group that plagued me these last couple of years has subsided considerably. I pedaled comfortably in and around the group, making passes through narrow alleys and such.

Now if I can get around to doing some better, more consistent training, I might have enough in the tank the next time to sprout a stronger finish.

But more than that, it was just a hell of a lot of fun to race today. From riding up with some teammates to seeing other riders at registration to putting out a tough effort to finally heading back, it was a great time and it make me appreciate what fun the sport can be. I really missed that last year.


4.12.2011

Returning to the scene of the crime

Real quick, here's a recap of my return to Tuesday Night Worlds, one year after I last visited the Gettysburg of local cycling.

For the most part, I stuck to my plan and sat in and saw how long I'd be able to stay with the pack. I'd feared beforehand that I would be shelled off the back early on because I haven't raced on an asphalt surface in about a year and my training thus far in 2011 has involved very little, if any, intensity.

For the opening salvo, I just tucked in the back of the pack and rode at whatever pace everyone else dictated. I was somewhat surprised to find that it didn't feel all that brutal. I started wondering whether the group collectively wasn't putting forth that much effort.

I stayed there for most of the race, save for the time I tried to pull to the front when Joe A. took the lead in the middle of the race. But I never really committed myself to helping him out.

Sorry, Joe.

Then there was this other time with three laps to go where I joined a group of about five riders making a break for the front. I knew I wouldn't be able to hold a torrid pace for three laps to the finish, but I figured what the hell? With a lap to go, I got passed up and just finished with the pack. Which was fine.

A couple thoughts on today's race. One, I was pleasantly surprised to hold a pace that I would later learn held on at about 25.5 miles an hour. Two, my handling skills need some work, having been out of the asphalt racing business for about a year. I had a shaky turn or two where I didn't do a fine job of negotiating people turning on either side of me. No on screamed at me, so I figure I didn't put anyone at immediate danger, but I'm fairly cognizant that I need to do better and maneuvering with others around me.

Thanks to Adam and Aubree for leading up our ride down to the race, wherein we were joined by Joe A. and Quiet Brian. Lots of fun. I'm sorry I missed out on a year of it.

But I'm back at it now.

4.11.2011

Hello, world!

Sometimes, people suck.

On Saturday, I was making my way down Southwest Blvd. on my way to the morning ride that day when some dude in a camo hat and a mustache pulls a left hand turn with his pickup truck right in front of me. It was close enough that I hit the brake pretty hard and had a split-second flashback to the last time this sort of thing happened to me.

Danger averted, I get out of the saddle and get ready to accelerate again, shaking my head in dismay at another bad encounter with a local driver. Immediately upon doing this, I hear, "Fuck you, pussy!"

Against my better judgment, I flash him a variation of the old peace sign. Again, I hear, "I'll fuck you up."

So this dude goes from zero to sixty in about half a second. It's fairly common to encounter some hostility on the roads, but this was kind of new. I get tied up at the stop light over by QuikTrip where this pleasant citizen has entered the parking lot and he's still stringing along an impressive line of expletives. For whatever reason, I decide it's a good idea to keep smiling at him. At this point, dude gets out of his truck and starts walking toward me. I keep smilin'. He keeps coming closer, challenging me to a fight or something. Keep smilin'.

Ooops! Green light, I'm on my way.

These were the kinds of things I missed on my year long hiatus from much serious training or racing. Life changed a lot for me last year, and the continue to do so this year. But I've really gotten hooked again on how good it feels to ride bikes, to train. And tomorrow, I resume racing. I'm doing Tuesday Night Worlds for the first time in a year.

Wish me luck.

11.26.2010

Matters of life and death

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about an old friend of mine from growing up in Colorado. David was a guy I met in middle school, and I thought he was pretty annoying when we first crossed paths. I thought he was kind of a dork.

But by about eighth grade, I gave up thinking I was cool and realized I was a dork, too. With that barrier out of the way, and with him and I really being the only two people dedicated to the middle school track team, we started to become pretty cool friends. We liked a lot of the same music, and we introduced each other to music that we hadn't known of previously.

We became better friends in high school when we did cross country and track there. David, whose specialty in track was the hurdles, was this really short, pale dude who looked like the last guy who had any athletic ability. When he lined up on the starting line, it was almost a comical sight to see the diminutive David stacking up against these big, hulking dudes in speed suits who were obviously using the track season to stay in shape for football or basketball. But by his senior year, he was one of the best hurdlers in the state.

We went to different colleges, but stayed in touch. I have to say he remained in better touch than I did. I was spending most of my year in Kansas, so I couldn't see him much during the school year. When I came back during the summers, we would play ultimate Frisbee on occasion but I was usually off doing my own thing.

Him and I would chat occasionally after college. He was a teacher in Colorado. And I was, as always, doing my own thing in Kansas City. The last time I talked to him, nothing seemed amiss.

Then a couple months later I got an e-mail from one of his old friends, informing me that there was going to be a funeral service for him the following week.

Apparently a few week before I got that e-mail, a sheriff in Colorado found his car. A couple weeks later, some hiker found his body. I learned he had hit a rough spot in his life. He bought a shotgun. He took his own life.

When I hear about things like this, I always wonder what the last thoughts a person has before they pull the trigger. Or fade off in a drug overdose. Or breathe their last struggled breath in a noose. Or whatever.

For David, his life hadn't been an easy one. He didn't have the best family life. For parts of his life, he was living on spare couches or spare bedrooms in various friends' houses. For other parts of his life, he was being ushered out to places like Texas or elsewhere as his dad would just move somewhere on a whim. I still have letters he wrote to me from these places when we were in high school.

In them, he talks about how I was one of his best friends. In fact, his MySpace page is still in existence, trapped like a bug in amber, with the various nonsense that accompanies anyone's MySpace page. In his, I'm still one of his top eight friends. Every yearly anniversary of his death, some woman posts something about missing him.

I miss him, too, as anyone would after they lose a friend. But I also spend a lot of time wondering if I could have been a better friend in the years that followed our high school graduation. In those years, I was off somewhere else, making new friends, being too busy, experiencing new experiences. We would connect every now and again, but I always knew it wasn't as often as it should have been. And it probably wasn't as often as he would have liked.

David drifts in and out of my thoughts. Particularly in the autumn. That's when we used to go on these long runs for cross country training. We would gripe sometimes about wishing the others were as dedicated as we were. And other times we would just shoot the shit. Girls. Music. Teachers. Whatever.

Every autumn, I kind of replay some of those conversations. And with the exception of teachers, who I no longer deal with, I find myself thinking about the same subjects we used to blabber about.

And each time, I think what a shame it is that David's no longer around to talk with.