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Friday, February 26, 2010
Why does this subset of humanity feel the need to subject themselves to pain and often true agony in pursuit of an end that brings no real benefit to the world around them. What is their cause?
After learning of my love for the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride, or hearing of another 100 + mile ride, people often comment that they could never do that, and ask "why do you put yourself through this?" I also enjoy running and can easily spend 45 minutes to an hour and a half on the road or trails. I get the same comments - especially when I go about these activities in the rain or cold or both. So I've begun to ask myself the same question - "Self, why do you do this?"
(After writing the last paragraph I got up from the computer, and ran (literally) the 3.2 miles up to Kaiser to pick up my youngest daughter's prescription, and then the same distance back - in the rain. No doubt many splashed past me and asked - Why? Could I give a coherent answer?)
I'm speaking more specifically to endurance sports such as running, cycling, cross country skiing, and swimming the English Channel. I'm not the first to ponder this, but having a love for sociology along with a habit of pushing my own lungs to the limits, I present my thoughts on the topic.
This is what I've come up with...
1. I need a challenge.
Yes life is tough enough. Work is challenging. Making ends meet in a recession is tough. Raising and loving a family is hard work. I don't really need more struggles - or do I?
I have found that somehow cycling and running have become a metaphor for all those areas. I learn, I train, I bonk a few times, I train some more, I finish stronger each time, and find that the adventure was well worth the time it took. I've "hit the wall" 10 miles out from home, put the phone back in my jersey pocket, and just rode it home. I have found that even in this small way, I can push through "it," whatever "it" is.
2. It's the people.
I have a lot of friends. I don't necessarily need or want more. I refuse to FaceBook. But, I love meeting cyclists with a passion. I've met so many cyclists, runners, and hikers that share my love for the wind in my face, that it's almost natural to speak and exchange stories "on the run."
3. It's the solitude.
This is the other side of #2. Some days you see no one - and it's good. You can only understand this if you are the type that recharges in solitude. You either get it or you don't and there isn't much to say about it other than that.
4. It's the stories.
What's so great about Robinson Crusoe if he doesn't get lost at sea and stranded on an island?
What's the point of reaching Mordor and tossing the One Ring into the fire if you can't return to the Shire with stories that will make their heads swim?
What's the point of having these exquisitely created bodies capable of amazing things if we never push them to do amazing things - and then tell others how it happened. Half the fun of riding the 2009 Wine Country Century in the rain was recounting the experience afterward. What's better than a good story, unless it's a good story that you get to tell to a spellbound audience.
5. It's the great outdoors.
If you have defeated every level of every video game from Super Mario to Halo, you may not understand this. Some of us would rather be outside. I've designed my dream house in AutoCad, and the square footage of the windows is greater than the floor plan of my current home. If I can't be outside, I want to at least see it. (Arguably my time spent typing commands into AutoCad is little better in this context than the Mario Brothers, though cognitively, I see it as vastly superior) If it weren't raining right now - I'd be out on the patio squinting at my laptop. If cycling were relegated to indoor tracks and running to treadmills - I wouldn't do it. I like seeing the seasons change around me and watching the hills reflect the colors of the seasons. Here in the SF Bay Area, we have seen the golden brown hills transition into a deep lush green, and now begin to speckle themselves with fiery orange poppies and a half dozen other colors and varieties of wildflowers. It won't be long before the hills again transition to a golden brown, announcing loud and clear for all to hear - "The mountain bike trails are drying out!"
6. Because I want to. I don't always want to, but when I do, there's nothing else that can replace the desire. I could live the rest of my life in peace and happiness without cycling or running. However, I would miss it dearly. In reality, I don't know why this desire rests on me, but of all the things in life that can consume spare time, there are many worse than processing excessive amounts of oxygen on Bay Area back roads.
Why do you do what you do?
Give it some thought...
Saturday, February 20, 2010
I ran a little over 10.5 miles this morning while my wife was at an "event" at her chiropractor. (Read "marketing gimmic." I refuse to buy in, but that's a whole'nother topic) About 7 miles into the run, all of the pain went away - almost as a wave. I picked up the pace a little bit, and enjoyed several minutes of flying. I landed some time later and the pain returned, but not completely, prompting me to add 2.5 miles to the 8 I had intended.
I found this article in the New York Times regarding what they dub the "Runner's High"
It said in part...
The data showed that, indeed, endorphins were produced during running and were attaching themselves to areas of the brain associated with emotions, in particular the limbic and prefrontal areas.
The limbic and prefrontal areas, Dr. Boecker said, are activated when people are involved in romantic love affairs or, he said, “when you hear music that gives you a chill of euphoria, like Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.” The greater the euphoria the runners reported, the more endorphins in their brain.
“Some people have these really extreme experiences with very long or intensive training,” said Dr. Boecker, a casual runner and cyclist, who said he feels completely relaxed and his head is clearer after a run.
That was also what happened to the study subjects, he said: “You could really see the difference after two hours of running. You could see it in their faces.”
OK, well that's fine, but then that is also the New York Times - not exactly the "Go To" source for athletic knowledge.
I also checked out Runner's World, a much more legitmate source for this type of information and found Amy Burfoot (interesting name for a runner) with the following to say...
"Recently, I added up my lifetime running miles, and found that I'm hovering around 108,000. That distant October turned out to have been my only serious encounter with runner's high. It might have been vivid, but it hasn't happened again. By my math, this means I have experienced the rush on .00185 percent of all my miles. Or, to put it another way, I get high on one out of every 21,600 workouts. Not very impressive."
Her take on it is more like I see it. The balance of the NYT article focused much on a "high" that came after an athletic achievement. I agree it feels great to have 10.5 miles behind me, and my attitude is almost without exception 100% better about EVERYTHING following intense exercise (For example, I spent 2 hours shopping afterward at KHOLS with my wife wearing my sweaty clothes and didn't complain once)(Um - that was me in my sweaty clothes not her in my sweaty clothes - I reworked that sentence a few times and figured a disclaimer was the best I could do). But, that is not runner's high. That is just one of the unsolicited rewards my wife gets for letting me do stuff like that ;).
A true "runner's high," I may never really achieve, and the few minutes of floating that I gained this afternoon was not worth the other hour of hard work. That's not why I run. But that's also a whole'nother story.
Runner's high or not, it was a great run, and may only have been improved upon if the sun had been out to help tan these pasty white arms and legs suffering from a long wet winter.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Here I am back on this topic again...
I followed a cyclist the other day as I was in my truck heading toward home. A few turns before I was to get on the highway, he cut across in front of me, ran a stop sign, and crossed the intersection in front of 2 waiting cars making a sweeping left turn the direction I was planning on going.
He was not what a lady at my church refers to as a "neon spandex" type cyclist. This was your typical commuter, though obviously very familiar with his ride, and visibly strong.
Well, being timid like I am (sounds of clearing throat inserted here), I caught him after he had blown through the second stop sign (this time at least there were no cars waiting) and rolled down the passenger side window to chat with him.
"I'm a cyclist," I started. He slowed and actually recognized my presence and allowed me to go on. He was a little taken aback.
"It's hard for us to get any respect from cars out here," I went on, knowingly dumping on "cars" since I was driving a 3/4 ton pickup, and owning no other "car," just the SUV that my wife drives. He continued to listen.
"I just watched you blow those 2 stop signs back there... You gotta help us out. Cars hate us." (Speaking with a bit of hyperbole) "When you do stuff like that it doesn't make it any better."
At this point I waited for a tirade, flowery language, and other verbal abuse. I agree, it really wasn't my place to reprimand him, so I was willing to take whatever came. I was in the distinct advantage though, and could move out of a bad situation much easier than if the tables were turned.
He looked at me a second, and then in a humble and kind tone he said "I hear ya." and indicated that he understood my drift. I said "ride safe," and "have a nice day," and drove on bedazzled by a glint of courtesy and common sense.
Thanks dude. Whoever you are, you made my day.
But, the more I think on this, the more I realize that there is a much bigger issue here. Isn't it really more about common courtesy? None of us owns the road entirely - though I gladly accept my portion of it by means of my gracious donations to our civic and federal coffers. We are all surviving our daily commute because others are at least acquiescing to a minimal understanding of an established code of conduct. Staying in a lane, or coming to some resemblance of a stop are all essential parts of moving along the roadways in harmony. However, it's a desire to go beyond the minimums that can make the experience more enjoyable.
Sharing the road can literally mean giving way to another who may be infringing on your virtual mobile personal space - and not blare the horn. Some may not realize this, but in the process, you don't have to say nasty things, or even think nasty things. You can actually wish them a good day and pray for their safety on their erratic journey. And yes, I realize that this even applies to me while cycling, relating to the jerk - uh - gentleman that just tried to brush me with his mirror.
We all can be a lot more understanding and a little less irritable. A little more amicable and lot less frustrated.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I should probably just face the fact that I've started this year's training.
Thursday I rode the Lemond home from work, adding a few extra hills and about 25 extra miles.
That made 45.
Friday morning I left around 5:30 am with the new light I had picked up at the Performance Bike Shop in Walnut Creek the night before. Around 6:00 the lights started showing water droplets swirling around in the air and within 10 minutes it was pouring.
1 1/2 hours after leaving home I sloshed into the parking lot at work.
That made 20 more miles.
I had intentionally taken it easy on the commute rides knowing I was planning a longer ride Saturday. That's easy in the rain and the dark, but Thursday evening I had had a little too much fun racing the cars from stoplight to stoplight on the last stretch through Pleasant Hill. I was still feeling my legs at 6:00am Saturday when I rolled out the front door.
Friday night Bec and I had worked up a plan to get me and her at the same Starbucks in San Jose around noon on Saturday. I was hoping for a 15mph average to get me the 85 miles in around 6 hours, and we could pretty easily account for her travel time in the car. After Starbucks, we were to continue on to Capitola, where I would shower at the public beach showers and we'd spend the afternoon watching the surfers. That was the plan.
My route was to be similar to that of a ride Vince and I did last June. Martinez, to Concord, to Clayton, to Morgan Territory, to Livermore, to Pleasanton, and then change up the route by turning left on Calaveras Rd. and heading south toward San Jose. All of these things I did, but my average speed dwindled to 14.5mph. Hills do that. Extra coffee and potty breaks don't help either. I was to top out, overlooking San Jose at the top of Sierra Rd. 1800' above the valley. I was to then ride down the hill (which was insane) and 10 miles across the valley to the awaiting coffee. I looked at the time at the top of Sierra Rd. and it was 11:58.
From here there is a tremendous drop down to 600' in just over 4 miles, then a slow descent through town into the bottom of Livermore valley at 400'. Hwy 84 climbs out of the valley to nearly 1000' for #2 and then down to 250' in Pleasanton.
A slow winding ascent from Pleasanton toward the Ohlone Regional Wilderness on Calaveras Rd. is refreshing after leaving the traffic of 84 behind.
I had ridden the final few miles with a rider I met at the decision point of going up to Sierra Rd. or heading down Calaveras into town. His son is an endurance cyclist, having ridden all of the local double centuries including the Devil Mountain Double. I told this gentleman that part of the reason I was on this particular route, was that nearly all of the roads I was riding were part of the DMD. He gave me some second hand tips regarding the DMD, but more importantly kept me company for the final grueling miles getting up Felton Road to the top of Sierra Grade. Knowing that turning around and riding down Calaveras into San Jose was an option, I may not have seen the top of Sierra Rd. without him. He asked what time I was to meet up with my wife; whereupon he chuckled at my response, whereupon I looked at the time, whereupon I called Bec to find out if she was enjoying her white chocolate mocha.
This is where having a 3 month old setting the schedule comes in handy. Bec was fit to be tied because my voice mail wasn't working and she had just left home 5 minutes before. (She had visions of me sitting sipping a latte wondering where she was) Getting out of the house had taken all the time Bec had planned - plus 1 hour. "No worries" said I, I'll call you back when I get into San Jose, and find an alternative meeting place. Both of us breathed a sigh of relief.
45 minutes later she made 4 U turns trying to get into the Starbucks I had found, and she nursed Gianna in the Pilot while I changed my clothes in the Starbucks restroom and Ella bounced and rocked on the bike rack making us both crazy for separate reasons.
Another 76.5 miles.
Off then to Capitola and the beach.
It was a great day, and another adventure logged.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
I'm eventually going to hook up with my wife somewhere in the vacinity of San Jose or beyond, depending on how quickly she catches up to me. We will be spending the afternoon hiding out in Capitola.
Wondering if anyone wants to ride as far as the far side of Morgan Territory and loop back through Blackhawk or an even longer ride and go up Palomares.
I'll be continuing on toward SJ on some "new to me" roads. You're welcome to follow, but will need your own ride back.
I'll be leaving early if no one else is going (6:00 am)
But, if anyone else comes we could leave a little later like 7:00. Unless you want to be on the road with me at 6:00am.
Pass this along if you know of anyone else wanting to ride.
Post a reply below if you think you can come.
We should meet at Petes Coffe in Todos Santos Plaza in Concord at 6:30 or 7:30.
I'll keep this updated if anyone posts a reply.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
He is no saint, and probably wouldn't win the "(You fill in the blank) of the Year Award" for much of anything other than possibly something cycling related.
I respect him, however, on many levels. Mostly though, it's his "don't quit" attitude.
I'll be watching him and rooting for him again this year, just like every one else - even if they are too cool to admit it.
Here is his pre-race interview at the Tour Down under...
The Tour Down Under is not a race he wanted / needed to win. There are more important things to stay alive for up ahead.
Sports Illustrated noted...
ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) -- Andre Greipel of Germany won the Tour Down Under for the second time in three years on Sunday, finishing fifth in the sixth and final stage of the ProTour event captured by Chris Sutton.
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong placed 77th out of 129 riders in the stage to finish 25th overall, 1 minute, 3 seconds down on Greipel's accumulated time of 18 hours, 47 minutes, 5 seconds.
Armstrong improved on his 29th-place showing in last year's Tour, his first race back from a 3 1/2-year retirement. Armstrong said he felt both lighter and stronger this year than he did in 2009, when he went on to finish third in the Tour de France.
The Texan hoped the Australian race would be his first step toward an eighth Tour victory in July.
"It won't be easy as a guy who's 39 years old by then, but I'll give it my best," he said.
Armstrong's longtime team manager Johan Bruyneel also saw the American rider's form and physical condition as being ahead of last season.
"Lance is good. He's a lot different (to) last year," Bruyneel said.
"Physically his form is a lot better. He feels good in the bunch and he feels good in the team so that's three things that are a lot better than last year."
He is now riding for Team Radio Shack.
I don't like the colors - and they didn't ask me.
Looks like TREK managed to hang on to Lance along with other sponsors like SRAM, and LOOK.
Along with Lance, I'll also be trying to follow George Hincapie, of Team BMC, who like myself, is from Greenville, SC. Both of these guys are about raced out - - But won't quit.
Other riders I'm following...
Frank and Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank ... Too cool that brothers can do this on the same team.
Jens Voigt after his spill last year... Also of Saxo Bank
Tour of Qatar going on right now...
We'll see how that turns out. No Radio Shack in Qatar.
Monday, February 8, 2010
I'm not sure that the DMD is for me this year, as they state pretty specifically that it shouldn't be your first double century.
There are many other options, but something about doing this on familiar roads is enticing. Friends of mine have ridden the Terrible Two, and the Davis Double, and odds are I will be at one of them.
The unfortunate reality is, that to ride these events, one must train like they are going to ride one of these events. If typing with a 2 month old sleeping soundly on my lap is any indication - it will take some creativity to get those kinds of miles logged and still be allowed into bed with the wife at night.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
This morning was tough. We woke up to gray and forbidding skies, with the weather forcasting storms all day. Dave and I had tentatively arranged a ride for this morning, but I was leaning heavily toward sitting it out. "It's raining" was the gist of my early text message. And his basic reply was "Not for long."
It was such a warm, dry, and pleasant idea to eat a leisurely breakfast and sip endless cups of hot coffee while the girls spent the morning at church for a ladies breakfast. But it was also laced with shame.
Dave was going to ride the 10 miles to meet me at my place to start our ride. And yeah, that was escalating the guilt. Overcome by the ignominy of it I set out to squeeze in a quick 5 mile run before he got there.
I beat him back to my place by a minute or 2, but he was driving. I felt duped, but in a satisfied sort of way.
We rode steady for about 25 miles. The rain pestered us at times, but basically left us alone.
A random driver had axed a power pole just down the main street from home, so the power was out before we headed out. Bec reported the power to still be out when she got back and proposed a McDonalds type solution. The variant power pole lay across our default route home, forcing us to detour right past the hamburgers.
Oh well, it could have been worse - She might have recommended Chinese.
You deal with with the saturated fat and add some bonus miles to the ride home.