Monday, January 27, 2014

Memory and Humiliation

One of the most distinct memories I have of riding last year happened around mile 60 of the century ride my brother and I did in Sept 2013. We were both feeling the positive effects of a good meal an hour previous, we had no wind, the path was extremely flat and smooth, and were heading back for home. We took turns pulling each other in roughly mile long shifts. I felt no fatigue, just a smooth rhythm at 20 mph. It was awesome.

That feeling is long gone. The few rides that I've managed to sneak in this year have been slogs, usually against a wall of wind dragging against the multiple layers of clothing I've been forced to don. While this feeling isn't surprising, it is nonetheless discouraging. Prior to 2013, I've never been "in shape" in an athletic sense, so I've never had much to lose. A photo of me a year ago does not look that different from what I looked like at "peak" a few months ago, I lost maybe ten lbs, a good portion of which are back. Now I know what being in shape feels like, and I want it back.

This summer and fall I could run eight miles at a stop, which had never been possible before. I could bike for a hundred miles and feel pretty good. I could storm through loose gravel without gasping for breath. While my running legs are still mostly functioning, thanks to occasional runs through December, getting hard miles on the bike has been tough, and I feel like I've lost my engine.

Enough griping, here is what the plan going forward looks like:

Live Healthy Iowa. I'm teamed up with my wife on this 10 week program. She wants to run her first 5k sometime this year, I would love to drop into the sub 210 or 200 pound range. The program involves tracking weight loss and time exercised  as well as access to classes and discounts at the local ice rink and indoor swimming pool. There is also food entry, which'll keep me honest about my snacking. I'm not doing anything fancy (eat less, eat healthy, exercise like mad), but I want to drive down my weight into numbers not seen since high school. At a minimum, I need to either run or ride on a daily basis. I also need to work on core strength to make those rough road more bearable.

On a side note, I was very surprised to find out that RAGBRAI is coming back to Sioux County! The ride will be starting in Rock Valley which is about 15 miles from me. The shop I work for is the closest local bike shop to the start, so I anticipate things will be very busy come spring.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Spring 2014

Now that we've cleared the holidays, the old year recaps and the new year resolutions, not to mention the polar vortex (ice beards for all!), its time to start planning the spring.

Spring is going to be busy for reasons altogether new to me. I've never been much of an athlete either in comparison with other people in my family, or my classmates in school. So I find it very strange to be training hard right through the nastiness of subzero temps for the Almanzo 100 and the Dam to Dam 1/2 marathon, which take place 14 days apart from one another this coming May.

The Almanzo 100 has been on my mind since I started hearing rumblings about it last year in association with Trans Iowa and the Dirty Kanza 200. Unlike either of those extremely demanding rides, the Almanzo is shorter at "only" 100 miles (it is also free!). After watching the promo video filmed during the 2012 version, I needed to do this ride.

The Almanzo is also important because it planted the seed in my mind that riding on gravel with a road bike was not only possible but a ton of fun. That seed grew into a summer of training on the unpaved roads around my hometown. That unpaved training worked me harder for each mile and opened my eyes to the wonderful ride options in my area. After a successful first century this past September, I feel like I have a fighting chance of completing this ride.

I agreed to run the the Dam to Dam with my father and brother almost as an afterthought. I did the 7 mile Living History Farms run with them this November, and that went pretty well. The LHF run is a very difficult cross country run from a topographic standpoint, with several creek crossings (it was about 18 deg F) and steep hills that are crawled up more than climbed. I felt that running the flat and mostly downhill Dam to Dam half marathon should be easy by comparison, even with the extra miles.

But then I noticed that these two events take place exactly 2 weeks apart. While that should be plenty of time to recover from the Almanzo, it means that I need to train for both these events simultaneously. So that's why, come rain or snow or bitter cold, I'll be out running. Once the roads get clean enough for the road bike (maybe this weekend) I'll start sprinkling in the training rides. My current regimen is 2 mi or longer runs every day, plus some core and upper body exercises(I would rather run in sub zero temps than do push-ups, for the record).

While I need to ride more than run, the poorly lit polished streets do not allow me to actually ride hard enough to train, and the bike itself is not well suited to winter riding. The weather this weekend looks promising.

The big push is the contracted training window. Last year I had all spring and summer to train for a century. The Almanzo is in May, and it'll be March before I can count on ice and snow free roads. So 2 1/2 good months of riding, 3 at best. I'll keep in touch.

Unrelated: While I obviously support the idea of riding through the winter, I question the use of many of the "winter cycling clothing" articles that have appeared in the past month. Specialized clothing is almost universally expensive. While that's fine for people riding for recreation, for people seeking to ride as an economical form of transport it sends a message that winter riding is only for people who can afford the correct clothing. If you have clothing that you can walk in and still stay warm, you have clothing you can ride in.