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Archive for December, 2011

Clipless in Crockett

The man working in the booth at the Pleasant Hill BART station yesterday morning was writing in a composition notebook.  His hand, which gripped a pen, was twisted in a way that suggested he suffered from some kind of palsy.  He wrote in clear, non-cursive print.  The man had white hair and seemed kindly — in fact, was proved to be kindly when I asked him where I could find the base of the bridge that goes over Treat Blvd.  He told me how to get there (it was just around the corner) and then said, “Have a great ride!”

I wondered, as a wandered off, how he had known that I was about to go cycling.  Then it occurred to me that I was wearing a bicycle helmet, as well as a shiny cycling jacket, padded cycling shorts, elbow- and knee-warmers, and cycling shoes.  Also, I had a bike. …  And yet, from inside myself, I wasn’t yet a cyclist — and thus it came as a surprise to be recognized as one, even with all the accoutrements.

It was cold — in the 30s — as I waited at the base of that bridge.  Then Richard, one of the coaches with Team in Training, swung by on his bike to lead me to where the rest of our group was riding.  (They had started a few miles earlier.)  And as soon as I began pedaling, I warmed right up.  Well, except for my fingertips.

This ride would take us through Martinez and into Crockett, and it promised to be incrementally tougher than the previous ride.  But I felt prepared, somewhat: the day before I’d bought “clipless” pedals, along with the shoes that connect to them.  The “clipless” name seems a bit misleading, as what distinguishes these pedals is that they have clips on them — but no matter.  The idea is that, with your feet stuck to the pedals, you can use more of your leg muscles when pedaling: you can pull up with one leg while you’re pushing down with the other one.  In general, you are made into a more-efficient cycling machine, with less of your precious energy being wasted.  The problem, potentially, is that if you don’t get your feet disconnected from the pedals before you stop (by twisting your heels outward), then you will fall down.

Fortunately, Richard kept me distracted and entertained with conversation, and so I kind of forgot to be scared.  One coach always goes behind all the other cyclists, so no one will get lost.  I felt kind of guilty slowing him down by having to ride with me, but he assured me that this was all part of the coaching gig.  In a way, I guess, coaches are the Jews of cycle teams: they suffer so that the rest of us may glide into the future.

This ride was longer, and hillier, than our previous ones — but it felt easier to me because of the clipless pedals: there still was pain, especially during the long ascent — but it was a more under-control pain.  In endurance training, I’m learning, you live for increments: a bit more lung capacity, a smidge slower heart rate.  In fact, that’s what makes the long distances doable: breaking them down, mentally, into increments.  You’re not biking for 35 miles, or 100 miles; you’re just pedaling one more time.  And then another.  And another.  And, God, another.  And eventually you reach the top of the hill, or the end of the whole ride, and it feels as though someone else did the biking, someone tough and strong and resolute — someone, in other words, who is not you (if you’re me).

I didn’t fall down, not once.  Nor did I crash when going downhill, even though there were a bunch of switchbacks and I was going quite fast (for me).  I also found places to pee that were semi-hidden from the road — though the wind kept changing directions, making it quite tricky to pick a direction to pee in.  I stayed hydrated (if you’re not hydrated, you won’t need to pee) and ate all three of the somewhat yucky sports bars that I’d stuffed into my jersey (note to self: try packing some peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for next week’s ride).  I thought of people suffering from cancer and wished them well in their treatment — and suddenly felt blessed that I was physically able to go cycling on this fine day.  I saw some cows and some horses, and two wild turkeys.  Once, going downhill after the longest climb, I sang a Ramones song quite loudly (no one was around to hear).

After the ride, I rolled my bike back into the Pleasant Hill BART station.  The guy from the booth was walking around, checking the ticket machines or something.  “How was your ride?” he asked.  “Great!” I said.  “It was my longest ride yet!”  He smiled, and walked off, limping in a way that he probably has for his whole walking life.  I carried my bike up the stairs and waited, huffing, on the platform.  And I have to say: I kind of actually felt like a cyclist!

Thank you to everyone who’s donated towards my upcoming (March 10) ride of the Solvang Century!  If you’d like to make a donation yourself, which would support finding a cure for blood cancers, you can go to my TNT fundraising page.

Below is a map of yesterday’s training ride; if you click on it, you can get lots of extra info.  I note from the linked-to website that experienced cyclists have nicknamed one of the steepest segments of this ride the “Get me the hell out of Crockett climb” — which sounds just about right.

The Wall

We were warned, leading up to last Saturday’s training ride out of Sunol, that we would encounter the “infamous Wall.”  I didn’t like the sound of “infamous” and I didn’t like the sound (and initial Cap) of “Wall” — but as it turns out the Wall was optional.  Which was great, because even without experiencing the Wall (apparently, it’s a steep drop favored by cyclists who are braver and better than I am) I found the ride quite difficult.  In cumulative climbing terms, it was a smidge less gnarly than the “Three Bears” ride of the week before — but the tough part was that the first half of this 30-mile ride (my longest yet, by five miles or so) was pretty much all up.  There was some up, and then some more up, and then a lot of up.  Up became all that there was, or at least seemed to be.  Been up so long, looked like flat to me.  Down was a distant, perhaps faulty memory from back in the mists of time, when the universe was young and down possibly prevailed.

And at some point I got it.  I’d been going up and up and up, and my leg muscles were yelling at my brain to tell them to stop pedaling — and my brain just said … no.  And my legs shrugged (figuratively) and just kept going — slowly, mind you, incredibly slowly, first-gear slowly, but still they didn’t stop.  And what I got was this: that training for an endurance event involves rewiring yourself, so that what would previously have caused your body to shut down now only pissed you off.  Suddenly there were two of me: the one who, quite reasonably, desired to stop; and the other one, the stubborn brutish me who just … kept … going.  And the wanting-to-stop me, 52 years old, regarded the newborn up-up-up me and decided, for another day at least, to back off.

At the top I was told to stop, to have some food and water, and then, after a few minutes, I headed back down.  I’m the slowest person on the team, I think, but heck, I’m on the team!  Which is cool.

If you’d like to make a donation to support finding a cure for blood cancers, you can go to my TNT fundraising page.

Below is a map of my ride; if you click on it, you can get a whole bunch of detailed info — more, no doubt, than you would ever wish to see.  In the spirit of total transparency, let me admit that when I rolled back into the parking lot where we’d started, my little bike-computer thingie showed that I’d gone 29.9 miles; so, yeah, I biked a few times around the lot so I’d get to an even 30.  And you know something?  I’d do it again!

The Three Bears

Wow — a really challenging training ride yesterday!  I took my bike on BART to the Orinda station, where everyone was meeting in the parking lot.  I heard an experienced rider say that there were two bike rides out of there — an easier one to the east, and a difficult run to the west.  I silently made a wuss-like prayer for the eastward route.  But we went west — over the hills that are known locally as the Three Bears.  There’s Papa Bear (the biggest one), and so on.  And I thought I heard someone say that the hills went from Papa to Mama to Baby — in other words, from hardest to easiest.

Things went pretty smoothly at the start of the ride.  Eventually we hit a decent hill — and I asked the nearby cyclists if this was Papa Bear.  Oh no, came the sad reply.  Not even close.

Later we got to a much steeper hill.  Was this Papa Bear, I wondered?  Negative.

By the time we’d covered over 15 miles of what had been billed as a 25-mile ride, I started thinking that maybe we had already gone over Papa Bear — that maybe the other riders were just messing with the minds of us newbies.  Then we really did hit Papa Bear.  And oh, it was steep!  And it seemed to last forever!  I just stayed in my lowest gear and kept pedaling.  The rest of my group was out of sight — some ahead, some behind (amazingly) — and for the longest time all I could hear was my own breathing.  Every once it a while, a guy from our team named Mike would drive by in a truck and ask me how I was doing; my guess is that, besides getting my actual answer, he was listening to hear that I could still speak normally.  (Indeed, my voice sounded strangely strong and cheerful to my own ears, considering how much I was exerting myself.)

Then — finally — there was a long, steep descent, thrillingly fast for me (though I kept tickling the brakes so I didn’t get out of control), and we were back at the Orinda BART station.  A woman with a nice British accent was leading a few riders in stretches; I joined them, and was instantly glad I had, as my legs felt like petrified tree stumps.  But I had made it over the Three Bears!  Apparently, the order was actually Baby, Mama, then Papa.  I felt like Goldilox, and I was ready to head home for some porridge (read: cheeseburger) and a nap in our just-the-right-sized bed.

If you’d like to make a donation to support finding a cure for blood cancers, you can go to my TNT fundraising page.

The map and data from yesterday’s training ride are below.


To a leftist, the stationary bike is a revelation: you’re not going backwards!

I rediscovered this last week, when I took my first “spin” class at the local Y — part of my training for the 100 miles I’ll be cycling on March 10, as a member of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training.  (You can donate to support my ride here.)  It was the first aerobics class I’d taken since probably the ’80s.  When I got there, the regulars had already reserved their favorite stationary bikes by draping a towel over the handlebars: it looked like an orderly convention of short, mechanical nuns.  Then, as the workout time approached, the towels were replaced by their people, and the instructor, Amanda, showed up.

Amanda has lots of energy: I imagine that as she was being born, she shouted out a cadence so her mom could speed up her contractions.  I hadn’t anticipated that we’d spend much of the class riding up out of our saddles — this took something that I expected to be difficult and made it cartoonishly hard.  But I got through it!  And — especially in retrospect — I really enjoyed it.

The music was hard to take, though.  I’d never actually heard any of Lady Gaga’s oeuvre before, and was amazed at the sameness of it (at least, to my as-yet-unGagafied ears).  Also — partly through my exertions and partly through the hearing loss I incurred at a terrific 1983 concert by the Violent Femmes — I couldn’t make out the lyrics.  At some point, as I pedaled along frantically, I lapsed into a surreal mental state in which I imagined that Lady Gaga was singing about the struggle of the individual to feel at home in a community, as experienced by one lonely member of the Workman’s Circle who’d just moved into the socialistic “coops” of the Bronx in the mid-20th century.  But maybe she was really singing about sex.

In any case, I’m going back for spinning seconds this afternoon.  Wish me well as I go nowhere fast.

P.S.: My training-ride cycling stats will return to this space next weekend.  I had to miss last Saturday’s ride (in Marin) because I was performing in Michigan.