How I’m Going to Die

This has been bothering me for a while.  It is part of the reason I spend less time on the bike.   My days are numbered.  I’m convinced that I’m going to get killed by a car while riding my bike.

I’m not sure if it’s just pyschological. I’m getting older.  I have a family and children, so the stakes are higher.  I’ve been relatively lucky so far.  Maybe it’s that the traffic and drivers have gotten worse. Drivers are increasingly distracted.   I’ve read the university studies.  I have the proof.  I’ve watched the drivers checking email on their phones at traffic lights, or texting while driving.  (Sure, I’m a little guilty of being a distracted driver myself from time to time, too.)  Cars are faster.  Quiter.  Bigger. More powerful.  The roads are worse, especially in the Northeast, especially in the economic downturn, and it’s harder to find a clean, safe line (though this summer it looks like every road I ride is being worked on).

I’ve seen people doing all sorts of things while driving a car.  Reading the newspaper. Eating yogurt.  Putting on make-up.  Brushing and flossing.  Flipping through photos.  Smoking pot.  I’ve had drivers deliberately run me off the road and passengers throw beer cans and eggs at me.  I’ve been harrassed verbally.  It was worse years ago.  Before live broadcasts of the Tour de France and a certain cyclist became a household name, I often heard, “Get off the road, faggot!”  Now, I’m more likely to hear, “Go, Lance!”  If they even see me.

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30 Minutes In Heaven

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Running workout tonight on the trails.  30 minutes of sustained threshold pace with surges every 5 minutes.  It was my first time on these trails.  They were rooted and rocky and slick.  In the humid air and fecund ground, I had trouble with my footing.  Rolled my right foot at least 5 or 6 times.  Maybe something to do with the aggrives ‘conta-grip’ soles on my shoes which were covered with mud by the end of the run.

Running through the woods in the humidity of late June beneath threatening skies felt primal.  Even with the heart rate monitor beeping away.  Even with the fancy shoes and sweat wicking fabrics.  I considered how this effort would translate to the ski track.  Cold. Snow. Gliding.  No rocks or roots to trip over (hopefully, not at least…last year there were more of those than was desirable).  With each successive minute at or over threshold, I could push harder into the red zone.  The ski season, still far off, was looking good.   By the end my legs were rubbery — especially with all those surges — and I was covered with sweat, dirt and an unknown amount of poison ivy.

Long Run Along The Beach

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Yesterday’s workout was an early morning run from the hotel, out to the ocean and along the beach. I had the place to myself for the most part. Just the odd fisherman and elderly couple out for a morning stroll.

I ran all the way past the southern point of Lido Key, past the sign that warned swimmers of dangerous currents that I failed to see yesterday from the water, along the shoreline as far as I could go. Where the beach dead-ended at an inlet, I turned to the trails that wound through the mangroves. I got lost for a while in there, looking for shortcuts back to the main road that only took me deeper into swampy bayou.

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Back on the road, I had the wind full in my face. I had been going pretty easy since it was a distance run and after so many long slow swims, I put in some speed. I sprinted to the top of the Ringling Causeway, the only hill of consequence if the area, and was pretty spent by the time I reached it.

From there it was an easy cool-down back to the hotel (total run time: 1:20), breakfast and a day at the beach.

Fitness Takes No Vacation

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In Florida for a few days of vacation which means finding opportunities to do workouts on the road. No bikes. No rollerskis. No closet of pain. There is a fitness club at the hotel. There are some running routes. There is the beach. And the Gulf of Mexico.

I’ve been doing some ocean swimming to mix things up and to give my foot a rest. I find swimming to be painfully slow and monotonous. Stroke, splash, breathe, stroke, splash, breathe. Repeat about a thousand times, stopping every few minutes to clean the fog from my anti-fog goggles.

The visibility in the water off Lido Breach is pretty good especially compared to New England waters There are lots of fish swimming around. Today I passed through a school of Jack Crevalle, their flanks glistening silver in the sun on either side of me as they darted by. It was pretty cool. Every so often I’d catch something sinister out of the corner of my eye but the feared sea monster tentacle would only turn out to be an old mooring rope or my stroke arm refracted by my goggles.

I swim about a half hour down the beach, turn around, then swim back. Today I swam a little too far, almost to the point of Lido Key and the outgoing tide started to pull hard. I was warned away by a fly fisherman who insinuated he would be fishing me out if I continued any further.

So I turned back and fought the current. I swam hard. I barely made any progress up the beach. I had flashbacks to surfing at Chun’s Reef on my honeymoon and getting pulled out to sea and paddling furiously but going nowhere. In both cases I eventually found the path across the current. Today was a much easier situation since I was close enough to shore I could have walked.

After the swim, I did my core strength exercises on the beach. My wife said it was “admirable”. Or maybe she said, “Abnormal.”

Bike Fit

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I’ve been perfecting my position on the bike for over 25 years.  Sadly, I’m not quite there yet.

My position has changed substantially over time.  Some of it was due to fashion. When I started, upright positions were more common.  There was a phase of long, low stems.  Aerodynamic influences.  Power back saddle positions. The ‘spinaci‘ bars goofed up everything for a while until they were banned.  Everybody wants to look like the Euro racer with the stem slammed down and a flat, aggressive back.  Except that the old guys can handle that with their backs.

Some of it was due to equipment.  I had to work with whatever the sponsors provided, whether it was a “custom” bike from Richard Sachs (his geometry, my measurements) or a stock frame from Milano, Aegis or Colnago.  Some fit better than others.  I’m sure there is a made-to-order solution that would be ideal for me, but I just haven’t found it yet.  The transition from quill stems to threadless systems made adjusting stem height more complicated.

Then there was drift over time.  Saddles would slip backwards. Seatposts would creep down.  Cleats would drift.  Equipment would break and you could never quite get it adjusted the same way, even with all the markings and measurements.  I marked and measured everything, but could never effectively recover or transfer those measurements to a new ride.

Today, there are all sort of fit systems and calculation methods.  Some use power meters to identify the most efficient positions.  Some use aerodynamics.  Others body measurements and complex formulas born of European cobblestones and gypsy black magic.  I haven’t tried any of these because I believe, erroneously, I’m sure, that no formula or individual can do better than me for my own fit.

Recently, I’ve raised my saddle height — almost a full centimeter — and brought the seat further forward.  At some point I had cranked it all the way back.  I vaguely recollect some IT band issues.  I couldn’t adjust the height because my post had seized up in the frame.  The new position is a remarkable difference — it always is, even minor changes of millimeters — at first.  But that will pass with time and then no longer feel right.  Issues will start up.  A pain in the side of the knee.  Something in the wrists or back.  And then it will start all over again.

Recovery Ride

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I did an easy recovery ride on the bike the day after my two running races.  I needed to spin my legs out and take the weight off my feet.  My heels hurt and I bruised the nail beds in my toes. I’m definitely going to lose one of the nails.  Not pretty.  Which reminds me of Laurens Ten Dam.  This guy isn’t winning any beauty contests, but when he goes, he doesn’t hold anything back.  The picture above is Ten Dam at the Tour de Suisse, leading the peloton up the final climb of stage 3.  That string of drool forming at his mouth would eventually stretch out to be a few feet long.  Even Paul and Bob had to admire it.

In last year’s Tour de France, I watched Ten Dam’s horrific mountainside face plant on TV.  He rode to the finish with what very well may have been an old sweat sock tied around his face.   He finished stage and the race.  He suffered for it. But he finished.