Tuesday, August 30, 2011

40 miles in 3:56

Have you ever eaten a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwhich while breathing through your mouth? I did, today. I'll explain in a minute.

First, I should report that it looks like I've beaten the 10mph jinx. I averaged better than 10 mph for 40 miles, today, pit stops included. I've never done that before.

Specifically, I started at 7:25 am, finished the first 20-mile loop at 9:20, took an 8-minute break, started the loop again at 9:28 and finished it at 11:21. That's 40 miles in three hours fifty-six minutes, break included. I haven't done the math, but since it's clearly better than 10 mph, I'm not going to bother.

Now for the peanut butter.

The plan was to start the second lap no more than two hours later than I had started the first. That would ensure that I only had to maintain the pace that I had set, in order to finish the 40 miles in 4 hours. If I could ride the first 20 miles in two hours including time spent resting, then I wouldn't have to ride any faster than that during the second 20 miles. But every minute I delayed starting the second lap would be a minute I would have to make up during the second lap. And I had just learned last Saturday that it's very hard to make up time.

Now, I had packed a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, that I was going to eat during the halfway break. But I hadn't planned on giving a video mini-interview while eating it.

You see, there was a photographer from the Oregonian waiting for me when I finished the first loop. He had originally planned to show up before I started the ride, but called me a little after 7 this morning to say he had been held up. So I agreed to meet him -- briefly -- during my rest break. So there he was, and I had to eat my sandwich because I needed fuel and I needed to get back on my bike in five minutes. But he asked me if I would say on camera why I had chosen the bicycle over some other form of exercise. I felt it would be rude to refuse him, so I agreed, and he promptly pointed out that I couldn't do it with my mouth full of food. So I put the sandwich aside and spoke some inane blather into his Iphone, but messed up so bad he asked if he could have a second take, so I complied. (More blather.) Anyway, I had only time for two bites of my sandwich. I put the remains back in the paper bag and stuffed it into my pocket and climbed on my bike. When I re-set my stopwatch and odometer to zero, it was 9:28. I was three minutes late. Three minutes to make up!

So that's how come I was eating a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich while breathing through my mouth, because several miles into my second lap, struggling to make up time, I recognized a sensation that I ascribed to low fuel. I had to eat! And I was breathing too hard to keep my mouth closed.

So there you have it.

The fueling was successful. A bite or two every two or three miles saw me through. Interestingly, my legs felt strongest about 25 to 30 miles into the ride. At around 35 miles, they were feeling tired. How much further I could have gone at that pace, I couldn't say. I'm sure there's better fuel out there than peanut-butter and jelly, too.

My knees felt good most of the way. But not my butt. For the final 10 miles, the saddle felt as though it was carved out of rock. (It actually is very well padded.) My next ride, Saturday, will find me wearing the chamois liners again. The last time I wore them, they were too hot, but the weather's changing.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ready for tomorrow!

One of the many things I'm grateful for is the opportunity, ability, and willingness to take naps. I've had a nap every afternoon for the past four afternoons, and I think it's why I feel so fully recovered and ready to go. (By "ability" I mean the ability to actually go to sleep during a nap. I'm getting quite skilled at that!)

Decades ago, it seemed to be almost universally believed that "old folks don't need as much sleep." I don't know where that came from, but I think it's got something to do with why old folks used to be so much older than they are now. (Well, you know what I mean.)

Tomorrow I plan to take the 20-mile loop twice. I'll take a break after the first lap, but I want to start the second one no later than two hours after starting the first, so that as I begin the second, I'm simply maintaining a 10mph average. The second loop I hope to ride hard.

The 10mph standard really helps from the standpoint of pacing myself. When I'm ready to go, I set both the stopwatch function of my wristwatch and the trip odometer on my bicycle to zero. For every mile I ride, my stopwatch should add 6 minutes or less to the elapsed time. At 30 minutes, I should have ridden at least 5 miles. At 5 miles, the stopwatch should read less than 30 minutes. Simple to see whether I'm falling behind.

But I must remember to write down the time of day at the beginning of the first lap, because that's how I'll know when it's time to start the second lap. (If I start the first lap at 7:12, I've got to start the second one by 9:12.)

Before starting the second lap, I'll re-set my stopwatch and odometer to zero.

My bad knee's been worrying me. I strained it ten days ago, walking the bike down the switchbacks on the Banks-Vernonia trail. Not bad, but enough to feel it. The last couple of days, it complained whenever I went up the stairs. (Usually, if it's cranky at all, it complains when I'm going down stairs.) Stretching, icing, ibuprofen, arnica, and percussion-massager all have helped a little, but today I tried working on my IT band with a foam roller. That seems to have helped the most. Tomorrow, I've got to be sure I don't put any unnecessary strain on it. Lowest gear possible at all times!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pit Stops can be Costly! (10.55 mph vs 9.73mph)

I've got plenty left to learn. Pit stops, you might say, are the pitts!

I rode 3 loops, this morning, for a total of 33.4 miles, and averaged 10.55 mph not counting time spent at pit stops, and 9.73 if you count them. Here's the breakdown:

I started at 7:02am and ended at 10:26 (3hrs 26 min); timed by my wristwatch

The individual loops, I timed with a stopwatch:
19.9 mi @ 112 minutes = 10.66 mph
6.7 mi @ 38 minutes = 10.55 mph
6.8 mi (sic) @ 42 minutes = 9.71 mph

Combining these figures, we get:
33.4 mi total
@ 192 minutes actual riding time = 10.44 mph;
@ 206 minutes elapsed time = 9.73 mph.

Translation: The time off the bike -- a total of 14 minutes -- was far too long. It's been half a century since I did any algebra, so I can't tell you right now how much I would need to reduce that 14 minutes to, but I hope to get back to you on that. Meanwhile, it's clear that 14 minutes is too long.

Which leaves the question of the third leg. Why did I drop from the 10.55 mph I had just logged to 9.71 mph on this leg? To put it bluntly: I was loafing. Realizing I had maintained a better-than-10-mph average up until that point, I simply thought I could afford to coast. Yes, there was an excruciatingly long red light at one intersection; and yes, I decided to stop and replenish the water in my sports bottle from a spare in my saddlebag. But mostly, I was loafing.

I think I had the stamina to maintain the pace I had set just previously. I just didn't try.

Three or four miles from the finish, I realized my mistake, so I started pouring on the steam. The good news is that I had steam to pour on. It wasn't enough to enable me to catch up, but I still felt pretty strong. I don't think my poor showing today was lack of conditioning. I think it was lack of skill. (Or smarts.)

Recovery note: After cooling down for half an hour, tanking up on carbs, fluids, and proteins, and getting a shower, I crashed for a good nap, slept soundly, and woke up stiff as a cadaver. But an hour later, the stiffness had worn off, and as I write this I'm feeling none the worse for wear.

The plan: Next Tuesday, ride two 20-mile loops, with one pit stop. Limit my time in the pit, and don't loaf on the second loop.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Five weeks to go. NO pressure!

When Casey Parks of the Orgonian intereviewed me a couple of weeks ago, she told me her editor had voiced some concern that
I might feel too much pressure as a result of the publicity. I told her I didn't think I would, because I believed I was doing it more out of a sense of curiosity than out of a need to prove anything: I really just wanted to see if I could do it. That, and the conviction that I would feel better physically as a result of the continuous workouts. The 80-80-8 was not so much a goal as a mnemonic; something to help me focus.

Last week, though, I felt some pressure from time to time, as I recognized the inflexibility of the deadline, and the lack of progress I was making. For all my rationalizations, I knew I would feel a lot better of I met the goal (okay, I said it wasn't a goal; so sue me!) than if I didn't. A couple of nights I didn't sleep too well, thinking about it. Especially the nights before the Banks-Vernonia ride, and before yesterday's ride. Too much uncertainty about my performance.

But after yesterday's successful ride and the training plan that came out of, it, my confidence zoomed. Sure, lots can still go wrong between now and Sept 28, but for the first time the goal seems eminently within my reach.

I've learned so much in the past months, thanks largely to the incredibly valuable and generous suggestions and coaching from friends, family, and strangers. Thanks to them I realize the importance of -- and a good deal about the management of -- hydration, fueling, replenishment nourishment, rest and recovery, and pacing, just to mention the areas that come to mind.

And from my own experience I have learned that every ride is different, and every part of every ride is different, so the whole time I'm riding I have to be tuned into my body at the same time as I am browsing through my data bank of experience. Yesterday, for instance, it took me ten miles -- about an hour -- to warm up; before that I didn't know whether I was going to have the stamina to finish strong. But after ten miles I began to feel like I was cruising -- like I could do it all day. When I stopped after 20.6 miles I felt a little tired, and when I climbed on my bike after my nine-minute rest, I felt a bit stiff, and anxious about the 7 or 8 miles that lay ahead of me. But 3 or 4 miles further in, I felt positively frisky. Remembering that Leslie had coached me to let it all hang out in the final stretch, I started pouring it on, and, to my surprise, felt stronger and stronger as I approached the finish line. At each stage of the ride, I compared my sensations to my earlier experiences, and acted accordingly.

So, going forward, I'm going to look at each ride as an exploration of a new experience. And that attitude, I believe, is going to keep the pressure at bay.

Yes, plenty can still go wrong, but lots will clearly go right. The odds, for the first time, feel like they are heavily in my favor.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Flatter is Better!

Success, today. I rode the flattest course that I could devise, and it paid off. I covered 29.1 miles in 2 hours and 53 minutes, for an average (finally!) of 10.09+ mph. And that included a nine-minute pit stop. That's by far my best pace to date.

It makes me much more confident about my birthday ride.

I did today's in two loops, one of 20.6 miles, the other 8.5. Both loops start and end at my home. If I were to ride the pair of them three times in succession, the distance would total 87.3, which is 7.3 miles longer than my goal. So I'm going to look for a way to shorten the 8.5 loop by a couple of miles. Say, to 6.4. The pair of loops would then total 27 miles (20.6 plus 6.4) which, when tripled, would make 81. And that's close enough.

Which brings me to my ultra-simple training plan.

I'll ride twice a week, and, by selecting loops of the right length, increase the total distance incrementally (never enough to be intimidating). The rides would look like this (rounding off the distances of to 20 and 7 for simplicity of illustration):

20+7+7=34 (this Saturday, Aug 27)
20+20=40 (Tu, Aug 30)
20+7+20=47 (Sat, Sep 3)
20+7+20+7=54 (Tu, Sep 6)
20+20+20=60 (Sat, Sep 10)
20+20+20+7=67 (Tu, Sep 13)
20+7+20+7+20=74 (Sat, Sep 17)
20+7+20+7+20+7=81 (Tu, Sep 20)

The goal would be to maintain an average pace of 10mph for the entire ride, including rest stops.

No ride is more than 7 miles longer than its predecessor. And I reach the target distance a week ahead of time. Which means that if I find that the pace is becoming too great to maintain, I can put in some additional rest days. For instance, I understand that fueling, pacing, and hydration issues change as distances increase, and if I don't manage them correctly, I may not be able to keep on schedule. And I've been told that I should avoid any strenuous activity during the final week before the big ride.

Anyway, that's the plan. And we know about mice and men.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Outhouses and Odometers

If it hadn't been for Len Punzel, I might never have ridden the Banks-Vernonia trail. Several friends and my son had urged me to check it out, but I was reluctant to just drive up there, unload my bike, and start pedalling, so last week I went up without my bike to see whether I could even find the "Trail Head" and parking lot in the village of Banks. I found it without too much trouble (missed a couple of turns) and, spotting the "Banks Bicycle Repair, & Rental" shop a stone's throw from the parking lot, decided to drop in and pick some local brains.

Len, the owner, was wrestling with a recalcitrant tire liner, but when I came in he dropped it and gave me his full attention. "I could use a break," he said, and soon we were deeply into conversation about the trail. He fetched me a map, described many of the salient features, and generally brought a human element to something that until then had not come to life for me. He also regaled me with some tales of his rock-climbing adventures from years past. By the time I left, I was sure I would be back to ride the trail.

Next time I ride it, I want to take some more pictures, now that I'm getting the hang of illustrating my blogs with photos. I especially want a shot of one of the outhouses. They're designated "restrooms" on the map, but they are really outhouses, or privys. And I've never seen anything quite like them. I rode past a couple of them without knowing what they were. Their strange shape is a result of their having been built to let you bring your bicycle in with you. Nice touch.

But it may be a while before I get back, because I think I need to find a different route to ride on my Big Day, and I only have a little over five weeks to go. I'm looking for the flattest routes possible. (I thought of searching for a highway somewhere that had a slight downward grade for 80 straight miles, but decided that would be cheating.) I've tentatively laid out two routes close to home. Both are loops; one about 20 miles in length, the other about 7. I hope to ride them soon, perhaps tomorrow, and check their lengths with my odometer.

Which brings me to a technical note. I think my odometer needs recalibrating. The other day, passing Milepost 5 on Baseline Road, I noticed that my odometer read exactly 6 miles. As I passed Milepost 7, my odometer read 7.9. Something to keep in mind.

Or not.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A day on the Banks-Vernonia Trail

I had a wonderful ride on the Banks-Vernonia Trail this morning. It's paved, well-kept, and shaded almost the entire length, with beautiful views of farmland on the rare open stretches. The shade was welcome, today, especially at midday, when the temperature soared to ninety or above. I did the entire 43-mile round-trip in complete comfort, hardly breaking a sweat.

I took a break on the banks of the Vernonia Lake, at the end of the trail, and got to talking to a group of three cyclists who had also come from Banks. One of the three, a man in his sixties or seventies -- I couldn't tell, what with his helmet and sunglasses -- was joking about being able to best his two younger companions in his cycling exploits. He has ridden 2000 miles so far this year -- counting today's ride -- and has set a goal of 3000 before the year's end. I congratulated him, and told him of my goal of 80-80-8. Instantly, I had a new fan club, a veritable cheering section. As they resumed their ride, the old guy said to me, "I want to be like you when I grow up!" I think it's the nicest thing I've ever heard.

With such nice feelings associated with it, it's a shame that I can't make the Banks-Vernonia trail the route for my birthday ride. But the terrain just doesn't lend itself.

It starts out fine. As you leave the trailhead at Banks, the first five miles are flat, and then the grade begins to increase, and for the next 6 or 7 miles it's a steady pull. I did it in 2nd gear, and tried to pace myself, keeping in mind that I had more than 30 miles ahead of me. When my odometer read 11.8 miles, I had been riding for 104 minutes, which comes out to 6.8 mph. Which would have been okay, considering that I would be going downhill on the way back, because the return trip at 14 mph would have put me over the needed 10mph average.

But at this point the trail changes drastically. It is here that there used to be a long trestle spanning a deep valley with steep sides. The trestle is gone, and now you must take switchbacks down to the valley floor and back up the other side, with grades of up to 11%. If my notes are correct, it was only three-tenths of a mile from the start of descent into the valley to the top on the other side, but that .3 mile convinced me that this was not where I was going to succeed at 80-80-8.

A sign at the start of the descent reads, "steep grade -- walk bikes." I obeyed. I would not have felt comfortable riding down, and I simply couldn't have ridden up. Even if I had been riding a super-light ten-speed or 20-speed or whatever they have out there, I couldn't have done it. On my 38-lb three-speed, there was no point in even trying. I couldn't even walk my bike up without taking breaks and breathing hard.

At the top, before I'd climbed back on my bike, a stalwart young man rode up behind me. He'd pedaled the whole way. I congratulated him, and he said, "My wife's got the hard part. She's got the baby." And sure enough, 10 seconds later, a young woman hove into view, seated on her bike, towing a bugger with a toddler inside. She was breathing hard, but not panting, and never even took a break at the top, but kept on pedaling towards Vernonia. (The nerve!)

Well to summarize, from the start at Banks to the end at Vernonia, I averaged 7.9 mph. And coming back, my average was 9.8. Switchbacks and all. Which, it could be argued, with another six weeks or so to train, is within shooting distance of the target 10mph. Except for the fact that it's not counting the break of a half an hour or so that I took at the lake. And the fact that I'd have to do it twice.

So this trail is not where I can hope to do 80-80-8. But what a wonderful ride!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Banks-Vernonia Trail

I'm planning to ride a nearby 21-mile trail -- http://www.oregonstateparks.org/images/pdf/bv.pdf -- known as the "Banks Vernonia Trail" tomorrow. I'll ride it from one end to the other and back again. The idea is that if I like it, I'll simply do that twice on my birthday.

If the terrain checks out as expected, it will be basically uphill going out, and downhill coming back. Everything but one brief dip is less than 5 degrees. The dip, apparently a fraction of a mile, includes portions that are 11 degrees. This occurs about 12 miles from the start.

To train, I propose riding it once a week every week until my birthday. The first week I'd ride one "loop" (all the way out and back) and then a partial loop of, say, 5 miles. More if I feel like it. The second week I'd stretch that second loop to the 12-mile spot where the steep portion is. The third week I'd go the entire way, not pushing myself, but timing myself, ending up going a total of 84 miles. The fourth week I'd do the same, working consciously to save myself for the second half. By this time I should have the feel of the trail enough to be able to gauge my effort somewhat. I would go as fast as I could on the final lap.

That would leave me two or three more weeks to simply ride it again and see how I do.

What I like about this plan is that it would simplify my training routine, which has become a bit of a bother, recently, especially since I don't know what I'm doing. I've been spending a lot of time analyzing different strategies. Riding once a week is simple. Besides -- and this is important -- I seem to do best with long, long recovery periods. So I could pretty well count on being rested for each ride. Which definitely has not been a constant in recent weeks.

The trail is reputed to be clogged with kids, bikes, pedestrians, and horses on weekends, so my rides should be during the week. (Tomorrow is an exception, but (a) I'm going to start early, before the crowd; (b) I'm only doing one loop; and (c) if I run into congestion it won't matter much, because I'm making no attempt to time myself.) After tomorrow's ride, I'd plan to ride during a weekday, preferably Wednesday.

Besides the long ride, I'd plan to get on my bike once or twice a week for short and leisurely rides, just to keep things moving.

This plan looks very attractive to me at this point. Criticism would be much appreciated.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I'm busy resting

This sitting around is not my cup of tea. It makes me feel like a slacker. Makes me irritable. But I think I'm going to tough it out. I collapsed for an hour's nap at noon. More like a coma. The nap helped, but I still don't feel like moving around. Rather sit than stand. So I can hardly consider myself recovered.

I'll stay busy with things that don't tax me physically today and tomorrow, and plan to ride Saturday.

I'm looking at a new route. Should be fun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The bad fall that didn't happen

I almost had a bad fall, yesterday. It happened 13.2 miles into my timed course, at a spot where I normally stop to drink, snack, and log my mileage and time. It would have been an embarassing fall. The kind associated with old folks. In fact I even feel embarassed that it almost happened. But I feel duty-bound to report it.

It happened during that stretch of yesterday's ride that forced me to come to grips with the fact that I was not going to beat my previous time. For five miles or so I had been hoping to get a resurgence of energy, but it wasn't happening, and I was feeling bad about it. I pulled into a spacious parking lot in front of a mini strip mall and braked as I came alongside a tiny abandoned shack that looks as though it had once been a drive-up coffee stall. I usually stop right here because it's out of the traffic pattern.

As I approached, I was concentrating on making this as brief a stop as possible: Grab my half-finished bottle of Muscle Milk, swill it down, chase it with water. Grab my map, fish my pencil out of my pocket, note the time, stow everything, and get going. Quickly, now, quickly! Distracted by my sense of urgency, I squeezed the brakes too hard and came to an abrupt stop. Firmly seated on the saddle.

I never do that. I always (in this order) brake until almost stopped, and, with the right pedal all the way down and my foot on it, slide forward off the saddle and reach out with my left foot and put it on the ground as I stop. Always. Except this time I didn't. In my eagerness to save time, I squeezed the brakes too hard, and stopped dead while still perched on the saddle, both feet on the pedals. And promptly started to fall over to my left.

The next split-second went very fast. First, I realized that the tiny building to my left had a mini concrete curb around it. I was parallel to it, only about 15 inches away. Too close. As I fell, I reached out my left foot, the one I always put down, but I couldn't place it as I always do, because I was still seated, so the pavement was farther down than usual. I needed to reach out further to the left, in order to compensate, but I couldn't, because the curb was there. So I had to put my foot on top of the curb instead of on the pavement, which meant I had to lift it up, and place it at an angle slightly different than if there had been no curb there.

I think I could have done it right if I had been younger. I might have even done it right yesterday, if I hadn't been so tired. As it was, when my foot came down on the curb it was a half-inch or so too close to me, my center of gravity was still too far to the left, and I was still falling. Luckily, I had just enough strength and time to give a little half-hop, lifting the foot back up off the curb even as I continued to fall, and moving it out further to the left before momentum brought it down for good. It worked. It caught me.

When one reads about some of the crashes survived by cyclists, this seems hardly to measure up to the "bad fall" label I gave it in my first sentence. But in the context of cycling for the elderly, and specifically for the elderly with only moderate experience, it seemed to me bad enough to call "bad". It would have been a painful spill, even if I had only fallen up against the wall of the little coffee hut. Even if I hadn't ended up tangled in the bike. Not only do bones get brittle as you age. Connective tissue is less pliable. Muscles are less quick respond in their roles as shock absorbers. Ouch.

I read somewhere recently where some old guy said he wasn't going to bust a gut trying to ride faster and longer because it wasn't smart. It wasn't safe, he argued. Yes, that was me. Now when do I start following my own advice?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Today's time was worse, even, than last Saturday's. Two hrs 11 minutes for the 20.8 miles that I've been timing. Saturday I rode it in 2:08.

About 3 miles into the timed course I felt I would surely beat Saturday's time, and maybe even hit that elustive 10mph average. The hills during those first three miles are the toughest in the whole course, and I took them so easily I got cocky. After I crested the hill and started down, I noticed that I was up to 22mph and still pedaling.

That's significant. I don't remember ever having done that, before. Usually while coasting down a hill, I've had to stop pedaling around 20mph because I couldn't pedal fast enough to feel resistance, and my feet would come off the pedals. So this -- pedaling at 22mph -- made me feel that my skills and coordination were improving. And it must have meant that I was riding faster.

But three or four miles later, during the relatively flat stretch, I started running out of steam, and although I drank my Muscle Milk and kept pushing Gator Ade and water, I never fully recovered that feeling of strength I had had at the beginning.

My friend Leslie had coached me to hold back at the start, and turn it on at the end. And I should have. But I just didn't quite know how to hold back on the first three hilly miles. And once I discovered I could keep my feet on the pedals at 22mph, I couldn't resist seeing how fast I could go on the downhill stretch. Yeah, I was immature. I lacked self-control. No two ways about it.

And my logs indicate that I was, indeed, riding faster for those first 5.6 miles than I had three days ago. On Saturday I had covered the distance in 37 minutes. Today, I did it in 35. So bad strategy was probably at least partly to blame for my poor showing.

I also think insufficient recovery time should come in for part of the blame. I felt good, this morning, as I started on my warm-up run, but I didn't feel eager. I think another day of rest would have made a difference. After all, Saturday's ride was after three days rest. Today's was after only two.

When am I going to grow up?

So what now? Only one thing seems certain: I would be foolhardy to test myself again without three days' rest.

Thank you, all for the comments you took the trouble to write in the past few days. I really appreciate them, and hope you'll keep them coming. I would especially appreciate any opinions you might have about my analysis of today's poor showing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Going for 10mph -- again.

Yesterday ended a lot brighter than it began. By noon I had more energy and less stiffness, and things kept improving as the day went on. Maybe it was the relaxing lunch at Elmer's and the gabfest on the patio back home with our son and his wife. Anyway, by bedtime I was feeling very good about my recovery.

And by this morning, after a good night's sleep, I had made up my mind. My legs still feel a bit stiff, as though they could stand a little more rest, but overall I feel full of life and eager to get "Back in the Saddle Again," as that old Gene Autry song went. So I will ride, tomorrow, taking the same route as my previous two rides, trying again to hit that elusive 10mph average for the final 20.8 miles.

If I succeed, it will not be from trying harder. I feel that point is important. At my age I believe "trying harder" is silly, if not dangerous. As I approach my physical limits, my control of my bike falters, and I become more accident-prone. As I gasp for breath, I wonder whether I am inviting cardiovascular malfunction -- so I avoid exertion that causes gasping. No, I'm not going to try any harder tomorrow. I'm just going to see whether my muscles have grown any stronger, and whether my endurance has improved, so that without trying harder, I'm still going faster.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Not quite crippled

I don't think anyone seeing me moving around this morning would be surprised that I'm almost 80. I'm not in pain, but ... well, if you can imagine the opposite of an endorphin high, that's it. So this is what taking 6 minutes off a 20.9 mile ride costs me? Enough to give one pause, in more ways than one.

Of course the recovery time may not be commensurate with the intensity of today's miseries. I'm learning how unpredictable my body can be. Perhaps I'll wake up Tuesday morning and be raring to go. In which case I can try once again to reach the 10mph mark on the same course.

I ran across in interesting story in this morning's New York Times (travel section) by Bruce Weber, a guy who's riding across the country from Astoria (OR) to Manhattan. He's 57 years old, and is planning to average 50 miles a day for the trip, blogging as he goes. You can check it out at http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/category/life-is-a-wheel/ He had just marked his 500th mile from Astoria when he wrote today's story. In spite of the difference in our ages, and the radically different paths we're taking, I found that I could identify with him. I hope to find the time follow his blog from now on.

In today's story, he writes of the task -- and its importance -- of chosing his route. His task is more difficult than mine, by far. But for the sake of helping anyone reading this with little experience to get out there and ride, I'll describe my route-design process.

It begins with one of the wonderful bicycle maps that are printed in this area. The most ubiquitous is "Bike There," published by www.oregonmetro.gov, but there are countless others, and they all share the marvelous practice of color-coding the local roads, identifying those that have bike lanes, and separating the remaining into high traffic, low traffic, and "caution areas." Bicycle trails are also mapped, in yet another color. I've found these maps in bicycle shops and libraries, some for sale, and some free. I couldn't live without them.

My planning starts with making half a dozen photocopies of the section of the map that shows the area in which I'm going to ride. I take one of these photocopies with me, with a tentative route marked with a highlighter, and on the way I stop to write down the mileage at major intersections, corners, and rest stops. When I come home I make notes in the margins and file them in a binder. These become a resource for me when planning new routes.

I can't imagine a metropolitan area more hospitable to cyclists. With the maps, the ubiquitous bike lanes, and generally gentle terrain, it's close to cycle utopia.

It's 10 am, now, and I'm moving better. I think I'll live.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Not 10mph -- yet

10:45 am: It doesn't look good. 20.9 miles in 2:08, or (roughly) 9.796875 mph. (But who's counting?)

But the good news is that right now, I feel great. Just had a quick egg-substitute crepe topped with yogurt, and a scoop of whey protein shaken up in skim milk. Now I'm going to ride out to REI, to see if someone can check over my bike, and then pick up some groceries.

3:00 pm: Still feeling good, but stiffness may be a problem, this time. My legs feel like they got a really good workout.

The ride to REI and back was 6.4 miles, and I took it easy, as a cool-down ride. (The bike guy at REI checked over my bike and found it sound and safe.) After a shower, I worked my legs over for 5 minutes with my electric percussion massager, and then we went out to Ihop for their low-cal Tilapia with broccoli ($9.79 ea.), the idea being to load up on protein. When getting out of the booth, I realized sitting there had given my muscles a chance to seize up. So back home I spent another 5 minutes with the massager.

All this is part of my effort to make my recovery from this ride as short as possible.

The timed part of the ride was interesting from a couple of standpoints. About two-thirds of the way through, I felt stronger and more energetic than I did during the first third. My legs felt tired and strong, tired and strong, in succession, throughout. So I can't tell, at any particular point, how much steam I've got left. When I got winded, I let up (except on the hills wherein I was already in low gear and still had a ways to go) and tried to be conscious of how much time it took to recover, partially or completely.

I don't see how I can make the 80-80-8 goal in less then seven weeks. Especially since I plan to rest for at least a full week before the Big Day. Just not enough time left to get in that kind of shape. Today, I only cut six minutes off last Tuesday's time. I think I need to find an alternate route (loop) that involves fewer challenging hills.

Idea: As soon as I'm recovered, repeat today's ride to see if I've gotten any stronger. But lay out a flatter ride of the same length, and tackle that one, the next time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Another day of rest

Yesterday I ended up taking a nap. I awoke somewhat refreshed, but when I got a phone call suggesting an appointment for this morning at 10 am, I accepted, forgetting entirely that my planned ride would keep me out until at least that late.

So I put today's ride off until tomorrow, and after I'd been up a couple of hours this morning I was glad I had, because I was still not as recovered as I had hoped to be. I did two of my three courses of core exercises anywat, but quit before the third. No nap, today, but no real exertion, either, and right now, 3:30, I'm definitely feeling lazy.

I'm quite certain I'll ride tomorrow morning, even if I'm not feeling entirely up to snuff. I'm still learning how to read my body, and maybe I'm mis-reading this lethargy. If I still feel lethargic tomorrow, I think I should see if I can shake it off with a bit of activity.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

9 am. Feeling really sluggish, in spite of good night's sleep. Pushed myself through the first round of my core exercises, but it didn't get me energized, so I'm skipping the next two rounds. I think I'd better take it easy, today, checking my vitality from time to time, and if I don't revive by tonight, consider putting Friday's ride off until Saturday.

For the past couple of decades, I've found that fatigue often doesn't kick in until the second day. I have to remind myself of that, and try to respect it.

And to remind myself that this whole project was not for the sake of showing off or meeting an artificial and arbitrary goal, but for trying to break out of the stereotypical mind-set that could condemn me to fragility, decrepitude and inactivity simply because I was turning 80. It's not about meeting a goal. It's about the collateral benefits.

Such as getting up from a low couch or chair. Getting in or out of a car. Going up and down stairs -- especially down! Getting my wallet out of my hip pocket while pulled up to a drive-in window. Stepping off a curb. Stepping down the two steps into my garage while holding something in both hands. Getting up at the end of a movie and walking out without having to stretch my legs and steady myself while people are waiting to get past me. That's just a partial list of the payoff, so far. All in just a few months. And I'm not even 80, yet.

Measured against all that, the goal of 80-80-8 seems insignificant, irrelevant, almost childish. Still, it sounds a lot better than 80-80-9 or, heaven forbid, 80-80-10.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not yet 10 mph.

Okay, here are the numbers for yesterday's ride: Overall distance of 27.2 miles in 3 hrs 25 min = 7.96 mph. Final 20.8 miles (after rest stop, and "pushing" myself moderately all the way) in 2 hrs 14 min = 9.31 mph. I felt like I'd had a really good workout when I was done, although I was in no sense exhausted. I even rode back out a few miles to do some shopping.

And today I feel pretty good. A little stiff, but plenty of energy, and we walked about 2 miles (r.t.) to get groceries this morning.
So if I take the same ride day after tomorrow, by which time I should be completely rested, it should give me some idea of whether I'm getting any stronger.

Riding the final 20.8 miles at 10mph or better would be important for my morale, and it's beginning to become clear to me how important morale is. If I'm meeting my goal, I'm elated. If it looks like I'm falling short, pleasure is transformed into work. I suddenly find myself laboring under an oppressive load. (This is a product of aging. A few decades ago, feeling as though I was falling short just made me try harder.)

It looks like I need to set goals that are reasonable, because if this stops being fun, I'm going to stop doing it. I'm going to assume that 10mph is a reasonable goal for the final 20.8 miles on Friday. If I can't keep up a 10 mph pace for 20 miles, how am I going to do it for 80 miles, seven weeks from now?

I have a couple of days to think it over.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Good workout today, but numbers not impressive.

Good workout, today, but it makes my goal of riding 80 miles in 8 hrs seem elusive. I warmed up for my usual 6.1 miles, took a half-hour break (shopping in Safeway) and then rode 20.8 miles in 2:14, or 134 min. I haven't done the arithmetic, but that's not close to the 10mph I have to maintain to go 80 in 8.

I pushed myself pretty hard, and tonight (10 hrs later) I feel like I've had quite a workout, so I probably will be stronger next time, but how strong can I get in the 7 weeks I have left?

Already starting to cheat, because I'm now thinking I should only count the time I'm riding, not the time I'm resting. That way, I could get in three or four leisurely rest stops between hard riding.

Maybe that should be my interim goal.

Tomorrow I have to work on my arithmetic. How many mph is 20.8 miles in 2:14? I think I'll get out my old slide rule.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Had it not been for Dawn (Conclusion) Plus 10mph!

The idea of an exercise routine designed to prevent injuries often sustained during the course of daily activities seemed like such a no-brainer when it first occurred to me that I wondered why it had not already been suggested by one of the scores of health providers I had seen over the years. But when I asked my primary care physician last year where I could find such a program, I drew a blank. It was as though he had never heard of such a thing. He had no answer for me that day, but promised to look into it, and called me soon afterwards tell me he had found a doctor of physical medicine who he thought might get me started.

It was several weeks before I could get in to see him -- let's call him Dr. H -- and when I did, I drew another blank. Medicare would only pay for treatment of an injury or illness, he said. It didn't pay for preventive procedures. What, he asked, was bothering me? With some misgivings, I said that my back had never been right since the Kettle Drum Incident, but I wasn't really there for that, I mostly wanted to develop an overall exercise program. Well, he said, let's start with your back -- and let's get an X-ray.

So I was off to the Imaging folks, who in due course produced pictures of my spine that showed I had a tethered spinal cord. Never heard of it? Neither had I. But Dr. H. said it was his responsibility as my physician to follow up on this finding, so I really should go down to see a certain neurologist at OHSU (Oregon Health Sciences University) in Portland (2-hr round trip travel time). Which I did, only to learn that my tethered spinal cord had nothing to do with my back pain, although in some patients it caused uncontrollable diarrhea, and had I experienced anything of the kind? Whan I told the neurologist I hadn't, he gave a good-natured shrug, and asked if there was anything else he could help me with.

Meanwhile, Dr. H had set me up with a physical therapist, Clay, who was teaching me exercises that focused on my back. I saw Clay once or twice a week, Dr. H once every four to six weeks. My back got a little better, but I was starting to have shooting pains in my hip that woke me at night. I continued to ask Dr. H. for a generalized conditioning program, but he continued to focus on narrow issues. He ordered an X-ray of my troublesome hip, but that came back showing excellent bone strength, at which point the subject of my hip was dropped, never to be resumed. He thought that some of my complaints could be neurological in nature, and said he would try to set me up with a therapist at OHSU in Portland who was really good with neurologically-based disorders. Meanwhile, I continued to do the exercises Clay had taught me for my back, and although I didn't recognize any immediate reduction in pain, I could tell that I was getting stronger. Most of the exercises were new to me, and they made good sense.

But finding a medically-based personal trainer, who could help me avoid injuries, seemed as unatainable as ever. And the reason seemed clear: neither maintenance nor prevention will be paid for by Medicare.

About this time, my wife Anne discovered the swimming pool at the Hillsboro Recreation Center at nearby Shute Park, and started using it regularly. One day she came back with a brochure promoting a "get fit" program for the public at large. An introductory price for a session with a personal trainer was part of the promotion. Maybe I could get a personal trainer to work in conjunction with Dr. H! When I told Dr. H., he said he thought it was a good idea. He sounded relieved. He also agreed to work with the personal trainer if she wanted help in tailoring a program for me. But he would still try to nail down the OHSU neurologically-based therapist, he said. (I never heard from him again.)

And that's how I met Dawn. She caught on instantlly to what I was after, tried out a dozen or more exercises on me, leaving me breathless in more ways than one, worked with me to reduce the dozens down to a workable ten (including a couple I retained from my recent therapy sessions with Clay), and asked me, as a part of her initial assessment, "Do you have any goals? Anything specific that you'd like to achieve?"

"Well, not really. One, I guess, but it's kind of silly."

"What's that?"

I told her that I thought it would be kind of neat if I were in good enough shape to ride 80 miles on my 80th birthday. "That's not silly at all," said Dawn, and suddenly it didn't seem silly to me, either.

That was about nine months after I had first started looking for a prophylactic exercise program, and, although I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, I had found what I had been looking for. I'm more confident every day that Dawn's exercises, combined with Clay's, are building the core strength that I had been seeking for injury avoidance, while the bicycling is providing the aerobics, and the endorphins, without which I probably would not have found the will and the energy to keep up with the exercises. And without the goal of 80-80, so heartily endorsed by Dawn, I certainly wouldn't have kept up the pace I've been maintaining. Thank you, Dawn!

This morning's ride was a great success. I cut 12 minutes off Wednesday's time from Safeway to my driveway. On Wednesday I clocked it at exactly 10 miles, and timed it at 72 minutes. Today, I did it in 60 minutes flat. Problem is, today my odometer read-out was only 9.8 miles. Am I cheating to say that I averaged 10mph for an hour? Well, I did it with a 17-lb six-pack of red wine in my saddlebags, so you could argue that I had a handicap. So I'm claiming 10mph!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Had it not been for Dawn

If it hadn't been for Dawn Sahnow, you wouldn't be reading this, and I wouldn't be planning to ride 80 miles on my 80th birthday.

Dawn is a personal trainer at the Hillsboro Community Aquatic and Recreation Center. She is a delight. She is irrepressible. And how I found her is a long story. Too long for this post, maybe. But it's a story I want to tell, because I believe it illustrates an aspect of growing old in America ... and the challenges faced by those who want to maximize their vitality in spite of their age. So if I don't have room to finish the story in this post, I'll continue it in another.

The story begins with an injury. To tell you the truth, I don't know which one. Take your pick: the nail I drove through my foot while cleaning out an old horse barn when I was a teen-ager; the foot that got run over during a prank in college; the shoulder I impacted when re-taking up skiing in my fifties. They, and similar minor mishaps, landed me in physical therapy, which was always effective but always disruptive to whatever routine I had going at the time.

Fast forward to January, 2010, when the Beaverton Chamber Symphony needed some kettle drums moved from the Valley Catholic School to the venue of its performance at Oak Hills. I was the only orchestra member with a van that wasn't in the shop, and while wrenching the seats out to make room for the kettle drums, I wrenched something in my back, so I was once again in physical therapy.

I was getting a little sick of it. Physical Therapy is marvelous, but after a few decades, it gets tiresome. Besides, this time my back was still hurting, even after I had used up the last of my prescribed physical therapy sessions. This got me to ruminating, which in turn put me touch with a couple of truths. First, I was hurting myself more and more easily, as I aged. (I remembered that one time that I had hurt my shoulder just by picking up a suitcase.) Second, I realized that most physical therapy exercises, no matter what the injury, shared a common component: they were designed to strengthen the muscles which, if they had been strong enough in the first place, would have prevented the injury.

Eureka! All I needed was a well-rounded exercise routine, and I'd save myself the pain, the down-time, and the inconvenience of repeated six-week courses of physical therapy. What could be simpler? Or so I thought.

Okay, sorry, but I'll have to leave it there for now. I have to pump up my tires for tomorrow's ride.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Comments" function playing tricks

The "Comments" function appeared to be malfunctioning, so I just posted notice that I'd try to get it fixed. But when that post was published, it had a "comments" form embedded below the post. I'm baffled. I'm going to bed. I don't know whether this post is going to have a "comments" form embedded or not. A domani.

If I didn't know better...

... I would plan to ride tomorrow. I feel positively frisky, today, and although my legs have just enough of a hint of stiffness to reassure me that yesterday wasn't a waste of time, I still feel like I could go out there and burn up the miles (relatively speaking).

But that's the way I felt last week. So I'm waiting until Saturday.

It's wierd. If I want to get in shape, I have to learn to goof off.

In many ways, getting in shape at my age seems to mean going against impulses that served me well in my youth. "Give it your all." "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." (Yeah, and look where that got Nietzsche!) "No one wants to be called a quitter." (That one had me by the throat.) "Do or die." "Don't be a slacker, dead-beat, malingerer, lazybones." "No pain, no gain." I got a million of 'em. And I'm trying to quiet their voices. Because they no longer help. They hinder.

Getting in shape at my age is harder than quitting smoking. It's harder the way as losing weight is harder, because you can't do it cold turkey. You have to monitor and moderate, to stay in touch with your body without giving in to it. Or, rather, giving in to it sometimes, but not always, and knowing when to do which.

"Hard" doesn't mean hard with a clenched jaw. It means living with uncertainty while still accepting responsibility for control. That kind of hard.

To manage those irrelevant exhortations from the past, I like to think of an Italian phrase I came across when reading accounts of British tourists from the early 1800's: "Fa Niente," the Italians loved to say. "Do nothing." The Brits were fascinated by their exaltation of the concept of doing nothing. As they were fascinated by their culture, their art, architecture, and, later, their cars...

Doing nothing obviously resulted in doing a lot.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Guess who forgot to pump up his tires?


I was doing a very leisurely warm-up this morning, babying my creaky knees, in fifty-eight degrees and sunshine, when, about 5 miles out, with my knees feeling better, I started up a familiar .3 mile-long climb on Evergreen. But I noticed I wasn't cruising up the hill as easily or as fast as I had expected to -- and that's when it hit me. I hadn't pumped up my tires since last Saturday, or maybe even before.

Darn! I had been looking forward to timing the ten-mile stretch that comes after my warm-up, and comparing it to the time I had set Saturday. Now it seemed pointless. The numbers wouldn't mean anything.

Anyway, I had my rest stop at Safeway, drank a Muscle Milk, bought an 8-pack of GatorAde, stowed it in my pannier, and set off for the final ten miles. It was 8:13. I felt in great shape, but pedaling was hard. The soft tires, I figured. So that's okay, it's an even better workout. Like a batter warming up with two or three bats. Ten miles and 72 minutes later, I was home, and eagerly went to my desk to check the numbers from last Saturday. I found that I had done it in -- 72 minutes.

So, no improvement in my time. What would I have done on fully inflated tires? We'll see on this coming Saturday... or Sunday. Maybe this morning's workout will show some results.

I had some scrambled eggs and then got back on my bike, because I needed to get a book at the library: Publishing a Blog with Blogger. (Blogger is the software I'm using to create this blog.) I wanted to find out more about the "Comments" feature.

I was really lucky, because with over a dozen books on Blogger spread around the Washington County library branches, all but one were out, and that one was on the shelf at the Hillsboro branch, just 1.5 miles away.

So I went and got it, and now have made it easier for readers to post comments! Previously the default settings made it necessary for a reader to sign in in order to post a comment. Now that's no longer necessary. Now, when you click "post comment," the "select profile" drop-down still appears, but there are two additional items there: "anonymous," and "name/url". Neither one of these choices require you to sign in. I don't know what the "url" option is for, but you can just ignore it. Hope to hear from you!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Blog maintenance

Whatever it was I was going to say in this post, I've forgotten. I've lost hours in a fruitless attempt to figure out how to respond to several useful and supportive comments I've received. Eventually I gave up, and settled on a different approach. I copied all the comments, and responded to each one in italics. Here are the results:

I'm probably not the best one to post advice on this. I've had down days and what I did was get on the bike and ride anyway. Kind of like say 'Oh no body, we aren't having any of that shit. Get on that bike right now!'. Most times my body just cooperated with my insanity.
Hard to anwer that one specifically, because there are down days and down days. I remember one day I tried that, and it worked. I sort of did that on Saturday, and I think it backfired.

Some days you're the hammer, some days the nail. This is the same no matter the age of the rider. I've had days where my legs just felt like jelly. You just 'spin and grin' and just do a fun ride.
Nice to know, from a guy who rides Centuries!

Do you do any upper body workouts? On off days you could try a little upper body stuff or even light yoga to keep things moving. Rest the legs, but keep the blood flowing.
Yes, I do. About 45 minutes' worth of core exercises. Fifteen minutes to go thru them all one time; I usually go thru them 3 times. If I'm tired, maybe only once. Real tired, maybe not at all. Depends on how badly I feel I need to recover.

I'm struggling to understand the "not about the gear" statement! Ha. For me sadly it's probably 50% gear, 50% athletic achievement. We had a guy in our ride group (sadly he moved away) and he said he'd walk into the bike shop, hold up his credit card and say "MAKE ME FASTER!".
It's like this: A faster bike isn't going to make me stronger, healthier, or more alert. And if my time and/or distance improve, how will I know how much to credit my conditining, and how much the bicycle? This is all about feeling better because I'm in better shape. I'm not racing -- as much as I admire those who do! The six months or so I've put in so far have made me feel a whole lot better... and the bike is the same as it was!

Hugh, are you wearing bike shorts with a chamois pad? With all the hours you are spending on the saddle, you might want to smear some chamois lotion on to protect those tender areas. I think most people apply the lotion to the skin where the body meets the friction areas.
Another friend urged the same bit: chamois pads. So I checked with the local Dick's Sporting Goods and find that there's a liner with chamois pads in it designed to wear under other pants, so I'm going to get me one to wear under my baggy cargoes!

... Hoping to get more proficient in blog maintenance in the near future. Meanwhile, tomorrow I'm back in the saddle, if all goes according to plan, with a 6-mile warm-up followed by a 10-mile "time trial." I'm feeling quite rested, and looking forward to a spaghetti dinner. Thanks for listening.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sheer Terror

I'm always taken aback when someone thinks I'm showing "determination and perseverance" in my pursuit of 80-80-8. The reality is that I'm driven by fear. Terror of encroaching decrepitude. Exercise is for me like a shaft of air to a buried miner. I embrace it with profound gratitude. It saves me from a fate worse than death. It saves me from the half-life of incapacitation. Of being dependent on others. Of lacking the strength or energy to pursue my passions.

True, today I confront its treachery. Having been seduced into riding hard on Saturday (seduced by the memory of the endorphins generated by the ride only two days earlier) I'm still dragged out, even after a nap (that makes three days in a row). Evidently riding hard requires far more recovery than I had allowed. So tomorrow I'm not going to ride, I'm going to get a massage. (Here I'm blessed by the availability of a really good masseuse who's often available within 24 hours of my call. How lucky can you get?) Then a ride on Wednesday. Hopefully by then I'll be rested enough to go all-out. And if all goes well, two days of recovery and another all-out on Saturday. Or Sunday. We'll see. Should prove interesting.

No, I don't ride/train with determination and perseverence. I owe any progress I make to curiosity and patience. Driven by fear.

And fueled by joy. During my six-mile warm-ups, especially, cruising along in the fresh morning air with the low sunlight on the wildflowers and tall grasses, commuters in their cars (and on their bicycles) whizzing past me ... sheer joy.