Sunday, March 31, 2013

Racing Nuptuals

Spring has finally arrived. Well, sorta. In theory, spring is supposed to bring thawing temperatures, birds, flowers, and a rebirth of annoying insects. All of that seems to be postponed this year. The only thing that you can actually depend on anymore is the start of race season!

The first weekend in April is my traditional "fine I'll do a race" kickoff. Since multisport temperatures are still waiting in the distant future, racing is limited to monosport activities such as running. On Saturday morning, I lined up for the Spring Forward 15k Run, brought to you by Fleet Feet and Yellow Jacket Racing. This race would normally happen on a Sunday, but apparently there's some sort of Pagan/ Christian holiday on Sunday this year forcing the RD to change from the norm.

Pre-Marital Bliss
Race time was 8:30 am. Note to future triathlon organizers: Take lessons from a well organized running race; you don't need to start at 7:00 in order to have a good event. You are allowed to start a little later, allow your athletes to get another hour of sleep on the weekend, and still have a good turnout. Rumor has it that more than 800 runners were scheduled to attack the distance. Some self-identified 'slow' runners were allowed to start early, at 7:45.

As this was my first race of the year, my body seems to have forgotten how to relax and enjoy the moment. I suffered from the ever-present desire to not eat. I tried to force some food down my gullet but that is never a winning battle. I tried to drink some calories and had a slight success. I did drink some water, which went down smoothly.

I arrived on race campus, which was located at the beautiful Mendon Ponds Park, at 8:10. I had 20 minutes to warm up, which I took advantage of to its fullest. For the Banter, warming up for a running race goes as follows.
  • Sit in car
  • Turn on heat
  • Make sure the heat is directed towards legs
  • Recline
  • Work up a nice sweat in the supine position
  • With t-minus 6 minutes on the clock, head over to the starting line
  • Hit the Men's room (pictured)
I knew exactly zero people in the race this year, which was about how many I was expecting. That fact gave me a chance mingle and meet new people. Race temperature was 33º. I saw a vast display of race garments represented in the group. It was hot stuff. There were running shorts that end 1 inch below the hips, running tights, booty shorts, Lululemon yoga pants, and various forms of lycra. Now, let me describe what the ladies were wearing...

So instead of using the extra 4 minutes I had left to chat, I stood like a clown ogling and drooling like a peepshow freak rubbing my gloved hands together trying to stay warm. Somewhere in this crowd, not far from me, was my new bride-to-be. I did not get to cuddle ahead of time.

At T-2 minutes, a man started making announcements on some sort of loudspeaker/ noise-making contraption. Most of the sounds emanating from this device were reminiscent of Charlie Brown's teacher. Abruptly, the crackle stopped and was replaced with a drawn-out "Gooooooooooooooooo!" We got the idea that we weren't welcomed here anymore and started running.

Delusions of Grandeur
I've done this race before. Several times, in fact. The first time was in 2010, and then again in 2011, and finally in 2012. Each and every year that I've raced here, I've gotten better. Last year, I ran just under a 1:07 holding an average of a 7:07 per mile pace.

I had no reason to believe that I wouldn't run that 'fast' this year. My training recently has been going quite well. Why- just on this recent Tuesday- I did an 8.3 miler with half mile repeats holding a 6:50 pace or better on each. Sure, I was a little sore from that effort but I felt that I could run through that. Plus, I've upped my cycling and swimming these past couple of weeks. Granted, I haven't done any actual hill work this season. But is hill work really that necessary, especially when given this hill profile?

So, I went into the race with the hope of going sub 1:06 and a plan of running 7 min miles. When I came across the first mile marker, my watch beeped in at 6:58.

The Courtship
After about a mile or so, the initial crowd starts to thin. Pace lines form and we are really nothing more than a pack of 2-legged lemmings. It was right around the 1.5 mile mark that my legs started to protest. I looked at my watch and saw why. My pace had increased to a 6:40. I still had 8 miles left to run and I was doubtful that I would be able to do this on my own. I needed support.

That's when I saw her. She was the 5'6 beauty wearing regular running shorts and a purple top. Her brunette colored ponytail swayed back and forth like a happy puppy chasing a ball. She was wisely wearing sunglasses. I held my distance for a short bit and marveled. She was running at the pace I wanted to hold.

I settled in next to her and did what every man should do when entering into a long-term relationship: I apologized. I have my watch set to beep every 0.25 miles. I find it comforting and a great aid while training. It forces me to check my pace and ensure that I'm not being overzealous or too pansy when working out. I know that it can be annoying to others but I simply didn't have the energy or focus to meander through the watch menus to turn it off. My fiance was tolerant of this incessant beeping and she told me so. Compromise is vital. We ran on.

The Wedding
The ceremony was short and sweet. It lasted about 35 seconds and it was clear that we were a perfect match for each other. Normally, I am uphill challenged but have a downhill skill. This means that I plod up while everyone else floats over the top. Then, I come screaming back down on the other side. Up until our hitching, I was pretty much the only one who practiced this technique. My new bride matched me step for step on both sides of the hill.

After the first big monster, we were officially bonded. Up and down we went attached at the running hip. We were on our honeymoon and refused to be separated. After the second big hill, I whispered sweet nothings in here ear such as, "Good hill." She lovingly responded, "<cough> Thanks."

My running bride kept the pace hot. We held a 6:48 for the third mile and I was about 20 seconds ahead of schedule if I wanted a sub-7 pace and 40 seconds ahead of schedule if I wanted a PR. My quads were on fire.

We settled back into a 7:00 mile pace but my stomach was starting to turn. There was a low rumbling sound that was audible over the pitter patter of a young couple running side by side. I'm confident my running wife heard it. This was probably her first sign that things weren't as hunky dory in our relationship. She surged up the next hill encouraged me to follow. I did my best. I was able to catch her again on the downhill but I could see the disappointment in her eyes.

The Divorce
I'm not sure who saw the warning signs first: me or her. I was becoming more labored. My breathing had intensified. My gaze had glossed over. Spittle was present on my chin. I was nothing more than the shell of a runner she once knew and loved. She did her best in the latter stages of our relationship. Over the next hill, she actually yelled "Come on."

I swear to you, I tried. I wanted to make it work. It was clear that we were drifting apart. First it was just a couple of steps. Then it was a couple of yards. She never looked back. I was wallowing in my own misery after our trial separation. She forged on ahead with her own life leaving me to figure out how to put myself back together. I decided that I needed to slow things down a bit. Way down. I walked for about 30 seconds to catch my breath. Then I started running again.

I saw her every once in a while. I would catch glimpses of her in the distance. She motored on while I was left behind with nothing but my aching legs, my lurching stomach, and my overt loneliness. I missed my PR by about 3 minutes and was able to finish with a 7:24 pace.

We met up later on for drinks. Just drinks, served in those tiny paper dixie cups. She was enjoying a snack and hanging out with her girlfriends. That's what women do after a relationship ends. I swallowed my anger at what could have been (meaning my lost PR). We exchanged pleasantries. She introduced me to her friends and told me a little bit about her up-and-coming plans (she's running Boston in a couple of weeks).

It seems like this is becoming a theme to me. My issue: bad pacing and over-zealousness in running. I recognize that I trained through this race but I absolutely hate it when I don't improve from the previous year. I've got some hill work to do. Some endurance work to do. One thing is very clear: I need to get counseling.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Crazy Find at the Store

I'm not sure about your area (I don't get around much) but not too far from my house is a store. It's got all sorts of crazy things. It's seriously wacky what this place sells. I'm not interested in listing them all as that would make for an incredibly long, boring post (Aside: Not that I'm opposed to long, boring posts as evidenced by most of this blog. It's just that I try to write original work. Copying someone else's list lacks in creativity. Not that I have any of that either. End Aside.) The store has, just to name a few index items: lipstick, shampoo, ice cream, chicken ova, chocolate, floor cleaning products, dead animals in various forms of mutilation, different kinds of poisons, feminine hygiene products, and an entire section dedicated to sugar meant to be eaten in the morning.

Over on the right side of the building (that would be the south side, since the front faces west), they take a bunch of food and just dump it on shelves. I have been witness to this phenomenon for several years now and am still trying to figure it out. They wheel the food from the back. It comes in boxes. Most of this food is not in any sort of packaging. Some employee, usually a teenager, puts the food directly on a different wooden box. Why they even bothered doing that work when they could have just set the original box on the shelf is beyond me.

It's sort of like walking into a thrift shop looking for bargain slacks. You never actually know what you are going to get in this section of the store and you really have to hunt for your items. (Unsurprisingly, the thrift shops around here have horrible supplies of triathlon-related apparel.) Up until recently, I haven't actually ventured into the section due to the seedy characters fluttering about. These people touch each and every item many times. They smell it or squeeze it. They can turn it over and look at it's back side. There is no expectation for them to wash their hands before or after handling these items (and you can probably assume that the teenager that placed the items didn't wash his either).

The food varies in size, shape and colors. Some of the items are smaller than the width of my pinky finger. Others are larger than my head (just for the record, I have a pretty small head). Some are round. Others are flat. Some are representatives of the entire plant. Others are only specific parts. I have been on the lookout for a perfectly square piece of food in this area but have failed miserably to find it.

There is one main commonality though- most of it came directly from plants. (Aside 2: I say most because people often confuse the fungi kingdom and the plant kingdom. Many people still think that there are 2 different kinds of organisms- plants and animals- despite the fact that there are actually 6 with animals being the least important in the grand scheme of things. End Aside 2.) The sellers just went out to the yard, cut a tree or part of one, and brought it in for us to buy. Some they pulled out of the ground and still have the dirt attached.

Here's the thing: you can eat that inexpensive, unplastic-laden food completely raw. No cooking necessary. No fancy recipes. I saw some of this exact same food at a restaurant last week. They combined several different items together and called it some wacky name. If I recall correctly, it was a 'salad'. And, for some reason, they charged $12 for a combination of food that would cost less than $5 and feed me several times over.

One of the major problems with food in this section is the lack of nutrition labels. None of the unpackaged food advertises its ingredients list, calorie count, or the all important number of grams of fat. In a nutshell, you really have no idea what you are getting. Machines haven't ripped the food apart and put it back together with other additives. How are we expected to put something in our system that hasn't been pre-digested? I don't think our bodies are ready for that.

Rumor has it that this food is actually quite nutritious. You might have to send it to an independent lab for analysis or simply look it up if you are curious (I've never been brave enough to check).

Anyway, about a month ago I finally developed the courage to actually purchase some of this food. It was insultingly cheap compared to the items found in the rest of the building. It felt like I was ripping them off and the girl at the checkout counter was not allowed to accept tips. (Aside 3: Either that or she was just creeped out by an ogre like me trying to offer her a couple of bucks. I've never been good with the ladies even while dangling cash. I'm not sure, but I might not be allowed back in that particular store until she leaves her position. End Aside 3.)
Yes, I paint my toes

To be honest, this food was actually quite tasty. I've been eating a lot of it lately. Further, I noticed an unexpected consequence: I've been losing weight. My scale (not that I believe anything it says) reports that I'm down 3 pounds in the past 3 weeks. I'm willing to accept that there might be some sort of coincidence here. I'm not one to apply causality to a correlation. But it does seem a little suspicious that my weight loss numbers were significantly better after I started eating more of this uncared for, dead, decaying organic matter just tossed out for anyone to take.

Anyway, I just thought I would share. It seems that many people don't know or under-use this section of the store. I admit that I was skeptical at first. Not only has my waistline gone down but my energy is up and so is my free cash, which I can now waste on non-thrift shop triathlon apparel.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How do you March Madness?

If you're anything like me, you're a disappointment to mankind bit of an overachiever and an expert multitasker. This means that you can do your job effectively, browse the internet on your regular computer, search Facebook on your phone, and have a conversation with 7 of your colleagues, all while composing an email to your boss.

All of that may be correct, until recently. Because this is March. And with March comes lousy weather (unless you live in, well, almost anywhere in the US for the early part of 2013, then it's business as usual). March also brings you a bunch of college kids who are skipping school for the chance to play in a basketball tournament. According to conservative estimates, there are approximately 8.4 million work hours wasted costing roughly $134 million. Most of that by me.

I'm not really sure why this happens. Most people don't watch much college hoops (compared to the popularity of the tourney). Maybe it's the action. This may be true as many of those kids have wicked good moves and can soar through the air with ease, as seen in this dunking photo (which may or may not have been from game action). Maybe it's the intensity. Or the win or go home drama. Or people watch to see the Cinderella story put a beat down on the Goliath of college hoops.

There's also a hypothesis that people watch for the commentary. The halftime game analyses are amongst the best, most articulate pieces of video journalism. Notice how the scribes capture the moment perfectly:

There are rumors out there that some people just aren't in to the whole March Madness thing. I find this to be a crock. My reasoning, there are other forms of March Madness that have absolutely nothing to do with basketball. There are lots of different ways to hold your attention without hoops, too many to list. Such as food.

Or drink:

Or you can get excited about your favorite inspirational historical figures (I wonder if Barkley was on the bracket?):

But, like I said, you might be a little like me (sorry if that's in anyway true). This bracket might actually appeal to you.

It seems that Lucas is still out of touch with the real world. Apparently, he doesn't know how to divide the bracket up into regions and seed the top characters. Still, I expect you to go online and vote

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Yellow Marks on My Record

I admit that I'm not a big fan of the color yellow.  I just don't appreciate it. There's just not a lot of good coming from the color yellow. Examples of yellow's evil:
  • It exposes people with bad oral hygiene, as seen on their teeth
  • As the main color of the sun, it burns my skin with minimal exposure
  • Should your skin become that color, called jaundice, it is a sign of illness
  • It completely clashes with my complexion (see most of the above) rendering it useless in my wardrobe
  • It can single-handedly destroy the Green Lantern
(Aside: The Wife once painted a room in canary. It was a sure fire way to keep me out of that room and yet more evidence of her genius. End Aside)

A Brief Understanding of Yellow
Situated dead smack in the middle of ROYGBV spectrum, yellow refused to take sides in the Color Wars. (Note: many people insert an 'I' for the color 'indigo', which is not a true color of the spectrum but rather an advertising gimmick for an 80's cult band who refuses to stop playing.)

The Color Wars were aggressive in the early days. Infrared and ultraviolet were assembling armies in their own Axis/ Allied-esque. Rumor has it that they weren't trying to hurt anyone, they just wanted to make themselves useful to mankind. We're still not sure why they wanted this. Historians are forever arguing about the motivations of this war since there were no women, money, land, or religion involved.

The Dark Side of the line amassed powerhouses like gamma rays, x-rays and UV light and were making their case. On their list of successes was the ability to kill germs, see right through skin, and provide super-human strength to mere mortals. That last claim was ultimately refuted as the test subject also demonstrated an increase in rage, decrease in intellectual capacity, and a change in skin tone. (Which, originally, the Colors were proud of as Green was a founding member of the team.)

The Light Side of the equation assembled the likes of radio waves, microwaves, and infrared who were defending their dissertation. They provided the ability to see at night, ways to cook food poorly but quickly, and send picture and sound streaming to various sized boxes. (This last one might have tipped the scales in their favor if it wasn't for the fact that it made people so lazy that they stopped caring about the outcome of the War.)

Yellow played the part of double agent. It's wavelength and frequency characteristics made it difficult for the other colors to eliminate it from the group. While the other Colors shot themselves at each other resulting in various forms of interference, yellow chose to rely on trickery and deceit to keep the war going. Eventually, yellow became known as the Loki of the Color Wars. Some colors, like mauve and chartreuse, died. (Humans tried to resurrect these colors later in life. But, like most extinct species, we fail to get them right and most people don't even understand those attempts at colors.)

Once the war was over, both sides tried to figure out what to do with the mischievous color. Everyone agreed that the color had some usefulness as a primary, but no one trusted it. Since they couldn't trust Yellow, they put it right in the middle of the spectrum where both groups could keep an eye on it. As a consequence, they decided that Yellow would henceforth be indicative of a warning. As danger.

Yellow as Danger
Since the war has ended, everyone has learned to be cautious around yellow. Take race car events: a yellow flag is called 'caution' and the race, for all intents and purposes, stops. Once the yellow is removed, the race continues. Green, on the other hand, means that all is well. (It was a proud moment for the team when that decision was made.)

Some up and coming sports, like soccer, use a yellow card punitively. Should a soccerer violate the rules, an official flashes a yellow card. The purpose is clear: Knock off your shenanigans. A second yellow card means removal from the game (commonly, the second yellow magically morphs into a red card, thus providing more fuel for the Dark side as victors.)

Even a real sport, like triathlon, uses the yellow card to impose penalties on athletes. Should some bloke come by on a motorcycle and wave a yellow card in your face, you can bet that you will have a time consequence or be required to serve a detention.

Stoplights use yellow as a warning that something even worse is about to happen. Green, a good color, allows for free travel. Red effectively halts forward traffic. Upon seeing yellow, most people are confused as to what action they should take. Some slam on their brakes. Others hit the accelerator. Yellow just watches and laughs at the idiocy.

Other Consequences of Yellow
It turns out that computer people are also aware of the Color Wars and the powerful meanings of the different hues. They don't have a firm grasp on who won the war so they arbitrarily assign colors for different meanings. Except for the blue screen of death (that all PC users will inevitably experience- score one for the light side), computers will always use yellow as a warning.

Here's an example:

Looking at the yellow blotches on my training log, it can only mean one thing: Danger. That, or I started swimming again. As a triathlete and a former swimmer, this should come as no surprise. As a pansy who hasn't been in the water for about half a year, I'm sore from the experience. Yellow strikes again.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

WTB- Heat

I'm considering starting a new program in which I exchange cash for heat. I'm confident that I could get enough people in my area to pony up and get a sizable donation, should there be any willing sellers. Ideally, we won't have to import even though India and Mexico have a history of an abundance of heat.

See, I hate winter. Or I think I hate winter. But, as of today, winter is officially over. The only issue is that winter didn't get the message.

In case you don't know, the actual start date of Spring coincides with the sun's venturing over the equator from a 6-month long vacation in the southern hemisphere. As of 7:02 am this morning (local time), the solar energy should be in our favor. I was tempted to walk outside in shorts and a t-shirt to celebrate the ascension of the occasion. Alas, I did not as we are still sporting January/ February type conditions with cold, snow, wind, and a bit of irritability.

A look at the forecast tells me this isn't bound to change in the very near future. Since the heat won't come to us, I'm taking matters into my own hands. I'm looking to buy some heat.

California. Texas. Arizona. I'm looking at you. Please send along a proposal with terms of service for roughly 5-10º F of spare energy. Florida- you need not apply. We already have all the moisture we need.

As it's clear that I'm kinda grumpy about our climate's decision to remain at the lower end of the reasonable expectations I need some cheering up. How about this?

Nothing like a B-rated horror film turned musical to put a smile on your face. The poster is quite unclear if Bruce makes an appearance.

Food is a sure fire way towards happiness. This dessert has it all. Dammit, I'm training and trying to lose weight. That idea's out.

Okay, I'm happy again. I'm still cold, but happy.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Relenting My Training

I'd like to think that I'm getting smarter as I get older. Or wiser. Or at least capable of using past experiences as a means to make better future decisions. Isn't that the entire point of history class anyway? (Serious question as I suck at history (among other things).)

Every year I have, what I think, is the world's most brilliant idea for Lent. I'm going to give up not working out for the duration of the Lenten season. I had that same idea this year. Thus far, I have not succeeded. Ever. I had every intention of stepping up my game and making it to the end.

Then, that damn flu hit me. Now, according to the rules, I am excused from working out due to illness. I was confirmed ill for 6 straight days. The illness actually started on March 3rd. I ego'd my way through the 4th. Then, it was full warfare for the rest of the week.

I started up again on the 11th. I did this for a couple of reasons:
  • I was feeling a little better
  • My nose had almost stopped running
  • The weather was such that I could wear shorts
  • I'm an idiot
Let's zoom in on bullet #4. This is the most pertinent point because I was clearly not over my invasion. It didn't matter. I followed up with a run on Tuesday and a ride on Wednesday. Both were quality workouts. It was quite clear to me, however, that I was starting to relapse into virus country.

Now, here's were things get sticky. I took the next 2 days off. I call this preventative maintenance. Working out can weaken your immune system temporarily. If I was already sick and potentially re-sicking, a weakened pathogen fighter would not be wise.

How did I come to this conclusion? Well, I still had some runniness (in the nose, not the legs). The most telltale symptoms were my pansiness and a splitting headache. Whereas I'm typically a perma-pansy, headaches are few and far between. (Okay, I'm quite certain that I cause a few but that's not the same thing.) If I have excruciating head pain, it's because I've either been walloped on the head with an iron pipe, been imbibing beyond my means or something else is wrong on the inside. Since I don't remember being hit on the head (not saying it didn't happen), I didn't have anything to drink (that may or may not be true- I black out at times), I'm going with something was not quite right in my head (which is a pretty safe bet at any time of the year).

Well, the Banter Lenten Oversight Committee is not as convinced as I am. They are reviewing my case and focusing on the 14-15th of March. I stopped by the delegation the other day just to listen in on the proceedings. Policy and Procedure forbid me to actually get involved in the discussion but there's nothing in the bylaws stating that I can't hear the arguments. It was an eye-opening experience. I rarely see and hear people so polarized by an exercise topic.

One one side of the debate, the "Banter is Awesome" faction was arguing that the days off actually fell within the posted guidelines. He was sick. He felt better. He got sick again. He felt better again.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the "Banter is a Failure" clan was citing that rarely do people get sick in that fashion. If he was good enough to workout, and the workouts were of high quality, then he was good enough to put forth a couple of easy efforts.

However, the Awesome blokes pointed out that I worked out for 2 days with illness. Therefore, the 2 days later on just balances out.

Still, the Failure group countered with the "inability to make up missed time" rule. They stated that you can't make up for lost time before the time was actually lost.

I listened to the presentations and rebuttals for about 6 hours. A consensus was not reached. They were at it again today. I'm hoping that they will eventually call the case to a vote but it doesn't seem to be near that level anytime soon. The Awesome group seems to be leaning in that direction but the Failure group keeps calling in expert witnesses from various fields including sports medicine, virologists, and calendar making.

Despite all of their efforts, of which I truly am grateful, I have made a decision. I am Relenting Lent. That is to say that I am starting this whole Lent thing over. That means that I am Re-Lenting.

Since the calendar shows that March 16th was the first day that I got back into things, this will mark the initial period of Lent- Part 2. If I adhere to the original tenants of the challenge, I will workout everyday between now and Wednesday, May 1st, which is 47 days from the spot of the foul.

So here we go again. I am stubborn enough not to admit defeat. Idiot enough to keep going. And motivated enough to actually make it work. Or try to make it work. Or try to try.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Going Viral

I'm still a little under the weather. After my week-long flu virus, I started working out again. However, it feels like I am getting the making of a cold. Nothing like getting over 1 virus in order to be invaded by another.

The problem with having a cold is that I'm pretty sure that I've had a cold before. The last time I remember having a cold was sometime in my youth. Perhaps back in the 70s.

One of the great aspects about being sick for so long (I'm working really hard at being an optimist with varying degrees of success) is that I got to sit around all day long without any obligation or guilt in not doing any chores. This is indeed good because, as we all know, doing chores might actually make you sicker.

So, if I wasn't training and I wasn't cleaning, what in the world was I doing? Well, I did spend a lot of time on the computer. Okay, this isn't much different than my ordinary life. It's, perhaps, my internet time that was the official cause of my illness.

Now, if it weren't for my browsing, I would have never come across this video. I normally don't appreciate fat, middle aged men dancing in speedos, but this guy's got game. If it hasn't already, I'm pretty sure it'll go viral any time now.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Who Infected Me?

It takes something big to keep me from exercising. Two or three days means something huge must have hit me. And, just like H.G. Wells hypothesized, most of the time the biggest obstacles are Mother Nature's smallest members. Worse, they don't even have to be alive. Let's try and figure out which bastard took me out for an entire week.

My Symptoms
A week ago Saturday, I had a great training day. On Sunday morning, I woke up to lethargy and the beginnings of a sore throat. I forced myself to go for a run. Oddly, it went well (I'm not much of a runner). I did some speed work and my legs felt great. By the time I returned from my cool down, my head was swimming. I had planned for a bike ride on the trainer. It never happened.

By Monday, the flood gates known as my schnoz had opened up full force. I was in disbelief that a human could manufacture so much mucus. For those of you who own stock in Proctor & Gamble, the company that makes Puff's brand facial tissue- you're welcome. I couldn't sleep through all of the snot and managed roughly 15 minutes of shut eye.

Tuesday morning I felt better. Therefore, I went to work. By 10:00, I was sliding downhill. By 2:00, my head was swimming in the goo (figuratively and literally). The body was getting achy. The headache had started. I took my temp after I got home: 101.0º. Advil and a decongestant and still no sleep.

I decided not to go to work on Wednesday. I hooked the Netflix up to the TV and watched such flicks as "Trailer Park Boys" (which, at the time I thought absolutely hysterical. Mind you, I had not slept for about 60 hours now).

Thursday I dragged myself to work knowing that I had a light schedule and could avoid the masses. In hindsight, this was a mistake. I stayed awake again that night regretting the decision.

On Friday, the headache had intensified. Mostly, I think, because I was still laughing at some of the movies I watched on Wednesday. I.E. I was becoming delusional.

By Saturday, I was coming out of my dementia. I had still not really slept, receiving roughly 4 broken hours the night before. How did I know I was getting better? I started to watch "Hot Tub Time Machine" and turned it off. Still, I did not move more than 15 feet from my sofa the entire day.

On Sunday, it was in the 50ºs outside and I forced myself to go for a bike ride. Had I known that time on the open road was my key to a cure, I would have done it sooner.

Bachelor #1- Small Pox
This is the small pox virus. Once this nasty little bugger gets inside of you, it marinades in the body for about 12 days. After the grace period, it decides to work its way out. Pustules filled with human tissue give the pox it's name.

Along with the pustules, one can expect a fever, muscle pain, headache, and respiratory problems. This bad boy may have been responsible for every know plague in the history of mankind, wiped out the Mayans, and given rise to what is commonly referred to as CrossFit.

Other common poxes include cowpox and monkeypox. (I only state that as I really like saying monkeypox. Otherwise, that factoid contributes absolutely nothing to this post.)

It is also noted that infected individuals are not interested in triathlon related activities.

Bachelor #2- Influenza
This sticky little devil is oft known by its abbreviated moniker of "The Flu". Most people associate the flu with stomach pains and vomiting. This is mostly untrue as that is the main result of reading this blog. The flu is the big, mean, older brother of the cold.

Shortly after this guy gets into the system, one can expect fever, headache, restlessness, sore throat, congestion, and an overwhelming desire to watch bad movies.

Apparently, there are several incarnations of this virus, including swine, bird, horse, and dog. As of this posting, monkeys are safe.

Bachelor #3- Ebola
As you can see, ebola gives the impression of being athletic. It's whip-like structure is lean and fast. In the beginning of it's tenure, one can expect to feel like you have the flu (see above). As life digresses, the digestive system gets into the mix by refusing to accept any new nutrition and violently expelling existing debris. (It's almost the exact same phenomena one can expect when experimenting with new nutrition ideas on race day.)

As time progresses, the nervous system joins the game by giving you agitation, confusion, fatigue, and possibly coma. Again, this is not much different that the average Ironman competition or training weekend.

This virus was pretty much the main character in "The Hot Zone", which also featured monkeys.

And the Winner is...

I was going with smallpox for a while. As it turned out, my pustules were actually a couple of zits that had formed on my nose (due to all of that rubbing and blowing) and forehead (cause uncertain at this time so not completely ruling out this virus). Further, the last know natural smallpox incident happened in 1977.

I had considered ebola for a while. However, I never got any digestive problems. In fact, quite the opposite. My hunger never subsided. I laid/ moped around for 6 days on no exercise and a full appetite. You'd think that watching the movies alone was enough to make me vomit. Nope. The gastric juices flowed and stayed firmly in their designated areas while I engluttoned myself shamelessly.

Influenza was the only one that fit the bill. I had pretty much everything on the list. Plus, it's the only virus to stay simian free. I can't imagine harboring a pathogen that would knowingly infect and harm any of those poor, cute, defenseless monkeys.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

WW- The Real Cyclocross

If you have read my last 2 posts (Part 1 and Part 2), it seems a bit apropos to give you some education. See, the Banter-In-Law and I, while riding on cyclocross bikes, came nowhere near experiencing cyclocrossing. We were riding non-suspension ten speeds on a single track mountain bike trail. I, at least, did so rather poorly.

I was indeed curious about the sport. Therefore, I did some research. Like most modern day researchers, I did not venture further than my keyboard. As it turns out, Cyclocross is a subset of USA Cycling, the governing body off all sports involving a bicycle (except for triathlon, duathlon, aquabike, cyclorow, or anything else actually fun). To add legitimacy, they have even published their own magazine.

Apparently, cyclocross races are very competitive. Many races are short (less than 60 minutes), intense, multiple laps, and include obstacles. Obstacles such as mud, which in my experience is next to impossible to bike through.

Okay, I get that if you are out on a mountain bike trail that you might encounter some mud. Fine. But stairs?

Or hurdles?

Further, I learned that my system of pedaling for a short while and falling off the bike is more the norm than the oddity.

Especially when they put a big pile of snow right in the middle of the course.

With this post, I hope to have captured the true essence of cyclocrossing. If not, here's a graphic to clarify...

I couldn't leave this post without giving you some video of real people participating in real cyclocross competitions who have high quality, top notch skills. This is a compilation of some of the best in 2009 Cyclocross Championship held in Colorado. It sort of makes me feel better about my personal cyclocross skills.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Cross Training- Part 2

Okay, now that I've gotten my shiny, new CycloCross rental, as per my last post, it was time to put this thing to the test. The BIL, otherwise known as the leader of this expedition, wanted us to go to Draper Mountain Bike trail.

A short note on mountain bike trails:
Many public mountain bike trails are of the 'single-track' style. This basically means that the trail is only wide enough for one bike at a time. If the BIL and I had plans to ride side-by-side while holding hands, the chosen path made it absolutely impossible (probably the reason why he was the leader and not me).

A second short note on mountain bike trails:
The presence of a mountain is optional. This is good since mountains are in scarce supply in Oklahoma.

A third even shorter note on mountain bike trails:
The presence of a mountain bike is also optional. This was evidenced by our cyclocross bikes.

Here's the description of the trails that we were riding:

Having checked out the website ahead of time, I couldn't help but giggle. They expect 13 miles to take 92 minutes while averaging 7.1 mph. Um, my PR for running 13.1 miles is (a very weak) 98 minutes. How in the world was this even possible? Biking should be significantly faster than running.

Problems from the First Minute of Riding
We unloaded the cyclocross bikes and get ready for our adventure. I had considered leaving my helmet behind because I was willing to believe no harm could come to me at our projected pace. However, biking without a helmet seems as awkward as driving without a seat belt and I planted my noggin protector firmly in place. We were ready to ride.

After my second pedal stroke, things got interesting. If you read my shpeal from the last post, my shoe cleats were supposed to clip in to my pedals. I went through the motions of placing the front end of the cleat into the groove. Then I pushed down. Normally, this would result in a satisfying 'click' as the clipping mechanism engaged and I would be firmly attached to my pedals. It didn't happen. I tried the other foot. No clicking sound. I tried standing up and jamming down on the pedals, hoping to force a click on maybe an old or unlubricated set of pedals. Nothing.

Then, something rather amazing happened: I hit a tree and promptly fell to the ground. See, unlike most paved areas of riding, mountain bike trails are purposely curvy. I was spending so much time trying to get my shoes to attach to my pedals that I had taken my eyes off the trail. Bam. Down goes the Banter.

If at first you don't succeed...well, in this case I was destined to fail again and again. I started to ride with the BIL firmly in the lead. Meanwhile, I had doubled my lifetime falling-off-the-bike totals in less than 2 minutes of riding. Here's a shot of the BIL waiting impatiently while I struggled to upright myself. After stepping to the side and really trying to analyze the cleat/ pedal conundrum, I was ready to accept my destiny that my shoes would not be attached to the pedals for the duration of the ride. This left us with 2 options: Suck it up and ride or Call it a day and return the faulty merchandise. Since there is a vast amount of evidence showing that I suck, we went with option #1.

Let's Ride
I was sincere when I said that the trail is anything but straight. Here's what the posted map looks like. The differing colors, in case you couldn't figure it out, meant different trails. We, being complete rookies at this whole off-roading adventure thing, opted to start with the Green "beginner" trail. This was perfect.

After I came to an understanding with my pedals and developed a technique that almost allowed me to ride some, I noticed some remarkable differences between cyclocrossing and real riding. You actually have to use the brakes. On my bike, braking is done maybe 3-4 times per ride, depending on the number of stoplights encountered. On the trails, braking is done 3-4 times per 15 seconds of pedaling. The turns, loops, and obstacles ensure that there is absolutely no way make the cut without hitting a tree. For the record, I hit at least 9 trees on the ride. (Aside: It was learned later that the brand of cleat that I use was the 'older style' and they put a 'newer style' pedal on the bike. That was their explanation of why I couldn't clip in. I have now learned that I need to actually check that sort of thing before leaving the shop. End Aside.)

Upon concluding with the green trail, we had to make decisions. The legend of the map above informs us of the trail difficulty. We hit all of the colors, almost in order. I believe that we missed the Orange trail (mostly because orange is for pansies and, while we definitely fit that description, we were running out of daylight to conquer the color).

Here's what the Garmin had to show for the ride. If you look at the middle of the map, you'll see a relatively straight line. That marks a link between 2 non-consecutive falls. I had stopped the Garmin after the first fall and remembered to re-start it some time after the third, which I think caused the fourth.

The Intracasies of the Wilderness
I'll hand it to the caretakers of the trail, they do a real good job of trail maintenance. The trail maps are posted multiple places. They have cute little signs that give names to certain parts of the trail. Some of the signs were silly names like "Grandma's Kitchen". This section looked exactly the same as the other sections, but I may have spied an old stove off in the bushes. Others were more descriptive like "Over and Under Bridge". This section actually had a wooden bridge that you went over, looped around on the trail, and went back under. What didn't make sense was our surprise at the presence of said bridge and the requirement to go over and then under, especially after reading the name of the section.

Then, for some reason, they had this sign (pictured right). If I recall correctly (which I don't), we were no where near any roads. I don't remember seeing any cars on the trails. Therefore, I have no idea why they placed this sign out in the middle of the forest. Plus, I'm not even sure of it's function. In other places, they actually give you advice, such as "Don't pick up hitchhikers". Here, they just warn you as to their identity as if that information means something. Further, I'm pretty sure that I couldn't pick up a hitchhiker, inmate or not, on my cyclocross bike. I was having a hard enough time pedaling and staying upright on my own without needing the extra challenge of a second person.

Getting close to the end of the day, we had conquered all but the most challenging of the trails. We could either re-do another color or choose between the Red/ Orange trails. We picked the most challenging Red trail because it was right next to where we were standing at the time and, well, see note above on Orange.

At one point, the BIL was in the lead. Our experience on the day had taught us that it was safer for him to be in front since I was apt to fall. One time, I fell off my bike while leading which led to the BIL crashing his bike to avoid from crashing into me. It was a hard lesson for us both. He led more often than not after that. The Red trail was indeed more challenging than what we had thus far experienced. It was prone to biking us down small ravines with blind turns, quick sand, jutting spikes, and poisoned arrows. The pic on the left is an example of one of the Red trail's challenges.

The BIL, being smarter than me, decided to stop and monitor the situation. Had I been in the lead, I would have tackled it without abandon. Of course, I fell off my bike in an effort to not slam into the back of the now-stopped BIL. Since I was already down, I allowed myself to scope out the obstactle. The BIL was able to make it down and catch some video of me making it through.

Ta Da!

When I crunch the numbers, it came out that we had accomplished the following:
  • Distance=11.6 miles (actually, we rode a little more due to early crashing and me turning off the device)
  • Time= 1:24.30
  • Average Speed= 8.2 mph (take that posted average!)
  • Amount of Climbing= 356 feet (not sure where the trail guide came up with 1300?)
  • Number of times falling= 12
  • Number of shoes ruined= 2 (one from hitting a tree, the other one from slipping off a pedal and jamming it into a tooth of the front ring)
List of visible injuries on my body
  • Left wrist (pictured)- gashed from a tree
  • Outside of right forearm- trail rash
  • Inside of right forearm- different trail rash
  • Right quad- bruise from bike landing on me
  • Right upper foot- puncture wound (see note on ruined shoes) (unhealed as of this post)
  • Right Ankle- bruise (cause unknown)
Don't let any of that damage/ injury talk mislead you. I absolutely had a great time. I've gone on literally thousands of bike rides, most of which I have forgotten. It was a great day. The weather was perfect. The company, IE the BIL, was amazing.

The road rash has healed. The bruises have faded. The puncture wound will close (hopefully). I'm not sure if I'll ever do this whole cyclocross thing again (certainly not on my own). Having said that... This was one of those experiences that I will remember and cherish forever.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Cross Training- Part 1

Cross training is supposed to be good for you. The theory is that when you mix things up, the new exercise sort of shocks the system in a positive way. You work different muscle groups in different ways. The old muscle groups, which are probably tired, get an opportunity to relax and recover. With cross training, it's hailed as win-win.

I have not really done much cross training. See, I'm a douche triathlete. I've got enough of working in different sports as I'm gonna need. I get to relax from running by biking. I get to recover from a ride by going for a swim (not yet happened in 2013). I get to give my shoulders a break from the tension  by going for a run. It's a never ending circle of awesome that I don't need to do much else.

The BIL disagrees. My evidence: This email message, which arrived shortly before my trek to the middle of the toilet bowl Oklahoma.

I'll be renting you the same cyclocross bike that I have in the garage so that we can do something interesting while you are here.
This bike is called a "CycloCross" bike in OKC. I had heard about the existence of such bikes and event read about competitions involving these machines, but I had never witnessed one first hand. I was willing and ready to give it a try.

At the Bike Shop
The BIL has found a pretty good bike shop. Unlike several bike shops that I have experienced, this one was large, cozy, and staffed by blokes that actually ride. Exactly like pretty much all bikes shops I've been in, the shop is geared towards roadies with small cubbies dedicated to niche sports that just happen to involve a bike AKA triathlons.

While the BIL took care of some business, I checked out the sale racks in search of tri-gear. As expected, not much. I found the inventory of tri-bikes and saw that the shop was quite privy to Cervelo. Sigh, I guess Oklahoma people are just destined to be slow.

I brought in my bike shoes so that the blokes can match pedals. Just in case you didn't know, bike pedals have this technology inappropriately called 'clipless' pedals. You take a cycling shoe and attach a cleat to the bottom. You also have a special pedal that matches the cleat. When you ride, you 'clip-in' to your clipless pedals. (Makes sense, right?)

I own 2 different sets of bike shoes. Roadie bike shoes, which have a ratchet strap system designed to hold you foot in place. The ratchet adjusts tension to allow a snug feeling. Any slack in the shoe leads to an energy loss as you spin. Therefore, you want the shoe as tight as you can while retaining comfort. These shoes are slower to put on and take off. Hence the reason for my second pair of bike shoes, triathlon bike shoes. Tri-shoes are pretty much exactly the same in under carriage features and construction. The major exception is that the top of the shoe is laden in velcro. Velcro is very quick to adhere and you don't need to waste 4 seconds lifting your finger up-and-down to get that snug feel as with the roadie shoe. Plus, adjusting tension mid-ride is much easier.

As it turns out, I left my roadie shoes back in NY with my bike trainer. I was coming to Oklahoma to train for triathlon with triathletes. What I didn't count on was the bike shop being emburdened with roadies. That is a complete miscalculation on my part and I take full responsibility for my shortsightedness in bringing my velcro-strapped old triathlon shoes into the den of the road cyclists. When I showed them my shoes to match the pedals, the man did a quick up-and-down with his eyes and wrinkled his nose in disgust. The rift between the roadie and triathlete grows.

(Aside: In hindsight, I'm pretty sure now that the look was from the smell. Another major difference between roadies and triathletes is the wearing of socks. Roadies do. Triathletes don't. My shoes have been permeated with so much sweat, and umm, other stuff, that I'm sure they are in a state of perma-reek. Since I don't make a habit of sniffing my shoes, I just assumed that the bike shop guy was being a snob. It turns out that I probably deserved that look of disgust due to questionable foot hygiene. End Aside.)

The BIL and I left the shop for a quick lunch while the bike shop guys went to work on preparing my rental. When we came back, I got a chance to inspect the bike.

The Cyclocross Bike
Upon first appearance, the CC bike is very similar in appearance to a traditional road bike (which some people call the common 10-speed). They have the same:
  • bull-horn style handlebars
  • exposed cables
  • gear shifting system
  • frame geometry
  • lack of suspension
  • sperm-reducing seat
There are some glaring differences between this bike and what respectable people ride. For example, the CC bike has:
  • fat, studded tires
  • wheels with 8x the normal number of spokes
  • a funky braking system
  • low gear ratios
  • no aero-bars
  • 30 pounds of dark matter (At least, I think it was dark matter. The frame was, I believe, aluminum. However, it was remarkably heavy. If astrophysicists want conclusive evidence of the substance rumored to make up 80% of the universe, I suggest they rent one of these bad boys.)
The bike was possibly a smidgeon too large in the frame. The next size lower would have been obviously too small so we opted to modify the larger frame for comfort. I hopped on the bike in the shop with the intention of getting the seat adjusted. One dude held the front of the bike while another grabbed my hips from behind measured my knee angle at various stages of the pedal cycle. The fit seemed comfortable enough for an afternoon of cyclocrossing (whatever that meant).

I was ready to leave the bike shop but was left with a small warning:
Everything should be fine as long as you don't fall off.

The base bar was a little higher than common for a homunculus of my stature. Slipping forward could spell an end to the Banter's line of genetics.

In all of my years of riding, I have fallen off the bike exactly twice. The first time was on my very first ride with clipless pedals. My first set were adjusted so tightly that I couldn't remove them from the pedal at all. I had to bring the bike, with shoes still attached to the pedals, back to the bike shop for an adjustment. They ended up giving me new pedals. The second time was years later when I had to stop suddenly on a hill and didn't clip-out in time. Both falls were done at a speed of roughly 1-2 mph and no damage (other than that to my ego) was apparent. I was confident in my skills as a cyclist to be able to ride this bike and still bear children (should the need ever arise).

It is at this point that I would like to tell you that I did not waste all of that writing about bike falling and clipless pedals for nothing. There's some foreshadowing in the above and much more to the story. Come back in the very near future for part 2 of this exciting tale.