Saturday, December 29, 2012

A New Year, a New Promise - Part One

For the latter half of December, I had been taking my winter bike out with studded tires, mostly through the wooded trails in nearby Brown Deer Park. I went there at night, after a recent snowfalls, with my high-powered LED headlight leading a visual path through the darkness. I was an incredible experience: peaceful, moody, and even a bit spooky. A nice change of pace from riding on the roads. I had no concern of traffic, but the narrow trails still offered a bit of a challenge. A whole new world. Then there was a day of partial melting about a week ago. Last Sunday, the day before Christmas Eve, I decided to go for a ride. A road ride. There still were patches of ice on the roads, but it seemed clear enough that I could maneuver my way around them. The traffic was light. It all would have been fine, except for the fact that I decided to take my regular road bike out with smooth, narrow tires. I was no more than 4 blocks from home that choice of ride proved to be the mistake. As I was slowly climbing a hill when my tires suddenly slipped from under me. I was climbing out of the saddle, firmly gripping the handlebars, so there was no way to react in time and brace myself. Within a matter of a second, I landed directly and completely on my left hip.

I knew it was a hard fall. I don't remember much of the next few minutes, other than trying to get up and just stand. My left leg was out of commission. I believe it took me almost 10 minutes before I could actually pull myself up with the power of my right leg alone. I'm sure it took me so long to get back up because of the pain. And when I finally did get up, I confirmed the fact that I could not apply any weight on the left leg. Besides the pain, even the smallest amount of weight applied produced the sensation that my foot was slipping on ice. And yet, when I looked down, the foot was on dry, solid pavement. A vert strange feeling. It was obvious to me at that point that the slippage was occurring in the leg itself, and most likely in the hip are. Had I torn a muscle or other connective tissue so that there was no reliable physical connection between my hip and foot? I had never experienced anything like this before, so I figured this is probably what had happened.

Even when I tried to lift it, the weight on the leg alone produced the same excruciating pain. I immediately pulled my cell phone out and called my wife. I needed to be picked.

When Linda got there, she tried to position that car so I could just take a couple very short hops to the car seat on my right leg. But because I couldn't even left the leg hang by it's own weight, that proved impossible and very, VERY painful. I couldn't move from that stop one inch! At this point I was concerned with the cold and possibly going into shock. My wife found her trusty old wool car blanket, a gift from her late father from WWII. Then she called 911. Within minutes, paramedics were there and assessing the situation. A few of them cautiously helped lower me onto a stretcher, and I was loaded into the ambulance.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Return of Race Across Wisconsin?

Yes, it's seriously being considered. The one-day "Race Across Wisconsin" that was held from 1984 though 1987 might be returning for 2014! There seems to be a strong interest from several people I've been in contact with recently. For those who aren't familiar with the race's history and design, you can find out a bit more at this link: Race Across Wisconsin.

I will begin working on the plans over the next few months. If you have any interest in participating, whether it be as a cyclist or race official, please contact me at: mlehlers@att.net, and put the words "2014 Race Across Wisconsin" in the subject line.

Thank you,
Mark Ehlers
The Prodigal Cyclist


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Holy Hill in December?

Well, I think I can honestly say that this was the first time in my life that I've ridden to Holy Hill during the month of December. The latest month of the year I've ever made it out to this location is probably October, although September is more likely. In the past, by this time of year I usually don't feel any desire to take that hilly trip. The truth is, there is no practical reason for it. As the riding season has gone into maintenance mode, hills and 50+ mile rides aren't needed for training purposes. But for the past 2 months I've been hoping to make one more trip out there for the year.

Unfortunately, something always seems to come up that keeps me to a shorter and/or flatter route...until today. The weather forecast was for sunny skies and winds directly from the west. If I could accept the struggle of a direct headwind for the 25 mile ride out there, I would be rewarded with nearly a free ride on the 25 mile ride back. So I did, and so I was. It was a beautiful day for another first in my life on the bike.

December 4, 2012 Holy Hill Ride

Thursday, November 29, 2012

High 40s and SUNNY!!!

After a few blustery, dreary days this week, we finally got a good dose of sun today, with temperatures in the high 40s!

I had a great ride out to the north end of Port Washington, which ends my week on the road. Sunday and Monday looks like we might be getting into the high 50s. Could there be another day of riding in shorts in the plan?!

Here's a link to today's ride, compliments of Garmin and Strava:

http://app.strava.com/runs/30160637/embed/125ffb9bad76b229827066bba8571705e4f19087

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pre-Thanksgiving Day ride

I've recently been introduced to the Strava application, used to log workouts. I'm usually a bit late when it comes to adopting any kind of new technology into my training, and this is no exception. But I can easily see what all the hoopla is about.

For the past 3 years, I've been manually entering each workout into Map My Ride. It's been great, far easier than using the old pen & notebook style of years ago. But now, with a Garmin and a number of similar on-line workout logging applications, the world has really changed for athletes. All the detailed information that is available from the Garmin, and quickly transferred to the web-journal of your choice, can be a bit over-whelming. But hey, for now I'm having fun!

I'm also trying to decide which web-journal is going to suit me best. I like Garmin Connect, because it's designed by the very people who make the GPS computer. I also like Strava, mostly because it records  segments of rides chosen by other cyclists (or yourself), that become friendly challenges viewed by everyone in your area, that you can go back and ride again, and improve your performance as you move on up the "virtual podium".

Today I went for my last ride of the week, at least as far as an outdoor ride goes. It was beautiful out, especially for a late November day, when the weather can often be quite gloomy. But today was sunny with temps reaching the high 50s and creeping to near 60. I wore arm warmers, but opted to keep my legs bare and let them soak up possibly the last amount of sun that they will see for this year. It was heaven! And after cranking out an enjoyable 57 mile ride, I think I'll be reaching for an extra piece of pumpkin pie tomorrow when I gather with family to celebrate all the things that God has blessed me with this past year.

I hope you and your loved ones have a happy and a blessed Thanksgiving Day.

Here's a link to my Pre-Thanksgiving Day ride.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Get'r dun!

My last cycling goal for the year was accomplished today as I reached the 10,000 mile total for 2012. I haven't done this in 25 years, when I was almost half my present age.

Yee-haw!!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Blessed Reunion

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Cream City Cycle Club, Milwaukee's oldest bike club. I was one of the original members of this club, back in the early '80s. I haven't been a member for over 20 years though, so I didn't know if I would see any familiar faces. But to my surprize, it was a real pleasure when I walked through the doors and was warmly welcomed by several of my old friends, still alive and kicking and riding. To be able to share the experience of breaking the Wisconsin cross-state record with these old familiar faces was a true blessing.

In a big way, it felt like a reunion, maybe even a home-coming. Back in the '80s, this club was a big part of my life, and these friendships gave my life a richness I had never before experienced. My wife was there too, and got to meet some of my old friends. And Brian, my crew chief, also a former club member from the old days, also received a warm welcome.

We also had Nick, the UMCA official, along with Ruth, Nick's wife. Ruth had been part of the SSC (Secret Support Crew) during the latter hours, guiding us into Marinette and the victory party at the finish.

After I gave my presentation, each crew member and official offered their own perspective on the experience. I was glad to have them there, as they were able to fill in many thoughts that I had left out, in addition to providing me with moral support (and they thought their job was all done at the finish line!).

Now, as the days get shorter and colder, my rides have also grown shorter and less frequent. I recently picked up a new indoor trainer, the Kurt Kinetic Rock & Roll trainer. This will help me during those long, cold winter days when I just don't feel like getting me and my bike all full of the winter slush.

My plan for next year? Well, I won't be attempting to break anymore cross-state records. I plan to compete in the annual 95-mile Race the Lake again in 2013, after taking a break from it this year. I also hope to complete at least one double-century, probably with a bunch of old friends who still organize one each year. And since we're all over 50, I'm sure there will be no crazy sprints involved. At least that's what we're all sayin'. ;)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

More pictures from 3 weeks ago...

Dave and Nancy, our dear friends from Sturgeon Bay, WI. took these pictures at the finish. Over the past two years, their home has been a destination for me while on my 140-mile rides from Milwaukee to Sturgeon Bay. It's always good to have nice friends who let you use their shower after a long, hot day in the saddle.


Get this man a motel room!


Time for sleep?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It is written...





From the U.M.C.A. website:

*** Mark Ehlers sets a record across Wisconsin ***

Congratulations Mark on your new record across Wisconsin!

Mark Ehlers, 54, Milwaukee, WI
Standard Bike
Wisconsin, West-East
Using previously established endpoints
19 Hours 43 Minutes (19:43)
298.1 Miles
15.12 mph average speed
August 19, 2012
Official: Nick Carver
Crew: Brian Larson (crew chief), Judith Zink, Linda Ehlers
Note: This ride by Ehlers beats both existing Wisconsin W-E records.
The Frederickson record will remain listed as it is in a different category.
The Boethling record is replaced by the Ehlers record.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wisconsin West-to-East Record

Date: August 19, 2012
Mileage: 298.1 miles
Elapsed time: 19 hours and 43 minutes

Rider: Mark H. Ehlers
Crew: Brian Larson (crew chief), Linda Ehlers, Judi Zink
U.M.C.A. Official: Nick Carver

2:30 am: We pulled our vehicles into the park along the St. Croix River in Minnesota. The crew and I exchanged a few last minute details before going into a short group prayer for safety and success. Brian reminded me I had 2 minutes before the scheduled 3:00 am start. My wife and I exchanged a kiss and I proceeded to the bridge where I stopped and waited briefly for the crew to join me. The bike I rode is a 2012 BMC Team Machine, with Sram Red drivetrain, Easton EA90 wheels, 3T carbon handlebars, and Fizik Arione saddle. I chose to go “old school” and ride without aero-bars, which worked out just fine.

3:00 am: I clicked into my pedals and crossed the bridge into Wisconsin. The first few hours in the dark were chilly and quiet. The starting temp was about 50 degrees and damp, but dropped several degrees a couple hours later. I stopped briefly to put on knee warmers as Brian reminded me that it’s always coldest before the dawn. On some of the longer descents, I found myself shivering so much that the handlebars would shake and keep me from going any faster. Back in June, when I test rode the first 100 miles of the route I was able to descend these hills without restraint. Even the climbing was a bit difficult, as the damp air caused my lungs to work harder, and I was reminded of the asthma I had struggled with as a child. I rolled through the countryside, past farms that were awakening for morning chores and preparing to attend Sunday church services.

4:03 am: I spooked a pigeon that had been resting on the side of the road. The bird took flight and passed within inches of my face, only to hit my left shoulder as it flew by. Several minutes later, I commented to the crew via our 2-way radios, “The stars are incredible.”

4:17 am: First potty break. And as we approached pre-dawn, concentrated pockets of thick mist floating above the low areas produced an eerie beauty of their own. The crew called them “fallen clouds”.

5:00 am: Discovered slow leak in front tire. We stop for a quick wheel exchange.

5:18 am: Second potty break. I think to myself, “It must be nerves”. Frustrating!

6:06 am: Sunrise! The beauty brought hope to a new day.



8:25 am: Remove knee warmers and wind vest.

9:55 am: 100 miles and 1/3 of the way done!

10:15 am: Riding through Amish country, 3 Amish girls on bicycles come over the rise, dressed in colorful Sunday dresses. Against the blue sky and green hillside, the image brings a smile to my face.

11:55 am: 70 degrees and loving the warm, sunny day!


 
It was somewhere around the very early afternoon, 140 miles or so, I began to feel discouraged. My speed had dropped to about 10 mph. I believe this was after leaving the town of Abbotsford. From here I had to ride directly north and into a headwind for quite a while, until reaching Highway 64. Up until then, I had been riding against a crosswind coming from the north. So I stopped and talked with Brian, my crew chief, who proceeded to tell me that he wasn’t going to let me give up and that anything can yet happen. The rest of the crew came over and prayed over me for strength and hope. A car stopped and asked if we were okay. I felt better and I continued.

2:05 pm: I turned onto Highway 64 and had my crosswind again. I began to hammer.



3:40 pm: Friends from church, Adam and Abbey, phoned my crew. They had organized a prayer meeting with other church members. Adam prayed with my crew via speakerphone. They also planned for people to pray hourly “as long as it takes”.

4:28 pm: I hit 200 miles! My crew is cheering, ringing a cow bell, and basically carrying on!

5:20 pm: Food and potty stop. So far, most of my caloric needs have been met in liquid form (Hammer Perpetuem and Accelerade), with occasional pretzels and sandwiches of fig spread, mascarpone cream cheese, and ham. But at this stop, my crew gets me a jar of pickles and a Coke as requested. Riding along the southern boundary of the Nicolet National Forest, I am surrounded by gigantic pine trees on both sides of Highway 64. Is this the road to heaven?

7:45 pm: Temperatures beginning to drop as sunset approaches. Just before the town of Mountain I stop to put on warmer clothes and my lights.

7:55 pm: An incredible sunset!

8:25 pm: A white SUV with one headlight passes me very slowly and proceeds to drive alongside Brian in the lead car. Shortly after, they both pull off to the side and stop. I pass both vehicles. A moment later, the SUV pulls up alongside me while I’m riding. There are two slightly drunk women inside, and they tell me that they just gave Brian $10 for our “cause” (we were using the ride to raise money for a missionary from our church, Abbey, who had called the crew earlier that afternoon). Soon after thanking them, my wife, who was driving the follow vehicle (and knew they were drunk), goes into her mama bear instincts and chases the SUV away – honking, shouting, and flashing her high beams in the driver’s eyes: Be gone, you!

8:26 pm: Nick, the official, continues to record elevation updates, average speed, etc. He comments to the crew that I’ve been going 18-20 mph. He is really getting into this! Little did anyone know, but for the last 40 miles or so, my left hamstring had gone into a very painful cramp that I couldn’t release. It was extremely painful and was causing me to lose any riding form I still had left. It was beginning to look like I might not break Fred Boethling’s 10-year standing record. For the last hour or so, my wife has been urging me on via our 2-way radios, letting me know that the record is within my grasp, but that I need to keep my speed up. She reminds me often, “The joy of the Lord is my strength!” My friends, Nancy and David B. (driving in from Sturgeon Bay) and Ruth C. (coming from Milwaukee) phone in to the crew. They would end up being influential in guiding our lead car the last couple miles toward the finish. Finally, I see the Marinette city limit sign and I hit the big chain ring. I start to hammer.

10:43 pm: I cross the bridge that brings us from Marinette, WI and into Menominee, MI. My crew and friends from Milwaukee and Sturgeon Bay are waiting for me with signs, party noise makers, and cheers at the Menominee welcome center. I roll up to a grassy spot near the building, lay down my bike and fall on my knees, thanking the Lord for his mercy. Then I roll to my side and lie on the grass. My wife runs up to me exclaiming, “Honey, you broke the record! You broke the record!!!”

I am home.




*******************************************
Mark H. Ehlers - The Prodigal Cyclist

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Aftermath

Now that this 3 year journey has been completed, the next several days will be spent compiling all the notes and photographs that my crew recorded during the ride. Wednesday was my first day back on the bike and it was a very easy spin on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail to the north end of Cedarburg. Thursday I took another easy spin of about 20 miles. Then later in the day I joined up with the "Ride MKE" Club that has Thursday evening rides out of Wheel & Sprocket's Northshore location. I had a nice vigorous 30 mile "big-ring", clean-out-the-cobwebs ride with the group, and actually felt pretty good.

I'll post a story of our adventure soon, along with all the interesting characters we met along the way. For now, please enjoy a few photos from the record ride:


Ready to leave for Prescott, WI Saturday moring


Support vehicle getting inspected by U.M.C.A. official
 
About 3 hours into the ride


A long awaited sunrise!
 
One of the smaller climbs

 
Mark, don't feed the cows!
 
A brief route discussion


"Honey, you broke the record! You broke the record!!!"
Victory at 19 hours and 43 minutes after crossing the bridge in Marinette, WI,
as Mark collapses at the finish.
 


Monday morning after the victory (left to right):
Nick Carver - UMCA Official
Brian Larson - Crew Chief and Navigator
Mark Ehlers - Rider
Linda Ehlers - Coach and Follow Vehicle Driver
Judi Zink - Log Keeper and Cook


Rider, crew, official, and welcoming party!
(including Dave and Nancy Bontempo and Ruth Carver...and oh, yes...Buster!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It is finished...

Pending verification from the U.M.C.A. (Ultra Marathon Cycling Association), the governing body for ultra-marathon cycling events, there is now a new record for cycling across Wisconsin: 19 hours and 43 minutes.

Story to follow soon...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Peace

After nearly three years of training and preparations, the big day is now less than two weeks away. I am now in the tapering phase. The time for long days in the saddle has come to an end. Now it's time to give my body true rest, as it builds up reserves for what will probably prove to be the most taxing ride of my life. I have to confess that there have been moments of doubt, questioning whether or not I should be investing the time, energy, and money into this endeavor. But the Lord has blessed me with some special friends that have helped me through those difficult times.

First, there is my wife, Linda, who has offered more encouragement that I could ever deserve. She has sacrificed a lot during these past three years to support me in this dream. She is my best friend. Linda stepped up to the plate immediately and began to learn the selfless responsibilities of being a support crew member, and has done so with an enthusiasm that sets up an environment for a winning team. She is always there to remind me that with God, all things are possible.

Next, there is my crew chief, Brian Larson, who has been an encouraging confidant as he listened to me express my personal concerns and struggles. Brian and I became friends many years ago, and even then I knew he had a heart of gold that could only be the product of a man who gave his life to Christ. Brian has many years of experience working with bicycle tours and all the gritty details that keep people spinning the pedals and reaching their goals.

The third member of our crew is Judi Zink, someone who also has a Christ-like compassion for people that anyone would be blessed to have on their crew. Judi also has experience with marathon cycling herself, and is very familiar with the strength, both internal and external, that is required to push yourself as a marathon cyclist.

The fourth member who will be joining us is Nick Carver, the official who will be making sure all of us (rider and crew members) obey the rules of the road and the rules set up by the UMCA (Ultra Marathon Cycling Association), the governing body of ultra-marathon cycling events. Nick has the integrity and wisdom that is necessary for such a position. But most of all, he is also a friend of Jesus.

In case you haven't already noticed, everyone involved in this record attempt is a Christian. When I began to search for the right people to fill these rolls, I looked for certain characteristics that would allow each of them to work well together as a team. But the main characteristic, the one above all earthly skills, was that each one had to have given their life to Christ. These people are much more than crew members and official. They are prayer warriors.

Recently, a few people have asked me if I'm getting nervous as the big day approaches. Sometimes while sitting in my office at night, I read through a new chapter or two of a prayer book my wife gave me last month for my birthday, "30 Promises and Prayers of Courage for Men". But truthfully, I haven't really thought about it...being nervous, that is. Sure, there is a certain amount of excitement that I can now feel building up inside. And during the next week and half, as I begin starving my mind and body of it's daily fix for long hours on the road, that nervous energy will get to be a new challenge in itself, as I learn how to wait, in patience, for the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, August 19th.

I want the start of the ride to be here soon, with all the preparation behind me, and all I have to do is focus on the task at hand - riding the bike. But more than anything, I have a sense of peace about it all. You see, I know that the Lord is in control.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Not just another bike ride...


Dear Praying Friends,                                                                     

We are getting so excited about Mark’s “Record Ride” that will be happening on Sunday, August 19, 2012.  By “Record Ride,” we mean that he has been training for almost 3 years on his bicycle to ride 300 miles across the state of Wisconsin, attempting to break the record time of 19 hours and 55 minutes, set 10 years ago by another man in his 50s.  I know he can do it!  He is ready, and the Lord has blessed Mark with the stamina, strength and perseverance he’ll need to make it through.

We wanted to get the word out about the attempt, for several reasons.  First, we ask that you’ll pray for Mark that weekend, especially for a tailwind (W-E), for safety on the road, and for pleasant weather. 

Second, we are excited to add to the ride a pledge drive for our friend, Abbey Gottinger, a gifted young woman whom God has called to the mission field this fall, particularly to work with immigrants and refugees from the Middle East in Frankfurt, Germany.  She will be working with a church that is specifically reaching out to these refugees, bringing comfort, practical help and the good news about Jesus to them.  Abbey will focus on refugee women and children, mostly coming from Muslim backgrounds.


We hope you’ll consider pledging an amount to Abbey through Mark’s Ride.  As mentioned, the ride is about 300 miles long, and we are suggesting that folks might want to pledge an amount per mile.  In addition, it might be fun if you’d consider doubling that pledge in the event that Mark is successful in breaking the record!  Or, if you know Abbey and Mark, you may want to pledge an amount per mile that you could give per month to Abbey.  She will be in Frankfurt for about 10 months.
 
Please pray about it.  It would be a huge encouragement to Mark to know that his many hours of work and sweat on the bike are going to bring lasting glory to the Lord through Abbey’s ministry.



Prayer Requests for Mark’s Record Ride
Pledge Ideas for Abbey’s Mission Trip
Safety on the road
10¢/per mile = $30
Tailwind!  From 3am to 10pm, west to east.
Doubled if Mark breaks the record = $60
Pleasant weather (no rain, not too hot, maybe a little cloud cover…)
Monthly pledge of 10¢ per mile: $30/month
for 10 months = $300
Strength and stamina to ride 300 miles
Or, whatever you would like to give
Minimum of back & muscle pain, etc.
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
(Proverbs 11:25)
“Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matthew 7:7)


Abbey, Mark and I are members of Eastbrook Church, and I (Linda) have known her family for over 15 years.  Please email us if you can join our prayer team, and/or Abbey’s support team.  She will send you a letter with more details about her ministry.  Checks can be sent to Eastbrook Church, 5385 N Green Bay Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53209, with “Abbey Gottinger” on the memo line.
 
Thanks for considering our requests.  We are blessed by your encouragement and friendship.  The LORD make His face shine on you and give you peace.”

Love from,

Mark & Linda Ehlers
Milwaukee, WI
Email: mlehlers@att.net
Cell phone: 414-526-4113 (Mark)
                     
                     

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I am an Ultra-Marathon Cyclist


There is an understanding that the double-century (200 miles/day) is your ticket into the world of ultra-marathon cycling.

For the past few years, when my wife has been talking to others about my cycling background, she would occasionally refer to me as an ultra-marathon cyclist, recalling the decade of the 80s when I was regularly doing "doubles" each summer. I would kindly correct her and say that I felt that was too long ago to rest on those laurels. Until I was again able to complete another 200-mile/one day ride, I honestly couldn't see hanging onto that label. You can do 100. You can do 150. You can even do 180. But it's not until you crack that magical number of 200, that you are truly considered a ultra-marathon cyclist.

Last Monday I completed my first double-century in over 20 years. I am (again) an ultra-marathon cyclist.


Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

 


 


 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The 1st Annual Race Across Wisconsin

   

Above is a picture of the very first 220 mile/one day "Race Across Wisconsin", back in 1984. One dark, early morning in August, three crazy men took off from the shores of the Mississippi River in La Crosse (Wisconsin). The day was tough, and the terrain was nothing short of challenging. Rich, the cyclist in the middle of the pic, eventually dropped out some where around the 150 mile mark. Brian (on the right) and I finished the race. This was taken on the east shore of the Wisconsin River at an unscheduled rest stop. Rich and Brian had caught back up with me after making a much too early attempt to break away, so we figured it was also a great excuse for a photo op.

I organized and directed the RAW (Race Across Wisconsin) for 4 years, from 1984-1987. 1987 gave us our largest field of 66 racers, everyone with their own personal support crew, with some riders traveling from as far away as California. Ages ranged from a 17 year-old high school senior from Keil, WI, to 60 year-old retired United States Marine.

Over the next week I'll be putting in some long miles along with speedwork. Then I'll begin my taper for a "double-century" on June 24th, my first in over 20 years. The crew and I will go over the first 200 miles of the route for the August record attempt.

Please pray for safety and encouragement for our journey.

Friday, May 25, 2012

4,000 miles and counting



Last week I passed the 4,000 mile mark for the year, with my highest week in over 20 years of 395 miles. I've also started to incorporate more speedwork into my training, in addition to some longer rides of 130+ miles. So far, my body has been responding well to the extra stress of the higher miles and more intense training, and seems to recover well afterwards...considering my old body of 53 years!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Return trip

My first double-century - 200 miles in one day - was on  a late summer day in 1981. I was only 23 years old. In about 4 weeks, I'll be trying to do it again - only this time I will be one month shy of 54. So far this year, I've ridden three centuries and two 120-mile rides - and thankfully, still feeling quite well the following day. In fact, the day after the second 120, I rode another 60 and felt pretty strong.

But 200 miles is a different world than 100 miles. I hope I'm prepared for the return trip to that world.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Welcome to the machine

Most of us learned how to ride a bicycle when we were kids. It was our first experience of freedom, allowing us to go further than our walking legs could ever take us. We found a whole new world out there on the bicycle. It also introduced us to a magical union, that of man and machine. The bicycle remains the most efficient, most practical, and healthiest means of transportation ever invented by man.

When I began ultra-marathon cycling back in 1981, I entered into that union deeper than I ever imagined, to a level that almost makes that union of man and machine complete...as if they were one.

The heart becomes the engine. The legs become the pistons.
And the bike disappears....

Welcome, my friends. Welcome to the machine.



Thursday, May 3, 2012

I will boast gladly of my weakness

I grew up with asthma as a kid, which kept me from participating in most sports. Then I discovered my passion for long-distance bicycling, shortly after high school. I didn't know it at the time, but I was slowly building up strength in my lungs. I could control the amount of effort I put out, without causing an asthma attack, yet just enough to let them grow stronger and healthier.

When I gave up cycling around the year 1990, my lungs slowly grew weaker. About 7 years ago during that spring, I began having asthma attacks again, something I hadn't experienced in many years. I couldn't get a full night's sleep for over a week, until I finally surrendered and got an inhaler. I was trying not to resort to that again, but I needed to sleep so I could function.

Well, as you know, I'm back to my old tricks again - riding the miles away like I was able to 30 years ago. I still have my weakness. But in that weakness, I have found my strength. The Lord has given me a second chance, and He is the source of that strength. I will boast gladly of my weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

3,000 miles under the belt

A couple weeks ago I passed the 3,000 mile-mark for this year. The monthly total for April alone was over 1,000 miles. It's been a very long time since my legs and lungs have seen this kind of mileage.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rain dates

To help pay the bills (and because I'm a bike geek at heart), I work as a mechanic at Wheel & Sprocket Bike Shop. Over the past couple weeks, Wisconsin has experienced some very unseasonably warm weather. Not just a day or two here and there. We have had consistant temperatures in the 60s all the way up to mid 80s for nearly two weeks. This kind of weather has caused many people to dust off their bikes and bring them into the shop for annual tune-ups and overhauls at a time of the year when mechancics are usually trying to find things to do. We're talking as many as 70-100 tune-ups in a day! There have been a few days of working after the shop closed. As a mechanic, I certainly love this kind of job security, but it also requires a creative plan to keep my training schedule up, in addition to surrendering to whatever the weather might bring.

My boss was kind enough to let me take yesterday off, in a effort to rest from all the recent chaos. I graciously accepted his offer. I was fortunate that the weatherman was wrong about yesterday's forecast. The day turned out to be sunny and in the high 60s and low 70s, perfect for a long distance session on the bike. And so, I was able to churn out 100.26 miles through the rolling hills of the Northern Kettle Moraine, just what this weary 53-year old wrench needed to "recover" from a hectic week at the bench.

How's the weather look today? It's raining and cooler. And it's perfect for an easy day of recovery with some stretching and additional planning for the record ride later this summer.

Sometimes the rain comes just when you need it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Memories of Victory Hill

I can still remember the first time I balanced on two wheels. I think I was about 4 years old. A few days earlier my dad rolled it into the living room. It was a second-hand 20-inch wheeled American Eagle, repainted a beautiful red color. I can still remember the masking tape along the top tube, with the selling price of $3.00 from the rummage sale picked it up from. It seemed I had been hounding my dad for weeks to take off the training wheels, but in reality was probably more like a couple days. When he finally gave in to my whining, the big moment arrived. He stood beside me in the road of our subdivision, as Dad gently pushed me off. About 10 feet later, I went down. It didn't matter though, because those 10 feet were the grandest experience that little 4 year-old had ever felt, and it had forever changed him. I tried it again. And this time, I think I made it about 50 feet or so. After one or two more wobbly attempts, things began to improve, and on that day I learned how to fly.

I'm not sure when it was - maybe a few days later - that my grandpa was visiting, and he and I went on a bike ride together. He grabbed my mom's old "English Racer", a beautiful black J.C. Higgins 3-speed, made in England. We headed west down the road until we came to the first intersection. And as we looked to our right, there it was - my first hill. I had passed this road before, but for some reason never had the nerve to turn there. After all, it was a hill. Actually, to me, it was a MOUNTAIN! But we were going to do it. And I would attempt my first "mountain" climb. I have a vague memory of actually pedalling up. But as with most of life's painful experiences, we often forget the actual pain and are kindly left with nothing but the memory of what was good. I can still remember reaching the top of the hill that day. Grandpa and I turned and rested as we looked towards the bottom. Then he motioned for me to look at the road sign - "Victory Hill Road".

Monday, March 5, 2012

Getting fit(ted) the Retul way

I've always been interested in proper fitting for a bicycle. There are the more common static methods of fitting, where you use such tools as plumb bob, goniometer, X/Y tool, and various measuring devices. I remember back in the '80s when a friend of mine let me borrow his Fit Kit. It was the latest and greatest method and was really getting a lot of people interested in the art of getting a rider to the best possible position for power and endurance. I think what I found most fascinating about the Fit Kit were the RAD pedals. For the first time, a bike fitter could easily and quickly examine angular cleat alignment and how small adjustments could make big changes in the rider's pedaling form.

After soaking up as much information as I could, I ended up fitting myself the best way I could, using all the info I had gathered, then making the final decision by how things felt as I rode. I think most people, if they ride long enough, can develop a pretty good sense of an efficient and safe position on their own. At least good enough for most of us. When you want to go further or faster though, that's when it's time to get someone who really has a unique passion for the bio mechanics of fast and efficient cycling. There has been a fitting system out for several years now, one that's used by many of today's best professional cyclists, that is the Retul system. In short, it's the most precise method of fitting a cyclist available today. But as with any tool or method, it's only as good as the technician using it.

Last week I had a fitting done by John Huenink, a Retul Certified bike fitter at Wheel and Sprocket bike shop's Brookfield, WI location. John is currently one of only two people in Wisconsin that have passed the Retul certification requirements. John's fitting studio is equipped with a vast selection of handlebars, stems, and saddles, which enable him to make any necessary changes on your bike to get you in the optimal position.

So today was my first road ride since the fitting, moderate intensity with a few short climbs. It went well.  I can honestly report that I feel more stable on the bike than I had before. At the fitting, John made several readjustments, including my shoes' cleat wedges, my orthotics, a stem change, and a saddle adjustment. He also alerted me to a few bio-mechnical issues I had tried to improperly address by making adjustments of my own over the years, adjustments that weren't addressing alignment issues directly. This was the kind of feedback you are only going to receive from someone who has developed a keen awareness of how the human body should perform the way it was designed. That skill comes from nothing but pure experience and the constant refinement of this awareness.

I will be returning to Wheel and Sprocket's fitting studio in about a month or so, where John will re-examine my position and how I've progressed as a result of the initial fitting. After today's ride, I'm encouraged by what positive changes the fitting has brought me so far, and I'm confident that this decision will help me be a more efficient and more powerful cyclist as my training increases towards this summer's goal to break the cross-state record.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Back to square one...

Well, I've been riding the 3T "Zefiro" handlebars for a couple weeks now. The conclusion? It looks like the Zefiros are not going to meet my needs. They should work great for what they were apparently designed for - shorter (less than 100-mile) time trials. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get the conservative aero position I had been hoping for, and still retain my traditional road (bar) position for riding on the hoods and in the drops. Part of the problem is that the reach of these bars is more than I prefer. I could use a slightly shorter stem, but then the tops of the bars, due to the deep platform area, brings them too far back, resulting in my knees scraping on them when climbing out of the saddle.

The reach and drop dimensions of these bars matches up to the dimensions of the 3T "Ergosum" model. I believe if 3T would have designed these with a shorter reach, mimicking the design of the "Ergonova" model, the bars would work much better for riding in all available positions. So for now, I've put the original Easton "EC90 SLX3" bars back on, offering me a much more comfortable traditional road position. There is one thing I will really miss about the 3T Zefiro bars though. The deep, wide tops offer the most comfortable design for riding on the hoods that I have ever experienced from any set of handlebars. I felt like I could ride in that position all day. However, that really wouldn't be a good idea for the 18+ hours that I'll be on the bike for the record attempt this summer, as the ability to change hand positions can be one of the most important ways to remain comfortable, and ride more efficiently, when attempting to stay on the bike for such an extended period. I still have a couple "slam" type clip-on bars that I've been experimenting on and off for the past year, and I might have to reconsider that approach.

But for now, it's back to square one in deciding if I'm going to be using any kind of aero-bar set up at all. Maybe I'll just end up doing what I had originally considered, riding the entire 290 miles with nothing more than traditional drop bars. And really, I am kind of an crusty old traditionalist after all.

See ya on the road!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Head for the hills!

Today's training plan was to get a taste of some hills, so I headed into the Northern Kettle Moraine area. The route I took followed a counter-clockwise direction, which allowed me to enjoy a tailwind on much of my return trip. I haven't ridden in this area since fall of last year, so it was good to play with gravity again. Even though this was mostly an easy-paced ride, the BMC handled the rolling hills very well and I can already see that this is going to be an incredible climbing machine. I'm excited to get more miles in as the days get longer and warmer. Oh wait...it's still February! Arrgghh!!
See you on the summit!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dancing again

After returning from a two-week vacation, much of which was spent sitting in a car as my wife and I drove down south to visit friends and relatives, my back started giving me problems. I knew the prolonged sitting would not be good for my back, but I wasn't consistant with my stretching while we were gone, and so I paid the price when I returned to my regular training schedule. To add to the problem, I made the mistake of trying to make up for lost time by being overly-aggressive with my stretching. That in turn stressed out my back even more. Last week was a bit discouraging, as it seemed I couldn't get on my bike for more than a few miles before the discomfort would set it. This past Sunday was the same. I had hoped that the next day, the day that I was planning for a long training ride - longest yet for the year - would be different. It was.

Yesterday, I began my ride heading north, with steady winds out of the south. Because I knew the day would be relatively long, and my return ride would be directly into the wind, I purposely kept the pace very easy. My goal was to ride pain free. My small chainring saw a lot of use on the ride, both on the way out and the way back. But there was one thing I began to notice at around the 45-50 mile mark - I was feeling better and better with each passing mile. Not only was my back feeling fine, I began to realize I was entering a new phase of training for the year as I headed towards my longest ride since the fall of last year. The ride finished with 70.2 miles.

When I returned home, I thanked God for giving me the strength to complete the 70 miles. And then I thanked him again for the feeling of a new strength and hope I had experienced during those last 20 miles of the ride. The bike and I were working together again. We were dancing again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Team Machine's first snow ride


Well, it is only February 17th, after all. Even though we've had a very mild winter here in Wisconsin, it is still very possible to get a good snow fall as late as April. But since there were only a few light flakes falling when I started my ride, I figured I would risk it. Turns out it was the sloppiest ride I've been on all winter, since the temperature was warm enough to make those big ol' quarter-sized flakes wet enough to make it more of a slush ride.

Time to clean the steed. Then off to work.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The BMC Team Machine

My first race bike, a late 1970's vintage Centurion Pro (can you say "Cinelli"?) was something that came along with a deal when I bought out a guy's bike shop in 1981 from Manitowoc, WI. The Centurion was the best bike in the stock that I received, and it just happened to fit me. Over the years, I upgraded the components to Campagnolo Nuovo Record and Super Record. It served me well through the years I was participating in ultra-marathon cycling, including the 1985 "John Marino Open" (JMO),  what was then the 700-mile qualifier for "Race Across America".

A couple years ago, I picked up a slightly used 2005 Felt F65. It's been a great bike, taking me through over 7,700 miles last year, including a few 140 mile, one-day rides last summer. But I knew it was time for something else. The full carbon framesets out there these days offer incredible choices in ride quality, whether you are a sprinter like World Champion Mark Cavendish, or a Grand Tour victor like Cadel Evens (who rides a Team Machine, by the way). The things about carbon fiber, is that the frame designer/builder can do just about anything he needs, to make the frame behave a specific way a rider might want it.

Last week my new BMC Team Machine arrived. This is the first brand new race bike I've ever owned, and the first that I've ever carefully selected after spending months researching design, geometry, and handling characteristics of several brands and models. My search eventually came down to two choices, a Trek Madone 6.5 or the BMC Team Machine. Both are incredible bikes, but I decided on the BMC mostly because I preferred it's geometry over the Trek. That's not to say it has better geometry than the Trek, only that it is better for my own particular build.

Last night I had my first chance to ride the Team Machine, but it was only for 15 miles. Today I was able to get out for 40 miles, and give it a little more of a test on some hills. It's clear that this bike is a world of difference from my Felt, which is a mixture of aluminum and carbon fiber. First, it smooths the smaller road irregularities better than the Felt. The other thing that was obvious was the way it accepted whatever power I applied to the pedals while climbing, with the least amount of lateral flex.

I'm hoping to ride the first century with it sometime in March or early April, weather permitting. That's when the real test will be, as I am planning to use this bike in my record attempt across Wisconsin later this summer. I'll report more about the bike as the days and the miles get longer. Come on spring!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

She blesses me

Today my wife and I celebrate our 4-year wedding anniversary. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but one thing I know I did right was to ask Linda to marry me. From the first time I heard her say to me, "God bless you", I knew there was something very special about her. She didn't know it at the time, but when I heard those words, I began to hear music like I had never heard it before. I began to see the colors of creation like I had never seen them before. I began to understand love the way I had never understood it before. Those words came from her heart, and went directly to mine. The young flame of a mutual love was born, and I have been seeing the world in a new light ever since.

Linda's love of the Lord has continued to inspire me. Even when I'm cranky (and often have no practical reason to be), she continues to love me as I am. She endures with me, and walks beside me through my pain. She constantly sacrifices her own needs and desires for my own. Linda is a virtuous woman. Linda is a woman of noble character. She is my Queen. She blesses me. And the Lord has blessed us.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Misfit

World English Dictionary
misfit (noun): a person not suited in behavior or attitude to a particular social environment

I am a misfit. For as long as I can remember, I have always been a misfit. Or at least circumstances have always lead me to feel that way. I won't bore you with the entire spectrum of where the description might fall in my life. For this post, I'll refer to my athletic abilities.

When I was in grade school, I was tall and thin. So everybody told me I should be good at playing basketball. I wasn't. Basketball requires coordination. I have always lacked severely in that department. And my tall, thin build was never a good formula for a football player. If there was any sport I might have done well at while I was growing up, it might have been running. But that required a desire to hurt. Hurt? ...HURT? Ha-ha! Need I explain any further?

I really didn't discover the joy of athleticism until somewhere in my mid-20s. I was working at a factory as a welder, and a few of us would go to the local park after work and throw a Frisbee around. There were many late summer afternoons I could be found running and leaping and tossing the magical disc with an abandon I had never before experienced in my life. Now that I look back, I guess I kind of saw myself as some kind of Frisbee-wielding ballet dancer. But please don't tell any of my macho football friends I said that. ;-)  I was finally loving athletics,  but in truth it was sort of a misfit sport when you compare it to the traditional sports in our country. Those were great years though, and it was in those open fields that I learned that even this scawny, misfit kid from Brown Deer, Wisconsin, could use the physical body that God blessed him with and have fun doing it!

Around the same time in my life, I rediscovered the joy of bicycling. Back in grade school, my buddies and I would often construct wooden ramps to jump from with our old Schwinn Stingray bikes. We would set up a number of garbage cans inbetween the launching and landing ramps, and have contests who could jump over the most garbage cans. I think 6 cans was the best we ever got. But later on in highschool, I purchased my first adult-sized bike, a 1974 Raleigh Grand Prix 10-speed. And in the spring of 1980, I started to ride my old Raleigh again, and decided that by the end of the summer, I wanted to complete my first "century", 100 miles in one day. With the help of a fellow cyclist that had organized events for American Youth Hostels, I reached that goal later that September. I was hooked. I had found my sport. I was a long-distance cyclist!

Over the years, I grew into an ultra-marathon cyclist. Ultra-marathon cycling events typically have to be at least 200 miles long (in one day). But ultra-marathon cyclists are a strange breed, even in the sport of cycling itself. When people speak of bicycle racing, as least in the United States, we are usually referring to much shorter events, such as the criterium. Criteriums are considerably faster, but much shorter events than ultras. They also involve pack-style riding, which allows cyclists to take a "rest" as they take turns riding in the slipstream of other riders. On the other hand, ultra-marathon cycling usually requires the cyclist to ride on his own, and is more like a very long time trial. Because it is you alone racing against the clock, an individual time trial (ITT) is often referred to as "the race of truth". So here I was. I could finally call myself an athlete, but I was still a misfit athlete! Ha!

So why am I boring you with all this babble of my misfit past? Well, things haven't really changed much for me if you consider what my main cycling goal is for this year. I am trying to return to the sport of ultra-marathon cycling at an age when many of my "old" friends have stepped into the role of grandparents and bouncing grandkids on their knees or maybe even taking them to their first baseball game. Is this idea of mine crazy? Does it make any sense? I guess I won't find out until the summer's over and I have had my chance to break this record. I know one thing for sure, I will need a lot of help if this is to work. It has already required the loving patience of my wife, who sacrifices a lot of her own time and energy to allow me to maintain my focus on this goal. It will also require a lot of time and energy from a support crew who I will need to rely on for many things during the event. But mostly, I will need to trust in the Lord for my strength to carry me through those 290 miles across the state of Wisconsin, for I know this is not possible without him.

You see, I am still that same misfit athlete that found the joys of ultra-marathon cycling over 30 years ago when I dusted off my Raleigh and found the open road. But even misfits find their way when they place their trust is in the Lord and look to him for their strength. To him be the glory. All of it.

PS: One more thing. I've been planning to hook up a charity with our record attempt and a decision has finally been made! An announcement will follow within the next day or two, and I promise it will be a good one.
 

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Time to Grieve

One week ago yesterday, and old cycling friend of mine, James Wallner, lost his wife to cancer. Suzanne ("Suzie") H. Wallner. It's been over 20 years since I've seen Jim Bob, but we were able to connect a year or so ago through the Facebook website. During this time, I learned that Jim is a child of Christ. I also learned when Suzie came down with the dreaded cancer. Since then, I have been blessed with the love and devotion I saw in these people as they lived through that struggle together. Jim doesn't know it, but his devotion to Suzie that I've witnessed over this past year, has been an inspiration and example of how I need to love and serve my own wife. He called her his "QUEEN", and he treated her just like that.

Jim and I both know that Suzie is now experiencing the joy that we as Christians patiently await during our time on earth. And knowing that, can bring us a comfort that no one and no thing can ever give us. Yet, until we ourselves are called to our final home in the arms of Jesus, we will miss those loved ones who go before us.

Today Jim Bob is grieving the loss of his best friend. And I, because we are called to do so, grieve with him. Bless you, my friend, and know that you are loved by many. But most of all, know that you are loved by the author of love, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave us cause to rejoice in the pain.