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.