Monthly Archives: October 2008

Cross training

This is the time of year when I start doing some cross-training.  But I don’t mean “cross” as in “cyclocross”. My cross-training comes from my annual battle against the falling leaves.

I’ve been fighting this battle for about 15 years now, with no sign of winning.  No matter what I do, the leaves fall again, and I have to clean them up.  My only victory is to look at it as off-season cross-training — a chance to use muscles other than cycling muscles.

We moved out to where we now live — on the western edge of Geauga county — because we wanted a little more space.  Never realizing that what comes with the space is work: grass to cut, driveway to shovel or plow.  And then there are the leaves.

The first year we were here, the neighbors shook their heads when we walked out with a couple of rakes.  We quickly realized that we needed some heavy artillery: one of those monster leaf blowers strong enough to blow your car off the driveway.  The preferred approach is to blow the leaves into big piles, then load them on a tarp and drag them out back into the woods.

After 15 years, I’ve gotten it down to a science.  It’s like a little game, trying to figure out the optimal way to get this done.  I learned along the way never to make leaf piles you will not have time to haul away that day.  Because inevitably it will rain that night and the pile will become a mass of wet, heavy leaves that never dries out.  I learned to take any advantage of dry weather, even if it means skipping a ride (or sometimes skipping work!) because dry leaves are so much lighter and easier to work with.  I learned the best pattern for dividing the yard into piles, shortest path into the woods, and the largest amount I can haul on the tarp without wrenching my back.

I had to do all this to keep my sanity.  That, and thinking about it as cross-training.  The ideal day this time of year is one we had the other day: relatively warm, dry, and sunny.  I go for a 2-3 hour ride, then immediately spend another 2-3 hours working on the leaves.  When I’m done, it feels like I’ve done an 80-mile road race.

I figure that is one of my secrets to keeping some off-season fitness.  I’m thinking I could actually market that, and get people to come over and work under the guise of cross-training.  It’s cheaper than joining a gym, right?

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Tug of war

In 2006 I went to see a pro cyclocross race in the Netherlands.

Before the big race were amateur and masters races. When I saw the local guys cleaning off their bikes, standing around rehashing the race, I wished I had been out there with them. After seeing the pros race I thought, “I have to try this.” I’m like that when I see my daughter run in cross-country meets. It makes me want to put on a pair of running shoes, pin on a number, and go out and race.

This year I decided to at least dip my toe in the ‘cross racing waters. I borrowed a bike (thanks again Julie!) and have tried 2 races. Now I have a problem. I’m having an internal conflict over whether or not to jump in all the way:

I would need to buy a ‘cross bike (bad). I get to buy another cool bike (good).

Basically I suck at ‘cross (bad) and would need a lot of practice (bad). I’m sure my bike handling skills would improve (good).

I don’t like finishing at the back (bad). It’s a chance to race for fun with no pressure (good).

Going to a race eats up the better part of a day. At this time of year I’d like to just roll out the driveway for a long ride (bad). There’s nothing like going to a race (good).

You have to clean your bike all the time (bad). You get to play in the mud (good).

Since it’s hard to do something half-way, I think I’ve got to make a decision: either in or out. We’ll see how it goes after this weekend.

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Things that make you wonder …

We have a fitness center at work. There’s a group of fitness bunnies and dudes (what is the male version of a fitness bunny?) that works out early in the morning.

At least one of them fails to see the irony in leaving the fitness center, getting in his car, then driving around to the other side of the building to have a shorter walk to his cubicle.

I mean, he could have walked and gotten there faster.

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Riding to somewhere

When I go out to ride, most of the time I end up nowhere. I ride out my driveway, do one of the different routes I’ve learned over the years, then end up back at home. I cover miles but don’t end up anywhere different than where I started.

There’s a different feeling when you actually ride to somewhere.

Last Saturday I rode from home to Wooster (Ohio), where my son would be playing in the band at the College of Wooster’s football game. Google maps helped me find a route of (I hoped) mostly back roads. I estimated 4 hours. My teammate Tris would meet me along the way, and ride with me for part of the trip.

As I started out from home, on roads I ride all the time, it felt different than the usual training ride. It’s hard to put a finger on it exactly. Something about the utility of using your bike to get somewhere — somewhere that’s 70-some miles away. Something about having a specific destination that’s at the end of the trip. Something about navigating a long route you’re not exactly familiar with.

It’s a great way to spend a Saturday. I love riding at this time of year, when the racing season is over. There are no worries about riding too long or hard, or not enough. You can just go out and ride.

Tris met me about 1:30 into the trip and rode with me for another 1:30, much of it on one north-south road (Medina Line) that seemed to go on forever, and had more traffic than should be allowed on a road that doesn’t appear to go anywhere.

The route took in parts of 2 race courses: the Silver Lake Metro Park in Doylestown, which the Summit Freewheelers did maybe 10 years ago, and the Milk Race course in Orrville. Iit felt very odd just to be riding, not racing, on the Orrville course.

In the end it was 4 hours, 5 minutes over 78 miles and three packs of Gu (side note: I’m always amazed at how close we can come to our time estimates, even if the route isn’t known exactly in advance).

The best thing about a ride like this is how good something to eat tastes at the end. I don’t think it even matters what it is. An overcooked hot dog at the football stadium tastes awesome. The worst thing: my legs were pretty well overcooked for the ‘cross race the next day. But it’s the off-season now; it’s all just fun.

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They say most accidents happen at home

My goals  for the Leroy Township ‘cross race (my 2nd ever “real” ‘cross race) were:

1. Finish the race

2. Finish better than dead last

3. Don’t get hurt

In last week’s Wendy Park race, I raced a whole 15 minutes when a flat forced me to abandon (no spare wheels for the bike I’m borrowing from Julie).  So this week, I made sure to put a tube and pump in my pocket.  Changing a flat might take 5 minutes but at least I’d finish.

Pre-riding the course, I was a bit nervous about trying to ride through the steep, 3 ft deep (or so it seemed) drainage ditch … 6 times per lap. The mental image of me flying over the bars was not one I wanted to actually experience.

But as it turned out, I managed.  It was ugly, but I managed.  I rode the ditches about half the time, ran half the time, and concluded that running was faster (for me anyway).  I fell only twice, neither which were bad.  It was more like I “fell over” than “fell off”.  Whacked my knee against the bars and top tube a number of times.

I didn’t finish last. Only 4 guys lapped me.  My knee was sore but otherwise I lived to ride again tomorrow.

At home I went to the backyard to clean the mud off the bike.  As i was hooking up the hose, I somehow stepped in a hole and rolled my ankle (and feeling a painful ‘pop’).  It hurt far worse than anything during the race.  

Oh, the irony.

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