Small Victories! (Kinda Long)
Chalked up another small victory today!
But first, here's some background: About 4 years ago I was 51 years old, and weighed in at about 370 lbs. At that point in my life I had a regular desk job, and was still working part-time on my local fire department as an Assistant Chief and as an EMS First-Responder (kind of a junior-EMT). Even with the excess weight, I was in fairly decent shape - no blood pressure problem, decent resting heart rate, good recovery time, and could still get a passing score on the department's agility test - I am a big guy, and carried the weight well.
Then I was diagnosed as a Type 2 Diabetic, and it was time for some changes. My wake-up call was a "boil" on the back of my right thigh that became infected and advanced to the point of blood poisoning. I had to be hospitalized to have the boil surgically drained. The blood poisoning was the real worry - at the hospital they took a Sharpie and outlined the inflamed area on my upper leg, and said that if the intravenous antibiotics didn't start reducing the size of the inflamed area, they would have to take my right leg off at the hip!
Anyway, after dodging that bullet, going on Glucovance, and watching my diet, I started walking for exercise. The pounds started coming off. A year ago, having become bored with walking, I was thinking about trying bicycling. What pushed me over the edge to get started was an opportunity to get a "free" mountain bike through an airline frequent flyer program. I got a Trek 820, and started riding.
I live out in the country, and figured I'd try riding on the back roads around my neighborhood. I started out riding a triangular loop, with some hills involved, of about 4-1/2 miles. At first I couldn't make it all the way around the loop once without stopping to rest, but I kept at it, riding every other day, until I could. That first small victory was sweet!
After that I started adding more distance, and finding other hills to ride. I bought a cyclocomputer for the Trek so I could see how far I was riding and how fast. I bought a heart rate monitor so I could keep tabs on any cardiovascular improvements.
As I rode more and more, I determined that I didn't really like the mountain bike. With the flat bars there was only one position for my hands, and I was having issues with numbness. Also, as I climbed hills, I didn't like the oscillations of the front-suspension fork - it would get into a kind of synchronous oscillation with my pedal strokes (I call it the "boingys") until the front wheel would start bouncing off the ground. I decided I wanted a road bike of some sort.
I had an old Ross 10-speed from back in the '70's out in the barn, so I drug it out, lubed it up, put on new tires and tubes, and started riding it.
I decided I wanted a road bike with mountain bike gearing.
By this time my weight was down to about 270 lbs, and my waist size had gone from 44" to 38". This was a big victory!
As I rode, my heart rate would usually hover in the 140 to 150 range, hitting 180 to 190 on the climbs. I spoke to my doctor about this, and he said that as long as my recovery rate was good - if I dropped back into the 120's after a minute or so, I was good. Only if I stayed at a high rate after a rest should I worry. So far so good.
I looked at road bikes, and decided that I didn't want an aluminum/carbon fiber lightweight bike - I wanted steel. Luckily I found an LBS that would listen to what I wanted and not just try to push something off on me that they had in stock. We discussed Surly's, the Crosscheck and the Long Haul Trucker - I was already familiar with the Long Haul Trucker and was intrigued by it's obvious weight-carrying capacity. I decided to go with a Long Haul Trucker Complete, and they measured me up and put one on order. That was in about June of 2007.
As it happened, Surly was unable to supply a Complete bike, so the LBS built mine from a frame/fork. This was a good thing, because they knew I would not be touring on it, and my riding would be restricted to paved roads. They built the bike with components equal to or better than Surly's spec for a Complete, but used 700 x 28 high-pressure tires instead of the 35's that are normal for the LHT.
I picked up the bike in July, and pretty much fell in love with it. My issues with hand numbness are now controllable due to the multiple hand positions provided by the drop bars. I was a little apprehensive about the bar-end shifters, but after the problems I was having with the clicker-shifters on my Trek always seeming to be out of adjustment, I quickly came to appreciate the tuneablity of the bar-ends. These things never miss a shift.
My rides increased from the 5 mile loop around my neighborhood to 10 miles, then 15 miles, then 20 miles, and up to 30 miles at a time. After a much reduced schedule over the winter, I picked it up again this spring and seemed to spring back quickly. I started finding a lot of joy in exploring the back roads, and noticing the details that I missed from driving the same roads in a car.
Although my weight seems to be hovering at about 260 lbs, my heart rate on rides, when just cruising, stays in the 120 to 130 range, and might climb to 140 - 150 when I push it. Hills that used to push me to 185 - 190 are now being climbed at 160. My resting heart rate has dropped from 84 to 67. My blood pressure is down from 122/94 to 112/70. More importantly in my mind, after I push my heart rate up on a climb, I can continue to pedal after reaching the top, not having to stop exhausted to rest, and actually watch my rate drop as I spin along. These numbers constitute another victory!
There was one route I always took that involved a coast down a fairly steep hill. I was always afraid of approaching that hill from the other direction because I didn't think I'd make the climb. A few weeks ago I was out for a ride, and was becoming bored with the route that I had ridden so many times, and when I got to the intersection leading to the bottom of that hill I took it on a whim. I figured I'd ride it as far as I could, and if I couldn't make it all the way, the worst I'd have to do was turn around and coast back down. Lo and behold I made it all the way up! This was a big victory, and a confidence builder!
Today I tried a different route for a change, one that I had been riding last year, that involved a long moderate uphill grade with a steep section at the end. That steep section always kicked my butt last year, and I always had to stop and rest right in the middle of it. It was bear to get started out again. This morning I rode it all the way on two wheels - no resting in the middle! Another victory.
I suppose that if I keep stringing these small victories together, that's how wars are won! And, if my be so bold to presume, how cyclists are made!