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Some personal history, and words of encouragement (long post)

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Some personal history, and words of encouragement (long post)

Old 05-18-12, 09:21 AM
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Some personal history, and words of encouragement (long post)

Some recent threads here, and in the 50+ subforum where I also participate, have started me ruminating about my return to cycling and the effect it’s had on me. So here’s a bit of history, and some random thoughts that have popped into my head on, and following, recent rides.

I started cycling seriously in my 20s. I joined the local club where I lived in central Illinois, rode their weekly Saturday morning breakfast rides (35-40 miles), regularly participated in one of their mid-week after-work rides (20 miles) and did a lot of my own solo rides in the countryside that were anywhere from 30-50 miles long. I still remember the sense of amazement I felt the first time I broke the 50 mile mark, moving that great a distance under my own power. I also rode regularly with several friends who were of similar abilities, and even though we’ve all moved away from one another, I still cherish those friendships. That was the best aspect of group rides for me. I’ve never formed friendships like that in the other clubs and groups I’ve ridden with, though I remain hopeful that will change.

Back then I even tried my hand at several races in what was called “Citizens’ Class,” something that’s now labeled “CAT 5.” I had a blast, though after finishing third in my first race, I never placed again, and on a couple of occasions at criteriums around the square in Madison, WI, I was pulled by race officials as I was about to get lapped. I also had more than my share of DNFs, dropping out on courses that proved way beyond my abilities. So along with the exhilaration of racing, I had plenty of humiliation, too, though never enough to motivate me to work hard at improving. After a couple of seasons, and about 7 or 8 races, I decided that, as a racer, I was pretty much a dilettante, and called it quits. It sounds ridiculous to say it now, but it was much more competitive than I was expecting. I expected the unlicensed crowd to be more like me, and less like sandbagging CAT 4 riders. I finally realized that even among these people I was more of just an enthusiast when it comes to fast riding, enjoying pushing myself, loving the sensation of speed, but unwilling to devote the kind of 24/7 prep work it takes to be competitive. I now attribute that one early success to an unusually small and slow field. Even the local shop club’s weekly Saturday time trial was a sobering experience for me the one time I tried it. 5 miles out and 5 back on a pretty flat course, and after pushing as hard as I could, I crossed the finish line in one or two seconds under 30 minutes. I thought I was going to die for the effort, and for all that work, all I got was a tiny fraction over 20 mph. Everyone else was averaging over 25. Some, well over.

One of my favorite riding activities in those days was a large 3-day group ride that the Bloomington, IL, newspaper sponsored. It was patterned after RAGBRAI, but since it was held over Labor Day weekend each year, it was only about 250-270 miles long. We’d ride point-to-point for three days, while the organizers hauled our camping gear, and we’d pitch our tents on the grounds of local schools. We’d get the use of their showers, and they’d feed us in their cafeterias. It was more fun than I can describe and I wish I hadn’t taken 2 or 3 years to get up the nerve to try it. The ride is no longer around, though these days I’m way too old to get much enjoyment out of sleeping on the ground. But if the opportunity to do something similar presented itself now, and it included a real bed to sleep in each night, I’d be on it.

All of this riding was done at weights that varied from a high of 264 to a low of 212, with most of the time spent around 230 or so. As much fun as it was, it was still a lot of work, hauling that weight around. Hills were torture, and there were a few that I rode regularly that I had to walk portions of. I dreaded hills and wondered at the base of each one, if I was going to make it to the top. I developed all kinds of psychological coping mechanisms, like never judging a hill from the top of the preceding one (they all look insurmountable from that vantage point – better to reserve judgment until you’re at the bottom and ready to climb), and doing everything I could to carry as much momentum into the hill as possible, and picking out intermediate milestones along each one to focus on.

That was how I rode, through my 20s and into my 30s. Later in my 30s I started to slack off in the frequency and intensity of my riding, rarely doing more than 20-30 mile casual rides with my wife. And then finally, in my late 40s and early 50s I pretty much stopped completely, and let my weight balloon to over 304 pounds.

I went to the doctor because of some digestive issues I was having, afraid that I had some horrible disease, but after a bunch of tests it turned out to be nothing more than distress from the massive load I was putting on the system. I’ve always been a stress eater, and I was under a ton of stress at work. While I found I wasn’t seriously ill, that doctor visit led to me going on hypertension and cholesterol meds. And I consider myself lucky beyond comprehension that I never became diabetic, particularly with my family history. The highest my blood sugar ever got was one instance where it was 104, with it usually being in the low 90s. And with some sensible suggestions from the doctor (portion control, moderate exercise in the form of walking) I managed to drop about 40 pounds.

That was the point I began to think about getting back into riding. Prior to that, I had pretty much written off the possibility and had even gotten rid of my old collection of jerseys that hadn’t fit me in 30 years, though fortunately I kept my 2 road bikes. Still, I suffered from the same “embarrassed rider” syndrome that’s so common here – while I understood either bike would support me fine (as would their wheels – these bikes were from the era of 36-spoke wheels), I thought no one should have to look at a hippo balancing on a rail fence. I understand now that was absurd, and I urge anyone in a similar position to ignore those thoughts. For me, though, it led to the purchase of any entry-level mountain bike, with a second set of narrower wheels for higher pressure tires, and I started riding it sporadically, racking up mileage numbers that you couldn’t even call modest – like 300 to 400 a year. Still, it was a start. Then a little over 2 years ago I joined Weight Watchers, and with that, and additional exercise in the form of more riding and now running, the rest of the weight has been coming off. It’s been a slow process, and one that’s had more than a couple of setbacks (during this time I’ve been as low as 189, but popped back up), but I understand it’s a life change and not a temporary eating and exercise plan. With that knowledge, it’s easy to keep the long-view in mind. I’ll get where I want to be eventually.

As the weight came off, I made a couple of intermediate goals for myself. When I got under 250 I would get the road bike out and ride it instead of the mountain bike. Then the following season I promised myself a new road bike when I broke 200 pounds (I was tired of the 1989 technology on my current road bike, plus I wanted a treat). That was a definitely a highlight of last summer, as was my participation in a relay tri, handling the 40K bike segment, where I managed to average over 18 MPH. Not the 20 MPH time trial I did as a “youth,” but on a course almost 2.5 times longer, and with 35 extra years on my legs. Overall, last season I rode more than I ever had in previous years, totaling about 1200 miles. I know that’s nothing even approaching what some of us here do, but it was a big deal to me. I finished my season with the Hilly Hundred near Bloomington, IN. It was my first time there in about 30 years, and while it was formidable, I had a great time and plan to do it again. It was also about that time that the doctor took me completely off the BP and cholesterol meds.

Now I’m off to the best season start I’ve ever had. I’m on track to at least double my total mileage from last year, and with the faster group rides I’ve been taking part in, and the new membership in the shop club/team, my fitness continues to improve.

But here is why I’m writing all of this: finishing Hilly Hundred last year, and my continuing fitness improvements this year, have made a profound change in the way I think about and approach my riding, and it’s to an extent I never would have imagined possible. I know I still have a long way to go, but the benefits so far are so much more tangible than I ever would have guessed, that I felt the need to write this ridiculously long post as encouragement for others who have started this same journey, but might not be as far along the path as I am. I’ve always loved riding, regardless of the weight I was carrying or the relative fitness of my body, but lately that feeling has been amped up substantially. I take unbridled joy in riding now, and hills are no longer objects of dread for me, regardless of whether they’re surmountable or not. If I have to get off and walk, so what? I still view each one as a challenge I approach with enthusiasm, a personal test of sorts.

I guess what all this boils down to is that you, too, can make these kinds of changes in your life and infuse your riding with this infectious joy. It takes work, no question, but it’s fun work. And any time you feel like you’re struggling, just think about the weight you’ve lost already, whether that’s 4 pounds or 40. Imagine while you’re out there riding, fighting a headwind, or making your way slowly up that monster climb, what the feeling would be like if that weight was suddenly put back on your body. Imagine how much harder it would be to move that bike if a 40-pound bag of water softener salt were slung over your shoulders. Take joy in your accomplishments and continue to add to them, and feel them all in your riding, every day.

Go get ‘em! You can do it!

Last edited by CraigB; 05-18-12 at 09:48 AM.
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Old 05-18-12, 09:45 AM
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Great post, Craig. Thank you.
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Old 05-18-12, 11:00 AM
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Thanks Craig! It's nice to read more background on other clydes. Keep up the effort and the posts.
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Old 05-18-12, 11:43 AM
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A lot of that I could have said myself, except in my early days I was much more a recreational rider than I was competitive. I was never thin, but my weight got out of control in my forties. I started commuting about ten years ago, but rarely did over ten miles until I changed jobs a year ago January. I decided to get serious with weight loss. Lately I am not bothered being embarrassed about being fat and on a bike. I had a lot of personal issues when I was younger that were caused by worrying about what others would think. I no longer care what others think, and my life improved because of it.

I did my first ever group ride last August. The mostly flat 25 mile San Diego Bike the Bay. That was followed by a 2400 ft climbing “half metric” in October, and a 1000 ft climbing half century in November. Next September I am signed up for a 5000ft Metric, and hope to do my first full century (1800ft) the following November.

I have no illusions about being able to compete with some who have been competing life long, and I don’t care. I compete with myself, and it works for me.

Yes, I have always enjoyed biking, and there were very few periods of my life where I did not own a bike. It is only recently that I have become something like a serious cyclist. My wife thinks I’m crazy, but has come to accept it.
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Old 05-18-12, 11:49 AM
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Nice dissertation...I mean post. As a former Clyde here myself, I can say cycling has improved and continues to improve the quality of my life.
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Old 05-18-12, 11:58 AM
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Great post Craig however I think you stole a portion of my story.

- Competitive younger (OK, not much younger) - winning 4 State Championships and placing as high as 6th at the Worlds in 3D archery.

- When I drop to 225 I'll get a nice road bike (found a STEAL Giant TCR Advanced 1 with a load of spare bits)

- Embarrassed mountain bike (Gary Fisher Tarpon) rider on a mountain bike along the C&O canal because I was (am?) too fat to ride the road.
- Walking up "hills" that were maybe 50' elevation change to completing over 2400 miles in 2011 starting in July (Holy Crap!!!)


- ridding in weekly club rides where we can average 18+ mph over 25-30 miles. (Another HOLY CRAP! moment when I was told what pace we did and I still had some left). Note to Paisan, Chef and Will. I did a rollout on my bike and your GPS units no loner lie about the speed we are going.

- being able to get up that CAT 5 climb which has a 20% deal for a short bit WITHOUT(!) getting off the bike. That was yet another HOLY CRAP(!) moment.
- already have 2200 miles and 108,000+ feet gain according to ridewithgps.

I can't imagine what it would be like to have the 70 lbs back on my body and hoping I can lose 30 more.
Thinking of joining a race team just so I can practice with them to get better.

As you so eloquently put it "You can do it".

Now, wonder what I need to do to train for the CASA Century tomorrow?
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Old 05-18-12, 01:12 PM
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The epistle of Craig. Nicely written. And, not dissimilar to my own story. Maybe not quite as far along as you, but, pedalling like hell to close the gap and catch your wheel:-)
Birth Certificate, Passport, Marriage License Driver's License and Residency Permit all say I'm a Fred. I guess there's no denying it.
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Old 05-18-12, 06:19 PM
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I enjoy all your post. You have a positive spirit, and the guts to try new things. If I lived closer, I would love to ride with you.

Keep it up brother
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Old 05-18-12, 07:57 PM
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What a great post Craig!

Keep it going
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Old 05-19-12, 05:42 AM
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Really great post caig. I sit here in front of willa house at 7am reading this before we tackle a ride with a lot of climbing. Nervous about it but your post made a lot of since to me. Make sure to post that again and again as it is important for each new members and other old members to read these. Keeps up in perspective and in check. Great post.
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Old 05-19-12, 07:23 AM
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Great post. As we are improving our lives through bicycling it's great to be encouraged by the experiences of our friends here!
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