Friday, August 24, 2012

Pedal Till Your Legs Fall Off

On Wednesday I had a Microsoft-induced disaster at work. Windows took a giant jump into the lake and left me without a working computer for the entire day. As a result, I got off work earlier than usual. Having been sick for about 3 weeks in a row and not having exercised much during that time, I was feeling a bit agitated. I needed a workout.

I have a race coming up in a few weeks. The 2012 Warrior Dash is just next month, and this month only has a few days left in it. I haven't run at all since my last race. That was quite some time ago. And having been sick between in addition to not exercising has sucked all the endurance out of me.

Gonna go for a run
So, having extra free time and being home before most of the heavy work traffic hit, I thought I'd go for a run. I put on my running clothes and pulled out my brand new running shoes, which I got courtesy of Fleet Feet and their video run monitoring system that helps choose the exact shoe for your particular running style. And I started to water up. I hadn't drank much water all day.

I had complained in the past about how this new area where I've been living for the past 6 months doesn't have any good hills. There is a road near my house with a few ups and downs, but nothing like the area I lived for the previous 3 1/2 years with it's long, steep mountainous climbs that would make my heart explode if I tried to run up it too fast. I grumbled about that to myself while putting my shoes on. Running in an area without hills just bores the crap out of me.

And then I saw my brand new, never-used bicycle helmet in the coat closet underneath the stairs. Hmm, bike helmet. I think I have some sport sunglasses. My legs are pretty wobbly for running after being sick for so long. Maybe I should take the bike out instead?

Gonna go for a ride
So I put my shiny new bicycle helmet on, grabbed my obnoxious red sport sunglasses, and went outside. I dragged my Bianchi road bike out of the shop where it was leaning against my antique Suzuki Duster 125. I briefly remembered for the 1000th time that I still need to find a welder to fix the kickstarter for my Suzuki so I can start it up and run it before the engine seizes up on me. I popped a cheap generic Kroger bottled water into the water bottle holder on the bike frame and started trying to slip my new running shoes into the toe clips. These shoes and these clips clearly were never intended to be used together. Still, I made them work.

The bottle of water fell over sideways as I stepped into the pedals and began moving down the driveway. When I sat down on the seat the bottle nearly fell out entirely. I reached down to straighten it up, swerving towards the grass as I did so and nearly wiping out. This never happened when I was a kid. I was the Evil Knievel of bikes when I was growing up. Today I nearly bust ass in my own driveway over a bottle of water.

As I finished straightening up my bottle of water I noticed that my tires seemed a little flat. I had given them a basic squeeze test before I got on and they seemed fine. Now that my big butt was on the seat, though, they seemed pretty flat. I was thinking about this when I reached the end of my driveway and nearly slammed into the back of my neighbors' new Toyota Sequoia. They had backed down their own driveway as I was swerving wildly down my own and we were now meeting in the middle. I couldn't blame myself for the near collision. Anyone could miss seeing a big black Toyota Sequoia SUV moving directly at them at low speed in broad daylight. I'm sure this happens all the time, right? Sure it does.

Hi neighbor!
Once I avoided the potentially fatal collision (for me) with my neighbor and got myself all straightened out and moving down the road, the sense that my tires were insufficiently inflated for my particular weight was even worse than it had been in my driveway. I could swear that every single pebble in the asphalt making up my street was hammering away at the rims, front and back, but especially the back. That's where most of me is.

I thought about turning around and going home again to pump them up a bit more, but as I had nearly died coming out of my own driveway the first time I was afraid to go back and give fate, or my neighbors, a second shot at me. I continued on.

Luckily for me, I live near the top of a hill, or slope rather. So the ride to the end of my street is easy even with under inflated tires. I was quickly going very fast. Why turn back for a tire pump? I was making good progress. After my street intersects with the next one, there is a short uphill climb and then its mostly flat for about a half mile. I pedaled past woods and two large dogs and some horses and then  took a right onto the long and winding road that has all those little hills that underwhelm me when I'm out jogging.

I remember when I was younger, I used to say that I am not a jogger, I am a runner. There is a difference. A runner is fast and competitive. A jogger is old and slow and wears headbands and iPods and carries a cell phone, maybe some keys, looks a bit awkward and sweats in all the wrong places. Well, I used to be a runner. Lately I'm more of a jogger. Any 5K time over 29:59 is officially a jog. I'm sorry, I don't care how hard I'm working to go faster, it's not real running if I can't finish the race in the 20s at most. Teens would be better, but I haven't run a 5K in a time beginning with a '1' for a very long time. 

The first real hill I hit on this road is probably the best of them all. But I was on the wrong side of it. It is a climb to reach the top, but it's the other side that's the real challenge. It's shorter and steeper and I use it to run sprints on when I'm trying to work on my speed and strength. Riding down that short, steep side on my bike made me a little nervous. I seemed to be really moving. I hunkered down and dropped my hands from the top of the handlebars to the lower 'rams horn' part. I don't know the official word for it. I think 'rams horn' communicates what I'm talking about so I'm going with that. Anyway, I was hauling ass. But even as I reached top speed I knew I wasn't going very fast relative to the speeds I used to ride as a kid on bikes with no gears and sometimes no brakes either. I stepped into it a bit and pedaled, trying to keep the speed up as long as I could. Half a mile more down the road is a series of hills with flat spots between them where you can catch your breath before hitting the bottom of the next hill, one building on top of the last, until finally you reach the top.

Fast as lightning on a downhill
At the bottom of this series of cascading hills I shifted to an easier gear and stepped into it. Halfway up the first hill my bike decided to shift itself. I didn't tell it to and I sure didn't want it to. The gear it shifted into was harder and I nearly fell over. I was huffing away and struggling to shift it back to the correct gear when the gear at the pedals snagged my shoestring and started trying to eat my brand new running shoe. I had to stop, mid-hill, snap my feet backwards out of the toe clips and jump off the bike, all without falling over as the steepness of the hill instantly stopped all forward progress as soon as I stopped pedaling.

A snake in the grass beside the road took off as my feet hit the ground. I tugged my shoestring out of the gear and stuffed as much of the shoestrings on both feet into the shoes as I could. Then I had to struggle to get back on the bike, into the toe clips, and moving forward as quickly as I could before the bike fell over, all while halfway up a steep hill.

Yeah, a steep hill.

On foot, running, er, jogging, these hills are nothing to me. I love running hills. I can't think of a better workout than sprinting up a steep hill as fast as you can. On a bike, an old bike with only 10 speeds total that jumps out of gear at random mid-hill, these hills were steep. It's all in your perspective. It all depends on what you're doing to get up that hill and how good you are at it. I can run this hill all day with no problem. But biking it, I was huffing.

This section of hills, I believe, is a cascade of three or maybe four connected hills built one upon the other, so that you climb them like giant stairs until you reach the very top. Halfway to the top I began to be aware that my legs were hitting something as I leaned into the pedals and pedaled for all I was worth. Something was in my way and banging against the tops of my thighs. It was my stomach.

Pregnant cyclist
Oh, for crying out loud, my own fat stomach was getting in the way of my legs! I could barely breath pedaling up this friggin' mountain and catching a knee to the stomach every pedal rotation wasn't making it any easier. It just seemed too ironic that my stomach was in my way pedaling the bike. This sort of thing never happened to me when I ran. Or did pretty much anything else. Ever.

I`ll bet Lance Armstrong never had this problem in his entire life.

Once me and my stomach finally reached the pinnacle of the mountain, as I was contemplating turning around, I became aware that I was steadily speeding up rolling down around the curve and further up the road. Visually it appeared to be a flat, straight stretch of road, followed by another sharp curve and then a steep downhill, but my bike's steady acceleration was saying that I was already on the other side of Mount Everest and heading down rapidly. I figured I was tired and would just ride it out. What harm could it do? I needed the rest anyway.

Down the other side was maybe 1/8th of a mile, possibly more. By the time I reached the bottom, which dipped sharply before immediately heading up another hill again, I was flying. I had hunkered down, gripping the lowest part of the handlebars, which I'm calling the rams horn whether you like it or not, bucko, and pressing myself down to avoid the wind as much as possible. I supposed I was making myself aerodynamic like a competitive cyclist, but I'll bet I looked more like a fat blue ball with a gay helmet and sunglasses on a bike with 2 flat tires creeping along the road at a modest speed to anyone who saw me.

My momentum carried me surprisingly far up the next hill before I had to start pedaling again. I pushed my way up to a large, brick gated driveway and decided to turn around and head back home again. I was already worn out.

Turning around I was faced with the long, deceptive hill that I had just allowed myself to coast down moments before. I built up as much speed as I could on the downhill I was currently on before reaching the bottom, waving to a blonde woman taking out her trash, and heading up the monster hill from hell. It was awesome when I was coasting down it, nice and long and gradual and so easy. Now it was just long and endless and I wondered if it would ever end so I could catch my breath and not pass out here with the snakes and random stray cats and dogs and my shoe-eating Italian bike.

After an eternity I reached the top, hyperventilating and likely turning blue from lack of oxygen. I was excited about the fact that I was now at the very top of the long progressive series of hills I had climbed already because it meant I had a lot of time to sit up straight on the bike and catch my breath without doing any pedaling while I coasted down and down and down until I finally reached the bottom where a long, flat straight hill-free stretch of road awaited me.

So in 2 seconds flat I was all the way down the series of hills and doing about 40 mph. I had been forced to press myself low to the handlebars to get out of the wind and avoid bullet-like bugs and the occasional bird trying to take my head off. 40 feels pretty fast on a bicycle with flat tires. I suppose if the tires had been properly inflated I could've gone even faster.

Seemed longer riding up
I took my sweet time pedaling down that 1/2 mile stretch of straight, flat road because I knew what was waiting for me at the other end - the killer mountain cliff that I once enjoyed running sprints up, but now dreaded the way a child dreads going to the dentist. I was all out of gas, but much too stubborn to simply get off the bike and walk it up that hill. And I knew it.

I hit the bottom of that hill with no speed at all. I just crawled up to it. An old man could walk faster than I was pedaling. And when I got to the bottom and started up it, I just pressed my gear levers as far down as I could until my pedals barely felt like they were doing anything with each rotation. I was in the easiest gear I could find without dropping my chain onto the street, which I have been known to do.  The slope of the hill began to increase rapidly. And my bike began to strain against it, as my pedaling grew more difficult, and my gears chose themselves seemingly at random, kicking the chain from one gear to the next, each one harder than the previous and inspiring me to curse to myself in my head. I would've cursed aloud, but I didn't have enough oxygen to spare. I thought about my shoestrings and how my bike had tried to eat them the last time I was working this hard to climb a hill. I became aware of my own sweat dripping onto my sunglasses right in front of my eyes, almost as if my eyeballs themselves were sweating from the tremendous effort. I wished I hadn't worn the dorky helmet because it felt as if it was squeezing my skull like a grape and it was hot. I needed all the air circulation I could get. I began to swerve a bit, left and right, not doing a very good job of holding a straight line.

A truck passed me. There was someone inside who looked back at the crazy blue man trying to pedal a bicycle up this impossible vertical cliffside. I saw them out of the corners of my vision, but I never once looked up. I don't believe in looking up while climbing a difficult hill. I think it is counter productive to look up. All you're doing is checking your progress to see how much further you have left to go. And invariably you feel disappointed. You feel as if you've gone a very long ways. You feel as if it should be over already. You are convinced that surely the top is a mere inches away. And so you look and discover to your dismay that you are barely halfway to the top. And that's when you tell yourself that it is OK to stop and walk.

It isn't OK. Don't look up. If you just keep plugging away you'll get to the top eventually. Looking up doesn't help get you there. Keeping your feet moving does. Your mind plays tricks on you when you're working that hard. You want it to be over so you fool yourself into believing that you've gone much further than you really have. Keep your eyes down.

I crept to the top of the hill. I was really heaving by the time I reached it. I was swerving and sweating and gasping and inhaling pollen and bugs and whatever amount of air my wide opened mouth could take in. My face was like a jet engine sucking air so hard that people would be in danger of getting sucked in if they stepped in front of me. I felt as if my lungs were going to burst. But I reached the top. I didn't stop and walk. My bike didn't eat my shoes. And my legs felt as if they were made out of freshly boiled spaghetti. They were just about useless.

I had one final downhill to coast down at this point. I needed every bit of it. I reached the bottom of the hill at good speed and when I needed to make a 90 degree left turn I did it without slowing down. I rolled for as far as I possibly could and then began pedaling. It was like trying to push a pedal with a rope. My legs had nothing left. I don't know how I made it home. That easy slope up my street to my house felt like another mountain climb. I eventually reached my driveway and slowly weaved up it to my house.

When I reached the end of my driveway and had to step off the bike I nearly fell down. My knees buckled and I almost dropped the bike on ground. It was all I could do to roll the bike back into the shop. I leaned on it pretty heavily. And once I got it back into the shop, I leaned it back up against the Suzuki and pumped up those damn tires.


  1. Good on you for finishing your ride!!!! Very entertaining rendition by the way!!

    Damn it all - I'm still a jogger.........:0(

    I carry a phone so when some bastard runs over me I or said driver can call an ambulance for me :0) or when I break something with out any help from anyone else I can call Plumbing Boy to come & rescue me :0)

    AND i always run with an Ipod..........need the tunes man........without the tunes I'd probably still be walking!!!!!!! Jogger is me......

  2. AlleyCat, wouldn't you know, I haven't been back on the bike in 5 days? I'm never going to be ready for the next race at this rate. I wear an iPod when running the treadmill, but never outside on the road. I want to hear the rednecks sneaking up on me in their trucks. ;-)

  3. Good luck with the race despite the lack of training!!!

    LOL I run outside usually when it's dark so headlights warn me. I don't have the tunes up thaaaaatttt loud :0) We got plenty o red necks where I live too......... definitely do not want you run over by their big arse trucks!!

  4. AlleyCat, I can't run or bike outside after dark out here. It is pitch black and you can't see a thing without a bright light. The treadmill becomes my friend in Fall and Winter when its dark by the time I get home from work.