Friday, December 31, 2010

A 2010 Top 5 with a Bonus #6

It's been a pretty good year. It was punctuated with some shitty parts too, no doubt. Some REAL shitty parts. But it's December 31st and in the end, things are finishing on a higher note and the final balance weighs in favour of the GOOD rather than the EVIL. 

Since at this time of the year everyone seems to be popping off their top 5 something-or-other lists, I might as well be cliche and join the club. And this will come as a big surprise: 4/5 things are about biking. In Chronological order:

1. The Madone zone: 

Nothing can come between a girl and her bicycle. My mail-order husband -- ordered in January -- took all of about 3 weeks to come in. It was love at first sight. My love for my bike even inspired a shot gun wedding ceremony. I guess I gushed about my bike. A lot. Such is my way.  And now Mr. Madone, aka "Kermit" and I have been through many a trial together. Several thousand kilometres worth, through Kenora, Calgary, Canmore, he even kept me hanging on the back in the South of Manitoba for that sub-6 200 km.  Nope, I didn't have anything to do with all that. It was all the bike. There was one frightening moment when he refused to get on the airplane in Phoenix and went galavanting without me for two days. I wondered if I would ever see him again. But all's well that ends well, as the bard once said. It has been a happy relationship and I look forward to many more years of ride and rider. 

2. Mount Lemmon:

On the list of the top 50 rides to do before you die, I have one checkmark. "Mount Lemmon is like dying. It's just something you have to do alone." The whole Tucson trip in itself was fabulous. It feels like it was a million years ago and belongs in another lifetime. It practically does belong to another lifetime. I'm not sure what moment lives more special in my mind: Steak done to perfection at the Hacienda del Sol; Lasagna a la Krauss at the Ranch; or guzzling mountain run-off at mile 16 on Mt. Lemmon. Best tasting water, EVER, and thankfully, on that day, free of parasites. 

Michael Krauss points out Mt. Lemmon in the background. Me, Jim, Sean.

3. A Reuniting:

Of all things ridiculous about Facebook, once and a while it pulls out a miracle. (Yes, I am on there too much and I'm not leaving -- although one day, if I ever get a life, I will be on there LESS.) I got a friend request back sometime in June or July from the guy I would describe as one of my "first loves." I fell in love with bike boys at the age of 15 because of this guy.  It has been fun re-getting to know Dean these last few months. He lives far away but we've had some good chats and one brief visit at the end of August. I think I've inspired him to get back on a bike after about 8 years away. Dean, I can't wait for you to drop my ass flat next year with us both on road bikes. Can't wait. It's good to have you back in my life. 

4. The Golden Triangle:

The most beautiful, the most painful, the most soul cleansing ride of my life. It expanded my lungs and the size of my rib cage. It claimed both my legs as a victim and at certain moments, it claimed my sanity too. It also claimed my phone. Oh well, I got a new one. Guy and Wayne were good company and good sports to allow me to butt in on their male bonding ride. What can I say. Everything about that entire time I spent out West in Calgary and the highways of Banff, Yoho, and Kootanay National Parks was about peace and contentment. A much needed way to end the training season and move on to the season of fun. 

5. Cyclocross Everything:

When I showed up at Menno Cross barely knowing, the two weeks before, that cyclocross existed, I had no idea it would quickly become the love affair of the year. There I was, loaner bike in hand -- a bike I thought I'd have for ONE race only, but thanks to some clever race avoidance tactics by my bicycle benefactor, turned into a season long affair. I had no mount or dismount skills (Cross labs? When were those?) and about to navigate mud puddles and bunkers and rock beds. If you check out the link to Menno, there is a short video of the race and a nice shot of me doing some sketchy riding through a puddle (depths and bottom condition unknown). I'm the one covered in mud in case you don't recognize me right away. It was riding like I had never seen before. I couldn't wait till that bloody race was OVER and then when it WAS over I couldn't wait to go again. And go again I did, six more times, and each was better than the last. And the post pain amnesia set in faster and faster. I saw my life flash before my eyes on the hilly beast out in Altona -- I carried that fear with me all the way through the Whittier race. It didn't leave until I raced incognito and in the mud once again out at Harbour View. I was just finding my cross legs by Provincials and then it was done. I can't wait to go again. When's the next race? When is it? Huh? Huh? When? What do you mean I HAVE TO WAIT!?

And a bonus:

And this one isn't about me. It's just something that puts a smile on my face and gives me hope. My friend Terri, I would have to say outdoes, even me, in terms of the amount of time she's spent in the land of the cynics when it comes to relationships. I've never in my life heard anyone come up with more excuses to avoid relationships than this girl. And in all fairness, she has some pretty good reasons to be avoidant. So good, in fact, that she has said to me recently upon reading my admission that I steal from my friends lives when I write fiction, that she fully expects me to steal from hers one day and maybe she should STOP telling me crap....... then I reminded her that I steal but I also F&*K with it (you know, remove all the serial numbers, give it an new paint job, and crap like that) so she'll likely never even realize. 

I almost didn't send the message I sent. You know that message Terri? The one I sent asking you who the heck that Darryl guy was who was always flirting with you incessantly all over your facebook status comments?  Yes that one. I almost didn't send it because I had given up asking Terri such questions because her excuses were so LAME that I didn't want to hear another. 

Her reply was: "Darryl is the ex that I shouldn't have chased away. But just friends. And soulmates. But friends. :)"

[That's a cut and paste job, by the way. So no f'ing with Terri's life there.]


"Just friends."

That doesn't even MAKE ANY F'ING SENSE, TERRI!

That was my internal reaction. I was much politer in my message back. To make a long story short it was a faith issue, really. Faith is really important to Terri. So not really knowing what it meant to "have faith" (I'm the one, you know, when I step into a church the walls start caving in around me and lighting bolts of death start shooting from the sky -- that's a genetic problem by the way. My father has the same problem) I asked a few key questions and made Terri think about what that meant. What does it REALLY mean to have faith in God? And how do you know -- how DO you know -- that just because someone doesn't buy into organized religion that they don't have FAITH?

Anyways, it was a naive question and a very philosophical conversation ensued and Terri gave Darryl a chance and I'd like to think I had something to do with that maybe? No? For the most part things were already tumbling down that inevitable path for Terri anyway. But it is true that other people's relationships are clearly viewed with happy endings all in place in my crystal ball. It's my own relationships that are confused jumbled blurry messes. 

Terri is a really happy woman right now and I, in turn, am very happy for her. Good thing there are do-overs in love. Sometimes. 

Oh well, for me there is always 2011.

It's been a good year. I have plans for next year. They are shaping up nicely.

Happy New Year everyone. Thanks for reading. Now please be entertained by evidence of my lack of a life by a handpicked selection of a year of Facebook status's. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

They're Looking at Your Socks

You think they're not looking at your socks? he asked. I nodded gravely. They're looking at your socks, we said in unison. 

That's a quote from one of my favourite books, A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews.

And, of course, I'm NOT writing about socks. I'm never just writing about what it appears I'm writing about. I told you that already.

The quote reminds me a little of how I feel about blogging some days. You never really know who's looking or what secret thoughts they are having about your "socks."

I think I am fairly safe in saying that all of us who write blogs have a little nagging wonder about who the hell is reading our crap spewings anyway. No?

Which makes me wonder, why the hell do I do this anyway? Why do I put myself out there like this? It is a full-on public forum after all. Anyone can look. Blogging is like literary voyeurism. Well, except without the sex part....


Or maybe blogging is actually literary exhibitionism? Get a little half-undressed in public and see if anyone notices?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as it has come more and more into my awareness that people are actually reading this garbage. I started my blog as a way of dealing with my my post-divorce identity (still haven't figured that out yet) and perhaps with the hope of having others read and say, "Yeah, I've been there too."

I actually own this magnet. Fitting. Or at least, at one time, it was.
And occasionally people take the time to tell me they relate to what I say.  I've had some really nice emails from people saying some really serious things that they wouldn't dare say publicly in a comment where they would prefer to maintain a persona of "light and fluffy" (I've done the same, by the way).

I end up writing about biking a lot because that's what I use to distract myself from the sucky parts of life. So I write about two very different things with likely two very different audiences (touch of overlap here and there maybe??). I don't know. I never thought anyone would ACTUALLY read.  I just kinda hoped they might.

I've thought about separating the subjects into two different blogs but . . . . . .  I don't really want to.

And I'm pretty reflective and serious at moments in this forum. It's really hard to write funny and fluffy, as I recently discovered, so I don't try often. I get a far bigger kick out of ironic humour than HA-HA humour, anyhow. I'll happily comment light and fluffy on your blog though, although even then I'm usually holding back and trying to masque how deeply, DEEPLY, penetrated my mind is in the gutter. The real-life me is famous for cracking some inappropriate black-humored or off-coloured joke at exactly the wrong moment.

Or maybe the "real-life" me just says what everyone else is thinking?

Anyways. In terms of the biking crap, sometimes I feel I write about biking from the perspective of someone who's walked into the room half way through the conversation and is trying to sound like an authority. I really don't know what the hell I'm talking about because I don't know the history. I'll probably write excitedly about something because I've just discovered it, in the meantime all the veterans are rolling their eyes at my "old news."

Just humour me, 'kay. I'll grow up eventually.

Mostly, though, I blog because I like to write. I'm a pretty good writer, I think. Although my style may not be for everyone. I just like to write about what is burning a fire in my gut at the moment.

And RANT a little.


But given that writing kinda sustains me, I end up feeling pretty vulnerable about anything I spew out. That's hard for me to deal with some days.

Literary exhibitionism. Hmmmmm. Notice I said "half-undressed" above, eh. It's always most exciting the moment before the last item comes off.

Maybe I'm just intimidated by all my more experienced biker blogging friends who I have come to revere and feel inspired by and I think DO know what they are talking about?

Maybe I should just stop obsessing about the whole damn thing?

It's a chicken or egg, kinda thing isn't it? Do I write because I over think? Or do I over think because I write?

Meh. Mostly I write for me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I lifted the photo from the ProBikeKit Facebook page. It is a nice little piece of art in addition to being a schooling for me.  I've already talked about how useless I am when it comes to bike components so that even simple things like knowing how aggressive I can get with those components when cleaning my bikes makes me nervous.

The other day a friend, who I know reads my blog, forwarded me this link about how to clean your bike in 10 minutes from Bicycling Magazine -- the mag for everything a lay person (and mechanical idiot) should want or need to know about biking, or so you would think. I scanned it with interest until point #4 which told me to "remove rear derailleur housing" and then I was done with that article because that was the most useless thing you could ask me to do. I'd have to stare at my bike for about 10 minutes just to figure out what might be the "derailleur housing." The bike still wouldn't get clean.

Actually I could stare at my bike all day and still not know what that is exactly.

I get a little better every year though so I will get there. I listen. I learn. I take people's unsolicited advice -- usually. The understanding isn't instantaneous and I don't know what I don't know so I fail to ask questions that I probably should. I'm a strong believer in learning from my own mistakes. I ended up with a bike too big for me because I didn't know what to ask. I loved that Devinci. It was pretty and orange and I wanted it and they didn't have a size small. So I was sat on a medium (not at Alter but at another bike shop in the city -- also a good bike shop) and told to put my hands on the drops, bend my elbows 90 degrees and, could I see the hub?

Uh, No. I said. I didn't know what "the hub" was, at the time. I thought "the hub" was something other than what it really was.

OK, then it fits. I was told. Well, it didn't really fit I quickly discovered. Lesson learnt. But what did I know. Nothing.

When I was going through the experience of creating my Project ONE a year ago, I had test rode another slightly lower model Madone that was in the store and Dave told me I would have basically two choices of shifting systems that would fit best with my price range Ultegra or SRAM. And he did his best to explain the difference to me and I'm sure I stood there blinking with big eyes and a "deer in the headlights look." A look, I am sure, Dave is very familiar with by now, coming from me -- it doesn't stop him from at least trying to teach me, though.

Although not long ago I went in the store to get chain lube (owned bikes for 2.5 years, I just bought my own chain lube .....sad...sad....) and he says to me, "You want a low viscosity lube?"

ME: I don't know. Sure?

HIM: Yes, yes you do.

ME: Whatever you say.

And that is kind of a standard bike shop visit for me.

But I digress from my shifting story......

So I mocked up my Project ONE and emailed it off to Dave with the explanation that I was counting on him to tell me if I was making any bad choices. I chose Ultegra, I guess, (Ultegra SL, apparently -- whatever that means) and that's what I have. I'd never tried SRAM at that time and I guess I gravitated to the familiar, and a lower price tag, but I have tried SRAM now and if I could go back and do it again, I would pick that instead. That's about the only thing I would change of the choices I made in ignorance a year ago. I was trying to keep costs down because, as it was, I spent about $1000 more than I intended to.

But it's all just a matter of preference, I suppose. The Ultegra is fine, actually. It's great. I haven't had a single problem with it. I had Shimano 105 before that and it was constantly causing me trouble.

So imagine how lost I am feeling right now knowing that the next time I make a big bike related toy purchase it will be wheels -- which is item #2 on Kim's covet list. I had considered getting race wheels when I originally built my Madone but, again, the costs were already mounting so I opted to just wait.

So I'm thinking about wheels now and I should be doing some research but I don't even know what to research. I'm trying not to have a price tag in my head because I know I'll throw the price tag out the window if I find something I like the "idea" of. I can tell you that I'm not spending $4000 --- $1000 is probably a more reasonable estimate. I said I wanted wheels that were, at the very least, no heavier than what I presently have on the bike. Dave said that would be pretty hard to do because the wheels on my bike now are pretty good wheels.

I'll take his word for it. I have no idea what makes a "pretty good wheel." These are kinda nice looking though (and probably way out of my price range):

Stolen from the Bicycling Facebook Fan Page. Facebook usually isn't good for much more than telling me that everyone is sick right now and getting ready for Christmas, but it does feed me lots of cycling news. 

So I don't know. There is another part of me that says forget getting wheels and go on a trip or something. What do I really NEED them for? Am I even competitive enough to need that? And with all the damn crosswind in this province will they be helpful? I don't know.

So if anyone wants to feed me information about "what I don't know about wheels, etc," feel free. I'll listen. Email me if you'd rather.

I must buy a cyclocross bike for next year and that really is a bigger priority. I suppose I have a few connections that might lend me wheels for the couple important times I might want them.

I never thought I would turn into someone who contemplated this kind of thing. It's only a matter of time before I insist on having a dual suspension mountain bike too so.......... But I'm hoping to be able to wait until one my kids can ride my present mountain bike for that.

Never ending money hole this biking thing is.

But you can't put a price tag on love or freedom.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Christmas Fantasy

'Twas the night before Christmas, when down the back stairs,
The bikes were all leaning, stacked up in pairs.
The carbon was shiny, top tubes all a glitter,
In hopes that new wheels would join this fine litter.

In my bed I was resting, not a word to be uttered.
Hot cycling butts visioned, mind firmly in gutter.
New Twin Six jersey -- adorned -- what a find!
"Sweetest jersey in the world," Fort Garry, never mind.

This, No?
Or That?

When at my front door, bump thump and whatnot,
Tore my mind from its thoughts of... well... (dot... dot... dot).
A peak through the curtains gave a big fright.
The snow was all gone, it was sunny and bright!

I gave no second thought, I stood in a trance.
Out on my front walk was the man they call Lance!
Wearing fingerless gloves, I took this a sign,
Helmet and shoes and Madone 6.9

Lycra and Shack shorts, Livestrong 28
I knew at that moment, there would be no debate.
He snapped his fine fingers and said, "Let's get going!"
From behind bushes and fences they all came a rolling.

Voigt, Kloden and Sanchez, Hesjedal and Sastre,
Wiggens and Evans, could this group get much faster?
Lance beckoned with finger. I did no more than laugh.
"Come on and get moving. Get in our draft."

So with odd grace and ease, I took to my bike.
Straddle and clip-in and moves of the like.
And low and behold, what's this that I see?
My numbers all tell me our speed's 53!

I move up the ranks. How will I outlast?
I glance at Saint Lance, "I can NOT go this fast!"
"Quit yer whining," says he. "You're not here by luck.
In my peloton you will not wheel suck."

"I brought you out here to have a short chat.
You must get a grip and all this and that.
Enough is enough, from all that I've read.
Why are YOU sleeping alone in that bed?"

I shrug and I shrivel and keep up with the pedal.
"Why do you care? What's up with this meddle?
Where are we going? You disrupted my thoughts!"
That's when off in the prairie I see the gift box.

We pick up the pace. This is way out of whack.
In all this excitement, I've dropped the pack!
"This year we'll be 40. No time to downshift.
I pulled strings and called favours to bring you this gift."

I unwrap the gold bow. I feel a big wreck.
And from out of the box jumps Andy Schleck.
I'm stunned and I'm panting, up shoots my heart rate.
I question Saint Lance, "Isn't he jail bait?"

Saint Lance rolls his eyes, mistletoe in his fingers.
Andy bends down, his kiss simply lingers.
Lance says with a smile, "Here's my message to you."
"Dreams become real. Now I must toodle-loo."

He sprang on his seat in a mount I do envy.
With a wink, smirk, and nod. THAT told me plenty.
And I heard him exclaim as he rode out of sight.
"Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!"

Merry Christmas Everyone! And Thanks for Reading!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why I Will NEVER do an Ironman

Feel free to quote me on that, by the way.

Thanks to Jenn H. for alerting me to this. It speaks for itself.
Language warning so... plug your kids ears and careful while at-work-not-really-working.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Crazy Legs

Duathlon in the Park Series May 2010
....... I train? On reflection I think in the past two years I've TRIED to train but failed.

Right now I am training f'ing hard. Harder than I've trained any winter season.

Is it wrong to admit that I'd rather be better than mid-pack at races?

Have I mentioned I'll be 40 before the next race season starts? My time of improving from season to season is rapidly running out.

I was having this conversation today about the connection between a skating history in childhood and cycling. I used to skate as a kid. I did recreational figure skating until I was 12. Nothing spectacularly high level. My parents didn't want to put out the huge cash for club skating.

Then I switched to basketball and school sports. Yes I know I'm 5'3" -- but I started playing basketball in grade 8 and the assumption was that I would still grow taller. I didn't, but everyone else around me did. I was a decent basketball player. Very agile.  An excellent free throw shooter and ball handler. But by a certain age, my lack of growth caught up to me and I spent a lot of time on the bench. Actually there was a performance anxiety thing too. I panicked in real games when the ball came my way and got called for travelling a lot. If I was relaxed in a game I was fine. But usually I wasn't relaxed and my legs stuttered and I didn't even know it. It earned me a nickname though.

Crazy Legs.

I hated that nickname.

I developed leg muscles early in life because of skating, though, and I guess I carried the ability to re-develop those muscles into adulthood because the minute I got on a bike, at the ripe old age of 37, something clicked.

So, in case you care, here is my hot and cold romance with the notion we call "Training."

I did OK at sprint distance triathlon, the summer of 2008, with zero training in swimming or biking. I had trained all winter for the Manitoba Half Marathon and ran my best time to date (1:54:15). My best triathlon result that summer was coming 5/20 in my age group in Riding Mountain. If I could do that well on essentially NO formal training, I wondered what would happen if I trained.

I joined a triathlon club the following fall and probably biked about 3 times per week and ran about 3x per week and tried to swim 2x per week but fell off the wagon by January or so and probably swam once a month, if that. It was a  huge jump in training volume for me as I tried to keep up with the Tribalistic "Jones's" and I paid for it in IT band problems, night sweats, weight gain, and calf troubles -- perpetual calf troubles. I was also dating someone who lived to race. Some of those races I did too, some of them I did despite not wanting to do them, and some of them I was saved from doing by having the kids.

Sometimes kids are a fantastic excuse to not show up.

Physio and Athletic Therapy were my friends that  fall, winter and spring. My triathlon performance that summer (2009) was not much different than the summer before, which makes me walking evidence that overtraining is counterproductive.

My biking was getting better though.  Still not where I thought I could be, and by this point I knew I was on the wrong sized bike which I was also sure was not helping.

I signed up for the Calgary 70.3 because that race-hungry boyfriend at the time signed up for it. Again I was trying to keep up when I wasn't ready, but I kinda felt like I was supposed to try. Two weeks later I was done with the guy and stuck with a race entry.

I packed up house. I moved. I found another guy. I bought a bike. You know the story.

I biked maybe twice a week last winter. Skied a bit because the new guy was a skier. Swam rarely, once again peaking in November and falling off the wagon. Peaking at swimming in November does nothing to help your triathlon race in June.

I focused on running last winter, thinking that if I could train for a half marathon in the winter and spring and, during the summer, just maintain that fitness until August 1st, that would help allow me to focus on the bike when the snow melted and be ready in time for Calgary.

But the calf problems came back sometime after Christmas. Same thing. Cramping so bad and painful that running was impossible. My calves would be hard as rocks. The tightness creeped slowly down the back of both my legs and then settled in my calves. So I would walk and then run and walk and then run and eventually it would relieve itself and I could run steadily and normally but that usually took a painful half hour to get there.

Because AT worked the first time around, I acted quickly and went back as soon as it started up. A few weeks of running very very slowly and taking very long warm up periods, had me ready for Police Half at the beginning of May, at least. But I longed for the days when I could run a 9 minute mile comfortably. At that time, a 10 minute mile felt hard. I feel maxed out of breath a whole lot quicker when running in pain. I ran 2:00:15 at Police this year.

And Athletic therapy has always seemed to work. The guy I see is a bit of a sadistic bastard... (his words, not mine) but it works. And it hurts like hell. I'm not the best at consistently doing those little stability exercises they give you, but I try. But the timing of AT working has always been around spring -- just as we hit the road and outdoor bike training begins.

But biking feels good. Biking never seems to feel bad. It felt even better once I had bought myself a nice little package of speed in the form of the Madone. And I was finally on a bike that actually fit me.

The Calgary training plan came out of a book. The  plan was to pop into the half ironman training schedule at the finish of Police Half, and by that point, I was already far advanced of where the training plan had me situated in both running and biking (still wasn't swimming). And I was having trouble fitting the book's plan to my crazy life. So the plan kinda fell by the wayside and I did my own thing. So the Calgary training ended up being bike bike bike, a couple runs a week, a long run every second week, and swim when the mood struck and only in a lake. No more chlorine, thank you.

Thankfully, the calves were fine through the Calgary training and through the whole Calgary race. I did 3 Olympic Triathlons this summer prior to Calgary and came in 3rd in my age group in each one. I paid for the poor run training and inability to do speed work though. I think that in 2/3 of those races, I was in first place in my age group after the bike. Lost it on the run -- and never by a close margin either.

So training hasn't gone so well for me the last couple of years and I've never really focused on bike training before. It's hard to train for 3 sports, single parent, work full time -- even if I can do my workout in the middle of the day during work hours. I'm trying to be realistic now. One sport it is. My favourite one, of course.

I might do one or two triathlons this summer but there will be no swim training -- 6 AM dips in the cold pool in the middle of winter don't agree with my psyche. And I HATE doing 100s of meters of IM which is what Master's swimming forces me to do. What the hell do I need to do Fly for? Really. The occasional swim once the water opens up will be enough.

I hired Pat Peacock our head coach to train me this winter to bike better. I invested in a VO2 max test at U of M in November to get a baseline. I did that on my own because I've always wanted to try. It turned out OK, and believe me, my several cyclocross races in the weeks prior, helped that.

So now I'm on the trainer 5-6 times a week for 1-1.5 hours. I've been pretty well behaved up to this point in following "the plan" but this is only the beginning. I'm still enthusiastic. But I tend to follow plans pretty well. A friend offered to make me a plan in 2007 for my first half marathon. It was my first experience with formalized plans. It was combo running and strength training. I think I did nearly every run on that plan and followed it to the letter.

And yes Pat's training is the kind of training where I keep my heart rate in zones and time my intervals. Is that so wrong?  I've had a problem of only having one speed all this year and that's a problem I'm trying to break. If I have to use a heart rate monitor to keep me well behaved, I'll do it.

I intended to run too on this plan. Not a lot of running but enough to maintain what I have. I didn't want to burn myself out on a bike by only biking. Since the summer, running has actually felt OK. It has been a sigh of relief to run pain free for the last six months. I felt like I was getting faster, not nearly back to where I was 3 years ago, but the potential was there.

But within two weeks of being back on the indoor trainer I was not able to run. I'm always in denial when it starts up again. I had vague lower calf pains for a very short period of time on my first training run on the treadmill two weeks ago. I blamed it on Supercross actually -- pedalling with one leg in places and paddling the ground with the other leg in other spots. That's what caused my tightened calves, said my denying brain. But I finished the run easily that day. And I kinda liked it.

I did an HHH run, three days later, through deepish fresh snow that left my calves cramping and forced me to walk part of the trail. Not even the beer helped. I blamed it on the uneven running surface.

I did my scheduled treadmill run four days after that and it was a waste of time. After 40 minutes of walk-running, I aborted the run figuring I'd suffered long enough. The calf problem is back. Can't deny it now.

I don't know what it is about this time of the year that kills my run. Is it being on a trainer? It is 100% equal and bilateral. My calves are hard as rocks and the lack of range of motion and foot flexibility in my lower legs leaves me feeling like I'm running on two stumps.

What's different about being on a trainer than being on the road? I have theories. Lack of upper body stability required to maintain balance, for one, I think that is part of it. I think it ends up changing my pedal stroke too perhaps? I don't know.

It could quite possibly also just be just a personal glitch I have in my anatomic make-up. I may just not be built to run and bike at the same time.

Anyways this is the 3rd winter training season where running has been hampered by this problem so I'm sucking it up and hitting the sports medicine clinic. I hate that idea too but I feel I have no other choice.  Being a nurse, I have enough experience to know that what it boils down to is that doctors and the medical model have basically three solutions to problems.

A) Drug it.
B) Let's do Surgery.
C) Tell you to "Suck it up Princess" and live with it.

So I am going as a skeptic, but I'm going.

Cool Cyclocross Video: One Lap

A cool video of American Cyclocross Nationals Mens 35-39 from the perspective of a bike cam from one racer. First crash.... 10 seconds in.

Cyclocross National Championships Masters 35-39 from Josh Whitmore on Vimeo.

Monday, December 13, 2010

On Bicycle Dirt and Bicycle Saviours

The bike family ready for their bath.
I'm a baby-biker. I've got a lot to learn about bikes and biking in general and sometimes my fear of what I don't know and what damage I could be causing scares me a little.

Case in point: It scares me to clean bikes. I'm a bit of a dichotomy in this way. I'm cursed with a touch (a touch!) of perfectionism so when it comes to taking on any task, if I can't do it perfectly, I then take the opposite stance and I slack completely. Bike cleaning falls nicely into this category. It didn't help that, due to a leak, I didn't have an outdoor hose to use at my house all summer. Cyclocross motivated me to take care of that problem. Once, this past spring, I took my Madone into Alter Ego and when I went to pick it up, my bicycle benefactor, Dave Chennell had left a nice note on my receipt that said: "Kermit would like to be kept cleaner."

And thus is the origins of my bike's nickname.

I'm a little embarrassed about how dirty my bikes get. I admire all those who show up at every ride with their bikes sparkling and shiny. So I am trying to learn. It's been about 2 weeks since the last cyclocross race and I've been walking past Dave's cross bike in my basement daily thinking I should clean it up good and bring it back. But now that it's snowed I can't use the hose again. Supercross was snowy so the dirt factor was minimized, but I had only done a cursory cosmetic clean up job on the bike after Provincials, 3 weeks before, and Provincials was wet and muddy.

There's dirt everywhere on the bike. There's dirt in nooks and crannies that non-mechanical me would never think to look at. I could hear dirt grinding in the brake mechanism when I took the wheels off so I could get at those "hard to reach" places. I could hear dirt in the skewers when I unhinged them to loosen them. The front one was so freaking tight, I didn't think I was going to be able to undo it. And I'm not really sure what other things I can pull on and loosen up to get at some of that griminess because there is a good chance I'll take something off and not be able to get it back on.

Like I did with my road saddle when I put it on my mountain bike for the Golden Triangle ride. (Trading saddles was NOT a good idea by the way -- live and ... ouch ... learn). When I tried to put it back on my road bike and go for a jaunt out to the gravel at the end of Roblin, I got basically around the block when the saddle tilted. My hands are just not strong enough to tighten things well and Trek uses this weird saddle mount system that I'm not familiar with. So the longer ride was aborted and I made the 4km jaunt to Alter Ego instead for a visit with Dave.

Or when I tried to put my own mountain bike tires back on..... Dave took one look at them the next time I was in the shop and says, "Uh, you know you have the tread backwards."

Damn. I didn't know there was a difference. It's a miracle that I can get the tire on myself, period.

I especially appreciate that Dave never laughs at me when I do these ignorant and silly things. I try. He just looks at me patiently and asks if I'd like him to switch them for me. Yes, please.

Well at least he never laughs at me to my face.

All of us who bike have "a guy" we go see, right? Well, Dave's "my guy."

I met Dave because of my ignorance about bikes. He came to one of our Tribalistic Christmas training camps a couple of years ago to do a bike fit session when James turned up sick at the last minute. I'd been riding for all of about 8 months at this point. Dave fielded quite a few difficult questions about aero position from some of the more experienced in our group, questions I couldn't even repeat now they were so over my head.

All naive-me really wanted to know was why I was having so many problems with saddle sores. Let me tell you, there is nothing like going up to a stranger, a guy for that matter, and talking about your saddle sores.

I discovered pretty quickly that, thankfully, Dave and I have the same warped sense of humour. He's also virtually unembarassable (trust me, in the time since, I've tried -- bon chance, mon ami, says Dave to that). So he sat me on my bike and watched me peddle on the trainer for a bit and just from eyeballing me announced I needed to drop my saddle about 3 cm (3 cm!!). He took a couple quick measurements and it ended up being more like 3.5 cm. And it worked.

It was the beginning of a beautiful biker-chick/bike-shop-guy relationship.

I could give a dozen, or so, examples of Dave saving me from my own ignorance but you see the point. I definitely play favourites when I go into the shop. The rest of the Alter guys razz me/us mercilessly. Nothing personal boys. I love you all too. I hope I'm not contributing to making Dave's "Ego" too difficult to live with.

So I want to clean his bike up right. I took the wheels off and scrubbed them up good in the bathtub. And then I flipped the bike over because I don't have one of those fancy bike stands at my house like Greg, here, does (I should get one) and I discovered more secret hidden dirt:

There is something about this view of a bike that makes me want to avert my eyes and give it some privacy.
See I don't even know if it is appropriate to flip a bike like this (no wheels remember). I fear the damage I unknowingly cause to my own bikes, but I suppose this position is better than sitting the bike on its own drivetrain.  It's a good thing Dave sent me off with his bike saying there was nothing I could do to it that he couldn't fix. I fear, Dave, that your bike is not coming back to you in the practically out-of-the-box clean condition you gave it to me in. Despite my best efforts.

Anyways. I'm thankful for Dave. I'm more than thankful. I'm grateful, and for the most part, flabbergasted. He's a good egg and he's becoming a good friend. I bring him coffee once and while but it hardly feels like enough. Yeah I've dropped more than a few bucks in the shop, because of it. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of a "tithe" -- to the church of the bicycle, of course.

I need Dave taking care of my bikes the way he does. I'd be lost otherwise. He's earned my trust and he makes me feel comfortable.  I, in return, try not to take advantage of the service I get. It's all about give and take and I'm happy to sing Dave's praises even if it might mean he'll need a "bigger helmet." I put a lot of kilometres on my bikes and somebody has to save me from myself.

My Bike Saviour Dave: (yet another great Stefan Isfeld Photo)

Friday, December 10, 2010

American Idol Academics

I've written a few blogs this week. Yeah, I know, you haven't seen them. As it sometimes goes, I write things I hope I can post and they end up going to a dangerous place and a little voice inside me screams: "DON'T DO IT!"

I don't always listen, but this week I did.

Then, as inevitably happens, something gets tossed in my path and I figure it out. I didn't figure it out for all of the blogging I've done but I figured it out for half of one post.

What happened is today, I sat through an epic staff meeting. Any staff meeting that goes over an hour can be defined as epic (today's weighed in at about 3 hours). Any staff meeting, of any length, where I can get through without making a sarcastic remark might be called a miracle.

Fortunately my coworkers, after 8 years of suffering the sharp-tongue that is me, have come to know me and love me for who I am. Because today was no miracle.

Part of today's meeting was my coworkers reporting on conferences they went to that were paid for by the department. There was a theme to today's reports: student entitlement.  This theme was coincidental because I wrote the majority of what you will read below on Tuesday of this week.

One of the reports likened student entitlement to the American Idol experience. The "bad" American Idol singer experience. You know, those ones that THINK they are good because their moms and dads and aunties and uncles have told them their whole lives they are good, and then they go on TV and they are so laughably bad that they make it onto the bad singer portion of the show?

Don't we have students like that too? Don't we have a whole cohort of students who have been told their whole lives they are "good" and they can do anything (because heaven forbid we harm our kid's self esteem when they perform sub-standardly by telling them so) when really, they are only average. When did average become the new A+?

The other day I payed a vist to the other educational institution where I occasionally moonlight. I'm moonlighting again in January in order to pay off some bike-addiction related debt, and I had to pick up a textbook. I found my mailbox -- which I didn't know I still had, by the way, I haven't moonlighted in a year -- and it was stuffed with crap.

One envelope of that crap was a pile of standardized mandatory student evaluations from the summer of 2009.

I can't believe they kept them this long, was my first thought.

My second thought was to scan them with interest, particularly in light of the fact that I recently bragged about how my students thought I was cool.

Typically at this other institution, I am not perceived as being so cool. They are a tougher audience. My home institution has a much more "access" oriented attitude to admissions. Most of the students at my usual home base were not the "best and the brightest" in high school and they know it. They never worked to their potential before but they are working their butts off now, and sometimes the grade given for hard work is a shock. I've had thank-you's for giving out C's.

At my moonlighting institution, however, there are lofty entrance requirements and high GPA's. Many of these students were the kids who sat through classes in high school, stone faced and dazed, didn't study, and still got A's. They figure they should have the same privilege in university. They are equally shocked by my grades. Yeah. When they put in the same nothing effort in their university classes and get a nothing mark for it, guess who's fault that is?

Certainly not theirs. They are "A" students. And they've NEVER gotten this bad a mark in their life so the problem is with YOU, PROFESSOR.

[I especially love how they call me Professor -- usually with thick-tongued sarcasm veiled as feigned politeness. It makes me want to turn around and look over my shoulder and see who's standing behind me. I have a Masters degree and I'm a sessional. I don't have a rank.]

The quantitative part of these evaluations were the highest scored I've ever seen in the 6 or so times I've taught this course over at "the motherhouse" as we affectionately call it at my home base. I vaguely remember this section. This class went well. They were a pleasure to teach. And they got the material and asked good challenging questions. I remember standing up in front of the class and complementing them.

I'm obligated to hand these things out even though they never tell me anything new or say anything useful that helps me make the course better. A lot of them come back looking like this, with careful thought obviously put into their selection of evaluation choices:

Notice the clever camera placement to disguise the institution of origin (as IF you didn't know)
This is a fine example of what we call in research "jargon" the "acquiescence response set bias." 
Do you think this student even bothered to read the stem associated with the question?

They don't usually write anything qualitative on those fancy computer generated lines where they are allowed to do so. They can't be bothered. Most of them come back blank. But those that do comment seem to have no trouble saying something blatantly rude and unhelpful during this opportunity they've been given to anonymously vent.

Who am I to talk though. I probably did it too. Once upon a time, I was one of them. Overachiever. A student. Same institution. Same faculty. You'd think this would make me more understanding.

I remember, as an undergrad, sitting on a faculty council at this same motherhouse institution and it was the same year they brought these standardized evaluations into being and listening to the discussion from the mouths of my profs and instructors about how nervous they were about having these things published publicly. (Which apparently they are. I've never looked.) How nice of them to publish those qualitative comments that talked about how the students didn't like a hairstyle or a suit they wore one day or how one had been referred to as "the dragon lady."

I can't recall a time that any student wrote anything so personal about me. Most of the time the comments I get are about things that I can't control, such as the fact that my course is in the program at all. "This is the worst most useless course I have ever taken."  Great. I'll follow your carefully outlined feedback and make it better. Thanks for your suggestions.

Or my personal favourite from a few years back: "This course is just further evidence of the cash-grab nature of [this] program."

Thanks for the constructive criticism. Please take that up with the Canadian Nurses Association who has put countless hours of research into the entry level competencies required by nurses. See if they agree with you. They'll probably want to rip that degree out of your hands and tear it in two, because clearly, you missed the point of your four years of education. Please go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. And while you are there, find some personal growth.

From what I hear among my colleagues, you would think there isn't a single course in the entire program that is of any use to their career, except for the clinical ones and those are graded too hard and are too much work.

Today I particularly enjoyed reading this literary effort:
This class was IMPOSSIBLE to follow as a result of the profs teaching style. She spoke quietly and VERY fast, using jargon without explaining what it meant. Her tests were not related to her class content and the questions were hard to understand. Class notes had no flow and seemed random. 
Wow. Was she in MY classroom. (It may not have been a she. But the handwriting is very girlish.) Me QUIET?  Jargon?  You mean like Cronbach's alpha, operationalized, manipulation, criterion related, transferability? That kind of thing? All the words you need to know and were supposed to have studied to understand research methodology? I take back that cheat sheet I gave you for 2 out of 3 tests. And next time I won't bother to give those practice exercises, which basically ARE the tests. Did you at least flip through the textbook that my notes were essentially plagiarized from? Obviously pre-loading you with the test questions didn't help. I won't do that any more.

Yes I do talk VERY fast by the way. I can't refute that.

Oh the joys of teaching mandatory curriculum material that doesn't involve saving lives. I've come to learn that often the students equate their passion for the material with the person standing in front of them. They can't seem to separate them. They hate the material, they hate the instructor. They hate the teacher, they hate the course. It is a shame.

They also seem to fail to equate their grade in a class with depth of understanding. The sense is that they should get an A just for showing up, reading the book, handing in their assignments (maybe). Oh but I worked SOOOOOO HARD in this class and I still only got a B.

Working hard does not equal exceptional understanding. I understand what I teach, but start talking interest rates and investing with me and my eyes glaze over. I squeaked out an A in economics one year not understanding a thing that came out of the mouth of the foreign grad student who was teaching the intro section or, for that matter, anything I read in the textbook, only because I've learnt over time how to outsmart a multiple choice test. And because I'm part of that 3% of students who will do well no matter how crappy the instruction.

Before I started teaching, I thought all students were like me. I thought I was of average intelligence but knew how to fake the system.

I can write a paper with ease. I can do stats. But I'll never be able to find the feel of knowing exactly how much to turn a screwdriver in my rear derailleur so my bike shifts better. We all have our aptitudes. I could study an engineering textbook for hours and still not develop a depth of understanding.

Notice that I didn't give you any examples of the positive things that students said. There are lots of those too. In fact, there are WAY more of those than the negative ones. Why do the negative ones stand out so much?

This one was kinda nice:
Excellent instructor -- Very good -- glad I had her. Loved the old tests -- review. Awesome cheat sheet idea -- actually an instructor who understands the point of the course i.e. not to memorize the text book!
Now there is a student who gets it. What she wrote was exactly what I was trying to do. One of our advisors in the staff meeting today said students are always coming into her office and saying that the test they just failed wasn't on anything they actually took in class. When she asks them to tell her what some of the questions were, inevitably one they recite back is a pure application question.

No, I am not always going to ask you to tell me the definition for "acquiescence response set bias." (If you were paying attention in this blog, you'll know it already). Sometimes I might show you a picture and ask you to name the response set bias shown in the image.

Most of the positive comments I get are spoken to my face and then never written formally. Like the student who spontaneously walked into my office today to thank me for my course. (Same course as I am being evaluated on above. Different audience. Different institution. Different year.) "I really enjoyed what you did. I could have sat there all day doing that stuff we did yesterday," he said. "I don't get it. But I enjoyed it."

I don't dwell on my student evaluations. I read them and I nod in agreement, usually. I smile when they are cute and gushy and nice. I roll my eyes when I am dropped unhelpful scathing feedback I can't change or offers no solutions that will make it better. And then ten minutes later it is gone out of my head and I'm on to the next pressing task. I don't lose one second worth of sleep.

So I have a stack of student evaluations sitting beside my computer now. There isn't much more I can do with them and there is a lot of blank space. They are good for this kind of thing though:

The next pressing task: Coach Pat's Friday trainer workout. This was a relatively easy aerobic day. You should have seen Wednesdays. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

We Interrupt this Regularly Scheduled Blogging for a Musical Interlude

The view from the Trainer. This ain't no Golden Triangle.
But the bike's got class.... "Loud", like his owner.
Meet Mr. Trek Madone aka "Kermit" (Because it ain't easy being green)
When I write those really cerebral posts as I did a couple back, I'm always left a little worn out and ragged -like I just came off a rebellious teenage bender or something. So I have to spend a few posts writing small fluffy little pieces.

When I wrote my first book, I used to kill many an anxious hour in the kitchen taking care of life listening to tunes that were speaking to me at the time while I waited for the hours to tick on by till the kids went to bed and I could write.

My kids are older now, so I can write while they destroy the living room right under my nose. Which is what it sounds like they are doing right now, by the way.

Then in the last months of my marriage while we still lived together but were essentially already separated, I used to escape the tension by going out to see my friend's husband's cover band (7 Days). They had what was considered, at the time, a pretty break-through set list that burst through some standards in the cover band industry (if such a thing exists), meaning they played some hard rock tunes while rebelling against the traditional sappy pop covers.

The last couple of years I haven't listened to as much  music. The cover band split their various ways about 3 years ago but it was good news for some of the members of the group. The drummer now plays with Theory of a Deadman (I believe still does) and the singer currently tours with Ian Thornley.

We all knew that cover band was too good to last.

So as I was sitting on the dastardly trainer for the fourth time this week listening to tunes I'd just plugged into a playlist specifically for this purpose, while pushing myself through some painful intervals and I thought I might share a little of what I plug into my ears while I ramp my heart rate up.

And if it doesn't have loud guitar, don't even put it on.

So here are a sampling of 5 of mine, in no particular order. What are yours?

Uncle Johnny -- The Killers --  One of my young writing friends put this on a CD for me once when I asked her to expose me to what was considered "Alternative" now.... because in MY DAY, alternative was nothing like this:

Go Let it Out -- Oasis -- I always and forever will have the hots for bad boy Liam Gallagher.

Psycho -- Puddle of Mudd -- probably related to my state of mind. Is that really Kid Rock and Pamela Lee in this video?

Superstition -- Stevie Wonder - the "band" used to play this and then they stopped. It was the first song I ever heard them play.

Paper Thin -- John Hiatt -- Another song that showed up on a made-for-me CD by a different friend. The song is pretty damn good.

Not So Pretty

I was testing out the remote post and it didn't quite work as planned and all the typing didn't go through.

Don't you love how cyclists flaunt their wounds? My turn.

Keep in mind, I don't bruise and this has been nearly a week.