Isn’t It Interesting…

Only two other B riders showed up for our club ride Sunday, and we decided to head to Creedmoor. This staple of our Sunday routes had been forgotten lately; in fact, I hadn’t ridden it since June. The others were looking forward to the ride, too.

After not riding a route for awhile, some changes are bound to crop up. Most of the ones we ran into had to do with road construction. Our main way east out of our neighborhood narrows to a two-lane, unstriped, country-style road for a short stretch. Then, at a T-intersection, we turn left, and then pick up that road again at the first right.

The city is eliminating that zigzag. It’s adding a curve to the road, and the new route will meet the old at that first right. But it’s not ready yet, and while they’re working on it, the two lanes are quite narrow. I debated getting up onto a new sidewalk that has been put in along the road, but at 8:30 in the morning, there’s not a lot of traffic here. We got to the T-intersection without a problem.

A similar diversion is going in about a mile farther east, as the city straightens out another zigzag route. This time, the road was blocked by large barricades, but there was just enough room for a bike to get through. We were feeling good that bikes could get through where cars couldn’t.

Creedmoor is about 16 miles from our starting point. After a pleasant trip, we wheeled in for a breather at the convenience store stop we always use.

“Isn’t it interesting,” asked Maggie, “how easy that ride is now? Remember when we used to do this ride?”

I remembered. There were times I’d get to the store and want to stay for an hour, just to unwind. This time, a ten-minute stay seemed a little long, and we got back on the bikes for the return leg.

The ride is easier now, for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve been losing a little weight. Not much, mind you, but enough that I can tell. It feels good to have to fasten my belt to the last notch on some of my pants. The other is that I’m stronger. I credit mountain biking for that. It’s beefed up my legs. Hills are never going to be my strong suit, but by powering my way up short, steep climbs on the MTB, the longer, less steep climbs on the road bike aren’t the struggle they used to be.

Now, all I have to do is attend to some bike maintenance again. Isn’t it interesting that a chain can start skipping some cogs after a two-hour plus ride, when it was shifting smoothly at the start? I see a new chain and cassette on the horizon.

The Post-Ride Nap

napIt started a few years ago. I’d come home from a ride, especially one of our Sunday morning club events, shower, eat…and soon, I’d be on the bed, dead to the world.

My post-ride nap was a refreshing interlude.

Now, this from a guy who has never really napped in his life. I tend to sleep very little — maybe 5-6 hours overnight, and I can function just fine. If I ever did feel tired during the day and I made an effort to take a nap, it never worked. I just stared at the ceiling.

So when I started napping after longish bike rides, it came as a bit of a surprise to me. My wife joked that nothing would get done around the house until late in the afternoon, because I’d be conked anywhere from one to three hours. In fact, she found it a bit exasperating after awhile, because sometimes the lawn wouldn’t get mowed, or the edges wouldn’t get trimmed, or some other chore that I normally did on Sunday afternoons didn’t get done.

Of course, anyone who does nap at all is aware that you can overdo it. If I’m down for three hours in the middle of the day, I’m not one hundred percent afterwards. A little bit of drowsy clings to me. I walk through the rest of the day in a bit of a fog, and I’m not really alert until well into the evening.

But lately, my post-ride nap on Sundays has spread over all my ride days. I can do an easy 20-25 miler close to home, and I’m out. In fact, every time I ride, I can count on at least a short snooze.

Over the past two days, I sneaked in a short mountain bike ride after getting home from work. Just about an hour, on single track trails in the neighborhood. Not particularly hard work, although I know that I work twice as hard on my mountain bike as I do on my road bike. Our family routine has us watching the TV show “Jeopardy” from 4-5 p.m., then news, then some other syndicated fare. I don’t sleep through all of it, but now I’m sleeping through some of it — sitting upright in my chair in front of the TV. These naps last only 15 minutes or so, but I might get in two with some awake time in between.

Now, I look forward to my naps. Unless I’m down for a couple of hours, I wake up rested and refreshed. I know I wouldn’t be able to do that without the bike ride to prompt my body in that direction.

Do you nap sometimes, always, or never after rides?

Use It Or Lose It

Not riding much lately, and I can really feel it. Not as fast, way less endurance.One of the side effects my kitchen remodeling project is having — besides disrupting our meals and our household routines — is its effect on my cycling. Often, when I would expect to head out for an hour or so, I’ve had to scrap the ride to be at home when the carpenters or painters were in. Although my wife runs her business from our home office, she spends time nearly every day out of the house, making sales calls or running events. My riding has effectively been cut back to Saturdays and Sundays only.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be a big deal, but on Saturday’s ride, I could really feel it. I chose a neighborhood route that would net about 19-20 miles. It’s mostly a flat route, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Whenever I did try to put some effort into my pedaling, nothing happened. On the Veloway, where I push it in a couple of sections, I was halfway through those sections before I realized I wasn’t pushing.

A glance at my bike computer showed my average speed for the route was well below my usual. And to top it all off, a feeling of tiredness washed over me. I couldn’t wait to wrap up the ride and head home.

My poor performance could be ascribed to a variety of causes. My diet lately is terrible, since we’re getting take out for dinner every night. My weight hasn’t suffered as much as I thought it would — I’ve gained three pounds — but the food isn’t doing much to build my reserves. My hours have been thrown off because of the remodeling project, and I’ve been getting about an hour’s less sleep than I should. And finally, as I alluded to a few posts ago, I’m just not riding as much.

The lesson is: Use it or lose it. The falloff in my riding has caused me to lose my certain level of performance. Not that I’m fast or anything — I’m not, as regular readers of this blog know well — but to feel that I’m putting out more effort on gentle hills, and climb them even slower, hurts.

What’s the cure? That’s easy — ride. I got out early for my Sunday morning ride. This was done solo, because I had to be home earlier than the club ride would get me there. It was much hillier than the Saturday ride. And you know what? I attacked the hills with verve. I shifted one gear higher on the flats, and got up out of the saddle to get a good start.

The good news is — even with a period of sub-par performance, getting back to normal is fairly easy to do. I’m looking forward to better riding in the weeks to come.

Cycling With Gout

I am proud to note that once again, I am suffering from the “Disease of Kings.” Yep, I have another gout flare up.

I have had them before, but this time, it’s different. This is my third attack in about four weeks. The first one lasted only 24 hours. The second one was with me a full week. This one got me on Friday, and we’ll see how long it lasts.

Gout is the crystallization of uric acid around a joint — often the big toe. That’s what I’ve been dealing with. It swells the joint, inflames it, hurts when it’s touched, and makes walking difficult. It’s accompanied by quite a lot of pain.

Walking the dogs around the block this evening was agony. I’m not looking forward to going in to work Monday — I’ll have to connive to stay parked at my desk, rather than walk around the building. Thank goodness I don’t have to move between buildings on Mondays.

A shot of my two feet shows right away which one is afflicted. The left foot is swollen around the joint, and the swelling has moved up the instep a bit, too. (I stood on the sides of my feet a little to show off the problem better.)


But there’s one activity that isn’t adversely affected by gout: cycling. I did a short ride with my wife Saturday morning, and was looking forward to getting out again Sunday. I was even able to cut the grass, wearing fairly stiff-soled hiking shoes. But inactivity makes the pain worse, and when I got up Sunday morning, I could hardly move. I made an excuse to skip the club ride, but pledged that when I had medicated myself and had a decent breakfast, I would ride.

I decided to stay relatively close to home, in case things didn’t work out as I’d hoped. I needn’t have worried. The rigid soles of cycling shoes are great for gout sufferers, because they inhibit the toe joint from hinging. I did a couple of quick laps around the Veloway, attacked a hill going back into the neighborhood, and racked up a nice 26-mile ride before calling it quits.

After showering and getting dressed, I found that I could walk more easily than I could earlier. The increased circulation of blood from the cycling must have had a salubrious effect. It was only after several hours parked in front of the TV watching football that I reverted to the agony of Saturday night. I limped around the block with the pooches, and downed some Ibuprofen for the third time when I got home.

When you get a gout attack, odds are good that you’ll get more. Now, my job is to control the level of uric acid in my blood. Cherries are supposed to help. There are some foods I should minimize. One of the worst things for uric acid turns out to be beer. Cutting beer — even temporarily — will be my biggest adjustment (I really enjoy drinking craft beers!).

Various cycling forums are loaded with posts from gout-suffering cyclists, so I know I’m by no means alone. I’ve taken heed of some of their tips, and will be checking with my physician at my annual physical in a few weeks to see what else he might recommend — there are some effective pharmaceuticals for the treatment of gout.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to a more-or-less regular cycling schedule. Maybe that will speed up my recovery.

Want to Lose Weight? Try Short Sprints

We all probably have different reasons for riding bikes. It keeps us fit, it’s fun, it’s good for the environment, yadda yadda — but I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of people who ride and throw off all kinds of weight as a result.

I gotta be honest — that hasn’t happened to me (although I’m sure it’s not biking’s fault). But then, I happened upon a report of a study done in Australia that tried to find the least amount of exercise you can do for the biggest impact. Forget long slow distance. It’s sprinting.

sweatyThe researchers studied 40 overweight men for 12 weeks — and put them on spin bikes. The men exercised three times a week, but their routines were strenuous — they’d sprint for eight seconds, then pedal easy for 12 seconds, then repeat — for 20 minutes. Now, I’ve done intervals from time to time in the past, but I’d go hard for at least 30 seconds before slowing down. It’s hard to believe that a repeat as short as eight seconds would have any effect.

It did. In the study, the participants lost an average of two kilograms of fat — about four and half pounds — and gained 1.1 kg in muscle mass. Spread over a week, you’re only working hard for eight minutes if you try this regimen.

What’s cool is that the fat loss came where it’s most critical — in the fat that surrounds internal organs and is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. A control group that did no exercise lost no weight. Both groups were told to stick with their regular diets.

Although this study involved only men, previous studies have reportedly shown similar results in women.

On the bike yesterday afternoon, I thought I’d give the short sprints a try. I didn’t put a clock to it, but I did count off “One Mississippi, two Mississippi,” up to eight as I pedaled hard, then counted the same way to twelve while pedaling easy. It was weird. By the time I got up to full speed, it was time to back off. The twelve count goes by fast too, and I had to get up on the pedals again. In order to reach the speed I was targeting, I stood on the pedals for four seconds, then sat for the remaining four.

Eight seconds of effort doesn’t tire you out. But cumulatively, you feel it. I did the exercise over a mile-and-a-half stretch of straight road, then stopped when I came to a red light. That didn’t get me the 20 minutes of exercise the study participants did, but it did give me a feel for the effort. I have a hunch that 20 minutes would really make itself felt.

The short, fast sprinting is supposed to work on two levels: it releases a group of hormones that cause muscles to burn fat, and it keeps lactic acid release to a minimum.

Once I’m fully recovered from the effects of my fall (riding is really helping speed up that process, by the way), I intend to try the 8/12 repeats on a more structured basis. It’s a kind of riding I’ve never really done, but the novelty of the approach might make it interesting. I hope so. After my short sprint tryout yesterday, my weight today was one pound more.

Time to Drop Some Poundage

Today’s club ride went out on the Fitzhugh route again. I say again, because we just did it two weeks ago, and we don’t usually repeat a route so soon. But after yesterday’s rain, the weather forecast called for stiff wind from the northwest, so our club president suggested a route that would give us a tailwind on the way home.

I felt good about riding Fitzhugh. Last time, I had little trouble with the rollers that characterize the route, and felt strong for most of the ride. But with only one other B rider showing up, in a group of 24, I figured I’d be hard-pressed to keep the peloton in sight.

We did a good job of sticking with the group until we got into Granada Hills, a neighborhood about three or four miles from the start. As its name implies, it’s not flat. Pretty soon, I saw the last of the pack rounding a corner at the top of a hill and disappearing. By the time Brian (the other B rider) and I got to the intersection with U.S. 290 that marks the end of Granada Hills, they had lost us completely.

That was okay. Fitzhugh is an out-and-back route, and I knew we would meet up with them again as they were on their return leg. But I was a bit concerned about my riding today. I didn’t anywhere near the pep I had the last time, and it was a struggle for me to top the rollers.

We made it out to the intersection of Ranch Road 12, which is the traditional turnaround for B riders. I’ve gone beyond before, and rode out to the A turnaround, but didn’t feel like it today. I was tiring already, and we had to battle the rollers on the way back. On top of it, a light mist was coating our glasses, and it looked like we would be contending with wet conditions on the way back.

Brian and I took turns in the lead on the way back. I was well warmed up by now, even though the temperature was falling, if anything. I found it a little easier to pull myself up the hills. But when we got to the gas station at Fitzhugh and 290, I was glad to stop a bit.

In a couple of minutes, another of our group pulled in. New York John doesn’t like to ride in the rain, and he turned back before the rest of the A group. We set off for home.

John took the lead most of the way. He’s smaller than me, and his bike is lighter. While he pedaled at a good pace, it wasn’t too fast for Brian and I to keep up with. But on one slight uphill stretch, John easily cruised well ahead of us.

Brian has an excuse. He works on offshore oil rigs, and doesn’t get a chance to ride regularly. “When I’m home, I ride every day,” he said. “But it seems like I can’t get any better. I’ve got my pace, and that’s it.”

I, on the other hand, do have a regular riding routine. I haven’t been getting better either, but today bothered me. I just didn’t have the energy to keep up with John. And I had to confront the unhappy reason for that. I’m overweight.

Right now, my weight is more than it’s been all summer.  It’s clear that I finally have to do something about it, because I know from experience that if I were to drop just 10 pounds, I’d be riding better.

So that’s what I’m going to work on. I want to drop 20 pounds by the end of the year. It’ll be difficult, but I think I can do it. I promise I won’t turn this into a weight loss blog, but I will let you know from time to time how I’m doing.