Cycling Through Life--cycling, triathlons, training and thoughts on an active, adventurous and healthy life!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Triathlons, training, love and food

Can we compare triathlons and training to love and food??

I say yes, but first ask yourself why you love someone-- maybe your spouse, or significant other, your children or parents.   It’s hard to answer and it seems trite to make a list of things as to why you love them but you could probably come up with some reasons, but it won’t totally explain that attraction or feeling. And what does this have to do with triathlons?

But, first I digress, apparently, according to my very unscientific facebook poll today, many of us work our tails off just so we can eat donuts or have an extra beer so we can feel our sexiest at the beach. We could just not eat the donut but that wouldn’t be as fun.
Our training must be more than the reward of guilt free junk food or looking good, although those are nice side effects.

I buy it to some degree. But why do these same people have kick-ass bikes, and three thousand dollar race wheels, and computers that tell their coaches how many strokes in the pool they took. Or even have coaches?  That drive is something deeper. Those tools and resources have a purpose and aren’t necessary to work hard.

A facebook friend of mine recently posted she was looking for sponsorship to help offset the cost of race wheels to improve her chances of qualifying for Kona.  I’d like to think it would be that simple to qualify, I wish I was that close where the 5 minutes of time shaved by the wheels might give me a shot. But who am I to judge.  After all, I sold a perfectly good 10-year-old Chevrolet S-10 truck to buy a set of Zipp 404 carbon clinchers. I mean really? Nobody but us triathletes gets that one, but I’m not really sure I get it?

Here is my question; do you train to compete or compete to make you train? And why?
I train to be able to do what I want whenever I want and know that I am in shape to do it. I compete to push beyond my known limits and do my best. That feeds my desire to improve and try to win and dig deep. If I’m being honest, and I didn’t race, I would not train as hard or so precisely. I’d probably just go get lost on my bike whenever I could and keep in decent shape but I wouldn’t be satisfied at this point knowing I can be stronger.  

Triathlons I believe are particularly addicting because they give me three sports to improve on and conquer and keep focused. Each has a technical component and a training regime that keeps me interested and always improving.

I bought three thousand dollar race wheels and follow a training plan and download data and compare my watts and heart rate and how fast I do this or that.  I know come race day I will have done everything possible within my means to be the fastest I can possibly be.  I can’t leave anything on the table. I like to compete, I do want to win, but if I win it’s just a result not the cause. And the thought of qualifying for a national championship of some sort does provide a dangling carrot that is always there even as I age. 

Endurance sports do provide us aging athletes with a venue to compete at the highest level, something that probably eluded most of us clawing our way through high school and college team sports.  Triathlons give me that hope again and it’s always there no matter my age.
I do like how I look when I ‘m in shape and I feel better about myself which helps in every area of my life. I do like to be able to scarf a donut or my Aunt Barbara’s ridiculously good red velvet cake and not feel bad. A Dales Pale Ale isn’t so bad and besides my pasty complexion I’m not embarrassed wearing my swimsuit!

I contend that motivation is more than skin deep. It’s like a true love, we have to appreciate every level and we can aspire to the fairy tale ending of a killer race—it is possible. The fun, the pain, the ugliness, the sweat and tears, the agony of defeat and the thought of victory fuel that love of training and competing.

We can measure it, keep track of it, compare it to others, but sometimes it’s ok to just say-- I love it. Can you really say why you love a certain person? Again, you can make a list, but I challenge you to really articulate it? You just do….go with that when trying to explain why you love train and compete—you simply do. Don’t apologize for it, don’t justify the toys and costs, do whatever you can to love it more and simply go have fun and enjoy all the donuts and beer you want along the way.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Training and Music

Do you want a training partner who is never late, always offers something new, motivates you and can be with you anytime you want? Try music, or at least try thinking of music a bit differently.

I love music, especially live. I wish I could play it. Music takes me on mental journeys into yesteryear or to magical places and keeps me company on long days in the saddle or on the trail (I haven’t invested in swimming earphones yet). I have music in my blood as my birth father is a professional musician. Here is a picture of his eclectic studio in Iowa. It truly is a magical place where I can see notes just flowing from every knock and cranny. 

Music is the ultimate brain candy firing neurons in the brain and causing physical reactions. We tap our feet, sway and swoon, bob our heads, sing along or simply let loose and go crazy—or run faster, pedal harder and keep our focus. And what better way is there to recover than with some tunes and a cold beer.

My 303Triathlon colleague, Iron Tiara recently wrote about the motivation and benefits of riding with groups of faster and stronger athletes. To benefit from that energy and not focus so much on the numbers generated by tools such as power taps and heart rate monitors is invaluable. I find similar energy in music.

Not only do I enjoy it training but as an indoor cycling instructor, I love to watch my classes respond to music. I can tell when a song hits the mark with a few hoots and hollers as the raw energy fills the room. It’s not just the beat of a song, but the energy it puts out and draws from us. Music unleashes powerful memories and emotional responses.

In the book, “This is your brain on Music” author Daniel Levitin gives us an enormous amount of information about the effects of music on us. There are compelling reasons why advertisers, filmmakers, military commanders, or race directors use that power to evoke emotions to persuade us to act or feel a certain way. Music is pleasurable and thoughtful and provides a beat that helps us move. There is no doubt it can increase our performance.

For those reasons I often put together a playlist during a difficult training session that will draw some strong, happy memories or make me think of a favorite movie when I know the tough will be going.

The other day on my bike I had a two times eight minute all out effort on Lookout mountain encapsulated in a two hour ride followed by a 45 minute run. Nothing killer, but I was on tired legs coming off five spin classes that week and a 70 mile ride the day before. I knew I could muster some good watts on Lookout but it wasn’t easy. Eight minutes, twice, equal to approximately four songs. Then the rest was just riding. No problem.

But I knew on my run I would be ready to call it day and I almost did when the theme song from Rudy popped on and I just couldn’t help but stop for a second, take in the view from Green Mountain, suck it up and keep on going. I love Rudy. I am that overachieving not as athletic as I should be kind of guy who gives it all I’ve got. I get knocked down and keep coming back for more.

Some might say its not wise to train with music for fear we won’t be able to compete as well in races since they don’t allow it. I say humbug. I don’t use a power tap in a race, and rarely use a heart rate monitor. I do look at my pace and speed but IT’S A RACE!! There is plenty of energy to draw from, but in training why not use any tool possible to improve?

Music is one of the few things to recruit all parts of the brain as we analyze it, take pleasure in it, draw memories from it and fire off activity that matches the intensity. It can be soothing, or annoying. It is also distracting and sometimes helps us mask pain as we seek intensity we otherwise might not be able to reach.

Music and athletics seem to go hand in hand. We have to be safe with it of course and use it wisely particularly on our bike, but look beyond those songs that only carry a favorable beat,  forage through those deeper cuts, maybe some find songs you forgot about, maybe a fun song from when you were a teen ager, songs that release powerful emotions and memories to put an extra spring in your step! Dig deep and look beyond the melody and words and find the heart and soul of song and bring into your own.

Friday, April 4, 2014


Thursdays somehow have become throwback Thursday on Facebook. I posted a picture of me as a sophomore basketball player at Wheat Ridge High school which triggered an entire avalanche of thoughts and dreams I recall from my days as a Farmer.  I asked myself, how does dreams of yesterday affect me today?

Triathlons are as much, for me at least, about where I have been as they are about where I am going. As an almost 50 year old athlete, triathlons had no place in my athletic background. Those experiences playing team sports and relishing the grind of a long season of basketball or soccer built that spirit and tenacity that propels me now. I didn’t run track or cross-country, never swam and jumping sidewalks on my Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat was all the biking I did. My first long road bike trek to my Aunt and Uncles house, a whopping ten miles away when I was twelve wearing my Chuck Taylor basketball shoes, was as serious as I got. Nothing in my past would suggest I would someday love to disciplines of triathlon. I even like to swim now—most of the time!

I would guess most triathletes have similar experiences to draw from and as we all age I find there is no better way continue the love of competing and pushing oneself than in the course of training for and completing a triathlon. Triathlons can be for life.

But don’t forget the past and I honor those dreams I had for instance to play basketball in the Olympics or make the winning goal in the World Cup. I still dream, but now it’s Kona, with a slightly better chance of coming true, than bending a ball into the upper corner of a goal on the world’s biggest soccer stage. It is fun though to dream and imagine, and I visualize success in depths of difficult training as I cross the line in Kona triumphant in the surroundings of amazing athletes. It is possible, still, even as I age and slow.

But, some days while training

I think back to cold days on the driveway playing against imaginary Russian basketball foes and draining jumpers for our country. It’s ok to dream, realistic or not, it helps motivate me and it is who I am. My race results merely tell you what I did, the effort tells you how hard I tried, but it’s my dreams that might perplex you as I suffer through a race with a smile because all those dreams are wrapped into the moment and make me push harder and harder.

Don’t let go of any dreams, as silly and unrealistic as they may be, they serve us always.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ride like a kid

Dave and I at Mary's market in Hygiene

Ride and train like a kid sometimes, you might find some extra joy in your normal routine to help keep things fun and fresh and motivating down the road. And when it’s cold like it was on Saturday, even the slightest distraction from the 14 degree wind chilled air piercing through small holes of fabric numbing exposed skin can be invaluable. But don’t forget the refreshing cold in a couple of months.

Perhaps you remember when you were younger and everything was a race?  You know, racing to the next tree, to the top of the hill, across the street in your bare feet or to the car so you could ride shotgun?

Often I find triathletes head out in packs but we all have our own agenda and it’s difficult to follow plans together. Not everyone has a 15 minute steady state interval or an 8 minute FTP field test for example. Depending on your need to remain social, yet train, I find a mental tug of war can happen. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the prescribed workout and just have fun.

I think fun is important, especially this time of year as we shake off the winter cobwebs and get ready for our races. Spring is tough because we’ve longed for nice days of riding without half a closet worth of clothes. With races beginning in a couple of months, sometimes panic sets in and the urge to get off the trainers or out of the spin room for a long ride can be overwhelming. We want to be ready to race now!

But there is time. Time to get to more fit, and time to get burned out and lose motivation when it’s most critical as we get closer to our big race.

I find these early season cold rides pay big mental dividends while grueling out a 6 hour ride in the 90 degree heat in July. My key race this year is Ironman Boulder on August 3rd. I know the day will come when I long for cold air and miss that camaraderie of group rides and just exploring as I watch my watts meter feeling anxious to get on with my race so I can just go on some “fun” rides.

Remember days like Saturday can keep things in perspective in July. My ride to Carter Lake with my friend Dave was fun. We don’t ride at the same pace and instead of trying to ride together we would regroup now and then at critical points.

At Carter Lake we climbed up the southeast side and rode across the nearly deserted road to the Marina store to the north. The glassy water and the haze from the cold filtering a brilliant sun made for a beautiful ride.

I challenged Dave (also doing IM Boulder) and fairly new on his triathlon bike and still getting used to riding aero, to ride back across the lake as hard as he could without getting out of aero position. I did the same. It was like being a kid again as my heartrate zoomed up and my breath became deep as I pushed hard to pedal back around the lake.

I wasn’t racing Dave, I was racing my friends when I was 10 to the next big cottonwood in the field. My mind was somewhere else as I pushed and didn’t let myself slow down whatsoever. Sucking in the cold air and a morsel of food before the heading down and back to Boulder I just smiled knowing I will draw upon this moment of breathing in fresh cold air later this year.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Tri Hearter

The trail where I "wrote" much of this

Have you ever thought of the word Triathlon? The definition, in a broad sense, means completing three sequential disciplines. It doesn’t have to be swimming, biking, and running. Maybe it’s work, training,  and competing, or more symbolically, family, fun and focus—you fill in the blanks.

A word with the prefix of “tri” seems to mean balance or imply a relationship between things that work together. Think about trilogy, triangle, and the trinity. Whether it’s racing, or living, it’s difficult to do anything well and successful if any three components are out of whack. We all have strengths, but we can’t be handicapped too greatly by any one weakness or we do not achieve the success we hope--physically, mentally or spiritually.

For me triathlon lets me be physical and train, develop more mental toughness and feel the spirit of myself and others digging deep to exceed expectations. Honestly I have not always found all of that in the rest of my life so perhaps that adds to the draw I have to the sport.

The proverbial three-legged stool used in business or life to describe necessary balance to success provides a good visual. Label the legs. Mine are family and friends, love, and hope. Under each of those we can expand their umbrella to include almost any aspect of life. But in the center of the stool is heart.  It provides the sustenance for life. It filters the logic of the brain and takes us where our brain doesn’t always want to go. It let us fight harder than we should and steers us in a mysterious way to places we only dream.

The arena of triathlon gives us so many opportunities to train in so many ways and feed that need to improve and succeed maybe when we don’t in other parts of our lives. I can prove to myself that I can compete and succeed in way that only is measured by the goals I set. I get that you can say that about life too, and raising kids or building a career, but for one day, one small amount of time, we as triathletes put it all on the line. We put the sacrifices of training and the strains we put on others so we can compete and hope for sum greater than the parts. There really is no true risk of disaster for in the training we find ourselves, but in the races we find out what we can be. Our heart is on the line.  

It’s not about beating others, it may not even be about speed or time, but rather, for me it’s about letting my heart escape for a day and do what is does best and drive me to do my best and cross the finish line with nothing left.

My column is about the heart and what fuels it and how it drives us in this crazy, sometimes techno world of triathlon where too often we are swept up with the latest buzz, the coolest gear, the fastest wheels, the super nutrition and forget sometimes why we do it. Do you know why you do it? Really??