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

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??

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Triathlon is a family

Patrick from Houston, Art from Montana and me at IMAZ
Last night about 9pm I was reminded yet again about the extended family I enjoy in the triathlon world. Patrick, who I met at Ironman Arizona and shares coach Lindsay Hyman of Carmichael Training Systems, sent me a text wondering if we could get together. He lives in Houston and is in town on business. I was quite moved by the offer as we texted once in Tempe to arrange to meet with Lindsay before the race. To have kept my name and number surprised me. There is an undeniable and timeless bond that is formed when meeting and sharing a race experience with someone, especially a destination and grueling race like an Ironman.

It's that bond that is probably one of the most endearing aspects of triathlon. The social connection might surprise outsiders who consider it a solitary sport. That secret oxymoron of the social benefit versus the individual accomplishment can really only be understood by those that participate. Yes, triathletes compete in the same venue, but 90% really race against themselves. Sure, I have been fortunate to land at the top of my age group and found myself wrapped up in worry about beating those near me, but historically my races have been more about improvement rather than winning.

I think it's that component, improving, that creates such a collaborative community of athletes happily helping others improve.  Even the narcissistic competitive racer knows it's their own effort that ultimately makes or breaks the race, not the failing of others. Every race is really thousands of races all bundled together with each athlete typically combining small goals to equal a big one. Most athletes I know compartimentalize the race and try to achieve certain times in each segment and transition. I feel the spirit of competing and improving can get lost in such minutia when sometimes more subjective goals like simply finishing something thought unachievable or even showing the mental strength to overcome things like the fear of the swim or the pain of the run can and should be every bit as noble.

Last Thursday the Denver Athletic Club and the Rocky Mountain Triathlon Club co-hosted the first annual Tri-Posium complete with a panelist of 8 veteran athletes, coaches and trainers. We (I was emcee) worked through an agenda and answered questions. About 70 triathletes of all experience levels showed up to learn a few tips. And while technical information about equipment covering topics such as what is most aerodynamic and cost effective and mistakes to avoid and why a triathlon bike versus a road bike were certainly covered, it was clear to me that most in attendance just enjoyed hearing the conversation and absorbing the stories and seeing their "triathlon family".

It is a sport of lots of lonely training. It can be technical and equipment intensive but it's that mental strength and connection to others that really drives triathletes. That lonely training is a necessary evil that come race day serves athletes well. Once the cannon booms, most people keep to themselves and dig deep. But once across the finish line, it's like coming home from school and the stories flow (along with the beer) and everyone just wants to be around the energy and passion that helps carry them to the next race. It's that social connection and drive for improvement that I believe hooks us all.

Don't be shy.....

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wheelmen, How it happened and my thoughts

I would like to offer my thoughts on the book Wheelmen by Reed Albergotte and Vanessa O'Connell about the downfall of Lance Armstrong and subtitled "The tour de France and the greatest sports conspiracy ever".

This is not a book review. I don't feel comfortable critiquing writers much more accomplished than me. I did not check their facts and have no reason to dispute anything they offered. I take the book as fact.

I want to tell you how it affected me and my thoughts about pro cycling and Lance in particular. Before I read this I felt like Lance was more of a victim than a perpetrator. I thought he was a talented pawn manipulated by corporate greed operating in a sport governed by the lame UCI, who overseas international cycling, and seems to sway with the money in its diligence, enforcement and sanctions.

I feel I was right about the UCI who didn't necessarily turn the other way. I feel the evidence suggest they didn't try "too hard" to really crack down on Lance and his postal teammates. Why would they want the money in their sport to go away? Let's face it, once Lance became prominent, the largest sporting economic power in the world, the United States, suddenly became interested and poured lots of money into European cycling in the way of sponsorships, television and sheer exposure.

But Lance pushed the agenda and in my opinion got more than just swept up in the big bucks--he solicited them and created the buzz for self serving reasons. By all accounts he was just simply ruthless and quite frankly an asshole. I know people who have met him, spent time around him and his sponsors and never is a nice thing said.

Sure he raised money for cancer. He had cancer, fought a brilliant battle and came back to win the most grueling sporting event on the planet--seven times. That part I admire, drugs or not, it's still impressive as hell. Make no mistake, he is a great cyclist.

I really don't even want to judge him, but I can certainly offer thoughts on documented behavior. I know I have not always been as upstanding as I would like so it's not my place to throw stones. I do believe he wanted to help people with cancer. I have no doubt he battled tons of pain and great odds to win his own battle. I just can't believe he didn't have some empathy for others in similar situations. I must say though, this book made me think twice about even his most noble acts.

I guess I'm simply a bit shocked at his ruthlessness to "beat the system" and in some of the cold, calculating and downright wrong ways that he tried to cover it all up. The depths of intimidation to those that knew is amazing. It's hard to believe that such an iconic sports star led such a scheme. The energy it must've taken to not only train, but to mastermind the doping and cover it up is mind boggling. He had help no doubt. But it seemed to me that those who helped did so for more logical reasons--to save their jobs (like his teammates), to protect their investments or those of their associates, or to simply avoid getting in trouble. With Lance I felt his incredibly narcissistic, ruthless behavior delved into much greater depths. Sure he wanted the money and sure he wanted to win, but even stronger I think is his desire to not lose. To beat everyone at every angle of cycling and doping to simply prove he could-- to prove he was king. He didn't care who was swept up with him, who got chewed up and spit out like Floyd Landis, or who lost everything.

The book painted a deeply dark picture about a person who influenced me for sure. I read his first book about overcoming cancer and was quite taken by his battle and became a bit of a fan. I must admit I started watching the tour because of him and only stuck with the coverage to see how he was doing.

I don't think anything less of cycling. I still love it of course. I don't think anything less of pro cycling for that matter. Besides Lance I feel the rest of paleton were just doing what they needed to do to save their jobs. The riders needed to stay competitive and once drugs became prevalent, that tiny boost in power, stamina and speed meant a huge difference in placement and exposure--the parts cyclist could sell to sponsors for money. I get it.

Organizations and companies like U.S. Postal, Nike and Trek invested tens of millions of dollars into cycling, and in particular Lance, with completely false pretenses. He took them for a ride and left a pelton of fans, sponsors, teammates and competitors in shambles hoping he would break through the pack unscathed.

It's too bad, his brief triathlon career after cycling proved he still had some amazing endurance ability. He crushed most triathlons and beat many seasoned pro's. I would love to have seen him race Kona, like he planned, but now he is banned for the foreseeable future.

I think somehow the sport will become even greater and all of this negative exposure and fall of it's worldwide icon can pave a way for a truer sport to exist. It's tough in America as we seem to want that champion to hang on, and it might be a while in cycling.

I guess this book proves to me that nothing can be greater than its sum and sooner or later what goes around comes around.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

So many great reasons to brave the cold and snow and run!

I always feel like I need to write some eloquent diatribe about an experience like I had on Groundhogs Day running in the cold and snow. I wish I could say an experience I had on the day the Broncos won the Super Bowl, but, well....that was a train wreck...maybe worse.

Anyhow, I was scheduled for a 90 minute negative split run. The thought of spending that much time on a treadmill on such a cold but beautiful day didn't sit well with me. I knew an effective training run would be difficult in such cold and on snowy trails, but I felt compelled to be outside and enjoy nature.

And did she give me many reasons to smile. The skies blue depth mesmerized me and provided an amazing backdrop against Table Mountain with its rugged "square" top highlighted by snow perched perfectly on the edges of rocks and resting on each blade of grass and branches of trees. There had been no wind when the snow fell and with the brilliant sun cutting through the crisp dry air, it sparkled and looked magical.

I ran, and hiked and stopped to take it in and snap a few photos. Running on snow challenges the feet and ankles recruiting small muscles to stabilize each foot fall. In talking with coach Lindsay yesterday, there is definitely some benefits to runs like this that help strengthen under used muscles. When fatigue sets in on an event like an Ironman, those smaller stabilizing muscles can help immensely.

But, let's be real, that was not on my mind Sunday. I simply wanted to be outside nourishing my need to let nature do what she does best and that is to remind me how beautiful life is and how lucky I am to be healthy and to be able to train, frankly live, in such an amazing place.

Table Mountain is iconic. South and North Table Mountain frame the city of Golden and guard the valley housing the world's largest brewery--Coors. As the name suggests, they are relatively flat on top and provide amazing views of the Rocky Mountains to the west and Great Plains to the East. Trails criss cross and circle each mountain making for endless loops of varying distances ideal for all sorts of recreating. They truly are a treasure to west part of the Denver area and are home to all kinds of critters, most notoriously, rattlesnakes.

But it was a wee bit cold for rattlesnakes on Sunday and I saw lots of deer and one dead one that I can only think a mountain lion had killed and left a lot of carnage on the trail. There was an odd beauty to the ribcage on the trail. Everything was blue, brown or white. In the most stark contrasting way possible, the red on the snow was almost shocking but yet brought a sense of balance and a feeling of being simply part of the natural state of things. It made me feel more honored to be in that place at that moment where life was just the way it was meant to be, a place where we all do what we do to survive and this mountain lion (I presume) was simply trying to eat and maybe provide for some young.

Maybe that is why I ran outside, didn't follow the plan, but rather followed a calling to commune with nature for a couple of hours and explore a beautiful place only minutes from the hustle and bustle of city life.