Why We Do This

As our tires hummed against the surface of the road, our legs fighting to keep the pedals moving, the brutal cross winds threatening to drive us into the ditch with each passing gust, I began to question why are we seemingly so eager to put ourselves through an agonizingly painful experience with friends. Are we really just some sick individuals or is there something more to it?

My get your ass out of bed alarm went off this morning, but I had forgotten why I set it. Thinking there was no school or work today, I said “what the heck is this thing thinking waking me up at this hour on a Saturday??” Apparently I turned it off completely; it was 30 minutes later when Kristine rolled over and asked if I’m still planning to ride. <insert expletive!> There is nothing like a mad rush to make a bike ride. Our weather forecast looks terrible for the next four days, so it was no time to excuse missing a good ride.

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Photo credit: Rosanna Campos

Today marks three weekends in a row that I have made the group ride! It feels good to be on the road with friends again. But why do we wake up to only put ourselves in so much pain? The accomplishment of surviving a group ride with fellow hammer heads and not getting dropped—even though I nearly did on several occasions today—is a good feeling indeed. It was extremely difficult during the ride to prevent my brain from finding any excuse to drop and just let the pain stop. It is incredible the amount of mental power it takes to tolerate just a few more minutes of pain in order to stay with the group. We push our bodies further than sometimes we ever thought possible, and when that happens we learn more about ourselves each time.

In my last post I confessed that I had gained some weight; however, I have since lost a little weight and increased some muscle mass. The gym is helping with muscle definition, but the miles on the bike have helped the weight come off. I’m still aiming to build more muscle definition, but one benefit I am already experiencing is from squats. I noticed an improvement on the bike having strengthened my hamstrings and glutes, which have always been a weak point for me by contributing to a muscle imbalance as they worked against my stronger quads. More to come, but it is exciting to see results taking shape. My weakness now is stretching and rolling out my IT bands. Maybe some yoga in my future?

So, the next time you’re hurting on a group ride and asking why we do this, just remember that what we treasure most is not given to us, it is what we work for the hardest. Keep fighting that wind, those tired legs, and that brain trying to persuade you to give up. Tell yourself to hang on for just another minute, another mile, and another ride.

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Confession Time

It’s confession time.

A little over a year ago, with Christmas only a few days away, I posted about a change in direction. My plan was to attend college for the first time in my life in order to begin a new career in law enforcement. It has been a pleasant surprise to see how well I have done in college. After this spring semester, I will have 34 out of 60 credits necessary to graduate. Because of my achievements, I was honored on the Dean’s List for the fall semester of 2015. I also accepted an invitation to join the Mu Upsilon chapter of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society this semester. 12806102_1265854173426192_4954070660957403113_n

School for me as an adolescent was harder than it needed to be. I just didn’t have the motivation to obtain the same level of achievement I have today. Things are quite different attending college as an adult. We tend to be more focused, and we maintain the ability to cogitate the larger picture. While learning a new subject is intriguing, I propose the most important skills from college are time management, effective study habits, improved writing abilities, and professional ethics. I strive to succeed at all of these endeavors, not only for academic achievement and more prosperous career opportunities, but also for psychological fulfillment. If you are interested, I created a blog for publishing my academic essays throughout my college years.

I have to give much credit to my wonderful wife for her inspiration which has driven me to be a better student, and a better man. I was also extremely fortunate to have a wonderful history professor in my first semester. Her friendly personality and enthusiasm for teaching is evident in the classroom. She has genuinely enriched my college experience, and she has become a good friend.

So what am I confessing? Well, it’s nothing as serious as the Sacrament of Penance.

Clearly I haven’t been active on my blog, but sadly I also haven’t been as active on the bike. I found that going to school full time, owning a business, and still having a semblance of a personal life really takes a lot out of you. To compound matters, my job involves physical labor; thus, when I have school and work in the same day, it has been difficult to find the time or energy to don a kit and hop on the bike. Honestly, these are just excuses for the fact that I have gained weight—nearly as much as my pre-cycling days. However, in my defense, the Huffington Post Canada reported a study published in the Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism journal “[which] found that in over four years, at least 70 per cent of students gain weight, according to Auburn University”. Although there have been contradicting results from other studies, at least in my case, it seems the ‘freshman 15’ theory holds—er—weight.

It is now time to hold myself accountable. At this point, I still have no immediate plans to race my bike, but it is time to get back on the saddle, or as Willie Nelson would say, “on the road again”. For the first time in my life, I have joined a gym. This is something I never thought I would do. Admittedly, I have enjoyed it so far! The classes are good for motivation and they are helping to develop muscles I never knew existed.

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Put simply: Squats. Are. Evil. In the wake of a body pump class, the simple task of nimbly sitting on the toilet turned into a lumbering collapse on the seat, accompanied by a painful shriek. But, things are improving. I’m beginning to feel stronger which will surely help me on the bike when I can get outside.

So, the goal for this year: Get back in shape. More specifically, to develop muscle definition—particularly in the core, shoulders, and arms—ahead of police academy training. And finally, to find the cardio fitness I once had.

Compassion Shines After Frightening Crash

In the evening hours this week, with the promise of spring in the air, it was set to be a beautiful end to the day as Local Bike Racing hosted a weekly criterium here in Houston. However, we were all devastated to learn about a tragic accident involving Chuck, a good friend of the cycling community. Erin Urban, a local competitive cyclist with Haute Wheels Racing and a great blogger, published a post about the incident saying, “last night a friend, staunch supporter, avid race volunteer, and all-around good guy was severely injured during a local race. This news hits hard with deep sadness because we all know and appreciate our cycling buddy, Chuck”.

Indeed, Chuck is genuinely a great guy who does not deserve the pain he is experiencing right now, but it has been truly inspirational to see the community come together in support of a fallen friend.

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Chuck on the front. Photo credit: Corvin Alstot.

Chuck is a successful entrepreneur; he is a selfless and hard-working individual, someone who never complains when the going gets tough. I recall riding next to Chuck on many occasions, often struggling to breathe at blistering speeds, my legs agonizingly painful as I’m telling them to ‘shut up’ in my best Jens Voigt expression, yet Chuck would always greet you with a warm smile. His diligent and altruistic character is visible not only in his career, but also with his involvement in the cycling community—all of whom have a great deal of respect for him. In her blog post, Erin Urban adds, “Chuck has volunteered quite a bit of his time and energy to the advancement of the cycling community and competitive cycling events. . . . Chuck has been there when he didn’t have to… and today, our cycling community is there for him”.

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Photo credit: Creative Cycling

While those of us who race are aware of the risks, a fact that we have to be comfortable with to some degree, it is never easy to completely push the fear of injury to the back of our mind. As it has been brought to the forefront this week, I would like to reach out to my friends and followers from all walks of life. Please, if you are able to, consider making a donation on his Go Fund Me page—no matter how small—to help our friend recover. This accident will impact his life beyond the time we all share with him on the bike as he faces the road to recovery ahead.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of experiencing the open road on two wheels; that intimate connection between man and machine as one foot turns over the next. It’s almost a meditative experience at times. As cyclists, we share a unique bond in this sport. One of trust, respect, and compassion. There are those who stand out among a group of good people—those who are genuinely great. Chuck is one of those great people. Let’s help him get back on the road, and most importantly, back to his life.

Thank you for taking a moment to read his story. I hope you will consider making a small donation.

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Be sure to check out Erin Urban’s blog and read more about her here. Special thanks goes out to Corvin Alstot and Creative Cycling (Ray ‘Trey’ Currid) for granting permission to publish their photos on this blog.

Change in Direction

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First I must apologize for the long delay in posts. While there’s not a million people who actually enjoy reading my blog, I realize there are a handful of faithful followers who mean a lot to me. Thanks for taking the time to follow my fitness accomplishments and life journeys.

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This has been a very special year for me. While I haven’t raced much this year, I have certainly been through some exciting changes in my personal life. Most importantly being my marriage in June to the most beautiful and perfect woman for me. My best friend and partner for life. I feel extremely thankful for the events which lead to us finding each other, especially when I consider her journey from Vietnam as a young girl, to the Houston area for a career, to being a part of the cycling club which brought us together on a weekend bike ride.

My career for the past 13 years has been working as a commercial diver, mostly on yachts in our area. I’ve owned and operated the business and enjoyed doing it. After some conversations with Kristine, I was considering where I might like to be in the future. After a lot of consideration, I decided that I would really like to move in the direction of civil service as a police officer. I was a volunteer fire fighter when I was younger and really enjoyed the opportunity to help others and the community. I feel that I have unfinished business there, so becoming a police officer feels like the right direction.

You may ask, why!? Well, I suppose the only way to answer that question is that it just ‘feels’ right. You either want it or you don’t. However, there’s a long ways for me to go before I can start applying for the job. Even though it feels right, wanting to be a police officer and actually being good at it or really liking the work are totally different things. The first step on this change in direction is with school. I don’t have any college degrees, so I am enrolled in college next semester. I plan to work toward an associates degree in Psychology with some additional hours in law enforcement. Also on the to-do list will be ride alongs with local police departments. This should give me a more realistic idea of what it’s like to be a police officer. We all know they do a hard job, but actually seeing it first hand will be an important step along the way. Finally, I will need to complete the police academy, which on its own requires about 6 months to finish. This will be the final process to ensure that I’m ready for the job and that I really want it.

I’m really excited to pursue this new career and all of the challenges along the way. Police work will bring unique challenges everyday, some good and some not so good, but at the end of the day I believe it will be more rewarding than anything else I could ever do. With all of the negative feelings toward our hard working police officers these days, however small it may be, I hope that I can give back to the community in a positive way.

While I would love to race next year, realistically it’s not practical for me to do so. I certainly don’t make it out to as many bike rides as I’d like to either, but I will not give up on cycling! I’m starting to run more to prepare for the police academy, however I’m always excited to get on the bike. I’m confident once things settle down that I will have some desire to do more racing. Right now I have to get focused on returning to school after 16 years! So much to do, and so much to remember. Very exciting times indeed!

Boston Marathon and Vacation

While boarding the plane, I have to admit to the excitement of taking my first trip to the east coast. We flew into Boston with plans to pick up a rental car, then drive to New Hampshire where we would stay with some close friends for a couple of days. boston-landing

One thing to consider if you go to Boston and get a rental car: as soon as you leave the airport, you’re ejected right onto a tollway that goes through a long tunnel. GPS signals typically don’t work underground—go figure, so don’t make the mistake we did! Be sure you know what exit you’re taking before going into the tunnel.

We stopped at a bike shop before leaving the city to pick up some CO2 cartridges since I was able to bring my bike on this trip, but naturally compressed gas is not allowed on the plane. After the quick detour, we made it up to New Hampshire without any major problems; except for the the fact that it was still WINTER up there! Bear in mind that I am a native (south) Texan who can wear flip-flops year round. The next morning dropped down to 25F; nevertheless, I was determined to ride. I put the bike together and headed out on a 60 mile ride through New Hampshire, just crossing the state line into Vermont before turning back. Because it was still so cold, the trees didn’t have leaves on them yet, and in fact there was snow on the ground in some places!

There was a good amount of elevation with some decent climbs along the way which was a nice treat for me. Overall it was a great day on the bike exploring a different part of the country. Below are pictures from my adventure.

 

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Picturesque!

 

 

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Just to prove it was cold, obligatory snow picture.

 

 

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Nice climb here with a flowing creek on the left side.

 

 

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Love historic covered bridges.

 

 

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Bienvenue to New Hampshire. On my way back from Vermont.

 

 

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Fitzwilliam: The quaint small town we visited with friends.

After a couple of days, we drove back to Boston and moved into our hotel room for the remainder of our stay. Kristine was getting really excited about the marathon. We used the subway to get around the city, but we mostly just took it easy until race day. We spent some time at the running expo, which was big and exciting as you might expect for such a big event. Kristine got all taped up with KT tape hoping her hip would hold out through the race which was still causing some pain. We also did the pasta dinner the night before the race. I wouldn’t recommend it. The food was bland—basically noodles and spaghetti sauce. Although it was included for runners, family members had to pay to join the dinner. Topping that off, we stood in a line that wrapped around 3 blocks for nearly an hour just to get our food. Next time we’ll make reservations for sushi.

 

The day before her race I was lucky enough to get a ride in around Boston in the morning. I just wanted to explore the city, so I went easy and took lots of pictures. The route traversed through downtown, MIT, Harvard, and back to the hotel. Here’s some pictures from that ride.

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Race day!

RacedayAfter all the training and hard work, the big day had finally arrived! The morning air was crisp and cold, but the afternoon forecast was expected to be warm and sunny. Kristine had to wear some old warm clothes over her running outfit which could be discarded at the start of the race. The classic ‘California Raisins’ sweater was the choice of the day. Sad to see that one go!

Unlike Houston, the runners are transported on school buses from Boston Common out of town to the starting point in Hopkinton. They run a direct route back into the city, so it wasn’t practical for me to see her during the race. Although I had my bike with me, we opted not to try that this year. As they were loading the buses, I gave her one last kiss and wished her the best of luck. I told her she had this, and this was her time to shine. Just enjoy the moment.984056_10152065093421631_8095361839667973647_n

All I could think about as I watched her leave was how proud of her I was. I said to myself, “my sweetie is running in Boston!!”

After seeing her off, I met up with our friends from New Hampshire who had come in to the city to watch Kristine race. We made our way near the finish line where we must have stood there for over 3 hours waiting to see Kristine finish. It was simply incredible to see how many people get involved in this event. It’s like nothing else. The streets were jam packed with people!

We finally got a spot right on the fence where we could practically touch the runners finishing. It was shortly after when we saw Kristine coming across the finish line. What a sight! She made it, and faster than we expected! She’s now a Boston marathon finisher!! How cool is that!?

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BostonMedal

That night we enjoyed a nice sushi dinner with some sweet treats from Mike’s Pastry. We relaxed and planned to explore the city together the following day.

After nearly a week away from home, we were looking forward to getting back. It was really a positive trip and already we’re thinking about returning to visit our friends in New Hampshire this fall to see the changing colors. What a sight that must be!

Performance Gains

At least the yard is getting watered.
At least the yard is getting watered.

It’s a rainy day outside right now as I sit here and write this post. That didn’t stop me from riding my bike this morning though. After 70 miles on damp roads in light rain and a double flat, I spent the better part of the afternoon cleaning my bike, kit, and my body! I really don’t mind riding in the rain as long as it’s not cold, but the work that goes into cleaning the bike is enough to deter you from riding for many days later if there’s even a slight chance of rain. 😀

Clean bike!
Squeaky clean bike!

So far this year my performance has been improving on the bike. In my last post, I mentioned that I would likely do a few races this year after all. My first opportunity will be at the end of this month on Saturday, March 29th. I’m planning to race in Dallas at the Spring Criterium which is held around a high school parking lot. I did the same race last year and had some decent results, but I hope to better those this year. I’ve updated my events page to reflect races I plan to do. Everything is tentative at this point however.

Considering my performance gains of late, I’ll go over the areas which I believe has helped me the most and where I’m aiming to improve.

Nutrition: You’ve probably heard it before; “You are what you eat.” One of my weaknesses in life is sugar. My goodness do I ever love that stuff! I wish I could tell you that I’ve stopped eating sugary treats entirely, but all I can say is that I have cut back on indulging in them as often. I’ve also made an effort to eat more whole foods and fewer processed items. I’m using my Vitamix on a daily basis making fruit and vegetable smoothies. I’ve lost a few pounds and I feel better since making these changes. No doubt it’s one of, if not the biggest improvement to my cycling.

Training: My routine to strengthen my core and stability muscles is going very well. This has already directly improved my form on the bike. As I talked about in my last post, I’m commuting to work on the bike as much as I can. I’ve also started interval workouts on the indoor trainer. I’m confident the increased saddle time and tough intervals are rapidly improving my power. Where I still need work is with sprinting.

I’ve never considered myself a sprinter, so I will humbly admit that I don’t know much about this aspect of riding. With that said, here are my experiences so far with sprinting.

To win a bike race, pro or amateur, it will often come down to a field sprint, and in fact is one of the primary components of cycling for racers and recreational riders alike. Sprinting requires a strong and quick acceleration as well as top-end speed. It might sound easy to jump out of the saddle and ride someone off of your wheel in a sprint, and indeed some people consistently take sprints with seemingly less effort than the rest of us mere mortals, but I assure you it is not easy. If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it! I’m enjoying this new challenge though.

Pro sprinters in the Tour de France.
Pro sprinters in the Tour de France.

I’ve gotten fairly good at the explosive acceleration required to initiate a sprint or breakaway move. My top-end speed and ultimately my form when out of the saddle is where I have room for improvement. Watching pro riders, they hover barely above the saddle and lay low over the handlebars. I have this terrible habit of standing up entirely too high, which is compounded by the fact I’m a tall guy. It’s like hitting a wall when I stand up in the wind.

Another factor making it more difficult, but is nothing that should keep me from winning any amateur race, is my gearing. I’m running a 52 for my large chain ring. Around here where everything is totally flat (a.k.a. sprinters paradise), I would be much better served with a 53. Currently I’m spinning out in my biggest gear at the end of a sprint. I could however improve my fast twitch muscles to turn a higher cadence for a longer period of time.

The final area I wish to improve is in my flexibility. This of course can be achieved with stretching, but I’d like to take it another level and incorporate some yoga into my routines. Several people have already assured me that it will directly improve my power on the bike. It certainly makes sense, so I think it’s worth a try.

Bike Fit: This month I had a new bike fit done. It’s been a year since my last one and this time I decided to try out Tad Hughes Custom Fit Studio after glowing recommendations from several people. He was also acknowledged in Bicycling Magazine. My experience was extremely good and I felt like Tad was very thorough and knowledgeable about the fitting and the sport in general. He understands all aspects, from racers, triathletes, and recreational riders.

After taking some measurements and shooting some video of my riding, he was able to make some changes in various areas which were better suited to my goals as a racer. One of my favorite changes are custom foot beds. It is an added cost for that service on top of the bike fit, but I feel it was worth every dollar. In my case, I have high arches which even after using Specialized inserts in my shoes, caused my foot to collapse leading to a loss of power and less than ideal comfort. The custom foot bed really joined my foot and shoe with the bike 100%.

My saddle didn’t need much of a change at all, so in my case the focus was my position on the handlebars and the position of my cleats. I ride a frame that’s almost too small for my height which means ideally I need a longer stem and longer reach handlebars. The issue comes when I get in the drops in a more aero position. My upper body scrunches up in that position, which is not comfortable nor is it efficient. Increasing to a 140mm stem length and longer reach bars will do the trick, but 140mm stems have been hard to come by! My cleats were moved forward a bit, to activate my calf muscles which should help me with accelerations. A big part of racing is accelerations, so this sounded good to me.

Personal fit measurements.
Personal fit measurements.

Having left satisfied with the changes, and although the fit is still relatively new, I could really feel the difference during today’s ride with some friends. If you’re looking to get the most out of your bike, I can easily recommend Tad Hughes.

I’m excited to see changes happening quickly and where they might lead in the races I plan to do. If anything, I’ve certainly gotta beat David on the PCC sprints!

Until next time, be good and ride safe my friends.

The Allure of Racing

Here we are in a new year, well two months into it anyway, and I’m just writing my first post. Here’s some updates of the happenings in my life to date.

Things at work are going really well. I’m making better money than ever during the winter months, despite this being the coldest winter I’ve ever experienced since I started my business. Nevertheless, I’ve been working hard to expand the business and save some money for lot’s of things planned this year. One of which will be our honeymoon. It’s looking like Hawaii for that. I’m really excited as it will be my first time to visit the Hawaiian islands.

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Kristine also has the Boston marathon coming up in April of this year. We’ll be staying in Boston for a week during that time which should be a lot of fun, and our first time to visit Boston.

For my own fitness and racing plans…well, let’s just say the running thing has not yet panned out. I did make an attempt to start running, but my achilles tendon decided to give me trouble once again. To be fair, I probably did too much too soon. Classic Blake right there. It’s clear however that I need to take steps to prevent that from recurring if I want to seriously run. One of the main triathlons I thought about doing is the Kemah Triathlon, however it’s in April, which is just too close to our Boston trip and for my running form to develop. I need to be focused on helping Kristine with her Boston goal at this time, so there’s always next year for that one.

I’m still riding my bike when I can, although this winter has been tough for me to get quality base miles in. I’m beginning to build up my time on the bike again by commuting ~25 miles (each way) to work and home when the weather permits, and by riding with both Space City Cycling Club and Pearland Cycling Club on the weekends. I’m also beginning interval workouts on the trainer, which are incredibly hard and suck big time, but they will definitely help my riding overall. One main area I’ve slacked in is core strength. It’s vital to everything, and helps you maintain good form on the bike. So I’ve added that to my list of routines in combination with stability muscle strength training.

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Seeing all of my friends and old teammates racing this season has me really missing it. I guess I’ll have to eat my words on this one… but, there’s now a real possibility I’ll be doing at least a couple of races this year. Most likely our local favorites, such as Coldspring and the Houston Crit. We’ll see how much time (and money) I have for racing, but my number one priority right now is supporting my fiancée with her Boston marathon.

That’s pretty much all I have for now, but I’ll keep you all posted as any plans develop with both my own racing, Kristine’s Boston marathon, and our upcoming marriage this year! It’s looking like June 22 will be the big day! 🙂