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.

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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.

Kauai

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.

tarmac

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! 🙂

Riding Equals Fitness Freedom

twheelsI learned to ride a bike at a very young age. Of course starting out with training wheels, then moving up to an all yellow bike with one of those banana seats. It was just an old bike we had in our garage, but I remember my Dad helping me balance and giving me that gentle push to get me started. As I got bigger, I progressed through BMX bikes and run of the mill mountain bikes, nothing fancy mind you. I wasn’t exposed to road bikes until I was much older, but the thrill of riding any bike was always something I enjoyed. As a kid, it was freedom. Freedom to explore the world (as far as my parents would let me ride anyway) and to get lost in the beauty of it all.

I grew up north of Houston around the Woodlands area. They have some great walking and bike paths which I loved to ride. I rode for fun and for transportation, but never competitively. I remember spending all day riding around there without a worry in the world. Water/food..I didn’t worry about it. I even managed to take a bad spill at the age of 11, breaking my femur, requiring surgery for a plate and screws which are still in my leg today. That only kept me off the bike as long as I had to be on crutches, but I was right back on the saddle as soon as the doctor cleared me.

Then one day the (biking) world came to a stop when I got my drivers license. Suddenly bikes were a thing of the past. It was another 15 years before I seriously rode a bike again.

Riding my first road bike.

It all began when I decided to get in real shape for the first time in my life. I started running in late 2011 and decided to purchase a bike to use for cross training. Now living south of Houston around the Galveston Bay area, I realized a road bike made sense as we really don’t have trails here to challenge a mountain bike. After visiting a bike shop, I was shocked to see the prices for a road bike. I guess I expected to spend a couple hundred bucks at the most, but I quickly learned that a real (non-Walmart) bike was going to run into some money. Since the bike was for cross training, and I didn’t foresee me racing, I decided on the Trek 1.1 which was the cheapest and most basic road bike they offered. It was still light years ahead of anything I had ever owned.

My first ride through Liverpool.

The first day I brought my new bike home, I went for a 10 mile ride that afternoon. The next week I rode 24 miles on Tuesday and was feeling good after that distance, so I decided to try for an even longer ride on the weekend. Saturday morning came around and I was up earlier than my alarm went off because I was so excited to ride my new bike. It was like being a kid all over again! I decided on a route which allowed me to head home if I wasn’t feeling up to the additional miles. As I approached the end of the route I was feeling so good that I kept riding. By the end of the day, I covered nearly 44 miles! I couldn’t believe it. Of course I was also running during the week as well, training for my first race, a 10K in Galveston.

The following weekend I go for broke, riding 61 miles from home all the way out to Liverpool, Texas where I’ve never been in my life. It was a touch windy that day and I remember how sore my legs were about 2/3 of the way through the ride. I was finally beginning to feel like I bit off more than I could chew, but I was determined to finish the ride. In March of 2012 I joined Space City Cycling Club and began riding with groups out of Bike Barn in Clear Lake. I continued riding with SCCC nearly every weekend and I even competed in my first bike race in May 2012, before purchasing a better bike.

A year and a half after that 61 mile ride to Liverpool, I’m now riding 8+ hours a week, often 200+ miles. I’m racing a lot more and getting some decent results, having just moved up from category 5 to 4. Most importantly, I’ve kept the weight off (I started at 195 lbs and now down to 175 lbs) and I still love to ride my bike. I haven’t been running like I used to, but I continue to run on occasion and I’m trying to make it a routine this year to run at least 3-5 miles a week for cross training purposes.

Fayetteville Stage Race

Thank you to all of my friends and family for your support! It’s really been a great motivator to keep on pushing when things get hard. I’m very happy to see that I’ve inspired a few of you to pick up cycling, running, or some other physical activity to lose weight and just feel better about yourselves. I have more races planned this year and I hope to ride at least 9,000 miles by the end of the year. So far I’m making good progress just now in early April:

Year-to-Date
Distance 2,355.8mi
Time 133hr 17m
Elev Gain 60,965ft
Rides 62

Counting the Days

It’s now only 10 days until my first bike race! I’m still planning to participate in the Houston Grand Crit, weather permitting. I have yet to sign up as I’m waiting for a more accurate rain report.

In my last post, I talked about how much I’ve increased my bike mileage. So far all is going well! However, last night I woke up to a cramp in my calf muscle which absolutely sucks!! I caught it early and stretched it out, but it’s pretty sore today. I’m just hoping that it’s OK by this weekend as I’ve got a lot of miles to get in on the bike. Next week I will taper down my mileage so that I’m fresh and rested come race day. I must admit I am a little nervous about the race. There is of course the possibility of crashes, especially in a crit race where everyone is packed together, though I intend to avoid that at all costs. I can’t control other riders though, so I just hope no one goes down in front of me!

For those who aren’t familiar with bike racing, there are basically 5 different categories of racers. First you have to obtain a USA Cycling Association racing license. A cat 5 racer is where I will start as a beginner. A cat 1 racer is the top of the sport, being a full pro. You have to complete a set number of races to advance to a new category, so I will be a cat 5 racer for quite a while. Right now my goal is to get some experience as I’m still learning the competitive side of this sport. If I do well, I may one day decide to join a team since cycling is really a team sport.

As much as I’d love to be able to take off from the gun and dominate up front like Schumacher or Vettel did in Formula 1, it just doesn’t work like that in cycling. Burn yourself out too early up front and you won’t have anything left for the end when everyone picks up the pace and finally sprints for the line. You have to consider lots of things, with position and timing being very important. If some strong riders break away from the peloton, you have to decide if you want to bridge up with them or hang back and save your energy for the end, hoping their break away fails. All of these things come with experience and knowing who the strong riders are. Given these possibilities and my current strengths, I’m just hoping to finish with the main peloton in the race. I don’t consider myself a strong sprinter, so I just need to position myself as best as possible as the end of the race nears and hang on for dear life!

 In other news, I finally bought the Garmin Edge 500 GPS for my bike. I am very impressed with it compared to my smart phone I have previously been using to track my rides. The Garmin is certainly more accurate, the battery lasts up to 18 hours, and it even includes heart rate and cadence data which can be analyze all together. You can see my last two training rides on the Garmin website below. Monday was a short, high intensity solo ride in reasonably breezy conditions, while Tuesday was a moderate intensity solo ride in mostly calm winds and beautiful skies.

Mon. Training Ride | Tues. Training Ride

Riding the wheels off!

It’s been a little while since my last post, so here is a quick update.

I’ve really picked up my bike mileage and I’ve been riding with SCCC a lot. This week I did the Paperclip ride for the first time, which is a fast, take no prisoners type of ride. Here is a screen shot from Strava with data from that ride:

I was told to expect getting dropped at some point and sure enough I got dropped! It was fair weather, but windy and when I got stuck on the back unable to find the draft in the echelon, I got dropped as the pace increased. At times we were pushing 25 mph into the wind and I hear the group who made it to the turn around point was pushing 35 mph downwind. Here’s two videos from the Paperclip, before and after getting dropped.

So, the past two weeks I’ve logged over 150 miles each week, and this week I’ve already logged 171 miles. Some charts showing distance and time below:

Not to completely forget my running, I finished a 3.35 mile run on Wednesday at a casual pace. After the run I applied ice to my achillies tendon for good measure and I left my compression socks on for a couple of hours afterward. Next day, no problems! I’m also using the foam roller for my IT band and stretching it really good, so I’m not having any major problems with that either. In fact, since I started the stretching routine specifically for the IT band, I would venture to say it’s getting better, all be it slow given how much mileage I’m logging on the bike.

Things are going really well and I’m having a lot of fun riding with SCCC. I’m still planning to participate in the Houston Grand Crit this coming May, but I am watching the weather. I’m not sure I will race if it’s raining. Probably not wise for my first race anyway!

Thanks for reading my boring blog I’m sure, but I at least hope it’s kept you up to date with the happenings in my athletic life.

Take care my friends! Get out and enjoy this lovely spring weather!!

Riding with Space City Cycling Club

This past weekend I rode with the Space City Cycling Club out of the Bike Barn location in Clear Lake. A couple of months back I had gone on a Sunday coffee ride with them, but I was focused on training for my half-marathon at the time, so I didn’t come back for a second group ride until now. With a great weather forecast and warmer temperatures, quite a few people showed up!

I have to say it was an absolute blast riding with such a large group! Everyone was very nice and I met some really great people. I’m really looking forward to riding with them more and luckily this coming weekend is supposed to be great weather again!

They have several speed groups for all types of riders. The warp speed group is the fastest and first to leave, being mostly racers. They generally do at least 25-30+ mph. I decided to ride with the next group, the 23’s, who ride 20-25+ mph, but mostly around 23 mph. I also knew several people in that group from the Facebook page, so I felt comfortable starting there. The route took us a total of 60.99 miles, with an average speed of 20.9 mph. We passed through several cities along the way including; Clear Lake City, Friendswood, Alvin, Liverpool, Dickinson, League City, and Webster.

Most of the time we were in a double pace line, which if you’re not familiar with the mechanics of it, can look a bit confusing. The idea is that everyone takes a turn at the front where you work the hardest. Those in the back are working 30% less, thanks to the slip stream effect. ‘Pulling’ is the term used for the riders in the front. When you’re tired and finished pulling, you peel off and let the rider behind you move up as you fall back onto the rear of the group. It takes some skill to negotiate this practice with a large group in a double pace line. It’s really a lot of fun though, but a completely different riding experience than going out solo.

Sunday is known as the ‘Coffee Ride’ which consists of a stop at Noah’s Ark, a restaurant/bar, located in Bacliff for some good coffee and conversation. I had already logged a bunch of miles this past week, so after Saturday’s 60 mile ride (which included a solo ride to and from Bike Barn making a total of 79 miles on Saturday), I was surprised I felt well enough to ride with the faster group on Sunday..

In all, this past week I logged a total of 182 miles!

My ass was a little sore, but now it feels much better with a couple of days rest. The only real issue I had was my right IT band got tight after Sunday’s ride. Normally cycling doesn’t irritate it like running does, but given the amount of miles I logged and the fact most of them were fast riding, I’m not surprised to see my IT band get so tight. It’s doing much better today as I’ve been working it out with the foam roller and started some new stretching routines for it. Additionally I’ve had no problems with my achillies tendon at all. I’m still stretching it and strengthening the calf muscles, so it’s all good news on that front!

That’s all I have for now, so I’ll just leave you guys with a few videos from this past weekends ride. I’m planning to ride with SCCC again this coming weekend. I’m really looking forward to it! Thanks for reading my blog guys and I wish you all the best this coming Easter weekend! Get out and enjoy this great spring season!!

View Saturday GPS Data | View Sunday GPS Data