Even if I may forget from time to time, recovery weeks always seem to remind me why it is I keep my schedule so full of running, biking, swimming, and lifting, and it’s not to win races or even to improve my performance. It’s because getting out and getting sweaty makes life better. Of course, having some goals and some plans to reach them makes the whole process a lot more fun. So as this recovery week winds to an end, this weekend held a return to a slightly more “normal” training schedule — and a lot of awesomeness.
Saturday’s training schedule kicked off with an 84-mile ride. I’m getting awfully close to the 100 miles I’ll do at the Hotter ‘n Hell, and as the rides get longer, they tend to focus more on endurance than speed. My coach’s notes on this ride left open the option of riding with a group, so I jumped at the chance to meet up with a friend and catch one of the local Plano Bicycle Association (PBA) rides. Exchanging texts Friday night, we decided to join the club’s “Distance Builder Recreational” ride, a ride that the club operates seasonally for the specific purpose of ramping up mileage for the HHH. At this point in their ride cycle they planned to put in just over 70 miles. Since their start location was about 14 miles from home, I figured I’d just ride home afterward to put in my remaining distance.
Having learned my lesson earlier, I made my food, laid out all my clothes and equipment, and put the bike on the truck before bed Friday night. But when I woke up at 5 a.m. Saturday, I discovered that I forgot to install my bento box. I’d removed it for the Cooper sprint tri — where it’d just be extra weight and wind resistance — but the extra storage space would be handy now. So I took a minute to install it.
Most of the PBA Saturday rides — there are like 10 of them — start from the same parking lot on the back of a local strip mall. There’s something really cool about seeing 50-100 riders milling around at the crack of dawn getting ready to ride.
Moments like this that remind me how far I’ve come in accepting myself. About two months before HHH last year, I’d been “training” by spinning on my broken CycleOps MAG trainer (at the time I didn’t know it was broken and not delivering resistance), but hadn’t ridden on the road in two years. I realized that I didn’t have any of the equipment I needed to ride, like shoes to match the clipless pedals my friend Kerry had installed for me in 2010, bike shorts (the cheap ones I bought at the 2010 HHH Expo didn’t fit any longer and chafed holes in me when I wore them previously), and lots of other stuff. I also worried that the bike might not be ready for the ride, but I didn’t know enough about bikes to tell on my own. I figured I’d head over to the shop where we bought Audra’s bike a while back and see if they could help me with equipment and maybe take a look at the bike for me.
After driving across town to the shop, I nervously walked in with my bike. I say “nervously” because I’ve always felt very uncomfortable in sports shops. I’d get a strong “you shouldn’t be here” vibe, and the self-consciousness was overwhelming. For the most part I avoided shops like that, but I didn’t really have a choice in this case. So I sucked it up and told the woman at their front counter that I needed some help selecting basic gear and assuring that my bike was ready for an upcoming ride. She looked at me like I was a serious pain in the ass and told me “you can look around at whatever’s here.” I asked specifically about repair, and she gestured toward a door to their shop, mumbled something, and left.
Feeling even less comfortable, I walked the bike over to the shop and waited about 15 minutes while they argued with a couple about their son’s bike repair. I repeated my needs, and the guy roughly took the bike from me, looked at it (not examined it, just looked in its general direction) and told me that it needed to be completely re-cabled, needed brakes, and that he could “probably do that if I left it for two or three weeks.” I asked how much that would cost, and he said that he had no idea, but probably $300-$400, and that if I didn’t like that, I’d be better off just spending $600 0r $750 on new bike.
I won’t relate the whole discussion, but essentially I explained that I’d been riding the bike and knew that while it’d benefit from the work, I could tell that it wasn’t all absolutely necessary. I had about $500 to spend, and it seemed to me that the best way to invest it toward a good HHH experience would to be to pay for some basic repair work (accepting some risk that the bike might break on the ride) and allot the rest in rider gear. Without shoes and shorts, a new bike wouldn’t really go anywhere quick.
He scoffed — literally scoffed at me — and told me that my only option was to pay him whatever he asked. You’d think this would be a downer, but it actually turned out to be an important moment for me. It pissed me off, badly enough to make me forget how uncomfortable and out of place I felt. I took the bike back, asked him if I owed him anything for his “assessment,” then told him to go f*** himself. I walked out to my truck, put the bike in the back, pulled out my phone, and typed “bike shop” into Google Maps, which found a place just a couple miles away. Wishing to avoid another session like the one I just left, I called the shop and was very, very clear about what I wanted: “I’m riding the HHH in a few weeks. I have $500 to spend, I need to see if my bike needs any basic maintenance, and I need shoes, riding clothes, and a spare/tool kit for the ride. Can you help me?” The guy who answered hummed and hawed, so I hung up and called the next shop on the list, which happened to be on my way home. This time the shop listened, then simply said, “Sure.”
And they did. They patiently explained how to select bike kit — things that everyone who rides knows, but people like me didn’t, like how shorts should fit, how to tell if you’ve got the right padding for your needs, and what you pay for when you buy more expensive kit — and sold me some decent shoes that accepted my SPD cleats (but would also accept SPD-SLs and other three-bolt road cleats later). They looked over the bike and told me that while it could certainly use a lot of work, it wasn’t the worst they’d seen and would likely survive the ride. They helped me pick out a seat bag and put together a basic spare kit for me (tube, inflator, tools). They even popped a wheel off a display bike and showed me how to change a tire — a scenario that worried me a lot.
They were so friendly that I decided to try out their beginner no-drop ride a week later. You have no idea how unnerved I was showing up for that first ride. I called ahead to find out how it worked. I showed up ludicrously early, having been up for hours earlier at home. In hindsight, the ride went pretty well. When one of the shop owners showed up to unlock the doors, he recognized me from our sci-fi podcast. He’s a fellow geek. About halfway through the ride, I made the standard new-to-clipless-pedals mistake and leaned the wrong way, eating pavement. One of the other shop owners who led the ride checked to make sure I was okay, and reminded me that no one thought badly of me; everyone eats it a couple times getting used to clipping in and out. (I didn’t believe her, but felt more welcome in the group. Now when I share that with someone getting used to new pedals, I see the whole affair from the other side. It’s true — everyone does it, and no one thinks you’re dumb for doing it.)
After all this, the 2012 HHH went fine. The bike did indeed survive, though a Shimano factory truck was kind enough to do a quick adjustment for me on-course. I’m not sure I’d have had anywhere near the experience I did if it wasn’t for the welcoming nature of the folks at the shop. Post-script to this story: I later bought my first “real” bike — the one you see in the pictures now — at the same shop, and I still use the riding gear I bought that day. The shoes they sold me are the ones we de-nastified earlier this week. Their rides introduced me to local triathletes and were a big part of what spurred my interest in triathlon. Their beginner program prepared Audra and me for our first tri, and I still keep up with the people who went through that program with us.
You can understand why I have a serious soft spot in my heart now for anyone who is kind to beginners.
That’s why I’m always blown away by how friendly the PBA folks are. Their Saturday rides range from short, slow, no-drop beginner rides to quite advanced 20+ MPH average-speed sweat-fests, but whomever you happen to bump into first always seems friendly. When I arrived yesterday, I introduced myself to the closest guy, who was riding with one of the faster groups, but pointed me to the DBRec ride leader, who welcomed me warmly. After a bit we ended up with a group of about 13 people, all looking for a long, medium-speed ride that would keep us in zone 3 and help build endurance.
A cold front had blown through overnight Friday, so it was a comfy 72 degrees F when we departed at 7 a.m. sharp — another non-typical Texas summer day. Our ride leader (half-)joked that the weather represented a scheme to prevent us from training properly for the HHH, as it’d surely be 109 on race day. (He’s probably right.) Our route took us out of the suburbs down to the center of the metroplex, and around the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
At one point we actually crossed under one of the DFW taxiway overpasses. Sadly, no aircraft taxied over us.
We took two longish rest stops along the way, one around the 25-mile mark and another at approximately 45 miles into the ride. Rest stops on these long rides are always quite well organized, and they’re another opportunity to get to know the people you’re riding with a bit. To avoid wearing out the group’s welcome with mini-mart operators, most PBA groups will buy a bag of ice and a gallon of bottled water (so the group doesn’t use the facilities without buying anything) and share them with the group.
The pace was absolutely perfect on this ride, keeping me right in zone 3 virtually the whole time. Almost no one rode off the front, and we all stayed together remarkably well compared to other rides I’ve done recently. In fact, the only hiccup in the ride at all occurred about a third of the way through when we got a little lost and stopped to find a turn.
The issue turned out to be some similar-named roads which made 90-degree turns and crossed the same road more than once. A short backtrack led us back onto the original course with no issues.
The return route took us through a number of memorable locations: parts of Irving (which I remembered from band rehearsals years ago), Las Colinas (including recognizable sections of the Wounded Warrior 10k), and Addison (right by the airport where I worked a corner in the 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix of Dallas, within a mile of where I lived when I first moved to Dallas, and where I ran with my friend Rickard when he visited from Sweden earlier this year).
The ride wrapped up around 12:30 p.m., at which point I headed toward home. PBA had organized a CPR certification session at 2 p.m. Saturday, and I’d hoped to make it. The impetus to put the class together came from an incident about a month earlier where a rider collapsed while on the same ride Teri and I rode Saturday. It turns out that his heart attack didn’t have anything specifically to do with the ride, but the fact that an EMT and doctor happened to be riding alongside him — and administered CPR for something like 10 minutes until an ambulance arrived — saved his life. Both the victim and his rescuers are club members and are all okay. In fact, the ride leader and one other guy who’d been on the fateful ride joked about crossing the “Lazarus” bridge — the bridge where the man died and came back to life, and also a bridge Audra and I crossed on the Octoberfest 5k a few years ago. But the whole incident just underlined to me how important it is to acquire the basic skills to keep a person alive until help can arrive.
When I headed home, I knew it’d be tight schedule-wise getting home, showering, and getting back to the class, but Teri had kindly agreed to pick up Audra’s and my packets for the 5k Sunday, so I figured I could make it. Wrong! As soon as my route turned north, I caught a nasty headwind that slowed me down and kept me pedaling until 1:40 p.m. I’m really bummed to have missed the class, but I plan to re-schedule for another one in the next few weeks. Audra mentioned over the weekend that she’d like to attend, too.
All in all, this was a great Saturday and a great long ride. Wrapping the day up, I laid out all my gear for Sunday’s Pioneer Power 5k and got to bed around midnight — with two alarms set for 5:30 a.m. Sunday.