Don’t Call It a Comeback

I feel like I lost time this summer. The entire month of July feels like it was lost. Most of August as well. It was hot, and humid, as it always is in Maryland over the summer. I stayed mostly indoors. 

Back in June, I made a decision that I needed to stop running because I’d overworked my legs to the point that my shin splits hurt with every step regardless of whether I was running or walking. I broke down and saw an actual doctor about it. 

We confirmed that I did not have stress fractures with an X-ray and he recommended that I add metatarsal pads to my insoles, cut my mileage in half and do half of that as walking rather than running. I heard that solid and thoughtful advice but I took it to an extreme (because black and white thinking is my specialty) and stopped all activity. 

At the same time, I let my diet go to shit. I ate copious amounts of ice cream, lots of fries and burgers, and more ice cream. I didn’t track my calories. I didn’t run. I didn’t ride the bike. My waist grew two inches and I put on ten pounds. 

After six weeks the doctor gave me the clearance to start running again, but he cautioned me to go slow, do short runs, and walk as well as run — basically start training as if I was new at this. And I didn’t want to hear that. 

My first run was a scant mile with a five minute walking warmup and a ten minute cool down, also walking. But I ran at a 9.54 minute pace, which isn’t fast by most measures but it was about where I’d been when it was at peak fitness. Getting below a 10 minute mile was a goal that took me two years to achieve, because I’m in my late forties. 

My shin flavored up, predictably, and I don’t run again for 19 days. Then I went out for a longer  run and ran 8.52 miles. And my shin hurt again. My next run was smarter, I went for a longer slower run and clocked in at 10.47.  And my shin hurt again. 

I decided last week that I needed to do something to address my declining fitness and my growing mass. I rejoined Noom, committing to a full year’s membership at a nice discount (by the way, they practically give away the program if you sign up and then quit) and committed to starting an exercise regimen again. 

I have failed miserably to keep my good intake at the right levels, far exceeding my calories and eating more of the foods that I should be eating less of and less of the foods that I should be piling on, but I know that bill get back in the swing of things with some effort. Planning, consistency, accountability, and effort are the name of this game. I can be good at them, when I’m motivated. 

Yesterday, I went for a road ride. As I left the door I told my wife, I may be gone got a while, maybe an hour and a half or more. But as I got into the ride I realized that going on a 20-25 mile ride the first time out in months was probably a horribly bad idea. So, I did my usual 13 mile ride and came home. And I felt good physically and psychologically. 

This morning, I programmed my Garmin for four sets of 5 minutes of running between 10.30 and 11.30/mile and 3 minutes of recovery (walking). I immediately found myself running at 8.52 and had to dial it way back. It felt like I was crawling. My Garmin helpfully alerted me that my performance level was -5 and I ignored that little bitch and stayed the course. A few times on the run, I felt my shin and I adjusted my stride and landing to compensate and it felt better. I’m currently icing down. 

We’ll see if I did the right thing later today, but I think I did. It’s going to be slow going for a while and I am going to turn off training status on my Garmin devices so that it doesn’t tell me that I’m losing fitness when I’m actually gaining fitness as I recover from the injury. 

New Gear, A Packed Trail, & Pizza

A new cycling jacket that I ordered showed up today and I got to test it out on a ride this afternoon. I’m always grateful for a bike ride because they make me feel free. There is something very mediative about turning the pedals over and over.

The local rail trail was packed today. It was a little frustrating but I was grateful to see so many people out enjoying the sunshine and reminded myself that a slow ride is better than no ride.

I ordered pizza for dinner tonight. I was grateful to not have to cook this evening. I’ll be enjoying some relaxation and then hopefully have a great night sleep.

Gratitude 12/7/2020

I am grateful for bicycles. I have loved my bikes as long as I can remember — the baby blue banana seat Raleigh, the red Huffy BMX, the red Huffy Ten Speed, the white Haro Freestyler tricked out with pink mag wheels and white tires, the green Bridgestone MB6 hard tail mountain bike, the orange Specialized MTB with a suspension fork, my blue Cannondale road bike, and my finally my Turquoise Yeti full suspension MTB. I have loved them all.

I am grateful for bike helmets. I’ve had my share of wrecks and broken a few helmets and I’m sure I’d either be dead or severely damaged if it weren’t for my helmet.

I am grateful for the feeling of being alive as I fly down the street or trail balancing on two wheels, the feeling of the seat between my legs, the pressure on the pedals, and the wind in my face. Nothing brings me closer to my inner child than riding a bike.

On Suffering, In and Out of the Saddle

Within the sport of cycling, a contingent of people seem to glorify suffering. This glorification of suffering stems from a toxic masculinity that pervades the sport. It is true that much has been done to welcome women to the sport, and it is also true that there are many seriously bad ass women in the sport, but by and large it is dominated by men. And they like to tell each other how much they suffer in the saddle.

Now, I have definitely suffered in the saddle. There were the rides when I was first entering the sport in my late 30’s that included more climbing than I could handle. There were charity rides in 108F and 85% humidity in July, which also had more hills than I was ready for, that nearly broke me. There was that final charity ride in 2015 that I nearly didn’t finish because I was so out of shape and so hung over from drinking too many beers the night before — the one that I had to bag the second day of because I knew that I wasn’t going to make it beyond the first few miles.

Even today, I went for a ride and froze for an hour because didn’t dress appropriately. Maybe this is a side effect of losing 30 pounds, I’ve heard that fat is an insulator, but for whatever reason, the same amount of clothing I’d worn in similar conditions in the past wasn’t enough for the ride today. The point is, I’ve had my fair share of suffering in the saddle. But I’ve never relished it.

When I ride my bike I have three goals:

  1. Don’t get into an accident and die.
  2. Feel completely alive and free.
  3. Feel like a kid again.

Number 1 is obvious. Numbers 2 and 3, well those are pretty much the reasons I ride. I’m not looking to prove my worth by proving my ability to struggle. The fact is that I’ve suffered enough in my life, both in and out of the saddle, to know that suffering is not the goal. Quite the contrary, suffering is to be avoided.

Off the saddle, I’ve suffered more than my fair share of loss and pain in this life. I lost my birth father when I was five to suicide. I lost my stepfather when I was 29. I lost 6 people in the span of 18 months when I was in high school. I’ve lost good friends to cancer. I’ve been hospitalized due to a staph infection that made my nose swell up to the size of a golf ball. I’ve had seizures and couldn’t drive as a result. I’ve been through the heartache of losing girlfriends. I have watched as my son has struggled to recover after being attacked. I’ve run a knife through my index finger so many times while cooking drunk that I have multiple scars and still can’t feel much in the tip of that finger. I’ve been to the bottom of the pits of hell on earth in my addiction.

Not once in all those times did I have the thought, “boy, I wish things were just a little bit harder. Then this would be great.” Nope, there’s nothing glorious about suffering.

The entire philosophy of Buddhism is built around the alleviation of duhkah which is often translated from the Sanskrit as “suffering,” “pain,” or “unhappiness.”

I’m looking for joy in life. And mostly, I find it by doing the right things. I find joy by taking time to be present with my friends and family. I find joy by making dinner. I find joy by walking in the woods and listening to what the earth has to tell me. I find joy by swimming in the ocean. I find boy by breathing in the cold air on a December morning and watching my breath as I exhale. And I find by riding my bike without seeking out suffering in the saddle.

Back in the Saddle, Again

Losing weight was not my goal when I decided to get sober, but I sure wasn’t opposed to the idea. Indeed, in the first month and a half of sobriety I was dropping weight like a bad habit. I dropped 17 pounds in about 6-8 weeks. But it was totally unsustainable.

See, like a good alcoholic, I figured that if I was going to get sober, I might as well go all in and count my calories and ramp up my working out. I figured, what the hell, right? And for a few short weeks, that sort-of was working, except it wasn’t. I was a complete mess and in danger of falling off the beam.

I quickly realized that I needed to focus on what mattered most and give myself a break in the exercise and eating department. And I did. And I ate a shit ton of sugary carbs. And I gained back ten of those 17 pounds. It was the absolute right decision at the time and I don’t regret it, even if my skinny jeans don’t fit and my new belts are a bit tight.

I’ve been thinking about when the right time to get back into the swing of things might since I was about six months into my sobriety, when I joined the local YMCA with all the good intentions in the world. At the time, I was going to a 6AM meeting every day of the week and I was getting burnt out on the meeting. I figured I’d mix it up and go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays instead of the meeting. And for about a week, I did. And after that I might have hit the gym 3 or 4 other times in the past ten months. Today, I finally canceled that stupid gym membership, and it felt damn good to do it. That’s $80 a month that I can put to better use.

But, that’s not to say that I’ve lost my interest in recommitting myself to fitness. Quite the contrary, today marks the beginning of clawing my way back to a level of fitness I’d attained when I rode 1700 miles in 2012 and 1400 miles in 2013 and had only one month in 24 with no rides.

I was never a fast cyclist. I was never a great cyclist, but I was without a doubt a cyclist and I loved it. Looking back now, I can see that it was at the end of 2013 when things started to fall to pieces with my drinking — that’s when I stopped riding regularly. Indeed, a defining event that catapulted me toward recovery was when I struggled for 65 grueling miles on an MS ride in 2015 and was unable to even start on the second day.

I may not be the first person to commit to a new fitness program by ditching a gym membership, but I’m sure it’s not the usual first step. You may be wondering just what the hell I plan to do. How does one become fit without going to the gym?

The answer is simply I will be doing more of the things that I love. The other day, I was talking with my mother about my post election mental malaise and she asked, “When was the last time you went outside?” Confessing that I’d been some time she said, “Well, you’re an outside boy, you always were. You need to get outside and get fresh air and sunlight.” I knew she was right, even if I didn’t want to admit it.

And that’s why I know that canceling a gym membership is the right thing to do. Why didn’t I go to the gym? Not because I don’t want to be fit and healthy, but because I cannot stand the idea of cardio work that results in me moving without actually covering any distance. I was never one to utilize the strength training equipment (though I could probably benefit from some core training) anyway.

So, I’ll be walking, hiking, and biking.  And I’ll be tracking my calories on MyFitnessPal.  And with a little effort that weight that I wanted to lose sixteen months ago will come off.

Today, I got out for a ride in beautiful 51F weather. I only got 9 miles in, but the sun was shining, my legs were burning and my heart was pounding. And I felt good. Really good. Like I might do it again sometime. Like later this week.

I’m at the point in my recovery where I’m ready to tackle some of the other things in my life that need tackling. It feels good to feel like I’ve got a solid base upon which to start building. Yes, it was only nine miles, but there was a time when I only had nine hours of sobriety too.