Ruminations on the Prime of My Life (The Marathon Chronicles, Part III)

01.29.2010 | 12:10 pm

A Final “Vote for Me” Note from Fatty: This is the last time I’m gonna ask (mainly because voting closes this Sunday): Go vote for me for the 2010 Bloggies. I’m nominated in the Best Sports Blog, the Best Writing, and the Blog of the Year categories, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t have even the hope of a wish of the notion of a prayer in any category but the Best Sports Blog.


Well, because in the Best Writing and Blog of the Year categories, I’m up against blogs which have crossed what I call The Professional Threshold — blogs where people either do or could make a living with their blogs (I, on the other hand, make just enough money with my blog to be a nuisance at tax time). For Blog of the Year, I’m against Pioneer Woman – which gets my monthly traffic, cubed, every single day. I’m also against The Huffington Post, which has an actual staff. Please vote for Pioneer Woman, because, honestly, she really does have the blog of the year. If not decade.

For the Best Writing category, I’m pitched against Pioneer Woman (again!), as well as Bike Snob NYC. I’d like you to vote for Bike Snob for this one, for a couple of reasons. First, he’s a genuinely good writer. Second, because it will make me feel better about myself when I ask you to vote for me (instead of him) for the Best Sports Blog category.

For the Best Sports category, I’m up against two friends: Bike Snob and Jill. Instead of being all humble and aw-shucks about it, I’m going to be honest: I really want you to vote for me. And so does my hero, Johan Bruyneel. That should be enough reason for anyone (Thanks, Johan!).

Click here to go to the Bloggies site, select your choices, do the ridonkulus captcha verification thingy, and then don’t forget to validate your vote when the email comes.


One Week From Tomorrow

Next Saturday — February 6 — I will attempt the Death Valley Trail Marathon, after training for it just six weeks.

To my surprise, I feel pretty good about my chances.

Part of my optimism comes from the fact that last weekend, The Runner and I did a 15-mile run, from my house to about half a mile past the four-way stop at the top of Suncrest, and then back home. For those of you who aren’t locals, that means that after a three mile mostly-flat warmup, we climbed 1500 feet in 4.5 miles, then turned around and ran home. I had to walk for a minute during the last three miles, but only once, and only for a minute (during which The Runner peeled off to the side of the road and scooped a bunch of snow into her mouth).

Even with that big climb, we averaged almost exactly ten-minute miles. And the next day, though tired, I was not sore. Anywhere.

Tomorrow (Saturday) — a week from the marathon itself — we will run 18 miles, but this time it will be on mostly flat pavement.

I know, I know. The runners among you all know this is not advisable. That we’re not tapering here. But it will accomplish something much more important than a taper for me: running 18 miles on pavement, at high altitude, will give me confidence that I can run a trail marathon at low altitude.

The next part of my optimism comes from a pretty serious incentive I’ve rashly given myself: I have made $3902 worth of bets that I will beat my previous time (4:39, seven years ago) at this race.

Basically, if I run a good race, a bunch of you will have to donate around $3900 to my LiveStrong Challenge. If I fail or bail, then I need to come up with that $3900 myself.

I should point out here that when The Runner read about the bet I had just made in The Marathon Chronicles, Part II, she was not super-thrilled. “You know,” she said, “We had agreed that we were just going to cruise this thing. Run when we feel like it, walk when we feel like it. And now you’ve gone and made a hundred or so bets that you’re going to be fast.”

I shrugged and gave her a charming, apologetic smile. It was all I had to offer, defense-wise.

Ladies, please take a moment to sympathize for and pity The Runner. It cannot be easy to be in a relationship with a guy who makes pretty much everything he does into a public bet, a spectacle, or a farce.

My Ace in the Hole

The real reason I think I’ll do fine in the marathon next week is: I’m middle-aged.

Seriously, being middle-aged is a huge bonus in endurance events, whether you’re on a bike or on foot.

There are some important reasons why.

  • You’ve accepted pain and repetitive drudgery as an aspect of your life. Probably, you’ve even embraced it as an indicator that you are in fact still alive. And if you’re really messed up, you even start seeking out pain and repetitive drudgery because you somehow have gotten it confused with feeling more alive. And by “you,” I of course actually mean “me.”
  • It temporarily makes you feel less old. When I was a kid, I would — on impulse — sometimes run or ride my bike around the block, over and over, just for fun. Just because it felt great to be in motion. In general, I no longer have that impulse. I am quite content to sit for hours on end. However, once I get myself in motion, I find that I still like it, and that while it doesn’t make me feel like a kid, it at least makes me feel like less of an old fart.
  • It’s the only way you’re going to beat the kids. A couple days ago, one of my daughters, knowing that I have been running lately, brought over one of her friends — a tiny, wiry little girl. And told me I had to race her. To the house across the street and back. OK, fine. I found, right there and then, that I am not able to run an impromptu sprint — by the end of the run my back hurt, and the kid beat me by about twenty feet. But I promise you that if we had made the run ten miles, I would have demolished that seven-year-old.
  • You’re happy to discover you can still do something. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: when I said that, after my big crash at Leadville last year, I came away uninjured, I think I was probably wrong. As it turns out, six months later my left sitbone still hurts if I sit in a chair for more than half an hour. And when I run, my left foot lands flat, with a “slap” sound. And of course, I have other aches and pains. But when I do the repetitive motion of running or riding, I’m able to circumvent these aches and pains by using careful, pre-planned motions. Kind of like walking a minefield you’ve walked a hundred times before.

In short, endurance sports let me simulate athleticism in spite of being a creaky and achy old man. And that is why I will totally kick butt at the marathon next week.

Except I’m not entirely certain my list did much in the way of convincing myself.


Special LiveBlog Event: Reading the Speedplay Ad

01.28.2010 | 10:47 am

I love reading Velonews, for two excellent reasons. The first is to marvel at Lennard Zinn, their Technical Writer. Did you know that he now writes the entire magazine, front to back, every single issue? It’s true! Sometimes, because he starts to feel a little bad, he uses a pseudonym, but trust me: Lennard is writing it.

bibshorts.jpgThe second reason I read Velonews is for the ads. I love the ads. Like the one of the guy in the bibshorts, shown to the right here (click the ad to see a larger version).

Looking at it, I can’t help but wonder:

  • Did the photographer not understand that bibshorts are for biking, not running?
  • Does “Design to follow the bio-mechanical movement of the rider” mean what I think it means? Specifically, that since these bike shorts — like all bike shorts — are made of stretchy fabric, that when you move, the bike shorts will also move? Wouldn’t it be awesome if they somehow neglected to include that feature and instead created bike shorts that were perfectly inflexible? They’re bike shorts and a body cast!
  • You’re going to call out the “Gel leg gripper” as a feature? Really? I mean, if you’ve really run out of things to talk about but still need to fill up space, it’s customary to say “Much, much more!”
  • If your shorts are all about the details, you may want to consider this detail: your leg gripper is having a tourniquet effect on the model, so that the part of the leg above the gripper is ballooning out dangerously. How soon ’til it pops? We can only speculate.
  • I hesitate to bring up this final point, but the bibshorts model seems undecided about where to put a certain part of himself. Whereas most cyclists go either left or right, the model has gone with vertical. Or perhaps he’s just really excited about getting work. Or maybe it’s a feature of the shorts?

The ad then finishes up with the peeled-up cross-section of the chamois, which I believe is required for inclusion in all bike shorts ads by the powerful Bicycle Ad Consortium (BAC).

I Am Not Afraid of A Challenge

The VeloNews 2010 Buyer’s Guide (thanks for all that guidance, Lennard!) is chock-full of ads I love. I look at them, learn serious, important things about the world of cycling from them, and move on.

However, there is one particular ad that has defied me. That has not allowed me to observe, snark, and move on.

It is the full-page Speedplay ad on page 39 (click the ad to see a larger version):


Yes, that’s really the ad.

When I first saw it, I panicked. Then I turned the page. Then I turned back. Is this really an ad with a full page of text?

And not just text, but white-on-red text?

And not just white-on-red text, but in a tall, cramped font?

And not just white-on-red text in a tall cramped font, but all rammed together in a single, extremely wide paragraph?

Yes, that it what it is. Which makes me think: they do not want anyone to read this ad. It is so long and horrible to look at that Speedplay must have some reason for not wanting anyone to plow through the whole thing.

Like, maybe buried somewhere in there is instructions on how to find Jimmy Hoffa. Or the location of a vault containing untold riches. Or a recipe for an indescribably delicious key lime pie.

Regardless, I am confident that nobody, to this point, has ever read the entirety of this ad.

But I am going to, right now. And I am going to liveblog the experience.

The liveblog begins now.

05:30 – I’m settling down with the magazine. I’ve got a bowl of cold cereal (Honey Bunches of Oats) and half a grapefruit to sustain me. Will it be enough? I do not know.

05:35 – So far, I have discerned that Speedplay is serious about making the best pedals. Which is good news, because I do not want my pedal manufacturer to go about making the best pedals in some kind of jaunty, devil-may-care fashion.

05:42 – The next sentence has had me scratching my head in confusion for the past seven minutes: “We obsess about speed, power, biomechanics and security.” Who, in this case, is “we?” Do they mean everyone at Speedplay? Or just the guys who created the ad? Or are they trying to draw me in with them, to make me part of their “we?” I’m not ready for that kind of commitment, Speedplay.

05:47 – I just realized that both the Speedplay ad and the bibshorts ad mention biomechanics. Which causes me to think: “biomechanics” is the “ipsum lorem” of the bike ad world. I wonder if the BAC enforces the use of the word “biomechanics” in every ad. I intend to investigate. Later.

05:58 - Speedplay evidently, in addition to speed, power, biomechanics and security, also obsesses over user-friendliness, function, comfort, and durability. This causes me to wonder a few things.

  1. Does Speedplay obsess about other things, too? Like, perhaps, having a complete Pokemon action figure set? Or always drinking the same brand of soda, no matter what? Or putting their clothes on in a certain order? The fact that they obsess about this many things indicates to me that they probably obsess about other things too.
  2. Assuming (quite reasonably) that Speedplay is in fact obsessing over a whole crapload of stuff, have they considered that perhaps it’s time to get help?
  3. Isn’t “function” really just an umbrella term for all the other things they’re obsessing about? It seems that they can maybe take this one off the list. This could be an important first step toward being less obsessive.

06:06 – Speedplay has now stopped telling me about the things it (they?) obsess about. Now they have moved on to telling me things they want me to see, know, feel, and so forth. For example, they want me to know that they have rethought pedals from the ground up. Which — since pedals don’t really ever touch the ground at all — seems to indicate they have more re-thinking to do.

06:09 – My cereal bowl is empty. My grapefruit is nothing but a juiceless rind, all juice squozen from it. And yet I am only 9% of the way through this ad. I shall fetch more cereal directly, and intend to open a 2-litre Diet Coke with Lime, which I will drink directly from the Bottle.

06:11 – OK, I think I can continue. Where was I? Ah yes. Speedplay wants me to feel how much lighter their pedals are compared to others. But then, alas, they do not actually make any comparisons at all. So I’m beginning to think Speedplay is toying with me.

06:14 – Speedplay is now telling me how aerodynamic their pedal is. Which brings up a question: Is there any cyclist, in the entire world, who is so fast and rides in such a perfect position that his pedal aerodynamics is a factor, but who also is not already sponsored? Honestly, in my entire cycling career, never has it occurred to me that I could have won a race if only my pedals weren’t holding me back so much.

06:17 – I think I should mention, by the way, that I actually do use Speedplay pedals. And I have for more than ten years. They’re fantastic road pedals and I highly recommend them. But this ad is making me think of switching.

06:20 - I am now on the fourth sentence in a row that begins with “We want.” I’m beginning to develop a mental picture of the Speedplay personality, and the two dominating attributes are:

  • Obsessive
  • Needy

06:24 - Speedplay apparently now wants me to measure their stack height to see how much closer my foot is positioned to the spindle for better power transmission. Which, frankly, seems like a lot of them to ask of me. Do they really expect me to measure the stack height on their pedal/cleat combination (like I have the equipment for that), then go do the same thing with other pedal manufacturers and get back to them with my findings? Measure it yourself, Speedplay. I’m busy right now, trying to make sense of an incomprehensibly long, obsessive, needy, and demanding ad.

07:18 - Sorry, fell asleep. I need to start crossing out the sentences I’ve read so I don’t keep losing my place.

07:23 – Speedplay has just told me, and I quote: “We want you to see how much further you can safely lean into a turn without scraping the pedals.” Which means, if I understand them correctly, that they want me to corner harder and harder until I either chicken out or crash on everyone else’s pedals, and then do the same thing on theirs. And once I’ve done that — well, of course I’ll be dead long before I complete this battery of tests, but suppose I managed to survive — I will ascertain that Speedplay lets me lean in much further.

Speedplay, I believe you are asking too much of your prospective customers.

07:40 – Been drinking too much Diet Coke. Had to take a break.

07:42 - Oh good, Speedplay has stopped asking me to conduct experiments that require sensitive equipment and an engineering degree, are life-threatening and reckless, or both. Now they want me to notice the stuff that is actually really good about their pedals: they’re double sided so they’re easy to get into, and they lock in nice and secure.

Which, you know, is what some people might call their “key differentiator.” And it might be all the information this ad really required. Really clever of them to bury it it in the exact middle of the ad.

07:49 – Speedplay wants us to see that their premium pedals use rustproof stainless steel and Ti components “for durability and aesthetics.” Which makes me ask: just your premium pedals? So your low-end pedals are going to be ugly, won’t last, and will rust? Sign me up!

07:59 – Speedplay, now into the final third of its ad, is telling us that the “pedal’s engagement edges are made of hardened alloy steel instead of plastic.” That’s nice, I suppose, but no more reassuring than if Trek said, “Our carbon fiber bikes are made of carbon fiber instead of aluminum foil.” Saying “we didn’t use crappy materials” shouldn’t be considered a selling point.

08:05 – I don’t think I’m going to make it. This is just too darned hard. Tell my kids I love them.

08:08 – NO! I will not quit! I am going to finish reading this ad! No matter what.

08:22 – I keep trying to make sense of this sentence: “We want you to see for yourself that Speedplay pedals offer an unmatched package of performance features and benefits but not at the expense of strength, safety, or functionality.” I’ve read that sentence nine times now, and just can’t figure it out. Do performance features and benefits usually come at the expense of strength, safety and functionality? Aren’t performance features and benefits part of strength, safety and functionality?

And most important of all, why do Speedplay pedals come in unmatched packages? Like, do they come with two left pedals, one of which is red and the other which is turquoise? And maybe only one cleat?

Please, Speedplay. Please start providing matched packages.

08:32 – Finally, I am at the last sentence: “We want you to know that we’re serious about making the world’s most technically advanced pedal systems.”

Hey, waitasec. That’s what they said at the beginning of the ad, just longer and more obtuse.

08:36 – I did it. I finished the ad. It took 3:02, but I did it. I pushed through, keeping my eye on the finish line and the glory that comes with it.

Sure, there were moments when I thought I was a goner. But I gritted my teeth and kept reading.

Someday, I will tell my grandchildren. And they will be proud of grandpa, and that he — and he alone — read the entire Speedplay ad.

Ode to Chocolate Milk On A Calm Winter Morning

01.27.2010 | 8:59 am

A Word of Explanation from Fatty: As a deep-thinking and high-minded person, I sometimes write an ode to important foods. I have, for example, written an ode to scrambled eggs. And to the Seven Perfect Foods.

But I only write poetry when my heart overflows. When there is a food that truly matters. In the past, I have published only one other ode, in free verse. It was to the clementine.

Today, I shall honor you with poetry again.

It is not for the calcium
That I know for sure
Because I get plenty of calcium
From ordinary milk
And from eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream
(New York Super Fudge Chunk is my favorite)

Why then, o chocolate milk
Do I love you beyond measure?
Why do I treasure you
Above all other drinks?
I ask rhetorically of course
For I in fact have many reasons

I read somewhere
On a long-forgotten day
That you are an excellent recovery drink
And that, I must confess
Was the reason I began buying you
At least that was my cover story

And it is true!
You are delicious after a ride
Or, as of late, after a run
It matters not whether the day is hot
Or if it is cold
You are delicious and make me feel better

I lift you up
Still in your one-gallon container
And I drink my fill
And my children cannot do anything about it
Because I’m the dad
That’s why

And let us be clear
What I mean by chocolate milk
Which is the pure expression of creaminess
That comes cold in the dairy case
And is not powder that semi-dissolves in plain milk
That stuff is nasty

What makes you so delicious?
What makes you so creamy and good?
What does “From cows not treated with rBST” even mean?
And how is it possible that 1% milkfat
Still seems so thick and wonderful?
You are as mysterious as you are perfect   

O chocolate milk
I feel I have slighted you
For thus far I have treated you as if
You were nothing more than a post-ride drink
But in truth I drink you all the time
And you are incredible when used to make Oreo milkshakes

O chocolate milk
I drink you

PS: After this literary tour de force, I feel I hardly need ask, but I will anyway. Vote for me in the 2010 Bloggies. I’m nominated in the following categories: Best Sports Weblog, Best Writing of a Weblog, and Weblog of the Year. Click here to vote. Or, I swear, I will write more poetry.

201001270727.jpgPPS : My sister Lori — over at — needs your love-and-heartbreak stories for an art project she’s working on. In her words:

I am an artist who Needs to Know. As luck would have it, I have found some nice and seriously hot-looking indie people who also Need to Know at Urban Alchemist, a shop full of handmade stuff in Brooklyn. And so, we need your story of heartbreak and glory. I want to illustrate them, memorialize them on tiny carved pine plaques, hang them by the dozen in the shop window, and witness the undisguised shadenfruede of passersby and schoolchildren.

Is this wrong? Would you willingly participate? Ok, then.

These plaques are tiny, so I issue a challenge to you, the heartbroken and triumphant amongst Fatty’s readers: Keep your heartbreak or triumph down to six words. Hemingway did it in what he considers his best story. You can too? Yes, you can too.

Click here to read more, see more plaques-of-woe and leave your own (very very) short story.

The Problem of Happiness

01.26.2010 | 11:42 am

It’s been a while since I’ve written a “How’s Fatty Doing?” post. The reason for this is pretty simple: I haven’t wanted to.

Why I haven’t wanted to, however, is a little more complex.

So today I’m going to try to explain what’s going on in my head, and I’ll deal with the feedback as it comes.

The Short Version Is Not Short

I could — if I were the kind of person who keeps things short and sweet — simply say, “I am happy.”

However, if I were the kind of person who keeps things short and sweet, I would not be the kind of person who could write — pretty much daily — about riding a bicycle for close to five years.

And besides, how I feel is a little more complicated than straight-up happiness.

It’s been about 5.5 months since Susan passed away. So when I say “I’m happy,” I worry. About a few things:

  • Should I be happy so soon?
  • Will people think I am a bad person for being happy?
  • If I’m happy, does that mean I’ve changed?

Honestly, I haven’t worked through the answers to all of these questions to my satisfaction. But I’m going to try to explain where I stand right now.

Should I Be Happy So Soon? Am I a Bad Person for Being Happy?

Maybe it’s a guy thing. Maybe it’s just a “me” thing. But regardless of how I feel, when asked I tend to dial it back a few notches. Back when Susan was extremely ill and getting worse, I would say, “I’m doing OK.”

When in fact I was far from OK. I was exhausted. Frightened. Alone.

Now, on the other hand, when people ask me how I’m doing, I say, “I’m doing OK.” In spite of the fact that I am, once again, far from OK. It’s just that I’m far from OK in the other direction. I’m energized. Hopeful. In love with someone who has known me for fifteen years and loves doing the same stuff I do.

So why don’t I have an easy time saying that? I think it’s for a couple of reasons. The first is that I expect people will think I am doing Susan’s memory an injustice. She died just last Summer, after all. And some people have in fact said this, although — interestingly — they always do so under cover of anonymity.

The people who know me in real life, on the other hand — and by “in real life,” I mean in-person, as well as those of you who have followed me long enough that when I meet you in the physical world I still don’t have any new stories to tell you — often make the observation that the day Susan died was hardly the day that I started the grieving process. That it was hardly the day that our relationship changed.

That day was probably sometime around three years ago, when I began the transition from husband to nurse. As I grieved daily over the loss of Susan’s physical and mental ability. As each month brought a new problem without a solution. As she died over the course of years.

Over the course of a few years, as I took care of her every physical need — well beyond what I’ve described or will ever describe here — Susan’s and my relationship deepened in some ways, and changed in others. It’s inevitable, I now think, and even desirable. I consider it my life’s finest accomplishment that I was able to adapt to be whatever she needed.

Meanwhile, of course, Susan could not take care of me in any way whatsoever. Not because she didn’t want to — she did– but simply because she could not.

Which is the heart of the Caretaker’s dilemma: finding the strength to give continuously, without expectation of getting anything back. I really believe that it’s possible, that anyone can find that strength for however long you need to find it.

I guess my point is that by the time Susan passed way, I had been grieving for years. And her loss, in my case, meant that I could finally stop grieving. That I could finally stop worrying about in what way I would lose her next.

It also put me in a position that — as surprised as I was to find it so quickly — I appreciated someone (who is a nurse by profession, maybe not coincidentally) who wants to — and is able to — give back. Someone who understands what I’ve gone through. Someone who knew and misses Susan, too.

So to some people, yes, it must seem like I’m happy very soon after my wife’s passing. From my point of view, though, a dose of happiness has been a long time coming, and I doubt there are many people who appreciate it more.

Have I Changed?

Something I have seen in comments pretty frequently lately is that I have changed. This bothered me — still bothers me, really — because I don’t want to become the jerk some people evidently think I am becoming (or have become).

Here’s how I make sense of it so far.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I am not taking care of a very sick wife. A few months ago, for the first time in my life, I had an immediate family member pass away. For the first time in 20+ years, I am a single man. For the first time in 21+ years, I am dating.

When I consider all this, I find myself wondering how weird it would be if I didn’t act a little bit differently right now. If, in spite of a huge cascade of giant life events, I continued to act exactly the same.

So yeah, I’m probably acting a little differently. But I would estimate that difference at about 1%. It makes me wonder if the people who see me as being a lot different really knew me at all before the horror of last Summer. That was when I was being a lot different. If the way you expect me to behave for the rest of my life is the way I behaved as my wife was dying, well, I just don’t have anything to offer you.

Still, there has been one difference in my behavior I’ve noticed that I am not very proud of. Namely, in the past month or so I have not done much in the fight against cancer.

The reason for this, I think, is not too different from the reason I recently had a strong aversion to putting together a big program for a religious event for my daughters: putting together a program — any program — reminded me too strongly of putting together the program for my wife’s funeral.

People hounded me about my daughters’ program, saying I was late, that I needed to get moving on it, and I just didn’t want to. And I was too embarrassed to explain why.

It’s been kind of like that with the cancer fundraising stuff. Last year, that was my tether, my way of making something good out of something bad.

For the past little while, it’s been a strong reminder of what was a darker and more difficult time than I’ve ever told anyone. I’ve wanted, lately, a break. To have fun and concentrate on telling jokes. To stop thinking and talking about cancer.

But it was just a break. I will not ever stop that fight, and you should expect to hear more from me on that in the very near future.

And In Conclusion…

Seriously, have you ever had a more long-winded explanation of why someone has the right to be happy?

Spin Class

01.25.2010 | 8:31 am

Last Saturday should have been the source material for Part III of The Marathon Chronicles (read Part I and Part II here) — the part where The Runner dragged me on a fifteen mile run.

To my great dismay, however, we had a nice big snowstorm Friday night, rendering the streets an icy, snowy, slushy mess on Saturday. Not ideal for a big run.

I was kidding about the “great dismay” part, by the way.

I called The Runner, asking for an alternative workout idea.

“There’s a spin class at Gold’s Gym in an hour. We could do that,” she said.

I was intrigued. You see, there are three forms of cycling that I have never tried, but have always been curious about, mostly because they seem so bizarre. These include:

  • Unicycles
  • Recumbents
  • Spin class

Well, maybe it was time to tick the “done” box on one of those items. I found an ancient pair of road shoes I knew had SPD cleats, put together a complete, matching Fat Cyclist kit — I know it’s important to look good when going to a Gold’s Gym — and headed out the door.

I Inspect Everything

The Runner and I got into the spin room about thirty minutes early. There were about 90 stationary bikes, all adjustable in pretty much every direction.

“Oh good, we get a place near the fan,” the Runner said, as she picked the bike closest to that fan. I chose the bike next to her. I did not realize at the time how incredibly important that would turn out to be.

I busied myself setting the saddle height. Then the saddle position. Then the bar height. Then the bar position. As others trickled in, I noticed that nobody else adjusted anything but the saddle height. Evidently, I’m a bike fit snob. Or just a goofball.

The Runner and I started warming up — high cadence, low effort. Then I turned the little knob that controls the resistance. One half turn was all it took to go from virtually no resistance to completely locked up. Which meant, basically, that I’d be giving the knob little nudges when asked to increase or decrease my effort, instead of the big manly power-twists I thought would more accurately represent the change in how hard I was working.

Which meant that I’d be forced to use other methods to add drama to my spin effort:

  • Dramatically squirting water from my bottle into my mouth, onto my head, and down my back
  • Dramatically toweling my face off
  • Dramatically gritting my teeth during maximum efforts

As we warmed up, I noticed one other guy, in full Pearl Izumi PRO kit, doing the same. I looked at his legs. Hairy. I waited until he made eye contact, then flexed my freshly-shaved quads. He looked down and away, deferentially. We both knew who was the alpha male in the room.

Then the instructor came in, and it was her turn to be inspected. The first thing I noticed was her legs.

No, not for that reason.

I noticed her legs because they were freakishly skinny. Seriously, her quads were no bigger than my calves.

And then she climbed up on her bike and started warming up. At which point it was all I could to not go over there and volunteer to help her get her position set up properly. Her saddle height put her legs at 35 degrees at maximum extension.

And then there was the cockpit. So cramped I was surprised her knees didn’t hit the bar with every rotation.

To my credit — and to The Runner’s relief — I refrained from going over and setting the bike up for the instructor.

I Give 110%, Which May Actually Have Been 92%

And then the spin session began.

The instructor took us on a virtual bike ride, having us adjust the resistance for climbs, sometimes standing up, sometimes sitting down, and sometimes increasing or decreasing our cadence.

All of which is fine, and pretty much what I expected.

But there were parts that were hard for me, as a cyclist, to get past. For example:

  • She said we were riding on a mountain road, which definitely indicates a road bike. But then — when she wanted us to just use our legs, not our upper bodies — she’d have us stand up, go to high resistance, and tell us we were riding on a “swinging bridge,” which would probably be best handled on a BMX bike. In any case, on a swinging bridge I’d definitely stay seated and would go for high cadence, low effort riding so as to keep the side-to-side motion to a minimum.
  • From time to time she’d let us know we were on singletrack, which made me start thinking about real singletrack, which made me wish desperately that I were not in a gym at all. In any case, now I’d need to be on a mountain bike, which made me think that this instructor needs to pick a better riding course, because it’s hard to pack three different bikes with me.
  • Sometimes we were asked to “run” on the bike. I didn’t get this at all until I saw a few people swinging one arm at their sides. I tried this for about one half of a second before my ridiculosity meter went so far off the chart that I had to go back to both hands on the bar.
  • We were supposed to put our hands behind our backs and ride sometimes. I have a feeling this would be frowned upon in a group ride.
  • At high effort — when we were supposed to be at a 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 — the instructor would be turning such an incredibly slow cadence that she would have been a swerving mess on a real bike. (I wanted to raise my hand and volunteer it would be more efficient to turn a higher cadence at a lower resistance, but had the sense that this kind of feedback was not currently being sought.) Curious as to what it would feel like to have that much resistance on a bike, I tried ratcheting the tension until I was going at the same cadence as the instructor. Unfortunately, my legs are so powerful that the friction caused by the bike’s braking motion briefly set the wheel on fire. Fortunately, my sweat quickly dowsed the flames.

Throughout the session, the instructor called out the effort she wanted us to put out. “Go to a 9,” she would call out, which I would interpret as “you should feel like barfing but can probably hold it back.” And then she’d call out, “Now go to 10!” Which I would interpret as, “This should feel like a sprint finish at the end of a race and should not be sustainable for more than one minute, tops.”

And then she said, “Now go higher!”

“But I’m already at ten,” I thought. “I’m maxed out.” But just to see what would happen, I’d nudge the resistance up a hair.

And I was able to keep going.

So I nudged it again.

Still going.

So, evidently, my perceived maximum effort is really about my 85%. Which means I’ve been slacking a bit.

Okay, maybe a lot.

Catastrophe Averted

The thing about spin classes is that riding technique isn’t rewarded, or even encouraged. You can thrash around and pedal squares and ride with your hands behind your back, and that’s just fine.

Which means that if someone ever wants to go on a ride with you and uses “I’ve been to spin class a lot” as their justification for why they’re in good riding shape, you may want to keep your distance.

And so the irony is super sweet that I very nearly caused a multiple-bike pileup in the spin class.

It was during a standing, 30-second standing sprint, I think at level 7. I was putting in about a 7.28 effort, though, because that’s the kind of guy I am.

And then I pulled my left cleat out of the pedal on the upstroke.

My knee came up nearly to my chin and I leaned heavily and wildly to the right, very nearly crashing into The Runner. Which — I have to assume — would have caused her spin bike to fall over into the next person, causing a domino-style crashing cascade of spin bikes and humanity.

Which would have been embarrassing.

I Am Strangely Competitive

The Runner and I didn’t talk during the spin class. We did, however, have a competition…which she was likely unaware of, but which I’m sure she’ll be very excited to find out about right now.

The competition was called, “Who Sweats More?” And the rules were simple. Whoever had the larger diameter sweat puddle at the end of the spin class, wins.

She won. By a landslide. Or by the sweaty equivalent of a landslide, anyway.

Before I knew it, the 45 minutes was over. Which is odd in itself — 45 minutes on a bike, even at high effort, kind of feels too short.

My overall impression? spin classes might in fact be an interesting and fun way to change up your workout, and they probably burn a lot of calories in a short period of time.

But I really doubt they make you a better cyclist.

Running With the Runner

Since we had originally planned on running that morning, The Runner and I decided that after the spin class we should get on the treadmills and run for a bit. The Runner was not — according to her — feeling great, so we agreed to run for just a mile or so.

The Runner got a fifteen second head start, so right off the bat I had some catching up to do. Surreptitiously, I looked at her pace and distance, and kept increasing my speed to see if I could “catch” her.

We hit the mile mark. I hoped she would slow down to a walk.

She kept going.

So I accelerated, and eventually — just as we hit the two mile mark, caught up. Yes, victory was mine. Meanwhile, I was hoping hoping hoping she would slow down.

Which, mercifully, she did. Which is good, because I was about to find out what happens when you throw up on a treadmill. Which is interesting-sounding in the abstract, but not necessarily something you want to see close up.

As we got off and headed out the door, I decided I would not mention that I had caught her. Because, you know, just knowing that I did was enough.

Then The Runner said, “I saw you managed to catch me.”

“Oh, really?” I said, feigning surprise. “That’s interesting.”

“That’s really good,” she continued. “You should be proud.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” I allowed.

“Of course,” she concluded, “I was running on a 4% incline at the time.”

PS: If you’d do me a favor and vote for me for the 2010 Bloggies (Best Sports Weblog, Best Writing, Weblog of the Year categories), I’d appreciate it.

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