July 2, 2017: Back to Caveman Mode

When I don’t eat the foods I normally eat and am always hungry, blogging about it is the last thing I feel like doing. I just completed a 45 day highly restricted diet whose goal was to identify foods that don’t make me feel good. After seeing my sister Carrie, brother-in-law Darl and my mother Mary go through this process a few months back with very insightful and positive results, my partner Suzanne and I decided to give it a try ourselves. The biggest initial challenge was to find a block of time where we wouldn’t have any social events that would make us really awful guests and a time when my bicycle racing and training schedule was minimal. We began on May 8th and finished on June 22nd.

The process is called “Whole30” (https://whole30.com). I’m sure many of you have heard about it and perhaps even tried it yourself. The basic idea is that you completely (and I do mean completely – label reading is an absolute necessity) eliminate any foods with sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol and legumes. This leaves meat, eggs, veggies, fruit and tree nuts. Kind of like the Paleo diet but you can eat potatoes and salt (yum!). At the end of 30 days, you add in one of these items and see how you feel for a few days while getting back on the plan. Then you add in another item, wait a few more days and then another until you’ve reintroduced each single item for one day. The entire process takes about 45 days.

I thought the biggest sacrifice would be to do without alcohol. While I did miss it, I really missed bread slathered with butter. Since butter is dairy but clarified butter or ghee is not, my day 31 included about 8 slices of sourdough bread with ghee. My day 34 was a “skinny boy” margarita. Day 37 was real milk on gluten-free granola and some cheese, followed on day 40 by a big bowl of rice and veggies and then some black beans on day 43. I did cheat a little and keep alcohol (gluten free) in my diet throughout the reintroduction phase since I didn’t react to it. I’m certain it made me a little happier than usual.

What did I learn? My physical weak link is my lungs, I knew this going in. I allegedly have asthma although no medicines seem to help me so I don’t do anything for it. During the 30 days of restricted eating, I felt pretty awesome and could breathe deeply without any discomfort. The downside was being hungry pretty much 24/7 and running out of energy after 2 hours on my bike, in spite of gorging myself on 100% fruit and nut bars. Since many of my rides are 3 or 4 hours, this was a challenge. Day 31, following my bread orgy, was awful. I felt like I was getting the flu, my breathing was labored and I was really congested. I had a similar reaction on day 37 after reintroducing dairy. When I went back on plan, these reactions went away. Hmm.

Suzanne made some amazing meals for us and in large quantities so I think maybe the hunger part was somewhat psychological. Many people do this diet to lose weight. Since I don’t really have any weight to spare, I ate a lot of dried fruit (even though it’s packed with natural sugars, it’s permitted in moderation) and nuts. I did lose a few pounds by the end of the 30 days but have gained it back now that I’m back to my new normal diet which is now mostly gluten free. I’m trying to substitute coconut and almond milk for cow’s milk but haven’t really taken that plunge yet. Bottom line – gluten and dairy free starting this week. Cyclocross season is on the horizon and if I can use all of my lungs, I think I’ll race better.

February 26, 2017: Furry Legs and All

 

 

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For those of you old enough to have watched the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour or at least to have seen pictures of them in the 60’s, you probably remember the ridiculously funny mohair vests that they often wore over their crazy-funny 60’s clothing. Sometimes Cher even wore these awesomely silly furry leggings or leg warmers or whatever you would call them; like you see in the picture above that I found somewhere. Why would I possibly be talking about this in a blog about cycling?

New England just experienced record warm temperatures for 3 days. Generally, after my last race of the season (usually early to mid-January), I stop shaving my hairier than normal hairy legs for a few months or until the first time that I ride outside in shorts, usually in March or April. The feeling of riding with exposed legs with a full bush from ankle to the bottom of my shorts is like I am riding in Cher’s fuzzy leggings. You can feel the wind blowing from every direction and, at least psychologically, the wind resistance from my leg “freak flags” seems like it is sucking at least 2 or 3 miles-per-hour from my ride. It might be great training, I suppose, but nothing compared to the feeling of freshly shaved smooth skin as I slice through the air.

I did not shave my legs (my weed whacker was in the shop) on my ride on the first warm day and I kept looking down to see if a newspaper or something had blown up from the road and had wrapped around my legs to make them feel so weird. My rides on days 2 and 3 were with smooth legs and, I have to say, felt like I had about an extra 50 watts at my disposal. No comparison. Back in the old days, before I raced and therefore before I shaved my legs, it just felt normal. So this is the new normal and as climate change results in warmer days, maybe I’ll just have to shave year round. I know at least one person that’s not going to be happy about this and it’s not Cher.

November 11, 2016: Channeling Anger

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There are a lot of angry people out there right now. I’m one of them. Most everyone I know is angry and scared and incredulous. So much progress and compassion about to go down the drain. Where are all the happy people that elected such a buffoon? Not many where I live. Ironically, such deep felt anger can sometimes be positively channeled into cycling and if it’s strong enough, it can have a profound effect on your ride or your race.

Last year, coming into the last lap of a race, I was leading a three-man break with a sizable gap over the rest of the field. I had pulled them around for the first five laps, knowing that an attack was going to come soon. The other two guys were teammates – one of them is a really nice guy and the other one is a multiple-time national champion with a national-size reputation for doing whatever he has to do to win. He’s very fast, a very good bike rider and very good at winning. The nice guy attacked right when we entered a short single-track section through the woods. The national champ blocked me from following and rode me right off the course into the woods. To say I was angry is an understatement.

It took three or four pedal revolutions for me to get back to the course and I managed to muscle my way back onto it by using my body and pushing him out of my way. I ended up catching and passing his teammate but was outsprinted by the national champ who, again, notched another victory. What was surprising, however, is that my anger served me well and got me back into contention for the win. I am not an aggressive rider so it was good to know that I had it in me when the situation called for it.

This Saturday and Sunday is my “hometown” cyclocross race, the Northampton International. It’s so great to race in front of so many people that I know and to be cheered on all around the course. It propelled me to a double victory a few years ago in the 55+ field which still remains my all time favorite cycling memory. Tomorrow, I expect a lot of my fellow competitors will also be riding angry. If I were to make a guestimate, I’d say that probably 80 to 90% of us will be riding angry so it sort of levels the playing field. That’s okay because in a way it feels right to be out doing something I love to do with so many people that are probably channeling a similar emotion.

And just for the record, there is a movement to persuade some Electoral College delegates to change their vote on December 19th and prevent Trump from getting the 270 votes he needs to become president. Check out the petition to do this at change.org. It might make you a little less angry.

November 4, 2016: The Gray Zone of Heckling

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For the record, I bear only the slightest of resemblances to Willie Nelson. If you were to see us standing next to each other, you might think I look more like George Carlin or Charles Manson. I do not wear my long hair in pigtails very often like he does. I do, however, have a grey beard and my wrinkled and weathered face is starting to look more like his with each passing season. And I have absolutely no musical talent unless I’m by myself in my car and Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful happens to come on the radio. Then, I’m amazing and even half-upset that she didn’t ask me to sing background.

One of the spectator traditions of cyclocross is heckling. Heckling can come in many different forms and can be hurled with different intents. Helpful, constructive, encouraging, witty and funny heckling is awesome. When someone in the crowd yells out my name or tells me how far ahead I am of my closest competitor or tells me that I’m absolutely killing it; this is fantastic and makes me want to go faster. I also try to thank them if I’m able to get a word out through my hyperventilating and lightheadedness.

Heckling that I consider more borderline might make an astute observation about my physical appearance. I don’t mind these much but it sometimes is a little weird. I’ve heard things like “Go Ponytail!” “Oooh, you’re pretty!” (mostly guys), “Go Sexy Man!” (again, mostly guys), “Hey Blondie, whatcha doin’ later?” (guys again), and “What’s a girl doing in a Master’s race?” All of this heckling, of course, makes me want to go faster.

However, some heckling is just downright mean. When someone says that this is a bike race not an ice cream social or that I was just passed by a pregnant woman on a fat bike or that I might want to check to see if my brake is rubbing or that I should consider taking up golf or put some meat on those bones for cryin’ out loud, it just makes me want to go faster.

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The best thing that I’ve seen a spectator do at a cyclocross race wasn’t heckling but more like entertainment. It was at Roger Williams Park in Providence, Rhode Island and this woman appeared on one of the hillsides, made into a run-up because of several barriers. She had on a grass skirt, a coconut shell bra, a lei and serenaded everyone by singing Hawaiian songs while strumming her ukulele. It somehow seemed like the most perfect thing to do and I watched her for a long time after my morning race.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07:  Willie Nelson signs copies of his book "It's A Long Story: My Life" at Barnes & Noble Union Square on May 7, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

This brings us back to Willie Nelson. For the past 3 years, there are a few guys who show up at most of the New England races. They must be cat 4 or 5 racers because they always seem to do the early race and must begin drinking by the time that my Master’s race begins later in the morning. I don’t yet know their names but they have near-megaphone quality voices. They’ve been calling me Willie Nelson from day one – either during warm-up, the race or even if we cross paths later. They’re persistent and I find it quite amusing. Usually they just yell out “WILLIE NELSON!!!” when I come past them each lap, sitting in their cozy tent canopy set up along the course. However, sometimes they’re more creative and heckle things like: “HEY WILLIE, PAY YOUR TAXES!!!” or “WILLIE, ON THE ROAD AGAIN!!!” or “YOU’D RACE FASTER IF YOU LAID OFF THE WEED!!!” or their latest, coined at the Gran Prix of Gloucester this year, “WHEELIE NELSON!!!” I love these guys. They make me want to go faster.