Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My weekend in Phoenix

Hey everyone! I apologize that it has been a while but last week was crazy. Finishing up a big work project, planning for a conference presentation I had to give in Phoenix yesterday, and making plans to visit Sherry's brother (also in Phoenix) left little time for blogging (or anything else for that matter), But I am back and ready to tell you all about the Phoenix trip. It was a fun and relaxing trip.

Earlier this year I was invited to give a presentation at the Experience Learning Live conference in Phoenix on the topic of the Psychology of Learning. So since Sherry's brother and family also live there, we decided to turn it into a mini-vacation. So we both took Friday off to enjoy a long weekend with family. Mike and Jamie have 2 kids, Kylie, who is about to be 5, and Lance who is just turning 1 in a few days.

So Friday we hop on a plane for the short flight from San Francisco to Phoenix. It was mostly an uneventful trip however, I now have a better understanding, and appreciation, for Southwest Airlines commercials. We were actually on US Airways and they charged extra for everything. Still, even with all of the add-ons, the flight was cheaper then anything Southwest could pony up. The rest of Friday night was spent relaxing and catching up. We were also continuously entertained by Kylie who is quite the princess/actress.

Saturday was a beautiful fall day in the desert. Mike is training for the P. F. Chang's Rock 'N' Roll Arizona marathon in January so he invited me to join him on his run. Saturday he had to go for 7 miles at race pace. After a not-to-subtle inquiry I discovered his race pace was a cool 6:30 mile. Are you friggin' kidding me? (I already knew Mike could fly. That's why I asked.) Still, I wanted to be supportive so I hopped on Jamie's hybrid bike and rode along beside him. It was kind of cool to be on a bike with no cycling kit, no gloves, no helmet, and no agenda.

Later on Saturday we went to the local Pumpkin Patch Festival. It was everything you would expect a old-fashioned fall carnival to be with the addition of the local Farmer's Market. So we roamed, ate good food, and participated in a few of the activities. The coolest? We got to stuff our own scarecrow. Yep! For a whole $3.00, you got the chance to grab some second hand clothing, stuff it with hay, and take it home. Kylie named our scarecrow Bobby. Another cool thing was where the proceeds went. I assumed the proceeds went to the local neighborhood who was putting on the festival. Instead, all proceeds went the Life is Good Foundation.

Sunday was mostly relaxing and watching football. Then we all piled into the minivan and headed for our hotel in Tempe. After saying goodbyes, Sherry and I checked into our room and immediately decided to explore our corner of Tempe. Well, as it turned out, our corner was right next to Arizona State University so we were basically in College City, USA. We did find this sign in our explorations and felt duly obliged to snap a photo for David and Pat who will both be doing this event. I also sent them a few texts but all they wanted to know about was the weather (haven't they heard about weather.com?)

Our hotel was right next to A Mountain. You have seen this in the backdrop if you have ever watched an Arizona State game or the Fiesta Bowl. So on Monday morning I decided to skip the hotel gym and climb A Mountain. It was great! I reached the top just as the sun was rising over the desert. It was a spectacular view. On the way up, I was passed by a young guy with a huge chain around his neck running up the mountain. A little later I saw the ASU wrestling team making their way down. They were all coming down in a wrestling crouch and all wearing 40 lb chains (I asked). That is definitely not for me. But then again, they may not find joy in climbing 5-miles uphill on a bike. C'est la vie!

My presentation was Monday afternoon. It went very well. The group participated in all of the planned activities and I think everyone managed to have some fun while learning some new pointers to improve their corporate training programs. Then it was back to the airport for the flight home.

So not a bad 4-days. A little family time, climbing a new mountain, and delivering a successful presentation. Hopefully, I will get invited back next year and we can do it all over again.

Until then, ciao!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The final event of the season

In a week that saw me get to hang out with some of cycling's top pros, Saturday's ride brought about one last connection with pro cycling. I did my last event of the season. As the pros were finishing up the 2008 season with the final pro tour race, the Giro di Lombardia in Italy, I was riding the Asti Tour de Vine in Sonoma County (you don't have to ask who was faster).

This is the first year I've ridden the Tour de Vine. It is a local charity ride with 25k, 50k and 100k routes. And even though I can ride these roads whenever I desire, I just had the feeling I would learn something new. So I set off for the start on Saturday morning on what promised to be a beautiful autumn day.

I arrived at the famous Asti Winery, which is now known as Cellar No. 8. On the drive up I was thinking that I was ending my season much the way I began it, riding solo. None of my core group could make it to this ride so I was on my own. On the drive, I also decided that I was going to do Fitness Journal proud as I was in my full FJ kit. So I dropped my original plan of taking things easy and decided to see how long I could push the pace.

As I rolled out at 7:30 I realized that this would be a true solo ride. This is a fairly new event so there were not a lot of riders and it seemed I was leaving a touch earlier then most. I set off on a pace that I hoped to maintain for the next 65 miles. My anticipation for finding a few new routes was not disappointed. I discovered a super cool bike path that had all the twists and turns of a roller coaster. I also found a beautiful road that has a temporary bridge across the Russian River during the summer.

As I enjoyed the new roads and scenery I was still trying to push the pace a bit. At this point I am probably averaging 20 mph, which is not bad for a solo effort. I reached the second rest stop, at 30k feeling great. That's when I discovered that there was 1 other 100k rider ahead of me by about 20 minutes. Could I catch him? I honestly doubted it. It would be hard to make up 20 minutes in the 70k. Still, it might be worth the effort.

So off I go. If I keep catching him as a goal I might stay motivated to maintain my brisk pace. As I roll through the vineyards of Sonoma County I am now focused on many different things other then the fall colors. How's my heart rate? Should I cruise or attack the next roller? Are there any signs of fatigue? Where is he now? I can't explain why but I felt like I was gaining on him.

Then I hit the wind. The course itself was not hard. It consisted mostly of rollers with 2 decent climbs thrown in for fun. However, the wind changed everything. In some sections I was using the same effort to maintain 14 mph that earlier had me rolling at 22. But still, I kept pushing. I almost cracked at 50 miles, and then again at 60. At the 62 mile mark I new I wasn't going to catch the dude up front so I back off the pace just a touch but still finished strong.

As I was packing up the bike to go enjoy lunch on the patio I was pleased. I basically did a 68 mile pull and I was never passed. The final numbers were 68 total miles, with a fair amount of that in the wind, and 1520 feet of climbing in just under 4 hours. All-in-all I feel that I met my objective of pushing the pace and wearing the FJ kit proudly.

At lunch, I ran into a guy I know casually from work (he is one of our vendors). So I joined him and we began to talk about the day. Come to find out he is the guy I was chasing. However, he left 35 minutes ahead of me and I only came in about 10 minutes behind him. That's a good enough effort for me.

On the drive home I felt the soreness start to set in. I know I am going to pay for this effort. But in the end, it was worth every pedal stroke to finish strong. I will now finish the year riding for the fun of riding. After this long year, I am really looking forward to it.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dinner with Levi

Does it get any better? Just 3 short days after riding and lunching with BMC Racing Team pro Scott Nydam, I got to attend a dinner reception for Levi Leipheimer. Now, to be honest, if you don't follow pro cycling you may not know who Levi is. But if you do, or you live in Santa Rosa, CA, you know that Levi is currently the top rider in the US and one of the best cyclists in the world.

The whole thing came about from the Viva la Revolution at the Riviera ride I did last Saturday. After our great lunch, GiamPaolo invited us to this special dinner. Sherry decided not to go so I invited my friend Tim. So on Tuesday, Riviera Restorante was closed to the public and filled with cyclist. Now, I don't know if GiamPaolo, Rita and Luca set out to create a restaurant that seemed perfectly catered to the local cycling community but they succeeded. There are signed jerseys on the wall and cycling talk at a lot of tables. If you cycle, and visit Sonoma County, you simply have to eat there. But let's get back to the dinner with Levi.

Levi had a great 2008 season. He was the overall winner of the Tour of California for the second year in a row, 2nd place overall in the Vuelta a EspaƱa, and won a Bronze Medal in the Olympics in Bejing. And these are just a few of his accomplishments this year. He also won the US Pro Champion road race in 2007 which means he is the current US champion. So you can see why a cyclist like myself was excited to spend this evening with him.

After we settled down to start dinner one of the guest stood up to make a toast. Afterwards, Levi offered a short little story (not a speech). He told us of his love of Sonoma County, how he has chosen to live here, and the great support he receives from the cycling community. When he won the Bronze Medal in Bejing, he wished more of us could have been there to share that experience. But since we couldn't be in China he brought the medal with him. That's right! He reaches down for a box and pulls out his Olympic Bronze Medal for all to see.

So he puts the medal around his neck for the many, many pictures being snapped at this point. And then he did a truly unbelievable thing. He put it back in the box and sent it around the room. So while Levi was chatting with everyone around him, his medal is simply floating from person to person around the room. I can only assume it made it back to him safely and is not currently listed on e-bay.

Finally, after more toasts, more great food, and more cycle-chat with those at our table, the night was winding down. Tim and I did get to spend a few minutes chatting with Levi. He is really just a nice guy. We wished him luck for 2009 and let him know just how much we would enjoy watching him ride. I certainly wish him the best for next year and I look forward to seeing him 3-peat at the Tour of California when it rolls through Santa Rosa.

Until then, I'll keep riding our local roads and watching for the US Pro Champion to ride by.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

My ride with a pro cyclist

Yesterday, I set out with Sarah to ride the very first Viva la Revolution at the Riviera! This ride started at a very cool bike shop, West County Revolution, and ended at one of my favorite restaurants for lunch. It was the first of what they hope will become a monthly event so I wanted to make sure it was well supported.

The ride was schedule to start at 9:00 a.m. Well, since I live less then a mile from the restaurant, I decided to ride to the start so I could then just ride home. Sarah was also looking for a ride on Saturday morning so I convinced her to join us (although she had other plans and couldn't stay for lunch). So at 7:45 we head out to the start at a nice easy pace. It was just enough to get in a good warm up without putting any real stress on the legs.

We arrived at the bike shop at 8:45, which was plenty of time to hang out, drink some coffee and get to know the new people we would be riding with. All of the initial indiciations were that this was going to be a great ride. There was also one other good omen. I had felt something fall on my helmet during the ride out. When I took it off I discovered it was a yellow jacket. He rode in there for over 15 minutes with stinging me.

So, people are getting itchy to start so we discuss the ride and get ready to head out. I overhear someone ask Steve, from the bike shop, "where's Scott?". At that point someone says "Here he comes". So up rides Scott on his road bike while also pushing his mountain bike. He is also in a full BMC Racing Team kit and bike. I soon recognized that this is none other then Scott Nydam.

Scott won the King of the Mountain jersey in this year's Tour of California and then went on to have a very good 2008 season. He is done racing for the year so he can join local group rides like ours. So this is it. My first ride with a pro. This is one of the many cool aspects of cycling. I will never play a game with the SF 49'ers (and really, who would want to) but I can ride side-by-side with a cycling pro (as long as he lets me). You gotta love that about this sport.

So finally, we're off. We started out on some bike trails so the pace was fairly easy. There were 2 interesting things that occurred during the warm up phase. First, I got to hear the lead rider shout "pumpkin up!" In cycling, this is your warning of something up ahead. A walker, runner, slower cyclist, but never before has it been a pumpkin. Sure enough, there was a couple with an engine jack moving what they estimated was a 700 pound pumkin. Next, we were almost run over by a young buck deer who came charging down the path in our direction. It was very exciting after he raced by without taking any of us out.

We finish the warm up, leave the bike trail and are ready to tackle the open road. I'll be honest, I really expected the pace to ramp up significantly. But it didn't. We were cruising at good speed with people taking turns on the front and pushing each other on the little hills we were riding. On one of the larger smaller hills (is there such a thing), I went over the top with Pro-Scott just behind me. After the descent I was chatting with him and I mentioned, "it's only fair I let you know that in my blog I am going to say I paced you up that climb". His reponse (with a smile), "all's fair in blogs". I then rode the next few miles either on Scott's wheel, with Scott on my wheel, or side-by-side chatting. He could have easily left us at anytime but instead he just cruised along. Cool dude!

At the 20 mile mark, the group broke into two separate rides. Sarah and I stayed with the more "moderate" group, while the others went out to do something a little more serious. At lunch we heard stories of them hitting up to 28 mph on one of the flats. The rest of our ride was great. There were 5 of us riding a good pace but still managing to enjoy the fall secenery in the vineyards. We all took turns on the front, stayed together on the climbs, and just chatted as we got to know each other. That's what made this a cool group of guys. Sometimes, all you get on these rides is a bunch of hammerheads who do nothing all day but attack and try to wear out the whole group. These guys weren't like that at all. Instead, we all shared the same of goal of a getting in a really good workout while still enjoying all of the social aspects of a group ride.

We rolled up to the resaurant just in time for Giampaolo to serve us wine and espressos before lunch. Of course, I had to have both. There was something a little weird about standing in my favorite restaraunt in a bike kit and no shoes drinking wine. The other group arrrive about 15 minutes later and we settled in for a lunch of salad, pasta, wild salmon and dessert. It was fabulous. We all decided to make this a monthly affair and to talk it up to see if can get a larger group. Sadly, it was finally time we all got back on the bikes and headed for home.

This will likely be one of my more memorable rides. First, I got to ride with a pro. And not just start in the same group with him but actually ride next to him and chat. But more importantly, I was reminded of just how great most of cyclists I meet really are. I mean, I only knew Sarah when the ride started. But in the end, I had a whole new group of friends and invitations to go on more rides then I have time for.

I know I've said it before, but that's why I ride.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Konocti Challenge

This last Saturday some friends and I rode in the Konocti Challenge. This is one of my favorite charity rides for a lot of reasons. It has a mixture of great scenery, a relaxed pace, and the best post-ride BBQ I've eaten yet. It used to be called Pedal the Puddle since the 65 and 100 routes circumnavigate Clear Lake, which is the largest natural lake in California. This was my third year and it has yet to disappoint.

This year's adventure actually started before the ride as members from our little group, Wine Country Velo, tried to decide if they would ride or not. At one point there were 6 of us heading up but in the week before the ride it had come down to 4. We all decided to ride the 65 mile route this year and the general plan was to "not lift the pace, jump any fast moving trains, or do anything else that keeps us from chatting and enjoying the views of the lake."

So we are excitingly exchanging e-mails and texts about the plan when someone noticed the forecast called for rain. Uh oh! So who really wants to ride in the rain? Now the texts and e-mails take on a whole different attitude. Sarah, the only woman in our group is also the only sensible one who decides to pass (there's got to be a connection there somewhere). Tim, David and I decide to soldier on.

When I check my e-mail one last time late Friday night to ensure no one else has bailed, and to make sure ride is still on, I see I David has sent me something. But he's not bailing. Instead, he sends me a link to this article in our local paper "Smelly carp piling up on shores." Oh that's perfect! As if the rain were not enough to deal with now we have to deal with dead fish!!!

So I'm up at 4:45 on Saturday morning and immediately look outside. It's beautiful. The rain we had Friday night was supposed to linger into Saturday morning but now it looks like it's moved on a little faster. Sarah is going to be sorry she missed a great ride. So I pick up David, then Tim, and off we go. A short 30-minutes later it is pouring! Apparently, Sarah will not be sorry after all.

We arrive at starting point, check-in and head out. There was the definite threat of rain but it was dry when we started. In fact, we rode all the way to the first rest stop at mile 18 without getting wet. It was also warming up nicely. So at the rest stop I drop the base layer. That must have been the signal because not 50 yards after leaving the rest stop it started to rain. Then it started to rain hard. I don't want to dwell on the rain so here's the basics. It probably rained for half the ride. It mostly ruined the descents since none of us wanted to hit the pavement. But in the end, it really wasn't that bad. For me, there is nothing like riding in the rain to make you feel like a kid, or a pro.

As we rode along, chatting and enjoying the views, the paper was right. There were dead fish everywhere. Fortunately, the rain was knocking down the smell so it wasn't too bad. It definitely added an interesting dynamic to our conversations.

So the final part of this report deals with the end of the ride. On one of the small hills, another rider catches us and sits on our wheel. We are not pushing the pace but we are riding in a pace line. So he just sits there for quite a few miles enjoying a free pull as Tim, David and I took turns on the front (he never came to the front). Then after a while he comes around and just rides away from us. Hmmmm! No biggie. We are enjoying the ride and have no desire to gun him down.

However, he never really pulls away. Now, it's about 15 miles left in the ride, it's raining again, and we are pretty much ready for the ride to end. That's when I notice Tim lift the pace just a touch. I knew he was irked when the guy passed us after sucking our wheel for so long. So I think to myself "we're about to reel him in." Sure enough, we ever so slowly start to bring him back. Eventually, we catch up to him and Tim grabs his wheel. For all of 30 seconds! Then the guy sees Tim behind him and pulls off to let us pass and then gets back on our wheel. WTF!!!

I now have no doubt Tim plans to drop this dude. So up goes the pace and we form a line of Tim, David, me and wheel-sucker. With about 5 miles to go I realize that Tim is riding strong but will need a rest before the final push. So I come around David and Tim and take the front lifting the pace again just a little. With 3 miles to go, Tim comes back to the front and is now driving a serious pace. David starts to drop off Tim's wheel (in his defense, he still had to do a 1 hour run later that day) so I come around, still with wheel-sucker in tow, and grab Tim's wheel. And the pace keeps ramping up. Finally, we hit town and now we are flying. Tim is looking into the store windows and sees that wheel-sucker is starting to dangle off the back. One more acceleration and he is officially dropped.

As Tim and I arrive back the car we are talking about how him and I knew exactly what the other person would do without ever speaking. Tim and I have been riding together for 5 years now. He taught me most of what I know about cycling. I knew this guy irked Tim when he passed us and I also knew Tim would drop this guy before the ride was over. I knew when and how I needed to help. That's the cool thing when you have been riding with someone for so long.

At lunch, we were chatting about the end of the ride and dropping Mr. Wheel-sucker. Now don't get me wrong. We will happily tow in any rider who needs a little help. But, if you're strong enough to ride away, you're strong enough to take a pull. So Tim tells me I need to write about this guy (see how well I take instructions) and my reply was "Oh, he is so getting blogged". And he did.

In the end, it was a great day. A little rain, a lot of laughs, 1 dropped wheel-sucker, and a dynamite post-ride BBQ. I can't wait to see what 2009's ride will bring.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Another good week

Wow! I can't believe it's been a week since my last post. Part of that is due to being incredibly busy and the other part is, quite frankly, I have not been the mood to write. However, in reflection, it was still a very good week.

The kitchen is finally done!!! Ok, not done, but close enough. There are few trim boards that need to go up and 2 doors to put back. So it is 95% done but more importantly, it's fully operational. Sherry and I have been cooking since Wednesday night. It's great the way the new space flows. We have also spent most of our free time loading box after box out of the garage and wine cellar where everything was stored. And, of course, there is a whole house to clean since it was a construction zone for 8 weeks. I am now proud to say that the kitchen and wine cellar are back in order and looking splendid. And the garage? Well to be honest, it will be a while before we get the garage dealt with properly.

I took rest days on Monday and Tuesday after some pretty serious weekend riding in the mountains. All total, I put in 75 miles with 6300 feet of climbing in 2 days. The rides were spectacular as mountain rides always are.

Wednesday morning I did my 3.5 mile run. This was just your ordinary run-of-the-mill run with no real fanfare. I did notice I that I finished very strong. Maybe it's time to increase the distance a little (more on this later).

Thursday morning I went out and tested a 3-mile cycling loop for working on speed intervals. It is in the city, so it's also in traffic, but it consists of 4 right-hand turns onto roads that all have bike lanes. I did the first loop nice and relaxed. I was just getting a feel for route and the turns. I didn't have to deal with any cars and the right turns, all with traffic lights, didn't slow me down much either. So the second time I decided to set my base time. Of course, this time I had kids crossing in front of me on the way to school, cars pulling out in front of me and the lights did not work in my favor. Oh well! It was still a fun workout.

Friday I decided to push the run distance from 3.5 to 4.0 miles since I was feeling so strong on Wednesday. So, I head out and know within 200 meters that this will not be my day. Instead, it's going to be one of those workouts you have to fight your way through. I finally settle into a rhythm and things are going ok. Of course, I made the classic mistake of putting the extra half mile at the end. As I reached the turn for home if I am doing a shorter run I had this conversation with myself.

Mind - You're not running well. Why don't you just turn here, go home, and call it a day?
Me - No! We set out for 4 miles and that's what we are going to do!
Mind - I'm telling you - TURN HERE!
Me - Not going to happen!
Mind - (As I approach the turn) TURN! TURN! TURN! Dude, you are so going to pay for that.

In case you couldn't tell, I did not turn. Instead, I finished the run as planned and in the end it felt great. My goal is to get back into the 5 mile range so I can run the occasional 10k.

On Saturday it was off to Clearlake for the Konocti Challenge. This is a great charity ride with 65 0r 100 mile options. We opted for 65 miles this year. It was a great ride even though it did rain on us for over half the ride. What the hell! It builds character right? There may be more on this ride later.

So there you have it. A crazy week full of work, workouts, and box moving. Still, I'd have to say it was another good week.