Sunday, November 26, 2017

Excuses! Excuses! Excuses!

I know winter is still officially almost a month away but it is still a hard time of the year for athletes who prefer to be outside.  Well, maybe I shouldn’t be so general and state it’s a hard time of the year for me.  There’s just something about the shorter days and cooler temperatures that challenges my desire.  When you add the allure of sipping a home-made cappuccino in front of the fire then my motivation melts faster than a sugar cube.

Bundle up to brave the cold!
I really do enjoy running in the rain. I also don’t mind the cold when riding.  I have all the right gear for both running and riding in winter so it shouldn’t be a big deal. So, why the lull?  As much as I would love to provide some profound explanation, in the end, it all comes down to making excuses!

The first thing I tell myself is that after pushing myself all summer, it’s ok to take a little time off. In fact, it’s quite easy to convince myself that periods of recovery are a well researched and documented training tactic.  Then, I remember that my last big challenge was nearly 4-months ago on August 3rd.  So, taking time off sounds practical but it’s just an excuse.

While I do enjoy both riding and running, I also love sitting inside the warm house with Sherry drinking coffee and reading. However, after a bit of reading I frequently find myself wasting time on Facebook or Instagram so that’s just another excuse.

My kryptonite!
Recently, Sherry’s retirement is having an impact.  She used to start getting ready for work at 6:30 a.m. and I would use that as my cue to go run or ride.  Now, at 6:30 a.m., she is either still asleep or sitting in the chair next to me reading and drinking coffee.  Before I know it, it’s 7:30 a.m. and I’m still just sitting there.  Of course, when I’m on the computer the current time is right there.  I could also set an alarm on the computer, my phone, or our Echo. In the end, it’s yet another excuse.

I mentioned that I have the right gear but even that becomes an excuse.  Sometimes, just the thought of having to add layer after layer of clothing seems like an arduous process.  Do I really want to spend all that time getting ready for a short 3-mile run?  By now you know the answer is no and another excuse is created.

Longing for warmer days!
The list of excuses goes on.  I have to get to work early! I’ll run when I get home! I’ll go further tomorrow!  I want to spend time writing!  I need to practice my French!  There are many, many things that can stop me from heading out the door.

The bottom line is that these are all just excuses for not wanting to exercise.  And that’s the real problem.  On beautiful days running and riding are a pleasure.  Forcing myself out into the cold and dark days of winter just feel like exercise.  I don’t do it for the exercise, I do it for fun.  The exercise is just a bonus.

It may seem strange but, in the end, I’m ok with this.  I’m ok with choosing coffee over running and reading over riding.  For me, it’s all about striking the right balance

It started to rain as I am finishing this post and, of course, I am supposed to be heading out for a 5-mile run.  I wonder which excuse I’ll use this morning?


Monday, November 13, 2017

As the Smoke Cleared

On October 9th, parts of my city of Santa Rosa, along with many other communities in Wine Country, were ravaged by a wild fire.  The final count of homes and businesses lost in the fire boarders on the incomprehensible.  I have yet to talk with a person since that day who does not personally know somebody who lost everything.  The stories of how people escaped, or sadly in some cases did not, will be told for years to come.

After surviving the initial onslaught of devastation, it was time to take stock as a first step towards the new future.  I was time to start rebounding.

Blue sky, fall colors!
Rebounding will mean different things to different people. I was very fortunate in that the fire never reached my neighborhood.  We didn’t even have to evacuate although we did pack the car one night just in case.  Therefore, rebounding for me should be much easier than it will be for others.  Still, I found myself needing a release. I needed some time to reflect.  I needed to enjoy being alive and a reminder for how grateful I am for all that I have. I needed to ride my bike!

It took three weeks after the fires before the smoke cleared enough to ride.  As always, I started thinking about where to ride as I was getting ready.  Since I was riding alone, my choices seemed unlimited.  As I rolled down the driveway and onto the road, I still didn’t know the exact route.  I only knew that I was heading west, away from the areas impacted by the fire.

Autumn among the vines.
I’m sure that one day I will go through the fire zones but this was not that day.  On this day, I needed to see Mother Nature’s softer side.  The side that creates beautiful landscapes along rolling hills versus her destructive side that can erase that same landscape overnight.

As I rolled along, I was acutely aware of what a beautiful day it was.  While the smoke-filled skies had created some spectacular sunrises and sunsets, I was very happy it was gone.  October is one of my favorite months of the year from a weather perspective and I had spent most of it trapped inside the house watching people wearing masks as they walked their dogs.  

The plan was to get out and enjoy the all of the beauty Sonoma County has to offer so I spent the time riding at a leisurely pace.  I made in out of town and into the vineyards.  As the grape vines prepare for their winter hibernation their leaves change into glorious hues of red, orange and yellow. 

The look of autumn.
At each turning point, I chose the road that I thought would be the prettiest.  In the process, I ended up taking some of my favorite roads.  While that may not have been the plan, in hindsight it made perfect sense.

The ride itself was fairly short at just over 29 miles.  However, it may have been the most therapeutic 29 miles I have ever ridden.  The beauty, the fresh air, the wind in my face, and the feeling of rolling along free of cares, even if temporarily, was magical.

I have ridden numerous time since that day as I try to enjoy the last days of autumn.  While still focused on the beauty of where I live, my last ride actually took me through some of the areas most impacted by the fire but I’ll talk about that at another time.  

For now, as winter is fast approaching, I find myself hoping that we will continue to see Mother Nature’s softer side.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Merci Beaucoup Betty

This is a post to thank Betty.  An ode to Betty if you will.  Unknowingly, Betty set into motion a chain of events that had a dramatic, and positive, impact on how Sherry and I spend time in Paris.  Our plans used to center around which new restaurant to try, museum to visit, or arrondissement to explore.  Now, they include dinner and drinks with friends.  

The always smiling Betty!
How did one person, who we did not know at the time, create such an impact? Betty, along with a couple of friends, started the running group called Let’s Run Paris. 

In 2015, Sherry and I were fortunate enough to spend Christmas in Paris.  By happenstance, I read a travel article on running in Paris that suggested running with a local running group.  It suggested finding groups on the site Meetup.  A couple of clicks later, I requested to join LRP.

I don’t remember why I selected LRP over the other options.  On that trip, I ran with them three times.  During those runs I was warmly received, as all guests are, and made a few acquaintances who I kept in touch with through Facebook.  I met people from all other the world but I did not meet Betty.

The LRP crew on a Saturday run.
Back home, I was pretty active on the LRP Facebook page posting pictures of me running in various U. S. cities in my LRP t-shirt.  Of course, as the founder, Betty was also very active on the page.  As I read Betty’s posts and comments, which frequently included words of encouragement, it was apparent to me that she was a special person.  She seemed very warm, caring, and genuine.  

Our next trip to Paris was very short so I was only able to run once with LRP.  It was great to see my friends once again.  I also met several new people including Betty.  Within seconds, you realize the Betty on Facebook is the real deal.  She is just as warm and caring in person.  She is one of those people that not only do you instantly like her, but you feel like you’ve known her for years.  

That trip was also the first time our itinerary included having drinks with friends.  It was such a treat for us to meet with people, who live in Paris, for drinks and chit-chat on a warm Saturday night.  This was a complete game changer for us and it felt like it moved us one step closer to being more Parisian than tourist.

Dinner with Betty and Nelson.
The dinners and drinks with friends continued on our most recent trip.  We had dinner with Betty and Nelson one night at a great little bistro.  The next night we were invited to the home of Gabriela and Pascal for a dinner party.  Betty was there as well.  This was an remarkable evening that quickly turned from dinner party to dance party.  As we were walking home, Sherry and I both had a feeling of belonging in this city we love so much.

I missed Betty’s last run (for now) with LRP by one day.  Sherry and I flew home on Sunday and Betty returned to the U. S. on Wednesday.  For various reasons, Betty decided it was time to return home to San Francisco after several years of living in Paris.  Fear not!  LRP is still going strong thanks to the foundation built by Betty and others.  

While I’m sure the LRP crew misses her, and I know she misses them and Paris, I am personally happy she’s in San Francisco.  You see, that puts her just one hour south of where we live in the Sonoma Wine Country.  We are already talking about getting together to laugh, eat, drink, and of course run.  I’m sure we will get to hear all about her latest adventures.  

I wonder whose life she’ll change next?


Saturday, November 4, 2017

It's Time to Write

For many reasons, I’ve been in a writing drought for a while now.  I could list them all for you but the smart reader would actually recognize it as a list of rationalizations, not real reasons. If I’m being honest, there’s really only one reason for my lack of writing.  I haven’t been writing because I haven’t felt like writing.  

As fall arrives and opens the door for winter, I should have plenty of time to write.  Cold rainy days are much more conducive to writing then riding and I am hoping to take advantage of it.  When it’s raining outside, I have my expresso machine, wine cellar, and writing desk inside.  What more could an aspiring author hope for?

So, here’s the plan.  I have a lot of ideas roaming around in my head that I think make excellent topics.  Now, I just need to get them down on paper, so to speak.  Here’s some the areas I hope to write about.

Roussillon, France
Time in Provence.

Time in Paris

My triple climb of Mont Ventoux.

The fires of Santa Rosa.

An ode to a special person.

And many, many more!

There will not be any rhyme or reason to the order.  I’m just going to go where the muse takes me.  Hopefully, she’ll start by taking me to the writing desk.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Some R&R for My Running Shoes

I think my running shoes need some R&R.  It’s nothing specific, it’s just a hunch that I have.  Maybe it’s the fact that they no longer seem motivated to go out in the rain. Or in the cold. Or when it’s dark. Or before or after work.  Or, well, I think you get the picture.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, we’ve logged over 1,200 miles in the last 15 months while the bikes languished (their word) in the garage waiting their time.  That time is now as I shift my “training” to my goal for this year - the Clubs des Cinglés du Mont Ventoux.

Since running has been a big part of who I am this last year, I decided I needed one last hoorah before the running shoes were moved to the back of the closet.  Fortunately, the Credit Union Sactown Run provided the perfect opportunity.  My credit union had 75 people participating so I would be running with friends.

Sactown offers two distances - 5k (3.1 miles) and 10 miles.  I did the 10 mile run last year as part of my training.  While I was there I noticed something very interesting.  Unlike many events, the 5k actually started 30-minutes before the 10 mile run.  So, I started thinking.  I can run 5k in under 30-minutes so next year I should run both and turn it into a half marathon.  I shared this with a few of my crazier running colleagues and we all agreed to give it a go.

I guess a lot of other people also made this connection because this year Sactown added the Homemade Half Marathon to the mix.  They also adjusted the start times so now there were 40-minutes between the start of each race.  With just a few clicks I was registered and ready to go.

We started the 5k right on time at 8:00 am.  I was running with two friends, Gina and Nick, who part of our Ragnar Relay team last year.  While it was tempting to push the pace we kept reminding ourselves we still had a 10 mile run to complete before we were done.  We finished three abreast with a respectable time of 28:07.

Then, we waited, which was kind of weird.  It’s the first time I crossed the finish line of one race and then headed back to the start line for another one.  I also had to figure out what to do with my 5k medal.  

The 10-mile route also started right on time.  We all stayed together for the first 5-miles before Gina had some issues with cramping and sent Nick and I down the road on our own.  With 2-miles to go, I realized we had a chance to break 2-hours so we began to use the energy we had left to pick up the pace.  I finished just ahead of Nick with a time of 1:32:43 and a total time of 2:00:00 by my watch (my official combined time was 2:00:50). I also received my second medal of the day, which was pretty cool.

Now, the focus is on cycling.  Don’t worry!  I’ll keep running for a bit of cross-training but the running shoes will definitely play second fiddle to the bikes.  I hope they enjoy their well deserved R&R.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lee's Day Off

Bloggers Note - this is a fictional story told from the perspective of a co-worker.

It was just another typical Friday morning at work.  As I went about my tasks I needed some information from Lee so I sent him a quick email.  I immediately received an out-of-office response.  As I looked at the response I heard myself take a deep sigh.  Why would I care if Lee was out of the office on a gorgeous day?  Allow me explain. 

Our work began offering a very cool wellness program last year.  It focuses on all aspects of living well such as nutrition, physical exercise, emotional well-being, and even finances.  A big part of the program is completing challenges for points, which can be redeemed for gift cards.  While some challenges change every 6-8 weeks, other challenges last all year.  One such challenge is to complete 180 minutes of exercise each week.

Lee actually manages this program and he knows that some of us like the added motivation of some friendly competition.  In that light, the 180-minute challenge is also a competition to see who can log the most minutes by the end of the year.  Both the winner and runner up will receive very nice gift cards.

This was the cause of my deep sigh.  If Lee has the day off he’s probably exercising.  I take a quick look at the leaderboard for this challenge and see that Lee is in 10th place with 2,828 minutes this year.  I’m currently in 7th so I have him beat for now.  But, he is a cyclist and a runner and as the weather gets nicer he will begin to log 4-6 hour rides each weekend so I need a solid buffer.  I may have also made the mistake of telling him earlier this year that I would definitely beat him.

I sneak a peak at his Facebook page - Lee’s Life Adventure - and there’s nothing posted.  So far, so good!  Maybe he has a doctor’s appointment or something and that’s why he took the day off.  I don’t want him to feel bad, I just don’t want him exercising while I’m working.

An hour later I looked at Facebook again and my heart sank.  He had just finished an 11-mile run that gave him 109 minutes.  Damn!  That was double the 55 minutes I spend at Cross Fit that morning.  But even worse, he stated he was at The Pharmacy, a cool little shop with coffee and great food, refueling for his ride later in the day.

As the day went on I found myself frequently checking Facebook.  For a while I was holding on to the hope that the ride wouldn’t happen.  That hope faded when I saw another post stating he had just finished a 36-mile ride and was having lunch at The Trail House.  That ride gave him another 160 minutes, which meant a total of 269 minutes for the day.  I’ll spare you from doing the math and simply tell you that’s basically 4 1/2 hours.

I went back to the leader board of the 180-minute challenge to see that Lee was now in 6th place with 3,097 points.  Plus, it was now the weekend which meant he still had another 2 days to keep adding to this total before coming to wok on Monday.

I’ve thought of starting a petition that since Lee manages the wellness program, he should not be allowed to win but I’m pretty sure that if I did that Karma would kick my ass even harder.  So, I’ll settle for some honest competition and all the trash talking that comes with it.  In the meantime, I’m going for a run!


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Let the Training Begin

For us, 2017 is off to a very wet start.  We’ve seen storm after storm thanks to what is known as an atmospheric river. So, when the clouds gave way to beautiful blue skies and sunshine last Saturday it was time to ride.  And not just any ride.  No, it was time to start training for my Mont Ventoux challenge.

I considered joining my cycling group but they were doing a fairly easy off-season ride.   While I typically love the rides I felt I needed to push myself just a little harder.  As I thought about where to ride, two words kept creeping into my mind - hill repeats!  My training for Mont Ventoux was about to begin.

It was a gorgeous day but still pretty brisk as I kitted up and headed out the door.  I stopped at Trail House, our new uber-cool bike shop-cafe, for a cappuccino.  It felt really good to be back to my old cycling routine and I was trying to savor the moment.

Riebli Road
Finally, it was time to ride.  My goal was to head out Riebli Road, complete three loops of the Cross Creek, and return back on Riebli.  This would give me five decent climbs in a relatively short ride.  This was perfect since the quality of my initial training needs to be measured in elevation-gained, not miles.

I was surprised how good I felt as I completed the first climb.  I guess all that running helped a little.  As I went over the top I took it nice and easy on the descent since the roads were still wet and potentially icy.  There would be plenty of dry roads in the future to practice going downhill fast so there was no need to push it on the first real ride of the year.

As I started up Cross Creek for the first time I could tell I was going a little too hard.  I had to remind myself I wasn’t trying to crush the climb.  I just wanted to start building my power-base.  The second and third time were more evenly paced as I worked on climbing both in and out of the saddle.  I will confess that it was challenging getting over the final steep pitch all three times.  Still, it felt really good to be pushing myself just above my comfort zone on a ride.   Finally, it was back over Riebli Road to home.

Future hills to climb.
The final numbers were 25 miles with 1,854 of climbing.  Over all, I am very happy with my first real training ride in a while.  And, I wasn’t alone.  Thomas, my road bike, also seemed very excited.  He seemed thrilled to be completing a real ride full of climbs and descents.  It seems like he now knows running has been relegated to a secondary activity and he anticipates there will be many great rides in the months ahead.  He would right.

There it is!  The first real ride since the marathon is in the books and training for the Mont Ventoux challenge has begun.  I know my cycling future calls for long rides over epic climbs.  At times it’s going to hurt.  At times I’m going to wonder what the hell was I thinking.  But mostly, it’s going to be a blast and I can’t wait to see what fun the next ride has in store.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Ready, Set, Wait!

In my last post, I shared my goals for 2017, which is all about the return of Lee the Cyclist.  Just the thought of climbing Mont Ventoux three times in a single day has me all fired up.  I worked on the bikes, found all my cycling gear, and place my kits on top of my running clothes in the dresser drawer.  While I was ready to ride other forces would mean cycling would have to wait.

Mother Nature doesn’t really care about my cycling goals.  She tends to do her own thing and this weekend her thing was wind and rain.  Lots and lots of rain!

This weekend, the greater San Francisco Bay Area dealt with one the the biggest storms we’ve seen in many years.  This is actually very good news in terms of dealing with California’s drought it’s just not the best cycling weather.  Even as I spent the week hoping to ride on both Saturday and Sunday, the local weather folks were telling us to batten down the hatches.

On Saturday morning I awoke to a steady, but light, rain so I decided to go for a run.  During the run it wasn’t raining that hard so I started thinking about the Masi, my cyclo-cross bike.  Isn’t this why I bought the bike?  To ride on wet winter days like this.  Before I could convince myself to head out in the rain on the Masi the wind picked up dramatically so cycling would have to wait.

The rest of Saturday brought more of the same and I found myself wondering when the big storm was arriving.  When I woke up on Sunday I had my answer.  As Sherry and I enjoyed our morning coffee the rain was pouring down and there was a howling wind.  This was the big storm we were promised.  As I was reading the reports this morning, I discovered we received over 4 inches of rain in Santa Rosa with wind gusts of over 40 mph.

With any hope of cycling gone I once again headed out for a run.  Why?  Well, there are many reasons I love running in the rain.  It makes me feel alive.  It makes me feel like a little kid again.  But mostly, it makes me feel like a badass!  And, I love the “he’s crazy” looks I get from drivers as they go by.  Even Sherry just shook her head and said “Tu es fou!” (you’re crazy in French) as I headed out the door.  I loved every minute of it as I ran along the local creeks that were already raging as a result of all the rain.

The biggest difference between running and cycling in the rain is that rain and wind does not make running more dangerous.  It just means you’ll get wet.  With cycling, wind and rain is a dangerous combination that is likely to put on the ground (as in, you’ll crash) sometime before the ride is over.  This is why I reach for my running shoes as the bikes hang quietly from the rafters on wet and windy days like this weekend.  

Of course, I do have a trainer in the garage so I still could have spent some time on the bike.  For the sake of brevity here’s the reason that didn’t happen.  I hate the trainer!  I have to be pretty desperate to cycle in my garage.  I’m not there yet.

So, no cycling this weekend.  That’s ok because my trip to France is not until August so I still have some time to get ready.  In the meantime, I’ll keep waiting and running until Mother Nature tells me it’s ok to ride.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Challenge with Old Friends

Believe it or not, it’s already January 3, 2017.  Many of the New Year’s resolutions so proudly announced and posted in social media have already been broken.  I can only assume that January 1st is Black Friday for weight loss programs and gyms.  If made a resolution and are sticking to it good for you.  If you’ve already broken it, fear not.  Every day is a chance to create a resolution. 

Mont Ventoux from Crillon le Brave.
Personally, I gave up resolutions years ago.  Ironically, it’s the only resolution I’ve ever been able to keep.  However, I do set goals or challenges for myself each year.  In 2016, the big challenge was running 1,000 miles.  This year, I hope to join the Club des Cinglés du Mont Ventoux!

If you follow the Tour de France, you know all about Mont Ventoux.  It is considered one of the hardest climbs in cycling.  While there are three routes to the top, from three different villages, the Tour always follows the route from the village of Bédoin, which is considered the most challenging.  The other two routes are from the villages of Malaucène and Sault.

I’ve been lucky enough to cycle to the summit of Mont Ventoux on three separate occasions (2007, 2009, and 2015) and I’ve always followed the route from Bédoin.  How do you join the Club des Cinglés?  I have to climb Mont Ventoux three times on the three different routes in a single day.  This will be an 85 mile ride with approximately 14,400 feet of climbing, which definitely makes it a worthy selection for this year’s challenge.

Fortunately, I will have a lot of help from some old friends to help me get ready.  It’s time to reacquaint myself with my bikes.  They’ve sat in the garage, patiently waiting while I focused on running, for way too long.  While I actually have 6 bikes, there are three that will play the biggest role.

My primary bike is the white road bike, who I named Thomas after pro cyclist Thomas Voeckler (that’s right, I have names for my bikes). It’s a Specialized Roubaix and I typically log thousands of miles a year in the saddle.  Thomas will be the work horse for the majority of my training since it is the bike I ride the most often.

The second bike is a single speed, which means exactly what it says - no gears.  If you want to go faster then you have to pedal faster.  It is the Specialized Langster, Las Vegas edition so I simply refer to it as the Vegas.  Initially, I purchased the Vegas just for fun and I use it quite frequently for recovery rides. However, it is also a great bike for doing hill repeats to build strength and you can bet there is plenty of those in my future.

The last bike is my Masi cyclocross.  This is the newest bike in the arsenal and it’s mostly used for those cold, damp winter days when the roads are wet.  It has bigger wheels so I feel much safer on it in poor weather conditions.  Since it’s a cross bike, I can also ride on the many gravel roads we have locally, some of which have significant climbs.  Mixing up the climbs as I train will be important so it’s great that the Masi opens a few new routes.

Joining the Club des Cinglés may not be the hardest challenge I’ve attempted but it will be an epic ride and it’s definitely a worthy goal for 2017.  And, with a little help from some old friends, I’m looking forward the all the training adventures ahead as we get ready.

Until then,