Popped the Commute Zero

I’d like to claim that I’m way, way, harder core than I am.

But, simple fact of the matter is that I haven’t actually commuted to work since 8 November, and hadn’t ridden the bike outside since my snowy mountain bike epic in December.

Bleh.

There’s excuses – Daylight savings time, sun not rising till after 7 and setting before 430. Whatever. Like other things, everybody’s got ‘em.

Today, ran out of excuses. Temp in the morning was mid-20s, sky was light by 630, and forecast to get to the 40’s before the end of the day. Awesome. Good ride in, slow despite a winter’s dedication to spin class, but the bike worked.

Biggest difficulty was in getting started – After over two months off, absolutely nothing was where it was supposed to be. Couldn’t find light batteries, couldn’t find gloves (and the ones I found weren’t thick enough by a long shot). Legs felt like sausages, bike felt heavy, and seemed like a consistent headwind.

Funny thing, though – I haven’t been able to quit smiling since I got to the office, knowing that I get to ride home. Headwinds on the way to work become tailwinds on the way home. Lots of slow tough rides lead to fast legs. Moving legs like sausages makes them legs like pistons.

Other stuff:

    If you haven’t, Mr. Cosmo Catalano has been, singlehandedly, providing the absolute best bike racing compendium weekly with The Week In Bike. Even my kids have started to look forward to this. Poor them.
    No real progress on deciding on an epic for this year. New job is exceptional, but I may be traveling for most of August, which throws a wrench (spanner) in using August for the execution of the Epic.
    In another life, I’m both a Cubmaster and an Assistant Scoutmaster. Still kind of ambivalent about the whole paramilitary structure of scouting, having spent a little bit of time working for the ghost of Hyman Rickover. But! Our troop got picked to go to Philmont in 2015. Which means that I can either grow more muscles to haul my pack at altitude, or I can finally drop the 30 lbs I’ve been meaning to for, well, ever.

So, that’s about it. Miss the dwindling RBF.

Black Lines – Advent Day 11

As you can probably tell, I’ve pretty much decided to power on through the Advent Project, despite the fact that I let it lapse for fourteen days. Eh. What’s fourteen days between friends?

Today may have started out as a perfect example of how lucky I am:

Woke up next to the love of my life snug in my own bed. Made it down to the YMCA in plenty of time to get a good bike, and started warming up. Light class load during the pre-New Year break, and Noreen kills the lights, turns on the blakclight, and fires up “Speak To Me” for the classic “Dark Side of the Moon” class (Ride? I don’t necessarily feel comfortable using cycling terminology for spin class, which is a different animal, a ghost shadow of the wonder that is really riding a bike).

Anyway, having been back to spin pretty consistently for almost two months, I had a breakthrough last week in that I finally re-learned pacing on rides, not wiping out too early, and not holding back and finishing fresh. Good times.

After spin, I hit the pool. And spent about 1500 yards staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool.

New Years started early this year – the pool was PACKED – every lane shared. I dropped in with a nice woman who was swimming A TON of leisurely laps, taking the lane next to the wall while she swam next to the rope. So, first thanks for the black line was in making one lane into two.

Then, as the swim went on, the pool slightly emptied out, and I was able to move over a couple of lanes for the last set – 250 hard. Head down, stretching to meet the black line with every stroke, and happy as a clam.

Got home good and tired to start the day.

Advent Day 10 – Travel

My lovely bride and I are currently up in North Adams, Mass, while our kids are at YMCA Winter Camp (Yep, we’re those parents who drop our kids off in the woods in the dead of winter then sneak off for a weekend at a fancy hotel and good meals. Terrible, terrible people.)

And, I know I hit on it before, but there’s something grand about being able to explore on foot. Sneakers and a single outfit are all you need to pack, and roads with sidewalks and decent shoulders are all a place needs to support the run.

Missy and I were up here (1) ’cause we didn’t have kids for the weekend, but if we just stayed at the house we’d end up finding stuff to do and not connecting with each other; (2) Because, despite being an engineer and absolutely artless, I’m actually very intrigued and fond of those who are creative; and (3) Wilco. Worth the trip for the day – the leisurely drive plus the museum got us to the hotel for a couple hours of R&R, then a quality supper walking distance from the hotel. Burned “The Philadelphia Story” from the hotel’s movie library, and then slept for 9 solid hours. Wow – must be vacation.

This morning, Missy managed to sneak off to the elliptical trainer in the hotel gym without waking me. I sat bolt upright in bed about 8, completely confused about when and where I was. Figured it out, and went to explore the town. A couple minutes with Google Maps, and I figured out I could do between 3 and 4 without getting lost and see most of the town, so I was off.

If only it were easier to travel with a bike…

Posted in Run

Forgiveness – Advent Day 9

The body’s both unforgiving and forgiving at the same time. Unforgiving, because a minor error in form can lead to injury just before a big race, and (in my case), a tendency to go just a couple calories over (just ONE cookie) every day leads to being consistently 20 pounds (10 kilos) overweight.

But, the body’s remarkably forgiving. I spent the first 25 years of my life not really caring about staying in shape. Then I did. Then I’ve been pretty streaky ever since. Despite severe personal failings, I’ve done several marathons, a half-Ironman, and more small races than I can count, plus wore out many, many more bike tires than car tires. No huge palmares, but I’m happy.

Today? Great example of that. I’ve been slacking on the run (last run was 10 days ago). Been to spin a bunch, but no running.

Got out the door this morning, and had an awesome run. Just down to the sheep pasture and back, ~6K, but the sun shone, the breeze blew, and the miles passed underfoot.

And my body said thanks.

Posted in Run

Seven Days in a Week – Advent Day 7

An unusual thing to think of when one considers fitness gifts, but 7 days in a week works out extremely well for periodization.

Monday’s a success just to get out of the door, and can be turned into a great day with a great workout. During the fall and darkest winter, it’s also usually a pretty great day to spend an evening in the pool when others are plunked down on the couch watching the gridiron.

Tuesday’s great for continuing momentum, or as a second chance when Monday just doesn’t happen. Natural day to ride if you’re doing a 4 or 5 day per week running program (Easy run Mon, ride Tues, Track run Wed, ride Thurs, race pace Friday, long run Saturday, long ride/easy run Sunday). And, it’s not Monday.

Wednesday – Stupid camels. But, it’s halfway to long-run Saturday, and a great, great chance to either kill an early AM hard workout, take a long lunch and do a mid-week stretch workout, or still salvage a slow start to the week.

Thursday – Full of grace. Good time to do some Pilates and think about long, lean, and strong, or ride, or spend some time in the pool working on smooth strokes and tight flip turns.

Friday – School’s out for summ… er, yeah. Great day to make sure everything’s loose and ready for long run Saturday.

Saturday – Fire up the smug, ‘cause when you get to your kids’ soccer game, everyone will be in awe that your big mileage is done. The downside is that the alarm doesn’t stop for the weekend – good runners are good parents. The sweet, sweet reward is not feeling guilty one bit when the feet go up on the couch or hammock, and the eyes go shut until the first “Hey, my brother just…”

Sunday – Honor the Sabbath and keep it rolling. A-Merckx.

RoadRunner, I’m in Love With Massachusetts – Advent Day 6

Until about 6 months ago, I’d never heard of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Then, Wilco does a night of covers at Solid Sound 2013, and once I’d gotten over the brilliance of “Get Lucky”, I picked a new favorite song. Roadrunner, with its name check of Stop and Shop (Groceries) and cold weather, and driving past neon lights full of angst.

Obsession again, would’ve worn out a cassette tape of the concert if we were still living back in 1987. Then, my internet man-crush on the cataloger of complete world knowledge doubles back on itself, with John Hodgman getting involved with the Bay State’s legislative process to make Roadrunner the official state song of Massachusetts.

Oh, yeah – running.

One of the joys of my work is that I get to go talk to folks who are like wicked smart on a pretty frequent basis. Friday, I got to head up to MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory for a day of getting my mind blown. On my way out, a colleague who knows I like to go strange places and run says “Hey, are you running this afternoon?”

“Sure”, I say.

So, we trundle off to the base gym, change, and he points me over to the MinuteMan Trail.

And for the next 40 minutes, I, like Jonathan Richman and John Hodgman, was in love with Massachusetts.

New England late fall is gloriously gloomy – dark early, grey skies, biting cold – and yesterday was about as textbook as it gets. Whisps of fog blew across the ancient track, past the spot where Paul Revere was captured by the British, past stone walls older than the country, and past anything other than the sheer joy of oxygen, gravel crunching underfoot, and feeling coming back into my cold fingers. The ghosts of the Regulars and Minutemen came into mind from the fog, and the hoofbeats of horses carrying news of a single lantern were echoed in my sneakers.

Running in a new place is a joy. No better way to get a feeling for a location. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling all over the world, and my finest memories tend to revolve around sneakers and exploring. Even places I know take on a new look when the ground’s passing underfoot at 80 steps/minute.

Finished up the run as the last light faded and the fog turned into rain. And spent a quality drive out of the state with rock ‘n’ roll cranking out of the speakers.

(At the risk of too much Masshole-ism, don’t forget to listen to “Case Your State“, which is NSFKids, but is comedic genius.)

Not Having Anywhere in Particular to Go – Advent Day 5

Misty day – started clear, and I sat at my desk watching a warm front blow in off of the North Atlantic, bringing with it drizzle, then mist, then quality Yankee fog. By the end of the day, New London was a glow out the window, and the foghorn at the Coast Guard station had begun to blow.

There’s a fine tradition in the sea services that the extra money in the first paycheck that comes with a promotion gets spent on buying drinks for one’s shipmates. Usually, it’s called a “wetting down”, and it comes from the old Navy days when one used to have gold embroidered stripes around the cuff to mark rank, and used to end with the newly promoted officer in the ocean. Today, the swim is usually avoided out of courtesy to the person buying the drinks, but the trip to the pub is still pretty much a requirement.

Anyway, we had a guy get promoted in our shop, and he was buying at a bar down on the New London waterfront. So, rather than jumping in the car, I pulled one of the spare bikes out of our building’s basement, and strolled down to the shindig.

And the simple act of using the bike as pure transportation, unhurried and unburdened, was great.

Beer was drunk, toasts were given, stories told, and I headed back to the office to pick up the car and head home.

Office Showers – Advent Day 3

As I’m sure long-term reader(s) of this blog will recognize, I’ve got to be in contention for the luckiest guy around. Loving wife, awesome kids, a great community, and worthwhile work. Absolutely no complaints on my part.

I attribute a big bit of my happiness to having only once worked in an office without shower facilities in the building. (That job was in Houston, too, which should have been clue #1 that things wouldn’t work out, but that was also back when I thought everything was better in Texas)

Office showers have been like the third thing I’ve checked on when considering most of my jobs. (The first two being if the work is interesting, and if I can continue to keep my wife in the manner to which she’s become accustomed)

For me, there’s three things that office showers make possible:

  • Lunchtime Workouts
  • Bike Commuting
  • Jeans
  • Lunchtime Workouts Bring a sandwich to eat while crunching tasking, and when office chatter dies down, strap on the sneakers and bang out 3 or 4 miles. Shower and seated back at the desk in 45 minutes with the patience to be productive at an afternoon conference call.

    Bike Commuting There are people like Bikeyface who can ride to work on elegant commuter bikes wearing real clothes. Part of me wishes I was one of them. But part of me also likes living in the semi-burbs / semi-rural / semi-forgotten wilds of eastern Connecticut providing scenery for the folks on the Acela or the United Express connector between Logan and LGA. Free-range chickens and children are passions of mine. I’m even tempted to move into one of the cool 19th century houses in New London, ‘cept I’ve still got kids in public school.

    Plus, I sweat. A Lot.

    So, the work shower is key. Ride in, shower off, look and smell good, with the glow of smugness that comes from a workout before coffee.

    Jeans Being an engineer is interesting. It’s a profession, for sure, but it doesn’t come with a lot of the trappings of other professions, like having to wear matching clothes or ties. But, unless you’re crazy brilliant* or doing real field work**, it really is expected that you’ll wear slacks and a shirt with buttons. Ironing used to be expected, but modern no-iron fabrics are a miracle.

    I prefer to commute in jeans and sneakers when I drive. So, having a shower and locker at the office means that I’ve got a place to change when I get to the office, so even when I leave the house looking like it’s Saturday morning and I’m not planning on seeing anyone, I can be showered, shaved, and pressed about 5 minutes after getting to the office, and can change again for little league, scouts, or soccer before I leave the office.

    * I’ve met many, many “crazy brilliant” engineers. Folks who are  quite literally the smartest dude in the room on some obscure but critical nugget of how to make something work. Most of them appear mostly normal, but there have been a couple who have either given up on appearance and hygiene, or who occupy another astral plane in which their area of expertise is easy but things like clothes and food aren’t, strictly speaking, necessary.

    ** “Real Field Work” is why I like being an engineer***. Because everyone loves trucks and cranes and towers and engines and loud stuff and explosives and the smell of diesel and being out in the weather and the beauty of seeing an idea actually come to fruition. But it’s hell on clothes. Usually, as an engineer, you can get away with wearing jeans any time you have to wear steel toed boots; however, I’ve found it’s usually cheaper to treat khaki pants and polo shirts as semi-disposable than it is to do that with good denim.

    *** “Real Field Work” is made more enjoyable because it’s an interlude to office and lab work. The men and women who are out there every day are made of much, much sterner stuff than I am.