A routine physical exam and blood work with my local physician showed a number of things occurring in my body, which had the potential to reduce my “number of heartbeats” forever. Elevated liver enzymes and cholesterol were a direct result of my slovenly lifestyle and poor eating habits. An abdominal ultrasound even showed fatty deposits in my liver due to my weight gain.
“Maybe”, I thought, “I should rethink that old worn out motto of mine, because it sure as hell isn’t going to help me live to a ripe old age.”
I knew that I hated to run, and I ain’t the world’s greatest swimmer. So what to do to melt away the fat? Pilates? Tae Bo perhaps?
One day in February 2009 I happened to stumble across a book called 'Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to doing a 180'. A very catchy title, with an even catchier front page picture of a naked obese man, sitting in a racing position on his road bike. Roll upon roll of fat for all the world to see. Intrigued, I decided to read the book.
The author, Mike Magnusson, tells a very humorous autobiographical story of how he re-discovered a passion for cycling and bike racing. Upon embarking on his quest to become the next Lance Armstrong he was, funnily enough, 38 years old, weighed nearly 275 pounds and was dropped over and over again during the local bike club’s evening rides. A year later he weighed in at 175 pounds and had become one of the stronger riders and racers in the club.
It was an epiphany.
So to make a long story short, I was introduced to a guy named Russell. A mad genius of sorts who had all kinds of questions during my attempt to buy my first new bike. What do you want to do with the bike? Where do you plan to ride it? What is your personal riding style? What are your strengths and weaknesses as a rider? Do you want bar end shifters? Regular pedals or clipless? Are you a Shimano guy or a Campy guy? Huh???!!
Since then, I have found that when riding a bicycle it becomes part of you. An extension of your body; so you and the bicycle must fit. I get it now, but back then I didn’t. Why couldn’t I just buy a bike and get on with it. Alas I was just a grasshopper who had much to learn.
So, questions answered; bicycle fitting accomplished. My trusty new stead was ready to roll. A black, (& gold), Surly Crosscheck. A beautiful piece of machinery that helped me in shedding my first 30 pounds. But then another light bulb went off!
I live in Clear Lake, but work in Mason City. There is a nice bike path between those two towns. Maybe I could become one of those hippy bike commuters and save the world while burning fat not oil! Yet another way to shed pounds and be productive with my time on the bike. And so bicycle number two was purchased. Another Surly Crosscheck (this time in a dashing “dog-shit” brown color), front and rear fenders and a rack on the back to carry my wares.
Off I went almost every day; back and forth to work I’d go. Averaging nearly 200 to 250 miles per week between commuting and weekend rides. In fact I found myself thinking of excuses to go to the office on the weekends so I could ride my bike even more!
So I got to thinking... Other than the fact that I was quickly losing weight and starting to feel fitter as every week passed, what else did I like about riding a bicycle? For some it might be the feeling of freedom that being on your bike gives you; for others it’s a way to get out and enjoy the local scenery. For me, it was speed. I liked going fast. As fast as my weak little legs and crappy cardiovascular system could take me. If I saw someone on a bike ahead of me I was like a donkey with a carrot on the end of a stick. (I’d like to say I was a greyhound chasing a rabbit, but there aren’t too many 200+ pound greyhounds out there!) I may never catch them, but it gave me a goal to aim at.
Something that had been dormant for a long time had awoken within me. Competitiveness. The desire to be the fastest. To be first. To crush my opponents into the ground. (Even if they were 60 year old ladies riding a bike with a basket on the front!) I thought those days had ended in high school and college, but apparently it still existed in me, squished under all that fat. It was resurfacing as the fat faded.
So my next question for Russell was, “How can I go faster?”
In general terms he proceeded to let me know that you could own and ride the world’s lightest road bike, but if you didn’t have the “engine” to make it run you would be wasting your money.
Away I went again starting on another round of my education into the world of cycling. VO2 Max, heart rate and power training zones, power to weight ratios, weight training, nutrition, proper recovery and sleep routines, and on and on and on.
With all of this information I continued to work hard at losing the pounds, but also worked in ways to develop the “engine” I needed to deserve a proper road bike.
When I finally got a “real” road bike, it was a completely different experience. Stiff frame, clean lines, squirrely underneath you as you accelerate away. A carbon fiber and titanium work of art that weighs next to nothing. Just sitting on it makes me feel fast.
I’m now down to 160 pounds. My power to weight ratio improved from 2.4 to 4.3 watts per kg, and my average power output during a 10 minute time trial has increased from 230 watts to 305 watts. Those are not exactly Fabian Cancellara numbers, but a decent start I hope! More than anything though I feel like I am in the best shape of my life - thanks to my bike!
So where were we? Oh yeah. Weight loss. Check. Cardiovascular fitness in development. Check. Road bike. Check. Desire to race other things that move. Check.
So where and when to start my bike racing career as a lowly Cat 5 racer?
My buddy, and business partner, Dr. Todd “The Ironman Cometh” Juhlin told me I should sign up for the Iowa City Road Race. “It’s a great course and what the heck you might as well do the criterium too!” he suggests.
So sign up I did. April 24th, 2010 is D-Day. The day to put my pedals where my mouth is so to speak. But first I had to check out the course I had signed up to crucify myself on. So last weekend my wife and I made a trip down to the big metropolis that is Sharon Center, Iowa.
Beautiful countryside down there. Beautiful rolling hills. Lots and lots of steep.........rolling..........hills! *Gulp* A 13 mile course of rolling hills with the obligatory fresh 15 to 20 mile per hour westerly wind. *Double Gulp*! Isn’t Iowa supposed to be a “flat” state??? I mean if you haven’t noticed, North Central Iowa doesn’t have too many rolling hills. So few are good hills around here that the best of the bunch even has it’s own name; Breathless.
So I clambered upon the road bike and set off to test my legs, and get a feel for the course. It really is a very pretty region of Iowa, but I have the distinct feeling that my legs and lungs will be experiencing too much pain come April 24rd to enjoy the scenery as we pass it. Although I obviously wasn’t riding at a race pace, I felt great as I made my way around the 13 mile circuit.
I have to say I’m excited, anxious, and nervous. I have no idea how well I’ll do, but I’m ready to rumble! (Maybe after the first lap I’ll feel differently, but hopefully not!)
“Just don’t crash and break something, (especially not my bike), and just don’t be last!”, is my new motto. Way better than my old motto don’t you think?
Wish me luck! Now I gotta go out to Breathless and punish myself some more....