Sunday, May 20, 2012

Foodies Ride Bikes, Too!

From road races to street fairs, and even a commencement ceremony or two - there was a lot going on in Cleveland today. A little more than an hour away from Cleveland, there was a time trial for cyclists - and that's where I was.

My day started around 5:20 AM with a reluctant tap to my snooze bar, only to get up about a minute later. I tried to eat something light, but my nerves wouldn't let me. I nursed my protein shake and got ready to go. Jeff wasn't racing today but has signed up as my coach, so he woke up with me and we headed out to Deerfield. When we got closer to the race location, the car became much quieter. I asked Jeff if I shouldn't talk so I could "get in the game". He shrugged. A few miles from the race start point, we started to see cyclists warming up.

The Eastern Ohio Time Trial Series takes place in Deerfield, Ohio. There is one race per month, and there are categories for various types of bikes/cyclists. The aero category is for cyclists who have aerodynamic equipment such as helmets, aero bars, and time trial bicycles. They tend to be the fastest, and have the most interesting bicycle components. Aero cyclists are grouped by age. There are standard categories for males and females - you would be in this category if you had a basic bicycle with no aero components. There are no age groups, for standard cyclists. There are also fixed gear and tandem categories, which are self explanatory.

I ride in the "Standard" category at this point. It's possible that several years down the road, I may end up in the aerodynamic category, but only after I myself become a bit more aerodynamic! A friend of mine once said that her husband told her that if she wanted a 15 pound bike, she could lose five pounds. Some might balk at this advice/jibe - but I feel it to be true. If you've got any weight to lose, take care of that first before spending thousands on your bicycle.

The point of this blog entry was not to lecture you on how to choose a bicycle, though. I just wanted to share my thought process when preparing for a race.

The Hype

Not so many years ago, I was a couch potato. To look back at the things I used to eat and (not) do is both amusing, and scary. My favorite food used to be Bagel Bites. I'd drink several cans of soda a day. I rarely cooked, and had an odd fetish for a certain nationwide pizza chain. When I first bought a bicycle, I couldn't go a mile without wanting to throw up.

I used to think this was a hill:

I figured out how wrong I was about two years later, when I moved to Cleveland. I didn't really know a whole lot about cycling, and after one season of hilly bike tours - realized I'd been riding in my middle ring the whole time. When I figured this out, it made stuff like this, a LOT easier:

...And this isn't even what I'd consider to be "hilly". 2007-me would have probably collapsed, two miles in. It's both amazing and amusing to me, what I can do now compared to what I could do then.

I cannot help but bring this up to people. Richard Simmons can't help but advocate exercise because he KNOWS - he used to weigh 268 pounds. If you ask me what you should do to get fit and lose weight, I'd tell you to get your butt on a bicycle - whether you cruise around the neighborhood or eventually graduate to doing crit races. It's fun. It's crazy good for you.

So yeah, I brag a little.

"What am I doing this weekend? Why, I'm doing a time trial." I'll say to friends/co-workers. Not because I'm an elitist ass, it's because sometimes I can't even believe I'm saying it, or actually doing it - but I am. I used to go nowhere fast, and now I'm going fast - in the middle of nowhere!

 Sometimes I'll add my PR into the conversation and say I'm hoping for a new PR this season (my current is an average of 18.25 MPH, which is still mighty slow in the company I keep during those races). Heck, 15 MPH is impressive if you don't know any better - and that's how horrible I was last year. It was raining, I was not as in shape as I was for that PR.

The Fear

It wouldn't matter if it was 72 degrees outside with no clouds or wind, I tend to try and psych myself out the morning of a race. Maybe the humidity is too high, or my head hurts. It doesn't have to make sense, and to be fair I've never actually chickened out - but I will try to convince myself that I can't do the race. I don't usually shake this feeling until I'm about a mile in and get past the initial muscle ache of pushing my limits. Then and only then, do I make the realization that I can - and AM doing the race.

The Reality

Just like the truth, it can hurt a little. My muscles ache and scream out for protein by the time I'm finished. Depending on where the bike tour/race is, I could very possibly be covered in a layer of filth. My throat tends to get dry on races, because I'm breathing heavier - but damn if it isn't worth it. I love, LOVE how it feels to complete a bike tour or race. I may not get a medal, but I finished something I wouldn't have ever dreamed of only a few years ago. It's a pretty awesome feeling.

Today, I averaged about 17.35 miles per hour over 12.7-ish miles. Not a PR, but one heck of a lot better than 15 and that's good enough for me, for now. I didn't ride "in the drops" today, which would have made me significantly faster. Jeff suggested that I might have gotten a new PR today had I done so. I'm not used to it, and really should be for the shorter, faster rides.

Riding in the drops means your hands are on the lower part of the handlebar, and your body assumes a more aerodynamic position.

Lucky for me, there's another race next month and another chance at a PR. I've already promised myself a new tattoo if I can accomplish this, so I might be coming to see you soon, Voodoo Monkey!

If you ride a bike and want to see how fast you can go, I would recommend giving this time trial a look. There are riders of all ages and abilities, and 100% of the proceeds go to the Portage County Park District.

Long live Cleveland + Clevelanders!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Doing Cleveland Right

Long after the cards and flowers of Valentine’s Day were gone and forgotten, Cleveland Chef Michael Symon wrote a love letter of his own – expressing his undying love and commitment to the city that many of us know and love – Cleveland.

Chef Symon fondly recalls his childhood around Cleveland with his Grandparents, and even about his teenage years where he spent hiding from Cleveland in the suburbs – in the “wide world of vanilla” and the regret he inevitably felt upon leaving. It was then that he truly began to appreciate the many flavors of Cleveland.

If you haven’t headed over to Huffington Post to read Symon’s letter in its entirety, it’s worth the read whether you live here, or are simply a curious bystander.

I mentioned the letter to a friend of mine living in Columbus who, when quoting Symon’s last paragraph said “Cleveland is like a woman you’d date for who she is, not what she looks like.”. While I can see how someone who has never been to Cleveland could make that sort of jibe about a place they’ve never been, I had to disagree. While the city does have a lot to offer in music, food, culture and small businesses, and yes…Sports – Cleveland IS beautiful.

When Chef Symon’s letter first appeared on Huffington Post, there were only a few comments. One commenter stated that he was very annoyed with Symon’s restaurant, Melt.

“But anyone that goes to Melt, waits an hour to eat, and then realizes the best thing about that place is the beer selection, will agree with me.”

Many readers were quick to defend Symon and sing the praises of his actual restaurants (for those not in the know, Melt Bar and Grilled is headed by Matt Fish, and is WAY more than grilled cheese).

Another commenter said, “cleveland sucks! Can't wait to get out!” to which I quipped,

You’re doing it wrong.

I have a hard time believing that anyone living in, or visiting Cleveland could be so repulsed that they felt compelled to leave post haste if they could only have the chance to take in some of the many things that are completely amazing here. I wonder, has that guy ever had the duck fat fries at Bar Cento? Has he ever been to an Alley Cat Friday or Record Store Day at Music Saves? Did he ever consider going on a ride with Cleveland Critical Mass? Probably not. I simply cannot believe for a second that the commenters above are even trying to enjoy any of these things - or anything else Cleveland has to offer.

How do you “do Cleveland right”?