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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Weight A Moment
As a more experienced cyclist totally smoked me this morning, disappearing into the distance, for the second day in a row, I've started to seriously think about weight. Why am I so exhausted when I ride? Why are my tyres, which are fully pumped, sagging on contact with the road?
I have to be real with myself and answer that it's to do with my weight. When I was at university, I used to play at least an hour of Ultimate Frisbee every evening out on the lawn in front of New Hall. I was stick thin. My teenage years were certainly a time when I was at a healthy weight. As a child, I was always fairly chubby, probably because we had "tuck" every day from the tuck shop and also if we behaved at home, we were allowed a piece of chocolate after dinner. Once I started training to be a Rabbi, some of the weight gain started and I remember that in my first 6 months of Rabbinic life, I gained a stone (14lbs) in weight. The heaviest I've ever been is 204 lbs, which is 14 1/2 stone.
Even though I now haven't eaten chocolate in many years, I've been overweight especially since Jenny became pregnant with Zafra. I comfort ate with her because it was convenient and I've never shed the many pounds I gained at that time. When she became pregnant with Asher, I did it again. Then moving to America two yeas ago, where so much has added sugar and where all the portions are much larger, resulted in around another significant weight gain. So, today I weigh 194 lbs, or 13 lbs 12 oz.
When I did my last large bike ride, I was around 20lbs lighter, and I notice it now when I'm out on the bike. Interestingly, when I trained for that last ride four years ago, I didn't lose a pound in weight, probably because I was converting fat to muscle. I'm fairly certain, though, that I should be able to do both now. My BMI is 27.1, which puts me right in the middle of the "overweight" category.
I know I'm overweight. I hide it well with loose clothing so many people don't realise, but I am. It's better than it has been in the past, which was apparently "borderline obese," but if I'm going to cycle 100 miles, I need to shed the pounds. The more I weigh, the harder it will be to cycle because more energy must be spent moving a larger mass. It really is that simple. And I know that the biggest part of losing weight is mental discipline, something which I really have lacked in the past when it comes to food. I acknowledge that this is an area I need to work on.
And the simplest first step is to make more sensible choices. As lovely as some foods may be, they are not my friends. Like Trader Joe's Vanilla Joe-Joes. They are really, ridiculously addictive, but they are not my friend. Even the humble bagel, slathered in cream cheese, is not an ideal companion on this journey. People often talk about "everything in moderation" but I know that I'm addicted to sugar. I thought I was addicted to chocolate, which is why I gave it up years ago, but in truth I'm addicted to sugar.  And I'm not alone - millions of people worldwide are the same.... http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/08/sugar/cohen-text)
I have been addicted to sugar since childhood and the consequences of that are very clear now.
One of the things I remember from the last bike ride was that eggs fill me up. They are eggstremely healthy (sorry!) and low in sugar. I know that I need to eat more eggs. I love eggs. Just like Mr Strong here from my childhood, who apparently seems to be making an obscene gesture in this picture. Maybe he's staring obesity in the face and telling it what he thinks of it...
As I've said before, a lot of bicycle training is mental. I have to make more conscious food choices, including on Shabbat. I always used to joke that there are no calories on Shabbat but that's actually not funny. We're meant to enjoy ourselves on Shabbat but that's different to poisoning ourselves and I've definitely been doing that with all the sugary foods I've been known to eat on Shabbat. Thankfully, at Temple Beth Shalom the selection at our oneg has become healthier and healthier in recent months at my request, but when there's sugar on the table the temptation for "just a little one" is too high. Then I go back for a little more, and then a little more, until suddenly I realise (as I did last week) that I've eaten half a cheesecake.
So, my progress today isn't in cycling, but in mental attitude. I need to lose weight to make this bike ride much easier, and to do that I need to take control of what I eat. That is why, while typing out this blog entry, I munched on...

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Passing a Milestone

As you will have seen from my last post, I have started to worry a little that I'm not cycling far enough on each ride. With only ten or so weeks remaining before the big ride, I've only been able to cycle 10 miles at a time. It is said that if you can cycle half the distance during practice then you'll be able to cycle the full distance on the day. By that reckoning, I will currently only be able to cycle twenty miles, instead of the full 100.

Week 5's schedule was clear - 10 miles on Tuesday, 10 on Wednesday, 15 on Friday and 30 on Sunday. Instead of the first ten miles I did 5, although I did get to do the second ten. Thursday night was a tough night for me so Friday's ride wasn't possible, and I was immensely frustrated. So this morning I tried to at least get in my first 15 mile ride (instead of the 30 on the training schedule).

I set off later than usual and my legs were sluggish. I knew that this wasn't going to be a record-breaking ride. It was interesting how much warmer the temperature was as compared with my normal rides and it reminded me that closer to the ride itself I'm going to have to do some heat training. I'm not used to temperatures like this. The first five miles I covered in 22:36, a good minute and a half off my personal best. But then I found my groove and got stuck in and, to my surprise, I finished off 10 miles in 43:35, which meant that my second ten miles had shattered my 5-mile PB at 20:59. This was now my new 10-mile PB, if only by 9 seconds!

I set off for the third leg and found it hard going. But for the first time in over four years, I was able to cycle for over an hour, and completed my first 15-miles in 1:07:30. This is a major milestone for me. I appreciate that my training schedule is harassing me to be at 30 miles by now and that I'm well below that, but at the end of the 15 I felt like I could probably go on and do 20. I didn't because I had to go home, shower, have breakfast and then get into work for the Ritual Forum.

A lot of cycling distance is mental. I know that I can theoretically cycle 70 or so miles because I did for the Rabbis' Relay Ride back in England four years ago. Of course, there it was cooler, at much lower-altitude where the air was easier to use, and I was healthier back then. In particular, I was about 20 lbs lighter. That makes a difference - the more I weigh, the more effort I have to put into shifting my bulk. But mentally I'm not there yet, as well as physically. Now, though, I have no excuse not to cycle 15 miles as a minimum for each practice ride. Interestingly, week 6's schedule has two 10-mile rides, one 15-mile ride and a 35-mile ride, a total of 70 miles. That's not going to happen. If I can do 10, 15, 15 and 20 this week - a total of 60 miles - I'll be making real progress.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Training Highs and Lows So Far

I spent a while looking online at century bike ride training schedules and found one that was 16 weeks long, which is ideal because the Tour of Acoma is 16 weeks away. I printed it off and took it home in preparation.

The first week I just wanted to see what it was like being out on the bike. I cycled two miles, instead of the thirty that the schedule demanded. I think it was assuming I was fitter than I am. Truth is, though, that this isn't just about physical fitness but also about mental preparation, and I found it difficult to get up especially early in the morning, particularly on mornings following when I've been out trying to scare coyotes away from our property!

Week 2's schedule asked for two 5-mile rides, a 10-mile ride and a 20-mile ride. I did my first five miles in 29 minutes. I was totally wiped out. I actually sat in a bath for half an hour afterwards. It's really different cycling at altitude. I know I've lived here for two years so walking around is fine, but exercising at altitude is different. And I came to realise exactly how unfit I am. The next day I went out again and shaved three minutes off my time. Although the schedule asked for ten miles on Wednesday, I just did five, in 27 minutes and then the following day I did another five in 27 minutes again. So the schedule asked for 40 miles and I did 20, which is at least progress.

I'm very lucky in terms of route. From my house to Desert Academy is exactly 2.5 miles, so there and back is 5, and it's a nice ride in the morning. I'm behind schedule at this point, but I'm making progress.

Week 3 asked for 5 miles on Tuesday, 10 on Wednesday, 10 on Friday and 25 on Sunday. I'm finding the Sunday rides difficult to fit in because of work. Because I didn't do a Sunday ride last week, I go out on Monday and decide to try 10 miles. I'm flying after 5 miles and shave my PB (personal best) down to 25 minutes. I'm starting to notice that I'm getting fitter. I start my second lap and after about two miles my back tyre gets a massive puncture. Really frustrating. It's fixed by the end of the day so on Tuesday, I decide to attempt 10 miles, and smash my 5-mile PB with 21:33, and set my first 10-mile PB at 43:44. That's the longest I've cycled in four years. Thursday I try again and get 22:14 and 45:12. It's not a brilliant ride but it's another ten miles on the schedule. 25 miles cycled this week - slow progress because the schedule asked for 50, but at least it's progress. Every time I go out for a ride now, Asher says he's happy that I don't get a puncture.

Week 4 asked for less - 30 miles - but work, allergies and fatigue meant it was a very lean week - two five mile rides (23:06 and 22:40). The first one my head was in totally the wrong place. I finished the first five and really pushed myself to go onto the second. Less than half a mile in, I changed gears on a hill and the chain came off. I took it as a sign, fixed the chain, and walked back home.

Now I'm onto week 5 of training. By now the schedule suggests 65 miles this week. That's a lot of miles considering that my maximum so far has been 25. This week, I pull out the cycling gear that I wore for my bike ride 34 years ago. It helps mentally to look the part!
On Monday I once again smashed my 5-mile PB with 21:21, and this morning I cut it down again to 21:00 exactly, and matched my 10-mile 43:44 PB.

5 mile times
10 mile times

I take some comfort from this chart. In four weeks, I've been able to take 8 minutes off my 5-mile time, that's 28% off the original time. If I can do that for the 10-mile and then the 15-mile rides, I'll be in good shape in ten weeks' time.

In theory, tomorrow is meant to be a 15-mile ride, and for the first time this morning I felt like I would be able to do that. In fact, there are no more 5-mile rides in the schedule at all - 10 is the minimum from now on, so that's the PB I really need to be focusing on. I also need to start doing the longer rides. This week's long ride is suggested at 30 miles, but that's not going to happen. If I can do my first 15 tomorrow and then maybe another 15 on Sunday, that would be a total of 45 miles this week, which would be a big jump. That said, I’m aware that I’m really going to have to step up my game here.

Total Miles on Schedule
Total Miles Cycled
15 so far…

I think this schedule assumed that I was fitter than I am. Next week it's going to be asking for 70 miles in total and I'm going to have to start doing more than 50% of what it asks. Revd Ben Larzelere, who is hoping to be joining me on the ride, says that if you cycle 250 miles before a Century, you should be fine. He might be right - I've so far cycled 67 miles and I know I'm not ready. The total on the schedule is 1045! I'm rather hoping that Ben is right...!


In our morning service, we thank God for the wonder of our bodies in a prayer known as n’kavim n’kavim and follow it by a prayer thanking God for returning our souls to us each morning (elohai n’shama). Body and soul are separated in our liturgy and as a result it can be easy for us as Jews to disconnect body and soul. Even a Rabbi splits the two off in the Talmud:

Rav Huna said to his son, Rabbah, “Why are you not to be found before Rav Hisda, whose dicta are so keen?” “What should I go to him for,” he answered, “seeing that when I go to him, he treats me to secular discourses?... He talks of health matters.” He exclaimed, “And you call them secular discourses! All the more reason for going to him!”[1]

While still alluding to a differentiation between body and soul, 12th century Moses Maimonides made it clear that a healthy body is essential for a healthy soul:
“Since by keeping the body in health and vigor, one walks in the ways of God – it being impossible during sickness to have any understanding or knowledge of the Creator – it is a person’s duty to avoid whatever is injurious to the body, and cultivate habits conducive to health and vigor.”[2]
As profoundly moving the Rabbinate can be, it is not a healthy profession. Rabbis tend to either sit a lot (for example, when meeting people or when studying) or they stand still a lot (such as when teaching or leading prayers). We eat a lot, too, especially when celebrating Shabbat or festivals. I have come to realise that during my Rabbinate so far that I have forgotten, to paraphrase Rav Kook, that we have holy flesh no less than holy spirit. I intend to change that and for the community to benefit from this change.

It is therefore my intention to complete the Tour of Acoma, a 100-mile bike ride on September 18th 2016. It has been four years since I cycled properly and I have never faced an endurance challenge like this for a number of reasons – (1) I have never been this unfit before, (2) I have never cycled this far before, (3) I am asthmatic, (4) I have never cycled at this kind of temperature before, (5) I have never cycled at this altitude before. If I am to do this, I need your serious support. The biggest way you can help me while training and on the actual day itself is to sponsor me per mile cycled. The more I raise for the Temple, the more likely I will be to finish this challenge.

My hope is to become much healthier for my benefit, for the community’s benefit and also to raise funds for the community at the same time. I will, essentially, be changing pounds into dollars, and yes, I believe that joke alone deserves at least some kind of sponsorship! This is without doubt the hardest physical and mental challenge I have ever faced, and I really hope that members of the community and beyond will sponsor me accordingly.
You will be able to follow my training exploits here, learn more about how to sponsor me and just send general words of encouragement on this blog.

[1] Talmud: Shabbat 82a
[2] Maimonides, Book of Knowledge, Laws Relating to Moral Dispositions and Ethical Conduct, Law 1.