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Sunday, 31 July 2016

It's the Shoes, Stupid!

I haven't cycled properly now for two weeks. There was the quick 2 mile ride to Temple a week ago, which was met with a rather nice round of applause, but that's not really the kind of ride I should be doing right now - the minimum distance should be 15 miles. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to because of the serious knee pain that I've been suffering. During my last 30-mile ride, at about 15 miles I was struck by a serious pain in both knees, but my left knee in particular. I decided to ride through it and within a couple of miles it was gone. I finished the thirty miles well. A day later, though, I was in pain and it just remained. I posted on Facebook and there were lots of suggestions, particularly including ice. After a week of suffering I decided to follow people's advice and go and talk to the people at REI.

Here was the challenge. I've done a bike ride before - not 100 miles but still sizeable - and I never had knee pain then. So what was causing it this time? The first suggestion was predictable - the seat position must have been wrong. But even with a Transatlantic move, the seat hasn't shifted at all, so that can't be it.
"What shoes are you wearing?" asks the nice man at REI.
"These," I say, looking down.
 "Are you serious?" he says
"Well, that's the source of your pain. Are you getting pain on the very ball of your feet as well?"
"Actually, yes I am!" I say surprised, as though I didn't think this guy would know exactly what he was talking about. So he shows me shoes and I'm rather surprised to be looking at $100 for a pair of shoes plus another $70 for pedals plus another $30 or so for cleats. There are three parts to cycling shoes - pedals, shoes and the cleats which connect the two. I tell him I'm going to have to go and think about this. He suggests that until I buy shoes that I go to Wallgreens and buy their clay cooling and heating pad, because it's the best one there is. I try to see whether icing the knee will just solve this problem.

Of course, even if the ice fixes it, there's still the issue of what shoes to use the next time I ride. I'm quite afraid of clipping in to a bicycle because I can only imagine that I'll not be able to put my foot down and will topple over. But a number of people have been talking about clipping in because it makes you go so much faster and because effort is expended pulling up as well as pushing down. Still, the comedy possibilities of falling over because I'm attached to my bike are low and the wounding possibilities high, and I could really do without any more injury. Around this time, I remember the game Whirly Wheelers, which we used to play every time we went to my Grandma's house. The best thing about that game was watching their little legs go, because they were pulling up as well as pushing down. Was I going to become a Whirly Wheeler?

In a couple of days, someone from Temple Beth Shalom explains that there's a road bike at their house that gets used by a family member for the Santa Fe Century. It's road-ready and already has clips. I pick the bike up and it's perfect, complete with pedals, thereby saving me $70 or so. This is happening.

When I return to the cycle section at REI, there's a different guy serving and I explain to him about the knee pain and my shoes. "You're wearing THOSE?!?" he asks incredulously, looking at my feet. I'm rather embarrassed by now. He shows me through the choices of shoes - there are 3 to choose from - and then very honestly tells me that their selection of shoes isn't very good and that I should look elsewhere in Santa Fe. I'm very impressed with his honesty, so I take a look at their gloves to see if at least their prices there are competitive. The gloves are on sale so that's promising. I go to Bike and Sport right next to Trader Joes, which is a really excellent shop. I tally up the cost of what's to come and I hesitate. Again, with remarkable honesty, the man there tells me that he's there to sell me things. If I want, I could go elsewhere and buy a nice pair of trainers/sneakers that would be fine to use for the century and then at all other times. However, if I want to go quickly, and if I'm thinking of cycling long-distances again, then I should consider clips. After a while, I make an important life choice and buy shoes and cleats.


Ray at Bike and Sport then gives me a free lesson on how to ride a road bike, how to use the gears, how to sit, etc. He measures me up and discovers that the seat is a little far forward and the bike is a little too long, so he reduces the length of the handlebars. He discovers that when I cycle I'm slightly bow-legged, which may also contribute to the pain. He shifts the cleats so that my feet are further under my knees. He shows me how to unclip myself from the pedal and it's much, much easier than everybody was making out. He describes me as a natural, which is always nice to hear. This is happening. I'm going to bloody fly.

I look at the gloves at Bike and Sport and they're at full price, so I head back to REI, where, incidentally, I have a brief conversation with Presidential hopeful Gary Johnson. It's rather wonderful because just the night before I've read the entire Libertarian Platform and I had some questions that I really wanted to ask Gary Johnson. It turns out that Gary, who apparently finds smiling difficult, is a regular at REI. He's a big fitness buff. So, I ask him my core question that challenges his platform and he's clearly taking aback because he's not ever considered it. He says he'll think about it and I give him my card in the hope that he might tell me the outcome of his thoughts.

So I buy some gloves, which are essential not just because they're padded and will protect my hands from wear, but also because it's very easy for the hands to catch lots of sun and the last thing I need is sunburn.

So, after two weeks off the bike, I'm about to try to learn how to ride an entirely different bike. New bike, new clips, new gloves. The knee is still sore but I'm hoping it's essentially better - I have ice on it at the moment. Even without exercise for two weeks, though, my new sensible eating regime has continued to help and I've now lost a total of 9lbs in weight since starting. People have even started commenting on how much weight I've lost, which is nice. And even nicer, some of the members of the Temple have been inspired by my weight loss to attempt their own.

So, I've lost time - two whole weeks of training. And before going on a big bike ride again I'm going to have to get used to the road bike and to being clipped in, but I'm ready. I've got 7 weeks left until the bike ride. I can't wait to see how different it is to ride a road bike and to be clipped in. One of two things is going to happen - either I'm going to soar or I'm going to fall and seriously hurt myself. Let's see....
If you haven't yet done so, please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/655G575 to sponsor me.

Friday, 22 July 2016


I'm in pain. Proper pain. Two Sundays ago I did a great ride with Ben Larzelere for thirty miles. We sailed through it and I would have gone further had I not been teaching later that morning. The following Sunday, I had set myself thirty-five or forty miles as the target for that week's big ride. After ten miles I was going well but at about fifteen miles both knees started hurting. I mean, really hurting. I thought I might have to stop. I nonetheless decided to cycle on and after another few miles the pain went away. I finished the first twenty-mile lap in very good time and decided to do five mile loops just to add onto the total gradually. During the 20-25 loop, I realized that I was slowing down and that my knees were starting to hurt. During the following five, I realized that I was almost at a crawl and my knees were hurting more. Cyclists were racing past me. I had to stop. True, I did cycle thirty miles and that's a good distance but the fact that I couldn't cycle further was concerning.

The next ride was meant to be on Tuesday but I was really unwell and needed to stay in bed for a little longer. Wednesday was also meant to be fifteen miles but once again I needed to stay in bed. My thinking was that at least if I got a few days rest, not only would I feel better but my knees would be able to recuperate. Maybe I was overdoing it.

Today (Friday), I was meant to go out for 15 miles but decided to do a casual 10. The first five were done in good time again - 22:54, which is only about a minute off my personal best. As I set off on the second five, though, I started to feel twinges in my knees. By the end of the ten miles, I was in pain again.

Usually when I ride, I feel great afterwards. Today, I'm in pain. Both knees are properly hurting, and that was only after ten miles. I'm starting to feel like I may have bitten off more than I can chew with a century ride. The pain last Sunday was crippling and I really don't want to have to chug down painkillers just to finish this race.

Suddenly, I'm starting to feel middle-aged. I was 37 years old when I did my last long ride but now, four years on, I feel older. I'm also heavier than I was then, although since training I've lost 5-6lbs, which is definitely progress. The hope was that the less I weighed, the easier this ride would be, especially on my knees, but that seems not to be the case. It's possible that someone might be able to lend me a road bike before the race and that will mean less energy will need to be exerted per mile simply because of the design of the bike. That should also help my knees.

I won't deny, though, that today I'm worried. I'm meant to be cycling 40 miles on Sunday and right now that idea scares me a little simply because of the pain in my knees. I'm going to plod on for now but I can't help but think that I might have to go and see a doctor - and those who know me know that I very rarely go and see doctors unless I think there's something really wrong.

I've even started looking online at how to address knee pain from cycling, although I end up finding pictures like the one above with the cyclist with the painful knee and the disturbingly large head and hands. I'm not sure if that's a site for people or for Roswell-based cycling aliens.

All joking aside, though, this is a worrying time. I've totaled 260 miles in training so far but I now feel like I'm going backwards.
If you haven't yet done so, please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/655G575 to sponsor me. I'm going to need all the support I can get.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Why Am I So Tired?

The obvious answer to this question is because I don't sleep enough. In fact, I go to bed late after working on my book and I get up early with the kids and sometimes I spend time in between awake and chasing coyotes. So, I know that I don't sleep enough.

 But I finished a 15-mile bike ride the other day and I was exhausted, as you can see in this picture. By now in my training, 15 miles should be a perfectly acceptable ride. So, what's going on?

When I started this training, Neil Lyon, a member of the community who apart from being a mensch also has a wonderful first name, asked if I had a road bike. I said that I did. Six or so weeks later, I mentioned to him that my suspension had stared squeaking. "You don't have suspension," he said. "I do," I replied. "No, you don't," he retorted. I didn't know what to say, so I took a photo of the suspension on my bicycle. His reply was clear, "You don't have a road bike."

Ah. Sometimes we're divided by a common language. What he calls a road bike, I call a racing bike. What I call a road bike, he called a cyclo-cross bike. When he realized what I had been riding, in typical dramatic fashion he said that he needed to go and lie down because he was so exhausted thinking about how much effort I must put in moving this bike along the road.

I've always ridden mountain bikes and cross-bikes. I have a bad left knee that hurts and suspension ensures that it doesn't. It can be so painful that I had to give up my lovely Nissan Almera because the clutch was too heavy on my left knee. Without suspension, I genuinely worry that I'll hurt that knee. So, Neil has offered to try to find me a suitable sized "road bike." I'm not sure, though - I'm used to a bulkier bike for balance. I worry that with a road bike I'll come off and hurt myself

Moreover, I can't help noticing that even on the same bike, my times are getting slower. Time doesn't really matter per se - if you cycle 100 miles then you cycle 100 miles. But, if the times are dropping then that's evidence that I'm getting fitter. But they're not - over the last two weeks they've been getting steadily longer for the same ride. So, it's not necessarily about the bike.

I started to get concerned. Maybe I'm really not going to finish this race. Have I bitten off more than I could chew? Then I remembered something very important from my last (shorter) bike ride - how much easier it was with company.

If you don't know Ben Larzelere, then you're missing out. Ben is a retired Lutheran minister who is loved by very many members of Temple Beth Shalom. He comes to services often, and has been called Rabbi Ben by people for many years, which was slightly confusing for me when I started because the community already had Rabbi Ben Morrow, who is an actual Rabbi. Early in my training, I got in touch with Ben and asked him if he wanted to spend an entire day in interfaith dialogue with me, discussing spirituality, comparative religion, etc. There were provisos, though. It had to be on September 18th in Acoma on bicycles for 100 miles. Having cycled all across the country, Ben agreed.

Last weekend, I cycled 20 miles by myself and came home in 1 hour and 46 minutes, and I was rather pleased with that. That was the longest I had done so far in this training. This morning, though, I asked Ben is he would like to join me for 25 miles. We met at 6am because I had a 9am adult banot mitzvah class. As we cycled away, it became clear that Ben is an accomplished cyclist and that we are extremely well matched in terms of speed - he could go faster but doesn't need to. And I couldn't help but notice how quickly we were going. We followed exactly the same course as last week and completed it exactly ten minutes quicker - in 1 hour and 36 minutes! We added five more miles, which took us an extra 24 minutes, meaning two hours in the saddle. And with an hour to go before the class, I asked if we could add another five. Including the stop for when Ben's chain came off, we came home in exactly 2 hours and 25 minutes. And, most importantly, I wasn't exhausted. If I didn't have a class, I could possibly have gone much further.

Now, I'm starting to believe that I really might finish this race. Thirty miles without real stop in 2h25m and without being exhausted is really good progress. And it goes to show that if you want to face a big challenge, it's better to do it with others. So, how do I stop being so tired? Firstly, go to bed earlier. I get that. But also I need to train more with other people. Lesson well learned.

Next week as well as the usual mid-week rides, I'll be aiming for 35 or 40 miles on Sunday, although I do have an X-Wing tournament later so I shouldn't push it too much. Priorities, after all!

So far, four people have pledged sponsorship, totally $1700 if I complete this challenge. Please consider pledging to help spur me on, by going to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/655G575 and making your pledge. Thank you.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

I Need Your Help

I cycled ten miles this morning and my left knee hurts. I am clearly much more unfit than I realised. So if I’m going to complete this century – the longest bike ride I have ever undertaken – I am going to need your help. If I know that each mile raises more money, then I’ll push myself a little bit further and I’ll be more likely to complete the ride.

Why am I doing this? I’m doing it because I truly believe in Temple Beth Shalom as a world-changing community. I know that some people criticise religion and say it isn’t relevant or necessary in today’s society, but such people obviously haven’t seen Temple Beth Shalom at work. This community helped found the Interfaith Shelter for the homeless who were being turned away from other shelters. These people were dying on the streets but once the Shelter was set up, the deaths from hypothermia at winter stopped. We continue to support the shelter and save lives – last month we worked with other communities and together raised $54,000 to keep the Shelter open over the summer.  Temple Beth Shalom is a community that ensures that anyone of any faith and from any family, even those with little finances, can get a 5-star accredited Preschool education, even if that costs us money. We fight in the local legislature for equal rights, we fight against discrimination and we fight for social justice. We are a key voice for positive social change in Santa Fe. We work with local schools and with local schoolchildren who are struggling at school. We support the bereaved, we befriend the lonely, we bring people together. That’s the most relevant work possible but if that work is to continue as it does now, we need your support.

I believe in this community. I believe in the work that we’re doing. I know that it is good work, that we help change lives…. that we literally save lives. You can help save lives by making a pledge.

This 100-mile bike ride is going to be my biggest physical challenge yet. I did a 70-mile bike ride four years ago but much has changed since then. I weigh much more – about 15lbs more. I’m cycling at altitude, which means the air is thinner and that doesn’t help my asthma. And talking of asthma and health – at the same time as training I’m having allergy injections three times a week which are exhausting me – yesterday I slept from 4pm to 10pm – and all of that fatigue affects my training. And the challenges aren’t just about me not being overweight, unable to get enough oxygen or being totally fatigued. It’s also hot. Really, really hot. The bike ride four years ago was on a typical grey English day and there was even rain to help cool me down. Not so here – we’re expecting it to be around 75°. I’m going to have to train not just for distance but also for heat exhaustion.  Moreover, it’s  further than I’ve ever cycled before.  And then look at this profile of the race – the race starts going downhill and then starts climbing for a long time before….see that around 25 miles? That’s a steep grade 4 climb. And then there’s a descent before a long, long climb for a very significant part of the race before an extended grade 3 climb, shortly followed by another grade 4 climb. And even when heading downhill afterwards, there are more climbs. That’s some serious cycling.

But don’t just take my word for it – here’s what a friend who has completed The Tour of Acoma says…

As someone who rides at altitude in Taos and had completed a 98 mile ride from Philadelphia to Brooklyn only 3 weeks earlier, I found the Tour De Acoma to be among the most challenging I've attempted.  The combination of heat, gradient of the climbs (plural) and the road surface make this a hard but beautiful and rewarding day's work.”

Appreciating the enormity of this challenge, then, and the importance of this work, please click on the link below and pledge generously. I need your help … the people whom Temple Beth Shalom supports need your help.

Thank you.