Water Logged

I took my first swim class last night. Well, not my first ever. I’ve had lessons in the past, you know. Most recently I took swimming lessons at the Stewart Park pool in 1967, with my brother and this kid named Joey who must have always had a fever because whenever I swam through an area he was just in, the water was much warmer.

No, this wasn’t my first swim lesson. Just the first one with the new leg. Which will take some getting used to. I had a bit of trouble setting it to the fully extended setting in order to best swim. And once there, I had further trouble getting it go back to the walking setting. But I suppose this will get easier in time. And this wasn’t my first time in water with this leg. I did make splishy-splashy with my kids in a pool down in Florida last month. Where I promptly ripped off one of the toes.

But I got in the water and I swam. No, I didn’t. Yes, I got in the water. No, I didn’t swim. Not yet.

I learned to breathe. I learned to kick. I kicked a lot. I spent a lot of time kicking. With my arms out in front of me at first, then with my arms pressed down with my elbows in my ribs. I don’t get very far with just my kicks. I don’t know if that’s because of my leg, because of how I kick, or if no one goes very far with just kicks. I pretty much had my head in the water all the time. And I learned to make myself lean. In both senses of the word. I kicked, and I rolled, and I flipped, and I breathed. And not a single stroke was stroked.

Welcome to the world of Total Immersion swimming.

I first heard about TI* at the top of a mountain, of all places. Specifically, on top of Mt. Washington (I know, I know…I’ll tell that part soon. Promise.) by a triathlete who suggested that, should I ever want to consider doing a tri, it might be the way to do the swimming part. I assured him that I would never do one, but thanks for the information.

According to the website: “TI teaches you to swim with the effortless grace of fish by becoming one with the water. TI emphasizes the same patient precision and refinement taught by martial arts masters. We start with simple skills and movements and progress by small, easily-mastered steps. Our students thrive on the attention to detail and the logical sequence of progressive skills.”

So, I started at the bottom. Well, not the bottom. I always floated to the top. Karen–the instructor–started showing us the basics: hand position in the water, how to properly kick, how to exhale under water, how to align our head and shoulders.

It’s a lot coordinated physical movement. This is not my strong suit. I’m great when it comes to the whole left leg/right leg thing with cycling. One’s going down while the other goes up. Pretty simple. Anything past that gets to be a challenge. If I put my left hand in and take my left hand out, it’s an accomplishment. Shaking it all about is a bonus.

It’s kind of humbling to admit stuff like this. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been big on acknowledging my limitations. If I couldn’t do something well, I just didn’t do it. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of my life on the couch in front of the TV. I can channel-surf like a boss, yo.

But this doesn’t bother me. Again I was surprised at my reaction to the class. I think I was the worst swimmer of the group. Or maybe that was just my impression. I really didn’t pay much attention to anyone else. I just concentrated on my form, and accomplishing the simple tasks set out by the instructor, done in the order she gave them. How to kick. How to position my head, my arms. When to breathe in, and when to breathe out (hint: one of them you don’t do underwater).

I made mistakes, but I think I’m learning. Karen did a bunch of correcting of what I was doing, but she also let me know when I was doing it right. At one point, while she was working with one of the others in the class, the rest of us were hanging out at one end of the pool. One of my classmates looked at me and said “Well, it looks like you’re going to be the teacher’s pet!”

I laughed. “I certainly hope not!” I replied.

So I’ve got work to do. I’m guessing the mental part of the swimming is going to be more difficult than the physical part for a while. But that’s okay. I need to keep reminding myself that it’s been more than three decades since I’ve really done any swimming. I’m going to learn at the pace I learn, and swim at the pace I swim. Eventually I know I’ll be faster. I have no clue how fast I’ll end up, but I don’t care. The only person I’m competing against is myself, and since I’m off the couch, I’m in the lead.

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*Far simpler than spelling it out.

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Approved

I spent the day home sick today, so I missed the call. Workers Compensation has approved my running foot. This week or next, I’ll be starting the process. There will be fittings, and some training, but probably by February, I’ll have a specialized running prosthesis.

There’s a point in every adventure where you realize you have to commit to going forward. Sometimes, there’s more than one point. This is one of them. Once I get this, there’ll be no excuses. Kind of scary.

Sunday, May 22

This morning’s ride: 1:44:42 Distance: 27.44 miles

Wow. I can’t believe it’s been over a week since I’ve been on my bike. Well, actually, it hasn’t. I’ve done a couple of short trips, but nothing of substance. The weather has not been agreeable to riding here in the past week–especially in the early morning hours.

I haven’t been shirking, though. I have been spending a lot of time at the Y. Spin classes seem to have a bad reputation as a rather sissy way to work out. I can tell you that this is not the case. They’re freakin’ hard. At least, they are at the Y. Well, the 5:30 am ones are hard, at least. As well as the 9:15 am Sunday class. In addition, I’m going on my lunch hour 3-4 times a week with Dave. This past week I’ve been spending some time working on my upstroke. Rather than pushing down on the pedals, I’ve been pulling up on the cages. I’ve gotten so I can go 15 solid minutes at the same pace and resistance as my downstrokes. The difference, of course, is that on the downstroke, I can continue that pace for a couple hours. On the upstroke, I can’t go much more than 15 minutes. Otherwise my hamstrings will curl back up on themselves, and no one wants that to happen. Well, at least I don’t.

May 22. Less than three months to go. I’m a little bit freaked by that, to tell you the truth. Although I’m in better shape than I have been in my adult life–hell, my entire life–right now, I’m not certain I’m in good enough shape, or that I’ll be in good enough shape when the time comes. Right now, I’m hovering at around 194, which is the least I’ve weighed since probably 10th grade. I still have 14 pounds to lose. And a lot more stamina to gain.

Actually, today’s ride showed me how much I’ve gained in that department. I did the ‘Three Parks’ ride I tried the last time I got on the bike. I started by taking a couple of trips up and down Cobb’s Hill–which has lost a lot of height, apparently, in the past couple of years. At least, that’s the way it feels to me. Then I went down to Ellison Park, where I rode up a rather long incline to get to the southern entrance. It was one of those gradients that was too long to get up out of the saddle to climb, so it was just a long hard sitting slog to the top, followed by a nail-biting ride down a pothole-filled road with a blind curve into a steep river basin, and then straight up out of that basin on the north side. I managed to take that hill at a very respectable pace, out of the saddle most of the way. It’s my goal to make it up standing up before the month’s out.

From there, it was a slightly hilly ride down to the canal, where I did a 10-mile sprint that took me through Genesee Valley Park, and up the river to downtown. For most of this part I was going 20 mph. That’s a serious bit of cranking, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could keep it up.

I got a bit of a late start this morning. I left about 20 minutes later than I had hoped I would. I wanted to make the spin class–the one where the instructor gave me the look. Remember? That was almost exactly three months ago. If I rode home to change out of my riding stuff into a more conservative t-shirt and sweats, I wouldn’t be able to make it to that class on time. So, I rode straight there instead, and took the class in my riding gear. Then I rode home. The time and distance include the ride home, but not the hour spent in spin class.

This is interesting. The class that kicked my ass three months ago, I take almost as an afterthought, after a pretty difficult ride, and I’m scared I’m not making progress.

My friend Mike tells me I have a tendency to make molehills out of mountains, but only after I climb the mountain. Maybe that’s the case here. I hope so…

Thursday, May 12, Friday, May 13

Thursday’s ride: 42:21 Distance 10.9 miles. Friday’s ride: 50:08 Distance: 11.93 miles

Cherry blossoms hurt. Yes, they do.

I discovered that during today’s very disappointing ride.* The wind picked up and was blowing fiercely in my face, and when that wind included cherry blossoms, oy. Talk about your death of a thousand cuts.

I had planned out a really nice ride. I called it the Three Parks ride: First to Cobb’s Hill Park, where I would ride up that steep but short road three times, then off to Ellison Park, where I would be able to ride up that long, long incline to the back entrance of the park, and then up the steep, long sraight climb out the front entrance, then down along majestic East Avenue, where I would pick up the Erie Canal path and ride straight to Genesee Valley Park, and up the river to downtown, then home.

But the kids dawdled in getting ready to go to their mother’s, and I dawdled too, and by the time I got out the door, the skies had darkened and the wind picked up, and the cherry blossoms sliced. And, halfway between Cobb’s Hill and Ellison, lightning flashed in the distance, and the raindrops fell. Well, more accurately, the raindrops flew, pushed on by the wind.

So, rather than a 25 mile jaunt, I got a facefull of fragrance. And, of course, it ended up not raining.

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*Yesterday’s ride was a typical predawn ride. Wore too much clothes which I’ve discovered is better than wearing too little clothes. At least, it is when it comes to riding.

Tuesday, May 10

This morning’s ride: 40:12 Distance; 10.22 miles

I’m riding Tuesdays and Thursday mornings right now. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I take a 5:30 am spin class. Once the weather gets consistently warmer, I’ll probably drop the classes, even though they do give me a good workout. I just feel that even the hardest spin class is not as hard as a good ride.

This morning’s ride was pretty good. Not my best time–not even the best of the year, but I did keep a good cadence, and didn’t get too cold.

And when I got home, after I cooled down and did my morning meditation, but before I got into the shower,  I stood on the scale, and weighed 186. Holy cow. I’m not counting that as my ‘true’ weight–we fluctuate greatly throughout the day, so I’ve decided that after lunch on Wednesdays is my weighing time–but it’s still pretty impressive. I haven’t weighed this little since probably early high school. Once I get a few consistent weighs under 190 I’ll contact the race people and officially get off the Clydesdale list.

Wow. I’m pretty pleased with myself, I don’t mind saying.

Saturday, April 30

Today’s ride: 1:47:56 Distance: 30.67 miles

I’m buying a lot of gloves and tail lights.

The tail lights I’ve talked about. I broke one hitting a pothole. Another one fell off hitting another pothole.* Since I ride a lot in the early morning, I really want to make sure I’m seen, so I’ve gone and plunked down more money for yet another tail light. I think this one has promise. It’s shaped differently, so hopefully it won’t get jammed up against the rear tire if I hit another pothole. Or maybe I should just do a better job avoiding potholes.

The gloves are a different story. The pair I had last year were hard and crusty from a year of riding, so I purchased a new pair of bio-gel fingerless riding gloves. Then I started going to spinning class, where I sweat so much it becomes difficult for me to keep my hands on the handlebars, so I started bringing the gloves to that class, where they got all sweaty and uncomfortable when they don’t dry fast enough, so I bought another similar pair. Then, since it’s quite cold in the morning, I purchased a third pair–my heavy, two-fingered Zoidberg gloves, which have helped me stay warm. Even if I’m not wearing enough layers elsewhere, I’ve found that putting on those gloves goes a long way toward keeping me warm.

But as they days get slowly warmer, there’s going to be times when the fingerless gloves (hobo gloves, my son calls them–who nonetheless has a pair for himself)  will be too little, and the Zoidbergs will be too much–or just be too freakin’ ugly. That’s why, when I purchased the tail light, I bought yet another pair of cycling gloves–medium weight, full fingered, which use this cool technology which makes them glow like lightsabers when headlights hit them.** This brings my cycling glove total to six for this year (the four mentioned, plus a pair of hobo gloves each for the kids).

I used my new gloves for my ride today. It was a sunny day, and relatively warm, but it was colder by the lake, which I where I rode today. I rode a route called ‘The Pickle’ for reasons unknown to me. It goes from Webster Park in Webster, to B. Forman Park in Pultnyville and back. A straight shot, on a rolling road that goes past lakeside McMansions, old estates, vineyards, orchards, and the occasional nuclear power plant. Okay, there’s only one of those, but I have to pass the damned thing twice.

I think the real Pickle starts at a specific point in Webster Park so that the route is exactly 30 miles, but I don’t know where that point is, so I just park in a little pullover spot, strap on my helmet and start from there.

I’m a little bit cold when I start out, but figure I’ll warm up as I ride. I set a very fast pace for myself. I averaged 17.1 MPH for the ride, and that’s without ever going faster than 28–no long, fast downhills on this ride.

I made it to Pultneyville–15.335 miles from where I started–in under 52 minutes. I stop long enough to have some water, watch some kids get their Pultneyville prom pictures taken in the park, put on a windbreaker,*** and head back. I could have stopped earlier, but I was feeling strong, strong but cold, and I only wanted to stop once, so I figures I’d wait.

And I did feel fine for the ride back, although I was thoroughly gassed by the time I got back to the car. I finished my second bottle of water, and climbed into my car.

It was then that I really started feeling the cold. Driving in the sunlight, with the windows cold and the heater up full, I was shivering. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes. I was riding in sweat-soaked shirts, and I was cold. As soon as I got home, I shed my clothes–and believe me, three removing layers of sweat-soaked, skin tight artificial fabrics is very much a shedding operation–and crawled under the blankets for a good long while. How long, I know not, since I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I squeegeed my clothes into the washer, and made a very decadent dinner of oatmeal with cinnamon, raisins, and nutmeg, with chocolate raspberry milk for dessert. I tried to watch a little TV, but that’s just making me sleepy again.

If my clothes are dry enough, I’ll do a short ride tomorrow before hitting the spin class. But now to sleep. Hope I don’t hit any potholes tomorrow.

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*I’m getting a real good look at ‘our crumbling infrastructure.” Especially on the edges of the road.

**Not why I bought them, but geeky cool nonetheless.

***I have a well-packed gear bag, which contains, among other things, a bright orange windbreaker that folds up nicely into one of its zippered pockets for easy transport.

Wednesday, April 27

This morning’s ride: 37:26 Distance: 10.26 miles

I’m a ditherer. I dither like a mother.

When I went to bed last night I told myself that if it was raining, I’d go to the spin class at the Y, and if it wasn’t, I’d ride. This morning, I dithered. It was cold and wet, a little foggy, and I didn’t know which I should do. So I dithered. I futzed. I puttered, until it was too late to go to the Y, and I rode.  This is why I rode such a short ride.

Well, one reason, anyway. Another reason is because I don’t have a good tail light on my bike anymore. Or again, depending on how you look at it. I lost my replacement over the weekend. I have a rather weak little clip-on number, but I don’t really like having just that light as my only tail light. But that’s what I did. And to make sure it was noticeable, I clipped it onto the collar of my jersey, even though I felt it made me look like a dork.*

I am really feeling the energy from this new food plan. I cruised this morning. I posted my second-fastest time on this route today, and it wasn’t a good morning for riding.** On mornings like this one, I’m not certain about what to wear.–how many layers of clothing, which gloves, should I wear the shoe covers, the helmet cover, et c.

Turns out I slightly underdressed for the ride. The moist, cool air cut right through me as I rode. I had to stop about a mile into the ride to take off my fingerless gloves and tug on my Zoidberg gloves instead. I’ve found that if I keep my hands warm enough, I don’t mind the cold on the rest of my body.

That one small adjustment was enough. I finished the ride in comfort. Except for one small thing. I swallowed another freaking bug. It’s not fair, having it be this cold and still having to worry about the freaking flying insects. Maybe I should start including insects in my food plan.

"Hooray! Hooray for Zoidbug!"

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*If you’re thinking “You’re dressed in skintight shiny black tights, and a lemon-yellow jersey. That light is not what’s making you look like a dork” then we’re thinking the same thing.

**Hence, the dithering.

Monday, April 20

This morning’s ride: 1:23:05 Distance: 20.57 miles

I got up at 5 this morning to do a spin class. That felt good. Want to know what felt better? Going back to bed afterward. That felt awesome. It’s something I’ve wanted to do just about every morning that I’ve gotten up this early. And today was the day I got to do it.

I slept for three hours. Not sure if that constitutes a long nap or a short sleep. Don’t care. I loved it. I even had a good dream. It was a bicycle dream: I was at the base of Mt. Washington, getting ready for the ride. I took my Surly off the back of my car, which raised lots of eyebrows.  Surly’s are not lightweight bikes. Mine weighs about 26 lb, stripped. That’s probably a third again as much weight as the average bike, and probably twice the weight as some of the pro’s bikes.

So, in my dream, I was feeling somewhat inadequate about this. Suddenly, a friend was there in my dream, telling me that it was OK–that I would have no problems with the bike, the ride, or anything else. Usually, when someone expresses faith in my abilities, I get nervous because I think I’m going to let them down, but I didn’t get that way in this dream. It felt comforting and right that someone was confident in me.

I know a guy who’s studied dreams. He tells me that everyone in my dreams is me, Which makes sense, since it all occurs in my head. So, the doubts are mine. But then again, so is the confidence. I don’t care if that’s true or not. I’ll take all the faith in myself I can get, from any source–inside my head or out.

So that was where my mind was when I took off for my ride this morning. And even though it was late morning, the day was cold and blustery, with a few snowflakes making an appearance. Luckily, the wind wasn’t as bad as yesterday.

Unluckily, there was construction on the road. It was in a residential area filled with meandering lanes and cul-de-sacs that I didn’t know very well, and it was reduced to a one-way route, and it was going the wrong way. I briefly considered ignoring the signs and riding against traffic, but the two large construction vehicles coming my way sorta talked me out of it. I chose the sidewalk instead.

The sidewalk was uneven and bumpy and filled with joggers. I had to slow down for them because it was too narrow to pass safely. and besides, I dropped my light. Well, I didn’t drop it as much as it fell off on its own.

You may recall that a week or so ago I hit a pothole so hard it broke my tail light. I bought a replacement, and when I tried to install it, it became readily apparent that it was only going to really fit if I installed it upside down. I th0ught it would hold. I thought wrong. I heard it clatter to the pavement, so I uttered an oath,* climbed off the bike and reattached the light to its mount. I didn’t go 30 feet further when it fell off again. So I repeated the process, uttering a slightly stronger invective,* and picked it up again, this time clipping it to the top case on the back of my bike, where it sagged and essentially did little but warn the ground directly below my rear tire.

When I went to remount, I had somehow gotten the cuff of my tights caught up in the pedal of my bike, and it took me an awkward minute to extricate myself from that predicament. All of this was happening under the amused watch of the road construction crew, and I was surprised to discover I didn’t give a damn. The only thing that bothered me was that I wasn’t riding.

This is a big thing for me. Cycling clothes are designed to protect the rider. This makes them tight (to avoid chafing, getting caught in gears, and for wind resistance) and bright (because a big part of protecting the rider is making us visible to drivers), and with my helmet on (which in this case was sporting a neon yellow wind and rain cover) I looked very much like a giant fluorescent banana.

Fear of ridicule has always been a big thing for me. It’s what’s kept me from doing many things in my life. I’ve come to see how limiting this can be, and how liberating it is to ignore it, and instead embrace those quiet voices of support that are also there–inside my head, and out.

The giant fluorescent banana shall ride again!

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*I believe I said “Fiddlesticks!”

*”Rat farts!” This is a completely acceptable utterance because I heard a guy who played a priest say it in the movie Caddyshack.

Tuesday, April 12

…it is April, right?

This morning’s ride: 40:15  Distance 10.25 miles

Not my best time for this particular route, but certainly not my worst. A nice pace for early in the season.

It was quite cold this morning–upper thirties when I started out. My new cold weather gear really helped a lot. I should take a picture of me in it sometime, except I’m not really at my best in spandex tights. They keep me warm, though–as do the neoprene booties I wear over my mesh riding shoes, as does the long-sleeve inner layer with a wind guard, my long-sleeve jersey, my shell, my hat, and the wind covering for my helmet, which my son calls a shower cap. I see his point–it’s really what it looks like.

My favorite piece of clothing,though, are my gloves. They keep my fingers toasty warm, while still giving me enough flexibility to shift. They’re not really gloves–more like bifurcated mittens. I call them my Zoidberg gloves.

Hooray! Hooray for Zoidberg!

I got all of this stuff at the ‘end of the season’ sale at my bike shop. Even though it’s spring most of the time, it’s still pretty wintry at 5am.

About the only part of my body that wasn’t comfortable during the ride (apart, of course, from my legs and lungs) were my earlobes. I got one of those little skullcap head covers, that does a good job of keeping the top of my head warm, but quickly slide up off of my ears, leaving them exposed. I think I need a baklava. Or a balaclava. Whichever one’s the head covering, and not the pastry.

Although I wouldn’t mind the pastry either, to tell the truth.

Friday March 18

This morning’s ride: 59:56. Distance 13.94 miles.

Back in the saddle again! About freakin’ time. I had planned on going to the gym and spinning at 5:30, then thought ‘screw that!’ I’ll just get up later and take a real ride!

It helps that I took today off.

It felt great and awful at the same time. Great, because I really like riding my bike. Awful, because no matter how much work I do in the gym, it doesn’t replace cycling. I was slow. The wind was strong. The saddle was uncomfortable. The dog ate my homework.

I chose a route that had some hills I could climb, and also had a place to duck out and head home early. I did both. I really attacked the hills, and then I petered out.

Part of that I’m sure is because I’ve got to get back up to speed on the bike. Part of it, too, is my food. I’ve removed flour and sugar from my diet. In addition, I’m eating almost no grain at all. That means I’m taking in no carbohydrates, which means my body is burning fat for energy. That’s why I’m losing weight at about 12 ounces a day. On the other hand, fat’s not a very clean or efficient fuel, so I’m wondering if this is why I didn’t feel all that energetic on the ride.

Or maybe thinking it’s the food plan is a dodge for being a lard butt.

Despite the lack of energy and excess wind, I did do a decent route. Then, in the afternoon, the kids and I did a little 6 mile jaunt. Not a bad day to be on the bike. It’s amazing how fast the weather changes in this part of the world. On the ride I passed a man in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops having a conversation with a woman in snow boots and a parka.

And it’s supposed to snow on Wednesday.