And I Ran

I ran Wednesday night. I ran, jogged, and quick-walked for more than 50 minutes. Don’t know how far I ran. Right now I don’t care. Right now I can barely move.

Wednesday morning began with a bike ride. Since it was in the 20’s outside, I did my riding at the YMCA. The Carlson Metrocenter, to be specific. Our county has a lot of Y’s, and I’m pretty much using them all. The Carlson is the downtown branch, a big, ’80’s-style building that’s not too far away from my house, and it has some of the toughest spin classes in the area.  The 5:30am Wednesday class is one of them. It’s run by Gary.

Gary and I actually go way back. I met him during my brief radio career. I was ‘Brian the Bedtime Buddy’ at one of the stations back in my hometown, and Gary worked in news. We’ve bumped into each other sem-regularly in the three-plus decades since then, but it was a surprise the first time I walked into that class last winter and saw him on the lead bike. Boy, he was tough back then. This year, not so much.

I know, I know: he’s probably just as tough. But I’ve gotten tougher. He does this thing every week where he makes the class continually increase the tension on the bikes to simulate riding up a mountain. “It’s not downhill,” he’ll say. “It’s not level. I don’t see any tunnels. I don’t see any way around it. We’re just gonna have to climb it.” And we do. And 10-15 minutes later, we back off. Meh. That’s not a mountain. Trust me.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful when it’s over.

That was at 5:30 am.  Wednesday night at 6 I did my first real running. I did it at the Monroe Y, a sturdy old building from the 1920’s that’s about 4 blocks from my house. Its gym is about the size of a regulation basketball court (without the bleachers), and its track sits above it. I went with my friend Becca, who took up running this summer, but then kind of stopped, and has been looking for a reason and a way to get back to it. I asked her if she would run with me partially because she wants to find a way to get back into running, but also because I figured someone without a lot of experience would be more willing to run my speed, especially since I wasn’t really sure what my speed was going to be. She was honored and pleased to be my inaugural running partner.

I showed up with my leg in a gym bag, and had to change into it in the lockers.

I don’t know how it is with women, but aside from professional athletes, guys aren’t really comfortable in locker rooms. But at some point as we age, we just stop giving a shit. I’ve pretty much passed that point. Except when it comes to my leg. I’m fine with letting Big Jim and the Twins get some air in the room, but it’s hard for me to take off my prosthesis. Luckily, the room was empty, and I was able to make the switch fast, and get to the track.

The track at the  is the strangest I’ve ever seen. But I haven’t seen many. It’s really small, for one thing. The straightaways aren’t much more than 25 yards on the long sides, and the short sides are one long sharp curve, so to make up for that they steeply bank them, so that if you ran fast enough, you could probably run nearly horizontal for short distances. On odd-numbered days you run counter-clockwise on the track, and clockwise on the evens. Wednesday was the 8th, so we ran clockwise. After a few minutes I realized I would only be able to run on this track on even days.

As I’ve mentioned before, this prosthesis is longer than my leg. It needs to be this way because of the compression that occurs when I stride through it. The faster I run, the more it compresses. Walking and jogging don’t really do it enough. And although I did run, I also walked and jogged. I’m getting ahead of myself.

We got on the track, and did a lap or two to of walking to warm up. Then we did a few laps of jogging. We conversed as we did it. We aren’t close friends, but what time we’ve spent in each other’s company has been enjoyable so this as a bit of a ‘getting to know you’ phase. She told me about the class she took for running, and how it was to culminate in a group run at one of the many local races, but she really didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of running with a thousand people so she didn’t do the race. But she was glad to run with me.

“What do you say we pick up the pace?” I asked her.

“This is about as fast as I’ll go, but don’t let that deter you from…” she said. She may have said more, but by then I was too far away to hear her.

I accelerated. And I ran.

(The last time I ran–really ran, not just an awkward jog or a limping lope–was in July of 1979. It was on the Sunday before I had my accident. A bunch of us would go up to Sullivan Park, which was the R&D facility where my Dad worked. There was a ball field across the parking lot from the buildings, and on the nights when there were no leagues, we would bring our bats and gloves and balls and play baseball until it got too dark to see. I ran the bases. I ran down fly balls. I ran after grounders that went in the hole. Had I known what was coming, I would probably have run even more.

There was going to be a game that night, too, on the day of my accident. The first thought that went through my head after having my foot crushed was disappointment that I was going to miss that game. True story.)

…..

I’ve been sitting here looking at the blinking cursor on my screen for several minutes. It’s hard to describe how I felt when I ran. Hell, it’s hard to feel how I felt. I worked very hard to contain my joy. I’m still doing it. It’s just running. It’s no big deal. People do it all the time.

It’s a big deal. It’s a big, big, big deal.

I did more than run.

I’m sorry, but I have to make yet another narrative side trip.

My best friend is an athlete. She doesn’t do anything with it now, but if you watch her move, it’s obvious. One day we were going someplace, but she had left her wallet at her work, so we went back to get it. I sat in the car waiting for her, and watched as she came out of the front door, and then ran the short distance to the car. She ran with a fluidity, a gracefulness that was striking. It didn’t look like she was fighting gravity with every step. It just looked like she was using her energy to flow along a path that was parallel to the ground. I remembered thinking ‘if I ever run again, I want to run like that.’

When I ran, I did. At least, it felt that way. I was simply shifting my mass forward. Furthermore, my running leg was doing it more efficiently than my regular leg. It was easy.

Like I said, big, big deal.

Within a few laps, I passed my friend. And passed her again. And caught up with her again shortly after that. I felt like I could probably make another lap, but I didn’t want to overdo it, so I slowed down to her pace.

“That looked like fun,” she said.

It was. My God, it was.

This was the pattern for the night. I would run for about 10 minutes, then jog along at her speed, then run again, then jog, or sometimes fast-walk. It was a real learning experience. The biggest thing I learned is that right now, this leg is faster than me. It was functioning its best when I ran fast, and I’m guessing that I haven’t gotten to its optimum speed yet. I was also aware that I could run faster than I was doing there. I deliberately did not hit top speed, partially because I didn’t want to over-exert myself, and partially because I’m still learning this thing. On more than one occasion the front of the blade (I might as well call it what it is–it’s certainly not a foot) struck the track as I was bringing it forward. I kept my balance each time and really didn’t slow down, but had I been moving faster, I’m not sure I would have been able to do so.

Halfway through, Becca suggested that, since there was no one else on the track, we try going counter-clockwise. It wasn’t as comfortable, due to the length issue.

At 6:55, we stopped, and she worked me through some post-run exercises designed to minimize lactic acid build up, and also lessen the chances of shin splints. We decided that we would make this a regular Wednesday evening occurance.

I can’t wait.

I’m running. Big deal, indeed.

Stuff

Last weekend I took my Mom and my kids to Florida. It was, essentially, Mom’s last trip down there. It was draining–both physically and mentally. I’m glad I did it, but it was as draining as my last trip, if not more so. I’ll try to write about it some time, but I make no promises. It was very painful and sad, and I’m not sure I’ll have the patience to write about it, and this really isn’t the venue for it, anyway.

This week I finally got my running leg. It’s freakin’ awesome. And it’s also a little bit…I don’t know how to put it. Maybe ‘uncomfortable’ is the right word. Not physically uncomfortable, but psychologically so. Every other leg I’ve ever had has looked more or less like a normal leg. Even my swimming leg (which I did manage to use for a few laps down in Florida–and promptly ripped the big toe off of it. Maybe I do need to write a little bit about the trip after all) with its adjustable ankle is nevertheless leg shaped. This leg is not. When I’m wearing it it’s quite obvious I’m an amputee. And while I’m comfortable writing about it, and talking about it with my friends (and occasionally with strangers), I confess to a bit of awkwardness in living it.

It won’t stop me from getting up and doing some running with it, but it’s something I’ll have to work through to do it.

So now I have all my hardware, and I have an oversized wheeled gym bag that fits both legs quite nicely, so I’ll be able to carry them with me to whatever event I’ll be going to next. I’ve joked around a bit that I’m like a golfer with a bag of clubs, but I think the more accurate analogy is a bowler with a bag of balls that he uses for different lanes.

And the training’s about to start. A week from Monday I’ll start my swimming lessons, and I’m also signed up for a seven week training program with physical therapy students from a local college as part of their Orthotics and Prosthetics course, so we’ll be helping each other out. Apparently there will be other amputee athletes there as well, which is cool. I’ve never met any others, so this will be a first for me.

And what’s really interesting right now is how little I’m dreading this. Every time I’ve start a new project like this I have had a sense of dread. That’s not the case here. I’m actually looking forward to these events. I wish they would start sooner. Is this how most people feel?

I could get used to this.

Running.

I did that today. Not jogging. Not trotting. Running.

Granted, it was never for more than 50 yards at a time, but that was OK. I probably ran a half mile, 50 yards at a time.

It was my final fitting for my running leg. Sort of a fine-tuning to make sure everything was working properly. Once again, it felt a little unusual when I first put it on. Sort of like walking around on my toes on that side. But it’s not designed as a walking leg. After a few tentative strides, I started loping. That was all I could do in the fitting room. It wasn’t long enough to really run.

So I put on my shorts, and we went into the hallway. Where I ran. Up the hallway, and back down again. Back and forth, while my prosthetist* watched me, looking for ‘toe in’ and ‘hyperpronating’ and stuff like that.

We had to make a few adjustments. Yeah. ‘We’ did. While he was tweaking my leg one time, he said, “Just so ya know…you’ll need someone for technical support when you’re doing the Ironman in Hawaii, I’m coming along.”

I smiled and said “That’s gonna be in 2014. You have plenty of time to make your reservations.”

At one time, I would have laughed a remark like that off. I didn’t this time. I don’t know which triathlon I’ll be running. Or if I’ll even make it that far. I’ve got a lot of work to do to get there.

He finished doing whatever it was he was doing, and he said, “Want to go outside?”

“Sure!” I said.

It was a cold, drizzly rain sort of morning in Rochester, with the temperature around 35-40 degrees. There were patches of ice and snow and slush all over the place. We looked around until we found a nice long patch without much gunk, and I ran. I pushed myself. I made myself pant. I was moving fast. Not sprinter fast, but faster than I’ve moved in a long time. I was using my muscles in a way I hadn’t done since 1979.

Right now, my hip hurts a little bit on the right side. And my right knee was twinging a bit while I ran. It didn’t slow me down while I was running, but I did notice it. I’ve got names of some sports medicine people who will be getting calls and emails from me soon.

But for right now, I’m just enjoying remembering what it felt like.

I’m running. Holy cow, I’m running.

 

*heh, heh.

Training

In October of 2008, right after I first committed to riding up Mt. Washington, I had a very steady routine: I would get up at 5, ride my bike to Cobb’s Hill Park, and ride up and down the hill a few times, then come home. I did that until the snow flew, and I put my bike in the basement, bought a trainer, and rode there until spring.

In the spring I discovered that something terrific had happened: The county had put in a gate. Technically, the park was closed from sunset to sunrise, but rarely was the gate closed. Whoever was supposed to stop by and close and lock the gate rarely made an appearance. Over the winter, though, the old hand-swung gate had been removed, and a high-tech sliding gate on a timer had been installed. This gate was big enough and wide enough that it was impossible to get around.

I didn’t think this was terrific at the time, but it forced me to stretch myself. At first I just rode around the base of the hill. Because I’m so imaginative. And, also, because usually by the time I got back around, the gate would be opened.

Then the thought occurred to me that, since I was on a bike, I could ride other places as well. Hey! How about that? So, I started planning routes to ride. And the rides got longer and longer as I got in better shape (and got a better bike as well). And that ride to work on my bike that seemed so daunting was now rather commonplace. Heck, I even rode 51 miles for my 51st birthday.

But with all the riding I was doing, there was something rather important missing:

Hills.

It’s not that I was avoiding them. It’s just that the hills where I live aren’t that steep. So, after I registered for the race, I did what I always did when I had a bike issue: I talked to Bob.

“You want Miller’s Hill,” he said immediately.

“And Bopple,” said Steve, one of his employees.

“Yeah–Bopple’s a good one,” said Bob, pulling out a map. “Oh–and Gannett.”

“South or west?” asked Steve.

“Both,” said Bob, “and Hicks road, too.”

“Where are these places?” I asked.

“Canandaigua,” said Bob. “The west side of the lake, all the way down to Naples, and back.”

So, Bob and Steve mapped out a course, and I thanked them. “You may not want to thank us,” Steve said. “You’ll probably be cursing us for a while first.”

Turns out that some of the steepest roads around are about 20 miles south of me. Cyclists who have ridden cross-country will often remark that the toughest roads to ride are in the Finger Lakes. It’s not so much that the hills are steeper than other places–although they are pretty steep–nor is it that the climbs are longer–and, again, they’re pretty long: It’s the fact that the roads tend to go straight regardless of the angle, and that there’s so darn many of them.

So that was my July. I took lots of days off, and spent all of them slogging around the west side of the lake. I rode those hills, and they left me gasping. The next time I stopped by the bike shop I told them I was riding the routes they suggested. I remarked on how hard they were.

“They’re nothing compared to Mount Washington,” said Steve. Boy, did that worry me.

Another thing that was a concern was the crowds of riders. Most of my riding was done by myself. How would I fare riding in a group? So I decided I would sign up for a ride to see how I did. I chose the Tour de Thompson, which took me all over the area I was already training in. I chose the hardest ride–the metric century. (A century ride is one of 100 miles or more. A “metric century” was 100 kilometers, or 63 miles.) It was set for less than a month from the Auto Road Hill climb, so I figured it would give me a good idea of where I was in my training.

Those hills are hard. The climbs were tough. If you click on the link, above, and look at the bottom of the page, you’ll see three mountain icons. That tells me how many ‘climbs’ are on the ride. A ‘climb’ is any incline of greater than 3% that lasts 500 meters or longer. Three degrees may not sound all that difficult, but when it goes on for three tenths of a mile, it’s noticeable. The lower the number, the harder the climb. So you’ll see that on this particular ride, I did seven Category 5 climbs, three Category 4’s, and one Category 3. Or, as I like to call it, a little slice of hell.

But as tough as those climbs were (and they were tough), there were also spots on the ride that went downhill. The graph under the map shows you that. All those bumps go up as well at down. Some of the spots were exhilaratingly downhill. The best part of the ride was the last mile: all down hill, on a wide, recently-paved road with great visibility and no cross streets. I ended up going close to 50 on that stretch. I passed a Harley. One that was being ridden at the time. I came home from that ride exhausted, and pleased. It was a tough ride, and I did it. Not only did I do it, but I did it in the time frame I had set for myself. Plus I got a cool T-shirt. Maybe I was ready for that big mountain, after all.

Then I looked at this. That’s Mt. Washington Auto Road. Look at the graph underneath. No bumps. It almost looks easy. That’s because it’s all up. Up, up, and up some more. Seven solid miles of up. It doesn’t even have a category number. Just HC. I don’t know what HC stands for. I can guess.

Hard Climb?

Hardest Climb?

Hell Climb?

And I would be doing it in 20 days.

Holy Cow.

Bob

There’s a trend in the bicycle world toward a softer sales experience: The stores show up in re-purposed factories in gentrified neighborhoods, and have lots of exposed brick and light hardwood floors. Alternative rock plays discretely from several well-placed high-end speakers, and there’s often a lounging area where you can munch on organic, high protein gluten-free snacks that are nonetheless delicious, while you watch your bicycle get worked on, often by the same attractive young individual who listened attentively to your needs and guided you to your bicycle selection a few months ago. When I was looking for my bike, I went to several places like this. They were not so much retail centers as they were lifestyle salons. They all sold very good products for very good prices, and did very good work on the bikes they sold.

Then I went to Bob’s shop. It was to those places what a farmer’s market is to a restaurant.

Bob sells bikes. Sells and services. It’s not a place you would go for retail therapy. His shop sits next to a Mexican restaurant in a dingy little strip mall on a less desirable commercial district of the least fashionable suburb in the area. The bikes are on one wall, the clothes are on another. Accessories are on a third, and repairs are in back. The only music you might hear would be during the commercial breaks on the AM Talk Radio station playing on the old Zenith radio that sits next to the hot plate in the back.

Bob’s blunt. Not mean, or disrespectful, or condescending. Just straightforward. He’ll listen to you describe what you’re looking to do, and then tell you what you need to get there.  Every other place I went wanted to sell me a bike in my price range that was a good-quality bike. And all of those bikes were beautiful–well-designed, light and responsive–just a pleasure to ride. And when I would ask them if this bike would get me up Mt Washington, they’d do a little nodding shrug and say something like “well, come in before you leave and we’ll install a special cassette with a special gear that you can use for the climb.” The installation, of course, would come with a price.

That’s not what happened with Bob. He listened to me, then immediately went to the rack and pulled out a bike from a company I never heard of. It was clunky, and heavy. “Steel frame,” Bob said. “This will ride over anything.”

“Including a mountain?” I asked. Bob smiled. “If you don’t make it, it won’t be because of this bike,” he said.

The other bikes had shifters that were integrated into the brakes. You never had to move your hands to shift gears. This one’s shifters were at the end of the drop handlebars–and only the rear shifters were notched. “You can change it to a friction shifting system with a screwdriver,” Bob said. I’m guessing this was something important to know, so I nodded knowingly. I may also have said “ahh” while nodding. Cuz that’s what people who know things do.

While the other places were offering me sports cars, Bob was selling me a tank. And I bought it. “It will get you up that mountain,” he said, “if you have the stamina to do it.”

That’s Bob in a nutshell. He was the only person in the are who not only heard what I wanted to do, but also heard “I don’t have a lot of money,” and he was the only one who presented me with a bike in my price range that came with gearing low enough to climb a mountain as standard equipment.

Bob, it turns out, is sort of the grand old man of bicycling in this area. He’s trained every elite cyclist who’s come out of the area in the past 20 years. I’m glad I didn’t find that out until later, because I probably would have been intimidated by this. Even though I spent probably the least amount of money I could at his shop and still walk away with a bicycle, he gave me hours of advice. We’ve spent a long time talking about the best way to get the most amount of power from my right leg, and I spent a very long time on a trainer in the back room while they raised and lowered, measured and adjusted, and overall fitted my bike into me. My having a prosthesis was a challenge to him, and he enjoyed figuring it out.

After he got me fitted, he let me just hang out in the back room, riding. He watched me for about 15 minutes. Then he said something shocking.

“I have no doubt you’ll make it to the top of Mount Washington,” he said. “You won’t be the first one up, but you definitely won’t be the last.”

You have no idea how many times that phrase kept me on my bike and pedalling last summer.

Another Step

I interrupt my trip down memory lane to bring you this news:

Today I took my first steps on my running leg.

It does look strange, doesn’t it? It feels a little strange to wear it, to tell the truth, but not as strange as I thought it would. Or perhaps strange in a different way.

Actually, the strangest thing about it was how normal it felt. It looks like it should feel weird to walk on, but it doesn’t. When I first stood up on it, I was braced against the possibility of rolling backwards, or something. But that didn’t happen.

A little education here: every prosthesis, when it’s first put on, feels strange. That’s because each leg has to be adjusted to the individual who wears it. There’s hundreds of tiny little adjustments that can–and need–to be made to get the leg to fit and perform correctly. Things like pronation, toe angle, length, heel strike, all need to considered and adjusted so that my gait is as natural as possible.

The way that’s done these days is with what’s called a ‘check socket.’ It’s a lighter weight version of the socket on my current prosthesis, and is used to make sure the leg fits right before they make the actual prosthesis. The post and foot (the hardware of the leg) are attached to it, and the prosthetist* makes all his adjustments while I’m wearing this version. It usually takes a couple of weeks to make sure everything’s working well. Once we’re satisfied, they take the hardware off the check socket, and bolt it to the finalized version.

Technically, every time I get a new leg, we’re supposed to go through the whole process, right from the casting, but since we already knew this part was working fine, we used it to make my swimming leg, and so why not save time and do the same for this one as well?

swimming leg, with ankle extended in swimming mode

Ron, my prosthetist,** was possibly as excited as I was about it. This was the first time he’s made a running leg, so he was learning about it at the same time I was. One of the cooler new features of this leg, he was quick to point out, was the removable tread. This is so new that it’s not even in the literature.

The newest feature

It’s a covering that goes over the spring on the bottom–the ‘foot’–of the leg. It’s designed by Nike, and it’s much easier to replace than the old method.

You can see the swoosh!

The only problem with that, of course, is my running shoe is made by Adidas. Oh, well. They can fight over which gets to sponsor me. I hope it’s not too awkward.

Speaking of awkward: that’s how I walked at first, for the reasons mentioned above. I did the first few steps holding onto the parallel bars that were in the room. But the foot was placed pretty accurately by Ron. He’s been working with me for several years, and even if he hadn’t been, this is the third leg for me he’s built in five months. Within a few minutes, I was walking on it pretty gracefully.

The thing is springy. Not surprising, since it is a spring. It returns close to 100% of the energy put into it, which is a pretty amazing thing. But even though I was walking on it, I was reluctant to run.  I could tell by the way I was stepping on it that I would under-run if I tried–sort of like the feeling you get when you discover there’s one more step than you had thought while going down stairs.

This was because it was too short. I was pretty close to exactly level standing on it, but it was supposed to be a couple inches too long than my full leg. The spring compresses when I throw my weight on it, so if it’s the correct standing length, then it will compress too low as I’m running on it, causing me problems with my hip and lower back.

On the level, which means too short

So Ron went back into the workshop and added a spacer to it. Now it was too long to stand on gracefully, but when I started walking faster and faster, I could feel it compress. Suddenly, I leaned into it and started running!

…And just as suddenly, I stopped. The room I was in was only about 30 feet long. And although I did bring my running shoes, I neglected to bring along any shorts. But I did get a very good impression of how it would feel to run.

In a word: awesome. It’s going to be amazing. There’s still a few adjustments to be made, but even so, it feels balanced, and powerful and fast. And, while Ron was out of the room, I did something I hadn’t done with my right leg since 1979.

I hopped. Repeatedly. Boing, boing, boing…like a high-tech, mutant, 180 pound bunny. Felt great.

Turns out, though, that the spacer was a little bit too long. The toe of the leg tended to hit the ground on the pull-through. There’s another spacer that’s a little bit shorter than the one he had put in, but he didn’t have any on hand. That’s why I’m going to have to go back next Thursday. And I’ll bring my shorts this time. I may even bring my bike to see how it feels to ride with it. I might even ride it down to my bike shop. It’s only about 2 miles down the road from the prosthetist’s.**

After we did all we could for the day, I put my other leg back on. My ‘everyday’ leg is another technological marvel, and has what’s considered an ‘active’ foot, which means it returns more than 90% of the energy put into it. But after spending time on my running leg, it felt like it had a lead weight on it.

It’s going to be very interesting very soon.

§§§§§§

*I know–sounds kinda dirty. Heh.

**Heh, heh.

Fixin’ to Get Ready

When I lived in North Carolina, I had a roommate who would use that phrase. Whenever we were going out, he’d ask me “you fixin’ to get ready?”

As a northerner, this use of the word ‘fix’ was new to me. It meant ‘prepare’ rather than ‘repair.’  Which, to my way of thinking, meant the question was rather silly. “You getting ready to get ready?” was redundant. You prepared, then you acted.

As a word guy, I always felt superior when I discovered redundancies. Did you enter your PIN number in the ATM machine? Then you’re impenetrably dense. Even well-established words weren’t out of my target range. One of my favorites was ‘overwhelm.’ To ‘whelm’ means to submerge completely. How can you be more submerged than completely submerged?

..and then, of course, I found out the hard way that it is, indeed possible to be overwhelmed. And I also found out that it’s possible to astonish. ‘Astonish’ is the antonym of overwhelm. Trust me. I’m a word guy.

And I was astonished to discover that it is important to be fixin’ to get ready.

That’s pretty much all I did, training-wise, for the better part of two years. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d never been one for personal awareness. What I thought I was doing was training. I thought I would get on my bike and ride for a while, then in August I’d ride my bike up a mountain, everyone would go “ooo!” and that would be it.

I don’t know if ‘arrogance’ and ‘ignorance’ are synonyms, but they should be.

Sometime in the early spring of 2009, I changed my goal of riding up Mt. Washington from 2009 to 2010. And then in 2010, I did it again, to 2011. It was more difficult than I had anticipated.

But I kept it up. Which surprised me a little. At one time, it would have surprised me a lot. In fact, it would have astonished me. But times change. I wasn’t just talking about this adventure in some abstract way. I was doing what I could to change myself. I rode my bike all spring, summer, and fall. And when winter came,  I bought a trainer, and rode my bike in the basement. 4 or 5 days a week, staring at the cat’s litter box, trying to disappear into my headphones.

Then spring came again, and I got the bike I wanted–the one with a low gear the size of a frisbee, and continued riding outdoors. I put 2,000 miles on that bike that summer. I thought I was training.

Then one day in February of 2011, out of the blue, I realized that if I was ever going to put Mt. Washington behind me, I would have to more than commit to climb it. I would need to actually climb it. You know–put myself on the bike, and put my bike on the mountain, and pedal ’til I reached the top. In other words, do what I said I was going to do.

So I went online to check to see when they would begin registering for the ride. Even though it’s incredibly steep, there are about a thousand or so people who want to ride their bikes up this mountain each year, but only 600 positions available. It’s not unusual for registration to close the day after it opens, so I wanted to make sure I knew when it would open. I was pretty sure it was some time in May.

Turns out the registration wasn’t in May. It opened at 9:00 the next day. And it would cost me $350 to register.

I was astonished. Not only at the freakish timing, but also that I had the $350 to spend. And I got scared. This was it. If I filled out the form and sent in the money, I would be honest-to-God committing to this event. I would literally be putting my money where my mouth was.

And I did it. The next morning I filled in the forms, transferred the money electronically, and giggled. Yes, giggled.

And it was then that I realized for the past two years, I wasn’t actually training for the ride. What I was doing was getting myself into good enough shape to really start training.

I was preparing to prepare.

The time for fixin’ to get ready had passed. It was time to really get ready.

I had to train. Oh, boy.

2009-2011

The last few posts have pretty much taken us up to the point where I started this blog. If you want to rehash the entirety of all of what happened between that October day and last August, just go to the first post, and work your way up from there.

In restrospect, it was not the best idea to title the posts with the date. Oh, well. Live and learn.

In a nutshell, here’s what else I learned:

  • It’s important to have the proper equipment. This includes the proper bike and the proper clothes.
  • It’s important to have a routine. I need to pick times to exercise, and to commit to them. Otherwise, I just get lazy.
  • I also discovered I had a misconception about how I would feel when I got into shape. I thought I would be able to go and go and go without getting tired. What I actually learned was how to be able to go and go and go while being tired.
  • If a certain hill tires you out when you climb it, it will most likely always tire you out when you climb it. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to climb it.
  • I get a deep, profound joy out of riding a bicycle. Much deeper than I had ever anticipated.

And there was other stuff, too. If I think about it, I’ll post it. But I want to get to what I’m doing now.  I would be surprised if I spend more than two more posts on this past summer and the ride.

Or maybe I’ll post more. I surprise myself all the time these days.

Talk Talk

So did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? Do you make them regularly? Did you at one time, but stop, because you never seem to follow through on them?

That’s what I did. Or, more to the point, didn’t do. For a lot of years. When I was younger, I’d make lists:

  • Lose weight
  • Dress better
  • Manage my money
  • Not fall in love with every gir…hey, how ya doin’?

And the like. After a while I stopped because they were vague goals and easily forgotten. And also because when I said stuff like that and didn’t follow through, I felt like I wasn’t being a man of my word.

So to prevent that happening, I pretty much didn’t give my word on anything. At least, anything that might take some effort.

That’s why it was so difficult for me to talk about my decision to ride my bike up Mt. Washingon. And also why it was so important–not only to talk about it, but to keep talking about it. Because I knew if I didn’t mention it, I would back away from it, ignore it, pretend I never said anything about it and hope no one ever mentioned it.

“Hey Brian, weren’t you planning on riding your bike up some mountain?”

“Yeah. I was just being silly. Anyone want this last jelly donut?”

Actually, that’s not what would have happened. Most likely, I would have denied I ever said it. And I would have swiped the last donut when no one was looking.

I didn’t want to be that guy anymore. I wanted to be a man of my word. I still do. So I knew I would have to commit to the goal, talk about the goal, and work toward the goal. Starting this blog was a big part of all of that. Even though I let it go dark when I got close to the goal, it was invaluable at the early part of the process. And it’s also why I’m starting it up again. I’ve got another goal, and I’m starting to work towards it. And, as always, if I don’t talk about the goal, I won’t work towards it.

Another thing I did is I got help. From a lot of places. I got the help because I asked for it. Funny how that works. I got bike advice from a bike shop, and I got head advice from a head shop.

Sorry. That joke was a bit too easy. Actually, I got it from a counselor. And also from a program of recovery. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll continue to do so. If you think you might need help, you probably do. Seek it out. Ask for it.

It’s amazing what you can get in this life if you just ask for it.

Commitment

The backstory to the story of my ride up Mount Washington continues. Hell, if Ted Mosby can take seven years to tell his kids the story about how he met their mother, I get to take a few damn blog posts to tell mine.

§§§§§§

After I came home from vacation, I kept thinking about that voice in my head. The one that told me that I was going to ride a bicycle up a mountain. And I kept ignoring it.

Confession time: I have a lot of voices in my head. I don’t know if that’s usual or unusual, but there’s always an internal commentary going on. Sometimes it’s a monologue, other times there’s arguments going on up there. Regardless of the number, there’s always been one constant: None of these voices ever spoke with this sort of clarity before. None of them ever told me I would do something that would require the level of commitment this would take.

And it wasn’t tentative, or put as a suggestion, either. The voice said “You’re doing that.” Nothing ambiguous about it. It freaked me out. I continued to ignore it.

I got on with my life. The kids went back to school, I got back into the daily routine. I did start riding my bike a bit more, but so what? It was good exercise. So when a friend of mine told me she was going to run in the Rochester Marathon, I decided to ride my bike to the starting line, and cheer her on as she started. It made perfect sense: I figured there wouldn’t be much parking available there, so it would be a bad idea to drive my car. I’d probably have to walk several blocks from the parking spot to see her off, so why not just cruise over on my bike?

The race started, and as she and her sister ran past, I cheered them on. Yay. Then I rode home. Well, I sorta rode home. I decided since I was already up and it was barely 7 in the morning, I’d go the long way home.

And so that’s how I came upon the roadblock set up by the police. It was another point in the race. I decided to stay there for a while, and when my friend came by, I’d cheer her on again!

So I parked my bike under a tree and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And…thought about what she was doing. This was a woman in her forties who decided to run a marathon. That takes some commitment! I admired her for that commitment. I wondered if she had heard a voice similar to the one I heard in my head, or if she had decided on her own to do this. And, of course, the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee chimed in.

Could I really ride a bike up a mountain? Was that even possible? Well, what was the harm in trying? Even if I didn’t make it, the worst that could happen is that I’d get into shape.

Well, actually, the worst that could happen is that I could get run over by a cement truck while riding and taste my own blood before I died, but still…

The spot where I was waiting for my friend was at the bottom of a hill. Cobb’s Hill. A short, but steep hill just a few blocks from my house. I stared at the incline and heard that voice again.

“You’re doing that…”

Well, if I was going to climb a mountain, I’d first have to climb a few hills. I got on my bike and pedaled to the base of the hill. I dropped into a low gear and started climbing.

Then I dropped into a lower gear.

And a lower gear.

And cursed in my head because there weren’t any gears lower to drop into. I wrote ‘in my head’ rather than the more commonly used ‘under my breath’ in the last sentence because I had such little breath left that there was barely any breath under which a curse could be muttered.

I struggled and wheezed, but I made it to the top of the hill. I was gassed. This was hard! I rode down to the bottom again, and surprised myself by turning around and riding back up again. Wasn’t any easier that time. And when I got to the bottom, holy crap–I started back up a third time. My legs were pudding by now, so I headed for home.

So I didn’t get a second chance to cheer on my friend that day. Turns out this was the route of the half-marathon, and she was never going to be running past it. Story of my life. Up to that point.

Because at that point something changed. I decided to commit to something. Something hard. Something waaaaay out of my comfort zone.

And then I did something harder. Possibly the hardest thing to do on this quest to do a very hard thing:

I started talking about it.