July 3, 2015 § 12 Comments
The biggest muscle in the old fellow cyclist’s body is not the buttock or the jaw despite the close proximity of the two. No, the biggest muscle is the will muscle, or rather, it is potentially the biggest muscle. Typically the will muscle in cyclists is poorly developed and dwarfed by the beer muscle, the descending muscle (located in the abdomen), and the Strava muscle.
However, in order to reach your fullest potential and perhaps break the top-40 in an October upgrade crit, you will first need to enter a race with thirty or fewer riders. Failing that, you will need to work on your will muscle.
The will muscle’s most basic failure-to-flex typically occurs on rainy, cold, overcast, humid, hot, snowy, or windy mornings. By failing to flex the will muscle when there are four raindrops on your window you will remain in bed. This initial flex is more important than all other flexes of the day.
Like any muscle, the will muscle requires constant use to build and to avoid atrophy. It also requires fuel. Unlike the beer muscle, which is fed on beer, and the descending muscle, which grows on giant tins of Danish butter cookies, the will muscle only grows when nourished by positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement such as showing up on the Flog Ride and getting shelled in the first hundred yards will cause the will muscle to shrivel.
The will muscle can also be wrecked from overuse, like a normal muscle in Crossfit. The will muscle can only do one major exercise at a time, and some exercises require all of the muscle, such as giving up drinking, waking up before noon, or learning the names (middle ones too!) of your children.
In other words, there is never enough will muscle go around, so if you’re going to quit boozing, or quit wenching, or start learning Sanscrit, you can pretty much write off any other goal or activity that requires significant use of the will muscle. Remember the old American Express ad, “You can have it all!”? Well, they lied. You can’t.
The will muscle, even when highly developed, eventually fatigues and gives out when overused or when asked to do the impossible. It will also fail when you give it too big a task before properly conditioning it, like when I used to lift weights.
When I used to lift weights I went straight to the huge, massive stuff. After loading up the bar with 95 pounds of solid steel and lowering it from the little holder thingies onto my chest, I had that funny thing happen when the weight is sitting on your chest crushing your heart and you can’t lift it off, and you make that funny choking screaming noise and hope someone is watching, which they were, and if it hadn’t been for that junior high school girl who ran over and lifted it up with one hand (she was a beast) I wouldn’t be here today.
Your will muscle is the same way. Don’t ask it to do the massive 95-lb. bench press (quitting booze, etc.) before you have conditioned it with easier tasks (switching to decaf, actually listening to your spouse, not calling your boss “asshole”). In other words, work up to the big stuff.
Finally, don’t fall for the performance-enhancing stuff to make your will hypertrophic. Everyone hates an iron-willed teetotaling machine with a six-pack and a seven-figure salary.
So, start small and build up your will muscle with baby steps, such as, for example, by finding a really useful blog on the Internet that has a very affordable subscription price, say on the order of $2.99 per month, and subscribe to it.
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PS: Don’t forget to take the 2015 Bike Racing Survey here.
June 11, 2015 § 20 Comments
I hate Cheerios and always have. When I was a kid I disliked the absence of purple, green, and yellow marshmallows such as were featured in Kaboom! and Lucky Charms and other healthful, sugar-infused breakfast choices for growing bodies and developing teeth. Cheerios were boring.
As an adolescent I despised the name. What the hell was cheery about getting up the morning and having to eat something soaked in a bowl of cold milk?
Now that I’m a really grouchy old man there is no food more detestable than Cheerios, or at least that was true in the month of May, in the year of Before Cheerios, or B.C. In May, B.C., we had Cheerios up on the shelf because my youngest son, who turns 18 shortly, eats them for breakfast.
Since all families engage in various forms of food poaching, especially when there’s only one bar of chocolate left, or only enough ice cream for one bowl, my youngest never had to worry about anyone poaching his Cheerios. But that was the B.C. era.
Several days ago Mrs. WM left with Junior for a months-long trip to the Far East. Now we are in the month of June, After Departure, or A.D, and one thing I can tell you is this: I’m really hungry.
In years 1-29 B.C., our fridge was always full to bursting. After less than a week into the year 1 A.D., it looks like this:
Now the first thing this picture should make you think is, “How does a family exist with a $325 refrigerator?” The second, of course, is that getting up in the middle of the night with hunger pangs, staggering to the fridge only to be faced with a pint of heavy cream, some vinegar, a few onions, a head of lettuce,some eggs, last night’s spaghetti, some condiments, and a jug of milk is cause for an immediate trip to the all-night supermarket. (The big plastic thing on the right is some kind of fermenting Japanese vegetable that I had to swear not to touch, i.e. toss, in Mrs. WM’s absence. I swore, but then again I’m a notorious liar.)
However, the need for food is balanced by an almost superhuman cheapness on my part and a commitment to eating everything before I buy anything. In addition to having a somewhat reduced grocery bill since 1 A.D. (daily grocery bill dropped from $25/day to $7 over 7 days), the other big difference between the B.C. era and the A.D. era is that I’ve lost five pounds and become giddy if I have to stand more than five minutes at a time.
People who claim that they cannot lose weight should come spend a few days here and try to fatten up on a raw onion dabbed with Stubbs Barbecue Sauce and nori sprinkles.
Most of all, they should try to fatten up on Cheerios. That’s what I’ve been reduced to eating in the morning, a single measured cup of Honey Nut Cheerios with a quarter-cup of almonds and a cup of milk. That was until three days ago, when we temporarily ran out of milk and I had to eat the Cheerios dry, the most loathsome food in the world, with salty almonds for breakfast.
My eldest son and I made a shopping list yesterday. It looked like this:
- Milk, 2%, gallon
Then we went to the store after dinner and made our grocery purchase for the week. It was a cool evening, and it’s a ten-minute walk to the store. I had to lie down three times before we got there. On the way back home he put his big arm around my shoulders.
“Love you, Dad,” he said.
“Love you too, son,” I answered.
Cheerios or not, the year 1 A.D. isn’t turning out so bad after all.
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June 7, 2015 § 22 Comments
A friend was driving in L.A. yesterday and witnessed a terrible accident, where a woman in a jeep flipped her car, flew in the air, and landed on the side. My friend stopped and talked to her and calmed her while waiting for rescue to arrive, as the driver was trapped. The man who caused the accident was distraught beyond words; a real mess.
The woman was extricated without any broken bones, and in addition to being freaked out she was upset about having her new car totaled. My friend thought that with the violence of the impact the woman would have been killed instantly.
My friend’s take away on it? “If I know one thing for sure, your health is all that matters. The metal can be replaced but the person cannot.”
I pondered her wisdom this morning and thought about the people in life who sacrifice their health for the cheapest and most worthless things. On the way home from the race in Chula Vista yesterday I stopped in Leucadia and got a Subway sandwich; meat, some olives, some jalapenos, some radishes, some tomatoes, some purple onions, and a little bit of vinegar and black pepper on whole wheat. There is a Starbucks next door so I got a cup of black hot coffee and sat down on the outside deck to enjoy lunch before battling the heavy traffic back to L.A.
I was wrecked from 50 miles in back-to-back races and hadn’t eaten since breakfast and the apple that Dandy had given me before the start of race #2. The first bite of that sandwich was nirvana. I shivered, it tasted so good.
A family came up while I was caressing each bite with my tongue, and one by one they sat down heavily under the little umbrellas. They were terribly obese. The mom was 150 lbs. overweight and the little girl with her was horribly overweight. The smallest person in their family of five was a solid 50 pounds overweight and looked rail-thin in comparison to everyone else.
I thought about the diabetes that they either had or were going to have, of struggling to walk from the car to the curb, of forcing themselves uncomfortably into airplane seats, of the joint pain, the back pain, the neck pain, the lifetime of doctor appointments, the continual ingestion of pharmaceuticals, the body shame, always having to shop from the racks with the most gigantic clothing, and never ever getting to know the pleasure of riding a bicycle along the coast for an hour or two though they were in Leucadia, which is smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on earth.
And for what? Junk food at Subway? The little girl, who was about eight years old, had a 12-inch roast beef sandwich stuffed so full with “fixings” that she could barely get it into her mouth, and the end of the sub drooled sauce like a broken sewage pipe. Everyone had two bags of chips, a cookie, and a giant coke cup.
What’s worse, no one looked as if they were enjoying their meal. It’s as if the surfeit made the food utterly tasteless.
I thought about my friend, who for over twenty years after coming back from cancer has completely changed her life. She rides, she has overcome addiction, and she refuses to put her health second to anything. Most of all, she has the spiritual strength and the strength of character to stop in the middle of a catastrophe and help others. Is her respect for her own well-being part of what makes her able to help others in time of need?
I think it is.
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June 6, 2015 § 7 Comments
It sounds incredible, I know, but this really happened to me thanks to the new Debagger Diet developed by Dr. Alger Rhythm of East Anglia, Puddingsford, UK. My story is like this.
I used to be 75 lbs. overweight because I couldn’t stop Facebagging. I had the Facebag app and I would check it in between late night trips to the bathroom, which average about twelve because my prostate leaks a lot.
First thing when my alarm went off and I had to get up to turn it off so I could sleep for another three hours, I would check my Facebag. Since I have 8,402.1 friends there were always a lot of really important notifications to read, for example there was one thread with 734 posts about Elvira Gromwurster’s cat and how it had dental caries.
Plus I would have to add my own comments and also I had twelve private groups where my real friends and I could chat and talk about the other friends whose guts we hated even though we had to like their posts otherwise they would get their feelings hurt and sad face.
Plus I had to manage my other two fake accounts that I used to friend all the people I really hated and it got confusing trying to remember which fake me was fake friends with which people I detested. Stressful!!!
It was like this even during sex which I enjoyed with my wife regularly every other month whether she needed it or not because that is the kind of virility a woman likes in a man. But she didn’t like it when I would take time out to check the ‘bag, that’s for sure.
It was getting me in trouble at work, too. Apparently they have a thing in the computers at work that can actually see what you’re doing in your cubicle on your own computer. Who knew??? This came out because my boss said I needed to buckle down and be more productive and I told him I was and he said he knew for a fact that every 8.3 seconds I stopped monitoring the fuel rods and was checking the ‘bag, which I was.
Things were bad, especially about six weeks ago when I missed the red warning light that shows the water level has dropped and we got a Code 7 which on the one hand was cool because we’d never had one before (highest ever was a Code 4 when one of the maintenance crew poured the used cooling water down the toilet by mistake and killed a bunch of fish and some kids they say but it was never proven).
So here is Dr. Alger Rhythm’s Debagger Diet and it really works.
- Delete the Facebag app.
- Don’t look at the ‘bag on Saturday.
- Or Sunday.
- Or Monday.
- Or Tuesday through Thursday.
- On Friday log on for fifteen minutes.
- Anything you can’t respond to or read in 15 minutes doesn’t get responded to or read.
This sounds easy but it is not. First you will start twitching. By the third day you will be climbing the wall wondering about Elvira’s cat, or about whether somebody is still mad about what somebody else posted about somebody who no one knows but everyone’s friends with.
After your first week you will be down about ten pounds. You can measure it by weighing your head at the start, and then weighing it after each week. You don’t need to weigh it every day.
Pretty soon all of the fat in your head will have drizzled away and after a month your brain will be lean and fit and bulging with thoughts and ideas, one of which will halfway make sense, sort of. And you will only vaguely recall the cat.
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May 31, 2015 § 31 Comments
Early morning, around 4:30 or so, is my favorite time of day because of coffee and breakfast. The rest of the day I morosely drink my java bitter and joylessly and pitch black, but the first cup is when I allow myself a dollop of heavy cream mixed with a dollop of whole milk. Fat plus the pungent smell of the fresh grounds plus caffeine equals yum.
Then there’s breakfast which is fruit and oatmeal or yogurt with nuts and more yum.
Since Mrs. WM is leaving for the wilds of Japan shortly, she has been reminding me that without her I will starve. “What you gonna eat?” she demands with a satisfied smile. “You gonna hungry all day.”
“I’m hungry all day anyway. And peanut butter.”
“You can’t onna peanut butter for breakfast lunchin dinner.”
“You can’t onna Domino’s every day,” she added.
“That’s true, too.”
“So whatchu gonna do?” she will triumphantly smile as she waltzes off to Zumba in her cute green shoes.
That question bothered me, so for the first time in a few years I opened one of the kitchen cabinets while she was off doing her obasan-dance class. The only place more off limits for me than the panty drawer is the cupboard.
I was surprised to find that in the first cabinet there weren’t any dishes, but rather fifteen boxes of spaghetti. Even I can cook spaghetti. My research revealed more surprises. Eight jars of chipotle salsa. Three jars of Bonne Maman raspberry jam and two of marmalade, one from Dean’s wine farm in San Diego.
Twenty-three packs of Japanese instant ramen, the good stuff, and fourteen packages of House curry. Twelve big cans of tomatoes. Four big bags of rice and three jars of Nutella. What is Nutella?
My search took me into the hall closet where I found … more pasta, a box of crackers, two boxes of cereal, canned corn, and a secret stash of peanut butter, which no one eats except me.
I took all this stuff and laid it out on the dining table, which it covered. There was enough food here for an Arctic expedition and I hadn’t even screwed up my courage to look in the fridge, a place I was allowed to extract milk from but from where I am otherwise banned, especially behind the walls.
What are the behind the walls? Mrs. WM stocks the fridge the same way she stocks the crockery cabinets with pasta: She crams it all in. There is a narrow front ledge with milk and yogurt and a plastic carton of olives but behind that each shelf is a solid wall that must be unpacked to learn what is behind, say, the giant bags of celery, a food no one here eats.
I unpacked the walls and found many things: Kimchee, my beloved kimchee! Baby carrots, more celery, apples, vintage raspberries that were covered in mold, more celery, a half-eaten tub of hummus, old bread, many jars of opened chipotle salsa, and a huge tub of meat sauce. The crisper drawers were even more amazing. Bacon, sausage, more celery, onions, shallots, tubs of miso, and thank dog, more celery.
By now it was lunchtime and Mrs. WM was due home from Zumba. I took out some celery, poured some canned corn into a small bowl, cracked out a jar of peanut butter and a slice of bread, and opened up the Nutella stuff. It looked nasty but there might be some synergy there with the peanut butter, I thought, smearing the peanut butter and Nutella on a banana.
There was! Holy crap! This Nutella stuff is the shit!
Mrs. WM came home to find me happily ensconced in my treasure trove, and she was none too pleased, not just about the sense of pantry violation and my expose’ of her somewhat haphazard grocery shopping habits, but worse, the obvious fact that whatever happened to me between now and September, it wouldn’t be starvation.
“You can’t gonna ride onna bicycle eatin’ Nutella spaghetti and butter and salsa,” she said.
“Watch me,” I said, munching happily. “Just watch me.”
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May 20, 2015 § 30 Comments
Rarely, very rarely, someone will ask me a serious question about fitness or training or racing. These are terrifying moments, aware as I am that of all the people with zero value to share on such topics, I am certainly the largest negative integer in that department.
This person asked me about getting a coach. Now, I have lots of friends who are coaches, but that number will be greatly reduced after today because here is what I told my friend:
Unless someone experienced in both fields has evaluated you and advised you that you can make more money riding your bicycle than you can getting an MBA, coaching is stupid. Why?
Because the basics behind cycling improvement haven’t changed in 100 years.
- Eat right
- Lose weight
- Ride more
- Ride with those who are better than you
Once you’ve done these five things, and it generally takes 5-10 years to reach the right balance, you can start seeking advice. The good news is that when you’ve spent a decade doing #4 and #5, your coaches will be the people you regularly ride and race with, and they will gladly share what they know as well as point out what they think you do well and where you can improve.
Training plans, power meters, heart rate monitors, coaches … get over it. It’s a scam designed to obfuscate the harsh realities of 1-5 above, and to take your eye off the Reality Ball, which says you are old and slow and will continue getting older and slower until you die, which will be incredibly soon relative to your expectations.
In fact, when it comes to speed, your best investments are aero, carbon, diet, and winning the battle of the bed. Aero speaks for itself. Get a Sausage-approved Aero Pro Fit p/b Daniel Holloway and you will go noticeably faster.
Get as much 100% carbon stuff that is full carbon and you will go faster still, especially if it’s aero carbon, as if there were any other kind.
Diet is trickier, but in a nutshell here are the basics:
- Toss the radical weight loss plan. 143 pounds is not good for a six foot frame, and constant ravenous hunger is an unhappy way to live, although it sure sharpens every single faculty.
- Make incremental changes. Shave a bit here and there, and mostly rein in dinner. If you’re a 3-plate eater, first go from 3 servings to 2, and then from 2 to 1. Even if it’s sometimes a big serving, shoot for a norm of “enough to make me feel full but not stuffed.”
- USE SMALLER PLATES.
- Eat at home more often and put everything on a plate, except ice cream, which goes in a bowl. A small one.
- Chop the legs off of your enabler. He/she is the person who asks you 10 times a day “Do you want … ?” or “Do you want to go out for … ?” Cure the enabler by saying “Yes, but since you asked me, I’ll pass.” The enabler will be very angry for a while and no sex, but when you’re shedding pounds who has the energy for that anyway? Don’t waste your time telling the enabler to quit asking, just let the enabler know that no matter what it is, if the enabler recommends it, you’re refusing no matter how hungry you are. Pretty soon you’ll be back in control of what you eat and when you eat it. Plus, what hungry human can say “No” ten times a day? I can’t even say it once.
- Read “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse. The protagonist’s only skills are “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.” These are incredible qualities to develop in cycling, and in life if you have one. (I don’t.) Keep in mind that while it’s not good to be ravenous all the time, it is good to endure a few pangs during the day. It’s not normal to always be full or to sate yourself every time you feel hungry. It’s like expecting to race well without ever training hard.
The biggest fitness obstacle, however, is the bed battle. Everyone can testify to the difficulty of twisting yourself out of the clutches of the warm sheets, especially when the only thing on offer is a guaranteed 60-minute beatdown on the Flog Ride, cf. Joseph Y.
The bed battle cannot be won with multiple alarms or with pre-percolating coffee timers, and it certainly can’t be won when the person next to you is warm and cuddly and not very interested in your morning bicycle ride. The bed battle can only be won the night before, by going to bed early, airing up your tires, laying out your superhero outfit, and promising a friend that you will meet him at a time certain.
There. That’s all I know, and most of it is wrong.
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May 15, 2015 § 42 Comments
Nothing is less inspiring the tales of already-skinny people about how they got skinnier. What inspires us are the people who came to cycling as way to deal with major health problems, and through cycling overcame them. One of those people is a South Bay regular, Dan K.
Below is his story, mostly in his own words, with a dab here and there of mine:
I was 250 lbs and in trouble. Every December, my doctor said the same thing. Cholesterol, high. Blood pressure, high. Fatty liver disease, just around the bend. And if you think it’s terrible having your kids say, “Dad died from a heart attack,” imagine them saying “Dad died of fatty liver disease.”
My doc would tell me I could carry on and get ready for a lifetime regimen of drugs, or make a change. I’d dutifully hop on the elliptical trainer, lose a few pounds, and then with Christmas and the New Year come roaring back to “normal.”
By 2011 I’d injured my back and had constant sciatic pain. I could hardly sleep. I also had periodic blinding pain in my side. I made a special trip to the doctor, got some codeine and PT, and went back to functioning with a legal Rx drug dependency. But I realized after three months that this was no way to live the rest of my life. So I finally decided, truly decided, to change.
I’m an engineer so I started with the numbers, and that’s ultimately where I finished. I knew that the most important thing was not what I weighed today (can’t change that) or what I will weigh tomorrow (can’t really change that), but the trend line, i.e. what I will weigh next week or next month. Next month is something I can change. Incremental changes today could push the trend line of my weight and of my health in a positive direction. I knew I wouldn’t be healthy next month, but I knew I could be healthier.
I also realized that willpower is a finite resource, but it’s also like a muscle. In order to improve it, you have to stress your willpower towards the point of failure. The muscle and the will become stronger, but only if you exercise them.
Next, I challenged myself. I set a goal to start swimming for at least 30 minutes a day, every day, and to avoid eating junk and highly refined foods. The first day in the pool was a challenge. I don’t think I did more than seven laps. It was awful. But I came back the next morning and did eight. Within a few weeks, I was swimming farther and longer.
What’s key is that I didn’t turn myself around overnight. This was no 30-day success story.
Did I go swimming every day? No.
Did I eat healthy food every day? No.
Did I move in a positive direction more days than not? ABSOLUTELY. This was crucial because my goal was to move the trend, not to reach some magical end-point. In a sense, I made my objective goal—exercise every day–harder than my real goal, which was to simply move the trend line.
When I saw the doctor six weeks after staring my “new” life in mid-December of 2011, things were better. I was down to, um, 235 lbs. BP was down a bit. Liver was still chubby, but perhaps not as fatty. Yet I was still on the wrong side of the healthy line and I was still in pain. So the doctor renewed my prescriptions and encouraged me. More importantly, I was able to encourage myself because I had entered the magical positive feedback loop. I could see that the trend line was heading in the right direction, and I wanted to keep it up.
My first bike ride on August 14, 2012, on a crappy old mountain bike, was 4.5 miles in 30 minutes over some “hills” near home. I think my heart rate must have been 190, and I thought I was going die. But I went out again on the 16th and cracked out nine whole miles. That Sunday I rode to the Strand and up to the end of Manhattan for a whopping 16 miles. I was slow but I was having fun. By the middle of the September I had made it to Ballona Creek, then Venice, then Santa Monica by October.
A year later my body was in a better place. My weight was 220. My liver enzymes were “good.” My cholesterol was normal, my back pain was gone, and I was off the prescription drugs.
I celebrated, bought a road bike, and started going farther and faster. Eventually I found Seth’s blog and started riding in PV. In February 2013 I pedaled out to where one of my aunts lives, and made it halfway up Hawthorne Blvd. I thought I was going to die, and got a ride home. A week later I sucked it up, made it around the peninsula, up and over the Switchbacks (13:48) all the while thinking the climb would never end. I’d occasionally see a mini-peloton go by and I’d try to latch on, though I always seemed to blow up in 15 seconds. But I was getting stronger.
In July of 2013 I was down fifty pounds to a “svelte” 200. I gutted up and took the plunge, telling myself “It’s time for NPR!” I still remember getting blown off the back on Vista del Mar during the neutral rollout. The next time I blew up on Pershing Hill, the first earnest surge of the ride. A week later I got axed on Pershing proper. Then, I played roman candle on the overpass, followed by exploding a week later on Lap 1.
The whole time people helped and encouraged me. Manslaughter would yell at me to pedal hard and get back on. The Wily Greek pushed me physically as I was coming unhitched, numerous times. Eventually I stuck on the whole NPR from tip to tail. You can talk about climbing the highest mountain all you want. For me, toughing out that ride from start to finish was huge … and I did it!
For the next 18 months I stabilized around 195, gaining muscle mass and losing fat. I ran a marathon, rode some centuries, and did some epic climbs. I’ve gone from that to a current weight of about 175, and in addition to the NPR I also do the Flog Ride, and even completed the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride.
How would I sum it up?
- Lie to yourself. Set a goal harder than what you need to achieve so you have some room to screw up.
- Set an exercise schedule and a calorie budget and follow it, accepting imperfection in all things!
- Follow the weekly-monthly-annual trend, not the daily fluctuation.
- Mix endurance rides with beatdowns like the NPR, Flog Ride, or Donut.
- Ride with wankers who are faster and stronger than you!
- Accept that everything hurts the first time, but that each time you do the same thing it gets a little easier. Or perhaps you just go a little faster, which is even better.
- Use free resources out there! Check out the “Hacker Diet,” a free e-book and an engineer’s guide to weight loss, and MyFitnessPal, which can help you know how many calories you’re downing at a sitting.
- Do what you enjoy! If you hate the activity you will quit.
- Start slowly!
- Find a peer group. Most cyclist types are nut jobs and love new people to hang out with, partly because more people means a higher probability someone will show up for the ride, and partly because they’ll enjoy breaking your legs.
- Real results will take a while.
- Changes occur inside before the things that everyone sees on the outside!
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