Monday, May 21, 2012

No pain, no gain?

As a personal trainer for almost twenty years, I have gotten the chance to coach some amazing athletes.  A question that often comes up is "How hard should I be pushing?"  Most athletes have the mantra of "no pain, no gain" or "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger".  I, on the other hand, don't buy into this way of thinking.  I am a firm believer that if you are in true "pain", you should stop what you are doing.

Arrowhead 135.  This would be a great example of
both mental and possible physical pain
When meeting with athletes for the first few sessions, I will talk to them about the difference between discomfort and pain.  Everyone has a different line between the two and it's important to know what your line is.  For some, working out in high temperatures and humidity may seem "painful", for others, riding for 24 hours straight touches on pain.  Either way, finding that mind/body connection is one of the most important tools to have.  What is perceived and what is actually happening takes quite a bit of training to distinguish.  Also, accepting the fact that we are all organic and our body and mind change daily needs to be addressed.

A trick I was taught early on in my personal training is to take a resting pulse for three days straight, first thing in the morning, for an entire minute.  Average these out and any morning your resting pulse is ten beats higher than that number means a recovery day.  The three day reading should be repeated a few times throughout the season since it will most likely drop with higher fitness levels.  Your heart rate is the best tool to see if you are sick, over trained or in pain.  Of course if you are mentally stressed the number can also be affected, however, if you cannot calm your stress level down enough to lower the heart rate, you are damaging your body.

The other tool I use besides heart rate is breathing rate and depth.  Heart rate and breathing rate go hand in hand.  Some people just prefer paying closer attention to one versus the other.  When climbing a steep hill or sprinting, your breathing rate and heart rate will naturally increase into the anaerobic zone.  The trick is to get it down as quickly as possible to enter into a recovery.  Learning how to breath deeply (not just chest breathing) and evenly is very important in becoming a stronger endurance athlete.  It also "calms" the body by tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system--telling the body that everything is okay--no need to stress out.  By using these two techniques, you can quickly figure out if you are in actual pain instead of fatigue.

nearing the end of a 9 day tour--more disomfort was felt
on the trails than the hilly roads
There are times, for some more than others, that you just feel like pushing through the workout or race no matter what.  There are also times, like on a bike tour,  when you don't have much of an option but to push through.  I tell my clients that it's just important to know the consequences.  While you're in the heat of the moment, adrenaline is often times surging through the body to make you feel invincible.  While tuning the bodies signals out may make you feel stronger, the signals are there, none the less, for a reason.  You may not get injured the first or second time around, but one day it will happen.  The question I ask people is "What is the cost?" or "Is it really worth it?".

Once you've discovered the difference in discomfort versus pain and you're okay with working out in the state of discomfort once in awhile, it can be a great training tool--making the mind and body stronger.  Wind is usually the kicker for me.  I'm fine riding in extreme temperatures for long periods and enjoy going anaerobic (what I call "cleaning out the pipes").  What I tend to shy away from is riding into a headwind or cross wind.  Living in Southern Wisconsin I don't have much choice.  If I stayed off the bike on windy days, I would rarely ride.  I would in turn become "soft".  I've taught myself that I will survive the ride and I tell myself that I don't have to push hard or go fast--I just have to get out there.  This works about 90% of the time.  The other 10% I choose to hike or run.  After all, isn't moving the most important thing?  I have also sustained plenty of injuries over the years that have kept me off the bike.  Once again, I am forced to change my way of thinking and find something that I can do and know that in time, I'll be back on two wheels.  Injuries and illness are never easy to deal with.  I just encourage you to really tune into what your body is trying to tell you and respect it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I am my father's daughter

Gary Johnson, my father, in the 90's with his beloved Chris Kvale frame

I have spent the past thirty-eight years trying to figure out who I am and what role my parents had in forming my current being.  As many of you know, my father is the one that introduced me to the world of cycling.  Since yesterday was his sixty-fifth birthday...this post is for him.

My father was not born to be a cyclist like me.  He happened to fall into it after his time in Vietnam and while living with a room mate that bike raced.  That was almost forty years ago.  Although he doesn't race currently, he is still pumping out huge mileage--and can ride circles around me.

my dad racing in the late 70's
My father and I have a rocky relationship...and sometimes non-existent.  I know, however, that I would not be the person I am today without his gift of the bike.  Some of my earliest memories are of watching him at races throughout the Midwest--Snake Alley being one of my all-time favorites.  I grew up with the smells of bike lube and tire rubber.  This post, however, is not about me.  Meet Gary Johnson.

Since my dad got into racing "late" in life (in his late 20's), he didn't get a chance to race professionally.  Racing actually didn't come naturally to him like some I know.  He had to work hard at it, and that he did.  He would work his paving job with the city of Minneapolis for eight to ten hours in all conditions and would then hop on his bike for a club or solo ride that would last thirty to fifty miles...weekend rides were around seventy or were set aside for races.  I remember being in awe of his calender from Velo News since that is where he'd keep his training log (no computers back then).  He was religious about writing down the mileage, conditions and workouts he had completed.  He always said that he didn't "get his legs" until mile 2000, usually in June

Although he started racing as a "senior", most of his time was spent as a "vet" (old term for young "master" racers) and as a "master".  His love was criteriums or "crits" as they are called by racers.  He was a tactical racer and always knew where to be in the pack for the last few laps or for a prime.  He studied the other racer's strengths and weaknesses as well as the course.  Most of the time he made the podium and competed well in both the state and national championships.  I got to the point that I knew where he'd be for the last few laps, he taught me how to read this mass of swarming riders and I could usually pick who'd win from their placement in the pack.  By watching him, I learned better bike handling skills for when I'd go on group rides.  I also learned volunteering for events was just as important as being in the event. My dad served as the MCF (Minnsota Cycling Federation) president for years and put on the famed fairgrounds races in St.Paul.

He was always drawn to the "classics" both in races, riders and gear.  Spring meant watching the Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice and the Giro d'Italia on t.v.  I think Sean Kelly was his hero--may still be today.  He appreciated racers that weren't showy.  Guys like Sean Kelly, Raul Alcala and Andy Hampsten ranked much higher than Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon and Lance Armstrong.  My dad held on to riding a steel frame and toe straps until everyone else had switched over.  His Schwinn Paramount and Chris Kvale frame are now coveted items in the cycling world. 

I look back and think that he could have fallen to the use of drugs or alcohol after his time in the war like so many others did.  Instead, his bike became his drug.  From early spring to late fall everyone always knew where to find him...on his bike.  In the winter he'd cross train by cross country skiing, speed skating or running and now lifts weights during the off season.

Most of his early years racing were with the team I also raced for, Gopher Wheelman.  Later, he would switch to Kenwood Cyclery (now defunct), Flanders Brothers and then to Grand Performance.  I can't say I was too happy to see him flip to the "enemy" but now I understand he was just looking for the best oiled machine of a team.  Recently, he lost his drive for racing while battling cancer (in remission now) and decided to start his own club called Rosemount Cycling Club.  What started out as a dozen or so riders, has now swelled to over eighty.  He still rides with Grand Performance and Flanders at times, like when he crosses the Wisconsin border for killer 120 mile jaunts, but most rides are now with his group.

part of the Rosemount Cycling Club (Gary is third from the left)

God knows as a teen, I didn't appreciate waking up early Saturdays to ride or watch races.  In hindsight, though, I can thank him for introducing me to the best sport/hobby/lifestyle I could imagine.  For that, I thank him and raise a glass of good beer in his honor.  I can only hope to be half as strong as he is now when I'm 65!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bike to Work Week

It's time.  It's time to dust off your bike, if you have not already, and let it explore.  Explore new routes to work, maybe a back road to the grocery store or possibly invite a loved one on a little heart pumping action. 

Bikes are not meant to hang in a basement or garage.  They are not happy there.  They want to move--they want to make YOU healthier and happier.  They want to improve the environment, but unless you release them, they can do none of these things.

As a year round commuter for over twenty years, there is nothing I enjoy more than riding in the morning.  Although I love--and I do mean love--my first cup of coffee, nothing trumps the early morning peace of my morning commute by bike.  It is at this witching hour of 5am, I get to hear recently hatched spring peepers in the kettle ponds, hoots from barred owls and the see the darting movements of raccoon families.  This is my time.  My time to breathe and get into a healthy state of mind for the upcoming day.

Oh sure, there are days, like when sheets of rain are falling, that a quiet sigh might leave my lungs.  I can honestly say, however, that I have never regretted biking into work and 99.9% of the time, I feel better for doing so.

In this Spring/Summer version of bike-to-work-week--held May14th-18th--I am asking you to make a personal pledge to commute to work by bike a few times, if you don't already.  I know that there are always a million excuses, but believe it or not, most of these excuses have a way of falling by the wayside once you start.  If your workplace doesn't offer a place to wash up, try bringing a washcloth and hand towel for a quick "bath".  If there isn't appropriate bike parking, ask your supervisor to get a bike rack and explain how it can help your entire workforce.  If you have to tote large items back and forth from work, consider getting a trailer, panniers or try doing a car/bike exchange where you drive in one day, bike home, bike in the next day, then drive home.

The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin is here to help get you motivated for a great season of bike commuting!  Throughout the state, there will be events from May 14th-18th.  Get your morning coffee trail side, get a quick tune up, gather with friends at the end of the week to celebrate.  While you're at it, enter into the Wisconsin Bicycle Challenge.  Log your miles from May 1st (no it's not too late to start) to August 31st and get entered to win great prizes.  Challenge your co-workers to see who can put the most miles in--you'd be amazed how well this works.  Most importantly, think of some personal reasons of why you want to bike to work--we'd love to hear them!

A favorite poem from Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

~ Mary Oliver ~

(Why I Wake Early, 2004)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Madtown Maidens Rides Again!

Well-behaved women seldom make history.
        -Laurel Thatcher

Getting ready to roll out
photo by Nathan Vergin
Growing up as a girl, in a male dominated sport, wasn't easy.  On my junior team, there was only one other girl and she rarely made practice.  I learned to be "one of the guys".  If it hadn't been for my two female coaches, I doubt I would have continued racing.  As a woman now, I have no problem riding with's just that as a pre-teen and teenager, it would have been nice to have a few peers.

Thirty years after I began riding seriously, I am absolutely amazed by how much the sport has changed for women and girls.  There are so many more opportunities and it's now considered "cool" to be seen on two wheels.  Bikes have become the new accessory like jewelry or clothes.  I touched a bit on this in my previous blog "Let's hear it for the girls".  

Four years ago, I heard about this amazing event that Kayla Dotson, and at the time, Chelsea Strate, were putting on in Minneapolis (my home town).  Babes in Bikeland had been running for just two years and already had hundreds of women showing up to ride in this all women's alleycat.  It inspired me!  Although I couldn't commit to putting on such an event at that time, my brain began churning.  Starting in the late fall of 2010, I began laying the groundwork to have a similar event here in Madison.  With support from my friends and husband, Madtown Maidens was born. 

Putting on an event like this is all about word of mouth.  I let a few women know what I had planned, stopped into several bike shops to spread the word and within a few months it was set for May 7th, 2011.  Although I sometimes bash social media like facebook, I can't say how helpful it was in getting the word out.  After making a page, I watched and waited as the number of "likes" grew.  It was working.  Women were going to show up to this thing!  

sorting out the prizes
Over the winter, I had time to gather sponsors for prizes, food and beer.  I was amazed by the warm reception from local businesses--bike centered and non.  I was also shocked by the support from guys.  This was turning into a community event not just a female event.  My excitement grew as did my nervousness.  How the hell was I going to pull this thing off without ever putting on a large event before?  This was one time--aside from packing for backpacking trips--when my ridiculously detailed oriented nature came in handy.  

The day came with very few hitches, except the threat of rain.  My volunteers were the backbone of the day and there's no way I could have--or could--do this without them.  Looking back at the actual event seems a bit blurry.  All I remember is smiles...lots of smiles on women and girls of all ages and riding abilities.  The following day, I was already planning next years ride.

photo by Nathan Vergin
Putting on an event is somewhat like having a child.  The first one you fuss over every detail, the next one becomes a little more lax.  I'm not saying that I didn't go over to do lists again and again.  I'm just saying that I knew once I did what I had to do, everything else was out of my control.  I didn't worry about the weather--we'd ride unless there were thunderstorms.  I didn't worry about people having fun--if they didn't, there was nothing I could do about it.  I just got everything together and hoped for the best.

This year's ride consisted of approximately a twenty-two mile course with eight checkpoints.  The women had to do everything from write bike Haiku to pump up two tires as fast as possible.  Half the checkpoints were physical and the other half were mental.  Mixing this up with horrible construction on a few roads made for an interesting event.

The Greasy Gears and friends heading out for the ride
Although the course was longer and hillier this year, and very few women made the cutoff time, everyone seemed in great spirits and it just made the food and beer taste that much better.  The top finisher even added about 6 miles to the length trying to find one of the checkpoints.  I have promised folks a flatter course for next year.  If all goes as planned, each year will bring a different set of checkpoints in different parts of Madison in hopes of showing off our great city.

By putting this on, I hope that women and girls fall in love with riding bikes--if they don't love it already.  I want to put "play"--something that's been lacking from many people's lives--back into daily living.  I want women to know how strong they are and yet be able to laugh at themselves.  I also want other cities to put on all female bike events.  If you're thinking about organizing something like this, all I can say is, "DO IT!"  You will not regret it...ever.

I want to thank my husband for putting up with my somewhat manic behavior this past month, the volunteers for making this possible, the sponsors for adding the icing on the cake and all the women that rode in the first or second event.  May Madtown Maidens live forever!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Team 242 Must Be Lucky

Riverwest 24 2011

If I played the lottery, I would choose the numbers 242.  Picture this:  My husband and I head over to Milwaukee to sign up for Riverwest 24 mid-day on May Day.  We knew it would sell out since last year it filled it's 600 spots in a few hours.  Registration was to open at 3pm.  We made the grave mistake of eating a leisurely lunch and then spinning over to the Public House on Locust at 2:40.  Here is was we showed up to: 

241 people in front of us in a slinky shaped formation, winding everywhere through the park next door.  "Where is the end of the line?" was the question asked over and over, followed by, "Oh my god, will we get in?"  

The race organizers announced that they would up the entries to 750 participants this year...yet we still weren't sure we'd get in.  Looking through the line I spotted several teams from Madison that were, gasp, ahead of us by a good margin.  At 3pm the line began to creep into the Public House.  An hour and a half later it was all over.  We made it into the building and heard, "We're at 700.  Start counting!"  We knew we didn't stand a chance.  There were about 20 people in front of us with team sizes up to 6 riders.  As we inched closer and closer to the table, we heard rumors that they were upping the cut off number to 800.  We held our breath.  As the guy came by with the number counter, "click, click, 'How many people in your group?', click, click", we watched his facial expression.  Was he smiling?  Are we in?  Out of sheer luck we made it.  Team 242...second to the last team to get in (later we would find out that the team in front of us contained a good friend as well).  I'm not religious even though our team name is Church of the Spoken Wheel (blessed by our Sunday ride leader, Michael Lemberger), but some form of bike god was looking over us.  I wouldn't have to hang my head in shame and tell my team mates the reason we didn't get in was because I wanted to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant.  No, we were good to go for the last weekend in July.

What is Riverwest 24 you ask, and why did we drive from Madison to sign up?  Here's a little excerpt taken from their website giving a brief explanation of  what it's all about:
By encouraging bikers and spectators to come out for a full day we hope to show off Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood and encourage biking in an urban environment.
Through this exercise in stamina, team work and merriment we hope to build an event that all people in Milwaukee and beyond can enjoy by participating in, volunteering for or by cheering on the riders.
This is an event for anyone who wants to participate. You don't need to be a bike racer to join in. Check out the race route, call your neighbors, grab some lawn chairs and join us this July! This race is for people who enjoy biking, want to push themselves, or just want to participate in an event that is like nothing else you have encountered.
Imagine 800 riders and several hundred volunteers coming into your neighborhood to celebrate what makes your neighborhood so special.  Then imagine them riding for 24 hours during the hottest part of the summer. All ages, all abilities, just coming together to play.

I will of course be blogging about our actual race, but until then, meet our team:  Aaron Crandall (our net-worker extraordinaire and beer connoisseur), Nathan Vergin (our photographer and speed king), Dan Hobson (our medic and musician), my husband, Markham Dunn (our mechanic and map reader) and me (our fearless leader...other titles may be used by the team).  We won't win, we won't even try.  We will, however, have the best damn time not trying to win!

Although Riverwest 24 is full, you can still volunteer.  Just go onto their website for information.  Another amazing race in the Midwest that follows a similar format is Powderhorn 24 in Minneapolis.  Can't make one of these races?  You know the old saying, "Build it and they will come." 

Where people started lining up the night before registration