Monday, February 8, 2016

Shit going uphill

Depression is tough. The reality of being depressed over a long period of time is so sapping of vitality. For me, I use metaphors from cycling to relate to depression.

First, the words we use are real - real in the psychological sense, but like dirt on a chain, they build up slowly until they stop allowing clear decisions to occur, like how a dirty chain stops crisp shifting.

Second, the words we use in our minds need to change from negative to positive to prevent them from piling up and gumming up the system of clear thought. So instead of having a problem (negative word) that needs to be fixed (negative word) because it is broken (negative word), see a challenge (positive word) that needs to be turned into manageable goals (positive construction of words).

Third, because psychology is much more complicated than a clean drivetrain, it is vital to our mental health that we give ourselves some slack to deal with real pressures - some are internal, some external. Know to divide them, then to manage each separately so as to be aware of where your stressors are coming from.

Fourth, it can be bewildering to find the source of stress, and so yes, like taking your bike to a pro to isolate that annoying creak, take yourself to a pro and let them find the problem. The solution is harder to hear at times because the tools are words and words can be so flitting. Keep this in mind: words are real to your psychology, so they do have an effect, and the ones the pros give you - mind them like you would the highest end tools for bike maintenance - they are essential to getting back on track.

Fifth, the inability to make clear decisions is my benchmark for depression creep. Take a moment to objectively take good stock of the decisions you've made to help build up the sense of clear thought. Like if you've brushed your teeth, it means you've decided that you need good oral hygiene and that is a goal that you can keep in check. Move from the basics and into more fundamental goals. It's surprising how they all intertwine and are balanced with one another.

Sixth, don't discount being social as avoiding your problems. If it helps your mental health, then what's the problem? It helps! Enjoy it, be in the moment to really be appreciative of those times to just not worry about your mental health. It's a relief isn't it so why complicate it?

Seventh, stop making things complicated to figure out. Well, that's an oversimplification, but break down the complicated stuff into simple stuff. Remember, clear decisions: clean drivetrain: better shifting when shit goes uphill.

Eighth, and the hardest for anyone: Quitting or worse, going backwards. Sometimes that is just what you've gotta do. The race is too hard, gotta quit. The injury is too bad, gotta quit. Reinvent. It's the only way to take on a change like that. You're going to have to just work hard at trying to put together a new strategy, a new perspective. And you know what hard work is. That is a plus, you have that knowledge in spades. Just keep trying to reinvent.

That's all I've got, I hope the best for anyone that is carrying the weight of depression. It is just such a heavy burden.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Heat adaptation

While living in Ottawa I've found that the temperature rises to uncomfortable levels on only a dozen or so days a year. I've also found that regardless of living in Toronto or Ottawa, I seem to have a great inability to tolerate heat very much and I generally overheat in typical fashion - by sweating profusely, a drop in blood pressure and eventually keeling over at the side of a road. Somewhere.

When I was seventeen, I wore a long, art-inspired ponytail. My hair was so thick that I had to use a helmet one size larger than when I have short hair. Seventeen was also the year that I significantly increased my coffee intake, not just because a Starbucks opened across the street from where I worked, but because the cute girl there gave me free coffee...and she was cute so I consumed more coffee than was probably healthy.

In any case, on one Saturday July morning, the donut ride wasn't moving particularly fast and the heat was pretty bearable. By the time we hit Keele just north of Major MacKenzie though, I had already drunk the two waterbottles I was carrying. I was pulling the front group at a comfortable pace (32 kph) when suddenly I felt pretty weak. I didn't have a complete feeling of bonking though, just a feeling like I should take it easy and chill at the back of the small group (we were only six guys at this point) and try to survive to the bakery at the turnaround. Fairly soon after that I found myself wondering which curb was the real curb and which one was the fake curb, since my eyes started to cross. I opted for the curb on the right, and found myself looking at the sky a few minutes later. So far I could see it seemed like I landed on the front lawn of an abandoned, boarded up house, near a quarry of some sort. I got back on my feet and tried to stand upright but found that I could only teeter "Night of the Living Dead" zombie like to the house (if you can place a zombie in spandex)... I got to the faucet, turned it on and just like you would expect, a gasp of dust hissed from the tap. I started to wonder if this experience was actually a mirage and I was still lying on the ground or something so I looked back at my bike half-expecting to see my body still there.


By this point I could feel my mouth and tongue gluing together in a dry, dusty, seizing, rusty-seatpost-to-steel-frame kind of way. I staggered to the condemned house next door, and figured maybe if the first house had its water turned off from inside, and not from some main, I might be in luck. IFs. I can't stand if statements. But you hang on to them. You hang on to them like what if the girl at Starbucks didn't smoke, would you have the balls to ask her out then?

If that tap didn't have water in it, I was going to try to make it to the office I could make out in the quarry. I remember looking at that quarry, through the heat, the white of pit, the black windows of the office, the chain-link fence. Heat waves rising out from it. I turned the tap. It squeaked, sputtered and horked out a shot of brown water. Then out gushed water! Clear water - I filled up my bottle to see what color it was and it was clear! I worried a bit about what else could be in it, but I couldn't give a shit anymore. Clear was clean and I drenched myself with it filled my bottles up and drank as much as I could fill my stomach with. Hey look at that guy hahaha! Seriously? The pack?

I made it to the bakery and stuffed as much food and drink into me and my jersey as I could. It wasn't until a few years later that I realized just how much caffeine, ephedrine, alcohol and long hair can impact high performance athleticism. Some guys can take it all in and that stuff has no ill effects but for those of us that can't handle the heat, do absolutely everything possible to limit overheating.

1) Stop drinking anything with caffeine. Seriously.
2) Stop drinking alcohol.
3) Take something other than ephedrine if you need stimulants.

In addition, other than keeping fat off your body, heat adaptation training is a must. Do it in an area that is populated so you won't die on the side of the road somewhere.

1) Overdress. Not a lot, just enough to bring your temperature up 1 or 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Aim for the hottest time of day on the hottest street. For me it was the industrial park loop.
3) Focus on a time goal and work up to it. If you often race at two o'clock in the afternoon, then you're going to have to aim to do 4 hours of heat training. Work your way up from 30 minutes.
4) Don't forget some emergency supplies - a gel shot with some caffeine in it can help stimulate enough adrenaline to get you home if you feel like you're about to faint.
5) Figure out what facilities are on your route: Bars, office buildings, recycling centers, parks - anywhere that might have a phone and water in an emergency.
6) "And Then the Vulture Eats You" is a good book on understanding not just what you're up against, but for creating a focal point on the task at hand at what kind of determination it requires to get you there.

Training to be a pro requires professional focus and a certain, well, respect for what precisely is required of you to get there. Don't short change yourself and when you size up a task to complete, consider that it will take 30% more mental fortitude to get you there then you think it would. The biggest egos in sport never get this but the best do. It's not that the best are more humble, it's just that they know better.

A couple of other things: Supplementing with glycerine (adding 1 ml/kilogram to the 1 liter of water you drink in the hour before competition) can help in water retention. The drawback? A pretty bad headache if you're a caffeine drinker, a not so bad one if you are not. While it doesn't increase performance through some stimulating effect, it does stave off heatstroke for those of us that sweat profusely. If you want info on this, google: glycerine or glycerol +hypohydration +filetype:pdf.

Heatstroke. If you have heatstroke treat it like a bad fever. Drink a ton of Gatorade/Cytomax/Powerade, whatev, (or homemade concoction). Take a couple of extra strength acetaminophen. Get in the tub and fill it slowly with cool water (don't jump into a full tub of cold water unless you like shocking the shit out of yourself).

If you don't have heatstroke, cool down like you would normally. The point of heat adaptation training is to get your body used to dealing with heat on its own.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Repurposing those crappy multi-tools you get with magazine subcriptions

About the one tool I find I need on a keychain the most is a flat-head screwdriver. Using a dime can work in a pinch but it never seems to have a) enough of a flat edge and b) just lacks the right amount of leverage.

So I've had this low-quality multi-tool in my tool box for about a few years now and I've finally found a use for it. I've taken it apart.

Total time: about 5 minutes.

Step one, place two lengths of wood underneath (so you don't mar your floor and so you can take advantage of the gap in a second).

Pry off the glued-on, "put your logo here" promotional face. Sometimes this piece is made of metal, so in those cases there will be small metal tabs underneath the ends that you'll have to pry at.

Here's where you can take advantage of the gap. Pick the tool you want out of the set and punch out the rivet holding onto it. I used a three-pound hammer and placed the rivet between the gap so it would come out easily. You might need to use small vise-grips to remove the rivet completely.

Take the tool out and put it on your keychain. Done.

Ironically, a flat-head screwdriver from a multi-tool is particularly useful in opening the tools from a multi-tool. Especially if you have short fingernails and/or you're an older gentleman like my father, for whom I purchased one in anticipation of this upcoming Father's Day.

Friday, June 4, 2010

And what do you get?

...and so I tore off after them. God this shit is good this is no problem! Ephedrine is something else, it gets into your head and focuses your attention, not a single color escapes your vision c'mon fuckers you need to be chased, um, it doesn't hold back stupid ideas however. And there's something else to it, something that you feel that is inescapable as the stuff pumps through you, this feeling that its draining, squeezing, wrenching absolutely every drop of maltodextrin out of that last "power drink" you had to "top up" from that last workout. *power drink - it's a marketing term for sugar, potassium and sodium. Since I was on a budget, that's exactly what I'd mix, a quarter teaspoon of half-salt stuff ('cause it was 50/50 sodium something and potassium something) and sugar - white sugar. Sometimes maple syrup, corn syrup, brown get the idea...and top up? You need to top up? You're not doing it right and you're just chasing highs...right this ass is going to fucking get it - 65 kph? 75 kph? Dude why're you glancing in your rear view mirror so much am I freaking you out? 85 kph? You're giving up eh, ducking into a parking lot..." Well at this point what do you do? I felt like a dog that finally caught the car, and when I got close enough to see their gaping faces....well I couldn't even muster up a "Fuck You Assholes" - All I could give them was an evil-ish eye, (I think the evil-eye was the 90's version of what non-plussed is now). Anyway, I just turned around, the high of ephedrine-augmented adrenaline pumping the feelings of...of...what does smug satisfaction mixed with giving up make?...I guess the hyper version of drowning your sorrows with a few too many beers after breaking up with a girlfriend..."fuck I was right for leaving her...bitch..." - "I [almost] got those fuckers and taught them a lesson they won't soon forget [that cyclists just won't do anything anyway]..."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dropping back from the peloton

***WHACK!!*** How many hits to the head does it take to see what you're doing right now objectively? How are you supposed to just set aside your ego when you've done so many hours agonizing over a training program? Why is it that we cocoon inside our heads and detach from a searing, life changing problem?

How did I end up taking a walk to the drugstore to get my hands on as much pseudoephedrine as I could?

"Fuck it everyone's fucking doing drugs at some point."
Dust started to pop up from the road as huge droplets of rain fell onto it. I could see the small clouds of dust scatter into the air through the wheels of the guy I was riding with. Behind us I heard the sound of cars tires scratching at the gravel shoulder and a yell from some other rec rider. "HEY!" was all he could muster. I checked my shoulder. My new found eyes saw everything in a new cinematic dynamism. Some asshole dudes in a crappy, faded, white 80's Chevy Caprice were pushing cyclists off the road. The typical Toronto storm clouds were beginning to roll over the industrial park. The sun was gone but everything had this fluorescent glow - I had never seen so much contrast in gray before. They were coming for us now, me and this nice 60-something cyclist. Trying to interrupt our conversation about money and sport. Fuckers! The wheels hummed as they tried to push us over. I pulled back on the old man's arm to get behind me and away from the assholes trunk. We were supposed to be taking it easy for fuck sakes I just did hills yesterday....I should just ignore them. "Just let them go" said the guy I was riding with. "Yeah, but you're old...FUCKERS NEED TO BE CHASED" and before I could get that thought out I tore after them...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The sweet cool of a shadow

It's the end of the season, training starts for the new year, and you wonder, "is this the year I decide to take drugs?"

There are many books on training and sports psycholology. Some are bibles, accessible to everyone, others appreciate a degree in physiology. There are those for old-timers, new-timers and mid-packers. There are the zen-inspirationalists, the laugh-inducing and the somber. And so, post-prose for a certain brand of running shoe, "Anima sana in corpore sano", we falter, we stumble, we fall. And as the pain of the grit dribbling out of both open wounds and shut-down minds, the medication is suddenly there, where we didn't notice it. No, not "we"... I.

It was just a small bike race, in the industrial district of Guelph-Waterloo. 70km, cat 3/4, 14 loops, I think. I was eighteen, my first year off from any kind of school so I could concentrate on training and racing. My form was coming on, I could feel the front of the pack. So, confidently, I drifted to the back and took a drink of water. We were going down a hill, not much of a hill, with a nice leafy tree at the bottom, the kind you'd stop under for a drink. It was the 4th time around now. The sun was bright and warm, the road almost brand-new. It had one of those concrete shoulders that came to meet the asphalt a foot in. About half-way down though, there was this small pot-hole, enough to break a rim. We all knew it was there, some rode left of it on the concrete, others to the right. No big deal. And then a bunny-hop.

I was 3 bikes back from this guy who thought it would be fun to do a little jump. I get that - going around the Commissioners Street/Unwin loop, I would put in a little speed and jump the tracks. Man, it was never dull. Same on the donut ride - there's something a little special about a bunch of cyclists hopping tracks together, like ants climbing over a branch, but at 50 kph. There's the trust, the mix of skill and serious danger over such innocent play. And then, supporting the occasional one that wobbles. It's such a small gesture, keep the arms strong and straight and bike upright, head up, undistracted, say a few words, "It's ok...I've got you, look straight...lean back've got it, no worries."

And don't lean back. Never lean back - be like a post, stuck in ground, firm, never pushing, never forgiving.

And so, at 73 kph, the bunny-hopper leaned on his buddy, his buddy leaned back. Their bodies folded into the asphalt together and their bikes alighted into the sky. And the next row, and the next row. I veered right...far far right, racing a black Kestrel missile. There was no way I could make it, and remembering my times jumping tracks, I righted myself and jumped. I pulled my bike so high, deep into my crotch, I was soaring, I was in the air, higher than I have ever done before, destined for the clear road ahead.

And then the missile pitched up like a gate springing from the ground. My helmet crumpled into four pieces between the asphalt and my head. A Dura-ace pedal, with its beautifully sculpted nose, sheared through my jersey and through my back. I finally stopped rolling, the lesson of what brakes are for immediately evident, and lay for a while in the shadow of the tree.

The sweet cool of that shadow pulled me out of the pain. In case you need to know, you go farther when you crash mid-air. "If you can brake, brake fucking hard" I thought to myself while waiting for the ambulance to come by. The flicking of sunlight bade me to lift my hanging head up. And then I saw the best Kodak moment - the six other guys standing there, shorts torn perfectly so that their bloodied butt cheeks were mooning me. It was a good moment that shook me out from hearing "what the fuck am I doing this for a cat 3 race" running in my head.

Finally home, I had to deal with a shit load of road rash. The cotton bandages the clinic applied were thoroughly firmed into my wounds after a night of sleeplessness. Popped 3 Tylenol, waited and hour, sat in the tub and ran warm water over everything to loosen that stuff off. It didn't work, it wouldn't free, so I beckoned to my brother for his filleting knife and a pack of ice. I thought of the pain and took my time. The acetaminophen doing its thing, I cut as lightly as I could as awkward as it was with a cast on my wrist, and then poured iodine over it all. I did this for 3 days straight, using up the cotton the clinic gave me. I made my way to the drug store and found non-sticking pads next to the cotton stuff. Fuck.

My body healed soon enough, the broken bones were not weight bearing so it should have been easy to pull myself back on my bike. No, it was not so easy, my mind was still scarred, still cracked on the asphalt under the shadow of a tree...


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Like Oil and Water - Riding Safe

To begin, I hope that someday, the tensions between cyclists and non-cyclists will be eased.

In my version of what needs to happen, cycling has to be safe for all users, right down to the lowest common denominator.

For me, that is: if a family can occupy a car together, that same family should feel equally safe if they are on bicycles, pulling double trailers.

However, in reality, in as much as I have a double trailer, not one road has been designed with enough safety features to feel safe with my family in tow. The roads that I choose are safe only because they are not well traveled by vehicular traffic.

Please consider for a moment how poor road safety infrastructure is, by applying the idea of using a double trailer down, say Bank St, or any major road (heck, even a single trailer, or having a child on the road, period).

Certainly you think, "There's no way for this to work! Painted lines are not enough. Thunder strips are not enough! Even painted "barrier" lines are no where enough".

Whole cities have been designed for pedestrians and vehicles. That's all. Painted lines do not deter people from texting. Thunder strips do not help if a driver is drunk or a cyclist is caught in a multi-car accident, or if someone is just pissed off and decides to look away. (At the right time no less! People actually do this!).

IF cyclists are pedestrians on two wheels (and I have seen cyclists who ride slower than I can run), would you take a stroll on the side of the road and feel safe while pushing a baby jogger? What amount of space does it take to feel safe as a pedestrian? Forget laws and regulations for a moment. I'm talking about real environmental aspects to feeling safe with 2+ ton vehicles around you and your family.

Sure, as individuals, out training, the basics of road etiquette will keep you relatively safe. But real actual change to help everyone? The only way is to build cycling-specific infrastructure. No pedestrians. No cars. Bikes only.

This is a Dream.

So long as it is not safe for our kids to be with us in a trailer, all the solutions fall to hoping that some technology will save us. Proximity alerts, lane departure prevention (basically a bunch of radars on cars), auto motion sensors that turn off cell phones. Blah blah blah. They are great to patch up the infrastructure we've got.

But it will never be truly always safe.