Thursday, July 30, 2009

So, Who is it about?

If it's not about me, then who is it about?

It's about (my friend) Pip's dad Bill who lost his battle with cancer 2 years ago.
It's about (my friend) Kip's uncle Bob who lost his battle with cancer on 5 August, 2009.

It's about my friend Jeni - cancer Warrior
It's about (my friend) Debbie's 8 year old son
James - cancer Warrior

It's about my
Aunt Jeannette - cancer Survivor
It's about my co-worker and friend
Rachel - cancer Survivor
It's about my co-worker and friend
Valorie - cancer Survivor
's about my co-worker and friend David - cancer Survivor
These are the people I ride for. As I have gone through this process over the last several days (has it only been that long?), my perspective has certainly changed. Just these last 5 days have revealed to me that I do indeed have a connection to cancer and it goes much deeper than I imagined.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's not about me this time.

Yesterday was a big day for me. I made a commitment to the Palmetto Peloton Project's Challenge to Conquer Cancer team to raise $5000 (before mid- October!!!) to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Oncology Department of the Greenville Hospital System. I almost didn't do it, but when I arrived to meet up with the riders on the Challenge to Conquer Cancer team, I let it slip that I was considering joining them.

As Jeni said "it was like ants swarming to a dropped morsel at a picnic!" I was immediately inundated with encouragement from the rest of the team members. I expressed my concern about the requirement to raise the money. They convinced me it is not as difficult as I think. OK then I'm in. now, let's ride!

One question I have been thinking about was actually posed by Jeni after yesterday's ride. She asked me what my link to cancer is? Honestly, It's hard for me to say I have a direct link to someone who is suffering the effects of cancer - or the effects of the treatment. So, why then, do I want to participate in this event?

In order to make some sense of my answer, it is necessary that this next part is all about me - and what I'm learning as I get older. I need to step back a few years to really tell my own story (which has nothing to do with cancer), but bear with me, I'll get to the point eventually.

At the tender age of 18, I had a life changing experience. I joined the US Army and became a triple volunteer. That means I volunteered for the Army, I volunteered for Parachute duty, and I volunteered for one of the more difficult training programs the army has to offer - I volunteered to join a Ranger unit. I could ramble on for a while about this subject, but suffice it to say - my high school friends never looked at me the same after that four years I spent with the 2nd Ranger Battalion. I truly did become a different person during that experience - the boy who left Clovis, New Mexico was completely different (in mostly good ways) than the man who returned.

After my honorable discharge, I set off on a series of grand adventures. The first being a motorcycle trip from the Pacific Northwest, down the Pacific coast to L.A, across through Arizona, New Mexico (where the man made his return to the sleepy town of Clovis), Texas and all the way east to Florida. I flew up to the Northeast for a few weeks before returning to Florida and jumping on my motorcycle for the ride back to Clovis. All this on a 1986 Suzuki GSXR750 - not exactly a touring bike!

The next grand adventure had me lacing up my hiking boots to join two of my Ranger buddies for a little hike from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail. This was a fantastic experience of which I still have fond remembrances. Now and then, I'll pull out one of the journals I wrote back then to see what I was thinking - sometimes it cracks me up, sometimes it makes me miss our excellent adventure.

A few years down the road, I loaded up my Yamaha FJ1200 for a little ride from Los Angeles to the last frontier. No, the FJ is not a space ship, it's a motorcycle and the last frontier is Alaska, not space! I spent the entire summer of 1993 working the fishing industry and travelling around Alaska on my motorcycle. What an excellent time I had. The ride home took me through some of the most beautiful country I have seen.

There have been many (many) smaller adventures in between, but the grand adventures were slowed down when I actually became a member of Corporate America. I say slowed down, because for each week of Vacation, I debarked for another smaller adventure. Hiking a section of the Appalachain Trail, rock crawling with my Jeep in SE Utah, Whitewater kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing - lots of those smaller adventures over the years. Every one of those adventures, regardless of it's relative 'grand' - ness, was all about me. What do I want to do, what is going to make me happy?.

This year, I had planned to take two weeks in September for another adventure. I was going to load my mountain bike, my road bike, biking and camping gear into my little car and head west. I wanted to hit the great mountain biking destinations I missed while living in Utah (doh!) - Moab, Fruita - even a little place called Gallup, New Mexico. I wanted to challenge myself on some epic road climbs in the Rockies. All in all, it was intended to give me a chance to unwind and have some real relaxation.

A strange thing has occurred as the departure date approaches. You would think my excitement level would be increasing right about now - but it hasn't. I've done some soul searching to understand what is happening, and here's what I think. Part of me has
really enjoyed the camaraderie of the Tuesday night rides at Donaldson and the numerous group rides I have done this year. The enjoyment of sharing the experience with others makes these experiences that much more satisfying. My trip out west was to be solo. Sure I'd find people to ride with out there - but would it really be that satisfying? It sounds like just one more 'grand' adventure that would be all about me and satisfying myself. Why don't I feel any of that satisfaction simply in the planning of it?

So, I spent a little more time thinking about it. I mean, what's not to like - a custom made vacation where I'm the star? Who doesn't like having an experience that is 'all about me'? Well, perhaps I'm getting old, or maybe 'mature' is a better word. Satisfying myself in these vacations shouldn't make me feel guilty, but I need to find some balance. I need to give something back as I have been very fortunate to live the life I've had. Maybe in the giving back, I'll find that satisfaction that seems to be missing from my 'all about me' adventures lately.

I've met people and read stories about people who have challenges that I fear would knock me down. They tackle those challenges head on - they may not be the fastest or strongest - but damn, they are out there and they are kicking ass and taking names. I have an immense amount of respect for these people. It might be an amputee who rides a bike (strongly I should add), or it might be an 8 year old kid with a brain tumor (thankfully benign) whose Mom tells me "He's such a tough kid"

As strong as these people are, perhaps what makes them strongest is their knowledge that although they will fight the good fight, they can't do it alone. That's where the Palmetto Peloton Project (and many organizations like it) come in. The Palmetto Peloton Project's mission is "
to promote the advancement of cancer research and advocacy efforts locally, regionally and nationally through fund-raising fitness events." (quoted from the P3 website)

The fund raising fitness event for which I have volunteered this year is a team relay from Greenville, SC to Austin, Tx. The ride is not for me or about me. The ride is to raise awareness of the devastation caused by cancer - to communities, to families, to individuals. The funds I have pledged to raise will benefit cancer research and survivorship programs locally and nationally.

If you're reading this, you probably know me, but it's a public blog, so maybe you don't. Please help me raise these funds to aid those who show such strength in the face of such challenges. You can donate under my name (John Davidson) at the
donation page for the Palmetto Peloton Project.

Please don't think you have to donate big money to make a difference. I ask only that you donate what you can spare in this very difficult economy. $1, $5, $10 - yes, these amounts can make a difference. Just think, if every one of my family, friends co-workers and acquaintances donated just $5 to this cause, I feel very confident our combined contribution would blow my goal out of the water.

Thank you.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Two pair wins in poker, but not in the time trial

Two pair, poker, time trial? What am I talking about? I am talking about the time trial held last night at Donaldson Center. This was a free event for Spinners Members - and it was a fun time. Two pair? what does that have to do with last night's time trial? Read on and I'll tell you...

First, I should make mention of what a time trial really is - mostly because I have a number of friends who have posed that question to me. Strangely enough, it is quite simple - The individual time trial is a bicycle race in which cyclists race alone against the clock (borrowed from wikipedia). In the Greenville Spinners' version of the individual time trial, the course is a 10 mile total distance (5 each way, out and back) on Donaldson Center's Perimeter Road.

In a time trial, the equipment used by the more serious riders is quite different from a normal race bike. The bicycle is very different (geometry and handlebar configuration are optimized for aerodynamics and speed), helmets are optimized for aerodynamics, some riders will use shoe covers to improve the air flow over their shoes. Very different. See the wikipedia entry for images of peeps set up for time trials.

Since the time trial is an individual effort, riders are sent off in intervals of 1 minute. This is to minimize the possibility of two riders working together. As I learned last night, one rider by himself cannot go near as fast as two (or more) who are working together. With a 1 minute interval, the speed differential between one rider and the next (if the behind rider catches the front rider) is much too fast for either of them to take any advantage of the draft.

As previously stated, last night was the first time for me to participate in this type of event. It was really fun. I arrived at about 5:20pm and got registered. This is a good place to say THANK YOU to the good folks who volunteered their time to get (and keep) this event organized. Also, although I didn't win anything, there was product provided by sponsors (Powerbar, Whole Foods to name two I could identify), so thanks to them as well. Thanks also to the Women's cycling team that did the award presentations.

At registration, I received a number and a start time. I was also asked which division I would be riding in. This month, they changed up the categories to simplify the scoring. The divisions were as follows:
Men A (Pro/1/2/3): This is men who are licensed racers in the listed categories.
Men B (4/5/Unlicensed): This is men who are or are not licensed in the categories, but are for sure using time trial equipment of some type.
Masters 50+: This is what you expect it to be - men older than 50, although I suppose women could enter this group as well.
Women Open: Of course the ladies of bicycling
Juniors: Not sure what the cut-off age is, but there was at least three riders and each looked to be in their teens.
Merckx: This is my category. From the Spinners'
description: i.e. no aero equipment (bikes, bars, helmet, wheels, shoe covers, etc.) allowed.

I watched as the first riders were sent off on their attempt. Thanks here go to Scott who provided support by holding up each bicycle which allowed the rider to be clipped in from the start - no wasted time trying to get shoes clipped into the pedals. Each of them started in the big ring, so this I kept in mind for my start. After the first three or four riders were off, I took off on my bike to get some warm-up time. As my start time approached, I came back to the start area to watch the riders in front of me.

I wasn't really nervous like I sometimes get in other races I have done. Partly because of the individual nature of this particular event. In reality, every event in which I participate is kind of like an individual time trial. I understand my current state of fitness and strength, so I set goals for myself that I believe are challenging for me. Unfortunately, those goals are usually behind the folks who are winning these events. The difference in those other events I have done is the mass start. The mass start leads to a higher level of addrenilin and more nerves. With this time trial, it was me, Scott and the race official. Of course there was also the crowd who cheered me on when the starter released me. A very different feeling than being in the midst of a mass of hyper-energized bodies.

When I spoke to Tyler at Sunshine Cycle Shop yesterday, he gave me some pointers on race strategy. I don't remember all of them, but he did caution me not to take off to quickly. It would be easy to burn out in the first couple of miles and have nothing left for the remainder. I tried to take this into account as I built speed from the start.

The normal tuesday night rides follow the time trial course for the first 2 miles or so. When I lead a ride, I usually start in the front of the pack, so I figured I should be able to set a similar pace to begin, I just had to keep in mind I was not going to be able to sit in after a couple of miles - it would be me pulling myself for the entire 10 miles. At the turn off of antioch church road (where the tuesday night country rides normally turn right from perimeter road), my average speed was over 23mph. It was obvious that I was not going to average 25mph for this ride (see yesterday's blog).

From that intersection, I knew the route and I knew I would be able to carry some speed for a little while. The road gets really bumpy along this section leading up to Ashmore bridge road, but it is also slightly downhill. I carried all the speed I could (reminding myself that I still had miles to go). As I began the slight ascent after that intersection, I caught sight of a rider approaching from behind. My average was still pretty strong (yeah, 'pretty strong is relative to me, not to Lance Armstrong), but had begun to drop. He passed me about the time we finished that first small ascent. Next up was a slight descent leading into the golf course hill.

Surprisingly, as I began the ascent up towards the golf course entrance, I could see the turn around point. It was not all the way up to the top of the golf course hill. In fact, it wasn't as far up that hill as I thought it would be. The rider who passed me quickly pulled a gap on me. Greenville's finest was assisting us at the turn around, so we had a good clear road to make the turn.

Immediately following the turn, I cranked up the heat to descend what I had just climbed. I still felt pretty good, but my average pace was dropping. Making that small descent gave me some improvement in my average speed, but the 3m hill (gradual, but long) was coming up. I did my best to keep the rider who passed me in sight. I was surprised, even half way up 3m hill the initial gap he pulled was not increasing as quickly as it initially had. He was helping my motivation.

As I passed again the country route turn-off, I saw another rider in front of me. This guy had started some time before me, so again, my motivation got a little burst. He was in my sights and then behind me before I passed the Michelin Plant. I was now within 2 miles of the finish and my average had dropped to just below 22mph.

Another piece of advice Tyler had for me was not to sprint at the end. If I sprinted, I didn't push myself as hard as I could have. For the last two miles, I kept pouring on the power. My legs were burning, and my mouth and throat were bone dry - what I would have given for a sip of water! The main obstacle between me and the finish was the small hill coming out from the end of the runway. I tried to keep my cadence constant and used the gears to maintain my speed. My average pace had maintained since the drop coming up 3m hill. I was feeling good about that.

As I approached the finish, I just tried to keep pushing, now back on flat ground, I was shifting back up to regain whatever speed I lost on the hill. Although I wasn't standing, I felt like I was sprinting - I was pushing for all I had. I crossed the finish line with the same average speed as I was showing at the top of 3m hill.

So, what was that speed? After cheering on the rest of the riders, the volunteers compiled the race results. Give-aways were presented to the winners in each category - there was some very fast times out there. The fastest were in the 20 minute range! My time is where the two pair comes from - 7s over 2s in poker speak, but in time trial speak, my time was 27:27. That is an average speed of 21.9mph. Quite a bit below the 25mph I was hoping for.

At the end of the day, there was 12 people who had entered the Merckx division. I was smack in the middle of them. I can't recall the winner's time, but I do recall I was less than 2 minutes behind it.
Next month (August 6), I'll have a revised goal.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What's a time trial really about?

Well, I understand the concept. I've seen coverage on TV. I've read about them online and in the magazines. I've heard my fellow riders talk about them, but I've never done one. That will change tonight. Tonight is the third installment of the Greenville Spinners Time Trial Series. One a month for the summer months. Tonight will be my first.

The course is a 10 mile total distance - 5 miles out and back. According to my friend
Jonathan Pait, the course is opposite the direction that the A and B groups normally ride. I do know the start is in the same area that the tuesday night rides leave from.

It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. It looks like five miles from the parking area in a counter-clockwise direction puts the turn around very close to the top of the hill near the golf course. That means the route would include the more challenging hills on the Donaldson loop. Not that these hills are really that big - they will work to slow anyone down a little.

Here's a generic shot of the donaldson loop. Total distance around the complete loop is 7.17 miles.

In case the map doesn't show up, here's a
link to the mapmyride map.

So, how do I set a goal for this time trial? I frequently do the tuesday night rides at a pace of about 20mph. In that average pace is a good number of stops for re-groups. That ride is about 32miles. Normally when I am riding by myself, I don't push very hard and I end up with an average in the 16-18mph range - almost regardless of the distance.

But tonight, I'll be riding a fixed, known distance, on a course that I actually know quite well. I know I can do it in 30 minutes (20mph). To do it in 20 minutes, I'd have to average 30mph. If I shoot for 24 minutes, that is a 25mph pace. That sounds like a good goal.

So, wish me luck. I'll let you know how it goes.