Weekly Book Review: Across America by Bicycle

Across America by Bicycle:  Alice and Bobbi’s Summer on Wheels, was published by Terrace Books in 2010.  Two friends decided after they retired to ride together across America, from the West to the East coast.  The women were experienced cyclist who had bicycled rather longish trips before, but this was, by far, their longest effort.  They had a web site but it is now down, and the domain is up for sale.  But, the book is still available.  Why should you read it?

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First of all this is an inspiring story  of two women who took on an awesome challenge and completed it.  It is an inspiring and hopeful book.  The book talks about how their already close friendship became more solid, and the many helpful people they met along the way.  As a matter of fact, the people they met along the way  who helped them or just had some kind of impact no matter how fleeting, are a major theme in this book.  Also, this is my third book in this genre (books about people who bike across the United States), and that is  a surprisingly common theme in all of them so far.  In the upcoming weeks you will hear more about the other two books.

If you are contemplating a long ride, solo or with somebody else, this is a book for you to read.  The antidotes, and stories they tell provide wise insight.  They were smart, well prepared, but also flexible.  They camped some, stayed sometimes with people they met along the way, but also used hotels or other lodging.  The book has a lot of explicit, and implicit, advice to give anyone thinking of undertaking such a ride including a whole appendix about what each of them carried on their trek.  There is even an appendix that provides a detailed packing list, down to what went where, which provides an example of two good templates for anyone to start with.  One packed more weight than the other, but they were both rather frugal about the ounces they carried.

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My Bicycle Commute Home

Today I decided to document my ride home from work.  It was a beautiful fall day.  So, this is just a picture essay. The pictures start outside the building where my office is, and then end about a quarter mile from my house.  There is also one picture of me – for the record.

I am so glad I took these photographs.  It helped me to appreciate the incredible trail network we have here in Columbia, Missouri, and it made me notice the beauty and diversity of my ride home.  Columbia is one of the top 50 bicycle cities in America according to Bicycle Magazine.  For good reason.  Also, for once I paid attention.

NOTE:  I just updated this.  The slideshow was not working so I made a quick change – now the pictures are just presented in order.

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Sunday Ride on the Katy Trail 

First long ride in my Surly Cross Check. After 17 years on my trusty Schwinn hybrid it was an adjustment, but things are looking up. From straight bars to drop bars will take awhile. A great bike, but the stock brakes on this 2009 bike are atrocious.  The new ones have brakes that are simply outstanding.  If anyone from Surly reads this please take pity and send me a replacement set!

On that ride my son in-law and I rode about 27 miles, roundtrip  from McBain heading West past the famous old railroad tunnel in the river town Rocheport.   Several miles outside of Rocheport we scouted a camping site before heading back.

We were on the Katy Trail.  A rails-to-trail project here in the Show-Me-State that runs over 240 miles parallel to the mighty Missouri.  From one end to the other, and it is the longest such project in the United States. I have hopes of riding the whole thing in 2017.

Here are some pictures I took along the route out.

This last picture below  is the state champion Burr Oak which is somewhere between 350 to 400 years old.  During the short while we were there the stately tree received nearly a dozen visitors.

Injury & Weight Gain: An Update

The Bad News

About a year ago I started to gain weight, and went from 165 lb average, to a 175 average, and that creeped up to a 185 lb average. Waist size went from a rather loose 34 to a rather snug 36. The problem started when I tried to maintain my weight at 165, then 170, and failed.  In the meantime I injured my left knee, and have just confirmed that it has arthritis.  I will know more after May 22ed when I visit an orthopaedic sports doctor.

The Good News

There is still lots of good news. My peak weight, before I started to loose, was up around 245 plus pounds, and a size 46 inch waist size was tight. I would have been satisfied with 185 if I had been convinced it would stop there.  I did not.  I have given up running for the meantime, but suspect that the doctor’s advice will be to continue to avoid the sport I love.  During the process I learned a lot, and am taking up competitive race walking under the theory that it will not be so hard on my knee. The weight is starting to go down, partially because it is warmer now, and I am out of school with more free time.  Less stress.

What I Learned

What did I learn?  A lot, and I plan to learn more.  First of all I think I lost the weight too fast, and that steep weight lose has had an effect on my metabolism.  Most BMI calculators say that I should be able to eat 2000 calories net per day.  I have found that number to be too high.  For me it is 1400 calories.  I suspected my metabolism might have had something to do with it, but was pretty much convinced after I went back down to 1400 net calories per day, renewed  a stricter diet  (avoiding high glycemic  foods such as pasta, potatoes, etc.), and then started to see the weight come off again.  At around the same time the Biggest Looser story broke which told how research had shown that most of the contestants gained back a lot of weight, and an altered metabolism was suspected as the culprit.   Thinking it was starving, the body wisely went into a survival mode as it slowed down metabolism. We use a scale, the body seems to have other metrics. You can read the article online at the New York Times. Was that what had happened to me?  Maybe, and then again maybe not.  I suspect there are a lot of factors that come into play with weight loss, and the science is just not there yet.  In the meantime, I have resigned myself to the 1400 calorie ceiling and found a way to keep it that seems to work for me now.

The Way Forward

One strategy that I found that worked for me was a schedule that included shifting my meals to later in the day, and essentially eating four of them.  Around 300 – 350 calories at noon, the same amount at 4 p.m., and then 600 – 800 for supper at around 7:30, and finally a late snack.  Noon and lunch do not vary much at all.  Supper and the late snack calories vary depending on how active I have been. I know it breaks a LOT of the rules but it works for me.

I also discovered how much it meant to me to have fitness goals, and  incorporate competition into my goals.  Not that I was that competitive for my age class as a runner, but because I found those competitions to be tremendously motivating.  What to do?  Race walking. It has always appealed to me since I was a kid when the renowned race walker Larry Young could be seen around town training.   Walking VERY fast. By the way, Larry Young competed in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, and is the only American ever to medal in race walking in that venue.  Larry attended Columbia College on the ONLY race walking scholarship ever awarded by a college in the United States.  Hometown boy made good.

Race Walking

I know I could just go out and walk.  There is also Nordic Walking, and fitness walking, and then just kind of making up your own thing. Strolling.  While walking is natural to us, race walking requires a very specialized technique that you have to learn. Starting with Larry Young  I have a rather long history of being interested in race walking which I will write more about later. For now, suffice it to say that the first and only time I have race walked was over thirty years ago, with my oldest daughter and we were both disqualified.  I plan to do something about that.  I will compete again this summer, fully expecting to be disqualified, but have decided that next year my goal is to be competitive in my age group while  avoiding being disqualified for the wrong technique.  Stay tuned.

Will Running a Marathon Make You Skinny? A Surprising Answer is Not Necessarily

The marathon is the iconic distance shrouded in mystery, and crowned with glamor. Just finishing it is considered an accomplishment.  At one time it was widely believed that just running a marathon would make you immune from a heart attack, and this belief was widely held until running evangelist Jim Fixx, and best selling author of The Complete Book of Running, died of a heart attack – while running:

Fixx often quoted California pathologist Tom Bassler who stated that any nonsmoker who could run a marathon in under four hours would never die from a heart attack.

www.villages-news.com/remembering-running-guru-jim-fixx/

So, can people run marathons without necessarily losing weight?  The study is small, the exact implications are not clear, but fitness researcher Mary Kennedy of the Harvard Medical School was surprised to find  that for whatever reason some people who run marathons will not necessarily loose. weight. There are many breathless iterations of this story on the web, and I have not been able to find the original research, but New York Magazine’s “The Science of Us” web page carried the most reasonable version of the story stripped of the sensationalism. Here is a quote from that story:

She conducted a small, simple pilot study, limited to her group of 64 charity runners, comparing their weight before starting the training program to their weight after completing it. About 11 percent of them did lose weight, but just as many gained weight (and of those who gained, 86 percent were women). But for the remaining 78 percent, their weight stayed almost exactly the same, even after three months of running four days a week.

This summer Runners World ran a remarkable article about Mirna Valerio who is a 250 lb, and they actually use the term, “obese runner.”  She is a distance runner who also runs the occasional marathon.  You can read the story here:  http://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/ultra  and I urge you to visit her  interesting blog Fat Girl Running.

So now we know that running marathons does not guarantee that you will not have a heart attack, and there continues to be reports of runners who look fit, but who die while running like my friend and mentor Arne Richards, of whom Joe Henderson has written so movingly.

We need to understand that being thin, my friend Arne was very thin with practically no body fat when he died while running at age 42, does not guarantee being physically fit or healthy. Same thing applied to Jim Fixx.  Conversely, we need to understand that running long distances is no guarantee of shedding pounds.  It is more complicated than that.

A life of holistic moderation lived mindfully is the target that I am aiming for.  That includes a good diet, adequate sleep, reducing stress, and an exercise regime that is backed by empirical evidence rather than wishful, and simplistic, thinking.  All of these things work together.  I will close now by referring you to an article in Women’s Running by Rachel Cosgrove which is simply outstanding.  It is entitled Weight Loss Fact and Fiction.  Please read it.

How to Solve Your Sock Problem for $20 or Less

Well, maybe you don’t have a sock problem but let me describe mine.  Or rather, the one I used to have before I found a solution.  You might find something useful in this post yet.  First  a disclaimer.  I do not have a foot fetish, or at least I do not think I do, but I have written a lot about shoes, and foot related issues. Why?  Runners, and walkers depend on healthy, relatively pain free feet, in order to do what they do.

I had two problems with socks. The first problem I had was five years ago when I started walking and did some modest running to get into shape.  I ended up with blisters so bad I did not think I could keep doing either one.  A little research on the internet was all it took to discover that although my feet still probably needed to get used to the regime, the main culprit was that I was wearing cotton socks. I switched to all synthetic socks that wicked the moisture away and that solved the problem.

My socks - all black all the time.
My socks – all black all the time.

The second problem was spending so much time and energy on trying to sort, and match socks.  As everyone knows eventually you end up with a pile of socks with no matches. Finally, a solution came to me.  I would switch to all black socks made of nylon.  I hardly ever wore any other color, and most definitely knew that I could live, doing everything I needed to do,  with just black socks.

So I went shopping and found And1 brand socks for ten pair per package for ten dollars.  I purchased one bag of regular length, and another ankle length for working out.  I threw out the socks that had no match, and donated  the rest to Goodwill.

The new socks wear like iron, don’t shrink, and there are no problems with blisters.  I am wearing a pair now. Below is what my sock drawer looks like today.  I wish i had a picture of what it used to look like before I wised up.

My sock drawer.  No more sorting - simple.
My sock drawer. No more sorting – simple.

At 58 I want to simplify my life as much as possible.  I want things that work and do not get in the way of living.  And here is a reminder to all of us, runners as well as other fitness enthusiast):  running is a means to an end and not an end to itself.  I have discussed the topic of minimalism in some earlier posts.

Running Ugly: The Upcoming Book

This is the preface of my  upcoming book Running Ugly: A Fitness Memoir.  I would love to get feedback from you.  

Preface

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime. Bill Rodgers (American marathon runner. b. 1947).

This is the story of a very ordinary runner, and a very ordinary person. No matter what they mean to me, my accomplishments are modest to the world, and if there are any strengths in this book it lies in that fact. This is a book for persons of modest means. What I have managed to accomplish was by the way of humble tools, and a meager athletic ability, fortified by persistence. I am still astonished at what happened, and can scarcely recognize my own hand in it.

I started this book when I was 56, and will be over 59 years old before it is done. In the meantime I have explored the jagged edges of my emotional, physical, and spiritual capabilities. In the meantime I have twice become a grandparent. I have become more at peace, and more comfortable, with myself. Fitness, the weight loss, all those original goals have become secondary. It turns out running was a tool, maybe even a metaphor, for something else, and there is no denying the existential aspect of what running represents. But, we cannot run forever. We must take time for other things, and eventually even the best runner can run no more. Aging is something that we cannot conquer but, that we can perhaps come to a gentleman’s agreement with.

What is this book about? This book is about a journey to regain my health so I could live better, and perhaps longer, and where that journey ultimately led me. I wrote it because I think there are a lot of people like me, and that I may have learned something from my experience that may be useful to them. I also wrote it for deeply personal reasons, perhaps even selfish reasons, as part of my struggle to understand what happened as well as what it might all mean in the end. This book is also about hope. This book is also about our ability to assume at least some control of our destiny rather than to be passive recipients of what popular culture wants to spoon feed us figuratively, and literally. This book is about running ugly. So what is running ugly?

Running ugly means running for the joy and the benefit of it rather than for the laurels of victory or the false accomplishment of trying to look good. If the laurels, and looking good, come to us it is a by-product of almost no consequence. A light desert to an already satisfying feast. Running itself is always a process, never a product. When you are in your fifties you are no longer the belle at the ball, and in our youth oriented society you are considered a has been anyway. So why doll yourself up for nothing? Don’t worry about how you look, how fast you are going, if you look weird, if you run strange, or lumber about on the track without grace. If so, you are probably doing something right. At the very least you are at least doing it. You have been freed from the the prison of the couch. Just run.

Run ugly. Run often. And if you can’t run too far, or often, do what you can. If you cannot run walk. If you cannot walk, live a mindful life. Exist with gratitude for the experience of being a part of it all.

I said earlier that running ugly is a metaphor. Perhaps a metaphor for something very much beyond running. Perhaps it means for us to have patience, curiosity, and grace as we explore the contours of our lives in order to make meaning of it. Perhaps it means that we cultivate an inner beauty by letting outer appearances take care of themselves as we strive to become beautiful on the inside. To become kinder to ourselves and others. I went outside to run, but instead entered a classroom.