Inevitable

It’s about the time of year that I should be posting something about my spring long-distance ride, as I did in 2015 and 2016. Unfortunately, though, I won’t be able to do the ride this year, and may not be doing distance rides for some time; perhaps never again.

Last October I rode in the 2016 Valero Ride to the River, which was a full century (100 miles) on Saturday, and then a “short” 38-mile ride on Sunday. I was surprised at how strong I felt that weekend – it seemed that all my training had paid off! However, I was even more surprised a few weeks later when I woke up and couldn’t bend my left thumb easily. When I did bend it, there was a very noticeable clicking I felt in the muscles and/or tendons. A quick search on Google showed that I had a case of “Trigger Thumb” (also called “Trigger Finger”). I saw my orthopaedist about it, as well as a hand specialist, and after several treatments (and several months of exercise and naproxen) the clicking finally subsided, and I regained normal use of my thumb. But unfortunately, the consensus of the doctors was that bike riding was the culprit, since it involves a pressure on that part of my hand in the normal riding position, and is especially bad on rough roads that I frequently had to deal with. Yeah, I know all about recumbent bikes, but that just seems too sad to contemplate now. And hey, if anyone knows a good metal worker who might be able to build a custom set of handlebars, I have some ideas on how to change them to reduce the pressure on the hands.

So why did I title this post “Inevitable”? Because of the underlying cause of the condition: osteoarthritis. I had been first diagnosed with arthritis about 20 years ago, and with each subsequent joint problem, my doctors have pretty much told me to resign myself to it, as I seem to have a natural tendency for my joints to get arthritic. When I was examined for my trigger thumb, the x-rays showed a great deal of underlying arthritis in my thumb joint, which probably made the irritation to the tendons worse. And this wasn’t the first time I got such a diagnosis.

Back in my 20s and 30s, I played a lot of tennis. I was pretty good, too, playing at a solid 4.5 rating. However, I noticed soreness in my shoulder when serving or hitting overheads. As many of my fellow tennis players had rotator cuff injuries that seemed to match my symptoms, I assumed that it was something fixable. But after visiting the doctor, he said my rotator cuff was just fine; rather, I had arthritis in my shoulder. There was no treatment except anti-inflammatory drugs and rest (i.e., not playing tennis). I tried to adjust, but even after some time off it didn’t get better. So I gave up tennis.

Right about that time, my sons had progressed in the soccer world so that they were much better than my ability to coach them. I loved being in the game, so I got my referee badge and did several games a week to keep in shape. I figured that if I could keep up on the pitch with 17-year-olds, I wasn’t too far over the hill!

I had had surgery back in 1992 to repair a torn meniscus in my knee (tennis injury, of course!), but after a couple of years of reffing, I had to have 2 more surgeries, one on each knee. When my left knee started bothering me a couple of years ago, I assumed that I needed yet another surgery to clean it up, but my doctor said that there was no more cartilage left there, and that the pain I was feeling was arthritis. Again, I could take anti-inflammatories to relieve some of the pain, but there was nothing I could do to “fix” this. He advised reducing impact to my knees, so that’s when I started cycling seriously. Now that I have to greatly reduce my cycling, I don’t have a lot of options left. I go to the gym and use the elliptical machine, but that’s not even close to doing some real activity. I did go hiking in Big Bend National Park last weekend, and was pleasantly surprised that my knees and hip didn’t complain very much. Oh, didn’t I mention that I also have arthritis in my hip?

So I don’t know where I’ll turn next. I do know that sitting on my butt is not an option. Maybe knee replacement? And/or hip replacement? Geez, I’m a few months shy of 60, and that seems awfully young to be trading out body parts. So I guess it’s off to work on modified handlebar designs for my bike…

Ride to the River 2016

The Valero Ride to the River is a two-day cycling event to raise money for research for a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. This was the third time I’ve ridden in it, but what made this year different is that this is the first time that Mother Nature didn’t completely wash out one of the days. We had gorgeous weather, with temperatures cool in the morning, and only climbing to the low 80sF (around 25-27C) in the afternoon.

Starting off on Day 1
Starting off on Day 1 (that’s me in the bright green)

 

The ride starts in San Antonio, and wanders east and north until it reaches New Braunfels. This route is about 71 miles, but near the end there is a choice: turn left, and finish your ride. Or, you can turn right, and go up the Guadalupe River for 15 miles, turn around, and return back, making the total ride 100 miles. As I had done a full century on my last ride, I didn’t feel the need to push myself to prove anything. I had told everyone that I was only doing the 71. But as the ride progressed, I continued to feel fresh. This was most likely due to the very mild weather: temperatures never rose very high, and there were enough clouds so that you weren’t baking in the sun the entire time. By the time I reached the lunch rest stop (50 miles in), I started thinking seriously about going for the century, but I told my wife I’d wait until the last rest stop before the decision point.

Lunch after 50 miles, Day 1
Lunch after 50 miles, Day 1

 

When I reached that stop, at around mile 65, I knew that I wanted to do the full century. I remembered the only other time that I did this course, and what a struggle those last 30 miles were, so I braced myself for the ride. I was very surprised to find that, while definitely an effort, it was nowhere near as exhausting as it had been the previous time. Either they smoothed the hills out, or I was in much better shape! 😉 So while I didn’t set any speed records, I finished the century much easier than my previous two. Here’s the record of my ride, thanks to the Runkeeper app.

Enjoying a well-deserved beer after completing the century!
Enjoying a well-deserved beer after completing the century!

 

My well-earned Century Rider armband.
My Century Rider armband.

 

The next day offered a choice of two looping routes: 61 miles or 38 miles through the Texas Hill Country. I had done the 61 mile route a couple of years ago, and remembered how grueling the hills were on that ride, so I chose to only do the 38. For comparison, the route for Day 1 was through areas to the east of San Antonio, which is relatively flat. I had about 4,300′ of total climb (43 ft/mile). This route took us to the northwest of New Braunfels, which is much hillier by far. The total climb was about 2,700′, or over 71 ft/mile! And as you can see from the graph below, most of that climb was in the first half of the ride. There isn’t much else to say about the Day 2 ride. The weather was once again perfect, and while the ride was difficult at times, it felt good overall. Here’s the Runkeeper summary for Day 2.img_1025

Of course, I can’t take all the credit. The ride was extremely well-organized by the MS Society, with well-staffed rest stops every 12-15 miles. They also arranged for police support for traffic management, so that riders didn’t get stuck (or struck!) at busy intersections. My belated apologies to the drivers who were made to wait while 2,000 riders passed through!

I also don’t think I would have been able to accomplish this without the loving support of my wife Linda, who gives me the motivation to stay healthy so that I can live a long life with her! Three years ago I thought it was a pretty amazing accomplishment to complete a century at age 55, but now to have done two centuries this year at age 58 is really more than I ever expected to achieve, and I have Linda to thank for that.

img_8491

The Second Century

No, I’m not talking about history – this is about my cycling ride on Saturday. I participated in the 2016 Tour de Cure San Antonio, and completed the 103-mile course. I’ve only ridden a century (a 100-mile ride) once before, and my attempts at doing another were thwarted twice: once, a year later, when the entire ride was washed out by heavy thunderstorms, and then again at last year’s Tour de Cure, when they closed the century course early due to thunderstorms.

Start of ride
Lining up for the start of the ride (at 7am)!

 

Well, this year’s ride had its share of thunderstorms, too, but fortunately they were at the end. The day started off overcast and threatening-looking, but nothing came of all those clouds. About 30 miles into the ride the sun burst through, and I was hoping that it would stick around for a while. However, we only got to enjoy the sunshine for an hour or so until the clouds returned. It kept looking darker and darker as the ride progressed, and then at the rest stop at mile 80 there were event officials warning that a little ways up the road it was already raining heavily. They had vehicles that would shuttle you and your bike to the finish line if you didn’t want to ride through the storm, but that wasn’t what I had set out to do. What’s a little water, anyway?

To be honest, I was feeling pretty drained after 80 miles. When you sweat while cycling, the breeze against you dries it quickly, so after a few hours it feels like a salty crust. My leg muscles also felt like they had begun to run out of energy. But I set out to continue the ride anyway, and sure enough, about a mile later the skies opened up. Within minutes I was soaked from my helmet to my shoes. Oddly enough, though, it was actually re-invigorating! And once you’re wet, more rain isn’t getting you any wetter, so I rode on. The loud cracks of thunder sounded great, like music for a film I was starring in. Yeah, it felt pretty dramatic!

So I made it to the finish. The first time I did a century I was struggling – hard. I wasn’t even running on fumes then; hell, I would have loved to have had some fumes at that point. I had to stop several times in that last 30 mile loop to regain enough strength to keep going. So completing that ride was a matter of sheer will power. This year it was different: sure, I was tired during the ride, and a bit stiff afterwards, but when I got within a few miles of the finish, I found another gear and sprinted my way in.

Crossing the finish line
Crossing the finish line after 103 miles!

 

I think that there were several differences this year. I had trained much better this time, so my legs were better able to keep going for the distance. It was also much cooler, with temperatures in the 70s (instead of around 90F). And the rain, while making some aspects uncomfortable, certainly helped to refresh me. Finally, the course this year didn’t have very many severe hills. It had lots of climb, but nothing compared to the earlier course, which featured several killer hills.

posing with medal
Posing with my medal after finishing the ride, soaking wet!

 

There are three sets of people I want to thank: first, the American Diabetes Association, for organizing this event and making it run so smoothly – you’re really doing great work! Second, to the members of the ProFox online community for generously donating to support me. Together we raised $500! And finally, of course, to my wonderful wife Linda, who encouraged me every step of the way, and even drove back home to get my water bottles that I had forgotten. Hey, it was 6 in the morning, and my brain hadn’t caffeinated enough yet!

Linda and Ed
Linda and I, just before the start of the ride

Tour de Cure 2015

Yesterday was the 2015 Tour de Cure San Antonio, a cycling event to help raise money to find a cure for diabetes. This was the third time I’ve ridden it, and the first time I felt in good enough shape to attempt the century course (century = 100 miles). In order to fit in such a long ride, we arrived at the site at 6am!  Note: I’m not one of those crazy people who think this is a good time to be doing anything other than drinking coffee.

Arriving
Wa-a-a-a-a-a-y-y too early!

We were scheduled to start at 6:30, so we all lined up at the starting line before then. But the event organizers thought that it would be a wonderful idea to talk to the riders about all the wonderful things we were helping to accomplish by raising the funds that we did, so they kept us waiting until just before 7:00, straddling our bikes. I was ready to go a half hour earlier, and instead of starting the ride out ready to conquer the world, I started the ride feeling kind of crabby. All the rides do this to some degree, but keeping us waiting for over 30 minutes was uncalled for.

At the starting line
Waiting to start the ride

The weather was the big question mark, with rain and thunderstorms moving across the region. And, of course, we didn’t escape them! It started around mile 25, and continued for the next 10 miles or so. Lightning, rain, big wind gusts (straight into our face, of course!), but I kept going, knowing that there was a cutoff time for the century: if you didn’t reach the point where the 100 and 65 mile routes diverged by 11am, you wouldn’t be allowed to do the century, because you wouldn’t finish in time. Here’s a shot of the rest stop right after the rain stopped.

Rest Stop #3
After riding through the storm – soaked!

You really can’t see how soaked everyone is, but trust me, my gloves and socks were pretty soggy! You can, however, see the patches of blue sky just beginning to break through. The rest of the ride was dry, which was a relief.

I got to the rest stop located 3 miles before the point where the routes split a few minutes after 10am, so I was happy that I made the effort to ride through the bad weather. I’ve only done a full century once before, and it was really important to me to not have that be a one-time event. I headed out from that rest stop, and continued down the road. If you haven’t done a ride like this, they give you a map of the route ahead of time, but most of the roads are in pretty remote areas where you don’t know the roads, so you navigate with the help of signs put up on the side of the road by the event organizers. They have each route marked with a different color, so where the routes diverge is easy to see. So I rode ahead with some others who were also doing the century, but a few miles later we came upon a sign that only listed the 65-mile route; there was no mention of the 100! We stopped, thinking that we must have missed the sign; perhaps it had blown over in the storm, and we all didn’t see it. Just then a marshall drove up (the routes are patrolled by ride marshalls, who make sure that riders are safe), so we stopped him to ask about the 100 mile route. He checked it out on the radio, and then told us that we should go to the next rest stop, where the routes will diverge. Well, I got to that stop, and asked the people there, and they told us that they had pulled the direction signs for the century an hour earlier than planned! I was furious! All of the work I had put in to training for this ride, and all of the discomfort of riding through the thunderstorm so I could make the cutoff, and they took that away from me and many other riders for no reason.

So I took out my phone, pulled up the century route PDF, and tried to plot a path to go to one of the rest stops on that route. I couldn’t backtrack to find the turnoff intersection, because even if I had, I would have been much too late at this point. So I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the full century, but at least I’d get as close as I could. So Google Maps plotted a route, and I took off, ignoring the signs for the 65 mile route, and creating my own.

The only problem was that Google Maps thinks that there are a bunch of roads in that area that simply don’t exist. I went up and down the roads it suggested, until I finally gave up and figured I had better head back to the finish of the ride. Here’s one example: note that the map in the lower left corner shows a road, but what is actually there is a driveway made of sand that dead-ends at someone’s house. The map shows it continuing all the way through. And yes, I plan on letting the fine folks at Google Maps know about this problem.

So I rode back to the highway, and continued west until I hit the return path for the century route. I followed that back to the finish, with a total of 81 miles on the day (here’s the RunKeeper record of my ride). And waiting for me at the end was my wonderful woman Linda, who has done so much to support me for this ride. It was great to see her smiling face!

Finish Line
Crossing the finish line!

So while I didn’t get to complete another century, I did have an unusually adventurous ride. I do hope that the organizers learn from this event, because I would really like to do it again next year, and it is for a very good cause. If you’re interested in donating, they are still accepting donations for this event for the next few weeks, so follow this link and give what you can.

Cold Weather Sucks

Saturday was the Cystic Fibrosis Cycle For Life, which is a bicycle ride designed to raise money for research into a cure for CF. Last year it was the first distance ride I had ever ridden, and it was a great experience. I was looking forward to doing the ride again this year for several reasons: the chance to help support a worthy cause, and also to experience once again the camaraderie among the cyclists at an event like this.

Last year the ride started with temperatures in the mid-50s (14C), but quickly warmed up into the 70s – nearly ideal. We weren’t so lucky this year. A cold front moved into south Texas on Friday, bringing a bunch of wind and rain, and dropping temperatures to the low 40s. I didn’t have the right clothing for riding in these temperatures, so I ran around to several stores getting what I needed in the days before the ride. Still, I wasn’t looking forward to riding 62 miles in the cold, wet weather, and apparently neither were most other riders, as there were only a few dozen riders who showed up, compared with several hundred last year.

start_of_ride

It was drizzling when we started the ride, and within a couple of miles I lost all sensation in my fingers. I’ve lived for many years in cold climates, and while I can handle the cold for the most part, my hands were always the most vulnerable. Fortunately, at the first rest stop some kind soul gave me a “HotHands” warmer I could slip into my glove, and slowly regained feeling in my right hand. I switched it to the left glove at the next stop, and my hands were OK for the rest of the ride.

The organizers had decided to eliminate the longer 62-mile course, so everyone did the 32-mile route. That was good, because by the time I finished my feet were numb, and I was chilled to the bone. The warm cup of coffee I had in the tent afterwards felt incredible!

warming_up

Now that it’s over, I’m glad I stuck to it and completed the ride, but it only served to confirm why I moved to South Texas in the first place: the warm weather! I can definitely do without another experience like this one.

 

My First Century

A few weeks ago I told several friends and colleagues that I would be participating in a cycling event to raise money to help fight Multiple Sclerosis. The ride entailed a 70-mile route on the first day, with an option for an additional 30-mile loop to make it a full century. It started in San Antonio, and ended in nearby New Braunfels. The following day would be a 58-mile return ride back to San Antonio.

I committed to doing the full distance, and asked the members of an online community I host to help by donating to this cause. And as usual, this great community responded generously, raising a total of $525! I want to extend my personal thanks to everyone who donated in my name – without your support I couldn’t have done this.

The weather threatened to be ugly on Saturday, and as a result the number of people who showed up for the Rackspace team wasn’t as high as we had planned, but those of us who did show up had a great time! (I’m the 4th from the right)

racker riders

The ride on Saturday started off well, with a threat of rain giving way to bright sun, and temperatures around 90F/32C. I did manage to complete the full century, but I can’t say the same for my phone’s battery, which died just before the 88th mile. Here is the record of my progress, using the awesome free app RunKeeper:  http://runkeeper.com/user/edleafe/activity/256143755

The extra 30-mile loop for the century started at about mile 69, with the farthest point out at mile 84. Those 15 miles were killer: lots of up-and-down, as we followed the road along the Guadalupe river. This first half was going upstream, and that meant a net climb of 150 feet. If I had started out here, no problem, but at this point in the day my reserve of energy was seriously depleted. When I finally reached the end of that segment I don’t think that I was ever so happy to see a rest stop as I was then! I rested up for a bit, drank a ton of liquids, ate some food, and then started on the return leg. It was definitely easier, but by then I was running on fumes, and every slight upgrade was a challenge. I had to accept the fact that I couldn’t climb hills at this point in the ride as aggressively as I had earlier, and had to instead simply pedal as best as my legs could manage. The few extra minutes taken by slowing down were not as important as continuing to make progress, and eventually that paid off. I made it to the finish line, got a big hug from my woman, found the RV that Rackspace rented for the event, and then settled into the air-conditioned bliss in a comfy couch with a cold beer. Ahhh…

A generous Racker who has a big house nearby was our host for the evening, feeding us, supplying more beer, and letting us sleep there overnight. They also had a pair of masseuses there to help soothe our aching muscles, and man, did I need that! It was a relaxing way to end a long day.

The following morning, the plan was to feed us and then take us back to the starting point for the return leg of the ride, but Mother Nature had other ideas. This was what we were greeted with:

IMG_5980

That’s just a close-up; there were several lines of storm clouds behind that moving in from the north. With severe lightning, heavy rains, and the threat of spot flooding, the event organizers made the decision to cancel the second day of the ride. Oddly enough, I was very disappointed – you’d think that the morning after completing my first century the last thing I would want to do is ride another 58 miles, but I guess I had psyched myself up for the full two-day experience that it was a let-down not to be able to do the full ride. We ended up packing our bikes and gear into one of our trucks, and drove back to San Antonio.

It was a great experience overall on many levels, even with the pain and exhaustion of those final 30 hilly miles. Most importantly, though, was the satisfaction of reaching a goal I had set for myself a year earlier. Now that I’ve done a century, though, I think if I ride in next year’s event, I might just be content with the 70 mile route!