My RAGBRAI Team LIVESTRONG Fundraising Page

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cycling for Life

Why am I writing about the health benefits of cycling?  In short, to testify.

As I noted in my first blog post leading up to my posts about last year's RAGBRAI:
You see, I'm a 45 year old man with a desk job.  I don't eat the best.  At least I didn't used to, trying to do better now.  And my doc thought I should shed a few lbs and lower my cholesterol before it got bad.  So I've being toying with riding a bike to get exercise.  I can't run (due to a hip replacement) and I can't swim (because I can't swim).  So, I figured biking would be good.

In the fall of 2009, six months before I began riding to prepare for RAGBRAI, I had my annual physical.  It included a cholesterol check.  The results: my triglycerides were at 206 and my blood pressure (BP) was 135/91.  According to the American Heart Association, the triglycerides is "High" and my blood pressure is Stage 1 HBP.  My father has a history of cardiac issues.  It runs in his family.  In my family.

So, I could do nothing and end up on medications and what not waiting for something to happen (the only thing that would happen though would be a cardiac arrest, a stroke, or some such other event).  Or I could get off my duff and do something about it.

So last spring I did something about it.  I started riding, with the goal of completing RAGBRAI last July.  I am thrilled to say I did it.  Over 2100 training miles to prepare and more than 450 miles that week in Iowa.

Then I stopped.  Between August and mid-February, I was only on my bike maybe four times. Not per week.  Or per month.  Total.  There were always other priorities, or explanations... or excuses.

For my annual check up in October, my BP was still at a Stage 1 HBP level, 146/87.  (I don't know what it was when I was riding regularly March - July.  My guess is that it was lower.)

On February 14, I started a new job closer to home.  A job where I can be at home every night.  A job I can ride to during the day.  So I started biking.  During the school year, I would drive my daughter to school, then commute into Madison to park and ride the rest of the way in.  Now that school is out, I am riding all the way to work on most days.

In May, I had another doctor's appointment.  And another blood draw.  This time, my triglycerides came in at 113 - well within the normal range.  My BP is down as well, to 126/80, which is "prehypertension," but at the low end of that range and close to normal, as well as moving in the right direction.  While my weight is still too high, it is inching down as well.  My pants that used to be too tight in the waist are now getting a little loose.

So, yeah, I am cycling for health.  And somewhere along the way, very early on, I began loving the bike.  So now, I am cycling for life.

<150 Normal 
150-199 Borderline High  
200-499 High
500+ Very High  

Blood Pressure

My Scores
mm Hg (upper #)
mm Hg (lower #)
less than 120
less than 80
120 – 139
80 – 89

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)   
   Stage 1
140 – 159
90 – 99
   Stage 2
160 – 179
100 – 109
Hypertensive Crisis (Emergency care needed)   
(Source: American Heart Association)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ride for the Arts

This past Sunday, I got up at 4:30 and drove to Milwaukee to participate in the Miller Lite Ride for the Arts, which was scheduled to start at 7:00.  About 7,000 cyclists of all ages and abilities joined the ride this year.  They could choose from a 5-mi family ride; a 12-mi ride; a 25-mi ride; a 50-mi ride; and a 75-mi ride.  Having not put on as many miles this spring as I wanted to, I chose the 50 mile route.

Like all the routes, the 50-miler started and ended at the Summerfest Grounds on the shores of Lake Michigan.  The route was basically an out and back to the Concordia University - Wisconsin campus in Mequon.  (Coincidentally, this is where my step-son Ryan is attending school.)

The start of the route this year was different though than in the past.  This year, route organizers received permission from the State DOT to include the Hoan Bridge, which is part of I-794.  I'm guessing there was a lot of concern about bicyclists on the bridge, which is next to a Great Lake, even though it was closed to vehicular traffic at 5:30a that day (until 10:00a). Organizers were very specific before the start about not stopping on the bridge, no picture taking from the bridge, and don't get distracted by the view.  (We were, I'm guessing, about 10 stories up in the air.)  I heard later someone said it was a success and that no one was blown off (as some skeptics thought might happen).

So, after a short delay to the start (so volunteers could cover up some gaps in the pavement with plywood and carpeting), we got started at about 7:25.  We left Summerfest and turned left to head south on the bridge.  After crossing, we exited, and then re-entered the bridge northbound headed back.  It was about 2.5 miles each way.

Me and a few thousand friends riding across the Hoand Bridge in Milwaukee during the Ride for the Arts. (I am in front on the left, red & white jersey, black & yellow helmet.)
Photo Source: Third Coast Digest (via their Flickr page, linked from the Ride for the Arts Facebook page)
 From the bridge, we rode north through the suburbs to Mequon where there was a rest stop.  The organizers had fruit, bars, water, and Gatorade out for us.  Wheel & Sprocket, one of the sponsors, was also there to help with mechanical issues. 

Upon leaving Concordia, 50-mile riders turned back south to head back to Summerfest.  (The 75-milers headed north to Port Washington and then turned back.)

It was a great ride.  A beautiful day for it.  Temps in the 60s to start, climbing into the 80s. And sunny.  There was a bit of a wind from the north/northwest.  I averaged over 16 mph going north and over 19 mph on the way back! for an average of 17.25.  Which is fast for me. (I normally average about 15-16)  I peddled hard and rode strong.  And I'm glad I chose the 50-mile route so I could ride hard.  (I would have bonked on the 75-mile route going that hard.)

This was the second year I rode this ride.  It's great to support the arts by participating.  It's fun to push myself to ride further and faster in these kinds of events than I do when I'm on the road riding solo.  While I have no illusions of ever being a racer (ok, maybe sometimes I fantasize about it), it's a blast seeing results like I had on Sunday. 

Only downside to the day: The "50-mile" route was really only 43.5 miles.

Next year, I AM doing the 75!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Riding in LaCrosse

Last week, the state association of my profession held its annual spring conference in LaCrosse.  Normally, the conference starts kicks off with a golf outing that benefits the scholarship foundation we have.  (Which, by the way, provides almost $20,000 in scholarships annually to HS seniors in the state.)  And this year was no exception.

But not everyone golfs. So two of my colleagues who work in the LaCrosse area organized an alternative activity for the day - a 26 mile bike ride on a trail that runs along side the Mississippi River.  Proceeds from our ride are going to the Family and Children's Center of Western Wisconsin.  I'm not sure how many people signed up to ride, but there were seven of us who braved the weather and peddled to Trempealeau and back that day.  (It was raining all day, with temps in the low 50s.)

At 10:00 we gathered in Onalaska to start the ride.  By 10:20 we were mounted and rolling.  This was a non-competitive and no-drop ride, so the seven of us rode together and chatted most of the way up.  Larry and I talked a lot about the current state of funding and changes coming our way from the State.
Mounting up and heading out at the trail head.
(L-R: Me, Kent, Erin, Jeff A, Jeff S, Larry & Jason)

The trail was crushed limestone, but flat and straight. I swear in 13 miles each way, we didn't turn once.  The trail was in decent shape for being so wet.  It was packed fairly hard, but there were vehicle tracks (from the DNR trucks) in which water pooled.  Of course, because they were packed even further by trucks, the tracks were the firmest ground to ride on.

As we approached Trempealeau, the group split a bit as a couple riders were interested in getting out of the cold rain while others were keeping at their pace. By 11:45 we had racked the bikes and went into the Trempealeau Hotel for lunch.  Being good organizers, Larry and Jason had made arrangements for us to lunch there, so when seven dripping wet and muddy riders showed up, it wasn't too much of a surprise.
Took a little of the trail home with me on my tail.
Lunch at the Historic Trempealeau Hotel
After some hot beverages, cold beer (at least for Kent and I) and great food, it was time for the return trip.  The rain never let up and the temp only rose a few degrees.  But for some reason it didn't seem so cold on the way back.  The two Jeffs were anxious, I suspect, to get out of the rain and chose to ride on ahead.  The rest of us hung pretty much together for about half the trip back.  Kent and I did get ahead of the others but waited after crossing over the Black River bridge.
Erin and Larry crossing the Black River bridge
From there, Jason and I took off, trying to see if we could catch the Jeffs. I sucked wind trying to hold onto Jason's wheel for the first couple miles. Then I took point. It was fun pushing ourselves. At some point Jason turned back and rode in with the others.  He says he couldn't keep up but I don't believe I dropped him. Not for a second.  I arrived back at the trail head as the Jeffs were warming back up and getting ready to leave. Not too long after I arrived at the destination, the others rode up.
Jason, Erin and Larry finishing the ride
We chatted, then packed up and headed out.  Time for a hot shower to warm up and wash away the grit and grime.
Jason is taking some of the trail home with him, too.
And yes, I gave my bike a shower too!  Though not as bad as Jason's bike (above), there was a lot of grit and grime on my bike.
It was a great ride with some great folks who are also Loving The Bike. Thanks Larry & Jason for organizing this great event!

Oh, and it turns out that the golf was cancelled for the day! The weather was too much for almost all of them.  (Though I hear that there was one foursome that did play a full 18.)

The next day, the weather was perfect.  And there was no event planned after 5:30, so I took advantage and did a 26 mile ride on the county highways in the area.  This included a challenging climb up Cty Hwy YY - which MapMyRide lists as a Cat 4 climb.  (Potter Hill on Day 7 of RAGBRAI XXXVIII was only a Cat 5.) 
It was a great climb and the views from the top in the Coulee region are beautiful! If you're ever in the LaCrosse area, be sure to bring a bike!