Down, but not out.

Laura Today’s student, seven-year old Laura, was sweet, polite, ready to work, but also a bit nervous.  No more or less than most who come to learn to ride on two wheels with me.  But enough that the fear would stay with her most of the lesson.  Even after my fun slow-motion (basically at a stand still) practice fall.  We both fell on the ground to see how short of distance it really is from pedal to pavement.  Nothing like falling out of tree or off a ladder, anyway.

Laura and I made quick progress and she was really starting to concentrate on all the things I told her (and less about falling).  But then, as it sometimes happens, she took a turn to tightly and down she went.  I scooped her up before she could even realize what happened, but reality set in fast.  She had fallen and started to cry.  Normally, I handle the situation solo, but this time I let her parents jump in, too (asking them to bring a drink of water).  And then came the critical moment–would she get back on.  All indicators pointed to “no” as she held tight to her mom and refused.

But, I jumped back in and asked her to sit on her bike seat and talk to me.  We discussed all the things she was doing right and how far she had come.  And how the fall happened not because she didn’t know what she was doing, but just because of a silly circumstance.  And slowly, we got back to work.  And within 10 minutes, she was riding solo for the first time.  It was almost as if the fall helped–it showed her she could fall and still get up and ride again.  It took some extra bravery and trust, and she provided both.

Congrats to you, Laura. 

Getting "Schooled" by the Student

DevynToday’s cycling student was six-year old Devyn.  A big smile at all times.  She came with a brand new bike (and a cute helmet from Frozen) and ready to learn.  She’ll be growing into the bike for several years, so she had to use a lot of strength to manage all that steel (but she never complained, never quit, and didn’t even want water breaks).  Tons of spunk!

Once in a while, the student teaches this Coach.  Today was about semantics.  I have always said to push “down” on the pedals to engage the coaster brake (remember when your bike had the back brakes with the pedals, not on the handlebars?).  Well, it took a while for me to figure out why she wasn’t stopping consistently (I might have been a little brain-dead from 4 hrs of riding/1 hr of running yesterday and 2 hours of running this morning).  When the pedals are at 12 and 6 o’clock, if she is pushing straight DOWN (literally, towards the ground), she will not engage the coaster brake.  Duh, Coach!  The RIGHT word is push (or pedal) BACKWARDS.  I’ve used the words interchangeably over the years, but never ran into this misunderstanding.  Luckily, I figured it out and I’ll never say DOWN again!  Thanks for teaching me, Devyn.

She’s riding.  Turning.  And thankfully stopping.  Practice this week will get her there, and she’s super confident now.  And course, smiling big.

Great job, Devyn!

February 11th Update:  Today’s mail included a surprise from Devyn.  Seeing the smiles on the kids’ (and parents’) faces makes this all worthwhile.  But things like this make it even better.

devyn pic

Balancing Act

Brendan Today, six-year old Brendan visited me and I’m sure glad he made the move from Toronto to the Dallas area so I could be his coach today.  All smiles, but a little nervous.  I have many tricks for getting kids to ride and some key ones revolve around balance.  Brendan was a bit shaky at first, but was a quick learner.  One of my tricks may have been more essential for him than for others.  I learned after Brendan mastered my class and rode very steadily (and stopped, started, and turned), that he is deaf in one ear.  His mom wondered if that could affect his ability to balance on the bike.

Initially I thought it wouldn’t, as he learned to walk with this issue.  Although, I wasn’t there for that.  Perhaps it did affect his balance at first and he overcame it.  I did a little bit of research afterwards to learn more about hearing loss and balance.  Balance depends on nerve signals from three systems–eyes, legs/torso, and inner ear balance organs–that comprise our vestibular system.  These nerve signals, which go to the brain, help us stay upright.  Although studies show as many as 30% of deaf people may have balance problems, I’m still not sure about those with one deaf ear. 

If there is some challenging connection, I told his mom in my follow-up email that I don’t think it will be an issue for Brendan going forward.  I think we triggered that part of the brain that needs to be “turned on” for balance on a bike.  Nice to know my tricks are useful beyond just the standard challenge of overcoming the fears of riding.

My favorite part of this lesson (which seemed to go very quickly as we raced against the threatening weather):  Just as Brendan was riding without my direct help (only one finger on his back to let him know I was still “helping”), he said, “It feels like I’m riding my bike now.”  To which I responded, “That’s because you are.”

Congrats Brendan!

Jake’s Day

JakeWe’ve all had days where we didn’t want to do something, but had no choice.  Today, Jake visited me to learn to ride a bike.  I’m sure part of him did want to learn, but part of him certainly did not.  Yes, there was fear.  Yes, there was coordination issues to overcome.  But Jake also has mild Asperger’s.  This in itself, was not part of today’s challenge for Jake to learn.  He swallowed up the coaching tips, and he bravely did as I asked.  However, he was clearly shy and doubtful about what we could achieve together.

Like with all my students, we took our time with advancing the lesson.  With Jake, even as he’d progress, he would be a bit quiet.  Almost melancholy.  But I’d coax a smile out of him and remind him of how far he had come so far.  He was balancing and braking and turning (overcoming any coordination issues).  We took many breaks so he could talk to his parents and hug his mom.  I’d remind him of how well he learned all the tips.  At the very end, he was riding.  A bit nervously, but he could do it.  Even when he really thought he couldn’t.

It was a special day for Jake, but also for me.  I’m used to my students’ excitement level to get higher and higher as they get more and more confident.  I found myself trying new things to keep Jake engaged and increasing his confidence (and joy of riding).  In the end, it was a matter of letting him be who he is, and crafting the lesson around him.  Just goes to show, even the Bike Whisperer has to continue to learn, too.

Congrats, Jake, on this important milestone.  Be proud of your achievement today.

Ironman Florida 2016 Race Report

My wife and father-in-law came to this one which helped in several ways, George kept me company as we walked all over to turn in bags and bike the day before race day. And he and I drove the course. Granted there were about 9 turns instead of IMTX’s messed up course in May with 88. But it was really nice to know all aspects.
I can’t say that I slept and ate perfectly the week leading up to the race. There was a small historic event going on with a childhood dream of my beloved Cubs winning the World Series. And an Adele concert. Such is life, packing it all in, letting the chips fall where they may, and not worrying about it.
On race morning, I walked the 10 minutes to the race area. As I did, I noticed the wind. A wind that wasn’t there the two days previous. As I walked by a couple athletes, I remarked that maybe it’ll die down at sunrise. Wishful thinking.
I did the typical pre-race stuff—getting bike ready, placing Special Needs Bags in their place (for stops for extra stuff like pain meds, Band-Aids, extra tire/tube). Call them Just-in-Case bags. I was there early, so there was wait time. Ended up sitting next to a Chicagoan, so of course we had plenty to talk about, which served as a great distraction (he’s 44 and completed his 4th IM today). We were so distracted, at some point, I said, we’d better get our wet suits on and head out to the beach (race was wet suit legal by less than a degree Fahrenheit. I had not dipped even a toe in the Gulf in the past two days (Coach said NO practice swim, and like every day of my training since the beginning, I listened). As the sun rose, you could see the wind wreaking a little havoc with the surface. Lots of chop. But not huge breakers to push through. So I didn’t fret. Again, my new buddy, Scott, was a calming influence. We got in the corral and got mentally ready.

Jennifer was down at the beach taking pics and observing her first IM. She couldn’t believe we were voluntarily wading into the water. She could see how far out we’d swim before turning left twice and coming back (we had to do the loop twice as going too far out there was probably not a good idea). I waded in and started swimming as soon as it was deep enough. Immediately, we were tossed around like floating debris. Although we got in a steady stream (not a mass start), it was crowded and you had to fight for space. I always seem to be the guy who moves over when people cross my path. I was determined not to get kicked in the face.
One literally gets seasick out there between the waves and inevitable salt water drink. It was actually nice to get out halfway through it, and rinse my mouth and drink a little water. People lined the shore ankle deep where we crossed back towards the start–part walk, part swim.
There were a few large jellyfish down at the bottom, but they seemed content to just watch the mayhem. It was a treat to actually see in the water (again avoiding people). As with IMTX, as I got close to the finish, I took an elbow or hand to my nose. I literally said ouch out loud while taking a breath. At least my goggles did not move.
I typically swim 2.4 miles in 1:24. I didn’t catch my time at the moment of exit, so I felt like I was slower. Actually, it was a minute quicker. Quickly got peeled from my wet suit—this is one of the most critical jobs as a volunteer. He had that suit off very quickly.
I came out of the water in 150th place out of 330.

Transition to bike is a lot of running. You grab your bag (I found mine before the volunteer since I taped it up with yellow duct tape to stand out). You run across the entire corral (outside it) to dressing area in the hotel. The place was mobbed. Found a seat and put on bike stuff (stayed in my tri kit this time). I couldn’t find my baggie of chamois cream right away, but there was a new package of Butt Butt’r sitting on floor right below my seat—very fortunate. My only mistake here was not taking my Advil. Then you run all the way back to where the bags are, and then run all the way back to bike rack where my Shiv was waiting.
This took a lot more time than I would have liked, perhaps two minutes longer. But what can you do. Eight or so minutes.

bikeIMFL I got on my bike and saw that 1:32 had transpired since start (my Garmin was my companion all day—I didn’t see clocks anywhere). I figured I swam poorly, so off I went on the bike, passing people immediately. Coach wanted my Normalized Power to be 190 Watts and the HR around 150 as a backup metric. At first, the HR strap wouldn’t work at all. I was thinking, that would be a problem for the run. But slowly it started to show a number inaccurately, but then accurately. Situation averted.
My NP was 210 Watts in hurry, but partially due to the fact that we turned into the NE wind fairly soon. HR was still very low. So I didn’t fret and kept passing dozens and dozens.  They just kept coming and coming. Once in a while, I’d get passed (and half of those, I passed eventually down the road).
Having driven the route, I had a good feel for how far away the turns were and where is was going to get really windy… like in your face windy. And most of the first half of the ride was just that. Having the tri bike (The Shiv) this time certainly helped. I was in the aero position 99% of the time and it helped reduce resistance.
Well-supported turns and a safe route. My only complaint was they had little kids handing out bananas. That was all I wanted half way through and as I passed those kids, they’d practically pull it away a little, nervous about a handoff with a bike blazing (not too fast) by. Twice I missed it and kept going. The third try (dozens of miles later) was successful. Had a cool refuel on the Shiv, too. As I approached a rest stop, I opened the cap to the water bladder that’s inside my frame. I grabbed a bottle at the start of the station, and was able to squeeze all the water in and toss the bottle in the garbage zone at the end of the aid station (tossing after you pass it is a time penalty). Had never done this in motion and was impressed I could do it.
Things got a little faster in the spots where we had a tailwind, but by then I was starting to fade. NP was down to 197ish. I had small scare at Mile 93ish. Some guy passed me, got in front of me and slowed down. I was immediately too close and could be penalized for drafting off of him. And of course, that’s when a motorcycle roared by with a race official. She looked at me and wagged a finger (like back off). I pointed a finger (index) at the guy in front of me to signal, he did it. But it’s my job to back off when passed. She drove off. So at this point, I wasn’t sure if I was signaled to stop at the next penalty tent (at end of ride) for five minutes of standing still (not a good place to do this) or if it was a warning. I didn’t see a red card nor her writing down my number, so I assumed it was a warning and hoped for the best. I guess it was.
Rolled into the dismount area (after some really bad wind coming through town) and handed my bike off to a volunteer. Grabbed bag and went back to changing area. Only about 20 in there at the time. I figured I had passed many–although not many had the age of 45 to 49 on their calf. So I was perplexed as to where all of them were.
I guess I passed them and just had my head down working hard because I moved from 150th to 30th in my Age Group. I was hoping to break 5 hours based on last year’s results, but I think the wind had other plans. 5:13 was good enough, around 21.5 mph average for 112 miles.

A quick change. I did not change my socks (I did at IMTX, left a fold in the sock and ending up in serious pain due to the blister than formed quickly). I did put baby powder in them the night before and hoped it would be dry enough. Took pain killer this time and jogged to the exit to start the run. I was happy to start running, just knowing this was the last leg. About 4.5 minutes for this one.

At IMTX, my legs were not willing to run under 10:00ish/mile. I could run, but not fast. I was very curious to see what would happen here. Coach said to warm up a little then rev to 158 HR. THAT was not going to happen. Don’t know why. Just felt comfortable at 145ish and kept it there as the pace was around 8:00/mile. Good enough. Long day.
My only discomfort around Mile 2 was I had to pee. Badly. Even though I “relieved in motion” on the bike. Twice. I couldn’t pull that off while running (on the bike, you just stand up and think happy thoughts). So I stopped at a portapotty. And was there forever. That delay actually cost me later.
So, I ran and ran and ran. The route is two loops that are out-and-back. So you see the same people and sights four times. My head just wanted to get to Mile 13 for the turnaround for the second loop. Then I knew I just had to do it once more. It kinda sucks when you see Mile 19 while running the first loop, knowing your sign is Mile 6. But I dreamt of the second loop when those teen markings would be mine.
Eating, drinking, taking salt tablets. That was the only break in the monotony. I saw the Male and Female top three athletes (labeled as such by the bike behind them). The women were 13 miles ahead of me. So strong and looking like champions.
When I got to about Mile 19 I was ready for this to be over. I could see my pace creeping up every mile. I tried to push it in the middle somewhere, but that was short-lived. At Mile 23, I did something I never have done at a race. I switched from Gatorade/water to Pepsi. Once you start Pepsi, that’s all you drink to avoid a sugar crash. It may have helped—not sure. By Mile 24, my right leg started to hurt (more than the rest of my body). I had to dig deeper and keep going knowing the Mile 25 sign was ahead and then it’s all downhill.
Then you can hear the announcer and crowd. And then you see them. I got passed by some jackwagon in my age group as I entered the finisher’s chute. Whatever dude, neither of us are going to Kona. He would have passed me anyway, because I had Jennifer and George staged to hand me the Chicago Cubs W Flag we bought just weeks ago (funny story about this I’ll save for another time). George begrudgingly handed it to me (he’s a Cleveland fan having grown up there), and I gave Jennifer a kiss. And the last 20 yards, I barely remember as I flew the W over my head.
I actually made up more ground from the swim during the run. I moved up 5 (almost 6 or 7) slots to finish 25th in my age group and 179 overall (out of 2250).

Of course, I could barely move, but the three of us made it out to dinner. A special thank you goes out to all those friends and family keeping track of me all day. Whenever I crossed a timing mat, I thought of all of you wrapped up the excitement of the day and rooting me on. I felt your presence, believe me. There was no way I was going to give up and back down—I didn’t walk—even in aid stations. Oh, I wanted to stop, but I knew I’d be “flying the W” soon enough if I’d keep the pace up.
I wanted to crack 4 hours on the run, but that pee stop at Mile 2 (and maybe the W) cost me a few ticks over. But, who cares. The day was a success–practically the perfect race as far as avoiding surprises and mistakes. Final time: 10:50:58. At IMTX (which was 17 miles shorter on the bike, 50 minutes perhaps), I finished in 11:30ish, in 117th. I’m happy, even if my body isn’t. I’m typing this at 2:00 AM because it woke me up and my mind was swimming with all the stuff to capture in this write up! Good use of the free hour, I guess.

A Double Play!

IMG_1496A double play turned by my beloved Cubs to get out of a jam is a great thing to witness (especially this year).  But witnessing two twins learn to ride at almost the same time is even better!

Breckenridge and Douglas are both six and both had very little interest in learning to ride.  Dougie asked if he could just “walk his bike.”  Brecken said his plan was to do one up-and-back and call it a day.  Well, we all know that wasn’t going to happen.  They both had a lot of energy and I was able to get them to feed off each other’s energy when one would falter.  They could not believe that they were riding solo by time we were done.  It wasn’t easy for any of us.  95+ F, sunny, and a longer lesson than usual.  The instruction could be done for both, but each had to wait their turn to go down the street.  Once in a while, one would try to show the other how to do it. 

As with many students, parents are even happier than the kids.  They often send me video of them riding on their own (especially since they are instructed to practice the very next day or throughout the week).  Just a few days later, video was in my email of both twin enjoying riding (Breck: — Doug: ), and excited to go again tomorrow.

It’s always exciting to see kids show up unable to ride and leave loving their bikes.  I think the twins’ mom sums it up well–here’s what she posted on Facebook:


The 70/30 Rule

BradyBrady came for a lesson today and we talked about skateboards, scooters, and video games a lot at the start.  These are all the things he’d rather be doing than riding a bike.  My goal was to flip that around.  He was definitely nervous at the start.  We talked about falling a little (his choice, not mine).  Then more.  Then again.  So, I decided we needed to simulate a nice crash on the bike.  So, in super slo-mo, we both crashed to the ground.  Not surprisingly, we both (and the bike) survived without a scratch.  Then things started to get focused.

It took a little while, but Brady persevered.  Fortunately, we picked a great morning to learn.  Not super hot wet, a little cloud cover, and a breeze.  And then, all the pieces came together.  For every kid, it is different.  For Brady, we needed to relax his arms.  I still need to remember to do this–for me, it can lead to sore shoulders–for Brady, it leads to turning the front wheel too much.

So as we got close to finishing (another kid who likes to jump off before coming to a full stop!), I asked Brady if he likes biking more than video games.  He said 50-50.  I said, for now, I’ll take it.  But by time we finished and reviewed all that we learned, I asked again, and he said 70-30.  In this day and age of tons of video distraction, I’ll take 70 any day!  Enjoy riding Brady!!


BRADY UPDATE, August 8/30:

IMG_2690I’ve been getting some video and pics from Brady’s family and I just had to share.  Within three days of his lesson, Brady was confident enough in his abilities to start tutoring his younger sister using my “tips.”   A day later, he was up and dressed by 7:00 AM to go out riding.  And last weekend, I got this pic with the caption, “Off for a morning ride!!!”  I think this tells the whole story on why I do this.

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