Baggies versus Lycra- a mature perspective to the debate.

photoOTB at the North Park Boathouse

Ok, so I am headed out of the Giant Eagle with my groceries and I see this guy getting out of his Corvette. He seems to be a little older than me and he has his wrap around shades, gold chains, lycra running shirt, lycra cycling shorts, and running shoes. He is headed in to the grocery store and I am thinking that he is the typical guy trying to hold off the inevitable by exercising and having all the toys along with the chest toupe’, chains and all that. But why would you want to show your produce neatly wrapped in lycra cycling shorts in the produce section of the Giant Eagle? There is a time and a place for everything and lycra is for riding and running – not shopping. At my age, I would not be caught dead walking around in lycra cycling shorts in a venue that was other than my local park or outside of my house ready to ride my road bike.

So let’s jump into the fray and the long standing debate among mountain bikers and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of lycra versus baggie shorts. Lycra has its advantages and although I have been riding my road bike in lycra shorts for years, I am starting to get to that point where I am looking for an alternative. Yes, lycra is standard and with the new compression technology, it is still appealing from a functional point of view. But for us “getting to be older riders”, the change in attitude is similar to the desire to ride the triple crank on a road bike instead of a straight block like the old days. I know that it is sleek to have the nice lycra road kit and I would not have been caught in anything else back in the day, but I am starting to get a little more comfortable with outfits that may be more touring than racing. The “club fit” is beginning to take over for the ” race fit” and you know what……that’s ok.

Enter the baggie of the mountain bike set. When I was mountain bike racing, I still utilized the lycra kits and it was standard and still is in most instances although baggies have been seen in Enduros and some cross country races not only locally but on the national circuit. Why? Because they are comfortable – that’s why? Mountain bikers tend to be more laid back than road folks and baggies seem to fit the culture like some of the new jersies that can be worn post ride without embarrassment. I like the pockets to keep your stuff- like George Carlin used to say. ” You gadda have a place for your stuff.” Baggies also have a little give and take in the right places and although many of these shorts have lycra liners, they are comfortable, functional and can be worn into a grocery store without anyone taking notice of you. Baggies can also be worn in the winter with knee warmers and most of the time you can ride in inclement weather and have he feeling of freedom rather than being trapped in tights or other winter wear.

So as a chronologically advancing rider, I am starting to see the advantages of comfort on a ride versus trying to portray the image of the over the hill racer trying to hang on. I like keeping my keys, cell phone, goodies,and other various and sundry items stuffed into my pockets of my baggies rather than stuffing them into a lycra jersey or my pack. I take my pack on mountain bike rides only if it is going to be a longer ride or if is colder and I need a place to stash my rain jacket. Other than that, pockets in baggies are just fine. Things change as you age and sometimes when I look at myself in the mirror I say,” do you really want to go out in that tight fitting outfit today?” Then I defer to the baggie and the comfortable shirt or jersey and am much happier knowing that function has finally taken over for form in the life of the 59 year old kid. The real test will be when I break down and wear baggies on a road ride. You never know, the next thing that may happen is fenders, side view mirrors on my helmet, maybe a flourescent orange flag attached to my road bike? Maybe I will be like the tourons that I know that gain weight on rides by stopping at every coffee shop or lunch place? Tough to do in the woods on a mountain bike but there are still some appealing stops that may cater to a more casual rider. I am happy to report that I am not there yet and please slap me if you see me putting a flag or a reflector on any of my bikes. But the culture of the baggie has replaced the function of lycra and for the general public shopping for their tomatoes and cucumbers, their visual world is a lot safer than the other day when Corvette man disrupted their experience.

So, although the baggie versus lycra debate will rage longer that I will ride someday, it is good to recognize that there is a perspective that lies outside of the functional debates between the two forms of exercise clothing. Respect the comfort but more importantly, respect your fellow shoppers. That chest toupe’ with the chains was a little over the top. Thanks for reading.

Embrace the Winter- Part 2.

photoIMG_0230photophoto Well, the rodent here in Punxatawney,Pa. says 6 more weeks of winter. By the looks of things, it will be at least that long. The snow blower has been going full bore and the skiing in the east has been epic. My friend Julie from Chicago asked me not to put “Think Snow” at the end of my posts even though that is a standard skiing greeting. She claims she has plenty and for someone like me, there never is enough of plenty. Maybe three years ago in Tahoe when it snowed 14 feet the week I was there. That was probably enough for that week. But for most of us here in the East, we have survived two Polar Vorteces(haha- I think I spelled that right?), a winter where there has been snow on the ground since Thanksgiving, colder than normal temps, but in reality- a good old fashioned winter like I remembered as a kid. A lot of folks around here are growning weary of the cold and the snow but sorry to say to them………..I like it. Not just because I am a skier, but I enjoy getting out in the snow and enjoying the cold,fresh air. I sleep like a rock when I come in from the cold. Like my dad always said,” It’s like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer- it feels so good when you stop.” But I don’t really see it that way. I say- embrace the winter.

You don’t have to be a skier to enjoy the winter. Take this morning for instance. I took the day off because I had some personal things to attend to, but in the early morning, I made my way to our North Park ( I always brag about our 42 miles of trails out there), and strapped on the snowshoes. If you can walk, you can showshoe and it is most enjoyable. You are not killing yourself on a run yet when you are finished, you have worked up a pretty good lather using the snowshoes and your ski poles for balance. The sun was shining this morning and the vision before me was like millions of bright, sparkling diamonds glittering from the snow covered surface of the trails. Every step revealed a new stash of diamonds while the others faded as I walked. The air was cold and crisp, the trees had a blanket of snow on the limbs and branches. It was a visual smorgasbord of nature at its winter best. We had a little bit of freezing rain and then it snowed again so the effort this morning was like walking on a bowl of Kelloggs Corn Flakes. Crunch, crunch, crunch, but it was neat and we had plenty of snow. Usually I am hammering on those dry trails in the summer on my mountain bike pedaling along and looking 3 feet in front of me only to make sure I don’t go flying over the bars. I don’t see anything except three feet in front of me or looking at some guys baggies up in front. But when you snowshoe, the forest comes alive. You can see birds looking for food, squirrels and chipmunks acting all OCD trying to work because the sun is out, even though they have stashed their food for the winter. You stumble on some dozing deer as they lay in wait for the sunset. I usually stop to hear…………..nothing. The silence is great and when you exercise in that kind of environment, you are rewarded like nothing else you have ever experienced.

Our park is an oasis in the middle of suburbia and you don’t have to drive far out of the park to get back to the daily hussle and bustle of the world. But for the hours that you can spend on those trails, the world seems so far away and I tell people that it is as good for your body as it is for your mind. Sometimes you just need to enjoy nature and let the troubles of every day living fade for just a little bit while you indulge yourself in someting beneficial. A lot of the time, you don’t need to concentrate on making turns down a slope, or making strides on a pair of cross country skis with no fixed heel. You don’t have to watch your balance and be sure to remain upright on a pair of skates. Snowshoeing is great. You can purchase a set from LL Bean or go on line and get a knock off for somewhat less including poles. But good old fashioned ski poles, cross country skiing poles, or hiking poles work just fine. The cool thing is that after a big snow, you can strap them on right outside your front door and go anywhere. Golf Courses, fields, trails, are all fair game for snowshoeing. Why not try it? We have a lot of winter left according to old Phil and you might just get hooked on a very simple form of winter exercise. My wife Janet and I do it together. The whole family can participate for very little investment. Hiking boots, winter clothing, ski poles, and snowshoes. Try it – you’ll like it. Embrace the winter will ya? You too Julie!!! Thanks for reading.

Trail Transformation

photophotophotophotophoto This summer and fall, the trails in the Laurel Highlands and our own trails in our county park were dry and flowy. The mountain bike riding was spectacular and even when the time change came, the night riding was done in rather temperate conditions. That all changed at Thanksgiving when the winds of November came blowing. The snow came and the trails were transformed into winter conditions. When this happens, it gives the 59 year old kid a chance to switch gears a bit and do more trail running and hiking. My friend EJ Sigety used to drag me out all winter on the trails to mountain bike ride no matter what the conditions, but these days, I use good judgement and enjoy the trails in different ways.

I spoke in one of my last posts about dialing it back a bit and that on occasion, it is a good idea. Hiking is very enjoyable way to dial it back and I see things on the trails that I don’t see riding in a pack or pounding up a hill in the heat with my eyeballs bulging out of their sockets. Hiking in the snow can allow you to experience the silence of the woods, and the smell of a distant fireplace. You can experience a buck eyeing you up as you enter his domain. The trails look different and the footing dictates that you carefully place your steps so that you remain upright. Where this transformation may discourage some folks from enjoying the trails in the winter- hiking, trail running and snowshoeing can be a great alternative to the riding that we enjoy most of the year. I usually take my ski poles with me to help with the footing and balance in the icy conditions. These can also be used with snowshoes. Sturdy hiking boots are a must and I usually use my old reliable Vasque Hiker IIs that are 40 years old and still kicking. Dialing it back over Thanksgiving was enjoyable and I ran into some of my die hard friends who were still riding . They harrassed me but I enjoyed the hikes and was glad for a change.

Now if you are the hearty type and want to keep riding on the icy trails in the winter, you can use studded mountain bike tires as shown in the picture above. The new rage is the “fat bike” which has oversized tires that aid in the traction. These were developed originally to race in Alaska and have seen some major acceptance in the mountain bike community here in the lower 48. The curious thing about riding in the winter is that once you get going, the heat builds up and if the traction is good, you can enjoy a good ride when perhaps you would have thrown in the towel. Sometimes I will ride, other days I will run or hike. But the main thing is to keep enjoying the trails and the woods in all seasons and have the mental and physical preparation to do so. My friend Mark “the Shark” Sauers has a great expression for winter as well. He says there is never bad weather……only bad clothing. I would agree in that if you have the right winter weather gear, you can be comfortable even if the conditions are raw. Gore Tex, wool socks, good winter riding shoes, trail running shoes or hiking boots can make all the difference in the world and allow for that “go for it” attitude that you need in the winter. Good lights as described in my earlier posts about night riding can make a big difference too. There are a lot of good choices for lighting that are essential for enjoying the trails after dark. I try to avoid indoor exercise at all costs and good water proof clothing can allow outdoor activities even in the coldest, winter rain or snow. You get that fresh air, good exercise, come home and take a hot shower and sleep like a baby. Nothing like it.

Winter is just starting so why not think about continuing to use the trails at your own pace and sometimes with different tools. Nobody is going to think badly about you if you put the bike away and run or hike. Just as long as you do something and not let the winter get you down or allow for added padding which is painful to lose in the spring. Hydration is important as well. You lose a lot of moisture exercising in the winter and the need to drink fluids is as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Take your hydration pack with you at all times. Chistmas is coming folks and maybe Santa has some new equipment for you to use. Gear up, pick your poison on exercise, and enjoy the winter. Thanks for reading and think snow.

The Internal Amplitude Dial

photoCottonwood-20120216-00019IMG00132-20100208-1434 We all have an internal dial or dials which are like radio dials. We have the ability to turn up the dial, turn down the dial, look at a second dial which might indicate how we approach fun, aerobic limit, or competitiveness. Everyone’s dial is different based upon experience, age, physical fitness, and the ability to assess risk. I have written previous blog posts entitled Risk versus Reward and I would encourage you to re-vist them for a perspective on that subject. Outside Magazine’s current issue is dedicated to the topic of risk. But all of us have the ability to adjust those internal dials based upon where we find ourselves at the moment when we are partaking in a physical activity.

If you look at the picture above, this is our skiing group that gets together once a year in Tahoe/Mammoth for a week to 10 days of pretty hard core skiing for a bunch of guys who are pushing 60.( Some of the group are already there). The good thing is that this group is extremely enthusiastic and skiing is very important to all of us. Last year, I turned the group on to the I-Phone App “Alpine Replay.” This is one of many apps that measure vertical feet skied, speed, calories burned, and other measurements. We all got sucked into the technology and spent one day during the week at Northstar at Tahoe skiing perfectly groomed trails with no crowds. We actually had the perfect day to beat the single day record because there are several high speed chairlifts,and we have the equipment that makes it easy to turn and control at speed. The dial was turned up a little that day with our enthusiasm. We ended up skiing 57,833 vertical feet (each of us). The next day, Hutch and I logged 52,000 vertical each. That is a lot of runs in two days but again, we had perfect conditions which allowed us to turn up the dial a bit.

Even guys our age can get caught up with modern technology. I-Phones, Map my Ride, Go-Pro cameras which allow you to video document your own experience as you race to get it on You Tube for the chance to go viral. Equipment advances, high speed chairs, over-sized racquets and clubs, dual suspension all carbon mountain bikes, carbon road bikes, power meters, the list goes on and on which allows mere mortals to venture into the expert zone. We all know our limits and the amplitude dial is relative to each person. But the outside influences on the dials can increase the amplitude sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The secondary dial is more important to me. As the 59 year old kid, I love the challenges on the trails and the slopes. But the competitive mark on the dial is seldom used any more. It is more of an adjustment between fun and aerobic fitness. I love the roller coaster sometimes with friends on the slopes and the trails with all of the modern technology. But sometimes, I like to get off the roller coaster and stand on the platform or have a seat on the bench and dial it back a bit. Take today. I was running trails in the rain and ordinarily I try to push myself to the best of my ability. The amplitude and the secondary dial were not that high but I enjoyed the run and even stopped to see two beautiful bucks. I took the time to count their points. In the old days, I would have just kept running. My wife and I were hiking up at Glendorn a few weeks ago and I stopped to observe a beautiful salamander on the trail. Other days, I would not have even noticed. This week, Mark Sauers and I rode with an old friend who has had some extreme physical problems yet keeps on riding. Bill Belch is a testament to fortitude and continues to ride even at night with some serious vision issues. Mark and I dialed it back a bit and we really enjoyed our ride with our friend as it was great for us to reconnect and great for Bill to be pushed a bit. His dial was turned up pretty far but the outcome was very positive for a very positive guy. John Staab is another friend who rode with us yesterday and wanted to stop for a bit to have an energy bar, sit on a rock and enjoy the scenery for a little bit. You know, he got off the roller coaster and wanted to sit on the platform for a while. Really, nothing wrong with that. John had the longest ride of his season, his dial was up a bit, but he also enjoyed the experience. The secondary dial was turned to …..FUN.

I have been reading some interesting commentary lately about smaller ski areas and how they do not necessarily have high speed chairs. It is part of the experience. They even talked about the single chair at Mad River and mocked it as “stupid.” I tend to disagree and respect the history of the single chair. I remember riding the one at Stowe,Vermont when they would give you a blanket for the ride up. Sometimes, the slower double chairs allow for longer conversations. Skiing is a great sport and a fun activity, but it is as much social for me as it is making turns and runs. Sometimes, I am fine with not constantly taking the high speed chairs and maybe turning the dial down a bit and enjoy the slow ride up the mountain. Kind of like listening to the Frank Sinatra station on Sirrius Radio. As much as I like to stay up with current music, sometimes listening to the Chairman of the Board and even the Spa Channel, relaxes me. Sometimes that dial needs to be turned down a bit. Not all the time. But sometimes when you need it.

My friend Eric drove down to Mammoth this week to catch the first ski runs of the season. Eric has had neck surgery, shoulder surgery, and foot issues which have limited his ski time a bit. But he was enthused when he made his first runs down there and had no pain. The ability to ski like that and to enjoy the sunny weather caused him to turn his dials up. It is funny that his doctor told him he may want to “dial back” a bit but he ended up skiing between 23-30 runs per day and then going for a mountain bike ride. Somehow, I don’t think Eric will be dialing back any time soon. He will be pushing us to break the 60,000 vertical feet in a day record this spring on the Alpine Replay app and that is ok. The dial may be turned up a bit that day, but all within reason for a bunch of older dudes. So pay attention to your inner amplitude dials. They can be adjusted many times during the course of a day or a trip depending on how you feel. Go for the gusto but know that the dials can be adjusted to the fun zone and ……………..that’s ok. Thanks for reading. By the way, that is a Porcupine on my skis. I stopped to look at him too and he liked me. Also- this is my 100th post. Thanks for reading. This has been a lot of fun.

The Lifechanger

imagesphoto Several posts ago, I wrote about people who are mentors. There are also folks who fall into a slightly different category and they are what I call Lifechangers. I was at a birthday party last night for one of them and his name is Hot Harry Kirsch. Harry turns 90 this week and it has been my distinct pleasure to know him. Mary Jo Neff got up last night after organizing the affair and eloquently told the assmebled crowd how much Harry has influenced all of our lives by starting and running the Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. There are people like Harry who influence us and in many ways facilitate a life change.

I first met Harry when I started running at North Park during the running boom of the 80s. I had quit tennis and was looking for a change when I saw a group run by the tennis court and I said to myself that I was going to start running. I became passionate about it and ventured into the Stone Field parking lot and one of the first guys I met was Hot Harry. He was very friendly and introduced me to some folks and invited me to have a drink out of some jugs from his open trunk. I soon found out that Harry always left his trunk open to his car and anyone who ran from Stone Field was welcome to a drink from Harry’s stash. Harry also told me about his loosely organized club and soon I was wearing the shorts and singlet in the races indicating that I was a member of Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. I was actually very proud to wear that garb and be part of the whole North Park running scene.

Harry organized a bus to go to the Marine Corps Marathon every year. He was fond of the marathon because he was a Marine.He always organized picnics at his farm in Evans City,Pa and soon the group swelled to very large proportions including family and friends of the North Park Runners. Harry has an infectious positive atttude and a smile for everyone who comes his way. There have been a lot of folks who have come to the park in a similar fashion as me and have sheepishly tried to start to walk, run, or jog to make a change in their lives. You get to the point sometimes in your life when you realize that your health and mental well being are more important than any job. Everyone has stress in their lives and exercise is a great antidote to those daily pressures which can consume our lives. Harry made sure that everyone who was new had someone to run with and if no one was available, he ran with them himself. Harry loves the park and as a retired bus driver whose wife had passed away, the park was a good way for him to reconnect with people and soon his running prowess and enthusiasm for the sport got him a lot of notoriety in the local papers. I believe that Harry has 50+ marathons to his credit including countless Boston and Marine Corps Marathons.

I had the pleasure of running in Boston with Harry and his group and was amazed at how well Harry knew the drill up there with the accomodations, the food, the travel arrangements, the expo, and all with only a small duffel bag containing a spare set of running shorts, another singlet, and a toothbrush. Harry traveled light. He loved the marathon up there and took me under his wing as a rookie and I will never forget his wisdom, humor and friendship. Four of us crashed in one room and Harry snored like a chainsaw, but we didn’t care. We were having too much fun. No hot water in the hotel after the race,the elevator was down, but Harry and his sense of humor had us all laughing through an uncomfortable end to a great run.

Harry and the North Park crew changed my life for sure. Even though I eventually gravitated to road cycling and mountain biking, I still run on trails in the winter and on nasty weather days. Running is still in my veins thanks to Harry and the wonderful people of North Park. They say that you get an endorphin high from running but I am not sure if it is more the chemical high or the psychological high that you have completed a healthy activity for the day and you did it with friends. The comraderie of the running crowd cannot be matched. I see folks from all over the country running in groups. The exercise and the lively conversations are indigenous to running clubs and if you have not had the chance to join a running, cycling, skiing, hiking, outdoors club, go do it. Chances are you will meet fun folks who will hold you accountable to join them on a daily or several times a week basis. You will be fortunate if you ever meet a guy like Hot Harry. He is one in a million and if you ever see the car with the open trunk, help yourself and allow yourself to meet one of the all time greats. Thanks for reading.

How to Stay in the Game

Saltlick-20130109-00082IMGP1925IMG00375-20110730-0915 Age and Treachery will beat Youth and Skill- true or false? As the 58 year old kid, I would like to believe that statement but in most instances, this is not the case. You have to rely on other things to stay in the game and enjoy the activities that you have been enjoying for a long time. Chris Crowley in his excellent book “Younger Next Year” states with conviction that if you keep doing the things that you are doing in your 50s and 60s, there is no reason, barring catastrophic disease, that you can’t keep doing it well into your 70s and 80s. I believe this and have seen evidence of this with active people on the ski slopes and on the trails. I am not an exercise physiologist, certified trainer, coach or anything close, but I can tell you what has worked for me and I hope that these following little tips can keep you in the game as well.

Equipment- Chris Crowley screams from his book to buy the best equipment that you can really afford. Why not? We could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Spend the money because if you are dedicated to pursuing your sport, you will use the equipment almost every day. Skis are shaped, well constructed, and shorter these days allowing less fatigue as the day wears on. The new ski equipment definitely improve most skiers one full ability level. Beginners become intermediates, intermediates become advanced, and advanced skiers become…well …. really experts. Mountain bikes and road bikes are made with lightweight carbon fiber and utilize lightweight componetry allowing quicker ascending on the roads and trails. Larger diameter wheels like the 29ers make riding more efficient with rolling resistance lowered and climbing more effiicient with more tire patch on the trail. Full suspension technology allows a more comfortable ride which is especially important on technical trails as an older rider.

Clothing- with the advances of Gore Tex and similar wind and water resistant fabrics, exercise becomes more comfortable allowing more time on the trails and slopes. Again, spend the money and get good riding, running and ski clothing. Compression socks are another plus to promote blood flow while running and giving the legs some support. Technical clothing is well worth the investment

Nutrition- I am not a dietician but I can tell you that if you stay away from high fat foods, fried foods, desserts, and eat within reason, you will feel and perform better. When I moved out of my parents house in my twenties, I started to run on a daily basis and I started to eat more chicken,fish, fruits and vegetables. I ate my big meal at noon and hardly anything at night and lost 15 pounds in two weeks. I was not intentionally wanting to lose weight, but my improved fitness coupled with a sensible diet and correct eating times, helped me lose the weight and gain efficiency.

Water- I had a blood clot years back because I was injured and dehydrated. I am still paying for that today because I take Coumadin. I don’t have any side effects but had I hydrated properly at the time, I may not have had the DVT. I also had a kidney stone this year and the doc said that I don’t take enough fluids in while I exercise. I wouldnt wish that experience on my worst enemy. So I drink plenty of water these days and you should too. You almost have to consciously drink more that you think you should not only while you are exercising but before and after and on the days when you are inactive.

Attitude- take a look at the pictures above. The one picture is of my buddy Heff and me in the bowels of West Virginia in the rain. We had the gear and enjoyed the mountains and the ride immensely despite the horrid conditions. We never let weather spoil our fun. Another picture above is of me and 3 time Tour De France champion Greg Lemond. Here is a guy who loves to ride a bike despite his age and he will talk cycling and sign autographs for as long as anyone want him to be there. The last picture is of my lovely wife riding a chairlift in the freezing rain. She was having such a good day skiing that day that she didn’t want to quit. She has a great attitude and she rides a bike and is into hot yoga of all things. These individuals are older athletes but their attitude, nutritional habits, good equipment and fitness keep them in the game. Chuck Swindoll the great preacher says that “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” Even if you have been away from it for a while or you want to start a new exercies and fitness/nutritional program, it is never too late. Get with a physician to determine your baseline fitness and just do it as the Nike ads proclaim.

I was out with a bunch of guys the other day on the mountain bike and it was really hot. I made sure I was drinking a lot, I pounded the energy gels to keep the energy levels high, I rode the hills at 60% so as to keep something in the tank for the three hour slog with some younger guys.Because I was leading the ride, I did not have the luxury of sitting in with the group and allowing someone else to set the pace and take all the pulls. On a road bike, you can get away with this by sucking wheel more than you are out front taking pulls. I was good at this back in the day when I got an award from the ACA. It was a little plunger and the nameplate said Wheel Sucker of the Year. In short, I pulled out most of my treachery and skulduggery just to stay with the ride. My age and treachery did not beat the youth and the skill the other day, but I sure had fun on the ride and want to continue that high for many rides to come. Stay in the game my friend. Thanks for reading.