Knee Update

Since early February, I have run a grand total of one mile. It’s been so long since a real run that I’ve mostly stopped thinking of myself as a runner, which feels a bit weird. However, I still feel a tiny stab inside when I see someone out for a jog. I should be out there, too.

As you might remember, my orthopedist checked out my knee in early March and found no problems. His prescription was rest. It didn’t work. Maybe I didn’t rest it enough, but even two weeks of no leg activity at all didn’t change how it felt. So I went back for an MRI earlier this month.

The MRI wasn’t bad at all except for the price tag. I just had to lie still on the machine’s moveable table for 30-40 minutes while it made all sorts of loud noises as it captured the images. The technician let me listen to Jack FM on a nice pair of headphones and stay warm under a blanket.

The orthopedist also prescribed a fancy knee brace from The Brace Center in Bedford. Judging from the array of autographed Dallas Cowboys pictures in their office, I’m guessing many pro athletes find their braces here when they get injured, so that seemed like a good sign to me. I tried on a few and took home a hinged one called The Gripper. Despite a bit of chafing at first on the back of my knee, it seems to be helping. Knee-intensive activities such as cycling and elliptical are noticeable more comfortable. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s nice to find something that makes a difference.

I finally met with the orthopedist Thursday to get the results. Structurally, my knee is nearly perfect. I have the “knee cartilage of a baby.” So the good news is that I’m not having knee surgery, and the doc gave me the green light to do any form of exercise I want. Although certain activities I enjoy might cause some discomfort, they won’t cause any damage to my knee, so the question is how much discomfort I’m willing to tolerate and how I can manage it.

The bad news is that after all the visits and imagining and money, I still don’t really know what’s wrong, so there’s no clear solution. I’ll keep wearing the brace when I ride the elliptical or my bike. He suggested trying to strengthen my quads to help keep my kneecap in place. I might meet with a PT later about therapeutic taping for my knee. But that’s all I have.

Will I return to running? Maybe. I might try a short run soon with my brace and see how it feels. I’d like to get back into 5Ks or 10Ks if possible. But I’ll be OK if I don’t. Riding makes me happy. Despite my initial reluctance, the elliptical machine isn’t too bad, either. And I also enjoy lifting weights now. From lifting 2-3 times per week for a couple of months, I’ve grown noticeably stronger and a bit more defined. So I’m mostly done feeling sorry for myself. Bodies change over time, and our interests and activities change with them.

Cross Timbers Classic Bike Rally

Yesterday Jenny and I rode in the Cross Timbers Classic Bike Rally at Texas Motor Speedway. We signed up back in January full of hope and ambition and chose a record distance for us: 100k, or 62 miles.

Then life happened. Jenny was very busy with school and battled illness and a foot problem. My left knee decided to quit working properly (update coming later this week). So neither of us got to train for anything close to 100k. Instead, we punted and did the 10-mile course instead. Our goal was simple: to enjoy the ride.

Sunrise at the Racetrack

We parked in the gigantic infield of the racetrack, a place I’d never been before, picked up our packets, and hopped on our bikes.

Time to Roll

Check out my new Southwest jersey.

On the Track

The reason we chose Cross Timbers is the exclusive starting lap on the TMS racetrack for all distances. I’m not a big racing fan, but it was still extremely cool to ride around the track and see how big it is and how steep the banks are. I would guess the banks are 30-40 degrees, perfect for a race car doing 200mph, but a bit unnerving for a cyclist doing 10-20mph. We worried about our bikes slipping out from under us, but we managed to stay upright during our lap.

This is one of the straightaways, soon after coming out of a turn, so there’s still a bit of bank. Look in the distance for the next turn.

Somehow the 10-mile course only registered as 8.5 on my cycling app. Maybe we’re just really efficient. After the lap on the track, we rode two loops around the outside of the track and then finished on the infield. It was a nice ride, albeit a short one. We fought a healthy south wind for part of each loop, but the temperature wasn’t bad since we started around 7:45am.

Rally Review

Cross Timbers had a different feel from the other two cycling events we’ve done, the granddaddy-of-bike-rallies Hotter’N Hell in Wichita Falls and the excellent Goatneck in Cleburne. This one was noticeably smaller, had less support, was less organized, and generally had less energy and enthusiasm than the other two. Hardly anyone was riding our distance, so we felt pretty lonely out there and weren’t always positive we were going the right way. The start was a bit confusing, largely because they didn’t stick to the start times exactly and the announcer was hard to hear. We just started riding with one wave and hoped it was the right one. They were setting up the finish line as we approached, and we actually rode past it because we weren’t sure what it was. At the finish line (once we turned around!), we were greeted by a mother and daughter who were passing out medals and a couple of other riders who had already finished. That’s it. No music, no big party, no crowd of tired but happy cyclists milling about. Perhaps we got spoiled by starting with two of the best bike rallies around, but this one just felt odd, more like a big organized ride than a major event. Riding on the track was fun, and I’m glad we did Cross Timbers, but we probably won’t do it again.

Post-Race Recovery

Since we still had some time between the end of the rally and picking up the boys from my parents’ house, we stopped at Lowe’s and Hobby Lobby and hit Donut Land to re-carb. You know how I love irony.

Blog Soup March 10, 2013

Most of you are probably not happy about losing an hour of sleep last night, which is understandable. But it meant I spent seven hours at work and got paid for eight, so Spring Forward day is usually a good day for me. Perspective!

Here’s some soup to help you wake up:

  • Daylight Saving Time (apparently the S that we all add to saving is incorrect – who knew?) seems to be more popular than standard (winter) time. So why don’t we just stay in DST year-round? Or switch to Greenwich Mean Time (Zulu time) so the entire world can use the same clock?
  • I saw an orthopedist about my still-sore knee. The good news: he said everything looked fine structurally, so I don’t need surgery or anything dramatic. The bad news: there’s no quick fix, either. My knee is sore from overuse, and I need to continue my break from running until it quits hurting and then resume very slowly. It could take a month or two. Yep, I think my half marathon days are over. I might just wait until this fall before I start running again. In the meantime, I’m cycling and lifting weights.
  • I need to do some research on the best way to get stronger with weights, because I’m not sure whether I’m doing it right.
  • I tried a weight-loss experiment last month, initially to slim down for the half marathon. My goal was to drop five pounds – five fewer pounds to carry for 13.1 miles. I cut out most sodas, reduced my OJ intake, cut back on dessert, reduced my portion sizes a bit, and rode my bike a lot since I couldn’t run. It worked. However, the feeling of being on a “diet” sucked for a while. Once I realized I wouldn’t be running Cowtown, I relaxed a bit but not entirely, so now I’m just maintaining. That’s five fewer pounds I have to push on my bike. It’s much easier and cheaper than buying a new bike that would weigh five pounds less, which would probably run at least $3000-4000, maybe more.
  • North Texas Food Bank collects and distributes food to hungry people in North Texas via many different organizations. On their website, they say they can provide three meals for $1. If I take my family out for dinner, we usually spend at least $25. So for the cost of a single meal for my family of four, North Texas Food Bank could feed 75 people. Makes you think.
  • Starting next month, I will get to work some of our new flights to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico. These new flights will add a bit of complexity, but it’s exciting to expand my skillset and experience a bit. Sometime next year, we hope to start our own international flights once our new reservation system is in place. We’ll gradually absorb all AirTran’s international operations, which currently include Nassau, Bermuda, Montego Bay, Aruba, Punta Cana, Cancun, Mexico City, and Cabo Los Cabos. Start saving those Rapid Rewards points!
  • Mario Kart Wii is awesome. Brenden, Jenny, and I like to race each other. It’s cool to have a four-year-old racing buddy. Jonathan gets frustrated and quits after about twenty seconds, meaning the rest of us are guaranteed not to come in last.
  • My office has been in an odd predicament for years now. Hardly anyone wants to be in management, for two reasons. 1) Just working the desk is a great gig and doesn’t require the headaches of management. 2) For anyone who works much overtime (like me), management generally means taking a pay cut due to some weird compensation rules. So it’s been difficult to fill management positions. Rumor has it that the compensation problem is finally being fixed. I still don’t want the job, but I hope that this change will finally entice enough people, and the right people, to step into those roles.
  • Our shared fence on either side of the house badly needs to be replaced. One of the involved neighbors approached us a few months ago with a plan to replace it using some of his employees, but it still hasn’t happened yet. Part of me hopes one of the spring storms will finally destroy these poor fences so the project will finally regain its momentum. I suppose I could help…
  • Jenny and I have toyed with the idea of studying Spanish for work via a study-at-home course. It would help her as a nurse in Texas and me as a dispatcher working flights in the Caribbean and Latin America. The best program for our goals seems to be Fluenz, but it’s expensive, so we haven’t bought it yet. Why did I take Latin in high school again??

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Cyclists

My cycling season has begun! Most of you are not cyclists, so I thought you might like to hear a few interesting tidbits about us. Like any athlete, we have our own peculiarities that might or might not be obvious to the casual observer. Here are ten:

  1. Yeah, you drivers make us nervous, too. We just learn to be brave and adapt. I know you don’t like our presence on the roads, but for long-distance training, the road is the best place. Plus many of us commute via bike or ride to the store to save gas. Please be kind and share the road.
  2. The rumors are true: we don’t generally wear underwear beneath our cycling shorts. I don’t see why you couldn’t, but I’m told that bad things happen if you try. Lest you think us immodest, cycling shorts have a built-in gel pad in the crotch for added comfort. So, um, anything you might think you see on a cyclist isn’t necessarily the real thing.
  3. We notice wind a lot more than normal people. In a car, you only feel the wind if you’re getting buffeted by a really nasty crosswind. On a bike, even a 15mph headwind can make you work much harder, and a 15mph crosswind with stronger gusts can throw off your balance.
  4. We are required to obey all normal traffic laws plus stay as far toward the right as practical. So if there’s a red light or stop sign , we’re supposed to stop. Unfortunately, we don’t always comply, which can lead to nasty accidents. We need to obey the law so the drivers know what to expect from us.
  5. We have a saying, “The motor is more important than the bike.” In other words, the bike is merely a tool for the cyclist to use. You could put Lance Armstrong on an entry-level road bike and me on his five-figure pro bike and have us race. I assure you that Armstrong would smoke me, with or without PEDs. Why? Because his motor is so much better than mine. I could trade in my mid-level roadie for something twice as expensive, and I’ll bet it would only increase my speed by 1-2mph at most.
  6. We don’t get as sweaty as other athletes due to the constant wind. Riding in the Texas summer is much better than running because I can ride over twice as fast, letting the wind evaporate my sweat much faster and cooling me off much better. Sure, I might not smell any better once I get back, but my cycling jersey won’t be soaked like my running shirt would be.
  7. Our jerseys are ridiculously expensive. Well, by my definition, anyway. A normal one will generally run $75-80. I’m sure some are much higher. But they are really nice for riding. They fit tightly for low drag, are made of wicking material to keep us cool, and have three pockets on the back to hold gels, phones, keys, etc. (remember, our cycling shorts don’t have pockets)
  8. To my knowledge, the vast majority of us ride clean. Sure, the vast majority of us aren’t winning, either. But even among the elites, the sport seems to have cleaned up quite a bit over the last few years after all the doping scandals of the 1990s and 2000s. Apparently the testing methods have improved significantly, making it much harder to cheat.
  9. I’ve already touched on the dangers of cars. Young children, dogs, and people wearing headphones are also major hazards for us, mainly in neighborhoods or on bike trails through local parks. Yes, some cyclists are out for a leisurely ride on a 30-pound cruisers with 3-inch tires, but some of us are working out and going 15-20mph during some stretches. If a kid or dog or distracted walker jumps out in front of us at the last second, everyone involved is going to get seriously hurt. I have reminded more than one irresponsible dog owner about the park’s leash laws. It usually has little impact, but I try.
  10. We can burn 1000 calories or more during a ride. According to my iPhone app, I burn around 50 calories per mile. On my last ride, I covered 23.3 miles and burned 1153 calories in about 90 minutes. I’m not that strong a rider, so a faster rider might be able to burn 1000 calories/hour or more.

Hope this helps! If you have any specific questions, fire away.

Blog Soup 1/26/2013

Welcome to the first Blog Soup of the new year!

  • I’m on shift 12 of 14 in a row at work. Don’t feel too bad for me, though. I did it to myself. We normally work six shifts in a row followed by a three-day or six-day break. I picked up a trade and a couple of overtime days last weekend, which is why I’m on such a long stretch. It also includes five shifts training a new guy. I am looking forward to some time off next week.
  • Next Thursday I’ll hit my nine-year anniversary in Dispatch. Before I know it, I’ll be having a retirement party and taking my grandchildren to Disney World.
  • I’ve been working on our spring season race calendar. Right now I only have two big events planned, but I might add some smaller events in between. First up is a return to the Cowtown half marathon on Feb 24. As you might recall, Cowtown was my first half marathon last February. I barely missed my goal of finishing under two hours. After a more leisurely and fun half at Disney World earlier this month, I am training hard to break 2:00 next month. I know my body is capable of it. The only question is whether everything will come together to make it happen that day.
  • Our other event is a 100K bike rally near our first house, the Cross Timbers Classic Bike Rally. It starts with a lap on the track at Texas Motor Speedway in north Fort Worth and does a loop through the surrounding area. Jenny and I both signed up for the 100K ride (62 miles). So far our longest ride was 50 miles at Hotter’N Hell back in August, so this one will be a new challenge.
  • I used some Amazon gift cards to get a cool new toy, an iHome rechargeable speaker dock for my iPhone. Why is that cool, you ask? It lets me carry the speaker to any room in the house and listen to my music or Pandora. I’ll mainly use it for listening during a soak in the bathtub (no outlets in the bathtub room) or in the kitchen while hanging out with the kids. It’s maybe a foot wide and has a built-in dock for my iPhone or iPad. For such a small unit, the sound is surprisingly good.
  • Aussie tennis star Samantha Stosur has better arms than I do.
  • I was thrilled by the deep run that young American Sloane Stephens enjoyed at this year’s Australian Open, especially her huge win over Serena Williams. Stephens is developing into a phenomenal player and also seems like a very warm and good-natured person. If she can stay healthy and handle all the pressure, she seems poised to take over as queen of American women’s tennis.
  • I don’t really understand the drama over gun control. The pro-gun people are all worked up because they think the government is trying to take all their guns, which is untrue. The anti-gun people think that tighter gun control laws will keep us safe, which is also untrue. Based on what little I’ve read, the measures being proposed would not have stopped most of the mass shootings from the last 10-20 years. Even if these new measures pass, I doubt they will have much impact. The only way to completely eliminate gun violence in America is to wave a magic wand and make all guns worldwide disappear. Even I don’t think that’s a good idea, even if it were possible.
  • An acquaintance of mine decided to take out $50,000 in student loans to get a master’s in film from a private school in California. Now she can’t find a job but owes nearly $700/month in student loan payments. She set up a crowdfunding site to raise money to pay her loan. Part of me wants to help, but the other part thinks she was unwise to borrow that kind of money to pursue a degree with such questionable marketability. Just thinking that makes me feel old.
  • Screw my man card. I wish I had Lady Gaga tickets for Tuesday.
  • Jonathan had his three-year-old checkup this week. He was very healthy as expected. He measured 90th percentile for both weight (37 lbs) and height (39.5 inches). His language and motor skills are normal. We’re working hard on potty training this weekend. It still amazes me to watch these two grow up.

Hotter’N Hell – We Made It

Yes, we survived, and I finally got around to telling the story. =)

When Jenny and I got our road bikes in June, we knew we needed a cycling goal to motivate us and guide our training. Since I have lots of family in Wichita Falls, including some cousins who rode and actually helped organize the race, my first thought was riding in the Hotter’N Hell race in late August. Two months wasn’t enough time to prepare for the full 100 miles of the long distance, but the 50-mile distance seemed like a reasonable goal.

Wichita Falls is a medium-sized city in northwest Texas, maybe 100,000 people. It doesn’t have enough hotel rooms for all 13,000+ riders plus companions who converge there each August for the race, one of the biggest in the country. All hotel rooms for race weekend are generally booked by springtime. Fortunately, my cyclist cousins graciously allowed us to stay with them so we didn’t have to drive in that morning. As it turned out, my cousin Chuck was planning to ride the 100k distance along with his son Jeff. Perfect!


We arrived Friday evening and enjoyed a tasty pasta dinner (of course!) with Chuck, his wife Debbie, and Jeff before driving to the race expo for packet pickup. I saw these cousins a few times a year growing up, but only rarely now that Jeff and I were adults and some of our family has moved to the Dallas area. They are all experienced cyclists, so we now had a new shared interest and enjoyed talking shop over dinner. The expo was just like a running expo – an anthill of excited people milling about among an army of vendors. The biggest DFW bike shops, including our local shop, set up booths along with Wichita Falls bike shops, the BikeTexas advocacy group, and other vendors selling cycling food, clothing, and other gear.

Saturday morning we dragged ourselves from bed early. Some showers had developed overnight as feared, but they appeared to be staying west of the course, especially the shorter 50-mile and 100k courses. The race was on rain or shine, but that didn’t mean I would feel safe riding for over three hours on slick streets with 13,000 other riders. So I hoped my radar-reading skills were on. We left early to hit the official pancake breakfast in the event center, which included pancakes, sausage, and fruit. Jenny and I loved seeing all the different cycling jerseys – college teams, past Hotter’N Hell races, bike shops, corporate teams, even Marvin the Martian.

At some point I realized I’d committed a serious rookie error and left our tire pump at Chuck and Debbie’s house. Road bikes work best with high pressure in the tires to reduce rolling resistence and prevent punctures, so it’s best to air them up well before riding. Fifty miles on squishy tires would be like rolling through mud. Fortunately, Chuck and Jeff hadn’t left yet, so they brought us our pump. In all the busyness of getting our bikes and gear ready near the start area, we also forgot to attach our timing chips. Next time, we’ll try to get to the site earlier so we won’t be so rushed.

Finally, we reached our starting corral. The organizers put the 100-mile riders, who consitute the majority, in front with the shorter distances lining up in back. Imagine roughly 13,000 riders in a huge herd, a street’s width wide and half a mile, maybe even a mile long. It was an amazing and thrilling sight, perhaps a bit like troops lining up to prepare for a great battle. Chuck and Jeff were maybe 100-200 yards ahead for the 100k, so we didn’t see them again until after the race. Around 7:00am we sang the anthem and enjoyed a four-plane flyover from nearby Sheppard Air Force Base, which we would ride through near the end of the race. One thing we didn’t realize, being noobs, is that the race used a staggered start and separated each group by about 10 minutes. So Jenny and I waited on our bikes, and waited, and waited, until we finally got to start rolling around 7:45am. Had we known, we could’ve taken our time during preparation or even gotten a bit more sleep. With little space to maneuver or ride fast and a long way to go, it took five minutes just to reach the starting line. But we were off!


We’d been riding our road bikes for two months. Jenny’s longest ride prior to the race was 40 miles, mine 35. So we knew we wouldn’t be competing for a medal. Jenny had been riding longer on a spin bike at the gym, but I was more experienced on a real bike on the road. We agreed in advance that we were Team Box and would ride “no drop”, meaning neither would leave the other behind. We started with a gentle pace early to avoid burning ourselves up before reaching the finish line. The forecast called for a headwind on the final quarter of the course, so we had to leave something in the tank. Any bike race has supplies and gear (SAG) trucks patrolling the course to help people who get hurt, wear out, or have bike trouble, but we were determined not to SAG out. We took turns in the lead. Drafting off each other wasn’t really helpful because we were so slow (13-15mph), but that way we each had the chance to set the pace.

The showers did stay west of us as expected, and the temperature cooperated as well – maybe low 70s at start time. Riding at sunrise with my wife and thousands of other bike enthusiasts was such a blast. After a few miles, the crowd thinned a bit, giving us more room to maneuver. It was still pretty crowded, though. Riding full-speed would have been a challenge. So we just enjoyed the journey and tried to keep a decent pace. The route took us out of Wichita Falls along country roads and through a few small towns, much different from my normal trails and suburbia. Hundreds of locals lined the course to cheer us on, holding signs and ringing bells. This race is one of the biggest events of the year for the area, and the residents strongly support it.

The rest stops were crowded like we expected, but the tons of volunteers did a great job filling our tanks. Refreshments varied by rest stop. Our favorite was called Margaritaville, the next-to-last stop. The rest stop crew had brought in sand to create a small beach, hired a live band, and decorated the whole area to look like a tropical resort. Plus they had Oreos! I tried to eat something at each rest stop, whether my own gel or bars or something I picked up there such as energy chews. As in a marathon, in a long bike ride like this, cyclists burn thousands of calories, so we need to take in some fuel along the way to keep our energy up.

After the halfway mark, our route took us mostly east until Margaritaville and then south into a 10-15mph southeast wind. Up to a point, you can ride into the wind, but it can be a huge challenge. If your speed is 15mph and you’re fighting a 15mph headwind, it feels like getting hammered by a 30mph wind. We just shifted to a low gear and tried to pedal fast (spin) so it took less effort to keep moving. Pushing hard in a high gear wears your quads out fast. On the final 10-15 miles, plowing straight into the wind and uphill in some stretches, we passed several people who had stopped on the side of the road to rest. I don’t blame them. It was really tough, especially at the end of the course for every distance when we were all tired already. Jenny and I had been out 2.5-3 hours by the time we entered this final stretch. It made me glad we’d taken it easy in the beginning.

Sheppard and The End

With just a few miles to go, we passed through Sheppard Air Force Base, where my grandfather taught aircraft mechanics and planned logistics and exercises for many years. It felt a bit odd to just ride my bike onto a military base past an armed guard, but I was thrilled at the chance. Passing various buildings on the base, I wondered whether my grandfather had worked in any of them. Next the course took a turn through two rows of beautiful military aircraft. I wasn’t sure whether pictures were allowed – it was a military base, after all – but then I saw several airmen posing with riders next to a fighter, so I stopped for a few pics. On the way out, we rode through two lines of enthusiastic air cadets who were cheering us on. They’d probably been out there for hours already, but they seemed genuinely happy to be there supporting us. I appreciated that.

We debated a max-effort finish, at least as much as our exhausted legs could put out, but decided against it. Finally, we crossed the finish line!

Final tally per my Cyclemeter iPhone app: 52.25 miles in 3:50:52, not counting rest stops, and total calorie burn of 2644. For comparison, my half marathon (13.1 miles) in February took 2:00:55 counting rest stops and burned 1703 calories. Although I felt worse at the end of my half marathon, by every numerical measure the Hotter’N Hell 50 was my greatest fitness achievement.


In closing, I want to applaud my wife. For various reasons, including childhood problems with her ankles, she was never really athletic growing up or as a young adult. After Jonathan was born, she decided she wanted to get into shape and joined a gym, where she discovered indoor cycling classes and started toying with the idea of a road bike. Once we both got roadies in June and committed to riding Hotter’N Hell, she took her training seriously, piling indoor and road cycling on top of her hard work caring for our boys and managing the house. It wasn’t easy, but she was determined to finish the full 50 miles and not SAG out. And she did it! I am extremely proud of how hard she worked both in training and during the race. I am also extremely proud of her determination not to give up, even at the end when her legs were spent, her back ached, her hands were tingling, and the wind kept trying to push us away from the finish.

We’re already talking about returning next year, possibly with more cousins, and riding the 100k (62 mile) distance. Thanks again to Chuck and Debbie for being great hosts and to the people of Wichita Falls for putting on a great bike race!