Dispelling A Few Common Myths

Cyclists, runners, and swimmers. Endurance Athletes. Skinny people. Freaks of nature. Health nuts. These are all synonyms, right? Most people assume the same things about all of those runners and cyclists out on the road. Trust me, after years of being ‘that guy’ in the office that runs over lunch and eats weird things like salads and avocados, I have heard it all. I would like to rid the world of all of the common misconceptions (or at least my small world) about us freaks that wear spandex and run for hours in the woods and get up early on a Saturday morning just to sit on a bike saddle for half of a day. Here are five of the most common things I have heard over and over again – and the truth behind them:

1. “You must not like your knees. They aren’t going to last long if you keep on running like that.”

People, come on. Humans are not built like cars. We are not made of metal and plastic and rubber. There is no ‘shelf life’ on our joints. We are biological beings.  We are made up of trillions of cells and bacteria and mitochondria. The real reason people have joints replaced is because the joints were not used correctly or at all in the first place.  When a human being or a cheetah or a dog runs, there is blood and oxygen and cells and all kinds of crap being flushed through the veins, arteries, muscles, and joints – there are cells delivering oxygen, cells taking away lactic acid and waste, cells repairing damage.  Of course muscles are broken down and joints hurt, but the human body rebuilds.  Have you ever broken a bone?  Did you have the bone replaced?  I hope not.  The bone heals.  The body heals.  It gets stronger.

My knees do not hurt more and more every time I run.  They get stronger.  They learn to take the impact.  I used to think running 1 mile was the most amazing thing I could ever do – and it was hard!  But then I ran a little more than a mile.  And a little more.  It didn’t take long before I was running marathons.  26.2 miles.  I have run marathons and ultramarathons, and I still have knees.  They are stronger now than they were when I started running years ago.  They will be stronger tomorrow than they are today.  Don’t worry about my knees.  Worry about your’s.

2.  “You need to eat more!  Look how skinny you are!  Do you eat anything?!”

Yes, I literally eat anything.  Matt Fitzgerald says it best in his book Diet Cults, “There is a popular assumption that, as a group, obese individuals consume the most food.  In fact, competitive endurance athletes typically consume substantially more calories than even the morbidly obese, which is interesting, because endurance athletes are also the leanest segment of society.  That’s right: the leanest people on earth eat the most food.  How is this possible?  Lots of exercise.”  I am skinny and lean, sure – but I also consume over 3000 calories every day.  I burn a lot of calories.  Embarrassing as it is, I likely eat more calories in peanut butter alone before I leave for work every morning than most people eat for breakfast and lunch combined.  I’m telling you:  I eat plenty.  I am married to a dietitian (a damn good one at that), so my calorie consumption is spot on.  Every couple of months, I keep a food log and Giesla pours through it and evaluates it along with my training.  This way, I can stay on top of my calorie, carbohydrate, protein, and fat needs.  If I’m not getting enough calories, I can feel it during training rides.  I will feel sluggish; my legs will feel heavy; and I will more than likely feel run down.  I can only train well when I am eating right and eating enough.  My body can only rebuild and get stronger when I am taking in the good stuff (fruits, vegetables, and beer…okay, not too much beer).  The next time you see a lean dude running or riding, you can bet he eats like a monster.

3. “You ran a marathon?  I can’t even run a mile!”

Really?  When was the last time you tried?  If I payed you a million dollars, I guarantee you would run a mile.  Running is not easy.  This is why most people don’t run.  But everyone can do it.  Our bodies were built for it.  If you haven’t run in years or ever, of course it will be hard for the first two weeks or months.  Maybe it will suck for the first year.  When I started running, I hated it.  I hated it for almost two years – it was hard.  But it got easier, and it actually started to feel good.  I actually started to get energy from running.  And I don’t want to hear that all-too-common cop out of “I am too old.”  My dad, at the age of 54 and having never run in his life, decided to do a half marathon.  He went from zero running to a half marathon in a couple of months.  He battled shin splints and a torn meniscus (he didn’t know it at the time), but he ran 2:06.  Two hours and some change, at 54.  With a torn meniscus.  That’s badass.  So yes, you can run.  Please stop saying “I can’t even run a mile!”  It may get laughs at the office, but runners all over the world get a ringing in their ears every time you say it.  Stop it.  The ringing in my ears is so annoying.

4.  “You know, your heart only has a finite number of beats.  When you run, you are taking time off of your life.”

This is simply not true.  I shake down to my toes every time someone says this to me.  There are so many things wrong about this statement, I don’t even know where to start.  First and foremost, if this were true, I still would not care!  I love running, and I love riding.  I don’t want to spread out my days as much as I can and live the absolute longest possible life I can – rather, my goal is to live my life the way I want to and do what I want to and experience everything that I can while I am here.

That being said, here’s a quick explanation why this is not true.  The average resting heart rate is 60-80 beats per minute.  This means that the average heart muscle pumps somewhere between 60 and 80 times in a minute.  Over a 24 hour period, the average heart will beat between 86,400 and 115,200 times.  Because I use my heart and push it regularly, it is strong.  My resting heart rate, and that of most endurance athletes, is about 40 beats per minute, so my heart beats about 57,600 times in a 24 hour period.  So if our hearts really do have a set number of beats before they stop – I will live twice as long as the guy who has a resting heart rate of 80.  And I will still be running and loving every minute of it.  Saying that your heart only has a certain number of beats is like saying women can’t run – it’s old fashioned, it’s stupid, and I’ve been passed by enough women in races to know better.  Get smarter, get your heart healthier, and shut up.

5.  “You must have a lot of time to do all that running and bike riding.”

No, I don’t have a lot of time.  I have no time at all.  Between a full time job, a 2 hour-commute, house projects, a giant garden, family and social commitments, cooking dinners, and all of the automobile/house/plumbing/yard problems that pop up, I don’t have time.  I have to make time.  A very large portion of my training is completed between commitments.  If I had a dollar for every time I rode my bike between a baby shower and a wedding or squeezed in a long run in the middle of a family party and meeting up with friends for a beer, I could hire someone to take care of my stupid garden.  It is not always convenient, but it is necessary to squeeze a run in here or a ride in there and try to stay as consistent as possible through the week.  I always have a bag with me full of running and biking gear – and I won’t even talk about how often I ‘clean up’ in a bathroom sink or throw on a suit in my car moments before a meeting or a wedding.  Luckily, Giesla is not only understanding of all this, she is usually right there with me.  We joke that we have changed clothes in our car more times than we have in our home.

The truth is that in today’s world, especially in the hectic, busy, over-committed country we live in – no one has time for anything anymore.  But if you want something bad enough, you MAKE the time.  Sometimes, the yard work gets delayed in order to fit in a long run.  Sometimes, the shower plumbing is going to keep on leaking into a bucket, because I have to go for a three hour ride.  It sounds ridiculous, and I fully understand that – but I am a happier, more balanced person because of it.  And in the end, it’s my life.  It’s your life.  If you want something and don’t have the time to go for it, make the time.  You will be grateful that you did.  Just remember to empty that shower bucket every once in a while.

Before you leave a brash comment about how hard it is with kids, let me say one more thing. Some of the strongest endurance athletes I know have kids.  I could talk about the doctor I met at an ultramarathon who was a father of four – who also does Ironmans.  I could talk about Rich Roll, Michael Arnstein, or my friends and family members who have kids and still run marathons and half marathons and go hiking and biking, but this post would be gigantic.  They tell me it is very hard, and that with kids, life is busier and more hectic than you can imagine.  It makes training harder.  But… it is very, very doable.  I love the example they have set.  To the moms and dads who still make time for running 5Ks and biking centuries and being an awesome example for your kids, keep it up – you are amazing.

Now get out and do yourself a favor – stop worrying about my knees,

start eating well,

make time to do something you love.

You will be healthier and happier because of it.

Walter Matthau is Yelling at Me

I didn’t think I would get a ride in today. It was supposed to rain on and off all day. An hour ago, on my drive home from work, I looked up at the sky. Through the rain, I saw nothing but clouds, beige and gray all around. It was way too windy to ride anyway. 20-30 mile per hour winds plus rain? I figured I could probably use a rest day anyway – and I needed to work on our stair project at home.

Not long after that, I found myself spinning down Lost Man’s Road in a jacket. The rain had cooled the air just enough to need a jacket.  It wasn’t raining anymore and I planned to ride out to Mount Olive, my absolute favorite climb, and do a few repeats and then head home. I would be lucky to miss the next bit of rain so I planned to make it quick. I couldn’t believe how windy it was! The gusts threatened to throw me off the road. I normally hate riding in wind, but today for some reason I am okay with it.

I rode past the weird sheep with dreadlocks that I love to see.  I remember the first time I found this route when Giesla and I first moved to Bloomington.  I still remember the feeling I got when I saw those horned sheep; I get the same feeling today.  Not far down the road, my lower back starts tightening up on the first climb, still lingering pain from the marathon two weeks ago.  At the top of my second hill repeat, I stop to take off my jacket.  Some lady comes out of her house and yells, “Don’t blow over!”  By the time I reach the bottom, and turn for my third climb, it’s raining again.

For some unknown reason, on my third climb, I imagine Walter Matthau yelling at me to pedal harder like he would yell at Barbara Streisand to act better.  There is almost no sound as I climb.  All I hear is rain pelting my helmet, my tires spraying water from the road, and my breathing becoming more labored.  Then I hear a loose piece of tin smacking a barn in the wind.  And Walter Matthau is yelling at me again.  My brain comes up with some weird stuff.

I finish the third and fourth climb and start feeling stronger.  Before I turn around for my fifth and final climb, I notice that a bird shit on my leg.  What is a bird even doing out in all this wind and rain?  He might think the same of me.  Either way, he crapped right on me.  I don’t care.  I just finish my last climb up Mount Olive and head for home.

I didn’t think I was going to get a ride in today.  But I did, and now my back hurts.  I was thrashed by the wind.  I was pelted by the rain.  Walter Matthau yelled at me.  And at some point, a bird shit on me.  Just a few more miles to go.  There is nowhere I would rather be.

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Winter

Even the meteorologists on the Weather Channel have said “THIS WINTER SUCKS REALLY BAD.”  At least I think they have.  I can handle really cold temperatures and extreme wind.  I will run and ride in almost anything.  But when the roads and trails are covered in ice and snow and slush for weeks and months at a time, it just isn’t as easy as dealing with cold air alone.  I have spent far too much time on my indoor cycling trainer this winter.  Although it is a convenient way to get in rides and build a base for the rest of the year, I can say with certainty that 90 minutes on the indoor trainer is roughly equal to 2 weeks of flossing your teeth.  It is really hard to get yourself to do it.  Then when you finally do, it doesn’t seem too bad.  “Hey, I should do this more often,” you say to yourself.  And then you do it again and again and again.  And you get back on the trainer a few days in a row and a few weeks in a row.  The walls look the same.  The one stage of last year’s Tour de France that is DVRed is still the same.  And the snow and ice piling up outside and melting and then refreezing looks the same.  Winter 2014 sucks.  I feel like Mother Nature owes me something.

We have had a couple of days where the sun was shining a bit and temperatures eked above freezing long enough to melt some snow and slush.  With my new Scott Solace road bike staring at me every time I stepped into the garage, I was ready for clear roads.  The first ride was a beautifully snowy 20⁰F day – just enough snow to leave the roads and my knuckles white (on every turn) with my 25mm tires slipping along.  Then after weeks of 20⁰ days, January 20 brought a sweet 44⁰F!  I was enjoying the day, more than happy to be outside and to be riding, not pushing the tempo, just spinning my legs.  With all the melting snow and ice, the potholes and craters in the road that had formed over the winter were filled with water.  I know these roads and routes like the back of my hand and normally dodge the larger potholes and jump the deeper cracks.  But today, the route feels brand new.  Delightfully new.  Twenty minutes in, and I could hear a car behind me as I approached a fairly rough patch of road by a pig farm.  I held my line to let the car pass and at the same time I rolled through what looked like a few dark puddles.  One of the puddles was actually a deep pothole, and my tires slammed into it sending a shock through my bike and into my body.  BANG.  I immediately knew it was bad, and my first thought was, “Great, this bike doesn’t even have fifty miles on it and I just bent the rim.”  The car passed, I crested the hill, and then pulled off into the grass.  I stepped off my bike and spun the rear tire.  Not bent – Good.  Then I heard the SSSSSSSSSS sound of a tire going flat.  No problem.  As I was swapping out the tube, I realized sweat was dripping off of my forehead and my bare hands were not cold at all.  I was sweating!  Thank you, Mother Nature!

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Another cyclist passed by and yelled out to make sure I had everything I needed.  I changed the flat and rode on.  I was chased by two dogs.  I dealt with one angry driver.  I thought about that pothole for a while.  It was really deep, but there was no way to see it and act quickly enough.  The melted snow and slush made it look just like a puddle, a dip in the road maybe.  I thought about how life was like that sometimes.  I thought about that a little while longer and finished my ride.  I know these roads are going to be rough for a while, the cracks and holes and chunks of black top from the winter piling up.  The Weather Channel is forecasting that March is supposed to be colder than average.  I am okay with that.  I know warmer temperatures and longer days are closer and closer.  I will be outside as long as the roads are clear of snow.  And if not, I’ll be flossing.