Something that most people will never do…

The Houston Chronicle posted an article (one of several) about this year’s MS150. One of the statements in the article is worth discussing further:

And then there was the simple fact that in spite of all the trials — harsh winds, knotted muscles, flat tires — they still managed to accomplish something most people will never do.

The last part of this statement is certainly true. If I talk to anyone who is not a cyclist about the MS150 they are always amazed at the ability to ride such a long distance on a bicycle and the amount of effort it takes. Indeed, it is a difficult physical achievement: 180 miles split across 2 days in anywhere from 5 to 12 hours each day, depending upon the speed of the rider, and somewhere between 2500 and 6000 calories burned in a single day, depending upon the weight and effort of the rider. These are numbers that astound most people.

At the same time, any cyclist who does this type of thing, or any other athlete, knows that events like this are just the beginning of athletic achievement. The more you achieve athletically, the more likely it is that you will find yourself surrounded by people doing things that seem even more amazing and difficult to reach than the achievements you have already reached.

This is the nature of so many things in life, and in no way does it actually diminish the achievement, but it does help place them in a much more reasonable perspective. Yes, riding in a MS150 is hard. Yes, it takes a lot of effort. And yes, it is something most people will never do. But, it is something than many more people could do if they put their minds and energies to it. Cycling especially has a low barrier to entry and almost anyone can get on a bike and slowly work their way up to the level in which they could ride 100 miles or more in a day.

Get to it!

Reflections on the 2008 MS150 training season

Between January and April every year, thousands of cyclists train for the MS150 held in April. Almost every weekend has two organized charity rides that provide a great training ground for riders preparing for the big ride in April. Many of the teams also organize their own training series separately as well.

The Sun and Ski team I rode with this year grouped with the ConocoPhillips Cycling Club to provide an alternative training series. The Conoco folks and other teams provided a great set of rides that in many ways exceeded the MS150 itself in organization and fun.

Because of favorable weather, and a bit more free time because of a changing work environment, I was able to ride more this season than any other year by quite a large margin. By the time the MS150 weekend arrived, I had completed 1,004 miles of on the bike. I burned through over 40,000 calories over those miles and climbed over 16,000 ft (quite a feat considering the lack of hills in this area!). It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. In previous years, I would usually only reach just over 600 miles of training before the MS150. This year’s extra miles and saddle time has put me in the best physical condition of my life, of that I have no doubt.

But the best part of this year’s training series turned out not to be the physical achievement but rather the social one. In prior years I made several friends and acquaintances during the rides, but only brief ones. This year, because of the ConocoPhillips push to carpool, I met a girl that lives just down the street from me. We carpooled to most of the training rides this season and wound up becoming great friends.

My friend Teri changed the way I viewed cycling. Previously it was entirely about getting into the zone and pushing myself as hard as possible. Now, I temper that with a great deal of social interaction on the rides, with Teri and other folks I’ve met this year. I still enjoy going out by myself from time to time, but during the big rides it is so much more fun to find people and stick with them through the day. This is even more true when riding in pace lines, as the social interaction provides some much needed bonding when riding so close to others and relying upon them not to screw up.

Teri and her husband John are now great friends of my wife Lori and I and I look forward to spending more time with them, both on and off the bike.

Thanks, Teri!

The BP MS 150

April 12th and 13th was the weekend for the Sun and Ski team this year after riding three years with the BMC Software team. BMC cancelled their support of a cycling team which left all of us on it looking for a new home. Sun and Ski is one of the largest teams in the event which gives them great perks for the start of the event. We started from Tully Stadium in Houston.

We showed up at the stadium at 0530 to beat the rush; unfortunately that meant 90 minutes of waiting in the cold morning. Luckily, Sun and Ski is the 2nd team out of the stadium, after the title sponsor BP led the way. The wind was around 8-10 MPH by the time we left the stadium and only proceeded to get stronger through the day. Most of day 1 is riding due West or Northwest, so the wind was to our side most of the day, but it still made for very difficult riding the entire day and greatly reduced our average speed.

We arrived at fairgrounds in La Grange at around 1730 after a very long 10 hours in the saddle. A quick massage followed by a bite to eat and a couple of beers helped to relax us after the long day. My friend Teri and her husband invited me to stay at their farm that night, which made for a very relaxing evening in a bed, rather than in a sleeping bag in the team tent at the fairgrounds.

We returned to the fairgrounds very early Sunday morning, getting in line by 0515. It was a very cold morning with temperatures at 42° F at dawn. Unfortunately my very thin jacket was not enough to keep me warm while we waited. We left our bikes in line and returned to the Sun and Ski tent to see if we could warm up, but unfortunately the coffee was already gone by that time. The announcer at the fairground kept telling everyone that the wind forecast of the day was for 0-5 MPH which made everyone excited about the coming ride.

We got underway at 0700 sharp and made it out of the fairgrounds in the third wave of rides. Unfortunately getting moving made it even colder for us and the lack of early morning Sun kept me shivering for the next 90 minutes. It wasn’t until we reached Buescher State Park that I finally warmed up. The route between Buescher and Bastrop State Park is my favorite part of the MS150 and I’ve chosen that route for every MS150 I’ve done, except for my very first. Park road 1C between the two parks can only be described as a roller coaster ride through pine trees. Those cyclists used to real mountains and hills would not be very impressed, but for those of us used to the coastal plain it is a wonderful challenge.

Teri and I cycling through the University of Texas campus

After the park we had lunch and then headed out for the last 35 miles or so of the ride. It was a tough afternoon with relatively intense sun and wind to go along with tired muscles. We made it to Austin just after 1600 after a long 9 hours in the saddle.  We grabbed a quick bite to eat and a couple of beers and relaxed with our spouses at the Sun and Ski tent before leaving town. It was a great MS150, even though it was a very difficult one. I was very proud of my friend Teri: she made it through both days with a lot of poise and chose the more difficult route through the park rather than the easier route up TX-71.

The Space Race

Today was The Space Race, a ride starting from Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque, Texas. La Marque is between Houston and Galveston, but closer overall to Galveston. The ride is usually the last large organized ride before the annual BP MS150 in mid-April and is always one of my favorites.

It was a great, fast ride. I left with the 20+ MPH crowd at the start and was able to ride in pace-lines the entire day. Towards the second half of the ride I hooked up with a group that had us riding between 18 and 22 MPH for the rest of the ride. The end result was 104 miles in 06:21:05 elapsed with an average of 19.2 MPH.

The other great thing of the day was discovering Pickle Juice Sport for the first time. What an awesome drink!

Transitions…

The last week of March brought about some major changes in my life. They were planned transitions, although the exact timing just happened to work out to be the same week.

On March 24th I finished my undergraduate degree. I had been working on it for four years non-stop, plus a couple of semesters earlier in life. Finishing was tremendously satisfying, of course, but more importantly it finally lets me have some free-time back. I have only had two weeks off a year for the past four and the lack of relaxation was starting to get to me. Thank goodness for my wife’s support and cycling or otherwise I would have gone insane.

The prime motivator for the undergraduate degree was a pathway to graduate school. That’s still in the cards, but not surprisingly I’d like to take a year or so off from school before returning. Luckily I’m willing to take more time with the graduate program than I was with the undergraduate so hopefully it won’t completely overwhelm my life when it is time.

The other major transition in the last week of March was leaving my job at BMC Software after being there for nearly 10 years. The product I had worked on for the previous 4 years had reached a maturity point to where the company decided to move most of the research and development offshore to India. My architect job remained in the US, but I decided to leave at the end of March when given the choice. I had expected to leave the company in 2008 anyway so the timing worked out well.

Finding my next job was quite an undertaking. Being at a career pinnacle I had a lot of choices and possibilities and I decided to explore as many as I could. In the end, I decided to pick between several job offers that gave me the most difference and challenge from what I had been working on before. Both Microsoft and Zenoss were about as different as I could get and still be working in the software industry. Both would require letting go of skills I had mastered in the previous parts of my career; both were tremendously different organizational from most places I had worked at before.

In the end, I chose Zenoss. A for-profit company using an open-source business model and Python technology sounded like a very appealing challenge. Not only that, but 4 other former co-workers that I highly respect were there, and working with them again made the choice even easier.