Friday, September 28, 2012

Countdown to The Texas Time Trials' 12-hour, Tin Butt challenge

A couple of months after completing my first marathon, I set out to become comfortable cycling on the roads again. I wasn't certain what that would entail in February. But I knew I would do it.

Fast forward to May, I created a list of rides/rallies that would keep my butt on the bike and the wheels spinning in an effort to regain confidence after a wreck. I skipped some of those rides, but I stayed true to my word; I pedaled a bunch this summer, and now I'm pleased to say I'm a strong cyclist again.

But that's not the end of the story. The biggest challenge is yet to come, one I chose for myself in late July. It will start at 6 a.m. this Saturday when I clip in and ride 12 hours at The Texas Time Trials in Glen Rose. The looped course is about 26 miles — a route I've obsessed over for months. I've made two trips to the town to ride the course; so I feel comfortable with the rolling hills and the effort required. Beyond that, my training has included building my endurance on the bike, riding 100 miles half-a-dozen times and logging a 7-hour, 132-mile ride on some less-than-ideal roads similar to those in Glen Rose.

As I type this, it's the night before heading to Glen Rose, and my dining room is a crowded mess with so much gear. Shoes, jerseys, gloves, cleats, coolers, lights, tools, nutrition, etc. are packed into Ziploc bags that fill a plastic bin. It's way too much gear for 12 hours, but I've never ridden that long; so I'm prepared for anything.

What's more, Saturday is supposed to be rainy. Not as bad as snow and ice, but rain is something I didn't want to see on race day. However, I shouldn't be surprised. I have a history of lousy race-day weather (2011 White Rock Marathon, for one) and lousy training weather (remember that hail storm?). It all makes me think of a Travis song. But I won't complain. There's absolutely nothing I can do about it. All I can do is ride my hardest and smartest on the slick and fractured chipseal roads.

I most likely won't ride as many loops as I had hoped (you can monitor my progress here — bib no. 175), but I'm not discouraged. I'm excited. It's going to be a fun time. I'll get to ride with some incredible cyclists from around the world (many are riding 24 and 48 hours) and make new friends. And I will have the very best crew/Sherpa a guy could ever hope for.

I'm blessed, on the bike and off the bike. I am so appreciative to have the love and support of my friends and family. And once this goal is crossed off my list, I look forward to the next challenge, whatever that may be. All I know is it keeps getting better.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tunesday: "Idioteque," Radiohead

This song reminds me of Austin. I bought the album "Kid A" at a midnight release at Tower Records in 2000 (more about that landmark's last days here, written by former Daily Texan colleague Matt Dentler), the last time I attended a midnight release. It was a major event. The last RH album, "OK Computer" was massive, and it was a staple in my life and so many friends' lives since its release in 1997. How much did I love that album? I listened to it through headphones as I fell asleep most nights during my dorm years.

After waiting four years, I absolutely had to have "Kid A" ASAP. Something new to fall asleep to. Once I had it in my hands, I listened to it all night, right up until my first class that morning — Visual Design, my favorite of that semester. The professor, Shawn McKinney, started the class playing "The National Anthem" and ended the class with "Idioteque." I listened to the album exclusively the entire semester when I worked on projects for that class in the computer labs. No iPod in those days. I lugged the CD and a Discman in my bag. I went through a lot of batteries.

Nowadays, I run often to "Kid A," and "Idioteque" is my favorite track. The beat is perfect, and visions of Thom Yorke's erratic dancing (he does it in every single clip I've watched) make me less self-conscious of how goofy I look while running. Yorke just goes about his business loving the music he and the band are making, rocking out like a kid in his bedroom. That's a great place to be — carefree and fully enjoying what you're doing, dancing like nobody is watching.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hodge podge!

I've mentioned before that I like to support local businesses. Anytime a new business is announced or I see a new place pop into a strip center, I'm interested and supportive. Sometimes, I am perplexed. That's exactly how I felt when I first set eyes on Good Vapes. My initial fear: it was a smoke/indoor "gardening"/head shop. There are plenty of those not too far from my house, so it was a possibility. I guess I'm sorta relieved that it's an electronic cigarette/smoking store. As a former smoker (I quit 10 years ago after smoking for about 10 years), I'm not a fan of any smoking. I suppose "vaping" might be a better alternative. However, I know that not smoking at all is the way to go, and I know that anyone can quit if they want it bad enough.

Signs of fall, y'all! These cords of wood are for sale. And while the high temperature was 90 degrees yesterday, I have plans for the first fire of the season. I predict we are about 30 days away from the first truly chilly day. I can't wait. I have a kick-ass set of fireplace tools and more matches than one human could possibly need. I just need to collect some kindling and I'll be set.

In addition to firewood, there are other delightful signs of fall. There are gourds aplenty (can't wait to cook with them), Oktoberfest brews (excited to bike to Addison's big event this weekend and Lake Highland's smaller scale community event next weekend) and there are entertaining decorations that soon will occupy spots on neighborhood lawns and porches. 

I try to not talk and write about it too much, but yep, I'm about to write about The Texas Time Trials. Again. The most challenging physical endeavor of my life (so far) is just about a week away. Twelve hours on a saddle. That's a lot. But then I think about the men and women who will do 48 hours next weekend, and that makes me realize I can and will do this. If you're interested in following my progress next Saturday, you can track me and the other racers here.

Last week's training went poorly (rain kiboshed my plans one day, a farm's pesticides floating in the air and inflaming my eyes shortened my ride the other day). This week, I've spent most of my time preparing — finalizing my nutrition for the weekend and buying/replacing gear, which includes some new SPD-SL cleats. It had been about two years, so I was due for replacements, as you can tell by the photo. Gear ain't cheap, but piece of mind is important. Knowing that my cleats engage and disengage properly is reassuring and worth well more than 30 bucks. These minor details are easy to neglect. However, it's worthwhile to regularly check your equipment so you can replace it before it fails and leaves your stranded.

What you see at right are the shoes that will lead me to the marathon I know I can run. The Dallas Marathon. My third marathon. Nothing new. Although I tried several brands, I am still reppin' Asics.

Despite the TTTT training, I've managed to train fairly well for the Dallas Marathon so far. Running the hills of Lake Highlands has made the biggest difference. And reading a book like "Finding Ultra" has inspired me. I am faster, stronger, motivated and 10 pounds lighter than I was last year as I neared my first go-round with 26.2 miles. I know how to train more properly, what my body requires (a lot of water and a decent amount of Endurolytes) and am more confident. Less than three months from now, I hope to will do something extraordinary.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tunesday: "Oh Mandy," The Spinto Band

Quirky is cool. That makes The Spinto Band exceptionally cool. The Delaware band is quirky and sincere, and I love that about them. I first heard the group in 2006, when this single received significant buzz. I had the good fortune of seeing the band play a gig with The Lovely Feathers (outstanding running track "In the Valley") at the venerable Chicago venue Schubas that very same year. My best friend was in town visiting me (I lived in Rockford, Ill., at the time). A former college radio music director, Ryan turned me on to the band and countless others. He still does, in fact.

Singer Nick Krill sounds a whole lot like David Byrne of The Talking Heads, and that's a good thing. His and the rest of the band's stage presence at the show I attended six years ago also reminded me of Byrne — aloof and fun. See video of that exact night at right (terrible audio, but terribly entertaining).

The mandolin dominates "Oh Mandy" and sets Spinto apart from your typical indie band. Groups with a folk and/or country bent naturally include mandos and banjos, but Spinto doesn't really fit those categories. The frenetic playing is like a locomotive chugging along the tracks, a non-stop intense rhythm that keeps the song moving. It also doesn't hurt that a theremin gets second billing during most of the track. I'm a sucker for a well-used theremin.

Almost every person who visited me in Chicago or Rockford
was treated to Giordano's.  I dare anyone to eat a slice
without a fork. Or to eat more than two slices.
This band's music became a major component of the soundtrack to a weekend spent showing the best city in the country (IMHO) to a great friend. We avoided doing too many touristy things. I remember watching some of the World Cup at Giordano's — definitely a fine choice if you prefer deep dish pizza. I do not, but when in Rome, yes?

What else? 

Until recently, I hadn't thought of The Spinto Band in years; so I was pleasantly surprised to see that the group is still together, touring in support of the album they released earlier this summer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tunesday: Why is September brimming with excellent new albums?

I've long contended that September is the best month for albums. Year in and year out, it seems the very best releases are slated for the ninth month of the year. I'm not sure why that is. Is it just coincidence that bands I like tend to put out their latest in the fall? Could be. I suspect that looming holiday shopping in the fourth quarter is part of the equation. Record companies release these albums at the end of festival/summer concert season, giving fan bloggers and music journalists ample time to listen, review and promote the offerings, thus influencing consumers just in time for Christmas.

Related: Why albums are released on Tuesdays in the U.S. (NPR)

I guess it doesn't matter all that much why (or if) September truly is the magical music month, 'cause really, my point is this: There is a crap ton of good tuneage heading our way. I challenge you to have no interest in any of these 13 albums (note: listen while you can):

Sept. 11 releases 

• Calexico, Algiers (stream)
• David Byrne & St. Vincent, Love This Giant (stream)
• Mumford & Sons, Babel (sample)
• The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter (stream)
• The Helio Sequence, Negotiations (stream)
• The xx, Coexist (stream)

Sept. 18 releases 

• Band Of Horses, Mirage Rock (stream)
• Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiss (*wink*)
• Dinosaur Jr., I Bet On Sky (stream)
• Grizzly Bear, Shields (stream)
• Kanye West, Kanye West Presents Good Music Cruel Summer (sample)

Sept. 25 releases 

• Django Django, Django Django (sample)
• Green Day, Uno! (sample)
• The Soft Pack, Strapped (sample)

Related: Upcoming album release dates (Metacritic)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Glen Rose training ride edition

The historic downtown is worth checking out. There's loads of shops that daytrippers dig. I stopped in none of them because I smelled of athletic endeavors. I figured it was wiser to not ruin sightseers day with my funkiness. Oh, and in case you didn't know, Glen Rose is famous for its prehistoric past

Last Saturday, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. so I could drive down to Glen Rose and start a nine-hour ride at approximately the same time The Texas Time Trial 12-hour ride will begin Sept. 29.

First, since it's the country, 6 a.m. is incredibly dark, much darker than Dallas with all the light pollution. Second, it was a very hot day. Third, despite the lack of sleep and the 90-degree temps, I felt really good and increased my comfort with the course (I don't handle steep descents well, y'all).

Heading clockwise from the race's starting line, one of the first sights you see on the 26-mile loop (yes, runners are out on portions of it, too) is a sign for the teeny-tiny town of Nemo, population 700. According to the always reliable Wikipedia (heh), this unincorporated piece of Somervell County has a most awesome origin story that relates to this teeny-tiny post office:

Settlement of the area began in the mid-19th century. Originally called Johnson Station after local settler Jimmie Johnson, residents attempted to receive a post office designation under the same name. The postal authorities, however, suggested a shorter name be used. When the residents met to choose a name, one man argued for the name Nemo, which was Latin for "no one." He also said that if Johnson's name was not good enough, "then no one's was." In 1893, a post office branch under the name Nemo was established.

I rode the first loop slowly. Including stops to take pictures and admire the views, it took about two hours. The TTTT loop crosses the Brazos River twice. Having lived in Waco for a short spell, the Brazos and I are old friends. I used to run along its banks near Cameron Park. This beautiful footbridge is at the second crossing and, as you can see by the river's water level, Texas is still very much recovering from a drought.

Because I have it on good authority that you never know what your body will crave during a long ride, I picked up Fritos for fuel. I still love my tortillas (averaging half a tortilla per hour) but the saltiness of these corn chips was an awesome treat after my second lap, which took about 80 minutes. Oh, and sunblock! No, I didn't drink it! But I did a good job of reapplying this crap last weekend. No sunburn for this blanco boy!

As I pedaled into my third lap, I felt pretty darn good — strong, steady and confident climber and fairly comfy with the descents. But I knew the heat was increasing quickly. Halfway through the third lap, I decided I didn't want to suffer out there, especially alone, as the other riders training were thinning out. I wanted to end my ride feeling great. So I called it a day after 78 miles and less than six hours — three hours shy of my training goal.

Although I know I could have met my goal last Saturday, I'm content with my decision. I am confident as TTTT approaches. And even though I never pushed myself on the TTTT course, I now know the loop very well and have a strong idea of how many miles I can ride in 12 hours. And that's an incredible advantage to have entering a race.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tunesday: The Guilty Pleasure Mix

Welcome to a little something different this week. Instead of the norm, I'mma hit ya with some songs that I completely fess up to loving. I think we all have a handful of tracks that fit the category (please share yours — if you're bold — in the comments). Here are just a few of mine:

"Deeper Shade of Soul," Urban Dance Squad 

What we have here is a less-talented, smaller Dutch version of Fishbone that has a greater hip-hop influence.

Why it's a guilty pleasure: There's just way too much sampling going on here; it's annoying that the Ray Baretto sample and the music played by UDS just don't quite jibe. For the record, Baretto's version is all kinds of kick ass. Call me crazy, but even with the wavering rhythm and uncertain key signature, this song is aiight in my book. I can't quite explain why. But it doesn't hurt that the video is filthy with old school skateboarding.

"Mr. Brownstone," Guns N' Roses

How is it possible that a song that starts out almost precisely like Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" is so excellent?

Why it's a guilty pleasure: It's '80s hard rock/metal, the stuff grunge bands killed. It's not "cool" to like this stuff, right? I couldn't care less. When I'm looking for a song about doin' heroin and neither The Velvet Underground (dig that droning viola) nor Neil Young (brilliant) can be found, GNFNR is a good, quick fix. Note: I don't intend to offend or portray drug use and addiction as something to take lightly. It's affected me, family and friends; I encourage everyone to avoid them and seek help if they're battling addiction. 

"Get Your Hands Off My Woman," The Darkness"

Ladies and gentlemen, The Darkness is the closest thing to Spinal Tap that we will ever know. And I, for one, am glad they exist.

Why it's a guilty pleasure: Well, it's effin' hard to take this band very seriously. I mean, do they take themselves seriously?!? No. Not at all. Do they, ahem, "rock balls"? Why yes. Yes, they do. Impressively so. I dig The Darkness. I know they have a new album and all, but I have no interest beyond "Permission to Land." It's a memorable album because I popped it into the CD player at Electric Voodoo Tattoo in San Angelo when Dean started working on my left arm half-sleeve. The very second he heard lead singer Justin Hawkins' falsetto, he lost it and laughed his ass off — with his tattoo machine in hand. Fortunately, his hand was steady and the machine didn't veer off course and destroy my skin. I have fond memories of enjoying the hell outta that album during the three sessions required to complete the tat.