Sunday, February 6, 2011

It's often about finding the quiet

There have been a couple of times in the last couple of months when my chief memory of the ride was one of enduring quiet.

The first time was during grape harvest season in the South Bay late last year. I was heading home along Mines Road after a long day on the road and I was struck by what I could hear - the distant hum of a harvester, the closer buzz of whatever insects & flying beasties were around, and the sweet, pungent aroma of the grapes as they baked and burst under the hot fall sun.

The second time was diametrically opposite - Mt Diablo, New Year's Day with fog clearing to mist.

And the thing about the quiet is that you don't go looking for it. It just comes. You're solid in the saddle, the gears are shifting the way they should and - especially for me - your joints are neither creaking nor popping, which apparently is the way these things are meant to perform.

The quiet comes inside as well. You might be thinking about the world's greatest address matching algorithm, humming foolish phrases from nonsense songs or thinking about nothing at all. But the result of it all is quiet. And peace.

And if you're really, really lucky this happens when you ride with someone else. She knows who she is. We have ridden through hell together.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I'm ransoming beer. Until 5pm Tomorrow

I recently sent out a fundraising appeal; and I thought that you might enjoy reading about it here. Now, the fundraising is absolutely dead-nuts serious. I'm trying to cure cancer here. No jokes about that. But - and it's natural for me - to brand it with my own writing style and write in "the voice" that's authentic for me. There are some key elements in a fundraising appeal that, over the years, I've found work well. And I think that I've hit my marks on this one, and you might enjoy.

It's not that I set about with a cunning template and a formula to plug things into. But read through the note, and use the purple stuff as editorial, much like in the DVD director's cut with actor voiceovers describing the scenes

You can read this post in one of three ways

  1. As a treatise on copywriting.

  2. A one guide to fundraising

  3. As a base appeal to the worst, and best, aspects of the human condition

My first goal is already achieved. Despite your best judgment, you're reading this thing. It's a compelling headline isn't it? Me+beer is second only to Me+SmallBrownDogOrMrsLongSuffering.

And, there's a deadline. People LOVE deadlines. People act on deadlines. If there's no deadline, it gets put off. So, that's a key for item 2 (the fundraising guide). Put a deadline in your offer.

At this point, you, the audience, are engaged and curious and you know You Have To Act Now. Or not, but that's ok, too.

I’m ransoming beer.

Each donation helps accelerate finding a cure for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. More than 823,000 Americans are battling these blood cancers. I am hoping that my participation in Team In Training will help bring them hope and support.

So, deadlines are a great inducement to act. And people will act for a variety of reasons. There are two I've come to learn are pretty common amongst most folk:

  1. Altruism and aspiration: we're embarked on a large, important cause here.

  2. Personal connection: as I've learned, far too many people I know have a connection to the cause - a loved one who has had the scourge of cancer invade their life and leave lasting scars that wound not just the patient but their friends and family

So, now we have an intellectual tension. We have beer; we have marketing; and we have a Cause. I have three different topics going on. How can these things be related? This tension gives rise to curiosity and a desire to plunge onwards into this already-long communication. At this point, the audience is looking for resolution.

There's a third which is not unique, but certainly prevalent amongst my friends. And that is this: you like to see a fat man suffer.

Ah. Humor. Self-deprecating humor. Certainly part of the "DHK brand". At this point, you're fully immersed. The brand relationship is reinforced (for good or for bad) and we have emotionally retreated from the "cancer is awful" sub-plot but while still retaining audience engagement.

So, "When Butter Knives Attack", the link above, is the first part of this compelling call to action. The second part, below, is, I think you'll agree, a carefully crafted appeal to those who know me best, and understand the worst and basest parts of me the most.

I'm ransoming beer. There you go. For every $50 that is raised between now and 5pm tomorrow, I'll donate a 6 pack of beer to the worthy cause of your choice. If that worthy cause is you, so be it. I will ride to your place of work or home, carrying the beer in an refrigerated container and deliver it to you. I will shake your hand and thank you and then, and this is the part that kills me, Leave. Without. Drinking. Any.

Further, I will not replace this beer in my cellar.

The Shock! The Horror! The Dreadful Inhumanity of it all. Two things happen

  1. The intellectual tension is resolved.

  2. If I'm offering to give up beer it must be important to me

  3. This is funny. Cancer's not a funny subject; believe me. And fundraising is not a joke. But if we can leaven the mood, why not?

I. Will. Go. Without. You will know, while you're enjoying your frosty malted beverage, that I am without beer. There will be a fleet of trained medical professionals on hand in case I go into anapaleptic shock, or whatever.

Now, for the terms and conditions

  • It has to be beer. Good, decent American beer. Preferably micro brews. No fizzy Belgian fizz water, no rice-based concoction, nothing I wouldn't drink myself. We'll negotiate according to your taste preferences. After all, this should be fun.

  • You can't live more than 25 miles from a BART or MUNI stop. After all, it's 50 mile round trip with a six pack on my back and a keg on my stomach.

And now for the denouement, and, critically, the call to action.

Interested? Compelled? Horrified? Still here? Well, if nothing else, my material is holding your attention, so if you're smiling, then I've done my job.

You can make a donation at

Quick note: if you've already pledged support to me this year I apologize - I'm trying to keep my InBox Irritations to a minimum; so I’m trying to keep duplicates to a minimum

Monday, March 1, 2010

When Butter Knives Attack: The Graston Technique

Those of you who know me well will know that I've been dealing with a variety of soft tissue ... situations. Earlier in my career I would have called them injuries but now they are part of the cost of doing what I do. But they are, or have been, painful, debilitating and at least part of the cause of me DNFing one Death Ride Season. (The larger part was me not H'eningTFU; but that's a different post)

Research led me to a therapy known as The Graston Technique. It's revolutionized my life, in ways both large and small. I am a huge fan of it. But, I would be remiss if I did not examine it through the gray tinted lenses of sarcastic cynicism that is my duty to you, my loyal readers...

So, Graston Technique - what's it all about, then?

I could quickly - and succinctly - reply, saying "it's an innovative technique designed to improve athletic functionality by freeing up the fascia which otherwise binds to muscle & ligaments preventing smooth biomechanics. But that's like saying the last 15 miles of the Death Ride is all downhill. It misses the point. By a long chalk. Plus, who uses one word where 17 would do?

So, the Graston Technique:

You know how when you've finished cooking spaghetti and you trip over the cat while you're trying to drain the pasta and it ends up in a tangled heap on the floor, now garnished with cat hair and the dog lapping up the bits around the edges and you frantically dancing around because you've slopped some of the boiling pasta water on your reproductive apparatus? That's what your muscle fibers look like when they're all scarred up and, well, tangled. (The spaghetti on the floor, not the, ah, boiled areas) Let's call that Situation (A) - Prior to Graston Technique Treatment.

You want them to look like the spaghetti in the box - all nice and tidy all running in the same direction (of course, you want your muscle fibers to be all elastic and not dried out and strong and stuff, but that's still what you want the overall effect to look like). Let's call that Situation (B) - Post the Graston Technique Treatment

Obviously, you wan to get from Situation (A) (just as obviously, I hope, sans the self-cooking) to Situation (B). How do you get there? Clearly, via The Graston Technique Treatment.

And this is what it is.

Take a butter knife. Scrape it across your muscles fibers to encourage them to straighten themselves up. Skin in the way? No worries - just press harder. Muscles/ligaments being resistant to the technique? Press down some more. Working on a big muscle or one of the really tough ligaments that is so critical to your locomation? Easy solution - Dig it in ALL the way. Trying to go into one of those deep muscles that are near the bone? You guessed it. Go harder. I mean Just Dig That Mother In All The Way. Touch bone if you can. And keep going.

Go Big Or Go Home is the motto of the Graston people and none of them knock off work early. These are people with a super commitment to their annointed profession.

Key question: how do you know when you're going hard enough? Well, when you're flaying the flesh from the client's body, you'll detect scar tissue. It'll feel like crumbs of toast. Big crumbs. Not quite crouton size, but sizeable all the same. When you're grastoning away on someone and you find these crumbs you cry "Aha!" and scrape all the deeper, until the crumbs disappear under your ministrations. Where do the crumbs go? As far as I can tell, they form themselves into tears of blood which you then weep. (You the patient, not you the Graston Technique Afficionado.)

What does it feel like? Well, let's say it hurts. Imagine if someone was using a cheese grater on your achilles. That's what it feels like; which is presumably why it's called the Graston Technique.

Amusingly, on the Graston Technique website, they say, in FAQ5, "it is common to experience minor discomfort." Now, either the definition of "minor" has changed a lot since I was growing up; OR the definition of the word "common" has changed a lot; or this is straight up, and there's no other way to express this, bullshit.

So Why Am I Doing This?

Cancer's not going to cure itself. My commitment to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is to raise $10,000 in calender year 2010 to support the important work they do.
  • If you're able to offer financial support, you can do so at my fundraising page
  • If you're curious about participating in Team In Training, let me know - I'd be delighted to tell you all about it. At length (now there's a surprise)
  • If you feel so inclined to share , either this blog or, more importantly my fundraising page, please do so. More people than you could ever realize have been touched by these diseases.
Once again: thank you for your support. All idiocy aside: we spend a lot of time training hard and acknowledgement from our friends, colleagues and family means more than you might think. Go Team!

A rare diversion into sincerity

Let me just say this: Graston Technique, and Active Release Therapy, have been pivotal to me getting healthy again. I wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommend it; and a couple of practitioners I've worked with, to anyone who may need it. It wouldn't be fair of me to nominate them here in this post, but if you ping me I'll be more than happy to provide references - either in San Francisco, or Oakland.

You can check out a pretty comprehensive description of the practice at

An Inevitable PostScript

PS - apropos of the boiling spaghetti story a friend of mine told me about a friend of his (so it must be true) who was serving Tuna Tetrazzini for Thanksgiving. That's not the horror of it. Her guests had arrived, the tuna was cooling and she wandered into the kitchen. To discover that the cat was eating the Tuna Tetrazzini. *Tha'ts* not the horror of it. The cat was, and you want to take a moment to visualize this, Standing. In. The. Tuna. Tetrazinni. And **THAT'S** not the horror of it.

My own related cooking experience was my one (and, as you'll quickly determine, only) attempt at making broccoli soup.
1. Purchase and trim the broccoli
2. Steam it until just fork-tender
3. Place in blender with salt, EVOO and a drizzle of truffle oil. Blend to puree
3. Remove from blender. Pour over trousers
4. Remove trousers.
5. Serve pizza.

The End.

Thanks to Melissa for the Crumbs Analogy; and to Lisa O for Michael's Tetrazzini Story

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Hate Bananas

Well, I don't (not like bananas), but "I Like Bananas" is hardly a compelling headline, is it? Read on...

Many of you reading this will know Lori Terada. I could gush on and on about her, but let it just be said that she's a fabulous human being - the sort of person who instinctively gravitates towards Team In Training and shouldn't, under any circumstance, have to associate with people like me.

But, on a cool and damp Saturday morning this weekend past, there she was. Deep, deep in the Eisengard Woods^W^WTilden Park, where the sun can't shine on account of the thick thatch of overhead Redwoods (1). This angel of mercy, garbed as she was in an understated, stylish collection of natural fibers (wool scarf and overcoat to you vizigoths and huns out there) was waiting for us at the corner of PineHurst & Canyon - and if you think I'm joking how deep & dark it is take a look at the image below:

Lori was one of our Stationary SAG people - Support and Gear - and she gave freely of her time - probably 6 hours when all said and done - to be there for us to stop, slake our thirst, quench at least some of our hunger: in a word, refuel.

The team was delighted with the food she'd brought us - roast potatoes, oranges, crisps (potato chips), chex mix, red vines and so on: in a nutshell, exactly the sort of food that hungry and tired cyclists would want. She's a Death Ride alumnus, so she knows from road food.

There was just one jarring note in the whole event. "No bananas" she said, as she introduced us to the food and vice versa(3). "I don't like bananas."

Lori, as I've mentioned, is a wonderful human being - think of her and me as being on the opposite sides of the Human Condition Bell Curve when it comes to niceness and so on. But the way she said "I don't like bananas" spoke of generations of pain and suffering; a weeping and a gnashing of teeth more traditionally associated with dodgy cousins in the bible. It wasn't quite "Bananas=Being Turned to Salt" but it wasn't far off either. What on earth could she possibly have experienced that caused her to have such a loathing for what I had always believed to be a relatively benign fruit? Or herb, or whatever it is(4) , (5). She refused to be drawn on the subject, so this mystery will pass into yore, or wherever it is that mysteries go.

It was a strange old ride for sure - apart from the banana-apartheid (try to say that with your inside-the-head voice and see where you end up) the team was bedevilled with no fewer than 5 punctures, one blown tire (beyond even bootable - roving SAG to the rescue there) and 4 involuntary dismounts (I-Ds). The curious thing about it all was that this figure 8 ride confined its punctures to the first part (Pinehurst/Redwood) and its I-Ds to the second. In fact, all the I-Ds happened on the foot of Mama Bear (yup, we were back there) in the space of about 6 minutes. Fortunately no-one was hurt: they were the sort of embarrassing falls that happen when you're stopped and trying to start riding on a hill and you lack enough horsepower to get going before your balance leaves you.

Most poignantly of all, I saw a 4 YO girl sufer the same indignity outside my local store at 9am on Sunday morning - but in her case it was because her wee small 4YO legs couldn't propel her Barbie-bike off the curb and up to the crown of the road. Other than a boo-boo on her knee she was fine.

The net of it all is, I suppose this: my team, who dropped me like a thing that's easily droppable on the last climb, appear to have the motive power of a 4 year old girl. And I'm slower and weaker than that. AWESOOOOOME! We Rock It Hard.

For those of you who care about such things, the SQ on this ride was a respectable 80. Not quite as nasty as last week - and neither did we have EOS nor LRA. In fact, it was a great ride. One to repeat whenever the weather obliges.

And, if you'd like to play around with the Garmin recording of all this, check out the link here

This tale has it all - beautiful women,kind hearted souls, dire suffering, sweet small children, an abundance of alliteration. How could your hearts be as of stone, icy proof against this stirring story of endeavor and the best aspects of the human condition? Of course they're not. Good news: lets you indulge the best of your appetites thanks to the Interwebs of YouFace or whatever it's called.(6)

One final comment: if, like me, you're curious as to why half of this blog entry is in grey font, well, so am I. To round things out, here's a picture of the Small Brown Dog at the Louie Bonpua Memorial Triathlon. I'll write about that in a week or two.

(1) As opposed to the underhead sort, more usually found in these climes, right?

(3) She's nothing if not well mannered

(4) Apes (and whatnot) open bananas from the opposite end to us. Go ahead and try and open one (a banana, not an ape). You'll see that it's so much easier. What did our parents teach us?

(5) Yup. Bananas are, entomologically speaking, herbs. It's because of the lack of wood in the stems. (Believe it or not, that link is TSFW. [But if you're still reading, you're either in the comfort and privacy of your own home, safe from prying eyes, or Sufficiently Awesome at your job that you're immune to blandishment and recrimination. Good for you!])

(6) Did you know that the Internet is not actually a system of tubes? It is in fact made of cats. (In a dose of no small irony it's *this* link which is the teensiest Not Totally Safe For Work)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Three Bears and the Big Bad Wolf

Today's ride was a wonderful sufferfest - our first real hill climbing event.

Those of you who ride regularly will know the Three Bears. For those of you who don't, it's a stretch of road in the East Bay which has, approximately(1) 3 hills of varying sizes. It's a good ride; and, for novice riders, it can be quite challenging.

There's simple math (2) you can apply to a ride to create a statistic which I like to call the SQ (Suffer Quotient). Rides can be described by distance (in miles) and Elevation Gain(number of feet climbed). Divide Elevation Gain by Distance and you end up with the SQ. There are a number of considerations about this statistic:
  1. First, it can be wonderfully misleading. In a 50 mile ride, if you do all your climbing in 10 miles, it's obviously a stiffer ride than if you do the climbing in 25 miles of it.
  2. When the miles occur is important - too early and you're not warmed up; too late and you've already sucked all the glycogen out of your muscles so you're burning fat to fuel the climb (EOS and LRA, two statistics I'll describe below)
  3. The recovery time between hills is pretty important - the reason you can ride, 8, 10, 12 hours or more is because you refuel and recover on the ride - eat, drink and be merry.
So, the implication from all of this is that SQ can be kind of meaningless. It's not though, because in the long run (hah) it kind of makes sense.
  • My first ever century -- Tucson, 2005 -- was about 3,500 feet/100 miles - SQ= 35 feet/mile. It was a challenge for me but is a pretty easy ride.
  • The Marin Century (100 miles), with ~ 6,500 feet of climbing (SQ=65) is generally regarded as one of the hardest out there.
  • Death Ride, which is insanely hard, has an SQ of 105 feet (and that doesn't even come close to describing Just How Much It Hurts)
So, the ride today - a mere 39 miles but with an SQ of 86 was, in a word, a suffer fest. See below:

It wasn't just the feet climbed, but also:
  • where the miles were - we had some wonderful Early Onslaught Suffering (EOS) - look how we get to climb up the side of a cliff (colloquially known as Reliez Valley Road) at mile 2. I like about 40 minutes (10-12 miles) of warm-up before I start climbing. Today we had all of 10 minutes. To put it in layman's terms, it felt like I was hammering nails into my quads as we rode up
  • Late Ride Agony - notice how at the end of the ride we had Pig Farm Hill. It's also known, with no small passion, as Pig's Arse Hill, thank you Iron Wu!. There's a reason for that.
So now you know about LRA: but what's the deal with Pig Farm Hill? Well, one other statistic that the SQ doesn't talk about directly is the gradient of the individual climbs in the ride. A non-recreational cyclist will start to notice a rise of about 3% (475 feet in one mile) . Most sustained climbing takes place on 6-8% hills. Above a 10-12% grade and you're starting to really suffer; and anything over 14% is just heart popping (and not in the good way).

So, with Pig Farm Hill as you approach the climb it starts out at around 6% or so; and goes on like that for about 1/4 mile to draw down any spare glycogen you might have. Then, it jumps up to about 9-10% for about 1/4 mile to suck out any of the oxygen you might foolishly have attached to your red blood cells. That prepares you for the last 1/4 mile which is essentially vertical, and, actually, backwards in places.

Disappointingly, we only had time to climb Pig Farm Hill once.

So with an SQ of 86 (somewhere between Marin Century & Death Ride), a good heaping of EOS and some LRA thrown in to boot, you'd think this is a ride that would be consigned to the darkest areas of my mind, hopefully to be expunged through therapy or alcohol.

Of course not. It was a great ride. Aptly named too - because, after all, who needs to know about the fifth hill? No such thing as too much suffering!

Big shout out to Linda Mandolini who SAGGed for us!

Feel an overwhelming urge to donate? Visit my fundraising page at

Footnotes and whatnot
(1) Swear to god - Neither are the hills there bears (they're stretches of road, for god's sake) nor are there three.
(2) It's not really math now, is it. But it amuses me. And I'm foolish that way.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Let the suffering begin!

For the New Year, I decided to set a bunch of goals - don't usually do this, but there you go. Strangely, they're almost multiples of 5 - such as
  • Ride 5,000 miles
  • Climb 250,000 feet
  • Walk 500 miles
  • Trudge over each of San Francisco's 43 miles
That last one is a "just because" - after all, who ever does something like that. There's one more though, seemingly modest in the grand scheme of it all: run a 5K road race.

That seems like a small enough goal, especically in the context of all the others; but here's the thing: I haven't run in over 10 years, since I had surgery on my ankle. A whole bunch of stars will need to align to do this; and one of them is now shining brightly in my life: the ungentle mercies of the good folk at Chiro Medical who are rehabilitating both knee and ankle. They believe, it seems, in inflicting consensual pain upon willing patients.

The Physical Therapy is an exercise in concentrated suffering, each workout of which is designed to restore mobility, strength & sensation to my parts. And that's fun enough. But the high point of it all is the Graston Technique, which one of my friends describes as the Butter Knife of Evil. There is a hilarious video on the website which states that "some patients may experience mild discomfort." You might reasonably infer from this that "some patients may not". Which would be true. It's not mild discomfort you experience but horrible, searing pain - it feels as if the very skin is being flayed from your body by an evil, butter-knife wielding maniac.

And it's a wonderfully effective treatment and perks me right up for the day. The endorphin rush is nothing short of illegal. I heartily recommend it for professional, therapeutic or even, if you can swing it, recreational use!

Cancer's not going to cure itself, you know: help the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in its important work to cure blood diseases and improve the life of patients & their families: Donate at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week 1: Back on the Bike

It's a crisp fall Sunday morning. Week One of Team in Training is behind us. This is my eighth season with Team In Training.

Some things are a little different this time around:

1. I'm a fundraising participant - not coach, mentor, captain or ride support. Fundraising; because this is a great cause. Cancer continues to wreak havoc in people's lives, tearing families and hearts apart without rhyme or reason. As I write this, an ex-team mate is with his mom as she is in passage from this life.

2. This season, I'm trying to be conscious and present in the journey. 100 Miles *is* a long way to go; but with planning and preparation, things should go well. I watched Lisa run the New York Marathon two weeks ago. A marathon is a Very Big Deal. Bigger, perhaps, than a century ride. I calculated that the marathon itself, all 26.2 miles, is "only" another 3% of the total distance she ran in training. It's the last 26.2; the most significant; but I don't know you could call it the most important.

3. We're required to do Strength and Conditioning. I had thought that Strength came from riding up hills; and Conditioning came from riding up hills a lot. Apparently, cross training and stretching, happening every Thursday in the bitter cold of Kezar Stadium are now parts of our lives. Fortunately, certain aspects of training - most especially rehydration - continue to be important. In conversation with one of my friends it transpires that I'm not the only one for whom upper body exercise was an ungracious reminder of sinews unused

Some things are the same this time around:

1. The first day of training is full of two sorts of people - those of us who have done it before, renewing friendships, surreptitiously inspecting each another's tummies to see what the depredations of time off the bike have wrought upon them; and a stunned mullet of new folk, wandering around, variously wondering what they've gotten themselves in for, what happens next, and why complete strangers are walking up to them, being so friendly and engaged with them. I remember that day - it happens exactly once. Thereafter, you're in the team. You've survived the first week and you think, maybe possibly, you can do it.

I remember my first day with the Team, back in 2006. We spent two bewildering hours being fit to our bikes, shown clothing and lectured about safety and etiquitte. Then, a ten mile "sorting ride" How hard could it be, I wondered? I discovered. Quite hard. At the end of that, a sense of belief entered my life. I knew I couldn't ride 100 miles. But I was prepared to believe that the coaches and the program could help me learn how to rdo it.

There was another question I was asked that first day: "Why are you here?" I stammered out a response - equal parts of
  • "I should do something to counter the karmic payback that was accruing from my then-capitalist role of making old white men rich"
  • "It seems like a good cause"
  • "I needed to get off the couch"

My answer now is different - Cancer destroys lives and loves. It's wrought havoc and brought indescribable pain to the lives of people I love and care for deeply. There's little enough that I can do. But I Can Do This.

So, I'm doing it. Training through the winter; aiming at the Solvang Century in 2010.

And fundraising. Because tomorrow, cancer will be cured. I'm not sure which tomorrow; and I'm not sure which dollar; but something we do will lead to the cure.