On Talent and Effortless Style

Fascinating essay last week by Don Van Natta, Jr. on the 1973 Billy Jean King-Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match that 50 million Americans and I watched on television. I was eleven and still remember it.

Riggs was a masterful hustler who “stayed in the barn” early in high stakes tennis and golf matches, meaning he purposely played well below his potential to lure his opponent and other bettors into a false sense of accomplishment. Then, mid to late match, Riggs would “come out of the barn,” play as well as possible and ultimately win. The art was in the timing.

The most talented, compelling artists almost always appear to be at least partly in the barn. As if they always have another gear or two in reserve. That’s what makes their performances so compelling. My first memory of this phenomenon was probably around the “Battle of the Sexes” when I was awestruck by a televised Dionne Warwick performance. She seemed to be expending about a third of her energy. Here’s just one example from the video archives:

When My Betrothed dances, she’s partly in the barn. And when watching my friend Brian ride his bike, with his rhythmic high cadence, perfectly still body, and oh so steady pace, I think, “Damn, if only it were that easy.”

Lake Center Dive is an immensely talented and stylish, up-and-coming foursome that conveys that “partly in the barn” feeling big time. Dig these examples:

Of course, an individual or group can only make something look effortless when they combine natural talent, intense commitment, and serious preparation.

My Betrothed, Brian, and Lake Center Dive owe people like me, who try to compensate for a lack of talent through extra effort, with a huge debt of gratitude. The rough edges of our extra effort is what makes the truly talented appear so stylish in comparison.

True Confession

If you were standing here beside me right now you’d probs (adolescent form of “probably”) counsel me to immediately abort the mission. You might even slam the laptop on my fingers. You’d argue, and I’d be hard pressed to prove otherwise, that this is not the right time or place to confess that I’ve been unfaithful to my wife. But being of slow and stubborn stock, I feel I must come clean.

Straying from the marital straight and narrow started innocently enough, wishing the love of my life was a few pounds lighter, then fantasizing about weekend get-aways. I wish I could say this was a one-off and that I immediately realized the damage done, but in fact, since taking the plunge, I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s promised to spend hours with me. Take me places near and far. Climb steep mountain passes. Crush anyone that gets in our way. To always be there for me.

If you’re a female reader, you’re probably so disgusted with me that you can’t see straight. If you’re of the male persuasion, you’re wondering what she looks like. Without further ado. . .

Be still my beating heart.

Be still my beating heart.

The start of a beautiful relationship.

The start of a beautiful relationship.

Killer Climbs—The Conclusion

There’s one more ride on the itinerary for tomorrow, the last day, but only one of the four of us that are remaining want to do it. I’m going for a run before we head home since I have a total of zero miles so far this week. In the sport of triathlon you “ride for show and run for dough.”

Today’s ride was from Lone Pine through the Alabama Hills and up Horseshoe Meadow Road 24 miles and 6,500′ to the end at 9,900′. There’s some YouTube vids of the road if the pics intrigue you. A large percentage of Western/Cowboy movies were filmed in the Alabama Hills. I worried all day that a massive line of Indians were about to crest the mountains above us.

We left at 6 a.m. to avoid the heat. At the top I had ridden 28.3 miles in 3:10 for a 9.0 mph average. With the return, and a shortcut back to the hotel, I rode 51.4 miles, in 4:11, with 7,008′ of elevation. The descent was not for those afraid of heights. The drops were in the thousands of feet. Truth be told, I was a bit spooked at times. All in all, a very nice exclamation point to a great week of training. My inner voices, for a change, were relatively quiet.

However, there was one inner convo that started with this question, “How can you provide your legion of readers a feel for what it’s like to climb these mothers?” Here’s what I came up with. Go to a fitness club or weight room with a leg press. Figure out your 85-90% max or what you can do about 12 times, working especially hard on the last four. For me it’s usually in the 180-200 pound vicinity. Then divide that weight in half and do slow reps for 30 minutes or divide it by two-thirds and do slow reps for an hour. Turn the heat way up, turn a fan on and don’t forget to wear a cycling helmet so you get a wee bit warmer. Now repeat six days in a row. Welcome to the team.

In related news, loosening my shoes and wrapping the damaged toe tightly with bandaids stemmed the damage I was doing to it on days one and two. Back is still fragile, but with some rest, it should be fine. After absorbing this intense segment of training, I will definitely graduate from “spring” to “summer” cycling shape. The next and final stage is “late summer” shape.

All in all, this past week of climbing was fun and a success. Thanks for coming along. We return to regular programming Monday.

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Killer Climbs—Day 5

From Big Pine. Up Onion Valley. And I mean “up”. No real warm up. 5,703′ of gain in just over 13 miles. The road goes from the valley way up into the Sierras where it dead ends at a campground where there are trailheads for wonderful High Sierra backpacking. I remembered the camera and the new hotel has beefier internet so pics below.

Day’s total—44.4 miles in 3:19 for an average of 13.4 and max of 46. Beautiful ride and scenery. The first half included some gentle turns, but we were mostly moving from the Valley floor into the mountains. The second half consisted of dramatic switchbacks that made for some of the most fun riding of the trip so far. Steep, but maybe I’m getting used to it, because I got into a bit of a rhythm.

Midway, at about 6,500′, I’d look up at 12-14,000 peaks and then scan down and see shimmering metal guardrails way up high and say to myself, “Damn, steady punishment ahead.” And yet, once up on the top half, it was very cool to look down and see where you’d come from, an extremely long, brown, serpentine snake of a road. And of course I looked for the other riders to see what kind of gap I had created.

The view, coupled with my gap, meant the days of self-flagellation were over. Instead, my head swelled to historic proportions. “Contador would need roided up steak to climb this mother.” “Landis would need ‘whiskey’”. “Armstrong would need a (Dr.) Ferrari.” “Look at that road down there and look at those specks chasing me. I’m doing it on King Sized PayDays. I am among the baddest of badasses.”

After resting by a small stream at the top, the descent was fun, but you could’ve easily killed yourself since guardrails were sporadic and the drop off was many hundreds of feet. Unlike Day 3, I didn’t want to die today. Also, the freeze cracks were wicked. Still, I noticed I did one five mile downhill segment in seven and a half minutes.

Once down, four of us decided to ride to our ultimate destination—Lone Pine, 16 miles away—once again, via Hwy 395. This is where things got a little weird. It was 91 degrees and so I assumed we’d work together to make the best time possible. Wrong, Larry must of lost patience, because he took off down the road, leaving Bill, Melody, and me to chase. Or so I thought. I said to myself, “Self, the three of us will reel him in within a few miles.” So I turned around to see if Bill and Melody were ready to ride the Ron-train for awhile and they were gone. Unbeknownst to me, they crossed the street for ice at a Chevron. So I was officially in “No Man’s Land”.

I said to myself, “Self, you’ve been climbing faster than Larry, so ride like you stole it and close the damn gap.” Great, I’ve just climbed 5,300′ and now I have to time trial across the Valley floor in 91 degrees. No problem because don’t forget, I’m among the baddest of badasses. Or so I thought.

Turns out Larry is more of a badass. I should have known that when I learned he also grew up in SoCal, but unlike me, his idea of a good time was bodysurfing the Wedge in Newport. That my friends earns one a lifetime Badass Card that you can whip out whenever someone is chasing from behind. Also worth mentioning, Larry is 62 years young. Also worth mentioning, Larry has a little rearview mirror on his shades.

Damn if he didn’t throw down an epic time trial effort. I have never chased anyone so long and been so exasperated that I couldn’t close the gap. The gap began at 30 seconds. I closed it to 24 once and it grew to as much as 38. We were literally riding the exact same speed for the entire sixteen miles. Once we pulled into the Best Western in Lone Pine, I was afraid he might say, “Yeah, I was wondering where you were. I decided to take it easy given the morning’s climb and the mid-day heat.” Instead, he saw me the whole time and just resolved not to get caught. Total props! He laughed at how intense our effort was and gave me a congratulatory fist pump. Hope I’m half the badass in 12 years.

Anybody know how many times a blogger can us the term “badass” in one post? I’m sure I’m over the limit. But I doubt anyone is going to restrict me, because today at least, I’m a badass.

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Killer Climbs—Day 4

Plan was to meet at 7:30a, drive 15 miles south to Big Pine, and then climb up to Glacier “Lodge”. A ten mile climb, how hard could that be?

Getting to the start was half the battle. I walked out to the hotel parking lot at 7:30:30 a.m. glistening from sunscreen with my gear bag on my shoulder only to see the van leaving. Okay, vehicle two, the rental SUV. Also gone. Okay, Alex’s car, there she goes heading south on 395. Bus left plain and simple. And it’s not like we’re always hyper-prompt. I felt like a Facebook investor, but knew what happened. Each driver just assumed I was in one of the other cars.

I knew exactly what would happen, and it did in fact go down exactly this way. They’d drive south (20 minutes), unload the bikes, see mine still in its stall, and then someone would say, “Where’s Ron?” At which point, they’d all have a good laugh at my expense. Fortunately, Double B returned for me about fifteen minutes before I told myself I would have to go for a run instead. Peterson said, “I asked if anyone wasn’t here and you didn’t say anything.” Now we’re overcompensating by doing double and triple head counts.

Another damn tough climb, 3,900′ in 10.5 miles. Official deets of the day—37 miles, 2:36 ride time, 14.2 mph average, 48 mph max again, and 4,298′ of total elevation. I rode from the start/finish, Big Pine, back into Bishop after we descended together. They thought I was crazy for doing that and I may be since I had a black jersey on and it was pushing 90. Hwy 395 has a great shoulder—wide, clean, and smooth—and the wind was helping so I made very good time. Picture the main character in Breaking Away sitting behind semis as the drivers signal 30, 40, 50. Well maybe I wasn’t going quite that fast.

Given the discombobulated start, I left my camera in the car at the start. That was a crying shame because the mountains, lake, stream, and trees at the top made for the most beautiful scene of the week. Alas, I leave you with another pic from earlier in the week.

Killer Climbs—Day 3

The numbers don’t do today’s ride justice—47.4 miles in 3:54 for a 12.1mph average. 6,726′ of elevation gained.

High desert, totally exposed, steep early and brutally so late. Toughest climb of my life and I was the first one up in our little posse which makes since sense I’m the youngest and thinest. I was delivering the mail during several stretches—swerving from one shoulder to the other as if putting mail in boxes on both sides of the street. Very lightly traveled road that dead ends at 10,000′ at the Ancient Bristle Pine Cone Forest—home of 7,000 year old trees, the oldest living ones in the world. At times, despite the very light traffic, I thought a car could come around the bend and pick me off while delivering mail on their rightful side of the road. Which prompted this dialogue:

Self1: You know, a car could be coming at any second and pick you off clean and simple.

Self2: If I’d die at impact, it might not be the worse outcome because I have no effin idea how far I am from the effin top. Anyways, the will is up to date. Betrothed is still a looker. She’ll be fine. (and with that assertion, my debt for a week away is paid)

Self1: Yeah, but what if the impact doesn’t kill you and you don’t die until being dragged several hundred yards down the mountain under the car’s front bumper.

Self2: That may be slightly less fun than continuing this god forsaken climb.

Mom, I apologize for using several words you wouldn’t have been proud of today. Fortunately though, no one was around to hear them. In fact, it was so quiet, I was taking my heart rate without leaving the handlebars. I was working so hard I could feel my pulsating head, and with the bike computer clock. . . 15 in 5 seconds, meaning 30 in 10, meaning 180. That was before I lost my ability to do basic math.

I’m eating like crazy and am still probably down a few lbs.

Tomorrow is an “easy” day. A 13-14 mile climb from Big Pine up to Glacier Lodge. Rumor has it somewhere between 3-4k of elevation. It’s supposed to be 95, but we’re starting early to avoid the worst of the heat.  Stay tuned, I will let you know how it goes.

 

Killer Climbs—Day Two

Subtitle—Voices.

Laying in bed last night, the voice was one of my internal ones, “You really should run before riding, just like yesterday. Don’t be a loser, get up and put one foot in front of the other.” To which another of my internal ones countered, “Yeah, but what about my trip motto, ‘train, don’t strain’?”

Whenever I go to bed unsure of whether to get up and run at 5:45 a.m., I sleep a little late, lay in bed, and kick myself throughout the day for what coulda and shoulda been. Those are the days everyone is out running just to remind me that I’m a lowlife. In short, I have to totally commit and visualize it before knocking off. Go to bed all Mitt Romney flip-floppy-like and forget about it.

The ride was straightforward, climb a highway for 25 miles to South Lake. Total elevation, 5,800′. Then descend eight miles to a fork and climb for five or six more miles to Lake Sabrina. Why? Because it’s there and we drove for 20 hours to get here.

There I was 16 miles in, working my ass off, when I shifted a couple gears before standing and relieving my back. The small-ring shifter cable snapped and I was stuck in one gear. Done for the day. Since the big-ring shifter still worked fine, I had two gears, neither which I could even remotely climb in. I descended back into town and found Aerohead, an amazing hole in the wall bike shop, where Brian was waiting to repair my injured steed.

Most amazing shop experience evah. Brian had to work really hard to get the cable out and said I was almost “Completely f-ed.” Then he heard the deep squeaking noise my headset/bars have been making and said “That’s heinous.” Is that brilliant or what? Line of the day. He broke everything down, headset, fork, bars, pulled the steerer tube out and inspected it for cracks, cleaned and lubed everything and put it all back together. A craftsman. Total cost of everything, $17.69. Un-f-ing believable.

Returned to the hotel where the bed whispered, “Just lay down. Enjoy the piece and quiet of an empty room. Kick on the tube, watch some basketball, some golf, chilax.” The shower shouted, “Just hop in! Let me wash away your sunscreen, dust, dirt, salt, and fatigue. It will feel really good, promise.” I thought to myself, “Dammit, shut up! I should ride another two hours or maybe I should run.” Then the shower and bed teamed up. “Just hop in and then lay down.”

Character building run—totally exposed to the sun, warm, at elevation, partly uphill. Felt decent through 10 and like complete shit at 11. The days deets—30 mile ride in 2:04 for a 14.7mph average. 3,146′ of elevation, and a measly max of 42. 13.1 mile run in 1:47. 691′ of elevation, 8:08 pace, but don’t be fooled, I completely unraveled and entered “stick a fork in me” territory at 12. Stomach cramps prompted walking breaks.

A final voice. Again one of my own internal ones. “Who are you trying to fool? Can’t even ride for two hours and run for two, what makes you think you can ride for six and run for four? Why did you even sign up to go long? Moron. Poser. Sorry excuse of a triathlete.”

Too bad it’s not, swim, cycle, self flagellate.

Why Exercise?

I once had a colleague, a smart scientist, who said research showed exercise extends people’s lives the same amount of time spent exercising. If that’s close to correct, and if you excercise 5 hours a week, 48 weeks a year, for forty years, that’s an extra 13 months. If that seems paltry, he’d agree, which was why he chose to be sedentary.

I don’t exercise to extend the length of my life as much as I do to improve the quality of it. Most of the time I enjoy the activity itself, the swimming, running, and cycling, especially since I have great training partners. Long story short, exercise improves the quality of my life on lots of levels.

Last Sunday I was traveling all day and on Monday and Tuesday I wasn’t able to squeeze in a workout. Felt completely out of whack. Finally rebooted with a 5 mile run along the edge of Storm Lake Tuesday night. Travelled all day Wednesday, so four days, and one five mile run. Salvaged the week by hitting it hard Thursday-Sunday.

Sunday’s ride was especially nice. Longest ride of 2010 thus far. The numbers, 63.27 miles, 3:34:11, 17.7mph avg, max 42.5, 2,954′ of elevation, 4,057 calories. Morning resting heart rate, 48, 52 in the middle of church (so I drifted during the sermon, what else is new). Great riding with Lance except for the hills he added on. His front tire exploded mid-ride. Loudest flat ever. Embarrassing the lengths he goes to to force rest.

The pictures.

In the peloton, you are what you eat and drink

Ready to roll

Dropping in on 81st Street

Line of the day, "Don't throw that away, I'm going to patch it."

Lance's elaborate rest stop ruse

Self portrait mid-ride

Calorie replacement. . . stage one

Calorie replacement. . . stage two

Calorie replacement. . . stage three

Calorie replacement. . . finishing kick

Week that Was—12/7-12/13

Swimming, 2x. 4,000m. Cycling, 2x. 35 miles. Running, 3x. Took Su-W off, ran R, F, Sa. 20.7 miles.

14 degrees on F’s pre-dawn run. Not bad after the first mile. Like the Norwegians say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”

Time to start thinking about 2010 s/c/r goals. What races, if any, should I do? What goals should I have besides the three main ones, beat Lance on one Saturday morning run, stay healthy, and have fun?

Shifting gears, look, it appears as if I do have a Facebook page after all. Is it just me, or do you too get weirded out when someone has your exact same, uniquely spelled name?

I should change mine to ALtotheDizzle Byrnes.