This post was started in September of 2011.  It’s a bit more personal than normal, hence the delay in it’s completion and publication.

Bigorexia. Biggerxia. Body Dysmorphia. However you decide to spell it, it all means the same thing. If an anorexic can’t be too thin, a biggerexic can’t be too huge. Steroid huge. Obsessive size.  Not quite big enough.

I’ve always been a yoyo – rail-skinny, pretty fat, skinny-fat, fat-fat, skinny, fat…wheeee. Always self-concious, always aware of being too skinny (weak) or fat (and still weak).  Bring on the self-esteem issues!

15 years ago I plowed into weight training at full speed and in short order I was measuring my food, buying all kinds of strange potions and powders and generally being obsessive about it all. It worked, sorta.  In day-to-day trim I weighed 180 flabbyish pounds (I’m 6 feet tall) but had bounded up to 195 and still didn’t have arms to fit my shirt as tightly as my belly. A beach ball with stick arms. As I started training and learning about food, I dropped down to 170 and then slowly back up to 197. This time instead of the 24% bodyfat reading I’d received when I started, I was down to 15%. More muscle than I’d ever possessed and in the best shape I’d ever been. I wanted more. I fought my way up to 205 pounds at 11%. Not enough. I pondered pharmaceutical assistance in my Lorax-like quest of biggering and biggering, but could never find enough money. I managed to avoid steroid trip not so much by wise choice as by accident.

I floated in and out of the gym as I got married and moved to the other side of the world, came back, moved to Europe and came back yet again. I never did find that combination of size, strength and confidence, always dragging along that travel-trunk of insecurity.

One of my aspirations while training was to take my scrawny flabby self from 180 pounds to 220. “6 foot, 220″ always had a nice ring to it.  I’ve achieved that. And more. Three months ago (12 months now) I peaked at a solid 230 pounds. And by solid I mean undeniable, not rock-hard. 230 pounds of fat-ass. Egads – this is not the type of 220 I wanted to be!!

Enter today – July 2012.  Riding has made a huge difference – my mood, my cardio, my overall health and of course my weight.  Certainly cured me of wanting to be bigger – hauling one’s self up a climb becomes increasingly arduous as your weight goes up – 20 pounds is a big deal.  People don’t give 20 pounds the respect it deserves – go to grocery store and throw 20 pounds of ground beef in your cart.  That’s a lot of meat!

As I get closer to 40, I am more comfortable in my own skin.  I am who and what I am – I gain weight easy but I’ve got a skinny structure underneath it all.  I’ll never be a healthy 220 pounds – it would either be a fat 220 (again) or a drug-assisted version.  I’m okay with that, meaning, I’m happier being a lean, healthy 185 than a muscular yet unhealthy 220.  I’m certain that there is no combination of size and strength to address insecurity.  That’s a beast one must slay on their own.

After watching bits and pieces of the TdF this year, I am amused by the “cycling physique”.  Enormous, powerful quads and hamstrings (thighs), muscular calves, skinny torso and the arms of a starving supermodel.  The reason there’s so much carnage with  cyclists when there’s a pile-up – apart from having just .5mm of stretchy-pants between them and the pavement – is their lack of mass exposing their skeletons and making them fragile.  Dainty.  5’11″ and 140 pounds.  This year’s TdF champion is 6 foot 2 and half inches tall and weights less than 170 pounds.  Most of it is their thighs I’m sure.

Man, if you ever wanted a dirty sport for doping – there you go.  Now in fairness, the testing is driving the users out of the sport slowly but surely.  As the testing science starts to catch the doping science, the peloton gets cleaner and cleaner and 2012 looks to be the beginning of a new era.  Two of the three podium winners for this year – Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome, both riding for Team Sky out of Britain – are outspoken anti-doping advocates.  Wiggins took the lead early and never let it go showing that, after 15 years of the dirtiest cycling around, clean riders aren’t only competitive, they’re champions.

Oh, but how do we know they’re not cheating?  In fairness, we don’t.  It’s easy to prove someone did – hey lookie here, a failed drug test from athlete L.  Much harder to prove that someone didn’t.  We have no failed tests, but we believe he cheated.  Mathematics to the rescue!

I love this stuff – as an engine fanatic (I loooove automotive engines) I learned everything I could about them, digging deeper and deeper and unearthing all sorts of mathematical models.  Imagine how pleased I was to find that similar mathematical models exist for people!  An engine can pump X amount of air in a given time frame.  Using known data, we can determine the reasonable expected performance of any given engine without having to actually measure it.  When it performs well outside our expectations then either our data presumptions are wrong or they’re cheating.  With people it’s even easier – there’s far fewer criteria.  With a small handful of exceptions, none of which are racing in the Tour de France, we’re all 2-lungs, 1 heart, air-breathing, calorie burning machines.  We vary in how much air we can breathe or how efficiently we pedal a bike (or run) or how much of our food is turned into energy at the pedal but we all function within a range, elite cyclists in a pretty narrow and specific range.  That translates to a specific output (watts) per kilogram of body mass.  That power output can be used to predict performance, particularly when climbing.  So working the math on a rider’s weight and hill-climbing performance, we can determine their power output per kilogram with pretty good accuracy.  Compare their actual output performance with the statistical norms and tah-dah!  We have a winner, or a cheater.

So – how do we know that Brad Wiggins and the rest of the Tour leaders aren’t cheaters?  Again, we don’t – but we can say that their performance ranks where it should.  In fact, in  the climbing stages of the 2012 race, the best times wouldn’t have got them into the top 40 just a couple of years ago.  They’re riding like elite human not superhumans and they’re winning.  Now that’s big.




It starts out innocently enough, a favour for others, a gesture of appreciation if you will.  Today being Thursday it is of course Doughnut Day.  Day of Sugary Carbohydrate Invasion.  The Thin End of the Sugary Wedge.

They look innocent...

Most days I shuffle these evil things off my desk and out of my office but today I was invincible – no need to move anything.  I subsequently paid the price for my arrogance.

It started with a Tim Bit – a doughnut hole marketing scheme and as it turns out, an even thinner wedge end.  It is food from the devil.  Evil.  The bite-sized bit lures you into thinking you can have just one but it is truly the gateway drug.  By the time the dust had settled, there was spittle and drool splattered about the place, my desk littered in doughnut-remnants, evidence of the carnage that had just ensued.  The look on my co-workers faces was a mixture of horror and disgust with a trace of admiration.  I won’t add to you, my dear reader’s discomfort by putting an exact number on the victims, it is enough to know it was sufficient to feed a house of aspiring runway models for a week.

Having not ridden for a week I was already enjoying an overwhelming sense of self-loathing before my hubris had been thoroughly vanquished by the devil’s food.  Full of easily-accessible sugary fuel and disdain for my activity level, I took advantage of today’s Chinook – the wind, not my bike – to get out for a ride before the sun went down.  I headed north along the canal path, a section I don’t often get to ride.  It’s been under construction most of the summer and eventually fell off my ride list which is funny because I don’t have a ride list.  From 32nd I headed for Nose Creek Park and its short, steep hills to try to erase some of the day’s earlier carnage that was settling into my waist.

I made it to McKnight before the universe reminded me I know naught about riding in general and less about riding in faux winter.  As I came out from under McKnight, in a gentle right-hand corner, I realized the shadow across the path was in fact a thin layer of wet mud.  Immediately after that realization I learned that it was in fact a thin layer of very slick mud.  The front end washed out and two things went through my head in quick succession:  WWTS and; oh man – these stretchy pants are almost new!  Luckily for me, the slick mud gave way to a skiff of gravel providing a relatively low-friction surface on which to smash my hip without the added insult of melting the lycra to my thigh.

Enter here but beware the trolls

Fall down here (the trolls did it)

Remarkably there was no damage to the stretchy pants and no damage to the bike save for more character on the previously-characterized bar end.  My pride was bruised but otherwise I seemed to have escaped unscathed.  My right hand hurt a bit as one might expect when it’s called into duty to save the elbow.  I straightened my bars and brushed some of the dirt off before I hopped back on to continue my ride.  Get-off or not I was going on a ride.

As I rode out to Nose Creek Park, I couldn’t help noticing that my wrist was in fact much more tender than having just suffered a slap-fest with the pavement.  Putting any weight on it was excruciating but I could pull, break and shift without any drama.  I pushed on determined to get a few kilometres in before the sun disappeared and made things more treacherous than I’d just discovered they were.  I didn’t get far before my wrist, the rapidly setting sun and an unexpected head-rush that affected my hearing <?!> made the decision to turn around a prudent one.

I cycled home nursing an increasingly tender wrist, wary of anything that looked like it might be shadow, mud, water, gravel…I’d lost some confidence in the stiction of my front tire.  As a made my back along the path I’d just travelled, my hearing returned to normal but my wrist did not.  I stopped to take a picture of the offending mud before I made the climb back up to Centre.  I passed another cyclist headed for the mud and tried to warn him as he went by “it’s slippery under McKnight!” though it probably sounded more like nonsensical gibberish.  I imagine him skipping across the same gravel thinking to himself “oh…that’s what that guy was yelling about”.

Upon arriving home nurse Tracey tended to my wrist with a combination of homeopathic  treatments.  I’m starting to think it may be in worse shape than first thought as it’s rather swollen and stiff.  We’ll see how bad it feels in the morning and if it’s worse I’ll get it looked at after the Remembrance Day service.  In the meantime I’m extremely pleased with the performance of my MEC Roubaix stretchy pants – no holes, no damage of any kind.

One skid, no flesh damage, no holes - perfect.

I also have a new appreciation for roadies who turn and flee at the slightest indication of imperfect road conditions.  It’s time to – at the very least – put on the knobbies.  Studded tires – you’re in my future.





*What Will Thomas Say?

It's just a flesh wound...isn't it?

The Difference between You and I

What is this human condition that requires we continue to divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups, each more rigidly defined than the last, each delineation more flimsy and feeble and worthless until your chosen identity has as much substance as a 15 second Old Navy commercial.  It exists anywhere there’s a group of people and it doesn’t matter who they are or what they’re doing, they’re soon devolving into purists and hobbyists, brand-specific, style specific, usage-specific…

Easy examples: PC and MAC.  Within that group of people – consumers and self-identified nerds, within the nerds – hardware geeks and software geeks, within the software nerds – Linux, Unix and Windows and on and on it goes.  I used to believe this was an automotive thing – something within the genes of people who identify with a particular brand of fuel-burning people conveyors.  Ford vs. Chevrolet which led to more than one confrontation as I was growing up.  In Australia they break out into soccer fan-style brawls I’m told.

As I entered the world of cycling, cautiously dipping my toe in, my first foray into an actual bicycle shop was born of necessity.  In my enthusiasm to service the Rescue Bike, I’d taken apart the freewheel and spilled out dozens of tiny ball bearings which promptly bounced into the darkest recesses of my dimly-lit garage.  I’d disassembled things as far as I could, but wasn’t in a position to finish before I could put them back together again.  A forced visit to a bike shop with a concurrent admission that I had no idea what I was doing – I can’t express my enthusiasm.

I headed to Bow Cycle, wheel in the trunk and prepared for the inevitable looking-down-our-noses-at-you-because-you’re-not-one-of-us experience.  Such was not the case however – the two young mechanics working in the back were not only polite and friendly, they were genuinely helpful.  They finished the disassembly (at no charge), advised me on a wiser course of action (replace, not rebuild) and retrieved a new cassette (a whopping $11).  No condemnation, no subtle ridicule or snotty “that’s not from here” attitude.  It was singularly one of the best service visits I’ve ever had.

I went back to Bow Cycle to browse their bikes and each time was met by friendly and polite staff who were more than happy to help.  This experience was repeated on my visit to Road and to Calgary Cycle – friendly staff who were more than happy to entertain my foolish questions despite my obvious newbness.  These retail experiences shaped my perspective of the cycling world in a grossly erroneous fashion.

In much the same manner that sportbike riders and Harley riders look down their noses at each other, so too do cyclists.  Roadies, cyclocross, downhill, cross-country, commuter, urban and then subsets of each.  Dedicated roadies who count their grains of rice at each meal sneer at the paunch-carrying new rider who is in possession of a full carbon bicycle and team kit whizzier than most pro racers.  Downhill lunatics curse the cross-country masochists for having the temerity to ride up their hill while the cross-country folks don’t understand why the downhillers don’t give those climbing up the right-of-way (I tend to side with the climbers here – much easier to start going downhill again than to start climbing in the middle).  Cyclocross riders are serious about not taking themselves seriously and are disdainful of anyone who does.  Everyone snorts at the commuters, especially if you’re one of those guys who dares to commute in the winter thereby undermining all of the times they passed you like you were standing still during the summer.   Everyone is doing it wrong except you.

I no longer ponder why someone doesn’t acknowledge my passing nod or the occasional attempt at speech (generally rendered as nuhgumeh!).  I get it now – I’m doing it all wrong.