Riding Outdoors? Not me. Not yet.

I confess. I have no athletic goals for 2014. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’ve signed up for some things, but I haven’t been “training” specifically for anything. Nada. Nil. Nothing. Honestly, after leaving Ride The Rockies early last summer due to my mom’s battle with Multiple Myeloma, I’ve been slightly distracted. It’s amazing what happens when a family member takes ill. Everything else falls by the wayside, including caring for myself. Last fall, when my mom was hospitalized, I had been running 7 miles and had signed up for the Soldier Field 10 Mile Race for May 2014 and hoped to beat my last run from 2011. Well, I’m currently building my base back up at 2-3 miles because I haven’t run regularly since October. Everyone says you have to take care of yourself when you’re in a crisis mode for someone else, but that is easier said than done. I could not even think about myself when my mom was in the hospital. It felt selfish and a waste of time since I could be with her and talk to doctors. But it’s true. You have to take care of yourself because you need to be strong for the person you’re caring for. In December, I started riding on the trainer indoors and running on the treadmill but nowhere near the amount or regularity one needs to adequately participate in an race.

So what did I do? I signed up with my husband to ride a century for Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Foundation. I get an early season goal to achieve and raise money for a good cause that effects 26 million people. SO—if you’d like to contribute to Tour De Cure please follow this link http://tour.diabetes.org/site/TR?px=9905620&pg=personal&fr_id=9382&s_src=email_tour&s_subsrc=autoresponder-forward. I truly appreciate it.


Never say never or people will call you names

Sometimes I wonder why I run and bike. Usually, this happens when I’m alone on a path or street, trying to maintain a specific zone or cadence and ignoring the voice in my head suggesting I turn around because it’s too hard or that I slow down because it’s windy. My fitness relies on goals. Whether it’s a race or specific improvement or just maintenance, I need goals, or I can think of hundreds of activities to pass the time besides working out.

In December, my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, which according to the Mayo Clinic is, “… a cancer of your plasma cells, a type of white blood cell present in your bone marrow.” While there is no cure currently, there are many treatments and luckily, she was treated early and has responded very well. Things are ok with her. She leads a busy life and has an amazing, positive attitude. The thing is, it REALLY prioritized my goals when my mom, who I have always viewed as indestructible, in the short span of weeks prior to her diagnosis, suddenly became wracked with pain and bed-ridden, taking on physical attributes more commonly associated with my late  90+ grandma. Yes, things are much better now, but it was breath-taking to experience (and not the beautiful vista kind of “breath-taking” but rather the kind where you actually feel your breath being taken away). I kept picturing a ladder where my mom became my grandma, and I became my mom, and we kept climbing up.

This mental image brought into a very clear focus why I ride and run, why I choose to torture my body in the name of physical and mental fitness.   I do this because I don’t want to climb that ladder, or if time must pass and the climb is inevitable, I at least would like to slow the climb and enjoy with gratitude every step and rung along the way.

Three years ago, my husband and I signed up for Ride the Rockies bike tour and raised over $3,000 for the Livestrong Foundation. We knew several people suffering from various cancers and in my perpetual guilt/gratitude, I needed to give something back for the fact that my family and I are healthy, happy, and able to have this adventure.

From March 2010 to June, I rode over 700 base miles in training. In Colorado, I rode over 500 miles in one week and climbed thousands of feet in elevation. Ride the Rockies was the hardest task I ever accomplished. There is no way to train for the elevation or climbs living in Chicago, but I did it. I also didn’t realize the mental workout a ride like that would take on my head. I was terrified of the descents and pissed my climbing was so slow. What most people had said was great fun was utterly grueling and made me feel that whatever fitness level I had in Chicago utterly vanished in Colorado.  So, I came home, promised myself that I’d never do that again, and I set other fitness goals for myself (mostly running).

Well, self, I’m doing it again.

And, the reaction that I get when I tell my non-cycling friends is, “Ilyse. You said you’d never do that again.” Or, “Are you #@?!ing crazy?”  Honestly, the reaction that I get from many of my cycling friends isn’t really that much different..  Apparently, I am a crazy hypocrite, but yes, I’m doing it again, and here’s why. I’d like to do it a little better than I did in 2010, and even if that doesn’t happen, mentally, I’m more aware of what to expect and hope even if my legs fail me, my head won’t.

So it’s off to Denver in June right after my 8th grader graduates from middle school. I will miss his 14th birthday because I’ll be riding. He said that he totally understands because he loves his grandma, and I’m riding for a good cause (see below). I’ll be riding on my husband’s birthday and mine as well. I like the idea of climbing up a mountain on my 45th birthday. I’m not so sure about riding down it. We’ll see how it goes.

More importantly, I am raising money for the Multiple Myeloma Foundation and am riding in hopes of a cure for my mom as well as the other millions of people who suffer from this disease. If you want to help by making a donation, that would be great. I truly appreciate it. You can click the link below. Thank you.

Please click on the link which will take you directly to the site.

I rant, I rave, but I don’t do this!

I am now convinced that we as a society are on the decline. No weapons of mass destruction? Nah. Jeggings? No. We’re done. Here come the Goths cuz the Romans have exited the vomitorium. Why the despair?

Because if you’re sitting in a public waiting room, like at a Toyota dealership for example, and you think it is perfectly acceptable to listen to music, using your SPEAKER phone, you are part of the problem and not the solution, my friend.

Where are the manners? Why did a grown man in his late 30’s at least think it’s permissible to pollute the waiting room? No one else blasted their music. People wore HEADPHONES to keep their bad Polish, or maybe Russian pop music to themselves. But not where I was sitting.

I looked at him several times. I covered my ears. Did he get the hint? Nope. And no, I didn’t ask him to turn it down, off or stick it where the sun don’t shine because I’m a not interested in getting confrontational in a waiting room. Especially with my 16 year old sitting next to me.

Instead I engrossed myself in the Meaningful Beauty by Cindy Crawford beauty products infomercial. Twice.

On to the next adventure.

Better late than not at all

Today I went a little out of my box and am the better person for it. I got an email about Danny Abshire running a workshop at a local Tri shop near my house. Ok, the truth is you could win a free pair of Newton running shoes, and I thought, well gee whiz, I could use a new pair of those! Anyway, I wear Newtons, and I like them very much. So I figured, what they hey? Why not go check it out.

Although I didn’t know anyone and kinda felt like an awkward 13 year old walking into a new school, I forced myself to make small talk and hoped the shmoozing would be quick. Danny was extremely friendly and really talked about the basics of foot strike, gait and running form. Honestly, I’ve never had anyone assess my form in person, so I was curious as to getting a professional opinion. We all sampled the 2013 Newton Gravity shoes which had a different feel than my 2011 Newton stability shoes. I was pleased when one of his assistants inspected the bottoms of my shoes and said I must have great form since I’m running them down in all the right places.

There were about 25 people and he took us outside to a parking lot to teach us a few drills focusing on form and efficient running. I know I have a mid-foot strike, but I’ll tell you, to hear how great my form is from professional kinda validates me. I never thought about running at 180 beats per minute and coordinating the timing with drills was easier than I expected. It was also VERY effective. I can be a shuffler at times, and as soon as he said lift up my knees just a half inch, it made all the difference in the world.

Although I didn’t even win a visor not to mention the swanky sneaks, the drills were invaluable, and it was nice to get out of my daily routine and try something different. I even went home and ran outside which I haven’t done the entire winter. Better late then not at all!

My new winter toy. A review of the TdF pro-form spin bike

Chicago barely has any snow and temperatures don’t seem to be heading sub zero anytime soon, but, it is nonetheless “off season” for cycling enthusiasts. I wistfully sigh reading people’s cycling reports and viewing pictures of warm sun and bike friendly scenery as we have an abundance of grey sky and hibernating landscape. And did I mention? I hate indoor riding.

After years of spinning and compu-training, a friend suggested I try her Tour de France Proform indoor spin bike. I hesitated. Firstly, I didn’t want to support any product Lance Armstrong touted and secondly, how would this spin bike be different from spin classes? I guess Mr. Armstrong isn’t affiliated with pro-form any longer if he ever was, and this was no ordinary spin bike. So here’s a review of the 2012 TdF Pro-form bike for those looking for an inside alternative designed to push you through the winter blahs.

I’m not going to lie for $1495.00, it’s not a health club industrial strength piece of of equipment. I turned the bike around in my basement and somehow broke the pedal mechanism and required a warranty covered service call. Because it’s motor operated, the components are protected leaving me to wait for a service call. The flywheel is in the back and the resistance is electronically powered rather than manually activated with the knob the user turns. The bike isn’t built for the abuse health club equipment typically takes, so you need to be careful. I recommend buying an extended warranty because just by using it it’s going to require some kind of maintenance. The motor is in the back and I placed a towel over it to absorb any sweat that may fall. This was my friend’s suggestion since she shorted the motor from sweating into it. A towel over the back solved this.

My last criticism has yet to be resolved. The bike comes with a free year subscription to ifit.com. This allows you to globally access maps and ride other routes aside from the pre-progammed TdF stages. You can custom routes and ride “outdoors” anywhere in the world. It also tracks your miles, calories, time, etc. Sounds cool right? I mapped out one of my typical routes to maintain my legs all winter. Sadly, I have been unable to access ifit.com since I got it. This has been very frustrating. I replaced my home’s modem to a high speed access one and spent hours talking to technical support. I just received a new console for the bike on Friday and am waiting for a service guy to come out and replace it. Maybe I just have bad luck, or maybe I just got a lemon. I don’t know. If this problem is common, they should really reconsider using that aspect to promote the features of the bike, because it just doesn’t work. That being said, as soon as the counsel is replaced, I’ll let you know what happens!

Now that my frustrations have been purged, let’s talk about the good stuff! The bike contains 22 preprogrammed stage rides used from the tour at some point. They vary from 35 minutes to about an hour. I like to combine stages so I ride for an hour at least. Lately, I haven’t had much time to work out, so even if I only have 30-45 minutes, I can get a good ride in that time. The rides are climbs and descents; no time trials. The bike tilts forwards and backwards as this happens which is kind of bizarre and probably unnecessary to the workout, but attempts to mimic the experience of a ride. The grades max out at 20% up and down, but at this point, the highest grade I’ve tackled is 12% and that’s plenty. If I were doing Ride the Rockies again this summer (I’m undecided at the moment), this is a great way to work on climbing. I suppose I could achieve something close to this in a group setting, but I like doing this in my own time and space. Sure I could change gears and inclines, but if your goal is to improve, I find leaving it on the factory set incline and pop the gears up a bit, it’s quite challenging.

The console pad tracks your power (watts), calories, rpm, heart rate zones, include, gear and speed. Even if I bought a compu-trainer with a power tap, this bike is cheaper because my husband can also use it to his preferences. If we both bought power taps, etc., it would’ve been well over $2,000, a hefty chunk of change. Since I am a numbers geek regarding training, I like to see all the ways I can measure myself and keep myself honest.

The Tour de France stages are really fun. The climbs are challenging and there are many routes to choose. I bump up the gears on the downhills otherwise, there’s not much benefit other than spinning at a higher rpm. The amount of uphills outweight the down, so you’re forced to work.

Again, I would like to use my own maps and work outs to do some threshold training which I haven’t done yet this winter. I’m hoping by the end of January, all the components will work and I can report back happy.

In July, Paris not for lovers when you bring your kids, but it is for bike freaks of all ages.

Sometimes, the stars align and karma is in your favor. It’s tremendous. Last July, before we flew to Israel, my family and I had the opportunity to visit Paris for a three day “layover.” Here’s the deal. When flying to Israel and stopping in Europe for a layover, there is no extra cost to stay in that European city where your airline is based. You then board the plane to Israel as the final destination. So–last year, we decided to stop in France for a couple of days. Was this a “see all of Paris” over 2 1/2 days? No. This was eat croissants, cheese, duck confit, visit the Louvre, visit the Christian Louboutin’s boutique, and oh yeah, see the Tour de France on the final day. Who’s up for it?

The beauty of this trip was it’s simplicity. We visited the Louvre and had an extensive 3 hour tour highlighting ancient civilizations the French and Gauls conquered. We saw Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and of course the Mona Lisa among many other pieces, rooms and ruins. The Louvre is so enormous, it would probably take years to thoroughly conquere it.

My other important agenda in Paris was food. After reading my friend Sue’s blog I knew I had to visit Le Florimond and eat duck confit. Naturally, on our first night, it was closed. So I ate duck breast in Monmartre and confit another night (It was closed again!). I wondered if my sudden duck intake if Le Florimond could possibly be better than where I had already eaten.

The best part of wandering Paris was after browsing markets full of cheese, fruit, vegetables, baguettes and gorgeous pastries, you find outdoor seating, turn your chair so you can people watch and sip your espresso for hours and nobody bothers you! No body pulls your omelette and croissant from under your fork and asks if there will be anything else. There is no rush in Paris. Sublime.

We staked out Le Florimond on our last night returning every few hours for signs of life in between our nuttella and crepe snacks and espresso. By 7 p.m. when four tables were finally dressed with white table clothes and place settings, we made our move. The inside seating was booked, but the restaurant manager Laurent offered us an outside table and we happily obliged. My kids are good eaters. I enjoy taking them on food oriented trips because they really appreciate it. We were rather pleased with ourselves that we finally snagged a table and that our primary objectives for this short visit were achieved. I happily report, that duck consumption over three nights was not only the most decadent food choice I’ve ever made, but was won with flying colors at Le Florimond. It was crispy and rich. The roasted potatoes were crisp and the ever present greens with champagne vinigarette dressing was the most satisfying and meal of my life. It met all my expectations. The cheese platter for dessert and of course the wine, really turned me into a francophile.

The ultimate event and bucket list crossing activity we chose Paris for was the Tour de France. Once we realized the timing coincided and we would be in Paris on the final day of the Tour, we went into action. My husband was told of seating available in specific areas for spectators. These seats are available for FREE but you must have a ticket. In March, my husband wrote to the Tour planning organization requesting tickets and would need 4. In June, we were informed that we could only get 2 tickets due to many requests. We took them and then sent another letter asking for 2 more. In July, a week before we left, the tour sent us an additional 4. We were so happy we wouldn’t have to stake a spot on the street or switch places during the race. We knew we would want to give away the 2 extra tickets.

By 9 a.m. on July 22, people reserved spots along the Champs Elysees. We spent our morning at a cafe and then found the Christian Louboutin boutique which was, of course, closed. The riders were not expected until late in the afternoon, but by 2 pm. the police closed down many roads and set up blockades. As we got closer to the seating, we looked for TdF fans who we could give our extra tickets. We saw a fun looking guy with an Australia flag draped around his shoulders. Clearly a Cadel Evans fan. My husband approached him and after asking if he spoke English (you gotta ask that because the French really don’t want you to butcher their fancy schmancy language), explained our 2 extra tickets and offered them to him.

Needless to say, we made Aaron and Marcy’s day. I only wish I knew their last names. If you know an Austrailian couple named Aaron and Marcy, please forward this to them!

This was the most civilized sporting event I’ve ever witnessed. Except from the Tour announcer, people were very quiet and well mannered while waiting for the peleton. We watched big screens as the riders descended into the Parisian metropolis. When the peloton emerged, people stood up, yelled allez! and waved flags exuberantly as they whooshed by. And then they sat down again. The local water bottle company passed out Vittel water bottles free. And people waited their turns without elbowing each other. We even got free Coke and Diet Coke. All you needed was a merci.

The tour does several laps around the Champs Elysees so even if you didn’t get great pictures the first time, there were many more times to follow. Once the tour ended and Bradley Wiggins got his yellow jersey, he walked up the street while talking to reporters and waved into the stands. The other cyclists rode slowly back to shmooze the crowd. My son yelled at Vincenzo Nibali and he waved back along with a terrific grin. It was amazing.

One last tip from my son. Avoid Mondays. A lot of patisseries and museums and sightseeing spots are closed.

No filters necessary

Last week on a run, I decided to take pictures using Instagram. I’m amazed at the high quality of photos people take using it and the subtle use of filters can really enhance a photograph. Anyway, I wanted to take pictures of beautiful flowers because as a person with a brown thumb, I am always impressed with anyone who gardens or grows something beautiful when I usually kill stuff.

A clear, sunny day, I turned onto a street that I usually pass. I’m so glad I did because I came across a yard that was definitely worth checking out. I asked the elderly gentleman if he’d mind if I took some photos of his beautiful garden. He unlatched the gate, invited me in, and walked me around pointing out different flowers, how he acquired them, and how unenthusiastic he was about tending such a glorious place since losing his wife six weeks ago.

He told me he’s had several people stop by to admire it, so I’m hoping he doesn’t give up. He told me to stop by again and if there are tools out, get some work done. I warned him of my brown thumb, but he didn’t seem to think I’d be too dangerous.

My pictures don’t do these beauties justice, but just knowing they’re close by and on my run path, makes me want to keep running, and possibly pull some weeds.