For most of us, exercise should be a part of our daily routine. I find people are much more likely to say they have no time to exercise than they are to say they don’t have time eat, sleep, use the restroom, bathe, etc. Of course not doing one of those essential activities would have major consequences. Lack of exercise also has consequences, many of which are easy to ignore until years later.

Yesterday I had two encounters where I was asked by triathletes how I train for an Ironman. The question initially struck me as odd, because training for an Ironman is much like training for any other triathlon. Basically it begins with a lifestyle of daily exercise.

Three weeks ago Molly and I arrived to our new home in Great Lakes, IL. We have never been in this part of the country, and knew nothing about the area. The day we arrived I spoke with Marty Taylor who has been here for a while and he told me about a Tuesday evening ride with Alberto’s Cycling. I showed up there, unfamiliar with the route and the group. I tried to keep things mellow, but fell into the pace line rather quickly, which consisted of about 6 of the fastest riders. I hadn’t done a lot of pace line riding in San Diego, so it was pretty fun riding the flats at 27-30 MPH, until I was in the front and missed a turn (I didn’t know we were turning!). Time trialing at 30 MPH then wasted me for the second half of the ride. I was accepted into the group, and they told me about their weekend rides.

That Saturday I rode 11.5 miles to Alberto’s. Minutes after I started it began to sprinkle then pour. I arrived soaked, and chilled. Two people (one of the owners and an employee) were there, and said that because of the rain they weren’t going to ride. In a way, I was relieved, but I also realized that the ride was conditional on the weather. They even said that the Sunday ride probably wouldn’t happen. I rode home and got 25 miles in at least.

Sunday morning actually looked good. I rode to the shop to see if the ride was happening. Sure enough, no rain, and the ride was on. About 2 miles into the ride and it poured. A flat in the group had us huddled under some trees while the rain dumped on us. I saw rain coats start to come out, but all I had was a rain sponge. To my surprise I saw a couple other groups riding by in the pouring rain as we stood there. Flat fixed and we went on. I was waiting for someone to pull the plug. It sucked, I was miserable, and I would have gladly followed someone else’s suggestion of calling it a day. Hmmm… that never happened. It wasn’t even suggested. Sixty miles of not being able to feel my waterlogged toes (toasties don’t do a good job keeping water out of shoes) I finally made it home, and soaked in a tub for 40 minutes to defrost. I think the last time I took a bath like that was… probably never. I would have used bubbles if I had them.

Out of the tub, still wrinkled (I don’t think the bath helped with that), I got online and ordered a Computrainer. It was only September, and the Midwest weather was likely to get worse.

A few days later Molly and I toured some of the local bike shops. Activator Cycles, just 2.2 miles from us in Lake Bluff hosts a fast mountain bike ride Thursdays from 6-8 PM, year-round, regardless of weather. This caught my attention. A group that is close, late enough to make after work, and a ride I can rely on. That and I have a 3 year old mountain bike with less than 100 miles on it. The first Thursday we had high winds, 25 MPH with 60 MPH gusts. Molly questioned my sanity (a regular occurrence), and I shrugged my shoulders and replied “they said regardless of weather”. Sure enough, there were about 8 of us there, and it was brutal. The wind was one thing, but the trails were flooded, and it was dark-dark-dark. I worked to keep up, but was gapped rather quickly and I just couldn’t catch up. Nick, the owner, fell back and decided to show me the route since it was my first time out.

The next day my Computrainer showed up, and so did the sun. It was gorgeous out and I did some exploring of some new routes that I found on ridewithgps.com and mapmyride.com. Molly and I did a Tandem ride west of us on some decent roads and also took bikes on the train into Chicago where we started orienting ourselves to this amazing city. Then I did a 108 mile ride north of us. I was surprised though when I rode about 70 miles in Wisconsin without even a glimpse of a convenience store or a service station. The roads were great, very little traffic, and a few nice rollers. The day was warm though and I went about 90 minutes without any water or food.

The following Thursday’s Activator ride had great weather. I was determined to stick with the group, but my lack of experience and poor handling led me to going off the trail into a ditch. My chain popped off and I tried to catch the group, but never even got a glimpse of them. I finished the ride with Dean who had also fallen back. This Thursday, my third time out, it was raining, windy and cold. I contemplated using the Computrainer for the first time, but remembered my resolve to stick with this group through the year even if it was my only ride outside some weeks. Four of us headed out and again I was dropped. This time I got lost in the trails since I was riding by myself. The trails were covered with leaves and I went off them several times because it was hard to make them out. So far it’s been rather humbling, but I figure the only way to get better is to stick with it.

This morning even though it was only 48 degrees and raining slightly, I figured the weather was bad enough to give the Computrainer a try. First impression: very nice. I still have a lot to learn about the programs, but I can tell that it will be a great tool to keep me in shape through the harsh winters here.

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