Monthly Archives: May 2007

This is How it Happens.

One minute you’re speeding along with adrenaline pounding in your ears surrounded by other cyclists, in a good position going into a sprint finish. You can smell the jump coming. You can see the opening forming in front of you. Your whole being is focused on getting across that line first.

And then you’re hitting the pavement at speeds that no one should, taking the brunt of the fall on your temple, where no one ever should.

The cyclist I mentioned earlier this week that was seriously injured in the Silverton crash over the weekend was Ryan McKnab. He is in an induced coma while doctors let his brain heal and prevent swelling. No one really know the prognosis right now – there’s more healing time before and MRI can be performed.

I am really shaken by this as I think we all, in the racing community, are. Worse yet is having Sal out of town during this time. While I’m elated that his fatefully-timed surgery kept him out of that race, I’d really like to squeeze him right now.

This note just came across the OBRA list in regards to Ryan’s condition. Please send whatever you are able.

As many of you know by now Ryan McKnab suffered a serious brain injury at the finish of the cat 4/5 silverton RR. He is still in an induced coma but is doing well. Visit for updated information.

Because his recovery will be a long road we are asking for donations to defray the costs.

We have set up an account with Paypal to accept donations. The fund is call the “Ryan McKnab Recovery Fund” and you need a paypal account to make a donation. To make a donation simply click the ‘Make a Donation” button on the web site.

For those folks that would like to help out with a simple check in the mail, you can send checks to:

Elizabeth Martin
attn: Ryan Mcknab Recovery Fund
2120 Harrison
Corvallis, OR 97330

We are sincerely grateful for any amount of help…and for all of the donations we have already received. Especially to the GSC United team for organizing the donation of race entry fees to the Ryan McKnab family.

Thank you,
Paul Shirkey

My heart is with Ryan and his family tonight. My heart is big and messy, per usual.



UPDATE: This (somewhat promising) update came to the OBRA list this morning from Ryan’s wife:

They took him off of both the Propofol (sedative) and Fentanyl (pain stuff) so he’s no longer sedated. He is still comatose, but every hour the nurses are doing neuro checks. The last one was around 7 pm, and he was able to move his left hand and again, opened his eyes and looked around a bit. Who know what he’s actually seeing, but there are no words to describe the feeling of seeing your comatose husband open his eyes for the first time and then continue to do so on later checks. I feel so hopeful right now, but they keep telling me to prepare for the long haul. But at the same time, take it day by day.

That’s it for now, Ryan’s parents are arriving tonight so maybe he will wake up a bit for them.

Keep up the love and moral support, we all appreciate it so, so much. We have so many great friends and family, and I am grateful beyond words.

love, Jessi



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The Gauntlet, She’s Been Thrown.

Ok, ok. I’ve been talking a lot of smack lately about goals and accountability and all that rot. In fact, I’ve goaded my father into setting a few fitness goals (all of which he has met) and my sister just came to me with a monster goal that is totally attainable but much longer term than my father’s (that’s a whole ‘nother blog).

All this to say, I’m coming out of the closet with mine. I’m laying it down. I’m putting it out there. I’m going to have to caveat the hell out of it but I’m going to make it public all the same.

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Bike Racing is Dangerous

Sometimes I wish Sal would pick a safer sport.  You can’t take the bicycle-love out of that boy but there are days when I would sure like to.

I rode 40 miles yesterday out to Gresham, north to the airport and then down on the 205 bike path.  It was a nice ride in mild weather.  I didn’t need the arm warmers or wind jacket that I brought along.  I cashed out two water bottles and came home exhausted.

Zipping along on the fatty four-lane roads I took to head North across Gresham I was reminded about just how precarious it can be to be on a bicycle in traffic sometimes.  I chose wide roads with bike lanes but, even still, you always get an asshole or two who shout or scream at you as they pass by.  Meanwhile, you’re descending in the drops being careful to avoid the nasty grates that interrupt the bike lane about every 300 yards, which means moving left, closer to traffic.

I am good in traffic.  Confident enough to make sure cars can predict my movements, good with hand signals and vocal with appreciation when someone gives me the right of way or stops at a crosswalk to let me pass through an intersection.  I respect cars both because they are made of thousands of pounds of steel and also because I am also a car driver.  I know that it can be challenging to ride near bicycles when they do not use proper signals and it’s hard to predict their next move.

Even still.  It doesn’t matter how good you are, how smart you are, how communicative you are, or how long you’ve been riding.  Accidents can happen.

Every time Sal goes on a training ride I start to worry after he’s been gone for three hours.  He can ride close to 60 miles in three hours, so I know he usually won’t be out much longer than that.  When that number comes around I check the front door every 5 minutes and carry my cell phone in my back pocket, turned up to full volume.  My mind goes to bad places.

And training isn’t the only thing there is to worry about.  Group sprint-finishes in road races are about as dangerous a situation as you can get.  Here you’ve got a pack of 30+ riders barreling into the finish at well over 30 miles an hour (unless it’s an uphill finish).  One squirrely move, one blown tire, one slip on the pedals, one rookie who plays it too close and everyone is going down.  Hard.

There was a massive and extremely serious crash in the Silverton race today.  Because of Sal’s surgery he was not racing and I did not attend without him, opting instead to go to a barbeque up in Amboy, Washington with my softball team.  I got back to my email this evening to see that the OBRA email list is starting to deliver the details of the crash, including the conditions of the three riders who went down the hardest.

This is what I know so far:  The race was so severe that all of the other races for the rest of the day were canceled.  No one can remember a time when a crash has been bad enough to cancel an entire day’s racing before.  One member of Sal’s team has a helmet that is completely crushed to bits, and a concussion to match – he was taken by ambulance to the hospital from the race but has since been released.  Two other members of Sal’s team suffered more minor injuries including strained joints, road rash, and dislocated fingers.

All of our guys were lucky.

The guy who was hurt the worst had to have a breathing tube inserted on-site (performed by Jaime, a member of our team who is a doctor – he worked on the guy for 30 minutes getting the tube in).  Jaime reported that the injured man had dilated pupils and blood coming from his ears.  At the time Jaime was not sure if the injured rider was going to be ok or not.   He was taken from the scene by helicopter.  We are not exactly sure how he is going to be but latest reports indicate his condition is “extremely serious but stable”.

At least two other riders suffered broken collar bones and there was also a broken hip.  These are the preliminary reports and I’m sure there were many other injuries we’ll find out about in the days to come.

These are the moments that cause us all to step back, draw in a breath, squeeze a loved one, and really consider what the hell it is we are doing out here.

This was a Category 4 race – no one is winning any sponsorships, no one is winning any money, no one is going to be on the cover of a magazine.  Still, it has always been my policy to go as hard as you can, no matter what.  Who cares if you’re not getting sponsorships?  Go hard, be your best.  That has always been my way.  Only a few will get paid to perform sport, the rest of us have only guts and heart alone to play for.

But I’m a runner.  And a softball player.  And you don’t crash at 35 mph when you are sprint-finishing in a 5k.  And if you do get hurt playing softball, well, you’re probably not going to have your head crushed or your lungs collapsed.

All I’m saying is that cycling is dangerous.  More dangerous than a lot of other sports.  And the hot-shots in cycling present more of a danger than a hot-shot in other arenas.

Category 4 or Pro Rider?  Doesn’t matter.  This shit is serious either way.

Keep the rubber down and the ego in check.  Remember why we do this in the first place.  It’s supposed to enrich our lives, not put us in the hospital.

Of course, like I said, accidents happen.  Maybe someone blew a tire – what can you do?  Tires blow – you hope it’s not in a bunch sprint-finish but there are no guarantees.

Tonight I’ll light my candles and call my sister to ask her to dedicate some of her alter meditation time this week to Sal’s safety and the safety of all cyclists.  I’ll keep my cell phone in my pocket on high even though I know he’s safe and sound with his parents in San Jose.



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A Comedy of Errors

It’s two in the morning and I am supposed to run a timed mile in 3.5 hours. Instead, I’m hunched in agonizing reverence, begging the porcelain god to make it stop.

Food poisoning.

It was a bad end to a decent week, to say the least.

On Tuesday Sherry calls me: “I got some new wheels, dude. Wanna go roll around a bit?”

Having just returned from a week in San Jose surrounded by pasta and canoli, I was more than game. We decided to meet at my house in 30 minutes. This is just enough time for me to decide that we should not just “roll around” – we need to go on an adventure. I break out the maps and chart a course to get to the Portland International Raceway, where I know Sal’s team will be racing.

We’ll get there toward the end of the race but it will still be fun. It’s only about 9.5 miles there, just under 20 round trip. No sweat.

When she arrives I manage to convince Sherry that this is a good idea so we set off. I’d forgotten how good it feels to be on a bike, flying through sunny streets, navigating off in a new direction. For me, part of the joy of cycling is the sense of adventure that comes with exploring new territory. You don’t just go out in your car exploring new roads and routes – you sit in traffic, at stoplights, and try to get where you’re going as fast as possible.

Sherry is a great cyclist and presents a very cool convert story. She started commuting a few years back and soon became zealous about it – she’s a year-round commuter (yes, through the freezing rain and sleet of winter!), a strong cycling advocate, and a huge fan of all forms of racing (especially cyclocross). In a comment the other day she thanked me for being an inspiration but really, I should be thanking her. She puts her heart and soul (and calves) into cycling with a passion that is truly amazing. (Thanks, Sherry.)

This year she is determined to make the move from commuter and advocate to road cyclist. And by road cyclist I mean she wants to start doing long rides, entering centuries, and generally taking her bike fitness to the next level. I’m looking forward to joining her on this journey and, by the looks of her calves during our Tuesday night excursion, she’s going to be eating my lunch in no time.

Our 20 mile adventure took it out of me as I haven’t been on my bike much these past few months. Nevertheless, I woke at 4:30am the next morning, strapped on running shoes and decided to run to boot camp instead of driving. “It’s only two miles,” I thought, “It will be a good warm up.”

Ok. It was a good warmup. But it was also uphill the whole way, a small detail that I’d neglected to take into account. I left with barely enough time to arrive promptly so I couldn’t even dog it – I had to keep pace. At boot camp we did sprints, and ran 9-10 flights worth of stairs, pausing after each one to do 10 pushups. In the end that’s 90-100 pushups (if you’re counting). I could not feel my arms at the top of the last flight.

We cooled down by walking down the “mountain” and then I fell into a comfortable clip and settled into my 1.5 mile jog to Stumptown. I’d tucked coffee money into my pocket just before leaving the house.

It was one of the best Americanos I have ever consumed. 🙂

I had work that took me to Olympia later that morning and I ended up having to stay through Thursday, which meant boot camp was out of the picture.

I arrived home Thursday afternoon, climbed onto my bike and started riding with a vague idea of my route. The city spread out before me like a soft dream. It was neither too hot nor too cold. The sun was low in the sky but wouldn’t set for a few hours.

On the river pathway I passed a young couple getting their engagement pictures taken. The tall buildings of the city rose up behind the bridge and reflected light off the surface of the water. I picked up a cycling buddy for 3 miles and then she turned left, heading off into a small park. I got lost again and again and again and ended up on a sweet, tree-lined street that curved past mansions and immaculately manicured lawns. I got lost and ended up on fast streets with no bike lanes or shoulders, cars passing me within a few inches of my life.

In the end I was gone for 3 hours. I don’t have a bike computer right now but I was lolly-gagging so it was probably just about 40 miles.

At home I was ravenous and cooked wok-seared broccoli, grilled ahi tuna, and a little bit of whole-wheat pasta for the purpose of fueling the timed mile that I planned to run in the morning. I was worried about how thrashed my legs were from the ride but I figured that they would pony up for 7 minutes of early morning agony.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry about it. The fish was bad which led to me spending the entire night hunched over my toilet, making every possible effort not to die right then and there.

I’ve been asleep for most of the day and just walked to Stumptown for the americano that I should have been drinking at 7am.

The key to hitting the curve ball is get out ahead of it. Quick hands help, and a deep stance will hurt you.

All this to say, keep swinging, even when the pitcher’s got your number. She’ll throw a fatty at you one of these at-bats, I promise.

Oh… and don’t eat bad fish.


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This Workout Will Kick Your Ass.

Yes, I mean you.

I have just returned from San Jose and we’ll suffice it to say that staying with Sal’s parents for 8 days was a test of ye olde’ nutrition plan. I went into damage control mode and focused on portions, not content. What are you going to do when you have this 4 foot tall woman smiling you and speaking to you in Sicilian, telling you how happy she is that you are finally home so she can feed you.

Sometimes you have to live, people. And that’s that.

Despite the challenge (what could be considered a setback) I think I did a pretty decent job of keeping the wreckage to a minimum. I put in four decent workouts which are no match for boot camp but at least kept my “suffering threshold” high.

I thought I’d share my workouts because they’re the kind of thing that you can do almost anywhere. I did one heavy-weight workout and focused on my upper body. I did this mostly because I don’t get to do it very often so I figured I’d take the break from boot camp to enjoy something I’ve had to back off from.

Other than that, I did the following super basic ass-kicker of a workout after consulting with Daniel about how best to simulate boot camp pain on my own.

Choose 4-5 of the following exercises:

  • 20 burpees
  • 20 pushups
  • 20 squats (hands overhead)
  • 1minute plank
  • 20 v-ups
  • 1 minute side plank
  • 2 minute jump rope
  • 1 minute handstand hold against the wall
  • 1 minute gymnastic bridge
  • 20 lunges (with dumbbells if you want to make it harder)
  • 20 thrusters with dumbbells

Now do these 4 or 5 exercises consecutively, which will be one “round”. Do 4-5 rounds with 1 minute rest between each round. No rest between one set of exercises to the next… just between completed rounds.

This is simple stuff, people. This is simple suffering.

It doesn’t sound that hard when you read it written here but when I got into the gym and started in, I was drenched in sweat by the second round. In fact, I’d planned to go 5 rounds but only made it four. A super-ripped workout chick was standing next to me the whole time looking at my like I was a complete and utter dumbass.

I know what she was thinking: “Burpees!?”

Yeah, well, I’ll have you know that I would have traded her workouts in a heartbeat. I wore my HR monitor for these workouts and found that I was well into my upper range (165-170bpm) by the second or third activity in each set which means I was not only building muscle, I was also burning fat.

If you don’t know what some of the things listed above are, just drop me a comment. If I don’t respond fast enough just skip those ones and pick the ones you DO know. Give it a shot. Don’t cheat. No resting in between activities and no longer than one minute between rounds. You want to recover but not completely, keeping your average HR up a bit throughout the workout will maximize your results.

These workouts reminded me of something fundamental and important. Fitness isn’t rocket science. It’s dedication, drive, and pushing yourself. It’s asking yourself to go a little further every time. To fight through the burn and stay with it because you know you can. To do something like this workout, which can be so “in-the-moment-miserable” (and which, frankly, isn’t very sexy as warranted by my stink-eye weight-lifting observer), you must remind yourself again and again why you want it and what it means to you.

Keep it simple. Stay focused. Do burpees. 😉



Filed under boot_camp, health, motivation, training, wellness

Softball is Here. And it’s different this year.

Center field is a wide stretch of green with my name on it. We are two outfielders short so I am playing right, right-center and left-center. My team is full of well-trained place-hitters and I am fielding batting practice. Because I’m the youngest they like to toy with me so just after they send me darting at a full sprint into deep right, they take the next pitch back over to left-center.

Tracey, the left-fielder, is on their side and hardly any help.

I don’t mind.

I don’t mind even as my tongue is hanging out my mouth and my legs are starting to burn. I don’t mind because I suck up everything that is within dreaming distance of my glove. Back and to the right? Got it. Dead sprint to the left? Hits the pocket with a solid thwak and I put the brakes on and line my feet up for the throw.

Sure, I suck at the plate but what’s new? I always suck at the plate on the first outing of a new season. Jerry over-coaches me and gets in my head and it’s all over. I try to relax and just drive a few down the third baseman’s throat. He lets me flail until I find good-wood and send a rope out to short left-field. We always end on a line-drive – that’s the rule.

I don’t need to be a big hitter although every now and then I’ll house an outfielder and send something long. In general, unless you have a top-of-the-line third basemen I can get on base with a quick shot down the line. My strategy is put the ball down and run like a bat out of hell. If I can’t outrun the throw (I often can) the fact that I might outrun the throw is usually enough to fluster a third baseman into launching something off-line that will buy me a free ticket to second base, which is where I prefer to be.

I’ll need to become a better hitter this year but at the end of the day if I get on base I’m happy. I just want to score and get involved in a gnarly tag play every now and then.

I had forgotten what my feet felt like when they were all tied up in cleats. I had forgotten the way my toes tense when they are waiting for the jump and how my leg muscles react when the bat hits the ball and the angle has been determined. My body in a perfect, coordinated reaction – moving according to my subconscious understanding of trajectory, speed, distance, angle and loft.

This is the first softball season that I can remember walking out into the grass and feeling sure about what I was doing there. Self-doubt, in all forms, and in all part of my life, is melting away. For the first time ever I think I actually really know who I am and what I want and, more importantly, how I’m going to get it.

I feel on track. Physically on track, emotionally on track, financially on track, and – finally – professionally on track.

The first softball practice, this year, was not the desperate cry for self-approval that it has been in the past. I did not approach the diamond and wonder if I “still had it” or if I would choke or how many awful ways I might disprove the theory people have that I am talented and worthy.

I walked onto the dirt and embraced the women I have come to know and love as teammates. I warmed up an arm that is strong and well-used and ready. I chased long flies and knew that I would catch them. I hit my cut in the chest again and again and again.

My team is a coach’s dream – stacked with players so talented and good and sweet and tenacious and committed that it’ll bring tears to your eyes. I am surrounded by former all-Americans and national champions and it’s all I can do to hold on tight, open up my mind, and hope that some of all this greatness rubs off on me.

2007 Softball Season, prepare to have your ass kicked.


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Things to Think About at the Gym

I miss boot camp. Yeah, you heard me right. I’m going through withdrawls.

For trips like this when I’m away from home for an extended period of time, and moments when I want to do different kinds of training (heavy lifting) I keep a membership to 24 Hour Fitness handy.

I hate 24 Hour Fitness for only one reason. No bosu. What the hell is wrong with these people? What is their bosu beef? I digress. You don’t need a bosu to get a great workout, but it sure is extra fun to have one around.

Anyway, I find that going to the gym is always the most fantastic kind of sociological experience. Between the meat-heads, the barbie-dolls, the cool old guys wearing slacks and black socks, and the 1,000 year old grannies getting changed for aqua-aerobics, I never cease to be impressed, appalled, amazed, amused and befuddled.

Here’s what struck me today in the form of some things to consider the next time you go to the gym (and your intention is actually to work out and change your body / attain your goals. Of course, anything is better than NOTHING. I’m just saying, most of us are short on time, right? Why not do what you can to get the most out of the time that you have dedicated to your workout. 🙂 ).

  1. If you pick cardio machines that “seem” easy, they probably are. This is not to say that the eliptical glider doesn’t serve a purpose. For those with joint problems it can be a low-impact way to get the old heart-rate up without having to put on a bathing suit and dip yourself in chlorine. But if you’re sort of mindlessly plodding along thinking, “Great! I’m getting my cardio in.” it’s time to take a good look at what you’re really accomplishing. Be present to your workout. Work HARD. Focus. (Here’s a tip: Want results faster? Do intervals, don’t go long and slow. You’ll save time and accomplish more.) What’s the best cardio machine you can pick for an efficient, ass-kicking workout? The stair-climber. Go suffer. Earn it. And, for godsakes, don’t read while you’re doing it. I’m sorry, if you are reading on a cardio machine you are not getting a good workout. It’s better to focus on challenging intervals for 25 minutes then go slow and comfortable for 60 – trust me.
  2. Don’t hold on. If you are on an eliptical machine or a stair-climber or even a treadmill and you are holding on while you work out you are doing yourself a great disservice. Keeping your hands free forces your core to activate for balance, giving you more bang for your workout buck.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask. The last three times that I have been in a gym I have been asked for advice. All three times it was women about my age who were asking for advice on form, or how to target something, or what’s this thing for? I was never brave enough to do this, fearing that the askee would be annoyed at having their workout interrupted. In truth, I’ve been flattered to suddenly be perceived as someone who probably knows what they’re doing and have taken longer than necessary in all three cases to provide extensive, thorough answers. If you’re not sure about your form, or how something works, just ask someone who looks competent, or find a trainer.
  4. Have a plan. Take 5 minutes before you go to the gym to plan out what you’re going to do when you get there. Don’t rest for 5 minutes inbetween activities trying to figure out what you’re going to do next. Be prepared, even if it’s just a simple circuit of 4 or 5 different exercises that you do consecutively, rest for a minute, and then do again. If you write it down beforehand you will avoid that “lollygagging” thing that happens when you’re unsure.  And while I’m on the topic of lollygagging let me address the really-long-rest-interval phenomenon.  As far as I know, unless you are doing HUGE, heavy-weight workouts, there’s no reason you should need to rest longer than a minute.  I see guys in the free-weights area resting for 2-3 minutes before sets – in reality all they’re doing is checking out their “pump” in the mirror.  You’re doing yourself a disservice if you rest for longer than a minute – and time starts immediately – walking to the next machine/bench/mat/location is part of “rest”.
  5. Be sure to warm up and cool down. Don’t just walk in and start going 100%. I see so many people do this and it drives me nuts. It’s a great way to insure injury. And don’t just get on the treadmill and fast-walk for 5 minutes to warm up. You need to do some active stretching, deep-breathing, marching in place (knees high), hip rotations, etc. Warm up the parts that are going to get the most use (if you’re going to use your shoulders a lot, do arm rotations). I often feel silly warming up in 24 Hour Fitness because it definitely doesn’t look “cool” but my body thanks me when I start in with the heavy lifting and intense supersets.

The main point of all this is don’t waste your time! If you’re going to go work out, then go work out. Don’t go read the paper while going through the motions on an eliptical machine. Don’t go spend half your allotted workout time figuring out what to do next. Be focused, have goals, go after it! Earn it! This is your time to shine so for godsakes, BE SHINY!!

And be sure to count the small victories.

Today was the first day at the gym I actually had a guy come up, interrupt my workout (he actually made me pull my headphones out), and complain to me that I was lifting more than he was. I appreciated this because usually when I am pulling more weight I just get the evil eye, not friendly competitive recognition.

Small victories!!


Go be. Go big!

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