Pro Advice

I am a fan of cycling, a sport that not many Americans know much about and even fewer would watch on television. Well I watch any race I can and any show about cycling I find. I also read a website dedicated to racing news. It was on this website that I came across a name that brought back a flood of memories. “Ed Beaman talks of recent successes” read the headline and I immediately clicked. Ed, it turns out, is the Directeur Sportif for the Navigator’s Insurance pro cycling team. I had to know more so it was off to Google which lead me to the team’s website and Ed’s bio.

I really enjoy cycling and have found long distance riding to be my favorite segment of the sport. As a matter of fact I’m training for a 200 mile one day ride this year after many years of hoping to do the ride but not having enough time to train. I often think about the difference a coach would make and wonder what tidbits of advice I’d get if I were able to talk to one of these guys. Seeing Ed’s name on that site brought me back to my first long distance ride.

There was a time, when I first began seriously riding a bike long distances, that hills scared me. I enjoyed ridinig them but wasn’t sure if I could get up and over them in anything resembling a decent time. One, two or three big hills on a training ride was one thing but 75 miles of large hills through northwestern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and southern New York states was something else entirely. 75 miles of large hills two days in a row, now that scared me.

Since this story has its beginning over ten years ago I’m not completely sure about the date. I’m sure I can look it up but research wasn’t part of the bargain when I set out to write this. I believe the events occured in 1991 or 1992. 1992 seems the most likely.

1992, we’ll say, was the year of my first long distance ride, a 150 mile two day tour to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis research. I had spent several years (most probably 1989-1991) on this tour, not as a participant, but as a volunteer, videotaping the event and producing promotional tapes for the MS Society. This was done through my college, as part of my obligations in the student video club. I was studying broadcasting, and television was my chosen concentration so this made sense.

I can not speak of this time, however, withouth mentioning the main reason why the MS Society was our chosen means to gain experience in television production. The professor who taught most of the television courses and advised the video club had MS and what better way to gain experience as well as give back to someone who gave us so much. You see, Proffesor B. became much more than some professor I had in college. He became a mentor and a driving force in my desire to be successful, not only in my chosen career but in life in general. I learned a lot from him in the classroom but I learned so much more out on the bike course whether as a cameraman, producer or rider.

After graduating from that college I wanted to continue supporting this worthy cause as well as my friend. I returned the first year after graduating to assist the students who took over the video club with my production experience. This was 1992 so that must mean that my first year as a rider was 1993. You see how much time I saved by not actually doing any research. Sometimes laziness pays off. I still found the right answer to what year I first took part as a rider without stopping to actually check facts.

Anyway after helping out in 1992 it was time for me to move on and so I decided to continue my support for the MS Society by raising money and riding the event. I had an advantage over some first time riders as I was intimately familiar with the course. While this was certainly an advantage it also scared the hell out of me because I knew just how difficult some of the hills would be.

I had two bikes at the time, an incredibly heavy Huffy 12 speed, the first twelve speed bicycle I’d ever heard of and a bike I got from my brother who no longer wanted it, a steel Nishiki 10 speed that cost him $450 used. This was a racing bike and while there were certainly better bikes out there this was certainly better than the Huffy. Still it was heavy, had regular pedals no toeclips and certainly no clipless. Compared to the bikes I ride now the Nishiki is a dinosaur but it was the best I could do. The bigger problem was that I’d never actually riden a bike for exercise. No, to me a bike was a means of transportation before I was able to drive and, once I had a liscense, when the car wasn’t available (which meant never).

But here I was sometime in 1993 deciding that I would ride 150 miles over two days through the hilliest region in the area. I began training and educating myself about cycling learning such important things as why cyclists wear those funny lycra shorts – and boy did it make a difference!

I trained hard knowing that it was the only way to succeed and I hooked up with a group of riders from the YMCA where I worked so I wouldn’t be alone out there. It turned out to be a great group and that ride began a decade of similar rides for the MS Society.

Since people used the YMCA for exercise there were quite a few avid cyclists from whom to get advice but one man in particular struck me as the most fanatical. I never saw him in a car, it seemed he would ride his bike no matter what the weather. I remember commenting to him that he must put more miles on his bike than I do on my car.

“I don’t know about your mileage but I can tell you I certainly put more miles on my bike than I do on my car.”

Friends suggested he would be a good source of information on how best to handle the hills and so I asked him. “When you’re approaching the hill,” he said “don’t fear it. Don’t anticipate the hard work let it come to you.” But the best advice was yet to come. “As you see the hill in the distance start taking long deep breaths. Regulate your breathing and concentrate on that.”

The day of the ride came quickly and the first hill of the day was only a mile or two down the road. As the hills went, this first one was nothing much but here was my opportunity to try out the advice. I began breathing slowly and deliberately, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. As I began the climb I downshifted one gear then another. It was getting hard but I was more concerned with my breathing than what gear I was in or how fast (or slow) I was going. As I downshifted again I began to think I might not make it. “I must be going so slow,” I thought.

As I crested the hill I looked back to ask a friend what he thought but no one was there. I looked further back and there they were still struggling up the hill. As they caught up they asked “How’d you do that? You never got out of your seat. You just kept going like it was flat.” I was shocked.

The rest of the hills went the same way and at lunch and later after the first day as my friends introduced me to their friends I was introduced as “Rich he’s strong on hills.” As the weekend progressed we joked that if I were native American my name would be “Rich Strong on Hills.”

When I returned to work at the Y I was eager to see my “coach.” When he came in I had to thank him. “Hey Ed your advice worked like a charm.” Ed Beaman, the man I Googled after seeing his name on cyclingnews.com, gave me some great advice many years ago. I no longer have to wonder what kind of information I’d get from a pro team coach. In response to my gratitude Ed mentioned that we should ride together some time and see how that advice was working out. I regret I didn’t take him up on that (although I’m sure my legs and lungs don’t share that sentiment).

I love riding hills and look forward to challenging myself on every ride. It was Ed Beaman’s advice that gave me my love of hills and as I read his bio on the team website I thought about how funny life is. You never know how your actions are going to influence others, you don’t know how much you touch someone’s life. Ed and I weren’t friends and we didn’t know more than the most superficial things about eachother and yet here I am wasting ink about some guy I knew in passing 12 years ago.

Thanks Ed.