Goodbye 2013 – Hello 2014!

I had plans to go riding today but woke up with significant congestion and a sinus headache so I opted to stay home and rest today in hopes that tomorrow’s ride plans will still be on. I’ve spent the morning sipping warm beverages and reading many recaps of this year’s achievements. Truly I am blessed to be surrounded by so many awesome people, even if it is “just” on the internet.

(Although to be totally honest, my brain keeps thinking of ways I can still get out on my bike today. But I’m forcing myself to stay home. Better to rest today and ride tomorrow than suffer today and be worse tomorrow.)

A Look Back at the goals I set for this year – here’s how I fared:

  • 3,004.4 miles achieved!
  • Bike commuting gained traction this year.
  • Metric century in Colorado achieved with my marathon-running sister!
  • Completed four centuries (February, August, two in September-SSC and MS150)
  • Completed 150mi ride in one day (June)
  • Acquired a mountain bike and have been out several times – love it
  • Ran 58.1 miles (!!)
  • Walked 225 miles

Some goals just didn’t make the final tally, like biking to Brooklyn for dinner or both days of the MS 150, due to Life. Schedules changed, my dog died – it just didn’t work out. I feel like my GI issues took center stage from May through September, which inhibited some of my intended riding for sure. Of course, all but one test came back totally normal so who knows what’s going on there.

Recently I was at a 10,000 mile celebration for a friend and everyone around the room said where their total mileage was expected to end up. Everyone but myself and one other woman was 5,000 miles or more, with many hovering around 9,000 miles. I constantly have to remind myself that I’m not doing too bad for a recreational cyclist with three kids still at home, a full-time job, a Girl Scout troop to lead, and serving on the board for the local bike club. My 3,000 miles seems paltry and there’s always something more I wish I could be doing.

Or as my friend says about my thoughts: “How can I be more awesome than I already am.”

(which is a really good point)

So for 2014, I’m setting no mileage goal. No event schedule. The only thing I’d like to do more of is ride my bike for fun. As if I ever ride my bike for any other reason.

  • Start bike commuting again once Daylight Savings Time comes back. Twice a week minimum.
  • Try bike touring. Maybe pack up for an overnight camping somewhere, just to get a taste. Plan a bike trip with my mom. Currently looking at Erie Canal or GAP/C&O.
  • Try some new cycling events or revisit the ones I skipped this year.
  • Ride with my kids more. Teach my middle child how to mountain bike. Take my oldest child on longer road rides. Find ways to make riding more enjoyable for my youngest child.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2014! See you on the road!

The Power of Spinning

Since the first time I started bike commuting, I have desired to hold the Strava QOM on a particular three-successive-hills segment near my neighborhood. Not quite a mile, the road pitches steeply under the freeway, levels out with a small downhill while passing the cemetery, and then pitches up to a stop sign before a very short leveling and final slog to the top.

(The segment linked is a little over half a mile but skips the first 2/10ths of a mile from the stoplight – the full road is here)

Last winter my commuting friend and I were out on a fun ride and decided to try to QOM it. I was doing lots of Big Ring riding whenever I wanted to go fast – so I pushed as hard as I could, him leading the way pulling me up the hill. I achieved the QOM at a whopping 13.9 mph average. It felt awesome.

Anytime I tried to get that last tenth-of-a-mile-per-hour, I fell short. 13mph. 13.5mph. 11mph. Every time the segment would kick my butt. I’d stay in the highest gears I could until I couldn’t hang any longer.

 

Forward to this summer. After the supremely hilly Lake Nockamixon Century and a conversation about spinning versus mashing high gears, I decided to try spinning more seriously. The Little Ring Challenge, I deemed it. And I started staying in my small ring as much as possible for entire rides.

 

Spinning feels weird if you aren’t used to it. I had a fairly high cadence (75-80) naturally but most cycling publications will mention a “90-100 rpm” threshold for spinning. Spending time furiously pedaling can feel counter-intuitive at first. But then the body adapts and spinning feels natural. You’re able to hold higher speeds in smaller gears for longer. And hills (or distance) start to not wear out your legs so much. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

Anyway, I’ve been sticking to my Little Ring Challenge through the Scenic Schuylkill and City to Shore centuries. My overall speed improved and I wasn’t completely dead by the end of the ride. Maybe there’s something to all this.

So the other day I decided to meet my commuter friend downtown for a road ride before we headed back to our neighborhoods. I spun up the familiar Three Hills, thinking they felt great but I probably wasn’t going to best my previous best. We met up, stayed on the west side of the river (and the steep hills that come up from the riverbed) before heading homeward. A little over 40 miles with a little over 3000′ of gain. Sure – just a Saturday Spin.

Turns out I did best my previous PR … I’m now the QOM at 15.1 mph average up those hills.

 

Spinning works my friends. Give it a go sometime.

 

* * * * *

The last few weekends I’ve been going out with my friend on mountain bike rides. We’re heading to gentler trails near her neighborhood and I’m having entirely too much fun. Having to choose Mountain or Road is so tough. I’m loving the quiet of the woods and the varied terrain – some of the singletrack is smooth and/or flat but others are rocky, rooty, or slick with gravel, leaves or mud (but the creek crossing). I’m loving my 29er. There’s a blog post in my brain about off-road cycling that will probably get written soon.

 

See you on the road (or in the woods)!

 

Scenic Schuylkill, City to Shore, and Me

Friends, if you are ever in the Philadelphia area the second weekend in September, I highly encourage you to sign up for Philly Bike Club’s Scenic Schuylkill Century. This year was my second year riding and I hope to keep going as long as I have friends to help the miles pass.

discussing the day ahead (I'm in the foreground)
discussing the day ahead (I’m in the foreground) / photo by the guy at 2WheelsAndSomeNuts

 

The Scenic Schuylkill is an incredibly well-supported ride that showcases the beauty of the area just outside Philly. Starting at the iconic Boathouse Row and winding north into the hills of Manayunk to Cedar Grove then on to Evansburg State Park. The view of Philly from Potshop Rd is unmatched – the city so far away it’s ethereal. From Evansburg you can choose to head back to the city (and complete a metric) or head northwest to Schwenksville. Do not be discouraged by the 6,000+ feet of elevation gain – there are very few monster hills. The hills are really after the second rest stop in Evansburg State Park and are more rolling-hills than Super-Steep-Why-Am-I-Doing-This.

omg my back hurts from all that climbing!
omg my back hurts from all that climbing! / photo by the guy at 2WheelsAndSomeNuts

 

Which, if you like sudden steep and long climbs, go ride the Suburban Cyclists Unlimited’s Quad County with ICU Option and Lake Nockamixon Century, both of which will punish your legs and lungs (and lower back). Or move to Colorado. I’m sure my Colorado friends are laughing at me right now …

Another rest stop at Camp Hope then more climbing before you see more downhills than uphills. Do not be fooled though – there are still some hills on the way back into the city. But nothing compares to bombing down Main Street in Manayunk on the way back to pizza and liquid refreshment.

great shot of the countryside's beauty and rolling hills
great shot of the countryside’s beauty and rolling hills / photo by the guy at 2WheelsAndSomeNuts

Improved my time this year as well – 102 miles in 7:40 last year; 103 miles in 7:20 this year. And yes, I made it back to the start in time to get a few plain slices and two full-sugar sodas. No, I didn’t feel bad about that.

 

Three weeks and not enough riding later, I set off on another century, the annual Bike MS: City to Shore ride from Cherry Hill, NJ to Ocean City, NJ. This is most people’s Big Ride of the year and they train all summer for it. As a year-round cyclist who tries to keep her base miles around 50, this is probably the easiest century in the area. It’s mostly flat – only about 1900′ of elevation gain and probably only because of the two bridges at the end of the ride to get over the harbour to the Shore. It is incredibly well-supported – the century alone has about seven opportunities to take a break.

My neighbor and bike commuting friend and I carpooled to the start again. This time instead of sitting in off-ramp traffic, we opted to go one more exit further and parked within minutes. Unfortunately this also meant not getting to the festivities at the main start but we were only a quarter of a mile up the (not very well maintained) road. We hit the road around 6:15am – before the sun came up. Totally didn’t think it though so I borrowed my friend’s long-sleeve lightweight shirt to stay warm until we got past the first rest stop.

I also opted for my new lightweight thermal three-quarter tights from Twin Six. Picked them up at an incredible deal during a sale and they are supremely comfortable. Perfect for the chilly autumnal mornings when you need a little more now that won’t overheat you later.

We ended up skipping the second rest stop option (“Lunch Stop Ahead!” “wait – it’s only 8:30am … too early!”) and also the century loop rest stop, averaging about 25 miles between rest stops. We took only 15 minutes at each stop – enough time to use the port-o-let, refill water, shove some food in our faces and hit the road again.

I should note two things here:

1. I was having stomach issues again leading up to this ride and sure enough there was about a 25-30 mile portion in the middle of the day where I struggled to keep it together. I felt really bad for my friend because I had to dial down my speed a bit because I was hardly eating and didn’t want to bonk from over-exertion/under-nutrition. And I wasn’t talking at all because I felt incredibly nauseous. I eventually got back on the level, picked up the speed, and finished strong.

2. I have decided to improve my spinning and stayed in the little ring all day. Averaging 17+ mph on significantly more miles than not was incredibly gratifying and my legs still felt relatively fresh at the end of the ride. I’m hoping this winter will continue to be fairly mild (let’s be honest, I miss big snows) so I can continue to work on increasing my cadence enough to switch to the big ring and spin the hell out of a bigger gear.

The weather was perfect for the ride. My favorite moment was between the two bridges when you are on a little two-lane road right up against the beach, the ocean waves crashing and rolling up the sand. SO PERFECT. I was so sad that I wasn’t going to be spending one last weekend Down The Shore.

 

But the reason I wasn’t staying down the Shore was because I had an appointment to get some new ink. I was supposed to get it last year but it didn’t work out. This year I made it happen.

my new ink
my new ink

My tattoo artist is the best in the biz and she was guest spotting at a shop on Long Island, a few hours from Philly. The piece is Cycles Perfecta by Alphonse Mucha (1902 bicycle company advertisement) that perfectly captures the essence of a girl and her bicycle.  Four hours of line work with minimal breaks (like 10 min each hour). Next time I see her it will be to get this colored in.

In health news, I had an endoscopy this past week and they biopsied some tissue for testing. Hoping to know more next week – praying for a relatively easy fix. I’m tired of feeling terrible all the time. My diet is severely limited some days. I lost five pounds in a few weeks due to dwindling appetite. Funny how fasting the day of the procedure was NBD because not eating keeps me feeling relatively normal. Totally unsustainable, I know. That’s why I’m getting help.

 

This weekend is expected to be gorgeous but I’m going to take a quick break from my bike. Even though I really want to go mountain biking.

 

1. Tattoo needs to stay out of the sun. It’s going to be too warm for long-sleeves and it’s not ready to put sun sleeves on (elastic at the top).

2. Health. I need to take care of myself until I hear back from my GI doc. I can tell you 100% I did not eat enough on my City to Shore century – less than I did for the Scenic Schuylkill (and that wasn’t much). And I still need to get back into running – my 5k is in about a month. And it’s been that long since my last attempt at running.

 

So maybe not this weekend, but I’ll see you on the road or the trail soon.

 

Catch Up

When we last left off, dear reader, I had just put my dog down and was helping my kids work through their grief. Since then much has happened, which is what happens when autumn rolls around. The cycling is exquisite, everyone is back to school routines, and life starts to slow down for winter.

 

  • I took the week of Sept 2 ff work. Between Labor Day and the High Holidays and my in-laws coming to visit, it didn’t make sense to shoehorn work in as well. Add in our dog dying and it was a much needed week off of responsibility.
  • I rode my bike a lot that week. It’s really cathartic. Long rides with the bike club; short rides for lunch with my son; medium rides with my step-father-in-law. It was so nice to simply wake up, throw my leg over the top tube and pedal out of town without any worry.
  • I ran a five-miler back in August and promptly hurt my foot. My chiropractor has been adjusting it and I thought I was in a good place, but a 5k proved me otherwise. Back off running for another two weeks … then I can try again. Lots of rolling with a tennis ball to keep things loose and not “crunchy.” PS – having your foot adjusted feels WEIRD.
  • I completed the Scenic Schuylkill Century for the second consecutive year. 103 miles with over 6800′ of climbing. I felt like a mountain goat charging up those final hills. This ride deserves a recap post.
  • I took Electric Dream Machine to the shop for a tune-up (chunky shifting) and ended up getting her new bar tape and a new chain as well. 2500 miles and only 50% worn on of the original chain feels pretty awesome. I feel like a Spin Master.
  • I also found a saddle that doesn’t hurt my butt after 100 miles. It’s an old school Terry Butterfly Ti I found on eBay for $36. You have no idea how relieving this is.
  • I made a lot of cookies. Chocolate crinklesMolasses. They are all gone now.
  • I bought the last few items I need to make my first attempt at blueberry jam.
  • We selected a hand-made custom urn for Nixon, painted to match her exact coloring. We’re expecting it sometime next week. Until then her ashes are just hanging out in the kitchen and it feels kinda weird. Last night I missed her snuggling up to my feet when I went to bed. Not cry-my-eyes-out missed her … just missed the reassuring weight on her curled up at the bottom of the bed.

 

That week reminded me how much I love unrestricted time. Time to explore, time to play, time to simply be. Far too often I get wrapped up in my everyday life of work, the kids’ school stuff, and housework. Never mind the annual house maintenance that needs to happen like yard work, cleaning out the garage, fixing the downspout that disconnected last October during Hurricane Sandy (*cough cough*).

If I could find a way to still get a paycheck and ride my bike for fun all day, I’d be all over that.

Anyway – I’m still around. I haven’t been riding as much as I want these past two weeks. I haven’t even been bike commuting! And I kinda miss running (but that’s between you and me). I have my BikeMS: City to Shore ride coming up next weekend so I need to get out an ride at least a little bit to keep the legs fresh. Then I’m looking to October to squeeze in some fun weekend rides … maybe do the Central Bucks Covered Bridge Tour again.

 

See you on the road!

 

 

2013 Goals

Friends, as we start to wind down the year I am increasingly more aware that I want to set some goals for next year. I am currently about 175 miles short of 2000 miles this year, which is over triple my total mileage last year. Today’s brunch ride was cancelled due to rain, wet roads and patchy fog … so now I have to find new and innovative ways to complete my goal!

 

I’ve also started looking at events for next year. Here’s my preliminary goals for 2013, in no particular order:

 

Other events I’m planning to register for – many repeats of this year:

  • Bike NYC – Five Borough Tour (lottery system) – May 5
  • Elephant Rock Ride – June 2
  • Cycle Bucks County – late June
  • The Lemon Ride – late July
  • Scenic Schuylkill Century – early September
  • BikeMS: City to Shore Two Day experience w/century option – late September
  • Covered Bridge Tour of Bucks County – early October

 

Still looking for an event/ride in August. This is all in addition to of the BCP club rides and weekend brunch rides that I’m hoping to work in as well.

I’d love to hear your goals for 2013!

 

See you on the road!

 

Dropped

This weekend I was dropped for the first time on a group ride.

Blame my overly-cautious sandbagging (not on purpose), but I’m usually one of the stronger riders on a given ride. I feel most comfortable riding sweep only because I like to keep the group in front of me so I know where to go. I’m about fifty-fifty on hills – sometimes I gear down low enough to stay behind the person in front of me, other times I attack. Depends on my mood that day or how slow I need to go to stay at the back of the group. The goal being to not be the person everyone groans about because they picked a ride too far outside their abilities.

Bouyed by my successful first time of bike commuting on Heavy Bike, I got up super early on Sunday to ride to the start of a training ride for the team I’m riding with for the Bike MS: City to Shore event in late September. It’s only 15 miles and riding on Electric Dream Machine, it only took an hour to get to the ride start. Simulating the ride profile, the training ride was on the Schuylkil Trail from Center City to Valley Forge and back – a false flat with a few hills in Manayunk.

The training ride split into two groups – Fast (15+ mph) and Slower (12-15mph). I decided to stick with the Slower group – more people to chat with and didn’t want to obliterate myself before heading to brunch with some girl friends. Ultimately I’m glad I did – definitely ended up on the higher end of the average spectrum without killing myself.

About 5mi from Valley Forge, we saw the Fast group coming back and decided to take a communal break. Most of the Slower group planned to continue on, one of the Fast group decided to ride to VF again with his wife, and two of us from Slower group decided to head back (we were running about 20min behind schedule). So I’m now in a group of four: Three fast guys and me.

Even though I was maintaining a rolling speed of 19-21mph, which is fast for me, I was slowing getting dropped. I watched the three guys become much smaller on the trail ahead. In this moment, you have a choice: give chase or solider on where your abilities are. I chose the latter. I wasn’t upset or angry or even frustrated – this is the reality of life. Someone will always be better and faster than you. It’s OK.

My bike commuter friend happened to also be out riding (different route). He rode up behind me and we chatted for a few minutes before he turned around to continue his ride. It boosted my flagging spirit.

At some point the guys realized I wasn’t with them and stopped at an underpass. One rode back to find me and I wasn’t TOO far behind so he encouraged me to just keep going. As I rode by the resting guys, I yelled “Drop me like a bad habit, eh?” with a big smile and the chase was on! They finally caught up to me and we rode together as a group. After a short rest break, we hit the trail again. We were doing fine until the same Super Fast guy took his turn at the front. The guy behind me said “Time to pick up the tempo” and once again, I was left behind.

I didn’t mind, really. It’s my own issue if I can’t keep up, not theirs! And on this ride, we were on the path – there really wasn’t a way for me to get lost. It was just this one guy – his turn at the front meant rolling 21+ and I’m just not there yet even in the Big Ring. To his credit, when he came off the front this time he noticed I wasn’t in the pack, slowed a bit, and let me draft him for a few miles while the other two Fast Guys rolled slightly ahead of us.

The rest of the ride was good – I was able to keep up with the group as we rolled back into the city … until the Super Fast Guy caught someone’s tail and zoomed off. I tried to chase this time, but after 50mi of riding near the top of my abilities my legs were gstarting to feel hosed. The two other guys were behind me and eventually caught up and the three of us rolled back to the start together. Great ride.

Post-ride Brunch was fantastic. My legs were definitely less enthused on hills going home, which is all uphill. Ended up riding 72mi and averaging 14.7mph over just shy of 2000′ of elevation gain. Pretty respectable.

Social Endurance

A few days ago I received the Headquarters Newsletter from one of my parent companies, requesting cyclists join the company team for the local BikeMS: City to Shore ride in late September. There are a couple route options, all mostly flat to gently rolling terrain – 25, 45, 75, or 100. There’s also an option to ride back the next day – Shore to City – for 75 or 100 miles.

And I’m thinking – this is awesome! It’s two weeks after I hopefully complete my first century – I could easily do the 75mi route! This will be so much fun! And what if I get my husband and kids to meet me at the finish line – then we could spend an evening at the boardwalk, spend the night in a hotel, have a late brunch and then head back to Philly. Perfect! What a great weekend this would be!

And then I thought some more: on a long ride like this, I’d really like to have someone to ride with, someone to chat the miles away. Someone to hang out with at the rest stops, talk about life, the universe, and everything.

Except outside of the bicycle club I belong to, I don’t know anyone who enjoys long bike rides. And by long, I mean over 15 miles. I’m asking around, but so far no one is a taker.

We all find our cycling niche – short and speedy, slow and steady, marathons or sprints. And I know I should be open to meeting new people and just enjoying the day with other cyclists. But I also know I’m a social person and very much prefer the company of others. Talking to myself in my head for too long is never a good thing.

So I haven’t made up my mind about registering – I’m also wary of asking everyone for donations again, as there is a $300 minimum fundraising requirement. It’s a great cause – but I’m aware that I need to pick and choose my causes, not just ask for donations for every ride I feel like doing.

Until I figure this out, I’ll see you on the road.