Winter Weight, Treadmills & Trainers Oh My!

It’s been a brutal winter for outside bike riding. Between back-to-back snow, ice storms, power outages, and a vicious melt-freeze cycle there just hasn’t been an opportunity to safely ride outside. Many of the cyclists I know hang up the bike in late fall and don’t start again until spring is fully underway. Some cyclists I know suck it up and put their bikes on a trainer or pull out the rollers and spend their time pedaling quickly to nowhere to retain some semblance of fitness. I’ve avoided the trainer as long as possible, finally breaking down only last week.

After a spotty record of physical activity in January, I decided to start training for my 5-mile run coming up in April. Get some base miles at my work’s gym on the treadmill until it’s light enough after work to be outside. If there’s anything more boring than being on a trainer, it’s a treadmill. The first run was brutal. It hurt. I was lethargic and I went too fast too soon and while I don’t do “serious” distance I stay focused on just being active. Sure enough the next few runs felt better. I’ve been able to stick to running about 6-7 miles per week this month.

Certainly I am eager to get back into regular riding to shed a few winter pounds that somehow magically find their way to my pear-shaped body when the riding decreases and the eating stays the same. I’d like to tell you, friends, that cycling has given me perspective. That I have found the holy grail of self-acceptance and am completely comfortable in my skin every single day. The truth is I have and I haven’t.

When I bought the Beast and was first beginning to ride, I wore a skort and famously told my more serious cycling friends that I didn’t need anyone looking at my ass-ets. That I wasn’t going to be a “serious” rider anyway. Ten mile rides with stops to drink became fifteen mile rides and being able to reach for my water bottle and drink comfortably. Thirty-five milers became my long rides and with it a new pair or shorts (still rockin’ the unders though). First event, a 50-miler with my best friend – rockin’ the shorts. Somewhere around this time I stopped caring what my hips looked like in Spandex. I bought new jerseys that looked awesome. I started to love riding and took any excuse to hop on my bike and pedal off for a few hours. It took much longer to lose the unders and I’m so thankful I did.

The best thing about riding is definitely the company kept but also often times the food. Fuel the ride well – no need to go crazy overboard. I’ve learned how to use real food (trail mix, dried fruit and nuts) in addition to my favorite energy bars, beans, and goos. But come the end of the season or a long drought of good weather and one can find themselves staring down a few pounds that happened “even though you are eating the same!” Yeah – I’m right there with you. Getting back on track with healthy eating and adequate exercise. (Although the time off was very nice for getting house work done and spending time with the family)

 

This past weekend was so gorgeous – I got a 4 mile run outside on Saturday (snow-melt puddle stomping and the scent of fallen pine branches thawing in the sun) and a 45 mile bike ride on Sunday with friends to find lunch. The sun was shining, the temps were mid-forties to low-fifties. It felt scandalous to be out riding and running with mounds of snow still blocking traffic corners. It felt so good to be outside! This week is a big dive in temperatures and a few snow showers expected. Looking forward to another week of the treadmill and trainer so when spring fully arrives, I can hit the road running. (haha)

 

Making plans for all the rides we want to do this summer: restarting mountain bike rides with the club, Quad County, Ride for Homes, heading down the Shore, The Lemon Ride, Philly to Brooklyn, lunch in St Peter’s Village … it’s going to be a great summer!

See you on the road! 

188 & Goal

I’ve been eyeing my trainer warily lately. I’ve been so lucky to not have to hook up my bike to it thus far. My first wish has been to be able to ride outside all year.

But then my other wish came true, and that is for snow. It started last Sunday when I was out mountain biking with my friend Heather. We emerged from the woods into a high meadow and the flakes started to fall. By the time we got to the bottom of a fairly technical descent (rocks and roots and ruts oh my!) it was starting to stick to our tire treads. Powered up another big hill, then back down to the creek.

snoooooooow on the water!
snoooooooow on the water!

 

Now the snow is sticking to everything – so we decide to stick to the main path. Soon the snow is a few inches deep and the men passing us in the other direction are jovially calling us crazy. Winter Storm Warning issued. We decided to head back the five miles to the car. At one point, we had a runner pacing with us at 10 mph in several inches of snow for about a mile, mile and a half. We laughed and joked and had a blast, the snow stinging our cheeks and our breath fogging our glasses.

 

bundled up and ridiculously happy to be biking in the woods
bundled up and ridiculously happy to be biking in the woods

 

A few inches of snow on Sunday.

A few more on Tuesday.

A dusting last night and potential for accumulation on Saturday.

 

I’m so happy about the snow.

I’m so sad to think I’m 188 miles from my goal of 3,000 miles for the year and the weather may be forcing me indoors.

 

I told myself I wouldn’t get into a place where I would stress out about meeting my goal miles for the year. Because every time I’m out on my bike I’m not getting chores done or making cookies with my kids or relaxing with my husband. But here I am – roughly three metric rides away from goal. And I’m stressing.

 

The world won’t end if I hook up my bike to the trainer. I was just hoping I wouldn’t have to.

 

See you on the road, in the woods … or through the window as I pedal to nowhere.

Singletrack Obsession

Friends, I am going through some serious mountain biking withdrawal.

 

It’s bad.

(Not quite this bad but still pretty bad)

You may recall my continued allegiance to Felt Bicycles and when I saw the Felt Nine Sport 29er, one of the Best Buys for Under $1000, for a very reasonable non-stolen sum in my size I jumped. A few weeks later I took him down to my friend Heather’s house and we pedaled over to the local park to get some easier/beginner singletrack under my belt.

Michaelangelo
Michaelangelo

(This bike is a dude’s bike and the orange made me think of Michaelangelo, the Ninja Turtle. So for now, the bike has been dubbed Michaelangelo)

 

Whoomp. Whoomp. Whoomp.

I rode on the flat pedals with trail running shoes, which were stable but slightly off-center. We rode around the twisty wooded trail, just two girls out on their bikes. It was awesome. I was able to roll over some obstacles I wasn’t sure I could. We rolled over a small bridge, through a stream, and up and down the hillside. Sunlight was fading so we headed back.

trail companion
trail companion
yup, we're going up!
yup, we’re going up!

 

Whoomp. Whoomp. Whoomp.

Is there anything more satisfyingly hilarious than mountain bike wheels on the road?

 

Anyway, the next weekend we hit the trails again. This time I opted for some commuter boots, thinking because I didn’t have cleats on them they would bee better on the platforms. Wrong. My feet slid all over (and off) the pedals as I navigated the rocky, rooty terrain. I even walked down a hill because I could not be certain I wouldn’t crash when my feet wouldn’t stay on the pedals. We didn’t stay out as long and despite the poor shoe choice on my part, I had fun.

Having fun on the trail
Having fun on the trail

It’s time to throw on the clipless pedals and cleats. Who ever would have thought I would feel better being attached to my bike?

So Heather lent me her Egg Beaters. I can’t wait to try them.

 

This past week I was off work on Friday and my friend Heather also happened to be available so we made plans to ride mid-morning. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans, ones that included vicious wind, torrential rain, and generally unpleasant weather. We decided against muddy trail riding (protect the trails folks!) even though the weather eventually cleared and warmed up to a beautiful day.

 

What is it about mountain biking? There’s something most excellent about getting away from the roads, the people, cars and responsibilities and experiencing nature, quiet, and peacefulness. The crunch of leaves under your tire. The bushes brushing against your legs. Noodling through twisty trails between trees, over fallen logs, and staying upright through a shifty rocky rooty area.

 

In a fast-paced world, we all need a place to get away from it all. For me it’s on my bike – and even more so on my bike, in the woods.

 

See you on the road (or trails)!

 

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)!

 

My Colorado Vacation

As promised, the rest of my vacation cycling!

 

After Elephant Rock and a nice hot shower, my mom was still sad that she wasn’t able to ride the event this year due to health issues stemming from last summer. My mom has been a life-long bicycle rider and uses it to stay fit as she gets older. So I saddled up on my (much taller) baby sister’s mountain bike and told my mom we could go out on the trail by her house.

It wasn’t the longest ride or the fastest ride I’ve ever done – but it was nice to get out with my mom and dad on bikes and see the route they use to gauge their fitness. While it’s sad to see how far my mom’s fitness has fallen, it’s incredibly encouraging to see her on her bike, getting stronger each ride. And my dad has never been a fitness guy but he likes riding his bike with my mom too.

mom and dad
mom and dad

 

The next morning I loaded up my sister’s mountain bike (with her permission of course) and headed up to Pike National Forest to do some light mountain biking with my friend James and my friend Andrea. We rode a washboard-riddled dirt and gravel road from the trailhead to the paved part of the road and back before we noticed a short stretch of relatively flat singletrack on the other side of the river. So we did what any self-respecting cyclists would do and rode it to explore.

 

flat singletrack. the trail heads up from here.
flat singletrack. That’s me in the white jersey. 

 

My friends and I enjoying the beautiful day on bikes
My friends enjoying the beautiful day on bikes

 

After our ride, we adjourned to Andrea’s house for tall glasses of chocolate milk on her deck overlooking nothing before heading back to the city.

nothing sure is pretty
nothing sure is pretty

 

I also tried a new chamois cream – Hoo Ha Ride Glide. The cream was silky smooth and had a distinct cooling sensation that was … interesting. I usually use Chamois Butt’r which doesn’t have a tingle to tell me it’s working – but it wasn’t unpleasant. Unfortunately the cooling sensation was gone by the end of our relatively short ride (less than 10 miles) so I wonder about its effectiveness on long rides. The upside is that it smelled nice. This is huge, as I generally feel that chamois cream smells medicinal and meh. But Hoo Ha smelled amazing. So more to come on this as I go get a tube (instead of the take-it-with-you trial size I purchased).

 

What else? I spent so much time with my friends and family. It was awesome. When I got home I told my husband I was planning to go back next year and he smirked, asking when he gets a kid-free vacation. I told him when he actually goes somewhere instead of just staying home. 🙂

 

me! can you tell I'm happy?
me!

 

See you on the road!

The Road Less Traveled

… or, there are too many others out on the damn trail.

Today I attended my first mountain biking skills clinic, run by our excellent friends at Cadence Cycles in the Manayunk section of the city. I was pretty nervous – being from Colorado means everyone thinks I mountain bike/ski/snowboard/trail run/uber-outdoor-athlete stuff … but the reality is, I took all that open space and facilities for granted. I only started riding my bike for fun (not just transportation) in May of 2011. So yeah – I have never mountain biked before. And I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself and fall – either in general or off the side of the trail.

Falling is fine – just not in front of 30 other people.

So my commuter friend and I rode in the 10 miles to the bike shop. We arrived a little early because we needed our clipless pedals transferred to the demo bikes and seats adjusted. I was able to demo the Fuji Belle, a full suspension bike. Not sure why I had a full when others had hardtails, but it was nice!  Note to self: try not to wreck the $2000 bike. There were many others who signed up – some cyclocross racers, some road racers, some newbies like me, and everything in between. Fortunately my skills were in the middle of the newbie range.

We rode about a half-mile or so to get to the trails, using this time to get used to the thumb shifters. Didn’t take long to get the hang of it but once we were out on the trails, I kept to the lower end of the gearing. Made it so much easier to get up the hills.

The first hour was spent just going up and down a hill with lots of roots, rocks, and turns. It was sharper but really honed in on the skills you need to successfully get up the tiny steep portions of a climb, over small obstacles, and getting back downhill.

The second hour was a short trail ride – this is why people love mountain biking! Being in the woods, pedaling and feeling like you are floating over the debris, finding your line and the thrill of successful execution. The leafy single track was just fun. I am not even sure I can adequately describe how exhilarating it is to crank up a steep, rocky incline – unsure you will make it over the top – and then trust your bike as you rip down the other side, rocks and roots and debris be damned.

Skills taught to more experienced riders included log-overs, stairs, and getting enough momentum on a short, steep downhill to get up the next hill. Maybe another time when I feel more confident and ready to take my off-road riding to the next level. Today was about trying it out.

Instead of riding out for lunch with my commuter friend to discuss our new-found skills, my husband picked me up and whisked us to our daughter’s swim lessons. Tomorrow we will get a lunch ride in.

All in all – excellent experience. I don’t have plans to go buy a mountain bike right this minute or anything – but I would like to include it in my goals next year. To get off the road a little more and into the woods. To feel more confident on the trails. To have MORE FUN on my bike.

Singletrack in the Wissahickon Valley
That is *not* me on the awesome single track in the Wissahickon Valley

See you on the road!

 

Cycle Bucks County Recap

When is a 25 mile ride an absolute joy?

When you ride at an average of 10 mph on your hybrid with your kid.

 

Yesterday my oldest son and I drove an hour northeast to participate in Cycle Bucks County, a non competitive, organized fund raising bike ride presented for the benefit of Doylestown Hospital and Girls On The Run. Because my oldest rides a mountain bike, I chose to ride my hybrid to better match his speed and exertion level. I pre-mapped the 25 mile route (based on the previous year) and noticed the first 15 miles looked like rolling hills with a nasty hill right before the rest stop. The last 10 miles were flat along the Delaware River as it divides Pennsylvania from New Jersey.

Turns out I was slightly off. Check out the final route over at MapMyRide. There were four big hills that many participants were walking. Some were lamenting their compact cranks and other extolling the virtues of their triples. This hill in particular just kept going UP … but this was the one that had a few people just turn in their numbers and head home.

My son and I were the only ones we saw on non-road bikes, which really makes me that much prouder that we finished with a ride time of 2 hours and 40 minutes (about 3 hours total time including rest breaks). He’s becoming a solid cyclist (didn’t train for this ride – just did it and ended up tired but happy with the ride overall) and I think it’s time to change out his equipment for a road bike now that his mountain bike doesn’t fit him anymore (he’s now 5’10” and growing). I have been training and the ride was an enjoyable saunter through the countryside with my kid.

We also saw a tiny fox towards the end of the ride – he was so timid and apprehensive. We stopped and allowed him to run by us at a wide berth.

Overall, a great ride with great company.

See you on the road!