Infographic!

my miles to date this year. like WHOA.
my miles to date this year. like WHOA.

 

Something I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I am a data nerd. I love quantifying how awesome (or terrible) something is. I have a job that involves analyzing data every day (although not to the extent of a researcher – that’s crazy data). So it should be no surprise that I use Strava to quantify my everyday cycling as well as my weekend jaunts. I want to know if I really was as fast as I felt this morning or if I was really a slow-poke. How does this compare to other times I’ve ridden this route?

And I can get competitive too … but mostly I just like putting data around my fitness.

 

Remember that century I rode in late February? Yeah. I’d only been out five times prior this year. Granted I kept my base miles up all winter by riding as often as possible on weekends – but I’m still impressed with this feat.

March was a tough month to ride – I was on vacation for two consecutive weekends – but clearly I got out more than January and February combined (# of rides, not total distance).

April has been an explosion of bicycle happiness – over double my miles month-over-month. I’ll hit one thousand miles in seven more bike commutes. Seven! My cycling-for-transportation miles have exceeded my cycling-for-sport miles fairly consistently this year mostly because I have been plugged into the bike commute scene. It’s probably the most refreshing way to start and end a workday – fresh air, usually sunshine, and the gentle hum of the wind between your spokes.

 

Ok – enough geeking out on this. See you on the road!

… Wherein I Buy More Stuff

For those of you playing along at home, you know I am not a fan of freezing my toes into fish sticks when I ride in sub-freezing temperatures.

This past weekend we rolled out at quarter-to-9 in the morning under cloudy skies and 28*F with winds around 15mph, gusting to 25+. In an attempt to keep my toes from freezing, I covered them into two pairs of wool socks and then stuffed my toebox with plastic bags in an effort to keep out the cold under my toe covers. By our first bathroom break a mere 10 miles in, my toes were gone. Fortunately the bathrooms were inside so I was able to warm them a bit.

In all, we rode about 35 miles (I shut off my Strava after 32mi and enjoyed the short ride home) – Great ride with great company!- but I had the worst re-warming pain yet this season.

Thank G-d spring is around the corner. I don’t know how much more I can take of wearing a million layers and still freezing my toes off.

 

So last night I broke down and bought Shimano MW81 winter cycling shoes. They were on sale, which means they cost as much as my road shoes and commuter shoes combined. I also bought some thermal insoles and thermal sock liners.

This sounds like overkill but I will not accept that I am unable to ride in the cold.

this needs to be me. but with toasty toes. and brakes.

I also did a bit more research and came across this helpful page with Tips for Keeping Feet Warm. A couple of gems stood out, such as keeping your core warm and being mindful if you have steel cleats (like I do). When I am out in sub-freezing, I wear four layers on my core:

  • long-sleeve base
  • wool jersey (men’s cut so it’s looser)
  • fleece-lined softshell jacket
  • lightweight windbreaker

It occurred to me that perhaps I should invest in a high-quality fleece-lined hardshell jacket. Three of my riding friends this weekend had hardshell jackets on over varying layers. They certainly did not look like an overstuffed sausage like I’m sure I did.

(Recommendations anyone? Please comment – I’d love your thoughts!)

 

I also have steel cleats … and it makes perfect sense that the metal plate is literally sucking my toes’ will to live.

 

Happily this weekend won’t be prime for testing my new gear as it’s going to be something ridiculously awesome like 50*F and sunny.

 

* * * * *

In other news, I also picked up a Garmin 510 so I can track my rides and Even More Data (like cadence!) without killing my phone battery or carrying a portable charger. Hooray!

In saddle news, I’ve now put 135 miles on the Specialized Ruby and am still not convinced I need to just keep riding on it to make it better. So back to the shop this week to hopefully swap it out for something that doesn’t make me feel each individual sit bone move with every pedal stroke. Seriously – that just feels weird.

seriously  - look how think it is!
seriously – look how thin it is!

 

 

Oh yeah, I think I’m gonna go down to the Shore …

Strava had a challenge this past weekend: use your base miles and see if you can ride a century. You have a choice of Friday, Saturday or Sunday to accomplish 100 miles in one ride.

I stared at the challenge. I hemmed and hawed. It’s early in the year. I’m riding, but not as consistently as in the summer. I haven’t been “training.” But I’ve done a couple of centuries before and I’m pretty sure I can do it again. I finally took the plunge and clicked “join” … and then reached out to my cycling friends who might be crazy enough to think riding 100 miles in February is an awesome idea. My caveat was “Weather Permitting.” I’ve had enough fish sticks for toes this off-season, thank you very much.

One friend took me up on the offer. Not surprisingly, he’s also the one who rode over 11 thousand miles last year (yes, you read that correctly). He asks where I want to go. I suggest Saint Peter’s Village – an out-and-back but very hilly. He suggests we head down to the Shore – an out and FLAT. And we take the train home. I like that idea much better. We decide Sunday is the best day to ride.

The whole day before I check the weather report and it’s going to be acceptable: high of 45, partly sunny/cloudy, and more importantly, no rain. I’ve got Dead Milkmen‘s “Bitchin Camaro” stuck in my head all day.

Waking up the day of, I am a wreck. Like straight up a wreck. I start to panic. I can barely eat my breakfast. I think I’m going to throw up. I packed a backpack of gear and nutrition and laid out my attire the night before … but now I’m thinking I am going to somehow bonk in the middle of New Jersey or get run over by some Jersey Bro with a vendetta against cyclists. Oh and yeah – this will be my first ride on the new saddle.

None of this is true (except the saddle part – that’s totally legit) – it’s just my brain going batshit crazy. Even as I roll up to my friend’s house I am in full-on panic mode. This is a terrible idea. What the heck was I thinking?

 

And so, under partly cloudy skies we set out to see if we could get to the Shore.

 

 

It was a great day on the bike! I’m so glad I did it and didn’t let my brain get in my way of achieving – a century! Unsupported! In February! I can’t even begin to describe the sense of accomplishment I have.

Highlights of the day included:

  • Gliding over the trail and hammering up the hills in upper Pennypack Park
  • Admiring the beautiful bridges we were passing under
  • Slogging through thick mud and glass in lower Pennypack Park, passing the prison
  • riding in the middle of State Rd in the “scenic” waterfront district
  • flaunting the law by NOT walking our bicycles across the bridge to New Jersey
  • Starbucks break at mile 27 (I was so freaked out I forgot to enjoy the cup of Off The Chain coffee by our friends at Sip, Clip, and Go! Coffee for Cyclists I had brewed at home)
  • Riding on the wide shoulder of US-206 and feeling very unsafe
  • Lunch at mile 55 in Hammonton. Feeling shredded.
  • The miracle of ibuprofen. Feeling like a superhero.
  • Being ogled by the teens working the cafe where we stopped for a bathroom break as I nonchalantly suck down a goo
  • Riding on the quiet side streets next to the river/watershed, admiring the houses
  • Riding through quaint farms with horses, goats, and blueberry fields
  • Contemplating the state of disrepair of the houses and open space as we got closer to the Shore
  • Riding the bridges into Ocean City
  • CROSSWINDS (20+ mph)
  • Getting lost in Ocean City
  • MORE CROSSWINDS (WTF)
  • Fighting to stay upright on the bridge to Longport … and then being prevented from benefiting from the descent
  • Cycling past the ocean, watching as the waves crash on the beach
  • Why yes, it can take almost an hour to go five miles!
  • Getting to the train station in Atlantic City with only ten minutes to spare
on the bridge going into Ocean City, NJ.
on the bridge going into Ocean City, NJ.

Things I learned:

  • Worry is useless. Take it one mile at a time.
  • Lunch break after the half-way point is brilliant.
  • Plan to get to the next rest break. It’s only (15/20) miles away.
  • Do not under any circumstance think you can break in a new saddle on a 100mi ride.
  • I can do an unsupported century with a friend and have a truly amazing day on my bike.

* * * * *

Click Here to see the route and my stats on Strava

 

Scenic Schuylkill Century Recap

Yesterday I conquered my first century. It was brilliant; it was fun; and it was challenging.

I spent a lot of time in the days leading up to the ride oscillating between “OMG I AM THE BIGGEST IDIOT for signing up for this” and “I am going to ROCK THIS THING!” I both doubted my abilities and had confidence that I had trained well.

Saturday night I prepared a carb-tastic dinner of spaghetti and turkey-meatballs for the family (I also had some buttered whole-wheat bread) and went to bed early.

Sunday I was out of bed at 4:45am to get a quick shower (nothing like starting an all-day ride fresh), breakfast, and finish up last-minute preparations. Breakfast consisted of a Morning Star veggie sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and my daily multi-vitamin washed down with a full glass of water. I carpooled down to the ride start with my commuter friend and another woman from our general neighborhood – they were riding the century on a tandem. (MAJOR props to them)

The weather day-of was spectacular – blue skies with fluffy clouds, high in the mid-70s, low humidity. I found Lou, a guy I’ve ridden with on other Philly Bike Club rides. It’s his first century too … hooray for a ride buddy! Interestingly, there were a lot of first-timers like myself on the century ride – many of them older gentlemen who I’ve ridden with before and thought they ate centuries for breakfast.

The start of the ride was kindof spectacular. 700 riders came out for the event and the century riders were up first in the gate. The sheer spectacle of us coming out of the parking lot and riding around the front Philadelphia Museum of Art was awesome for sure. Spinning down West River Drive to the Falls Bridge en masse – and then rolling into Manayunk and the first of many hills to come.

Happily we did not have to ride the towpath – but it sure is beautiful. (Image credit: http://www.comitta.com/blog/?p=52)

(You may have heard of the Manayunk Wall – a fabled half-mile of sheer 10% grade pain. These weren’t that bad – but still had significant grades around 5%.)

The rest/aid stations are set up in camp facilities – very rustic but welcoming. The mechanics were stationed outside the “mess hall.” The atmosphere around each one was warm and welcoming; the spreads were incredible. Homemade cookies, brownies, fresh fruit like grapes, c antelope and watermelon, pb&j sandwiches on whole wheat … and plenty of ice water and gatorade for all.

A brilliant move on the part of the organizers was positioning the rest/aid stations at varying increments: the first was a mere 13miles in. The next was another 19miles. Then 24 miles. Then 13miles, 25 miles, and 12 miles to finish. Many cyclists skipped the first rest/aid station but Lou and I opted to stop for a few minutes (bathroom break, fuel and water).

Next we rode to Evansburg State Park. The highlight of this portion of the century is riding along Potshop Rd, which has a stunning view of the Schuylkill River Valley and Philadelphia’s skyline in the distance. Truly a sight to behold, especially from two wheels!

31 miles in and still feeling fresh!

Also interesting to see how strung out the riders get over time … for much of the ride, Lou and I didn’t see any other riders around us after we left the second rest stop.

I met a guy named Austin. He’s a PhD candidate in Physics and was riding his Surly CrossCheck (light blue) in linen shorts and a T shirt. Bold move for a first-time century rider – but he hung in our group until very close to the next rest station. I’m hoping to connect with him on MapMyRide – could be an awesome ride buddy.

The next leg of the trip was easily the hilliest portion – to Camp Hope near Schwenksville, PA. Turn after turn of just Going Up. One hill claimed not one but two cyclists who dropped their chains mid-hill – henceforth to be known as Chain Drop Hill. It was a beast of a hill.

(I was kindof annoyed to see my Strava app took into account the time I spent waiting as riding time – it says I only did 3.2mph up the hill, but my on-bike computer registered 6-7mph when I was actually riding. Oh well. )

We just had to laugh when we turned on the road to go the last .7 miles to the rest/aid station and the road turned upward again. You really had to earn that rest stop. We kept our rest station visits to a minimum – 15min or so. Just enough time to use the bathroom, refill water bottles, get a quick snack, and shake out the fatigue. Spent some time talking with Skip, a guy I’ve ridden with on other Philly Bike Club rides. Coming out of Camp Hope resulted in a few more miles of climbing before the flats and descents started to become common.

I also gobbled two ibuprofen to quiet my aching lower back. Note to self: adjust seat position back a touch!

Quick stop back in Evanburg State Park – this one a touch longer because I called my husband to tell him I was about 35 miles from the end and to expect me in about 2.5 hours. I also shut off my Strava app because I was at 25% battery and wanted to be reachable at the finish line. Ended up being a smart move, even though I cheated myself out of more data, because I had 5% remaining at the finish line.

(Note to self – pick up a Garmin of any sort that will give you gps data to upload later!)

Lou and I decided to skip the last rest/aid station and just bring it home. We met another guy – Dima – who ended up in our little group charging to the finish.  Soon after we added another rider into our little peloton – a guy with blonde curly hair henceforth known as Surfer Dude. We rode the last 35 miles hard – pushing 20mph on flats, 12+mph on the hills, and bombing the sharrows through Manayunk. Almost got hit by a car a couple times – people who don’t know how to parallel park are THE WORST.

Did I mention I was leading this little ragtag group of century riders back into the city? Because I totally was. The guys were very thankful I “brought them in.”

All in all, a great day in the saddle – and we got to the finish line 5 minutes before they stopped serving pizza. Hooray – GOAL ATTAINED! My family met me at the pizza tent – I was so happy to see them.

Lou and I at the post-ride pizza party, celebrating the completion of our respective first century rides!

Stats:

101.5 miles

average of 13.2 mph

7 hours, 40 minutes, 12 seconds of ride time

5,797′ of elevation gain (4,022′ in the first 66.5 miles)

route here

Ride Fuel:

three small bananas

two halves of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat

one package of Clif Bloks in black cherry (with caffeine)

one Clif Gel in vanilla (with caffeine)

one Clif bar in white chocolate macadamia nut

three small bunches of grapes

one slice of watermelon

six 24-ounce bottles of Propel Zero in grape flavor

Post-ride fuel:

two slices of plain pizza

one can of Coke

one cheeseburger

handful of potato chips

 

 

See you on the road!