In like a lion ….

I was talking with my sister recently. She is a marathoner and expecting her second child this summer. She was lamenting her inability to take part in a particular marathon this year because of her impending child. It’s part of the same mentality – she’s losing her ability to just sign up for a marathon and not have to actually train so much as maintain.

One of the things active people fear most is losing fitness. Many of us started at a sub-par fitness level and have worked hard to get to a point where throwing down a marathon or a century (or whatever the goal was) is just another day. When you have that level of fitness, and life starts to get in the way, many of us panic. It was such an effort to get to this place! I don’t want to have to go back to barely creaking out 25 mile rides!

For me, it’s important to accept the place you are now and work with it. After 2 months of not riding my bike (and spending at least half that time going out of my mind with not being able to go out for bike rides), I can safely say it’s going to be a long road back to fitness when I do throw my leg over the top tube. I’ve focused on walking as much as possible and running or hiking on the weekends to maintain a base level of fitness. I signed up for a 5-mile run in April to have a motivating event to keep me from sleeping until noon on weekends (which is totally on my radar because I am not a morning person). And if all goes well, we should be moving into our new house relatively soon – which means more time back in my life for the things that matter most. Family. Friends. Bikes.

Lots has happened so far this year. We finished up a lovely vacation in Colorado with family and friends; we sold our house finally; we had to make a humane decision for my 18-year-old beagle, Mojo. I’ve gained far too much weight in the last year. Mega-commuting – spending 90min or more to get to work or back – is challenging at best and in the winter, doubly so. I’ve had a few days where I spent as much time in transit as I have at work.

And it’s been a long, cold winter. Every time the snow and cold seems to have melted just enough and the weather warming up, another winter storm or arctic cold front comes rolling through.  My bikey friends and I had made plans to go ride bikes this afternoon, but a winter storm of snow, sleet, and rain arrived – so I leashed up my dog and we did a 3-mile walk together. It was fun to be outside with friends, despite the extremely slippery conditions. My dog passed out on the couch from all the excitement.

What I’m really saying is, keep the faith my dear reader! We will all dust off the cobwebs soon enough and slowly turn the cranks again and marvel at the warm sunshine beating on our backs as we zip down the road. Spring is coming …

 

Philly is so beautiful sometimes it hurts
#SpringtimeInPhilly

counting the days until we see each other on the road ….

Z-List Celebrity

Friends, I don’t like to toot my own horn too much but I’ve had some good press lately that I felt I should share:

I went for a ride with my friend Ken and our new friend Rachel from Missouri last weekend. It wasn’t particularly long and while we stopped for a healthy snack, we probably could have done with out the stop. It was ridiculously fun though and I admired Rachel’s awesome Yakkay helmet and her super-cute haircut.

Rachel was going to the National Bike Summit the next day. She reported back that my awesome friend Katie, who was presenting on her Women Bike PHL movement, mentioned me by name as part of the Girl Scouts on Wheels program. So humbled to be mentioned at a national summit about cycling. Katie rode her bike from NYC to DC to attend the summit. She’s amazing.

Then one of my favorite cycling apparel companies, Road Holland, put a photo I sent them in their Year End blog post. They make great wool-blend cycling jerseys and I love them for spring and fall rides. 

Today my friends at 30 Days of Biking featured me on their Facebook page. I don’t even know why but I am tremendously thrilled to be chosen for a random shout-out. And hey – if you haven’t taken the pledge yet, why not now? Pledge to ride your bike every day in April – any distance, any speed, any weather, every day. Share those experiences online in a joyful cyclist community!

 

Today I was out for a 30-miler with Ken that featured snow-clogged trails, a wonderful sit-down snack at Outbound Station, and then me suggesting we tackle some hills on the way home. Because you know, not riding regularly is really conducive to attacking big hills. We biked up this monster on Hagys Mill Road in Philadelphia – it’s a little over a quarter-mile and averages 12%. There is one pitch in particular where I was genuinely concerned I might fall off my bike and why the hell would I ever want to be clipped into my bike? I think that section is around 17-20%.

Anyway, it was all hills and busy roads home from there. Beautiful day to ride. We haven’t had many of these lately this winter so you have to grab the days you can.

 

See you on the road!

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! 

Pro Tip #1

Remember when I said my winter cycling shoes were so heavy? So heavy that I could feel my upstroke and my quads were terribly unhappy very early in the bike ride?

Maybe not but I do.

Anyway several rides ago I had an post-ride-shower epiphany. It’s the cleats.

I had installed my SPD cleats in my usual position – which would be fine … if the shoes weren’t two sizes larger than my usual cycling shoes. Checked where the widest part of my foot was hitting inside the shoe and moved the cleat back significantly.

Sure enough, my winter shoes are no longer a terrible burden and when coupled with toe warmers, I’m a much happier cyclist out on the road and in the woods. Praise Science!

 

Pro Tip #1: if it doesn’t feel quite right, tweak it until it does.

 

See you on the road or in the woods!

 

The Elusive Workhorse Bicycle

Yesterday was unseasonably warm (50* F) and brilliantly sunny so Ken and I decided to go have lunch in New Hope at what appeared to be a sandwich shop we walk by every time we go have lunch across the river in Lambertville. The sign outside the door advertised “really really good hoagies” – and who am I to turn up my nose at a really really good hoagie?

Temps were at freezing when we left but quickly climbed and we found ourselves shedding a layer only 8 miles in. As we chatted about the new route we were taking, I noticed Ken was riding his commuter bike. It’s a Giant OCR2 from a few years ago that he’s outfitted with a rack and fenders. Today the rack sported a trunk bag, which was incredibly handy for stashing tools, extra layers, and nutrition.

This is unarguably his favorite bike. He takes it everywhere – daily commuting, week-long cycling vacations, weekend outings around with friends. The tires are wide enough for almost any terrain you throw at it (except maybe technical off-road trails). The triple crankset makes every hill as easy as possible. It’s light and nimble but stable. Given he rides almost 12,000 miles a year, it’s easy to see why. This is as close to a do-it-all bike as one can get. He’s got three bikes and this is the one I see most.

I have five bikes and while I love each one for the individual purpose they serve, none of them are even close to a do-it-all workhorse.

  • Old Faithful – Specialized Crossroads Sport mountain-hybrid. Great for towpaths and unpaved trails with the family. Aluminum. Very Heavy.
  • Free Spirit – Schwinn Free Spirit Greenbriar vintage 10-speed. Great for local errands, looking dapper and rides less than 5 miles. Steel. Very Heavy.
  • Lady Rainicorn – Peugeot Versailles 12-speed. Great city bike with an old-school vibe. Currently my commuter. Steel. Frame is slightly too big and not enough gears to “flatten the hills.” And there are plenty of hills on the way home from work.
  • Michaelangelo – Felt Nine Sport hardtail mountain bike. Great for mountain biking. Have not found a downside yet. Heavy but doesn’t ride heavy.
  • Electric Dream Machine – Felt ZW5 carbon recreational racer. Great for events and going relatively fast. Fits like a dream, rides like a dream. Lightweight. Not good for everyday riding.

I’m still looking for that elusive Perfect Bike. Partly I blame myself for going from an upright comfort hybrid to a carbon fiber racer – I didn’t have an entry or mid-level aluminum road bike that was used for everything from weekend jaunts to bike commuting. I’m always looking at what everyone else is riding and asking questions – what do you love about your bike? what do you dislike? Would a cross bike be better? or a flat-bar commuter? What about touring bikes?

I mentioned to my mom that I’d like to try bike touring next year and she wants to join me on one. I’m beyond excited – but feel I don’t have that elusive workhorse of a bike that would be able to handle light touring (thinking inn to inn, not necessarily camping). I think about upgrading the components on Lady Rainicorn – but there’s no getting around the frame being ever-so-slightly too big and really, do I want to spend significantly more in upgrading that I did on the bike? Besides – I love the old school vibe a solid steel bike with downtube shifters imparts as you breeze by. I love Electric Dream Machine but that’s not a bike to take touring. I already have rear panniers and am on the lookout for a trunk bag. I don’t think I’m ready for front panniers or a handlebar bag just yet … I’d like to get my feet wet first before I decide to load up on gear.

So I’m back in the mindset for a touring-type bike – something that fits me like a glove that I want to take everywhere. “Lightweight” but able to carry a decent amount of gear. Enough gears to haul myself and whatever stuff I have up hills relatively comfortably. Maybe even disc brakes. It doesn’t need to be new – I am happy to buy pre-loved. Most of my bikes are pre-loved!

Suggestions – Comments – fire away below.

(In case you are wondering, the ride itself was fantastic – somewhere on the Powerline Trail we met up with Fred and Larry, two brothers we know, and ended up riding with them for a bit. Larry is a big touring cyclist so I picked his brain for several miles. Parted ways and determined this new route adds 6 miles to the trip but is less hilly that our usual route to New Hope. Lunch at the Really Really Good Hoagies place was … meh. Took the direct (and very hilly) route home. Took my thermal jacket out of Ken’s trunk bag and stuffed it into my Showers Pass back jersey pocket, which is bigger than you think. It looked ridiculous, I’m sure. Cresting the last hill before my house, I noticed I was at 69 miles and decided to ride around the neighborhood a bit until I hit an even 70 miles for the day. Overall just a really awesome day on the bike!)

See you on the road.

 

(PS – This weekend’s ride put me at 16 & Goal. *hooray!*)

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.

Winter (Temps) Riding

Good morning, dear reader! It has been so long since we last connected – like everyone else, my life has been full of the things that make our lives rich. Busy is an understatement for many of us and I am not immune to over-scheduling and finding no time for blogging.

 

In the past couple weeks I have gone out with my friends on Most-Of-The-Day rides – the ones where you head out on your bike to brunch around 9 and don’t get back until around 4. The goal is to hit 50-60 miles per trip for two selfish reasons: we are all very close to our cycling mile goals for the year and to keep our base miles up for spring. It’s getting more difficult to be motivated as autumn takes a final bow and winter starts to creep in.

One of the problems I had last winter was what I refer to fondly as Fish Stick Toes. I was using my summer cycling shoes with toe covers and thick wool socks. For temps 40* – 60*F, this setup is perfect – no issues. But should the temps dip below 40*, even “real feel” temps, within 10 miles my toes were frozen – every time. There is no greater dread than knowing it’s going to be painful to rewarm them so that hot shower you are dreaming about will ultimately be a lukewarm shower that will not be nearly as satisfying. Or that you are riding on frozen fish sticks. I tried everything – stuffing my shoes with plastic bags, doubling up my wool socks. Summer shoes are simply too well ventilated for winter riding.

 

Yes, I realize this is a DUH. But I was really stubborn about making my existing gear work instead of spending more money on specialty items. Especially winter shoes/boots – at $200+, I don’t know if I ride enough in low temps to make it worth the expenditure. But as we all know, there isn’t any bad weather – just poor gear choices.

Last spring I picked up a pair of Shimano Winter Cycling Shoes when they were on sale ($150). I decided to get 2 sizes larger than my summer shoes to be able to wear thick wool socks without constriction. The fit is good – I can easily layer my Woolie Boolies with a base layer sock without feeling constricted. And since it was late enough in the spring, I never got a chance to try them out.

 

A couple of weekends ago my friends and I decided to bike to brunch in New Jersey. It’s a 60 mile round trip and the temps were going to be mid-30s to mid-40s. Totes doable! Dressing for the 30s is not the same as dressing for the 40s so I tried a new layering plan that worked out well except for my toes. Frozen in the morning when it was in the 30s; totally fine in the afternoon when it was in the 40s.

 

Welcome to winter riding – where layers are king and somehow you don’t feel as strong or fast.

 

When we decided to bike to lunch yesterday, I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to try my winter shoes. The day started with temps in the high-20s and wasn’t expected to get much above the mid-30s. My friend Heather and I had gone mountain biking on Friday and my layering was perfect for the mid-30s in the woods: Smart Wool shorts; Under Armour 2.0 Base (top and bottom), Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Tights (no chamois), Twin Six Woolie, Novara shoft-shell jacket; Sugoi thermal buffPearl Izumi full-finger gloves. I figured a more windproof external layer for the road and I’d be toasty warm. So I swapped my Novara jacket for my Bellwether jacket (more windproof) and brought along my winter cycling gloves for when it was too cold for my non-insulated gloves.

Definitely a layering win – my toes were only starting to feel cold when we rolled up to the restaurant after 22 miles and felt great the whole way home when the temps were “warmer”. Core stayed mostly cooler on the flats and descents, toasty on hills. Thermal tube pulled up over my mouth to keep my cheeks warm when needed. Overall a great ride for a hot lunch (with hot cocoa and whipped cream too).

 

What I didn’t anticipate is how heavy the winter shoes are. Every pedal stroke worked my legs differently than my lightweight summer shoes. While I most certainly hadn’t depleted my muscles on the 50 mile ride, my legs were tired. Hills were significantly more work. I felt incredibly slow and frustrated at my (perceived) inability to keep up with the guys. I felt wiped out by the end of the ride – but as soon as I stopped pedaling, my legs were clearly nowhere near obliterated. Even this morning, there is no stiffness or soreness. Clearly did not work as hard as I thought.

I suspect the heavier shoes working my muscles differently contributed to my feeling of less power, although I certainly liked not having fish sticks for toes. Definitely worth the trade-off – and I should adjust my expectations for my abilities on cold rides. I’m hoping I will adjust to the different feel of my winter shoes as the season goes on.

 

See you on the road or in the woods!