Learning to Ride

I thought I knew how to ride a bike, but riding a mountain bike is a totally different experience. On the road, I avoid potholes, debris in the shoulder, and look out for drivers all while riding fast and holding my line. I corner and brake properly and know how to climb massive hills. My body is narrow and the pedals are spinning as fast as I can go. Not much of what I know about road cycling applies to mountain biking; however, riding a mountain bike will make me a better roadie, and it will make you a better cyclist too when you head for the trails.

Fortunately, Deborah Leedale-Brown of dlb2-Full Potential was ready to teach me the basic skills needed for tackling some of the local trails with ease. We started in sloped field filled with cones and a sky blue ramp that didn’t look all that intimidating until I realized that the ramp is about as wide as the handlebars on my new Fuel EX 8 GX, and every time I approached it, I noticed the downward grade to the nearest tree. I would like to avoid hitting trees and falling off the ramp entirely. The ramp was only a foot high, but when Deborah took off the 2nd ramp that drop seemed much, much higher off the ground.

Of course, I didn’t start on the ramp. She reviewed everything from proper body position on the bike with my heels down and wide knees to how to shift and brake while I slalomed in and out of the cones. I soon realized that on my previous mtn bike ride, I was gripping the brakes with all available fingers–white knuckles all the way down. When I did ride the ramp, I practiced different positions on the bike, and was able to do a nice peak and push when that second ramp was removed, placing the front wheel where I wanted it to go. I surprised myself when I did it, jarring my brain a bit the first time.

At the end of the lesson, we did ride some of the trails nearby. Rocks and roots were scattered about like forgotten toys. Logs crisscrossed the path, and I had to pay attention, holding my line and ignoring the drop off to the left. I didn’t second guess myself and knew so much more about how to handle my bike thanks to Deborah’s expert coaching. Mountain biking allows me to be comfortable and take up more space as I roll over all the obstacles in my way. That’s why I love it. And, I’ll be signing up for another lesson soon.

Birthday Ride

The best birthday gift is warm weather in March and a ride with Phil. We headed out after a leisurely breakfast and made our way down to the Philadelphia Museum of Art before heading to Manayunk for coffee at Volo. This is an easy ride to do with Martin Luther King Drive closed to cars for the time being. Usually, it’s only closed May-October on weekends for cyclists and runners, allowing more room than the Schuylkill River Trail on Kelly Drive that tends to be filled with people.

With temps in the mid 50s, on a Wednesday, it wasn’t too crowded. Recent snow melt and rain filled the Schuylkill and there was the usual headwind throughout the ride. The sun was shining, and it’s always a good day when you’re on a bike.

If you’re interested in rethinking MLK Drive in Philadelphia, check out the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia’s post and sign the petition at the bottom:

https://bicyclecoalition.org/the-future-of-mlk-drive-your-questions-answered/

Snowfall Running

roads are silent,

with snow smooth like skin.

soon, tires scar the surface

to reveal scabs of ice–

slush oozing near curbs.

but now, it’s quiet,

heavy wet flakes float

softly pressing fresh wounds

with gossamer gauze.

Before Morning Coffee

I started running in 2010 when we moved back from Japan, even though I dabbled in the sport while doing run/walk intervals along the Odakyu Line that stretched out from the center of Tokyo to Kamakura. It was the only flat road, and I would go back and forth from our house to the local playground. Phil would run with me when we started, offering encouragement, even though I ran/walked super slow. If he ran ahead for a mile or so, he would come back to check on me before heading father once again. By the time we moved back to Florida, I ran my first ever 5K race without walking.

Since then I’ve added triathlon when my friend, Cathy, found out I used to swim in high school. She wanted someone to go to the pool with her because she knew that if she made plans to meet me there, she would show up without fail. It was a 50 meter indoor pool, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim there, being a much better swimmer than runner. We would go twice a week and swim 1600 meters for the swimming gods before hopping out. I also ran with her every day at 6:00 AM and the whole 6@6 group, and after many runs, she convinced me to get a road bike since I was already swimming and running–why not add the third sport of cycling?

And, that’s just what I did. I bought a used road bike for $500. I then went on my first road ride with Cathy and Gene to the Norfolk International Airport and back and just about died trying to keep up. Within a week, I got myself a pair of road shoes, clipped in, and proceeded to fall a few times while practicing in the apron of our driveway. The kid came out and drew chalk outlines of everywhere I fell so that our driveway looked like a crime scene.

I’ve managed to stay on my bike more often than not, and have kept up with swimming and running, but it’s way easier to get out there when you have friends waiting for you in the cold, pre-dawn hours. Marianne is that friend. We typically run at 5:00 AM to beat the traffic, the heat of summer, or crowded streets during COVID, and she’ll ride with me for miles in winter as we chase the sunrise to the city and back. One thing we always do is get coffee afterwards, which makes all of that hard work in the cold, the dark, the windy, the rainy, the snowy, totally worth it. We’ve talked about just meeting for coffee at 5:00 AM, but I’m still asleep at that hour because it’s the running or the cycling that wakes me up so I can really enjoy the coffee.

Throughout my time in this sport, meeting my friends in person or virtually has helped me get out of bed when I would rather hit snooze. Because most days, I’m not motivated to be getting up at 4:30 AM, and there are many times I hope to see a text from Marianne before 4:30, saying she can’t make it. I often stare at my messages with one eye open, hoping to see that cancellation text that will never come. So I shut off my alarm and get up for the run or ride before coffee.

Looking Forward and Back

With the New Year upon us, many people look to make resolutions to improve themselves in the New Year with the hopes that they will be better for it. I’ve done it and have been disappointed each time.

This never works.

Resolutions only leave me frustrated because it implies that I wasn’t good enough last year–that nothing is ever good enough. What does work is knowing that there is no finish line, no end in sight. Sometimes I’ll get lost on the course and start a century ride over again (did that before realizing what I did and called for my personal SAG vehicle, thanks, Phil!), other times, I’ll come out with a shiny new PR and reach that 5K finish line in record time, and sometimes, my daily workout sucks ass on the treadmill with a side stitch because I ate too much garlic bread. Through all of it, I am consistent, accountable to my training plan, and am flexible as needed.

Consistency is key.

Consistency is also boring. I go to bed and get up at roughly the same time, I have meet ups for some workouts, virtually or socially distant now, for accountability (it’s hard to sleep in when someone is hopping on their bike trainer at 6am waiting for you to ride, but a virtual breakfast after the ride with coffee is the best!), and I pretty much eat the same stuff throughout the week. Boring. Not the “get off my lawn” old person kind of boring, well, sometimes I’m like that. Damn kids.

Accountability goes along with being consistent. Who are you accountable to? Your running, riding, or swim buddies? Do you have a coach? Do you have a friend who expects you to run fast once a week with her so you work hard all week just to keep up? Do you have a training plan or schedule? Adapt your plan day to day, but be consistent with your workouts. If you’re accountable, you’re also consistent.

Lastly, be flexible, but not to the point where accountability and consistency are forgotten. Move your workouts around based on your schedule, but make sure that you get most of them completed with the proper training intensities. Grab a coffee on the go, but maybe not a mocha. Keep your priorities in mind, but have some indulgences every once in awhile. Be kind to yourself. This has been an interesting year, and the next one will be too. Happy New Year!

3,000 in 2020

There is still snow on the ground from last Wednesday’s storm, masters swimming is on hold through the New Year, and I’m currently going to PT for my elbow injury that decided to flare up in September, although my recovery will have to wait a little longer with my next appointment canceled.

I found out I was exposed to COVID-19 last Monday, but wasn’t informed until yesterday. I quickly made an appointment with my doctor for a test, and even though it’s unlikely that I contracted the virus, I’m taking precautions and staying home like my doctor recommended through the next seven days, even though I have no symptoms, and I will know my test results on Thursday, just in time for Christmas.

Until then, I’m staying home and doing my best to keep others safe. I have been wearing a mask, social distancing, and only going to work or running errands as necessary when this exposure happened, but nothing is 100% fool-proof.

So, since I can’t leave the house, I decided to take on a new challenge: ride 3,000 miles on my bike for 2020. I’m less than 200 miles away from this goal and will be riding virtually on Zwift to reach it. In addition, I’m checking to see which courses I haven’t completed to earn those badges too.

When I’m finished riding, I’ll have extra time to bake and give these kitties some much needed attention. Stay safe, stay home, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Before the Snow Run

Even though it was in the mid 20s this morning, I headed out for a run before the snow. It was cold and windy, but clear. Venus shined brightly and icy patches near the curb were easily spotted. Like the holiday lights on our route, conversation made the run go by quickly and seem less cold. My puffy hat helped too.

The clouds rolled in around mid-morning and sifted sugar on the sidewalks and garden by early afternoon. I made some hot chocolate to go with the powdered doughnut outside so I could watch it turn from sugar to a thick icing, whipped by wind. I really don’t like snow, but I want some doughnuts now.

In two hours, over 2 inches have fallen and counting…

The Ride

The knobby tires rolled over tree roots like a fat thumb over the whites of the piano keys. If I could see my knuckles under the two glove layers, they would be white and bloodless with the way I was gripping the Top Fuel as I bounced down the single-track at what I thought were breakneck speeds. Suddenly, the trail went straight up, and I squeezed the brakes when I should have shifted to a bigger ring while picking up my cadence. Instead, I balanced on the bike with the pedals at 3 and 9 o’clock for a split second before tipping to the side.

I put my foot down and breathed. My legs were shaking uncontrollably.

Colleen was at the top of the hill, having rolled over those roots effortlessly, using her bike like some nimble monster truck crushing cars like soda cans. I walked the rest of the way until the trail leveled off, and I could get my foot back on the pedal to start once again. I knew then if I hesitated, I was finished.

So for the rest of the ride, I tried to make a quick decision and stick to it when descending or climbing this trail I could barely walk on, let alone ride a bike over all of those rock gardens and long sections of tree roots strung across the trail like garland. If I took too much time to think, I failed. I had to trust the line I chose and follow it through.

For a few fleeting moments on the ride, the trail flowed below the bike like water as I stood up with level pedals and weight slightly forward. But then, there was no trail, just a stream six feet down, and I thought I was going to die and be buried right then and there because I was too scared to cross the narrow frosty bridge to the other side where a sharp uphill topped with a rock garden greeted me. I didn’t die. I just fell off my bike a few times. Thankfully, the ground was soft and met me half way.

Once I get another bike, I’ll return to the trails because I might just be part daredevil.

And now this…

I think I have found a fourth sport I like: mountain biking. With my masters’ team on hold for the time being, I snagged this fun demo bike from my shop and plan to hit the trails on Monday. So far, I rode it around the neighborhood, over a few curbs, and up and down the alley behind my house to test out the full suspension frame of this Trek Top Fuel. Yes, it has SPDs, and yes, I clipped in. If I really get into this sport, I’ll use flat pedals to work on my skills that I’m clearly lacking.

As soon as I heard the click of my cleats, I was off and flew down the alley. I soon felt like a little kid tooling around the neighborhood as I rode past other moms at the playground while bouncing up and down over obstacles I would usually avoid on my roadie.

So, I know the fourth and fifth sports of triathlon are transition and nutrition, but I think this triathlete can certainly benefit from the strength of mountain biking. Wish me luck on Monday! Yikes!

Go By Bike

Going by bike is best the way to get around your neighborhood, and if you can substitute one car ride with a bike ride per week, you are helping to reduce your impact on climate change. Here are some tips for getting around town by bike:

Make sure you ditch the fancy cycling gear for everyday clothes and some Vans over your road shoes for a meandering ride around the block or running errands. Yes, my road bike hub has 108 points of engagement and wants to go fast, but when I ride around, I take my time. Even though I have clipless pedals, I can still ride my road bike with a pair of stiff shoes on my feet and not clip in as long as I’m not going too far. If I’m going more than a few miles, I’ll take a backpack with an extra pair of shoes for more comfortable riding.

Say hello to everyone. When I drive, I have a tendency to get annoyed by pedestrians and everyone in general because I should have left my house ten minutes before I actually did, but on a bike, I wave and say, “hi”. It’s just more enjoyable.

Remember the times you were a kid on a bike while you ride as an adult. As a kid, or a college student studying abroad in England, a bike was freedom and transportation. It still is. The leaves are falling and crunching under the tires, the wind might blow, it might rain, yet you get a better sense of your community from behind the handlebars since you see your neighbors outside rather than passing by them in a car, or going from your house to your car. The point is to get out of your car and outside.

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. I didn’t say that, but I stole it from a Scandinavia phrase. It’s true though. You can go out in all kinds of weather if you have the right gear and layers, which I’m sure you have somewhere in your closet for most weather conditions.

Last of all, wear a bike helmet and attach some lights to your bike so drivers can see you. Follow all traffic rules and signal where you are going so everyone knows. Get out there and ride! Trek Bikes started the movement, so when you do ride, snap a photo and tag it with #GoByBike if you would like to share it.