Thursday, May 31, 2012


This is the card that I got today, from Dawn. (Of course it's from Dawn, she is a Zapinski and therefore a member of the Clan Who Always Sends Perfect Cards. She has an extra super-power, which is that the card always gets there on exactly the right day. It's downright spooky.) I love that the flowers are actually sparkly, making this a card of three of my favorite things: cute bikes, flowers, and sparklies. Throw a couple of brownies on there and an image of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (wet or dry, I ain't picky) and you'd have a map of the inside of my daydreaming brain.

So yesterday I was all worked up about this weekend in an "I can't think about it or I'll vomit" sort of way. This morning, I was all worked up in an "I...just want to...CRY or something... weeping - tears - wailing cry what?" sort of way. (I didn't cry, just kept getting that pressure in the chest/throat, you know?) And then somewhere this afternoon I started to get excited. Like, happy excited. The good kind of nervous.


Part of it is just excitement to go to a new place. Go and see it in general, I mean, but also to bike around it. For me, the training rides can get boring because we go to the same places and do the same routes, riding the same loops repeatedly. So to go and see a whole new place so different from here - it just sounds like a terrific way to spend a day, exhausting as it may be. Variety is a really big issue for me. If I think of it just like a bike ride around a gorgeous bit of scenery, and leave out that whole thing about the 100 miles, I totally don't feel like ripping my hair out at all and start to really like the idea.

I'm also just excited to get on a bike again. I don't like this tapering business, it feels like forced bed rest or something. Oh, did I even tell you I'm tapering? That's what this is called - you taper your training, as in you don't train the week before the ride and you rest rest rest. It keeps your legs fresh. I haven't been on a long-ish ride in two weeks. It's driving me BONKERS. I want to stretch my legs and feel the wind on my face and just ride my damn bike. Man, it really is easy to get addicted to a daily bike ride, let me tell you. I suspect I'll be so happy to get on the bike that I won't want to get off until at least like 40 or 50 miles in. Of course, by mile 70 I'll probably be ready for ti to be over and start whining are we there yet? But I am not thinking of all the possible/probable horribly unpleasant things awaiting me. Optimism!

Okay. So. I am all packed. I leave early tomorrow to get to the airport for a morning flight. (So help me god, public transport BETTER NOT SCREW ME OVER again.) I am all packed and hoping that my very stuffed bag will be allowed as a carry-on, because I hate hate HATE to check a bag. (Really, though, when your baggage must include helmet, pedals, and a CamelBak, there really is only so much you can do.) I left instructions for the cat-sitter and finished all my deadline-ish work at the office and asked the neighbors to water my plants and all that's left is to sleep and wake and shower and go.

So I should sleep, then. Yeah.

I will be taking my laptop with me, though, and I will update again while I'm there. Already packed the camera, so you'll get pictures and news over the next few days. Promise!

PS: TSA better not confiscate my Tiger Balm, as it is not a liquid or a gel. I need my psychosomatic placebo comforts, okay?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Biking Is Better. It Just Is.

Last night there was a public transport disaster trifecta: a fire in a building close to the L tracks, so 3 train lines were shut down, an apparent suicide on the tracks of the Metra train line going north, and a freaking Cubs game. All of these things happened at evening rush hour, and all of them sat square in the path that lies between my workplace and my home.

And it was the first time in weeks that I hadn't biked in. OF COURSE. My bike is on its way to Tahoe for The Big Ride, and since I'm supposed to not supposed be pedaling around anyway (rest the legs!) I didn't borrow my friend's bike, as I'd been tempted to. I just heaved a sigh in the morning and got on the train. So I was screwed. It took me just over TWO HOURS to get home, on a seriously crowded bus.

Last week, when I was late to work because of a flat, I told my coworker that it was not the best morning since first I was going soooo slowwwwly, riding into an unbelievably strong wind, and then in the midst of all that effort I got a flat tire. It was like the bike gods were not with me, I told her. She said "That's the kind of thing that would make me never bike to work again, I just could not handle that kind of thing when I'm trying to get somewhere." I suppose it's what I would've thought myself months ago. The reality is that all forms of commuting (unless you walk like 2 blocks to work every day) have their frustrations, and you're never guaranteed a completely carefree trip.

But the thing about being on a bike and having these obstacles crop up - construction on your route or bad weather or a flat tire - is that somehow it doesn't seem so bad because you have complete control over your fate. Or at least it feels like you're less helpless than you would be in a car staring at gridlock, or trapped on a train waiting for the conductor to tell you what's going on. There is a lot of independence in getting around by bike, but there is also a lot of empowerment, too. Especially in a city. It's never deterred me, when I've run into trouble on my bike rides. Every single time, instead of feeling like a hassle, it feels like a little adventure. My reaction is always Okay, self, how are we going to solve this one? This is a sharp contrast to the times when something happens on the train, and I sit in my seat feeling helpless and fuming and wondering what the hell is going on. And far more different is when I've commuted by car and been suddenly stuck in an epic traffic jam - then I just would shout curses and pound my fists against the steering wheel and hate the universe.

But on a bike, I become a problem-solver. I hunker down into the wind and urge myself to pedal steady and strong, don't give up, I'll get there. If it rains, I tell myself to be careful, avoid manhole covers, put on my reflective vest and lights, and I let myself smile inside because it feels like being a kid, to be out getting soaked in the rain without coming inside. If I get a flat, I assess my surroundings and become even more aware of everything around me, I formulate a plan and get started on it and see what happens. If something blocks or shuts down my planned route, I just keep moving and try another street - there are no bottlenecks in a bike lane. On a bike, there is always a way. You really can't say that for the other commute options.

So I think I'll dust off my friend's bike this morning and go back to my most reliable form of transportation. It is terribly beautiful weather outside and I can feel my hip adductors tightening up with all the inactivity of forced leg rest. It should be an adventure, since my friend's bike has shifters that I  do not understand and cannot reach easily. I'll have to take pictures and show you. Wish me luck. But really, even if it goes badly, it can never be worse than last night's commute.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Team In Training Review

As I keep saying to everyone, the actual century ride (in a week! ahh!) is just like an extra little something at the end of a long journey, and in a lot of ways I feel like my real work here is done. The reward for that work is to go take a ride around a very pretty lake.

So since I feel like I've already experienced the most important things that Team in Training (also known as TNT) has to offer - that is, the journey - I thought I'd write a bit about the organization. There's this big marketing push these last few months - honest to god, I can't go a day without seeing a TNT billboard - and it was voted Best Charity Training Program last year by some sports magazine. If it's being marketed as a product, I figure I'm allowed to review it like a product. Plus, I think a lot of times people think that it'd be neat to do a triathalon, century ride, marathon, or whichever endurance event, and to do it for charity seems fine enough, but they don't really know much about the program itself. That's why I figured I'd share my experience.

Everything's Local

First off, the most important thing is that everyone's experience varies according to your chapter and your sport. My experience is with the Illinois chapter cycling team, and that's the only thing I can tell you about. The Utah and Massachusetts and Florida chapters of TNT cyclists is not going to be the same, and for that matter neither is the Illinois Triathalon experience. Every team is different, as are the state chapter staff, the coaches, the participants, everything. What I liked and didn't like about the program may not exist in another sport or another state, so try to keep that in mind.

The only thing all the chapters and sports have in common is a commitment to raise money to help fund blood cancer research, and to responsibly train for endurance sporting events. That stays the same. All else is variable.

The Program

As someone who was very up front about my Extreme Beginner level and high anxiety from the moment I signed up, I think my expectations were a bit high. I think I expected immediate and constant contact from TNT, and I definitely expected to get started much, much sooner with the training. I took it upon myself to start spin classes in my own gym two months before TNT started the team spin classes, because I knew I needed a jump start. And because my friend Elspeth is in TNT's running program (half marathon taking place a week after my ride), I expected materials like hers: a full training schedule in January, with instructions for each day leading up to the event.

But cycling doesn't work that way. Which is something I kind of had to figure out on my own. Eventually, I did get a training schedule, but it was quite frankly an utterly useless document. It took me forever to translate the thing (it was filled with acronyms and other shorthand) and when I did, I realized it was mostly just telling me what my heart rate should be for how long each day. As in "20 mins in Zone 2", instead of things like "cross train for 45 minutes" or "stationary bike on Tuesday" or "weight train" or whatever. So it was pretty useless, as far as instructions go. It was only after my first ride, when I asked my head coach about what I could specifically do to improve and prepare for the next ride, that we worked out my own individual training program. I think what we came up with for me is a good program for anyone, but it really does seem as though "training" for a century with TNT is mostly just: spin class once a week (which most people consider optional), long ride on the weekend, and fit in as many short rides during the week as you can. Oh, and do core muscle exercises three times a week, Coach Anne was very clear on that. Not that it was on the useless training calendar.

So the actual training program apparently varies from sport to sport pretty widely. Cycling is super laid back about it. Being who I am (a person for whom information is as vital as oxygen), I found that really really hard to deal with for the first month or two. If you're like me and have the same problem, I'd advise immediately doing what I eventually did: ask a coach directly to give you something to do.

Being a Beginner

I think the prevailing attitude among everyone involved in Team In Training is "you can do it!" Which is great, but rather lacking in brass tacks, if you know what I mean. There are some events that are going to be harder and maybe even impossible for a real beginner, and I think TNT can be more up front about that. I've gotten the impression from various members of my team that it's unusual for someone who is as new to this as I am to do America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride. It seems like most people start out with the local century ride, later in the year, and then work up to a harder event. And in general, it seems out of the norm to do a Spring/Summer event as your first. This is because the fall training season is longer. Spring is intense, but Fall is a kinder pace. So I think it should be explicitly stated that Fall is more geared toward beginners, and Spring is more advanced.

What I would recommend for someone as beginner as I was/am is to start a bit smaller and/or more slowly. And, whether you do that or not, have a friend who's on your same physical level join with you. Or if you don't have that, it's probably better to sign up for whichever season tends to have a larger group. From what I've been told, the Illinois Fall training group is larger and has a much wider range of experience, with plenty of people at my level. Which sort of makes me wish I'd signed up for a fall event, because I really cannot emphasize enough how lonely and stressful and isolating it can be to be the slow kid in class. People keep calling me inspirational, but let me tell you: being an inspiration is hard, lonely, humiliating work. If I weren't so legendarily stubborn, I'd never ever have stuck with it.

What I would recommend for TNT to help bring on and retain beginners is to actually have some kind of evaluation for new people who sign up. A little questionnaire to see what level everyone is at and, if that person has never done anything like this before, then an actual baseline evaluation with a coach to see their fitness level, their fitness experience, what their expectations are and a little counseling session on whether or not they've chosen the right event for an entry-level participant. To be honest, I found it really kind of unfair that my recommitment date was before my first (and awful) training ride. After a few weeks of training, I think I would have changed events to something in the fall, to have more training time. But I felt like I couldn't, because I'd already signed on the dotted line.

TNT does a lot to address your worries about fundraising, and offers all kinds of resources and reassurances. But your worries as a beginner in the realm of athletic endurance are your own, and the only thing they offer there is "you can do it!" And you know, it's possible that you can. But it'd be nice to have more than a cheering section, sometimes.

Financial Aspect

Speaking of fundraising, they make it as easy as they can for you and offer oodles of ideas. Everyone who signs up worries about the fundraising and the TNT staff are very reassuring that you'll be surprised how it all works out and is nothing to lose sleep over. And they are kind of right - except I did lose sleep over it, and do. You have a fundraising minimum which varies from event to event, and part of re-commitment is agreeing to be charged for any funds that you failed to raise. So for instance, if your fundraising minimum is $1500 and you only raise $800 by the deadline, then you are paying $700.

I mean, unless you have very very deep pockets, how can you not lose sleep over that? This is a standard practice for a lot of charity programs, btw, and not shady at all. Team In Training has to make financial commitments on your behalf, and they are committed to giving 75% of all donations to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society - meaning that 25% has to cover your costs. So if they spent $100 on getting you to the event, then by gum you have got to raise $400. That's how it works. They are very clear about this early on. But my advice is: don't sign on the bottom line if you can't cover the difference.

Hell, don't sign on the bottom line if you don't have a credit card. That's required, apparently. Other things that are not technically required but that realistically you need and they don't ever really tell you this when you sign up:
1. A car and a bike rack (or a car that fits your bike in it), or a friend in training who has a car that can fit you and your bike. Training is in the suburbs for the cycling team and you have to get there. Even if the meet-up point is not too far from a train station, rides start super early and the Saturday morning train schedule is unlikely to get you there.
2. Gas money. Lots of it.
3. Disposable income to buy things like the right kind of technical clothing (it really does matter when you're spending hours sweating), the right shoes, winter layers for cold training days, and oh maybe a CamelBak and whatever else. If you're a beginner, you don't have this stuff - AND you need to experiment around a little and see what works for you. It gets expensive, and it all happens at once.

None of this should deter you, but I think it's really important to say this up front. They'll tell you it takes a lot of time and commitment, but it also actually takes some money. It feels like it's set up for the comfortably middle class to easily participate, but I am not comfortably middle class. So here I speak to you, my financially struggling fellows: know what you're getting into so you're not hit with something that your bank account can't take. And there are creative ways to manage the costs (like Craigslist, for instance) so it's not horribly dire or anything. Don't let it stop you, but don't let it bankrupt you either.

TNT Staff

To put it quite plainly, I am unimpressed with the Illinois staff. Again, this is for cycling - every sport gets its own staff liaison, so that's important to remember. Also, in my real life office job I do administrative work, so I am probably less forgiving in this area, like the career server who goes out to dinner and can't help critiquing his waitress. But in general, I've found them rather neglectful of the cycling team, and disorganized, and just - ugh.

I have a million examples but there's no need to get me off on a rant. Here's an example: That training schedule I asked for, as an anxious beginner? I had to specifically request it, they don't automatically send it out to the team. So I asked and they just sent me the previous fall's training schedule, for an event that is a 111-mile race in Arizona (not a 100-mile ride in Tahoe), with none of the dates updated. It was in calendar format. And they didn't update it. (Gosh, I feel special, and like you give a damn.) Also, I found out on a Monday that the first team training event of the season would be on Wednesday. (Thanks for the notice!) And they made me fax my credit card information only to throw it away. (I still suspect it was lost, but either way I don't exactly feel like it was treated with the care it should be.)

And perhaps most appalling of all (to me, anyway) is the weekly information emails we get, as a team. It includes a "mission moment", which we also have every Saturday before our rides. It's there to tell someone's story about how cancer has affected them; it reminds us all why we're doing this. Every Saturday, we heard a new and always moving testimonial, in person. But for seven weeks in a row, our prepared-by-TNT-staff emailed Mission Moment was the exact same text. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if it didn't start out with "Well, you're half way there!" It's true, we were halfway through training the first time that was sent. But we weren't halfway there for seven full weeks. It's just sickening, because there are so many stories out there to be told and shared. But apparently someone in the office can't be bothered.

Once again, this varies from chapter to chapter and from sport to sport. As a member of the Illinois cycling team, I feel like we're a bit of the redheaded step-child or something, left to our own devices. My overall impression of the TNT staff is that they're slightly incompetent, disorganized, neglectful, and I've even felt deeply insulted by my interactions with them at times. When I took a moment to express this directly to them, the response I got was an "I'm just doing my job" explanation. Talk about shitty. But hey, they managed to make plane and hotel reservations, so at least they can do the bare minimum. Why ask for more, right?

There's a new girl who's supposed to be the cycling staff person, so maybe she'll change things. That would be nice. She did make these super cute donation buckets for us, and she really is an awfully sweet girl, so there is hope.

The Coaches, The Mentor, The Team

Fortunately, the staff is not the biggest part of Team In Training, or even close to being the most important. Interactions with the coaches and the team is what the bulk of the experience is. And let me assure anyone and everyone that you could not ask for a better team than the Illinois TNT Cycling team.

If you are looking for a way to get into cycling as a sport, I cannot imagine a better place to try it on for size. The most important thing to all of them is safety. It comes first, before anything else. Speed, strength, technique, looking cool, and/or macho bullshit all play second fiddle to safety. No one is there to laugh at you, or make themselves feel better at your expense. There's not a single person who doesn't want to help you. Everyone just wants to have a good time on a Saturday on a bike with some friends. The end. It's quite refreshing.

The coaches have varying levels of personal and cycling and coaching experience, and they are all volunteers. They're there because they want to help you, not because they want to show off or be some kind of hard-ass drill sergeant or something. It's nice, too, having a good mix of male and female, older and younger. If you have a question, one of them will have an answer based on personal experience - and if they don't, they will find the answer for you, or look at it as a way for them to learn something new too.

Our team mentors are also volunteers, and they are there to watch you succeed. They're the warm and beating heart of the team. Every time I pulled into SAG and Rose (our mentor) was waiting with a peanut butter and honey sandwich, it was this wonderful feeling of comfort to see her, to know she was waiting for me and looking after me. She and John (team captain) made sure we always had SAG for each ride, and went out of their way to provide motivation, emotional support, and fundraising help. They're a wonderful part of the team, and a real asset.

All of this builds a team of people - whatever the mix of beginners, experienced alumni, speed demons, and creak-boned tortoises (me!) - who are welcoming, encouraging, and full of hope and happiness. It's a warm and comfortable place to be, surrounded by a bunch of just fundamentally good people. I have no idea what other teams are like, but I can't imagine any team could possibly have a better atmosphere than this one. If you're looking for a competitive spirit, you can find it - but it won't be a destructive force. If you need some hand-holding or just a hug to make it through a crappy ride, you'll find that too. If you just want to be left alone, you can do that too. All I can hope is that every state has a team like Illinois' cycling team. They can't possibly be better, but here's hoping they're even half as great.


Okay, I think that's rather enough for one review. Overall, I would definitely recommend Team In Training to anyone interested in an endurance sports program. I'd throw in a few cautions, as detailed, but I wouldn't hesitate to urge anyone to sign up. Your experience might be great or awful or somewhere in between, but it has a pretty high chance of being Very Good.

I'm very very glad I did it, which I'll talk about after it's all really done (in a week! AHHHH!) No regrets, so far. Lots of annoyances and leg cramps and early mornings and steep freaking hills, but no regrets. :-)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Commuter Frustration!


Obviously, these are some super-uber-recordbreaking CRAP tires on this bike. They are Kenda, as far as I recall. However, in their defense I will say that there is shattered glass everywhere lately. I have no clue why, but it's like everyone all over the city has decided to smash glass bottles everywhere. Even on the lake front path last night, I ran into a bed of broken glass. Not hard to spot and, being sick of flat tires, I got off the bike and walked it - then watched 4 cyclists in a row ride right through it. One of them was going slow enough to say to me as he passed "You've got the right idea about this."

So, in addition to the flat tire plague in my life, I must state another frustration I have: cyclists on bike paths. Not all of them, of course, but there is a particular sub-species that just brings out my inner Scolding Grandmother. These are the (usually fully spandexed) riders who insist on going fast and refuse to ever slow down or, god forbid, stop. So here's a note to all of you on bikes: on a multi-use path that is often crowded with joggers, walkers, people taking their dogs for a stroll, and even people who are just enjoying a leisurely ride on a bicycle, be willing and always prepared to slow the hell down. In other words, don't train there. You want to cruise along at 30 mph? Take it somewhere else. Somewhere far away, thanks.

While I'm at it, a side note to rollerbladers: Stop. Just stop. Rollerblading at all, I mean. Stop it. I think I speak for all of us, wheeled and unwheeled: We hate you. So please, just stop now. Thanks.

Also: city buses, why do you want to kill me? Taxis are generally just lethally indifferent, and pedestrians are mostly oblivious and never think to look for anything on the road besides cars (bless them), and delivery trucks are predisposed to not care if they are in anyone's way. But the vast majority of CTA buses actively want to murder people on bicycles. They are homicidal, I tell you. I don't know why.

And PS this is so self-induced but MAN do I ever want a basket and/or a rack and/or anything at all where I can put my purse for my 8+ mile commute. I suppose after the Big Ride (barely a week away now, ahhhhhhh!) I can at last install these extras. Yet I think I'd rather sell the bike entirely and buy my beloved Pashley. (Which I still haven't even test-ridden, fyi, this is a love-at-first-sight thing, okay?) And if I'm going to do it anyway, should I go ahead and get one NOW instead of waiting? Because I mean nearly TWO WHOLE WEEKS without my bike, while it's in transit between here and Tahoe. I don't know if I can take it.

Okay, end of frenetic venting. The weekly flat tire just really annoyed me too much and I had to blurt. I feel better, thanks.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Promise This Is Actually A Cheery Post

So I have to say that in case you didn't notice (or weren't one of the handful of people to whom I endlessly whined on the topic), I have been really down on this endeavor, as a whole. In fact just about a week or two ago, I wrote an email to a friend in which I told her never to let me sign up for anything like this again, because, and I quote myself: I am just really not used to being humiliated on a regular basis like this. And even though there are nice triumphant moments, there is far more personal humiliation. It is making me miserable.

Because, I confess it: I have been miserable far more often than not, the last couple of months. I have hated training, and I've hated how my legs are always hurting somewhere, somehow, and I've suffered through way too much horrid spin class than anyone should ever have to suffer, unless it's like part of their prison sentence or something. I've hated the feeling of dread as I go to every team ride, which is exactly the same feeling terror/nerves/guilt that appears in the pit of your stomach when the principal calls you to the office and you know you're going to get in Big Trouble and it will go on your Permanent Record and your mom will cry and it'll be just awful and it's ALL YOUR FAULT. (No clue why I have that feeling as I head to every ride, but there it is.)I've hated that I get along okay, but I don't excel at this. I am used to excelling without much effort, so to be unable to excel even when maxed out on effort? It's a bad, bad feeling.  And most of all - more than anything else - I've hated being so much slower than everyone else on the team, and how utterly miserably lonely and isolating that feels.

But just since Saturday, the misery is easing off. And I thought it was because it was all almost finally over, but now I know it's not that. It can't be just that, because I keep getting little pangs at the thought that I won't get to go for long rides on Saturdays with this nutty group of people. I already miss them, and the summer already feels a little empty without the prospect of riding on the weekends.

Instead, the things that are making me stop hating it all are - well there are a few. The first is just hanging out with the team Saturday. It really is a great group, not competitive or snobby or bullying or any number of other awful things I hear about cyclists-in-groups. That awful feeling of dread on the way to the ride just disappeared the second I saw the team. It always does, because all the expectations and disappointment and judgment of me - that's not them. It's all in my own damn head. It's all my own disappointment and expectations and judgment, and my imagination just decided to make other people the monsters. When really it's all just me.

It also really, really helps that I stopped expecting myself to go above and beyond, always, with the training. Allowing myself to stop spin class and swapping out the afternoon gym sessions in favor of the bike commute removed the majority of my daily unhappiness. It all felt like a relentless series of chores, and I finally gave myself permission to slack off. I also stopped expecting myself to go to every ride, to go faster and be better and always under any and all circumstance finish every mile. Of course all of that would be nice, but I just decided that I didn't care enough to beat myself up about it if I didn't pull it off every week. In general, I just stopped being so damn uptight and anxious about all of it. And voilà - misery is replaced with general satisfaction.

The other most recent factor, though, is seeing the really wonderful rush of donations from family, friends, and total strangers the last few days. I mean, hey: Anonymous Person who donated $300 and didn't even leave an email so I could say thanks? You are so generous and terrific and thank you so so so much. And look what the Zapinskis sent:

(The entire Zapinski family is internationally renown for their ability to always find the perfect card.)

And everyone who's donated and sent such encouraging words - you all know who you are, and all I can say is that it works: I feel very cared for, and believed in. Even the number of people who have said to me in that offhanded way that "Oh, you'll do all 100 miles, I know you will. Of course you will, I have no doubt" - it's really an amazing thing, to realize how many people have confidence in me. It doesn't really matter if I have confidence in myself, because everyone else seems to have oodles of it for me. There's no lack of confidence in Beth, it seems.

So I can't really tell you how much that means to me, except to say that it took me from a This All Sucks I Am Full Of Regret attitude to a Oh Well Heck This Is The Best Thing I've Ever Done attitude in just a handful of days.

So thanks. :-)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I Melted!

As you regular readers know, yesterday was our last training ride before the event, and I was supposed to do 80 miles.  It didn't happen. I stopped long, long, LONG before that and did not get near 80 miles in. And I will not do so before the 100 miles event.

Now, calm down. It's okay. I WILL BE OKAY.

See, I did the first 25 miles and it was lovely. Then a little rest stop, ate half a banana and half a peanut butter sandwich, refilled water and headed out with Coaches Anne and Tom, two of my favorite people to ride with. (Well, no offense to Anne, but I tend to feel a little anxious when I ride with her. You remember from school,  how it is with a really great teacher? You want to do your best and make them proud, and really really really hope you do everything right, etc. That's how I feel with Anne, because she just makes me want to be awesome. Awesomer. Anyway, it makes me a little less relaxed, but I still get happy when I can ride with her.) I don't know how far we got - just a few miles and everything was fine. Until all of the sudden it just felt like all the blood left my head and I got dizzy. Not like the world was spinning, but just lightheaded.

So I said so and we pulled over. Tom pushed a salty snack in my hand, and they made me sit in the shade and take my helmet off. Ten or 15 minutes of resting, Tom said - which seemed excessive to me, I mean you really don't want to stop at all and even at the rest stops it's best to keep 10 minutes as your upper limit, break-wise. (Because you don't want your muscles to cool off, see.) And then he said after that, we'd see how I felt and if I was dizzy again, end of ride. Internally, of course, I was like WHAT?! Call for SAG, isn't that a bit drastic? What the hell, it's just a little weirdness and I can just hydrate and push through, why are they all serious and stuff? But I just silently sucked on my electrolyte drink and then I realized that taking the helmet off felt like -- I don't know the word. Like heaven. Like I'd been suffering hellishly and not known it until that second. Because the temp had risen. And the sun was like this:

Or really, more like this:

Then Tom and Anne started throwing around terms like "heat exhaustion" and how even the hint of possible heat stroke meant the end of a ride, no way was I allowed to go on. And that's when I recognized the mild swaying sensation I was experiencing in my head. It feels like the buzz you get after a drink or two, when you know you should cut yourself off or risk embarrassing drunken shenanigans. Except I hadn't been drinking, of course, and the only time that wooziness happens without alcohol is when I have a flu or when I've been laying in the sun too long.

Anyway. It was like 85 degrees - which may sound no big deal, but we have not had that kind of heat, it's all been in the 60s, so I am not remotely acclimated. And though it was a mostly shady course, it just wasn't shady enough. I am rather severely over-sensitive to heat, too, as a rule. I always say that anything above 72 is just another chance for me to complain about the heat, and anything above 80 is sweltering. (I don't mind 85 when I'm laying under an umbrella at the beach. Key word = laying. Not exercising.) So after a bit, I felt better, got on the bike, immediately heard a weird noise, then we realized I had a flat. We sat in the shade and fixed it and, in just that little bit of exertion involved it turning my bike over and putting the wheel back into place, the wooziness returned.

So I said: nope. Let's take me back and call it a day. Riding that shortcut back - like maybe 1.5 miles - there was no doubt I did the right thing. The heat was making me ill, just in that little distance. I know as well as the coaches that extreme heat is NOT something to screw around with. It's just not. I actually know my limit on this one, and I refused to push it. So that was that. I maybe got 30 or 35 miles in. Which sounds just pathetic when you consider it was supposed to be 80, but is a perfectly respectable distance for a Saturday ride. The kicker was that Coach Tom, a real mensch, bought me an Italian ice at this fabulous sweet shop on the way back. He insisted it wasn't ice cream - which is true - so I was allowed to have it. It was exactly what the doctor ordered, too. After I ate about half of it, I began to feel normal again.

Okay, so about that first 25 miles, when I was riding mostly alone and it was cooler and a really enjoyable ride. Huh, you know - I ran out of water in my Cambak like before I even got to 20 miles, so clearly I need to be mindful of this on hot days, maybe make a point to drink even MORE water before I get on the bike at all. Usually, I have a big glass, like at least 24 ounces, before we get going, but obviously that doesn't cut it in the heat. Anyway, we were in Barrington. Remember those hills there? Well there was the double decker one, like a hill on top of a hill. Here's the thing: either the part of the course I went over didn't include that (except I'm pretty sure it's the exact route we did before) or that thing just shrank sometime in the last month. I mean, there were hills - and some were really not enjoyable - but there was nothing that nearly killed me. And last time, that thing near killed me.

And remember Serendipity? This one:

Well I turned the corner and saw the sign that said "Serendipity" on it. I pointed at it and began to curse it. (Side note to Mom: don't read this, because I am foul-mouthed and I don't want you to have to recite this out loud to Aunt Aileen.) It's like that hill just pisses me off, so I was all "Fuck you, Serendipity. You hear me, FUCK YOU, bring it ON, bitch, I fucking DARE you."

And then I went up the hill. Which now looks more like this to me:

It's not easy, but I was never for a second in danger of not doing it. It's not like I enjoyed it, or I'd want to do it because yay rah so much fun - but it was just a little sweaty effort and voilà. It's steep but short, so no biggie. Up and over, as they say.

That's probably why I'm not freaked about doing Tahoe even though the most I've ever done is like 63 miles. The hills of Barrington made it clear to me that my body (and brain, because they tell me that cycling is about 95% mental) has really adapted and improved so much even in just the last few weeks. I can't say for sure that I can do 100 miles in Tahoe, but I CAN say that I can confidently try it and not be utterly astonished if I make it without collapsing in the middle of a climb.

I'm just glad Tahoe is not a sweltering hot place. The (reported) temps there seem to suit me perfectly: cold in the morning, cool in the 50-60s through most of the day, and maybe getting into the upper 70s at some point. Perfect conditions for an enjoyable ride. Now that I have some actual skills on the bike, and I have my nutrition, hydration, stretching, and leg cramp management down pat, all I need is decent conditions and I stand a chance.

After I stopped riding, I hung out at the SAG tent with various teammates as we waited for others to finish their mileage. I figured since it's usually me who's the last to roll in, it'd be nice to do the cheering for all the others, for a change. It was really nice, to sit and talk with friends. The team is really such a great bunch of people, and the only thing I regret about being a weak rider is that I don't really get to spend hours riding with all of them, and talking and hanging out on the bike together. So it was nice to do that for a while. In the shade.

So that's it. I'll ride to work all next week and then I have to send my bike off to Tahoe. It comes back a few days after I do, and I find I'm entirely flustered at the idea of nearly 2 full weeks without a bike to ride. I'll have to ride the train again, horror of horrors! Hmmm or maybe I'll go ahead and shop for a permanent city bike? I mean really - that is WAY too long to go without a ride. I have bike needs! I need bike!

Now I am off to take some ibuprofen, in the hopes of eradicating this (no doubt heat-induced) massive headache that set in on my way home last night and won't go away.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Love To Bike

This is to complement my I Hate Training post. Because I may hate training, but I love riding my bike.

Even when the weather's not perfect. Even when there are careless cars and homicidal taxi cabs as far as the eye can see, and the path is clogged with joggers and rollerbladers. Even when I'm tired and feeling lazy. Even when I get a flat. Even when I can't get comfortable on the seat or get my right foot to situate itself properly on the pedal (my right foot does not want to exist on a pedal, it seems), and even though I can't carry anything because of my lack of baskets. Even when there's wind, and even when there's not wind but it still feels like an effort. Even when there's no available place to lock up near my office building and I have to wander around hunting for a free spot on a bike rack. Even when my hands ache and I have to massage them at every stop light.

Even on days I don't feel like getting on a bike, I love to bike.

I love it. I love love love it and I can't imagine why anyone would prefer sitting in a car or a train when they could be zooming along on two wheels. I mean, it probably helps that I live in a very, very aesthetically pleasing city, with a decent bit of bike infrastructure. And the weather has been insanely good for months now. But that just tells me that all the people I see in cars are crazy to not enjoy the bike-friendliness that is there for the taking.

I do promise not to become some kind of bikevangelist, though. Those people are annoying as hell. No preaching from me, and if you catch me at it, you can totally slap my wrist and say Bad biker! But it's an experience not unlike drinking, say, your standard too-weak Folgers-in-a-can all your life, and then one day tasting a really fresh, perfectly brewed, wonderful coffee. I'll offer you a cup of the good stuff when you visit and be politely aghast if you don't like it (you savage), but I won't shame you for not buying pounds of the premium beans. To each his own and may you and Folgers be very happy together, but I know what I'm stocking my coffee cupboard with, okay. But enough with the coffee analogy and back to bikes.

It's odd, but I really didn't expect to like it this much. I was just okay with it at first. And riding for training didn't make me love it. It's the bike commuting that's done it, I guess. My coworker/marathon-trainer/friend Elspeth and I were talking today about how different the simulated vs the real experiences are. For her, running outside and not on a treadmill was a big revelation - suddenly when she took it outside, running didn't feel like a chore, and she loved it, and was better at it. Ironically for me, I am better on a stationary bike than a real one (performance-wise) - but I could only start really enjoying a bike when I could use it for something other than exercise/training.

That's one of the best things to come out of this experience: I've already put in more miles of riding than a casual/recreational/weekend rider would have done in a year. It's all in the miles - the more you have behind you, the more confidence you have. Everything in the learning process was sped up for me, and I went from wobbly and uncertain to smooth and controlled in just a week or two. If not for the training, I'd still be wondering if I had the rules of the road right, and be nervous of turning tight corners, and incapable of navigating tight spaces and potholed streets.

So there. I loooooooooooooooooooooooove to bike my way around. It makes me happy. And how many forms of transportation can you say that about, huh?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Joy Of New Hair

So today I went and got my hair colored and cut. It is WAY overdue, and I was looking like a shaggy dog. Or a hobo. (Both of which are insults to the shaggy dog and hobo communities, respectively.) It was pretty awful, and I'd decided to get it shorter but keep a loose and soft look to it, with a bit of length in back.

But I'd also decided to go a bit blond, and once I saw the color I wanted the cut short and tight and sassy as ever. I always wear the helmet when I ride, which leads to extra head-sweating. My hair is so super thick that all the added length in back was like a sweat-sponge. It was pretty gross.

So look - the sweat-sponge is gone!


Isn't the color pretty? It's so naturally sun-faded brown-to-blond that I look like it's Labor Day after a whole summer of laying on the beach. Yet it is all entirely chemical! Mad props to Claudia and Girl Whose Name I Can't Spell (Ja-somthingorother) at the fabulous Kozi Salon in Barrington. Those ladies know how to treat a head, let me tell you.

Here is my attempt to capture the color a little better.

 Eh, so I can't work a camera to save my life. So? You get the idea, I hope. And if not, here's a picture of how it kind of looks. I say "kind of" because I am infamously unphotogenic (why don't I ever think to put on make-up?) and the angle and lighting aren't all that helpful. But you can have an idea of how the cut looks from the front, at least!

As for my expression and not so flawless complexion, let's just say it was a long day. One in which my doctor informed me that yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as female jock itch. Let's leave that statement there and walk away, shall we?

At least I have shiny new hair to comfort me. And no more curling frizzing sweat-sponge at the back of my helmet! One bummer, though, is that I'd meant to ask them to put a single bright purple streak in there, as a GO TEAM flag of sorts, since I can't wear my team jersey. (For those who don't know, Team In Training's signature color is purple.) But I completely forgot and it's too late now. Oh well.

I wanted to get a long-ish ride in today, to make up for missing the training ride this past weekend. But it was not in the cards. I wonder how awful Saturday will be? It's our last training ride.

Oh god. It's our last training ride. As much as that fills me with relief, it now - just now, just this second - fills me with utter terror. Yes, I said TERROR.

Fortunately (?) I also didn't have time to grocery shop, so there is nothing to stress eat. That's nice.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I Hate Training

I keep thinking that I hate cycling, but I've just come to realize recently that I hate training. I hate feeling like I have to do my weight training Or Else. I hate the constant worry over doing enough miles and what my body can or cannot take and getting it up to speed and all that jazz. I hate hate HATE spin class, oh my god does that feel good to say out loud. (Which is kind of funny, actually, because I actually do much better at spin class than I do at actual on-bike cycling. But it's not the first time that I've been pretty good at an activity I hate, so.) I just hate the constant extreme effort, the every-day toil and effort. It's gotten old. Life is hard enough without adding this kind of thing to it, you know?

To be fair, I think it's only because I am so very new that this level of training is necessary. I've had a long way to go to get to where I need to be, physically, so that's why it's been rather intense. Probably if I did this again in the near future, I wouldn't have to work quite so hard all the time.

But that begs the question: do I ever want to do this again? It's true I have a level of disenchantment lately that would suggest you couldn't pay me enough to sign up for this sort of thing ever again. But it's also true that though I hate spin classes, I really like the teammates I see there. And though I hate waking before dawn on a Saturday and driving out to the suburbs to sit my sore ass on a bike for hours, I do like a good long ride and the quiet time on country roads, and the feeling of exhausted accomplishment when I do the whole course.

That's what it's like in my head lately: I vacillate between composing imaginary Craigslist ads to sell all my cycling-related stuff, and thinking that I shouldn't be so hasty because what if next summer I want to go out and ride with the team? At the same time, it feels like my body is making some decisions for me, like that I can't keep riding this specific bike. My hands hurt constantly now, in that awful aching arthritis way - and I think it's because of having my weight on my hands. I think if I'm to avoid chronic pain, I have to get a fully upright bike. Poor Pepe and I are just not cut out for a long-term relationship.

So I don't know what's after Tahoe. Especially since right now, I am at a point where I honestly don't care about Tahoe. I feel like I've already put in enough work to meet my own definition of Awesome, so the 100 miles in Tahoe just feels like a detail. It's a goal someone else set, and I'm only doing it because I signed onto it and said I would. It's good that this is for charity, because that's the only thing that's kept me going lately. I think most people who sign up for this kind of thing would do it anyway, you know? They'd always cycle for sport, and this gives them a framework and a goal for a hobby they love. But that's how I am really different in this: there's no way I would ever be doing this for the hell of it. I mostly hate it, and I'm only doing it because of a promise I made in my heart to the people who will benefit from the dollars I raise. If I walk away from this, I walk away from them. And I won't do that.

And also - my coaches are so freaking awesome and I feel like they're even more invested in me than I am. They really do care about me, and they are SO looking forward to me crossing the finish line in Tahoe. And I'm so grateful to them and love them so much that there's no way I could back out now. This is where that whole team mentality comes in - I don't want to disappoint my team, because they've been so patient and encouraging and just flat-out good people to me. And as much as they look forward to watching me cross the finish line, I'm just as much looking forward to crossing it while they cheer me on. After all, the best part of life is found in really Great Moments, and that's one that I wouldn't want any of us to miss.

But there it is, for the record : I mostly hate all of this, but I'm doing it anyway. At least there is ice cream at the end of it!

Friday, May 11, 2012

It's All Scenic And Stuff!

It's not just the pretty Chicago skyline ahead of me as I ride to work...

It's that just next to me is this lovely huge lake, which right now when the sun is shining, is this perfect blue-green color. And the light sparks off of it, and white boat sails are showing up now. So even when there's a wind, who cares? Do you know how enormous the lake is? People who haven't been here before don't realize it seems as big as the ocean, when you're standing on the shore. As they say - it's not just a lake; it's a Great Lake.

I do think it takes me a bit longer (and results in a bit more sweat) when I ride instead of taking the train. But I cannot imagine any argument that would convince me it's not worth that extra 10 minutes for this view.

And there really is no better way to start a day than this.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Weighty Subject

I am trying not to feel too bad for missing spin class last night, especially since I can't make it to this weekend's training ride. I have to work on Saturday, and last night I just felt ick. Intestinal distress that got worse as the day went on. This is an indicator to me that I am Highly Stressed. It always hits me in the gut.

Anyway, I thought I'd talk about something that a lot of people, it seems, tend to think of when it comes to cycling and endurance training: weight. As in, the losing of it. Even just the idea of riding a bicycle for weight loss, outside of endurance training - it's a thing in people's heads. So let me address it.

I am occasionally asked if I'm losing weight - sometimes people even observe that I have lost weight. Except that I haven't. At all. None, aside from the same 3-5 pounds that always fluctuate with me. And yes, as I mentioned, I have actively tried to lose weight the last couple of months. And yes, as you know, I've been doing a lot of spin classes for months, have cut out daily sweets (and all ice cream, sigh), bike commuting a few days a week, and of course the long training rides. That's why I'm writing this: people think that all of that adds up to inevitable weight loss. But I am here to tell you that no: you're wrong. It doesn't.

I'm sorry to have to say that. Because it's really, really depressing for people. If I think about it enough, it depresses me too: you can do all that, you can work so so SO hard - and still never lose an ounce. It is a cruel truth.

A disclaimer here: everyone's body is different and mine is unusually stubborn about weight loss. (To the extent that sometimes I feel like I should be studied by cutting-edge medical researchers.) I have learned from past experience that for me to lose weight requires at minimum of 15 days in a row of reducing caloric intake to near-starvation levels. And that's no exaggeration - I'm talking about bringing it down to 1200 calories per day, every day for two weeks before my body finally lets go of an ounce. I don't think most other people have to be this extreme. In fact, I know of many people who have simply cut out weekday beer-drinking, or sodas, and the pounds fall off. (NOTE: All of those people are men. And yes, I would like to punch each and every one of them.) But my body seems to be genetically engineered for indentured servitude: constant physical exertion and very little food. It's what my body expects, every minute, and what its fat cells are working toward.

In general I think there's this myth that no matter what, if you move your body more, you will magically be skinny. This is as much of a lie as the notion that all you have to do is drink a special protein shake - or incorporate pomegranate juice into your diet, or cut out pasta, or eat a grapefruit with every meal, or sleep with your feet higher than your head - and voilà weight loss. "Lots of exercise" is just another item in the long list of magic bullets we all seem to believe in. Everyone always thinks there's just one special thing that will do it. Maybe it's an easy thing, like pill. Maybe it's a hard thing, like working out 5 days a week. But it's just one thing they have to change in order to get there. There's a simple formula, that's what everyone thinks.

And I suppose there is one thing: eat less. The end. That won't make you healthy, but it'll take the pounds off.

Significantly increasing the level of my physical exertion makes me super-hungry a lot of the time. So cutting my calories down to below 1500 is just not happening. There's being hungry, and then there's Seriously Needing To Eat Now. I have definitely reduced my intake, but not to the level where it would make a difference to my body. I am pretty tough and can be very disciplined, but I am not Superwoman and my stores of strength are limited. I want to eat a WHOLE sandwich for my lunch after spin class - and maybe a granola bar too! - even if it wipes out half the calories I just burned.

Now, a lot of people get into endurance training and they shed pounds like crazy. If you're considering it as a way to lose weight, don't let me discourage you. As I said, every human body is different and mine is not like yours. But do not automatically believe what some people will say about it - that as long as you're working your body like that, you can eat whatever you want. Because that is not true for everyone. Not in the least.

So the lesson here is: eat less if you want to lose weight; exercise more if you want a healthy body; and consider these two things rather mutually exclusive, no substitutes or exchanges.

Fortunately, I didn't do this to lose weight. I did want to get healthier, and stronger - and it will do that. So no, I haven't lost weight and am fat and sassy as I ever was. Maybe in a few weeks, when this is over and I go back to my normal life but add in a daily bike commute, the added exercise will become normal and I can naturally take in less calories and voilà. We'll see, who knows. But for right now, as far as bodily benefits go:  my legs feel about 10 times stronger, and my joints never feel rusty, and my back hasn't gone out in months. I have a whole host of new bodily pains -- everyone also asks if I feel great, but I haven't been able to get to "great" yet. (So far training has been all about this or that muscle protesting.) But I feel a hell of a lot better than if I weren't doing it.

It does suck, of course, to work so hard and not get that one benefit. But I don't mind so much, except that I'd hoped for less weight to lighten the load on my bike and add speed. That's not happening. Also, it's really, really, really sad to me that my jersey for Tahoe (provided by Team In Training) doesn't fit. It's too tight, even though I ordered the same size as the other shirt they gave me months ago, and which fits fine. If I'd just lost 10 pounds -- all that work, it'd be nice if I got 10 pounds out of it! -- the shirt would have fit. But it doesn't. And they don't order extras so there's no replacement. I guess it doesn't matter that I don't look like the rest of the team in this way, since there are so many other ways I don't fit into the team (which is a whole other topic for a whole other post), but it bums me out that I can't even have that.

Anyway, there you have it: suddenly biking everywhere will not in and of itself automatically change your body type. So don't do it for that. There are a load of other reasons for doing it, though, so don't dismiss it outright.

And now I will hop on my bike and go to work, which is a pretty great way to spend a sunny early summer morning, I'll have you know, and which I'm finally able to do because of this whole experience.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Gang Aft Agley

The plan today was: wake early-ish, blog about my 65-ish miles ridden yesterday, bike down to the Women-Who-Bike brunch - maybe stop by Boulevard Bikes while I was in the neighborhood (test ride a Pashley?) - bike home in time for a planned friend-thing at 3-ish, and top off the evening with a good bit of legwarmer knitting whilst watching a fresh episode of Sherlock.


I should've known from the start that it really wasn't meant to be. I woke and felt like I needed about 3 more days of sleep. Followed by a spa day. Just all of me was stiff and tired and didn't want to move. But I soldiered on, because oftentimes, you just need to move around and your body gets over it. So I headed out - a bit later than I'd intended but still enough time to get there. But I went sooooo sloooooow. My whole body was just stiff and tired and didn't want to be pedalling. Such full-body muscular protest. Then about halfway there, I noticed the back tire went flat.

At this point, I just want to say: ARGH. I seriously am thinking to invest in majorly puncture-proof tires, because this is absurdly inconvenient. Especially since I don't have a little air pump. I have a floor pump at home, and I'm just out of places to keep a hand pump on the bike (and, again: sick of spending money on this damn bike). But I was in this No Man's Land - which actually, turned out to be like a 10 minute walk from Roscoe Village, which is decidedly NOT a no-man's land. But I really just didn't have an accurate map of the area in my head.

So I sat down in front of Lane Tech High School and watched a super-cute couple doing a graduation photo shoot as I attempted to change the tire. I figured I could at least do that and then try to hail a passing cyclist in hopes of borrowing a pump, or else go to a gas station and hope the air machine there would work. Little did I realize how much freaking TIME it takes to change a flat when you really have never done it before. Freaking Matt made it look SO EASY when he did it - just whip the tire half-off, put in the tube, ease the tire back onto the rim all quick-like, and like 5 minutes later - voilà fixed tire.

It took me like 30 minutes and 4 broken nails to get the stinking tire off the rim. It's HARD, okay. And then the tube, and getting the tire back on - totally awkward. The entire process took me at least an hour. There go my dreams of being all blasé about the occasional flat tire, Little Miss Fixit. Just as I was finishing, a guy on a bike stopped and said he didn't have a pump, but Roscoe Village Bikes was just that way like a half-mile or so. So I gathered up Pepe and off we went to find the nicest people there at the bike shop. I asked the guy to check the job I did before we filled it with air, in case I did it wrong. He said I passed the test, all is good and I could be on my way.

I wondered briefly whether I could at least make it to the end of the brunch and get a beer. I mean, I could really use a beer after that. But as I walked out of the bike shop, it began to rain. Like, serious rain. Coming down. All over me.

Screw it, I know when I'm defeated. I locked up the bike and walked into the nearest restaurant. I was starving, it was Guatemalan, they gave me free warm milk as I waited for my meal to arrive.

Not a bad turn of events, all things considered. Right across the street was a thrift shop, so after my meal (and a hot cup of coffee), I stepped in and hoped to find a decent rain coat in my size. No such luck, but I did find a jacket that would at least give me some extra warmth, as the temp had dropped and I was just wearing a cotton blouse. Also a cute skirt for $5, so all around not a bad bit of serendipity.

Luck! I thought, as I headed back to my bike. The rain had let up! So I got on the bike and headed home. Then about 3 blocks later, the heavens opened. I was soaked to the skin in less than a mile.

Clearly, I should never have left my house this morning, despite the yummy Guatemalan food and good deals on secondhand clothes. I got home and dried off, only to find that my stupid groin muscle hurt more than ever. I seriously just cannot win with all things bike-related today.

But I did get the time with my friend Laura. And I did watch Sherlock, which was great but I got no knitting done because I was too engrossed in the story and in applying the heating pad to my hip adductor to think about knitting.

So not a total loss. But nuts to trying to keep to a scheduled plan when relying on a not-so-reliable bike. Pshaw.


Yesterday, hurrah, I did 65 miles. Well okay - more like 65-ish. I think it was somewhere between 62 and 63, but I've decided to be less die-hard about exact numbers, especially now that we're in the range where a few miles is nuttin. I mean, the proportional difference, if that's what it's called. It's like driving across town to save 2 pennies per gallon on tax: so what if I pay $43 for a tank of gas instead of $41?  Let's be real, people.

Okay that might not make much sense but I am tired and not really focused on being all coherent and stuff. The only real reason I cut the mileage was because I had a leg muscle that was seriously complaining and who knew Burr Ridge was so freaking hilly? So we cut out some hills near the end, which meant cutting a few miles. I'm not chuffed at all, since I did the hills the first 2-3 times they came around on the course (the whole route was just a series of repeated loops on the same roads) and because I have learned not to push it when it comes to complaining leg muscles. Lately, it's not my calves. It's my hip adductors. Otherwise known as The Groin.

Through this training process, I have become intimately acquainted with the anatomy of my legs.

I have been conducting peacekeeping talks with my Adductor Magnus for the last couple of weeks. At first he refused to acknowledge my authority (due to my having confused him with Vastus Medialis, of quadriceps fame), but our working relationship was coming along quite nicely until yesterday's breakdown in negotiations. I stretched and stretched but Magnus was only willing to give so much before refusing to put up with it anymore. I could tell a screeching tantrum was on the way, so we cut some hills and called it a day.

In fact, I even walked it up a couple of really steep long hills. I hate to walk a hill, so that tells you how traumatized I still am by the pain of the charley horse from hell. No way will I unwittingly let that happen again.

Here's some great news: I was much faster this time! There was wind, but at least half the time it helped instead of hindered. (Yes, half the time it DID hinder, but hey - I'll take what I can get.) I think I do better on hilly terrain, because I can really take advantage of the momentum I get from downhills. And I have to say that I'm beginning to wonder how much of my slowness is my weakness as a rider, and how much might be my bike. Now I know it's a poor rider who blames the bike, but I also know from reading Lovely Bicycle's thought and reviews on different bikes (which are addictive, btw) that the bike really does make a difference.  Some bikes are built to easily pick up and retain momentum. And a lot of times, it's the combination of the rider and the bike, in terms of weight, positioning, and riding style. So I am beginning to think that some of my speedlessness is the Pepe half of this relationship. Maybe we're just not the best couple to go a fast distance?

In any case, I apparently got up to like 19-20 mph in some places, and often cruised along at 15 mph. This is the advantage of having a cycling computer (I don't, but all the coaches do). It's funny, because I would never ever have guess I was going that fast. Kinda cool. I also learned that a 1% grade downhill is my all-time favorite terrain ever. It's exactly perfect because it doesn't FEEL like you're going downhill, it just feels like you're effortlessly zooming along. Highly recommended.

I got to ride with Coach Tom, who has done Tahoe like 9 or 10 times. He shared all his Tahoe Tricks with me. Well, he'd shared them before, but we made sure I hadn't missed any. The most valuable one is to NOT stop at the first rest stop - everyone wants to, because it's right after the much-dreaded switchbacks, but Tom says it's a big mistake because the rest area is right at the bottom of a downhill, just before a nasty uphill. And here's how you make it up hills: Never, ever ever waste a good downhill. If you stop, then you give up the momentum that would carry you most of the way (sometimes all the way) up the next hill. If I ever stop, it's at the top of a hill.

Anyway, that's all boring endurance-cycle talk, so let's just leave it at: I made it, my legs are tired, and I have much stretching to do. And here's a little bit of the switchbacks:

Actually, this guy did a whole series of videos, so you can watch bits of the whole ride, in sequence. I haven't had the strength yet to look directly at what's coming, but you feel free to do so. I think I'd rather let it all be a surprise. In LESS THAN A MONTH OMG.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Damp Little Milestone

I rode in the rain! It's only exciting because it's always made me a bit nervous. Not scared, really, just uncertain and it's always been an off-putting idea since as I previously mentioned, I do not have appropriate rain gear. This wasn't even rain, according to my definition of it. More of a light drizzle - but thunderstorms were threatening. There was thunder! There was lightning! The dead rising from the grave! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

In reality, I just got a little wet and wondered how likely I was to be struck by lightning. I also spent a lot of time wondering if I should be using the back brakes. To be honest, I have only ever used the front brakes.  to be even more honest, I have no idea what the difference is between the two (aside from the obvious: front brakes stop the front wheel, back brakes stop the back wheel) and I read somewhere when I first got the bike that people should be using the front brake most of the time. I have since gotten the impression that you use the back brakes for when you're going downhill. But I've never done that because I like going fast on downhills and  would only slow down if I HAD to. So far I haven't had to.

Huh. Maybe I am doing something really wrong? Funny how these super-basic things are never taught, really, everyone just seems to know already or, like me, they just do what seems to work. I suppose I could search the internet for an answer, but how much you want to bet there are as many "right" ways to brake as there are cyclists with keyboards? Probably better to ask my Coterie of Coaches(tm) on Saturday.

I also wished I had my front fender. You may recall I kept the front fender off in order to more easily fit the bike (sans front wheel) into the back seat of my car. So I got a bit dirty, which just made me glad it happened on the way home instead of on the way to work.

So there you have it: riding int he rain is like riding in the not-rain. Just a little more wet.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Odds and Ends

I am home sick with a mini-flu that descended on me suddenly. It's awful timing, since in addition to training I have other time-sensitive work going on. I kept wishing yesterday that my immune system could please just hold out for 6 more weeks and then I am free to get sick, no problem. Which is hilarious, because asking for a 6-day delay is naive enough, but 6 weeks? Hah.

Anyway, it's just a slight fever and the edges of dizziness and constant uncertainty in my gut, but nothing full-blown. Enough to keep me home today and I guess I should not do the training spin class tonight. See, it's a good thing I did those 60 miles on Sunday, huh?

Grace and Helmets
Oh hey, a shout out to GRACE who didn't leave any contact info so I hope you're reading, Grace. Thanks for the donation!! And you are totally allowed - nay, encouraged! - to steal the reflective-stickers-on-helmet idea. My other idea was to make it seasonal and for winter, take squares of white reflective tape, fold them and make snowflake shapes. It actually makes me want to have like 6 helmets, each decorated seasonally (pumpkins and ghosts in October! Santa-esque trimmings in December! you get the idea.)

New Bike Territory
When I left work early to come home and tentatively sip ginger lemon tea, I had to take my bike on the train for the first time. I was bad at it. It's just so big and long and always in the way and hard to maneuver around people. It was probably because I was a little dizzy and because I had to sit. Otherwise I would've been able to just walk to the back of the car and stand there.

Anyway, what sucks is there's this whole stretch north on the red line where none of the stations are wheelchair accessible. Which yes, sucks for me when I've got a bike, but is just REALLY CRAPPY for anyone who physically can't do stairs. How does the city of Chicago get away with this blatant violation of the ADA? I don't understand. It's just downright bullshit, is what it is, like a whole 2-3 miles stretch of public transit with no elevators or ramps. I mean, it was easy enough for me to half-carry, half-wheel my bike down the stairs (I could not have carried it up in my condition) so that's fine. But I am just outraged on behalf of people for whom this is not an option. Grr.

I still haven't ridden in any kind of rain, but I don't hate the idea so long as I can get a good rain jacket. I am actually constantly mentally designing a rain cape-ish (it's sort of like a very very loose swing coat, or a non-voluminous cape with very wide long sleeves, see). It would have a hood that would fit over the helmet but would be elasticized so it couldn't fall over your face. It would have big pockets and thumb loops and a belt to cinch it tight and a weighted hem so the wind wouldn't blow it up. I think I'd make it out of a thin cotton with a silicone waterproofing coat. Or something. I want it to be not hot, but waterproof. Anyway, I enjoy the mental designing of the perfect thing.  I know I could buy one for like $200, but that's just nutso.


okay i have to sleep now. Stupid germs.