Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “cycling”

Getting Reacquainted With My Bike…the hard way!

You may recall me mentioning my bike a bit more last year. Of course, if you are fairly new to my blog, then odds are you haven’t gone back that far to read old posts and you have no idea what I’m talking about. In that case, you can take my word for it that I spent a lot of time on my bike last year! If you have been reading my blog since last year…shhhh…just keep your mouth shut and try not to burst the aura of awesomeness the newer folks are feeling emanating from their computer screens right now.

Either way, my focus since January has been about 99% running, and my Trek 2.1 has wept accordingly, hanging out in the basement and avoiding the leaks in the floor from the heavy rain. I did manage to move my trusty Trek onto the trainer over the winter with the help of a friend. Despite all my riding, my ability to change out tires and tubes leaves a bit to be desired. Thus, you may want to bump me down a few notches on your emergency tire call list. Just sayin’. Now, just like simply owning shoes doesn’t mean you put them on and get out the door for a run, simply owning a really pretty bike doesn’t mean you get on it and log any miles. Up till this point, I had completed approximately 4 trainer rides, totaling about 60 miles. By approximately, I mean exactly, and by “up till this point”, I mean since September. Needless to say, my legs and butt were not properly acclimated to cycling.

A great group to ride with...self-portrait style!

A great group to ride with…self-portrait style!

So, when a few great friends invited me for a century ride on my rest day, during a low mileage running week, I obviously said yes immediately! Now, what I really mean is I told them that if they helped me put my road tires back on and grease my chain, I would begrudgingly accompany them on their much-too-early bike ride. After a nice and relaxing 4th of July with the beautiful epicurean, I woke up at 5AM the next day to eat a small breakfast and head over to their house to meet them for our ride. At 5AM, on what is a vacation day for most folks, it’s pretty darn quiet in a small town in Iowa. Everyone is sleeping. I couldn’t help but think about the comfy bed I left behind as I pedaled down the road toward their house…then back to my house when I realized I forgot my sunglasses, and then back to their house. I didn’t exactly know the route for the day, and they assured me they would be moving at a comfortable pace, with the goal being simply to reach 100 miles. Have I mentioned yet that this was basically my first time on the bike all year? I should also mention they’ve been riding all year, and are training for Ironman Wisconsin. Hmmmm…I wonder if our definitions of “comfortable” are the same?

Taking a...ummm..."break" on the side of the road :)

Taking a…ummm…”break” on the side of the road 🙂

We headed south out-of-town, and were quickly traveling down a country road I’d never been on before. I like exploring uncharted (by me) territory, so this was exciting. It was still relatively cool outside, and we had the road to ourselves. At this point, 17-20 mph seemed perfectly reasonable. It wouldn’t seem nearly as reasonable 80 miles later, but I’ll get to that in good time. We headed south again, and picked up the High Trestle Trail in Woodward. This trail has only been open a few years, but has become incredibly popular, and for good reason. After about 10 miles, we crossed over the Des Moines River, and the view from the bridge is fantastic! It was still early enough, so traffic on the trail was light. We hit the 50-mile mark in Slater, where the trail turns south towards Ankeny.

This kitten wanted to welcome us to the trail...and grope my rear tire.

This kitten wanted to welcome us to the trail…and grope my rear tire.

At this point, one of our friends had to head back to Ames to get back in time for work. My legs were feeling mildly tired, but I was still in pretty good shape. Nonetheless, I still thought long and hard about heading back to Ames with him. Alas, my internal competition is far too great, and I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t keep going. I kept my mouth shut, and continued on. We hit Ankeny, and cut under the interstate, and up some nice, rolling hills. Ok, so they would have been nice and rolling if my legs didn’t have 60 miles on them at that point. I was certainly happy to start heading north, and let the tailwind provide a little natural propulsion. Aside from moving a bit more to the east, the northern direction was definitely well-earned, and I was feeling pretty darn good, all things considered. Mind you, my butt was screaming at me, but it had been doing that for the last 40 miles, and showed no signs of letting up, so I just accepted it as a given.

Stopping for some water...a nice couple offered to take our photo, and leave their mark as well.

Stopping for some water…a nice couple offered to take our photo, and leave their mark as well.

When we hit mile 90 or so, we headed back west towards Ames. That’s when my legs began to revolt, and my speed dropped to a more mandatory 12 or 13 mph. The wind was still blowing from the south, which meant it was trying to blow me over personally during the entire last segment of the ride. Mother nature and I do have a bit of a love/hate relationship. She’s the jealous type as it turns out. Even so, a nice friendly push from my friends made the final few miles much easier, and I made my way back into town. I arrived home around 3pm, and felt every bit as tired as sitting on a tiny, hard bike seat for 9 hours would suggest. I managed to avoid most of the sunburn that typically haunts me, but I had plenty of other more “delicate” bruises. My body had to remind me of my crazy somehow, right? Despite it all, it was a wonderful day with friends, and I couldn’t have been happier with the experience. The bike will probably always play second fiddle to my endurance running addiction, but it’s great to maintain my relationship with cycling as well!

We had most of the country roads to ourselves...

We had most of the country roads to ourselves…

except for the trains!
except for the trains!

Regardless of the GPS readings, we knew we had hit our mark, and it felt great knowing I had tackled this challenge…more challenges to come!

GPS readings aren't an exact science :)

GPS readings aren’t an exact science 🙂

A “century” of learning…in the saddle!

H.G. Wells has nothing on me. I flew threw a century in less than a day! Like any long span of time, there were a number of ups and downs. There were moments that left me in awe of my own accomplishments and moments where I really had no interest in going on. I met some new people, got to know some friends better, ate some delicious food, and learned more than I anticipated about myself in a span of merely 9 hours (merely…hah!).

As I had previously posted, this week is RAGBRAI 2012. Although I had talked to plenty of people about the experience, heard some great stories, read blogs and looked at pictures, I still really had no idea what I was in for when I signed up. I only knew that it was an experience I hadn’t had yet, and I wanted to have it!

We trekked up to Sioux Center, IA on Saturday morning, by way of Lincoln, NE to pick up our SAG driver for the week (a friend’s daughter). We camped at a friend’s house on Saturday night, but I didn’t get much sleep. Between the rain and the anticipation, I was doomed to insomnia. We woke up at 5AM to pack up our gear and we were on the road by 6:10AM. It was a beautiful ride of town, and we had plenty of time for the mere 62 miles that the day had in store. Ironically, my previous long ride was only 55 miles, so even the shorter rides this week were long for me! The day went fairly well, and I enjoyed the stops in small towns along the way. I really had no idea how big of a deal it was for RAGBRAI to go through town until I saw everything the towns came out and did for the riders. Clearly, with 15,000 hungry and thirsty riders coming through, there is at least a small economic incentive as well 🙂 We arrived in Cherokee, IA around 11AM, and had plenty of time to get set up with our host for the night. We had the luxury of staying indoors with AC, which was vital considering the 100 degree temperatures!

Departing from Sioux Center, IA for Day 1 of RAGBRAI

The second day saw another 5AM wake-up call, and we were again on the road by 6AM. Monday proved to be a great day. I traveled with a group of friends who I mostly consider much faster and more skilled than myself, so I had no aspirations of keeping up with them during the rides, but figured I’d enjoy the company of strangers and experience everything. However, I got going on Day 2 and it was as if my legs decided to +1, because I was feeling good and rolling right along. We stopped several times, for some great cinnamon rolls and the classic slice of pie (who can say no to homemade pie served by little old ladies at a church in a small town?!). We rolled in to the state park we were staying at, 67 miles under our belt (another PR for distance), and I had averaged closed to 19 mph along the way, which was a complete shock but it certainly brought a smile to my face!

Homemade Apricot pie- yes, please!

Now, we had been leaving early to try and beat some of the heat, as the highs reached around 100 degrees each day. However, camping outside in a state park (granted, it was quite beautiful and situated right on a lake in Lakeview, IA) meant still sleeping outside and enduring the heat. I don’t do well in heat, and I slept pretty poorly. In addition, the next day was a 100 mile (century) ride, so we woke up at 4AM to be on the road by 5AM. Needless to say, getting starting on Tuesday morning was a struggle.

Nonetheless, I pushed myself out and up on the bike, and I had plenty of adrenaline flowing. Riding a century meant surpassing my previous high distance from the day before by 30 miles, and really riding twice as long as I had trained for this year. I was feeling good, and my confidence carried me for about the first 30 miles. Then my back started spasming- feeling like someone is branding your lower back with a hot iron isn’t exactly motivational when it comes to cycling. Still, I pushed through it. The route itself was only 77 miles, but there is an optional “Karrass Loop” (named after the founder of RAGBRAI) which adds 23 miles and gives you the full century. In retrospect, I should have known I might be biting off more than I could chew, but I’m rather internally competitive so I went for it! Mother Nature had other ideas.

Dunking my head in a pool of ice cold water after the Karras Loop!

Clearly I have offended her quite a bit in the past, because I found myself riding into a 21 mph headwind, which meant I was topping out at about 9 mph on the straightaways. Then came the hills! There were two GIANT hills in and out of the river valley during the loop that were both larger than anything I’d ever gone down or up. Flying down them at 40 mph was AMAZING but painfully putting one foot in front of the other on the way up left much to be desired. Still, I made it through, and finished out the route with two more giant hills and plenty of headwind. The strawberry rhubarb pie and homemade peach ice cream definitely eased my pain (especially because I hadn’t eaten enough and was a tad dizzy at one point), but the damage was done. I finished out the century with a friend (it was both of our firsts), pedaling on shear determination and will, but running on fumes. By the time we got to our meeting location, my bike computer read 108 miles (my phone had died at 91 miles).

Exhausted doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt, but there was still a wonderful sense of accomplishment tied up in riding that far. RAGBRAI recommends riding  1000 miles as preparation for the week, and I had done 450. On day three, that lack of training caught up to me. By the time I got home, my whole body ached, I was sunburned, badly chafed, and my back was still hurting. In the end, I had to make the tough call to bow out gracefully from the remainder of the week of RABGRAI. I had ridden a total of 240 miles in three days, made some wonderful memories with new and old friends, and learned a lot about not pushing myself TOO far. I enjoy cycling, but I enjoy running even more and the last thing I wanted to do was injury myself and inhibit my ability to reach my running goals this fall.


I have a lot of great memories ahead of me, and I couldn’t be happier to have these to add to the list. Thank you to great friends for a wonderful RAGBRAI experience!

Chasing 42 Across Iowa: RAGBRAI 2012

This year has been great for my running confidence. I’ve run further, longer, and faster than I ever have before, and I’ve felt great along the way. There is no question that I love running now more than I ever have before. A consequence of that running, however, has been a somewhat less enthusiast training commitment to cycling. I’ve actually run twice as many miles as I have biked this year, if that tells you anything.

This lack of saddle time has me a tad apprehensive as I get packed and ready to head to Sioux Center, IA on Saturday for the start of RAGBRAI 2012. Since the first summer I moved to Iowa, I have been hearing about this bike ride across Iowa, and the descriptions have ranged from arduous to intoxicated to, well… get the picture. Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked from the beginning, and this year I’ve committed myself to riding. Despite the wealth of information on the internet concerning this Iowa tradition, I’m still chasing down quite a few unknowns:

1. Will my butt hold up? This ride may give chaffing a new meaning for me…but I’m prepared with my Butt Butter!

2. Will my legs hold up? I’ve mentioned before that running ultra marathons doesn’t translate into cycling endurance, and my endurance will certainly be put to the test over the course of the next week, with daily miles ranging from 45 to 100 miles. For the record, the mileage most days will still be longer than I’ve previously ridden at one time…hmmm…..

3. Will my body hold up in the heat? The midwest is having record heat and drought, and next week promises to be more of the same with highs in the mid to upper 90’s all week 😦

Despite these unknowns, I couldn’t be more excited to be going with a great group of friends, and everything I’ve been told leads me to believe that the hospitality in each town is second to none. I’m looking forward to eating some delicious food along the way, and meeting some new friends on the road. With 20,000 or so riders, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories to tell!

So, let the pie, fun, and riding begin!

Checking Your Endurance IQ

As an educator and PhD student, I read quite a bit, and spend a lot of time pouring over scholarly journals and other texts, soaking up as much as I can and deciding what to include in my work and what to leave out. One of my biggest annoyances in that process is coming across a popular book or article, claiming to be authoritative on a subject I am working on, and then discovering that the author has no actual background in that field. Now, sometimes people do just have a strong analytical mind and can think through a problem very well, regardless of their prior academic pursuits. However, far too often, people see the letters “PhD” behind someone’s name, and they give their work instant credibility, without ever questioning what field that doctorate actually came from. Just because I will have a PhD in Education soon does not mean I’ll ever be qualified to write about aerospace engineering, no matter how much I may enjoy planes, flight, and the space industry. It just doesn’t work that way.

The same is true for endurance sports.

I am still very much an amateur distance runner, but I have a decent number of marathons and ultra-marathons under my belt. Thus, I walk out the door for a run with a certain level of confidence, knowing what my body is capable of, what I need nutritionally, and where I am going (I’m a far more competent navigator on foot than I am while driving, just ask the beautiful epicurean!). Yesterday, I made the mistake of letting that confidence translate into cycling.

It was quite hot yesterday (92 degrees), and I probably should have chosen to ride in the early morning (mistake #1), but we were having a lazy Sunday morning, and I figured I could still get the ride in. With a nice breeze, I assumed the heat wouldn’t be as much of a factor since I’d be pedaling instead of running (mistake #2). I packed up my bike, fully stocking my water bottles and nutrition, and headed out. As I got onto the open highway (with a great shoulder for riding), heading east, I very quickly became aware of a much more significant wind. On the 10 miles to the next town, I felt as though I was spending the whole time trying not to get blown over by the wind. If you haven’t been to Iowa before, let me just say that it is flat and open (yes, many native Iowans will proudly point out the numerous hilly and tree-covered areas), but from my perspective, that’s the equivalent  of calling New York City lush and green based on visiting Central Park. Needless to say, there is nothing to block the wind. As I arrived into the next town and decided on the next leg of my journey, I was tired but it was near the beginning of my travels, so I still had plenty of spirit and excitement about the ride (mistake #3?). I headed north, and with the wind at my back, I felt as though I could have ridden for hours. I came up to my intended westward turn, and decided to keep going because it felt great (mistake #4).

The small portion I enjoyed was quite beautiful!

By the time I reached the next paved road (did I mention it’s rural Iowa, so approximately 1% of the roads are actually paved?), I had traveled twice as far as I had planned for that leg, but I still felt really good. I headed west, my journey 1/2 way complete, and again battled to stay on my bike.   I passed the first paved road, not wanting to travel down it because it was typically much more heavily used. However, after about 1.5 miles, I realized I had no choice, so I doubled back, and headed south. This was the point when mother nature decided to spite me with all of her power (mistake #5). I was pedaling directly into 30 mph sustained winds, on tired legs, and every revolution felt like the last one I would take. I reached an intersection to rest and take a drink, and dreaded going any further on this road. I made a tactical choice to pedal west down a gravel road because it looked rather deserted (mistake #6).

I get it…pay more attention to the forecast!

It’s called a “road” bike for a reason. Although I managed down this road, it certainly wasn’t the most enjoyable experience. Plus, I still had to travel south into the wind eventually, and it was surprisingly not any easier to do on a gravel road 🙂 I did finally make it home, having traveled a good 20 miles further than I had planned, and I was exhausted.

However, I learned quite a bit about myself and what I knew and didn’t know. I realized just how much studying and saddle-time I still needed to put in before I felt the same level of confidence as I did when I went out for a run. If your endurance IQ is the sum total of your knowledge in each of the endurance sports you choose to tackle, then I might be able to pass the running section of the exam well, but I still have a lot of “studying” to do before I can pass the cycling section.

So, let me know if you’d like to study together, and I’m always looking for tutors!

Summer To Do List

Normally Memorial Day week brings with it comfortable temperatures and signs that summer is just about here. However, this hasn’t been a normal weather year, so the fact that it was in the 90’s today somehow is not a shock to me. None-the-less, it did prove to be quite a sunny afternoon for the loads of yard work that awaited us, an ongoing project courtesy of some less-than-attentive prior home-owners.

In addition to the constant project that is yard work (which is quite a new item on my to-do list, having grown up without a yard, and been an apartment dweller my whole life up until now), this long weekend is a great time to not only reflect on our history, but also to think about running to do items or goals for the summer. With the exception of a few shorter races, the months of June, July, and August are off limits for racing- the summer heat is not my friend, and if you saw how much I sweat on a regular basis, you’d agree!

I’ll be running Dam to Dam (20K) next Saturday, and then driving up to Minneapolis with some friends to run the Minneapolis Marathon. Dam to Dam was my first long distance race, and I love the Minneapolis area, so I’m looking forward to a final race weekend of the spring season. After that though, it’s time to start thinking about my summer training goals, and where I’d like to focus my energy. I’m sure you are doing the same, either because you’ve already committed to some fall races, or because you are thinking about whether or not you should commit. Here are some “goal” areas to consider for the summer.

Speed Work: Summer is about the only time that I think more intently about working on my speed, and the local high school track, which is only a few blocks away, and always open, will provide a great venue for that work. The proximity and ability to easily stay hydrated will make this a no-brainer…hopefully 🙂

Ok, maybe not quite that fast…

Hills: I’ve done much better about my hill-work so far this year, but I want to be even more intentional, so I’ll be looking for as many opportunities for hill-work as possible. This isn’t necessarily an easy task considering I live in Iowa, where corn fields make up a rather large percentage of the landscape, but there are a few hills that can still offer some challenge!

Biking: Aside from the fact that I committed to ride the entire week of RAGBRAI, I have found that I love cycling in general and the window of opportunity for getting on the saddle is much smaller so I’m planning on taking advantage!

Or quite that intense…

Nutritional Experimentation: This will be happening on two fronts. First, the beautiful epicurean and I will be trying a plethora of new summer recipes as we strive for healthy and anti-inflammatory eating. In addition, I hope to use the summer months to experiment with some new running nutritional items, so stay posted!

Change of Scenery: When I started running, I quickly learned the roads of my small Iowa town much better than I ever did while driving on them (I’m a bit directionally challenged). However, there are still some roads in the areas where my feet have yet to fall, so I aim to change that.

but definitely a change of scenery!

Now, “speed’, “hills”, and “food” mean many different things to different people, so perhaps these goal areas can serve as a jumping off point for your own summer to do list. Once you start setting those goals, I’d love to hear them!

Cycling: Training vs/and/or Cross-Training

It should be clear by now that I love to run. Everyone should have the activity or interest that can completely transport them to a new place, one in which they can simultaneously clear their mind and iron out the kinks that may be persisting. Running is that activity for me.

With that being said, I’ve slowly incorporated road cycling into my life as well. I’ve always know intuitively that it works different muscles than running does, and thus is logically a good choice for diversifying my workouts. Over the last ten years, I’ve made progressive leaps from a mountain bike to a hybrid, and now to a road bike. I have many friends who compete in triathlons, and thus are much more serious about cycling than I am. However, the passion is contagious, and so it was a logical next step for me to move from the much heavier hybrid to a much lighter road bike. In case I had any doubts about the difference, my first duathlon with my road bike, in which I shaved 17 minutes off my bike time, made it abundantly clear.

I’m at the point where I am still much more committed to running, but enjoy cycling and have a wonderful community of friends who enjoy cycling, not to mention a wonderfully supportive partner who enjoys cycling (our first date began with a morning ride!). The combination of contagious passion and enjoying time with friends led us both to sign up for RAGBRAI this year. For those who aren’t familiar with the event, it can most simplistically be described as a week-long bike ride across Iowa. However, it is probably more aptly described as a week-long party with some cycling thrown into the mix. Thousands of runners gather and ride from city to city each day, each leaving at their own time, riding at their own pace, and stopping whenever they like for the various food vendors and festivities that towns lay out along the way. It is most definitely not a race and there is no pressure to ride at any particular pace. However, you are still cycling between 60 and 100 miles each day, so your legs had better be ready!

Thus, with RAGBRAI as an impetus, and the added bonus of cycling being constantly mentioned as an excellent cross-training activity for runners, I am committing myself to properly training this summer in anticipation of RAGBRAI. After training for an ultramarathon, it’s clear to me that I’m going to need to scale back my weekly mileage in order to incorporate cycling into my schedule. This is where the debate in my head begins. I LOVE where my training is at right now and am excited at the prospect of maintaining this level of endurance such that I can theoretically run more and more marathons and ultramarathons. However, I’m realistic about the time constraints and the financial implications or registering for every race that sounds like fun.

Photo Credit: RAGBRAI

Intellectually then, cycling makes a lot of sense for me. I know it is great for cross-training and will improve my running while giving me another venue for challenging myself. There is no shortage of literature which reiterates the benefits of cycling as a cross-training activity for runners, and I know from firsthand experience that it aids in recovery quite well, allowing for low impact workouts. Emotionally, I also know that I rarely commit to something half-way, and thus I find myself torn. Can cycling be “just” cross-training for me, or will it end up becoming training itself?

As I get most accustomed to longer distances on the bike, I will no doubt enjoy it more and more (even though my butt is currently not enjoying the adjustment nearly as much!). However, right now, I still feel a twinge of jealousy and guilt when I am out riding and pass a runner. I am relatively confident that those feelings will dissipate with time as I learn to enjoy cycling more and more, but I  have a feeling I’ll always feel more at home lacing up my running shoes than clipping into my bike.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: