Archive for the 'Biking' Category

Mohican 100(k)… illustrated!

The Short Version:
Where: Loudonville, OH, and surrounding region
What: 62 miles (and some change) and 11,000 feet of climbing on a mountain bike, on mostly trails and some pavement, in just under 12 hours.
Who: me.
Why: insanity? fun? a good challenge?
How’d it go: good! bad! hella terrible! fan-friggin’-tastic! read on for the gory details…

The Long Version:

I started training for this race in January. It was kind of one of my New Year’s Resolutions. But if I do it again next year, I’m starting training no later than October… seriously. If nothing else, just to make up for the black hole that is April in the life of an academic.

Mom, Doc, and I drove down to Loudonville, OH on Friday afternoon, getting a late-ish start after working in the yard all day.  We made a couple of wrong turns, and transformed what would otherwise have been a 3 hour drive into 6 hours (yes, that’s right, 6 whole hours). I tried not to see that as a forecast for the race.  We stayed in a super-cute B&B (Red Fox Inn) about 20 minutes outside of town, right at the edge of Amish country. Just to help you visualize. It was very pretty, and even in the car you could tell that it was a *bit* hillier than southeast Michigan (!).  Dinner was at one of the two restaurants in town: a hamburger topped with cheese and chili and sweet potato fries on the side. Delicious. Screw carbo-loading.

Don't be fooled by my pre-race dinner. I have plenty of sugar in my water bottles.

Don't be fooled by my pre-race dinner. I have plenty of sugar in my water bottles.

It poured rain all night.

Woke up at 5 am to get breakfast before driving to Loudonville to register and… ride! The innkeeper was incredibly kind and made me an egg, ham, and cheese sandwich on an english muffin, to- go. Paired that with a Cliff Bar and felt ready to roll. Except… my pedals weren’t on, my front tire was flat, the chain needed grease, and the seat was at the wrong height. You’d think I would have learned by now to take care of those things the night *before* a race, but I guess I have been less- than on top of things the past couple of weeks. At least I had prepped my drop bags, sport drink bottles, and CamelBak the night before. I was rushing to get my shoes on and the saddle adjusted, and missed the gun at the start by about two minutes. I almost bailed before I started, but with some major encouragement from my race crew I finally set off down Main Street in Loudonville to the first climb. Oh god.

It was very early. It was chilly. It was very pretty.

It was very early. It was chilly. It was very pretty.

Thank goodness another girl had missed the gun also, and we rode the first two miles together to the start of the single track. In those first two miles, I climbed more than I ever do on any ride in Ann Arbor, unless I’m doing hill reps up Spring. I seriously thought I would puke in the first three miles.

I'm the one in the pink, with the green Camel Bak (second group up the hill).

I'm the one in the pink, with the green Camel Bak (second group up the hill).

I settled in after catching the tail of the group and finding the single track. It was comforting knowing that there was so much mileage to make up time, and that I’d be doing the shorter course (there is a 100 mile option), so there would absolutely be people on the trail long after I finished. I hoped.

I rode with one woman for a few miles who’s goal was to make it to the first aid station. She had already decided to drop there. That was both reassuring (I could drop there if I had to, and I didn’t have to be ashamed) but also a little discouraging (I didn’t want to quit that easily!). We chatted for a while, and I moved ahead on a climb and dropped her.

The trail was absolutely gorgeous– I was skeptical at first, since they started us out through some campgrounds (steep climbing, but nothing technical) and a muddy river crossing followed by a muddy wall (hill). But then the trail opened up into this beautiful pine forest, with hard-packed single track that twisted and wound and jumped over logs. Seriously flowy and way fun.  I had been worried that the trails would be chewed up with all the rain we had the night before, but they were miraculously bone-dry.

I was enjoying the ride, but found myself walking a lot more than I should have been.  Climbing I felt great, and the rock gardens were fine, but for some reason I kept grabbing a handful of brakes before log piles and having to walk them. And I learned very quickly that I can’t descend for beans. Through the entire race, I walked the vast majority of downhills (especially switchbacks), otherwise crouching over my bike and gripping the brakes with white knuckles, my butt hanging way back over the rear wheel. My hands, arms, and shoulders were sore long after my legs recovered!

I found a guy to ride with around mile 10, and we hung together until mile 40, for better or for worse.  Chris was actually quite a bit faster than me, but he rested much more frequently (and checked his GPS with equal frequency!).  This was good in that it reminded me to slurp some Gu and chug some CarboRocket sport drink, but bad in that I felt like I could have kept moving while we were resting. That said, I don’t think I would have made it if I hadn’t ridden with him for so long… camaraderie definitely keeps you going.

Made it through the first rest stop at mile 20 and had a couple of bananas with peanut butter and a ProBar. I love ProBars. No, not PowerBars… ProBars. They’re unsweetened nut and carob chip bars that taste like Real Food, even more than Cliff Bars. Unfortunately, they’re three times as expensive as Cliff Bars. But I digress…

Things stopped being fun around mile 30, and I was glad Chris was there, chatting up a storm and keeping my mind off the aches and pains developing… everywhere. I thought the second rest stop would never come. But it did, and then I wished that it hadn’t… because the next 10 miles (or so it felt like) were paved. And all up and down. Big up. Fast down. I had NO idea Ohio was that freakin’ hilly. Holy. Cow. I came to love my granny gear with a new sort of passion. At least I wasn’t gripping the breaks on the paved downhills! I had used Chris’s phone to call my mom, and left a message asking her and Doc to meet me at rest stop 3 (mile 46). At that point, I was thinking I could drop out there.

Chris dropped out at mile 40, right before a section of single track.  After asking the two guys in front of me, who also paused at the road/ trail juncture and seemed to have some local knowledge, I determined that the next 6 miles were not too technical for my energy levels, and proceeded to walk only about 1/3 of it. I was on the tail end of my third wind. The trail emptied out into a field, and joy of joys, there were my mom and Doc, waiting with a frosted chocolate cupcake (Oh, my goodness!).

Coming in to the third rest stop.

Coming in to the third rest stop.

I was really happy to be at the third rest stop.

I was really happy to be at the third rest stop.

Not flattering, but definitely indicative of my mindset. With cupcake.

Not flattering, but definitely indicative of my mindset. With cupcake.

I sat for longer than I should have, and when I stood to go had a painful coughing attack. I had gotten a new inhaler especially for the race, but of course I had left it in the car. But I didn’t think it would have done any good, anyway.  Basically, my pride got me back on the bike. No WAY was I going to drop out with just 16 more miles, a supply of more sugar than I could consume in two years, and a perfectly functioning bike!

I had been averaging a painful 5 mph (based on the clock and the distance, not on my odometer), and told Mom and Doc that I’d see them at mile 56 in about two hours. That put me in line to finish at 8 pm… 13 hours after the start. Ick.

BUT! The next ten miles were paved, and I somehow managed to average 15 mph on knobbies (I credit the cupcake), making it to the last rest stop so much sooner than I had estimated, that I almost rode right past it. A brief stop, and I was back on the bike for the final 6 miles (with a stupidly-full 3L CamelBak. Don’t ask.).

One of the race volunteers passed me up the first climb, promising a cold beer at the end. Let me tell you, the image of that beer kept me going.

The course finished on the section of single track that we had first ridden, but in reverse. The beautiful pine forest. The flowy trail. Even the log piles (I rode them this time). I came out onto the pavement at the end with a big grin on my face.

But then… I saw the course signs pointing *away* from the finish and up another steep climb. WTF?? I had forgotten about the campgrounds and river crossing. I held it together through the campgrounds (walking a bit, riding in the granny gear when I saw campers) but started blubbering as I stumbled down the wall before the river crossing. No fair!! I thought I was done!!!

And somehow all that evaporated when I finally rolled across the line, in about 11 hours and 50 minutes. Whew.

WOO HOO!! Where's my beer?!

WOO HOO!! Where's my beer?!

They had arranged for some Mongolian BBQ for dinner (YUM)… but they were out of the promised beer and pint glasses. Sad face.

The verdict: painful, but fun. Especially in retrospect. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than getting to ride your bike all day, on beautiful trails. Unless it’s followed up by a giant piece of warm chocolate cake and coffee ice cream…. no, I didn’t have any of that, but if I did the race again, I totally would.


Sorting, Balance, Focus

One aspect of grad school so far has involved sorting things out. Maybe I’m trying to, uh… modernize my life, or something. This sorting and classifying has proven productive: I’ve thought new thoughts and written new things that I might not otherwise have done.

Sorting school from life, first of all. School is not life. School is a job.  Most importantly: I do not live at school anymore (on campus or in the dorms). Never mind that my social life revolves around school… I’m fine with that.

Sorting “things I’m going to study and write about” from “things I’m interested in.” I am interested in food and cooking, bikes, gardening, visual art of various media, language and literature, but I’m not necessarily going to study and write about those things (er, for my job). That does not, however, mean I have to give those interests up.

So I’ve sorted. And am constantly sorting, as new hybrids arise as a result of said sorting. But now I’m trying to find a little balance between the school-life dichotomy I’ve set up for myself.  At orientation last fall, the Department Chair warned the incoming cohort that we would have blinders on for a while– our focus would become very narrow and we might have to give up our hobbies. But not to worry– hobbies and balance would eventually be returned to our lives.

I think she meant “after you finish your degrees” that hobbies and balance would return to our lives… but c’mon! We run the risk of driving ourselves crazy if we don’t find some balance throughout.  I think people with families find that balance (hopefully) much faster than others of us, out of simple necessity (and by virtue of having a spouse/ partner saying “Snap out of it!”). But I have single (or at least, unmarried) friends that seem to find it as well.

This fall was the first time in 5 years that I haven’t raced my mountain bike. In fact, I haven’t touched poor Lucy (geared bike) or Ramona (single speed bike) since April! Tragic.  I stopped because 1) I didn’t have time to drive up to 12 hours each way for races on the weekends, AND finish all the reading I had to get done and 2) While it was really fun to hang out with a bunch of 18-year-old boys when I was an 18-year-old girl… not as much fun anymore (no offense, guys).

I thought that I would miss the social aspects of racing the most (and I could replace those with other social activities), but in fact I missed the actual competition. I missed the nervous butterflies before a race and pushing myself until my vision was blurry. I missed the pre- and post-race rituals too: the pre-race eating, organizing, warming up, going over the course; the post-race eating, cleaning, stretching, and collective bitching and groaning about muscle aches and performance issues. (Hm, eating figures in twice there… surprise surprise.)

I also find that I am a lot less-healthy mentally without some sort of focused physical outlet. I don’t mean that I go off the deep end– I think I’ve hammered out my diet well enough in the past few years that I keep my moods and energy much much more balanced than in early college (I’ve also got a handle– I think– on that transition-time stress that plagues college freshman).  I mean that I can’t seem to *think* sometimes.  The wheels might be spinning, but the hamster is either comatose or dead. I can’t focus long enough to read a page of a book (often an extremely dense and less-than-fascinating book, but still). Thinking, for most people, is an important part of academia (though some of my colleagues might debate this).

In between my two brain-draining seminars yesterday (brain-draining in the sense that I feel like I want a cigarette afterward… and I’ve never smoked in my life) I went to the gym.  It’s the same gym that I’ve been going to for 5 years (now 6).  It’s the gym where I trained for my first Big Bike Ride, and all subsequent races and rides. I was worried that I’d have a panicked “Ohmygodimstillhereaftersixyearsandstillhavesixmoretogo!” attack, but I didn’t.

The familiarity of the place was comforting! Yeah, it was kind of gross and dimly lit, full of smelly jocks, anorexic girls, and other varieties of undergrads, but it reminded me of the fun things I enjoyed doing before work started to take over.

I did a similar routine to what I’ve always done (with a few exceptions).  I spent 20 minutes warming up on an elliptical trainer (I know it’s lame, but real running gives me asthma attacks), and about an hour lifting and stretching. I felt more energized and focused afterward than I have since September.

[I told my roommate that I’d been to the gym yesterday, and she said “What, did they open a coffee shop there?” Har. Har.]

I also drink less coffee when I work out. Bonus!

Of course, being who I am (a planner), I start thinking “Gee, it would be so great to race again in the spring!” I mean, I could fit in workouts in between classes and studying like I did yesterday, and I would feel so much better about life in general!

So I started eyeing the race I originally wanted to do last May: the Mohican 100. I wouldn’t do the 100miler (I simply don’t have the time or motivation to train for that one) but what about the 100k? I could totally do that… right?

The problem is, as soon as I start imposing a regimen on myself, I’ll try to cheat (don’t ask me why, I just will). That has been the trick to eating well– I don’t deny myself a damn cookie if I want one. I don’t eat them very often, but as soon as I start saying “No, cookies are bad,” I start craving them. (That, and I have slowly developed, over 5 years or so, a deep-seated aversion to pre-packaged foods.)

So if I start saying “Mondays are a bike day, Tuesdays are swimming and rock climbing, Wednesdays are lifting, Thursdays are biking, Fridays are biking, Saturday and Sunday are rest days” (which, in fact, is what I was kind of thinking), will I start to think “to hell with it”?

I know I won’t be happy with just racing “for fun”– I want to feel that I did my best. And in order to do that, I have to train well. But will that take the fun out of it? Will I start to feel tired rather than energized (which has happened in the past)? Maybe I’m not cut out for physical competition… maybe it would drain too much of my focus away from other, more pressing things…

Or maybe it would offer a nice outlet, which I could seriously use right now.

Winter Bike Commuting?

Oh yeah.

fenders + studded tires

on my 29-er.

Lost Island of Cyclists

I just came across this series of entries on one of my favorite cycling blogs– anthropological descriptions of an island of futuristic cyclist-creatures! Awesome!! I wish I could do my fieldwork there…

Awareness Test

A clever Public Service Announcement shown in London…

…pass along to your friends that multi-task while driving!

Insomnia and Rollers

Had difficulty sleeping last night. Spent an hour tossing and turning, got impatient, and got out of bed to waste time. Spent a good 45 minutes reading blogs, looking up a couple of words in Italian that had been used to make a point about ‘translation’ in an article I read (discovered that one of them had been misspelled. gr.), and listened to music. Finally fell asleep to the sounds of my cats purring. Awww.

Got up this morning and (drumroll) rode my bike! Inside. On rollers.


This lovely picture of rollers is from the Saris Cycling Group’s website. I think it indicates very nicely what rollers look like in use.  For a fantastic description of how one actually goes about ‘riding’ these things, see The Fat Cyclist’s excellent explanation. My rollers are nowhere near as nice as his, and I can promise that I don’t ride them nearly as well (or for nearly as long… I managed a half hour this morning).

For one thing, I cannot ride my rollers placed in the center of a room as shown. I need at least one wall nearby to frantically grasp in the event that I swerve side-to-side and fall off, which happens frequently.  So, I put my rollers in the hallway between my bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen, providing a solid grasp of not one but TWO door jams in the event of my losing balance.

The cats found this extremely amusing.  Sofi, the braver and more intelligent of the two, took to getting her kicks by running around me like a maniac while I was riding.  There were a couple of times where she came close to running smack into my spinning wheels. Brilliant.

Spec held back until, urged by Sofi no doubt, he followed suit.  Of course, just as I was starting to ‘sprint’ (as much as you can sprint on those things) they started chasing each other up and down the hallway.

By some kind of miracle, I managed to maintain my balance while keeping an eye on the little rapscallions; I neither fell nor created creamed kitty.  I credit the solid beat provided by “Ok Go: Master the Treadmill” free from iTunes. Meant for treadmill runners, works just as well on a ‘bikemill’ (rollers).

Theory Proved

Tonight I decided to test my theory that Brighton’s Murray Lake trail would be a sweet single speed track due to it’s zen-like flowiness. So I chose it for my inaugural ride on my new bike.

Definitions for non-biking readers:
single speed (n/ adj): a bike with only one “speed” i.e.: one ring in the front, one cog in the back. no derailleur. no shifting.
flow (n)/ flowiness (adj): the way in which a trail “moves” as you ride it… hard to describe without actually riding. let’s try this– if someone dumped a whole bunch of water on the trail, flowiness would describe how the water moved over the trail. assuming that it didn’t get absorbed by the ridiculous amount of sand we have in Michigan. so a non-flowy trail would make the water stop. a flowy trail would allow the water to move freely (albeit over rocks and roots and hills and fun stuff like that). please don’t get too technical on me with the laws of physics and such, i know that enough force could make water move freely regardless of how flowy the trail originally was. just… visualize.
{/end sidenote}

We had hosted the State Championship Criterium race today at work. It was awesome driving in to Dexter (tiny little village just west of Ann Arbor) and seeing the streets downtown lined with a couple hundred bikers, some very nice bikes, and spectators. There was a wedding, a funeral, and a bike race in Dexter today, and I don’t think the town has seen that much excitement in decades.

So, long story short, we were supposed to close at 3. And then we were supposed to close at 5. But we started closing at 5:15, and finished closing at 6. So I didn’t get out of work until 6:15, ran home and grabbed a wheel to lend to a friend that trashed his last weekend– he had called earlier in the day looking to get the wheel fixed at the shop, but due to the race there was no mechanical/ warranty service today, and the shop is closed until Thursday because of the holiday, and I felt really bad having to tell my friend that on the phone, so I offered him my spare wheel to use in the meanwhile– and I got on the trail around 7:45.

Before I hit the trail, I was really scared that my legs would just cease to function mid-ride because my gear was just too hard and I would learn that I am, indeed, a total weakling. And then I’d cry. And my knees would disintegrate. And I’d cry some more.

But I was WRONG!

Once you get moving, that bike is incredibly fun to ride. It’s a bit tough to get on top of the gear again if you have to stop for any reason, but it’s certainly not “painful.” On hills, I could feel my right thumb automatically feeling for the shifter. Nope! Not there! There’s nothing to shift!

But all you have to do is get out of the saddle and keep pedaling! I took roomie’s advice and continued to pedal even tough I thought I would fall over… and it worked! I didn’t fall over! I made it up every little rise! (except towards the end, where there’s the “easy” or “hard” option– I took the “hard” option, which I’ve never even ridden on my geared bike. it wasn’t all that “hard,” but i clipped a tree with my incredibly wide handlebars on a really tight uphill turn and fell over. I had to run the rest of the way.)

I was also worried that with the big wheels (29 inches vs 26 inches standard) it would be really hard to maneuver through the trees and such. Nope! I don’t know, I think the bike handles even better than 26ers. Roomie said that was because of the stiff fork, it lets you know sooner when you’ve chosen a bad line, or are taking a corner too hard. You feel yourself wobble and then correct it and you’re good to go. Whereas with suspension, the line isn’t so clear, and suddenly you’re on the ground before you’ve had time to even react– unless you’re incredibly in-tuned with what your bike is telling you, which good riders are! 😉

And an unexpected added benefit (at least for me)? Well, I tend to brake on the downhills. And I brake too much, and at the wrong time, and this causes me to do stupid things like go flying over my handlebars. Brilliant, I know. With the stiff fork, you can’t grip the bar too hard on the downhills, because you’ll rattle your wrists and elbows off. Braking makes you grip the bar too hard. Hence, less braking, more momentum, fewer dislocated shoulders.

Oh, and her name is Ramona.