A Meandering Runner

Yes, I do still run! I know most of my posts have been about my adventures on the bike, but I still try to run at least once or twice a week, usually with friends. I frequently run on Friday mornings with a friend who does 10 miles — I meet her for the second half of the run and do 5. She runs on a nearby paved trail (which used to be a rail line) and does two out-and-back segments from the parking lot so that it’s easier for others to meet up and run with her. We have a great time, and there are often at least a couple other friends who join us, which makes it great social time as well as a good run — I can’t tell you how many times that early morning run has led to conversations that had me thinking and pondering for the next few days! I really enjoy it, and hate it when I have to miss it … or, like today, when I sleep through my alarm and miss it.

As soon as I realized there was no way I could make the second half of her run today — I woke up at 6:58, according to my phone, and needed to be at the meeting spot by 7am — I knew that I still wanted to run. Some days, being a more social athlete means that I groan and drag my feet and postpone running alone; today was not one of those days. I couldn’t wait to get out there! But the only question was: where out there?

We are incredibly lucky when it comes to running options. While running in my neighborhood tends to be a little boring (to me), it’s still an option — even at rush hour, it’s safe to run here. There’s only one road that gets heavier traffic at peak hours, and even that tends to be sporadic, not a steady stream of heavy traffic. As long as you remain alert, cross carefully, and keep an eye out for people backing out of their driveways, the roads through my neighborhood are totally safe. However, I have even better running options within a short drive. If I’m willing to drive about 10 minutes, I have access to the Schuylkill River Trail, the Chester Valley Trail, or my favorite place to run: Valley Forge National Park.

My original plan was to drive out to the Schuylkill River Trail. Then, I started driving and decided I would park at Valley Forge and walk over the pedestrian walkway along route 422 to access the trail. Then, I decided I might as well just run at Valley Forge. Then, I decided I didn’t want to run the usual 5-mile paved loop around the park, so I circled through the park and over to route 252, where there is parking for Knox’s Headquarters and the trails behind it. Next thing I knew, without really consciously deciding anything, I was passing the parking lot for Knox’s, heading through the covered bridge and onto Yellow Springs Road, where I re-discovered that the tiny parking lot for Mt. Misery is closed off. There’s construction going on along Yellow Springs Road — they’ve built a new parking lot for trail access, and it looks like they’re almost done the paved walkway that runs from the parking lot to the trails for Mt. Misery and Valley Creek.

(I’m pretty excited about this, because we used to just walk or run down the road to get to the trail, and the road is pretty narrow, without much of a shoulder. Having a protected pedestrian walkway to get people to and from these popular, very pretty trails will be a nice improvement.)

I parked in the new trailhead lot, headed down the open section of walkway and ran down a short stretch of the road to head onto the trail alongside Valley Creek. It’s gorgeous back there, and the trail stays right alongside the creek for about a mile before turning away from the creek and climbing to intersect with the Horseshoe Trail, which takes you onto Mt. Misery. I bypassed that option and continued the other way, following my trail out to route 23 near Washington’s Headquarters. Here, you have a couple options: cross over route 23 to Washington’s Headquarters, and choose a couple trail options from there, or cross over route 252 and turn right onto the trail for Mt. Joy. I chose the latter option.

I’ve never run Mt. Joy before, and I am now kicking myself for not doing it before. It was absolutely, thrillingly beautiful — the kind of beauty that both distracts and uplifts me. The trail is well-maintained and not technical; there were only a couple sections where it was particularly rocky. It’s definitely steep, and I alternated between running and walking as I climbed. The forest here is gorgeous, and for most of my run, it was just me and the breeze through the trees. I startled a couple deer, one of which had a pair of late-season fawns following along behind her; I saw squirrels and birds; I passed a couple walking a dog, but otherwise saw no other people on the trail. As I started down the far side of the hill, heading back toward Knox’s Headquarters, the breeze sent leaves falling gently around me, which really made it feel like Fall is already here! (The cool temperatures helped, too.)

I ended up finishing up at just under 4 miles, which is about what I had wanted to do today. I’m so glad I meandered my way around before deciding where to run. Sure, it would have been pretty along the Schuylkill River Trail, too — it was a gorgeous morning, and the tree-lined SRT is great for a flat out-and-back run — but I got to enjoy the beauty of running alongside a pretty creek, and then conquering a good hill in a beautiful forest setting. I don’t think it gets much better than that.

Gettin’ Squirrelly

Tonight, I met up with members of one of my cycling clubs for a great ride. I’ve been riding out of the same location on Thursday nights since last summer, and I’ve really been enjoying it — the only difference this week is that I was riding out with a slightly-faster group than usual. It was suggested to me recently that I bump up to the next-faster pace group, rather than continuing to ride off the front of the group I’ve been with since last summer.

(I try to moderate my pace and stick with/behind the ride leader; sometimes I’m better at it than other times. And it makes sense for me to move up, both to challenge myself personally, and to stop creating headaches for the ride leader of my regular group. Sometimes, when one rider goes off the front, they pull other riders with them, and it’s easy for the leader to lose track of who is where. And if you’re riding off the front, it’s easy to miss turns because you can’t hear the leader. We are often riding without cue sheets — ie, printed directions — on Thursday nights, and the ride leaders know the area like the back of their hands.)

So tonight I rolled out with the faster group, and we had a great time. Was it easy? Nope. Was I off the back? A little bit, especially by the end. But I don’t consider myself “dropped” unless I lose sight of the group, and I was never that drastically far back.

What we had was a great ride on an August evening of incredibly un-August-like weather. I think our high temperature for the day was somewhere in the high 70’s; I was home most of the day today, and had the doors and windows open for the fresh air. It was wonderful. We had a low chance of rain (the weather app for my town said 8% chance of precipitation; for the area of the bike ride, it bumped up to 10%), so I didn’t worry too much about that.

About 8 minutes into our ride, that little chance of rain became 100% cold downpour. It was blinding and made the fun, winding, rolling hills that we start out on a little less fun. Descending on tight curves on wet roads is a little nerve-wracking when you aren’t used to those conditions!

Our ride leader announced we were hitting a local hill known as “Squirrel Hill”, and we all groaned. Seriously?! In this weather? (This is where I admit that I had never climbed Squirrel Hill before, but I’d always heard about it from other riders, and it sounded like it was a hard climb). All I knew is that I’d been counseled by others to get into my granny gear before I even turn onto the road — and man, am I glad I listened. It’s a sharp, almost blind right turn, and you really can’t build up any kind of speed before turning. The beginning of the hill is the steepest portion, and it’s definitely a challenge. But it gradually gets less steep — and overall, the climb wasn’t nearly as long as I’d been led to expect. I think I did pretty well on it, and I felt good afterward. Even better, we’d left the rain behind — the roads were still wet, but at least we didn’t have cold, driving rain in our faces as we climbed.We continued to zig and zag our way through the countryside; sometimes briefly dashing through more gentle rain showers. At one point, we made our way along the edge of the some of the camping grounds for the Philadelphia Folk Fest (which is, of course, not all that close to Philadelphia — unless you’re from Pittsburgh, in which case, I guess it’s pretty darn close to Philadelphia, comparatively). One of the things I love about cycling: seeing completely different roads in areas I’m already familiar with. Growing up and learning to drive in the area, I just knew which roads to avoid so I could stay away from the Folk Fest traffic — but I have never been to the Folk Fest itself. Now I kind of wish I was going this year!

The sun came out, making the roads steam. For a brief moment, the sun was out and it was still raining, and the meadows on either side of the road had mist and sun drifting across them, and it was magical. We came down a hill and across a bridge over a branch of the Perkiomen Creek, and the sun reflecting off the water on the road dazzled my eyes with gold. It was enough to make me forget that my toes were cold and my wet chamois felt uncomfortably bulky and diaper-like.

I think my most memorable rides all have some combination of exhilaration and discomfort — whether it’s my muscles trying to convince me they can’t climb anymore, or the heat and humidity of a more typical Pennsylvania summer laying on my back like a blanket as I chug along, or the new and odd sensation of a completely-soaked cycling kit feeling like it’s crawling up my body — these are always offset by things like the joy of the ride itself, or the fun of riding with friends, or the adrenaline rush of screaming descents, the pride of reaching new heights (literally and figuratively) or topping prior efforts. Or even just the simple experience of seeing the countryside from a different point of a view, and at a different pace — a pace that, even when I’m pushing myself, still lets me marvel at the beauty around me.

The moment when you’re certain you can’t go anymore, you’ll die if this hill doesn’t end — so you just keep pedaling

I don’t do epic rides.

I don’t have legs of steel.

I don’t have a stomach of anger.

I like to do fun rides, with people I enjoy. Sometimes, I hammer. Sometimes, I descend well and manage to keep my hands off the brakes. Sometimes, I chat along with other riders and am sociable. Sometimes, I get dropped like a rock on climbs — though I think those instances are fewer and further between than they were a year ago; than they were in April or May, even.

I like to see new places, or just find new ways around familiar places.

I like to learn from my rides: because I still have a lot to learn about cycling, and about myself as a cyclist.

I like to challenge myself, and I try not to get hung up on the fact that what I consider “challenging” is too easy for many of my cycling friends, and too hard for some of my friends. I seem to exist in this perpetual ‘between’ phase: on the verge of dropping one pace group, but not fast or strong enough to keep up with the next-fastest group.

On Sunday, I rode the middle distance on the Lake Nockamixon Century. I almost signed up for the full century and hoo boy, was I glad I stuck to the 67-mile route. The turnout was relatively light, so I spent a lot of time alone on pretty, lightly-traveled roads around Lake Nockamixon. I learned something important about myself during the first third of the ride: if left to my own devices, I dawdle. I look around. I daydream. I soft pedal, taking it all in. I don’t push myself.

(I also learned [again] that I’m not smart or attentive enough to use a sportswatch that doesn’t have an auto-pause feature; I lost almost four miles from the record of my ride, including a challenging climb, simply because I paused the watch and forgot to tell it to resume.)

At some point near the first rest stop, a couple of guys caught up to and passed me. Suddenly, I had something to chase: I had a carrot. I decided that I was going to keep those guys in sight for as long as I could after the rest stop. I had to push to do that; sometimes, I caught up to them — and then they would drop me on the next climb. I’d catch them after cresting, and then they’d drop me again. Catch and release, catch and release, catch and release. Until we spent a few miles on the wide shoulder of the relatively-flat route 563, and I found my hammers. One of the guys rolled into the rest stop shortly after me and said, “You set a nice pace out there,” and my day was made.

Last night, I decided to try out a club ride I haven’t done before. From the description listed on our club’s Meetup page, it didn’t seem to have too much climbing; in fact, looking at my history on Strava, it had less total climbing than my typical Monday night ride. But, oh, the climbing we did! It seemed like it was all concentrated in a few steep, long hills. Between the hills, the group sped down a mix of deserted country roads, farm lanes, park drives and even a partially-gravel (or just really poorly maintained) lane. To keep up with their pace, I had to work harder on the flats than I do with my other rides, and take better advantage of downhills.

In case this hasn’t come across well so far: I am not the strongest climber. I got schooled. I suffered. On one hill, my legs were screaming and I was so very, very tempted to put a foot down, tempted to walk the last part of the hill, but damnit, no one else was and you better believe I wasn’t going to be be the only one who couldn’t crest this [allthebadwords] hill. And my legs are still screaming and I’m panting for breath but, hey, I just realized that I don’t feel like my heart is going to explode out of my chest, I don’t feel my heartbeat reverberating all the way through my head, so maybe my legs are just being a pair of little crybabies and I should ignore them.

But: holy shit, I want to be done climbing this hill.

But: the only way to be done climbing is to finish the climb. So my legs curse me and I tell myself the hill just leveled out a little bit, so I can spin a little faster in this-here-granny-gear and I can recover a tiny bit, I tell myself that whether there’s a discernible change in the grade or not, and I mentally flog myself to the top of the hill.

And at the end of the ride, I have an endorphin high and a grin so wide it’s practically unhinged.

I learned I need to step out of my comfort zone at least once in a while, and ride with people who challenge me, on roads I don’t know.

Onward and upward.

Let’s Ride to the Beach!

Apparently, 10 years in Arizona was all it took for “going to the beach” to become part of my lexicon, instead of just saying “down the shore” as most locals do. Of course, when I lived in Arizona, getting to said beach involved a five- to six-hour drive (to the San Diego or LA area) — around here, we can zip down the shore in just a couple hours, sometimes less. That’s obviously way too easy, so I decided to celebrate Independence Day by joining my bike club for a nice, long ride from Flourtown, PA, to Ocean City, NJ.

This ride has been organized for the past four years by the same gentleman in the club, and the description included SAG support and a shower at the end of the ride. He asked for $5 for SAG, and the B&B that was letting us use their showers at the end also asked for $5 per person, bringing the cost of the ride to a grand total of $10. However, it was organized as a one-way ride, so each rider was responsible for figuring out their return trip logistics: some drove down with a partner the day before to leave a car in Ocean City, some went up to Atlantic City afterward to catch a train back to the Philadelphia area; some carpooled with others. My boyfriend offered to drive down to meet me at the end of the ride; at the last minute, we called the B&B that was letting us use their showers and, since they had a room available, decided to stay overnight and have a beach day for the July 4th holiday.

There were three advertised pace groups with ride leaders for each group: 13-15mph, 16-18mph, and 18-20mph, and I signed up for the slowest. While I felt pretty confident I could maintain a slightly faster pace, I also felt it best to err on the side of caution, since we’d be riding on roads completely unfamiliar to me, and at least some of the roads would have heavier traffic. I also made the assumption that we wouldn’t be seeing the SAG vehicle very often — I mean, it was just one guy, and there were more than 40 people signed up to ride across a variety of paces. One person supporting all those people could be stretched pretty thin.

The days leading up to the ride were a little fraught: the forecast was not promising, and emails were flying about whether or not to cancel, or whether we should postpone the ride from Thursday to Saturday. Finally, at 11:30 on Wednesday night, the organizer sent an email that said the radar looked good for us until about 3pm, and the ride was on.

We met in the parking lot of a grocery store a little before 7am, and headed out onto the roads around 7:30. Of the 40 riders signed up, some had arranged to meet us a little later, once we crossed over into New Jersey, and others bailed due to weather or scheduling issues; I think about 15-20 people rolled out from the start location in PA. We started out together, but the faster-paced group quickly left the two slower-paced groups behind. My group, the 13-15mph pace, only had two people signed up: the ride leader and myself. We stuck with the slightly faster group as we wound our way out of Flourtown, through Philadelphia and across the Tacony-Palmyra bridge. After that, I expected we would spread out on the roads a little, but we were able to keep up the pace and stick with the faster group throughout the day.

Throughout the morning, we were constantly being leap-frogged by the SAG vehicle. He was there when one of our riders had an early flat, there to offer us refills on water or Gatorade, there to offer us bananas, Fig Newtons and cold slices of watermelon (if there is anything better than ice-cold watermelon when it’s hot and humid — and when you have to remain sober so you can keep riding your bike — I don’t know what it might be). He alerted us to a rider on the road ahead of us who needed help with a simple flat, when he was helping someone else with a more complex problem. When we got a little off the cue sheet, he was ahead of us with his four-ways flashing, to show us where to turn. Did I mention before that I wasn’t expecting to see much of the SAG? Boy, was I wrong about that. That has to be the best $5 I’ve ever spent.

We stopped for lunch in Hammonton, NJ, about 50 miles into the ride. At this point, the gentleman driving SAG left us for a while; in addition to providing amazing SAG services, everyone who wanted to clean up after the ride had dropped a bag with him, which he was delivering to the B&B that was letting riders use their showers. He dashed ahead while we lunched, hoping to get to the B&B ahead of the faster group of riders. Eventually, he rejoined us and was later able to swap out with another rider, who took over the SAG duties so the original driver could at least ride the last 15 or so miles into Ocean City with us.

My personal highlights of the ride:
– Shortly after crossing the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, we rode through a beautiful neighborhood of older homes. We took advantage of a wide, paved multi-use path that ran between the homes and a harbor dotted with sailboats. It was so pretty!

- At one point later in the afternoon, while we were riding in a paceline and doing about 19-20mph, a huge dragonfly was buzzing along right beside me. I think he was alongside me for about 30-40 feet before he zipped off; damn bug hardly looked like he was trying!

- Taking a turn pulling on the paceline; we were 60-some miles into the ride, and my GPS watch had stopped working during our lunch break, so I asked the rider behind me to tell me when we were going a good speed. When he said, “Right about this pace is good”, I tried to sort of calibrate my level of effort and settle into that pace. When I glanced back over my shoulder to check the line of riders behind me, I was about 40 feet ahead of the group. I don’t know if that means I dropped them, but I kind of like to tell myself that, 60-odd miles into an 85-mile ride, I dropped the group. (Let me live with my fantasy, guys.)

- Getting compliments on being a strong rider. As I actually, gradually, start becoming a strong rider, those compliments are awesome! My favorite compliment was that someone commented on “how still” my upper body is when I’m riding — that absolutely made my day. I know I’m not the fastest rider around, but I’m faster than I was a year ago. I’m not the strongest climber by far, but I’m far stronger than I was a year ago. I’ve put as much effort into cleaning up my form as I have into building overall strength, and it really makes a difference.

After threats of thunderstorms, a delayed start, a long lunch and a couple other extended breaks, we completed our ride of 85 miles, and reached our B&B in Ocean City around 4:30pm. The day had been hot, humid and sunny — the showers and thunderstorms held off, and the evening was beautiful in Ocean City. My shower was hot or cold by turns, but utterly wonderful all around; have you ever noticed that humidity just seems to glue every bit of road grit to you as you go?

We had a nice dinner at a restaurant within walking distance of the B&B, and I believe some people went out for some live music nearby — I went for an early bedtime. I regretted that later, as Friday morning dawned rainy and stayed that way! We couldn’t even manage to get any of the famous Brown’s Donuts on the Boardwalk, as we didn’t have an umbrella with us, and the rain was a little too intense for standing in line. We did have a very nice late breakfast at a tiny restaurant, then decided to hit the road for home.

Revisiting an old friend: The Rush Hour Run

As mentioned in an earlier post, I haven’t been running much since cycling season started; when I do run, I’ve been trying to run trails as much as possible. However, that isn’t how I got started. My first runs were all on the treadmill at the gym (using the Couch25k program on my iPod). Eventually, I joined a half- and full-marathon training group, and that’s when I started running on pavement. Most of our long runs used trails like the Perkiomen Trail (which has both gravel and paved sections), the Schuylkill River Trail and the paved loop at Valley Forge National Historic Park. All of my first races were on pavement: from my first 5k (hosted by the Pottstown YMCA) to the ten-mile Broad Street Run to my first half-marathon in Philadelphia, I either ran on paved paths or on the road.

My second 5k was the Rush Hour Run, which is hosted every year by SEI to benefit local charities. The race is an out-and-back on the Perkiomen Trail, which is right behind the SEI campus. The first time I ran this race, the draw for me was that it was local, it was a familiar path, and many of the folks I’d gotten to know through the training group would be there. As I found out that first year, the real draw is the post-race party, which features beer, cocktails and all manner of tasty treats from local restaurants and caterers.

I’ve done the race every year since then, and this year was no exception. Even though my running frequency is way down since cycling season began — and even though I had been knocked down with a pretty nasty cold and was still struggling with breathing difficulty and a cough the day of the race — I’d be lying if I said I went into it with no expectations. Sure, I told myself I’d do run/walk intervals based on “whenever I cough”. I told myself I’d go easy. I told myself (and my friends, and my boyfriend) that I wouldn’t overdo it. I told myself.

But there was something lingering in the back of my head, something I tried not to acknowledge: the way I’d felt the last time I’d gone running, the week before I got sick. The way the first mile flew by and how I’d forced myself to slow down for the second mile. Forced myself to take walk breaks because that’s what I do. I’ve been using run/walk intervals of varying measures since 2010. It’s part of my mindset. But even as I took walk breaks that day, I just felt fast. As I neared the end point of my run, I glanced down at my watch and realized that I was almost at a 5k distance … and my time was under 30 minutes. Have I mentioned that I’m not a fast runner? I’m not even a little bit fast. My fastest official 5k was a smidge over 31 minutes.

So, at this year’s Rush Hour Run, of course I told myself I’d take it easy. Of course, I told myself I’d listen to my lungs and my body and walk as soon as the exertion brought on the horrible, wracking cough again. I placed myself way at the back of the pack on purpose, intending to stick myself behind someone running at an easy pace and let them set my pace for me.

 

The race starts out down a slight grade, exiting the rear of SEI’s campus and down the short stretch of Upper Indian Head Road to turn right onto the Perkiomen Trail. From there, the trail is mostly flat — there’s a short, steep incline where the trail rises above the Perkiomen Creek to meet the parking lot at New Mill Road, then a gentle decline after the soccer fields. There’s a water station at the turn-around, and then you return to SEI, with the finish line on the trail before Upper Indian Head Road (so there’s no charging uphill to the finish).

I started out nice and easy on the descent to the trail, and it felt too easy. My lungs seemed to open up almost as soon as I started moving, and my breathing felt easier and easier — better than it had all week! After we turned onto the trail, I tried to ease my pace back a little and take it easy, but found it frustrating and soon began to pass people. At one point, I looked for my long-legged, fleet-footed boyfriend, who had been running right at my side, and discovered he was 30 feet or so behind me. I knew he would have no problem catching me if he wanted to, so I kept moving up. I’d pass a gaggle of people, then settle in behind someone to pace myself — but I’d soon find myself running too close to their heels, and would peel off to the left edge of the pavement to pass. Before too long, the lead runners were on their way back, flying down the left side of the pavement, and I started using the grassy verge to the right of the pavement to pass.

I took a walk break at the water station and walked the turn-around while drinking a cup of water, then got myself going again. My boyfriend had caught up to me again, and commented that we were “doing really good”, and I just had to grin. Good? I was breathing! I was running! It was AWESOME!

About a quarter-mile before the finish, it was my boyfriend’s turn to leave me behind. He kicked into high gear — I don’t seem to have that extra gear when it comes to running — and crossed the finish line well ahead of me. The digital readout at the finish line said 29:4something as I crossed, and I knew my chip time would be less, since I had been way at the back of the pack when the gun went off. My official chip time was 29:19, and my boyfriend’s was 29:01.

One of the reasons I come back to this race year after year, aside from how they spoil us after the run, is because it’s become a good touchstone for me. This is the only race I’ve done every single year, from my first year running, and I’ve never missed it. I’ve shaved at least a little time off every year, so it’s become a marker of my progress. And, now that I’m not training for distance, my results in the shorter races are improving more dramatically. Don’t get me wrong — I am still firmly in the middle of the field at best when it comes to my age group. But placing isn’t a thing that has ever mattered to me — the only person I really want to beat is myself, and I am happy with my consistent improvement at this annual race.

Catching Up With the Philly Cycling Classic

On Sunday, June 1, I was signed up to volunteer at Velothon Philadelphia, the amateur ride that preceded the Philly Cycling Classic pro race. I needed to be there a little before 6am (the Velothon was scheduled to kick off at 6:30am, and riders had to be off the pro-race portion of the course by 8:30am). I really didn’t want to drive down to Philadelphia — I knew getting down there that early and finding parking would be no problem, but getting home in the afternoon would be a lot less fun, with roads closed for the race into the early evening. Another way to get into the city, for me, has been to drive over to Conshohocken and park near the Schuylkill River Trail, then ride my bike down the trail into Philadelphia.

However, lately I’ve been looking at the miles between home and the trail, and paying close attention to traffic on the local roads with an eye to figuring out which ones I feel safest riding. The planets aligned for me when one of my club rides circled right past my house and out one of the roads I had pegged as my best bet for riding — so I got to pre-ride my tentative route with friends, and that made it feel more do-able.

Of course, everything feels more doable when you’re riding in a group in the middle of the day. To get to Boathouse Row in Philadelphia in time for the Velothon, I left my house at 4:45 in the morning! It was still mostly dark, so I had a headlight on my handlebars, one on my helmet, and a bright, blinking red light on my rear. I had a small backpack with some snacks and a pair of comfy sandals so that I could hang out on Lemon Hill to watch the pros race after marshaling on the Velothon course. The ride down was a breeze — a chilly one, in fact! I found myself wishing I’d worn my full-finger gloves. My mind was taken off the chill, however, when my headlamp started showing me what’s in my usually-busy area that early on a Sunday morning: I saw foxes, deer, bunnies and, I’m almost positive, a coyote. (It was either a coyote or the biggest darn fox I’ve ever seen. However, after living in Arizona for 10 years and seeing my fair share of coyotes, I feel pretty confident calling it a ‘yote.)

I had no trouble getting over to the SRT and down to Manayunk, where I left the trail for roads. Riding through Manayunk prior to the race was really fun — the streets were full of workers setting up the barricades, and the flatbeds carrying the barriers and tow trucks hauling away the cars of people who had ignored the “no parking” signs and left their vehicles parked along the street. From Manayunk, I swept up Kelly Drive — again, had the whole thing to myself, aside from a few police vehicles and work trucks — and met up with my friends Kurt and Denise, who were coordinating course volunteers, near Lloyd Hall. I checked in, got my neon green volunteer t-shirt, a traffic flag and a map, and was sent out on the course.

The best part of volunteering was getting to pre-ride most of the course before the Velothon officially started. Yes, that means I got to ride the infamous Manayunk Wall! I almost made it all the way up without stopping — until I dropped the %$@! traffic flag! I had to stop, put a foot down and lean over to pick it up. I had started out the ride with the flag tucked into my backpack — but pulled it out because it was banging on my helmet, making it hard to turn my head to the left. I rode with it gripped in my right hand against the handlebar, and lost it when I shifted that one last time into granny gear. On the plus side, the spot where I stopped was midway up the Wall, where the grade eases out just a bit, so once I picked up the flag (and caught my breath), I was able to get myself started again. This is the first time I’ve ridden the wall without having to walk a portion of it!

A few minutes later, after the lovely “fall from The Wall” descent through Manayunk, I came to a right turn followed immediately by a split that was missing signage. I took the upper side of the split, my attention caught by police lined up across the top. Turned out they were there to prevent cars coming down from the busier road above, and I should have taken the lower side of the split. Shortly after that, I got a call asking me to stay at that split with my flag to direct Velothon riders down the right side of the split. And shortly after THAT, I got a message from a friend telling me that she’d seen me riding up the Wall — on the Channel 10 news! I actually said, “Aaaaaack!” out loud. She attached a picture of her TV screen with me in my neon volunteer finery, my bright blue backpack and traffic flag visible over my shoulder as I came up the crest of the Wall:

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Aaaaack. I look so dorky! But I made it up the Wall, and that’s all that matters.

For the Velothon, riders could do as many laps of the course as they wanted — but had to be off the section of course used for the pro race by 8:30. Once I saw the sweep vehicle go past, I left the split and headed over to the portion of the course on the far side of the Schuylkill river. This portion wouldn’t be used for the pro riders at all, and I tooled around about 10 miles of the course before heading back over to Lemon Hill, where both of my cycling clubs (Suburban Cyclists Unlimited and the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia) had tents set up to hang out, watch the race, and publicize.

I spent the next several hours watching the pro women race, and being amazed (again and again, every year) at how easy they made it look. They surged up Lemon Hill like it was nothing! Friends, I have ridden that hill a few times myself and while it isn’t as long as the Manayunk Wall, I do not mind telling you that IT FELT LIKE A THING. I think it’s the combination of the steepness and the tightness of the curve, and if you’re not lucky enough to have a good amount of speed coming into it, you can really struggle on it.

After the men started racing, I started thinking about how long it was going to take me to get home — and just how I was going to get home, since I had ridden in on roads that were now closed. I knew it would be easy enough to ride up the multi-use path alongside Kelly Drive, just being careful to watch out for spectators along the way; but I had a feeling Manayunk would be more challenging, with heavier crowds. A couple other members of SCU were having the same thoughts, and three of us set out together. Getting up Kelly Drive was, indeed, pretty easy. We stopped and edged off the path when the pro men came around on their next lap, cheering for their impressive effort — they were hauling! It was so amazing, the ROAR that is made by all those skinny tires of a tightly-packed peloton at high speed.

Before too long, we made it up to Manayunk, where we hopped into the empty street and rode up until we were hollered off the course by police. We caught up to another rider doing the same thing; the crowds were thin enough in that area that our little three-person line continued riding up the sidewalk instead of dismounting. As the crowds got gradually thicker, however, I started getting more and more nervous about riding on the sidewalks. I hopped off the sidewalk to avoid one group of pedestrians, then saw the driveway for the Manayunk Brewery just ahead, and thought that would be a good spot to pull in, get off the course and out of the way of spectators to dismount and continue walking.

Unfortunately, I did a couple things wrong: I was going to slow, I had too much weight on my handlebars, and I hit the lip of the driveway at a far too shallow angle. Next thing I knew, my wheels were going sideways out from under me, and I was on the sidewalk. Bam! I was suddenly surrounded by cops and spectators asking me if I was okay. I was fine — more embarrassed than anything else! I got up and checked myself over — I had landed on my left side, and my hip took the brunt of the abuse. Luckily, I was going slowly enough that there was no ‘road rash’ — my shorts were intact, I had a mild scrape on my left elbow, and a quickly-forming bruise on my left hip and one on the heel of my right hand, where it must have slipped up and hit my brake hood.

After that, we wisely decided to walk the rest of the way, just a couple blocks until we could pick up the canal towpath that runs through Manayunk. We didn’t go far before I realized that my front tire was flat, and I was saved by the folks I was riding and walking with — while I’m perfectly capable of changing a tube, I realized I didn’t have anything to patch the tire where the lip of the driveway had rubbed right through it. With their help, we patched the tire, put in a new tube, and got it inflated so that I could ride home.

After that, the rest of the trip home was blessedly uneventful. In fact, I was having such a nice time riding up the SRT and chatting with my ride buddies, that I missed the road I needed in Conshohocken, and had to turn back! I got home a little after 4pm, making a full day indeed — and all of it either on or about the bike! Volunteering for the Velothon was great fun, and watching the pro racers was awe-inspiring.

 

Catching Up

I got knocked down by a pretty nasty cold in the middle of last week, one that started in my sinuses, moved into my chest and still has me coughing gross stuff out of my lungs, getting short of breath quickly, and just generally feeling tired. But even worse than feeling poorly and basically sleeping around the clock is the fact that I’ve been missing all of my favorite rides, runs and workouts! The only positive thing is the fact that Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black was released on Netflix, so I was able to spend some of my waking/drooling hours streaming episodes. Therefore, instead of writing about what I’m up to right now (which would read something like, “to my eyeballs in used tissues”), I’m going to write about the weekend BEFORE the crud attacked. After all, that weekend was pretty fantastic.

I got to do two things I love (run with friends, ride my bike), both of which led to a third thing I like: adventure! I even made the news—which, at the time, kind of horrified me, but I got over that. In fact, after writing the first draft of this post, I had to split it into two: one for the last Saturday of May, and one for the first Sunday of June. There was just too much good stuff to be contained in one trim little post (as if my posts are ever “trim”—ha!).

First up: Saturday, May 31. I joined the Misery Loves Company crew for a run at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I am incredibly fortunate to live nearby, and I never get tired of running there—whether it’s the tried-and-true “loop” (a five-mile paved multi-use path) or whether I get to explore and discover new-to-me trails, I simply love it there. We try to make it over at least once a week.

Saturday’s run was the official “farewell” run for our group’s leader, Pete. Some of us call him “Coach Pete”, some call him “Sensei”, some of us call him “Damnit, Pete!” when he rabbits up a hill that mysteriously appeared on a supposedly-flat run and cheerfully calls out, “That’s not a hill! It’s just an inclined flat!” But you can never hold it against him—he’s also the guy who effortlessly circles back and hangs with the slowest runner (often me), checking in and chatting with pretty much everyone who joins the group for any given run. He’s the one who dispenses good running tips, trail directions, praise and bad jokes with the same easy-going, self-deprecating humor. Pete and his family are moving out of state, and our crew is definitely going to miss his encouragement, inspiration, superior trail-finding abilities, easy-going manner and coaching advice. (I might not miss his nettle-finding abilities, though!)

To send him off, we met at the parking lot at Knox’s Headquarters on route 252 and set out to run, roughly, the perimeter of the park. We ran along Valley Creek, then turned to follow the edge of a rolling meadow where model plane enthusiasts were flying their crafts, crossed route 252, circled around to climb the hillside past the ranger station (where we took a break to brush ticks off our legs — ACK!), bombed down the hill to the lower parking lot to refill bottles and bump into friends who were out running with the local Galloway Group, then crossed route 23 and dodged massive construction vehicles to hop onto “Fisherman’s trail”, a lovely, flowy bit of single-track along the Schuylkill River. We re-emerged behind Washington’s Headquarters, crossed back over route 23 and headed up toward our namesake, Mt. Misery, where the Horseshoe Trail comes through the park. Here, the pack split: some ran up over Misery, and some headed downhill, to the wide, pretty trail that follows Valley Creek back to Yellow Springs Road near its juncture with 252. I was in the latter group, for a couple reasons: this was the longest run I’ve done in over a year (depending on whose measurements you went by, we ran somewhere between 8 and 9 miles; most of my long runs have been in the 5-6 mile range, which barely counts as leg-stretching for many in this group), and I’d rolled my ankle (again) when the trail along the Schuylkill got rockier and more challenging. After that, the easier, flatter trail along Valley Creek sounded lovely.

Happily, my ankle didn’t bother me for long at all. I ended the run feeling energized and excited, instead of tired and over-done, and I had a great time with friends—I don’t think you can ask for better! MLC is definitely going to feel the loss of Coach Pete—but it’s a really great group of people with a great deal of varied trail and ultra experience, and we have more fun and challenging runs ahead of us.

Post-run group picture

Post-run group picture

Next post: Adventure Sunday!