2014 Wrap Up

A number of the runners and cyclists I follow online have been posting their totals for the year: total miles run or ridden, total RACE miles, total trail versus road miles … I think it will surprise no one who has followed this randomly (and all-too-rarely) updated blog that I am not doing that. 2014 was a great year, and there were lots of great runs and rides, and the miles just don’t tell the stories, like wearing two different sportswatches on my ride from New Hope to Brooklyn, and having both of them die as we crossed the Hudson River on a ferry, so the last few miles went unaccounted. (And even having the miles doesn’t tell the story of the most catastrophic flat I have ever witnessed, followed up by the friendliest cop, who also turned out to be a cyclist, and who enlisted the aid of a local bike shop even though they weren’t really open at the time. The map doesn’t tell the story of what it’s like to scoot across the Hackensack and Passaic rivers on route 1/9, with a big group of cyclists and a car protecting us from behind with its flashers on. See, those are the kind of stories I’m supposed to be telling here, because all Strava does is record mileage.)

I did get in a lot more miles on the bike this year, though not as many as I’d hoped. (I ended the year somewhere shy of 2,000 miles, when I had originally set myself a 3,000-mile goal for the season). Many of my friends and fellow club members are still out there, riding in this cold weather; I stopped riding pretty much the minute the temperatures stayed below 60 degrees. (The added wind chill of riding is not kind to anyone dealing with symptoms of Reynaud’s.) I love seeing their updates — which I see often, as the Ride Coordinator for our club. One of the awards we give out every year at our Winter Banquet is the “Knights of the Cast Iron Crotch”, recognizing everyone who rides over 5,000 miles for the calendar year. The number of people in the club who blow that number out of the water is really astounding.

Here are some of the rides that really stood out for me this year, not necessarily in chronological order:

  • “St. Peter, Don’tcha Call Me!” This is an annual ride led by a few different people (for different pace groups) from my cycling club. We ride from Collegeville, PA, to the bakery in St. Peter’s Village, where we hang out on their pretty deck overlooking French Creek, sample some incredibly tasty baked goods, and then head back to Collegeville. It’s a loop ride, not an out-and-back, so we get to explore some different roads on the way home, and return to Collegeville via Limerick, with a short stop at an awesome, super friendly coffee shop called Java’s Brewin’. The owners sponsor a local cycling team, and are always happy to see us and refill our water bottles. Not only are they a friendly crew, they make amazing green smoothies! Highlights of this year’s ride, for me: helping lead a portion of the ride, hanging out while the group stopped to fix flats (twice), getting complimented on my strength, just generally having an absolute blast with a great group of people.
  • Peter Odell Memorial Ride: this annual ride from New Hope, PA, to Brooklyn, NY, is hosted by the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia and is always an amazing experience.
  • MS City to Shore Ride: This was my first-ever complete road century (100 miles) and I returned to it this year a much stronger rider AND with an amazing, kickass new bike! This year, instead of riding by myself the whole time, I had a good friend (who is an amazingly strong rider) stick with me for the entire ride, and that made it even more fun. We really set a good pace and worked well together.
  • Riding from Philadelphia to Ocean City, NJ.
  • Every Monday night: riding with my club from the start location in Wayne, PA, and hitting some beautiful country roads and challenging hills with a great group of people!
  • Every Thursday night: riding with my club from the Collegeville start location. Late in the season, I set out with the faster pace group and had an exhilarating, beautiful ride.
  • Keeping up (barely!) with the crew out of Phoenixville.

With the return of cool weather, I’m getting a little more running in — though, again, not as much as I should! And I haven’t had many trail runs so far; just a couple times back over Mt. Joy and some flat runs along the Betzwood River Trail. Tomorrow — New Year’s Day — I’ll be starting off 2015 with a trail run in Ridley Creek State Park with a bunch of great people, so hopefully that will set the tone for the year!

Some memorable runs in 2014:

  • Tyler Arboretum 10k: I ran this with friends again this year, and it remains one of my favorite places to run. Well-organized event, excellent trail system, just all-around fun– even when I have a less-than-great day of running.
  • Marsh Creek Raptor Run: I ran this one with a great group of friends, and it was a blast! Neat trail system out there, really pretty area, and a finish picture that involved a giant hill of manure. What could be better?raptorrunfinishphoto
  • Running Mt. Joy in Valley Forge Park, both on my own and with friends.
  • Coach Pete’s farewell run with the Misery Loves Company crew, which took us around the perimeter of Valley Forge park, introducing me to areas of the park I’ve never explored. What a great run that was!coachpetefarewellrun

Another big change in 2014: I became certified as a personal trainer and started working at a gym not far from my home. In addition to training others, I’m also working with an amazing kettlebell trainer. I fell in love with kettlebells during my personal training internship, and decided I wanted to train for StrongFirst Level 1 certification. I’m fortunate enough to have a Master Strongfirst instructor in my area, and spent several months working with him. I’m now in a phase where I’m working mostly on my own, and will be touching bases with him once per month to make sure I’m making the right kind of progress. My goal is to take the certification in Boston in August. I’ve also completed the Functional Movement Systems certification, and am working with some great clients on fixing broken movement patterns before we work on any loaded movements.

As my focus changes, this blog may change as well. One of my goals for the beginning of 2015 is to really review how I’m using social media, this blog, and other outlets, and how I can best utilize them to support my invigorating (and sometimes scary) new career. If anyone reading this wants to share advice or ideas, hit me up in the comments!


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.

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:


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.


Finishing the Century Ride

(This is the [really, truly] the last installation of “All The Things I Should Have Been Blogging”. If you’d like to go back in time, here are the prior entries:

After wrapping up the century ride entries, I return to … running! It’s very exciting. Well; not really.)


At some point, one of my friends told me that miles 50-75 would be the worst of the ride. This definitely wasn’t true for me. After seeing one friend at mile 52-ish, and then another friend and my boyfriend at mile 55, I was recharged and raring to go. The road was starting to get slightly monotonous and the scenery wasn’t having the same impact it had on me earlier in the day (although I’ll never forget seeing the tandem recumbent bike, where the rear rider actually faced to the rear), but my energy levels were good and my legs felt great.

At the rest stop at mile 66, I ran into more friends: a couple people I met over the summer on regular weeknight rides with my bike club. We stood around and caught up over snacks and Gatorade before it was time to get back on the road again. I headed out while they hung out, waiting for a couple other friends to show up.

I should mention that I mostly rode alone — at least, as alone as one can be when there are 7,000 or so other riders on the road! While there were many riders from my team and my bike club out there, it just seemed like our paces didn’t match up well; we’d leap-frog each other, or run into each other at rest stops, but I didn’t spend much time at each rest stop, and didn’t luck into any of them out on the road long enough to form up a pace line. Eventually, I began stubbornly avoiding pace lines, determined that I was going to finish the remainder of the ride under my own steam, not sucking wheel.

The only time I wavered in this decision was during the later miles of the ride. I’m actually no longer sure where I was– was it after the 66-mile rest stop, or the 77-mile rest stop? I think it was after 77– when I realized I could hear someone talking immediately behind me. When I glanced back, I realized I had two riders tucked in a line behind me. I just put my head down and pulled; I didn’t begrudge them the moment of relative rest. After a few miles, though, they swung out to the left and began passing me, and one of them said, “It’s our turn to break wind for you a little bit!” I couldn’t help but laugh at his phrasing and said, “Gee, if you put it that way, I think I’ll pass!”

I tucked in behind the two of them for the next few miles. If it counts as a pace line, it was the tiniest pace line ever! I probably robbed myself of the benefits a little; since I’m not very experienced with riding in a pace line, I wasn’t getting as close as I probably should have to the wheel of the guy in front of me. At the same time, I got the impression he wasn’t experienced with the practice, either; while he was a steady rider, he didn’t hold a line very well, making it a little more challenging to stay on his wheel. The gentleman in front was definitely the more experienced rider, calling back some tips and suggestions.

As nice as it was to ride with a couple other people for a while, I ended up pulling out and passing the next time we caught up to a larger group of people; the two of them seemed ready to ease off and sit at the back of the group, and by that point, I was determined to maintain the nice, steady pace I’d been setting. I didn’t want to be trapped behind a large, slow pack of riders.

Passing riders was actually one of the more challenging parts of this ride. With so many riders out on the road — many of them riding together as a team, or with their families — there was a tendencyto bunch up a bit. Riders were often in huge packs, filling the road from the shoulder to the double yellow line, and it was often impossible to pass without crossing the yellow line — which I did more than a few times, when the road was straight and line of sight was clear.

It was somewhere around mile 82-85 that my butt decided it wanted OFF THE SADDLE. I was becoming more and more aware of some very localized soreness, and began looking forward even more to the next rest stop — where I stretched, then used the LAST of my chamois cream (newbie mistake: failing to double check how much chamois cream I had on hand the week before the ride!) and got back on the road. I think my post to Facebook at mile 88 was something like: “My butt is ready to be done, but my legs are good for it!” And it was true; I wasn’t feeling tired. I’d stayed ahead of my appetite and my thirst, and I’d moved around enough on the bike, frequently shifting my hands and moving my upper body, that I’d prevented most of the tightness I often experience in my shoulders during long rides. Save for two very specific sore spots, my body felt good and I was ready to eat up the last 12 miles.

There are two bridges in the last few miles of the ride, and long sweeping rise of each are the first actual “hill” that riders experience on these routes. It actually felt wonderful to hit the first one and stand up on my pedals, powering to the top. (Was it really necessary to stand up and attack these gentle hills? Not at all. Did it feel great to get my butt the heck OFF THE SADDLE? Heck, yeah.) The view from atop the bridges was amazing — the city ahead, the sun sparkling on the water, and the clean salt air! Many riders stopped at the top of the rise on the bridge to take pictures.

The second bridge is the larger, and many riders were struggling on that one. I cane up alongside one woman who was cursing under her breath as she went, and weaving slightly as she struggled to pedal. I offered her a push, and suggested that she might want to shift into an easier gear, and she took both the push and the suggestion with a huge sigh of relief. It was nice to be able to help another rider out, after spending the summer riding with more experienced cyclists who gave me tips and suggestions that helped me become a better rider.

The end of the ride winds through Ocean City to the boardwalk, and as I left the bridge behind and made my way into town, there were people gathered on almost every corner to cheer for the riders. As we got closer and closer to the finish line, it went from a few bunches of people at each corner, to an unbroken line of people on the sidewalk. Park Place and Atlantic Avenue were both solidly lined with people, and then people were crowded behind barricades on 5th avenue, cheering for the riders and yelling for those they knew. The energy of the crowd was amazing, and I know I’m not the only rider who sped up considerably during the last mile of the ride, buoyed by that energy.

I raced into the finish line, catching a glimpse of my friend and my boyfriend in the crowd and waving and yelling their names as I went by.

Once I was through the finish line, I parked my bike in the huge bike corral they had set up, and wandered a bit to find out what the VIP services were. I eventually decided that I didn’t need a massage, and stayed in place so that Paula and Russ could find me as they made their way through the finish line crowds.

The post-event setup was impressive; it’s such a massive event that it’s just astounding to see how well they handle everyone at the end. There were medals and t-shirts being handed out, food for riders and guests, all kinds of things. I picked up my medal and t-shirt, indulged in some ice cream, and then we made our way out of the crowd. All I really wanted was a hot shower and a nap before meeting up with a bunch of friends for dinner. The following day, while many of the MS riders headed out for a second day on the bike, I would be walking around town and cheering for my boyfriend and several other friends who were in town for the Ocean City Half-Marathon, and then I would get to spend the rest of the day (and the following day) just relaxing.

The Century Ride: MS City to Shore

(This is the fourth and final penultimate installation of “All The Things I Should Have Been Blogging”. If you’d like to go back in time, here are the prior entries:

After this, I’ll try to get back on a more regular update schedule, instead of letting months go by with nary a word.)

The day of the century dawned … early. Oh, so very early. The alarm went off before 4am, and we headed out in the wee (and dark) hours for the hour drive to Cherry Hill, NJ. I’d been repeatedly warned to get to the start location as early as possible to avoid traffic backups getting into the parking lot — and I’m glad we took heed of those warnings! Other friends thought they would be there early enough, and ended up sitting in traffic for so long that they were late getting out on the course, and missed the cut-off time to stay on the century course.

Once we arrived, we headed across the lots of the PATCO Woodcrest station to locate my team. We had a tent set up, and had been told our packets would be at the tent — but mine wasn’t. I knew I had missed the cut-off date to have my packet mailed to my home, but my team didn’t know where my information was. They sent me to the VIP tent (for all riders who raised over $1,000) and they didn’t have my packet, either — but quickly assigned me a new rider number, gave me a VIP pass, bib and a commemorative jersey.

One thing I learned this summer is that I get pre-ride jitters. And the longer or more challenging the ride is, the earlier I get jitters. For the Odell ride, I had jitters starting a full week ahead of the ride. For the MS Ride, my jitters were more easily dismissed: there were so many other riders! There was so much more road support! But my nerves kicked in full-force when my team didn’t have my packet, and I was still jumpy even after I got everything I needed.

One downside to getting there so early was that we didn’t have much to do but stand around and wait. All I could think about was the massive amount of people gathering, which would lead to one of my least favorite things: the mass start. While I gained much better handling skills and confidence over the course of the summer, being bunched up in masses still makes me nervous; there’s a point at which your own control of the bike becomes moot, and you’re dependent upon those around you to also be in control. Shifting your balance wrong at exactly the wrong moment, brushing too close too close to someone who then over-corrects in an attempt to avoid you — it doesn’t take much for one rider to take out another (or several others). All that was running through my mind as I waited and tried, distractedly, to make conversation with those around me.

Eventually, however, it was time. We gathered for a team photo, then filed into loosely organized corrals to get ready to roll out. I’m not sure how many people started out from this location — but there were somewhere in the range of 6,000-8,000 people registered, and many of them were registered for the two longer routes (75 and 100 miles) that started at this location. We went out in waves, and it was amazing. There were definitely some slightly nervous moments — someone would slow down too much, someone would put a foot down, people would yell back, “Slowing!” or “Stopping!” to prevent a pile-up — but, for the most part, it was just … jaw-dropping. Winding through pre-dawn streets, headlights blazing and tail-lights blinking as far as the eye could see, both ahead of me and behind me. A seemingly endless flow of riders, calling out to each other and cheering with pent-up excitement.

The morning started out rather cool; as an admitted temperature wimp, I had layered up on my upper half: a jersey, arm-warmers, and a lightweight jacket. I learned pretty early on in the Spring that my legs really aren’t bothered by the cold when I’m pedaling. By the time I was about 15 miles into the ride, I was warm enough to strip off the jacket, roll it up and tuck it into the straps on my Camelbak. Several other riders pulled over at the same time to do the same thing, and I lost count of how many passing riders called out to make sure we were okay.

The weather was simply perfect for the entire day; clear skies, mild breezes, low humidity. Cyclists dream of this sort of weather for long rides — I couldn’t have been luckier. I passed the first rest stop at about 20 miles in; it was already a mob scene, and I didn’t need anything. I quickly started questioning that decision — having never ridden 100 miles before, I felt like I should be taking short stretch breaks whenever possible to prevent soreness and excessive tiredness later on in the ride. After passing the 20-mile rest stop, I decided I’d stop at each rest stop, whether I needed anything specific or not. Even if all I did was take a two-minute break to stand, walk and stretch, I was sure it would be worth it later in the ride.

I’m glad I stopped at future rest stops. The spirit and energy of the volunteers was amazing. At one stop, I thought I was hearing a drum line before I got there; when I came around the corner, it was a double line of people holding plastic gallon jugs partially filled with gravel, and shaking them in rhythm as they cheered for incoming riders. At every rest stop, there were people serving out food, running to fill water bottles, checking on riders, sending them for mechanical assistance — the amount of support provided was really impressive. I’ve done plenty of supported rides, and several charity rides, but I’ve never seen as many SAG vehicles and mechanics as I did throughout this ride.

The first 50 miles went by fast — faster than I had expected. I was posting a brief update to my Facebook feed at each rest stop — I had one friend who said she’d be near the 55-mile rest stop, and FB updates were a quick way to let her and other friends know how I was progressing. I wasn’t really looking at time until I saw that she had posted a reply to my “30 miles in” update, and was rushing to make it out to her planned spot on the course. That’s when I looked at the time and realized I was going faster than I had originally expected — but I felt amazing. I had predicted my times based on my average speeds for prior long rides, and most of my long rides had more elevation gain than this ride would.

It seemed like I was at the halfway point before I knew it. I actually didn’t even really mark the actual halfway point — I stopped at the rest stop at 45 miles, and then suddenly I was at 52-ish miles, and there was a black SUV parked on the side of the road, and there was a sign with my name on it, and my friend and her kids waving. She had come out loaded for a potentially exhausted rider: she brought water, Gatorade, and a variety of snacks (raisins, Cliff Bloks, Honeystinger waffles) and I was surprised at how little I needed. I had made myself eat a few bites at each rest stop, but was well ahead of my appetite, and I was well hydrated — the only thing I was missing was the bottle of Gatorade I’d forgotten in the fridge when we left the house at our ridiculously early hour. I stood and stretched, chatted with her and the kids, and eventually took the bottle of Gatorade (it fit in my bottle cage!) and pushed on.

The next official rest stop — at mile 55 — was only a few short miles later, and this is where one of my friends was volunteering. Surprisingly, it was also where my boyfriend was able to stop — after dropping me off, he had waited for riders to clear out of the start zone and then hit the road himself. I thought there would be way too many riders on the road for him to be able to catch me at a specific rest stop, but I found both him and Paula (of Keep Smiling, Keep Moving) within seconds of pulling into the rest stop.  I was excited to see both of them, and still couldn’t get over how good I felt.

… and I think I’ll pick up the second half of the ride in my entry, as this one is getting lengthy.