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.

 

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Giving myself a “B” on a “C+” ride

It has arrived: the time of year that I run less and less, because I’m pedaling more and more. It’s bike time! This year, “bike time” was kicked off with New Bike Day, and then got delayed by travel, weather and other obligations. Since completing my first century last fall, my goal was to ride three centuries this season — so as fun as some of the delays were, I’ve been eager to get back on the bike regularly and start putting some miles under my shiny new tires.

 

My cycling club holds organized group rides every night of the week. We try to drum up enough ride leaders that each site can launch rides at multiple paces, and a few of our weeknight rides have enough riders and ride leaders that they can break down one pace into multiple groups. For me, riding with the group is an essential part of my training plan — I enjoy the social aspect of group rides and I feel like I push myself harder when I’m challenged by other, faster riders. When I ride on my own, I tend to be a little more conservative with my pacing.

 

Paces are assigned letters, based on average speed for the ride. “A” is our fastest pace group, averaging somewhere around 18-20 miles over longer distances and more challenging terrain; our Monday night club ride hosts paces from “A” to “D”, which is a group that rides at an average of 8-10 mph– geared toward new riders and those riding heavier bikes, like hybrids. To make it a little more complex, we get enough riders at the Monday night ride that some of our regular pace groups are broken down further — for example, we don’t just have one “C” pace group; we have “C+”, “C” and “C-“. The purpose here is just to break the groups up a little — rather than having a large “C” group with 30 or more riders strung out on the roads, we can have three smaller groups, with riders able to more consistently stay together, heading out on different routes. It helps manage group size so that we aren’t contributing to congestion on local roads, at the same time as making sure it’s easier for the groups to stay together at a steady pace.
 

Last summer, I rode consistently with the C pace group, and had a great time. The ride leader, Denise, and sweep rider, Mike, are both great at leading and supporting riders, and the group that turned out weekly was a nice mix of people — so not only was the ride good, but the people were nice to ride with, and that’s about as good as it gets if you’re a social rider like me.

 

However, by the end of last season, I was starting to feel like I needed to bump myself up to the “C+” group. The rides were starting to feel easier — and, while there’s nothing wrong with just enjoying a ride, I tend to feel that urge to push myself a little harder when things start getting easier.

 

This year, both the weather and my own scheduling conflicts have conspired to delay my Monday night rides, and last night was the first time I got out to my favorite group ride. I signed myself up on the C+ sign-in sheet, introduced myself to the other riders gathered there, and convinced myself not to bail on the whole idea when the ride leader rolled up and said, “Hope everyone’s ready for a hilly ride tonight. We’re hitting some big ones!” I started having my doubts about bumping up to a faster-paced group, but there were a couple other people second-guessing their pace choice after that announcement, so I figured it was more likely that there would be a few of us trailing behind the group instead of just me, off the back, all by my lonesome.

 

It turned out to be another good group of riders and a great night on the bike! We did hit some challenging hills, and I did better than expected. I felt like I was close to getting dropped on some of the early hills, but I also had no problem reeling the group back in after we crested — and, as the ride went on and the miles racked up, the group wasn’t attacking the hills as hard as they did at the beginning — but I was, and I started passing people on climbs. (They almost immediately passed me on the next downhill, but perhaps my timid descending is a topic for another post!)

 

Before the ride started, I set myself a goal: don’t be the last straggler coming back into the parking lot. At the end, I was right on the ride leader’s wheel; we got passed by a couple people who were giving it all they had on the final, flat stretch of road, but I came into the parking lot with the bulk of the group, rather than behind. Since I rode pretty steadily, stayed with the group and felt good at the end, I give myself a “B” grade (not a “B” pace!) on the C+ ride.

 

Below is a screencap of my pace and the elevation, as provided by my Garmin.

 

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A Runner Once Again

I didn’t do much running over the summer. Initially, when I started cycling (in early April, bundled up, braving capricious Spring weather), the days were still short (and chilly) enough that most rides were short. I was only getting out a couple times a week, and would run at least once — usually twice — during the week and again over the weekend.

As we moved into summer, my tendency to hyper-focus really came to bear, and cycling became all there was. Longer rides, more frequent rides; I could go a whole week or even two without running. In the month leading up the Century ride, I think I ran once. On the one hand, it might have been better to run more, and have more cross-training; but if there’s one thing I learned from being sick so much last year, it’s that I need to give myself ample recovery time. Instead of cross-training with running, I alternated between cycling days, yoga and rest.

After the century ride, however, I wanted to get back to running. I knew I wouldn’t ride outdoors once the temperatures got below about 55 — lack of daylight aside, I just don’t deal well with cold when most of my body is still, as it is when cycling. Running keeps me significantly warmer, so I decided that I’d put the bike away for the winter and focus on running.

For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that the transition back to running would actually be a little on the difficult side. After all, I had no problem transitioning from running to cycling. But suddenly, I found myself a significantly slower runner — not that I’d ever qualified as “fast”, but it felt like my first year of running all over again. My heart rate went up noticeably faster during running than it did while cycling, and I had to take more frequent walk breaks. Last year, I was regularly breaking the 10-minute per mile pace, and now I’m closer to 11:30 per mile and just trying to work on consistency before I worry about speed.

And yet … it still feels good to be running again. When I can get past my frustration at being slower, I fall into the rhythm of running and lose myself. This is a particularly pretty time of year in my area, and when I’m running on a local trail or at a park, I can take the time to look around and enjoy the scenery in a way that I don’t get to do as much on the bike, as I whiz quickly past idyllic farms and maneuver in traffic through town.

I’ve set myself some good running challenges this year; my main goal is to focus on trail running as much as possible. I’ve done a lot of running on roads and the paved paths in the area in the past (such as the Perkiomen Trail and the Schuylkill River Trail), so it’s time to switch focus and learn a new style of running.

I tend to register for races as a way of setting goals and monitoring progress. My first race this fall was a 5k on the rolling roads of Collegeville in late October. The following week, I stacked myself up with a double-header (which is what happens when I can’t make up my mind WHICH race I should do); I ran a 5-miler on the Green Ribbon Trail on Saturday, then ran a road 10k (Run the Bridge) the following day. I was happy with my times at both events, especially considering they were my longest recent runs, and I gave myself very little rest between them.

Coming up next, I have runs with a local trail-running group (Misery Loves Company), and will supplement the runs I attend with them with my own sprint workouts and strength training (and yoga! Mustn’t forget the yoga). My major goal races are still months away, and will cause some interesting overlaps with Spring and Summer cycling, so in addition to challenging myself to more trail running, I’ll need to start challenging myself to a better cross-training routine.

Thinking that far ahead makes it feel a little daunting. What it really all comes down to is that I found new things to love about cycling over the summer, and I’m again finding new things to love about running right now. Finding a way to balance these two pursuits so that I can enjoy both and stay healthy will be the real goal, rather than setting any specific race times.

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.

Peter Odell Memorial Ride

(This is the third installation in the “All The Things I Should Have Been Blogging” series. I didn’t realize this was going to become a series; if you need to catch up, here is Part 1 and here is Part 2.)

Every year, the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia (BCP) hosts a ride in memory of a long-time club member and ride leader, Peter Odell. I had been reading the website for the ride for a few weeks, nervously going back and forth about whether or not I could do it. I got a boost of encouragement from several club members, and from the fact that I realized I had to be able to do it; I needed to be able to complete the distance if I was going to be ready for my century. While the support on the ride would be limited, just having a map and cue sheet, planned stops, and knowing there were other riders out there made it more attractive than trying to get that kind of distance solo.

I signed up for the 70-mile route, then got an email a couple weeks before the ride: there were only two of us signed up for that route. Did we still want to ride it? The organizer put the two of us in contact with each other so that we could discuss our options, and after talking about pacing and recent rides, we eventually decided to go ahead and stick it out. Neither of us felt ready for the 90-mile route, and neither really wanted to drop back to the 50-mile route; our paces sounded relatively compatible, so it seemed worth giving it a try.

On the morning of the ride, I left the house at an ungodly hour and drove to New Hope, PA, which would be the start point for the vast majority of the riders. Only a few people were leaving from downtown Philadelphia for the longer (135 miles) route; most were riding the 90 mile route. Those of us doing either of the two shorter routes left our cars in the New Hope parking lot and hopped on a tour bus that would take us to our start points. I met Chris, my ride partner for the day, for the first time that morning.

The bus dropped us off on a small side street near Neshanic Station, NJ. We took a few minutes to make sure we had everything situated, and then we rolled out on sleepy, Sunday morning streets. We got our wrong turns out of the way early, but neither cost us more than about an extra mile. Before too long, we were rolling through beautiful countryside. When we had to pass through towns, we always seemed to do so on roads that kept us off the busiest streets, and we only saw real traffic a few times. We briefly followed the Raritan River, then slipped through Somerville and skirted Bridgewater. We dipped into the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, sped through Wachtung Reservation, Echo Lake and Nomahegan Parks. Even as the towns we passed through became bigger and more dense, we just seemed to sneak by the traffic on our own little streets.

As we entered Elizabeth, we met up with three other riders — and this was the perfect place to have a bigger group. Traffic was heavy, and one of the other riders was familiar with the area, knew the route well, and guided us through traffic snarls (the local mall on a holiday weekend) and onto a huge, deserted road that was lined on both sides by giant stacks of shipping containers. Next thing I knew, we were at the part of the ride I’d been worrying about: to cross the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers, we had to merge onto the Lincoln Highway. I was glad for the extra visibility that comes with a slightly larger group of riders, and also glad for the experience and confidence of the other riders, who had done this before. Traffic was flying, but we made it across the bridges without trouble. Before I knew it, we were flying through Jersey City and into Hoboken.

I will probably never forget coming down 1st Street and suddenly having the view open up: the Hudson River and, over the water, Manhattan. It was awe-inspiring and invigorating! I know my jaw dropped and my eyes got wider, and I know that I didn’t care a bit if I looked like a slack-jawed tourist. I was! It was a beautiful sight, and I drank it in as we rode up the waterfront to the 14th Street Terminal. There was a ferry pulling out when we arrived, but we only had to wait 20 minutes for the next ferry, and then we and our bikes were chugging smoothly across the Hudson River.

In Manhattan, we stuck to the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway until we reached the Brooklyn Bridge. Of all the places we rode that day, this ended up being the most harrowing! The promenade on the Brooklyn Bridge is divided by a painted line, with one side marked for pedestrians and the other marked for bicyclists — but there were plenty of people who paid no mind to those markings! Chris went ahead of me, and it was surprisingly slow going, as tourists stepped out in front of us to take pictures, or wandered down the middle without looking. Chris was announcing us as we came up the bridge, “Bikes! Bikes! Out of the bike lane!” and while most people moved out of the way, one woman just stopped in the center of our path and didn’t move. Chris was barely able to stop in time — and by “stop”, I mean that he rode into the wall to avoid her. Who knew the most stressful part of the ride would be this bridge?

It was a relief to be off the bridge and winding our way through Brooklyn; it was an even bigger relief to roll up to an intersection and realize that we were THERE: a quick left turn and we were at the final destination: Nu Hotel, where we could see our bus at the curb, and others from the club already gathering. I didn’t have to wait long before it was my turn to get a hot shower, and then a couple local friends met up with Chris and I to go to dinner nearby. It wasn’t long after that before we loaded our bikes carefully into a Ryder truck, loaded ourselves onto the buses and made our way back to New Hope.

I was home shortly after midnight, and it almost seemed unreal that I’d spent the entire day on my bike, and traveled to and through Manhattan and Brooklyn. Chris, who I’d never met before, ended up being an amazing ride buddy — we were well-matched pace-wise, and I had the benefit of a ride buddy who has traveled all over the world and had neat stories to tell (I felt like I didn’t hold up my end of the conversation particularly well, but I know I enjoyed hearing his travel tales!) The route was like magic; according to the club, Peter Odell first mapped out the route in 1993, and the ride ended in Little Italy and Chinatown. The ride was extended into Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge in 1997 and, despite increased development along the route, it has remained largely unchanged since. That is some skillful route mapping!

Overall, that day — and its total of 78 miles — will probably always be one of my favorite days of cycling.

 

All the Things I Should Have Been Blogging: Part 2

Early in the season, I signed up for Bike MS: City to Shore, a weekend-long event with many different options (ride 25, 45, 75 or 100 miles in a day; ride one or both days). I picked the ride for several reasons; at the time I signed up, I would have ranked my reasons this way:

  1. The ride was scheduled late enough in the season — the last weekend of September — that I could be sure I’d have plenty of time to train.
  2. I knew at least a couple of my friends would be doing the ride, and many people from both cycling clubs.
  3. I have friends with MS, one who was just diagnosed last year, and I knew that the organization was one I could support.
  4. There was a better chance that it wouldn’t be brutally hot, since the ride was in late September.

Having the date marked on my calendar gave me extra determination on my weekday rides. It’s not that I was turning my rides into races or trying to do anything crazy; but I was less likely to skip a ride because I felt tired or because the skies looked threatening. If the skies looked threatening, I just crossed my fingers that we would get good miles before the rain hit. In past years, I wouldn’t even have shown up for a ride if there was rain on the radar.

Having this goal also acted as a nudge, pushing me out of my comfort zone to try rides in unfamiliar areas. I was already used to the roads in the area of the Monday night club ride; other than that, I had previously stuck to the Perkiomen Trail and the SRT. When I added the Thursday night club ride, I learned new roads, and how to handle traffic in an area where drivers weren’t as accustomed to seeing groups of cyclists on their rural and suburban roads.

I also knew that I could only take so much of the paved trails in the area before boredom would kick in — and getting bored, for me, is a sure path back to the couch. I joined more club rides on the weekends — one weekend, a group of us rode from Collegeville to St. Peter’s and back via a circuitous route of pretty, quiet, rural roads. We got 50 miles that day, and had an excellent time.

Another day, I met up with another woman from the club and we rode down the SRT to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where we met up with the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia. The plan was to ride 50 miles with them, then back out the SRT to our cars, for a total of about 76 miles. The ride was beautiful — we had an easy spin down the SRT, and then the ride from the Art Museum took us out through Fairmount Park and onto beautiful, quiet side streets, winding us out of the city towards Montgomeryville. It was great, right until we climbed a couple hills and I started feeling like I was pedaling through molasses. That’s when we realized my rear wheel was out of true … because I’d broken a spoke. We stopped at Whole Foods (the planned rest stop of the ride) and tried to make the wheel ride-able, but I ended up calling my boyfriend for a rescue. I was disappointed to only get 40 miles altogether that day.

Luckily, I had another opportunity to ride 75 miles in a single day coming up the following week, when I would join the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia again– this time, to ride my bike into Brooklyn on the Peter Odell Memorial Ride.

And that seems like a good place to pick up next time.