Blogs tagged with "bike"

These days, soaking in ink is my usual state of being.

Just because I've not posted in a while - not posted in this blog space, that is - doesn't mean I don't have something to post. In fact, I'm crazy busy. But I'm desperately trying to be LESS crazy busy. I'm trying to get to a place where I can sleep at night without worrying about how I'm going to get everything done. And strangely, the things that I worry about getting done are things like my art and my training. I worry about work too. But my "work" worries have become things like: "How am I going to make it through the day on four hours of sleep?" and "Is there anything in my programming future that's more exciting than what I'm doing now?"

Thus, my work worries are also worrying me.

It's a vicious cycle that needs to stop.

The print production process

Anyway, I HAVE been posting...

My 2013 (new) Specialized Tarmac (my husband Jim referred to this
photo as "transportation upgrades" - the 2014 Outback replaced
my 1999 Rav4 totaled when I was rear-ended last year)

I bought a new bike. Not because I needed one (although this can always be argued). And not because I wanted one (although doesn't everyone?). No I just wanted to find out what it would be like to be a real road biker for a change. And - because I want to get faster and I found out the best way to do that.

So, then, why can I not get faster on my TT bike, you ask? I can. In fact, it appears that I already have. After riding with faster bikers from my triathlon team for several weekends, I went out for a solo 100-miler and found that I covered the distance (and course) faster than I ever have before.
So, then, why do I need a new bike, you ask? I don't. But I want to ride with the fast people and the fast people are road bikers who ride from my the bike shop every Wednesday evening. And they frown on riding in a group with a TT bike. 
So there it is. Reason enough to get a (road) bike.
There were a few conditions. The price had to be reasonable. Let's be serious - if I were going to drop several thousand dollars on a bike, I would be looking to replace my racing bike, the P3 (which I love, so that was not an option). And I wanted to buy it from my team sponsor,

And for those who've not heard of Elbow - well, even for those who have - here's a video I took of the song "The Birds" that might explain why we were (and are) willing to drive five (or more) hours to see them live. I'm still not mentally recovered from it: 
The damage was a LOT worse than it looks.

There's one thing about being the Disaster Magnet. I know the next disaster is always on the horizon. I'm usually prepared for it. The bad thing is never knowing when it's coming. I ask people all the time: "are you sure you want to ride/run/swim with me? I AM, afterall, the Disaster Magnet." Everyone laughs. They think it's funny. They think I'm being overly dramatic. They think I'm just making it up.

I'm not. I'm one of the most accident-prone people you will ever meet. I'm the walking embodiment of Murphy's Law. If you don't believe me, just ask my new biking partners. They now know.

It started innocently enough. As one of the newest members of the

My right side and hip are STILL bleeding.
I had landed on my right side and my shoulder jammed into the side of my body. I moved my arm around in circles to check if something wasn't working. The pain was bad but my arm was functional. My biggest fear was if I had cracked a rib or something not obvious. My knee was bleeding and my hip had been chewed up pretty good. Damn, I ruined my favorite bike shorts.
I assured the boys that I did not have to call my husband (their suggestion) and that if my bike was operational, I was finishing this ride... dammit!
We checked the bike. The handlebars and aero bars were out of alignment but Jason and Ed helped by shifting everything back into place and after a few more attempts at movement, I was convinced I could ride the last however-many-miles we had left. We DID witness one miracle: all three of my water bottles stayed firmly in their cages during the crash.
Unfortunately, the remaining 13 miles would involve one of the worst hills in the area during which I would find my rear derailleur was bent and could not get into the lowest gear. But I persevered and made it home while having to listen to Ed and Jason's apologies (silly boys, they thought it was somehow their fault) followed by joking that I slowed them down. (Perhaps I even did it on purpose to slow them down.)
I'm going with the explanation that this was just a simple team initiation (I think the proper term is "hazing").
When I got home, my husband Jim insisted that I go to the emergency room (he was convinced that one of my pupils was dilated). I waited a bit, got a shower and then decided he was right. My biggest fear was that I broke a bone in my arm because I couldn't make a fist without excruciating pain in my elbow (it's strange how these things come to light later). I insisted that on the way to the ER, we drop my bike off at Bike Authority - it needed a new rear derailleur and some handlebar adjustments which were completed almost instantly by the amazing Mike Vanucci (who texted me in the ER!).
After several hours in the ER and one x-ray, it was determined that nothing was broken. The doctor gave me a prescription for 800 mg of ibuprofen and sent me on my way with one warning: "the worst is yet to come." 
This knee never gets a break. It still
has scars from winter running falls.
Boy was she right. I don't think my 46-year-old body will bounce back like it could 10 years ago. Two days later, the pain is starting to shift and localize in my shoulder, chest and elbow. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to sneeze (this is very bad now that I'm in the throes of spring allergy season). It hurts to lie down. It hurts to get up. I can't even blow my nose without pain. But my knee, which hurt the worst at first, is actually feeling much better.

I took Sunday off and haven't decided if I will race the Mooseman 70.3 next Sunday. I'll make that determination in a few days after I attempt to swim and run. Swimming will likely be the most difficult - my DeSoto T1 wetsuit will be next-to-impossible to get off with a compromised shoulder. (The saving grace may be the wetsuit peelers at Mooseman - I remember they were very good.)

Ed and Jason have both checked in with me to make sure their hazing didn't knock me out for the season. They CLAIM this is the first time they have been involved in a bike crash. Obviously, these two haven't truly lived. They say I scared them when I didn't speak right away after going down. They SAY they felt bad I crashed. Bring it, guys!!!! (and they know I'm joking.)
Jim is considering wrapping me in bubble wrap until Kona.
With a nickname like Disaster Magnet, nobody knows better than me that these things WILL happen. I'm just happy this particular disaster happened in a training ride and not a race.
Needs no caption.

March in Cleveland - I've said it all. I'm sure you don't want to hear about it again. The rain. The snow. The ice.

The SLIPPING on ice.

The treadmill. The indoor track. The trainer.

The LONG rides on the trainer.

With seven weeks to go until Ironman St. George, Spring broke in Cleveland this past weekend - but only for a brief moment. That was the moment I managed to get outside for my first long bike ride of the season. My goal was 100 miles. But you need more than a moment to finish a century ride. You need several moments. And a little luck. And I seem to always run out of those things when I need them most.

The day, and my ride, started out relatively pain-free. It was noon on Sunday and the temperature had warmed into the low 40s. I checked the weather and saw it wasn't too windy and the rain would hold off (rain? what rain? it was a clear blue sky) until 7 pm. I mixed up my nutrition bottles and decided what to wear - concerned about wind-chill, I chose my fleece wind-stopper mittens and jacket.

My husband Jim was heading out for lawn care supplies, but before he left, I asked him to check my bike's wireless computer battery because the display had been blinking. (That meant the battery was dying, right? What else could that possibly mean?) Jim swapped out the battery with one from an older bike computer then pocketed the "dead" one for reference to buy extras.

At noon standing in my kitchen, I was unaware I had just made the first two mistakes of my ride: (1) I made a hugely wrong assumption about the weather (more on this later) and (2) I didn't READ THE MANUAL and therefore made a MORE hugely wrong assumption about bike computers. When I rolled my bike out of the garage, there was an obvious problem with the computer - the display was working but the numbers were all zeroes. I adjusted the sensor and tried again. Nothing. I read the manual. There it was in black and white: if the speed number is blinking, THE SENSOR NEEDS A NEW BATTERY. NOT the computer. And I just sent Jim out with the only other "good" battery.

Jim was treated to a frantic phone call, after which he stopped for batteries and made his way back home as quickly as possible. The bike computer was back up and running by 1:30 pm. At this point, in any other city, I would have looked up at the sky and said "no problem." But I live in Cleveland, and I know better. And I was having a massive anxiety attack about the weather.

I jumped on my bike and began my journey through the hilly west branch of Cleveland Metroparks. The wind had already begun to kick up as my route headed north. By the the time I reached my turnaround near the lake, I had been riding for 34 miles almost directly into the wind.

At this point, it would be a safe assumption that riding out against the wind means you'll be riding back "with" the wind. This is never a guarantee in Cleveland. We truly live by the old saying: "if you don't like the weather in Cleveland, wait 15 minutes - it'll change." I looked up at the blue sky and then whipped out my iPhone to check the weather.

And there it was in front of me - around 4 pm, the wind would change direction. And it did. On my way back, the wind shifted from north to east to southeast. What direction was I headed? South. Then east. In disbelief, I mused that this must be the kind of day that leads us to recall how bad we had it in the "olden days." I could just hear my future self: "..way back when I was a triathlete, we rode into the wind, BOTH ways."

More from the "mad scientist": Weather Underground plots
prove the wind changed direction between 4 and 5 p.m.

By the time I hit 50 miles, my speed was dwindling from the hills AND the wind. The clouds had rolled in and the temperature was fighting to stay above 40 degrees. My wind-stopper jacket had done such a great job that I was soaked through the layer underneath it. I was now starting to feel the cold. I stopped again and called Jim, hoping for some moral support and to ask him to meet me somewhere with dry clothes, another water bottle and the lighter lenses for my sunglasses.

What I really wanted to do was pack it in. I was cold. I was tired. I didn't want to finish my ride in the dark. My legs were rebelling from running 21-miles with hills the day before. And worst of all, my motivation had taken a nose-dive. Jim's moral support came more like a warning: "if you don't do 100 miles today, you'll have to do it next weekend on the trainer because it's going to get cold again." Ouch, the double whammy - slamming my attitude AND the crap Cleveland weather.

But it worked. Ok. OK! I'll finish this thing. He offered to meet me with supplies on the second out-and-back leg. I was about to head into - and subsequently, out of - the Cuyahoga Valley. I had visions of having to walk my bike up those final hills. In the DARK.

Shake it off!

The downhills into the valley were good for some speed, even into the wind. And by the time I turned around, I was feeling better mentally and physically. In the 20-mile homestretch, I would FINALLY be riding with the wind at my back. Jim met me and I was able to quickly change into dry clothes and get back on my way. Would I make it home before dark? Jim gave me a little blinkie light just in case.

Warmed up and dry now, I was able to get back on the road with newfound enthusiasm.

It lasted about 10 minutes. Then I heard what distinctly sounded like acorns hitting the pavement. Hmm.. I glanced around. No acorns - in fact, no nuts of any kind. And then it hit me - right smack in the face. The SOUND (the one of "acorns hitting the pavement") was not acorns hitting the pavement but RAIN DROPS hitting the pavement. Enormous MONSTER rain drops. Rain drops with attitudes of their OWN. And they were hitting ME now. I heard myself groan. This ride had now entered the realm of the Disaster Magnet.

The rain clouds darkened the conditions even further, and I decided to take the quickest way out of the valley - mostly for safety. I got off the road and onto a paved bike trail for as long as I could. By the time I rolled into my driveway, I was soaked from the outside in, the roads were slick, drivers were yelling at me and it was almost completely night.

And on my (now working) bike computer read the following: 100.2 mi.

The P3 steps out in spring

Until yesterday, the last time my bike wheels were on pavement was November 13 in Clearwater, Florida. The last time they were on pavement in Cleveland was over a month before that. I've been riding indoors on my trainer exclusively for over five months. But yesterday, spring broke in Cleveland, as it does every year. With no warning.

The temperature went from a high of 45 degrees F on Wednesday to a high in the mid-60s yesterday. I couldn't get out of work fast enough. When my computer shutdown process lasted one second past 4:30 pm, I was panic-stricken. I had to get home, get my trainer tire switched out, and get out on the ROAD - for crying out loud! This was the most excited I have been about biking since I got my CompuTrainer in December.

All day yesterday, I had dreams of crushing my time from last year on one of my common routes. All that hard work on the CompuTrainer would finally pay off. I would, so to speak, leave myself in the dust this time. I called my husband Jim to tell him I would be out on the bike before he got home from work. He said two things to me: make sure you take a blinkie light with you in case it gets dark and be careful. It. Is. Windy.

Windy. It didn't register. He didn't say it was windy enough to be blowing his car around on the highway. But it was. All I could see was the sun and dry road.

I changed my tire in record time, donned a short-sleeve bike jersey and shorts, and ran out the door with my bike. I had to go back in not once, not twice, but three times. Once for my helmet. Once for my sunglasses. And once more for my water bottle. Yes. I am truly out of practice for this road-riding thing.

As I was leaving, Jim pulled into the driveway. Before I was off, he said it one more time: "be careful, it's really windy."

By the time I got to the first great hill followed by flat road, I understood what "windy" meant. The wind was directly out of the south - directly against me with gusts reaching almost 30 mph. So much for my assessment of how strong I had gotten over the winter. My speeds were about 5-6 mph slower than last year and after 32 minutes of riding into the wind, disheartened, I turned around and headed home. My great breakthrough on the bike would have to wait until some other day.

But the return trip was not without its own surprises. I was now riding WITH the wind. On my way back, not only would I reach speeds 5-6 mph faster than the same roads last year, but my my speed on the flat roads reached numbers I've NEVER seen (almost 30 mph). It brought back memories of the day I rode my first racing bike after 10 years of running only. THIS was what biking was all about - the proverbial "need for speed." It's something I never felt as a runner. Even though it's never the thing that gets me out the door for a workout, it IS the thing that keeps me out there even when my workout goes to hell. The speed. The fun of it.

I felt so good about riding with the wind, I decided to tackle the BIG hill - a three-mile climb out of the valley (Note: Northeast Ohio is far from Colorado. Our ski resorts - and subsequent hill rides - are actually made from slopes into river valleys). With the hill, I finally got my spring payoff.

The last time I climbed the hill in 2010, I had to shift into my lowest gear at least once to maintain a pace above 5 mph. Yesterday, that gear never saw the chain. Neither did the second lowest. By the time I made it to the top of the hill, I was trying to recall my fear in the "olden days" when I dreaded it so much. Today, both my brain and my legs are having trouble recalling any sort of struggle at all.

I still have work to do though. I have yet to do my first outdoor 100-miler (planned for this Sunday). But, thanks to the CompuTrainer, I feel I've made progress on the bike this winter. And, to my extreme surprise, I'm developing just the tiniest bit of confidence going into my next race. Which just happens to be my first race of the season. Which just happens to be an Ironman. Which just happens to be in mountainous terrain. Talk about tempting disaster. I'm gonna need all the confidence I can get.

Here's a neat little chart of yesterday's weather, to prove (mostly to myself) that I wasn't being a wimp. Yes, the engineer in me still loves graphs.:

Weather Underground: Akron, Ohio, March 17, 2011
(my ride took place between 5:30 and 7 pm)

The view from my bike
CompuTrainer Real Course Video (IM St. George)

I thought long and hard about writing this article because I don't like to jump the gun in declaring success in any aspect of my training for fear of impending race disaster. The reason for this is because in the past, statements such as "my training is going well" or "I've noticed a measurable improvement in x, y or z,"  have caused the planets to instantly align against me and anger some cosmic deity who will then extend a giant hand from the sky and thwack me down.

In light of this, blabbering about increased speed or fitness without repeatable (or race) evidence has become somewhat of a no-no for the Disaster Magnet. But this week, after analyzing performance graphs of my weekly long rides on the CompuTrainer (CT), I've discovered something rather neato - something that might, ever-so-slightly, fall into the "progress in cycling" category.

First, a little background. For the last six weeks I've been doing three bike workouts per week as part of a "CompuTrainer Challenge" among a group of local cyclists and triathletes. My workout intensities are all based on my FTP (Functional Threshold Power) - a wimpy 196 watts - obtained in a time trial in January. Two of the weekly workouts involve intervals at paces from tempo (76-90% FTP) to anaerobic threshold (91-105% FTP) to VO2 max (106-120% FTP). The third weekly workout is usually a long ride of 1.5-2 hours on the trainer to be done at an average power output of 76-90% FTP.

Because my first race is very early in the season (May 7) and it's an Ironman, I've replaced the weekly "long ride" with my own "very long ride" (double-it-and-add-some) of 4-5 hours. For several of these, I've ridden the simulated Ironman St. George (IMSG) course from Racermate's library of Interactive Real Course Videos. The most recent was this past weekend - February 12. Because I'm a geek (some use the term "mad scientist"), after Saturday's ride, I could not rest before coming up with a way to compare my performances from these same-course rides. (Note: doing things like this have illustrated to me the power of the CompuTrainer as a training tool. They have also illustrated to me my husband Jim's mad skills at Microsoft Excel, my lack thereof, and all the reasons I find Excel to be a maddeningly-frustrating program.)

I plotted all sorts of data for several rides on the CT IMSG course - power, heart rate, speed, cadence, etc. versus miles and time. I decided the graphs I like the most, i.e., that make the most sense to me, are the ones that compare power and heart rate versus time or miles. This way, I can see exactly what happens each time I ride the same course. With Jim's help, I now have a single plot - see below - of power (left y-axis, upper data) and heart rate (right y-axis, lower data) versus miles for three CT IMSG course rides. Two were in January and one was this past weekend. Note on January 15, the blue line, I only completed about 56 miles of the 67-mile course (also known as "getting to the top of the BIG hill").

Power (upper data) and Heart Rate (lower data) vs. Miles for rides on same CT course (click on image for larger version)
 Note: data was smoothed by simple averaging of nearby points

In comparing the three sessions, I try not to focus on speed because it depends on the CompuTrainer calibration, which might change from one workout to the next (note in the table below that my average speed on Feb. 12 is lower than on Jan. 22, and yet my average power output is higher, and on Jan. 15 my speed would likely have been higher had I made it to the downhill portion of the course). Still, my ride averages were as follows:

AVE: Power (Watts) Heart Rate (BPM) Speed (mph)
Jan. 15 157 139 15.6
Jan. 22 156 145 17.0
Feb. 12 163 137 16.9

So, then, the big question: does this graph and table indicate progress on the bike? I'd like to think so and here's why:

  • My latest ride, Feb 12 (red line), shows the highest power throughout the ride, especially in the late stages (close to 4 hours effort). In comparison, the first two rides were only a week apart and even though they were different in length and time, my average power for each ride was almost identical.
  • The heart rate plot shows that on Feb 12, I was able to maintain this higher power/wattage over the distance/time at a lower heart rate than in January. Even during the hardest climbs (between 35 and 55 miles), my heart rate was lower in my latest ride. I'm guessing this indicates an improvement in my cardiovascular fitness.

Other than these rides on the CT IMSG course, my regular workouts have not been as taxing (or next-to-impossible) as they were in the first few weeks. It will be interesting to find out if and how much the increase in FTP will be when I do my next time trial. Or better, if and when I ever get out on the road again (assuming winter 2011 comes to an end before April), I am very interested in seeing how fast I can go on my old tried and true road courses.

    My regular readers are well aware that cycling has always been my weak leg of the triathlon. When I started competing, my running and swimming were so strong that even when I got my butt kicked on the bike, I was usually within striking distance from the leaders on the run. I thrived on catching people on the run who had dusted me on the bike and seeing the looks on runners' faces at the turnaround when they realized they wouldn't be in front of me for long.

    Nowadays, those feelings are a distant memory. My loss of running speed with age is compounded by the fact that enthusiasm alone will not give me the ability to pull a great marathon out of thin air at the Ironman distance. In a regular marathon, runners start fresh and, depending on training and fitness, try to stave off the dreaded "wall" -- i.e., the point at which the body physically runs out of stored energy. In an Ironman, the marathon begins well PAST this depleted state. For me, it's after about seven hours of swimming and biking. The only chance at a good marathon will ultimately depend on the shape I'm in after 112 hard miles on the bike. In Lake Placid, the hard miles will also include hills. Thus, not only have I been concentrating on my bike fitness this year, but I've also been playing with my bike position and trying to get everything I can out of it.

    I bought my new bike, the Cervelo P3, with several purposes in mind. First of all, I wanted to rekindle my enthusiasm for biking -- I mean, what's better than a new toy? Second, I wanted a fast, light frame, and the P3 is one of the world's fastest, proven through wind-tunnel testing. Third, I wanted a geometry that can put me in a faster aero position to start with.
    I have NOT deluded myself into thinking that my aero position is nearly as important as bike fitness, but I DO know that every little bit of speed will be amplified the longer the race is. After talking to the experts at Bike Authority in Broadview Heights, Ohio, I am convinced that position and frame could amount to a 10- to 15-minute faster bike leg in an Ironman.
    When I chose the Cervelo P3, I had already made the commitment to work harder on the bike. I needed help to determine the best position to ride in to make that work count. This service is something Bike Authority excels at. Upon picking up the bike, I worked with bike-fit expert Mike Vanucci to tweak the seat and handlebar positions to get the most out of my body and my bike together. The bike position with the least drag is with your back parallel to the ground, but, because of varying degrees of flexibility and comfort, not everyone's body can handle that position (especially when it comes to the pelvis and seat contact). Hooked up to a Computrainer, we determined my most comfortable position while still generating a good power output. Strength-wise, I still have many things to work on, but now I had a place to start. Personally, I decided on a more aggressive position, knowing I can change it if my comfort level decreases with increased mileage.
    I was off. The first real test of my new position was a 60-mile ride last weekend in horrendous weather on rolling hills in my home state of Connecticut. I rode from my mom's apartment in Middletown to my old stomping grounds at Hammonasset State Park beach in Madison and back. In retrospect, the comfort of my aero position was never an issue, and I felt very little discomfort from it when I got off the bike. I was in much MORE pain from riding in cold rain for over three hours. My feet were blocks of ice and my mental state was a disaster. But I CAN say this: there's nothing better than a ride through hell and back to solidify the bond between a girl and her bike.

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