Scenes from 160 Miles

Day One

Mile 0: I almost don’t realize we’re riding. There’s some talking, a photo, a round of names I don’t remember. Some people make a right turn out of the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot and it’s like, OH. I guess we’re riding 80 miles now.

Mile 6: There’s a hill on the back side of Lake Merced? No wonder I always feel so speedy on the second half when I’m going around clockwise.

Mile 10-12: I’m climbing up a hill in a neighborhood in Pacifica. This must be what happens when you take Skyline Drive, the calm residential street, instead of Skyline-that-is-actually-Highway-35. A dog is barking rhythmically and I’m hearing his “woof! woof! woof!” as “go! go! go!” This hill feels hard, which is freaking me out more about Devil’s Slide, because I don’t remember seeing this one on the map.

Yeah, it totally was on the map.

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Mile 13: I’m going downhill, and so is everyone else, when we realize we have no idea where we’re going. Our directions involve turning at a golf course. Everything seems to be a golf course.

Mile 18: Pacifica State Beach stop to regroup before Devil’s Slide. I’m kind of freaking out. I’m babbling in the general direction of anyone around me. I have spent enough time on Google Street View for this stretch of road that I literally recognize specific trees.

Mile 19: “Tunnel: 2000 feet”? That cannot possibly be true. This is the easiest 7% climb in the world! Why did I freak out about this?

Mile 19.5: This tunnel is amazing. Note to self, maybe when you thought the guy who GoPro’d his trip through the tunnel was riding on the sidewalk because there was no bike lane, you should have realized there was an entire empty car-width “emergency lane” next to him that bikes could ride in.

Mile 21: Through the tunnel. There’s some wind. Oh, a lot of wind. And a cliff. It’s OK. Don’t look. DON’T LOOK! …OK, I bet it’s really pretty. You can look.

Mile 30: 30! Some stoplights through Half Moon Bay, then open highway. We’re by the water; the hills are green and bursting with yellow flowers. There’s a guy cruising on the other side of the road, and I think, “That’ll be me tomorrow.”

Mile 38: There’s a hill. I don’t see it coming till I’m climbing it, but I just take off. I pass the other women I’ve been riding behind; I pass these two other guys; I’m flying. I’m rolling through these beach towns, Pescadero and San Gregorio, and I’m remembering the days when I used to drive more. Before I biked, before I ran, I’d drive to clear my head. Pete and I had a sunset picnic at San Gregorio on one of the days of our week-long first date. I haven’t been out here in the middle of the day in years (if ever), and I don’t remember the water being this blue. Up and down, these rolling hills between 92 and 84 become my favorite part of the day.

Mile 50: Maybe I should have eaten something during those rolling hills. Whoops. I’m starting to get tired, and I’m starting to hate sitting on my bike seat. I bargain with myself: You can stand up and stretch every mile. Every three minutes. OK, once a minute, but just on the downhills.

Mile 54: Thank heavens — it’s our gas station. I pull over mostly just to stand and not sit. A couple of other riders roll in a few minutes behind me; one of them buys Pringles to share and they melt on my tongue. Someone says “We’re so close!” and I think, huh, we’re an Olympic-distance triathlon ride away; when did that become “close” to me?

Mile 65: There’s an amazing downhill; we sweep around and we’re on the other side of a cliff, snuggling right up to the ocean. It feels like LA, or like somewhere else that isn’t here. But it is here; I’m here.

Mile 68: Davenport! Suddenly, we’ve caught up to the group in front of us, who are just leaving the rest stop. I’m too lazy to make a left turn and too energized by the thought of having more company to take a break, so I cram some food in my mouth and pick up the pace again. I roll through the hills I last tackled at the end of the Santa Cruz tri bike leg, remembering how much bigger they look in real life than on an elevation chart, remembering that momentum is my friend.

20140328-155549.jpgMile 77-80: We turn off Highway 1, following city signs now. Almost there! Winding around West Cliff, down down down next to a line of cars at the traffic circle. I spot our little blue hotel and pull in after about 5:45 of riding time, just in time for the second half of the Michigan basketball game. Perfect.

Day Two

Mile 0: Ow. Ow. Ow. Why does riding a bike involve sitting?

Mile 2: We crash a race. The road closure signs we saw the night before had said it was a marathon, but I googled and learned it was the “she.is.beautiful. The Pinkest 10K and 5K”. Before I share this news, I remind everyone that we are currently doing a thing known as the Diva Ride. Then I giggle.

Mile 8: On the road to Davenport, I’m behind the main group. Close, but not close enough to really catch up and ride at their pace. The funny thing about yesterday is that I came in smack in the middle of the riders; I had just assumed I’d be last, but I wasn’t close. Weirdly, I’m now more OK with being last today. Plus, it’s nice at the back. I’m not alone, and we get our own escort.

Mile 20-something: I’m riding with two other women when we come up on the signs for Pie Ranch. We start talking about pie. The woman in the front suddenly signals a turn and it’s done, we’ve gone rogue, we’re making an unofficial pie rest stop at 10:30 a.m. It’s kind of obnoxious, and it puts us more than 15 minutes behind the main group, but it’s also the greatest decision, and I ride the rest of the way back to San Francisco with half a chocolate chunk cookie wedged in my back pocket.

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Mile 30: I steel myself: This was the longest stretch yesterday, 30 miles with no rest stops, and I know those rolling hills are coming. Partway through, the ride organizer catches me, and we chat side by side for a few miles. Then she asks how comfortable I am riding on someone’s wheel. Me: “Not very?” Her: “Great, time to practice!” She takes the lead; I cruise behind. It’s amazing. Half an hour flies past. Just before a climb, she pulls off, and I chat my way up with one of our guides … until I realize how long the hill is, and our chatter turns to just me saying “how are we still on this hill?” over and over again.

Mile 57: I’m surprised when we hit the stoplights in Half Moon Bay. The rest of the group is there, snacking on Subway. I cant resist the urge to brag about pie. It feels like we’re almost done, and yet I know the worst is yet to come, Devil’s Slide and that hill in Pacifica. The first group leaves, and I wait to go with the second. Suddenly, I am not so sure about this last bit.

Mile 60: Devil’s Slide is worse going north — partially road conditions, partially time of day with more traffic — but the climb is fine. When I hit the descent I say, out loud, “This is why you rode down Twin Peaks all those times when the wind was bad in the middle of the day. You did it so you could feel good about what you’re doing right now.” Then I realize someone is right behind me, listening. Cool life.

Mile 65: Nate: “Do you want to see the graph of the hill?” Me: “Nope.” Nate: “It’s a spike that goes straight up through the neighborhood.” Me: “Nope.” Nate: “I think it feels harder going this way. Yesterday we had a stair-step, and this time we’re going straight up it.” Me: “Nope.” Nate: “I think it’ll be over 10% grade sometimes.” Me: “Nope.”

Mile 67.5: I’m actually OK with this climb. I mean, it sucks, and I’m fantasizing about the moment that the houses on the hillside start pointing down instead of up, but I’m 100% sure I’m going to make it up without stopping, if only because I’m not sure I can keep going if I stop. And then BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP a city goddamned bus pulls up, and a dozen people are waiting to board. I unclip, wait. I guess I can stop and start again after all.

Mile 68: I’m done! I mean, I’m not done, I’m probably still riding for another hour, but it’s easy from here. It’s stuff I know. It’s the lake and the park and the zoo. It’s my home base. It’s home.

Mile 75-79: Of course, home is where all the crazy stuff starts to happen — like cars pull out randomly from Beach Chalet, like I drop my water bottle and it rolls to the other side of the street and while I’m waiting for a break in traffic to retrieve it, a car runs over it and it explodes into a dozen pieces. Like there are all these children popping wheelies in the park and why are children more terrifying than Devil’s Slide? I am tired and wired and dumb; I am so glad I went home instead of back through the Presidio because if I’d had to get myself home from the bridge I probably would have called a cab. And instead, here I am, pulling up to my front door, walking in like I’m back from a regular ride through the park, except this one was two days and 160 miles long.

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Pep Talk

Most of the time, I think I’m ready.

Like, right now, sitting on my couch drinking an appropriate-for-the-night-before-an-athletic-endeavor amount of beer with my feet up watching basketball, I think I’m ready. Packing up what felt like a literal ton of food earlier today, I felt ready. Picturing myself coasting into my hotel parking lot in Santa Cruz tomorrow, I feel ready.

Sometimes I don’t feel ready. Wednesday afternoon, I managed to work myself into a frenzy about Devil’s Slide (the one serious climb and the sketchiest bit of road on the ride — at least, that’s what I’m told). I don’t want to admit how much time I spent looking at maps and watching YouTube videos of bikes riding through the new-ish tunnels and looking up every hill I’ve ever ridden to see if I’d done anything equivalent, but let’s just say I ended up finishing quite a bit of work from home later that night.

But that’s the exception.

I am not sure I have the right to feel ready, that I’ve done the work to ride a century-and-a-half, when I’ve never done a century, when I’ve never ridden in a group or a pack like this, when I don’t really have any idea what I’m getting myself into.

I’ve had some good rides, though. I’ve been consistently riding more weekly and monthly mileage than I was capable of conceptualizing back in January. Last week I accidentally rode 60 miles instead of 45 because I failed to read a ferry schedule properly, and it felt like a casual cruise. I rode over the Golden Gate Bridge and didn’t panic (much) for the only time ever. I’ve gone up Twin Peaks at the tail end of a weekend of tough rides, still climbing strong with a lot of miles on my legs.

Barely more than two years ago, I rode my bike clipped in with a group for the first time. It was sort of a fiasco and I could not really imagine it getting much better.

Tomorrow I’m going to ride to Santa Cruz. On Sunday I’m going to ride back.

I think I’m ready.

Most of the time.

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What to Wear for 160 Miles

I sent my deposit. I signed the waiver. Next weekend, I’ll be biking to and from Santa Cruz.

Last week was my biggest of training, with a goal of 160 total bike miles — because if I can do it in four days, I can do it in two, uh, right? I made it to a little over 40 during the week with one bike commute and one intense computrainer class. That left me with 120 for the weekend, which I split as 45 Saturday/75 Sunday.

Saturday’s 45 crawled by. I’m not sure if I was just tired of the route (home to Aquatic Park to the Presidio to Ocean Beach to Lake Merced until I’m sick of going in circles to Twin Peaks) or if I ran too much with TAG in the middle (I meant to run no more than six miles but a combination of hill repeats and running by time instead of mileage left me at almost 7.5). All I know is that I spent the better part of an hour fantasizing about how good it was going to feel when my Garmin finally clicked over to 38 (I’d ridden 7 miles to TAG earlier in the morning, which might be cheating, but whatever: my rules).

Or maybe I was just nervous about Sunday. That 75 miles was my longest ride to date, and I had absolutely no idea how my body would react or how I would entertain myself for what I figured would be five to six hours on a bike. My solution was to favor company over novelty and did the first leg of my ride twice — out and back to the Cheese Factory with the TAG group, then out again on my own. It seemed a little silly to make the full out-and-back loop when I didn’t have to — especially because part of it goes through stoplight-studded Novato — but having people around for the first 25 miles made a world of difference. I was at 36 by the time I hit the Cheese Factory for the second time, 45 in Point Reyes. The last 30 miles were not fast — it was more than two hours of riding — but they were so much less of a slog than any part of Saturday’s ride. I did get a little lost at the end — which, it turns out, a way to make me angry is to have me ride randomly through a neighborhood at mile 73 of a 75-mile (now 76-mile) ride — and I started wanting food that didn’t come in bar or gummy form after a couple of hours. But physically I was fine, and mentally I was 90% there, even when I rolled up to my car after 5.5 hours covered in road grime and dead bugs with only a bag of Chex Mix to look forward to.

(I do wish exercise were more meditative for me, because I can only imagine what big thoughts I might have had over the course of all those solo hours on a bike. Instead I sing dumb songs to myself and occasionally think about how much I wish I could think better while exercising.)

This weekend I’ll do something like 45/25 and then I’m ready to go. I guess. I mean, I have no idea. But I’ve decided that’s what it means to be ready, so it is.

Except there’s one last question: What the hell shorts do I wear?

Background: Last year I switched to wearing tri shorts exclusively. I’ve never been a fan of bike shorts (diaper-y) and I also thought it was a little unwise, if I was training for triathlons, to have comfort in training that I’d never have on race day.

Here’s my current roster:

  • Houndstooth SOAS: I bought these last spring after being convinced by the damn blogosphere that they were worth it. I was skeptical of the no-drawstring waistband (I do not have the kindest proportions for keeping pants in the right place with my body alone — or, as a friend put it, “that seems like an idea that doesn’t scale well”), but to my great surprise, they stay up. I wore my houndstooth shorts for every significant ride last year. I’m not saying they’re magic, and they still have some seams and some weird chafe-y parts in unpleasant places. That said, I think they’re my favorite all-around tri shorts.
  • Teal SOAS: I was wearing the other shorts to death, and when I saw some of the older patterns going on sale last year, I bought a second pair. But the shorts I got as pair #2 don’t fit as well as the houndstooth ones — even though they’re the same label size. They’re shorter and smaller in the waist (see below), and the fabric feels heavier to me.

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    I still wear them, because even on sale they weren’t cheap, but I feel itchy and uncomfortable in them and I don’t have a particular desire to feel that way for 6-8 hours.

  • Cheapo Zoot tri shorts: I have 2 pair of these. Super thin/light under a wetsuit, but they don’t have enough padding to even vaguely consider wearing them for 75 miles (or, like, 30 miles).
  • Coeur Chevron: When a bunch of the former SOAS blog ambassadors started repping Coeur, I was curious — and more so when I found out Coeur was the new project of one of the SOAS founders. But I didn’t like the designs, so I’d more or less written them off. What got me back was this blog review pointing out that the chamois padding goes all the way down the leg, meaning no weird crotch seam to rub between my seat and my leg. How is this not even mentioned on their own product page? (They did finally blog about it this week, but seriously? I’d be screaming it from the rooftops if I were them!) The fit is very similar to my SOAS shorts, but the fabric is lighter (more like a bathing suit). The downsides are that they feel flimsier/more likely to slip — which I don’t care much about in this case since I’m not running — and that the gray fabric shows sweat/moisture extremely quickly. It’s not a fashion show, I get that, but I try to minimize the amount of time I spend looking like I’ve just peed on myself. I wore these on Sunday and for about 60 miles they were very comfortable, then after that I really wanted to not be sitting on a bike any more. (But that might not be only about the shorts.)

So the Coeurs will cover me for one day. But will I want something more forgiving on Day 2, especially since I’ll be sitting on my bike for another 6-8 hours and, oh yeah, probably riding into a headwind?

I’m interested in seeing if I can find any traditional, more heavily padded bike shorts that won’t chafe or feel saggy. I’m not getting my hopes up too high, but I am going to REI, armed with a gift card, to see what I can find.

My question, for anyone who’s done multi-day or otherwise long rides before: What might I want on day 2 that I’m not thinking of? I have noticed that changing brand/fit of shorts between the two days makes a big difference for me, but is my instinct right that I will want more padding on day 2? And who’s got a favorite pair of shorts to recommend?

(Yep, this has been a lot of words about my bum.)

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All the Wrong Lessons

For the past month or so, I have been at the bottom of a very heavy heap of work. More stuff than usual landed on my calendar toward the end of January, and since I typically know my overall schedule/work pattern a few weeks in advance, I could tell that I was going to be inching my way out of the hole — but never quite surfacing — for all of February.

But now here we are, Feb. 27, and while I am not at the top of the pile, I can at least see the top. Between shipping a report last night and requesting a couple of days off for mid-March, I can actually envision a time when I feel calm and collected and on top of my shit. My house may be a disaster, my book heap from the library sadly untouched — but this morning I got home from Burn at 8 and actually managed to cook eggs, sip coffee, and read blogs before work like any good red-blooded American girl. All of which is to say that I’m hoping for slightly more regular posting to resume around here shortly.

But first, here’s a story about swimming.

As I’ve been contemplating maybe, probably biking to Santa Cruz, I’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on cycling miles. My mileage still isn’t where I really want it to be — and I’m kicking myself for a dumb decision I made earlier this week that will leave me short of my goal for this week unless I do two major rides within 12 hours, which, extra dumb — but I’ve been waking up at gross hours to ride the trainer and cobbling together weekend franken-rides of two or three legs divided by errands and group training. It’s not pretty, but it’s (probably?) enough.

Running, too, has been fitting in OK. I’ve been doing mostly shorter runs — nothing longer than 6 or 7 miles this year so far — but I’m starting to add runs off the bike back into my life, and those extra couple of miles make the difference between 12-mile weeks (“barely running,” in my mind) and 16- to 20-mile weeks (legit). My running mileage usually takes a hit when I start tri training, but two years in, I’m prepared for that and know I’ll be able to start sneaking in an extra mile or three once I get used to the schedule.

But swimming? I think I’ve been in the pool fewer than five times this year. Maybe fewer than five times since Santa Cruz. October was Vermont. December was another crazy span of work. Did I maybe swim a few times in November? It’s possible but feels unlikely. Then, right when I started to get back into it, I somehow tweaked my shoulder (like, while sleeping) and could only sort of dress myself for a week, so swimming was clearly not going to happen then. And that brings us to now.

Swimming is the tri sport I like the least, but I actually don’t mind the act of swimming. In fact, it can be great for shutting off my brain, which I’ve been much in need of lately. What I reject is the stuff that surrounds swimming, the gathering of gear and the needing to be at a place at a particular time, the smelling of chlorine and itchy skin and extra showers, the lane-jockeying with other people. (Generally the more a sport involves other people, the less inclined I will be to do it.) I’ve also never adjusted to the inflexibility of morning swimming at my pool, which is a lame excuse but also a truth, and I’ve gotten it in my head that if I get there even five minutes after opening, I might as well not swim at all. All of this is why I’m contemplating joining a master’s group, but it meets far from me in a place with no good bike route and I hate having to repark in my neighborhood at night and blah blah blah excusecakes — the point is, I have not been swimming much.

This week was the first full week of TAG training, and on our schedule for swimming was the base pace test — 3×100, 200, or 400 at the fastest pace we can sustain. Divide by how many hundreds you swam, and that’s the interval pace we use for workouts. This workout has been my nemesis, because while I can swim faster 100s and even faster 1000s sometimes, I somehow pace myself all wrong for the base pace test. My base pace has worked out to basically 2:02/100 since before I started actually training for swimming, which is fairly frustrating and probably contributes to my lack of desire to swim.

So I go to the pool on Tuesday night planning to do the 400s, but I almost back out and swim the version with 200s to get home sooner. I ultimately decide against it, because I’m worried I’ll get stuck with a base pace I can’t maintain. Yes, that’s right: I picked the longer workout because I was certain I’d be slow at it. I do my warm-up, and my first “easy” 100 comes in around 2:08, and I’m thinking, “oof, at least this will be the year my base pace finally improves from week 1 to week 10.”

And I start the first 400, and it feels awkward, and I’m coming into the wall all wrong, but I stop my watch and it reads 8:05. Even then, I’m thinking, “Great, I blew it all in the first 400.” So I swim the next one and it’s 7:54. And I think I must have miscounted. So then I swim the last one, and it’s 7:53.

So for the first time in three years, I have a base pace that starts with a 1. (Barely — it’s like 1:59:33/100 — but whatever.) And it happened without swimming.

OK, I can think of some rational reasons for this. I’ve been working on a lot more upper body and core strength through Burn. My weird shoulder issue caused me to adjust my stroke a little bit, and I think my (still super wonky) technique is better for it. And I was certainly well-rested from all the thousands of yards I haven’t been swimming.

But it also seems like the lesson here could be a simple one: Don’t swim. It’s improbable, sure. But more improbable than that workout? I think not.

How Do You Know When You’re Ready?

Over the weekend, someone told me I was a strong cyclist.

My initial response was to laugh. And then to downplay. “Oh, um, not really. I mean, not outside, so much.” (We were in the midst of a three-hour indoor ride.) “And I’m only really good at hills. I mean, I just started riding a bike two years ago.”

Her response: “Wait, seriously? That’s crazy!”

Yeah, it is kind of crazy. It’s hard for me to believe how much my relationship with cycling has changed in two years. Sometimes when I’m wondering why I have this blog, I remember that it’s a record of my evolution from non-cyclist to half-Ironman finisher. Bringing my bike home, riding clipped in for the first time, my first bike commute, my first 50-miler … it’s all here, and I’m so glad it’s all somewhere.

But even though I can now largely look at cycling with a “look how far we’ve come!” mentality, I’m definitely not at the end of that story. I’m not confident in my abilities on new routes. I don’t often ride with groups. People from my tri club have been posting awesome rides all (sunny, dry) winter long, and I haven’t gone to a single one. I may be able to get myself out the door and to my job and up Twin Peaks and over the bridge (if I really have to), but when it comes to riding with other people, I’m absolutely petrified that I won’t be able to hang.

A while back, one of the club’s coaches posted about a ride she was going to coordinate: two 80-mile days of riding to Santa Cruz and back. All women, all for fun, etc. My heart wanted to say “sign me up!”

My brain, on the other hand, had some other things to say. Like: “You can’t handle that!” “You’ll hold everyone up!” “You seriously think you can ride further than you’ve ever ridden … twice?”

I ended up sending an email (“I love biking, but I’m slow…”) and getting an encouraging response back (basically, “as long as you prepare — which you will — you can absolutely do it and won’t be holding anyone up”). And still, I’m waffling. When I look at it objectively, I know I can; I’ve climbed more, I know the first and last 25 miles of the route pretty well, and while I haven’t actually ridden 80 miles ever before, I’ve a) come close and b) learned what to expect from myself when adding distance on the bike. But I’m still not convinced I’m ready.

Since it’s not a traditional race or ride, I haven’t had to register or commit; I have some time to make my decision. So in the meantime, I’ve done the only thing that I think makes sense: Start training as though I’m going to ride and save the actual hard decisions for later.

So far, training has looked like this:

  • One long ride every week
  • At least two back-to-back riding days per week
  • At least two shorter rides per week

Those principles have played out differently every week, depending on weather and friends’ interests and personal schedules. Last weekend was a 50-”mile” computrainer ride of the Wildflower long course route on Saturday and a 12.5-mile trip up Twin Peaks (not long but plenty of climbing) on Sunday. The weekend before that was all trainer hours during our one rainy spell. Before that, I knocked out my longest continuous ride ever — well, continuous minus a stop in the last hour for pastries — of 60 miles, riding through the Chileno Valley to Point Reyes.

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Over the course of the month I’ve been seriously considering this, I’ve seen some progress. Back-to-back riding days are starting to feel normal. I’ve learned the value of having two different sets of shorts with different, uh, seam patterns, but other than that, it hasn’t been as painful as I expected. (The worst part seems to be sitting down on the saddle for the first time on day two; once I’m actually riding, I’m fine.) I finished 60 miles knowing I could ride for another two hours if I really wanted to. And I had my fastest-ever trip up Twin Peaks the morning after the long computrainer ride, which still wasn’t that fast but must mean something.

It’s about to be a lot harder to get in those long rides, since I’ll be captaining for a training group again this spring and arranging my own workouts around that. But I’m actually excited about shifting around all the puzzle pieces — riding longer on weekday mornings once the sun starts rising a bit earlier (… and before it starts cruelly rising later again), riding up to Marin for group workouts (and taking the ferry home!), catching up on TV shows on the trainer after biking home from work.

I’d love to ride 80 miles at least once before the ride, and I’d love to do one bigger (50 mile Saturday/40 mile Sunday?) weekend. I’d also really appreciate if the weather could be nice the weekend of March 22, because one thing I’m still not into at all is riding in the rain. But I’m slowly building the confidence that I can actually do this thing. I realized the other day that it would be roughly my two-year anniversary of clipping in for the first time. What a way to celebrate

2014 Has Been…

It’s been weird. January typically passes quickly for me (I think it’s the mid-month birthday) (and it makes the slog of February even more painful), but this month has seemed exceptionally speedy.

For a while, I just didn’t have much to say. Sports-wise, 2013 was a great year for me — but it was fairly frustrating in some other respects, and I can’t say I was sad to see it go. I intended to spend January figuring out how to make 2014 better, and I’ve made a small amount of progress there, but, well, it’s hard to see anything tangible coming from that just yet. And then, finally, when I did have some things to say, I spilled a pint glass full of water on my computer keyboard. (It miraculously worked again after several days of drying out, which is good, because after a few false starts, I think it’s safe to say I’ll never blog regularly from my phone.)

All of which is a long way of saying, while I find “here’s what I’ve been up to” posts sort of silly — because really, who cares? — I’m going to write a “here’s what I’ve been up to” post now, as a way to reset and move forward.

So. In 2014, I’ve been:

Getting Addicted to a Boutique Fitness Class

If my friend Jess is reading this, she’s certainly either laughing or gloating or both, because she’d been telling me for years about Burn. I am not, generally, a group fitness person. I’m not even a gym person. Group fitness in particular is not motivating to me as an introvert; god, what if someone wants me to socialize? Plus, while I’m sure I look plenty goofy while running or riding a bike, I typically don’t have to look at myself doing those sports. Busting out “Vertical Mountain Climbers” in a room wallpapered with mirrors is just, urgh, gross, no thank you.

And yet, I was inclined to trust Jess’s opinion on Burn because our dispositions are not terribly dissimilar. Besides, there is a Burn studio 1.5 blocks from my house; it’s closer than the gym or pool. It’s practically the same thing as running in terms of the prep required.

The workout is part ridiculous group fitness cardio moves, part weights (similar, I think, to the way barre classes handle weights — I’m talking 3- to 12-lb dumbbells, not power lifting), and part Pilates springboard class. The cardio makes me feel silly but is fine if I manage to get a non-mirror-adjacent spot, and the weights are actually about at the right level for my lifting right now; sure, there are moves I could be doing with more than a total of 16 pounds of weights, but for good form and focus, I maybe shouldn’t be.

But all of that is nothing compared to the springboard. I like it for arm work (and the bonus core work it takes to stay upright during those arm sequences), but I adore it for leg springs. Leg springs give me this amazing hamstring-burning, strength-and-stretch combo, and I leave feeling both totally worked (like after lifting) and also way more flexible than usual (like after yoga). Plus, we lie down for leg springs. I love lying down!

This tells me I’d probably be well-suited to finding some actual Pilates springboard classes, but there aren’t any of those within a 90-second stroll from my front door, so for now, I’m sticking with Burn. I bought a 30-day unlimited deal and have been going twice a week all month. I’ll probably dial it back to once a week in February, because the cost will be about the same and I’m sure there’s something to be said for doing some more traditional lifting at the gym that I’m, y’know, already paying for, but I’m glad to have it in my routine.

Biking Outside Again

We’ve had a supremely dry winter, and while this is bad for a whole host of reasons, it’s great for cycling. I’ve been biking to work about once a week fairly consistently, and I’ve started to add a few long rides back into my schedule. This past weekend, I rode the cheese factory loop for the first time since last February, finishing just over 41 miles in just over 3 hours (and I mean “just over” like if I hadn’t gotten stuck at the final stoplight, I would have rolled in at 3:00:00), which is not bad for me on a course with a few substantial climbs.

I realized, on that ride, that the last time I rode that loop, I was still not consistently biking in my big gear. That seems nuts now — man, I wish I had cadence data from back then, because I imagine my little legs in my little ring must have just been like “pew-pew-pew-pew-pew” the whole time — but it’s also a nice, tangible sign of progress.

Judging what that progress means, though, is always the trick for me with cycling. I have my eye on a pretty substantial bike adventure, but I’m still not convinced I can hang. More about that later.

Hunting for Running Shoes

After more than a year and close to 1000 miles, the Brooks Ravenna 3 train has pulled permanently into the station. One pair of blue-and-grays, two pair of yellow-and-grays, and a handful of PRs later, I am on the hunt for something new. My newest pair just hit the 200-mile mark, so I actually have a while to settle on something, but I’ve traditionally been able to feel the wear on Ravennas right around 300, so I’m hoping to have new daily training shoes before these hit “only for rainy weather or desperate circumstances” status.

Currently in the running (har har):

  • Ravenna 4s. I went to a new-to-me running store hoping they would have the 5s for me to try. They didn’t, but they did have the 4s … at full price, which was kind of a bummer since I knew they were already being replaced. I tried them on anyway and, at least for a couple of jogs up and down the block, they felt about the same as the 3s. I then had a dramatic moment of clarity and drove several miles out of my way to forage through Sports Basement, where I was rewarded with a deeply discounted pair, discounted even further in their 20%-Off-Till-It-Snows sale. So, I’ve got those.
  • Saucony Guide 6s. The new-to-me running store recommended these as well. My first proper running shoes were the first-edition Guide, and I’ve been curious about the newer models, since Saucony made some pretty substantial changes to their shoes a couple of years ago. (I think? I was looking for an article to link but couldn’t find one, so maybe I’m wrong, but my memory was that they lessened the heel-to-toe drop in a lot of their shoes and committed to making them substantially lighter, even on the support end of the spectrum.) I took them on one test run — three miles, because the shoe fitter warned me that I’d notice the flatter platform — and while I didn’t feel anything unpleasant in my calves or Achilles tendons, I got the deepest, nastiest, most sudden blister on my right arch and it’s kept me from wanting to run in them again at all. I should give them another try, but honestly, they may just go back. I also found out that the 7s were out when I paid full price for the 6s, so I feel like a sucker anyway.
  • Kahru Flow 3s. These will never be my everyday shoes, but I am hoping to make them short run/track shoes. I was fitted for them nearly a year ago during a TAG gait analysis session, but I stalled on buying them till they came up on a daily deals site. I have worn them once, for two miles, and I will probably keep them to that or even less for the foreseeable future, because my legs were d-o-n-e after 20 minutes. My theory is that, while I never show wear on the heels of traditional stability shoes, I’m also not a true, natural midfoot striker; I’m kind of an “all-foot” striker, and the foamy heel in most shoes helps to balance out the fact that my feet would prefer to just flop down wherever-the-hell. In the Karhus, I had to work a lot harder to land anything close to lightly/efficiently/appropriately. That said, I got them specifically because I was prepared to do that work, so I hope to try some shorter track workouts in them soon.
  • Brooks Adrenaline 13s. I bought them a while ago and never really liked them, but hey, if I’m starting from scratch, I should probably throw them back into the mix, since they have all of about 10 miles on them.

As always, any shoe hunt is fraught with peril for me, plus the standard hand-wringing over orthotics and the like (e.g., when I use those online shoe finders, I never know if I should be describing myself with or without orthotics — without, I’m an overpronator, but in theory, with them I’m neutral … right?). So, this should be interesting.

Writing This Post for Too Long.

The whole point is to get this out there and move on. So! Onward.

Year in Cities 2013

Of all the ways to measure, bracket, capture, and hold a year, this is always my favorite. I’m so thankful to Lydia for bringing it into my life.

I’m used to flying east. Moving almost 3,000 miles west of your family will do that, I suppose. I’ve spent the past nine years mastering the west-to-east redeye: choosing the best routes, learning how to fall asleep in airplane seats, navigating the next day on minimal sleep and maximum coffee. So I was surprised to see that this year, I spent just one night crossing the Great Plains from the air. Instead, I flew north and south and west — yes, west, for the first time, a challenging sleep situation of an entirely new sort.

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Two big trips anchored the year: Japan in March, Vermont in October. They couldn’t have been more different. Japan was urban, strange, baffling. It was about throwing my arms around the unfamiliar, about opening up to whatever I could absorb. Vermont was about drawing close, seeking comfort, holing up with the simple pleasures of beer and cheese and magazines and my husband’s company.

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Sports accounted for much of my travel in ways both obvious and not: Vineman brought two nights in the Santa Rosa hotel with the weird horse paintings; Courtney and I shared a, uh, minimal hotel room before HITS Napa; Wildflower meant more camping in Bradley; Folsom meant a steamy night near the Central Valley. But sports also had something to do with the Seattle trip that brought my Pacific Northwest friends together for a wild bike ride around the city, with a Tahoe reunion with some of my closest friends, and with another trip to the Central Coast, where I learned that a crisp dip in Lake San Antonio is a good antidote to a beer festival.

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As I move deeper into my 30s, I believe more and more in the adage that there are families you get and families you make. December, for me, was about all of those families. I wrote most of this on a plane pointed back west, after 10 days and seven states of road-tripping between parents and in-laws. In Michigan, I read Curious George with one niece, talked about wedding plans with another, and helped cook breakfast for my in-laws’ anniversary. And in Pennsylvania, I helped my parents pack up my childhood home: sorting through boxes of the funny little treasures that make up our lives; unearthing a Spirograph and junior high planners full of inside jokes I don’t remember; seeing the card my dad used to propose to my mom.

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And now I head north again, to Sonoma, to once again huddle with my California family — a growing family, with two babies at the house this year! — to start dreaming about the big, blank year to come.

2013 YEAR IN CITIES

Bradley, CA
Dillon Beach, CA
Folsom, CA
Napa, CA
Paso Robles, CA
San Francisco, CA*
San Luis Obispo, CA
Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Rosa, CA
Sonoma, CA
Tahoma, CA

Ann Arbor, MI
Midland, MI
Oceanport, NJ
Newark, NJ
Portland, OR
Indiana, PA
Addison, TX
Vergennes, VT
Greensboro, VT
Seattle, WA

Kyoto, Japan
Takayama, Japan
Tokyo, Japan

A plane over the Pacific Ocean*
A plane somewhere over the US

About Year in Cities: All listed cities are those in which I spent at least one night between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2013, with * denoting those cities in which I spent multiple non-consecutive nights. 2009 here, 2010 here, 2011 here, 2012 here.

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San Bruno Mountain by Bicycle

As Bay Area mountains go, San Bruno Mountain isn’t much to look at.

I mean, it’s not un-pretty. But it’s hardly the double peaks of Tam or the mighty and intimidating Diablo. It’s low and loaf-shaped. Even when I was hiking all of the Bay Area’s peaks, I never gave a thought to summiting San Bruno Mountain. I’m not even sure I knew it was possible.

A while back, though, I started Googling something — OK, I wanted to know if you could hike to the letters in the South San Francisco sign (yes, you can!), and then I found myself reading an article that called San Bruno Mountain “the ultimate Sunday bike ride,” and one thing led to another, and suddenly the only thing I wanted to do was go up San Bruno Mountain on my bicycle.

A side note, here, about the state of my cycling: I dream of being able to think about cycling the way I think about running, as a low-barrier activity where I just walk out the door and go. But that requires a place to go. I have one standard route through Golden Gate Park, but it’s only 12 or so miles round-trip; I can tack on some Lake Merced loops, but I end up so rage-y and hoarse from yelling “on your left” that it’s not much fun for anyone. Twin Peaks is lovely but not a particularly long ride (despite its intensity), ditto my Legion of Honor hill repeats, and riding over the Golden Gate Bridge (to where the best cycling is) makes me nervous and pukey-feeling and it’s rarely worth suffering through that. So my options for longer rides have been to deal with getting the bike rack on the car, and the bike on the rack, and the driving, and the parking, and the riding, and the re-racking, and the driving, and the re-parking, and the unloading … or just not to do them. I don’t like either of these options. I have long wanted to find a ride largely within San Francisco limits that would be a good distance for a longer off-season ride, not terribly scary traffic-wise, and challenging without being impossible, but I’m not sure I truly believed in its existence.

So, once San Bruno Mountain got in my head, I turned to the handy “show-bike-paths” view on Map My Ride, put together a 30-ish mile route on (reportedly) bike-friendly streets, and talked Pete into thinking this was a good idea. I then spent probably half an hour writing down key intersections and studying them on Google Street View. Not exactly “throw on the shoes and go,” but it will be the next time, right?

We started with a long, flat stretch through the park, across a corner of the SF State campus, and then onto the quiet Holloway and busy (but still bikeable) Geneva. The whole time, I kept saying, “I’ve never been here before!” I’ve lived in San Francisco for seven years, and I’m still so far from having a handle on this little seven-by-seven spit of land.

From Geneva, we turned onto Bayshore, the busy thoroughfare frequented by those who bike to Google and other points south. And from Bayshore, we made a turn onto the road that would take us to the road to the top of the mountain. By which I mean, we started climbing.

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It wasn’t much at first, but it never stopped. We were on a wide ridge road, perfectly paved, still a few stoplights, but definitely starting to look like a California mountain, with trees and scrubby brush lining the road. That road apparently continues, depositing travelers into Daly City, but we turned off after about 2.5 miles at the entrance to San Bruno Mountain State Park.

We really weren’t sure what would happen after the park, when we looped through a short tunnel and onto Radio Road. I’d read that it wasn’t in great condition and could be up to an 11% grade, and while I couldn’t summon exactly what an 11% grade could feel like, I assumed it would be hard. Impossibly hard? Time to find out. Almost immediately we hit a thicket of trees — eucalyptus, apparently — and the ride went from hard and urban and traffic-y to dreamy and nature-y and wild.

Cars can drive up Radio Road, but few did while we rode, and after an initial rough stretch, the pavement wasn’t really that bad. The climb was steep, for sure, and I kept thinking that I’d just go a little further, maybe to the next stopsign, maybe just around the bend, maybe just till I was sure I was done riding, and then suddenly I was at the top.

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It’s a view I’ve never had before, the inverse of driving south of the city when you see all the “little boxes on the hillside” houses that make up Daly City. This was the city from above the boxes, the bridge just peeking out, the water, Mount Diablo?!? Yes. Diablo there. And then the radio spires, and what’s apparently an old missile site, and the airport runways. Things I didn’t know you could see at all, much less from my bike.
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Then we were back — down the looooooooooooong descent, then Bayshore, then San Bruno, then some stoplight-riding down Silver as we crossed both the college streets (Amherst, Yale, Cambridge) and the Europe streets (Vienna, Naples, Lisbon). Somewhere in there was a steep little block that took me by surprise, but that spilled us out into Glen Park in time for our last long climb of the day, up Bosworth and O’Shaughnessy (which, thankfully and to my surprise, has a paved sidewalk bike lane) to the base of Twin Peaks. We could have climbed Twin Peaks then — what the hell — but it was getting dark and my front light was dying, and we figured it was the better part of valor just to coast on home.

We finished at just under 30 miles, with about 2500 feet of climbing spread over two major hills. It was, honestly, exhilarating to do that kind of ride in the city without encountering the bridge or the Marina and its massive throngs of people. For a nervous city rider, the terrain was all manageable; I kept it to bike lanes when possible and “bike-friendly streets” in the worst case, and even on a busy Sunday afternoon with lots of people out, I felt safe and visible throughout. I got to see neighborhoods that I honestly had not known existed, or that I had not properly knitted into my evolving mental map of my city. And I catch myself looking for San Bruno Mountain now, catching a glimpse of the antenna spires, and doing whatever the brain equivalent of a fist-pump is: Yeah. I did that.

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The map, for any local riders who might be interested (I’m sure the route can be improved and I welcome any suggestions!):

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Race Recap: Berkeley 10-Mile

Oof. Hi. Last week was one of those insane work weeks — the kind where I worked more in four days than I usually work in five and exercise seemed like something that some alternate version of me used to do. It’s over now — and better yet, I’m soon to start a two-week vacation — but I still feel like I’m digging out from inside a cold, deep hole.

Said hole includes some fragments of blog posts I never finished, though, so let’s rewind to the Sunday before Thanksgiving, when I ran the inaugural Berkeley Half 10-mile race.

Way back in 2011, I made a 1:30 10-miler a goal, figuring it would be a stop on the way to a sub-2 half — not something I’d finally get around to attempting almost a year later. And yet, my loose goal for Berkeley was still 1:29:59; I wanted to finally claim a sub-9 pace for a longer race. (My half PR is 9:05/mile pace.) In the weeks leading up to the race, I’d been debating what my strategy should be: Go out hard and try to hang on, which worked fine for a 10K but might be awful over four more miles? Start slow, finish fast? Try to run exactly 9:00/mile? I do have the ability to run consistent splits, but only when I’ve been doing tempo runs, which I hadn’t been.

The one thing I definitely didn’t intend was to run without data, but when I tried powering on my Garmin at the start line and was met with a pathetic beep and a gray screen, apparently I was going to be doing just that. My phone was in the car on the way to the finish line; my Garmin was my only clock. I figured I’d take note of the time at the start clock and compare that to the clocks along the course, but it turned out there weren’t any clocks along the course. All of that meant that this was the first race I’ve ever run where I had no sense of how I was doing until I saw my time at the finish line.

***

Downtown Berkeley (miles 1-3ish)

We started in a park downtown, looped around to the southern edge of the Berkeley campus, and ran through some residential streets I vaguely remembered from grad school. There’s a minor but steady uphill in the first mile, which I suspect is why I felt tired early on; maybe I was running too hard for that early in the race, but I’ll never know, because I have no data.

I’d decided at the last second to run with music — my first race in 2013 with music! — and I’m glad I did, because being legitimately surprised by the songs shuffling through on an ancient running playlist distracted me from how exhausted I felt in those first couple of miles.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.25.03 PMThe Frontage Road (miles 4-6ish)

I’d find out later that most people hated this part of the race. We were, apparently, running on a frontage road next to Interstate 80. I say “apparently” because I was too busy looking at the water to notice. If there’s one thing I learned from the Berkeley race, it’s that you can basically plop me down on any shoreline and make me do anything and I won’t even care as long as I can see the water. We hit this road and I finally felt strong.

Besides staring at the water, I was also scanning through the droves of runners coming the other way. I knew a lot of people running the race, but the only one I saw was grad school friend DR, who was near the front of the 10-mile pack. It was weird — I figured I’d have been able to find a friend, or spot a pacer, or see something that would give me a sense of how I was doing, but there was nothing, so I just kept running.

The Marina (miles 7-9ish)

On the way around the Marina, I started thinking about the long runs I’d been doing with a faster friend. Running at her easy pace had pushed my easy pace to the quicker end of my range — 9:20s instead of 9:40s. I remember thinking very clearly that if I could run 9:20s while chatting, I was probably running 9s without having to talk at all. I briefly considered asking someone near me what pace they were running, but I’m not sure if that would have meant anything anyway — there were half-marathoners, 10K runners, and 10-mile runners all on the road together, but because of the staggered start and the course deviations, I wasn’t sure if I was running with 1:45 half-marathoners or 2:30 half-marathoners.

I did realize, though, that I was passing a lot of people. I’m not sure I’ve ever passed that many people that steadily in a race before, other than maybe in Berlin, when I managed to get a second wind around mile 24. I felt weirdly guilty passing half-marathon runners who had already run more miles than I was going to run the whole day … but feeling fast was fun.

Part of this stretch was on what had been noted in the race guide as “gravel trail” but was in real life more like “large, slippery rocks and/or broken-up road.” It was also at a particularly crowded point, right where half-marathoners, 10-milers, and 10K-ers were all converging, and I backed way off my effort in favor of staying upright.

That Damn Hill (the finish)

I knew about the hill from reading Angela’s Let’s Go 510 race report, and I could see it for maybe half a mile before I actually reached it. It was a little blip on the elevation chart, but I knew even a blip would feel like a mountain at mile 9.5. And it was pretty terrible, though at least it was back on solid pavement and at least I’d get to tear down the back side toward the finish.

And that’s exactly what happened: I crested the top, saw the finish arch, and started gunning it. On the way down I saw Pete and my parents, who managed to capture photographic evidence of what I thought was graceful galloping toward the finish but was actually more like pained lumbering with a mean heel-stike. Regardless! I whooshed down the hill and into the 10-mile finishing chute, where I finally, finally saw my time: 1:28:26.

Post-mortem

I’d find out later that my one official race split — at mile 7.6, because sure — had me at 8:48/mile pace, and I finished at 8:51/mile pace, so I did slow down some on the trail, but maybe not as much as I thought. I wish I had my mile splits, just out of curiosity, but I’m glad I didn’t have them during the race. I think I might have been thrown by my rough start, or by the wobbly “trail” miles, if I’d been looking at my watch. I don’t think racing without data is going to be my thing forever, but I can’t pretend it hasn’t worked for me so far.

This was my last race of 2013 (there was also a turkey trot, but that doesn’t count), and it was exactly the right note to close out the year. This year I took multiple minutes off my 10K PR, hit a long-set goal for a 10-miler, and (while I think PRs matter less in triathlons) dropped more than 30 minutes from my Olympic tri time. And I think finishing a half-ironman is the axis on which all of those things turned, because it gave me a base of fitness and taught me how to get things done even when it wasn’t comfortable or easy. It was a very good year.

(Next up: I climb a mountain on my bike! A small mountain, but a mountain nonetheless.)

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“Winter” Cycling

For some reason I’ve been really into the idea of winter cycling. Winter, of course, being relative — I do live in Northern California, and I still have no interest in biking in the rain. But I love sunny, chilly weather, and I regret that I basically didn’t ride my bike between July and January of last year. So, sure: winter 2013-2014, the season of cycling.

First, of course, I had to get some gear. I cashed in some REI gift cards for knee warmers and full-fingered gloves and a non-sleeveless top, and I dug out a fleece-y jersey that I bought on super sale last year but hadn’t had much occasion to wear, given that I’m usually sweaty and steaming the second it hits about 58 degrees.

Then, it had to get cold. Enter: the legendary California cold snap. Perfect.

I had these fantasies of slicing through the winter sun, casting long shadows, seeing my breath. I’d be bundled up and perfectly toasty, smugly taking advantage of the fleeting gorgeous days.

Yeah. Here’s what actually happened when I headed to the Three Bears on Saturday:

  • It was windy — the kind of wind that bored into my eyeballs and gave me a headache about three minutes in. And despite the fact that the route is a square, it felt like I had a headwind on three of the four legs.
  • My gloves made my hands cramp up, another sign (see also: padded socks, cushioned running shoes) that my body rejects all attempts at comfort.
  • My normally perfectly grippy tri shorts bottoms gripped less well on knee-warmer fabric than they do on my legs, so the shorts rode up and the knee warmers slipped down, squeezing out a little line of pudge on each thigh.
  • My newly exposed thigh pudge started rubbing against a rogue piece of velcro from my flat kit, which I was too cold to feel, which led to the chafing from hell, not to mention frayed spots on the shorts and the knee warmers.

Not exactly a stellar first showing.

I’ll get another try this weekend during my tri club’s Santa ride, during which I’ll add plush reindeer antlers to my winter cycling ensemble.

Then again, it’s supposed to be 60 degrees again by Saturday.

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