Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Maybe I'm crazy...

... but, this week I'm going to be doing my first time trial. I've never done any sort of track racing before, but yesterday I was encouraged by a couple of people on the Pitt cycling team to try it.

I know my corners are terrible and that will slow me down, but looking at the listed times for last year's five mile time trials, it doesn't seem completely unreasonable for me to give it a try.

Who knows what will happen?! The worst I can do is be terribly slow, or crash... I'm sure there will be an update on this new adventure soon.

In other cool news, I had almost forgotten about the June issue of The Phoenix magazine featuring an article about the Get Your Guts In Gear Ride for Crohn's and Colitis! I'm quoted! Pretty neat stuff! I just got the new issue in my mail today.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fitness and speed are all comparative.

Yes. It's true.

There is no single definition of fit, or fast, or having endurance.

If there was one set goal to strive for, there wouldn't be anywhere else to go afterwards. And, then what would we do? Try to hold onto it as long as possible? I think most people who cycle enjoy pushing themselves towards something higher, and maybe even enjoy the suffering along the way as some sort of rite of passage on the road to a new understanding of self and the world...

Since I've started cycling regularly again I've been riding both by myself and with local groups, more or less formally. The benefit of riding by myself is that I can set my own goals and pace, but maybe my route choices are less interesting (or maybe I chicken out of the steep side of the high point?). Riding with a group is nice for the knowledge of great routes, or the challenge of keeping pace with faster riders, or the lessons one learns simply from riding behind somebody who's been cycling for 40+ years. But, often group rides end before I feel really done. And, lately I've been looking to improve my speed. I was starting to feel really good about my abilities and speed, especially up hills, with the groups I was riding with. I've been popping off the front too easily, and having to wait at hilltops too often.

And then, WHAM, it happens. My confidence bubble is burst. I ride with a much more skilled and fit cyclist. The sort with perfectly circular pedal strokes, even up hills that drag to a mere 3 miles per hour.  I get flattened, reminded that although it was long and hard the route of last weekend was NOT the steep side of the slope, and then I suddenly feel like a beached whale that somehow got hoisted onto a bicycle that I hardly know how to ride. Once upon a time I was fit and knew how to ride a bicycle. What happened to those days when I didn't get winded so easily going up the steep side of the mountain?

 Oh, right, I got sick. Even now, I am less than two years out of the hospital, having had numerous surgeries and complications including sepsis, a DVT and a PE (big clot went to my lung, it really wasn't much fun). And, after that almost the first year was a struggle even getting back to an average (for Americans, who have admittedly pitiful standards...) level of fitness and recovering from extreme nutritional deficits (and then recovering from my recovery from nutritional deficits).

When I remind myself that for being about 7 months back into truly cycling again (I'm not counting commuting as a start time), and two months of that being only on a trainer in my dining room, I think that I'm not doing so terribly after all. I'm in the frustrating position of being too slow to hang with the truly skilled and fit cyclists, yet... but, that will change. I have a goal. Distance is nice, but I will be working on my speed now as well. My resolution is to continue to push myself beyond my comfort zone to the point at which I think I'm going to fail/vomit/fall over/die (but, not really, right?) at least 3 rides a week in an effort to avoid becoming complacent and too comfortable in the same weekly ride. And hopefully I can persuade kind people to let me hang on their wheel some more while I try to keep up!

Reminder of the day from a kind person who humored my struggling up a different side of Troy Hill today: Don't touch the breaks around corners on the descents! Don't even think about it! You'll get yourself killed!

Yes, since realizing my mortality a couple of years ago, I've suddenly become a bit nervous when I can't see what's coming around the next corner on a descent.

As a sort of trade off for not being able to keep up towards the end of today's ride, I tacked on an extra 20ish solo miles up around the north part of the city, through the zoo, back down to the university area and then across to the east end, back to Lawrenceville, then south to Oakland.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On speed, and shorts with a waistband that works.

It's been a good week for bicycling!

Last weekend I rode Pedal Pittsburgh's 50 mile route, which was a fun tour of some of my favorite Pittsburgh hills! It was also a reminder that I need to spend more time in North Park, and a little kick in the pants to start looking more at my speed.

Who did I ride with? I have NO idea. Two guys named "Tim" and something else. Maybe the first one was named Tim. I'm not sure. The people I was going to ride with bailed on me at the very last minute, and I got to the start of the ride after everyone riding the longer route (there were people on hybrids planning to do 25 and 35 mile routes left) was gone... except for two guys on the sort of bikes that make me drool, wearing sponsor kits. So, I asked if I could ride with them [till they dropped me being clearly implied]. Holy smokes. FAST!  We rode a 20+ pace for the first hour and caught the rest of the riders at a midway checkpoint after blasting through the first checkpoint. It was going up the seemingly never ending winding hills on the north side of Pittsburgh at that pace that did me in. Soon after we caught the rest of the group, they dropped me. Or rather, I let them drop me in an act of self preservation and sanity before I died of spontaneous combustion. It was inevitable. I probably could have gasped my way up another hill, sounding like a broken tea kettle. But... nahhh... I wasn't prepared for that sort of ride. If I was expecting something other than a 50 mile C pace cruise I would have done a lot of things differently.

But, this ride was useful. It proved that although I can't sustain that pace for long, I AM finally again able to ride that sort of pace over a difficult course for at least some time (even if I feel like I might actually die while I'm doing it. Seriously.) And, I can truly climb hills well enough to hang with a more serious crowd, for a little while at least. This put a bug in my head. While I had been focusing much more on endurance and distance, now I'm starting to think about speed and wanting to push myself more in that area. I also want to start riding steeper hills.

Next week I'm going to be riding with a new group, at a faster pace. I'll be sure to update on how that goes! Still looking for people to ride with other days of the week, who are in the 16-19 pace range.

In other major news, Yale may be in my future next year (not this year, one year from now), and they have a much friendlier cycling team than Pitt. So, my new goal will be getting back into shape and up to speed to join the Yale team when/if I get there.

Recently, I've also solved one of my big problems with cycling attire. Shorts.
Having an ostomy makes wearing spandex shorts interesting, and difficult.

Besides basic things like needing to time eating and pay a lot more attention to what I eat pre-ride, I also need to have shorts that have a waistband and waist placement that agrees with my ostomy placement. Most cycling shorts are intentionally high to avoid lower back exposure while cycling, but high in the front is not a good thing if it means a waist band that keeps on trying to ride up and bump into the appliance. So, I've been hunting for shorts with a lower waistline that are still serious enough to have a decent chamois. I've found them!

I swear Performance did not put me up to saying this. I'm actually so anti product placement that last time I posted a picture of my bloody knee I blurred out the logos!

But, Performace makes the best short I've found with a lower waistband. It's the Performance brand Elite short, which I'm told is made for them by IP.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Something exciting happens when you bike to work...

Other people start biking to work too!

 Yes, it's true. Now that it's spring, nobody can blame their sloth on the snow. They've had months of me inflicting bike shorts and dayglow jerseys on them at too-early hours of the morning, and talking about how "this morning I biked so hard that when got to the guard booth at the top of the hill and felt like I was going to hurl! It was awesome." People started off with asking simple questions about routes, safety, how to not be a disgusting mess all day after riding up the gigantic hill (~1,000 ft of elevation) leading up to the building. The answers are:
1. Stop at the lights. Don't rush your ride until your comfortable with your route. Rushing means careless mistakes.
2. Look up basic bicycle safety tips with as much or little detail as you need. If you are reading this, I know you have the internet.Wear visible clothing, a helmet, and get lights!
3. Baby wipes are the answer. Put extra deoderant and a big box of baby wipes in your office cabinet and clean up in the bathroom when you get to work.
4. Pack your work clothes in a bag and wear something else to bike in. You'll never make it up that sort of a climb without needing to change clothes.
5. I prefer to bike in bike shorts because I think they are comfortable. Wear whatever is comfortable for you. It doesn't have to be neon or spandex, although I do have a certain fondness for dayglow.
6. It is ok to walk the rest of the way up the hill. Nobody will fault you, and walking up that hill is good exercise too.

Over the past couple of months I've also organized a couple of recreational, after-work, glacial (D) paced rides and billed them as a social event for research people from the department.  After the first one, people started pulling their neglected bikes out of the garage and fixing them, or asking for advice on what kind of bike to look at if they wanted to get one. On the 26th, the next research bike ride takes place and I am glad to say that we will have four new riders with newly fixed or acquired bicycles!

Rad, huh?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A gutless gang?

Wow, so, it turns out that there are FOUR gutless cyclists in this city. That's right. There are four of us, plus some other Chronies. Sounds like we've got a gutless gang forming! Now we've just got to get everyone together for a  ride, and round up all of the other gutless cyclists in the area. Nice.

Know any gutless cyclists? Or gutsey cyclists with Crohn's or Colitis? Put the word out. The gang is recruiting.

But, seriously, I think that if I weren't gutless, cycling wouldn't mean so much to me now. It is both a reason to live and a coping mechanism, especially during really tough weeks. Whether the stress is related to health stuff, academic or work pressures, or all of the other garbage that comes with trying to exist in the modern world, cycling is an escape and a mental adjustment. The pain of hill climbing is cathartic, cresting the top of the big one might be enough of an accomplishment for the entire week, and flying down the other side is when I finally feel like I'm catching up with all of those spare minutes that escaped me throughout the week.

This week has been tough. I seriously needed tonight's ride. And, while it was nice to ride with a group (~40 riders tonight) I mostly kept in line and kept quiet instead of riding side by side with anyone. Sometimes just the forward movement and feeling of freedom is more important than conversation. And, although it's not a competition, it is always gratifying to be able to drop the rest of the group on the climbs. Over and over again. Which, I was afraid that tonight I wouldn't be able to because I've been so exhausted lately (anemia again?). It was the ride I needed, although a little bit more pain and exhaustion would have been welcomed. Sometimes I am reluctant to stop riding, not because I really want the miles or the exercise, but because I want to delay returning to the real world and everything ahead of me.  If I could just keep on pedaling forward, maybe the parts of reality that I don't want to face would never catch me.

And that's the highs and lows in summary for today.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

1st GYGIG raffle winners!

Because this is a convenient place to post such things...

1. Opera tickets: Ron Voorhees

2. Carnegie Science Center: Katie (if you aren't the Katie I called, it isn't you. sorry!)

3. Bike Fender: Andy Hoffman

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May flowers? or something...

It's May!!! Sadly, my ride plans have been thunder-stormed/serious rained out for weeks now. But, the daffodils are very nice...

Tonight I FINALLY got to ride with a group that meets up at a local cafe popular with the cyclists of the area. It was a great goup, a nice pleasant C ride with room for conversation between hills. I was proud of myself for being able to drop everyone on the hills, especially the longer slopes. But, sadly, I was having some drive train problems and ended up having to drop off the end of the ride towards the very last few miles. We were climbing a very steep hill when suddenly I dropped three gears and had zero pedal resistance. And, bam, down I went... off the side of the road onto some very large chunks of rock. I'm fine, but sadly my bicycle has been messed up since I got hit by that car a couple of weeks back. No new damage from this fall. And, maybe it's good that I had the greater motivation to get it fixed. Sadly, all of the shops have at least a few days wait time for repairs because everyone is getting work done on their bikes since it is the beginnign of the season.  I need to take it to get fixed, and soon. But, everyone has a wait of at least 3 days as of last time I checked. Rats... still, it has to happen!

Other cool news: I met another cyclist with an ileostomy! How cool is that?!
She is a spin instructor at Spin Shadyside, and is doing the walk for Crohn's Disease with a team. I met her totally by chance when I went into her spinning studio on a whim while I was walking around asking for donations for raffle for the local fundraising events I'm doing leading up to the GYGIG ride. I never would have guessed that I would meet another person with an ostomy in my solicitation of bussinesses for donations! And, definately not a cyclist!
I'm hoping I can get her to do the 60 mile route of Pedal Pittsburgh with me on the 21st.

And now I'm destined for a shower, since I'm still sitting here in my cycling shorts with my dog desperately attempting to lick all of the dried sweat off of me (ewww).