Finding Cycling Strength in Numbers

strength-cover

About a month ago, I wrote a post on Cycling (not) by the numbers in which I made the case for just cycling without measuring anything. No mileage, no miles per hour, no time, no average heart rate, no personal bests, no watts, no nothing. Just me and the bike, headed down the road. Here’s what I said:

It’s been a very work-intensive school year, and I haven’t been able to really relax mentally or physically. Right now, the last thing I want is another set of reporting requirements for leisure time activity.

So what’s a stubborn cyclist to do?

Get out and ride—no expectations, no goals, no numbers. I want to rediscover the fire inside, the motivation, the joy, the pain (yes, that too) and the satisfaction that comes from getting sweaty, gritty, greasy, muddy and happy on a bike.

Yes, I recall writing that. And feeling that. And doing that, too. I added that I’d report back (but with no statistics). So here’s my report.

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It seemed like a great idea, just letting myself ride when I wanted, where I wanted, as long as I wanted, without feeling obligated to keep track, do training rides, set up any external expectations or goals. In effect, I was trying to embrace Intuitive Cycling (by the way, I just made up this term).

What could Intuitive Cycling mean? Taking a cue from the notion of Intuitive Eating (which I wrote about last week here and am still working on), maybe something like this modification (from Tracy’s original post):

  1. reject the training mentality
  2. honor your need for various types, intensities and durations of cycling
  3. make peace with your speed, whatever it is at the time
  4. challenge the Strava police
  5. feel your fatigue on the bike (and stop when you want)
  6. discover the satisfaction factor: know when your ride is long enough
  7. cope with your emotions without using your Garmin all the time
  8. respect your body, whether you are in or out of the saddle
  9. exercise: feel the difference between different routes, modes and times for cycling
  10. honor your health with gentle motivation for the cycling you want (and don’t want)

While some of my alterations are a little tongue-in-cheek (#4 is for you, Samantha!), the idea behind this sort of cycling was to take all expectations off the table and just focus on the experience of turning the cranks, looking around at the scenery, and enjoying moving through space.

Well, how did it go?

Honestly, it was kind of a bust.

Not this sort of bust:

bust

Rather this.

Meaning this:

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Why? A number of factors contributed to my failure to complete a month of spontaneous intuitive cycling. These included having caught a cold, battling more than usually fierce allergy symptoms, dealing with big work pressures and work travel, and letting life complications sap my enthusiasm for movement. On any given day, my verve for cycling was not very high, and since I didn’t often feel the intuitive urge for movement on two wheels (due to stresses, time crunches, etc.), I didn’t actually ride much.

However, this week I did two 25+ mile rides, and was on the bike a bit in addition. How did that happen? I went to Cape Cod for a mini-break with my good friend and cycling buddy Pata for a little R&R (relaxation and riding). We had a lovely ride together on the Cape Cod Rail Trail.  Here’s a nice water view from the trail, which is flat and very pretty (if rather pollen-y this week).

water

Pata suggested to me that if I wanted to get in better cycling shape, maybe I should start easy, with say two 20+ mile rides this week, and see how that goes. What a sensible and doable idea, I thought! Of course, this would mean reengaging with numbers on the bike:

  1. Distance traveled during a ride
  2. Number of rides completed during a seven-day period

Yes, I thought, I can do that. I want to do that. I can hold myself accountable to that. So I did, riding 26 miles with Pata, and then 25 miles Saturday. The latter ride wasn’t pretty—it was solitary, sweaty, pollen-y, and I had to stop twice because my saddle kept slipping (despite my repeated efforts to tighten and retighten the seat post bolt. Argh.) Still, I got it done. And I feel great about it.

It’s certainly true that we need to listen to our bodies, our inner voices, our intuitions about how we are feeling. And it’s good to let go of external constraints and expectations and just be in the moment, doing what our feelings dictate. But for me right now, I’m extremely happy to take up some cycling techniques that actively require use of—yes—numbers:

  1. Making training plans
  2. Planning and meeting short-term goals
  3. Planning and preparing for longer-term goals
  4. Committing to some group rides
  5. Committing to riding for X miles at a time, Y times a week
  6. Track my progress on distance, time, even (gulp) speed
  7. Reassessing and increasing those short-term goals as I meet them
  8. Seeking out support from other cyclists when my enthusiasm or energy is flagging

Once again, I’ll report back on how this new strategy goes. For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons expressing my new numeric optimism:

numbers-don't lie

Gearing Down

gearing down

My plans are rapidly changing for the cycling season. My lovely sister Anj can’t make the Woodstock Triathlon due to a work commitment that just popped up. I’m cancelling plans to do a week long bicycle tour with Samantha at the end of June because I’m changing jobs and won’t have vacation time. Lots of change, lots of stress and mourning the loss of spending time with my sister and then missing out on a week with lovely people I want to get to know better.

My first reaction to stress is to put my head down and push harder, to try and make it all work with pure application of will and frenetic energy. Right now the thought that keeps going through my head is to gear down, don’t push so hard.

So on June 6 instead of doing a sprint distance triathlon I’m going to The Forest Garden Convergence, a day of happy, hippie plant loving people. Instead of a week bicycle tour I’m taking a couple days next week to ride with my sweetie around town. I’m gearing down, conserving my energy, consolidating my fitness gains.

On Thursday I had the afternoon off and I walked to my appointments and home, walking over 15 meandering kilometers in the heat and perfume of blooming Black Locust tress. They are gorgeous, giant trees with these long dangling clusters of blossoms here in London, Ontario.

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I’ve got a couple days off between leaving my current job and starting my new one. I’ll fill my time with friends, some exercise and definitely some rest but I’m not feeling pressed to do much else. Change is hard and letting go of fun plans is a bummer so I’m choosing to take it easy.

Finding Big Country (Guest Post)

Saguaro cacti bloom in front of Catalina Mountains,Tucson

Saguaro cacti bloom in front of Catalina Mountains,Tucson

I ride my bike 28 miles (45 km) to the top of Mt. Lemmon, near Tucson, Arizona. It’s a big climb, starting at an elevation of 2605 feet, ending at 8,077 feet (794 to 2462 meters). But the road isn’t the biggest part of the Catalina Mountains.

On a recent visit to my hometown, I convinced my buddy Lee to join in the Greater Arizona Bicycle Association Mt. Lemmon hill climb with me. For me, the main benefit of being on a supported ride are snacks and drinks at the aid stations. The Mt. Lemmon Highway runs through the Coronado National Forest with no public water sources until about mile 20.

It’s a very popular cycling route. In the winter, professional cyclists and triathletes ride up and down the usually sunny Mt. Lemmon for winter base training miles.

Our ride day dawns cold, unusual for May, and it gets colder as we climb up the mountain. (The next day, snow falls on the upper ridges).

We snake our way up the mountains, first on south slopes overlooking the city, then we follow the road inside the mountains and switch-back along an interior canyon. Beyond the guardrail, the gaping canyon is so deep that we can’t see the stream that created it. Looking west across the canyon, more ridges, more slopes, more canyons ripple the topography. Ridges end at peaks un-named and named: Thimble Peak, The Castle, Finger Rock.

Some folds of this earth are inaccessible by road or trail, even rock climbers cannot reach the cliffs. The Catalina Mountains mark the northern horizon of Tucson, but its many dimensions must be seen from within the range itself—deep and wide. From our bike saddles, we also see the Rincon Mountain range on the eastern horizon of Tucson. In the Rincons, hills roll into multiple ridges topping out at two peaks.

Lee looks and calls it “Big Country.”

We climb higher through several biomes with their unique signature plants. We start in the Sonoran Desert with rocky slopes of Saguaro cacti and agave, then reach the oak woodland at about mile 6, and 5,000 feet. Next we ride through conifer forests and towering Ponderosa pine trees.

Reports of “rain at the next aid station” doesn’t deter us because we have great wind/rain jackets. I rarely put on a jacket after miles of uphill climbing, but this time I do.

I wish I had jackets for my frozen toes.

Clouds block our view of the uppermost peaks, and fog descends onto the road. Fortunately, the rain holds off. Unfortunately, it’s so cold, some cyclists battle hypothermia and crowd into vans to be driven down the mountain.

We ride past giant “hoo-doos,” rock formations sculpted by wind and water. For our sweet and salty fix, we eat pie and peanuts at the final aid station, seeking shelter from the wind behind skinny trees.

Lee keeps talking about chili at the Iron Door Restaurant, located at the Mt. Lemmon’s Ski Valley. We pass aspen groves, descending and climbing again. We stand in our pedals to conquer the final section with its 11 percent grade.

Riding in the mountains makes me dream big. At our fireside lunch (yes it’s cold enough to have a blazing fire in the hearth), I propose a four-peak expedition to Lee. We will bike into the four mountain ranges that surround Tucson, then hike to the highest peak. We discuss various options, the best bikes to use, and different approaches to the peaks.

As we demolish his bowl of chili and and my bowl of  split pea soup, the sun breaks through the clouds. Our descent starts cold, then we warm enough to remove hats and jackets. We scream 28 miles down the beautiful curves of the highway, battling wind gusts, and coast into the Tucson valley and home.

What is your “big country” beyond the lines you run or bike on roads and trails? May you dream big during your next bike ride.

Except when it snows, Mt. Lemmon Highway (also called Catalina Highway or General Hitchcock Highway) is open to cycling all year. Info here: http://goo.gl/iIrDBp .

Mary Reynolds is a writer who lives in Tucson and Barcelona. She blogs with her partner about adventures in Barcelona and Europe at: https://barcelonaadventuring.wordpress.com/

On Comparing #tbt

As we enter the summer months, comparing is a real temptation. But it’s never a good idea and often (in my case anyway) makes us feel worse about ourselves. For Throwback Thursday, here are my thoughts on comparing from a couple of years ago. Enjoy!

Fit Is a Feminist Issue

Comparing_Apples_to_OrangesjsxDetail I walk into the pool area at the Y and suss out the various lanes.  They’re marked “slow,” “moderate,” “fast,” and “speed.” The first thing I look for is occupancy.  Other things being equal, I default to the lane with the fewest number of people in it. But it also matters how fast or slow they are swimming. And there are no absolute standards for this. I like “fast” the best, but some days I’m at home in the speed lane. Other days, I’m make out better in the moderate lane. It depends how I compare to the other swimmers who happen to be there at the time.

This kind of comparing is practical. But there is another, more insidious and pernicious form of comparison.

Still at the pool.  Hey, she’s super fast.  And look, she’s got amazing flip turns. And wait!  She’s got a float thing between her legs…

View original post 1,002 more words

Good News! A Women’s Day Is Coming for Ironman 70.3 World Championships

Photo credit: from the TriEqual website http://www.triequal.com/

Photo credit: from the TriEqual website http://www.triequal.com/

Lots of people know only of only one triathlon event by name: Ironman. But the Ironman 70.3 — half the distance of the more familiar, grueling Ironman’s 140.6 miles — is gaining popularity.  And exciting new changes are afoot. Starting in 2017, the World Championships will split into an event held over two days.  See this report and this report.

Day one will be the women’s race, day two will be the men’s.

The reason for this change is to accommodate more athletes and, in particular, to enable gender parity with respect to the number of athletes who can compete. Andrew Messick, CEO of Ironman, said:

With the global explosion of Ironman 70.3 races, we expect approximately 4,500 athletes from around the world to qualify for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, which is too many for a single day of racing. We are focused on providing more opportunities for women to race with us globally and, after consulting with members of our Women For Tri Board, felt that having a separate race for female professional and age group athletes would be a strong step forward for our sport.

The move has been well-received by professional triathletes. Heather Wurtele, 6-time Ironman Champion and 11-time 70.3 champion, likes the way the change will highlight the women’s event. She and her husband, Trevor, have both dedicated themselves to Ironman competition, and she says, “I’m sure that plenty of triathlon couples will be stoked to be able to cheer each other on too.”

Sarah Gross is a professional triathlete and president of TriEqual, an independent group seeking equality in triathlon. She too comments on the virtue of this plan for showcasing the women’s event. She also thinks it’s an opportunity for Ironman to offer an equal number of professional spots to women as to men (something that hasn’t happened in the past).

“I love this initiative because it creates an opportunity to showcase the women’s race in its own right, at both the age group and professional level. I hope that Messick and the Women for Tri Board will also see this as an opportunity to offer equal slots for men and women, since the venue will allow for that [Ironman currently offers 50 slots for men and 35 slots for women at the 70.3 World Championships]. This could be great news for women in triathlon.

It’ll be interesting to see whether this move has the positive impact on women in the sport that everyone is hoping for. I feel like it’s a good news story.  Too often, women’s sports are not as valued as men’s sports. But with a special day dedicated to the women’s event, the 70.3 world championship in 2017 will be able to accommodate more women competitors and will allow the women to shine brightly on the day of their race.

Not only that, it will provide the professional women with the same “clean” course–fair and unobstructed–that professional men have the privilege of competing on.  This is one of the issues TriEqual has taken on, advocating for changes to the start of races. They suggest a 10-minute gap between the professional men and the professional women, then a 25-minute gap before the age-group competitors (based on full distance IRONMAN–gap times are adjusted for the 70.3).

Splitting the event into two days, with women on one day and men on the other, will address this issue completely.

Most bodies are built to move!

If you’re like me you’re probably ready to scream if you see another “sitting is bad for you” article.

I think that even though I know my frustration doesn’t make the news any less true. I think that even though I’m currently drafting a chapter of our book on everyday exercise which talks a lot about the dangers of sedentary living. Study after study after study shows that sitting is bad for most people no matter how much we exercise. See Sit yourself down? : The latest news about sitting.  My most recent post on this theme The Chair Conspiracy  talks about the possibility of active sitting–like cross legged sitting or squatting–and shifts the focus from sitting to the ways in which we sit.

I also think that we need to think about movement in as diverse a way as possible, recognizing that standing and walking aren’t options for everyone. See my recent post on crawling and mainstream discomfort with alternative ways of moving.

I like this TED talk though. I like it better than this video, the damage sitting does to your body explained in 60 seconds.

Along with the usual suspects of weight gain and back pain, the animation explains how, as soon as you sit down, the enzymes that break down fat drop by 90 percent, and your insulin effectiveness and good cholesterol levels drops. Sitting also makes blood clots more likely to form in your brain, and people with desk jobs are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease than those with active jobs.

We could go on, but the take-home message here is pretty simple – maybe it’s time to stand up, watch the video and then get outside and go for a walk. Seriously.

What’s the difference? Why is the TED talk better? It explains how most human bodies function best with almost constant movement.  Although there’s range of what bodies can and can’t do, the typical human body is not built to keep still.

A feminist fitness bloggers’ century ride to Port Stanley!

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Sam: I love cycling, I love riding with friends, I love introducing people to road cycling, and I love the trip out to Port Stanley. Win, win, win, and win! So when Susan suggested that we get in some rides together before the Friends for Life Bike Rally which we’re doing together (by the way, I still haven’t even reached the halfway point for my fundraising goal and it would be very lovely and much appreciated if you could sponsor me here) I thought immediately of that destination. I also invited a bunch of other Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers along for the ride. Nat and Cheryl couldn’t come so in the end it was Kim, Susan, our friend Sarah (who’s promised to write a blog post in the future) and me. It reminded me of last year’s group ride,Four Feminist Philosophers and the Welland Canal.

London to Port Stanley is one of my favourite rides. When I ride 100 km, I feel like there ought to be a destination and Port Stanley feels like a reward at the end of 50 km. There’s Lake Erie and there’s coffee and a few places to eat. The ride just has a few rolling hills, nothing too serious, and you stay on quiet country roads for almost the entire trip. You can see our route here. I’ve been wanting to introduce someone to the virtues and charms of this ride after having failed in epic proportions with Tracy last year. (Don’t worry, our friendship survived.) See her account of the saga, Epic Ride and Some Reflections on Learning to Like the Bike. I think that if you don’t like that ride, you probably don’t like road cycling and so I was a bit vindicated by her more recent blog post Road Biking and I: Not a Good Match.

Anyway, we had a great ride. Aside from taking on the role of navigator and keeper of the map (not my usual thing) and getting us lost and adding an extra 10 km to our trip, I’d be keen to do it again. Our clue ought to have been that headwind! We had a headwind all the way there and then about a 1/3 of the way home, it came back. Headwind, no more tailwind. That should have let us know we had gone left instead of right and were headed back to the lake.

We ended the day in the hot tub and that felt pretty good too.

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Susan: 100km is a lesson for me in energy management. I am what one may call rather inefficient with my energy intake. While this advantages me in the patriarchy in ways that I’ll critique at some later date, it’s difficult for me when prepping and recovering from endurance activities. I had a spectacular time winding down to Port Stanley and back. I learned tonnes about group riding and started to grasp all I still have to learn skill-wise. I felt pretty good considering and I thought I was eating enough. But the next morning I felt like road kill. Flat and motionless. I have come to understand this is what happens when I create a profound calorie deficit over a one day period. Bottom line…I can’t be doing that. It’s brutal. Need more fooooood!!!!!

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Kim: This was the weekend of competing cycle invites: Sam and our feminist bloggers’ group were heading out to Port Stanley, the lakeside resort town south of London, while my and Sam’s formal cycling club, the London Centennial Wheelers, were ALSO heading for Port Stanley (though using a slightly different route). I had to decide which group to ride with, knowing each would be a very different experience. The club ride would be quick; I ride with the “B” group at LCW, which averages around 30kph on many tours, sometimes a bit less. There would also be a bit of ego involved in that ride; the male/female ratio in LCW is uneven, and I knew that, especially on the return journey, some of the guys in the group (and a few of the women too!) would more or less be racing each other home. (I wasn’t sure I was up for that on a Saturday morning.) On the flip side, I knew the bloggers would be a more social group, meaning a relatively steady but much slower pace; at the same time, that ride would be a chance to catch up with friends, share tips and best practices, and enjoy a lovely day in the countryside. Weighing my own competing needs (a fitness ride; a ride that felt good in body but also in soul), I opted for a hybrid: I would ride down to Port Stanley with Sam and co, then ride home alone at a quicker pace that fit my own training regime.

This plan worked perfectly. On the way out we held 20.5kph, partly because Susan and Sarah are a bit less experienced than Sam and I, and partly because we were heading straight into the wind most of the time. Sam and I took the lead, helping Sarah and Susan develop their drafting technique; this also allowed us to get our heart rates up and our bodies warm as we fended off the breeze. While riding in pairs, Sam and I chatted about life, work, and riding; I made her share some sprint tips with me, too. By the time we got to the Port, Sam and I had had two solid hours in heart rate zones 2 and 3, and we’d all had some great conversations and enjoyed some beautiful scenery. Then, we ate some yummy baked goods, drank some proper coffee, and I headed off home, retracing our steps and taking advantage of a nice tailwind. On the homeward journey I tried to keep my heart rate up around zones 3-4 as much as possible, and I managed a very respectable 31.5kph average. A perfect day, then: a long, slow ride that was also enormous fun, followed by a quick, pacy trip home that ticked one of my training boxes. Thanks, ladies!

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Sarah: I’m not the kind of athlete that has training goals and a regular schedule of activities to keep me in top condition. I’m an inveterate “weekend warrior” more inspired by camaraderie … and challenges. So when Sam put out the call for a 100+km feminist fitness bloggers’ ride, I couldn’t resist – even if it meant promising to actually (gasp) write something to join in the fun.

Aside from foolishness, the other thing a successful weekend warrior needs is enablers. Fortunately Susan lives close enough that I was able to squeeze in a couple of training rides chasing her, since a 5km commute to work is not enough to build the endurance (and what I fondly call “butt calluses”) needed for a whole day on the bike.

The 120 km round trip to Port Stanley was a ride of a lifetime for many reasons – perfect weather, smooth flat roads devoid of cars – but none more awesome than drafting behind cyclists who could easily outpace me, but instead patiently paused at the top of each hill to wait for my sorry out-of-shape self to catch up. I’ve never ridden so far or fast in my life – it felt a lot like flying (except the aforementioned hill climbs).

As one might expect for a weekend warrior, I did come out the other side a little worse for wear – bloodstained socks from a tumble after forgetting to unclip, nasty foot cramps in the last few km, but thanks to Sam’s unparalleled recovery regime (hot tub and ice cream) I did manage to complete a weekend warrior double-header by doing the Urban Land Institute’s Tour de Toronto (http://toronto.uli.org/events/tour-de-toronto-bike-tour-2015/) on Sunday. It took us almost as long to do a mere 40km, but there were a lot of stops for coffee, pastries, beer, and stories from industry experts about planning, developing and building some awesome new spaces.

I may have finished up the weekend with a long and impromptu nap. I blame the beer. And the enablers. Thank you all!