cycling · family · fitness

Bettina is back in the saddle – in company

Woohoo, our family has emerged from the weeks of survival mode! We’re more tired than before, but who isn’t these days? In any case, I’m trying hard (and not managing very well) to shift my priorities back and include more movement in my life.

The youngest member of our family is now nearly 9 months old. In some ways this helps (we can do more things) and in some ways it doesn’t (increased mobility means less ability to just plop him down next to me and do 20 minutes of yoga while expecting him to still be there afterwards) with my exercise quest.

One thing that does help is that he is now fairly good at sitting up on his own, so yesterday we risked putting him in the bike trailer for the first time. Here we are, mama grinning from ear to ear about being back in the saddle and baby looking sceptical behind the yellow star I use to cover his face in an effort to keep his privacy on the Internet:

Bettina in cycling gear next to a bike trailer with a strapped-in baby in it. Both are wearing bike helmets, which makes one of them look rather like a mushroom – up to you to decide whom.

If that bike trailer looks familiar, it’s because it’s the same vehicle as our jogging buggy, which converts to a bike trailer. But while it’s safe to go running with a baby who can’t sit up on their own yet (provided you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and common sense), biking is a different story due to the speed at which you might fly over obstacles. It requires the little human to have a bit more body tension and stability.

Anyway, yesterday was the day. We strapped on his bike helmet (so cute!), hooked the trailer up to his dad’s bike, and off we went. We didn’t get very far because it started raining, as it is wont to do these days around here. But it was fun anyway! Baby didn’t complain much and even fell asleep at the end. So even if we didn’t go for a long ride, we have proof of principle: the parents had a good time and the little one didn’t hate it, so we can attempt a longer family ride next. YAY!

What sports and fitness activities do you enjoy with your kids, if you have children? If your they are older, what did you enjoy doing with them when they were small – and in particular, what did the kids enjoy?

cycling · fitness

Riding a bike is easier than flying a plane. But aviation experts have good tips for us, too.

Now that the weather is warmer (or threatening to be warmer) in the Northern hemisphere and vaccination numbers are going up (albeit gradually), many of us are heading back outside on two wheels. Yes, we’ve been dutiful and some even enthusiastic about indoor cycling (see Sam’s posts about the joy of Zwifting, like this one). But nothing beats riding outside on or off-road, amidst sun and clouds, greenery and flowers, breeze and sounds.

Two road bikes-- mine in foreground, Pata's in back, relaxing while their owners stop for coffee on a fine summer Friday. To be resumed...
Two road bikes– mine in foreground, Pata’s in back, relaxing while their owners stop for coffee on a fine summer Friday. To be resumed.

Resuming cycling in real life does require us to dust off long-unused skills like bike handling, holding one’s line in high-traffic areas, paying close attention to road conditions and getting used to the abundance of sensory input.

If this seems challenging, imagine how pandemic-furloughed pilots feel about getting back into the cockpit of a 737. In a New York Times article this week, one pilot reported:

“It’s not quite like riding a bike,” said Joe Townshend, a former pilot for Titan Airways, a British charter airline, who was laid off when the pandemic hit in March last year.

“You can probably go 10 years without flying a plane and still get it off the ground, but what fades is the operational side of things,” he said. “There is a multitude of information being thrown at you in a real working environment, and the only way to stay sharp and constant is to keep doing it.”

Tell me about it. Driving a car felt similar after months of staying home and off the roads. And my dashboard doesn’t look remotely like this:

An updated 737 cockpit from the Mid-Canada Mod Center (no idea what that is). Many dials, levers, screens and buttons.

Still, having to process all that information in real-time, while on or off-road cycling, requires some focus and adjustment when we’ve been riding in our basements for months on end.

Which leads me to tip #1: remember that cycling (like flying) is a full-sensory experience.

We can all appreciate the need to brush up our skills with our sporting equipment, especially when it’s been a long time since we’ve used it. The same goes for aviation. From the article:

There is no “one size fits all” training model aviation experts say. Typically, pilots receive variations of training based on how long they have been idle. In simulator sessions they will be required to perform different types of landings and takeoffs, including those in adverse weather conditions, and practice for emergency events. 

So, tip #2: Check that all safety and repair and emergency supplies are in good order.

As cyclists, we need to remember to take lights with us, checking that they’re charged, testing brakes, replacing weak or worn-out tires, cleaning out and refilling saddle bags with safety and repair tools, some dough, ID, etc.That will help us be ready if and when some weather or emergency situation comes up.

Once we’re back out there, we may not feel completely up to speed yet (as it were). Pilots feel this way, too:

“There’s certainly an aspect of rustiness that comes with not flying regularly,” said Hassan Shahidi, the president of the Flight Safety Foundation,… “As travel recovers and demand increases, we must make sure that our pilots feel fully comfortable and confident when they get back into the cockpit.”

Before the pandemic these pilots were practicing the same procedures day in and day out flying over and over again. When you’re not flying as often your cognitive motor skills are degraded,” he said.

Here comes tip #3: know that you may be rusty (even though your chain isn’t). Give yourself some time and space to ramp back up in terms of speed, handling, distance, etc.

Airline pilots who were furloughed had to find other jobs during the pandemic. Many of them worked in warehouses or did package delivery. Those jobs paid some bills, but they didn’t feed them vocationally. For many pilots, flying is part of who they are, not just what they do:

“At the beginning there was a lot of worry about the risks of Covid, but now that vaccinations are underway everyone who has been recalled is so happy,” said [one pilot].

“We love the air, the view, the aircrafts and it’s so much more about those feelings than the money, although in this pandemic you realize that the money is also important,” [the pilot said]. “Everyone is making a big effort with training because they just want to get back.”

Which leads me to tip #4: despite the worries, the logistical hurdles, the changes in equipment and physical acclimation to exercise, for many of us, riding bikes is a big part of who we are, not just what we do in our free time. Getting back to riding means reclaiming that part of our identity.

For me, that means getting ready to fly again– in my case, down some hills on two wheels will do nicely.

Readers, have you been dusting off gear, checking batteries, replacing parts in preparation for a return to sportsing outside? How’s it going? We’d love to hear from you.

cycling · fitness · racing · running · training

Warming up!

Everyone knows that before you make a big effort, you ought to warm up. But do we?

See Warming up for better results: “We all know that we are ‘supposed to’ warm-up. In fact, we probably all learned the importance of a warm-up during PE Class in 3rd grade. Yet, when push comes to shove, warm-up is one of the first things we cut out or cut down when workout time is limited and we’re in a rush. On the contrary, warming up is one aspect of a workout that should never be removed. No matter what your workout is, from intervals to base training, from powerlifting to table tennis, you should always have a warm-up. Warm-ups help to increase body temperature, increase heart rate, increase circulation, and increase blood flow to muscles. All of these physiological adjustments help to prevent injury and help to optimize performance.”

I confess that when I ran, I didn’t really ever warm up. That’s because when I was running 10 km, I felt like 10 km was as far as I could run. I had no extra in the tank for warm-ups. When I ran 5 km, there should have been time to warm up, but I rarely did.

Here’s a little general warm up

Luckily, as far as performance goes, it actually doesn’t make much difference for endurance events. And running, for me, was only ever about endurance.

When cycling, my best warm ups were at the velodrome where you couldn’t warm up on the track. There was too much demand for track time. Instead we warmed up on rollers in the infield. And when I was doing fast group rides outside, I counted my time riding to the start as warm up. Indeed, generally, as both a bike commuter and casual racing cyclist, I was often better warmed up than competitors because I’d ridden to the location of the race.

But when I first started riding and racing on Zwift, I wasn’t much into warming up. I’d just hope on the bike, join the event and start riding. But I discovered through trial and error that I did much better if I’d warmed up. What kind of trial and error? Well, I quit some races after getting dropped and joined others. One night I quit a team time trial (I’d done a bit and it was clearly too fast, too far to stay with the group) and joined an ITT. I won the ITT (in my category) in part because it was short and I was thoroughly warmed up.

I’ve gotten better this year at warming up before big rides and races. I’ve mostly been doing the GPLAMA Ultimate Warm Up.

Ride Report

How about you? Are you a fan of warming up?

covid19 · cycling

Sam is riding the waves, on her bike, outside

In the first wave of the pandemic I didn’t ride outside much at all. Last May I wrote Why Sam is still riding inside even though the sun is shining and Riding safely in pandemic times. I didn’t want to risk injury through a bike crash and to require medical care by doing something that’s not necessary. I know that’s extreme but I felt I needed to stick very close to home and ride in a very reasonable way.

This year we’re in the third wave, which is worse than the first and second here in Ontario, and there’s a stay at home order and I’m happy to be riding outside (in Guelph, close to home.)

We’re planning a bike packing trip for June once the stay at home order has ended and getting out for rides in the countryside around Guelph. Want the details? Feel free to follow me on Strava.

This weekend we loaded one of the 50 km routes used by the Tour de Guelph and set out on a sunny Saturday afternoon. When you added on getting to campus, where the ride begins, going for coffee after, and a brief detour where Sarah thought the Garmin directions were wrong but they weren’t, we ended up clocking about 60 km. It was fun and relaxing and I started wondering what felt so different than last summer.

First, I think we have a better sense of what the risks are. I’m riding with one other person with whom I live. Nothing dangerous there. I’m not racing or riding particularly aggressively. And I’m staying away from roads with lots of traffic. We’re choosing routes carefully.

Second, I feel more prepared. I bring a mask. I have people at home who can pick us up if we have a mechanical difficulty. Hi, Miles! It’s year two of the pandemic and I feel more certain about what I’m doing.

Third, I’m partially vaccinated. One shot of AstraZeneca a week ago. My mother is also partially vaccinated–Pfizer at one of the provincial clinics, this one run by the University of Guelph. Sarah is Schrodinger vaccinated. Maybe or maybe not but she will be by the end of the clinical trial she’s taking part in. On the one hand I feel like that shouldn’t be changing my behavior, and it’s not really, but I do feel less anxious. Jeff the boat dweller also got vaccinated this weekend, before taking off on his big boating adventures, the 2021 edition.

Fourth, it’s another summer and I feel like the beginning of the end of the pandemic is in sight. Yes things are very bad right now in Ontario but words like these give me hope: “Countries that have combined a stay at home order with mass vaccinations have wiped out their third wave.” See Third State of Emergency. I’m hoping for a better summer than last, certainly a better fall 2021 than 2020, and a winter that sees us mostly out of the pandemic woods.

camping · cycling · fitness

Planning our bike packing trip with the bob trailer

Bob trailer

Bike packing is all the rage these days. In part, because in pandemic times, it’s a completely independent outdoors thing we can do. It also follows on the heels of the gravel bike trend since those bikes are perfect for mixed surface roads, camping, and carrying stuff.

I’ve done it in the past on rail trails, camping along the way, but it’s been a few years.

This summer we’re trying it again. To help with back country camping trips with our canoe and my bad knees we bought some lightweight camping gear that will also work well for bike packing.

Come June Sarah and I are heading out on the Simcoe Loop Trail: “The Simcoe County Loop Trail is a 160-kilometer loop that travels through nine municipalities, reaches three major bodies of water, including Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe, and Lake Couchiching. And, it is primarily on off-road, multi-use rail-trails! The route is flat, scenic and available as a multi-day tour.”

The plan is to park in Barrie and bike 40 km to Mara Park where we have a camping reservation

On Day 2 we’ll ride from Mara Park to Midland, 60 km ish where we’ve booked a bunkie.

And then on Day 3 it’s back to Barrie, 60 km.

On our gravel bikes with stuff we’re not that speedy–covering about 15-20 km/hr.

Long time readers will remember an earlier appearance of the bob trailer. Jeff and I used it with our road bikes on our biking holiday on Manitoulin Island. That time we didn’t camp and it was just used for clothes etc. This time we’ll be taking tent and sleeping bags etc. I’ll carry clothes etc in my bike panniers.

Do you do any bike packing? Any hints for us? Tell us your bike packing stories in the comments below.

Simcoe Trail booklet
cycling · fitness · training

Slow can be good, Sam reminds us

This post is a reminder to me (and others reading this post) that slow isn’t a bad thing, even if, or especially if, you also care about going fast. I’ve written before about recovery rides which are a specific sort of slow ride.

I’m mostly interested in performance related reasons to go slow but this week has also been a big week in the news about the health dangers of too much high intensity cardio. See Too Much High-Intensity Exercise May Be Bad for Your Health.

See also my past post Time to Go Slow.

The truth is that we need to mix it up, go slow sometimes, go fast at others. As I head outside on my road bike for the first time this week, here’s me reminding us both about that.

If Sales Are Slow… Print & Copy Factory Blog
Image description: A diamond shaped orange sign that reads “slow” with a picture of a snail on it.

Why Riding Slow Will Make You Faster

“As we have mentioned in an earlier article, you should focus your training around the polarised training concept. This involves making sure 80 per cent of your training is done at low intensity (slow) with 20 per cent of your training comprising high-intensity interval sessions. The key to the polarised training model is ensuring that your easy rides remain easy (slow). One of the most common mistakes the majority of amateur cyclists make is feeling that they need to ride hard on each session in order to make an improvement. They spend large amounts of time training in this heavy intensity domain (the sweet spot) as they are often too afraid to go slow.”

The Danger of Regular Big Efforts on Zwift

“The takeaway here is to manage and distribute your intensity correctly. Yes, these races are great to motivate and get you to push yourself. But be careful not to make these races too frequent. Over-training can take weeks to get over and in severe cases can take months or even years to recover fully from. Enjoy the these races occasionally but don’t throw away your chances of racing well in the real world by pushing too hard, too often in the current situation. Key tip: Keep it easy most of the time. A good rule of thumb is to keep 80 per cent of your sessions at lower intensity; and watch your performance improve.”

See also Why You Might Need to Do More Low-Intensity, Steady-State (LISS) Cardio.

How “normal people” can train like the worlds best endurance athletes | Stephen Seiler | TEDxArendal
cycling · fitness · Guest Post

Spring Solo Rides: Northward on the Katy Trail (Guest Post)

I scheduled a break for my students this week in the Syllabus, knowing how long the semester will be for everyone without a traditional Spring Break. While they’re watching short documentaries related to their class, I’m in an AirBnB in St. Charles, Missouri, along the storied Katy Trail, working on my book.

If you’ve read my previous entries for this blog, you know I usually cycle with my youngest, who loves distance riding, often when I am on a trip with him and my cycling spouse is not. But I’ve come to enjoy solo cycling every once in awhile so this week, I brought my bike.

And yes, this is the week that the trees are greening and the invasive bush honeysuckle is a bit welcome as one of the first plants on the forest floor to leaf out. The magnolias have bloomed, the occasional wildflower is out while more are hovering right on the edge, and the dogwoods and redbuds will bust out any day now.

And I, being unable to work every waking hour, have made space on nice days for some rides. If you’re ever looking for a trail-related getaway to the midwest, biking the length of the Katy Trail across Missouri and camping/catching hotels, or picking a town and radiating out in either direction, might be fun.

For me, I want just an hour or two on the trail, in the 10 to 20 mile range. Someone else might fancy a bigger bite of it, and be delighted by the way the scenery changes over the course of each day. The bits I rode were only slightly inclined and, by and large, pretty flat and fast, even on my comfort hybrid bike.

The entire 240 mile length of the Katy is one of the longest stretches of converted Rail To Trail in the US, built on part of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas/MKT, or Katy, Railroad. There are 26 trailheads along the way where one could park a vehicle and explore either direction. The trail surface is soft pea gravel, possibly even finer than that. I wouldn’t want to wipe out on it, but it’s pretty solidly packed in most spots and one only occasionally hits a bit that shifts out from under you. There are sturdy benches approximately every mile, some with lovely views of the Missouri River or surrounding woods and fields. This blog entry will be about my Northward venture from St. Charles on a stretch of the Katy.

If you’re setting out on the Katy from St. Charles, you’ll start somewhere along the Missouri Riverfront, probably at Frontier Park. There’s car parking nearby at the Lewis and Clark historical sites, or the strip of parking between the historic Main Street–brick surface, timber, colonial architecture, and all–and Frontier Park. The percentage of parked vehicles with bike racks is a good bit higher than most places, for good reason.

Going north from town (the direction behind me in this picture), you pass by some neat old warehouses and steel foundry buildings that have been converted into an arts centre, an indoor soccer facility, and the excellent climbing gym Climb So ILL; it started in southern Illinois just across the Mississippi from St. Louis. If you like climbing as well as cycling, it might be a good stop to add. Then you might notice numerous little trails off into the woods between the Katy and the Missouri River. These are lovely for a walk or even biking. But you might want to make sure you have a bike, and trail riding skills, ready for some light hills and rough trails. They’d be a cool oasis in mid-summer, I’m sure.

Not too far out of the city, you will pass a junkyard that is just waiting for you to engage in the world’s most exciting game of jenga. But in no time at all, the woods remain on the east between you and the Big Muddy AKA Missouri River, while bucolic stretches of flat Missouri farmland stretch into the distance.

After a short bit of sunny trail, straight as an arrow, you come to a winding bit that enters woods on both sides. Here, the trail surface is a bit softer, but still in pretty good shape. As you enter the wooded area, you may hear a woodpecker pecking, or frogs calling out for mates–as I was riding, the spring peepers and click toads were picking up steam.

Even in the woods, you’ll find benches with a view of the river, or looking back into the trees.

I snagged one up for a bit to watch the river pass. And such a lot of river there was!

I carried on about 5 1/2 miles out past the wooded section, on into the areas between fields on either side. This was when I really noticed the wind behind me and thought about pushing back against it on my return trip for even longer if I carried on out into the countryside. I got my scenic agriculture on, appreciated a cluster of silver silos and a red barn in the distance, and decided to turn around.

On my way back through the woods, the wind was fierce (you can hear it on the audio, along with a slight rub of my front brake calipers on an irregularity of the wheel), but this video gives you a sense of the wooded areas of the trail, running alongside Big Muddy, south back towards St. Charles.

All told, I went almost 11 miles–though you won’t be able to tell from my Runkeeper screenshot, below, since I only started it at the point at which I decided to turn around and head back, into the fierce headwind.

It was hard work and there’s just nothing quite like the feeling of moving through the world, putting the power down, on a bike. That’s true of any ride. But solo rides offer particular pleasures, especially for people like me–I am a short fat woman who sweats really well–who wonder how their exercise is being perceived by others but who love to move and feel our own strength.

On a solo ride, only you set the pace. You decide when to stop and explore a little hiking trail. Or whether to snag a bench. Or that you’ve gone far enough and would like to see that last batch of things now, from the other direction.

It doesn’t matter if you worry about keeping up with other people; there are no other people.

It doesn’t matter if a sight or sound strikes your fancy that you don’t want to make other people stop for; there are no other people.

It doesn’t matter if your outfit isn’t as fly or sparkly or spandexy or even as functional as other people’s in your group; there are no other people.

It doesn’t matter to other people how you breathe or how you jiggle or how you puff and lean going up a hill; there are no other people.

Every ride is a no-drop ride when you ride alone.

When I got back to St. Charles, I propped my bike up against a mighty tree outside the Bike Stop Cafe–food, beer, wine, bike equipment, and bike rentals including e-bikes–to sit at one of the well spaced-out tables, with an option to sit by a gas firepit. I took off my helmet to let the wind dry my sweat-damp hair, and had a cold soda. Not a bad way to end a good, short bike trip.

Stay tuned for the second installment of my short solo rides on the Katy Trail, headed Southward from Frontier Park, a few days later. Some more of the same, but also some different scenery and more miles and a tip on where to stop for snacks.

cycling · fitness

First time riding the Millennium Trail

Saturday was the first day of spring. And unlike those Canadian March weekends where it starts snowing again, this first day of spring actually felt like the first day of spring. It was warm, above 10 degrees and brilliantly sunny. Sarah and I got out the gravel bikes and took them to her family farm in Prince Edward County for a couple of days of riding. Also, hot tubbing. Also, leisurely breakfasts.

Look at this breakfast!

We decided to explore the Millennium Trail: “The Millennium Trail is a 40+-km multi-use trail perfect for hiking, biking or even horseback riding. Stretching from Carrying Place to Picton, backing onto farmers’ fields and vineyards, it’s a great way to experience the tranquility of The County.”

Day 1 we pedaled from Picton to Bloomfield for coffee (usually it’s for ice cream but Slickers is still closed for the season.) Total distance about 20 km. There were still some snowy bits on the trail but lots of people were out enjoying the sunshine.

Best of the ride? While riding my mother texted the family chat to say that she has a Thursday appointment to be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. Yay!

On Day 2 we rode from Wellington to Lake Consecon, through some beautiful wetlands on a brand new section of trail. Total distance about 30 km. From the website, “For summer 2020, the trail has been fully refurbished, including a section that glides past Slab Creek wetlands, a small jaunt from Stanner’s Vineyards, which is arguably the most beautiful part of the path: teeming with chirping birds of every flock and feather, toads and turtles, an occasional snake, and yes, even, beavers. It’s home to four herons nests and a vibrant, yet peaceful part of the trail.”

Look swans!

Photos of the Millennium Bike Trail, in Prince Edward County.

There was some ATV traffic on that section but everyone was patient and polite. I would definitely recommend this as a family friendly bike ride. It’s clearly marked where the path crosses roads and given that parts of the trail were rail line, there’s no significant elevation. Also there are frequent km marker signs on the trail so kids will know they’re making progress.

On this gorgeous weekend we met joggers, dog walkers, and other cyclists. So much sun and so many smiles. Everyone seemed so happy to be outside.

Even Cheddar knows spring is in the air. Look at that face!

Cheddar in the backyard of Sam’s house, sniffing in the sunshine. Google touched up this photo.

cycling · fitness · season transitions

Spring? Time to clean bikes

It’s not actually spring yet. But it sure feels like spring. It’s sunny and warm. High of 15 tomorrow. Even the mayor thinks we should take the day off.

Also, in my newsfeed, there are photos of us a year ago, cleaning our road bikes.

No photo description available.

Nat asked on Saturday in her post on seasonal maintenance, Do you do specific things this time of year?. And I think for me cleaning my bike is one of those things.

Normally during the summer I give my bike a quick clean after riding, but this of year, I go for something a bit more involved.

How about you? Are you getting ready to ride?

cycling · fitness · training · Zwift

Sam is recovery ridin’

Lately I’ve been trying to do some recovery rides on Zwift on the days after I race. The goal is to strike a balance between training, racing, and recovering.

What’s a recovery ride? “The purpose of a recovery ride is to flush out any toxins lingering in the muscles after a hard workout, and to keep the muscles supple prior to that all-important next training session.” From The Art of the Recovery Ride

The idea is to keep it short, no sprinting, no big climbs, and a nice relaxed pace (slower than feels comfortable even) and no big gears. Maximum 60 minutes, less than half of your FTP, 1-2 perceived exertion out of 10.

See 7 ways to nail your recovery rides: “If you’re training and/or racing, true recovery rides are an essential component of your plan. When you train hard you do damage—that’s part of the plan. Your workout breaks down your muscle, empties out your fuel stores, and generally taxes your metabolism above and beyond its status quo. When you recover, your body repairs the damage so you can come back stronger and ready for more. If you skip the recovery part, you’re cheating yourself out of the maximum return on your hard work.”

What about your ego geting in the way? If you’re worried about friends seeing the ride on Strava and thinking “wow, I had no idea she was that slow” then mark the ride as a recovery ride.

Don’t ride with friends with whom you’re competitive at all. Instead either ride or solo or ride with a much slower friend, possibly a small child.

A friend was talking the other day about how Zwift makes recovery rides hard. She wished there was a recovery ride option on Zwift that disabled all the sprint segments, QOMs, and leaderboards. Another friend says she rides on Zwift but watches something else while riding. It’s a good time for catching up on favourite shows and listening to audio books.

Coach Chris Carmichael writes, “If you think you’re going to have a hard time “keeping it in check” or your ego isn’t going to let that guy just ride by without giving chase, you can do the recovery spin on the trainer (where there will be no temptations). Or don’t suit up in your full cycling kit, or you could even ride a different bike. For some of our athletes who really struggle to keep their Recovery Rides as easy as they should be, we have them ride 20-30 minutes in street clothes on a beach cruiser. Anything to keep you in a more relaxed mindset. I know it may sound like a wasted ride, but your body needs these easy spin days to recover and get stronger, trust me, after incorporating a few recovery days a week into your schedule you’ll notice a big difference in your other rides!”

Maybe I’ll change out of my Zwift team kit and put away the Tron! I like my Women’s History month kit.

Women’s History Month rides and runs on Zwift. Here’s the kit.