Bike commuting for total beginners

Apparently it takes 6 weeks to form a habit. Well, I am 5 weeks into my bike commuting adventure so it’s pretty much a habit now, right?

First of all, I am not a biker. Yes I have a bike but it has been sitting unused in my house for the last 3ish years. It made a brief appearance last summer for some commuting but it was pretty much incompatible with marathon training. After being diagnosed with my stress response back in October I biked to work a couple of time but then winter happened. But now that spring has sprung I’m hoping to bike my butt to work at least twice a week.

My ride:

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I bought this bike a couple of years ago when I thought that I might want to start mountain biking. Well, it turns out that I much prefer being on two legs rather than two wheels when I am in the mountains. The bike itself is a pretty standard beginner mountain bike – although it has disc breaks which are totally awesome. The frame is pretty heavy (no carbon fiber here) and back in November my husband swapped out the bulky mountain bike tires for some smooth commuter tires. Honestly, I had no idea that (1) you could do this, and (2) that it would make such a huge difference. These new tires made the ride so much easier (big, bulky tires take more energy to travel along the road). He also put on a rear mud guard and we fitted it with some blinking front and rear lights.

Gear:

Besides the new lights and bike lock I added a couple of things to my wardrobe. The one major difference between running clothes and biking clothes is the need for wind-proofing. When I run, once I’m warm I know that I’m pretty much guaranteed to stay warm for the rest of my time outside. With biking you have to think about things like wind, speed and wind-speed. You can get pretty damn cold biking fast downhill on a cloudy day. This week I finally got to try out some wind-proof bike pants (amazing – and definitely worth buying) and am eagerly awaiting the delivery of my new Pearl Izumi biking jacket. I also got a biking-specific commute bag. It fits perfectly, has plenty of space and some added reflective panels.

th PZI01389_509462 Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 9.15.27 AM Now these additions are all pretty cool but I managed to bike in my running tights and jacket with a regular hiking day pack before I decided that I wanted to invest in some biking-specific clothing. You might notice that I don’t wear bike shoes and I don’t clip in. Mainly because that is terrifying and at heart I am a big scaredy-cat.

Traffic:

So how does a nervous rider come to terms with biking during rush hour? Easy: find the safest route and bike it. Luckily for me Salt Lake is a great biking city. There are a ton of recreational bikers on the roads for pretty much the whole year, so drivers are used to them. Most drivers – there are still those who get a little too close. FYI: you should give a biker 3 ft of clearance when you pass. Our mayor is also an avid biker so we have a ton of well marked bike lanes criss-crossing the city. For my commute I am mostly on quieter residential streets and bike lanes. The other trick is to take as much room as you need. If the edge of the road is not bike friendly don’t be afraid to take your space. With biking I feel that you have to be a little assertive. Your safety is the number one priority so don’t be afraid to take a longer route to get to your destination in one piece. I have a couple of intersections that are a little nervy – they involve crossing traffic for a left turn. If I don’t feel safe I’ll take a side road and double back to get across safely. But the main thing to do is just get out there and get used to being part of traffic. It does get easier.

Work:

I’m in an interesting position where my work attire is amazingly casual. I don’t have to look put together in any way. I throw a change of clothes in my bag (along with my lunch) and some makeup. My workplace has a shower (that is surprisingly nice) with lockers where I keep a towel plus shampoo/conditioner. I can have a quick shower and spend as much time on hair/make-up as I need to (usually 2 minutes max). We also have access to bike lockers inside the building for extra security. I still use a lock but it’s one less thing that I have to worry about.

Cardio:

Whenever I am injured my doctors always recommend low impact cardio. Swimming worked just fine in winter but once the weather gets nice I want to be outside. Biking gives me about 30 minutes in fresh air with just my thoughts, and lets me start the day chilled out and ready for whatever is waiting for me at the office. The ride itself is pretty tough. A little under 4 miles each way but all uphill in the morning. It feels like a pretty good workout but you can make it as hard as you want by switching up your gears.

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I’m not going to lie the first time I biked in I thought my heart was going to explode. I was in pretty good running shape but that didn’t seem to transfer over to biking especially when the steepest sections is right at my house. I was in my lowest possible gear for nearly the whole way in, and when I got off my bike my legs were incredibly wobbly. But like anything cardio-related it gets easier with time. I’m hoping that it will help with my running. My husband managed to complete his marathon training while biking to work everyday and he qualified for Boston. So then I should be able too?

Other points:

We are a little spoiled with weather in SLC. It’s a mountain desert so we don’t get a lot of precipitation making bike commuting a more pleasant experience. I’m not sure I could cope if I was still living in Ireland or Scotland. The other main bonus is that I’m no longer constrained by my bus time table. I can leave when I’m done! The bus is a great back-up because I still haven’t figured out how to change a flat. And our local buses all have devices on the front where you can load up your bike if you need it.

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I am signed up to take a bike maintenance class at REI next week so hopefully I can figure out what I’m doing then.

Any bikers out there?

Good karma

Being injured sucks. And it’s easy to wallow in self-pity and turn into a total Grumpy McGrumperson. My approach is to throw a little pity party, feel sad and frustrated – and then move on. Focus on what I can do – crosstraining – and what I need to do – lots of hip stretching – to stay healthy and sane. I also wanted to keep myself in the loop and experience a new part of the running community. So I volunteered.

I had my first race of the year scheduled for Saturday (and my first ever road 5K), but my physiotherapist suggested that I needed to take 2 weeks off running (and when she talks I listen) so I knew I wouldn’t be able to run. I decided I still wanted to be part of the event and emailed about volunteering. It turns out that race directors LOVE volunteers and I got an immediate reply and was told to report to the race at 7 AM on Saturday morning. I still picked up my race packet on Friday (if I am going to pay $25 for a mug you bet I’m going to go and pick that sucker up). I had registered for the entire 3 race series and also qualified for a $25 gift certificate for the running store that was hosting the races. How awesome is that?

Race day was beautiful -> 58F at 6.30 AM (this is not normal for February in Utah!) but just a little windy. I arrived and collected my volunteer shirt – it’s totally cool and is a Brooks tech shirt pretty similar to the one I picked up at Twin Cities last year. Plus volunteers also get a $10 gift certificate. Swag!

Volunteering sure pays off!

Volunteering sure pays off!

My job was to look after the post-race food and drinks. They had gotten a ton of free donut holes and hot chocolate from Dunkin donuts, plus some Nature Valley bars, oranges and a ton of bagels. We watched the runners head off and kept ourselves warm and away from the wind while they headed out for their 3.1 miles. The first man came in just a little under 18 mins and then we waited for the rest of the 200 or so other runners to cross the line. I’ve only race one 5K before and it was awful -> going out too fast and holding on (I think that’s how most people do it too?). And looking at the faces of the people as they finished – I was pretty glad that I didn’t have to run that morning. 5Ks are hard! We were all done by 9.40 AM and I headed to the gym for my own workout – 1 hour of strength and core work and then 1 hour on the bike (low resistance, high reps). Watching people give their all is definitely a great motivator to go and bring it at the gym! Although my glutes had a hissy fit and punished my with DOMS the next day.

I also managed to limit myself to one donut hole – mainly because I don’t really like donuts. I know this is a little controversial but I’m totally “meh” about them. Maybe I just haven’t met the right one yet?

You might notice my latest pair of shoes in my collage. I just started wearing my latest pair of Brooks PureCadence and wanted to get another pair (I like to have two pairs in rotation). I hit up the running store and got my gait analyzed. I am a neutral runner and asked to try on everything in the store. Well, I narrowed it down neutral shoes that work for someone with narrow feet (this can actually be a problem – especially if you need to buy ski boots!). I think I tried on at least 10 pairs ranging from 4-12 mm drops and minimal to maximal cushioning. Personally, I like to get a yearly check on my gait and see what’s new. I really liked the newest PureFlows but I felt that they were a little too similar to the PureCadence. Then it was between the Adidas Boost, Mizuno Wave Rider and Saucony Triumph ISO. After running on their treadmill I settled on the Sauconys – only a 8 mm drop (most traditional running shoes are 10-12 mm and my Brooks are 4 mm) but with lots of cushioning (but still felt surprisingly light). I’m thinking of using them as my long run shoe. Obviously, with my current calf strain they are sitting by my front door ready for their first trip outside. So look for a review sometime in March? April? May?

As for the calf strain…….It was still a little sore through Saturday morning. And to be honest I’m not sure if this was residual pain from the dry needling *SHUDDER* or my actual injury. Standing around by the donuts on Saturday morning seemed to aggravate it but it was fine after my gym session in the afternoon. Sunday I had my recovery swim followed by some soaking in the hot tub and was feeling good. I can still feel a tightness in my calf but it’s not painful. Plus, I’ve been attacking the huge knot in my calf with my torture stick. Ah the joys of being a runner!

Great Basin National Park

Hope everyone had a great weekend! I’ve finally caught up with everything after our camping trip. Although, it did end with an unexpected trip to Costco to get our tire patched after discovering a flat in the middle-of-nowhere Nevada. Lucky, J was a boy scout and had an air compressor in the car that saved the day. Bonus: Costco pizza for dinner.

This weekend we were at Great Basin National Park in Nevada – one of the least visited National Parks in the US. We left a little after lunchtime on Thursday, and arrived in time to grab a site in the fourth (!) camp are we tried.

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View from camp.

Great Basin is known for its great star-gazing, so after dinner we headed to a Ranger talk and some telescope viewing. It was super cool (but I am a science nerd). We saw craters on the moon, Mars, Saturn and a couple of galaxies. Plus, I finally figure out what the Big Dipper looks like, and we saw the Milky Way.

On Friday we had reservations for a 9AM tour of the Lehman Caves. You can only visit these caves as part of a ranger-guided tours and they are super cool (literally – it was 50 F down there).

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In the afternoon, we drove the scenic road up to the base of Wheeler Peak (second highest peak in Nevada). We hiked a loop to a couple of alpine lakes, and then up to a glacier (yes – in Nevada!) followed by a bristlecone pine area which had trees over 3000 years old. Perfect weather and great hiking (about 1500 ft total over 6 miles).

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Lake number one.

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Lake number two. That peak in the middle of the photo is Wheeler Peak – and our destination for Saturday morning.

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We even had to hike across a couple of feet of snow.

When we car camp we always bring our Dutch ovens. Dinner on the bottom – roast chicken and vegetables – and dessert on top – brownies.

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I also decided that I’ll have to comeback in winter to bring this home as our Christmas tree.

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Saturday was an early (5.15 AM) start. We wanted to hike up Wheeler Peak (13077 ft) and the weather forecast called for late morning thunderstorms. We began hiking a little after 6.40 AM and made it to the top by 8.45 AM. 2900 ft in a little over four miles. The last 1.5 miles were tough – small, steep and rocky switchbacks. The view from the top was pretty cool.

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They even had a little walled area on the summit for protection from the wind. And a mailbox where you could sign in.

We celebrated our hike (a little over 4.5 hours total) with some ice cream and a campfire nap (for me). Later in the afternoon I did a short (3.65 mile) run around our camp to figure out our Sunday morning trail run. Man, it was so hilly – 674 ft elevation change. But afterwards I got to try out our latest purchase ($10 on Amazon) and totally amazing.

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The next morning, J and I decided to go on a trail run. After our hike up Wheeler Peak and my run around camp this was not the smartest idea I’ve ever had. I managed to run the first mile (in 13.45 mins) and then it got seriously hard. I wanted to stop and had to have a serious talk with myself to keep going. My legs felt the heaviest they’ve ever been. The first 3.5 miles gained 1900 ft, and I had to walk for a lot of miles 2 and 3 (average pace 17-18 minutes). But I kept thinking to myself – this is probably how I’ll feel at the end of my marathon so it’s good to get the practice in now. Ha!

We finally reached the top (following along Baker Creek), and emerged into some beautiful (and flat) meadows. We saw three people at the very start but basically had the woods to ourselves. Then the downhill began – and it was steep. But running in this park (after finishing with all the climbing) was exhilarating! 6.35 miles in a little under 90 minutes. My slowest run ever but one of my favorites. And I managed to remain upright for the whole run (with only three close calls).

We got back to camp and rinsed off with our camp shower before packing up and discovering our flat tire. But we made it back to SLC in one piece except for our burnt out quads!

Anyone else encounter snow this weekend? Hardest hike/trail run you’ve ever done?

Day 51 – Awesome mail!

Look what arrived! I somehow managed to survive one week without my Garmin data. I know. It was tough! But now I’m back in the game. Interesting fact, the first half of my 10 K (last time I’ll mention it I promise) had an elevation gain of 601 ft! Thanks Garmin for confirming why that hill sucked so much.

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These guys also arrived. $59 from running warehouse. Pretty! They are going to stay in the box until marathon training starts.

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Having a boyfriend who is training for a marathon means stuff like this arrives in your house from time to time.

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Monday is fast becoming leftover day.

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Last night our friend B came over after work. She is our team captain for our Hood to Coast Relay. We talked about our provisional plans for our race. I’m so excited for this race!

Today is an active rest day. Early morning strength training. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except our downstairs neighbors for some reason decided that they needed to have a loud conversation at 5 AM. I know I get up early but I like to get as much as sleep as I can.  And who can have such a lengthy conversation at that time of the morning. I can usually grunt yes or no and maybe string a sentence together by 7 AM.