Returning to Biking Home from Work

It’s been a while since I’ve biked home from work: April 2011, to be precise. That was when I used to live in Arlington, and while it was a convoluted route (due to a general lack of bike-friendly routes in McLean) it wasn’t too bad. Recently I decided it was time to try and bring that option back on the table, so after a lot of scouring of maps and checking out some areas in person, I found a method to get me from McLean into downtown DC in one piece. (Getting from there to home has many options.)

Biking Home

On the whole, it wasn’t a bad route, a little over 19 miles. There were only three parts where I found myself audibly groaning:

  • Within the first quarter mile, the sidewalk/path used to get out of downtown McLean safely became completely overgrown with plants. I had to go extra slow because it was like being in some sort of awful movie set in a jungle. Getting hit in the face with mammoth weeds, no thank you.
  • For the last little stretch in Virginia, there’s a route specifically for bikes to get down from the Military Road area to Chain Bridge. It’s probably a 60 degree incline. Maybe more. Not for the faint of heart. Fortunately it’s also very small. Next time I may actually walk my bike down it.
  • Finally, I made the decision to cut across the National Mall and then go home on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, instead of just hopping up the Rock Creek Park path to Blagden and then heading home that way. So many children on the Mall. So many school groups. All of them hogging all available points of egress. Next time I’m skipping the Mall.

I’d like to keep doing this once a week until the weather gets to be too hot. It’s a good way to get some extra exercise, and I need to start biking more often. For now, this will do.

67 and Fitter Than Me

Dan Kois’s article “Tour de Gramps” — in which the author tries to keep up with his 67-year old father on a bike trip up a mountain in France — has in many ways every element I ask for in order to grab my attention. So if you need a bit of a lure to read this article (you should, you should), a quick rundown.

Kois doesn’t present himself as a hero who can just blast through this experience. Exercise when you push yourself is a struggle; if it’s easy, you’re not giving it that extra oomph. His descriptions of inwardly dying as he goes up Mont Ventoux are funny, but they’re also remarkably accurate. The deal-making, the game-playing, the obsessive counting of the distance to get to a pre-determined break.

He eats a lot of pain au chocolat while biking up this mountain. Honestly, this really just made me hungry more than anything else because breakfast has worn off and it’s too early for lunch. But mmmmm, chocolate bread.

He gets Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville album stuck in his head as a distraction. I feel like anyone who’s done an endurance sport understands this phenomenon all too well. (“Oh no, you’re not going to believe what’s stuck in my head now,” is a familiar chorus with my running buddies.) But it’s not just any music, it’s Liz Phair’s first (and unfortunately, best) album. It doesn’t matter that it’s now in my head too, I cheered.

Then and NowBest of all, though? It’s a reminder that it’s never too late to start exercising, never too late to make a big change. I was 27 when I gave distance running a whirl, and I remember even then a lot of people (including a certain family member) telling me that I shouldn’t even try it. I was fat, and I hadn’t done any sort of real exercise in years. 14 years later, I’m still going. Kois’s father was 50 (and also out of shape/overweight) when he took up cycling. At the age of 67, he’s powering up a mountain on his bike and in great shape. That’s a role model to look up to.

Anyway, it’s a fun article, and something that deserves more than a one-sentence “check it out” on Facebook. So. Check it out.

(Also, I need some inspiration to get back into the pool. I’ve added the cycling back into the schedule but it’s always squeezing in the third part of a triathlon that becomes a struggle. Sometimes it’s cycling, sometimes it’s swimming. Get it moving, Greg.)

Not Doing So Well, In Terms of Shoes

I think I pissed off the patron saint of athletic shoes.

About a week and a half ago, I went to buy a pair of cycling shoes at a local bike store. When I did so, I also asked for a pair of cleats. “I want to use these at spinning class,” I said, “so all I need is a pair of cleats to go with these.”

“No problem,” the clerk said. “A pair of cleats for spin class.” It wasn’t until I got home that I looked at what he sold me, and it was in fact a pair of pedals (that came with cleats), which cost $70 more. (And also explained why the overall price was higher than I thought.) I ended up returning the entire purchase (the manager was extremely apologetic the second I explained what happened), and I’ll try another store in the area this week to get my spin shoes and cleats.

Later in the week, I called up a (different) local running store and asked if they had my running shoes in stock. Because I need to get them in a 2E wide size, they sometimes don’t have them in and need to order them. They didn’t, but they said they’d call the other stores in the chain and get back to me. After about 20 minutes, they called back and nope, didn’t have them in, but they’d be glad to order a pair for me when their weekly order to the distributor went in on Monday.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning (today), I get a call from the running store. A different employee called to say that because this was a type of shoe they didn’t carry, they wouldn’t order it until I came in and paid a $20 deposit. And in my head, I’m thinking, “…which means the order won’t go in until next week. Great.”

So, I told them that meant I wouldn’t have the shoes in time, and to not bother. Went online and in less than 2 minutes I have a pair of the shoes heading my way and they’ll be here by Thursday, because I no longer have time to play these sorts of games.

None the less, I can’t help but feel that I have pissed someone off. If my next attempt to get my spin class shoes goes equally awry, I will get the hint. (I do have four pairs of my old running shoes in the trunk of my car right now to drop off at the recycling bin at one of the local shoe places. Maybe I need to sacrifice one of them?)

Goals for Sunday’s Race

This Sunday I’m tackling the Columbia Triathlon up in Maryland (.93mi swim, 25.4mi bike, 6.2mi run) and I have decided that I should have some goals in mind throughout the weekend. Some are carry-overs from running in general, but there’s no reason why they can’t apply too. So here we go…

  1. Finish. Always the #1 goal of a race.
  2. Don’t throw up. Not that I am planning to. But that’s always a very important rule to put out there. I’ve made it 10 years now without breaking this one.
  3. Maximum number of times to get kicked in the head during the swim: 2. I did get kicked in the head when I did a super-sprint tri last year, but it was also only about a quarter of the distance. So if I can limit the number of head-kicks to two, well, that will be a victory.
  4. Don’t swear too much during the bike course. I cannot promise this goal will be met.
  5. Remember to take OFF the bike helmet before I start the run. There are some awfully funny pictures out there of people who forgot. I would like to not be one of those people forever immortalized.
  6. Find winning lottery ticket. Oh, wait, I’m sorry, I thought this was the “pipe dreams” list. Never mind.

We shall see how many of these actually happen. Famous last words, I’m sure.

Nothing Panned Out As I Planned

Huh. Today, so far, all my carefully laid plans have suffered a partial collapse. Fortunately, nothing has turned out badly.

First up, I went out to run (depending on how you look at it) either a brick or a duathlon. The plan was that I’d run two miles to the gym, get there right as spinning class would begin and do that for 45 minutes, then run two more miles back home. Except when I got to the gym… the spinning instructor didn’t show up. Now, to be fair, this is also the spinning instructor who’s been teaching classes while 8 1/2 months pregnant. (After next week the gym is closed until Labor Day so she’s been trying to make it all the way there.) So her not showing up and with no call or e-mail makes us think that, well, perhaps something more important was going on.

We made the best we could of the situation, though, and pedaled away while someone called out suggestions on what to do. Unfortunately there was no music (and I thought it’d be rude to pull on my iPod) so the gym found a CD and put that on, which consisted of 20 minues of the worst rap music I’ve ever heard. When it ran out, no one suggested it go back on. And afterwards, I got back out there and ran the rest of the route home.

Next, I was heading to work and made the mistake of thinking how nice it was to leave a little early so I can use the Memorial Circle shortcut (since the cross-traffic is blocked until just before 9am), and how great it was that Congress was out of session because traffic was so light. And of course, I zipped around the far side of the circle, about to pull onto the GW Parkway… and it was completely backed up. So badly I actually couldn’t even make it onto the Parkway. But, that meant I was able to easily head back to Route 50 and go into work the long way. And hey, only 10 minutes were wasted in the end.

Finally, the plan for lunch today (part of why I’d done the extra exercise) was to go to Elevation Burger and get a delicious cheeseburger and fries. Mmmmm. Except the main planner suddenly couldn’t go, and it didn’t seem right to go without her. Soooo, lunch was found elsewhere and it was good too.

I think it’s just one of those days, where nothing panned out as I planned. At least the alternatives haven’t been too bad. But I would at least like something to go right and like I’d initially wanted. It does make me almost afraid to try and head over after work to the Crate & Barrel outlet (to exchange two chipped pieces that I received as a gift, and are now only available there), though. I would like to not only be able to exchange them, but get some more of the plates and bowls while they’re still available. Fate, go pick on someone else for a while.

14.06 Triathlon

I’d wanted to give triathlons a try for a while now, but it never seemed to line up. My plan had been to tackle one this spring (and train over the winter), but missing the Philadelphia Marathon and picking a replacement in the spring meant that triathlons got pushed off to one side. Still, I’ve been going to lap swimming for a few months now, and I hit spinning class often enough that when Tri It Now’s 14.06 triathlon came around, I decided… why not? It’s just under the distance for a full sprint triathlon; the numbers for this were chosen because it’s exactly 1/10th the length of an Ironman Triathlon. (14.06 miles instead of 140.6 seems so much more reasonable.) Julie also signed up, and off we went!

#210 [365portraits: 193]When we signed up, you had to give them your approximate time for the swim portion of the race. I’d put down a ridiculously slow number, and then revised it earlier this week to a 9:45. Since the swim portion was in a pool, we would be arranged by our times there, with a new swimmer entering the pool every five seconds, and placed me at #210. It wasn’t until I was sitting on the edge of the pool (with 10 seconds to go) that I started feeling nervous. Fortunately, by that point it’s too late now. Just like a roller coaster, I got the nudge and that was it, I was in the pool. I did good until the third length of the pool, at which point I swam into a lane divider (oops) and then sucked down a lot of water. Fortunately, I didn’t drown, just flailed around for a couple of seconds and coughed. But then I was back off, and as the swim progressed I passed about a dozen people, which felt really good. (And got passed by two, one during my “try not to drown” moment.) When I pulled myself out of the pool, I looked at my watch and it was just at 8:52. Well, no wonder I was passing people!

From there I walked out to the bikes (others were running once they were outside, but I still had a bit of water in my lungs and was trying to get rid of it) and got ready as fast as I could. I’m sure the official splits will be different because the timing mat was outside and not at the edge of the pool, but by my watch between getting out of the pool and onto the bike and riding, it took 4 minutes and 45 seconds. Something to work on for the future! I know I was moving a little slow until I saw #211 (who had passed me during the choking fit) leave and suddenly I was like, “I need to get going!” And then, the biking. My weakest portion.

I knew going into this what I’d have to work on; being more confident on the bike. Our bike course was three loops, and each loop had four u-turns. And with each u-turn, I had to slooooow down and go through it carefully. Once I was back in a straight-away (or just a 90-degree turn) I was fine, but those u-turns killed me every time. I got passed a bunch in the first loop, which didn’t surprise me because those who were stronger in biking versus swimming could use this opportunity to clobber me. By the second loop, though, the number of people passing me dropped a lot, and in the third loop I even started passing some other people. (To be fair, probably people who weren’t on their third loop. But still, it felt good.)

My second transition was much faster, just 57 seconds, but then again all I had to do at that point was get my bike back to its stand, take off my helmet, and start running. But oh, what an experience that was. I now understand why everyone has said that your legs feel funny when switching from biking to running. Oof! Not a good start, especially since the sun was pretty strong at that point and there was almost no shade on the course. I ended up taking two short walk breaks (about 15 seconds each) and at the time I was annoyed at myself. But I was beat, and I felt like I was crawling. Imagine my surprise when I finished and discovered I’d run the 2.62 miles in just 21:58. A good pace for me (8:23min/mile) considering I’d just swum and ran. I thought I was moving much slower than that.

I also saw Julie a couple of times on the course; we waited together until it was time for our numbers to start, and I saw her on her first bike loop when I was just starting my second. Once I was done, I got to cheer her on in the transition area as well as early on in the run, so that was a lot of fun.

Will I do another one? Absolutely! But more biking is definitely required before I do so. And more practice bricks. As an introduction, it went pretty well.

Busy x 1000

Didn’t I make some sort of (very silly) pronouncement that July was going to be less busy? Oh, foolish Greg.

On the bright side, though, some things are starting to line up. My swim class is going really well—we had three 25yd sprints at the end of Monday’s session and I even won all three, which was a nice little ego boost. Even better, arriving in the mail today were my very own prescription swimming goggles! Let evildoers beware!

 AquaGreg [365portraits: 190]

Oh wait, that has nothing to do with evildoers. But it’s been a week for exercise equipment since I also have a new bicycle, which I loooooooove. It’s a hybrid, a 2009 Trek 7.3 FX. I figure it’ll be good for both biking around Arlington as well as for exercise purposes. And even better, I could (in theory) take the bus in with the bike and ride the 8-9 mile route home, which isn’t as bad in warm weather as running.

New Bike [365portraits: 186]

My friend Felicity’s in town this week for a convention, and it was great to go out to dinner with her and Charlie on Tuesday night. I often only see her once a year, so having her in town is a lot of fun; we’re going to do something or another on Sunday to be determined.

Tonight is deinstallation at Artomatic; it’ll be sad taking my stuff down, but I was also there a lot less this year because I was so busy with everything else. Then I’ve got to get cracking on several writing projects all due in the new few weeks. Eek. Hopefully once those are done, though, I can have a little bit of chill in my life… Maybe…

Spinning My Wheels

Spin Spin SpinI can always tell when I haven’t been to spinning class in a couple of weeks—it seriously kicks my ass afterwards. I can feel it in my quads in particular, they’re feeling like someone just hit them with a lead pipe. It’s good for me, though; in 2005 and 2006, my quads were killing me starting around mile 18 of my marathon, and in 2007? No quad problems at all. Between that and Fred’s stretching routines, I’m much better off.

I think the last spinning class I actually made it to was in late December; since then, the Wednesday classes have been booked solid to the point that I showed up half an hour early a week ago and still didn’t make it in. I’d heard that the Tuesday night classes aren’t quite so full, though, so I made it over today. Sure enough, half an hour early and instead of the class already being booked, no one else had even come to get a pass yet.

The funny thing, it’s technically an “Introduction to Spinning” class but I think all but two people were regulars from Wednesday nights. I’ll miss going to Theresa’s classes (although she’ll be out for a little while, she’s having knee surgery very soon) but for now, this will be a nice substitute.

And as an added bonus, this means soon I can also go back to my “Spinning Class Dinner Reward” of a quarter chicken and some rice from Pio Pio. Mmmm, Peruvian rotisserie chicken. So, so, so tasty.

How to get out of the last five minutes of spinning class.

It’s a little funny; just yesterday I was looking at my tally for miles run in January 2007 and thinking that 35 miles was for me a pretty puny total, and that February needed to up the total a bit. Well, steps have now been taken to make sure the February total is quite different than January’s.

I was at my spinning class tonight, we were almost at the end, and Theresa (our instructor) told everyone to try and pick up the pace a little more for the next 15 seconds. And I was pedaling and thought to myself that I could surely push it a little harder, really knock it out. It was right about then that I felt it. The return of the knot in my left calf muscle that originally plagued me back at the end of May 2006.

Oh, great.

It’s my own fault, really. I’d gotten a little slack about stretching my achilles tendons every day (which is what appears to have caused the problem in the first place) and had gotten to the point where I was only stretching them on days that I actually exercised. Not so smart, it seems. The end result is a nasty knot in the center of my back calf muscle, one that’s so incredibly tight that when it happens, everything is over. Period.

So I stopped pedaling instantly, and Theresa came over to see if I was ok. “Cramp?” she asked and I nodded. After a minute or two, I managed to get down off the bike, and hobble over to the big wooden platform that her bike sits on and sit down on it. Except now I was feeling dizzy (a new one). I tried putting my head down in my hands, but that wasn’t helping. And suddenly I had a major fear. I was suddenly feeling like I might throw up. Oh no.

The nearest trash can was about 50 feet away, and that’s when I did something very stupid and was clearly the dizziness talking—I tried to walk over to it. I was almost all the way over there when apparently I suddenly wove to one side and fell over, clocking my head on the corner of the wall as I did so.

Dammit, dammit, dammit.

Yes, it hurts.A second later four or five people were clustered around me, putting a towel under my head, arguing if my arms should be over my head or not, trying to get me to eat something, and so on. And if there’s one thing I really hate when I’m feeling vulnerable, it’s seeing other people see me that way. (There’s something about that look of pity that just gets me.) An employee of the rec center came over with some gauze and ice, which is what it took for me to register that I was actually bleeding from where my head hit the wall. And of course, my calf still hurt like the dickens.

Finally all the commotion settled down, and I was feeling better enough that I could go home. Fortunately I don’t have a stick shift, and Roger followed me home to make sure I made it in one piece, as well as helping me getting my stuff out of the car. Meanwhile, all I could think is that now I’ll be “the guy who fell over” in that class for the rest of eternity. On the plus side, it might have scared off some of the new people and since the class actually filled up today that could only be a good thing, right?

Meanwhile, the plan is (in addition to getting back into daily stretching—a painful lesson to learn) to take several weeks off of running. At this point I’m not planning on doing so until after I get back from an upcoming trip (February 15-20), and even then it might be longer, we’ll see. This also means that I will probably have to scrub one or both of my spring races that I had planned, we’ll see. (As I told Roger, if I tell people now that it’s a possibility then there’s a greater chance that I will do the smart thing down the road. Mentioning something in public helps lock me into a plan of action.)

There must have been an easier way to get my Tuesday and Thursday nights (plus Saturday mornings) free for the next couple of weeks, though.