In case I don’t get to write more about it, this was a fabulous run. Point-to-point, late afternoon run along the ridgelines and meadows of the Bluff Mountain Trail, part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in northweatern NC. We camped at Doughton Park and this supremely runnable trail weaves along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was warm and the gusts of wind rippled the meadow grass in waves.
The MST 50K was at the end of March, enough time lapsing that the details are becoming fuzzy—which might bring some refreshing clarity and conciseness to my overly long race reports. Here’s what I remember:
I was originally signed for the 12 miler, which I ran last year, but after finishing Uwharrie 20 (another race report that alas, will not be written) without any significant problems, I decided it was time to cross off the DNF from 2013 and finish this 50K. My only regret was missing out on running with some of my favorite running buddies who were running the 12 miler.
TRAINING (OR NOT)
I had to make the distance switch a month before the race. February turned out to be the nastiest month here in Raleigh, with nearly 2 weeks of school out for snow and ice as well as the coldest day on record. So my training wasn’t all that great, but then again, it never is, so I’ve mostly stopped worrying about it. Perfect training will never be my top priority, so I’ll just thrash out there with the weekend warriors and have a good time. I win every time!
This was my second 50K. The first was Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock last fall, a more technical point-to-point trail race with a lot more climbing. I finished that race in 6:15 and felt great. Despite my lackluster training (see above) I thought I could break 6 hours on an easier course.
The Falls Lake section of the MST is deceptively difficult. It lulls you into a contented rhythm of short ups and downs as you run from Blue Jay Point County Park to the Falls Lake Dam, without any long climbs that force you to walk. This is how I ran the first half without any walking, arriving at the dam in 2:44, with a glance at my watch and an “uh-oh” in my head. Not that you could tell—I was having a great time. I dropped a layer and headed back out quickly, where I saw Jon, Will and Joanna finishing the 12, but missed Steve and Danny who must have been right behind me.
Complacency on the way out meant chatting and running too fast in the company of other runners. This is what makes trail races great, though. The downside was that I felt crummy after the turnaround. Fortunately Will’s brother John caught up with me and we ran together for a couple of miles, but not before being passed by several women. I take pride in running a strong back half, so I was crabby that I couldn’t run faster.
FINISH LINE EXCITEMENT
Whoever thinks that mid-pack finishers aren’t competitive, or that 50K finishes are as boring and painful to watch as jury selection, should have witnessed the end this race. I started feeling better about five miles out from the finish and picked up my pace, reeling in a few people along the way. One woman, Katie, whom I’d enjoyed running with near the beginning, was well ahead of me at the turnaround. I was surprised to see her again as she lamented that she should have reigned in her pace and was cooked. “Well, we’re only a couple of miles out—let’s get this done” I said, and she tucked in behind me, pushing me to run harder and harder as we approached the finish. I could see we were rapidly closing the gap with the two women ahead of us but wasn’t sure if we had enough distance left to catch them.
Incredibly, the 4th through 7th place women finished within 30 seconds of each other. I was disappointed to be at the back of that group, 7th female of 23. Katie sprinted by me as we headed into the final stretch, nearly catching the woman in front of her. Argh, I hated being out-sprinted! Later, I saw that a) she was in her 20s, and b) I had pulled off a great 50K PR with 5:46. So I got over it.
PEEPS RIDE AGAIN
Once again, I was proud of our Peep team results! Our team (where they count your best-5 finishes by gender) placed 3rd behind the Carolina Godiva Track Club and the TrailHeads. Peeps rock!
I was thrilled to see Andrew and the boys cheering me at the finish, along with my friend Steve. The finish line area was an open and grassy field, with lots of great food and a relaxed atmosphere to chill out and trade race stories. Thanks to Bull City Running for yet another stellar trail race!
Week 3 of bike commuting went well. Instead of making up details I can’t remember, I’ll just say that spring had sprung, more people were out on the greenway, and I had a few close calls. One handy piece of gear is my bike bell—I ring it well behind pedestrians, in the hopes of a) alerting them that I’m passing without scaring them, and b) not being overly obnoxious. It seems to work well.
I did have a toddler dart out right in front of me, but in screeching to a halt to miss him, and pausing for some well-timed Lamaze breathing exercises, I spotted a few bloodroot flowers in an unlikely place. I’ll chalk that up to a win–and I didn’t hit the kid, either. Now for some pictures of my commute in full spring mode, so you can see that this bike commuting thing has some great benefits.
I made it 3 weeks before abruptly stopping my experiment after a week of rain, followed by a week of work travel, followed by the end of semester insanity, followed by more work travel.
I know. I’m disappointed too. It came down to time and I didn’t seem to have any to spare. I do at least think, constantly, about riding my bike into work every single time I drive in. Instead of zoning out on the Beltline, I look for the places where you can see the greenway to see if others were out riding. On nice days, I feel a pang of jealousy when I spot fellow bike commuters.
I work from home much of the summer, since all my students are working doing internships and taking my class remotely, but I do hope to get back in the swing now that I have less time pressure.
In the meantime, it was a good way to break back into riding bikes as I readied myself for the next challenge, the 160 mile Tour de Cure.
Sunday night/Monday morning. This bike commuting takes a hell of a lot of planning, which admittedly is not my forte. First, I have to check the weather forecast on Sunday night and look at my weekly schedule to see which days will work best for my commute. Mondays are out, at least for now, because I teach mid-morning and don’t want to risk a flat tire making me late; I get Simon on the bus by 8:30. Looks like Wednesday and Friday are the best possibilities.
Monday I’m nearly late for work anyway because I’m getting all my stuff together. It feels like I carry less stuff on a 3 day business trip. Then, I hide it all around my office so it doesn’t look like Andrew kicked me out of the house.
Wednesday is commute day this week. Inwardly, I groan a little. My quads are sore. I had a tough 19 mile run at Umstead on Saturday, where I ran too fast (then came home and found out I should have dropped the mileage since the 50K is two weeks away, not three). Tuesday morning I did hill repeats with the Peeps and my legs were still sore, even though I took it easy.
Then, I tested out the family road bike Tuesday night after work. It rode like butter. Smooth and fast. It was awesome! Diane rode with me and gave me some great tips as we cruised around North Raleigh, and I had a chance to practice my shifting. But the soreness deepened, enough for me to put on compression tights and wear them to bed!
I was a little stressed getting everything together—I really wanted to attend the 9:00 meeting with the Dean, faculty and staff of the College to hear about the decision not to sell the Hofmann Forest. I didn’t get out the door until 7:40, forgot water, and hadn’t tested my 22 year old REI Novara panniers. My heel hit them on every upstroke. On the way home, I remembered that they are left- and right-specific, so once I put it on the right side, the cut-away portion was perfect [duh].
I knew the temps had dropped overnight, but 40s seemed cold. I wore ¾ length compression tights, a fleecy running shirt, my light windbreaker and my bright orange running vest. I wore a buff under my helmet to keep my ears warm, and my warmest running gloves. That seemed like a good combination; I arrived at campus in an hour and 7 minutes without feeling either too sweaty or chilled. I slid into the College meeting in plenty of time.
I’m starving by 10:15. Morning bike + long distance run training will do that to you. My lunch was gone by 10:30; my afternoon snack followed at 11:32.
The forestry seminar (which was excellent) finished late and didn’t hit the road until after 5:00. It was time to see what a rush hour commute was like on bicycle. The most distracted drivers are near NC State, which is scary because it also has the most pedestrians and cyclists. But, I’m not on the road for too long before I hit the greenway. It was cool to see how many people are out after work using the greenway system for exercise—Shelley Lake being the most popular, of course.
Riding north after I passed Shelley Lake, I saw a familiar face—a fellow bike commuter! I’d seen him on my way in that morning. I grinned and waved at the older, serious-looking Asian man, who was riding purposefully. No acknowledgment. Is there a secret handshake I was missing? Maybe just a knowing nod next time? Newbie problems.
I arrived home feeling tired but mentally refreshed—I really enjoyed the commute time to think and unpack my workday.
WEEK 2: one road ride, one commute, about 46 miles.
- Planning really is key if you are committing to ride in. This week, both Wednesday and Friday looked like good weather days. With an early-ish important meeting on Wednesday, I waffled, thinking I could drive in and ride in on Friday. It ended up raining both Thursday and Friday. Go when you can.
- My old bike bags worked great! Far superior to the sling bag. I may bring both and that way not have to bother with storing clothes at work.
- My Specialized Crossroads hybrid was just as good as riding Andrew’s mountain bike with road tires. I would not chance riding the road bike on the greenways–too rough in many places.
Week 1, Day 1. [For the back story on my idea to give bike commuting a try, read this first.]
I’m not organized—shocker—because on Sunday night I realize that Monday is really the best weather day for riding to work.
As I scramble around trying to think of what I might need, Andrew helps me by getting my old hybrid out and dusting it off, oiling everything, and pumping up the tires, only to discover that it has a flat.
Plan B: I ride Andrew’s mountain bike with road tires. I stuff some clothes, my laptop, wallet and phone into a sling bag, designed to wear over one shoulder. It is uncomfortable and heavy. Whatever. I don’t need another reason to bail. Get out the door.
½ mile: Stop because the seat is too low.
1.2 miles: Pants leg gets stuck in the sprocket, stopping the bike abruptly. I hike it up over my knee.
2.5 miles: I’m whizzing down the hill on Sawmill and can’t believe how quickly the momentum stops once I reach the steep uphill at the bottom.
3 miles: I reach the Mine Creek East Greenway at Longstreet. It’s all greenway from here, which is totally awesome.
4.7 miles: I decide to go clockwise around Shelley Lake on the Shelley Lake Greenway, then hit the Ironwood Greenway down to Crabtree Valley Mall. This section is bumpy but flat and I am flying!
7.9 miles: I cross under Highway 70 near Crabtree Valley Mall and pick up the House Creek Greenway.
8.4 miles: Smugly, I watch traffic at a standstill on Interstate 440 as I cruise by on the quiet, lovely, and unobstructed House Creek Greenway. Suckas!
8.6 miles: I hit the first big hill on House Creek. My smugness evaporates; my sweat unfortunately does not.
10.6 miles: House Creek Greenway blessedly ends at the top of another giant hill. Turn left on Reedy Creek Greenway toward Meredith College (away from the Art Museum). More hills. It sure ain’t Kansas, Toto.
12.3 miles: Panting, I ride past Meredith College to Hillsborough Street. The Reedy Creek section is hilly, too.
13.3 miles: I arrive at Jordan Hall after an hour and 8 minutes, feeling pretty awesome. If I could just bike ONE way, this would be great.
However, it doesn’t work that way, so after I finish up my last bit of work, I pack up and head home, giving myself plenty of time. I thought it would be harder (and more uphill) going back, but it’s pretty balanced.
Here’s the thing: it was awesome. It was fun! It felt like cheating—sneaking in a bike ride while I was on my way to work. Also, doing something fun and getting to call it a workout. It reminded me of the freedom I first felt when I bought that pink Huffy. And, it made me feel closer to Suzie, who never dropped her habit of biking everywhere. I found myself smiling all day. I will definitely look for ways to do this regularly.
Week 1, Day 2. Not a commute to State College–biked to coffee shop to meet a friend; about 5 miles round-trip. I would normally allow 10 minutes to drive there, so I left 5 minutes early. Totally doable and I found myself wondering, how could I ever have thought that this was too much time or trouble?
I was on Leadmine Rd., which has light traffic and is four lanes, when a guy in a pickup truck honked, startling me as he passed. He pulled into the next gas station and I turned in next to him. I was livid. I asked why he honked at me and he said I should have been on the sidewalk. Oh NO, I practically shouted. I gave him a short lecture about NC vehicle law and told him he should show some consideration next time. He doggedly repeated his statement about sidewalks. He wasn’t a cyclist hater—and I know they’re out there—but is rather a cluelessly inconsiderate person who beeps at cyclists habitually without thinking about the consequences. Maybe our encounter will make him think twice before doing it again. Probably not.
Next time I’ll also try waving my arms less.
WEEK 1: 1 commute, 1 errand. Total miles 31.
1. Wear shorts or tights, or carry a rubber band for your pants.
2. Try something different from the sling bag.
3. Stuff to leave at work (for now): washcloth, towel, deodorant, one complete work outfit, shoes, snacks.
When I was in high school, I rode my bike everywhere. I had saved for and purchased a pink-and-gray Huffy 10-speed for about eighty dollars. I loved that bike. In addition to riding it 2 miles each way to school most days, I often took weekend excursions with my friend Suzie. We had a Monmouth County map, a few favorite destinations, and a host of delis along the way for re-fueling (Snickers bars). Of course there were no cell phones, but we always carried a patch kit and a couple of dimes for pay phones in case of emergency. Those were the days!
College wasn’t much different—I didn’t have or need a car there. I rode less frequently, but still didn’t think there was anything unusual about hopping on my bike for routine errands. When Andrew and I graduated from South Carolina, we’d been dating less than a year, and I’d replaced by battered and vandalized Huffy with a Specialized Crossroads Cruz. We took our bikes to Europe for four months, rode about 1400 miles from London to Genoa, and fell in love.
Life has changed. Now we live in the suburban wilds of North Raleigh. I drive my Civic nearly 20K miles a year. And I rarely think about hopping in the car—to go to the grocery store, to meet friends for a run, to go to the YMCA, to shuttle kids, to eat out—most trips less than 2 miles. Sometime after college (and after I got my first car), I fell out of the habit of riding everywhere. It seems like too much trouble, and as with most people who have complex lives (mine includes work, business, kids, activities), too much time.
All this is to say that I recently decided to sign up for the Tour de Cure. I’d been considering it for a while, actually, wanting to support my friend Diane’s Team Cheetah, but the timing had never worked out. Now Ann was signed up, and it seemed like too good of an opportunity to miss. Awesome!
People who know me were, to put it mildly, surprised. No one knows me as a cyclist, and I refer to spin classes derisively as the “Bike to Nowhere.” I like riding alone on a stationary bike even less than spin class. Maybe it’s because I grew up riding as my primary means of transportation that sitting on a bike going nowhere fast seems like an appalling waste of time.
Here’s another thing: I’ve become terrified of being hit by a car. Sure, Suzie and I had plenty of close calls, riding Route 537 past the horse farms in Colt’s Neck and the place where they make Laird’s Applejack when we were still too young to drink it. When Andrew and I were riding in Italy, a man once opened his car door about 2 feet in front of me and I crashed my overloaded bike into it (arm-waving and shouting—in English and Italian—ensued, ending with smiles and hugs). Still, I didn’t think much about it. The term “road rage” had not yet entered the daily lexicon.
So I despise riding nowhere, but I’m not thrilled with traffic. Still, I need to get myself used to the saddle again, so I began toying with the idea of riding my bike to work. Not every day, or most days. Once a week is the small goal I have set for myself.
I don’t know a lot of people who bike commute. I have only one friend who does it regularly around here. However, the concept isn’t new, lots of people do it, and Raleigh boasts an amazing greenway system—unparalleled, really, for a city its size. It’s been exciting to watch the planning the last few years especially, as different sections are connected. You can now ride 27 miles along the Neuse River Greenway from Wake Forest to Clayton, and soon you’ll be able to ride from Wake Forest past Crabtree Valley, through Umstead, and onto the American Tobacco Trail, which will take you all the way to Durham. I have one word for the forward-thinking leaders in the 1970s who dreamed up our greenway system long before it was in vogue: Visionary.
I have a number of factors in my favor for bike commuting once a week:
1. It is 13.3 miles from my house to NC State. A bit long, but a good workout—worthwhile.
2. Incredibly, less than 4 miles of the route is on roads traveled by cars.
3. I have access to a shower in my building.
4. My work schedule is flexible. I work from home a couple of days a week, which buys me more commute time on the days I go in. I can choose good weather.
5. NC State has an emergency ride service, if the need arises.
I picked this week to give it a try because it’s Spring Break and I had fewer meetings and commitments. Stay tuned…
This coming Friday, I’m looking forward to participating in Career Day at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh, NC. I’ll be speaking as one member of a panel on the topic “Understanding how my journey has shaped me and brought me to where I am today.” It will be a new experience for me!
To connect the girls with the speakers ahead of time, I created a “voice tattoo” introduction with Radiocentrix, which is linked above. I can’t wait to meet the girls and share my career journey so far.
On a related note, I do love to throw off my seniors at NC State, who often come into my office feeling anxious because they’re not sure what they want to do. I nod knowingly and sympathetically and say, “yeah, I know, I haven’t decided yet either.” It really is a journey!