Letting go of the handlebars: Tour de Cure 2015 with Team Cheetah

CONFESSION: I have a draft started around here somewhere that may never see the light of day. I started with a great story about my pink Huffy and just couldn’t seem to get from 1987 to 2015. Another post, another time.

Instead, I’ll share my story from my Tour de Cure page about my friend Diane, who inspired me (and possibly badgered me) to learn how to ride a road bike and join her and Team Cheetah for the two-day Tour de Cure.

For many years, I have been in awe of my friend and stellar athlete, Diane Huis. We trained for the NYC marathon together in 2010. She is a Type 1 diabetic and I remember asking her what symptoms to look for if her sugar was low. She laughed and said, “well, I may be a little belligerent…and in complete denial that anything is wrong.” “Ha! Is it too late to find another training partner?”

We had a great time training, though, and inevitably, every Friday morning on our long runs before work, we’d discuss our weekend plans. “What are you doing this weekend?” she’d ask. “Oh, nothing much. How about you?” “Well, I have this awesome 100 mile ride on Saturday…”

Diane is always like that, with boundless positive energy, and she downplays her disease–enough so that many of us forget that it’s a daily struggle. It really wasn’t until Diane did her first Ironman, though, that I truly appreciated how her daily life was affected as a Type 1 diabetic. While most IM athletes focus on how many miles to bike, run, and swim each week, she was 100% focused on her race-day nutrition–dialing it in, checking her sugar, making sure she had the right food at the right times, and adjusting when necessary. Reading her race report really made an impact on me.

For the first time in several years, I didn’t have a conflict on the weekend of the Tour. When Ann said she was going to sign up, I was all in. My friend Ken also planned to ride. I couldn’t wait. I just had to find a road bike and figure out how to ride it.

Andrew had a road bike he found on Craig’s list that was actually a women’s bike–he claimed he bought it for himself, but I think he secretly bought it for me. It’s a red and white one. It looks fast. The tires seemed soooo skinny, but it wasn’t that hard to get used to. The real challenge was learning to ride with clip pedals.

GETTING THE HANG OF CLIPS

Andrew and I rode 1400+ miles through Europe on hybrid bikes with cages, but I knew I needed to learn clip pedals. I walked into the bike shop and asked for help. “What kind of cycling do you do?” “Oh, I’m not a cyclist at all. I’m a runner, but I signed up for my friend’s Tour de Cure team, so I need to learn how to ride this road bike.” “Ah, I see.” We found a pair of shoes that fit fairly easily. As he was ringing me up, I said, “So, can I return these for a refund if I fall?”

Because I knew I was going to fall. Everyone I talked to about clips said that I better be prepared to fall. I wasn’t really afraid of falling (other than possibly hurting something that would prevent me from running, of course, which is why I did not get clips until after my 50K); honestly, I just wanted to get it over with.

My first opportunity came right away, in my driveway. Andrew helped me line up, then pushed my left foot into the clip. “Now, unclip it and clip in on your own.” I snapped out easily enough, caught the toe part of the clip with my shoe, and stepped down. Nothing. I tried again. And again. Andrew stood there silently. We have been married nearly twenty years and to his credit, he kept his face straight; even grave. He carefully avoided eye contact. Five minutes later, he cleared his throat and said, “Keep trying—I’m going inside.” Ten more minutes of stepping down with no click. I had broken into a sweat and was now muttering ugly words aloud. Finally, after 15 minutes, I stepped down and heard the sweet click of success. My left foot was clipped in.

I pushed off and focused on clipping in my right foot. Lined up and pushed down. No click. Re-aligned, pushed down. No click. I was so intent on what I was doing that I failed to notice that my bike had stopped rolling forward. Too late, I realized that I was balanced and motionless on skinny, skinny tires. It was a long moment. Then I started leaning ever-so-slightly to the left. Ever the optimist, I flailed around, trying to get out from under my bike. In the end, that hurt me worse than just accepting my fate. At least there was no audience as I crashed onto the cement. And they say trail running is dangerous!

GETTING READY

Ann and Ken and I started riding once during the week and then again on the weekends. We recruited others to join us–for some reason, posting “Ride Bikes” on our Peeps workout calendar amused people—don’t you remember calling your buddies when you were a kid and saying, “Hey! Want to ride bikes?” That’s how I ride bikes. Andrew and I found a great route that was just short of 40 miles, riding from Beaufort out to Harker’s Island and back. Unfortunately I didn’t get in any rides longer than 40 miles before the Tour. Riding bikes takes longer than running to get a good workout, and you can’t ride in the dark.

LETTING GO OF THE HANDLEBARS

Ann and I were both nervous, but we had a wonderful time and completed all 160 miles over two days. The weather was beautiful and the course to Pinehurst was on back roads, transitioning from the Piedmont to the Sandhills through farmland and then horse farms. I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

Team Cheetah at the start on Day 1.

Team Cheetah at the start on Day 1. This team raised over $60K for the American Diabetes Association. Thanks to those who donated to my page; over $300 raised.

Me, Ken and Ann are ready to hit the road for Pinehurst!

Me, Ken and Ann are ready to hit the road for Pinehurst!

We had to stop so Ann could take a picture of a VW bug we saw on the way. Still feeling good and over halfway there.

We had to stop so Ann could take a picture of a VW bug we saw on the way for Andrew. Still feeling good and more than halfway there.

We found some of our Peep friends who were doing the 100 mi ride at the last rest area.

We found some of our Peep friends who were doing the 100 mi ride at the last rest stop. Go Peeps!

The Cheetahs in Pinehurst! We made it 80 miles and felt good!

The Cheetahs in Pinehurst! We made it!

We had a great time in Pinehurst. My only goal was to get there feeling good enough to ride back the next day. Our bikes were whisked away to be stored safely, we showered and changed clothes, had some food and drinks, and even took a little nap before heading out for some dancing and hanging out with our friends.

Ken had another commitment for Sunday, so Ann and I headed out on Day 2 by ourselves. I had assumed that most people would ride both days, so I was a little flummoxed when so few people started with us. We were definitely near the back of the 80 mile ride back to Pinehurst, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Off to start Day 2 of the Tour de Cure!

Off to start Day 2! Cary or bust!

Lunchtime and some shade. Sunday warmed up quite a bit.

Lunchtime and some shade. Sunday was pretty hot.

Some of the 100 mile Cheetahs caught us at lunchtime, and rode with our friend Phillip for a few miles.

Some of the 100 mile Cheetahs who started early caught us at lunchtime, and we rode with our friend Phillip for a few miles.

This was right after the lunch rest area; I realized my helmet wasn't clipped and fixed it right away!

This was right after the lunch rest area; I realized my helmet wasn’t clipped and fixed it right away, really! [Rookie mistake!]

Last rest stop for the day (I posted,

Last rest stop for the day (as I posted: “it’s getting hot in heah.”). Thrilled that we accomplished this challenge together.

As we neared the later rest stops, we could hear the volunteers radioing HQ to ask how many people were behind us. We rode into Cary and it was hot and the traffic was a little nerve-wracking. Just as we pulled into the parking lot to finish our ride, we heard an announcement that Kona Ice was staying for just five more minutes. That was all we needed to hear. We flung our bikes in the truck and hobble-sprinted across the parking lot to get the last two ices. It’s good to know that our running background was good for something!

Thanks to Diane for the inspiration and also for being a big part of planning what is a big, well-run, exciting and inspiring event. Many friends donated to my page for our team, totaling more than three hundred dollars, while Team Cheetah raised more than $60K. As I figured out how to ride a road bike and started building my miles, my friend Ken offered lots of great tips and encouragement along the way. Finally, thanks to Ann for getting me to sign up–an ideal girls’ weekend in my book (forget the spa). It was such a treat to spend time together, focused on nothing more but the task at hand, one which was a new challenge for us both. I hope that next year we’ll encourage more of our friends to sign up for Team Cheetah, even if they’re not really cyclists. We had a great time along the way!

no hands

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Adventures in Bike Commuting: Week 3 and beyond

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.

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First, a shout-out to my vintage 1993 bike panniers that took me 1400 miles in Europe. 

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Novara by REI. LOVE using them again!

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Gear. I need a checklist because I always forget something.

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Memorial park to a WWII vet on the House Creek Greenway behind Crabtree Valley Mall.

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Still chilly back in March, but the running windbreaker with a vest and a buff worked well.

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Bloodroots (Sanguinaria canadensis) I would have missed had I not been stopping abruptly to avoid a collision with a cute toddler who ran out in front of me. Notice the single, Matisse-esque leaf. It’s the only species in its genus and only blooms for a week or so in early spring.

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.

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Ready to head to work. This has been a sturdy bike for commuting.

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One more shot of bloodroot–it is, after all, so tiny and delicate, and long gone now. The commute by bike teaches me to see and savor these kinds of small delights, something we all need. I hope to be back at it soon.

Adventures in Bike Commuting: Week 2

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.

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It always makes me happy to see folks unwinding outside after work. Shelley Lake was the most popular but there were people out on every part of the greenway. #Raleighgreenwaysrock

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.
NOTES:

  • 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.

An experiment in bike commuting

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!

Century ride after

Hilarious #tbt, after my first and only 100 mile ride in Princeton, NJ. You can see my pink Huffy on the left. I didn’t have a water bottle cage nor cycling shorts. My cycling shoes were Keds. And yes, I’m eating Jersey tomato.

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!

bike team cheetah

I’m joining this awesome team of real cyclists, Team Cheetah, to raise money for diabetes research. I’d love your support! Donations can be made here: http://main.diabetes.org/site/TR/TourdeCure/TourAdmin?px=4863806&pg=personal&fr_id=10172

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.

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My route, most of it on the fantastic Raleigh greenway system. East Mine Creek greenway goes to Shelley Lake greenway to Ironwood greenway to House Creek greenway to Reedy Creek greenway to Rocky Branch Creek greenway. And then I’m nearly at my building at NC State.

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…