Thursday, July 24, 2008

"are you scared to ride your bike?"

that was the question one of my development team racers posed to me on Sunday morning after I told her about my crash on Saturday.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

my response, "of course not." I wasn't scared to finish my ride after the crash and I'm not scared to ride now. my crash was a flukey situation and I didn't feel any fear of getting back on the bike. I'm sure it helped that my injuries were minor (bruising and a skinned knee).

all the same, I always tell folks that I don't crash. counting back, I've had 5 crashes in the 9 years I've been riding as an adult. only one of those was on the road bike, two on the cyclocross bike, and two on the mountain bike. I'm a relatively conservative rider and I've got good skills and good intuition. crashing could prevent me from doing my job (and I can't afford that). so, I make it my practice not to crash.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

the more I think about her question, the more I realize that there are lots of fears involved in our sport.

I rode throughout childhood. I remember the day I removed my own training wheels because my father was working and the boys in the neighborhood made fun of me. I remember the day I rode into the back of a parked car. I remember the day I crashed on the old railroad bridge over Seeley Creek when my front wheel got caught between two planks. I remember the day I got hit by a car. I remember riding to my boyfriend's house in my jeans and no helmet. I remember riding to my job as a bartender at the golf course. and then, I finished college and I didn't ride anymore.

I bought a mountain bike in 1990 because I wanted to quit smoking and I thought riding a bike would help me with that. when I started riding again in 1990 I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of going fast. I was afraid of falling off the side of the road. I was afraid of going downhill. I was afraid of getting lost. I was afraid of someone harming me. I was afraid of cars. I was afraid of dogs. I was just plain afraid of riding my bike. and so I rode it half a dozen times and never touched it again until 1999.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

I hung up my bike for nearly a decade. when I started riding again in 1999, I still had all of those same fears. but I also had a support system of riding friends, a really big goal (the California AIDS Ride), and a great desire to be healthy and ride my bike so, one by one, I conquered my fears.

as a skills coach, I've developed my teaching style and curriculum based on the fact that I know many women (and some men) harbor the same fears that I did as a new rider. and, as adults, we're uncomfortable telling folks that we're afraid of something as simple as riding a bike. my goal is to provide riders with the tools to gain confidence on the bike and alleviate their fears.

fear is a complex emotion, causing us to avoid risk. fear can be paralyzing. fear can cause us to make irrational decisions. but a healthy respect for the risks of the sport can help you keep the skin on your knees.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

the sport of bicycling has inherent risks. we all know that. I think most of us subconsciously push the threat of those risks to the back of our mind so we can go about the day-to-day business of riding our bikes. but then, something happens -- a close call, a crash, a tragedy -- that reminds us that each and every time we throw a leg over the top tube, we're taking a risk. we're placing our trust in others -- the bike manufacturers, our mechanic, other riders, cars, trail designers, ourselves -- that we will finish our ride in one piece.

each time we get that wake-up call, we have to make that decision again -- will we choose the risky path and ride our bike? for me, the answer will always be a resounding "yes."

there are lots of risks in life. I could die eating in a restaurant. I could die walking across the street. I could die flying on a plane. I could die riding my bike.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

I plan to live my life to the fullest. I choose to take a few risks now & then. I'll gladly take a few bumps and bruises in exchange for the opportunity to stretch my legs, meet fabulous friends, see beautiful places, and enjoy the sport I love. I would much rather enjoy each and every minute of my life, riding my bike, than sit on the couch worrying about risk.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

some for the girls and some for the boys

Velo Girls Coaching Services Announces Summer/Fall Clinic Schedule

Due to popular demand, we've expanded our clinic offerings for summer and fall 2008. We introduced our new 4-hour "Bike Skills" modules earlier this spring and have experienced sell-out clinics each weekend. Whether you're a new rider trying to flatten the learning curve, or an old dog who wants to learn some new tricks, we guarantee that you'll ride away a safer, more efficient, and more confident rider.

Register today for these upcoming clinics:

Bike Skills 101 -- Individual Bike Handling Skills -- Aug 17th (women), Aug 17th (men), Oct 26th (co-ed)

Bike Skills 102 -- Mountain Bike Skills
-- Sept 13th (co-ed)

Bike Skills 103 -- Cyclocross Skills
-- Sept 13th (co-ed)

Bike Skills 201 -- Climbing & Descending
-- Sept 21st (co-ed)

Bike Skills 301 -- Group Riding Skills
-- Sept 20th (co-ed)

Girls Got Skills -- 2-day women's cycling clinic -- Sept 6th & 7th

More details and registration here:

Monday, July 21, 2008!

on Saturday we raced in a 100-mile, mixed terrain Alley Kat. Lauren, Katy and I decided it would be fun to do this together, although we also decided the fun quotient would decrease over 50 miles, so we planned an early bail-out. I called it the official "girls" course, and since we were the only three women who participated, I think that counts.

so, what's an alley cat, you ask? it's a form of urban racing that mimics a bike messenger's job -- ride from the start to a check-point, get a new assignment/map to the next check-point, ride there, get some more directions, ride, check-point, ride, check-point, you get the idea. of course, this race also included beer and food and some games, too (at least on the long course, or so we hear).

being neither a messenger nor a hipster, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd never done anything like this and didn't want to stick out as a nerdy roadie (even though I am one). so, I got a pair of skate-boarder shorts that matched my team kit and tried to look all urban-like (FAIL). most of us seemed to be on cyclocross bikes. there were a few mountain bikes, some single speeds (silly boys) and even one daring dude on a road bike.

the starting point was kept top-secret until midnight on Friday. we met at a cold and foggy Golden Gate Park on Saturday morning. as everyone gathered, it became clear that there was a wide mix of folks -- some I know from the road racing world, some crossers, and some urban hipsters. there were lots of cute boys in spandex. and three girls -- me, Katy, and Lauren. we declared ourselves the winners and decided our day would be fun together -- "one for all and all for one!"

after a brief racer meeting, we were sent off to our first three check-points in San Francisco: Roaring Mouse Cycles (where we had our official race portrait taken), a parking lot on the top of a 20% hill (with a run down stairs at the end), and the house of the race organizer (where the race would also finish). at this third check-point, we were given three HUGE maps that detailed the rest of the course. all three of us dropped our jaws and went "huh?" didn't they realize that we're girls and that maps are meaningless?

it was Lauren's first bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge so we stopped to take some photos to commemorate the event. we also made a quick stop at Mike's Bikes in Sausalito to fill our bottles and use the restroom. luckily, Katy and I could navigate us out to our first check-point in Mill Valley (without looking at the maps). but we never found that first check-point. were we so slow that they left? we later found out that the person running the check-point never showed up. we couldn't find the turn-off to the first dirt section -- Old Railroad Grade. we studied our maps made a couple of attempts and finally asked a hiker who pointed us in the right direction.

by this point, the sun had broken through the fog and the climb up Old Railroad Grade was fabulous -- all fire road and not too steep -- finishing at the West Point Inn (on Mt. Tam). we alternated climbing through redwoods and open, sunny spaces. the views of the entire bay area were expansive and overwhelming. the race organizer called us on the cell a couple of times to make sure we were okay -- I guess we were a little slow compared to the guys. he also gave us clues on how to get to the next check-point.

from the top, we could see the fog rolling in again. and as we descended the Coastal View Trail, the fog was obscuring our view of the ocean. we made it to the Ranger Station but then couldn't figure out where to go. luckily, it wasn't the trail with the 50 "learn-to-hike" students.

we skipped the second big loop, knowing that we wanted a shorter ride, and headed down the bumpy single-track to the Pelican Inn near Muir Beach, where the second loop would intersect with our route. we were excited at the prospect of meeting up with the rest of the racers (guys) at that point. lost again, we engaged the assistance of a cute boy on a mountain bike. bombing down the trail, trying to impress the boy with our mad cross skillz, I hit a big hole and went down pretty hard. after crying like a baby, I dusted off, posed for a crash simulation photo, and we continued down the single-track. but when we arrived at the Pelican Inn, the race organizer and his crew were drinking beer and eating french fries -- no boys in sight. apparently we were still ahead of them.

we got lost (again) trying to find the trails out of Muir Beach so we ended up riding part of that section on Highway One. and then it was back to Mill Valley and Sausalito and the final windy, foggy climb up to the Golden Gate Bridge. Katy was a perfect navigator and got us back to the finish line in no time.

we were the first riders in, completing 50+ miles with almost 5,000' of climbing in just over 5 hours. about an hour later, the first group of men -- Steve, Hans, Matthias, and Morgan -- finished: 89 miles with a lot more climbing!

much, much fun, but only because we chose to ride together as friends. it was a great opportunity to try something different and ride some trails I'd never ridden. and the post-race party was....well, let's just say it was a lot of fun, too!

thanks to everyone who organized and volunteered to make this a great day.

oh, and more photos here: clickity-click the linkity link

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


there's a bicycle ride in California each year called the Death Ride. as the name would imply, it's pretty epic and brutal and (insert your favorite noun meaning HURT here). 129 miles, 15,000' of climbing, over five mountain passes.....all at altitude. if you complete all 5 passes, you get bragging rights, an ice cream, and a very limited edition enamel pin that only the 5-pass riders get. this pin is coveted in the endurance riding community (or something like that).

I first attempted the Death Ride in 2006. I was recovering from a chronic illness, about 30 pounds above my climbing weight, and trained to road race, not for endurance rides. I was training on the "if it sounds fun, do it" plan. did the Death Ride really sound fun to me? altitude sickness did me in. I lost my breakfast at the top of Monitor for all to see. I was dizzy and couldn't breathe. but the descents were so much fun I kept climbing as long as possible. long story short, I completed 3.5 passes, 90 miles, and probably 10,000' of climbing. but I was happy since I'd had no real expectations for the ride.

I attempted the Death Ride again in 2007. this time, it was a very last-minute decision to participate, and I dragged along my new romantic interest. I hadn't had a good training block due to some chronic poison oak and resultant side effects from the drugs to treat it. but I was about 25 pounds lighter than 2006 and had done some good altitude riding in the past few months. we made the mistake of starting too late (he didn't believe me when I told him we needed to start at 5:30am). we missed the cut-off time to ascend the final pass by a mere 10 minutes, completing 80+ miles, 12,000' of climbing and 4 passes. we vowed to come back and get that pin next year.

this year, I hadn't planned to ride the Death Ride again. I had some new coaching programs and clinics on the calendar, along with a race of my own (duathlon) on the same date. but about a month ago, I got a stress fracture in my foot and decided that since I couldn't run I would attempt the Death Ride once again. I persuaded my un-boyfriend (yes, the same one as last year but now my recent ex) to join me for another attempt at earning that pin. what the heck! we'd been doing a lot of long, hilly rides (ie 80-100 miles with 8,000+ feet of climbing) and had great endurance. even though I was 20 pounds heavier than last year I wasn't too worried about the weight since my power was also up.

so, here we are, July 12th, 2008, making my third attempt at completing the Death Ride. the UBF was a doll and took care of all the details (food, camping, etc). we made it to Markleeville in good time on Friday to register (but not enough time to spin the legs). we had a great dinner at the campsite and settled in for the night. and, most importantly, we had agreed to wake up at 4:00am so we could get on the road by 5:00 or so.

as we hit the first climb (Monitor pass), I knew I was in trouble. I couldn't breathe. I had forgotten my asthma inhaler. and it seemed that the altitude was really affecting me. I was freezing cold (unusual for me), breathing shallow and fast, and my HR was through the roof. even on the shallow grades, I was in my easiest gear (34-29) and could barely turn over my legs. the UBF was very supportive and convinced me to keep riding when I wanted to quit about 30 minutes into the ride.

we summitted Monitor and descended the backside -- such a sweet descent. I started feeling a bit better and was able to climb the back-side of Monitor pretty well until I hit about 7,000 feet. at that point, all the altitude sickness symptoms returned, along with a good dose of dizziness. I sent the UBF ahead and finished the climb on my own.

I maxxed out over 50mph on the front side of Monitor -- weeeee!!!! we did okay for the first bit of Ebbetts and then I suffered like a dog (and sent the UBF ahead to ride his own ride). I stopped several times to catch my breath and bring my HR down. I got physically sick once (much to the chagrin of the riders near me). and somehow, someway, I made it to the top.

I knew if I could make it up the backside of Ebbetts -- the shortest but steepest climb -- I could finish the ride. so we descended the backside of Ebbetts, and then climbed back up. at this point, I was mysteriously feeling much better. we summitted in plenty of time to make the 4:00pm cut-off at Woodfords (the one we missed last year).

the descent on the front side of Ebbetts was epic. it had started to hail -- big gum-ball sized hail. but it wasn't raining. so I led us down the switch-backy descent and to the flattish run into Markleeville. the UBF provided the perfect wheel to suck all the way into town.

we made a super-quick stop at our car in Markleeville. I changed my nasty shorts and gloves. I refilled my bottles with ice-cold drinks from our cooler. and I stocked up on more GU products. and I grabbed my rain jacket. and then we made the 3 mile climb & 3 mile descent to Woodfords. we decided to skip the rest stop there and continue on to Picketts Junction, knowing that if we made that cut-off time we were homefree for the last 10 mile climb up Carson Pass.

at some point, all hell broke loose. the heavens opened up, first with rain, then hail, then thunder and lightening. flash floods were running across the road, making it difficult to see the road. the hail was pelting (ouch) and cold. and the lightening was a bit scary. I thought to myself, "if I wanted to ride in the rain, I wouldn't live in California." there were signs on the side of the road that read "STUPD." I kept thinking about how stupid we were to continue riding. my left quad started cramping up. I got off the bike and pumped more electrolytes into my body. my cleats got gummed up in the wet sand. and it continued to rain and hail and thunder and lightening.

we made the cut-off at Picketts Junction. I thought "how sad to work so hard today and not be able to finish the ride because of a stupid storm." so I kept riding. the last ten miles weren't too bad. the storm continued, but the climb wasn't too steep and in some points it was actually flat. I had sent the UBF ahead because he was soaking and hypothermic and needed to ride harder/faster than I could ride at that point. about half a mile from the top, I saw him standing on the side of the road waiting for me. the sun had broken through and he said we needed to cross the finish line together. and we did.

we collected our pins and our ice cream and we signed the 5-pass finishers' poster. and then we sat and discussed how we would never, ever, in a million years, do this ride again.

by Sunday we were already plotting our strategy for a sub-9 hour ride and a coaching program and an altitude camp and.....

.....and what is it about the Death Ride that brings folks back year after year after year.......

Thursday, July 10, 2008

what are you waiting for?

I had an interesting conversation with one of my coaching clients recently. she is in her first season of road racing. she did a few races early in the season, and then spent a month travelling for work (without a bike). upon her return, she declared that she had no fitness and would race again in August. August? that's the end of the season. what about all the months in between?

the conversation reminded me of my early racing career. I was coaching the team and planned to race myself in 2002. and in 2003. and things just kept getting in the way. I was hit by a car. I injured my back. I lost my mother. I had a DVT. and I kept waiting for that elusive "perfect" fitness to return.

guess what? there are no guarantees in life. perfect fitness may never come.

stop waiting.

stop planning.

stop thinking.

start living.

think of all the fabulous experiences you'll miss while you're "waiting."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

the tour is won in bed

sometimes you have to make tough choices when it comes to training.

as a coach, I know this to be one of the greatest challenges my athletes face: when to say "no."

I've had four very high-volume weeks with lots of elevation. in the month of June, I was on the bike a total of 28 days (yes, only 2 days off). I logged almost 80 hours for the month, with a total of close to 1,000 miles with 60,000' of climbing.

I'm tired.

I had a plan for today. it wasn't easy. it entailed about 4 hours of constant climbing.

did I mention I'm tired?

so, I followed my own advice and took a break.

I rode my touring bike on some errands (10 miles total). I went to the chiropractor for bodywork. I got a pedicure. I took my dog on a long outing to the bay.

I'm not quite as tired anymore.

I know that we get stronger during rest. but like my own athletes, I sometimes have a hard time believing that. the temptation to train longer and harder is always there.

today, I got stronger.