Life Off The Bike

My ailments

My ailments

Hello, there.  Long time, no post.

Some of you may be mildly interested in what I’ve been up to.  I have been bombarded by literally several inquiries as to my whereabouts.  Basically, I’ve been busy running and since this is a blog concerned with cycling activities, I did not find anything particularly relevant to share with you, Dear Reader.  Still, I shouldn’t have just departed without explaining myself.  That was rude and for that I apologize unreservedly.

After my succussful foray into triathlon, I became a full-time runner.  I had a little over two months to prepare myself for the Army 10 Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon, which are run on consecutive Sundays in late October.  I was nursing a chronically sore calf muscle, so I rested a week and started with the basics:  a three mile run.

A simple three miler is a humble starting point for a fellow who wants to run 26.2 miles in ten weeks, but I felt that was the best course of action.  If I added one mile a week (with a couple of exceptions where I’d add two miles) I could get up to a run of 15 miles.  That was going to have to be enough training because that’s all the time I had.  It actually was slightly better than what I did last year when I unexpectedly ran the marathon on five days notice. I busily studied running and training strategies and became an adherent of the Galloway Method of running, which encourages regular breaks for walking to prevent the running muscle group from tiring too quickly.  I bought new shoes.  I put away my bike and focused on my goal.

What followed were ten weeks of modest success punctuated by regular setbacks.

Despite being almost obsessively concerned about injury prevention, the injuries still came.  Most of the nasty joint-related pains in my ankles and knees failed to materialize, the result (I believe) of superior shoes designed to prevent the pronation that causes those injuries.  Instead, muscle-related injuries occurred.  Slowly, the pain moved up my leg, either do to overuse or compensation or both.

Things started this Spring in my foot (#1 in the above figure).  Severe nerve pain under my toes hampered most runs and made cycling rides over 40 miles an exercise in extreme pain.  Discarding my new cycling shoes and making changes in other footwear largely solved this problem, but not before a chronic pain emerged in my Achilles Tendon (2).  Rest seemed to cure this problem, only to have my old friend the calf strain (3) return during my triathlon training.  I know how to handle this condition and it didn’t disable me the way it has in year’s past.  This is where I was when I finished the triathlon.

The pain moved up my leg as marathon training became serious – runs of eight or more miles caused significant soreness in my quad muscles (4).  I wasn’t going to let that sort of thing stop me and simply increased the massages, hot baths, and stretching in that area.  But then a particularly nasty pain developed in my hip (6).  I’m still not entirely sure if the pain is in the joint or the hip flexor but it hurt quite a bit.  I began taking glucosamine to help with my joints and I must admit I didn’t notice a large improvement.

I battled on, with runs now at 13 miles.  Then, on an innocent four mile run on a weeknight, it happened:  a torn hamstring.  This occured a mere two weeks before the Army Ten Miler.  It was only a slight tear and I stopped running immediately, but this was a major setback.  My only recourse was to rest it for the last two weeks, show up at the Ten Miler, and see what happened.

The Army Ten Miler

The Army Ten Miler

Things felt pretty good on the morning of the Ten Miler.  I was stretching with no pain and my first two miles were at the encouraging pace of 8:20/mile.  As I passed the Lincoln Memorial and the marker for Mile 2, I felt a twinge in my hamstring.  Not good.  I dialed my pace back to about 9:00/minute a mile and found I could continue without too much pain.  My hamstring was letting me know it was there, but seemed agreeable to the new pace.

After five miles, the slight strand of tissue that was holding my hamstring together gave notice that it was no longer going to participate in this charade and stopped working.  At this point, you can see the air slowly leave my balloon in each mile’s pace:

Mile 6: 10:08

Mile 7: 10:24

Mile 8: 10:37

Mile 9: 11:09

Mile 10: 11:55

I got across the line with the disappointing time of 1:38:26, about thirteen minutes slower than I hoped for.  In addition to my hamstring, my hip was screaming at me for the last two miles.  It was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to run the marathon.  My great training schedule had netted me almost nothing.  I had accomplished more last year with far less focus on my running training.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve continued to rest in the past two weeks and most of the pain has subsided.  Although I still plan to run some local races (and triathlons), I suspect it will be a very long time – if ever – before I make another attempt at a marathon.

I haven’t been on my bike since September 14th.  Much of the nice Fall weather is gone and the onset of cold weather is only weeks/days away.    I think it’s time to go for a ride.

USAF Crystal Ride, Part 2: The Ride

Crystal Ride2The Crystal Ride is one of my favorite events of the year.  With about 1,800 riders, it is the largest cycling event I attend.  Despite my Army roots, the USAF military theme is nice and there is a healthy smattering of military-themed jerseys in the peloton.  The route is on closed streets that are normally quite busy and it is fun to ride on them.  Unlike most cycling events I participate in, this one actually has spectators which cheer you on.  It is the only event I ride where simply finishing is not the only goal – the finishing time becomes important and determines which sort of medal you receive.

But perhaps my favorite part of this event is the chaos.

Putting 1,800 riders of greatly varying abilities on a closed course with sometimes narrow roads of questionable quality is a recipe for the kind of excitement normally found in demolition derbies or Roman chariot races, at least the one depicted in the movie, Ben Hur.  The 9+ mile course means the faster riders never truly distance themselves from the slower cyclists, they merely lap them and are always mixed amongst them.  You have to be ready for just about anything, but just about anything usually happens.

Having reached the starting group with two minutes to spare, I was well to the rear of the leaders at the start.  I was so far back that I couldn’t hear any of the opening ceremonies or even the official start of the race.  I knew the ride had started by the cheering which slowly moved from the start line to my position in the back.  We slowly built up speed from our standing start, moving from walking speed to a leisurely 12 mph as we moved up Crystal Drive toward Route 110, where I knew the herd would begin to thin on the two mile straightaway.

At Mile 0.6, I saw my first injury.

He was lying on the road with three cyclists standing over him, trying to help until a ride marshal could arrive.  He was clutching his right shoulder and was in considerable pain.  It appeared to me to be either a broken collar-bone or a dislocated shoulder.  I don’t know what caused the accident, but its a good bet he simply collided with another cyclist in the jumbled mass that still existed at this point.  Since he was being tended to, I pressed onward, found a nice paceline and zipped northward toward the city of Rosslyn.

Having reached Rosslyn, we did a sharp U-Turn (one of several on the course that had the effect of breaking up any impromptu paceline that may have developed on the straightaways) and headed back toward the Pentagon and the USAF Monument, which sits on a hill and is the main terrain feature of the course.  I was pleased that I stayed WELL away from my bottom gear on my first ascent and looked forward to bombing back down the hill.

The hill leading to the USAF Monument

The hill leading to the USAF Monument

It was during this first descent where I had my brush with disaster.

I was having a happy descent (almost all my descents are happy ones.  It’s the one moment where my excess mass plays to my advantage) when the fellow in front of me unexpectedly hit a water bottle that fell out of another cyclist’s cage.  We were moving at 30 mph, so this was a significant moment for all concerned.  In microseconds, I saw the man’s rear wheel hit the bottle, saw the bottle explode into a mist of orange Gatorade, watched his rear wheel move into the air while his front maintained contact with the asphalt, then noticed his bike begin to rotate slightly to one side.

I was about fifty feet behind this guy, moving at a very fast pace.  When that rear wheel hit the asphalt again, he would be slightly crooked.  There was a good chance he would crash.  I could either attempt to move quickly off my line and almost certainly hit another rider (and thus crash) or take my chances with the fellow in front of me.  I chose the latter.  Since I am typing these words, you know things worked out ok for me.

Remarkably, the cyclist was able to keep his bike under control.  I moved slightly to one side and passed within two or three feet of him, realizing I had chosen wisely.  That was some very good bike handling on his part.  I don’t think I would have remained upright.  Had he crashed, I would have hit him and launched myself into the air at 30 mph.  I’m glad I didn’t get to have that experience.

The rest of the ride was far less eventful.  I maintained a nice pace and was going to finish a little faster or even with last year’s ride, which I was pleased to see given my lack of miles, jet lag, and the morning adventure with my derailleur.  As the laps went by, the group thinned out considerably.  The course was dotted with cyclists repairing flats or broken chains.  I pedaled past two more serious crashes which required ambulances, though both cyclists were alert and seemed to be doing well, all things considered.

Crystal City

Crystal City

On top of the hill near the USAF Monument.  I'm normally not this grumpy.

On top of the hill near the USAF Monument. I’m normally not this grumpy.

The ride settled into a routine.  Each lap would begin amongst the tall buildings of Crystal City and the PA announcer at the Start/Finish line giving a running commentary for the spectators which was difficult to hear as I pedaled past.  In short order, I would be on the straight road of Route 110, where I would attempt to find somebody’s wheel to suck.  After returning back on Route 110 and passing the Pentagon on its west side, it was time to focus on climbing the USAF Monument hill and enjoy a short flat section at the top where a DJ was regaling a small crowd with techno music.  After bombing down the hill (and avoiding any water bottles that may be there) the route returned to the potholed streets of Crystal City and a large crowd cheering cyclists on.  I did this 9+ mile course six times – enough for a gold medal.

There is one more incident to report, this one a mere half mile from the finish in Crystal City.  A woman didn’t see one of the many potholes in this section of the course and buried her front wheel in it.  She fell to the side, landing on her shoulder blade.  I stopped next to her and made sure she was ok.  She was looking herself over and was amazed to see no cuts.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t see the massive road rash on her shoulder blade (she was wearing a sleeveless jersey) which I could see.  Rather than draw too much attention to that, I focused instead on checking her bike and determined it was fine.  I mentioned to her that she would be feeling her shoulder in the morning and asked if she wanted medical attention.  She said she wanted to try to finish so I watched as she got on her bike and made sure she could pedal.  Then I went on my way to the finish, where I actually had enough energy left to do a proper sprint.  I’m not sure if Mark Cavendish (a world-class sprinter, for those who don’t follow the sport) would classify it as a “sprint,” but I was riding much faster than normal for me and using all my energy to do so, so I was pleased with the effort.

A classic look

A classic look

I ended up finishing two minutes slower than last year, which I thought was just fine.  I picked up my gold medal and was wandering over to the Shimano tent when I noticed a cyclist on the reviewing stand being interviewed by the announcer.  He was riding a steel-framed peugeot bicycle which he bought forty years ago and was decked out from head to toe in classic cycling garb, including an old-fashioned helmet, shoes, and a spare tube which he carried drapped over his shoulder.  Very neat.

As I approached the Shimano tent, I heard a voice shout, “Steve!  Steve!”  That being my name, I turned and met regular reader, Nene, who had just finished the ride himself.  It was really cool to be recognized by a reader in the middle of a crowd and we had a nice chat together.

Less grumpy at the finish

Less grumpy at the finish

After visiting with Nene, I reached the Shimano tent and once again thanked the mechanic who saved my day.  I then made my way back to my car and loaded up my bike for the ride home.  Thus concluded my third running of the USAF Crystal Ride.  It wasn’t my best time, but it certainly was an adventure before, during, and after the event.  2013’s ride ranks as my favorite of the three and I’m already looking forward to 2014!

USAF Crystal Ride, Part 1: Getting There Is Half The Fun

I returned from Madrid on Friday.  Sunday was the USAF Crystal Ride – never a dull moment!  I got off the plane in Dulles Airport, drove across town in a driving rain storm in rush hour and arrived at the Crystal City Marriott 30 minutes before the Packet Pickup Desk closed for the day.  This was a blessing as it meant I didn’t need to drive back to the city on Saturday to get my packet.

On Saturday, I puttered around the house, doing errands that built up over a week away from home.  After dinner, I began to make preparations for the ride.  I fastened my bibs to my jersey, put my number on my helmet, gathered all my stuff and put it in the car so my getaway on Sunday morning would be simple and quick.

Then I turned my attention to my rear derailleur, which had been acting up ever so slightly during my last ride before heading to Spain.  I had lost the ability to reach my top two gears and I wanted to make the slight adjustment necessary to fix the problem.

I had never adjusted my derailleur before but I wasn’t about to let a complete lack of knowledge or experience stop me.  I dutifully watched three (three!) Youtube videos on the subject and read two pages of a bicycle repair manual I bought a few years ago.  It seemed straightforward enough…

Two hours later, I had ruined my derailleur.

Somehow, I had managed to adjust the screws and cables to the point where the only gear I had was my top gear.  No amount of fiddling, lubing, cursing, begging, or praying would change the situation.  I was now 13 hours from the start of the ride with only my top gear.  All the local bike shops closed for the day.  Life was hard.

So I loaded both my damaged Trek and my clunky hybrid, Old Ironsides, onto my bike rack.  If I couldn’t get the Trek fixed I would be forced to push my hybrid around that course and would most likely settle for a silver medal – averaging the required 17.1 mph on Old Ironsides over 56 miles is a feat beyond my capability.  Still, a silver medal amongst my growing collection of gold USAF medals would be an interesting story to tell over the years…

I showed up at the Crystal Ride an hour early the next morning and found the maintenance tent near the start line.  I was encouraged to see the guys were actually present and were from Shimano.  My derailleur is a Shimano 105, so I thought perhaps I had a chance to get it fixed.

My saviors.  Pic taken after the ride when they were properly set up.

My saviors. Pic taken after the ride when they were properly set up.

The team hadn’t even begun setting up shop but the head of the group offered to take a look at my bike.  I learned that this kind soul was actually the head bicycle mechanic for Shimano and had traveled to the event from the company’s corporate headquarters in Southern California.  Very cool.  After teasing me about needing a gear other than my top gear, he proceeded to fix my derailleur while simultaneously giving me a course on derailleur systems and bicycle repair in general.

It turns out that the cable was frayed and no amount of adjusting was going to fix the problem.  “You were fighting an uphill battle,” the mechanic said.  When I told him of my several minutes of detailed internet research, he chuckled and said, “I laugh at Youtube videos.”  I was pleased to learn I was fiddling with the right stuff on the bike, so I was at least coming close to understanding/fixing the problem.  The mechanic said that learning the right steps was the easy part – gaining the experience so that you can understand what you are seeing/feeling while doing the steps was much harder.

The mechanic wasn’t surprised to see the cable was frayed.  My shifter is SRAM and they subcontract their cables to a company called Jaguar.  This company makes cables that are 1/10th of a millimeter too large for the Shimano specs.  That’s right – it was 0.1 millimeters too big.  That may not sound like much, but over time that size difference wears on the tubing and the cable tends to fray earlier than it should.  I suggested Shimano and SRAM have a meeting to sort this out and the mechanic took it under advisement.

In less than 30 minutes, I had a brand new shift cable and a fully tuned rear derailleur, along with an impromptu class provided by Shimano’s head mechanic.  Excellent!  I raced back to my car, put the bottles, GPS, etc… on the bike (after all, I wasn’t sure what bike I would be riding when I pulled in), took off my sneakers (needed for the hybrid) and put on my road shoes and zipped over to the starting group with two minutes to spare.

Needless to say, I was at the back of the pack.  I would be winding my way through 1,400 riders in my attempt to get near the front.  Who am I kidding – getting near the front was never my goal; simply getting a gold medal while jet lagged and frazzled over my derailleur crisis would be good enough today.  To learn how that went, stay tuned for Part 2!

The back of the peloton.  The white banner waaay in the distance is the start/finish line.

The back of the peloton. The white banner waaay in the distance is the start/finish line.

Army Ten Miler

click for details

The 2012 Army Ten Miler was a much more satisfying experience than the previous year, due almost entirely to the fact that my calf muscle was not behaving as if it had been ripped from my fibula.  Regular readers will know that I recently suffered the same injury to the same calf and the possibility of a repeat of last year’s travails was looming large.  Lots of massages, ice, heat helped rehabilitate it to an acceptable level.  Icy-Hot bandages, compression sleeves, motrin, and new shoes helped prevent reinjury.

First, my apologies for a lack of photos.  It’s difficult to photograph a running race as a participant.  It means lugging a camera with you.

The day was sunny and cool, but not frigid, and we managed to stay warm enough while waiting in the Pentagon’s South Parking Lot for about an hour.  Runners face difficult wardrobe decisions that cyclists do not.  They are forced to wait in the cold for extended periods and quickly warm up once the event starts.  Stowing excess cold weather gear is not an option.  They have come up with two general solutions to this problem:

1.  Suffer in the cold and do just fine after the race starts.

2.  Bring some throw away clothes (or a plastic bag converted to a shirt) and stay warm before the race.  Discard when they are no longer necessary.

I largely fall into Category 1, but I did use some disposable gloves which I tossed to the side after crossing the Potomac (around Mile 2).  They are purpose-built for this very thing and I was glad to have them.

Pre-race events were filled with parachutists from the Army Parachute Team, the National Anthem, and mercifully no speeches from the dignitaries.  The starting gun sounded in the distance for the Wounded Warriors, who would start five minutes before the official race start.  Nice touch, I thought.  I would eventually catch up with these folks, and watching them overcome their disabilities is always inspirational for me.  Everyone was giving them great support and I was happy to do likewise as I passed each one.  I suspect there were several I never caught up with.  Simply remarkable.

Bolivar’s Statue

It’s also remarkable how much more enjoyable an event is when you are not wondering how you will finish the next 50 feet.  I noticed statues I had never seen before, such as the one of Simon Bolivar at Foggy Bottom.  I couldn’t imagine why that guy earned a coveted spot a few blocks from the White House (the answer – which I discovered after I got home – is that it was a gift from the Republic of Venezuela to the U.S. in 1958).  I was able to enjoy the sights of DC, something I never grow tired of despite having done several events there over the years.

I took it easy for the first five miles just to make sure everything was ok, going at about 90% effort.  After that, I pushed things a little more.  Thanks goes to Tootlepedal for his “negative split” strategy.  It worked quite well.  I finished with a time of 1:29:58, about 13 minutes faster than last year.  I was pleased to break (by two seconds) the 9:00/mile pace.  Out of over 21,000 finishers, my overall placing was 7,931 – up from 14,513 last year.  I managed to improve my place in the 45-49 Men’s Division to 832, up from 1,354 last year.  Plenty to build on for next year.

You may be curious about Diesel.  She smoked the course with a time of 1:25:44.  She improved her time by six minutes from last year and finished 102nd in her division of 1,017 women.  More impressively, she was not the least bit sore and reported this morning that she could run another ten miles today if she wanted to (something your humble scribe cannot say).  She won’t do that because she has her first marathon to run this Sunday.  It is worth repeating that for most of her adult life, Diesel focused on raising our kids and maintaining a household and she did no specific exercise of any kind.  It was only three years ago that she began walking and only 18 months ago when she ran her first race – a 5k.  I am in awe.  At the marathon, I’ll be leading her official cheering section.  Perhaps next year I will run with her.

Now, where’s my bike?

2012 Crystal Ride

Over 1,800 of us gathered in Crystal City Sunday morning to ride six 15 km laps around Northern Virginia.  As I waiting patiently in the starts corral, I was pretty sure a few things were about to happen:

  • It would be hot
  • The course would be fast
  • There would be at least one crash

Subsequent events would prove me to be right on all counts.

A portion of the 1,827 riders at the start

After a brief delay to ensure the police had the roads properly closed, the starting command was given and the Great Horde began to inch forward.  I was hoping to improve on my 17.9 mph average pace through better fitness, weighing less (I am about seven pounds lighter than this time last year), and carrying less (my wife had volunteered to act as my support team, keeping my food/water available for me on each lap).  Immediately, I knew my suspicions of a faster course to be accurate.  Gone were the pothole-stricken side roads and hairpin turns from last year’s event.  In their place was the wide-open Route 110 Highway to Arlington.  It was easy to find a paceline moving at 22 mph and latch on.

A second prediction came true very quickly as well.  At Mile 3.5, the peloton came to a dramatic halt as three cyclists wrecked.  With much shouting of warnings to trailing riders, catastrophe was averted (for us, at least, if not the riders who crashed) and we were able to slowly get past the incident.  Nobody appeared to be seriously injured, which is to say they were conscious and able to limp about with a fair amount of blood but no obvious bone fractures.  In short order, we were zipping along again toward the USAF Memorial on the very road that was closed to my wife and I during the unfortunate Bike DC SNAFU a month ago.  After climbing the hill to the Memorial, we flew back down and made our way into Crystal City for the completion of Lap 1.

Average pace: 19.9 mph.  WOW!

Life was good.  I was feeling fresh and there were plenty of pacelines to latch on to.  I was positively elated when I completed Lap 2 with an average pace of 20.0 mph.  Even faster!  I stopped briefly at the There And Back Again Cycling Team Resupply Point (my wife), got a new water bottle and some Clif Shot Blocks, and was off.

I was reminded of why I liked this event so much last year – even though it is a relatively short (56 mile) ride, it is conducted at breakneck speed and with chaos all around you.  It definitely has the feel of the chariot race scene in Ben Hur, although I did not see anyone with scythed wheels (something for me to consider for next year).  Bikes were breaking all over the place, their riders hurriedly performing tire changes or swearing at their derailleurs, broken chains, or other mechanical issues.  There were occasional crashes and rumors of crashes.  In addition to the accident at Mile 3.5, I saw a man being loaded onto a stretcher in Crystal City near the end of Lap 3.  He was bleeding profusely from his knee, leading me to believe he probably hit a patch of gravel on a turn and laid his bike down.  While I find great enjoyment on touring rides, there’s something to be said for an annual foray into the madcap world of criterium-style racing.

I dropped about a minute off my pace after Lap 3, giving me a slight cause for concern.  The field had spread out by this point, making finding a paceline increasingly difficult.  The sun was also climbing into the sky and it was  becoming quite hot.  My Garmin (which was once again loyally providing me data) informed me the temperature was 85 degrees and steadily rising.  I had brought more energy food and liquid than last year and hoped that would be the difference.

A rare photo of Yours Truly riding a bike, sadly without a paceline – a condition all too common for me after Lap 3.

At this point, let me share with you my official Gripe Of The Ride.  I’ve always got at least one thing to complain about, and here is this ride’s gripe: overjudicious use of the phrase, “On Your Left.”

Cyclists are expected to “ride right,” meaning they should stay as far to the right as possible (for readers in the UK, Australia, Japan, Fiji, and a few other places where automobiles are on the wrong side of the road, simply hold these instructions up to a mirror and they will make sense to you).  When attempting to pass another rider, a cyclist should check his blind spot and ensure nobody is coming before beginning the overtake.  Cyclists approaching from the rear should shout, “On your left” to let other riders know of their presence.

That’s the rule.  It’s a good rule.  You will note that nowhere in the rule is there a God-given right to scream at people who are in your way, just because you are going faster than them.  More than once, I was in the act of overtaking a cyclist when an even faster cyclist would catch up with me, whereupon he would scream, “ON YOUR LEFT!!!!” and attempt to shoot lasers at me out of his eyeballs.  I get it that he and his little group wanted to maintain their pace, but the road is sometimes crowded and things need a moment or two to sort themselves out.  Terribly sorry.  The pompous attitude was annoying and gave me thoughts as to how I might silence the perpetrators.  These thoughts weren’t helping me to do well in the race, or even keeping me out of prison, so I discarded them and focused on riding as fast as I could.

While staying to the right.  Except to pass.  After checking my blind spot.

End of gripe.

After Lap 4, I pulled over for my final resupply of shot blocks and another water bottle.  I noticed I had lost another 90 seconds over the previous lap.  My average pace had dropped to 18.9 mph and I could feel the onset of significant fatigue setting in.  The shot blocks were increasingly difficult to eat and the Gatorade was increasingly too sweet to drink.  I think a better combination at this point would have been plain old water with the shot blocks.  Live and learn.  Others were feeling worse than I.  I saw many riders walking their bike up the USAF Memorial hill and there was even one fellow laying on the ground, his buddy trying to massage some severe leg cramps.  I decided to save what little energy reserve I had left for the final lap.  I finished Lap 5 with a pace of 18.4 mph.  It was now over 90 degrees.


With the possibility of failing to best last year’s pace looming before me, I put the hammer down.  At this point, my “hammer” was quite small, something along the lines of what a jeweler might use in watch repair.  Still, it was all I had left and I used it as well as I could.  Then, a really bad thing happened – while climbing the stupid hill leading to the USAF Memorial for the final time, I cramped in my left hamstring.  This has never happened to me beforewhile riding, so it was quite an experience.

Now, a normal person probably would have gotten off his bike and tended to his condition.  But I was on that hill and there was NO WAY I was going to get off my bike on that climb and have people think I couldn’t make it to the top.  The shame would have been unbearable.  So, I massaged my own hamstring while continuing to climb as best I could.  It was an interesting sensation – feeling my muscle spasm while demanding it continue to crank my pedals.  I made it up the hill and enjoyed my final descent.

(By the way, thin guys, please think of us heavy guys on the descent and move your butts over so we can fly by you.  It’s the only time we truly have an advantage over you and we’d like to enjoy it. Thanks ever so much.)

I was well and truly gassed for the last three miles.  Any serious attempt to pedal hard brought on new spasms in the hamstring.  I did what I could as I slowly watched my average pace shrink before my eyes.  As I crossed the finish line, I grimaced at the result: 17.9 mph – the same as last year.

I hopped off my bike and joined the line of riders waiting to collect their medals.  There, I was greeted by my bride and crew chief of the There And Back Again Cycling Team, who gave me lots of praise and more fluids to drink.  Although I didn’t best my pace from last year, I didn’t do worse and that is something, at least.  I believe I just need to tweak my food and hydration strategies and possibly not go out quite so hard in the beginning.  Stay tuned – only 364 more days until I get to test those theories out at next year’s ride!

Sporting helmet hair and feeling a tad warm at the finish

Crisis Averted

The horrible, unending saga (four days) of my disabled Garmin has mercifully come to a close.  The hero of our story is loyal reader and frequent contributor Folksnake, who provided a link to another blog which was also discussing the issue.  One of the several possible solutions mentioned in that blog involved simultaneously pressing three of the four buttons on the Garmin and watching it reset.  This worked for me, the only additional nuisance being I needed to reenter all the settings that make the computer work (age, weight, time zone, etc…).

For his contribution, Folksnake has been awarded a Lifetime Membership to There And Back Again’s Premium Content Area, when and if such a section should ever be added to this blog.  To be perfectly honest, there are no plans to make a section like this or to charge anything whatsoever for any part of the site, but if this service ever does exist, Folksnake will get it for free!

Crystal Ride Preview.  Sunday’s USAF Crystal Ride is the closest thing to a race that I’ll enter this year (or ever, most likely).  Although the event takes great pains to point out it is a ride, not a race, they do time riders using cool magnetic chips and publish ride results which include overall finishing position.  While I was on the course last year, it definitely felt like a race.  Roads were closed and people were hammering through a criterium-style route in the mean streets of Crystal City and around the Pentagon.  At times, it felt like the chariot race scene in Ben Hur.  Bikes were breaking down all over the place and I saw two nasty crashes.  It was a great time!

Loyal readers will know that the 3.5 hour time standard to ride 100km pushed me to the limit last year, and I sheepishly collected by gold medal despite falling short of the standard by 2:32.  I was looking forward to breaking that barrier this year, but that will no longer be a challenge for me as the race organizers shortened the course.

Instead of eight 12.5km laps (all cool cycling events must measure their distances using the metric system), we will ride six 15km laps.  This trims the length of the course by 10km, and thus the finishing time of 3.5 hours is extremely achievable to me.  To motivate myself, I have switched my goals from simply getting the gold medal to bettering my average pace of 17.9 mph (the race may be metric, but I am not) and/0r my overall finishing position of 245th place.  Last year there were about 1,600 riders and I understand this year’s field will be larger.

The course looks similar to last year’s, but there are subtle differences that should make it run faster.  There are fewer hairpin turns and longer straightaways.  This should allow riders to build up speed and form pacelines for longer periods.  The straighter course may mean fewer crashes, which will take some of the adventure out of things.  As with last year, I will get the opportunity to climb the hill leading to the USAF Memorial, but there will only be six ascents this year instead of eight – another “lightening of the load,” in my view.

I believe I am all set.  I am well into my “taper phase” (I have found that I am extraordinarily good at tapering), I’ve cleaned up the Madone, bought my energy food, and fixed my Garmin.  Check back in on Monday evening for my exciting race report!

Best (American) Bicycling Cities

Bicycling Magazine is at it again, publishing another “best of” list.  Earlier, I shared with you their Top 10 century rides.  Last week, the July issue arrived at my stately manor, containing another list: America’s Best Bike Cities.  Bicycling is extraordinarily good at coming up with lists and I promise you I won’t share each one of them with you.  However, this one is interesting to me as it is at odds with something I wrote in this space less than two weeks ago:

All of this adds up to official There And Back Again recognition of Boston as “The Best City I Have Ever Cycled In.”

With that dramatic statement in mind, I now present the top ten cities in Bicycling Magazine’s America’s Best Bike Cities list:

  1. Portland, OR
  2. Minneapolis, MN
  3. Boulder, CO
  4. Washington, DC
  5. Chicago, IL
  6. Madison, WI
  7. New York, NY
  8. San Francisco, CA
  9. Eugene, OR
  10. Seattle, WA

You will note that Boston is not on this list.  It actually finished in 16th place, right after Scottsdale and immediately before Philadelphia.  Additionally, Washington DC – where I live just down the road from and have cycled on several occasions – FINISHED FOURTH.  Naturally, this positive news has sent the local cycling community buzzing.  For me, it leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment.  How could I be so far at odds with the good people of Bicycling Magazine?

A little bit of research provided my answer.  We were simply measuring different things.

The things that gave DC high marks were items that I had little/no interest in; things like the country’s first automated bike-share system (I don’t use it) and the installation of 1,600 bicycle racks (ditto).  The magazine also asserts that formation of clubs like Black Women Bike DC will help increase the community’s cycling diversity.  It’s hard to argue with that point nor the larger point that this will make DC a better “cycling city.”  It’s just that these sorts of metrics, along with bike-themed festivals, bike racks on buses, and bicycle commuter stations, just aren’t important to me as an individual cyclist.

I don’t want to seem too pretentious, but the There And Back Again criteria should bear a passing resemblance to matters that are important to me, or so it seems to me.

And what about Boston?  Apparently it is not too far removed from being on the magazine’s Worst Cities list.  A bike-share program and installation of bike lanes along Massachusetts Ave (which I rode on) seems to have made a difference in their rating this year.  Their biggest challenge (according to Bicycling) is “keeping discourse diplomatic as projects… move forward.”   I must say that as I pedaled about Cambridge, Charleston, the Charles River, and the North End, the quality of discourse surrounding cycling improvements never once entered my mind.  When making up my mind about how good a city is to cycle in, I am interested in how easy it is to get around, how close to death I feel while doing so, and how interesting/fun the experience is for me.

So what have we learned?  Nothing really, except that it is important to understand what you are measuring before making subjective judgements such as a list of the best cycling cities in America.  Bicycling Magazine does a good job of explaining their criteria, less so for me.  Then again, you have to pay for that magazine and this publication comes to you gratis.  You’re welcome.

Having said all that, DC is a great place to cycle!