bicycle

The People in My Neighborhood: The Cyclist

I still remember the first time I ever saw Aileen outside of our usual haunts. We were both on the Upper West Side. She had a plastic carrier bag in one hand and was standing in front of a plate-glass window looking at some clothing items. The shop was Clothingline, when they used to have a brick-and-mortar, and I remember standing just near her, wondering if it was the same girl that…

Yep, it was. We exchanged hellos, and then some random platitudes. I can’t remember when we started hanging out after that, or if we actually did. I do know that when we did actually start shooting the shit together, it was in ways that were so far removed from the way we actually met that you might consider it lucky that we met at all.

So enough dancing around the shrubbery–how did we actually meet?

Answer: On bikes, both strong as can be, both confident, both just discovering, I think, what kind of a person extreme competency makes you.

Aileen and I met in 1997, during training for the 1997 Boston-New York AIDS Ride. I did it with my then-boyfriend, who lived in Boston. I was living in New York, and I trained for the thing largely in my living room, on a hydraulic trainer. But I did go on one or two training rides, and it was there that I met Aileen. We would both go on to complete the 1998 AIDS Ride together. Aileen would ride in support of an AIDS Vaccine across Alaska later, and I would ride across Montana in support of the same cause the year following.

Like I say, I’d never seen her in anything other than spandex before the day I saw her standing in front of Clothingline, but I do remember thinking that this woman of bright smile and open demeanor was one to keep track of.

We floated in and out of each others’ lives for years; and then we lost track of each other. Later, we floated back into each others’ orbits, and have known each other through a fair number of birthdays. I have spent two New Years with Aileen. One was a year in the height of my social life, when I had to hit five New Year’s parties, dragging along a boyfriend who wasn’t too keen on all of the shuffling. It was just before Aileen moved to Colorado.

Aileen was, at the time, the coolest person in my immediate circle. She was the quintessential New York girl, the one I wanted to be, with a terrific apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, two cats, her bike stored neatly away. She had a bar at which everyone knew her name. She knew the firemen and the guys who rode Harleys; her hairstylist was her best friend; she introduced me to lots of different people. She played the guitar. Her friends were vastly different from her. She picked up and moved to Colorado, a couple years after I was considering, and eventually not ready to, move to Montana.

Later, she would be a rock in what might be the absolute most confusing time in my life. But I had no way of knowing this. In fact, Aileen has been there through the Married Man, the Cocaine Addict, the Ego-Maniac, and countless friend rotations. (Why do we give our ex-boyfriends capitalized nicknames, but not our ex-friends? Maybe I should start. Well, there’s Dead-to-Me, but that’s about it…)

I also didn’t know, at the time, that Aileen can write. And if now I am eternally frustrated that she doesn’t do more with her writing, I also know that our relationship is indicative of the way I’d like to approach life, and my fragile wish that more of the world will eventually know Aileen’s writing: what’s meant to be eventually will be.

Aileen’s bike is in a corner now, and has been for a little while. It’s a lovely hat-rack. But it’s kept free of dust, and Aileen knows it’s a beautiful machine. She also knows that she’d like to get back on it. Wouldn’t it be nice if, one day, Aileen and I got to ride our bicycles again together?

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I (pre-race days)

…Me, Jim, and Lara, respectively, that is.

It’s over. Almost exactly 24 hours ago to the minute, I crossed the finish line at Ironman Switzerland 2009, and I must confess to harboring all sorts of unresolved emotions about the thing. I am proud of my friends and eternally grateful to Jim’s parents for coming all the way out to see us, and very happy that I was able to raise enough money for ShelterBox to house thirty more people after disaster–but I’m no closer to understanding why we pursue such sport, which I think is the reason I keep on seeking out more and more of these different challenges.

But you didn’t come here to read about that, just yet: You came to get a race report.

We deliberately booked our flights to Switzerland to arrive well ahead of race day. We had a sleepless night on an airplane, punctuated very frequently by the drunk yellings of the under-age tippler sititng just in front of us (that’s another story), and landed in beautiful Zurich on a cloudy day punctuated also very frequently by rain showers. Jim and I looked thoughtfully at the thunderous sky and wondered if race day would look like that. We hoped not.

My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.

My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.

ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms

ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms

We spent that morning wandering around town with Jim’s parents after we’d checked into the wonderful, very accomodating Comfort Inn Royal, which would be our home for the next week, and had breakfast. Zurich is a beautiful town. Have you ever been there? Still, the race course hadn’t been set up yet, and the streets seemed very empty for a Thursday morning–we wondered where everyone was.

Marilyn and Jim, Jim’s parents, had done a fair amount of research already, so we’d left much of the tourist planning to them, and I’m fairly certain that, without me knowing it, set the tone for the trip. We were there to race, and that was the bottom line. I suppose it’s always been that way, but being in one of my favorite places and not mucking around, looking at art stuff, was a distinct change of pace.

Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.

Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.

We came back to the hotel, crashed hard, had dinner out at a great place that Grant and Jill recommended, and then went back for a good night’s sleep.

Yeah. It worked for Jim. Not so much for me. We went to bed at about 10, and I woke up around midnight, stark raving awake and unable to go back to sleep until four. I woke up again around seven. All in all, not terrible odds, really.

We went down on our bikes for our first look at Ironman Village, and noticed that Zurich is extremely bike-and-pedestrain friendly.

p7090081

You can't see it against the white, but the bottom of the sign has a bicycle icon on it. Parking, reserved just for bikes. Who'd'a thunkit?

We went and looked at all of the Ironman-branded kit, but I refused to buy (it seemed pre-mature to me, really, to get the stuff before I even attempted a full Ironman), but something unpleasant was around the corner was awaiting me, and I ought to have bought something just to assuage the agony I felt on registering and signing all the proper documents, only to get this in my official race documentation:

harumph!

harumph!

Yeah, what the hell?! Not that I haven’t sent roughly, oh, I dunno, three e-mails telling them to FIX THE PROBLEM. I’m still “Shun.” I fixed it myself with a big black marker and walked away with Jim, registration done with.

Lara arrived later that day, and she and I scooted along to the pre-race meeting, taking the tram down and enjoying the nice ride along Zurich’s high-end brand-name boutique road. We caught up along the way and went into the big tent and listened somewhat half-heartedly to some information that we already knew and some very little we didn’t, while I scanned the crowd, looking for Jim. We finally found him, and looked around the Expo for some last-minute stuff. From there, Jim and Lara went to go listen to some alpenhorn schlock and I went off to meet some awesome ShelterBox peeps who run our Switzerland affiliate. The group here in Zurich is run by some very cool, very enthusiastic 30-something Rotaractors, and I was happy to spend the evening talking to them about ShelterBox and the SRT program, and getting to know them all. Highly enjoyable way to pass time.

Saturday morning dawned way too early. I once again went to sleep at 11:30, only to pop awake at midnight. I stared at the ceiling until 4:30 and slept until 8, when it was time to go to breakfast. I promptly threw a tantrum of a most unsatisfying sort, moaning that I desperately needed more sleep, and that this was no way to run a race. Breakfast with friends, however, fixed it, especially after Lara tried to eat an egg, entertaining me with her ill-fated attempts to peel it properly.

Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.

Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.

We had a really nice day at the Ironman grounds again, racking our bikes and chatting with other racers, and I began to realize that this was actually happening. After a too-long walk home, we caught a tram to meet Roj, Lara’s husband, who was in town to watch the race, for dinner, and it was shortly afterwards that I discovered I’d misplaced my wallet. Yes, that lovely Braithwaite dealio I bought awhile ago. I can’t for the life of me figure how it happened. I can only think that the lack of sleep combined with juggling a number of things in my hands resulted in the loss. I’m quite bereft. But that’s another entry.

Anyway, it was already 8PM. We needed to sleep. Ironman was the next day, and I’ll fill you in on that tomorrow.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Riding a bike is not what you thought it is

It’s a sticky, slightly breezy day today, like it has been most days here, with a pretty good chance of thunderstorms. Last night, our neurotic dog woke up needing to potty twice, which is bizarre for him, but…what do you do? You pull on your outside clothes; grab your keys and let him out, down the hallway to the elevator, and then stand out there while he moseys about, looking for an appropriate place.
I swear, he never did this when we had our own backyard. It’s like he’s checking to see how far he can push us. Then again, I’m not willing to rish an accident on the carpet. It would make him feel terrible, anyway.
Consequently, I’m feeling far less than well rested today. That might explain the terrible lateness of this post, or it might not. Whatevs.
Today is the day we discuss the longest leg in the triathlon for many people, the bike leg. There are a few things you should know.

You, too, can look this happy on a bicycle

The few things you should know
-The faster you pedal, the less quickly your legs will tire.
-You are more stable moving forward, pedaling, than you are moving forward, without pedaling.
-Bicycling is an all-body sport.

Why those things are important
The bicycling leg is your best chance to refuel. It’s also where you will spend the bulk of your time on race day, and where you will spend the bulk of your time training. It’s where you stand the most chance of improving your time, so you do *not* want to do like I did this season and willy-nilly skip bicycle workouts all over the place and then pay no attention to things like heart rate and cadence when you do finally get to your bike workout.
Although the advantages of training by heart rate are well documented, some folks still overlook the importance of cadence. It’s really important to keep your cadence somewhere between 80 and 90 rotations a minute. It’ll mean easier pedaling, and you’ll get stronger, faster.
You’ll be able to sustain a longer ride if you can keep your legs from tiring, and cadence is the key to that. Remember, you still have a run to do after your ride, so ride smart, maintaining a good speed, and let it carry you up hills where you can.
Learn to ride smart on the downhills. Know which speeds you can maintain without feeling unstable; a crash at a high speed wouldn’t be much fun at all.
Be sure to spend a fair amount of time on your bike, practicing things like eating and drinking. You won’t be able to stop every time you want to take a drink or eat something, so learn how to do that on the fly, and get comfortable doing it.
You are going to experience a few uncomfortable things your first couple of weeks on your bike. First, there’s a little spot between the shoulder blades that’s bound to cramp from holding yourself up (c.f. “all-body sport” above). And, your butt will hurt. Don’t worry; these things will go away with time, but there are things you can do to immediately alleviate some of the pain.

Things to buy
Triathlon is an expensive sort, and while there are things you don’t need to spend money on, I do think that buying a good pair of cycling shoes and pedals is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my cycling career. A proper cycling stroke means that you use the muscles in your legs on the upstroke as well as the downstroke (think of the motion you make with your foot when scraping a piece of gum off the sole of your shoe). Being clipped in to your pedals means you can use that stroke without worrying that you’ll lose contact with your pedal. If you’re worried about getting your money’s worth, don’t: I’ve had the pair I’m using in this weekend’s triathlon for 13 years, and they’re my only pair of road riding shoes.

Beat up, ratty shoes. These are SIDI Genius 2s. For reference, SIDI is now making Genius 6s.

Beat up, ratty shoes. These are SIDI Genius 2s. For reference, SIDI is now making Genius 6s.

Cleats are the key to staying attached to your bike, and uber-efficient

Cleats are the key to staying attached to your bike, and uber-efficient

Buy a couple pairs of cycling shorts. These are padded in all the right places, for all the important reasons.

I’d also invest in a Bento Box for your top tube. It velcroes right to your bike frame and allows you to access things like…food. It’s likely the best $14 you’ll ever spend.
bentobox
Get a computer that will measure your cadence and speed for you. Some of the fancier models will connect wirelessly to a heart rate monitor so you can keep track of everyone right on your bike, but…I’m not that cool.
catseye_
Also, spend the money and get some Body Glide. It’s an allatonin-based product that will keep your clothes rubbing from rubbing against your skin, and prevent chafing. Put it on your butt, and anywhere your skin meets fabric. Do it. It’ll help.
Finally, *do* get a road bike, even an inexpensive one. There’s nothing quite like flying over the course on one of these sleek, silent machines. I’ve hit a top speed of 38 miles an hour on my road bike, and although that’s not nearly as fast as the pros on a good downhill, it is really an unbeatable, unmatchable feeling.
More important, though, you’ll be on a machine that’s engineered to go long distance over an asphalt surface. If you ride a triathlon course on a mountain or a hybrid bike, you run the risk of wasting a lot of energy for no good reason.
Right, that’s it for now. Tomorrow, the run course.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.