Combining Running and Biking

I.

Why don’t more people combine biking and running? It’s a lot of fun. Maybe that’s a lot to ask, considering how cyclists are often so tribal that an admission that you run (or, god forbid, even enjoy running) will get you banished to triathlete island (presumably one of the Hawaiian islands; I heard that’s where they do their weird little contests). First things first: I’m not a triathlete. Not by a long shot. I fucking hate swimming, even though I have enormous feet that have never helped me in life but could have helped me in a pool if swimming wasn’t miserable. And I wouldn’t call myself a duathlete (go to hell, Microsoft, it’s a word) in the competitive sense, although I did complete one duathlon a few years ago and it was kinda fun but also kinda full of douchey, the way most competitions involving people are.

I just like biking and running, especially trail running. Also, I hate driving cars. Living in an incredibly walkable city that contains a) your workplace, b) businesses that sell food and provide entertainment, and c) a great local bike shop will do that do you. I get behind the wheel of our minivan maybe once a month, and I feel like a 15-year-old with a learner’s permit every time.

II.

This enjoyment–hatred has led me to the logical conclusion of biking to trailheads instead of driving to them. I bike somewhere, lock my bike, go for a run (or hike—this strategy works for hiking too), unlock my bike, and ride home.

This weekend I leveled up, adding a second trail run into the mix. I thought it would be cool to run to the top of Peter’s Mountain on the east side of the Susquehanna River (actually a ridge, but in Pennsylvania they call ridges mountains for some reason that has yet to be explained to me), then cross the river and summit the ridge on the other side, essentially looking across the gap at where I had just been.

Highlights include:

  • almost twisting my ankle hundreds of times. They (mainly tired AT thru-hikers) call Pennsylvania “Rocksylvania” because there are a shit-ton of rocks here, which is annoying for hiking and borderline suicidal for trail running. However, the focus and agility required to careen down a rock-studded trail without tripping can get you in a flow state like no other. It’s a version of real-life foot Tetris where losing could mean crushing your skull against a granite boulder. You know, “fun.”
  • really nice views, especially from Hawk Rock
  • shaded forests, thick and green with vegetation, looking prehistoric
  • the constant temptation to walk instead of run uphill
  • looks of surprise, awe, and incredulity from other trail users (Perry County residents, no doubt) who obviously don’t see trail runners very often and therefore couldn’t tell that I’m a pretty slow trail runner. I heard them mutter things like “He’s going to run the whole way?” and “He already made it to the top?” as I passed. In the parking lot a man said to his kids, “now that’s how you train.” I felt like Rocky. Hell, I felt like Jesus. I highly recommend running in Perry County if you ever want to boost your fragile ego with completely undeserved compliments.

image(43)

III.

All that’s to say, I think people (and by “people” I pretty much mean roadies) should get out of their tribal mindsets and run every once in a while. And instead of driving their cars to go run someplace, they should bike there. Why? Well, it’s a lot of fun, and it doesn’t add to the the environmental catastrophe we’re avoiding. Those are two pretty good reasons. If you aren’t convinced, then you probably can’t be convinced. But just in case, here are some other reasons:

  • it’s like interval training, but not soul-suckingly boring and painful. The riding parts are like the warm-up/recovery/cool down and the trail running sections are like the intervals. When I did intervals on the bike, I always struggled to reach my max heart rate. It was like there was some internal governor, a level I couldn’t hit outside of competition. No struggle to blow myself up while running up a hill though (and not even running fast! just running!) And a quiet forest is a more enjoyable setting to suffer in than whatever stretch of road you do intervals on twice a week (or a fucking indoor trainer). But hey, just my opinion.
  • “Variety is the spice of life”…is a thing I’ve heard people say, and it seems to apply here. It’s cool to explore new places and move your body in different ways.
  • More time on trails means less time on roads, which means less time in which a distracted driver could kill you.
  • It’s endlessly flexible. You can bike three miles and run one mile, or concoct some sadistic sixty-mile loop with multiple running sections of any distance. If you don’t feel like running much, you can add more bike miles, and vice-versa. You can gain no elevation or thousands of feet, on the bike part or the running part or both. You can run on trails or roads. You can bike on trails or roads. You can go fast or slow.
  • Sometimes you don’t want to ride 70 miles. You want to ride 30 miles. But you also want to spend some quality time outside and get a nice workout in to justify your Netflix-watching and cookie-eating later in the day— a noble objective. A ride/run will burn plenty of calories, probably the equivalent of a significantly longer ride, so you won’t feel guilty when you’re stuffing your face while forcing yourself to watch House of Cards and secretly wondering what all the hype was about.

IV.

So, I’ve convinced you. You’re gonna try it out. What do you need?

  • Shoes; and
  • A bike.

Most any bike will do. You could use a bike with clipless pedals and bring your running shoes and shorts in a bag or backpack. Better yet, you could use a bike with flat pedals and wear your shoes—and running shorts instead of bibs—which allows you to travel light and not have to change. That’s what I do. You’ll be amazed at how you lose literally zero watts from not clipping in, and you’ll wonder why we even clip in at all. Honestly, it’s a good question. I’ll continue to clip in on my non-touring bikes, but it’s still a good question. I don’t have an answer.

V.

Here are the Relive maps of my weekend jaunt. The bike part is missing—I must’ve deleted it by accident. But I promise I didn’t drive there.

https://www.relive.cc/view/1585434314

https://www.relive.cc/view/1585433862

 

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Heart Trouble

Two weeks ago I went to the blood bank to donate. I followed the typical routine: waited in the empty lobby for an inexplicably long time before a nurse emerges, confirmed on the checklist that I was not in Eastern Europe between 1992 and 1997, avoided eye contact while answering sexual history questions that the nurse felt even more awkward asking, have my blood drawn and my pulse taken.

It was all smooth sailing until the last part.

Long story short, the nurse noticed an irregular heartbeat and, after consulting the thicker-than-a-Bible (and less organized) manual, disqualified me from donating. A couple days later an EKG revealed that I have PVCs (premature ventricular contractions) and RBBB (something like right bundle blockage). Yesterday I was in the waiting room of the cardiology department. And today I’m wearing a bundle of wires strapped to my chest like I’m going undercover to help nab a mafia boss.

It’s been a weird few days. I still don’t have any answers; hopefully those will come after the battery of tests I’m doing over the next couple weeks, including the Holter monitor, a stress test, and an echocardiogram. All signs point to a harmless “athlete’s heart”-like condition, where the muscle is just too damn strong and is sending electrical impulses to beat when it shouldn’t. I haven’t had pain or other symptoms. But then again, PVCs can be the result of more serious structural issues, and there’s a history of heart issues in my family (thanks a lot, grandma).

When you’re young, you don’t think about your heart. You don’t worry about your body failing you. I know I never thought about it. I exercise and eat healthy. Why would I need to worry?

But, at least for the time being, I am worried. It is scary to feel your pulse jump and wonder if that beating thing inside your chest is suddenly going to give way. It is scary to ponder a future without your favorite activities, the things that comprise part of your identity. It is scary to listen to your heart thundering in your ears against the pillow at night, wondering if your fears are making it worse. It is scary to sit in a waiting room surrounded by people decades older than you and notice something like curious pity in their eyes. You shouldn’t be here, they seem to say. I know why I’m here. But you?

I wasn’t really considering returning to racing and interval training, but now those are out of the question. Strava KOM hunting may be as well. After this scare, I’ll be happy to just be able to stay on the bike, to keep things moderate. My hammering days are likely over, whether or not my condition turns out to be serious or not. The risk/reward calculation just doesn’t work out. There’s no point–I don’t love hammering enough to threaten my life.

I’ll be taking it easy until the tests all come back, probably just going for long walks and spinning on the trainer. Not a fun way to close out 2017, but I think it’s the smart thing to do.

Marathon Prep

Well, it’s almost that time. After three months of training, I’m set to run the Harrisburg Marathon tomorrow. I get the sense that, before marathons, people feel a mix of excitement, dread, and anxiety. For the most part, all I feel is excitement. Completing the race shouldn’t be an issue, and I’m not gunning for a specific time (though sub-3:30 would be ideal; that’s around eight minutes per mile). I’m pretty much just out there to enjoy a nice long run and be part of a community event. Should be a fun day.

For nutrition, I’m having Autumn meet me at miles 10, 15, and 20 with a figs, salted baked potatoes, and a couple bottles of electrolyte mix. All my training runs so far, up to 20 miles, have been with no food. So I figure having some fuel will make the run a bit easier, at least physically. But marathons, like all endurance challenges, are mostly mental. To that end, I’m going to run it without headphones. No music, no podcasts, no distractions. Since this is likely the only marathon I’ll run, I want to fully experience it. I want to be there, completely, every step of the way. I want to be inside my mind, dealing with the ups and downs, embracing them instead of pushing the thoughts and emotions away. I think it will be harder that way, and ultimately more rewarding. More memorable.

So, there’s nothing left to do but wait until the gun goes off (is there a gun for this kind of thing?). All the training is in my legs. The pacing is planned. The food is prepared. Thee clothes are chosen. Now I’m just laying around all day, trying to stay off my feet so I feel fresh tomorrow.

In the end, like all the adventures t which we commit ourselves, there is nothing riding on this. Not really, not in the grand scheme of things. All that’s at stake is the way we view ourselves and our limits. All that’s left is memories.

marathon prep

Hunting Season

I’ll be the first one to say that going after KOMs is kind of lame. I’ll be the first one to say that if you want to compete with other riders, you should pin on a number and race against them instead of chasing virtual trophies. I’ll be the first one to say that Strava KOM hunters, especially those who don’t race, are likely to be jerks who take themselves way too seriously.

That being said, I’ve been getting into it lately.

Rather, getting back into it. When I upgraded from a basic speedometer to my Garmin about six months into my cycling career, Strava was a revelation. I’m a competitive person, and I wasn’t racing at the time, so I threw myself into the KOM business big time. (It helped that I lived on a farm out in the country and there were a few segments literally pedal strokes from my front door.) I had a lot of fun building segments into my rides, looking for new KOM opportunities, hoping for a tailwind to give me a couple extra seconds. It was validating, as a new rider, to see that I was not terrible at my new sport. Comparing myself against my own times and the times of others gave me a way to measure my progress and fueled my motivation to keep improving. Without Strava, I would have only been measuring myself against some middle-aged dudes on the Chapel Hill group ride I frequented, waiting all week for the one or two town line sprints on our route. With Strava, I could challenge myself and feel the thrill of competition as much as I wanted.

king of the mountain
Nope, not this one.

Then I started racing, and training for racing, and I more or less lost interest in KOMs. “That’s for losers,” I thought as I buried myself in my intervals and periodized training plan. I was concerned with race results, not some meaningless online leaderboards. Then, eventually, I stopped racing.

For a while I was perfectly happy to just cruise. There were a few months this summer where I probably didn’t get out of Zone 3. I certainly wasn’t gunning for KOMs. I continued ignoring the post-ride Achievements listing because there was never anything there worth looking at. I watched Phil Gaimon killing himself up mountains during his first year of “retirement” and thought about how miserable it looked.

But lately I’ve kinda, sorta, maybe rekindled my interest in KOM hunting. At least a little bit, sometimes. I definitely don’t want to race anymore–too dangerous, too expensive, not worth all the soul-sucking training. But I’m competitive. Always have been. I enjoy sports more when there is an element of beating another person. And Strava KOMs, for better or worse, are a way to exercise that competitive muscle without all the downsides of racing. Yes, there aren’t the benefits either–you don’t get to cross a finish line with your arms raised and people cheering. But I’ll take the trade-off.

Plus, segments are sort of like intervals, so maybe I won’t lose my fitness completely and be embarrassed on the next group ride when the boys kick it up a notch.