“Fartlek” for bikes

Back when I was a runner — okay, I was never anything more than a jogger — interval training was considered the way to go to train for a race. I entered my share of t-shirt runs, and sometimes I even got serious about training for them. But intervals put me off. They seemed too regimented — too serious.

Then I read about an alternative method of training. It’s called fartlek — from the Swedish for “speed play.” A fartlek trainer runs at a certain pace, or tempo, for awhile, and then turns on the gas and runs hard for awhile. The bursts of speed are not over set distances, and recovery times are always different. That’s the kind of training I enjoyed doing.

I thought about that today when I was out for my regular Tuesday ride on the Veloway. I had fully intended to do intervals. I even had the fast sections mapped out in my head. I knew approximately how long my recovery times would last. But when I started my first interval, I just couldn’t get enthusiastic about it.

Then it occurred to me — do fartlek. I started pulling on the pedals through a twisty inclined stretch, a little less than a mile. At the high point, I backed off. I rode through a relatively flat area without pushing hard.  On another twisty incline I stomped on it again, and held the fast pace for almost another mile.  On an ess curve that features a right-angle left followed by an acute-angle right, I laid the bike as far over as it would go without falling (great fun).  Then I coasted back to the start.

I did five laps, and did fartlek for four of them.  Each time, my fast and slow sections were different.  I got the training benefit without the regimentation that takes the fun out of biking.  Tonight, I can feel it.  I fell asleep in front of the TV.  I’m going to bed earlier than usual.  This might partly be because I haven’t had a real bike ride in a week, but it’s also because I had a tough workout.  I like the feeling.  I plan to do it some more.

Another Windy City ride

We flew into Chicago on Friday for the wedding of our friends Brad and Linda’s daughter. Brad and Linda are the folks we did a Chicago bike ride with in June, and then met for a week of biking and other stuff in August. We were glad to be there, both because we think they’re great friends, and because we have a high regard for their daughter, Stefanie. We also figured there would be some down time in the wedding weekend to sneak in a bike ride.

There was. The wedding was wrapped up by noon Saturday, but the reception wasn’t scheduled until 5 p.m. Brad and Linda were obviously going to be tied up, but Pat and I headed out to a nearby “bike station” to rent a pair of bikes and hit the Lakefront Trail.

In June, Brad had warned against taking the trail north from downtown. Too congested, he said. So we went south then. But this time, we had to mix it up. We headed north. Brad was right.

The Lakefront Trail at Belmont Ave. Bikers share the trail with joggers, walkers, roller bladers, etc. This is one of the less crowded stretches of the trail we hit.

The Lakefront Trail is an asphalt path, divided down the middle with a yellow stripe so both northbound and southbound bikers can use it. But at several points, it can get jammed. Joggers, who do a pretty good job of sticking to the crushed stone at the side of the trail, suddenly veer in front of bikers. Most bikers are ordinary folks, who have little knowledge of the rules of the road, or merge onto the path without watching for other traffic. Some bikers in full kit get aero, and blast through everyone with little margin for error. And the walkers are the worst. They’re a hazard to bikers, because they will occupy the center of the path, and won’t move out of the way — so bikers have to change speed and direction quickly. When we reached Belmont Harbor, we decided to stop and turn around, since we’d have just an hour to get back to the bike station, return the rentals, walk back to the hotel, and get ready for the wedding reception.

The rental bikes rest at the turnaround point. They were Specialized hybrids. Kind of slow, but the conditions on the trail ruled out fast riding anyway.

When not dodging traffic on the trail, there’s plenty to see. This may have been the last nice summer weekend in Chicago this year (that’s what the natives told us), and people came out to Lake Michigan in droves.

North Avenue Beach has dozens of beach volleyball courts, loaded with aspiring Misty May-Treanors and Kerri Walshes.

The beautiful Caribbean. Blue water, sparkling sand, waving palms…no, wait! This is Chicago’s own Oak Street Beach. And yes, the palms (and there are lots of them) are real.

We got the bikes back to the rental station, after a particularly difficult time crossing the bridge over the Chicago River. So crowded with bikes, walkers and joggers that we had to get off and walk the bikes across — it was just too dangerous otherwise. One of the rental staff commiserated with us about the trail’s north route. She was more upset with the rudeness and lack of caution on the trail than with the crowded conditions. In any case, the next time we’re back here, we’ll head south, just as we did in June. This 12-mile and change ride required us to concentrate hard for the entire ride. But Pat and I agreed that it probably made us more skillful bikers.

Problem? Or not a big deal?

As you know, I’m planning to ride a century next month — the 18th, in fact.  I’m pleased with the way my preparation is going.  I ride three times a week — Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday — and have been ramping up my weekly mileage as well as the length of my long Sunday ride.

This week, that’s all down the drain.

We’re flying to Chicago Friday, and will be there all weekend, attending the wedding of our close friends’ daughter.  So I’ll miss my Friday ride, which would have been about 25 miles, and I’ll miss my Sunday ride, which would have been about 55-60 miles.

Pat wants to rent bikes in Chicago Friday afternoon, and do the lakefront ride we did in June.  That’s fine, but it’ll be a nice easy pedal in the park.  We probably won’t go as far as 15 miles, and we’ll average between 8 and 10 mph.  Big wup.

I’ll get back to my regimen Tuesday.  But — how much of a setback (if any) will those two missed longish rides cause?  Frankly, I’m training to finish the century, but probably not to finish in style.  I just want to survive it.

It’s my hope that because my fitness has markedly improved over the summer, I’ll be able to make up the lost ground relatively easily.  Thoughts, anyone?