“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?

Possible toe solution

OK, several posts ago I hinted that my doctor may have come up with a solution to my numb toe problem.  At my recent physical examination, I described what was happening — numbness after a certain time on the bike.  Turns out, the problem is not in my toe after all, but in my foot.

The doc says a nerve running along the side of the foot is being compressed by the shoe.  That’s what leads to the numbness in the toe.  The way to fix it, he said, is to apply a corn patch to the side of the foot, back from the toe.  Putting pressure there will ease the pressure on the toe, and should alleviate the numbness.

Interesting idea.  I haven’t tried it yet.

Why?  Because lately, the toe hasn’t been bothering me as much.  After my ham-handed homemade remedy of a few weeks ago, the numbness has flared up only a couple times.  I’ll still get it, but it’s not the bother it was, and it doesn’t happen on every ride.

In fact, on my ride this evening, the numbness started, but I discovered it was because the tongue of the shoe had wrinkled a bit, and was putting pressure on the toe.  Once I stopped riding and took off the shoe to fix the problem, the numbness disappeared.

So, I guess I have a new remedy in my back pocket, should I ever need it.  Besides, the doc isn’t making any promises.

“If it works, I get the credit,” he said.  “If it doesn’t, it was just another one of your hairbrained schemes.”

Two grand

The Sunday morning club ride was another hills excursion. Geez, these guys like to ride hills. I took one look at the proposed route, and figured it was not for me. However, to get out to their hills, they would take a route I’ve done before — so I told the ride leader I would ride part way with them, but then break off on my own.

Once we got started, a familiar rider pulled up next to me — my friend David. He had gotten a late start, and was about a block from our Starbucks starting point when he saw us pull out. He pushed hard to catch up.

But he didn’t have it today. After about five miles, we hit some moderate hills — a precursor of things to come — and he dropped off the back. I thought he would be able to catch up, but we didn’t see him again, even after waiting awhile in a church parking lot at the top of a killer hill (I walked my bike up that one!). By the way, church parking lots probably are not the best places to regroup on Sunday mornings, especially between services!

Then we headed out to Loop 360, the best-known biking road in Austin. Long uphills, followed by long downhills. Six mph going up, 38 going down. Fun. The group turned into a ritzy golf course neighborhood to head for their hill route. I kept going north on 360.

Pennybacker Bridge.  Image from www.texasescapes.com.

Pennybacker Bridge. Image from http://www.texasescapes.com.

I hadn’t been this far north on 360 before. You get to cross an Austin landmark, the Pennybacker bridge, over Lake Austin (which is really the Colorado River). The bridge surface is roughed-up concrete, so if it ices up in cold weather, car tires will still get a grip. So crossing the bridge is not smooth going. No problem, though, and I soon found myself at my predesignated turnaround spot, the Arboretum. It’s not a park with flowers, but an upscale shopping center. With shade! I took a break, ate a Lara Bar, drank some Heed, shook out my foot, and turned around to head back.

The trip home was uneventful. My average speed was slower than I’d like — 14.4 mph — but no big deal. A more telling stat is my new total mileage for the year: 2,031. I crossed the two-thousand mile mark for the year on this ride. Never in my wildest imagination last January did I think I would put in so many miles. It took me five-and-a-half months to get my first 1,000 miles in this year, but only three months and eight days to get in the second thousand. Summer will do that for you — more riding time, longer mileage per ride, and a big increase in monthly mileage. I’ve also noticed the length of my average ride is increasing. Rarely am I satisfied to go just 14 miles anymore. Eighteen is closer to the norm.

I still am not shooting for a mileage goal for the year. The miles will come, and I’m more focused on the century ride coming up next month (I’m concerned that my long rides aren’t getting long enough, fast enough). For now, as David Bernstein of the Fredcast says, I’m going to “Enjoy the ride.”

I snapped out of it

Did the ride I’d promised today: 21.4 miles at 17.2 mph avg.  Felt great.  I was lucky to duck out of work early today for an eye doctor’s appointment, which got me home earlier than usual.  Pat is out of town on business this weekend, so I can take all the time I want to ride.  Sunday should be a good one.

We got da funk

My apologies to George Clinton. But I’ve been overcome with a deep funk in the past two days, and it’s not good for my biking.

There’s no good reason for it. The weather couldn’t be better. We even turned off our air conditioning yesterday for the first time all summer. Work is going reasonably well — at least there are no crises to deal with. On the domestic scene, all is okay — a little extra paperwork details to attend to, and we’re tearing our hair out over a computer problem. None of these should affect my biking.

But something is. I fully intended to ride when I got home today. Never did. Something else always seemed to come up, and next thing I knew, it was 7 o’clock, and daylight was running out.

Recently, my wife and I saw “Gone With the Wind” on the big screen in an old restored movie palace. I feel a bit like Scarlet O’Hara: “Fiddle-dee-dee. Tomorrow is another day.”

A biking day.

I feel the need — for speed

I’m not a fast cyclist. That’s why I ride with the B riders in my club — we just can’t maintain the 18+ mph pace the A riders typically set on our Sunday morning rides. I enjoy going fast, but the descents that let me do that don’t come along all that often. Besides, right now, I’m training for endurance, not speed.

But this evening was different. I hit the Veloway for my usual Tuesday night ride. (Unrelated aside: Road Rash, a blog on the Austin American-Statesman site, did a piece on the Veloway recently. Here’s the link.) My plan for the ride was to hammer the uphills, which are gentle, but still make you work. I would back off on the downhills and flats.

I got through the first mile, which includes one of those uphill stretches, and then hit a fast downhill. I was moving at a good clip, so I decided not to ease off to ride the descent easily. Instead, I kept up the power, and pedaled hard for the first lap (3.1 miles). I finished the lap in just about 10 minutes, 20 or 30 seconds faster than my usual time around the course.

I slowed to an easy spin to get out my water bottle and take a drink. Two cyclists flew past me, one after the other. I put the bottle back in its cage. What the hey — the chase was on!

I figured I’d try to match their pace, which seemed faster than mine on the lap I’d just completed. It looked like they were going to match each other’s pace, without racing. I became third in line. The guy in the Slipstream jersey passed the guy in the Airborne jersey, and I followed. Airborne shot me a look of disdain. We went up the one steep hill on the Veloway, then hit a fast flat section. Our speed was 24 mph. I usually ride 20-21 through here.

Then, my least favorite part of the loop — a curvy incline that scrubs off your speed quickly. I tried to match the pedal strokes of Slipstream, and kept it in the 15 mph range. Usually I slip to 12 here.

On the last section of the course, I passed Slipstream. The ess curve, then the end. I slowed to take another drink. Slipstream went by — his pace hadn’t slowed a bit. Then Airborne passed, looking straight ahead. What the hey — here we go again!

There’s no point in relating a turn-by-turn account of the next lap — or the one after. I never passed those two guys again, but I did stay close. I finished four laps around the Veloway, and figured I’d try to maintain my speed on the three-mile ride home.

Total distance: 17.76 miles. Avg. speed: 17.65 mph (Yes, it took me 22 seconds longer than an hour to complete the ride). Fastest average speed ever for a ride of an hour or longer. Pretty wimpy for the A riders out there, but by keeping up a decent pace through the entire ride — without tiring — I was breaking new ground for me. I’m looking forward to trying this kind of ride again — sometime.

An almost perfect ride

One of the benefits of being missed by a hurricane is the next day’s weather. The overnight low was only 64 — and I woke up to a day that was perfect for biking.

I had decided to skip the usual Sunday club ride, because they were going on a hill-climbing excursion. Instead, several members were planning to ride near Dripping Springs, which you’ll recall is one of my favorite places to ride around here.

I was at the appointed meeting place first, and had everything I needed — except my water bottles. I had put them in the freezer at home, and forgot them this morning. But Pippa came to the rescue. She had two extras, filled up and in an insulated carrier, so they were still cold. I don’t know why she carries two extra filled water bottles, but I’m glad she does.

Debra and her husband Russ, the other two riders, do this route at least once a week, since they live close by. We opted for the 40-mile route, which would take me much farther south onto roads that I haven’t ridden before.

Debra leads Pippa and Russ around a bend.

It’s a great route. The narrow and sometimes bumpy country roads have little motor vehicle traffic on Sunday mornings, and most of the drivers even smile and wave. Small ranches line the roads, and some have longhorn cattle in the pastures. There are hills — but this is the Texas Hill Country after all. When we hit the turnaround point at about 20 miles, I was still fresh. We had tackled the hills with élan, and enjoyed some nice downhills, which allowed us to rest on the pedals. Even my cantankerous toe wasn’t bothering me.

We backtracked from the turnaround for about half the way, and I realized why the route had seemed so perfect — it was a lot more downhill on the way out than on the way back. We were climbing the hills we coasted down, which didn’t seem like they had much slope on the way out, and to compound our problem, we found we were now heading directly into the wind. It couldn’t have been much more than 10 mph, but we felt its effects.

Pippa and Debra head up a small hill.

Our average speeds plummeted as we struggled up hill after hill. Mostly, they weren’t all that tough, but we weren’t in the attacking mode anymore. A nice curvy descent a few miles before the end of the route restored some pep to our step, so the ride ended with everyone feeling exhilarated.

Debra pulls into a shady spot where we all decided to take a breather.

The temperature was still in the 80s when we finished. A cold front is supposed to come thru tonight, and is expected to bring more tolerable daytime readings (around here, anything below 90 is “tolerable”). I can’t wait.

Hurricane Ike – meh

I still think they were smart to cancel the Tour de Florence — too much uncertainty about Ike’s path.  But it turns out that Austin was completely spared.  Some rain bands from Ike did find their way to the Tour route, but not much.  However, the wind was pretty stiff, sometimes gusting into the 30s.  So I’m glad I didn’t ride.  Plus, it’s so humid around here today, I could barely do an hour’s worth of yard work.

I’ll ride tomorrow.