Category Archives: Biking

I love being wrong

One of my favorite phrases is “never say never,” applied to everything from trying new foods, to new sports, or even dating partners. I’m pretty open to new experiences and I think everyone should be just because it helps you grow so much. You never know if you’ll like something or if something will work until you actually try it.

But sometimes I don’t live by my advice. Sometimes there are things I just don’t get – things that everyone won’t shut up about, things that I believe to be vastly overrated or dumb or trendy, things I professed for months or even years that couldn’t be that great. But then, sometimes I actually do try these things and they absolutely live up to the hype. In these instances, I love being wrong.

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Swiftwick socks

Like Experia Thorlos and anything overpriced by Nike, I thought, how could an athletic sock be any better than another? It’s a cotton tube for your foot and it just gets pressed up against your shoe anyway. I even bought a pair of Swiftwicks to try because I loved their packaging/design so much, but they sucked. They were Zeros, the no-show height, and they slid down inside my shoes. Fail.

But then … an eager sales rep literally chased me down between booths at The Running Event (a running industry trade show) and gave me a couple pairs of their compression socks. I was wearing a walking boot at the time thanks to a stress fracture, and he described what a difference socks could make with devices like that – he was right, the boot was pretty toasty.

I wore the socks for cycling a few weeks later, and with my boot, as recommended. And my mind was blown. These socks WERE different. They were smooth, had just the right level of compression (I had the Sevens, a mid-calf sock, and Twelves, a full knee sock), they managed temperature well, and they had these cool logos on the back of the calves that just felt, swag. There was something transcendent about that sock. Swiftwick, you rule.

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Bib shorts

Ah, bibs. When I started cycling in 2010, bibs freaked me out. Why? SO GEEKY. I figured they were a strange garment created only for ultra cycling dorks that served no utility because who would want shorts that go over your shoulders? I didn’t try to rectify this by asking questions, I just judged in silence.

I lived in the dark until Fall 2012, when the cycling club ordered our new kits (cycling speak for uniforms). I thought I ordered shorts, but when they came in they were bibs. I was disgusted, but with no other options I slipped into them one day for a ride. Guys, it was a epiphany. They were so … smooth. They basically go straight over your stomach so your jersey sits nicely on top. No more tugging at your shorts, no more waistbands digging into your stomach.  Finally, the boys in my club laughed at me when I said this, but here’s an added bonus: bib shorts are the Spanx of cycling (except not uncomfortably tight). They tames that tummy roll right down and just hold everything in.

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Mountain biking

I’m certain you’re bored of hearing various incarnations of this story (or maybe / you’re / not) but basically I used to think mountain biking was only for adrenaline junkies, super dangerous, and certainly nothing I would ever try. But then I started mountain biking and it was fine! I mean, it is scary sometimes, but once you learn skills you can ride a lot of stuff and it is not nearly as dangerous as it seems on the outside. Trust me.

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Strava

Strava is a social media website/app that uses GPS data to track your runs and bike rides. The social part is that it compares your efforts to other people who have ridden the same routes (or more commonly, “segments”) as you have.

I thought Strava was only for (1) overcompetitive dudes who enjoyed destroying nice, easy, conversational pace lines in group rides with quests for virtual glory. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be enjoying a recreational, friendly ride when the guys would announce, “This is a segment! I’m going for it!” and sprint off. I couldn’t keep up, and I’d sulkily pedal behind until catching up at the street’s end where they waited to regroup, panting and already measuring their efforts on their iPhones. Oh, I also thought Strava was only for (2) people who owned smartphones that could use the Strava app (no smartphone = bit of a sore spot, I like to save money OK!?!).

I was absolutely wrong about the second point; Strava is not just for smartphones. You can use most GPS watches with Strava! This is how I log my runs and rides.

And, well… I was partially right about the first point. Strava IS for overcompetitive dudes! It’s also for overcompetitive chicks like me! There are a lot of great things about Strava that don’t involve the social aspect / competition like its training log functions, its shoe mileage counter, and all the data it gives you, all for free! But my favorite part is the competition. The site shows you which people have ridden the same segments or routes that you’ve done, and ranks your performances on a leader board. You don’t get anything when you get to the top … other than knowing you’re the King/Queen of the Mountain. But excellence isn’t about rewards; it’s about knowing you’re the best!!! This site indulges my overshare/running and cycling nerd tendencies. In other words, it’s perfect.

Overcompetitiveness aside, I love how the site can inspire you to push harder on your everyday efforts. If I find out there’s a random segment halfway through my ride, I’m going to pick up the pace next time I ride it. Nothing changed about that road from the last time I rode, except knowing that there’s a goal and an achievement at stake. But Strava changed how I ride it – the site created something out of nothing. It can also give you a feeling of community with the other riders in your area, show you popular training routes, giving you some of the experience of riding with a group even if you head out solo. That’s the power of the internet and I love it.

Re: overcompetitiveness: it’s just a fun add-on to your sport and your training. Only you decide how important KOMs and leaderboards are. In the end it’s still all 1s and 0s.

Don’t knock it til ya try it. And when you do try it, and you are wrong, admit it, talk about and spread the love so we can all learn.

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Fall 2013: the year of the mountain bike concludes + other updates

Behold, Fall 2013:

Shooting off "hospital hill" at Flat Rock Ranch

Shooting off “Hospital Hill” at Flat Rock Ranch

1. Rode my mountain bike a lot

The sport of mountain biking got the most love from me this semester. I went all-in, traveling and competing with my school’s cycling club to seven USA Cycling collegiate races. We had a blast camping and competing at venues across the state against other collegiate teams.

I put all my focus on biking this fall because it’s my last semester at Baylor and my last chance to be a member of the school’s team. Since I don’t have any NCAA eligibility anymore, and no urgent running goals other than get back into training, I figured this was a good time and maybe the only time to really get some good riding in before I make running everything again.

I freaking loved this season! Biking is obviously much lower-key than NCAA Track and Field, and while I took the races seriously I didn’t have any outside pressure to perform. Mountain biking is similar to running in that you have to stay mentally engaged, it challenges you aerobically, and you get to be outside competing in beautiful places. But it’s different because the fittest girl doesn’t always win! It’s also about finesse – your technical skills on the trail can take you a lot further than interval training. My technical skills are MUCH better than last year though, after all my summer practice in Austin, and it was really satisfying to actually be able to use my aerobic fitness and push myself in a race. It was great to try to work into a new sport, where a different required skill set challenged me in new ways.

I crashed every race weekend at least once, but I got up and finished all the races. It wasn’t too bad, and wearing my scrapes and bruises to class the next few days after a race always made me feel so hardcore.

I was happy with the season – I got 2nd or 3rd in all my races, depending who showed up. It was a huge improvement from last year, and I ended up qualifying for and getting to race at collegiate nationals in North Carolina! I got 45th/80 there, which I am proud of because one year ago I was 100% brand new to this sport.

Beech Mountain, NC.

Y’all it was beautiful but FREEZING

2. Baylor Cycling Club: a new athletic and leadership experience

As much pride as I drew from being an athlete at Baylor for five years, I have to say people in the cycling club and other club sports are the real “student-athletes” on campus. The NCAA athlete experience was fantastic at Baylor and I wouldn’t change it. We were treated very well and our coaches had high expectations from us – often I felt like a pro athlete who did school on the side. Club athletes on the other hand have to run the team themselves, without the help of athletic scholarships, coaches, and an entire athletic department dedicated to their success. They organize the club, buy equipment, plan trips, register for races, host competitions,  raise funds, participate in the community, keep up with their studies, and most importantly, COMPETE year-round.

Team at conference champs - 1st place DII and 3rd place overall

Team at conference champs – 1st place DII and 3rd place overall

I’ve been in the club since Fall 2012, and became an officer last spring. It’s really cool to have been part of the leadership, and see how the student leadership has matured, grown the club, and shaped it into an organization that provides so much fun and so many opportunities for its members.

3. Running is still #1 in my heart and my future plans

I’ve heard a few folks ask me if I’m still running, or just mountain biking now.

My response to this is Think I give up that easy!? But I guess I haven’t been vocal enough about my goals. Or I can just blame Facebook (which is ironic because I’m still not actively using the site right now), because I think I’ve been tagged in a bunch of  biking photos this semester. Guess I need to start sending selfies from 6:30 a.m. practice at Cottonwood. Sorry, I know, Facebook is the easiest way to get this gestalt idea of how people’s lives are going, and I can see how my profile would be misleading.

But still. No. Just no. I still run. I still love running. I still want to run for a post-collegiate team. I still train. I’ve done a few races this fall.

Me and one of my running buddies this fall

Me and my running buddy David at Belton’s Trails of Hope 5 miler

This semester I’ve trained with my old XC team, and did a meet with them (the HBU Invite, ran an XC 5k in 17:30 woohoo). Feeling my fitness returning after 6 months off due to injury last school year is simply exhilarating. I’m experiencing the purity of running, re-discovering the joy that it is to feel my legs turn over, to have to dig again, and to be able to open up and run uninhibited by nagging pain or heavy legs. I can feel my talent asking to be unleashed, running these workouts and races months earlier than I thought I’d be able to. It’s weird and awesome and I love it.

4. I’m graduating grad school in December!

I love my school and my faculty but I’m ready to be done! And so is my bank account. Hoo boy. I am experiencing the typical pre-grad anxiety of oh em gee there is a lot to do before December, but whenever things get too bad I can always count on a run to bring me back to feeling alright. Something about that physical effort just pushes all the other thoughts out of your brain. This semester, more than any other in the past, I’ve experienced running as a drug that gives me a high, and an escape from my own negativity.

With this master’s degree, I will become the most educated child in my family. This is a total joke because my siblings are all quite brainy (engineer, special ed teacher / 4.0 UT grad, and a legit accountant-in-training) and I’m pretty sure they’re going to be more well-read, well-written, and/or well-paid than me in the future. Naturally, I’m planning to milk it for all its worth over Christmas.

WHAT’S NEXT? : the question of the hour for any soon-to-be-graduate.

In January-May I’m going to move back to Austin (hey parents hey), work a part-time job, and visit / interview with the post-collegiate running teams I’m looking at. I’ve had conversations with a few coaches, but most of them asked me to visit before we discussed anything serious. Since I spent all fall cavorting around to my mountain bike races, and most of the team contracts begin in June, I decided to do visits in the spring with the goal of joining a team in the summer.

Um yeah I might not leave Austin. Ever.

TL; DR: This fall, I rode my mountain bike, got back in shape as a runner, I will graduate in December, and move to Austin in January.

Viva La Bicicleta

Bike commuting has been an unexpected pleasure of my college experience. I brought a bike with me my freshman year, with a faint idea that I might enjoy riding it as much as I did when I was 10. Over the last four and a half years, riding my bike to school, work and practice has been a near-daily joy for me. It’s not only the fastest way to get to school, it’s also good for me, it’s fun, it’s a cool bonding time to commute with other people, and it’s good for the environment.

Yes, I am preaching here, but I believe every single person at Baylor who drives their car to school is wasting their time. Ok, back up, if you live more than five miles away, or if you have to be somewhere immediately before/after class, or if it’s raining a ton, you might not be wasting your time. But the rest of you … why do you all complain about the lack of parking on campus?! Easy solution.

baylor bike lanes

Baylor added new bike lanes in 2012 on Dutton and 3rd St. crossing through campus. Increased visibility = safer riding for cars and cyclists. Thanks Baylor!

I’ve invested a little to make biking more pleasant. For the first three years of college, I rode my sister’s old bike from when we were preteens.

raleigh

Old bike. This one sucked, and when I rode it, I didn’t love commuting. It was too slow and heavy … and unstylish.

It took buying a real road bike for me to realize what lower plane of bike life I’d been existing on for years. I swapped the old bike for a zippier hybrid with a flat handlebar and skinny tires. It’s not road-bike fast, but it’s got good geometry for me, with a balance of visibility and speed. This was well worth the $375 I paid that dude on Craigslist, and I’ve never had to get work done on it after I learned to change my own flats.

Trek FX 7.2

Trek FX 7.2

Another thing that makes my commute more fun is music. I use one headphone only so I can hear the cars behind me. Explosions in the Sky is an especially epic life soundtrack. If I’m caught on campus after dark or I’m closing at the store, I wear some LED clip-on lights for better visibility to drivers. Getting some racks or panniers might be nice, but I usually just load up my backpack for the day – changes of clothes, food, textbooks – really carefully and carry my stuff on me own back.

bike tires

Portaging new bike tires home from the bike shop. So meta.

A few days ago, it hit me: I’ve achieved bike commuting nirvana. This is the best part of my life right now, I thought, because despite stress fractures and loads of grad reading and disappointing people, nothing can go wrong here. I had been rushing to leave my apartment to get to school on time, but as soon as I mounted my bike, I knew it would be alright. I was soaking up the sun’s early morning rays. Wind was blowing in my hair – it never gets old. The stresses of lateness and the day ahead of me faded with each pedal stroke. On my bike, I feel in control and happy, in touch with the world but not controlled by it. Walking limits me by speed and occasionally my still-sore heel. Driving limits me to set routes and awful parking, and detachment with the world. But biking is just right. I’m tall, I’m fast, I’m making the most of life.

Running is my first love, and I never want to lose that competitive spirit. This has not replaced running in my life, because this kind of biking is not about exercising (even though that’s a benefit). It’s bigger than that. It’s a lifestyle, a life of connecting to the people and neighborhoods around you, a life of self-sufficiency, and a life of gratefulness to God for an amazing body that can power this two-wheeled machine. Life is best lived on the bike –

Viva_la_bicicleta_logo

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bike

This post has nothing to do with “Dr. Strangelove” other than the title. I wanted to write about the best things I learned from mountain biking this semester.

It was hella scary from the get-go. I somehow emerged unscathed from my first ride. But on my second, a group ride in our beloved Cameron Park, I took a spill and my chainring greedily took a bite out of my ankle. With some ample steri-strips I was back in action, but from then on mountain biking presented its own special challenge: fear.

On the outside, it seems foolish, piloting a two-wheeled machine up and down rocky, rooty, twisting trails. But I wanted to like it. My heel was really hurting from plantar fasciitis, and this was the only fun times I could see on the trails. So I embraced the challenge. After the nasty ankle cut, it was time to show mountain biking who was boss. I realized, short of a spinal injury or death, which was highly unlikely, the worst that could happen would be a broken collarbone. And then what? Your body heals. It’s not cool to be out, to be injured, but it made me realize you can get injured and still be ok. In running, we are so deathly afraid of injuries because of the toll they take on our performance and training. But I didn’t want to be afraid of the bike.

See, there’s a funny thing about mountain biking, and it ties back to the physics of a rolling wheel. The faster you go, the easier it is to stay upright! The faster you go, the more you can roll over barriers or rocks that would knock you over if you were going too slow. It’s a brutal way to learn the sport, but it’s the only way. You can draw a lot of amazing life conclusions from this too, like learning not to be overly cautious and going for  what you want – fantastic article on that here.

My successive rides went alright. Each one was still scary, particularly pitching down the swoopy Vortex or jagged Baseball trail at Cameron Park, but I got to do more races and emerged after each one feeling a bit more adventurous. Although still massively stressed during most rides, I started to enjoy a few portions that made it worth it. The race my team hosted at Cameron Park was awesome. I won my category, because every time we climbed a hill (meaning, hike-a-bike, meaning, walking the bikes) I was able to run up the hill with my bike and pass people. Suck it, non-runners. Winning that race endeared me enough to the sport to scout out my own bike on Craigslist and drop another couple hundred on pedals and shoes.

Literally and mentally invested in the sport! Bought my own mountain bike.

At my team’s last race, the conference champs at Solavaca Ranch in Glen Rose, I was having a blast. I was scooting over rocky sections and navigating my way through a windy section with names like “Flintstones” and “Spaghetti Bowl.” There were these awesome parts of the course that cut through a field with some zig zagging paths. You could see the guys in front of you and behind you, which hadn’t happened to me in a race before. My bike was my buddy, and together, we would conquer Cat C.

Solavaca Ranch (click for more on this place)

But about two miles from the finish I ate it going up a hill. Not a bad fall, just couldn’t make it up the incline and didn’t get unclipped fast enough. Unfortunately there was a metal sign next to the course, indicating a split in the path, and I caught it with my arm on the way down. It slashed open and it was like a terrible biology dissection, a cross-section of an arm you never wanted to see… particularly on yourself. Fortunately I was wearing calf sleeves (in an attempt to avoid the perpetual shin scrapes from biking. Ha) and I was able to wrap one around my wrist to keep its innards from spilling out on the trail. I sat on the side of the trail and squeezed out a few tears and hyperventilating breaths until I realized the fastest way to get help was to ride the freaking bike the rest of the race.

If you want to see a picture of the cut  … click here

It turned out fine. My teammate drove me to the small-town ER in Glen Rose, I got stitches, and made it back to the race site before awards. I hadn’t finished the race, since I’d cut off a loop to get out sooner, but we’d won the mountain bike season championship for D2 schools. The stitches were a pain, but at least I have this:

Mtb Scar

Hopefully the whole “chicks dig scars” thing works in reverse too

In a semester where a lot of stuff wasn’t going my way – lingering plantar fasciitis turned stress fracture! Grad school is harder than undergrad! – it was fun to have something that wasn’t so high stakes. Something a little reckless. Something to do with new friends. Something challenging yet manageable. Something I felt like fighting for.

Maybe it was dumb; I wouldn’t have these scars if I hadn’t tried this sport. But I was tired of waiting for my life to reassemble itself while my foot healed. I didn’t want fear to be the reason I stopped biking, and I think that attitude is going to help me be a better runner. Why not take hold of the opportunity right in front of you, and make the best of what you got?

Self congratulatory speech aside / truth confessed… I have not mountain biked since that day in November. And it is still about opportunity the in front of me. I have another year of eligibility for track season, which starts next Saturday. I won’t be racing because my heel is still broken or whatever, but I do believe it’s on the mend. My coaches and trainers haven’t given up on me, and have emotionally and financially invested in me to rep Baylor on the track in 2013. I don’t want do anything that will jeopardize my chances of coming back and racing. In the fall, I figured any injuries sustained in mountain biking could be fixed by now. But now that the season is here, I think I can restrain myself from hitting the trails for a few more months. Instead, I’ll be riding on the roads (dangerous also I suppose but not because I suck at it, unlike mountain biking) and hopefully making a glorious return to running.

It’s going to be a great year for Baylor Track and Field, whether I’m competing or not. The team is talented (as always!) and ready to put in the work. This week we celebrated Coach Hart’s 50th year coaching at Baylor, a tremendous accomplishment and display of commitment to our team. In fact, all of our coaches are former Baylor tracksters, which impresses on me how much they value the program and us. I guess it’s taken me until my last year to realize how special this is, and I want to be a part of it as much as I can.

Baylor Propaganda:

Maybe I can even get up to running so much that I’ll be too tired to ride a bike. That’ll be the day.

MTB

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I’m on the left. Sic ’em, Baylor Cycling

I joined Baylor’s cycling club this semester because my foot was hurt and I figured I might as well have some fun working out with other people. I’ve been road biking since 2010, but had never ridden a mountain bike. The plan was just to do the weekly group road rides, and not any of the mountain bike stuff. But fall is mountain bike race season, and thanks to the persuasion of our  gung-ho club adviser and a couple cute club members, I decided to give this mtb (bike speak for “mountain bike”) thing a try.

My first time on the mtb would be a race at Reveille Peak Ranch. I knew they had trail races here (like, running!) so I was eager to check it out for that reason. I rented a bike for the weekend from Baylor’s Outdoor Adventure program and drove myself the two hours to Burnet in the dark after work. I was signed up for the Sunday morning “Cross Country” race, which I learned was not really like cross country (that’s cyclocross haha) but meant “longer” race. Anyway, the team was camping the night before the race, along with the rest of the competition, at the Ranch. When I rolled up that night, cautiously navigating my little Yaris down the dirt road to the campsite, I felt a little out of place. My headlights illuminated silhouettes of mountain bikes with their weird geometry, hung in trees next to their owners’ tents. What had I gotten myself into?

But then we had a campfire and s’mores, I slept great, and my teammates were encouraging. Sunday morning: go time. It was raining and kind of chilly. I had no interest in beating any other racer, just surviving the race course. “If you feel uncomfortable,” everyone told me, “just walk your bike.” And we were off … After a fishtail fall in the mud five minutes in, I was in last place. I didn’t really care; it was nice to not worry about competing or losing. I tried to ride as much as I could, but I think I walked about half of it. Reveille is really rocky, so combined with the wet terrain I was extremely wussy.

However, there were a couple parts I enjoyed – swoopy singletrack and tiny amount of climbing I could handle. One girl in front of me flatted, and the rainy weather had discouraged most of the other racers. I ended up second place for Cat C. The guys waited for me to finish my race, and cheered me across the line. I survived. I even won a trophy, made from an old wrecked bike. Maybe mountain biking was going to work out.

someone else's cool shot of RPR

someone else’s cool shot of  Reveille Peak Ranch