Monday, June 23, 2014

RiotGRRRaveL Wrap up

A few weeks ago I was blogging about how scared I was riding on gravel and how I didn't think I would be able to finish the gravel race - RiotGRRRaveL - that I signed up to ride. I went through Gravel Fears ... and Gravel Tears but then managed to get my bike adjusted better so that I was more comfortable. A day before the RiotGRRRaveL ride, I was still pretty nervous about riding the 30 some miles but planned to go ahead and give it a go. My goals for the ride were pretty basic:
  1. finish the ride
  2. average 10 mph
  3. have fun
Well, guess what? I finished the RiotGRRRaveL gravel bike race on Saturday and accomplished my goals and then some!

Here's my RiotGRRRaveL Race Rundown:

First off, I finished the race! That is an accomplishment in itself because a couple of weeks ago I was about to give up on riding gravel. My longest gravel ride ever was only 16 miles long and my longest ride of the year so far was a road ride of 27 miles. I know 30 gravel miles is nothing to a lot of riders but it was a lot for me. And who is comparing anyway? I mean, who cares of someone else thinks 30 miles is easy? This was my race, not anyone else's race so what someone else can do just doesn't matter. I rode my race and I finished. I am happy!
Here's Lisa and I about to ride over the RiotGRRRaveL finish line (and the RiotGRRRaveL photographer, Kate)
Second,  I exceeded my goal speed of 10 mph and ended up averaging about 12 mph. To top it off, my knee didn't hurt, my wrist didn't hurt much and overall I felt pretty strong. I also really didn't stop to rest during the whole route - I took two short breaks of about 5 minutes each. Not stopping to rest is really rare for me - typically on a 30 mile ride I would stop for 15 minutes or more, have a cup of coffee, chat with people, etc. I like resting. I'm pretty convinced that I NEED to rest. But I discovered on Saturday that I can ride 30 miles without taking a significant break. This surprised me!

Here we are having FUN along the RiotGRRRaveL race route
Third - and most importantly - I had fun. FUN FUN FUN! Yes, I had a great time. My friend, Lisa, rode with me and she's a lot of the reason I had fun. We talked. We sang. We smiled. We laughed. We also pedaled and pedaled and pedaled worked hard and struggled up the hills. I know I found myself thinking that the miles would never end a few times. But we kept pedaling. And we finished the ride with some energy to spare - not much energy in my case - but enough energy so that I didn't fall over and only had to take a two hour nap when I got home (boy, did that nap feel good!)

Other things that contributed to the FUN factor of RiotGRRRaveL (yep, this gets kinda long but read on if you feel so moved)

FIRST OFF - Ellie, the person who came up with this RiotGRRRaveL race in the first place. I'm so grateful that Ellie decided to create "a fun, accessible ride that is woman & family friendly." When I saw the race announcement, I think it was on the Salsa Cycles Facebook page, I was SO excited! I'd wanted to do a gravel race but have been totally intimidated by the typical 100 mile ride length. I had been wishing for a ride just like RiotGRRRaveL and am just thrilled that Ellie forged ahead and made the ride happen. When I saw the info on RiotGRRRaveL I signed up immediately because I knew this ride would be perfect for me. And it was.

My family (husband, Owen, and kids, Rose and Ryan) acted as our cheering section along the route. They cheered as we took off from the start line, stopped at a couple of places to cheer for us enroute and were at the finish line to cheer for us and congratulate us when we finished - and they cheered for the other rides on the race, too. Also, Rose washed my bike the night before the race and Owen gave it a once over to make sure it was ready to go. In short, Owen, Rose and Ryan were wonderful and supportive. Thank you! Thank you!

Good weather - Mostly sunny. No rain. Not too hot. Pretty much perfect.

A Fine Race Route - the original race route had to be changed because of flooding. Though we missed out on a more challenging route, I was okay with the change as the new route was somewhat flatter than the original and the gravel was consistently nicer with very few loose gravel spots. In short, it was not too intimidating but still enough of a challenge to be, well, a challenge.
Kris, Myrna and Lisa before the RiotGRRRaveL race
Fabulous Women (the guys were pretty fab, too) - Of the 82 entries, I believe 80% of the riders were women. At ride start I discovered that Kris, a woman I know (her husband, Todd, works at Milltown Cycles and helped me adjust my Vaya) was also riding. Kris is fabulously fast and placed 9th overall! I also recognized a woman from Northfield and met her riding companions and met several other great people along the route. There were experienced cyclists who were definitely racing (averaging over 19 mph), people like me who like to ride but have never raced, and some who had never ridden gravel before the race. Wow!  There was even a mom who rode her cargo bike and took her toddler along for the ride. (note: previously I wrote that the mom rode with baby and toddler because I saw the baby seat and a toddler in the cargo bike. I was wrong - the mom, Morgen, rode with her toddler who sat in the cargo basket some of the time and her car seat some of the time - click HERE to read Morgen's account of her ride with Zinnia) I loved the variety of people and the overall positive vibe.

Cool Bikes - I like bikes and couldn't help but check out all the bikes on the ride. There was a Vaya just like mine, probably 20 fat bikes, lots of bikes from Salsa, Surly and All-City Cycles and all sorts of other cool bikes. There was also a tandem (the tandem riders came in 8th place) and the cool cargo bike.

Prizes and like that - Banjo Brothers, Twin Six and Erik's Bikes contributed cool prizes to the race (Lisa won a t-shirt from Twin Six and a phone wallet from Banjo Brothers). There were lots of prizes! I know Freewheel Bike hosted a few seminars on gravel riding and flat tire fixing as well. There were cool t-shirts and water bottles with the RiotGRRRaveL logo on them as well. I'm probably missing something or someone...

Kate the Awesome Photographer - at several spots along the route Kate the photographer would be alongside the road with her camera. Kate not only took great pictures (check them out at her Flickr page) but it was such a treat to see someone along the route who would smile and wave at us. Plus I felt sort of famous getting my picture taken a lot.
Another great picture by Kate Lockhart of a bunch of RiotGRRRaveL riders
Organized Event - an event with cool people isn't much fun if the event isn't well run. RiotGRRRaveL was well organized and everything ran smoothly from my perspective. Part of the organizational success was due, I'm sure,  to all of the ....

Awesome Volunteers - The RiotGRRRaveL race could not have happened without many great volunteers. There were people to sign us in, mark our times as we crossed the finish line, ride the route before the race and re-route the route the night before the race. There  were volunteers like Max (who I know from playing in the Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra and from LEGO League) who helped along the route and passed out snacks, and ride organizer, Ellie's, family (husband, Tony and daughters Cedar & Zelia) who, I'm sure, lived and breathed RiotGRRRavel these past few months. Our ride start and end was at Hope Lutheran Church and church members stepped up with snacks before and after the race and let us use the bathrooms - yay!

So that's it - RiotGRRRaveL 2014 is a wrap. It sounds like Ellie and crew may offer the ride again next year. If so, I'm looking forward to doing it again!

Thanks again, Ellie, for RiotGRRRaveL. You are fabulous!
Thanks again, Lisa, for pedaling every mile of the ride with me and for keeping me smiling :-)
Riding on down the RiotGRRRaveL road. Photo ©Kate Lockhart

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ready or Not it's time for RiotGRRRaveL!

Gravel road on RiotGRRRaveL route
Well, tomorrow is the day of the RiotGRRRaveL race. I'm not quite as ready as I'd like to be but I can't do anything about that now. Come morning, I'll be packing up my bike and my family and I will be heading to Northfield to pick up my ride partner, Lisa. We plan to leave Lisa's around 7:00 then drive over to Hastings (about a 40 minute drive) to Emily's Bakery to pick up our bib numbers, meet some of the other riders and get a pastry!

After that, we head to the ride start location, a church at the edge of town, unload our bikes and get all nervous, I mean, get ready to go.

At 9:30 the race begins - and off we will go! There are about 100 riders signed up, 80 of them are women (the race was created, in part, to get more women riding/racing gravel). At times, I get pretty nervous about the race but I'm just telling myself I'm going on a big bike ride with a lot of fun people and that helps.

My husband, Owen, my son, Ryan, and I drove the race route this afternoon. The route is a mixture of gravel types from nice to ride to pretty loose. There are some hilly portions and the ride be challenging. That said, it's a pretty route with lots of great scenery and the beginning of the ride and end of the ride are on great, straight, almost flat, roads.
One of the gravel roads along the RiotGRRRaveL route 
Because of all of the rain we've been getting, one part of the route is underwater so the race crew has worked up a new route and is getting new cue sheets ready for us. I can imaging they are quite busy this evening! My guess is, given what I saw of the route today, that they can pretty easily route us around the underwater portion of the race.

The ride route is 33 miles long. As I mentioned, from what I saw today, it will be a challenging ride but I think it's doable. I would be better off if I could have gotten some more gravel miles in but this past week but I was down with the stomach flu for a couple of days and then the rain kept me off the roads. Oh well. Though I haven't gotten in any real long rides so far this year, my longest thus far was a 27 mile road ride, in past years I have ridden 70 miles in a day (road ride) so I know I'm capable of going far. The hills worry me a bit. And the gravel. And the distance. I guess that's pretty much the whole ride. Oh well. At least now I have my bike adjusted well and I am feeling more comfortable riding on gravel. But, best of all, I know I have a great riding companion in Lisa and I will bet that the energy of riding with about 80 women will carry me along quite well.

All right. Time for go. Best thing I can do for myself right now is get a good night's sleep!
Nice scenery along the RiotGRRRaveL route

Friday, June 13, 2014

at last...I'm Feeling Pretty Good on Gravel

Well, it's time for an update so you don't all think I'm still crying while riding a gravel road somewhere like in my last post. Things are going much better with my gravel riding now. Here's why.

Last Saturday I took my Vaya to Milltown Cycles where I purchased it about a year ago. I called ahead to make sure either Todd or Curtis would have time to help me get my bike fitting better. Todd said he'd be around all day. So, late in the day Owen and I stopped on by and I explained what's been going on. I told Todd:

  • I'm really heavy in my hands and feet but not sitting much in the saddle at all
  • I feel very unstable when riding gravel like the bike is almost skipping all over the road if I hit a rock, certainly unstable on loose gravel
  • I have trouble with wrist pain when I'm riding
  • when I try to shift my weight back in the saddle, I'm way off the back of my saddle and my knee hurts to boot 
We decided to put my Vaya in the trainer so Todd could see me pedaling and how I actually am sitting when I'm riding (a trainer is a contraption in which you fasten your bike's rear wheel so the wheel runs on a little roller system and you are able to pedal in place and "ride" indoors).

Right away Todd was able to see that my position on the bike was causing my discomfort. He raised up my handlebars a bit. I pedaled some more to check to see if raising the handlebars helped. It did. Raising them took some pressure off of my hands and shifted my weight back into the saddle so I was more on my sits bones.

I told Todd that based on how I sit on my other bikes I still felt I should have more weight on my sits bones. Todd then looked at my saddle position and raised the nose on my saddle a bit so the saddle was more level. I pedaled my Vaya on the trainer again. Yep, that felt much better.

Todd asked about my tire pressure. I've been riding my 26-1.75 tires with 45 psi in the front and 50 psi in the rear. Todd suggested that for gravel I could ride with less air and that would help me feel more stable.

With plans to ride the Vaya on actual roads and not just the trainer ASAP, I loaded up my Vaya in my van, thanked Todd for his help, and headed home.

Guess what? I let some air out of my tires the next morning and headed out for a ride. Owen joined me on his Mukluk and we rode about 9 miles. I felt oh so much better on my Vaya! So much better. I could feel that my weight was more in the saddle and less on my hands. I felt more stable and less like I was going to crash every time I hit a rock. We had some loose gravel to deal with on the ride but also had a lot of very nice, hard gravel. Overall the ride on my newly adjusted Vaya was a great success!! 

I rode the Vaya again the next day then the next few days were extraordinarily busy for me but I finally had time for another gravel ride this morning. Owen and I mapped out a 16 mile route and headed out. I felt pretty comfortable on the Vaya, found some great gravel on the route and really enjoyed myself. It's possible that I'll still tweak things down the road after the RiotGRRRavel race (it's just a week away - aaarrrggghh!) but, for now, things are fitting well enough to press on. So I will.

You know, a week ago I wouldn't have believed that I could have had such a great gravel ride - but today's ride was really wonderful. It was what I always dreamed gravel rides are supposed to be like: pleasant temperatures, charming company (thanks for riding with me, Owen), almost no traffic, nice roads, great scenery, a bike that feels pretty comfortable to ride - ah, it was nice. Very nice. last...I'm feeling pretty good on gravel!

Thanks, Todd, for your help. Thanks Joe, Christopher, David, Marty, Kate and anonymous blog commenter, for your support and advice.

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, Thanks, Owen, for riding with me (even when I'm crying), for listening to me and for being with me every step (perhaps that should be pedal stroke?) of the way.

Friday, June 6, 2014

....and Gravel Tears

I set off on a ride this morning with Owen with two goals:

  1. get more gravel miles in
  2. pay attention to my position on my bike to see if I'm putting adequate weight on my seat to help keep me stable on gravel
You see, based on feedback I'm getting from my Gravel Fears post, two things that should help me feel more comfortable riding gravel are 1) time in the saddle riding on gravel (hey, that's sort of poetic) and 2) my position on my bike. In short, if I have all of my weight on my hands instead of on my butt I'm not going to be very stable on the bike. My goal was to figure out how to get my weight shifted aft.

Anyway, we set out for our ride and hit our gravel (fairly loose stuff and a hill right away) and I realized pretty quickly that I put almost all of my weight on my hands and toes but hardly any weight on my sits bones of my butt. Basically, I'm really not sitting in my saddle. Doh!

I was glad for the revelation. Seems like all I need to do is stop carrying tension in my shoulders and settle my weight in my saddle and my gravel riding will go so much better. Should be easy enough to fix, right?

Or maybe not.

So I shifted my weight in my saddle and the only way that I could get my weight on my sits bones had me sitting so far off the back of the saddle that I wasn't positioned on the saddle correctly. sigh. This position resulted in my knee pain coming back. I shifted and resifted my weight but never found myself in a place where I felt I had my weight on my saddle. Bummer.

Were I a Super Positive Person I would have finished out the ride feeling great because at least I knew what part of my issue was with feeling comfortable on gravel.  I would have said things to myself like "Yay! I know what I need to do! I just need to work on tweaking my bike. Someone can help me with that!" or "Yay! I'm tough! I can work through a little bit of pain while I tweak my bike to get the fit just right!" or "Yay! At least now I know what the issue is. That's more than half the battle."

I'm working on being that Super Positive Person. But when I'm tired, kinda in pain and sort of scared I don't find myself in Super Positive Person mode. Instead, this morning I found myself in Super Overwhelmed Person mode and I thought things like:

  • But I don't really know how to adjust my bike to get the fit right so I'm screwed
  • The RiotGRRRaveL race is just two weeks away. I'll never be ready
  • I don't know who can help me adjust my bike
  • The guy who helped me adjust my bike last time probably just thinks I'm complaining too much and won't help me again. 
  • Plus he's busy, when on earth am I going to find a time when he can help me?
  • How on earth am I going to keep training for this ride if I'm in pain?
  • I'm a wimp
  • No one wants to ride with me because I'm so slow
  • I'm too slow
  • and so on
Did I mention that I felt so overwhelmed and frustrated that I cried the last two miles of my bike ride? Yep. I'm prone to tears anyway but really outdid myself this time.

Oh I am so much fun to hang out with sometimes. Geez. I can't be the only person in the world who has issues with bike fit (and thinking positive) but I sure feel like I'm the only person in this boat sometimes. Actually, make that most of the time. 

But, now that hours have passed and the ride is well behind me, I can switch into Super Positive Person mode and realize that  I did, in fact, achieve my ride goals for the morning. I logged more gravel miles on my ride and I paid attention to my position. So that's all good. Yay!

Also, in the afternoon, I tracked down my bike fitting friend at his work and said I needed help. He said, first of all,  that riding loose gravel is really, really, tough, for everyone.  He also mentioned that I could try raising my handlebars a bit to help shift my weight back.

So that's my next plan of action - adjust my bar height a bit and get back out and try it again. Let's hope I can keep Super Overwhelmed Person in check tomorrow and manage not to cry.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Gravel Fears

I got out to ride some gravel today (about 4 miles) and managed to scare myself - again. I thought that gravel riding would be fun because I wouldn't have to deal with narrow or nonexistent shoulders and car traffic like I do when I ride my road bike. Instead I'm finding that I'm stressed as I navigate loose gravel and deep gravel and feel like I'm going to fall over. Even on relatively smooth areas I'll find myself hitting some chunks of gravel and feel like I might just wipe out. I never worry about falling over when I ride my road bike or my fatbike. I fear getting hit by cars on my road bike, sometimes wonder if I might tip over while attempting to ride a mountain bike trail, but I really haven't felt this insecure about my riding ability before.

It's a weird feeling, this fear of falling off my bike, this fear of riding gravel. I don't like it.

It's not that my I really dislike riding gravel or that every moment of my gravel rides is bad or scary. There are wonderful moments. There are some great times spend coasting down hills. There's the thrill in getting up a big hill. There are memorable moments like today when I scared up six buzzards feasting on fresh road-kill (today it was a young buck in the middle of the road. Thankfully the buzzards moved before I got to them). There are times when I'm overwhelmed with the beauty of my surroundings as I pedal down the road. There's the glory of finding a long stretch of fast gravel that rides better than tar.

Pretty decent to ride gravel near my home
Riding gravel gives me sights and sounds that I wouldn't get if I was riding my road bike. But it still scares me - and it's pretty easy for me to get caught up in those scary moments and forget the wonderful moments because I'm not very confident with this gravel riding thing.

I'm guessing the best way to get over the fear is to ride more gravel. And, since I have a gravel race to ride on June 21st I guess I will just have to deal with the fear and ride more and more gravel in the days to come.

Right now my goal is to ride my 30 mile gravel race averaging 10 miles per hour or more and manage to not fall off my bike.

Most of the time I believe I can do that.

But there are moments when I wonder why I'm trying to ride gravel at all. I know lots and lots of people are riding gravel and they go really fast - like 16 mph - and I end up just feeling inept knowing they are so fast and I am so slow and so unconfident. I recently got off a bike club email list because of how inept I felt every time I read about yet another fantastic really long, really fast, really difficult ride they were going to go on or just got back from.

A big gravel hill and beautiful scenery
Yeah. I suppose I could feel inspired to work harder and get to this level - but, you know what? I don't really WANT to go that fast or ride that many miles. I don't. It's great that other people do it but it's not what I want to do. I do wish there were more people like me, though, who wanted to go shorter distances at slower sometimes feels like I just don't fit in this world of bicycling...

Oh well. It's time I stop comparing myself with the fast set and just look at what I WANT TO DO and what I WILL DO to get ready for this gravel race. Here's the deal:

  • What I WANT TO DO is get more confident in my gravel riding
  • What I WANT TO DO is actually ride and finish this gravel race I signed up for 
  • What I WILL DO is ride gravel in the weeks to come so I get more confident at my own, slow and not-so-steady pace
  • What I WILL DO is forget about everyone else who is faster, stronger, better than me and just worry about me (Okay, that's probably going to be the most difficult thing for me to do but I will do my best with that.)
  • What I WILL DO is get out and ride with my friend and race partner, Lisa, and do more training rides with her. She's really cool, helps make me feel better about my riding and gives me great riding tips without having me realizing she's offering advice 
  • What I WILL DO is focus on the good parts of my gravel rides instead of the scary parts
  • What I WILL DO is give myself credit for riding at all and as much as I do. A few years ago I wasn't riding a bike at all. Now I have four bikes and ride a ton. That's something... 
Okay - Now that I've written about all of this gravel fear I have a plan to move ahead. Good enough. I have my work cut out for me. I may get to the end of my gravel race and decide to skip riding gravel in the future and stick to riding paved trails or something. That's a decision to make later. As for this moment, it's time for me to make dinner then get outside and enjoy this gorgeous evening. I hope you do the same.