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Uncategorized

Surprise! It’s Bike to Work Day

Do you value your safety and personal well-being? No? Well then, have I got a holiday for you:

Today’s National Bike to Work Day!

Situated smack in the middle of National Bike to Work Month, today’s holiday is meant to raise awareness about the soaring numbers of bike commuters choosing to forgo the carpool or subway for their own two wheels — and living to tell the tale.

According to the League of American Bicyclists — which is consequently a super cool band name — 40 percent of all car trips in the U.S. are less than two miles long, meaning trading your classic combustion engine for a human-powered bike is a reasonable alternative. It’s emission-free, cheap and healthy, and swapping your car for a cycle ride from time to time can be a little way to make a big difference to both your fitness and the environment.

With all this in mind, I decided earlier this month to put my fears behind me and try my very first bike-to-work commute. And, believe you me, I learned some things in the process. If you’re thinking about joining the ranks of office-bound cyclists today, here are some helpful tips from someone who learned a few things the hard way:

  • Do a trial run. I didn’t get a lot of things about bike commuting right, but I DID have the foresight to practice on a Saturday to make sure the bike lanes connected where I thought they did. Turns out though Saturday mornings in Manhattan offer much emptier roads than weekday rush hour, so the trial run wasn’t a true stand-in, but at least I got a feel for it on a day I wasn’t racing in to punch the clock.
  • Wear bike-friendly clothing. The day you choose to bike to work is not a morning to test out your new pencil skirt. If you have a long commute and somewhere to shower/change, I’d recommend workout clothes. My commute was less than two miles, so I wore regular work pants and a t-shirt I could swap out for a more business-casual shirt in the newsroom bathroom. I probably should have packed wet-wipes, too, but I’m a gross colleague.
  • Choose a cycle-friendly bag. If you lug around as much stuff as I do (i.e. lunch, back-up shoes, seven pounds of stray Bernese Mountain Dog hair that somehow sticks to everything I own), you’ll want to swap our your normal purse for a cross-body bag or backpack that’s easy to wield on a cycle.
  • Roll up a pant leg. I don’t quite understand the science of this, but seems all the cool kids do it.
  • Wear a helmet. Even if your route has bike lanes, cars are going to be going out of their way to kill you, at least in my experience. Watch for both right turns into your lane and absent-minded drivers flinging open their doors into your path. Practice ringing your bike bell while simultaneously yelling “hey a$$hole, I’m biking here!”
  • Check the weather. I chose what I though was a beautiful morning to bike-commute to work for the first time. Turns out, I should have given this little cloud cover a little more thought.

It started pouring when I was halfway in, and I arrived at work semi-drenched — but at least I had a dry shirt in my bag. And I’m fortunate enough to have a secure indoor spot to store my bike, so I chose to leave it at work overnight and ride it home the next day when the storm had passed. So technically I biked only to work that day, not from it, but that’s what I call baby steps.

Speaking of baby steps, look who got brave enough to enter our (very scary!) back porch this past weekend … before leaping into my lap in terror at the sound of the wind blowing.

Baby steps.


Are you biking to work today?

Categories
Training

Well, I’m Soul-ed

I finally did something I said I’d never do.

  • No, I didn’t voluntarily enter a haunted house.
  • No, I didn’t go to Times Square for fun.
  • No, I didn’t fly to Hawaii so these FaceTiming first cousins could finally meet snout-to-snout.
(And you thought Keira wasn’t going to get any billing on this blog once Lucille came into the picture.)

No, friends. I did something far more shocking: this morning, I went to SoulCycle.

And here’s the M. Night Shyamalan twist ending you weren’t expecting: I loved it. (Also, the Village takes place in modern-day Pennsylvania. There, I just saved you an hour and 48 minutes of your life. You’re welcome.)


For those of you living under a rock (whatup slugs of the world!), SoulCycle is a boutique indoor cycling class where riders spin and move to the beat of very loud music while a guru-like instructor shouts affirmations while surrounded by candlelight. These classes have been mocked as being trendy, elitist and that most hated of words — basic — and for years, I believed them.

Until 7 a.m. this morning, when I did a 45-minute ride at the 54th Street location in Manhattan and spent most of the class grinning ear to ear.

Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t smiling because I was physically enjoying it — I was sweating bullets and silently cursing the resistance nob under my breath the entire time. But for a spinning class, I found myself surprisingly entertained and the ¾ hour session flew by, something I can’t say’s been the case in other group cycling classes I’ve slogged through.

Key to my kept attention were several things: great music (dance-remix Whitney and Duran Duran), a break from the intense cycling about 30 minutes in to focus on hand weights, a hypnotic atmosphere and an upbeat instructor saying just enough positive things to keep me motivated.

My favorite: “You’re fierce, you’re beautiful, you’re strong, you’re here.” Turns out I eat that sh*t up.

Now SoulCycle certainly has its downsides. It’s expensive ($34 a class + $3 shoe rentals), it’s apparently hard to book spots in the most popular classes, it’s impossible to unclip your special shoes if you’re me and the shower lines were long before work. And, fine, they used words like “tribe” and “pack” and “aspirational lifestyle brand” in their IPO filings, which is pretty damn annoying.

But it was still a great workout that left me feeling energized and motivated and, above all, sweat-drenched. And maybe it’s basic, but if loving workout classes and spandex pants and rosé wine and almond milk lattes is basic, then count me in.

I realize SoulCycle is polarizing. What do you think of it?

Categories
Races

Lordy, Lordy: I Did 40

If someone told me they were planning to run a marathon with zero training save for a handful of 5Ks, I’d put the emergency room on speed dial ahead of their inevitable crash and burn.

So as I laced up Sunday for New York City’s 40-mile Five Boro Bike Tour — on training literally limited to cycling to an ice-cream shop to meet a friend in April — I was bracing for the worst.

“I’ll make it to Queens and then head home at the halfway mark,” I told myself. “There’s no shame in stopping early. Only a fool would try for 40 miles on about 6 miles — and one soft-serve — of total training.”

Did someone say soft serve?

That’s the funny thing about preparing for the worst: sometimes it doesn’t pan out. Or in other words: sometimes you finish the entire 40-mile tour, feel awesome doing it, and can’t remember for the life of you why you were so darned nervous in the first place.

We are the champions! Us and those other 39,996 people.

The Five Boro Bike Tour — not a race, as the organizers are sure to remind you — reminds me a lot of the NYC marathon: it leads you all around the city, it has spectacular views, and it forces you to go to Staten Island against your better judgment. But unlike the marathon, I finished Sunday’s event with zero pain and woke up Monday feeling fresh, not like my knees were going to crumble under me like I do after running 26.2 miles.

Seriously, if anyone had told me years ago biking doesn’t destroy your will to live like marathoning does, I would have traded in my Asics for a 21-speeder years ago.

Don’t get me wrong: biking events won’t totally replace running as my cardio of choice. But based on my limited experience, it does bring some key benefits:

  • It’s lower impact, meaning you hurt less afterwards.
  • You get a built-in rest on the down hills.
  • It’s kosher to ring a loud bell at jerks about to step in your path.
  • There’s no shame in carrying an entire backpack of food with you for the entire event, which doesn’t quite work when you’re traveling on foot.

Of course, everything has its cons. For the bike tour, it was mostly related to congestion: get 40,000 bikes on one course and you’re bound to come to a standstill once or twice or what felt like 37 times. As someone with a need for speed, I found this particularly frustrating.

Grumble grumble.

Still, it was all-in-all a positive experience, and a good reminder that while I feel like my fitness levels have long since plateaued, I still have some endurance in me. Huzzah!

Have you ever tried your hand at a new sport?

Categories
gear

Anne Vs The Machine

If you’d been attacked by a lion in second grade and broken your leg and your parents thought you were faking it and made you walk to and from school on your lion-mauled limb for 3 days before finally taking you to the doctor and learning you’d fractured it, it’s conceivable you wouldn’t go out and buy yourself a new pet lion for many, many years. 

Substitute lion for bicycle, and you understand my plight.

I grew up in a bike-friendly Baltimore suburb, where I was a modestly confident cyclist after many afternoons looping the high-school track, exploring the neighborhood and cruising the Gunpowder trails with my Girl Scout Troop (whatup 1106!) But then my 8-year-old self took a turn too sharply in the playground parking lot and broke her left leg, and my confidence on a two-wheeled death machine has never quite recovered.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve been atop a bicycle more than a few times since that early 90s downfall, from joining a casual college triathlon to taking the occasional beach-bike cruise — but I’ve never been enthused enough to go out and buy myself a new bike with the express purpose of, you know, using it.

And I DEFINITELY wasn’t about to get one and ride it in Manhattan, essentially one giant mini-golf-windmill constantly trying to knock cyclists off their saddles with opening car doors, turning motorists and potholes the size of De Blasio’s head. No thank you, Lance Armstrong. (Is he still a prominent cyclist? No? Whoops.)

But then I moved out of Manhattan, and suddenly the idea of cycling around the neighborhood wasn’t so terrifying. In Long Island City, the traffic is thinner, the roads have more bike lanes and — most importantly — my building offers indoor bike parking for just $10 a month. Above all, I’m trying to be more active in everyday life (running 4 miles in the morning and the sitting still rest of the day isn’t exactly balance), and I figured having a bike to my name might be just the trick to get me out the door.

So after several failed attempts to purchase a used bike off Craiglist, my fiancé and I went bike shopping last weekend, and I purchased a brand new blue Felt hybrid and all the token accessories. (I’m tentatively naming him Bagic Bike in honor of my favorite Steven Soderbergh film, but it’s a working title.) The bike salesman told me I didn’t need a “ladies bike” because that’s a myth we need a different frame, but my non-flexible leg could barely get over the high bar of the others I tried, so this was the baby for me.

My first day of bike ownership, Ben and I rode to Roosevelt Island and explored the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, a memorial I’d probably never have visited if the bike hadn’t made it so easy to get there. Then last night, I faced my biggest fear: biking over the 59th St. bridge and into Manhattan. Despite my worries my untrained legs would fail to get me over the incline, I made it over and back in one piece and not in tears, like I’d been expecting.

I’m not a strong cyclist yet, but I’ll get there with practice. And while I’d been nervous I wouldn’t remember how to ride after so many years off the saddle, I can assure you: it’s just like riding a bike.

Do you bike in the city? Any tips for a novice hoping to live through at least November?

Categories
Races Training

The Lies We Tell

No matter how moral or honest or candid you are as a human being, the chances are good you routinely say things you don’t really mean.

  • I’m not trying to PR on Sunday. I just want to finish.
  • Of course he’ll call!
  • No, no, you take the last slice of pizza.
  • I’m not mad at you, I swear.
  • I’ve thought it through. A 60-pound dog would totally thrive in my New York City apartment.
She just has to sleep on the couch.
She just has to sleep on the couch.

Time to add one more to the list:

  • I’m going to race a triathlon on July 28th!

As you may recall, I announced in mid-May plans to train for a sprint triathlon along the scenic Rhode Island coast this summer in an effort to diversify my workout routine and enter marathon training stronger, fitter and less injury prone than I would have been had I spent the past eight weeks running nothing but reservoir loops.

“The spice of life!” I’d said. Turns out, the only thing in my pantry is wonder bread.

The truth is, I initially had full intentions of running/swimming/biking this weekend’s race and even went so far as to put in the preparatory work. For nearly two months, I supplemented my running routine with freestyle laps and harrowing Brooklyn bike rides, and were I being chased today by a bear along a quarter-mile waterway, an 11-mile bike course and a 3.1-mile roadway, there’s no doubt in my mind I could cross the finish line unscathed (unless that bear is riding a Schwinn five-speed, in which case, God help us all).

But there’s more to racing an event than physical preparation. In order to enjoy yourself during a sustained period of athleticism/dehydration/bear-drifting, you not only have to have built up the stamina and muscle mass to perform, but you need the right mental mindset as well. And I simply wasn’t going to have it.

Call me Debbie Downer, but after traveling out of the city for three straight July weekends, the idea of commuting up to Rhode Island for another excursion away sounded more depleting than refreshing, even if the people I was set to visit are among my favorite in the world. Throw into the mix the fact that I’m starting a new job bright and early Monday morning, and I knew I wouldn’t have been able to fully enjoy myself racing on Sunday in a whole different state. With my thoughts undoubtedly set to be elsewhere, the event didn’t quite seem worth the $85 registration fee, even if it came complete with a sweet neon swim cap. 

But while I won’t be throwing myself into the Atlantic Ocean this weekend with 500 of my closest friends, I in no way regret my summer of mock triathlon training. At this time last year, I could hardly sit down for fear of snapping in half my aching IT bands; this summer, I’ve swum and biked my way to a level of overall fitness that can’t be beat. And as I transition out of multi-sport training into 40-mile running weeks, that extra base of fitness is going to be a welcome buffer indeed.

So here’s to the second half of summer 2013. No looking back! Only looking forward here on out – as well as lovingly into a certain pooch’s adoring gaze.

Yes, Elton, I CAN feel the love tonight.
Yes, Elton, I CAN feel the love tonight.

What curve balls has the summer thrown your training plans? Matt Harvey, this one’s for you.

Categories
Running Training

Said No One Ever

There are a handful of phrases in the English language that I’d wager have rarely, if ever, been spoken aloud.

  • No thanks, I’ve had enough cookie dough for one day.
  • Franklin Pierce’s economic policies are worth emulating today.
  • No way, the blue ranger is my favorite, too!
  • Don’t you just love the smell of Manhattan in June?
  • I mean it! Your dog’s new haircut doesn’t look silly at all.
Back Camera
She knows the truth.

Here’s one more to add to the list:

  • I cannot wait until marathon training starts so I can finally have my life back.

Except that the aforementioned sentence has, in fact, been spoken aloud, and the speaker was none other than yours truly, and the whole exchange took place about 15 seconds ago. That’s right, folks. You’re livin’ through history.

As you may recall, I’m shaking up my running routine and spending the first half of the summer training for a beachside sprint triathlon scheduled for July 28 along the Rhode Island coast. For those of you unfamiliar with the sprint distance, we are talking a quarter-mile swim, an 11-mile ride and a 5K run in what I hope will take about one-third the time it takes me to run a marathon. Training should be a walk (/swim/bike) in the park, right?

Wrong. Not having much experience myself training for a multi-sport event, I (SURPRISE!) turned to my homeboy Hal Higdon for advice. There, I found his recommended 8-week workout plan designed for “runners who would like to test their fitness in a triathlon by adding swimming and cycling to their workout routines.” There might as well have been a headshot of me on the intro page. Plan selection = complete.

tri plan

I’m now on week 4 — why yes, I am writing this post from the comfort of a stationary bike — and let me tell you: training for a triathlon is not for the weak of heart. (Actually, your cardiologist probably could have told you that, too.)

Seriously though, I went into this summer thinking tri training would be a good way to ease my way into marathon training by building a base of core muscle groups while also allowing me more free time to enjoy all the perks a Manhattan summer provides.

Boy was I wrong. While it’s true my total weekly running mileage has been dramatically reduced since picking up two extra sports, the same can also be said of my free time. Unlike marathon training, when I tend to take two scheduled rest days a week, Hal now has me working out a full six out of seven. And many of those workouts involve more than one sport — say, swim 30 mins, bike 20 mins. But that’s less than an hour of training! — you say. — How can that be more time consuming than marathon training?

How? I’ll tell you how. My pool is on 92nd St.; my borrowed bike resides in Greenpoint. You do the math.

As a result, I’m breaking up most of my scheduled brick workouts and completing the first half before work in one borough and the second at night in another. I realize the expectation is athletes on tri plans will transition right from one sport to the next during training in order to simulate actual race conditions, but I also realize I don’t have a magic carpet to transport me over the East River during transitions. Pre-genie Aladdin, I feel your pain.

Now I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed pieces of triathlon training. My Friday night bike ride around Roosevelt Island made me feel like a real, multi-sport athlete, strength training has made me feel strangely stronger, and swimming at the 92Y has taught me to strategically sidestep 90-year-old women in swim caps.

But the constant stream of two-a-day workouts is starting to wreck havoc on both my sleep schedule and my social life. And that’s why I’m about to repeat myself:

  • I cannot wait until marathon training starts so I can finally have my life back.

marathon planThat, and I love the smell of Manhattan in June.

How is your summer training progressing?