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20th Anniversary European Bike Adventure Part 4: The Training!

We ended up finally settling on and purchasing my touring bike in early July. Between July and late November, I probably rode 1 mile total on said touring bike, split among 4 different rides. Maybe. It may have been less than 1 mile. I admit I was a little nervous once I started riding it in earnest, in case I found out that riding more than 1 mile caused me intense pain or discomfort, and it was probably too late to return it!

Details..Collapse )
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20th Anniversary European Bike Adventure Part 3: The Bikes!

Oops, my last bike adventure update was in August. After that, Ironman training took over my life, then the Ironman, then Thanksgiving and then Christmas. And now here we are! I sat down intending to finally write about our training, but looking at my last post, I now realize that I claimed I was going to next write about the bikes themselves. I guess I never did that. So I'll write about the bikes now, and the NEXT post will be about "training".

Our choices were to rent bikes once we arrived, or to buy bikes here and travel there and back with them. Given the difficulty in finding a bike that fits me comfortably, and my intense desire to not be uncomfortable for 3 weeks on my bike, we decided to buy here and travel with our bikes. Plus that would mean we could train on the actual bikes we'd ride, and test out all our gear/bags for several months.

Matt has done a LOT of research for this trip, and he found a few promising touring bikes that we could try out. It turns out, The Peddler on Duval had both of those bikes, so we went there for the first time. Yay, new-to-us bike shop!

Matt's turned out to be super easy. Not only did they have the bike he wanted, they had the size he needed, and his bike came pre-stocked with a good rear rack (and we added a front rack).

We have start and end points (fly into London, ride from Amsterdam to Stockholm), we have a rough route sketched out, and now we have our first tangible piece of our 20th anniversary cycling trip!
Kona Sutra

Predictably, as with everything involving me and a bike, mine was not quite as smooth.

We decided to try out a Surly Disc Trucker for me. Again, predictably, they didn't have one small enough for me, so they had to order it. Once it came in, we picked it up and we took it for a test spin. Aaaaand it was too big. I mean, I probably could have made it work, but I had to stand on my tiptoes to stand over it, and trying to swing my leg over something too high over and over every day for 3 weeks would just be asking for misery. And I'm aiming for something less miserable than misery. So fortunately The Peddler was willing to work with us to send that bike back and get an even smaller one.

A tiny bike to ride across countries.
Surly Disc Trucker

And that one fit! I mean, as well as anything not custom built for me is going to fit.

Unlike Matt's bike, mine did not come with any racks, so once I rode it to determine that it would work, size-wise, we took it back to The Peddler and dropped it off to have front and rear racks (Tubus racks) installed. This is important, since we need plenty of places to hang bags, since those bags will contain all the stuff we'll be taking with us.

Even after I got my bike back again, with racks, I still didn't ride it. This was in the last weeks of Ironman training, and while I was doing plenty of riding, it was all on my tri bike. So instead of riding my new bike, we just spent more money on bike gear.

First we decided which bags/panniers to buy. After reading reviews, we decided to get all Ortlieb bags. Good quality, waterproof, spacious, easy to affix, easy to remove, removable straps for carrying the bags off the bike. Matt decided to get red bags, I got black, so we can tell whose is whose. Over several months, we bought bags from REI every time they had a sale. This was a surprisingly expensive part of our gear collection, since we each needed two rear bags, two front bags, and then a handlebar bag.

Ortlieb Ultimate6 S Classic handlebar bag.
My handlebar bag. It might be my favorite piece of touring equipment so far.

Then we had to get basic tools for these bikes. We each got properly sized tubes, a frame pump, a lock.

Finally we had all the Stuff! Except, again, Ironman. So while I rode my tri bike, my touring bike sat and collected cobwebs, waiting for me to be done with Ironman so I could come play.

And that will be my next post. Because my touring bike has shaken off the cobwebs and we've started getting to know each other!

First commute to work on the touring bike was a success.
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Turkey Trot 2018 race report.

Twice in the past I have run the Turkey Trot 5 days after running a tough 50k trail run. This would be the first time I attempted to run the Turkey Trot 4 days after completing an Ironman. But this would be my FIFTEENTH contiguous Turkey Trot, so I couldn't not do it! And Karen would be in town to run it with me. AND so would Tristan and Ryan! So we all lined up together to earn our Thanksgiving meals.

Turkey Trot 2018

And it was fun. My legs felt better than I would have figured they would have. Certainly they felt better all week than they had the days leading up to Thanksgiving when I'd done the Wild Hare 50k. I'm glad that we were running with Ryan and Tristan. Karen would have pulled us MUCH faster, and I would have probably had to let her go, but Tristan and Ryan kept our pace more manageable, and I was able to chat and enjoy the run.

We did end up doing a progressive pace run (not hard to do on that course, since the hills are all in the first 3 miles). By the last mile, Karen and I pulled ahead a bit, and Sharon ended up joining us for the last mile. She had ALSO just done an Ironman, so I dubbed us Team Ironman Idiots. I was breathing pretty hard for that last mile.

After we crossed the bridge, Karen noticed we had lost Ryan and Tristan, and I said we had to wait so they could all cross together. So we pulled over in the finish chute and just sat there on the other side of the finish line waiting. I'm sure people thought we were strange. But once they caught up, we joined hands and all crossed together.

It was a fun run, great weather, and a good last speed workout before Tristan's first half marathon next week in San Antonio!

Also the slowest Turkey Trot I've run for a long time, but I'm so glad to have done it for fun, and not gotten caught up in trying to run it fast, to the detriment of my recovering body.

10:18, 9:59, 9:37, 9:17, 9:04 (and a 16:40 pace for the last 0.07, as we stood in the finish chute). Nice progression!

Results: Results: 49:22 (9:52/mile)


2004: 52:24 (10:29/mile)
2005: 52:45 (10:33/mile)
2006: 47:54 (9:35/mile)
2007: 44:35 (8:55/mile)
2008: 39:48 (7:58/mile) (suspect it was short)
2009: 40:59 (8:10/mile)
2010: 36:35 (8:05/mile according to official time) (definitely short)
2011: 40:29 (8:06/mile)
2012: 38:58 (7:48/mile)
2013: 39:45 (7:57/mile)
2014: 43:51 (8:46/mile)
2015: 42:41 (8:32/mile)
2016: 44:19 (8:52/mile)
2017: 45:18 (9:04/mile)

I seem to be moving in the wrong direction, but maybe someday I'll race the Turkey Trot for time again, and bring my time back down! For now, I'm very happy with my decisions.
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20th Anniversary European Bike Adventure Part 2: Initial Decisions

When planning any vacation or trip, you always begin with a somewhat overwhelming number of choices to be made. Once you start making those, though, each decision collapses down the subsequent decisions further and further until eventually it becomes manageable. Well, I hope, anyway. We're not quite there yet. Or even close.

But the FIRST and arguably most important decision we had to make was what kind of bike tour to take.

There are options on both extremes:

- On one side, you can book a tour through a bike tour company. They provide a bike, they figure out your lodging for each day, they give you a route, they provide support in case something goes mechanically wrong, and they have a van you can hop in at any time if you get tired and just want to be transported for a few miles or all the way to the end of that day's route.

- On the other extreme, you can be entirely self-sufficient. Bring your own bike, haul all your gear, carry a tent and sleeping bag, set up camp each night, make your own route which can change at your whim, and just generally rough it.

There were things that we found appealing about both of those options, but we didn't really want to do an organized tour, because we wanted to do our own thing, we had a definite desired start and end point, and didn't really want to end up tied to a group. But we also didn't really think we were ready to carry the amount of stuff you need to do a camping tour, with the tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, cooking gear, food, etc. We'd love to do that eventually! Just.. baby steps.

So we decided to go right in the middle, and do what's called Credit Card Touring. It's most of the elements of the camping option above, only without the camping. You ride on your own from town to town, and when you're done for the day, you find a place to stay in whatever town you're in. You still carry all your gear, but your gear doesn't have to include a tent, sleeping bags, or cooking gear. Depending on the size of the town, we may end up in a hotel, a bed and breakfast, or a hostel. Some bike tourers end up crashed on strangers' couches, but when you combine my misanthropy and Matt's misanthropy, pretty sure there's no circumstance that would allow that sort of scenario to happen. Duolingo definitely has not offered us a "couch surfing" section to prepare us for that happenstance.

And with that decision, many other potential decisions were removed from our list! No need to find a touring company. No need to figure out and procure the lightest, most minimal camping gear.

But now we were faced with the next huge decision: bikes. Do we rent bikes once we arrive? (And risk not finding one that fits me properly..) Do we buy bikes here and ship them over? If we box them up and ship them, since we're riding point to point, how do we get the boxes to our end point to rebox for the trip home? If we buy bikes, what bikes are good for touring? Do they have one that fits me? How do we haul our gear?

And I'll cover that.. next post.
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Capt'n Karl's Muleshoe 30k trail run 2018 race report.

How do these bad ideas come about?

In an attempt to maximize the time I have left to easily do dumb stuff with Karen before she moves to Florida, I've been trying to come up with as many weekend activities as possible. When Tejas Trails posted about the Capt'n Karl's night trail races for 2018, I thought, "Yes! That would be super fun!" Of course, what I really meant was "I love the Pedernales Falls race!" But unfortunately that race was 2 days away, and we already had plans for that weekend.

So what came about INSTEAD was we decided it would be a great idea to do an undertrained 18.6 mile run (neither of us had run any trails since our last 30k trail run 2.5 months ago, and our longest road run since then was 12 or 13 miles), we'd run at night when I have terrible vision, and Karen is possibly the only person with night vision WORSE than me, this would be Karen's first "real" night trail run (she paced for me at Rocky, but that was a much less technical trail, and a shorter distance), and it would be not on my beloved Pedernales Falls course, but instead the one Capt'n Karl's course I was on record as NOT liking, Muleshoe Bend! Oh, and it started at 7:30pm, which is nearly my normal bedtime, and it was 98 degrees. Which actually is fairly cool for one of these races!

What could go wrong?

Our only goal was to get through the whole 30k without injuring ourselves, and we managed to achieve that!

Matt always knows what to say.

It wasn't pretty, though. First it was certainly hot. We started out on a little out and back that we only did the first loop, and it was uphill on the way out, and it was sunny, and at first I was happy that it was fairly open so people could spread out, but that also meant that Karen started out running Karen Speed, and I had to reel her in real quick, so I wasn't dead by the time we even got into the woods.

After that out and back, we headed into the woods for basically the remainder of the run. Which was blissfully shaded and beautiful and also blocked the wind entirely. When it's 98 degrees and terribly humid, that makes for some still, gross air. For 18 miles.

It was "light" outside for maybe 3/4 of the first loop (it was two loops total). Night always falls faster in the woods, but every once in a while, we'd break out of the trees and find the sun again. We kept a pretty good pace while it was light. It was hard, and sometimes we'd get quiet on technical parts or hills, but we just ran and chatted.

It's still light!

Oh, let me dedicate an entire paragraph to my husband Matt. Before the race I was talking about driving back home after the race, tired and in the dark, and he volunteered to come out with us and drive us home. Which I said really wasn't necessary, but he thought it would be fun to come hike around and hang out at the race site, so he chauffeured us out there, and carried our stuff to the start line. Then he proceeded to be at EVERY aid station. Two per loop, plus the start/finish line. Every time we'd go through, there he was, cheering and helping us with whatever we needed. (More on that later.) We'd be running through the woods in the middle of nowhere, and then Suddenly Matt! To sum up: he is the best.

Anyway, once it got darker, things got a lot harder and a lot slower.

Also really pretty, though.

Turns out, Karen can't see well in the dark. And she extra can't see when her headlamp doesn't actually produce much light. It wasn't a huge issue on the first loop, because it was only at the end, and it didn't get super, super, super dark until the last few miles of the loop.

At the halfway point, we refilled our water, our nutrition (mostly), and switched out headlamps. We'd each brought two, one for each loop, so we'd be sure to have plenty of battery life.

The second loop was not quite as idyllic as the first. We'd learned exactly how technical the course was, and we were both super paranoid to run through it completely in the dark. And since our goal was only to remain uninjured, and we did not care at all about time, we were super cautious and walked anything that made us nervous. Which meant anything rocky, anything ledgey, anything where we couldn't see it well, anything where there was a dropoff that we might plummet over.. and that's a lot of the course, it turns out! Somehow the course got a lot more rocky the second loop. We were pretty sure there were NightRocks, that only appear when the sun goes down.

As a not helpful bonus, Karen's headlamp, even the new one, continued to be too dark for her to really see. She was staying as close to me as was safe, but still couldn't really see rocks and other obstacles well. That meant she had her first fall. And then several more. They were "good" falls. No broken skin, no blood, caught herself each time. But it was understandably incredibly frustrating, for both of us (me because I couldn't come up with a way to help it not happen, so I felt guilty, and her.. for obvious reasons).

Blissfully cold water at the aid stations. I told Karen I just wanted one of those water barrels and a couch. That's all I wanted in the world.

The next time we saw Matt at an aid station, I asked if we could use his headlamp, which is a much more expensive, fancy, brighter (and heavier) headlamp, and he graciously handed it over to Karen. And it made a huge difference! Suddenly she could see what was in front of her, and she didn't fall at all after that! Of course, it also turned out that this head lamp randomly turned itself off. If Karen stepped hard, it would just shut off. At first I would turn back each time and turn it back on (because I knew how this headlamp worked already, and she hadn't ever seen it in the light), but eventually it was happening so often that she figured out how to turn it back on each time. So our joy over having bright light was diminished by having that bright light randomly go away.

So the NEXT time we saw Matt, we asked him if he knew why this was happening (he didn't, but later he found out there was some corrosion that was causing it), and he ended up giving Karen his OTHER headlamp, which was just as bright, but didn't suffer from random offages.

Which would have been great, except now MY headlamp was fading. Even though I'd just replaced the batteries, and it had only been on for 1.5 hours or so, it was getting darker and darker. In the last few miles, I really couldn't see in front of me. And I was leading! Awkward. So now that Karen could actually see and felt more confident running through some parts we'd walked earlier, now *I* couldn't see, and still had to walk the sketchy parts. We were a delightful comedy of errors.

And just because we didn't fall doesn't mean we weren't beating the crap out of ourselves out there. We tripped over so many rocks and flew forward, but caught ourselves. Anyone who's done that while running before knows that that can be nearly as painful as actually falling, because the muscles you use to stabilize and catch yourself get stretched and abused terribly. I think my left hamstring is half an inch longer than it should be now, after a particularly bad almost-fall. (Alas it didn't make me any taller.)

So to sum up: we had bruised toes, pulled muscles, muscle cramps, severe dehydration, not enough nutrition, blacklung from the trail dust, were completely drenched in sweat, and couldn't see where we were going maybe 70% of the time.

Blurry finish line!

At the end I was like, "But.. it was sorta still fun, right? Right, Karen?!"

I'm pretty sure she still had fun. I'm not sure I'm allowed to suggest fun activities anymore, though.

happy running

20th Anniversary European Bike Adventure Part 1: The Introduction

I don't remember the exact date that Matt presented this idea to me, but thanks to the magic of facebook (and persistence in searching through the unsearchable facebook), I can tell you that we first announced this idea to the world (well.. facebook) on October 16, 2015.

Matt posted "Time for us to start saving some vacation time." and this photo.


Matt has spent the last few years learning Dutch, then Danish, then Swedish, (then brushing back up on his high school German), then Norwegian via duolingo. As he's done that, he's learned more about the related countries, their cultures, looked at photos, scrolled around the countries on google maps, and generally fallen in love with the whole giant area. When he told me he wanted to go ride bikes somewhere over there sometime, I said, "Hrm. Sure!"

The idea was planted, then announced to the world, and then mostly put on hold. We had too much going on, too many plans coming up in the foreseeable future. But Matt kept looking at routes and searching google for other people taking such trips, and we both knew it was going to happen eventually. And then we thought, "Well, what better way to celebrate our upcoming 20th anniversary than to go ride bikes across some countries together?!" I mean, we'll either end up that much closer, or divorced in the middle of a herd of reindeer.

And so we had chosen a year: 2019. And after some searching on the best time to ride through that region of the world we had a rough time period: late May/early June.

Which is still 11 months away. But this is going to happen, people. We have begun planning, and have even begun purchasing.

Since we've spent so much time reading other peoples' blogs and watching their videos, I figured I'd document the whole process of our trip for others to enjoy if they are so inclined. In the next few months, I'll post about what kind of touring we're going to do and how we came to that decision, what bikes we're going to use and how we came to THAT decision, gear decisions we've already made, and ones we still need to make, where exactly we're going (no longer exactly matches google maps image above), how we'll get to each place, and any other decisions we make or need to make.

We're super, super excited about this trip, but also a little overwhelmed. We're going to be able to reduce that overwhelming feeling a lot in the next 11 months, but ultimately there's going to be some aspect of The Unknown on this trip, and that's part of the fun and adventure!

Also I was PROMISED reindeer.
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Texas 4000 2018 ride report.

I think this might be the first time I've done the Texas 4000 ride! Maybe. Not sure. Can't remember. I think it used to be elsewhere, but this year it was in Lampasas. Karen was out of town doing swimrun with Trista, and CC was in Houston, so I asked Matt to come out with me and do the 50 miler, and he consented. I told Karen I could try to add mileage on at the end or something, but she said instead I'd do the 50 miler and a 4 mile run off the bike. Sounded innocent enough.

The ride was.. mostly good. Much less wind than we had at Real Ale. Fewer hills than at Real Ale, though there were definitely hills (more rollers than the steep or really long hills at RA). But the main difference in the negative direction was the terrible roads for the Texas 4000. There were basically two sections of maybe 5 miles each (maybe) that weren't terrible, demoralizing chipseal, and the rest was just awful. Hard on the hands, hard on the average pace, hard on the motivation. I told Matt those Texas 4000 kids are gonna be riding this thinking "What have I gotten myself into?!" Hopefully they don't have 4000 miles of chipseal.

Otherwise it was pretty good. Great for the first 30 miles. Matt and I rode and chatted and had fun. Then Matt's back seized up, and between that and his hands being in pain from not being able to ever be aero because of his back, and those roads being terrible, he really suffered. I stayed with him for a while, but then pulled ahead of him at some point. I knew he was suffering, and probably didn't really want company to witness that, plus I still had to run off the bike (and it was HOT and sunny already), so I just rode in by myself.

I transitioned relatively quickly to the run, and then took off on the route I'd mapped out ahead of time. 2 miles out, 2 miles back. No problem.

The first mile was not really a problem. A little stop and start, because it went through historic downtown Lampasas, and I was crossing some biggish cross streets. Then a turn onto 6th street, where I'd spend the rest of the Out. Things went okay until I crossed the highway, and then there was a giant hill in front of me. I considered turning down a side street, but I KNEW this route would get me my distance, and I didn't know where the other streets went, so up I went. About halfway. Then I stopped my watch and stepped into someone's shaded yard and just tried to breathe. I considered turning around and going back. I felt BAD. The heat was just terrible, and trying to run up a steep hill in it was making me light headed. And I really had to pee. But finally I decided I'd try to do the whole 4 miles. So I started my watch again, but walked. At least I was making forward progress.

Well, I'll try not to draw this out TOO much. There were two more hills after that, each worse than the last. I really should have turned on the elevation feature when I mapped it out. I had good intentions, but I ended up walking part of each hill. Each direction, since I had to run back up those hills on the way back (it wasn't uphill on the way out, downhill back, each hill was a hump). Two more times during the run (so 3 total) I came to a complete stop in a yard where there was shade, and just talked myself through it. I was MISERABLE. And had to pee so bad I almost wet myself at one point.

When I finally got done with the hilly part and got back downtown, I decided to stop at a portapotty on the sidewalk. I knew it would be gross and hot, but I thought maybe it would make me more comfortable. I ran up, stopped my watch, set down my bottle on the ground, walked in, closed the door, tried to lock the door, and it was so hot, so smelly, so terrible, that I kinda wobbled a little as I tried to even get the door locked. I knew this was a bad idea, so I stepped back out, picked up my bottle, and started running again. (I now realize even after I got back to the car, I never peed; not until we got back to Austin.)

There were no more hills, but I was just dead at this point. I considered walking on this flat part. I did make my final full stop during this flat section. Just to be in the shade for a second. And to tell myself that I was proud of myself for doing the full 4. And that I was almost done. Then I made myself start walking rather than stopping. Just for a few seconds before I started running again. I wanted to be able to keep walking if I'm ever in a race feeling so miserable, not just stop. Walking at least makes forward progress.

I finally made it back to the car, and had to run slightly past to get to 4 (you bet your ass I was getting my full 4 after all that). Then I walked to the shade in the yard we were parked in front of, and just sat there breathing while Matt came out to make sure I was okay. And told me it was 97 degrees.

So yeah. I did my 50+4 (actually 48+4, but I wasn't willing to circle the neighborhood to get 2 more miles). And it was terrible. And I'm proud of myself.

My run splits were 9:06, 10:05, 10:40, 9:57. So yeah. Started out okay. Then slowly fell apart. Then sorta pulled it back together. I hope to never need to use the memory of that experience during a race with similar weather.