Someday is Now

There are fascinating people you can meet when you take that first step to say hello.  We were reminded of that during our recent vacation in Montana.  While passing through Bozeman, we stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants along Main Street.  I noticed a bicycle, loaded with gear on the front and back, leaning against the railing separating the dining area from the sidewalk.  I pointed to the bicycle and told my husband it probably belonged to someone who was riding across country.  We looked up to see a tall slender man, wearing bike shorts and carrying a bike helmet, walking past our table. My husband (whose preferred activity is bicycling) greeted him and they chatted.  Turns out, Ben, the bicyclist, was biking across the US.  It was a dream he had for years.  Someday he was going to do it.  When he retired, Ben started to plan his trip and someday started to get a lot closer.    Now here it was.

In one of those “It’s a Small World” moments, it turned out Ben lives about 50 miles from us.  Since we are practically neighbors back home, we asked Ben to join us for lunch.  He didn’t hesitate.  With beers and food ordered, we sat back to hear about Ben’s adventures as a TransAmerican bicyclist.

As we ate, we peppered Ben with questions.  When did you start your cross-country trek? Mid-April.  How many miles have you biked? About 3,400 with another 1,200 to go before finishing in Oregon.  How much does all your gear weigh? 75 pounds.  Where do you sleep at night? Outside, sometimes along the road, sometimes in a hotel.  What do you do if your bike breaks down?  Carry spare parts like extra tires and inner tubes.  How many flat tires have you had so far? Two (the first when he took his bike into a hotel room and a tack in the carpet pierced his tire).  Did you sell everything you own to do this? No, just his truck.  He will buy a new one to drive back home from Oregon when he finishes.  When do you think you will finish? October.

Ben was taking his time on his trip.  Typically, I hear about bicyclists crossing the country in 14-20 days, traveling from west to east.  Ben was taking a different approach.  He had started in the east (Delaware) and was heading west.  This wasn’t any mad dash for him.  Ben was visiting friends and family along the way.  Some places he would stop to go to a baseball game.  In others, he would rent a car and make a side trip for sightseeing before hopping back on his bike to continue his journey.  Ben takes a couple of days off too, only biking 5 days a week.  To plan his route, Ben worked with the Adventure Cycling Association.  Their headquarters is located in Missoula and Ben planned to stop by to say hello.

As Ben talked, I noticed that our waitress would linger each time she stopped at our table.  She was listening to Ben talk about his experiences.  I watched her eyes get bigger and more full of life as she listened.  Finally she explained she wants to go on a similar adventure and is trying to convince her husband.  She wants to start with a bike ride through Glacier National Park. She has some fear of what she might encounter.   “Could I really do it?”  Ben assured her she could.  All she needed to do was get a bike and start training.

It was a fun lunch.  I enjoyed listening to Ben’s stories and making a new friend in the process.  When we left the restaurant, I found I was as excited about Ben’s journey as he probably was.  While I don’t think riding across country on a bike is in my future, I admire Ben for doing it.  I look forward to getting together with him again to hear about the rest of his trip.  It certainly is an incredible adventure.

Interested in a cycling adventure of your own?  Check out the Adventure Cycling Association’s web site for ideas, tips, routes, maps, and more:






Staying Safe

Safety on the roads is one thing both runners and bicyclists have to keep as a top priority.  Hazards come in all forms.  It can be somebody attacking us on a lonely stretch of a trail or a menacing dog with a taste for athletes.  I know someone who was attacked by a raccoon during a run on a February morning.  She ended up being treated for rabies.  There is one hazard that scares me the most – a motor vehicle.  In a battle between a runner or bicyclist and a motor vehicle, the motor vehicle will always win.

At the end of March I was shocked and sadden to learn Mike Hall, a 35-year-old ultra cyclist from the UK, was killed while riding in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race in Australia.  I became familiar with Mike from the documentary “Inspired to Ride” about the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race, an unsupported race across the US that Mike won.  (I wrote about the documentary in my post “Looking for Inspiration“.)  I started following Mike’s races after watching the film.  I admired him because he wasn’t afraid of a challenge.  He loved adventure too.  More importantly, Mike was a good guy.  He was always willing to help other bicyclists.  It wasn’t all about him.  Although I don’t cycle, his death was difficult to believe.   Gone too young in a tragic way – hit from behind by a car in the early morning.

In June Tim Lalla, a 24-year-old from Chicago, was participating in the Biking for Baseball program to raise money for the B4B Little Scholarship Fund.  Tim was cycling to all 30 Major League ballparks as part of his fundraising – watching games and meeting people.  He had seen games in 10 different ballparks and was heading from Houston to Atlanta when he was struck by a Ford F-150 in Alabama.  The pictures of Tim and his bike after the accident are horrific.  Just a few days after hearing about Tim’s accident, I learned of another ultra cyclist, Eric Fishbein, who was killed while riding in the Trans Am Bike Race.  Like Mike, Eric was hit from behind by a car on a road in Kansas.

Motor vehicles are a danger to runners as well.  In January 2014 Meg Menzies was struck and killed by a drunk driver while running with her husband.  Meg who was training for the Boston Marathon was running on the shoulder of the road when she was hit.  Two months later, Jaime Rowley, a single parent, was fatally hit by a car during her morning run.  One of my favorite local races benefits a foundation established in Jaime’s memory.  Every time I run that race I stop by the foundation’s tent and make a donation.  Jaime could be me.

I remember running one Sunday with Leanne, my running coach at the time.  As we approached an intersection on the trail, she made me stop to look both ways before we continued running.  She told me to never assume that a motorist would stop for me at a crossing.  In retrospect, Leanne was teaching me a very important lesson.  A motorist may be distracted by something in the car or blinded by glare.  If they didn’t see me, I could be hit.  I always stop at intersections now and look before I go.

While there are no statistics about runners killed in collisions with motor vehicles (runners get lumped into statistics with pedestrians), there are statistics on bicyclists deaths.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2015.  That means 818 families have one less person around the table at holiday get-togethers.  Pretty sobering.

I take several safety precautions to improve my odds when running on the trails and the roads.  First, I never wear headphones when I run.  Sound provides very important information about what is around me.  Second, I wear bright clothing when I run – think neon green like construction workers.  Might not be very stylish but I am more concerned with my safety.  Third, when I do run on roads, I run facing traffic and get well off the road when a car approaches.  I never assume that someone will give me a wide berth.  In the past I would run outside at night but I don’t anymore.  I discovered no matter what reflective gear I wore, it seemed as if the cars headed for me.  When the sun goes down, I head for the dreaded treadmill. I continue to follow Leanne’s rule of stopping and looking both ways at an intersection before I cross a road.  And finally, I always wear my Road ID because if something happens to me, I want my family to be notified as quickly as possible.

I think my list of precautions is appropriate for bicyclists too (except they have to bike with the flow of traffic and not against it).  Visibility is important for them too.  Like runners, bicyclists should never assume a car is looking out for you.  With an increased interest in bicycling, safely sharing the road with 4,000+ pound car is a matter of life or death.





Looking For Inspiration

I came back from Austin with an unwanted souvenir – a nasty cold that has kept me from training.  While sidelined, I took time to watch the documentary “Inspired to Ride” about the inaugural TransAm Bike Race held in 2014.  The race was organized by the same people who organized Tour Divide.

The TransAm Bike Race covered 4,233 miles over 10 states following the TransAmerica Trail from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia.  It was a self-supported ultra-endurance cycling event (i.e., no support teams driving along with extra gear) with no prize money, no stages, no checkpoints, no teams.  The 45 cyclists who started were on their own.  The film followed them as they raced across the Rocky Mountains, the plains in the Mid-West, over the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia to Yorktown.

I was fascinated by the people who entered the TransAm Race.  There was Jason Lane, a Canadian cyclist who holds the Canadian record for the Race Across America (RAAM, a supported bike race) in 9 days.  Instead of eating real food, Jason was living on a liquid diet called Spiz, used by endurance athletes as well as cancer and AIDS patients.  He refilled his supplies via shipments he had sent to various Post Offices along the way.   Mike Hall, a cyclist from the UK, had completed the Tour Divide in 2013 as well as the 18,000 mile World Cycle Race in 2012.  During the TransAm, Mike was like a machine that never stopped.

The cyclist that I was most fascinated by was Juliana Buhring from Italy.  Ultra-endurance sports in general have an extremely low percentage of woman participants.  But Juliana is an extraordinary woman.   She started cycling in 2011 at age 30.  In December 2012 she became the fastest female to circumnavigate the world by bike.  She completed her journey in 144 days of cycling (152 if you include the flights between segments).

Throughout the TransAm race, I saw her face challenges that would have easily sent me home.  Nothing seemed to upset Juliana.  No tears.  No “why me?”  No pouting.  Time after time Juliana just dealt with whatever life threw at her.  She suffered a bad crash and ended up with a bruised sternum and a badly skinned knee.  Although it hurt to breathe, she kept going.  She had trouble with her seat, which was slowly sinking and causing her knee pain.  She stopped to get it fixed and then kept pushing on.  In Kentucky, her chain broke and she spent hours with a “hillbilly” who locals said could fix anything.  And he did.

There was one scene that I can’t get out of my head.  Juliana was sitting outside a grocery store eating a sandwich when a woman stopped to talk to her.  When she heard Juliana was racing across America, the woman told Juliana she was crazy.  Juliana replied “crazy is sitting behind a desk from 9 to 5.”  When I worked, I sat behind a desk frequently for over 10 hours a day.  I have to agree with Juliana – that was crazy.

I won’t tell you who won the race.  You need to watch the film for yourself so that you can hear each of the cyclists’ stories and see the incredible scenery.   You might think they are crazy too but I am starting to think that ultra-endurance athletes are more sane than we think.

I like the way that Mike defined adventure.  He said “adventure is being willing to take on something that could be bigger than you thought.”  Every day presented new unpredictable challenges to the cyclists including cold and snow in the mountains (in June!); grueling cross winds in Kansas; snapped bike chains and cracked bike frames; bloody saddle sores; dangerous encounters with motorists.  But the thrill of racing and adventure kept them going.

In two years I hope to be finished with my 50 state endurance challenge and all 6 Major Marathons.  I am starting to look for my next challenge, my next adventure.  As Mike said, I just have to be willing to take on something that could be bigger than I think it could be.  I don’t think I am tough enough for the TransAm but there might be another ultra event that I could do.   I will keep looking.

I hope you take the time out to watch “Inspired to Ride”.  It was a good one.

The Adventure Cycling Association is a non-profit organization that promotes travel by bicycle.  Their web site has routes and maps for the over 44,600 miles of cycling routes across the United States.    

I wrote about the documentary “Ride the Divide” back in September 2014.   If you haven’t seen the documentary about Tour Divide (called “Ride the Divide”), rent it.  That one is not to be missed.

Did They Make It?

Last January I wrote about people who set some impressive goals for 2015.  These were people who planned to run every day or planned to bike over 75,000 miles during the year.  I wanted to check back to see if they actually achieved their goals.

First there was Robert Kraft, a 65-year-old songwriter from Miami.  Robert planned to run every day in 2015.  More correctly, he planned to keep running every day in 2015.  You see, Robert is a member of the US Running Streak Association and he has been running every day since January 1, 1975.  I went out to the US Running Streak Association web site and checked.  Robert made it through another year.  In case you are wondering, Jon Sutherland, a 65-year-old writer from California holds the top spot on the Running Streak leaderboard.  Jon has run every day since May 26,1969 – over 46 1/2 years!

Steve Abraham is an Englishman who had a goal of biking every day at least 200 miles.  In doing so, he hoped to bike a total of 80,000 miles in 2015 and break the record set in 1939 by Tommy Goodwin, another Englishman who biked every day for a year for a total of 75,065 miles.  Unfortunately, Steve had a collision with a drunk on a moped back in March and ended up with a broken ankle.  Although he tried to keep going on a recumbent trike, Steve had to stop biking and spend some time healing.

Steve got back on his bike on August 8 and he ended up biking 63,568.2 miles for the year.  But Steve still wants to set a 365-day cycling record so he also started a new attempt at the record.  (The Ultra Marathon Cycling Association rules allow him to also use the August 8 date as his start date for this new attempt.)   Sadly for Steve, on January 9, 2016 Kurt Seavogel finished his own 365-day cycling marathon and set a new record of 75,496.5 miles.  Steve is going to have to bike a bit harder to beat Kurt’s record.

I think Kurt’s achievement is just mind-boggling.  Kurt biked between 10 and 13.17 hours a day for a year.  He biked a total distance equivalent of 25 times across the US and more than 3 times around the world.  I hope he is taking a long rest now.

New shoes and a new Garmin to help me reach my 2016 goal!

New shoes and a new Garmin to help me reach my 2016 goal!

While I would never attempt a cycling record, I have thought about starting my own running streak.  It sounds like a good goal but I don’t think it is a Transverse Myelitis-friendly one.  I need a lot of rest after long runs.  I also don’t want a hobby that ends up feeling like a job.  That would take the joy out of it for me.  I am just going to keep doing my thing – running 3 days a week and getting in my strength training while watching what I eat.  That will help me achieve my next goal – a half marathon personal record (PR) in 2016.

Uphill or Down?

I am always on the lookout for a new way to add adventure and exercise to my life. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy running but sometimes I wonder if there isn’t something else that I could be doing. My husband likes to bike so cycling adventures frequently catch my eye. Recently I came across two that astounded me.

Most runners that I know hate hills. In fact, many of them will go out of their way to NOT have to run up a hill. The cyclists competing in the “Dirty Dozen” bike race in Pittsburgh make all those anti-hill runners look like a bunch of wimps. The Dirty Dozen is an informal (i.e., no entry fee) race up 13 of the most grueling hills around Pittsburgh. The race has been going on for the last 33 years – always the Saturday after Thanksgiving. What surprises me the most is that each year more and more people show up to do the race. While the route is only 55 miles, the climbs up the Pittsburgh hills will kick the butts of even the most experienced cyclists. There is one hill on the course with a 37 percent grade that the city claims may be the steepest paved urban street in the world. The hills are so steep that it is not unusual for bikers to fall over as they try to climb them.

I grew up riding a bike in Pittsburgh. I remember riding my bike from my home in the suburbs into downtown Pittsburgh. It was a great ride downhill into the city. I barely pedaled after I crested the hill, though I was riding the brakes a bit at some places. Coming back home was a different story – I never pedaled so much in my life and my thighs were burning. From my firsthand experience biking in Pittsburgh, I am amazed that people travel from all over the country to tackle the Pittsburgh hills two days after feasting on Thanksgiving dinner. Purposely seeking out hills to bike up sounds a bit nutty to me but if everything was just smooth, flat road, life wouldn’t be as interesting or challenging.

Cyclists who prefer going down hill can head to South America and Bolivia’s Yungas Road. The 35-mile road connects La Paz in the Andes Mountains to the Yangas rainforest area, descending 11,000 feet along the way. Much of the road is only 10 feet wide – for two-way traffic too – and unpaved. There are no guard rails and drop-offs of up to 2,000 feet. The weather conditions can make traveling this road even more dangerous – rain, fog and runoff during the rainy season, rockfalls and dust that limits visibility in the summer.

As one might expect, 200-300 people were killed in accidents along the road each year, resulting in the road being called “Death Road”. The road was cited by the Inter-American Development Bank as the most dangerous road in the world and funding was secured to build a safer road. The new road was opened in 2007 and took most of the traffic with it. That was when bikers from all over the world started showing up, attracted to the challenge of riding down Death Road. There are about 30 tour companies in La Paz that organize bike trips down Death Road. The names of the tour companies give you a sense of what sort of challenge awaits – Mayhem, Vertigo, Black Widow, and Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. Every year more bikers come to take on Death Road. Bikers haven’t fared any better than people in cars, trucks, and buses. Over 22 bikers have died since 1998.

I know a few bikers who would probably love to tackle Death Road. I will pass on this challenge. Just watching videos of people biking down Death Road makes me uncomfortable. Climbing up the Dirty Dozen has more appeal than zooming down an unpaved road with sheer drop offs. You can always hop off your bike and walk up the hill, though that seems to defeat the purpose. Come to think of it – I will stick to my running shoes.

I found this interesting video by WQED (the PBS station in Pittsburgh) about the Dirty Dozen bike race. I guarantee you won’t complain about biking up another hill after you watch this.

You have to see video of biking down Death Road to appreciate how scary it really is.

I thought this BBC Top Gear episode where they went up Death Road was amusing but I still don’t want to go there.  

Patience, Injured Runner!

It has been two and a half weeks since I fell during my 20-mile training run and broke my arm in four places.  My broken arm will take three months to heal and I will miss five races I was looking forward to running.

The universe has an interesting way of reminding me that I am on injured reserve.  I still get e-mails about my upcoming races.  I see my friends’ posts on social media about their training runs and I wish I was out there with them.  Each time I read one of those e-mails or a post about someone’s excitement about a race we planned to do together, I get the same lousy feeling that I had the moment I fell.  My friends should not let my injury prevent them from enjoying their upcoming races. I just wish I was going to be there with them.

I enjoy running more than anything and it is the one thing I can’t do right now.  When I hit a particularly low point last week, my friend, Buzz, suggested that we go to Children’s Hospital and visit the patients there.  She put things in perspective; I stopped feeling sorry for myself.  All I have is a broken arm.  Many of the children in the hospital have bigger problems.  Those big races will still be there next year.   Some of those kids might not be.

I can’t say that I make a very good patient. Patients need to have patience with the healing process.  Unfortunately I am not a very patient person.  Three months sounds like a long time to me. I was frustrated one day and I asked my husband how many more days I had to go for the three months to be up.  At the time he told me it was around 75 days. Now I have a number in my head and can check off each day as it goes by.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.

I have been trying to come up with ways to keep myself somewhat in shape as I recuperate. The pain from my arm and shoulder, though, prevents me from even taking brisk walks right now.  I can only do two activities that I enjoy but are not aerobic – reading and watching films.

This weekend I watched the film “Ride the Divide”. It is an interesting documentary about the 2008 Tour Divide, a self-supported bicycle race that follows the Continental Divide from Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico at the Mexican border.  At over 2700 miles, it is the world’s longest off-pavement bicycle route.  The climbs are the equivalent of going from sea level to the top of Mount Everest seven times – on a mountain bike.  The riders cover all sorts of terrain including snow packed areas and water crossings. They can encounter black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves along the route.  There are no entry fees and no prize money.  I am still trying to figure out why one of the riders was doing the race for the sixth time.  Wouldn’t once be enough?

As you would expect, the attrition rate during the race is pretty high, between injuries and extreme physical and mental fatigue.  While there was a group of four riders that stayed together the whole race, most of them were alone.  Being alone in such harsh conditions depressed some of the riders to the point that they quit. It reminded me of solo around-the-world sailing races and how depressed some of the sailors can get being all alone at sea for weeks on end.  The 2008 race had the first female participant.  She was in last place and the race stopped being fun for her. She dropped out of the race but then had second thoughts.  After a few calls home to her husband and a visit from her twin sister, she got back on her bike.

Yes, I’ve had a setback in my marathon running career but I’ll be back in my running shoes soon enough.  In the meantime I will catch up on my reading and find more interesting and inspiring films to watch.

If you would like to read more about the race, check out the Tour Divide web site.  I hope you find the film and watch it. It is amazing what people will do for adventure.