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Month: May 2009

trip report: mountains of misery (24 may 2009)

Activity: road cycling
Location: Newport, VA > New Castle, VA > Newport > Mountain Lake, VA (Mountains of Misery)
Distance: 102.7 (mostly rollers, some big, with two BIG climbs)
Duration: 5:57 (6:17 with stops)
Weather: overcast and mild, a little drizzle, 62-70 degrees
Climbing: 10,000′
Avg HR: 160 (max 191)
Type: aerobic

Year two of the Mountains Of Misery ride, and it went very, very well: 19 minutes faster than last year, without the leg cramp that plagued me in the final 10 miles.

The weather forecast leading into the ride became increasingly unfavorable as the week progressed: partly cloudy morphed into overcast, then into showers and thunderstorms. While Jonathan, Chris, Kelly, Mike, Mark and I were a bit worried, we also kept in mind that weather forecasting involves a lot of chaos theory, and is guaranteed to have a certain measure of inaccuracy.

Luckily, May 24 was one of those days.

Sure, there was some drizzle between miles 10 and 20, which was fine. Our starting wave (third out, four minutes after the first group had departed) settled into a good pace, driven by Jonathan, Chris and James, who would end up having the fastest overall time of the day by “not stopping, save for one quick water fill and two pee breaks.” Chris and I rode past the rest stops at miles 26 and 42, making our first stop at mile 56. This helped keep Chris on track for a sub-7-hour finish time, and me on track to beat my time from last year. The rest of our group rode ahead, which was fine, as I had spent the previous six miles playing catch-up after having to stop and tighten a loose crank arm.

The St. John’s Creek climb at mile 58 was good for me: I placed some distance between Chris and me, while Jonathan was dancing up the climb behind us. I quickly stopped to top off my water bottle at the top, having neglected to do so at the rest stop to save a tiny bit of weight (yup – silly, isn’t it?), and shoved off when Chris pulled in and Jonathan passed me. And just like last year, I quickly caught up with Jonathan on the downhill.

Jonathan and I rode together for the rest of the ride, and were happy to see Chris pull into the rest stop at mile 84 as we were pulling out: it was almost certain that he’d beat his goal! Jonathan and I kept rolling, passing the final pre-climb rest stop and heading toward the final, category 1 obstacle: Doe Creek Road.

This year, Jonathan and I started together on this climb, but he certainly had better form for the climb. I was pushing a higher gear than in 2008 (36/25, as opposed to 34/25), and my lower back was giving me fits. I had to stop to stretch it out a couple times during the climb (20-30 seconds per stop) when it locked up and made my pedal stroke more of a lop-sided lunge. But I still made it up the hill faster than last year, and when I crossed the line at 6 hours, 21 minutes and 15 seconds, I was happy: 19 minutes shaved off my 2008 time! Jonathan cheered me on through the finish, as I did for him last year, and we both hit the massage tables to get the lactic acid worked out of our legs.

As we were on the tables, we listened for Chris’ name to be called by the usually-attentive announcer. However, before we heard his name, along came Chris! He finished in 6:38 (6:34 with the four minute time correction), which totally eclipsed his previous best time of 7:08 – a target smashed, for sure!

Our other group mates fared well, too. Mark shaved almost an hour off his 2008 time. Kelly and Mike – my carpool mates who rode the 124-mile route – finished between 8:30 and 9:00 elapsed time (giving me enough time to fully partake of the free BBQ at the finish, as well as a shower at Mountain Lake Hotel, where Dirty Dancing was filmed).

But the best part was seeing my friend Mariette finish in less than eight hours! Mariette shouldn’t have been at this ride: in early March, she was rear-ended by a motorist while riding her bike in Scottsdale, Arizona. She suffered numerous broken bones (fibula broken in four places, broken pelvis, ribs, vertebrae and nose, lacerations a’plenty) and had only started riding on smooth roads a few weeks ago. Prior to Mountains Of Misery 2009, her longest ride had been 53 miles. Yet here she was, finishing a 102.7 mile ride with insane climbs in a time that is a great feat for most riders. She is an inspiration, and the total embodiment of a tough person – way to go, Mariette!

My goal heading into this ride was to shave 5 minutes from my finishing time, and I managed to do almost four times better. The next big goal is the Harpoon Brewery-To-Brewery ride, only 22 days from today. I think I’m ready, though there’s a lot more prep to do.

dc the fittest? depends on the context.

This week saw the publication of a study by the American College of Sports Medicine that proclaims Washington, DC, as the “Fittest City in America.”

This had me scratching my head a little bit, as the study seems to weigh infrastructure factors above all others, rather than the general health and well-being of the population. Also, the study included Arlington and Alexandria, VA, in its study, which will skew numbers in favor of the fit.

I posted my thoughts on this subject over on BikeForums [edited for additional context here]:

Yes, the infrastructure is there: plenty of parks, MUPs and such. But do the citizens take full advantage of these? Perhaps those who live in the more affluent areas of the District (Dupont, Georgetown, upper Northwest, Capitol Hill), but there are plenty of less affluent areas in DC where other factors work against fitness (to the detriment of all involved with the cost of healthcare, etc.). If you expand the scope of the study to include Arlington and Alexandria, VA (as this study did), and the surrounding border cities in Maryland, it’s still a stretch to call DC the “fittest city,” though the odds improve in terms of finding fit people.

But [a fellow BikeFoums member] who quipped that the study “must have forgotten the area that isn’t tourist-friendly” really isn’t that far off. What about the east side of the Anacostia River? There’s a high rate of diabetes, obesity and other preventable diseases and conditions in this area which is well off the tourist radar. Same with pockets of Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties in Maryland, where low-income families have more immediate perceived worries than physical fitness.

It’s as if the study turned a blind eye on Wards 5, 7 and 8, with their comparatively lower income levels and less-developed infrastructure of MUPs, bike lanes and trails. While there are recreation centers in these areas, complete with fields, tennis and basketball courts, and swimming pools, these facilities aren’t always used to their best potential. For example, swimming pools are used most often as a means to cool off and relax in the hot months of summer, rather than as a fitness venue.

I continued with my BikeForums post:

In my neighborhood (Dupont Circle/Kalorama), there are a great number of fit people, many of them younger, almost all fairly affluent in the grand scheme of things. They ride their bikes, run, swim and take advantage of the provided infrastructure, as well as pay-to-play resources like health clubs. But my neighborhood isn’t at all representative of DC, as a whole.

And that’s my beef with this study: it seems to look very fondly upon the more-visited and more gentrified parts of the DC area while turning a blind eye on the poorer areas where fitness levels are lower. Sure, northwest DC (as well as Arlington County) is a veritable treasure trove of fitness infrastructure, and the people who live in these areas take great advantage of the spoils of their location.

However, simply crossing to the east side of the Anacostia River reveals an environment where riding a bike on the streets often puts one in a danger zone: few bike lanes and MUPs, a populace that isn’t used to co-existing with bikes on the roads, fewer public pools and parks. It is good to see any movement toward improvement in this area (e.g. the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center and the Anacostia River Recreation Trail), but the money-rich parts of the District seem to see the better half of free fitness amenities.

As I concluded on BikeForums, I take this ranking with the same grain of salt as Bicycling‘s declaration of DC as “America’s Most Improved Cycling City“: it’s all well and good, but there’s a lot of missing context. We have a fitness fanatic mayor (whose favorite outdoor pool is now heated – go fig – and who keep up with his bicycle racing and triathlon schedule with seemingly more excitement than his governing duties) and a section of the city (and surrounding environs) that is chock-full of active, fit citizens. But DC isn’t all pretty, trim people: the District has more than its fair share of poverty, preventable disease and obesity.

Context is everything.

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