Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Season of More Firsts (a.k.a. the "Outlaw" Blog)

Me and Steve (does this man look like
a miscreant? read on...)
Last week, after my disappointing performance at the USAT Age Group National Championship, I felt a need to get in some hard long mileage. It was partly driven by the desire to punish myself (old destructive habits die hard). But seriously, I figure if I'm going to specialize in long distance racing, it's about time I accepted it -- and got on with it.

Last week, I also experienced a whole new level of frustration in driving into and out of Cleveland during rush hour when I started my new job at The Cleveland Museum of Art. On a good day (i.e. ONCE last week), I can make it to work in 25 minutes. But the rest of the time, I found myself behind the wheel for more than an hour each way. I suspect I will be searching for places to swim and run near the museum so that I have more time to train and my travel times don't coincide with everyone else who works downtown. But despite losing two hours per day in traffic, I was able to get in some good running, biking and swimming last week with two long sessions on the weekend: a long brick (bike 100+ mi, run 4 mi) on Saturday and a long run (20 mi) on Sunday.

Saturday's brick included my longest ride since Ironman Lake Placid on July 24. I even managed to get my butt out of bed early (6:30 a.m.) to finish in time to clean the house for a dinner party Saturday night. But even with the early wake-up, poor planning delayed my start when I found myself in the driveway at 8 a.m. switching out my race/travel configuration -- i.e., swapping out Zipp wheels, desperately searching for my saddle bag, and re-installing the down-tube bottle cage. By 8:30, I was on my way, determined to cover a familiar 100-mile course faster than ever.

The beginning of the course took me northwest through the hills of Cleveland Metroparks to Rocky River. After that, I continued west on mostly flat terrain along the lakeshore to Lorain County. By the time I reached Rocky River (36 miles), I was surprised to find my average speed was just over 19 mph - the fastest I had ever gone from my house to that point. I contemplated whether I should stay out for six hours or for 100 miles then decided to turn around at 2:45 -- I was sure to slow down on the way back because of the hills near the end. At 2:45, my odometer read 54 miles, and I had been riding well over 20 mph for an hour. When I turned around, the realization hit me of why I was going so fast.

Despite my certainty that the wind was from the north (based on waving flags), I turned around only to find that it definitely wasn't. The wind was from the northEAST -- not a normal occurence -- no doubt because of Hurricane Irene on the eastern seaboard. The return trip along the lake would therefore be a constant struggle to maintain an average speed above 19 mph.

My luck changed when I got back on the parkway and one of my very own BAFF teammates - Steve Thompson - went flying by me. Upon realizing he didn't recognize me, I chased him down. This was no easy feat because he was in the middle of a two-hour ride at half-ironman race-pace -- for him, this meant pushing 280 watts and 23-24 mph. I didn't think I could hang with him, but he pulled me through the next 20 miles at a ridiculously fast pace. Did I mention that he would be finished with his ride before we got to the hilly part of my route?

We were only a few miles from Steve's finish when he would become the latest victim of the Disaster Magnet. As you may recall, the last time I rode with team members in the park, I ended up in a ditch with a broken rib. This time, it was a whole 'nuther type of disaster. And it would be a first for any cyclists I know. Steve and I came upon a four-way stop along the parkway in Strongsville. After the last car had gone through, Steve did a quick check to make sure it was clear and rolled right through the stop sign. I may or may not have yelled "clear!" But that didn't matter.

We were, indeed, breaking the law.

And neither one of us looked back to see the park ranger vehicle behind us.

When I heard the siren, it never once occurred to me that Steve and I were the ones being "pulled over." And dear blog readers, before you get all self-righteous on me, stop and think of how many times you've done the same thing on a bike. Most of us do it. And most of us do it SAFELY. (Which is exactly why we yell things like "[all] clear!")

So yes, Steve and I were pulled over by a ranger -- and he needed his PA because we didn't realize "he was talking to us." And, as Steve noted later, we would rather have been pulled over for speeding.

But we ran a stop sign.

The ranger began by asking me if I knew what "that octogon sign was for" (no, I am NOT making this up). He proceeded to tell us what we already knew, that cyclists need to follow the rules of the road. He enumerated them for us:
  • Stop at stop signs
  • Obey traffic signals
  • Do not ride along the side to get to the front in a line of traffic (!)
  • etc...
Then came the unbelievable part. He proceeded to blame us for the large number of angry drivers in the park. (Seriously, I'm really NOT making this up.) "People like [Steve and me] were responsible for drivers pulling up alongside cyclists and harassing them." Then came my favorite quote of the day - he noted that Steve "was a big guy so he probably didn't get harassed very often." By that time, my mouth was surely hanging open in disbelief. This ranger had a LOT to say to us. I got the distinct impression he didn't appreciate the situation between cyclists and drivers in the park. And in his mind, it was very likely the fault of the cyclists (NOT the angry drivers) for not obeying the rules of the road (which, according to him, was precisely what MADE the drivers angry).

I may be going out on a limb here, but when I've been riding my bike and someone throws a beer can (or empty whipped cream container) at me or tries to grab me or yell obscenities at me or flip me off (yes, all of those things really happened)... it never occurred to me that it was because I rolled through a stop sign or disobeyed a traffic light. Could I have been wrong all this time? Could it really be MY fault there are so many pissed-off drivers in the world? Maybe that's why that guy hit me with his truck in 2003 - he was angry because I was running the... um.. GREEN light? All I have to say is: BULLSH*T!

I also must mention the expression on Steve's face (was it horror or hilarity?) when the ranger accused us of "going through a stop sign when there was a cop car behind you" -- and my response was: "well.. we didn't KNOW there was a cop car behind us, or ..." You can guess what Steve was expecting me to say. But I decided not to finish the sentence.

We were notified that we COULD have been given tickets. But instead, we were given written warnings -- the ranger took our names and contact info. Sadly, we were given nothing to sign and no white, yellow or pink slips to take home to pin to our bulletin boards (or post on a blog). It begs the question: did it actually even happen? He did tell us this: the information would not be on our "permanent records," but it WILL be entered into a database.

Just in case we decide to break the law again.

And just like that, the disaster magnet has returned in full outlaw force. Steve finished his ride and I continued on to finish mine, on the hills. I didn't enjoy climbing hills after having stopped for so long, but the laughter and disbelief kept me going strong to the end. I finished all 108 miles in 5:25 (the first 100 in P.R. time).

When I got home, I transitioned to run and dragged my husband Jim along on his bike so I could tell him the story of how Steve and I broke the law that day. Because I was talking and laughing, my four-mile run went by lightning-fast, and with plenty of daylight left, I was done with one of my hardest bricks this year.

On Sunday, I woke up late after too much wine with dinner and friends the night before. By mid-afternoon, after spending all morning checking the Ironman Canada tracker to keep tabs on my friend Ron (Punk Rock Tri Guy - who, I might add, did a major ironman PR!) I forced myself out the door for a 20-mile run. Surprisingly, I was able to hold better than a 7:30 mile pace right up until mile 18 -- then my legs started screaming at me and it was all I could do to finish in 2:32.

And I can now say I feel like an endurance athlete once again. A DEVIANT endurance athlete, but an endurance athlete nonetheless.


  1. Jeanne, It's amazing/funny/poignant/something that I completely recognize high school Jeanne in this and your FB posts! Anyway, I feel your pain -- I've been a daily bike commuter for several years now and don't even own a car anymore. There's a small war raging between some motorists and some cyclists here in Boston and Boston PD is starting to ticket cyclists for infractions like running stop signs and red lights. It's definitely a struggle, especially in a city like Boston that doesn't exactly embrace change, to figure out a sensible approach to safety and enforcement of traffic laws with respect to cyclists. That said, for every motorist who's pissed off that a cyclist rolled up to and through stop sign or red light, there's another one who's pissed off that they had to wait for you to get up to speed because you came to a full stop. You can't win. And -- oooh -- the "this will go on your permanent record" threat! I haven't heard that one since high school! Be safe out there! Francesca

  2. I’m disappointed in you. Anything short of being hauled off to jail kicking & screaming is unacceptable in my book. Come on, you’ve been to Kent State. FIGHT THE POWER!!