Family life

Week 7: Tread 6-hour ultra marathon training

Jennifer’s ultra marathon training suffers a setback when she swaps running for cycling.

By Jennifer Pinarski
Week 7: Tread 6-hour ultra marathon training

I love the tandem bike ride (here's the stokker's view), but it really messed up my running.

I knew this would happen: the weather would improve and my road bike would be calling. My road bike is the reason I didn’t attempt the Haliburton 50K Trail Race last fall — I spent too much time gallivanting Ontario cottage country on two wheels and not enough time running. (That much saddle time wasn’t all bad — it helped me complete my first 100 mile bike ride).
Last week I started strong and ran a 7K on Tuesday and a 10K on Wednesday. But on Thursday I swapped my 10K run for an 18K ride. And it was awesome and fast, especially considering I hadn’t cycled since October. On Saturday I gave Mr. P a much deserved day off from the kids and skipped my 16K run. And on Sunday I had a cycling date with a pal and blind triathlete Rhonda-Marie. But not on any old bicycle, but on Doris.
Doris is a 90lb fixed-gear tandem bicycle with swoopy handlebars, wide granny seats, streamers and a bell. The only thing it has in common with my road bike is that they are both purple. Doris is the bike that got Rhonda-Marie through her super-sprint and sprint distance triathlons last year, and the bike she’ll ride in her July half Ironman. Road specific tandems cost a small fortune and at $100, Doris is an affordable stand-in.
Rhonda-Marie’s Sunday half Ironman training called for two hours and 45 minutes on the bike. We figured on the hilly route she had planned, 40KM would be a realistic distance to cover — if my anxiety didn’t get the best of me and I hid at home. And even though I am a decent cyclist, I was terrified of this bike ride. 
  • Tandem bike manufacturers assume that the Pilot (person who rides in front) is a man and the Stokker (person who rides behind) is a woman. This means trying to reach the pedals was a literal stretch for me (because I’m 5’3”), but Rhonda-Marie, who is several inches taller, ends up with bruised knees each time she rides.
  • I have terrible balance on my own bike, but a friend has put her life in my hands while I try to steer and keep this 90lb beast upright.
  • Generally, I have terrible gas when I cycle. Do I really want to put a friend through that?
  • Also, I swear a lot when I ride. Especially going up hills. And I was told there were a lot of hills.
  • What if I can’t ride that long? I’ve had the luxury of light, well-fitting bikes with lots of gears ever since I started seriously cycling eight years ago. The fear of failing was worse than the fear of farting, falling and f-bombing.
The first kilometre was awful. We walked the first hill, I dropped the f-bomb within minutes of starting and I nearly fell off several times. But like magic, once I started pedaling and sweating, my anxiety disappeared. I loved the challenge of powering a single speed up the hills and once we left the city limits and began riding on the Trans Canada Trail, I relaxed even more. When we got to the halfway point of our ride, I was sad that we had to go home. The views were gorgeous, the weather was perfect and despite our height and strength differences (Rhonda has spent the last three months cycling indoors and is much stronger than me), we were well paired on Doris. At one point we hit 41KM/H and were giggling as we flew down the hills. 
That said, the time I spent in the saddle this week was terrible for my running. On my Tuesday run I was sore and slow and miserable. The Wednesday run was even more terrible. What amazes me is that five years ago running, swimming and cycling were a breeze (my first love is triathlon), but the last few months of run-only training had my cycling legs screaming.
The good news is that today is another day. I have 13K planned and the forecast calls for a sunny day. Best case: it’s a fabulous run. Worst case: My run in the woods turns into a walk. And have you seen the wildflowers lately? Maybe a walk isn’t such a bad idea after all.
This article was originally published on Apr 19, 2012

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