View from the bike – some trail users lack a general awareness of their environment

I decided that I had to sound off on what I have determined to be people’s lack of awareness on the bike paths and trails in Minneapolis. I was hoping it would not come to this and I realize most people are not like what I will end up describing, but this is both concerning and frustrating especially as an individual who is aware of others that share our fine trails together. With this post, I call on all trail users to be more aware…

Ever since I have started riding a bike in late April, I have noticed an alarming trend – one where people are not aware of their surroundings and others around them. At first, I thought this awareness factor would get better as the weather warmed up. I thought maybe it was something with the weather. Finally though, especially on my last two bike rides, I have come to the conclusion that there is a certain subset of individuals that are not paying attention to anything but themselves when they are walking around the lake or on the bike paths. Let me discuss a few examples.

The I can’t read the signs bike rider… There are a number of signs painted on the trail that indicates the trail is one way in certain spots. Yet, I have seen more people in my last two rides blatantly riding the wrong way on the trail. To those folks, I say wake up! If I am speeding down the trail going the right way and trying to pass another biker on their left and someone is riding the wrong way, if we collide, one of us (probably me) is going to be injured. I would prefer to avoid this.

The next type of persons are the groups of riders/roller bladers who take both sides of the path… I realize everyone likes biking with their friends around the lake. I’m all for that. What I’d like those people who ride/roller blade very very slowly to understand is that people want to get through. When I yell, “On your left!”, it is because I want to get through. Another thing, when I yell “On your left!”, it is not a great idea to stop in the middle of the trail while riders are trying to pass you. If you’re going to stop, pull off the trail and let people use the trail. Be proactive…try to sense when a person is approaching you and proactively move to the right.

The final type and probably most concerning are those people who don’t look when they cross a trail…” I realize many of the people in this category are young kids which is why when I approach an aware with a lot of young kids I slow way down. On my ride on Friday around Lake Nokomis, I was near the main beach where there were a lot of kids crossing the bike trail. I was going real slow because the kids were not paying attention. I would get their attention and they would divert their path around my bike. I can understand kids not having the foresight to look for a biker when they are crossing the path, but how about adults. On this same ride, I ran into 2-3 adults trying to cross the path not realizing they were about to get run over by me. This is the part that intrigues me.

I realize as a biker that I need to be as aware as possible because I don’t want to injure myself. What would help is if fellow trail users would be equally aware meaning don’t stop in the middle of the path, stay on the right if you’re biking or rollerblading slowly, and look before you cross. If trail users are more aware of their environment, they can remain safe and injury free. So far I have been lucky and had no biking related accidents, I would like for this to continue.

Feel free to sound off in the comments if you have noticed additional things about trail users not being aware of their surroundings or have suggestions on how to remedy this problem.

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Completing my 4th Half Marathon – Lessons Learned – Part 2

In my previous post and the title of this article, I have indicated that this is my 4th half marathon that I have completed. I have been running since 2005 and completed half marathons in Phoenix, New York City, and San Francisco. I have also run shorter races in Chicago and Maui, Hawaii. Finally, I completed my first full marathon last summer in San Diego. As you can see I have done a fair amount of races in the 4 short years I have been running. In this time, I have learned how to train for certain distances. While I do not claim to be an expert, this post is to point out things that I learned while preparing for the half marathon route of the Minneapolis Marathon.

I originally signed up to do the Minneapolis Marathon because I had planned on running Grandma’s marathon this summer. Due to a health issue and losing my motivation for training in the winter time, I have decided to for go doing the marathon in June. I have never dropped out of a race that I have started and I would rather not start a race if I am not fully prepared to finish it. Running a marathon is no joke and puts serious strain on the body, I would rather not take a chance and will skip the race.

Even though I had known since the beginning of May that I was not running the full marathon, I decided I could still do this half marathon event plus with it being the inaugural event I thought it would be cool to participate. For those that are interested, my time was 2 hours 4 minutes and 7 seconds.This is certainly not the best time I have run the half in, but it was not my worst time either. Part of the reason for my time was due to how I approached training for the last 3-4 weeks before race day.

During the beginning of May and when I decided for sure that I wouldn’t run the marathon, I purchased a trek 7.5 fx bike. I have wrote many times about how much I enjoy the bike. After I had my 7.5fx, I spent more time bike riding than running. My knees and legs enjoyed biking because there was less pounding and stress. What happened was bike riding had replaced running as my primary means of fitness. I still didn’t want to give up on the half marathon so I did do a couple of 3-4 mile runs to remind my body of what it was like to run. During the last week before race day, I wanted to get at least 1 5-mile run in. The maximum distance I ran was 3 miles during the last week of training. Now if I had been training correctly the whole time, this would be appropriate to only run 3 miles during the week. Unfortunately, the last time I had run any sort of distance (a 12.5 mile run) was 6-7 weeks prior. Looking back on the final 4 weeks of training and how I ran the race, I think I learned a couple of important lessons…

I relied on my previous experience…I will admit here, I was pretty nervous on race day – more so than usual. I hadn’t prepared for this race in the same way that I prepared for prior ones. I knew that I would have to keep my pace a little slower than normal for the first 5-6 miles. I would have to avoid the tendency to start out with a faster pace because I would need that energy to get me through the race. I also knew that there would be an adrenaline factor like there is with every race. The body is amazing in the way…it provides you with that extra amount of energy to get you through to the finish.

Biking probably helped me get ready for this event…I realize that doing training runs is still the best way to get ready for this event. I also realize that if I had not stayed active in those 4 weeks before the race, my time would have suffered even more or worse I would have not been confident in my ability to finish the race. During those 4 weeks, I biked distances of 20-30 miles on average. I also did one long ride of 75 miles. To give you an idea of how interested I am with biking…after the marathon was over on Sunday (May 31), I went for a 26 mile bike ride. When I learned about the Minneapolis Duathlon event in August, I was going to immediately interested. Unfortunately, I am going to be out of town on the day of the event.

While going through the race and doing the bike ride in the afternoon, I proved to myself that I am pretty fit even if I didn’t train 100% the right way for this event. I am probably going to focus on biking most of the rest of the summer, but I am not ruling out doing a duathlon or two at some point in the future. I also do want to complete at least one more half marathon in less than 1 hour and 55 minutes. The next half marathon will have to wait because I refuse to spend my summer training for an event.

Completing my 4th Half Marathon – Reviewing The Minneapolis Marathon (Half Marathon Route) – Part 1

Minneapolis Marathon Race Shirt
Minneapolis Marathon Race Shirt

Note…
This is part 1 of 2 of a post discussing the half marathon router of the Minneapolis marathon. The second part will cover the lessons I learned after completing the race. Overall, I am glad I ran in this first annual race. I can see that this race is going to be very successful in the future.
End Note…

Yesterday morning (May 31st), I completed my 4th half marathon running in the first annual Minneapolis marathon. I want to say that the race organizers, Team Ortho did an excellent job of putting the race together, promoting it, and making it a success. Overall there were about 5,000 runners in total (3,500 in the half, 1,500 in the full). I overheard many people saying this race will only get bigger. I tend to agree. The race has a couple factors going for it and it will no doubt continue to steal runners from races such as Grandma’s marathon. Now let me talk about the race itself…

Running Conditions…
The running conditions for this race were excellent with the weather being in the 60s to start out and getting to the 70s by the end of the race. The wind was very calm with a slight breeze. It was very windy the day before the race and I was a bit concerned that the wind would be factor in affecting the run. Thankfully, there was a very calm wind to make the run more enjoyable!

Course
This race started in downtown Minneapolis near The Depot, ran by the Gutherie, and worked towards the Mississippi river. The majority of the race from mile 5 to the finish was spent running along the river. For the half marathon, there was a turn around between mile 9 and 10 which meant running back towards the finish line. The course contained a lot of up and down hills from mile 7-13. This is a part of town I had not previously visited during 4.5 years of living in the twin cities. While I enjoyed running by the river, the up and down nature of the hills was killer on my body. I have run a half marathon in San Francisco and run in general in hilly cities like Seattle. I would say the hills from mile 7-13 were worse than what I experienced in San Francisco. It is partially my fault for not reviewing or driving the course before hand, I guess I like surprises when it comes to running.

Cool things the race organizers did…
I was extremely happy with the goodies that race participants received. Besides getting the standard finisher’s medal, the race let you keep the race chip and finisher’s of the half marathon received a technical running shirt (pictured at the beginning of the post). I read in the registration materials and on the race website that finishers of the full marathon were to receive a jacket. I am glad to see the race organizers at least providing something that runners can use in their training for other events. I’ve done other races where finishers received a t-shirt. While a t-shirt is great to wear and I wear my San Diego marathon t-shirt all the time, I can’t wear it when I am training for other events. A big two thumbs up to the organizers for these things, I hope in future years, the included race items are similar to this year. Here is a picture of the race trinkets I received…

Back of the race shirt
Back of the race shirt
Race medal, race chip, and my bib #
Race medal, race chip, and my bib #

Things that need improvement
As with any race, there is some room for improvement. I can think of two things that could be improved namely – replace the sports drink and have a gel station for one part of the half marathon. The sports drink during the race was called Hammer Heed. Maybe because it was not cold or maybe I am just too picky, but this stuff tasted nasty! I kept drinking at least one cup through the aid stations because I wanted to get the calories from the drink. I like gatorade, powerade, and accelerade the best when it comes to sports drinks during a run

My other suggestion for improvement – having gel on the route for the half marathon – I know this sounds like a nit-pick as well. Many serious runners with more knowledge and experience than me would probably argue and state if you’re only running a half that this is not necessary, but I’ve also been in race where there was energy gel provided at mile 10 during a half marathon. I suppose this all comes down to dollars and sponsorship.

Verdict
For this being the first time of having a marathon race in Minneapolis during the month of May, Team Ortho, did a fantastic job! They deserve serious props and kudos for planning and putting on this event. Also, a huge thumbs up for the race shirt, chip, and medal! While I found the up and down nature of the hills challenging and more difficult than what I experienced in San Francisco, I enjoyed the course running along the river. I would encourage Team Ortho to look at changing the course for next year as there are many interesting parts of Minneapolis (hey maybe running through Block E or different part of downtown would be cool). I can definitely see this race being a success in future years to come!

If you ran the race, please feel free to leave a comment discussing your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you thought about this race.

Please check out Part 2 where I discuss my lessons learned from training for this race.

Biking in Des Moines, Iowa and Minneapolis,MN over Memorial Day

Biking in Des Moines

I have a goal of biking 1200-1500 miles this summer. Over the long holiday weekend, I was able to add 50 more miles to my total.

Biking in Des Moines

Although I knew I would be busy being in a friend’s wedding in Iowa, I decided to pack the 7.5fx with me to do some biking. I managed to ride about 30 miles while attending all the wedding activities. My main route took me from the west side of Urbandale to just past Gray’s Lake. I was able to see the baseball stadium and state capitol building before I decided I should turn around.

View of Downtown Des Moines
View of Downtown Des Moines
Downtown Des Moines - Baseball Stadium and Capitol Building
Downtown Des Moines - Baseball Stadium and Capitol Building

Biking in Minneapolis

I returned to Minneapolis on Sunday and took things easy Sunday night. On Monday, I ran 3 miles and went for a bike ride. For the route, I decided to ride around Lake Harriet, Calhoun, Isles, and Nokomis. In all it was about 22 miles. I was able to get some good views of downtown and enjoyed doing some plane spotting by Nokomis.

View of Downtown Minneapolis
View of Downtown Minneapolis
Plane spotting by Lake Nokomis
Plane spotting by Lake Nokomis
Plane getting ready to land seen from Lake Nokomis
Plane getting ready to land seen from Lake Nokomis

Upgrading my Trek 7.5 FX…

My new bike shoes
My new bike shoes

After two weeks of owning my beloved 7.5 fx, I decided to upgrade a few of the components. As you can see from the photos this included the pedals and adding handle bar extenders. I also added a saddle pack which could hold a spare inner tube and some gloves which will keep my hands warm on those cooler days. Included in the pedal upgrade was also obtaining a pair of biking shoes that clip into the pedals. I don’t have the specific links but upgrading the pedals to a clip in design will improve efficiency by 20-25%.

Pedal Upgrade
Pedal Upgrade

I took the bike out for a quick 17 mile spin to test out my upgrades. I admit it took a little bit to get used to clipping in and out of the pedals. I am still getting used to clipping in quickly. Also, during one of my stops, I somewhat forgot I was clipped in and just about fell over in the bike. I was lucky in that as I was falling over I was able to somehow clip out and catch myself. I guess this will just take some practice.

I am hoping with the exception of one or two additional pieces of bike clothing that I am done upgrading for awhile. I think I’ve gotten the upgrades that make the most sense for right now. I do plan on upgrading the bike computer I have at the end of the summer. I’m not decided on specifics regarding that upgrade, but am leaning towards something with GPS.

I am going to set my distance goal to ride 1500 miles by the end of September. So far I have done about 200 miles. It’d be great if I hit 2000 miles but I think 1500 is a good goal to shoot for right now. If you are you have route suggestions or just want to sound off about your bike, feel free to leave a comment. I am still enjoying my trek 7.5 fx.

Bike with handle bar upgrade
Bike with handle bar upgrade

75 miles on the trek 7.5FX

Midtown Greenway Sign
Midtown Greenway Sign

It has been about 2 weeks since I first purchased my Trek 7.5 FX and I wanted to talk about my first long bike ride that I took with the 7.5fx on Saturday, May 16. The short story is that the bike did an amazing job getting its owner from the uptown area of Minneapolis to the end of the Gateway Trail near Stillwater, Minnesota. Needless to say, I was still very very exhausted after riding 75 miles that day.

The route that our biking group took was from the greenway trail in uptown over to St. Paul. We cut across St. Paul and eventually found the Gateway trail. This trail took us from St. Paul to North St. Paul to Maplewood to Oakgrove and eventually out near Stillwater. We were planning on biking into Stillwater, but due to time constraints, that part of the trip was nixed. Looking back it was probably good that we killed that part of the ride. Apparently the road into downtown Stillwater is pretty hilly and completely on the highway. I would describe the ride conditions as non-ideal – not only was it very windy, it was also very cold. I didn’t realize how much the conditions would affect my energy towards the end of the ride.

I started out the morning leaving my place to pick up some Cliff bars and gatorade. I was dressed in sweat pants and a sweatshirt. Right as I walked to my car, I noticed it was going to be really cold and windy. This put me in a bit of a conundrum…do I wear my running pants over the biker shorts or do I wear biker shorts and hope that the sun comes up and I warm up during the ride. I pondered this thought as I bought my cliff bars and returned to my house to get ready for the ride. In the end, I decided on a compromise – I would wear biker shorts, running shorts over the top, a long sleeve running shirt, and a hooded sweatshirt over the top. This worked out fairly well except the sweat shirt did nothing to protect me from the wind. During the ride, Erica, Matt’s fiancee, told me to pick up a wind wall – basically something that does a better job of protecting you from the wind.

I biked the 5.7 miles to Matt and Erica’s place and everyone got ready to go. My ride to the uptown area took me along Minnehaha Parkway, across 35W, up Lake Harriet and Calhoun. As a new bike owner and lacking some necessary supplies, Matt and Erica let me borrow some gloves which I am very thankful that they let me borrow. My hands were pretty cold on the ride up to their place because of the wind and air temperature. The ride would have been pretty crappy if I didn’t have my hands covered.

We headed up to the greenway, a bike trail that goes through many different parts of Minneapolis. All of sudden Erica said “Stop” and needed to check her tires out. After examining her back tire, she determined her tube had a hole in it and needed to be changed out. After spending some time trying to figure out how to change the tube ourselves, it was determined the best course of action would be to ride up to the nearest bike shop and get a tube changed there. Apparently the tube is pretty tricky to change on the tires that Erica uses. The guy at the bike shop showed Matt how to change it and told him how he wished he was biking to Stillwater instead of working. I had taken my camera with me instead of my sunglasses so this gave me an opportune time to snap some photos…

One Bike Temporarily Out of Commission
One Bike Temporarily Out of Commission
A view from the Minneapolis Greenway Trail
A view from the Minneapolis Greenway Trail

After the tube was changed, we were back in business. We headed towards St. Paul. The ride down Summit Ave was nice, easy, and down hill. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how down hill it really was which would play a factor in the return journey (along with the wind). I only wish I was better at taking pictures while riding. (Hopefully I can get better at this and provide more pictures). After a bit of biking through St. Paul, we reached the Gateway trail. I was able to snap another picture as we hit a stop light on a minor detour for construction on the trail….

Picture of part of the Gateway Trail
Picture of part of the Gateway Trail

As we continued to stay on the trail and go through parts of North St. Paul, Maplewood, and Oakgrove, I took in the change of scenery in the neighborhoods and people. There weren’t that many people on the trail either biking or walking. We did see a couple people riding horses as we moved further outside of St. Paul on the trail. Another notable siting was the group of juveniles that were being escorted along the trail. I am not sure if they were out for community service or exercise, but this was definitely a surprising group of people to see along the trail. This also sparked an interesting discussion about Erica’s experience mentoring an at risk student. We made a couple of stops for the restroom and water breaks along to the end of the trail just outside Stillwater. Erica and Matt were a bit concerned that I wasn’t drinking enough water. Looking back and after getting tips from my cousin, who lives and breathes bikes, I should have probably been taking in more liquids. We got to the end of the trail and turned around to make the return trip.

On the return trip, Matt and I were pretty hungry. Fortunately for us, there is a burger king on the way back that we stopped at to get food and water. I had chicken nuggets, fries, and a glass of water. Matt ordered a burger, fries, and some coffee. I thought this would be enough to get me back to Minneapolis. Little did I know the effort that would be required once we would hit St. Paul on the return trip. As we were leaving burger king, I asked Matt about how far we had left and he said “about 20 miles”. Little did I know that it was actually closer to 30 miles!! Thanks Matt!

As we were getting closer to the twin cities, it was nice to see familiar land marks. Seeing these land marks increased my confidence and belief that I would make it back to our starting point in uptown. During one of our stops, I was able to snap a distance picture of St. Paul….

We're getting closer to civilizaton...a distance view of St. Paul
We're getting closer to civilizaton...a distance view of St. Paul

Once we got off the Gateway trail and back on the streets of St. Paul is where the “fun” began. It was pretty much nothing but hills for the next 3-4 miles. On the way down, I didn’t even think about what it would be like to bike back up these hills. Additionally the challenge of biking in the wind and the cold made it even more difficult. The bike up Summitt Ave contains many stop lights. Everytime I made it near a stop light, I was sort of hoping that the light would turn red and let me have a little rest. This didn’t happen…every time I hit a light, it was green and I continued pedaling up hill!

We eventually made it back to uptown. Everyone was pretty tired. Erica gave me a ride home. I was exhausted and very appreciative that I wouldn’t have to bike home. I found this ride to be both fun and challenging. I also learned a few things about the bike and what upgrades to immediately consider. First, I am going to pick up pedals with clips and biking shoes. I am going to do this in the next week or two. Matt was nice enough to let me have his basket pedals, but I can see the advantages of upgrading to the pedals with clips. Second, I am going to pick up a handle bar upgrade. One of the things I noticed was how tired my arms and shoulder were after maintaining the same position on the bike for so long, it’s probably a good idea to pick up this upgrade. Third, I am going to get a saddle pack so I can carry a spare tube with me in case I have problem with an inner blowing.

One other thing I learned was how many calories I was burning and using from biking. We stopped at burger king for the quick refuel before heading back to the cities. When I got home, I drank a lot of water, ate spaghetti, and eventually I decided to order a thin crust pizza after my nap. Being a runner and knowing how much energy running can take and comparing the energy is take to bike, this surprised me a little bit. The only thing I wish I had done better was to take more pictures. I promise to get better at taking pictures from my bike as the summer progresses.

The first week of bike ownership…

To continue on with the theme of May being National Bike Month, I wanted to share some impressions and thoughts about biking after a week of enjoying my latest purchase and toy.

After a week of owning a bike and 65 miles of riding it, I’ve already learned a few things about why biking is probably going to become my primary means of staying fit. Besides the obvious reason of the fact that biking wear down my knees like running does, it has also opened up the possibility of being able to explore the twin cities from a different perspective.

I had heard that the twin cities had a large number of bike trails and when I was running around the lakes I always saw a ton of bikers out on parts of the trails. I never really thought about where those trails lead to until I round one of them last Sunday. On that Sunday ride, I made it to Hopkins, MN right along highway 169. I was able to log 30 miles and make it parts of the twin cities that I hadn’t explored when I was running around the lakes.

I’ve already started to think about what biking is going to do for me. It will let me stay outside longer and enjoy the 4-5 months out of the year where the weather is really great. It will let me explore areas of the cities from a different perspective and reach new areas that I was not aware existed. It will let have an excuse to go to my fitness club and lift weights and finally on a practical note, it will help save me money on gas because I am spending less time in my car and more time getting around by bike.

Next weekend, I plan on doing a longer bike ride to Stillwater,MN. This should be somewhere in the range of 40-50 miles round trip. I’m really looking forward to getting some exercise, enjoying the weather, and exploring where I live from a different perspective. If you get an opportunity to ride a bike, do be sure to take of advantage of it.