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Great Allegheny Passage Ride

Surly LHT on The Great Allegheny Passage Trail

One of my favorite places to visit is the Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania. 

I am lucky to have friends who live nearby. I try to make the most of my visits, though it is never an easy choice: Run the Laurel Highlands trail? Kayak the Middle Yough? Bike on the Great Allegheny Passage?

This past weekend Hubz and I chose the GAP trail for a fall bike ride. We were rewarded with falling leaves, a bit of changing foliage and perfect temperatures. 

We passed several cyclists with loaded panniers. I wonder if they were riding the entire trail?

Despite having explored only a few miles of this trail, we are deeply enamored with its scenic beauty, smooth 'packed crushed limestone' surface and easy-as-pie average 1% grade.

The foliage has already begun to turn up here in southwestern PennsylvaniaOne of my favorite spots between Ohiopyle and Confluence on the GAP

The trail narrows near Confluence.We always make a point of stopping to refuel and refresh ourselves at the sun-kissed deck of The Lucky Dog Cafe. There's something for everyone here whether you're vegetarian, Paleo or just want a cold beer. They even have grass-fed burgers!

Our favorite stop along the Great Allegheny Passage. Grass-fed burgers!

Bridge over Casselman River

We had a wonderful day on our bicycles, and rode just shy of 40 miles. 

One day I'd like to complete the entire route, either in sections or on a multi-day trip. 

Rumor has it my friend Lisa is riding the GAP and the C&O for a total of 334.5 miles. I am envious of her adventure!

Weekend Bike Rides: Nats + 50 States Ride

Photo by gypsybug

Fall weather seems to get us on our bicycles more often.

Friday night, I took Hubz on a "Secret Date" to see the Washington Nationals game. As is our custom, we rode our bikes there. The Nats caught fire in the sixth inning and kept hammering to an 8-0 win over the Miami Marlins. What an exciting game!

The ride home is always glorious. We were stoked about the Nats win, and about avoiding the crowded metro. There's just something exhilarating about summer night bike rides, whizzing through the streets that look a little different under the cover of darkness.

The following morning, we hopped on our bikes again. Destination: The 50 States Ride

Deciding on this ride was a tough choice, because it meant we couldn't ride the Back Roads Century the next day (we are not as hard core as some). We really enjoyed this lovely ride last year, where we rode the 50 mile option in the interest of keeping it fun. We had planned to return for the full century this Fall. 

In the end I chose the 50 States Ride since we hadn't done it before. 

Bonus: We didn't have to get up early since the start was less than a mile away! As soon as we arrived we recognized several friends from both our biking and running circles. 

50 States Ride
Friday Coffee Club Tweeps! @Ramblingrider @Bicyclebug @JDAntos & @Rootchopper

50 States Ride
Our running buddy, Gray, was a ride marshall
The day was cool, but a bit humid. The sun couldn't make up its mind. There was an occasional breeze, and the threat of rain lurked.

Ed and Mary, whom I often refer to as 'The Ultrarunners of Bicycling' had invited us to ride a few miles with them. The two of them (and Twitter) are the reason I am a part of the #bikeDC community. They had the brilliant idea to start #FridayCoffeeClub and that's where I met and got to know so many cool kids on bikes.

Kirstin, Lisa & MG
Photo by Felkerino

We had a great time riding with them for stretches (then watching them pull away on the many hills), detouring for an illicit coffee stop early in the day, and chatting at all the rest stops.

50 States Ride
Mary, Hubz, Lane and Ed at Chinatown Coffee

We also rode many miles with Kevin, Dave S., Justin, Lane, and most of all Lisa* and John** during the ride. There were some hills on this course where I inevitably fell behind everyone, but someone always made sure we weren't too far behind. It was a real pleasure getting to ride with all of these #bikedc friends whom I've gotten to know over many Friday Coffee Clubs.

50 States Ride
Mary, Lisa, Ed and half of me
The ride itself involved a lot of stoplights and hills, and large groups of cyclists early in the day. Skipping the southwest quadrant section to get coffee with Mary*** and Ed allowed the crowds to thin and made for a more pleasant experience. 

50 States Ride Elevation
The hills on our version of the 50 States Ride

The 50 States Ride was very different from a scenic century in the countryside, but we have a great affinity for city rides. It was in the midst of a bike date in the city that I first realized I was in love with Hubz.

While keeping my pedals cranking and checking my cue sheet hindered my ability to leisurely gaze at things around me, it was a treat riding in parts of the city I hadn't seen on a bicycle.

The rain began to fall about the time we hit Rock Creek Park. It relented, but as we reached Wisconsin it began again in earnest. Since we weren't far from home, we decided to call it a day. We logged 53 miles, our longest ride ever. We are proud of that!

Hats off to WABA and the many volunteers who made this stellar event happen.

Our weekend of biking got us excited to do more, especially knowing that The Coffeeneuring Challenge is just around the corner

*Read Lisa's excellent 50 States ride report here.
**Rootchopper's double (he rode 50 States AND Back Roads) starts here
***Mary's account of the day is here.

Women's Half Marathon Trail Race

This past Saturday I ran my tenth Women's Trail Half Marathon. 

I took a big step back in my mileage after Laurel Highlands, to give my legs and spirit a break. I spent time in my garden, vacationing and seeing family. Though I wasn't putting in a lot of miles, I did add hill work and intervals and felt I had gotten stronger. 

I hadn't raced anything short in quite awhile, and I had no idea how my legs would perform on this hilly course at a fast pace. Lately, my runs had been lackluster. I felt like I was due for a good race. 

I freakin' love this race!

I have serious home course advantage on these trails. I know every root, rock and hill on the course. I'm a decent technical trail runner, with little fear of face-planting on even the biggest downhills.

I know that the first mile on the road must be run at death sprint pace to avoid getting bottlenecked on the trail.

I know that the Do Loop hills must be respected, lest one emerge depleted with half the race yet to run.  

9-18-2013 WHM Elevation
Many, many hills

After a good warmup in the chilly morning air with Sara, Cherry and Meg, we lined up near the front. We started at a brisk pace, though it seemed slower than in past years. After working hard the first hilly road mile, we reached the trail in great position.

I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't out of breath and my heart rate was right where I wanted it to be. My speedwork and hill training had paid off!

All the same, I backed off the pace and let my friends pull ahead. Quite a few women passed me. I didn't want to push too hard too soon. I hoped I'd be reeling many of them in later in the race. 

I marched up the hills while others ran them. I used my downhill and technical trail skills to close the gap time and time again. I picked up the pace on the runnable sections. I kept my breathing controlled.
I felt strong coming out of the Do Loop and I began to pass runners who were starting to show signs of tiring, despite being less than halfway in the race. Those Do Loop hills are killer.

Usually, I reach Fountainhead (mile 8) with my mind and body protesting loudly. This year, I was ready to kick it up a notch. I began overtaking runners one at a time.

All too soon the lovely long downhill was over as I reached the turnaround. I was able to see that Jen, Katie, Cherry and Sara all had pretty good leads on me. Could I catch them?

Two and a half miles to go, with a long uphill to start it off. I was pushing now, feeling strong, not fatigued as I usually do at this point.

Game Face!
My Game Face.

When I hit the next mile marker with two miles to go, I knew I needed to make this hurt.

I cruised along the trails, faster and faster. My legs had found their rhythm, and they seemed to still have more to give.

I flew down the last big hill, passing three more runners. At the top of the final switchback, I poured it on. A few more women came back to me. There was still no sight of my friends, and then I burst out of the woods into the open field and the finish line.

Though I didn't beat my PR here, I did run my second fastest time. Unusually cool weather made this a great day to test my mettle. I felt good about my race plan execution. I was happy with my day and for my speedy friends

Next year ladies, as Bob says, watch your back! I'll be hot on your heels!

All photos courtesy of the inimitable Aaron Schwartzbard