Monday, September 15, 2014

PACX #2: Rivertown Bummertown

As Frank and I walked across the field to registration at yesterday’s PACX Rivertown ‘Cross race, we encountered a small boy on the tiniest-sized pedal bike available being chased by his 1 or 2 year-old sister. He was maintaining a lead of about one bike length and kept looking back to taunt her. Then he crashed hard while looking back, and knowing that he wasn’t actually hurt, we couldn’t help but laugh. I said to Frank, “A significant part of winning is staying upright”, and that sort of set the tone for the day.

I was actually pretty excited for this race, as once again had me slated for a podium performance. However, unlike last time, I had enough knowledge to actually sort of believe it, as there were only seven women pre-reg’d and only one first-timer. I did my research and Google image searched which jerseys I should keep my eye on.

When I saw that the course was significantly more technical than anything that I’d encountered so far this season, I felt even better. It was right next to the river and was similar to Eva Bandman in that sense: one side going up and down the levy next to the road, some meandering on the flood plain, and some singletrack-esque stuff in the woods directly on the river’s edge with some nice drops in and out. There one sketchy corner into the woods with a gravel-to-loose-sand transition where I almost crashed on my warm-up while I was chatting, so I made an extra effort go back and scout it a second time by myself. This effort proved fruitful later on.

I went for the holeshot and took it successfully, although I didn’t really have much intention of holding it. I just wanted to throw the first punch and see who responded. My legs felt kind of awful on the first punchy climb, despite my most extensive warm-up efforts in a long time, and I was passed by two girls, followed by another two on the next climb. I made it into the first woods section in fifth place and was able to stop the hemorrhage there, and recover a bit. Coming back out to the switchback climb up the levy, I could see two girls still within catching distance, and I started to reel them as we bombed back down to the woods.

Approaching the first sketchy little scramble up to the back part of the course, I passed a girl who had crashed and did a mental happy dance to find myself in fourth. “Just one more place to podium”, I thought. The back part of the course was almost all twists, turns, and singletrack, so I was within a few bike lengths of third at the end of the first lap. She gapped me again on the levy during the second lap, and I was beginning my campaign to reel her back in on the back section when she crashed on the loose sand corner that I had carefully planned in my warm-up. I couldn’t help but celebrate how my ability to stay upright was paying off.

I passed her, motored through the singletrack, and hammered through levy section of the third lap. The last hill of this section was a double-barrier run-up with a turn into an off-camber remount. I was a mere remount and drop into the woods before I could start building my lead for a last-lap assault to the podium. Then I kicked my rear brake open just and helplessly fumbled to close it while three girls passed me.

So it was not my fitness, my handling skills, or an impact-induced mechanical such as a flat or ripped off derailleur hanger that ruined what was probably on one shot at a podium for the season. It was a stupid little problem that I was aware of all season and never fixed. I even pointed out that I would need to be careful remounting on that hill, because I wouldn’t have the room or speed for the kind of clean remount that would my rear brake safe.

 Of course, it was idiotic of me to put myself in the situation where I had to worry about something dumb like that on top of normal race exertion. I had kicked my rear brake open on a remount exactly once during my cyclocross career prior to this season, and yet it happened almost every lap of the relay cross race, several times at Wednesday CX practice, and of course, during the first day of Nittany Lion Cross when I wasn’t so upset about having to stop for a couple of minutes to fix it. I’m afraid that this is the result of my resorting to the Salt Creek Cycle’s “Post Death March Overhaul Special” during my super-broke single girl desperation last spring. Since then, both the front and rear brakes are stupidly hard to close, and yet the rear brake opens with the tiniest of bumps. I should have been more insistent on doing something to fix the problem after the relay cross race, but Frank kind of acted like it wasn’t a problem, so I didn’t push the issue.

As a result, this was the most devastating race that I’ve ever experienced. As hard as it has been for me to go all in during races the last couple of seasons, I was finally able to see the tiniest bit of success back within my reach, and I was gutting myself to try and get it. I know that getting a podium in a tiny local race with a not particularly strong field shouldn’t mean that much. I know that even though my license says that I’m a 3, that I’m not even a good 4 right now, but that silly little podium would have made me feel like I was on the road to maybe being one again. So to have it be so close and then be ripped away because of something so dumb was heartbreaking.

Despite last night’s railing against Frank’s attempts to comfort me by saying that I’d have other chances this season, because realistically I probably won’t, I still registered for Charm City this morning, ran the race predictor, and started plotting all over again. So I guess I’m more resilient than I thought was, and I have, in fact, still managed to stay upright once again.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nittany Lion Cross

And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that's all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
a lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.

This weekend we traveled to Trexlertown, PA for Nittany Lion Cross, which was the opening weekend of the MAC series. We’d already signed up weeks ago in an attempt to get good call-ups, even though we later decided that we are going to pursue the PACX series instead of the MAC. Regardless, it was still a good opportunity to get some racing in, and try to be ready for the PACX races later in the season.

The first day was blazing hot again, and it took its toll on me. I rode well enough in the first lap, although there was a lot of traffic. Despite my quick sign-up, I was still called up 31st, because everyone with any MAC points at all from last year got priority. It didn’t really matter in the end, because I didn’t fare well on the roughly bajillion long straightaways that made up the course. I kept being passed by 2-3 girls on each one until the end of the second lap where the heat really got to me and I succumbed to the “I can’t keep going this hard for two more laps” thoughts. I slowed waaay down to try and get my body feeling under control again, during which time I was passed by several more people. Then I kicked my rear brake open on a remount near the end of the third lap. The stupid amount of time it took get it hooked in again did give me a chance to catch my breath, but also lost me a few more places. At least when I finally got going again, I was able to put in a decent last lap, but there weren’t a lot of people left to chase down, so I ended the day 50th out of 55.

The second day was cooler and a little damper, with one good mud puddle, at least. I started out with the goal of simply riding hard the entire race and not blowing up. There was also a girl that I was getting close to catching before my blow-up on the first day, so I also set the goal that if she were in my sights once the initial scramble cleared out, that I would work extra hard not to let her get away. I was more conservative during the first lap than the day before, which meant that I was basically just cruising around amidst the traffic for the first lap. It’s not really my style to sit behind girls that are slower than me in the turns, but after the suffering I’d experienced in the last couple of races, I decided to just deal with the annoyance for a while rather than putting myself in the hurt box to get in front them only to be passed back in the straights and be much worse for the wear. As much as practicing patience during this race annoyed me, I guess it was what I needed to do.

Near the end of the second lap, I found myself closing in on my mark, but with two laps to go, I decided not to put in a pass until I was more confident that it was going to stick. This meant following her slowly through the twisty part at the end of the second lap, then letting the rubber band stretch a bit through the long straightaway through the finish. I set a steady pace going into the third lap and watched her slowly come back to me. I was finally right back on her wheel before a 180, and I decided to go for it. I sprinted to the turn, got on the gas, and never saw her again. I did my best to recover from that effort and stay strong through the rest of the lap, but I couldn’t seem to gain any ground on the next group of girls who were about a minute up. I ended up 40th out of 50, which was an improvement on the day before, but nowhere near the mid-20’s place that I’d hoped for coming into the weekend.

So now I have a pretty honest assessment of where I stand at the beginning of this season, and although it’s not where I want to be, at least now I can adjust my goals to my current state of fitness. The good news is that I will soon have both victims and nemeses on again, which hasn’t really been the case the last couple of years. So although a series championship is probably off the table, I can at least focus on converting the latter to the former, just as I did on Sunday.

My biggest struggle since moving to State College is that my methods for training, eating, etc. that have brought me success in the past don’t work in the new context, and I have yet to discover what does work for me now. I feel like I’m getting closer, so I hope that this cyclocross season can be used for good in that sense. My 2012 season was a bust results-wise, but I learned a lot of important things that helped me be successful in the winter and spring. That is, of course, until I blew away the context again and had to start over in new circumstances. What I hope to gain from this season is to start learning some new success strategies that will hopefully pay off next year, even if the success is not immediately apparent.

Monday, September 1, 2014

PACX #1: Cross of the Corn

Last week when I said that it was time to say goodbye to summer, I had no idea how immediate that would be. We'd planned our first individual 'cross races of the season to be next weekend at Nittany Lion Cross, which is the opening weekend of the MAC series. I wasn't really that stoked on racing the MAC series this season, because the races were all a minimum of 2.5 hours away, they didn't allow even a single drop race in their series scoring, and they didn't have a singlespeed race even for the men, so Frank didn't have a lot of choice outside of the 9 a.m. men's 4/5 race. However, Frank posted a link to the PACX Series site, which I previously hadn't heard of, on my Facebook wall on Wednesday, and although we had our 'cross plans all laid out, it didn't take long for me to change them.

The PACX series counts the best eight out of ten races, and I will only have to miss the one that is the same weekend as SSCXWC/Eva Bandman. It also has the women's race at 12:15 and a men's singlespeed race at 3:30. The races are also much closer on average for us, so we will just be racing two the first two weekends of the MAC series that we'd already signed up for, then keeping it to PACX the rest of the season, save our road trip to Louisville.

The Team Awesome Junior Gnarsity p/b Cheez-its CX Tent. PACX doesn't seem to know about party tents yet, but we're going to teach. So far all the party we've had is a couple asking to park their baby under the tent, but it's a start.
The one downside to this plan was that the first PACX was this weekend, which seemed too damn early, but also a good chance to get an early grab at points. The entry numbers were probably about half of what we'd seen on the results of last year's series, but I believe that this is only the second season and the first time starting this early.

The fourteen women signed up for the 3/4 race proved to be enough for me. had me predicted as fourth, so I had hopes of slightly exceeding their expectations and possible getting my first (earned) podium in three years. As it turns out, I'm either in worse shape than my Tuesday mountain climbs imply, or the fact that I was able to get not last in a few OVCX women's elite races last year garnered me better points than mid-pack finishes in 3/4 races in PA.

Regardless, I went out hard like I belonged at the front of the pack, only to discover that I couldn't maintain that pace in the blazing heat. The only action that happened after the first lap was that I passed one girl who went out even harder than me and then died even harder than me, and was passed by a girl who seemingly went out slow and took advantage of everyone's melting in the end. I ended up eighth out of fourteen, which was disappointing, but at least it gave me a marker for where I stand. I have something besides "not last" to work for now, and I'm sure that I'll improve as the weather cools down and we hopefully get to race on some courses that better fit my skill set.

Monday, August 25, 2014

THE International Intergalactic Global Open Cyclocross Team Relay Championship of the Multi-Friggin-Verse

I can’t remember a summer that I wasn't in a hurry for it to end. As an only child in rural Oklahoma, summer just meant three long months of having to stay at some babysitter’s house parked in front of the TV or forced outside in the 100 degree heat with other children of varying ages to entertain ourselves. At least the return of school meant seeing my friends on a daily basis and having something to do, and once I turned 16, it meant not having to have a job. As a college runner, summer was our off-season, which ideally it was the time to rebuild with lots of base miles for cross country season in the fall, but for me, slogging through all those miles in the heat usually just resulted in my body being too destroyed to actually compete when fall came.

Then I became a mountain bike and cyclocross racer. Summer always sounds good in the middle of winter. Rather than slogging away my base miles in the heat of summer, as a cyclist, I put on my lobster gloves and trudge through cold and slush, dreaming of the mountain bike races that I have planned for the spring and summer. That magical first day sometime in March when the trails are dry enough to ride comes and goes, the spring races pass, I race the first couple ofcross country races of the year, and I am over my mountain bike by the time the trails become dusty in July. Before I’d even experienced my first ‘cross race, I couldn’t wait for mountain bike season to be over so that I could. It’s pretty much been that way for every summer since.

So as someone who has internalized “Winter is coming.” as well as any member of House Stark, it is odd to find myself wishing that this summer wouldn’t end. I just have too much unfinished business on the mountain bike. Rather than giving up when things didn’t go my way this summer, I’ve kept trying and made what progress I could. There are still a million rocks out there ready to be conquered and I’m not ready to be taken away from them.

Late August seems to have snuck up on me, anyway, since yesterday I found myself riding laps around the rough ground of a farm while I relearned what ‘cross felt like. The occasion was no less than THE International Intergalactic Global Open Cyclocross Team Relay Championship of the Multi-Friggin-Verse, in which I competed along with Frank and two of his Penn State teammates as “Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem”. SPOILER: We got eighth, so we were pretty happy with our intergalactic ranking.

Each of us rotated laps for four hours, ending with five each for Sean, Sasha, and myself. We were joking while Frank was out on a lap without about 45 minutes before the cutoff that we would make it through the rotation exactly one minute before the cutoff and force Frank to go out for number six. Sean said that Frank would be mad, but “good mad”. We didn’t really think it would happen, but it he did end up having to go out for a final lap less than a minute before the cutoff. He wasn’t exactly pleased about that, but we wouldn’t be the eighth best cyclocross relay team in the multi-friggin-verse without his effort.

My favorite part of the day was the slip-n-slide shortcut. There was a steep run-up section with double barriers, which I was of course dreading after my practice lap. I was also a little confused by the kiddie pools and slip-n-slide in what appeared to be the pit area. Luckily, at the start they announced the option to rack your bike at the bottom of the hill, run up of the hill bike-and-barriers-free, slip-n-slide to the bottom, then continue on at the bottom of the twisty descent after the run-up. So basically, wins all around. A few “serious” people tried to stick to the “real” course, but there were plenty of hecklers available with squirt guns and hoses to make sure they still didn’t stay dry for their efforts.

Since I’ve been busy pretending that ‘cross isn’t coming, this race was a good transition for me. I was the second leg on our team, so the field was already spread out enough by the time I started riding that there wasn’t really anyone for me to race against. For the most part I was just time-trialing, except for my second lap where there was a girl who started just far enough ahead of me that I was able to slowly reel her in throughout the lap. That was nice, but it was it was also good just to have a chance to get used to going hard on the ‘cross bike without having to subject myself to that screaming pain that comes from that first time out on a real course against competition each season.

I’m still wishing that I had a couple more months to focus just on mountain biking before winter comes, and I’m still sad that ‘cross season no longer means OVCX, but the season is upon us, and I guess that I’ve got to make hay while the sun shines. Or more accurately ride over cut hayfields while it rains. As much as I’m against the “all people with vaginas and no UCI licenses are the same” category system on the East Coast, it will hopefully do my little sandbagging soul some good to be ranked smack in the middle of a 50-ish deep women’s 3/4 field. If my Tuesday night mountain climbing has taught me anything, it is that I can still make myself ride really freakin’ hard when I have an achievable marker to chase, and that’s something that I’ve been missing for a couple of years now. So I guess it’s time to say goodbye to summer, but hope to keep the heat of it in my belly through the fall.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


As many of you know, in January 2013 I transitioned this blog from a failed attempt to document my rise to cycling stardom to a tool for Internet accountability in my journey toward a happier life that hopefully still included some cycling success, even if stardom was pretty much off the table. A big part of this has been a commitment to being as honest as possible about what’s really going on in my life. The helpful thing about making my struggles public is that it forces me to process things in such a way that allows me to write something that is authentic but spun in a positive enough light that it hopefully doesn’t just come out as the rantings of a crazy person.

 I put what I hope to be a realistic depiction of the internal and external work that I’ve been doing in a public place and hope that those who choose to read it do so out of support or at least neutral curiosity. For the most part, I have been surprised at the positive reaction that I have received, and I only know of one incident where someone used my words out-of-context in a malicious manner against me. It was a reminder to not get too comfortable in my writing, because not everyone reads with positive intentions, but overall I feel like the process has been helpful to me.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about when expressing negativity is useful and when it is not. An acquaintance on Facebook has also been doing his own sort of Internet accountability self-improvement project where he posts monthly updates about his progress in various areas, one of which is not engaging in negative posting. I never saw anything explaining the specific reason why this was one of the areas in which he wanted to improve, but I can definitely understand why one might decide to make such a goal for themselves. There’s plenty of research that shows that focusing on negativity only generates more of it.

So when deciding what to post about my life, I too have been trying to focus on the positive things of which I’ve had many in the past few months. I have a great relationship, a great job, and I live in a beautiful town with access to tons of great riding. However, I’m still struggling in many areas. In some ways, I feel like the depression that I was experiencing before I began this journey has come back in full force, but that I’m just better equipped to deal with it than I was before. Making all the changes didn’t fix the hole inside me; it only put me in an environment that is more conducive to healing.

Coming to that realization was disappointing, although not altogether surprising. I’m not sure at which point during the past two years I realized that fixing my circumstances wouldn’t fix me, but I kind of already knew it before I moved here. Now is the time at which I face the fact that my circumstances don’t cause my depression, my mind does.

That is where the problem with honesty versus negativity comes in. What I seem to be discovering these days is that the depression with which I’ve struggled since I was in kindergarten is essentially my mind defaulting to the most negative interpretation of almost every situation. I’m not sure if it’s my genes, my physiology, or just a coping strategy that I learned when I was too young to remember, but I do know now that it is such an essential part of my cognitive wiring that I didn’t even know it was happening until a few months ago. Until I made that realization, I took what my brain was telling me to be the truth, so honesty and negativity were often the same. However, I’ve learned that honesty and truth are not the same thing if the information my brain is giving me is incorrect, or at least incomplete.

In my previous worldview, there were basically three kinds of people: those that were lucky enough to have all the things they wanted and needed in life, those that were tough enough to get by without the things that they were missing, and weak people like me, who weren’t strong enough to tolerate their circumstances. As I got to know Frank and worked with my therapist back in Bloomington, I realized that there is in fact a category of people that are neither lucky nor tough. At least they are not lucky in the sense of having everything they want or need; they are lucky to have brains that don’t perceive unhappy feelings or circumstances to be as distressing as my brain does. It’s not that they have an incredible ability to HTFU; it’s that they just don’t need to do so that often because don’t spend their lives fighting the dragons in their own head and can save their reserve of toughness for actual crises.

Frank is one of these magical people, and most days it blows my mind. The thing is that, despite his recently acquired wizard status, it isn’t actually magic. He’s lucky in the fact that he was born with or at least grew up with healthy brain wiring, but supposedly even unhealthy brains like mine can be rewired if they are continually challenged with alternative versions of the negative “truth” that they like present. It’s not so easy as just “focusing on the positive”, because it’s hard to make yourself truly believe information that conflicts with what your brain is telling you, but I suppose that’s where one has to start. Living with a person like him helps, because he has a higher opinion of me than I do of myself. Rather than judging me as weak for having a harder time with everyday life than him, he is proud of me for doing my best, even when the dragons get the better of me.

I don’t want to gloss over the fact that I’m still struggling with depression by only telling you good things about my life, but at the same time I don’t want to feed the dragons by reporting their incomplete or inaccurate version of the truth. With that in mind I will continue to be as honest as I can in my posting, but I will strive to apply some more rigorous fact-checking to my reports.

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Boyfriend's a Wizard

This week's post is going to be a quickie, mostly just to keep up the Monday Internet accountability thing. I've been working on something more substantial in my head for a couple of weeks now, so hopefully I will get it written out and published later in the week.

My training week had ups and downs, figuratively and literally. The figurative and literal up was that I graduated to climbing both sides of the mountain on Tuesday instead of just going up the close side and back down. I'm feeling strangely confident in my road climbing skills, which is supposed to be my weakness. At the same time, the mountain bike ride that I was able to sneak away for on Saturday morning was a disappointment. I continue to see very little improvement in my off-road riding. Basically, it feels less awful than it did a month ago, but my speed still isn't improving much.

Of course, the big event of the weekend was Frank's graduation. He really, really has a Ph.d. now, as well as the wizard costume to prove it. His parents were here for the whole weekend, so hanging out with them took priority over riding, although my snuck-in mountain bike ride on Saturday morning mostly garnered him some heckles from his dad about my being a more dedicated rider than him. Oh well, he's a better son.

Anyway, it was nice getting to spend time with them and get to know them better. And, of course, I'm super proud of Frank for what he's accomplished. Now it's time to begin in earnest his year of post-doc teaching while we wait to see what the future holds. It's also almost time to distract ourselves with some 'cross racing while we wait. We will be kicking off our season next Sunday at THE International Intergalactic Global Open Cyclocross Team Relay Championship of the Multi-Friggin-Verse. I hope it's less bloody than my relay cross experience in Chicago last summer!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hipster's Paradise

Last week I was able to put together another pretty solid training week in the first five days. I got in both of my weight workouts, my Tuesday mountain climb, my Wednesday recovery ride, and took off work on Friday to mountain bike, since we would be in NYC for the weekend. The mountain climb went well, and I set another 2.5 minute PR. The mountain bike ride was not as great, since I was pretty worn out, and I still haven’t fully adjusted back to the weight training yet.

 I realized that the reason that I can still climb well tired versus mountain biking tired, is the matter of smashing your tired meat stick legs up and down while mountain biking requires a lot more fine motor skills that don’t work so well when both your legs and supportive muscles are fried. So I basically just did one lap of the “cross country loop”, which is the first singletrack loop of the Trailmix and called it a day. I did set PRs on every single segment I rode, but that was only because I hadn't ridden those trails since early June when I was in really, really bad shape. It was still tough trying to ride well, and I was not as fast as I’d hoped to be.

 Still, I can see that I’m making progress, albeit slow, and I feel like I’m starting to figure out what works for me in my current lifestyle and for mountain-bike-focused training. I wasted too much time trying to fit my mountain bike training in a model that worked for a gravel-racing focus in the past. Unfortunately, mountain biking, especially here, is a much bigger strain on the body than gravel riding, and I didn't account for that. Luckily, I think I've learned what works, but it’s just a bummer that I’m only hitting my stride with less than four weeks left until cyclocross. Then I have to figure out how that will fit into the plan, as well.

Since I had plenty of warning that we would be out of town and unable to ride this weekend, I didn't mind burning myself to a crisp beforehand. We spent the weekend in Brooklyn with Frank’s best from high school and her husband. I’d never been to New York before, but we still had a not very touristy visit. Or maybe we did.

Since amateur research of hipster culture is a bit of a hobby of mine, visiting shops and bars in Williamsburg and Red Hook were my kind of tourism. We were supposed to go to a free concert on Saturday night, but it filled up way faster than we expected. We ended up playing a couple of rounds at a recently-opened shuffleboard hall right before things got overly busy there, and that was pretty perfect. Frank and I also won both games, which didn't hurt.

Of course, I’m paying the price today for the weekend’s debauchery, as running around the city in the heat, eating out and drinking, and sleeping on an air mattress are not good recovery techniques when you’re already exhausted from training. But right now I’m just doing my best to fulfill both my training and social obligations and not get too stressed about my shortcomings or the things standing in my way. (Possibly another forced off-the-bike weekend coming up.) As I said a couple of weeks ago, I've just got to keep chipping away at the crack at the wall with my tiny hammer, and not let myself start beating my head instead.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Highlands and Valleys

During the last week, I did continue to chip away at the brick wall that is standing between myself the level of fitness at which I want to be, although I still haven’t managed to create any major fault lines yet.

 I did resume weight training with which I’ve not been consistent since I moved here, having my last drop off after Sarah and Josh’s wedding. In some ways it feels futile, because it feels detrimental in the short term. However, I’ve seen its benefits in the past, and I truly believe that if I can string together a few weeks of no missed sessions, it will start making me faster.

 We also continued with Week #2 of our Tuesday Night Mountain Climb plan. Of course, it only became that last week. Two weeks ago, it was merely my desire to expand beyond the easy, flat out-and-back road rides that we’d been doing a couple of nights a week, so I said we should climb to the top of the first major ridge outside of town. It is about the same distance we’d been doing, but obviously harder. Once we’d done it the first time and established a marker, I came up with a plan to do it every Tuesday night and eventually start going down the other side, which is harder, and back up that as well. Last week’s climb actually went really well, as I went six minutes faster, even with some fresh weight training in my legs.

 I made through our intramural softball game on Wednesday and Thursday’s weight workout and realized that I was pretty sure that it was the first time since I moved here that I made it to Thursday night without suffering from complete exhaustion. My team at work was in the midst of a crazy transitional period when I started, and during the last month we’ve finally gotten past that and into a maintenance/enhancement phase. That means that my work is a little more predictable and more focused on what I’m good at, as opposed to just doing whatever people need help with. I think that’s helped with both my anxiety and exhaustion a lot. So I was really starting to feel like I might actually break through the wall at some point, although I still have a lot work do.

Unfortunately, my main mountain bike ride of the week was kind of a bummer. I actually started out feeling better than I have at the beginning of a ride in weeks. Unfortunately, the crappy feeling came back with a vengeance about an hour into the ride, but I still stuck it out and got in three (slow) hours before packing it in. My road ride Sunday was a little better, and I felt okay with capping off a pretty solid week. The fatigue is starting to catch up with me today, but I’m really hoping to hold it together through Friday. After that I’ll be on a bike-free weekend in NYC during which I’ll hopefully recover for the next round.

One fun fact of the weekend was that we saw Highland cattle on two different occasions this weekend. The first was a group we always see on the way to and from Cooper’s Gap, but we finally stopped to take a picture. Then on Sunday, we did a new-to-me road route on which we discovered a different group of Highland cattle lived. This group was much more impressive, and contained the first black one that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, someone came out of the house as soon as we stopped to look, so we didn’t get any pictures.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Tiny Hammer

I came in like a wrecking ball
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was wreck me
Yeah, you, you wreck me

For those first promising 2-3 weeks of mountain biking in State College, it seemed like I was on a nice trajectory out of the disrepair into which my fitness had fallen during the stressful transition into moving here. Then a bunch of stuff happened: work conference, furniture move, crazy junk food fueled working weekend during our software upgrade, the cold from hell and its lingering life-sucking effects, shoulder and hip pain from my not-so-ergonomic desk at work, and various other social obligations. For nearly three months now, I’ve never managed to make more than a week’s worth of forward progress before something happened to set it back again.

It hasn’t really taken much to get off-track, as I haven’t ever gotten the chance to get that solid foundation of seeing real progress that I’m highly-motivated to keep up in the face of adversity. Things always feel incredibly shitty when you’re trying to get back into a positive routine, but I haven’t yet made it to the point where I start to get past the shittiness and start to feel good again. The fact that my ability to physically recover seems to have tanked since moving here doesn’t help; is 33 really that much older than 32 was? It’s just shitty white-knuckling, interruption, regression, repeat.

This summer has been metaphorical exercise in trying to tear down a brick wall with a childrens’ toy hammer. When I first started to see what I was up against, I thought the answer was to maybe walk away and let erosion work on the wall for a while, or hope that maybe someone would leave me a bigger hammer to work with while I wasn’t looking. Instead, every time I come back to the wall, I find that someone has filled in any minor chips that I was able to make before and maybe even added another layer of protective coating. Then I have to just start smacking again with my tiny hammer just to get back to the pathetic place I was before.

One good thing we did do this week is implement the Tuesday Night Mountain Climb, which I only regret not doing sooner. It's a really effective workout for relatively little time or mental effort.

So a couple of weeks ago, I noticed this pattern and started to get pretty pissed about it. I also got pretty pissed at anything that was keeping me from improving it. Hammering away at the wall with my tiny hammer feels terrible, but letting the wall stand is also not an option. For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying really hard to stop being that lame-o person who puts training over social connection, but I started to get stressed out and panicky about how I just wanted to make a noticeable dent in that fucking wall, and that I kept being asked to do other things instead.

I didn’t get that far into resolving those two conflicting desires, but on Thursday I was so anxious and depressed that it seemed like I forgotten to use my tiny hammer and had simply started beating the wall with my head. So I decided that I should stop hammering with my head, and spend the evening focused on cheering myself up and, you know, not being an asshole to my boyfriend. So instead of dragging my exhausted, ragey butt to the gym, we went out to play mini golf, which lead to restaurant food and beer. It also lead to me feeling and acting less like an asshole. So the real task here is to figure out a way to hold on to my tiny hammer tight enough to keep chipping away at the wall, but not so much that it makes me angry at everything. I also need to find a way to cheer myself up that minimizes backsliding on what progress I do make, which was more the point of my last post than anything that actually had to do with cooking.

So after calming myself down a bit, I made what I felt like was the imperfect but best choice under the circumstances for the weekend. The biggest factor in my panic was that Frank’s aunt was coming to visit, and wanted to leave for New York very early Saturday morning, ride the Brooklyn Bridge, and then spend the night in NYC. I’ve obviously turned into a much better traveler than I’ve been the past, but it still takes a lot out of me, and I feel like I’ve gotten not nearly enough home time since moving to State College. I also didn’t want to miss another weekend of mountain biking; since the weekend before had felt so awful, I wanted to give myself a chance to crack the wall a bit more instead of coming back in two weeks to a newly impenetrable surface at which I would once again have to start chipping away.

When I considered skipping the trip, and there was something uniquely upsetting about my first time voluntarily doing something separately from Frank. I guess a little part of me believes that it’s a slippery slope from choosing to do one thing apart from him to regressing to a relationship where carpooling to races together is the closest thing to intimacy. I was also stressed about family politics and whatnot, so even when I made the decision not to go, it didn’t give me much relief.

I learned that if you make it to the top of the Peep Trail and still have the energy to keep going up the road, you land on this nifty trail where you can take a (solo) #scenicvistaselfie while standing right in the middle of #eastcoastrocks.

It’s too soon to say whether I made the right decision or not, as I still don’t really feel that good about it general, but I do feel really good about the ride that I got in at Cooper’s Gap on Saturday instead. I was still ridiculously slow, but at least it felt like I had a little more to give and was merely metering my effort for what I knew was coming on the Peep climb. It paid off, too, as I made to the final rock-covered 25 meters without the soul-crushing exhaustion I felt last weekend. I still didn’t have enough energy to monster-truck the rocks on top of that, but I got closer at least.

So now I’ve made cracks in the wall two weekends in a row. It still feels pretty terrible, but at least I can see them forming. The next couple of weeks should be a little less daunting as far as making progress goes. I think the important thing I need to focus on is to keep hitting away with the tiny hammer even though it’s no fun, but not drive myself to the point of hitting with my head. Hitting with my head is bad, mmmkay? For now, I have to work with what I have and hope for the best, but I’m adding “bigger hammer” to my Amazon wish list just in case.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Zorro Circle, Part I

Last week was rough for me. I got really down on myself for continuing the general backward trend in my weight and fitness since moving to State College, the number of obstacles that would make reversing that trend in the near future extremely difficult, and feeling like I had to choose between either letting myself down or letting Frank down because it was becoming pretty obvious that I was failing at doing it all. I know that trying to find solutions from a place of negativity is probably not going to be successful, so in planning this week’s post I was trying to figure out a way to make it something besides just whining. So I just started typing, and what came out was a very specific story about developing successful coping mechanisms, so I think is what I will limit my scope to today. Maybe this is the Zorro Circle in which I should start digging my way back out, and this week will require multiple posts.


One thing that really turned the tide for me when I was getting my binge eating under control in the fall of 2012 was to simply make not binge eating my number one priority. I know this sounds silly in its simplicity, since I’d been unsuccessfully trying to kick the habit for over ten years, but I realized that the biggest driver of my binge eating was the need for relief, usually during a bad day at work. So the fantasy of binge eating would get me through the afternoon, and when I got out of work, I felt obligated to act on the fantasy I’d had all afternoon. Then I figured out how to get past the window where the need to act was so acute and that if I could get home without buying food to binge on, I could also let go of the stress that was triggering my urge to binge once I was safe at home. Part of making home “safe” was letting go of the notion that cooking a full healthy dinner from scratch or eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and half a box of Cheez-Its were the only two options.

 On the worst days, it was good enough just to eat something tasty and easy that would keep me from being hungry until breakfast. It didn’t have to be super nutritious, just not harmful or something that would trigger cravings. When I was first breaking the habit, there were a lot of days that I just dumped almond butter on top of a cut up banana and then turned my brain off for the rest of the evening. Working out or cooking real dinner were considered bonuses until I got the bingeing under control, but as I grew stronger, I managed to do both of those things more and more often until both my body composition and fitness were the best that they’d been since my college running days.

Now that my living situation has changed and I have to learn new coping mechanisms. I no longer have a two-hour window in which to binge eat, then hide the evidence before my significant other returns to judge me, so coming home to another person at home who is thankfully non-judgy but in front of whom I’m still too embarrassed to down massive quantities of junk food is an automatic stop my binge eating in the traditional sense. However, relief doesn’t come so easily for me now that I have another person depending on me for dinner, and an almond butter covered banana won’t do. Therefore, I’ve found myself saying, “Let’s just go out” way too often since moving to State College, which might not quite be as bad for me as binge eating, but at the frequency it’s been taking place is doing nothing positive for my weight, health, or my ability to deal with stress. I actually enjoy cooking a lot, especially when I’m doing it for someone I love and not just feed myself. When my love guru Sarah Fredrickson tasked me with making a list of must-have qualities in my future mate, “Not vegetarian or vegan; preferably enjoys when I cooked big-ass steaks for him” was near the top of the list. However, some days being a kitchen superstar is just too much pressure, so now I need to develop a new coping strategy that is something other than just saying, “Let’s go out.”

 I haven’t really found the answer yet, but I feel like talking through how I was able to figure it out in the past might help me find a new strategy now.


In riding news, we rode some new trails in the Cooper's Gap area that we hadn't done before. The Cooper's Gap Epic has now surpassed Raystown as the number one ride in Pennsylvania on the MTB Project, and now that I have seen the what the world outside Rothrock has to offer, I believe that is probably an accurate assessment.

Of course, we didn't finish the whole epic what with the still backsliding fitness and all, and the climbing was pretty much killing my soul. However, all the rest breaks did allow me to capture some good photo inspiration for the "Rocks and Rhododendrons" tattoo that I would like get sometime this winter when I've saved my dollars and found an artist that I trust with the task.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't Crash the Bride

This weekend I made my first real return to Indiana since moving to State College, not counting the quick overnight trip to get my furniture. The occasion was the wedding of my friends Sarah and Josh at Brown County State Park, to which I've been looking forward ever since I moved.

It was just as fun as I hoped it would be. Luckily, no one crashed the bride at the "Don't Crash the Bride Ride", and it was a really fun, not overly serious wedding. It made me so happy to see Sarah and Josh finally tie the knot, as they are both such great people and go so well together. Witnessing the kind of relationship they had with each other was a big part of what gave me the courage to look for that kind of love for myself.

The leisurely contingent of the "Don't Crash the Bride Ride"
Photo Credit: Erin Baumgardt

I was also glad to see all of my other friends in person again, since I'd been missing my Indiana people really badly in the past few weeks. It's hard being away and feeling like it's just a matter of time before people forget you when your relationship dwindles to Facebook-only. Plus, I've been pretty busy at my new job and social media time has been greatly reduced. I know it's partially my own fault, as I don't pick up the phone and send "How you doing?" texts enough, but I feel the good parts of my life back in Indiana slipping away. Being able to reconnect with a bunch of different people over the weekend made me feel a lot better about things, although I still need to work on staying in touch and maybe even making some friends in State College.

Got to hang out with my favorite puppy, Lo. Yes, my hair is also purple.

The other big part of the trip for me was getting to ride BCSP again having spent three months riding the East Coast Gnar. It was especially interesting because BCSP was trending as the highest rated trail system in the country on the MTB Project a couple of weeks ago. Of course, since Raystown is the highest rated trail system in Pennsylvania, I knew such judgements couldn't really be trusted. When I left Indiana, I was so sad to be taken away from BCSP, but upon my return, I wondered if it was really as great as I remembered and were the hard parts as hard with my new-found gnar skills.


The answer is that, yes, having seen both ends of the spectrum of what Pennsylvania has to offer, Brown County is a really good trail system. You can go fast, but it's got enough stuff going on that it is not boring like Raystown. The "hard" parts are kind of funny, though, as it's weird riding trails that were designed to be hard as opposed to trails that just are hard naturally. That being said, I wasn't much more skilled on Walnut than I was before I moved. I'll monster truck over all the the rocks when there's room to fall, but my confidence is still not that great when I risk tipping over the side of a bench cut trail if I fail. We rode half of Schooner Trace, but it was just like I remembered it: just a lot of really purpose-built super hard obstacles on which you will fall off the side if you don't make it over smoothly. So I may have hated Rothrock the first time I rode it and couldn't believe I was trading Brown County for it at first, but now I would definitely take John Wert over Schooner any day.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I (Still) Want To Ride Bikes With You

At long last, I seem to be breaking through the fatigue that has plagued me for the last couple of months. Frank and I got back into the gym a couple of times this week, and while I'm feeling unsurprisingly sore, I'm not feeling like my basic life force has been sucked away. I feel like I'm actually going to get stronger from it once I recover. We also had a great three day weekend where we explored some new mountain bike trails on Friday, hiked Mt. Nittany on Saturday, and did a nice couple of hours of mixed road, (weedy) singletrack, and gravel today. After my first solid training week since the week I arrived in State College and didn't have to work yet, I'm still tired and wincing from the soreness every time I get up, but I'm not overwhelmed with fatigue. Hopefully I've finally clipped in on the path back to fitness this time.

I had no idea what was in store when Frank said, "Let's go hike Mt. Nittany. It wasn't exactly the recovery day I had in mind, but it was a lot of fun.

Our Friday adventure was to check out the Rattling Creek IMBA Epic. It's about two hours away, but it looked really fun, and I'm enjoying the chance to check out some new trails instead of concentrated on Rothrock for a while.

The trails delivered on the "rocky flow" that was promised. They definitely still had plenty of rocks and a general Pennsylvania backcountry feel, but with a more cruisable flow to them. The climbing was gentle and the descending meandered around more for maximum enjoyment, rather straight downhill bombing. We only had two complaints, the first of which being that some sections were so ridiculously overgrown that it felt like bushwhacking rather than mountain biking. The other was that the trails were very poorly marked.

Looking derpy but staying upright on a rock garden.

Complaint Number Two turned out to be the theme of the day, as we started off spending a lot of time driving around gravel roads after driving right past the parking lot, thanks to trying to follow Google maps to the mapping point provided on the MTB Project app. This was followed by going a down a big paved descent first thing (and then having to climb back up), since the unmarked first trail was simply described as "across the road" from the parking lot, but they didn't say in which direction. And so it went, trying to find our way around the prescribed epic course, and it ended with us getting about 19 miles (the epic course was 22) but a few of those being riding around aimlessly on the road.We both got different amounts of frustrated at different times. Frank's mostly had to do with the suckiness of the map; mine mostly had to do with when I had to do unnecessary climbing as a result of a navigational mistake.

Bridging out of the brush

During all of the wandering, I thought of last summer when a package arrived in the mail from Frank. The great collector of tiny hats had sent me one of my own, with the words "Get Lost" under the brim. He included a note saying that he saw it and thought of my experience at the Gravel Metric, and that he had also purchased one for himself. The rest of the note was incredibly sweet and talked about how he looked forward to the adventures that we would have together. I reread it many times over the next few months whenever I started missing him too badly.

So I found it kind of funny as we were in the midst of one of those adventures actually happening that it was less romantic than we had imagined it to be. I've been stressed lately about the terrible state of my fitness and the continuing roadblocks that stand in my way, but then I remembered the the kind of relationship that I was looking for when I met Frank. It was one year ago this weekend that we took our first rides together, and after which I wrote "I Just Want to Ride Bikes with You".

As much as I miss being fast(ish) and competing in races, I remembered that right now I'm living out the days that I was missing for all those years when I was completely focused on (unsuccessfully) trying to be fast. Now I've tasted success in both areas and sometimes get frustrated that I have thus far been unable to have both at once. This weekend reminded me that stressing about my lack of fitness won't help, and that I just need to keep focusing on doing the best I can and appreciating what I already have.

Even when I get lost and it feels like I'm no closer to my goals, I still want to ride bikes with [Frank].

Whatever Instagram filter I used makes me look like an Oompa Loompa, but you get the idea.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Raystown and Roadiness

Since we no longer have any Rothrock-centric races for which to prepare, Frank and I branched out a bit and expanded our Pennsylvania mountain-biking repertoire. The Allegrippis Trail system at Raystown Lake is the next-closest trail system to us beyond the Rothrock and Coopers gap trails. At an hour away, they are still reasonably close, but we just hadn't made it out there yet.

Whenever you read one of those Internet "best trails" lists, Alegrippis comes up as the pick for Pennsylvania, so I was excited to check them out. I was also excited to ride some flowy machine-cut trails after not really ever being able to open up the throttle in Rothrock. It was a lot like French Lick, except that were no "features", man-made or otherwise, at least on the 15-mile section that we rode. Now that I've ridden it, I will definitely be bringing my singlespeed next time, because the climbs are most the whoopy, stepped kind like the climb up from the creek at French Lick. They were mostly alternating few peddle strokes of really steep, then a few pedal strokes of flat or slight downhill, rather than the steadier climbing of Brown Country, so I don't feel like my Lust did particularly well on it. My utter lack of anaerobic fitness at the moment didn't help either. The downhills were also extra-super bomby with lots of chances to catch air, so the proportion of time going downhill to uphill was way out of whack. I could of used some more flat-to-downhill fast-paced turny time mixed in. It was a nice break from the Rothrock grind, and would definitely be more fun if I were in shape, but at this point, I actually kind of prefer the Rothrock rocks.

Unfortunately, the #sceniclake in this week's selfie is washed out.

Sunday we went out for a road ride. We've been doing that a lot more because it doesn't exhaust me as much as mountain biking, and I think Frank kind of misses it. It's kind of nice, because unless you intentionally go out to climb a mountain, the road riding here is no tougher than it was in Bloomington. And if you want to go out and climb a mountain, you totally can.

I always laugh at this sign when we drive by it on the way to the airport.

I'm still not really sure how I'm doing as far as coming out of my funk. As you may have noticed, I gave up on my week numbers in the blog titles, although I'm still keeping up my weekly posting commitment. I'm feeling a little directionless right now, since I don't have anything important on which I'm focusing my training, which is both good and bad. It's good in that I'm not stressed about not being ready for something in time, but bad because I lack the specific motivation of trying be better for "X" event.

Right now I'm mostly just wishing for the fitness that I had a year and however many months ago and trying to determine the best way to get it back. The other big thing on my mind is next year's Transylvania Epic. It may be my only chance to do a major stage race on my home turf while sleeping in my own bed every night. How many people get that opportunity at all?

It's still 48 weeks away, and Frank laughs every time I say that that might not be enough time to get ready, but I've got some pretty huge leaps that I need to make before then if I want to be successful. If you subtract 'cross season, it's going to go by quickly. So my focus now is trying to figure out how to get lean and fit again as quickly as possible and also try to do so in a way that will provide the best foundation for next year's TSE. I'm not sure what the answer to that is, but hopefully I figure it out soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Weddings and Anniversaries

Soon ends our stay here and it's been fun.
So tonight I'll raise my glass to us.
'Cause we've talked so much I think we filled this ashtray twice,
And I'm pretty sure we emptied every bottle in the place...

So let's walk home, let's be afraid.
I wanna grab you by the arms and kiss you so hard.
Let's do it right, under the streetlight.
I want it now, somehow I forgot how.

Way to go, way to go.
Forgot you've got so far to go.
Way to go, way to go.
Forgot you've got so far to go.

Those are the words to the song that I sent to Frank one year ago last night. It’s from his favorite band from high school/college that I was only turned on to last summer, being a bit behind him in musical tastes and all. I somehow thought a song about wanting to make out with a stranger would somehow take some of the awkwardness out of my extremely awkward, “you can sleep at my house in one capacity or another” text. Luckily, it all worked out despite the awkwardness, and I still think the song is metaphorically fitting for our relationship on so many levels.

There’s not really any bike-related news this week, because the passing of the Trailmix also meant the transition to wedding season for us. I was hoping that our trip to Illinois this past weekend would feel more like a well-deserved break than it did, but luckily the next wedding weekend trip will be very bike-centric, so hopefully it will prove helpful in getting my mojo back rather than merely distracting me from my lack of it.

Anyway, we spent the weekend traveling to Illinois for the wedding of one of Frank’s friends from his master’s program. It was a fun time and a lovely wedding, mostly highlighted by the fact that it rained more than an inch and the couple had one of those deals where they got the engagement ring for free.

Of course, a side effect of the “wedding season”, if you are young(ish), female, and in love, is the creeping thoughts of how you would do it if it were up to you. Ironically, I read this article on the drive there, and know more than most the downfalls of getting too ahead of yourself or getting caught up in checking getting #engaged and having a wedding off your “to do” list. Regardless, the excitement around these things is undeniable, and I hope that at some point I’ll get another chance at doing these things better than I did the first time around.

To make all of this a lot weirder, I was surprised by the news that my ex got married last weekend. I intuitively suspected that they were already engaged, and my friends all just thought that someone else had told me, or that I didn’t care to know, but stumbling across a friend’s Facebook post that there was a wedding happening that very day was a shock. I desperately wanted to have no feelings about it all or even be so mature as to be happy for them, but there was still some remaining anger and childish jealously that he was “winning” in certain areas. As the one friend with whom I discussed this blatantly put it, “If it were me, I’m sure it bother me because he did it first.” Yeah, kinda, even though that’s a gut feeling rather than a rational one.

The real bummer of this was that it all happened the morning after I found out that Frank would not be sleeping at my house in one capacity or another on the anniversary of our first date. His next teaching session doesn’t start until next week, and his sister, niece, and nephews are visiting at his parents’ house this week, so he is staying in Illinois this week while I was sent back on a plane yesterday since I don’t have that many vacation days at my job yet.

I’m sure to most adults, a one-year boyfriend/girlfriend anniversary sounds silly, since many people surpass that milestone while still in high school. However, for me, this is my first one. Until this point, I’ve never made a year without breaking up with someone, or in one case marrying them. So to me, it was a huge deal to celebrate the healthy growth of our relationship for what it was without excessive rushing.

So that is my conflict in this wedding season, get caught up in the glamour of weddings and sparkly things, or for once in my life, let things happen as they are supposed to and enjoy them as they come. I used to think that getting married was a prerequisite to starting my life, but in my rush, I didn’t do so well in my life after that. My life with Frank has already started and we will continue to build it in the months and years to come. I do hope that it eventually includes a fancy party surrounded by friends and family, but I imagine it more as a celebration of our ongoing commitment to each other rather than a beginning or end to be met. Until then, I want to enjoy the life that we have together and celebrate our less-conspicuous victories before that day and long after.


Also, here are some pictures of me actually riding my bike at the Trailmix.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Trailmix That Wasn't

The Rothrock Trailmix has come and gone. Unfortunately, my legs didn't come with it. I showed up on Saturday morning hoping that they would come around, but when we hit the singletrack, it was the same old racing-heart, weak-legs, and inability to hold a line even at the minimal level of effort required to keep rolling. I only rode the first loop of singletrack and then pointed my bike back down the gravel road descent to the start before I got myself further out to a place where dropping out would require more effort. Frank's back held up surprisingly well, and he went on and rode most of the long course without me, except that he did take an easier trail in instead of subjecting himself to John Wert.

The only interesting point of the day was when I was slogging through the rocky part at the top of Bald Knob Ridge, which is normally my favorite section of trail. However, with my redlined-wobbliness, I wasn't riding as cleanly as I normally do. I'd also gone so slowly up the climb up to it that the majority of the short course riders had caught us, so we were in a lot of the short course race's mid-to-back-of-pack traffic, so that wasn't making things too smooth, either. Everyone who was in contention for anything was well past, and I guess I thought we were solidy in the "shit happens" part of the race.

However, when I stalled out on a rock garden which requires you to lift your bike up on a ledge if you don't make it, I had the audacity to stop and gather my wits a bit before doing so. I didn't even realize that anyone was behind me except for Frank, but then I heard yelling and turned around to see a very grumpy old man making a big stink about my blocking the good line.

Okay, I get that it's a bummer when you don't get to ride something that you perceive to to be rideable, but as I said, on a slick, crowded, rocky trail, shit happens. You will get messed up by another person at some point, and you should know that going in. I'd had to stop a few times already when I didn't want to, but I knew that would be the case. Anyway, I turned around, gave him and exasperated look, and asked, "Really?!!"

He ranted a bit more and road off only to have us catch him when he messed up on something later on. He ranted at me a bit more as I rode past. I kept riding, but I guess Frank accidentally tipped into him as he went by and the guy accused him of doing it on purpose. All I heard was a bunch of a yelling as I rode away, but apparently the old guy said that he could fuck Frank up in five minutes and Frank said something about his saggy balls. Good times.

I think the worst part of about this is that I've been the freaking out uptight asshole in the past, and strangely that why that behavior shocks me even more now. It sucks losing your temper over dumb shit. I think that's why I don't like racing cross country anymore. It's so much intensity and pain wrapped up in the first few minutes of the race only to be only with your own self-deprecating thoughts for an hour, and it's even more of a bummer when you can't ride fast on the downhills or technical parts, which are the only things that are fun, because of someone going slow in front of you. However, time (and cyclocross) has taught me that shit happens, and I'm a lot better at keeping my cool when I'm in pain than I used to be.

Anyway, I'm glad the race is over in one capacity or another. It was great motivation when I needed prompting to get out and ride and push myself to go further, but when my body crapped out on me and pushing myself only made things worse, I think the stress and guilt over the race made me feel worse mentally about feeling bad physically. Now I can work on my steady diet of short, easy road rides and try to come out of this funk at my own pace.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Still Tired and Newly Strava'd

The fatigue that I was feeling the week before last didn't let up at all during the past week. I have officially given up on trying to lift weights for the time being. The body is just not having it right now. I don't really understand what is wrong, but the basic fact is that for whatever reason, I'm just not healthy right now. I know this because I'm tired all the time, my ankles swell easily, my appetite is wonky, and I just see lot of signs of inflammation. So I guess I'll just keep experimenting and keep trying to ride as I feel like it. Hopefully both my health and my fitness come back soon.

I only got in a couple rides this week, and I still felt horrible on both of them. Frank also hurt his back, so he wasn't up for riding much either. The only not-horrible ride that we got in was a short spin around the neighborhood on our townie bikes on Saturday after which I still felt noticeably tired. Otherwise, we just got the house clean and finished all of season two of Orange is the New Black over the course of the weekend.

The TV-watching accomplishment, I'm not that proud of, but at least cleaning the house was a step in the right direction. I've noticed that sometimes when things get really bad, the first step in the right direction is actually to take a perfectly good weekend day off from riding and get the house clean or take care of other business that you've been putting off.

With being sick, rundown, and frustrated with my body lately, I've noticed that I'm starting to display depressed-person behavior, although I'm actually pretty happy with the majority of my life status right now. I live in a beautiful place with my best friend and I have a well-paying job that I find interesting with great co-workers with a penchant for witty banter. Still, not being able to enjoy my favorite activities the way I want or really even be able to feel good in my own body is bringing me down, and I'm starting engage in defeatist behavior instead continuing to push for a solution. So sometimes just moving back toward taking care of things, even easy things, is the first step toward getting better.

The irony of my two pathetic rides this week is that at least I was able to post them on the Internet for all of the world to see. Frank has been posting all of our rides on Strava, and since we're pretty much riding together most of the time, I can know how I performed on certain sections by looking at his rides. In one way, I think Strava is kind of dumb, in the racing without really racing sense, but since my training really is focused on trying to perform better on the trails on which I train, I wanted to compare my performance on certain sections from ride-to-ride. Of course, I probably will get a bit caught up comparing my performance on certain sections to others, as well, but hopefully I can keep it in check.

Anyway, a week or so ago I asked Frank how much a super cheap basic GPS that would allow me to post my own rides would be. It didn't take him long to find a used Garmin 500 on eBay for $95 plus shipping. So my first week of Strava happened during one of my worst weeks of riding, but I guess that just means that I'm setting myself up for a lot of PRs.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Week #4: I Wake Up Exhausted

It seems that I finally exorcised the 12-day cold, but my body still isn't really doing what I want it to. After finally going two nights in a row without being kept awake by coughing, I once again embarked on an attempt to reestablish a consistent, sustainable training plan on Wednesday.

I went to the gym and kept it extra short and light to make sure that I wouldn't have any excessive soreness, and that seemed to work out pretty well. On Thursday we went on my first road ride since arriving in State College, as I wanted to get some pedaling in without the trouble of loading bikes or putting too much rocky/climby strain on my body. Friday was back in the gym, once again keeping it light and easy.

First Road Ride in Two Months.

So one would think that even if I weren't all taper-y fresh for the weekend's riding that I would still be able to do what I needed to do without excess fatigue. I mean, I did everything I could to reestablish the habit of daily post-work training (a big mental challenge that I need to overcome) without overdoing it. Unfortunately, I woke up Saturday morning feeling exhausted and generally terrible, which may or may not be due to staying up "past my bedtime" to show support for the Chicago Blackhawks, or at least to show support for my resident Blackhawks fan.

Regardless, it was another day where I just wanted to go back to sleep after breakfast and hitting the farmer's market, but I knew that I needed to get a long mountain bike ride in, so we packed up the bikes and I hoped my legs would come around. They didn't. Pretty much every pedal stroke of the four mile gravel climb to the first singletrack descent was a test in willpower to keep going. Even when we hit the descent, I felt uncoordinated and couldn't ride very fast. We ended up cutting the planned ride short and hoping to complete the parts we skipped on Sunday.

Sunday was not any better. I still felt terrible but now with aching quads from the previous days' climbing. I still stubbornly headed out to Tussey, even though I knew something was wrong when I didn't even have the energy to make conversation on the drive out. After a mile or so of climbing while once again having to will every single pedal stroke, I called it a day and felt like a jerk for dragging Frank through the whole dressing/packing/driving ordeal for a two-mile ride.

I also watched Frank play #sportswithballs on Sunday. He likes doing that sometimes.

So I ended the week pretty frustrated that my fitness isn't coming around the way I had hoped, but I'm not sure what to do about it. Part of me wonders if I should just stop trying with the weight training for a while, and focus on riding only. The other part tells me to stay the course with daily, if minimal, training until things start to improve. I think this would result in my riding taking a longer time to stop sucking, but that I might be better off for it by the time the summer is over. With less than two weeks left until the Trailmix, I'm not sure that there's a lot that I can do to make it not suck, which is disappointing. Perhaps I just need to accept that my first race on the #eastcoastrocks may turn into a pathetic DFL, pity-clapping, bad kind of death march akin to my endurance days of yore, but also know that it will be a good investment toward some better performances in the fall.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Week #3: Sick and Solo

My week didn't exactly go as planned. The cold that I thought I wouldn't make any worse with last Sunday's ride definitely got worse, although I think it was the natural course of things and the ride still didn't really hurt anything. Regardless, it turned into a nasty cough, I lost my voice on Monday, and it's a good thing I held off on sick days during the sore throat phase, because I needed them when the cough set in. I ended up missing all of Tuesday and only working partial days on Wednesday and Thursday.

My three-day weekend was kind of a bust since as of last night I was still dealing with violent coughing fits when I try to sleep, and I'm really only able to get a few quite hours between 2-ish a.m. and whenever I have to get up. It was going to be a semi-bummer weekend, anyway, because Frank has been at an academic conference in San Antonio since Friday morning.

I had still planned on busting out some good rides on my own, but being alone and feeling crappy killed my motivation. I finally got out for a ride today, going back to the "it won't make it worse" principle and because I did feel sort of better. I realized that all the drugs weren't helping my nighttime coughing, so I skipped them last night and felt better in the morning, even if my coughing was the same.

Anyway, despite feeling off my game, I knocked out the Tussey Ridge, Tussey Extension, and John Wert loop today. We have never actually finished this entire loop, because we got lost on our first attempt and then tried a couple of times on weeknights and ran out of time, so we skipped John Wert. I have to say that John Wert was easier than the last time when we were cold, tired, and frustrated, but still pretty darn hard. There's still a lot of "I have no idea what to do with that" rocky sections.

However, I guess I need to figure out what to do with that. Since it was announced earlier in the week, I've been obsessed with the Transylvania Epic's "East Coast Rocks" category. Like the enduro competition, it is based only on the riders' performance on designated sections of the course. In this case, six sections of the most quintessential Central Pennsylvania gnar, two of which were on my ride today. I'll never have the engine to compete for the GC in a big mountain bike stage race, but I'm interested to see what I can do with a year of practice, practice, practice on the rocks.

With my photographer out of town, you'll have to settle for my camera phone shots this week:

Tussey: Allergen style


John Wert wasn't as bad as I remembered. Of course, I forgot to take a picture of the actual hard part.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Week #2: Back Into Good

The first week of my fresh start went okay, despite the fact that pulling yourself out of bad habits and back into the good is always a challenge. Work was still very busy on Monday through Wednesday, as I spent my days running around the World Campus student service areas helping users work out the kinks in the new version of Talisma. We were back to normal office hours, but it was go, go, go the whole time we were there.

Despite all of this, I was doggedly determined to get back on track with food and fitness, and I was very successful in only eating home cooked food and sticking to my planned workouts on Monday through Wednesday. This included my first weight training session in three weeks on Monday, which inevitably led to soreness, even though I tried not to overdo it.

Tuesday was our first attempt at the weekly local short track session that had started the week before when we were busy on our Tussey ride during the vacation day that I took. I've dreamed of having a local weeknight short track session available for years, but no one could ever get one going at Wapehani, although there was plenty of talk about it. Ironically, for all the rocky, climby trails we have out in the state forest, State College actually offers a more short-track appropriate venue than any of the "flowy Midwestern trails" near Bloomington. There is a little four-mile trail right in town called AccuWeather (I think weather site owns the land?) that is nearly pancake flat with lots of tight twists and turns winding through the trees. There are a lot of log crossing that drain your speed, but otherwise it's an excellent primer for speedy, bike-leaning practice. I didn't really put out any sort of race effort in an attempt to not exacerbate the impending soreness from Monday's weights, but I'm looking forward to letting loose as at the summer passes and my body can handle more efforts.

Wednesday I was stupidly sore as predicted, but I still made it to the gym to try and keep up my streak and continue to build good habits. I kept it *very* short and light, but even that took a lot out of me. At that point, my immune system decided to assert its general pissed-off state regarding the abuse that had been heaped on it in the past 2-3 weeks. I went from a slightly dry, scratchy throat when I left work to the most painful sore throat I've had in years two hours later. I wanted to call in sick on Thursday and Friday, but I thought that one day off in my first five weeks of employment was bad enough, and I didn't want to add to that total. So I spent Thursday-Saturday pounding Tylenol and Chloraseptic, and doing as little as possible except put in my requisite time at work, which luckily became much calmer during the latter half of the week.

The one highlight of this period was that in addition to the life-event finishing line I reached the weekend before, Frank reached his on Friday. He successfully passed his dissertation defense and is now a full-fledged PhD. Since I made the decision to move to State College in February, I've been really focused on all of the things that I've had to overcome, but I can't discount the fact that during the last year he has also completed the hardest task of his life while driving to Indiana on a regular basis and being supportive of me in my struggles. I am so proud of him for successfully finishing what I know seemed like a huge overwhelming task for him when we met. So we did! After close to a year of maintaining a long-distance relationship while each dealing with some pretty big life things of our own, we have made it out the other side together and happy. Of course, there we likely still have at least one more big move in front of us, but surely it will be easier doing it together.

Even though my throat still wasn't feeling that awesome on Sunday, at least the muscle soreness was gone, and I figured that I probably wouldn't make the situation worse by riding. I was also four weeks behind on my long ride schedule with a mere four weeks until the Rothrock Trailmix/Stoopid 50 race week. At this point we are almost certainly doing the 36-mile Trailmix, but at least I still have the Rattling Creek 50 in August to satisfy my endurance ego.

And my endurance ego is pretty bruised right now to say the least. It's so hard to come to terms with the fact that a 36-mile is such a challenge for me. It sounds so stupid when you say it in regard to pure mileage. I keep reminding myself that those 36 miles have more climbing than the Gravel Grovel plus a ton of rocks. The course is longer and harder than last year's, so it's hard to say for sure, but I bet the winning women's time is only a tad under 4.5 hours. If I can stay within an hour of that I'll be stoked.

#scenicvistaselfie: Green Leafy Edition

So while part of me wants to be mad that my 23-mile "long ride" felt so hard, and that the idea of adding the Tussey loop to the end of what we did yesterday still blows my mind a little, I'll choose to focus on the fact I did finally complete the 23-mile ride that has been scaring me for weeks. I guess the upside being put in my place by Rothrock is that once I do conquer it, I know I'll be a certified badass.

I guess I have a new recruitment slogan to get Midwestern girls to come ride the East Coast Gnar:  There's strong, and there's Rothrock strong. Of course, this made me think of one of my favorite songs from when I was younger, and I realized that I finally got to live it out, but on my own terms. Because, you know, I was into Boulder before it got too mainstream.