Tuesday, August 25, 2015

See You on the Other Side

I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion

I first heard Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” at the gym on Thursday. Forgive me if it has been blasting all over pop radio for months, and I’m totally behind. Since I really only hear pop music that isn’t Taylor Swift or Haim on rare occasions at the gym when they’re playing it instead of the Screamy Emo White Guy Rap Rock Station (I assume that’s the official name) and at PACX races, I really wouldn’t know. I guess I’ll find out soon, though.

With the first PACX a mere five days away, I can’t think of a more fitting snippet of song lyrics to describe how I’m feeling. I’m already starting to get nervous, since like any ‘cross season, it’s just too hard to tell how it’s going to go until it starts. I’ve been very consistent in the gym this summer, so I’m strong, and my volume of quality riding (as opposed to just volume) in July and August has been the highest that I remember. Still, my performance at Guts Gravel Glory a couple of weeks ago didn’t really boost my confidence, but that was a much different beast than real ‘cross. So my plan for Sunday is just to go out hard and see what happens. Then we’ll know my actual number of matches and whether the resulting explosion is the good or bad kind.

I titled this post “See You on the Other Side” not only because it marks the transition to ‘cross season, but also because, in a proper farewell to summer gravel riding, on Sunday Frank and I explored the portion of the W101 course that lies on the other of 322. I had briefly crossed over to climb Stillhouse during my “Wilderness 48” ‘cross bike ride-a-long a few weeks ago, but this time we drove to the race start in Coburn and experienced 53 miles of almost completely unfamiliar territory.

Since the bulk of the W101’s singletrack is concentrated around the Cooper’s Gap area in Rothrock, we rode our ‘cross bikes and cut out one bit of the course that was marked as a snowmobile trail. Everything else was marked as a road, so it should be fine, right? Apparently they use the term “road” loosely around here, and I am proud to say that we survived the rock-strewn Panther Run Rd. that people apparently don’t even like to ride on their mountain bikes. After 5,000+ feet of climbing, two long chunks of rocky Jeep roads, traversing the frighteningly narrow beams of where a bridge should be, and a slippery 50-ish meter wide creek crossing that was fast-moving and above my knees in most places, we triumphantly (and tiredly) returned to Coburn a couple minutes shy six hours after we left. The coming Sunday’s bumpy ride through a cornfield should feel like nothing now.

Frank is less afraid of heights than me.

The good news is that I’ve now ridden almost every piece of the W101 course now, save a few little bits here and there. Okay, two of those bits are rocky fall-line trails, but those are really the least of my worries as the key for those is just to ride smart and stay intact for the rest of the race. I still can’t imagine doing the whole thing on a mountain bike, but hopefully in another 11 months I will. For now, though, it’s time to “cross over” and find out if all of the riding this summer did me any good.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Temporarily Single

“You’re good at having talks with yourself.” – Frank

For most of the past week, I have been temporarily single while Frank is visiting his sister in Florida. While it has afforded me some luxuries like watching all of the terrible teen movies that I want and not having to apologize for not cooking dinner, I’m also surprised at my lack of self-regulation when faced with these freedoms. It may sound odd considering I was married before, but the year and a half that I’ve lived with him has been my first experience in truly sharing myself with another person in the way where you give up a little bit freedom in exchange for true intimacy. After a mere year and a half of actually feeling obligated to answer to someone other than myself, it feels weird to not have to, even in the context of small things for a few days.

I think I may just be a little mentally worn down lately, but last week’s events lead to a level of demotivation that I haven’t experienced in a while. After a few crazy busy weeks at work, my part of the project wrapped up, and I’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern until my next big assignment, just helping my coworkers out on stuff when I can and basically being available if needed. It made for a super-long workweek, and Frank’s absence only made it worse. It felt like 2013 all over again, when my weekdays alone were repeated obstacles to be overcome. At least then I was well-practiced in self-regulation, but suddenly being alone to do whatever I wanted was a lot different after months of having someone else to keep me in line.

This lead to Friday night’s dinner consisting of pie and those veggie straw things that like to boast how many servings of vegetables are in them but are basically just chips. I have no illusions of their health benefits; I just think they’re delicious. Too delicious. I am also not one of those cyclists who see food merely in terms of calories to be burned off, and don’t bullshit myself with, “I ride bikes so I can eat crap” excuses. My point is that I knew better, but my emotional fortitude was blown from getting through the week and suddenly being “allowed” to do what I wanted was too much.

This lead to waking up the next morning with a junk food hangover and taking way too long to get out of the door for my ride on a day that was particularly hot. Even though I’d been looking forward to getting back on my gravel climbing regimen all week, it seemed that I had sabotaged my efforts for Saturday. I decided to cut my losses and ride an hour as easy as is possible in Rothrock and do my best to make up for it on Sunday.

And Sunday I was able to turn it around. I got out the door earlier to try and beat the heat, but it was still pretty toasty as I began my ride. The first big climb on the agenda was Greenlee, which was pretty disastrous when I tried it a few weeks ago. I can’t say that yesterday was that much better, but at least I had a more vivid memory of what was ahead and managed to pace myself well enough that I didn’t dissolve into any walk breaks. For most of the climb I was convinced that once it was over I would head downhill to the car and call 20 miles good for the day, but when I got to the top, I stopped, ate a banana, and had a long talk with myself about the benefits of completing the additional 25 miles that I’d planned. It helped that there was an aid station for the PA Rocks! Enduro near my stopping point and topping off my bottles with cold water convinced me to go on. It still sucked a few times along the way, but I’m glad that I persevered.

The view of these cute horses was my reward for finishing the ride.

Thankfully I only have a few more days of having to maintain my newly reengaged self-regulation mechanisms. Frank will be back on Thursday, and by that point I’ll be happy to answer the question, “So what’s for dinner?” again. As they say, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Guts Gravel Glory

Over the past weekend we headed down to Richmond, VA for Guts Gravel Glory. With the amount of gravel that we’ve been riding lately, we thought it would be good to test out our skills against actual people.

The race was the closest thing that I’ve seen to a true “ultra ‘cross” format. There was a sixish-mile loop of double track and horse trails around a state park. It was pretty non-technical with just a few small roots here and there, although the surface was quite sandy and made for tough cornering. Despite the name, there wasn’t a whole lot of gravel on the course; it was mostly sand or packed dirt. All of the categories started together with everyone racing until the overall leader had completed eight laps, so it really was a like a three-hour cross race in that regard.

I had high hopes after looking at last year’s results, although I really had no idea how fast I’d actually go on the unfamiliar course. A 14 mph average seemed reasonable enough with a mere 350 feet of climbing per lap. However, as the women’s registrations started to come in with more Cat 2’s that last year, I wasn’t as confident.

In the end, Cat 2’s were the least of my problems. They had us start in waves with 15 seconds in-between, with a 55 strong Men’s B field starting 15 seconds behind us. There were eight women in the field, ranging from a domestic pro road racer to Cat 4’s. It became apparent at the start that the format was going to play out roadie-style and not so much ‘cross style, which didn’t bode well for me. Even though there was no chance in hell that the group was going to stay together, they still started out that way. I prefer the “break this up as soon as possible” racing style and hate being on anyone’s wheel, especially on questionable terrain, but I knew that going to the front at the beginning of a three-hour race was a terrible idea.



So I did my best to settle into my own rhythm and hoped to catch some of the other girls when they got popped. Unfortunately, the B men swallowed us up immediately upon entry into the woods and by the time things thinned out there were no women to be seen. I had guys from the 20-mile C race to ride with for the first three laps, but once they finished, it was a little tough to accept another 1.5 hours of pushing my shredded quads on alone. I did it, though, and eventually made it through six laps and about 40 miles. I also think I passed a girl who was stopped about a half-lap from the finish, so I think that I technically didn’t get last place.



Although I didn’t place as well as I’d hoped, I’m proud of myself for staying on the rivet for three hours straight. My heart rate data showed that of my 3:10 of racing, 3:03 was in Zone 4 or higher. That’s a hell of a lot of threshold. It should make 40 minutes of only slightly higher intensity not seem so bad in a couple of weeks. I can also take heart in the fact that regular ‘cross allows me to go out as hard as I want with no need to sit in, and that even the most pedally ‘cross course will provide more turning and acceleration than this did.

Until then, I plan to make the most of my last couple of weekends of summer by pushing my gravel limits a little further before time to take off the bottle cages and put on the tubular wheels. This weekend I hope tackle both Greenlee and Alan Seeger in one ride, and perhaps explore the Western side of the W101 course the next weekend. Then it will be time for the PACX opener. Eek!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Don't Go Chasin' QOM's

Don’t go chasin’ QOM’s
Please stick to the gravel steady state that you’re used to
I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothin’ at all
But I think you’re movin’ too fast

Well, last week I talked about how since moving to State College, I had already done things wrong enough that I was getting really close to doing them right. Well, it couldn’t just be all smooth sailing from there, could it? Of course not. Over the weekend I got greedy, and got yet another Rothrock smackdown lesson in what not to do.

With all of the gravel climbing that I’ve been doing lately, my ego has been receiving a pretty steady stream of stroking as my carbon fiber ‘cross bike allows me to climb at the speed of much faster women on mountain bikes. I know that I’m bike-doping, but for the moment, it’s keeping me motivated. With the ‘cross bike to mountain bike speed conversion, or at least how it applies to me, climbing “sorta fast” on a ‘cross bike still means that I’ll be pretty darn slow on a mountain bike. I’m shooting for “Cheryl Sornson in the 2012 W101” pace on the ‘cross bike before I even attempt dragging my Lust up those climbs, and I still have my work cut out for me there.

A couple of weeks ago, I did manage to poach an obscure QOM on a five-minute climb that is not part of any of the races that take place in Rothrock, and thus had a much shallower leaderboard than most of the gravel that I’ve been riding. I followed that with my first ascent of Greenlee since Frank took me up it on my first visit to State College almost two years ago. The five-minute puke-hard effort that preceded the climb, plus the 90-degree heat that day, lead me to the conclusion that Greenlee was “really that hard” with my breaking down for a walk break when the final switchback didn’t provide the relief for which I was hoping.

Apparently I learned my lesson about this for a whole two weeks, then my satisfying 48 mile ride last weekend gave me an over-inflated boost of confidence. I decided that Saturday’s ride should include an attempt at the Bear Gap QOM, as the fastest time was a bit was over 12 minutes, and since #crossiscoming, I should be able to extend my puke-hard abilities out that far. I was able to hold the effort and improve my PR by a minute (still 1:11 off the QOM), and perhaps my body will thank me during the first lap of the first ‘cross race of the season, having already exposed it to “my teeth hurt” effort at least once in August. However, I think it was a bad decision, since my planned 42 mile ride got cut to 20 really quickly after that. It probably would have been even less if I hadn’t ridden down the far side of the mountain while still in a lactic acid buzz and been forced to drag myself back over Gettis to get home regardless of how much it sucked.

In the end, I was disappointed that I blew myself up early in the ride and didn’t get the full distance that I’d planned. While preparing for the intensity of ‘cross might be helpful, I’m really surprised at how much fitness I’ve gained so quickly from just a few weeks of long gravel rides. I only have a few more weeks of those left, so I wish I hadn’t wasted that opportunity. There will be plenty of time for aching teeth in September. I guess it’s just another Rothrock lesson learned the hard way.

Next weekend will definitely include a long gravel ride, but it won’t be in Rothrock. Frank and I are heading to Richmond, VA to test our gravel prowess against actual people at Guts Gravel Glory. It will be interesting to try out, since it is a multi-lap gravel circuit race that is a lot more steady and rolling than the extended ups and downs that we’ve been riding. I’m hoping that the lap format will be motivating and not boring, but mostly I’m just excited to actually race instead of just pretending to on Strava.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Wilderness 48

Slow down you're doing fine
You can't be everything you want to be before your time
Although it's so romantic on the borderline tonight (tonight)

Too bad, but it's the life you lead
You're so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you're wrong
You know you can't always see when you're right (you're right)

You got your passion, you got your pride
But don't you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true (Oooh)
When will you realize... [State College] waits for you?

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old

I’m happy to say that, despite the title, this is not another story about how I dropped out of a NUE series race. It’s a story about how, six years after the last time I dropped out of a NUE series race, I’m finally starting to understand what it takes to finish one. Or at least what it would take for me, how annoying that fact is, and how I’m slowly coming to accept it.

As you may have guessed from last week’s post, after nearly 16 months of residence in State College, things are starting to come together in a way that feels like real life rather just a stop along the way. I suppose that per the original plan, we should have been moving away to our “forever home” in the next couple weeks. Now we are looking at another twelve months minimum, and I don’t think I can stand another year in temporary life detachment, so I’m starting live SC lyfe until I’m told otherwise. The first 16 months here has kicked my ass to the point that I’m starting to be grateful for it. It’s been so much harder than I expected on so many levels, but I’m reaching the point of having done things wrong enough that I’m feel like I’m on the verge of knowing how to do them right.

It’s funny how ahead of myself I was when I first started mountain biking. Even when I couldn’t even make the podium in a beginner-class DINO race, I couldn’t wait to move on to bigger and better things, since I didn’t really see racing against two other women in the expert class as something worth working toward. I somehow stumbled on Danielle Musto’s blog around 2007, and became immediately enthralled with the idea of 100 milers, 24 hour races, and mountain bike stage races. Casual cyclists ride centuries all the time, so surely with some serious training I could do it on a mountain bike? Soon I read all the blogs of all of the top female endurance racers across the country to try and figure out the secrets to success, and I started my own blog to document the journey. At least I was self-aware enough that today’s intro lyrics were also one of my first entries. SPOILERS: I just got old.

The logic seems reasonable enough: to be the best you have to emulate the best. I knew the kind of training loads the top racers were doing while they were at the top of their game, so that must be the way to get there myself, right? The problem was that I was looking at what these races were doing to get better once they were already pretty damn good, not what they did between newbie and pretty damn good. In my rush to be pro, no one, including the coaches that I spent lots of money on, told me how to be good.

It’s hard to imagine how much 2007 me would have loved the idea of living in State College. When the endurance world was practically a different universe from Bloomington, IN, moving to an endurance mountain bike mecca would have been a dream come true. By the time the opportunity presented itself, it seemed like a wash from a bike standpoint. I’d more or less given up on endurance racing, and was satisfied with the fact that the Midwest had become cyclocross hot spot instead. Luckily, I had actual human love driving my decision instead of bikes.

Once I was here the famous trails taunted me, and I couldn’t help but be sucked into wanting to race them, even though I knew how hard it was. Or thought I knew. Since moving here I’ve been continually humbled by what it takes to become good at riding Rothrock, but the regular reminders have been so much more to helpful than allowing myself to become overconfident in my Brown County bubble ever did. Anytime I start worrying about how to be great, Rothrock immediately smacks me back down into my place and forces me to figure out just how to be better. I want to be pissy about my lack of natural talent and how hard I have to work for every little gain, because I feel inadequate that I still can’t even ride the Trailmix Long Course in a decent time. However, over the past ten years I’ve asked myself the question that if I can’t be great, is it worth trying to be good, and I keep coming up with the answer of yes.

Rothrock is the greatest coach I’ve ever had because it won’t stand for an overly ambitious cookie cutter plan any more than my body will. I’m allowed unlimited brutally honest conversations about how I’m feeling, where I’m thriving, and where I need work. Then together we make the decision about when and how to push my comfort zone a teeny bit more. It definitely gives new meaning to #outsideisfree.


So the prescription for this weekend, like several before it, was to #climballthethings on my ‘cross bike and slowly extend the amount of miles, feet, and speed I could handle. This added up to 48.5 miles and 4,839 feet of climbing, including two of the three worst climbs of the Wilderness 101 race. I started in the late morning and linked up the course around the time the 10-11 hour paced riders were coming through. I was able to outclimb them with fresher legs and a lighter and stiffer bike, but I’m still a long way from being able to do the whole thing on my mountain bike that fast. At least now I have a realistic conception of that and know the work it would take to get there.


Heading home after what turned out to be a very tolerable ascent of Stillhouse, I found myself passing through the camp where the Transylvania Epic is based. As much as I wanted to do that race before I leave State College, I genuinely don’t know if I can ever get body to the point of handling it. So I stopped and snapped a picture to commemorate my day, and thought, “I don’t know if I’ll ever complete ‘singletrack summer camp’, but at least I’ve made it through gravel day camp, and that’s start.”

Friday, July 24, 2015

Cat Power

It’s been another hella week at work, and my brain hasn’t had time for much beyond organizing the work required to build 200+ admissions email campaigns for all of Penn State’s regional campuses and academic colleges. Dates and filters like whoa. However, before I take off for a butt-kicking weekend in Rothrock that I’ll inevitably want to blog about on Monday, I thought I’d be remiss to let the significant event of last week slip through the cracks.

After I wrote last week about the small bit of disappointment that came when the PACX schedule finally arrived and I found myself lacking in friends that shared my excitement, my spirits were bolstered by two text different text conversions the next day. The first was with my friend Isabel regarding ‘cross clinics and shoe color choices, and I was glad for the reminder than even 10 hours apart, we can always count on each other to be amped for ‘cross. The second was from Tanya, who I met at the local Wednesday ‘cross practices last fall and with whom I’ve started doing some gravel riding this summer.

She asked if I was interested in joining the Laser Cats Feline All Stars team based out of Philadelphia, as she was going to race for them this ‘cross season. I’d seen a laser cat kit or two last season, but I hadn’t realized it was actually team. Knowing that a) this was a thing b) they were open to new female members required approximately three nanoseconds of contemplation. There’s a women’s team called Laser Cats?!! Do I want to be on it?!! Um...HECK YEAH!!!

So after a year of being a ‘cross orphan, I now I have the best features of my last two teams all at once: kits with cats on them (Velo Bella) and teammates that I will actually see at races (Speedway Wheelmen) I’m not sure if any of my new teammates has a “hot tube” yet, but I’m pretty excited.

I’m especially stoked because, in addition to solving my ‘cross orphan problem, it will also solve my “what to wear” problem. I’d been scanning the Internet for cool retail skinsuits for the season, because I thought my beautiful new TCX deserved something prettier and matchier than dumpster old Speedway Wheelmen skinsuits that were on their third season. I was really close to shelling out $220 for a Vanderkitten skinsuit a few days before this transpired, but held off in an effort to be financially responsible. It turns out my patience paid off, as I’m hoping to order a team skinsuit soon that will be even cooler.

This is the prototype I snagged from Instagram. I can only hope they are actually this fabulous in real life.

So last week was a big win in the "things work out when you let them" column. Will that trend continue into my actual racing, my anxieties about Frank's job, and my vague plans for the general future? I guess we will find out.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Scheduled

With the busy past couple of weeks that I’ve had at work, I just couldn’t bring myself to do any more focusing and typing than was already required of me. However, I’m starting to feel that a little mental active recovery may be in order, and last night gave me an occasion to pick up the blogging again: the PACX schedule was released.

I’ve been feeling left out after the OVCX schedule was released weeks ago and Facebook is becoming full of more muddy profile pictures, #crossiscoming, and announcements of Shamrock Cycles’ new team whiskey sponsor each day. I’ve still been counting the weeks until Nittany Lion Cross, as it would presumably be my first race of the season, but it just doesn’t feel real until the races are on the calendar and I can start to mentally walk through the season and make plans. Then last night as I waited for Frank to get home from the bike shop, I saw that the PACX schedule had quietly slipped into my news feed. Now I had a ‘cross schedule, too, although I still felt left out knowing that Frank was my only Facebook friend who would be particularly excited about this news. Still, I was excited to finally have concrete plans for the season.

I was a bit disappointed to see that the Cross of the Corn was still on the schedule for August 30 (too hot and too early) and yet the last weekend of September and first week of October were left open, making it hard to hit a groove with three weeks of no racing so early in the season. The series has also been extended from 10 to 14 races and will run four weeks later than it did last year (December 20). There is no announcement yet about the number of best races that will count this year, but last year it was a reasonable 8 out of 10.

Once I got everything on my calendar, I started to feel better about things. The August 30 race is what it is. We probably would have done the International Intergalactic Global Open Team ‘Cross Relay on that day, anyway, so I’m thinking of it not so much as the first race of the season, but the prologue to the season. It’s just something that we have to show up and do to get call-ups, then we have Labor Day Weekend, do one day of Nittany for a tune-up, and *then* the season begins. That means a double PACX weekend followed by two weekends off. Luckily, the first race of the APCXS is on one of those weekends, so we’ll probably do that as filler. Then it’s a long hard march from mid-October to late December.

To be fair, I like my ‘cross seasons like my ‘cross races: go out hard, see where you stand, and just try to hold on until the end. This schedule isn’t super conducive to that with the races that count being awfully spread out early on, then the season being long and steady in the end. I’ll make it work, though. It’s what I wait all year for.

***

In more recent news, Frank and I have gone gravely lately. While I’m still not particularly good at it, I don’t hate climbing gravel on my ‘cross bike the way I do on my mountain bike, so the focus for the last couple of weekends has been getting in as many gravel miles and feet of climbing as we can. It’s been fun having a new challenge to distract me from my stagnating singletrack speed, and it’s allowed us to see some new parts of Rothrock that we’ve never been to before.

Our July 4 ride in the Alan Seegar portion of the forest, which is the only part that has never been logged. Giant pines and rhododendrons abound.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Reluctantly About That Base

"To go north, you must journey south, to reach the west you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow." - Quaithe to Daenerys Targaryen in "A Clash of Kings"

I’ve spent most of my summer so far focusing on getting faster on the singletrack of Rothrock State Forest, mainly the XC Loop, Tussey Ridge, and John Wert. To be fair, singletrack riding is the most fun and suits my strengths the best, and the fact that I was suddenly able to produce big improvements with minimal effort through April and May was a huge ego boost for me and inspired me to get back on track training-wise. However, as June rolled in, I started to plateau on these sections and notice how a lot of my inability to clear sections that I still couldn’t clear had a lot more to do with a lack of power than a lack of skill, or at least the ability to perform skills while redlined. I was riding a lot harder without actually going much faster and leaving myself too cooked to expand the total distance of my weekend rides.

Reluctantly I made the decision that after returning from Illinois I would focus on shoring up my weaknesses instead of trying to squeeze a few seconds here and there out of my strengths. My weakness? Climbing gravel on a mountain bike, which unfortunately, is an integral part of mountain bike racing in State College. I always say that the Wilderness 101 is cruel because 70% of it would be faster on a ‘cross bike, but there’s just enough rocky singletrack to make that a bad decision. My hope is that by focusing on gravel climbing for a while I can gain some minutes more easily and increase my endurance since, even at a hard tempo, it’s still easier on the body than riding the singletrack in this area.

Pretty pink new shoes.

My first attempt was not that spectacular. It was pouring rain all day Saturday, so I called it a loss and used it as an opportunity to thoroughly clean the house for the first time in about two months. That made Sunday the big day to go out and conquer my climbing fears a week and a half after making the decision to do so. It was still raining, albeit much more lightly, and I wore the pretty new pink shoes that Frank had got me for our two-year anniversary earlier in the week. I knew that setting out in brand new shoes for a planned four-hour ride might not be such a good idea, but I really wanted to wear them. Between the wet chamois and the odd feeling of pedaling in new shoes (I woke up sore today), the ride got cut to 2.5 hours and wasn’t particularly fast, but I did finally conquer my fear and climb the too wide to be singletrack and too chunky to be gravel enigma that is the Gettis “Road” climb in the middle of the TrailMix long course. It was slow, but at least it was a start. Now I’ve got to go back on Saturday and do the full 30 mile route that I’d planned and hopefully do some of the climbs a little faster.

Nearing the top.

This is my Gettis face.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Illin' and the Mini Rando de Taco

The past weekend was spent visiting Frank’s family in Illinois, so not much progress was made in my mountain bike game. We did manage to sneak in a ride on Tussey Ridge on Thursday morning before we left. I was able to go teensy bit faster on the ridge even with the on-and-off rain that was making for slippery rocks. We also rode Upper Kistler, Leniency Trail, and the Tussey Ridge Extension, which are all add-on trails that are included in the TrailMix long course, but that don’t get a lot of use by people who are just out riding. It was my first time doing every single trail in that section of the forest at once, so now I have an idea of how long it takes. Usually I just try to kill it on the ridge and then take the shortest way down to the road.

We didn’t get much riding in during the first couple of days in Illinois, because the hip/body pain that I had last week flared up again very badly from the drive, the strange bed, the lack of sleep, or some combination thereof. We made up for it on Sunday, when we rode with my friend Isabel, who I hadn’t seen since the 2014 Barry-Roubaix. At the time she’s just found out she was pregnant, and I’d just accepted a job at Penn State. Now she has an 8-month-old and I have a wedding plan in progress, so we had a lot to catch up on.

The ride started out not-so-great, because my chain that had less than 600 miles on it decided to snap about 10 minutes into the ride. The upside of this early failure was that we were still close enough for Frank and Isabel’s husband, Brandon, to push me and my chainless bike to the nearest bike shop downtown. Unfortunately, they were closed for Father’s Day, so the guys had to ride back and get the car, then Frank and I had to drive to a further shop to get a quick link.


We did finally get going about an hour and a half late, but we were still motivated to ride. It turned out really awesome after that. The last couple of years some of our Illinois friends have gone a ride called the “Rando de Taco”, which is about 100k with five taco stops. I’ve always been a little bummed to not be able to make it, so I was pretty excited when Isabel said that we were doing a mini version that was about 35 miles with two taco stops. It was a fun, casual ride on mostly bike paths the entire time, and the tacos were tasty.

I also drank my first soda in nearly two years, which was surprisingly awesome and really has me thinking about adding a bit more gratuitous sugar back into my long rides. My rule of “a banana an hour if I’m going to be out more than two hours” gets me through, but it still might not be optimal, no matter how good I claim my fat metabolism to be. I’ve got a homemade maple-syrup-based sports drink recipe that I want to try this weekend to see how I do with a boost of sugar without the chemicals of soda.

Now we’re back home safely, and I’m trying to get back into my training rhythm as quickly as possible. We’ll have one more weekend away this summer when we go to New York to visit Frank’s friends (and hopefully buy my wedding dress!) in August. I’ve also committed to my first-ever night of tent camping in a couple of weeks, but that will just be a quick overnight trip to prove that I can sleep in a tent and then ride some trails to the south that we’ve never done before. Otherwise, I’ll just be trying to cram as much mountain biking advancement as I can into the 9 remaining free weekends before ‘cross begins.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Never in the Mix

I don't wanna talk if it makes you feel sad, 
And I understand you've come to shake my hand 
I apologize if it makes you feel bad 
Seeing me so tense, no self-confidence 

As I stood at the final aid station of the 2013 Big Frog 65 eating the cup of jellybeans that a volunteer had poured for me so that I could avoid actually touching them with my mud-covered hands, a girl rolled in behind me and said, "Good God, you're fast." We were at the back of the middle of the pack, but not the back of the pack after I'd lost what felt like 30 minutes trying to fix a flat tire with numb hands and a swaggy C02 injector that I'd won at a 'cross race and never used. I guess she had passed me during my stop only to have me pass her back once I got going again. Despite the fact that my finish time and place were completely unremarkable and the weeks of nerve damage in my hands that followed, that moment stands out as the best of my mountain biking career.

I bring this up because it was one of many moments that I relived during the my ridiculously long passage through the XC loop during the Rothrock TrailMix race on Saturday. I was already suffering a crisis of confidence in the week leading up to the race, but I was determined to do my best and not get stressed out. I succeeded in the "don't be a dick" kind of stressed out, but as a result, I fell into the "pre-determined acceptance of failure" kind of stressed out. The one skill that I've never learned in all of my years of bike racing is how to convince myself otherwise once the thought that a race will go badly has entered my brain.

So when the horn blew and I watched the other girls fly up the first climb and out of sight, I did my best to stay relaxed and not spike my heart rate trying to stay with them. It helped that the local fast woman who I know can smoke most of the singletrack sections was not chasing them and was in fact still somewhat in sight until she entered the singletrack. The strategy worked for her, as she eventually passed most of the chargers, but not so much for me. I hoped that keeping myself out of the red would pay off on the first rocky section of singletrack and that I'd start making up ground through the rest of the XC loop. Unfortunately, it started raining on way up and the rocks were very slick by the time we arrived. Probably because I was convinced how important it was for me to not bobble on anything, I bobbled on everything. Thus it went for the rest of the XC loop. I did not clear The Richard Rock.

The long drag back up Lower Trail to the road was when started reliving the moments of my mountain bike career. The already slow trail was muddy and slower than normal, and I felt an empty, aching feeling in my legs. I tried to imagine slogging up the two big climbs that remained in the race in my wet chamois, and it just didn't seem like a worthwhile thing to do. I had signed up for the time to try and post a good time and see how I stacked up against the other girls. I had more than proved that I was capable of finishing, and I thought I had wanted to race. The situation that I was in was not racing, and I wasn't really sure it could even be called training. It was mostly wet self-pity.

I was still worried about what other people would think if I dropped out, and that was when I thought of all of the times that I toughed it out in races and it was worth it. I tried to convince myself if people could stick it out in the hell that was the Dirty Kanza a couple of weeks ago, I could survive another unpleasant 1.5-2 hours of wet chamois. And I could; I just didn't want to. I wanted to be in dry clothes and watch Frank finished, so once I was off the singletrack, that I what I did. He finished 7th overall, and I was proud of him.

The weird things that I discovered afterward were that my heart rate was incredibly high on the XC loop despite the fact that I was trying not to ride that hard. I'm not sure if that was a contributor to my feeling crappy or not. I also developed a weird little pain in my side like a pulled muscle last Wednesday that has spread to pain in both hips, most of my back, and down my legs. I actually took a sick day today because I didn't sleep well last night due to the pain and still was hurting very badly once I got up. I'm not really sure what's wrong, but I hope it goes away soon.

As you might imagine, the bad race and the weird pain aren't doing much for my confidence right now. I really thought that I was starting to get kind of fast on the mountain bike, but this weekend proved that I'm still sorely behind almost everyone in my gravel-climbing ability, and my singletrack riding is still not quite where I want to be, even in dry conditions. I'm also getting some disappointing feedback from my new power meter now that I've had some time to test it out. These are the times that it is a lot harder to stay motivated, but with a little over 12 weeks until 'cross, I know that the best thing I can do is try not to dwell on the negative feedback and keep working my plan.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An XC State of Mind

Maybe I’m making bikes harder than it is. – Me, because Taylor Swift didn’t have anything useful to say on the matter.

I was a bit worried when I wrote last week’s post that it was already a bit past its moment, but I also really hoped that I was wrong. It took six weeks after my cycling rock bottom to acknowledge that I might actually be on the path to success, and by the time I did, I was worried that my upward trajectory was going to turn into more of a John Wert style climb – a barely perceptible gain in elevation that is covered in obstacles and mostly just makes you wonder why you’re going so slow. After two Saturdays in a row where I failed to make any real improvements on key Rothrock Trailmix segments, it was time to reevaluate.

I knew the improvement would flatten out eventually, and I think it may have been a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that I may have stressed myself out a bit during my last two Saturday rides because I basically have one ride per week where I have the opportunity to show progress toward my goal of completing the Rothrock TrailMix long course by the end of the summer. I realized that my Saturdays were starting to feel the way that I used to feel when I raced DINO cross country races, like everything was continually on the verge of being screwed up.

I’ve noticed in the past how with cross country I always felt like the race was determined in the first five minutes and the rest was just an hour or so of suffering after that to make it official. I would get really stressed out during races and very short-tempered as a result. Any small thing that went wrong during an XC race would set me off. On the other hand, I’m a lot better at keeping my cool during ‘cross races, and experience has taught me that practically never does a ‘cross race reach completion without something small going wrong and rarely does it make that much difference in the end result.

When I realized that I was panicking at the thought of having to brake for hikers, correlating my quality of performance versus the percentage of the ride which I had visual or audio contact with Frank (which in my mind means he’s slowing down for me and thus pointing out that I am slow), and dwelling on how untalented I am and that cycling just doesn’t come easily for me, it occurred to me that even without a Bikereg page to stalk, my unofficial “race” goal for the summer was slipping into unhealthy territory. I think having a goal is still beneficial for me, since other these symptoms, which I have thankfully recognized and caught early, I am enjoying one of those beautiful states of flow where skipping workouts doesn’t even occur to me as an option unless I genuinely need the rest and junk food actually starts to seem unappealing. I’ve only ever managed to get into this state for a few months at a time every couple of years, so I definitely want to keep it going as long as possible. I think that the answer is to keep working toward the goal but in a more indirect manner. I may need to spend some time on longer road or gravel rides where my heart rate isn’t pinned the whole time, or go to Cooper’s Gap and practice my skills on some rocks that I haven’t memorized yet.

That will have to wait at least another week, though, as I can’t take a TrailMix breather quite yet. The actual race is this weekend, and I’m signed up for the short course race. I’m trying to treat it as an exercise in recognizing and letting go of my XC-stress. I know that riding the rocky singletrack will be much different with lots of other people, and doing so well will require calm and flexibility. It will also likely mean that even riding relatively well and in a calm and flexible manner, I won’t PR any of the singletrack sections, and I have to be okay with that.

It’s a bit funny thinking about the old man yelling at me on Bald Knob at the race last year, because I’m trying to avoid getting into the same mode myself this year. I still think of the spot where the incident occurred as “The Richard Rock” (“call me Richard because I’m such a dick”), and I’ve still only cleared the entire section about three times ever. Despite an overall disappointing ride last Saturday, I did at least clear The Richard Rock. I’ll take that as a good omen for this weekend, where I will try to repeat the action with other people around, but more importantly, not be a dick.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Against the Clock

At the end of my first year in Pennsylvania, I was reaching my wit’s end regarding the stagnation in my cycling fitness that had only compounded since I moved here full of ambition to crush the rocks and regain my “single and ready to singlespeed” fitness that I’d had when Frank and I first met. It began with a disappointing run at the Rothrock TrailMix long course race, where I grossly underestimated how hard riding here really was, along with the complications of illness and adjusting to a new job and home. Then the rest of the summer just kind of slipped away while I still refused to accept my limits in the realm of Rothrock mountain biking, so I spent a lot of time suffering without ever really getting faster. Then ‘cross appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and while I was pleasantly surprised to be reunited with my love of waking up way too early every Sunday morning for three months with a sickening fear in the pit of my stomach that somehow turns to joy later in the afternoon, I found that my slow mountain bike suffering had done very little to prepare me for it. Once ‘cross was over, I thought that surely preparing for the Death March would keep me motivated through the winter as it had in the past and give me the spring fitness that I desired. Another illness and an unimaginably nasty winter destroyed that plan, and when I was able to consistently ride again without fear of frostbite, my sitbone rebelled and kept me off the bike for an additional couple of weeks. At the beginning of April, I had truly given up on making any progress beyond a vague hope that things would magically come together by ‘cross.

Strangely, things finally started to turn around once I had finally given up. The weekend after my first tentative sitbone-testing rides, we attempted a ride at Cooper’s Gap the morning after we found out that our first wedding venue was off the table and I had spent the night panicking instead of sleeping and Frank had spent the night trying to comfort me. It was the first 80-ish degree day of the year, and we were suffering and miserable. I still somehow manage my first-ever clean run of Chicken Peter, but overall, the ride was a bust, and we went home after taking 1.5 hours to ride a bit over five miles. 

Normally, Sunday’s are kind of throwaway rides for me, since I’m typically not recovered enough from Saturday to accomplish much, but I felt cheated by my short Saturday. I still felt the need for more MTB time for the weekend, so I planned to ride Tussey Ridge the next day and crossed my fingers for good legs. Shortly before the ride, Frank made plans for some dude friends to meet us there, and when we arrived before they did, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to get a head start.

I made steady progress across the ridge and quickly got moving again when I’d dab on something, rather stopping to drink and adjust my kit, etc. Much to my surprise, I made it to the end of the ridge with the boys nowhere in sight. I was feeling good, so I rode the extension and even decided to throw in an unplanned trip up the infamous John Wert Path. I did all of this in a surprisingly quick time, which inspired me to throw in another short-ish but intense mountain bike ride before leaving for a conference later in the week.

I have less interest ride pictures since I got too paranoid to let Frank see me riding.

In the six weeks since then, I’ve continued to see my PR’s fall on practically every segment in the forest, and I’ve started looking forward to my Saturday mountain bike rides during the workweek the same way I do my races during ‘cross season. Since the Rothrock TrailMix race is only a week and a half away, I’ll be competing in the short course (19 mile) division, but I’m determined to conquer the long course before the summer is over. I found a Strava file of an approximately 5-hour ride on the long course, which was good for fourth place female in last year’s race. None of the top three posted files, and I think five hours is more realistic for me than their times, anyway. I’ve been using the individual segment times as my pacing guide while I work on improving my speed through smaller portions of the course.

I’m currently rotating between riding the short course one week and Tussey Ridge/John Wert portion the next. I still don’t have my short course speed quite up to where I want it, but this weekend I’m going to push a little further and add Croyle/Gettis to my short course ride. So I will be doing the 19 miles of the short course race, plus a detour down a loose fall-line descent followed by a steep, chunky gated road climb before rejoining the course and heading back down to the finish. It only adds 3-4 more miles, but they are tough ones. I think I’m ready to at least set a marker on Gettis for the year, since I haven’t even ridden it since owning a GPS.

Sometimes I feel very confident that I will knock out my goal before ‘cross season starts, and sometimes it feels like the improvement isn’t coming fast enough, and I won’t be ready in time. It is nice to finally be working toward something again, though.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Space to Grow

I remember when we broke up the first time 
Saying, "This is it, I've had enough," 'cause like 
We hadn't seen each other in a month 
When you said you needed space. (What?)

I couldn’t help but think of those words as Frank rode away from me yesterday afternoon, after a fair amount of encouragement from me. It was, of course, a bit over dramatic as we’re nowhere near breaking up as life or riding partners, and it the situation could better be described as “hadn’t ridden together in a week”. After further reflection, that wasn’t even true, since we did our last Tuesday recovery ride together, but last week felt so long that I’d already forgotten. The fact of the matter was that I was just feeling a little guilty that, despite the fact that circumstances already had us riding together less than usual, I still “needed space”.

Frank got a part-time job at the bike shop a few weeks ago, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Obviously the extra income and the discounts are good things, and since he is off from teaching for a couple of months, it will give him something to do while I’m at work. The downside, and the reason that I didn’t encourage him to do this sooner, is that working at a bike shop inevitably means working on weekends.

While under past circumstances that fact might have tipped more heavily into the plus column, as Saturday was my glorious day of “me time”, those were also the circumstances where a couple ride was more of an annual thing and even then was embarked upon with some degree of dread. Having swung in the complete opposite direction for the past two years, I think it just feels odd to for my on-and-off-the-bike-partner and me to be reestablishing our own cycling identities.

A couple that conquers together stays together.

In our relationship, I am the structured, Type-A, goal-oriented one, and he is the laid-back one that just likes bikes: riding them, buying them, selling them, and fixing them. From my perspective, it works out well, and I would hope that he would tell you the same. Two structured, goal-oriented people would likely result in conflicting goals and sacrificing time together in service to the grand plan. I won’t hazard a guess as to the fate of two laid-back people, because it’s too foreign for me to imagine. It might work out just fine.

In the case of Frank and myself, he pretty much goes along with my grand plan and it pushes him to ride and race more than he would on his own. I think that in this process, he’s found more motivation to reach his potential, and I’ve found that he is, in fact, a lot faster than me. We’re still not at the point where I feel like riding with me is holding him back or anything, but sometimes it’s hard to be dragging along suffering when the person you’re with is bopping along like it’s nothing, so I’ve taken to sending him off on his own if I’m not feeling too great. I guess misery only loves company if the company is also miserable.

As I mentioned before, we did do a short recovery ride together on Tuesday, and Wednesday is where we started to diverge. It was my long-scheduled first interval workout with my new power meter, but given the personality differences described above, he didn’t buy one along with me. We met at the Galbraith Gap parking lot after I got off work, and I proceeded with an okay but not great 8 x 30 seconds workout while he completed a climby loop of gravel. Thursday and Friday were our regularly scheduled weight and rest days respectively, and Saturday he worked at the bike shop. Not wanting to waste a nice day and good legs, I proceeded with my breakthrough workout of the week and improving my time on the Rothrock TrailMix short course loop by 13.5 minutes. That left me smashed for Sunday, so I just pedaled around super easy for an hour while I encouraged him to do a bit more on his fresher legs. I hoped to get in a bonus breakthrough workout in during the three-day weekend, but Monday found my legs still trashed. That is when I knew that I would be miserable and not wanting company, and I was proud of him when he decided to go do a big iconic climbing route that he hadn’t done since 2012 on his own. We both ended the day limping home in equally miserable states, but his was a bit better earned than mine.

While I love spending time with him, I’m glad that’s we’re both coming into our own a bit. I hope he never gets to the point that riding with me is a burden, but I love seeing his competitive side come out a bit. I also feel like I’m getting my confidence back by having the time and space to ride my best without worrying about being judged. I’m fully aware that this fear is just my projecting my own self-judgment onto him rather than him being critical, but it seems that being alone in the woods without a projection screen lets me put my energy into going faster instead of feeling bad about my lack of going fast. We’ll always be together at the end of day to tell each other of our adventures and to cheer each other on when the racing finally comes, so it’s probably a good thing for us to get a little space grow. We may even be ready to start seeing other people, at least in the cycling sense. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to replace the Speedway Wheel(wo)men, but I should probably try harder to find some Central PA girls to ride with.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Desert Gnar 2015: The Conquering

It’s been a busy couple of days since returning from our vacation in Grand Junction, CO, so I haven’t had a chance to post as quickly as I had hoped. That’s probably just as well, since I’ve now had a bit more time for the Type II fun to convert into fond memories. Let’s face it. All travel is Type II fun for me. For anything to truly be called a vacation in my mind, it would involve sleeping massive amounts of hours in my own bed, not having to go to work, and preferably not having to wear clothes that aren’t cycling kits or sweatpants the entire time. However, in the same way that Type II fun on the bike is required if you want to get better, life also requires a little uncomfortable fun if you want to progress beyond Cat 6. (Sometimes Cat 4 is even a stretch.)

With my levels of mental and physical well-being just starting to rebound from the tough winter as well as my depleted-but-improving fitness, I was very scared of getting in too deep riding-wise. Dustin and Corinna were excited were excited to show us all of what the Western Slope had to offer, and it was hard for me to ride the line of trying to not disappoint them but staying within a level of riding that was still enjoyable for me. Due to the travel stress and the unfamiliar territory, I just didn’t feel very much up to pushing my limits on the bike.

#scenicvistafrankie on the Pine Loop of Western Colorado

I managed to get away with this the first couple of days, keeping the ride volume down to a happy level but also feeling like I was ruining things for everyone else. Then on Sunday, Dustin got the idea to shuttle the rest of the group to the beginning of the Mag 7 ride because it was supposed to be super fun. His friend Jack was joining us and had ridden it a week before, I watched them huddling over a map in the living room discussing various exit points, and phrases like “From here, it’s a lot of conquering” and “the forgotten land” and “if I were in a Jeep…” were tossed about. There was also talk of exiting on Gemini Bridges Road before the conquering began.

 

The first half of the ride was ridiculously fun. It was flowy and mostly downhill, but not in a bombing, obvious way. There were just enough rocks for Princess Monster Truck (my Giant Lust) to feel like it was worth her time. I was even able to keep up with Frank and Jack for most of it after feeling horrible and being severely OTB on Friday and Saturday’s rides. Then we came to the proposed bailout, and my guilt over not my wussy-level limits the past couple of days overcame me. I agreed to conquer as long as I was allowed to conquer at my own pace without anyone babysitting me.


So conquer we did. The jeep road that followed was a mostly unbroken stretch of slickrock with very little dirt at all. It had tons of huge ledges and drops, as well as many steep climbs that quickly depleted me, even in my easiest gear. This was followed by a couple of very technical trails along the edge of a cliff, which had all of us walking more than riding, not wanting to risk a stupid crash in our fatigued state. All in all, it took over three hours to ride the cover the last 12 or so miles of the route, and it was probably the worst slog I’ve been the last time I finished the Ouachita Challenge.

Like I said, each day since then the Type II fun has started to convert. I’m glad we made the trip, and I’m glad I decided to do the whole ride on Sunday. Now that I’ve been through my first big airplane-assisted trip to the desert, I’ll know what to expect next time and be better prepared. For now, though, I’m pretty happy to be back on the #eastcoastrocks beneath fully-green trees. I can’t wait to get back out in Rothrock tomorrow where I know where my limits and exactly how much to push them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I've Got the Power!!!


When I saw the above image on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, I knew it would be perfect for an upcoming blog post, although it would still be a while before I could use it. As of yesterday, I can, because I have a functioning power meter for the first time in over two years.

Sometime in the winter of 2013 I decided that I was happy with the level of training consistency that I’d been putting in with my Death March training and that it was time to bump things up a bit by adding interval training back into the mix after having not done any in several months. When the attempt was made, I found that the head unit of my ancient wired Powertap was no longer functional and took it as a sign that I was not ready to start interval training for the year after all.

I was still pretty darn fit by spring, and while I made a few more attempts at heart-rate based intervals that year, I’ve obviously had a bigger priorities for the use of my money, time, and mental energy since then. Plus, once I moved to State College I was blessed with the ability to just go climb stuff when I needed to do threshold work, which in my opinion is better than staring at numbers on a screen, anyway.

Now that I’ve finally been able to put the resources into what is by far the nicest bike that I have ever owned and rededicated myself making it in whatever cyclocross series in which circumstance places me, I feel like it’s time to start putting some effort back into developing my top-end power again. My plan is still to leave weekends for climbing things/riding as much and as fast as my body will handle, then supplementing that with one very easy ride and one very intense interval session during the week. And, of course, maintaining a good Monday and Thursday weight training routine, because I find the extra strength extremely helpful when I do it consistently, although it can very much go the other way with extra fatigue if I start to let the routine slip.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, like the saying about diets, the most effective training plan is the one that you stick with. Right now I feel like throwing in some high intensity, low-volume interval work will give me the maximum payoff for the least amount of mental distress. Or it might just make for even more spectacular holeshot followed by second lap explosion combos come ‘cross season, but I guess time will tell. I plan to start with really seeing how hard I can go in 30 second intervals for a few sessions, then maximize the percentage that I can hold while increasing duration and volume each week through 1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, etc. It’s definitely an experiment, and the opposite of most traditional training periodization, but I want to see how it works. I bet it works better than not doing intervals as I have the last couple of years.

The plan will have to wait a couple of weeks, though, as we are leaving tomorrow for a few days of desert-gnar in Grand Junction, CO with Dustin and Corinna. So this mid-week blogging thing is actually working out pretty well at the moment, as I should return next Wednesday with lots of stories and pictures.


Also my engagement ring finally arrived yesterday. I feel like things have dragged out a bit, and was worried that everyone would be sick of hearing about it by the time I finally got to wear it. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but the good news is that it’s finally here and it’s a perfectly “me” ring. I’ve been trying really hard to not do things based on what other people think, and instead do them because that’s what I really want, so I guess this is a good lesson. I really want to show off my ring, so I will.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Moving Along

I didn’t post on Monday because a) I was bummed out after my weekly phone call with my mom because being exceptionally chilly towards any attempts I make to tell her about our wedding plans as they unfold. I don’t fully understand this, but I haven’t asked for further explanation because we’re unlikely to change our plans based on it. I think that basically the problem is that the timeline that is right for her is not what is right for us, and being all grown-uppy this time around, it is very important to me that this marriage is neither rushed nor pressured and gets the proper level of celebration that it deserves. b) My shoulder was in excruciating pain due to a sudden uptick in MTB volume, a quick trip to Florida, and maybe from a crash that I had last week. c) I had nothing exciting nor witty to say.

I almost let myself off the hook on the whole weekly blog post thing, but I’ve decided to ahead with it. Besides, I took yesterday off from work to recover from the lingering project stress and the work conference in Orlando that I had to attend Wednesday-Friday of last week, so today feels like a Monday. Wednesdays off are the best, because it breaks the workweek into two very manageable two-day segments and it allows for a big mid-week ride with time to recover between weekends.

It’s a bit ironic that my goal of weekly posts is to find improvement in the past week, and for the last two weeks improvement has been incredibly easy to find. They’re come so easy that it’s hard to find anything interesting to say about them.

Sometimes a big breakthough is finishing up Tussey Ridge and realizing that you have the unexpected energy to do John Wert, too.

It’s been 3.5 weeks since I got back on the bike to find that my sitbone was still hurting despite having taken two-weeks off. However, I’ve discovered that on my plan of riding as much as I can stand and twice-daily icing, it’s actually improved more than it did on complete rest. Yesterday I completed a difficult and rocky 3+ hour mountain bike on it and the pain was at about 20% of what it was a month ago.

With work stuff, wedding stuff, and being out of town last week, I haven’t achieved the kind of metronomicly perfect consistent training I would like. I have, however, been ramping up better/longer/faster rides on the days I am able to ride, and I’ve been smashing Strava PR’s left and right. So I’m actually pretty proud of how my riding is going, but I also feel a little silly bragging about Strava PR’s. That is where I’m at, though. I’m improving quickly, but I’m still a long way off from feeling confident enough to pursue any real race goals prior to cyclocross. I’m okay with that, though, as it will save me money, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’ve always been in such a rush to race that I never gave myself time to actually get fast first. Maybe this summer will that time for me.

This should have been in last week's post, but my official I-9 engagement wheels arrived a couple of weeks ago. Even with file-tread tires, they make my TCX a lot snappier (and prettier), so they probably deserve credit for some of the Strava PR's.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Back in the Saddle(ish)

The last couple of weeks have been a bit crazy. I’ve been pretty stressed out and exhausted due to the launch of a new project at work. The good news is that this marks the fourth major enhancement initiative that I’ve lead since the first of the year and also the last for a while as our team’s focus will be on doing what is necessary to maintain our current functionality while Penn State switches over to a completely new student information system in the fall. During this time, I’ll be stepping back into a more supporting role while the more technical and data quality team members focus on the conversion.

The upshot of that worky-work blah blah blah paragraph is that I haven’t had much mental capacity for blogging lately, but it’s looking like I should have a few months where I get to rest my mental capacity a bit. Hopefully, I can use that excess capacity on bikes and wedding planning.

The other bummer of the week was that we were really stoked to secure a couple of local mountain bikers’ soon-to-be-built mountain bike centric lodge/B&B with an on-site pump track as our wedding venue for next May. Unfortunately, a couple of days after we worked out the details with them, their contractor gave them the bad news that the construction would take much longer than originally planned.

This meant that we would have to find a new venue or wait 2-3 months longer for the wedding. After a night of being super bummed and not sleeping very much after the already stressful two weeks before, we Googled away and found a pretty good venue that was available for April 30, 2016. It costs more than we had hoped to pay, and still falls into the more “traditional” venue category among the State College wedding scene. I did, of course, go through a pouty phase where I kept saying that #gnarwedding2016 would have to be changed to #basicbitchwedding2016, and that we should probably just serve Pumpkin Spice Lattes. However, I’m starting to feel a renewed since of energy about it, and hopefully we can find a plenty of fun (and cost effective) ways to make it “us” even without an on-site pump track.

I'm starting to get my rock skills back, and I had my first-ever clean run of Chicken Peter on Saturday.

Taking a back seat to all of this was the fact that I did finally start riding bikes again after my two-week hiatus to try and heal up my inflamed sit-bone. The bad news is that two weeks of no riding didn’t actually didn’t help it much, so now I’ve just been riding as much as I can stand to, sitting on an ice pack for 20 minutes twice a day, and taking a lot of turmeric supplements to try to cool the inflammation.

I actually got to ride mountain bikes both days over the weekend, and the pain stayed within a tolerable level. All training plans and racing plans are kind of out the window for the summer. Right now I’m just going to ride as much as I can, start doing intervals once a week when I obtain a power meter with my next paycheck, and hopefully be ready a cyclocross season that is better than the last. Once again, the past two weeks have been a lesson in the futility of getting too attached to plans, so I guess I’ll just keep doing the best I can with what I have for a while.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Points of Engagement

I've heard the term "points of engagement" a lot in the last week, and it definitely seems that I need to squeeze some sort of cycling metaphor out of it. However, I haven't been on a bike since my last post in an attempt to get my injured sitbone under control before the weather gets truly nice, and the past week's events need very little analysis or metaphor to make them interesting - at least to me.

You see, as of approximately 5:30 p.m. on March 31, Frank and I are engaged.


When I arrived home on Tuesday night, there was a "Registration" sign on the door. I was very confused, thinking that it was perhaps the largest, vaguest note ever to inform me that Frank had gone somewhere for the evening. When I came in he handed me a sheet of paper, with the following "Life March Checkpoints":

Mandatory:
*Be My Navigator
*Shred the Gnar of Life
*Share the Burdens
*Stay Awesome

Optional:
*Acquire Fat Bikes
*Adopt a Puppy
*Buy a House
*Have Kid(s)
*Procure Passport for Adventures
*Race Until Actually Masters

Clemmie and "the Mu-nicorn" also got to play a part.

He then gave a speech about our Insta-romance based on a mutual love of bacon and asparagus, and asked me to be his partner for life. I actually don't remember the details because I was all nervous and having a "Whoa, it's really happening!" moment. Then he gave me the diamond earring that had once been his mom's ring and then was worn in his dad's ear for a while.

It turns out that he'd planned to propose at the Death March, but when we decided not to go, that messed up those plans. It's a bit of a bummer, since that's sort of what I'd fantasized about happening, but in the end I'm still glad we made the decision that we did.

All of the I-9.

He also got me not one, but two pairs of Industry Nine wheels, which is where "120 points of engagment" enters picture. The pair that he actually had in his possession were cyclocross tubulars with pink I-9 hubs laced to HED Belgium rims. There is apparently also a pair of road/gravel wheels on the way with turquoise hubs and pink spokes. I did need both pairs of wheels, as I'm trying to turn my new TCX into a multi-purpose machine that be used for road, gravel or 'cross with a quick wheel swap. I never imagined that I'd be doing it in such style, though!

Saturday we went and chose a setting in which the diamond earring will become a ring. The beauty and curse of having a guy let you pick out your own ring is that can have *exactly* what you want. Being me, I quickly whipped up the idea of the perfect antique-inspired bezel setting, sapphire halo, and band that was neither too gaudy nor too plain. Of course there was nothing like it in stock at the jewelry store, but after an hour and a half of watching the woman work the ring design CAD program, we got as close as was reasonably with the bounds of our "resources". Frank kept saying, "See, this is why I let you take care of this part." I insisted that I would have been happy with whatever he picked out, which is true, because I could be wearing it already. At the same time, I keep telling myself that it's worth the 3-4 week wait for the perfect ring that I'll be wearing every day for the rest of my life.

As you may guess, the attitude change that I badly needed last week kicked in pretty easily after the happy surprise, but it was also a good reminder to keep myself open to possibilities instead focusing on what's going wrong.

Monday, March 30, 2015

First Gnar

Last week finally brought the long-awaited first gnar rides of the year. I took a PTO day on Wednesday to try and get my stress levels back under control, and in doing so, got very doggedly determined that I would mountain bike that day no matter what. As it turned out, we did get to ride and trails weren’t too bad…for the most part.


Because there was rain predicted for midday, we didn’t get to start riding until nearly 4:00, putting a damper on the hero ride that I’d wanted. In the end, that was just as well. The “cross country loop” starts after about a 15-minute gravel road climb from the parking lot. It then goes slightly downhill through some serious rocky patches before starting a long climb up to the top of the ridge. The first rocky sections still had quite a few annoying snow patches, making the first time trying to ride them since August even more difficult. However, the climb up the ridge and the ride along the top of it were surprisingly clear. Unfortunately, after descending back down from the ridge, the aptly-name section called Lower Trail that follows the creek back to the road was completely covered in snow for long patches at a time. So I did a lot of walking on the last part, and Frank pretty much walked the last half since he cut a sidewall and was without a tube having giving up looking for his Camel Back before we left. All-in-all it was a very typical first ride of the year, taking over two hours to complete 9 miles.


We didn’t ride again until Sunday since our bodies were a bit trashed from Wednesday, and Saturday’s high was about 30 degrees. Luckily, Sunday was sunny and 40’s, so we got to check out Tussey Ridge for the first time since October.

Unfortunately, neither Wednesday’s nor Sunday’s ride gave the feedback for which I was hoping. The real reason that I was so anxious to get on the mountain bike was to see where I was speed-wise on key portions of Rothrock. Even though my race plans keep being pushed back for lack of proper winter/spring training, I was really hoping to successfully complete the long course of the Rothrock Trailmix this year in a non-dumpster time. The reality was that I was super-slow and falling all over the place on both rides. I also have a super-inflamed sit bone that has been developing since I finally got to start riding regularly at the beginning of March, so I’m afraid that I’m going to have to take more time off after finally *almost* getting back on track.

Needless to say, I’m feeling awfully frustrated right now that no matter how many times I keep changing my plans, something new keeps getting in the way. I’m also frustrated with my own frustration because since moving to State College, I’ve definitely fallen into “Old Lindsay” mental patterns that kept me spiraling through a cycle of failure for the first few years of my cycling career. At this point, I feel like I’m almost subconsciously summoning my own bad luck. I need to change my attitude, but I’m just not sure how to do that.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mitigating Damage

To be honest, I didn’t have a very good week last week. I know I’m supposed to be focusing on the positive/improvements, but last week was more about mitigating damage and minimizing how far I slipped back than it was about moving forward. I was still overwhelmed by work stress to the point that I had a full-blown panic attack on Monday night. I still made it to work on Tuesday and did what I needed to do, but indulged in a second beer and pizza night in a week’s time to try and get enough quick-and-easy pleasure hormones going to normalize my brain after the panic attack. I know that it wasn’t the best solution, but it was the best that I could come up at the time.

It got me through the rest of the week, and I was able to catch up on everything that I needed to do. I even got back onto the workout track on Wednesday night, even though the stress and food choices left me exhausted and my digestion wrecked. I was still a mess when the weekend came, and the disappointment of another weekend of no mountain biking due to three inches of snow after a nice two-week thaw did not help any. Even though it felt hard, and the weekend didn’t feel like much of a reward after such a tough week, I still managed to get a lot of sleep, eat well, and get in two good rides on the road.

It made my body feel a lot better, even if I’m still feeling awfully tender emotionally (and not in a nice way). I’m getting a massage after work today and taking another vacation day on Wednesday (fingers crossed for some clear trails). I’m really hoping that I can turn things around quickly and be back to feeling as good as I was couple of weeks so that I can start reporting some improvements again in the near future.

Although I didn't improve much in the big picture, I did PR two climbs on Strava this weekend. I guess that is something.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Are We Out Of The Woods Yet?

Looking at it now 
Last November 
We were built to fall apart 
Then fall back together 
Both our sit bones were a wreck 
That race we couldn't quite forget 
When we decided 
To put on our fleecy pants, 
Baby, like we stood a chance 
Then my old lady strength has us flying, flying, flying 
And I remember thinkin' 

Are we out of the woods yet? 
Are we out of the woods yet? 
Are we out of the woods yet? 
Are we out of the woods? 
Are we in the clear yet? 
Are we in the clear yet? 
Are we in the clear yet? 
In the clear yet? 
Good 

This week I give you a bad Taylor Swift parody about the first time Frank and I ventured into the Hoosier National Forest together (the 2013 Gravel Grovel), since we didn’t return this weekend. After seeing pictures of people riding through bottom-bracket deep water, I don’t really feel too bad about that. I actually wasn’t feeling too bad about it before the flood pictures, but knowing that it’s over, and that the pictures have been posted will hopefully make it a bit easier to move on to the next chapter of my life.

I admittedly had some trouble with that during the last week. I braved the rain on my first day of scheduled post-D.S.T. after-work riding out of principle, and then managed a pretty good ride on Wednesday. Then Wednesday night I slipped back into a nasty state of depression, which kind of threw off the rest of my week, although I think it kind of benefitted it training-wise.

While not the actual cause of my distress, I was a bit panicked about having some work that I was behind on for Friday, and trying to focus enough to do what I needed to do well on Thursday after too little sleep and too much crying just wasn’t working. Since the Friday deadline was mostly arbitrary, I came to the conclusion that it was a good time to advocate for my own best interest. I talked to my boss about re-arranging some things so that everything still got done when it actually needed to be, but that would also give me a bit of breathing room. Then I took a vacation day on Friday to hit the reset button and hopefully be able to come back and do what I needed to do this week.

This is where I actually ended up benefitting training-wise. I was able to come home Thursday and allow myself one night of laziness, beer, and pizza, then go out and put in a good, hard ride while the weather was nice on Friday. Then I made up Thursday’s weight session when it was raining on Saturday, and finished with another good ride on Sunday.

Summiting a climb yesterday.

It was pretty frustrating falling back depression-wise, but not totally surprising. I’ve been doing a good job of moving forward and not relying on negative habits as a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, the process of finding positive things to replace the negatives ones is slow, and I’ve still be white-knuckling my way through the empty feeling without allowing myself much “pain relief”.

It’s really hard, but I feel like keeping myself “unmedicated” is an important part of healing because it keeps my scanners more tuned for positive opportunities. In a way, I guess it did help, because it forced me to ask for help/support from my boss instead of just acting like I had everything under control, and also reaching out to a friend with whom I’d lost touch because I just needed someone to talk to that badly. At the same time, I wish I wouldn’t let myself get so bad before asking for help. 

The tricky part is that I want to act like I’m okay and not whine about every little thing that’s wrong, because I’ve heard that there’s actually truth in the “fake ‘til you make it” cliché. Even after a “fake it until you fall flat on your face” moment, I’m still picking myself up and doing my best to act as okay as I can as soon as possible, because I feel like my only option is to just keep trying until it works. Last week just provided some lessons about how to do better next time.

Ultimately, I know that the changes have to come from inside me, but support from others definitely makes it easier to keep doing the hard work even when I don’t feel like it. The challenge is how to let people know that I need encouragement while acting like I’m okay. Because the irony is that when I appear to be doing well is probably when I need to be encouraged the most. So the answer is, no, we’re not out of the woods yet, and we probably won’t be for a while.

So even if I look like my “old lady strength” is kicking in, that’s when I need to be cheered for the most.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A 40 Degree Day

That's good. That's like a 40-degree day. Ain't nobody got nothing to say about a 40-degree day. Fifty. Bring a smile to your face. Sixty, shit, niggas is damn near barbecuing on that motherfucker. Go down to 20, niggas get their bitch on. Get their blood complaining. But forty? Nobody give a fuck about 40. – Stringer Bell, The Wire

Once again, a quote from The Wire seemed like an appropriate way to start this week’s post. Also once again, what is true for fictional drug-dealers in Baltimore isn’t necessarily true for cyclists at the end of winter. Perhaps a couple of years ago in Indiana, I wouldn’t have much to say about a 40 degree day in March, but after the winter we’ve had here in Central Pennsylvania, it’s practically summer.

Winter definitely went out kicking and screaming this week, as it continued to be in the 20’s with a lovely ice storm on Tuesday afternoon that resulted in Penn State’s first weather closure since 2007. Strangely enough, things were largely melted by the afternoon, enough so that the wider-shoulder roads probably would have been safe to ride, so I considered taking advantage of my unplanned afternoon off to get in an outside ride. Unfortunately, while conditions weren’t fully dangerous, they were still slushy and unpleasant, and I ended up blowing off the ride knowing that D.S.T. and a string of 40+ degree days were just around the corner.

That brings us to this weekend, where spring finally seems to be emerging. We still only managed high-30’s on Saturday and low-40’s on Sunday, but it was still a huge improvement over the weather of late. I even got away just leg warmers and no fleece tights on Sunday! The riding wasn’t particularly epic, as I came to the conclusion that already being this far behind in my previously scheduled programming, that I might as well enjoy a gradual build-up and just focus on consistency for a while.

With Death March off the table, my spring race schedule has been arranged and rearranged a few times over. We’ve made plans to visit my friends Dustin and Corinna in Grand Junction, CO in May, so we’ll be missing the second and maybe third XC races of the MASS series. With the first race less than seven weeks away, and my training seemingly only really starting two days ago, I’m wondering if I should just delay racing in June. Just getting fit enough to chase those two around the desert for four days is going to be enough of a challenge!

After the last couple of months of training setbacks, I realize that my real goal for 2015 hasn’t really changed. By the end of this year, I just want to be faster than I ever have been before. That might not be a S.M.A.R.T. goal, since it’s not very specific or measurable, but I think it’s a smart goal for me at this point in my cycling career. Rather than focusing on a specific race or series, I want to bring up my all-around level of cycling ability.

Unfortunately, this does mean that I have to quit pretending that the fact that I’m not good at riding on the road doesn’t matter because I don’t race on the road. While it’s definitely true that Strava can be used for good or for evil, I’ve found it (mostly) useful in the last year. Sure I’ve poached a few asinine 90-second QOM’s (gotta keep the spirits up somehow), but mostly it has been a reality check into where my strengths and weaknesses really lie. It also serves a window into what girls who beat me in races are actually doing day in and day out, which is interesting. I still firmly stand by my assertion that different things work for different people, so I’m not going to copy someone else’s training, but it does give me ideas as to what I need to work on more.

Now that I’ve got 40 degree days as far the 10-day forecast eye can see, I can finally start making progress toward my big, vague goal a little bit at a time. Like a 40 degree day, my accomplishments between now and September might not be much to talk about, but I hope that by the end of the summer they add up in such a way that I’m able to break through the level of mediocrity that I’ve been settled into for a few years. And finally, if I put enough 40 degree days together, I might just wake up one day to find that it’s summer.