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":

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

*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? 

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.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Daylight Savings Time At The End Of The Tunnel

You only do two days, the day you go in and the day you get out. – Avon Barksdale, The Wire With Daylight Savings Time less than a week away, I’ve been thinking about the above quote and somehow trying to make it apply to winter, the annual prison sentence of cyclists. The fact of the matter is that the quote just doesn’t make that much sense. I think it’s about suspending belief/disassociating during one’s prison sentence, but is that really the best way to handle things?

Regardless, it seems that winter may finally be coming to an end. My mere hour of outdoor riding yesterday while having icy slush spray my butt the entire time might not be indicative of that, but the fact that I got a different hour in after work on Wednesday and only needed my lights for the last five minutes was. As for the fact that I only logged two hours of outdoor riding this week, that’s not such a great sign for the spring to come, but the fact that I didn’t have that slow, weak, “I’m going to die” feeling that has plagued me all winter seemed like the light at the end of a different kind of tunnel. When I said my Wednesday ride didn’t suck, Frank’s reply was, “I think that’s the first positive thing you’ve said about riding all winter.”

I successfully completed my planned weight training this week, and my two hours of outdoor riding was supplemented by a trip to The Wheel Mill in Pittsburgh, since it was still a little too cold to accomplish much outdoors on Saturday. I was hoping to get more out of this trip, but the place was much more BMX oriented than what we were expecting. I’ve never been to Ray’s, so I’m not sure how it compares. We were definitely the only people there in spandex on XC bikes with clipless pedals, though, and that was a big mistake. Early on in our adventure, I lost momentum on the wooden pump track, slid backward down the whoop, fell off onto the concrete floor, and cut my elbow pretty badly.

My confidence was pretty low after that, and we spent most of the rest of the time in the “basic skills” room after the five-year-old birthday party that was in there when we arrived had cleared out. It at least gave me a time to work on my front wheel lifts which I have managed to remain pretty terrible at despite mountain biking for nearly nine years now and having become pretty decent in other technical areas. I have managed to get by pretty well with my “monster truck” style, but I know that I could be a lot better if I ever developed some more fine-tuned front-end control.

So fast I'm blurry...

Despite my continued low volume of training this week, I guess I’m more focused on the positive than the negative, which is a good sign. I feel like winter will finally end soon and that I will get back into shape eventually. I realized that the first MASS XC is only eight weeks away, and I’m still a little worried about being in shape for that. Really, though, if I don’t feel up to racing by then, I don’t have to. Nothing really matters until September, where I’m determined to make a better run at the whole #eastcoastcross thing in my second season here.

The cycling year ain’t nothing but two days: the day ‘cross season starts and the day ‘cross season ends. I think that may be more true than the prison thing.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Libations and Llamas

In last week’s post I pointed out that the benefit of weekly posting is that it forces me to write about some way in which I improved during the past week, and knowing that I’ll have to write about it, I’m more likely to make the improvements happen. My biggest challenge last week was that it felt like despite my best efforts at improvement, circumstance did not want to see it happen.

After pushing off my Monday weight training to get a much-needed massage, I moved that workout to Tuesday, leaving me with just one weeknight ride to complete for the week. Unfortunately, it snowed hard just as I was leaving work, making it unsafe to ride on the road in quickly-darkening conditions. Just pedaling on the trainer seemed like a waste of time and I was already in a sucked-dry mental state, so the thought of doing something so unpleasant that would have so little immediate payoff was really bringing me down. I was really at the point where I needed to feel like my sacrifice was worth it. Despite feeling that way, I knew that skipping the workout would only set me further back, so I got on the training and busted out 4 x 1 minute as hard as I could plus 15 minutes each of warm-up and cool down. Under the circumstances, it felt like the way to get the most payoff for the least amount of time and mental energy.

My other tough time of the week was Thursday night when we were supposed to attend the “Inaugural Ball” of a new local restaurant/craft beer bar. That would in theory be totally fun, except that I desperately wanted to shake the fat feeling of the damage that I had done over the weekend in Illinois. As much I hate talk of burning calories, counting calories, or anything involving the word calories, I can’t deny the fact that one will generally lean out faster at a higher cycling volume than a lower one, unless they are overtraining or making bad food choices that disproportionately increase hunger. I refuse to count calories or even mess with the overall volume of healthy food that I’m eating, since I’m still very much in the danger zone for bingeing right now. So with the weather forcing my riding volume to be low right now, all I can really do to try and improve my body composition is to avoid alcohol and treats.

I was already ready nervous about having to go out to the bar, but I knew that Frank was looking forward to it, so I didn’t want to ruin it for him. Even though I was feeling pretty low on willpower, resiliency, mental energy, or whatever you want to call it, I made peace with the idea that I would just go, order the least dietarily offensive thing on the menu, and suppress how sad I was to be watching my boyfriend drink beer while I couldn’t. Sounds like a good plan, right? Unfortunately, we got there early and the place was already packed with a variety of annoying people, so the amount of sucking-it-up for which I was prepared was quickly exceeded, and I’m pretty sure I ended up ruining it for Frank with my Saddy Sadderson-ness after all.

 I did, however, succeed in not drinking that night nor through the weekend. Frank purchase a bottle of Brooklyn Black Ops, which we hear is amazing, so I said that we could drink it next weekend after I get in one more week of “good behavior”.

So the question is, was it improvement? The problem is that when I think about the goals that I want to accomplish in the coming months, they are very conflicting. I want to lose weight and get back to feeling fast on a bike, because I want to feel the confidence that comes with that. There is also the practical element that being fit makes social riding fun instead of miserable. I also feel like racing is an important part of growing social connections, because that is where one is most likely to meet like-minded folks. I feel like I was not as good at making friends during ‘cross as I could have been, because racing wasn’t that fun while I was in bad shape and I probably didn’t exude such a friendly demeanor when I was nervous or bummed about bad races.

Focusing on losing weight and getting fit can be very healthy, and it can be very unhealthy, depending on my focus. Ultimately, I want to be fit enough to race, ride with faster people and still have fun doing it, and be able to eat out and travel for social reasons. I know that I should probably work on my feeling that I need to lose weight and be fit to make friends, and start thinking more about how I can be confident with the body that I have now, but let’s face it, being in good shape is more fun unless you let it take over your life.

Where I ultimately want to end up is that I don’t miss workouts just because I don’t feel like it, or eat because I need a mental pick-up. At the same time, I want to have to flexibility to alter my schedule for fun or social reasons, and go to bars and restaurants and not have anxiety because I know that I can either eat and drink what I want to, and/or be able to say no to things that will make me feel bad physically without any trepidation. Basically, the ability to go off track when it’s beneficial for me and then jump back on immediately after.

 I got really good at that a couple of years ago when I had my eating disorder under control and was really fit already. My favorite victory story was the time I was out to dinner with Sarah and Josh, and for reason, they gave us free dessert. Josh and I both ate some of the cake that they gave us, and it was really good, but I stopped before I felt sick and didn’t feel the need to finish it. We left with cake still on the plate and I felt totally okay with it. That was a pretty rare and glorious moment for me; I’m pretty sure that if I managed to leave cake on the plate now, it would be a miserable, hard-fought battle rather than an easy one.

That’s why it’s hard to call going out and not drinking a success if it still causes me anxiety to do so. At the same time, maybe it is progress to have done so and prove to myself that I could. Maybe in doing so I won’t be so stressed out about it next time. So I’ll call it an improvement, but know that I still have some work to do.


Also, I did get to ride my bike outside this weekend, at least on Sunday. We got 33 miles of rolling pavement from the “Llama Loop”, and for the sake of one less picture-less post during hermetically-sealed hands season, here is a picture of the eponymous llamas.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Obligatory Weekly Post

This week is one of those where the obligation of weekly updates feels like a greater burden than usual. Obviously I avoided it yesterday with the excuse that I didn’t have time, and it’s probably good that it was delayed a day. I’d still sort of rather not post, but my attitude is definitely improved over what it was yesterday.

Part of that attitude improvement is just time, rest, and some free headspace to think. The other part is contemplating why I made the commitment to post weekly, and why I didn’t want to this particular week. When I was successful in my weekly posting before, it was because it basically forced me to point out some way in which I had improved in cycling, socializing, or life skills during the previous seven days. It also forced me to move forward, even when I didn’t want to, because I knew I’d have to write about on Monday. The reason that I didn’t want to post this week is because I felt like I had no improvement about which to write.

Last week’s post was easy. After hitting bottom and declaring my intention of to turn it around, I saw a successful first week of progress out of the hole. I continued with a solid workweek where I completed my weight training, and even ventured out for my first outdoor post-work rides of 2015. They were stupidly cold, and we had to use light for the last half of last Tuesday and Wednesday’s hour-long rides, but they weren’t on the trainer, and right now that counts for a lot.

The weekend wasn’t so note-worthy from a hole-climbing perspective. We went to Illinois from Friday-Sunday so that Frank could have his car emissions checked and keep his (and the car’s) Illinois citizenship. Much like the Lime-a-Bean will be keeping Indiana plates until Indiana quits sending me new stickers for them, Frank is not ready to commit to any state that isn’t tattooed on his arm unless he’s offered a tenure-track job there. It also doesn’t hurt that his one remaining tenure-track possibility for 2015-2016 would allow him to keep his license plates and his tattoo, but I won’t post too many spoilers unless it actually pans out.

We knew this trip had to happen before April, and we’d planned on just combining it with our Death March trip, but when that was cancelled, we decided just to get it over with on a weekend when it was too cold for outdoor riding. With Sunday’s high of 4 degrees, we made the right decision, but it was a little tough dealing with a long weekend of car riding, no bike riding, overeating, and overdrinking when I wasn’t feeling too solidly back on a straight and narrow yet. In perfect world, I would have packed healthy road snacks, eaten a moderate amount of the pizza that was put in front of me to not be rude and stopped at that, and then moved on back to my Monday morning with no guilt and the ability to still function in the face of feeling physically sub-par. I have been to that place for a very short time a couple of years ago, but that’s very high-level stuff, and I’m certainly not there right now.

I let the weekend drive me off the rails a little, and I didn’t handle coming home to frozen pipes and a particularly tough Monday at work very well. I also missed my Monday weight training so that I could get a massage instead, but I’m actually standing by that decision. I think that it actually made a greater contribution to getting back to a good physical and mental state than the training would have, so it’s different from skipping a workout just because I was tired.

However, I still realize that I’m better off than I was two weeks ago simply because I decided be. I long for the day when food and travel don’t cause me anxiety, and my wonderful boyfriend no longer has to witness me having temper tantrums/panic attacks over dumb stuff when my emotional gas tank gets too low. The good news is that he still loves me even when I act like a crazy person, and that motivates me to take care of myself so that I continue having fewer urges to act like one. So even if the weekend was challenging, I’m still a little further out of the hole.

Monday, February 9, 2015

On the Road Again

After a much-needed burst of working out my situation in writing the past couple of weeks, I’m ready to get back on the Monday-update schedule. I made it through the first few days of hole-sucking emotional detox, and I’m happy to say that I’m feeling a lot more normal now. I’ve got in a solid week of 100% home cooked food, pretty decent sleep, and lots of boyfriend and kitty cuddles. Oh, and the ~100 miles that logged on my new bike didn’t hurt, either.

At least the roads were clear.

When I got the report around noon on Tuesday that my new bike still hadn’t arrived at the shop, I thought there was no way it would be ready to ride on my day off on Wednesday. The plan was to ride around 1:30 when Frank got out of class, but he called me at 11:45 and said my bike had not only arrived, but that it was ready to pick up. When I got to the shop, they had not switched out the crank yet, so it was not actually ready. We had them swap out the Rotor crank that it came with to a regular Ultegra one, so that I can add a Stages power meter in another month or two when I save up the additional funds. Unfortunately, after I made several slow meanders around the shop waiting, they said that they were missing a part to swap the cranks and they wouldn’t have it until the next day. I was pretty upset about all of the back and forth for a week already and started to lose my cool. I went home and started preparing to ride my old bike when Frank got home. When he arrived and called the shop, it turned out they had found what they needed, and he went to get the bike.

We had to scramble to get tires swapped, bottle cages, saddle, pedals, etc. on so that we could ride, but we eventually got out the door about an hour later than planned, just in time for the 40 degrees and sunny weather to turn cloudy and the temperature to drop. In the end, though, I was still pretty stoked to finally be riding outside in above-freezing weather with no precipitation and to be on my new bike. I had no idea how out of shape I really was, and after 2.5 hours of gasping and my heart rate going through the roof, all of the drama of the past week had melted away. I also thought it was just as well be got a late start and had to cut down our ride, because 30 miles and 2500 feet of climbing were plenty.

After taking a day off mid-week to sneak in an above-freezing ride, the weekend turned out surprisingly okay weatherwise, as well. We logged a very climby 40 miles on Saturday and a very dead-legged, rolly 26 on Sunday. I’m still really weak and slow right now, so I’m still glad to have the Death March pressure off, but I’m feeling good about the work that I’ve put in. Hopefully, I’ll still have my legs and lungs back in time for the spring thaw.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Me v. Hole

Last night I came home emotionally drained only to receive bad news regarding the progress of my new bike. It was originally slated to arrive at the shop on Thursday or Friday, but we were warned that it might not be ready to pick up until Monday due to a backlog of work that the shop already had. When it didn’t arrive on Friday I hoped that perhaps the backlog would clear over the weekend, and at least they could get right to it when the bike arrived on Monday. Then last night I came home to the news that when Frank had stopped by the shop to check on the progress, the shop wasn’t even open, presumably due to the moderately crappy weather yesterday. So now I have no idea where the bike is, or when it will be built up. This news came after I had already asked for a PTO day so that I can take advantage of the practically tropical 39 degrees and no rain or snow weather that is predicted tomorrow. I was really hoping that my new bike would be able to join me, but it won’t.

I *just* got the text that they essentially don’t know where the fuck it is. Awesome.

The result of this news that would be normally fall into the “mild to moderate disappointment” category (at least as of last night’s status update) sent me into a half-hour or so of catatonic pouty fit that I’m sure was pretty tough for Frank because he really wanted to console me, but I just wasn’t in a state to be consoled. It sounds dumb without context, but as I mentioned before, I was already emotionally sucked dry when I came and just didn’t have the capacity for anything else less than positive. The half-hour of catatonic state did serve its purpose, though, as I did eventually pull myself together and find the energy to go to the gym, make dinner, fold the laundry, clean the litter boxes, and get ready for bed like I was supposed to.

The thing about it is that yesterday wasn’t really even a “bad day” by most terms. It was just a normal workday with moderately crappy weather, a few normal-type stressful moments, and a little bit of bad news at the end. However, as you might have gathered from my recent flurry of Internet honesty, I’m in a bad place right now. The difference is that this may be the first time that I’m fully aware that the bad place I’m in can’t be blamed on bad circumstances, but rather pretty mundane circumstances and a lack of excitement and/or drama to distract myself from the emptiness inside me.

Knowing that, the reason yesterday felt so bad for me is that since I’ve admitted it all of this for the world to see, I’m ready give up on unhealthy methods of giving into my emotional hole. A big lesson that I’ve learned in the past is that one of the best treatments for depression is to stop behaving like a depressed person. However, the gap between how simple that sounds and hard it actually is to actually do is almost funny its expanse. So the first few days of turning one’s behavior around from unhealthy coping mechanisms feels terrible, even if the circumstances in which the changes take place merely lacking in encouragement, rather than actually bad.

My last couple of posts have talked about my need for a new anchor to pull myself out of the hole, as well as whether the hole is something to be cured or a condition that to managed. Last night I came to the conclusion that it is like an autoimmune disease of my mind. Instead of my immune cells attacking my thyroid or the myelin on my neurons, the negative part of my mind is attacking the positive part and making it hard to function. And like an autoimmune condition, there probably isn’t a cure, per se, and I’ve definitely learned that the drugs that doctors would prescribe for it very well might do more harm than good. However, with the right combination of treatments, I can put the hole into remission.

I’ve done it before without realizing that was what I was doing. Now that I know what I’m fighting, I don’t need to anchor myself to a bike race as my goal. My goal is to beat the hole. Training and racing will definitely be a part of my treatment, which I also know can be very helpful but also hurtful if used incorrectly. The key is awareness as to which category they fall into on a given day. I also still need to find new handholds, which is why it’s going to be so tough for a while. Internet accountability, a good boyfriend, and my own inconsistent willpower are what I have right now, but I’ll keep scanning my surroundings for more.

Half-hour catatonic pouty fits aside, I now have 1.5 days clean. I also have some progress on my complete collection of Taylor Swift 1989 cycling-related parodies, as “Clean” is now is a much more fleshed-out commentary on the function of gravel slurry in my life. That’s a bit ironic because “Shake It Off” is totally about muddy cross races (Racers gonna race, mechanics gonna hate, disc brakes are gonna brake, canti’s gonna cake, and my ex-man’s new girlfriend is like, “Oh my god, you mean I have to power wash?”). Cross mud is just more fun than gravel slurry in your teeth, I guess. 

Thankfully, such distractions will help me get through the weeks ahead. Most of all, now I think I will succeed because I have to. After all, I said on the Internet that I would.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Dawn of a New Era

The last weekend of January was no more conducive to training success than the rest of the month had already been. A high of 22 degrees on Saturday and an active snow storm on Sunday kept us from accomplishing much bike-wise for yet another weekend. On Saturday, we attempted to do a short mountain bike ride on some new double track/not-too-technical trails that we’d never tried before. When we got to the first section of unpaved rail-to-trail/double track, we discovered car tire tracks through it. I’ve never been on this trail before, so I’m not sure what it’s actually supposed to be under the snow, but I was surprised and also a little relieved to see car tracks, at least on that day. Unfortunately, we only made it about a quarter of a mile, because with 10 or so inches of accumulated snow, the car tire tracks were still too soft to ride in many places. It was a situation in which I don’t even think fat bikes would have been much use.

Earlier in the month, I talked about the freedom that comes with physical incapacity, when you finally give in to being sick or injured and let whatever plans that incapacity was keeping you from fall away with no guilt. I didn’t fully let go, though, since I’d already signed up for the Death March and had invested in creating a Facebook page for my Death March Memes hobby. I thought I’d made peace with not being competitive, and I had too much investment to feel like I could drop out. As January has dragged on with conditions continuing to not turn in my favor, I longed to be rid of the burden of Death March expectations, regardless of how few I tried to have. So Friday night Frank and I had a long talk and decided that I would be better served giving myself permission to not race, and having made that decision made a weekend of battling whether to ride in miserable conditions or stay inside and feel guilty a little easier.

It may seem like right now I’m letting adversity win, but I don’t really care. When I gave in to my physical incapacity, I also vowed to let go of stressing over a future that I can’t control in regard to Frank’s job search and everything else that depends on it. Now it’s time to also let go of the past. Last week I said that needed to find a new anchor and new handholds in my life, so maybe unhitching from an old anchor will free me up to do that faster. Going back to Indiana to try and relive past glory is just going to make me feel bad every day that I’m not on track until it’s over. Also, if my state after returning from Sarah and Josh’s wedding and from SSCXWC are any indication, I’ll probably be saving myself some post-trip depression resulting from feeling like I don’t belong anymore, be those feelings rational or not.

Now I am free stop comparing myself to two-years-ago-me and figure out what the new awesome me will look like. Right now I don’t know what my new anchor will be, although I am looking forward to the first Mid-Atlantic Super Series cross-country race on April 26. Cross-country is another thing that I just had to walk away from at one point, but now I’m feeling like a fresh start in a new series might be cool. It also means that I don’t need to beat myself up trying to do long rides in miserable conditions just yet. For now my goal is just to complete all of my weight training sessions and ride my bike on all of the days that I’m scheduled to ride my bike (Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday) without too much stress about quantity or quality, at least until Daylight Savings Time comes back. At that point I should have a decent base back with seven weeks to start pushing before my first race. It seems like a much more doable plan.

Imagine this sitting in a pile of snow with more pink.

It’s mostly coincidence that I finally got together enough money for a new cross bike at the time that I decide to give myself a fresh start, but it’s still a nice marker. I partly wanted to wait until my new Giant TCX Advanced Pro 1 arrived before posting, but it’s already a day or two late, so I’ll just go ahead with a stock photo rather than delay. Hopefully on Wednesday I’ll be taking my first unburdened pedal strokes on a gorgeous new carbon fiber creature untouched by Hoosier National Forest gravel slurry. Much like the past accomplishments and failures in which she played a central role, my 2011 TCX w will be held onto and cherished, but moved to a more peripheral part of my life (maybe as a singlespeed). I hope this pretty new blue boy serves me as well as she did, but his story will be his own, and I’m sure it will be a good one.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Needing a Fix

Last weekend’s training wasn’t worth blogging about. On Friday night I started to develop the same sort of sore throat and headache that signaled the beginning of my Christmas break hell sickness. However, instead of turning to hell sickness on day three like it did earlier in the month, I am now on day six of an annoying sore throat with which I don’t know where the relationship is going. We went out for a 20 mile road ride on Saturday, but since then I have been exceptionally lazy, unsure of whether I should avoid further taxing of my body or just move on with my life.

I’ve been having a hard time since getting sick at the beginning of January, and the specter of another illness looming has done nothing to help me get on the right track. When we returned from our holiday travels, I was so motivated to jump into my planned training and prepare for my return to Death March glory (and by glory I mean hoping for another second place and maybe finishing less than an hour behind Scott and Janelle). Then two weeks on the couch sucked away any fitness that I already had and most of my motivation to train along with it. Somewhere in the last few years, riding for more than an hour on the road when it’s below 30 degrees became unacceptable to me, although the recent weather is proving that to be a necessity if one wants to both live in Central Pennsylvania and not suck at Death March. Finally, I faced the challenges of rushing to prepare for my project launch during the first couple of weeks back at work, during which I reached the point of thinking, “This is too hard; I can’t do it,” and fighting the urge to put my head down on my desk and cry at some point of each day during those two weeks. The upshot of this is that this January has left me physically and emotionally drained, and that I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to determine what I need to do about that.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve struggled with a binge eating disorder since my freshman year of college. I first brought it up because for about a year and a half when I was in the midst of all my other major life overhauls, I thought I was cured. It’s a bit ironic that for the year that I lived alone and could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted with no one from whom to hide the wrappers, I was more-or-less binge-free. For several reasons, I’ve been slipping into my old patterns since moving to State College, where my ability to act on those urges is pretty limited. While I love that I can be honest with Frank about my emotional imperfections and have never once felt put down or judged by him for it, I’m not going to sit there and let him watch me eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and most of a box of Cheez-Its when I get home from work. One would think that never really being home alone to binge and having another person motivating me to prepare healthy home cooked food each night would keep the bingeing at bay, but like a true addict, it seems that not having the choice as to whether or not I act on my urges only makes them worse. This often leads to my sneaking unsatisfying quantities of whatever shitty junk food I can get my hands on at work, especially around the time that the “This is too hard; I can’t do it” feeling hits.

Having done all of the work on myself that I have in the last couple of years has at least made me self-aware, even if I’m nowhere close to cured. I’ve talked about my “hole” before: the deep feeling of something missing in me or just basically not being okay. During bleak times like the last month its nature becomes much more apparent: I constantly need a fix, a hit of dopamine or adrenaline, something to strive for and the belief that the effort required is worth it. And when the challenges pile up and the effort stops seeming worth it, I turn to food for my hit of dopamine.

When it manifests like this, I wonder what the “perpetual feeling of emptiness” that psychologists talk about really is. Do I truly have an emotional void that needs to be healed, or do I just have screwed up neurological wiring that I need to be aware of and manage? Also, do healthy people really just have quiet brains that don’t lead them to do self-destructive things in times where a reliable stream of positive reinforcement isn’t available? Sometimes I wish that I could take a tour inside an emotionally healthy brain just to understand what it feels like, the way this blog is my feeble attempt to give others a tour of what it’s like to live in mine and those of people like me.

 When I look back at myself two years ago when I felt my most emotionally healthy, the differences are quite clear. The emptiness wasn’t any less than it is now; I was just in the midst of building myself a really awesome toolbox for combatting it. As a girl with well-manicured nails and terrible upper body strength, rock climbing not something with which I am very familiar, but I feel that I my vague understanding of it makes a good metaphor for the journey that I took in 2013.

With life events converging in a way to actually motivate me to climb out of the hole that I had come to accept would be the rest of my life, I tied my rope to the Death March. That was the line giving me gentle tugs on my journey and making sure that I didn’t crash back down to the bottom. However, I still had pull myself out one hand and foothold at a time, so that winter every time the feeling of being too tired hit, I scoured my surroundings for my next step up and resisted the urge to slip further down by bingeing. Each new step or pull was exhausting and scary: reaching out to casual acquaintances to be riding partners, sharing my painful secrets with others and by doing so taking away the power of those secrets, putting myself on the line to form new relationships that carried me to the top. Eventually, I got kind of good at finding a “fix” that didn’t include food when I needed one.

The work I did during that time lead me to a life that’s much more nurturing at its baseline: I’m in a loving relationship that makes me feel good about myself instead of inferior or flawed (I get enough of that from my own brain so I don’t need from the person with whom I share a home), and my job is the most fulfilling that I’ve ever had, even if the last month has been tough (a job is still a job). The problem is that in moving here I lost many of my foot and handholds, and also seemed to have lost much of my ability to find new ones. I can’t say enough times what a wonderful partner Frank is, but to completely rely on a single person to fulfill your emotional needs is unhealthy and likely destructive to the other person. Plus, I miss being able to go on rides and talk about chick stuff. The problem is that two years ago I converted acquaintances to friends, which, to someone with my level of social anxiety, was enough of a challenge in and of itself. Now I’m starting over with nine months’ worth of acquaintances rather than nine years’ worth from which to choose the good ones who might become real friends.

So those are the things with which I’ve been struggling lately: I’ve fallen back in the hole, albeit a better-lit, shallower one than before, and I can’t seem to find the right anchor for my rope, nor the handholds by which to pull myself up. Then there is the bigger question: Is the answer even to find a way out of the hole or to sit in it long enough to make peace? Can it be fixed, or will the rest of my life be about devising plans to get out and make sure that I don’t fall back in?

I don’t know the answers yet, but per usual, it helps me to write them down, and perhaps it will also help someone else who is reading and struggling with the same questions. I’ll let you know what I come up with.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Transition Week

Last week I finally emerged back into the world of the living, although I admit it was a bit of a tough transition. After 3.5 weeks off from work between planned vacation and then being sick, I came back to an unfinished major project and a very compressed timeline. It was already a bit behind before break due to the development work taking longer than expected, but I thought that the two weeks that I had after break would be enough to make up the time on my part of the project. Cut that down to one week due to my being sick, and what I’ll be bringing to the users this afternoon is not as bulletproof as I had hoped, but still pretty good, I think. The main thing lacking is that I didn’t have enough quality assurance time to provide irrefutable proof of its bulletproofness, which is an extra bit of confidence that I would have liked to have had.

Anyway, I only touch on the boring details of worky stuff to provide context for what was going on as I tried to pull myself from the freedom of physical incapacity to the realm of, “Okay, you’re not *actually* sick anymore, and Death March is eight weeks away, so you need to get moving.” The problem, it seemed, was that the “kill it with fire” round of antibiotics that the doctor had prescribed on my third visit had also killed the fire in my belly that was burning hot when I returned from our holiday travels. I was suffering the effects of giving into physical incapacity lingered beyond my actual incapacitation. Admittedly, I was still very tired, very stressed, and still had a injured rib muscle, but I also realized that there is a time when one’s lack of energy is more from inertia than from actually being sick.

I made it to the gym for a short, light weight training session on Monday, but getting through the rest of the week proved to be enough of a challenge on its own. So it wasn’t until the weekend that I decided I absolutely must start physically moving forward again, in one capacity or another. My much-belated first bike ride of 2015 was unimpressive, but it served its purpose of getting me moving again. Since the temperature was predicted to max out in the high 20’s on Saturday, but the amount of accumulated snow wasn’t too bad, we rode our singlespeeds out to the little 2.5 mile, in-town mountain bike trail and did a couple of laps there. Riding a rigid singlespeed on winter-condition trails (combo of snow, leaf piles, and frozen ruts), even flat ones, might not be the best choice when you’re already feeling weak and out of shape, but it was a good way to get us out the door in such cold temperatures.

 I had wanted to get back to endurance riding on Sunday, but after my experience on Saturday, I conceded that “endurance” was going to have to be really relative for a little while. I decided that 20-25 was probably as far as I should push it my first time back on the road. The first five miles felt absolutely terrible, with me slumped over my bars mentally repeating, “Pedal, pedal, pedal.” After that, I guess I warmed up a bit and was able to comfortably spin through the rest of the ride at a decent pace without pushing too hard. My sit bones were about done at the end of 21 miles, so I guess the conservative approach was best. It’s just annoying to be so far off from where I wanted to be at this point of the year.

So the next few weeks I’ll just keep trying to rebuild what I can before Death March. I’m admittedly less stoked than I was a few weeks ago, knowing that our chances of actually being competitive have rapidly gone downhill. I guess eight weeks is still enough time to see some improvements, and if nothing else, it will be a good investment in my return to mountain bike racing later in the spring.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Letting Go

His hands are in my hair
His clothes are in my room
And his voice is a familiar sound
Nothing lasts forever
But this is getting good now

It would be an understatement to say that my carefully laid out Death March training plan that I outlined in my last post isn't exactly working out as I had hoped. Since then, we went on an epic holiday trip that included driving from PA to OK to IL and back in ten days. I managed to get in a few good gravel rides over the course of the trip, and I even set out for a 52-mile "rip the Bandaid off" ride the day after we returned. It was honestly pretty awful, as Frank was sick and I have not done a solo pavement ride that long in probably four years. I wanted to get out and get it over with, though, knowing that each successive ride would be less awful and more productive. Or so I thought.

The next day I succumbed to Frank's bug, which had been an unwelcome Christmas present from my mother, but it seemed to hit me faster and harder than it had either of them. After nearly two weeks and three trips to the doctor, I can't say exactly what it was, but the most likely candidate was just a sinus infection that somehow triggered some latent asthma. All I know is that I spent a week unable to sleep in the bed at night without feeling like I was choking and going into violent coughing attacks. It took an inhaler, a round of prednisone, and eventually some antibiotics to finally beat the inflammation in my lungs back into submission. At this point the sickness is more or less gone; I'm just working on recovering from the weak/tired feeling, getting my voice back, and healing the pulled rib muscle that I injured during a particularly bad fit of coughing.

Doctor Visit #1: The Nebulizer
The interesting part was that as the illness dragged on I realized a) I wouldn't be able to ride in the 50 degree temperatures last Sunday b) I wouldn't be making it in work all week, despite needing to prepare for a huge project coming up c) I definitely would not be riding this weekend, either. Through each battle lost I remembered the freedom that comes from physical incapacity. It wasn't as strong as when I had my pancreas surgery a few years ago, but I definitely got to the point where I had to say, "Fine. Whatever happens, happens" in regard to work and Death March preparation. At some point I had to admit that it was beyond my control and there was no point in beating myself up for the setbacks.

This year's Death March campaign was already my way of grabbing at the last straws of perceived control in my life. Now even that is out of my hands, and I feel oddly free. You see, most of the fall was spent worrying about Frank's job search for next year. He applied all kinds of places, and each time I would research the local cyclocross scene, mountain bike trails, etc., so that I could somehow make myself okay with moving there, if needed. He applied to jobs at James Madison University and Appalachian State, so there was a chance that things could actually just fall into place at an okay school in a great mountain biking town, and we would move there and live happily ever after. I never let myself get too attached to that idea, though. I spent my time trying to figure out how I was going to adjust to less-ideal conditions. Then it turned out that he didn't even get a phone interview for any of the jobs, and I was just left with my jaw hanging, as that was the one possibility for which I hadn't prepared.

In some ways, I'm quite happy to stay in State College for another year, but I'm disappointed for him not being able to achieve his goals as quickly as he'd hoped. I'm also anxious because I just want to be on the other side of the uncertainty. I'm more okay with settling down in a place not as good as State College if it's permanent. As it now, I don't want to get too attached. A big part of me just wants to go wherever it is we're going to go and settle down, make friends, buy a house, get married, adopt a dog, and all of that. I want to be done. Then I realize, what are we going to do when we're done?

That is why it is easy to focus on bike racing goals; because they are impermanent in their nature. You put in a few week or months of work, and then what you want happens or it doesn't. Then you move on to the next goal. It was never meant to last. And if, say, a two-week illness messes one up, there's always another.

So I guess my recent imprisonment on the couch has been a good reminder that even when I think I'm in control, I'm not. With both bikes and life, I just need to do the best I can for now and enjoy it while it lasts. Our life here is State College is pretty good, even if it's not what we want in the end. Since I now admittedly have no idea what's going to happen at this point, I guess that also means that "the end" may end up to be some place more awesome than I had could have imagined and totally worth the wait. Either way, it seems that trying to predict the future is not very fruitful, so I'm going to my best to stop trying.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Drafting and Fatties

This weekend Frank and I got a bit further into winter training mode. Despite the fact that we will soon be out of town for about ten days on an epic holiday journey in which the amount of riding we will get done is questionable, I still jumped right into Death March training mode after our last ‘cross race in mid-November to try to get a head start on January’s work.

Yes, my location may have changed, but my winter motivation has not. I know the Hoosier National Forest roads well enough at this point that I feel pretty confident in our ability to show up and Death March just fine, as long as our fitness is good. At the very least, we need to beat the other co-ed team from Pennsylvania, who blew past us a couple of times last year only to finish a place behind because we knew our route better. That, of course, is what I love about Death March, but every year more teams seem to figure out the solid “standard” route, and speed becomes a bit more of a factor than course knowledge. So already knowing our route for race day, our challenge for the winter is to be prepared to actually race bikes on March 14 if necessary.

 The last couple of years have been interesting for me, because rather than following a coach-prescribed workout plan that should theoretically prepare me for the type of event for which I’m training, most of my training has been focused on improving on the actual course of my goal event. I’ve been lucky in that sense, but 2015 is going to be a different beast. I won’t see the H.N.F until Death March day, and I’ve actually been giving a lot of thought towards *gasp* racing mountain bikes outside of Rothrock next spring and summer. Like, I’m strongly considering getting back together with cross country racing (no accompanying Taylor Swift parody yet, though). So in 2015 I will need to figure out the best way to prepare for my goal races without training on the actual course.

Death March prep will be especially interesting, because not only will I not be able to ride the course, I likely won’t even see that much gravel before March. So far I’ve managed to get in one long gravel ride on November 23, but since then mid-week snow has managed to leave the gravel roads an icy mess every weekend. For some reason they just don’t melt off here as well as they did in Indiana, so I’m trying to make peace with the fact that the gravel could very easily not be rideable for all of January and February.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a plan that I hope will train all of the key elements of Death March success without actual course recon. Probably my biggest weakness on a bike is maintaining speed through long flat-to-rolling road sections. A time-trialist I am not. Unfortunately, despite the back country adventure vibe of the Death March, a successful route will still include a large percentage of pavement, and going for additional time bonuses beyond the standard will not only mean more pavement, but that you will need to roll it very fast to make it worth your time.

The first pillar of the plan is to conquer my fear and loathing of the biggest missing piece in my Death March toolbox: drafting. Apparently a 6’2” ~165 pound male riding partner is good for more than just eye candy and moral support; if used correctly he can supposedly make you go faster. Being the control freak that I am, I’ve never been into letting someone else be in charge of the pace or block my line of sight, but this year I’m really going to try and get over that.

This means that one component of our 2015 training will be using the 15 mile out-and-back of gently rolling pavement just beyond the edge of town to practice drafting and maintaining the strongest tempo possible. Our Saturday workout was our first attempt at this, and I can’t say that it went particularly well. We had a strong headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back, and the way back was a little better, at least. We just need to work out our communication and getting more in sync, and then hopefully we’ll be able to rip all of the flat and rolling pavement sections in March.

The second pillar of the plan is climbing, especially climbing when I’m tired. What my winter may lack in gravel, it will certainly make up for in elevation gain. So my intent is that every Saturday from Christmas until Death March we will work on our drafting/tempo pace for the 15-mile out-and-back, and then head back out of town in the more climby direction to do my favorite climbing workout. Admittedly, this is going to be a killer, as it will include nearly as much elevation gain as the Death March in half the distance, but it will definitely hit all the necessary skills. So far we’ve only managed to do the drafting and the climbing separately, because the mountain seems a lot harder on knobby tires and strewn with sand, but after the holidays it will be time suck it up and start combining them into one workout.

Finally, the third pillar will be endurance, which I normally gain just by riding the course. As it is, we’re just going to have to shoot for as many 4+ hour Sunday rides as we can get, and I’m going to get over my distaste for pavement and let my resistance come from climbing instead of gravel. I’ll still probably be a little out of practice on climbing very loose, steep stuff by spring, but if I successfully carry out the plan, I’ll be much stronger in all of the major fitness elements than I ever have been.

Since January isn’t here quite yet, and a local bike shop was hosting a fat bike ride with free demo bikes, we opted out of a 4-hour paved sufferfest for one weekend. We still got a couple of hours of pretty hard riding in, as climbing on fat bikes is undeniably difficult, and my out-of-shape descending muscles got a workout as I let the fatty rip on the downhills. It was fun, but I’m still definitely more focused on saving up for a new carbon fiber cross bike than I am a fat bike. Frank, however, is becoming a bit more infatuated, so there may be groomed XC ski trails in my future in lieu of icy gravel.

Thanks to Freeze Thaw Cycles for hosting the event, and for this picture which shows Frank and me in the background riding in my preferred configuration: side-by-side and chatting in the most non-aero way possible.

Monday, December 8, 2014

It Could Have Been Easy

Here you are now 
Calling me up 
But I don't know what to say 
I've been picking up the pieces of the mess you made 
People like you always want back the love they pushed aside 
But people like me are gone forever 
When you say goodbye 

 Hey, all you had to do was stay 
Had me in the palm of your hand 
Man, why'd you have to go and lock me out when I let you in 
Stay, hey, now you say you want it back, 
Now that it's just too late 
Well it could've been easy, all you had to do was stay 

Last Friday I was engaging in my preferred Friday task of non-mentally-taxing data clean-up work. It’s a nice way to close out the week on a relaxed note while still actually accomplishing something. While doing this, I was using my remaining free brain space to listen to Taylor Swift's 1989 album and mentally rewrite the entire thing into cycling-themed parodies. I was inspired by the “Taylor Swift’s 1989 Playlist Workout” that I’d seen the day before, and I felt that I could really do it one better.

 “All You Had to Do Was Stay” wasn’t a song that had got much of my attention in my previous listens, as it was just another play on the “dude begging to get back together” theme that is already in too many of her songs, and that I can only assume is based on common fantasy more than real-life experience. I just don’t think that dudes really beg to come back that much, but it is fun to imagine to telling them to eff off if they do. Anyway, with the cycling-parody challenge, the song suddenly became more appealing. Since I’ve been desperately trying to get back together with my early-2013 fitness level lately, the song became an ironic taunt to myself that inspired me through the weekend’s training.

 During my blogging break, I wrapped up my cyclocross season and started to get an early jump on winter Death March training. I’ve also had a lot of time to reflect on what I’ve gained and what I’ve lost in the last two years. I’ve gained wonderful life partner, mountains five miles from my back door, and a job where I’m learning tons about the right way to so many things procedurally and interpersonally. I feel like I’m finally living up to my intellectual potential (while still having busy work when I want it, because I do like it sometimes). I’ve also gained 13 pounds, lost the best fitness that I’d ever had, and lost touch with people who I had just begun to get close to when I left Bloomington. I’ve gotten to the point of accepting that success is not a linear progression, and it’s okay that I wasn’t able to fix *everything* in two years’ time. I might not even have it all fixed in another two years, but it’s also time to congratulate myself on my wins and start recouping my losses.

Now when I look at the flab on my stomach and thighs, or struggle through a 45-mile ride, I tell myself, “It could have been easy; all you had to do was stay,” and it makes the work ahead of me seem not as bad. I could have saved myself the trouble of rebuilding my fitness from the bottom and maybe could have been capping off a spectacular ‘cross season back in OVCX-land right now. I would be getting to spend time with my friends, which admittedly would have been nice. I wouldn’t know true love, though, and my nights would be spent riding my bike and eating dinner alone, with just the hope of weekend socialization. The fitness part would have been easy, but the rest wouldn’t have been.

So the challenge I face now is still easier than it would have been to live out the rest of my life without Frank. All the rest will come back to me, or it won’t. I’m also reassessing the fact that my life always seems to be about “getting there”, but I think that’s a subject for another day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Blogging Break

It’s been easy to put off writing my report from our SSCXWC/Eva Bandman adventure in Louisville over the weekend, since we were driving home all day Monday, and I was catching up on work on Tuesday. However, even with being busy, I really just haven’t felt like writing about it. I’ve been mulling over what to write since Sunday night, and I even came up with a potentially funny “you’re doing it wrong” angle on how my SSCXWC experience went awry when I got so drunk that it was almost like I was taking the race seriously due to the amount of focus required. I actually had a pretty good race at Eva Bandman, where despite feeling physically awful before the race and expecting myself to tank, I had probably my second-best finish since moving up to the elite women’s wave in OVCX. As you can see, though, I was able to fit all of the relevant facts into one short paragraph, so trying to expand it out into something witty and interesting would basically just be self-indulgence.

I will also indulge myself with one last cell phone grade picture of myself racing in a Ninja Turtle costume.

I mean, 90% of the purpose behind this blog is self-indulgence, but for the past few months I’ve begun to feel that it’s switched to a kind of self-indulgence that isn’t beneficial. Over the course of nearly eight years that I’ve been writing, I have gone through many rough patches where I just didn’t post for a while with the old adage of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” in mind.

 Then a couple of years ago I began the experiment of being more open about the realities of my mind and life and committing to weekly reports on my progress no matter what. For many months it was a great help to me, because it kept me accountable and taught me how to share and ask for help. It was a way for me to have “someone to talk to” at a time when I had no close relationships with actual humans with whom I could share my feelings.

Through the journey of telling the truth on the Internet, I gained the courage to form relationships with actual humans, and it eventually lead to one very special relationship with one very special human being with whom I can have open and honest conversation about anything on a daily basis. I also got to know a lot of other really great people with whom I didn’t get to spend enough time before I ran off to be with my one very special human being in Pennsylvania. I’ve spent a lot of time of the last few months being sad about the relationships that I couldn’t make last and feeling like it was because I wasn’t likeable/memorable/worthwhile enough.

So that is when I started struggling with honesty vs. just plain negativity in my writing. I know that it’s just my crazy brain telling me that nobody cares what is going on with me, anyway, but I’ve realized that blogging and social media are really exacerbating those negative feelings right now. Then it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy of those negative feelings turning me into a whiny, unlikeable person from whom no one wants to hear any updates.

That is why I’ve decided to take a break from my blog for a while, stop dwelling on the past, and put my energy towards building real-life positive relationships to fill in the space around the life that I’m building with my very special human being relationship. Maybe in a few months I’ll feel like challenging myself with crafting funny reports about my racing experiences, or I’ll even figure out how to use my enjoyment of the writing process towards some less self-indulgent topic. For now, though, I will say see you later, and thanks for reading!