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":

*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.