Wednesday, April 18, 2018

(The end of) Winter is Coming

Sure, it snowed on and off most of the day yesterday, but weather aside, the first race of the West Virginia Enduro Series is a mere 11 days away. That means, ready or not, winter is almost over. Although this April has been much more challenging than normal, the snowy days are at least becoming more spread out and less severe. The weather hasn’t really allowed me to settle into a regular weekly training schedule yet, but a careful eye on the forecast and a newfound tolerance for mountain biking in 40-something degree temperatures has allowed me to do some good chunks of riding and use the remaining exceptionally crappy days for recovery.

A few days after my last post, I *finally* got a nice dry and snow-free mountain bike ride in, where I went out absolutely smashed my PR on Bald Knob Death Drop. I’ve had several other PRs since that first one, so finally have proof that I not only didn’t forget how to go fast, but somehow even got a little faster during a few months of little to no real mountain biking. It makes me think that the RipRow might actually be working.

I've been riding bikes lately, but I don't have any pictures to prove it. I did acquire this pretty dirt jumper since my last post, though.

Setting some new PRs was a nice boost of confidence that also motivated me to start “being a good athlete” again, as Frank and I call it. Yes, I’m regretting not spending the winter more effectively preparing my body to withstand the beating of a long, intense enduro season, but now I’m doing what I can achieve a smart buildup of fitness as the season progresses. Despite being faster at downhill segments, my endurance sucks right now and my body hurts more than it should after hard descents. I’m trying balance between descending practice and spending time on my strength and endurance so that I can hopefully keep improving for the whole season.

Now, with the first race so close, my brain is buzzing wondering what this season will bring. I’m feeling confident that I’m “better” this year, but I’m also not sure that will mean in terms of race results. There was still a decent sized gap between me and the most of the regular women’s expert racers at the end of the season, so even if I’ve improved, that could still mean some last places in my immediate future. The first race is at Timberline Resort, which was not on the schedule last year, so I really have no basis for comparison, either in how well I ride the stages or the time gap to the other racers. It’s a little weird not knowing how I will be able to tell if I did well or not at the first race, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I’m just excited to race again!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Drive South

I didn't say we wouldn't hurt anymore
That's how you learn; you just get burned
We don't have to feel like dirt anymore
Though love's not learned, baby it's our turn
We were always looking for true love
With our heads in the clouds
Just a little off course
But I left that motor running
Now if you're feeling down and out

Come on baby drive south
With the one you love
Come on baby drive south

It is now April 3, and I still have not accomplished a snow-free, full-speed downhill run in Rothrock in 2018. Looking at the forecast, I’m not sure when I will. I got a couple of decent 80-90% efforts with just a little patchy snow on Bald Knob Death Drop and New Laurel last week, so I got cocky and ended up skiing down Wildcat. While my clean, if a little slow, attempt at Death Drop on the first try of the year is a huge improvement in some aspects, there is still a nagging fear that I don’t know how to go fast anymore until I’ve actually proven to myself that I can. So far this year I haven’t yet had much of an opportunity to do so.

Shake and Bake

A couple of weeks ago, my need for a downhill fix became so great that Frank and I began plotting a trip to Windrock, since it is the only downhill park that I know of that is open year-round. We drove down to Maryville, TN on Friday and stayed at my old teammates Josh and Sarah’s place. Sadly, Sarah was out of town while we were there, but it was nice seeing Josh for the first time in a few years.

We went to Windrock on Saturday, and it absolutely lived up to its reputation of being incredibly steep. Although they theoretically have a couple of green trails on the map, they start about halfway up the mountain and the shuttle doesn’t stop there. Usually when we visit a new bike park, we just ride through the trails from easiest to hardest until we hit “too hard”, and then go back and redo the ones we liked the best. Although I would have preferred an easy warm-up, we didn’t want to risk wasting our limited riding time pedaling up to the greens only to find out they were boring easy and not fun easy. So we chose a blue from the main drop off point, and while it did turn out to be the easiest trail in the main trail section, “a Windrock blue” will now be my new euphemism for a decently hard enduro stage. For example, I might say “Wildcat is a Windrock blue.” This is a *slight* exaggeration, but not much.

They had three blue options, two that had a lot of steep ledgy stuff and Talladega, the super-fast “race track” run. Despite its NASCAR inspired name, it required railing of corners both left and right, sometimes back to back to back in a serpentine pattern down the steep grade. It also had many tabletop jumps that were a lot larger than anything I’d really seen on a bike park blue trail before. Although I came to Tennessee with a need for speed, Talladega proved to be a little too much for me in that area, and I didn't enjoy it that much. The two others were more “fun hard” and had a lot of sections that still scared me a bit in my current cobwebby state, but also helped me start loosening up and acclimating to steep and rough riding again.

We also got a chance to shuttle to the “Windmill Drop” at the very top of the mountain, which only has one main trail down that splits in a couple of places. We were a little tentative coming down because the people we talked to on the shuttle made it sound harder than it actually was, so we kept riding carefully and expecting something scary to pop up. There were a lot of steep shoots, but nothing that we don’t encounter in Rothrock. It was more just a greater density of steep, rocky stuff for a longer period of time than we were used to. I would have loved to have had another crack at it, but they don’t send many shuttles all the way to the top per day. Finally, we tried the black trail where the Pro GRT downhill course starts, but it was well beyond what we could safely ride blind at our current ability level, so we ended up walking a lot of it. Hopefully, we’ll get another shot sometime when we are less rusty.

On Sunday I woke up feeling like I’d done a hundred pistol squats using my right leg only. In a way, I kind of had. One of the things I’ve really been working on with the RipRow is my balance through my descending range of motion and not putting too much pressure on my rear leg, as well as getting comfortable with either foot forward. I guess I haven’t quite mastered that yet, since I my right leg took the brunt of every steep chute that I did on Saturday.

Frank got tips on the hot lines from a local at Baker Creek Preserve. We failed to get any pictures of either of us actually on a bike the whole time.

Luckily, Sunday’s plans were a little more Type I fun than Saturday’s. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday, and we got to experience a relatively uncrowded Baker Creek Preserve. Part of Knoxville’s “Urban Wilderness”, this park features three downhill-only trails with relatively gentle singletrack climbs back to the top. The trails are all different scales of flow/jump trails. The biggest one is “Devil’s Racetrack”, which apparently had some sizeable gap jumps until recently. They have filled them in and now they are just really big tabletops, so I was able to roll the whole thing safely but I wouldn’t really call it fun since I’m not very good at jumping yet. After we’d done all three, we went back and did the easiest a few more times because that’s where our jumping “fun zone” is at this time. I wish I had access to something like this more often, because I’m sure that with more regular practice I could work up to actually enjoying the big jumps.

Now we’re back in drizzly 40-something degree State College with the remnants of yet another snow storm melting off, which I’m hoping will happen in time to resume regular Wednesday rides tomorrow. I can’t say that this weekend did a lot to prove that I can still go fast, but I can definitely say that I’ve now had way more steeps and jumps practice this year than I’d had until way later in the summer last year. I just have to keep riding what I can in the conditions that I can and hope that fast will come back eventually.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Pushing Through Winter

This winter won't fly, it's like I'm paralyzed by it
I'd like to be my old self again, but I'm still trying to find it
After plaid shirts at Ray’s and nights on the RipRow
Now I’m hike-a-biking up this snowy mountain alone

But I still have Snowshoe dirt in the bottom of my feet
And it reminds me of the good times down in WV
I can't get rid of it, 'cause I remember it all too well

It feels like a very unoriginal thing to say after seeing so many variations on “happy second day of spring” Instagram posts of snowy yards across the entirety of the Eastern time zone a couple of days ago, but this winter has been a tougher one for me than usual. Of course, at this point, it’s technically no longer winter and I think it’s probably tough for everyone save the most hardcore of trainer lovers or those people who like *gasp* winter sports. Since my last post, I’ve played around with dirt (or actually wood) jumping, attended the Ray’s Women’s Weekend, and spent time getting better at the RipRow. I’ve been able to go on a handful of outdoor mountain bike rides, but not a lot, and I was just feeling too busy and/or uninspired to post about any of it. At some point, I kind of gave up on posting about the events of winter, and decided that this week would be my turning point. It felt like as good of one as any, as this past weekend was the Rothrock Ruckus training camp at the Stokesville Lodge near Harrisonburg, VA, and I expected that I’d come back with some stories worth telling.

For the past couple years Rothrock Ruckus has referred both a somewhat informal group State College enduro racers and the Wednesday night rides that they do. This year they are forming into a more official team, and Frank is joining them as a member. When Frank mentioned that they would be having a training camp near Harrisonburg, I wasn’t sure if I was invited, and even so, if I should go. However, when he told me that Gloria (of G.L.O.E. fame) would also be coming along with a couple of non-Ruckus friends, I decided to go. Although I knew that I’d be the slowest person there, I figured that it was something that I needed to do to try and get myself out of my recent funk.

The first day was definitely...something. Despite Harrisonburg’s reputation as the place that you go to get better weather in the winter, we learned on Friday night that there was still a considerable amount of snow on top of the mountains. We sat around the big map-covered dining table, as Ryan, the super-fast guy who was organizing the weekend, showed us the intended route, which had 18 and 34 mile options. While 34 miles at that difficulty level seemed outside of my current fitness level, I set out with the best of intentions of making it to the top of Reddish Knob with everyone else, since Frank and I made a wrong turn and missed the Wolf Ridge descent last time we’d been there. I really wanted to get that descent in, even if it meant a helluva lot of climbing to get there.

When the climbing commenced, I quickly fell off from the group, but I did my best try and not feel bad about that. I was riding as fast as I could without blowing up and getting in some much-needed climbing time, and as the person who’s slowest in most groups, I’m trying to embrace the whole “say thank you, not sorry” thing. At the same time, when nine other people have to stand still in sub-40 degree temperatures for significant amounts of time thanks to me, the urge to say “sorry” is pretty strong.

The front of the group near the top of the hike-a-bike. I was probably still halfway down crying at this point.
Photo: @bontrager1

Up until we hit the first singletrack, I would say that the ride was uncomfortable, but still fine. According to the map, we were supposed to climb a ~2 mile trail and pop out on a road to climb a few more miles up to Reddish Knob. What transpired was over two hours of pushing my enduro bike up an average 14% grade of snow-covered rocks in slightly too big winter cycling shoes that just weren’t meant for that much walking. To make matters worse, something went wrong with my shifting such that I couldn’t use my three easiest gears, so even on the rare snow-free section I couldn’t get back on and pedal. It was perhaps the longest bike-related two hours of my life, as I would think I was nearing the top, only to come around a curve and find a new tier of the climb. Finally, Frank came back sans bike and helped me push the rest of the way. He had sent the others on without me, and most had already opted to stick to the 18-mile option.


As we reached the “road”, we found that the four brave souls who had attempted the final ascent to Reddish Knob had turned back and were planning on going back down. The “road” was at best double track, but it was hard to tell what it was supposed to be under the 4-6 inches of snow at the top of the mountain. Any hopes of an easy cruise down were dashed as we began foot-out skidding down the snowy trail-road. Even as we began to get to lower elevations and some clear patches of trail, it still was not easy going. The “downhill” still had plenty of short, steep uphill sections that often resulted in more hiking, due to my limited gears and trashed legs.

Frank and I had quickly become separated from the fast group, and made way our back to the lodge alone. We ended up taking a wrong turn which resulted in even more climbing and a longer overall distance than the rest of the group. At least after many teasing ups and downs, we finally hit a good sustained descent at the end, and finally got to experience a full-blast open descent for the first time in months. That part was so nice that it *almost* made the previous six hours of suffering worth it.

The second day was not so exciting for Frank and me, because we went to the Massanutten Western Slope area, but my legs were pretty much garbage from the start. He stayed back with me, and we just sort of puttered around while the rest of the group went on a bigger ride.

In the end, it was a worthwhile trip, even if I didn’t get in all of the descending practice that I’d hoped I would. I got a few tastes of going fast again, and it was beautiful. I’m proud of myself for at least trying to do the same difficult route as the faster people, unlike my old Speedway Wheelmen training camp days when I would automatically plan an easier route for myself from the beginning.

Unfortunately, as we wait for Wednesday’s new dump of snow to melt, my escape from my winter funk has been delayed a bit further. It’s disappointing, but in a way it will make me more appreciative when it finally goes away. I’m so past caring about not being in shape anymore or even being ready for early season races. I just want to be able to ride my bike downhill fast on a regular basis again. In a way, that’s pretty cool, because preparing for bike races was never really fun in any of my past disciplines. Now once the snow melts, I'll gave a big “fork you” to winter and just do stuff I enjoy knowing that it will make me as fit as I need to be by the time I need to be. It’s still six months until have to climb that silly access road in Burke, right?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Three In One

After my last post, I still didn’t quite get off to a great start with winter training, as I came down with some weird flu thing that took me out for a few days almost immediately after posting. However, I’m feeling much better now, my RipRow finally arrived on Friday, and I got to go on an awesome, sorta brutal-for-January, 5+ hour ride with new friends on new trails yesterday. So I’m very tired and very sore, but now I’m feeling like I’m on track for a great year, even if I started a month late.

I’ve been mulling over a few things that I’ve read in the past couple of months, and I’d like to share them now. This will essentially be three different short posts that are vaguely related, but I thought I’d put them all out at once.

A post shared by Lindsay Hall-Stec (@slowpoke2320) on



Saturday's Ride

***

“The feeling wasn’t always shiny and happy – sometimes it was dark and obsessive, and sometimes it was like the quiet, abiding love you see in old married couples.” – Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code

I saved this quote back in November, when I was writing about my theory of “Talent divided by Forks Given equals Happiness”. I covered the Talent and the Forks, but I never quite got to the happiness. I’m not really sure how much there is to say beyond the quote above. The Happiness in my equation is the first part of the quote, the shiny, new happiness that comes with beginners luck or exceeding your own expectations without really trying that hard. It’s the easy happiness that’s sometimes easy to be jealous of when you’ve given too many forks.

I’ve realized that there’s also a different kind of happiness that comes from giving the forks year after year until it’s just part of you, and don’t know what you’d be without it. And your realize that all of the forks you gave do pay off, because you’re better than you were ten years ago, and even one year ago, and you do things now that you never imagined you could. For the last couple of years, I’ve really been trying consciously be more proud of how far I’ve come in cycling and the success that I have had, regardless of how it stacks up to more “talented” people.

It’s not always easy, because part of being in a competitive sport is wanting to observe the best people so that you understand what “good” actually is. I guess the key is to be able to ask, “What can I do to be more like them?” without letting it turn into, “Oh god, I’ll never be like them, so I might as well give up.”

***

“Grit is that mix of passion, perseverance, and self-discipline that keeps us moving forward in spite of obstacles. It's not flashy, and that's precisely the point. In a world in which we're frequently distracted by sparkly displays of skill, grit makes the difference in the long run.” – Daniel Coyle, The Little Book of Talent

After reading The Talent Code in November, I decided to read the follow-up, “The Little Book of Talent”. It was full of great tips for skill development that I was eager to implement. However, the one on cultivating grit really made me think. It suggested taking the Grit Survey, located here, and the questions it held surprised me.

Although my years of persistence in cycling would indicate that I do possess some amount of grit, I also know that I sometimes absolutely suck at not giving up in the face of obstacles (see basically the whole last month). The thing that really surprised me was how many of the questions on the survey had to do with changing interests and goals. While not a lot of people can say that they have competed in mountain biking in some shape or form for twelve summers in a row, I have definitely bounced around with the type of event and goals that have interested me.

I actually realized the other day that I needed to update the bio on this blog, as my cat situation had changed, then realized that my current phase as an amateur bike racer had changed, as well. The rocks of Rothrock are less of a concern for me these days, although I don’t know if I ever actually befriended them. Now the ones that concern my most are the ones on Wildcat and Old Laurel, and my greatest desire is to smoothly fly over them without really seeing them. I’m not sure if my changing interests in regard to the many sub-disciplines of cycling means I have less grit, but I think it has made me “happier”, because part of my progress has been narrowing the focus of where both my enjoyment and proficiency lies.

***
Stop Saying “______ is dead.”

Finally, when I read the post above a few weeks ago, it really tied all of this together. I actually don’t know if I’ve ever said that any cycling discipline is dead, despite having lost interest in many. Maybe I already got the point of the article, which was that just because something was no longer my thing, that didn’t mean that it suddenly sucked for everyone else. I think I have said that peak cyclocross has passed, because I read and believed an article last year that said that, but it’s definitely not dead. It’s funny, because I can actually look back and remember “peak ____” for many of disciplines in which I’ve dabbled. They’re all still alive and have reach their appropriate equilibrium.

I think that road, XC, and downhill mountain bike racing all had their heydays prior to the purchase of my first bike. XC will always be there, because for many parts of the country, it’s the only mountain bike racing that exists, and it’s certainly the easiest in which to start. Downhill seems to be regaining popularity due to Redbull TV, but participation will always be limited to those who have regular access to lift-assisted bike parks.

I remember peak 24-hour race and peak stage race in the earlier days of my mountain biking career, but of which plenty of people still do, but being such large investments of time, money, and training, the limited number of regular participants couldn’t sustain the large number events of those types that popped up for a couple of years.

Peak fat bike was a fun time a couple of years ago, but the sport had the unfortunate luck of reaching the top of its popularity during a particularly warm winter. Specialized may have pulled the Hellga from it’s line, but fat biking will continue to be a staple in places where people can count on consistent, groomed snow. For me, it’s still a great way to ride very slowly with bar mitts when it’s especially cold out.

Peak gravel is interesting, because although the American Ultracross Series actually died a couple of years ago, the fact that Dirty Kanza just implemented a lottery system this year means that the number of people wanting to race gravel is still growing. Perhaps “ultracross” wasn’t the best branding, and most of the races of the series still exist. They are still filled by regionally competitors who just aren’t into it enough to travel all over the country for a series title, and at 50-70 miles, they are a great gateway for people wanting to work their way up to bigger challenges like Dirty Kanza.
Now I find myself riding the wave to peak enduro. When will it happen? Will I stick around when it stops being cool? I have no idea, but don’t worry, I’ll never try to tell anyone it’s dead.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shall We Begin?

I had thought I would conclude my “T/F=H” series with a post of the happiness part of the equation, but I wasn’t really sure what to say. Instead, I will likely do a post on some of the interesting things I learned from reading “The Little Book of Talent”, which was the follow-up to the “The Talent Code”. One interesting subject that it brought up was grit, which I would like to explore. Perhaps I can even find a connection between grit and happiness. However, before I move on to those topics, I feel like I need to catch up a bit on recent events, where I’ll admit that I fell short on both.


As much as winter sucks for cyclists, I typically come into January with great hope for the coming year and feeling especially motivated to withstand the suckiness of winter. During November and December, I expected that to be true this year, as well, and looked forward to the conclusion of holiday travel and the beginning of 2018. We moved into our house in December, and I was excited to have a finished basement that I actually liked working out in, instead of having my bike and trainer taking up space in our small living room.

After months of scheming, dreaming, and saving money, I was able to pre-order a RipRow at the beginning of November, and at the time, the expected delivery date was “before Christmas”. Although that already felt like a long wait, at least I would be ready to hit the ground running (or rowing) in January and start getting ready for spring. Then the “before Christmas” delivery date slipped to “early January” to “next week” and another “next week” before any of the units would ship. Now I’m still waiting for them to assemble and box number 49, plus however long it actually takes to get here from Colorado. That puts me a good month past “before Christmas” before I get to use it.

I was so excited about this piece of equipment, and it was huge motivator for me going into winter. We don’t have access to any pump tracks near State College, nor any jumps or drops, so beyond just physical conditioning, I hoped that it would also improve my riding skills. I was hoping it would be a way for to me to accumulate the necessary “reaches and reps” (shout out to The Little Book of Talent”) in a safe and efficient manner so that I could get more out of my once or twice a month days at the bike park. I was also looking forward to the “300 pound dead lift” highest resistance setting with the hope that I could quit the gym and start getting my strength training at home in my nice basement.

It might sound stupid, but the continued shipping delays have turned my motivator into a de-motivator. After the way I had imagined my January training, going to regular old loud and overcrowded gym and doing regular old trainer workouts seem even more unpleasant than they normally would.  Although intellectually I know I need to keep doing the work that I can do, I find it much harder to do regular winter training this year, and so far this is probably my worst January since I started 2015 off with a two-week respiratory infection and tore a rib muscle from coughing too hard.


Besides the direct training motivators and de-motivators, I was also really thrown off by the very sudden loss of 14-year-old cat Mushu on January 8th. Although I knew she was getting older and that I would have to say goodbye to her someday, I had no idea it would be this soon. She seemed so happy since moving to the new house, where she had a lot more room to run around and go up and down stairs, which was always one of her favorite things. She was more active than she had been in a long time, such that I almost wonder if she died of too much fun. Technically, it was a blood clot that cut off circulation to her backs legs, taking her from seemingly fine and normal to unable to walk in under a half an hour. We rushed her to the vet, but the vet said that the “prognosis was extremely grave” and recommended we have to put to sleep. It was truly awful having to say to goodbye to my beloved friend so suddenly on what I had started as a normal Monday morning. I always knew she was a once-in-lifetime kind of cat, and that I was so lucky to have had her as my first pet.

I know that I’ll never find another quite like her, but after years of waiting to own our own home and have as many pets we wanted, we had already started to looking to expand our family. We had planned to get a dog, but it felt like too much to put on Clemmie and Mushu so soon after moving houses. However, I already had gotten pretty used to scrolling through the Petfinder app, and when Mu passed, it just felt too weird being a single-cat household. Within a couple of days, I had located a pair of four-month-old long-haired littermates in Zanesville, OH, which Frank graciously went to pick up on his day off from teaching Friday. Ice and snow fell Friday night and the temperatures barely cracked 20 all weekend, so we closed out our week spending a couple of days shut in with some adorable orange and white babies. I’m looking forward to another 14 (or more) years with Shiny Fluffy Tutu (girl) and and Dashing Happy Feet (boy), whose names were given to them by their 5-year-old foster sister and we decided to not to change when we adopted them. Clemmie is still pretty cranky about the whole situation, but she is starting to adjust.

How can anyone be expected to accomplish anything with these cute faces on their couch?

So we’re now nearly three weeks into the new year, and I haven’t accomplished much training-wise. I’m still nervous and frustrated and burnt out and grieving and also a little paralyzed by cute. I’m trying really hard to get going and make it a great year for bikes. I’m really excited about returning to the West Virginia Enduro Series again this year, as well as pushing my boundaries a bit further by doing a couple of big two-day races at the USAC national championship in Snowshoe and the newly-announced EWS Continental Series race in Burke, VT in September. It’s time I stopped getting bogged down by things beyond my control and got moving with the things that I can. I said I wouldn’t bore you this year with posts about how many planned trainer workouts that I actually did this winter, but it might be good for me check back in next week. Between now and then, I hope to not only find some intelligent things to say about grit, but also muster some of it.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Gift of Forks

I used to set out on my various endeavors with so many expectations — and what was, essentially, an entitlement to have those expectations fulfilled. It’s such an embarrassingly egotistical thing to admit, to be honest. But it’s in the last few months that instead of saying “this is what’s going to happen (and there will be hell to pay if it doesn’t)”, I’ve begun thinking “whatever will be, will be”. I’ve just done more work and less demanding; while it doesn’t mean I expect less from myself or that I’ve lowered my standards, I do think that saying “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” has been far healthier for me. – Amanda Batty

Surprisingly enough, I don’t have any of Syd Shulz’ wisdom to pass onto you today. This post’s inspiration came from a much more unlikely source. Amongst Internet-famous female cycling personalities, Amanda Batty isn’t one with whom I’ve strongly identified in the past. Not long before stumbling upon the snippet above, I had been telling Frank how her excessively-long Instagram captions annoyed me. It’s a lot to take in when you’re just trying to scroll through pretty pictures of bikes and cats, and I had really only read her “real” writing when something sexist happened in the bike universe. Wait, when something *really* sexist happened in the bike universe, because otherwise that would mean every day. Maybe I just didn’t want my already-complicated feelings about the Liv cycling brand dictated to me, or to have my already-overblown tendency to rant about stuff exacerbated, so I never paid a lot of attention to what she said and wrote. However, I did happen to read at least halfway through one really long Instagram caption a couple of weeks ago and mined the gem above.


This happened around the time that I wrote about my theory of talent over forks and began asking myself questions about its implications. I thought this view on expectations and entitlement was a good explanation of what is sometimes going on when the forks get too high in athletic endeavors. Each fork you give is a small payment toward an expected result, which is unsurprising, considering that most American children are raised with the belief that such a deal can be easily struck.



Maybe I’m generalizing too much about most American children, but I know that for me, a big part of maturing as a human being has been coming to terms with the fact that life isn’t the clear “You do X, and you get Y” deal that I once believed it to be. I have come into jobs, relationships, and athletic endeavors with inaccurate ideas of what is valuable in that situation and was met with disappointment when offering up the things that I thought were valuable did not yield the expected results.

When it comes to my bike happiness formula, forks come in many forms: pulling yourself off the couch to ride when you’d really prefer to stick around for one more episode of Netflix, sitting through the pain of one more interval, passing up another beer, or buying new tires instead of a new dress (or whatever you’re into). In addition to the tangible sacrifices, the forks also add up in terms of emotional investment and the time you spend thinking and learning about your sport. I’m an analyst by nature, so I inherently absorb all of the available information relevant to my current pursuit and try to distill it into the best plan of action. If I’m honest, the nerding out and planning is the part that I love the most (hence this blog), but sometimes I probably place too much value on intellectual knowledge in a physical endeavor.

I think my problem is that in the past I’ve treated bike racing as a catalog from which various levels of success can be ordered for a price. You put in this many training hours, these workouts, pay for a coach etc., and you can expect certain results. The problem was that the prices were listed in a foreign currency for which I was always trying to decipher the exchange rate. I hired coaches, bought gadgets, and performed a lot self-experimentation trying to figure out the price of success and rarely got it right. At the same time, it seemed there was a secret email list coupon codes that I’d been left off of. Those coupons were what I used to call talent. 

What I’m learning is that, like the jobs and relationships I mentioned earlier, cycling isn’t a straightforward exchange. The best you can hope for is to offer up what you believe to be of value and hope that the receiver values it the same. It’s like buying a present for your partner or friend. You spend your money and/or time with the hope that it will be valuable to them, but you’re not likely to be mad at them if they don’t like what you give them as much as you’d hoped. 

Everyone who shows up to a race comes bearing gifts of strength or smarts or skills or power or stoke, and everyone has paid a different price for the gifts they offer. The race will chose which gift is its favorite, and it won’t care who paid the highest price. 

Rather than trying to figure out what you have to pay, I think it’s more important focus on what you’re willing to give as a gift. Beyond that, it helps to find a relationship where the gifts you are willing to give are most appreciated. For example, threshold intervals are “very expensive” to me, so I should probably never try to get into a serious relationship with time trialing. On the other hand, enduro seems to like things I give more willingly, like strength and skills. It also likes confidence and fearlessness, of which I have less to give, so my gifts won’t always be the favorite, and I have to learn to be okay with that. 

So this holiday season, think about the cycling disciplines on your gift list. What do they want, and what do you have to give? If you really love them, go ahead, shower them with gifts, but don’t get mad if next summer they like someone else’s gift better. Remember the reason for the (off) season, and perhaps you’ll receive some gifts of your own.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Talent: The Right Side of HSE

Any discussion about the skill-acquiring process must begin by addressing a curious phenomenon that I came to know as the Holy Shit Effect. This refers to the heady mix of disbelief, admiration, and envy (not necessarily in that order) we feel when talent suddenly appears out of nowhere. The HSE is not the feeling of hearing Pavarotti sing or watching Willie Mays swing – they’re one in a billion; we can easily accept the fact that they are different from us. The HSE is the feeling of seeing talent bloom in people who we thought were just like us. It’s the tingle of surprise you get when the goofy neighbor kind down the street is suddenly the lead guitarist for a successful rock band, or when your own child shows an inexplicable knack for differential calculus. It’s the feeling of, where did that come from? – Daniel Coyle, “The Talent Code”

In my last post, I discussed my long-held theory regarding talent and cycling-related happiness. However, as I wrote it, I started to question my definition of the “talent” in the context of that theory. Over Thanksgiving break, I decided get some additional perspective on the concept of talent, by re-reading “The Talent Code”. I had read the book before in 2010, and I was excited to find that it was actually among the relatively few books that weren’t culled prior to moving to Pennsylvania. This is even more impressive considering that at least half of my small remaining collection of physical books consists of the complete series of Sookie Stackhouse novels. What I found was that “The Talent Code” stood up to the test of time much better than the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and also that my 2010 self did not properly appreciate its wisdom the first time around.


Yo, girl, we need to talk about your wheel size, your hip hinge, and the fact that you're paying some dude $150 a month to make you faster while you're still holding on to a deep-seated sense of learned helplessness.

I will likely be referencing this book in the next few posts, so I won’t go into too much detail on the non-HSE parts for the time being, but it might be useful for me to preface the rest of this post with a brief summary. The book seeks to uncover the secrets of various “talent hotbeds", and it is divided into three sections: Deep Practice, which discusses the myelin that insulates neural pathways for the skills that a person practices most and best; Ignition, which discusses the subtle and not-so-subtle cues that people take from the world that motivate them into deep practice (and will make the R. Kelly song play in your head the for the entire middle third of the book); and Master Coaching, which talks about what the best teachers do to increase both ignition and deep practice in their students. A better summary can be found here, if you’re interested.

For today though, I’d like to focus on how the book made me realize that the thing that I’d been calling “talent” in my theory was actually HSE. For some reason, the concept of “HSE” reminds me of the saying, “History is written by the winners,” and then turns around in my mind to, “HSE is written by the losers.” I think that is because to the person displaying the “sudden” success, it might not seem like a surprise at all. Only an outside observer (who is often on the losing end of this situation) will perceive the success as natural ability that came out of nowhere. The whole point of the book is that the success has likely been longer in the making than one might think.

So I began to roll this narrative around in my mind. I once again thought of Syd Shulz’ post on challenging the stories that we tell ourselves and acknowledging our tailwinds along with the headwinds. As much I see myself as the scrappy underdog who has put up with a whole lot of defeat in service of a few minor victories sprinkled across a decade, I’ve come to realize that I am the only one who has been watching this clich├ęd sports movie in my head from the beginning. Was it possible that at some point I’d been the subject of someone else’s HSE?

While this recent string of posts sprung from my disappointment in the successes that I didn’t have this season, I can’t discount the successes that I did have. It’s dumb to imagine that the women of the West Virginia Enduro Series eventually Googled me and read all 300-and-something blog posts describing everything that happened in my cycling career prior to the moment that name appeared at the top of the Big Bear Women’s Sport results. To everyone else, I was just some woman who showed up and won the sport category at nearly every race this year, in some cases beating women with more enduro racing experience under their belts. While I was beating myself up because I was so far behind the expert women, other people, if they were paying attention at all, were probably thinking I must be very talented. LOL.

However, my greatest example of being on the winning side of HSE was my 2011 cyclocross season, when I surprised myself more than anyone. From a traditional sense of cycling training, that season should not have been a success. I didn’t even begin riding until March that year because I was recovering from surgery. I’m not sure that I did a ride over two hours long the whole year, and frankly I didn’t spend that many hours on the bike at all. At the time I couldn’t explain why I did well that season, which is why I sometimes joke that cyclocross is a combination of science and magic, just like Lil’ Bub.

After re-reading “The Talent Code”, I realize that what transpired that season wasn’t magic; it was just a different kind of science than what most cycling training is based on. I guess I was wasn’t ready to absorb science that didn’t talk about watts the first time I read the book.

While I wasn’t putting in tons of miles in 2011, what I did do was lift heavy weights often and with great consistency, and the time I spent of the bike was mostly short, intense efforts. When cyclocross season began, my threshold power was meh, even by my relatively low standards, but I could accelerate better than I ever had before or since. When I exploded off the line and lead for half a lap of the first race of the year before crashing into a hole and fighting my way back through the field to my first-ever podium, that was the ignition to my “sudden explosion of talent”. After that I raced nearly every weekend for three months, usually on both Saturday and Sunday.

The fact that I kept getting better through that season doesn’t make sense in terms of fitness, since I wasn’t really “training” between races, but when I think about it terms of firing neural circuits, making mistakes, and re-firing those circuits better and more efficiently, it totally does. There is really no substitute for the deep practice that I get from actually racing cyclocross, and part of my struggle to recreate that success since moving to State College has been the inconvenience of living 2-3 hours from real races with the starting line, course tape, and timing cues that I need to ignite me into that state. And there is a reason that "cyclocross practice" is among the top phrases that make me cringe, along with "lean protein" and "requirements gathering". Unless I have the cues present to get me into that deep practice state, it's just riding bikes on grass, and I hate riding bikes on grass.

What I have gained by reflecting on my own moments on the right side of HSE was that talent might not have been the right word to use in my cycling happiness equation. Maybe it’s more about pleasantly surprising yourself when you exceed the results that you believe you’ve earned. That’s actually kind of perfect, because even prior to this conclusion, I had planned for my next post to tackle the problem of entitlement when the forks get too high. What I’m learning in this is that the currency of competitive cycling is so much more vast and complicated than most of us understand, but hopefully some further examination of what’s usually written off as genetics, or even magic, will provide some guidance as to how to negotiate it.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Talent Over Forks

My last post was incredibly helpful in allowing me to bookend the last couple of months’ stress and anxiety, and transition into the official off-season feeling much more calm and motivated for next year. However, I worried that the post went a little too far down the crazy/anxious/dark end of the spectrum by admitting how much I let my insecurity bleed into pettiness and jealousy sometimes. And maybe it did, but it also prompted an interesting response from an enduro friend that I met over the summer.

He mentioned that I’d implied that guys seem to care less about results than women, which is definitely not something that I ever thought or meant to imply. Without doing any scientific research on the matter, I would guess that the level of caring about results is probably pretty evenly distributed between the genders, but how it is expressed and experienced is just different. I think competition among women can feel more personal, because there are fewer of us, and we feel less embarrassed to admit it when it gets us down. At the same time, I can imagine that there are plenty guys who get frustrated when they don’t progress at the rate that they feel that they should or feel a twinge of jealousy when that progression comes seemingly easily to someone else. Of course, most of what I observe in my day-to-day life is a neurotic woman (me) and a pretty chill man (Frank), so maybe it does skew my view of society as a whole.

The conversation reminded of me of a theory that I developed a couple of years ago, but I guess I never got around to posting about it. It must hold water, though, because Frank still regularly references it when explaining his relationship to competitive cycling, which is:  “My talent exceeds my [forks] given, so I’m pretty happy.”

I submit for your approval: Talent/Forks Given = Bike-Related Happiness

(I will be using the word “forks” from here on out, just in case my mom reads this, and because I’ve been watching too much of the “The Good Place”.)


I first started developing this theory around the time that I joined Team Laser Cats, when I found myself surrounded by blissfully unaware baby racers who didn’t really seem to know what they were doing when it came to racing, but somehow they were already better at it than me. All my years, miles, and knowledge of racing and training couldn’t stand up to their natural-born engines and their uninhibited stoke, but they were such a great group of women that I was okay with it.

The idea also came from watching Frank, who has always been proportionally faster than me, despite training less. It’s not like he was ever missing his calling as Pro Tour rider simply due to his lack of saddle time, but the fact that he could occasionally get on the PACX singlespeed podium with Cat 1&2 dudes just by tagging along with whatever training I was doing (unless it involved the trainer or rollers, coz eww) indicates a certain amount of talent. If he got a coach and invested a couple of years of dedicated training that didn’t involve my slow ass, I’m sure he could become a podium-worthy regional elite masters ‘cross competitor. I’m also sure he would be considerably less happy if he were to do that.

Most of the time he manages to ride a beautiful line where he gets just enough success without trying super hard in the day-to-day. The other interesting thing is that, in the heat of competition, I think he tends to focus harder and suffer longer than I do, because he hasn’t wasted as much mental energy obsessing beforehand.

The theory of talent over forks given reaches the entire breadth of the cycling spectrum, from that annoying person who wins the first bike race they ever enter, to a very sad Sanne Cant in second place on the World Championship podium a couple of years ago. While both of these examples exceed me in the talent portion, I can actually much better identify with the latter. Sanne Cant has an incredible amount of talent, but she had stacked up a pile of forks so high for so long that nothing short of World Championship would allow her to break even. I remember reading once that she made her parents take her to the Netherlands (I think) to race when she was a kid, because she was too young to compete in Belgium. At least her 15ish years of forks finally paid off last winter.

When I look back at my life on the things I was naturally good at and the things I really cared about, those were never the same thing. I joked with Frank the other day that my academic career was like his cyclocross career, where I was very satisfied to complete a bachelor’s degree in marketing from state school with a 3.85 GPA with an incredibly low amount of effort. In retrospect, I sometimes wish that I’d set my sights higher or challenged myself more, but at the time, simply graduating college was a pretty big accomplishment where I was from. At the same time, I was given the rare opportunity to become a Division I athlete by joining my college cross country team, despite not having shown much real athletic promise or interest until that point in my life. So that was where I became ingrained with the mentality that being smart was easy and sports were hard, and the fact that they were hard made them so much more satisfying. Bikes were just the next step for me after my collegiate running career ended, because cycling offers a greater variety of legitimate competitive opportunities than running at the non-elite level. If master’s track meets were more prevalent, it might have been a different story.

When I decide that something will be my new thing, I go all-in, learn all about it, and invest as much time and money as I can. For me, the forks were always high, even before I made it to the starting line of my first mountain bike race. I put a lot of effort into knowing what to expect and looking like I knew what I was doing. (Old pictures will reveal that questionability of that statement, as I still looked pretty forking dorky, even for the Midwest in 2006.) However, you only learn so much from reading and imagining, and it turned out that mountain bike racing was scary and hard, and that often times, my competition took to it a lot more naturally than me, even if they were wearing yoga pants and running shoes. The thing was, that because mountain biking was scary and hard at first, I was only more determined to make it less so.

So how does one recover when their forks given greatly exceed their talent? Sometimes the answer really is as simple as needing to give fewer forks. However, as I planned to write this post I started asking questions about my theory. At its heart, it is still very true, but I think there is more nuance to be explored. What is talent, really? And what does the “happiness” in my equation really mean? Sure, the person who wins their first race ever is going to have a much more positive outlook on the sport for a while, but how happy are they really, compared to someone who took years to get that same win? I figure I have about five months before I’ll have another race report to write, so instead of boring you this winter discussing whether I made it onto the trainer the planned number of times each week, maybe I’ll start digging into these additional questions. Stay tuned…

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Home Isn't Where The Heart Is

I don't want to talk
About the things we've gone through
Though it's hurting me
Now it's history
I've played all my cards
And that's what you've done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play…

The winner takes it all
The loser standing small
Beside the victory
That's her destiny



Sometimes you need to play the whole song and not just a snippet of the lyrics. In this case, it all too perfectly fits my experience at two consecutive Raven Enduro races, despite very different approaches leading into them. Last year I spent a lot of time preparing, thinking that I could use my home course advantage and practice all of the stages until I was good enough to actually win. The result of that tactic was a punch in the face that left me reeling and crying in front of strangers, but ultimately set me up for greater success this season. Simply doing a run a bunch of times won’t do a lot of good unless you are finding and addressing fundamental weaknesses while you do it. My personal experience and observations of others from the past year is that I’m not sure that a home course advantage is really as much of a thing in enduro as one might initially think. While you want to generally know the tone and any major features of a segment, I think that too much practice on a single section may eventually backfire mentally.

Learning that lesson lead to quite a few sport class victories on trails than I’d never ridden until the day before the race, and a realization that there was no special advantage to be gained by making a bunch of trips out to SMCC to practice for the Raven. Also, I just didn’t want to do that. I had raced all that I wanted to race this year, but I felt some sort of guilt that I was still supposed to race my “home” race. Home is relative when it’s 20 minutes away, but not trails that you ever ride other than to practice for a specific race. What I really wanted was to just go through the motions at this year’s Raven, and not care too much.

That sounds easy enough, but as the weeks ticked off leading up to the race, my anxiety still grew. I mentioned in my post on the Gorgeous Ladies of Enduro that it was actually more stressful for me to ride my home trails than it was to race because of the spontaneous Strava competition that erupted around the time I started resurrecting old downhill segments that no women had ridden in years. What started as a fun way to motivate myself to try and get faster quickly turned into a demotivator with names I’d never heard of popped up on the leaderboards to challenge me, and were often times successful. Per the theme of the GLOE post, I felt a certain internal pressure to be the queen of my little piece of enduro territory, and I was upset to see that slipping away. Worse, the imaginary Strava competition that I had entered pronounced all of my insecurities about being an untalented rider in way actual racing never did, because I had to face it every single ride instead of just the occasional weekend.

Man I promise, I'm so self-conscious
That's why you always see me underneath some goggles
Rockshox and S Works done drove me crazy
I can't set my own rebound, but check my new full-facey!
Then I spent 400 bucks on this
Just to be like girl, you ain't up on this!
And I can't even go on a weeknight ride
Without my matchy matchy gloves and a shirt that’s bright
It seems we living that neon dream
But the people highest-vis got the lowest self esteem

Sorry, I just had to diverge into some bonus lyrics there…
The technicolor inspiration for the bonus lyrics above. Some guy said, "I like how your S Works matches your jersey, and I thought, "Yeah, too bad I can't live up to this bike's expectations."
Anyway, things didn’t really get any better for my Rothrock riding after I published my GLOE post and took a mid-season break. Although one of my Strava gnar-meses gained a whole lot of credibility when she raced the CLIF Enduro East in Killington, which looked absolutely awful from the pictures and videos that I’d seen. Basically, the quickest way to gain my respect is to jump into something way over your head and get your ass kicked really hard. However, as I tried to come back later in the summer and continue to improve on segments where I’d made huge leaps in the spring, I found myself unable to improve while another girl had seemingly swept up every downhill QOM in Rothrock, including Wildcat.

This was a huge bummer for me for all of the reasons mentioned above. Despite exceeding the non-existent expectations that I’d had for myself at the beginning of the year about my race season, I felt like every ride at home was just a reminder that I actually sucked. I was trying really hard to get faster, and it just wasn’t working while every ride I saw proof of how easy it was for someone else. I was winning races in West Virginia, but at that point, it just felt like that was just luck. All it would take would be another semi-talented new girl showing up in there to take it all away from me.

So as the Raven approached, I became more and more worried that I would have to face the human symbol of all my self-loathing in real life, and that would just be too much. Due to my late-season stagnation, I felt helpless to actually do anything that would make me race better, and I mostly just plotted ways to soften the blow. Maybe I would enter the Pro/Cat 1 class so that I’d have excuse to lose? I waited until the last hour of pre-registration to make my decision, and at that time I was the soul entrant in that category. Would I actually get my wish of just showing up and going through the motions and not have to feel bad about my results?

The answer was of course not. Sunday’s race brought three other entries into the Women’s Pro/Cat 1 category, including the one that I was most afraid of. And she talked me. And she was nice. And on Stage 4 she moved from a few people in front of me, to a few people back, and to starting right behind me. And almost making up a minute on me during that single stage. In the end, she placed second between two of the fastest women in the state, and I was DFL…by a lot. And that was the point at which I just had to hang my head and admit that she is way faster than me and that it sucked. At least there is a certain level of relief that comes when something plays out just as badly as you were afraid it might and then it’s over.

I know that I’ve referenced Syd Schulz almost of my posts the past few months, but the woman is smart. As I scrolled through my phone waiting for the results, I saw the words “It doesn't matter what other people COULD achieve, it matters what you DO achieve”. While that snippet wasn’t entirely relevant due to the fact that I was dealing with a whole lot of theory that DID just become reality in real time, it was very timely that she had just published a post on the stories we tell ourselves about our own lack of talent. The point of the post was that even when we try to spin it in a positive manner like, “I can outwork more talented people”, that it’s still coming from a sense of internal inferiority that can quickly turn to “I suck, and I’ll always suck” after a bad day.

Unlike Syd, I actually stopped believing that I could outwork talent a long time ago, because of the limits on the body and the time constraint of a grown-up with a job prevents me from doing much more work than I do. That means that on the worst days I straight up fear and resent talented people, because all they have to do decide they want to beat me, and that’s pretty much that. On a good day I least acknowledge my historical ability outsmart and outlast talent. I’ve got eleven years of competitive cycling behind me where I failed, kept going, and figured out way to get better. Where are those girls who beat me in beginner XC races in 2006 now?

For the past few years, each big disappointment has prompted me to ask myself why I keep trying with bikes. Even though I like to wallow in the “Everything is going to be harder for you than it is for other people” narrative after a loss, I realize that I have the ability to keep improving and I’ve done so many times. The reason that I don’t quit is that deep-down the voices that tell me that I’m inherently at a disadvantage and always will be are countered by a curiosity of how the story will end if those voices are wrong. So I keep going, and I find out what’s next, and somehow that has lasted eleven years with no end in sight.

And that’s where I sit now. It’s never easy to break old habits, but I need to continue to hammer away at my pattern of trying to use self-loathing to motivate me to be better. I’ve improved more in the past year of riding than I did in the whole ten years before that, so I know there’s hope for this old dog yet. I’ve also learned a lot about learning this year, too, so I’ve got plans to set myself up for even greater success next year.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fall Got Weird

With an eight-week break between my last regular-season enduro race and the late-fall source of ambivalence that is the Raven Enduro, I decided that I would use the lack of races and subsequent race reports to take a blogging break. I knew I was very tired mentally physically going into the Bear Creek race, but what transpired over the next few weeks was an even bigger break that I was expecting. During this time, I got dangerously close to making “I Only Ride Park” a true statement in both the literal and ironic senses, as my riding consisted almost souly of trips to Blue Mountain and Mountain Creek on the weekends and about a bajillion laps around the basketball court at Tussey View Park as I attempted to learn to manual. (No, I haven’t yet succeeded. No, I don’t want advice. I’ve learned my lesson about posting skills work on Instagram before it’s effing flawless.)

I also added cross-training to my regimen.

This fall has definitely been a weird one. I knew quite a while before my late-summer enduro races wrapped up that this would be the first fall since 2005 that where I wouldn’t even pretend to have a cyclocross season. The last fall that I didn’t pretend to have a cyclocross season was the fall when I pretended like I was going to do an Ironman. I never quite made it to the start line, and I got my first mountain bike a few weeks, so that was the end of that.

Although I still planned on racing the Raven Enduro and Sly Fox Cross in November, hitting mid-September with the knowledge that I would not have a race where I actually cared about the results for many, many months was a strange and welcome sensation. I deeply identified with Syd Schulz’ post “I Haven’t Ridden My Bike in a Month” that came out around this period, even though still technically putting my butt on a bike seat on a semi-regular basis. On one hand, I really wanted to use the time between September and November to get a head start on my skills for next season, but at the same time I was enjoying the lack of urgency. Like Syd, my desire to ride was solidly rooted in FOMO.

September and October also turned out to be two of the most incredibly stressful work months that I’ve had since moving to State College. This also contributed to my long break from “being a good athlete” as Frank and I jokingly called it. When one area of your life is being extra stressful and sucky, it is nice to at least be able to toss out any expectations in other parts of your life without feeling bad about it. Yeah, I might have made a bit more skills progress this fall without all of the stress, but #winteriscoming and I would have been rusty in the spring, anyway. Now everything’s starting to return to normalcy, so I’m just focusing on getting my body and mind ready to come out swinging after the spring thaw and try and make some gains then.



To further add to the weirdness, Frank and I went casually browsing houses on Zillow to actually putting in an offer on one within a week’s time. He became a full-time lecturer (with a recent title change to “Assistant Teaching Professor”) this semester, so we had come to the conclusion that we would be staying in State College indefinitely and that we should probably buy a house before our lease ended in August. We were planning on waiting until closer to August, but a nice place within our price range came up not too far from where we currently live so we jumped on it. So for all of the extra weirdness that added, it will be nice go into winter training in a permanent residence with a finished basement where we do trainer intervals and RipRow.

Our 2018 enduro season is so bright, we're going to have to put tinted lenses in our goggles.

Finally, with the knowledge that we’ll soon have to start adulting harder than we have been in our relatively cheap apartment the last few years, Frank and I both went ahead and got new enduro bikes after the season ended. He got a Cannondale Jekyll, and I built up a “bastard Stumpy” that I have named Jon Flow (haha, get it?). I’d been lusting after the teal, pink, and neon yellow S Works frame since it came out last winter. However, being S Works, it was too expensive even at dealer cost when it was first released and there were only a couple available in each size.

At the same time, I ended up riding my Liv Hail way more this year than I ever expected to when I bought it on the premise of big bike curiosity in February. It turns out that I like big bike and I cannot lie, but I was wishing for something that pedaled better than my Hail, which is super burly and had no sort of lock-out or pedal setting on the rear shock. It was fully squish all of the time. At different times I considered replacing it with a Roubion or a nicer Hail, but then the S Works Stumpjumper frame went on closeout. It wasn’t quite designed to a full enduro bike, but that’s where the “bastard” part came in. Mine is a size medium frame to be longer, a 160mm fork to slack it out and add extra travel in the front, and we’ll be adding an offset bushing soon to take to 66-degree head angle instead of the original 67. The result is a bike that handles a lot like my Hail, but is significantly lighter and pedals much more efficiently. Oh, and it’s super-duper, amazingly pretty.

So that’s what I’ve been doing the last few weeks. I guess I’ll have “race reports” the next couple of weeks with the Raven and Sly Fox, so maybe it’s time to start trying to be a good blogger again along with trying to be a “good athlete”.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bad Bear Enduro: One More for the Road



The Bad Bear Enduro at Bear Creek (bear with me here, there are a lot of “bears” in East Coast Enduro racing) was my second enduro way back in June 2016. Since I had so little frame of reference at the time, I liked it well enough. The first two stages were just a lot of monster trucking over rocks, which was at least something that I was comfortable with, as opposed to the steep pitches and tight corners of my first race at Glenn Park. The third and fourth stages at Bear Creek terrified me, with a series of rock ledges in Stage 3 and a few super-steep, loose patches in Stage 4. It was, however, the only enduro race in which I didn’t get last place in 2016, so that was something.

This year my skills, luck, and taste in race courses changed dramatically. I followed my backcountry-loving instincts into West Virginia and was pretty successful there, so my interest in MASS series races waned dramatically. When the WV series was over, I still felt the pull to go back and see Bear Creek with a more experienced perspective, despite the fact that I was feeling pretty tired and enduro’d out. What would those “scary” features look like to me this year?

Going into the weekend felt a lot like the stretch of December ICX races that took place between my 2011 OVCX series championship and the first January CX nationals. I had put a lot of effort into winning the OVCX series and didn’t have a shot at the ICX because it was mixed 3/4, instead of Cat 4 only, but I still felt the need to finish it out. Racing in the greater Lehigh Valley area feels a lot like racing mixed 3/4 races did back then, or at least I expect it to. I know that there are tons more women who surpass me in both pedaling and skills in that area, and it’s really just a question of how many of them show up to race and what category they enter. Thus I felt a weird combination of both relief and disappointment when only one other woman signed up for my category after much better numbers the year before.

What I found during my first experience with racing a course a second time was how much my taste and perspective had changed. The familiar monster-trucky stages that I’d liked the year before were much too slow and pedally for my taste this year. I’m pretty sure that Stage 1 actually had more uphill than down, but I didn’t remember it that way at all. The rocky section in Stage 3 was no longer scary, but it was still very technical and complicated. I successfully rode it after a few attempts in practice, but I failed to properly thread the needle during my race run. That resulted in a disappointing, but luckily not painful, baby crash that cost me some time. The steep bits on Stage 4 no longer scared me, and I think it was actually my favorite stage this time. Stage 5 was basically how I remembered it: nominally downhill, but more suited for XC than enduro.

I got a little worried in my early stages because I was having so much trouble clocking out with the manual wrist chip, which I hadn’t used all year. I lost at least 30 seconds per stage doing it wrong before I finally figured out that I had to shove the chip against the circle really hard instead of waving it like a bar code. I was starting to make peace with the fact that I’d probably lost the race because of my timing chip, not my riding, when I caught and passed the other woman from my category on Stage 5. That was a good sign, and before I had even finished changing clothes, Frank came and told me that I’d won.


I was still hugely behind the women in the Pro/Cat 1 class, but it was still nice to stand on the podium one last time for the year. I’m not sure what class I’ll enter for the Raven, as it should be a small field, and I’m not concerned about MASS points. I’m actually trying not to care about that race too much, as I want to spend the remaining time before winter working on general skills for next year instead of practicing for a specific race.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Snowshoe Enduro: East Coast, Beast Coast



Last weekend I wrapped up my first season the West Virginia Enduro Series with the series finale in Snowshoe. Despite being the site of this year’s mountain bike national championships and what seems to be the motherland for gravity-oriented riders in the mid-Appalachian region, I had never been there. (Yes, I made mid-Appalachian, but it is culturally distinct from the mid-Atlantic.) Given the context of my first trip to Snowshoe, I can’t decide if I missed out on the real Snowshoe experience or absolutely experienced it in its most concentrated form.

We once again woke up at 5:00 on Saturday morning with the hope of getting there and beginning our pre-ride around noon. Unfortunately, Snowshoe had already had heavy rain on Friday, which continued through the day on Saturday. We arrived to temperatures hovering around 50 degrees and a weird fog/rain combination that limited visibility past a couple hundred feet. We eventually figured out where and how to get registered, and then put on all of our clothes for a cold and sloppy pre-ride.

We did Stage 1, which took an approximately five-mile fire road ride to reach, and three directly lift-serviced stages of 2, 3, & 5, becoming more soaked and hypothermic with each trip up the lift. Stage 4 was supposed to have a pedal transfer, but we’d hear that there was a shorter way to get there from the lift. However, we couldn’t figure it out since it wasn’t on the map, and our fingers were too numb for us to care. “How much different or more difficult can it be?” we thought.

On Sunday morning we awoke to weather even worse that when we went to bed. Although it wasn’t raining, the fog was even denser than the day before and some 20 mph wind had been added to the mix. At least the starting line was right outside the building where we staying, so we got our chips as early as possible and then went back inside until the last possible minute. I ended up staying inside 10-15 minutes past the “start” time and then started a slow pedal to the first stage. I still arrived to a very long line and ended up not actually beginning my run until two hours after the posted race start time. At least by the time that happened it was mostly sunny, although my numb hands and feet from the long wait were not very helpful as I began the first stage.

Stage 1 was a back country trail and began with a roll through the kind of verdant green, but still dark and wet, magical mossy forest that might come to mind when imagining West Virginia mountain biking at its very best. The wet roots soon became bigger and more frequent and I hit the first major rock garden, which was covered in thick, slick mud. I got off and ran it, and then did my best to ride as much of the rest of the stage as I could. That mostly just meant a lot of outrigging to try and stay upright through the sloppy rut/root combination that made up the rest of the trail. I probably wasted more time than necessary trying to clip in when I did hit a smooth-ish stretch, because my foot would inevitably be out again during the next technical section. I think Stage 1 might be the perfect embodiment of the term “East Coast, Beast Coast”, being so beautiful and brutal at once.

Stages 2 and 3 were bike park trails, but the outrig/run/try not to die experience was similar. Although there were moments where I was able to appreciate how much better and braver a rider than I was a year ago, I was still off my bike a lot due to the combination of trail difficulty and mud. While each of the WV Enduro races has been hard in its own way, it’s hard to express how much more difficult this one was. Although I can’t really say it was “fun”, I didn’t let the difficulty level upset me. I just got through my day the best that I could, although I definitely felt like I’d earned a “Snowshoe Kicked My Ass” souvenir t-shirt the end. I guess I should have checked the gift shop to see if those actually existed.

I ended up starting Stage 4 behind my biggest competitor in my class. I went into the series finale with a one-point lead, but the way the scoring works, if she had gotten first and me second, she would have still won the series. She’d actually only beaten me once at Cooper’s Rock, which was the least technical race of the series. It seemed that I had the advantage in the more difficult races, which Snowshoe was definitely delivery, but nothing is ever guaranteed. I think this is why I wasn’t too worried about trying to ride perfectly, as I was just focused on moving forward as quickly as possible during the timed segments, no matter how ugly it was.

Stage 4 turned out to be the muddiest, ruttiest, mostly-impassable-ist stage of the race. Like, I have a hard time imagining it as an actual trail, so much as a rooty mud pit where the slope starts getting really steep on one end. About halfway through the stage, I caught the other girl which meant that I had already gained 60-90 seconds, which was heartening. It seemed that my strategy was working. Although I was hyperventilating and sliding all the place and fallen and slid down the hill on my butt as I was about to catch her, I was still moving faster and staying on my bike a little more. It was ugly, but it was working. The last part of the stage was too steep and slick for me to even attempt to ride, and eventually I couldn’t even push. My rear tire became so packed with mud that it wouldn’t roll, so I was just dragging/carrying what had to be a 50 pound bike by that point down a hill where I could barely keep my footing. I still managed to make it out with a significant lead on the other girl.

It turned out that I dropped my chain in addition to the unrolling wheel, so I had to stop and clean my bike and get the chain yanked into place before I could begin the final stage. I got my bike functioning again and headed out. Stage 5 was a fast and jumpy park trail, which is definitely not my strong suit, but I knew I just had to do my best and hold me and my bike together by the end. I did it, and as the lift starting moving up the hill to take me to the finish, I saw the other girl come out of the woods. I was pretty sure I’d sealed my victory, but only the timing chips would tell.

It turns out that I had won the sport class by 12 minutes. I’d even gone faster than one of the women from the expert class, although she was not someone who’d been at any of the other previous races. I was 12 minutes behind the next series regular in the expert class, so I still have a lot of work to do before next season. I’m still pretty proud of how I did this season, and I was very happy to take home the sport women’s series title.



Now my enduro season is almost done. Despite not having done many MASS races this year, I wanted to go back to the Bear Creek Enduro. This will be my first time racing on a course that I’ve done before, and last year I couldn’t ride most of Stage 3 & 4. I mostly want to go back this year to see how much I’ve improved. I’m kind of considering that the end of the season, although we will likely do the Raven Enduro again in November. For the next couple of months, though, I looking forward to lot more Saturday nights in my own bed.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A New View of Pisgah

The main reason that it took me a week and a half to finish my race report from Slaty Fork is that rather than returning home after the race, the next day we continued south to North Carolina for a week in Pisgah. My only previous experience in Pisgah was in 2009, and it wasn't great. Apparently, at the time I claimed it would be my last death march. Silly 2009 me, Death March wasn't even invented yet, and it was ironically, the thing that renewed my interested in endurance events after I walked away from them for a couple of years. Since I moved to my own set of mountains 3.5 years ago and now have a partner who's willing to join me on mountain bike adventures, I'd been wanting to go back to Pisgah and see it with fresher, more gnar-friendly eyes.

We finally decided to sneak in a trip between Frank's summer and fall class sessions, which is the main reason we combined Slaty Fork and Pisgah into one trip. Ideally we wouldn't have done a pretty long enduro race leading up to the trip, but we also didn't want to miss the race and managed to make both work.


Monday was our travel/rest day, so we first hit the trails on Tuesday. We hit up the DuPont State Forest trails for our first ride, thinking they might be a kinder transition that full Pisgah gnar on the first ride. I think that was a good choice. I'd always been fascinated by people's pictures from riding the slick rock there, and it lived up to my expectations. We also did some flowy machine cut jawns, because those can fun too sometimes.

Here I am as one of Brevard's famous white squirrels.

Obligatory #scenicvistaselfie
Wednesday we did middle and lower Black Mountain as well as Bennett Gap. This was the day that I really started to understand why people love Pisgah so much. Black Mountain was amazing, because it managed to be really damn gnarly and technical, but also somehow flowy at the same time. It was also really satisfying to take stock of how many sections I was able to ride that I probably couldn't have a year ago, and 2009 me probably couldn't have even conceived. Of course, it was warmer and dryer than the last time I was there. 

Perhaps it was a little too warm, as we decided to never again travel south in August by the time the trip was over. We had a good time, but just getting through the 10-15 miles a day that we were riding was a struggle. We mostly kept it in the fun zone while planning our routes and didn't even attempt anything akin to the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage race. I'm smarter now and understand Pisgah miles, which are even longer than Rothrock miles, I think. I do occasionally have thoughts of giving the stage race another shot again someday, but for this trip, we just wanted to check out some new terrain without killing ourselves.


Okay, maybe we tried to kill ourselves a little. After watching the "Trail Boss" episode of Farlow Gap, we just *had* to see it for ourselves. We weren't silly enough to think we could all or even most of it, but we did make a sort of silly decision that I should rent the small Bronson CC in front of The Hub to satisfy some of my Roubion curiosity. My Hail is great for going really fast downhill, but it it tends to suck at getting to the the start of downhills by means other than gentle gravel roads or chair lifts, so I've been searching for something with big bike capabilities that pedals a bit better.

It's actually not the best idea to ride the hardest trail that you've ever been on using a bike that you've never ridden and that is only semi set up for you, so I can't say that my trip through Farlow Gap was super fun. We were also a bit stressed about getting the bike back before the shop closed, which didn't help. The good news is that our curiosity has been satisfied, and I think we're okay with not attempting Farlow Gap again for a long time.

Overall, this trip to Pisgah was a lot more fun than the last. Good company, good skills, and lack of snow are all highly recommended.