Friday, February 5, 2016

My Problem With HTFU

Earlier in the week when I posted on that “not so fresh feeling”, I couldn’t help but throw in a punny little graphic about douche to go with it. “HTFU”, to me, represents the douche-iest aspects of cycling culture, and I combed Google for the douche-iest visual representations of it to go along with my post. Yes, the scantily-clad women *already* had her head cut off before I smushed the images together. Why would she need a head? I realize that I do love to occasionally throw shade at HTFU culture in my blog, so I thought I might be time to explain why.

I grew up in a family where lazy was the absolute worst thing you could be, so any implication that I might be lazy or weak is pretty crushing to my subconscious, even if my more rational self realizes that giving 100% to everything all the time is impractical. Because of this bias, I often feel like that in cycling, lazy is also the worst thing that you can be. To me, “HTFU” seems like a message handed down from cycling’s “elite” that if you’re not working until your body gives 100% of the time and sacrificing everything to be a better cyclist, then you’re bad and you should feel bad.

I came across the snippet above while flipping through an issue of Bicycling magazine that appeared in my mailbox last week. I thought that my teammate's dog would be featured, which is why I tore into it so quickly only to find no Giro but this little gem as consolation. It's true that while the other stalwart staple of cycling slogans, "Ride Lots", is less inherently a judgement on the character at which it is directed, as the author points out, it can still feel like a condemnation of your life choices when you're not doing it.

Luckily, as hard as the tough-man pressures of cycling culture do occasionally weigh on my subconscious, my conscious observation had lead me to the conclusion that success comes more often not from overt sacrifice and suffering, but hard work that incidentally happens when you enjoy what you're doing. Last Saturday during the podium presentation for the women's cyclocross world championship, the commentator was narrating Sanne Cant's distraught reaction to her third-place finish. He said that she'd told him before the race that there's no way that she could have trained any harder. Given, I'm paraphrasing the commentator and he was probably paraphrasing her, so there's likely a bit lost in translation, but my reaction that I shared with Frank was that kind of attitude was likely her problem. He looked a little shocked, as criticizing other cyclists' work ethic is not really my M.O. these days. I realized how he had interpreted my statement and explained that I wasn't saying that she needed to HTFU, I was saying that when you become that focused on what you've sacrificed for something, the resulting pressure stands in the way of actually getting it. 

I know this because I've felt the way I'm imagining her feeling, except that it was about Cat 3 mountain bike races and there were no cameras on me. But the crushing blow of "part timers" showing up and kicking your ass? I know those feels. I know them so much that they finally stopped bothering me much after a few years. 

I'm not saying that you don't have to work to be a successful cyclist. I'm saying that you're probably going to be better off if you're not focused on the work being hard. Yeah, you're always going to have to drag yourself out the door from time to time, but I think that any extended resentment of your training regimen is a bad sign. Of course, one might ask what the hell I know on the subject, since it's not like I've become super fast since giving up on trying to prove myself to be toughest, hardest-working chick around. I did, however, become marginally faster after giving up on dragging through training that I hated. 

I now plan my training based on the time and energy that I have to put towards it, not how much I "should" be training based on what other people do. If other people can put in more work without it sucking the life out of them, then I am happy for them, but it is important to remember that it doesn't make them better people, it just makes them better cyclists. And I'm okay with that.

Monday, February 1, 2016

That Not-So-Fresh Feeling

In my last post, I discussed doing things that I am bad at. Since then I’ve taken a couple of weeks’ break and put my brain power toward reconnecting with the things I’m good at work. I’ve also discovered two new things that I’m bad at: 1) Descending in snow. 2) Recovery.

Sometimes you get that not-so-fresh feeling, but don't let anyone tell you that douche is the answer.

The first item I discovered having finally gotten to use my fat bike for fat biking purposes the last two weekends. I would say that it’s harder than I thought, but I think I just forgot how hard I expected it to be when we went so long without snow. Riding uphill is about what I expected, but the out-of-control descending is not. I guess I thought it would be like racing ‘cross in mud, but with the added advantage of super-wide tires. However, snow/slush behaves very differently and I’ve found myself on the ground a lot the last two Sundays, but luckily I’ve been going slowly and/or landed in a pile of snow. I’m still sporting more bruises than I ever have in January, though. I also must admit that, despite my frustration with the second item (recovery), I’m still probably sporting the best fitness that I ever have in January, as well.

The closest Rothrock gets to #ridegroomed.

Since getting to a pretty dark place with binge eating at the end of the year, I’m now over four weeks “clean”. Since abstaining from food entirely is not an option the way it is with drugs and alcohol, “clean” means that I’ve been sticking to a set of rules to keep potential “abusive” eating reigned in. This means that at work I eat only homemade leftovers for lunch and maybe a snack of pistachios in the afternoon if I’m hungry. I’m allowing myself one restaurant dinner per week where the only rule is don’t order something that I know will make feel gross afterward (example: French fries are cool, but an entire entrée of fried crap is not.) One beer a week is allowed, too. Basically, I’m trying to draw a reasonable line between orthorexia and junk food free-for-all to approximate where people who have a healthy relationship with food stay naturally.

As a result of sticking to these rules, I’m starting to see bones and muscles that I haven’t seen in a while, but I’m still weeks away from letting myself onto a scale, as I don’t need any bad news tripping me up. The plan is to stick to rules for as long as practically possible, so that when life inevitably requires deviation from them, I have the resiliency to get back on track quickly. Ideally, I’ll get to a place where being potential overeating situations no longer causes me anxiety, but that might be a while.

The structure in my eating and structure in my training go hand-in-hand, just as they also tend go off the rails together when they do. I’ve been doing quite well at getting two weeknight weight workouts and two weeknight interval sessions on the trainer since returning from winter break. I started January with the grand plan of two trainer interval workouts, two weight workouts, two easy rides, and one long, race-specific ride per week. With a 100-miler coming up in the summer, I wanted to push my boundaries of both work capacity and ride frequency. I also knew that my body had not handled that kind of workload for a looong time, so I would have to be patient and feel out what it was actually capable of while working towards that goal.

I started the intervals at a very low volume and kept easy rides to true one hour, strict heart rate ceiling enforced recovery days. Still I have not managed a decent long ride since Marty’s Fat 50, when I had barely begun training after winter break. I guess I still had some fitness from the long rides that I did in December, but was still fresh from holiday rest. Then I went out and blew myself up for 4 hours, came home, and immediately jumped into a rigorous training plan. Since then, a lot of the planned easy rides have become complete rest days, and I’m still not feeling recovered enough to ride long and hard on the weekends. It’s the tough call between laying a good foundation for the summer and trying to perform well at the February fat bike races.

Now I’m looking at going into an 80-mile fat bike race on Sunday no rides over 25 miles in four weeks. To be fair, 25 miles with 2700 feet of climbing on a fat bike in soft slush is not nothing, but it’s also not 80 miles, either. Thankfully, we’re in for definitely flat and probably snow-free trails for the weekend. Do I know deep down that I’m still capable of riding that long even though I haven’t done so lately? Yes. Do I feel confident with no recent blazing long rides under my belt? No. I will definitely be riding to finish rather than racing for places on Sunday, but based on the pre-reg list, the series has already been whittled to four women, so any finish will still be an improvement in my standing.

I think Marty’s proved that fresh is greater than fit for these long races, so I’m going to do my best to rest up this week. February is when all of the structure I laid out in January will be tested. Three races in four weeks means a lot more meals eaten away from home and erring on the side of training less to be fresh without skipping workouts just out of laziness. I’ll admit this all makes me a little anxious, but I’ve been looking forward to these February races for months. Hopefully with some self-awareness and support I can make it through February stronger and more confident than I am now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Doing Things I'm Bad At

Last week when I stumbled upon Syd Schulz’ “Here’s What You Learn When You Do the Things You’re ‘Bad’ At” and “How to Get Better at Being Bad at Things”, I thought I was embarking on what was merely an inspirational but not particularly surprising tale of a self-described klutz that also happened to be a professional enduro racer. I say not particularly surprising because I know all too well what it means to be “better on the bike than off the bike”, as Frank once described me. If you tally my number of injuries per minute of riding a bike in comparison to the number sustained per minute of trying to run with a bike, I’m probably 4000% statistically more likely to end up bleeding the moment that I unclip during a cyclocross race. I’m not good at, you know, athletic things, and yet when it comes to the narrow focus of riding bikes, I do much better when it’s technically challenging than when it is not.

The point of the posts was however, both more inspiring and surprising than what I had expected from the first paragraph. I guess my one-sentence interpretation would be that you might end up being better at things you don’t expect to be good at because you focus more on the enjoyment/process of improvement when you have no expectations than when go into a new activity expecting success.

This is where our stories diverge, because I would describe myself as a bit enduro-curious, and it is admittedly because I think I might be good at it. It’s not that I think I’d immediately be able to jump in and start winning races, because I know there are many areas in which I would need to put in some dedicated work if I wanted to be successful in that discipline. However, pointing a mountain bike in a downward direction is one of the sharper tools in my somewhat understocked cycling toolbox, and this ability often seemed to bring me more frustration than success during my cross country racing days, so it would be nice to use it in a situation where beating people to the top of the hill is irrelevant.

Last year the Mid-Atlantic Super Series (MASS) introduced a seven-race “all-mountain” series, as one of the races was a Super D instead of an enduro. I didn’t try any of the races out last season, because I was so disgustingly out of shape for most of 2015 that I was worried about simply being able to ride to all of the stage starts without total exhaustion. Now, with five of last year’s seven races apparently not returning in 2016, the future of the discipline in this region is unclear. I am hoping to try out the two races that are currently scheduled for June while accepting the limitations that my Lust might have in that area. With the Wilderness 101 looming as my big goal for the summer, I don’t see myself being able to commit any more time, money, or bike resources into a discipline that I’ve never tried, but think I might be good at.

Someday I would like to ride an Intrigue SX on something gnarlier than the Pine Loop at BCSP.

I think track racing would be ultimate discipline that I would completely suck at when I started and still stick with until I was able to get kinda sorta okay at it, but I’ll never really know unless I ever move close enough to a velodrome to find out. For now, I suppose that my goals for the first 2/3rds of 2016 mostly count as doing things that I am bad at.

While I hoped that my fat bike racing plans would fall into my beloved category of weird, hard, obscure crap that no one’s really good at and thus I’m relatively not bad, the long, flat races so far are proving to have a roady bias that still might not be overcome by weird, hard, and obscure. Even if I do continue to be bad at it, it’s given me a valuable boost in my winter training that I simply would not have had the motivation to pull off if I weren’t currently in the midst of the training equivalent of cramming for finals. Also, the likelihood that I’d ever invest in my long, steady pedaling ability (the dullest tool in my cycling toolbox) without being pushed to do so by the weird, hard, and obscure demands of winter is quite low, so I’ll definitely end up a better cyclist from this winter’s pursuits, regardless of how I place in the rest of the races.

As for my Wilderness 101 plans, I once thought that endurance racing would be a thing that I was good at partly because of the weird, hard, and obscure element, and partly because I loved logging as many LSD miles as possible during my college running days. Of course looking back I realize that weekly mileage totals weren’t the panacea I once thought they were, and I missed out on so much time that I could have been racing by insisting on weeks and weeks of rebuilding “base” after each injury, such that I would end up injured again or fit at the completely wrong time for it to ever pay off. I’ve also since come to understand that endurance is not long and slow but instead just really, really extended discomfort, and that the time demands of high volume running miles for a college student vs. high volume cycling miles for an adult with a job are quite different. I’m much more of a get in, go hard, and get out girl than I used to be.

I remember a conversation with Frank early on in our relationship when I was discussing my past cycling accomplishments and failures, and I said that I would be perfectly happy if I lived out the rest of my life without ever finishing a 100 mile mountain bike race, despite my history of failed attempts. At the time I never really expected that I would live so close to the course of a NUE series race, in an area that requires me to be so much of a better rider than I was in Indiana just to function. This is the first time that I’ve set my sights on a 100 mile race and actually understood what I needed to do to be prepared and saw it as a reasonable possibility. It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely doable. When it’s over I’ll have reached a new level as cyclist that couldn’t find for all of my years riding around without a map, trying to go around the mountain when over was the only way.

I guess that before I even read those posts, I’d already made plans to do things that I’m bad at this year in the hope that they’ll make me good at other things later. I’m not sure if I’ll take this so far as to start running with a bike more often, as I’m not sure that I can take the blood loss, but I think that in a sport as diverse as cycling, taking time to do things you’re bad at is a good idea.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Marty's Fat Fifty

As of this weekend, I am officially a fat bike racer. Of course, I’ve been joking since at least September when I found my first East Coast fat bike race on Bikereg, that I am an undefeated fat bike racer. The weekend rendered the latter no longer true, but it was worth it to see months of anticipation finally come to fruition.

I was so stoked that I got a Hellga-colored manicure before the race.

Since fat bike race courses are usually designed to be easy enough that several inches of snow won’t render them impassable to mere mortals, the lack of snow so far this winter basically turned Marty’s Fat Fifty into a fat bike road race. The course was an out-and-back of mostly flat gravel multi-use paths, broken up by 2-3 miles of rolling pavement and 2-3 miles of singletrack with a big climb in the middle. Since long, flat, and non-technical are all words that would go into the description of my personal cycling kryptonite, as the race neared and it became clear that there would be no snow, I lowered my expectations quite a bit. I just didn’t want to get dropped from the “neutral rollout” like at Iron Cross.

Luckily, that did not happen. When the race started, I attempted to set a strong, steady pace, and while I was further back than I might have hoped, I wasn’t completely dropped by any means. Around the time that I started to settle in, a group caught up with me and we pretty much stayed together until the singletrack. I’d already been working a bit too hard on the pavement, but I wanted to break out on my own on the singletrack. I jumped into the woods first and rode as hard as I could to break away. A couple of guys passed me, but I succeeded in breaking up the group.

Some would call this a pretty terrible tactic with the amount of straight, flat riding ahead of us, but being the utter non-roady that I am, I simply wanted to focus on my own rhythm and not have to sit through 40 more miles of listening to, “Gate! Hole! Slowing! Speeding! Blah, blah, blah…” If I had three more hours of suffering ahead of me, I wanted room to see the trail ahead of me and silence except the rumbling of my tires and the demons in my head.

Once I hit the flat trail again I settled into a hard, steady rhythm and worked on reeling in the guy ahead of me. I observed my heart rate sitting at a stable 178, which is solidly into Zone 4 for me. After several minutes of cyclocross-level anaerobic effort in the singletrack, I wondered how long I would be able to keep that up, but knowing that there was at least one girl from my category only a bit behind me, I knew that backing off would result in being passed. I kept the pressure on the pedals and decided to ride that train until it crashed. In the words of Daenerys Targaryen, “If I look back, I am lost.”

That didn’t mean that I couldn’t look at the traffic in the other direction. As I approached the turnaround, I counted five girls in front of me. Things got tougher after the halfway mark, as it switched from a 1-2% downhill to a 1-2% uphill. I passed fifth place who was stopped with a flat, and I was temporarily motivated by the thought of prize beer and podium pictures. Then I was passed by another girl with a Hellga the same color as mine all the way down to the sparkly purple rim tape. For some reason, I thought she was in the non-racing class, though, perhaps because she’d come into the turnaround with a big group of guys from that class. Competition or not, the slight uphill grade was wearing on me and there wasn’t much I could do to keep up.

As the second half wore on, I could feel my body starting to crack. The fat bike does weird things to my sit bones in hard efforts and it was getting really hard to sit comfortably on the saddle. I was scooting around a lot, clenching my abs, and just trying to find a way to get comfortable while still making my legs pedal hard. I even resorted to doing Kegels to try to take pressure off my sit bones while still holding my core steady enough to pedal. It was pretty brutal.

Finally, at about 12 miles to go I was passed by the girl that I’d been trying to hold off for the whole race. It was disappointing, but I was proud of my hard-fought effort. I drug my sore, sore butt to the finish for what turned out to be 7th place, as “Other Hellga” was in my class after all. Basically, I think it was the hardest race of my life.

Trying to smile...

I was satisfied enough with my finish, knowing that the race didn’t play to my strengths, and that I will have time to get a little more fitness before the next one. My biggest frustration of the day was that the organizers refused to staff the finish line for more than an hour after the first men’s finisher. Their logic was that only the first 15 men would get NJ Fat Bike Series points, so that was all they bothered to record results for, but since only 10 women entered, all were eligible for points. It caused me a lot of anxiety knowing that there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it back it time for my finish to be recorded, and how that would affect how my points reported for the series.

Even though Frank raced his own race, he came back to the finish to shepherd me the two or so miles back to the shop to try and ease my fear of getting lost before the check-in and not getting my placing recorded accurately. When I did get back to the shop, the woman just put a check by my name and didn’t write a place or time. The director came over, but he only seemed concerned about recording the top 5 so that they could do podiums. He wrote my number down in 6th place, but seemed pretty dismissive about the whole process.

I broke down and cried on the way back to the car, because I was in so much pain and had worked so hard only to have my effort blown off. I didn’t care about whether I got a prize or not; I cared that my placing would be recorded accurately for the series, which was my bigger goal. I was just really angry that they considered the women’s placings so unimportant that wouldn’t monitor the finish line until all the female racers were scored.

The results were published with me in 7th and I guess that is probably accurate. It’s not the best start on the series, but it’s something. The next race is 80 miles and pancake flat, but I have four weeks to work on my endurance. Hopefully some perseverance and a couple of four-hour races on mountain-bikey trails at the end of the series will improve my placing by the end. If not, at least I can say I’m already in better shape than I’ve ever been in January and will inevitably be a bit closer to overcoming my bike kryptonite by spring.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Skills Clinic

A few days ago when I actually began the brain dump that I posted yesterday, I intended to tie in my experience at a Team Laser Cats-hosted women’s beginner mountain bike ride on Sunday. However, as I wrote through my descent into feeling hopeless/helpless in my relationship with food and thus life in general, I realized the post was already too long and either needed to stand alone or be thrown out altogether. While I wasn’t sure if a long retelling of things that I’ve discussed in the blog before and conclusions that I’d already come to would be interesting or useful for anyone else, it helped me to write it all out into one big three-year story that I figured that there was at least no harm in publishing.

Anyway, Sunday my team hosted a mountain bike mini-clinic and beginner ride in Philadelphia. Taylor and Taryn were the ride leaders, but I made the trip to spend some time with the team and lend moral support. Before the ride I thought about the instruction I’d received at clinics before and the best way to teach mountain biking to complete beginners. My conclusion: it’s hard to do. While I’ve benefited from shared tips and tricks along the way, most of my learning was by my own trial and error.

It was a fun day in the woods, and it was so great to see so many women mountain bike for the first time and come away wanting more. It reminded me of my first summer of mountain biking and I remembered how scary it was at first. I was also super proud of the newbies, as the “easier” trails in Wissahickon Park were still so much harder than the Indiana trails where I learned to ride, and they still did great. Still, as I observed their fear going over rocks and steeper downhills, I sort of wished that could just download my muscle memory into their brains and make it immediately more easy and fun for them.

Photo Credit: Team Laser Cats

This reminded me of my metaphor about how telling people to change their attitude is sort of like telling people how to mountain bike. It’s something which can only be relayed so much by normal forms of human communication, but I guess the telling is a good start if it’s done in helpful, considerate manner. I was very aware during ride to really try to communicate technique without ever sounding bossy or condescending, because I know how hard the things that are easy for me now once were. I hope that I was successful in my attempts.

A lot of my depression and anxiety lately has been due to feeling like I can’t get certain aspects of my life on track, especially eating. For months now, perhaps even since I moved to State College, I’ve been struggling to get back the “magic” that helped me make so many positive life changes before. However, it felt like every time I tried to get on the right path, I encountered another obstacle that I wasn’t equipped to handle. These days I can barely handle any sort challenge that might put my eating, sleeping, or training in jeopardy, and I’m so tired and frustrated at my lack of strength and/or my inability to cultivate the strength and resilience that I had three years ago.

This is where the easy to say but harder to execute change in attitude comes in. I saw some quote the other day that said something like, “Right now someone is praying for you what you take for granted.” Its sucks when you don’t have something you desperately want, but it’s a good reminder of what you have. Many of the challenges that I’m facing now are the result of getting the things that at one point in my life I desperately wanted. The stress of having to plan and cook meals for two people when I don’t feel like dealing with food at all is because I wanted to be with a guy who liked my cooking. When I get stressed out in the afternoons at work and want sugar to get me through, it’s because I have a stable job that pays pretty well, which I was without for quite a while in my early adulthood.

After some reflection it became clear that I had worked really hard to get to the current circumstances in which I sat, and I needed to learn to be successful in them instead of trying to change them more in an attempt make things easier on myself. If my time in Rothrock has taught me anything, it is that there comes a time when you just have to ride the trail in front of you until you start to love it (and that suspension helps). I needed to stop worrying so much about the perceived reasons that I could not get the things I wanted and just figure out how to get them.

I couldn’t simply be told to change my attitude any more than the girls on the ride could be told how shifting their weight would makes things easier. We both had to ride over some scary stuff and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations to understand what those instructions really meant. Now I’m starting to let my butt leave the saddle a bit and play with my balance. With those skills finally coming around, perhaps I can finally start riding over the rocks in my path instead of letting them knock me down.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Brain Dump

I understand the things that keep you up
And I know that you still feel
And I know your heart is hemorrhaging
And needs some time to heal
And now the traffic lights there on your street 
Flash yellow all the time
And that mirror in your bathroom 
It looks cracked in the wrong light
But walk out through your threshold
Fill your lungs up and move on down the stairs
And let the things you love come back to you 
In time we'll all get there

It would be real nice just to fly a way
And escape everything
But little bird looks like you've got a broken wing
Now anything so easy
It might not make you weak
But it sure won't make me believe

Christmas break has come and gone, and having returned to real life and kicked off 2016 training, I’ve been feeling weird about the contrast between my last two posts and the fact that I’ve let it sit on a bummer note for three weeks now. There’s the obvious answer of having traveled to Oklahoma for a week of that period, but a lot of it was just not being back to a place having something nice, or at least coherent, to say. I still don’t know if I do, but perhaps a brain dump is what I need.

The underlying theme of my recent breakdown is much the same struggle that I’ve had the whole time since moving to State College. Basically, it’s that I can’t have all of the things that I want at once. Three years ago, I realized how badly I’d let my life become devoid of human connection and started fighting to change that. Since more or less the only people I knew were through bikes, all of my efforts to reach out to people involved riding.

I had a new found determination and a plan to improve myself. Even when I didn’t have plans or people to ride with, I was very good about keeping up my training and eating well, so that I would feel good when the opportunity to ride with others came up, rather than falling into my old depressive behavior when I was alone. After years of struggling with inconsistent training and binge eating, which made me feel gross and shut myself off from the world, I ended up getting in better shape and getting leaner than I’d ever been while training to make friends than I ever did training for a goal race.

When I started relying on people and bikes in tough times instead of food, I started to make friends quickly and have a much busier social calendar than I ever could have imagined. And I handled it so well! Late nights, exposure to “trigger foods”, and overnight travel used to be big fears for me, but they were suddenly minor prices to pay to spend with all of my new found companions.

The one thing I was missing was a romantic relationship, which was an important thing motivating my change. The realization that 32 was still too young to give up on love and sex was what gave me the courage to leave a comfortable but disconnected marriage rather than just living out my life trying to get what I needed from platonic relationships only. However, I was definitely not expecting commenting on a stranger’s dinner on Instagram to escalate into true love within three months of moving into my own place.

It’s almost as if success came too quickly to last. In less than a year of the vague realization that I was putting my energy into the wrong things, I suddenly had my own place, a tiny lime green car, a badly-behaved kitten, lots of friends and things to do, and a dude who I was madly in love with, while also managing a previously unknown-to-me level of fitness and 14% body fat on the side. I found it hard to maintain as the months wore on and more and more of my energy went into driving back and forth to Pennsylvania, and less of it went to other friends or bikes. My friends all had lives and significant others of their own, and Frank was by far my favorite person to spend time with, so the friendships that hadn’t yet had time to establish deep roots started to suffer.

Then, after less than a year in my own place, I made the jump to come live in State College with Frank full-time. It was basically the culmination of what I’d hoped to achieve when I first set out on my journey, but I’d had no idea of the other things that would be gained and lost along the way. I quickly lost touch with my friends in Indiana beyond the occasional text, and I no longer wanted to reach out when I was feeling down for fear of being seen as a drama queen or crisis-only friend. For a variety of reasons, my fitness plummeted during my first year in State College, and the binge eating started to reemerge shortly after the move and continued in new and varied forms to be as bad as it ever was.

I’m glad I moved to State College, because ultimately I’m better off here and my relationship with Frank has been everything that I’d hoped it would be, but I’ve admittedly spent a good chunk of the last year and a half mourning the things that were lost along the way. Obviously, I feel bad about the friendships that blossomed and then withered so quickly because I didn’t put enough into them, and I miss the way my body felt those months of my life. Mostly I miss how emotionally strong and resilient I felt, and I guess I’m kind of mad at myself not being able to maintain that level of stability through a cross country move, the change in lifestyle that comes with actually *living* with another person rather than just sharing a house, and working in a job that, while much more intellectually stimulating than the one I was in when I had all that capacity for self-improvement, also takes up a lot more of my energy.

The last few months have provided some glimmers of hope that I might, in fact, be able to restore balance among the things that I care about once again. Learning to climb all of the things in Rothrock last summer was a big inspiration for me training-wise, although it didn’t seem to help my ‘cross season much, and I started to regress as my weekends were taken up by racing and weekday evenings turned dark. Now that fat bike season is giving me not only the freedom to do long rides, but the necessity, my biggest challenge is making something useful of the dark weeknights between now and daylight savings time. Getting to know the Laser Cats has also been a huge help in starting to establish a much-needed East Coast bike family, and I still get enough reminders that Frank and are never forgotten amongst our little clan in Illinois. It’s a good reminder that even though I can now see my favorite person without ever leaving the house, there are important rewards to finding the energy to venture out and see the other worthwhile human beings in the outside world.

I guess the biggest struggle these days is really that I’ve full-on regressed to abusing food a coping mechanism for whatever else is going on my life. It’s not just about my weight and health, although it is a lot nicer living my body when I’m treating it well. I think it’s really about not wanting to be dependent on something that is bad for me, and feeling in control of my actions and life. When I began my positive changes before, getting my eating until control was actually the first thing I accomplished, because I found that reaching out to people felt good and eating for comfort felt bad. Then not feeling crappy from binge eating was what gave me the strength to achieve even more positive effects.

The problem is that when it happened before it was sort of like a magical switch was flipped for me. One positive interaction killed my desire to binge eat for a couple of days, which made me feel better physically, which further made it easier not to binge eat. The successes built one brick at a time. Once I moved to State College, it was almost a reverse effect. One slip-up lead to another, and another, and I kept hoping to find that old magic switch again to make it easy, but I never did. My old tricks for getting by don’t work as well in my new lifestyle, and I have yet to find any new successful coping mechanisms. Right now I’m a few days “clean” by white-knuckle power alone, but that’s never really held up long term in the past, and typically when I do fall into a bout of depression or anxiety a big part of it is because I’m afraid that I will never be able to handle life without abusing food again.

So it’s clear that I won’t be really be happy until I’ve fully and successfully got binge eating’s butt kicked again. Without that magic switch that I’ve been waiting on, I’m still not really sure how, but I need to figure it out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Full Suspension

Last night I stayed up too late, sitting on the couch with Frank and during what essentially turned into a strategic planning meeting regarding the management my mental health for FY16. I awoke this morning to realize my major dream of the night had been about me giving birth in our kitchen floor while he attempted to help me and I refused to go to the hospital. Well played, subconscious, well played.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between depression, sleep, and dreaming lately, as I read yet another article the other day about the correlation between depression and short REM latency. Basically that means that it is a pretty well-established fact that people with depression skip right past the deep sleep phase of the night, where HGH production and physical recovery are the highest, to the REM phase, where most dreaming occurs. As someone who has spent pretty much her whole life as a frequent and vivid dreamer, who is perpetually tired even when I’m consistently getting “enough” sleep, and who has had to manage bouts of moderate depression taking up big chunks of my life since I was 9, this fact is super relevant to my interests.

Unfortunately, while the correlation is well-established, the causation is not. I like the theory that this phenomenon is the brain’s attempt to heal itself rather than the cause of the depression, even though that would basically mean that my brain’s need to repair its own emotional centers is stealing from my body’s much-needed physical recovery. I guess I secretly hope that it will someday lead to my getting a doctor’s note saying that I’m actually required to get 10-12 hours of sleep to stay healthy, and that I’m not just weak or crazy. Because, honestly, I think that would do so much more to help me than anything “modern medicine” has to offer.

It’s always a tough decision about whether to discuss my struggles with depression and anxiety in this blog, because I don’t want to write something just for the sake of whining. I do, however, want to give an accurate picture of my experience as an amateur athlete and human being without glossing over the ugly parts. I do work very hard to frame experiences in a positive manner, as this is a useful exercise for me, as well as more enjoyable to read on a weekly basis.  At the same time, I do this for me, and I don’t have any sponsors for which I have to constantly put on a mask of perfection, so I occasionally do like to broach the topic mental health within the amateur adult athletic community through the lens of my own experiences. As always, I hope that my honesty might make someone else’s struggles a bit easier.

The past few months have been able to focus my writing on race reports from my cyclocross season and my growing relationship with my new team. I’ve had some awesome things going on in my life, while still having some pretty terrible things going on in my head. As I pointed out during my talk with Frank last night, when you have anxiety, everything that isn’t staying home and watching TV is scary, even good things. Although the balance of my life since the beginning of ‘cross season has been positive, the associated anxiety with racing, travel, and change has led to some pretty severe meltdowns.

During one of my low times a few weeks ago, Facebook reminded me of my first “honest” post on mental health from two years ago, which many people talked about and thanked me for writing. I re-read it, and thought, “Damn, I was smart back then.” The only problem is, much like re-reading my old training-related posts that are full of good plans and intentions, two years have passed and I haven’t really seen the improvement that I was expecting to come when I wrote it. I did like my comparison of emotional skills to bike skills, seeing as I still can’t really bunny hop after 10 years of mountain biking, either. Some people just pick up certain skills easier than others, and some try for years without really getting it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t invest in some suspension and learn to monster truck your way through rockier situations than you thought possible.

And I suppose that is what came out my talk with Frank the other night. While I’ll continue to practice positive psychology skills that I know are beneficial but sometimes hard to completely pull off, it’s okay if I need him to help me absorb some shock. Mostly that means talking to him about my anxiety more before it builds up, even if there isn’t much he can do about it. (Eating in restaurants doesn't scare him, apparently. Silly sane people.) At least he can provide a clearer perspective on some situations, and try to do things to help ease my stress in other areas. While I haven’t improved as much mentally or physically as I would have liked during my time on this blog, they are both things that I am not willing to give up on, so I’ll keep tweaking my methods until I find something that works.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The End and The Beginning

Time turns flames to embers
You'll have new Septembers
Every one of us has messed up too
Minds change like the weather
I hope you remember
Today is never too late to be brand new

It was a tough call between these lyrics and “You better kiss me, ‘cause you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” I guess right now “new Septembers” has a stronger pull.

December ‘cross is always tough unless you’re trying to lock up a series placing, and even then it isn’t easy. Eight months of my year is spent waiting for ‘cross to come, then it does, and it’s awesome, but after a while not being gone for 12 hours each Sunday sounds appealing and I get the urge to move on to the next thing, be it Death March, fat bikes, or the like. At the same time, there is a certain satisfaction in finishing a series finale and knowing that I made it to the end, even if my overall placing wasn’t that great. Either way, “next year” is always lingering in the back of my mind even before I ‘cross the finish line of my last race every season.

I did manage one December race for the season, since one of my favorites, Rivertown Cross, was pushed back to the last season this year. Unfortunately, December plus Central PA meant low turnout. There were only five girls in my race, and was correct in its prediction of me as DFL. I went off the line hard and hoped for the best, but things split as soon as we started to climb the levy. I thought I a saw a girl or two coming back as we dropped into the woods, so I bombed hard, started to slide out of control, and by the time I put my foot down and kicked myself back on track, they were gone. The next 3.75 laps were pretty uneventful as I pedaled along and thought about the end of my season. I’d already decided that as excited as I was about the fat bike category at the PACX finale, that I’d rather spend less time in the car and more than 30 minutes on my fat bike that day.

Thankfully, Sunday was neither too late nor too early to be brand new. Being officially done with ‘cross meant that I could fully commit to preparing for my impending fat bike season. The ride went really well, so much that the planned 40ish mile ride did not take me over the elusive 4 hour mark, and I was still feeling decent, so I let Frank drive the car home from the gravel road entrance where we had parked while I rode down the mountain and back home for 47.4 miles at an 11.3 mph average. I know that doesn’t sound impressive, but I use 10 mph as my baseline when planning gravel rides on my fat bike. I was glad to see that I easily exceeded those expectations, even with a ‘cross race still fresh in my legs.

I realized that I’m excited about fat bike racing for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s a completely new thing on the East Coast, so there is no reigning East Coast Fat Bike Queen to be conquered or really any sort of indication of who will race or how fast they will be. There are nine women registered for the first race, but there isn’t a to tell me how things are going to play out. I also don’t know how many of those nine will return for the other races in the series. It’s all brand new and I get to be there from the beginning!

Fat bike racing has a similar appeal to Death March in that it’s a somewhat obscure, niche thing that requires training hard in the worst part of winter and gives me plenty of excuses to look at maps and plan routes, even if they just for training and not so much for racing. Basically, it comes down to the fact that I may not naturally be the fastest person, but with enough obsession, I can occasionally pull off some success in races for which faster people just don’t care to prepare that well. Sure, the soon-to-be coronated East Coast Fat Bike Queen may be rolling hard through New Jersey as I type, but until February proves me wrong, I’m going to keep giving it my all and believing that I have a chance.

I’ve got plenty to look forward to before any new Septembers roll around.

Friday, December 4, 2015

No Scrubs, Lots of Fatties

I’ve been remiss in my blogging the last couple of weeks, having not had any races on which to report. The weekend before Thanksgiving was the “state championship” race in the Pittsburgh area, which I believe only one PACX regular from my category attended. With Frank out of town at a conference, I just wasn’t inspired to drive three hours into unfamiliar ‘cross territory to race alone. It worked out better, anyway, as the two-week break from the “normal” PACX schedule was dedicated to preparation for #NoScrubsCX, Team Laser Cats’ first attempt at hosting an alley cat race.

I wanted to help as much as I could from my non-Philly location, so instead of racing on November 22, I had my first venture into Philly as an adult, not counting the unfortunate number of times that I’ve passed through the Philly airport since moving to PA. This allowed me to pre-ride most of the checkpoints with the team and get a better idea of what kind of challenge to present to folks at the cave checkpoint that I would be manning. For a lot of the following week, I was dedicated to making wizard hats and glow-in-the-dark Nerf bullets.

I can’t give too much of a race report, as I only witnessed the events of Kelpius Cave, but all other reports agree that the event was a resounding success. We had 59 racers attend, and I believe that a good time was had by all. Frank did the race while I was supervising my cave, and he seemed to enjoy it.

More at

The other big concern for me during my racing break has been preparation for the New Jersey Fat Bike Series. With a 50 mile race looming on January 9 and my endurance capacity plunging down further and further with every weekend of ‘cross, I really wanted to use the break to reverse that trend. Thanks to two race-free weekends, Thanksgiving break, and an extra PTO day this week, I now have several 2-3 hour fat bike gravel rides under my belt.

However, cracking the 4-hour barrier continues to elude me. I’ve planned longer rides several times, but getting my hands used to long rides on flat bars and my sit bones used to the “horseback riding” position of a fat bike have proven tougher than I thought. The good news is that each of these shorter rides returned valuable information about the best training routes to prepare for the series.

Trying to explain route plans to Frank.

While my gravel riding last summer was all about the climbing, for now I’m trying to keep my training as flat and steady as can be accomplished by State College standards. The first two races of the series are a 50 mile race with about 1500 feet of climbing followed by an 80 mile race with about 500 feet of climbing four weeks after that. Long, steady, and fast should be what I’m simulating in preparation for these races, but you have to work with what you have. This comes down to a 52 mile, 4000 feet of climbing “flat” route that I’ve settled on as my goal to finish before I leave for Christmas break. Also, I still haven’t actually ridden in snow, so there’s that X factor still looming.

Tomorrow will be the slightly-early end to my ‘cross season at Rivertown, which should have been my best race last season if I hadn’t accidentally kicked my brake open, lost my temper, and lost the part that held it closed, resulting in a DNF. It’s always hard getting back to racing after Thanksgiving, but I need to at least come back with disc brakes and a vengeance for such a combination of a close location and a good course. It’s unfortunate that this race was pushed back so late in the season, as pre-reg closed with 5 girls signed up in my race and me ranked DFL, but I’ll give my best shot and hope the singletrack helps me exceed’s expectations.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Kutztown Cross and The Unofficial Team Laser Cats presented by Snacks Team Tent

I line up to race with my pink bar tape
Nobody's looking at me now
Like, "Who's that chick that's rockin' knee socks?
She gotta be from out of town."

So hard with my girls not around me
It's definitely not a Louisville party
And suddenly I seem so slow
I guess I never got the memo

My tummy's turnin' and I'm feelin' kinda home sick
Too much pressure and I'm nervous
That's when the starter dropped my favorite tune
And 'cross season was on
And 'cross season was on
And 'cross season was on

There's no hand-ups,
But they're playing my song,
The butterflies fly away
Skiddin' through the turns like yeah
Racin' up the hills like yeah
There's no hand-ups,
But they're playin' my song
I know I'm gonna be OK
Yeah, it's a 'cross race in the USA
Yeah, it's a 'cross race in the USA

I kind of struggled with crossasizing my song lyrics this week, but theme of the song fit perfectly. I actually got the idea earlier in the season when “Party in the U.S.A” was playing over the speakers at a race and it struck a chord with the out-of-place, sort of bummer feeling that I was feeling at the time. I decided to pocket the idea until I could turn into something positive, and this week seemed like a good time to pull it out. As I’ve said before, sometimes my weekly blog post is just an exercise in exploring what was positive/interesting/funny about the previous week when the events of racing and training are a bit mundane.

And my race at Kutztown on Sunday was definitely mundane. Due to the fact that the course is very flat, not very technical, and had lots of long bumpy straights, it wasn’t particularly surprising that I didn’t do well. I was basically strung out in my place near the back by the time we even got through the prologue, and while it was normal for me to settle into the spot right behind Michaela, instead of our regular epic battle, I just tried unsuccessfully to close the gap and watched her become smaller and smaller as the race wore on. Basically, nothing else happened the rest of the race except for one girl who had been slowly creeping up through the first lap and a half finally riding away from me on the worst straight of the second lap.

Then I mostly just tried to keep pedaling hard and make it to the end while the new Garmin 520 that Frank had given me as a birthday present earlier in the week beeped at me for the entire last two laps of the race. Apparently I accidently turned on a pre-programmed workout feature, and after 20 minutes, it kept beeping and telling me that I needed to maintain a minimum of 200 watts. Sorry, Garmin, I know we don’t know each other that well yet, but I really only break 200 watts when I’m accelerating out of corners.

Kutztown was a good day despite not being the best race for me, thanks to the “Unofficial Team Laser Cats presented by Snacks Team Tent”. After a successful team bake sale at Sly Fox, the Laser Cats were discussing what to do with the money that was earned, and the idea of a team tent came up. I imagined a central beacon of Laser Cat awesomeness where we could gather at races and perhaps serve as the candy-colored first installment in Pennsylvania’s equivalent of the tent-lined “Heckle Hill” at the Kings CX course. I remembered the unused Kellogg’s Snacks tent that Frank and I brought to a couple of races last year in hopes of recreating some OVCX team tent magic, only to discover that it was a lot of work and kind of lame with only two people on board. I realized that I now had the right group of people to make the thing actually work. Plus snacks are an important part of the team motto, so until we could afford a custom tent with cats and lasers and pretty colors, a snacks tent would serve well enough.

It worked out really well with all of the Cats, friends of Cats, and dogs of Cats having a place to hang out and spectate throughout the day. I’m really glad that I’m starting to get to know the team and feel like part of the group, since my journey to full-fledged Laser Cat-dom has been a bit slow and awkward throughout the season.

When my friend Tanya texted me back in the summer saying that there was a women’s team called Laser Cats looking for members, I couldn’t jump on that bandwagon quickly enough. However, I think I may have misinterpreted the third-hand message, and there was more to becoming one of the team than simply joining a Facebook group and ordering a skinsuit. So it was a little weird introducing myself to team members when the season began, as we’d had only a bit of Internet interaction. Basically it felt like, “I have no kit, I don’t live in Philly, and we don’t actually have any direct mutual friends, but I’m one of you, I promise.” Slowly, as I got my kit and talked to the other girls at races more, I started to feel like part of the group. In retrospect, I guess that if I met my fiance’ on Instagram, it’s okay that I met my teammates there, as well.

I know that my PACX experience will never be exactly like what I had in OVCX, but enough time has passed for me to realize that isn’t a bad thing. While I would still like to see a greater manifestation of race day community/fun, where everyone comes together to socialize and spectate before and after their own races, I think there is something special about the Philly-area cycling community in general that I’m only beginning to understand and appreciate after taking off my Shamrock green tinted (or tented) glasses. I’m excited about the commitment to women’s cycling outreach and advocacy that our team has, as well as the commitment to fun that involves cats, bikes, and snacks. I hope to contribute what I can from my “satellite” location in State College, and maybe bring some of the spirit back home with me when I have a chance. Maybe my contribution to the team mission can be finding more ways to inject the race day “fun” factor into the PACX scene, but maybe that doesn’t necessarily mean heckles and hand-ups the way it used to, as the latter actually will get you disqualified here. All I know is that my race days have become a lot more fun lately, thanks to a great groups of girls in candy-colored cat kits.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sly Fox Cross: The View From The Cheap Seats

This field ain't big, this field ain't small.
It's a little of both they say.
Our Cat Squad may be minor league, but at least it's triple A.
We battle through the turns, behind the brewery wall.
We can make a race all by ourselves.
No ref, we didn’t take hand-ups at all.

They brew their beer with Belgian yeast.
We bake our cookies egg-free, no gel’tin.
That race director, what’s his name?
Well we can't even spell it.
We don't worry about our upgrade points.
We just hit the run-up and dig deep.
There's nothing like the view from the cheap seats.

As we drove to Sly Fox Cross on Sunday morning, I thought through my race strategy based on what I learned during my two minutes of racing at the previous year’s addition. Most importantly, don’t put your foot directly on the log stairs if they are damp. You’re gonna have a bad time.

The worst part of that lesson is that up until that point, Sly Fox 2014 was looking to be my best race of the season. Thanks to a decent start and a technical course, I hit that log stair somewhere in 6-8th place and was feeling like I might actually be able to hold that. Still there were things that could have been better. I’d gotten the last front-row starting space on the far left before a short road sprint into a hard right turn. I hadn’t been well positioned for the turn and was caught further back than was ideal in the long series turns that made for wheel-to-wheel riding for quite some time. Eventually the girl in front of me ran into the tape and a gap formed to the rest of the field. I sprinted to catch up and bombed into the woods before falling and smashing my face on my stem during the first run-up, so I never got to find out how that one would have ended. The second most important lesson I learned about Sly Fox was that your position into the first turn is HUGE, and I thought hard about how to maximize that in 2015.

Then it occurred to me how great it was that I was even able to engage in this kind of thinking at all. Having raced most of the PACX courses last year, I was able to plan a strategy and even a Plan B for most of the races. While this is the tenth cyclocross season in which I have raced in some capacity, I hadn’t spent a lot of time in the scrum until last season. You know, because Philly girls don’t give up and all, but also because I was neither fast enough to ride off the front and stay out of trouble but still too fast to make falling off the back and giving up acceptable. Now I realize that I’m starting to be a better racer because I’m actually having to race in the middle with, you know, people around me.

On that note, I arrived at the course to find that road section had been more than doubled, followed by a long, straight woods section and another little bit of pavement before the twisty turnys kicked in. This would make both starting position and holeshot position matter a lot less, because everything would string out a bit more before the first grass section and there would be places to pass before the very twisty section.

My starting position was better this year, but that did not help my holeshot position at all. Thanks to the beauty of Strava, I learned that the “Sly Fox #critzone” was a 0.2 miles long with a 2% uphill grade, and with the exception of the initial starting sprint, was taking about a minute out of each 8.5 minute lap for me. That is to say that, for the most technical course of the series, 12.5% of the course reeeeeally did not suit my strengths at all, and it was that part that would determine my position for the rest of the course.

I did my best, clipping in quickly and standing for a few pedals strokes, and then sitting down to settle in only to realize the field was coming around me like a great food. I stood and sprinted again to no avail before sitting back down and helplessly spinning my way to the grass. In what’s beginning to be our usual Laser Cat confluence, I could hear Roz and Michaela’s voices behind me as we took our places in the train through the woods and tried to avoid the pile-ups.

This is where my hard-learned patience came in handy. In the past I probably would have been getting upset not being able to ride cleanly through the features of the first lap, but I’ve learned that if you don’t have the legs to get to the front, it’s best to take it kind of easy and keep your eyes peeled for trouble brewing ahead. By doing this, I was able to save energy by not sprinting into something where I was just going to have stop, and could give the congestion just enough time to break up so that I could ride around it. For the amount of pile-ups that happened on the course yesterday, I barely even had to put my foot down anywhere that wasn’t an official forced dismount. I think this ended up keeping me a lot fresher for when the course did start to clear.

It took about three laps of Laser Cat intersquad battle and moving up through the 45+ field before I finally rode off on my own with two to go. I ended up with 16th out of 32, so another top 50% finish was accomplished. Of course, now that I’ve done it two weeks in a row, I want more. Top 30%, maybe? While I wish I had the watts to be closer to the front of the pack this season, I’m really starting to appreciate the lessons learned from mid-pack, especially with the company that my candy-striped compatriots have provided. While it may not cost any less race mid-pack in the PACX women’s 3/4 field, and there’s no chance of winning back your money, perhaps it’s still a great value for other reasons.

(Since today’s song selection is a little more obscure Taylor Swift's lesser hits, if you want to know what I’m talking about, click here.)

Triple A Cat Squad

Monday, November 2, 2015

Swashbuckler Cross: This Is How Fast I Go

This weekend’s Swashbuckler Cross was very much the opposite of Crossasaurus Awesome the week before. The course was not awesome in any traditional sense, I rode alone for most of the race, and I was a lot more ready and willing to go out for my fifth lap.

The course had a ridiculous percentage of the riding surface consisting of loose gravel, including one fast downhill bomb near the finish where you crossed dirt, gravel, pavement, cobbles, and grass all in about three bike lengths. It is my personal opinion that ‘cross courses should not include loose gravel at all, or at most, a short perpendicular crossing of a gravel path or one straightway, if the gravel is reasonably well-packed with no high-speed turn onto it. PACX seems to love the gravel with the two-way parking lot crossing in the middle of an otherwise pretty great course at Town Hall and the sketchy landing at the bottom of the hill at Stoudt’s. One would think that I would relish the courses being more “technical”, but even though I’ve personally managed to stay upright on them so far, I feel like gravel on a ‘cross course crosses the line from technical to dangerous. That being said, Swashbuckler did have some cool features, and I started to enjoy it more as the race went on and I learned exactly how much I could let it go in the turns.

And the venue had kittens, so there's a big plus.

Once again, I got a good start in the sense that I got clipped in and up to speed very quickly. Since the start included a fairly long strip of flat pavement followed by more flat, gently-snaking course before the first hard turn, I settled in quickly and let the higher-wattage riders go ahead and pull away. Luckily, there really weren’t that many girls ahead of me when the split occurred, and my teammate Roz was the only one to come around and try to give chase to the lead group. I just churned the flats the best that I could and then challenged myself to see how much I could rail it and still stay upright once we hit the sketchier parts of the course. By the time we hit the barriers for the first time, I’d worked my way back up to Roz and pushed myself for an extra quick remount to take the lead. After the race she would say something to the effect of, “You maintained your speed well,” and upon the inspection of my GPS file when I got home, it appears that this was very true.

The first lap was partial, so this is 2-5.

After the first lap, I was mostly just cruising solo, and despite staying on the gas, each time I hit an open section, the next couple of girls up would be a bit smaller. The only ones I managed to reel in were a woman from the 45+ wave and a couple of 3/4 woman that each seemed to magically appear in front of me out of nowhere, presumably due to crashes. One I successfully passed and rode away from, but the other seemed to hover just out of reach for a lap or two before regaining her confidence on the final lap and riding out of sight. Luckily, I have the above proof that it was her speeding up and not me slowing down during the last lap. No giving up for me this race.

Even as I approached the end of the fourth lap, I was okay with doing another. I saw what I thought was the 1/2/3 leader entering the long 180 stretch that contained the barriers as I was leaving, and I knew she would not catch me in the short, fast section of the course that remained before the finish. However, the girl that I thought was the leader was actually second place, and I really had no idea how close I was to being lapped until Laura Van Gilder flew by me a few bike lengths past the finish line on my fourth time through. Although it lengthened my race, I also knew that it meant that anyone who could come up from behind me was cut off, and that I had been given one more lap to see if I could pick off anyone else. I wasn’t able to, but I was proud to have held off being lapped in a race where more than half of the girls didn’t.

It is important to stretch after exercise.

That brings us to matter of the half of the race in which I finished. Although I was already satisfied that I’d done the best I could do on that given day, after the team photos were taken and the turkey legs were eaten, the results showed that I had finished 8th out 19, my first top 50% in a PACX race. It was incredibly satisfying to finally have an unqualified good race this season, and I’m proud of myself for sticking with it through a (literally) bumpy early season. I’m actually excited at the prospect that I might be able to improve a bit more before the season’s over. Of course, the next race is Sly Fox, so while I have high hopes because the course suits me well, the goal that stands out most in my mind is not falling on the stairs two minutes into the race and almost breaking my nose. Never stop dreaming, right?

I guess this happened during my blogging break last year. Fingers crossed for a non-repeat.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Crossasaurus Awesome: Philly Girls Don't Give Up

N-now th-that that don't kill me
Can only make me stronger
I need you to hurry up now
Cause I can't wait much longer
I know I got to be right now
Cause I can't get much wronger
Man I've been waiting all night now
That's how long I been on ya

I can only imagine these to be the thoughts of one of the many racers who I have passed during a ‘cross race this season who have then passed me back again…and again, each time I made my move and then started to settle in for the long drive to the finish.

After winning the OVCX Cat 4 series championship in 2011, the couple of demoralizing years in the back of the elite field came as no surprise. It is even less surprising in light of the fact that those two years coincided with some serious life upheaval that resulted in my terribly out-of-shape arrival on the Pennsylvania ‘cross scene last season. I thought that the availability of a 3/4 field in which I could hide would make things easier, but for most of 2014, I wasn’t that much further from the back of the PACX women’s 3/4 field than I had been in the OVCX women’s elite field. After riding much more over the summer this season, I was hoping for better results, but the improvement has been marginal at best.

Now I may be pulling out the cyclocross equivalent of “the sun was in my eyes”, but after one and a half seasons in Pennsylvania, I’m starting to believe that despite what the field size numbers and Cross Results points might say about OVCX vs. PACX, it feels like the Cat 3 and 4 women here are a lot tougher. I’m not sure what the contributing factors are, but it seems that on average girls here are younger, fitter, and more experienced in bike racing or at least bike riding by the time they line up for their first ‘cross race. Sure, you still see the timid newbies on mountain bikes and 35+ moms who jump into the race because their kids and husbands are racing, but they are much smaller percentage of the field than they were OVCX land. Whatever the reasons, it makes it a lot harder for this 35+ cat mom (who incidentally was the 4th oldest woman in the 3/4 field on Sunday; WHAT?!!) to rest on her laurels, because as I’ve said to myself so many times this season, Philly girls don’t give up.

Sunday was my return to racing after a long CX drought. Luckily, the course for “Crossasaurus Awesome” was, in fact, actually awesome. It had lots of twisty, turny stuff, a few little short, steep sections, and set of three little rideable log stairs. Plus, it had rained just enough that morning to be the perfect amount of tacky that even mud-haters love. The added bonus was that it was my first race in my Laser Cats Feline All-Stars kit, and I was really excited about it. It turns out that I had at least once teammate directly in front of or behind me for almost the entire race. This was pretty fun and motivating.

The race went well enough, considering my current state of fitness and my lack of racing of late. I still managed a front-row call-up despite missing the West Chester race for Iron Cross, and I accomplished my goal of getting off the line and up to speed faster than everyone else. I didn’t, however, waste the extra burst of power that it would have taken to actually contest hole shot, knowing that right now I have no business trying to hang with the front of the field. I just wanted to prove that I could still perform a good start, since I haven’t in a while.

Then it was time to settle in and let things shake out since a good start but bad power meant that I was getting passed a lot for the first half-lap or so. Then things shook out, and I just worked on keeping a steady pace and picking a girl or two off when I could. As I neared the end of the fourth lap, my Garmin was showing nearly 40 minutes, there were no girls ahead in sight, and the ones behind were far enough back that I was confident that I could hold them off until the line.

And I did hold them off to the line. What I hadn’t counted on was that my race wouldn’t be done when I reached the finish line. So far this year, my only race that went to five laps was Quaker City, which was a very short course. This one was very long, so it never occurred to me that we would do five, even as I noticed the Cat 1/2/3 girls still heading to back part of the course as I approached the finish for the fourth time. I guess I thought they would pull us to keep the race on schedule, even though we hadn’t actually been lapped.

When I made the turn and started to wind up for the finish, I was demoralized to see one lap to go. I had just finished my normal last-lap mental bargaining game of “lap time through the bumpy section, last time over the barriers, last time through the sand…”, so “one more time of EVERYTHING” sounded pretty awful.

At least we managed synchronized 'cross tongue.

I was passed by my teammate Michaela as we crossed the line and I let her go as I willed my legs to do another lap. I was passed by another girl in the next straight section, but as she passed I found one last second, third, fourth wind and kept her from really pulling away. I held off any other passes through the rest of the last and kept Michaela and the other girl from gaining too much more ground. In the end, I finished 15th out of 23, and I was okay with that for my first race back. The fifth lap was pretty cruel, and once again I learned the hard lesson of “Philly girls never girls never give up.” It’s a tough lesson, but hopefully it will eventually sink in and make me faster.

I now have six races left in my ‘cross season with Thanksgiving weekend being the only break. The first half of the season hasn’t gone as smoothly hoped, but I guess I just need take inspiration from my teammates and colorful new kit and not give up until it’s over, Philly girl style.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Last Week Tonight

After Iron Cross, I was definitely ready for a break from the break in my ‘cross season. I returned to action Sunday, but a couple of cool things happened before then. I think I’ll just cover those for now, since I want to do a little more work on my race report post.

The first good thing was that I was able to take a day off from work on Thursday, and reset from the travel, stress, and Iron Cross Fail that had been bringing me down. Since moving to State College, I’ve learned that sometimes there’s just no substitute for a solid sleep in followed by long ride combination for the restoration of sanity. I always relished the opportunity to reduce the sleep debt which a rarely seem to come out of, but I don’t know I quite appreciated the opportunity to wear out my body after clearing my mind as much before moving here.

I took Hellga to Raystown to enjoy the lovely combination of fat bike and machine-cut trails. My first time on a fat bike was at Raystown, but Hellga made for a much more pleasant ride than the Surly Pugsley demo from a year ago. It was also an appropriately good workout, as I refuse to use the little ring when there is no snow. It was basically a singlespeed ride on the climby parts, but with just the right gearing to make it tough but doable. And, of course, the reward was lots of rippy, grippy downhill goodness.

Despite the fact that I supposedly only bought a fat bike to keep my sanity through the long, cold winter, the announcement of a four-race New Jersey Fat Bike Series, has me actually looking forward to winter now. All of the races are the kind of long, flat base miles that I should be doing during the winter months anyway, so it’s not like “racing” will detract from my training for things later in the year. It will mostly give me motivation not wuss out on riding when the weather gets cold, and will also hopefully give me the chance to befriend some other like-minded crazy people who like to ride bikes in the snow.

(Okay, I’ve barely ridden fat bike in actual snow yet, but I like the idea of liking it.)

Saturday would normally be lazy day/opener day during the season, but Frank and I took advantage of the fall color and finally got some engagement photos taken since our Nittany Lion Cross photo-shoot plans had fallen through. Sadly, we weren’t really able to include bikes, but at least we now have some nice pictures of ourselves in non-bike clothes that we can send to our families and whatnot. It feels good to have made it through another non-dumpster wedding milestone, even if it didn’t turn out the way I'd originally planned.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Iron Cross Fail

I haven’t written in the last couple of weeks, because I missed a weekend of racing to meet my mom in my old stomping ground of Bloomington, IN for mother-daughter activities. This was her choice, not mine, and it was definitely a little weird being back, and even more weird being back for such a short period of time. We met in Indianapolis on Friday afternoon, drove to Kentucky, saw Mammoth Cave on Saturday, drove to Bloomington, saw her favorite preacher doing a guest appearance at a local church Sunday, went to Nashville so I could “demo to win” a Liv Intrigue SX, did the Nashville tourist thing, and flew home on Monday. This was sandwiched between two busy weeks at work, along with a few other building stressors coming to fruition. So with airplanes, hotels, jammed calendars, lack of sleep, and a general feeling of uncertainty in several facets of my life, the last couple of weeks haven’t exactly been awesome for me.

I’d decided a few weeks ago that with the breaks in the PACX schedule and knowing that I’d miss another weekend of racing for the trip, that my ‘cross season was simply not going to play out in the “race early and often” manner that I prefer. I was interested in doing Iron Cross since we’d been riding so much gravel during the last half of the summer, and the way my ‘cross schedule was working out, I thought, “Screw it. What’s one more weekend off from ‘cross?” With the breaks in the race schedule and couple of carefully placed PTO days, I thought I’d be able to maintain my gravel fitness well enough into October to survive.

Of course, my body didn’t necessarily comply with the aggressive endurance schedule that I wanted it to maintain once the ‘cross season started, and I didn’t get in nearly the amount of gravel time in the past few weeks as I’d planned. We got in one last-ditch 42-mile ride the day before I left for Indiana that didn’t actually feel too bad endurance-wise, but was a lot slower than what I was doing in August without actually feeling slower while I was riding. I guess I’d lost more than I thought.

Fast forward ten extremely stressful days later, and I found myself lining up at the back of 200 riders on a downtown street of Williamsport, PA with the temperature hovering around 35 degrees. As we took off for what was supposed to be the 15 m.p.h. “neutral rollout”, I spun out a steady but not hard pace as I warmed up for the long day of climbing ahead. I also noticed that my “steady but comfortable pace” was allowing me to slip further and further to the back and off the back of the group, to the point that I was pretty sure Frank and I were DFL with the next riders up fading out site by the time we’d gotten out of town. It turns out that we actually weren’t DFL, but it was close.

My confidence started to rise as we hit gravel and then a long Jeep road climb where I began to pick off a few riders here and there. By the time the section ended, I had passed five girls and was pumped enough to set the goal of increasing that to ten by the time the day was over. Oh me. 

We immediately dumped out on a short gravel descent and then onto a paved climb on a busy road. I briefly paused for a gel and because Frank had stopped when we hit the gravel. I was passed by two girls while stopped, and I set to work reeling them back in only to find out how long and steep the paved climb was. My hatred of pavement was in full force as I watched them pull away only find a long paved decent, an aid station, and six to seven miles slightly uphill pavement grinding that followed. By the time we got off road again, I’d lost at least half the places that I gained on the first off-road climb.

What followed was seven miles of chunky climbing with some technical, rocky descending to break it up a bit. The climbing didn’t *feel* bad, but it was just a long time of never really being able to go fast. It took us four hours to get through 33 miles, which was a lot worse than the 10 m.p.h. average that I was expecting, so we called it a day when made it to the second aid station.

Obviously, I’m not exactly proud of this turn of events, but those are the facts. At this point I just want to put it behind me and start doing what I can to start breaking up the dark mood that’s been building in me for the past few weeks before it gets out of control. I hope that I can still make something of what’s left of my ‘cross season, but at this point, taking care of my brain and body are of the utmost importance.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Psycho Cross

Cause the racers gonna race, race, race
And the mechanics gonna hate, hate, hate
Baby I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off
Disc brakes are gonna brake, brake, brake
And the canti’s gonna cake, cake, cake
Baby I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off, Shake it off

Things got a little weird in PACX-land last week when the last-minute schedule addition on October 3 turned into a last-minute cancellation when it rained for most of the week and was predicted to rain on day on Saturday. Normally this would be a mud racer’s dream, and I was getting pretty excited at the forecast. Unfortunately, it seems that the venue was not as amenable to mud as the racers would have been.

It was a bit of a bummer because it would have been the closest race for us all year at a mere 1.5 hours away, but with multiple East Coast ‘cross series in operation, people will just choose the best/closest race on any given weekend, save a few hardcore folks chasing series points. With much-loved New Jersey series races right over the river this weekend, the chances of many Philly people making it into Central PA was pretty slim to begin with.

Hey, hey, hey
Just think while you been getting down about the lack Central PA ‘cross
And the lack of consistent competition from weekend to weekend
You could have been signing up for this sick race 

When the PACX race was cancelled, I leaned toward not racing and just getting in some miles for Iron Cross, as I was staring down the throat of a few ‘cross-less weeks, anyway. However, when Frank suggested we go to Psycho Cross in Maryland instead, I decided to take his motivation as my own. Let’s face it, the only way I would actually end up riding my bike in the rain on Saturday would be if I raced.

Despite my body feeling a little off from the cycle of overtraining then over resting over the previous couple of weeks, the race turned out pretty okay. There were 1/2/3, 3/4, and Cat 4 women’s categories all racing in the same time slot with starts a minute apart. Despite my self-proclaimed mud proficiency, I felt like I was passed by the entire 3/4 field in the first couple of minutes of the race when I got bogged down in places that I thought were rideable but were not.

The course was on the grounds of an old mental institution, which made the clichéd name almost forgivable. The first half of the lap contained two steep climbs that were probably not rideable for most even in good conditions, and definitely not in the mud. The rest was filled in almost exclusively with steep downhills and off-camber sections. For someone who has been accused of being much better on the bike than off the bike, I held my own and even made up ground on most of the run-ups. It was my first time using toe spikes and I adopted the strategy of scanning for footholds and taking the biggest steps I could as quickly as I could, rather than trying to “run”.

Big steps...

After the first run-up sat what became a much greater nemesis for me than any other girl in the race. It was a rooty, off-camber downhill covered in deep, sticky mud that spit you out onto a little rise that wouldn’t have looked like much in dry conditions. The problem was that you had to stay high on the off-camber or you ended up much further down the hill with lots of slick mud between you and the top. If you could successfully stay high, you would eventually hit dry grass and be able to easily pedal over the top. Unfortunately the high line was super sticky and rutted by my race, and I never made it to the dry grass without sliding downhill and having to run over the top. Elements like this made it feel a lot more like a skills clinic than a race, as I was more concerned about choosing good lines and staying on my bike more than the other girls than I was actually racing them.

This off-camber on the other hand, I was killing.

After some line choices the first lap, my strategy seemed to work, as I was passing more people than I was being passed by in the first half of each lap. The second half was more flat, twisty stuff in between the buildings of the old institution. There were a couple of tricky turns, but overall, it favored those with power more than skill, so I wasn’t making up a lot of ground in that area. There was on girl who I could see the entire race, and I would make up ground in the first half of the lap only to lose it in the second.

At the end of the third lap, I seemed closer to her than I’d been at the end of the previous two laps, but as I entered the finishing straight, I got pulled. This was annoying, as I could see a group of three girls not that far ahead that hadn’t been pulled. It was hard to tell if they were in my category or not at that point, but I was disappointed at not having a chance to try and chase them down or at least get one more shot at that tricky off-camber.

Despite the anticlimactic finish, the results revealed it to be my best race in quite some time. I accomplished my “top 50%” goal by placing 6th out of 13 in the 3/4 and holding off all but two girls from the Cat 4 wave. It was just confusing because I felt like there were way more people in front of me than that, but perhaps I was wrong. I’ve scanned the pictures and the results over and over, and yes, I do seem to have really been in 6th.

I guess it’s time to accept my placing and my first sub-600 Cross Results score since leaving OVCX and figure how I’m going to maintain it.