Sunday, July 24, 2016

In My Wilderness 101 Dreams

He said let's get out of this town
Drive out of the city
Away from the crowds
I thought heaven can't help me now
Nothing lasts forever
But this is gonna take me down

I’m actually struggling with what to say about this one. Ten years ago I learned that a national series of 100 mile mountain bike races existed, and I thought it sounded exactly like something I needed to do. Seven years ago I dropped out of my second attempt at the Lumberjack 100, and then, lots and lots of stuff happened. That I have lost half my pancreas, won an OVCX series championship, and am now married to a completely different person than the last time I entered a 100 mile mountain bike race is not insignificant. Of course, the most influential change is that I moved a couple of states over and ended up with a NUE series race right in my back yard. One year ago I rode my ‘cross bike alongside Wilderness 101 racers up Alan Seeger, and decided I might just want to join them this year. Finally, yesterday I had my first successful finish of a 100 mile NUE series race.

Taryn and I doing our "What am I getting myself into?" faces

I wasn’t feeling very confident leading up to the race because I hadn’t hit some training milestones that I’d hoped to, the forecast was 94 degrees, and I was feeling like I had mistimed my taper. My confidence wasn’t really inspired as we started the first climb about ten minutes into the race and I settled into my pace, which resulted in my being literally DFL for a lot of it. I went back and forth with a guy for last place until the first aid station, which I arrived at not very long before the 9:00 a.m. cutoff. We caught and passed a guy on Thickhead and then I passed him for good up Bear Meadows. When I hit the second aid station I saw several people still there and realized that I wasn’t *that* far behind.

As horrible as Greenlee is, it was where I actually started to feel like I might be okay. Although I had to take a stretch break and shift to my small ring not long after the steep grades started, I soon began seeing guys walking or just straight-up sitting on the side of the road. It sucked and I was going much slower than what I’m capable of, but I was still pedaling when other people were cracking. The same thing happened on Seeger, and by the time I reached the third aid station and saw Frank for the first time of the day, I declared my intent/expectation to actually, really finish.

From that point on, it was just a matter of setting it up and knocking it down through each segment of the course. I didn’t worry about the fact that I was going well below my normal PR speed and just kept moving as fast as I could. Even though my hands, back, and most of the rest of my body were killing me, I was determined to tolerate it to the end and make my pain worth it. I spent a lot of time purposely checking out mentally to try and deal with the pain and pass the time. Part of this included mentally writing a Ghost Trails-style flashback story of how exactly I came to be suffering there at that moment, except that mine was a musical with Taylor Swift songs. “Wildest Dreams” was the opening number…

Approaching aid station 4

Once I reached the top of Stillhouse with all of the singletrack and the “big 3” behind me, I focused on my goal of reaching the final aid station before 6:30 so that I wouldn’t have to do the final part of the course with lights on my bike. (I already looked like I was going on a freakin’ bikepacking trip with all of my food and water accoutraments.) I ticked off the miles, passed a lot more blown-out riders, railed Panther Run, and then hammered to the final aid station with plenty of time to spare. I left feeling good and easily knocked out the last 13 miles with just a little bit of struggling and stretching on the final climb. I rolled into the park, banged the gong, and relished my well-awaited Wilderness 101 finish.


Although I was more than an hour and a half past my 11-hour goal, in the end I was pretty happy with my performance, considering the heat and that I didn’t feel that great in the days leading up to the race. This year has been an interesting learning experience for me, since I’ve now had three big races where I started off slow and then picked off people as the race wore on. I guess it’s partly good pacing and perhaps I’m actually better and riding through the pain that I thought. (At least when properly motivated.)


Now that I have finally got two big goals knocked out this year (TrailMix Long Course and the W101), I finally get some time to relax and play around on my Camber. It came on Thursday and I took it on a very successful first ride, but I’ll give it a full review when my butt heals and I can ride it again. Of course, while I’m exploring and having fun, I’ll probably be starting the recon on my next big goal: the 2017 Transylvania Epic.

The after. Taryn did great in her first 100 miler and ended up 6th.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: You Belong With Me

You're scrolling through Liv posts
And you’re upset
They seemed to put the trail bike idea to bed
'Cause they don’t get “Rothrock XC” like I do
I'm in the warehouse
It's a typical Tuesday night
I’ve got the kinda head tube angle they wouldn’t like
But she'll never roll down Croyle like I do

But she’s got frame art
I’ve got dude parts
She's #ladycarbon
And I'm in the back stock
Dreaming about the day when you wake up and find
That what you're looking for has been here the whole time

For the small, yellow, 2016 Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b that has been sitting in the East Coast warehouse for probably a year, that day finally came on Friday. Now he’s on his way to State College, just in time for me to do a 100-mile race on my hardtail and then be too physically trashed to ride him for a week or so. For him, better late than never, and for me, better early than September. Yes, #BikeDecision2017 has reached an unexpected conclusion.

There, I fixed it.


A week ago I was 80% leaning towards the 2017 Giant Trance Advanced 2, as I liked the idea of being able to ride a big bike that could shred steep stuff with abandon. I was also growing kind of fond of the “plaid shirt” color scheme. At the same time, I was scared that it would be too much bike to pedal around the slow, monster-trucky parts that make up the majority of my riding. I definitely didn’t feel that Adam Craig hopping through swoopy Pacific Northwest loam was in any way representative of my real life.

Frank sought to help me resolve my remaining trepidation about the Trance by borrowing 2014 Trance Advanced for me to try out. It was a size too big and perhaps had the suspension set up on the soft side, so I wasn’t expecting a miraculous ride experience, but the trial ride was not indicative of anything that I’d want to take on full-time. I rode it once on the little XC trails in town and once on the ridge. Both times I was exhausted by the end because it just felt like so much work to ride. I just didn’t have the power to propel it at a speed where it was actually fun most of the time.

I briefly reconsidered getting the Liv Pique Advanced SX and just using a Cane Creek AngleSet kit to slack it out a degree or so to assuage my descending concerns, but there also comes a time when even the most loyal brand patron must evaluate other options. Since I get a similar discount on Specialized and already have Hellga sitting in my garage as precedent, I decided to give them another look.

I remembered briefly perusing the Specialized collection a few months ago just in case the 2017 release turned out to be a bust. I thought I remembered a women’s bike that was 130 in the front, which was the women’s equivalent of the Camber, but with what I thought was more travel. (It turns out that I was comparing it to the men’s 29er.) I told Frank that if they made a “carbon Lady Camber” for 2017, I might be interested.

As it turns out, they will, very literally have a “carbon Lady Camber” this year. The Rumor is being replaced with the “Women’s Camber”, which is available in carbon. This means that instead of a slightly different women’s-specific frame in 2016, the frames of the 2017 women’s models will be the same frame as the 650b men’s models but with different colors and parts. I wasn’t really even aware of the men’s 650b version until I started researching this, but I figured if I was getting the same frame either way, it was really a question of color and spec. I mean, since I can no longer use “Rumor Has It” for the title of this post, what good are a women’s saddle and grips that I’ll probably swap, anyway?

When comparing the colors and builds available for 2017 in both the men’s and women’s versions, we discovered that the best monetary and aesthetic value actually lay in the men’s 2016 Expert version. It’s marked-down, end-of-year price perfectly rode the Bob Barker line of getting as close to my budget as possible without going over. Both the 2017 men’s and women’s Comp level have red on them, which is probably my number one color deal breaker, and would have less-nice components. The next step up was the boring black men’s Pro level, which was over budget. Since the 2017’s didn’t promise any massive updates, it just made sense to go ahead with the 2016, which was a better color, a better value, and I could have lots of time to enjoy it before ‘cross instead of waiting until September to get a 2017 model.

While I don’t go around fantasizing about yellow bikes, the fact that it is a clean, pleasant shade that could be perked up with some pink and blue still won out over the other options. Our Laser Cats kits will be going full baby shower (pink and blue on black) beginning this cross season, but the new bike should actually be a pretty great match to the stripes on our current kits and our enduro jerseys. At 130mm front and rear with a 68 degree head tube angle, it promises to be the “in between” bike for which I’ve been searching. I should get noticeably better descending capability for a much smaller adjustment in the amount of slack and squish that I have to learn to push around, compared to the Trance. Finally, once we build up and install the carbon rims that Frank bought a while back, it should be no heavier than my Lust and even more “pleasantly obnoxious” in color. So with the “pro” column quickly filling up and heavily outweighing the cons, I have finally come to a bike decision that I feel confident about. I can’t wait to see what new adventures we will have together.

There, he fixed it. Stickers are cool.

And yes, he already has a name. Since my hardtail is Jamie the Climbslayer I thought her bigger, burlier trail bike buddy should be Brienne the Beauty. Unfortunately, since I tend to name my bikes in the gender for which they were marketed, and Brienne is not so gender neutral as Jamie, it no longer seemed to be the best choice. So I took a note from all of the GOT “shipping” articles that came out in the spring and went over one degree of separation…to Tormund Giantsbane.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: If It Fits, I Sits?


As you may remember, the announcement of Liv's 2017 line a couple of weeks ago prompted me to ask some important questions about my next bike purchase. Since then I've been Googling, hashtag clicking, and social media trolling trying to dig up any more data to inform my choice. Giant's national sales meeting was last Thursday and Friday, so I thought that Monday would be big release day, but nothing happened. Despite the lack of a big reveal, I dug up just enough information to make me feel like the cat in the picture above. The Giant/Liv 2017 line up has presented me with a series of boxes, and it's unclear which one I should shove myself into.

I got a peak at the geometry for the Pique Advance SX and was really disappointed to see that it still had a 69 degree head tube angle, even with the 140mm fork. That's a degree steeper than the men's Anthem with a 120mm fork. I actually posed the question on Liv's Facebook page as to why the women's models have so much steeper head tube angles than similar-purposed men's bikes, but have not yet received a reply. They seem consistent in this design enough that there must be a reason, but I certainly don’t understand it. If they provided some justification based on their women’s geometry research, I might feel a lot better about the bike’s ability to do what I want it to do. I’m willing to accept that the Internet bike nerd hive mind by which Frank, and in turn I, am heavily influenced, might not know everything, especially in the niche of women’s mountain bike design. However, while “No weaknesses - fast up, faster down” is an awesome combination of marketing words, I want to know what that really means when the numbers don’t seem back it up.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Pique is not so much the love child of the Lust and the Intrigue, as the Lust 2.0. It’s still an XC bike before all else, with a little bit of added trail capability in the form of more suspension. It’s not like I haven’t been getting by on a Lust for two years, but there are certain downhill trails that I’m afraid to try on it, and others I’ll do but don’t enjoy. My fitness has improved enough in the last couple of years that lugging the 26 pound bike (aluminum, lower-end build) to the top of Rothrock’s climbs doesn’t really bother me so much anymore, so my upgrade goals aren’t to get a lighter bike that climbs faster (I have a hardtail for that), but to get one that packs more fun into my 26 pound climbing capacity. As I stated my one-sentence criteria for my new bike to Frank last night: I want to a bike that’s efficient enough for me to ride for the whole Transylvania Epic race and that descends well enough that I don’t feel like I’m going to die on the enduro segments.

My dream was that 2017 would bring a carbon Intrigue, but instead it brought no Intrigue at all. I was emotionally prepared for that dream to not come to fruition, which is why I was basically set on a Trance Advanced when the new Liv bikes were announced. With so much flash and fanfair, I really wanted to be on team #ladycarbon, but the more I research, the more I don’t think options offered will meet my needs. The Pique is a little too XC (probably even with more fork), and the Hail is a little too enduro. I’m glad they made the Hail, and it will fill a need for a lot of women who are wanting to get into enduro, but I don’t think it will be a good fit as #1 bike for me. It's meant to shine at fast speeds, and the majority of my time spent in Rothrock composed of monster-trucky slogs. I just don't think I'm fast enough to make the bike go fast most of the time. Of course, I'd love to have one just to bomb down fall line trails and to race enduro, but I need a better everyday bike first.


Things have come full circle now that I’ve got a visual on the 2017 Trance Advanced 2 from the Australian Giant site. The Trance Advanced 0 is too expensive, the Trance Advanced 1 is too ugly, and my first reaction to the Trance Advanced 2 was, “It looks like a plaid shirt, but not necessarily in a bad way.” I more I look at it, however, the more it grows on me. The orange and blue kind of look like paint brush strokes, and it I think it would lend itself well to some pink highlights. 

I’m a bit concerned about the jump to the 150mm fork and the man carbon. Okay, I joke about special #ladycarbon, but I do believe that choosing a bike that is designed for a lower average rider height and weight isn’t complete B.S. In perfect world, the #ladycarbon version of the Trance would probably be lighter, but that isn’t a thing. I’m not sure how much difference it actually makes, anyway, and it’s probably more important to choose a bike based on the riding style for which it was designed than the body for which it was designed.

I go back and forth about the pros and cons of each, and then soak in the bummer news that neither will supposedly be available until September. I was already making big plans for the fun times me and my new bike would be having in August before ‘cross starts to take up all my weekends until winter. I’m holding on to a thread of hope that it will be sooner based on my past experience of getting my hands on that new, new shit early, thanks to especially wonderful, vigilant account reps, but that’s probably unreasonable to expect a second time under very different circumstances.  I’m very tempted to just to choose whichever bike I can get my hands on first, since I feel like I’m not going feel 100% confident in my decision either way.

This has already been the most agonizing bike decision that I have ever tried to make, and I realize that it’s because I actually have choices, albeit imperfect ones. Prior to this, it was always just a matter of buying the newest thing in XC bikes at the best spec I could afford (which usually wasn’t much). Now that I have the budget, experience, and terrain to step up to my first big girl bike, the world just got a lot more complicated. 

I know that people do all kinds of things on kinds of bikes, and ultimately it’s up to me to overcome where my bike falls short. When I moved here, I couldn’t imagine anyone riding more than 100mm of travel as an all-purpose bike, because that’s all I could drag around fitness-wise. I overcame that, and now I feel like I’ve outgrown Princess Monster Truck. Even if the Trance doesn’t climb perfectly, I suspect I can overcome it the way I did with my Lust, and the downhills will be way more fun. Maybe the Pique Advanced SX will be so light and efficient that I finally feel confident enough to enter the TSE, even if I end up scared to death on the enduro segments because my bike is steeper than I’d like. Maybe forcing myself through the scary stuff will improve my skills, so when I get a real enduro bike I rip it up like a boss.

Perhaps I need to take some wisdom from our kitty friend above. Life presents you with a series of boxes, and they are rarely the exact size and shape of your body, but they’re all fun to sit in nevertheless. Sometimes you just have to jump in one, sit in it, enjoy it for what it is, scratch the hell out of it, and know that the mailman will always bring new boxes in time.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Hay Is In The Barn

Scene:Friday Night, Bedtime

Me: After tomorrow, the hay will be in the barn.

Frank: The hay will be in the barn?

Me: It’s something my old coach used to say. It means that all of your fitness is packed in before a big race, and all that’s left is to taper.

Frank: I guess that is where you put hay.

Me: Until you take it out and feed it to the cows in winter, but I’m hoping it will be a gentle winter and the cows don’t need too much hay.

Frank: So you’re already getting into your blog post metaphor for the week, huh? Are there any pop song lyrics about cows and hay?

***

My official Wilderness 101 training concluded on Saturday with more of a fizzle than a bang. It really served to reinforce my belief that the Bald Eagle side of the course somehow has it in for me, as any time I’ve tried to cross 322 this year, things have gone badly. Stillhouse has treated me okay, as well Stillhouse knows how to treat anyone, but a good day on the opening climb or any of the final parts of the course have eluded me.

Things went well during the 4th of July weekend, when my teammates came to town to ride. Taryn came on Saturday to join my W101 training ride, since she was considering signing up for the race herself. I always knew she was fast, but I was kind of astounded at how she was riding out of sight so easily on my home turf when I was actually riding pretty fast myself. I ended up PRing Seeger and all of the singletrack on the ride by huge margins.

Laser Cats in the Wild 

Several other girls came on Sunday for a “best of” tour of Rothrock, which included the XC Loop, up Lower Lonberger, Tussey Ridge, and down Camp. I struggled to keep up after the long, hard ride the day before, but I made it through. I think I dug myself into a hole, though, and going to a 4th of July party and drinking too much on Monday instead of resting also did not help.

With two weeks before the big day, I wanted to get one more good, long ride in, but my body was simply not having it. The temperature was hovering just above my breakdown level (maybe 85?), and though I forced myself over the 4.5 mile opening climb, it wasn’t pretty. Since that was the hardest part of the ride that I had planned, I was hoping my legs would wake up along Decker Valley Rd., but they never did. I ended up sending Frank ahead to get car, which resulted in a miscommunication about our meet-up spot, and him driving around for an hour and a half looking for me. It was a much less productive day than I was hoping for.

Now I’m past the point of being able to do anything except come into the race well rested. Instead of a gentle winter to save my hay, I’m hoping for reasonably cool weather to save my legs. If I actually ride everything as fast as I have in training on race day, I’ll do pretty well, but I’ve also seen the damage that heat and fatigue can do.

So the hay is in the barn, winter is coming, and the big question is whether my legs will win the great battle between the living and the dead? Yes, I just made up a really mixed metaphor about bikes, farming, and Game of Thrones. Sometimes, that’s how it goes.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bike Decision 2017: What Actually Happens When You Go Full Enduro?

I haven’t been inspired to write much since the TrailMix. It took me a full two weeks to physically and mentally recover from that experience, which was a lot longer than I had planned. Of course, the race itself took a lot more time and mental energy than I had planned. Now I’ve kinda sorta returned to climbing gravelly things on my hardtail, but not nearly at the level that I was in May. With only three weeks left until the Wilderness 101, and having not really met any of the milestones that I had planned along the way, I’m not feeling super confident. I guess after the TrailMix, I am feeling confident in my ability to choose an ugly finish over no finish, so I’m pretty sure I’ll find a way to gut it out one way or another. It just might not look the way I hoped it would when I set out on this journey.

With the march to the Wilderness 101 nearing its end, I’m thinking a lot about what I’ll do with my life no longer dedicated to climbing all the gravel all the time. In the short term, I realized that I’ve been in hard-driven, goal-oriented mode since December. I think it’s good to get into this mode sometimes, as it helps me push through barriers that I might not otherwise, but it’s also not sustainable forever. Once the W101’s over, I’m not going to take a rest week and jump into high-intensity intervals and full season of ‘cross as I'd originally planned. I’m just going to do whatever sounds fun for a while, even if it means an abbreviated and not particularly competitive ‘cross season. I probably won’t manage to show up in any sun-scorched corn fields by the end of August.

I think part of this is just plain ol’ burnout, and part is that I’m really wanting more time to really mountain bike, since training all spring and summer for a mostly gravel “mountain bike” race has kept me really enjoying the best of what Rothrock gnar has to offer. Along with that, I see a new gnar bike in my near future, and I don’t want to not ride it because of ‘cross.

 I’ve been wanting a slacker, more descending-capable bike for about a year with the thought of future enduro-racing pursuits. Of course, I tried a couple of enduro races on my Lust this year with basically no planning or practice, and they didn’t go so well. I think the more accurate saying should be “never go partial enduro”, so I skipped last weekend’s race to focus on W101 training. Next time I enduro, it will be when I’m ready to give it the attention it deserves.

The big question is what bike will I be riding when that happens? In their current state of evolution, MASS enduro races don’t require, or necessarily even favor, a “full enduro” bike. I think it’s more of a matter of a dropper post, a sub-70 degree head tube angle, and to putting in the time to know how to use both. In my first two enduro racing attempts, I really only had one of three on the list (a dropper that I wasn’t good at using). The new bike should be capable enough in MASS enduro races, but also still climb well enough to ride in the TrailMix and perhaps in next year’s Transylvania Epic.

I’ll admit that last year when Liv released the Intrigue SX that I was very, well, intrigued. It was a very pretty bike, and pedaled well enough in the short trial I took on one at Brown County last fall, but I couldn’t afford it at the time coz wedding and stuff. It's just as well, because as the year passed, it just never felt like it was *the* bike. Because Liv kind of pushed as it the pinnacle of their years of women’s mountain bike research, I held a little hope that 2017 would yield a carbon fiber version. This is based on the typical Giant pattern of tweaking new technology in aluminum versions before committing them to carbon. However, based on the fact that Liv has still not produced a carbon ‘cross bike for retail purchase, despite a Liv rider winning the women’s world championship every year since the brand was launched, I steeled myself for possible disappointment.

When I bought my Obsess in May, a friend joked about our love/hate relationship with the Liv brand. I summed it up by saying that the relationship is that I’m mad that they don’t give me more opportunities to hand them my money. Obviously I’m capable of straying when I have to (buying a Specialized fat bike), but despite occasionally missing the mark, they’re usually the brand most likely to deliver the things I want, in the prettiest colors, at the best price (partially because I’ve never not had a shop discount on Giant/Liv at any point during my cycling career). So like a lifelong fan of a losing sports team, each new bike release season starts with “maybe this will be our year”.

Anyway, after much research that I decided that I wanted a carbon fiber bike in the 130-140mm range both front and rear. If my dream of an Intrigue Advanced did not come true, I would go for a men’s Trance Advanced or a Juliana Furtado. Then I found out that for all its pretty color, the Furtado was 2-3 pounds heavier than a similarly-priced Trance, so I would definitely be sticking with Giant/Liv one way or another. The new 2017 editions were announced this week, and they yielded both excitement and confusion on my part.


The Trance Advanced has been bumped up to 150 front and 140 rear, and is even more trail-y than it was in the past. The only pictures released are of the highest level model, which I think is quite pretty, and makes me worry that they chose something ugly for the model that’s actually in my price range. (Edit: They totally did.)

Liv dropped some new #ladycarbon options, but an Intrigue was not among them. Instead the Lust and Intrigue had a baby, and as the bike media was way more excited about, Liv did, in fact, go full enduro. Considering that I take the Trance off the table and stick with #teamladycarbon, here are my choices:


The Pique is supposed to be an XC race bike and trail bike all rolled into one, with a pure 100mm race bike no longer offered. It’s 120mm in the rear with the option of a 140mm fork on the Pique Advanced SX model. That definitely sounds like the closest thing to a “do it all” model on either men’s or women’s side of the brand. However, something about the fact that “race” comes before “trail” in all the marketing languages makes me worry that was built more for "Indiana rock gardens" than actually rock gardens, and the "rowdy" 140mm option was an afterthought to fill a gap in the line. Can it get to the bottom of Wildcat better than my Lust? Probably. Can I take it to the bike park with my #babesinbaggies teammates? Probably not.



Then there is the Hail, a high-end carbon 160/160 enduro bike for women. My first thought was that I don’t need that much travel, and that it might be too heavy or bouncy for all-around riding. However, Frank has recently traded in his Anthem for a carbon 150/150 BMC Trail Fox, and he seems happy enough. The girl that won the TrailMix short course last year did it on a Roubion, so I guess enduro bikes can still be fast if you put a fast person on them. Liv keeps bragging on the Hail’s efficiency, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t weigh that much more than my bottom-model aluminum Lust.

It will probably still be a few weeks before I can buy either, and I probably will end up buying the Pique Advanced SX. However, the Hail does have me asking the question, “What actually happens when you go full enduro?”

***

I just realized I wrote the whole post and didn't include a full list of all the travel options that Giant and Liv have announced this year:

160/160: Reign (M) or Hail (W)
150/140: Trance (M)
140/120: Pique SX (W)
130/110: Anthem SX (M)
120/120: Pique (W)
120/110: Anthem (M)

Theses are all 27.5 bikes (and at 5'4" all I care about), and word on 29ers is sparse. I'm also assuming they will still be offering their Glory full DH bike, but that it's just pretty well dialed and there won't be major changes.

As you can see, lots of choices are offered, it gets a little spread out in the middle range where I was originally planning to buy. The format of the XC, what we'll call the XXC bike at 120-130, and then a jump to the 150-160 seems to be the norm for a lot of companies this year.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Rothrock TrailMix: So I Didn't DNF

This past weekend I accomplished a goal that had eluded me for two years: I finished the long course at the Rothrock TrailMix. A couple of qualifications to this are that a) A bridge was out on the road up to the John Wert trail, which is the most technical trail of the traditional long course, which adds an extra “ain’t nobody got time for this” aspect with its placement near the end of the deceptively hard 36 mile course. So having not included the John Wert trail, I still don’t feel like I’ve finished the *real* long course. b) Implicit in my goal of finishing was that finishing meant something closer to the five hour mark than the six hour mark and not just simple dragging my blown-out body through the length of the course before the point that the race staff kicked me off of it.

However, when my body came undone from the heat less than halfway into the race, I was not too concerned with the qualifiers. As I drug myself up the next climb, which took over 38 minutes, and later as I passed various points of the course that would have provided an easy bailout, I mostly thought about telling my teammate Taryn about my two years’ worth of attempts at finishing this race. She seemed impressed that I was still trying after my previous failed attempts. She’s only been riding bikes beyond commuting for about a year, and she’s already way faster than me, so it’s a little hard telling such a story to someone who has yet to fail really hard at something cycling-wise. You never know whether you’ll get sympathy, admiration, or judgment, because it can’t actually be as hard you say it is, right? Luckily, I got the first two from her and latter mostly just came from myself. As I continued my slow and painful forward motion through the rest of the course on Saturday, I realized that I couldn’t control the course modifications or my lack of speed, but it was totally in my power to avoid telling Taryn that I had DNF’d again. So I didn’t DNF.



I knew going into the race that my speed wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but I thought that with the substitution of gravel road for John Wert, I might still be able to finish in around 5 hours. However, the mid-to-upper 80’s temperatures prompted me to throw out any time goals the morning before the race began. The rapid jump from 60’s to 80’s a couple of weeks ago has left me reevaluating my perceived fitness level and hoping some heat tolerance kicks in before July 23.

I started off at a purposefully moderate pace, repeatedly reminding myself to reign in my effort, and still managing a pretty okay pace through the top of Bear Gap. I was ahead of at least three long course riders that I’d passed on the XC Loop and had made it through first singletrack section with only the top 5 men from the short course race catching me. During my first long course attempt in 2014, I was already at the back of the short course field, who started 15 minutes after me, by the time I finished the XC Loop, realized how far in over my head I was, and called it a day. The only place I actually tried to go fast was the McGuire descent on the XC Loop, a QOM that I’ve been chasing as long as I’ve been chasing a TrailMix finish. With the course clear and the trail as buff as Rothrock trail gets, I laid it out for 5 minutes and 57 seconds to become ruler of one of two descents in Rothrock that are actually more fun than exhausting and scary.



Speaking of exhausting and scary descents, the Croyle descent was where I started to crack. This one gives you the choice of exhausting or scary. It's steep but not crazy steep with some loose rocks and very small drops, stuff that is actually pretty easy in small doses. It just goes on forever and the speed at which you will hurtle over the individually-tame loose rocks and small drops becomes scary, unless you ride your brakes the entire time, which is exhausting. I tried to let loose as much as possible, and it was by far my fastest time on that descent, but the eight minutes it took was still enough for my quads, arms, and core muscles to all be screaming from the sustained aggressive descending position by the bottom.

I had a couple of minutes of easy spinning on gravel before the biggest climb of the day. That’s where the real “everything hurts and I’m dying” kicked in. From there it was just a matter of will to turn pedals through each section and win the negotiation with myself to move on to the next one. I was surprised when I saw a decent number of people from my race at the one full aid station just beyond the halfway point of the race. They all left before me, but when I set out onto Tussey Ridge at a pace so slow that it was confusing to see the familiar trail at that speed, I still managed to pick people off one by one. I guess my two years’ of failure did result in a proper respect for how hard the race is and even when I’m hurting, save something for the challenges to come. Finally, many rest breaks and internal negotiations later I reached the finish line with the peace of mind that I would not have a third TrailMix DNF hanging over my head. Better yet, I was several places out of last place and managed to avoid the six-hour mark, even though I was thoroughly past my goal of five.

As someone whose history with big, long goal races is mostly split between DNF’s and races that I stubbornly gutted out at the back of the pack when the merits of doing so were questionable, with a precious few occasions where things actually ended well, I feel like I have a different perspective on the whole “death before DNF” thing. I have huge respect for those who stick it out through sometimes hours and hours of drudgery when their plans go south, but I also don’t hold any negative judgment for those who choose to hang it up and live to fight again another day. Each person has their own goals and motivations when they roll up to the starting line, and some days when go wrong the price of finishing is simply not worth the reward, and that’s totally okay. It’s your investment of money, training, and pride to do with what you want. As I rolled through the final stretch of pavement, I reflected on my past attempts at the race, how my riding had improved since I first started scouting the course in April 2014, and how even though I still wasn't as fast as I wanted to be, on that particular day it meant everything to me just to say that I had finally made it to the finish line.

I do recommend dragging yourself to the logical conclusion of a death march (not the fun kind) at least once just so that you know you can. There is a definite satisfaction in knowing that, and in my case, getting a reminder every once in a while. Saturday was a good reminder that I can do what I need to when price of not DNFing is great, but the reward/consequence is still greater. So I didn’t DNF.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

It's My Life

This is for the ones who stood their ground
For Tommy and Gina who never backed down
Tomorrow's getting harder make no mistake
Luck ain't even lucky
Got to make your own breaks

It's my life
And it's now or never
I ain't gonna live forever
I just want to live while I'm alive
(It's my life)
My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said
I did it my way
I just want to live while I'm alive
'Cause it's my life

It’s a little embarrassing when the cheesy pseudo-inspirational music piped into the gym becomes actually inspiring, especially when it’s an extra-cheesy Bon-Jovi-for-the-millennium ditty that I never liked when it was at the height of its popularity. However, as I was working through my (still) assisted pull-ups on Monday, I caught the bit about Tommy and Gina who never backed down. It struck a chord with me, referencing the Bon-Jovi-for-the-time-period-Bon-Jovi anthem that I parodied into the name of this now nine-year-old blog.

For three weekends in a row, my progress has stagnated in different ways, and the weeks before Wilderness 101 are ticking away way too quickly. This has pulled my thoughts away from signs that this might finally be my breakout year to how little permanent improvement I’ve really made after ten years in this sport, how I’m approaching an age where improving on my decade of mediocrity will only become more difficult, and worrying about many other little things that I can’t very well answer, like if birth control is making me fat and slow. (Yes, I’m aware that pregnancy would also make me fat and slow, but how much does that even apply, now that I’m “old”?) Suddenly, the cheesy song seemed to answer my doubts line by line (save the birth control thing).

I often get frustrated that at how little I have to show for my years of riding and feel like there’s something wrong with me because it seems that most average cyclists would not take as long as I have to be fit enough to finish mid-pack in a race like the Wilderness 101. Even now, I’m only getting close because of laser focus on that objective with a lot of short-term sacrifice of any other bike-related goals. Still, it means something that I never (completely) gave up on the sport that’s held my imagination for all of this time. Although Tommy and Gina could have used some coaching on S.M.A.R.T. goals, as “making it” was always a bit vague, apparently they never backed down, and neither did I.

Now I’m really close to accomplishing a big goal that I’ll be very proud of if it comes together, but I almost feel like I’m not allowed to be proud because it’s not that big of an accomplishment by other people’s standards. It’s not truly now or never, as I’m not really that old, but I think that maybe this will be the year of my actually doing the thing I set out to do. As I've mentioned before, whenever I actually manage to do the thing I set out to do, it's huge for me. The journey hasn’t been ideal, but it’s been mine, and there’s more to come. When it comes down to it, I just really want to keep improving as much as I can for as long as I can. Or, you know, live while I’m alive.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Doing Things I'm Bad At, Part 2: Pocono Enduro Edition

“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.”Me, in January

I think I might have laid out a self-fulfilling prophecy when I wrote in January that most of 2016 would likely be focused on “doing things I’m bad at”. I found myself inspired by the great advice from a self-described klutz of a pro enduro racer who turned away from her “natural talent” of endurance sports and clawed her way up to being good at something she initially sucked at.

I’ve honestly never displayed natural talent for anything athletic, but over the past ten years of my cycling career, I’ve learned that I prefer technical and anaerobic over long, smooth, and steady. That is why when I said I’d be focusing on doing things I was bad at, I planned to shore up my abilities in the latter and put the former on a shelf for a bit. Little did I know that declaration would drive me to be inexplicably better at going uphill than downhill a short three months later.

“Usually, we’re bad at things because we don’t do them.” - Syd Schulz, also in January

If I could describe my last week in one sentence, that would be it. A mere 8-day period has seen some huge victories and one crushing defeat, and as expected, there is a strong correlation to what I’ve been putting my resources into lately.

We all know that pretty much all of my training since the end of 'cross season has been directly or indirectly in service of the Wilderness 101. It’s finally coming together, and last week I PR’d, or at least set a mountain bike PR for, five of the seven biggest climbs of the race. I still have exaggerated ‘cross bike PRs on Seeger and Stillhouse from last summer, but I expect those to also fall soon, thanks to the arrival of Jamie the Climbslayer.


I’ve been torn for a while between my desire for the closest thing to a ‘cross bike that can still be ridden on the singletrack of the W101, and my desire for a longer-travel trail bike that can be used in future enduro pursuits. Because life in Rothrock is defined by gravel climbs and rocky, fall line descents, I decided that I eventually wanted bikes for both, depending on my focus for a given day. I can’t afford both right now, but I was able to get an instant climbing boost with the purchase of a pretty affordable Liv Obsess Advanced 2, which will at least free my Lust up for some enduro-worthy gnar-mods now that it’s off the hook for the W101.

A three-minute PR on Greenlee

The bike does exactly what it’s supposed to do. The first pedal stroke felt smoother and snappier than my Lust, and as we started the first climb, it was obvious that I was going faster than normal, even with semi-crappy legs from some surprisingly fast climbing on the Lust a few days prior. Of course, the first descent was chunky double track where my internal soundtrack quickly turned into a mash up of “Rumpshaker” and “You Shook Me All Night Long”. She’s a hardtail, alright.

Our first short venture onto some actual rocky singletrack found me dismounting a lot to avoid risking my new baby until I understand how she handles better, but I’m sure with some practice we’ll be able to survive most of what the W101 singletrack throws at us. I kept telling myself that for all of its light carbon-fiberness, the frame was made for World Cup XC races, and it’s not like Pauline Ferrand-Prévot or Jolanda Neff ride around in fear that every little bump will crack their bike.

I guess that with all the progress toward getting almost good at the thing that I’m bad at, there was a price to pay when it came to my enduro debut on Sunday. I started out very excited because the women’s 2/3 class was just my teammates Michaela, Sam, and me. We had awesome new freeride jerseys on the way, and were all set for a podium sweep of stripes and donut galaxies. It was also their first enduro, too, so at least we were all in the same boat.

At least we look cute. Frank got to be an honorary Laser Tomcat to help meet the minimum on the jersey order.

Then a couple of other girls signed up at the last minute, and it started to feel like an actual competition. I was panicking like a college student trying to ace their final after not studying all semester. Sure, I had put zero preparation into this race, but I think I hadn't originally expected to really race so much as just take cute pictures in our new jerseys, ride the course, and observe fast dudes for future reference. Then all of the sudden there was the specter of public comparison to other people. Given my lack of preparation, I was terrified that I would fall short. It was really tough because I knew I wasn’t as prepared as some of the other girls, but considering that descending is my self-identified strong suit, it was still going to hurt if I suddenly sucked at it for all of the world to see.

'Cross tongue crosses over to enduro.

And that’s pretty much what happened. I got to the venue the morning of the race and only got to pre-ride two of the three stages. Both of the stages had elements that scared me in practice, and I didn’t really have to time to work through those fears before race time, so I ended up wussing out on them during the actual timed stages. The third stage should have been my strongest, if I’d ridden it before and not had two guys start way too close behind me. I appreciate them not being sexist and assuming that I was slow, so it was really my own fault for not either asking them to go before me or to give me extra time before they started their runs. Having dudes come up behind me right as I saw the trickiest part of the stage for the first time did not work out well, and I ended up running a bunch of stuff that I shouldn’t have had to because I was worried about being their way. When it was all said and done, I finished in a spectacular DFL by three minutes.

Basically, I felt like this loser all over again, ten years later.

“The point is this: Stop panicking. You aren’t flawed, you aren’t a freak, talent is a giant conspiracy, and sometimes all that’s necessary is approaching the problem from a different angle.”Also Syd Schulz, also in January

I indulged in a moderate amount of self-loathing and beating myself up for giving into my fears instead of forcing myself to ride things that scared me. Intellectually I know that there was nothing on that course that I was incapable of riding, but the nerves and the unfamiliarity of the trails screwed me up. In some ways, Rothrock has improved my mountain biking skills, but only a very specific set. Most of the riding I do is technically difficult, but actually pretty low danger. I don’t ride things that scare me that often, because so far, the “scary” trails haven’t been crucial elements to my race goals. Although my balance and handling are better, I think I've actually become more risk-adverse while living here. I’ve also forgotten how to ride swoopy, bermy stuff fast, because I never have the opportunity to do so. Let’s not forget that I’ve been spending all my energy this year focused on going up fast instead of down.

So yeah, it sucked being last in my first enduro, but I guess when your worst fears are realized, then there’s nowhere to go but up. While W101 training is still my main focus, I’ve already signed up for the next enduro and made plans to go do a thorough preride of the course the weekend before. This should at least guarantee that I’ll be comfortable enough to stay on my bike through all of the stages, which at this point, will be a huge improvement. I'm interested in enduro because it's something that anyone can be better at if they put in the time, more so than the other physiology-heavy disciplines, at least. I'm not quite ready to give up on my physiology either, so I'm just going to keep doing what I can to keep becoming a little less bad at both.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Chasing Capacity

Yeah, my body she told me "don't worry about your [training log] size"
She says, "Just go ride hard every Wednesday night"
You know I’ll never log miles until I slow to a crawl
But maybe some volume will help me go fast and long

Now I'm all about that base
'Bout that base, legs tremble

I never expected to use “All About That Base” as my intro lyrics, as its repeated play was one of the worst aspects of the 2014 PACX series for me, lack of fitness and friends aside. Once I found out that it was about embracing big butts, though, I forgave its annoying chorus. Now as I train for my first 100-mile mountain bike attempt in seven years, I’m all about that base again, but what that looks like for me has changed a lot.

Most endurance athletes are aware of the vague common knowledge of building “base”, usually defined as a lot of long, slow distance mileage before riding or running at higher intensities. Beyond that you encounter the Internet arguments for base training in cycling, against base training in cycling, and totally plagiarized blog posts where someone just swaps in “dragon boating” for cycling. Essentially those all come down to “Do I have to…(whiny kid voice)…ride hours and hours in Zone 2?” Or, for those who have lots of free time and who enjoy long, interval-free bike rides, it can be justification to keep doing so.

In the end, everyone needs base, but depending on your goals, body, and schedule, it doesn’t have to be Zone 2, and it doesn’t have to precede any and all high-intensity work. That is why I’ve stopped thinking about a “base phase” in my training so much as “building work capacity”. I was also kind of happy when my Google search of “work capacity cycling base” turned up an article from the good ol’ ancestral health community in the top five results. Even though I hate identifying as “paleo” these days and keep a low profile out of respect for my vegan teammates (we all agree that veggies are good for you), I am still heavily influenced by the hours of Robb Wolf podcasts burned into my brain. The idea of building work capacity is big among the Crossfit or fitness-for-the-sake-of-fitness community, because ain’t nobody got time for a base phase there.

“Work capacity is the underlying component of any truly successful training program. Quite simply, it is the ability to perform an ever-increasing amount work which, in turn, determines one’s level of fitness.  And that, in turn, defines one’s level of preparedness.”

For cyclists, the preparedness we seek is most likely to go faster than other people in our race or season of choice, in some cases simply to make it to the end in one piece, or to be able to say yes to an invitation for a long ride with fast friends without fear of physical meltdown. Part of this is performing work that simulates the time, power, and terrain demands of the goal at hand, but there is also an element of “training to train”, which is teaching your body to work and recovery better so that you can do the race simulation training more and/or more frequently. This is where work capacity comes in.

Considering that my first race of 2016 was on January 9 after full ‘cross season in the fall, I certainly did not make time for a traditional base period this year. Luckily, my January and February races were endurance races that served as a good precursor to the work that I would be doing later in the season, so in a way they were base-like. They were still races, though, and the intensity was much higher than Zone 2 “base” rides would be. The plus side is that they boosted my overall fitness more quickly, but also taxed my recovery such that I wasn’t able to do much high-quality work during the week or I frequently had to back off of weights or intervals to be fresh for an upcoming race.

Once fat bike season was over I quickly turned to doing Wilderness 101 recon rides every weekend to familiarize myself with the demands of the course and to get an idea about whether I was on track endurance and pace-wise. At first these attempts were pretty disappointing, but now they’re slowly starting to point toward a probable solid mid-pack finish in the 11 hour range, if I can convince my body to hold its shit together for that long. I’d love to be greedy and try to push that goal pace by doing more threshold work during the week, but for now the 5+ hour recon rides are leaving me pretty cooked.

The most recent of said recon rides.

This is where chasing capacity comes in. I haven’t trained at a very high volume the last few years, so one long, hard ride per week plus additional speed work seems to be too much to ask of my body right now. What I’ve learned is that riding a lot of hours per week doesn’t make you fast in and of itself, but it does prepare your body to do more work per week. The more race-specific work you can put in per week, the faster you can get faster. Right now I’m having to carefully monitor my recovery and prioritize the work that I’m putting in. The long rides will get me to a decent finish, even if I can’t do the additional interval work to get a bit faster before July.

I am slowly starting to build my base by implementing a daily habit of getting on the bike or into the gym, even when I’m feeling cooked from the weekend and have to go super easy. Acclimating my body to doing to more frequent training will allow me to do higher volume training which will allow me to do higher quality training, or so I hope. I’ve stopped thinking of my recovery rides as useless filler or a quota to be met, and instead thinking of them as a prerequisite to work that will make me faster later.

2016 has seen me jump into some pretty serious trial-by-fire endurance training, and overall, it’s working. I never felt this confident in my ability to finish a 100-mile mountain bike race on any traditional, coach-assigned training plan, and I have the list of DNFs to prove it. I’m happy for the huge progress that I’ve made, but I’m slowly laying down the foundation for even bigger future successes. And so, after years of resistance, I’m all about that base.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

#gnarwedding2016

As promised, I have emerged from my wedding haze and have returned to the world of bloggery. Although not everything went perfectly, I can confidently say that our wedding was not dumpster. Our homemade rocks and rhododendrons centerpieces with trail sign table markers looked good, the switchback trail cake with the bikes on top was a huge hit, and the $175 last-minute dress purchase from Modcloth looked a whole lot like the dream dress that I'd had in the back of my mind since I first started looking. I also got stuck in a closet in my underwear with no one to help me get my dress on when the house where we were getting ready was suddenly taken over by Frank's entire extended family arriving way too early, and I couldn't text my mom or maid of honor to come help because there was no cell service out in the woods where the wedding took place. Overall, the good outweighed the bad, and I now have the happy wedding day memory that I wanted so badly.

Now I also get the return to focusing on bikes that I've been wanting pretty badly. I've definitely been riding during my blogging break, and I've made some pretty good progress toward my TrailMix and Wilderness 101 goals. I did miss a few days of serious riding for the wedding, and my body is still getting over the lack of sleep and abundance of booze. I'm hoping to be back on track within a few days, though, and I'm looking forward to my first enduro race on May 15.

So expect more bike posts soon, but for now, here are some pictures of pretty things.


The "Don't Crash the Bride Ride" the morning before the wedding

Rocks & rhododendron centerpiece, mini trail marker to designate tables, and candy rock favors

Trail cake!

Dis is fancy us

Laser Cat dance party!

Last dance

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Checking In

The blessing and curse of not racing for a while is that I don’t feel the obligation to do a weekly blog post. Since my last post, things have been stressful at work and not exciting riding-wise, so I haven’t been very motivated to post.

I actually did “race” since my last post, but my performance as a part of a three-woman Laser Cat team at “THE International Intergalactic Global Open Mountain Bike Team Relay Championship of the Multi-Friggin-Verse” did not warrant much commentary. Basically, while my teammates commented in slight disbelief about the people do the four hour race solo, I was mildly jealous of those racers, because that’s exactly what my body’s capable of lately. A series of four 20-minute bursts over the course of four hours while standing around getting cold in-between? Yeah, my body pretty much hated me for even trying that. Thankfully, we weren’t taking it too seriously, so it was still a good opportunity to spend time with teamies that I’ve barely seen all winter.


Otherwise, I’ve been a bit aimless in my training since the last post, as the previously-mentioned work stress and sudden return of winter weather have really taken the wind out of my sails. I guess the upside of this is that I’ve finally gotten enough hard-won fitness that even when things get really bad, I’m still not letting myself get as far off the rails as I used to. When our planned Wednesday night mountain bike ride turned into a quick cry at the beer tap on Tussey Ridge, then descending back towards home instead of the more challenging stuff that lay on the far side of the ridge, I did admit that it was time to give myself a break. I took three days off from training and consumed too much beer, pizza, and Mexican food, but when Sunday came, I knew that it was time to get back on track. As much as I dreaded riding 4+ hours in upper 30’s temperatures in April, I put the bar mitts back on Hellga and set out for 35 miles and 4500 feet of climbing, and it still felt less horrible than when I did the same ride back in September. Even though I’m not where I want to be, at least now I can find some motivation in how far I’ve come.

Also that dip in the middle is what "cyclocross sounds like a good way to keep in shape winter" actually looks like. Worthwhile, but you're *not* in good shape at the end of the season.
Finally, the biggest thing going on at the moment is that our big, fat, non-dumpster wedding is less than three weeks away. Honestly, I’m feeling a lot similar to how I probably felt 18 days before the D&L Fat Epic. Yes, wedding planning is a lot like an 80 mile fat bike race for me. I want to do it to say that I did, but it’s a huge challenge that doesn’t come naturally to me. As the days tick away, there’s the balance of knowing that within the constraints of our budget and my lack of talent and interest in making aesthetic choices, we will definitely not be featured on The Knot, but hopefully everyone will have a good time. It may also start to feel like an 80 mile fat bike race in the final days as my anxiety-prone self will suddenly be in charge of coordinating all sorts of people, places, and things while also trying to look cute. I’m a little scared, but I’ll get through it. Perhaps I just need to pack a Troeg’s Java Head brownie and plan to sit down and eat it an hour from the end.

With those updates committed to Internet paper, I guess I’ll let myself off the hook for any more blogging for a while and let you know how it turns out. See you in three weeks!

Monday, March 28, 2016

It Hurts Somewhat Less and You Go Incrementally Faster

I can’t believe that three weeks have flown by since my last post, but with fat bike season over, I’ve been bogged down in the trenches of the “off season”. This kind of cracks me up because I’m to the point that I’ve completely flipped the script on the traditional cycling year. ‘Cross began as off-season winter training for roadies, which morphed into a full-on primary discipline for many amateur American racers who go out hard in September and are hanging on by threads by Thanksgiving. Being a proud member of that tribe, I’m usually ready to sink into longer training in January after losing all of my endurance through the fall. But winter is cold and snowy, so luckily the good folks of the upper Midwest pushed another form “off-season” riding into (sort of) mainstream racing such that I can now motivate myself through (theoretically) snowy winter miles with the thrill of competition. Or just ride fat tires through lots of mud in New Jersey. So what happened to that whole training hard all winter to be ready for spring races? Luckily, crits and gran fondos don’t appeal to be much, so I finally get to lay down my base during that beautiful fresh sunny time of the year when everyone is motivated to ride.

While I’ve definitely been motivated to ride, and have been quite a bit, resulting in being too tired for bloggery of late, I can’t say that I’ve necessarily been motivated to do the riding that I feel like I “should” be doing. As my last post described, my first attempt at beginning my Wilderness 101 training didn’t go so well. It actually turned out to be so bad that I developed a spasm deep in my shoulder so intense that it hurt my chest and throat while breathing for a few days. I turned sour on the W101 route pretty quickly and spent my next two opportunities to do longer rides on the singletrack of the RothRock TrailMix course. I have since made one other attempt at W101 training, and it seems that while getting over Seeger on a mountain bike without it feeling terrible is only Step 1 of like 12 to putting together a decent W101 race, I’m still hung up on that one. Now it seems that each time that I’m “supposed” to make another attempt at Seeger, I start to get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, wimp out, and go for a lovely singletrack ride instead.

So what? I'm still a rock star.

Luckily, the singletrack riding is going better than the W101 training. In the last three weeks, I’ve gone under an hour for the XC Loop not just once, but twice, and I’m right on the cusp of my long-held goal of 42 minutes for Tussey Ridge. These are pretty big jumps for me so early in the season, so it seems that my winter did me some good. On Sunday, I did the short course plus Croyle and Gettis which is the most TrailMix that I’ve actually done in one ride before, and I think I still felt better at the end than I normally would after just the short course last summer. I was sort of disappointed that it took me about 3.5 hours, which is about a half-hour too much to be on pace for the five-hour long course goal that I’ve been working toward for nearly two years now. It’s weird seeing how far I’ve come and how far I still have left to go. I had no idea what I was in for when I moved to State College.

Greenshoot, you don't scare me anymore.

When I first saw these sudden improvements, I was reminded of the saying, “It never hurts less, you just go faster.” While it may truthfully apply to time trialing and the like, I think that in my case it does hurt less and thus I am going faster. After Saturday’s ride I realized that I really can’t remember much about climbing Greenshoot, and the fact that I was spaced out yet still going relatively fast is a good sign. Until I returned to it three weeks ago, this long, steep, rocky climb was always an exercise in eyeball-bleeding concentration just keep my front wheel tracking on the trail and continuing to move forward in my easiest gear. Now it just feels like steady threshold climbing and requires way less concentration to not run off the trail. I’m starting to learn that technical skills are actually about 60% fitness.

I’ve decided to just enjoy the singletrack riding while I’m enjoying it and not force myself to climb Seeger again until the urge comes back without the accompanying nausea. With nearly four months left, I still have time for my W101 motivation to come back and perhaps finally meet my white whale TrailMix goal along the way.

Monday, March 7, 2016

You've Got So Far to Go

So we raced fat bikes and it was fun
So, tonight I'll raise my glass to us
'Cause we rode so much
I think we filled our Garmins twice
And I'm super stoked we ended
The series in second place

So, let's ride home, let's be afraid
I wanna climb up Alan Seeger
So hard
Let's do it right and throw in Pig Pile
I want it now, somehow I forgot how

Way to go, way to go
Forgot you've got so far to go
Way to go, way to go
Forgot you've got so far to go

To be fair, this isn’t the first post that I’ve opened with a version of Alkaline Trio’s “You’ve Got So Far to Go”. I actually think of it as “our song” in my relationship with Frank, because minus the smoking part, it pretty perfectly describes how I felt before our first date. It is also the song that inevitably runs through my head near the end of every training ride that does not go as well as I’d hoped.

Yep, it was Ruff.

Yesterday’s first official Wilderness 101 training ride definitely fell into that category. After the long fat bike races that we’d been doing, I thought I’d actually chosen a conservative route for our first foray back into “skinny” tires, big climbs, and rocky singletrack. My original plan was in the 25-30 mile range with one of the three major climbs and the vast majority of the race’s singletrack concentrated into one ride. It wouldn’t be an easy ride, but I thought that the "short" distance would make it doable.

Then I found out that a big chunk singletrack had been accidentally cut out of the 2015 course, the Strava files of which I’d been using as my reference to learn the course. The good news was that the “correct” course did not go down a super steep descent that I was kind of afraid of and did include some fun trails that I haven’t ridden much in the past, due to their remote location. The bad news was that more singletrack meant more time on the course where I had to account for going 6-8 mph instead of 10-12. I was already intimidated by all of the different sections of Rothrock and Bald Eagle that I will need to shove into a singular sub-12-hour effort by July. Adding Upper Sassafras, Sassy Pig, Pig Pile, and Flat Road (neither flat nor a road) into mix feels like a huge increase in effort due to its slow, rocky nature, even if it is just six more miles of distance.

What I forgot when I planned a “conservative” 30ish mile ride after weeks of 4+ hour fat bike races was that “there is strong, and then there is Rothrock strong”. I thought my time away racing fat bikes would bring me back to Rothrock stronger than ever, but I think Rothrock was just mad that I cheated on her, and decided to kick my ass in revenge.

Climbing Alan Seeger is always painful and seems like it goes on forever, but my hamstrings were having a particularly hard time with the unfamiliar bike and the 36 minutes of relentless low cadence grinding. From there, we dropped into Ruff Gap, a rocky, 1000-foot descent over the course of one mile. It was my first time on this trail ever, and my first time on my Lust since Christmas Eve. Add in a bunch of leaf piles on the rocks and cramping legs from the recently completed climb, and it was ugly. Like, walk a lot of it ugly. From there, we sweated through the 1,000 feet of climbing back up to the big singletrack section where I exhaustedly bumbled around and started to get chilled miserable because dressing for mountain biking in 47 degrees is hard. We ended up cutting some singletrack from our original planned ride and it still ended up taking 4.5 hours to finish just under 30 miles.

I’m not sure why the first ride back was such a shock to the system, since I *thought* was in decent shape. If yesterday was any indication, I have a lot of work ahead me between now and July, but I guess it’s good that I was able to jump in and find that out this soon. When you've forgotten how far you've got to go, Rothrock will never hesitate to remind you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mayhem Fat Four

As I churned through the early singletrack sections of my sixth lap during the Mayhem Fat Four, I began to feel an odd combination of creeping fatigue and elation. While I had been riding alone for most of the race because they started our three-woman field a few minutes later than the men, I felt like I had been riding well and my consistent lap times were evidence of that, despite the fact that the first place woman would be making her way around to lap me soon. She and I were about to be only females to have completed all of the races of the inaugural New Jersey Fat Bikes Series. As I reflected on the long, arduous, and yet only seven week, journey that had lead us to that point, the theme song of the TV show, “The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt” popped into my head.

Unbreakable!
They alive, damnit!
It's a miracle!
Unbreakable!
They alive, damnit!
But females are strong as hell.

As a faster and more experienced endurance racer than me, completing the series might not have been as big of a deal for the eventual series champion as it was for me. I know the D&L was basically hell for everyone who finished it, regardless of time, and to keep showing up every weekend to race fat bikes in the mud shows a strong degree of tenacity. In an odd way, it felt better to come in second to a faster rider who put in a strong, dedicated effort than it would have to win the series because I was the only one silly enough to want to.

So my creeping fatigue came from the fact that I’d already been riding a fat bike through punchy, swoopy singletrack at a steady pace for over three hours, and my elation came from the fact that I am now strong enough to do that with relative ease. More importantly, my elation came from the fact that for the first time in three years, I had actually accomplished the thing I had set out to do.


I haven’t felt this good about myself cycling-wise since I spent January and February of 2013 engaging in a different but equal level of self-flagellation to secure a podium spot at Death March. Self-efficacy has always been my greatest athletic limiter, so finding goals with the perfect balance of achievability and meaningfulness is tough. This usually means going for something that is a little weird that faster riders might not want to bother with, say hours of poring over maps, riding the Hoosier National Forest over and over because you have the tactical advantage of convenience, or being willing to ride a fat bike for 9 hours straight, then come back for a couple more four-hour races after that.

The trick is that by allowing myself to wholeheartedly commit to the weird elements and valuable-only-to-me extrinsic rewards of my goals, I can push myself to do things that I wouldn’t do otherwise to the benefit of my more “normal” cycling ambitions. For example, for the last two races of the series, the womens’ placings were pretty much decided within the first few minutes of the race with the series leader and myself in first and second respectively. However, something cool that I discovered after the New Jersey Fat Fondo is that I was actually faster than 15 out of the 30 open men, which really bolstered my confidence. I was having trouble placing that well in the women’s 3/4 field for most of last ‘cross season, let alone against men. I can only hope this translates when I start racing against my own gender and theoretical ability level again.

Frank also moved up into second place in the men's open series after the finale, making us an official fat bike power couple.

It’s actually a bit amazing after the deep depression that I was in during November and December that I was able to pull myself together for 203.2 miles, 21.5 hours, two hotel stays, and one 5:00 a.m. departure, not to mention work, training, Laser Cat activities, and wedding planning all over the course of 7 weeks. I also did this without binge eating, sugar self-medicating, and only one non-travel related restaurant meal. I’m admittedly exhausted both mentally and physically, and I’m relishing the fact that my next big goal will keep me training close to home for a few months. Still, the past month has really given me the confidence in myself that I can overcome the challenges of a daily life, which was something that I was sorely lacking in the fall.

I’m trying to give myself a bit of a breather before jumping too hard into Wilderness 101 training, but I also figure I shouldn’t wait too long to start leveraging the lovely base that I’ve built for myself this winter. The weather is looking like it will be compliant for some good old fashioned rocky, full-suspension singletrack riding this weekend, so it’s time to pull Princess Monster Truck back out to front of the bike pile. With a bit more rest and focus, I hope I won’t have to wait three more years before crossing another accomplished goal off my list.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The New Jersey Fat Fondo

The New Jersey Fat Fondo was the third race of the NJ Fat Bike Series and billed itself as “New Jersey's first fun Fat Bike event”. I found this a little funny, as I couldn’t tell if they were actively trying to make a dig at the first two races of the series, but realistically, the slogan was true. After the first-time nerves, pushing myself into deep crack mode, and stressing about the laissez faire results treatment at Marty’s, and the well, 80 miles and nine hours on a fat bike at the D&L, I found myself feeling almost ridiculously relaxed going into the New Jersey Fat Fondo.

There were several factors that contributed to this. It was a four-hour lap race, and after the D&L, I knew that I could actually still feel pretty good at the end of four hours if I didn’t kill myself in the beginning. The race also did not start until noon on Sunday, so we got to leave the house at a very reasonable 7:45 a.m. the morning of the race, which gave me some much-needed home/chill time on Saturday in which to do a short opener workout, thoroughly clean the house for the first time since Christmas, and watch a bunch of Netflix.

Finally, the pre-reg list had me hopeful that I might see the podium for the first time this season. Selene Yeager, who had won the first two races of the series, had not registered, and that left only myself and one other girl in contention for the series championship. She’s much faster than me, so I had no expectations of hanging with her on Sunday, but the other two women that were registered had not raced yet this year, so second place at the race seemed like a distinct possibility.


I lined up near the back with the presumable winner-to-be was slightly ahead of me, and the two other women behind me in the rearmost of the field. It did seem like things were going to play out as I had expected. I started off fast-ish just to put in an early dig and get a feel for the other women’s pace while also paying close attention to my own RPE to avoid getting myself into a hole that I couldn’t dig out of later. Neither of them seemed to stay on my wheel or try to pass, so I assessed that I just needed to hold a steady pace throughout the race and it would all be good. As the first lap played out and I saw how much steep, rocky, scrambly climbing was required per lap, I settled down into maintenance mode and kept myself out of the red, except when getting up a climb required it.

The course was much more mountain bikey than we’d seen so far this season, which was a relief after all of the flat gravel paths. However, it was 50 degrees with only a small pile of ice or snow here and there, and none that we had to ride through. Needless to say it was a disgusting, muddy mess. While it was the most fun fat bike race to occur in New Jersey so far this year, there was definitely a “What the hell are we doing?” element to it.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how “history” (in that really specific regional cycling scene way) will remember, “that time we decided to race fat bikes in a strong El Niño year.” It’s not just the year that Frank and I bought fat bikes, but also the first real year of organized fat bike racing on the East Coast. I’m sure I’m not the only one who dreamed of the pristine white beauty depicted in pictures of well-established races in the Great Lakes region, only to get a winter of trudging through mud on a heavy, fat-tired bike, often when conditions at home were good enough for ‘cross bike riding or even “real mountain biking”. So as the final two “fun” races of the season are seeing 50 degree weather and registration numbers that are a fraction of the first race of the season, I can’t help but wonder if the mud has caused many to abandon the dream. It’s even caused me just a tiny bit of doubt in my dogged commitment to finishing all of the races in the series through hell, or more likely, high water, but I like to think that for those of us who stuck it out this winter, we will look back on our silliness as something special.

Anyway, back to the race. I stuck to my steady pace plan and exceeded my goal of not being lapped by first place for at least three hours. I lapped third place about halfway through what turned out to be my last lap, and came into the finish at 3:45. I was just beginning to feel real fatigue set in and was in the place where I totally felt capable of another lap, but wasn’t sure I really *wanted* to do one. The lap counter strongly suggested that I stop, as I wouldn’t finish another lap before the 4-hour mark and the women’s placings were locked, anyway. I rolled through the line very happy with my second place and mostly happy to be done early.


Now there is just one more four-hour race of the season, after which I won’t be sad about the lack of car trips to New Jersey in my near future. I’m just hoping that El Niño starts working in my favor in March, and that I can jump right into singletrack riding in Rothrock and put Hellga away for a long summer’s nap. It looks like my weird, hard, and obscure dream of becoming the first NJ Fat Bike Series champion will not come to fruition, as both myself and yesterday’s winner are already signed up for the finale. I’m pretty okay with second, though, as I can’t control the fact that women faster than me signed up to race, but I totally rocked (and will continue to for one more week) sticking it out and doing my best through a tough winter of racing.