Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cooper's Rock Enduro

Her eyes are cold and restless
Her wounds have almost healed
And that Camber in the corner
Can’t change the way she feels
He knows her love's in West Virginia
And he knows she's gonna go
Well it ain't no ultra or CX race
It's that damned old enduro

Well it's sweat and blood
It's mud and more mud
It's the roar of a Sunday crowd
It's the white in her knuckles
Through the rhodie tunnel
She'll shred the next go 'round
It's goggles and pads
It's trucker caps
It's brake then let it go
It's the Hails and the Reigns
And the joy and the pain
And they call the thing enduro

Although it would have been convenient to go into the second verse of “All I Do Is Win” with my favorite “represent that mud life” line, sadly my undefeated streak of 2017 has already come to end. I feel like this lyrical selection fits for my feelings going into the weekend of the Cooper’s Rock Enduro, anyway. It took me a full week to physically recover from two long, hard days in the heat at Big Bear, which dumped me into a cortisol-fueled scramble to finish up a project at work last week. When we tried to go out for our “Wednesday EWS” ride last week, I really struggled to bring myself up to adrenaline spiking super focus level during the downhill segments, because I’d already been operating in that mode all day and basically had nothing left. When I finally wrapped up all of my “to do’s” on Friday, I really kind of doubted my capacity to go away for a whole weekend and race. However, I realized that if I skipped the race that I would regret it, and a potentially crappy race was better than wondering what would have happened if I’d tried.

Once the racing was done, we had to ford a river and hike-a-bike out of a rocky lakeshore to catch our ride back.

The course was super ridicu-muddy pretty much the whole way, but otherwise it wasn’t very steep, or technical except for a series of slick root and rock drops at the very end of the last stage. Those were mostly just scary because they were so slick. After the pre-ride on Saturday, my assessment was that the race would be a contest of who was best at plowing through muddy chunder with the least amount of braking. Plowing through muddy chunder isn’t something that I have a lot of experience with, but I have been testing my Hail’s ability to “surf” loose, dry stuff and patches of smaller, tightly bunched rocks where there isn’t an obvious good line. I figured the surfing skills would come in handy, although the mud would make applying them much trickier.

The upside was that it presented an opportunity to wash some of the mud off our bikes.

The race day began with the chunder surfiest of the stages, and shortly after making the turn from the grassy start into the actual trail I slipped on a miscellaneous something-or-other and went down. Luckily, it was neither a hard nor painful crash, but it was enough to cause me to lose time on a relatively short stage and to stick my hand in a puddle, making for an extra wet and gritty glove for the rest of the day. The stage also contained a short but brutal uphill in the middle where I got really gassed and had to dismount after swerving into some bushes from exhaustion. So yeah, Stage 1 wasn’t great for me.

Stage 2 boasted a whopping -6% average grade, so it was an XC-style pedal fest with my seat up, only occasionally standing up a bit to absorb a root or rock. This lasted so long that I had mostly forgotten about the last 30 or so feet of trail dumping into a steep, rocky chute until it was immediately in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and desperately grabbed for my dropper lever, but I was already headed for a terrible line that I couldn’t correct without doing a dumb, slow foot out move on the way down. It probably only cost me a couple of seconds, but it happened in sight a large percentage of racers standing around snacking where both Stages 2 and 3 ended, so it cost me more pride than anything. One of the expert women tried to make me feel better by saying that she forgot the last steep bit was there, as well.

The thing was, even after riding pretty crappily on the first two stages, I wasn’t that upset or worried. Since it was pretty much the same the same group of women as Big Bear, I now knew who was in what class, or so I thought. I figured that I had still won the sport class after making even worse mistakes there, so if I rode Stage 3 and 4 clean, I would be fine. I proceeded with a clean but safe Stage 3, and spent a lot of the final transition thinking about whether I liked this attitude in myself or not.

It was admittedly nice being the least nervous before or during an enduro race that I’ve ever been, and it was also nice not feeling the need to beat myself up too badly for the mistakes that I made during Stages 1 and 2, but I also sort of missed the pressure of competition. My real goal had much more to do with closing the gap up to the bottom 2-3 expert riders than my placing in the sport category, so I felt like I might be letting myself off the hook too easily by trying to calculate how safely I could ride Stage 4 and still probably win my category. At the same time, I really just wanted to make it to the bottom of Stage 4 rubber side down, so I tabled the internal debate proceeded with a somewhat conservative final run.

It turns out that my internal debate was based on alternative facts, anyway. I made to the bottom of Stage 4 safely and cleanly (well riding-wise, my clothes and bike, not so much). When I got back and checked the results, I saw that a woman who had raced the expert class most of last season at the top of the sport class results and me in second place. I was definitely disappointed because I had no idea she was signed up for sport, since there is no pre-reg and everyone’s plates look the same. I assumed that because raced expert last year that would still be the case. She had beaten me by 29 seconds, and 26 of those were from Stage 4 when I was playing it safe. Even with all of my Stage 1 silliness, I had almost closed the gap on Stages 2 & 3.


Ultimately, I was disappointed in not getting another sport class win, because it is fun to get my picture taken on the top step of the podium.  However, the “sport” designation is so arbitrary, that I’m anxious to move up to expert and stop feeling like my results require an asterisk. After Big Bear, I was like, “Well, I ‘won’ but, you know, I didn’t really win-win because it was just the sport category.” I never really felt that way in ‘cross or any other head-to-head type racing when the race is clearly playing out in real time. For enduro, though, we’re all just meandering out there on the course doing our thing at the same time, maybe seeing each other through the day and maybe not, and we don’t really know what’s going on until it’s over. The post-mortem slicing and dicing of the results just makes that weirder. Luckily, there was a much smaller expert-to-sport gap at Cooper’s Rock that Big Bear, so hopefully I can cross that divide soon.

It will be a few weeks before my next West Virginia enduro, because the next one is the same weekend as the TSE. I will probably race at least one more race in sport and see how I do then. I’m learning a lot this season about how to actually race enduro, which is more complicated that just being good at riding really fast on downhill segments in Rothrock that I know really well. Figuring out how to do your best when you’re tired and in unfamiliar territory that doesn’t necessary match your strengths is a whole other beast, but I think I’m starting to do okay at it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Doing Things I'm Bad At: Winning the Big Bear Enduro

L-Stec goin' in on the verse
Cause I never been defeated [in 2017] and I won't stop now
Keep your hands up, get 'em in the sky for the homies
That didn't make it and the folks knocked out
I never went no where
But they saying Lindsay's back
Blame it on that hip hinge
And some trips down Wildcat
And I'm on this foolish track, so I spit my foolish flow
My seat go up and down like a good femdurobro
My Hail still be servin’, we’re droppin’, then we’re surgin’
Always said I like a good mud race, now I'm trying out the big bike version
Can't never count me out
Y'all better count me in
Rock my googles and a half-shell, hey Strava count me in
No enduro in the TS three day?  Take some random QOMs
Cause all I do, all I, all I, all I
All I do is win

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m not actually feeling that cocky, but having just stood on the actual top step of a podium for the first time since 2011, you’ll have to indulge me for a minute. Plus, I just love a good parody-writing challenge.

I think juxtaposition of the post title is a more accurate description of how I really feel. When I did my first enduro race almost a year ago, I prefaced my post title with “Doing Things I’m Bad At”, which is a short hand term that I’ve adopted for getting out of my comfort zone. In that first race I got last place by a lot, so it was a little more obvious that I was doing something that I was bad at. Yesterday I found out that I can do things that I’m bad at, but still do them better than everyone else who doesn’t self-designate as an “expert”. And while I’m starting to be a lot better at things I used to be bad at, yesterday proved that I’m still a long way from becoming a self-designated expert.

I decided to try out the "googles and a half shell" look earlier in the
week. I PR'd all the things that night, which lead me to the conclusion
that goggles make you fast. More on that later.

We headed down to Big Bear Lake in West Virginia on Saturday to pre-ride the first WV Enduro Series race of the year. The trails were a muddy mess thanks to some intense storms that had fallen during the night. This was especially bad on the first stage that we pre-rode, which was a lot more rolling than actual downhill, with lots of large, wet, mud-covered rocks. We eventually discovered that there really wasn’t a ton of elevation loss in any of the stages, and the ability to roll up and over large, slimy rocks, as well as dropping into and peddling out of muddy creek beds, would be the key skills called upon during the race. With the exception of my weekly dip into Laurel Run at the bottom of Sand Spring, I can’t say that I’ve been doing much of either of those things lately, and fall lines full of dry, loose chunder would be hard to find in Sunday’s race. Remember when I was bad at fall lines full of dry, loose chunder?

I went into Sunday knowing that the course would not suit my strengths and continued repeating my words from last week to “not take it too personally if I don’t do well” as a mantra. If want to become an actual enduro racer and not just hide in Rothrock inflating my Strava PR’s forever, this would be part of it. Much like when I was competing for the OVCX series title in 2011, I wasn’t exactly stoked on the “roadie” courses, but I could still manage to hold on to 5-7th place and get the points that I needed while giving my best efforts on the more muddy and technical courses. How exactly is it that muddy corners are something I wish for on a ‘cross bike and fear on a mountain bike?

The race began with a short singletrack roll-out followed by what was close to an hour wait to begin the first stage for those of us as the back of the pack. I ended up in line right next to three other women, which made me a bit more nervous for the first stage. Not being very confident about the trails, I didn’t want to hold them up, but I also didn’t want to get stuck behind someone having a harder time than me. Stereotypes are not very helpful, and it’s actually pretty hard to assess someone’s skill level based on looks. I tried to test the waters a bit by throwing out the “So how are you guys feeling about this?” question as we approached the start. Two of the women forged on ahead of me, and the other said something like, “You have goggles, so you must be a faster rider.”

Well, crap. Now I was the one who had to perform to a stereotype. I laughed and said, “The goggles just mean that I’m pretending to be a faster rider,” but I still moved up in line. I gave the other two women extra time before I started, but I still ended up catching them both before the end of my run. The other women did finish much further behind me than she would have started, so I guess she made a correct judgement regarding the goggles. I had been the fastest out of that little group, but there were several women further up in line and I wasn’t sure who was in what class.

The group dispersed during the brutal transition from Stage 1 to Stage 2, and I found myself trudging alone through the remainder of what would be a five and a half hour journey. I rode pretty well on Stage 2, which began smooth and pedally and turned into a steeper and looser Sand Spring like finish, but the muddy rolly rocks on Stage 3 & 4 did not treat me as well. I also had a bunch fast guys who had taken really long breaks at the pavilion before Stage 3 circle back behind me, so I got caught and passed a bunch on Stages 3 & 4, which was also annoying.

Stage 5 should have been pretty uneventful, and at that point I just wanted to ride hard to the finish and be done. However there was a small wooden bridge near the end, and my front wheel slipped off. It was low enough that I should have just been able to put my foot down, pull my wheel back on track, and keep going, but my foot went between two slats of the bridge and I fell back with my bike on top of me wedging my ankle in with a hard slam. It took me minute to get untangled as I was overwhelmed by the terrifying realization that I had just almost broken my ankle. Thankfully it was just bruised, and I rode out rest of the stage as fast I could before collapsing for a mini-cry at the end.

When I finally managed to get on a shuttle and return to the start, Frank turned in my timing chip while I got cleaned up. Then we had a mini anniversary celebration with the year-old top layer of our wedding cake, which had been riding around in a cooler with us all weekend. Even though it didn’t look as pretty as it had a year ago, it actually still tasted just as good. I had my cake and a glass of the Stone “Enjoy After 4/20/17” that someone had brought to our wedding, while I resisted the urge to look at the results for as long as I could.



When I finally peeked to find my name at the top of the list, I knew that there might still be some women out on course, so I didn’t get too excited. I breathed a sigh of relief and went to put on my podium jersey when the last shuttle came in and my name was still on top. It turns out that the girl on the last shuttle that I was most worried about was in the self-designated expert class, so I had won my category!



All in all, I think weekend was a good step for me. It wasn’t a great course for me and I didn’t ride as well as I wanted to, but a win is a win, so it still felt like my work is starting to pay off. I also have to remember that, even though I didn’t ride as big of drops as I wanted to, I still rode some stuff that I would have been afraid of just a couple of months ago, so that was cool. I just need to keep at it with the Wednesday practices, but also start challenging myself by riding outside of Rothrock more often on weekends. The next WV Enduro race is in two weeks, so I’m looking forward to finding out what kinds of things I can be bad there, or maybe even not-so-bad at.

This rock roll doesn't look like much, but it's actually so steep that you can't see the
bottom from the top. Past me would definitely not have ridden this.

Monday, April 24, 2017

It's Going Down

Put my butt over my back tire
As long as they don't touch
Laser focused, bleary eyed
Till the gravity's too much
And I'll do anything you say
Through the cramping of my hands
And I'd be smart to walk away,
But you're quicksand

This slope is treacherous
This path is reckless
This slope is treacherous
And I, I, I like it

The past couple of weeks have been so full of new and interesting gravity-fueled experiences that it has almost negated my disappointment in the TSE 3-day stages. Since my last post, I have experienced my first trip to a bike park, had a private lesson, and made some huge jumps in my downhilling ability on my home turf.

Of course, just this morning I still found myself trying to come up with a scheme to get a timing chip for the TSE enduro stage, because for all of the practicing that I’ve been doing, I really want to see how I stand up against real, live people in the same conditions on the same day, instead of comparing myself to somewhat inaccurate Strava data. At the same time, imagining myself dropping into the bottom part of Wildcat to crowd of people heckling and taking pictures still kind of freaks me out, so maybe it’s just as well.

Even if I don’t make this year’s TSE enduro day, I still have a lot going on lately in gravity world. Frank and I celebrated Easter Sunday by joining enduro-cats Michaela and Sam, as well as their assorted dude friends, for the opening weekend of Mountain Creek Resort in New Jersey. We were quite lucky to have gone on Sunday, as we heard that there were hour-long lines for the lift on the actual opening day of Saturday. When we arrived on Sunday, there were maybe five minute lines, and by the afternoon, you could just walk right onto the lift.



My first downhill park experience was different than I imagined, and it was a good learning experience. The “easy” trails were actually kind of harder for me than the black diamond rocky trails that we went on. We didn’t even see most of the really hard stuff, but the rocky trails that we did attempt were actually at a good level for testing my limits. They weren’t as steep or screaming fast as some of the State College fall-line trails, but they required more complicated line choices and had bigger low-speed drops. I was actually pretty happy with some of the moves that I pulled off on those trails, but I found myself kind of frustrated on the green and blue trails where I struggled on all of the little jumps and berms in the loose, dry dirt. Those trails were very easy ride, but very hard to ride fast, at least for me. I’m looking forward to checking out Blue Mountain after it opens and seeing how it compares.

Last week Harlan Price of Take Aim Cycling was in State College, so Frank and I got to take a half-day private lesson with him on Thursday. I’d hoped to meet up with him down in Harrisonburg earlier in the winter, but that didn’t work out. There are both advantages and disadvantages to taking lessons on your home trails. While it’s a good opportunity to improve at what you ride most often, it’s hard to get better at the things you’re bad at because you never do them. In our case, that means flowy, turny, bermy stuff. It would be nice to learn to flow futuristic some of the more “fun” descents down in Harrisonburg, but I guess we’d still have trouble putting it into practice when we got home. Harlan did his best to give us practice strategies for improving our cornering in the conditions available and for practicing on our “park days”, so hopefully when we race outside of State College we’ll know how handle it. It also seems that I’ve found such a good, stable descending position now that I never want to leave it, so my next step is to start moving around on the bike more.



Whatever I’ve been doing lately, it is working so far. I’ve managed some huge descending PRs and even a few non-descending ones in the last couple of weeks. The two that I’m most exciting about are Wildcat and Ruff Gap. In the last couple of weeks I’ve finally made it the point of descending Wildcat without getting scared and getting off my bike, and suddenly I’m almost fast at it. I also did Ruff Gap for the first time this year and the third time ever on Saturday, and I PR’d it by nearly 2.5 minutes, finishing a frustratingly-close one second behind the QOM. I think that’s really amazing because a) I mostly walked it for the first time 13 months ago b) I haven’t had a bunch of chances to memorize the trail like I have with many of the others. I was going that fast on only very vague memories that weren’t even that accurate. The trail was much longer and more technical that I remember, and not as steep. I definitely want to ride it more, as it’s actually more of a challenge to do well than a lot of our normal Wednesday EWS trails. I also need to do Ross more, as I couldn’t quite get past the slidey leaves/steep drop combo on Saturday without getting freaked out. I guess I'm still not superwoman...yet.

This weekend we will see how my much improved skills in Rothrock translate to trails I’ve never seen before, as Frank and I will be celebrating our first year as husband and wife in the traditional manner of racing enduro followed by eating year-old mountain bike themed cake. We’re heading to Big Bear Lake in West Virginia for the first race of the WV Enduro Series. I’m hoping that a low-key race on similar-but-different trails to what I’m used to might help relieve me of my enduro curse. When I’m riding so well at home I’m often torn between the desire to find out if it translates to less familiar trails and the fear that it won’t and that I will suck when taken out of my comfort zone. I’m doing my best to think of it as a check-up for my progress and not take it too personally if I don’t do well.

Overall, things have been going pretty well for my riding lately, even if this spring has turned out nothing like I planned. The TSE is still going to be a huge sufferfest, but I’m excited about what other possibilities the year might have it store. I’m crossing my fingers that it will all be downhill from here.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Crappy Doubletrack to Nowhere

Here I am posting for a second time this week after a two-three week absence. Events have transpired since I posted on Monday, and I figure it’s easier to just download and move on.

I mentioned in Monday’s post that there was conflicting information about whether the enduro day would be included in the three-day version of this year’s Tran-Sylvania Epic or not. I actually got my answer on Tuesday night after returning from a very fun and successful QOM hunt for cool enduro segments that aren’t on the TSE docket. I might be the first women to have not walked down the “Bald Knob Death Drop”, which might be my new favorite trail. There’s also a whole top half of Sand Spring that isn’t included in the TSE and a baby version of Wildcat that will hopefully improve my confidence for the big one.

Anyway, the news that came after the ride was significantly less good than the ride itself. The enduro had, in fact, been taken out of the three-day, but the replacement was not R.B. Winter. In fact, there was no R.B. Winter at all. Instead, the old Coburn and Bald Eagle stages that were combined into one less-roady stage last year were split back out, and Bald Eagle would be serving as Day 2 of 3. Bald Eagle is just sort of meh, but at least the total riding distance doesn’t appear to be more than the enduro would have been, so hopefully it will not be a super horribly long day in the saddle. In addition to the loss of the enduro, the other big kicker was that a section with which I was previously unfamiliar had been added to the Tussey stage. I just so happened to have already to taken the day off work on Wednesday to make up the long ride that I’d missed by being maybe sorta kinda sick and stuck at home on the couch Sunday, so I set out yesterday to find out what the new section was all about.

It was bad. So bad. Halfway through climbing Thickhead, I veered off onto the Long Mountain Trail which began with what was for me a 20-minute hike-a-bike. I guess it’s probably rideable by much stronger women than me, but still has to be pretty miserable if it is. I’m not against a hike-a-bike for a worthy descent. I mean you gotta climb the “Bald Knob Ball Buster” to get to the “Bald Knob Death Drop” (silly Strava names). Sadly, what lay on the other side of mountain that I eventually crested was only moderately downhill overgrown doubletrack with about a billion downed trees. When I finally arrived at the bottom on Stone Creek Rd., I was supposed to climb halfway up the back of Bear Meadows to Deitweiler, ride UP Deitweiler, and over the tippy top of Thickhead before proceeding with John Wert. What I actually did was get angry and ride back to the car.

An extra thirteen miles of hike-a-bike, crappy doubletrack, and climbing to nowhere were not what I needed in my life right now. Sure, I focused my entire season around what we’ll call 85 out of 100 miles of hike-a-bike, crappy doubletrack, and climbing to nowhere, but it was a fully informed choice that I made from the beginning of the endeavor. It was not the result of a bait and switch a few weeks before the race, when my motivation and confidence were already waning.

What I have inferred based on “[enduro] didn't work out over the weekend” and “there is the reality of what we are allowed to use” is that because when the race dates were changed to allow for an all-weekend three-day, the weekend schedule also came with trail constraints in comparison to last year’s Monday-Friday schedule. Seeing that the change in dates was the first blow to motivation regarding this race, and part of the reason I switched to the three-day in the first place, it’s really salt in the wound that it’s also severely impacting the quality of those three days.

So that’s that. All I can really do is just show up and attempt to make my legs pedal through whatever they put in front of me to pedal. Between now and then, I’ll do my best to get back into shape, because I need to get back into shape, but I’m not going to let preparing for the race rule my life. I’ve been worried about taking time away from Rothrock to do other races or to go ride at downhill parks before the TSE, but from now on, I’m just going to do what I want to do and not worry about it.

I was basically going to do that this weekend, anyway, as I’m going to Philly for a social event that my teammate Sophia is hosting. I hoping to get to ride there on Saturday afternoon, but I’m not sure if I will or not. Then we’re going to the opening weekend of the Mountain Creek downhill park, so my Hail will finally get the chance to really show her stuff. Now that I’ve unloaded the bummer news, hopefully I can come back next week with a clean slate and lot of fun photos of my bike park debut.

Monday, April 10, 2017

It Works If You Work It

I like engaged butts, and I cannot lie
Even XC racers can’t deny
When a girl descends hinged at the waist
With a round thing in your face
She goes fast…

I’ve been a little lax in posting since we emerged from the snowy Lousy Smarch that was getting me down. Admittedly, I’ve been struggling to get back up, even after the snow has melted and warm sunny days have returned.

The TSE is now less than seven weeks away, and I don’t feel even remotely on track preparation-wise. For various reasons, I haven’t gotten in the kind of long rides on the Tussey and Cooper’s Gap stages that I would like, and I’m noticeably slower on my benchmark XC segments than I was this time last year. Admittedly, in past years I would be alternating between focusing on these segments for my Wednesday night rides therefore improving on them at a more rapid pace. I mentally referred this a couple of days ago as “Strava-ing myself into shape”, since I don’t actually do much actual XC racing.

However, since I graduated from XC bikes at the end of last summer, and especially since I’ve been focusing on improving my skills more than my fitness, Wednesday night has become enduro night at the expense of XC riding. Luckily, I am seeing some breakthroughs in that area. I’ve mostly been focusing on perfecting my new and improved descending position on the Sand Spring trail, which is one of the easier stages of the TSE enduro day. It’s steep and loose, but not hair-raising. Since I started improving my balance and position based on the teachings of Lee Likes Bikes, I’ve dropped my PR from 1:45 to 1:26. The QOM is 1:03, set by Andrea Wilson on an XC bike with presumably way less practice than I've had, so I’ve still got my work cut out for me.

I haven’t quite worked my way up to my last summer’s PRs on scarier descents like Wildcat, Old Laurel, and No Name, but I think I’ll get there soon. Those PRs represent the limit of my ability to push through fear and burning quads, but since I’ve learned that neither of those things are actually something you should push through on a descent, I’ve slowed down while I tweak my technique such that they are eliminated rather than pushed through. It definitely seems more within the realm of possibility than it did a couple of months ago, but I’m just not quite there yet.

Sadly, depending on whether you believe the TSE’s Bikereg page or their website, I might not even get to race the enduro stage as part of the three-day. Their website currently has the enduro listed on day two of the five-day, swapping it with the R.B. Winter stage from what was originally advertised. I don’t think I’ll have my enduro game perfected in time for this year’s race, but I’ll still be disappointed if I don’t get the chance to try. The R.B Winter stage is fun and all, but I don’t know that I can handle three long, hard XC stages in a row in my current condition.

Not that the removal of the enduro stage from the three-day will quell our newly-christened Wednesday EWS tradition (we don’t bow down to the UCI of amateur weeknight training rides) in favor of XC rides. I’m trying to adopt the attitude of “ride what you can in the time you have left, and hope for the best”. I put on some spectacular displays of gutting things out last year, and hopefully I can keep it up at the TSE, if necessary.

One of the reasons that I haven’t done as well on long rides as I’d hoped is that I spent this past weekend in a sore-throat, feeling generally crappy state of uncertainty about whether it’s allergies or the beginning of a two-week hell cold. That meant that we did what should have been a 1.5 hour ride at 2.5 hour pace on Saturday, and I stayed in altogether Sunday. I’m feeling about the same, and I still can’t tell which way this thing is going to go. The one bright spot of the weekend was during our slow ride, we stopped to session things that we normally just blow past.

A post shared by Laser Cats Feline All Stars (@teamlasercats) on
I wanted practice riding drops correctly since next weekend we’ll be joining my downhill-oriented teammates at Mountain Creek in New Jersey. For all of Rothrock’s technical features, high-speed drops of any significant size are pretty rare. This one still isn’t that big, but it looks bigger riding it than it does in the video. I’m pretty proud of this, because I’ve been afraid to ride it at full speed before. This time, it felt like nothing at slow speed, so I had to go faster and catch air just to get in the push/pull motion that I was trying to practice. The result is a pretty darn good-looking jump just from a combo of speed, a little unweighting on the lip, and then a good push/pull landing. This practice stuff is actually working.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lousy Smarch Part 2: Lessons Learned

In my first post on how I’m dealing with this “Lousy Smarch” after the false spring of February, I discussed my commitment relearning my fundamental mountain bike skills correctly. While I get my shred house in order, I might be a little less focused on training from a fitness perspective. However, I still have a three-day stage race to complete at the end of May, so it’s not like I can let myself get out of shape.

Sadly, it seems like that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. In January, I had fully accepted winter and was laying a great foundation for spring, CBAPs and C-words be damned. In January, it’s easy to get into “this is my life now” mode in regard to wintery weather. Then February came and started letting in the “I deserve a break” thoughts, which quickly bled into “Winter is almost over, so I’ll just start mountain biking soon” thoughts. I guess I got in few sets of trainer intervals in February, but looking back on the month, it sort of feels like I was either doing 3+ hour mountain bike rides or “resting”. Then Lousy Smarch hit with its preclusion of further mountain biking, and I just kept “resting”.

Lately I have been struggling to get back on the right track sooner rather than later and resist the (very strong) urge to just sit in front of the TV until mountain-bike-able conditions come back. As I’m approaching the end of my third winter in State College, I’ve begun to look back and think about what I could have and should have done differently.

My first winter in State College was brutal, with extreme cold and snow pretty much the whole time and the trails not clearing until April. I also tried to doing all my training on the road, which was extra cold, because the gravel roads were too icy to traverse on a ‘cross bike. The next year I tried to mitigate this by purchasing a fat bike, and ironically, that winter turned out to be very mild. The new bike purchase also made me very keen to try fat bike racing, and while doing long, hard races in January and February kept me very motivated through the winter, I felt like it wasn’t the best for me in some ways. Because I was trying really hard at really hard races so early in the year with no base, I wasn’t able to do much except race and rest, plus traveling to New Jersey so often wasn’t that great. I thought that I would be better off staying home this winter and getting quality weight training and intervals in during the week while maintaining my endurance with easier long rides closer to home.

And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t those meddling kids…



Okay, okay, it was mostly my meddling brain telling me that whatever I had planned was too much and that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

I will begin by saying that there is no way to make winter training completely not suck. You can definitely employ strategies to mitigate the suck (warm gloves, warm shoes, fat bikes, etc.), but you cannot eliminate it completely. I think that everyone has to find their own comfort zone between strategies to mitigate the suck and strategies to embrace it. Some people develop high tolerances for indoor riding, while others will ride outside no matter how bad the weather is. I, for one, absolutely hate riding in the dark, so since moving to Pennsylvania, I’ve accepted that any weeknight ride will be indoors.

Of course, I also try to skew my training plans to minimize weeknight riding by spending most weeknights in the weight room and only doing a couple of quick, “get in, get out, get it done” interval sessions per week. I do my best to follow a polarized training philosophy with short intensity during the week and making up my volume on the weekends. It’s a great idea in theory, but where I failed was trying to go too intense on weekdays and not being motivated enough for long, boring, cold outdoor rides on weekends with no immediate races to keep me focused.

I think I found the answer to my indoor training problem, but it just came a little too late for this winter. Along with all of the skills tips available on the Lee Likes Bikes Online MTB School, there is also a very reasonable 12-week “Pump Up the Base” training plan which features two manageable-length, manageable-intensity indoor workouts a week. It seems to fit my mental and physical capacity for indoor training, and fits my own philosophy of leaving plenty of time for strength training and skills instead of just grinding the trainer all winter. I went ahead and started the program a couple of weeks ago, and I figure I’ll keep it up until the weather is actually pleasant for outdoor post-work intervals. Obviously, I won’t finish the whole 12-week program, but I figure I’ll pump up my base as much as I can in the remaining time before I switch to full-time outdoor training.

The other half of my polarized training fail from this winter goes back to finding the balance between mitigating and embracing the suck. For me, riding longer than an hour and a half is just not fun unless it’s above 50 degrees and there is a significant amount of singletrack involved. Unfortunately, to be successful at long rides with singletrack in the spring, one must accept long rides without singletrack in the winter. I didn’t do very well at that this year, as I was always bargaining my way out of the long boring rides that I was dreading by driving Raystown (except that I only have a 2.5 hour tolerance of Raystown) or attempting to do six laps of Accuweather. The fact of the matter is that I should have stopped trying to mitigate the suck and just lowered the barrier to entry by getting on my fat bike, riding up the mountain to Keppler road, riding out for a couple of hours, and riding home. For future winters, I guess I just need to embrace the motto of “get out the door, get in the hours”.

Finally, I will end with the one happy lesson that I learned this winter:  Harrisonburg, VA is only four hours away and is mountain-bike-able pretty much the whole winter. Not that weekly trips down there would wear on my any less hard than trips to New Jersey, but I’m glad to know that there’s a place to run when winter (or Lousy Smarch) gets to be absolutely too much. I definitely plan to return there in the future, although maybe with my Camber instead of my Hail.

Luckily, it appears that there is a light at the end of the weather forecast tunnel, and I might even be able to get out on the ridge tomorrow after work. I’m having some regrets about not being in as good of shape as I could have been going into this mountain bike season, but I’ve officially done all that I can about those by leaving this note to my next-winter self. Now I must embrace the gnar to come instead of dwelling on the past.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lousy Smarch Part 1: #skillseveryday

When I wrote about the year of the false spring a couple of weeks ago, I knew that March would likely be disappointing following multiple short-sleeve mountain bike rides in February. However, this March has brought the crappy weather much worse than I expected, and my feeling can basically be summed up by this picture that friend recently shared on Facebook.


Despite mostly triumphing in the face of adversity in January, I apparently lost my resolve during February when it started to look like the rest of the winter might go easy on me. Lazy and depressed is the best descriptor of my disposition since that last lovely 70 degree ride a few weeks ago. It’s not the sad kind of depressed, as it can’t really be considered sad when winter is just being winter, but it’s more of an uninspired, “if I can’t mountain bike, I’d rather not move at all” kind of thing. Fat biking does not count as mountain biking, BTW.

Since I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, I spent a lot of Sunday’s half-hearted trudge around Accuweather writing blog posts in my head. The two positive-ish themes that emerged were recently embarked-upon #skillseveryday project, and the lessons that I’ve learned from my third winter in State College which will hopefully lead to a less-lousy Smarch next year. I think I will break this into a two-parter, one for each of those topics.

One thing for which I have been motivated lately is skills work, and luckily I can work on that without clear singletrack or multiple hours of daylight. It would sure help if the grass in the park near my house wasn’t covered in a foot of snow, though.

After my disappointing enduro racing debut last year, I made relearning to ride bikes the right way my #1 priority for this year. I had just been waiting on enough daylight to allow for daily outdoor practices. My original plan was to try and get in a short private lesson with Harlan Price every 4-6 weeks throughout the season to help my progression, but it turned out that he would be away from Harrisonburg for most of February and March. He’ll be coming to State College in late April, so Frank and I have a half-day session scheduled with him then, but I needed to get to work sooner than that.

I had a discount code for 30% off a month membership for The Lee Likes Bikes Online MTB School, so I decided to give it a shot. I mean, my ability to pay my bills and purchase N+1 bikes depends on belief in the efficacy of online education, and it was obviously a lot less expensive than a bunch of private lessons. It probably didn’t hurt that it came with the endorsement of the queen of commitment-to-the-journey, and my favorite bike philosopher, Syd Schulz. Sure, she does also make pilgrimages to Boulder for private lessons with Lee, as well, but I figured it was worth a shot to see how much I could improve using park drills and strangers’ criticisms of my poorly-lit iPhone videos. I really only got into this last week, so it’s hard to judge my progress yet. I’ve mostly just collected a lot of video of my hip hinge movement both off and on the bike in the hope that I’ll relearn better body position and balance by the time the weather does let allow for singletrack riding again.


Additionally, the 20-something degree temperatures over the weekend combined with the need for creative thinking when it came to skills practice, Frank and I headed to The Wheel Mill in Pittsburgh for the first time in two years. The lesson that we learned last time, was that full-suspension XC bikes with clipless pedals are the not the best rigs for riding there. Since they only charge $15 to rent a dirt jump bike, we opted to do that the second time around. The more-appropriate bike, along with more appropriate expectations, made for a more enjoyable experience this time. There was still a lot of stuff that I didn’t feel comfortable riding on a strange bike that for some reason I had a hard time lifting the front wheel on, but it was fun to play with all of the body position stuff that I’d been practicing on the pump track. My pumping action definitely needs a lot of work, but I admittedly haven’t made it that far into the Lee Likes Bikes site yet.

A post shared by Laser Cats Feline All Stars (@teamlasercats) on
Since we just had a foot of snow yesterday, outdoor bike practice is going to be a bit difficult for a while, singletrack or not. I’m going to keep practicing my hip hinges and try to think of creative ways to work on my skills indoors. In the next part of my Lousy Smarch series, I’ll cover what I’ve learned from my third winter of living in State College and what I hope to do differently in the future.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Weeks #7&8: The Year of the False Spring

The tourney at Harrenhal, also known as Lord Whent's great tournament, was held in 281 AC, the year of the false spring, at Harrenhal in the riverlands. It was hosted by Lord Walter Whent to celebrate the name day of his maiden daughter. Spread over ten days, it was the greatest tourney of its time. - A Wiki of Ice and Fire

With the weather regularly vacillating between 30 and 70 degrees this month, the phrase “the year of the false spring” keeps popping into my mind. Game of Thrones fans will know this as the year that there was the great tourney at Harrenhal, where a bunch of stuff went down, leading to the conception of many of the series’ main characters and all of the old grudges that are still simmering when Ned Stark leaves for King’s Landing in the first book/episode. As I prepare for the great tourney at Seven Mountains Boy Scout Camp (the TSE), I’m finding that this year of the false spring is presenting very little of the winter monotony that I was expecting to blog through in January.

Helping a new teammate practice her descending position

After migrating south to clear trails in Harrisonburg a couple of weeks ago, the local weather was kind enough to allow us to mountain bike right here at home a couple of times since then. The weekend after we went to Harrisonburg offered two days of sunny 60ish degree weather. Saturday of that weekend was spent in Philly helping out with a Team Laser Cats beginner women’s MTB ride, but on Sunday I got the opportunity to really put Brienne (my new Liv Hail, named for a character who had an entirely different fight at Harrenhal) through her paces on the TSE enduro course.

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

We hit all of the stages except for Greenshoot, which I’ve ridden up many times, but have only gone down a couple. There’s nothing particularly difficult about it, although it will require some improvement in my cornering ability to truly go fast, but going fast on Greenshoot won’t matter until I’m much faster on the more technically difficult stages. Furthermore, after riding Croyle for the first time since it was redone in the fall, I’m also feeling like the resulting 30-40 minute climb back up Gettis isn’t really worth my time until I get a lot better on Sand Spring, Wildcat, and Old Laurel. The beauty of those trails is that once DST starts, I can get all of them into a single weeknight ride and concentrate on the longer TSE stages on the weekends. After several months away from these trails, new bike magic couldn’t counteract my rustiness or the thick layer of leaves that have fallen since the last time I was out there, so I’m looking forward to getting back to weekly practice and start progressing again.

Last week offered 60+ degree days on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but with the sun still setting at 6:00, that wasn’t super helpful for Wednesday and Thursday. Friday was the warmest day at 70 degrees, and I had no important meetings that day, so I took a vacation day and rode most of the Tussey stage of the TSE. It was a little crazy riding 4.5 hours of actual mountain biking in shorts and short sleeves in February, and it was kind of nice getting the harsh reminder of how hard it is early in the year rather than later. I was a lot slower than I was expecting, and quite the tired puppy by the time I was done, but I’m still far ahead of where I was in March last year. I can’t even compare it to any previous February, because before this month, I’ve only ever mountain biked in February once in my entire career. This year it has been five times already!

Given my objective to make big improvements this year in the skills realm, I was glad to finally get to do the things I’ve been imagining myself doing for months. Of course, things don’t necessarily play out in real life the way they have in your head all winter, and I was far from the smooth operator I’d been imagining once my wheel hit actual trail. At least now I have a couple of things that I know that I was doing wrong in the past that I can start attempting to do correctly now that I’m getting in trail time again. The first is that my “attack” position is more squatty than it should be and my butt is not actually as far back as I imagine it is. So now when I’m descending, I’m concentrating on hinging at the hips to get lower and further back, rather than bending my knees. I haven’t quite gotten comfortable with this yet, but I’m working on it. On Friday I noticed myself mentally saying, “booty like whoa” whenever I started to get into descending position. It was really silly, but served as a good reminder.

I’m also working on looking further down the trail and planning multiple moves ahead instead of just staring at what’s directly in front of my wheel. This seemed to help on John Wert until my brain got tired around the time I hit the really big rock gardens. I still have a lot of work to do there, but admittedly, I only rode that trail twice in all of 2016. I plan to spend a lot more time there this year, and in addition to speedier, cleaner descents, I also want to finally clean John Wert and Tussey Ridge both before the summer is over.

I know that the problem with false springs is that there are still several weeks left when it could still be cold and I really won’t really have any room to complain about March being March. We could even perceivably have more bad snow before spring has sprung for real, but I sure hope not. No more days on the trails aren’t guaranteed for quite some time, but the bug has bitten me, and I’m definitely hoping for more rides soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Week #6: Southbound and Pointed Down

Last week was full of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively.

It began with the arrival of my new Liv Hail 1, named Brienne the Beauty in keeping with my Game of Thrones themed mountain bike naming convention. I know you may be thinking, “Hail, what?”, since a few shorts months I devoted a three-post series to my pursuit of the ultimate Rothrock-worthy quiver killer. I still stand by my Specialized Camber 650b aka Tormund Giantsbane, as the best all-around bike for “Rothrock XC”, but the more I was able to push myself on bigger and scarier descents with Tormund’s help, the more I was struck with an ever-increasing case of big bike FOMO. Frank ended up buying a Camber of his own about a week after I bought mine, but kept his BMC Trailfox and would regularly remind me how much fun it was to just plow over stuff at full speed during our enduro rides. Even though I did find the single best all-around Rothrock bike in Tormund, “N+1” are the ever-resounding words of House Stec, so finally I was like…


Now I have an appropriate bike for trying out some bike park riding later in the summer, and if I still suck at enduro racing this season, at least I won’t be able to blame the bike. Tormund will still be my go to for the Tussey and Cooper’s Gap stages of the TSE, and Brienne will get the enduro stage in the middle.



The joy of my new big-girl beauty quickly turned to frustration mid-week when the previous week’s dump of snow had completely melted off by Wednesday and the temperature rose to a mountain-bikeable 50 degrees. But, you know, work. I probably should have had the forethought to “get sick” on Tuesday evening after pedaling Brienne to the local park in the rain and hucking her into the wood chip-covered drop into the playground a few times before dark. Then the temperature dropped and six inches of snow fell during the night on Wednesday. The weekend temperatures were predicted to be in the mid-to-upper 40’s, which would be just enough to turn the snow into a slushy mess but not actually clear it. Luckily, Frank pointed out that the weekend forecast for Harrisonburg, VA was 62 Saturday and 69 on Sunday. A call to a local bike shop confirmed that the trails were clear, and our weekend plans were set.

We had a bit of trouble planning our routes, since our bike choices favored non-technical and preferably not-too-steep climbs and technical descents. Not knowing the area at all, we had to rely on MTB Project suggested rides, which all seemed like 6-9 miles of climbing and then 6-9 miles of descending per loop. I guess their mountains are just bigger down there, but I think I prefer our 1-2 mile climbs and descents that allow you to fit a few runs per ride. Still, you take what you can get in February, so upon our arrival in the George Washington National Forest, we proceeded to climb the 8.5 paved miles to the top of Reddish Knob.

Our hardest-earned #scenicvistaselfie to date


For the descent that followed, imagine this video with less snow, more mud, and the riders arriving at the windy, overcast top sweating in their shorts and short sleeves from grinding their 30 pound bikes up for over an hour and a half, then getting hypothermic.

Stokesville from Salsa Cycles on Vimeo.

Needless to say, I didn’t look that cool bumbling through the first section of singletrack with my numb hands and bike that I hadn’t quite learned how to handle. “Big floppy bike!” became the rallying cry for the weekend every time I went off line in a slow rocky section. Bri was definitely made for high-speed plowing, not low-speed finesse. Sadly, we didn’t get as much of the latter as we had hoped, because we took a wrong turn shortly after getting to the actual good downhill singletrack and ended up at the road we had originally climbed up instead of the good descent we were supposed to go down. The good news was that we weren’t really lost or far from the car, but the bad news was that the 3-mile paved coast back to the car wasn’t the reward we were hoping for when we set out on our 8.5 mile climb. With less than an hour before sunset, we resigned ourselves to getting dinner and beer earlier than planned and hoped for better navigation on Sunday.

Sunday’s ride was more successful navigation-wise, but even less Big Floppy Bike appropriate. First we rode the Lookout Mountain Loop, which only had 7.5 miles of mixed pavement and gravel climbing before some rolling, rocky benchcut, and finally a mostly-sustained descent at the end.

We then jumped in the car and headed a few miles down the road for the Narrowback Loop, which was very obviously not Big Floppy Bike appropriate, but it was highly rated and looked like a relatively easy way to get a couple more hours of riding in before we headed home. It was actually a pretty fun loop, although it might have been more so on the Cambers. It started with a more-reasonable length gravel climb up to a rocky ridgetop trail that rolled along for a while before descending to another gravel road. Another gravel road transition took us to the next section of singletrack, which upon our arrival, I recognized as the section that Harlan took us on during the women’s MTB camp last fall. I knew that the climb up to the top of the ridge was tough, and with four hours of Big Floppy Bike riding already under my belt for the day, my ego was not above walking a lot of it. I rode the little droppy-jawn that we’d sessioned during camp without hesitation, and proceeded to the long, screaming descent back down to the car.

Said Droppy-Jawn

All in all, it was really awesome to escape winter for a weekend and get some Big Floppy Bike acclimation in with Brienne, even if she wasn’t quite in her element. So far the forecast is looking good for this weekend, so I’m hoping to introduce her to Wildcat on Sunday and really see what she can do. Since I haven’t seen Wildcat in five months, I’m afraid that I’ll have lost some of the nerve that I built up at the end of the summer, but I think last weekend was good for blowing out some of my MTB cobwebs. I’m really excited for the possibilities that this season presents now that I’ve fully achieved by my mountain bike #squadgoals. Now it’s just up to me to make sure they reach their potential.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Week 4.5: Wrapping Up

I had intended to reintroduce the weekly Monday update format to my blog as I began my journey leading up to the Tran-Sylvania Epic mountain bike stage race in late May. I have to say that my first month of preparatory training has actually gone pretty darn well under the circumstances, so I haven’t really needed the Monday posts to keep me honest as much I thought I might.

As I’ve mentioned in my last few posts, the beginning of 2017 has really been a lot more focused on getting ready for my Certified Business Analysis Professional exam and wrapping up tests and treatment decisions regarding my DCIS diagnosis from back in December. Because of that, Monday provided very little material to post nor time to in which to post it, as I was in final CBAP cramming mode, but today I can report happy(ish) conclusions to all matters, save the TSE.

On Tuesday I completed my CBAP exam. Because they overhauled the exam in September based on a new version of the BABOK, they are doing a six-month evaluation period when they look at examinees’ actual performance on the new exam before determining what the passing score will be. Basically, they're grading on a curve. So I found the actual exam to be pretty challenging, but based on as much as I studied and felt like I had a good overall grasp of the material, I’m guessing that everyone else found it just as hard. I won’t find out for sure until the end of March, but I think that when it’s all said and done, that I will most likely pass. Until then, I have an embossed piece of paper saying that I *took the test* as solace.



Today also marked the end of my DCIS journey, or at least this phase of it. My Oncotype DX score came back and said that I was at low risk for recurrence, specifically 14% overall recurrence and 6% for invasive cancer over the next 10 years. I met with a radiation oncologist today who confirmed that, per standard guidelines, I was officially “supposed to” get radiation based on my age alone, but given all of my other factors and test results, that forgoing radiation and sticking with regular monitoring was as also a reasonable approach if I felt like that was the best choice for myself. So I will have one more visit with my surgeon in March and then mostly likely find a doctor to oversee my long-term monitoring, which will consist of annual mammograms and/or MRIs to hopefully catch any future recurrence early.

It’s honestly a little weird having my two biggest stressors of the last two months suddenly lifted. Since I’ve been doing a great job at keeping my training up during all of this, as well as pretty much not drinking and limiting myself to one non-home cooked meal per week during the month of January, being back down to just having a job and training for bikes sounds pretty easy. Apparently this morning the groundhog said that there would be six more weeks of winter, but this winters’s been okay so far, so right now I’m feeling like February’s got nothing on me.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Week #3: A Real Mountain Bike Ride in January

Last week I really began to feel my training load after finally getting back on a solid schedule a couple of weeks ago. Tuesday was a planned day off, and I felt the appropriate amount of tired going into it. I struggled a bit Wednesday and Thursday, but managed to get through everything as planned. Friday I felt like I was coming down with something and ended up working from home all day and skipping my planned weight training.

Saturday I was feeling most back to normal, which was especially fortunate, as it presented a rare opportunity for a real mountain bike ride in January. This winter hasn’t quite been on par with last year’s strong El Nino, but the snow accumulation has still been pretty light. A week of 40’s and 50’s plus rain cleaned off everything that had been sitting, and Saturday promised 50 degrees and no rain, even if it was still damp and foggy.

This definitely does not look like winter.

My Camber was out of commission since I hadn’t been expecting to need it for a while and had the shock sent out for service, so it was it was little difficult negotiating the slippery rocks of Cooper’s Gap on my hardtail with not-so-grippy tires. I even struggled on Beautiful trail, which I had pretty dialed on my hardtail last summer preparing for the Wilderness 101. It’s amazing what six months away and some moisture can do to one’s skills. Regardless, it was still really awesome to get to actually mountain bike this time of year instead of just gravel grinding or doing laps of Accuweather on my fat bike, which has been the bulk of my weekend riding lately.

I was also pretty happy that, since I switched my long day and my interval day due to weather this weekend, I was still able to bang out an interval session on the rollers Sunday morning. Normally intervals the morning after a 3-hour mountain bike ride would be nearly impossible for me, but I handled it pretty well. I know part of it is that I am finally capable of doing chill long rides in Rothrock without completely destroying my legs, but I’m also hoping that it’s evidence that my ability to recovery between workouts is improving. I definitely feel like I’m managing a bigger workload overall than I was last winter, and I’ll need every bit of it come May.

I know that wasn’t the most exciting recap of the past week, but that is the essence of winter training. You just have to keep doing the thing now for the payoff later. So I did my thing, I blogged my thing, and now we’re one week closer to spring.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Week #2: Drill Baby Drill

Okay, so things seem to have calmed down enough to accommodate my goal of returning to weekly Monday updates in 2017. While the first week of January turned out to be a bit of a training bust, I settled in and put in a really solid week last week.

Right now my planned schedule is weights on Monday, Wednesday, Friday (Wednesday sessions are with the trainer, Steve), sprints on the trainer (not Steve) Tuesday, 3-5 minute intervals on the rollers on Thursday, 8-10 minute intervals on the rollers on Saturday morning, easy Accuweather ride on Saturday afternoon, and then long (shooting for four hours) ride on Sunday. Last week I actually pulled that off, and I’m feeling pretty good. My goal right now is mainly just to focus on improving my overall work capacity, which will be my biggest limiter going into the TSE, and to reintroduce some the higher intensity work that sadly got pushed by the wayside last year while I focused on trying to survive endurance races. I know it’s not reasonable to expect daily quality workouts indefinitely, so I figure I’ll bump my interval session for a rest day every other Tuesday and try to stretch that out to a day off every third or fourth as my work capacity increases.

Regarding the other tests from previous posts, I’m still looking at another week or so before I get my Oncotype DX score, which will determine if I need further intervention to prevent a recurrence of my DCIS, or if my left boobie can finally move on to live its life in peace. As for the CBAP exam, I’m starting to feel better about my chances of passing, although I’m still focusing on studying/drilling on one knowledge area at a time, and I’m worried about how I’ll handle it when I’m faced with a 120 questions from across the whole 440-page BABOK at once. Much like my approach to the CBAP, my cycling study skills will need to improve in 2017.

My TSE experience is driven by the long-held belief that even though I’ll probably never have the fitness to be competitive in the GC, I might someday be able to practice my way onto the enduro podium. The latter part of last summer revolved around that idea, as I set out on my new slacker and squishier mountain bike and conquered trails I’d previously been afraid to try. After several weeks of drilling, I had vastly improved my times on most of the TSE enduro segments, but I was still pretty far off the top women’s times on Strava. Of course, none of the top women were from around State College and most had never ridden these trails outside of the TSE, and yet they still posted much better times than I had after weeks of practice. While course familiarity could give me an advantage over someone with a similar skill level, I realized that to be competitive, I needed to raise my game well beyond what was possible from just practicing the same trails over and over.

For the first time since my sadly inept first season of DINO racing in 2006, my technical skills actually felt like an appreciable weakness for me. Sometime along the way my skills got “good enough” and could out-descend most of the girls in Cat 2 XC races in Indiana, and eventually monster truck my way through most of the rock gardens in Rothrock (still not 100% on that, though). Climbing and endurance were how I lost races, so that was where I put my energy. While riding in Rothrock made me feel like a better rider, because I was capable of day-to-day functioning on really hard trails, it maybe actually made me worse in some areas because monster-trucking was all that I did.

I had a rough time coming to this realization during the part of fall where I was supposed to be putting my mountain away and focusing on ‘cross. I felt the sudden need to “fix myself” skill-wise when there was very little time left before winter to do anything about it. This led to a meltdown after a terrible day at the Raven Enduro, where I lost on a course where I’d been practicing my butt off to some girl for whom it was likely her first race ever and who had probably been riding for like a year. I’d almost gotten used to that happening in ‘cross due a dumb thing called threshold power, which I don’t and probably never will have much of, but to have it happen in a skill-based discipline was heartbreaking.

The week that followed was defined by several nights of bad sleep due to the stress, getting a large needle jammed in my boob a few times, roofers blasting their radio and banging their hammer at 7:30 every morning while I was trying to sleep off the stress, and finally finding out that I would need surgery to remove the lump that the large needle had been jammed into earlier in the week. So when I headed to Take Aim Cycling women’s weekend that Friday exhausted, stressed, and desperate for a quick fix, you can imagine how well that worked out. Bursting into tears on the last day of the clinic when I was supposed to share a “positive thought” that I’d brought back from the woods was officially the low point of my 2016 cycling year.

Ironically, I did have a huge breakthrough in my log-riding ability a couple of hours later during an ad hoc lesson that replaced the real ride I was too tired to go on. I’ve actually gotten much better at Accuweather, which is the only “mountain biking” that weather and daylight have allowed since the clinic.

The point of this is that, like the CBAP, enduro turned out to be much more of a challenge than I thought it would be, and it really stressed me out there for a while. Also, while drilling specific trails/knowledge areas can help me improve, I’ve got to pull it together and work on the big picture if I want to pass the test. I guess you can say I moved my test date back, as well, by switching to the three day TSE. Setting a more manageable TSE goal will free me up to do things like go a trip to Pisgah and do some of the West Virginia enduro series without worrying that I’m being pulled away from reconning the Rothrock trails a million times before Memorial Day weekend. Exposing myself to new trails more will help make me a better rider long-term, even if I don’t feel as much short-term confidence on my local trails if I practiced them every weekend leading up to the race. I also hope to get back down to Harrisonburg a few times this year and maybe meet up with Harlan for some one-on-one lessons when I’ve actually slept and I can focus better.

As frustrating as unexpected challenges can be at first, they can lead to great things once the shock wears off. I hate having to study for the CBAP in addition to working and training, but I’m really proud of myself for rising to the challenge and learning to actually study after a lifetime of doing well enough without it. My hope for this year is that I will also break out of my mountain bike rut and take my skill level from “good enough” to actually good.

I also plan on trying things that involve full-face helmets and tiny flat shoes.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Passing Tests

Prior to Christmas break, I had planned to come back in January and get back on my Monday weekly update schedule leading up to my big goal of the Tran-Sylvania Epic. Winter is tough, and committing to weekly updates makes it easier to stay on task leading up to a big goal that seems so far away. Lately, though, winter itself hasn’t been my biggest challenge. It seems that life has other tests in store me, admittedly some of them self-imposed.

The first of these tests was the BRCA genetic test for hereditary breast cancer. I “passed” that one earlier in the week with a negative result. That means do prophylactic double mastectomy, which I wasn’t even letting myself consider as a real possibility due to the mental distress it would have caused if I thought about it too hard, and luckily, I no longer have to.

Despite blogging out my case for declining radiation for my DCIS in my last post, my doctor isn’t letting me off the hook that easily. I guess that’s fair, since standard procedure would be to ship me off to radiation immediate after the negative BRCA test. Since I’m resisting that standard procedure, he suggested a second test, Oncotype DX Breast DCIS Score, be run to help hone in on my personal change of recurrence. If it’s low, I’m off the hook, but if it’s high, I’ll have to rethink my position.

Christmas break looked kind of like this...
Surprisingly, cancer-y tests were still not the foremost exams on my mind over this Christmas break. I have been working up to applying to become a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) for over a year, and once my breast surgery was over in December, I finally submitted my application and scheduled my exam for six weeks out on January 18. Of course, the call about the DCIS a couple of days later didn’t exactly help me get started studying right away, as I was too busy Googling breast cancer websites instead of reading the BABOK (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge). I considered just cancelling the test until the future was clearer, but I decided to still go for it around the 30-days-before no-penalty cancellation period.

...but mostly looked like this.
When I finally took my first practice test with a month to go, I realized how grossly unprepared I was, and I went into panic-study mode for most of Christmas break. I think I’ve done more studying for this test in the past two weeks that I’ve studied for all other things in my life prior combined. I was a bit of a lazy student who got by on a combo raw intelligence, luck, and easy subject matter through high school and college.

I have finally met my match with this test, though. I have been relatively successful in my general knowledge-cramming over Christmas break, but there are still many practices questions where I have to give my full level of concentration and analytical thought to figure them out, and sometimes I still don’t. My original test was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on a Wednesday in Harrisburg, because that is the closest testing center. I chose that center because it was the closest and they only had 8:00 a.m. time slots. I did not know how serious the process was, and that I would be stuck in a room with no food, drink, bathroom breaks, or any of personal effects for 3.5 hours straight. Trying to do that when I’ve been up since 5:00 to get ready and make the drive sounds excruciating. There was no way I was going to be the “best self” I would need to be succeed under those circumstances.

Despite not wanting to pay the cancellation fee nor pay for another month of practice test subscription, I finally caved and moved the test back to January 31 at a slightly further-away test center. I did this to get a 1:00 slot on a Tuesday, so Frank can go with me as he has no Tuesday classes this semester. Even though it’s a longer drive, I think every hour driven before 8:00 a.m. counts double, so it will still be much more convenient. The later date will give me a bit more time to study and more importantly, the afternoon slot will allow me to go into the test properly rested, fed, and hydrated (but not too hydrated because no bathroom breaks). Given all of that, I’m feeling more confident about my chances of passing the exam, but sadly, BABOKing will likely take away some of my time and energy from training in January.

Finally, there is the TSE, which has somehow slipped several paragraph down in the tests that I will face in 2017. The registration opened on January, so after months of trying to recruit team members with little avail, Frank and I finally got to see the pricing for this year’s team category. With a starting price of $529 per person for teams of 2-4 people, it was a lot more than the $350-400 range I was expecting in January.

Given that completing the TSE is something that I’ve been planning/scheming/dreaming for nearly three years, the price alone wouldn’t have been enough to deter me. Last year’s race format collapsed the previous seven-day race into five-day “all meat, no filler” version on Monday-Friday. To me, last year’s race format was perfect: They combined the three most “meh” stages in one pretty good one, and the Monday-Friday format still gave people the weekends before and after for travel, acclimation, and recovery.

I know that travel isn’t a consideration in my TSE plans, but much like the CBAP exam,  to be my “best self” that is necessary to my survival of such a undertaking, being well-rested and calm going into the race and have time to decompress (not take my pajamas off for two days) after will be. That is why I’ve been decidedly less stoked about the race since announced the change to a Thursday-Monday schedule so “people don’t have to take as many days off of work”. Sure the actual race covers fewer business days, but who realistically puts in a full day at work, does a five-day stage race, and then goes back into a full day of work immediately following, even if their distance from the race allows it? The new schedule would require me to take just as many vacation days and get less rest out of it.

They are bringing back the three-day version in 2017, which is more likely the reason for the wonky schedule change, to shove the three-day race into the three day weekend. The means that the Tussey, Enduro, and Cooper’s Gap stages are shoved together in the last three days of the five-day race. Those are the stages that I actually care about, so I made the decision that the extra money and stress to do the Bald Eagle and R.B. Winter stages weren’t worth it, at least for this already “testy” year. I may feel a little regret at not doing the “whole thing” as I had planned, but I’m also feeling kind of inspired to put in the best three days of Tussey/Enduro/Cooper’s Gap that I can. That’s still not an easy race by any means.

So with that very long explanation of the tests that I will be facing this winter, I will leave you until next week. I need to be studying, and well, studying.

While I've been on-point in the gym lately, Laser Cat time on Sunday and studying on Tuesday seemed to have bumped my riding. Definitely planning on putting in the first hour of 2017 in on the rollers tonight.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Little C

When I was writing my post last week summarizing all of the stuff than Frank and I had been up to since the end of ‘cross, I wasn’t sure whether to include the tidbit about my breast surgery or not. It seemed like a very minor thing that, in the context of my continued telling of the story of my bike adventures, wouldn't have a major effect on the plot. I still gave it a paragraph, because, despite not making any major impact on my training, especially during the off-season, it felt like it was still part of the larger story and needed to be included.

The funny thing was that I didn’t tell very many people about it unless they read the blog post. Basically, it was just my mom, my boss, the Laser Cat group chat, and my manicurist, who was mostly included to explain the giant bruise my hand that had resulted from a failed IV insertion when I went to get my nails done the day after surgery. It’s interesting because this time of year my Facebook memories are full of six-year-old updates on my pancreas drama posted for any “friend” who wanted to read them. I guess I’ve become less public in my sharing since then, but let’s face it, even minor breast surgery is a lot more “triggering” to people than major pancreas surgery, so I was not in a big hurry to draw attention to it. As I explained to my manicurist while laughing about her inclusion in the small group of people that I had told, “If you tell people, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you have cancer’, and I totally don’t have cancer.”

Well, it turns out that I totally had cancer. Well, maybe I had cancer? Pre-cancer? Stage 0 cancer? My boob had a small number of cancer cells performing short time trials to see who would wear the leader’s jersey in the first real stage of the Tour de Cancer? (Worst charity ride name ever.)

Whatever you want to call it, a week after the surgery, the doctor called me to say that they had found DCIS in my pathology report. That stands for Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, so the “C” is, in fact, “The Big C” that we all fear. Luckily, the “IS” stands for a Latin term for “in its original place", meaning that it was just hanging out in my otherwise unused milk ducts not really hurting anything yet. It was already removed with a nice “clear margin” before I even knew it was there.

That hasn’t made the week since finding out any less stressful. DCIS was all I was told on the phone Friday night, with no details about my particular case. I would have to wait until my surgical follow-up on Wednesday for those. That made for a not-very-awesome weekend of worrying while still trying to muster the energy to go ride bikes in the cold. I did a pretty good job of holding myself together until the appointment on Wednesday, only crying a bit on Saturday night, mostly because I was frustrated at having important information withheld from me for several days longer than I thought it should have been. Obviously I spent a lot of time Googling from Saturday-Tuesday.

When Wednesday finally came, the news was better than I had feared. I was very afraid of having to have radiation, partly because it sounded awful and because of what it could potentially do to my TSE plans. The first order of business was the BRCA test, which is a genetic test for hereditary breast cancer risk for which a positive result pretty much means a double mastectomy in the near future. Luckily, positive results are also rare. I should get that test result in the next 1-2 weeks, and given a negative result, the decision will need to be made as to whether I will get radiation or not.

The surgeon handed me an article from Time magazine about over-treatment of minor breast cancers and what some researchers are doing to figure out how to responsibly treat patients with less intervention. He showed me a chart of the Van Nuys Prognostic Index which is one guide that can be used to determine the likelihood of DCIS coming back after surgery with no radiation. I was the best case scenario for all columns, except for my age, and he told me that basically any radiation oncologist would say that I needed radiation based on my age. In this case, younger is “worse”, because the longer you have left to live, the more time the cancer has to come back before you die of something else. Then he told me that the radiation wouldn’t be as bad as I was imagining, and that I would “feel normal for the first four weeks, and then get kind of sunburned and cranky and take it out on (Frank) for the last two weeks”.


The upshot is that the decision whether or not to have radiation is really up to me. By the current standard of care, I’m “supposed to” get it based on my age. The problem is that radiation will only cut my not-actually-that-high chance of recurrence in half, give or take depending the source of the information, and once it’s done I won’t be able to radiation in that breast again or have much of a chance at successful breast reconstruction if I get a new, worse cancer in the future. And the chance getting a new, worse cancer in the future is relatively small, but still real, whether I get the radiation now or not.

Rather than treating my age and its accompanying long window for recurrence as a reason to take the “kill it with fire” approach now, I’d rather take the approach that with current medical technology, I only have so many cards to play, and I’d rather save them in case I need them worse later. I’d prefer to just keep a close eye on the situation, and hope that treatment options improve before my long window for recurrence is up. Better yet, my real hope is that I side with the majority of women with my size and grade of DCIS who never have a recurrence and thus don’t have to worry about future treatment options. Plus, I’m already going to be tired and cranky enough this winter getting ready for the TSE.

It’s interesting because, as stressful as this week has been, my brush with “The Big C” doesn’t feel as huge as one might imagine. It’s tough making the decision about what I want to do when it goes against what I’m “supposed to” do. Luckily, my in-house rhetorician supports me, and has been helping me practice my talking points for defending my choice as well as practicing them himself on my behalf. I know that I’m going to have be vigilant for the rest of my life about this, but once a little time passes, I think it will feel normal and less stressful, and this little brush might have saved me from something worse in the future.