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.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The D&L Fat Epic

It’s time to let you in on a little secret that long-time readers may have already figured out. For all of my past endurance cycling aspirations, I’ve only actually ever ridden more than 80 miles on a bike at a time twice in my life. The first was an uneventful road century that I jumped into at my coach’s prompting as preparation for my attempt at the Pisgah stage race in 2009. The second was yesterday, on a fat bike, in the snow (and a variety of other conditions).

The end of what was actually 83.7 miles and a variety of conditions that required three cycles through the washer today.

So given the information above, you can imagine that I was a bit intimidated when I heard that the second race of the New Jersey Fat Bike Series would be 80 miles. Sure it was pancake flat, but it was still 80 miles on a fat bike, probably in the snow. Still I took it as a sign that if I was intimidated, most other women would be, too, so I just had to make it my job to finish all of the races, and I should do well in the overall series.

As the weeks between Marty’s and the D&L flew by in a haze of trainer sweat and sore muscles without a good quality long ride in between, I got a bit more worried. I cut last week’s training to one easy ride, one weight workout, and one trainer workout surrounded by two complete rest days. I jumped on the trainer for a very light opener workout on Saturday, and it seemed that most of the over trained heaviness had lifted at least.

When we took off on Sunday morning, I knew that I just had to keep pedaling until it was over and not worry about much else. The beginning of the race was fast, frozen, and mostly clear of snow. This meant me immediately falling to DFL from the main race start and watching those riders disappear around the time a handful of riders from the adventure class caught and passed me as well. I spun easily along and alternated between making jokes to myself about “The DFL Epic” and I thinking, “I can do this ALL DAY!” in the voice of Schmidt on The New Girl.

After about ten miles we got into the section where snow covered the whole trail for long stretches at a time, rather than the patches that we could mostly ride around until that point. I was being overtaken by a group of adventure class riders as we hit the first big patch, and I started to slide because I was worried about what they were doing, which broke my concentration from riding. I figure that was a good time to stop and take my first gel of the day and unscrew the top of my frozen bottle for a drink.

When I got going again, I was alone with the snow and learned how to churn through it quickly. Riding in packed, frozen snow was as fun as I imagined it to be when I bought a fat bike and imagined riding in winter. It just took until the first week of February to finally get some “hero snow” to get that experience. It was the same thing that I love about ‘cross when you’re all about balancing and finding a good line. At this point, I was trying make up lyrics to go with “I like a strong pelvic girdle and I cannot lie,” as my balance and line selection were starting to move me back up through the pack, and I was thinking that I might actually be good at the whole fat biking thing if I just had “a motor in the back of my Honda”. The mind does a lot of weird stuff to get through a long day in the saddle.

I was actually having fun and picking people off until the turnaround, but with conditions being slower than I had expected, I had already been riding for four hours at the halfway point. And they only got slower as the temperature rose to the mid-fourties, and the 5-10 miles closest to the turnaround turned into slushy, muddy slop fest.

By the time I got back to the snow, it had turned into the wheel-grabbing slush that had been beating me up in Rothrock the past two weekends (mashed potato snow as another racer called it). Combine this with the butt and back pain that inevitably comes after five hours in the saddle (at least for me), and fact that I was starting to get hungry every 30-40 minutes instead of having to force myself to eat on the hour, and it paints a picture of what I was afraid of when I first became afraid of an 80 mile fat bike race. Eventually, it will start to hurt. Bad.

The good thing is that I knew that the point where it would start to hurt bad was a likely scenario, but I also had been there enough times to know that I could handle it. I had even been through it enough to plan ahead with some coping strategies. I had packed enough bananas and gels to last the seven hours I’d planned on riding, but I’d also made an emergency Plan B. I knew that since there was only one aid station at the halfway point, I needed to have some calorie-dense item of food in my possession that I would want to eat no matter how crappy I felt. I also knew that if I were at that point, clean eating would not matter. When we stopped for dinner at Troeg’s Brewery (the unsuspecting best restaurant in PA), I got a Java Head Brownie to stick in my feed bag for just that occasion. If you have never had one of these ridiculously large, stout and goat cheese laced, dense mounds of chocolately goodness, I will say that one is worth all of the other chocolate in Hershey combined.

Okay, so I ate a little off the top on Saturday night so that it would fit in the bag.

For much of the race I’d actually thought that the brownie would end up as an after-dinner treat once was I was finished, cleaned-up, warm, and fed, but at 12 miles to go, it did serve its intended purpose. I saw a picnic table next to the trail, and I knew that it was time. I sat down, texted Frank my ETA, removed my muddy gloves, and ate my brownie. After that I was able to brave the last two miles of mush snow, and hit the slightly faster muddy trail to the end, nine hours after I began.

I was the last female to finish, but given how tough the race was, that still meant fourth place (and I beat six dudes!). The top three women were all serious badasses, so I’ll really have to tune up the motor in the back of my Honda if I was to stick with them in the future, but for now I’m happy just to have finished this monster of a race. I now stand third in the series, and will probably stay that way unless one or both of the top two girls miss a race. The good news is that the last two races are four hour lap races, so they won’t take more than four hours no matter how slow conditions get. I think that also means that I technically only have to do one lap at each to “finish” and retain my place in the series. Of course I plan on doing more, but as I mentioned above, a Plan B is always good.

***

Also, little did I know while I was suffering through my journey, but Frank ended up in third place overall! He was in about sixth when I saw him after the turnaround, but I guess he made up a couple of places and a couple of people missed turns, so I was super excited to hear the news when I finished. Bummed I missed his podium, though.

Friday, February 5, 2016

My Problem With HTFU

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

That Not-So-Fresh Feeling

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

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

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

The closest Rothrock gets to #ridegroomed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Doing Things I'm Bad At

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Marty's Fat Fifty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying to smile...

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Skills Clinic

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Team Laser Cats

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Brain Dump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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